Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Grandson and I: Behind the Eight Ball

Magic 8-Ball

It's sat on a bookshelf, acting as sort of an inefficient bookend, for I don't know how many years.  I forget why I even bought it.  I think I was writing something about my junior high school years (my earliest memory of the device), and I found one on the Internet?  I played with it a bit, remembering.  Then put it away with other childish things, up on the shelf where it now (inefficiently) separates a special issue (devoted to Hamlet) of the Mississippi Review (2001) and a collection of Mary Karr's poetry (Sinners Welcome, 2006).  So ... these fairly recent dates--2001, 2006--tell me the Magic 8-Ball must have once separated other, earlier volumes.  (Oh, my Sherlockian senses!)

I don't think I've held the Magic 8-Ball in my hands since we moved to this house in the fall of 1997--explaining the few grains of dust that now adorn its surface.  Until this past Sunday.  That day, our son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons (Logan, 8; Carson, 4 in a few weeks) came up for a visit on a warm evening, an evening that commenced with a walk down to Cold Stone Creamery and culminated with a session with the Magic 8-Ball.

Back in seventh and eighth grade I had my first experiences with the Magic 8-Ball--and with a Oiuja board, as well.  Bored boys and girls we were, not realizing that what we really wanted was sex, so we played Truth or Dare and dabbled with spiritualism.  (Truth or Dare--the game in which you always lie.)  No devices such as Magic 8-Balls or Ouija boards lived in my own conventionally religious/Christian home (each had the whiff of sulfur about it), but there were some friends, some neighbors, who had them, and I remember watching with a mixture of delight, alarm, and fear for my Mortal Soul as I saw my friends--and then, unaccountably, myself--experiment with them.  (Years later, by the way, I would read Jack London's fortune-telling story, "Planchette.")

I don't remember what I thought, back in the mid-1950s, when I was first confronted with this sort of suburban version of fortune-telling.  I think I was skeptical (it's not in the Bible)--but I think I was also excited in a what-if? kind of way.  I mean, that planchette did seem to move under the fingers of Marcia and Kathy.  And that Magic 8-Ball did seem to know the truth (except, of course, when it didn't).

But Time went on (as it is wont to do), and I found myself trusting other predictors of--well, let's be honest--women's behavior, predictors, I've subsequently learned, that were no more reliable than the old Magic 8-Ball: right enough to be interesting, wrong enough to be dangerous.

Last Sunday, Logan, Joyce, and I found ourselves in kind of a game of "I Spy" in the room where the 8-Ball dwells.  Joyce and I were using it as an occasion to teach Logan about some of our books (the invariable targets of our spying); Logan was using it to find out about some of that weird other stuff on the bookshelves.  And so the 8-Ball appeared.

He brought it over to me, asked me how it worked.  I barely remembered.  I turned it over (that much I remembered!), saw that it required a question with a yes or no answer.  And so off we went.  At first, the questions were simple, innocuous: Does Logan like school?  Does Carson like strawberries? (Oh, does he!)  Soon, though, we tired of the mundane, and Logan, especially, started asking dangerous questions.  Does Gommy love Silly Papa?  (His names for Joyce and me.)

And you know what?  The 8-Ball came through, time after time after time.  If not with a Yes--definitely, at least with a Most likely or Outlook good.  Soon we were laughing like the idiots we were.

Trusty (?) Wikipedia has a little article about the device (Link) and traces it back to 1950.  (I turned six that year.)  I learned that the device contains a die--an icosahedral die (having twenty faces)--floating in alcohol with dark blue dye.  (How many times have you written die and dye in the same sentence?)

Of course, fortune-telling is an ancient craft (con?).  We've always wanted to know how things will turn out.

As if we didn't know.

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