I love old books. I love the look of them, the smell of them, the feel of them. It’s almost a fetish, except I don’t rub them all over my naked body. Much… Books are magical things anyway, but old books exude a kind of power that transcends modern protocols and mores. It’s for that very reason libraries are still places of mystery and imagination for me, more like temples of thought than warehouses. Sadly, they appear to be quickly going out of style.
For me, books still hold the answers to all life’s questions, even if those answers aren’t always correct. Many a book has been written by so-called experts who, over time, are revealed to be charlatans, or just plain boneheads. One of my favorite pastimes is perusing bookstores in search of such treasures. Real bookstores, not the slick chains that specialize in pop culture trends, or, gods forbid, booketerias… shudder. Real bookstores with real treasures. And, yes, I am very much aware that one man’s treasure is another man’s trash. I don’t care. I like what I like.
Which is why I possess such multifarious fare as “How To Attain And Practice The Ideal Sex Life,” by Dr. J. Rutgers (published 1940), “67 New & Appetizing Ways To Serve Sausage” (published 1931) and one of my favorites, “The Encyclopedia Of Ancient And Forbidden Knowledge” by “the dean of astrologers” Zolar (published 1970). Trash lit at its most unrepentant. Believe me when I say, these just scratch the surface. I’ve been a book hound since I was a teenager… but I digress.
Recently I was on one of my semi-regular pilgrimages to the local temple of nostalgic ephemera, The Whoopie Bowl – just on the other side of the New Mexico/Texas border, off I-10 – when I stumbled upon a wonderful find. There, tucked away on a shelf and buried under a stack of old newspapers and ratty Life magazines, was a booklet from the Pyramid Drug Co, dated 1904 with the somber title “How To Cure Piles At Home.” Yes, piles. Score!
Okay, I can hear the tone in your voice when you ask, “Why is that a score?” Simply put, it reeks of hyperbole and misinformation, kind of like an early version of the internet. It does so because it hails from a time before the feds cranked out legislation to prohibit the adulteration or misbranding of foods and drugs, not to mention false advertising. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, putting an end to unregulated products that made shamelessly untrue claims about curative qualities.
To find one of these little babies today is to look back on a completely different world. One in which Coca Cola was advertised as having health benefits and vibrators were said to cure hysteria. The miracle of the product advertised in this little booklet falls beautifully in line with the trend in its attempt to stem the “terrors,” “agonies” and “revolting nature” of “the insidious and treacherous affliction known to the medical profession as hemorrhoids and to people generally as piles.” It’s name? The Pyramid Pile Cure, of course!
This wonderful little time capsule contains such nuggets of nescience as: “When the disease has been allowed to progress for some length of time and has become established, some or all of the following symptoms will show themselves: Transient fever, hot skin, hard pulse, headache, dizziness, constipation, palpitation of the heart, loss of strength, dinginess of the skin under the eyes, bleeding or pain at stool, swelling of the face, hand and feet, pallor, dropsy, etc.”
Etc? You mean there’s more? Egads! It isn’t enough that these wretched rectal rimples can wreak havoc on one’s heart and head, but, gods forbid, the face too? Say it isn’t so! What then must we do to prevent such atrocities? Simple: “When these symptoms become noticeable the patient should lose no time in beginning treatment.”
Still not convinced? Well you certainly don’t want to delay too long, because “the unnatural formations will become tumorous and permanent and the inflammation will grow till abscesses form.” This leads to “cancerous conditions” in which “the disease burrows into the surrounding region, eating its way into the tissues, forming tubular growths which discharge pus, cutting through the walls of the rectum and causing general gangrenous degeneration, which the knife of the surgeon has shown, but which is by no means certain to cure.”
Good lord! People had to deal with some heinous afflictions back in ye olde days! It says so in the booklet! “Men and women do themselves gross injury and voluntarily undertake frightful risk when they neglect the first protests of Nature against improper conditions, the first appeals for help.” It’s a good thing products like Pyramid Pile Cure were available to beat those mutant ass goblins back into the more manageable disposition they occupy today. Whew. My modern ass thanks you, Pyramid Drug Co.!
Thanks to the Pyramid Pile Cure, and others of its ilk, “Surgical treatment for piles is a relic of past practice. It is barbarous in the extreme, the patient being subjected to fearful things, the laceration of the abdominal region, the twisting off of abnormal growths, the crushing of distended vessels by instruments. It is uncertain, for after all the horrible sufferings it causes, a cure is far from certain, for it reaches only the results of the disease, the false growths, etc. and fails to touch the cause.
“On the other hand, Pyramid Pile Cure goes to the root of the matter, striking at the primary causes, and at the same time immediately allaying inflammation and pain, and giving the patient the use of his body and time instead of tying him up for weeks or months in home or hospital, as a surgical operation must necessarily do. More than this, Pyramid prevents the return of piles. There is no such thing as a relapse after the treatment.”
How, you ask? How is it possible that this miracle is possible? Science, of course! “The Pyramid Pile Cure is a scientific compound of soothing and curative materials (tannic acid, zinc oxide, cresol, oil camphor, oil eucalyptus, oil of spike, lavender, spirits turpentine, thymol, camphor and perfume oils, petrolatum base), absolutely free from metallic poisons, which not only gives the patient freedom from pain and ease from suffering, but restores tone and vigor to the affected parts and builds up to normal state the broken down tissues.” Hoooowee! I gotta get me some of that!
Because if there is any doubt left in my mind concerning the absolute efficacy of this marvel of modern science, there follows four full pages of testimonials by REAL customers claiming their absolute freedom from pain, horror and sallow skin. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold. Or would have been, had I lived back then, when cancerous colonic kaiju could erupt from one’s fundament unprovoked and seething with malice and deadly intent.
And how, you may well be asking, does all this proctological patent puffery have ANYthing to do with the collection of old books? Just this: a reminder that one doesn’t have to be a “serious” book collector to have a compelling love for words. As Walter Mosley once said, “A man’s bookcase will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about him.” I love old books. I especially love old books that reveal truths long forgotten by our fast-paced technological world. They present the real élan vital of mankind’s journey – piles and all – and what bibliophile worth his collection recherché doesn’t see the worth in that?