Archive for June 23rd, 2008

I love Q-Tips, love the way they swab the entire ear. I come dangerously close to sticking them too far inside the ear canal, each time pushing the little stick and its cotton puff a tiny bit deeper.

I’ve never had a Q-Tip mishap, never had to be rushed to the emergency room to get the cotton out from inside my eardrum. But it’s like playing with fire, stretching to scratch that itch. I know if I go too far, the pain, magnified by the chambers of my waxy inner ear, will be crazy-making unbearable.

I’ve known people whose ears produced so much earwax they have to take monthly trips to the doctor’s office to get big chunks removed. I can imagine the relief they must feel, like being brought up after an ear-bending dive, or brought down from the milky heavens, ears popping their way to normalcy until finally, ah, stillness.

A co-worker once told me how he almost fainted from getting his earwax removed. He described a firehose-like contraption, jets of water so strong I imagined the wax being blown from inside one ear out the other. As he talked, flopped in his chair like a ragdoll, I pictured torture contraptions, the doctor a balding man with an eye monocle. I felt grateful that on a scale of zero to mucho waxo, I rated average.

Ears have always been part of our family lore. The big Dumbo floppy ears of Sandy. Narciso was said to have the biggest ears among Sandy’s brothers. All of them had stiff hairs growing out from the inside and blackheads on the backs of their ears.

Mom had Maniere’s Disease when I was a kid, and I can still recall the onset of an episode. How she’d panic, behind the wheel of the Caprice or in the check-out line at Safeway’s. I remember the two of us fleeing the store without our groceries, peeling off in the big blue Caprice down Griegos Road for home. Mom’s eyes wild, and me, meek and scared in the front seat. I knew once we ran through the front door she’d fling herself into the entryway bathroom and puke her guts into the green toilet. Later, after crawling down to the bathroom off her bedroom, she’d spend the rest of the day curled on the bathroom rug, calling for help — water, a wet cloth — while I crouched in my closet, crying.

Mom says the reason she got Maniere’s was because Grandma used to treat ear aches by having Robert pee into a cup and pouring the hot urine down the offending ear. Can you imagine? Mom told us later, when we were adults. Yeah, but isn’t pee antiseptic, I always said, trying to be helpful.

I never remember Q-Tips in the house as a kid. Mom used Bobby pins to clean her ears. I can still see her circling the pin inside her ear, round and round, as if she were a wind-up doll. She used the curved end of the Bobby pin, and she pushed hard, much harder than one would expect. She always mined plenty of wax, cleaned out the pin and put it in the drawer for next time.

I wonder if ear cleaning, like manners or a person’s voice, the color of eyes, gets passed on through DNA. I bet if I took a poll, I’d find that every one of my siblings loves the feel of a good ear cleaning with a sturdy Q-Tip. We might eschew Bobby pins; unlike Mom we’re willing to spend money on equipment made for the job. But I know we all probably inherited the kinds of ears that pop while flying and carry an almost constant, faint tinnitus.


-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – BAND-AIDS® & OTHER 1920’s INVENTIONS

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Vintage. I love vintage. I was looking at old black and white photos in the studio last week: a scrapbook of army shots, Easter in Tennessee, the summer of 1965, Mom on her wedding day in the late 50’s. The beautiful, classic vintage wedding gown would knock your eyeballs out.

Mom had a hairdryer in the late 1960’s; it all fit into a portable suitcase: plastic bonnet, motor of questionable horsepower, a short pink hose that only allowed her to go as far as the end of the couch. I remember when she had to get up to answer the door, run downstairs to tend the laundry, or stir chili on the stove — she’d unhook the tube with a turn of the end cuff, and walk with the dangling hose next to her side, bonnet still on her head.

Women used to sit under gray metal hairdryers with pin curls and purple plastic rollers, the smell of permanent fixings filling the parlor, shouting to each other over a magazine. Beauty parlors were the hub of the town, always bustling with electricity.

But if you ask any woman, I bet they will tell you the greatest invention ever made is the tampon. I didn’t research its meager beginnings. But I should have. We should all pay homage to not having to wear those nasty boards between our legs anymore. Those and garter belts that left red welts mashed into the tops of your thighs, just had to go!

I wish I still had that 1963 Austin-Healey Sprite, red with a black roll bar. The muffler was always falling off and I had to wire it up with a coat hanger but I loved that car. Black Pontiac, my grandmother drove one of those. I am drawn to photograph vintage cars but only as I see them on the street. I’ve never gone to a car show. But I have tooled down University Avenue near Porky’s to check out the vintage cars and motorcycles that clog up the main artery of Frogtown between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

There are times when I long for the simpler ways cameras and toasters and projectors worked. Liz and I went to a garage sale a few weekends ago and came away with some vintage camera equipment: Argus slide projector with manual cartridge, old 8mm Kodak projector, two black manual camera bodies, a cigar-shaped Shure microphone, and 4 old tripods, one with wooden legs, that they threw in for free. There were a couple of old wine crates from Europe and even an 8-track player. The 8-track part didn’t work. But I grabbed the 8-tracks. Big and clunky as they are, I couldn’t help myself.

I used to have an 8-track player bolted to the floor of my 1968 powder blue VW Squareback. I loved that car. It was in perfect condition when I bought it from a friend in Missoula, Montana in 1976. It wasn’t warm in the mountain winters. But it drove like a dream with that big old steel blue steering wheel. The analogue 8-tracks and cassettes sound better than their digital counterparts, the closest thing to live music. But people have forgotten that. I thought of it again when I was reading about 1920’s inventions.

These days you just don’t hear about people in Hastings, Nebraska holing up in their garage and inventing another liquid sugar drink. Or the likes of a new-fangled Band-Aid hitting the market, invented by a woman in her farm kitchen in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.

Where are the new inventors? What towns and cities are thriving with entrepreneurs taking new chances on an old dream. I kind of wish they’d come out with a half-decent garden weeder. None of the ones I’ve tried work. I still get a sore wrist after every dance through the compost of our garden gates.

There’s a tree swing on an ancient oak next to our driveway. I saw the neighbor kid’s grandmother swinging on it last weekend. Flying high out over the lower elm, do you think she wondered who invented the tree swing? Or more about if the rope wrapping was going to hold close to the branch?

The inventions of our time define who we are. Old-style mechanics are the way to go. The less moving parts, the better. Who can work on their own cars these days? They are way too computerized and digital. And one closed circuit shuts down the whole engine; I have to walk home from the store. I’ll be sure to put a Spider-Man Band-Aid on those blisters.


UPDATE:  I had to look. Check out this great article on the history of Who Invented Tampons?, June 6th, 2006, on The Straight Dope (LINK). Though women are connected to the origins and beginnings of the invention of the tampon, there are lots of surprises there. The ancient Egyptians invented the first disposable tampons from softened papyrus; the ancient Greeks from lint wrapped around a small piece of wood (recorded in writing by Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C.)

And guess what? Our old friend Johnson & Johnson (the Band-Aid inventors) are connected to the first commercial sanitary pad — Lister’s Towels, first manufactured in 1896.

Commercial tampons were probably available by the late 1920s or early 1930s, but they didn’t gain mainstream acceptance until Tampax appeared on the market in 1936. (In 1935, Kimberly-Clark was offered the patent rights but thought it would be like throwing money out the window. Not a good move. The product became Tampax, the first tampon with an applicator patented by Dr. Earl Haas.) Here’s what the article says about Earl’s product:

After failing to get people interested in his invention (including the Johnson & Johnson company), on October 16, 1933 he finally sold the patent and trademark to a Denver businesswoman, Gertrude Tenderich, for $32,000. She started the Tampax company and was its first president. Tenderich was an ambitious German immigrant who made the first Tampax tampons at her home using a sewing machine and Dr. Haas’s compression machine.”

I guess the tampon was another great invention rooted in the 1920’s!

-posted on red Ravine, Monday, June 23rd, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – BAND-AIDS® & OTHER 1920’s INVENTIONS

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