This morning, in my quest for sore throat-friendly foods, I made some instant oatmeal. While waiting for the water to boil, I sifted through the various flavors (when did French Vanilla become an oatmeal flavor? I don’t think we had anything other than an extremely suspicious “maple” when I was a kid), and in a moment of perceptual fuzziness, stopped focusing on the names of the flavors and actually noticed what else was printed on the packets. Dinosaur facts.
About eight years, some marketing person at Quaker Oats was in desperate need of several hundred cute little dinosaur facts, to put on the sides of a new Dinosaur Egg oatmeal. I kid you not: it’s like the eggs were sugar, and dissolved to reveal tiny baby dinosar skeletons or something– the kind of notion that may sound cute in theory, but is pretty questionable in practice, like having a Cinderella pinata at a birthday party. Anyway, they called someone at Britannica (our global marketing director was a Quaker Oats alum, so I suspect that’s how we got called), and eventually the request hit my desk.
Now, Britannica was not a place that did a lot of this kind of work: it was, after all, the creator of the Macropaedia and Micropaedia, otherwise known as “history’s most hostile act of publishing.” Dino facts were not on our agenda. I don’t remember how it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to just throw this in the circular file, but eventually it became clear that I was actually going to have to find someone to do this.
Fortunately, my friend Victoria
has had recently been hired, was a budding herpetologist, an amateur paleontologist, and most important, was slightly underused at the time; so I was able to give it to her. Not surprisingly, she did a bang-up job, and we were able to send them a big bunch of dino trivia.
I suspect that the Dino Egg oatmeal concept has gone the way of the dinosaurs themselves, but curiously, the dino facts have taken on lives of their own, and have outlived the product they were created to support. They’re still entertaining kids at breakfast tables every morning. And they’ll probably be the most-read thing I ever have a hand in creating. Not Britannica, not the Mac archive, certainly not my book, not even the Red Herring column. Dino facts.
Literary immortality and anonymity all in one neat package. It’s like being the guy who invents the phrase “right turn only,” or “this end up:” read every day, but not in a way that leaves any lasting impression. Kind of like eating instant oatmeal.