As a youngster, nothing was more exciting than watching Harry the hardware store man divvy up flat headed nails.
Moving with the grace of a newborn calf and the speed of an earthworm, Harry, who was approximately 125 years old, would spend his days counting, sorting and color coding his nails. “Yeah it’s a good day, no rain coming soon.” he would say whenever anyone entered his happy hardware emporium. Of course, he also said that when someone asked him where to find the sand paper.
Harry was a smart man, known to all the neighborhood children as, “that crazy guy who cleans his glasses with paint thinner”. Harry was our hero, mostly because he was the only grown-up we knew who enjoyed Silly Putty as much as we did.
Hanging on a peg, between the electrical plates and the washers, were always three packages of the wonder goo. It didn’t matter what day you went into the hardware store or how many times you bought it, Harry always had three packages of the stuff ready for resale.
“Now whatever you do,” he would say, “don’t stick that junk in your mouth.” Then he would proceed to do just that… pop a wad in his cheek, chew for a while and pretend as though he was about to empty his stomach right there between the paint rollers and the floor cleaner.
Harry taught me the many uses of Silly Putty such as making impressions of comic book characters and removing remnants of dog poo off the bottom of my shoe.
Silly Putty, Harry would later tell me, was first sold in 1950 by an out of work copywriter named Peter who referred to the stuff as gupp. Now gupp had actually been discovered several years earlier by a fellow named James who was at the time trying to develop a new sugar substitute (or maybe it was synthetic rubber). However, it was copyrighter Peter who sent Silly Putty into space. No… really. In 1968, astronauts on the Apollo 8 moon mission – this is for real – carried globs of silly putty into outer space to… ease the boredom.
So I was thinking about Harry today. Partly because I’m writing about him , but mostly because I miss those Silly Putty days. The days when my eyes lit up at the sight of a comic book page imprinted on a wad of the pink Dow Corning 3179 Dilatant Compound. The days when Harry would tell me stories of his nephew Dale who once shaped a ten pound ball of silly putty and tossed it off a 35 foot building to watch it bounce 12 feet in the air…
But mostly I miss Harry, the 125 year old kid who ran the neighborhood hardware store.