Back in the early 1960s, there was never a shortage of literature in my family’s home -- back about the time LBJ promised the nation was not about to “send American boys 9 or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” We had publications of every genre.
The old man preferred the gut-busting tales of saloon-soaked cowboys ending their last cattle drives and the desperadoes who met their fates on the streets of Laredo. The Mom preferred True Romance, whose characters often were lusty lasses making bad choices and wives at crossroads in their marriages, and Reader’s Digest condensed volumes.
My library consisted mainly of Childcraft books, dog-eared back issues of Mad magazine and stacks of comics, ranging from Superman and Batman, to Archie Andrews and his classmates at Riverdale High. Virtually ever issue of any comic book worth its salt in those days reserved the inside back cover with content capable of making any pre-adolescent boy dream big. The page always kicked off with a screaming header like “Look Here Kids!!!!”
Does the image of growing your own “sea monkeys” at home ring a bell? Maybe not. But that slick page offered a world of adventure and promise. But the catch, as it always has been in advertising, is to persuade a reader to ante up with their hard-earned bucks. You could run the table on the universe, at least among your friends, for fun and your personal amusement. I often fantasized what I could do if I possessed a few measly dollars.
Consider a few of the possibilities I once yearned for:
Joy Buzzer. This nifty little device fit in the palm of your hand attached to a fake ring on your hand. Wind it up and shake hands with another and get a laugh from giving the victim a “shocking sensation.” In truth, there was no electrical jolt; just a slight, noisy vibration. Cost: 50 cents.
Learn to Throw Your Voice. Amaze your friends with the ability to make them hear voices coming from a closet or suitcase or from beneath the teacher’s desk. This potentially dangerous device could easily slide down your throat and force a typhoon of stomach detritus spewing to the floor. This, of course, would force the teacher to get on the intercom and request the school janitor – poor, old Mr. Muehlbar – to snuff out his cigarette in the boiler room and immediately report to soak up the reeking mess with a bucket of sawdust. Cost: 35 cents.
Onion Gum. Looks like a stick of real gum, but tastes like the real thing. It was the perfect way to get back at school bullies, some ads suggested. It also offered the sure way to get your ass kicked and eyes blackened as a result. Cost: A mere 25 cents.
Exploding Army Hand Grenade. Here’s real battle authenticity. This menacing hand grenade looks and works just like the real one. All you do is pull the pin, wait four seconds, throw the grenade and watch the fun as it explodes automatically! And it’s completely harmless… I’m sure the last claim was true. I threw a few of those real things in Army basic training and the results were somewhat different. I do wish we had supplied these mail-order versions to the Afghanistan Taliban back when our country was supporting them in their war against the USSR in the 1980s. Cost $1.
Skin Head Wig. Made of flesh-toned latex this fits all head sizes. Good for the executive who would like to change his image. Heck, many guys sport this look now without needing the wig. Personally, I no longer desire or have need of this product. Time and genetics has ran its cruel course on me. Cost: $1.
Frontier Cabin. Big enough for 2-3 kids. This huge western-style cabin is a child’s dream come true! Just down sit this sheer structure left out in the rain or it will experience the fate of that cake in MacArthur Park. Perhaps such dwellings would be a solution to our nation’s homeless problem. Cost: $1 (or five for $4).
But of all of myriad and enticing products offered in comic book ads, there was one which mesmerized and tantalized me and millions of other boys my age at that time. An essential item capable of changing the world.
X-Ray Specs. Scientific optical principle really works! Put on your Specs and hold your hand in front of you to see past the flesh and view your bones. Look at your friends and see what they’re wearing under the clothes. Loads of laughs and fun at parties! But the visual part of the ad really was geared to boys: It depicted a pervert leering at the silhouette of some faceless, provocatively posed gal. Cost: $1, plus 25 cents shipping charge – with money back guarantee.
At that age, my primary purpose would have been to use the glasses to see beyond the Christmas paper wrapping and get the answers to tests and quizzes. Guess I lacked imagination.
Today, I need mainstream glasses for more pragmatic reasons. To read the stacks of books, magazines and other literature I have collected over these many years.