The Man Who Sells Nothing...
A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann
Is? Is not? Maybe it's me who's the fool...
You see, on Thirty-Fourth Street there's a man with a tray full of Nothing. In soda cans.
"'Nothing'?" I said, reading a can's decorative label. "Is that something new?"
"Newest soft drink on the market," replied the man behind the tray. "Newest and best!"
"No sugar," he said. "No added salt. No chemical additives. No caffeine."
I groaned. "Why take all the fun out of life?"
"No flavorings. No artificial sweeteners. No colorings. All natural. No preservatives."
I groaned again.
"Has not been shown to cause cancer in rats."
"Sure," I said. "Neither has apple pie."
"Non-habit-forming. Non-toxic. Non-caloric. Non-"
"Hold it! Non-caloric? Just what is this stuff?"
"It's not what it is," he smiled. "It's what it isn't."
My head spun. Is is, I knew that. And is-not is not. Therefore, is is not is-not. I said: "Is not!!"
"Wait..." I scratched my head. "What I mean is... what is it that you're selling?"
"Nothing," he said. "Does not violate religious laws. Stores indefinitely. Equally refreshing anytime. Great for kids, too. Six-packs or single cans. Which do you want?"
"Neither until I find out what it is that your selling."
"I get it..." He stroked his chin. "You're looking at it all wrong... Think of something somewhere. Got it?" I nodded. "Now take it away. What's left is what I'm selling."
Rage: "WHAT'S IN THE CANS?!!"
He shrugged: "Open one and find out." I picked up one of the cans. He held up his hand. "But first, that'll be one dollar." I was hooked and I knew it; never give a sucker an even break, right? As I dug into my pocket, he said, "Six for five...?"
"One is plenty." I gave him my dollar and popped open the can. There was a satisfying 'pfft', then nothing. No aroma. No bubbles dancing around. No sound. I turned the can over. Nothing poured out. "What kind of a racket is this?"
"It is not a racket!"
"Well I don't know what else to call it! You're selling nothing?"
"Nothing. Made in America."
"If it's nothing, then what was that sound I heard?" Hooked back, right?
"That was something leaking into the can."
"...something...leaking into the can...," I mumbled.
"Inside the can is Nothing. Outside the can there is much something. When you open the can, the something leaks inside." His expression said: even a simpleton should understand this.
"Inside the can is absolutely nothing? Inside is vacuum?"
"Well," he drawled, "not total vacuum. The cans are sealed under low pressure, so there is less something inside them than outside. But there is still some something. Just not much. When there is no something inside the can, the something outside gets jealous and crushes it."
"Jealous? You mean the can collapses."
"Have it your way."
I gave him a long look. "Are you serious?"
"Are you calling my sanity into question?"
"I don't know...." Deep breath. "You're out here on Thirty-Fourth Street with the peddlers with a tray of soda cans that are full of nothing, or not full of anything, but, in any case, absolutely uncontaminated by any sort of product. Am I calling your sanity into question?"
"Would it comfort you to learn that this will be the marketing sensation of the late nineties?"
"Will it?" I asked.
"I don't know. I find that some people are comforted by the thought that I might be a marketing genius, and not just a crazy man in a raincoat."
"Are you a marketing genius?"
He smiled wryly. "Are you calling my insanity into question?"
I rubbed my head. "Please... Don't play games..."
"All right," he said. "Try this: a six-pack of product with a big red ribbon on top. Got it? A Western Union man is delivering it to the door of a beefy jock. The headline reads: 'Let him know how you really feel'."
"How's this? Christmas scene. Festive and twinkling, but there are no presents under the tree. Foreground is a six-pack of product with one can missing. Headline: 'Nothing... For Christmas'."
I laughed, saying, "How about a hostess with a serving tray full of cans. The headline reads: 'What guests ask for most'."
"Great!" he shouted.
"No foul aftertaste."
"Safe for pets and house-plants!"
"Non-alcoholic." He sputtered, "Perfect for Designated Drivers."
My sides were splitting. I had to gulp to breathe. "Listen, what's your name?"
"Manny. Manny Kant."
Manny Kant. Moron or genius...?
I bought two cases.
He asked, "What are you going to do with all that Nothing?"
"I know some people who deserve less."
"Less crushes the can."
"You said that."
"Something gets jealous."
Genius or moron...?
"Nothing, huh? How does it move?"
"One or two like you make up for slow weeks."
"I expect so..."
He smiled. "You come back real soon. There's plenty more where that came from." He restrained a giggle.
"Plenty less where that didn't come from," I corrected.
Somebody's a moron...
Anyway, I'm going to keep an eye on Manny Kant. I have an idea he's a man who's going places. Or is it noplaces?