Pluto Platters & Wham-O BlowgunsMonday, February 15, 2010
On February 13 I read in my hard copy NY Times:
Walter Fredrick Morrison, who at 17 sent the lid of a popcorn tin skimming through the air of a California backyard and as an adult remade the lid in plastic, in the process inventing the simple, elegant flying disc known today as the Frisbee, died Tuesday at his home in Monroe, Utah. He was 90.
I was not aware that Morrison’s invention before it was bought by the Wham-0 company in 1958 had been called the Flyin’ Cake Pan, the Whirlo-Way the Flyin’-Saucer and finally the Pluto Platter.
I read the obituary with nostalgic interest but I must clarify that I never did master the art of throwing a Frisbee. It may have been sometime around 1959 when the Frisbee arrived to St. Ed’s High School in Austin, Texas. The master of the sailing art was my friend (and now a successful dentist in Houston) Steve Burdick who tried his best to teach me. My expertise with wrist work involved the ping pong paddle. I was one of the best in school in that game. The Frisbee was never my thing and I remember young men throwing them in Kitsilano Beach here in Vancouver in the mid 70s. They often played the game with their dogs. I found the whole exercise kind of silly! My son-in-law Bruce Stewart plays something called Frisbee Golf.
While the Frisbee and I never did get along I had an early relationship with the Wham-O company in 1957 when I was a nerdish freshman at St.Ed’s.
Because I was an Argentine born boy who had lived in Mexico so that my accent was a blend of Argentine and Mexican I was considered an outsider by la Raza (those that were either Mexican of Mexican heritage) while the white Texan/Americans considered me a foreigner (even though I, too was white and spoke English). I was in between and part of neither camps. I was left to my own resources.
So I took advantage of the efficient American postal system and became a member of a “club” in which I purchased b+w glossies of airplanes including military fighters, vintage WWI and II plus the more recent jet fighters and bombers. The club also had a new section and I began to collect photographs of what they called guided missiles. I remember the BOMARC and the Nike.
I also constructed gadgets. My source of materials for these gadgets was an army surplus store on Congress Avenue that was very close to the Congress Avenue Bridge (before the bats settled in). It was at that store that I bought a special compass that I could adapt into a flying-saucer-spotter. The compass could be opened so I was able to put two electrodes on either side of North. The electrodes I connected to a buzzer that was battery-powered. At night I would position the device under my bed with the compass pointing north. The idea behind the gadget is that many in those flying saucer sighting days had read (as had I) Major Donald Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers Are Real and Flying Saucers From Outer Space. We were thus aware that the proximity of a flying saucer would affect the magnetic field. This meant that a nearby compass needle would fluctuate. If I had built my gadget correctly the buzzer would sound!
What I was not aware until Brother Vincent De Paul, CSC punished me for waking up part of the dormitory one night was that large tractor trailers also modified the magnetic field. Brother Vincent commanded me to disconnect my compass.
I shifted my interests to potentially more destructive and dangerous endeavours.
I purchased a Wham-O sling shot. I remember when it arrived in a little brown package. You loaded the leather pouch with steel balls or copper BBs. I was soon practicing by the creek with glass beer bottles.
When I saw an ad for the Wham-0 blowgun I rapidly lost interest in the sling shot. It arrived in a longish box. It was partly collapsible in that you connected the rear part with the hand grips to a front part. It came with steel darts that were five inches long. The weapon was silent and I soon came to realize that it was dangerous and could be deadly. Do you think the Brothers of the Holy Cross would have taken it away from me? Absolutely not, as far as Brother Vincent was concerned my “toys” made no noise at night! For a while I practiced to see how much my darts would pierce plywood. But the weapon was useless with beer bottles.
I visited the army surplus store and bought a co2 cartridge powered air pistol. I also bought a Spanish American War vintage leather holster (used for carrying a .45 caliber automatic). While many of my classmates became members of the National Rifle Association and joined the Rifle Club run by Brother Stanley Repucci I was never tempted. I perhaps did not know then but I might have already been a liberal who believed in gun control and a Canadian type of socialized health care system. I did not have the credentials to ever be a Texan. But I did practice by the creek to see if I could unholster the gun as quickly as Matt Dillon.
Brother Vincent did not take away my air pistol. It was in the summer holidays before I returned to St. Ed’s for Grade 10 that I ran into my first and last incident with my toys. In Nueva Rosita, Coahuila where my mother taught school to the children of the engineers of the American Smelting and Refining Company, we lived close by to a our American bowling alley. I remember spotting the older man who ran it, Juan standing by the door. Without thinking I put a dart into my blowgun and blew. The dart penetrated the door, inches from his face. My mother took away the blow gun. I was too old for an old-fashioned paliza (whipping).
Addendum: My son-in-law, Bruce Stewart has informed me that he does not play Frisbee golf. "It is called disc golf because if you were to try to catch one of these it would break your fingers."