In America, hard work, determination, self-sacrifice and above all, optimism pays off. Even when it doesn't, the true hero picks himself up, dusts himself off, and starts all over again.
Such is the tale of Marc Griffin of St. Louis, Missouri, inventor of Bulletball and Bulletball Extreme! (his exclamation point). It's a fairly pedestrian game, consisting of a round table with side rails and markings for zones and a cat ball. You roll the cat ball to your opponent, and the other one flicks it back with either a hand (front or back) or a forearm. You then, flick it back. A score is a "Bulletball"! You can sit or stand, as you wish. That's it.
This is the story of an American nightmare.
In person, he's a slightly hefty working-class Black man, with appealing dimples, and an unstoppably sunny personality, with an odd undertone. His mother was deaf, which meant (he said) that he was always alert to the idea of "inclusivity". One night, after drinking some wine with his wife, they started rolling the cat's ball across the table, at first slowly, and then faster and faster, until they began setting rules, and in the morning, he decided he had a hit on his hands. According to his interview, he quit his job, sold the house, his car, and all his salable possessions, including his (estranged?) wife's wedding ring, and spent 26 years of his life perfecting his dream. Who wouldn't be sympathetic to a fellow like that…someone wanting to get ahead selling a game that exercised both mind and body, a "game/sport" that could, no would, become the next Olympic event, yet could be played equally well by the able-bodied and wheelchair-bound alike? The table is easily converted to a spot for casual dining, playing cards or doing your homework! (Only $399, on sale for $299! Professional set, suitable for club or sport use, $525!) It's only through careful listening to his presentations that you identify the undertone as the nagging whine of someone alternately begging and playing the race card: I'm just a poor Black man from the South trying to better himself, I've got a good heart, and I'm a good Christian, it's the least you (affluent White/fellow Black) people can do is to buy this game, play it, tell your friends….
In doing so on "American Inventors", however, he over-egged his own pudding: instead of looking driven and confident, he simply looked blindly insane, "brightsided" by his own confidence. He'd "made millions for major companies", but failed to tell us which, and boasted on spending at least a quarter million dollars on patent attorneys and paperwork, never stopping to question his own judgment, or whether his "dream" was all it seemed to be. He larded his speech with buzzwords like "lifestyle" and claimed that it worked several muscle groups, but it sounded as if he had no idea what his words actually meant. When he talked about how "inclusive" the "game sport" was, since it could be played by both sexes, handicapped people, and young and old alike, he sounded as if no one had thought of the idea of women, the handicapped, children or seniors playing anything like a sport or a game before, much less together. One by one, the judges voted him down, telling him to get his life in order. For one incredible moment, you could see an entire life going down the tubes as he reiterated his boast/plea -- I've given everything up for this, doesn't that tell you anything? -- before striding off, eerily confident, announcing the inevitability of his success...
Between the lines, I can read the "One Big Break" fantasy -- the idea that by having just one good idea (an invention, a book, translating the Voynich Manuscript, etc.), an "ordinary person" (working class, uneducated, with no marketable skills) can be catapulted into the Billionaire's Club, with fame and fortune forevermore. (In the shelter, while I was small-press publishing "Yersinia", they asked me -- and not in jest -- how many million dollars the publisher was going to give me, and when can they expect the movie? Actually, I had other expectations...) The only difference between himself and Bill Gates, he seems to be saying, is that Gates had more confidence, and perhaps, a little luck. After all he invented computers, so why can't I invent a sport? Sports make lots of money! But then, there are all these jealous people out there who want to make money for themselves -- so it's important that he not talk about this invention to other people who might want to steal it! Oh, so there's something called a "non-disclosure form"? I guess I ought to see a lawyer…or, wait! there's this infomercial…a free inventor's kit! Great! All I have to do is send in a few dollars, and my sketches. They said I have a hit! Now, let's watch the money….um, they're not in business anymore?Well, there's only one cure for that, and that's to start afresh…Maybe an expert in marketing? They're not so sure about it…it's kind of like air hockey, but… there's really nothing to it, is there?
Dream stealers. Jealous. Just wait. They all laughed…Meanwhile, I've just gotten another letter…it looks promising….Yes! They like it! Now, let me send a money order...Honey, don't be that way! Success is just around the corner!...Rinse and repeat...
Meanwhile, he admits to living out of a station wagon, sustained only by his vision that Bulletball would win him at least posthumous fame. "Eighty percent of all inventors take their inventions to the grave!" he announces."In a hundred years I'll look down from Heaven and smile."
The heartbreaking truth about the game is…it sucks. It takes nearly no skill to play: given the fact that you can hit the ball with either or both forearms, you can block the whole open part of the table, and, if the ball hits you with enough force, it will ricochet back, which means that without moving a muscle, as long as the other player is moderately active, you can even score a few points. It's not particularly interesting to watch, and even a Flash game version fails to appeal.
Nowadays, you can read his website (www.inclusionsports.com), which will joyfully announce that Bulletball! is "Therapeutic-Competition-Fun...all in one!" and show pictures of his invention in one or another senior center or handicapped event, along with testimonials from his niece and a link to a cafepress shop packed full of Bulletball and Inclusion Sports themed bric-a-brac. Teenaged trolls debate over whether he's now rich: after all, with his own website, several You Tube videos, pages on Facebook and Twitter, and all this hype, how can he not be?
I wish I could say more, but no. It may stop, but there is no ending...