[courtesy of Tom Lisk]
Jacques once asked me, “Why has no humorous writer won the Nobel?” He was referring to the annual prize for literature given to honor Alfred Nobel, inventor and marketer of dynamite. I couldn’t list all the prize winners, so I couldn’t say he was wrong. “Some of them have funny names,” I said, which apparently satisfied him because he went on to explain that in Arkansas at the time of which we are speaking every small town had a so-called drugstore with a fountain. A soda fountain, he explained, which conjured for me brown carbonated liquid issuing from a bronze cherub’s wee-wee, though that was apparently not exactly what he meant. Anyway Jacques was sitting near this fountain on some sort of stool. I know it’s hard to visualize, but this was years ago. He was looking for a job and apparently the drugstore owner heard him say so, though I’m not sure who Jacques was talking to in the first place. I can’t imagine him just sitting there talking to himself, but maybe he was.
So, according to Jacques, the man offers him an opportunity, if he didn’t mind doing a little acting. Some of you may remember in the early days of black and white television—before my time, of course--there was campaign promoting Spedwag’s Head Powders for headaches and neuralgia. “Spedwag’s, Spedwag’s, if you care/ about your headache and your hair./ Taken with water it won’t make you ralph./Rubbed in dry it strengthens your scalph,” if I remember correctly. It seems this druggist was still compounding aspirin locally and didn’t fully grasp the size and sophistication of the pharmaceutical industry. In other words, he thought if he mounted an advertising campaign, bought some time on a local television channel, and got people’s attention, he could be another Ozymandias Spedwag.
The upshot was that Jacques took the job, and for about a month appeared on television in parts of Arkansas in white tablet form (this was before gelcaps). The so-called tablet, he says, had been stitched together out of at least two bedsheets over a frame made of something like seventeen wire coathangers soldered together. Jacques wore a white sailor’s cap and whitish hightop sneakers. Apparently the films (kinescopes, I believe they’re called) have all been lost or destroyed. The ditty he sang went something like this: “When you are a little ill,/ but not so sick you cannot stand it,/ if you take a Polter’s pill,/ you will always after that demand it.” Polter was the name of the druggist. Where did I find this information? On the web, naturally.
He chose not to join the Lions or the Kiwanis, but we wanted him in the Chamber . . . .
[there was a gap between that job and his later more lucrative career]