The colonel and I slipped into comfortably cushioned wicker chairs on his Paducah estate veranda. His maid, Hattie Smith, handed us each a tall, crystal glass of fresh squeezed lemonade on ice and then took her leave for the night. It was only he and I and the field mice present, so with his nod of permission, I began my story…
“It had been a long day, driving 21 miles up “going to the sun road” and crossing Logan pass, then down the east side of the Rockies into Saint Mary’s village. I was beat, a little chilled and in need of cheap lodging. I pulled my Nash Rambler into the St. M’s KOA. It had just opened for the season and stood nearly empty; 247 campsites and only a handful of hearty souls to fill them. Just my style. I chose a site at the end of the camp road, close enough to nature to smell it, but close enough to a neighbor to bother screaming for help should I be visited by a late night prowler.
In 1954 camping was really camping. No generators put-puttering, no television blaring through Winnebago windows. There were radios, but generally they were wired to earpieces so the noise they made was contained within the operator’s skull. And good thing too. Back then people didn’t like all the noise and commotion that mars the experience these days; they’d come to the woods specifically to hear crickets, not to drown them out. So with that said, I found it very strange to hear what sounded like a radio telephone conversation taking place within my listening range, in a language I’d never heard before.
It was the atomic age as they called it, a time to be on guard, wary, vigilant, particularly when Russkies might be involved,. And while I’d never actually heard Russian’s speak, the blab coming from an adjacent campsite sounded all too Red for my taste. If it were spies I found, and I hurried and turned them in to the authorities, I might receive a medal and a write-up in a national paper. I heard cash registers as I pondered the possibilities, I could be the most famous milk shake mixer salesman that ever was!”
The Colonel laughed at that. “I once had those lofty aspirations” he said in his gentleman’s drawl. “When I was young I sold tooth powder door to door and believed I could capture the entire US market. Then those damn scientists created paste for cleaning teeth, and my dreams were shattered.”
I laughed appropriately. He couldn’t know the seriousness of what I was about to tell him, being angry for his interrupting me would be counterproductive to my mission. But the moment we’d finished chortling, had taken new breath and then had quickly cleared our throats as laughers do, I began where I’d left off.
“Being an adequate outdoorsman if I might brag, I was not only skilled in orienteering, but also in silent movement and night vision. It happened to be three quarter moon, so focusing my eyes took little time. Still, I carried a large flashlight, just in case I needed to conk something on the head, or suddenly needed to run through moonless terrain; not that I was afraid mind you, but one never knows what those commies have up their comrade’s sleeves.
It took nearly 20 minutes to find their camp. They had no campfire burning, and the only light in the area was a bluish glow that came from the door of their Silver Streamliner trailer. But right away I felt instinctively relieved. They couldn’t be commies! The four of them had antennae on their heads! I figured they had to be American frat boys or maybe members of the Ray Bradbury fan club. I flicked on my light so as not to scare them, and sauntered into their space for a little neighborly chat; I’d walked this far I thought, I may as well see if they offer me a beer!
I’d only taken a dozen steps toward the group when I was frozen in my tracks by some unseen force. The man speaking into the radio device stopped abruptly, and his companions stood, aiming what appeared to be rifles at my head.”
The Colonel shushed me with wildly waving hands. “Well get to the point boy; were they Communists or not?”
“They were not sir” I said slowly and with enough tension in my voice that Sanders had no choice but to quiet down and concentrate on listening. Once I held his complete attention, I finished the sentence… “they were Martians!”
“Oh balderdash” the Colonel said. “That’s absurd! Now had you said ghosts, I might have quibbled a bit, but Martians! Indeed!”
An oval shaped head popped into view from behind one of the Colonel’s fine holly hedges; a head with elongated eyes, concave nostrils and a mouth that resembled a fire hose nozzle. Had I not known the creature would be listening I might have been as startled as Sanders.
“Is that… a Martian?” he squeaked through his white mustache. Both Nember Grimlock the Martian and I nodded in unison. The case was made quite handily I must say. Had the Colonel’s mind been wandering to this point, it was now securely stapled onto the backrest of his wicker chair.
“F.f.fffinish your story young man” he said, his hands quivering enough to spill a few drops of lemonade on his otherwise immaculate white suit pants. Without delay I picked up where I’d left off.
“At first they fought amongst themselves. It seemed they were angry about having been so lax in their security that a food service equipment salesman could just walk right into their camp! But as they were speaking in Martian I couldn’t really tell what they were fuming about, or why they kept flailing each other with these magnificent electrical whips they carried, slicing thin purple lines into each other’s skin-like covering. But then suddenly they stopped, sat, and appeared to brood; paying little if any attention to me.
I felt sad for them, they moped and heavily sighed, they all seemed very, very depressed.
So like any good salesman I tried to cheer them up so as to control them emotionally and broaden my opportunities!
At first I did my famous hand shadow figures using their campfire for projection and their space ship as my screen. But I suppose if they don’t know what a dog is, they wouldn’t think it’s funny having a shadow dog pee on a shadow fire hydrant. So I offered to buy them all a drink at the nearest pub, but they only stopped and stared at me, as if in that moment they felt more sorry for me than themselves. And then finally one spoke in a broken English.
He, or she, I’m not sure… told me they had been sent to earth in search of food; meaty type food to be exact. It seems Mars is running out of Placid Feral Dune Worms and needs a new supply of chewable protein. They had visited this planet eons ago and marveled at the diversity of species that was available for harvest, so naturally they assumed that a trip to set up a base camp and butcher shop would be all that was needed before Mars was regristled and ready to go. But alas, we, the humans, have nearly eliminated the meat supply by driving thousands of species into extinction. And now all that’s left is, well the human race themselves!”
The Colonel stood, as did the ray gun brandishing Nember Grimlock, and then the Colonel sat. “You can’t be serious man” he exclaimed while his eyes widened in terror. “They plan on treating us as inter planetary cattle and earth as the neighborhood, galactic grocery?”
When he put it that way, I nearly choked. It was a foul situation I’d stumbled into. But now that I was actively involved and knew the secrets of the universe, there was no turning back.
“Yes sir” I said with an obvious look of somber resignation. “But there’s a bright side to this cloud”. Sanders almost came out of his chair again, but he glanced at the ray gun first, and thought better of it.
“What could possibly be a bright spot in this ghastly nightmare?” he asked through his teeth.
“The chance to be spared, to grow old and wealthy beyond your wildest dreams? The chance to keep your loved ones from becoming Martian pupa chow?” I had to chuckle at that last line. It wasn’t funny really, considering… but it was damn clever.
I thought the Colonel would take some time to grow accustomed to the idea that we’d been invaded, but I’d underestimated his instinctual greed.
“Wealthy beyond my wildest dreams? For a simple deal with the devil? Speak up boy” he nearly shouted; “what’s the plan.”
So I explained the mathematics of our conditions; how we needed to compensate for our weight in meat with an appropriate poundage elsewhere. How I figured if we were to do more than just survive, we’d need to create so much meat that the Martians would be overwhelmed with our great powers of dietary manipulation and our quota would disappear; leaving us to cash in on a lousy stroke of luck and to become two of the most envied and honored men in all the world, perhaps even the galaxy.
Finally I’d reached the action steps, and Sanders leaned toward me as I described what was about to take place, with his agreement.
“I have found a few hamburger stands in California that I think will blossom into a huge corporation with the right propaganda campaign. I’ve sold them my shake mixers and then, with the Martian’s help in creative accounting, I’ve bought them out. I am now the biggest hamburger dude in the world I think, and the weight of the business will grow exponentially, following in the footsteps of our customers!”
The Colonel was catching on. He was tapping his cane with one hand and stroking his goatee with the other. “All we need to do is fatten up the population of the earth, and we’ll be spared the agony of becoming Martian sausage?”
“Righto” I said with a very small grin so as to show my pleasure at having worked out a deal to stay alive, while at the same time showing proper respect for the cattle we were about to produce for slaughter. “So are you in?”
“Well, I have this recipe of secret herbs and spices I’ve always wanted to mass market. Do you think the Martians will provide me with enough poultry to take over the world?”
“Have you heard of Tyson?”
“You must be joking!”
The Colonel took a long swig off his lemonade. “I suppose we’re not out of the woods until we’re actually successful at making the general public chunkier. What are you going to call your place” he asked; “I have some experience in marketing, maybe I could give you some tips.”
I smiled. “I kind of like Mickey D’s”, I said. “I think it’s catchy.”
”Hmm”, he muttered while pulling at both of his large ears. “You Californians are so fad oriented. If you want to do business in the south you’ll have to be a little more formal than Mickey D’s!”
He had a point of course. Still, I could see my stores riding on the coattails of Walt Disney, with children thinking of hamburgers every time they saw a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Yet….
“What’s the name of that old guy again? The one that had a farm?”
The Colonel laughed; “Why sir, I think you mean old McDonald!”
A tie in to a nursery rhyme; That was good enough for me. “EIEIO” I said. “McDonald’s it is! And I’m going to have a clown as a corporate mascot.”
Sanders prickled at the thought. “Are you insane? Children have nightmares about clowns! Don’t do it!”
But he’d already gotten his way with the name. I wasn’t budging on the clown. Obesity Epidemic here we come! Harlan Sanders and Ray Kroc, Human engorgers extraordinaire!