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Nashville Scene Strung Along

When it comes to yo-yos, these days you have to set limits

By Walter Jowers

NOVEMBER 9, 1998:  When I was about 10 years old, overexposure to TV, combined with a little peer pressure, convinced me that I needed a Duncan yo-yo, just like all the other kids had. So I told my father, Jabo.

"Aw, hell boy," he looked at me over the top of his glasses. "I'll make you a yo-yo in the shop tomorrow. It'll be way better than any of those TV yo-yos." The next morning, Jabo cut two circular blanks of stainless steel and polished them until they were perfectly round, perfectly balanced, and slick as glass. He drilled the blanks, tapped in a precisely milled axle, and put on the string. That evening, I had Burnettown, S.C.'s only custom-made stainless-steel yo-yo.

The next day, I stood out in the oak-floored hall that ran the length of the schoolhouse and showed the kids my new yo-yo. One of them asked, "Will it sleep?" (For those of you who've never yo-yo-ed, a yo-yo is sleeping when it spins at the end of its string, waiting for you to retrieve it with a gentle tug.)

"Oh, yeah," I said. "It's the best for sleeping. My daddy made it especially for that."

"Well, let's see you walk the dog."

I threw the yo-yo down hard, so it would sleep long and I could roll it along the floor beside me to do the ultimate walk-the-dog.

The string broke, and the yo-yo hit the floor. Because it was perfectly round and perfectly balanced, it rolled at freeway speed all the way down the hall, through the open double doors, down the steps, through the parking lot, and out onto Carline Road. The last I saw of the stainless-steel yo-yo, it was heading west, toward Georgia. And it had never even started to wobble.

That afternoon, Jabo bought me a dark-blue Duncan Imperial yo-yo. It cost $1.29.

Now yo-yos are back. A couple of weeks ago, daughter Jess borrowed a yellow Duncan Imperial from a friend at school, brought it home, and started practicing some basic tricks.

"It won't sleep," Jess complained. "I can't walk the dog."

"The string's all knotted, and it's getting threadbare," I told her. "This yo-yo needs a new string."

"I can't put a new string on it. I have to give it back just like I got it," she said. And of course she was right. So we decided to get Jess her very own yo-yo.

I figured we'd just go to a toy store and pick up a latter-day Duncan Imperial. But wife Brenda told me that there was a yo-yo boutique at Bellevue Mall. Like any proud American, I love the idea of a niche store with a dizzying number of product choices. So we went to Bellevue Mall and headed for Yo-Yo Mania.

It's a decidedly yo-yo-friendly store. Right next to the checkout desk, there's a tray full of tryout yo-yos. Anybody can just walk in, grab a yo-yo, and give it a test spin. They have wooden yo-yos, plastic yo-yos, and yo-yos that light up. When we were there, the store was filled with adolescent boys, most of whom were practicing the forward-pass trick, launching yo-yos right about the level of my temple.

Jess tried three yo-yos. The first one broke in half. She didn't like the feel of the second one. She didn't want the one with lights, because she thought it would attract too much attention. So I started walking through the store, looking for another yo-yo candidate.

In a corner, I found a locked Plexiglas case, which held the Tom Kuhn Silver Bullet 2 (SB2). I read from its pamphlet:

The SB2 is a ball-bearing transaxle aluminum yo-yo. It gives the longest sleepers of any yo-yo. The transaxle is "tunable," so the performance of the yo-yo can be adjusted to match the style of the yo-yo player. It comes with extra strings, a flight manual, a velvet pouch, a custom tuning tool, and weights.

Cost of the SB2: A hundred damn dollars, plus tax. I called Brenda over. "Look at this! A hundred bucks for a yo-yo!"

"A hundred twenty for the gold-plated one," Brenda noted.

"Sweet Baby Jesus!" I yelped. "I'm going to vote Communist in the next election. This is consumerism gone crazy. Who in the world would buy a hundred-dollar yo-yo? This display has to be just for show."

Just then a little boy behind me said, "That's it, Mom. The SB2."

And just like that, Mom went and fetched the clerk, who opened the case and produced the SB2. He demonstrated the weights, put the yo-yo in its velvet pouch, and admonished the boy: "Now, don't play with it over concrete or anything hard like that. It'll shatter."

The boy stood at the checkout counter with his hands on his hips, as if the transaction were moving too slow to suit him. I turned to Brenda. "Tell me I'm hallucinating. Tell me that woman is not buying a 10-year-old boy a hundred-dollar yo-yo."

Brenda shrugged, "Maybe he earned the money. Or maybe it's a birthday present."

"Doesn't matter," I said. "If a parent has one duty on earth, it's to say no to hundred-dollar yo-yos."

Jess corrected me. "It was a hundred eight dollars and 24 cents." She shook her head. "Can we go look in another store? I don't want to spend more than about 10 dollars."

Gosh, I'm proud of that kid.


Visit Walter's Web site at http://www.nashscene.com>, or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.


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