One of the best and finest things I’ve ever owned was a thing called the Grossinator.
My parents bought it from Spencer Gifts, the kind of store that me and my teenage hormones would enter under the pretense of wanting to purchase a black light poster while, in truth, spending yet another 20 minutes inspecting the print of Bo Derek to determine if that smudge was just a smudge or a nipple.
As designed, a user was to press the four buttons on the right in order. The first button produced one of about five introductory phrases, such as, “It’s time for,” “You’re like,” or “How about.” The next two buttons provided adjectives – “a horrible,” “gross,” “smelly,” or perhaps “putrid.” And the fourth gave the object – “fart,” “barf,” or my favorite, “mmmbooger!” Put them together and you could get “It’s time for…a disgusting…putrid…mmmbooger!” It even had a belt hook on the back, in case the owner needed to prove his immaturity while running errands around town.
This video demonstrates its function, and note that my fellow connoisseur agrees with my belief in the supremacy of “mmmbooger”:
The Grossinator’s brilliance was in its simplicity but also in its appeal to a fundamental, maybe the fundamental, part of male childishness – bodily functions or abuses that violate behavioral norms. I can imagine a teenager thirty thousand years ago falling on his butt and tooting to the appreciative, albeit guttural, laughter of his cave-mates. From my personal experience and observation, male evolution hasn’t progressed even one nucleic acid sequence since.
For example, I was at the playground with my son not long ago when one of his friends brought out a small foam rocket with a stand and foot pump that, when stomped on, propelled the rocket about 30 feet in the air. After two or three “appropriate” uses, they tilted the stand at an angle, formed a line in front of it, and took turns getting popped in the groin by the rocket and flopping to the ground like a Brazilian soccer player after a phantom foul, each time funnier than the last. After a few rounds of this, one of the moms couldn’t bear it any longer and retired the crotch rocket program.
But there is another part of the Grossinator’s appeal that I have only recently discovered, and that is the language. The word “putrid” alone barely raised a chuckle. Adding an introductory phrase and an object (“How about…a horrible…burp”) and I may give a few snorts. But the best combination omitted the adjectives altogether. “It’s time for….puke” was a winner.
In writing, I occasionally pull out “the little book,” as it is known – Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I do this reluctantly as I am afraid to learn how many rules I am breaking. And one of the hardest for me to follow is Style Item #4: Write with nouns and verbs. “It is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.”
The point is not that the craft of good writing, a clever and thoughtful use of language, is a sacred act to be approached with humility. Clearly, the Grossinator doesn’t do humility. Rather, at the risk of explaining and destroying the joke, it may explain the reaction I had to a particular statement coming from a five-dollar toy.
Some people may prefer that I say my tastes have matured. Certainly they have changed, but I’m not ashamed to admit that they are merely different, and not a bit more refined.
Sadly, they don’t make the Grossinator anymore. There are other toys with the same name – one you can record your own words or sounds on, and an Iphone app that plays barfing and farting sounds. But they lack that simple and direct way of cutting straight to the, how should I say it, mmmbooger!