Conductors and Motormen are Not to Be Blamed If They Get Grouchy as a Result of Their Daily Contact With These Pests.
Conductors and motormen come in for a lot of criticism.
But what about certain types of the citizenry which add to the gayety of nations on street cars?
There is the Knee-Leaner and the Crowd-Wiggler; there is the Strap-Scorner, usually of the gentler sex, who rather than go to the trouble of hanging on to a strap, prefers to wedge herself comfortably in between two or more persons, and there sway at peace, taking all the jolts nice and softly against one or the other of her neighbors.
Then there is the Tram Somnambulist, who, the instant he gets into a car, seizes a strap and goes into a trance. These Somnambulists are a very common variety, and when five or six of them go to sleep just inside the back door of the car, it is almost impossible to shove past them to the freer forward end of the car; and no amount of shouting by the conductor or jostling even by expert Crowd-Wigglers can disturb them in their trance.
Then there is the Foot-Flattener. This is usually a middle-aged or elderly lady. She staggers up the aisle of the car making every effort to tramp on men’s feet. And when she succeeds, she turns furiously and gives her victim a fierce glare, thereby making everyone else in the car think the victim had his feet sprawled out in the aisle, or even had deliberately attempted to trip her. This Foot-Flattener is a very strange type. You would think her trampling accidental unless you studied her. No doubt her vicious conduct could be traced, psychoanalytically, to an early disappointment in love, or to mal-feeding when an infant. It is a form of misanthropy, unquestionably.
There is also the anxious lady who in a crowded car works her way up to the front; six or eight blocks before her own stop, and there stands firmly fixed in front of the door. Everybody who has to get off at the intervening stops lines up behind her thinking she is going to get off, and only discover her to be one of the fifty-seven varieties of street car Whiffenpoofs when the motorman starts the car again. Then they fight their way past her, but it doesn’t make her stand aside. She is determined not to miss her stop.
But the Whiffenpoofs are not all ladies. Take the Knee-Leaners: Middle-aged men, who seem obliged, every time anyone crowds past them, to lean their knees against those of the person sitting in front of them.
The best procedure for a young lady who suspects she has a Knee-Leaner in front of her is to draw a hat-pin absently from her hat and hold it in her hand.
One of the worst types of men is the one who reads his paper as if he were in his study at home. He turns the pages, no matter how crowded the car. And anyone who does not lean away to enable him to turn the page is liable to get an elbow in the eye.
Then there is the hearty gent who looks like a contractor, who conceals a lighted cigar-butt in his hand. He does not smoke it. He just conceals it under his palm. And what is more deathly than the fumes of an expiring cigar – a contractor’s cigar?
Nor should the Ogler be forgotten, the smartly dressed man who on entering the car, carefully surveys all the ladies present and then seats himself opposite the prettiest one and proceeds to stare fixedly at her throughout the journey. Personally, whenever I see an Ogler, I go and hang on the strap in front of him and treat him to close-up of my coat buttons.
My favorite hate, however, is the expert Crowd-Wiggler, male or female. These are the ones who work their way slowly up the crowded car, picking the spots and the instants when the crowding is worst to heave themselves into it, and squeeze and squidge themselves amid the helpless strugglers.
Have we not been working in a wrong direction when we criticize the conductors and motormen? Are those ungentle ones among them not soured by daily contact with these many varieties of street car Whiffenpoofs?
Editor’s Note: A wiffenpoof is a generic term for an imaginary creature. You can tell in these very early stories that Greg used to take the street car to work.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 18, 1939.
“You can scare a man into generosity,” said Jim, and a policeman proved his point
“The most wonderful thing about human nature,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the way we all fall in line as soon as war is declared.”
“It wouldn’t be healthy to do anything else,” I pointed out.
“Now, don’t be cynical,” cautioned Jim. “In times like these, you should look for the best in human nature.”
“I think human nature never changes, Jim,” I submitted. “I think that those of us who are noble will act no more nobly now than we have always acted, and that those of us who are mean will act meanly now, as usual.”
“War brings the best out of us,” declared Jimmie firmly.
“And the best that some of us have got isn’t much.” I reminded. “You can’t change a greedy man into a generous man merely by asking him to be generous.”
“But we can scare him into generosity,” stated Jim hotly.
“That’s what I say,” I repeated. “It wouldn’t be healthy not to fall in line, in time of war. You have to pretend to be noble and generous and patriotic. But you would be surprised if you could read the hearts all around you, and see how men are plotting to get contracts, and scheming to get jobs and commissions in the army, not out of any desire to serve, but only because it is their nature, and their lifelong habit, to get as much as they can.”
“Most of us aren’t like that,” asserted Jim.
“Quite right,” I agreed. “Most of us are the way we are, just plain, patient people, without any startling talent, without any special ambition or drive. We have our joys and our sorrows. We love much more than we hate. We can rise to great heights of faith and patriotism, and we really give much more than we ever get.”
“That’s true,” said Jim. “One of the truest things you ever said. The vast majority of people really give far more than they get.”
“But when you admit that the majority of people are gentle and generous and friendly,” I persisted, “you must also admit that there is a percentage of them that are mean and greedy and crafty. They’re still here. Even with the war on, they’re still with us, and all the war in the world wouldn’t make them any different. So you see, war doesn’t actually affect human nature at all. All it does is emphasize the fact that the majority of mankind is fairly noble. Because the ignoble ones have, for safety’s sake, camouflaged their true character.”
Making Money By Accident
“That’s an awful view to take,” sighed Jim.
“Aw, Jim, think,” I protested. “Think of any mean, crafty, greedy guy you know. Think of him now. With the war on. In what way is he any different? Do you imagine for a minute that he has given up scheming and conniving? Do you think that now, having never done a generous or unselfish thing in all his life, he is suddenly going to offer himself up as a sacrifice?”
“I think war,” said Jim, “gives men the one great chance of their lives to make amends for a mean life.”
“It does,” I agreed, “but who takes that chance?”
“There were lots of bad actors in our war,” said Jim. “I can recall men who were regular ne’er-do-wells before the war who were heroes in the war.”
“It is not the ne’er-do-wells I am thinking of,” I submitted. “It is the always-do-wells. The guys who go through life, eternally alert, eternally alive to every chance, crafty, grasping, clever, selfish to the very core, who give only to get back treble, who are kind only when it pays. Those are the birds we’ve got to watch now. In the last war, they made millions. Somehow, we must see that they make not a cent this time.”
“How can we prevent it?” demanded Jim.
“By not assuming, as you did,” I stated, “that war changes the character of men; that in war, we all fall in line. Let us bear in mind every hour of the day that human nature does not change, and that those among us who have prospered by greed and cunning and hardness are not going to act any differently now.”
There are lots of prosperous men,” countered Jim, “who are not greedy and crafty.”
“If you are referring to you and me,” I said, “okay. Present company always excepted.”
“You’re a terrible cynic,” said Jimmie.
“No, sir,” I said. “I’m a poet. A dreamer. And when the war’s over, I am going to run for parliament and be prime minister. And the first thing I am going to do is seize all the banks and go through the ledgers. And every man who has made any money during the war, I am going to have a bronze statue made of him, a fine, lifelike image. In every city and town, all across the country, wherever these men live, these huge bronze statues will be set up. In big cities, dozens of them in a row. Their names will be inscribed in large, imperishable letters. And above them will be the legend, ‘They made money in the war.’ And on the first day of spring there will be a great public holiday and the school children will march through the streets of all the cities and towns, and gather at these mighty rows of brazen statues, and the little children will hurl mud at them and laugh and jeer at them. In this way, we shall learn more about war than if we had the little children lay wreaths upon the memorials of those of us who die in war.”
“Don’t you realize,” demanded Jimmie, “that some people can’t help making money?”
“By accident, sort of?” I queried. “Against their will, almost?”
“Aw,” cried Jim, “you’re unreasonable.”
“No,” I agreed, “all I say is, if one Canadian dies in this war, then everybody who makes money out of the war is taking money with a curse on it. Whether it be the red juice out of a big contract, or merely the greasy fat wages of munitions, that money will have a curse on it, and anybody who believes otherwise is just childish.”
“It’s you who are childish,” said Jim.
“All right, then, Man,” I submitted. “Go ahead and bury yourself still deeper under the curses of all the ages.”
“Then you’re another of these anti-war agitators,” accused Jim.
“On the contrary,” I stated. “I have never been in a war I liked better than this one. It is exactly the kind of a war all wars should be – a war in defence of those who cannot make war for themselves. All I say is, anybody who makes money out of war is an enemy, a rogue and a fool. Because every cent he makes is poison.”
“Suppose,” said Jimmie, “I had a million dollars right now …”
“Jim,” I interrupted him, “you’ve hit the nail right on the head. All you’ve got, you see, is your life.”
“Follow That Car”
Which was so subtle a remark that Jimmie sat perfectly silent beside me as I drove the car cautiously through the streets on our way home and I amused myself by thinking that if I had a million dollars right now I would give at least half of it away to honest patriotic enterprises, which would still leave me half a million dollars for myself.
And all of a sudden, right in front of me, a policeman leaped excitedly on to the roadway and held up his hand imperiously.
I jammed on the brake and pulled up the hand brake too.
“Quick,” commanded the cop, tucking his notebook into his coat tails, “see that black car just disappearing … there … turned north. Follow it!”
I shifted gears, slammed on the gas and the cop hung perilously with his arm in the window, standing on the running board.
“Gee,” said Jim, “maybe it’s a hold-up.”
But when you are suddenly commandeered by the law you do not waste time thinking. It is like war being declared. You just put on the gas and do what you’re told. I raced the old bus, paying no attention to the rules of traffic, whirling out past the middle of the road when I required, and tooting my horn haughtily at all the world to make way for me. It is not often a motorist gets a cop riding on his running board.
At the turn, I swung up the residential street, to see, now far ahead, the suspect black car, putting the distance between us.
“Give it to ‘er,” shouted the cop, outside.
So I gave it to ‘er, and we whirled furiously up the residential street, my horn warning children and bakers’ wagons and boys on bikes to stand aside.
“Watch ‘im,” shouted the cop.
And I saw the fleeing criminal turn to the right along a main traffic street.
“After him, after him,” shouted the cop outside. “Put some pep into it, buddy.”
Which I did, and Jimmie crouched lower and lower, making indrawn hisses with his teeth, and holding his hat on.
“Don’t wreck the car,” Jim muttered. “Suppose those guys are armed. Suppose they take a pot at us.”
“Don’t talk,” I growled. “I’m busy.”
“Don’t get too close,” insisted Jim. “Just keep them in sight. Then maybe he’ll jump off at a stop light and overtake them on foot.”
“Jim,” I said, very shocked.
“Hey,” commanded the policeman, “don’t waste time in blather. Put on some speed.”
So I put on another rush of speed, and in a long stretch of three blocks with hardly any traffic I gained almost a block on the fugitives from justice. It was some relief to me, the mere thrill of driving. It was some thrill for the cop, overtaking fugitives from justice. But to Jimmie it was merely trying to sit with a policeman’s elbow in his face, and feeling the lurch and swoop of a car that ordinarily jogs along very undistinguished, in the hurly-burly of traffic.
“We pay taxes,” said Jim, in a very mild, complaining voice, “and the police have all the cars they need. I don’t see why citizens have to…”
Whooop,” roared the cop.
And I saw, just in time, a car driven by a lady start backing out of a driveway. I swept the car around it in a breath-taking curve.
“Okay,” yelled the policeman, “now we’re gaining.”
And indeed we were. Only a block separated us from our quarry. The cop was shifting his position, as though getting ready to reach for his six-shooter, or to spring upon the pirate craft as I drew abreast.
“The shooting may start any minute,” said Jim, with a dry tongue.
“I’ll start swerving,” I gasped, “as soon as we get near. They can’t hit us if I’m swerving.”
“Don’t swerve any more than you’ve been doing,” said Jim. “I’d prefer a bullet to a lamp post.”
“One more burst,” shouted the cop.
I tramped the pedal right down to the floor boards. The old car, smelling of hot paint and scorched rubber and a kind of boiled oil, rose to the occasion and with a wild, final spurt, drew up almost on the tail of the fleeing car. Then I set my teeth, and, as we started to pass, I ran so close alongside I feared the policeman would be wiped off the running board.
The fugitive, instantly I drew abreast, slammed on his brakes. So did I. I cornered him. Driving cheek by jowl, inch for inch, slackening exactly as he slackened, I bore him into the curb.
In the other car, at the wheel, sat a policeman.
Our policeman was talking to him, through the window. He stepped from my running board to the other’s, and signalled me to draw in behind.
“I’m sorry,” said our policeman, coming around to my window. “It was a mistake in car numbers. I saw this car go whizzing by and I only caught a glimpse but it was almost the identical number of a stolen car we were looking for. Just a 2 and a 7 different.”
“Well,” I gusted, “well, well, well.”
“Thanks,” said the policeman. “You did a swell job. Thanks a lot.”
And he waved a cordial hand and dismissed us. He walked around the other car and got in the far door beside his colleague.
They drove off.
“Jim,” I hissed, “did you ever see such a sell!”
“Now, now,” cautioned Jim, “you’ve no right to think that.”
“That cop,” I declared hotly, “saw a friend go by and he just wanted to catch him. Maybe they were both going home, off duty.”
“Now, now,” admonished Jim. “It was just a coincidence. I have every sympathy with policemen who have to keep a whole raft of stolen car numbers in their head…”
“Don’t tell me,” I scoffed. “I tell you, we were commandeered. That bird just wanted to catch his chum. Maybe he just wanted to tell him a story. Maybe they’re both committee members for the Policemen’s Ball.”
“You have no right,” insisted Jim, “to suspect the police. I tell you, when our cop saw that car go whizzing by he had every reason to pursue it. What difference does it make that another policeman was in it?”
“Well, you’ll admit it was a let-down,” I complained. “After all that furious driving, not to have even a little excitement, no shooting, not even a scramble or a fight.”
“I was mighty glad,” declared Jim, “to see it was another policeman. Anyway, what business is it of yours who was in the other car. The law is the law. When the law wants your car, it takes it.”
“Still, it was a pretty tame ending to what might have been something to talk about,” I asserted.
“Well,” said Jim, as I let in the clutch to continue our humdrum way, “it was on way home. We’ll be home quicker than ordinarily.”
So we started to talk about profiteers again.
Editor’s Notes: There was a lot of anger over war profiteers after the first World War, so it would be a concern again at the very beginning of the next war.
Baker’s wagons were horse drawn delivery vehicles for bakeries. Now, he might have been referring to a delivery truck and just called it that, but some horse drawn delivery services still existed in the 1930s.
This story was repeated on October 23, 1943 as “Profiteers”.
This article by Merrill Denison from November 19, 1927, described how terrible Toronto drivers were, but how polite the police were, all in juxtaposition to New York City where he recently returned from. . It also references a 1927 campaign by the “Highway Safety Committee” of Ontario to encourage safe driving.
An advertisement (in French) of the safety campaign from the October 12, 1927 edition of Le Droit (an Ottawa newspaper) is below. It says “Will he get over the top?”, and indicates the sign “I’m for Care and Courtesy, Are You?” can be obtained at gas stations.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 16, 1935.
“Twice,” said Jimmie Frise, “in the past month, my Aunt Meggie’s house has been tried by burglars.”
“How tried?” I inquired.
“Well,” said Jim, “the first time, the dog waked the family with its barking, and they heard feet-steps running out the side drive.”
“It might have been the milkman,” I suggested.
“The second time,” said Jim, “the dog barked, and my Aunt Meggie sprang out of bed and saw two men vanish over the back fence. When they examined the doors and windows, they found a brand new jemmie mark on the kitchen window.”
“What’s a jemmie?” I asked.
“It’s a kind of curved cold chisel, a big one,” said Jim, “for prying up windows.”
“Twice ought to be enough,” I assured Jim. “Those chaps will give up, now that they feel they have been suspected.”
“Unfortunately,” said Jim, “my aunt is going away for several days, starting tomorrow, and she has asked me if I’d mind sleeping over at her place until she gets back.”
“What a curious request,” I supposed.
“My Aunt Meggie is a curious person,” explained Jim. “She thinks nothing of asking you for breakfast, and that sort of thing. She’s odd, but we all love her. So I guess I’ll have to sleep at her place the next few nights.”
“You’ll enjoy it,” I said, “being a family man. It will be a nice quiet holiday.”
“The house,” said Jim, “is one of those lonely places, out on the edge of the city. It just beckons burglars.”
“Leave the lights on,” I suggested.
“A very good idea,” agreed Jim. “But I was hoping you might suggest coming with me. You like adventure.”
“Could I bring my shotgun?” I asked. “The double-barrelled one?”
“Sure,” said Jim. “And get some buckshot loads. You could pot one of them even if he was going over the back fence.”
“Maybe we could trap them,” I supposed. “We ought to be able to think up some funny scheme for trapping burglars. How would you go about trapping a burglar?”
“Set a live wire across all the windows and doors,” thought Jim.
“I don’t mean to kill them,” I said, “And, anyway, haven’t you read about all the poor chaps that set loaded guns for traps? They always forget, sooner or later, and get shot themselves by their own trap. I mean something comical, but efficacious. Sort of like flypaper or something.”
“Or set a rabbit snare in the windows,” offered Jimmie; “that would catch them around the neck when they crawled through.”
“And come down in the morning and find a dead burglar strangled to death half way into the kitchen?” I remonstrated. “I think not.”
“Then what have you in mind?” asked Jim.
“Well,” I invented, “say a pail of purple indelible dye suspended over the window or door. And when the burglar came in, the pail would upset all over him. Then we could inform the police and have it printed in the newspapers that a man covered with purple dye was wanted. They have dyes now that a man could never get off in weeks of scrubbing. He’d practically have to be skinned alive to get it off.”
To Cure a Burglar
“A swell idea,” cried Jim. “Even if we used that dye so that he got it on his hands. That’s an idea for banks and all sorts of institutions. Indelible dye that would get on the hands of the criminal. He couldn’t wear gloves forever.”
“Another idea,” I went on, “is a sort of perfume bomb that would explode when the burglar entered. It would spray him with some terribly strong perfume, like skunk. The smell would follow him everywhere, no matter how he fled. All we’d have to do would be call the police, tell them the burglar is now escaping but is saturated with skunk, and all the night patrols would have to do would be cruise around the district looking for a man who left rich trail of skunk behind him. Even in a motor car he would be given away. If he succeeded in getting home, the neighbors would smell it for a day or two, and that would aid the police in their search.”
“Except for the fact that it would stink up my Aunt Meggie’s house,” said Jim, “I think it is a wonderful idea. It’s a wonder you don’t capitalize your ideas. I bet you could make a fortune thinking things up.”
“Oh, ideas come easy to some people,” I confessed, “but I have still more. For example, nothing is so terrible to a burglar as noise. I have often thought I’d like to rig up a sort of combination alarm, with empty garbage cans, fifteen alarm clocks, a siren, several bunches of those little lady fire crackers, half a dozen giant fire crackers, and a tray of old dishes and glassware. And the minute the burglar trips the alarm, everything would start going off at once. Bells ringing, shots fired, old dishes crashing, sirens screaming. I bet I could do more to cure a burglar than fifteen years in the penitentiary. Scare the very living daylights out of him. Make him a nervous wreck. Cure him for keeps.”
“How would you make it all go off?” asked Jim, breathlessly.
“With wires and fuses,” I explained. “Everything could be set out in a kitchen so that it would never be suspected. On the floor, under the table, on top of the kitchen cabinet. All stowed neatly around. And the minute the intruder bumped against an invisible cord the whole shebang would start. Boy, I’d give a thousand dollars to be there to see that burglar.”
“Let’s try it,” urged Jim. “Let’s try it out at Aunt Meggie’s. It won’t make much mess, will it? We could clean it up easily?”
“No muss at all,” I assured him. “A few fire crackers to sweep up. Nothing else.”
Half the fun of being an inventive genius is in getting the things ready. We got twelve feet of instantaneous fuse from a friend in the construction business. We got a truck horn, one of those blasting ones, from a wrecking company, and they fitted in with a switch that worked on a simple contact. Fire crackers are hard to get at this time of year, but we managed a good supply from a storekeeper who was saving them over, in his cellar, until the next 24th of May.
The night Aunt Meggie went out of town Jim and I moved in, bag and baggage.
We selected the kitchen of Aunt Meggie’s house for the scene of operations. It was a large and spacious kitchen and it had three wall plugs for various things like ironers and other electrical devices.
On top of the kitchen cabinet we balanced three large empty garbage cans, placing under the three a long wooden lath. This was my invention, too. So delicately balanced were the garbage cans that when the lath sprung it tipped the cans six feet to the floor. The lath was sprung by a common string attached to a flat iron. The iron, resting on a slightly sloping piece of board, was set within six inches of the large mouth of the big truck horn. So fierce were the vibrations of the truck horn that they caused the glossy flat iron to slide down the sloping board, drop into space, yank the cord, and the lath precipitated the cans to the floor with a magnificent sound.
The setting off of the truck horn was simply a matter of a small 15-cent switch attached to the trip cord.
The trip cord, plain, heavy linen thread, we strung criss-cross around the floor, a little above the linoleum.
The same switch that put the juice into the truck horn ignited three short lengths of instantaneous fuse, at the end of which were two gangs of giant fire crackers and one gang of little lady crackers, twelve festoons of them in the gang.
From Aunt Meggie’s cupboard we selected a couple of cracked plates, three glasses with chips out of the rims, a broken platter and other odds and ends that we were sure she would not miss. These we spread out on a big tin tray she had on the ice box. And, balancing it also on the top of the kitchen cabinet, we fixed it so the leaping lath would spill it even quicker than the ash cans.
“How about some bells?” asked Jim.
So after a little deep thinking we detached the wiring of the front door bell and connected it in on the horn hook-up. On a general tour of inspection of the house we found several small items, such as a rat trap, a Chinese dinner gong and an old parrot cage in the attic, standing on a tall single stem. This we rigged up to the flat iron in such a way that it would topple with a terrible crash to the floor, spilling its tin floor, its glass feed bowls and water troughs in all directions. The other items we worked into the general scheme, and last of all, about ten p.m., we screwed some little picture frame screw-eyes into the base board around the kitchen floor, six inches off the linoleum, and through these threaded a maze of linen thread in such a way that no burglar could step into that kitchen without bringing pandemonium loose about his head.
“Oh, oh, oh,” moaned Jimmie, who had been laughing for nearly an hour, as one by one the items were laid.
“I won’t sleep a wink to-night,” I agreed.
“We’ll have to be careful,” said Jim; “you sit at the front window and I’ll sit at the back, in the dark, and whenever we see anybody approaching we can psst and call the other a warning.”
“Suppose nobody comes?” I supposed.
“We can leave everything just as it is,” said Jim; “we’ve got four days. If the birds that have been trying to break in here are around they’ll notice by the look of the place that everybody is away.”
“Then to-morrow night,” I declared, “we won’t turn on any lights at all. We’ll just sneak in quietly after supper and sit in the dark. How’s that?”
“O.K.,” agreed Jim, and we turned off the downstairs lights, and I sat at the front window and Jim sat at the back, upstairs.
Sitting at windows in the dark, looking out on a lonely and deserted suburban street, is a patient business. Every little while Jim would tip-toe in to see me, or I’d tip-toe back to see him. We could not smoke at the windows.
“It’s just about midnight,” said Jim.
“Two or three o’clock is the usual time for burglars,” I confessed. “And I’m getting sleepy.”
“Let’s wait,” said Jim.
“Nice old house your aunt’s got,” I offered.
“She’s a great old card,” said Jim.
“Does she live here all alone?” I inquired.
“Oh no,” said Jim briefly. “She has a husband.”
“I never heard you speak of him,” said I.
“We don’t talk about him much,” said Jim in a low voice. “He’s a kind of a gambler and that sort of thing. Never had a job for twenty years. Aunt Meggie has the money.”
“Are they happy?”
“Kind of,” admitted Jim. “He goes off for days or weeks at a time, following the races and all that sort of thing. But he always turns up. He’s kind of the black sheep of the family.”
“Funny the way women marry men like that,” I mused.
“Aunt Meggie was the good-looking one of the family,” said Jim. “And had plenty of money. She married him because he was romantic looking.”
“Mmmmm,” said I.
So Jim crept out of the dark room and along the hall to keep vigil out the back window. The house was still, save the long tick-tock of a downstairs grandfather clock. The house was filled with the faintly sweet odor of old furniture, old pictures, old-fashioned things.
“Psst,” I heard him. “Psst, psst!”
Tip-toe, I hurried back to the room Jim was in.
Jim was staring out the window, and past his shoulder I looked down into the garden shadowed with bare bushes and hedges. Moving swiftly toward the back of the house was a shadowy figure, hurrying bent forward.
“Only one,” whispered Jim. “Oh, my gosh!”
Straining our ears to hear past the thumping of our hearts, we listened for the prying of the window. We heard a door close.
“Door!” gasped Jim.
But instantly the night was filled, the silent, echoing house was thunderously filled by the stupendous racket we had contrived. Jim and I clutched each other. The ash cans crashed, the motor horn set loose its awful raucous bellow, endless, endless; we heard the parrot cage crash and the fire crackers start a wild staccato firing, but from the midst of the hubbub rose a thin, shrill blade of sound, the steady screaming of a human voice.
“Boy,” gasped Jim, “that doesn’t sound very good.”
“It sounds like a woman to me,” I cried.
As we ran downstairs the sounds all died but the brazen bray of the horn and a few expiring fire crackers, plus the faint, silly tingle of the front door bell.
“Everything worked anyway,” I said breathlessly, feeling for the hall light switches which turned on the pantry and the kitchen.
“Catch him, unless he’s armed,” said Jim as we crept cautiously into the pantry. Or unless he’s gone.”
Jim kicked the swing door open, into the kitchen.
“Aunt Meggie,” he bellowed.
And there, breathing heavily, at full length on the floor, was an elderly lady, amidst the ash cans, parrot cages and smouldering red bits of fire crackers.
Jim leaped in and lifted her head to his knee.
“Aunt Meggie,” he cried, shaking her.
“What the dickens,” said Aunt Meggie, thickly, “was all that!”
“What are you doing here?” demanded Jim. The old lady drew herself into a sitting posture and surveyed the wrecked kitchen.
“Is Eddie here yet?” demanded the old lady sharply.
“No, I thought he was away with you,” said Jim blankly.
“Drat you,” said Aunt Meggie. “Drat me. Drat Eddie. Drat all burglars. And drat you, too, whoever you are.”
“This is Mr. Clark, auntie,” said Jim. “The newspaper writer, you know?”
“Drat him, anyway,” said the old lady, struggling. “Help me up, and what the devil is all this?”
“We set a burglar alarm,” explained Jim anxiously.
“So did I,” sneered Aunt Meggie. She was a peculiar old lady.
“You said you were going to be out of town for several days,” persisted Jim.
“Listen, James,” said Aunt Meggie, leaning on the table, “Eddie has been away three weeks on one of his periodicals. I got a post card yesterday saying he was coming home to-night. He always comes home the same way. Through that kitchen window. It wasn’t burglars made that jemmie mark a month ago. It was him, my husband. So I planned to have you stay here and I warned you against burglars so you would give him a warm reception.”
“My dear aunt,” said Jim, shocked.
“I hoped you would bring a gun,” said Aunt Meggie. “Or at least I figured you would rough-house him a little anyway before you discovered who it was. I’m tired of this business of his coming home like a burglar.”
“But where did you come from?” asked Jim.
“I’ve been hiding in the garden since nine o’clock,” said the old lady, rubbing her chilled muscles. “And I got tired waiting. So I came in.”
She sniffed, tearfully.
“But Eddie might have killed me for a burglar,” protested Jimmie, still shocked. “He’s a hard customer to tangle with.”
“You men,” said Aunt Meggie, and there were undeniably tears in her eyes now, “are all alike. You have no sympathy with a woman.”
“We’ll clean this up,” said Jim, reaching for an ash can.
“No,” she said, “get out. Go on home. You can’t do anything right.”
“I’m sorry, Aunt Meggie.”
“Go on get out; I’ll rid this all up.”
And when we drove down the dark suburban street we didn’t meet anybody headed home.
Editor’s Notes: A “jemmie” is another name for a crowbar.
Shooting someone at a distance with buck shot might not kill them, but it seems awfully dangerous to me.
Wood Laths are narrow strips of wood which were originally used as nailing strips for walls or ceilings in plaster lath construction, which was the common usage before drywall. Now, lath is utilized as the main component in the manufacturing of snow/beach erosion fencing.
Lady firecrackers are also called Ladyfingers fireworks, small tubes strung together, and sometimes referred to as noise makers.
There are, it is rumored, 5,081 life insurance agents in Toronto.
The 81 don’t know about me.
The other 5,000 have me in their pocket diaries as a promising prospect.
They come in to see me at the office, at home, in church, on the street car, at the club, on the street, in twos, fives, and tens. When there is a measles epidemic, or an outbreak of the Spanish flu in Honolulu, they pursue me in scores and hundreds.
For it seems I am of the blond, impressionable type, fearful of calamity, frightened of death, a family man – having all the qualities, in short, of the ideal insurance prospect.
There has been a great change in the insurance business in the last few years. It is a science now. There are magazines devoted to the science. You can read how to tell a prospect at a glance. How to read character in relation to selling. Whether to use the “scare-him-to-death” method, or the “appeal-to-his-widow” method, or just the plain hard-headed “investment” method.
You see, insurance hasn’t escaped the “science” bug that has got into the business world the last dozen years. There are no more insurance agents now. They are insurance salesmen, or life underwriters. Selling insurance is no longer merely a matter of a fellow with nothing else to do bothering the life out of all his relations and friends until they buy some protection.
Life Insurance is a SERVICE.
“I’ll be the best friend you ever had, if you take that policy.” says the modern insurance salesman, with the air of a grave but kindly tipster. “You’ll thank me all your life. I don’t want you to take out the policy. It’s nothing to me. But it is my duty to show you the value of insurance.”
Word must have leaked out that I was married, had a child, was buying a new house, and was going deer hunting.
In addition to that, I was classified at a glance as blond, impressionable, soft-hearted, soft-beaded, and immensely wealthy, because I wear spats to keep my feet warm.
Anyway, seventy-eleven life underwriters got on to my trail.
“I can’t take out any insurance,” I said with assurance, “because that baby of mine has set me back about five hundred dollars.”
“Aren’t you going to provide for that baby, in case anything happens to you?” retorted the underwriters, in gloomy voices.
“All the money I can scrape together is going into a new house,” I said, desperately.
“You should protect the mortgage with a life policy,” countered the salesmen, with hard glances. “If anything should happen to you, where would your wife live? Eh?”
“Happen! Happen! What’s going to happen to me?” I asked, with my healthiest expression.
“Ah, Bill,” said the one life underwriter, turning to his assistant, “remember that poor fellow we tried to sell that policy for $20,000 to? The one that died from the pip two days after?”
And then the senior drew a blue book out of his pocket and said:
“Are you aware of the number of hunters who are killed annually?”
What is the use of struggling against such science as that?
With my sidekick, Griffin, they use another method, the business man’s method. They never try any sentimental stuff on him. They can tell by the color of his hair and the shape of his nose that he would simply tell them to go to blazes and provide for their own wives. So they put it up to him as an investment. They assume he is saving so much per annum – quoting a figure five times as great as he is really saving. Then they show him how much better an investment insurance would be on the same terms.
One way or the other, it is a SERVICE.
Every insurance man to-day thinks his predecessors must have been terrible types. For if you talk to one of them long enough, ho Is sure to branch off from that SERVICE line to tell you of the high grade of men who are now going into insurance as a profession or calling.
And they are having a hard time with a public that still thinks insurance agents a nuisance They can’t seem to set it across on the public that SERVICE is the whole philosophy of the insurance man, and that the way to receive him is to welcome him with open arms and an open check book.
If they keep at it long enough, and keep stressing the fact that superior men are going into the game out of pure love of mankind, and if they to their shoes shined, finally the public will get over the old obsession that insurance men are trying to sell them a set of the works of Sir Walter Scott, complete in thirty volumes.
The last time we poked a little fun at the insurance boys, the entire underwriters’ origination of the world rose up in arms and protested against The Star Weekly, seventeen insurance publications, weekly and monthly, replied with what to the baseless slanders, and the number of salesmen calling on me increased from 2,700 to 5,000 – an increase of nearly 100 per cent.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 4, 1933.
“How,” asked Jimmie Frise, “do they make the hole in macaroni?”
“It is probably quite simple,” I replied.
“But think of it!” persisted Jimmie. “How on earth do they make that hole? Do they make the macaroni a solid stick, five feet long, and then bore a hole in each stick?”
“Maybe,” I suggested, “they make it flat and then fold it over and hemstitch it.”
“There is no sign of a hem,” said Jimmie, examining several strands of the succulent dish before us. We were, as a matter of fact, eating lunch up at Giacomo’s, a genuine Italian restaurant, where we go quite frequently to eat enormous quantities of macaroni or spaghetti served in a huge basin, garnished with minced and spiced meat, flavored with the nippiest Italian cheese and decorated with a flimsy scatteration of biting red pepper.
The reason we go up to Giacomo’s is on account of Jim’s intense and emotional sympathy with the farmers of western Canada.
Every time there is a piece in the paper about the huge mountains of unsold wheat in the west and the desperation of the wheat farmers Jim is filled with a savage hunger for macaroni.
“It is not the Italians who should be the great spaghetti eaters of the world,” he cries. “It is us Canadians. Spaghetti is pure wheat. If we could ever get the people of Canada eating spaghetti those pyramids of wheat in the west, which rival the Rocky Mountains, would vanish like snowbanks in the spring. And the farmers of the west would wax rich and fat. And the farmer being the basis of all our prosperity good times would come back.”
“About this hole in macaroni,” I said. “Now you’ve got me worried.”
“Well,” said Jim, “macaroni is made by squeezing dough through a lot of holes in a steel plate.”
“Yes,” I said. “And in each hole is a small plug which makes the hole in the macaroni.”
“Exactly,” said Jim.
“Well, then, what holds the plug in place? Does it just float in space?”
Jimmie paused and stared at nothing.
“H’m,” he said.
“If the plug were supported,” I went on, “the macaroni could not be got off the plug. For example, you cut the foot off your sock. Then you pull your sock on your foot and try to pull it over your head. You can’t do it. Because your leg, like the plug in the macaroni machine, is supported by being attached to your body.”
“Maybe It’s a Trade Secret”
“Maybe,” said Jim, “they shove the macaroni on to long rods, five feet long, and then peel it off.”
“That sounds too troublesome to me,” I said. “It would take all day to make enough for one meal of macaroni.”
“Well,” said Jim, lifting a forkful of it into the air, “there is a hole in it.”
“This is one of those mysteries of the commonplace that we ought to solve,” I said. “Let’s ask Giacomo.”
The waitress went and told Giacomo. Stout and dark, in his shirt-sleeves, Giacomo walked into the simple dining room of his little tavern.
“Gentlamens?” he said.
“How do they get the hole in macaroni, Giacomo?” I asked.
“Wit a masheena,” said Giacomo.
“Yes, but how does the machine work? We can’t figure it out. If it is a sort of plug, what holds the plug?”
“Dat’s it!” cried Giacomo. “Eet’s a plugga!”
“But how do they suspend the plug? What holds the plug in the hole?”
“Da masheena,” said Giacomo. “She do it. Oh yes!”
“But look here,” said Jim, taking his pencil out and starting to draw diagrams on the tablecloth. “Here’s a hole. They shove the dough through this hole. Now in the middle of the hole is a plug to make the hole in the macaroni. How do they support the plug? Is it a plug a mile long? And do they spend all day shoving the macaroni on the plug and then spend all night sliding it off the plug? Or how?”
“Listena, mist’,” said Giacomo, baring his teeth and making curving motions with his fingers clutching, “all my lifa I leeva wit da macarone, I eata da macarone, I sella da macarone, and I donta know yet how dey maka da hola. And you aska me, you, how you make da hola in da macarone!!!! Arrrrnnnnhhh!”
Giacomo stalked out of the dining room and back to the kitchen.
“Jimmie,” I said, “the mystery deepens.”
“Maybe it’s a trade secret,” said Jim. “Maybe it is a national secret and we are treading on delicate ground.”
“Well, I’m getting all jittery,” I said. “I’m going to find out how they make that hole or I won’t be able to sleep at night. The thing will keep popping up in my head all day at the most unexpected moments. It’s like a name you can’t remember.”
“I say we take it on faith,” said Jim. “There’s the hole. We know it is there. Why try to understand it? Take it as a fact.”
“Our function in life is explaining things,” I reminded him. “Suppose suddenly everybody in the world began wondering how they get that hole in the macaroni and they all went mad trying to figure it out. Wouldn’t we feel terrible?”
It Worries Thousands
“Are you suggesting we take a trip to Italy?” asked Jim.
“Maybe we can find a spaghetti factory here,” I said. And a gentleman at the next table who had witnessed our discussion with Giacomo, leaned over and told us there was indeed a spaghetti factory in the west end of the city, and he gave us the address.
On our way home that afternoon we drove past the address and saw a large red brick factory in which there were still signs of activity, so we drew up and went in.
The front of the factory was all packaging room and warehouse, stacked to the ceiling with boxes and cartons. To find the boss we had to mount the stairs to the second floor, where there were huge rooms, filled with a gale of wind from six-foot fans pulling heated air through close-packed racks from which hung millions of five-foot strands of every size and shape of spaghetti, from stuff not much thicker than a fishing line up to broad ribbons of macaroni, with no holes at all, but with scalloped edges. Millions and billions of strings of it, hung over long sticks suspended in racks, in the hot breeze of the flying fans.
“My goodness,” said Jim. “There are a lot of different styles.”
“There are a lot of different people,” said the boss, whose name was Bill. He was showing a rack of some hundred wooden sticks, each six feet long, and over each stick was draped a perfect row of macaroni.
“These are dry,” said Bill, sweeping a whole stickful into one compact bunch and then banging the curved ends, where they had hung over the stick, head first against a hardwood board. This broke off the ends and made each double stick two single sticks. “It takes three days to dry.”
“How,” said Jimmie, picking up a stick of the brittle, dry macaroni and peeking through it like a pea shooter, “do you get the hole in the macaroni?”
Bill halted and looked at us sadly.
“Is that worrying you, too?” he asked.
“It sure is,” I admitted.
“Because I have about fifteen people a week come in here to find out how we make the hole in the macaroni. It seems to be a lot of worry to people.”
“Will you tell us?” I asked somewhat feverishly, I am afraid.
“Certainly,” said Bill. “We do it with a plug.”
Jim and I looked at each other.
“How does the plug suspend itself?” I quavered.
“That’s it,” said Bill, “it just suspends itself.”
“May we see it?” I asked.
In a Blizzard of Dough
Bill led us downstairs and out to the back half of the factory, where there was the sound of machinery.
It was a big room. At the back, on a high platform stood the chef, the man who mixes the dough, in front of him a huge mixing vat with heavy blades revolving. Into this vat he was pouring pulverized wheat from bags and mixing it with water. Not flour, but fine ground wheat, such as we use for porridge.
The mixing machine mixed the flour and it was dropped through a chute into a big round kneading trough, eight feet across, in which a series of heavy steel rollers, with gouges in them like gears, wound round and round and kneaded the dough to a rich snow white pulp.
This dough was transferred high up into large cylinders, as big as barrels.
Slow machine pressure, 3,000 pounds, Bill explained to us, pushed this dough through the bottom of the cylinders which were steel plates with holes in them. The size and shape of the holes determined the size and shape of the macaroni. There were six machines going full blast, with fifty ribbons of macaroni and spaghetti streaming from each of them on to the knives of the men who cut off the strings at about five-foot lengths and hung them on the waiting sticks in racks.
“This machine is making macaroni,” said Bill, leading us up to one of the tall cylinders.
Two men work at the bottom of each cylinder, and it keeps them busy slicing off the quickly falling strings in bundles of fifty to be spread along the drying sticks.
“See the holes?” asked Bill.
Yes, we could see the holes. Out of that steel plate with its fifty holes at the bottom of the cylinder full of dough kept flowing fifty strings of macaroni, and in every string was a perfect round hole.
Jim and I got down and looked up at the plate. But as fast as the attendants cut it off, the fresh strings appeared, and all of them were perfect tubes.
“What holds the plug?” I asked narrowly.
“The plug is suspended from above,” shouted Jimmie triumphantly. He got down lower and closer to take a clear, sharp view. The two attendants had to stand aside to let him crouch down under the machine to look up at the plate.
Before you could say Jack Robinson, or even Jimmie Frise, the quickly flowing strings of macaroni had reached the floor and were suddenly coiling around, whipping and curling.
“Look out, Jim!” I shouted.
Jim gave a startled leap, slipped and fell amidst that coiling blizzard of macaroni.
“Ha, ha,” laughed Jimmie, disarmingly. But it was no laughing matter. He vanished in about one second amidst a sort of volcanic eruption of macaroni. Bill and I leaped to his rescue, and the two attendants started hacking with their big knives.
I felt in amongst the macaroni and got hold of Jim’s arm. I heaved, but slipped on a quickly moving river of macaroni.
“Boys,” shouted Bill to all the men at the other machines. “To the rescue!”
They came leaping to our aid, waving their long spaghetti knives.
“Turn off the power!” yelled Bill.
The machines were silent, as we staggered around in the mound of macaroni, feeling for Jim. Sometimes we would think we had him, and then it would turn out that Bill had my leg or I had Bill’s arm.
“He’ll smother,” I cried in anguish.
“No, there’s breathing holes in macaroni,” gasped Bill. “Thank goodness it isn’t spaghetti!”
Furiously we hunted and heaved slithered and fought, and then we found dear old Jimmie, looking a little defeated, with his hat still over one eye, where had struggled, against all odds, to the foot of the machine, to which he was clinging grimly with his eyes shut.
We stood him up and wiped him off and worked his arms and legs until he was breathing normally.
He gazed around at the scene.
“Goodness,” he exclaimed, “look at all the macaroni I’ve wasted!”
Up on a platform, from a small office above, a man in a white uniform stood watching us.
“It’s all right,” he laughed. “I’ve just tested that batch and the dough was too thin. I was condemning it to be thrown out anyway.”
“Too thin,” cried Jimmie. “It weighed a ton!”
“Now,” I said, “would you be kind enough to show us how that plug is suspended in the holes?”
So Bill took the die off the bottom of the cylinder and showed us the trick. It is a simple little thing. The hole through the steel plate is of two sizes. Next to the dough it is big, and in that big hole sits a three-bladed plug that tapers to a small round single plug. The dough is pressed past the three blades in the large hole into the smaller hole below, just the size of macaroni, and in that smaller hole hangs down the smaller round end of the three-bladed plug. And that makes the hole in the macaroni.
“Like everything else,” said Jim, when he saw it, “it is so simple. There isn’t a single invention that has advanced human happiness that is not so simple it is absurd Adam didn’t think of it in the garden of Eden.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but it wasn’t macaroni Adam got tangled up with in the garden of Eden.”
Editor’s Notes: This is one the the very early stories when they have not fallen into their routine, and almost reads like a news story instead.
At this time, Italian food was still considered “exotic”, and pasta was not a standard meal in Canada. Note they seemed surprised at the different kinds of pasta beside macaroni and spaghetti. You also see them eating it at a restaurant as it would not have been common for non-Italian Canadians eating it at home.