A Hula Hoop and a coonskin cap. For a brief time in my early childhood back in Yonkers, N.Y., they were really all I wanted out of life.
In 1955, after the Davy Crockett Disney series concluded on television, I had to have that coonskin cap that Davy wore as he fought Indians, bears, Mexican soldiers and Mike Fink, King of the River. I finally got it. There is a picture in the family album of me wearing that dopey hat with a grin as wide as I was tall.
In 1958, at the age of 8, I was one of 28 million who needed a Hula Hoop in the first six months of the year. I could never accomplish more than about three rotations on the circle of plastic. Probably because I had no hips.
In both cases, I was fairly well convinced that the cap and the hoop were the keys to happiness. If I had them, life would bow down before me, all tears would disappear, and I would be forever satisfied.
It didn’t happen. The cap lasted about a week on my head until it started scratching — and smelling — like, well, a coonskin cap. The Hula Hoop had even a shorter life span. It took me only a few hours to give up on that and send it rolling down a hill into traffic, where I did get some small pleasure when a truck ran over it.
So goes the quest for perfect happiness, as offered by consumer avarice.
When Apple’s new iPad was revealed to a waiting world a month or so ago, it was with all the ruffles and flourishes of a coronation. This was going to be the new best thing, the techno-junkies were certain. The iPad would be the revolutionary technology that would finally give the ultimate jolt, the end of the quest, the discovery of the Grail.
But like everything stretching back to the “Pong” game in 1972, the disappointment didn’t take long. People wanted this, expected that, hoped for the gadget to end all gadgets. Because a lump of plasticized technology would finally make them happy. And the iPad came up short to that impossible expectation.
First, an admission. I was the kid who had a shirt pocket permanently stained blue because I could not handle the intricacies of a fountain pen. My bouts with technology have been no more successful ever since.
I am not that much better than when the Hula Hoop was the object of my desires, even with my technophobia. From a suede overcoat in the 1960s through a new pair of sneakers today, I am still subject to looking for perfect happiness in the next best thing.
But technology has almost become a religion in itself. People invest so much in the latest electronic gewgaws, as if they can provide some kind of ultimate answer.
The meaning of life is defined by a toy that can take pictures, handle your calls, access the Internet, do your bills, find a restaurant, impress friends. If I don’t have it, there will be a craving yaw in my existence. When I get it, I’ll finally be perfectly happy.
But it never happens. The disappointment sets in 10 minutes after the toy is out of the box.
No matter what the success of iPad, next week the hunt will be on for something new.
In the cult movie “Napoleon Dynamite” a high school election turns on a very simple pledge: “Vote for me and all your wildest dreams will come true.” The line is good for a laugh because it is so preposterous. Yet, today, society seems to live by the pledge: “Buy me and your wildest dreams will come true.”
St. Augustine said it best: “You have created us for yourself, Lord, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in you.” That’s a better bet for happiness than any technological wonder. Or even a coonskin cap.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.