I ran ahead and caught up with Jim… and we sold the whole load.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 27, 1946.

“Whoa, slow down!” commanded Jimmie Frise.

I slowed carefully. You can’t slow all of a sudden in the 5 p.m. home-going traffic.

“Look at the poor guy,” cried Jim, looking back.

Beside the curb stood a peanut wagon. And on the curb beside it sat the peanut man, his head buried in his hands, his whole body slumped and he appeared to be shaking or shivering.

The traffic whanged past him, heedless.

“Back up a little, into the curb,” ordered Jim.

“Look,” I said, “I was planning on doing a little gardening tonight, before supper…”

“Why, the poor guy’s sick!” remonstrated Jim.

“After all,” I countered, “there are agencies for looking after things like this. There’s the police, for instance. They’ll see him in a few minutes, if they haven’t seen him already. The cops pass here every few minutes…”

“Back into the curb,” commanded Jim, opening his door.

I backed in. Jim hopped out and walked back to the peanut man. So I got out, too, and strolled over.

It wasn’t as if the man had been hit by a car. An accident is one thing. Sickness is another. Everybody responds willingly to an accident. But nobody feels much attracted, in public, to somebody who is merely sick. In fact, the natural instinct is to avoid somebody who is ill.

“Hey,” Jim was saying, kindly, shaking the peanut man’s shoulder. “Hey, are you all right?”

The peanut man moaned and went into a spasm of shaking from head to foot.

“Hey,” demanded Jim, scrunching down beside the squatted figure of the peanut man. “Look, mister. What’s the matter? You sick?”

Again the peanut man moaned. His face was sunk in his widespread rough hands.

“Look, do you speak Greek?” Jim asked me. “Or Macedonian or whatever he might be…”

“I’ll try him in Italian,” I suggested.

I tried a few phrases I had picked up in the Italian campaign. “Come stati? Dove abiti?” But it did not penetrate the poor fellow’s moans. He shuddered and started to fall sideways.

Jim caught him.

“Here,” he cried, “get a cop, will you?”

But there were no cops in sight. Traffic snored and boiled past, everybody fighting for position. I ran down the boulevard a few yards. and peered in both directions. No cops.

When I got back, Jim had his arms around the peanut man’s shoulders and was trying to lift him to his feet.

“We’ll put him in your car,” grunted Jim, “and drive him over to St. Joseph’s hospital. It’s only a couple of blocks…”

“Now, just a minute,” I pleaded. “After all, we have no right to butt in on a thing like this! We could telephone the police from the house when we get home…”

On Guard

But Jim regarded me with such a malevolent glare that I could do nothing else but take hold of the peanut man’s other arm and shoulder, and help hoist him.

“Maybe he’s just drunk,” I protested.

“This guy is sick,” puffed Jim.

And he started to lead him towards my car.

“No, no, no!” moaned the peanut man, making a blind grab for the handles of his peanut wagon as we started.

“We can’t just leave this peanut wagon unguarded!” I pointed out to Jim.

“Okay,” gritted Jimmie, “help me put him in the car and I’ll drive him to the hospital. You stay and guard the peanut wagon.”

“Nothing doing!” I protested.

“Then you drive him to hospital,” whuffed Jim, as we got the poor guy, all dangling, to the car door. “And I’ll stay and mind the wagon until you get back.”

“Jim,” I pleaded, as he opened the door and started to heave the peanut man inside, “look, think! What are we doing? Is this any of our affair? What we SHOULD do is drive on and notify the police. If you like, we can drive around and find the nearest policeman…”

“Will I take him to hospital,” demanded Jim bitterly, “or will you? Will you come with us? Or will you stay and mind the peanut wagon?”

The peanut man was slumped in the back seat, half on the seat, half on the floor, his face gray, his eyes rolled back, his mouth open. and breathing strangely.

“I’ll wait here and guard the peanut wagon,” I said. “You come back as soon as you can. I wanted to work in the garden…”

But Jim slammed the door and, with a slash of my gears, jerked the car into action.

He careened around the corner, heading for St. Joseph’s.

The peanut wagon stood, all white and tidy, the little ring of gas flame glittering brightly inside the glass frame. Pop-corn was heaped in a snow-whited rift. Little bags, neatly crimped, were stacked alongside. At the other end of the glass enclosure were the peanuts. In little bags, in bulk, and some in a roaster for keeping the peanuts hot. I went and stood discreetly at a little distance, so that the passing traffic would not confuse me with the peanut business.

It was a beautiful evening. The mellow breeze from the lake wafted the odor of peanuts and buttered pop-corn out into the passing stampede of cars.

A car with a big grim business tycoon type drew up with a jerk. The driver bailed out and stamped towards the peanut wagon.

“Hey,” he called to me, “five bags.”

“The peanut man,” I explained, hurrying over very friendly, “was taken ill. My friend has taken…”

“Look,” said the big executive. “Five bags. That’s all. Never mind the details.”

I gave him five bags of popcorn. He offered me a dollar.

“Pardon me,” I said, “but I’m not the owner of this outfit. I just happen…”

The business tycoon growled: “Gimme ten bags and let it go.”

I gave him five more bags. He tossed the dollar into the air at me and wheeled. I picked the dollar up and placed it gingerly on the peanut wagon.

Jim was gone a good 25 minutes. And in that time, 10 or a dozen cars stopped, and bought either popcorn or peanuts from me. I ran out of change. But most people, when I explained that I was merely minding the wagon, took their change in merchandise.

I had two dollars and ten cents by the time Jim got back.

“Hi, there,” he called enthusiastically as he swung out of my car. “The poor guy’s got pneumonia. A desperate case. I took him in the emergency ward and they’ve got a whole staff working on him. Oxygen tent, sulpha and everything!”

Jim was flushed and delighted with himself.

“I’ve sold two dollars and ten cents worth of peanuts,” I informed him.

“Good for you,” cried Jim. “Now, let’s figure out what the procedure is.”

“The procedure,” I stated drily, “is to find a cop, as we should have done in the first place.”

“Why, that guy might have died right here on the curb, if we hadn’t taken action!” expostulated Jim hotly. “Find a cop, indeed! And then they’d have sent for an ambulance. And by the time the ambulance was back from another job it was on, it would be an hour before anything would be done. And this poor guy dying on the pavement…”

The Big Trouble

Another car drew up and a lady waggled her hand with a quarter in it. “Three bags,” she commanded pertly.

“Okay,” I said to Jim, after delivering the peanuts. “Fine. And now we’ve got a peanut wagon on our hands!”

“Well, it’s easy from here on,” declared Jim. “NOW we can hunt for a cop and turn the wagon over to him. But we’ve done the proper and sensible thing. We’ve taken action. It was an emergency. We may have saved that peanut man’s life.”

“And,” I submitted sourly, “got ourselves into a lawsuit, probably, for interfering with matters that are none of our business. How do you know that peanut man won’t sue us for damages, kidnapping him away from his property? How do you know he won’t sue us for theft? Here we are in possession of property – and money! – that doesn’t belong to us! Stolen goods…”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake!” cried Jim, walking a little away and gazing east and west in hope of seeing a policeman. “You’re the perfect representative of the modern man. You can think up more reasons for not doing something…”

“After all,” I cut in, “there is such a thing as law and order. After all, there is such a thing as organized society…”

“Is there?” inquired Jim softly, coming back. “Look: here was a humble peanut man dying of pneumonia on the side of the street of this great city. Hundreds, thousands of motor cars, laden with members of this great organized society, were whistling by every minute. How many of them saw this man? Hundreds.”

“Well, they pay taxes,” I pointed out. “They help maintain a police force, and hospitals and public health organizations. A great many of them are liberal givers to all kinds of charities and social service organizations that are supposed to look after…”

Jim fixed me with a mocking eye.

“THAT,” he said in his throat, “may be the very secret of what is the matter with the world today! Everybody pays and gives, in order to be done with all personal interest, or personal responsibility in their fellow mortals.”

“Aw, you’re just feeling a little important over doing a good deed!” I scoffed.

Jim withered me.

“If that peanut man,” he said, “had been hit by a motor car instead of being taken ill, you and I couldn’t have pushed our way into the crowd that would have gathered. And it wouldn’t have been a crowd to help the poor guy, either. Maybe three men out of a hundred would have offered to pick him up and run him to the hospital. Nobody wants blood on their car upholstery. No, 97 out of the hundred in the crowd would come running out of sheer curiosity. And not curiosity over the injured man, either. Curiosity over who hit him, how he hit him, what the guy who hit him looked like, standing there all white and shaken. But because the man was merely ill, everybody took a look and stepped on the gas.”

“Fine,” I scoffed. “But meantime, it’s 20 minutes to 6. And here we are, stuck with a peanut wagon, no cops in sight…”

Another car pulled up and three men in it. all held out waggling hands, with nickels and dimes.

I served them. Made the change.

“Nearly three dollars now, Jim,” I reckoned.

“In little,” mused Jim, as he watched the traffic still wheeling past, “in miniature, this whole incident is a marvellous demonstration of what’s the matter with the world today. Everybody is interested in mankind. Nobody is interested in the individual man. Throughout the world, we are all trying to ignore the individual man. We simply WON’T think of A Yugoslav or A Russian or A Canadian. We want to think in vague, abstract numbers, large nationalities. It’s easier. More comfortable. More COMFORTable.”

He kicked the curb.

“The U.N.O.,” he went on. “It isn’t thinking of individual men all over the earth – men starving, men dying of pestilence, men being blindly led by blind leaders. No. They think wholesale. They don’t think of one little guy dying on the curb of pneumonia. They think in terms of what is right and proper in the services that should be established in a big city or a state in order to sweep up these little guys by a sort of world-wide street cleaning system…”

“Here’s a cop now!” I rejoiced.

“Well, whatever he says,” muttered Jim, “I’m glad we looked after the poor guy.”

“Hello,” greeted the policeman, helping himself to a handful of pop-corn, “where’s Mike?”

“The peanut man?” replied Jim. “We just took him over to St. Joseph’s. He was just about unconscious with pneumonia.”

“No!” cried the cop. “How did you get him over?”

“In my car,” I said proudly. “And we’ve guarded his peanut wagon, too. I’ve made nearly three dollars for him.”

I showed the money.

“Well, well,” said the policeman, getting out his little book. “Now that’s service. I’ll just take down the detail and then I’ll drop over and see about Mike. Is he very ill?”

“They’ve got him in an oxygen tent by now,” said Jimmie. “When we passed by here, about 5.20, he was crouched on the curb, shaking…”

So we gave the policeman the details.

“Now,” I concluded, “what happens to the peanut wagon? Can you send for a truck? Will you take over?”

The policeman pondered, while he helped himself to another handful of pop-corn.

“Look,” he said. “Mike usually, after he stood here at the corner till about 6, went up Parkside. He always does a good business up there. The kids all wait for him. Now, the police station is only five or six blocks. up…”

“A Swell Idea”

“Good,” cried Jimmie. “That’s a swell idea.”

“You could make Mike,” said the cop, “a few more dollars. He’ll need it, in hospital. Besides, you can get rid of the stock in the wagon. It’ll only spoil or else the station duty boys will eat it all up.”

“Do you mean…?” I inquired indignantly of Jim.

“Sure I mean,” retorted Jim with a sly grin. “You go on home. Don’t be late for your supper. After all, supper is very important. We can’t have supper disorganized by vagrant happenings to absolute strangers… and not very important strangers at that… peanut men and such trash. Go ahead. Drive home.”

“Are you going to…?” I began, outraged.

“Sure,” said Jim, “I’m going to push this darn wagon to the police station. And I’m going to sell all the stuff on it before I get there. And I’ll take the money to Mike, and give him an honest accounting of it. In fact, I am going to be able, in this day and age, to face ONE fellow man with my eyes wide open.”

“What is all this?” smiled the cop.

“It’s a political discussion,” explained Jimmie.

“Jim,” I said, very respectful, “I’ll wait for you at the police station.”

“Good,” said Jim, taking hold of the handles of the peanut wagon.

“Get her whistlin’,” cried the cop, reaching in under the glass and turning on the whistle.

And away went Jim, with the whistle thinly but gaily singing, and the peanut wagon rolling. I drove slowly behind him for a little way.

Children ran out and bought; housewives came running off verandas. The passage of the peanut wagon, with its little whistle, was like some sort of ceremonial, with all the little feet dancing to it and the outstretched small arms and hands, and the bright small heads bobbing alongside.

“Aw, heck!” I said, jamming the brakes along the curb.

And I ran ahead and caught up with Jimmie and took one of the two handles and helped shove.

Jim said nothing.

And we sold the whole load.

And we made $6.15 for Mike.

And after we had handed it over to the Sister Superior and heard that Mike had a 50-50 chance, we telephoned to our indignant families and told them we wouldn’t be home for supper, we’d just pick up something at a restaurant.

We said we were sitting up with a sick friend.

For once, it was true.

Editor’s Notes: U.N.O. stands for the United Nations Organization.

$6.15 in 1946 would be $103 in 2023.