The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Where are the Bartenders of Yesterday?

“The expression on their faces of some of the old boys, as they sipped pink pop, was more than I could stand.”

By Gregory Clark, September 15, 1923

Into the private office of the manager of a large wholesale establishment on Wellington street was admitted a middle-aged gentleman of refined appearance who told the information girl guarding the sanctum that he was an old friend of the manager.

The manager looked up as the visitor entered, stared at him with a look of puzzlement on his face, and smiled.

The visitor was smiling broadly.

“I have called,” he said, “to see if I could write you up for some insurance under a new plan my company offers men of your age.”

“Now, I’m pretty busy,” said the manager. Then, halting, he asked:

“Look here: I know your face well, but hanged if I can place you.”

Still smiling broadly, the visitor came closer to the manager’s desk. Laying his hat down, he snatched a newspaper off the desk, flicked it open, and, with a sudden movement, tucked it like an apron into his vest. Then, leaning both hands on the manager’s desk he leaned forward and said:

“What’s yours, sir?”

The effect was remarkable on the manager. He leaped to his feet and cried:

“Tim, you old scoundrel! Where have you been all these years?”

And the two set about shaking hands as if they were long-lost brothers.

But they were simply two old friends, a bartender and one of his pet customers, meeting for the first time after seven years of drought.

Tim was head bartender in the downtown bar regularly patronized by this business man for years. An intimacy had grown up between them such as few not habituated to drinking in bars can imagine. A formal intimacy like that between golfers and their old pro, or between a lady and her housekeeper of twenty years.

Making him seated and comfortable, the manager asked his old friend:

“What have you been doing?”

“Well,” said Tim, pulling on the cigar. “I have had some rough times. When the old establishment closed, in 1916, I had no plans, like all bartenders, and couldn’t believe it when the doors were really closed. The old boss offered me a job around the hotel as a sort of watchman. But I was deeply insulted. A soft drink bar was opened in the old bar, and I served exactly four days there, for some of the old boys came in, and to see the look on their faces as they drank a glass of pink pop was really more than I could bear. I felt fallen in the world. I felt unclassed. Without warning, for my kids were all grown up, I packed a valise and went over to the States. Not belonging to their union, I had a bad two years there. I was in several New York towns in succession, but getting further and further down in the mouth.

“When the States went dry, I hadn’t enough money to take me to Montreal, the last oasis. So I worked at odd jobs and darn near starved–“

“Poor old Tim,” stuck in the manager, with real sympathy.

“No, no. It was good for me,” said Tim. “While serving in a bar in Syracuse I made the acquaintance of an insurance man. Two years ago I met him on the street one day, and he gave me a job selling insurance.

“‘If a man who has listened to as many sad life stories as you can’t sell insurance,’ he said to me. ‘nobody can.'”

“So here I am looking up, one by one, all my old friends across the mahogany. Do you remember that sad story you told me one night–“

“Easy, Tim, easy!” implored the manager, a changed man after seven years.

“–about your fears for your poor family, and you feeling that your heart was in a delicate condition?”

“Tut, Tim I have a golf handicap of eight.”

At any rate, Tim drew forth, in the approved manner, his booklets and folders outlining in graphic style the proposition his company had to make to business men of fifty and over. And It was a good proposition, in spite of the sentimental appendages to the deal.

For Tim wrote his old friend policy for ten thousand.

Where are the four hundred and fifty bartenders who, up to seven years ago, were quenching Toronto’s thirst with beers, wines and liquors? Where are the skilful jugglers amongst them whom men traveled far to see, as they tossed a cocktail from glass to glass, a gleaming rainbow four feet long? Where are these repositories of the sad life stories of thousands of male citizens of this now happy city?

Their union is broken up. Thorough enquiries at the Toronto Labor Temple failed to discover Arthur O’Leary, former business agent of the Bartenders’ Union, in his heyday one of the most popular figures in the labor world.

Strange to relate, a good many of Toronto’s bartenders have stuck to bartending, even though the quality of the goods they sell is different.

In remnant of what used to be one of the longest bars in Toronto, now remodeled down to a mere fragment of its old glory, a bartender of twenty years’ experience admitted that he was too old to change his calling just because the law changed.

“Is there much difference between selling liquor and soft drinks?” he was asked.

“I feel,” he replied, “like a banker who has failed and has had to take up the grocery business for a livelihood. As a bartender, I was the friend and confidante of members of the business world, half the city hall staff knew me by name, city fathers took council with me, mayors have wept on my shoulder. In the old days, my customers were regular customers. But of that bunch–“

And he waved a contemptuous hand at a dozen people, mostly idle young men, lounging against the soda bar.

“–of that bunch I don’t know one. Never saw them before in my life.”

“What effect has prohibition had on your income?”

“I don’t get one-third the wages I used to make and I get no tips. My income is about a quarter what it was.”

“Prohibition has hit you hard?”

“Yes it has. But I still think the going of the bar is the best thing ever happened. I do, really. For one good bar, where men had a drink, there were three crooked bars where men got drunk. I never let a man get drunk off my bar in my life. Some bartenders considered their job was to rake over the coin. Some of us, however, figured our job was to serve refreshment to men. But we all got hit just the same.”

Most of the bartenders who are still serving drinks are serving them over the former bars of old hotels. Only a couple are in soda parlors.

A few of the bartenders have gone up in the world. One owns a good hotel near the centre of the city. Others have retail businesses, grocery, hardware and boot and shoe.

One very gifted bartender is now in charge of a gasoline station, and is serving up gas and oil without a hint, in the way he serves up a pint of “medium,” that he was in his day one of the most skilful drink slingers in the city.

But others, the older ones, have had a very poor time the last seven years. Some are jobless, some are janitors and handy men around old hostelries.

“It took prohibition,” said one old bartender, who has been out of a job four of the seven years since his profession quit him, “to show up how shallow was bar-room friendship. I had lived in it so long that I had begun to imagine it was genuine.”

“Men who called me affectionately by name when they ordered a drink, sports who got me to do favors for them, men I’ve cashed checks for, all turned me down when I called on them.”

“I wanted a job, recommendation. But a month after the bars were closed, most of them had forgotten who I was. Not three out of fifty of them held out the helping hand when I was in need.”

Perhaps the hardest part of prohibition to the bartender was not the loss of his calling, but the discovery of the fact that the bar-room affection that shed a glamor over his trade was as thin and unsubstantial as the beer fumes that induced it.


Editor’s Note: Prohibition went through all sorts of referendums and polls between 1916 and 1927 in Ontario when it was repealed. Greg was likely not in favour of prohibition, but his newspaper was. At the time of the article in 1923, Howard Ferguson had been elected Premier, and would move slowly and cautiously on limiting the restrictions.

“Five Minutes to Closing Time”

September 17, 1921

Money Trouble

The storekeeper picked up the new twenty-dollar bill and examined it closely … In every face, all of a sudden, suspicion. Cold undisguised suspicion.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 16, 1944

“What is it,” asked Jimmie Frise, “that makes us Canadians so desperately respectful of authority?”

“I don’t imagine,” I replied, “that we’re any more respectful of authority than other people. The English, for instance, or the Germans.”

“Ah,” argued Jimmie, “yes, but the Germans have to be respectful or have their fingers jammed in doors in internment camps. And as for the English, it’s only put on. Did you ever try to pull a little authority over an Englishman?”

“If I had the authority, I think the English would recognize it as readily as anybody else,” I informed him.

“If you were an Englishman and had the authority,” corrected Jim. “They have a sort of agreement among themselves, a working agreement. But you take Canada. Somebody up top says what’s what and we all submit. There are no outbreaks. It isn’t as if these authorities had any tough gendarmes or black shirt police to back them up. I’m beginning to think Canadians are the most docile people on earth.”

“Remember the Chinese,” I protested. “Or the Eskimos.”

“All I’m thinking of,” said Jim, “is that cop back there at that fork in the highway. The way he ran up alongside of us and arrogantly turned us into the side of the road with a flick of his head.”

“He was perfectly right,” I said, “you didn’t slow down at that fork. There was a sign distinctly saying ‘slow to 15 miles’.”

“I’ve passed that fork a hundred times,” said Jim, “and there never was a cop there before.”

“That isn’t the point,” I assured him. “The law is the law whether there are any cops looking or not.”

“I don’t mind how many laws we’ve got,” said Jim, “so long as I am not humiliated in the enforcement of them.”

“You’re not mad at the cop,” I jeered. “You’re only mad at yourself for being so humble.”

“I wasn’t humble,” stated Jim. “I was only sensible.”

“You squawk about Canadians being docile,” I laughed, “and if ever I saw a docile Canadian, it was you when that cop nodded you haughtily to the side of the road and then bawled the daylight out of you.”

“I stared him straight in the eye,” cried Jim.

“Yes,” I said, “with your eyes wide and alarmed and full of an expression of deepest respect and humility.”

“We’ll Have to Be Smart”

“Oh, I did not,” protested Jim heatedly. “I did nothing of the kind. And anyway, how could you see me when you were cringing down in your seat as if God had suddenly appeared at the car window.”

“You were servile,” I declared. “You even called him sir.”

“An old habit,” said Jim, “I contracted in the last war. It was his khaki uniform.”

“Well,” I agreed, “it does seem absurd to me the way we kowtow to a cop. The way they bawl us out, the tone they take, you would think they were magistrates instead of cops. I don’t think we should put up with it.”

“The next cop,” said Jim, “I’m going to put in his place, if he so much as uses a tone I don’t like. He’s an employee.”

“Now you’re talking,” I said, sitting up hopefully to watch for cops.

“There must be some guilty conscience in us, or something,” mused Jim. “We Canadians must be descendants of people who came to this country fleeing from the law. All servility is based on fear. We must have some inherited fear of cops.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” I said guardedly (because after all what do we really know about our great-great-grandfathers?).

“I wish,” sighed Jim, “I had inherited something else from my ancestors than a guilty conscience. Craftiness, for example. I had a great-uncle Zebulon who was the craftiest man in seven townships. If I was crafty, I’d know what luck we were going to have tonight in finding the best place to go fishing.”

“It won’t be hard to find out,” I said. “A few discreet inquiries around the village.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “there are only nine houses, one general store and a gasoline pump in this village. Every man in the place is a musky fisherman. Dyed in the wool. The muskies at this time of year have left the weed beds and the deeps and have come in shore, along by the rocks and boulders. They are easier to catch and fight harder than at any other time of year. It is the peak, the glorious climax of the fishing season. These villagers look upon this season of the year as their share of the fishing. All summer long even in wartime they have been working madly for the benefit of vacationists who were getting all the fishing. Now the vacationists are gone, and it’s the villagers turn. They will resent us even arriving.”

“We’ll worm it out of them,” I assured him.

“We’ll have to be pretty smart,” said Jim.

“We can watch where they fish,” I reminded him.

“Yes, and waste half the morning trying to locate them,” argued Jim. “They’ll all be out before daybreak.”

“Jim,” I said, “you’ve got a poor opinion of country people. All we need to do is the old trick. Buy a few things at the general store, ask a few questions. Buy some gasoline, ask a few questions. Rent a boat, ask a few questions. Put two and two together, and there we are.”

Full of Great Quietness

We floated deeper into the musky country where civilization and the rocks were coming to grips. The farms grew fewer and more curiously laid out in fields bordered with shoals of primitive rock. We saw the first maples, gone gold and red. The villagers are right. This is the best time of year to go fishing.

The villages began to be farther apart. We left cement for gravel and gravel for sand, and finally entered a lovely narrow road winding amidst rocks and tall hardwood forests which we knew, according to our written directions, was the road that led to our happy destination where, along the rocky shores of a twisted and many-bayed lake, the big muskies, sick of the rotting weed beds, lay in the pure shallow shore water, waiting for something to wiggle past them, such as a well-cast lure.

And towards evening, we came to the village, full of a great quietness amidst all the equipment it had for summer, its park, the brightness, its shuttered outlying cottages. We cruised slowly down its one street, planning our campaign of reconnaissance.

“The general store, first,” I suggested.

And in front of the general store we drew up. It was the regular general store, with its ceiling covered with galvanized pails, bundles of hats, baled socks, boots. One side groceries. Other side, drygoods. Back, hardware.

Three or four men lingered leaning on counters as if expecting nothing to happen anyway.

“Good evening,” we said cheerily, in that easy city fashion. Our entry seemed to break a spell that had been holding the general store in thrall.

Everybody muttered except the storekeeper, an elderly gray moustached man who eyed us over his spectacles and said nothing. He went ahead quietly parcelling something out of sight.

Jim and I wandered slowly down the store, looking at the merchandise to see what we could reasonably buy as an excuse for visiting the store. Something inexpensive but useful.

“I think I’ll get a pair of overalls,” I said quietly, whispering through my nose.

“Nice bandanas,” murmured Jim. “How about a couple of bandanas each? Handy fishing.”

“You get the bandanas,” I muttered, “and I’ll take a hank of that clothes line. Good stuff to have in our kit for an anchor.”

“O.K.,” agreed Jim, “and two or three cans of tomatoes. I don’t like drinking this weedy water; and canned tomatoes are swell.”

“O.K.” I muttered, as we turned and proceeded to the front of the store where everybody was covertly taking us in out of the corners of their eyes.

The storekeeper finally finished whatever he was doing and came and stood facing us, planting both palms on the counter.

“Good-evening,” said Jim, amiably. “How much are those bandanas?”

“Two for a quarter,” said he, handing down a sheaf of them.

We examined them carefully.

“Two of them,” said Jim pleasantly.

“How much is that clothesline?” I inquired with a winning smile.

The storekeeper looked at me expressionlessly and said: “Thirty cents.”

“I’ll love one,” I informed him enthusiastically.

But it seemed very difficult to rouse any response. Jim strolled back eyeing the shelves speculatively, and I followed.

“What did I tell you?” Jim murmured. “We’re suspected.”

“Ask about the fishing anyway,” I whispered.

“Not now,” said Jim shortly. “Hostile.”

Our murmured conversation was not lost upon the silent company in the store. The merchant was tying up our small purchases in paper.

“Three cans of tomatoes,” said Jim. “About a pound of cheese and a box of soda biscuits.”

A Faint, Cold Smile

The storekeeper slowly gathered these items and set them on the counter. He seemed to be waiting. So did all the others. A curious electrical feeling was in the dim air of this store.

“That will be all,” said Jim, reaching into his pocket.

“Here,” I said, “you bought the gasoline. I’ll attend to this.”

“No,” said Jim, “I want this changed.”

And he laid a crisp new $20 bill on the counter.

The storekeeper’s hands paused in the act of spreading a piece of wrapping paper. He stared at the bill. He picked it up gingerly and examined it closely. He held at up to the light. “I can’t change this,” he said.

“Can you get it changed handy?” asked Jim.

The storekeeper looked long and steadily at Jim. Then he shifted his gaze to me. There seemed to be a faint cold smile in his eyes.

“No,” he said.

“Can any of you gentlemen?” said Jim, turning to the others standing back in the store.

They stirred and looked away and shook their heads.

“Here,” I said diving into my pocket. But I had only 17 cents and a $10 bill, the expenses of the fishing trip, plus any sudden emergencies.

“Can you change the ten?” I said, tossing down the nice new Bank of Canada dix.

The storekeeper reached out cautiously and picked it up and examined it closely. He shot a quick look around at the men standing behind us.

“No,” he said. “Sorry.”

“Well, heh, heh,” I said, “I’ve only got 17 cents. How much have you got, Jim?”

“Just a dime,” said Jim.

“You can take two cans of tomatoes,” said the storekeeper, “or the two bandanas. Or the rope and one can of tomatoes. Or…”

“Maybe the gas-pump man can change it,” suggested Jimmie.

“Do You Mean to Insinuate?”

All eyes turned to one of the men standing back of us. He, it seems, was the service-station man.

“Sorry,” he said. “All I got is tens myself.”

In every face, all of a sudden, suspicion. Cold, undisguised suspicion.

“Gentlemen,” I said, “do you mean this money is no good?”

I picked up my 10 and examined it closely.

“It may be all right,” said the garage man, he was a heavy set and sulky type, “but there has been some phoney money spread around this country lately.”

“Do you mean to insinuate,” I demanded of the public at large, “that we are trying to pass bogus money? Are you accusing us at being criminals?”

Nobody replied, but the storekeeper turned his back and began replacing on the shelves the articles we had almost bought.

Jim and I looked anxiously around at the faces. They were mostly averted, and there was no friendliness on any of them.

“Could you tell us,” asked Jim, “If there is a boarding house in the village open or anywhere we can put up for a couple of nights?”

Everybody looked at us.

“We’re here for a couple of days’ fishing,” I put in.

“Fishing?” said the sulky garage man. “Well, my mother takes in a couple now and then.”

“Mrs. Tom is still open, I believe,” said the storekeeper.

His and everybody else’s face had come to life.

“I’ll slip over and see what mother says,” said the garage man, buttoning his windbreaker in a business-like way.

“Muskies you’re after, eh?” said the storekeeper, breaking into a friendly grin.

“Yes,” we said, “but er … ah…”

“Oh, that’s all right,” said the storekeeper. “If you want that stuff I can change your 20 easy enough.”

“How’s this?” demanded Jim. “A minute ago…”

“Sure, sure,” soothed the storekeeper. “But you acted so suspicious when you came in.”

“Suspicious?” I asked.

“Guilty as anything, the both of you,” laughed the storekeeper, starting to hand down the tomatoes and bandanas again “Didn’t they gents?”

Everybody smiled and nodded.

“I couldn’t figure out,” said the storekeeper, whose name proved to be McAndrews, and can he ever catch muskies? – “until you laid down that new 20, and naturally I thought there was something funny about it.”

“Well,” said Jim, “if we looked guilty it was only because our real purpose coming in here was to get some tips on where to go fishing tomorrow, but we were going to buy some odds and ends and ask you casually …”

“Ah,” said Mr. McAndrews, “a guilty conscience always shows.”

“All right,” said Jim, “here’s a straightforward question.”

And we got a straightforward answer, and five muskies, and we know the first name of the whole 14 men in the village and we hope to leave a lot of tens and twenties there in the future.


Editor’s Note: $20 in 1944 would be $301 in 2020, so 10s and 20s were quite valuable back then.

Here’s Boo Boo Again!

September 10, 1938

This is another illustration by Jim for a story by Merrill Denison after he moved to New York to work on Broadway, that features his dog Boo Boo.

Down and Under!

September 7, 1946

Millions in Mink

We drew up at a very neglected and dilapidated farm house.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, September 6, 1947

“There’s millions,” declared Jimmie Frise, “in mink!”

“I wouldn’t invest a cent,” I stated.

“This fellow I met,” went on Jim excitedly, “offers us what they call a trio – male and two females – for only $140!”

“Not a cent,” I repeated decisively.

“Look,” said Jim. “We go shares. Seventy dollars each. He keeps the mink on his ranch, see? All we do is invest our money. He needs the money for development of his ranch. He does all the work. Now, suppose our two females have five kits each…”

“Kits!” I checked.

“That’s what they call young mink,” explained Jim. “There’s 10 kits. And so it goes. Maybe two or three litters a year. They’re like rabbits. They multiply rapidly. Why, before the year is out, we’ve got maybe 30 or 40 mink to our credit.”

“If there’s millions in mink,” I demanded cunningly, “What does this guy want $140 for?”

“You don’t understand,” complained Jim. “It’s like the mining game. You’ve got to put money in for development. I just met this mink rancher on the road. He was thumbing a lift, and I happened to be lucky enough. to pick him up.”

“Lucky?” I scoffed.

“Yes, I consider myself lucky,” asserted Jim, “in having picked this guy up. He certainly opened my eyes.”

“What was he doing thumbing a lift,” I questioned sarcastically, “if he is in the big money?”

“That’s the point!” cried Jim. “Don’t you see? He’s just developing into the mink racket. Do you think, if he were an established mink rancher, he’d let a couple of outsiders like us into a partnership?”

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” I grumbled.

“You’re like all the rest of mankind who miss the boat,” protested Jimmie. “The whole secret of success in life is speculation. Who makes the millions out of the gold mines of this country? The people who buy the stock AFTER the mine has proved good? No, sir! The people who make the millions are those who invested a little capital to develop the mine in the first place. The people with the courage to risk a little capital for the DEVELOPMENT of the mines. Those are the guys who own the two-tone convertible jobs.”

“Mink,” I stated, “are a fad.”

“A fad, my neck!” protested Jim. “Do you know how much they are paying for mink coats in New York and London right now? As high as $20,000!”

“That’s absurd,” I submitted.

“For blue mink coats,” said Jim. “Twenty, twenty-five thousand bucks!”

“Blue mink?” I requested.

“Yes, that’s the latest,” explained Jim. “The fine under-fur of the mink is a beautiful blue color. It gives the richest, most glorious lustre to the fur.”

“I’ve seen lots of mink,” I admitted, “but I never saw a blue one yet.”

“Well, up in the far north,” elaborated Jim, “the wild mink have this beautiful bluish under-fur. And on the world markets, mink pelts from the northern Quebec and James Bay district have always commanded the most fabulous prices. So, in recent years, the mink breeders have been specializing on this blue mink. Now, are you listening?”

“Go ahead,” I muttered.

“This fellow Middity I met, Hugh Middity, his name is,” said Jim dramatically, “is going to raise blue mink. And he’s letting us in, for only $140! Seventy bucks apiece!”

“Not for blue mink,” I asserted. “Nor for pink mink. Nor for any other kind of mink.”

“Aw, look,” pleaded Jim. “The world is hungry for mink. There isn’t a woman from the Atlantic to the Pacific who doesn’t covet a mink coat. So far, only the wealthiest and most pampered women – the movie stars, the wives of rich tycoons – have been able to afford mink. But there’s millions to be made …”

“Jim,” I assured, “when I was a boy, seal was the rage. No lady considered herself a lady until she owned a bob-tailed seal coat, with a frill around the bustle and large leg-of-mutton shoulders. So the fur trade produced millions of seal pelts and killed the fashion right off. The next thing I remember was Persian lamb. The next fashion was Hudson seal – which was muskrat clipped and dyed to look like seal. Next – mink!”

“But it will be years, years,” cried Jim, “before we satisfy the craving of the womanhood of America and Europe for mink coats!”

“I’ll tell you something, Jim,” I informed him. “Do you know that there are thousands of mink being bred right in the city limits of cities like Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg? Do you know that in back yards, all around the suburbs and actually inside the city limits, there are hundreds and hundreds of pens where little guys like store clerks and accountants and mechanics are raising mink for the market you are raving about? They have a long pen, about two feet square on the front, and about eight or 10 feet long, for each mink. A wire floor in each pen, and a little den of a sleeping box at the back…”

“Mink ranches are out in the quiet country,” interrupted Jimmie, “and the ranchers keep them solitary and free of worry from dogs barking or other disturbing noises.”

“Jim, I got it from a vet friend of mine,” I insisted, “who attends these city mink breeders. There are thousands of mink raised every year right in cities and the suburbs.”

“Well, what of it?” exclaimed Jim. “There’s a fortune in it! I’m not talking about guys raising half a dozen mink in a back yard. I’m talking about mink RANCH. We invest in a trio – one male and two females. At the end of the first year, we’ve got 30 or 40 mink. Forty mink! Do you know how much one blue mink – for breeding purposes – will sell for? TWO HUNDRED BUCKS!”

“For one mink,” I checked.

“For one mink,” assured Jim. “In fact, a good breeder blue male mink will sell as high as six hundred. Or even a thousand. It’s all luck. It’s like the gold mines. If you happen to develop a good blue strain, why there’s no limit to the money you can make. Look at what bulls sell for? You often see a bull selling for $15,000.”

“Yeah, a bull,” I admitted. “But a mink is a mighty small animal compared to a bull.”

“Greg,” said Jim, patiently, and a little sadly. “You don’t seem to understand how big money is made. You don’t get rich in this world by hard work. If hard work made a guy rich, there wouldn’t be a poor day laborer or a poor farmer or a poor mechanic in this world. No sir. The way you get rich is by shrewd and intelligent foresight. You look ahead and see what your fellow-man doesn’t see – yet! Now, any fool could look at the world today and see this mink coat racket and realize there’s millions in it. Every woman in the world – rich AND poor — wants a mink coat. Where are they going to come from?”

“Did you say this guy was breeding BLUE mink?” I inquired.

Now, during this debate, Jim was driving me 30 miles north of the city to meet the man he had picked up on the side road who had implanted in Jimmie this passion for mink.

“Two miles further,” said Jim, turning on to a gravel road.

And in no time, we drew up at a very neglected and dilapidated farm house, set among fields of stones and underbrush, a picture of decay.

We got out and Jimmie walked to the gaping front kitchen door and rapped. No answer.

We walked over past the barn, where there was neither animal nor man.

But beyond the barn, on a sloping bare pasture field, we saw eight or nine small structures amid the weeds which, on closer examination, appeared to be cages or pens. And among them, a man was bending.

We walked over the hills and hailed him.

“Jim,” I muttered, as we drew nearer, “this is an awful shabby outfit. If there was any money in mink, wouldn’t this guy have things a little more presentable?”

“I tell you,” hissed Jimmie, “it’s like the mining game. If this guy didn’t need capital to get his ranch going, would be ever be fool enough to let strangers like us in on the ground floor? I tell you, it’s a lucky strike, a bonanza for us!”

When we came up to the pens, the rancher, Mr. Middity, came forward to welcome us. He was a small, dignified little man, either with a very weak beard or else in need of a shave for about three weeks. His features were close set and narrow, and his eyes deep in his head. When he spoke, his small mouth revealed sharp marrow teeth, and I thought he looked more like a mink than some of the animals he showed us in the pens.

“Ah, Mr. Clark,” he said in a cultivated tone much in contrast to his ragged and dilapidated appearance, “I’m a city man born and raised myself. But I saw the folly of the city some years ago, and have been in the mink game.

“How many mink have you?” I interrupted, starting along the pens.

“Easy, easy!” warned Mr. Middity. “Don’t startle them? As a matter of fact, you have caught me at a fortunate moment for you and an unfortunate moment for me. I am in the throes of transition. I have just sold out, lock, stock and barrel, all my standard bred minks and have preserved only a very choice selection of breeding stock. Blue, Mr. Clark! I am confident I have solved the mystery of breeding the true blue mink. Not the mutation. Not the albino. But the true blue!”

“How many mink have you?” I repeated.

“Er… seven,” said Mr. Middity. “Let me see? Yes, seven.”

I glanced along the pens and could only see three.

“When strangers come around,” explained Mr. Middity, “they are very shy. They retreat into the sleeping dens.”

Jim was creeping from pen to pen, lost in a sort of ecstasy, even when looking into an empty pen. The screen of the pens was rusty and patched.

“At this stage,” explained Mr. Middity, “I am looking for a little capital to develop the property. I have, as I said, satisfied myself that I have the secret of the true blue strain in mink. It is a secret I am not at liberty, of course, to reveal at this time. But in due time, to my partners …”

And he smiled very minkily, and waved his hand airily.

Jim was down on his hands and knees at one of the far pens, making a sound like “eeky-weeky” at a very pale brown mink that was peering sleepily out of its den at the back of the pen.

“My proposition,” said Mr. Middity in a loud voice so as to include Jim, “is that I sell you a trio of three – a male and two females -“

“I was telling my friend,” assured Jim, jumping up and joining us.

“It was sheer chance, our meeting,” smiled Mr. Middity. “I was heading into the village to discuss the matter with one of my friends, there, the storekeeper. And who should pick me up …?”

“Which three are you going to sell us?” I inquired.

“Would you rather I sold you three particular mink?” asked Mr. Middity. “Or would you not prefer just to have a three-mink share in the enterprise?”

“I’d rather have three particular mink,” I stated. “Then we could keep track of the litters.”

“Aw, yes,” agreed Jim. “I think we’d prefer to have three particular mink.”

“Very good,” said Mr. Middity. “How about these three on the far end? The farthest is a male, and the next two pens are females. How would they do?”

“Can we see them?” I asked.

“Certainly,” said Mr. Middity. “If they’re out. But you know how shy mink are.”

The pale brown one – the one Jimmie had been going “eeky-weeky” at – had retired back into his den box. The other two pens appeared empty.

“If we wait a minute or so, quietly …” suggested Mr. Middity.

So we stood very quiet, watching. But after a good five minutes, nothing stirred. No sign of any mink appeared, either in the end pen or in the two adjoining ones.

“Ah, well,” sighed Mr. Middity. “They’re all the same, anyway. Only the rarest and choicest specimens were kept when I sold out the surplus, The three on the end, then, the male and two females, will be yours.”

And we went back to the broken down farmhouse, where Mr. Middity made room on his bachelor kitchen table for Jimmie to write out a cheque for $140.

Mr. Middity made room on his bachelor kitchen table for Jimmie to write out a cheque.

“I collect from you tonight,” Jim smiled at me.

Which he did.

That was Wednesday. This is Saturday. In this morning’s mail, Jim got the following letter from Mr. Middity:

“Dear Partners –

“In last night’s thunderstorm, a high wind blew the pens over, and your three mink escaped. I doubt if we can recover them. It’s the luck of the game. However, I have a beautiful azure blue female, a nice quiet animal that wouldn’t run away if she had the chance. I would be happy to let you have her for the sum of $200. Please let me know at once if this opportunity appeals to you, as it isn’t everybody I would take in on partnership.

“Your for bigger and better business,

“HUGH MIDDITY.”

Jim read the letter over the telephone to me.

“What do you think?” he asked enthusiastically.

“I think.” I replied, “it’s the same as gold mines.”

And I hung up.


Editor’s note: $140 in 1947 would be $1977 in 2020.

The Midway, Where Grown-Ups All Become Children Again

September 4, 1920

An illustration by Jim from the time of year of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.

A Tough Break!

September 1, 1934

Semi-Nudism

“We’re fried,” I said. “My friend here can’t turn over and I don’t bend anywhere but in the middle.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 25, 1934.

“Look at you,” declared Jimmie Frise. “Almost at the end of the summer and you haven’t a speck of color.”

“I got a good tan in July,” I said.

“It’s all gone now,” stated Jim. “You look as pallid as a garment worker. You have no more color than a sheep. The summer is the time we Canadians should soak up the sun and warmth to carry us over the long and blood-chilling winter.”

“I don’t tan,” I said. “I burn.”

“Everybody tans,” corrected Jim. “Some of us have to take it in easy stages, but we tan. Tan is the sign that you have done your duty, as a good Canadian, in so far as storing up energy against the winter. Like bees storing up honey.”

“I guess I have it inside of me,” I suggested.

“Look at those kids now,” said Jim.

Two girls and two boys were walking along King St. ahead of us. The boys were both shock-headed blonds and the girls were sleek brunettes. The boys were bare-armed, bare-necked and they were tanned a gorgeous orange shade. The girls, their backs and shoulders bared by print dresses, were a deep chocolate.

“There,” cried Jimmie, “are true Canadians. They will survive the winter. They will be full of pep next March when the last fatal blizzards blow.”

“Jimmie,” I accused, “I believe you are a nudist at heart.”

“No, just a semi-nudist,” said Jim. “I’m going down to Sunnyside this afternoon and lie in the sun. I think you should come along.”

“It’s a pretty hot day.”

“This late-season sun doesn’t burn,” assured Jim. “It has lost its sting. The sun is already sloping far down to the south, only we don’t realize it. The weather is still hot because all the heat the sun has been baking and pouring on to the earth this last two months keeps things warm. The earth has been doing what we should do. It has been soaking up the sun. But there is no kick in the sun now.”

“I’ll come,” I said, “but I think I’ll bring a parasol.”

Jimmie looked at me with contempt.

“You don’t deserve to be a Canadian,” he snorted. “You act like a soft Californian or a Jamaican. To be a Canadian you have got to be able to take it, hot or cold.”

“We will have bathing suits?” I inquired.

“Trunks only,” said Jim. “I’m going to wear my trunks and a sweat-shirt in the car until I get there.”

After lunch Jimmie picked me up at the house. He was handsome in bright blue trunks and a yellow sweat-shirt. I wore my striped dressing gown over my regular bathing suit. I beckoned him to come into the side drive to pick me up. With my family, away. I don’t want the neighbors seeing me traipsing around in a striped bath robe. Sunnyside is all right. You are lost in the picture there. But summer bachelors have to use discretion.

Spectacle of Happiness

There were thousands spread along the Sunnyside shore. Bathing, beach bathing, sun bathing, in clots and mobs and family parties, along the bright shore and the blue water, they made a spectacle of color and health and happiness.

“Now,” said Jimmie, coasting along the highway, “it is illegal for us semi-nudists to parade in half a bathing suit, so we just have to hunt along the beach until we see an unfrequented spot. There are hundreds of our fellow sun-worshippers there on the beach, lying flat and out of sight. The only time the police pick you up is when you walk around in full view.”

“It would look fine in the papers,” I said, “in the police court news-‘journalists pinched for nudism.’ I can’t take any chances, Jim. Not with my family. Let’s drive out to the country somewhere and lie down in the middle of a ten-acre field with a hollow in it.”

“The beach is the proper place,” said Jim. “What would the cows think of seeing us in their field? And, anyway, it would be a far worse crime to be semi-nude in the middle of a ten-acre field in the country than semi-nude on a city beach. You don’t understand the rural mind.”

“I’ll only tan my legs and arms,” I said. “And if the cops see you I’ll pretend I don’t know you.”

Jim parked the car. Down even with us on Sunnyside were scattered bushes and long grass and far away to the east and well off toward the west were bright crawling hordes of sun-worshippers, but in front of us were just a few scattered couples.

“This is ideal,” said Jimmie. “You can’t see a person lying down here.”

We walked down the terraces and out across the grassy and sandy approaches. The few scattered couples paid no attention to us. I observed that several of them were exposing gleaming backs to the bright rays of the sun. The water was glassy. It was a gorgeous afternoon.

Jim chose a nice spot, well distant from any others, and we lay down on the sand. Jim skillfully peeled off his yellow sweatshirt and I removed my dressing gown and spread it for a quilt to lie on.

“Ah,” we said. And it was lovely We chatted lazily about this and that. About the ancient peoples who worshipped the sun as the giver of life. About nudism.

“The Germans started this nudism,” said Jimmie. “I think it was symbolical. They went nude to show the world how thoroughly they had been stripped by the war and the pence.”

“No,” I said, “there has always been nudism. It is a deep instinct in us. It harks back to the ages when we all went around nude. But of course in those days we wore a heavy hide of fur all over us. But whenever a race gets weak and worn out nature starts stirring in their blood old hankerings and ancient instincts. The Germans after the war were weak and defeated, and to bring them back to life old Mother Nature waked in them the idea of running about naked. That explains all this stuff about the old gods and Hitler trying to bring back the ancient German virtues. It is like a sick man trying to show how strong and active he is. He sticks out his chest and talks in big deep voice, but he doesn’t fool anybody.”

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie. His eyes were closed. The sun was like a flood. I looked discreetly about and as far as the eye could see was just blue water and yellow sand and couples and groups of delightful people minding their own business. And not a cop was in sight anywhere. So I slipped off the shoulder straps of my bathing suit and peeled it politely down to my waist. I lay back.

“Jimmie,” I said.

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie.

So I just lay there and drowsed and I fell asleep.

Jimmie waked me.

“Turn over,” said Jim. “You are done on the front. Now for your back.”

I turned over. It felt cool and dry.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“About three-thirty,” thought Jimmie. “Isn’t this swell?”

“It ought to be part of the public health laws of Ontario,” I declared, “to spend so many hours a week taking the sun.”

So we talked on our stomachs for a while about ants and desert sand and grass and so forth. We thought of this good old earth with all the vasty face of it covered by these countless, uncountable grains of sand, of all the blades of grass standing pointing at the sun in a sort of Hitler salute…

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie, who has been tired of Hitler for four months.

I lay watching the ants and the small bugs and the fatheaded baby grasshoppers working out their silly destiny at the end of my nose, and the great sun fired its millions of life-giving electrons or whatever it is into my back and down my legs. I could feel them tingling rather tightly.

“Jimmie,” I said quietly, “did you say the August sun had no power?”

“Mmmm,” said Jim, his head on his arms.

So I fell asleep, too, and I dreamed I was Gordon Sinclair snapping my fingers under the noses of tigers in Samarkand and climbing mountains in Asia on the southern slopes, where a sun like a furnace fried my back.

Jimmie woke me.

“Wah-ho,” l yawned. “Ouch!”

“It must be six o’clock,” said Jim.

The sun was far over Hamilton, London and points west.

I started to roll over.

“Jimmie,” I said.

“Now, now,” said he. “I’m still on my face myself. Take it easy.”

My back felt as if it was all bound up with court plaster. It had a cold feeling, As I lay there a kind of shiver ran across.it. I tried to straighten my arms to lift my upper part clear of the sand. But my elbows would not bend.

“Jimmie, my elbows won’t bend!”

“Not as bad as my knees not bending,” said Jim. “Fifft! Woe is me!”

I turned my head, but something was holding the back of my neck. I moved one leg, but the skin on the back of my knee had stiffened and I had a feeling it would not stretch, like skin, but would crack, like glass.

I could see Jim. He was a bright fiery red.

“You look boiled,” I gasped.

“I would sooner look boiled than fried,” said he, looking me over.

I found that my middle section, covered by my bathing suit, still had a joint in it. Somehow, despite terrible lacerating sand and cruel spikey grass, I got turned over and sat up, with arms, legs and neck held carefully rigid.

“Boy,” I yelled, and even my voice felt crackly, “boy, come over here!”

A little boy was passing and came over.

“Please go and get somebody,” I said, “a policeman or a fireman or a doctor. Get somebody and bring them here.”

“We’ll Pay For the Ambulance”

The little boy scampered away down the beach, and in a little while he returned with a great black-armed, black-chested, black-faced life-guard in a red bathing suit and a white hat.

“Well, gents,” said the great mahogany life-guard.

“We’re fried,” I said. “My friend there can’t turn over and I don’t bend anywhere but in the middle.”

“Where’s your car?” asked the life-guard.

“Level with us up there,” groaned Jimmie.

“I’ll carry you up,” said he. “Once you get home you can go to bed and call the doctor.”

I didn’t like the thought of the great walnut hands gripping my skin. I felt as if large slithers of skin would slip off me wherever he touched me.

“Perhaps,” I said, “if you could send for an ambulance with a stretcher it would be better. We’ll pay for the ambulance.”

“Just take it easy,” said the life-guard. walking muscularly and bow-leggedly and very chocolately away.

In a few minutes he came back with two planks and a wheel-barrow.

“Easy,” I begged. Jim and I were not speaking. In fact we hadn’t spoken at all.

The life-guard laid the planks down beside me, rolled us on to the planks, skidded us on to the wheel-barrow and tenderly trundled us across the rolling sands and through the harsh grass and over all the ants and grasshoppers, up the terrace to our car.

“This happens all the time,” he said gently. He lifted Jim in his immense black arms and I noted the contrasts between his color and Jim’s. It was different.

He laid me on the back seat.

“Now,” he said, “you’ve got a good beginning. Let this lay a couple of days and then, if you don’t blister or peel, come on down for another dose. In about two weeks you’ll have a nice color.”

“You’ve very kind,” Jimmie and I whispered.

Jim, like a jointed doll, slowly turned on the switch, stepped on the starter.

“I’m glad,” said Jim, “there aren’t many turns on the road home.”

“Think of to-morrow,” I said hollowly.

“What’s the matter with the police force in Toronto!” demanded Jimmie, angrily, not moving his neck. “Why don’t they get on the job and stop this semi-nude stuff on our beaches!”

“You’re right,” I said.


Editor’s Notes: It was still illegal in 1934 for men to go topless in public. That is why when you see old pictures of people in bathing suits, the men have an undershirt part to it. Also at this point in history, Adolf Hitler had only recently became Chancellor of Germany and started consolidating his power. He would be a prominent news figure, and curiosity, but not likely considered a real threat yet.

Samarkand is a city in southeastern Uzbekistan and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia. The writer Gordon Sinclair was famous during this time for his stories of travels to exotic locations.

Court plaster, is just another name for an adhesive bandage.

Amazing Skill of Toronto’s Crack Girl Ball Players Draws Big Crowds to League Games

April 23, 1924

These illustrations by Jim accompanied an article by Fred Griffin on female baseball players. One of the unexpected delights of reading pre-World War Two newspapers is the emphasis on amateur sports in the Sports section, often giving near-equal time to women’s sports. From the article:

Consequent upon witnessing the game of baseball described below, the Canadian National Exhibition authorities made arrangements to have the leading teams of the Toronto Major Girls’ League and other crack teams from other parts of Canada play off for the dominion championship in the Coliseum. The games will be played on the evenings of Sept. 1, 3 and 5. Three games will be played each evening. This will give Exhibition visitors an opportunity of witnessing the newest and most interesting sporting development of recent years.

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