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James R. Stout

Kids Stuff

            It’s interesting how you can suddenly recall silly insignificant things from your past. This happened to me earlier today. In 1971 a new toy came on the scene. It turned out to be fairly short-lived. But for a couple of months you just couldn’t avoid the things. It was near the end of my freshman year in high school when I was walking down a hall in school and I heard a loud and irritating sound reverberating in the halls. By the end of the school year the sound became a part of the cacophony of my high school existence. I had learned that the “toy” was something called “Clackers”. It was two acrylic balls a little bigger than a golf ball and not quite as big as a tennis ball attached to two long strings. There was a little handle of sorts in the middle that you held between your thumb and forefinger. The goal was to move the balls up and down until they clacked against each other loudly. The faster you moved it, the more clacking you got. Now, I only know this from watching some of the suckers who bought one of these toys. I never owned one myself. Oh, I suppose I did try out a friend’s once and it only took once for me to determine that you could seriously hurt yourself with those very hard acrylic balls.

            Pretty soon you started seeing guys with black eyes, castes on their wrists, and bruising about the head. The part that amazed me was a lot of these guys were still clacking away. By the end of the school year the school had banned them. No more clacking in school. Of course, there were always a few guys who would sneak them into school or do their clacking in a parking lots adjacent to the school. There were some serious injuries with those things too. Oh, and notice I have said “guys” playing with these things. That’s because the girls were smarter than the guys.

            I looked-up “clackers” via Google and there were a lot of pictures and if you didn’t get enough bumps and bruises way back when, then you can buy a set on eBay. But please don’t. You’re in your 60’s now and your hand to eye coordination isn’t near what it was nearly 50 years ago. I can just see the television news reporting a growing number of elderly men knocking themselves out with a set of antique clackers. A 20-something year-old field reporter is interviewing a bruised and battered retiree in a hospital bed.

            “Sir, how did you injure yourself?”

            “I was doing pretty good with my clackers, but then I goofed and one of the balls whacked me in my right eye. Then I lost my balance and fell off the front porch and into my wife’s rose bushes. Then she beat me up.” Replied the old man.

            I also found out that Clackers were officially banned from manufacturing in the United States in 1985. But we’ll always have China and eBay. It’s funny that as I’m writing this, I can very clearly remember the sound of those things despite it having been 48 years ago. Now, you would think that a lesson would have been learned with those things. Think again.

            The summer of 1973 had a huge blockbuster movie out called “Enter the Dragon”. It was Bruce Lee’s big hit movie. To this day I wonder if he might have actually died from extreme constipation. Have you ever listened to the sounds he made and the faces he made?  Well, Bruce used something in the movie that seemed custom made for all the Clacker lovers. They were called “Nunchucks”. Suddenly a bunch of martial arts wannabees were slapping themselves upside the head with these things. However, I suspect that they were a fairly successful method of birth control. Those guys started slapping those hard pieces of wood around and a lot of guys had numb nuts. To be fair, they weren’t really a toy and in the hands of an expert they were a formidable weapon.

            Anybody remember Lawn Darts? I doubt anybody was ever impaled by one, but they could leave a bump on your head. There have likely been all kinds of toys that were not well thought out before putting them in the hands of kids. I actually owned one when I was about 5 years old. It was called a “Belt Buckle Gun”. It attached to your belt buckle and looked like a derringer. It was a cap gun as well as when the cap went off a little plastic bullet would shoot out. You had to pooch out your stomach which caused the derringer to swingout and the cap would go off. I never got hurt by that toy, but apparently there were some kids who received serious burns when the caps exploded.

            Perhaps the most notorious banned “toy” ever came out in 1951. Thankfully, it was before my time. It was called “Atomic Energy Laboratory”. It was invented by the same guy who invented the erector set. I’m thinking he must have had a girder fall on his head and it caused him to lose his common sense. This little gem used real radioactive materials that one could witness mist trails created by particles of ionizing radiation. The set contained four uranium-bearing ore samples. It boggles the mind to think about it.

            It’s no wonder parents of today must be very cautious about any toy that they may allow their child to play with. The scary part is there are likely things that kids are playing with today that don’t appear to be harmful, but who knows what they’ll find out about some latent danger in a toy 50 years from now. The truth is the average person has to trust the manufacturer and to some extent the government to make sure things are safe. I don’t have a clue what goes into making the myriad of electronic devices that I own including the laptop that I’m writing this on. Then there’s the warnings that we all know about, but some of us choose to ignore. Granted, I have never seen an explosion caused by someone talking on a cell phone while pumping gas. But apparently there is a danger of this happening. It always seems to be my luck to be pumping gas next to someone yacking away on their cell phone while pumping gas next to me.

            In the end, we have to use common sense and we have to realize that we carry some of the responsibility for things like this. Before I retired, I spent a huge part of my day staring at a computer screen. I started having blurry vision because of it. My job required me to use the laptop. There was no getting around it. But I did some research and learned techniques that aided in keeping me from getting blurry vision when using a computer.

            Things have really changed since I was a child. I could write several books about those changes, but I won’t. Some of those changes have been for good and unfortunately some of them have not. We didn’t have child car seats or even seat belts in our cars when I was a little kid. We do now and to not use them is just plain stupid. I guess I just want to say to my friends and readers to use your head about things and be careful. I do care about you even if I don’t actually know you. I hate turning on the 6 o’clock news and hearing about a child that drowned because his parent didn’t have the child wearing a lifesaver. I have children and grandchildren and to lose one of them would be devastating. I don’t want anyone to go through that kind of loss. So, be careful out there and whatever you do, DON’T buy an Atomic Energy Laboratory in an unopened box at an antiques store. It’s got a half-life of anywhere from 160,000 years to 4 million years. That set was made in 1951. Do the math!

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