Title: That Crumby Toaster
Date: 07 Nov 14 (Friday in the AM)
Time: 1 minute
Replies: 28
Revisions: 7
Publicity: Workshop

The toaster was always full of crumbs. Even after dumped over a garbage can, the toaster would rattle with crumbs like – but I’m not good with similes. Like the interlocked keratin segments of a rattlesnake’s – no. The crumbs had found their way into every nook and cranny of the – machine? Implement? Tool? Yes, tool. Like a stick used by a capuchin monkey to fish ants from the interior recesses of tree branches. Yes. Of course the crumbs themselves had come from nooks and crannies, as this toaster did a lot of English muffin work. It was a good toaster, excepting its tendency to accumulate crumbs in places not even a monkey with a stick could reach. I wonder if this is where the word crumby comes from. That crumby toaster. It’s descriptive, not necessarily pejorative. This is all a metaphor, though I haven’t mastered the technique. I’ve found metaphors to be beautiful swans hidden away in secret coves of unspoiled waters – that is, I don’t understand them at all. It seems lonely. A friend of mine once one cold morning decided to toast his English muffin and warm up at the same time. He pushed the bisected muffin (a term used very loosely) into the slots of the toaster and rested his head upon its warming exterior. Only the toaster got too hot too fast and burned two lines into his forehead, and when he felt it he picked up his head too abruptly and smashed it into the overhanging cupboard. Don’t worry – he’s still alive. But it was a funny thing to see him with the red marks on his head. And to hear him tell the story. He could tell a good story.


Bear » Authorship
Bear » 4:57 PM 07 Nov 14
Elk » 1:39 PM 07 Nov 14
Bear » 12:16 PM 07 Nov 14
Bear » 12:15 PM 07 Nov 14
Bear » 10:51 AM 07 Nov 14
Bear » 10:50 AM 07 Nov 14

The Thread (28)

 Author's voice in grey. 

  1. Bisecting an English muffin with a sharp, serrated knife is one thing. But whosoever approaches that task so calculatingly, like a monkey with a stick, is missing something of our humanity. I prefer opposable thumbs for bisecting crumby bread stuffs. Along with the English muffins and the thumbs themselves, it’s the kind of half-arsed job that results which makes us human. Otherwise, you’d have no Crumby Toaster Vignettes to share.

  2. Fork-split – does that mean previously split with a fork, or split ’em with a fork?

    Split. Splice. Splay.

    All about the metaphor/simile aspects of this piece – the rest is an excuse.

  3. Always a tough call. The thumb method produces more nooks and crannies but you always run the risk of a bad tear. The knife strategy manifests (depending on your skills with a pick-stick) two perfect halves, but levels the muffin’s terrain, thus reducing its butter carrying capacity.

  4. How might we apply this know-how to space exploration? Or do we need to open a thread on Tang for that.

  5. From the latest issue of Contemporary American Criticism Hourly Update:

    A Crumby Toaster is anything but a crumby toaster. The metaphor/simile aspects of the story are part of our larger story-telling construct – which is ingrained in the story itself. The “story” at the end of “a friend of mine” bisects the story in full, much like the fork-split English muffin. The toaster is a metaphor for the crumby nature of life and the inept metaphors and similes spell out our inability to properly describe this nature in writing.

  6. Bear expresses authorial intent, yet again, if a little more creatively this time.

  7. Just a little guidance.

  8. Neigh (not nay).

  9. Going back to Horse’s first reply, is our humanity not most distinctly illustrated through tool use?

  10. I think a full post is probably in order here, and I’d like to see it written by Bear himself. But good question. So I’ll mess around with it.

    Our humanity is distinguished by many things, but if you have to speak to the most distinguished maybe it’s the adventures we experience as a result of our flaws (using your thumbs instead of a knife) coupled with the art we create to express and reflect on the meaning of those adventures (That Crumby Toaster, by Bear).

    Maybe it was tool-use, the co-evolution of tools and the human mind as we know it, that helped our humanity arise. But I think art is the most distinguished illustration of humanity.

    Besides, look at the thumb. A tool being an evolving extension of the mind and body, is it not the original tool of our humanity (if you want to look at humanity tool-wise)? I was also trying to use some irony in putting the monkey ahead of us. By the way, maybe not so ironically, am I not using my thumbs to write stories on my iPhone?

    It will probably be tool-use, something we confuse for the most distinguished element of our humanity because it gave rise to our humanity, which robs us of our humanity altogether. A world eradicated of inefficiency probably won’t be one of much storytelling.

    The Tool said, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out!”

    Needless to say, this is a crumby reply.

  11. I’d’ve said it was a crumbly reply.

  12. Funny that you say “using your thumbs instead of a knife” when we in fact use knives instead of thumbs. Thumbs came first, and when we found ours inefficient in bisecting English muffins, we set our minds to work. Our flaws, however, manifest from these inventions: when’s the last time you cut your thumb on your thumb?

    Henri Bergson tells us that machines are funny, a notion I tend to agree with, though I’d expand machines to include all tools and inventions.

    I also agree with you, Horse, that art is our greatest achievement, or at least my favorite. I’m just looking at the nature of it from the other side. You seem to believe that we have progressed and that our lapsing to a past stage creates context for art. I believe that we haven’t made it that far in the first place, and that our reaching or overreaching is the catalyst. I’m sure I’m being beyond reductive.

  13. By the way, I foresaw this entire conversation when I wrote this ridiculous post. How’s that for authorial intent.

  14. I agree that our overreaching creates a very human moment. Point of fact, don’t look at the knife issue so literally. I’m sure there were plenty of times an opposable thumb, in its infancy, got us all cut or banged up, after which we had to do some explaining or exaggerating/bragging – in other words, some non-fiction or some fiction (if we were lucky enough to survive and tell the tale, or be part of a circle who cared to listen). Tangentially, art (storytelling) is the lost chapter of On the Origin of Species.

  15. By the way. I don’t see an either/or here yet. This whole conversation is a block of Swiss cheese. With so many holes and so much funk, I don’t think there’s much to argue about. I see a bunch of both/ands, as usual.

  16. Well, okay. But I’m going to maintain that it was the moment that we picked up a stick and said this is better than a thumb that we got into this mess. Bears don’t carry backpacks or keep food in refrigerators, and thus don’t have trouble with the straps or spill the baking soda. Once we realized that we could and then decided that we should, we became human.

  17. I was about to say fine, but I just couldn’t leave this one hanging.

    I guess I have a problem with distinguishing between the “moment” “we” picked up a stick and said “this is better than a thumb” (attributing agency to the development by the way) and the circumstances that led to us getting a thumb. I’m trying not to rule out that the same evolution that arrived at stick-use was also responsible for the evolution of the thumb. What I do like about what you might be saying is that there was agency in becoming human – that it wasn’t just a convenient accident. I just dispute that the “most” human thing to do is to choose the most efficient tool. At some point, that could work against being human. It also seems like I’m assuming that we’re the most human we’re ever going to be, or that we already passed that point, or that human is even the best thing to be.

    But whosoever approaches that task so calculatingly, like a monkey with a stick, is missing something of our humanity.

    What I meant by that (even if it was made complicated by the admittedly clumsy irony of the reference to the monkey making his own “better” decision), was basically this: If you had to pick an android out of group of humans fixing their breakfast, look for the one mechanically following the protocol, and most likely the most efficient protocol to get the job done. You can bet that the guy who breaks his English muffin apart with his thumbs, spreads some peanut butter on the halves and drops them on the ground, peanut butter side down of course, is not the android. The android took out a plate and knife and calculatingly went about cutting. Something like that.

    This is some timely stuff actually, if you look at how the law parallels this issue @elk.

    The land of the free has become a legal minefield, says Philip K. Howard — especially for teachers and doctors, whose work has been paralyzed by fear of suits. What’s the answer?

  18. The difference is consciousness. There was no conscious decision to evolve an opposable thumb – that was chance and survival, however the hell that works. Stick use took consciousness and created consciousness. Somebody out there even proposed the theory that our tool-use aided the evolution of our brain, not the other way around. So there was some agency, though there must have been chance and survival in the stick-use realm as well, however the hell that works.

    Here’s the great irony to your android scenario: someone must have built the android to those specifications as a shrewd and calculating tool-user. Probably some other shrewd and calculating tool-user. But like with all tools, our person-machine is unlikely to be fully functioning, and will likely drop its (can a machine have a gender?) peanut buttered English muffin to the floor just like its human counterpart. Now the question is, has it been programmed to follow the five-second rule?

    Don’t get me wrong – I see your point and like your idea and am not sure we’re saying entirely different things. I suppose I’m just saying that it’s our desire for order and the inevitable disasters (to be a little extreme) is indicative of humanity. Look at the automobile. It allows for breadth of travel and has in many ways freed us from our little local lives. Yet it’s responsible (or we are) for probably hundreds of thousands of deaths and massive global pollution.

    To summarize: to tear the English muffin with one’s thumbs is animalistic; to build a perfect muffin-cutting android is divine; to end up with the muffin peanut butter-side down on the floor (in either case) is human.

    And to write vignettes about it. Where does that put us?

  19. We have a post about this very scenario. More or less.

  20. To put it another way, it’s our losing battle against disorder that distinguishes us as humans. Animals accept disorder for the most part. We’re constantly trying to eradicate disorder, but as an old professor of mine used to say, entropy happens.

  21. I still say the thumb had a relationship to our consciousness just like the one you’re saying the stick had. The thumb changed the brain. The tool in turn changing the brain (not the other way around only) is what I meant by coevolution. Yes, we gave birth to the tool (over time, however the hell that happened) and the tool shaped our behavior, which as we know shapes the brain or can even kill it (your car reference). But I would say we’re still at a point where we have to take responsibility for our disasters. The car doesn’t have a choice. Yet.

    Even though I don’t think it’s ironic, I agree that there’s something fishy about the android example. They’re like their maker. Will they dream of electric sheep? That they’re like their maker’s maker? That’s the question. There’s theory, and maybe more than just theory, that technology (which basically = tool) will get a mind of its own. Consciousness didn’t just come about overnight (we’re talking science obviously), and I’m assuming it’s still subject to change, intentionally, randomly, whatever.

    Speaking of fish (and I realize we’re now in territory that is full of land mines and booby traps, thanks to me probably), I’m proposing that consciousness arose somewhere between a fish and an android, that it corresponds to being human, that being human is illustrated best by art, which hangs in the balance vis a vis tools that evolve as appendages to And from the body and mind. Obviously the knife is a far cry from having agency. It’s also a tool, like many, that helps us create art. It was just the example hanging out there. And all of this because of a few crumbs stuck in a toaster. That’s a good vignette.

    See, this is why I thought we should develop the tag function to track the development of a piece.

  22. A Moment of Divergence:

    Cave Woman 1: Look at him and his opposable thumbs. Grody.

    Cave Woman 2: I don’t know. I kind of like it.

  23. Don’t think for a second that fish don’t make art. We’ve got no monopoly on anything, least of all consciousness.

  24. Writers’ Note

    I’m going to supplemental/re- tag this post with animals and evolution.

  25. Semantics. I’m reserving consciousness for humans. It’s not meant to mean anything great, above, or beyond (in fact, I think it hinders as often as it helps). It’s simply a word meant to convey the many differences between how we and other animals use the brain. Certainly fish can do things with their brains that we can’t, but consciousness they lack.

  26. While I’d love to push back on that last reply, I think we’re getting closer to a new post. Bear’s pushing the replies of this one closer to the 35 count on One Man’s Flow. And coincidentally, we’re dovetailing with that post. Here’s a few names for a new post I’ve considered throughout this discussion:

    The Time I Cut My Thumb On My Thumb

    Professor Crumb (an allusion to this)

    On The Origin of Species, Lost Chapter

    Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees 2: The Conscious Android Fish

    That Crumby Toaster: One Man’s Flow

  27. A new post then. My vote is for the hidden fifth option.

    *Amazing. I wrote the reply, checked it, and the fifth option appeared.

  28. Squeezed it in. It would only be natural.

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