Top Ten Unsung Heroes of Invention

We remember Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell and, of course, Eli Whitney (most of us still have no idea what the hell a cotton gin is, but we will always remember good ol’ Eli was the dude who made it).  But if you look around you, almost everything you see was invented by someone.  So why don’t we remember them?!  They made some really cool stuff!  So I’d like to take this opportunity to tip my cap to ten of the overlooked greats.

10. Conrad Gaiser

One of the things that really makes my skin crawl is peeling apart laundry that is stuck together by static electricity.  That snappy, rippy, feeling really skeeves me out.  And that is why I love my buddy, Conrad.  He got sick of watching his lovely wife, Audrey (okay, not sure what she looks like, but I’m guessing Conrad thought she was pretty foxy and that he’s the kind of guy who used the word “foxy”), run up and down four flights of stairs to add fabric softener to the laundry.  So Connie (Audrey and I call him Connie – you probably shouldn’t, he doesn’t know you that well) invented the dryer sheets. Besides taking care of all that static – let’s talk about the smell!  Who doesn’t love walking by a house that’s doing laundry and smelling the dryer exhaust coming out on a spring day?!!  I mean it’s the one time a person can do something like that – if they stop in front of your house and sniff your drying laundry when it’s hung up outside, it’s creepy.  If they do it when the exhaust is blowing that dryer sheet smell in the air, it’s totally understandable.

9. Henry J. Brownstein

Ladies, this one is kind of for guys only.  Boys, you may not know Henry, but you know his work.  You’d think with a name like “Brownstein” he’d stay as far away from bathroom notoriety as possible – but, oh no, not our Henry.  He perfected the modern day urinal cake!  Ladies, if you’re not familiar with this little doodad, it is a minty fresh smelling circle of solid disinfectant that sits in the bottom of men’s room urinals that A) helps to keep things sanitary and B) helps us pretend we are playing a fun little carnival game whenever we have to go wee wee.  Henry was not the man who invented the original – that genius is still shrouded in mystery – but he is the one who perfected today’s design.  I also have no idea who came up with the idea of adorning them with images of politicians, team logos, or even your own personal photographs, but they definitely get an honorable mention, too.  Got a urinal?  Interested?  Go to PeePeeFace.Com.

8.  Whitcomb L. Judson

First of all, let’s pause and give this guy kudos for having the best name on this list! Seriously epic name, dude!  Whitcomb L. Judson (because with a name like that, I feel obligated to use it in its entirety every time) has been all over everyone’s crotch because Whitcomb L. Judson is the inventor of the zipper.  Where would we be without Whitcomb L. Judson?  We would all be stuck wearing sweatpants and other elastic waistbanded trousers and knickers every day and, as a boy who did that a few times in middle school, I can tell you that leads to a few different awkward situations that I (and Whitcomb L. Judson) would prefer not to get into right now.  So thank you Whitcomb L. Judson for helping keep our clothes fastened securely.  Whitcomb L. Judson.

7. Julius Sämann

Julius saves us when we least know he’s there, but when his influence is ab-scent you wish you had his little invention with you. Whenever you bring chili dogs home for dinner or whenever one of your passengers had too many chili dogs before they got into your car, Mr. Sämann has your back…and your rearview mirror.  This magnificent mind of our time put a whole bunch of good smelling juju in an adorable little tree shaped piece of hangable cardboard!  So, next time the Marlboro Man asks you for a ride or Fido gets a little carsick on the way to the vet – thank your lucky stars that Julius created a whole forest full of nice stinking evergreens to combine these noxious odors with more pleasant olfactory experiences.

6. Forest P. Gill

While Julius Sämann helps take care of odors in your car from passengers’ behinds, Forest P. Gill helps to beautify the behind of your car!  Forest P. Gill (whose name is way too close to Forest Gump for me not to giggle) is the inventor of the bumper sticker.  As I have said before, I am not a big fan of driving – but I do love me a good bumper sticker.  Classics like “Unless you’re a hemorrhoid, get off my ass” and “My other ride is your mom” probably aren’t what Mr. Gump…er…Gill had in mind but I’m sure even he would be surprised how many people out there want us to believe that they’ve run a marathon or vacationed in the Outer Banks (you know you can just buy those bumper stickers without doing those things, right?) but I believe there would be a special place in his heart for a bumper adorned with “Life is like a box of chocolates…” (I usually like to finish that phrase with “it’s usually full of nuts”).

5. Peter Talbot

Anyone who is a fan of A Christmas Story or Home Improvement or pushing the limits of your home’s fusebox knows the greatness of Peter Talbot’s legacy.  The almighty power strip. When shortsighted contractors thought that you only needed to plug in eight electronic devices in your living room, Pete said, “No way, José!”  How Peter knew your contractor’s name was José, I have no idea, but I looked it up and he’s right – weird.  Mr. Talbot made it so each of your outlets can be turned into an INFINITE supply of power!  Plug a power strip into a power strip that’s already plugged into a power strip and there is no end for the amount of electronic goodness you can get flashing and humming…except an electrical fire…that does put a damper on things.

4.  Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, & Jawed Karim

We would never have been blessed with the majesty of the cat video, or the inspirational wisdom of the double rainbow guy, or the dulcet tones of the “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Dat” autotune remix if it weren’t for Chad, Steve, and Jawed.  They sat down one day and said something brilliant (I have no idea how this came to pass, I’m sure it’s a safe bet one of them said something really smart at some point) and YouTube was born.  Sure, they’re to blame for “Fred,” Justin Bieber, and that weird guy under his sheets crying about Britney Spears – but they also introduced us to a man in a leather kilt with flame-throwing bagpipes and a large Pacific Islander being used as a one-man drum corp, so they’re all good in my book.

3.  No Clue

940cf9ec7cec3c60eb010dd97e257d30

I researched for longer than I’d like to admit and could find nothing about the origin of the French Fried Onions, but, come on, whoever is responsible for this is a national hero! Although, if they were to be a national hero, we would have to change the name to Freedom Fried Onions, wouldn’t we?

2.  Miles Gilbert “Tim” Horton

Okay, so the guy doesn’t make the top ten list for role models given the whole drunk driving, high-speed crash way he left this planet, but I cannot speak ill of the dead when they are responsible for one of the tastiest cups of coffee ever to grace God’s green earth! If you are not from Canada or the Northeastern United States, you may not be familiar with this NHL Hall of Famer turned coffee/doughnut connoisseur.  We who do live around these parts are pretty sure the coffee is laced with some sort of highly addictive narcotic that keeps us needing to visit one of the 4.7 billion franchises (I’ve counted) multiple times a day – but we won’t complain because it’s RIDICULOUSLY good.  We are also grateful that he had the nickname “Tim” so we wouldn’t have to ask people if they want to meet us at Miles Gilbert Hortons for a cup of coffee.

1.  Raffaele Esposito

Though, like Henry Brownstein, he is most likely not the inventor of the original – he is credited for making his version the most popular.  Back in 1889, Raffaele, a restaurant owner, wanted to impress Queen Margherita of Savoy who was visiting his hometown of Naples, Italy.  So he took his specialty flatbread and topped it with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil – and the pizza was born.  C’mon folks – what could top pizza?  Why don’t we scrap Columbus Day and give it to this guy?

***Got something you think should be on the list?  Let me know!!!***

“The digital camera is a great invention because it allows us to reminisce. Instantly.” ~ Demetri Martin

Road Trippin’

I’m not a huge fan of driving – in fact it’s one of my least favorite activities in my day-to-day life.  I’m a classic example of a grumpy driver – everyone driving slower than me is an idiot and anyone driving faster is a maniac.  I’m not a fan of braking too much or having to pass people or semis or construction or motorcycles or people with stupid bumper stickers or garbage trucks or weird surprises like almost hitting a horse in a major city…

***Did you know they have horse lanes in Louisville, Kentucky?!!  I didn’t!  I took an exit off the highway and pulled right into a horse lane in downtown Louisville and almost rear ended a horse LITERALLY!!!***

I wouldn’t say I have Road Rage – other people in the car with me would say that, but I wouldn’t.  It’s gotten to the point where my three-year-old is trying to be my counselor when we’re out on the road.

“Move!  Turn!  C’mon – let’s go already!”

“Daddy mad?  Look at the trees, you like them.”

How can you argue with that logic?

The one thing that keeps my mind off of the craziness of the road is the quirkiness of my family.  We’re an odd brood to be sure, but our eccentricities seem to develop a life of their own when we’re in the car.  It’s to the point that these strange traditions are second nature and I had to take a step back before writing this to realize, yup, that’s really weird; most people don’t do that.

We’re major car dancers.  Now you might be thinking, “So what?  Everyone does that.”  HEY!  Do I interrupt your blog?  No.  Now let me finish.  The operative word being “major.”  Just about everyone will bop their head, sing along, do a little steering wheel drumming…we have full on mosh pits and rock concerts!  Just a couple days ago, I jammed my middle finger on the steering wheel while dancing (like a jam you wold suffer playing basketball).  Now, don’t worry, I dance more conservatively while I’m driving – I save the slam dancing and head banging for when I’m a passenger.  The most epic in-car dance party occurred when my sister and I started dancing to “Jessica” by the Allman Brothers and the rule was we couldn’t stop dancing – or driving – until the song was over.  Not familiar with the song?  Look it up.  It’s seven and half minutes of quick-paced bouncy music.  When we finally put the car in park, we were huffing and puffing and had sweat pouring off our faces.

Usually the bad ideas in our sibling duo sprout from my mind – but I’m pretty sure that was her brainchild.  I say that because it wasn’t the first time she decided to do dumb things in the car.  Unfortunately, she usually saves her really bad ideas for when we’re driving through customs at the Canadian border.  My parents had taken my sister, wife, and I up to Canada for a small family trip.  Both my sister and wife have long hair.  And, as people with long hair do, they start playing with their hair and coming up with funky new styles to amuse themselves.  At one point (as we were approaching the border back into the United States) one of them created the “Amish Ponytail” which was when they pulled their hair under their chin and used a hairband to hold it in place.  After referring to each other as Ezekiel and Jedediah for awhile and cursing the evils of electricity, my sister decided that she also kind of resembled a goat.  That’s when the goat noises began and they made sure they both let out a good solid “Mah” while looking the border guard in the eye with their “hair beards” as we drove back into the good ol’ U.S. of A.  Thankfully this happened before the big push for tight border security and cavity searches or else I’m sure I would have gotten to know a pair of rubber gloves very intimately.

Most of our car rides aren’t long enough to necessitate that much activity – just the daily commutes.  However, my wife and I have passed along some traditions to our boys.  Some parents teach their kids family recipes or give them their great-grandfather’s watch.  We have taught ours to cheer on any dead possums on the side of the road (they might just be faking it, you know) and dogs you see who are hunkering down to do their business.  Hey, everyone needs a little encouragement now and then – we’re just doing our part.

We also HAVE TO beep the horn whenever we smell a skunk.  This is a must.  No exceptions.  I can sense your furrowed brow as you read this and I appreciate that you didn’t interrupt me again by asking, “Why?”  I’d love to tell you there’s a good story behind why we do this – there isn’t.  My friend did it a long time ago and I adopted it.  No reason, we just sniff, gag, and beep.  Hey, you just read in the last paragraph that we root on pooping dogs – do we really need a reason for beeping the horn for skunks?

In all actuality, we should be commended.  Most kids need an iPad or a DVD player to keep busy on long car rides.  Mine just sit quietly and contentedly, looking out the window in the hopes they see a squatting dog.  Parenting win!  Boom!

“My grandma’s the most careful, safe driver in the world.  You put her in a rental car, and she’s doing doughnuts in the K-Mart parking lot!” ~ Jeff Foxworthy

When Life Gives You Lemons, Drive ‘Em

“I’m an excellent driver.”  But, I know next to nothing about cars – I am not a “car guy” by any means.  Anything I’ve learned about how cars work is based on parts that have broken in the vehicles I’ve owned in the past.

When I first got my license, my parents let me drive the family Subaru.  It was a fabulous family car…when I was 8.  By the time I was driving it, if I got on a road with a speed limit over 35 mph, I would have to pull over if anyone came up behind me so that they could get by.

My first car that was actually mine was a hand-me-down from my aunt and uncle.  A red, ’89 Ford Probe.  I.  Loved.  That.  Car.  I had to learn how to drive stick, but it was so awesome!  Alas, it was an older car when I got it and it only got me through my college years.  I miss that car.

When my Probe finally died, I had to go car shopping for the first time.  As I said at the beginning, I am NOT a “car guy.”  My grandfather, however, was.  Good ol’ Pop.  He was one of the greatest men who ever lived – people I talk to that knew him still bring me to meet other people I don’t know just so they can be introduced to his grandson.  The dude was a legend!  He was a short, round, bald, gravelly-voiced Italian man who had a smile that would light up any room and a line of B.S. that would keep you laughing long after he left.  And HE was the quintessential “car guy.”  He was one of those guys who could hear a car drive by and know what it was by the sound it made.  As soon as he retired he started working for car dealers, driving cars to and from auctions.  He was driving nearly every day- sometimes multiple trips.  So, when it came time to go car shopping, who else would I bring with me?

I had recently gotten engaged to my girlfriend and she and I hopped in my grandfather’s car with my father and the four of us embarked on our mission to buy a car.  My fiancée was a part-time switchboard operator and I was a sales rep for a radio station.  Our combined income was somewhere between postage stamps and dollar menus so we knew we needed to be thrifty.  Now, we have tons of car dealerships in our area, but he didn’t take us to any of them.  I was surprised.  We drove right by all the big lighted signs and full lots and right out of town.  When I inquired where we were going, he told us that he “knew a guy.”  Sure, it sounded kinda “mafia-ish” coming from a gravelly-voiced Italian guy, but Pop was a “car guy,” he knew what he was doing.

A short while later, we pulled into this tiny parking lot where there was a small auto repair garage and about a dozen used cars lined up by the road.  We piled out of the car and another short, round, bald, gravelly-voiced Italian man came out and yelled, “Ay, Frankie!”  Pop beamed his famous smile and met his greeter halfway.  The two men shook hands and, in true old Italian man fashion, hugs and “Howthehellareyas” were exchanged.  He called us over and proudly introduced my father, my fiancée, and I to his friend.  He told him about our situation and the car dealer called his son over to take care of us.  While my father stayed with the two old men (who were making plans to get together with their wives and have dinner together because they hadn’t seen each other in far too long), the man’s son took us to look for our first car.  He pointed us to a sweet looking black Nissan Pathfinder SUV.  It was a couple years old and had a decent amount of miles on it – but it was soooo cool.  He took us out for a test drive.  We were gone for 10 or 15 minutes and I had fallen in love.  It was awesome.

We pulled back into the lot and my grandfather’s friend wanted to know what we thought.  I tried to play it cool and say that I liked it, but we’re not rushing into anything just yet.  We piled back into my grandfather’s car and he and my father asked what we thought – I told them it was an awesome car and I loved it.  My grandfather said, “Yeah, those Pathfinders are good cars, all right.”  That was the end of the conversation.

After my grandfather dropped us back off, we discussed it as a couple and decided we wanted that car.  It was perfect for us.  The next day we called the man up and told him we’d take it.  His son brought the paperwork to my fiancée’s house and they sealed the deal with my father-in-law-to-be signing for me since I was stuck at work all day.

I called Pop and I was so excited to tell him the news.  I remember clearly that my grandmother answered the phone and I said, “Nana?  I need to talk to Pop.”

She screamed for him at the top of her lungs which meant he was probably ten feet away from her.  I hear him shuffling across the lime green and cream linoleum.  He fumbles with the phone and gives me his usual, “Yeah?”

“Pop?  We bought the Pathfinder!”

“You what?”

“We bought the Pathfinder from your friend.”

“MINCHIA!!  What the hell’dya do that for?  I wouldn’t trust that guy as far as I could throw him!”

***Now, for all of you “Medigan” out there who don’t know, “minchia” is the proper spelling of the Americanized “meengya.”  If you don’t know what that means…don’t say it in front of Italians who do, it’s not nice.  And for all of you “Medigan” out there who don’t know what “Medigan” means, don’t say that either.  Also very not nice.***

Gee, I don’t know what gave me the impression that I was dealing with a fine upstanding member of society – other than the fact you HUGGED HIM AND MADE DINNER PLANS!

Needless to say, Pop was right.  The car had been in a major wreck and it was patched up with some shoddy welding.  It made it through one winter and as soon as the spring potholes showed up, I hit one and snapped the wheel right off the axle.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t use the Lemon Law or any legal action against the guys who sold us the car because shortly after we went there, it was shut down by the DEA for being a front for the son’s narcotics sales.

And the moral of the story is, never buy cars from people who hug your grandfather.

“I know a lot about cars, man.  I can look at any car’s headlights and tell you exactly which way it’s coming.” ~ Mitch Hedberg