Friday, November 6, 2009

The Red Clackers Affair

Remember when Clackers was the rage? Maybe you don't, but I sure do. Clackers was the ultimate skill game during the late 1960s and early 1970s. By March 1971, 42 million clackers had been manufactured in the United States, making them the first fad of the 1970s. Well, it didn't last long for a reason.

Clackers was two large marbles attached by a sturdy string with a ring in the center. You would put your finger in the ring allowing the marbles or to hang below. Then the fun would begin. The idea was to get the two balls "clacking" against each other by pulling up on the ring lightly. Once you got the hang of it, you could get them going faster and faster until they were smacking each other above and below your hand in a stunning arc.



Then, the problems began. While kids loved them, teachers and doctors....and parents weren't so impressed. Clackers started finding their way into the schoolyards and it did not take long before they were yanked from shelves because kids were suffering eye injuries, and well...there was also something about the velocity of the balls if the cord broke. In February 1971, the Food and Drug Administration warned against Clackers, and so, following a nationwide outbreak of badly bruised arms and bloodshot eyes, Clackers' popularity hit rock bottom and they were BANNED!

However, before Clackers were pulled from the shelves, guess who bought a set?

That would be me.

The date was February 2, 1971. I was 11-years-old and I bought Clackers at McWhorter's Variety Store. Wow! Clackers was just the most popular fad in America and I had red ones! I was in heaven.

You are probably wondering, how I remember the exact date? I thought you'd never ask. You see, the Bulldogs were playing basketball at Tompkinsville that night, and I rode to the game with my dad and Sid Scott, who were going to be broadcasting the game over the radio.

Now, you have to understand I was really excited. The minute I walked out of the store, I tore open the package and began 'clacking.' Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. I couldn't stop. It was like a kid at Christmastime. Wait, I WAS a kid, only it was February.

But, the fun ended almost as quickly as it began. We had only gone a few short miles, when my dad told me to stop 'clacking.' Sid said I was going to put my eye out. Now, I did not believe him, but I did as I was told, and stuffed my Clackers into my right front pants pocket for the rest of the trip to Tompkinsville. The first thing I did when I walked inside the gymnasium was to get out my Clackers and start 'clacking' again. Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. But, sigh, once again, my dad told me to put them up because I could "hurt someone." Can you believe that? So...back into my right front pants pocket my Clackers went!

Clinton County versus Tompkinsville was and still is a bitter rivalry. Even today, long after Tompkinsville and Gamaliel consolidated to form Monroe County High School, when the two teams play it is war!

That night, back on February 2, 1971, was no different, only that particular evening the war was centered around two players, the Bulldogs' Randy Brown and Tompkinsville's Louis Oglethorp. Randy Brown was one of my idols. He was cool on the court. He walked cool. He shot the ball cool. He looked cool. As a matter of fact, everything he did, I thought, was cool. That is why on that night, when I was 11-years-old, I never took my eye of him and his one-on-one battle with Louis Oglethorp. Brown gave back as much as Oglethorp dished out. It had the making of a classic battle, and for me, memorable.

Then, it happened.

During the game, I overheard some ladies behind me talking about the new fad - Clackers! At halftime, I thought I would impress them by showing them MY clackers. I was so proud! I reached into my right front pants pocket to pull them out, but when I did, the cord came loose from one of the marbles. OH NO! I felt like Ralphie on the Christmas Story movie! I was d-e-v-a-s-t-a-t-e-d! My NEW toy was broken. How could this happen to me? I just knew that people were going to laugh at me. Oh, the shame of having the most latest fad in America and it was broken. It was almost too much for a boy of 11 to bear. I was as heartbroken as one can be heartbroken, but suddenly, somehow, somewhere, I came up with a plan. I was going to fix my Clackers! I was not going to throw the hottest thing in America into a trash can, especially at Tompkinsville!

I attempted to thread the cord into the hole in the marble, but it was difficult, because the cord was limp, and because the hole was really small. With pure grit and determination, I wet the end of the cord with my lips....but no luck. The second half of the game had begun. Randy Brown and Louis Oglethorp continued to wage war with each other. It was very heated. Tompkinsville was beating us badly on the scoreboard, but the score did not matter. The battle between my idol, Randy Brown and his arch nemisis, Louis Oglethorp, far outweighed any score. So, there I sat on the bleacher watching the war and trying to fix my Clackers!

And, that's when a miracle occured.

I put that string through that marble! I FIXED MY CLACKERS! There IS a God I thought! I was so happy, that I forgout about my dad telling me not to play with my Clackers inside the gymnasium. So, as the clock wound down, there I sat, grinning from ear to ear, beaming with all the pride an 11-year-old boy could muster up -- and clacking! Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack.

As the clock wound down the final seconds of the game, Randy Brown was standing at the Tompkinsville free throw line. Oglethorp was behind him. I was clacking. Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. Just as the clock went 3--2--1, I know he wasn't, but it appeared that Randy Brown looked right at me, and suddenly he became a human clacker! Standing with one foot flat on the floor, he lifted his other leg and nailed Louis Oglethorp just under his chin with a very powerful kung-fu kick. BAM! Oglethorp hit the floor and just as he did, Brown and the rest of the Bulldog's players ran for the locker room as fast as they could go. It was total chaos as fans on both sides of the gymnasium ran onto the court, before police, school officials and others were able to restore order.

So, that is how I remember the day I bought my red Clackers. When Clackers were pulled from the shelves, mine went into the trash can and that was the end of that. My clacking days were over. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted, I guess.

Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack.

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