I COULDN'T take it anymore. I grabbed the tube of toothpaste, turned it over and found the toll-free number, the one that says if I have questions or remarks about the toothpaste, the tube, the spearmint flavor, flossing, brushing, even questions about the Contract With America, I can call 24 hours a day for help and advice.
Is this the crowning achievement of the 24-hour consumer society or not? Is there not an 800 number for every product known to man, including a turkey hot line at the United States Department of Health and Human Services for Thanksgiving meal planners?
I dialed Bright N' Grin, home of my crepuscular toothpaste made from bread heels, crushed watermelon seeds, pasteurized flood water, blow-dried seaweed, and little globs of spearmint oil.
``Hello, this is Gretchen, your toothpaste representative. How may I help you?''
``Gretchen, it's the mouth of the tube, where the stuff flows out. Your little plastic flip top doesn't work. What happens is the dreaded dried-toothpaste-build-up around the top. The flip top is useless. What can I do?''
``Sir, how many people use Bright N' Grin in your family unit?''
``Three, four, sometimes five.''
``Sir, to eliminate dried-toothpaste-build-up, instruct your household to grasp the tube firmly in one hand after brushing, but not too firmly, then press down sharply on the flip-top lock-top stop with the thumb of the other hand.''
``The flip-top lock-top stop?''
``Sir, over 80 percent of our customers call about dried-toothpaste-build-up and the answer is proper use of the flip-top lock-top stop.''
``But we are a family in a rush, bleary-eyed in the mornings, all thumbs so to speak.''
``Sir, unless your family can alter their morning habits, and use the flip-top lock-top stop properly, another solution is the knock-lock screw-top lock-down cap. Fool proof, I might add. These are available for 79 cents a piece with a rebate of 20 cents and return of the flip-top lock-top stop in a non-crush rush pack.''
``Maybe I could get one of those dispenser models where the toothpaste squirts out.''
``Sir, our customers report that dried-toothpaste-build-up is common to all kinds of toothpaste delivery systems. The key is proper maintenance.''
``Why doesn't somebody invent a toothbrush where the toothpaste is in the handle of the brush, and when you want to use it, you squeeze the toothpaste up through the bristles?''
``Sir, that's a wonderful idea. But I can see problems with dried-toothpaste-build-up.''
``Maybe a bristle anti-clog shut-off stop valve would do it.''
``Sir, that's another wonderful idea.''
``Maybe a handle with a tiny computer chip that releases just the right amount of toothpaste through the bristles each morning and night, a sort of zip-chip bristle missile.''
``Sir, you missed your calling.''
``I'll go on the Internet with it.''
``Sir, do you have any other questions?''
``Whatever happened to Voyager II?''
``Sir, I'm only a toothpaste representative.''
``Who invented the toothbrush?''
``Sir, I'll connect you to toothbrushes.''