POCKETS AND OTHER WONDERS
The first man to eat a pickle
Said, “This cucumber’s rather dill.”
The first man to find a salt mine
Thought the worth of it was nil.
– From the Rankin-Bass “First Easter Rabbit” TV special, though I’d swear I saw it in a Christmas one
People invent a lot of stuff that is demonstrably Earth-shaking: Guns. Automobiles. Chocolate WITH peanut butter.
But there’s a lot of other stuff we use and take for granted every day. Somebody had to invent those things too, even if they are less sexy. Here, then, is a moment for the League of Ordinary Boring Stuff We’d Crap Our Pants if We Didn’t Have
Back when Neanderthals and other early hominds had developed to the point of actually giving a shit about being naked, they’d just throw the skin off the last thing they ate over their bodies and be on their way to killing the next thing. After a while, someone said, “That buffalo hide looks good and all, but it’s literally off the rack – of ribs. We need a little more style.” So, they went to the sewing department in Wal-Mart and pick up needle and thread and invented proper clothes. THEN that someone stuck his nose in again and said, “Okay, I dig the new outfits, but, you know, when I’m out hunting, my hands are full, you know, with the giant club I whack things with. I could really use somewhere to put my ancient-iPod. By which I mean, the stones I beat on other, larger stones to make music.” And, hence, the pocket was born. The invention of pocket billiards was not far behind, but that’s a post for another time.
You know how excited archaeologists get when they find a new pyramid to break into, or unearth a new ancient settlement? Finding old homes and the stuff left in them gives valuable insight into the lives of the people who occupied them. You know why those archaeological finds exist? Those people hadn’t invented the doorknob yet. They piled all their historically and culturally significant crap into their homes and shut the door, only to realize, “Shit. No doorknob. I can’t get back in.” And so, history was assured.
But, of course, once in a while, the historical peoples of history would actually figure out a way into their houses, even without doorknobs – shimmy through a window or something. They’d kick back on their Lazy Ancient Boy recliners and read a book. But then…”Oh, shoot,” they’d say. “I left the monk – one of the few groups who can read and write in this era – who hand-copies books because we haven’t yet invented the printing press – on the second floor of my house. How the hell do I get him down now? I could use a ladder, I guess, but how can I hold the monk in one arm and his motivational bowl of Chex mix in the other? I really do need my hands free.” He’d stew a bit. “That’s the third monk this year. Gotta stop putting stuff up there.”
Up there, of course, sounds like “upstairs”. And the rest is history.
Back in the day – a Tuesday I think – people brushed their teeth with hedgehogs. This worked well enough, considering it involved shoving a live (usually) animal in your mouth twice a day. But the hedgehogs organized, demanded better wages and every other Friday off. People opted to go without brushing, rather than hire a hedgehog. They moved out of dental care and into the electronic gaming arena, along with their patron saint Sonic.
Meanwhile, the whole not-brushing was making people’s knob-vanquished swinging-singles pads into single-forever pads. Living on a steady diet of coffee and onions didn’t help. (The refrigerator light was another mundane, but crucial, development yet to come.) And, so, the toothbrush was needed. No one had one, of course, so somebody invented it.
History happens in fits and starts. So does life.
Also, homemade ice cream.