As I clung helplessly to the slippery limb, the man who held the flashlight shouted, “Come down out of my tree at once!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 12, 1935.

“Ho-hum,” said Jimmie Frise. “I can sympathize with the Bolsheviks.”

We were sitting in front of the grate fire in my den, and the night howled without.

“You’re the perfect bourgeois,” I said.

“That’s exactly why I can sympathize with the Bolsheviks,” said Jim, settling deeper in the warm chair. “If the Bolsheviks never do anything better, they can put an end to this awful, tedious bourgeois life. Millions of people like us, sitting half asleep, or half dead, it doesn’t matter, in front of fires all over the world. Bored to death. Nothing to do. Nothing possibly can happen. Just a ghastly mockery of life. We live only once. We will not pass this way again. Today is done. It is gone forever. Forever and ever. And here we sit, like two mushrooms, like two loaves of bread, like two boots under a bed. Lifeless. Bourgeois. Soggy. Dead!”

“A fire in the grate is a fine thing,” I submitted.

Jim leaped to his feet wildly.

“Fine hell!” he shouted, stamping up and down the den. “I wish the Bolsheviks would come and loot me. I wish I was turned adrift in a cold cruel world. I wish something would happen so I would know I am alive. Come on, you Bolsheviks!”

“Sit down, Jimmie,” I begged him. “There are plenty of things we bourgeois can do. We don’t have to stay bourgeois. We can turn aristocratic. We can dress up in tuxedos and attend balls and functions. We could, right to-night, dress up and go down to the Art Gallery and spend a very fashionable and interesting evening strolling through the gallery in our snappy dress suits, looking snootily at the pictures and coolly ignoring everybody else in the gallery. It would make us feel swell.”

“Society!” snorted Jimmie, but sitting down again.

“Yes, society,” I said, warmly. “It isn’t as bad as you think. It’s only a kind of pretence. It’s only a sort of play-acting. But it is a game. It keeps people amused. It keeps people from being bourgeois and sagging to death on their own hearth stones.”

“Puh, society!” sneered Jimmie.

“Yes, society,” I repeated, “They have a program. They hold balls, dances, coming-outs. They patronize art galleries and sales of antiques. They have their off-days when they just go to hockey games or horse races. But they manage to have special enclosures or boxes, and they nod to one another gaily. But they are play-acting. They are putting on an act. Keeping up a front. They are saving themselves from smothering of ennui.”

“On-wee!” scoffed Jimmie. “Let the Bolsheviks come!”

“What we need,” I assured him, “is some program. Some design for living. We ought to attend prize fights if we don’t like balls. We should visit art galleries. We should dine downtown in one of the hotels at least once a week. It would be a break in the monotony. We should buy new dress suits and wear them at least twice a week.”

“Bring on the Bolsheviks,” muttered Jimmie, deep in his chair.

A Scavenging Party

“We should join clubs, societies, associations,” I said. “We wouldn’t really need to get to know the people we meet at such places. We could be snooty and off by ourselves. In fact, the snootier we act, the higher we will rank in society. It becomes a sort of game. Who is the snootiest? He gets the most invitations. The snootier, the happier. We bourgeois are too simple and kindly.”

“Hurray for Lenin,” mumbled Jim. “To the lamp-post with aristocrats. Stamp on the bourgeois.”

“You pronounce it boorzhe-wah,” I corrected. “Not boor-joys.”

“Stamp on them, anyway,” “growled Jimmie. “Fling them in the ditches.”

Far off, I heard the doorbell ring. The doorbell ringing in a bourgeois home is an event. Who the dickens is this disturbing us now? Haven’t people got any sense, coming banging at honest folks’ doors on a night when they want to be comfortable and alone?

I heard the door opened and then my family called me. They came running upstairs to the den to tell me, in a rather shocked voice, that somebody wanted to see me.

“Who is it?” I whispered impatiently.

“A young man and a girl,” said my family, breathlessly.

“Good heavens,” I said.

“Society,” muttered Jimmie. “Maybe it’s a couple of young Bolsheviks.”

I went downstairs. In the hall, a bright-faced young man and a very embarrassed young lady were waiting, fresh from the cold night.

“Good evening,” I said carefully.

“We’re sorry to disturb you, Mr. Clark,” said the young man, who held a sheet of foolscap in his hand. “But we’re on a scavenging party, and one of the things…”

“Scavenging party?” I asked.

“Yes, a sort of a social evening,” said the boy. “Each couple is sent out with a list of things they have to bring back. See? A cat’s whisker. A bird’s nest. One silk hat. Two 1933 calendars. And one of the things is to interview a newspaperman on the question: ‘Are scavenging parties a nuisance?'”

“Oh, I see,” I laughed. “What a dandy idea!”

The young couple were eager.

“Would you just scribble down something?” asked the boy. “And sign it? We have to hurry. The first back wins the prize.”

I wrote that scavenging parties were swell and signed it. They took the paper and dashed out into the stormy night. I walked back upstairs to the den to join Jimmie.

“Aha,” I cried. “That was funny.”

I told him about the scavenging party.

“Now, they’re having a grand time,” I said. “It isn’t that we are bourgeois that is wrong with us. It’s that we are no longer young.”

“Youth has nothing to do with it,” said Jim. “We could stage scavenger parties. We could get together once a week and hold a scavenger party. But would we? No. We prefer to crawl into our homes at dusk, like groundhogs, and just lie dormant. We’re bourgeois. I hoped that was a couple of Bolsheviks coming to answer my prayer.”

“Why didn’t we go out with those young people?” I cried. “Why didn’t I think! We might have joined them and had a marvellous night. A cat’s whisker. Two 1933 calendars? Where would you look for a 1933 calendar to-night?”

“It’s silly,” said Jim.

“Now For a Bird’s Nest”

The doorbell rang again. I sat up.

“Jim, if this is another pair of young scavengers!”

My family called me again. They were excited by now. Our bourgeois home was being enlivened. Half way down the stairs, I looked into the hall and saw another young couple, only instead of boy and girl, they were both boys. They held a sheet of foolscap in their hand.

“Come down, Jim,” I called.

The boys stated their business.

“How would you like Mr. Frise and I to join you in your hunt?” I asked.

“Swell,” chorused the boys.

Jim came sadly down the stairs.

“What would you give us to find?” I asked, throwing Jim his coat and pulling on my own.

“You get the bird’s nest,” said the boy, studying his list. “And the silk hat. Have you a silk hat?”

“No,” I said.

Jim got his coat on.

“Where do we come when we get the hat and the bird’s nest?” I asked.

“We’ll meet you at Jane and Bloor Sts.,” called the boys.

“O-kay,” I called, and ran for the garage.

Up Jane St. a few blocks is a friend of mine who is a prominent Orangeman. So we called and got his silk hat. It was an old one, so we didn’t waste time wrapping it up.

“Now for a bird’s nest,” I exulted. “Where did you last see a bird’s nest, Jimmie?”

“On an island in Lake Scugog,” said Jim, hollowly. “It was a crow’s nest.”

“I mean handy,” I cried.

“Funny,” mused Jim, “how one forgets about bird’s nests on a winter’s night.”

The snow was lashing our windshield.

“Come, Jimmie, snap out of it!”

“If I remember right,” said Jim, “I saw a robin’s nest in one of those big poplars. across from that lending library you go to.”

I drove there through the snow and slush. We got out and walked along in the night, looking up into the tall trees; but with snow falling in our faces, and on account of the bad light, we could see no bird’s nest.

“I remember a place,” I cried. “I used to stop and listen to the robins. There would be a nest.”

“I drove around a couple of blocks into a quiet west-end street lined with poplars and maples. We got out and walked along, watching up into the trees.

“There’s one!” I shouted. Sure enough, in the faint light of the street lamps, on a bough only twenty feet up in a maple tree, was a dark blob that unquestionably was a bird’s nest.

“Up you go,” said Jim, who had been holding the silk hat on his lap in the car and now was carrying it in his hand. “You get it.”

“I can’t climb, Jimmie,” I protested. “I get dizzy. Anyway, I got the silk hat.”

“You started this party,” said Jim. “You climb the trees.”

“Very well, boost me,” I said, putting my arms around the trunk of the tree.

He boosted me, and I reached the lowermost branches of the maple tree. I swung up. I reached to the next branches. The tree was wet and cold and slippery. There was slush gathered in all the crotches. It was messy. My gloves started to slip, so I took them off.

“Make it snappy,” called Jim in a guarded voice. “Somebody might come along, and it looks kind of funny to see a guy in a silk hat up a tree.”

I reached the main branch the nest was on.

The nest looked fifty feet away. Fifty feet out on a slim and rapidly diminishing branch covered with snow you can’t see from below.

I dared not look down. It seemed as high as The Star Building. I straddled the branch front-ways. It was too terrible. So I straddled the branch backwards and started hitching myself out a few inches to a hitch. I got about five feet out on the branch when my nerve failed.

“Jimmie!” I called sharply. “Come up here!”

“Come up, nothing,” replied Jim. “The nest isn’t six inches from your tail.”

“Jim!” I repeated more loudly and firmly. “Come up here! Somebody has got to come up here. I’m going to fall if I even let go the branch.”

I was now lying down with both arms wrapped around the branch.

In the house on whose lawn the maple tree stood, a window went up and somebody looked out at me. I could feel them looking at me quite a long time. Then the window shut quickly.

Better To Be Bourgeois

Two ladies were coming along the street. I kept still. But they saw Jimmie looking up the tree, so they looked, too. They stopped and just stood there looking up.

On the veranda of the house, two men came out. Across the road, a man came out pulling on his coat,

Lights came on the houses next door and across the street. A motor car stopped and two ladies and one man got out and joined the group gathering below.

“Jimmie,” I said, “will you come up at once? I can’t hold on much longer.”

“Just work your way back to the main trunk,” said Jim.

“I can’t turn around,” I explained, “and I can’t go along a branch except backwards.”

One of the men from the house came out on the lawn and turned a flashlight up at me. Two or three people ran into their houses and came out with other flashlights.

“Look at his hat,” they all said.

“Come down out of that,” said the man on whose lawn the maple tree stood. “Get out of my tree at once.”

“Jimmie,” I begged, “twenty minutes are up; those boys will be gone from Jane and Bloor!”

“Just move a foot and see how you feel,” urged Jim. “It’s only a little way.”

I heard them discussing things. I heard the man on whose lawn the tree stood arguing with Jimmie. Jimmie was explaining what a scavenging party is. He said we had met some young chaps who said they would ring us in on their party. Jimmie said he didn’t know exactly where the party was, but it was in the Kingsway.

“Jimmie,” I called. “Never mind all that. Come and help me down.”

The wind was swaying the tree; it was dark and the wet snow was blowing up my wrists, down my collar.

“Nobody in a silk hat,” shouted the man in the middle of the gathering throng, “is going to be climbing my tree in the middle of the night!”

“It’s a game, it’s a party,” explained Jim in a beseeching voice.

“Tell me where I can telephone and they’ll tell me it’s a party,” yelled the man. “Tell me that and then I’ll think there is some sense to it.”

“I explained to you…” begged Jim. “Two young chaps called at the door…”

“A swell story that is,” declared the man, and everybody agreed with him.

“Jimmie,” I moaned, “I think I’m slipping.”

So somebody got a ladder and I climbed down, and the first thing I did on terra firma was change hats. So they wouldn’t take our car number and find out who we were, we walked around the block several times until all was quiet before getting my car again.

“You see, Jimmie?” I said. “You see how it is? It’s better to be bourgeois.”

“It was the silk hat,” declared Jim. “If it hadn’t been for that infernal badge of aristocracy, you wouldn’t have looked so bad up the tree.”

“No, Jimmie,” I pursued. “It just goes to show that the way life is is the result of centuries of experience. The best place for people is at home, quietly sitting beside their fireplace.”

“Hurray for Lenin, anyway,” said Jim.

Which closed the incident.

Editor’s Notes: If you describe someone or something as the cat’s whiskers or the cat’s pyjamas, you mean it is the best thing of its kind.

The Toronto Star Building was built in 1929 (and demolished in 1972) and 22 stories tall.