The Devil in the Magic Box

It wasn't until the livestock trailer was backed up to the open gate of the barn that I realized I didn't have the slightest clue how I might get a 1,300lb bull to climb inside. Tasty McGee was our grass-fed Holstein who, after a year of pasturing with the goats, had filled out and was bound for the slaughterhouse. Or, at least that was the hope. I tried coaxing him toward the trailer with a bucket of grain. He would follow obediently only to stop in his tracks just as suddenly. Tasty continued moving in fits and starts toward the trailer until he’d followed as far as the gate and would go no further. I pleaded with him. I damned his obstenence and told him great lies of the paradise that awaited if he would just get in the fucking trailer. I shook the bucket once more and cast a handful of feed across its steel floor. His nose twitched as he weighed his suspicion against his desire. Some thresholds were not worth crossing no matter the reward.

Defeated and frustrated, I went knocking on the door of my neighbor, Brother Amos. He was a dairyman, someone who communed with cows every day. He was also, like most of our neighbors, a Mennonite. These were Old Order Mennonites, so-called Black Bumper Mennonites on account of their practice of painting not only the body of their cars black but also any visible chrome lest they appear too boastful and worldly. They dress plain, the Brethren in beards and suspenders, their women in bonnets and dresses. In fact, I found myself sometimes describing our neighbors to others as “the Amish with a driver’s license.” They are a stoic and obliging people which is why I was grateful though not surprised when he agreed to help. Using plywood sheets as a sort of makeshift chute he and his 10 year old son had that hooved brisket in the trailer within 90 seconds. What did surprise me was when this man of the Church knocked on my door two weeks later, straw hat in hand, with a favor of his own to ask. He wanted help using the internet to buy what I understood to be, uh, well...not exactly a new hymnal.


These Mennonites have electric lights, but no television; telephones, but no radio. It’s a seemingly inconsistent set of dictates until you understand the reason why. “Anything that threatens to divide the family or disturb the community is forbidden,” I was told when I once asked. It’s the reason driving a car (albeit only a black one) is permissible, but first they will tear out the stereo. It’s the reason there is telephone wire in every house where an internet cable would be unthinkable. Our computer was their only window into a world online, a talisman that could pry open doors to rooms unknown, unseen, or worse, forbidden. So, occasionally when something required, or was at least made easier by the internet the congregants would come by. A computer mouse being a foreign thing to them I would drive while they sat co-pilot, witness to the wonder of a connected planet. In less time than it took to sing all six verses of Amazing Grace we could order brushes for a Milwaukee hammer drill, find an exploded diagram of an International Harvester hydraulic control valve, and find items of a more...personal nature. It was Eve’s apple made manifest.

It was late when Brother Amos came knocking. Or rather, it was late by the standards of a quiet farming community not given to drink. The children had just been put to bed.

“Evenin’,” he said when I opened the door, “reckon we can get on your computer?”

“Yeah. Sure. What are we looking for tonight?”

He stepped tentatively into the house and rubbed his palms together as if trying to form the very words with his hands. “Needing to get a vibrator.”

My wife, who sat reading a book on the couch, froze. Her face rose slowly to meet mine as her eyes swelled in absolute disbelief.

“I’m sorry?” I asked.

“Yeah, the wife and I are thinking on getting a vibrator.”

Mandy and I stood transfixed in a stunned silence as though the words he’d just said still hung there like some physical object, an improbable and scandalous curiosity.  

I groped for the words, but could only offer up a disbelieving, “You are, huh?”

“Yeah, we borrowed Brother Eli's and enjoyed it very much.” With this he held up his hands as if on a steering wheel at 10 and 2 and began to shake them vigorously saying, “Hmm, very relaxing.”

My wife grimaced, recoiling in horrified amusement.

“Well,” I paused, “um, so yeah, let's get you set up!”



We went into the office where I cleared some beer bottles from the desktop and offered Brother Amos a chair. If I’d had to venture to guess the most preposterous thing I would ever be asked to research for the Brethren this would never have even come to mind. I stared deep into the stark white of the Google homepage and began typing. I was praying for a lightening strike or anything strong enough to knock out our power as I entered the letters, “v-i-b-r-a-t-o-.” I stopped. I considered the considerable amount of explaining that was about to be required and held down the backspace button letting the cursor swallow the letters in reverse. Surely we had a misunderstanding.

“Do you know the brand name of what you’re looking for, or the model,” I asked begging for any specific that might narrow our search.

He thought. “Maxi Rub, maybe.”

I typed Maxi Rub into the search bar and paused again. What images was I about to answer for? Something discreet and innocuous like a bullet perhaps, or something for the uninhibited, a large, pulsating beast outfitted with straps and looking like some translucent butterfly being drawn and quartered? Dear Google, may your formulas be merciful.


And there it was. The Maxi Rub Vibration Body Massager is an ambiguously named tool marketed for a legitimately chaste purpose— “to relieve pain and bring circulation to shoulders, neck, back, legs, and feet.” Brother Amos gripped his lower back complaining of the soreness he’d been suffering lately.

“That’s the one,” he said.

It claimed to be the favorite massager of physical therapists, but given this country’s puritanical laws that still make the selling of “...any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs…” a crime in some states, and considering the coded language that surrounds such items I couldn’t be sure exactly what I was looking at. It looked like some kind of industrial sander capable of relieving pain, yes, but also inducing it. I looked upon the whole thing with some measure of skepticism.

“So, how many are we buying?” I prodded jokingly.

Brother Amos shifted in his seat. He sat staring at the Maxi Rub and pondered it for some time, weighing the purchase, weighing possibly things bigger than the price. “Well, like I said, we’re just thinking on it right now.”  

I nodded and printed off the page highlighting the company phone number for him in case he changed his mind. He folded the paper and slipped it into his shirt pocket before thanking me and leaving.

I don’t know if he ever made the call. I still don’t really know what his intent was. I do, however, know it was never mentioned again.

I also know that without a stereo in their house he and his wife could never have known the joy of slow dancing to the sweet, aphrodisiacal sounds of Nina Simone singing I Want Some Sugar in My Bowl. At least they have the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, “Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.” Which is basically the same thing.