Sunday, 14 June 2009


Mummy Dust

by Fritz Bogott

Wikipedia says the production, sale and use of mummy dust ended around 1900, but my dad's uncle Walt made a pretty decent living in the forties and fifties selling it by mail out of an office in the Medical Arts Building on Nicollet in Minneapolis. The mummies came into Receiving in big wooden crates. I remember being in there in the early 1970's before we cleaned it all out and seeing a bunch of those empty crates still racked up against the wall. At the time, it wasn't exactly illegal to export mummies out of Egypt and there wasn't any law against importing them. That changed in 1959, of course, when Nasser put a stop to it. Walt had seen it coming and saved up a few but still it was the beginning of the end.

Walt's wife Flo had died a few years before in a skydiving accident and his son Jerry was in critical condition after his Polaroid burst into toxic flames. Gramps flew in from Dayton to help out, but more-or-less immediately lost a thumb to the grinder and flew right back to Dayton. That left Gramps' and Walt's other brother Ray.

Ray was bigger than his brothers and absolutely always wore white shoes and a green plaid suit he probably also slept in. He drove slowly in from the coast in a '49 Crosley Hotshot, moved in with Walt and stocked up on super-size bottles of Adventure Bourbon. His concept was that there were just enough Swiss herbalists practicing in Texas and Louisiana to use up the remainder of the supply. Walt had always had his eye on the Chinese market and was suspicious of the Swiss, but Ray expressed his opinions forcefully and claimed he had a connection.

Walt decided to trust him and stayed up all night grinding. In the morning, they packed the powder into hundreds of two-ounce bottles, packed the bottles in some wicker suitcases Walt had picked up cheap from a Tom Watt franchise that went bust, packed the cases in the Crosley and drove off slowly south along the Mississippi, leaving Jerry in the care of an attentive night-shift burn-ward nurse.

The Crosley held up surprisingly well the whole way south, right up until they crossed the line into Calcasieu Parish on the way to meet Fritz (no relation) - Ray's supposedly-big-time Swiss connection in Lake Charles. The engine caught fire without warning and Walt and Ray only managed to save two of the cases before the car whole burned down to the axles along with all the remaining bourbon. Fortunately, a minibus full of incongruously djellaba-wearing men was passing at that exact moment and pulled over to give the uncles a lift. The men and the uncles turned out not to have a language in common, so they entertained each other the rest of the way into town pointing out roadkill alligators, with big toothy smiles on all sides. Ray wrote out Fritz's address and showed it to the driver, and the driver nodded serenely and depressed the accelerator. Fritz had his practice in a one-story fake chateau on the edge of town, and he welcomed the entire busload with Louisiana-inflected Switzerdeutsch and free shots of edelweiss liqueur.

When Walt regained consciousness he was fifteen miles down a bayou, missing a leg and had a fresh tattoo of an ibis in the center of his forehead that he didn't discover until quite a while later. The ibis in question was standing a few feet away, perched on a badly-sprung wicker case full of four-ounce bottles of gray-brown powder that looked NOTHING like the dust Walt had been peddling for twenty years. Walt dragged his stump to the nearest crossroads, traded the case and the bottles for a frozen daiquiri and a half-pack of Camels and as far as I know never came back to Minnesota. We haven't heard from Ray since then either, but that's not all that unusual for Ray.

Fritz Bogott live in woods, write with pen, cook with fire.

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