I take great hope from silly marketing. I revel in fun, wherever it may be found. I often find fun in kitsch. When it comes to kitsch, nobody excels like Wham-O, Inc. Founded in 1948, named after the thudding sound that a stone makes when shot from a Wham-O slingshot, this company have provided me with a literal lifetime of joy. The products this toy company has created over the years read like a "who's who" of my childhood and fondest dreams. Take the frisbee, for example. I frequently wonder if any shortfall in my daily enjoyment of life is not a direct result of lack of frisbee play. I simply do not play frisbee anymore, and why not? There is no good reason.
Of course, the Wham-O product line does not begin or end at Frisbee. I spent many a happy hour of childhood being cautioned not to throw a superball through someone's window. The SuperBall was one of those rare things that pretty much lived up to the TV commercial's hype. Although Red Ball Jet tennis shoes did not really make you run faster or jump higher (and the spy decoder ring, was, I'm sorry to say, anything but an espionage triumph), one could pummel the SuperBall into the pavement, and it would bounce so high I felt that I could see it for miles and miles and miles.
Then there was the Slip n Slide. This was a forbidden pleasure. Most parents did not permit one to get the thing, because it looked like a walking (or should I say sliding) plastic burn waiting to happen. But tons of kids, apparently wet this bit of plastic down with the garden hose, and safely slid their way to Summer glory.
Who can forget the Hula Hoop? I certainly cannot. When I was a kid, some kids could literally make that thing circle with an almost circadian rhythm. I myself could only get it to go around a time or two. But it was the very definition of fun.
I was cruising at www.wham-o.com, and found the story of Instant Fish. The idea was to sell fish eggs from one of those dry-climate fish that lays eggs in the dust. The theory was that the eggs could be sold, add water, and then presto! Instant fish. The plan failed when the surly fish declined to lay eggs in captivity. I suppose I'm happy that yet another fish species was not needlessly driven to extinction by over-eager aquariumists, but gee.
Of course, Wham-O did not invent all the fun toys. The Slinky, for example, stands non-pareil in the fun sweepstakes, but it was not a Wham-O product. Let's not forget Kenner Toys, whose spirograph traced many a geometric shape on construction paper pages around the country. Of course, the Wheel-O, a wheel which rolled on a two pronged set of rods, also deserves special praise, for its utter uselessness and fun.
They say this holiday just past was a time of nostalgia for baby-boomers turned parents late in life. I have realized more than once that I seemed to have more simple fun with kites and frisbees than kids today seem to have after eons of evercrack and never-ending nights. On the other hand, I'm sure that someday those same kids will look back with fondness at primitive computer RPG programs, just as I look back at Etch A Sketch with warm wishes.
I saw Sea Monkeys everywhere this holiday, with the boxes with the pictures of aqua-primates, but the reality that they are just brine shrimp, easily hatched, but usually of short duration.
I saw a lava lamp, which made me want to get mine out of storage. I suppose I should dig up a SuperBall, and some space food sticks, and a glass of Tang.
Wham-O is alive in well in Emeryville, California. All remains right with the world.