His full name ought to be Robert Foiled-by-Fate Sanders. For 44 years, he has been running at walls, splintering them once in a while, but never quite breaking through. Yet he never stops trying. Now, in his latest incarnation as inventor of Top Master, a bottle and jar opener, he is buoyant as ever. So, by necessity or maybe contiguity, is his wife, Betty.
"Top Master is about safety, and safety is what sells these days," she says, brown eyes shining with hope. "I know old Top Master is what's going to take us out of poverty."
It began classically, like inventions used to begin before physicists and biochemists and other over-educated types took over. Robert Sanders tells how the spark was struck:
"I came in the kitchen, and Betty was wrestling the lid on a jar of mayo. So I took it and wrang its neck. . . and ran water over it. . . and beat it on the side of a wooden table."
Finally he got the jar open. Then he looked at his wife and spoke the words, historic words, words Edison must have spoken:
"There must be a better way than this."
The invention of Top Master followed. In a few days, Sanders expects a friend to deliver a prototype of the gadget. It will open everything from a screw-on soda bottle top to a large pickle jar.
The real problem, of course, is to find someone to invest in the product or to manufacture it. Among previous Sanderian inventions are:
A gadget to keep you awake while driving. Stick it on the dashboard; it is set to ring at intervals.
A device that sounds an alarm if you are about to have a flat tire.
A jogger specialty product: spectacles held to the head by a ribbon that acts as a sweat band.
Sanders' most prosperous times came a decade ago, when he owned a tree-cutting and lawn service in Tampa, "I had trucks and people working for me," he recalls wistfully. But he moved the business to St. Petersburg, and it never took hold.
In Tampa, too, for a few brief years, he flourished as a poet. In 1979, he paid for the publication of The Lost Wisdom, a slim volume of spiritually uplifting verse. His pen name: Ramses Khalid. "He was one of the Pharaohs of Egypt," he explains.
For better or worse, last year Sanders discovered Inventors Submission Corp. He answered an ISC ad in one of the supermarket tabloids offering to help find a market for his invention. What he seems to have found was a market for his money.
He took up the company's offer to research the market for his invention. For $580, ISC sent him a booklet about the size of a newsmagazine in a light advertising period. His invention is mentioned here and there, but most of the pages and the prose seem general and could refer to any number of inventions.
Sanders also signed a contract to pay ISC $4,890 for its efforts to market the invention. For a while, he paid $200 a month.
"I stopped, and now lawyers are writing me. But ISC hasn't done a thing for my invention," he says. "Not one lead. Nothing."
"We are working on his behalf," said Joanna Patterson, ISC publicity manager. Is it proper to take so much money with so little result from such a man? She replied: "Is he poor? We couldn't know that."
The Pittsburgh Better Business Bureau has had so many questions about ISC, it has put its response on tape. The tape contains no complaints. Basically it provides information released by the company.
Meanwhile Sanders puts food on the table with a job as handyman for a St. Petersburg landlord. His wife works in a nursing home. Top Master is not his only new project.
He bakes and sells Sweet Inspiration Bean Pies. "They keep you forever young and hopeful," he says.