The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Greg-Jim Story Page 1 of 12

No Crowing Before 7 A.M.

I went to the nests; and in the third one found an egg!

Any person with sense enough to come in out of the rain could run a chicken farm. That’s what they thought

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 19, 1941

“You and I lead a risky existence,” declared Jimmie Frise.

“Our dangerous days are over, Jim,” I said comfortably.

“I don’t mean risky in the sense of bullets and bombs and stuff,” said Jim. “But suppose this war goes on until nobody wants to look at cartoons any more.”

“You could always eke out an existence drawing war maps,” I submitted. “There is always room for artists there. War maps change every few days.”

“What about you?” inquired Jim. “Suppose this war goes on and on until you haven’t the heart to write any more nonsense.”

“I could peddle articles about how terrible the next war is going to be,” I stated. “Lots of men made a living predicting this war. Don’t you remember? They wrote sensational articles all about how the skies would be filled with bombers and whole cities blown to atoms. And how armies would fight only in tanks. And ships would be sunk from the air.”

“Now that I remember,” cried Jim, “they did a pretty good job of forecasting just what this war would be like.”

“Yep,” I said, “and they made enough to live on and see their predictions come true. It must be queer to be a London or a Berlin journalist and sit in your deep dugout, thumbing over your scrap book and studying all the big feature articles you wrote in 1930, with terrific illustrations of bombers blasting cities and tanks roaring over prostrate civilians…”

“We got so sick of those predictions,” interrupted Jim. “that we went into reverse. Instead of preparing us for the disaster, those articles just drove us to bury our heads in the sand. Maybe the government won’t let you peddle articles like that after this war. Maybe that will be defined as a form of indirect treason.”

“I’ll find something to write,” I assured him.

“Sometimes,” sighed Jimmie, “I get so weary of trying to find anything amusing in this sad world.”

“Laugh, clown, laugh,” I asserted. “It’s the old, old story. Jim. We who were framed by providence to be fools and clowns have to keep on, come hell or high water. The show must go on.”

Going Chicken Ranching

“I wish we had some side line,” muttered Jim.

“Such as?” I demanded.

“We have reached the age,” proposed Jim, “when we should look ahead to retiring. Naturally, we have been much too foolish to save any money. You can’t be a professional fool and a private wise guy at the same time.”

“Chicken ranching,” I submitted.

“That’s not so foolish,” ejaculated Jimmie, sitting up sharply. “I’ve often thought of it. But it is so common a way of escaping from the world, so many people have retired to chicken farming, that I was afraid you’d laugh at me if I suggested it.”

“If others have found an escape from the woes of this world by going chicken ranching,” I offered, “it probably indicates there is merits in the idea.”

“I know people,” said Jim. “who have decided to retire; who quit work and sold their homes in the city and went out and bought little places in the market garden belt; and who inside of two years were back in the city, cleaned to the bone and living on their relations.”

“They probably didn’t understand chickens,” I informed him. “But I should think anybody with enough sense to come in out of the rain could make a go of chickens. Why, out in the towns and villages, nearly everybody has a hen house at the foot of their back yard.”

“Chicken ranching is different,” said Jim. “Keeping a few chickens is one thing. Making a business of them is another.”

“Listen,” I said. “You were born and raised on the farm. You were 18 before you decided to come to the city and be a cartoonist. Surely there is enough of the farmer left in you to make a go of a chicken ranch.”

“I suppose if we went into chicken raising,” said Jim, “you’d leave all the hard work to me on those grounds?”

“I’d be the salesman, Jim,” I explained. “You be the production manager. I’ve got some swell ideas already. For instance: You know those white signs they have along the highways – ‘Cattle Crossing, 300 feet ahead’.”

“Yes,” said Jim, alertly.

“Well, sir, three hundred feet on either side of our little chicken ranch,” I said triumphantly, “I would have signs exactly the same only reading – ‘Chicken Crossing, 300 feet ahead.”

“Oh, boy,” said Jim.

“Can’t you just see them?” I cried. “And can you imagine the effect on the traffic going by? Why, hundreds of cars would stop, just for a laugh. And they’d come into our little place and buy our eggs and poultry. I could set up a little sort of glass shop in the front yard, with refrigerators and things, modern and white…”

Secret of Success

“I believe you’ve got something there,” exclaimed Jim. “Chicken Crossing, 300 feet ahead. Boy, that would stop them. The secret of success in any business is a new idea.”

“You said it, Jim.” I said enthusiastically. “Why maybe we’ve been wasting our lives in this newspaper business. I bet if we’d started in some business like chicken ranching 30 years ago, we’d be rich old geezers right now.”

Jim sat thinking in eager silence, his eyes dancing with the mental pictures he was seeing.

“Listen,” he said excitedly. “You know that little kennel run you have at the foot of your garden?”

“Yes,” I said, doubtfully.

“You don’t use it for anything but storing the lawnmower and the garden furniture,” said Jim. “It was built by some former tenant who kept pets of some kind…”

“Rabbits or pheasants,” I admitted.

“Why can’t we do a little preliminary experimenting,” demanded Jim. “I’d go in with you to get a few chickens. There is no use putting this idea off, the way we do all our other inspirations. Let’s start chicken raising right now. In a small way…”

“Not in the city, Jim,” I protested. “It’s against the law, for one thing.”

“Is it?” questioned Jim shrewdly. “Let’s find out.”

And while I sat filled with misgivings, Jimmie telephoned the city hall, and got the sanitation section in the department of public health and had a long chat with the gentleman there.

“See?” cried Jim, hanging up. “It is not illegal. There are no restrictions whatever against keeping chickens in the city.”

“It doesn’t sound possible, Jim,” I protested. “They’ve by-lawed everything else in the world.”

“The man said, definitely.” declared Jimmie, “that there were no restrictions. It was wholly a question of the neighbors. If the neighbors objected, then we could be summoned through the department of health.”

“It doesn’t sound natural, Jim,” I cautioned. “It doesn’t sound like Toronto.”

A Perfect Example

“The man said,” assured Jim, “that the grounds on which neighbors usually complained was that the chickens were unsanitary, or they were kept too near other people’s premises, or they created a nuisance by escaping into other people’s gardens. Or the rooster crowed too early in the morning … any of these reasons could be advanced by the neighbors and you could be forced to quit keeping chickens.”

“What is too early for a rooster to crow?” I inquired narrowly.

“The gentleman said,” advised Jim, “that in the court, it was usually the opinion of the bench that a rooster should not be permitted to crow before seven a.m. After that, it is all right.”

“What a perfect example,” I pronounced, “of pure democracy. There is no law regarding chickens. But if the neighbors object, you’re out. I didn’t think there was such a case of pure democracy left anywhere on earth. And we find it right here in Toronto.”

“It shows you the value,” declared Jim, “of keeping in with your neighbors. If you are the type that is eternally quarreling with you next door neighbors, objecting to their children, to their dogs, to their shaking mops out windows and so forth, then it is hopeless to try to keep chickens. But if you love your neighbors and they love you, then you have earned not the right but the privilege of keeping chickens. One sour neighbor, and you’re out!”

“Jim” I confessed, “not as an experiment in chickens, but as an experiment in citizenship, I am almost persuaded to agree to your proposition. How many chickens would we buy?”

“Six,” said Jim, after a moment’s calculation. “Five hens and a rooster. I’ll buy three, you buy three.”

“I’ll buy the rooster,” I said.

“And we’ll divide the cost of buying chicken feed,” said Jim, “and we’ll divide the eggs. Oh, boy, oh, boy, do I ever love a pure fresh egg, still warm from the nest, poached and sitting on top of a slice of lovely golden toast…”

“Shirred eggs for me,” I cut in. “Take a little dish and butter it. Break two lovely fresh eggs and put in a hot oven. Bake them until they are just set. Don’t let them bake too long…”

So we went down to the Market that very afternoon, and amidst a glorious music of roosters crowing and hens cackling and squawking that resounded in the big empty market like a symphony rehearsal in an empty auditorium, we walked up and down aisles of cages full of poultry and sought the advice of the white coated lads in charge.

But in the company of the chickens, Jimmie’s latent memories of the farm began to waken, and he began to show an increasing knowledge of the chicken world. The big fluffy Plymouth Rocks intrigued me: but Jim said eggs were our chief interest and he plumped for the White Leghorn. The young fellow who had us in tow praised the Rhode Island Red. He said he had a strain of them that were simply prodigious at eggs. They couldn’t be pried off the nest. He suspected most of them of laying two eggs a day.

Buying White Leghorns

So we ended up by buying a White Leghorn rooster and a combination of White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds. The idea being that we could experiment with them and so decide what to raise when the great day came for us to go ranching. The young fellow put them in sacks and we took them home in Jim’s car.

In no time at all, we had the pet house at the foot of my garden in shape for the chickens. All we had to do was move out the swing and the lawnmower and some canvas chairs, patch a couple of holes in the wire netting where some previous tenant had kept some sort of pets; and there we were. A large gathering of children of the neighborhood and both our families were present at the launching of the chickens from the sacks.

They took at once to their new quarters. Each ran about four steps out of the sack before starting to peck. And the big rooster got up on the door edge and let go such a trumpet that windows for half a block in both directions were opened and heads came popping out.

“We’ll have to keep that rooster locked up until seven a.m.,” said Jimmie.

“By the way,” I inquired, “how will we arrange about whose turn it will be to come and let them out each morning? You take one week and I’ll take the next?”

We went up to the Junction and found the last flour and feed store in the district. We bought a 20-pound bag of feed and a water trough and half a dozen china eggs to put in the nests. And before dark, we had the whole enterprise ship shape. Jim built three box nests and I nailed up two perches inside the little house. From a new house we saw under construction on our way to the flour and feed, we got a big carton full of sawdust and shavings. We went to bed that night in the knowledge of something well done and a new era dawning in our lives.

I was waked by sounds in my garden. And there was Jimmie in his old clothes at the chicken house, throwing feed. I dressed hastily and joined him. He lives only five doors south but he had promised to set his alarm clock for seven. It was only ten to seven.

However, I didn’t raise any quarrel. I examined the nests. There were only the china eggs. I renewed the water in the can.

“Mmmff,” said Jim, warmly. “It already smells chickeny.”

We watched them for about an hour and then had to go and get ready for the office. We left the office early and spent the evening around the birds, making friends with them and indicating in our dumb way that they were welcome in all respects and that we would not be distressed if they laid an egg.

Up At Six-Thirty

The next morning, I set my clock for 6.30 a.m. and caught Jimmie just as he came down the side drive. We entered together. I opened the door. Jim grabbed the feed bag and started throwing the feed. I went to the nests; and in the third one found an egg!

It was still warm. And Jimmie and I, after the excitement had died down and the rooster had been chased into silence from his perch on the door, handed it to each other several times while we praised its beauty of form, its transparency, its delicate shell … Then we tossed and Jim won it for breakfast. However, I claimed the right to borrow it long enough to take it inside and wake each member of my family and show it to them.

We latched the door and left repeated instructions to our family as to anybody disturbing the fowls during our absence, and we got back home around 5 p.m.

There were no more eggs. This distressed me, because I was figuring on a shirred egg for supper. But we broomed out the house and renewed the water and Jim made some changes in the sawdust and shavings in the nests. And it was about seven p.m., after a hasty supper, that Jimmie and I were sitting inside the chicken run watching the birds slowly going to bed when the party of neighbors came in the drive. They were a deputation. There were seven gentlemen and one lady. Some of them came from as far as ten doors north.

“Aha,” I said, when I saw their formal expressions, “democracy, huh?”

The spokesman was a man I have often lent my lawnmower to. I have even loaned him a lawn mower that I had borrowed. His children play with mine without ever a rift.

He explained that a wholly spontaneous delegation had been formed, by telephone. There were in the neighborhood several sick people. There was one new-born baby, whose parents got little sleep anyway. That the rooster crowed all day long. But even without the rooster, the hens made a slow, drawling, complaining sound that was most irritating.

“The weather has been very still,” I pleaded. “On ordinary days, you would not notice …”

But he said he had requested to be permitted to be the spokesman as he was an old friend of mine and he wanted to keep the delegation on the pleasantest footing possible.

“We’ve only had one egg,” I pleaded.

However, as the other members of the delegation began to swell up and get red, especially the one lady, we agreed to do something about the matter. The spokesman herded the delegation out before it burst.

So we sat down and watched the last of the fowls retire into the house. It was the rooster. With soft, masculine chuckles and mutters, he reassured his five ladies that all was well and he was coming in from his sentry duty.

I felt something tiny crawling on the back of my neck. I pursued it. It eluded me. I felt something on my wrist. I felt two things on the back of my neck, in the short hair.

“Jim,” I said, bending over, “can you see anything on the back of my neck there?”

“You should keep out of the chicken house,” said Jim. “We’ll have to get some fine sand so they can dust themselves.”

“Is it …?” I inquired.

“Yep,” said Jim.

And the following morning, there being still no more eggs in the nests, I held the bag and Jimmie cornered the birds and we took them down to the market and sold them back to the man for $1 less than we paid.

Which is cheap experience.

Editor’s Notes: Keeping chickens in Toronto was banned in 1983. However, starting in 2018, a pilot project is under ways to allow chickens in select wards.

Fake eggs are placed in nests to encourage chickens to lay in a particular spot. This is were the term “nest egg” comes from, as it was felt that it would encourage more eggs, and therefore bigger profits.

Greg was probably referring to mites or lice being on him, which can come from chicken farming.

A Heap of Trouble

So with a grinding and a roaring, the big revolving drum started to pour concrete like a meat mincer squishing out hamburger.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 14, 1945.

“Just look,” complained Jimmie Frise, “at that side drive!”

“Cement’s pretty well shot,” I admitted.

“Why, it hasn’t been down more than 10 to 12 years, cried Jim. “And look at it. It looks as if a V-bomb had hit it.”

“Well, it was pretty well shot last season,” I reminded him. And the year before that, if I remember right, you were complaining about it having gone to pieces.”

“Cement ought to last more than 10 years,” asserted Jim.

“Not if you let the frost get under it,” I assured him. “When you notice the first crack in your cement side drive you should have it patched right away. If not, then the frost heaves it and what you’ve got, after all, is a sort of V-bomb underneath.”

“It’s positively dangerous,” said Jimmie. “Last night I was backing the car out. The back wheel tilted one of those hunks of cement. Its jagged corner caught under the differential. If I hadn’t been quick I’d have torn the gizzard out of my car.”

“Well, you ought to have it relaid right away,” I agreed.

“Relaid?” snorted Jim. “And how would I have it relaid? I called up one of the concrete firms and they said I might have a chance about next August. Unless some priority job turned up. Then it might be never. In fact, they couldn’t give me a date.”

“Then the least you can do,” I submitted, is remove the worst of those big jagged chunks and put a few wheelbarrow loads of cinders down.”

“It burns me up,” grated Jim, “the way things go to pieces like this. What’s the world coming to? A concrete job like that should last a lifetime.”

“You’ve got the usual property complex, Jim,” I pointed out. “Nothing should last a lifetime. When you build a new house you should realize that it is going to be a race between you and the house to see which will be old and worn out first. In your youthful prime you are making money. So you do a little careful figuring and decide you will build a house. It costs you, say, $10,000. In 20 years it is old-fashioned, its plumbing is all corroded and crusted. So is yours. It is in a neighborhood no longer fashionable. A lot of strangers have moved in. It is worth about $5,000 now. And you’ve gone down in value, too.”

“In other countries,” declared Jim, “property doesn’t fall to pieces like this. In England, for instance. The stately homes of England. Why, some of those gracious old country houses of England are two and three centuries old.”

“Aha,” I cried. “The outer walls, maybe. The foundations and outer walls of the main section of the house. But if those stately homes of England haven’t been brought up to date with the past few years they are hardly fit to live in. Musty, smelly, fungussy old dumps. I’ve lived in dozens of them the past five years. And our boys have been billetted in them all over Britain. They’ll tell you what stately old homes they are.”

“That’s not my impression,” protested Jimmie.

Not the Original

“Look,” I said, “why were so many of those stately homes handed over to the troops as billets this past five years? Because either they were untenanted or the owners couldn’t afford, these past 10 or 15 hard-time years, to do the necessary repairs. Those old country houses have to be entirely renovated each new generation. The climate of England is easier on stone and brick than ours. They don’t have frost and fierce summer suns to contend with. So the outside shell survives century or two. Sometimes longer. But the inside has to be remodeled every few years. If it isn’t, then it is smelly and musty and fungussy and decayed. Don’t make the mistake that all those ancient buildings that are said to date back to Queen Elizabeth or Charles the Second are just the way they were in those days. What they mean is, the building, whether a church or a mansion or a famous public edifice, has survived as an institution since the days of Queen Elizabeth or Charles the Second. Generally, you will find the building was entirely reconstructed – in strict accordance with the original! – about 1830 or 1890.”

“Aw,” said Jim.

“I was billetted,” I informed him, “in several really old stately homes the past couple of years. And if they dated back any further than 1860 they stunk.”

“You have no soul,” said Jim. “You have no poetry in your make-up.”

“Property,” I assured him, “has to be kept up, whether it is St. Peter’s in Rome or the Buck of Dukingham’s old family estate or your side drive.”

“Why, I remember travelling through England, in the last war, and seeing those lovely old mansions nestled in their ancient beeches and oaks,” said Jim, tenderly.

“Those houses,” I assured him, “on closer inspection, would turn out to be exactly like the old mansions on Jarvis St. in Toronto, dating back to about 1880. The reason our old mansions in Toronto have fallen on evil times is that the district became unfashionable. The rich families moved out farther into the suburbs.”

“Or lost their money,” suggested Jim.

“Or had to divide it,” I submitted, “between too many children for any one of them to keep up the big family mansion. So the old mansions of Toronto are let go to decay. But in England, for obvious reasons, the rich men did not build their mansions in towns and cities. Before the industrial revolution, which was only 150 or so years ago, towns and cities were merely the congregating places of the poor, the landless and the hand-workers. Land was the only wealth. There were no factories. So the wealthy man lived right amid his wealth – his land.”

“No factories?” inquired Jim.

“No factories at all,” I assured him. “Well, maybe there would be a sail factory down near the docks. Or possibly some successful master mason would employ a lot of men in his stone yard, or a master shoemaker might employ 100 shoemakers under one roof. But since there was no power of any kind, except hand power, why, it was cheaper and more practical for the employer to let the workers work in their homes. Or hovels.”

“But the swells,” said Jim, “the really rich, were the land owners. And they lived on their estates. Distributed all over Britain.”

“That’s the picture,” I agreed. “And that’s how you have all those mansions scattered all over England. But now that land is no longer wealth, but a liability, except to the individual man who works it as a farmer, and since riches nowadays is in owning factories or being a broker or a business man in a city, why, property has changed its character, too. No more mansions.”

“Besides,” contributed Jim. “nobody stays home any more. It is just a place to sleep.”

“And keep your extra clothes,” I added. “And garage your car.”

“In which case,” stated Jimmie indignantly, “the modern side drive ought to be made of better concrete than this.”

Jim’s drive was, in fact, a mess. From away back by the garage right out to the street there was hardly a square yard of concrete that had not collapsed. There were large holes. There were patches of broken concrete with corners sticking up like the dragon’s teeth of the Siegfried Line. The past winter, while not noted for deep frost, had soaked an awful lot of snow into the ground. And that had finished what a few years’ frosts had started.

“Jim,” I suggested, “to lay a new drive here, with modern methods, should be a cinch. Even you and I could do it.”

“Mmmmm,” said Jim.

“Nowadays,” I explained, “these ready’ mix concrete trucks, with their big drums revolving as they drive through the streets, would simply back into your side drive, dump a load of concrete all ready mixed. With a wheelbarrow and a couple of rakes we could spread it out. And presto!”

“Say,” said Jimmie.

A Matter of Initiative

“The modern citizen,” I asserted, “doesn’t need to be half as dependent as he thinks he is. We are all still muddling along in the age of the stately homes of England, when, as a matter of fact, if we took advantage of the modern inventions already in use all around us, we could be really mid-20th century.”

“I’ve got a wheelbarrow,” declared, Jim.

“And I’ll bring down a couple of rakes,” I offered. “And we could rig up a good big plank, with scantling uprights on it for handles. We could pat the stuff down with that. Make it smooth.”

“Say!” said Jimmie eagerly.

“The only thing I’m afraid of,” I remarked, “is that you might need a work priority to get a load of ready-mix concrete.”

But Jim went straight in and telephoned. And no priority was needed. It was a straight case of waiting until Wednesday, as the company’s mixing trucks were all on order up till then. Jim ordered one full load.

So we had Monday and Tuesday evenings to clear the side drive of all the wreckage. Most of the concrete was in chunks that required no extra breaking. A few larger pieces had to be hit a few whacks with the sledgehammer Jim borrowed from the service station up the street. And Jim did the sledge-hammer work while I, with the aid of a pair of ice-tongs, slid the chunks of concrete into the wheelbarrow laid on its side. It was not easy work. But neither was it any harder than the usual gardening projects the average man undertakes at this season of the year. I’ve built several rockeries, in the past 30 years, that cost me far more pain than this. In fact, Tuesday night, seeing us carting the broken concrete back into Jim’s yard, two of the neighbors got ideas and came and offered to cart off several barrow loads for rockeries in their back gardens. Thus, by dark Tuesday, we had all the concrete moved and the under bed of gravel and sand nicely raked.

The load was promised for 8.30 a.m. So Jimmie and I were on the job bright and early to peg down the narrow planks we were going to use as margins or containers of the concrete as we laid it.

We had barely started laying these plank edges when we heard a truck coming noisily and knew it was our big adventure.

“Where’ll you have it?” inquired the driver heartily.

“I think,” Jim suggested, “we ought to have him dump it right there at the street end of the drive, and we will start laying back in at the garage. It will mean more carting with the wheelbarrow. But we can see what we are doing better.”

“Correct,” I agreed.

So with a grinding and a roaring, the big revolving drum started to pour concrete like a meat mincer squishing out hamburger. It went on and on as an imposing pile grew before our astonished eyes.

And away went the driver.

There, as simple as ordering a ton of coal or a load of manure, was the material for two simple citizens to toy with, saving scores of dollars in man-hours, giving healthful spring exercise and permitting free play to individual initiative, free enterprise and, above all, craftsmanship.

We stood and admired the pile. It was soggy. And it settled slightly. Even as we watched. And it certainly was big.

“There’s enough there,” declared Jim, “to lay a real, lifetime pavement.”

Well, first we had to lay and peg down the wooden planks for the edges of the new pavement, and that took an hour. And to get the planks to stand on their edges, it was necessary to dig slight trenches or troughs in which the planks could stand upright.

“How long,” inquired Jim, “do you suppose that stuff will stay soft?”

“Don’t worry,” I reassured him. “You know how long you have to keep off fresh cement. We’ve got all day.”

So we laid the planks steady and true and pegged them down. And while we were at it we laid all the planks for the whole job. A couple of hours.

“I don’t like that warm wind blowing,” said Jim, anxiously examining the free grayish-yellow heap at the mouth of his side drive.

“Come on, brother,” I said, picking up the shovel. “Now for the first barrow.”

Wet concrete weighs more than dry concrete. And dry concrete weighs plenty.

Jim started to shove the barrow up the drive. But its wheel sank deep in the gravel and sand.

“We’ll have to have a plank walk to run the barrow on,” said Jim hurriedly.

So we got in the car and drove over to the lumber yard, a few blocks east, and got five long, cheap planks. With these, carried home on the car top, we laid a path for the barrow. Another hour or so.

“Hey!” said Jim as he picked up the barrow. “This stuff is getting stiff!”

It was not quite as pulpy as I expected.

“Take it up to the garage,” I ordered, “and we’ll flatten her out.”

Jim shoved the barrow up the planks very wobbly and dumped it in front of the garage.

It fell out heavily, and a lot stuck to the bottom of the barrow. I scraped this out with the shovel, and we set to work hurriedly to spread the big blob out. It did not spread very willingly. It broke into cakes and the cakes spread rather granularly

“I don’t like this,” puffed Jim, slapping with the shovel.

“Get another barrow load, it’ll be wetter,” I commanded, and we’ll sort of blend it.”

Jim went down to the front of the drive and got another barrow load.

“It seems a little looser,” he panted, as he arrived. “But I don’t think we have much time to waste.”

A Horrible Sight

The fresh barrow load, while looser than the first, which had been standing all the time we were over at the lumber yard, did not blend very easily with the first load. In fact, the first square yard of concrete in front of the garage doors was rather a horrible sight.

We patted it with shovels. We got our plank with upright handles nailed on it, and spanked it. We smoothed it. We laid the plank down on the concrete and jumped up and down on it.

But it still looked warty.

“Pour water on the pile,” I suggested, a little excited.

But the first pailful seemed to just run off.

“Well, all right,” snapped Jim. “Don’t just stand there? Let’s get it spread first. Then we can smooth it later.”

“But that would only…” I began.

“Don’t argue!” shouted Jim, charging away with the wheelbarrow.

So we shoveled and wheelbarrowed and spread and shoveled and wheelbarrowed and spread. A side drive is a much larger area, in square yards, than you would think, backing a car out of it.

When we had got about 15 feet done out from the garage doors we knew we were beaten. If we delayed to flatten it, the outside of the main pile, down at the front end of the side drive, grew stiffer and more granular and harder to handle. I tried stirring it while Jim ran in and attempted to borrow a couple of men from the service station; from the grocer; the butcher and the drug store. He even telephoned some of our friends downtown at the office.

But my stirring was as useless as Jim’s telephone calls. It only let the air into the pile and dried it quicker.

“Good heavens,” gasped Jimmie, running out of the house. There will be that mountain of solid concrete blocking my drive…”

“Let’s spread it, any old way,” I replied.

So we worked like mad, trying to reduce the Vesuvius out by the sidewalk. In random humps, lumps, mounds, we laid the stuff another 15 feet down the drive,

But the sight of that awful pathway only caused us to abandon the main pile in desperate efforts to flatten down the work already done. We could reduce it in one spot, but the immediately adjoining square foot would resist, bulging up

So by the time the neighbors were arriving home for supper, half the pile stood a slowly congealing and immovable barricade while the other half was scattered in a ghastly, lumpy, misshapen roadway half-way down from the garage.

And Jim’s car inside.

Today, if you hear what sounds like machine-guns, it will be only the gang of concrete workers Jim got on compassionate grounds, breaking down the barricade and the abortive pavement.

They say they’ll have the driveway done before dark.

Editor’s Notes: V-bombs were German V-1 flying bombs, an early form of cruise missiles. They had short range so were used against Britain between June and October 1944. They were still used against the Allies until the end of the war, but with different targets like Antwerp.

Dragon’s teeth were a form of fortification to block access by tanks and other vehicles.

Greg was worried that they would need a “work priority” to get the concrete. This was still during World War Two, so all sorts of things were rationed, and if concrete was on the list, they would have to apply to the government in order to obtain some. When writing of his time billeted in English estates, he is referring to his time as a war correspondent.

“Please, Mister!”

In my hand, I could feel its tiny little spickles of claws tickling.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 6, 1946.

“What’s that?” interrupted Jimmie Frise.

“It’s a cat,” I informed him.

“I thought you disliked cats,” said Jim.

“I certainly do,” I stated. “Of all the creepy, sly, cruel…”

“Well, what’s a cat doing in your house?” demanded Jim.

“It’s not in the house,” I assured him. “It’s out in the side alley.” We listened. A cat meowed.

“That’s in the house!” insisted Jim.

“No, it’s out in the side drive,” I said easily. “No cat would ever get into this house. Nobody’d let it in. Cats know I hate them. I don’t think a cat has ever been in my house.”

“It’s a lifelong prejudice, eh?” said Jim.

“Maybe there’s some psychological mixup in my feeling about cats,” I mused. “But ever since I can remember, I’ve had a creepy feeling about cats. I have no sympathy for them at all. No feeling, except one of deep repugnance. Lots of my friends and relatives have cats. But I’m so uncomfortable with a cat in the room, everybody I know always sends the cat out when I’m expected.”

“What a fussy old pot you are!” scoffed Jim.

“Look,” I demanded, “can I help how I feel about things? Am I responsible for what I feel? This feeling was born in me.”

“Haven’t you any free will?” inquired Jim. “Do you just go through life wearing all the hates and prejudices you were born with? Don’t you feel free to figure things out for yourself?”

“Some things, Jim,” I submitted, “are too deep in people’s natures to be extracted by mere thinking.” The cat meowed again.

“Darn that cat!” I said, getting up nervously, and rapping warningly on the window over the side drive.

“Mmmmm,” observed Jim, “you ARE a cat hater.”

“There may be some psychological basis for it,” I offered. “They tell me that when I was a small baby, we owned a white cat – a beautiful gorgeous snow-white tomcat. It was very fond of me and I was immensely fond of it, so they say. It used to sleep in my carriage, and when I began to walk, I used to carry the cat all over, sort of bent in the belly the way a baby carries a cat; and I used to hold it by the tail and otherwise abuse it. But it never protested. We were inseparable companions, so the story goes. Then one day, somebody poisoned my beautiful white cat. I was only about two years old and I don’t remember any of this. But it seems I found my lovely white cat stiff and dead at the foot of the garden. Nobody knows how long I tried to get the cat to wake up and play. At any rate, I came staggering into the kitchen carrying the stiff white cat in my arms. Doubtless there was a scene! Doubtless my mother screamed. Doubtless they snatched my poor white cat from me…”

“Nobody will ever know,” agreed Jimmie, “what happens to the mind, ideas and prejudices of a little child before he is able to think.”

“I have the feeling,” I declared, that the incident of my white cat has something to do with my lifelong abhorrence of cats. I bet half the blind prejudices in this world are based on some queer, incomprehensible happening in a child’s life, before he had the power to understand.”

The Boogie-Man Stories

“Maybe,” suggested Jimmie, “our hostility to Russians and their hostility to us – maybe our feeling about all foreigners, maybe the queer, insurmountable prejudice we feel against people of another color than ours…”

“Possibly all,” I agreed, “based on boogie-man stories we were told as little, scared children. The Russians tell boogie-man stories. So do we. So do all nations on earth. The quickest way to scare a little child into obedience is to tell him a boogie-man story.”

“To create a real good boogie-man,” I submitted, “you have to make him different in all respects from the people around the neighborhood. Thus, when we grow up, it never occurs to us that, perhaps, our worst enemies are people we see every day. We always suspect a foreigner.”

“The Russians,” agreed Jim,” probably have better boogie-men than any of us. For remember, all Russians 20 to 30 years of age now, were told stories in childhood about the fierce boogie-men all around them. They were hemmed in with boogie-men. It was the terrible British, German, American and French boogie-men who were trying to starve them to death, in 1926 to 1930. Remember? When a little Russian kid cried for more food, how did the mother explain it? Why, she told the little baby about the terrible boogie-men all over the world, who would have no truck or trade with Russia. Our prime minister, in those days Mr. Bennett, said: ‘No truck or trade with Russia.’ So did everybody else. All the world. We were busy, in those days, trying to cure Russia of her wicked ways. So when a Russian mother told the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk to her babies, she didn’t say:

‘Fee, fie, fo, fum,

I smell the blood

of an Englishmun!’

“She had the terrible giant say:

‘Fee, fie, fo, fum,

No truck or trade

With Russia!'”

“Jim,” I submitted, “you may have something there. When we grow up, we never look for boogie-men at home. We always look for them abroad. What we’ve got to do is look for boogie-men both at home and abroad.”

“Or else,” suggested Jim, “stop telling children boogie-men stories.”

“Ah, you can’t do that, Jim,” I sighed.

“You’ve got all the tired mothers of the world against you there. Children are unmanageable little brats. When the mother’s patience has reached its limits, there is nothing for her to do but scare the kids with a boogie-man story. It’s the same with the governing class in all nations. When they can’t manage the people any longer, they tell them boogie-man stories and scare them into behaving.”

“Meee-Ow!” said the cat.

“Hist!” hissed Jim.

“Meee-OW!” said the cat.

“By golly, Jim!” I cried, leaping up. “That cat IS in the house!”

“I told you so,” said Jim.

My hair began to prickle and stand on end.

“Listen!” I commanded. And in a moment in the silence, we both heard the long drawn “meeow” of a cat, right under our feet.

“It’s in the cellar!” I shouted, “Come on, get it out of there!”

We raced down cellar and I switched on the lights. Immediately, I saw what had happened. The coal men had left the cellar window open when they delivered the last ton.

“The window, Jim,” I pointed.

“Where’s the cat?” Jim asked.

“It probably went out when it heard me coming,” I said.

But it hadn’t. From under the work bench came a soft, meek, creepy, pewly-mewly little mew.

“Yahhh!” I shouted, seizing a furnace shovel.

“Mew!” said the cat, in that sweety, Itty-bitty style.

“Scat!” I roared, clattering the shovel on the concrete.

But the cat did not move. “Meeeee-ew?” it said, with that sneaky questioning tone a cat can adopt.

A Whole Batch

Jim was down peering under the work bench.

“Saaaayyy!” gloated Jimmie. “You’ve got a whole batch of cats. She’s made a nest here, in the basket…”

“Awfft!” I protested vehemently.

“Come and see them,” pleaded Jim. “Aw, look, the tiny darlings, they haven’t got their eyes open…”

“Get them out of there,” I cried. “Chuck them out the window, the way they came in…”

“What!” roared Jim. “Do you mean to say you’d throw these baby kittens out into the cold world… a mother, honoring your house by selecting it for her nest for these tiny innocent…?”

“Yah, some alley cat!” I grated, standing well back where I couldn’t see them. “Some alley cat, sneaking in my cellar window…”

Jim reached into the shadows and brought out, on the palm of his hand, a little fuzzy ball, not as big as an egg. I looked away. I looked back. The fuzzy ball lay perfectly still on Jim’s hand. Then I slowly stirred. It cuddled down into Jim’s cupped palm.

“Put it back!” I commanded. “I’ll take the basket out…”

“Now, just a minute,” asserted Jim firmly. “After all, these are somebody’s kittens. This is somebody’s cat. You’ve got no right to treat somebody’s cat…”

“Why don’t they look after their darn cat?” I demanded angrily.

“Maybe she was caught unawares,” pleaded Jim. “Maybe she is a young cat and these are her first babies and she didn’t know what to do when the magic hour came to her. Maybe she was locked out of her own home by accident. Maybe the family was at the movies. She had to find a nest and maybe she had to find it terribly soon. So she went frantically up and down the street, in all the side drives, hunting for a dry, warm place…”

I went over and looked stiffly down.

“And by heaven’s grace,” Jim continued, “she found your cellar window open, and she came in, breathing prayers of gratitude, and found this basket, with old clothes in it…”

I could make out the curled figure of the cat. Her head was turned down, as though she were murmuring to a baby. She looked up at me, with wide, surprised topaz eyes that caught the cellar light. She opened her mouth in a soundless “meow.”

“How many are there?” I demanded grimly.

Jim, with soothing sounds, pawed in around the cat. “Six,” he said.

“Let me see them,” I requested coldly.

Jim lifted the mother cat out on to the floor, and revealed a solid fluffy mass, about the size of a handful of feathers. As I watched, the mass slowly pulsated and seemed to move. Tiny paws and miniature legs reached out and shoved. I suppose everybody should see a cat when it is newborn. I knelt down.

The mother came and rubbed against my leg. Her tail, sticking straight up, almost brushed my chin.

“Scat!” I said, recoiling.

“Well, what are you going to do?” inquired Jim pleasantly,

“Will you take them, Jim?” I retorted. “You like cats.”

“We’ve got two cats already,” said Jim. “And Rusty.”

Rusty, who had been asleep upstairs, came down. He examined the cat and the kittens with discreet interest.

“I tell you what I’ll do,” I said, very practically. “I’ll take them around the neighborhood, in the basket. I’ll ask everybody around here, and somebody will surely know whose cat she is. And I will then present the rightful owner with his property.”

“And suppose you don’t find them?” asked Jim. “After all, cats stray far and wide.”

“Then,” I said, “in that case, I’ll do what sensible people have been doing from time Immemorial. I’ll drown the kittens in a pail of water and turn the cat out to find her way home.”

“I guess that’s practical,” agreed Jimmie. “Everybody drowns kittens. The best of people. Not cat haters. Cat lovers. They drown surplus kittens.”

“Okay, before it gets dark,” I said, “let’s go round the block.”

The cat got back in the basket and I carried her and her invisible babies upstairs while we got our coats on. Then we went out and started our calls. I asked all the kids of the neighborhood if they recognized the cat. Or course, they all wanted to see the kittens, and I had to keep taking the mother out and putting her back, while dozens of kids pleaded for me to give them one of the kittens. I had to explain that a kitten has to have its mother for a few weeks.

Several of the kids gave us wrong steers, and we called at houses completely round the block once. But nobody recognized the cat. And everybody thought the family scene was just adorable. One lady wanted to adopt the whole family on the spot.

“Give her the basket!” muttered Jim, urgently.

But I did not. After all, this cat was somebody’s property. It was my duty find the rightful owner. And anyway, the more you looked into that basket, the queerer you felt. After all these years…

When we had made one complete round of the block, I decided I had done my duty. We went back to my house and down into the cellar.

“Drown the Weakest First”

“Ah, well….” sighed Jimmie, philosophically. And he got a pall under the laundry tubs and I heard him running it full. I set the basket on the stairs and the mother got out and looked at me with that surprised topaz gaze. She rubbed against my leg. I gave her a cautious, slow stroke of my hand. Gosh, how soft! Not mushy. Soft!

I could hear her bubbling. Not purring.

Jim came back and set the pail before me. He picked up the basket, sorted over the kittens and picked one out.

“First the worst,” he said. “Second the same. Drown the weakest one first.”

In my hand, I could feel its tiny little spickles of claws tickling. It wobbled, it half stood up on Its front legs, then collapsed. Its eyes were tiny bluish bulges under its skin.

“Go ahead,” said Jim, picking out another one, and holding it ready in his palm.

The kitten on my hand started turning round and round, as if seeking something. Its little legs and paws pushed and strained. It fell on its ear, against my thumb. It was softer than anything I had ever felt.

“I wish…” I said a little hoarsely, “I wish it was white.”

“That’s the weakest one,” explained Jim. “It’s a poor specimen, just a runt. I say you drown the weakest first, eh?”

The mother cat, seeing the pail of water, got up on her hind legs and curled a tiny, pink tongue down into the water and lapped. I never saw anything so dainty as that wisp of tongue flicking…

“I could advertise,” I submitted. “I could advertise, and the owner would pay for the ad…”

“It would be a lot of trouble,” declared Jim.

“Well, anyway,” I concluded, putting the weakest kitten back in the ball of fur in the basket, “if I keep them a few weeks, just until they are old enough to give away, all I’d have to do would be to go over and stand in front of the school at 3.30, and it wouldn’t be two minutes before all six of them would have a good home…”

“How about taking them back,” asked Jim, “to that lady around the block who wanted to adopt the whole basketful?”

“Yeah,” I said, “and have her drown all but the one she wanted to keep!”

“Well, then,” said Jim, “in that case, you’d better go and get the mother a saucer of warm milk…”

Which we did.

And then Jim and I went back upstairs and continued our debate on the effects of boogie-men on the childhood of the world.

Editor’s Notes: This story may have upset a few people looking at it with modern eyes, but it was common in the past to kill unwanted kittens or puppies. There was no spaying or neutering, and no other way to control the population. I mentioned in a previous post that people did not worry about controlling pets (dogs and cats would be let loose outside to run wild). So drowning puppies or kittens was not considered a big deal, just practical.

Greg would mention the story of his cat when he was a toddler in the future as well, so I suspect it is true.

This is another example where I have the colour image, and you can see how much more expressive it is compared to the microfilmed copy at the end.

There were three lines where they discussed boogie-men in other countries that I have removed due to racist references that added nothing to the story. My thoughts about racism and stereotypes in Greg and Jim’s work are indicated here.

Surprise Party

“Good heavens,” gasped Laura … “What are you doing here?”

Greg and Jim welcome a long-lost friend by staging a surprise party – but it’s as much of a surprise to them as it is to their friend

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 25, 1939

“We’re invited to a surprise party,” announced Jimmie Frise.

“At our age?” I protested.

“It’s time we started taking back from the young people,” declared Jim, “some of the things we’ve handed over to them.”

“Surprise parties., I demurred, “never did appeal to me. Even in short pants.”

“We’ve handed over everything to the kids,” pursued Jim. “We have handed over authority to them. They boss us now. We’ve given them our cars. We’ve admitted them to knowledge, so that the average kid of 15 knows more than his father.”

“Let them keep the surprise parties,” I pleaded, “and we’ll take back our cars.”

“At 10 years of age,” went on Jim relentlessly, “we teach them in school the art of debate. So they can come home and confound us.”

“Surprise parties,” I insisted, “never surprise.”

“Since I was a boy,” propounded Jimmie, “a great revolution has occurred. We have handed over the world to childhood. It’s time we cut out this sentimental nonsense and started to take back a little of life for ourselves. Let’s start putting the kids in their place.”

“By going to surprise parties?” I scoffed.

“Let’s start stealing back,” said Jim. “some of the fun that formerly belonged to children. Let’s start by stealing their parties.”

“Huh, huh,” I laughed, “and play post-office?”

“The party we’re invited to,” informed Jim, “is at Bill McDoodle’s.”

“Bill McDoodle’s,” I cried. “That big shot? Why, we haven’t hardly seen Bill in 15 years.”

“He used to be our pal,” said Jim.

“Yeah,” I muttered, “until he started up in the world. Until he became a big executive with a capital B.”

“Aw, well, for old-time’s sake,” said Jim.

“Listen,” I stated, “the last 10 times I’ve seen Bill McDoodle, he hasn’t known me. He looks at me with an expression of faint recollection and then decides he must have been mistaken – it wasn’t me after all.”

“Big business makes men that way,” explained Jim.

“Big business my ear,” I cried. “He used to be just one of our gang. Then he got that vice-president job out of a blue sky. We were as pleased as he was. Don’t you remember?”

“We staged a celebration for him,” remembered Jimmie.

“And he didn’t come,” I recalled. “Inside of a year, if we ever ran into him anywhere, he was good-humoredly condescending, and chuckled over the old days. The old days, as if he had outgrown all that.”

“Well, now he wants to recapture the old days,” pleaded Jim.

“Let him chase them,” I asserted. “They’re hard to catch.”

“Listen,” wheedled Jim, “it’s his wife invited us. You remember her? A mighty fine girl.”

“Sure, I remember her,” I agreed. “Many’s the time I’ve lent her my coat. Yet one year after they’d gone up in the world, I spoke to her in the lobby of a theatre, all dolled up in an opera cloak, and she looked right past me.”

A Pathetic Figure

“Look,” said Jim. “I told her we’d come to her party. She actually begged us to come.”

“I wonder if Bill’s had a come-down?” I mused wickedly.

“It isn’t that,” explained Jim. “She told me just how it was. They’ve had their fill of society. Nothing gives them any pleasure any more. Bill is unhappy all day long and all night. He just sits, moody and glum. Business doesn’t interest him. The clubs he belongs to sour him. His wife caught him last week up in the attic, looking at his old abandoned fishing tackle and guns, and he was sitting with his hip rubber boots on, up in the attic, his head buried in his hands.”

“Huh, huh, huh,” I laughed sympathetically.

“So she’s decided to give him a big surprise,” went on Jim. “She is going to stage a surprise party, and invite about 30 of the old friends they had, 20 years ago. Friends of their youth. Not a single person they have met in the last 10 years, she said.”

“Jim” I declared, “I don’t see why we should accommodate them in this whim. Friends are too precious a possession to cast away. We’ve remained friends across all the years, with Bumpy and Vic and Skipper and all the lads. Some of us have got rich and some of us poor, but we’ve weathered all the years. We’ve retained something lovely and precious. Why should we let these people horn in on it?”

“Friendship,” said Jim, “ought to be great enough to lift across a gap of years. They used to be our friends. In folly, they cast it away. Now they ask us to take them back. If our capacity for friendship is big enough, we’ll take them back.”

“The capacity for friendship, Jim,” I informed him, “decreases with the years. When I was a boy, all boys were my friends. When I was a young man, I found I was narrowing down the field. By the time I was 30, I had pruned down my friends to a rough dozen, and I was beginning to be doubtful of some of them. I figure a man of 60 is lucky to have one friend.”

“The party,” said Jim, “is to be a surprise party and a hard times party.”

“Good grief,” I exclaimed. “They’ll play post-office for sure.”

“We can dress up in old rags and goofy hats,” enthused Jim, and it won’t be for our prosperous exterior that Bill will welcome us to his swell big house.”

“He’s got quite a house, I hear,” I admitted.

“It’s a mansion, assured Jim. “It must have cost him $50,000 and they say he gave an interior decorator $10,000 to furnish it.”

“Yet he sits in the attic,” I accused, “with his head in his hands.”

“That’s what comes,” pointed out Jim, “of letting somebody else plan your home. The home a man loves is the home he has assembled piece by piece, item by item, picture by picture. You are never lonely in a home that you have built little by little, because wherever your eye rests, you see something of yesterday. And yesterday is all that appeals to a man after he reaches the age when tomorrow makes him afraid.”

“You’re trying to make him out quite a pathetic figure,” I said.

“He is a pathetic figure,” said Jim. “And even if it is only for the mean satisfaction of showing him how happy and carefree you are, how full of friends and life, you ought to come to the party.”

“When is it?” I inquired.

“Thursday night,” said Jim.

“Thursday’s a big night on the air,” I pointed out. “I like to sit at home Thursdays.”

“If the party bores you,” said Jim, “I know you well enough to know that you’ll go and turn the radio on and sit there like a bump on a log.”

“It isn’t my manners that have kept me my friends,” I agreed heartily.

“Can I count on you?” asked Jim eagerly.

“Okay,” I said, “I like to get inside a rich man’s house now and then just for a quiet smile.”

So we spent a while planning our hard times costumes. It is a little difficult in these days to get together a real hard times outfit. Your wife has given everything away. But I remembered a straw hat that hung on a nail in the cellar, and Jim recalled a derby, greenish with age, that some previous owner of his house had left on the fruit shelves. If I wasn’t mistaken, my mother-in-law had kept an old cutaway coat, vintage of about 1890, which was a relic of far-off romance, which she trotted out on festive occasions along with a great gray lustre ball gown of hers, trimmed with black velvet. I figured I could borrow the cutaway, and enhance it with a frayed shirt. Jim had a pair of faded overalls in the back of his car which he used for duck hunting.

“We’ll manage,” he assured me.

And when Thursday came, we managed all right. In the straw hat and greenish old cutaway, and a pair of antique tan boots we found in a trunk, I cut a peculiarly disgusting figure. And Jim, in the derby, and overalls and a bedraggled old sweater coat he borrowed from the furnace man, looked like something fallen off a freight train.

“There,” shouted Jim, when I called for him, “doesn’t that take you back 30 years?”

“I was just thinking we looked pretty average,” I said, “considering the times.”

So we drove from the modest neighborhood where we live up, up, into an ever more refined region, where the corner drugstores got farther and father apart and presently there were no more stores at all, but just dark and gloomy houses. By a lot of peering, we finally located Bill’s street and eventually his house, set back from the neighbors. We looked at our watch.

“Right on the nose,” said Jim, parking. “Nine p.m.”

The house seemed quiet. There were a few other cars parked about.

“Let’s wait for the gang,” I suggested.

“No, Laura said she’d meet us and steer us into a downstairs room,” said Jim. “Come on.”

We walked respectfully up the handsome steps and rang the bell. A uniformed maid opened.

“What is it?” she asked sharply.

“We have an appointment with Mrs. McDoodle,” said Jim, stepping in.

The maid looked us over shrewdly and pointed to an oak bench in the hall. She flounced her skirts at us and went upstairs. The house was deathly silent. Footsteps pattered above and then down the grand staircase came Laura.

“Good heavens!” she gasped, halting and throwing her hand to her mouth.

“What?” said Jim and I, rising smartly to our feet.

“What are you doing here?” hissed Laura, leaping down the stairs and glaring at us fiercely.

“The party?” smiled Jim thinly.

“The party’s tomorrow night,” hissed Laura, starting to shove us towards the door, the little maid standing bravely behind her.

“I thought you said Thursday night,” said Jim, all muddled and trying to recover us both.

“I said Friday night,” cried Laura, brokenly. “Now you’ll ruin it all.”

“Sssshhh,” said Jim.

For heavy footsteps came from above.

“What is it?” called down Bill in a melancholy voice.

“Nothing, dear, nothing,” said Laura, wildly jockeying us to the door.

But down the stairs came Bill and saw his wife trying to shoo two tramps out the door.

“Hey, wait a minute,” shouted Bill, hurrying.

“Oh,” moaned Laura.

“Why,” gasped Bill, when he recognized us. “Why … Laura … these are old friends. Why,

it’s Jim. And Greg. Why …”

And he came and took our arms and looked with horror-stricken eyes into our faces and down at our clothes.

Behind him danced Laura, her finger on her lips, signalling us frantically.

“Why, boys,” said Bill, with a husky voice. “Why, my dear boys.”

And gripping our elbows fiercely, he steered us back through the handsome hall and into a little den, all lined with leather and books. He shoved us in, shut the door on poor Laura who was dancing desperately behind us.

“Laura,” said Bill, a little sharply, “if you don’t mind. I’ll just see the boys alone.”

He shut the door gently on her.

He shoved chairs out for us, with pathetic eagerness. He tried his hardest not to look at us, but we could see his shocked glance furtively taking in our ragged clothes, our shapeless boots, the silly hats we carried.

“Cigars,” he said hoarsely, with trembling hands reaching for a walnut box. “Cigars, boys …”

Suddenly he halted. Pulled himself up. Tightened his jaws and then stared us square in the face.

“Bill,” began Jim, slightly hysterical.

“Boys,” cried Bill, holding his hand up commandingly. “This is very, very strange thing, I’ve been thinking of you fellows for weeks. I tell you it’s an answer to my prayers to see you here.”

“Bill …” I began, trying not to snort with laughter.

“Please,” begged Bill, brokenly, “please, let me have my say. It’s a pitiful thing, but let me say it. Boys, for years I’ve been lonelier than in hell. For months I have been wondering what was the matter with me, life had gone sour. For weeks, I have been actually thinking of you two, and Vic and Bump and Skipper and all. I’ve been praying, do you hear … praying that I could find some decent way of discovering the friends I used to have … before I… before…”

He looked at us and we at him, and of all the dreadful sights in the world, if there weren’t tears tumbling down Bill’s face.

“I didn’t know,” he said, in his nose. “I didn’t know, God be my witness, that you had come on tough times. God be my witness. Nobody ever told me. You’d think somebody would have told me. But why should anybody tell me? And Laura trying to shove you out of my house.”

He glared at us through his tears.

“Boys,” he said, “anything I’ve got is yours. You can have anything in the world you want of me. Why didn’t you come to me sooner? I’ve been so damn lonely. So damn lonely.”

And Bill suddenly leaped forward and grabbed for our hands, and began, for the first time, boldly to look close at our faded rags, our cheap and ragged shirts, at Jim’s horrible soggy sweater coat.

“But, Bill,” said Jim, after several twists of his neck to find his voice, “Bill, it’s all right. We don’t want anything. We just came to call on you.”

“It’s a miracle,” said Bill passionately. “A miracle.”

But Laura had been listening at the keyhole, the way those rich women do; and she pushed the door open and looked with a white face at Bill and us; and then she said: “Jim, what did I tell you?”

So we all had to sit down quietly while Laura and Jimmie and I patiently explained to Bill all about the surprise party and how we, as usual, had got the dates mixed. And how, therefore, Bill had been trapped into revealing something more surprising than any surprise party.

And we stayed until 1 o’clock Friday morning, and Friday night, when the whole 30 of us came, was it ever a surprise party, to them and to Bill and to us and all the old friends who meet sooner or later.

Editor’s Notes: Post office is a kissing party game played at parties between boys and girls. These sort of party games seemed much more common in the first half of the 20th century.

A “Hard Times” party was like a costume party where people wore worn out or ragged clothes, rather than their best outfits. Sometimes they may be used as fundraisers, with the idea that rather than spend money on a fancy gown, the money would then be used to collect for a charity. Since this took place during the end of the Great Depression, Greg remarked that they look average “considering the times”. It would also not be far fetched for Bill to really think that they had become poor.

$50,000 in 1939 is $914,000 in 2021, which won’t buy you a mansion in Toronto today. You’d only get a condo or a small home in serious need of repair.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing (1980).

Weaker Sex?

I was wound up and mummified and almost lost to view in the cloth

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 17, 1934

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Jimmie Frise, “if the effects of the recent depression…”

“Recent depression?” I asked.

“The late depression,” amended Jim. “I wouldn’t be surprised if its effects had not permanently changed human nature.”

“How?” I inquired.

“As all profound experience changes anything,” went on Jim. We were out walking off the ill effects of a luncheon which, in its insidious fashion, starting with the pie, backs you into a meal the wrong way on and stuffs you fuller than a bargain chesterfield. “The great ice age changed the whole animal and vegetable kingdom. Millions of species were wiped out. The species that survived that drastic experience were so altered and hardened they could stand anything. The big depression was like the ice age.”

“It was chilly,” I admitted.

“Now for instance,” went on Jimmie, as we walked along the Harbor Building park, looking at all the steamers being unprepared for a late spring, “millions of people have found out that they can get along with far less than they ever thought they could. I think, from now on, petty ambition is not going to be so great a factor in human life.”

“What will that mean?” I asked.

“It means that all this bunk about hard work will be ended,” said Jim. “Look at the way the whole human race had toiled and slaved during the past fifty years. And look at the way it was all ended in a colossal war and a perfect big smear of a peace.”

“You mean life will be more easy-going?” I said.

“The big depression was a blessing,” said Jim, “if it put an end to all that silly fury of work that the whole human race engaged in during the past half a century. Nobody loafed any more. Even when they tried to loaf, they worked like fools at it. Look at golf, the great popular pastime of the last quarter century. It grew up in this period of insane work. Look at people motoring. Another invention of the era of toil. People motoring are working, jittering, all the time. There is no rest. No idleness, pure and simple. No leisure. No loafing.”

“God,” I explained to Jimmie, “made all things to toil.”

“What rot!” cried Jimmie, as we strolled up Bay St. “Look about you! He made everything to be idle. Look at the cattle, the deer, the goats, eating and loafing. Look at the tigers and lions, taking an occasional easy meal and loafing the rest of the time. Look at the trees, the flowers! The only animals that are working are the ones man has bulldozed. The only plants doing more than was intended of them are the ones enslaved by man. Man is the demon. And all his troubles he deserves!”

Is Ambition Dead?

“But get back,” I said, “to what you were saying about that era of insane toil we have just come out of.”

“It ended in the Big Smash,” explained Jim. “We beheld the humorous, the ironic spectacle, of half the world being out of work and forced to be idle while the other half of the world works doubly as hard, like fools, to support the first half. If that isn’t the grand finale to an era of folly, what is?”

“With good times coming back again,” I pointed out, “there is not an unemployed that won’t glory in the chance to work.”

“Don’t you believe it!” cried Jim. “People have learned to get along with less. They find life pretty good without always busting themselves in an endless chase after things they don’t need. Ambition is dead. Thrift is dead. People aren’t going to go greedily rushing themselves into the grave or the hospital, and what little they do get, they are going to waste cheerfully.”

“I wish it could be so,” I said.

“Wait and see,” said Jim. “Nature always wins. And nature made man an easygoing, lazy, happy-go-lucky creature. From now on, we are going to see men being natural. They’ve had their lesson. They are going to go through life enjoying it as they go. Golf is going to be a game in which you sit down whenever you like. Motoring is going to be a pastime in which you drive, at a snail’s pace, to find some pleasant place to lie down and go to sleep.”

As we came out of the subway up Bay to Front St. we saw a bum ambling slowly toward us, and he was looking at us with that curious hovering bird of prey expression that told us we were next.

“Psst!” said Jim. “Let’s offer this guy a good job and see what happens.”

The bum slid over to us.

“Could you spare the price of a bed?” he asked.

“You’re a good-looking fellow,” said Jim. “Strong and husky. How would you like a good job?”

“I sure would, mister,” said the bum. “I haven’t had a job now for four years. Not a steady job.”

“How would you like to come with us right now and take a job in a shipping room loading crates of stoves on to trucks?” asked Jim.

“Stoves,” said the bum. “Say, mister, I couldn’t lift a stove. I got hurt years ago and it makes me kind of useless at heavy lifting.”

“Well we need a man nailing up the crates, then,” said Jim.

“I never was any good at hitting nails,” said the bum. “I always seem to hit my thumb.”

“Listen here,” cried Jim sternly, “you don’t want a job at all!”

“Well, as a matter of fact,” said the bum, suddenly losing all the hang-dog look and straightening up into as handsome and pleasant-looking a young man as you would ever want to see, “I am just stalling along until the first spring, and then I’m lighting out for the west. I’ve got a lot of friends along the railroads out west, and I figure on joining them just as soon as the weather permits.”

Army Tank Methods

“In fact, you’re a bum!” said Jim.

“In fact, I am,” said the bum. “And a happy one, too.”

“Here,” said Jim.

And he handed him a dollar and shook his hand warmly.

“Hully gee!” said the bum.

“There you are,” cried Jim as we walked up Bay. “There is the new style man. He has got sense.”

“But you offered him a tough job,” I cried. “Lifting stoves!”

We stamped up Bay, past King, past Adelaide.

“Let’s go once through the big stores,” said Jim, “and see if they have their fishing tackle on display yet.”

We went in the big stores. They still had skis on display.

We went up the escalator to wander amongst all the bright fabrics and dress goods. We like to see the tartans every once in a while. It makes us feel Scotch, which is a nice feeling, even if you are Canadian of unknown origin.

“Take a look at that,” said Jim, who sees farther in a crowd than I do.

It was a sale.

About a hundred and fifty women were attempting to get at some gorgeous bolts of dress goods marked “98 cents a yard, while they last.”

They were blue, red, yellow, green.

In the dense pack, of which you could only see the rear views of the ladies, young and old, the bright cloth was billowing and flying above their heads. Every moment some woman would back, by sheer army tank methods, thrusting, from side to side with her anatomy, as they say, out of the throng, clutching a bolt of cloth, and she would look wildly about for a clerk, while other women came and seized the ends of the bolt. Pulling-matches, shoving-matches.

And five excited and frightened clerks were flipping their books agitatedly, and wetting the tips of their pencils in their mouths.

A small, bald-headed man in a gray suit, one of those calm small men, was standing to one side pressing his fingertips to his lips. As we passed him, we heard him saying:

“Oh, dear; oh, dear; oh, dear!”

“Are you the manager?” I asked.

“Yes,” he whispered.

Women Always Acquisitive

“A fine fight you have got here,” I said.

“Terrible, terrible,” said the man. “I hope none of the directors come along this way.”

“What will you do?” I asked.

“It will soon be over,” said the manager, anxiously.

But the women were still boring in. We saw two elderly ladies fighting over a bolt, and suddenly the larger of them started unwinding the material, and it was torn before anybody could come between them.

“Keep out of this,” warned Jimmie, a he saw me start to puff up. I always puff up when I am going to do something I deem to be my duty.

The manager said: “Oh, sir!”

I stepped amidst the ladies. I took firm hold of the bolt of bright cloth. I shouted in the army voice: “Ladies, if you please!”

But one lady went one way on a clerk, and the other lady went another way, and I was wound up and mummified and lost to view not only in the cloth but in the crowd.

It was some time before I was rescued. The sale was practically over when Jim and the manager and one of the directors undid me and stood me up.

The director expressed regret on behalf of the firm. The customer, he said, is always right, but in this instance I was not a customer. The manager expressed regrets on behalf of the department, also adding that the customer, etc.

“Have you anything to say?” I asked Jimmie, as he led me toward the escalator.

“Only that I wish you would not interfere in things that are, after all, purely phenomena for us to observe.”

“I hate injustice,” I said.

“What was unjust about that bargain sale?” demanded Jim.

“The way those big women we trampling all over the little women,” I said. “But how about the big depression, Mr. Frise? How about ambition being dead? How about nobody wanting anything anymore?

“I was afraid you’d notice that,” said Jim. “But I was speaking of men. Not of women. Women will always be acquisitive.”

“They are the stronger sex,” I said. “And they will give birth to those who will be just as acquisitive as men ever were. You can’t change human nature. Not when women have something to do with it.”

“If it weren’t for the women,” said Jim, as we went down the escalator, “what wonderful bums us men could be in a couple of generations!”

Editor’s Notes: It seems premature to call the depression the “late depression” in 1934. Unemployment did reach it’s peak in 1933, but it was a slow decent to get back to 1929 levels. This would not occur until the War economy started in 1940.

When Greg speaks of coming “out of the subway up Bay to Front St.”, he means the part of Bay Street under the rail lines next to Union Station.

It seemed odd to me that the young bum would exclaim “Hully Gee”, which was a saying in the 1890s, and the catch phrase of the Yellow Kid.

“You Look Bad”

“You look bad,” said George. “What’s the matter?” “We’re O.K.,” said Jim emphatically.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 12, 1938

“What’s the matter?” cried Jimmie Frise sharply.

“How, who?” I replied, startled.

“You,” said Jim. “You look as if you had been pulled through a knothole.”

“I feel all right,” I stated.

“You look bad,” said Jim. “You look terrible. My dear chap.”

He stood staring at me, his face full of anxiety and concern.

“Wh-hy,” I laughed nervously. “I feel all right. I feel the same as ever.”

“Were you reading late?” inquired Jim, earnestly, “Or anything?”

“I was in bed before 11,” I said stoutly, “and I slept like a log and woke, now you mention it, feeling like a million dollars. Why. my family was all kidding me, not an hour ago, about my singing while I was shaving.”

“Hmmm,” said Jim, scrutinizing me narrowly, as I took off and hung up my hat and overcoat.

I sat down at my desk, rubbing my hands together. I smiled around the familiar office, at its pictures, mottoes and framed cartoons. I felt fine. I felt perfect. Not a pain or an ache.

“Maybe,” I suggested, “I just need a haircut.”

But I felt Jimmie watching me covertly. In fact, each time I looked up from opening my mail, I caught Jimmie just glancing away from me, with a secret look about him.

“Look here,” I said, “what’s the idea? What’s the big idea of peeping at me like that?”

Jim sat back in his chair and looked long and earnestly at me.

“How long is it,” he asked tenderly, “since you saw a doctor?”

“Say,” I cried, “what the dickens is the matter?”

“I’m asking you,” said Jim. “How long is it since you saw a doctor?”

“I had a life insurance examination,” I informed him, “less than two years back.”

“A lot of things,” said Jim, hollowly. “can develop in two years. In two weeks, even.”

And after a long, lingering stare, he returned to his work.

I finished opening the mail and noticed, incidentally, that my hands looked a little different from the last time I had looked at them. They seemed knucklier. The skin on them seemed drier and more crinkled than I had noticed ever before. I held up the left one. I was astonished to see that it was shaking slightly. Very slightly. When I tried to hold it perfectly steady, it trembled most decidedly. A very slight, but certainly a decided, tremble. I felt Jimmie watching me slyly, and looked up in time to catch him at it. He glanced away with an expression of shame.

“Hrrrmmph,” I said.

“When Did You See a Doctor?”

I leaned back in my chair and looked out the window. I then slowly went all over myself, with my mind, as it were, feeling all my joints, parts and insides. Slipping my thumb casually in the armhole of my vest, I felt my heart, first of all.

“Ga-bump, ga-bump, tiddle, ga-bump,” went my heart.

I had never noticed that “tiddle” before. In fact, that “ga” in front of the “bump” was not altogether familiar.

I listened, as it were, to my lungs, liver, kidneys and stomach. Quite suddenly, and without warning, I noted my eyes seemed queerly dull. The gray March light outside seemed grayer than March used to be. I tasted a little different taste in my mouth than I had ever observed before. And finally. I seemed to feel a slight limpness or numbness in my wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and ankles.

As I turned from this contemplation of myself, this stock-taking, I caught Jim just turning his head from having been watching me intently.

“Jim,” I said, rising, “what is it you notice about me? Do I look pale?”

Jim got up and came to meet me.

“Look,” he said, “you just look kind of queer, that’s all. Not pale, but sort of drawn and peaked. There is a funny look to your eyes. You seem to have shrunk, somehow.”

“Jim,” I said, “what do you suppose it is?”

“How would I know?” demanded Jim. “But as your old friend. I think I have the right to tell you you look bad, when you do.”

I looked intently at Jim, to read his thoughts, to know the truth. And then I noticed Jim had a funny look about him. His eyes, which, the last time I had bothered to observe, were bright with light and twinkle, now seemed, as it were, faded. His skin seemed polished across the cheek bones. There were pouches under his eyes and the bridge of his nose looked bony.

“Jim,” I suggested sympathetically, “you don’t look so good yourself.”

“Eh?” said Jim.

“You don’t look very well yourself,” I said gently. “How have you been feeling lately?”

“Never better,” said Jim heartily. “I feel in the pink, that’s what made me conscious of you, I guess.”

“Jim,” I corrected, “you may feel in the pink, but you don’t look it. Now that my attention is drawn to it, your eyes have a dull sort of look, there are heavy pouches under your eyes, and look the way you are standing!”

Jim straightened sharply.

“Ah,” I pointed out, “you have been walking around awfully stoop-shouldered this last while. We get so used to seeing each other, we don’t notice these things until something forces our attention to it. Jim, you’re a kind of yellow color, do you know that? How is your liver? When did you see a doctor last?”

Jim walked over and looked out the window. He pulled up his belt and straightened his shoulders. He coughed and shrugged and I could see he, too, in his turn, was giving himself a mental going over, outside and in.

“Why,” he said, “I had a doctor look me over just last spring, when I had that tooth trouble. Or was that two springs ago?”

“Hmmmm,” said I. “a lot can happen…”

Sudden Anxiety

Jim turned from the window anxiously.

“How do you mean I look kind of yellow?” he asked, earnestly.

“Bilious, or jaundicey,” I said, turning him to the light so I could give him a good honest report. “Why, Jim, isn’t it funny how we change so suddenly? The last time I remember looking at you, and I see you every day of my life, practically, you were a lithe, springy, ruddy fellow, life in your eyes and skin and every movement.”

“And what’s the matter with me now?” questioned Jim crisply.

“Well,” I said sympathetically, “to put it very simply, Jim, you seem to have suddenly aged, your skin is sort of parchment like, your eyes have a dull look. I don’t know, you just seem to be aged, somehow.”

Jim stiffened and walked back to his desk. He sat down and picked up his drawing pen and started to scratch with it. He glanced up and caught me watching him.

“Let’s forget it,” he suggested, “Let’s just forget it.”

“Very well,” I agreed. “There is nothing we can do right now, but I’m going to see the doctor to-night.”

“The same here,” said Jim, humping down over his drawing board. And I addressed myself to the typewriter with intensity.

So through the morning Jim scratched, with little to say, and I banged and thundered on the machine, though I noticed long pauses in Jim’s scratching, and the pauses of my own machine grew ponderous and frightening, as I slowed between thoughts. I hated to feel a pause. I wrote many pages that I tore up because there was really nothing on them, only words that I wrote to fill the office with a busy sound.

We were both very happy when it came 12 o’clock and lunch. We put on our coats with an obvious sense of relief. We smiled and joked extra loudly in the corridors, as we met our colleagues of many departments going to lunch. We cracked the usual ones with the elevator man. It was a snappy day, and Jim and I, instead of dawdling along, stepped out with conscious vigor, and wove in and out through the lazy noon hour crowd. We arrived at the lunch counter we favor on those days we feel like walking three blocks and got stools side by side.

George, the boss of the lunch counter, who stepped up to ask us our order and dish us a glass of water, froze when he saw us.

“Hello,” he said, “what’s the trouble?”

“Eh?” said Jim and I heartily.

“You look bad; what’s the matter?” said George, solicitous and low leaning over the counter.

“We’re o.k.,” said Jim, emphatically. “I’ll take a hot beef sandwich with peas and coffee.”

“Have you had any bad news or anything?” queried George.

“Make mine,” I stated firmly. “hot pork with plenty of gravy, french fried and peas on the side. Brown bread.”

Friends are Solicitous

George looked at me closely.

“I wouldn’t recommend pork,” he said, surreptitiously. “Pork’s heavy.”

Saying which, he slid Jim’s plate on the counter, the big sandwich drowned in rich gravy. the peas vivid green, scoop of soft pallid mashed potatoes balanced on the edge.

George waited on somebody else while I thought what I wanted other than pork. Jim stared intently at the beef sandwich and picked up his knife and fork slowly and deliberately.

“I think,” said Jim, “I think I’ll change my mind. Make mine a… ah… a chopped egg sandwich and a glass of cold milk, eh, George?”

“Good,” said George.

“Mine the same,” I stated.

“Good,” said George, very kindly. “You’ll feel better than eating a big meal, the way you feel now.”

He slid away, but we could feel, as we nibbled the sandwiches, that George’s friendly eye was on us, sideways. I stole a glance at Jim. He was gaunt and hunched, and he was eating his sandwich as if it contained poison. I felt Jim looking at me, and I tried to take a big bite of my sandwich but I choked slightly.

“Here,” muttered Jim, flinging down the half of his sandwich. “Let’s get out and go for a walk. What we need is fresh air.”

As we paid our checks, we encountered three of the boys from the composing room.

“Well, well, well,” said they, standing us back to look at us, “what kind of flowers do you guys like? Will we make it a wreath or just a spray? Those sprays of spring flowers are …”

But Jim and I pushed out the door and got into the throng.

The lazy throng. The noon throng with gaze turned inward, digesting their food or perhaps pondering problems left unfinished at their offices. How comfortable and at ease they all looked, especially the girls, the business girls, with that superb look of indifference which distinguishes them from non-business girls.

Listlessly we drifted with them, they thrusting and pushing by with vigor and energy.

“Ah,” sighed Jimmie, as a particularly fat, healthy girl bounced past as if she was made of rubber all over, “little do they guess.”

“I never saw people so disgustingly healthy,” I stated. “They seem to flaunt it.”

“Yet any day,” said Jim, “any one of all these may glance in the mirror in the morning, and see the signs.”

“They look lovely now,” I submitted.

“One of the evils of being well,” said Jim, is that you never think of your health. It’s only when you lose it you think of it. We ought to have big posters all over the streets, saying in great big type, ‘Do you feel well? All right, then gloat.’ Or something of that kind.”

“I think,” I said, thinly. “I’ll lay off for the afternoon I’ll just go home and lie down for two or three hours.”

“I’ve got a good notion,” said Jim, “to slip up and see the doctor. His hours are from one to two.”

“That’s a better idea,” I admitted. “We’ll both go, and that will save time and money. We’ve both got the same trouble anyway.”

So we got Jim’s car and drove out home to see Jim’s doctor. We drove slowly. In fact, we drove too slowly.

“Just put a little steam into it, Jim,” I suggested. This slow pace sort of, sort of …”

So Jim put on the gas; even so, we did not travel along the Lake Shore at quite our usual pace. The doctor was in but there were three people ahead of us, an old lady whose head trembled all the time and who had a look of despair; a man with a bandage over his face, concealing something mysterious; and a young woman as pale as a ghost who never raised her eyes from the ragged old magazine she was only pretending to read. One by one, these three were called ahead of us, and we could hear far off, dim sad sounds in the utter silence of the waiting room.

When our turn came, we were so limp we could hardly get to our feet.

“Well, for heaven’s sakes,” said the doctor, with that relief doctors always feel when they come to their last patient, “and what are you two old hickories doing here?”

“How do we look, doc?” demanded Jim, posing.

“You look all right to me,” said the doctor. “What is it? Life insurance? Or are you trying to get me on some committee. Sit down and rest your feet.”

“Honest, doc,” said Jim, “how do we look?”

Feeling Terrible

The doctor sat back and looked with that secret professional eye at both of us sitting very stiff and pretty.

“Well,” he said, “off hand, I should say you look like a couple of steers all combed up for the Royal Winter Fair. Why, what’s up? Am I supposed to see a rash on you or something?”

So we told him. We said we were feeling fine, but we both had noticed how the other had failed lately, and then, when we went to lunch, everybody looked at us and said we looked bad.

“And did you feel bad?” asked the doctor.

“Not until Jim noticed how badly I looked,” I admitted.

“You do feel bad?” asked the doctor.

“Doctor,” I declared, “I feel terrible. To tell the truth. I feel kind of gone. My eyes feel dull and I can’t eat. I choke on my food, my mouth has a funny taste, and in all my joints, I’ve got a weak feeling, see?”

“How about inside?” asked the doctor.

“I have no pain,” I confessed, “but I have a sort of woozy feeling, as if something was wrong, something seriously wrong, perhaps.”

“Exactly the same here,” said Jim. “only I didn’t like to say so. I feel as if any minute I would get a sharp shooting pain in my insides.”

“Well,” said the doctor, very earnestly, “I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the spring.”

“The spring?” said we.

“The spring,” said the doctor. This time of year is like 4 o’clock in the morning. If you wake up at 4 in the morning, your faculties, your glands and humors are all at their darkest ebb. You feel only half alive. It is the same now, in March and part of April, until the first iris reaches up until the first buds get sticky, until the first robin nests in your tree.”

I looked at Jimmie. He was transformed. Before my very eyes, he seemed suddenly flooded with life and health.

“Maybe,” said the doctor, “you need a little sulphur and molasses, but probably you don’t. Probably all you need is to keep from thinking about how you feel. Don’t think at all. Don’t feel. Just wait for these weeks to pass…”

“Why, look at him,” cried Jim, pointing at me. “Look at the little beggar, fairly busting with health. What’s he been trying to put over, drooping around the office this morning as if he were in a galloping decline!”

I stood up. Jim stood up. The doctor stood up.

“Listen,” said the doctor, “never tell anybody they look bad, especially at this time of year.”

“That’s an idea,” admitted Jim.

“And here’s a trick,” laughed the doctor. “If anybody ever says you look bad, tell them right back that they look terrible.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” laughed Jimmie and I heartily, shaking the doctor’s hand muscularly and leaping into the car and driving back along the Lake Shore hell for leather.

Editor’s Notes: Sulphur and molasses made up a home remedy, also known as a “spring tonic” because of the laxative influence of sulfur.

Hell for leather” means “At full speed”.

The Hard Way

“Excuse me,” I said, “could you spare me a dime for a cup of coffee?” “You’re a comic, Mr. Clark,” laughed the tall man, all his solemnity departed.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 9, 1940

In which Greg and Jim learn it’s not easy job panhandling or selling on the street

Jim Frise and I were walking back from lunch when a young man with his coat-collar turned up stopped us and whispered:

“Could you spare me the price of a cup of coffee?”

I fumbled and Jim paid. A quarter. And a kind smile.

“Jim,” I said, “how much do you give away in a week to panhandlers?”

“Bread on the waters,” said Jim. “Get a line of credit. Some day I may be wanting a dime.”

“I bet,” said I, “it costs more than two bits to work up courage enough to beg a dime on the street.”

“It would take more than I’ve got,” said Jim.

“That would make an interesting story for the folks,” said I. “You and me trying our hand at bumming dimes.”

“You do the bumming,” said Jim, “and I’ll follow at a distance and make sketches.”

“You’re afraid,” I declared.

“So are you,” said Jim.

It was a sunny March day. Spring was in the air. The noon streets were crowded. I made a quick, rabbit shooter’s estimate of the throng and selected a tall, solemn man wearing a hard hat and smoking a cigar.

“Excuse me,” I said, touching his arm and falling out to the side of the pavement. I turned up my coat collar.

“Could you spare me a dime for a cup of coffee?” I muttered.

“Ha, ha!” laughed he.

“Please,” said I: “I ain’t had nothing to eat or drink since the day before yesterday.”

“You’re a comic, Mr. Clark,” laughed the tall man, all his solemnity departed.

I looked at him. But his face was unfamiliar.

“I’m not worrying about that $47,” he smiled. “Take your time. I know you’re good for it.”

Forty-seven dollars! Let’s see, who did I owe $47 to? Sixty-five, 40, nineteen… ah. yes! Forty-seven dollars to the insurance company that insures my car. I suddenly recognized him as the cashier who accepted my cheques through a cage at the insurance company.

“Ha, ha,” said I. Jim was right at my elbow by now. “I was afraid you would be getting after me for that money. Ha, ha.”

“Quite all right,” said the cashier. He was still chuckling. “You’ve got a great line, Mr. Clark.”

“Good-day,” I said laughingly.

“How much did you get?” asked Jim, very puzzled.

“Hang it,” said I, “I owe too many people money to attempt panhandling. I knew that guy. He was the cashier of the insurance company that handles my car insurance and I owe them $47. He thought I was kidding him about owing the money.”

“Try again,” said Jim. “Pick somebody not so well dressed. See what it feels like to be turned down.”

“Don’t Spend It on Drink”

We came to The Star lane and there was a seedy-looking man in a derby hat standing watching the crowd pass. I sidled up to him.

“Excuse me,” said I, “but could you spare me the price of a cup of coffee?”

He looked sharply at me, up and down.

“Listen, buddy,” said he; “I’m working this side. You pick another block, will you?”


“You’re pretty well dressed to be working this game,” said the man in the derby. “Are you really hungry?”

“Haven’t et since Thursday,” said I.

“Here,” he exclaimed sympathetically. He dug down into his pocket, pulled out a half a dozen dimes and nickels and handed me one dime.

“Don’t spend it,” said the man in the derby, “on strong drink.”

Jim and I shuffled off down the street.

“I’ll frame this dime,” said I. “The first dime I ever panhandled.”

“This adventure,” said Jim, “is going all flooey. We ought to think up something else to study the situation, I tell you. Let’s sell something. Let’s put up one of these stands in a lane or in some nook along the street and sell things. We will see what it feels like to make an honest living.”

“How about stuff to take spots off vests?” I asked.

“Or corn killer?” said Jim.

“You’re a good spieler,” said Jim. “You make up the spiel and I’ll handle the sales in silence.”

“But let’s get something unusual to sell, something useful. The big thing in all merchandising is the idea,” said I.

“One thing I always want and never have around my house,” said Jimmie, “is nails. No matter how many nails and tacks and screws I buy I never can find them.”

“That’s an idea,” said I. “We could get a little tin box about the size of a tobacco tin and fill it with an assortment of tacks and nails and sell them like hot cakes. After we have exhausted the street corner sales we could go from door to door. We could organize a company and hire hundreds of unemployed men, and not only would we be relieving the economic situation but we would be rendering real public service to the homes of this city. And at the same time we could make money. “Suppose,” said I, “we only made one cent on each box of assorted nails. There are at least 90,000 homes in Toronto alone. Let’s not think of Canada yet. But 90,000 cents is how much, Jimmie? Nine thousand dollars! Nine thousand dollars! Jimmie, at one cent profit. That’s $4,500 apiece.”

Jimmie was walking with his head in the air, thinking.

“It’s $900, not $9,000,” said he. I did a little figuring.

“Well, anyway,” said I, “that’s $450 each. Just from Toronto alone. You take Ontario-“

“Wait a minute,” said Jimmie. “We are going to do this for a story. Let’s go down to one of those wholesale hardwares and get a supply of them and try it. Are you game?”

So we went down to Wellington St. and went into a hardware supply house, and while Jimmie did the buying I leaned on the counter and wrote out the notes for my selling talk.

A young clerk with red hair waited on Jim.

Ten of these little boxes,” said the clerk, “at seven cents each. And nails?” He did a little figuring. “One-inch brads, one-and-a-half, two-inch, two-and-a-half and three-inch nails, a couple of packages of tacks, some screws, assorted screws.”

We laid the empty boxes along the counter and with the nails and tacks spread out we took a pinch of this and a pinch of that and filled the boxes.

“What do these come to?” asked Jim.

“The red-headed clerk added up the cost. “Seventy for the tins and 45 for the nails and screws. A dollar and 15 cents.”

“Let’s see,” said Jim. “That comes to 11 ½ cents a box. We will charge 15 for them and make three and a half cents a box.”

The clerk listened and nodded.

So Jim and I sunk the boxes in our coat pockets and went out to look for a good place to stand.

“Let’s get well away from the office,” said I. “Our friends will buy them if they see us. We don’t want any sympathy buying. Let’s sell on our merits.”

So we got on Church St. above King. There was a vacant store front, with dust and papers gathered in the doorway.

Jim held a box in each hand and I started my spiel:

“Come this way, gents; come this way!” Three men were passing, but none of them looked at us. “Here y’are,” I shouted louder. “Here y’are, gents! A boon to every household. The secret of domestic happiness. No more quarrels about where the hammer and nails are. No more fingers smashed trying to straighten old nails. No more lockjaw from fooling with rusty nails. Here y’are, gents, the discovery of the century. Something you have been looking for all your life. This way, gents.”

Jim had the lids off and the boxes held forth to the public view. But seven more people passed and none of them paused.

“Sensational value!” I yelled. “A dollar’s worth of handiness for only 10 cents.”

“Fifteen,” hissed Jim.

“Fifteen cents,” I bellowed. “Come this way, ladies and gents, and give your wife a surprise! Bring peace and comfort to your home. Hang that picture! Nail up that fruit shelf in the cellar! Mend that broken window sill. For 15 cents, gents, a box of nails that will last you a lifetime.”

There are not many people on Church St. anyway.

“Make it louder,” said Jim. “And funnier.”

“Take a box of nails home to your little boy, ladies and gents. A boy can have the time of his life with this little magic box. He can nail up everything. Every boy is yearning for a box of nails like this. Look, 15 cents!

Not as Easy as It Looks

One man stopped and looked at us.

“That’s a good idea,” he said. And walked on.

“Make it 10 cents,” said Jim.

“Ten cents,” I bellowed. “Less than cost, ladies and gents. The greatest boon to the housewife-“

“Appeal to the men,” growled Jim. “There aren’t any women.”

“Hide this box of nails in your collar-box,” I cried, “and you’ll always have nails-“

“Men don’t have collar boxes any more,” said Jim. “Your spiel is rotten. Offer 11 ½ cents worth of nails for 10 cents.”

“Going out of business,” I bellowed. “Selling at a loss, 11 ½ cents worth of nails for 10 cents!”

A man with a tool-bag stopped and looked as us.

“Do you mean to say,” he demanded sourly, “that that is 11 cents worth of nails?”

“Counting the tin box and the nails,” said Jim, “there is 11 ½ cents worth there.”

“Well, then,” said the man, “don’t offer 11 cents worth of nails for 10 cents, because you haven’t got ’em.”

A young fellow was standing out on the curb.

“Ten cents,” I yelled. “A box of nails for 10 cents. How about you?”

The young chap came over.

“How many have you got at 10 cents,” he asked.

“Ten,” said I.

“I’ll take the lot,” said he. He held out a dollar bill.

Jim and I unloaded our pockets, and the young man took them all and stuffed them into his coat.

“Excuse me,” said Jim, “but aren’t you the fellow at the hardware store that waited on us?”

“Yes,” smiled he, and I saw his red hair under his cap.

“Well,” said Jim and I.

“I make 15 cents on this deal,” said he. “In times like these, 15 cents isn’t to be sneezed at. It buys my lunch.”

Jim and I went one way and he went the other.

“The trouble was,” said Jim, “your spiel was no good. You have to be a special kind of personality for selling things.”

“All you did,” said I, “was stand there like a cigar store Indian with the boxes in your hands. You should have used gestures. You should have held them and demonstrated them.”

“Like a cloak model,” said Jim.

“I guess panhandling and selling things the street isn’t as easy as it looks,” said I. “But I wish we had kept one of those boxes of assorted nails. That was a swell idea. They’d come in mighty handy around the house.”

So we both turned back down to the hardware supply house and got a box each from the red-headed clerk.

He charged us 15 cents.

“Labor and overhead,” he said.

“Could you spare me a dime for a cup of coffee?” I muttered to the tall man.
“Here y’are gents!” I shouted. “A boon to every household!”
“Listen buddy,” said he, “I’m working this side. You pick another block, will you?”

Editor’s Notes: This story seemed too “Depression related” for 1940. The style seemed a little off too, so I decided to investigate further. There are so many stories, that I have not read them all, and usually only read them for the first time when I randomly choose one to feature. I knew that there were stories repeated when Greg was away on different occasions as a war correspondent in World War Two, but was not aware of the extent. So I did a more extensive review of the stories , and this is indeed a repeat of “Dimes Come Tough” from November 19th, 1932, one of their earliest ones. I’m still missing some time periods from the war, but there seems to have been extensive periods of repeats in early and late 1940, and from the summer of 1943 right to the beginning of 1945. The images at the bottom are from the 1932 story.

“Cast your bread upon the waters” is from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 11:1. Nowadays we would say “pay it forward”, meaning, do a good deed and someday someone will do a good deed for you.

It may be confusing when Greg mentioned the well-dressed man had a “hard hat”. In this case he meant that he was wearing a Bowler hat, which is made of hard felt, rather than a fedora, or other style, which would be made out of a softer felt.

Greg was also showing his age when he suggested the nails could be kept in a collar box, and Jim told him so. Circa 1860-1920, men’s collars and cuffs were detachable from shirts. The idea was that you could change the collars and cuffs to keep them looking nice without having to change the shirt. They could also be made of separate material like celluloid to keep them stiff. The collar box was somewhere where you could store them to keep them clean.

Mike Fright

In that awful hushed silence following the announcer’s words, I accidentally stepped on Rusty’s tail.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 23, 1935

“Mike fright,” said Jimmie Frise, “seems a silly thing to me.”

“It’s like stage fright,” I explained.

“But stage fright is understandable,” said Jim, “facing thousands and thousands of people, row on row. But mike fright, that’s silly. Imagine being frightened of a little round instrument about the size of a turnip or a tin of gingersnaps!”

“It’s the unseen that frightens you,” I further elucidated, “the unseen, the unknown.”

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you,” cut in Jimmie.

“Yes, but you do know,” I said. “You know that there are thousands, maybe millions, of people listening to you. They are not at your mercy, sitting in theatre seats, all more or less obliged by good manners to sit and say nothing. On the air you picture all those people, thousands, millions, sitting in their own homes where manners do not exist. Some millions of them are reading the newspaper. Other millions of them are sitting talking together. Very few of them are actually sitting in rows in front of the radio listening to you as they would listen to you from the stage.”

“Ah,” said Jim, seeing the point.

“Yes, I went on. “The unseen, the unknown. As you step up in front of that little round microphone the first thing you imagine is that about ninety-nine million out of the billion will promptly, at the first sound of your voice, jump up angrily and turn you off. They can’t do that in a theatre. Or in a public meeting. But that’s what you imagine. You say to yourself, “How can I speak so gently, how can I be so immediately interesting that everybody in the world, with a loud Anarrrhhnnn, won’t jump up and rush over and cut me off?’ That’s how you get mike fright.”

“The reason I ask,” said Jim, “is that Bill Berry has to speak over the air to-morrow night. And he’s nearly crazy.”

“Who, Bill?” I exclaimed. “I didn’t think he’d be fazed by anything in the world.”

“He’s nearly nuts,” said Jim. “He’s been in, to see me the last three nights at the house and walked the floor and rehearsed his speech for me. He’s nearly nutty.”

“The poor chap,” said I.

“I drove him down to work this morning,” proceeded Jim, “and dear old blatherskite Billy sat there like a man in a trance. He never spoke all the way down, except to moan a few times.”

“The poor fellow,” I agreed.

“I’ve seen Bill Berry,” stated Jim, “meet notables and millionaires and statesmen as if he were their buddy. I’ve seen him the life of a hundred parties. He has the nerve of a canal horse. At hockey games he stands up and roars and yells like a bull in a barn and thinks no more of the stares and “sit-downs” of the mob than if they weren’t there. But this morning Bill Berry was worse than a bride with the hives on her nuptial morn.”

Scared By Remote Control

“How did he ever get himself into this jam?” I inquired.

“Oh, some service club,” said Jim. “Some service club is putting on a fifteen-minute appeal. And nobody but Bill Berry could put over the right gusto, the right hail-fellow, the right life of the party. And Bill admits he was kind of tickled at first with the idea of talking over the radio. It was just four or five days ago that he got mike fright.”

“He shouldn’t have mike fright yet,” I cried.

“He’s got it,” said Jim. “Mike fright, by remote control. Every hour it gets worse. It’s worse than buck fever. It’s worse than waiting for the day of your execution. Last night he didn’t sleep a wink. Do you know what he did last night?”


“He just sat in a rocking chair all night and rocked.”

“Oh, dear,” I said.

“I wonder what we could do to help him?” asked Jim. “You’ve often talked over the air. Can’t you think of something?”

“Could somebody else make the speech for him?” I suggested.

“I told him that,” said Jim, “but he’s too proud. He won’t hear of it.”

“Maybe we could get a doctor to give him some dope,” I thought, “some sleeping pills, something that will dull him down for the remaining twenty-four hours.”

“He’s full of aspirin now,” said Jim. “And sleeping powders.”

“I am sorry for him,” I said, “but I can’t see what’s to be done about it. A guy undertakes to talk over the radio, he’s got to take what comes with it.”

“How would you like to come with us?” asked Jim. “I said I’d drive him to the studio to-morrow night. You’re a good hand at cheering people up. Come with us.”

“Sure I will,” I agreed.

The next night Jim picked me up at the house about 7.30. In the front of the car beside him sat Bill Berry.

“HUL-lo, Bill,” I cried, in my best service club manner. “Howsa boy?”

Bill did not answer. He just settled a little deeper into his coat collar. In a swift glance, I saw how he had failed. His derby, instead of being on the side and somewhat on the back of his head, was set primly on the centre. It seemed a little too big for him. His face had shrunk. It was pallid and expressionless, and there was a dull look in his eyes.

“Well, well, so we’re making our radio debut?” I cried, opening the back door and stepping in.

Rusty was there. Jim’s Rusty, an Irish water spaniel of advanced age, a dear old dog, but somewhat fallen from his natural estate. Rusty was bought eleven years ago by Jimmie to be a retriever of countless ducks that Jimmie was going to shoot. Rusty comes of a noble breed that fears not the roaring wave nor the icy water, but will plunge in where polar bears would fear to tread, after wild ducks.

But Rusty had two paths to take, and he took the lesser. He became, in a few weeks, a house dog, a guardian of children and property rather than a noble beast of the chase. During the past ten years, any time Jim takes Rusty into the duck blind, poor Rusty just sits there emitting whines in a hoarse Irish voice, demanding to be taken back to terra firma, and houses and property and children, his chief interest.

“Hullo Rusty,” I said as I got in beside him and he grudgingly gave me a bit of the seat to sit on.

A Very Strict Rule

Jim drove rapidly downtown. I could see Bill Berry’s head, with that incongruous bowler sitting so stiff and straight on his head. His neck seemed shrunk. His head looked shaky and his ears stuck out forlornly in a way I had never noticed before.

I tried four or five starts at conversation. I tried the Rotary, then the Kiwanis, then the Lions and finally the Young Men’s Board of Trade manner on him.

None of them worked.

“Bill,” I said, “how would you like me to sub for you? They’ll announce you, and then I’ll step up and imitate your voice so that even your own wife wouldn’t know it wasn’t you?”

“No, no,” said Bill hollowly. “I’ll see it through.”

So I spent the rest of the ride scratching Rusty and talking to him.

“You can’t leave Rusty in the car,” I remarked to Jim. “What was the idea of bringing him?”

“My nights belong to Rusty,” said Jimmie. “Where I go he goes.”

“But he goes frantic if he is left alone in the car,” I reminded Jim.

“We’ll take him inside and tie him up to a radiator in the hall or something,” said Jim easily.

At the studio, we both had to help poor Billy Berry out of the car. He had gone stiff. His legs wouldn’t bend. In his right hand he clutched a wad of paper that was his speech. It was just a wad.

We got him out and stood him there, like an invalid, while Jim put the leash on Rusty and handed it to me.

I held Rusty on the leash and Jim and I each took an arm of Bill and led him slowly down the street and into the radio broadcasting station door.

His feet dragged, he was breathing in short gasps and you could hear a slight moan with every third or fourth breath.

As we went through the door, he leaned his weight on us and stumbled.

“Here, here,” I hissed. “Bill, this won’t do at all.”

In the lighted entrance. I saw his face. It was white and beaded with moisture. His eyes had a glassy look and his lips were muttering. I caught a few words:

“… now altogether, with one heart and voice, let us say…”

“Wait till you get into the studio,” I said, patting his back.

We were ushered upstairs into a waiting room with wicker chairs. We lowered Bill Berry into the biggest one. A few ladies in evening dress stared at him coldly and unsympathetically, and one man in a dress suit played faint trills on a piccolo across the room.

“Is this dog going to take part in any program?” asked a very young man who had come into the waiting room.

“No,” I said. “He’s just an onlooker.”

“Sorry, you’ll have to take him out,” said the young aristocrat, pleasantly. “There is a very strict rule.”

Jim winked at me.

I started out with Rusty, who dragged back on the leash. Rusty knows his nights are for Jimmie.

“Put on That Smile”

Jim caught me in the hallway.

“Walk around here and there,” said Jim, “and at two minutes to eight sharp, come up here. Hide Rusty under your coat.”

“Under my coat?” I expostulated, “Him weighing fifty pounds?”

“I always said that coat of yours was for you and who else,” said Jim. “Stuff him up under your coat, walk in here at the right minute and then push in with the rest of us.”

“No, Jim.” I protested. “I hate trouble. You take Bill inside. I won’t need to go.”

“Listen, you come,” declared Jim. “He’s better, just having you near. I can see it. You sit in the studio where he can see you. Put on that smile. You know the one. The smile that means ‘great stuff, fella.'”


“Now do it for me.”

“Why didn’t you leave Rusty at home?” I demanded.

“I should have,” said Jim. “But he knows he goes where I go at night. I couldn’t disappoint him.”

“I can readily understand why he isn’t a bird dog,” I said, giving a yank to the leash.

So Rusty and I went out and walked around the street for six or seven minutes, and then, by the clock, I started sneaking back in. We took the stairs up. We went slowly. I watching the wrist-watch, and Rusty anxiously sniffing his way back up to Jimmie.

At exactly one minute to eight o’clock, we were at the top step of the stairs of the studio floor. I reached down and put Rusty under my arm and draped my large English-style overcoat over him. In the hall, as I came through, the party to which Bill belonged was thronged at the doorway of the studio.

All was hushed and “hissed.” Young officials of the studio were signalling with eyes and fingers and forming soundless words with their mouths.

I drew alongside the throng of artists and speakers. Jim mode way for me so that I was in the middle of the group.

The studio door opened and out came sounds of final, triumphant, signing-off music. I heard a quiet voice announcing the end of a program. Our party was ushered, like a herd of cows for the slaughter, into the studio. Its hushed atmosphere was slightly broken by the rising and departure of a horde of shirt-sleeved musicians tip-toeing out. The quiet voice again speaking, and as the outgoing throng made way, we crept anxiously to chairs and benches. There were curtains on the walls and curtains dependent from the ceiling There were wires and cables on the floor and strung across the room itself in midair.

All was hushed and disorganized, yet strangely organized. Rusty was wriggling under my coat and I patted him.

The men on the box, who was talking in the quiet voice, signalled toward Bill Berry and Jim led him forward. A lady was already playing the piano and a short fat man in a dress suit suddenly burst into loud baritone song. Rusty struggled fiercely under the coat, so I let his head out and he glared about the room until he saw Jim. Then he sagged comfortably.

In the Awful Silence

I sat down to one side, where Bill could see me. Jim was holding Bill’s arm, they were seated side by side, and Bill’s face was as white as death. He was listening with intense interest and an expression of surprise, to the man singing. Other officials of the service club were grouped around, most of them looking quickly at Bill and then looking quickly away again.

It was all very swift. Time flies in a studio. On hushed wings it flies.

“It is now my pleasure,” said the announcer up on the box, with an easy and jolly manner, and common gesture toward Bill, “to introduce to you, ladies and gentlemen, one who is known throughout the city and, indeed, throughout the country as a whole, as a great fellow, a great organizer, a great leader, a great worker in many noble and worthy causes, who will put, in a nutshell, the meaning of this campaign in the behalf of an underprivileged section of our great community, Mr. William Berry!”

He said it the way Joe Penner’s announcer announces Joe.

Bill was on his feet. He was in a trance. Jim was whispering in his ear, trying to get him to take a step forward. But Bill’s legs were locked, apparently.

I had to act quick, if I was going to act at all.

I slid Rusty down on to the floor. I stood up. I started toward Bill and Jim.

And under my foot, in that awful hushed silence, I felt Rusty’s tail go squnnch!

“Ki-yi-yi-yi,” yelled Rusty. “Ki-yi-yi-yi! … oooowww!”

“Here, here!” I rasped. But Rusty was crouched down, scrambling out of the way of all big feet, under chairs, looking over his shoulder in terror and letting out a staccato stream of


The room was in a panic. Announcers rushed from side to side signalling madly but all in that awful hush in which Rusty’s incredible yowling and ki-yi-ing filled and blasted the air. Frantic faces appeared at windows looking into the studio. Five of six of us were now sprawling on the floor trying to quiet Rusty, but the more we struggled the worse Rusty yelled, and chairs fell over and finally –

“Cut!” roared the announcer.

At that loud call, Rusty and I were like two worms tossed into a flock of chickens

The hush was broken with a babble of voices as officials rushed in and seized Rusty and me and everybody else out the studio, except Jim and Bill.

I stood outside explaining to a mob of infuriated radio experts for only a half a minute until out came Jimmie, leading poor Bill, who was now just one complete quiver, head, knees and all.

They grabbed their coats. We went in a body down the stairs.

“What happened?” I asked Jim. “Did he speak?”

“He couldn’t speak,” said Jim, quite simply. “So the announcer said, ‘You have just heard a few remarks by Mr. William Berry, that well-known worker in behalf of the underprivileged of this great city.'”

“So Rusty made the speech? I cried.

“That was him,” said Jim.

We drove Mr. William Berry back home to his astonished and waiting wife.

Editor’s Notes: Greg did speak often on the radio, he even considered giving up newspaper work in the late 1930s to become a radio announcer. He participated in a series called “Let’s Face the Facts” in 1940, where speeches by notable Canadians commented on different aspects of the war effort. This was accumulated in a single volume in 1941.

Joe Penner was a popular radio comedian at the time.

“Wonky Clocks”

Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow. Jim removed screws, large and small, and laid them across the table.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 19, 1944

“For instance,” said Jimmie Frise, “a man could mend umbrellas.”

“True, Jimmie,” I mused. “When I was a boy, I recollect the umbrella menders. There would be one come along our street at least once a month. They would have a half a dozen tattered old umbrellas under their arms, and a little bag of tools, like a doctor.”

“They would rap at each door,” went on Jim, “and say to the lady, with a lift of the hat, ‘Any umbrellas to mend, lady?'”

“Nowadays, I still see scissors grinders,” I confessed, “with a little treadle strapped on their backs, and ringing a hand bell through the streets.”

“They are foreigners now,” said Jim. “But when I was a boy, they used to be our fellow countrymen. And the children would come and gather round to see the blue sparks fly off the wheel, and to hear him sing. I knew one Irishman, young Irishman, with a bright face, and he loved sharpening scissors and knives. And he used to sing a tune in time with his foot pumping on the treadle. A quick tune.”

“I can’t understand any man nowadays,” I stated, “being out of work even though he can’t do war work. There are so many things a man can do. Things men used to do, that seem to be forgotten. Why, I remember the spectacle sellers. Don’t you remember the spectacle sellers? Nicely dressed young men who, when you opened the door, were standing there, with a bright smile, and a sort of suitcase strapped around their necks and spread open in front of them filled with spectacles of all sorts fastened to the tray. From door to door, these merchants went, fitting spectacles to all the housewives.”

“And,” cried Jimmie, “the packmen! With a big black oilcloth pack on their backs with a tray in their hands, containing everything the home required – needles, threads, buttons, tape, elastic, bobbins, wool of all shades, hooks and eyes, buckles.”

“I remember,” I admitted, “my dear old grandmother searching all over the house one time for a bodkin, and finally saying – ‘I wish the packman would come by.’ And then she stopped still and looked wistfully out of the window, and said, ‘Why, I haven’t seen a packman in thirty years.’ And that day she grew many years older.”

“The packmen,” said Jim. “Merchants, with their stores on their backs. Today, it a man comes to your door with needles, thread, shoe laces, all he has got is a little bit of stuff in his hands and he is so shabby and importunate, you know he is only begging. But packmen never begged. They were proud men. They were merchants. Merchants of a prouder and older order than these modern ones that sit in stores. They belonged to that ancient craft of merchants who travelled by camel train and little ship across all the earth, selling as they went.”

“And the clock menders,” I cried. “Where are the clock menders? Don’t you remember the men, mostly with gray beards, who called at each door, and asked ‘Any clocks to mend, lady?’ They had a little handbag full of tools. I can still remember how they would come in and take the clock apart on the dining-room table, and we were allowed to stand there, with our hands behind our backs, and watch him in silence. And these clock menders were silent men, who breathed heavily through their beards as they bent over the mysterious million wheels and springs on the dining-room table. We always used to give them a cup of tea when they were finished, and the clock’s fine gong was ringing through the house again.”

Old-Fashioned Enterprise

“Now there,” said Jim, emphatically, “is an idea.”

“It sure is,” I agreed.

“This city, this whole country,” declared Jim, “is full of wonky clocks that people want repaired because some lines of new ones are hard to get on account of the war. Why, I’ve got two big clocks right now in my house that don’t go and haven’t gone for years and years.”

“I’ve got three of them,” I remarked.

“Isn’t that funny thing?” mused Jim. “I have, up in this minute, thought of those clocks just as ornaments. It is years since they went. I wonder why I haven’t done anything about them?”

“Because,” I stated, “the clock menders no longer call from door to door. Because you can’t think of anybody to come and take them away. Because they are too big and clumsy to take downtown yourself. I bet there is a million dollars’ worth of clock mending to be done right in this city.”

“I wonder,” thought Jimmie, “if it is because we have all grown lazy and indifferent? I wonder if, as the result of all the inventions of the past fifty years, life hasn’t become so soft, so easy, that the whole human species has grown lazy, careless, indifferent. Why wouldn’t I go to the trouble of taking a clock off the mantel, carry it out to my car in the morning and deliver it to a store downtown?”

“Nobody wants to do the little old-fashioned things any more,” Jim went on. “Even the piano tuners. Do you remember the piano tuners? You didn’t have to send for the piano tuner. He just turned up.”

“I remember, even,” I submitted, “a sort of general mender that used to come around about once a year. He had a wooden box on his back. He used to sit in the vestibule. He could resole shoes, mend leather gloves, sew up carpets that were torn, mend carpet sweepers, regild picture frames …”

“The country is full of work. And the grandest kind of work of all – working for one’s self,” said Jim.

“I guess the only kind of work anybody wants now,” I said, “is what somebody else tells them to do.”

“Well,” stated Jim, “one good thing has come out of this conversation. I’m going to get my clocks repaired.”

“The same here,” I said. “Only, it seems a shame that after all this talk about laziness and loss of enterprise, I have to confess that I am the great-grandson of a clockmaker.”

“Are you?” said Jim.

“Yes, my great-grandfather, born here in York, before it was Toronto, even, was Thomas Bradshaw McMurray, watchmaker, probably the first native born watchmaker in this city.”

“Indeed,” said Jim. “Maybe, some of these countless clocks that aren’t going all over Toronto were actually made by him.”

“Possibly,” I confessed. “But I inherit not the slightest aptitude with machinery of any kind.”

“You would hardly call a clock machinery,” pointed out Jim. “A clock is, after all, a very simple mechanism. It is, in fact, as simple as a child’s wind-up toy. It consists of a spring you wind up, a ratchet that holds the spring, and a series of geared wheels which relax the springs at a rate controlled by levers with tension on them. Really very simple.”

“Even so,” I confessed, “I have a horror of opening a clock. I must inherit some reaction from my great-grandfather. I shudder even when I take the back off my wrist watch. To look in and see all those tiny, delicate wheels and sprockets and springs breathing, as it were. Breathing and slowly ticking, ticking, like the beat of a heart. It gives me the creeps.”

“You surprise me,” said Jim. “All I see to clock mending, is, unscrew the works, take it all apart, laying each separate piece in a precise spot on the dining-room table, so that you will remember just when, rather than where, it goes back. Wipe everything with a rag dipped in gasoline or some such solvent. Reoil with great care, and very sparingly; and then reassemble. I should think it would be very simple.”

“Jim,” I cried. “Don’t do it. Don’t you do it.”

“Besides,” went on Jim, “if we learn how to mend a clock, then anybody can learn. And we could then not only advocate clock mending as a trade to the unemployed, but we could actually, when some poor chap calls at our door with a packet of needles or soap. bring him in, teach him the trick of clock mending in an hour or two, and set him on his way a free man, man with a trade and calling.”

“Mmm, mmm,” I said, doubtfully.

“How about the country?’ demanded Jim. “You pass all these little villages and cross roads in the country. There is no glazier there, but all the windows are mended. There is no clockmaker, no plumber, no tinsmith, no dentist, but all the country’s clocks are ticking in the kitchens, the pumps work, the roofs are tight … there must be men all over this country who do know about making things go.”

“Give it up, Jim,” I begged him.

But Jim went back to work at his drawing board with a hard dry look in his eyes, and that night, when the telephone rang right after dinner, I knew it would be Jim. And it was. And he invited me to come over to his place to see him mend a clock. And of course, a man would be a pretty poor specimen that wouldn’t do that much for a friend.

The clock, which Jim had standing on the bare dining-room table, was a large greenish yellow marble clock with gold pillars at the corners and a gold ornament on top. It was a clock made after the shape of a post-office or the British royal exchange or maybe the Greek temple or something severe. Jim had the dining-room doors closed and locked.

“I have here,” he said, “the small screwdriver from the sewing machine, a large screw-driver, a thing to tap with, in case of rust, a rag moistened with gasoline and an oil can. The whole outfit wouldn’t cost a dollar.”

Jim removed the back of the clock with four deft twiddles of the screw-driver. He peered inside, studied, examined, lit matches and peeked; and finally undid a large screw which let him lift out the bowels of the whole clock. It was heavy, brassy and compact.

“I will start at this corner of the table,” explained Jimmie, “and work across the table diagonally that way. I will lay each thing I take out, in its proper order. Thus, when reassembling the clock, I will start at that far corner. And so, as simple as falling off a log, it will go together again.”

I said nothing. Beads of perspiration began to stud my brow.

Jim removed eleven screws, large and small, and laid them, in a sort of row, across the table. Then removed the whole disjointed carcass forward to the head of the row, and delicately pulling, lifting, twisting, he began to take the machinery apart. Each piece he laid separately in the row.

“See,” he said, breathing heavily, “how simple it will be?”

I just moaned.

He worked straight across the table and then made a wide turn and started back on a second row. Still the machine came apart. Still grew that incredible line of wheels, screws, levers, bolts. The spring came away, a thick, dreadful looking thing, coiled like a serpent. Jim studied it, looked through its coils.

“Just as I thought,” he said. “Gummed with ancient oil. Glued, you might say. I will swish it in a bowl of gasoline.”

But on, on he went, finishing the second row and starting on a third. The face of the clock fell out. Jim picked it up and detached the hands.

“There,” he cried. “Was that difficult? Was that intricate?”

I stifled a groan.

With his gasoliney rag, Jim proceeded to wipe each part. He rubbed and scrubbed.

“Be careful,” I said hoarsely. “Don’t lean against the table. Don’t jiggle the least bit.”

“Imagine a man,” remarked Jim, “having a horror of clock insides!”

“It’s inherited,” I muttered.

And then Jim, shifting the duster in his hands to get a fresh clean bit to use, flicked with the tail of the rag the middle row of parts. It was just the lightest possible flick. But my rivetted and fascinated gaze saw a small brass wheel and a very tiny steel pin about the size of a one-inch nail, scamper across the table, and I let out a yell.

“You’ve ruined it, you’ve ruined it!” I shouted.

But Jim, bending down, picked up the wheel and the bolt and a sort of rocking beam sort of thing like on the top of an old-fashioned steamboat. It had a hole at each end.

“Not that, not that,” I hissed.

“I remember where they go,” said Jim easily, and he bent over, studying the rows of parts, and looking for the space the parts belonged to. “Here, this is where the wheel was. Or was it the rod?”

“I’m going home,” I stated.

“Just a second,” exclaimed Jim. “Let’s see. This flat thing was here. And this wheel was … there. Was it?”

“Oh, oh, oh,” I moaned.

“Mmmmm,” said Jim, “I remember this large sprocket was there. It must have moved, too. I’ll put it back there, and then this … Let’s see. This … Well, well, mmm, mmm, dear me.”

He straightened up. He stared narrowly at the rows of bits.

“Jim,” I said, taking his hand tenderly. “I’m off. Good-night.”

“Hold on, a jiffy,” said Jim, eagerly. “Now wait a minute.”

But he was frightened, and it showed. There was perspiration along the top of his forehead, too. I couldn’t leave the poor chap in such a plight. I hid my face in my hands and sat down.

“Mmm, mmm,” Jimmie kept saying, “Mmm, mmm.”

I heard little clicks. I heard snaps, clinks, snucks and taps. I heard things going together and things being grunted apart. I heard a loud tapping, and looked up to see Jim hammering a wheel on to an axle, using the butt end of a screw-driver.

“It’s all over,” I said brokenly.

“Well, anyway,” sighed Jim, holding small gear about the size of a dime, “I’ve found one thing I’ve been looking for for months. This gear will exactly fit my casting reel. The one with the black handles.”

“Please,” I begged, “don’t start trying tinker with your fishing reel.”

“It’s the very fit,” said Jim. “And now I know where I can get wheels and springs and anything like that.”

And he laid the clock on its back and rescrewed the face on it, and then laid it on its face and on its back door he just dumped, dumped all the works, packing them in and prying them in with the screw-driver and tamping them down with the butt of the screw-driver, and finally getting the back door closed and the little button turned.

“There,” he said. “Nobody will ever notice.”

“Let me see,” said Jim. “Where does this wheel go?”

Editor’s Note: Gasoline was also used as an all-purpose cleaner back in the old days.

This story is a repeat of “Mmmm, Mmmm!” which was published on February 29, 1936. The image from that story is at the end.

Pardon My Elbow!

Giving me the elbow so that my head banged against the upright rail, she aimed her shot and brought her heel down on my foot.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 13, 1943

“Meet me,” instructed Jimmie Frise, “at exactly 10 to 5.”

“Make it 5,” I suggested.

“No, sir, not by a jugful,” cried Jim. “I don’t want to get torn to pieces, and clawed and trampled into the bargain.”

“I beg your pardon?” I inquired.

“If you’re not there by 10 to 5,” stated Jimmie, “I’ll go on. Ten to 5 on the dot.”

“What is all this?” I insisted. “Why the exact specifications?”

“If you get on the street car,” explained Jim, “at 10 to 5, you can get far enough back in the car to have a fighting chance. But at five minutes to 5, the women are already on the run. And at 5 exactly, the stampede of the women is on. Your life isn’t worth a cent if you get in their path.”

“Women!” I protested. “How do you mean?”

“Don’t tell me,” said Jim, “that you haven’t been on a crowded street car lately. Don’t tell me you haven’t observed the Wartime Woman.”

“Jimmie,” I enunciated, scandalized, “the womanhood of Canada has risen to a man…”

“Yah,” cried Jim. “You hit it on the head. Risen to a man. That’s the trouble.”

“Why, Jimmie,” I protested. “If it weren’t for the women who are helping in industry, in the factories and munitions plants, where would we be right now?”

“It’s not the munitions girls I’m talking about,” asserted Jimmie. “They’re wonderful. They’re real he-men, to the core. They’ve got all the best traits of the men whose work they are doing. They have all a man’s innate courtesy and consideration for his fellow mortal.”

“Then who …?” I demanded.

“Wait till I finish with the war worker,” said Jim. “Those girls demonstrate a curious fact: give a girl a man’s work to do, and she develops the character of a man. I think the sight of a street car crowded with tired munitions girls going home from work is one of the most moving spectacles of our time. Weary to the bone after a long day’s toil, free by reason of their work clothes from that awful self-consciousness which the ancient laws of style and personal beauty have imposed on women, they sit relaxed, their faces untouched by make-up, with a softness and naturalness that a man somehow associates only with his nearest and dearest, like his mother or sister; those munitions girls are far more lovely to look at than they dream.”

“I agree,” I said.

The Wartime Woman

“If girls only knew,” sighed Jim, “how much more attractive and truly appealing they are when they are tired, a little dishevelled and unconscious of themselves.”

“A man,” I said, “hardly ever falls in love with a girl, no matter how hard she slaves over her make-up and clothes and pretty ways, until suddenly one day he catches her in tears, or scared to death or all mussed up and bewildered. That’s when a man falls in love.”

“When he sees,” summed up Jim, “what a girl really is, not what she is trying to be, he feels it safe to fall in love with her.”

“That’s it,” I declared. And I bet you some of the happiest marriages this world has ever seen are being framed up right now, when all those beautiful girls in the factories and war plants are being too busy to be anything but themselves.”

“Isn’t it a pity so many of the boys are away at the war,” Jim muttered. “The best guys may be missing their match.”

“Never,” I cried. “What these girls in the factories are learning about being natural they will never forget. And the wisest of them know that one fine day, a quarter of a million young unmarried men are coming swarming home from war, fuller of love of home and all the things that really matter to a happy life than any of the canny lads who have stayed home, no matter how valuable their services here may be. Those girls will wait for their boys to come home, don’t fear.”

“It’s not the munitions girls I’m scared of,” declared Jim.

“Then who’s this Wartime Woman you referred too?” I inquired.

“War,” detailed Jim, “due to the absence of a huge percentage of the male population, places new and unaccustomed burdens and duties on women. Those who enter men’s work, like in factories, are brought under men’s discipline. But of those who remain women, though brought out of the home into business and affairs, some become a problem.”

“How?” I inquired.

“It has taken men centuries and centuries,” explained Jim, “through contact with one another in the market place and the factory, to learn public manners. I grant you, men’s manners are still a long way from perfect. But you rarely find a man who will act in a crowded street car the way too many women do.”

“Jim,” I cautioned him, “you are on very dangerous ground. One of the oldest traditions in the world is the tradition of the gentler sex.”

“Gentle my elbow,” snorted Jim. “Women are lawless, untamed. For centuries, we have had to keep them tied up in the home while we men went out into the world to try and work out a system of civilization.”

“If women are so untamed,” I demanded, “how did we weak, sentimental men succeed in keeping them tied up in the home?”

“By refusing to marry any but the kind who would stay home,” Jim explained. “We men glorified the soft, feminine, gentle characteristics of an imaginary ideal womanhood. We hoped, by the process of natural selection, to eliminate the lawless woman. It worked to some extent. For a few centuries, we kept them tied up with domestic duties, family cares, trying to get them all worn out before they could break loose. We’ve always known they were untamed. We built up our civilization, in the hope that it would be too strong for the women to destroy even if they did get free. Then, 40 years ago, about the start of the 20th century, they got free. They entered business. Next they got the vote. Now they are loose upon the world. And look at it.”

Ladies in a Hurry

“For mercy’s sake,” I protested, “you don’t blame the women for the mess the world is in today!”

“The 20th century,” stated Jim, “is already known to history as the Bloody Century. Two of the most savage wars in all human history have taken place, and the century’s not half over yet. Now, what is the other thing the 20th century is notable for? What basic thing, different from all others? The emancipation of women.”

“Why, Jim, this is terrible,” I cried. “To accuse womanhood of any share in the things they hate and detest most …”

“Who hates and detests?” demanded Jim. “Is it that ideal woman we men have been dreaming up for a couple of thousand years? You just wait till we get on the street car after 5 o’clock. Anyway, I make no accusations. I draw no morals. All I do is go into the forest of speculation and bring out a few logs of fact. You do the building any way you like. I say the century of the emancipation of women happens also to be the Bloody Century. Maybe there is no connection.”

“The 20th century,” I cried, “has seen the greatest strides in social reform in all history. And the influence of women is to be credited with much of that reform.”

“The 20th century,” announced Jim, “is also the bloodiest century in human history. No other century can hold a candle to it.”

“But how could women be involved in that?” I shouted.

“Good grief,” shouted Jim, “it’s five to 5! Come on!”

So we grabbed our coats and hats and hurried out to the elevator. The elevator was full of girls, all with very determined expressions on their faces. The girl operating the elevator said:

“Room for one only.”

And as I tried to squeeze in beside Jim, she threw the lever that automatically slides the door shut, and I was very nearly sliced like a ham.

“Wait for me,” I yelled to Jim as the elevator door slammed.

The next elevator had a couple of men in it, along with about twice as many girls as the elevator would hold. The men held their breath and drew in their stomachs to allow me to squeeeeeeze in.

As the elevator door opened on the ground floor, and I stood aside to let the ladies out first, the lady behind me gave me a shove in the back with her knuckle.

“Okay, lady, no hurry,” I mumbled.

Jim was standing over by the pillars and we joined forces and fought our way out the revolving doors. Girls are nimble. They have grace. They can nip through revolving doors. But a man likes to approach a revolving door deliberately.

It was spinning too fast for me; so I paused. Two spaces whizzed round empty.

“Come on, Grampaw,” said a commanding voice behind me, and a young lady bunted me into the next vacancy and came round with me.

“Young lady…” I said indignantly as we popped out on the street and I caught my hat.

But she was gone in the throng.

“See?” said Jim, coming pop out after me.

When we reached the street car stop, there was a big crowd, about equally men and women. Three cars arrived in a bunch. The second one was our choice. We ran for it.

So did about five determined looking men and about nine women and girls. The men won.

They grabbed the hand rails and clung on the steps.

The girls panted behind us.

“How about this, Jim?” I inquired, my face buried in the coat tails of the gentleman ahead of me.

“Aw, we have to get on first,” explained Jim, “because the girls have to hunt through their handbags for their street car tickets. It is always best for the men to get on first, because they always have their tickets in their hands.”

“I see,” I said, hoisting myself another step up.

And more by luck than good management, Jim and I, poke checking a couple of men ahead of us, and executing a sort of echelon movement familiar to students of naval battles, got an empty seat together.

“Aaaaah,” we breathed, in a sigh familiar to all street car riders.

The warlike women poured in after us, nabbing seats with agility and speed until the seats were all filled and they scattered themselves down the aisles. None of them paused near Jim and me until, near the last of the load, a lady of about our age, obviously not a downtown worker but a shopper, came and grabbed the handrail of the seat with a very heavy sigh and a slight groan.

And she leaned back slightly and stared expectantly at Jimmie and me.

“How about it, Jim?” I murmured, when she shifted her fierce gaze off us for a minute.

“We come to a factory in two or three blocks,” said Jim out the side of his mouth. “Save our seats for a couple of war workers.”

“Okay,” I said firmly, and stared with intense interest, like a stranger in town, out the window.

The lady in the red-feathered hat and handbag, swayed alarmingly as the car started and stopped. She braced herself in the aisle against all who attempted to squeeze down the car to make room.

Her handbag caught Jim a couple of suggestive cracks on the ear. She continued emitting heavy sighs and faint groans and occasionally seemed to be muttering to herself. But I kept watching out the window with unabated interest.

Then we came to the factory street stop which we knew by the merry sounds of laughter and of crowds outside the car doors.

“Move down, lots of “room at the back,” cried the motorman heartily.

“Umffff,” snorted the lady beside us, holding her ground.

But despite her efforts, half a dozen of the slim war workers managed to eel their way past and at the sight of the first of them, Jim and I leaped dutifully to our feet and with the detached courtesy that becomes grizzle-headed old gents, gave them our seats.

“When We Stop Idealizing”

I could feel the lady’s breath hot on the back of my neck. For an instant, I feared for myself.

“Mashers,” she muttered; but I heard her.

The car started.

I lurched back. My foot came down on something softish and lumpish.

“Ow-ooooo!” screeched the lady with the red handbag.

And giving me the elbow so that my head banged against the upright rail, she aimed her shot and brought her heel down on my foot.

“Clumsy fool,” she grated.

I limped down the car and Jim followed, screening my confusion from the eyes of those who had witnessed the little contretemps.

“See?” murmured Jimmie in my ear, when we found a spot to cling.

I was too busy suffering to continue the debate. But after about 30 blocks, the crowd thinned in the car and I saw the lady in the red feathered hat get off the car and shake herself with all the grace of a horse getting up after a roll in the stubble.

“She didn’t get a seat all the way,” I gloated.

“Now you see what I mean about women,” said Jim. “No man would deliberately stamp on your foot like that.”

“But my dear sir,” I exclaimed, “she was only one. Look at all the rest of the fair sex in this car. All quiet and feminine and self-effacing. You can’t base a whole philosophy on one woman in a carload.”

“How’s your foot?” inquired Jim.

“I think,” I said, wriggling them cautiously, “she broke one of my toes.”

“Well, it wasn’t any man did that,” argued Jim.

“The thing is too complicated for me, Jim,” I pleaded. “That lady belonged to our generation. She was brought up to expect a seat in a car, no matter how crowded. It wasn’t my accidentally stepping on her foot that made her sore. She felt insulted.”

“Maybe,” said Jim, “we were at fault in idealizing them. If that dame is a sample of what idealizing does, we were wrong. If all the rest of the girls in this car are a sample of what letting them work in factories does, we sure were wrong.”

“Maybe keeping them tied up at home,” I submitted, “made them bad tempered, like tying up a dog.”

“Maybe,” rounded up Jimmie, “when we stop idealizing all things for our own comfort and security, even wars will end.”

And then a couple of dopey looking downtown business men, who had been sitting like two potatoes all the way, got up.

And Jimmie and I, like two potatoes, sat down for the remaining seven blocks.

Editor’s Note: A lot of creative writing had to go into this piece to both praise and complain about women on the home front during World War Two. I can picture their editor being very careful to ensure that women working would not be offended.

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