The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Weekend Party

Jim worked the cord of the motor while I bailed water out of the boat…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 4, 1936.

“You’re coming up,” said Jimmie Frise, “to my cottage this week-end.”

“Maskinonge,” I asked, “or bass?”

“Both,” said Jim. “I have a letter here from the family saying that a great big monster has been rolling every morning out in front of the cottage not fifty yards off shore. They say it will go twenty pounds.”

“They’ll have it before we get there,” I suggested.

“They are saving it for you,” said Jim, kindly. “We can have a grand time. We’ll get there about five p.m. Saturday and go straight out fishing. All we have to do is push the skiff out from the dock and start casting right off our beach. It is grand musky water. Then, we can take the outboard and scoot down about a mile and a half to gravel point where the bass are as thick as swallows around a barn.”

“Boy, this sounds grand,” I cried. “When do we have to leave there for home?”

“We don’t have to leave until after supper Sunday evening,” said Jim. “That’ll get us in town by midnight.”

“It sounds like a real week-end,” I enthused.

“I’ve been wanting to take you up for the past three summers,” said Jim, “but somehow we never could match up our week-ends. But this time you’re coming.”

“Sure I’m coming,” I declared. “That musky rolling out in front of the cottage has got me. What bait do you generally use?”

“Oh, spoons,” said Jim. “Cast in spoons, little brass ones, with black feathers on the hook. But bring your whole outfit. We’ll go after them in a big way.”

And when we set sail Saturday noon, Jim’s car was so laden with boxes of vegetables and baskets of peas and all my fishing tackle that we could not see out of the rear view mirror.

“I love this week-end business,” I told Jim as we lurched through city traffic heading for the broad highway. “This business of loading up supplies. It’s a sort of Christmassy feeling every week. We poor husbands lonely at home, watering gardens, going to movies, sighing around the house in the heat. And then comes Saturday, and we get almost the same old feeling we used to get years ago when we were going to call on our best girl. We buy gifts. Instead of roses, we buy meat and vegetables and marshmallows and canned fruit. And with high hearts and a flush on our faces, we head for the wilderness, where our dear ones, amid the cool and pleasant wilderness, have hardly thought of us all week.”

“I wonder,” said Jim, “if other parts of the world are as happy as Canada, in regard to summer resorts? The minute a Canadian gets enough money to buy a car, he has got to have a summer cottage.”

“Imagine,” I cried, “having a place to park our families in summer where there are great big muskies and tough fighting bass right off the front porch! How many muskies did you get last year, by the way?”

“Oh, you know me,” said Jim. “I talk a lot about fishing and I buy a lot of tackle, and I plan to go fishing a lot. But I don’t really fish much. By the time I get to the cottage, I want to lie in the hammock.”

Eager and Gay

“Not this week-end, my boy,” I assured him. “You’re with a real fisherman this time.”

“That’s what I need,” agreed Jim. “Somebody to egg me on.”

“Listen, we’ll pull up in front of your cottage,” I planned, “and unload the tackle out of the car straight into the skiff and push right off? Is it a bet?”

“You’re on,” agreed Jim delightedly.

So we arrived at the broad highway and began the four-hour battle. All bright and gay, the country smiled encouragingly as thousands of us debilitated city dwellers fought our way north, east and west. Good cars and old cars, cars laden with provender and cars loaded with mattresses, camp cots and tents; trucks grinding their obstructive way while long lines of us sweatily horned and tooted and glared sideways back at them while we passed; sport models full of superior and carefree youth that zipped by us more sedate citizens; tie-ups, old junk cars coughing up hills; ah, the parody of Saturday afternoon. If it were not that we were as bridegrooms, if we were not eager and gay, we would never so much as take our cars out of the garage of a Saturday afternoon.

But Jim drove and cussed and sneered; and I leaned out the window and shouted uncomplimentary remarks to drivers of less agile craft than ours; or retorted to the jeers of others whose cars were more agile than ours. And in due time we came to the end of pavement, and launched forth into a highway of gravel, where we ate dust, and skittered and bumped over washboards, and finally left even the gravel to take to a narrow little backwoods road where, if you meet a car coming against you, either you or it has to back up to a wide place to pass.

And about the time we struck this country road, the sky had darkened, rumbles of thunder warned of weather, and down into the leaves that brushed the sides of the car spattered the first big drops of summer rain.

“All the better for fishing,” I assured Jim. “You aren’t afraid of a wetting?”

“The best muskie I ever got,” replied Jim, “I got in a heavy rain that made the water leap up in a million little jets.”

And at six p.m. daylight saving time, in a world gray and sweeping with rain, we arrived at Jim’s cottage. And from indoors, as we turned in, came a bevy of gay young people, and we unloaded the chariot and the boxes were happily hustled indoors. But I could sense a certain embarrassment. I could see them catching Jim’s eye and giving him signals. And in a few minutes Jim came out heartily and said:

“They’ve got some kids staying with them, so I guess it’s the tent for us two old campaigners.”

“Grand, Jim,” I cried. “I love the sound of rain on a tent.”

“We had better put it up now, rather than when we come in from fishing,” suggested Jim.

“Right-o,” said I.

But then we were called for supper, and by the time supper was over and I looked out across the dimpling water, where the rain still slanted and peppered, it seemed to be getting a little dark.

“Jim,” I said, “let’s slam the tent up or we won’t get out to-night.”

Caulking the Old Boat

Jim went hunting and came back with a roughly-bundled tent of an oldish grayish color, and then we both hunted for the poles which never turned up.

“We can cut poles in a jiffy,” said Jim. Which we did, and they weren’t very good poles. We unrolled the tent and figured it all out, and struggled with the poles and the billowy canvas, and the rain still spattered and slanted. We had to go and cut pegs for the guy-ropes of the tent, and it got darker all the time.

“Just cut pegs for the corners,” said Jimmie. “We’ll do with a rough job tonight.”

“We’ll never get fishing,” I said. “But we can be up bright and early.”

The tent was pretty damp by the time we had it more or less erected, and the ground was soaked. But Jim got camp cots out of the cottage, and presently we got to bed.

“Early to bed, early to rise,” said Jim.

“The mosquitoes are fairly bad,” I answered.

The sun waked us. I could tell by the angle of the sun that it was not really early. In fact, it was the voices of children in the distance, apparently in swimming, that really wakened me.

“Jim,” I cried, looking at my watch, “it’s after nine, daylight saving.”

We leaped out of bed to find a lovely sunny morning, the water still as a mill pond, and nobody up yet.

“We’ll just go in and snatch a bite of breakfast,” decreed Jim. “And away.”

Quietly, so as not to wake everyone, we had a bowl of dry cereal and bread and jam. And then we gathered up our tackle and headed for the little dock in front of Jim’s.

“The boat,” said Jim, “was kind of leaky last week but I told them to leave it in the water to soak up.”

The boat, however, was on the beach, turned over. And I could see right through the cracks in the keel.

“Can we get a boat handy?” I inquired, businesslike.

“It won’t take ten minutes to caulk this up,” said Jim. “I brought a can of new caulking stuff for it.”

Which he produced from his fishing tackle box.

“Jim,” I said, “don’t fool with this skiff. Let’s rent one or borrow one, handy.”

“The nearest place to rent one is six miles up the lake,” said Jim, “and I wouldn’t dream of borrowing anybody else’s boat around here. Anyway, they are likely all out fishing.”

“Well,” said I. So I laid down all my tackle, rod cases, steel boxes, leather bags, nets, gaffs and what not, and helped Jim pry the lid off the caulking cement.

“This stuff is elastic,” explained Jim happily, cutting himself a sort of spreader from a stick. “It dries quick, the man said. But it is elastic and sticks in the cracks.”

The stuff was very liquid. We stirred it and spread it carefully in the wider cracks. Then we found smaller cracks and nail holes and carefully stuffed the cement into them.

“This is a great old boat,” said Jim. “I wouldn’t get rid of it for any boat they make nowadays. It’s a pleasure to handle this boat.”

We just went on stuffing and spreading. We found some quite large holes at the ends.

“Now,” said Jim, “let her dry, a few minutes, and away we go.”

“Let’s Prove We’re Anglers”

I sat down and batted mosquitoes away.

Jim walked out on the little dock. It was high and dry and the piles of stones that supported it were at least ten feet from water’s edge.

“The water in these lakes,” said Jim, “is dropping every year.”

“Maybe if we waited a few years,” I said, “we could come up and catch the muskies on dry land.”

Jim started moving stones from under the ricketty dock out towards the water. There is something attractive about moving a stone.

Jim moved about four stones. I got up and picked one up that I saw him deliberately avoid. I hoisted it. Waddled down to the water with it. Plunked it down.

“Boy,” said Jim, “you’ve got a back.”

“Short men are good at lifting,” I explained.

“We might as well do this,” said Jim, “while waiting for the boat to dry.”

One by one, we hoisted the stones. Jim tried several he couldn’t even get knee high, I hoisted them easily.

“I never realized,” said Jim graciously, “how strong you really were.”

“I was always a good lifter,” I assured him.

We got them all shifted. We made two good strong piles of them, and Jim said we might as well shift the planks, now that we had got the stones moved. It was only a matter of ten minutes before we had a nice little dock rebuilt, right where it should be.

We were just testing the caulking on the skiff when there came a strong call from the cottage.


“Dinner,” I said. And my watch showed noon.

We went up and squeezed in at a very crowded table, with several of the smaller children sitting at a side table, and had a great big summer dinner of cold meat and salad and about five cups of tea the way you can drink it at a summer resort. And it was two o’clock, daylight saving, when we walked out on the veranda, and Jim sagged into the hammock.

“Come, me lad,” I laughed at him. “None of that!”

“Just for five minutes,” said Jim. “Just to start digestion.”

I sat and rocked while the veranda filled with youth; and old Jim, with a grin on his face, closed his eyes and enjoyed a brief snooze.

“Up you get,” I commanded. “We’re anglers. Let’s prove it.”

“Oh, me,” groaned Jim, and rose heavily and went indoors to get the outboard motor, I helped him carry it down. The skiff was not yet dry. As a matter of fact, the cement only had a sort of crust on it, which broke when you stuck your finger on it, and the sticky stuff clung to your finger.

“Let her go,” said Jim. “The water will harden it.”

We launched the skiff, carefully.

“She leaks,” I noted.

“You bail,” decreed Jim. “It will close up in no time.”

He adjusted the outboard. I bailed. I batted mosquitoes. The lake was glassy smooth. There was a haze. I scanned the water for the boil of a monster musky rising. But only the dip of little water flies disturbed the glassy smoothness.

Jim wound up the engine cord and jerked. The water bubbled. The engine hissed and sucked. We moved, in slow bunts, forward with each jerk of the outboard cord.

“Hm, hm, hm,” said Jim, opening this and shifting that. He stuck his finger in the fuel tank and inspected the mixture. He gave little quick pulls of the cord. Long, slow hauls at it. He twiddled gimmicks and gadgets.

“Hm, hm, hm,” said I.

But bailing was necessary. There were several small clear little pencils of water spouting up out of the bottom of the boat from places we had not suspected.

“Paddle her in to the dock,” said Jim.

“What with?” I asked politely.

“Oh, I forgot the oars,” said Jim. “Paddle her in with your bailing can.”

I paddled as best I could the little distance we had drifted. Jim unscrewed the outboard and hoisted it on to the wharf.

“It won’t be a second,” said Jim. “I know the insides of these things like a book.”

I went for a little walk along the beach while Jim took the thing apart. I came back and sat down and watched him, as he unscrewed and unbolted, examined, refitted. He got covered with black grease. He seemed so concentrated, I hated to disturb him.

He tried three different bolts in the one nut he was holding, so I said:

“Jim, it occurs to me we ought to get an early start home so as to miss that dreadful traffic. A day like this, I bet it would take seven hours to get back to town.”

Jim pondered. He tried the three small bolts in two other nuts.

“Hm,” said he. “What time is it?”

“It’s three-fifteen.”

“Not much of a day for fishing,” he said, gazing at the glassy and brassy lake.

“I don’t think a fish would look at a bait on a day like this,” I agreed, rising. “What do you say if we get an early start and avoid the traffic jam?”

“I’m with you,” agreed Jim. “I’ll take this thing back to town and have it overhauled. By next week, the boat will be thoroughly tight. We’ll make a day of it next week.”

We got a box and Jim put all the loose parts of the outboard in it. We packed our stuff into the car.

“I should attend to a couple of leaks in the roof,” said Jim. “They were nearly flooded out last night. It wouldn’t take ten minutes to slip a few shingles in under the spots that leak.”

“How about doing that next week?” I asked. “Time is flying. We don’t want to get into that traffic jam.”

We made our farewells to the one or two who were not having the afternoon siesta.

“Next week,” said Jim, gazing tenderly at his cottage, the placid lake, the dock, the boat, once more upside down, its repaired bottom bright with spots of pale cement, “we’ll make a real day of it.”

“Yes,” I said, “yes, yes, yes, yes.”

Only I made each yes sound different from the others.

Editor’s Notes: For some reason, Greg says Maskinonge, which is French for Muskellunge, which is the pronunciation he normally uses.

As mentioned before, the weekend only started on Saturday afternoon back then, and it was common for men to stay in the city and work while their families would spend all summer at a cottage. The men would then go up on Saturday afternoon, and leave Sunday afternoon.

This story appeared in both So What? (1937), and Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).

Wiring Party

Every time we freed ourselves of one coil of wire we were seized by another…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 6, 1936.

“Tell me,” said Jimmie Frise, “something about the war.”

“Jimmie,” I exclaimed, “this is wonderful of you. Nobody ever asks me about the war any more.”

“Oh, I just wanted to freshen up my memory of some of the infantry angles,” said Jim. “Us artillery men missed certain features, you know.”

“Jim,” I said, “this is very kind of you. You can have no idea how congested I get sometimes just from wanting to talk about the war. But nobody will let me. I’ve worn out all my family. I used to look forward to the days when my little sons would be old enough to want to hear about the war. But now that they are getting into long pants they haven’t the slightest interest. If I even try to stick in just one little apologetic anecdote about the war they hear somebody whistling outside and jump up and leave me flat.”

“Don’t forget,” said Jim, “I’m a veteran myself.”

“Yes, but,” I pointed out, “the artillery couldn’t have had all the adventures the infantry had. Don’t forget that.”

“Oh, is that so?” said Jim.

“Just the same old thing every day for you gunners,” I explained. “Firing a modern gun is just like working a lathe or running an engine. You don’t see anything. You just twiddle some wheels, adjust some gadgets, pull a string and bang she goes off into space, aimed at an arithmetical calculation instead of a romantic target.”

“Is that so?” said Jim.

“But don’t let me offend you,” I hurried. “You wanted to hear about the war. My dear boy, I appreciate this more than I can tell you.”

“Just a certain aspect of it,” said Jim.

“It has got so,” I assured him, “that not only does my family walk out on me whenever I introduce even the least teeny weeny bit of war, even just in passing, but now my old gardener has folded up on me. He used to love to have me walking beside him when he was running the lawn mower, for example, and tell him about the war. Many’s the hour we have sat in the garden when he was edging or weeding, and remembered old times together. But now whenever I see him he is so busy he just has to rush.”

“Maybe you have told him all your stories for the second time,” suggested Jim.

“Second time?” I protested. “My dear boy, a war story doesn’t really get rich and fruity until the third or fourth time.”

“What I wanted to know,” said Jim, “was about these wiring parties. What was a wiring party?”

“Ah, now you are asking somebody,” I cried, settling back. “Jim, you are talking now to one of the most expert wirers in the world. I have strung literally miles of wire. I have laid acres and acres of barbed wire.”

“You mean your men did,” said Jim.

“Naturally,” I admitted. “An officer does not go around, as a rule, with canvas mitts on hauling barbed wire. When I speak of having strung miles of barbed wire I speak as an engineer speaks when he says he has built miles of road, see? But as a matter of fact, Jim, I have actually laid quite a lot of wire myself in my time. I remember one night…”

Infantry Experts

“Tell me,” said Jim, “was the wire in big coils?”

“No, no,” said I. “It came in tight spools or bobbins. Remember, we had to carry that wire into the trenches, as well as string it after we got it there. I recollect one night – was it in June, seventeen …?”

“Was it springy, sort of?” asked Jim. “When you started to undo a coil of it did it spring out and get all tangled?”

“No, no,” I assured him. “You cut a couple of small bits of tie wire, and then, with the spool on a stick, you just backed up and unrolled it. Now, this night I speak of in June, I think it was, seventeen, or was it May? Now, let me see? We went from Enquin lez Mines back up to Les Brebis and Mazingarbe…”

“I should think,” said Jim, “that anybody who had handled barbed wire could handle almost any kind of wire.”

“You’re right,” I said. “There were about 300,000 Canadians in the infantry from time to time and every one of those men to-day, wherever he is, is an expert wire man. But as I was telling you, we were on the Bully Grenay front, out by Loos, you remember. It was a fine summer’s night…”

“How did you get the wire tight?” asked Jim. “After you had laid it where you wanted it, how did you pull it snug and tight?”

“A fine summer’s night,” I explained. “One of those luminous June nights, with the stars fairly dripping from the sky. It was quiet, too. Here and there a flicker of guns, like summer lightning. Now and then the lazy bang of a five-nine somewhere in the distance …”

“How many men would you use on one spool of wire?” asked Jim.

”The major says to me, ‘Clark,’ he says, ‘I want you to take the wiring party tonight. It’s a ticklish bit. It’s those old chalk pits. On our side, the wire is about as useful as a lace curtain. I want some wire in there that is wire. I want you to handpick your party, Clark,’ he says, ‘and make a night of it.’ It must have been about nine o’clock …”

“Is this the story,” asked Jim, “about the time the two Germans crawled out and asked you the time, thinking you were a German?”

“Ha, ha,” I laughed. “You’ve heard that, eh? Wasn’t that a scream?”

“I have heard it six or seven times,” admitted Jim admiringly, “and every time it gets better.”

“One keeps remembering details,” I explained. “I wonder if I ever told you one little detail in that story about…”

“What I am trying to get at,” said Jim, still laughing reminiscently. “is this – you see, I had no experience of wiring – and now I am trying to put up a fence at my place. I wanted your advice.”

“A wire fence?” I asked.

“You know that little green wire fence I’ve got?” said Jimmie. “Gyp, my new setter, can hop it in her stride. What I am doing is putting up about twenty tall stakes, with holes bored through them, and then stringing two wires along them, about a foot apart, above the top of the regular fence. Then I am going to plant morning glories and sweet peas and things and grow a sort of screen. I don’t think Gyp will jump through that.”

“It should be very simple.” I said, “just threading wire through holes in stakes.”

“I was trying it last night,” said Jim, “but the wire coil springs out fearfully when you snip the little bits of wire tying the coil together.”

“Hold it with one hand, my dear fellow,” I smiled, “and thread it with the other.”

“I wish I had been in the infantry,” sighed Jim.

“Tut, tut,” I said. “I’ll run over after dinner to-night.”

Which I did, and Jimmie had all the material laid out just like a regular old supply dump back of the lines in Flanders. Four large coils of good stout wire. A heap of long green painted stakes with holes ready bored in them. Smaller posts of two by four for reinforcing them.

“You haven’t the stakes up yet? I pointed out.

“I got three or four up as you see,” said Jim, “but I thought I had better get your advice on that, too, because half the problem of wiring must be the stakes, isn’t it?”

“Quite right,” I agreed. “I recall one time down on the Arras front, out by a place called Roclincourt straight ahead from Madagascar Dump, if you remember?”

“Sure,” said Jim. “Which do you suggest? Should we just drive the stakes down or should we first dig a little hole to soften the earth and then drive them in?”

“On this Roclincourt front,” I explained, “”the problem consisted of an overbody of soft, mucky earth on top of a stratum of hard chalk. And the way we drove our angle iron stakes and screw stakes was this.”

“Here’s a shovel,” said Jim.

He removed his coat and vest eagerly and picked up a fence stake and carried it over to the side of the garden. I followed suit, bringing the shovel. I dug a small hole. About a foot deep.

“Now,” said Jim, “which will I do? Hold the stake or drive it with the axe?”

“You hold it,” I agreed. “I’ll show you a trick or two.”

So in a matter of twenty minutes we had three stakes well and firmly buried in their proper places, except that the first one had the holes for the wire pointing the wrong way.

“That won’t matter,” I showed. We will just jog the wire there and it will make it all the tighter.”

In less than an hour we had ten stakes firmly planted, and that gave us the one full side of the garden and all along the bottom.

“Now, Gunner,” I explained, “we’ll string some wire just before it gets dark, so that you will know how to carry on.”

“This is the part I am interested in,” said Jim.

The big coils of wire were heavy. It would be impossible to hold one in one hand and steer it with the other. So we agreed that one of us would carry the coil and the other steer it through the little holes in the pickets. Jim handed me the pliers to snip the tying wire around the coils.

“Wire,” I explained, as I squatted down to snip, “has a character all its own.”

“Shouldn’t you kneel on it?” asked Jim, “before you cut that last bit?”

I snipped and the coil of wire sprang into the air with a twanging, hissing sound like a serpent. It seemed to be wrapping itself around me. I threw myself on it, and held it down.

“Jimmie,” I commanded, “lend a hand here and tuck it back under me.”

So I lay on it while Jim slowly tucked it back in rings and circles about the size it was originally.

“Ease up a little,” said Jim. “As I coil these coils under you.”

“We never used to have this happen in Flanders,” I said.

“Upsadaisy,” said Jim, “but not too much. Just relax a trifle, while I slide this end under.”

And thus spreadeagled on the very untidy and always struggling wire, I lay while Jim patiently worked it back under me.

“I wish some of your old troops could see you now,” said Jim, appreciatively. “The ones that you used to wire miles and miles with.”

“They’d help me if they did,” I declared.

“And be just about as handy as you are,” said Jim.

“One time,” I said, “out near the Canal du Nord, it was in August, eighteen, if I recollect…”

“Ease up a little,” said Jim, “just a little.”

“We were stopped,” I continued, “on account of our flanks having failed to keep up with us, so I had to put out some wire, just a temporary belt of wire, while we dug in and waited for a day or so…”

“Lift your left leg,” said Jim.

“That’s very wiry wire,” I admitted, after we had got most of it back somehow and laid the axe and a few stakes on it to hold it down.

“I’ll sit on it,” said Jim, “right here on the ground while you work it out carefully and fasten one end to the first stake.”

So Jim sat on the rather untidy coil while I sought out the end of the wire and slowly edged out yard after yard of it until I had enough to reach the first post, up near the house end of the proposed fence. With staples I secured it firmly and wound it several times around the post.

“Now,” I said.

“Good heavens,” said Jim.

For now, having secured one end, we had the whole coil on the ground before us to thread through the holes of the dozen remaining pickets.

“Mmm,” said I. “I guess we should have threaded it first, eh?”

“In the artillery,” said Jim, “we always put the shell in the breech before we fired the gun.”

“I’ll thread this end,” I explained. “It will all come to the same thing.”

It did. In removing a few more coils, Jim eased up just a trifle too high and a whole burst of coils leaped front tinder him and, like lariats, flung themselves around me before I could grasp the situation and let go my end. Jim seeing me trapped, foolishly leaped up to help me and as he did so, the clever coils had him. In a moment, we were both netted in the wire, which, every time you freed yourself of one coil seized you with another.

“Up around Arras,” asked Jim, “what did you do when this kind of thing happened?”

“It didn’t happen,” I declared. “We had proper wire. Barbed wire. Wire that had some sense to it.”

“I suppose all you had to do was call the troops, and they uncoiled you?” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said, as I shoved the coils down off my chest and legs, only releasing them to have them snare Jim instead. “I think you might remember that I sunk most of those pickets for you. I did the digging. I did the pounding.”

“It was your experience with wire that I wanted,” said Jim. “Even gunners can dig holes.”

We gradually got free of the wire, and it committed a few more twangs and leaps and futile snatches in our direction and then subsided into a large, loose and twisted tangle in the middle of Jim’s garden.

“Now let’s see,” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said. “I promised my boys I’d drive them over for an ice cream soda before bed.”

“Good old infantry,” said Jim.

So when I looked back as I went down the gate steps, Jim was standing, the way the gunners always did, just looking down with his hands in his pockets.


May 23, 1936

May 24 is Victoria Day and is a Canadian public holiday, currently celebrated on the last Monday preceding May 25. Initially in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday, it has since been celebrated as the official birthday of Canada’s sovereign. It used to be colloquially referred to as “Firecracker Day”, as it used to be the only holiday when fireworks were shown. Though fireworks are still used, it was overtaken over 40 years ago by Canada Day on July 1st.

Grape Nuts Ad – 5/2/36

May 2, 1936

This is another in the series of Grape Nuts ads by Jim featuring “Ernie Energy”.

Egged On

“It’s one way of making a living,” said the chicken farmer. “I clear $15 a week…”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 25, 1936

“Every man,” said Jimmie Frise, “should have a profitable side line.”

“For instance,” I suggested.

“Rich men,” said Jim, “have their successful business. But on the side, they invest their profits in stocks and bonds. Pretty soon, they are making as much money with their investments as they are in their business. In fact, after a while, they become so interested in the market, they regard their regular business as a side line.”

“But what kind of a side line,” I asked, “could plain people like you and me have?”

“Well, for example,” said Jim, “you’re a writer. You could raise pedigreed dogs as a side line.”

“I raise hounds now, for my own pleasure,” I retorted, “and they cost me a small fortune.”

“Hounds, yes,” said Jim. “But I mean profitable dogs, like Pekingese or dachshunds.”

“How about you?” I submitted. “You’re an artist. What could you do for a side line? Why don’t you start up a little factory for making some artistic article of common use like lamp shades?”

“It takes capital to start a factory,” said Jim. “My idea of a side line is something that takes no effort and no expense.”

“All you need,” I countered, “is a little one-room shop and two smart girls, to start with. You are full of artistic ideas. Your true self can’t express itself in cartoons only. Here you are a master of line and color, a man endowed with artistic talent of the highest order. But just because you made your first hit with a cartoon, you’ve spent your life cartooning.”

“I’ve often thought of taking up serious painting,” admitted Jim. “Landscapes, and so forth.”

“No money in it,” I assured him. “But you take this lamp shade idea. A little one-room factory. Start with only two girls. You design the shades. One girl to cut them out. The other to color them. I bet you Jim Frise lamp shades would be in a class with Baxter prints in no time. No fashionable home, no collector, could afford not to have a few Frise lamp shades.”

“What kind of lamp shades have you in mind?” asked Jim, interested.

“That’s for you to decide,” I pointed out. “You’re the artist. Do you realize the ordinary home in this city has an average of thirty lamp shades in it? Bridge lamps and wall brackets, ceiling fixtures and table lamps. And how dreadfully the same are they all? Silk or glass or parchment. I tell you, Jim, there is a very real need for something new and beautiful in lamp shades.”

“Have you any ideas?” Jim asked.

“If I had,” I snorted, “would I be a newspaper writer? My dear boy, it is ideas that count. Anybody with reasonable skill or training can carry out other people’s ideas. It is ideas that make the fortunes.”

“It keeps me busy thinking up ideas for cartoons,” said Jim.

Thinking Up a Side Line

“Listen,” I cried, “a man who can think up a new idea for a cartoon week after week, year after year, for twenty years, ought to be smart enough to think up about six ideas for lamp shades. Think, Jimmie. A lamp shade. Artistically, it has every advantage on its side. It has light behind it. Being lighted, it instinctively attracts the eye. We spend big money on rugs, pictures, furniture, to make an artistic room. And then we break our necks trying to discover a lamp shade that will attract no attention at all. It’s wrong. Jim. The lamp shade ought to be as much an artistic feature of the room as the painting over the mantel, or the curtains and drapes.”

“You’re right,” agreed Jim. “But what kind of a lamp shade do you suggest?”

“I don’t suggest any,” I snorted indignantly. “If anybody could suggest lamp shades, they would have made the money long ago. The only opportunity there is in this idea of mine lies with your power, as a creative artist, to think up some new ideas in lamp shades.”

“It’s funny,” said Jim. “I can’t think of any.”

“Very well,” I said, “let’s drop it. I was only trying to help you find a side line. But obviously we are barking up the wrong tree.”

“My idea of a side line,” said Jim, “is one that would practically run itself. Like chicken farming.”

“Chicken farming!” I exclaimed.

“It’s a great life,” said Jim. “Buy a bunch of chickens. Feed them a couple of times a day. You don’t even have to go to feed them, the way you have to go and feed cows. You just open the back door, call ‘chiiiich-chik-chik-chik’ and they come running. All that remains to be done is walk out once a day, along about sundown, and gather the eggs.”

“Now there,” I admitted, “is a side line.”

“Can you imagine,” said Jim, raptly, “a life more delightful than owning a nice little chicken ranch somewhere about fifteen or twenty miles outside the city? Say, four or five acres of pleasant land, with pine trees on a hill.”

“And a brook,” I offered, “running through it, full of little trout about eight inches.”

“Far enough outside the city,” said Jim, “to be free of the curse of city life. Yet near enough to the city that you can run in whenever you like to see a movie or to shop.”

“Not really a chicken rancher,” I added, “but a country gentleman.”

“That’s it,” agreed Jim. “Country gentlemen. We could have a nice little house, and fill it up with our sporting equipment, the walls covered with guns and creels and snowshoes. I can see it.”

“But where could we get such a place?” I demanded suddenly. “If chicken ranching is so lovely, we wouldn’t be able to buy a ranch for love or money.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, there are any number of little chicken ranches for sale. It’s strange, but true. Hundreds of people get the same idea we have here. But they don’t make a go of it.”

A Marvellous Idea

“Ah,” said I, “why?”

“Because it is so lazy a life,” said Jim. “It gets them. A young couple, for instance, will suddenly get the idea of going back to the land. They are tired of the city. Tired of making a living like slaves. So they throw up their job, borrow a few hundred from their parents, and go chicken ranching.”

“They’re too young,” I explained. “We’re old enough to know our own mind.”

“It isn’t that, it’s the laziness,” said Jim. “I know about this. I have had dozens of friends try it. It’s the dreadful laziness. You see, there is nothing to do all day long but lie around listening to the low, comfortable clucking of the hens. They don’t have roosters on the modern ranches. So there is no triumphant yell of roosters to give the scene a more lively air. Just the day-long, slow, quaaaa, qua, qua, qua, of hens, scratching in the dust.”

“How peaceful it would be,” I sighed.

“For a while, yes,” agreed Jim. “And with nothing to do all day long but come and throw feed from the back step, and once a day to walk around the hen houses and collect the eggs. It begins to wear on the ranchers. The wife begins to neglect her hair. She starts, after a few weeks, to wear nothing but a print wrapper all day. The husband decides to shave only twice a week, and for such jobs as he has to do, he pulls his rubber boots on over his pajamas. Then he comes back and goes to sleep. It is that awful, day-long sleepy squaw-squawking of the hens.”

“It’s not a bad life,” I offered,

“It gets them,” said Jim. “It gets them. They start quarrelling. The dreadful monotony works on them. They both long for a little action, a little excitement. After a couple of quarrels, the wife comes into town to stay with her parents a few days. She comes back to find her husband with a six-day stubble on his face and he forgot to wash. The dishes aren’t done, and there is a general air of the Deep South about the ranch. That finishes it. Another chicken ranch is for sale.”

“How could we run such a place, as a side line?” I inquired

“Don’t you see?” asked Jim. “Day about. Neither of us needs to be at the office all day every day. We take turn about spending one day at work and the next day at the ranch. Only a half hour outside the city. Our families would not object. Not at our age. We could explain that we need the change in order to rest our spirits after the strain of creative work.”

“A marvellous idea, Jim,” I confessed.

“Taking it day about,” said Jim, “it would never pall on us. Neither of us could get slovenly. On our alternate day of peace, we could think of scores of ideas for our regular work. It would be a hundred per cent.”

Looking Things Over

“How much do you suppose we could make?” I asked.

“I know one chicken farmer,” said Jim, “who has survived the ordeal, and he says he makes clear about fifty dollars a week.”

“Twenty-five bucks apiece,” I cried, “Jim, think of the fishing tackle and guns we could buy with that! Think of the trips we could take! Nipigon, and down to Pelee Island for pheasants, and a real moose hunt.”

“Who’d run the ranch on all these holidays?” pointed out Jim.

“Don’t let that discourage us,” I hastened. “Jim, you’re a man of brains. Let’s make inquiries without delay.”

So Jim telephoned out to his friend in the country who is making a success of his chickens, and he arranged to show us over the ranch next day, to give us an idea.

His place was on a highway, and I timed it. It was just 23 minutes from the city limits until we turned down a lane and saw before us a nice little painted frame house and about six long, low chicken houses.

The entire area was as bare as a schoolyard, and all fenced in with high chicken wire. And inside this barren and lifeless compound were about a million white chickens.

The air was a din of low sound. As we drove up, nary a chicken so much as looked at us. They were not the fat, comfortable hens I had in mind. They were slim and pigeon-like pullets, snowy white, with bright scarlet combs. And all busier than wheels in a wrist watch. Busy scratching running, hurrying. Busy clucking and skwarping and muttering in low chicken voices. Busy as the deuce at one spot on the bleak and barren soil, and then darting quickly a few feet, busier than ever at another equally barren patch of hard dry earth.

Out of the low red houses they fluttered. Into the low red houses they fluttered. There was a sense of ceaseless anxiety, hurry and excitement. An excitement surrounded with a low muttering sound, as if all the hens were swearing desperately, at the fruitless and hopeless round of their lives.

I sat in the car while Jim walked up to the house to get his friend. Ceaselessly the hens moved in a dense throng like a sea of white feathers. Ceaselessly they squawed and muttered and yelped suddenly with sharp sideways jumps. Their din was confusing at first. And then it became distressing. I stood up and waved my arms wildly to change the tempo. But except for an automatic flutter on the part of a few of the nearer chickens, it never made so much as a pause in their dreadful murmuring.

Chickens, I said to myself, attempting to reason myself into a better mental attitude towards them, chickens are man’s best friend. Not dogs, not horses, but chickens. Long ages before man dared to try and captivate a well and train it into a dog, he doubtless had wheedled these silly birds out of the jungle and into the front porch of the cave. Countless centuries before man ever had the courage to try to lasso a horse and convert it patiently into a harmless slave, man had so weaned chickens away from nature that a chicken would not dare return to the jungle.

And what a friend the chicken has proved? If the two billion people in the world all eat an egg a day. . . let’s see? . . . in a year, that will be what?

And the faster the hens laid eggs, the healthier men got, and the more people there were to eat eggs, and the more hens were needed to lay eggs. Maybe, I mused, the chicken, that willing provider of man’s most tasty and nourishing food, was the real source of man’s evolution from a furred animal to a relative of the gods. Chickens, I decided, and not lions or eagles, should be the emblem of all intelligent nations.

Back came Jim with his friend, a short leathery man in canvas overalls. He liked like a rooster. His bright, beady eyes and sharp nose gave me the idea that he was about to rise on his toes and crow at any minute.

“Well, boys,” he cackled sharply. “what is it you’d like to see?”

“I Feel a Little Dizzy”

“We were thinking of taking up chicken ranching as a side line,” Jim explained. “And we just wanted an idea of the layout.”

“Well, that’s all there is to it,” he cackled. Some chicken houses, nesting boxes, an enclosure, and there you are.”

“What’s the routine?” asked Jim.

“I get up about half an hour before daybreak,” said our friend. “Patrol the property to see no owls have been in. Then I carry water to them, about fourteen pails, and next I mix the feed and feed them. That takes me to about 8 a.m., and then I eat breakfast.”

“Breakfast,” said I.

“Then,” said the rancher, “I spend the morning cleaning the houses. That’s a good morning’s job. You have to keep these houses spotless, or you’re up to your neck in vermin and disease. Some afternoons I spend driving to town for feed and other days I deliver the eggs to market. The rest of the time, I am grading eggs, packing them or doing special trapping in the nests. Other days I have to do killing. Usually I’m through by 10 p.m., and then I’m glad to go to bed.

“I should say,” I agreed.

“But,” he said, “it’s one way of making a living. I clear $15 a week…”

“Fifty?” I interrupted.

“Fifteen,” said the rancher. “If I was clearing 50, I wouldn’t call the king my nephew.”

“I thought you said 50,” said Jim.

“Fifty, mercy,” said the rancher. “What do you think I am, an artist or a writer? Now let’s go and see the houses.”

We entered the wire enclosure and waded through a vast white pool of chickens which fluttered and made way and closed again around us. As we approached the first low red house, 40 chickens launched themselves madly from within, fluttering wildly and uttering lamentable cries, and my hat was knocked off by them. As we entered the warm shanty, other chickens that had not escaped charged insanely about, banging themselves against wire partitions and scrambling frantically in all directions.

“Pay no attention,” said our host.

But a white hen in one of the little lidded boxes all along the wall fixed me with a glittering eye, suddenly leaped from the nest, and, frantically fluttering, passed over me and dropped a hot egg square on the top of my head. Naturally, it broke.

“Nervous,” said the rancher, scooping palmful of the egg off my hair. “These high bred chickens are all nerves.”

The startled sounds of our entry had silenced as suddenly as they had begun, but the world was full of that low, querulous din again, the scraping, droning, muttering sound of a vast throng of passionless creatures devoid of hope or rest.

“Jim,” I said, “I feel a little dizzy. It must be the warmth in here. Go ahead. I’ll wait for you outside.”

So I escaped from the enclosure, hurried out the lane and sat afar on a snake fence and watched a groundhog on a knoll until Jim, in due time for Jim, came along with the car and we drove home.

“How about it?” asked Jim, slipping into high.

“It’s out,” I said, shifting my hat so it would not get stuck to my hair.

Editor’s Notes: More Chickens! Following last week’s posting of a later 1941 story, this week’s was earlier when they thought bigger. Maybe they learned that they should think smaller in 1941, which resulted in more success (if it were not for the neighbours)?

“I wouldn’t call the king my nephew” and “I wouldn’t call the queen my aunt” were phrases that meant “I am happy with my situation.” The idea is that even becoming royalty could not improve your position.

Happy Landings

April 4, 1936

“Wonky Clocks”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old-Fashioned Enterprise

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

“It sure is,” I agreed.

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

“I’ve got three of them,” I remarked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you?” said Jim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mmm, mmm,” I said, doubtfully.

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

“Give it up, Jim,” I begged him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just moaned.

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

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

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

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

I stifled a groan.

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

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

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

“It’s inherited,” I muttered.

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

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

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

“Not that, not that,” I hissed.

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

“I’m going home,” I stated.

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

“Oh, oh, oh,” I moaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s all over,” I said brokenly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 1, 1936

Star Gazers

Jim took a piece of chalk from his pocket and started calculating. “The farthest stars are 840,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away,” he stated.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 28, 1936.

“What a night,” cried Jimmie Frise.

“Did you ever see the stars so bright,” I agreed. “They are fairly dripping with light. Millions of them.”

“Millions nothing,” laughed Jim. “Even if you had good eyesight, which you haven’t, you could only see 3,000.”

“What are you talking about?” I snorted. Three thousand?”

“That’s the most you can see at any one time with the naked eye,” declared Jim. “Of course, there’s another 3,000 hidden around the other side of the earth. But even if you sat up all night and watched the whole parade of them go round, you could, with the best sight in the world, only see 6,000.”

“Why, Jim,” I scoffed. “I can see millions of them without turning my head.”

“All right,” said Jim. “Cup your two hands around your eyes, like this, and look up at one spot. Count the number in that one small section. You can count them easy.”

“Well,” I said, “I seem to see millions, anyway.”

“That’s the funny part of it,” said Jim. We seem to see millions. And there really are millions. Billions. Every time they build a bigger and better telescope, they find another few million stars. See all those dark bits of night, in between the stars? Well, even through a little bit of an amateur telescope, you find that each one of those dark bits, in between the stars we can see with the naked eye, has just as many stars as the sky itself now appears to have in it, without a telescope.”

“Jim,” I said, “suppose we don’t talk about it. This star stuff always gets me feeling kind of woozy after a few minutes.”

“You’re what they call an infinity coward,” said Jim. “You reel back from the edge of thinking about vast space the way some people reel back from the edge of a cliff, or a tall building.”

“I see nothing to be gained by thinking about astronomy,” I declared. “There are much more important matters to solve here on earth before we start exploring out into space looking for other things to solve.”

“You’ve got the infantile mind, all right.” stated Jim. “Science is not interested in problems. It is only interested in facts. Science looks in all directions. One scientist is sitting humped over a bottle of ketchup in a factory laboratory. Another is sitting humped up under a giant telescope, looking at something so far away, it took the light from it a million years to reach his eye. Yet they are both after the same thing. Truth.”

“Now, there’s something worth talking about,” I agreed heartily. “Ketchup. Let’s talk about ketchup and decide whether we like home-made or store ketchup the best. And why.”

“The stars,” said Jimmie, “are a perfect example of the distance that now exists between the mass of the people and the scientists. The average person thinks about stars as something pretty up in the sky on a fine night. If you ask them to think more than that, and ask them how many stars they can see, they will say, like you, millions whereas they don’t even know they can only see 3,000. If you ask them to pause and think about the vast endless empty space out there, filled forever and ever, amen with stars – they reel back, the way you do, from it. Yet the scientists working on astronomy are now somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 million light years off into space. The distance the stars are away from us is only exceeded by the distance the scientists are away from the mass of the people.”

“That’s why I say let’s talk about ketchup,” I said, “Now, my grandmother used to put a lot of mustard…”

“Do you know what a light year is?” demanded Jim.

“Not the faintest,” I said.

“The astronomers,” said Jimmie, “got into such large figures in trying to tell how far the stars were away, that they were using up all their books just with 00000000. For example, a scientist once wrote a set of books about the stars. Volume I consisted of the introduction and the first sentence of his monumental work, and then he started to write how far away the farthest stars were, so the rest of Volume I consisted of just 000000000 for another 240 pages. Volumes II, III and IV each was nothing but 000000000, and then in Volume V, he got down to his thesis. It was one of the greatest works on astronomy ever published.”

“I can believe you,” I said. “Now, with this mustard as a base…”

“Pardon me,” said Jim, looking dreamily up at the starry sky. “I have to explain what a light year is. It was the invention by which scientists saved paper. Light travels at the rate of 11 million miles a minute. See?”

“You mean the light of an oil lantern,” I asked, “or the light of a car headlight?”

“All light,” said Jim. “It travels at the rate of 11 million miles a minute. Now the astronomers multiplied the number of minutes in a year by 11 million and got what they call a light year. A light year, therefore, which is like counting ‘one’ to an astronomer, is six million MILLION years.”

“That’s just ‘one’,” I said.

Yes, that’s just the figure 1 to an astronomer,” said Jim. “So now when I tell you that the farthest star they have been able to see so far is 140 million LIGHT YEARS away – try and write that down on a piece of paper!”

“I tell you, Jimmie,” I said, “you write that down on a piece of paper and I’ll write down that recipe of my grandmother’s for ketchup with an extra mustard in it. You can have no idea the tang…”

“Would you like to see,” said Jim, “how far away the farthest stars yet found really are?”

“It wouldn’t register, Jim,” I protested. “Once I get over about 1,000, I don’t believe it anyway.”

Jim Does Arithmetic

Jim, always the artist, took a piece of chalk from his pocket and under a street lamp, started to do his arithmetic. We went along multiplying under seven street lights across one intersection and half way to the grocery store before he finished it.

There you are,” said Jim, gazing far along the street, “that’s how far it is, in miles – 840,000,000,000,000,000,000!”

“The thing,” I assured Jim, “doesn’t interest me. They haven’t even a name for it. Skillions, whillions -there isn’t even a word for it, and even the guys who think they’ve got only a million discover it’s all gone flooie in the market before they can count it. Why worry about things like this, Jim, when there are all the troubles we need just on this little world? Hitler and Mussolini, and Reds and Fascists, and winter coming on with thousands of babies with nothing to eat and only an old shawl to put around them. And disease and pain and old people dying in agony of ills we can’t solve so why bother about the stars?”

“Would you deny science the right to study the stars?” asked Jim hotly.

And hotly I considered the question.

“Yes, by golly, I would,” I shouted, so that a policeman walking along the dark street coughed warningly. “Yes, I would deny science the right to fiddle with the stars.”

“What a dreadful idea,” cried Jim. “Why, you belong in the middle ages.”

“All right,” I agreed. “I belong in the middle ages. I am glad to go back to that time in the middle ages where we all took the wrong turn and where science got off on the wrong foot, with its silly wild-goose chases after all knowledge.”

“What wild goose chases?” inquired Jim sarcastically.

“All the wild goose chases,” I stated, “that led the human heart away from the real problems at hand. The problems of this one small world. The problems of liberty, and poverty and disease and unhappiness. For all they have discovered about the stars and mathematics and physics and the mysterious contents of everything from pitchblende to ketchup, how far have we got since the middle ages in solving hunger, tragedy, fear, and death? With all the cowardly brains of the world for the past five hundred years running and hiding from these real problems and chasing the stars instead? Or molecules? Or theories of relativity?”

“What would you have the scientists do?” demanded Jim.

“I tell you what I would do,” I assured him. “I would put a world-wide ban on all idle science. I would forbid any man to waste his time or his brains on anything but the essentials. Let the whole scientific brain power of the world, Europe, America, Asia, everywhere, be devoted at once to the problems of society in this world – wealth, poverty, hunger, justice, wrong, pain, unhappiness. Not until all these so-called intellects have solved the human problem will they be allowed to go fooling around with the stars.”

Cringing Intellects

“My poor friend,” said Jimmie, “with every widening are of human understanding of the universe around us, a fuller understanding of humanity is implied.”

“Utter,” I cried, “utter poppycock. The cowardly cringing intellects that have been ducking the real problems have been putting up that bluff for ages. It’s time we called that bluff. All we have to do is ask them, for heaven’s sake, to look at the world. To pull their heads out of the sand, or down from among the stars, and look at the world. A great bewildered mass of misunderstanding, hate, poverty, pain, fear. Those are the facts. To hell with their theories.”

“Have you ever,” asked Jimmie, “visited a modern observatory? Do you know what you are even talking about? Have you ever looked through a great modern telescope?”

“No, and I most certainly don’t want to,” I assured him. “If I saw the Milky Way, all I would think about was the need of milk in a hundred poor streets not five miles, much less a million miles, from where we stand at this minute.”

“If I were you,” said Jim, “I would at least inform myself of the activities of science before turning myself into a street corner orator like this. I am willing to bet you anything you like that if I once got you into the new observatory up Yonge St., and had you set your eye to that wonderful reflector lens that will send your poor little soul sizzling out through infinite space for a brief journey, you would not be so free in condemning the intellect that has ventured into infinite space.”

“I could look through that telescope,” I stated loudly, “and say pooh!”

“Heh, heh,” laughed Jimmie sinisterly. “What time is it?”

“It’s 8.15,” I said, “and the second show doesn’t start until 9.”

“How,” said Jim, “would you like to come with me up to the observatory on Yonge St. instead of going to the show? I can drive you there in thirty minutes.”

“It’s a swell night for it,” I admitted, looking up at the glorious heavens.

“Come on,” said Jim. “I dare you. I dare you to risk one look at infinite space. If it doesn’t alter your notions!”

So we went. And up Yonge St. we drove, with all the myriads of traffic, and all the people just going along having fun, and being in love and going to shows and visiting the little fruit stores for beans and oranges, and at last we came out on to the big highway.

“It’s up here,” said Jim, “north of the prison farm, somewhere. You just turn off on to a side road.”

“Nice idea,” I agreed “Prison farm right here and a telescope for looking 140 whillion skillion miles somewhere else.”

We slowed down and watched for the turn.

“If I recollect,” I said, “I saw a sign somewhere along here.”

“We’re getting pretty far north,” said Jim. “Maybe this is it.”

Jim slowed down the car. Traffic behind us horned and hooted angrily.

“This will be it, I guess,” said Jim, making the turn into the side road.

But it wasn’t the turn. And we crept slowly along, looking for a lane. It was a clay road. A bad, holey, rutty road. With puddles.

“You’d better turn the first chance,” I warned Jimmie.

“I’ll turn,” he said.

But he didn’t turn and we came to a large clay bog hole and as Jim tried to negotiate the edge of it, I felt the wheels on my side slide easily and gooily in. Jim gave her the gas. A splurge, a surge and we backed splendidly right into the middle of it.

So we went and got garage men and lanterns and tow trucks and so forth, walking along under the stars.

“If those stars, Jim.” I said, as we walked, are as you say a hundred million light years away, how do we know they are there?”

“They aren’t there,” said Jimmie. “That’s the point. That’s where they were when the light we are getting now from them left them, a hundred million years ago.”

“So that at the moment,” I asked, “they might be right underneath us, or off to the side somewhere. or anywhere but where they appear to be?”

“The chances of them being where they appear to be,” stated Jim, “are very remote, considering the vast ages and ages and millions of years this light now striking our eyes left them.”

“Then,” I said, triumphantly, “maybe they aren’t there at all. Maybe they have died and blown up fifty million years ago. Maybe there are no stars by now!”

“That is quite possible,” admitted Jim.

“Then won’t it be a swell joke on your scientists if,” I cried, “just when they have discovered all there is to know about stars, they find there aren’t any stars?”

“That would be ironic,” said Jim.

“Very well,” I concluded, for now we were out where the bright glare of traffic on Yonge St. made the stars a little dim, “very well, I much prefer to think about starving babies wrapped in old shawls, who are with us to-day, than muddle my poor head about a lot of things that used to be where we think they are a billion years ago.”

“I give in,” said Jim.

And the garage man only charged us 75 cents.

Editor’s Notes: When Greg refers to “pitchblende”, is is the old term for Uraninite, a radioactive, uranium-rich mineral and ore.

The observatory they are referring to is the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill. When an observatory in downtown Toronto could no longer function due to light pollution, this observatory was constructed in 1935 (a year before this story). At the time, the main telescope was the second largest in the world and the largest in Canada. It operated from 1935 to 2007.

Mayor Says Club’s Show “Too Crude”

Right next door we glimpse Jane Terry, one of the beauties of the Club Esquire, the opening of which has been attended with some discussion as to the propriety of dress worn by the stunning entertainers. Some opinions express shock, while other citizens are content to preach a policy of laissez faire. Adjoining Jane Terry, in the style of the gay nineties, is another gay lady, Mae West, those memory can hark back to the day when the police patrol wagon backed up against her theatre, with no great detriment to the box office revenues.

By Gregory Clark, November 28, 1936

“Too crude, too rough,” declared Mayor W. D. Robbins to-day when shown photographs of the chorus girls of the new Club Esquire at Sunnyside, which opened with a $7.50 per couple bang last night.

“I have been asked for a report,” admitted Sergeant George Eagleson, head of the Toronto morality squad, who attended not only an official police preview but the big bang as well.

“I shall report the matter to Chief Constable Draper on his return to the city Monday,” said Deputy Chief George Guthrie.

Thus once more the defenders of this good old Alcazar, Toronto the Good, are manning the ramparts to guard against the invasion of the city by fourteen Eves, with little more than a fig leaf and a few pine needles apiece to cover them.

“There were many eminent citizens at the opening of the club,” said Sergeant Eagleson, “I heard no adverse comments.”

Last night, when the Club Esquire opened, this reporter happened to be in Callander, Ont. visiting the Quints, which is a fine way for a newspaperman to miss the last boat. But a few discreet inquiries amongst friends who had $7.50 plus some loose change for hat checking and car parking and such emergencies of a gentleman of fashion’s life, discover the fact that compared with New York, Montreal, Chicago and Buffalo night clubs, the performance was decidedly prim and proper. But that compared with any previous attempts at introducing night clubs to Toronto. It was a long step either forward, backward or sideways.

Looks Like Free Ad

“In some of the numbers,” they told me, “the girls did that floating gauze dance like they do at the Skating Carnival, only they were dressed for summer, not winter, and they had no skates. They had, as a matter of fact, what is called a G-string in the night club business, plus a brassiere perhaps not quite as big as those bandana handkerchief brassieres that were so popular last summer at the swimming beaches. But of course, it was nothing like the strip-acts that have created former scandals in Toronto burlesque theatres, nor even remotely as daring as the acts to be seen at practically every night club everywhere in the world except Toronto.”

As a matter of fact, this whole action on the part of the city fathers come Monday will probably boil down to a beautiful free ad for Mr. William Beasley, promoter of the Club Esquire, a publicity which he couldn’t buy even if he did spend $70,000 on his new club.

In feeling Toronto’s pulse, as they say, about this matter, I did not interview any ministers, because we know anyway what ministers would think and say. Nor did I interview any furriers or ladies’ tailors, since obviously they too would condemn any move toward nudism. Being unable to reach Sir Edward Beatty, president of the C.P.R., I only talked to a ticket seller at the station, and he said it would certainly cut the traffic to New York and elsewhere if night clubs like this were allowed in Toronto, since the only thing Toronto hasn’t got, as a convention city, is a series of night clubs adequate to the convention business.

“Wow, Oh Boy”

But I did sneak the pictures of the girls off the editor’s desk and took them out into the snowstorm to show to the man on the street, as the saying is.

And was he ever interested?

“Wow, oh, boy!” and things like that were their comments, in the same tone of voice you will hear from the lads at the swimming baths in July and August, when a particularly daisy one strolls, ah, so unconsciously, along the concrete in a three-ounce bathing costume.

One thing that always stands out in this controversy every time it recurs in Toronto is the lack of humor displayed on both sides. The condemners are shocked beyond measure. The upholders are as mad as wet hens.

A quarter of a century ago, when I was a cub reporter, Rev. John Coburn created a front page sensation by attending a burlesque show disguised in smoked glasses and then reporting a sensational disclosure of the depravity of man or the theatre. I forget which.

Rev. J. Coburn’s View

Here, a quarter of a century later, Rev. John Coburn makes the following statement:

“Toronto does not need to import the American night club. There are already abundant means of entertainment for the people. I was shocked this morning to find that a group of people had spent $10,000 last night on that kind of thing. For thoughtless people to spend $10,000 a night in dissipation while multitudes of good folk are forced to live in semi-starvation here is to inspire and encourage violent discontent. Such callous disregard of the needs of the disinherited is one of the forces making for revolution. A newspaperman has shown me some photographs which he claims were taken at this club. If these photographs are true pictures I have no hesitation in saying that the entertainment was not of a wholesome character.”

Hard to Draw Line

I was thinking of going to see a snazzy movie to-night, but now I guess I won’t. It’s hard to draw a line. What tickles me doesn’t tickle these 1,000 top hatters who went to the Esquire last night at all. They probably wouldn’t even twitch their upper lip at Laurel and Hardy, whereas I actually get down under my pew and stuff my plaid neck muffler down my throat to prevent myself dying at Laurel and Hardy. It’s pretty depraved of me to enjoy myself so in times like these. And all I say is, anybody who has got $7.50 plus a little loose change in case of a flat tire or anything, and a silk hat and a dress suit, is probably so depraved anyway that there is practically no use trying to lift him up.

It each of those 500 couples who were at the Esquire last night will kick in $7.50 to The Star Santa Claus Fund, I personally will for give them this once.

And as for Mr. Willie Beasley and his fourteen little girls who were probably positively perspiring I under all that gauze and stuff, Mayor Robbins Chief Draper and Sergeant Eagleton, the eagle eye, will tell us Monday.

Editor’s Notes: $7.50 in 1936 is equal to $139 in 2020.

William D. Robbins was mayor of Toronto briefly between 1936-37. He was appointed mayor after the death of incumbent Sam McBride and remained in office until defeated by Ralph Day in the 1937 elections.

The Morality department of the Toronto Police was formed in 1886, to go after drinking, gambling, prostitution, Sunday opening, juvenile delinquency, and other “social evils”. Some context can be found here and here. Because of this strict morality, Toronto was known as “Toronto the Good”. As the article indicated, it was considered by some as much too strict.

The history of Club Esquire at Sunnyside Beach can be found here. Built in 1917, the Sunnyside Pavilion held two restaurants and a tea garden with views looking out on to the lakeshore. In 1920, the building was enlarged and a new south entrance was added. At this time, the pavilion became known for the Blue Room, with a capacity for 400 diners or 175 dancing couples, and the Rose Room, which could seat 300 or hold 150 couples. Dancing would follow supper, with music often provided by a live orchestra. In 1936, the Sunnyside Pavilion was renovated and became known as the Club Esquire Supper Club, with stage shows and dancing. In 1941, the building was converted again, into the Top Hat Night Club. The building was eventually demolished in 1956 to make way for the new westbound lanes of Lake Shore Boulevard.

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