The Words of the Carlson Family

Modern Times

Paul Carlson
July, 2003

This is the second half of a short story about some portentous events in a small Mississippi town. All of the characters and places herein are fictional.

On Friday, traveling salesman Bill Mixner sensed it was time to switch gears once again. He’d encountered a large elderly population. This town was a backwater of the New South; its people were gracious, and pious, but few had an advanced education.

Besides, the package had just arrived from England.

Bill and his business partner Fred Brown knew that people worried about their health. They understood that men loved sports, and wives worried about their kids. They also knew that almost no one understands scientific principles, least of all in this humble, hard-working place.

Bill’s colleague Dr. Edgerton ran an establishment in Oxford, England, and together they’d come up with something new. It was a line of household products based on Ludific Energy.

Eagerly, Bill and Fred opened the package.

"What’s this Ludific Energy?" Fred asked.

"Some guy discovered it back in the 50’s," Bill replied. "It’s powerful but invisible."

"Like radiation?"

Bill flinched. "Never use that word! Say it’s like magnetism, but more subtle."

"Okay," said Fred. "But how can I show customers if it’s invisible?"

Bill grinned. "The inventor said it makes metal feel sticky." He rubbed his hand on his pants. Forget that. Just assure them we’ve purified the ingredients."

And they went on to discuss their plans.

The next morning they began to cover the territory once again. Both avoided places where they’d made heavy sales during their first go-round.

Their sales pitch used impressive, polysyllabic terms. Ludific Energy was said to "vibrate beyond relativistic levels, oscillating with accelerations in excess of the precipitance of luminousness." Thus the "harmonic vibrations" could "stimulate any molecules brought into direct proximity, raising them to an elevated quantum plane."

The folks of Dixie associated anything from distant Oxford with its famous university, and Bill and Fred did nothing to discourage this impression.

They sold Ludific hand lotion for fifty dollars, and sure enough, several elderly customers reported their arthritis clearing up.

Next, Bill introduced golf gloves studded with Ludific nodules. The following Sunday, the owner of a local car dealership scored his best game ever.

Fred sold housewives hundred dollar ‘activated’ food containers, and several husbands complimented them on the improved quality of their cooking. One lady caught Fred on the street and tearfully said he’d saved their marriage.

Things really started to roll.

Local gardeners bought gallons of Ludific ‘water booster’ to treat their gardens, and swore their vegetables were growing faster. The mother of one student sewed ‘nodules’ into his baseball cap, and the boy proceeded to win the local spelling bee.

Jim Faircloth knew what was up, but he didn’t want to confront his friends and neighbors unless he had clear evidence. That very evening, Marta came home with a quart of Ludific soap.

"My sister insisted I should buy some," Marta asserted. "I didn’t want her to feel bad."

"Honey," Jim told his wife, "you ought to know better." Then he held his tongue, and gave her a back rub instead.

"This cost me $35," Marta finally said. "That’s almost $150 a gallon! Heck, if gasoline cost that much, someone like Dale would invent an UltraTurboBlaster."

"Look here," Jim said. "Mixner’s Miraculous Soap. No patent. If Bill Mixner wanted one, he’s have to show his plans and a sample to the Patent Office."

When Jim attempted to point this out to his neighbor, he received only a hostile glare.

Dale and a few others resisted the temptation to buy, as did Ellie May. Her RV had used more gas than ever, and they’d had to borrow money from a cousin just to get home from the lake.

The soap and one nodule were sacrificed on Jim’s basement work bench. Every test revealed ordinary soap, and an inert lump of metal. Nonetheless, Bill and Fred were making hundreds of sales.


The two salesmen had always been loners; both were unmarried, always on the road. Now they had bigger ideas.

"If a hundred other MLMs can do it -- " Bill told Fred, in the privacy of their motel room. They rented an empty storefront downtown.

Folks could buy in to the new organization at ‘levels’ costing anywhere from three hundred to ten thousand dollars. The golf-playing car dealer bought in at fifty thousand, and was appointed Senior Vice President. Bill rented himself a house in the nicest part of town.

Seriously worried, Jim Faircloth found that only about five townspeople had a degree in Physics. However, his brother-in-law was a professor at the University of Alabama, several hour’s drive away. Long telephone consultations followed.

Word got around, and Bill learned of Jim’s concerns.

With guidance from Dr. Edgerton, the salesmen prepared their troops. "Ludific energy will support the body in overcoming many diseases," Bill told this recruits. "Doctors need your hard-earned money to make their pool payments! Do you have any idea how many cancer cures the AMA has suppressed?"

Angry shouts greeted Bill’s assertion. "My pa died of cancer," one lady cried. "The doctors did nothing -- and left us broke anyhow!"

"That’s not all," Fred followed up. "Do you know what they said about Galileo? The authorities always try to crush new ideas."

The following Saturday, Jim Faircloth dared to stand up during a monthly Businessmen’s Breakfast meeting, and address the issue directly.

Several of his fellows gave him an unexpected, and apparently well informed reply. Jim had never heard of Lord Kelvin. He soon got an earful.

It seemed that Kelvin, one of the nineteenth century’s most prominent scientists, had pronounced: "Man will never fly." When informed that the Wright brothers had done so, he’d retorted: "Then they’ll never carry a passenger." Jim soon found himself wishing that Lord Kelvin had never existed.


Meanwhile, the town’s leading Protestant minister was getting involved. He was a young man, just out of seminary, and his self-appointed goal was to help the townsfolk become more enlightened.

Pastor Bascomb had found little open racism; he’d almost felt disappointed about that. So he sought a new challenge, hoping to "raise the spiritual level" of the local people, and so "bring the whole community to a higher plane." Spiritual vibrations had been all the rage at his seminary, located as it was on Berkeley’s Holy Hill.

It was proving difficult. Then, as if in answer to his prayers, along came Bill Mixner and his wondrous technology.

Pastor Bascomb was an intelligent man, and when Jim Faircloth had fixed his microwave oven, two months earlier, he’s talked the repairman into giving a short lecture on how the oven really worked.

That afternoon, Bascomb had told his secretary about microwaves. "Invisible energy excites the water molecules directly," he’d enthused.

It seemed to Bascomb that Mixner’s products must work on similar principles. Besides, Bill and Fred had started attending church each Sunday -- and tithing generously.

One Sunday, Pastor Bascomb asked Bill and Fred to stand, and publicly thanked them for their contributions to the community.

Sales and recruitment had spread nationwide, and their town was set to boast of more wealth than it had since the Civil War.

Seated in a back pew, it was all Jim could do to keep from jumping up and shouting objections, right then and there.

After the service, Jim requested a meeting with Bascomb. And could his brother-in-law, a professor from Alabama, sit in too? The Pastor said he could.

While waiting to see the Pastor, Jim and the professor talked about Lord Kelvin.

The professor explained, "Kelvin understood the basic principles. He knew that air resistance would increase with an aircraft’s speed. They didn’t have good engines back then, so more output meant more weight. His objections were entirely valid. It was mostly a question of better engineering."

Jim shook his head and sighed. "I doubt there are ten people in this entire town who could tell you how a VCR works, much less explain the principles behind it. That’s plenty good for my business, but no wonder Mixner can snooker folks so easily. I’d love to put the truth about this whole business on the front page of the newspaper, like explaining what a ‘placebo’ is."

"Then you’ll have to find those ten people, and get together," the professor said quietly. "Maybe you could put something in the local paper. Tell them how wondrous science really is. You know I belong to the American Scientific Affiliation, and we do see the Lord’s hand in the cosmos. I hope your Pastor can see his way clear, too. He’d be able to get the truth out."

With this, we come to the close of our story. Dear Reader, if this town sounds familiar to you, that’s because it was meant to. Which character would you be?

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