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Dr. Preston Comes to Town
by Tom Carnegie
The 1919 Baton Noir Beagles baseball team hasn't won yet this year. They went 0-fer last year too. The highlight so far this year was when a Beagle pitcher took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. With seven walks and several Baton Noir errors, another lop-sided loss was secured. Butch Dunsel first saw Dr. Preston from the bench at the ballpark during one of these losses. Dr. Preston was driving a brightly colored Model T delivery wagon. On each side panel was a sign that touted Dr. Preston's patented cures.
It is Monday morning and Bud gets to meet Dr. Preston face to face. Dr. Preston is a distinguished looking gentleman of about fifty. He is wearing a neatly tailored, but well-worn suit. He carries a cane and sports a Derby. He walks into the office of Joseph Vant, the manager of the Model T Garage. "I have been directed to ask for Joe Savant." I am Joseph Vant answers Joseph. "Mr. Savant, my Model T motor is operating in a less than satisfactory manner. Could you please inspect it and take the appropriate action necessary to ameliorate the situation?" Normally Joseph would have delighted in the gentleman's elocution, but he rather quit listening the instant his name was mispronounced. "My name is Joseph -- Joseph --VANT" He said the second "Joseph" really fast, almost as one syllable, and heavily enunciated the Vant part. "My apologies Mr. Vant. The diction of the locals that recommended you is not on the same level as yours. Could you please tune my engine?" "I'd be only too happy to oblige you, sir" was Joseph's reply. He turned the job over to his third mechanic, Butch Dunsel.
Joseph's number one and two mechanics are Hayes and Jesse Olson. Today Hayes is running parts, and Jesse is grinding the valves on Mr. Monteselli's touring car. Mr. Monteselli and Dr. Preston sit on the bench in the shop to wait as the mechanics set about their work. Butch dominates the conversation. As is often the case in these situations, the person doing the most talking should be doing the most listening. Butch artlessly steers the conversation to the two subjects that are most on his mind at the moment. One is the poor record of his ball club, and the other is the fact that he can't seem to beat Beau Dremel up Great Pine Hill in his Model T.
Butch begins to muse about his weekly contests with Beau. Here is a description of a typical race. Beau and Butch have a mutual friend by the name of Bud. Bud is about the same age as Beau and Butch, that is to say in his early twenties. They all meet at the bottom of Great Pine Hill. Beau pulls up in his 1918 roadster and drives until his front tires are even with the big boulder just past the road that leads to the Caff's place. Butch does the same with his 1911 torpedo. A coin toss determines who goes first. Bud hops in with the first driver, and says, "GO!" as he starts his stopwatch. When the driver passes the great pine tree at the top of the hill, he stops the watch. Then down the winding gravel road they drive. The routine is repeated with the other driver. Bud doesn't have a car, but seems to thrive on the excitement of riding with the other two drivers. Butch's best time is just under nine minutes, whereas Beau's best is seven minutes and thirteen seconds. At the end Beau is always a very good sport and claims that Butch is "sure to win" next time, but it never happens.
"How much is it? I say, how much is it?" "Uh, seven-thirteen" blurts Butch as he is shaken from his reverie by the voice of Dr. Preston. "Did you say seven dollars and thirteen cents?" "Oh man, I'm sorry, my mind was on something else. It is four dollars and fifty cents for the tune up." "Would you be interested in taking that out in trade?" asks the doctor. "You'll have to take that up with the boss." Replies Butch. Dr. Preston then makes the same proposal to Joseph. Joseph's answer to this is somewhat pointed. "With all due respect sir, I don't have a cobra nor a python, and if I did I doubt that they would be in need of lubrication. I would like four dollars and fifty cents cash, if you please." Dr. Preston pays his bill, but before he leaves he rummages around in his T for a bit and comes up with a jar with a clear liquid in it. He walks over to Butch and hands it to him. "This is a gift for you Butch, free of charge, gratis. Pour the contents of this jar into your fuel tank before your next race with Beau. I'll guarantee that you'll beat him to the top." "What sort of guarantee?" asks Butch. "Well I can't give your money back now can I? I'll tell you what, see me next week after the race win or lose, or rather after you win, and we'll decide what to do then." With that, Dr. Preston hops into his T and drives off.
"I don't understand" fumes Mr. Monteselli. "The federal government will allow a quack like him to pedal his wares, yet they want to make me into a criminal for drinking a glass of wine with my dinner. My father and his father and his father always had a glass of wine with their meals, now they are saying it is illegal for me to. Next thing you know the federal government will be telling us how to build our houses and roads and how to run our schools. Soon they'll try to control the very air we breathe." Mr. Monteselli is starting to fairly foam at the mouth after this tirade. Joseph tries to calm him down as he says, "You don't have to worry Mr. Monteselli, the federal government will never be able to do what you say, and I'll tell you exactly why. There is a provision in the constitution called "separation of powers". What that means is that the Federal government cannot do anything that isn't specifically spelled out in the constitution. There will never be a Department of Housing or a Department of Education without a constitutional amendment."
The week goes by and it is now Saturday. Butch and Beau meet again to race. Butch has poured the liquid that Dr. Preston gave to him into the tank of his model T. Sure enough, today for the first time, Butch bests Beau up the hill. It isn't a record, but today Butch has beaten Beau by seventeen seconds and beaten his former best time by nearly a minute. Beau is just as gracious in defeat as he has been in victory. Butch immediately goes looking for Dr. Preston. He finds him in the middle of town standing on a soapbox giving a most informative presentation on the magnificent qualities of some of his various patented elixirs. After the show Butch corners Dr. Preston and tells him of his accomplishment. "I knew you would win today!" states Dr. Preston proudly, as he folds his arms tightly around his chest, possibly as a precautionary move to prevent injury to innocent bystanders from flying buttons. "I have something that will help your ball team." He turns and sticks his head into his model T and comes out with a jar of clear liquid much like the one that Butch had earlier poured into his gas tank. "Take this solution and rub some onto your bats, rub some onto your gloves, rub some onto your throwing arm. Especially rub some onto your pitcher's arm. The minute you do, you'll feel the magic begin to work. It isn't really magic though, it is scientific principle - the details of which I will not bore you with at this time. Get your team to the ballpark a little early for your next game. Spread this solution around. A little bit goes a long way. This jar should be enough for a whole game. After you have put some on everyone's gloves and such, play a little pepper, hit some fungoes, take a little hard infield practice. You'll notice that the ball springs off the bat more quickly. You'll be amazed at how your glove will scoop any grounder better than before. Your arm will stay fresher longer, and if it does get tired, spread a little more of the solution on! I'm sure your pride won't accept another gift from me, so for the modest sum of $3.00, you can have your first win of the season." Butch didn't think that $3.00 was such a modest sum, but the idea of winning was very appealing to him. Also, he wasn't sure if it was totally ethical to win this way. "Is this allowed, or is this cheating?" "It is not at all cheating my good Master Butch. People routinely put pine tar onto their bats and beeswax onto their gloves and liniment onto their arms and such like that. I assure you that this is perfectly legal under the rules of baseball." Butch pays Dr. Preston the $3.00 and does just as Dr. Preston has suggested. All the players on the team are sure that they can feel the extra pop in the bat. Butch is the starting pitcher today. He rubs some of the liquid on his arm. It goes on cool and soothing. He is sure that he has a little more zip on his fast ball and his breaking stuff is working as it never has before. As it turns out, in the course of the whole game only two balls get out of the infield. Butch manages to go the distance and the Beagles get their first win of the season.
The next day at work, Butch can hardly contain himself. He has collected $30.00 from the team and plans to buy ten jars of Dr. Preston's unguent. Joseph has been watching all this transpire with a skeptical eye. "Butch, I'm heading out towards Dr. Preston's camp. Why don't you give me the $30.00 and I'll get the goods for you?" "Oh man! Thank-you Joseph. That will be a big help." Joseph hops into his center door sedan and heads out to the Crawdad river just past the city limit, where Dr. Preston has been camping since his arrival in town. He parks a few hundred yards away and pushes through the brush to the bank of the river. He then proceeds upstream. Here he finds just what he thought he would find, a still. Just then Dr. Preston appears. When he sees Joseph, his face goes pale. It only takes a second to regain his composure. "Good day Mr. Vant. What brings you to my neck of the woods?" Joseph doesn't even try to hide his contempt as he replies. "This isn't really your neck of the woods is it. I suppose that that still is for medicinal purposes no doubt. That is your official line isn't it? You've got my man Butch fooled, but I know what you are!" Dr. Preston has by now formed a most unlikely look on his face that projects a remarkable combination of self-righteousness, hurt feelings, incredulity and indignation. "Really Mr. Vant. I do not believe that I have ever done anything to you to warrant such treatment as this." "Dr. Preston, I have neither the time nor the temperament to bandy false pleasantries with you. I think that you are a charlatan. I don't know for sure what you had Butch put into his fuel tank, probably ether or maybe even picric acid. I'm sure that your baseball salve is nothing more than alcohol. am I not right?" By now Dr. Preston is contemplating the tops of his shoes. He looks Joseph in the eye, while hardly raising his head. Softly he replies. "You really have mis-judged me. What I had Butch put in his tank and on the bats was indeed in the form of alcohol. But what I gave to him and his team was something much more. I gave them confidence. They were losers because they thought they were losers. The alcohol didn't make Butch's car go any faster up the hill - Butch made it go faster up the hill."
Joseph walks back to his car. Dr. Preston begins to break camp as he feels he has about worn out his welcome in Baton Noir. Joseph still has the ball team's $30.00. On the way back to the Model T Garage he stops and buys ten jars and enough rubbing alcohol to fill them.