When I showed up for my first marble tournament, a girl in pigtails
stood opposite me with a poised thumb and index finger into which
was inserted a plunker that looked like a Mack truck ready to hit
I'm not going to tell you who won that match. Nobody can make
me tell you. I will say this much, though. When I went home that
day, the only thing in my pockets was lint.
Not many young folks play marbles anymore. Pac-man's the "in"
thing now. That's all right. At least with Pac-man, you don't rub
your knuckles raw or sprain your thumbs.
And you don't need a whole can of Boraxo to wash your hands after
I'm not sure why so many kids shot marbles when I was growing
up. After all, the only thing you could do with them was count them
or pour them down a heating duct during a temper tantrum.
Of course, you could admire them too. There were moonstones, rainbows,
cat's eyes, purees, peppermint stripes. Each one looked like a celestial
orb, a little world unto itself. If you held it up to the light,
you could see an undiscovered planet - with swirling seas, green
mists and cottony clouds - in some undiscovered galaxy two billion
light years away.
I had a whole universe of marbles, which I kept in cigar boxes.
On rainy days, I'd run my hands through them to feel their coolness
and roundness. Then I'd count each one - Silas Marner with his secret
The steelie was the Darth Vadar of marbles. It was legal to use
one unless you and your opponent had agreed beforehand to send yours
When I used a steelie, I'd sort of loft it in an arc, like a guided
missile, toward the huddled mass of glass at the center of the ring.
Out they'd go in all directions, scurrying toward the otter limits
Whenever I had a good day, I'd rattle my pockets and just let
them bulge as I walked past as many neighborhood kids as I could
Caesar triumphant with his spoils of war.
I got to be pretty good a marbles - so good, in fact, that I required
five cigar boxes to store my universe. I'm not bragging when I tell
you I could pick off a puree at 10 paces without looking down.
In the fifth grade, I won a marble tournament and even got a trophy.
Somebody took my picture and put it in the paper. Caesar triumphant.
Then one day that girl showed up with that poised plunker, and
I went home with lint in my pockets.
I swear she hunched.
She must have.
I know she did.
I still had four full cigar boxes at home
and Darth Vader.