Tag: 1932 Page 1 of 2
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.
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.
By Gregory Clark, December 3, 1932
The difference between a dog show and a baby show is that the mothers are not trying to sell their babies and, as a rule, the dog fanciers are.
“What strikes you most forcibly as you walk through the aisles of stalls at the dog show is the tense, anxious and absorbed air of the ladies sitting on the edges of the kennels beside their pets. It is the deadly seriousness of the men standing guard over their dogs.
The smaller the dogs, the greater the seriousness. The men with the police dogs and bloodhounds are almost cheery. Down the line the cheeriness departs, until you come to the Bostons, the Pekes and the tiny toy dogs. And there you find ladies, as a rule, and they wear an air of almost tragic despair.
That is the most comic part of a dog show.
But there is a good deal of comedy about the dog business, both visible and unseen.
To be a good breeder of dogs to win prizes at shows, you must be a good poker player, a first-class politician and a real smart barber.
In fact, barbering may be the first requisite. By clipping, plucking and otherwise hairdressing a wire-haired terrier or a spaniel, you can disguise his bow legs, his weak chin, his funny back, his splay feet and any other defect with which mature may have endowed him. Go to a dog show and see the wire-haired terriers with their stiff, thick little legs, their extraordinary square heads and beards like a Scottish divine, and then go home and look sadly at your own wire hair.
There is not even faint resemblance between the average pure-bred wire hair you see on the streets and the one that takes the prize at the dog show. What is the difference? Just barbering.
Underneath all that primping and manicuring may be in your homely terrier a better dog, from every true standard of dog breeding, than the terrier that won the ribbons.
A handler of dogs at shows told me cold-bloodedly that it was a common practice for the show people to trim a poor little dog’s toe-nails so close to the quick a few days before the show, that he was forced to walk delicately and mincingly with that sprightly and dainty trend, so as to spare his poor, paining feet.
Is it possible that judges cannot see these tricks and throw out the dogs that are dressed for the show ring by trickery? As a matter of fact, the days of trickery are fast vanishing. A few years ago, the dog show business was based almost completely on commercialism. The winning of ribbons was part of the business of selling dogs for high prices. The most incredible things were done to dogs. Distorted breeds were made popular, toy breeds were bred to look like frogs or golliwogs, bulldogs were so “altered,” as they say, that they could scarcely breathe; Bostons had their eyes popped right out of their heads, little terriers had hair grown on them so that the poor little critter underneath it all was like a frail little man wearing a Santa Claus suit all year round.
What About the Show Dog?
Today, the whole sentiment has swung. The much-abused police dog is evidence of the violence of the change in public taste. From flat-faced, crooked-limbed, bug-eyed, hairy, spindly dogs, public taste has faced about toward the normal, healthy, natural dog. The spaniel and airedale showed the way. The poor old police dog, so-called, is the present extreme of the swing. In dog-loving cities like Toronto, where half the homes or more possess dogs, the most popular breeds are straight terriers, such as the fox, wire hair, Airedale and Scotch; and the spaniels.
With this return of common sense in dogs, the show business has come to be cleaner. Judges are looking for the dog underneath the barber shop work.
Col. G. F. McFarlane, whose hobby is bull terriers, and who is recognized as a judge of that breed all over America, admitted that the ideal of dog breeding to-day was to succeed in awarding at shows the ribbons to the dogs that came nearest to the standards of perfection in each breed, which world-wide experience and competition had revealed over a long period of study.
“There still remains in the dog-breeding world,” said Col. McFarlane, “an element of dyed-in-the-wool fanciers who pay much attention to trifles and tricks that have nothing to do with the dog’s real character or his use. For example, I remember causing a sensation at an important show in large American city some time ago. I was judging bull terriers. A bull terrier is supposed to stand well up on his toes. That is an important feature. From time immemorial, it has been a trick in the showing of bull terriers for the handler to hold the leash tight, lifting the dog by the neck so as to cause him to appear to be standing on his toes, as he should. At this show, I demanded the handlers to slack the leashes. You never heard such indignation. Naturally, the terrier that really stood up on his toes won the decision. But there was a great sense of wrong in the minds of all those handlers who felt that it was enough if the dog seemed to be up on his toes.
“Proper teeth is another point in these terriers. I came to one fine specimen, and when I went to examine his teeth, the handler warned me not to touch the dog, as he was vicious. I ordered the handler to open his mouth and, as I expected, the teeth were bad.”
As a matter of fact, the mere training of a dog for show purposes contains not a little hardship and rough treatment. From puppyhood, once a dog appears to be a championship candidate, many handlers cuff him to stand steady, they comb and pluck and oil him, they train him daily to stand and show on a leash, and any happy quality the dog may have that interferes with the serious and all-important business of being a show dog is soon cuffed out of him. More and more the judges are looking for signs of that sort of training. More and more they are trying to judge a dog on his merits rather than on theatrical tricks taught for the purpose of showing off his points.
There are roughly three kinds of dogs: pets, working dogs and sporting dogs. Any dos destined to be a pet is not harmed by being trained as a show dog. Working dogs may also be trained for show since the discipline and loss of spirit may be useful when the dog has to answer commands in working. But hunting dogs trained for the show bench are almost always ruined by training for the show. And what is more to the point, the greatest sporting dogs would rarely if ever win a prize in a show.
This may be true also of pets and of working dogs; the best dog would not win in a show. It is a commonplace remark amongst dog fanciers that bench winners are good for nothing else.
Doesn’t this suggest something radically wrong with the whole show business?
Scientific Study Needed
Light on this angle of the dog question was thrown by several vets, notably Dr. Alan Secord, a new arrival in Toronto’s animal constituency.
“Certain breeds of dog,” said Dr. Secord, “especially the popular police dog, are the descendants of a very few ancestors imported into this country. In other words, every police dog in your neighborhood is more or less distantly related to every other police dog. This inbreeding over a short period of years, but in vast numbers to meet the demand, has resulted in a serious decline in the quality of the species. They are weak physically and mentally. They catch distemper and are goners, as sure as shooting. It takes the greatest care to save them from diseases that a common mongrel will weather without the slightest trouble.
“This fact is true of several popular breeds of dogs. It is due to man’s habit of taking periodic and passionate fancies to certain new breeds. A few fine specimens of that breed are imported, and presently you have a thin and inbred generation of that kind of dog that bears no resemblance whatever to the noble creatures that were imported. They have neither brains nor physique, yet they still bear the outward signs of excellence that catch ribbons at shows.
“A few more years’ experience along these lines,” said Dr. Secord, “and a little wider scientific study of dogs, and dog-loving cities like Toronto will favor old and widely disseminated breeds that will survive and serve in a way they have always been intended to.”
Dr. Secord points out that there has never been a public or government fund for the scientific study of dogs. Not until the fox breeders formed an industry and got government grants for research was there founded special branch at the agricultural colleges for laboratory work on canine diseases and care. And more has been learned about dogs since the scientific study for the benefit of fox ranchers than in any similar short period in history.
Nowadays it is commonplace to operate on dogs for appendicitis, tonsils, mastoid, cancer. Pyorrhea is treated in toy dogs that get too much candy and slops. The X-ray department of the human hospitals are receiving visits from dogs with fractures, and marvellous splints are being devised, bone plating is being done. They even have an apparatus for blood transfusion in dogs. Caesarian sections for the birth of “altered” breeds such bulldogs and Bostons have been commonplace for a long time.
What mankind has done to dogs in the passion for special and fancy breeds can hardly be credited to man’s nobility. But these experiments must be laid to the door of the fanciers, because the sporting breeds, some of them hundreds of years old, such as hounds and spaniels, have never been tainted with alterations other than in the direction of strength and intelligence.
But while one man raises a dog to be barbered and weighted and splinted, curled and combed and cuffed for the bench, another man, honored with the ownership of the blood brother of the other dog, wants him to run gaily with him down the street, or guard his wife and children at the summer cottage; or if a lover of the gun, to seek and put up partridges, rabbits.
We once had a black cocker whose brothers and sisters rose to fame in the dry-goods business, amassing ribbon by the yard. But Bonnie had too much brains and not enough lines for the show bench.
What he used to do, the minute supper was over, every night of his life, no matter how the fun raged outdoors, or how interesting the company downstairs, was to proceed with all dignity to the door of the upstairs room where a baby sister slept.
Across the door sill Bonnie would stretch out his jet black length, and there, never moving for hours he would lie, hall asleep, waking to every turn or twist of the sleeping baby, until at length the grown-ups came to bed.
Then Bonnie would toddle and scratch-foot his way downstairs to his old basket in the basement.
He was not taught this. He just thought it up for himself.
It gave him a purpose in life.
It dignified him in his own eyes.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 29, 1932
“Hallowe’en,” said Jim Frise, sadly staring at his drawing board, “is another example of the way the world is going to the dogs.”
“It’s not what it used to be,” said I.
“When I was a boy,” went on Jim, “we thought nothing of hauling the schoolmaster’s buggy to the top of the schoolhouse or planting the minister’s hen house on the church steps. Nowadays, you would need a derrick and a gang of Italians to haul the schoolmaster’s eight-cylinder car on top of the four-storey school; and as for ministers, they haven’t hen houses any more, and the best churches haven’t any steps.”
“The world,” I said, “has outgrown childish things like Hallowe’en.”
“I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s an Inferiority complex the world is suffering from,” said Jim. “Dr. Locke, the librarian, one time said that the reason he allowed blood and thunder novels and crime stories and hot love stories in the public library was to allow underprivileged people like old maids, clerks, schoolboys and so forth to live second-hand. They couldn’t go places and do things, so they quelled their cravings by reading.”
“Not a bad notion.”
“In the old days of Hallowe’en,” said Jim, “we didn’t know about the world outside, and we thought we were rascals the way we cut up. But now with the movies putting on mighty dramas of excitement and adventure, and comedies that cut up in a way we never could hope to equal, why we just let it go second-hand.”
“It’s what you call sublimating,” said I. “They call it getting a vicarious thrill.”
“Call it what you like,” said Jim, “the fact is, the movies and radio and newspapers and magazines have given the whole world an inferiority complex. Why, when we were young fellows, we thought we were regular John Barrymores as lovers, because love in those days was a thing never talked about or demonstrated. We imagined we were the only really great lovers in the world. But nowadays, the young people creep home to bed feeling utterly outclassed and hopeless after one look at Greta Garbo. Twenty-five years ago there was a pretty girl to every township. Now, the girls look in their mirrors and are denied girlhood’s loveliest misapprehension. The young fellows dream of great deeds, of action; but they think of “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” or “Hell’s Angels,” and go to bed. The witty fellow shuts up because the radio brings Ed Wynne or Jack Benny into the house. Where is the life of the party now? In the box. That’s what is the matter with the world to-day; it is subdued by knowledge. Gimme,” said Jimmy, “the good old ignorant days when everybody thought they were better than everybody else!”
“Still,” said I, “I hate to see Hallowe’en die.”
“So do I, but what can we do about it?”
“Last Hallowe’en,” I mused, “all the neighbors told me to go to bed, I was keeping their children awake.”
“What were you doing?”
“Oh, just running around ringing doorbells and upsetting ash cans.”
“When somebody has upset the whole world,” said Jim, “there isn’t much kick in just upsetting an ash can.”
Picking a House For Pranks
“Still, we ought not to take things for granted,” said I. “If we are public advisers as cartoonists and writers, we ought to experiment. It will be Hallowe’en in a few nights. What do you say if we go out to-night and try few experiments just to see it the world really is tired of Hallowe’en pranks?
“How do you mean?”
“Well, maybe the world would welcome a little frolic. Maybe we are wrong in thinking everything has gone stodgy. I don’t like those theories of yours about lovers and one thing and another. Gosh! I’d hate to think there ever was a boy who didn’t imagine he was the greatest lover the world has ever seen.”
“How would we go about it?”
“Well, let me see: we could go out for a walk after dark and pick on the saddest looking house we can find. Then we will ring the door bell. Upset the ashcans at the back. I can make a tick-tack and we can buzz it on the windows. The saddest house we can find. Two full-grown fellows like us could plague a house like that for half an hour before we were caught. Then we could see how Hallowe’en pranks go over in these modern days.”
“Me for a pea-shooter,” said Jim.
“And there is a kind of fire-cracker thing,” I said, “that goes off when you pull a string. We could tie it from the door knob to the veranda railing, and it would make a terrific bang when they open the door.”
“If there is any furniture around the outside of the house,” said Jim. “I’d like to lift it on to the roof or something.”
“Right,” said I.
After it was dark and we had commanded our children to go to bed early, according to the most modern health regulations, Jim and I sneaked away from our wives who wanted us to go to the movies and went for our walk. I had made a tick-tack out of a big linen spool, and Jim had a pea-shooter and a pocket full of peas. From a novelty shop I had got the fire-cracker thing.
“What kind of a house should we select?” asked Jim. “A big house or a small one? A rich house or a poor one?”
“The saddest, primmest, dumbest looking house,” said I. “A house that looks as if it didn’t have any vestige of humor left. Just an ordinary house.”
We examined a dozen before we found the right one.
Its lawn was trim, but it had no flowers. I was well painted, but it had no color. It was well built, but it had no character.
“This house,” said Jim, “looks as if a chartered accountant lived in it or maybe a draughtsman who designs the insides of vacuum cleaners.”
“I bet,” said I, “it’s a man who manufactures those dry paper moulds you buy a dozen eggs in. Or maybe two ladies who work in the parliament buildings.”
“Let’s get to work,” said Jim, looking up and down the dark, silent, deserted street in which dwelt in security and happiness several hundred of our fellow beneficiaries of modern civilization. It was eight o’clock.
While Jim carried a veranda chair out and hung it in the maple tree on the lawn, I crept up and tied the fire-cracker business to the front door knob and ran the string to the veranda, so that when anybody opened the door, the thing would explode just as the door began to gape. All was quiet.
We walked cautiously around to the back, for fear of a dog, but there was none. Two ash cans stood at the back door, one empty and one nearly full. We propped the full one on top of the empty one against the back door in such a way that whoever opened the back door would get a pinnie full of ashes.
Something Not on the Program
On the side door, which had a screen door outside, we arranged a tin pan that we found on a window sill. Working very quietly and smoothly, we filled the can with water from the hose tap and then, opening the screen door slightly, we propped the pan on top so that whoever opened that door would get a sprinkling.
“Tee-hee,” giggled Jim. “How do we start?”
Tip-toeing up to the side window, I let go the tick-tack. It was a good one. In the silence of the peaceful night, it made a roar like a truck changing gears. We scurried out and lay down beside the hedge of the house next door. Jim stuck the pen shooter through the bushes and waited. A figure appeared at the front door glass, and Jim let fly a burst of peas that rattled viciously against the pane. The figure ducked and vanished. As we lay there, we saw window blinds pulled up and lights went out as figures moved about inside the house.
“We can’t ring the bell yet,” whispered Jim. “They are watching.”
Cautiously creeping along the hedge, we made the side drive, and in the back yard, we approached the lighted kitchen window. Nobody was there. I let go the tick-tack again with a terrific wham. As we ran to hide in the next yard, we saw people rushing into the kitchen. We just got down when the back door opened, there was a crash, a wild yell and a cloud of ashes rose and obscured the back door. The door slammed.
“That guy sounded like a big fellow,” I whispered to Jim. “I hope he has some sense of humor.”
“He got a gizzard full of ashes,” admitted Jim.
By now all the lights in the house were out. So we went over a wire fence and through another yard and came back to watch the front door.
Jim let go a tentative flight of peas against the downstairs window from amidst the hedge. He let go another. The chair up in the maple tree chose this instant to change its position slightly with the wind ablowing. And there was a curious shaking and quivering in the tree as if someone was hiding in it.
“That’s swell,” said Jim. He let go another blast of peas.
Then we heard the side door creaking softly, as someone came creeping to make a flank attack. The creaking ended in a tin pan clatter, a loud splash, and another angry bellow. That door slammed.
As we lay, snorting and choking along the hedge, we heard footsteps approaching down the street, so we lay very still until they passed. But they did not pass. They turned and walked up the front walk of the house we were dealing with. Through the hedge, we beheld another large man walking unsuspectingly up to the door that was all rigged with a string and a fire-cracker to welcome him.
We lay tense. He stepped on to the veranda of the dark house. He rang the bell. We heard it ring.
Instantly the front door opened. Someone had been crouched behind it. A blinding flash, a terrific report, down from the veranda leaped the visitor and right behind him, his arms clawing, came another figure who seemed to glow with rage in the dark, like a fire-fly.
World Hasn’t Changed Much
“Help!” roared the visitor.
“Aarrh!” roared the pursuer, leaping on the visitor’s back, and the two of them rolled to the lawn.
Jim and I were transfixed with horror. It sounded like a dog fight, with snarlings and gruntings and thumpings.
“We’ll have to stop them,” said Jim.
“Let them get a little tired first,” I whispered.
But Jim got up and I had to follow. We ran around the hedge and stood over them while the one on top, who was damp and had ashes in his hair, glared speechlessly down at the dim face of the visitor.
“Mr. Parkins!” he gasped.
“Let me up,” growled the man underneath.
The man on top staggered to his feet and helped the other up.
“Mr. Parkins …” stammered the householder. “Was it you?”
“It was me,” declared Mr. Parkins, brushing himself off, “and if your idea of talking business is to shoot at a man when he calls at your door and then pursue him on to the public street and beat him up, then, my dear sir, the deal is off. I never heard … never … I …”
And we thought he was going to burst into tears.
“But Mr. Parkins,” said the first man, “you put ashes at my back door, hung water over my side door, rattled my windows… I thought I was being threatened by a gang.”
“I simply walked up to your door,” said Mr. Parkins grimly, “rang the bell, and instantly, you jerked the door open and shot at me. Do you deny that?”
“Gentlemen,” said Jimmie, and there were three or four other neighbors gathered around by this time, “this is most regrettable. Mr. Parkins here had nothing to do with the ashes or the water. I saw him come to the front door after the ashes and water had been spilled.”
“Heh?” said the householder.
“Some boys were playing Hallowe’en tricks a little in advance of the season,” said Jim, “by way of rehearsal, you might say, and in the midst of these little pranks, Mr. Parkins walked up and rang the bell.”
“How do you know?” growled the householder, who was, as I said, a big man.
“I was watching them,” said Jim.
“So was I,” said I.
“And so was I,” said a voice behind me. “I live next door and I saw these two crooks for the past half hour prowling around your house, Mr. Figsbee, and …”
But Jim had started and I was not long following.
We stuck together, and for the first two blocks they were not far behind. But guilt lends wings to your feet.
“I tell you what,” said Jim, as we sat in a drug store having a soft drink to settle our wind, “you might say the world has changed much.”
“It has its moments,” said I.
“As of old, the fellow who plays the tricks has the fun and the victims see little in it.”
“And fewer people play tricks,” said I. “That’s the only difference.”
“Finish up your drink,” said Jim, “and if you make it snappy, we can get home in time to go with our wives to the second show.”
“Maybe,” said I, “there’ll be a real good comedy.”
Editor’s Notes: Pre-World War Two, Halloween was not as popular a holiday in North America. Treat-or-treating was not established, and the holiday was more known for kids playing pranks as indicated in the story. Costumes could be worn, and some adults might have had parties.
A tick-tack is defined as a “a contrivance used by children to tap on a window from a distance”. I’m not sure what it may have looked like.
The images from this entry are a little different, as they are not from microfilm. I actually own an original paper copy of this. Many people may not be aware of how large old newspapers were. This is a broadsheet format, that was 17 inches wide and 23 1/2 inches tall. (43 x 60 cm). An iPad is shown for comparison.
These illustrations by Jim appeared with a story by John Herries McCulloch.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 24, 1932
“I feel,” says Jim Frise, “as if one good laugh and the world would feel a lot better. It’s too darn serious.”
“In the olden days,” said I, “when the world was darkest with wars or pestilence, the clowns and troubadors used to wander the world making everybody laugh. Now is the time for Charlie Chaplin to get busy on a new film.”
“What the world needs,” says Jim, “is a good practical joke. Announce an eclipse and then don’t have one, or something.”
“They pulled that one a couple of weeks ago,” said I. “How about getting a lot of bankers and statesmen to announce that the depression is over. That would be a good one.”
“I mean real, practical jokes,” said Jim.
“Let’s start the ball rolling,” said I. Ah, me!
So we thought up a few practical jokes, all for the sake of humanity.
Our first act was an old-timer. We got a roll-up tape line, 66 feet long, from the office carpenter and took it up Yonge St. to a place just north of Hennessy’s drug store.
It was about 3 p.m. and a fine day, with plenty of shoppers and no end of motor cars.
I held one end of the tape measure and Jim took the other and, watching for a lull in the traffic, he crossed the road, pulling the tape measure after him.
Traffic all stopped politely.
On reaching the far side, Jimmie looked anxiously about and felt in his pockets. Amongst those who stopped to see what was happening was an earnest young man of the sort who are always willing to help.
“Would you mind holding this?” asked Jim politely. The young man eagerly seized the end of the tape.
On my side of Yonge, I had an equally interested group of spectators. I selected an elderly gentleman with a walking stick and spectacles. He obligingly accepted my end of the tape.
The motor traffic and street cars by this time were stopped in both directions, and everybody was very polite.
Then Jimmie and I quietly disappeared in the crowd and met, by prearrangement, down near the Canadian National ticket office.
We looked back and there was quite a jam. Cars and street cars, pedestrians and bicyclists all were paused respectfully, while an earnest young man and an obliging old man solemnly held the tape across the street.
Then things happened. Somebody, probably a policeman, inquired what the idea was.
“A man told me to hold this,” said the young man.
“I was requested to hold it,” said the old man.
Or maybe they both dropped the tape like hot potato. Anyway, the brief traffic jam ended and Jim and I stood at the corner of King and Yonge to watch the world laugh.
Down the street came a thunder cloud of angry Torontonians. Not a laugh in a boat load. We heard snatches of comment.
“Just like the city hall,” said one. “Tear a road up and then don’t know what for. Why, on my street -“
“Didn’t know what they were holding it for!”
Jim and I hurried away and hid in a restaurant to think up some more practical jokes.
Thinking Up a New One
“I tell you a great one,” said I. “We go and buy a park bench exactly like the city benches they have up in Queen’s Park. We sneak it into Queen’s Park and then start to walk off with it. The park attendants come running and order us to drop it. Wo refuse and say it is ours. The park attendants go and call the police. The cops come and we still try to make off with the bench. So they arrest us. They send for the wagon. We get taken to the police station. And there we produce our receipt for the bench, proving it is ours. Ha, ha, ha!”
“Swell,” said Jim. “Then we go down to Riverdale Park, then out to High Park and Sunnyside. We can pull that one all over the city until the police are sick of the sight of us.”
So we bought a nice park bench for $14.50 and hired a man with a small covered truck to deliver it to us in Queen’s Park.
Nobody noticed us lift it off the truck, as we did the trick around on the east side near that horse-trough where there is a good screen of bushes.
“Now then,” said Jim.
So we started walking across the park. The bench was much heavier than benches used to be in the parks I used to sit in in Toronto. It had cement ends with wooden slats for the seat.
And the afternoon was hot.
Nobody paid any attention to us.
Across by the bandstand a man was cutting grass. We carried the bench past him. He was a bad-tempered looking man, like most park gardeners.
He stopped mowing to wipe his brow.
“Hot work, boys,” he said.
So Jimmie and I set the bench down and had a rest on it.
Coming down from the Avenue road end was a mounted policeman, slowly walking his horse in the humid afternoon.
“If we make it snappy,” I said, “we can intercept him down there at the corner of the parliament buildings.”
So we made it snappy and reached the west side of the road just as the policeman hove down on us. We started across the road, struggling anxiously with the bench, with every appearance of guilt.
The cop went right on past.
We set it down on the far boulevard. The policeman smiled over his shoulder at us.
“Old stuff, boys,” he called. “The university students try to play that one on us every autumn.”
So we sat down again on the bench. “Not such a good joke,” said Jim.
We had not made any arrangements about having the small truck call back for the bench as we figured the police van would take it along as evidence.
“We could take it back to the store and get our money back,” said I.
“Let’s give it to the city,” said Jim. “Let’s carve on the seat here, ‘Donated to the City of Toronto by Two Big Practical Jokers.'”
But it was too hot for carving. So we just donated it anonymously.
As we walked down University avenue I thought of another one.
“We’ll go down Yonge street,” said I, “and all of a sudden I will grab off my hat and kneel down and clap it down on to the pavement, as if I had caught something underneath it. We will both kneel down and I will keep peeking cautiously underneath the edge of my hat, and you act all excited, trying to see under, too. We will act as if we had caught the most wonderful thing in the world.”
“Swell,” said Jimmie. “This one won’t cost anything. Let’s see, $2.50 for the tape measure we lost and $14.50 for the bench.”
So we turned over to Yonge and just above Eaton’s we strolled until we got an open space in the crowd, and then I made a sudden dive, swapped my hat off and clapped It down on an imaginary canary on the pavement.
I knelt down and peeped under the brim, with every sign of excitement, and all the passers-by stopped.
When I looked for Jim he was not there. Not only was he not kneeling beside me, but he wasn’t even in the crowd.
“The big quitter,” I muttered, bending down for another cautious look under the brim of my hat.
By this time the crowd was jammed almost on top of me. So I quietly picked up my hat, put it on my head, stood up and walked off.
The crowd did not make a sound. Not laugh. Not a smile. They did look bewildered and a trifle alarmed.
“If Jimmie had only waited,” I said to myself, “he would have enjoyed that one.”
So down near Ryrie’s I decided to try it again, all on my own. I went through the act again and was just nicely kneeling down when I felt somebody grab me.
Not a Laugh in a Load
I was yanked to my feet by two eager-looking young men who were about the size of Argo oarsmen. They held me with my arms pinned behind me and rushed me into a doorway.
“Here,” I yelled, “what’s the idea!”
“Get him inside,” gasped one of the two Argos, “and I’ll hold him while you go and phone for a taxi. Don’t let the police in on this!”
It so happened that they had me jammed into the doorway to the hairdressing parlors of Mr. Wellington Knight, who is an old friend of the Clarks, and he came out to see what the scuffle was.
“Here,” he cried, “let go of Mr. Clark!”
“Ssh!” warned the big boy, holding me more firmly, “this is a dangerous nut escaped from Whitby!”
“Dangerous nothing!” said Mr. Wellington Knight, who is a man of action with or without curling irons. “Let go of that man. That’s Mr. Gregory Clark of The Star.”
The big chap was impressed.
“Let me show you,” I gargled; “let me get at my pocketbook!”
Reluctantly and ready to dodge if I pulled a gun, the big boy relaxed his hold enough to let me produce my police pass, driving license, and so forth.
And at that minute the other large boy returned, panting.
“What is the meaning of this?” I demanded. “Grabbing a man on the street and announcing that he is a dangerous nut escaped from a hospital?”
“Well,” said the first young man, “what were you doing crawling around on your hands and knees on Yonge street?”
“I was playing practical joke,” I spluttered. “Even so, what right have you –“
“Well,” said the two of them, “the doctor pointed you out to us.”
“The doctor from Whitby, he said he was,” said the two big young men. “He came up to us where we were standing over there by the Arcade, and he was very excited. ‘Boys,’ he said, ‘I’m a doctor from Whitby and I have just recognized an escaped nut from our hospital. He is very dangerous. There is a reward of a hundred dollars for his capture, and if you can just grab him and slap him into a taxi, without the police getting in on it, why you will have the reward all to yourselves.’ So he pointed this gentleman out to us. We crossed the road and just as we got behind you, you suddenly grabbed off your hat, made a pass at nothing at all with it, and started crawling around –“
A horrible thought struck me.
“What did this doctor look like?” I demanded.
“Well, he had on a brown suit,” said the boys.
“And he was tall, clean shaven,” said I. “a straw hat and dark twinkling eyes?”
“Yes, that’s him all right.”
“Jimmie Frise!” I cried. “It was Jimmie Frise!”
So Wellington Knight, the two Argos and I walked over and climbed up to Jim’s attic. When we went in Jim was lying back in his chair, with tears running all over his face.
“Oh, here you are!” he choked.
“Yes,” said I bitterly, “here I am! And here are two young men looking for a hundred dollar reward.”
Jim gave them each a dollar for their trouble.
“You see,” said Jim, “your practical jokes weren’t working out very well, so I just thought one up for myself.”
“If Mr. Knight here hadn’t come on the scene,” I cried, “those two bullies would have had me into a taxi and half way to Whitby by now.”
Mr. Knight went over and sat on Jim’s table and helped him shed tears.
So I just walked out on them, which goes to show that as far as practical jokes are concerned there isn’t a laugh in a load.
Editor’s Note: Greg and Jim shared an office in the top floor of the Toronto Star building at the time. It could be called an “attic” since it was not a full floor. This is one of their earliest stories.