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The world is in bad shape, brother. The world needs help, brother. Just look to the right or the left, and you know what the Captain is hollering about between the stutters of his Woolworth horn at a Broadway stakeout. Heck, he complains, this was once a prized territory: you could always get a decent piece of cheesecake at any hour and you seldom heard the clank of coin, only the silence of bills falling gently. Well, nothing is the same anymore, even for Salvation Army captains, not to mention summer and children and neighborhood games and the quality of jawbreakers.
For one thing, summers always seemed longer and hotter, the beaches more vacant and children more like children. Kids 10 years old seldom sound their age. They sound like they're 50 and have more opinions than a racetrack tout, like "Tell him, Billy, what you think about nuclear detente." Another thing, where have all the butterflies gone? They are rarely seen in large cities anymore and are vanishing from the suburbs as well. Lepidopterists in England did not see a single black and gold Chequered Skipper in all of 1973. The world is in bad shape, brother.
All of this brings us down to marbles, not the argot for brains but the real thing: perfectly round; so smooth; brilliantly colored; as precious to generations of children as any diamond. Has anyone seen a marble lately? Has anyone seen a marble in the hand of a kid? Most likely the answer is no, for the only things kids carry these days are transistor radios, slices of pizza and tickets to rock concerts. The marble belongs to a time that now seems otherworldly, when trees lined big city blocks as far as the eye could see, when barley soup was supper three times a week, when children had secret places.
True, but not absolutely so. Nothing is absolute in the U.S. of A., not even the decline and fall of marbles. That was evident recently in Wildwood, N.J., hard by the Atlantic Ocean and only a couple of steps removed from being an esthetic blight. Now, Wildwood is not a common name in seaside language, nor will you find it on any object fished out of a penny arcade claw machine, but three things made Wildwood, N.J. a subject of curiosity the other day: it had its first earthquake (a sudden tremor), an event quickly ignored because it would only produce bad publicity; it had the largest assemblage of elderly people (known offensively as Senior Citizens) ever beheld by the human eye; and it was the site of something called the National Marbles Tournament.
Scientists easily explained the quake, saying that something out there in the ocean slipped back into place after ten thousand years. One lovely and aged lady explained the presence of the Citizens. "Nobody else wants us," she said. "Nobody likes to look at or have old people around. We have to stick together." Fine, but nobody could figure out what the National Marbles was doing there, least of all the mayor of Wildwood who—if he does not exactly consider marbles anathema—would prefer that the players take their marbles and go somewhere else to play. The mayor likes conventions, he likes people with funny hats on—the fez kind—rolling up and down his boardwalk, he likes people who buy things.
"You mean to tell me that the mayor of this town doesn't like marbles?" the mayor's public relations man is asked.
"Well, I wouldn't say that," he says.
"Then the mayor is crazy about marbles, is that right?" he is asked again.
"No, I wouldn't say that."
"Well, what would you say?"