Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Paste Makes Waste"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a man who has been living in wedded bliss for almost three decades, I am keenly aware that half of all marriages end in divorce. That is why I prefer to look on the bright side: The others end in death.

Still, I have been a husband long enough to know that there is one marital problem that can't be brushed off. I refer, of course, to the toothpaste cap.

If there is one reason why many marriages go down the tubes, it's because either the husband or the wife doesn't put the cap back on the toothpaste. In our house, that person would be my wife.

Sue is perfect in every way except one: She either can't or won't secure the top of the toothpaste tube. In the early days of our marriage, all toothpaste tubes came with screw-on caps. The idea seemed simple enough except that Sue would never screw on the cap all the way. When I picked up the toothpaste, the cap would invariably fall off and land in the sink, on the floor or, God forbid, in the toilet. (That's what I got for being a man who is genetically incapable of putting the toilet seat down.)

Apparently, this was not a problem unique to the Zezima household because in recent years, toothpaste companies have designed tubes with attached caps that could be lifted and snapped back into place so they wouldn't, despite the best sabotage efforts of certain spouses, fall in the toilet.

Unfortunately, the technology was flawed because toothpaste would build up on the opening of the tube and harden into a substance remarkably like Spackle, thus preventing the cap from being snapped closed. To complicate matters, those same certain spouses would put the tube on the vanity face down, creating a gummy mess.

But recently I beheld a scientific breakthrough that could save millions of marriages, at least among people who brush their teeth regularly. Sue came home with a tube of Colgate Luminous, which had an attached cap that was different from the others in that it was larger and looked more like a hood, meaning it could still be closed if toothpaste had built up on the tube. And that couldn't happen anyway because there was an X-shaped slitted opening in the tube that prevented such a buildup.

For the record, this is not an endorsement of Colgate because: (a) the company isn't paying me and (b) an endorsement from me is usually the kiss of death. But I was so impressed by the ingenious design, which made it impossible even for Sue to make a mess of the toothpaste, that I decided to track down the inventor.

His name is Joe Norris, a packaging development engineer from Cumming, Ga., who holds United States Design Patent No. US D531,504 S. In layman's terms, he got it for inventing the spouse-proof toothpaste cap.

When I called him last week, I spoke with his wife, Terri, who said she and Joe have been married for 27 years and added, with no small amount of pride, that she may have been the inspiration for his invention. "I used to complain about the toothpaste," she said. "There was always a mess. He brought home all different tubes he was working on, but this was the only one that was clean. I don't know if he did it because of me, but I was very happy when he came out with it."

Joe Norris began his career at Coca-Cola, where he designed the plastic soft drink can. He worked for Colgate for 14 years before going back to Coke a year and a half ago. He started working on his toothpaste cap and slitted tube opening in 2002 (with help from John Crawford, Scott Walsh and Peter Stagl) but didn't finish until 2005. He was awarded the patent last November.

"I gave Colgate my 'Field of Dreams' speech: Let me build it and they will come," Norris said, adding that he was responding to consumer complaints. "You're not the only one who had a toothpaste problem," he assured me.

"This must be your greatest triumph," I said. "You deserve to win the Nobel Prize."

"I wouldn't go that far," Norris said modestly, "but I do remember my kids' friends saying, 'Wow!' when I brought it home. And my wife liked it."

My wife likes it, too, although I think she's a little disappointed because she can't sabotage my toothpaste anymore. That's a feather in Joe Norris' cap.

Copyright 2007 by Jerry Zezima

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