Wednesday, August 5, 2009


The following is a draft of Chapter 26 of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct


That night I took the subway straight from work across town. I went to South Street . Because it was only a Monday night, the wild weekend crowd wouldn’t be there. Also, with the gasoline crisis still impacting the city, tourists likely wouldn’t be there either. So I had no fear that the usual mobs of freaks and gawkers who typically thronged South Street on the weekends would slow me down.

I walked past a punk rock shop called Zipper Head where a small crowd of goth kids mulled about on the sidewalk, covered in tattoos and body piercings. Then at the end of the block I turned right and found myself in the quiet and exclusive neighborhood known as Society Hill. That neighborhood boasted stately brick townhouses over 250 years old each, all of them worth no less than three million apiece. I passed by the cobblestone streets of that poshy neighborhood and proceeded to the next block where I surveyed the very high-end shops and businesses which serviced the blue-blooded citizens of Society Hill. There I came to an antiques shop called Beaumont Antiques and Collectibles.

I pulled out the pink packing slip that I’d taken from the giant packing crate with the Kellogg switchboard. I compared the name on the slip to the name on the shop. They matched. Then I checked the shop’s hours of business: 9 AM to 6 PM. So they would close in ten minutes.

I hurried inside causing a chime to ring. I looked around: it was a nice place. Most antiques shops tend to cram their wares onto every possible square inch of floor space, causing a very messy, claustrophobic feel stacked clear up to the ceiling. But this shop luxuriously chose to avoid the cramming approach and had a lot of their merchandise free-standing on the floor with lots of vacant space separating each piece. The pieces in this shop tended to be very large and also downright rare: princess dressers, spinning wheels, and old printing presses among other things.

While I stood admiring a marble-topped console table, a very nicely groomed man in his fifties with thick silver hair came forth from the back room. He struck me as someone who would fit right in at a wine and cheese tasting party.

“Can I help you?” he asked with a pleasant smile. I had made sure to wear some of my better street clothes that day, so the “plumber” stigma wouldn’t be a factor in my treatment by anyone.

“Hi,” I said, “I was in the market for an unusual item,” I lied.

“We specialize in the unusual,” he nodded. “Did you have something specific in mind?”

“A wooden telephone switchboard, circa 1920’s,” I said.

“Ah,” his smile increased as he turned his gaze to one side while recalling an old memory. “I had a client ask me for such an item about ten years ago. It’s not difficult to find one or two, but he was very precise in what he wanted. He said the order absolutely had to be the old Kellogg switchboards, and he also said he wanted no less than ten. It took me a year to fill that order, and I sadly was only able to come up with six. But he was very gracious and accepted just the six. Very hard to come by actual industrial items of that nature. Home furnishings from almost any era of the past 400 years are relatively easy to find. But locating professional workplace equipment any older than the 1950’s is rare and difficult indeed.”

“Why Kellogg?” I asked. “Anything special about that model?”

“Well, Kellogg switchboards weren’t necessarily the most attractive switchboards of their era. But they were certainly the most user-friendly. They also required very little electricity, or I should say, they wasted very little electricity --extremely energy efficient instruments, those were.”

“Can I ask who that client was?” I asked.

“A fine gentleman who lived with his wife right here in the city. Beyond that I am not at liberty to divulge anyone’s private information. I’m sure you understand.”

I nodded and turned to leave with a polite “Thank you for your time.”

“What about your switchboard?” he asked.

“I’m still looking. Thanks anyway,” I said over my shoulder as I walked out the door amid its chiming.

-------------------End of Chapter 26--------------------