About four months ago, Manhattan masturbation guru Betty Dodson noticed that all was not right with the world. Poof! It seemed the Magic Wand had vanished. None of the large sex shops in New York–not Eve’s Garden nor Toys In Babeland–had any Hitachi Magic Wands on their shelves.
For the last 25 years, the raspy-voiced Ms. Dodson, who recently turned 70, has bought cases of Magic Wand electric “massagers,” most of them distributed to members of her “Body Sex Groups,” masturbation classes she taught at women’s sex shop Eve’s Garden. During these classes, Ms. Dodson would arrange a group of bare-bottomed women in a circle and lead them in an electric-vibrator-assisted masturbation session. (She now only teaches privately.)
And ever since that day back in the early 1970’s when, to her horror, she discovered that Panasonic had discontinued her then favorite massager–the Panabrator–Ms. Dodson has been moaning the praises of the 12-inch-long, two speed, Hitachi Magic Wand, with its tennis-ball-shaped head. Sex toy company Good Vibrations once dubbed it “the Cadillac of vibrators.” (Hitachi at least pretends that they don’t know what all these women are doing with their product; each Magic Wand comes with a diagram of “pressure points” like the back and neck, neglecting the one that releases the most tension of all.) Of all electric massagers, the $45 appliance has the most devoted following: After biking through an on-air spinning class last year, Rosie O’Donnell reportedly gasped, “It’s better than that Magic Wand!”
“If you ride your Wand for an hour or more, you can go into altered states of consciousness. Oh, it’s fabulous!” exclaimed Ms. Dodson. She can’t remember exactly how many Magic Wands she has gone through over the decades, but she does know that she’ll never, ever use anything that requires batteries. “There’s just no comparison. If you like the little battery vibrator and it works for you, fine ,” she said, sounding like she didn’t really think it was fine at all. “But it’s the difference between riding a tricycle and a Honda 900.” Although Ms. Dodson advises Magic Wand newbies to place a folded washcloth between themselves and the Magic Wand to soften its jackhammer-like force, she did say it was safe. “I’ve been using a vibrator since 1968, and my clit has never dropped off,” she enthused.
The experts agree. “The thing is legendary,” said Jed Kaminetsky, a Manhattan urologist who specializes in male and female sexual dysfunction. “I tell women who are having problems with orgasms to masturbate. The vibrator is a very effective way to masturbate, and the Hitachi Magic Wand, if not the best, is one of the best vibrators out there.” Dr. Kaminetsky said that he’s noticed that Magic Wands have become harder to find over the years. “They can’t keep them in stock,” he said.
Beyond high demand, something else was amiss. In February, Ms. Dodson received word from her Magic Wand dealer, a sex shop in Boston called Grand Opening, that there was some trouble between Hitachi Japan’s suits and the Appliance Corporation of America, Hitachi’s American distributor of shavers, bread makers and massagers. Hitachi had apparently canned them and had not found a replacement. “[The Appliance Corporation of America] was screwing up: slow payments, not fulfilling orders, customers were complaining,” said one source familiar with the situation. Upon calling the 800-HITACHI customer service number, a company representative in Illinois confirmed the news, adding that the computer was showing no new distributor.
Ms. Dodson went shopping to find a replacement, just in case. She bought a model that Dr. Scholl’s (yup, the foot pad guys) released about the same time that the Magic Wand was becoming scarce. “Within one session, it burned out,” Ms. Dodson groused. At press time, two Magic Wands could be found on eBay, one for $69 and the other for $74, and the bidding was fierce.
A frisson of horror spread through New York’s community of female self-lovers. “It wasn’t a small panic,” Ms. Dodson said. “For everybody in love with their vibrator it was, ‘Aaahhhh! ‘ It was major panic.”
About a month ago, a friend e-mailed the news to Tristan Taormino, a sex columnist for the Village Voice and author of The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women . “Shock and horror” were the emotions that Ms. Taormino recalls feeling for the disappearance of the device she said “could shake the enamel off your teeth.” On occasion, Ms. Taormino also uses her Magic Wand on her neck, “to work out a kink or something. Among lesbians especially, it’s considered something as necessary as your toothbrush,” said the bisexual Ms. Taormino, who is a niece of Thomas Pynchon. As soon as she heard the rumor, Ms. Taormino and a friend considered scouring the sex shops to stockpile Magic Wands. She reckoned, “I’m almost 30, so I’d say four would probably last my lifetime.”
“I can’t believe it. I’m so upset,” said Marcelle Karp, the 36-year-old co-editor of hip feminist magazine Bust, when The Observer told her of the possible demise of the Magic Wand. Ms. Karp has reason to worry. She’s already been through six in as many years, since her friend, author Lisa Palac, recommended that she give up the battery-operated vibrator she had in favor of the plug-in wonder.
Ms. Karp was so attached to her Magic Wand–she uses it only on the low speed (“High could kill you!” she said)–that she got a voltage adapter so that she could take it to Europe. In Paris, she said, customs cautiously pulled it out of her bag. “They were like “What eees theees ?’ I was like, ‘It’s my vibrator! What’s your problem?'” Ms. Karp, currently seven months pregnant, said that although she is frightened about the prospect of never being able to buy another Magic Wand, she’s got a contingency plan: She now owns a backup plug-in called the AcuVibe.
Luckily for Ms. Dodson and her acolytes, the sun has not set on the Hitachi Magic Wand. Soon all the world’s women may be whirring in unison again. Recently, Hitachi cut a deal with Vibratex, a California-based distributor of high-end sex toys, to sell the Magic Wand in North America. “On June 15, I think the first big shipment comes in,” she said.
It is Ms. Dodson’s dream that she will one day design a Betty Dodson signature model Magic Wand with some of her own design alterations. But how does Ms. Dodson plan to improve on perfection? “I have a few things I would like to change,” she said, “but I’m not going to tell you . Those are design secrets.”
The Movie Pitch
An actual message left on the voice mail of an executive at a mini major studio in Manhattan.
“Hello ––––-, my name is ––– –––-, it’s spelled –––-, I’m just calling to pitch a script. The story I did is based … ah … about … ah … it’s about a basketball coach who is haunted about a missed free throw that blew the biggest game in his life when he was a player and he tries to redeem himself by taking his team to a state championship only to find that the character flaws in the adults in the community are the main obstacles to winning the championship and actually saving the kids. It’s also about a community of adults who have to grow up in order to save the next generation as they see their kids making the same mistakes they did which involve getting involved with gamblers and also getting involved in drugs and drug abuse. There’s a tragic ending where a corrupt police officer ends up shooting a basketball star and it’s a very good script, it’s finished, it’s been completed for a while, it’s been copywrited et cetera and a lot of it is from experiences that I know–I did some coaching of basketball at the high school level and it also involves … ah … it also deals with the subject of small Catholic high schools getting all the major talent and … um … by less than honorable means which is something that’s very common here in the state of New Jersey. Aaah … please feel free to call me, and we’ll, uh, my phone number is –-–––. I am home most evenings. I would be more than happy to send you my script or at least a synopsis, um, and I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you.”
My Philosopher Friend
My friend Jukka Keranen is a philosopher. He’s from Finland. He’s writing a dissertation on the philosophy of math at the University of Pittsburgh. Because of a fear of heights and germs, Mr. Keranen doesn’t come to New York much, so we haven’t seen each other for a while. But the other day, Mr. Keranen and I met in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art to philosophize a little.
“What are mathematical objects?” he asked, addressing the core problem of his current work. “Do they exist? If they do, what are they like? How do we know anything about them?”
Mr. Keranen once tried to assert in a paper that time does not exist.
“We experience time, right?” he said. “But there are certain things that the thing called time would have to be, not that it’s really a physical thing in the usual sense, but Time with a capital T. Our linguistic resources cannot reach deep enough into the metaphysical structure of the universe for us to be able to talk about the very thing Time, that part of the structure of the universe that sometimes gets called time.”
Mr. Keranen used to be a brooding Finn. But Pittsburgh has changed him.
“The reason why things are so screwed up now is that we have to work with limited resources,” he said. “Eventually we will reach a point where we will have unlimited resources at our disposal. We need cold fusion. We need some planetary colonization. Not much, but a little, just to be sure there are enough raw materials available. Some colonization, certainly. The moon. Maybe Mars, maybe some of the asteroids.
“It can be done. We can have a perfect world because basically there’s enough energy and resources to go around. We just need to learn how to make use of them and once we do I believe we will be just fine. We’ll be just fine.”