Wup she did come, and on to the street car tracks at the very moment a street car came clanging along.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 17, 1945.

“Let’s help the poor guy,” suggested Jimmie Frise.

“Him?” I demanded indignantly.

Jimmie took a look at the driver of the motor car that was struggling so hard to get out of the rut by the curb.

“Ah,” said Jimmie, turning to join me, and we continued our lunch time stroll through downtown Toronto.

“I wouldn’t help that guy,” I said bitterly, “if he were going down for the third and last time.”

“I didn’t notice who it was,” explained Jim. “I just noticed a car in difficulties and was going to give him a shove. But wouldn’t I have felt like a sap if I had gone ahead and given him a hand?”

“That guy,” I declared, “is the meanest buzzard I have ever met, in 50 years. This very morning, when we were waiting for the street car, what did he do?”

“We wouldn’t have accepted a lift, even if he had offered it,” cut in Jim.

“I don’t mean that,” I said. “I mean the splashing. He saw us standing there at the car stop. He deliberately speeded up his car, and equally deliberately steered his car towards us into that puddle, just to spray mud and filth all over us.”

Jimmie and I both looked down at our coats and brushed off imaginary relics of that humiliating drenching we had got this morning.

“We couldn’t prove he deliberately did it,” opined Jim “Maybe he just swerved.”

“Jim,” I reproached, “what nonsense. The man is a natural born skunk. We’ve known him for 10 years. In that time, our only dealings with him have been unfailingly to be skunked. Do you remember the outboard motor I bought from him? And have you forgotten the time he reported you to the Humane society for shooting pigeons?”

“And then,” recalled Jim, “do you remember how he got us to sign a petition which read that we wanted a red and green signal light at our main corner? And when the petition was all signed, he attached the signatures to another petition entirely.”

“Which recommended his appointment,” I cried, “as arbitrator in some tax squabble up in our ward. The man is a crook.”

“I’m glad I didn’t step up and help shove his car,” chuckled Jim. “What a fool I’d have felt.”

“And he,” I said, “would have been tickled to death to think we were such saps.”

A Pleasant Hour

We turned north on Bay St. As February begins to weaken towards March, Jimmie and I resume our noon time strolls, which are interrupted by the dead of winter, through the downtown streets. These lunch time promenades are the pleasantest part of the day. You can see your fellow citizens en masse, and in the open air. They look happy and pleasant, out of their formal business setting. A man who buries himself in his work, who deals all day long only with his fellow workers, who grabs his lunch and returns to his narrow task, loses his public sense. You would think that in great cities, where people are so congregated, men and women would constantly increase their fellow feeling and public sense. But such is not the case. The more people are congested, the less feeling they have for one another. The street cars are crowded so that the average human face, in a tram, wears an expression of fixed distaste. There is so little to go round, in cities, that all movies have line-ups, all stores are filled with jostlers, and life is a race in which everybody looks and acts the way certain of our barnyard friends do when the farmer yells “PEEG- peeg-peeg!”

But noon time is different. Some of the throngs are just going to lunch and have that happy expression of people with pleasantly empty stomachs. Others are just on their way back from lunch, and have that happy expression of people with pleasantly comfortable stomachs. And they are of all sorts, ages and sexes. Noon is the public hour.

“You know,” said Jimmie, as we strolled up Bay St., “I was just thinking. The pathos of this war. Here we are trying to plan peace and friendship amongst nations when, even in our little circle of acquaintance, there are people we hate and people who hate us. We try to scuttle them. They try to scuttle us.”

“We have to stick to broad principles,” I informed him.

“The only reason we have to stick to broad principles,” retorted Jim, “is because human affairs can’t be worked out in terms of reality, in terms of actual individuals. There’s that guy back there. He’s so mean, he deliberately and instinctively seized the chance to smear us with mud this morning. And we, deliberately and instinctively, seeing the poor guy stuck in a snow drift, pass him by.”

“And hope,” I added, “that everybody else will pass him by.”

“Maybe the poor guy,” said Jim, “has just got word that his wife is dying. Maybe he is frantically trying to get home.”

“More likely,” I suggested, “he has heard of some widow or orphan who has just fallen heir to $100 and he is rushing out to sell them some bum stock.”

“What I’m getting at,” said Jim, as we turned east on Adelaide St., “is how can we ever straighten out the world’s troubles, how can we ever build up friendship, respect and good faith between nations when each of the nations is filled with people trying to cut each other’s throats?”

“In the larger realm of nations,” I submitted, “the petty evils of the people are lost sight of.”

“I’m beginning to doubt that,” asserted Jimmie. “I’m beginning to think that if you put one bad egg in an omelet, the whole omelet is bad. I am starting to wonder if we haven’t got the wrong idea about human brotherhood. We talk about the brotherhood of man and, right away, our minds sail into wide spaces of heavenly blue from which we can survey the whole world. At the mere suggestion that the brotherhood of man should start with our two next door neighbors and extend up the street and across the road, house by house, we curl up into a crisp like bacon.”

“Well, does the brotherhood of man,” I demanded, “include that so-and-so back there trying to rock his car out of the rut?”

“Exactly,” said Jim.

“Eh!” I exclaimed.

“I say,” said Jim, “that no man should be allowed even to talk about the brotherhood of man until, in his own intimate and local circle, he has conquered all his dislikes, mastered all his hates and prejudices, and found understanding and explanation, in his own heart for every man and woman and child he knows personally. A man who has succeeded in doing that might then be permitted to think about – and even to talk about – the brotherhood of man. But it so happens that those who right now, all over the world, in all countries including our own, are busiest talking and planning for peace on earth and the brotherhood of nations are also those who have the greatest contempt for large numbers of their immediate fellow men.”

“You mean…?” I inquired.

“I mean partisans and politicians,” said Jimmie, “I mean big industrialists who hate, agitators and Socialists who hate exploiters.”

“Ah,” I interrupted, “but you can understand a true reformer hating powerful exploiters of the working class.”

A Changed Attitude

“I am not interested,” cut in Jim, “in the rights or wrongs. I am interested only in the fact that they hate. I am not interested in why they hate or dislike. All I say is, our own little city, our own little province, our own little nation, is filled with people at war with each other in mind, spirit and body. Every other country on earth is also filled with these warring individuals, families, communities, parties, sects, sections.”

“It’s part of the principle of free enterprise,” I offered, “of freedom itself. Only by force can you make all people act and think alike. And that’s dictatorship. And it always fails.”

“All I say,” persisted Jim, as we turned down Yonge St., to round the block, “is this: What a fat chance we have of making friendship between Canada and Russia, for instance, if we can’t help that poor slob shove his car out of the rut.”

“Now, now,” I cried suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you are weakening towards that poor toot.”

“Look,” said Jim, “we slathered a lot more slush over Russia, back in 1920 to 1940, than that guy sloshed over us this morning.”

“Not all of us,” I protested. “There was always a handful of friends of Russia in Canada, even in the worst days.”

“And they were called Reds by the rest of us,” said Jim. “We threw slush, we called names, we arrested people and sent them to jail on technicalities but really because they were working friends of Russia. Doubtless, Russia was no more friendly disposed towards us during all those years than we were towards them. I’d say our attitude towards that guy in the car stuck in the rut and his attitude towards us, right now, is about the same as the attitude of us towards Russia and Russia towards us, 10 years ago.”

“Probably right,” I admitted.

“Therefore,” wound up Jimmie, hurrying towards the corner of King St., where we would turn and come into the stretch where our mud-slinging friend was last seen wearing out his tires in the rut, “therefore, if we can give him a lift with his car, Russia and Canada can be friends. Am I right?”

“Jim,” I cried, “it’s on an entirely different plane. The one is individual. The other is impersonal. The one is personal, the other is abstract. I wouldn’t help that guy if he were….”

But even as we turned the corner, I could see that, though 10 minutes had passed, our friend was still stuck in the rut by the curb.

“And,” I announced triumphantly, “though a hundred people have passed by, not one has offered to lend him a hand. You can always trust human instincts. People know a skunk when they see one. The…”

“I am going to give him a push,” said Jimmie. “I am not going to give him a push because he is somebody in trouble. I am going to help him because I know who he is. I am going to get him out of his jam fully aware of all the dirty tricks he has played on me. But I am going to do it not for his sake, but for mine, I am going to see how big I am.”

“And I’ll stand back and snicker,” I taunted.

“No, sir,” said Jim. “If I am not big enough to lend a hand even to a stray dog. I am not big enough to lend a hand to my fellow man. If I can do this, then there is hope of peace between nations. If I can’t, there isn’t.”

“I wouldn’t humiliate myself,” I asserted.

Already we could hear the vain whining and snarling of the tires in the icy rut. Passers-by ahead of us turned their heads briefly and looked at the man in difficulty. But nobody paused in their stride.

“Retribution,” I said.

Giving a Hand

In the usual angry panic into which people fall as soon as their car sticks in the rut, our friend was rocking savagely forward and backward and getting no place. He was parked in between two other cars. He was so mean a type, he would not spend 20 cents to park in a parking lot. He would prefer to waste $10 worth of time running in and out of his office to re-park his car on the public streets to avoid summonses.

Jim stepped up and smiled in the car window.

“Stuck?” he inquired very friendly.

“Why, hello Jim!” cried the spotted leopard in sheep’s clothing.

“Can I give you a shove?” asked Jim pleasantly.

“Why, that’s swell,” said the graceless bounder, without even a blush.

“Hey,” called Jimmie to me, though I was deliberately standing well back against the shops. “Lend a hand, will you?”

“Why, hello Greg,” cried the dirty swab. “I haven’t seen you in months!”

I looked him in the eye. But he had practised looking innocent all his life.

“Say, fellows,” he cried heartily, “if you could just ease me out of the rut I’ll be ever so much obliged. I nearly had her a couple of times, but she slips back into the icy rut when I turn the front wheels out.”

“Have you any old rags in your car?” I inquired coldly. “Or a bucket of ashes?”

“Hardly,” laughed the slob. “Heh, heh, heh! You’re a great joker, Greg.”

“Hasn’t seen us for months,” I muttered to Jim, as I took hold of the front bumper and Jim got a grip of the rear curve of the body.

“Sssshhh,” murmured Jim, “don’t give him the satisfaction of seeing you are sore at him. Just act like a big guy being big.”

“Okay?” called the robber of widows and orphans out the window. “I’ll turn the wheels out and slowly give her the gun. You fellows shove, altogether. One, two, three!”

Wup, she came. Back into the rut. One, two, three, wup, she came, then back into the rut. We got her rocking. The engine roared, we shouted, one, two, three, wup!

And in the din of engine racing, wheels grinding and whining and all of us wupping, wup she did come, all of a sudden, and fair on to the street car tracks at the very moment a street car came clanging along.

There was a panic of bells, of grinding brakes, of engine and of loud yells.

And then the lovely solid sock of a street car squashing mud guards and dinging bumpers and splintering back windows of motor car. And above it the anguished bellowing of a stealer of candy from babies.

“My gosh!” gasped Jimmie, surveying the sudden ruin.

“Peace,” I enunciated. “It’s wonderful!”

“Why,” screeched a voice from within skew-gee motor car, “you dirty, clumsy double-crossers, you low, crooked, double-dyed…”

The end was, we all gave our names and addresses to the conductor, the policeman and the dirty swab -who didn’t seem to want them – as witnesses, chief of whom was a tall, well-dressed gentleman we had not noticed on the sidewalk who said, with authority:

“These two gentlemen very kindly, I thought, offered the driver a shove. They were behind. It behove the driver to watch out for traffic. It is entirely his fault.”

“Come on,” commanded the policeman, “get that crate off the right-of-way.”

And as we completed our lunch time promenade, full of philosophy and sage reflection, we saw our friend, the Russian… no, I mean the robber of widows and orphans, wobbling off in the distance, his fenders waving, his rear end stove in.

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