While rummaging through my old jar of coins recently, I came across an ancient token to a Franklin Institute arcade game. I hadn’t seen one of those tokens since I was probably about twelve years old, when we spent more time on field trips to the Franklin Institute than we did at school.
The token is an old bronze coin, and on one side there are two silhouetted Benjamin Franklin heads looking at each other, which form an optical illusion that, when you look at it one way, looks like a vase, but when you look at it another way, looks like a submerged David Blaine signaling for rescue divers.
The arcade machines at the Franklin Institute were all educational, and not in the same way that today’s video games teach kids things, which is probably why I had leftover tokens. The games at the Franklin Institute taught you how gravity worked by making you change trajectories to hit little targets with arrows; the games on a PlayStation2 teach you how to make Sponge Bob SquarePants accurately shoot rival gang members after stealing their sea horses in titles like “Grand Theft Auto: Pineapple Under the Sea.”
The things you can see and do in video games now truly boggle the portions of the mind that are not actively engaged in blowing off zombies’ heads. When I was a kid, the worst thing you could do in a video game was to make Mario commit fungicide by jumping on a mushroom. Some games even taught valuable life skills — everything I needed to know about firearm safety I learned from playing Duck Hunt. For instance, ten-year-olds should never leave their pistols on the living room couch, because Mom might trip over the cord. Also, when a dog pops out of the bushes to laugh at you after you miss both of the ducks, it doesn’t matter how many times you shoot him, toting a Nintendo ‘Lil Tyke’s First Firearm does not make you immune to derision from bulletproof dogs.
I remember when my sister and I got a big hoot when we discovered that you could actually steer the ducks in Duck Hunt if you plugged in a controller along with the pistol. But today’s kids don’t even get big hoots anymore. They settle for nothing less than rushes of pure adrenaline. Hoots are for old people.
It would be nice to think that the inappropriate subject matter in video games just sails over little kids’ heads, but I remember doing some pretty boneheaded things based on things I’d seen and read. When I was about eleven, I read a book about a kid fending for himself in the wild who learned that pine sap made for a wonderful, minty chewing gum.
“Wow,” I thought, “A never-ending supply of free bubble gum, just waiting for me out in the yard.”
Dad had recently pruned the old white pine out front, and where one of the branches had connected to the trunk of the tree, there was a sticky white oval, oozing a stream of sap. Without hesitation, I scooped up a finger full of the stuff and enthusiastically stuck it in my mouth, expecting the sap to be indistinguishable from a stick of Wrigley’s spearmint.
I immediately felt as if I’d licked a freshly-mopped floor, and the slimy consistency made the sap impossible to chew or to get out of my mouth. I ended up swallowing a good deal of it, which certainly didn’t double my pleasure, but it did double me over. I didn’t end up discovering an endless supply of chewing gum that day, but if you’re ever in the market for an all-natural, superbly effective laxative, I know just the tree for you.
You can reach Mike Todd online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Absorbent and yellow and porous is he.