SPIN GOOD COMPANY (and other puns)

One reporter’s weak attempt to be the best fidget spinner alive

Originally published at digboston.com on May 16, 2017

I am the greatest fidget spinner on Earth.

Prove me wrong.

Or is it fidget spinnerer?

I’m not quite sure, since I only got into the movement this month.

I vaguely recall seeing a couple of kids spinning at the gym before that. Must have been the end of April. The toy looked pretty sweet, but certainly not cool enough to steal it from a child. And so I carried on…

About a week had gone by since that sighting when I heard a segment about fidget spinners on my local NPR affiliate. While nothing speaks to one’s excruciating lameness quite like public radio talkers discovering something before you, I’m happy to have tuned in to hear the developing story — one version at least — before exiting the train in New York City’s Chinatown last week, smack in the heart of an aspiring spinner’s utopia. At the very least I had the background needed to secure my very own glow-in-the-dark orange joint and a yellow and blue prop for daytime. According to All Things Considered:

Toys R Us has literally scrambled the jets trying to meet the demand of this year’s break-out toy, handheld whirligig known as a “fidget spinner.” Unlike other toy explosions like the Tickle Me Elmo or the Furby, the fidget spinner seemed to have hit without warning and without a brand.

I still think that Tickle Me Elmo hype was a conspiracy cross-hatched by the federal government and Sesame Street, as I’ll never believe that millions of children were jousting in aisles for a limited number of those vomit-red freak pillows. That goes doubly for Furby. Predictable past playtime references aside, however, in less than two weeks I’ve already become a devout disciple of the fidget spinner, probably in part because there’s no exclusive business banking off the trend.

Somewhat impressively, the fidget spinner has more specious background stories than civilian Donald Trump attached to President Barack Obama. According to the NPR piece that inspired me to spin to win, an “IT guy in Seattle” named Scott McCoskery made the first comparable gadget three years ago. He called it the Torqbar and sold his products to people with disposable incomes for hundreds of dollars, and he now offers some awfully sweet trinkets online in the $40 range. Meanwhile, the Guardian and USA Today reported that an engineer named “Catherine Hettinger says she came up with a toy that was similar but not exactly the same in the early 1990s, but a patent expired more than a decade ago after she stopped paying the maintenance fees.”

I’m not so concerned about the origins, though. I just want to spin.

SPINTRO

Some reporters who have been assigned to cover fidget mania have quoted toy consultants and store owners. Others have looked to whatever numbers and stats they can find, often defaulting to the fact that nearly all of the most popular toys on Amazon are made for the fidgety among us (also known as virtually everyone). Fair enough, no doubt retailers and experts have a lot to say, but I took an alternative route and got right to spinning. It’s what some of us in the media business call engagement journalism, and what I call a whole lot of fun.

When a forum finally exists in which I can demonstrate my superlative spinning skills in an official capacity, I will remind my legions of adoring, howling fans that I am self-taught. After scanning a few basic YouTube clips to get my bearings, I went out on my own and hit the street, taking my preferred orange joint — the heavier and faster of my two initial purchases — everywhere I went, from the newsroom to the dinner table.

I learned a couple of important lessons right away. For one, if you don’t take command of the fidget spinner, the fidget spinner will command you. This plastic tail can wag your dog, so pay significant attention to the moving object in your paw and also don’t wave it around your teeth, which are sure to chip and even vaporize upon midtrick collision.

Another tip, perhaps for more advanced competitors, is to let a couple of fingernails on your nondominant hand grow a bit long. There’s no need to set any Guinness World Records for Wolverine claws; just leave enough thumb and index hoof to pinch the top cap on your spinner so that it can dangle like a captured spider while you place it on a surface or your other hand.

Once you’re in the groove and you can toss the spinner between mitts, you’re ready to trick out. At least, I was. And this is where I think the best piece of advice that I came up with in my dedicated weeklong plunge into the fidget matrix comes in handiest — you have to spin outside the box. This is an open field, the trophy case is empty. I didn’t have an opportunity to invent the slam dunk, but I’ll be damned if I don’t make the spinner hall of fame for any number of my groundbreaking achievements. I’m not about to give away all of my bankable stunts, but here’s a sample of the tricks up my sleeve along with some names I have coined for them:

  • The Cherry-Topper: Want a lick? Psych. For this one, simply make a fist with your dominant hand, as if you are holding a cone full of soft serve, and use the fingernail tip that I blessed you with above to drop the spinner on the knuckle of your index finger like you’re topping off a sundae with a cherry. This is simple, sure, but all about swagger and style points. Basically a breaking move. And remember that using your teeth isn’t advised.
  • The Hat Trick: You won’t be able to do this unless you have a shaved head or a severe bald spot. Similar techniques are possible with other parts of the anatomy, but for the Hat Trick specifically you will need to remove your cap, balance your spinner on your dome, and then cover up the gyrating beanie until the crowd goes wild.
  • The Funky Piano: This is basically the closest thing to moonwalking that you can do with a fidget spinner. It’s not as stunning as the showier Hat Trick-like moves, but I guarantee that fellow spin aficionados will be downright stupefied. Start by floating your spinner on the tip of your pinky, then carefully transfer it to each digit and onward to your thumb.

SPINFAMOUS

Though I use YouTube for research and to ogle old rap videos daily, I have never utilized it as an interactive platform or, with a couple of work-related exceptions like the time I crashed a Tea Party rally in Boston, contributed much to the visual dialogue in general. So I was unaware until my shitbottom attempts to go viral off spin clicks that the YouTuber universe is rigged to benefit a couple hundred spoiled California teens who rack up hundreds of millions of views between skate sessions and haircuts, and sometimes during those activities as well.

Though I’m only half as confident in my abilities as I’m projecting, in truth I haven’t found too many self-proclaimed masters of fidget tricks who could best me. Some cats have a bit of promise, but it’s still the Wild West out here, and as I indicated earlier, if given the opportunity I’ll plant my flag. I haven’t found much competition in public either; in fact I’ve been the main attraction on a recent trip to Target and also during my family’s Mother’s Day gathering.

Still, my attempts to go viral have fallen notably short. At the time of this writing, a clip in which I demonstrate the Hat Trick still has yet to break 200 views; this while fidgety nerds and prepubescent surf brats with established channels clock into the millions within hours of uploading. It’s kind of like how there are guys who have been locked in jail for years who could have dominated Michael, Shaq, and Kobe in the paint if they had just gotten their chance. A damn shame if you ask me.

SPIN ZONE

I was standing at the deli counter waiting for some cold cuts when the idiot in the store noticed me practicing. “Oh, look at him,” she said to the deli man, who had also been sweating my style. She said that her daughter had her own contraption confiscated at school, then proceeded to state as fact something she probably heard from another moron or saw on television news: “Those things were made for kids with ADD, ya know.”

I actually have Attention Deficit Disorder. Kind of famously among those who know me well. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that fidget spinners were indeed designed for the most discombobulated among us. But I’m not about to let my colleagues in the media decide the matter for me — not when Newsweek says “experts are skeptical” about whether fidget spinners help anxiety and ADHD, the Independent finds that “fidget spinners do not help those with ADHD,” and Time decries “the shoddy science behind fidget spinners.”

While spinning for the fences at my desk over the past week, I’ve read ’em all — Wired says they maybe make you smarter; the shitbag Mirror in the UK claims “this new craze could be just what you need if you’re feeling stressed”; and so on. Drawing from the growing slate of fans and critics, I nominate Ryan F. Mandelbaum of Gizmodo — who determined that fidget spinners are ultimately “good” despite “all the attention it’s gotten [making] it feel like a vape for kids” — to cover the pastime for ESPN or Sports Illustrated should it ever go major. He gets it at a level that the highbrows making it a Trump thing probably can’t grasp:

Sure, you’ll feel like a dumbass while you play with it. But here’s the thing: Fidget spinners are fine. They are a children’s toy … Everyone’s got an opinion on the spinner. This weekend, people wanted you to know that there’s no science proving it helps with ADHD. The New Yorker thinks it’s the perfect toy for a Trump presidency. Like every toy fad, some schools have banned them, and teachers hate them. Others have even decided to analyze its controversial origin story.

Not me. Not beyond this article at least, and my laying the claim that like screwdrivers and bottle openers, both of which they may even replace in time, fidget spinners are now permanent American textural fixtures, here to stay.

I could be wrong.

But I might also be the future king of spin.