Game girl: Sid and Nancy in Electronics Land

The other night, I was bedeviled for more than an hour by a persistent beeping noise. Every few minutes I'd hear the beep, but I couldn't figure out where it was coming from.

It sounded like the noise smoke alarms make when they're dying. We have four smoke alarms positioned around the house, and I couldn't detect which alarm was sick. I dutifully tested the batteries in every one with my Ronco battery tester. All were fine. The beeping continued.

I checked my cell phone, my pager, and the desk phone. Maybe the new kitten had pushed the button on the phone that locates the handset, but it was on the base. I checked my husband's cell phone, and then his pager. It took me a while to locate the pager. It had gone off while on "vibrate" and danced its way off the coffee table. Then the cats– thinking it was a bug– had batted it around. Now it was forlornly announcing, every few minutes from under the coffee table, that it had received a page and did anyone care?

Not my husband, apparently, who had slept through the whole vibrating page and cat attack incident and was still snoring on the sofa. He had been lulled to sleep by his 32-inch flat screen television.

I hadn't witnessed the dancing pager either– I was in another room watching a video. We have separate TVs because we have different tastes in entertainment. I can sit through Anna Nicole Smith and the movie While You Were Sleeping, whereas he'd rather scratch his eyes out. Anything to do with outer space or football turns me rabid.

Thus we have acquired many electronic devices. There are never enough plugs in our house. We have extra plugs plugged into plugs. It is an addiction, and as costly as hard drugs. We owe thousands of dollars to the credit man because manufacturers keep coming out with bigger televisions, faster computers, more realistic video game systems, and different ways to buy and play music. They keep inventing new kitchen gadgets. And we have to have every one of them. If it plugs in, we need it.

I don't know why. We just do. We are the Sid and Nancy of gadgetry.

We have four TVs, all with VCRs attached. We had to add a couple of DVD players when they came out, and that meant rebuying all our favorite VHS tapes on DVD. Each television set-up requires three or more remotes to operate.

We had to replace our record players with cassette decks– and then double cassette decks– so we could copy tapes. Then we had to replace those with CD players. That means we had to rebuy all our favorite vinyl albums on CD. Then we had to add a CD burner to the stereo to copy the CDs.

We upgraded our computer three times because Apple kept making better ones, then we bought separate computers. We both have scanners, color printers, digital cameras, and CD burners. We're networked to a laser printer in the hallway. But that boy on TV who keeps saying "dude" is really making us think we might need a Dell.

The kitchen situation got so bad that we had to put utility shelves in the laundry room for the "cooking museum," a place to store all our seldom-used kitchen gadgets after the cabinets got too full. There's a bread maker, an espresso machine, an ice tea maker, a popcorn popper, an electric mixer, a waffle maker, and a food processor. We're on our second George Foreman grill and our fifth can opener, an egg-shaped thing called a Gizmo. In the stores, we eagerly eyeball the George Foreman roasting machine and the Salton egg cooker. How can we live another week without those?

And look at this thing: It makes snow cones!

We have a second phone line for the fax machine. The plain paper fax replaced the thermal paper fax. We rarely get a fax anymore, but you never know. My husband recently decided his pager wasn't adequate for his needs and got a cell phone that flips open, like Captain Kirk signaling the Enterprise. They said if he got the family plan and shared his minutes, he could have another phone for free. I already have a cell phone, but what the heck. This phone plays Tetris.

I had an old Nintendo that had a great Tetris game on it, but when they came out with the Playstation, that was better. Then we got a Dreamcast, but they stopped making games for that, so I got a Nintendo Gamecube with a wireless Wavebird controller. The problem is, my husband won't yield the TV reserved for Star Trek and football so I can get Mario's brother out of the hidden room of the haunted mansion. I could move the game to another TV, but the main TV has a big flat screen. I like my Mario brother big and flat. Maybe I need a bigger TV in my room.

How much of this stuff can we take with us to debtor's prison, I wonder?

Mariane Matera, whose essays appear widely, lives with her electronics and spouse in Richmond.