Leonard Nemoy turned 77 today. I’m glad he’s still alive and kicking because I really need his help investigating an ancient mystery — Punch Buggy.
I got to thinking about the history of Punch Buggy this weekend, while suffering a bruised arm. My 38-going-on-14-year-old boyfriend decided a game of Punch Buggy was in order while driving to a sporting event. He must have called out every Volkswagon Beetle in the San Jose metro area: “Punch Buggy blue!”, “Punch Buggy yellow!”, and the dreaded “No punch backs!” Damn him. By the time we arrived at HP Arena, my arm looked like Farrah Fawcett in “The Burning Bed”.
Rubbing my sore arm, I began researching the violent game. How was it, I wondered, that people who grew up in different cities all know the same game? It’s not like we had the internet at our fingertips as punch-happy kids in the 70s, yet everyone seems to know about it.
The origins of Punch Buggy are shrouded in mystery. The few threads I was able to pick up in my investigation were mostly anecdotal: “It’s based on a game we played in the 50s with Fords”, “It comes from falling asleep during Herbie movies”, “My cousin invented it”. All dubious claims, especially the last one. I once worked with a guy who claimed to have invented everything from In-N-Out Burger Animal Style to the skateboard. I was always waiting for him to claim discovery of Antarctica.
So how the game began is definitely a mystery. How it’s spread from kid to annoying kid is also something of a mystery, though I’m going to throw up a hypothesis that it involves camp, summer trips to visit cousins in other states, and maybe an innate childish need to hit one another for no reason at all (eg. my boyfriend).
Since he’s still a foxy young septugenarian, I’m hoping that Mr. Nimoy will read this posting and launch an “In Search Of…” investigation to clear up all of the mystery. And if he needs a second topic for the series, how about dogs catching air while in the car? They all do it. How do they know about it? Did they tell each other? More mysteriously, what did they do before cars were invented? Did they sit on top of a buckboard wagon next to Half Pint Ingalls and whine for the horses to trot faster? And what about “Big Wheel ice cream”, when a kid turns his Big Wheel upside down, cranks the pedals and yells “ice cream! ice cream!” I’ve heard of this happening in other cities, though I originally thought it was isolated only to the weird Callen kids who lived on our street and rolled in the dirt alot.
…very mysterious, indeed….