March 25, 2013
When it comes to one of our state’s Buckeye treasures, James Thurber's writing and cartoons certainly made a lot of people laugh. One story in particular proves what you intend to do often gets sidetracked and pleasant surprises can result.
Thurber’s unexpected ending wound up giving him one of his most famous single-panel cartoons. One the 20th century’s most accomplished humorists, Thurber had many cartoons published in The New Yorker literary magazine.
Once, while attempting to draw a bed, he started with the headboard. As he drew, he realized he configured what looked a whole lot more like a seal than a headboard. So, Thurber gave the “headboard” a seal’s face, drew a much better headboard under the seal and then a bed with an ordinary-looking husband and wife under the covers.
The husband is turned away with a “she-never-believes-me” look of discontent while the words of his domineering wife appear in the caption: “All right, have it your way- you HEARD a seal bark,” as the seal looks down on them.
At the time, Thurberworked at the New Yorker and shared a tiny office with E.B. White, who would go on to write 17 books of prose and poetry. It most certainly must have been the most writing talent per square foot in any office anywhere.
While Thurber saw the seal cartoon as a throwaway, White saw its potential for outlandish absurdity. He plucked it off a pile of papers on the floor beside Thurber’s desk and sent it on to the layout department. When it came out in the next edition of the magazine, it became one of Thurber’s most memorable and best-loved cartoons.
So, I guess we all have to be open to life’s possibilities and, like Thurber almost did, not miss the unexpected successes that can come by accident.
One of the more famous examples of this involves the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming. Prior to Fleming’s discovery, there was no effective antibiotic to treat bacterial infections like pneumonia, gonorrhea or rheumatic fever.
Fleming was a professor of bacteriology in London. In 1928, before going on holiday, he accidentally left a dish of staphylococcus bacteria uncovered while working on an experiment. When he returned from vacation, he found mold in the dish, which he would discover to be effective against a wide range of harmful bacteria.
In 1992, a certain group of scientists from Wales testing a new drug to treat angina discovered the drug had the capability of doing something that was totally unrelated to chest pain. Thus, Viagra was born.
In 1930, another example of an unexpected discovery involves perhaps America’s favorite confectionery: the chocolate chip cookie. According to the Nestle website, a Mrs. Wakefield, the owner of the Toll House Inn, was baking chocolate cookies but ran short of regular baker’s chocolate. She felt she could substitute some broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate, and it would all melt together.
Originally, Wakefield was disheartened when she pulled the cookies out of the oven and saw that the chocolate didn’t melt, that is, until she tasted her accidental discovery. Of course, the new cookie would go on to team up with milk to form one of the truly great duos in the history of consumables.
Sadly, Wakefield was a better baker than businesswoman. Instead of patenting the recipe and making millions, she sold the recipe to Nestle in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate chips.
If you’re a "Seinfeld" fan like me, you have to be thinking of Kramer’s going behind the back of his lawyer, Jackie Chiles, in a case against the tobacco industry and settling for his appearance on a billboard in Time Square as The Marlboro Man instead of taking a cash settlement for the disfigurement of his face from extreme exposure to smoke so severe that Jerry said his face looked like a catcher’s mitt.
So, I guess we all need to keep our eyes and minds open to possibilities, for there is no doubt where we start out is often so very far from where we wind up, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.