“Urk!” I said half rising. Jim rose and ran around to hit me a terrific thump on the back.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 18, 1939.

“World peace be jiggered,” declared Jimmie Frise. “What I’m interested in is a little personal peace.”

“If we had peace amongst the nations,” I pointed out, “there would be little to worry us.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” retorted Jim. “This world uneasiness isn’t at the top. It starts at the bottom. Men are uneasy. Men have made their lives uneasy, troubled, anxious, restless. There is no peace in the home, in the shop, factory or office. There is. no peace in daily life for any man, woman or child anywhere. And naturally, there being no peace in the nation, there can be no peace among nations.”

“Professor Frise,” I jeered.

“Okay,” said Jimmie. “Suppose absolute and perfect peace were declared amongst the nations, would that make us peaceful? Would it stop the telephone ringing? Would it decide who is going to use my car – me or my children? Would it mean I wouldn’t have to get up at 7.45 a.m.?”

“Those are trifles,” I protested.

“Trifles?” cried Jim. “If we had world peace would that mean I didn’t have to do a cartoon every week, rain or shine, winter or summer?”

“Ah, you’ll get that kind of peace soon enough,” I pointed out.

“It makes me sick,” declared Jim, “to read and listen day and night to this talk about peace amongst nations when every day we are bending every human effort to making our lives less peaceful. Inventing new and faster and more furious ways of doing everything we have to do. Inventing new ways of disturbing the home. Inventing new interests to eat up every spare hour of our lives. Like cars and radio and movies.”

“Why don’t you retire to the country,” I suggested, “and buy a buggy?”

“We buy a car,” ignored Jim. “In about a year, the same make of car we’ve got is brought out far snappier looking, far more powerful, far faster. Every time we go out in the streets, we are made uneasy and restless because newer and faster cars whip past us and around us, making us conscious of our old bus, waking in us the restless thought that pretty soon we’ll have to buy a new one.”

“It would be the same,” I explained, “if you owned a horse and buggy. Somebody would pass you on the road and you’d be trading your horse by nightfall.”

“The first radio I had,” said Jim, “was a crystal set1 with earphones. It was perfectly good. If I had it now, I would be hearing the programs just as good as I do now.”

“Oh, hardly,” I protested.

“I mean, as far as actually hearing the programs,” said Jim, “I would get them all. And what’s more, with the earphones on, I couldn’t hear all the distractions you have to put up with now, people talking and interrupting and doorbells ringing and everything. I loved that old crystal set. When you put the earphones on, you were shut up with the program as though you were in a little cell.”

“You can still buy those old-fashioned sets,” I pointed out.

No Peace For Anybody

“But no,” continued Jim. “We have to buy new models every couple of years. Bigger, louder, farther reaching, so that you seem actually to have orchestras in your house, and Mr. Chamberlain2 comes from England to speak to you in your living room.”

“I’d hate to have to give up my radio,” I assured him.

“Movies,” went on Jim. “Every so often. I say to myself, after a night at the movies, ‘well, I’ve seen all the movies I ever need to see. I’ve seen them all.’ Then along comes talkies. Then technicolor3. Then ‘Snow White’4. Then some super-mammoth feature picture that seems to make everybody goggle-eyed and breathless, and you are prodded into going again. So it goes. peace. No rest. Always change. Always something new and startling to keep you on the go.”

“That’s life, Jim,” I insisted.

“But don’t you see,” cried Jim, “there is no peace? No matter how poor and humble we are, there is always something new, demanding that we labor and struggle to make the money and find the time to partake of it. If we don’t, we feel we are neglecting ourselves, we feel out of it, we feel injured, we are uneasy, disappointed, restless.”

“The spur of life,” I assured.

“Then how can nations, made up of people like that, restless, ambitious, greedy, struggling,” demanded Jim, “ever be at peace with one another?”

“Do you mean,” I exclaimed, “that we should stop trying for world peace?”

“I mean,” stated Jim hotly, “if you want peace among nations, you’ve first got to make men’s lives more peaceful.”

“But you can’t stop the vast struggle of progress,” I explained. “It is a march. A mighty onward thrusting of human energy.”

“Okay, then,” said Jim. “You can’t have world peace. My desire and determination to own a new car, multiplied by millions, becomes the desire and determination of nations. Remove my desire for a new car, and you can have world peace. Make me impervious to the appeal of the latest and most colossal mammoth movie production, and you can have world peace. Cut out my passion for super radio programs or feature news broadcasts from Rome or London, make me indifferent to all these things, and you can then expect world peace.”

“Jim,” I protested, “your life is happier and easier and more interesting than the life of any of your ancestors, from your father and grandfather back through thousands of years. You are right now the flower, the bloom, of countless struggling ages of human progress.”

“Some bloom,” muttered Jim. “The jitter-flower. A new hardy annual, beautiful in herbaceous borders. Plant in soft warm soil.”

“Think,” I impressed, “think where your ancestors walked, you ride. Your grandfather had to walk 10 miles with a bag of flour on his back through the pioneer forest road. You roll over and reach for the telephone.”

“What would I want with a bag of flour?” scoffed Jim.

“No,” I said, “where your grandfather walked 10 miles with a bag of flour, through mosquito-infested forest trails to his little cabin, you telephone for a caramel custard pie.”

Uneasiness of Progress

“Don’t try to compare my life,” challenged Jim, “with my grandfather’s. He had peace and little else. I have everything, but no peace. He had to clear the land, but all around him was peace. This land was his. Hour by hour, day by day. season by season, he worked with patience and peace, knowing that what he planted he would reap, that all things in his life were measured, evenly and honestly in relation to his work. The better he worked, the more he earned. Above all things in his life, he treasured peace. Peace of mind, peace of heart and peace of body. He worked when he liked and quit when he liked, knowing just when to quit, peace being the price. He was not anxious. He knew how many mouths he had to feed, how many bodies to clothe, and in the spring he knew just how hard he had to work to win the peaceful heart before winter came again.”

“You can do that now,” I pointed out.

“Unless,” accused Jim, “the company you work for folds up because some other company comes along with a newer and better product. Or unless a depression sets in, and they shorten the payroll. Or unless any of the other desperate circumstances of modern life cuts you off without a day’s notice.”

“We may have had to sacrifice a little peace,” I confessed, “but we have gained countless wonders and joys.”

“Okay, then,” said Jim, “stop hollering for peace.”

“Who’s hollering for peace?” I demanded.

“The whole world,” said Jim.

“It’s you that is hollering for peace,” I informed him. “You started this, groaning and moaning for a little personal peace.”

“They say history repeats itself,” mollified Jim. “Maybe all the great civilizations of the past went through what we are going through. Maybe Egypt and Babylon and Greece and Rome went through all this sacrifice of peace to the uneasiness of progress. I often wondered why they always went smash, in the end. I often wondered why one of those great civilizations didn’t survive until today. Why didn’t the Roman Empire survive until now? It had everything: laws, science, culture, civilization. In fact, they handed us our civilization almost intact. Our roads, architecture, plumbing, laws, philosophy. We haven’t added much to what Rome gave us. But Rome went smash. Do you know why?”

“Because some greater power rose against it,” I suggested.

“Never,” said Jim. “A lot of heathens with lice in their hair, a lot of swarming uncivilized hillbillies, who plunged the world into centuries of uncivilized darkness, destroyed the Roman Empire. And I’ll tell you why. Because the Roman Empire wanted to be destroyed. It was too much trouble. There was no peace. The Roman Empire was sick unto death of itself. It wanted peace. It wanted to sag back on to the pleasant earth, amid vines and orchards and fields. It wasn’t overthrown at all. It threw itself away.”

“A lot you know about history,” I scoffed.

“History is in the hearts of men,” said Jim, “not in books. We used to look upon the Italians as a secondary race. We used to look down upon them, as they dwelt in their peasant villages on hillsides, with their wine and olives, and their music and simplicity, and their dwelling in ancient ruined towns; we felt sorry for them. We shouldn’t have felt sorry for them. They were happy. They had won peace. And now the poor devils are caught up again in the fury of progress. I wonder how many centuries it will be before they recapture peace again?”

“Let’s Eat a Symbolic Meal”

“You’re homesick,” I accused. “Homesick for the farm of your boyhood. It’s the approach of spring.”

“Thank goodness,” sighed Jim, “it is lunch time. Thank goodness, a few simple joys remain, like eating and sleeping. Despite everything civilization can do, it can’t civilize a boiled potato.”

“Or a baked one,” I submitted,

“Boiled or baked,” said Jim, “a potato is a peaceful, a beautiful and eternal thing. And a simple slice of rare beef.”

“Or,” I suggested, “a nice bit of broiled fish. Lake trout, for example. A piece near the tail end, where there are no bones.”

“Eating and sleeping,” gloated Jim, “they are the peaceful things that can’t be tampered with. All other aspects of life have been changed, altered, improved. They do their best to doo-dad up our food; but we come back, even in great cities, to simple foods, the eternal verities like steak and onions, corn beef and cabbage, bread, ham and eggs. Aaaaaah.”

“And sleep,” I agreed. “They invent marvellous mattresses, light and wonderful bedclothes. Air-conditioned bedrooms. But the minute I close my eyes, I am gloriously and insolently unaware of all progress.”

“I’m famished,” said Jim, getting, up and reaching for his coat.

“Let’s,” I suggested, “let’s eat a symbolic meal. An old-fashioned meal in honor of our forefathers who had peace.”

“Pork and beans,” offered Jim.

“Pawff,” I scoffed, “too modern. Let’s go away back. To primitive man. The most peaceful of all.”

“Ham and eggs,” said Jim.

“Invented by the Greeks,” I rejected.

“Beef.” said Jim.

“Ages before man had become civilized enough to be able to kill a cow,” I demurred, “he could catch fish. With nets woven of bark and roots, men caught fish. Let’s eat fish.”

“Why not go right back,” protested Jim, “and eats meal of nuts, green lettuce and radishes, to symbolize the herbs and roots he subsisted on.”

“I’d still go for a bit of fish,” I urged. “A nice bit of lake trout preferred, broiled. The tail end.”

“With boiled potatoes, well soaked in melted butter,” added Jim.

“They didn’t have potatoes until quite recently,” I pointed out. “Queen Elizabeth’s time, to be exact. But the potato can symbolize the roots our ancestors dug out of the earth.”

“What the dickens did they eat, away back before civilization?” demanded Jim, as we went out to the elevator.

“Heaven knows,” I admitted. “I’ve often wondered. I guess life was a pretty dreadful business, away back before men discovered what things to grow and how to grow them. Nuts and roots, and such little animals like frogs and things that were easily caught. I wonder who first thought of saving up nuts and roots to tide him over the winter? I wonder how they got through the winters?”

Living Dangerously

“I guess there wasn’t much peace to life in those far-off times,” confessed Jimmie.

“Probably there never was much peace at any time,” I concluded.

And we went down into the basement to the rich and odorous mood of the restaurant where we sidled, along the counter, picking our food with historic eyes. I took whole wheat bread in honor of my ancestors of about the time of Richard Coeur de Lion, and some radishes and lettuce in honor of those of my ancestors that escaped the Ice Age. And a lovely bit of grilled lake trout; the tail being gone, I had to take a cut from the middle. And a boiled potato, well slathered with melted butter, in honor of such of my ancestors as were around Omagh, in Tyrone county, the time Sir Walter Raleigh let loose that famous fungus, the potato, upon Ireland. And so we struggled for a table, shoving and shouldering our fellow moderns aside in the battle; getting, in fact, a nice little table to ourselves, with a pleasant profile view of several young lady stenographers very chatty and gay over their heaped platters of mulligan5 or sizzling steaks, despite the fact that there is no peace in the world. Pretty stenographers at a pleasant distance are like a dash of spice to a good luncheon.

Jim took fish also, and we set to, bending to savor the curious and attractive odor of sharply seared lake trout.

“Mmmmmmm,” said Jim. tucking a nice solid hunk of potato in back of a crumbling forkful of grilled trout.

“Here’s to my hairy ancestors,” I saluted, raising a forkload of trout. “To the first of them that ever caught a fish.”

I slid the tasty gobbet over my waiting teeth.

“Drat,” I said.

“Bone?” mumbled Jim, solicitous.

“Mmmmm,” I agreed, cautiously feeling about with my tongue and teeth for the bone. I got it. I delicately and as surreptitiously as possible removed the bone and then spent the usual helpless moment trying to detach it from my finger and make it lie down on the plate. I swallowed.

“Urk,” I said. “Hawwwwch. Kchah. Hyaaawch.”

My eyes began to bulge. I half rose, signalling frantically to Jim. Jim rose and ran around to hit me a terrific thump on the back.

The manager and three waitresses came running. All the pretty stenographers rushed to our aid. Jim kept thumping and I kept dying a violent death. My eardrums rang. My blood pressure rose to the bursting point. I could no longer see out of my bulging eyeballs.

Jim bent me back and opened my mouth. One of the stenographers, peering deep within, reached down with her long, scarlet, pointed fingernails and captured the fish bone.

“Hah.” she triumphed, holding the little bone aloft for all to see.

And in a few moments, except for charitable smiles from all sides, and the manager hovering tenderly near in case of further difficulties, we finished our luncheon.

“Life,” explained Jimmie, “is always perilous.”

“I can’t understand,” I agreed, “how the human race has survived till now.”

Editor’s Notes:

  1. crystal radio receiver, also called a crystal set, is a simple radio receiver, popular in the early days of radio. It uses only the power of the received radio signal to produce sound, needing no external power. ↩︎
  2. Neville Chamberlain was British Prime Minister at the time. ↩︎
  3. Technicolor is a series of advances in colour film that was evolving at the time. ↩︎
  4. Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released 2 years earlier. ↩︎
  5. Mulligan Stew is a term used for a stew made of whatever ingredients are around, as referred to by hobos. ↩︎