Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The inventor

The Inventor
Hagai Cohen
Word count 2100
I was having my morning coffee in my usual sidewalk café next to the promenade in Brooklyn heights, when I saw Michael Foyerman walking in my direction.
It was an accepted rule that one should never ask Mike how he is unless one had plenty of time to kill. The odds were ten to one Michael Foyerman would answer in full detail. Therefore, as did every other citizen who knew Michael Foyerman, I lifted my newspaper and became deeply interested in the afternoon races.

Michael Foyerman always carried an attaché case and was always in a hurry to get someplace although he never worked. People who knew Michael Foyerman were ready to bet that all he had in his case was his lunch. He was at all times well dressed though he never had a penny in his pocket.
Whenever Michael Foyerman saw me, he sat next to me and told me his endless stories. Of course I listened and even paid for his coffee. I had good reason to do so.
One morning about a year ago, Mike had come to the coffee shop and said: "Good morning, Harry. It's a gorgeous day. I love the morning breeze." I was still reading the Post's horse racing section when he spoke and it was like a miracle. My eyes locked on a horse called 'Morning Breeze' racing that day. It was a sign from heaven and no coincidence.
Without wasting any time I crossed the street to O.T.B and bet fifty bucks on Morning Breeze at twenty to one. You bet on a horse with those odds only if the horse himself tells you he is going to win.
By noon, right before the race, the odds on that nag went up to forty to one. I was about to stop believing in God when the Almighty moved his wand and a thunder storm broke over the race track. The lightning and thunder scared the horses and slowed them down.

Morning Breeze must have been deaf and blind for he won the race. I never told Mike he was instrumental in my winning two grand that day, but I bought him coffee every morning, hoping he might see the light again and offer me another subconscious tip.

Michael Foyerman lived on the pocket money his wife gave him on daily basis and what he got was only good for a small lunch and two subway tokens. She never gave him more although she was doing very well in her beauty parlour.

For some time Michael Foyerman had saved his lunch money by eating at home. With the money he accumulated, he ordered a few hundred visiting cards printed with raised gold letters that said:

Inventor and entrepreneur.

During the many coffees Michael Foyerman had with me, he told me about his inventions. According to him, something always went wrong and he had a list of excuses.

"There was no more need for my inventions," or "I could not find the right investors," or "people don't have enough intelligence to appreciate my inventions."
I of course, could not be the judge but, to me, some of his ideas sounded bizarre but some seemed logical.

During the energy crisis in the seventies, he spent time inventing a special clamp to put on the gas pipe leading to the stove. “The clamp when tightened restricts the flow of gas in the pipe and saves energy,” explained Michael and asked me to invest in the project. His invention sounded practical but before investing I consulted my scientific nephew who explained that to boil a pot of water you need the same amount of gas whether the flow is fast or slow and probably more when you boil water slowly.

Of course, I did not invest. Michael Foyerman worked on his invention for some time and when he had a prototype at hand, the energy crisis was over. “It was a great idea” he said, “but there is no more need for it.” I did not say a word.

Then there was the double function refrigerator. As Michael explained it, “Whenever you are hot, you open the refrigerator door. Inside, the pre-installed fan blows the cool air into the room.” This idea also seemed a good one to me and I encouraged Michael to try it, and he did. But he never told me what happened when he finished his prototype. I heard rumours that Mrs Foyerman, when she came home one evening, found a very warm kitchen, a refrigerator full of spoiled food, and an enormous iceberg in the freezer. She did not give him supper for a whole week.
“My new idea,” he told me one morning, “is the sniffing mechanical dog. Its trade name will be ‘Fee or Smudge.' This is a robot which strolls down the street sniffing dog excrement.
A small vacuum pump takes in a sample of the contaminated air.
A very sensitive gas analyser classifies the ingredients to a very high degree of accuracy and thus constructs a smell profile capable of distinguishing between two hundred different dogs.

After the sniffing robot makes the analysis, it is ready for its next mission: It picks up the dung, stores it in a special container and thoroughly cleans the affected area adding a touch of perfume.
Our sophisticated machine sniffs around to find the track of the matching dog then follows the clues to the doorstep of the alleged contaminator.
Our robot knocks on the alleged door and as the doors opens it takes a big sniff to establish a positive identification.
Then our dog announces F-E-E-O-R-S-M-U-D-G-E! In simple words, it means: pay for the cleaning, or your ordure will be smeared on your doorstep.

My business plan is based on logic,” he continued. "Every reasonable citizen will pay the fee on the first occasion; the less reasonable will pay it by the second occasion.”

“Was anyone interested in your invention?” I asked.
“Yes” said Michael, “City Hall. I got a letter from the sanitation department saying the citizens of New-York City are disciplined and usually clean up after their dogs so it may not be a cost-effective machine but they are willing to check a prototype, once I have one”.

Every time Michael told me about his peculiar ideas, I felt a bit sorry that none of them made him a little fortune.

Today he was approaching me very quickly and although I could not see him because of the newspaper, I knew, I’d have his company. When Michael reached the chair next to me, I said “Hello Mike,” without raising my face from the paper. Before he was fully seated, Michael started talking:
”Thanksgiving is not what it used to be.” I put my paper down and looked at Michael intrigued, as he was not the type to discuss tradition or nostalgia. But he did not stop there and kept on telling his long sermon at high speed:

“Farmers used to work hard all summer. In the fall, they gathered the crops and the fruits. After preserving, the food for the winter, they baked a turkey to celebrate their good luck and offered thanks to God. But today” he continued
“it's hard to find farmers. People buy frozen turkeys. The secret stuffing recipe is long forgotten. The pumpkin bread is made in factories and the cranberry sauce is canned.”
“Now that is very interesting,” I said, “but there's nothing one can do to change it.”
“No, you are wrong” jumps in Michael, “you are absolutely wrong. Listen to my idea.” He leaned forward, his eyes dancing with excitement. “My intention is to bring back to the American people the joy of life. To restore civilized values, self-importance, dignity and respect. To retrieve for them, the warmth of a loving family, even for single and lonely individuals.
The people will be taught how to raise a turkey, how to feed it correctly with organic food and vitamins, how to slaughter it humanely, clean it, stuff it with the right stuffing, bake it to perfection and carve it by the book.”

“But wait a minute Mike,” I said, “turkeys stink. Do you really think people will hatch a turkey egg and raise a turkey in their living rooms? You must be out of your mind.”

“You don't understand. There is on the market this small virtual pet, called Tamaguzi. My plan,” he continued, “is to make a virtual turkey, like the Tamaguzi and to give to the people."
“To give?” I asked.
“Yes, City Hall will distribute them to the homeless and jobless, so they can live the spirit and the tradition of Thanksgiving when they go to the soup kitchens."

I am beginning to think Michael is finally and officially off his rocker and I say to him with heavy sarcasm: “See here, Mike, don’t you think you should sell it also to the rich? They usually eat too much and would want to start a diet on Thanksgiving?”

Michael, insulted, looked sadly into my eyes, did not say a word and left. I did not see him for long time after that. Of course I wondered what had happened to him as he was not a man to miss his morning coffee, especially when someone else pays for it.

Rumours began to reach me that Michael Foyerman got into some money as someone had seen him driving a fancy car. I was happy for him as probably one of his inventions finally was a success. I was curious to know if it was the virtual turkey.

So, one morning, when I saw Michael Foyerman with a new suit and a new attaché case walking in my direction, I did not hide behind my newspaper. Instead, I gave him a big smile and said: ““Hi Mike, long time no see, what’s up?”

Michael Foyerman took his seat next to me and said: “They make lousy coffee in this place”.
Well, this was a big surprise as Michael Foyerman had never before complained about the coffee I bought him.

“I take my coffee nowadays in a small coffee shop over-looking Long Island Sound, on the way to my office in Huntington", he continued. "Their coffee is great, freshly ground, home blend of special Colombian beans."
With that he drew my attention completely and I was even ready to forgive Michael for not telling me before that the coffee I bought him was no good.

“What are you saying Mike, is it the virtual turkey?”
“Well” said Michael Foyerman “in a way it is”. I was puzzled till he continued: “My Aunt Laura is very rich, and she is very generous too. She bought the beauty parlour for my wife when she agreed to marry me.

Well, I went to Aunt Laura with the idea of the virtual turkey and offered her partnership. When I told her I had already spoken to New-York City social services she became quite upset and even angry.

"Look Mike," she said, "your ideas are so advanced, the world is not ready to understand or appreciate them. We live in a very competitive business community. I don't want you to approach any official person about your inventions." She said and after a pause continued:
"My company is handling city hall employees' pension and any rumors we invest in high-risk ventures will harm our solid no-risk business. I’ll handle the business end of your projects from now on, and I'll talk to the people if necessary."

After that conversation, Aunt Laura built me an office in her basement, where I sit, think, write my thoughts and file them. She gave me a car as well. Twice a week, I see a man Aunt Laura hired to discuss my ideas. He listens and asks a lot of questions. But, sometimes I feel it's a waste of time. He asks irrelevant questions, like about my dad who died when I was very young. Aunt Laura insists I have to see him or she will not let me use the office or my car.

I never knew how my father died so I asked Aunt Laura. She told me he was 'very special' but he too 'was not understood.'

“One night,” she said," your Dad, who was like you in many ways, woke up from a nightmare screaming: 'The refrigerator is after me. It wants to freeze me.' It was summer, the window was open, and he ran from his bed in terror. He fell from the seventh floor window.”

“Oh!” I said, "How horrible!"

"I'm glad Aunt Laura told me about my father," continued Michael after a pause. "It was all for the best. My latest idea is already fully formulated in my head: a device to detect and disable haunted refrigerators.”


renov said...

hey hagai!
i think this is one of your best.

Philippe Scheimann said...

Hagai, this is really very funny. You made my day :-)