Friday, November 7, 2008

The Solution to World Hunger

Necessity is the mother of invention. This has always bothered me because in my case necessity just tends to be the mother of a bunch of foul language. That has always bothered me because in my mind, invention is the mother of independent wealth.

Case in point: Several years back I heard of a man who had a nice little boat shop that was situated along the water. Boats could be driven right into the shop, pulled out of the water and repaired. He specialized in the overhaul and restoration of those beautiful old mahogany speedboats that always seemed so popular in Bond films. It seems like someone in this business would make a lot of money but instead this man managed to lose in excess of ten thousand dollars every year. In the mid-eighties that was a decent chunk of change.

Why, you ask, would anyone stay in a business like that for very long? His answer: he liked it. He liked the work, he liked his crew, he liked his hours. He was happy and not at all interested in the profitability of it.

How, you ask, could anyone afford to stay in a business like that for very long? His answer: he was just living off of his patent. That’s patent. Singular. It turns out when you open your can of shoe polish using the little metal twist thing that pops the top off, this is the guy that came up with the little metal twist thing. When I heard this I was amazed.

I figure that guy was probably in the military, rushing to get ready for a uniform inspection, desperately trying to open his shoe polish when, after breaking three fingernails and a tooth, he grumbled, “someone should put a little thing on the side of the can that…” and the light bulb went off. A quick trip to the patent office, the addition of about 1/8th of a cent of aluminum to every can of shoe polish, and that was it. He gets a few cents from the sale of every can of shoe polish and now he can afford to hire a crew of guys to help him blow thousands of dollars in the process of polishing little wooden boats.

Ever since I first heard that story I’ve been on the lookout for some simple task that could be made simpler by the addition of 1/8th of a cent worth of aluminum that I thought up. I haven’t found it yet. I’ve come close on several occasions, but for some reason every time I get the next great idea it turns out that someone has beat me to it and already patented it, marketed it, sold it, and hired a crew of guys to help him blow thousands of dollars in the process of polishing little wooden boats.

So I was on my quest for the next great idea about a year ago when I found the solution to world hunger. I can’t say I thought of it because I didn’t. I don’t think anybody did. I found it. You could find it too if you know where to look. It’s on cable TV. I spent much of my lifetime without cable TV. I grew up too far from town for the cables to reach my house. Then I went to college and couldn’t afford it. Then I moved to Japan where I couldn’t understand it. Then I moved back to the United States and wasn’t interested in it. I was 27 when I finally watched cable TV for more than five minutes.

It turns out there was nothing on.

I know because I spent two hours while house-sitting for a friend (I still don’t have cable TV at my own house) flipping through the channels the way that I notice all red-blooded males are compelled to do. There were hundreds of channels and by the time I was done, my A.D.D. was so attuned that I could cycle through all of them and say with authority that there was in fact nothing on in less than 85 seconds.

It was this channel-surfing aptitude that made it possible for me to find the solution to world hunger. Somewhere around channel 75 I saw a small part of an advertisement that explained that you can feed a disadvantaged child in a third world country for pennies a day. The next fact, taken independently, seems completely unrelated. But when you find it less than sixty seconds after the first, it’s so obvious you have to wonder why someone hasn’t already taken action.

Around channel 230, I learned that phone sex costs as much as $3.99 per minute.

So what needs to happen is someone needs to go to these poor countries, where people live in mud huts and seem untroubled by the number of flies that live in their eye sockets or the constant pity of Sally Struthers, install a few dozen phone lines, and teach the local women just enough English so that they can talk dirty. I haven’t exactly done the math, but it seems like an hour of phone sex should be able to feed an extended family of five generations for months.

It’s pure genius. Use this idea. Make the world a better place, but when fame and fortune inevitably find you remember I told you about it. I don’t want the Nobel Prize for solving world hunger. I just want a few cents from every minute so I can hire a crew of guys to help me blow thousands of dollars in the process of polishing little wooden boats.

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