By Greg Clark, October 22, 1932
“Jim,” said I, “I’m forty to-day!”
“Bless yer heart,” said Jimmie Frise. “Forty, the dangerous age!”
“I’ve heard that expression,” said I. “I wonder what they mean by it.”
“They mean,” said Jim, looking at me gravely, “that man has to watch his step when he is forty. He is liable to go wrong. The promise of his youth is not fulfilled. The expectations of his mature manhood are starting to lose their power. He gets restless, seeing life quietly slipping by, and if he is not watching, he is liable to burst out. So they say.”
“You’re forty, Jim?”
“And well past.”
“Has anything dangerous happened to you?”
“Nary a thing,” said Jim, with the air of a man that had perhaps been on the lookout for this and that. “But I am young for my age. I’ll be forty when I am sixty.”
“Well,” said I, “it’s nice to think of a little danger lurking around. All morning, I have been feeling a little proud of being forty, and while I don’t want you to think I am getting romantic in my old age, I will confess I have thought of this dangerous stuff a few times. But I guess there’s nothing in it.”
“Sure, there’s plenty in it,” said Jim. “From now on, you’ve got to watch your step. Look at all the romantic movie heroes – are they these young squirts? No, sir! Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Clive Brook and the rest; they’re all in their forties, or even their fifties. There is something very fascinating about a man after he has got over his conceit, and that’s usually about forty.”
“I’m a devoted family man,” said I.
“All the more risky,” said Jim. “It comes on you all the more unexpectedly.”
“Pah,” said I, straightening my tie and patting some of the wrinkles out of my vest. “It’s one of those old sayings supposed to give a little kick in life to birds like you and me that are starting to get hardening of the knuckles. Let’s have lunch together to-day, Jim, and let’s go somewhere else than the old familiar quick and dirty. Being my birthday, I’ll treat you to a fancy lunch.”
So Jim and I went to lunch to the biggest and swellest hotel in the city. We didn’t go down to the grill, but marched right into the big dining room, where neither of us had been before. And being forty, I led the way in with that air that I have noticed men of forty using, an air of being utterly unaware that there is anybody else in the big room.
We were unable to have a table for two, so we sat opposite each other at a table for four.
We had just nicely got our meal ordered when the captain of the waiters leaned over and said:
“Gentlemen, do you mind if a couple of ladies sit at your table? We are so crowded to-day …”
Jim and I looked startled at each other. Jim winked.
“All right,” said I.
And the head waiter led over two of the most dashing young ladies you ever saw in your life. Not the kind I would take home to show my boys, exactly. But the kind you see so many of at lunch. They sat down demurely, and while I saw one staring Jimmie up and down, I knew the other one was taking me in. But they had that modern expressionless face, and they ordered their dinner.
It is difficult to hold conversation across a table with strangers enfilading you.
“As I was saying,” I said in a firm voice across to Jimmie, “I think Bennett ought …”
And with the serious air of gentlemen of forty odd, we debated the state of affairs. In between, in little soft voices, the two girls exchanged a few inscrutable remarks, nibbled their light lunch like rabbits, which is another modern mannerism I don’t see much sense to. I would like to take their heads at the back and shove their faces down into their plates. But after an awkward twenty minutes, they finished their luncheon and departed.
“A Swell Dame to See You”
“There!” said Jim. “Five or six half-empty tables in the room, yet they come and sit at ours. I bet you they asked that head waiter to sit them with us.”
“We’ll ask him on the way out,” said I. And when we checked out, I said to the captain: “Tell us something: did those two girls ask to sit at our table?”
“On the contrary,” said the captain of the waiters.
“How do you mean?”
“They said to me as they went out, sir, begging your pardon: ‘What’s the idea of putting us at that table with those two deacons?’ That’s what they said, sir.”
When we got outside, I said:
“There you are, Jim. I bet that saying about the dangerous age was invented by a fellow about forty-one.”
“You wait,” warned Jimmie. “Don’t be too sure.”
I left Jim to attend to a couple of interviews with big executives and so forth and when I got back to the office Jimmie was all excited.
“Say,” he cried. “This is uncanny. The swellest dame you ever saw, looks like a prima donna or something, was waiting here for you. She says she has been wanting to meet you for years. Reads all your articles. Has heard so much about you. And she just wouldn’t put it off any longer. So she is coming back in half an hour.”
“It’s fact,” said Jim. “Here you are, forty to-day, and already the place is swarming with vamps.”
There was a tap on the door, and a large luscious lady stood before us.
She swept forward magnificently, her right hand held high. She was speechless. She bit her lower lip as she took my hand, and rolled her eyes up.
“I’ve waited for this for years!” she cried in a rich voice. “Don’t tell me I have interrupted you in the actual work of preparing one of your articles!”
“No, ma’am; yes. ma’am,” said I. And Jim kicked me on the shin because I was backing up right into the waste basket.
I dusted off our extra chair. She was down and just stared. She sighed and gasped and asked if she could smoke. She lit up and Jim and I both sat on edge for fear our old-fashioned editor would pop in.
“Oh,” she cried, ecstatically. “I thought your article last week on Judge Fullerton was simply wonderful.”
“That wasn’t my article,” I said. “It was by Mr. Reade.”
She did not seem flustered. She went right on about my wonderful trip to Russia.
“That was Mr. Griffin,” I put in, the only person in the room except Jimmie that was embarrassed.
“You know,” she said, “I think it is wonderful the way you writing men think things up. What a background of reading you must have!”
“No, ma’am,” I said. “We don’t get much time to read. And, anyway, if we did much reading, we might get discouraged and quit writing.”
“But,” cooed this large and lovely lady, “you surely have some basic works of information on which to fall back in case you require facts.”
“No, ma’am,” said I. “The only person around here who needs a dictionary is Mr. Frise and if he had one it would ruin his cartoons.”
“But,” gushed the contralto Venus, “don’t tell me a writing man has no need for works of reference. Don’t tell me his articles wouldn’t be vastly improved if he were to have a handy set of books covering the complex field of nature, industry and human affairs!”
I looked sharply at the handsome lady. Out of her large handbag projected what looked like the corner of a pad of order forms and a pencil.
“I have an appointment,” I said, rising hurriedly. “I’m sorry.”
“Just one moment,” exclaimed the lady, “I wanted to show you the prospectus of a marvelous new work of up-to-the-minute information on every conceivable topic of human interest, a work in ten volumes lavishly illustrated…”
“Madam,” I cried in my forty-year old voice. “I do not wish to see it under any circumstances.”
“A man of your standing …” she cried.
“Please!” I shouted.
“Bigger men than you …” she shrilled.
“Good afternoon,” I roared and fled from the room and hid in the washroom.
“An Admirer of Yours”
In ten minutes when I ventured back, Jimmie had signed for a set of the books.
“What’s the matter with you?” I demanded.
“Well,” said Jim, lamely, “you can’t throw a lady bodily out of your office.”
“I can,” said I, grimly.
“The dangerous age,” said Jim. “Where did you hide?”
“In about the only place they can’t chase you,” said I. “Why didn’t you tip me off she was an agent?”
“How could I tell?”
“Pshaw!” said I. “Why else would swell lady like that come to see us?”
“She said she was an admirer of yours.”
“I wish,” said I, wistfully, “I was either thirty or fifty and get this over.”
At four o’clock Jim and I went down to the cafe for tea as we often do to argue about life and laughter, and Aggie, our usual waitress, was absent. A new and young thing was there, very level eyed, very competent.
“Tea,” said I.
She brought two pots and two little nibbles of cream.
“More cream,” I commanded, shortly. “And lemon for me.”
“More cream?” inquired the new girl sweetly. “For whom?”
“Mr. Frise takes four creams,” I said, “and I take lemon. Bring me half a lemon.”
All this would be needless if Aggie was there.
“We generally serve a slice of lemon with tea,” said the new girl with the level eyes.
“I said a half, and two more creams, please.”
Jim and I looked at each other, thinking how easily little things can throw life all out of gear. How important it is, at forty anyway, to have things cut and dried.
“Them two old weasels over there,” said the new waitress to the counter clerk.
“SSSShhhhh!” hissed the counter man and four or five regular waitresses.
Because we ARE friends of the proprietor.
So without so much as a scared look, the new girl competently and prettily laid down the cream and lemon and swirled gracefully away.
“Two old weasels,” said Jim.
“Somehow,” said I, “this is the flattest birthday I have ever had.”
“If your forties come in like lamb, they’ll go out like a lion,” said Jim. “Wait and see.”
So I went home, determined to be a dangerous guy around my own house. When I opened the door, the odor of a great birthday dinner in preparation greeted me and all my boys were lying on their stomachs on the living room floor over the comics.
“Here, you chaps,” I growled dangerously. “how many times have I given instructions that you’re to do your comics up in your own room? Get up! Scat!”
The lady of the house appeared from the dining room.
“Now, now,” she said. “On your birthday! Is that the way to talk to your sons? Let’s have pleasant dinner.”
The boys turned their heads back to the comics on the floor.
I went upstairs and dolled up, put on fresh shirt, my maroon house jacket and came downstairs with my shoulders back and my step springy.
My lady I found in the dining room, surveying the pretty table.
“Well, my dear,” said I, taking her shoulders and facing her to me. I have started my forty-first year!”
She patted my head and smiled.
“You need a haircut,” she said. “Get it to-morrow.”
So after dinner I retired to my den and got out my album and looked for an hour through the snapshots, some of which show me when I was twenty-one.
When the young ladies sat at their table, they tried to sound serious by speaking of politics and R. B. Bennett, the Prime Minister of Canada at the time. They referred to them as “deacons”, a term used at the time to describe stuffy old men, a stereotype of church deacons.
The other authors Greg was referring to were Robert Reade, and Fred Griffin, both of whom had stories illustrated by Jim around that time. Fred Griffin can be seen clearly in the back of the first illustration (smoking the pipe) based on the way Jim drew him at the time.
This is one of the first Greg-Jim stories (only the fifth written), so there are some unusual aspects of it. It sort of peters out at the end with them getting tea, and then Greg going home. It is also very unusual in that Greg’s wife and children are mentioned. Family members could be referenced in future stories, but are never “on stage”. It can also be identified as an earlier story given the extra illustrations.