New York

Summer is silly time here in the city. One year it's roller skates, the next it's hats with wings. One season the reporter was pleased to see a dachshund--a breed she cannot abide--pulling along a man on a skateboard.

This year, the item taking the town is Deely-Bobbers, a sort of antenna-like headband surmounted with glittery balls, hearts or stars. They've popped up in the stores. They're being hawked with hot dogs and snow cones on the sidewalks, and you cannot descend into the muggy maw of the subway without some vendor inviting you to deely-shop, cut-rate.

That people are loony enough to buy these things ($1 street price) is only slightly less satisfying to the reporter than that someone was loony enough to create them. So she tracked down the inventor--Stephen Askin, age 43--to have a chat. He was, not surprisingly, a Californian, specifically a Los Angelino, and he was devoted to his trade.

"The only way you can stay ahead in this business is constantly coming up with new items," said Askin, a former stockbroker who has been in the novelty business for 15 years. "I wear all the new ones around for a few days and get the reaction, go into shopping areas or traffic areas. . . . We've done little pinwheels for New York and little airplanes. And for Halloween, we're trying out ones with little bats . . . ."

He was wearing a Deely-Bobber even as he spoke, one gathers?

"Dollar signs," he said.

One is inclined to scoff at Deely-Bobbers, to be a snob, to prefer a watch fob. One is inclined to think that a Deely-Bobber should be a teeny-bopper. That to wear a Deely, is to be a Shlemieley. That to tout antennae, one should be no older than 10.

A misinterpretation of the American public, once again.

The cheery Deely-Bobber, according to Askin's people (the What's New company), is being bought by everybody. Kids may buy them in the street, according to Askin's assistant, Harriet, but once you get into an amusement park, "40- and 50-year-olds start feeling like kids." They are heading to Japan (stars are favored), to England (balls preferred; they buy them at soccer games). In a joint venture, with Ace Manufacturing, What's New sold an estimated 80,000 Bobbers last year, and this year projects retail sales of $15 million.

"This year we're producing on the water 200,000 dozen," Askin said.

On the water?

"In Taiwan and heading this way," he said. "We'll probably sell eight million in '82. It's an activity item, meaning that anytime people are in motion that's when you sell it . . . in winter, they should slow down a little . . . in the rain, it's not . . . well, the glitter, it melts . . . . "

What sort of a person creates a Deely-Bobber?

A silly person, Askin said, but also, a pro. His company has been around for years.

"I conceptualized the idea," he said. "I designed it and have filed for the patent. I got it tested and put it together; I'm now doing our international number." One dreary daily deduced that the idea evolved from an arrow-through-the-head gag that someone had wanted his company to do, but that is wrong, wrong, wrong. "I was looking for something connected with springs; my interest was kinetics." People are now ripping off his inspiration on the streets, selling inferior models and they will be dealt with in time. "The courts," he said.

But that is for later. For now, there is the testing. The Deelying and Wheeling. And the heck with the stealing. And when the next silly season comes, they will be ready. With, perhaps, an item called "Nuclear Fallout Spray." The graphics are great. The product? It will cost $5 and spray air.

Someone will pay $5 to spray air?

"Timing," Askin said.