Unobtainable

Most evenings, the habitues of the Folkie Palace made a noisy march down Grove St. to the Harvard Gardens. Mark Twain would have labeled us callithumpian, a discordant loud band or parade. Once at the favorite drinking spot, he might have settled in to listen to the daily tally of woes and victories. He would have heard how the Monk had made out at the Haymarket for pushcart discards or how the Teahead of the August Moon had scored some “weed.” Two inveterate road rangers discussed cross country hitching routes at the other end of the table, while a philosophical discussion quietly raged between the Canary and a visitor from Toronto. My friend Bill was busily sketching the scene as it played out.
At that juncture, in walked trouble in the form of John, the con artist, and a skinny redheaded guy nobody recognized. It was John’s claim to fame that he was the best living con man never to have graced the inside of a jail cell – all customers satisfied, or a money-back guarantee – if you could find him. The redhead introduced himself as Terry. He was a seaman visiting from Australia and had made John’s acquaintance at Boston’s infamous Hill Billy Ranch, a bar even the lower forms of Beacon Hill life stayed away from.
The pair had migrated to the quieter Harvard Gardens to have a showdown. Terry was a Spruiker – a tout, barker, and a salesman with a touch of the con in his spiel. Their objective was a competition to see who would be able to sell some innocuous object for the highest price. Sensing blood, the crew from the Palace eagerly volunteered to participate.
Terry was first up. He slowly brought forth a tiny fiber bag. “enough pituri and white acacia ash here to keep you near the Dreamtime for a week.” His pitch droned on hypnotically, and the stone heads in the gathering were leaning in with rapt attention. They were always looking for a new highway to walk down.
John was up next. He pulled a small snuff-box from his back pocket. He looked at the gathering, then launched into a talk on the health benefits of the essential oils contained in the product in the box. It was a combination of aphrodisiac and health tonic. Based on an original prescription of the ancient physician Galen. It would not regrow hair, but the glow of health would stun the opposite sex. For men, the sexual recharge would be rapid, and for women, it was a known cure for painful menstruation. He reverently held the small tin up for examination, smiled bashfully, and ended his talk.
What followed next was a flurry of bidding as the action heated up. Cartels formed to pool resources. The prices went higher, and at last, when the funds were exhausted, someone threw in a lucky silver dollar to seal the deal. The frenzy had ended. We were spent emotionally and doubly so in terms of the money laid on the table. John and Terry gathered the money and left laden with all our funds.
The following day the kitchen table was where we gathered to examine the contents of the bag and box. On close examination, we found the contents to be identical. There was anger, then dismay. Finally, there was resignation and an idea. A small scale was used to divide the contents of the bag and box minutely. Small lunch bags were filled and put aside.
That weekend the usual influx of Folkie wannabees descended on Charles Street and Beacon Hill. A tidy profit was made on the rare and unusual Australian herbs fresh from the port and normally unobtainable in this hemisphere.