The Man from '20
by Ellis Parker Butler
It is now the year 1930. In February, 1920, I -- Ellis Parker Butler -- announced my intention of becoming a candidate for the office of President of the United States on the platform "Prohibit everything but mush and milk" and prepared to make a violent campaign for the nomination, spending money like water up to the sum of $3.75, and spending talk to an unlimited amount.
On March 1st, 1920, I began a tour of the United States in my own behalf, making speeches and telling the voters the advantages that would accrue to the nation if the government was placed in my hands and everything but mush and milk prohibited. Wherever I went I was received with tremendous bursts of enthusiasm, and it soon became evident that -- if nothing intervened -- I would carry the Republican and Democratic National Conventions on the first ballot and become the only candidate for the Presidency.
On April 1st, 1920, having spoken to an enthralled audience at St. Joseph, Mo., I was en route to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in my palatial flivver, and had just stopped to mend the radiator with a wad of chewing gum, when the car -- so to speak -- was surrounded by masked men, and I was bound, gagged and carried into a deep wood.
My first thought was that these men were emissaries of the Anti-prohibition Party -- those who wished to permit our fair land to continue to wallow in its disgraceful and deadly habits of using tea, coffee, tobacco, stewed prunes and other horrid things -- and that they hoped, by making away with me, to make possible the nomination of some sodden user of cocoa. The words they spoke soon let me know this was not the fact. I was in the hands of a far more desperate crew. These were men angered and enraged because I refused to demand the prohibition of mush and milk in addition to everything else, and willing to go to any length to get me out of the way. They hated my liberal attitude,
They led me to where a huge platform was erected in the wood, with a steel arm half a mile long, bent back and fastened with a single thick cable. On the end of this I was laid, and one of the masked men stood beside me with an axe.
"Butler," he said to me, "you may think Pigs is Pigs, but in about a minute you are going to discover that Catapults is Catapults."
At these words he tore the bandage from around my eyes and I saw that there had been erected on the brow of a hill about half a mile distant a target about the size of the side of a barn, with rings numbered, from 1 to 9, and a large black bullseye in the center.
"George," one of the masked men said, "before we shoot him off, one of us ought to go over to the target and be there to see whether he hits the bullseye or not."
"No, Henry," the other said. "That ain't necessary. He'll make a splosh when he hits."
"All right, George, shall I chop?"
"Yes, go ahead and chop, Henry."
The axe was raised and fell, severing the cable. Instantly I sped at frightful speed through the air. They were poor marksmen, those men. I missed the top of the target by ten feet and went on up and up and up. I saw Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico flash by below me. I was over South America when I reached the apex of my trajectory, and as I neared the ground I saw a large stone mountain just ahead of me on which was painted "Patagonia -- Reduce Speed to Twenty-five Miles per Minute." The next moment I hit the large stone mountain. Luckily, I hit it with the top of my head or I might have been severely injured.
It is now the year 1930, and after untold privations I have just reached the United States. My first words to my cousin Orley Morris, after we had shaken hands, were:
"Orley, where can I get a cup of coffee?"
"Coffee? Coffee?" he said. "Oh! That's the stuff the profligate classes used to drink. You can't get coffee. There hasn't been any coffee in the United States for eight years."
"Tea? Tea? You'd better not let any one hear you asking for tea -- not if you want to have any reputation left. Tea is poison. Tea has tannin in it. There hasn't been any tea in the United States for eight years."
"How, about a good swig of grape juice, then?" I asked him.
"Grape juice!" he cried. "My land, man! What are you -- a drunkard? Grape juice! Why that's the stuff Bryan -- that tough old toper Bryan, and all those old rowdy boys, used to guzzle. Grape juice is prohibited -- has been since 1921. There's one thousandth of one per cent, of alcohol in grape juice. A man has to drink only eight hundred and sixty-four gallons at one sitting to get drunk -- almost drunk -- on grape juice."
"Well, may I have a crust of bread?" I asked. "Bread? Why, bread has a real, genuine trace of alcohol --"
"Now, stop!" he said. "If you want to talk about any of those vile, poisonous compounds please lower your voice. I have a character to maintain in this town. If folks hear you shouting at me about bread and mush and grape juice they'll think --"
"Well, listen, Orley, listen!" I begged, "I'm hungry and thirsty. Can I have a glass of milk -- pure, sweet milk fresh from your old red cow?"
"Drat it all!" Orley exclaimed; "now you have done it! That fellow over there heard you, and he's a plain-clothes man. Now the chances are we'll all be pinched. Milk! The idea of talking about milk out loud in the United States! I can't imagine what that country of Patagonia, where you have been, can be like when men can come back from it and yell all over the place about milk. Why, thunderation! You might just as well shout 'cheese' or 'welshrabbit.' I'm ruined, that's all!"
"But milk --" I said weakly
"Germs!" said Orley. "Germs in it. Millions of them. We just had to prohibit milk; it was too dangerous to let the public go swigging milk and getting all germed up and -- Why, Ellis, didn't you ever feel better and fresher after you had swallowed a glass of milk? That shows you! Artificial stimulation caused by the action of the milk on the digestive system. And an hour or two later you did not feel so fresh, did you ? The reaction! I tell you, Ellis, the country has been a lot better off since we killed all the cows."
"Killed all the cows!" I exclaimed.
"Of course, killed them. Why, the cow is a worm, nothing but a worm."
"A -- a worm? The cow is a worm?" I gasped.
"A still. A worm and a still. A milk-producing distillery; that's all a cow is," said Orley. "It eats the grass, and the grass is distilled into milk, and the milk has germs. Why, my land! Ellis, milk ferments! We had to prohibit milk. And meat. And vegetables. And fruits. And cereals. And everything."
I admit I was astounded. Of course, I had given as my presidential platform "Prohibit everything but mush and milk," but that was mere politics. And here they had gone and done it -- had prohibited everything, and mush and milk, too!
"But, Orley," I said, "listen! There must be some things people are allowed to eat and drink."
Cousin Orley just opened his face and laughed.
"Why, sure!" he cried. "Of course! Water; you drink all the water you want."
He paused, and then he said:
"If it is boiled. Of course, it has to be boiled first; boiled and strained and certified by the government certifier."
"And what can we eat?" I asked gloomily, for I give you my word I was beginning to feel gloomy.
"Why, hay!" exclaimed Orley. "We can eat all the hay we want to eat. Tons of it, if we want to."
He paused again, then:
"But not fresh hay. Not grass and not fresh hay, you understand. Boiled hay. And not blue grass hay -- that's a stimulant -- only timothy hay; nice, ripe, old timothy hay, sun dried and boiled, and then certified by the government certifier."
"My God!" I cried. "And has America come to this? Doesn't any one --"
Orley gave me a sly wink. "On the quiet, yes!" he said. "Some of us sporty old boys, yes! Private stock, Ellis. You know! Now, listen," he whispered, "I don't often let anybody have any of mine, but you are just from Patagonia and not used to our ways yet, and all your evil appetites are still strong. You come with me."
He led me to his barn and through an underground passage to the cellar under his house, and moved an old icebox and dug away half a ton of coal and dragged out a stout wooden box. He took a key from his pocket and unlocked the box and threw back the lid.
"There you are, Ellis, old boy!" he cried gaily. "The real stuff. Go to it!"
I looked into the box but all I saw was an old whiskbroom. I looked at Orley.
"Contraband! The real stuff!" he cried ecstatically. "Genuine old 1920 broom corn, with the seeds on it, and not boiled, by jingo; not boiled one minute! Go right ahead and chew a couple of straws, just as if you owned them!"