February 24, 2000
Although I am occasionally called a know-it-all, it's not modesty alone that prevents my ever making the claim on my own behalf. The truth is that there are any number of things about which I know absolutely nothing. Right off the bat, I can think of several, ranging from soccer to Eastern religions, and from farming to trigonometry. I'm not playing Humble Harry here; I mean, get me started on baseball or movie trivia, and stand back!
There are, in fact, a frightfully huge number of things I have never begun to understand. For one, why can't we ever compare apples and oranges? Maybe one would be hard-pressed to compare jet planes and roses, for heaven's sake, but apples and oranges?! Compared as fruits, I prefer apples; in juice form, I prefer oranges.
There is a similar mystique surrounding the question about the beating of one's spouse. Not too long ago, when a leading presidential wannabe was asked when he'd stopped using cocaine, he complained that it was tantamount to asking a man when he'd stopped beating his wife. What is so hard about saying that you never had to stop because you never began? What, exactly, is the tricky part that I seem to be missing?
Another thing I have never understood is how the world goes about deciding which individuals to celebrate and which others to ignore. Why, for example, has so much been made of Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn, Cecil B. DeMille and Darryl Zanuck, men who simply made movies or ran studios? The obvious colossus of the industry was the fellow who first came up with the brainstorm of putting salt on popcorn -- in one fell swoop turning packing material into a snack, and the concession stand into a gold mine.
Another genius who has gone generally unnoticed is the person who invented shampoo. Actually, coming up with the product was child's play, as its only prerequisites were that it smell nice and work up a decent lather. What separated this boy from the pack was that he somehow had to convince us that, although regular soap was just fine for cleaning all our other body parts -- many of which are, themselves, covered with hair -- when it came to our scalps, only a really high-priced concoction could do the job.
What I, personally, would like to know is how it is that only where I faithfully shampooed did I go bald, whereas in way too many of those areas I regularly soaped, hair has managed to sprout in supernatural abundance. I can't help wondering if I might possibly have a legitimate case against Head & Shoulders.
However, as clever a puss as the inventor of shampoo was, even he was trumped by the brainiac whose idea it was to state in the directions that once you have shampooed and rinsed, you must repeat the procedure. Think of the originality of that concept! Think of the cleverness! Think of the chutzpah! Imagine if other companies had glommed onto that sales ploy: (Campbell's) "Have a piping hot bowl of tomato soup. Now wipe your mouth and have another"; (General Motors) "Buy a brand new Chevrolet. Good. Now, run out and buy an Olds"; (Trojan) "Have sex. Okay, now do it again right away."
Finally, would some smarty pants please explain the logic behind bigotry to me? I mean, what could be dumber than hating large groups of human beings for no better reason than their race, religion or sexual proclivity? After all, it requires so little effort to get to know people as individuals, to discover their little quirks and eccentricities -- and thus come to hate them for really good reasons.
Burt Prelutsky has written for the New York Times and numerous magazines He has also written for such television shows as "Diagnosis: Murder" and "MASH."