(originally published by Strata Online Magazine 8.13.03)
While traveling on business several years ago, I observed that the man next to me on the plane was three quarters of the way through a book as thick as a ream of paper. I glimpsed the cover noticing the title, “Salt: A World History.” I had to do a double take. Now, I’m sure there is an extensive history behind the seasoning that coats our potato chips, like how it financed wars, opened trade routes around the world, and of course, Gandhi’s salt march in 1930 that brought an empire to its knees. History-o-plenty to fill volumes, but what would make such a book so enticing that a publisher would print it for the masses, let alone make a person pick up and read for pleasure?
I sat through the trip concocting several scenarios that might have this fellow passenger reading such a tome. Sure, I could have simply asked him, but where’s the fun in that? He could be the CEO of a multi-billion dollar salt conglomerate. Or, he just withdrew his entire 401k funds and thought about plunking it down on salt futures and wanted some background. It could be required reading for a continuing education class. Finally, I concluded that he’s either the author himself or the dullest man on earth. Ironically, to this day I cannot get that book out of my head. I see my stacks of letters from publishers who opted to pass on my contemporary novel concepts, scratching my head in amazement that a 496 page book about the history of salt could make it past an editor’s desk. I can’t even fathom a publisher saying, “Did you say salt? Why, I could make a fortune with a book like that!” Puh-leez!
Recently, I began wondering what other culinary page-turners are making publishers drool. If there’s salt, can pepper be far behind? I scoured the Internet searching for books on pepper, cinnamon, even cumin, then expanded the search outside of seasoning and spices to include rice, bread, corn and beans. I could have searched for days. Some were dedicated websites while other searches uncovered actual books devoted to such inane subject matter.
I found myself searching for interesting factoids not only about food, but also everything from paperclips to cotton swabs, but I lingered for hours in the quest, actually interested in my findings. Each evening another hour was added to my search for the curiously inane. I felt like quitting my job and devoting all my days to researching the inanities of the world that would only garner me first prize in some offbeat quiz show. Or perhaps I could join the throng of others who have written books on these subjects and give lecture tours talking about the toothpick or unfolding the mysteries of lint. Then it happened. I became the man on the plane. I was traveling on business reading through a stack of papers I had printed from several websites. The topic regarded the enigma we know as the meatball and how the term came to be used for raw or cooked meat shaped into balls. It was fascinating! If the gentleman next to me had engaged me in conversation I would have found myself turning into a veritable Cliff Claven from the television show Cheers spouting facts like, “Did you know that the Greeks ate meatballs dating back to 1381 AD?” Mercifully for him, the man remained silent no doubt thinking to himself what did he do to win a seat next to the dullest man on earth.
Strata Magazine was an online publication that predated the eventual rise of blogging. The premise was that real people had interesting stories to tell, and that Strata would provide an outlet for those stories as well as other creative endeavors including visual art, interviews, short stories, odd product reviews, etc.
Now Strata is a graphic design studio based in Winston Salem, NC. http://www.fifth-letter.com/
From time to time I am struck by a so called bright idea. Not often, but it happens.
As a child of nine years old or so I tried to make my own Spiderman web shooter to attach to my wrist, replete with health applications of scotch tape, plastic, cardboard, and the all important spring loading mechanism to launch a re-appropriated yo-yo string. About five years later I spotted a genuine Spiderman web shooter in a toy store… far superior to my hand crafted version. Drat! But I was satisfied that I at least had a good idea.
Adult years have produced the idea for a smaller can height for Pringles so I wouldn’t have to try and cram my hand into the treacherously narrow neck of the longer ones. I was going to call my innovation “Pringles Singles,” but due to lengthy procrastination on my part I discovered several years later a shorter Pringles can sitting on the shelves of the snack aisle (although, the company did not use my catchy branding name).
There were also ideas for episodes of Seinfeld in which George dates a lesbian and yet another which featured an appearance by Bette Midler. Bette Midler?! Really? Yep. And what do you suppose happened? You guessed it. Both scenarios soon appeared on the show. I began to get paranoid that someone was tapping into my creative thoughts and revelations.
Another idea in the entertainment vein was the thought that the music of the group Queen would make for a great Broadway musical or rock opera. Similar to the way Abba’s music was used in Mama Mia. The pattern of discovering this idea’s fruition was different, however. After doing some research I discovered that someone else thought of this idea years ago… one of the band members no less. Unfortunately, the show was a flop. Of course, my ego convinced me that my version would have been met with rave reviews.
There were other ideas scattered over the years, like back in the early 90s I thought of a live action movie of Scooby Doo (which someone else brought to life in 2002), but the latest came to me after watching the film “Hancock” with Will Smith and Jason Bateman. I observed that Mr. Bateman had a very Bill Bixby-esque quality in his performance and it struck me that he would be perfect for a “Courtship of Eddie’s Father” re-make. Could it work? Was the timing right? Sure, with a few contemporary twists like doing away with the stereotypical geisha-like Mrs. Livingston character and replacing her with a 21st century Asian woman as young Eddie’s nanny… and in this version she would ultimately be the father’s love interest after realizing that she is the perfect match for him and his son. Yeah! It could work. Damn it, I’ll make it happen! My people would call Mr. Bateman’s people and we’d do lunch.
Once again, a bit of research and I discovered two things. Several years ago Warner Bros. attempted a TV re-make called “Eddie’s Father” that never made it to the air, and now Nicholas Cage has the rights to produce a movie version featuring himself in the lead. No production dates as of yet, but in my humble opinion, Jason Bateman would be better… and in the same ilk of a Mr. Tom Hanks appeal.
So the next time you are walking down the street and happen to observe someone using a new fangled cell phone that also doubles as a pooper scooper, you just might be asking yourself, “Did Tim think of that first?”