Back to Archive Index
Peter Anderson's stories have appeared in Storyglossia, Zisk, Skive, the Angler, and Gapers Block, among others. A financial analyst by trade, he writes fiction to ease the crushing monotony of corporate life. He lives in Joliet, IL, with his wife Julie, daughter Madeleine, and two literature-averse cats. His musings are on public display at petelit.com.
Solomon Pinter -- Solomon to his mother, but Sol to everyone else -- finally had his breakthrough, his best formula yet, one which he was certain he would be able to patent. It wasn't his first patent, of course; he had many others to his name, but none of them did much for him personally other than keeping him employed. The patents gave him security. His company -- Amalgamated Home Products of Racine, Wisconsin -- loved his patents, both for their marketability and the prestige they conferred on the company, which was long known as the leading innovator in its industry.
But Sol wanted more than security. He wanted to be immortal.
Harold Orloff, 89; Invented Vacuum Cleaner Nozzle.
Samuel Hopkins, 64; Developed First Suntan Oil.
John Ashburn, 76: Pioneered Modern Light Switch.
And so on. Some people would still read the obituaries, mostly out of morbid curiosity, but forgot them not long after the newspaper had been folded neatly back into its original state, destined for the trash bin.
He needed more, a selling point, something unique to set it apart from the competition and to justify a substantially higher price tag. He knew this last point was sure to warm the bigwigs' cash-register hearts, greatly improving the product's prospects in the company's eyes.
Color first occurred to him, maybe orange or bright blue. But any color, no matter how striking, would simply dissipate in the bucket under a layer of pure-white bubbles, only to be dumped down the drain afterward.
Smell. Something invoking freshness and cleanliness and lingering long after. Maybe a hint of the exotic. He thought of nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon before deciding that spices wouldn't do; kitchens already smelled like those things, and a spice-smelling cleaner wouldn't seem out of the ordinary to the average housewife.
The question consumed him during the workday, during his meals, while he prepared himself for work in the mornings and tried to drop off to sleep at night. But he confided in no one, not even Elaine, his wife of eight years.
Curious, he craned his neck to read the side of the box in the dim early-morning light.
POMPANO CITRUS FARMS. ONE DOZEN ORANGES.
"Oranges!" he exclaimed, clapping his hands.
Arriving at the plant, he bypassed the lab -- the room where he happily and productively spent so many of his waking hours -- for the storage room off of the main warehouse where the bulk fragrances were kept. So intense was the smell, an overpowering combination of a hundred or more scents all rudely vying for the nose's immediate attention, that he rarely entered the room himself, instead calling for a stock clerk to deliver whatever he needed.
He scanned the shelves and immediately found what he was looking for: Orange #2, from a very reputable vendor of industrial fragrances, a company he had considered working for at one time, many years before.
He pulled a gallon bottle from the shelf, noticing a bottle of Orange #1 immediately behind it. The #2 looked a bit fresher, he thought, so he left the older bottle behind. He hurried to the lab and immediately began to work on a formulation: just enough added to give the cleaner a pleasant scent, but not enough to make it oppressive. Or expensive -- these "exotic" fragrances didn't come cheap, something which was always a major consideration for the bean counters.
But he couldn't find a formulation that worked. At lower concentrations, the fragrance and the cleaner wouldn't bond; something in their molecular compositions wouldn't match, leaving nothing in the test vat but two distinct elements unfit for any kitchen floor. The fragrance did bond at much higher concentrations, but at these levels the smell was so powerful an open bottle would clear a room. No housewife would go near such a thing.
In desperation he tried everything, first the dated Orange #1, then lemon, tangerine, grapefruit, and every other citrus flavor he could think of.
To no avail. His cleaner formula seemed to be incompatible with citrus-based fragrances. A week of workdays and nights of fitful sleep found him fully absorbed by his problem. Elaine kept her distance at home, as did most of his colleagues at work. That is, other than Jeffers, his boss, the oxlike manager of the development laboratory.
Sol stood above a beaker and was carefully measuring out ten fluid ounces of pomegranate fragrance -- he had grown desperate -- when Jeffers barged into the lab, practically kicking the door open.
"PIN-ter," he bellowed, "what have you got for me?"
Ordinarily Sol would have lashed out at such an interruption to his work, turning on the intruder with a degree of resentment only attainable with an advanced degree of professional pride. Today, however, he was struck by the way Jeffers pronounced his name: "PIN-ter."
Jeffers said it wrong, as did everyone else at the plant. On his first day of work, nearly a decade earlier, the name had been mispronounced "PIN-ter" instead of the proper "PINE-ter," and the error stuck. No one at the plant knew him well enough personally to realize the error, and Sol was too polite to correct them. It didn't bother him much; as long as they gave him a paycheck every week and left him in peace to do his work, he didn't care what they called him. They could call him Palooka for all he cared.
The Pinter name dated to the early years of the century, when an indifferent immigration clerk at Ellis Island didn't bother asking for the correct spelling of the family's actual name, Peintovitz, simply writing down what he could interpret from Bubby Pinter's bewildered response. The family, eager to assimilate, never dared to question the dictate of a government official. Life in the old country had taught them the danger inherent in such an act. So they just left the name as it was, as it had been determined for them, and got on with their new lives in America.
Thus Peintovitz became Pinter, which was pronounced with a long i by everyone, until Sol's first day at the plant. Jeffers, barging into the lab, was only the latest in a long line of Amalgamated employees to mispronounce the name, but in doing so today he planted an idea, a wonderful idea, in Sol's hungry imagination.
Eager to pursue the idea further, he answered Jeffers mechanically, the same way he did whenever the oaf came poking around, assuring him just enough progress was being made to send him storming back out the door.
PINE-ter, pine. A very sharp but clean smell, reminiscent of lush forests, virginal, untrodden, natural. Pine forests couldn't match orange groves for exoticness, but pine might prove to be the answer to his formulation problems.
Using pine, it suddenly occurred to him, would also be an absolutely perfect embellishment to his scheme. And nobody at Amalgamated would realize what he was doing.
A hurried call to the warehouse brought a stock clerk running with a gallon of pine fragrance. The pine's strong smell meant he could use a much smaller concentration than he had with citrus, a fact which he knew would please both the accounting and purchasing departments.
He mixed the pine into his cleaner formula, holding his breath in anticipation, and to his wonderment the two elements bonded on the very first attempt. He tried various proportions to get the smell just right, each one bonding as perfectly as the one before it. Testing of the final formulation on an expanse of dirty floor brought results which were...well, they were ten percent better than the old product, no more and no less. But now the product had that one special bauble which would make it marketable.
With the product itself completed, only one step remained.
The chemists met once a month to approve names for new products. The inventor would nominate his choice, but Jeffers thought it was good for department unity for everyone to have a say in the final decision.
This month Jeffers chaired the meeting as usual.
"Sol, you've got something new, right?"
"Yes. I've got this cleaner. It's a bit better than what's on the market," -- Jeffers nodded; he preferred "a bit better," as it meant slow but steady progress and continued funding for his realm -- "but the catch is this pine scent that I came up with."
"Hmm, pine," said another chemist. "That's good. Natural, fresh, distinctive. What were you thinking of for the name?"
"Well, pine has to be part of it, of course. That's the main selling point, the hook the salesmen want."
The others nodded in agreement. They clearly had no idea where he was going with this, and made no connection between his last name and the inclusion of pine in the cleaner's name. They were chemists, after all, and not linguists.
He readied his next suggestion. It wasn't exactly what he wanted, but he didn't want to be too obvious, to telegraph his intent, to illuminate it in the verbal equivalent of neon. Subtle, subtle.
"And it's a solution, both in terms of a chemical formulation and an answer to the housewife's cleaning problems. So I was thinking of the name 'Pine Solution.'"
"Well, Sol, I get what you're saying about the double meaning," said the chemist who had spoken earlier. "That makes perfect sense."
"But it just doesn't have that ring to it," Jeffers interrupted, barging in verbally this time. "You know what I'm saying? Solution describes it pretty well, but the word is just so plain, you know? Awkward."
"Maybe..." Sol began.
"Maybe we can shorten it," the other chemist said, leaning back in his chair. "Solution...Sol. Nice and short, and it's also the Spanish word for 'sun.' Another nature reference, and it sounds kind of exotic."
"And it's Sol, just like you, Sol!" Jeffers blustered with sincere enthusiasm.
They all laughed, Sol with relief, trying his best to sound natural. He feigned humility, shrugging his shoulders with a comical expression on his face.
They moved onto other department matters after deciding to add a hyphen to the name.
When he returned to the lab, lying on Sol's desk was a sealed envelope bearing the return address of the U.S. Patent Office. He tore it open. The patent was approved. Trademarking the name would be, in comparison, little more than a routine bit of paperwork that would bring the quiet immortality he had so diligently pursued.
Inside, Elaine would have a highball mixed and waiting for him. Upon hearing the news she would cry out in delighted surprise, throwing herself into his arms.
Pine-Sol was actually invented in 1929 by Harry A. Cole in Jackson, Mississippi, with the product later gaining him the riches and prestige he so greatly deserved.