"Greg and Jim"

The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Toronto’s Good Old Days of Real Spark Plugs Gone Forever

March 29, 1924

This article by Fred Griffin described the days of horse trading in Toronto. “Spark Plug” was a reference to the wildly popular horse in the comic strip Barney Google.

The Troopship

March 29, 1919

All Afloat!

Instead of going towards the steps, the mattress described a lovely curve and headed for the side wall of the cellar.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 24, 1945.

“Hey,” came Jimmy Frise’s voice over the telephone, “can you come down here right away?”

“What’s up?” I replied anxiously.

“I’m flooded out,” cried Jim. “Come and lend…”

“Aw,” I said, “who isn’t flooded out? I’ve been in my cellar ever since before supper.”

“But look,” pleaded Jim, “it’s nearly four feet deep in the cellar and it’s still rising.”

“Four feet?” I scoffed. “Look: your house is on ground 10 feet higher than mine. And all I had was about three inches….”

“I see!” shouted Jim sarcastically. “So you’re telling me how much water I’ve got in my cellar? I tell you, it’s four feet deep. The only way I found out about it was when the furnace went out and I went down to investigate….”

“Clear the drains,” I counselled. “Stuff has clogged those little drain holes with the gratings in your cellar floor. Just clear those….”

“How the dickens,” bellowed Jim, “can I clear them when there is four feet of ice water, dirty ice water, in my cellar? Okay. Never mind. I just thought I’d ask you, as an old friend and neighbor….”

“Okay, okay,” I replied. “I’ll be right down.”

And I hung up. But when I got to the clothes closet for my coat, I suddenly thought: If he can’t reach the drains, what can I do? What does he want me down there for?

So I called him back.

“Look,” I said. “If I do come down, what can I do? If you can’t reach them….”

“Okay, okay,” groaned Jimmie distractedly. “I just thought. When water is engulfing your house, you look to your neighbors for help. Never mind.”

“Hold on,” I cried, as he seemed to be about to hang up. “Can I bring anything down that would help? Have you got long clothes props or anything?”

“No good,” said Jim. “The drain hole is around past the furnace. A straight pole won’t reach. How about your canoe? Hey! How about your canoe?”

“It wouldn’t go down your crooked cellar stairs,” I reminded him.

“In the cellar window!” cried Jim.

“Too high in the nose,” I said. “But say. I’ve got a better idea. I’ve got one of those floating mattresses the kids use in the summer. They use it in swimming.”

“Perfect!” shouted Jim.

“I’ll get it from the attic,” I assured him, “and be down in two minutes.”

I found the pneumatic mattress neatly folded in the attic, under a few suitcases and bicycles and things. It is one of those pre- war gadgets we used to buy the kids to try to make more enjoyable their two months of riotous luxury at the summer cottage. Remember? The stores used to be full of all sorts of rubber monsters, huge rubber ducks, blow up crocodiles, mud turtles. Every weekend, you used to go in on Fridays and buy them something to take up to adorn their vacation…. Ah, those were the days.

I hustled down street to Jim’s, where all the cellar lights were on and a sense of emergency seemed to pervade the house.

Jim and Rusty, his water spaniel, met me and ushered me immediately below decks.

“Why don’t you get Rusty to swim in and fix things?” I inquired.

But Rusty always hated water. He stood back on the steps and stared in terror at the unfamiliar element engulfing his lovely dry home.

Toronto’s Original Site

“This thing,” I said, unfolding the pneumatic mattress, “takes quite a while to blow up. You haven’t a bicycle pump or car pump?

“The bicycle pump is somewhere under that mess,” said Jim, “and I haven’t even seen a car pump for 10 years.”

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll blow till I’m run down. Then you can take it on.”

And while I blew, Jim sat on the dry step and soliloquized on the view.

“It’s a queer thing,” he mused. “We haven’t got nature beaten yet. And we’ve been trying for hundreds of centuries. All the past winter, nature has been pouring snow on Toronto, messing up our whole system of civilization, toppling our civic government, making mayors and aldermen and lifelong directors of civic departments look like a lot of bewildered old maids when their roof springs a leak.”

“Pffffff,” said the mattress.

“Nature,” I said, “is inconquerable.”

“Two thousand, three hundred years ago,” pursued Jimmie, chin in hand, “the Romans had worked out a system of perfect water supply, drainage, sewage disposal. Two thousand, three hundred years ago! Yet here we are, after all those centuries, made to look like a lot of cave men.”

“Pffffff,” said the mattress.

“Even cave men,” said I, “had enough sense to choose their caves well up a hillside, out of danger of flooding. But we’re so smart, we build our cities in swamps and gullies. Did you ever know that the original site of the city of Toronto was an alder swamp?”

“Why the dickens,” demanded Jimmie, gazing at the brown bog that filled his cellar, “did they ever choose such a site?”

“Well,” I explained, feeling the mattress which, so far, only showed a very slight chubbiness even if you pinched it into the corners, “pioneers were looking for mill sites even before they selected the land they wanted to clear for a cabin or a farm. A mill is the beginning of every community. A grist mill and a saw mill. No man was going to start clearing the bush until he knew how far he was going to have to carry a bag of grain on his back or drag his logs with his oxen.”

“Mmmmm,” said Jim. “I feel like a pioneer tonight.”

“All along the great lakes,” I pointed out, “you’ll see a town or a village at every river mouth. At every stream mouth, you might say. And some of the streams have dried up to trickles half a century back.”

“But Toronto’s site,” reminded Jim, “was an alder swamp.”

“A swamp,” I elucidated, “between two river mouths. Toronto never intended to grow out over the swamp. At the mouth of one of the two rivers, the Humber, there was a French trader’s fort that had been there 100 years before we British ever arrived. A little village started to grow around it, because there was a good mill up the Humber half a mile. But the British soldiers decided the Humber mouth was a poor place for the town, because the Yanks could get at us too easily from the lake. The other river, the Don, emptied into a fine big bay, with an island sheltering it. The Yanks couldn’t attack us from the lake if we built our village on the bay’s shore. They’d have to come in through the narrow channel or else land from their boats up the shore. And either way, we could lick the Yanks from dry land.”

“Here, let me blow that thing up,” interrupted Jim anxiously.

“Pifffffff,” said the mattress when I handed it to him.

“How do you know all this stuff about Toronto?” demanded Jim, as he bit on the nozzle of the mattress.

“My great-grandfather was born in York, as Toronto was then called,” I stated proudly, “the very day in April, 1813, that the Yanks captured and burned it.”

“Pffffffff!” said the mattress, startled.

“I never knew they burned Toronto!” cried Jim.

“Oh, yes, I informed him. “They burned us. They came by boat and shot our Humber fort to pieces and then marched over to the Don and sacked the village, burned it, and blew it up with gunpowder.”

“Why, the Huns!” expostulated Jimmie.

“They spared my great-grandfather,” I pointed out. “He was born that day, among the smoke and explosions.”

“It’s a pity,” said Jim, gazing at his furnace and at the various things floating around in the mess, “we didn’t take the hint and leave this site for a better one. Did you go right ahead and rebuild Toronto?”

“Mills,” I reminded him. “Don’t forget mills. Toronto was very fortunately situated. It had two rivers, with Humber Mills and Don Mills on them. Competition. You know Toronto! So we rebuilt the village and started slowly spreading out over the swamp. The rich and fashionable pioneers, the English remittance men, the owners of whiskey distilleries, slaughter houses and pill factories, soon moved out of the swamp up to the sandy heights back of the tag alders. And lo, Toronto was born.”

“Pffffff,” said the mattress.

“Low, did you say?” inquired Jim bitterly.

So he blew. And I blew. And little by little, we felt the comfortable flesh of air filling the rubber skin of the mattress.

“Try her now,” said Jim, sliding the mattress out on the dark and greasy flood.

“Try her yourself!” I retorted, stepping smartly back one step higher.

“Aw,” said Jim, “I weigh 40 pounds more than you.”

“Whose cellar is it?” I inquired.

“Besides, I can’t swim,” pleaded Jim.

“Haw,” I snorted, “it’s only four feet deep.”

“But I hate water,” muttered Jim, setting one foot lightly on the floating mattress.

“Well, you certainly don’t catch me,” I informed him, “floating around in that stuff!”

“Well, what did you bring it down for,” demanded Jim indignantly, “if you don’t trust it!”

“Listen,” I said earnestly. “You asked me to come and help you in an emergency. I brought this mattress. That’s the first constructive thing that has been done so far, in this emergency. And I did it. I suggest you do the rest.”

Jim leaned out and pushed with his hand on the middle of the mattress. It buckled slightly.

“Not enough air,” he said, and hauled her up for some more wind.

So we blew more, by turns, until the mattress took on that plump and shiny appearance that meant it was becoming a practical vessel fit for launching.

Jim tried it again. Standing on the step, holding my arm, he set one foot cautiously in the middle. It did not buckle. He let a little more weight on. The mattress sank very slightly.

“Easy, now,” I said. “Eeeeeaasy.”

But when he tried to lower his weight, the mattress started to slide out into mid-ocean.

Jim leaped back wildly with a cry. The mattress floated away.

“Aw, here!” I cried angrily. “What the Sam Hill1. If you’re not the descendant of pioneers, at least you’re the descendant of cave men. Here, hand me something to pull that thing back here.”

Afloat on the Deep

Jim handed me the long furnace poker which he had earlier salvaged by means of clothes prop.

“Watch this,” I said firmly.

I pulled the mattress back in with the poker.

I drew it securely against the first exposed step. I stepped cautiously but steadily into the middle of it, as you step into a canoe. It sank slightly in the middle under my weight but the edges, due to the even distribution of my weight, lifted evenly.

There I was, afloat.

“See?” I announced. “The heir of a long line of swamp dwellers knows how to do these things. Where’s the drain hole located?”

“It’s right over there, around the furnace,” said Jimmie, eagerly. “I think.”

“You think?” I exclaimed, paddling with the poker. “Don’t you know where the drain hole is? In your own cellars?”

“Well, to tell you the truth,” said Jim, “I’ve lived in so many houses, I can’t just recall off-hand if the one I am thinking of is in this cellar or in the last one we had….”

“Well, this is a fine time,” I expostulated, “to not know where your drain hole is! Am I supposed to go paddling all over, groping….”

“Pffffffff,” said the mattress.

“Hey!” said I.

But the mattress went right on saying pfffffffff, and I drove the poker to the bottom to give the craft a shove for shore and safety.

But the hook on the poker caught on something down below, and instead of a shove, it turned into a pull, which drew the mattress and me, over to the wall farthest from the steps and right under the window where the biggest part of the flood was coming in.

“Wait. I’ll get a rope,” shouted Jim, vanishing up the steps.

“PFFFFFFFFF,” said the mattress, really getting its wind up.

I disentangled the poker from whatever it was stuck on down below, braced it against the cellar wall, aimed my shove for the cellar steps and hove.

But the mattress was so rapidly losing its shape, and it had sunk so deep in the middle under my weight, with all four corners sticking up so sharply, my aim was bad. And instead of going towards the steps, it described a lovely curve and headed for the side wall of the cellar.

“Pfffffff,” said the mattress less vigorously.

“Jim–MIE” I roared.

I reached over the side and felt for the bottom with my poker.

The air in the mattress quite suddenly decided to move to the rear.

Only by the greatest agility did I avoid going into that icy muck head first. I went in middle, rear, first, but got my feet promptly on the cellar floor.

At which minute, Jim appeared on the cellar stairs with a piece of clothes line.

“Aw,” he said, with deep sympathy.

I just glared.

“Well,” sighed Jim cheerily, “seeing you’re in anyway, how about feeling around with your feet and seeing if you can find the drain hole?”

“That,” I said icily, “is exactly what I expected you to say.”

But as a true descendant of generations of swamp dwellers. I realized I should face up to the job. So feeling carefully with my feet, stepping over all kinds of things – it was an outboard motor that I had hooked the poker in — I felt and scraped with my feel using the poker for a staff. A lot of Jim’s property was down there. Bicycles, fishing tackle boxes, several framed pictures standing against the wall, a tool bench, all complete.

And finally, away across the cellar, at the opposite end from the furnace, I found the drain hole, clogged with hunting coats, ashes, ski boots, and sundry goods.

And feeling somewhat like a pioneer of the day the Yanks burned us, I went up to the kitchen and changed into some of Jim’s clothes.

And went home via the back lanes.

Microfilm image

Editor’s Note:

  1. “What the Sam Hill” is an American English slang phrase, a euphemism for “the devil” or “hell” personified (as in, “What in the Sam Hill is that?”). ↩︎

There’s Always Boo Boo

March 19, 1938

This is another story by Merrill Denison about his dog, illustrated by Jim.

March 19, 1938

One for the Home Town!

March 18, 1933

Life is Peril

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

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

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

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

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

“Professor Frise,” I jeered.

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

“Those are trifles,” I protested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, hardly,” I protested.

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

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

No Peace For Anybody

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

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

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

“That’s life, Jim,” I insisted.

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

“The spur of life,” I assured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uneasiness of Progress

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

“You can do that now,” I pointed out.

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

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

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

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

“The whole world,” said Jim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s Eat a Symbolic Meal”

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

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

“Or a baked one,” I submitted,

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pork and beans,” offered Jim.

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

“Ham and eggs,” said Jim.

“Invented by the Greeks,” I rejected.

“Beef.” said Jim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Dangerously

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

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

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

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

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

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

I slid the tasty gobbet over my waiting teeth.

“Drat,” I said.

“Bone?” mumbled Jim, solicitous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Editor’s Notes:

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

Yes! This is Glenlivit

March 14, 1931

This illustration by Jim accompanied an article by Ephraim Acres (the pen name of Hugh Templin). He wrote many stories about “Glenlivit”, a fictional small town, for the Star Weekly in the late 1920s and early 1930s. “Glenlivit” was also a pseudonym for the town of Fergus Ontario, where he was the newspaper editor of the Fergus New Record.

Juniper Junction – 03/10/48

March 10, 1948

A Bird in the Hand

I was on him like a flash, and had my hat on top of him before you could say Jim Frise.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, March 8, 1947.

“Dickie,” announced Jimmie Frise hollowly, “is sick.”

“Dickie who?” I inquired, alarmed.

“The canary,” explained Jim. “He hasn’t uttered a peep for a month.”

“How long have you had him?” I asked.

“Six years,” said Jim. “Six happy, cheery years.”

“Well, heck,” I submitted, “you can’t keep a canary forever. Probably he’s just come to the end of his time. He’s about to pop off.”

“Don’t say that!” snapped Jim indignantly. “That little bird is practically a member of my family.”

“You people,” I scoffed, “who carry sentimentality for animals and birds to silly extremes make me sick. If all the love and affection lavished on dogs and cats and birds were directed to the human race instead, this world would be a far warmer place for a great many neglected people.”

“Dickie,” stated Jim as if he hadn’t heard me, “is a great little fellow. He’s brought music and gaiety into the house, winter, summer, fair weather and foul. He doesn’t shut up shop, like common birds, as soon as spring’s gone. He sings the whole year through. Until now!”

Jim gazed gloomily out the window.

“Aw, for Pete’s sake!” I cried cheerfully, “you can replace him for six bucks. You can get another so like him that you can’t tell the…”

Jim whirled on me angrily.

“Kindly don’t talk,” he grated, “about something you know nothing about. Some people are color blind. Some people are tone deaf. And there are people in this world who are incapable of true, affection for small and helpless creatures.”

“I like dogs,” I protested, “but I don’t elevate them to human stature. I keep them in their place, I’ve seen people hugging dogs. I’ve actually seen people KISS dogs!”

“I’ve often felt,” said Jim sadly, “like kissing Dickie. Often, when he’s in one of his frenzies of song, I’ve been so lifted out of myself that I’ve jumped up from reading or whatever I was doing, and gone over and put my arms around his cage.”

“Huh!” I laughed. “Cage! You love Dickie but you keep him in jail. A pitiful little prisoner…”

“Now, look here!” snarled Jimmie.

“Of all the muddled and perverse forms of affection I ever heard of,” I pursued relentlessly, “loving a canary that you keep imprisoned every day, every hour of his poor little life!”

“We don’t keep him a prisoner,” declared Jim hotly. “Every day he is let out of his cage and he flies around the house in complete freedom. But would he leave us? Never!”

“Probably,” I suggested helpfully, “while you’ve let him fly all over the house, he’s picked up something that has poisoned him. Maybe he’s swallowed a pill, or possibly a needle.”

“Good heavens!” gasped Jim, jumping up.

“Ah, you see?” I followed heartily. “Possibly the poor little thing has swallowed a sharp glass bead. Or maybe has taken a sip out of a dish of cleaning fluid or something…”

“I’m going straight home!” declared Jim, “I’m going to rush him up to a pet shop I know. There’s a specialist there…”

“This is what comes,” I hung on, “of trying to make a human being out of a dumb animal. You let the helpless little thing have the run of your home. Sure! You love it. But what kind of love is it to expose a defenseless creature to all the perils of the modern home?”

“I’ll take him straight to the specialist,” muttered Jim, getting into his overcoat.

“There’s probably little can be done,” I sympathized, “for a bird that’s been poisoned. They’re so fragile and small. If it hasn’t sung for a month, as you say, it’s probably too far gone. If you look around the pet shop while you’re there, you will likely find the exact replica of Dickie…”

“You’re not coming, are you?” demanded Jim, seeing me up getting my coat on too.

“Certainly,” I said. “I’m not the kind that would ignore a friend in trouble – even a trifle like a sick canary.”

“I’d prefer…” said Jim, hurrying out the door.

But I could see the poor chap was really perturbed. And I followed on his heels.

“The beauty about canaries,” I pointed out, as we strode down to the parking lot, “is, they are all very much alike, you can’t tell one from the other. Now, if you lose a dog…”

“I’m not losing Dickie,” asserted Jim, lengthening his pace.

“Dogs,” I went on, just to take his mind off his worries, “are individuals. No two dogs are alike, in temperament. When you lose a dog, I can understand a certain amount of personal grief. But canaries, don’t you see, are much lower in the scale than dogs. A bird has practically no brains at all. Therefore it can’t have personality. A bird, for example, is incapable of feeling affection…”

Jim swung the car door open and flung himself inside. I joined him.

“Look,” said Jim, quietly, “I’ll tell you about Dickie. The time we got him, we had a lot of sickness in the house. A lot of sickness and a lot of trouble. It was gloomy. Now, I forget just how we happened to think of the bird. But somehow, Dickie took up his stand by the living room windows of the house. And I tell you – it wasn’t a day, it was hardly an hour, until that bird had transfigured our house. They say new birds don’t sing for a few days, until they get accustomed to the new environment. You say birds have no brains?”

“Everybody knows that,” I agreed.

“Well, then,” demanded Jim fiercely, “how did that bird know, the minute he got into my house, that he was needed, that he had to sing…!”

“Just coincidence,” I murmured.

“Ah,” ignored Jim. “He started to sing. And the sick ones started to sit up and take notice. And the tired and weary ones began to smile and cheer up. And Dickie sang and sang and fairly yelled. He hopped around, cheering through the bars as if he were trying to single each of us out for a special song…”

“What imagination can do!” I chuckled.

“In two days,” cried Jim, “he had sung us all into happiness again. In a week, he was the treasured darling. In a month, he was the king of the house. THAT’S the bird you say you can pick up three for a dime!”

“A dollar apiece, wholesale, probably,” I corrected.

“Let’s not talk about it,” muttered Jim.

So we reached his house and went in. Dickie was in his cage. A kind of a dowdy looking yellow bird, with random dark markings. Just a tired, aging canary to my eye. But I decided not to air my opinion at the moment.

“I’ll take him,” said Jim, “in a paper bag. That will be warmer than the cage.”

He got a paper bag of the size half a dozen oranges come in. Dickie made no resistance when Jim reached into his cage and picked him off the perch. He emitted one hoarse cheep as Jim slid him into the bag, and wrung the paper around to make a sort of neck. The bag ballooned out with the air in it. Dickie fluttered around inside.

“The air in there,” explained Jim, “will stay at the house temperature for the time it takes us to reach the pet shop.”

We went back out to the car and I offered to hold Dickie on my lap.

“No,” said Jim, “he’ll be less, frightened right back there on the back seat.”

And he placed the bag tenderly on the cushions.

“This specialist,” said Jim, as we drove off, “is a wonderful man with birds…”

And he regaled me with a lot of optimistic details about some gnarled little Englishman, an ex-sailor, who ran the pet shop.

We were just nicely into the business district when I happened to hear, behind me, a curious thrrripp- thrrripp! of wings. And I turned in time to see Dickie, loose in the car, flit out the slightly opened window.

“Jim!” I bellowed. “Dickie’s loose…!”

Well, sir, it was quite a chase. We got parked and ran back. And sure enough, there was Dickie perched up on a swinging signboard over a shop entrance. Three or four ladies were stopped watching.

“Dickie!” called Jim in a high, falsetto voice. “Pffft! Peeeep! Dickie!”

He held his hand up toward the scared and chilly looking bird.

But Dickie just hunched himself, and turned his head sideways to look in a dazed fashion at the enormous wide moving world around him.

“Oh, he’ll perish!” cried one of the ladies.

“Jim, get him moving,” I commanded. “Keep him on the go, or the cold will finish him.”

Jim threw his hat up at Dickie, who immediately flew to another hanging signboard; a higher one.

“There,” snarled Jim. “You’ll drive him up to the roofs and that’ll be the end of him…”

“I didn’t do it!” I protested hotly.

By now, a dozen ladies, half a dozen men and 20 kids had gathered around us.

“I’ll get the people who live above the shop,” offered a lady, “to scare him down.”

Heads came out of the windows above Dickie a moment later and away flew the little bird in fright. He went straight at a brightly lighted Neon sign.

He struck it.

And fluttering, he fell to the pavement.

I was on him like a flash, and had my hat on top of him before you could say Jim Frise.

“Good!” yelled Jim, shoving through the moiling crowd. “Let me reach under…”

“No, no!” I cried. “You’ll crush every bone in his poor little body. You go and get the bag out of the car and I’ll just guard him right here…”

“Okay,” puffed Jim, shoving through the crowd.

Now, if there is anything that excites a crowd, it is the sight of a gentleman squatted down on the pavement with something hidden under his hat.

What had been, to start with, a couple of dozen idle passersby became, in an instant, a shoving, heaving crowd. From stores up and down the street they came on the gallop. Everybody behind shouted to know what the- excitement was. And those in the inner circle shouted that it was a man with a canary under his hat,

But all THAT did was make those in the outer circumference fight all the harder to get inside the crowd until I was in danger of being crushed to death. I had to bellow at the top of my lungs and take a few sharp jabs at the legs nearest me, when I heard the voice of authority.

It was the police.

“Here, what’s this?” he demanded. “Break it up! Break it up!”

But when a policeman joins a mob, that only attracts more. The fact is, traffic began to be tied up. I heard car scrape to a stop. Horns began to toot impatiently, both above and below.

The cop got through to where he could look down on me.

“What are you doing?” he demanded.

“I’ve got a canary” I explained up. “If you can make a lane through this mob, my friend with a paper bag can…”

At the moment, a sound rose loud and fierce above the noises of the crowd. It was the savage horn of a car, some little distance up the street, coming at a furious clip. And almost simultaneous with the roar of the horn came the screech of brakes, cries of fright, the furious racing of an engine – as though the car were backing – and then a loud, thunderous crash.

The cop burst his way through the crowd toward the racket. Another car, and then another, came roaring down the street.

My crowd melted as though struck by a tornado. I heard strong shouts.

“Grab them! Grab him! Gunmen! Hold-up men.”

Occupied as I was, I did not see what was transpiring. But Jim, freed of the crowd, came puffing; and he had Dickie in the bag in a jiffy.

“It’s gunmen!” Jim gasped. “They were driving hell bent down the street until our crowd stopped them! The cops have got them…!”

“Why, Jim!” I cried. “Maybe there’s a reward for them! Maybe they’re desperate characters and a thousand dollars reward for them! In that case, it was me that created the crowd. It was MY crowd that blocked their escape and enabled the cops to capture them. Wait till I get in there and see the cops…”

“It was WHOSE crowd?” demanded Jim, stepping in front of me. “It was WHO created the crowd?”

“Why… me!” I gulped.

“It was DICKIE!” shouted Jim, clutching the paper bag to his bosom tenderly.

So we drove a block farther to the pet shop where we went in and found the little gnarled Englishman. We revealed Dickie to him from within the paper bag, at the same time telling him, with great gusto, the story of how Dickie had been instrumental in the capture of two fleeing bandits.

“Well, well, WELL!” said the little old sailor, picking Dickie up in his knotted hand.

“Well, well, WELL!” said the little old sailor, picking Dickie up in his knotted hand, feeling him roughly over the wishbone and giblets, and then tossing him in the air.

Dickie flew frantically about the shop, past all the cages full of singing birds, the budges, the parrots. He took up his stance on the topmost row of cages, leaned back and burst into ecstatic song.

“There y’are, see?” said the specialist. “All ‘e needed was a little excitement!”

When Art is Long – and seems even longer

March 6, 1926

This illustration went with an article by Frank Mann Harris, known as “Six-Bit”, which makes fun of live theatre.

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