The snake oil salesman

Doctor Hogwash introduces the product that no-one can do without

Andy Lambeth

2021-07-28 8 min read

Doctor Hogwash pulled the cord that opened the curtains on his wagon and strolled confidently to the centre of his mobile stage. He was the picture of elegance with his top hat, frock coat, gold pocket watch and walking cane, the wooden handle of which was crafted into the shape of a snake. It was only when you got up a little closer you could see the frayed edges and discolouration from those long dusty roads that he’d called home for the last two months. He was nearing the end of his tour of the Midwest states, which had proved very lucrative and the minor blemishes and imperfections in his appearance would not detract from his slick sales pitch. He was on a roll.

        “Step right up, step right up, ladies and gentlemen. Today will be a day that changes your life forever, for I have a very special product I would like to introduce to you. Whatever you desire in life, my product is guaranteed to provide you with it. Do you want to live a long and prosperous life, good Sir? Then this is the product for you. Or perhaps it is the next life that concerns you more. If so and you want to earn your place in Heaven, then this product will be essential. Maybe none of that bothers you. Maybe you’re young and carefree and you just want to sing, dance and be merry. Well my youthful friends, you may soon find that without my product your happy-go-lucky lifestyle will come to an abrupt end. But there is no need for any of you to worry, ladies and gentlemen, as whatever your hopes and dreams are, you will find them in this magical little bottle.”

        The doctor was capturing the curiosity of passers-by and the crowd was now beginning to grow.

        “Come on, step right up for your bottle of the Purple Potion, made from the purple-glossed Amblyodipsas snake of Africa and cooked slowly and lovingly in a glazed pot. Not only is this a miracle cure for respiratory diseases but it’s also a one size fits all answer to all your consumer needs. You at the front Sir, do you ever worry about catching a nasty bug and becoming seriously ill? A man of your age and your, shall we say, rotund physique should be worried. You might wake up one morning fighting for breath and that will be the beginning of the end. You might think it’s just another cough but it will be the cough that finishes you off. Have you got a wife and children, Sir? How will they feel when they see you lying on your death bed gasping for air? Do you know how many men of your age die from respiratory diseases every year? No, of course you don’t. If you did you wouldn’t have that big smile on your face; you would be sick with worry. But with the Purple Potion you do not need to worry my good friend. I can swear to you on my dear departed mother’s life that not one of you will die of a respiratory disease after taking the Purple Potion. And if I’m wrong I’ll give you a full refund.”

        The rotund gentleman waddled to the front of the stage and bought a bottle of the Purple Potion.

        “A wise gentleman indeed! But keeping you alive and well is not all the Purple Potion does. If you take it then it will stop your friends and family getting ill too. Indeed, if you’re a public spirited sort of person and you are concerned about the health of your fellow citizens then the Purple Potion is a must buy product for you...”

        “I heard someone died an hour after taking it, in the last town you were in!” a heckler shouted out. For a brief moment the normally poised and well composed doctor was thrown off balance. He cleared his throat.

        “Ahem...well, of course it is possible, as with all good medicines, that you might have an adverse reaction to it but it is extremely rare. In fact there is a greater chance you will be struck by lightning,” he replied.

        “Well it’s enough to put me off!” said a feisty looking young woman as she started walking away from the crowd. “Purple Potion? More like Purple Poison! I’ll just put my trust in the good Lord, thank you very much.”

        Things weren’t going to plan. Doctor Hogwash had to think quickly.

        “Indeed Madam you should put your trust in the good Lord. You should trust that he will protect you from harm’s way when you are doing the right thing and acting compassionately. If he saw that you were hesitant to take something that would benefit your fellow human beings purely because of the infinitesimally small risk of an adverse effect then he would frown upon your selfish attitude. If you want to show the Lord that you’re worthy of your place in Heaven then you will need to prove to him that you are an altruist. To enter the Kingdom of Heaven you must love thy neighbour as thyself. I can see you’re a young healthy woman and in no imminent danger of dying from a respiratory disease but you could still pass your germs onto someone older and frailer than yourself. With the Purple Potion you do not have to worry about that. With the Purple Potion no-one can catch a nasty bug off you and die. You can sleep easy at night in the knowledge that you are not contributing to all the misery in the world. And Heaven knows there is too much misery in this world.”

          The young woman turned around and jostled her way to the stage to buy a bottle of Purple Potion.

        “Hallelujah!” the doctor exclaimed.  “And now I would like to introduce you to a good friend of mine, the famous newspaper man, Piers Moron. Piers started taking the Purple Potion a month ago and he is now one of the biggest advocates of it.  He has not stopped thanking me ever since. Such a fan of the Purple Potion is Piers that he thinks it should be compulsory for every man, woman and child to take it.”

        A middle aged, rather overweight man walked onto centre stage to join the salesman. The crowd roared with laughter at the man’s quite unusual appearance.

        “He’s bright purple!” a little sandy haired boy cried out.

        “He may be bright purple, young man, but he’s still alive,” said the doctor. “He can still enjoy the sound of the birds singing in the trees and the beautiful sight of his grandchildren playing in the long grass. He is a happy and content man now, knowing that he cannot die of a respiratory disease. Tell the people how the Purple Potion changed your life, Piers.”

        Piers opened his mouth to speak but instead a cough came out. He tried again but every time he tried to talk the cough seemed to worsen. The doctor intervened:

        “Piers is just a little nervous about speaking in front of such a large crowd. Please bear with him. He’s just a little shy.”

        But Piers’ cough was getting worse. He was now doubled up and gasping for air. He slumped to the floor in an untidy heap. There was complete silence for a few moments, as the audience wondered what was happening. Was this part of the show or were things going a bit wrong?

        “I think he’s dead,” the little sandy haired boy exclaimed rather joyously.

        “Of course he’s not dead!” retorted Doctor Hogwash, desperately poking Piers with his stick, which caused him to groan and then to cough some more. “He is just a little erm...under the weather, that’s all. But, as a highly qualified and experienced doctor, I can assure you that without the Purple Potion he would have been as dead as a nail in a coffin.” He pulled a whistle from his top pocket and blew it. At once a burly brute of a man appeared and clumsily dragged Piers off stage. A string of backstage bumps and clangs further disturbed the doctor’s flow as his inept helpers maneuvered Piers off the wagon.

        Slightly flustered, the doctor tried to ignore what had just happened and move the show on swiftly. He focused his attention on a young, well dressed man at the front of the crowd.

        “And you, Sir. You look like someone who might enjoy the good things in life. You’re a young man and I wager you like to frequent the local bars and saloons when you have a few spare dollars in your pocket. What would life be like without wine, women and song, eh? Tedious! Miserable! But what if all the bars in this town stopped serving you? You might think it will never happen but we’re closer to it than you think. Thank goodness my dear friend Sheriff Johnson is devoted to keeping the people of this town healthy and free from respiratory diseases. He has already taken the Purple Potion himself and is immensely grateful to me for it. He now wants to ensure everyone else takes it and he is ready to use his powers to encourage this. Very soon the bars and saloons will only be serving purple people, as that will be the only way we can prove that we are not a health risk to our fellow citizens.”

        “Well you’re not purple! How comes you haven’t taken it yourself if it’s so good?” the young man retorted with a disbelieving smirk.

        “His nose looks a bit purple,” the little sandy haired boy shouted out, only to be clipped round the ear by his mother.

        “Sir, I can assure you that I regularly take the Purple Potion,” said the doctor. “The pure hearted and virtuous amongst you will have no problem in seeing my purple pigment. To them I am as purple as a freshly picked plum or the purple emperor butterfly. It is the doubting Thomases and the unbelievers who refuse to see what is in front of their eyes. They are nothing but wretched conspiracy theorists and their subversive nature is distorting their visual perception. If you cannot put your faith and trust into medical experts like me then you are a fool to yourself and a menace to society.”

        “You’re a damned charlatan!” a rough looking man at the back of the crowd shouted out.

        Doctor Hogwash was prepared for this. His henchmen were strategically dotted around. Within seconds two ape-like stooges grabbed the heckler and dragged him over to a disused well, a few yards behind the crowd. They lifted him, as though he was a piece of litter on the street and threw him head first down the well. An eerie shriek echoed up the well as the man fell to the bottom. There was a stunned silence while members of the audience wondered whether to fix their stares towards the stage or behind them towards the well.

        “He’s beginning to look a little bit more purple to me now,” a man at the front of the crowd said quietly to his wife.

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