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Genius Ideas

Ever since the 16th century, when a baby being born becomes stuck, the state-of-the-art tool to aid in its delivery has been the forceps. These giant pliers (probably based originally on coal tongs) are used to squeeze both sides of the infant’s head and yank or twist them out. The problem with this method is that, if done improperly, it can squish the baby’s brain, or crack its skull. Oops.

But recently, Jorge Odon, an auto mechanic and tinkerer, saw a video on YouTube showing how a cork pushed into a wine bottle could be extracted by inserting a plastic grocery bag, blowing it up like a balloon until it surrounds the cork, and pulling it out. That night he went to a party and, accompanied by much merriment, won a bet demonstrating the trick. Then in the middle of the night, he woke up from a dream where he had imagined himself using the same technique to pull a baby out of its mother’s womb.

Jorge was so excited that he shook his wife awake at 4 a.m. to tell her, “Honey, I just had a great idea!” After he explained what it was, she said, “How many of those wine bottle corks did you pull out last night? Go back to sleep.”

Such is the reception of genius among those closest to the genius, who mostly know him as a schlemiel who has trouble keeping track of his keys and trips over wine bottles trying to put on his pants every morning.

Unlikely as it seems, Jorge’s invention has won enthusiastic support from the World Health Organization, and an American medical technology company has just licensed it for production. The Odon device has the potential to save the lives of millions of babies and their mothers.

Over the years, I’ve had my own fair share of genius ideas, none of which have come to fruition, maybe because I’ve gotten about as much encouragement from my family as Jorge got from his. Nonetheless, here are some of my latest genius ideas:

BOSS FRIDAYS: Instead of Casual Fridays, where the most exciting thing is the chance to take off the Brooks Brothers silk noose that’s been choking you all week long, how about becoming boss for a day? The real boss would get to take the day off (he usually finds some excuse to do this every Friday anyway, like an out-of-town conference that’s conveniently located near one of his favorite golf courses). The remaining employees would all throw their ID badges in a hat and the one drawn randomly would get the chance to be Boss For A Day. Order office supplies, hire more help, dish out raises, raid the executive liquor cabinet. Or maybe fire the boss’s annoying cousin who’s always snooping around looking over everyone’s shoulder.

Of course when the boss comes back on Monday, he’ll probably reverse all the orders, but at least there could be one day a week when people are really excited to be going to work.

PORTABLE PARKING METERS: One of the biggest problems people face when driving downtown for business or pleasure is finding a place to park. The garages are exorbitantly expensive, but still usually full, and all the meters are either taken or only valid for less time than you need. But what if you had your own portable parking meter in the trunk? You could park anywhere along the curb where there was no meter – a loading zone, a crosswalk, a stop sign – and set your meter up with as much time on it as you needed. Any cop who saw it would just scratch his head and move on to the sure-fire ticket on the expired meter two cars down.

LEAFBLOWER BUY-BACK PROGRAM: Like its counterpart, the gun buy-back program, this would be a great way of reducing the violence that comes to many neighborhoods every fall when thousands of usually laidback guys suddenly turn on their blowers and begin blasting away at everything in sight. How much hearing loss has resulted from the incessant use of these machines since their invention? How many fights and killings were caused by a neighbor who wouldn’t stop machine-gunning his engine until the last leaf was lying in a decomposing heap on the tree lawn? We don’t know because the government doesn’t compile these types of statistics; they’re too busy sending out their own crews of leaf blasters. But this simple door-to-door buy-back program would help by offering two clean-green rakes for every smoke-belching, ear-deafening blower turned in.

AIRPnP: “AirBnB” is great for finding a homey, inexpensive place to stay in many cities around the world. But what I much more frequently need in the city is a place to pee. There are millions of bathrooms, but even the ones in restaurants and other semi-public places usually won’t let you use them unless you’re a customer. Or else they are so disgusting or have such a long line that you might as well head back to your AirBnB rental just so you can pee.

But if even a small percentage of those millions of toilet owners would sign up to make their bathrooms available through the AirPnP phone app, it would be easy to find one that was nearby, vacant, and clean (4 stars: “We loved the natural lavender air freshener!”) Anyone with a conveniently located toilet could become flush with dough, and there’d be many fewer anxious, irritable people fidgeting in both the coffee and the bathroom lines at Starbucks.

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