Friday, July 30, 2004


Working here at SupaDupaSoft, we receive--and distribute--a lot of swag, the corporate-logo-emblazoned giveaway crap that's common to conventions and team-building pep-rally stuff. Mugs and mousepads and key rings and great bales of t-shirts and pretty much any gewgaw you can stick a logo or product name on, you can find in my desk or someone else's. Today I went into the kitchen on our floor and found a yo-yo, touting one of our technologies and abandoned (?) by the recycling bins. Losers weepers; I snagged it immediately. Not only was it an excellent yo-yo, nicely balanced; at the apex of its loop, it both lit up and made an irritating sound. Mine! I strolled yo-yoing back to my office, and bumped into Mike and my boss in the hall.

"Yo-yos are for boys! You're supposed to play with jacks," Mike said.

"You have some gender issues, don't you?" asked my boss. (He does--tsks all over the place when one of his female colleagues cuts her hair short or crumples her petticoat or whatever.)

I round-the-world-ed it close enough to his skull to make him duck. Hee.

Anyway. This started a discussion of toys and games and playground fads, whatever craze or chant would suddenly sweep over the schoolyard in the primary grades. Yo-yos were like this for me; when I was in about 4th grade, some...professional (?) ...yo-yo-ists came to a school assembly and performed amazing tricks, spinning and popping and twirling little orbs all over the gym while we sat cross-legged on the floor, awestruck. They gave away four yo-yos to kids in the audience as prizes. The next day, every kid on the playground had a yo-yo, I swear to god. Within 48 hours, a good percentage of us had accessorized the toy with a black eye or fat lip or at least one tender goose-egg rising on the scalp. Within 72 hours, Mrs. Eskenazi had developed a pretty magnificent yo-yo collection in her desk drawer. I wonder if she still has them?

Somehow, I picked up a few tricks over time. In addition to terrorizing Mike with my yo-yo's orbit, I Rocked the Baby, and Walked the Dog somewhat ineffectually on the office carpet. Lucky thing it's annual review time, eh?

What else? Mike suggested "clackers," another nosebleed-inducing toy of the past: plastic spheres on either end of a string that you slung up and down so that, if you managed their parabolic arc perfectly, they'd clack against each other with an irritating sound. If you managed the arc imperfectly, well, later you might have an interesting scar. I never had much affinity for jacks, and marbles were ehhh for whatever reason in most of my childhood, but I remembered jumping rope, both "Chinese" (a loop around two participants' knees, that you hopped in and out of) and regular, with all the chants and ditties. My boss got a sort of "fuzzy memories" look on her face. "Can you still..." she asked, and then simply raised her hands and pantomimed a little hand-jive in the hall. Why, I'll be Miss Mary Mack--I do remember!

It brought up an old fascination of mine...where does that stuff come from? I mean, we all learn it from other kids, the bigger kids...but where did they learn it? Where did it start? I mean, we didn't have the Internet to spread this around. What accounts for the slight regional differences?--I sing, "See See Oh Playmate" and the next kid insists it's "Say Say." And I remember parodies, too, of our own little folk jingles. What little wise-ass came up with this?

See see oh enemy,
Come out and fight with me!
And bring your [something something] three,
Climb up my [uhh...sticker bush? something dangerous]
Slide down my razor blade [my adult self says, eeeeeauuugh]
Into my dungeon door...

When I retire from the software industry and become that goofy senior citizen bothering everyone else in the American Studies PhD program, this is totally my thesis.

Of course, it's been done: One Potato, Two Potato looks like an interesting treatise on the topic. Or you can just start Googling and see where it gets you, which is how I found Julia's blog entry and comments (which alternate between two topics: babymaking, and playground jingles from all over the globe, an unanticipated combo). Plus, there's always the Harvard Dialect Survey; they're no longer taking new entries, but you can look at the results and the maps and it's absolutely fascinating.

This all reminds me of a lifelong burning question--just what were Paul and Julio doing down by the schoolyard?

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