The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1938 Page 1 of 4

There’s Always Boo Boo

March 19, 1938

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

March 19, 1938

Charity Game

We were introduced with great enthusiasm to the men around the table…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 15, 1938.

“How are you,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “at raising money?”

“Middling,” I replied. “When I want $100 I always ask the bank manager for $300.”

“I mean,” said Jim, “canvassing. You know: raising funds for a worthy cause.”

“That’s something,” I admitted, “that I have never tried.”

“Well,” said Jim, “there’s some kind of a new service club starting out in the west end here. Sort of like a junior Rotary or Kiwanis club. It is starting a campaign to raise a sort of operating fund for its first year.”

“I’ll give you a dollar1,” I said, seeing it was Jim.

“No, no,” he cried. “It’s not that. The boys in charge of it came to see me last night to ask if you and I would do some canvassing for them.”

“Two dollars,” I offered. “I’ll make it two dollars.”

“I offered them five,” said Jim, “if they would let me out of it. But they kind of high-pressured me. They said you and I were so well known, we’d get them the dough like nobody’s business.”

“Ah,” I admitted, “that was very decent.”

“Yes,” went on Jim, “they said that this new service club is really for the younger men of the west end here, where they are sort of out of the swim, as far as the boys of say 16 to 20 are concerned. We’re seven miles from the University. We’re the same distance from downtown and the museums and main libraries and everything. A service club devoted to youth, they say, would fill a long-felt want.”

“I’ll go five too,” I offered.

“Look,” said Jim. “These fellows told me last night that you and I would get $100 as quick as unknown canvassers would get $10.”

“There might be something in it,” I submitted.

“It’s a very simple job,” pointed out Jim. “All we have to do is go out after supper and work about four short streets. They suggested just these four streets right around here. All well-to-do people. We could probably do 15 houses in an evening, between say 7.30 and 10 o’clock. What do you think?”

“Somehow,” I said, “it doesn’t exactly appeal to me. Somehow, I feel that we belong to the giving kind, not to the getting kind.”

“But look,” said Jim, “what have we ever done for the community? Here we are living our selfish lives, not doing a single uncomfortable thing. All we do is buy our way out of a little work with five bucks.”

“Or two,” I corrected. “Make it two bucks, as a rule.”

“And these fellows were really,” continued Jim, “very kind to say what they did about how easy it would be for us. And it’s true, at that, I suppose.”

“That is the only part of the proposition that appeals to me,” I submitted. “Beyond this: that it might be kind of fun to see inside all these homes around here.”

“Yeah,” said Jim, eyes widening.

Going Out Canvassing

“I’ve often,” I informed him, “had a sort of hankering to see what some of these nice big homes are like around here. I see the people who live in them. I see the outside of their houses. But I wonder what the insides are like? What kind of pictures have they on the walls? Have they got any enlarged photographs of defunct aunts, in walnut frames? What books have they? In what opulence or meanness do all these neighbors of ours dwell, who walk so proudly amongst us?”

“It would be fun,” admitted Jim.

“I tell you,” I offered, “let’s tell your friends that we will try one night’s canvassing for them. Tell them we are pretty busy men, but we’ll give them one night, see?”

“That will be safest,” agreed Jim.

“And we can have one grand evening looking over the domiciles of our neighbors,” I laughed. “Nothing is so revealing as the front room of a man’s home.”

“I’ll call the boys,” said Jim, “and tell them we’ll do a night’s work for them. All they’ve got to do is supply us a list with the names, addresses and business occupations of the householders. That’ll guide us.”

“I want,” I said, “to see the inside of an insurance man’s home.”

So Jimmie got in touch with the committee men of the new venture and they sent him a list of selected prospects in our immediate neighborhood. There were insurance men, managers of factories like ink or shoes, doctors, lawyers. And Jim and I went for a preliminary ramble of the district to look over the outside of the prospects and select the kind of houses we would prefer to see the inside of. We selected out of 50 names a short list of 20 which we could nicely cover in one night’s fast work.

“We won’t stay long,” explained Jim. “The boys impressed that on me. Don’t spend more than 15 minutes. The real trouble with the art of canvassing is the inclination to dawdle. Cover the ground: that’s the secret of success.”

“How much should we try to get?” I asked.

“Well, they told me,” said Jim, “to try for an average of $10 and we’d probably average five. But here and there, if we have any luck at all, we’ll strike perhaps $25 or even $50. We mustn’t forget that most of the neighbors around here know us, and some of them might want to impress us.”

“Especially,” I pointed out, “if we catch them sitting in their shirt sleeves in a living room with a lot of shabby looking furniture…”

“Now you’re talking,” cried Jim, who is only an amateur in the science of psychology.

So, putting on our best hats and the special mufflers we got for Christmas that our wives had put away in a drawer, we sallied forth. It was a lovely night.

“I imagine a lot of people will be out on a night like this,” I suggested.

“We have to take our chances on that,” said Jim.

In a Worthy Cause

The first home we had extra-selected on our list was that of a lawyer, a gentleman whose name is often in the papers. He occupies one of the larger and remoter houses in our neighborhood. It stands back. It has trees in front of it.

“This,” I said, “is going to be imposing. Tall, book-lined walls. Old walnut furniture. A few dim, expensive paintings by old masters on the wall.”

We rang.

We rang again.

Lights glowed within, so we knew somebody was home. But often, in these better-class homes, it takes even the maid a long time to answer the door. It is as if even the maid had more important things to do.

So we rang again, long and steady.

In the distance we heard sounds as of somebody coming. We saw, through the frosted glass of the inner door, a shadow of somebody moving. Then the inner door opened, and there appeared a queer sight. It was the gentleman we sought, true enough, the lawyer, but he was grotesquely attired. He had on some old kind of a dressing gown. he had a towel around his neck, his hair was all tousled, and he was stooped over, as if he were huddling from the cold. He opened the door a crack.

“What is it?” he demanded shortly.

“We’ve dropped in,” I started pleasantly, “in connection with a very worthy cause that has been started in the neighborhood….”

“Good grief, man,” shouted the lawyer thickly. “I only came to the door because I thought you were the doctor. I was up taking a mustard foot bath. I’m nearly dead with a cold, would you mind getting out of this with your…”

And with a terrific slam, he shut the door in our faces.

“Hmmmm,” said Jim.

So we went down the street four doors, rather hurriedly, to the next selected house on our extra-selected list.

“The poor fellow,” I suggested. “Us bringing him down to the door.”

“A bad beginning means a good end,” replied Jim.

We mounted the steps of the next house with confidence.

A girl came dancing to the door.

“Is Mr. Puckle in?” we asked beamingly, as became workers in a worthy cause.

“Just a minute.” said the young girl, uncertainly, and she left us in the vestibule.

The house was loud with music. The radio was going full blast. A swell band was raving and whanging, and somebody on the air said something and the house was filled with laughter.

To Change Their Luck

The girl went inside, and a man in his shirt sleeves came hurriedly out the hall and leaned into the vestibule, as if in flight.

“Mr. Puckle?” said Jim, heartily.

“Yes?” said Mr. Puckle, sharply.

“We’re a couple of neighbors of yours,” began Jim. We wanted to see you for a few minutes on a matter respecting a worthy cause, a new venture in the interests…”

“Not now, not now,” cried Mr. Puckle, his ears laying back as he tried to hear what the radio comedian was saying at the same time. “It’s Thursday night, man. Not to-night.”

“But we only require five minutes,” started Jim.

He made shushing gestures with his hands. “Don’t you understand?” he shouted. “Thursday night. It’s the biggest night on the radio. Nobody should be allowed out on Thursday nights. Imagine, you come here trying to talk to me about some worthy cause… here!”

And he stepped strongly past us, opened the door and waved us out.

Just plain out.

“Well,” breathed Jim as we stood on the steps under the stars.

“I guess he didn’t know who we were,” I suggested.

“Probably he didn’t and perhaps he did,” said Jim. “But so far, we haven’t averaged five bucks.”

“The night’s young,” I encouraged him, as we went down the walk a little way and looked at our list under the street light for the next house.

Well, the next house was another handsome edifice where the maid who answered the door wanted to know our business when we asked for the gentleman. We explained our business.

“I’m sorry,” said the maid. “My instructions are that all requests for aid or money should be referred to the master in business hours.”

“Just take our names in,” I suggested.

She took our names in, and we waited on the veranda.

She returned.

“He says, will you please see him in business hours?”

So we again went down the street and this time we studied the list more closely. To change our luck, we decided to go around a block and start on a new segment of our list.

It was, to the eye, a more appealing home we selected than any of the others. It too had a jolly look, but when we got to the veranda and listened in the window, we could hear no big Thursday night radio rumpus. We rang. In a smoking jacket, a man swung the door wide, in a generous gesture.

“Hello?” he said cheerily.

“We’re calling on you,” said Jimmie, “in connection with a worthy cause connected with this neighborhood. It is a sort of youth service club that some of the people around here…”

“Come on in,” said the gentleman gaily, “and rest your hats.”

We stepped into his parlor.

“Now, look,” said our host, “I’ve got a few of the neighbors in the dining room. We’ve got a little game on. How’d you like to speak your little piece to the whole bunch of us and save time?”

“Swell,” we cried.

And we were led into the dining room, where around the dining room table three gentlemen were sitting in the usual poker attitudes. We were introduced with great enthusiasm, though I didn’t recollect ever having seen any of the neighbors before, and they obviously had never heard of us. Still, it was neighborly.

Jimmie Makes a Speech

Jim made the speech. He explained the purpose of the proposed organization. How it would benefit the whole community insofar as offering some activity and interest to the younger men and older boys. It would teach them public speaking, self-assurance and confidence. Jim really did a beautiful job. All four gentlemen sat back, their cards laid down. and smoked their cigars in that thoughtful way poker players smoke their cigars, in little, puckered-mouth puffs, slowly steaming out.

When Jim concluded, with a rousing request for a few donations on the dotted line, to be followed in due course by a suitably engraved acknowledgment from the president and executive of the new organization, the four gentlemen looked at one another thoughtfully.

“Well, Bill,” said our host to the only one of them in his shirt sleeves, and they tell me those are always the most dangerous poker players, “what say?”

“Personally,” said Bill, slowly and in a deep, cigar-stained voice. “I make it a practice never to give money away. I offer my money on the altar of chance. If a cause is worthy, it generally survives the ordeals of chance.”

“Well put,” cried they all. “Well stated, Bill.”

“My suggestion is,” went on Bill, “that these two gentlemen sit into this game and, if their cause is really worthy, it will probably plaster them with luck and they can take my money off me, and welcome.”

“It’s an idea, gentlemen,” cried our host, offering to take our hats and coats.

“Wait a minute,” said Jim. “I don’t happen to have more than three or four dollars on me.”

“I’ve only got two,” I put in drily. Poker is not one of my good points.

“Why,” said Bill, “you stand to win ten times as much as you could collect out of us.”

“I’m in,” said Jim, starting to take off his coat.

So I sat in too. I sat in to play my own kind of game. I play poker my own way. It is this. I play nothing but jackpots. That is, I ante. And then, if I get one of three hands, a royal flush, a straight flush or a full house, I bet for all I am worth. But unless I get one of those three, I throw my hand in. True, I seldom get such a hand. But in a long evening’s play, all I can lose is my ante. And as the ante was five cents and the game five and ten, naturally, I was able to sit the game out with my two dollars for forty deals. Forty deals I sat and watched that game, and never did I get anything better than three aces, though I got several two pairs.

It took Jim all that time to lose and win and lose his four dollars, back and forward, and back and forward. But this little group of neighbors had a rule that on the stroke of midnight the game ended, no matter what, by finishing out the hand.

And when the stroke of midnight sounded. Jim pushed all his chips, and what do you think he was betting on?

A pair of fives.

Naturally he lost, and for all our night’s canvassing, we had nothing but our key rings and penknives and a couple of buttons and stuff in our pockets.

But the gang broke up with a swell tray-load of chicken sandwiches and coffee, and while none of us had ever heard of one another, and didn’t seem to care, we thanked everybody for a very pleasant evening and went forth into the night.

“So much for canvassing,” said Jimmie.

“So much,” I agreed, and we parted at the corner.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. $1 in 1938 is the equivalent of $20.85 in 2023. ↩︎

An Early Shopper

December 17, 1938

C.O.D. is cash on delivery, requiring the recipient to pay for the postage. So Eli is particularly cheap.

Put it in Writing

“I don’t want to even know his reasons,” shouted Jimmie. “I don’t want to even speak to him!” “Very well,” I said. “We’ll make it brief and snappy like this.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 12, 1938.

“Listen,” hissed Jimmie Frise. “Listen to that row.”

I listened. From somewhere came the deep, booming notes of a radio penetrating into Jimmie’s living room.

“Upstairs?” I inquired.

“Next door,” said Jim, bitterly. “Here it is 11 o’clock at night, and that bird keeps his radio going like that until 1 or 2 in the morning.”

“Why don’t you speak to him?” I asked.

“Speak to him?” cried Jimmie. “Speak, to him? I’ve spoken to him. I’ve telephoned him. I’ve even gone and rung his front door bell at 3 am, and threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t turn his machine off. Or turn it lower, anyway.”

“And why doesn’t he?” I asked.

“He just laughs,” grated Jim. “He just shuts the door in my face and laughs.”

“But there ought to be some law,” I suggested. “Why don’t you call the police? What that amounts to is a disturbance of the peace.”

We both sat still and listened. The deep throb, throb, boom, boom of the radio next door beat and reverberated on the ear drums. Not enough to hear the tune or even to follow the rhythm. But just a nerve-racking and muffled vibration.

“I have called the police,” said Jim. “And when they arrived, he shut the machine off. And there sat the cops, right in this room, listening, and they couldn’t hear a sound. It made me feel very silly. And the cops gave me a funny look.”

“Maybe he saw the cops arrive,” I suggested.

“I have no doubt he did,” agreed Jim. “You ought to hear it in the summer. With all the windows open…”

“Does it go all the time?” I inquired.

“No, he is one of those active, outdoor men,” explained Jim “he bowls, plays golf, goes to meetings and movies. He seems to come home about 11 every night, and go straight to the radio and turn it on. Loud.”

“There are never any programs after 11,” I sympathized.

“Nothing but oompa, oompa, night club bands,” agreed Jim. “All the same. Mostly drum and saxophone. And yet that guy turns it up as loud as it will go and lets her rip, oompa, oompa, until he goes to bed around 2 o’clock in the morning.”

“I certainly wouldn’t put up with it,” I submitted.

“What can I do?” protested Jimmie. “I speak to him, and he just laughs and says, why do I live in such a flimsy house? And when I call him up in the middle of the night, he just laughs and hangs up the receiver.”

No Way to Retaliate

“Can’t you think of any kind of retaliation?” I offered. “Can’t you think up some nuisance on him, and get even with him?”

“I’ve thought of everything,” sighed Jim. “Last summer, I got up early one Sunday morning and carried my radio upstairs to a room opposite his bedroom. I opened the window and set my radio pointing straight into his window at 7.30 of a Sunday morning, and let her rip.”

“That’s the idea,” I applauded. “What happened?”

“He didn’t do anything,” said Jim. “But the first thing I knew, a police cruiser was in front of my house and two cops were ringing the door bell furiously, to say that the whole neighborhood was complaining to the police station.”

“It doesn’t seem just,” I confessed, sitting again in silence and listening. Yes, there, more clearly than ever, once I became conscious of it, was the oompa, oompa, of the radio next door.

“Isn’t there anything else you can do?” I wondered. “Couldn’t you put up a spite fence or anything?”

“No,” said Jim, “the only thing that would do would prevent his kids from throwing things over into my garden. Or it might stop his wife from shaking rugs out her window when the wind is just right to carry the dust in all our windows. In fact, I don’t know what to do. I was thinking of moving.”

“Never, Jim,” I cried. “That would be rank cowardice. That would be retreat in full flight. There must be some way you can handle this situation.”

“All right,” said Jim bitterly, “you think up something.”

“Have you written him a letter?” I asked eagerly. “A letter is the real solution to all such difficulties as this.”

“He’d throw it in the waste basket,” muttered Jim.

“Not a lawyer’s letter,” I cried. “You get a lawyer to write him a letter, threatening legal action if he doesn’t put an end to a nuisance that is impairing your health.”

“I’ve looked it up,” said Jim. “There isn’t any law to prevent a man playing a musical instrument in his own house if the windows are closed and all reasonable precautions taken to prevent the disturbance of the neighbors.”

“Well, this is a disturbance,” I pointed out.

“It is,” agreed Jim, “and the worst kind of a disturbance, too, a soft, barely audible thud, thud, that nearly drives you crazy. But when I explained that to the police, do you know what they said? They said that they knew lots of people that couldn’t sleep on account of crickets.”

“Crickets?” I exclaimed.

The cops told me,” said Jim, “that night they were here and couldn’t hear anything, that one time they had a lady call them in and demand that they force her next door neighbor to get out and kill a cricket that was singing in his garden.”

“Oh, no,” I laughed.

“Oh, yes,” said Jim, “she said she had exterminated all the crickets in her property and she demanded that the police abate the nuisance in the neighbor’s garden. But they found there was no law governing the singing of crickets.”

“Did the police suggest,” I demanded, “that your complaint was in the same class as that?”

“They did,” said Jim. “They said that if the man was playing a trombone or something that could be heard in my house, they would take action. But they could hear nothing. And all I could hear, they explained, was a faint oompa, oompa, and that wasn’t enough to base any action re nuisance on.”

“Let’s write him a letter,” I suggested. “Not a lawyer’s letter, but a plain, man-to-man letter, calling upon his decency and neighborly…”

“He hasn’t any,” interrupted Jim. “He’s just one of those big, hearty, laughing men who sleeps like a log. Everything he does is loud and hearty. An appeal to his good nature would just result in suggesting I go and see a doctor.”

“We could try,” I offered, taking my pencil and drawing up a chair to Jim’s living room table. Let’s see.”

So I started and wrote:

“My dear sir-

“Would you be kind enough to give your friendliest consideration to the following appeal? I have spoken to you many times without result, but I feel that if you were to take into consideration all the facts, you would most certainly be disposed to co-operate in a neighborly spirit.

“As you know, your radio is audible in my house, especially in the quieter hours of the night, between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. It makes a faint but fully audible sound, due to the fact that you have the instrument turned on louder than perhaps is really necessary. This faint sound, unaccompanied by any soothing strains of music, is sufficient to beat upon my nerves and to cause me loss of sleep and distress.

“While I have not the pleasure of your close acquaintance, I feel sure from your appearance and general deportment, that you are not the type of man who would willingly cause distress and possibly ill-health to anyone at the price of a slight adjustment of your radio dial.”

“There,” I said; “now listen to this, Jim.” And I read it to him.

Jim listened with an increasingly frozen face.

“Nothing doing,” he interrupted, near the end. “I wouldn’t humiliate myself by writing any such balderdash. That guy! Not willingly cause distress? Why, he gets a kick out of causing distress. He’s a Sadist. He gets a queer pleasure in making other people suffer in some small, intangible, defenceless way…”

“I’ll make it a little stiffer,” I offered. “I believe in letters. A letter demands some action.”

I sat down and started again.

“My dear sir-

“From time to time I have attempted to bring to your attention a little matter of no apparent interest to you, but which is a nuisance to me and is likely in time to affect my health. I refer to the use of your radio at all hours of the night, the sounds of which penetrate my house and disturb my lawful sleep.

“Before taking steps to have this matter settled by process of law, which will doubtless put you to some expense and not a little loss of face in the neighborhood, I suggest that we settle the question in a decent and amicable fashion.

“Any previous attempts on my part to discuss the matter with you have met with complete rebuff. I suggest that if you are not prepared to reduce the volume of your radio to normal strength so that its sound does not disturb the peace of my house, you will be good enough to give me some reason for your attitude towards this matter.”

“I am, etc.”

With suitable dignity and oratorical effects, I read this masterpiece to Jimmie, but at the end, he exploded.

“I don’t want to know his reasons,” shouted Jimmie. “I don’t want to save him any legal expenses. I don’t want to have anything to do with him. I don’t even want to speak to him…”

“Very well, then,” I hastened, “make it brief and snappy, like this.”

And I took a fresh sheet and started again, while Jimmie leaped up and began prowling up and down the living room and above the scratching of my pen, the remote, African thud, thud, thud of the radio next door beat faintly and infuriatingly on the peaceful air.

“Dear sir-

“I give you final warning that if you do not tone down your radio after 11 p.m. so that its sound does not penetrate my home, I shall take steps that will astonish you.”

“There you are, Jimmie,” I shouted. “That’s get it. Listen.”

I read it to him, in a crisp, dangerous voice.

“What steps,” shouted Jim, “will I take?”

“That’s the power of this note,” I explained. “It contains mystery, threat, menace: yet you do not incriminate yourself.”

“I want to incriminate myself,” bellowed Jimmie. “I will take steps that will astonish him, all right. I’ll tell him what I am going to do.”

He snatched his coat off the back of a chair and started to pull it on fiercely.

“Here,” I said, “don’t go and get into trouble.”

“I’m fed up,” cried Jim. “I’m going to take matters into my own hands. I’m going out there and I’m going to ring his door bell and when he comes to the door I’m going to pop him on the nose.”

“Now, now…” I begged.

“Yes, sir,” cried Jim, heading for the door, “that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pop him one on the nose. The minute he opens the door.”

“Wait a minute…” I pleaded, running after him.

The Crucial Moment

But the door bell, at that curious instant, rang, arresting Jimmie in full flight, just as he started to open the vestibule door.

“Thank heavens,” I said, exchanging a very astonished look with Jim, who controlled himself with a great effort and slowly opened the door.

It was a spectacled young man with a brief case.

“Mr. Frise?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m terribly sorry to bother you so late as this,” said the young man, “but may I step in, just a moment?”

“What is it?” demanded Jim, still slightly bristling.

“It’s about your radio,” said the young man, stepping inside.

“My,” said Jim, “radio?”

“I am from the department,” explained the young gentleman, politely, opening his brief case and taking a handful of letters out. “It seems all your neighbors have complained about a serious interference emanating from your house.”

“My house?” demanded Jim loudly.

“Our trouble truck,” said the young man, “has traced the source of the difficulty to your house, and they say on their report that it is probably an oil furnace. Have you an oil furnace?”

“Yes,” said Jim.

“Is it a new model or a…?” inquired the tired young government man.

“It’s a model 1912,” said Jim, stoutly, “in perfect shape.”

“May I examine it?” asked the young gentleman. “Or would you, perhaps, prefer that I come back tomorrow?”

“What is this?” cried Jim, angrily. “What’s all this about my furnace?”

“There is a strong static interference,” explained the young chap, “that upsets all the radios in this neighborhood, and it has been traced to the electric motors in your house, probably an oil furnace.”

“Who reported this?” shouted Jim. “Give me his name.”

“Oh, it is no one person,” assured the young man. “It is all the neighbors.”

“All the neighbors?” said Jim.

“Dozens of them,” confirmed the young man. “We have only got around to it now. We’ve been very busy this season.”

“What do you want to do now?” inquired Jim, very subdued.

“May I just take a look at your furnace?” said the young chap, hanging up his hat and setting down his brief case.

So Jim took him down cellar while I stood in the living room, listening to the now fateful African drum, tumpa tump, from the house next door.

When they came up, Jimmie was telling the young man about the problems of the house next door.

“Unfortunately,” the young chap summed up, as he took his hat and brief case, “unfortunately, Mr. Frise, there is nothing in the law that governs situations such as you describe. You will attend to the other matter, will you? The furnace?”

“Tomorrow,” said Jim.

“By the way,” asked the young fellow, “I suppose you have your radio license?1

“I suppose so,” muttered Jim; “the family looks after that sort of thing.”

“I was just wondering, sir,” said the young man, bowing out. “I issue them. So I always inquire.”

“That’s all right,” said Jim

And he softly closed the door.

“Who reported this?” shouted Jim to the young man from the department (November 27, 1943)

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on November 27, 1943 with the same title.

  1. From 1922 to 1953 individual members of the public were required to pay for annual Private Receiving Station licences in order to legally receive broadcasting stations. ↩︎

The Trespasser

August 6, 1938.

Mud In Your Eye!

All of a sudden the green sedan slackened speed. “Tricked!” said I. “Worse than tricked,” said Jim, looking out the window.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 26, 1938.

“Oh, oh, did you see that?” shouted Jimmie Frise.

“It was an accident,” I assured him. “At this season of the year, everybody ought to expect to get splashed a little.”

“Oh, yeah?” cried Jim. “Why, that car deliberately swerved to one side to slash through that big puddle. And he shot up sheet of muddy slush and water all over those two poor girls.”

Jim was craning his neck to look back.

“They’re standing there,” said Jim, “soaked and filthy, with a lot of passers-by. What a shame!”

“They sure got a slather,” I admitted, slowing our car slightly so as to ooze through a puddle. “But it’s easy to forget about puddles. If we hadn’t noticed the guy splash those girls, I would have just sailed right through that last puddle.”

“The onus is on the motorist,” stated Jim.

“Why?” I demanded. “Isn’t there some responsibility on the pedestrian to look out for puddles?

“Listen,” said Jim, “all law boils down to common sense. There have always been puddles and slush at this time of the year. There were puddles before there were people. There were people before there were cars. The cars make the splash. Therefore it is the car’s fault.”

“No,” I said, slowing down for another big puddle, for which kindness several ladies and gentlemen on foot smiled gratefully at me, “the onus is on the community. Cars are no longer an incident or an accident. They are here to stay. Therefore, the community should eliminate puddles. It is the duty of the city to keep the streets drained. In a modern city, slush and puddles are as preposterous as corduroy roads would be.”

“But people,” explained Jimmie, “move at lot faster than society. It will be years before any city reaches the point of spending enough money to keep its streets drained so that nobody can be splashed. Meantime, thousands of people are going to be subjected to the indignity of being sprayed with filth, not to mention the damage done to their clothes. I say, until society reaches that stage of development, the onus should be on the motor car, and we ought to have a by-law against splashing. A car that splashes ought to be made to pay for the damage it does.”

“No, Jim,” I explained patiently, “that isn’t the way society develops. What we really want is streets so free of puddles, so beautifully drained at all seasons, that nobody can splash and nobody can be splashed. Isn’t that, right?”

“In the meantime…” started Jim.

“No, no,” I cried. “If we merely take the half-measure of a little law that allows injured parties to collect damages for ruined clothes, we won’t get anywhere. Some will use the law and others will just let it pass. Some will abuse the law, deliberately getting themselves splashed or even accusing the wrong car of splashing them. There will be measly people, who will stand for hours around a puddle waiting for a big wealthy car to come by, and then they’ll accuse the big car of ruining their clothes and collect.”

“We Must Have Outrages”

“Do you prefer that splashing go right on?” said Jim drily.

“To get reform,” I informed him, “we must have outrages. Good, strong, vigorous outrages. If there is anything I hate, it is a meek and half-hearted outrage. Or an outrage partly healed with lukewarm by-laws. Let the splashing continue, say I, until the outrage rouses the whole city, and they demand the true cure – which is, proper street cleaning and drainage, in recognition of the mutual rights of motor cars and of pedestrians.”

“You’re a Fascist,” accused Jimmie. “You want all or nothing. We democrats are satisfied with a partial cure, which at least gives us hope of healing.”

“Democrats,” I suggested, “must be mostly lawyers. Democracy is an evasive middle ground, with lots of room for argument and plenty of scope for smart guys to beat the rules.”

“Then, if you’re so fond of outrages,” inquired Jim, “why do you slow up for all the puddles? I’d expect you, from your talk, to be going around looking for big puddles and crowds of people to splash. Thus promoting the great reform.”

“My humanity always gets the better of my beliefs,” I confessed.

“Yah,” taunted Jim, “then you’re nothing but a democrat after all.”

“Pardon me,” I protested, “but some of the kindliest and most humane people in the world splash their fellow men unwittingly. And some of the most tolerant and Christian people in the world, the minute they get splashed, turn into raging bolsheviks. It isn’t what you believe that matters in life, it’s what happens to you.”

“Then,” said Jim, “all your feelings about this annual splashing bee in our fair city depend upon the fact that you are now driving a car and in a position to be a splasher. If you were a splashee, walking in the street, your ideas would be the opposite.”

“We’re getting somewhere,” I admitted, “at last.”

“No, Jim,” I said, settling more comfortably behind the wheel, “this whole field of traffic and motor cars and driving needs to be organized. We educate our children for nearly twelve compulsory years of school, in all the human relations, so that when they go out into the world, they will be social-minded. Without much more delay, we will have to introduce into our schools classes and courses in traffic.”

“When a boy or girl leaves school,” agreed Jim, “at 16 years of age, he ought to have his driver’s permit.”

“Precisely,” I cried. “That’s it. We give them training in public speaking and manual training and domestic science, but the one field in which they are most likely to get into trouble in life, either as drivers or pedestrians, we completely ignore.”

“If we started now,” declared Jim, “with a half-hour period on traffic every day from the kindergarten right through to the high schools, we would have the most perfect city in the world in 12 years.”

“Jim,” I declared, “you ought to run for the board of education. I tell you, you’ve got hold of a wonderful idea there.”

“Public life,” said Jim, off-handedly, “doesn’t appeal to me.”

Depends on Who’s Splashed

But still, it is a nice feeling to sit in a car full of imposing ideas and gratifying notions such as running for the board of education. Jim and I were sitting there, enjoying the sensation which is not unlike the sensation of a fine big dinner, when without warning, a large green sedan swerved past us at 35 miles an hour, we hitting our usual 25. And to pass us, the green sedan had to swipe through a large puddle on the off-side of the street.

From the fat tires of the sedan a sheet of filthy and muddy slush and water rose eight feet in the air. Like a fire hose, it lashed that filth all over us, making a loud sound. And a few cupfuls of the muck came through the slightly open window all over both of us. Our windshield was darkened with it. We were inundated.

I snapped on the windshield wiper.

“Look,” I shouted. “The beggar’s laughing at us.”

The green sedan had slacked speed, and we could see its driver and the lady with him turn to peer through the rear-view mirror. The man’s shoulders were shaking in mirth, and he waved an insolent hand at us.

“Git him,” grated Jimmie.

I stepped on the gas.

“I’ll git him,” I vowed, “there’s some swell puddles farther along.”

We gathered speed in the wake of the green sedan. But the driver of it, glancing in his mirror, saw us speeding up and he put on speed too.

“Boy,” I said, “will I ever give you a bath, my pretty lad!”

His car was shiny and svelte, despite the weather.

“As you pass him,” said Jim excitedly, “sort of curve around him and put on your brakes slightly. That will pick up a deluge.”

“Leave it to me,” I assured. “I know the very puddle.”

The green sedan allowed me to approach within a couple of car lengths.

“He thinks it’s a swell joke.” I muttered.

But when I started to draw ahead, he too stepped a little on the gas, with that air of ease that seems to go with green sedans.

“It isn’t going to be easy to catch that guy,” suggested Jim.

“This old crate,” I stated, “can catch anything.”

“What I’ll do,” I planned, “is make a few false starts to pass him, and that will give him a sense of security. Then suddenly I’ll really give her the gun.”

“Strategy,” agreed Jim. “Does it ever pay to be an old soldier?”

And with a gloating inside us, we began to make false starts after our green sedan friends. With a sudden tramp on the gas, I would start to creep up and swerve out as if to pass, and he, watching in his mirror, would step on the gas and leap ahead.

Four times I did this, until, the fourth time, he was so amused at what he believed to be his superior power that he barely speeded at all.

“Hah, hah,” I laughed, “now, my little playmate, comes the deluge.”

And this time tramping on the gas with all my weight and leaving it there, I had the supreme pleasure of feeling the old schooner plunge ahead and start to overhaul the enemy. Ahead, I glimpsed a gleaming sheet of slush and water. But our eyes were glued on the green shining body of the sedan.

“Watch, Jim, watch!” I exulted, as we started to come level with the now racing sedan.

“Oh, boy, what timing!” shouted Jim.

“I Saw the Whole Thing”

But all of a sudden the sedan slacked speed so that it fairly shot out of sight behind us.

“Tricked, by heaven!” I shouted as we crashed through the puddle, heaving a vast curve of mud and slush up beside us.

“Ouch,” hissed Jim. “Worse than tricked.”

“Huh?” I asked, braking.

“A policeman,” said Jim, brokenly. “An officer was sitting on his motorcycle just at the curb.

Through my rear view mirror, I saw, indeed, a motorcycle officer just rousing to action.

“Oh dear!” said I, panicky for a moment. We hit a series of bumps in the road. I skidded and twisted dizzily then shot ahead.

“Look out,” said Jim, “the officer’ll think you’re a hit-and-run driver!”

Looking in the mirror I could see a broad smile on the face of the man in the green sedan.

“Jim,” said I. “Do you know what I think?”

“Yes,” said Jim, “that green sedan deliberately tricked you into splashing the motorcycle officer.”

The green sedan, with a slight ironic toot of its horn, went decorously past us. I did not follow it with my eyes. My eyes were rearward. At 12 miles an hour, I let her chug. And sure as fate itself, the officer followed, drew alongside, signalled us and we pulled to the side of the road.

“Oh, oh, oh,” I said with pain, as I beheld the policeman all slush from helmet to feet.

“Oh, oh,” said Jim.

The policeman heaved himself stiffly off the cycle. He shook himself laboriously, like a St. Bernard. He stood looking down at himself, his arms stiff, his fingers stiff, letting it drip.

Patiently he drew a handkerchief from within the bosom of his coat and stiffly wiped his face. Then he advanced.

“Well?” he said. Grief not anger filled his mien.

“Officer,” I said. “I can’t tell you how sorry…”

“It wasn’t your fault,” said the officer sadly. “I saw the whole thing.”

Jim and I sat speechless.

“Yes, sir,” said the officer, “I saw the whole thing. The car ahead of you seeing the puddle suddenly slacked and you had to pull out around him. On account of him you couldn’t see me. Yet even if you had of seen me, what could you of done?”

Jim and I sat speechless.

“Yes,” sighed the officer, still wiping his face and the back of his neck and digging in his ears. “I saw it all.”

“We’re dreadfully sorry, none the less,” I said warmly.

“Oh, I shouldn’t wonder,” agreed the officer at last putting his dark hanky away and reaching back for his little book.

“I’ll just take your name, anyway,” he said, “in case I ever need witnesses as to how I come to get all wet like that.”

He slowly licked the pages of his little book open and found a lovely clean spot.

“Let’s just take a look at your driver’s permit,” he said, kindly, “so as to get the spelling right, and that sort of thing.”

I showed him my permit. He took down my name, carefully, and checked front and back license plates and wrote down my number thoughtfully.

Jim nudged me sharply.

“Well,” sighed the policeman, closing his book. “Thank you, gents, I guess you can be on your way.”

“Good day, officer,” I said, anxiously.

“Toot, toot,” said he, languidly wiggling his fingers at us.

We drove off. Slowly.

“How fast was I going when we hit that puddle, Jim?” I asked harshly.

“Fifty,” said Jim.

“H’m,” said I.

So now we are waiting for the blue paper.


Editor’s Notes: A corduroy road is an old pioneer type road made of logs lain next to the other.

They use the terms fascist and bolshevik (communist) fairly loosely here, but in 1938 there were still fascist and communist governments.

I’m assuming the blue paper would be a traffic ticket or summons? Maybe back then the police only took your information and the official ticket came in the mail later?

When the Greg-Jim stories started and they were still figuring out the format, it was not uncommon to have more than one illustration. That there were two drawings in this story, 6 years after they started, is unusual.

De Lux

February 12, 1938

Fifty-Dollar Bonus

“Oh, what a thing to bring home to my wife and children,” said the truck driver.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 22, 1938.

“Sit easy,” said Jimmie Frise. “Sit easy.”

“Be more careful,” I retorted. “Don’t come up to an intersection at 40 miles an hour and then jam on the brakes like that. Ooze up to an intersection.”

“Heh, heh,” sneered Jimmie. “You broadcasting. Mr. Gregory Clark is now on the air to tell you how to drive.”

“All right, all right,” I countered. “I’m. only trying to help you. All I say is, be more rhythmic in your driving.”

“O. Kay,” said Jim, bitterly. “You whistle the tune and I’ll dance.”

“Jim,” I said, injured, “for weeks I’ve been thinking of speaking to you about the way you drive. I’ve put a lot of thought into it. I’ve studied you. Don’t imagine I am just one of these back-seat drivers that babbles automatically. I tell you. I have made a careful study and survey of the way you drive, keeping my mouth shut until I knew what I wanted to tell you.”

“Ah,” said Jim, letting in his clutch with a sharp angry rasp and tramping on the gas so that the back end of the car tried to go sooner than the front end, with a horrible rocking-horse effect, “ah, so all the time we’ve been driving together, I have been a sort of a frog on the laboratory table, eh? Watching me, eh? Research stuff, between so-called friends.”

“Calm yourself, Jim,” I counselled. “Driving a car is no longer an art, it is an instinct, like walking or breathing. We all walk differently, some of us walk well and some badly. But it isn’t an easy thing to change a man’s style of walking. You might almost as easily change his character. In fact, the way a man walks is usually a manifestation of his character, the same as his driving. Lazy men slouch along; purposeful men walk with a clean, smooth walk. Crafty men walk craftily, on their toes, like a cat. The same with driving.”

“So?” said Jim.

“If you had a sharp and clear-cut defect in your character, Jim,” I began, “you would expect me, as a friend, to mention it to you, wouldn’t you?”

“And you,” replied Jim, calmly, “would naturally expect me to return the favor?”

“Jim,” I stated firmly, “I have been informed by literally scores of people, including some of the most expert drivers, that I am a careful, smooth, efficient, driver.”

“I am not referring,” said Jim, “to your driving.”

“Let that go,” I suggested, after a pause. “But what I am trying to get at, if you will permit me, is that you drive a car as if it were a tractor or an army tank. You lack the delicate touch. You grab and stamp and jerk. Now, a modern car requires no such violence. It is a creature of delicate balance and control. It is, as nearly as mechanical science can design it, built to conform to your very nerves, limbs and brain.”

“What time is it?” interrupted Jim.

“Ten-twenty.” I informed him. “Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Jim, “they say there is usually a lull in the conversation at 20 minutes after and 20 minutes to the hour.”

“It didn’t work this time,” I remarked. “As I was saying, the ideal of modern automotive engineers is to construct a car so perfectly that it will, in a sense, be actually part of the human mechanism; tied in, as it were, to our very flesh and nerves, so that, as lightly and instantly as our eyes or hands respond, so will our car.”

It’s a Natural Instinct

“That’s the way they’ve got this car,” declared Jim, giving her a little gas and lurching it wide and furiously past another smartly-travelling car.

“Now what,” I demanded fiercely, “in the name of goodness did you want to do that for? That car was going as fast as we want to go. In fact, you have had to put on a little speed the last minute or so to overtake it. Then you speed up to 45 to pass it. And now, look, you are back to 35. What’s the idea?”

“It is a natural instinct,” stated Jim, “to want to get ahead of the fellow ahead of you.”

“And I suppose,” I scoffed, “that it is also a natural instinct to slow down and get in his way, once you have passed him?”

“Aw, dry up.” said Jim.

“As a student of human affairs,” I declared, “I am trying to get to the bottom of these things having to do with driving. Our world is now almost 100 per cent motorized. It is time we began to think very earnestly about developing a code of morals and manners with regard to driving.”

“Aren’t laws enough?”, inquired Jim.

“No, laws are never enough,” I explained. “Laws are the last ditch. There are laws against murder. But what really prevents murder amongst us is an ancient and long-developed code of morals and manners.”

“You’re right,” breathed Jimmie. “It’s my manners that hold me back.”

We drew near another intersection, and I sat up to observe the phenomenon of Jimmie’s method of handling the situation. At 37 miles an hour, he charged the intersection, where the red light was on. Two cars were already ahead of him, halted.

At 37, Jim charged down, and then, three car lengths from the stop, he jammed on his brakes, half rising in his seat to give the pedal his full weight. The car staggered under the drag of the brakes. And just as Jim neared the stop, he suddenly decided not to get in behind the two cars ahead of him, but to swerve out and draw alongside of them, for a quicker getaway.

But as he swerved, another car from behind at the same instant tried to come into the open space Jim was swerving for. With a wild snort of horn and a screech of violently applied brakes, the other swung his car far out to the left, so escaping hitting Jim’s fenders.

“Well, the darn fool,” gasped Jim, angry and startled.

The newcomer ran down his window, stuck his head out and shouted outrageous and scandalous remarks at Jimmie.

Then the lights changed, and we all went merrily on our way.

“That fool,” said Jim, “mighty near smacked our fenders.”

“If you will permit me,” I stated, “as an unprejudiced and impartial observer, to say something…”

“The car behind,” cried Jim loudly, “according to law, is always responsible. If he had smacked us, he would have been legally to blame.”

So indignant was Jim, he made a terrible sound trying to shift into second gear at the next turn. It was a toothed, rasping screaming sound, such as demons make. This unsettled him and he tramped on the gas again, causing the car to stagger as from a blow. To correct this. Jim tramped the brakes with authority, creating further staggers; and then, to relieve his feelings, he pressed the heel of his hand on the horn, though there was nobody ahead of us.

“Jim,” I remonstrated.

“Aw,” rasped he, all flushed, “go to blazes. Let me drive.”

So I sit back and let him drive. We steamed resolutely to intersections, as usual, and braked suddenly to let a car cross ahead of us; or, with a sudden flood of gas, leaped ahead to nip past ahead of a crossing car. We came to a traffic jam at a crossing where we wanted to turn right, and just as we tried to work in on the right-hand lane, somebody else curved in ahead of us, blocking the right-hand turn, though all they wanted to do was go straight ahead, with the jump on the others rightfully ahead.

“In New York,” muttered Jim,” they’d skin that guy alive for blocking that right-hand lane.”

A moment later, we came to another jam, with which we wanted to proceed straight ahead; but, seeing the right-hand lane open, we sneaked into it to save time. And immediately, a car came in behind us and tooted indignantly.

“Aw, dry up,” said Jim.

We got in straight ahead lanes, and were held up while somebody in front wanted to turn left. We ran up alongside of cars only to have them force us outward because they wanted to pass a parked car. We backed and filled. We started and stopped. We crawled and crept. And it was all done with gritted teeth, and gritted gears, and brakes grabbed and steering wheel wrenched and engine raced.

“Say something,” challenged Jim, through his teeth sideways.

“We’ll have to develop a code,” I stated, “of traffic morals and manners. And we will have to start teaching it in the first book of the public schools. It is far more important. than many of the things they teach in the public schools now. It doesn’t matter how bad people’s table manners are. That is a private affair. But driving is a public affair. And public manners have to be brought under control.”

“It’s human nature,” said Jim, “to fight and compete.”

“It’s time,” I countered, “that we realized that human nature is animal nature, and we’re all like hogs at the trough.”

“You’re a radical,” declared Jimmie.

“I’m worse than that,” I admitted. “I’m a cannibal. I eat pork.”

With which pleasant thought, we worked our way out of the down-town congestion and proceeded westward out on a fine open highway, and came at length to a well-known V intersection in these parts, one of those V intersections which the police, with their usual skill, have guarded with two large yellow signs, inscribed with the word “Caution.”

I saw the truck as soon as Jimmie did. All I did was draw in my breath and press my two feet on the sloping floor boards.

It was a massive truck, with, that authority in its manner that those season box holders at the hockey games have. It was, in fact, a sort of Big Business of a truck. It had speed, weight, power.

Coming up to the V intersection, both Jimmie and the truck were travelling about the same rate of speed, slackening only slightly in honor of the large yellow signs.

To me, it was a sort of drama. The truck started to slacken, and so did Jim. I could see the big truck begin to respond to that expert tap, tap on the brakes which such great drivers as Sir Malcolm Campbell recommend, at the same time that Jimmie, while I held my breath, tap, tapped at his brakes, alert, watchful, calculating.

It was a sort of after-you-my-dear-Alphonse business. The truck started to take the crossing at the same instant Jimmie did, and as Jim braked, so did the truck. Then they both started again at the same instant, and then both braked. It was, in fact, silly.

“What the…” said Jim, impatiently, and tramped on the gas with a will.

And at the exact same instant, the truck driver, no doubt also muttering “what the…” tramped on his gas.

And the result, which I had sensed from the start, was inevitable. With a brief, sickening grunt the two of us, the giant truck and our car, slammed noses.

But such was the nature of things, the great, massive truck and the light family car, that while the truck got nothing more than a slight corrugated dinge in its front fender, our poor front end collapsed like a worm tin.

We all piled out. Jim, with tight lips, was refraining from saying anything until he got his ideas co-ordinated.

But the truck driver was a spectacle.

He seemed weak with fright. For such a measly bump as he got, he seemed to be excessively disturbed. With a great moan, he came around and leaned on the fender of his truck.

“Oh, oh,” he cried brokenly. “What a terrible thing to happen.”

“You truck drivers,” began Jim, tensely, “with all the weight you’ve got, should realize … look at my car!”

“Oh, me,” cried the truck driver, piteously, “gentlemen, you don’t understand. My poor little wife. My two little kiddies”

“What’s that?” cried Jim sternly.

“Oh, ho, ho,” wept the big fellow, bending down, to look at the trifling dent in his fender, as if to see a wound in his child’s leg. “O the pity.”

“What’s the matter,” shouted Jim, “look at this mess.”

And he pointed dramatically at his own mushed front end. Our car had the expression of a bulldog, so flattened was its countenance.

“Ah, yes,” said the big truck driver as he glanced briefly at our car. “Yes, gents, that’s all very well. It means little to you, that damage. For a few paltry dollars, you can have it fixed, or maybe your insurance company will do it for nothing.”

“It was nobody’s fault,” declared Jim. “We both did it.”

“That’s the pity of it,” said the truck driver, wiping his brow. “Oh, what a thing to bring home to-night to my little wife and children. Here I was within two weeks of getting the bonus.”

“The bonus?” we chorused.

“The bonus,” said the driver, with a catch in his voice. “My employers pay a bonus of $50 a year to every driver who goes through the year without a scratch. I’ve driven 50 weeks of the year… and now this happens. Now this!”

And he leaned back and looked as if he could not believe his senses at the two trifling nicks in his fender. Our poor old wreck yawned and grimaced before us in vain.

“The law is…” began Jimmie.

“Yes, the law,” said the driver sadly. “And the insurance. If you report it to the insurance, they take it up with my employers. And I’m sunk… even if I could afford to have this dent fixed up on the quiet.”

And he paused, speechless, beyond leaning back to look around the engine of his truck at a couple of cars loudly complaining about being held up in traffic by us. He merely moved his mouth and scowled at them, but you could read his lips. The cars quit complaining and backed up and went around us.

“Well,” said Jim, surveying the front of our car, “after all, I suppose there is only a few dollars of damage done here.”

“How much have you got on you?” I inquired of Jim quietly.

“Four,” muttered Jim, “four-sixty.”

“I can lend you three,” I murmured.

So we made up $7.50 and handed it to the truck driver, who could scarcely believe his eyes.

“Why,” he stammered. “I’ll be able… I’ll be able to have it mended up here a piece … maybe I can … maybe they’ll never find out!”

“Forget it,” said Jim. “Forget it, my boy.”

And we waved him on his way, and bent up our front left fender so it wouldn’t scrape on the tire, and started the engine and sure enough it went, almost as good as ever, but with perhaps a slight quiver.

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, as he turned her head back down-town to take us to the garage where we get these thing fixed up now and then, “as a matter of fact, do you know what caused that collision?”

I had several reasons and was selecting one when he went on:

“Manners,” he said. “Manners. If both the truck and I had simply barged ahead as usual at that intersection, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“That’s right,” I assured him. “Blame me.”


Editor’s Notes: While reading this story, all I could think is that they had no seatbelts back then.

Sir Malcolm Campbell was a contemporary British racer.

“After You, My Dear Alphonse,” is an expression that comes from a comic strip Alphonse and Gaston, by Frank Opper.

Old-Fashioned

“Sure, sure,” said the constable, taking us by the shoulder. “And is it the Queen of Sheba you are taking out for a sleigh ride?”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 31, 1938.

Have you ever thought of driving in a sleigh to see your friends on New Year’s Day? Greg and Jim tried to get one – and look what happened!

“It seems a pity,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “that all the old-fashioned things have to be junked.”

“When I was a little boy,” I recollected, “I used to be so proud of my home as compared with my grandmother’s home. Mine was bright and vivid, the furniture was light yellow maple and oak; but Grandma’s was full of dark, dull old simple stuff called walnut.”

“Did you have a brass table in your home?” inquired Jim.

“At the parlor window,” I cried. “A brass table with curved legs and a kind of sickly greenish-yellow marble square top with a doily on it. The parlor was full of brightness. A huge red plush rocking chair, Tall buff colored urns and pitchers. One of the biggest pictures in the parlor had a beautiful snow-white frame. And another picture had a red plush frame.”

“I remember,” said Jim. “Ours was the same.”

“But Grandma’s house,” I recalled, “was so plain, so severe. Everything was walnut. It was almost bleak in her house. Every room with just a few things in it, not packed full, like ours. I used to feel sorry for Grandma living in that dim, quiet house. When she died, and all her furniture had to be divided up amongst her children, we had to take some of it, a couple of chests of drawers, a sideboard, some chairs and a tall bookcase. We hid them up in the attic.”

“Then what?” demanded Jim, knowing what was coming.

“Well,” I said, “this just goes to show what happened to old-fashioned things. One day, they suddenly threw out all the maple and the light oak and the red plush chairs, and they brought Grandma’s stuff down out of the attic. Reverently, almost. They had furniture men in to polish and shine and repair knobs. Every single item of Grandma’s simple, glorious old walnut was carried tenderly down. from the attic and we did our best to remember how it used to be placed. We tried to recapture again the severe simplicity of Grandma’s living room. We all got fighting over Grandma’s stuff, 20 years after she was gone. We tried to wheedle, buy or steal from one another the lovely colonial walnut that had been in the family a hundred years. It kicked out all the maple, oak and brass as easily as a snowplow flings aside the snow. If an old-fashioned thing has merit, Jimmie, it can never be permanently thrown away. It comes back down out of the attic.”

“I was thinking,” said Jim, “about the way we used to celebrate New Year’s Day. The way our parents and grandparents did it. You must admit that there is an old fashion that has gone with the wind.”

“I guess it has,” I submitted sadly. “It was a day of visiting.”

“We didn’t sleep in, on New Year’s Day,” declared Jim. “We got up early and got dressed in our best clothes. There was a great dinner to be prepared, but that was only incidental. The great thing was to watch out the window and see the visitors coming.”

“In sleighs,” I recalled, “with sleigh bells.”

When They Went Calling

“All the friends and relatives called,” said Jim, “and from 10 a.m. to nearly 1 p.m., there was a steady stream of visitors. The world was divided into two groups. Those who had small children stayed home New Year’s morning, to receive. And those without children as well as the elderly, did the visiting. Then, in the afternoon, after the great New Year’s banquet, your parents dressed you all up and got the cutter out and went calling in the afternoon on the middle-aged, the childless and so forth.”

“That’s absolutely right,” I agreed. “We had an old Uncle Edward. I can see him yet. He was a big old man with a mane of white hair and side whiskers down around his ears, and he wore an otter fur cap, a black greatcoat with an otter collar and frog buttons of braid across the front. He used to arrive every New Year’s morning about 11 o’clock. He came in a cutter, drawn by two horses with bells.

“He used to hire the cutter, and the coachman, in a big round bearskin hat, would leap down off the front of the cutter, which was all shining patent leather, throw back the buffalo robe, and Uncle Edward would step grandly down, with his gold-headed cane, and walk with lovely dignity up the walk and into our house. We children were shooed into the kitchen and we would peep in to see Uncle Edward sitting there, in the parlor, his hands on the gold head of the cane, talking to my father and mother and any aunts who were visiting us. He would have a glass of port wine and a piece of Christmas cake. He would stay about 15 minutes, then, with kisses all round and strong cries of Happy New Year, he would march out to his cutter, be tucked in by the coachman, and then drive jingling gloriously down the street on his round of all his friends and relatives.”

“Boy,” said Jim, mistily, “wouldn’t it be swell to rent a cutter, with two horses, and sleigh bells, and go calling on all our relatives and friends, New Year’s morning?”

“If we had snow,” I pointed out, “it would be all gone by New Year’s. Toronto has lost many old-fashioned things, but even a big snowfall is gone in a day, in this slush country.”

“I wonder if we could find a cutter in Toronto now?” asked Jimmie. “Just in case. Suppose New Year’s morning is a glorious white, sparkling day. Can you imagine anything dearer to the heart than going visiting our friends, for old times’ sake, in a cutter?”

“Jim, it’s a vain hope,” I submitted.

“Nothing is vain, if you go after it,” cried Jim, getting up and studying the phone book. “Liveries, liveries.”

But there were no liveries in the back of the phone book. And the only horses referred to were horse transport. There were slicing machines and slip covers, but no sleighs. Jim finally telephoned a friend of his who is a school teacher and he gave us the name of a man who owned sleighs for sleighing parties in the winter. We called him on the phone and he said he only had two big sleighs for school sleighing parties.

“Are there no cutters left in Toronto?” Jim asked him.

“No,” said this old-timer, “and no gas street lamps, either.”

Looking For a Cutter

“They have any number of sleighs and cutters in Montreal,” Jim accused.

“Ah, yes,” said the old-timer, “but this is Toronto. We’re up to date.”

“Yeah, up to date,” sneered Jim.

“I tell you,” said the old livery man, “there used to be a fellow I knew in off Yonge street, who had a few relics left, and one of them, if I recollect, was a cutter. He used to keep it all smeared with vaseline to preserve the patent leather.”

“That’s it, that’s it,” cried Jim.

“I haven’t seen him for five or ten years,” said the old-timer, to whom time was a little vague. “But I’ll be glad to describe how you get to where he used to be. It’s up a lane. You go in off Yonge…”

And when Jimmie hung up, he had explicit directions how to locate an ancient livery man who might have preserved, amongst his outmoded souvenirs, a cutter, a great black patent leather cutter, with sweeping fenders and spacious upholstered body, and a high seat for the cabby to sit on while he skitched at his prancing pair, loud with bells.

“It’s a sentimental journey,” said Jim, starting to clear up his desk. So, New Year’s week being a kind of dithery week anyway, we quit for the day and headed up Yonge street. Yonge street, in only a few years, has surrendered many of its antique features. Up around College St., where there used to be, until quite recently, a lot of odd little byways, and lanes, the Parliament buildings, the automotive industry and the hospitals have encroached and expanded. We followed our directions very carefully, but found, in the narrow lane to which we were directed, only the back of a big white garage.

Wandering back and forth amidst these streets that in their time had livery stables every other building, we found at last a lane that certainly appeared to lead to the past. It was dilapidated and awry. Its old board fences staggered, and there were boxes and bins of rubbish. Tracks of horses showed in the slush, and we felt that however forbidding the lane appeared, up here, if anywhere, we might find an old man treasuring an ancient cutter.

We walked rather cautiously up the lane and followed around two turns, each more uninviting than the last.

On turning a sudden corner, we came upon five men, seedy, shabby and obviously under the influence. They had a small fire built of sticks and rubbish and over it were melting a can of something, which they poured into a handkerchief and strained into a dirty bottle.

“Hi-ya,” said the first of the tramps to see us.

The others leaped up and stared at us like startled goats.

“Hi-ya,” they all said.

“Canned heat,” said Jimmie, to me. “What a bunch of cutthroats.”

“Do you men,” I asked, in the better class manner one uses with bums on their own ground, “know of an old livery stable in here?”

One of the five, with purple face and bloodshot eyes, swayed and staggered over and took me unwillingly by the lapel.

“How about two bits, Mack,” he asked thickly. “Two bits, I ain’t had a bite to eat since yesterday.”

“Get away,” I said, trying to detach my coat collar.

“Tell It to the Sergeant”

A couple of the others, impressed with the possibilities, staggered up and one took Jim by the arm and the other took me.

“Come on, Mack,” they said, “join little party. Hi-ya, boys. Little party. Contribute two bits, as all.”

I struggled but Jim gave me a smiling wink, not to resist. The better part of valor, with drunks, is certainly not dignity.

We had just reached the neighborhood of the small bonfire, when from behind us we felt, rather than heard, a crunching and thudding of feet, and around the bend came three policemen, in their greatcoats and fur caps.

The hoboes, with an alacrity that was astonishing, began running in all directions at once, like hens in a barnyard; but since the lane was a dead end, it was only a matter of a moment before the policemen had all five of them by the scruff, as little children are captured by a big brother.

And we were included.

“Stand over there,” said the oldest of the policemen, and he was only a lad.

“Pardon me,” said Jim, “we’re not in this.”

“Oh, you’re not, are you?” said the cop.

And he signalled us to stand back against the fence.

“We certainly are not,” I interrupted hotly.

“A canned heat party,” said the policeman, more to his pals than to us, “sure gathers a queer assortment.”

“Listen,” I said, firmly, “we just happened to come around that bend two minutes ago. Just ahead of you.”

“Oho, is that so?” said the policeman. “And what were you doing promenading up and down a nice little lane like this?”

“We were looking for a livery stable,” I explained.

“A what?” said the policeman, and all the others listened.

“A livery stable,” I stated firmly. “We were looking for a livery stable to see if we could rent a cutter.”

“A cutter?” said the policeman. “What kind of a cutter?”

“A cutter,” I explained, “a sleigh, the kind you go driving…”

“Higher than a kite,” interrupted the policeman, and addressing his mates, he said: “That’s what canned heat does, see? Nutty. Right off the deep end.”

“I beg your pardon, my man,” said Jim, haughtily, “you are making a very serious mistake. I tell you, we were in here looking for a sleigh to rent.”

“Sure, sure,” said the constable, taking one of the bums in one hand, taking me by the shoulder and signalling his mates to gather up the rest, including Jim. “Sure, sure, Colonel. And is it the Queen of Sheba you are taking out for a nice sleigh ride?”

“Jim,” I shouted, “are we going to submit to this?”

“Look here,” said Jim, halting, but the policeman gave his sleeve a little twitch that nearly upended him.

“Tell it to the sergeant,” said all three.

So instead of a sleigh ride, we went for a ride in the policeman’s motor car, the five bums being held at a lamp post by the other two policemen while they telephoned for the black wagon.

“Speaking of old-fashioned things,” said Jim, as we raced through the streets, “it would have been kind of choice to get a ride in the Black Maria.”

With An Eye to the Past

At the police station, we found a young policeman sitting on the high stool behind the counter. Funny how much younger policemen get as you get older. You rarely see a policeman of your own age nowadays.

“What’s this for?” he asked our escort.

“Canned heat,” said our captor.

The young fellow looked us over with amazement.

“Boy,” he breathed, “you never can tell, can you?”

“Look here, sergeant,” I shouted firmly, “we are a couple of respectable citizens who were walking in a lane…”

“Tell all about the cutter you want,” interrupted our young man, “that you’re going to take the Queen of Sheba for a ride in.”

“I tell you,” I asserted loudly and angrily, “that we were in search of a cutter, a cutter is a sort of open carriage in the form of a sleigh. My friend and I were going to see if we could rent one for an old-fashioned New Year’s Day. Do you follow me?”

“Sure, sure,” said the young fellow behind the counter.

“When we were young,” I explained, dramatically, “all our elders used to make New Year’s the occasion of visiting far and wide amongst our friends and relatives, and they drove around in cutters, with sleigh bells…”

There came a loud bump from an inner room, and out walked a tall elderly sergeant in his black badges.

“What’s this, what’s this?” he inquired kindly. “What’s all this I hear about going visiting on New Year’s Day, with cutters…?”

“These are a couple of canned heat babies,” explained our captor, “we picked up in a lane along with a bunch of the regulars who are coming in the wagon.”

The sergeant studied us narrowly. He leaned down and smelt me. He smelt Jim.

“Gentlemen,” he said, politely, “step inside. Take a chair.”

We entered the private office.

“Now what is this?” he asked, tilting back.

So we explained to him that we were just a couple of old-fashioned birds with an eye to the past, who got the idea we would like to find a sleigh, a cutter, with two spanking horses and sleigh bells, and go through the streets of Toronto….

“Why, my dear sir,” cried the sergeant, “I’ve been thinking that very same thing for years. I’ve had the boys keeping a sharp eye out for any old cutter…

So we jumped up off our chairs and sat on the edge of his desk, and I told him about my old Uncle Edward and he told about an Uncle Tod he had back in Ireland, where they rarely had any snow, and Jimmie described what his old home town looked like on New Year’s Day back in the dear olden time, and the sergeant made a pact with us that whoever found the old sleigh first would tell the other, so that we could use it turn about, in the mornings and the afternoons, year in, year out, on New Year’s Days so long as we might live.

“Listen,” I said, firmly, “we just happened to come around that bend two minutes ago. Just ahead of you.”

Editor’s Notes: A cutter is a type of horse drawn sleigh. They tend to be smaller than full sized slieghs.

“…skitched at his prancing pair”. Skitching means being pulled by a horse in this context.

Canned Heat is Sterno, a brand of jellied, denatured alcohol sold in a can and meant to be burned directly in its can. In the Depression (when this was written), hoboes would squeeze canned heat through a cloth to make cheap alcohol.

A Black Maria is a police van.

This story was repeated on December 31, 1943 as “What! No Cutters?”. It’s illustration is at the end.

Second Best Turkey

Finally we came back to the good one Jim had spotted in the first place; and bought it.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 24, 1938.

All God’s children have wings… Christmas is like a pair of glasses that allows us to see them

“I’m heading for the market,” said Jimmie Frise. “Want to come?”

“What’s doing at the market?” I inquired.

“I’ve got to buy a turkey,” said Jim, “the best turkey in the market.”

“A turkey?” I exclaimed. “Then what was that enormous nude figure I saw hanging up in your back kitchen this morning?”

“Ah, that’s our turkey,” explained Jim. “But this one I’ve got to buy is for an old friend of the family, an old lady I’ve been giving a Christmas turkey to now for nearly 20 years.”

“That’s kind,” I submitted. “The true Christmas spirit. We should always remember the poor old ladies.”

“Poor old lady my foot,” laughed Jim. “This one is no poor old lady. She’s got a lot more dough than you and me together. She’s a very comfortable old party, very comfortable indeed.”

“Aha,” I laughed back, “Rich old lady gets Christmas turkey, Jimmie Frise gets ten thousand dollars.”

“No chance,” said Jim. “She gets the income from an estate and every cent of it goes to her children when she dies. But she’s such a lonely old soul, we just started this turkey business after the war and now she expects it, as regular as her cheque from the trust company. She wouldn’t buy a turkey if we didn’t send her one.”

“What kind of a person is she?” I protested. “Some kind of old crank?”

“Oh, no, she’s all right,” explained Jim, “but she just doesn’t get on with people. Her children and so forth. But it doesn’t hurt us to send her a turkey and she gets a tremendous kick out of it. It gives her the Christmas feeling, I guess.”

“It’s funny,” I said, “the people who think they are entitled to feel the Christmas spirit.”

“I always get her,” said Jim, “the finest and biggest turkey I can find. It gives me a queer feeling to send her such a turkey. She can’t ever use it. A little turkey, even a little chicken, would be enough for her. But being reasonable at Christmas seems sort of blasphemous to me. To really feel Christian, you ought to overdo things. You ought to carry things to excess. It’s a form of humor. The divine humor that sent hosts of angels to sing and shout the good tidings of great joy, not, up the main streets and into the better-class residential districts, but to shepherds minding their flocks by night, out on the cold and lonely hills. How about it? Would you like to come?”

So we went to the market, and a great place it is, Christmas week. So crowded with provender, there is hardly any room for the buyers. And it has a great country smell to it, and the cold is so sharp and the sense of bounty so lavish. It is not like going into a store, where the turkeys are in one section and the cabbages in another. You can see all kinds of separate and distinct exhibitions of turkeys, as though it were an art show, and each man had his own chef d’oeuvres by themselves. You struggle slowly through the narrow crowded aisles, gazing upon great displays of hung turkeys, some pallid, some rosy, some bloated, some lean, some neatly killed and some killed as though by a sledge hammer on the head. And all of them aloft above an earthly array of every conceivable vegetable and fruit, offered in country simplicity without guile or art.

Red Ribbon and Gold String

“Don’t let’s be in a hurry,” said Jim. “I want to buy my turkey, knowing it is the biggest and best in the market. That is a most important part of this gift.”

“I can’t understand you going to such bother over a cranky old lady,” I submitted. “It is cold and it’s damp in here. Let’s get going. There’s a dandy big bird, right there.”

“Too old,” said Jim. “Tough as shoe leather. Dry as punk.”

He thrust his way down the aisle and I followed in the wake he made amidst the crowd. He stopped and studied every turkey display, large and small. He leaned out and felt the bulging breastbones. He squeezed their meat, pinched the skin.

“There’s a beauty,” he admitted at last. “There’s a real Christmas turkey. Look at it. Look at the shape. The color. Feel the skin.”

“O-kay, take it,” I said, adjusting my muffler better, because the market chill was penetrating me.

“Not until I’ve been around and made sure,” said Jim.

“Aw, what the heck is this?” I called sharply.

“It’s a ceremony,” said Jim. “An old lady who doesn’t deserve it, is getting a lot of attention. And the best of it is, she will never know about it. All she gets is a turkey. But look what I get out of it.”

“I don’t see it,” I declared, following him again.

“Plenty wouldn’t,” agreed Jim.

So round and round the market we struggled, in the far corners, down the main aisle, and finally, after most thoroughly scrutinizing every turkey on display, we came back to the good one Jim had spotted in the first place; and bought it. At a price that was considerable. The farmer wrapped it with the special care farmers take in wrapping things up, and always vainly. For when he handed the monstrous package over the rough counter, turkey was protruding out of it in sundry places. But that’s the best part of parcels from the market.

Out to King St. we labored our way and into the car and back to the parking lot near the office. Jim locked the car doors carefully and we went back to the office for such work as a man can do Christmas week, with everybody coming in to see us and everybody telephoning from home to remind us what we have to bring home, and nobody’s mind on work anyway.

And at 5 p.m., we proceeded out into the night to go home in Jim’s car. There was mighty turkey, safely at rest upon the back seat.

“Let’s see,” said Jim, “did we have anything else to get before we go home?”

“Not me,” I stated.

And Jim, as though there was something on his mind, slowly got in behind the steering wheel and we drove down to the Lake Shore.

Half way home along that crowded and wintry highway, Jim suddenly cried:

“Ribbon.”

“Stickers,” I retorted.

“Hang it, I was told to bring home ten yards of red ribbon,” said Jim, as we bowled along in the traffic.

“And I was told to bring home a packet of Christmas stickers,” I confessed.

“We’ll turn up to Queen St.,” said Jim. “There are lots of little stores along there.”

So we edged our way out of the homing traffic and turned up one of the northerly exits from the Lake Shore and made our way to Queen St., at one of the sections of it filled with little stores, no less bright and gay than downtown.

“Get me ten yards of narrow red ribbon,” said Jim, as I got out at the first space we came to.

I entered a little shop and got the ribbon and two packets of assorted stickers, when the door opened with a jangle of bells and Jim came in.

“Gold string, too,” he said. “I forgot. A ball of gold string.”

So we got that and crossed the jamming traffic to our car and got back in.

“The turkey!” shouted Jim.

The turkey was gone.

Yes, sir, in less than three minutes, that turkey had been snaffled right off the back seat of the car. With the streets jammed and bright and roaring.

We leaped out and looked furiously in all directions. In a doorway, an elderly lady, who was sweeping slush off the step, signalled us:

“A young boy took a package out of that car,” she called. “I spoke to him but he said he was to deliver it across the street.”

“What did he look like?” Jim demanded.

“A nice young chap,” said the woman. “About 18 or so. A very nice-mannered boy.”

“Which way did he go?” I cried.

“Why, he walked right across the street, heading a little off that way,” said the lady, indicating east with her broom.

“Come on,” commanded Jim.

“He can’t be far ahead,” I submitted, as we dodged across the street.

“He can’t run with that parcel,” gasped Jim, running, “but we can.”

So we ran, ducking and nipping in and out of the street crowds, and keeping a sharp eye in all directions and in the store windows.

At the first corner, we asked a newsboy if he had seen a young fellow going by with a big parcel.

“Sure,” he said, “a guy just went up there in a hurry. With a turkey, I think.”

“That’s him,” shouted Jim, and up the dark little old street we galloped. Ahead, we made out a few pedestrians going and coming and a long way up, one figure in particular, a half-running figure and in his arms some kind of a load.

We ran. As we gained on him, he turned sharply into a sidewalk, and as he did so, we stopped running instantly, and made note of which house he was entering. When he disappeared, we began to run again until we came abreast, approximately, of the place he had turned. It was a shabby little narrow house, one of a dozen alike.

“I think it’s this one,” panted Jim.

“Take it easy, get our wind,” I gasped. So we walked up the pavement and stood in the shadow of the front door, and shadowy it was.

“The thief,” I muttered. “The dirty snatcher.”

“Young toughs,” panted Jim, “pinching Christmas turkeys right out of cars….”

“Will we turn him in? Should we get a cop first?” I asked.

“Get the turkey, before he hides it,” corrected Jim in a low voice. “Then we can report it. Probably some young gangster. Our word will be enough.”

Jim, peering and finding no bell, rapped loudly on the old blistered door.

No answer. He rapped loudly again.

“Footsteps,” whispered Jim

A light came on in the vestibule, there was a fumbling at the lock; and the door opened. There before us, silhouetted against the light, was a young fellow of about 17, still in his overcoat.

“We’d like to speak to you, me lad,” said Jim, sternly, pushing in. The young fellow backed ahead of him and I followed.

“Where’s the parcel?” demanded Jim, quietly, for fear of bringing tough reinforcements from the back of the house, where, from behind closed doors, sounds of excitement came. “Where’s the parcel you carried in here a minute ago?”

“What,” said the young scoundrel, in thick, husky voice, “what kind of parcel, mister?”

“A turkey,” said Jim, “wrapped in newspapers.”

The young fellow stood motionless in the pallid light and his head was hung so we could not see his face. It was a thin face. A thin, rather fine looking face on a young man so shabbily dressed, in coarse work clothes.

“Come on,” I said sharply.

“I’ll,” he said, barely audible, “I’ll go get it.”

“Make it snappy,” I repeated.

But still he stood, motionless, as if his legs were turned to lead. Still his hand was on the doorknob, clenched and white. And slowly he lifted his face. I do not suppose I should say it was a beautiful face. It is not right to say thieves have beautiful faces. But slowly he lifted it, not to us, but as if to God, maybe, and on it was a strange, white, thin, terrible expression of agony that I seemed to have seen before, somewhere, perhaps in old paintings was it, or maybe on little wooden carvings…

“Here,” said Jim, “what’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” gasped the boy. But tears we soaking down over his thin checks. “Nothing.”

He let go the door knob and tried to turn and walk down the shadowy and narrow hall.

“Look here, a minute,” said Jim, grasping the boy’s sleeve. “Just a minute, kid. What’s all this? What did you pinch our turkey for?”

As if he hated to go down that hall, as if to open that distant door was to enter the presence of death itself, though sounds of life and joy came from behind it, he paused and turned, wearily, weakly.

“I don’t know,” he whispered. “I guess I went crazy.”

“What do you mean?” I demanded, to see if my voice would still work in the presence of that thin and beautiful young face.

“We had a raffle, at the plant,” whispered the boy.

“Oh, you’ve got a job?” Jim asked.

He nodded.

“What wages?” I inquired, for a stall.

“Six,” said the boy, “six dollars a week, in the shipping.”

“Go on,” I said, making it stern, but it came out cracked a little around the edge.

“We had a raffle at the plant. It was for a turkey, and I told them I was going to win it for sure,” said the boy, wearily. “We had the draw today, and I didn’t win.”

“Who’s they?” asked Jim.

“My mother,” whispered the boy. “My mother and kid sister, in there.”

He nodded heavily back down that dim and terrible hall.

“So….,” he leaned against the wall. “So, on the way home tonight, I happened to look in that car…. I don’t know what happened to me. I just don’t know, I guess. I don’t remember. I looked in… it seemed to be a turkey, a great big turkey…. I opened the door, I grabbed it….”

And suddenly his head fell down on his chest, his hands went to his face and Jim’s arm was around the boy’s shoulders and I had hold of his arm, tugging at it to get his hands down from his face; and in a little while, for fear of disturbing anybody down that long, long hallway to death and disaster, we went out in the cool and reviving night; and stood on the dark steps and waited, not with many words, but with a lot of pats and slaps on the back and little swear words men use to show that they have hearts like steel; and when he was all straightened up and tidied, we shook hands a with him as man to man, since all God’s children have wings, and only by the grace of God are we not all thieves nailed to little crosses. And much slower than we came up, we went down that street and got into the car and drove to Sunnyside before either of us spoke.

Then Jimmie spoke first.

“The old lady,” he said, “gets the second-best turkey.”


Editor’s Note: $6 a week in 1938 is only $121 in 2022.

This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).

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