GETTING TIME ON HIS SIDE. 3-28-11
Frederic Burroughs wisely took his doctor’s advice when he suggested that he should retire early even though he had only just passed his fiftieth birthday.
It wasn’t a head-in-the-clouds suggestion because his doctor was his friend too and so he knew that Fred was getting an army pension and was the beneficiary of his dead wife’s life insurance policy and so he no longer relied on getting a regular paycheck.
The reason why retirement had been recommended at that early age was because of his having a weak heart. He was way over-weight and that, on its own, was one reason for his ailment and he’d long known it and had limited his food intake but since his wife’s death eating had become his only vice and so he found it very difficult to restrain himself at mealtimes.
If he exercised strict control for a few weeks he could get down to be on the right side of 300 lbs but because he could no longer exercise anything, nor control anything, the only place that he was below 300 was in his own mind. When, on his last visit, his doctor’s nurse had said, “323” he chose to not let it register and what he allowed to come through was “303” and anyway, as he told himself, his clothes were quite heavy and he had keys and a lot of spare change in his pockets so that’s where those extra three pounds had come from.
He especially liked eggs. He liked them any which way and he had them in one form or another with – not ‘for’ – with every meal but he bought only two dozen of them at any one time so that when he ran out of them and had to go to the supermarket to buy more, which happened every few days, he could tell himself that he was buying for the week.
He was well aware that he couldn’t just stay home and do nothing after quitting his job – he knew that if he did so it wouldn’t be too long before he got to be bored out of his mind and was trying to get his mind to cope with his being 350 lbs – and so he decided to move to the country and raise chickens for their eggs which, if nothing else, would guarantee that they were fresh and thus would let him make dishes that would be even more delicious than the ones made with store bought eggs.
He sold his apartment in town easily and he found a small house that had ten acres around it, some of it on a slope, and he paid cash and moved in.
Not wanting to have to do much – read ‘wanting to do as little as possible’ – actual physical work he consulted several experts about the automatic raising of chickens, with the emphasis on egg-laying ones, and then he employed a team of carpenters and mechanics and electricians and plumbers to follow the plans that had been supplied to him regarding self-regulating chicken-houses. Because of all the work required it took three months before he was ready to start his flock.
He started with two dozen birds and he was very pleased with how efficient the automated systems were – he only had to check once a day to see that there was enough feed getting from the hoppers to all the feeding troughs and that the water supply was adequate and was being flushed properly and regularly and that the ingenious cleaning system was working well – and so all that was left for him to do was to collect the eggs and even that was simplicity itself seeing that gravity saw to it that as soon as they were laid they rolled, gently, into a central bin.
He was also more than just delighted – he was astounded – with the wonderful increase in quality of his favorite dishes from using ultra-fresh eggs. He and his wife had gone to Italy on vacation a few years after they’d married and every meal that they had there was better than the one before. Even a simple omelet tasted “divine,” to quote his wife, and although she was a fair cook herself she couldn’t explain it and they agreed to put it down to the fact that they were in Italy and there has to be something in the air that makes everything taste so much better.
That was before he’d started using his own eggs but since then he well knew, at first hand, that Italy’s secret was simplicity itself, viz. – freshness!
Because he was eating so well he got the idea – and it wasn’t allowed to fade like all of his other ones had done because every time that he sat down to eat he was reminded of it – that he should market what he had discovered, viz. – freshness.
He figured that everyone living out in the country had to know about it already but because he and his wife had never worked it out while living in the city probably the huge majority of city-dwellers had either never known about it or had slipped into the habit – seeing that it is so very convenient to be able to pick up a dozen eggs from a supermarket – of ‘settling for the second rate’ and making do. After all, all eggs, whether ten minutes old or a month old, look the same and, because they all come in nature’s most attractive and very efficient package they are all equally appealing and seemingly worthy of our trust.
He wanted to check out the feasibility of his idea and so he contacted a marketing company and after hearing him out they became enthused too and they ran a city survey – at Fred’s expense, of course – and the results were so positive that they encouraged him to work with them to come up with a plan that would not only ensure a good supply of eggs but also a guaranteed means of getting them into the city before noon on the same day that they’d been laid.
In the army he had been a Quartermaster Sergeant so the myriad details that were involved in coming up with a plan, and the logistics that were essential to put the plan into action, didn’t trouble him much and so, after writing out his plan of action, he sent it to the Marketing Company and, a week later they came to see him and after assuring themselves, ever so subtly, that he was in a position to finance it, they drew up a contract.
However, he was dismayed when a Federal Agent showed up a week later and presented him with a mound of forms that he’d have to fill in and was told by the Agent that he would have to apply for a license to become an, “Interstate wholesaler of food items.” The same agent also gave him a list of Government approved mandatory ancillary items, like a lamping device and an egg washer and an individual-egg-date-stamping machine, and on and on, that he’d have to buy and get up and running and inspected before he could transport so much as a single egg across a State Line for sale.
The Agent then asked him to set a date for when he should come back for the inspection and Fred told him that he shouldn’t bother to come at all because he’d just effectively killed the entire project.
It took him a few days before he could shake off his disappointment but because he had to see the whole set-up in his field several times everyday it made him decide to try put it all to work on a local basis. He went to the County Offices and found that the formalities for in-State commerce were a breeze compared to Federal ones and he filled in all the forms there and then and he received a license by mail a couple of weeks after his visit.
He put in an order for another hundred laying hens and, sure of himself, while waiting for them to be delivered he visited supermarkets in his town and in a few neighboring towns and, sure enough, he came away with firm orders from them all because his enthusiasm was catching and his logic was impeccable.
He advertised for workers and eventually hired a truck driver, for bringing supplies and to make deliveries, and a girl, to wash the eggs, and a high school drop out to be the general dogs body and to keep the girl supplied with eggs to wash and to help her pack and load them.
He did some local advertising – pamphlets that were delivered with the local papers and ads in the papers and some State TV ads – for which he dreamed up the copy, “Every one of our eggs comes from an organically fed, free-roaming chicken and was laid in the AM and delivered to your store before Noon and if, as we strongly recommend, you eat it – no matter how you prepare it – in the PM (or for breakfast the next day) you’ll be delighted with the huge improvement in taste that you’ll get.”
Things went smoothly and soon he was up and running and as the orders kept coming in he gradually increased his flock until all of his sheds were full.
He was so busy, and so happy, that his weight went down below 300 lbs – with his clothes on – and he’d never felt so fit and he got out of bed every morning eager to meet the day.
The cleverness and the extent of his advertising got noticed by a local reporter and she did a piece on him and that, in turn, got noticed by State TV and he was asked to go in for an interview on air and, when on camera, he volunteered the information that the motivation for his enterprise had come from his trip to Italy where he’d been astonished to find out how much better everything tasted over there and, subsequently, had determined to find out why.
“In a word – freshness. Over there they all reject the convenience that comes from being able to buy pre-packaged goods – including eggs, no, especially eggs – in Supermarkets and they willingly put up with the inconvenience of insisting on buying only locally grown produce, especially eggs, for good taste.”
After the broadcast the demand for his eggs doubled and he had a hard job keeping up and, although he didn’t want to get any bigger – all of his land that wasn’t already taken up by machinery and sheds was needed if he was going to be able to keep the ‘free-roaming’ part in his ads – he had to do something to meet the demand and then he remembered seeing an article in an old issue of the trade magazine, ‘Small Farmer’s Monthly,’ that was relevant and he went through his collection and eventually found what he wanted. It was titled, ‘A new, manipulated feeding system that can double egg-production.’
He distributed responsibility for all the necessary tasks for that day among his staff so as to be able to concentrate exclusively on the article and he read that it was possible to divide every twenty four hour day into two separate laying cycles for chickens by fooling them as to what time it was. It involved installing a solid-state electronic controller to automatically operate the window shades and to adjust the internal lighting and to open and close the entrance ports and, in the case of ‘free-roaming’ ones, to activate bins full of their food so that they dispensed rationed amounts of it alternately inside and outside the sheds to entice the chickens to come back into the sheds and to leave them again as called for in order to follow the overall plan which was to, devilishly, fool the birds into thinking, or obeying internal messages, that morning had come again even though it was, in fact, early evening of the same day and they’d unnaturally but dutifully go through the laying process again.
He loved the whole concept and so he called the company up right away and eventually all of the equipment was delivered to his house.
Easy to follow instructions came with it and so he decided to install it himself.
Setting up the equipment was easy enough, due mostly to the cleverly written manual, but, unfortunately for him, he didn’t quite grasp the correct way to adjust the various timing devices and he set them all wrongly and consequently the poor hens were given a new, false dawn every six hours instead of every twelve.
Unaware of his error he switched the whole system on and put it into service one morning and then he sat back and left it to get on with its trickery.
The following morning he, along with his staff, was highly disappointed to find that there was only the usual number of eggs in the central bin instead of twice as many.
He went inside one of the sheds and found, to his horror, that most of the birds in there were comatose and that the few that were still active were turning, turning, frantically in small circles and they didn’t stop until they dropped from sheer exhaustion.
He sent his three workers to check out the other sheds and they reported back that the same thing was happening in them all.
When he’d gotten over his distress he had to muster, and put to work, all of his resilient nature to deal with the disaster and then he re-read the original instructions that he’d been given months before by the first set of suppliers and found the chapter on marketing birds that were non-layers, or had gotten too old to produce enough eggs, and when he’d taught himself all about it he showed his staff the correct procedures to deal with the dead birds – he had to pull rank several times to side-step all questions as to why they’d died – that is, de-feathering and processing and individual packing – and they all worked hard and long to crate them and then he shipped them off as ‘old laying hens’ to the meat-packing plant, the one that a salesman had come from to see him when he’d first started and had asked for his business.
Fred didn’t know, nor much care, that when they got to the plant the meatiest parts of his birds were destined for pies and the like and their organs, and their brains and bones, got to be processed into canned soup.
Well, in the normal course of time, after going through the hands of various wholesalers, the canned soup that contained parts from Fred’s chickens was bought, in bulk, by the State procurer and eventually ended up as three year’s supply for a large State-run Mental Hospital and was enjoyed, twice every a week, by both staff and patients.
Subsequently, and it went on for more than three years, that particular hospital was visited by experts from around the world when its remarkable recovery rates for long term patients were broadcast and all of them, the experts, hoped to make a name for themselves by pin-pointing the reason for the phenomenal results.
The Administration took advantage of their opportunity to ask some of the experts, seeing that they were there already, if they’d accept a secondary grant to do a study with the aim of finding out why so many of its staff were quitting, citing “personal reasons,” and couldn’t be made to change their minds even after being offered huge salary increases.
It took Fred a full year to recover enough to be able to build up his flock again and he reverted to the natural one dawn per twenty-four hours routine to make it easy on himself while he was getting re-established.
However, when everything had settled down and was back to normal he took out his copy of the trade magazine – the one that had the article on how to, “Double your egg production,” and he read it through again, and got enthused again, and then he re-read the manual that had come with his expensive, added-on equipment and when he’d figured out how he’d stupidly made the disastrous mistake the first time he tried again.
Sad to say, when he was entering the basic time changes he got it wrong again and consequently dawn came to his chicken’s private world only once every forty-eight hours.
The morning after he’d put the controlled system back into play he hurried to his central collecting bin expecting to be able to congratulate himself on his cleverness by seeing twice the normal number of eggs in it but what he saw was, or were, – none!
He was baffled and when he went into the nearest shed he thought that the hens looked a little peaked but, not being anywhere near sure of his ground, he decided to leave the system in play for one more day and see what developed.
Again, the next morning when he looked into his collecting bin there were no eggs at all in it and when he climbed into one of the sheds he found all of his birds in very poor shape seeing that they were either dead or breathing their last.
When the vet came he checked them out and pronounced them all dead through being hopelessly egg-bound.
When Fred had gotten over his anger and shame he, eager to cut his losses as much as possible, went through the same procedure as he and his team had done the first time and the canned soup that contained his chicken’s brains and organs ended up being bought, as a year’s supply, by the Purchasing Agent of a huge porcelain bathroom equipment manufacturer – it produced all kinds of fittings but it specialized in cleverly designed toilet bowls which were exported all over the world – that was situated in Ohio and whose workers, more than two thousand of them if you include management, were very partial to chicken soup and consequently it was served, in their cafeteria, every Tuesday and Friday at lunch time.
A week or two after Fred’s soup started being served to them factory output, in every department, fell considerably and it continued to fall, week by week, which perturbed said management considerably, and a full scale investigation was started and it didn’t take long for the consulting doctor, and his permanent on-site staff, to find out that all of the workers, if you’re so minded to include management, were suffering from severe constipation.
The medical team was baffled and especially so because the good doctor, who visited regularly on Tuesdays and Fridays and who always ate in the Management-only cafeteria, along with his entire staff, were suffering from the same debilitating malady.
He wasn’t too proud to not call in experts to help him solve the mysteriously activated and universal ailment and after getting the same diagnosis from them all – couched in evasive wording, of course, but adding up to, “I don’t know.” – he was reduced to asking for help from a Psychiatrist.
That learned gentleman was equally baffled but he couldn’t say so either so he trotted out some weird theories like, “Osmosis inspired transference.” And, “Psychosomatic thought and deed associations.”
Which left everyone involved just as mystified as ever.
However, that same ‘everyone’ was vastly relieved, as it were, to find that the problem went away, after a year had gone by, and to this day everyone is still wondering what could have caused it.
Fred, ever hopeful and after an appropriate interval, decided to try once more and so he built up his flock again and when everything was going along smoothly he decided to try the timing deal again but this time he asked for help from the OEM – the Original Equipment Manufacturer – whose technician, of course, set up the timers correctly and, sure enough and as promised, before long Fred, and his long suffering staff, were, or was, dealing with twice the number of eggs that they’d done so before he’d begun to mess with Mother Nature.
Alors! A few months after things had been settled nicely for him, if not for his overworked chickens, it came to be that a glut of eggs came on the market from all over the country and so the Supermarket managers that Fred had been supplying couldn’t resist being able to reap a profit margin that you wouldn’t believe – that’s what they do and that’s what they dream of – and they, somewhat reluctantly and very apologetically, stopped buying from him and the true meaning of ‘fresh’ – but not the word itself – disappeared from the eggs that they sold.
To compete Fred would have had to sell his eggs for less than what they cost him to deliver to the markets and so, infuriated and bowed down by reality, he stopped trying to sell them which meant that he had to lay-off his staff yet again and try to manage on his own while he fought to come up with an answer.
The first thing that he did, of course, was to switch off his ‘false dawn’ equipment and although his chickens felt a whole lot better because of it he soon got to be inundated with eggs. He had mountains of them and all his storage facilities soon got to be full up with them and still they kept coming.
To try to alleviate his predicament he began to give some of them away, to Old Folk’s Homes and to Institutions and the like, but even they, much as they hated to refuse free food, had to call ‘Uncle’ after a few weeks and when that happened his disappointment, coupled with the tension that he was under, made him snap.
As a result of that a brilliantly befuddled idea – it was what he thought of as being a wonderfully clever way to solve his dilemma – came to him when he was dismantling the ‘false dawn’ equipment and his solution seemed to him to be so overwhelmingly correct, although it wouldn’t have done so to any sane person, that he acted on it at once.
It centered on the fact that if he set up the equipment inside his house, and then set the timers to suit his appetite, he could, single handedly, solve both of his problems by eating all of the surplus eggs himself, which would deal with the short term one, and if he ate one of his chickens with every meal that would systematically reduce the number of his flock and that, in turn, would effectively solve his long term problem!
When he’d re-rigged everything in his house, viz: the electrically controlled shutters over the windows, which he only had to do downstairs because he’d been way too fat to climb up the stairs for several years by then; and the connecting up of the dimming and brightening controls for all the lighting; and seeing to it that several cockerels would crow electronically to herald each new dawn. Every feature was arranged so that it would be triggered appropriately to coincide with whatever time he chose to set the Master Controller at when he wanted each dawn to show itself.
The night before he was ready to try it out he went out to one of the sheds and he caught and killed and de-feathered and processed two hens and then he half-filled a bucket with eggs and he took everything indoors where he roasted the chickens – on reflection he’d decided to chop them in half when they were cooked because, he told himself, he wasn’t a monster was he and a half of one would be plenty – and while they were cooking he broke all the eggs into a large bowl – he had to clear out the bottom half of his refrigerator to accommodate the bowl and the top rack to take the large plate of cooked fowl but that wasn’t a problem because he didn’t intend to put anything else in there anyway – and the following morning he set the timers to ‘herald the dawn’ every six hours and then he whole-heartedly embraced his new, electronically controlled life style by switching on the power to his system.
From then on every time that the cockerels crowed he’d take one half chicken from the refrigerator and put it in the bottom of a large pot and let it heat up for a few minutes and then he’d take two dippers full of eggs from his bowl and pour them on top of the half chicken and when the omelet had begun to set he’d put the pot on the table and eat directly from it.
The amount of work that was required to prepare and eat his meal always forced him to rest up some and so he’d doze off in a recliner and when the cocks went, “Cock-a-doodle-doo,” again he’d get up and repeat the routine to give himself breakfast.
When there was only one half chicken left in the ‘fridge he knew that it was time to go out and catch two more and also half-fill a bucket with eggs but when he got down to the bin he saw that it was overflowing with eggs so he realized that he’d have to increase his consumption rate if his overall plan was going to work so he sat down and worked out that if he altered the timers to break the twenty-four hours of each day into six four-hour segments he’d be able to keep up with the egg production, maybe. He also worked out that he’d have to have six half chickens instead of four so from then on he caught three of them and killed and prepared them and took them inside his house along with a three-quarter-full bucket of eggs.
He was well pleased with his prowess and cleverness and he found that he could easily adapt to his new regime of eating breakfast six times a day but after following the same routine for a week he saw, every time that he went out there that the bin was still over-flowing with eggs and so he decided to up the tempo by changing the timers again so that he’d be able to eat breakfast eight times a day and he began to catch and prepare four chickens and carry them, along with a full bucket of eggs, home.
As his belly grew accustomed to having to deal with the huge amount of food that it was regularly being filled-up with its normal response – which was, of course, to send up warning signals to the effect of, ‘Do not send any more down,’ – got to be swamped and, consequently, was replaced by its sending up warning pangs whenever it was empty! The new signals were to the effect, “Send more down at once,” and Fred came to realize from that that he could – in fact should – ameliorate his stomach by re-arranging his schedule yet again so that he would experience twelve dawns per twenty-four hour day and thus twelve delicious breakfasts too.
However, it wasn’t long before he found great difficulty with getting around at all – he’d long had to consciously sway from side to side and balance just so before every new step to get one massive thigh to ease past the other one – and when he realized that it was taking him a full half hour to get down to the sheds and the same amount of time to get back to his house he knew that it was time to put his thinking cap on again.
He knew from the beginning that he’d have to get some help so what he came up with, eventually, was to call up his old team, the one that he’d been laying-off and then rehiring so often that they’d almost gotten accustomed to it, and arrange for a conference call with all three of them. When that had been set up, and after they’d gotten reacquainted and when the usual small talk had been dealt with, he asked them if they’d be interested in going into business for themselves.
“Uh, well, uh, maybe.”
“Oh, uh, well, uh, yes. I think so.”
“Sure am but what do you have in mind, Mr. Burroughs?”
“What I have in mind is setting you three up with a company that supplies and delivers eggs and it’s a company that can’t possibly fail because you’ll be getting all the eggs for free and the chicken food for free and all of the support systems for free too. Now, what do you say to that?”
What they said to that was a resounding, “Ooh, yes please, Mr. Burroughs. When can we start?” in chorus.
He told them that they could start that very day if they wanted to or they could start the next morning, either way, and that there was only one proviso.
He heard whispering, “Proviso? What’s that mean?”
He cut in with, “It means that if you want to grasp this golden opportunity there is one clause that you have to agree to. Are you all OK with that?”
“Uh, what is it?”
“What’s this clause of yours?”
“Tell us what it is please, Mr. Burroughs.”
“Well now, it’s not much of a clause considering what you’ll be getting in return. I want you to agree to put a full bucket of eggs and six prepared and fully dressed chickens in my mud- room every morning, seven days a week from now on and, also, you have to take away the box that’ll be there that will be full of egg shells and chicken bones. Do you accept that? It’s a deal breaker, so think carefully before answering.”
“Uh, doesn’t faze me at all.”
“No problem there as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Burroughs.”
“Good, well that’s settled then. And listen, here’s another sweetener for you – I’m going to get it written into my will, seeing that I don’t have any living relatives, that if you faithfully meet the conditions of my clause, that is, if you never fail to deliver my food, I’ll leave all of my estate to you three when I die. How does that sound?”
“Wow, Mr. Boroughs!”
“All right then. Can you all rearrange your affairs and get started today?”
“Will do and thank you, Mr. Boroughs.”
From then on, whenever he went to the ‘fridge and saw that he was about to cook the last half-chicken he’d drop it in the pot and start the heat under it and then he’d waddle out to the mud-room and bring in his supplies and after he’d had breakfast, he’d roast the six chickens and then chop them in half and put them in the ‘fridge and he’d break all the eggs into his bowl and replace that too.
One morning, a year or so later, the CEO/dogs-body went into the mud-room as usual and he found that the six chickens and the bucket full of eggs that he’d put there the day before were still there but there was no box of egg shells and bones. Seeing that sent him scampering down to find his fellow CEO’s.
All three of them went back up and tried to rouse somebody inside the house and when, after some time, they hadn’t gotten any response they tried to look through the kitchen window but it was shuttered so, fearfully, they smashed the smallest pane of glass and then forced a part of the shutter aside with a broom handle and what they saw sent them scattering to find a phone.
When the police and the firemen and the para-medics arrived they had to break in and they found a very dead Fred and their combined, expert opinion was that it was quite possible that when his heart had given out he’d been sitting at the table and had fallen forwards and his head had landed in a pot that contained a half-chicken that was partially covered by a congealed mess that had once been a runny-egg omelet.
On the living room wall, within easy reach of a reclining chair, multiple calendars had been drawn, very crudely with a black marker, and there was one for every three-hundred-and-sixty-five days. He’d ticked off his ‘days,’ one by one on all of them, and by counting the underlined and encircled ones that marked his birthdays they saw that he was, according to him, one hundred and twenty six years old.
They had to remove one side of the front door-frame and knock some bricks out of the wall next to it to be able take his body out of the house and it took six men to lift it into the ambulance.
At the morgue they weighed him and found that he was four hundred and sixty four pounds – not including the big piece of chicken breast that had been in his mouth but including some runny-egg omelet that was in his lungs.