Two traits separate mankind from lower beasts: our written language and our ability to construct complex tools. When you combine these two traits you get mankind's endless power of invention. We can pass learning from one generation to the next by storing information in written language and thus, with each year, our tools get better. For nearly as long as man has used tools man has sought to create the perfect tool. The perfect tool is multi-purpose, portable and not too difficult to employ. It can be used to build a house or to defend that house from an intruder.
An example of an effective multitool would be a revolver. If you watch a western you will see cowboys using a revolver to hammer signposts, break windows, club people and shoot people. You can defend yourself, earn a living doing trick shots or just defend your stagecoach with a revolver. If you would like to know more about the history of multitools I have included an excerpt from the wikipedia article on the history of multitools. If you're not really that interested in educating yourself on the subject of tools that have shaped our lives then you can skip past the history.
A Brief History of MultitoolsEarly cavemen probably thought the perfect tool was the rock, but technically rocks don't qualify as complex tools so poor old caveman doesn't even make the list. Eventually, some brainiac among the cave tribes realized that if he stuck a rock on a hefty branch, maybe sharpened the rock a little on one end, he'd end up with a much better rock. This rock and branch combination became the first real club and mankind embarked on the long quest for a better multitool. The club was a great tool. It allowed the cavemen to smash a wide variety of things, hammer things (although this was called "clubbing" things back then) and, if the rock in the club was sharp, chop things. That was also called clubbing at the time.
One day Professor Ugg was hunting some dinosaurs with his pals and a pterodactyl swooped in and sunk its talons into a caveguy named Guff. Poor Guff yelled for help and his comrades ran at the pterodactyl waving their clubs. Before they could club it with their clubs it soared into the sky. In anger, Professor Ugg hurled his club at the pterodactyl. It fell almost immediately back to the ground and Guff was carried away to a horrifying death, but Ugg thought to himself "perhaps I could make a club that was shaped to fly through the air and club the pterodactyl." He did not think this in English, obviously, as thoughts are generally arranged in your native language and English was still several years in the future. For many weeks Ugg devoted the one hour of daylight not spent either hunting or gathering to the task of developing a superior club. After much labor and many failed attempts, Ugg called his tribe together to reveal his creation.
With a fanfare he lifted the dinosaur pelt from his creation and revealed his new club. This club was much longer. In place of the rock lashed to one end was a smaller stone sharpened to a point.
"That rock is far too small," one caveman no doubt complained, again, not in English.
Ah, but Ugg showed them that his new club was up to the task. It could hammer and crush things if you used it a bit differently, but more importantly it added the new ability of "stabbing" to the repertoire of the cavemen. With this new club they could jam the tip right into a dinosaur and kill it quickly. He also demonstrated that this club could be thrown from a fair distance and kill things that were either too fast or too far to be clubbed normally. No more relying on mega turtles and slowadons for sustenance! His detractors were silenced. One caveman asked what Ugg would call this new wonder.
"Spear," Ugg replied, though it was probably not the actual word "spear" unless that is the caveman root word of the English word.
Spear was great. It was the top-tier multitool for millennia, shattering all previous records set by club and definitely giving rock a run for its money. Mankind moved out of the caves and into cave-like huts and yurts thanks to spear. Spear technology did not stagnate. Over the centuries spears improved to have a crude metal tip making them sharper and lighter. Everyone was singing the praises of spear, until one day a village elder decided that he was sick and tired of spear. It was hard to club things with a spear; you could really only spear things. Building yurts with a spear was nearly impossible, so the club was still being used for that. What people needed was something that was heavy, good at clubbing, but sharp like a spear.
This village elder was very wealthy and he had all of the roots and tubers of the land hoarded in his yurt. He commissioned an exploratory committee of the greatest thinkers to develop a new multitool that would combine the best qualities of spears and clubs. With his vast wealth he paid for many failed experiments. He was nearly down to his last dried-up yam when one especially bright shaman in the village devised the perfect multitool. It could club, it could spear and it could also slash things. It was called the sword and it was quickly adopted as the new multitool. Some favored their old-fashioned spears or clubs, but most switched over to the sword. Just to keep up with the quality of the sword people eventually made spears that could be launched using a cord and they called these the bow and arrow, but they weren't very useful for most things outside of bowing and arrowing. In other words, they didn't really qualify as multitools.Many centuries later - after the fall of the dinosaurs, the wooly mammoths, the Egyptians and the British - a new country was formed called America. This was a great and verdant country, but it was so big that bowing and arrowing really didn't work very well. The inhabitants of America - known as "cowboys" - began tinkering with various ideas to create a better multitool. Some folks from the Orient had offered to help the cowboys build a railroad and they had a substance that could explode and create delight in anyone watching. It was called explosionpowder. The cowboys realized that if you put this powder on one end of a tube and put a spear on the other the explosion would make the spear shoot out very quickly and very far. Eventually, the cowboys realized that their spear launcher did not need to be so large and they began making miniature metal spears that they called bullets. They began to refer to their invention as a "gun" and they even took to calling the explosionpowder "gunpowder."
Cowboys could be seen everywhere using this new gun as the multitool of the time. They would hammer in fence posts with it, shoot a buffalos or an Indian from miles away or just use the gun to open a bottle of sarsaparilla. Everyone wondered how a multitool could possibly get better, but sure enough, it did.
Over in the Orient the inscrutable Orientals were a bit irritated that the cowboys were claiming all the credit for the gun. After all, the cowboys would never even have the gun if the Orientals hadn't offered to help out with that railroad. The Orientals all got together in a tiny country called Japan and they said "guys, look, we need to create the ultimate multitool. We need one that is so far and away better than the gun that the cowboys will never even be remembered." They broke up the meeting and went back to their different islands and they all worked on designs. It took so long that all of the original designers died from old age and they had to pass their ideas on to their children and grandchildren. This went on for several centuries. Then, in the 1980s, an inventor from the Oriental island of Japan named Dr. Lu announced that he had finished his creation.
Much to the consternation of all of the cowboys, Dr. Lu revealed what he called a "robot." It was a man made from metal who was capable of doing everything a human being could do other than feel emotions and give birth to children. It was only a matter of months before factories realized that most of the jobs that a person could do could be done more efficiently by one of Dr. Lu's robots. Since the 1980s the robot has progressed to a modern version known as an "android" that is almost indistinguishable from a person. Robots remain restricted by Dr. Lu's Laws of Robotics and they still are incapable of feeling emotions, although it is believed that American scientists have secretly developed a means of making a robot feel scared.
I was a firm believer in mankind's ability to produce the ultimate multitool for many years. I felt that our collective knowledge, expertise and intellect could devise a tool so clever that no task would fall beyond its capabilities. Then I met Charles Doory. That is when I realized that the ultimate multitool is not some invention or construct. It's not some combination of metal and circuits. It's not even a really good rock tied to a stick. The ultimate multitools have been with us the whole time we have been around.
Charles Doory showed me that the ultimate multitools are the retarded.
Charles lived three doors down from me when I was in seventh and eighth grade. He was a huge slab of a kid of indeterminate age. He might have been 10 or he might have been 30; his slack face gave no clues and every photograph in his house that pictured him beyond the age of a toddler showed the same fully-formed behemoth. His eyes drifted in different directions and he constantly moved his oversized head like a sort of metronome in an elliptical swing. His arms and legs were thick trunks and he walked with a chaotic gait that involved flailing, shuffling and teetering in equal parts. When Charles Doory spoke it was in a toneless and overly-loud voice that would startle nearby flocks of birds. He rode a big, blue, old-fashioned bicycle with an orange flag on the back and he would make honking sounds like a car whenever he rang his bicycle bell (constantly).
At first, the kids in the neighborhood shunned him for his slightly unnerving appearance and strange behavior. Despite our jeers and taunts he persisted in trying to hang out with us and eventually he was an accepted member of our gang.
The other kids knew Charles as the big and usually gentle goof who would perform feats of strength or deploy mysterious non sequiturs like "guys, guys, guys I gave a gurch." No, we never figured that one out.
I knew another, more personal, side of Charles. I knew a Charles who would appear in my garage just after sunrise on a Sunday morning and stand there playing with things he found on the shelf. One lazy autumn day I came outside and found him slowly and methodically picking up every leaf that had fallen in our yard and placing them, one at a time, in the garbage can on the curb. Another time he mistook a municipal repair job on our block's water lines for a hole that our family was trying to dig. When I got home from the store he was covered in sweat and standing in a four foot hole full of water and mud digging away with a shovel.
Being retarded, Charles was not very smart, but he was always ready to prove himself helpful and even on his own he could be industrious.
One day I heard loud thumping sounds outside and I ran to the window to see what Charles had done. He was nowhere on our property so I went outside to find him standing on the roof of his garage with a pillowcase full of coconuts. Every few seconds he would throw one of the coconuts onto the driveway. Most of them were hitting and cracking the concrete and then bouncing into the grass. Two of them had actually hit the concrete and stuck fast, like hairy brown meteors. As I watched he hurled another down onto the driveway and it cracked open.
"Yeth!" Charles cheered and sent tar paper sliding off the roof as he ran an awkward victory lap.
Charles' parents were horrified for their son's safety when they realized what was happening. They had no reason to be. Charles had long ago proven himself to be indestructible by running as fast as he could and jumping face-first into a gravel pit. We have no idea why he did that, but despite several cuts he came up laughing. Charles was in no real peril, so despite his parents' concern I asked him why he had been throwing coconuts off the roof of his garage.
"The monkeys wouldn't hatch."
Hell, if I were waiting on a dozen monkey eggs to hatch I would probably resort to throwing them off a roof. In retrospect, I probably should have asked why the fuck his parents had a dozen coconuts. I think I've bought maybe two in my entire life as an adult.
That day was important, though, because it was the day I finally put all of the pieces together. Charles loved to help. He wanted to prove that he could fit in and his best way to do that was to put his immense strength and stamina to work. He also had a sort of dreamy shrewdness. His mind could provide correct answers to the wrong questions. That was something I could work with.
Three days later, when Charles was at last released from confinement in his house for his misdeeds, Charles and I embarked on a new phase of our relationship. From that point on I intended to give his actions purpose and meaning to the best of my abilities. Charles began to perform every task I could find for him, from opening jars with too-tight lids to digging a grave for and eulogizing my cat.
"Chopper was bold and handsome." My cat's name was Nelson, but Charles didn't need to be corrected.
The other kids in our gang continued to use Charles as a comedic daredevil. I would discourage it, but there are limits to the cachet of even one as clever as myself when you're dealing with a gang of 13 year olds. On most weekdays Charles would work for me. Some days he would mow the lawn or shovel snow out of the driveway. Some days we just hung out and laughed about his incessant farting. Some days we would watch "Saved By the Bell" and he would insist that I was on TV and laugh and laugh every time anyone said "Zack."
My parents worried about how much time I was spending with a retarded kid and they questioned my motivations more than once.
"That poor boy shouldn't be mowing our lawn." My mother scolded me. "That was your job and he's not your slave."
No, he was not my slave. Would Charles have been happier sitting in his house watching me mow our lawn through his window? Would it have brought more joy to his life? I don't think so.
I don't want to pretend that I was an angel. I certainly had selfish motivations beyond mentoring Charles. I did try to teach him math and spelling once or twice, with limited results, but for the most part ours was a friendly working relationship. Like Master Blaster and that little dwarf guy who sat on his back.
Charles' sometimes demonstrated his loyalty in surprising and unfortunate, but always comical, ways. One afternoon Charles and I walked to the drug store near our houses and I bought him Now and Laters. Charles loved the things. On the way back some horrible girl I knew and hated from school accosted us with her gang of giant-haired harpies. She made fun of Charles while he sat there impassively chewing on Now and Laters with his mouth wide open. I told her to stop so she started in on me.
"You and your retard are a couple of faggots!" She announced.
"You're a cunt." I wasn't even really sure what that word meant at the time.
She slapped me on the face. It was a shock, I had rarely been hit and never before by a girl. It stung my cheek. Before I could say or do anything in response, Charles lurched past me and planted his forearm right in the girl's throat. She dropped like a tree being worked over by lumberjacks and made a little "oof!" sound. Charles followed her down and began karate-chopping her on the face over and over again. It would have been funny if he wasn't so goddamn strong. His hand was rising and falling on her like a hatchet and she was too stunned to even bring up her arms to ward off the blows. Before I could get him off of her he had dazed her and bloodied her nose.
"We're calling the cops!" The girl's friends screamed as they staggered off with their wounded companion.
They were true to their word. Noting happened to me, but Charles was told he may have to go live at a "special house." That meant a hospital psych ward, the same place he had nearly ended up in when he stood masturbating in front of a bus a year earlier. That time around he had blamed a stoplight and said it made him feel funny, this time he got out because he was protecting me. My parents warned me away from Charles, but that incident only solidified our bond. I don't like the idea of hitting a woman, but that girl had it coming.
For the rest of that summer and all of the following year, Charles was by my side whenever our schedules would allow. Charles was so into doing work for me that he would greet me with "canivea job?" or "can I have a job?" Even when there wasn't any work piling up or chores that needed doing I would be sure to give him something to do. He built a tiny log cabin over the course of two weeks from firewood that he had cut and then the following winter it was slowly burned down in our fireplace. On top of being amazingly productive when supervised, he was also one of the funniest people I've ever met. Yeah, sure, I was laughing at the sheer absurdity of some of the things he said and did, but when I laughed Charles laughed. He may not have understood when I was being sarcastic, but neither does a robot or a spear.
Some of you might think turning Charles into my multitool was cruel. I can understand that sort of sentiment, but I disagree. I did not employ Charles carelessly or needlessly. He wasn't my butler or slave or anything like that. He was my personal problem solver. He was a friend. The fact that he never said "no" when I asked him to do me a favor just made him the most helpful friend of all time. If even half of the retarded people out there in the world can be as useful and fun to be around as Charles Doory, then they are the ultimate multitools.
Sir Mix-a-Lot's classic follow up to "Baby Got Back" has serious unintended consequences.
"Really, Holmes!" I dropped into my seat, shocked. "You are remarkably tall! What are you, six foot six? Six foot eight?"
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