By Scott Sullivan
Silly Putty came in a plastic egg you unscrewed. What came out was yolk-size, pink and magic, almost like a baby.
You could press Silly Putty against newsprint — color funnies were best — and it reproduced an exact impression you could stretch — like what funhouse mirrors do — and transfer to other surfaces. Or re-wad it up, throw and bounce it.
Over time Silly Putty acquired so many impressions it darkened and lost resiliency — again, not unlike a baby. In contact with alcohol it dissolved.
When the U.S. rationed rubber during World War II — the Japanese had seized Pacific Rim plantations where it came from —the fed funded research to find a substitute. Chemists came up with a formula of 65-percent dimethylsiloxane (hydroxy-terminated polymers with boric acid), 17-percent silica (crystalline quartz), 9-percent Thixatrol ST (castor oil derivative), 4-percent polydimethylsiloxane, plus 1-percent each of decamethyl cyclopentasiloxane, glycerine and titanium dioxide. If you have these at home you can make your own.
My more-succinct term glop that resulted lacked needed properties to replace rubber, but in 1949 marketer Peter Hodgson borrowed $147 to buy some, packed it in eggs and tried peddling it as Silly Putty.
Genius works in mysterious ways, its wonders and blunders to perform. Silly Putty sold poorly at first, but after a New Yorker article mentioned it, Hodgson sold more than 250,000 eggs in three days.
He almost went out of business when silicone was rationed during the Korean War, but bounced back literally when rationing — not to be mistaken for thinking rationally — was lifted.
By the time I was growing up, eggs of glop were everyone and Apollo 8 astronauts using it to secure tools in zero gravity during lunar orbit.
Like other physical playthings — Hula Hoops, Super Balls … from my youth, interest in Silly Putty has waned among children compared to virtual amusements in whose virtues I’m less confident. Nothing taught values like twirling rings around your waist or bouncing Zectron balls over your brother’s head and smashing the neighbors’ windows.
Has life gone to hell or just me? At least I have coffee klatches I can hobble to and find fellow geezers who agree it can’t be the latter.
Then I read The Answer: Frying Pan Island, at the extreme eastern tip of the Upper Peninsula, is for sale. The $580,000 price for these 3.42 acres off the shore of DeTour is a pittance compared with the opportunity to start fresh, like Silly Putty.
I thought of Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby” gazing across the sound at what was now the late Gatsby’s lawn and reflecting on “the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world … perhaps the last time in history when humans encountered something expansive enough to match their natural capacity for wonder.”
Never mind the green light Gatsby believed in belied an orgastic future impossible to achieve, nor that East and West Eggs unscrewed into wealthy islands upon which those Dutch sailors made a killing. I could too!
Frying Pan — so named when discoverer Capt. William Thorn found such a utensil left there by Indians — had its lighthouse and outbuildings taken out long ago.
Now it’s the kind of nothing I can live with: a few trees, rocks, sand and concrete pier from which the nearby village launches fireworks. If I skate the channel to DeTour I’ll never run out of things to do as long they’re shovel snow or go somewhere else.
Alas purity has a price. Looking at my bank account, my only hope was to get a loan from Gatsby or hitch a ride on the S.S. Minnow.
“All aboard for a 3-hour tour,” cried Gilligan.
“What if we crash on Frying Pan Island?” I suggested. Sure enough, the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed, if not for the courage of yadda yadda.
“We may be here for a long, long time,” advised the Skipper. “Have you met our passengers?”
“The millionaire, his wife and professor?” I asked. “No thanks.”
“I mean Ginger and Mary Ann.”
“Ginger!” I told the movie star. “Let’s get primitive as can be.”
WHANG! Who knew the damn pan was still on the island?
“Look,” said Gilligan. “A for-sale sign. What do you say, Mr. Howell? You’re a millionaire.”
“Thurston!” his wife said. “Can’t you see there is nothing here?”
“He did play Mr. Magoo on the cartoon show,” said Gilligan.
“I was his voice,” said actor Jim Backus, breaking the fourth wall, off which putty balls bounced crazily.
“I’m impressed,” I said.