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Mutha of Invention

[whitespace] Pete Cirincione
Will Harper

Building a better gopher trap keeps tinker on his toes

By Will Harper

THE GRAPEVINE Pete Cirincione keeps in the back yard of his San Jose home was practically a goner. It looked withered and malnourished. No amount of water seemed to help. So Cirincione did a little digging.

He soon found evidence of his old nemesis at work: the gopher. The 83-year-old green thumb did battle with plenty of them when he lived in the foothills, but never in the flatlands house he moved into three years ago.

This would require drastic measures, Cirincione thought. Shuffling through his garage and out to the back porch, he retrieved a strange looking rodent-killing device he invented in his days in the foothills.

It's a remarkably simple but effective contraption: A gutted aluminum Pabst Blue Ribbon can fastened to the end of a 15-foot black hose. Bill Murray might have been much more effective dealing with his rodent problem in Caddyshack if Cirincione were around to advise him.

First he puts the hollow Pabst can over the exhaust pipe of his van, then Cirincione takes the open end of the black hose and shoves it into the gopher hole. Some people try to deal with their gopher troubles by trying to slush them out with a garden hose. But water never gets rid of the pests, Cirincione explains.

Carbon monoxide does.

He returns to the car, turns the ignition key and lets the engine run for a while. "I haven't seen the sonofabitch [i.e., the gopher] since," he beams with obvious pride.

Pete Cirincione is something of a factotum, a jack of all trades. After graduating from San Jose Tech more than a half century ago, he started as an electrician in the Depression working for 75 cents an hour, a fortune back then. He quickly diversified, running a car dealership, buying land and laying claims to a gold and silver mine. He appears to have done pretty well for himself. He wears enough gold jewelry to be the envy of any '80s rap star.

His occupation-hopping hasn't stopped just because he's 83 years old. "I always got 40 things going at one time. Shit, I never quit," declares the grandfather and great-grandfather of 35, who has a facility for laughter, telling a good story and foul language. (At 83, who's going to tell him to mind his manners?) He still goes dancing twice a week with his live-in girlfriend, Mary, who is 17 years younger than he is.

Cirincione has always had a knack for designing gadgets, so his stint as an inventor seems a reasonable departure. Cirincione has even managed to get a few of his creations patented (the Pabst gopher-killer thankfully isn't one of them).

His new career got started about three years ago. Pete was hanging out with his old pals from San Jose Tech at Rollo's Donuts, when somebody started talking about a broken light bulb in their chandelier that they couldn't get out.

One kibitzer suggested using a baked potato to do the job.

"I told him, 'Do you want to electrocute yourself or something?' "

So Pete went to work in his shop, which is literally filled from the rafters to the concrete floor with tools, screws, sockets, hoses, tubes and wires. "I save so much shit," he explains, "I can find almost any goddamn thing to use [to make something]."

This time he found a few old goddamn crutches. He hacked off the rubber end of the crutch and connected it to a threaded black tube, and voila! The "Broken Globe Socket Remover" was born, a handy little device now being marketed by the Pennsylvania-based Invention Submission Corporation.

Like all inventors, some of Pete's creations have, well, questionable use value.

Take the "human lifesaving device," a name as appropriate as, say, "peacekeeping missile." The lifesaving device combines a crutch, a round steel plate and about 20 fat, long, sharpened six-inch spikes at the end.

Pete designed the "lifesaving device" after reading a new story about a cop who shot somebody wielding a knife. "They say it's self-defense. That's bullshit when you have a gun. ... Why kill the guy just because he's got a knife?"

Pete would prefer to see the cops brandish the lifesaving device when confronted by a knife-wielding thug. What criminal in his right mind would tangle with such a dangerous weapon? "You could kill a lion with it," Pete says. Somehow, though, you can save a human with it, he assures me. "I know it's crazy," he chuckles.

But right now, Pete is more preoccupied with getting his dream patented and marketed: The see-through distributor cap. And if that works out, well, Pete just might ... retire? Nah. He's got too many goddamn things to do.

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From the September 24-30, 1998 issue of Metro.

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