35 Inventing Battleship: Something Lacking in Our Civil Administrations

Well, not literally, of course. But Montaigne describes a fascinating idea his dad once had for a municipal government department. Monsieur Montaigne…

… wished to set a plan in motion leading to the designation of a place in our cities where those who were in need of anything could go and have their requirements registered by a duly appointed official. . . . means of mutual advertising would bring no slight advantage to our public dealings; for at every turn there are bargains seeking each other but, because they cannot find each other, men are left in extreme want.

I love this little anecdote about Michel de Montaigne’s dad, because it reminds me of my own father. In his waning years, my dad was a font of odd invention ideas. He also claimed, as a child, to have invented the boardgame Battleship … but my dad was born in 1937, Battleship was first published by Milton Bradley in 1931. In fact, a man named Clifford Van Wickler was said to have invented the game sometime around the turn of the 20th century, but he never patented it.

Anyway, my dad had lots of concepts to get rich quick. In 1987, he thought it would be a good idea to buy a videocamera and contract with hospitals to film live births. Fortunately, he lacked the ambition to beta test that idea, keeping himself off the nation’s unofficial pervert lists. He also had an idea shortly before he died to convert the remaining pay phone kiosks into cellphone charging stations. I told him it wasn’t a good idea because most of the pay phones had already been removed … but as it turned out, he might have been right about this one. A number of airports have, in fact, added cellphone charging stations to pay phone rows. I’m still not sure about the business model, though.

Montaigne book-ends this short essay with a daily habit of his father’s. Montaigne wrote that his dad …

… (kept) a diary covering any noteworthy event and the day-to-day history of his household. It is very pleasant to consult, once time begins to efface memories; it is also useful for clearing up difficulties.

Montaigne never took up his dad’s habit – although he wrote fondly of it – but former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham did follow in those footsteps. He composed a minute-to-minute history of his mundane activities for many years. Here’s an excerpt from September 17, 2002:

Log 9.17.02 (Tuesday)

6:50 Awake at 3 ST TH (181) (his weight)

6:50-7:00 Apply scalp medication

7:00-7:40 Kitchen — brew coffee — prepare and drink breakfast (soy, skim milk, OJ, peach, banana, blueberries)

– read Post

– dress in gray suit

* * *

8:00 Al Cumming — have not received CIA answers to Iraq Qs

8:15-8:20 Walk to HSOB (Hart Senate Office Building)

8:20 Hart SOB 524

– transfer dictation to Beth Powers

It goes on for many, many pages after this, combining interesting details of national governance with personal details that would make Leopold Bloom blush.

It’s nice that Michel de Montaigne felt obliged to praise his dad for composing a similar minute-to-minute diary, but if I’m ever tempted to write anything like this, my sons Finn, Mac and Quinn have my advance permission to have me committed.

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