Of all the all-too-human characteristics I find in myself, the most maddening is dependency. And it doesn't much matter what I'm depending on, or whether I actually need it or not: I hate it, and I want it to go away as fast as possible.

The single worst incident, I think, was that day back in the 1980s when I applied for food stamps. I was utterly horrified at what had happened to me, even though it was pretty much my own damn fault; I don't think I spent more than one coupon out of the entire book, out of sheer embarrassment. Today, of course, this kind of reaction is discouraged, lest one's self-esteem be affected negatively, or some such nonsense. It took entirely too long to get back on my feet, but I swore I'd stay there once I did, and so far I have.

Then there is what the government delicately calls "substance" dependency. For the last seven or eight years I have been taking the edge off with lorazepam, a cousin of Valium that might have even greater potential for addiction: a single milligram of the stuff carries approximately the kick of 10 mg of Valium. I take as little as I dare, and believe me, I know what it's like to miss a dose. Does this make me some sort of junkie? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I hate it.

But lately, what has been getting me down has been dependency on machines: the gizmos and gadgets, large and small, that I rely on every day of my life. Yesterday two such, at opposite ends of the spectrum, threw me curves, and worse, curves that cost money.

The smaller of the two is my Sonicare electrowhatzit toothbrush, something once recommended to me by a very pretty dental hygienist with sharp instruments, substantial incentive indeed. The Sonicare indeed does a decent job, but its nonreplaceable nickel-cadmium battery pack is a major nuisance once it goes. And it's been going for some time now: