They’re iconic.  They’re silly.  They’re probably unsafe and possibly, depending where you live, illegal.  And, as I was to discover, somewhat mysterious.

They wax and wane in popularity.  Two theories as to the mysterious origins of these objects seem to emerge.  One has dice first appear as part of the 1930’s and 40’s hot rod culture.  Since these vehicles were by definition hobbled together with salvaged parts of junked cars (i.e. a restored Jalopy), and often illegally raced, the owners of these cars acquired or crafted a rebellious devil-may-car attitude, part of which included an actual set of dice, either for luck in racing or to indicate a jaded roll of the dice attitude towards life or death.  Pretty heavy man.  Jump forward a few years, and we have anecdotal reports of world war two pilots flying with dice in the cockpit for luck.  The military connection returns after the war with clandestine hot rod racing at hastily constructed military airstrips abandoned after the war.  (At least no one complains about the noise – the popular television auto show, “Top Gear”, tests it’s cars on a track at an airstrip).  So now we agree that dice mean: “I’m up for racing”, and “Life and death issues matter little to me since I came back from the war”.

The magical leap from the actual die, to the fuzzy (or “fluffy” in the UK) plush toy that dangles from the rear view mirror is unclear.  Everyone seems to agree that an iconic look for a 50’s vintage car includes fuzzy dice.  However, a painful viewing of Hot Rod Girl (1956) shows the fuzzy dice, not in the daredevil’s car, but in the car of the teenage bystander.  So it seems as early as the mid-fifties, the icon of white-knuckle danger had become a mere decoration.

The objects themselves are cheaply made, with a carnival give-away feel to them – it’s very difficult to see anything “bad ass” about them.  A pair of electric blue plush toys hanging from the mirror hardly seems to suggest:

“Speed, danger, DEATH!” (Note the conspicuous absence of the fuzzy/fluffy anything in the book cover.  Hey – they got a NY Times review!)

The only danger that seems to come from fuzzy dice, at least according the statutes of most US states, is obstructing one’s view.  This also includes graduation tassels, rosary beads, air fresheners with naked girls on them – the lot.  In most cases, this gives your local rozzer a chance to pull you over and find you doing something more illegal (driving drunk, cleaning your unregistered hand gun, etc.).

Alex was recently south of the border, and found the desire to hang stuff was something of a universal:

http://groups.google.com/group/alt.folklore.urban/msg/b8cc2e9948e42a4d

http://www.archive.org/details/HotRodGirl

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/108452/

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