APRIL 9, 1940: YOUR SHOPPING CART IS EMPTY

YOUR SHOPPING CART IS EMPTY

Sylvan Goldman was an idea man. One of his more persistent ideas led to his choice of careers. Actually, it was more than an idea — a concept, an eternal truth perhaps. “The wonderful thing about food is that everyone uses it — and uses it only once.”

Born in the Oklahoma Territory, he and his brother went into wholesale produce only to be wiped out by plunging oil prices.  After studying all the latest methods for retailing groceries, they bounced back with a chain of self-service stores featuring woven baskets for  carrying groceries. The stores were a big success, and they were bought out by the Safeway chain. Once again hard luck hit; their Safeway stock tanked during the Depression. And once again they bounced back; by the mid-30s they were half owners of the Piggly Wiggly chain.

Goldman continued to dream about customers moving more and more groceries. And one night in 1936 he had a eureka moment — inspired by a wooden folding chair. Put wheels on the legs and a big basket on the seat and you have a shopping cart.

Goldman and a mechanic friend began tinkering. They devised a metal cart with not one but two wire baskets. For efficient storage, the carts could be folded and the baskets nested. Goldman called his invention a folding basket carrier, receiving a patent on April 9, 1940.

When the carriers were introduced to the public, Goldman encountered one tiny problem. Customers didn’t want to use them. Men thought they would look like sissies pushing a cart. Women felt like they were pushing a baby carriage.  And older shoppers thought it made them look helpless. Goldman was always ready with another idea. He hired attractive models, both men and women, to push the carts around, as well as charming greeters urging customers to take one for a spin.

By the 1940s, the carts had become so much a part of the American shopping experience that the Saturday Evening Post devoted its cover to them. And they got bigger and bigger until they got tiny as little icons on websites everywhere.

Goldman’s Folding Carrier Basket Company is still in business today. Goldman isn’t. He died in 1984.

Don’t Hurry Worry Me, Part 4:  Blue Denim Rendezvous

hurryEvery bit of island treasure still remained buried when Elton figured he had earned a break at the Crab Hole.  He carefully draped Clarence Henry’s blue denims over a large rock so they might dry while he wet himself inside.  Those pants hadn’t been on the rock ten minutes when who should walk by but that rogue Randall.

“My pants!” he said, remembering the blue denims but somehow forgetting their origin and rightful ownership.  He scooped them up, went around back of the Crab Hole, slipped out of his pants and into Clarence Henry’s snappy blue denims.  They were damp, but still soft.  Out of a sense of fairness, Randall stretched his own pants over the rock, before heading off to an afternoon liaison with none other than the wife of the man whose pants he wore.

At this point in the story, Chicken Avery was usually forced to quell a mutiny among listeners who said the story was just too preposterous.  “Truth is stranger than lies,” Chicken Avery would say.  “Life is full of coincidences which maybe aren’t coincidences at all but preordained or something.”  He looked up at the ceiling.  “Now here’s another coincidence.  You interrupted my story just at the very time I finished my drink and needed a refill.  So if someone would be so kind as to fill my glass, I’ll get right back to this very amazing – and very true — story.”

As foolish a person as Randall is, had he remembered whose pants he wore, he would not have worn them to this particular rendezvous.  But he didn’t, so he did.  Fortunately, Clarence Henry’s wife paid so little attention to Clarence Henry’s pants that she didn’t recognize Randall’s blue denims as her husband’s very own.  And once Randall had arrived at Clarence Henry’s house and adjourned to Clarence Henry’s bedroom with Clarence Henry’s wife, Clarence Henry’s pants were a forgotten heap on the floor next to Clarence Henry’s bed.

This particular liaison was interrupted in mid-passion by the sound of a door slamming.  “What’s that?” said Randall, jumping up.

“That would be Clarence,” answered Clarence Henry’s wife.

Randall, on his way to becoming something of an expert on hasty exits without pants, dove out the window.  Clarence Henry’s wife could have made her husband a very happy man had she just remembered who the true owner of the blue denims was.  But she didn’t, and she threw them out the window after Randall.

To Randall, the pants flying out the window were a Godsend, or so he thought until, trying to don them on the run, he was spotted by that good dog, Mango.  Mango knew those pants, knew they did not belong to this young rogue.  He chased Randall for half a mile, nipping him in the behind until Randall dropped the pants. Mango then gave him one last punitive nip and let the naked young man flee.

Then Mango returned those pants to Clarence Henry.  But was he thanked for his efforts?  Rewarded?  No, he wasn’t.  That poor dog was punished.

But Chicken Avery had promised a proper moral.  And a proper one he delivered, for Clarence Henry who had taken a stick to his one true companion would never enjoy those blue denim trousers again.  By the time Chicken Avery’s story had been recounted several times, Clarence could not strut around in those pants without everybody laughing at him.  And if folks weren’t laughing, it was because they hadn’t heard the story.  So they soon heard it, because Chicken Avery felt an obligation to tell them about the marvelous life those pants had had when Clarence Henry wasn’t in them.

Listen to Don’t Hurry Worry Me performed by the Easy Riders

This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

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APRIL 8, 1832: TAKE MY WIFE . . . PLEASE

TAKE MY WIFE . . . PLEASE

Earlier centuries saw a great many practices that were commonplace then but which would be considered inappropriate in our more enlightened wife-at-auctionage. Nowhere was this truer than in (merry old) England — purchasing a plump Irish child for special dinner occasions in the 18th century, for instance, or in the 19th century, selling a spouse one had grown weary of.  One such sale took place on April 8, 1832, an account of which was recorded for the amusement of generations that followed.  Joseph Thompson, a farmer, had been married for three unhappy years when he and his wife decided to call it quits.  As was customary, Thompson took his wife to town and set her up for public auction.  At noon, the sale commenced with Thompson delivering a short speech:

“Gentlemen, I have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Ann Thomson . . . whom I mean to sell to the highest and fairest bidder.  Gentlemen, it is her wish as well as mine to part for ever.  She has been to me only a born serpent.  I took her for my comfort, and the good of my home; but she became my tormentor, a domestic curse, a night invasion, and a daily devil.  Gentlemen, I speak truth from my heart when I say — may God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicsome women!  Avoid them as you would a mad dog, a roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera morbus, Mount Etna, or any other pestilential thing in nature.”

What a sales pitch!  This guy could sell anything. The asking price for Mary Ann was 50 shillings. Eventually, the price was knocked down and a deal was made — 20 shillings and a Newfoundland dog.

Everyone satisfied, they parted company, Mary Ann and a gentleman named Henry Mears in one direction, Joseph and the dog in the other.

Don’t Hurry Worry Me, Part 3:  Blue Denim Ahoy

hurry“Does anyone here need some pants?” Ismelde asked the three sailors sitting on the dock, amusing themselves with beer and cigars.  They eyed Ismelde with suspicion at first, then stared intently, their seafaring eyes inspecting her from stem to stern.

“I’d be needing some pants,” said the largest and swarthiest of the three.

“Oh dear,” said Ismelde,  “I don’t think they’ll fit you, sir.”

The youngest of the three spoke up.  “I reckon they’d fit me.”  Ismelde studied him.  He was of much the same build as Randall.

“Why don’t you try them on?” suggested the other sailor with a big, toothless grin.

The young sailor stood and grinned back at his mates.  “Let’s do that.  Couldn’t take them if they didn’t fit.  Come on.”  He pulled a reluctant Ismelde aboard their sloop, leaving the other two sailors chuckling and speculating.  A few moments later, a very red-faced Ismelde emerged from the sloop and hurried away.  Just behind her the young sailor zipping his newly acquired, tight-fitting blue denims swaggered ashore, boasting to the others:  “I guess she’s never put pants on a sailor before.”

Randall couldn’t have told you this part of the story, someone would complain.  Chicken Avery just shrugged them off.  Now don’t you hurry me, he’d say.  Don’t worry me.  Someone told me this, someone else told me that.  I just put it all together.

Three hours later, the young sailor was still swaggering, promenading the length of the deck, as the sloop plied the choppy waters off the windward side of the island.  And perhaps it was that swaggering that rendered his sea legs useless against the lurching of the sloop, that threw him off balance and allowed him to be tossed off the starboard side, blue denims and all.

Elton Sinclair’s hours of sobriety were few.  And he spent those few hours combing the beach for clues to the buried treasure that would lift him out of the drudgery of island life and whisk him away to the upper strata of European society, where he would drink cognac instead of rum.  The corpse in the blue denim trousers lying in a heap on Pigeon Beach presented Elton with a bit of a moral dilemma.  Should he report the body to the authorities and subject himself to all their suspicious interrogation or just let someone else discover the body and deal with the fuss.  He realized that, if everyone who happened onto the body were to save themselves the fuss, the body would never be officially discovered even though everyone on the island must know about it.    On the other hand, he was a busy man; there were others with more time to waste on fuss.

Having faced the first moral dilemma and making a sound decision, Elton face a second moral dilemma.  Would the authorities, once the body had been discovered by someone other than Elton, care whether the corpse was attired in a pair of handsome blue denims or in a pair of shabby brown pants much like those that Elton wore?  Of course not.  Elton knelt down next to the sailor and peeled the pants from his lifeless body.  He was about to remove his own pants and put them on the body when it struck him that the poor wretch lying there was free of all care and certainly any care about whether or not he wore pants at all.  So Elton saluted the naked corpse, slung the blue denims over one arm and headed down the beach, keeping watch for any telltale signs of treasure.

continued

This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

APRIL 7, 1864: IT WAS A HUGE HUMPY BEAST

IT WAS A HUGE HUMPY BEAST

The first camel race in the United States was held in Sacramento, California, on April 7, 1864. The dromedaries belonged to Samuel McLeneghan who had paid $1,495 for 35 of them at an auction in Benicia, California. The camels had a curious history, one that began with an American military expedition to northern African nations along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The idea of the expedition and the importing of camels belonged to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (this is of course the Jefferson Davis who later led the Confederacy, which had no camels that we know of). Davis convinced Congress to go along with this scheme and his vision of a Camel Corps that would carry military supplies across the country from east to west, it being reasoned that camels could carry heavier loads than horses on less food and water (sort of the same idea behind today’s guest worker programs for foreigners).

Unfortunately, the Camel Corps looked better on paper than in reality. The camels did not get along with their fellow animals or people: they stampeded horses and mules, attacked and bit pedestrians and chewed laundry off clotheslines. Camel caravans were only allowed to pass through some towns at night. With the Civil War getting underway (and Jefferson Davis going to the other side), interest in the project flagged and the Camel Corps disbanded. Of the camels that didn’t go to the races with McLeneghan, some joined the circus; some were employed by private companies. Eventually, many were abandoned in the desert. And for years afterward, prospectors and drifters might come rushing into a bar, raving about the strange apparition they had seen in the desert.

DON’T HURRY WORRY ME, PART 2: Blue Denim BARN DANCE

 

hurryAlthough it seemed as though hurricane season could have come and gone outside the barn while Randall waited inside, it was just a matter of minutes before Ismelde arrived, slightly flushed and very pretty.  She was at once both disarming and demure in his favorite dress, the white one that hugged her the way he wished to.

“Look at those pants,” she said, sitting next to him in the hay.  “Aren’t they pretty?  And aren’t you pretty in them.”  She rubbed his leg, and he shuddered with longing.  And emboldened, he rubbed her leg in return, but only the part of her leg that stretched out from under the hem of the white dress.

“They’re so soft,” she cooed, caressing more and more of the blue pants.

“So are you,” he said, letting his hand roam as well.

She smiled at him and whispered in his ear:  “These pants are so nice it’s almost a pity you have to take them off.”

“Take them off?” Randall stammered.

“Of course, silly,” she said, giggling.  He jumped up and turned away as though he were a coward about to flee the enticing Ismelde.  But, confused as he was, he really just wanted to get out of Clarence Henry’s blue denims before the beauty in the hay changed her mind.  He let the pants drop, picked them up, and tossed them cavalierly back into the hay.  When he turned back to Ismelde he knew she was not going to change her mind because the white dress no longer hugged her.  He stared at her, unable to move.

“Come down here with me,” she urged, but before he could comply, a voice boomed from the front of the barn.

“Ismelde,” shouted Titus.  “Are you in there, girl?”

“Yes daddy,” she answered, slipping back into the white dress as if she had practiced donning it in a hurry.  Randall was not so calm.  He didn’t want to be here with or without pants when Ismelde’s father arrived.  He just took off at full speed out the back, leaving Clarence Henry’s beautiful blue denims lying in the hay.  Ismelde, realizing the pants were still there, crawled through the hay and buried them just as her father appeared.

“Girl, I just don’t understand why you spend so much time in this barn,” said her father.

She lowered her eyes as she pulled the straw from her hair.  “Sometimes I just like to be alone, daddy.”

At this point in Chicken’s narrative, someone might ask, Chicken Avery how can you know about this?  Randall told me, Chicken would answer and continue with the story.

Later that day, Ismelde carried the blue denims down to Port Elizabeth in a paper bag with the intention of donating them to a needy sailor.  At first, she thought she might hide them until Randall returned, but then she realized it might be weeks before he summoned up the necessary courage.  She thought of burying the pants, but couldn’t bring herself to just dispose of the delightful denims.  No, they’d be just right for some needy sailor.

continued

This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

APRIL 6, 1722: AND TWO RUBLES FOR A FIVE 0’CLOCK SHADOW

AND TWO RUBLES FOR A FIVE 0’CLOCK SHADOW

In 1722, Peter the Great of Russia abolished a tax he had introduced some twenty years earlier, it having proved to be a rather hairy source of national income. The tax had been the result of an 18-month European tour to seek the aid of European monarchs, and to observe how other militias and armies were trained. During the tour, he learned that many European customs and styles were far superior to the antiquated ways in Russia. One of the first rulings he made upon his return was that all of his courtiers and officials shave off their long beards, as being clean-shaven was the European style. Anyone who kept their beard was subject to an annual Beard Tax of 100 rubles. Upon payment of the tax, bearded Russians were given a token; on one side of the token was an image of the lower part of a face with a full beard and the inscription “the beard is a superfluous burden.”

The idea of a beard tax had a bit of a history. Nearly 200 years earlier, King Henry VIII of England, who wore a beard himself, had introduced a tax on beards, although he probably didn’t pay the tax himself (it’s good to be the king). The tax was a graduated tax, varying with the wearer’s social position, not the length of his beard. Some years later, his daughter, Elizabeth I, reintroduced the beard tax, taxing every beard of more than two weeks’ growth, although she probably didn’t pay the tax herself (it’s good to be the queen).

Don’t Hurry Worry Me, part 1: blue denim temptation

As Chicken Avery liked to put it, “Clarence Henry’s pants had a more exciting life than Clarence hurryhimself did.”  Chicken told the story of Clarence’s wandering trousers with relish, and he told it frequently, because it was a good story and a story with a proper moral.

The story ended when Mango, Clarence’s faithful dog, brought Clarence’s pants to him a week after they had disappeared.  The pants were soiled and wrinkled and just a little chewed up.  Well, Clarence punished that poor mutt but he should have been thanking him because Mango was a hero not a villain.  Of course, Clarence didn’t know the details of that week during which his pants were gone.  How Chicken Avery knew is anybody’s guess, but he knew, and he loved to tell about it.  And Chicken swore it was all true.

The story began when Clarence’s wife washed his favorite pants, a pair of pale blue denims that had been brushed until they were as soft and smooth as the pink sands of Paradise Beach.  She washed his pants, then hung them out on the clothesline to dry, out near the road where they were bound to tempt passers-by, being the fine pants they were.

And those pants did tempt a lot of folks who passed by, but those folks were honest, law-abiding citizens, and they resisted blue-denim temptation.  All except that rogue Randall.  He didn’t resist.  No, when he saw that no one was about, he snatched the pants right off the line, draped them over one arm and sauntered on down the road where he caught the bus that took him all the way to Port Elizabeth.  From there, he walked up the road that led out of Port Elizabeth toward Titus Simeon’s farm.  Before he reached the farm, he ducked behind a bush where he slipped out of his tattered jeans and into his purloined blue denims.

“My oh my,” he said aloud, as the softness of the blue denim caressed his legs and as he imagined how these pants would help impress Titus’ beautiful young daughter, Ismelde, and how maybe she would want to touch the supple fabric and, thereby, the man within.  He got quite excited thinking of Ismelde, her pouting lips and innocent eyes, and he quickened his pace.

When he reached the farm, he did not approach it straight on, knowing that he should avoid Ismelde’s father who disliked the young men of the island in general and Randall in particular and who held the unreasonable notion that Ismelde should not carry on with young men, she being but seventeen and quite naive.  Randall spotted Ismelde.  She spotted him as well and pointed to the barn.  Randall understood and quickly skulked into the barn where he waited with some impatience for Ismelde to join him.

continued

This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.