By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 28, 1933.
“I’d hate,” said Jimmie Frise, “to be a rich man in these times.”
“Goodness me,” I said, “right now I could do with a little riches.”
“Think of the way the rich are abused,” went on Jim. “Public speakers attacking them in no uncertain terms, everybody blaming them for wrecking the world, people sneering at them as they drive by in their costly limousines, the Reds cursing them … No, sir, I’d hate to be a rich man now.”
“Aw,” I said, “it’s just an accident if you are rich or poor. Just a matter of luck. Why should we blame people if they are fortunate. You might as well blame a guy for being six feet tall.”
“Luck!” cried Jimmie. “Accident! I’ve heard that before, and of all the ridiculous things I ever heard! Listen, my bow-legged little friend, a man isn’t rich by accident. I defy you to show me a single instance in which a man is rich except by hard labor, brains, eternal vigilance, long vision, slow amassing of pennies and dollars.”
“I’ve heard of fellows finding gold mines,” I said.
“After years of hard labor and toil, the like of which you haven’t the power to imagine,” said Jim.
“Well, how about rich men’s sons?” I asked. “They didn’t do anything for it.”
“Oh, didn’t they!” howled Jim. “I think the average rich man’s son earns his money ten times over. You don’t know rich men!”
“Well, I still think there is a lot of luck and good fortune in it,” I said. “A man thinks something up, or he gets an idea, or the market booms at the right minute or something.”
“Show me a single case,” demanded Jim. “I’ll tell you how people get rich. It’s in their nature. They are born with the gift. There are lots of industrious men that are poor. But few lazy men that are rich. How would you like to come out with me to-night while I demonstrate the difference between rich men and poor men?”
After supper, Jim came to my house and asked me if I had an old tire off my car lying around the garage.
“Yes, I have,” I said. “How would you know?”
“I am a profound student of human nature,” said Jimmie. “I just knew you were the kind of guy to have an old worn-out tire hanging up in your garage, along with a lot of other useless junk.”
A Test of Mankind
Jim carried the old tire, and it was a very old one, with the tread all worn off in spots, out to his car, and we drove down the street to a garage.
“Bill,” said Jim, “lend me some of that narrow brown paper that is wrapped around new tires.”
“Help yourself,” said the garage man.
So with my assistance, Jimmie carefully unwrapped the long narrow ribbon of brown paper off a new tire and then as carefully wrapped it around my old tire.
“What’s the idea?” I asked, as we struggled to get the paper on evenly.
“The idea,” said Jim, “is to make this old tire of yours look like a new tire.”
After we had the job done, Jim carried the tire out to the car again, and we drove to the west end of the city and out the highway in the night.
“This looks like a very mysterious experiment to me,” I said. “Are we going to find a rich man in the suburbs?”
“We are going out to find all men,” said Jim. “Out here a little way we will have all mankind revealed to us.”
We slowed down at all side roads, peering up them and at the bushes and ditches, and at length, about ten miles out, Jimmie slowed down on the pavement, drove up the side road fifty yards and parked the car on the turf.
Carrying the wrapped tire and a long piece of light rope, Jim led me back to the highway. Along the road a hundred yards or so we came to a spot where, across the ditch from the pavement was a clump of dense bushes. Jim jumped the ditch and went in and examined the bushes, and then announced, “This spot will do.”
He tied the rope to the tire. He laid the tire on the earth shoulder of the highway, with just the edge of it touching the pavement. Then, unwinding the rope, he walked back to the bushes, and crawled into them and hid.
“Come on in here,” said Jim. “The great experiment in human nature is about to begin. We are about to have revealed to us the hidden character of mankind. The secret of Croesus is about to be laid bare.”
I got into the dark and damp bushes alongside of Jimmie and we waited in the night.
Traffic was not really heavy at this season of the year on the highway. Three or four cars passed going the other way on the far side of the pavement, but presently a car’s lights hove in view and we waited, as it came sailing along at about forty-five miles, and its rapidly brightening lights picked out the tire lying on the edge of the road.
Reactions To Opportunity
As it whizzed by, we heard a yell from it.
Then we heard its brakes go on and the car slowed.
Jim gave a yank on the rope and hauled the tire hand over fist into the bushes with us.
The car came backing slowly along the edge of the road.
“It was right along here, somewhere,” cried a lady’s voice. The car came slowly past us. We could see two men and two ladies in it, all peering out the open windows.
It was a medium sort of car, not new, not old, in about the $1,000 price class. It was blue in color and neatly washed and polished.
“Maybe you were seeing things,” said a man’s voice.
“I tell you it was a brand new tire,” cried the lady’s voice. “All wrapped in that windey paper. And it was right along here. Right here.”
They back on past us. They went fifty feet back of where the tire had lain, and then the lady got out, with one of the men, and with the car crawling slowly along behind them, they came walking past us, looking in the ditch.
“That’s the funniest thing,” said the lady, in a puzzled voice. “I’d have sworn I saw a tire lying there.”
“Come on, get in,” said the driver. “You were just seeing things as usual.”
“I tell you I saw a tire on the –” And amidst the shifting of gears and the stepping on the gas, a first-class quarrel was in process as the car pulled away and left us in the night hiding in the bushes.
“There you are!” said Jim, getting up to replace the tire on the highway. “The woman sees the opportunity. But nobody believes her. Now she even doubts her own senses.”
We laid the tire in the same spot and retreated into the bushes as another car’s lights glimmered over the rise in the distance.
This was an old car. It was going a bad forty. It rattled and hummed and chattered. It almost ran over the tire, slowed a little bit and then went right on.
I looked in amazement at Jimmie.
“There,” said Jimmie, “is your poor man for you. He saw the tire. He actually started to stop. But then he either doubted his eyes, or else he thought it wasn’t worth while stopping. The poor lose all faith in their luck. They don’t believe in opportunity even when they see it.”
Another car was coming.
It was another old-timer. It had curtains.
It saw the tire and jammed on its brakes with might and main. Jim yanked the cord and hauled the tire into safety.
Then Unheeding Youth
The old car sputtered and backed dangerously up the road toward us, as a man’s head stuck out the side, directing the driver.
“It was right back here,” said a man’s voice. “Another ten yards or so.”
He had the spot right.
“Well, that’s a queer thing,” he said, in an easy way. “I saw a new wrapped tire right there, and now it’s vanished.”
“Aw, it probably wouldn’t have fitted anyway,” said the voice of the driver. “Or we might have got pinched by the police for trying to sell it. It’s just as well. Let’s go on.”
“Back up just another ten yards,” said the near man. “Distance is deceptive in the dark.”
They backed ten yards past where the tire had lain.
“Let it go,” said the near man, lazily. “I doubt if it was a tire after all. So often things that look like something aren’t really anything after all.
And the shabby old car humped up and jaggled on its way.
“There you are,” said Jim. “That’s the poor man. He has no faith in himself or his luck or anything else.”
We carried the tire back and laid it on the edge of the asphalt again.
Two cars passed without seeing it. Then came far away the low whine and hum of a fast car. Its lights were blazing, and it was boring gaily right down the centre of the road. As it whizzed past, a girl’s voice sang out. And the car took about a hundred yards to come to a stop.
Jim hauled the tire into the bushes.
Skillfully, speedily, the car backed up to us. It was a very new car, well up in the $2,000 price class, de luxe sport model. Wine red. All aglitter.
“It was a tire, Eddie!” said the girl’s voice clearly.
“Aw, the heck with it!” cried Eddie’s voice. “Let’s get on to the party. Who wants a tire, anyway? We’ve got a tire!”
And blithely, they shifted gears and raced away.
“That,” said Jim, rising from the bushes with the tire, “needs no comment. That is Youth!”
We laid the tire again.
A couple more cars went by, unheeding. Their drivers’ eyes glued to the centre of the road. their passengers sunk in the reverie of riding.
Then came the large, bold headlights of a big car.
It came with a steady, smooth pace of a big rich car.
As it sailed majestically past us, we saw it was driven by a chauffeur in uniform, his face lighted with the dashlights.
And the high, angry voice of a large fat man suddenly bellowed: “Perkins, Perkins’, slow down, you fool!”
How a Rich Man Gets Rich
The big car came to a smooth, $6,000 stop.
“Back up, back up!” came the high, irritable voice.
Jim had hauled the tire in and we held it in our laps. We could see the head of a large man projecting from the side window of the limousine, all dark blue and glossy.
“Stop here,” cried the high voice.
Out of the car stepped a fat man in a heavy ulster and a derby hat.
“It was right here,” shouted the big man in his high, angry voice. “Right on that spot.” And he pointed to the very spot Jimmie had laid the tire.
“Didn’t you see it, Perkins?” demanded the high voice testily.
“No, sir, no sir!” said Perkins, coming quickly out of his driving seat and standing on the road shoulder.
“That’s the trouble with you, Perkins,” shouted the rich man. “You never see anything. You go about with your eyes shut. It was a brand new tire, Perkins and it was wrapped in spiral paper. A brand new tire. Right here.”
“Well, sir, it isn’t there now,” remarked Perkins.
“Of course it isn’t!” shouted the rich man. “I can see that myself.”
“Maybe it was an optical illusion,” ventured Perkins.
“Am I in the habit of having optical illusions?” roared the rich man, in a choking voice. “Don’t be a d—- fool, Perkins. The tire was right here. Now it is gone. Let’s find it. Tires don’t vanish.”
Perkins stared at the ground.
But the old man, after a couple of fierce glares up and down the ditch, suddenly walked straight forward across the ditch and before Jim or I could move a leg, he was on top of us, staring down at us in the brush, with the tire on our knees.
“Here,” commanded the rich man, give me that tire!”
Jim untied the knot with a couple of left twitches. He handed the tire up. The rich man seized it, and stamped back over the ditch, and flung the tire into his limousine.
“There you are!” he yelped at Perkins. “Drive on!”
And Jimmie and I were sitting in the bushes.
“Well,” sighed Jim. “What do you know about that! He knew he saw the tire. He had the exact spot. He knew tires don’t evaporate. He simply went and looked for it. And when he found it, he took it.”
“Phew!” said I, struggling to my feet.
“Now that,” said Jim, “was a rich man. No doubts, fears, or illusions. No waste of time. He just gathered that tire in.”
“I’ll say he did.”
Jim rolled up his heavy string and stuffed it in his pocket and we walked back to the highway toward the side road where Jim was parked.
“I’m laughing,” I said, “to think of that rich guy when he opens the tire and sees that old tire of mine.”
“I suppose,” said Jim, “that most things a rich man gets turn out to be junk. But there is just one thing loose in that idea.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“He won’t open the tire,” said Jim. “He’ll sell it. The surprise will be somebody else’s.”
“As usual,” I muttered.
Editor’s Notes: Croesus was the king of Lydia in ancient Greece, and was synonymous with great wealth.
Tires sold at the time would commonly be whitewall tires. New tires were wrapped in paper for shipping, to keep the white stripe clean, and for preventing the black of other tires from rubbing on the whitewall side.
$1000 in 1933 would be $19,800 in 2021. $6000 would be $119,000.
Even though this is one of their earlier stories, it is the first time I saw censoring of language (“d—–” instead of “damned”).