People have been stealing my ideas for inventions my whole life. Back in the 1960s, when I was in kindergarten and my mother was pregnant, I told her there should be a way for her to know whether she was going to have a girl or a boy. But I am not bitter toward the inventors of the sonogram. A few years later, frustrated at not being able to reach school friends on the phone when I wanted, I declared that there ought to be a method for getting around the busy signal. I have choked down my resentment at being overlooked as the originator of call waiting.
But now it was my turn. A few weeks ago, my husband and I were engaged in our usual evening festivities: lying on the couch like a couple of beached manatees while he flipped channels. He landed on an announcement for QVC, the home shopping network. In the nanosecond before he flipped onward, I heard the hostess mention "new product search." I demanded he go back. I learned that QVC representatives would soon be at a hotel near me looking for their next blockbuster item.
This must have been like that moment in 1928 when Alexander Fleming, gazing into a petri dish and seeing that mold had killed bacteria, discovered penicillin. Watching the QVC ad, I realized I had in me a product America desperately needed: Hairmuffs.
Before I describe Hairmuffs (although they are really self-explanatory), here is the background on how my breakthrough came to be. Recently, I was waiting to pick up my daughter at school. It was cold, and I was wearing earmuffs. Another mother—a friend of mine—and I were talking when she interrupted our conversation to say, "You look so incredibly nerdy in those." It wasn't that I minded looking nerdy, but the vehemence with which she said it made me recognize that I had fallen below the minimally accepted standard of sweatpants-clad, unshowered, work-at-home motherhood.
But with Hairmuffs I could wear my earmuffs and be stylish. As I explained in my online QVC product application form:
It's freezing out and your ears are red and painful. So you put on a pair of earmuffs—and you look like an overgrown elementary-school student. Hairmuffs to the rescue! With Hairmuffs you can keep those tender ears cozy and no one will ever know you are wearing earmuffs. Hairmuffs are earmuffs that have been covered in a variety of hair colors and textures—one sure to match anyone's own tresses.
When I read the description to my husband, he declared that Hairmuffs were "hare-brained." But wasn't my darling manatee surprised when a few days later I showed him the return e-mail from QVC with an appointment time. "Maybe they give everyone a slot," he said. Then a bizarre thought struck him: "Maybe they like Hairmuffs."
It was time for me to manufacture Hairmuffs. I realized I needed a companion product for women with short hair or for men. So I came up with NoHairmuffs—a pair of fake ears attached to earmuffs. With a week to go before presentation day, I started to search for my raw materials. It turns out there is not a large market for fake human ears. Days of calling to costume stores and magic shops turned up nothing. I finally purchased from the Cinema Secrets Web site an Alien Dome Cap ($16), which came complete with realistic latex ears.
The Saturday before my Monday appointment, I went to the mall to get the rest of the ingredients for my prototype. The hair attachments kiosk had everything I needed, but I was stunned at the prices. Each small swatch of synthetic hair was $5. Buying enough in brown, black, and blond cost $62.87. I started to panic when I was unable to locate any earmuffs. It was 27 degrees outside, but the department stores were displaying sandals and swimwear. I started scanning the crowds—I was ready to approach someone wearing earmuffs to buy a pair directly. Almost everyone had something stuck in their ears, but they were all electronic devices.
I finally found earmuffs at a variety store, for only $2.99 each. Buying enough Velcro and glue cost another $19.93. When I added all my expenses, Hairmuffs production costs were $110 a set. I had told QVC I could wholesale Hairmuffs to them for $17. Now I understood it wasn't Kevin Costner's fault that the budget for Waterworld got so bloated.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Ebola Story
How our minds build narratives out of disaster.
The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola
PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer
The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics
A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers
Welcome to 13th Grade!
Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.
The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.