My subject was Tom Fletcher, co-owner and operator of The Essence of Nonsense, a marvelous toy store on St. Clair Avenue, which has been in business since 1996. What’s unique about Tom is that for the past twenty years, he has sponsored the St. Paul Annual Marble Tournament. The tournament is held annually in the store’s back lot. Players are sorted into divisions by age. Men and women as well as boys and girls are welcome. The name of the game is St. Paul Ringer, and at least two people are needed to play. First, the players agree upon the size of the circle, which can be created with a string or drawn in the dirt. A coin flip decides who goes first. The rules state that players must “knuckle down” with at least one knuckle touching the playing field when shooting, and may not lift (heist) or slide (hunch) at risk of losing a turn.Each person puts five small target marbles inside the circle and then agrees, “Game set.” Taking turns, the players use a larger shooter to try to knock one or more of the smaller target marbles out of the circle. Knuckling, flicking, and popping are all acceptable shooting styles.
If the shooter knocks a target out of the circle but remains inside it, the player gets another turn. The first player to knock six marbles out is the winner. Play can be “for keeps” or “for faith,” the latter meaning that each player’s marbles are returned.
Tom collects marbles from all over the world in a fabulous array of color, design, and sizes. The basic sizes are peewees, shooters, and boulders. Peewees are the smallest; they are the marbles that are contested for in a game. Shooters are used to knock the peewees out of the circle, and boulders are the largest marbles, which are usually given to the winner as a prize. Steelies are marbles that were originally ball bearings. Tom showed me some large (25, 35, and 50 millimeter), particularly colorful, handcrafted marbles awarded as prizes to the winners. Included in his collection are marbles made by Tom Reddy, a renowned Saint Paul glassmaker, who makes no two marbles alike.
Making a three-to-four-minute video is exciting but arduous. I did not have a car at the time. Lugging around the video camera and lights on the bus or in a taxi was a challenge. After arriving at the location, I immediately began setting up the equipment so I could shoot. One thing you get is plenty of what is referred to as B-roll: extra footage that invariably comes in handy when you begin editing. After my first shoot inside The Essence of Nonsense, I returned to get some B-roll footage of the exterior and interior of this Saint Paul landmark. Editing, I discovered, is the most time-consuming and labor-intensive part of making a video. I spent hours and hours in the editing suite, assembling and perfecting the final product. Once I saw the fruits of my labor on both television and the Internet, I knew it had not only been worthwhile, it was also extremely gratifying and exhilarating. My segment, “For All the Marbles,” was one of twelve featured on the News Desk, channels 15 and 16 of SPNN, from June through August 2008. It can still be seen on YouTube: