A man came suddenly out of a shop door, let out a terrific bellow and started waving furiously at us.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 20, 1945.

“Ah,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “if we only had a little money!”

“What could you buy?” I protested. “You can’t buy shotgun shells. You can’t even buy .22 ammunition. You can’t buy any sporting goods…”

“What I’d like,” confided Jimmie, “would be to be walking down the street and find a wallet with $2,7631 in it.”

“Why that amount?” I asked.

“Oh, I just thought of a number,” sighed Jim. “I’d be walking down the street and there would be the wallet, a fine, tan one.”

“It wouldn’t be in your possession long,” I assured him. “Your conscience would at least make you put a lost-and-found ad in the paper if there weren’t one looking for it already.”

“Yes,” said Jim, “but suppose some unknown man dropped it, some American visiting Toronto overnight, and on arriving back at his hotel, and finding his wallet gone, he would drop dead.”

“Ah,” I considered.

“Nobody would know he had lost it,” went on Jim, “I wouldn’t know who he was. It would just remain an unsolved mystery….”

“He would be sure to leave some letters or other identification papers in a wallet with all that dough in it,” I pointed out.

“Yes, but this is just supposing,” explained Jim. “And the kind of guy I mean would be some mysterious individual, some crook, maybe, over here on crooked business, without any identifications.”

“Okay,” I said decisively, “finding a sum as big as that, you would simply have to notify the police. They’d take charge of it.”

“Aw, heck,” growled Jimmie. “Can’t I even suppose?”

“Go ahead,” I agreed. “But my point is, what would you do with all that. How much was it?”

“Two thousand, nine hundred and thirty- six dollars,” said Jim.

“It’s getting bigger,” I remarked. “Call it, $3,000.

“Nobody ever finds money in round numbers like that,” complained Jim. “Leave it at $2,866.”

“Any amount you like,” I submitted. “In the first place, finding all that money would simply move you up into a higher income bracket. You would feel so good with all that cash you’d spend it. Then, along comes the income tax…”

“I wasn’t figuring,” interposed Jim mildly, “on mentioning it to the tax department. It would be just found money, see?”

“My dear man,” I cried, shocked, “you have to report every cent, whether found or not.”

“In that case,” said Jim, “I don’t want to find any money. But in the first place you said, what could I spend the money on. And in the next breath, you say I feel so good at finding all that cash, I spend it.”

“We’re Sitting Pretty”

“Oh, I suppose a man could spend $2,800 if he had it,” I admitted. “But it wouldn’t he spent on anything useful. There is nothing of any really fundamental value to be bought any more. You can’t buy guns. There isn’t a car to be bought. There isn’t a canoe, let alone boat. About all a man could do with any surplus money he might come by these days is pay off his debts.”

“With wages as high as they are these days,” surmised Jim, “and with all the money there is, in comparison with what little there is to buy, there must be mighty few debts left unpaid.”

“Don’t forget the soldiers,” I reminded him. “There are 500,000 Canadians overseas. They aren’t rolling up any bank account.”

“But they’re going to get from $1,000 to $2,000 each for their rehabilitation grant,” said Jim. “That ought to cover any debts their wives may have run up. No, I’ll bet you, there are fewer debts outstanding in Canada today than at any other time in her history.”

“Think of poor old Britain,” I said. “And poor old France, and Italy and Germany and Russia. Do you think it’s lucky for Canada to be so comfortable?”

“Aw, nothing can happen to Canada,” cheered Jim. “The only enemies we had were Germany and Japan. They could have attacked our shores. But now! We’re sitting pretty. And all our debts paid and bonds in the bank.”

“Which puts us,” I announced, “in the worst position we have ever been in in our history. Because the better off you are, the more enemies you have, the envious friends you have, let alone enemies. I tell you, it’s just about now we Canadians ought to get anxious.”

“Aw, what are you giving us?” cried Jim. “Who would be enemies with dear little old far-off Canada?”

“Far-off?” I snorted. “Boy, we’re in the middle! Square in the middle of the map. We’re half-way between China and Europe. We’re half-way between Russia and the United States. We’re half-way between practically every place in the world. We have been brought up on flat maps, that showed Canada stuck away off in the far left-hand top corner. It’s time we started looking at the round map and see just where this comfortable, debt-paid, hotsy-totsy little country of ours is.”

“You can’t scare me with maps,” said Jim.

“Maps are about all we should be scared of,” I replied. “It is certainly maps the 300,000,000 people of Europe are scared of, right now.”

“Well, who would want any part of Canada?” demanded Jim.

“They’re talking about spheres of influence these days, Jim,” I offered darkly. “Suppose Russia announced that Canada came within her sphere of influence, so as to protect Russia against attack by the United States?”

“What nonsense!” laughed Jim.

“Or better,” I suggested. “Suppose the United States said they had to have a chunk of Canada in order to erect defences against possible aggression from Russia? Or China?”

“You’re dreaming!” scoffed Jimmie.

“When we were small boys, Jim,” I recalled, “do you remember the old scares in the United States about the Yellow Peril? How wild-eyed Americans foretold the day when Japan would fight America, so as to get land in which to expand the Japanese people outside their terribly limited islands? The Yellow Peril was scoffed at by 99 per cent of the American people. Well…?”

“Hm,” said Jim.

“What was a wild-eyed dream, I concluded, “has come true. And all I say is, the more comfortable and secure and happy a people is in that comfort and security, the more they should realize they have enemies. Enemies unseen. Enemies undreamed of.”

“It won’t be in our time,” said Jim.

“No,” I agreed. “And there are a few thousand old Americans long in their graves, who laughed loudest at the Yellow Peril, whose grandsons lie newly buried in the soil of uncharted Pacific islands.”

A More Pleasant Thought

“Well, I wish I had stuck to that wallet I was going to find,” muttered Jim, “with $2,985 in it. That was more pleasant to think about.”

“Okay,” I surrendered. “I’ll play. What would you buy with it, first of all?”

“Well, let’s see?” said Jim, looking up at the ceiling.

Suddenly he let the chair legs down with bump.

“Hey, what time is it?” he exclaimed.

“Ten to five,” I informed him.

“By golly, come on,” he cried. “I’ve got to pick up the steak at the butcher’s for supper. I nearly forgot, and they’ll be closed.”

So we threw our coats on, raced out to Jim’s side drive and piled into the car.

“Plenty of time, plenty of time,” I soothed.

“He closes as near after five, that old Scotchman,” urged Jim, “as the store gets empty. Any time after five, and if there isn’t a customer in the shop, bang goes the door and down comes the blind.

“Good old Davie,” I said, as we backed out.

We reached the butcher shop in good time. There were still three or four customers in the shop but you could see old Davie hustling to get them dealt with, his eye on the door all the time.

Jim got the steak and we exchanged a few cracks with Davie about rabbit hunting and the fact that it is only 14 weeks and two days to the opening of the trout season on May 1.

“In fact,” said Davie, “tae pit it anither way, in 10 weeks, it’ll be only four weeks and twa days…”

At which moment another customer opened the butcher shop door and Davie waved us angrily out.

“Now see what ye’ve done!” he hissed.

When Jim and I walked out to the car, there was another car double-parked outside of us.

“Well, well,” said Jimmie. “What nice manners people have in this district!”

As a matter of fact, at this busy hour of the afternoon, there were three or four cars double-parked along the one block of little shops. Last-minute shoppers.

Jim walked out, opened the door of the car that had us blocked and tooted the horn long and loud.

“Maybe he’ll recognize his own horn,” said Jimmie.

A couple of long minutes went by and nobody appeared.

“What an outrage!” stamped Jimmie angrily. “Imagine anybody having the infernal nerve…”

At which moment a dear old lady, with some knitting in her hands, came toddling out from the sidewalk.

“I hope,” she said, “we are not impeding you.”

“Oh, not at all,” said Jimmie, cheerfully.

“My daughter has just stepped into one of these stores,” said the old lady, getting in the car. “I was just along looking to see what was keeping her but I couldn’t see her.”

“Aw, she’ll be along,” said Jim heartily.

Three cars ahead, a truck started to work itself out from the curb.

“Ma’am,” said Jimmie, to the old lady in the car, “would you mind if I just drove you ahead into that open space the truck is leaving? Could you keep your eye peeled for your daughter when she comes along?”

“Oh, by all means,” said the old lady. “That’s very good of you, I’m sure.”

So Jim got into the driver’s seat, the key being left in. And I got on the running board, just to make sure the old lady would feel easy about strangers.

But as Jim started the car, and just as the truck moved out of the space, another car, with a hustling lady at the wheel, came smartly from behind and, cut in front of Jimmie, stealing the place.

“Well,” laughed Jim, “we’ll just go ahead a bit….”

But ahead, there were no more spaces. In fact, it was a good 75 yards before we found an opening.

“Jim,” I suggested, “go right around the block. This lady’s daughter will never find her away down here. It’s an imposition on the lady to have her get back and watch…”

“Okay, okay,” said Jim, putting on speed.

So we went around the block.

And as we slowly moved around the corner. in front of the shops, not only was there no parking space, but a man coming suddenly out of a shop door let out a terrific bellow and started waving furiously at us.

A Big Mistake

“Any relation of yours?” inquired Jimmie of the old lady.

“I’m sure I never saw the gentleman before,” said she, eyeing him shrewdly as we drove past. He started chasing us.

“What do you suppose is the idea?” demanded Jim.

And he was so busy figuring it out, that lost the one chance of a parking space that offered.

“Round the block again, Jim,” I counselled.

“You didn’t notice your daughter along there?” inquired Jim anxiously.

“I’m afraid I didn’t,” she said.

So we turned the corner and started around the block a second time. And then we heard the furious sound of a car horn right under our tail bumper.

Toot, toot, toot, went the horn furiously. And suddenly we felt a violent bump from its bumper.

“Hey, what’s this!” demanded Jimmie, hotly. And he slowed the car and stopped in the middle of the street.

The door of the car behind burst open and a lady came charging out.

“Mother, mother!” she cried breathlessly. “Where are these men taking you?”

And she tore the door open and seized the old lady by the arm protectively.

“Why, my dear,” said the old lady, looking around the car. “Isn’t this our car?”

“It isn’t, it isn’t!” cried the younger woman brokenly. “Oh, these brutes!”

“Calm yourself, darling,” soothed the old lady. “I must have got in this car by mistake and the two gentlemen were just going-“

The sound of heavy footfalls and loud breathing suddenly burst upon us from the other side.

And there, with two other men with him, one of them a truck driver armed with a large wrench, was the gentleman who had come out of the shop shouting at us.

“Aha,” he breathed furiously. “Caught in the act! Caught red handed! And with a pious old dame in it for camouflage, eh?”

“Come on,” said the truck driver loudly brandishing the wrench. “We’ve sent a call for the cops. Don’t try anything funny.”

“Oh, oooh,” wailed the younger woman the other door.

“Now, now, my dear,” cried the old lady, starting to get out.

“Stay where you are!” roared the truck driver, darting around the back of the car with the wrench.

“Don’t you dare, you brute,” screamed the young woman, taking up a defensive position in front of her poor old mother.

By which time, people were coming from all directions, and it was a mob scene, with us parked in the middle of the street.

Well, it took quite a lot of explaining. We told about the car double-parked outside ours. And how the old lady came along and got into the wrong double-parked car by mistake. And how, when we saw a space offering….

The truck driver said he would escort us back to the shop. And if our car was there, as we said, why, he would let us go.

But he followed behind us all the way, with the wrench.

“You see, Jim,” I explained, as we started back with the steak for Jim’s supper, “how easy a war starts? It is always somebody who thinks he is being wronged.”

“Two of them,” growled Jim.

Editor’s Note:

  1. $2,763 in 1945 would be $47,630 in 2023. ↩︎