Just think about it – what would life be like without Slim Jims and Buffalo-style chicken wings?

People often ask me how America became the world’s greatest economic power, as measured in Remote Control Units Per Household (RCUPH). My answer is: “Inventions.”

Americans have always been great inventors. To cite one historic example: Back in 1879, a young man named Thomas Alva Edison was trying to develop a new light source. One day, he was messing around in his laboratory with some filaments, when suddenly a thought struck him: The letters in “Thomas Alva Edison” could be rearranged to spell “Do Have Salami Snot.” This made him so depressed that he invented the phonograph, so he could listen to B.B. King records.

A more recent example of American inventiveness is “Buffalo-style” chicken wings. For many years, nobody ate chicken wings, and for a good reason: They’re inedible. They are essentially meat-free bones. You might as well chew on a plate of toenails. But one day a shrewd restaurant owner came up with the idea of serving the wings “Buffalo-style,” which means “to people who have been drinking beer.” It is a known fact that beer-drinkers will eat pretty much anything. Exhibit A is “Slim Jims.”

You could put a dish of salted mothballs in front of beer drinkers, and they would snork them up. So chicken wings were an instant hit. Today, “Buffalo-style” chicken wings are served in restaurants all over the nation. The waitperson brings out a plate of bones, the customers gnaw on them for a while, and then the waitperson takes them back to the kitchen, where they’re run through the dishwasher and placed on a plate for the next set of customers to gnaw on. A restaurant can sell the same set of “Buffalo-style” wings hundreds of times; this provides a big boost to the economy, and it is easier on the chickens.

And speaking of modern inventions, let’s talk about the incredible convenience of cellular phones, especially for motorists. Years ago, when you were driving, you wasted your time on such non-productive activities as listening to the radio, steering, etc. But now, using your cellular phone, you can engage in productive conversations: “Hello, Ted? Can you hear me? Hello? Ted? Can you … Hello? Ted? Can … Hello?” As a safety bonus, you can also use your cellular phone to call for an ambulance after you rear-end somebody: “Hello? 911? Can you hear … Hello?”

The exciting thing is, at this very moment, Americans are thinking up inventions that could improve our lifestyles even more. For example, a while back I received a letter from a research scientist (unfortunately, I lost the letter, so I can’t give you his name) who told me that he and some other research scientists were working on developing a system for – I believe this is how he worded it – “transmitting frozen margaritas over ordinary telephone lines.” I speak for Americans everywhere when I say: Let’s track these scientists down and give them a large federal grant.

I received another letter, which I managed not to lose, from alert reader Dick Demers, who told me about some inventions that he and his friends had conceived of. For example, his friend James Cathey thought up the long-overdue idea of a “briefcase aquarium.” I assume this would be an aquarium that had a handle so you could carry it around with you; thus if you were stuck in, for example, a company meeting wherein your boss was droning away about improving product quality, you could pass the time productively by watching your fish swim around and poop.

Another one of Demers’ friends, Richard Jeanne, had a fine idea for improving the quality of the motoring experience. You know those irritating drivers who leave their turn signals blinking, sometimes all the way from New York to Cleveland, slowly driving you insane? This irritation would be eliminated by Jeanne’s idea for a new, improved turn signal: “After 15 seconds, the car will automatically turn in the direction indicated by the signal.” Wouldn’t that be great? It would remove at least 200,000 drivers from the road in Miami alone.

Speaking of irritations: Have you noticed that more people seem to be paying for everything – everything – with credit cards? Last winter, I waited in a long ticket line outside a movie theater near Detroit on a bitterly cold night for what seemed like hours because many people were charging their $3.50 movie tickets. Each of these purchases had to be approved by a central computer; meanwhile, the movie was starting, and people in the ticket line were keeling over from frostbite and being dragged off to the parking lot by wolves.

I have invented a way to prevent this kind of thing: For credit-card purchases under $20, the central computer would add an Annoyance Charge, which would be based on the number of people waiting in line, air temperature and other factors. (“OK, that’s two tickets to ‘Flipper’; with your senior-citizen discount and your Annoyance Charge, it comes to $237,000.”) I’ll bet you have some good invention ideas, too, and I’d love to hear what they are. But please mail them in; we cannot accept phone calls. We’re keeping the line open for margaritas.

This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Sept. 1, 1996.

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