By Shelly Reuben
SHELLEY'S WORLD: Idle Musings about Simple Genius

So imagine yourself with a sloped forehead, a hairy body, and stubby toes. You are sitting outside a cave in 100° degree heat, grunting (this is before the invention of gossip) to your family about the morning’s mammoth hunt. Sweat is pouring off your body, and it is excruciatingly hot.

Your eyes fall on a palm frond that has dropped from a nearby tree. You stare at it … thinking. With your big-knuckled hirsute hand, you reach for the large leaf and tentatively wrap your fingers around its stem. Then, speculatively, you bring it up to your face and slowly, you begin to wave it back and forth before your prognathous jaw. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly.

You sigh with relief.

You wave the frond faster, faster, faster. The relief is instantaneous. The heat has become bearable.

You sigh again. The cave dwellers around you stare in astonishment.  What is she doing? What has she done?

Well.  That’s simple.  And complicated.  And brilliant.

What our hot and hairy Neanderthal has done is to invent the fan!

Every few days, I bump into one or another object, implement, or design whose ingenuity fascinates me. Only, though, when I stop mid-thought to consider their origins do I recall that those objects, implements, and designs were not waiting for the first fish to wander out of the ocean and discover them.

Oh, no. They were invented!  Just like wax candles, paperclips, and spoons.

I love the ingenuity of man. But it is always the simple inventions that fascinate me most: The mousetrap. The straw. The sled. The back scratcher. The crowbar. Sissors. And my all-time favorite – luggage on wheels.

I recall watching dozens of movies as a child about life in the early twentieth century. In so many, there are scenes with beautiful women in smart dresses wearing high heeled shoes, getting off trains or buses, and carrying suitcases as they laboriously walk down the street.

Obviously, the suitcases are heavy. Just as they were when I left home as a teenager, lugging one in each hand and wondering (I clearly remember) why those behemoth bags didn’t just ROLL. Logical as it seemed to me then, it was not until the early 1970s that someone else had the same thought, and suitcases were finally put on wheels.

One of my favorite recent inventions is the cap that fits on detergent bottles. Liquid soap bottles from earlier decades had screw-on caps which, since they also served as measuring cups, would leak fluid down the sides when they were re-screwed to the top. 

Gooey and messy.

Then some genius in a garage came up with a multi-rimmed top that directs all leftover detergent from the cap back into the bottle, thus eliminating drips.

Okay. So it isn’t a cure for cancer or a formula to convert solar energy to fuel. But I don’t care. It’s clever, and I love it.

I also love handbags, sewing needles, zippers, and pockets, each being the brainchild of some creative soul. I love hair combs, razors, fireplaces, matches, screen doors, fly swatters, deadbolt locks, and tennis racquets.

I sail through life, making deadlines, achieving goals, missing trains, burning toast, writing books, and planting roses. Then suddenly I’ll stop with one foot in the air over a stair, look down, and remember that staircases, stair rails, and newel posts are not fossils leftover from the flood. They did not exist in the Jurassic era, and they are not a part of nature.

A human being invented each one. Just as someone invented the skylight over the stairwell, the carpet over the step, and even the concept of a multi-storied dwelling.

I, myself, am not an inventor, but my father was. So were Archimedes, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, and Bernard Sadow (the guy who put wheels on suitcases).

A big cheer to all of them.

And bless their iconoclastic little hearts.

Copyright © January, 2017, Shelly Reuben - Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY - Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards.  For more about her books, visit