Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Who Made That?
Posted by Jim Murphy
It's been stressful around here for several weeks, so I was looking for some sort of mental relief. Then along came the New York Times Magazine on Sunday with the cover story: Who Made That? For those who haven't seen it, it's an A to Z collection of brief essays on the origin of a good number of common objects. Things like the band aid, Bunsen burner, diet soda, white lab coat, and the breath mint are covered (though why they included Rachel Maddow in the mix escapes me. Not that there's anything wrong with that).
So I opened the magazine and started reading. And almost immediately started to smile. It's loaded with interesting, odd, startling, funny details and hard to put down if you get a kick out of this sort of (not always serious) details.
Did you know that the longest single zip-line is in Sacred Valley, Peru, and is 6,990 feet long. As the Scooter used to say, "Holy Cow!" The longest combined zip-line is in Georgia and measures 48,000 feet!
Doris Richards founded the first dog park in 1979 in Berkeley, CA, in a space that seems to have had a good number of 'No Dogs' signs posted before she and her friends took it over.
"Nero married a man in a public ceremony and accorded him the honors of an empress." Now that was something my textbooks seemed to have overlooked.
Before 1968, every lacrosse stick was fashioned by Native Americans and took almost a year to make: "40-year-old hickory shafts had to be cured for months before being steamed, bent and carved."
It occurred to me while going through this list that coming across these details was one of the reasons I love to read nonfiction and do research; to come across some little known fact that grabs my attention and might grab the attention of readers. It's these bizarre little nuggets that can humanize someone I'm writing about or provide a moment of lightness in an otherwise grim story. And sometimes there is a connection with information that brings back a flash of a personal experience.
While reading about Brunch, I suddenly found myself recalling a day back in the early 1950s when my friend, Paul, and I were walking from my house to his. We were about six and the walk was about a mile distance, which we did unaccompanied. Along the way we decided to get his mother to make us something to eat, but wondered what we should ask for. It was 10:30AM, so it was too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. We then started playing with all sorts of combinations of the words (BreLunch, BreakLunch, BerLun, BreakUn and other even sillier ones) and speculating on what sort of food would be appropriate. We were nearly to his house when we hit on the word Brunch.
We stopped in our tracks when the word was spoken and looked at each other. It was so right we whooped and sprinted all the way to his house to let his mother know that we were geniuses and had just invented a whole new food category. We would be famous, we told each other. We would open a Brunch only restaurant (which we intended to call BrunchTime) and get rich.
Of course, when we announced we wanted Brunch, Paul's mom just smiled and said sure, as if the word Brunch was old news. Then she asked what we wanted and we asked for the only menu item we'd had a chance to think up: A peanut butter and jelly, bacon and fried egg sandwich on toasted Wonder Bread. With sliced dill pickle. Now that got her attention!
If you haven't read this Sunday's Times Magazine, you might want to take a few minutes and wonder down its aisle of invention. Even if you don't find a personal connection to any of them, at least you'll come away kinowing what a Brannock Device is. Have a safe and happy summer everyone. And I.N.K. on!