I was about eight years old when I received a starfish-shaped plastic container full of squelchy, rubbery, yellow matter. It was utterly baffling. The label simply identified the stuff as “Nickelodeon Gak,” and provided no instructions for how one might go about playing with it. It was a toy that actually did nothing, the brainchild of a television network solely devoted to dumping slime on people.
My initial reservations were dispelled soon after I peeled back the lid. I poked the Gak. It was clammy to the touch, but when I pulled my hand back, my fingers were still clean. This was fantastic; it was like playing in mud without having to take a bath afterwards. I scooped some of the stuff out and squeezed it through my fingers: pure tactile joy. But the best was yet to come: I reached back into the container to pull out the rest of the Gak and as the air pockets in the container shifted, the Gak made a loud farting noise.
I looked up cautiously to see the reactions of the adults around me. Faint repulsion and mild disgust played across every face. I realized I was in possession of a magical substance.
Gak and I enjoyed a blissful few years together before it disappeared from my life, probably lost between couch cushions somewhere. But as time went by I realized that Gak wasn’t just disappearing from my life. Gak ads were fading from television screens, and I hadn’t seen any kids tottering around with those starfish-shaped containers for a while. I hadn’t heard so much as a whisper about Gak in years. Could this toy, in its day so revolutionary in its wholehearted embrace of grossness, really be gone?
I began my search at the Hamden Toys ‘R’ Us. I hadn’t set foot in a Toys ‘R’ Us in about 10 years, but I remembered well the days when the mere possibility of a visit to this Mecca was enough to ensure days of obedience and willing vegetable consumption. It was with high expectations that I approached those familiar glowing, rainbow-colored letters. But the store was quite a bit smaller than I remembered, and most of the “toys” were now video games. Where were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of yesteryear? Worst of all, there was no sign of my beloved Gak. The most similar product I could locate was Nickelodeon Splish Splat, a tube of green slime that purported to be “Slippy. Slidey. Drippy. Gooey!”
As the cashier rang up my purchase with a raised eyebrow, I took the opportunity to ask him if he knew anything of the fate of Gak.
“Gak?” he mused wonderingly. “I haven’t seen that stuff in, oh, must have been five years.”
His curiosity piqued, the cashier rang up the manager to ask if he knew anything about Gak’s disappearance. Several minutes of silence ensued, during which time I assumed the manager searched through the inventory catalogue. He came up with nothing.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” the cashier told me after hanging up. “They just discontinued it. I think it was toxic or something.”
When I got back to my room, I immediately cracked open the bottle of Splish Splat and put the goo through its paces. Its packaging recommended that I hold the ends of the stuff in both hands a twist it. Alternately, I could “Pour a puddle on a table top and jiggle the Nick Splish Splat with your fingers by moving them back and forth fast.”
Even that rather unappealing idea exaggerated the entertainment value of the stuff. Although it was pleasingly snot-like, it was so watery that it slid right through my fingers. When I jammed my hand into it, there was a slight squish, and that was it.
Disenchanted with the pseudo-Gak, I turned to Google for help. The usually all-powerful search engine turned up nothing. Even eBay proved a dead end. But there was a faint hope: although I could find real Gak nowhere, countless sites had recipes for making one’s very own Gak. I would need warm water, Elmer’s glue, and some laundry-cleaning product I had never even heard of, Borax.
I scrutinized the recipe. The obstacles I faced were considerable: making Gak would involve contact with chemicals I was warned not to ingest or get in my eyes, as well as considerable risk to my brand-new carpet. And I didn’t exactly have a full array of tools at my disposal. Instead of a wire whisk, mixing bowls and measuring spoons, I had a couple of pieces of Tupperware and some spoons I had filched from the dining hall.
But if it was the only way left that I could get my hands on that squishy goodness, I was game. I threw caution to the wind.
I boiled water; I poured glue. I added liberal quantities of green food dye, I carefully scooped spoonfuls of the mildly toxic borax, all the while feeling more and more like a mad scientist in a stone citadel on a storm-tossed tropical island, brewing some chimerical creation. The vapor from the water was even creating a convincingly steamy atmosphere.
Finally, I had two Tupperware containers: one containing a borax solution, the other containing a mix of water, glue and food dye. The online recipe told me that now I only had to pour the contents of one container into the other container, and Gak would appear fully formed.
I poured. But at first nothing seemed to happen. No sparks, no hissing noises, nothing. I waited a few moments, then cautiously reached into the cloudy, watery mixture. My fingers met something malleable yet firm, vaguely slimy, and cool to the touch. I slowly pulled it out, marveling. I squeezed it through my fingers. I stretched it, twisted it and then mashed it into a ball again. It was, without a doubt, Gak. But before I deposited my new Gak into a plastic freezer bag to show it off to my hallmates, I needed to perform one last test. I took an empty cup from my bedside table, and stuffed the Gak into it. I mashed my fingers into it, forcing out the air. As I pushed, the Gak collapsed and molded, and soon there emerged a deep, rumbling farting sound. I smiled.