Dilettante Dynamos

We hear you, experts of the capitalist world – innovation is the mainspring of personal success and economic prosperity.

To imitate is human; to innovate is divine.

We at The Horse take that as a call to arms – in truth, a patriotic duty — though it does seem a bit imitative to say so.

Unfortunately, there are no Steve Jobses here (all right, how would you pluralize him?), so we have to work within our genetic and technical limits. Nevertheless, just the other day, Barb reinvented the Creamsicle.

Do you remember Creamsicles? (They’re still around – Unilever makes them.) And Fudgsicles? — which in Joan’s hometown were called Fudgicles, but those are no more sophisticated than a Popsicle. One monolithic bar of frozen, flavored stuff on a flat stick.

The Creamsicle is different.

It boasts two nested systems – like a golf ball or a jelly doughnut – an outer coating of fruited ice and an inner core of vanilla ice cream, again mounted on a stick. It used to be that if you saved up the sticks from a year or so of Creamsicles, you could do something with them, but I forget what. Maybe get a free one, and then save the stick.

Barb’s research began in a Berkeley ice cream parlor, assisted by two creative, entrepreneurial soda jerks. Barb wanted a cherry ice cream soda, but they didn’t have cherry soda to combine with the ice cream. So they brainstormed the solution of adding club soda and maraschino cherry syrup to vanilla ice cream. Not bad, but no breakthrough. Next time, Barb got a bottle of orange soda and poured it over vanilla ice cream in a glass.

Eureka! It tasted exactly like a Creamsicle.

Freezing it on a stick awaits development of new home freezer logistics and procurement of some tongue depressors, but innovation takes time, even if it’s for a reinvention rather than an invention.

Reinvention is American, too. If you look into the history of the Sunday Funnies, you find that 70 and 80 years ago (in the heyday of Prince Valiant, Fritzie Ritz, Buck Rogers, Nancy and Sluggo) there was a popular strip called The Gumps. Its protagonist was Andy Gump, which would have been a fairly funny name had it not been for the high-toned Gump’s designer store off Union Square.

In one episode, Andy’s uncle Wonderful Gump returned from 40 years as a recluse in a cave, where he had independently invented the radio. Uncle Wonderful couldn’t have known he was reinventing an existing technology, but he must have gotten a strong hint when he switched on his new apparatus and started to hear Fibber Magee, Jack Benny, Bill Stern, and Ma Perkins. Or possibly he, too, believed — if you build it they will come.

Fudge Cycles

Mark, another of our editors, founded a company when he was teenager. He named it J. Penniless, and its first product was the J. Penniless Build-a-Pencil kit. What it lacked in potential market breadth, Build-a-Pencil made up for in the stunning clarity of its user manual: “1. Find Part A.”

Later, he proved adept at restoring defunct bicycles, which suggested new grounds for innovation — e.g., converting a bicycle into two unicycles, which might have been named FudgeCycles. It was technically feasible, but the business plan wasn’t. A few scratches of the head, and Mark went on to re-imagine the business plan for a number of struggling enterprises.

I’m the dunce inventor of the editorial group. I tried to match Barb’s creation by making a root beer float, but it sank.

Still, we’re trying. Purists might dismiss reinvention as a form of imitation, but remember how they discovered penicillin. If you leave a Creamsicle out of the freezer long enough, it might go viral.

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About Al

Editors of The Horse You Rode In On (listed below) hail from Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. All contributions are signed. When guest contributors are included, their comments will be signed in a manner consistent with their needs for discretion, witness protection, or yearning for personal adulation.