I stood there motionless with the 8-ball clutched tightly in my hand, its unblinking eye staring defiantly up at me. It was the winter of my eighteenth year and I was playing a game that could change my entire future … even determine if I was going to have one! There was no felt covered table, no long, tapered cue. There was only that 8-ball locking its mocking gaze with mine, as the small black triangle floated slowly into view and the words (Ask again later) became legible through its murky fluid.
“What’d it say?” Bob asked anxiously, as he edged closer to look over my shoulder. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw those silvery syllables in the window. That was the fourth straight time the magic orb had refused to give us a straight answer. With twenty different possibilities, you’d think the thing would come up with something different after four tries, but on the fifth query the 8-ball put us off again. It really got spooky when we finally changed our question and it changed it’s answer!
Bob was my best friend, we were like brothers … whatever happened to him usually happened to me and vice versa. Therefore, it was only natural that when we bought the little fortune-telling device, we would share its mystical powers and question it together. Somehow, the words toy and novelty on the package managed to elude both of us. It’s amazing what a couple of kids can believe when manhood is nibbling at their toes and the future is squeezing their shoes.
In those days I was commuting to a nearby college and my buddy, who lived away at school, drove the three or so hours home for the weekend. It had become our custom to spend most Friday nights quietly sipping wine, chomping on French bread and playing chess. But this Friday we had a different diversion … actually two diversions: the 8-ball and our runaway imaginations.
We started out asking it innocent questions like, “Will we have dates tomorrow night?” (Signs Point to Yes) or, “Am I going to pass my exam Tuesday?” (It is decidedly so). Then we climbed to the next plateau with tidbits like, “Will Bob marry what’s-her-name?” (Very Doubtful) and so it went for the better part of an hour, gradually increasing the importance of each question … each response from the ball seemingly more accurate, more believable than the last. Finally we moved in on the big kahuna, life itself. It was probably the answer sequence that got our attention more than anything else and short circuited the bone in our heads that regulates rational thought.
“Am I going to live to 60?” (Don’t count on it). “What about Bob?” (My sources say no). “Either of us to 50?” (Cannot predict now). We stopped thinking it was entertaining as 40 and 30 shot by until we finally got a (Yes – Definitely) at 20. 20? That’s not very reassuring when you’re 18 and 19! Now there was no turning back. We strode ever deeper into a mind numbing fog that defied all logic. The ball took on a life of its own! “What are we gonna’ do, die together?” (Outlook good). The questioning process to determine exactly how would glaze your eyes over … and that’s when the softball-size globe nearly found itself in a one way game of catch with the wall! But we couldn’t do that! We had to know!
Responses like (Ask again later), (Better not tell you now) and (Reply hazy, try again) lost all their magic until, at last, we got the affirming answer (It is certain). Unfortunately, by that time we had already done a half-gainer into the deep end of the mental absurdity pool. What the little round fortune teller had now confirmed was that we would be killed together in a fiery car crash by the time we were 21! We just looked at each other for a brief eternity then, in unbalanced stereo chorused, “Who’s driving?” We were laughing … laughing but shaken, as we put the plastic sphere away in the back of a closet forever and played some chess. I lost every game.
Last year, nearly half a century later, I was browsing in my pharmacy’s toy section when what to my wandering eyes should appear to the rear of a shelf but two boxes marked, “Magic 8-Ball.” I picked one up, focused on its unblinking eye and asked, “Should I send one to Bob for Christmas?” The small black triangle floated slowly into view and the words (Ask again later) became legible through its murky fluid. I bought both balls anyway, without further testing their powers, and sent one wrapped with a black bow to my old friend. The other, of course, I kept for myself.
Bob called Christmas morning. He remembered! We had a good laugh but agreed these weighty little sayers of sooth were best relegated to special moments from yesteryear … and the only question to ever be associated with either of them would be which stack of papers they’d keep from blowing off the desk.
Listen to Bananas Crackers and Nuts Podcast. Find Links under “Recent Podcasts”… and more shows on my Podcast Page.