My Life in the Times

Spinning Into an Early Grave?

The higher you go, the further you have to fall. Kids at Greenbrook Elementary find a dangerous new way to kill time, while a concerned community worries that might not be all that’s in jeopardy.

GREENBROOK. Ill., Sep. 3, 1976—It’s colorless, odorless, and free—and it’s a phenomenon that’s sweeping through front yards and playgrounds across America. Small children are getting high right under the noses of their parents and teachers.

What is this dangerous new trend? Spinning around in a circle.

John Warner, age 6, is a daily user. “I spin and fall down,” he said.

Falling down seems to be the point of this new high. Scores of children can be seen spinning around in circles, sometimes making as many as 15 or 20 revolutions, then drunkenly staggering about—eyes swimming in their heads—before collapsing to the ground and giggling like fools, only to rise again to repeat the process.

Information is sketchy as to where the trend might have started, but one theory is that it began at summer day camp, from an activity known as the “dizzy-izzy relay.”

Elizabeth Banister, age 15, was a junior counselor at one of the local camps where the “dizzy-izzy relay” was allegedly a staple. “You have them put their forehead on a baseball bat, looking at the ground, and then they have to spin around the bat 10 times before running to tag the next person in line. They always fall flat on their faces. It’s hilarious.”

But the after-effects of a day spent spinning around in a circle are hardly a laughing matter. According to Mr. Warner after one particularly lengthy spinning session, “I threw up in my mouth. Ho Hos. Lunch. It burned.”

That the vast majority of spinning around in circles happens in broad daylight and in front of adults would seem to suggest that there’s little concern about this phenomenon, but Phyllis Wilcox, president of Parents Unusually Concerned about Everything (PUCE) sees danger, particularly in the role the summer day camps may be playing.

“It’s not just the spinning around in a circle. When I look at the camps, I see a bunch of kids dressed in the same colored T-shirts, singing songs and drinking Kool-Aid. This is either communism or a cult.”

Ms. Wilcox sees spinning around in a circle as a gateway to worse depravity: “At the camp I observed, after the dizzy-izzy relay they engaged in a bondage ritual they called ‘toilet paper mummy.’ Would small children be doing this if their brains weren’t being damaged? Thank goodness I left before I could see what ‘eating grilled weenies’ was all about.”

Mr. Warner believes in keeping his eyes wide open while spinning around in circles, to the point where they appear to be bugging out of his head. Health experts, however, have a pretty good understanding of what spinning around in circles is all about. Dr. Phillip Spackman, a leading expert in neurological research, describes the effects of spinning in circles this way: “They’re literally scrambling their brains. The inner ear, which processes a complex series of stimuli in order to maintain balance, gets overloaded and the body simply collapses in confusion. It’s like kicking a phonograph. What happens after you do it? The needle skips.”

Why kids continue to spin around despite the immediate consequences, however, is less understood. “Who knows why anyone wants to alter their reality?’ Dr. Spackman asks. “It’s possible that they see spinning around in a circle as a way to reach a heightened sensory and emotional state. On the other hand, it could be that they’re children and children do stupid things for no reason.”

Dr. Spackman considers this for a moment, then adds, “My kid shoves crayons up his nose.”

Any potential permanent effects of spinning around in a circle are also unknown. After observing Mr. Warner failing to color inside the lines on a school project after a recess spent spinning around in circles, Dr. Spackman could only guess at the boy’s future. “He could turn out to be just fine, or he could be evolving into a moron. My hunch is moron.”

There’s even controversy within the spinning-around-in-circles community as well, effectively dividing spinning around in circles devotees into two camps: “eyes closed” and “eyes open.”

Mr. Warner believes in keeping his eyes wide open, to the point where they appear to be bugging out of his head. “Colors go by, blurry, wheee!” he argues.

The eyes-shut proponents make the case that their method provides a less intense, longer lasting high. Sally Whitehead, age 12, and a former spinner around in circles describes it this way, “It’s just more mellow, like you’ve been stirred, not shaken. It leaves you plenty of brain cells for later on when you start drinking and smoking pot.”

PUCE’s Ms. Wilcox would like to see this practice nipped in the bud. “In my day, we might hold our breaths until we turned blue, or stand on our heads, but that was harmless experimentation. Spinning around in a circle is dangerous, dangerous stuff.”

Mr. Warner, however, disagrees, at least as far as we can tell. “Wheeeeee, glarrrgle, hee, hee, hee, yurp,” he said.

Hee, hee, hee, yurp, indeed.


TMN contributing writer John Warner’s first novel, The Funny Man was recently published by Soho Press. He teaches at the College of Charleston and is co-color commentator for The Morning News Tournament of Books. More by John Warner