The Kid Who Would Be Captain

There I was, quietly dithering about a contribution for October’s “My Mac” when the bottom dropped out of the Apple Cart. Apple had apparently swallowed Power Computing whole and spit out the rest of the clones along with their licensing, their future and even their ready to ship, hot into the box, next generation Macs. I scrapped the column for this story – a story that wrote itself. So, is there a silver lining behind each cloud? Who knows. But I have finally learned how to spell ‘license’. Which reminds me, why a multiple choice ending? Maybe I’ve been a teacher too long.


The Kid Who Would Be Captain

A MacTragedy With A Multiple Choice EndingOnce there was this kid who wanted to be Captain. He was a dreamer, a schemer, a genius. And, as is the way of those who shift the world, he burned with a maniacal fire. Marbles were his passion. Not just any marbles. His marbles. He wanted to reshape the world as he remade the game. He would make the most marvelous marbles ever made. When kids called “Roundsters”, it would be his aggies that rolled across the ring; his shooters that brought ease and delight to sore knuckles. Someday his name would echo through the Marbles Hall of Fame.

At the same time, there was another kid who wanted to be King. He too was a schemer, a dreamer, a genius. He burned with the same passions and the same fires. But his goal was to own all marbles on the block; someday maybe, all the marbles in the world. And when the cry went out to “Knuckle down”, the world would knuckle down with Willy.

The first kid built a tree house high in the boughs of an apple tree. And there, with a few friends, he set out to change the world. He would be Captain of his fate, a Buccaneer on a Marble Sea. It was to be his life’s work. His calling. His destiny. (Did I say he was a bit of a fanatic with an ego the size of Alaska?). His marbles would be as fresh and clean and uncomplicated as the apples that overhung the clubhouse roof. And so he named them. Not Aggies, but Apples.

The AppleTree was on a roll. Oh, what a marble they made! It was round and smooth, pure silk in the hand. It even had a little smiley face to warm the player’s heart. But the heart of the marble itself, the magic that could make a marble player out of even you or me, was a bit of genius in the very core. It was this genius that made these marbles go where no marble had ever gone before, i.e., where the players hoped they’d go. For, unlike all marbles before them, they rolled smooth and true. This magic touch deep in the heart of the Apple was code-named ‘Roll on Mama!’ (aka ROM).

Soon after, as you walked the back alleys of America, you heard joyful cries of “Roll on Mama! Roll on!” Kids and grandparents and all the rest of us gathered round to watch the games. There lay the problem. For nothing that simple, that much fun, could be more than child’s play. Why, look how easily little kids could make them go. Grown ups, who had suffered through a painful rite of passage to master the old rules, were vocal in their contempt. “Kid stuff,” they sneered. “Toys!” They scoffed. “Not ready for the Big Leagues.”

Meanwhile, Willy too would change the world. His first marbles, I hasten to say, were far more like prickly pears than smooth round apples. They left thumbs raw and fingers swollen. It was a bloody miracle if they worked at all without long, painful training. But while the rest of us shied away from these pesky pricklies, the grown ups among us, especially those grown ups who felt most comfortable in a pinstriped suit with a too tight tie, were impressed. “No pain. No gain,” they nodded as they ordered boxes and boxes of pricklies for their subordinates. Well, you didn’t think they intended to play marbles. They played golf.

But Willy, definitely a part of the Big Leagues now and delighted to see the world beating a path to his cactus patch, wanted more. He too wanted marbles that lay smooth in the hand instead of leaving little blisters on every finger. Smooth was the way of the future. Willy took to hanging around the AppleTree in hopes that an occasional secret would fall at his feet. His persistence paid off. Eventually, he too developed rounder, smoother marbles though, as the prickly pear still lurked in the heart of each, little bumps and ridges peppered their surface. They felt, on the whole, more like oranges than apples. And so he named them. Oranges. Then, as if possessed by creative inspiration, he hurried off to patent the name (and all the secrets he’d acquired at the foot of the AppleTree) much to the surprise of orange eaters – and Apple users – everywhere.

But the name was not the only surprise in store for the users. Due to their bumpity nature – which was, of course, due to the prickly pear embedded in the core – Oranges had a distressing tendency to zig when they were meant to zag. And quite often, when asked to roll uphill or down, they simply went splat.The Apple users giggled and jeered at such poor marble marksmanship, expecting a large run on the Apple stores. Surely Apples would be invited into the Big Leagues now.

But that was the third surprise. Those same guys in tight ties that had sneered at the Apples smooth skins and friendly faces in the early days now extolled the approximation of simplicity in the unpredictable Oranges. And all those zigs for zags and sudden splats? “Just remember,” they said. “No pain. No gain.” The grown ups clung to their Oranges, warts and all.

And now our story takes a painful turn. Oranges became more and more plentiful in the marketplace while some stores stopped stocking Apples altogether. Schools naturally preferred the handy Apples as they caused fewer fights on the playground and, more to the point, fewer nervous collapses in the Teachers Lounge. Even Principals could get the hang of the friendly little gizmos. But, as Apple stock went down, tempers around the AppleTree went up. Egos flared. Politics ruled. And heads rolled. Suddenly, there was our kid, Captain of the team, kicked out of his own club! Chagrin. What next?

In Marbles, winner takes all. It’s that kind of a game. The Big Leagues played ‘for keeps’. But Oranges were sold on the open market while the AppleTree kept a firm grip on its stock of Apples. Although this meant better quality control – and higher profits – it was eventually clear that Apples were being buried under a flood of open market Oranges. And so, with much gnashing of teeth and spitting of seeds, the AppleTree decided to let a few select others into their league. For the first time outsiders too could make use of that apple magic with its little ‘Roll on Mama’ at the core. They even got to have a smiley face.

For a time everyone was on a roll. Enthusiasm soared among the players as newer and faster – and cheaper – marbles hit the shelves. A creative fervor was unleashed among Apple lovers and Apple makers everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except up in the boughs of the old AppleTree, far from the players below. For somewhere they had lost the vision. It was rumored they now preferred golf to marbles. (Their ties got in the way.) Market share plummeted. Politics ruled. Once more, heads rolled. And then, the world shifted again.

The Captain was back! Apple lovers held their breath. What next? Was this a return to vision, charisma, maybe even market share? They remembered the good old days when Apples ruled and marbles rolled. Then they remembered again. In the good old days, when the Captain held sway, there was only one rule. It had to be his way!

August, 1997. The marbles world shook and shifted and shook again. Apple lovers heads were spinning faster than the marbles in the ring. The Captain told an assembled crowd of marble makers and aficionados that winners didn’t have to take all. The rules had changed and old rivals were new friends. From now on they would play ‘for fair’. And to prove it, there was the King right there on the stage. Willy’s smile twenty feet in the air.

But fair for whom? Soon it was clear that nothing was clear. Apple lovers hung out on the Internet watching Marbles unravel with the same fascination with which they had once watched CNN as the Iron Curtain fell. Miss one day, you were a day late and a country short. Only now it wasn’t countries, just marbles. Not nearly so important – except that these were our marbles. Our future.

September came. Still we were bound to the Internet. The AppleTree ate one company for Labor Day’s lunch and left the others in limbo. They threw ‘Chirp’ out the window and put the rest of us behind the 8-Ball. The smiley faces went grim and then blank. And that was how our story stood at the end of the first week in September. What next? Where will we be by October when our story sees daylight? Only the Captain knows.

Four Possible Endings to Our Tale
A MacMultipleChoice Test:
Select the one that suits you best

FIRST: How Sweet Revenge
The Captain … kicked out of his own club! What Anger! What Shame! What a need to be avenged! And avenged he would be with the same charmed egotism that helped build those marvelous marbles from scratch. It would take an insatiable determination and a truly focused fanaticism. But hey – isn’t that what our kid is all about? So, after years of dreaming and scheming, he ingratiated himself back into the club. And then, like a Trojan Horse at the gates, he looted and burned that clubhouse – lock, stock and AppleTree. Not, though, until he had traded his most valuable secrets with his old friend and nemesis, Willy. Then he picked up his marbles and went home.

NEXT: A Conspiracy of One
The Entrepreneur … kicked out of his own club! What Anger! What Shame! What a need to be avenged! And avenged he would be with the same driving egotism that helped build those marvelous marbles from the start. It would take an insatiable determination and a truly focused fanaticism. But hey – isn’t that what our kid is all about? So, after years of scheming and dreaming, he infiltrated himself back into the club. And then, like a midnight raider in his own barn, he burned that clubhouse down – lock and stock. Remember, his stock was long since sold. The AppleTree, now scorched but standing, was ready for the plucking. And when the ashes cleared, he bought that old tree back and there he built the Next Clubhouse.

THEN: Fruit Compote
In this, the best of all possible worlds, Apples and Oranges live on forever. And there is a chicken in every pot and a MacWin on every desk. And Santa comes twice a year. Ho Ho.

Maybe we should just … Let it BE.

Susan Howerter (

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