Sunday, March 26, 2006

Marble Madness

When I was a kid, we had a marble craze sweep the playground.

But it wasn't the traditional, knock the marbles out of the circle kind of marbles.

Oh no. This was way more 'Lord of the Flies'.

What happened was that kids set up shop by drawing a line in the dirt, and then putting a particularly attractive marble a certain distance away. Other kids could then front up to this 'stall' consisting of a dirt line and a kid sitting in the sand, and throw marbles at it. The rules were simple. If you hit the marble, you got to keep it. If you missed, the stall-holder got to keep the shooter marble.

So every lunch time, the playground would be turned into this kind of dust bowl marble bazaar, with all these kids yelling 'One shot a Tom!' or 'One shot for two bird-cages!'

As I recall, there was a discreet order of value, with 'normals' being near worthless shooter marbles, and a whole dazzling array of 'milkys', 'sheenys,' 'Steelies'(Ball Bearings), 'Speckles', and 'Clearys' all with different levels of rarity,and hence worth. And if you could get any of them in a Tom or 'Jumbo' size, then they were worth way, way more.

It was interesting the kinds of marketing tactics that kids employed. Some kids would set up little stalls and only offer normals and put the line really close. Others would offer very attractive marbles, but put the line miles away. And of course, every now and then some 'criminal' would try and claim a marble that they hit with a rock, or a piece of plastic. More than once the teachers would be called in to police fights.

Me and a few other 6th graders ran a consortium - we basically pooled all our marbles, and then used them to get more, using a bargain basement strategy.

We'd offer two normals and a 'special' marble for one hit. The line was far enough away to be attractive, but not too close - turned out we'd nearly always get more than four marbles before someone claimed the prize.

With four of us working the playground, over a few weeks, we amassed an enormous collection of marbles. We'd take turns taking them home, and showing them off. One night, I gave the bag to my friend Scott, who didn't want to take it.

"Nah", - he said. "I don't want it. It's too heavy"

It was true. A thousand marbles is really heavy.
(It took me two rest stops on the walk home. )

"Well, I'm not taking them ."

"Me neither", said Nathan.

"Well, what are we going to do with them?"

I really didn't want to take them home again.

"They're just marbles. I don't want them. They're pretty stupid, really."

"Yeah - You can't actually do anything with them ...."

What happened next spelled the end of all marbles at Village Creek Primary School. We took a thousand marbles, and emptied them into the middle of the marble bazaar. Marbles went everywhere. Kids were fighting for them, and beating each other up. There was absolute chaos, as the biggest marble stock crash ever went down all around us in a grabby, screaming high pitched fit of devaluation.

When the dust cleared, there were teachers everywhere, kids of all ages hoarding all these marbles in their school shirts, and showing them off to each other, and the principal, who carried us all off to his office for a good talking to.

So that was how the marble bubble burst.

I wonder how much money I'd need to dump in the middle of the CBD to get the same effect in grown-up land?

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