Why Didn’t I Think of That?

Tucker McCarthy

In our society, there is a seminal question that we ask ourselves. That is, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It is the question that separates you and me from the guy who made millions of dollars for combining the spoon and the fork into a single utensil. It is also what makes comedians and professional writers among the wittiest people. Concoctions like “The Spork” and “The Post-it” are seemingly original, yet, in truth, they actually prove that originality is dead.

As a writer I am constantly trying to think of actions that elicit the reader to say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” For instance, we all have been in the situation in which we produce a sound similar to a fart, and then spend the next five minutes trying to reproduce the noise to prove that it was not. This almost always happens in a crowded setting like a classroom. It may involve vinyl or it may be the result of a sneaker rubbing against the legs of a chair. After the noise is made, the innocent culprit, already red in the face, will readjust in the vinyl chair or scrape his sneaker up against the metal leg. You already know this, but the noise is never duplicated.

Another action that is more common among Generation Y than any other involves instant messaging or txt messaging. When typing to a person that you care about, say a possible love interest, we always try to mimic the other party’s duration between messages. If the person takes five minutes between messages, then you will wait at least five minutes before responding. It is all about perception; the person on the other end wants you to believe that he or she is busy talking to a lot of even when he or she is not. As a result, you mimic the other person’s cadence so that you seem preoccupied as well. Neither party wants to appear eager and while we all know this is going on, the formula rarely wavers.

One other thing that I always think about but just recently verbalized is the issue of door-holding etiquette. Countless times we find ourselves in this situation: You are walking into a building and there is a person trailing behind you. Your habit is to look behind you to see if there is someone you should hold the door for. If the person is close, you hold it; if he or she is not, you walk right through. It gets tricky when the follower is in the intermediate area. He knows from your look-back that you are aware of him but holding the door is still iffy. My personal rule is this: if you think the person will not make it to the door in the amount of time it takes the door to swing closed on its own, then don’t worry about him. When in doubt hold it.

We have all been in these situations and our reactions come without much thought. It is upon looking back, however, that we realize the absurdity of these events. Those people who point out the absurdity are credited for being observant even though they are observing the obvious. Comedians are probably the best at this skill: Jerry Seinfeld referred to the inappropriate naming of Ovaltine and Dane Cook educated his audience on the one kid in every kindergarten class that smells like piss. Our response to these observations is almost always, “That is so true.” We also ask ourselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Without ever hearing anyone else point out the absurdity of the ever-embarrassing false fart, timed texts, or awkward door-holding procedure, I am filled with a false pride upon thinking that I stumbled on to comedy worthy observations. I eventually realized, however, that there is no way I am the first person to articulate these occurrences. This is a very disheartening realization. In essence, it means that I am not only unoriginal, but stupid for thinking that I was ever original to begin with. Maybe the best way to prove how hard it is to be original is to try to come up with your own joke. We all spout out jokes we have heard, but how many of us create our own material?

Truly, everything that we do today is unoriginal. We can insert a device into our running shoes to track our progress, but the Skip-It did something like that in the 90’s. We can put a tail on a football, but Robin Hood was slinging arrows long before the Nerf Vortex. We can write newspaper articles, but every word comes from the dictionary (maybe not “iffy”). Trying to be original is ultimately the most unoriginal thing that any of us can do. So, of “original,” I think it is safe to say, “Stick a spork in her, she is done.”