Boyfriend’s backpack is like Hermione Granger’s little beaded bag – at any given point, there are about ten times as many things in there as you could possibly have imagined. The newest addition to the backpack is a pack of toothpicks. On the train home the other night, he rode all the way from downtown San Francisco to Berkeley with a toothpick between his teeth. (This, of course, immediately inflated his sense of machismo, and he spent much of the journey making vulgar passes at me. Me – his girlfriend of more than six years. Who lives with him.)
Anyway, at some point he dropped his act for a few moments, for this:
“Did you know that the demand for the modern toothpick is completely manufactured?”
Apparently in the late nineteenth century, a certain Mr. Charles Forster of Buckfield, Maine (or Charlestown, Massachusetts, depending on who is telling the story), got the idea of manufacturing toothpicks, after observing some people in Brazil picking their teeth with slivers of wood. He returned to the US, got a machine that manufactured shoe pegs, modified it a little, and started producing these little slivers of wood. There was a problem, though – no one was going to pay money to buy slivers of wood to pick their teeth with. So the enterprising (and rather twisted) Mr. Forster came up with the following plan: first, he got hold of some really cool looking dudes who did nothing more than stand around the street corner all day – you know, the kind he expected women would fall for. He paid them to continue doing exactly what they had been doing so far, except now, they would have toothpicks between their teeth.
Stage 2 of his marketing plan was to pay these dudes some more money to walk into shops, saloons, and pubs, asking to buy toothpicks. Obviously the shops didn’t have any, because they didn’t know of such a thing. So in Stage 3, Forster and his associates went into these same shops, saloons, and pubs, and offered to sell them some toothpicks for their customers. Aware of the product now – and what they thought was a real demand for it – the owners of these shops eagerly bought Forster’s stock of toothpicks. And that’s how the first toothpicks were sold.