Unification News for May 2003
Modern Times - Part One Update!
What follows is a two part short story. An earlier version appeared in September of 1997. In my opinion, there is need for an update. (All of the characters and places herein are fictional.)
Our tale is set in a small town somewhere in Mississippi. Rich and poor, old and new may be found there. Little do they suspect what awaits them.
One summer day, a salesman arrived in town. He was a handsome fellow named Bill Mixner. He knew people, and he knew American society. Also a little about technology, and how people relate to it.
Almost every home in town had a VCR and a microwave oven. This was 1995, and few had a personal computer yet. These items were regarded, by most everyone, as hi-tech magic boxes. They do your bidding, and as long as the local electronics-repair guy knew how to fix them, that was quite enough.
The local repairman’s name was Jim Faircloth, and he lived with his wife Marta in a ranch style home near the southern edge of town.
About noon on a Monday, salesman Bill checked into the American Eight motel, out by the interstate that passes north of town. The contents of the cargo trailer he’d towed along were soon deposited in a storage locker.
Bill Mixner spent his first afternoon driving around, observing the community. Right before five he stopped by City Hall, where he paid in cash for the permits required of him. He was too sophisticated to waste energy dodging the local cops -- even if redneck Sheriffs were a thing of the past.
The next morning Bill was ready to go. On the east end of town he’d found the local ‘junk strip,’ the Magnolia Highway. It was lined with repair shops, junkyards, and seedy taverns.
Briefcase in hand, Bill walked calmly into Dale’s Auto Body. On the desk behind the counter, a heap of collection notices was visible amidst the clutter.
Bill smiled. "Dale here?" he inquired of a boy in oil-stained coveralls.
"He’s back there." The boy pointed.
A monstrous Rottweiler dog growled; Bill edged around it and found Dale bent over the engine of a cherry red stock car.
"Mighty nice. Yours?" Bill asked cheerily. Bill hailed from Detroit, but his southern drawl was nearly perfect.
"Yup," said Dale, and gently closed the hood. "Race it on weekends."
"Costs a bundle to run, don’t it?"
"You betcha," Dale affirmed. "Don’t believe we’ve met."
Bill shook hands, ignoring the grease. "I think I can help you."
Five minutes later, Bill sold Dale a forty dollar Bill Reducing Calculator. It consisted of a calculator and an electronic book-keeping calendar.
Bill explained, "This device contains a very special feature. It actually reduces your bills! You merely do them up on this handy helper, and you need pay as little as fifty percent of the billed amount. Its memory contains the collection policies of the IRS, the credit bureaus, and major industrial suppliers."
By five, Bill had worked his way a mile along the Magnolia Highway, and sold thirty-two of his calculators.
At that same time, Dale returned home to his trailer and set to work on an impressive stack of bills.
The last stamp licked, Dale tossed everything into his mailbox and set out through a stand of pine trees. He crossed a railroad track, then tramped westward towards Jim Faircloth’s house.
Marta Faircloth was just finishing the last touches on a hearty supper when she glanced up to see their back gate opening, and a large, beefy man slipping through.
"Honey, Dale’s here!" she called. Her husband was in the living room, watching the nightly news.
Jim grabbed the remote and switched to a baseball game. Dale wouldn’t be interested in news.
By ten, both supper and the baseball game had reached their conclusion; the Braves had won and the men were in a genial mood. There was a lull in the conversation, and Dale proudly brought out his new purchase.
Jim examined its functions, and frowned.
Dale didn’t like the look of this. Jim had been to college, and that had to count for something.
Marta came in, and Jim quickly explained. If he had frowned, his wife positively scowled. She was good with numbers.
"Dale," Marta said quietly, "if you weren’t such a good buddy of ours, I’d say caveat emptor and not laugh until you’d gone home."
Dale wondered what that meant, though he didn’t ask. It sure sounded like he’d be needing a refund. A careful examination of the User’s Manual revealed that one was available, upon paying shipping costs to the manufacturer -- in Hong Kong.
The next morning Marta arrived at work early. She was the bookkeeper for Crawford’s General Store, and it was largely due to her behind-the-scenes expertise that the shop had survived the opening of the Wal-Mart out by the interstate. On her way in she nodded politely to a stranger, a well dressed man in his fifties.
Bill Mixner smiled and walked on. He had other plans for the downtown area.
The Magnolia Highway was long, and it took Bill the rest of the day to finish the area. It was time to switch tactics.
That evening, Bill returned to the motel to meet the arriving Fred Brown, his business partner. Fred was younger, and had an aura of boyish sincerity that women found difficult to resist. He’d driven in from Atlanta with another trailer-load of product.
This community was a center of regional commerce. Despite the Wal-Mart’s impact it took Fred two days to work his way around downtown. Meanwhile, Bill started driving out to the smaller, surrounding towns.
By three o’clock on Thursday, Marta was more than ready for her regular afternoon break. She’d been doing the shop’s annual inventory, and she was bushed. She headed next door to the diner, where she joined her friend Ellie May for a glass of iced tea.
Ellie was always perky, and today she was downright jubilant. "I’ve been so worried about that old Winnebago of ours," she told Marta. "We can barely afford the repair bills, and my hubby really wants to take it out fishing this weekend. Why, the fill-ups alone are eating us alive."
Ellie opened a box and took out a thin, rectangular contraption the size of her hand. Wires dangled from both ends. "I just bought this thing. We’re going to wire it into the RV, soon as I get off work."
Marta eyed it curiously. The stamped-on label read, The UltraTurboBlaster®. The instruction booklet showed how to clip the ‘regulator wires’ onto a car engine, and listed the benefits: decreased engine wear, improved gas mileage, and a substantial reduction in road accidents. At sixty-five dollars, said the booklet, it would pay for itself in less than three months.
Marta asked Ellie where she might get one. Dale kept their own vehicles running, but not everyone had a mechanic for a best friend. Possibly her sisters could use something like this.
"I bought it from a traveling salesman," Ellie explained. She grinned. "Handsome fellow, too. Said he’d be around."
At that Marta remembered Dale’s unfortunate purchase, but the man Ellie described sounded like someone else.
They finished their tea and left the cafe. Ellie worked at a brick-faced office building on the other side of Main Street. She was just about to cross when she exclaimed, "Why, there he goes now."
Marta turned and saw a tall, dark-haired man entering a shop a block down. "Tell you what," she told Ellie. "How’s about you and your husband come over to our place for supper tonight."
"Gladly. I have to work late anyway, so we were just going to microwave something."
"Remember to bring along that thing you bought."
That evening Dale also came to the Faircloth’s for supper, and got to know Ellie and her husband. After supper, Dale took a look at the mechanical miracle device. He was less gracious in his reaction than Marta had been. The refund, in this case, required shipment to Indonesia, and the metal-encased device weighed a lot.
Intermission: Here we shall leave our friends until next month.
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