The Toothbrush Engima

Aug. 25 - I want to talk about toothbrushes, but this story I just stumbled over about Joe Piscopo considering a gubernatorial run in New Jersey has hit all my buttons, tripped all my wires, and fiddled all my sticks—to the extent that I complete forgot, until this very moment, that I'd actually been browsing the net for more information about toothbrushes and last night's airline disasters in Russia.

Some people told Joe Piscopo that he should run for Governor of New Jersey and he took them seriously.

This move is one of the first time people have laughed with or at Piscopo in years. The former Saturday Night Live cast member will try to take James McGreevey’s spot in office. McGreevey resigned last week after announcing he was gay and had an affair.

To the extent that's known at all, Piscopo is probably best remembered for his Sinatra impressions on Saturday Night Live. It's easy to imagine what the "Jersey businessmen" that approached Piscopo with the suggestion were thinking: Piscopo played Sinatra. Jersey loves Sinatra. Jersey will elect Piscopo.

Okay, fine. But why would these Jersey businessmen want Piscopo to win? Why would anyone want a second-string, largely-forgotten SNL veteran to govern their state?

I have absolutely no idea. But then, I'm not from New Jersey—and that's not what activated my buttons, wires, and sticks anyway. I assume the good people at MoveOn.org will use their public-spirited powers of investigation to uncover the nefarious web of intrigue surrounding this mysterious cabal's interest in a guy whose only SNL catch-line I can remember is, "Weather update."

No, what bothers me is the extent to which this represents a cheapening of the celebrity bona-fides required to run for major political office. Jim McGreevey was governor of New Jersey. That's the chief executive office of the state, and although New Jersey isn't very big, it's awfully damn important. Giving Joe Piscopo a spot on the ballot for this office cheapens celebrity politics irredeemably.

You want an SNL veteran to run for governor, you need a heavy-hitter. You need someone with a little gravitas. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, maybe even Mike Myers or Dennis Miller. They've got the celebrity oomph that Americans deserve from their political candidates.

Joe Piscopo is not a heavy-hitter. He has not gravitas. I don't dispute his qualifications for public office—he is a former celebrity, after all, and deserves to hold some kind of office, somewhere—but surely some Jersey village is looking for a new comptroller? Surely there's at least one contestable seat on the school board of some little town in the pine barrens?

Hopefully the good people of New Jersey will prove themselves worthy of democracy by seeing through the faux sheen of Piscopos marginal celebrity and shoot his candidacy down. Hopefully a celebrity with a little more glitz will reward them with a gubernatorial candidacy.

If not, our proud heritage of celebrity candidacies may be cheapened beyond repair.


Now that I've got that out of my system, let me get back to my original subject: the toothbrush.

Several years ago Trine brought home one of those cool electric toothbrushes made famous on Seinfeld. It really is like getting a dental cleaning every time you use it. But sometimes you're in a hurry and don't want to bother with all the fuss of an electric toothbrush, so you want to have a regular toothbrush standing by.

I tend to run my "manual" toothbrushes into the ground. I'll brush with them right up until I'm just massaging my teeth with the plastic nub of a bristle-less brush. Before that situation arises, however, I invariably find that Trine has gone out and bought us each a new manual toothbrush. Every time she does this, the brushes seem to have developed some baroque new feature. In the last seven or eight years, toothbrushes seem to have been evolving according to something like Moore's law, doubling in complexity every six months. The new toothbrush that appeared on our sink on Monday, for example, is bent at three angles and has four distinct bristle lengths, each of which in its own color. I'm sure it represents the absolute state-of-the-art in toothbrush technology, but it got me wondering about the history of toothbrush technology.

Enter Google.

According to ToothbrushExpress.com:

The early history and evolution of the toothbrush has its origin in the "chewingsticks" used by the Babylonians as early as 3500 BC. Ancient Greek and Roman literature even discusses primitive toothpicks that were chewed on to help clean the teeth and mouth.

As the years passed, toothpicks matured into the chew stick which was about the size of a modern pencil. One end was chewed into and became softened and brush-like while the opposite end was pointed and used as a pick to clean food and debris from between the teeth. The twigs used were carefully chosen from aromatic trees that had the ability to clean and freshen the mouth. The earliest literature showing the use of these twigs is found in Chinese literature at around 1600 BC.

The first true bristled toothbrush also originated in China at around 1600 AD. At around 1780, the first toothbrush was made by William Addis of Clerkenald, England. Addis, and later, his descendants, manufactured the finest English brushes, where the handles were carved out of the bone of cattle and the heads of the natural bristles were placed in the bored holes made in the bone and kept in place by thin wire. The natural bristles were obtained from the necks and shoulders of swine, especially from pigs living in colder climates like Siberia and China.

That's appealing, isn't it? Brushing your teeth with bristles from the necks and shoulders of cold-weather pigs? And we wonder why dental hygiene wasn't taken as seriously back in the day?

Anyway, by the early nineteenth century these brushes were being used throughout Europe and Japan. The first American to get a toothbrush patent was H.N. Wadsworth in 1857. In 1885, the Florence Manufacturing Company of Massachusetts started mass marketing their own "Prophylactic brush" in the United States.

Gradually, synthetic bristles replaced the pig bristles. Electric toothbrushes first turned up in 1939. Most Americans didn't brush their teeth until after World War II. Soldiers had been required to brush their teeth during the war (if loose lips sank ships, imagine what tartar build-up could do) and most of them carried the habit home with them. The first rotary-action electric brush was introduced in 1987 by Interplak.

I was just curious. Maybe you were, too. My apologies if you weren't.

* * *

Today is the birthday of Claudia Schiffer (1970), Billy Ray Cyrus (1961), Elvis Costello (1954), Gene Simmons (1949), Rollie Fingers (1946), Regis Philbin (1933), Sean Connery (1930), Monty Hall (1923), Leonard Bernstein (1918), Ruby Keeler (1909), and Clara Bow (1905).

It's Constitution Day in Paraguay and Independence Day in Uruguay, which is almost a couplet if you arrange it just right.

Happy Hump Day!

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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