Deckle interrupted. "But, Professor, one could hardly expect them to offer a half-leather quarto with marbled boards and Japan paper as a free offer. Say, that Southworth title seems interesting, The Spectre Revels ... and what do you suppose that Moaning Bar is that Mrs. Burnett is writing about?"
"You are right. Free offers - but one gets exactly what one pays for. In fact what one pays is the cost of subscription. So old Phylander pays good money for a magazine just to get a cheap dime paperback. And ... let me tell you, that is not the half of it."
"You see, Phylander is attracted to the large font size. The larger, the more the attraction. Barnum dreamed about people like Phylander! He either doesn't see the finer print ... or the large print so fills up his sight that he has no room to comprehend the import of the smaller print. I'll tell you now, he was sorely disappointed with Twenty Complete Novelettes. In fact he was literally hopping mad!"
"Oh you mean he was disappointed that the book was so poorly made?"
"Harrumph. No. I've never known Phylander to have an eye for true quality ... at least in such matters as this. He can spot a laying hen from a slack-feather across the yard. But such things as grades of binding and paper are foreign to him. No, Phylander only reads the LARGE PRINT. He thought he was going to get twenty books for free. When he received only a single book with twenty stories, he was chagrined to a degree of discomfort that anyone in close proximity would have felt also. I pointed out to him the fine print, and he snarled back that 'fine print was for lawyers.' When I pointed out the results of his ignoring the fine print he stomped around the room like one of his banty-hens. 'Twenny novelettes! It sez twenny novelettes!' he fumed" (I did my best Phylander imitation). "It did no good reminding him that a novelette did not necessarily mean a book."
"I can understand how a man could be mistaken in such a matter," said Deckle.
"Disappointment does not long deter Phylander from pursuing his ends and dreams," said I." Why, it is precisely the free offers and the gaudy advertisements and promises of cheap cures that keeps Phylander coming back. It is that big, bold block font. It gets him every time." I chuckled. "Look at this one: 'BIG BOOKS FOR 2 CENTS EACH'. Naturally Phylander only read the large print and completely ignored the smaller print which gave the 32 page book length, the bound in 6 inch by 9 inch wrappers ... but what did Phylander see and expect?"
Laughing, Deckle answered, "I imagine he hit the roof when he received flimsy paperbacks. Let me guess - he ordered the entire batch of 36."
"That he did. Harrumph. They are shredded now and part of the chicken's nest."
"Oh that is too bad, really. I've never heard of this publisher, Hartz & Gray Company, but just look at some of these titles! Cavalry Curt, or The Wizard of the Army - Human Wolves - Jerry the Weasel - Moll, the Tigress - Sam the Wharf Rat - Through the Earth, or Mystery of an Unknown World ... say, do you suppose that last one could be a pirated Verne? Some of this stuff looks pretty exciting. Wasted on chickens. Too bad."
"Yes. And you know, being so cheaply made, I warrant few copies survive the passing years. I can picture book dealers in the future getting quite excited at finding a cache of these that have survived."
"What is Phylander doing now?" asked Deckle, "Has he given up on these subscriptions?"
"Oh no, no, no. I'm afraid the rural delivery carrier is getting more exercise than he really wants from the number and weight of magazines arriving daily at Phylander's farm. Of course, Phylander thinks that such delivery is a great deal, since it is free."
"Well, it is a good deal. But maybe he taxes the system." William shook his head.
"Phylander has recently been struck and impressed by the marvels of electricity and electro-magnetic technology. When you browse through these magazines you cannot help but notice the large number of advertisements for dubious cures. Of course you and I know they are nonsense ... sham enticements promulgated by scoundrels who know the simple gullibility of people. It is as if the world - overnight - has been transformed into a Jules Verne fantasy. Electric cures for this, electric cures for that. Electric belts, electric corsets, electric brushes - there are even home medical kits that are entirely dependent on the transference of electrical power to the body by means of wires and various attachments.
Professor Booknoodle's Electro Shock Home Medical Kit
I myself ordered one of these last, just to examine it and probe its operational apparatus, mind you. There it sits on that table in the corner. The world has gone electro-crazy! Just look at some of these ridiculous claims."
"This one seems pretty straightforward, and it has no electric gadgetry," said Deckle, indicating a small ad at the edge of a page. He proceeded to quote from the ad: "'I GROW HAIR IN ONE NIGHT. Famous Doctor-Chemist has Discovered a Secret Compound that Grows Hair on Any Bald Head.'"
Deckle could not keep from laughing. "How many bald chuckle-heads do you think are taken in by ads such as this?"
"More than you would expect. Or maybe you have no such delusions as to the perspicacity of the American population. There have always been promised panaceas for hair problems, although from my own perspective I don't consider baldness a malady. "
"Many men seem to feel it so," observed Deckle.
"Yes! Exactly. A sad truth. We are now fully into the Scientific Age - the Age of Jules Verne - and the bogus products have taken on the guise of scientific and technological authority. Look at these ads for Electric Belts. One sees them in just about every popular magazine. Sheer bunk! Total tommyrot. Complete nonsense. One wonders that anyone other than the grossest dullard could possibly be taken in by them."
"That is shocking," said Deckle with a smile and a wink, proceeding to read the ad copy. "'Supreme Electric Belt - It Will Cure You! FREE!' It says right here that it is no deposit scheme. That must mean there is a scheme. How could something like that be safe to wear? Look at this one: Oxien Electric Plaster. It cures everything! - it does everything! it is a universal panacea, it seems, except it doesn't claim to establish world peace! But since it promises to 'impart giant strength,' maybe one doesn't need to worry about the dangers of the world. Ha, ha."
"Look, my friend, Phylander is not stupid, but he has spoken to me of his belief in the efficacy of these products, and so I fear he is as gullible as the next man. The baldness 'cure' is the one that is particularly occupying his days right now."
"He ordered the Secret Compound?" asked Deckle.
"He most certainly did. Of course, as I warned him, there was no effect - other than that he smelled worse than even his chicken coops after he had slathered that wretched stuff over his pate. Even Phylander could not stand the smell. I do not know what he did with the Secret Compound, although I have noticed a couple of roosters with nary a feather on their bodies lurking about in the corner of his yard. Phylander continues to pursue a baldness cure. Just last week he ordered a device advertised in the very magazine you are holding - turn the page there ... Look at that! Is that not remarkable? I think this is proof that the world has entered a new phase of craziness."
Deckle looked, he started, and then executed a perfect double take.
"Professor! I fear you have once again proven to me the absolute strangeness of this world! I swear that is the looniest thing I have ever seen. Was its inventor an inmate in Bellevue? An escapee from Bedlam? You say Phylander ordered one of these? Oh no! How could it be safe? It is altogether too zany! What fool would try it on, let alone turn it on whilst wearing it?"
"A fool like Phylander, I fear. And I fear we may have to rescue him from his own foolishness, lest he do serious damage either to himself or to his home."
We both peered down at the advertisement for The Evans Vacuum Cap hair growth apparatus.
Pictured were two men wearing outlandish bulbous metal contraptions like giant turbans, from which tubes ran. Both men looked like all conscious awareness had been sucked from their heads. They stared blankly forward. At the top of the page was written in large print:
"WILL HAIR GROW? Ten minutes test will tell."
"At least, Deckle," said I, "at least these scoundrels have changed their ad copy. For I have seen earlier ads for this contraption that stated unequivocally that this devilish device actually works! I see they still claim the bank will back them."
"Such a thing could never work. Could never work. Never." Deckle repeated his words shaking his head slowly.
"Well I think we shall soon find out, for I believe Phylander was intent on visiting. I believe he has a pile of magazines for me. I know he has been using the device. I know it has not killed him as I have heard him talking and still hear the sound of activity, so he is up and about and has not been laid out by some electric shock, or mummified by some vacuumic action."
"Electric shock? I thought this was a vacuum machine?" asked Deckle.
"Well it is, but it still needs power to operate. And there is this. Phylander told me he was going to combine processes."
"Combine processes?" Deckle looked worried.
I explained. "Phylander figures that if the Evans Vacuum Cap works on its own, then how much more efficacious might it be, if he were to combine the Vacuum Cap with the Electric Belt, and use the two simultaneously."
"Gosh. He is crazy!" Deckle glanced nervously toward the door, for no sooner was that pronouncement made, when we heard the door open downstairs, and the sound of a heavy-shod individual coming up the stairwell. I peered at William over my spectacles; he peered nervously back. The presence of Phylander always seemed to make Deckle a bit nervous.
The door swung open with the energy of Phylander's entry. He shambled into the room, tiny feathery bits of fluff swirling minutely like dust about him. No matter how far from his farm Phylander ventured there always seems to be fine bits of feathery fluff floating about his person.
A strange suggestion of ozone was noticeable in the air. Phylander's eyes seemed to be bulging out of their sockets, beneath his beetling brow. He was carrying a large pile of magazine. I could swear there were just barely discernible small wisps of smoke rising in vague tendrils from his belt line.
I laughed. I could not help it. A loud guffaw that felt like it had been stored up in my personal root cellar burst out. Deckle was frozen - half risen from his chair, his whiskey held forgotten in his hand - incredulously staring at the apparition that had appeared before us.
Old, crazy, bald Phylander stood there twitching noticeably - an insane grin spasmodically appearing and disappearing on his mouth. I say insane, not that insanity guided Phylander's thoughts and movements, but that it was purely an insane grin. No other way to put it ... an insane grin more in the nature of a grimace. But I was not laughing at his visage, which was, indeed, risible.
No. I was laughing at the amazing - astounding - miraculous! - full head of hair that was sticking out in all directions from Phylander's scalp. Long, stiff, and ... yes ... insane! ... insane hair was wildly extending from the entire surface of his scalp. Hair that seemed to have a life of its own. Hair that seemed to writhe as if related to Medusa's herpetological coif. Hair that seemed to be of no discernible color - was it gray? was it brown or white or silvery? ... I decided it was the color of vacuum. Vacuum-produced electric hair. Vacuum produced miracle of mad science. Somehow his out-dated clothing no longer seemed so eccentric.
Deckle and I stared aghast.
"Whut you starin' at?" asked the apparition standing in the middle of the room. "Brought you more moggozines, perfessa. Eyuh." Phylander was always, if anything, economical of speech.
With that he plopped the load of magazines onto the table, spun about and lurched out of the room. I say lurched, but it was smoother than a lurch. If Mary Shelley's creation had moved with smoothness, then that is what it would have moved like. Phylander left the room - with a twitching, shambling inexorable gait. He clomped slowly down the stairs. The outside door slammed shut.
A trace of ozone remained. A few small downy feathers swirled softly and wafted to the floor.
Deckle looked at me. I looked at Deckle. We both peered down at the magazine lying open on the table.
The ozone lingered.
The words seemed to twitch slightly on the page.
"HAIR WILL GROW."
One of the men in the picture was smiling ....
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