Narrator: At one time in the not-too-distant past, it was popular for young men to shock themselves with electric shock machines at carnivals and circuses. This was done as a test of strength and endurance – it was done to impress the girls.
When Edward’s grandfather was a young man of eighteen, he decided to try to impress the girl who would later become Edward’s grandmother. It was May and the Sells-Floto circus had arrived the previous evening on the outskirts of Renfrew, Minnesota.
As they moved closer to the booth with the flickering blue sparks, they heard the barker, standing before a brass and copper torso of a smiling man. The brass man’s arm was extended as if in invitation to shake hands.
(SFX Calliope music swells. Narrator continues in barker-type style voice)
Hurry, hurry hurry! Step right up,step right up! Who’ll be next? Only costs a nickle! So hurry, hurry, hurry! He’s unbelievable! He’s amazing! He’s elec-trifying! He’s Electric Edward!
Here he is, folks . . . your opportunity to experience, first hand, the wonder of the new Age of Electricity! Yes! That ethereal fluid that flows through the earth like a great dragon! Step right up, folks, and grasp the lightning from the sky . . . if you dare try! Feel that primeval power for yourselves! Produced for you upon this stage by means of a harmonious blending of beauty and efficiency. . . a gracefully woven sphere of gleaming copper wire which we set to spin inside a perfectly circular ring of magnets! Touch the lightning from the sky! If you dare try! Step up,step up and take him by ythe hand. . . if you can! Who’ll be next? Who’ll be next? Only costs a nickle! These elemental bolts will make your hair stand on end! your eyes will bug out, your body will tremble violently all over! It’s wonderful!! So . . . who’ll be next? Hi, there, young man! Only costs a nickle! Thanks, son! Now . . . all you have to do is . . .step up to Edward here . . walk up to him, that’s right! Now, grasp him firmly by the hand and say, “Hello, Edward!” while I pull this switch! Ready? Here we go!
(SFX Voice: “Hello, Edwa . . .” cut off by a loud crackling burst of humming electricity)
Narrator’s Voice: There were a few seconds of electrical humming and crackling, an eerie blue light of jumping sparks, and the strong tang of ozone. The barker peered closely at the writhing teenager, whose right hand was clamped in a friendly but desperate grip with the hand of the cheerful brass torso. He was looking for danger signals such as wisps of smoke or signs of searing from metal framed glasses. He released the switch.
Narrator as barker: How about that! Wasn’t that wonderful!? Yes indeedy! Look at that, folks, he’s speechless! Must have made quite an impression! Well, now . . . who’ll be next? He’s amazing . . . he’s unbelievable . . . he’s . . . Electric Edward!!
Narrator’s Voice: And this is why Edward’s grandfather became such an electrical enthusiast. And when people asked him in later years why he spent so much time inhis workshop inventing electrical gadgets, he would reply, “Because I have grasped the Lightning from the Sky!”
Later on in life, but before becoming a grandfather, he had his own company. He developed a line of Two-Potato Electrical Products, starting with the Two-Potato Clock. These clocks were powered by an electro-chemical process involving the elements, zinc and copper, and the phosphoric acid naturally present in each and every potato and many other vegetables. The zinc loses two electrons while the copper in the wire reacts with the phosphoric acid to release hydrogen ions, which gain the electrons. Electricity is set to flowing, enough at least to fire up a digital clock. So into business he went. And he fully expected great success because he had the confidence of one who knows he can be sure of the clear and enduring elemental difference between zinc and copper.
He was ambitious. At first, his two-potato clock produced enough electricity to trigger an LED gadget. Soon, however, he began to investigate the hybridization of new and larger vegetables. He hooked up multiple vegetables. There were Two-Potato calculators, and Twenty Potato radios, and soon, Two Hundred Potato televisions. He proved that if you could hook up two thousand potatoes and add an engine and wheels, you could drive down the road with it. He was perhaps best known as the man who invented the world’s most efficient refrigerator , which actually ran on the electrical power generated by all the vegetables in its own crisping drawer.
(SFX Electrical humming sound)
But in the end, he over-reached himself and it all came crashing down around him.
Four one hundred and eighty pound turnips had been hooked up in sequence with large gauge multi-strand copper and zinc cables and were running a small thousand watt space heater. Suddenly, the right two turnips began to spin like tops, each in the opposite direction. The two left turnips began to smolder and to give off a smoky smell. Then the two right turnips pinned homeowner Art Kartoffelkopf against the wall of his den, while the two left turnips set fire to all the curtains in the room If it hadn’t been for the quick action of Kartoffelkopf’s wife, Pat there would most certainly have been a tragic outcome to this real-life drama.
(SFX Screams and shouts)
She rushed into the burning room and seized the right two turnips by the greens, yanking them away from her husband, and tearing free the cables. Then they quickly threw a thick tablecloth over the burning vegetable, dragging it from the house and throwing it into children’s swimming pool. Art and Pat Kartoffelkopf escaped alive from their brush with danger, but Two-Potato Products was as dead as a door nail from that day forward. Public trust was shot; your can’t manufacture trust. Edward’s grandfather retreated to the various outbuildings of his farm and tinkered dispiritedly, dejectedly.
Edward was raised on that farm. It was close enough to a center of commerce to m ake for sensible commuting so Edward’s father, Edward, and his mother, Grace had jobs in the neighboring city. And there they lived, with Edward growing bigger everyday.
Then, one day . . .
(SFX Earthmoving vehicles and gradual build of anthemic music, ending with the word’s “grandfather’s farm.”)
. . . when Edward was about five years old. . . a huge bulldozer appeared among the soybeans. Tripods and long lines of yellow cord materialized followed by more bulldozers and other machines, and in time, way off in the distance, peeking over the horizon, there appeared the top of an enormous high-tension tower, then another and another, coming closer and closer, and then going farther and farther away in a straight line on into the distance, over the opposite horizon. And, in time, people got used to the dust and the trucks. And then, finally, even they disappeared and the line of towers settled in and began to look normal.
(SFX Music fades, almost disappears, but then, over the following narration, resurges stronger than ever before fading after the words, “pouring through them.”)
Then, one day, way off on the other horizon, directly opposite the line of towers, there appeared . . yet another high-tension tower, and soon another and more, until this new line of towers ultimately bisected the first line at right angles and continued on beyond it to disappear over the opposite horizon.
And so it came to pass that Edward, the grandson, lived all of his childhood growing-up-outside-exploring years playing at the intersection of two massively powerful high tension lines, with thirteen separate cables of cracklin’ good electrical energy – thick braided ally cables with the droning, humming power of tons of burning coal, enormous waterfalls, and controlled nuclear explosions surging and pouring through them.
(SFX Music combines with crackling electrical high voltage sounds, ends with a burst.)
When Edward was nine years old, he discovered that if he held a fluorescent lighting tube up in the air under the junction of the two lines, it would glow by itself there, with its ends free and unconnected to anything solid. In fact, these tube would glow for anyone under the high-tension lines, but when Edward actually touched the two ends, making contact with the four little prongs, the tube would low brighter. He could eventually make them pulse to music. And afater a while, the tubes would glow for Edward even if he took them far away from the two intersecting lines of great steel towers.
When he was ten years old, he discovered that he could jump-start cars if the battery wasn’t in too bad a shape. He used to surprise people with this ability. One time his fifth grade teacher was stuck in the school parking lot with a groaning battery.
(SFX Groaning battery, car being turned over, won’t catch)
He is care wouldn’t start and he had the hood up and was staring disgustedly at his battery with an expression on his face that he usually saved for inside the school building. Edward came up to the open hood, reached in, took hold of the two terminals and grinned, “ Now try it, Mr. Kessler!”
(SFX Car roars into life.)
“What did you do to it, Eddy?!”
“I just sorta goosed it a little, Mr. Kessler!”
One day during Edwards eleventh summer, he happened to be in the nearby city at a Seven Eleven when a fat man in a damp, light blue suit discovered that he’d left hjis lights on in his car while he was in the store, reading magazines off the rack without buying them. When Edward came upon him, the man in the suit had reached the point of bitter resignation. But he agreed to turn her over one more time at Edward’s urging.
(SFX Car roars into life.)
“What did you do?” asked the amazed fat man, and he sat for a bit and talked with Edward while the care idled and belched fumes.
“Here, kid . . . I may have a business proposition for you, one involving your amazing electrical abilities . . . here’s my card! Write your name and number on it and give it back to me. That’s it! I . . . we might both be able to profit by working together.”
This man was Frederick Babylon, better known as “User Friendly Fred,” owner, land television commercial representative for Nincompute, the city’s largest source
for used computers of all kinds and in all conditions. Only that morning, one of his commercials had run during breakfast, while Edward’s grandfather fiddled with the horizontal and vertical holds on his ancient television set. As he watched the fat man drive away, Edward could hear the commercial replaying in his mind.
(SFX Music up, obnoxious voice raps the following)
Hiya everybody! I’m User Friendly Fred!
With another friendly message to the center of your head !
For all you men and women! For all you boys and girls!
Y’know, it’s hard to make sense in today’s grown-up world!
Unless you get a lean, mean screen you don’t make the scene!
Get a new computer, bruder, and the girls’ll think you’re cuter!
(SFX aggressive music behind obnoxious yelling)
Fred’s voice: “Down here at Nincompute we are thrilled to offer you a complete selection of pre-driven computers! All shapes! All sizes! All price ranges! From an early fifties room-size steam driven model to this equally powerful little teeny-weeny fully functional job, the Earmite 450! Just stick it in your ear and it latches on and immediately begins to fill your mind with information! So come on down, we’re easy to find! I got a friendly little message for the center of your mind! And I guarantee that each and every one of my computers will compute, repute, dispute, refute, impute, beet root, zoot suit, and skeet shoot the livin’ bejeepers out of any other used computer, on any other lot, in any other city, in any other country in the world!”
At this point in the commercial, the camera zoomed in on the enormous smile of User Friendly Fred. Edward thought the fat man’s smile seemed a little forced.
And as he drove away, User Friendly Fred was already hatching a plot of sabotage that would shake the world of used computers to its foundations. Already he was picturing the next pre-driven computer industrial trade show and how, right at the crucial part of his competition’s presentation, all of the demo screens blank out and the whole system crashes and burns! All he has to do is to teach this kid to apply his talent to scrambling programs. The surge the Edward could generate would penetrate ordinary shielding and ruin everything it touched. And it would be positively undetectable!
Several days later, Frederick Babylon paid a visit to Edward’s home. He was there on the porch when Edward arrived home from school and pumped his hand with enthusiasm. Edward was surprised and curious. But as User-Friendly Fred began to outline his idea to young Edward, he sensed a disturbing lack of interest, even in the increasing financial inducement.
User-Friendly Fred had always believed that people like Edward existed. . . electric people. Fred was a television pitch man who actually felt the confidence he exuded. He knew he could make the sale. He was a real persuasive guy. In fact, while he was doing his commercials, Fred always imagined that he, himself, was generating electricity. He visualized his persuasive abilities as electrical radiation flowing forth from out of himself, through the lens of the camera, and into the minds of his viewers, whom he imagined as leaning forward in their chairs, rapt, staring fixedly at him standing there crackling away with electrical energy.
Edward was clearly not at all interested, and User Friendly Fred leaned in toward him, fixing him with his most persuasive piercing gleam. Edward made a slight impatient movement and User Friendly Fred suddenly felt opportunity slipping away from him. He leaned in even farther.
At this point, Edward, as more of a reflex than anything else, reached up and
pushed Fred’s forehead away with his finger. There was a little crackling noise and an abrupt hiss . . . and User-Friendly Fred began to howl and to leap around the porch holding his forehead.
(SFX Hiss followed by howling and leaping)
Edward’s mother came out with an ice cube and eventually calmed him down. Muttering, he got into his car, slammed the door, and drove away. He never bothered to come back.
Edward and his grandfather have a few renewable energy projects they are working on together. User-Friendly Fred has toned down his commercials. He has learned that if he sweats too much on camera, a little brown dot appears in the center of his forehead.
(SFX Fred’s commercial’s music comes up, but he stops it when he shouts, “CUT!! Hey! Rub some more makeup on this will ya?” Music swells and fades)
© Ken Raabe