Ben Franklin and the Magic 8 Ball
I have a new advertiser over on the right.
The Playmakers, a celebration of classic toys and a tribute to the people who brought them to life. This 312-page book promises to take you on a toy trip of epic proportions, covering nearly 100 years worth of playthings and offering a delightful look back at many childhood favorites.
So I took a trip to the website this morning and immediately got lost in a wave of nostalgia. And we know what happens when I get nostalgic.
There is a poll running on the Playmakers site now: The Greatest Toy Ball Ever Created. Your choices are Magic 8 Ball, Wiffle Ball, Super Ball, Nerf Ball, and Koosh Ball.
I came pretty close to voting for the Nerf ball. How can you not give props to a ball that you could actually play with in the house without breaking mom's favorite vase or play with outside without breaking your sister's nose?
While the other balls are fine specimens, indeed (have you ever tried to see how many times a Super Ball can bounce in one room on one throw?) I had to vote for the Magic 8 Ball. It was, after all, my introduction to all things other-worldly and probably led up to my love of horror movies.
I'm not sure when I got my first Magic 8 Ball. I just know that, unlike its relatives that exist today, my 8 ball was heavy (relatively speaking - I was little). When you held one of those babies in your hand, it felt like you had the weight of the world sitting in your palm. The heaviness gave it an authenticity that the cheap plastic of today can't convey.
We would spend hours huddled in the backyard asking the 8 ball questions that only the Mystical Spirit of the Blue Goo would know.
Will I marry Bobby Sherman?
Does Paul Carey really wet his bed?
Does my mother hide the Christmas presents in the attic?
Of course, you know the pat answers. Outlook not so good. It is decidedly so. Outlook good. Ask again later (which meant ask two seconds later). My reply is no (which meant try again).
Eventually, we gave up on marrying Bobby Sherman, Paul Carey moved to another state and we found the Christmas presents. And, we grew up. Who would ask a silly 8 ball for relationship advice, anyhow?
But we didn't throw our 8 balls away. Unbeknownst to each other at the time, we all kept our 8 balls close at hand. Just in case. Will the Yankees win this game? Will my breasts ever grow?
The 8 ball tide turned at a sleep over at Arleen's house in 7th grade. After all our cache of scary urban legends had been exhausted, talk turned to all things supernatural. We talked about ghosts and vampires and shadows under the bed. This led to a mini-fight, pitting those of us who believed in things that go bump in the night against those who were quite sure that we were out of our minds. Or heathens. Arleen decided to quell the fight by consulting the Magic 8 ball. Which, when you think about it, shouldn't have solved anything, as those who didn't believe in ghosts were not likely to believe a toy. But by then the Magic 8 Ball had become somewhat of a mascot to our little group, and the other girls could not deny its power.
Are there such things as ghosts?
Arleen shook up that 8 ball with the same vigor which she would later in life shake her martinis.
Better not tell you now.
Well, that gave Lori the heebie jeebies. She surmised that if the all powerful 8 ball did not want to tell us, its because....because.....they were already ghosts in the room!
I grabbed the 8 ball from Arleen.
Are there spirits present here?
We held our collective breath as I shook the the 8 ball, the blue goo forming foaming bubbles that obscured the words for a few seconds. And then the bubbles subsided and the answer was revealed:
Yes - definitely.
Lori (who, looking back, had a mother reminiscent of Carrie's), grabbed the 8 ball out of my hands and flung it across the room. Obviously, the thing was possessed because not only did it not break, but there wasn't a scratch or dent on it when Arleen retrieved it from under the bed.
The noise of the 8 ball rolling on the wooden floor, plus the hysterical whimpering of Lori woke up Arleen's older sister Tammy, who stormed into the room demanding to know what we were up to. Lori, crying by this time, announced that we were playing games with the devil. Lori pointed to the Magic 8 ball.
This thing? Tammy laughed. You think you can call out the devil with this stupid toy? Hang on girls, I've got something better for you.
And so we spent the next few hours learning the proper way to read an Ouija board. Well, most of us did. Lori went downstairs and slept on the couch, away from us devil worshipers.
The Ouija board did not hold the same mysteries for me as the 8 ball did. It was too easy to manipulate and Arleen was a horrible speller, so we knew when the the triangle disc pointed us to GOHSTS in the room, Arleen had something to do with it. So Tammy decided to go one better, and showed us how hold a seance.
We called up on the ghost of Ben Franklin. We figured we would start with someone benign.
Lesson: Never call upon the ghost of Ben Franklin when the weather is ripe for a thunderstorm. No sooner did Tammy say (in a deep, spooky voice) Ben Franklin, if you are here, give us a sign, then a bolt of lightning lit up the night sky.
Have you ever heard five 13 year old girls scream in unison? The irony was not lost on us, all of whom knew the story of Ben Franklin and the lightning bolt. It all made perfect sense.
I saw him, I saw him! Grace, who had remained quite until then, was pointing towards the window, where the curtains were now billowing the wind and the tree branches were scraping against the glass. He was there! I saw his glasses! He was smiling and it was evil! Ben Franklin is the devil!
It was chaos for a few moments as we all scrambled to the window, looking for a sign of a bespectacled Satan. He was nowhere to be found.
An argument broke out as to whether or not Ben Franklin actually appeared at our sleep over, or whether Satan appeared disguised as Ben. No one questioned Grace's sighting; she was the smartest among us and would never steer us wrong.
I decided to settle the argument the easy way. I grabbed the Magic 8 ball off the night stand and gave it a shake.
Was Ben Franklin here?
Without a doubt was the answer.
Is Ben Franklin the devil?
Don't count on it.
I have to say, that answer was a bit disappointing. The mere thought of Ben Franklin being an agent of Satan was too delicious to not believe.
Alas, the Magic 8 ball was always right. After all, the presents were in the attic and the answer to Will I Marry Bobby Sherman was always very doubtful.
I'm afraid to ask it about the election.