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Frivolous Ode, Frivolous Toothpick

By January 5, 2017February 15th, 20173 Comments
 self-indulgently carefree; unconcerned about or lacking any serious purpose. 3. (of a person) given to trifling or undue levity: a frivolous, empty-headed person.
I, for one, think it’s a good thing to indulge in frivolity when the opportunity presents itself.  As a child, I ordered club sandwiches, primarily for the frilly toothpicks with which they were held together.  That sandwich, a stalwart of the New England lunch scene in the 1950’s, was a force of its own as well.  It’s unfortunate that it’s no longer seen very often on  California menus.  I think the three or more slices of toast that it requires pushed it over the edge for the always calorie conscious Californians.  But let’s get back to the frilled toothpick.
 Now, when it makes an occasional appearance, it is a shadow of its former self,.  I don’t dare say to my grandchildren, I used to LOVE these!”  They would look at me as if I were nuts.    They no longer bring pleasure for me, just a sad reminder that most people now won’t know the difference.    I think they must have moved the manufacturing from Maine to China a few decades ago.
For centuries, the toothpick has been used for precisely what its name suggests, as well as for spearing morsels of food. But it was only in the late 1800s, with the rise of the club sandwich—whose tiers of chicken, tomato, bacon, and lettuce called for something besides mayonnaise to hold them together—that it was applied to sandwiches. Plain wooden toothpicks often went unnoticed—to the detriment of the unwary diner. “The frilled toothpick was probably invented to alert the eater that there was a toothpick holding the sandwich together,” says Henry Petroski, author of The Toothpick: Technology and Culture (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007). So that colorful cellophane frill was functional, as well as pretty.
I couldn’t  find a picture of just how fetching those small wooden instruments used to be.  The cellophane top of a toothpick existed to bring a small measure of delight.  It glistened.  It sparkled.  The wrap was like a full head of fabulous curls, not like a top of someone just finishing a round of chemo.  The colors were seductive as well, ruby red, midnight blue, forest green, bright orange and yellow.
I saved and collected the frilled picks for some purpose that never arrived.   When they finished holding a sandwich together, they were indeed just frivolous.  But the truth was, they never looked as fabulous as the moment they arrived as the topper to a fine club sandwich.
Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.


  • Alison says:

    I don’t know from whence you come but do you remember those animals that used to grip the tops of Sonic America’s Drive-in cups? I’ve kept a bunch of them in the top drawer of a kitchen cabinet for 40 years. I’m sure there’s a rebirth sometime in my lifetime! Enjoyed reading your funny post!

  • novaloverro says:

    birds of a feather we are! and what about getting a club sandwich from the horn and hardart machine!