By Greg Clark, March 20, 1937
“This,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the dumbest time of year.”
“It’s full of expectation,” I reminded him. “Spring is just around the corner.”
“There is absolutely nothing to do,” declared Jim. You can’t hunt rabbits because they are in an interesting condition. You can’t fish through the ice because the ice is getting risky. You can’t drive in the country because the roads are wrecked.”
“The newspapers are full of excitement,” I pointed out.
“Socially,” stated Jim, “everything is at a standstill, because everybody is weary of parties of the end of winter. All the gowns and frocks are shabby, like the earth itself. This is the time of year when the earth is at its worst.
“How beautiful the spring looks, when it comes,” I argued, “with that first gauzy veil of green over everything, a sort of spiritual yellow green. Yellow in the color of spring.”
“I know spring will come,” said Jim, darkly, “yet at this time of year you feel nothing will ever come. It’s the end. The collapse. The crash.”
“You should be taking sulphur and molasses,” I said, “This is the season for tonics.”
“Not only,” said Jim, “does the earth look dismal, but the human race is at its worst right now. You look like the devil to-day.”
“I feel grand,” I said indignantly.
“You look,” said Jim, “colorless and you need a haircut. Your clothes are wrinkled and shabby. Your shoes need a shine. Didn’t you sleep last night?”
“I had a wonderful sleep,” I stated.
“Then why those bags under your eyes,” demanded Jimmie, “and why that pouchy, faded look? You look as if you had been pulled through a knot-hole.”
“You don’t look so hot yourself,” I retorted. “Your mouth is turned down at the …”
“That’s just what I say,” cried Jim. “We all look lousy to one another. Everything looks lousy.”
“Snap out of it, Jim,” I advised. “In two or three weeks the robins will be carolling from every housetop. If you have the energy, you can drive out to the nearest suburban field and hear the meadow larks calling, steeoo-peedle-oo.”
“Steeoo-peedle-oo yourself,” sneered Jim.
“Do you begrudge,” I demanded, “two or three dreary weeks of a year filled otherwise with beauty and life; with action and joy; with the almost frantic ecstasy of spring; the long, singing splendor of summer; the swift, arrogant majesty of autumn; the vibrant beauty of winter? Because there is this moment of let-down, do you forget all the lovely meaning of the rest of the year?”
“Meaning?” said Jim menacingly.
“Meaning, did you say? What meaning have you in mind? Thoreau, who ought to be one of your favorite authors, because he used to love to go and hear the little dicky birds squatting on fence posts singing peeoo-deedle-doo, wrote, ‘The mass of mankind lead lives of quiet desperation.’ It’s the truest word ever written. We are squirrels in a cage. And the silly part of it is, instead of running away and escaping into the tree tops, we come and fight and struggle to get inside the cage. Life is dumb. People are silly. There’s no sense to the whole business.”
“My, you’re pessimistic to-day,” I said.
“When I look around me,” declared Jim passionately, “and see all the thousands, millions of people going through their stupid round, up in the morning, hurry down to their dismal jobs, labor all day at something dreary and meaningless, hurry home at night, try to sneak in a little joy with a movie or a game of cards or a visit to their friends, but always joy eludes them and they wend their way wearily to bed–paaaaahhhh!”
“There’s some truth in what you say,” I confessed. “Every morning when I am shaving, I see the same girl hurrying past on the street. She is going to work somewhere. She walks with the same nervous, anxious step. Her arm swings the same curious way, every day. She is never any different. I often wonder what she sees in life.”
“And if she could see you,” returned Jim, “standing there in your undershirt and your pants bagging down, with soapsuds all over your chin, with your head turned in the same silly way every day, forever and ever, scraping with a razor, she’d wonder what you see in life, too.”
“I’ve often thought,” I went on, “about the uninteresting lives people lead. There is a man runs a store down a piece. He’s been in that store, to my knowledge, twenty-five years. When I first saw him he was a young man of about twenty-five, quiet, everywhere expressing itself in a blind and formless desire for something interesting to happen.”
“You may be right,” said Jim gloomily.
“We try to think,” I said, “that all this international discord has deep and mysterious and hidden reasons. Maybe it’s only the outward shape of a vast universal discontent with the dumbness of life on the part of the great majority.”
“Nothing,” declared Jim, “can happen these days, anyway. This is the most hopeless season of the year.”
“People get,” I said cheerfully, “what they deserve. If people want excitement and adventure, all they have to do is go and look for it. But they are too lazy.
“The world doesn’t really want an excitement. They haven’t the energy.”
“Oh,” moaned Jim, “for one thing just one thing to happen!”
“The world,” I explained, “is just like this room; and all the people in the world just like us. Here we are moaning and bellowing about life being so dull. But we don’t get up and go looking for any excitement. I’m perfectly confident there won’t be any war. It’s just a lot of moaning and groaning that’s going on and everybody likes it.”
“A war,” said Jim. “would put an end to this awful feeling of boredom. It would stir things up.”
“There’ll be no war,” I assured him. “Anywhere. All the human race wants to do just now is bellyache. The time to look out for wars is when everybody, especially the young men, are all full of beans and ginger, dying to go places and do things, the way we were in 1914, remember? But the young men nowadays just want to lie on the chesterfield and listen to the radio.”
“Young men are pretty much the same as they always were,” said Jim, distastefully.
“No,” I disagreed, “young men have never been so limp as they are now. It is an age of limpness. The human race wants to rest after the past hundred years of most unnatural activity, which ended with the great war. Prior to the great war, all the machines we invented were for helping us do tremendous things like railways, ships, combines for reaping the prairies, all giant engines designed to help us do giant jobs. But did you ever notice since the war, all the engines we are interested in inventing are for doing things for us? Saving us trouble? Little fiddle-diddle inventions like radio, and automobiles and aeroplanes to save us from having to get up off the chesterfield for any longer than necessary? It is the age of limpness.”
“Yeah,” said Jim, “and now I have to call at a lawyer’s office on the twenty-sixth floor of a skyscraper and pay a cheque for $250 on my mortgage.”
“Ah,” I breathed. “Now I begin to understand.”
“Yeah,” said Jim bitterly. “Why don’t they have mortgages fall due in summer or any other time of year when you can stand it?”
So Jim got his hat and coat on heavily and I went along with him. Just for company. The streets were filled with people wearing the end of winter’s garments; wind blew papers and dust and refuse in the air; all the motor cars were unwashed and stained; people squinted their eyes against the flying filth and it gave them a sinister and unfriendly look. Their elbows, up to hold hats on, bunted us. Horses hung their heads. It was a dreary world we were in.
We entered the tall skyscraper and stood in the lobby waiting for the elevator along with a little cluster of cold-faced, remote people. Here we were going on a journey hundreds of feet into the air, surely an adventure, as adventures go, but there was no feeling of fellowship among us. We were going to stand packed body to body, but we might all have been a thousand miles apart.
The elevator door slid soundlessly open and a vacant-faced throng poured out. We filed silently into the gleaming golden car. The door slid soundlessly shut and Jim muttered, “Twenty-six.” Others muttered their numbers. An operator stabbed the buttons with his finger. Jammed between Jim and me was a young business girl with a tight mouth and closed eyes. Her face was white and weary. A large man with the sniffles behind us shoved her aside to get out at his floor. Others elbowed their way out.
“Oooooh,” sighed the girl beside me, and quietly and easily crumpled in a heap to the floor.
“Hey,” I cried, “stand away, there, she’s fainted.”
The five or six others in the car drew their coat-tails back and stared down at the little girl all in a heap on the floor. Her head was bent against Jim’s legs and he stooped and put his arms under her.
The elevator door slid open.
“Take her feet,” said Jim, lifting.
I took her feet and Jim and I staggered heavily out into a wide empty corridor.
The elevator door slid silently shut. We were alone.
“Hey,” said Jim.
“Now what?” I asked.
“Hold her a minute,” said Jim, “while I go and look for help.”
“Hold her feet!” I demanded indignantly, “You can’t lay her down on this cold floor.”
“To heck with that elevator operator,” said Jim, as we stood, bent, at either end of a young lady sagging in the middle. Her white face looked deathly and she breathed strangely.
“Get going,” I commanded sharply.
“Going where?” snapped Jim.
“In that door there,” I said, indicating the nearest office, a large door, walnut and forbidding.
We staggered over, with difficulty keeping the saggingmost part of her off the floor. Jim managed with one hand to turn the doorknob and then with his back shoved the door open and we started in.
“Ah, ah,” cried a man’s voice warningly, and a severe man in spectacles leaped up from a desk just inside the door. “Ah, ah, not in here not in here!”
“This lady fainted in the elevator,” said Jim. “Have you got a couch or anything while we call a doctor?”
“No, no,” whispered the spectacled secretary severely. “No, no. Not in here. We have a conference on. Most important. Go somewhere else, if you please.”
“But look here,” I said, lowering my half to the floor, “let us use your telephone …”
“Please, please,” hushed the secretary excitedly, “the phone’s in use. Some where else if you please. We can’t have people bringing their ill friends …”
We don’t know her from Adam,” I snorted. “We’re trying to do the decent thing …”
“Please, not here; don’t explain; just go out, please.”
He was actually shoving at Jimmie.
I picked my end up.
“There is a ladies’ rest room one floor down,” said the secretary, one of those fellows who bounces on his feet when he walks, the kind that took a hundred per cent in arithmetic when he was a boy. “I will direct you to the stairs.”
“Just a minute,” said Jim loudly, “Just a minute. This is an emergency. Open one of those other office doors and get a girl …”
“There are no girls on this floor,” said the secretary. “Try one of the offices downstairs.”
“Ring the elevator button,” commanded Jim.
“There is often quite a wait,” said the secretary, anxiously eyeing us and our pathetic little burden.
“Oh, let’s walk,” I said, for although in my time I have carried a lady in my arms I am half way through the forties, and it is surprising how heavy a little girl of five is nowadays, to say nothing of this business girl.
We waddled along the corridor, and the secretary, with an air of great kindness, held the stairway door open for us. I had to go first, with her feet; and what with overcoat and one thing and another, it was quite a handsome stumble and bump down those iron stairs to the floor below.
This corridor was as cold and deserted as the one above, and in the first office we opened, with some trouble, we found no one home. We sat the poor girl in a chair and I stayed and patted her hands while Jim went for help. He came back with two girls, both speechless and slightly suspicious. We carried the girl along the hall to a rest room. The girls did not seem to know whether to let us carry our burden inside or to take her from us, but they decided to let us do the carrying. A leather lounge stood inside the door, from which a young lady leaped up when we heaved heavily in.
One of the girls followed us out.
“Will you wait here?” she asked.
“We can’t,” said Jim. “We don’t know the young lady at all. She just fainted in the elevator and we picked her up and carried her out.”
“But,” said the young lady who was a business girl you could see, “you brought her here. Really!”
“Why don’t you send for a doctor?” asked Jim.
“Won’t you please wait a moment, until we see?” asked the girl. “I am supposed to be taking dictation. One can’t walk out on one’s boss, just like …”
“A lady faints,” argued Jim, while I went and pushed the elevator button. “A lady faints. We pick her up and take her to a rest room. What more can we do?”
“After all,” argued the young business woman, and I could see she was a dandy for some tough business bird, “there is a certain responsibility in picking up young woman off the …”
“Jim,” I shouted from along the hall.
The elevator door stood open. We shoved in.
“This is going down,” said Jim.
“Down will do,” I said. “You can mail your cheque for the mortgage.”
“I think I will,” said Jim, looking nervously around at our fellow-passengers to see that they were all in good health.
“When there is a good postal system,” I asked, “why risk one’s life venturing out into this perilous, adventurous world to pay a bill?”
“A guy can’t do better,” said Jim, “than stay right indoors.”
“Right in his cage,” I agreed.
Editor’s Note: Jim was obviously incorrect about no war coming. Also, both Greg and Jim were not really that excited about war in 1914 since neither signed up until 1916. They no doubt meant people in general.
I’m guessing you only had to pay mortgages yearly at the time.
I’m also still surprised whenever I see or read of elevator operators existing at a time when elevators were automatic. I can’t imagine it being someones job to push your floor button when you could easily do it yourself.