Today’s post seems like it concerns exceedingly trivial matters from a bygone age, but it is actually of much larger import. When I was five, I had the most delightful birthday! It was a splendid August day with the barest hint of coming autumn in the forget-me-not sky. There was every food I like. My mother made a special unlicensed Star Wars cake and, though chocolate Vader looked a bit blobby and brown he tasted amazing. There were astonishing presents, games with friends, and my splendid loving family telling me how wonderful I was. There was only one stain upon the luminous day and it came at breakfast through the black-and-white TV screen.
I was only allowed to watch limited amounts of TV (it makes me feel like some nineteenth century fogy to talk about having one (1) tiny mono-color viewscreen in a whole house), but even in the innocent (?) world of the seventies there were ads everywhere, fiendishly concocted to sink their razor sharp hooks into desires you did not even know you had. One of these was an ad for a cereal which featured the most miraculous toy—a swimming dolphin which actually dove down into the darkened abyss and then playfully rose back up with an enigmatic dolphin smile.
Through the dark magic of contemporary media saturation, the original ad is available on Youtube. Here it is!
Perhaps the four-year-old me was emotionally moved by the lumbering tragicomic figure of Smeadley the elephant, however I confess I did not remember him until seeing the clip. But the toy dolphins were magical! The only thing which could have been better would have been an ichthyosaur. There was a problem—we were not allowed to have sugared breakfast cereal, which my mother regarded as a dangerous abomination (as an aside: I was raised so well…how did I go so wrong?). The only chances for such a treat were trips to visit grandparents and birthdays—the one day on the calendar where requests for sugared cereal were countenanced in-house.
My poor parents were forced to turn down requests for Cap’n Crunch for weeks until the big day finally arrived. The first thing that went awry was the cereal–I guess Cap’n Crunch is supposed to be artificial peanut butter maybe? But whatever that unearthly bletted corn flavor is supposed to be, I found it vile. The year before I had had Alphabits when I turned four and they were amazing! Cap’n Crunch was a real disappointment. No matter—the important thing was the toy. We were supposed to wait to eat down to the bottom of the box to retrieve toys, but I abused my birthday privilege to stick my arm through the crunch and finally extract the coveted dolphin!
Sadly the actual toy was also a disappointing thing, much smaller and more colorless than it was on TV (and, again, the TV was black and white!). The dolphin came horrifyingly bisected in a little plastic bag and had to be assembled and filled up with sodium hydrogen carbonate (not included), an operation which involved my father and much muttering and forcing of poorly molded plastic injection joints.
We did not have a perfectly shaped transparent toy dolphin tank as pictured in the ad (not included) so the dolphin went into an opaque gray plastic mop bucket. It sank to the bottom and fell over on its side. We all stood there for a while as it was gradually wreathed in a milky cloud. Boring, boring time passed—five-year old 1979 time which I will never recover! About an hour later, the dolphin began to imperceptibly rise (according to my eagle-eyed mother) whereupon I raced off, and the dolphin was pushed into a corner. Later we looked at it—and it was floating at the top, on its side like a dead goldfish.
The bad toy was swiftly forgotten…except I have not forgotten it. I remember it more clearly than many of the awesome beautiful thoughtful toys I received later that day. It was a harbinger—and a warning.
Ninety-five percent of consumer products ARE the diving dolphin. They are cheaply made, poorly conceived and useless except for marketing/merchandising purposes. Most of what you are looking at on the web and on the news are diving dolphins. So is most of what politicians say. It was hard for me to recognize so much of human endeavor in a little plastic sack beneath the corn-syrup and artificial flavor, but I assure you it is so. Just put any of that junk in a bucket and watch it sink forlornly to the bottom…
Of course diving dolphins do not detract from the real things—happiness, friendship, good memories, family, and love. Not unless you let them.