The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1934 Page 1 of 2

Each to His Trade

“Good day, gentlemen,” said the little financial man.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 20, 1934

“My family,” said Jimmie Frise, “are after me to clean the furnace pipes.”

“It’s a trifling job,” I said. “My gardener does it in a few minutes each year and doesn’t even mention it at the end of the month.”

“Still,” demurred Jimmie, “I don’t see why I should rob some poor man of a dollar.”

“It would do you good to engage occasionally in a little unpleasant toil,” I said. “One of the things that is wrong with the world is specialization, not only in industry, but in life itself.”

“How do you mean?” demanded Jim.

“We kick about the deadening effect of mass production,” I stated, “and the evil effect upon the human race of having men doing one small thing over and over again all their lives, like screwing up nuts or tightening a bolt or some other automatic action. It drives men mad. But how about us all living our lives as automatically, never straying out of the rut, always doing the same things every day at the same time, getting out of bed the same side, shaving in the exact same way, starting with our top right cheek and ending with our left neck, kissing the same woman goodby each morning at the same place in the same hallway, and so forth.”

“What has this got to do with stove pipes?” demanded Jim.

“The deadly routine of your life.” I went on, “includes a furnace, and you stoke it and shake it, and remove the ashes and stoke it again. But the ghastly routine would be broken if, once in while, you cleaned the pipes. It would be like getting out of bed the other side, and shaving your left neck first and ending with your right top cheek, and kissing somebody else goodby in the front hall. It would give you a fresh and sudden zest.”

“I never heard anybody rave about furnace pipes the way you do,” said Jimmie. “How about helping me with them?”

“I could ask my gardener to,” I agreed.

“How about the ghastly monotony of your own life?” sneered Jim.

“I often shave backwards,” I said. “And sometimes I kiss my little daughter goodby instead.”

“If I clean the furnace pipes,” said Jim, “it won’t be for any philosophic or psychopathic reason. It will be simply to save a buck. For five years now I have been trying to end the depression by spending all I made, by sharing my work with others, by hiring people on the slightest pretext to do my work for me. But I can’t see it has made the slightest difference. So from now on I am going to be thrifty and careful like everybody else, and do all my own chores and sole my own boots and cut my own grass and clean my own furnace pipes.”

“And what will you do with the money you save?” I asked.

“I’ll buy bonds,” said Jim.

“That’s patriotic,” I assured him. “Instead of spending your dollars on small jobs like furnace pipes and your garden, you will lend It to the government to pay relief. Then, after they have paid relief to a few million people, you get your money back in ten years. Meantime, who paid the relief?”

“Don’t confuse me,” begged Jim. “I am trying to do the right thing by my country. My country wants cash. To lend it to them, I am going to cut down my spending. I am going to do my own furnace pipes.”

“And the people you no longer help support,” I argued, “will get your money just the same, only in relief.”

“I suppose so,” admitted Jim.

“Then,” I demanded, “where does the money come from, twenty years from now, when the government pays you back the money they borrowed from you?”

“Look,” said Jim, “I have five children. In twenty years they will all be grown up and making money. The government can reborrow from them to pay me back.”

“I’d rather have my furnace pipes done by a pipe cleaner,” I said. “It makes him happy. And it only costs me two dollars. It wont cost my grandchildren anything.”

“But there will be five Frises to borrow from instead of only one pointed out Jim. “It will be easier. That’s what the government figures on. It will be easier to borrow by the time their note to me falls due.”

“It looks to me,” I said, “as if we were paying for having our pipes cleaned and cleaning them ourselves. It is all very confusing.”

“I only want to do what is right,” said Jim. “If they say spend, I spend. If they say save, I save.”

“And if you spend, it’s gone,” I enlightened, “and if you save, It’s loaned.”

But Jimmie had risen from the steps of his house, where we had been sitting in the sunshine, and was staring at a little man walking down the street.

This little man was small and smudgy. Under his arm, he carried a roll of what appeared to be very dirty carpet, and from the ends of the carpet protruded filthy brushes on long wire handles.

“Speak of the devil,” exclaimed Jimmie.

The little man, passing, halted and in a deep English voice cried.

“‘Ow’s yer pipes?”

“Come up a minute,” called Jimmie.

“A real chimney sweep, like in Dickens,” I breathed to Jim.

The little man drew nigh and rested his roll of carpet.

“Are you a chimney sweep?” I asked excitedly, picturing him as one who has spent his entire childhood and infancy in the chimneys of Old London.

“No, sir,” he said, with dignity. “I am a financial man, by profession, but during the present interregnum, as you might say, I am picking up what I can.”

“You clean chimneys?” asked Jim.

“I clean furnace pipes,” said the little man.

“How much do you charge?”

“Two dollars,” said he.

“Two dollars!” cried Jim. “Two bucks Just to rattle a few furnace pipes into an ash can! Man, you’re crazy.”

“It’s quite a job,” said the chimney man.

“Why, for two dollars I could drive my car from here to Montreal!”

“But your pipes would still be choked,” said the small man, “when you got back ‘ome.”

“Two dollars! Why, that is ridiculous,” said Jim. “Some of you people have no sense of proportion. Just because a job is a little unpleasant, you charge three times what it is worth. My friend and I can do those pipes in a few minutes after supper.”

“I shouldn’t try it of an evening, sir,” said the little man. “Professionally speaking.”

“Thanks very much,” said Jim, dismissing the small man, who hoisted his roll of carpet. “I had no idea.”

And as the little man retired down the walk, Jim said: “Look here, you save Saturday afternoon, we’ll do mine and yours both.”

“Mine were done,” I pointed out.

“Lend me hand, just for the experience,” said Jim. “I want to look into this business of small jobs. Two bucks!”

Saturday Jim drove me home from the office very kindly and then reminded me, as he let me out, to come over at 2 p.m.

It is curious how seldom one looks at a furnace. One visits it in the dark, shovels coal into a glowing hole, rattles a shaker, reaches up to a familiar doohickey and turns the draft on or off, and the furnace remains a dimly seen, faintly disliked, something to be admitted only part way into one’s consciousness.

Jim and I surveyed his furnace in some awe. It was a bulging and somehow bowlegged sort of furnace. It was aged and scaley and corroded. There were bands or bolts of clay around it that fell away like dust when you touched them. Everything was rusty and squeaked.

Dark Cloud of Endeavor

The pipes were fragile and sagged. When we slapped them, they felt soggy and stuffed.

“How long is it since you had your pipes cleaned?” I asked Jim, doubtfully.

“I don’t recall them being cleaned.”

“Why, you have been wasting fuel for years and haven’t been getting a fraction of the British thermal units you should have been getting.”

“You’d better take off your coat,” said Jim, throwing his across the empty coal bin stall.

I stood ready while Jim stretched up and took firm hold of the joint of pipe that vanished into the cellar wall. It was stuck. It was corroded.

He tapped it with a stick. He hammered it with the shaker handle. He punched a hole in it.

“Poof,” said Jim, as a darkish mist filled the air.

“Get a couple of chairs, and we’ll both take hold and twist,” I suggested.

So Jim got on a box and I got on a chair, and we took firm hold of the pipe and twisted.

It was only a matter of a fraction of a second, but as the pipe came free, Jim, who was curved in one of these fantastic postures tall men can get into when doing the most commonplace things, lost his balance off the box and I felt a heavy and clumsy pipe slip from my grasp.

“Are you there, Jim?” I asked, from the depths of the inky darkness which had suddenly enveloped the furnace room.

“Curious-pfft-smell, isn’t it-pfft!” said Jim from below.

“We had better go outside,” I suggested.

“Tale a section of pipe each,” said Jimmie. “There are ash cans in the side drive.”

I felt above and found a sagging section of pipe. It came fairly easily into my arms, but I felt a cool dry flood of something like talcum powder flow over my hands and wrists as I tilted the pipe level.

“Easy, there,” said Jimmie, coughing.

By only half breathing, we got out of the cellar, dark as night, into the semigloom of the stairs, and preceding Jimmie, I carried the pipe to the side door. It was heavy. You can have no idea how neglected those pipes were. I saw a garbage can and I dumped the pipe smartly head first into the can.

A great whoof of midnight whirled into the bright afternoon air.

“Make way,” gasped Jim, behind me, and as I turned, still marvelling at the fog, I beheld a devilish figure, black from head to foot, heave a section of pipe alongside mine into the ash can, and another and a vaster and a more deadly black cloud billowed into the air.

“Jimmie!” I cried. “You’re filthy. What have you been doing?”

But I could tell by the red gape of Jim’s mouth in his face that I too, was soiled.

“You’ll pay for cleaning this suit, young man,” I assured him. The more you try to brush soot off, the worse you get. Especially if you are perspiring a little.

“Keep still,” said Jim. “Wait till I think.”

But from the rear of the house came screeches and screams and moans in a female voice. It was the next door neighbor. We ran around the corner, and there was a lady, her arms held over her head like the statue of victory, and she was staring transfixed at three large curtains or drapes of a silvery blue color, that were hanging on the clothesline, while the dark cloud of our endeavor slowly engulfed them like a fog.

“Dear, dear,” said Jimmie, drawing me back from the corner.

Better Stay in the Rut

To the lady’s screams were suddenly added loud, brief and profane shouts of a man.

It was the man whose house abuts the rear of Jim’s place.

Head low to avoid the cloud, he came hurling over the fence and faced us.

“Look at that!” he roared. “Painted this morning, and now look at it!”

We could make out the back of his house. I was finished in white and light green. The cloud was aiming straight at it, and vanishing into the paint as cigarette smoke vanishes into an electric fan.

The lady was standing waiting.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Jim, “I will make it right with you.”

“They just came back from the cleaners,” wept the lady, “and I was airing that smell off them before putting them up before dinner when my father-in-law is coming and we have roast chicken, and they cover the living room windows and now …”

“That job,” interrupted the man, “cost me forty-eight dollars and to have the back done, by George, will cost you at least twenty. Twenty, l estimate. Yes, sir, twenty would be fair estimate.”

There we stood, with the two pipe sections upended in the ash can, and with us the man and the lady, when we heard footsteps up the drive and the little man with the roll of carpet that we had seen last Wednesday joined us.

“Glory!” yelled Jim.

“Good day, gentlemen,” said the little financial man.

“How did you turn up?” said Jim, trying to wring the little man’s hand, but the little man evaded him.

“I overheard you say Saturday, so I just dropped around. I do quite a little business this way, whenever I hear of gents planning to clean their furnaces.”

He laid his roll of brushes down in a business-like way.

“I’ll give you $5 to clean all this up,” cried Jimmie. “That is, if you can empty these two joints as well.”

“It would have been better,” said the little man, “if you had left the pipes. But I’ll do what I can.”

“Five dollars,” said Jim.

“And a dollar and a half to clean this suit,” I said.

“And a dollar and a half for this one,” added Jim, looking down at himself.

“And twenty for the paint job,” I calculated.

“And say three for the curtains?” contributed Jim.

The little man, who had trotted down the collar, reappeared.

“You’ll need new pipes,” said he. “These are all rotted and pitted.”

“How much?” asked Jim. “I should estimate about two,” said he.

“Total,” said Jim, “thirty-three dollars.”

He was very cheerful.

“Now you see,” said Jim, “that it is best not to try to get out of the rut. Accept the ghastly monotony of your life. And don’t try to be thrifty. It always costs you more in the end. Each man to his trade. I’m an artist. You’re a writer. And this gentleman cleans furnaces.”

“The furnace itself,” said the little man, picking up his carpet roll, “isn’t in bad shape.”

Editor’s Notes: $2 in 1934 would be almost $40 in 2021. $33 would be $650.

Old coal furnaces ran by having coal delivered through a chute in the basement window, and would require the owner to stoke the furnace with coal to keep it hot. The shaker handle was accessible from the outside and you would crank it to activate shaker plates in the bottom that would help the ashes from the burnt coal to get to the bottom ash pan. You would have to then collect the ash to put in an ash can that would be picked up from your curb.

This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978).

Down Yonder in the Corn-field!

September 29, 1934

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.

Strength of Character

It was a wonderful pioneering feeling that filled our bosoms

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 20, 1934

“You’re not,” said Jimmie Frise, “the man your great-grandfather was.”

“I suppose not,” I admitted. “Did you know him?”

“What I mean,” said Jim, “Is that to get along at all in your great-grandfather’s time you had to be strong. Nowadays anybody can get along.”

“In a way,” I said.

“Every year,” went on Jim, “it becomes easier for the weak to compete with the strong.”

“So much the better,” I stated.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Jim. “Just hold on a minute. Where you get out of bed in the morning, in a house heated with a furnace, your great-grandfather…”

“Call him Ebenezer,” I put in.

“Ebenezer had to creep out of bed in an ice-cold shanty and light a fire in the stone fireplace. Where you get your breakfast on a gas stove Ebenezer had to cook his at the open hearth. Where you back your car out or catch a street car Ebenezer had to walk to his job.”

“I don’t think the winters were as cold in those days,” I said. “At any rate, not being accustomed to steam heat, they wouldn’t feel the cold the way we do.”

“In your great-grandfather’s time,” continued Jimmie, “it was easy to pick a man of strong character. They stood out over the heads of all the men of weak character. Men of weak character succumbed to all the hardships of climate and toil. Nowadays, it is as easy for a man of weak character to get along in life as it is for a man of strong character.”

“The weak still fail,” I argued.

“Yes, but the whole scheme of modern life is to prevent them failing,” said Jim. “It won’t be necessary much longer to have strong characters.”

“Holy doodle, Jim!” I gasped, as the power of his argument lifted me.

“Your great-grandfather Ebenezer,” went on Jim, “wanted a wife. Having demonstrated his strong character by the way he stood the hardship, stuck to his job, delivered the goods, he was entitled to one of the best girls in the neighborhood. And he got her. To-day a girl doesn’t have to be much of a hand to be a competent housewife, with ready cooked foods, newspapers full of menus and ideas, electric devices for cooking and cleaning. How much variety would a modern girl get into her cooking if she had nothing but an open fireplace to cook on and if she had to walk three miles to the nearest store for her groceries?”

“How much variety did Ebenezer’s wife get?” I inquired.

“We’re All Getting Soft”

“Men can make a good living nowadays,” said Jim, “just sitting and watching a machine. In the olden days there used to be a sort of fat, loquacious man who sat all day on a barrel in the corner store, discussing everything. To-day that fat man is a big shot salesman, with the help of a car to haul him around from barrel to barrel all over the land.”

“Life is certainly filled with opportunity these days,” I admitted.

“But no opportunity to demonstrate character,” said Jim. “And that is why leaders are so hard to find, all over the world. Only a hundred years ago our leaders stood out clearly defined in every village. And they chose our leaders for the country. And the leaders of the countries directed the world, with firm hands. No doubt they were often wrong. But they were firm. It is that firm touch we miss to-day.”

“What are we going to do about it?” I asked.

“We could give up our motor cars and walk to work,” said Jim.

“My great-grandfather never walked eight miles to work,” I said. “And even if he did, it wasn’t across a hundred streets filled with dangerous traffic. It was along pleasant paths through the woods.”

“We ought to do something,” said Jimmie, uneasily. “I feel as if we were all getting soft. This is the era of ease and comfort. When it is so easy to keep warm, get good food and earn an easy living, why should we bother about vague, faraway things such as Ottawa or Geneva or Hollywood or the chain broadcasting corporations! They are our real rulers. But why worry?”

“We could take out our telephones,” I suggested, “and send our kids over to do the messages to the stores.”

“That would be good for our kids,” admitted Jim. “But it wouldn’t strengthen our characters.”

“I feel all weak inside, Jimmie,” I said. “I never realized how soft my character has become.”

“Look at the Scotch,” said Jim. “They are noted all over the world, in business, politics, war, for their strong character. And it comes from the fact that they have no fancy modern inventions in Scotland.”

“Do you suggest we stop all inventing and bust up all the factories and wreck Niagara?” I cried.

“Which would you rather have?” retorted Jimmie, sternly, “comfort or character?”

“Well, we’ve got comfort,” I said. “Can’t we get character, too?”

“How?” demanded Jimmie.

“We could all start thinking about it,” I ventured.

Resolving To Go Primitive

“You can’t add one cubicle to your character,” declared Jimmie, “by taking thought.”

“Well, then?”

“Well, then, this very night,” cried Jimmie, “we will go primitive! We will try to recapture some of the stern stuff our forefathers were made of. We will test ourselves, just to see how far we have fallen, how shabby our strength of character is, our resolution, our firmness. We will start by walking home from work!”

“Oh, Jimmie, it’s a cold night!”

“My ancestors,” shouted Jim, “trekked forty miles through the virgin winter wilderness to carry a sick woman to the nearest doctor!”

“My great-grandfather Ebenezer,” I claimed, drove heard of twenty cattle from Holland Landing to the town of York for twenty-five cents!”

“We’ll walk home to-night,” declared Jim.

“What will our wives say?”

“My wife is out,” said Jimmie, “for supper and for the whole evening.”

“I’ll telephone my wife and tell her I have to work tonight,” I said.

So we started at five-thirty to walk to Lambton, where we live, near the banks of the Humber.

It was a fine cold night. Our spirits were inspired by the feeling of character actually growing within us. We set out, as Jimmie explained, to follow the old Dundas road which Colonel Denison cut through the wilderness during the War of 1812, to allow travellers to escape the American gunboats lying off the mouth of the Humber which would shoot at wayfarers following the lake shore highway.

Side by side we strode out Dundas street and we passed the Grange and Spadina avenue and were well past Bathurst street before we began to slow up a bit.

“How do you feel?” asked Jim.

“My character feels a hundred per cent improved,” I replied, “but my feet are starting to hurt. Our ancestors didn’t have to wear shoes like ours and walk on hard, icy pavements. They wore moccasins and walked on lovely, soft snow.”

“The more your feet hurt, the better for your character,” said Jim.

“It seems a long way to Roncesvalles,” I said. “And then from there to the Humber…!”

So we took it a little easier and talked about other means we might discover for improving our characters.

“One thing we will do,” said Jimmie, “when we get home, we’ll go to my place and cook our supper on the open fire in the grate! My folks are all out to-night. We can have the place to ourselves.”

“Ham and eggs,” I said. “Boiled potatoes.”

“And tea,” said Jim. “We’ll boil the potatoes and the tea and fry ham and eggs. That’s the sort of food our ancestors cooked on the hearth.”

“Is it a wood fire?” I asked.

“No. I’ve nothing but soft coal, but we will get some wood on the way home.”


“If we pass wood yard,” said Jim, “we could each carry an armful. Or maybe we could go down in the valley by the Humber and cut some wood. That would be better. There weren’t any wood yards in our great-grandfathers’ days.”

These discussions spurred our feet, but by the time we got to Lansdowne avenue, to what used to be called the White Bridges, I noticed even Jimmie was picking his feet up tenderly, while I had sharp aches up both my legs and my feet were sore, as if scalded. But my character was shining inside of me like a 60-watt bulb.

“It’s ten minutes past seven,” said Jim. “Perhaps this is enough character building for to-night. To get on with the cooking before my folks get home, perhaps we had better take the street car.”

So from Lansdowne we took the car, and walked from the end of the bus line to Jimmie’s house. We got an axe and went down to the end of the street and into the Humber ravine.

“We want pine and birch,” said Jimmie.

“It is illegal to cut trees down here,” I warned him.

“Men of character do not let technicalities deter them,” said Jim.

But no matter how woodsy the Humber valley looks in summer you would be surprised how few fire-wood trees there are. We slithered and slid around the valley for nearly half an hour before we found a birch tree and a small fallen pine. And while I kept watch for the county police, Jim cut firewood. And with two good big armfuls we climbed the hill and hastened back to Jim’s without meeting any police and hardly any surprised pedestrians.

In no time we had a splendid fire roaring in the grate and it was a toss-up which shed the brightest glow about Jimmie’s living room, our characters or the crackling wood fire. Jim got a couple of fancy candles from the dining room and lit the living room with them, turning out the electric lights.

He got two pots and the frying pan. I peeled the potatoes while Jim arranged some pokers and curtain roads on the fire basket to serve as cranes and hobs, such as our ancestors used for cooking.

On the living room table Jim spread bread and butter, salt and a Spanish onion.

Wonderful Pioneer Feeling

There, glowing with the loveliest glow, we squatted before the fireplace and started to prepare our meal. We set the potato pot and the tea pail on the rods and got the frying pan hot for the ham and eggs. Owing to the fact that Jim’s fireplace was not originally intended for cooking, the addition of these pots and pans in some way affected the draught, so that a lot of smoke got into the room.

“But that is all the more real,” said Jimmie. “Our ancestors lived in smoky rooms.”

The potatoes took a long time to start to simmer, and there was no sign of boiling in the tea pail, when Jimmie, in moving the frying pan, tipped the potato pot over and the water put the fire out.

It took all of fifteen minutes to recover the potatoes and get the fire going again.

“I guess you had better go down and cut some more wood,” said Jim.

“It’s against the law, Jimmie.” I said. “We got away with it once. But the law of averages is now against us. This time, we would be caught.”

“There isn’t enough wood left,” said Jim.

“Seeing this is our first experiment,” I said, “let us fall back on coal. Our ancestors were resourceful men. They would not have hesitated to use coal if it were handy.”

So we put soft coal on and had a splendid fire in no time, though it took the potatoes a terrible time to get started again. Once they did start to boil, it took one man all his time lifting them off every time they boiled over for fear they would put the fire out again.

With the tea pail and the potatoes boiling merrily, and the ham and eggs sizzling in the pan, I tell you it was a wonderful pioneer feeling that filled our bosoms, crouching there in our shirt sleeves before the open fire. It was now nine-thirty, and we were hungry enough to eat a horse.

The coal cracked and spluttered a good deal, and quite a lot of black smoke got into the ham and eggs. They caught fire once, and Jimmie leaped back so violently with the frying pan ablaze that he upset the potatoes again. But there was so little water in them that it did no harm.

“Now,” cried Jimmie, ladling the ham and eggs on to plates on the table. “Now how does your character feel?”

“I certainly have an empty feeling,” I said, “if that is character.”

Jim laid the frying pan down, and there was a hiss as it scorched a big bubbly ring in the living room table top.

“Not so good,” said Jim, laying the pan back on the brick hearth.

When Character is Rugged

The potatoes were not quite boiled. The ham and eggs tasted of coal. The tea tasted of something funny, but we never discovered what it was. But character, when it is strong, can stand for almost anything in the way of food. We were just finishing our meal when Jimmie cried: “Hist!”

There were sounds on the veranda.

“Quick!” cried Jimmie, leaping up. He led me out through the kitchen, the back porch and into the dark yard.

“No time!”, he gasped. “My family!”

“But where do we go?”

“We’ll hide out here for a while, until they get over it,” said Jimmie. “And then we will go back in and say we know nothing about it.”

“It’s an awful mess,” I said. “Those pails and pans and the wet wood ashes, and smoke all through the house, and that burn on the table!”

“We’ll say we were at a movie. We’ll say it must have been burglars that broke in,” said Jimmie.

“But our coats and hats are inside,” I protested.

“We’ll say we just ran out for the police.”

“Jimmie!” I cried. “Is this character? Lying out of it like this?”

“They would never understand,” said Jimmie.

“We could explain that we are building up our characters, we could tell them the whole story,” I said.

“No, I have a better idea,” said Jim. “Let’s go over to your house and I can stay there until my folks are all in bed, then I can sneak in. It is easier to explain things in the morning than at night.”

So in our shirt sleeves, we hustled through the night to my house. It was easy to explain our shirt sleeves to my family because we told them we had run out suddenly from Jimmie’s to see a car crash we had heard in the night, and it was half way to our house, and we just ran over here to let Jimmie see a new book I had on dogs.

Jim and I sat drowsily in my den until about one o’clock and then, he wearing one of my old coats, I let Jimmie out quietly.

“Good luck,” I whispered.

“I’ll be all right,” replied Jim.

“Sneak in softly,” I warned.

“Leave it to me.” said Jim softly.

So, full of character, we parted.

Editor’s Notes: At the time of writing in the mid-1930s, Greg and Jim really were close neighbours. It was indicated that they lived in the Lambton neighbourhood, which is essentially correct. Greg lived on Baby Point Road, so it is the general area. So if they wanted to walk from the old Toronto Star Building at 80 King Street West to the corner of Baby Point Road and Jane Street, it would be a distance of 10.6 kilometres (about 6.5 miles). They also mention Roncesvalles, which would be a neighbourhood they would pass.

Captain John Denison was an early Toronto settler.

Smoke detectors were not a common household item until the 1970s, so they would not have had to worry about the house filling with smoke.

This story appeared in the book Silver Linings (1978).

High Life

He came from behind and pushed the box between my stilts…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 8, 1934

“How,” asked Jimmie Frise, “do little short men like you manage to do your Christmas shopping? How do you catch the attention of the salesgirls?”

“As a matter of fact, Jim,” I replied, “you have touched on a very sore spot. We small people don’t talk much about our size. It’s a sensitive subject. And I may say we all observe the approach of Christmas with a good deal of misgiving. It is strenuous enough pushing and shoving your way through the stores even if you are six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds. But when you are handicapped!”

“We ought to get the stores to advertise,” said Jim, ” ‘Small people do your Christmas shopping early.'”

“Better still,” I enthused, “let us ask the big stores to set aside a certain week, in the month before Christmas, as small people’s week. It would be a swell idea.”

“Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” said Jim, “would be ‘small folks’ days’ and the doormen at the entrances of the stores would respectfully stop all large people from coming in.”

“And Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays,” I finished, “would be large people’s week.”

“And the doormen,” reminded Jimmie, “would respectfully stop all small people from going in on those days, so as not to be a nuisance to the large people by getting tangled up in their feet all the time and stumbling over them.”

“Well, I hardly think that is a polite way of saying it, Jimmie,” I protested. “But the idea is a dandy. We ought to take it up with the big stores right away.”

“I’d hate to be short,” said Jim.

“It has its advantages,” I demurred. “For example, in sleeping car berths. And in wars. Small people are usually quicker than big people. They are handier around the house, too. A great big man must be terrible bother around a house, lumbering around and making everything creak and wearing out the furniture.”

“You take elevators,” I said. “I hate getting into a crowded elevator. It is the most undignifying thing in the world. For one thing, nobody makes room for a small man. Yet when a big man comes charging at crowded elevator, everybody moves over, with uneasy little smiles, like patting a big dog, and squeezes to make room for him. Sometimes, I try to get in an elevator first, to get a good place. But sure as fate, some great big man gets in after me, turns his back and pushes his large anatomy right into my face. If I wait, to escape that indignity, I have to wiggle and squash to try to get in at all.”

“I never noticed those things,” said Jim. “After this, I will try to stand edgeways to any little men in the elevator.”

“And street cars,” I continued. “One reason I have worked and toiled in this world to make money was to own a car so that I would never, never have to ride in street cars. The way they shove you aside as you try to get aboard. The way they push and shove you, once you are in. I have had tall men rest their evening papers on my hat. I have had tall girls rest their elbows on my shoulder. Too lazy to hold on to the strap or rail above them, these big people just sag in the crowd, and let their swaying and lurching be taken up by the lesser people. And, naturally, by the law of ultimate consumption, it is us smallest people who take up the slack.”

“You move me deeply,” said Jim. “I had no idea.”

“I don’t like sport,” I said, “because big men stand up in front of me at the crucial moments of the rugby or hockey game. I may say I never saw a goal scored in my life.”

“Mercy,” said Jim.

“Motor cars are all made for big men,” I declared. “Golf sticks, telephone booths, mirrors in hotel bathrooms, counters in lunch rooms, are all made for big men. There are stand-up restaurants in Toronto, over which just my head shows. I wouldn’t eat there for a thousand dollars. Seats everywhere, seats in street cars, hotels, church, are all made for big men, so that my feet dangle in the air. I don’t go to church. If I try to buy a ready-made coat, and have it shortened in the tail so that my feet show, the pockets are slung so low down I have to bend to reach them.”

“The advantages in this life,” said Jim, “are all on the side of the tall people.”

“Agreed,” I admitted bitterly. “A big man is showered with respect and honor wherever he goes. He gets waited on immediately in stores and restaurants. He has his path cleared for him wherever he goes. The world pays respect and honor to big men, no matter who or what they are. Whereas a little man has to conquer the world, like Napoleon, before he can win the world’s respect.”

“And not always then,” put in Jim. “But what are you going to do about Christmas? Why not just do your shopping early? You small people know your own difficulties. Why don’t you act on that knowledge?”

“Because I don’t think it is fair,” I stated. “Because I have my rights, just the same as any two hundred pounder. Because I have as much right to be waited on in a store as any policeman in captivity!”

“Why don’t you use stilts?” asked Jim. “Just make a pair of stilts that would lift you up to about seven feet tall. I bet you would have no trouble doing your Christmas shopping then.”

“Jim,” I gasped, “what a peach of an idea …”

The Secret of Success

“The only trouble would be carrying your parcels on stilts,” said Jim.

“I could have everything sent,” I said, “All I would do would be to carry my stilts until I got to the department where I wanted to buy something. Then up on my stilts, make my purchase and then dismount. I wouldn’t even have to pay money. Just have the stuff sent c.o.d.”

“You certainly could see what was on sale,” admitted Jim. “One of my troubles is seeing what is for sale.”

“I’m going to patent this idea,” I cried, “and then sell it to the big stores. They could have a department near the main entrance, the stilt department, where stilts would be hired out for a normal sum to all short people. They could then hobble about the store, making their purchases as easily as anybody.”

“That would lose you the whole advantage,” argued Jim. “The first thing you know, big people would get tired of being crowded out by little people on stilts and then they would begin using stilts, and where would you be? No, sir. Use the stilts yourself and see how it works. In this life grab every advantage you can think of. That’s the secret of success.”

Jim assisted me in making the stilts in my cellar. We used seven-foot lengths of what the timber dealers call two by two. Three feet from the ground we nailed on two cleats for my feet to rest on. When we got them done that far I mounted the stilts and wobbled around the cellar.

“Hooray,” cheered Jim. “They’re perfect. And you’re a natural born stiltsman.”

It was exciting. We then put some fancy trimmings on them, such as pieces of rubber from an old tire, on the bottoms, and we put linings of more rubber on the cleats so that my feet would not slip when I was “up.” as they say in the racing world. I gave them a nice coat of varnish and set them to dry.

“I’ll come shopping with you,” assured Jimmie, “in case you want any of your parcels carried.”

“You’re the sort of partner,” I thanked him heartily.

I went home early two afternoons and did some practice on the stilts. By taking several small boys along with me I pretended I was showing them the fun of stilts. And by letting all of them try the stilts I was able to work in a lot of showing-how, which gave me plenty of practice until I became, if I may say so, quite handy.

We chose Friday afternoon for the shopping day.

“Make it the most crowded time of all,” said Jim. “It will be a real test of your genius.”

When we arrived at the main entrance of the big store, I carrying the stilts and nobody paying any more attention to me than if it were an umbrella I was carrying. Jim drew me aside.

“Look,” he said, “are you really going ahead with this stunt?”

I was amazed.

“Because,” said Jimmie, “people will think you are nuts.”

“Jimmie,” I retorted, “during these three weeks everybody thinks everybody is nuts. This is Christmas month. Anything goes.”

“Well, I warn you,” he sighed.

But he came with me. We walked through the soaps and the magazines. We passed the purses. We drew near the jewelry, I carrying the stilts at what soldiers call the high-port.

Invention of the Ages

“What are you going to get first?” asked Jim.

“Three pair of silk stockings,” I said, “in a gift box.”

The stockings counter was just a midway. Just a veterans’ reunion. Just a fight. Women were three and four deep around the counters, they were wedged one in beside another and, standing on the floor, I could not see the top of even a tall salesgirl.

“Now, Jim,” said I, “let me show you something.”

Standing well back from the melee, I mounted the stilts. With the skill of an old hand I waddled forward toward the stockings counter. Now I could see right over the heads of four rows of ladies, and up into my face stared not one but eight or nine salesgirls. Their expressions were wide-eyed and delighted. In an instant that tired Friday afternoon look vanished. Life became interesting to them once more.

I waddled down the counter, looking at the piles of stockings with the prices set in cards above them. Three of the girls left their customers and followed me anxiously.

“How much are those with the frilly top?” I asked.

“Eighty-nine cents,” said all three girls.

“May I have three pairs, please? Send them c.o.d. and in a gift box,” said I giving them my address.

Forty or fifty indignant female customers were by now glaring angrily up at me. Up, I say, and I mean up. I now realize the feeling a tall man must have in a theatre line-up or in a crowded elevator. It is a swell feeling. I felt like thanking Heaven.

“Yes, sir,” said the girl who had got her book open first.

“Thank you,” said I dropping easily off the stilts and resting them on my shoulder like a skier.

Jimmie, who had been concealing himself behind a pillar, came out sheepishly.

“Well I never,” said he.

“Jim,” I cried, “it’s the invention of the ages. I never in my life shopped so quickly or was treated so politely. You can have no idea of the power, the authority, the ease it gives you to be standing looking down on everybody. Especially a mob of indignant women.”

“I imagined you’d be mobbed,” said Jim.

“Now for the toy department,” said I.

We went up the elevator to the toys. Such a pandemonium you never saw. Dolls were my first concern, so I mounted my stilts in the rear of the mob in front of the doll counter. Most of the crowd thought I was one of the clowns hired to wander about the toy floor, and they laughed merrily while I waded in and gave my order for a nice fat doll. It didn’t take one minute to complete the deal. Then I hopped down and rejoined Jim.

“Try it, Jim,” I begged him. “Get up on them and try them.”

“I can see all right,” replied he.

“Now for ladies’ gloves,” said I.

“Main floor.”

The congestion was terrific.

“You’ll come to grief here,” said Jim. “Better wait until early to-morrow morning and order your gloves from the ground level.”

“I know the color, the size and the price I want,” I retorted. “Just stand aside watch.”

I mounted. I moved through the crowd. Two or three ladies elbowed my legs as I passed them. But as usual the salesgirls, seeing me towering above the throng, greeted me with sudden bright and interested glances.

“So,” I thought to myself, “this is the eye the tall boys get, is it?”

Speaking in a deep voice that fitted my height, I ordered the kind of gloves I wanted, the girl held them up for me to see, and I was in the act of leaning slightly forward to look at the quality of the leather when one of those boys they hire only for the Christmas rush, shoving one of those large boxes on wheels which you never see except during the worst of the Christmas rush, came from behind and pushed the box between my stilts.

Naturally it was impossible to foresee such a contingency. Not knowing what was spreading the stilts, I dropped off backward and fell into the parcel wagon the boy was shoving. There were a number of parcels in the little wagon, but not enough to prevent me falling deep into it. The boy, being a new boy and anxious to hold his job, kept right on pushing through the crowd, while Jimmie, appearing beside the wagon, said to the boy:

“Go right ahead, boy, deliver him.”

And over by the south elevators, where the crowd was not so thick, Jim helped me out.

“Get my stilts,” I insisted. “I’m not through.”

“You’re through,” said Jim, handing the boy a quarter.

“Did you, by any chance,” I asked icily “pay that boy to upset me?”

“I would spend far more than a quarter for an old friend,” said Jim.

“You’re jealous,” I cried, “You’re just jealous, because I was higher than you. Now I see through it all: you tall people are just childishly jealous of anybody taller than you.”

“You looked like a sap,” said Jim.

“Because you have always been used to looking down on me from a height,” I said. “Jim, I think this is mighty small of you.”

“Let us stay the way the Lord made us,” said Jim. “The expression on your face, up there on those stilts, was ridiculous. You thought you were a duke or something.”

“Jim, I felt good,” I admitted.

“It takes years,” ended Jim, “to grow the way we are. A sudden change ruins us. If you keep your feet on the ground I’ll help you with your Christmas shopping. I’ll come along and lift you up so you can see what’s on the counters.”

“Very good,” said I. But the pavement seemed stiflingly close.

Editor’s Notes: Buying something c.o.d., meant “Cash on Delivery”. The store would sent the item to your home, and you would pay full price on receipt.

A Tough Break!

September 1, 1934


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

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

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

“I got a good tan in July,” I said.

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

“I don’t tan,” I said. “I burn.”

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

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

“Look at those kids now,” said Jim.

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

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

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

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

“It’s a pretty hot day.”

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

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

Jimmie looked at me with contempt.

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

“We will have bathing suits?” I inquired.

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

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

Spectacle of Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jimmie,” I said.

“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie.

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

Jimmie waked me.

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

I turned over. It felt cool and dry.

“What time is it?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmie woke me.

“Wah-ho,” l yawned. “Ouch!”

“It must be six o’clock,” said Jim.

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

I started to roll over.

“Jimmie,” I said.

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

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

“Jimmie, my elbows won’t bend!”

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

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

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

“You look boiled,” I gasped.

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

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

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

A little boy was passing and came over.

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

“We’ll Pay For the Ambulance”

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

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

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

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

“Level with us up there,” groaned Jimmie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He laid me on the back seat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re right,” I said.

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

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

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


By Greg Clark, June 16, 1934

“What part,” asked Jimmie Frise, “are you taking in the coming elections?”

“I’m afraid,” I admitted, “I am not much at politics. Politics seem to have died out in this generation. I’ve heard how my grandfather, Willie Greig, used to sit on his horse at the crossroads near his farm at Pickering far into the winter night, shouting politics with his neighbor, also on a horse.”

“Why on a horse?” asked Jim.

“So they couldn’t fight,” I explained. “It was agreed between them never to talk politics when on foot.”

“What party was your grandfather?” asked Jim.

“I couldn’t say,” I said.

“There you are!” cried Jimmie. “You know all about the intensity of your grandfather’s political feeling. But you don’t know whether he was a Grit of a Tory.

“I think a man like you,” Jim went on, “would go well in politics. You have a soft, kind look. People would trust you.”

“I’ve often thought of entering public life,” I said, “that is, if I ever got ahead a little at the bank and had the time to spare.”

“I bet you could make a great political speech,” went on Jim.

“Ahem,” I said. “I talk easily.”

“What this country needs,” pursued Jim, “are politicians who will look out for the common man. Men without big ideas of themselves. Men who will serve with courage and devotion the interests of the mass of the people. You are such a man.”

“Nonsense, Jimmie,” I cried. “You are the man! You have described yourself to a tee. Modest, honest and always interested in the common man. You should go into politics.”

“But I can’t talk,” explained Jimmie. “I may have sound ideas, but I can’t express them. Whereas, however unsound your ideas, your expression of them is excellent.”

“We might,” I surmised, “enter public life together: you to provide the character and ideas and I to express them. We could get seats beside each other in parliament and you could mumble at me while I stood up and made fiery orations. My prompter.”

“I wonder,” asked Jim, “if it is too late to get in on this election? It seems to me you can’t run unless you are entered.”

“We could start by attending some meetings,” I suggested, and if we make a hit with the people they will insist on us running.”

Country Meetings are Best

“I wonder where there are any meetings?” mused Jim.

“Why, there are meetings all over, in schools and dance halls, everywhere,” I said.

“I have a hunch,” said Jim, “that we ought not to start at city meetings at all. Let’s go out to country meetings. We would show up better there. After all, we are more country than city, aren’t we?”

“That’s a wonderful suggestion,” I assured him. “Our sympathies are with the country people. Country folk can detect real worth in people far more quickly than city people. City people are dumb. They are so used to being bamboozled, hornswoggled and high-pressured they can’t tell the genuine article when they do see it.”

“Then we can drive out to the country after supper and attend a meeting in one of the little towns near Toronto,” decided Jim. “Country meetings are quieter and not so well organized as city meetings. You will be able to find a spot to get to your feet easier in a nice, slow-going country meeting than at one of these cut-and-dried city meetings. Have you some good, high-sounding words to pull? Do you need to rehearse your speech? What will you talk on?”

“I always trust to the inspiration of the moment,” I stated.

“Oh, by the way,” asked Jim, “which party are we supporting?”

“We can decide that when we attend the meeting,” I explained. “There is no use us deciding which side we are on until we can tell, from the tone of the meeting, which side the meeting is on. Then we horn in on the right side. It’s to get elected we are doing this, isn’t it?”

“Quite right,” agreed Jim. “Well, you had better read the papers to-day and get a line on the main arguments on both sides.”

“I’ll prepare two sets of notes,” I suggested. “One for either side.”

“Good,” said Jim. “Work in a lot of phrases like ‘This is a time of great change, of transmutation of all our former values into modern terms,’ or ‘Fellow citizens, at such a time as this, dare we, dare we tamper with those institutions which the generations of our fathers have, by their life and their death, proven to be sound?’ You know the stuff.”

“I get it,” I said, anxious to be off to read the newspapers and get organized.

“Get some facts and figures, too,” said Jim. “Some large millions, and look up a lot of words that mean embezzlement and fraud, without actually saying it.”

“How’s this: derelict in their sacred duty?” I tried.

“That’s it!” cried Jimmie. “Derelict. Swell.”

I spent part of the day reading the papers, and it was easy, by putting some of them on the table and the others on the bureau, to separate the political situation very simply and work up a collection of notes on both sides. I got some beautiful words. Machine. Chaotic. Quack medicines. Invasion of public rights. And so forth.

The Spirit of Battle

Jimmie called for me right after supper. “James,” I said, because if we went on the one side, we might have to favor titles, and Sir “Jimmie” is obviously out of the question, “James, which direction should we go?”

“Any direction,” said Jim, “until we come to a public meeting in the country. And the country is full of them.”

It looked like a thunderstorm as we left the city in a northwesterly direction. And we were scarcely in the country before one of those real old thunderstorms was in progress, in which every bolt of lightning seems to be directed, if not directly at you, at least to the lone elm tree which you are just passing.

“I hope we don’t have too far to go,” I said.

“Just nicely in the country,” said Jim.

We passed through a couple of little villages, semi-suburban, where a few people loitered in the shelter of gas stations and gloom prevailed all otherwise.

We passed farmhouses in connection with which it was impossible to imagine politics.

“What do you suppose the political complexion of this neighborhood would be?” I asked.

“You never can tell in the country,” explained Jimmie. “In the city, it does not matter to you what politics your neighbors entertain, or the people across the road. But out in the country, there are so many factors to decide your politics. For example, in the country, a man usually follows his father’s politics. But if you don’t like your neighbor, you hold the opposite political views from him. It is one of the ways of expressing your dislike for your neighbors.”

“Perhaps it is not going to be easy,” I suggested, “if we do succeed in finding a meeting to discover which is the stronger side for us to be on.”

“I’ll advise you,” said Jim.

Ahead we saw a village. And as we neared the village, Jim seemed to sense there was a political meeting here.

Just this side of the village was a big building all lighted up. And cars were parked densely around.

“Here we are!” cried Jim.

It was a handsome sort of building one of these modern-looking community halls the country is starting to erect, and by the well-to-do look of the motor cars packed around it, this was a meeting of successful farmers, country gentlemen of the first rank.

“Boy,” I breathed, “this would be the place to get our start in the world of politics! Look! Sport roadsters and everything!”

“Perhaps,” said Jim, as we got out of the car in the rain, “there might be some of these big retired business men farmers at this meeting.”

We hurried to the door, and as we entered, we sensed the tension, the spirit of battle, which filled the meeting. There were no loiterers in the lobby, and no young men smoking cigarettes in the corridor. Everybody was in the packed hall, and even the door was jammed with the backs of men straining forward to listen, while a voice boomed angrily amidst little gusts of clapping and occasional cheers.

Jim could see over the heads of the men jammed in the door, and he relayed the news to me.

“It’s crowded,” whispered Jim. “Jammed to the walls. I don’t recognize the chairman. But there is certainly something doing here. Listen.”

Loud cheers and boos and stamping of feet ended the remarks of the booming voice.

I could hear the chairman making some remarks, and then a new voice began. A strong, nasal, penetrating voice.

“Those of us who have been charged with the government of this …”

“BOOOOO! Minaaoooww! Boo, boo!” came roars from the meeting, amidst hisses and feet stampings.

Jim caught my arm and led me to the outer door.

“You can see the meeting is against the government,” exclaimed Jim excitedly. “There can be no doubt about those boos and hisses. Let’s get in somehow, perhaps we can get in by a door or a window. And at the first opportunity, you jump up and start lambasting the government or something. At the top of your lungs. And don’t forget to stick your clenched fist forward at arms length. A fighting posture. You know!”

“All right, all right,” I agreed breathlessly. “Why can’t we just push in past those fellows at the door?”

“The aisle is crowded, too,” said Jim. “We’ll have to get in somewhere that you can be seen. Let’s scout.”

We went outside in the rain and walked around the building. There were two side doors, both locked. There was a back door, also locked, with a man inside who gestured us through the window to go away.

But up about ten feet was a small window, with the downpipe from the eavetrough running beside it. The water gurgled in the downpipe and from the open window above us streamed light and tumult and cigar smoke.

“Could we get in through there?” I asked.

“I imagine,” said Jim. “that window is right at the back of the platform. We wouldn’t want to land with a thump on the platform, would we?”

So we went all around again without finding any other windows or doors, and we went inside the hall again and tried to wiggle through the jam at the door; but it was no use. And the meeting was getting hotter all the time.

“Jimmie,” I said, “we’ll simply have to climb through that window, platform or no platform? It will be dramatic entry! It will certainly focus attention on us. And anyway, there are a lot of people on the platform, and they may screen our actual arrival.”

So Jim hunted about and got an old table, a large lawn roller and an empty tar barrel, and with these we built a sort of ladder to reach the window. I got up first, and Jim came close behind, so as to help boost me through the window.

I peeped in. I saw, through a fog of smoke, a packed sea of faces, like pebbles on the shore. All eager. All excited and hot. In the near foreground, almost where I could touch them, were two rows of heads, mostly bald, with their backs to me. These were the gentlemen on the platform.

“How’s she look?” hissed Jim.

“It’s about a six-foot drop inside. If I can get through the window quickly, they will hardly notice me at all. I’ll just drop in and sit on a chair until you get in. Then you come and sit calmly beside me, as if this was the way we always come to meetings. There are several empty chairs at the back of the platform, right under me here. Can you manage to get through all right?”

“I’ll be right after you,” said Jim.

It was raining more heavily.

“What I think,” shouted the speaker with the nasal voice, amidst an uproar of feet and yells and boos, “of a lot of people like you, no gratitude, not a spark of gratitude for all the years we have faithfully served you …”

“Psst!” said Jim, just as I raised one leg to enter. “If I were you. I would rush to the front of the platform and start your speech the instant you touch the floor.”

I pulled myself together. I quickly slipped one leg over the window sill and swung the other one after, bounced to the floor, leaped across the platform, and thrusting through the row of men sitting on chairs, stuck my clenched fist out at the audience, who stared with open mouths and glaring eyes.

“Down,” I roared, “with the government or something! How about the returned soldiers! Who kept the…”

“BOOOOOOOOO!” bellowed the crowd, rising to their feet.

It was all over in a minute. The chairman and several bald-headed men took me, while others surged on to the platform from the audience, and amidst an immense confusion I was carried across the platform to the window, hoisted up and dropped out.

Jimmie caught me.

The chairman stuck his head out of the window.

“Scat,” he said. “Beat it, you Bolshevik.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jimmie.

We went around the building, where hall a dozen younger men were waiting for us having come out the front door. They looked at us curiously in the light from the porch.

“Which party is this meeting for?” asked Jim.

“Party?” asked the young men.

“Yes, which side are they on? Did the government call the meeting, or the opposition?” asked Jim.

“You’ve got the wrong place,” said the young men. This is the Twitchgrass Golf and Country Club, and they are holding their annual meeting.”

“Oh, pardon,” said Jim, “we thought it was a political meeting.”

“No, there’s a political meeting of some kind down in the county hall at the far end of the village,” said they.

Jim and I got in the car.

“How about it?” asked Jim. “Will we go on down?”

“It’s such a nasty night for politics,” I said.

So we drove back home.

Editor’s Notes: “Grits” was slang for the Liberal Party, and “Tories” is slang for the Conservative Party.

When they speak of the upcoming election, they probably mean the Ontario Election of 1934, which was to be held in 3 days on June 19th. This election was won by Mitchell Hepburn, the first Liberal victory in very Conservative Ontario since 1902. His victory was mainly an anti-incumbent sentiment that generally occurred in the early years of the Great Depression.

Greg mentions the “returned soldiers” as an issue. Great War veterans were not always reintegrated into society on their return and the problem was highlighted during the Depression with unemployed veterans. It was seen as shameful that these men volunteered for their country and then those who needed help on return were treated poorly. It was this experience that ensured that veterans benefits and support were promised when World War Two began.

This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978).


By Greg Clark, April 28, 1934

“What’s up?” asked Jimmie Frise. “You look a little down to-day?”

“Oh, it’s the house cleaning,” I replied. “They’ve started at my house.”

“Dear me,” said Jim. “I had forgotten about house cleaning. I suppose they will be at it at my house any day. Isn’t it funny how you forget it from year to year? Yet every year it bobs up again, in the spring, to rob this most lovely season of all its joy.”

“I honestly believe,” I said, “that women don’t realize how terrible house cleaning is for a man. The coming home from a hard day’s work to a house as comfortless as a barn. With everything topsy turvy. The floors bare. The pictures gone off the walls. Furniture stacked in halls. Rugs rolled up along the wainscot. Ladders and pails and mops leaning up. Supper in the kitchen. Everything smelling soapy and queer.”

“I suppose house cleaning,” said Jim, “is one of those things we have to allow women, the way women allow us to go hunting. It’s a sort of deep instinct with them, dating back a million years.”

“I don’t see the use of it,” I confessed. “They have all day, every day of the year, to do their little chore of sweeping and dusting and washing. I see them at it all the time. What do they want to hit a man’s home like a cyclone for?”

“And can you ever find anything you really want, after house cleaning?” demanded Jim.

“Listen,” I said, “it takes me until June every year to get my books rearranged properly on their shelves. Women have no instinct for arranging books.”

“And I lose valuable things,” said Jim. “Last year, the horns off the deer I got last season had simply vanished. I admit they smelt a little. But nobody had even seen them go. Now you can’t lose the antlers off a big buck just by accident.”

“Take collar studs,” I said. “What man ever could find the little dish with his collar studs on after house cleaning?”

“A man ought to be allowed to go downtown and live at a hotel for a week during house cleaning,” said Jim.

“If he did, he might just as well surrender all his rights to his home,” I retorted. “When house cleaning is on at my house, I make it my business to pop in at lunch and come home early for dinner. Otherwise, they might throw out all my clothes and perhaps even my bed!”

This conversation with Jimmie gave me courage, and that night a certain discussion at my home resulted in my walking over to Jimmie’s after supper and asking for a private interview.

A Man Takes a Dare

“Jimmie,” I said, when he closed his studio door. “Now I’m in for it!”


“Well, you recollect how we were talking about house cleaning this morning?”


“Well, I repeated some of it at home tonight, and I got in hot water.”


“Yes, so my family have announced they are going to drive out to visit Aunt Agnes to-morrow – that’s at Georgetown – and I am to do the living room!”

“Do the what?” cried Jim.

“Sshh,” I said. “The living room!”

“Good heavens!” gasped Jimmie.

“House clean it,” I said. “I said I would I took the dare. I said I could do the whole house in one day. So they said they had heard enough of this for the past twenty years. And they would just go for a drive out to visit Aunt Agnes for the day. And I could do the living room.”

“I’m sorry, old boy,” said Jim.

“You’re more than sorry,” I assured him. “You’ve got to help me. It was you that egged me on.”

“I did nothing–!”

“Oh, yes you did!” I cried. “You egged me on. You sympathized. You agreed with me. Now the least you can do is help me out.”

Right after breakfast the following morning my family piled in the car and drove off. And a little after 9 a.m. Jimmie arrived. I had two aprons and mob caps laid out. Since my family would not even go so far as to explain how much or how little I had to do, and as I had not told them I was getting any help, I had to try to recall what the tools of house cleaning are. I knew that mob caps should be worn over the head. And pails, mops, brooms and numerous rags called dusters were essential. Also, soap, floor polish and, it seemed to me, I dimly recalled tea leaves. Yes, far back in my childhood, I recall tea leaves being strewn over the carpet before sweeping.

Jimmie got into an apron in lively fashion.

“Now,” said he, “who’s to be boss? Shall you direct me or shall I direct you?”

“We will work in harmony,” I said.

First we removed most of the living room furniture into the halls. The chesterfields, chairs, lamps, radio, tables. Then we rolled up the rug and Jim carried it into the yard.

“Where’s your carpet beater?” he said.

“I haven’t seen or even heard of a carpet beater since before the war!” I said, astonished.

I took down all the pictures and ornaments and dusted them. Then Jim and I got a pail of hot water and scrubbed the floor.

“Personally,” said Jim, “I don’t believe you scrub waxed floors.”

“Then where does the smell of soap come from in house cleaning time?” I asked.

“Look how funny it looks,” pointed out Jim.

The living room floor did indeed look pale and blotchy where we had scrubbed.

“I’ll do the windows while you do the floor and rails,” said Jim.

So Jim toiled back and forward from the scrubbing pail to the windows, and made a lot of splashes on the floor and all over the window sills. But he certainly made the windows gleam. Meanwhile, I scrubbed the floor, the floor rails and the plate rail along the ceiling. I am sorry to admit that I was half done with the plate rail before I saw that the scrubbing brush made a lot of awkward stains on the wallpaper. The more you rub them with a cloth, the worse they get.

“Take a look at this,” I said to Jim, pointing out the nasty daubs along the wallpaper.

“Oh, they’ll dry,” said Jim. “But look here. We are doing this wrong. We should first have cleaned the furniture before we did the floors. The dust and dirt from the furniture will only mess up the floor after we are done!”

So we started in on the furniture. We washed the tables and the wooden parts of the chairs. We bent and thumped the chesterfield and upholstery. We shook out the curtains. The tables and woodwork of the chairs turned a funny color from the washing, but Jim said a lick of floor wax would soon put back the pretty shiny finish.

Meanwhile the stains along the wallpaper got worse the more they dried.

And the windows got cloudy.

And the walnut table started to turn gray.

“Jim,” I said, “it is nearly noon and I don’t like the look of all this!”

So we sat down and looked at it for while. Our backs ached, the backs of our necks ached and our arms ached.

“Well, it smells right,” said Jim. “Even if it looks funny.”

The room did look funny.

“Especially the floor,” said Jim.

At that moment the door bell rang.

“You answer, Jim,” I said, “and tell whoever it is the lady of the house is not home.”

I could hear a quick-talking lady chatting to Jimmie. He came back in excitedly.

“Saved!” he whispered. “It’s a lady demonstrating a wonderful new kind of a vacuum cleaner. It both blows and sucks. It inhales dirt, blows down behind radiators, has long arms for reaching up high, and polishes waxed floors, and scrubs, and –“

“Bring her in,” I hissed.

A Magic-Maker Arrives

A very nice lady, a kind of a young forty, came in, carrying a large suitcase. She stared in astonishment at the room, at Jimmie and at me.

“Mercy,” she said.

“Madam,” I said producing the telephone chair.

She sat down.

“Now, madam,” I said, “what have you?”

So she launched into a speech, full of ups and downs of voice with gestures. And at the right place she got up from her chair, opened her suitcase and laid forth the most wonderful nickel-plated collection of tubes, bags, brushes, mops and so forth.

Without interruption, she joined up the machinery and started to work. She dipped the mop in the pail and in a minute, she had made that contraption spin around on the floor until she had a space about a yard square as white as the day the floor was laid. Then she turned on a kind of blower and dried it. Then she spread wax on it and polished it with a revolving brush. A beautiful, glowy, rich tan spot appeared under her magic touch.

“Marvellous,” breathed Jimmie and I.

Then she went around with a long-handled tube and felt high up along the plate rail and into corners and behind the radiators. In about two minutes, she spread out on a piece of white cloth a pound of dust.

“Mercy,” said I. “Don’t tell the neighbors!”

“That really isn’t from your house,” explained the lady. “That is some I carry around in the bag. It is more for surprising the ladies. I wouldn’t fool a man.”

“How about that wet spot around the plate rail?” I asked. “Could it help that any?”

“Certainly,” said the lady, and she blew the hot air on to the wet spots, brushed them with a long-handled revolving brush, and in a minute you could see no stains at all.

“Windows?” I asked.

She took another gadget, fastened it on to the hose, and one by one she made the window panes glitter with a vibrating polisher.

“Chesterfield?” I asked.

She went over the chesterfield and found, besides what dust there might be, five marbles, four bobbie pins, a toothbrush, two dolls, five cigarettes and a pair of scissors.

“Thank goodness,” I cried. “I have blamed everybody over those scissors. They are my favorites on Sunday morning.”

“Now,” said the lady, “let me show you how easy it would be for you to use this machine. This afternoon, you could do the whole floor like that bit I did. You could make this room nicer than if you were married.”

“I am married,” I said.

“Ah,” she said, “I thought I was speaking to a bachelor.”

She handed me the long hose and longest nickel tube.

“Now,” she said, “this is the basis of it all. With this button, you switch the tube to suck if you want a vacuum cleaner, of to blow if you want to operate any of the polishing or scrubbing devices.”

I took the machine. I turned the switch. It blew. And it so tragically or, should I say, happily happened, that the end of the tube was right over the pile of sooty dust which the lady had brought in her bag to astonish my ladyfolks.

And as I turned on the switch, Jimmie, the lady and I all disappeared in a black and suffocating cloud.

“Hiyah!” I shouted, switching the tube to one side. I felt it touch something metallic, and then I knew it was the pail full of soapsuds, because there was a bubbling, burbling sound, and the air was filled with spray.

“Turn it off!” screeched the lady demonstrator from somewhere in the fog. I turned the switch, but I felt it sucking, and it was sucking out of that infernal pail. I returned the switch and it blew again, and blew what it had gathered, like a bathing elephant, all over us three, the room, the windows, the walls.

When the lady finally got it under control, we were all shaking from head to foot. The room was beyond recognition.

“Well?” I said.

The lady started to cry.

“I have a husband to support,” she wept.

“This is pretty terrible,” I said, surveying the disaster.

“I will get some friends to come and help me,” she wept.

“Not at all,” I said. “My friend and I will gladly help you.”

Jim said it was touching to see how magnanimously I placed the blame on the poor little lady.

“Legally,” said the lady, as we sat at lunch in the kitchen, because we decided first to have lunch before starting in, “I am to blame for anything that happens during a demonstration of my machine.”

“Morally,” I countered, “it was all my fault.”

I then revealed the secret of Jimmie and me being shamefully engaged in house cleaning. I said it was as the result of squawking too much and I was being taught a lesson.

“Then I hope,” said the lady, “that if I come back some time when your family is home, you will throw the weight of your influence in favor of this machine.”

I assured her I would

Never Again Such Triumph

After lunch we got busy. Jimmie and A simply did the rough lifting. This lady dried, brushed, polished, vacuumed, blew, until all traces of water and dust had vanished, and by a clever rearrangement of the pictures, the three or four places where soapsuds and demonstrating dust had made too bad a spot, nothing of the tragedy remained.

“I’ll get them off with art gum the night I come to demonstrate for your wife,” said she.

She got away about ten to five.

I persuaded Jim to go home so as to leave me in my glory.

And the family arrived about five-thirty.

Never shall I have such a triumph. I was seated in the chesterfield chair. About me shone glory, in glass, in floor, in wood and fabric.

The family all came in the smiles vanishing from their faces as they climbed on chairs and ran fingers along the plate rail, as they felt the electric light fixtures, slanted pictures to see the glass, looked under the chesterfield and examined in mute amazement the glorious glow on the radio.

“Well,” I said, “it’s the best I could do, but I suppose you’ll have to do it over again.”

“My dear boy,” said the head of the family, with all her supporters gathered around her, “we expected to find you in tears.”

“Ha, ha,” said I.

“You can stay home the rest of the week and help us,” said she.

“No, no,” I cried. “I have simply shown you that even a mere man can do these things smoothly and painlessly, without a lot of fuss. And with no experience.”

The head of the house walked over and looked at the scissors.

“Ha!” she said.

“Yes,” I assured her, “I have already made up my mind to write to your mother and apologize for accusing her of having run off with my Sunday morning scissors.”

Behind the Chinese vase with the lamp on it she picked something up.

“Ah,” she said.

It was a handkerchief. A small handkerchief with the initial M on it. There are no M’s in our family.

It smelt faintly of floor wax.

“M’mmm?” said the head of the house.

So I had to tell the whole story.

And I have agreed not to be silly about house cleaning from now on.

Editor’s Notes: Collar studs can be used now for holding down the collar wings, but can still be used for attaching or fastening a detachable collar. These types of collars were used as one could have multiple collars, but fewer shirts. The same reasoning applied to detachable cuffs. It was during the 1920s and 1930s that separate collars lost their appeal, as it was felt that it made you look “stiff”.

Mobcaps were still worn at this time for maids and those who cleaned.

Spreading wet tea leaves on the carpet was an old fashioned method of gathering dust. It was the dampness of the leaves that was important, as wet paper could also do it.


By Greg Clark, March 3, 1934

“Can you dance?” asked Jimmie Frise.

“In a kind of a way,” I admitted. “I do a sort of jig in the summer, when I walk out the French windows into the garden. And in the morning, while I am lathering. I sometimes amuse my daughter …”

“No, no,” cried Jimmie. “I mean dance. Dance! One step. Waltz. Ballroom style!”

“Aw, you don’t call that dancing!” I laughed heartily. “That stuff! Clutching a girl and waddling around with stiff legs! Haw!”

“Well,” inquired Jim, nicely, “what is dancing then?”

“It isn’t that silly walking around!” I stated loudly. “Dancing is one of the oldest forms of human expression. Before men could talk, they could dance. Before mankind had any voice, except a howl of pain and a loud yawp of joy, the only way they could express their feelings was by dancing. Good heavens, didn’t you know that?”

“I not only didn’t know it,” said Jimmie. “It didn’t even occur to me.”

“Certainly,” I went on. “For the first few million years, while we were just developing our voices so that we could growl, groan, gurgle and whine, ages before we even thought of the idea of using words, much less had agreed on what words would mean which, we men were talking with our bodies. We danced everything. We danced about going hunting, about war, about love, fear, hunger, joy.”

“I believe you’re right,” said Jim. “Still, fox trotting, and this modern dancing is something.”

“Wait Till You See It”

“It’s just pathetic,” I said. “It is pathetic as a worn-out radio from which come faint, far sounds. Modern ballroom dancing merely proves that the human instincts of those who participate in that kind of dancing are just about dead.”

“Aw, say!”

“It’s a fact!” I repeated. “Modern people are just pale shadows of their noble and primitive ancestors. They feel faint cravings for something, they know not what. The cravings are not very strong. They are muddled and indistinct. But these, the millionth great-grandchildren of men and women who once danced around the fallen mammoth or icthyosaurus, take timid hold of one another and go teetering around the ballroom to tinkling music. They have nothing to celebrate. Nothing to express.”

“A lot you know about it,” declared Jim. “How long is it since you were at a dance?”

“Well,” I said, hesitantly, “you see I belong to that generation that missed dancing. I was at the war when I should have been learning the social graces.”

“Some night soon,” went on Jimmie, “I’ll take you to one of these five-cents-a-dance palaces and show you something.”

“I’d like to very much,” I agreed.

“And if you think these modem young people need any pointers from their blue-painted ancestors,” said Jim, “I’ll eat your shirt.”

And the following night, under the pretext of attending a meeting of the Anglers’ Association, Jimmie and I got out for the evening, and Jim drove me down to a five-cents-a-dance hall.

It was softly glowing with light and surrounded by hundreds of cars. As we entered its colorful and shaded interior, a muted band was playing low, seductive music, and several hundred young people, some in party clothes, some in business clothes, like Jim and me, were swish-swishing about the large dance floor in a dense, swaying, rhythmic mass.

“H’m,” said I.

We leaned against the wall and watched. The girls were mostly pretty and many of them flushed. Eyes were bright and veiled.

A young chap whose father once saved my life with his water bottle in France came gaily up to us.

“Hullo!” he cried. “Is it a dance you’re after or just a story?”

“A story,” I explained, introducing Jimmie. “Mr. Frise here says there is plenty of what you may call it, plenty of I can’t say, plenty of n’yah, if you gather me, in this modern ballroom dancing.”

“So there is,” said the boy. “Any amount of n’yah, and I do get you.”

“I, on the other hand,” said I “think you have to go back to the square dances, the barn dances, the old-fashioned high-jinks of our forefathers to get any n’yah!”

The young chap looked at me in amazement.

“Pious old hoofing like that!” he cried. “Listen. Don’t go away. The next number is a one-step. But after that comes the carioca.”

“Carry who?”

“Carioca,” said the boy. “Latest thing from Rio. You may have seen it in the movies. Wait till you see that. Square dance! Huh!”

“Are you with a party?” I inquired

“Oh, sure, this is all a party,” said the boy. “I mean, we know everybody. Do you want a partner?”

“Mr. Frise might like to twirl around a bit,” I suggested.

The boy vanished in the slowly padding mob. The music went boompa, doompa. Swish. Swish went the hundreds of feet.

“I don’t want to dance,” protested Jimmie. “I really can’t dance.”

But the lad returned almost Immediately with two young ladies. The most visible one of the two was a large, blazing Brazilian type of girl, tall, Mae Westish in a kind of Latinized form, and sort of snorty, if you understand me. A new, modern, snorty sort of girl you see more and more of as you pass through your forties. But Jimmie, to my astonishment, passed this large, dark girl in favor of a small, demure little damsel.

“I don’t want anybody leading me,” whispered Jim, “when I’m trying to dance.”

The large Brazilian girl, whose name was Maud, leaned up against the wall beside me and I felt the wall tremble.

The boy made a few wisecracks and then left us.

Just Leaving It to Maud

“Let’s dance this next one,” said Maud.

The band had ceased and everybody was filing off the floor.

“I can do the Paul Jones,” I said, “but not these here slither-foot dances. I stamp when I dance. I jump up and down.”

“Let’s dance this next one,” repeated Maud. She had a far-away expression. I don’t believe she had heard word I said, even about Nelson.

“I never danced before,” I said.

“I’ll lead,” said Maud. “You won’t need to do anything.”

“I prefer not to,” I said, clearly.

“All right,” said Maud, eagerly. “We’ll get ready now, you go in front with the tickets!”

She was pushing from behind. I didn’t like to make a scene, and anyway, I don’t like being jostled. I walked ahead. Got two tickets. Ten cents.

The band, which I saw from across the vacant floor, dressed in Brazilian costumes, burst into another slow, boompa, boompa tune. I think it was “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” Amidst a flood of dancing couples, Maud and I were swept on to the floor. I felt Maud take hold of me. She rested one strong, cupped hand on my shoulder blade, lifted my off arm into the air, and in a moment I was being wafted skillfully, slowly, delicately through space.

“M’mmm!” I said.

“Like it?” asked Maud, who was some distance above me.

“M’mmm,” I repeated.

Softly, deftly, smoothly, with a queer tingly feeling creeping up from the soles of my feet, Maud wafted me about the crowded room.

“M’mmm–MMMMM!” said I.

“Don’t talk,” said Maud.

And we finished out the dance, feeling entirely alone in that room of several hundred people. When the music stopped, it was like the lights coming on at the theatre.

We went out and stood against the wall with Jimmie and several young people who had joined us.

“The next bit,” said Jim, “is the carioca. How about it?”

“I’ve got him for the carioca,” stated Maud, loudly.

Several of the young people with us laughed.

“It’s Maud’s specialty,” said one young chap, more Maud’s size, and a little jealous, if I am any judge, although, as I say, I am getting a little dull with age, now. “Maud is one of those genuine South Americans whose ancestors hail from Lancashire. She’s got Rio, if you understand me?”

The band suddenly started. Everybody raced for the floor. Maud pulled me after her. The band was no longer playing boompa music. It was barking, thudding, and somebody was tapping a lot of over the racket a saxophone squealed some sort of tune. The hall seemed suddenly to be filled with waves.

Ancestors Were Never Like This

Maud took my two hands and began heel and toeing, just like a barn dance, facing me. An unholy light glowed down from her face. I heeled and toed too.

Bang went the band, and Maud grabbed me and whirled me madly round and round.

“Hey!” I cried.

“Don’t talk,” commanded Maud between her teeth.

Again the tick-tock blocks, and Maud began dancing around me as if I were a fly and she a large spider, like a tarantula.

Having nothing better to do, I danced around her, feeling like a fly.

Bang went the band again and Maud seized me. She did an awful thing. She cracked her forehead down against mine, grabbed me by the back of the neck and held her head against mine while she twirled me round and round.

“Just a minute,” I said.

Maud cut off my wind.

She held me tight by the neck and while twisting me in a complete circle, turned herself in a complete circle, with her head rolling once right around mine.

“Just a…”

But she cut my wind off again, and while the band raved and rocked, she whirled me round and round, miraculously saving me from being dashed to pieces against other dancers. As far as I could see, the whole room was full of people whirling, and cracking their heads together. I caught one glimpse of Jim, and he was, I fear, doing the can can. I tried to shout to him to remember he belonged to a bygone age. But Maud shut off my wind.

She just stood in front of me and glared at me, hypnotically, while she made quite small little motions with her feet, a sort of miniature dance I stood perfectly still. Hypnotized.

Bang, BẢNG! went the band.

It was over.

“Ah,” said Maud. “Isn’t that swell?”

“M’mmmm,” I said, but it hadn’t her meaning. My collar band was ripped. My neck was swollen. I had palpitations. My eyes felt bunged.

We got to the wall.

“Well,” said Jim, flushed and mussed, “how about your bone-gnashing ancestors now?”

I winked at him. I signalled toward the door.

We walked out. We got our coats. We ran dodging behind cars until we found Jim’s.

“Ha, ha,” said Jim. “Seared she’s after you!”

“I don’t like that carioca,” I said, as we got into the car. There’s a dance our ancestors never did. It isn’t natural. It’s a dance for wild women to fling around tame men. Such a dance would only be invented in a nation that was in the last stages.”

“The last stages of what?” asked Jim.

“The last stages of not being like our ancestors,” I said.

“But stick to the point,” persisted Jim. “What do you think of our modern dances? Are they pathetic? Are they feeble?”

“M’mmm,” I said, which is a dandy political answer.

Editor’s Notes: This is the first Greg-Jim story that included a colour illustration. Previously, they were always black-and-white. They would occasionally be black-and-white in the future, but would mostly be in colour going forward. Because many of the scans are based off of microfilm which did not transfer colour well, more editing is required to get the feel of the artwork.

The Carioca song was written in 1933 (a year before this story), and was popularized in the 1933 film Flying Down to Rio, which was the first first film that included Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It would become a jazz standard that would later be recorded by Artie Shaw, and the Andrews Sisters.

Mae West was a popular actress of the 1930s, known for her sensual style that would get her in trouble with censors.

Paul Jones dances were popular in the early 20th century, which was very similar to square dancing. The fact the Greg mentioned this would indicate that he was old-fashioned.

“Five-cents-a-dance palaces” sound a lot like taxi dance halls, but this does not seem to be the type of establishment Greg and Jim went to, as it sounded like everyone had to pay to dance, even if you had a partner. Taxi dancers were women who would dance with men for 5 cents (later 10 cents) per song. The men had to buy a ticket for each dance, and the women would get a cut based on the number of tickets they turned in at the end of the evening. Taxi dance halls were most popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was a song written in 1933, but Paul Whiteman had a hit with it in 1934. It also became a jazz standard recorded by many artists, most famously by The Platters in 1958.

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