If Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald was correct...and my dreams were indeed shaped by the advertising of my youth, then I guess my highest aspirations somehow involve Whoopee Cushions, Black Soap, Joy Buzzers and X-Ray Specs!
You see, lurking within every comic book published from the 1940's through the mid-80's were pages of tiny, densely-packed ads guaranteeing Herculean muscles, Svengali-like romantic powers, instant wealth and...of course....the perfectly executed prank!
Since pulling pranks was one of the Three Primary Reasons to Live for young boys of the 60's and 70's (the other two being the building forts and the eternal quest for firecrackers), you can imagine how tempting these pranks were to our mischievous little minds.
Peddled by the likes of S.S. Adams, "Uncle Harry", and the ironically-named "Honor House", it was only a matter of time before we gave in to their enticements of non-stop mirth and sent away for an actual prank or two (or three).
Since a boy's unofficial fourth Reason to Live was anything having to do with flatulence, the choice for our first mail order prank was obvious: The Whoopee Cushion! (click on the ad for a larger view) When it finally arrived, I remember being a little taken aback by its strong industrial rubber odor...making its inflation a little off-putting. Ahh...but after a few hilariously successful attempts, the smell of radioactive waste was no longer an issue. I think we played the prank on just about every friend and family member in the tri-state area, until it finally blew up from the sheer pressure of all those clueless rear-ends mashing into it.
Like the ad says, "a great trick". In the case of groggy parents who've just woken up...not such a great trick.
Sadly, the Joy Buzzer turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. Instead of the electrocuting agony depicted in the ad, the Joy Buzzer simply vibrated weakly in the victim's palm...eliciting only mild bemusement instead of a completely freaked-out, knee-raising leap from the victim.
As much of a let-down as the Joy Buzzer turned out to be, the most disappointing prank by far had to be the X-Ray Specs. I think even as kids we knew that the $1 pair of glasses wouldn't allow us to truly "look through flesh to see the bones underneath", but even that natural skepticism couldn't prepare us for their underwhelming performance.
From what I can remember, the plastic frames contained double-layer cardboard "lenses", each with a small hole punched through them. In between the layers was inserted (believe it or not) a small feather, which refracted the light coming through the holes so that images seen through the feather seemed to blur or diffuse. So, needless to say, no bones were seen through the fabled X-Ray Specs...or much else, for that matter.
Once the late 70's rolled around, my friends and I discovered the Spencers chain of stores, with tacky pranks (and Farrah Fawcett posters) as far as the eye could see, so our reliance upon the comic ad prankmeisters came to an end at that point.
Still, I have fond memories of that time, when a summer's worth of mischievous schemes could be conjured up from a tiny comic book ad's crude drawings and breathless hokum.
So much so, that I created a design for my Secret Identity shop called...what else?...X-Ray Specs! Despite the actual X-Ray Specs of my youth being such a crashing disappointment, I think the idea of X-Ray Specs is still a great symbol for those bygone days of joy buzzer anarchy, fake vomit peddlers, and mail-order dream merchants.
In the innocently prankish spirit of those wacky times, I wish you a Happy April Fool's Day! May your pranks be many....and perfectly executed!