For the past six months, “the couple” had been running a continuous estate sale with the goal of turning everything they owned into cash. Having been longtime employees for a large airline they decided to take the company up on its severance package and transfer all their vacation time, sick time and bonuses into a year’s worth of free air miles for both of them to anyplace in the world. They would need money for the trip.
Marvin met them at their final estate sale where all that was left was a mattress, two sheets, one blanket, a kitchen table, two chairs, two dinner services with glassware, a skillet and a sauce pan. At the end of the day those things were sold and “the couple” owned nothing. They would leave tomorrow.
Not long after that, while fly fishing on the Madison River in Wyoming, Marvin met an older man who was living in a camper and making his way on Social Security and by selling hand-tied fishing flies. By parking next to a river, setting up his fly-tying gear, all the man needed was a sign. For trout he made dry flies, “Royal Coachmen” and “Royal Humpy.” For saltwater, he had “Crazy Charlie” and “Lefty’s Deceiver.” The “Strawberry Blonde” was for tarpon in the Florida Keys.
The “fly tier” had been on the road for 10 years and like “the couple,” by refusing to be categorized, all three had rejected the obvious and were powerful examples of the possible.
One month ago, on a Tuesday, the weather was as it was to be expected, the mild temperature was normal, the wind was light out of the west. It was not the first or last day of spring or summer, fall or winter, neither was it the longest nor the shortest day of the year. It was not a major national holiday or even one of those minor holidays like National Pizza Day or National Secretary’s Day. The day wasn’t Marvin’s birthday or the anniversary of his graduation from University with a doctorate degree. It wasn’t the day either of his parents had been born or when they had died. Although there had been many women in his life, this day remembered no particular event with any of them. There was nothing special about the moon, the stars had not aligned in such a way as to mean anything exceptional and numerologically there was no meaning to the date. No one had died, no one had been born, there was no particular happiness or sadness to be celebrated or bereaved. Today was just like yesterday and by all indications would be just the same tomorrow. Marvin was running away from nothing and running towards nothing. The day might be ordinary but today he had an uncommon plan to cure the melancholia he’d felt for more than a year.
Using “the couple” and the “fly tier” as examples, to expunge his discontent and malaise Marvin sold everything he owned with the exception of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a towable cargo trailer
With the trailer packed with camping gear and whatever might be needed for life on the road, a few additional items were added to the obvious Coleman stove and lantern, tent, cot, chair, raingear, jeans, shirts, heavy wool and leathers. A case of books, a black suit, a white dress shirt, a turquoise-encrusted bolo tie and a black cowboy hat were also packed.
Off the side of the trailer he rigged a mosquito net lean-to affair that could be erected in seconds and be used instead of the tent. As a sun shade, over the top and off the side was a canvas tarp that was painted in the style of an old-time medicine show. It was like the ones he had seen when he was a young boy in Arkansas.
Across the top it read, “Professor Death’s Snake Oil Tonic.” Down the side was a list of maladies for which the tonic might be taken. “For relief of lumbago, rheumatism, headaches, spastic colon, baldness, bad breath, wart removal, stuttering, impotency, female troubles and for all around wellness. $.25.” All around the border of the tarp was the cartoonish likeness of a snake. To the left the snake sported a drunken smile with fangs and overly large engaging eyes, across the bottom his body slithered and coiled and up the right side were the rattles of a gigantic rattlesnake. The motif was to be reminiscent of the past and hark back to days gone by when the traveling salesman or the medicine show might come to town and break the monotony of small-town daily life. It was also to remind the onlooker that for the price of a bottle of tonic tomorrow would be better than yesterday.
At no time did Marvin actually intend to sell snake oil tonic but if someone did visit his camp he suggested they come back after dark to a “campfire reading” of original short stories and poems.
Preparing for the readings he built a fire, arranged something for his guest to sit on, donned the black suit, turquoise-encrusted bolo tie and black cowboy hat which sported a unique hatband festooned with antique hand-tied fishing flies. Clutching his books much the same as a traveling revival preacher might have held the bible, Marvin welcomed anyone who visited his recitation.
At the end of the evening’s literary deliberations there was a cigar box for donations and of course the main point of the campfire recital was to sell copies of Marvin’s self-published books.
After several weeks on the road, sitting in a small-town park waiting for the beginning of a fish fry to benefit the town’s baseball Little League, Marvin made his first fiscal accounting. His expenses were X and his profits were Y and there was money enough to order another case of his self-published books. His business was a success.
To combat the monotonous, mind-numbing, dreary, tedious, repetitive, uninspiring ticking of the clock Marvin had eschewed doctor’s appointments, avoided internment in the state mental hospital, shunned the sanitarium, abjured the old folk’s home and showed disdain for a gated community or any place with an owner’s association and a security fence. Instead he chose the road and aspired to be thought of (as Ted Simon put it,) “… as a wandering storyteller bringing news from the other side of the mountain.”
“The couple” and the “fly tier” had been good examples. Now, having joined them in refusing to be categorized, he felt alive
Great piece, gives something to ponder.
It brings a smile to my face the many Snake Oil Salesmen I’ve met thru the years and the anticipation of having meal and drinks with a few of them again.
Never have you had a loss for words, written or uttered! Loved it!
Lots of you in there? I can imagine you reading it aloud. Nice.