"Greg and Jim"

The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Buy Low, Sell High!

He looked Old Maud over, with one lightning glance, the way David Harum1 used to look over a horse.

Jim, with the help of Greg and a few friends, works out a plan to beat the used car dealers at their own game. But…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, April 24, 1948.

“I’ve decided,” announced Jimmie Frise, “to sell my car.”

“Jim, you’re crazy!” I exclaimed.

“No: I’ve just decided I’m smart,” he declared. “I’m going to cut the price of my new car by $6002.”

“But you told me last night,” I protested, “that the car dealer said he couldn’t get you a new car until August or September.”

“Precisely,” agreed Jim. “The fact that summer is almost here, plus the extreme shortage of new cars, is what accounts for the fact that I can get $600 more for my old car than it’s worth.”

“You mean,” I cried, “that to make $600 you are going to do without a car all summer?”

“With a little co-operation from you,” admitted Jim, “that’s what I’m going to do.”

“Co-operation?” I queried.

“Yes,” said Jim. “You see, you are away at your summer cottage for two weeks in July, during which time your car stands idle in a tumble-down old rented garage up at the Landing. I figure you wouldn’t mind letting me have the use of your car during those two weeks…”

“Jim,” I interrupted. “There’s May, June, July and August…”

“Correct,” said Jim, “I’ve telephoned three or four others among my friends, checking their holiday schedules. There’s Bumpy and Bill Sparra and Harry Wilcox. They’re all taking their holidays at different times through the summer. And it so happens they are going to summer hotels up the lakes, where they abandon their cars, at the end of the highway, having to pay rent for garages…”

“Jim, look here,” I cut in sternly. “Use your common sense. How are you going to run all over the country, borrowing people’s cars?”

“It will be fun,” assured Jim. “It will be sort of like a holiday in itself. For example, when you go up to your cottage, I’ll go with you and drive your car back here and use it for the two weeks, bringing it up to the Landing the Sunday you are coming down. See?”

“But…” I began.

“You’d far rather,” cried Jim, “leave the car in my care than leave it in one of those baking summer resort garages, where anybody can break in!”

“I suppose that’s true,” I grudged.

“At any rate,” he announced, “if I sell my car now, at top prices, I get the new car for hundreds of dollars less, don’t you see? I bet I wouldn’t get $300 for it next September when my new car is ready. Yet I saw the same year and model as my car up at one of those used car lots for $900.”

“Surely not!” I scoffed. “Nine hundred dollars?”

“It’s a fact,” cried Jim. “I’ll drive you up and show you.”

“Still, to be without a car all summer,” I brooded, “is a pretty serious matter, Jim. In a sense, it’s really for summer – for the five months from May until October – that we own cars, most of us.”

“Exactly what has created the present market for used cars,” pointed out Jim. “The way to make easy money in this world is to take advantage of the weaknesses and needs of your fellow man. You’ll never get ahead in this world if you just work for wages or salary all your life. My new car next fall is going to cost $1,700. By taking advantage of the present market, as well as the good nature of half a dozen of my friends, I will buy that car for only $1,100. That’s what you call business.”

“You run certain risks,” I reminded him. “Suppose you crack up one of your friends’ cars?”

“I run that risk driving my own old jalopy,” countered Jim. “In fact, I will be far more careful driving your car and Bill Sparra’s and Harry Wilcox’s than I would my own. Every way you look at it, it’s a wise and shrewd move on my part.”

“Jim,” reflected, “there is a moral aspect to this business. If you did without a car all summer, that would be the price you pay for that $600 you are going to make. In other words, to earn $600, you sacrifice your car for the summer.”

“Are you hinting,” inquired Jim, “that you don’t want to lend me your car, when it’s lying idle anyway?”

“No, no!” I hastened. “I just feel there’s something immoral about this used car racket, selling old jalopies at outrageous prices, just by taking advantage of the widespread desire to drive cars in summer. If you were going to do without a car for the summer suppresses that natural desire, why, the $600 you would make would look quite so… so…”

“What I say,” declared Jim, “is, make use of every advantage in this world. Among the advantages we possess are a number of fine friends who would be glad to lend me their cars for a couple of weeks, partly for the sake of friendship, partly to see me make $600; and partly to save them the rent on those tumble-down summer resort garages where goodness knows what might happen to your car…”

“Okay, okay,” I surrendered. “And it will be $600 that won’t show in your income tax, Jim. I suppose the smartest guys in this world are the traders who make deals like this all the time. We salary and wage earners are the suckers.”

“I’ve been a sucker long enough,” said Jim, rising and pulling down his vest and lighting a cigarette with a very big-executive flourish. “It will give me a new self-respect, next fall, to be driving around in a car that cost me 600 bucks less than those of all the suckers I pass in traffic. Do you want to come up with me while I shop around and make the sale? Do you know any of these used car lot pirates?”

“The fact is,” I replied, “not only do I not know any of them, I’ve never seen any of them. I’ve looked at hundreds of used car lots in passing, but now that I come to think of it, I’ve never in my life seen anybody around them. Just a great big corner lot packed with motor cars sitting there. And no human inhabitant in sight.”

“Oh, they’ll be there, all right,” assured Jim. “They hide at the back, somewhere.”

So we went out to Jim’s garage and took a last look at Old Maud, Jim’s faithful schooner for more than 10 years. Many’s the thousands of miles it has carried us on fishing trips and hunting trips. Many’s the $10, $20 and $50 it has cost to have its engine overhauled, its brakes relined, its clutch repaired. Many’s the thousands of dollars’ worth of gas its rusty old engine has inhaled in our service.

“I’ll just get a pail of water and a rag,” said Jim, “and give her a wipe.”

While Jim was sponging off the exterior of Old Maud, he had me, with a whisk-broom, tidying up the interior, from the trunk compartment, I removed sundry personal odds and ends, such as a set of rusty chains, an old shovel and an accumulation of ancient car tools that had shaken themselves into out-of-the-way corners of the compartment.

“No wonder she’s rattled,” remarked Jim, as I passed him carrying an armful of salvage toward the garage. Jim sponged off the body, fenders and windows; and I took the hose and tidied up the wheels and spokes. Little by little, Old Maud took on a genteel if shabby expression. We hadn’t seen her so clean in years. But just the same, her scars showed more clearly.

“It’s better, perhaps,” pondered Jim, as we stood back and surveyed the old schooner, “not to tidy up an old car too much. It only accentuates its age, like cosmetics on an old woman.”.

“Anybody,” I stated, “who would pay $900 for an old crock like that is nuts.”

“Not nuts,” smiled Jim, patting the wobbly hood, “just summer madness.”

“Do you feel any twinges of sorrow on bidding goodbye to an old friend and faithful car like this?” I asked.

“Aw, no,” said Jim, lightly. “Some cars, like some people, can live too long. Come on. Let’s get it over with.”

“You won’t sell it right tonight!” I protested.

“If I get a decent offer, I’ll sell right now,” said Jim.

“But what about the family? Are they reconciled to being without a car?”

“I’ve explained the whole deal to them,” said Jimmie. “And they all are in complete agreement. I’ve promised to allow them $5 a week for taxis, in special cases of emergency. Then I figured you wouldn’t mind lending me your car once in a while, for special occasions…”

“Mmmmm,” I reflected.

“I’ve suggested the same to Bumpy and Bill Sparra and Harry Wilcox,” went on Jim. “The family figure we’ll be a lot better off, for a while, than we’ve been with Old Maud here.”

Jim waved me into the car and stepped on the starter. Old Maud’s starter whined and whimpered, and finally the engine exploded into life, and the usual fumes belched up through the worn matting on the floor boards.

“I’ll take you first,” shouted Jim, “to the place they have this same model at $900.

A few blocks away, we arrived at the large used car lot of McGrigor, Mortis & Co. A big banner over the entrance bore the company’s name and the legend: “Highest Prices Paid.”

Along the front of the lot, there was an array of the handsomest new cars you would see even at a motor show. Resplendent, shining, glittering, none of them showed the slightest sign of having been used at all. But as we drove in the lane, we saw that back of the glittering cars were close-packed ranks less glittering cars. And farther back still, were rows and rows of cars that didn’t glitter at all. These most backward ranks of cars all had prices painted on the windshield with whitewash. $375 or $500 or $625. Only the shabbiest cars had the indignity of prices painted on them.

Sure enough, as we drove down deep into the lot, a man emerged from a little shack and came toward us cautiously.

“Mr. McGrigor?” inquired Jimmie heartily, out the car window. “Or Mr. Mortis?”

“Neither,” said the gentleman. “They’re both in Florida. What can I do for you?”

“I was thinking of selling this car,” said Jim, as though in doubt.

“You might get somebody to buy it,” agreed the gent.

“What would you give me for it?” inquired Jim.

“How much do you want for it?” countered the used car man.

“Well, you’re the buyer,” smiled Jim. “What would you offer?”

“No, I’m not the buyer,” smiled the used car man, “I’m only interested in selling cars. How would $250 catch you?”

Jim was stunned.

“Two,” he croaked, “fifty!”

“That’s all it’s worth to me,” said the used car man.

“But…” sputtered Jim, “right over there is the same model as this offered at $900!”

“Aw, sure,” said the used car man, “but that car has a new engine in it and only two years ago it had a new transmission and rear end. We’ve put a lot of work on that, the same as we would with this if we bought it.”

“Two fifty!” fumed Jim. “Why, I’ll sell it privately, I’ll advertise it…”

“Sure, sure,” laughed the used car man, “and in about a month, the buyer will be back with it, saying you misrepresented it; and he’ll sue you unless you give him back $400.”

“Do they sue you?” demanded Jim bitterly.

“Aw, no,” explained the used car man. “We do a lot of work on the cars we take in. And in the contract of sale, we make mention of all the work done, see. How about $250?”

Jim did not answer. He backed Old Maud out the lane, and in silence we drove back home.

As he turned off the ignition in the side drive, Jimmie spoke for the first time.

“Imagine,” he said tenderly, “imagine selling a faithful, wonderful old car like this for $250!”

He patted the seat affectionately. He ran his hands lovingly over the steering wheel.

“Next fall, when the new car is ready,” he said. “It will break my heart to part with her.”

“At that price,” I added.

“You have no sentiment,” accused Jim.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. David Harum references a movie (and book) about a businessman and a horse he purchased. The story is known more today for the racist stereotype played by the black actor Stepin Fetchit. ↩︎
  2. $600 in 1948 would be $8,480 in 2024 ↩︎

Oh, To Be Poor or Safe in Jail Now That the Income Tax is Due!

April 19, 1924

By Gregory Clark, April 19, 1924.

Residential Streets Deserted These Evenings, While the Children Are Put to Bed and Dad Struggles With His Tax Forms – If You’re Puzzled Lots of Your Clever Friends Can Help You.

O to be in jail, now that April’s here! O, to be a bachelor, earning about eight hundred dollars a year!

Blessed are the poor, for they don’t know what income tax forms are.

Do you know why the dominion government set the last day of April as the date income tax forms have to be in?

To save population. If the tax forms had to be made out in the dismal month of November or in the heat of the summer, hundreds would be jumping out of upstairs windows or running amok in the streets screaming: “Four per cent, less allowance for normal tax, on dividends, plus amount of surtax forward from No. 35 (ii). OO-wah!”

The next few evenings you will notice the streets deserted. The little children will be banished to bed. There will be no ratepayers out gardening. No voters ring gladly underneath their cars in the side drive. Save for the song of the robins, the gorgeous April evenings will be desolate.

Papa is indoors struggling with his income tax forms.

It’s a pity the ratepayers’ associations haven’t Instituted evening classes in the public schools during April to have chartered accountants give a course in “Mathematics for Taxpayers.”

“For once set out on paper, the whole thing is very simple,” says Hugh D. Patterson, dominion inspector of taxation for Toronto district. “Like any rules, the tax regulations have a formidable look. Tell the public that we have a special staff of men put on for the sole purpose of explaining the regulations to them, and if they strike difficulties, to bring them to the tax office and we will make their forms out for them.”

Mr. Patterson, who is not an, aged, grizzled and fearsome official like a Roman governor, but a young man with black hair and black eyes and an awful understanding of the most obscure things, and who can calculate fractions of fractions with an ordinary pencil, has made out two samples for the guidance of the poor rich.

Here’s the Way to Do It

People with moderate incomes have no trouble. It is the people with incomes over five thousand who need sympathy.

“So here are two examples, worked out step by step. If everyone follows these diagrams, step by step, they will come out all right.”

And, gentlemen, get your scissors. these in your hats. Here they are:

“Remember this,” added the inspector.

“The surtax is figured on your total income, if it is over $5,000, regardless of the other tax, regardless of your family, or dependents. Marital status has nothing to do with the surtax. The trouble is, to keep these two taxes separate, in your mind. Work out the normal tax, as shown. Then work out the surtax as an entirely different proposition. Follow the diagram.”

Much of the trouble people have is in not knowing their exemptions. Single men, as a rule, don’t know that they are exempt the two thousand if they have a dependent parent, grandparent, sister or, if over twenty-one, a brother mentally or physically incapacitated and totally dependent.

A single man who has one child dependent on him is exempt only the $300. A widower with one child, is exempt as a married man, as well as for the child.

All speculation is exempt. If you lose five thousand dollars on a speculation in oil stocks, your regular business being a clerk in an office, you are not exempt for the loss. If you win five thousand, you don’t have to include that in your earnings for the year.

But if you win a million dollars selling the government some bonds – that isn’t speculation – that’s business. And you have to include it under the head of commissions earned.

The main thing is, don’t guess. Call up the income tax office or go in and see them.

One Toronto man, in clearing up his wife’s estate after her death, made the discovery that she had never rendered an income tax return. He could not get an order to distribute the estate until he had satisfied the tax department. He had then to make out tax returns for every year since 1917, pay penalties for each year she had failed to make a return, and from 1920 on had to pay ten per cent. tax on the estate, interest accruing, for her failure to declare.

That estate, a good one, paid a handsome sum into the government.

No earthly excuse will be accepted for failing to render your tax return on or before April. 30. If you go on May the first and tell them that yesterday you were knocked down by a street car and were unconscious the whole of April 30, they will take the greatest sympathetic interest in your story, but it won’t save you the five per cent. of the tax penalty which the law calls for.

No Excuse For Anyone

One Toronto man, wealthy, was in Florida and was having such a good time he forgot all about taxes. He paid a penalty that equalled the cost of his trip to Florida. Another man was at sea, on his way home, on April 30. He had to pay the penalty.

“No excuses are provided for in the act. Therefore no excuses exist, as far as the department is concerned,” said Mr. Patterson.

A man was in hospital for several weeks before and after April 30. He was undergoing operations and was near death’s door. Nobody thought about income tax returns. But he paid the penalty just the same as the careless man. Nobody gets away. Professional entertainers, the great musicians and artists who only come to Toronto for a visit of twenty-four hours pay taxes on the income of an hour’s singing. Massey Hall makes its return of money taken in and paid out. The government writes to the artist’s agent in New York – and to make future visits possible the artist comes across with her tax.

People who are leaving the country for good are usually Interviewed before their departure and taxes are collected. There are various ways the department gets word of their intended departure – often a letter from a neighbor.

The government has actually collected taxes from bootleggers, as such. That is, the department reads in the newspaper of a conviction of someone as a bootlegger. Looking up records, they note no income recorded. So they pay a visit to the convicted party and demand to see his bank books. They examine back records of the bank account. They demand a proper income return. And the bootlegger, alarmed at the possibilities of prosecution, renders returns on his ill-gotten gains.

“The policy of the department,” said Mr. Patterson, “is to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, as far as prosecution in the courts is concerned, until the act has been in force long enough for everyone to thoroughly understand it. We do come across many cases where returns have not properly been filed. All we do is secure the return and collect the money, with full penalties exacted., We do not often prosecute. But instructions are likely to be promulgated at any time for a tightening up of the regulations, and prosecutions will be in order.”

A final instruction is this: no one knows better how to make an income tax form than people who don’t have to make them out. If you have one of these amongst your friends, get him to make yours out.

“Consider the Lily!”

April 20, 1935

Every Great City

“Hey,” came a voice from the little hill above us. A figure was silhouetted there. “What’s goin’ on?”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 17, 1937.

“Every city,” said Jimmie Frise, “should be forced to have a great tract of farmland, 40,000 acres say, somewhere not far from its boundaries.”

“So what?” I asked.

“Instead of families going on relief,” explained Jim, “they would go to the farm. Instead of packing the city with unhappy and unfortunate people, you would transfer them to dwell and labor amidst the healthy country.”

“Jim,” I admired, “you’ve got something.”

“In proportion to its size,” went on Jimmie, “each city and town would have to purchase and maintain, somewhere not too far from its limits, a tract of farm land, so many acres per thousand of population. This would be a civic farm, organized as a part of the city’s interior economy.”

“With a city commission,” I suggested, “like the parks commission or the waterworks committee, managing it.”

“Precisely,” said Jim. “On the farm would be a central headquarters building with offices. Scattered strategically over the very large acreage would be the barns, implement houses, stables, greenhouses and so forth. And, in proportion to the need, a large number of beautiful little farm cottages of various sizes, each with its little sheds, hen houses and so forth.”

“How beautiful,” I agreed. “With morning glories on the south walls.”

“In addition to the individual farm cottages of various sizes,” pursued Jim, “there will be central large residences for single unemployed men and single unemployed women. With recreation rooms, libraries and so forth.”

“Like the Y.M.C.A.,” I offered.

“And the Y.W.C.A.,” agreed Jim. “Now watch what happens. A family applies for relief in the city. Instead of being given a measly handout once a week, instead of being driven from pillar to post in the brief, sure and certain decline down hill toward the slum, this family is transferred to the big farm. Baggage and all.”

“Go on,” I begged.

“On arrival,” said Jim, “they will be assigned one of the farm cottages. They will report to the headquarters offices for examinations as to their fitness and qualifications for the various jobs. A farm needs many kinds of help beside plowmen or milkmaids. It needs carpenters and roadmenders, horse- shoers and harness makers.”

“Oh, boy,” I confessed. “I see it.”

“The farm being run,” explained Jimmie, “by expert managers from the agricultural college, and the work being done by squads and platoons under farmer foremen, the man of the family will be assigned to the type of work to which he is suited. The wife will mind the house and some chickens and a small garden. The children will attend the farm’s splendid modern schools.”

“Russia couldn’t beat this,” I declared.

To Turn the Tide

“Work would not be excessive,” said Jim, “especially at the start. Each night there would be regular serial lectures going on in the headquarters’ building, lectures for beginners on the rudiments of farming, advanced lectures for those who had been on the farm some time.”

“Pretty educational,” I demurred.

“Oh, no,” said Jim. “There would be a movie theatre, a dance hall, library, churches, clubs… headquarters would be quite a large model village.”

“And they could run down to the city,” I asked, “whenever they liked?”

“Certainly,” said Jim. “They would earn wages for their work. The farm would be a straight business proposition. Its produce would be marketed in the stores the same as any other farm produce.”

“A farm with a sales manager?” I offered.

“Certainly,” said Jim. “Lots of unemployed salesmen will turn up at the farm. But the great thing about this idea is that it will turn the tide. It will start people, who are unsuited to city life, back toward the land. For years and years, people unsuited to farm life have been moving into the cities. This has been made easy for them, because there are all kinds of organizations for training country people for city life. The big stores operate training schools. We have great technical and commercial schools for teaching people, both day and night, how to do city work. But we have no organization at all for teaching city people how to live on the land.”

“This would really be a back to the land movement,” I agreed.

“That’s the whole secret of it,” said Jim. “We talk about going back to the land, but there is no way of going back to the land except by going. And darn near perishing in the attempt. The civic farm is the solution. Those unsuited to city life will be naturally selected, because having failed to make the grade in the city, they apply for relief. That is the selection. They are then sent to a managed farm, with every kind of farm work to be done, from cattle raising and dairying to market gardening and poultry raising; and all the mechanical features of farming. They are initiated into the land. They come at it as pleasantly and cheerfully as farm people come to the city.”

“Still,” I said, “I know some people on relief who wouldn’t leave the city for a million dollars.”

“As there would be no relief,” explained Jim, “they would simply have to go to the farm. Then if they hated the farm so badly, they could do the other thing: they could work up enough energy to get a city job. And keep it. But no relief.”

“But there will always be misfits,” I argued, “who can’t fit either into city or country life.”

“My scheme.” said Jim, “would identify those cases, clearly and unmistakably. Such people could then be enlisted into special battalions. Sort of labor corps. It isn’t their fault they are misfits. But it isn’t our fault either. So why should we have to carry them? If they won’t fit either into city life or country life, then we enlist them, automatically.”

“It isn’t freedom,” I protested.

“It isn’t for them, but it is for us,” said Jim. “That’s the thing we have to face sooner or later.”

“After all,” I confessed, “there really aren’t many misfits. Mostly it is because there isn’t a chance to fit.”

“The civic farm provides the chance,” declared Jim. “I bet thousands of families and single men and women will graduate out of that civic farm on to the land, successfully. As soon as a family has demonstrated its fitness to go on to the land on its own, then government back-to-the-land schemes can be invoked.”

A Complicated Problem

“It’s a swell idea, Jim,” I sighed, “but the farmers will prevent it.”

“Why?” demanded Jim.

“They don’t want the cities spreading trained farmers all over the country in competition,” I explained. “Farmers look on cities as places to send their children to make good. And besides, they find the market for farm produce bad enough as it is without great civic farms pinching the best market in every community.”

“Farmers can’t prevent cities from setting up civic farms,” retorted Jim.

“All right,” I said, “then the real estate interests, the big mortgage and loan companies and property owners will squelch the idea. They don’t want population moved out of cities. Where would rents go, if we started moving even the unemployed out of town?”

“The big property owners,” retorted Jim, “are being taxed out of existence to support the unemployed.”

“All right then,” I finally submitted, “industry itself and organized labor wouldn’t let us move the unemployed out of town, because industry likes to have a nice big batch of unemployed around, to keep wages down. And labor likes to have unemployed around as a horrible example of industry’s original sin.”

“If I ever go into politics with this idea,” cried Jimmie, “it will go through like a house on fire.”

“You were born and raised on a farm, weren’t you, Jimmie?”

“Yes, and when all is said and done,” he said tenderly, “it is the loveliest, freest, happiest life of all.”

“Look here,” I said, “what do you know about soil? I’ve got to do something about my garden. It’s nothing but sand. I’ve put in about ten loads of what they call loam, but it just looks like plain ordinary earth to me. And it seems to sink right down through the sand.”

“Why don’t you get a couple of loads of good heavy clay?” asked Jim.

“Where could I get some clay?” I asked. “I never heard of anybody offering clay for sale.”

“You can get clay anywhere,” said Jim. “Why not borrow a little truck from one of your storekeeper friends and just drive outside the city somewhere and shovel up a load of clay?”

“I’ll order it,” I said hastily, “from the man I get the loam from.”

“What the heck?” snorted Jim. “Order a load of clay? Why, how can you call yourself a gardener if you just telephone for a load of clay…I suppose somebody else will do the spreading of it around and forking it in?”

“Yes,” I admitted. “I have a man do that kind of thing. You see, Jim, my part of the garden is appreciating it. That’s my share. If I didn’t appreciate the garden, naturally, there would be no garden; and then there would be no work for my gardener. You see how it works out? The trouble with cities is, people do more than their share. We city people are hoggish. We are bears for work, as they If everybody took it easier, there would be plenty for all.”

“If you would do a little of the spade work in your garden,” said Jim, “you’d understand it more and appreciate it a great deal more.”

“No,” I disagreed, “I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work. What I love about a garden is the wonder of it. In June I love to go and stand in the middle of it and think, ‘How beautiful all this is, and I got it just for the asking.’ No labor or toil, no dirt, no anything. Just tell somebody, who doesn’t care, let there be beauty. And there it is! That’s what gets me.”

“Well,” said Jim, “about this clay, now. I don’t believe I would order clay, even from somebody you know. Because, after all, there is clay and clay. He might go and pick up a load of junk from some building, excavation, full of dear knows what; or maybe a load from some vacant lot, full of weed seeds that would ruin your garden in two weeks. No. If you want a load of clay, select it yourself. From some nice farm land, where you can see what you’re getting.”

“I wouldn’t know clay if I saw it,” I confessed.

“I’ll come with you,” offered Jimmie.

So I borrowed the grocer’s second truck, a little old thing that would hold very nicely all the clay I needed. And after supper, Jim and I, in old fishing clothes, sallied forth to the country’s edge.

We drove quite a way before Jimmie saw clay. He saw sandy loam and clay loam; sand and loam; some was too gravelly and some too dusty.

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, getting back into the truck after one of his frequent dismountings for inspection, “the kind of clay I have in mind doesn’t seem to be very common around these parts. Why, when I was a kid, every time I came into the house my feet were the size of hot water bottles with thick blue clay.”

“It’s getting dark,” I pointed out.

“It won’t take five minutes,” said Jim, “to shovel on a load when we find it.”

“Shouldn’t we ask the farmer for it?” I asked.

“Puh,” said Jim, “what farmer would begrudge a little load of clay?”

At Jim’s suggestion, we started turning along side roads and lanes and presently, just as the sun was shining its last glorious farewell, we came to a little gulley with a thin creek through it, and with a loud cry, Jim identified, on the banks, the valuable blue clay we had been seeking.

“Back her in this gate,” said Jim. Which I did.

“Toss me the spade,” said Jim. Which I did also.

With a few expert flourishes, Jim flung aside the dry outer integument of soil and began cutting free large wet gobs of pure heavy clay. I got down off the truck and started to roll up my sleeves.

“Hey,” came a voice from the little hill above us. A figure was silhouetted there. “What’s goin’ on there?”

“Oh, hello,” cried Jim. “We’re just taking a few spadefuls of this clay.”

“Clay?” said the man starting down the slope, with his dog. “Where you from?”

“We’re from the city,” said Jimmie. “My friend here wanted a little clay to tighten up his garden soil. He’s got nothing but sand…”

The farmer, a long and bitter man, stared at us coldly.

“Let’s see,” he said. “You come all the way out from the city to here for a load of clay?”

“That’s it,” said Jim, starting to bend for another spadeful.

“I don’t believe it,” said the farmer. “Coming away out here for a load of clay? You’re crazy. Or you’re crooked. Get out of here!”

“But just a minute,” cried Jim. I got back behind the truck wheel. Quickly.

“Come on,” said the farmer roughly, swinging his arms and legs, preparationaly. “Git.”

“But surely,” said Jim, shoving the spade angrily aboard the truck. “Just a load of clay.”

“It don’t make sense,” said the farmer. “There’s all kinds of grafters. What are you really up to? Come on! What is it you’re after?”

“Clay, I tell you,” we both stated angrily.

“Come on,” said the farmer, with great finality. “Git.”

And he spat on his large dark rough right hand.

So we gitted.

“Can you beat that?” cried Jim. “For sheer hard-boiled suspicion? We’ll look for clay somewhere else along here….”

“Nix,” I said. “we’re going home. I’ll order it, as usual.”

“It’s not dark yet,” said Jim, leaning out and watching the roadbanks with an agricultural air.

“People are too suspicious, Jim.” I said.

“He’s just mean,” Jim said.

“Not him,” I disagreed. “He’s just naturally suspicious, and reasonably so. It’s like that back-to-the-land plan of yours, about the civic farm. People are too suspicious.”

“It’s a queer world,” sighed Jim.

“Yes,” I agreed, “and I’m going to let the usual guy haul, my clay and the usual guy fork it under. And, as usual, I’m going to enjoy my garden when it arrives.”

“Without doing any work to earn it?” protested Jim.

“In this life,” I explained, “it’s as near as we’ll ever get to the Garden of Eden.”

The First Installment

April 7, 1934

Sex War

…they are not much impressed with the new recruit.

(I am publishing out of order today, April 9th, in honour of the birthday of Greg’s daughter, Elizabeth (Clark) Wakabayashi. She is the only one of Greg’s children still with us. Please enjoy this story about her).

By Gregory Clark, October 15, 1932.

When a string of male offsprings comes to bless a home without the interruption of a little girl, that home takes on a definite masculine character.

No matter how tastefully a bride and groom may have furnished their living room, by the time their union has been blessed with a series of boys, it has assumed a clubby air. Many of the more tasteful articles and objects d’art are gone forever. The chesterfield that was born pale smoke-blue now wears a slip-cover of sturdy leather brown. The original fine Persian rug is almost forgotten even by the bride, and in its place is a stout dullish floor covering that is without character, but which serves admirably as a setting for the quarrels and the drama of a tribe of arrogant small males.

The hopeless war waged against toys, roller skates, aside-flung wind-breakers, hockey sticks propped against the fireplace, has long ago been lost. By the time the oldest boy is eleven, no clothes closet designed by twentieth-century man could hope to contain the essentials of juvenile life. So the walnut hall table, the buffet, the kitchen drain-board all share the burden, and you are just as likely to find a motor truck in the flat-silver drawer as a pair of orange and black rugby stockings in the book case.

Then comes a girl.

At first, the fact seems a little preposterous.

“Was it mother took a girl or you?” asks the eleven-year-old. “Who chooses?”

“Well, sir,” says I, “you just take what God sends you.”

“But don’t you speak to God first? What is praying for?”

“Wait till you see her,” says I. “The dearest wee little thing. With dark hair like fine spun clouds of night on her head, and a little mouth, like a mouth seen at a great distance…”

But when the boys, all done up in their Sunday blue suits and wearing that slicked look which betrays the unaccustomed hand of the father, line up and march into the glowing hospital room to see their proud mother lying with her face sideways on the pillow, they are not much impressed with the new recruit.

The seven-year-old will not look at her at all, and the eleven-year-old, after one horrified glance, retires to the foot of the hospital bed and says:

“Does it sound like a cat?”

Mother says:

“You are mighty lucky little boys to have a sister.”

A Family Show-Down

So after depositing their gifts of flowers and clumsily kissing their mother’s hand, the boys depart leaving behind them no uncertain air of reproach.

For some time, several months in fact, the disturbing presence of the young lady is not felt. Indeed, with the feeding and bathing and sleeping and washing connected with the new arrival, the boy brigade achieves further freedom and wider powers than they had ever enjoyed. They can stay out later. They often get by with washing their own faces before school.

But the first hint of tyranny comes one day when the Princess is put out in her carriage on the front lawn.

“Take those shabby bicycles off the front walk,” commands mother. “And pick up that board you’ve got there. Take them around to the back!”

And the Princess, sitting up, has a lovely tidy stage on which to shed the beauty of her presence. In about a week the boys come to me in deputation.

“Dad, we can’t play in front at all!” they complain. “We have to stay in the back all the time. Why can’t they put HER in the back sometimes?” The next step in the emasculization of the house has to do with dress and appearance. Mother can be seen at all hours of the day brushing or stroking the Princess’ hair, which is clouding out into curls. The Princess is old enough to have pretty little dresses. She wears two and sometimes three a day.

“Mother plays with her all the time just as if she was a doll,” complains the eleven-year-old. “Dressing her and undressing her. And carrying her around.”

“You boys look terrible!” mother begins saying. “I’ll have to be getting you some clothes.”

And both boys slink from the room.

“I don’t want any more blue suits!” yelps seven-year-old from the staircase, “as long as I live!”

But the fact is, mother is slowly growing feminine again, under the inspiration of her daughter. She has an ally. Her sense of the fitness of things is being restored. We had made a man of mother but it was a victory by force of numbers.

“Some ladies,” said Mother, “are coming to see Elizabeth this afternoon. I want you two boys, when you come home from school, to come in by the side door quietly, go upstairs, wash and put on your blue suits and then come down and be introduced.”

They saw a strange lady being admitted at the front door, which reminded them of the side door and the fateful instruction about being introduced. So the two of them hid behind the garage until nearly six o’clock. That night we had a family show-down.

“We are going to have a little system around here,” says mother. “You boys have had this house all to yourselves for more than ten years. Now we are going to divide it. The downstairs living room, dining room, front lawn are Elizabeth’s and mine. The den, your bedrooms and the back yard are for you men. No more playthings, hockey sticks, wagons, funny-papers downstairs here. If I find any of those things around, outside of the den and your bedrooms or the back yard, I’ll take them and give them to the gardener for his little boy.”

Over the Favor of a Lady

We men hang our heads, realizing that mother is a lady again.

It takes nearly a month for the full realization of the division in our house to sink in. But it works. Eleven-year-old has his bike locked up in the fruit cellar for three days for leaving it in front when Elizabeth was sunning in her carriage. Seven-year-old missed entirely The Star Weekly colored comics of the date of Sunday, May 29th.

And every week Elizabeth has a new dress, and her curls cloud more richly, and her very presence seems to work miracles in her surroundings, so that battered chairs glow and shine and the dining room has flowers on the table, new draw-curtains appear as if by magic, a spickness and spanness seems to blossom wherever Elizabeth goes.

Then, a month ago, she learned to walk.

“I taught her!” shouted eleven-year-old. “It was to me she first walked when Mother let go of her!”

“It was me taught her,” snarled seven-year-old. “I’ve been walking in front of her every day, showing her how. I said ‘lookit,’ and then she did it!”

“Let’s take her for a walk out on the street,” cried Eleven.

“Go and put your blue suits on, then,” said Mother.

And they raced upstairs.

Winks went round the living room.

From walking to riding piggie-back, from going on a long hike to the foot of the garden to pick the last ragged asters to exploring all the low-down cupboards and pantry closets has been a swift ascent, in which two ill-assorted boys have fought, even to drawing blood, over the favor of a lady.

And she had to have creeping overalls.

“She can have those old sailor pants of mine,” said seven-year-old, “when she’s big enough. And my old wind-breaker.”

Mother had a funny look on her face. Then Elizabeth learned to climb the stairs.

The turn of the tide came last Sunday. “Where is Elizabeth?” cried Mother suddenly, conscious of the silence.

“Upstairs,” said Eleven, in passing, “having some fun!”

And great thumps above proved it.


Editor’s Note: This story also appeared in So What? (1937).

High Wire

“I spread my arms wide on the shingles and wiggled inch by inch up that precipitous slope to Jimmie’s assistance…”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 6, 1935.

“My radio,” said Jimmie Frise, “is on the bum.”

“The same here,” I said. “Last night, I couldn’t get anything but sopranos and dramas.”

“I mean,” said Jimmie, “mine won’t work. It hisses and squawks and when you do get a program, it throbs and wavers.”

“You should have heard the soprano I had on last night,” I agreed. “Talk about throbbing and squawking.”

“What I mean is,” persisted Jim, “there is something mechanical wrong with mine.”

“Don’t be too sure,” I argued. “Even if you buy a new one, you’ll get sopranos that hiss and squeal worse than if your tubes were worn out. And dramas – there are certain hours, nowadays, where you can twist right around the dial and find nothing but dramas, tense-voiced men and terrified women. My idea is that we radio listeners should be able, at all times, to get what we want on the radio.”

“Oh, is that so?” said Jim.

“Certainly it’s so,” I said heatedly. “Why shouldn’t it be?”.

“Did it never occur to you,” demanded Jim, “that the people who put on that free entertainment are doing a rather magnificent thing for us?”

“Free?” I shouted. “Do you call it free entertainment when I pay $300 for the machine that allows those guys to shove their commercial advertisements right into the sanctity of my home?”

“Er-ah,” said Jim.

“Er-ah, exactly,” I said. “You are like a lot of other people. You sit down with a sappy grin and listen thankfully while hundreds of commercial enterprises come and yell at you.”

“But some of those advertisers,” pointed out Jimmie, “pay as much as $10,000 for a half-hour program.”

“Why shouldn’t they,” I inquired, “when there are potentially 1,000,000 listeners? We shouldn’t have to listen to baloney. There should be a law against baloney.”

“You could easily turn it off if you don’t like it,” explained Jim.

“Why should I have to get up, in my own home,” I shouted, “and turn off my own machine because some public nuisance is allowed on the air?”

“I never heard that argument before,” admitted Jim.

“Well,” I said, “there are too many sopranos and too many dramas on the air. And too many public speakers. And too many comedians. And too many gabblers. Gabble, gabble, gabble. Do you know, there is a fortune waiting for the announcer who will speak in a slow, dreamy voice? The way some of those announcers talk, you’d think they were describing a hotel fire.”

A Kind of Electric Scum

“Well, even so, I wish my radio was working right,” said Jim. “There are enough lovely programs to make it worth while.”

“Sure there are,” I agreed. “There is the Booka Boola hour. They don’t even announce the program. They just start a vast, heavenly orchestra and a more than heavenly choir. And for half an hour, without a single yammering, stuttering human voice to spoil it, they fill your house with ecstasy.”

“And the symphonies on Sunday,” said Jim.

“You can always turn off the commentator,” I admitted, “the guy who needs to clear his throat. He’s got me coughing so hard by the time his turn is over, I can’t hear the rest of the program. Curious about commentators, isn’t it? They’ve all got a bad cold.”

“I think it’s my tubes,” said Jim. “Although I got a new set just before Christmas.”

“Maybe it’s your aerial,” I said.

“I haven’t got an aerial,” said Jim.

“What?” I cried. “No aerial? How do you expect to catch the music out of the air without an aerial?” Hah, hah, hah, “so you’re radio isn’t working right?”

“Lot’s of people haven’t got aerials,” affirmed Jim.

“Nonsense, my dear boy,” I assured him. “You’ve simply got to have an aerial. Don’t you understand the first principles of radio? Don’t you appreciate the simplest everyday facts of radio?”

“I do not,” confessed Jim.

“The ether,” I showed him, “is full of waves. Not little waves like on Lake Ontario or even on the Atlantic ocean. But great big waves, as you can understand, seeing how big nothing is as compared with something. See?”

“Certainly,” said Jim.

“So these colossal waves go waving along, sometimes more than other times; for instance, when there is a storm, the waves are rough, as you can see from your radio. In bad weather, it is harder to catch the music with your aerial than in nice smooth weather.”

“I always understood,” interrupted Jim, “that radio was instantaneous. That we heard the music at the same instant it was heard in the studio away off in New York or London.”

“That just goes to show you,” I said, “how fast those ether waves are. But they have to be fast. They have to travel from here to the moon, to the sun, to the farthest star. And naturally, if a wave has to travel that far, it has got to be moving. That is, if it wants to get there in any sort of time at all. If the ether waves were slow, they might get so tired going a billion miles that they would lose interest altogether in where they were going. So you see the scientific principle there? They have a long way to go. So naturally, they go fast.”

“I think I follow you,” said Jim.

“Anyway, there on the top of that illimitable sea of ether, with gigantic waves flowing away in all directions, floats a sort of wreckage, a sort of flotsam and jetsam, of squeaks, squeals, moans, groans, words, notes, howls, yowls, bawls, squalls.”

“I can see it,” said Jim, closing his eyes. “A sort of scum.”

“A kind of electric scum,” I corrected, “to put it scientifically. You have to understand the science of physics these days, Jim. And this is where your aerial comes in.”

“Ah,” said Jim.

“You stick your aerial up into the air,” I demonstrated, “and it has, as you may have noticed, a kind of fish net or trap of wires on it. It catches that scum. That floating wreckage from a thousand ships. And down the wire into your house comes that stuff you catch in your aerial trap.”

“Mmmmm,” agreed Jim. “But how do you select only certain wreckage from all that must get tangled in your aerial?”

“That is done,” I said, “by the dials. That would be too technical for a beginner like you to understand. But you can see how important it is to have an aerial. My dear chap, without an aerial, you can’t expect to trap anything. No wonder you have been getting nothing.”

“I wonder how much it costs to put up an aerial?” Jim mused.

“Don’t be absurd,” I said. “You can put up the aerial yourself. Just get some wire and make a sort of bird cage out of it.”

“I have an old bird cage down cellar,” said Jim.

“Perfect,” I assured him. “Nail the bird cage on to a clothes prop, fasten a wire that will run to the ground, and nail the pole to the roof. Simple.”

“Lend me a hand?” asked Jim.

“Sure,” said I.

So we arranged to attend to the matter before supper, when we would still have daylight. It was only a matter of a few minutes to fasten the old bird cage on to a clothes prop and to attach to it the end of a long piece of telephone wire that would run down and in Jimmie’s side window. Jim borrowed ladders from a neighbor and we set them up to the roof.

“Which end will you carry?” asked Jim.

“You don’t need me up there,” I smiled.

“Of course I do,” cried Jim. “It’s the only place I do need you.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Jim, but I get the jimjams up any heights. You know that.”

“Listen, you’re on a roof. A big broad roof. Don’t be silly, I can’t hold it and nail it, both.”

“Absolutely no, Jim,” I assured him. “I get dizzy even hanging pictures.”

“What did I ask you to help me for?” cried Jim. “Was it to help me nail this thing in the cellar?”

“You’ll need somebody to stay on the ground and tell you if you have it straight up,” I pointed out. “I’ll do that part.”

“Then,” said Jim, “I’ll have to put it off until I get somebody with enough insides to climb a ladder on to a practically flat roof.”

“Being afraid of heights is not a matter of insides,” I protested. “It has to do with deep and hidden complexes. It is due…”

“Never mind,” said Jim, starting back to the cellar door.

“All right, then,” I said. “I’ll help. I’ll take the lower end. You go first.”

Alone On the Ridge

So Jim went up the ladder first, hoisting the bird cage end of the pole, and I followed, bearing the heavy or bottom end of the pole. Jim went carefully. So did I. Jim got to the roof.

“Wait till I take off my boots,” he called down. “Hold everything.”

“You’ll catch cold,” I warned, for the evening was growing dark and chill. Jim’s boots passed me going down. Then I saw his legs vanish slowly over the edge of the roof. Only his hands showing, he hoisted the pole, and I lifted.

“Hold steady,” said Jim, quietly, when I came to the top. He was sprawled out. What had looked like a big flat roof was now a steep and precipitous cliff.

“I’ll stay here,” I said, clutching the rungs and hooking my feet.

“Take off your boots,” said Jim, “it’s easy then, in your sock feet.”

“Never,” I assured him. “Just never.”

Jim shoved the pole and cage ahead of him, and with arms and legs spread wide, hinched himself up that awful eerie slope.

I closed my eyes and just hung tight.

“All right,” called Jim. “Come along.” When I opened my eyes, Jim was sitting straddle the roof peak, holding the pole upright beside the chimney.

“Come and hold it while I nail it here,” said Jim unsteadily.

“Jim, I’m sorry,” I said. “It couldn’t be done.”

Jim stared grimly at me in the twilight. The air was growing colder. Grimly, he stared.

“So,” he said, “my old friend, my dear old friend, gets me straddled up here and leaves me flat.”

I hooked one leg through the rungs. I slowly untied my laces. I heard my boots drop sickeningly to the distant earth.

I spread my arms wide on the shingles. I inched myself forward, my sock feet clinging pathetically to the last rungs. I thought of the war. I remembered crawling like this, so flat, across dark hushed fields, and I wished I was back at the war again, in No Man’s Land, out from Mericourt. It was better there.

I felt Jim’s grip on my arm. I got up straddled beside him. I held the pole. Jim nailed and hammered. He wound wire around the chimney.

“Now,” he said, “wait here until I go down and attach the wire to the radio, to see if we have the connections right.”

“It’ll be all right, Jim,” I said. “Let’s both go down together.”

“Wait,” said Jim, already leeching his way down the slope. “I’ll holler as soon as I find it’s working.”

“Don’t be long,” I called, as his head vanished over the edge.

I sat astride the ridge. The darkness was settling. The houses far below me across the street were all warmly lighted.

The Roof Gets Steeper

Suddenly, up the chimney, through the house, out the windows of Jim’s house, I heard a great orchestral boom. The radio was working. Working immensely. The house seemed to tremble, to vibrate with it.

“Ah,” I said, clearing my throat and getting ready to make the descent. I would call Jim up on some pretext, so that he would be standing at the top of the ladder to receive me.

I heard the program change. I heard it loud and then soft; I heard men’s voices jabbering fiercely in the supper-time children’s hour.

“Hey,” I roared.

A man passing quickly on the street, homeward bent, paused and looked all around him. Then hurried on.

Down the chimney, I roared: “Hey, hey.”

And in the Frise house, the tumult and thunder of a radio in good working order filtered through cracks and windows and walls and chimney. It was dark.

“Hey,” I bellowed, covering my sock feet with my coat tails.

I thought of taking my penknife and throwing it at a window of a neighboring house. But there were no windows near enough. I watched for passing pedestrians, but everybody in Jimmie’s district comes home by car. A dog went by. I yelled at him. He just ran.

“Help, Help, HAAAALP,” I get go.

I drummed with my heels on Jim’s roof. But all I heard was a constantly shifting faint series of programs, as Jimmie and all his family tried out the beautiful radio.

And every single minute that passed, that vanishing roof grew steeper.

“I-I don’t even know exactly where the ladder end is,” I quavered to myself. “Oh, haaaaaalllp.”

Then I solved it. I reached out and caught the aerial wire. I gave it a sharp yank. It parted.

I waited.

“Hello, up there,” came Jimmie’s voice from the backyard.

“Come up,” I said, “something has happened to the aerial.”

Jim came up. I saw his head emerge over the edge.

“Wait there,” I said. And down the slope I crabbed, my feet feeling for him.

“It suddenly faded,” said Jim.

“The wind shifted the pole,” I said. “I think the wire parted.”

So while I went down the ladder, Jim removed his boots and clawed up to the bird cage.

“Physics,” I said to him, as he came down and joined me at the foot of the ladder, “is a thing everybody ought to know a little about in these days.”


Editor’s Notes: This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978). I like the fact that in the introduction to that book, they call out this story as an example of “the old days”, because imagine that you need an aerial on the roof for your radio! But then aerials for television would go from common for 40 years only to become scarce again for 20-30 years, but you now see some digital aerials back on houses.

The Good Thing That Soured

April 7, 1923

This illustration went with a story by Frank Mann about crooked hockey games.

The Flivvers That Bloom in the Springtime, Tra La.

April 5, 1924

Flivver is slang for an automobile.

More Punch!

They paid no attention whatever… they were putting on a show of their own

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 31, 1934.

“What are we giving our children?” demanded Jim, leaning back with chin lifted in that fashion he learned sitting on barrels in the village store of his boyhood. “Are we giving them the old simplicities on which we were nursed? No, sir! We are giving them the radio, movies, newspapers, magazines that are filled with the pep of this third decade of the twentieth century. When you and I were children, the fastest thing on the street was that high two-wheeled butcher’s cart. If we wanted music, we had to make it. Newspapers were solemn, stuffy things consisting of solid columns of dignified print. The only pictures were a few ads of ladies in corsets, or ladies with wavy hair.”

“Don’t forget,” I put in, “the fellow that drove around each morning in a little cart, changing the carbons in the arc lights1 that swung high over all the street corners. Remember the squeak of the pulleys as he lowered the ropes the arc light was on? And we used to all come running when we heard the pulleys and pick up the bits of carbon he threw away. Big pencils for writing on brick walls. Eddie loves Mary, we used to write.”

“Personally,” said Jim, “I was raised far from any arc lights. But we used to write on walls, even in Birdseye Centre.”

“I really think,” I said, “that for all the evils of the twentieth century, there is less writing on walls now than when we were children.”

“Yes,” agreed Jim. “But don’t let details deflect us from our true course. What I say is, we are giving our children the full benefit of the high-pressure twentieth century, and then we expect them to be as child-like as we were!”

“I don’t allow my children to go to movies, anyway,” I stated.

“That’s funny,” said Jim. “I saw them there the night before last.”

“You were mistaken,” I said. “The night before last they were out at a little meeting of a club some of the boys of the neighborhood have organized. A harmless little club.”

“One of us is mistaken,” said Jim.

“Hmmm,” said I. “What was the show?”

“The Loves of Marianne, or something,” said Jim.

“Well, what else is there for the poor little things?” I cried indignantly. “The only show I saw until I was about twenty was a Punch and Judy show.”

To Rescue Childhood

“There’s an idea!” shouted Jim. “You’ve hit the problem on the head! What else is there for them to see? We are neglecting them. It is the selfishness of our generation that is the fault. If we provided Punch and Judy shows for children, they would be just as interested in them as we were, and just as interested as they would be in modern love triangles!”

“That’s it,” I said.

“Well,” said Jim, “I’m an artist. You’re a pretty fair actor. Why not let us build a Punch and Judy show and lead the way. We might start a revolutionary movement. Something to rescue childhood from the dangers our selfishness has flung them into. A movement that might spread all over the world!”

“I’m game,” I said. “I think I can remember most of the Punch and Judy action and dialogue. And if I can’t, I can make it up.”

“We can start in our own neighborhood, with our own children,” said Jim. “And if It goes, we can go about the streets of the city giving free Punch and Judy shows, attracting hundreds, maybe thousands, of kids. And rescuing them from dear knows what their parents carelessly let them get into.”

“Jimmie,” I said, “at last I believe we have got hold of something real and beautiful and high-minded!”

So we started immediately drawing rough plans on Jimmie’s drawing board.

We built a little frame skeleton booth about the size of a Sunnyside ticket booth: Over it we tacked canvas and painted it pretty colors. About half way up the front side of the booth, we left the open space, surrounded by scallops of canvas, which would be the tiny stage on which Punch would run the exciting and murderous course of his brief life.

With old socks, bits of colored cloth and plasticene, Jimmie and I fashioned Punch with his long nose, Judy with her round beet red cheeks, Mr. Toby the dog, Scaramouche, the policeman, the doctor and the hangman.

And for two days and two nights while the paint and putty dried, I studied my lines. Ah, what a dear, forgotten story! Ah, how like life itself is the career of Mr. Punch.

Jimmie painted up some signs and tacked them around the neighborhood, inviting all and sundry, from eight years of age down, to attend a benefit performance, admission, two pins, to be held in the Frise backyard Saturday.

We got the show set and were in the backyard by one-thirty, and as no children but our own were on hand, we sent them out to invite any children they might meet with on the streets and bring them in.

More Jeers Than Cheers

By two-fifteen we had seven other children besides our own and a nice little audience for the beginning of a great reformation.

“All great movements had a small beginning,” explained Jimmie as I got in behind the booth and cleared my throat and sorted out all the characters ready to my hand, with their little stubby bodies and the sticks that supported them.

I rolled up the little curtain.

Cheers, Jimmie leading.

“Hallo, hallo, hallo!” I began, in the squeaky voice of Mr. Punch, popping the little, gentleman on the stage with his club under his arm.

“Louder!” came small voices from without. “And funnier!”

“When is Judy coming back with the baby?” I cried, walking Mr. Punch up and down agitatedly.

Mr. Toby, the dog, popped on. In a moment, Mr. Toby had Mr. Punch by the long red nose and a terrible tussle ensued, which ended by Mr. Punch belaboring Mr. Toby with the club unmercifully, amidst what I thought was a pretty good imitation of a dog fight.

“Haw, haw, haw!” came from without. It was more jeering than cheering.

Scaramouche enters. Is beaten and flung out of the stage. Judy and the baby are both beaten and flung out. I was giving them plenty of action, but the applause was mixed.

Then the policemen enters, slowly on heavy feet.

“I didn’t send for you.” cried Mr. Punch, in the time-honored repartee that I remembered across the years.

“No, I’m sent for you,” retorts the policeman.

“But I don’t want a policeman!” cries Mr. Punch shrilly.

“But a policeman wants you,” says the cop in a deep voice.

And of course Mr. Punch leaps on the policeman and beats him with the club, and flings the policeman off the stage, with a kick.

Outside I could hear tumult and children shouting, and Jimmie speaking to them loudly and commandingly. I peeped out around the canvas booth.

“Aw, nerts,” one of the small boys was saying. “That’s the bunk. It’s the cheese. It isn’t even as funny as Charlie Chase2!”

The children were clustered around Jimmie, paying no attention to the show.

“Here!” I shouted. Even my own boys paid no attention.

“We want Clark Gable3!” shrilled several little girls all together.

“What do you think we are?” shouted another small boy with candy goo all around his mouth. “A bunch of babies? Hey?”

Just the Form Changes

I popped back in the booth and stuck my head over the stage and said:

“Ladees and gentlemen! The most exciting chapters in the life of Mr. Punch are now to be presented. He is arrested and taken before the hangman! The hangman!”

But they paid no attention whatever. They were rearranging some quilts that were out airing on Jimmie’s clothesline. I went out and consulted Jim.

“It’s all right,” said Jim, “they have just decided to put on a show of their own.”

The quilts were drawn together for a curtain. Boxes, chairs and boards were rushed from the back kitchen and from Jim’s cellar. After a violent quarrel, the actors were divided from the spectators, and all in three minutes, they were putting on a show.

The curtains parted.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said a six-year-old, standing on the boxes, “we will now present a play called the Loves of Marianne. Certain incidents in this play have been taken from Flying Down to Rio4 and Eskimo5, and the final scene is from Dinner at Eight6.”

He drew the quilts together, and after fifteen seconds, the curtains parted and the show was on.

There were two stabbings and five love scenes in the first minute. All the men were villains and all the ladies were heroines. There was a marriage and one aeroplane ride in the second minute. The Germans attacked with machine guns in the third minute. Count von Richthofen flew over and carried off two of the best-looking heroines in the fourth minute.

And the quilts were drawn to, amidst deafening cheers both from in front of and from behind the quilts.

My boys came over sympathetically.

“See?” they said. “See, daddy?”

“See what?” I demanded.

Jim took my arm.

“Let’s go inside,” he said.

We sat in the living room and listened to the sounds of act two.

“Punch and Judy,” I declared, “has got all the elements of modern drama in it. Wife beating, child beating, murder, the gunman, the escape from the police, the gallows. It is exactly the plot of nine-tenths of the movies you see to-day.”

“There isn’t much difference in the plot of drama from generation to generation,” said Jim. “It is just the form of presentation that changes.”

Which wisdom was emphasized by shrill cheers from the backyard which indicated that act two was ended.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. Arc lights were used in early street lights in cities after gas lamps. They gained popularity in the 1880s. They were much taller and brighter than modern street lights, so fewer were needed. ↩︎
  2. Charlie Chase was a movie comedian. ↩︎
  3. Clark Gable was an actor and popular among the ladies. ↩︎
  4. Flying Down to Rio was a 1933 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, ↩︎
  5. Eskimo was also a 1933 film. ↩︎
  6. Dinner at Eight is also from 1933. ↩︎

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