We were introduced with great enthusiasm to the men around the table…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 15, 1938.

“How are you,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “at raising money?”

“Middling,” I replied. “When I want $100 I always ask the bank manager for $300.”

“I mean,” said Jim, “canvassing. You know: raising funds for a worthy cause.”

“That’s something,” I admitted, “that I have never tried.”

“Well,” said Jim, “there’s some kind of a new service club starting out in the west end here. Sort of like a junior Rotary or Kiwanis club. It is starting a campaign to raise a sort of operating fund for its first year.”

“I’ll give you a dollar1,” I said, seeing it was Jim.

“No, no,” he cried. “It’s not that. The boys in charge of it came to see me last night to ask if you and I would do some canvassing for them.”

“Two dollars,” I offered. “I’ll make it two dollars.”

“I offered them five,” said Jim, “if they would let me out of it. But they kind of high-pressured me. They said you and I were so well known, we’d get them the dough like nobody’s business.”

“Ah,” I admitted, “that was very decent.”

“Yes,” went on Jim, “they said that this new service club is really for the younger men of the west end here, where they are sort of out of the swim, as far as the boys of say 16 to 20 are concerned. We’re seven miles from the University. We’re the same distance from downtown and the museums and main libraries and everything. A service club devoted to youth, they say, would fill a long-felt want.”

“I’ll go five too,” I offered.

“Look,” said Jim. “These fellows told me last night that you and I would get $100 as quick as unknown canvassers would get $10.”

“There might be something in it,” I submitted.

“It’s a very simple job,” pointed out Jim. “All we have to do is go out after supper and work about four short streets. They suggested just these four streets right around here. All well-to-do people. We could probably do 15 houses in an evening, between say 7.30 and 10 o’clock. What do you think?”

“Somehow,” I said, “it doesn’t exactly appeal to me. Somehow, I feel that we belong to the giving kind, not to the getting kind.”

“But look,” said Jim, “what have we ever done for the community? Here we are living our selfish lives, not doing a single uncomfortable thing. All we do is buy our way out of a little work with five bucks.”

“Or two,” I corrected. “Make it two bucks, as a rule.”

“And these fellows were really,” continued Jim, “very kind to say what they did about how easy it would be for us. And it’s true, at that, I suppose.”

“That is the only part of the proposition that appeals to me,” I submitted. “Beyond this: that it might be kind of fun to see inside all these homes around here.”

“Yeah,” said Jim, eyes widening.

Going Out Canvassing

“I’ve often,” I informed him, “had a sort of hankering to see what some of these nice big homes are like around here. I see the people who live in them. I see the outside of their houses. But I wonder what the insides are like? What kind of pictures have they on the walls? Have they got any enlarged photographs of defunct aunts, in walnut frames? What books have they? In what opulence or meanness do all these neighbors of ours dwell, who walk so proudly amongst us?”

“It would be fun,” admitted Jim.

“I tell you,” I offered, “let’s tell your friends that we will try one night’s canvassing for them. Tell them we are pretty busy men, but we’ll give them one night, see?”

“That will be safest,” agreed Jim.

“And we can have one grand evening looking over the domiciles of our neighbors,” I laughed. “Nothing is so revealing as the front room of a man’s home.”

“I’ll call the boys,” said Jim, “and tell them we’ll do a night’s work for them. All they’ve got to do is supply us a list with the names, addresses and business occupations of the householders. That’ll guide us.”

“I want,” I said, “to see the inside of an insurance man’s home.”

So Jimmie got in touch with the committee men of the new venture and they sent him a list of selected prospects in our immediate neighborhood. There were insurance men, managers of factories like ink or shoes, doctors, lawyers. And Jim and I went for a preliminary ramble of the district to look over the outside of the prospects and select the kind of houses we would prefer to see the inside of. We selected out of 50 names a short list of 20 which we could nicely cover in one night’s fast work.

“We won’t stay long,” explained Jim. “The boys impressed that on me. Don’t spend more than 15 minutes. The real trouble with the art of canvassing is the inclination to dawdle. Cover the ground: that’s the secret of success.”

“How much should we try to get?” I asked.

“Well, they told me,” said Jim, “to try for an average of $10 and we’d probably average five. But here and there, if we have any luck at all, we’ll strike perhaps $25 or even $50. We mustn’t forget that most of the neighbors around here know us, and some of them might want to impress us.”

“Especially,” I pointed out, “if we catch them sitting in their shirt sleeves in a living room with a lot of shabby looking furniture…”

“Now you’re talking,” cried Jim, who is only an amateur in the science of psychology.

So, putting on our best hats and the special mufflers we got for Christmas that our wives had put away in a drawer, we sallied forth. It was a lovely night.

“I imagine a lot of people will be out on a night like this,” I suggested.

“We have to take our chances on that,” said Jim.

In a Worthy Cause

The first home we had extra-selected on our list was that of a lawyer, a gentleman whose name is often in the papers. He occupies one of the larger and remoter houses in our neighborhood. It stands back. It has trees in front of it.

“This,” I said, “is going to be imposing. Tall, book-lined walls. Old walnut furniture. A few dim, expensive paintings by old masters on the wall.”

We rang.

We rang again.

Lights glowed within, so we knew somebody was home. But often, in these better-class homes, it takes even the maid a long time to answer the door. It is as if even the maid had more important things to do.

So we rang again, long and steady.

In the distance we heard sounds as of somebody coming. We saw, through the frosted glass of the inner door, a shadow of somebody moving. Then the inner door opened, and there appeared a queer sight. It was the gentleman we sought, true enough, the lawyer, but he was grotesquely attired. He had on some old kind of a dressing gown. he had a towel around his neck, his hair was all tousled, and he was stooped over, as if he were huddling from the cold. He opened the door a crack.

“What is it?” he demanded shortly.

“We’ve dropped in,” I started pleasantly, “in connection with a very worthy cause that has been started in the neighborhood….”

“Good grief, man,” shouted the lawyer thickly. “I only came to the door because I thought you were the doctor. I was up taking a mustard foot bath. I’m nearly dead with a cold, would you mind getting out of this with your…”

And with a terrific slam, he shut the door in our faces.

“Hmmmm,” said Jim.

So we went down the street four doors, rather hurriedly, to the next selected house on our extra-selected list.

“The poor fellow,” I suggested. “Us bringing him down to the door.”

“A bad beginning means a good end,” replied Jim.

We mounted the steps of the next house with confidence.

A girl came dancing to the door.

“Is Mr. Puckle in?” we asked beamingly, as became workers in a worthy cause.

“Just a minute.” said the young girl, uncertainly, and she left us in the vestibule.

The house was loud with music. The radio was going full blast. A swell band was raving and whanging, and somebody on the air said something and the house was filled with laughter.

To Change Their Luck

The girl went inside, and a man in his shirt sleeves came hurriedly out the hall and leaned into the vestibule, as if in flight.

“Mr. Puckle?” said Jim, heartily.

“Yes?” said Mr. Puckle, sharply.

“We’re a couple of neighbors of yours,” began Jim. We wanted to see you for a few minutes on a matter respecting a worthy cause, a new venture in the interests…”

“Not now, not now,” cried Mr. Puckle, his ears laying back as he tried to hear what the radio comedian was saying at the same time. “It’s Thursday night, man. Not to-night.”

“But we only require five minutes,” started Jim.

He made shushing gestures with his hands. “Don’t you understand?” he shouted. “Thursday night. It’s the biggest night on the radio. Nobody should be allowed out on Thursday nights. Imagine, you come here trying to talk to me about some worthy cause… here!”

And he stepped strongly past us, opened the door and waved us out.

Just plain out.

“Well,” breathed Jim as we stood on the steps under the stars.

“I guess he didn’t know who we were,” I suggested.

“Probably he didn’t and perhaps he did,” said Jim. “But so far, we haven’t averaged five bucks.”

“The night’s young,” I encouraged him, as we went down the walk a little way and looked at our list under the street light for the next house.

Well, the next house was another handsome edifice where the maid who answered the door wanted to know our business when we asked for the gentleman. We explained our business.

“I’m sorry,” said the maid. “My instructions are that all requests for aid or money should be referred to the master in business hours.”

“Just take our names in,” I suggested.

She took our names in, and we waited on the veranda.

She returned.

“He says, will you please see him in business hours?”

So we again went down the street and this time we studied the list more closely. To change our luck, we decided to go around a block and start on a new segment of our list.

It was, to the eye, a more appealing home we selected than any of the others. It too had a jolly look, but when we got to the veranda and listened in the window, we could hear no big Thursday night radio rumpus. We rang. In a smoking jacket, a man swung the door wide, in a generous gesture.

“Hello?” he said cheerily.

“We’re calling on you,” said Jimmie, “in connection with a worthy cause connected with this neighborhood. It is a sort of youth service club that some of the people around here…”

“Come on in,” said the gentleman gaily, “and rest your hats.”

We stepped into his parlor.

“Now, look,” said our host, “I’ve got a few of the neighbors in the dining room. We’ve got a little game on. How’d you like to speak your little piece to the whole bunch of us and save time?”

“Swell,” we cried.

And we were led into the dining room, where around the dining room table three gentlemen were sitting in the usual poker attitudes. We were introduced with great enthusiasm, though I didn’t recollect ever having seen any of the neighbors before, and they obviously had never heard of us. Still, it was neighborly.

Jimmie Makes a Speech

Jim made the speech. He explained the purpose of the proposed organization. How it would benefit the whole community insofar as offering some activity and interest to the younger men and older boys. It would teach them public speaking, self-assurance and confidence. Jim really did a beautiful job. All four gentlemen sat back, their cards laid down. and smoked their cigars in that thoughtful way poker players smoke their cigars, in little, puckered-mouth puffs, slowly steaming out.

When Jim concluded, with a rousing request for a few donations on the dotted line, to be followed in due course by a suitably engraved acknowledgment from the president and executive of the new organization, the four gentlemen looked at one another thoughtfully.

“Well, Bill,” said our host to the only one of them in his shirt sleeves, and they tell me those are always the most dangerous poker players, “what say?”

“Personally,” said Bill, slowly and in a deep, cigar-stained voice. “I make it a practice never to give money away. I offer my money on the altar of chance. If a cause is worthy, it generally survives the ordeals of chance.”

“Well put,” cried they all. “Well stated, Bill.”

“My suggestion is,” went on Bill, “that these two gentlemen sit into this game and, if their cause is really worthy, it will probably plaster them with luck and they can take my money off me, and welcome.”

“It’s an idea, gentlemen,” cried our host, offering to take our hats and coats.

“Wait a minute,” said Jim. “I don’t happen to have more than three or four dollars on me.”

“I’ve only got two,” I put in drily. Poker is not one of my good points.

“Why,” said Bill, “you stand to win ten times as much as you could collect out of us.”

“I’m in,” said Jim, starting to take off his coat.

So I sat in too. I sat in to play my own kind of game. I play poker my own way. It is this. I play nothing but jackpots. That is, I ante. And then, if I get one of three hands, a royal flush, a straight flush or a full house, I bet for all I am worth. But unless I get one of those three, I throw my hand in. True, I seldom get such a hand. But in a long evening’s play, all I can lose is my ante. And as the ante was five cents and the game five and ten, naturally, I was able to sit the game out with my two dollars for forty deals. Forty deals I sat and watched that game, and never did I get anything better than three aces, though I got several two pairs.

It took Jim all that time to lose and win and lose his four dollars, back and forward, and back and forward. But this little group of neighbors had a rule that on the stroke of midnight the game ended, no matter what, by finishing out the hand.

And when the stroke of midnight sounded. Jim pushed all his chips, and what do you think he was betting on?

A pair of fives.

Naturally he lost, and for all our night’s canvassing, we had nothing but our key rings and penknives and a couple of buttons and stuff in our pockets.

But the gang broke up with a swell tray-load of chicken sandwiches and coffee, and while none of us had ever heard of one another, and didn’t seem to care, we thanked everybody for a very pleasant evening and went forth into the night.

“So much for canvassing,” said Jimmie.

“So much,” I agreed, and we parted at the corner.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. $1 in 1938 is the equivalent of $20.85 in 2023. ↩︎