By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 26, 1938.
“One thing,” said Jimmie Frise bitterly, “leads to another.”
“You said it,” I assured him. “Learn that fact, and you’ve got all philosophy by the tail.”
“I wish,” said Jim, “I hadn’t been born so good-natured.”
“What have you let yourself in for now?” I asked.
“Oh, one of those things,” gusted Jimmie, unhappily. “Two months ago, some ladies called at the house in connection with the church. They said they were organizing a series of entertainments to help defray the cost of redecorating the Sunday school.”
“So?” I laughed.
“I said I’d be only too pleased to help,” said Jim. “Engagements two months away are so easy to keep.”
“I make it a rule,” I informed him, “never to make any engagement farther off than to-morrow night.”
“Good,” said Jim. “It’s to-morrow night this is.”
“Ah,” I countered. “Sorry, Jim, I’m all tied up for to-morrow night.”
“Look,” said Jim, “you’ve got to lend me a hand. I told these ladies I would arrange one whole evening for them.”
“It’s no trick for you,” I said, “to stand up there and scratch off cartoons of Old Archie and Pigskin and the rest.”
“For two hours?” cried Jim. “There has to be movies. I had the movies all arranged, and just a few minutes ago the fellow that owns the movie machine, called me to say he was laid up with a severe attack of bronchitis and couldn’t possibly come.”
“Anybody can run one of those things,” I pointed out.
“That’s what I say,” agreed Jim. “You could do it swell.”
“Not me,” I informed him decisively. “Anybody in the world but me, Jim. There is some convolution in my brain missing, or something, that has to do with practical things. I was no good at arithmetic or algebra at school. I simply don’t understand. Why, I have never even lifted the hood of a motor car in my life, I simply wouldn’t dare. And when daylight saving time comes, I never enter into the family discussion as to whether you put the hands of the clock forward an hour or back an hour. No, sir, Jim, there are some things I wouldn’t touch for a million dollars.”
“Pshaw,” said Jim, “any kid can run one of those little amateur movie things.”
“O.K.” I agreed. “Get some kid to do it then.”
“Look,” pleaded Jim, “he said I could have his projector, and three reels of travel pictures of China he’s got, and a couple of children’s pictures like Felix the Cat.”
“Nnn, nnn,” I shook my head. “Why don’t you run it yourself?”
“I have my hands full,” said Jim, “getting my big drawing board over and the paper and everything set up. I’ve got to have somebody look after the projector and screen and everything.”
“Anybody but me, Jim,” I assured him. “I have a holy horror of any kind of gadget that works. And what I’ve seen of those baby projectors, they hum and click and fizzle and do everything that makes me stiff with fright.”
“Listen,” said Jim impatiently. “they’re automatic. Just as simple as turning on the electric light. It’s all done with buttons.”
“Jim,” I advised him, “I was born about a century late. I don’t belong in this age at all. I belong about the time of the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne. My belief is, that the human brain grows with each generation, so as to accommodate all the new things invented. But my brain happens to have slipped a couple of generations, probably owing to rickets when I was an infant, or maybe because I started to creep too young.”
“You’ve got a good brain,” encouraged Jim.
“Maybe, Jim,” I replied uneasily, “but you ought to feel the funny feeling that comes over me every time I get into a horse-drawn cab like in Montreal, or whenever I see a lovely old-fashioned bookcase or chest of drawers. I get a queer flood of feeling, as if I had suddenly met a long lost friend. Or like being lost in the bush and suddenly meeting a human being. Jim, machines are as foreign to me as to an Eskimo. I hate machines. I won’t come. No, sir, excuse me.”
“Very well,” said Jim, coldly, “I’ve helped you out of many a jam.”
“Mention one,” I suggested.
“The least you could do,” said Jim, “is help me. I’ll run the machine, if you’ll just come along to help carry the thing and set up the screen and that sort of thing. I’ll operate it.”
“Jim,” I said, “much as my experience of you warns me to keep as far as possible from you in cases like this, I’ll come along, as you suggest, merely as your helper; as your caddie.”
“That’s swell,” cried Jim, with vast relief. “I’ve got lots of other friends I could ask, but you’re the only one that sort of suits a church basement.”
“You call for it, then,” I arranged, “and bring the machine and the films to your place. Get some lessons on how to run it from the guy.”
“I planned to do that,” agreed Jim. “You come to my house about half past seven, and we’ll take the stuff over to the church and get it set up.”
“But let this be a lesson to you.” I warned him. “Never make any more long distance engagements. They always catch up with you.”
“It’s so easy to be a good fellow at two months’ notice,” said Jim.
“It’s so easy to do anything,” I corrected, “at 60 days or six months. It is like debts. You promise to pay one year from now. It seems to be so far away as to be almost never. But the fact of the matter is, if you can’t pay now, the chances are you will find it just as hard one year from now.”
“All the debts in the world,” said Jim, “are testimonials to the eternal optimism of the human race.”
“The way I do,” I explained, “is this: when somebody asks me to do something six weeks from now, I say to myself, do I feel like doing it now? Almost without exception, I don’t feel like doing it now, especially going out to a meeting or attending a gathering or something like that. So I say to myself, if I don’t feel like doing it now, I certainly won’t feel like doing it when I am six weeks older and wiser than I am now. So I just don’t make the date.”
“Don’t you ever feel,” inquired Jimmie, “that you sort of owe a little service to churches or society or anything? Especially when it’s weeks and weeks away?”
“Jim,” I declared, “I play fair. I don’t like listening to other people reciting or making speeches. So I don’t expect other people to listen to me. Do unto others as you expect others to do by you.”
“That’s a swell rule for mean people,” pointed out Jim.
“The world is full of people,” I retorted, “that not only love listening to others speaking, reciting and singing, but they love doing it themselves. It is a straight case of give and take. But if you don’t do any taking, why should you expect to do any giving?”
“I wish I had it worked out like you,” sighed Jim.
“If I had it worked out as good as I think I have,” I informed him, “I wouldn’t be making any date with you for to-morrow night.”
For This Worthy Object
Jim telephoned after supper to say he had just been over to his friend’s house and got the projector and three reels of film on travels in China, one reel of a motor trip down the Gaspe coast, one reel of a motor trip through the Niagara peninsula during blossom time and two rather aged reels of Felix the Cat, those animated cartoons that so delight the children.
“Come on down,” said Jimmie excitedly, “I’m going to run them through just to see what they are, and get a little practice at operating the machine.”
“No, thanks,” I assured him, “I see through you. You want to give me a lesson and then to-morrow night, just hand the job over to me.”
“Aw, come on, just a private family show,” cried Jim enthusiastically.
“No, thanks,” I said so unemotionally that Jim knew I meant no.
In the morning, Jim told me how delightfully simple the whole thing was.
“It’s a kind of an old-fashioned projector,” explained Jim. “Not one of these little compact babies they sell nowadays. It’s all open and shut. You just hitch the film in one wheel and turn the switch and away she goes. It’s as easy as running a wheelbarrow.”
“How are the films?” I asked.
“Swell,” cried Jim. “I wish you had come down. We had a lovely private show. The Chinese pictures are marvellous, showing what China was like before the war. They’re kind of old and speckled sort of, but mighty interesting. And the animated cartoons are cute. The kids will love them.”
“What time will I call to-night?” I asked.
“Make it 7.30,” said Jim, “so we can get everything set up in good time in the church basement.”
So at 7.30, I was at Jim’s and we loaded into the car his big drawing board, on which were tacked a dozen jumbo sheets of paper for him to do his charcoal cartoon act on, and the projector, a clumsy kind of contraption in a big scuffed case, a sheet and half a dozen tins containing the reels of pictures. We drove to the church but the caretaker was nowhere to be found and we had to sit in the car until 8 o’clock, by which time quite a gathering had assembled, waiting to get in.
We carried the stuff in, and while Jim set up his easel on the platform, I hung the sheet up, under his direction. I also helped open and set up the projector, so that several little boys took me for the specialist in charge of the movies. And I explained to them how it worked, though to tell the truth, the black, gadgetty thing gave me the creeps.
About 8.25 the ladies of the committee finally got their minds made up and one of them went to the platform and called the meeting to order. She spoke of the work of decorating the Sunday school, and how there was now $27.71 in the treasury for this worthy object, and how grateful everybody was that Mr. Frise had come to draw cartoons and Mr. Clark to show some of his delightful moving pictures taken on his trips to China.
So Jim went forward and drew big cartoons of Old Archie at the pump and Pigskin Peters with a snapping turtle hanging to his arm and seven or eight more dandies which delighted everybody very much. And then came the movies.
I tried to seize an opportunity to explain to the meeting that these were not my movies, that I had never been to China and had not only never taken any movies but didn’t know the first thing about them, but the crowd was so eagerly turning and craning to watch, and Jim was so busy plugging long electric cords into sockets and getting things set that before a chance offered, Jim sang out, “Lights out, please,” and we were in darkness.
I stood beside Jim, in case I was needed. I could hear him fumbling and scrabbling around the projector. I heard switches go snick several times, and Jim grunting, but nothing happened.
“I wonder,” said Jim, in that church basement voice, “I wonder could we just have the lights on a moment, please?”
And after a lot of stumbling and loud talking and heavy breathing, the lights came on again.
Jim turned the switch, and the contraption began to buzz merrily.
“Ah,” cried Jim. “I guess when you turn the lights off, it turns the power off for the projector, too.”
So a gentleman in the audience who was an electrician came and volunteered to help. He found a socket that was separate, and he also rigged up a pull string to the switches that Jim could reach, so that we could control the lights.
“Very well. All ready,” sang out Jimmie sweetly, and pulled out the lights. He turned the switch. The stab of light cut through the darkness towards the sheet on the platform. Jim seized the front nozzle and twisted it, to bring the hazy muddle on the sheet into focus.
But it was still a muddle. Before our astonished eyes, we saw a queer conglomeration of flickering Chinese figures, but they were all upside down and moving backwards A loud ripple of laughter rose in the audience.
“Just a moment, please,” sang Jimmie, switching on the light.
And rapidly, we both bent and took the reel off and shifted it this way and that, trying to get it the opposite of what it had been.
We switched the light off and turned on the machine.
But now the figures were merely upside down but backwards the opposite direction.
“Did you rewind these,” I hissed, after you showed them at your house last night?”
“Certainly I did,” said Jim, indignantly, as he switched on the lights again. “But we’ll try the Niagara in Blossom Time one, because I didn’t show it last night.”
I dove and got out the Niagara in Blossom Time reel, while Jim removed China No. 1. By now, most of the audience was standing up, looking back good-naturedly at us.
We rigged Blossom Time on, turned off the lights and set the machine going. Aha, right side up and front end foremost. But unhappily, the picture was mostly a family picture, and it spent most of its brief hundred feet showing close-ups of rather ordinary little kids and a lady in a 1929 hat, smiling and nodding speechlessly at us, while in the dim distance, faint outlines of peach trees in blossom showed, and a steady rain seemed to stream across the picture.
“Phew, Jim,” I whispered.
And this soundless, speechless record of a family excursion to Niagara came to a happily early ending, amidst a mild splatter of astonished applause from the audience.
By now I was perspiring and Jimmie was too.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I began, “the chairlady made a slight mistake when she said I had taken these pictures in China….”
But everybody interrupted by laughing, so I let it go, especially as Jim was kicking me for one of the Felix the Cat reels, which I handed him.
“Now,” said Jim heartily, “for a Felix the Cat cartoon.”
“Hurray,” said everybody, not only the children. The lights were doused, the machine flashed on, and there was Felix, upside down and backwards, busily leaping out of a great splash of water down through the air to a springboard.
“Let it go, let it go,” yelled several people amidst the explosion.
So Jim just let it go. I leaned over and congratulated him on the swell job of rewinding he had done at his home last night, and he just took it in dumb silence. I heard a kind of a sizzling, sleek, trickling sound, as I stood watching Felix absurdly jerking and backing through an incomprehensible adventure. I felt something softly touching my pant leg. But when Jim turned on the light at the unhappy end of the reel, neither he nor I was prepared for the sight of the whole reel like a great tangled skein, all over the floor.
“You didn’t hook it in properly,” accused Jim loudly.
“Who didn’t?” I cried. “I don’t know the first thing…”
Embarrassed, I picked up the film and began feeding it back through the machine, and now to everybody’s delight, Felix came right side up and front end foremost, as slowly the celluloid was picked up off the floor by the reel. I squatted down in the darkness to feed it carefully up to the machine.
“We have discovered our trouble,” explained Jim, heartily to the audience. “It will just take a few moments longer…”
And he ripped all the reel off China No. 1 on to the floor and then fed it right side up into the projector, which picked it slowly off the floor and projected it quite as pleasantly as if it had been on the reel.
And they were very nice scenes too, although the silence of them was somehow paralyzing.
And we got a very pleasant vote of thanks.
Editor’s Notes: The title of this is a play on the slang “flimflammed”, which means to swindle or trick someone.
Anyone old enough to remember operating projectors will understand the need to rewind and to thread the film properly.
Cartoonists in the early to mid-20th century would engage in public demonstrations much like Jimmie did. They were referred to sometimes as “chalk talks”, as a blackboard could be used just as easily as large pieces of paper. The artist would be on stage discussing what he was doing, or stories about his or her work, while drawing characters from their strips.
Felix the Cat was a cartoon character created in 1919 during the silent film era, and was the first popular cartoon character. By the late 1920s and the advent of sound movies, production stopped until a revival in the 1950s.