Benjamin Franklin Carr was a famed Chemistry Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, until the day he became the world’s most famous book publisher.
Carr’s father was a manufacturer of coffee makers. “Carr” emblazoned the front of commercial coffee makers in diners throughout the Brick City, and also sold very well around the shore of Lake Ontario. Carr’s grandfather was a tinker, plying his trade in the streets of Rochester, his cart filled with pots, pans and solder pulled by the same Clydesdale he led out of Alabama in 1924. By the time Benjamin took an internship for Du Pont Chemicals, The family name was respected throughout Onondaga County.
Ben Carr enjoyed his career at RIT for many years, but when he turned forty-eight years old, he had to endure the indignity all men face if they live long enough- a mid-life crisis. Rather than cheat on his wife, or purchase a magnificent sports car, Carr decided it was time to make a drastic change.
“What’s wrong, honey?” asked Martha McCormick-Carr, the professor’s wife.
“Hm?” Carr looked up from his delicious meatloaf, which did not taste so delicious this evening.
“Is something wrong, honey?” She said, a little slower.
“Oh, nothing, Martha,” his deep voice barely bubbling out of his mouth “just thinking about work.” And how he wanted to walk out of the lab, his students completely unaware of his departure.
He knew the University was concerned about his drifting attention, reminding him that he was a role-model for all the “Students of Color”, and putting him up on a pedestal, but it was wearing on his very last nerve. Awards for “Star Researchers” were just embarrassing. He looked deep into his mashed potatoes. It was definitely time for a change.
Rochester Institute of Technology is a school composed mostly of men. The boys at the school braved the long trek through the cold weather of upstate New York to make it to a restaurant, filled with televisions blaring sports broadcasts, eating Buffalo wings served by townies. Friday after Friday, the boys would challenge each other to eat spicier and spicier chicken wings, condemn the Division-I jocks doing athletic-battle on the television, and admire the waitresses. They insisted they liked the girls’ smiles best, but boys will be boys.
The next Monday, Carr’s second class of the day was all men, (his first class included three women studying for Chemistry Degrees) who talked –rather shamelessly- about their Friday.
“You made a total ass of yourself, Tim, the waitress walked up to the table and you were like this!” The sophomore dropped his jaw and opened his eyes as wide as he could. “You wonder why you can’t get a girlfriend, you can’t even order food!” Tim’s face turned red as the other students guffawed.
“Gentlemen!" Ben Carr raised his voice above the din. "We do have class today. Put away all of your Lit books, I don’t care how many pages you have to read."
“Tell me about it.” One student muttered. “I’m reading this Proust Novel for my lit class. I wish I could understand what he meant.” Not a surprising sentiment.
Ben Carr looked up.
“Use quick-notes, they’re free online.” One student suggested.
But Benjamin Franklin Carr was on the cusp of something… tremendous.
After the lab was completed, Carr drove his blue sedan back to his two-story home. He walked the porch stairs with light footfalls and opened the door.
“Hi, daddy!” His daughter Sally was doing her homework at the dinner table, just like she did before she started High School. She had perfect teeth, just like her mother, and perfect vision, just like her father.
“Good afternoon, Sarah”
“’Sarah’? Not ‘Sally’? What’s wrong? Did someone die?” It was a bit of gallows humor, and her sarcastic look was replaced with genuine fear someone died.
“No, Sally” he had corrected his nomenclature. “I feel quite alive.” He walked into his office, walking past all the awards and citations that his door concealed when opened, Sally looking on him with confusion. He began to leaf through his chemical suppliers catalogs.
Carr spent the rest of the school year enlisting the help of students for testing, each getting 50 dollars for their participation in his private experiment. They signed non-disclosure agreements to keep his plans secret, but they were so impressed by his plan, they could barely keep their amazement to themselves. At the end of the year, Professor Carr requested a yearlong sabbatical, which the dean permitted him, with some trepidation.
Carr then began to send samples of his product to major bookstore chains. They were sent back, untested. Carr then looked to a local bookseller, called “Brick City Books”. The proprietor, Jack Rogers was a bit of an eccentric, but he owned bookstores throughout Upstate New York. Soon, in “Brick City”, “Hudson River”, “Capital”, and “Lake George” Books, and more than those stores yet, a massive sign was posted in the window display:
NOW FOR SALE!
AS NEVER BEFORE!
Placed before the sign was a tray covered in books. All of these books were tiny, no larger than a customer’s thumb. When people came into the store, the clerk would offer a tray that rested on the countertop to customers. Incredulous, they picked up the tiny book, and discovered it to be made of a substance not unlike marzipan, but could not actually be opened and read. They looked closely, and found the title of the book printed on the side. After watching the clerk do so, they popped the book into their mouth, chewed cautiously, and were stunned by the results.
When a man in Albany picked up On the Road and his eyes bulged from their sockets, and he was unable to sleep for a week. Neither did his wife.
A college student in New Paltz ate a copy of Atlas Shrugged and spat it out, as she found it too bitter.
A minister in Elmira ate The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and wrote a sermon that set the record for largest-attendance throughout his denomination.
No one turned into a blueberry after eating Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The initial investment for these free samples could have been very costly, but the spectacle that surrounded those who first dared to eat the books brought publicity, and Jack Roger’s investment was paid back in earnest. Soon orders came pouring in, as a little chain of stores started mailing out tiny books to people across the country. Soon enough, Book Bites received sheepish calls from marketing departments in all the bookstore chains. Benjamin Franklin Carr was vindicated.
After a year, the business was booming, and people across the world were indulging in Book Bites. Students across the industrialized world were doing very well on book reports. Book Stores now sold book-flavored coffee –with the “Carr” Name across it- to their ever-trendy customers. Humanity had never tasted books so sweet. Book clubs across America gained weight as well as membership. But not all was peaceful.
The Federal Drug Administration had begun an investigation as to what Book Bites were made of. They had done very little recently, and needed to earn their paychecks. Ultimately, the FDA found the chemical composition fascinating, and determined that Book Bites were not a controlled substance, and there was no need to ban them. However, the FDA insisted that they belonged in the same class as cigarettes and spirits, so they would be taxed heavily anyway.
Various denominations wished to see Book Bites “print” Bibles, and were adamant about which translation they would be eating. Catholics feared they’d have an allergic reaction to King James, and no Pentecostal would stomach a bite of the New International Version. So, to take care of all, Carr printed none, and found protests outside the gates of his factory anyway, condemning his books as godless, condemning him as an atheist, homosexual, communist, mountebank, and pretty much everything nasty they could find in their thesauruses.
One morning in South Iran, an Imam sat to drink some tea as he read his newspaper. He was an austere cleric, and an expensive brand of tea was the rare luxury he allowed himself. He sipped his tea, which tasted a little… off. But not paying it mind, he drank it down. His eyebrows shot up, he bolted out the door, and proceeded to cough up the contents of his stomach. After washing his mouth, he called up a fellow Imam and discovered he had suffered the same embarrassment. People across Iran were expressing alarm, and sometimes amusement, to discover their favorite brand of tea had been spiked with The Satanic Verses. Book Bites’ main offices began to receive death threats to everyone working there and often to no one in particular. Carr received threats about the murder of his children. Obviously, the mailer obviously didn’t know him from Adam as Carr had only one child, but it galled him.
Then the press found out a man had a heart attack a week after eating a Book Bite. And that is how scandals are born.
With his good name being denounced by the press, the authorities and various faiths, Benjamin Franklin Carr took stock of his situation. He called a press conference to his offices in Rochester, and made his declaration.
“You can all go to hell.”
And so he walked back into his private office with slow and deliberate movements. The members of the pressed were left stunned in his wake. The next day, the entire establishment had closed. The offices were dark, and so was the factory where the Book Bites were manufactured. The Carr family disappeared. Three months later, Bookstores across the world began receiving packages from an address in Switzerland. The Book Bites were back, though were never again in such plentiful numbers as they once were.
And some people still believe Carr owes them an apology.