Not a worry, not a care,
With the yo-yo you've quite a flare,
It's "Heleena Goldeena" doing the Shooting Star,
Best Wishes, Good Luck, may you rocket far!
Thus reads the inscription, fondly penned by her cousin Lois, in Helane Goldstein's P.S. 86 autograph book. It recalls a curious obsession: during the early '50s, while her girl friends in the Bronx were playing with Betsy Wetsy dolls, young Helane was "Rocking the Baby" with her genuine Duncan Yo-Yo. In fact, so diligent was she at practicing that she won several yo-yo contests in front of her neighborhood candy store. A traveling Duncan "Yo-Yo Man"—organizer of the contests, yo-yo virtuoso and Helane's girlhood idol—duly awarded her a junior instructor patch. It was her responsibility, he said, to teach kids, to "Walk-the-Dog," "Skin-the-Cat," and perform "the Creeper" in his absence.
And so she did. Maintaining her "flare" beyond all reasonable expectations, Helane grew up and became a Berkeley, Calif. schoolteacher famous for her spectacular classroom yoyo confiscations. "I'd take 'em away and do 10 or 12 tricks," she says. In 1976, after spotting the want ad of her dreams in the San Francisco Chronicle ("Yo-Yo demonstrator wanted; must be adept at handling same"), she ran away from school to become one of the few female yo-yo pros in the country. "Now I give out the patches," she says. And after two years of research, she has produced the definitive yo-yo source book.
World On A String, by Helane Goldstein Zeiger (Contemporary Books, $5.95) is a compact collection of yo-yo history, technique and lore. The bulk of the book is instructional. Aspiring tricksters are started off with the humble "Sleeper" and then led through intermediate maneuvers—the "Three-Leaf-Clover," the "Elevator," and the "Guillotine"—to the exacting world of advanced-class yo-yo. Here Zeiger gives instructions on how to perform the legendary "Texas Star" and "Brain Twister" and the awesome "Two-Handed-Reach-For-The-Moon." There are, however, compensations for the klutzy.
Zeiger retells the story of how Donald F. Duncan, having patented the Yo-Yo trademark in 1928, hired a crew of Filipino "professionals" to popularize his product. In the '40s and '50s there were statewide competitions, big prizes, "Butterflies," "Imperials" and all the rest. But in 1965 an unexpected surge in yo-yo popularity caught the Duncan Company unprepared. Unable to fill its orders, Duncan was forced to sell its trademark to the highest bidder. Today Duncans are made by a company called Flambeau Plastics.
Not to worry. Zeiger reports that Flambeau has kept a number of Duncan professionals in its employ, some approaching 50 years of service. And Zeiger presents a tribute to them in her afterword. "There are a few yo-yo tricks I have purposely not included in this book," she writes. "Tricks such as 'Crazy Cradle,' 'Rock-the-Baby-on-the-Eiffel Tower,' 'Atomic Bomb,' and 'Chinese Puzzle' are still the secrets of the 'Yo-Yo Professionals.' When they perform these tricks, their hands are faster than the eye.
"To tell you how to do them would dispel the magic."