I know of very few genuine magic words. But if you were a boy when I was a boy, few can match the promised wonder of a simple incantation consisting of four words linked by three hyphens: "Glow-in-the-dark." Nothing is cooler than something that glows in the dark.
This occurs through the process of Phosphorescence, a form of photoluminescence in which a chemical substrate absorbs and then re-emits photons. With no heat, no electricity, no sound, no effort. Magic.
As a kid, I craved things that glowed-in-the-dark. Toys, pieces of toys, signs, old watch faces, model kits, anything that could be placed under a lamp for a few minutes before I went to bed, storing photons, then releasing them slowly, tinting the dresser, the wall and the ceiling a faint chemical green. You could hold light in your hand and not be burned.
My craving for things that glow-in-the-dark peaked with the 1964-65 New York World's Fair near my home on Long Island. Lots of exhibits gave you souvenirs of your visit, pins and badges, that sort of thing. But the best came from a stand at the exit from the Ford Pavilion.
After you rode Walt Disney's Magic Skyway and saw full-size dinosaurs from the comfort of your remote controled Mustang convertible...and I mean real dinosaurs, actually living dinosaurs, none of that digital crap, the real thing...after you left the pavilion you went up to a kiosk and told the man or woman at the counter what your home state was and he or she would give you a little plastic badge with the Ford logo on top, a relief of the Pavilion building at the center and the name of your home state at the bottom. The badges were free and the badges glowed-in-the-dark.
Every time I went to the fair the two years it ran I tried to get to the Ford Pavilion to get another glow-in-the-dark New York Ford badge. Even when I hadn't gone on the ride, I'd sneak around to look like I was coming out of the building and ask for another badge. I must have had a dozen of the things by the time the fair closed. They were on my dresser and every night I would charge them up and turn off the light and all that stored luminosity would turn my room into a Martian cave.
I made the mistake of growing up and all my Ford glow-in-the-dark Magic Skyway badges are gone now. Except for the one I bought on eBay last week. I paid eight bucks for it plus shipping. You don't want to know what I was willing to pay.
It is in mint condition and it is stamped with New York at the bottom. It's just a cheap piece of plastic, more than forty years old. But I keep it on my desk and every now and then, I put it close to the lamp, then turn off the lights and hold the stuff of lightning bugs in my hand. And time suddenly seems much more porous and much more forgiving than it does with the lights on.