The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1940 Page 1 of 2

Two Bankers and a “Dook”

Gregory Clark, photographed as he called a taxicab from the steps of his London hotel just before he set out for France at the beginning of the blitzkrieg. During this first trip, the baggage shown here had to be abandoned in France in his hasty departure.

By Gregory Clark, September 28, 1940.

These three men stepped out of their roles of being “big” persons and became just little men for the moment

In the famous blitzkrieg on France, only three battalions of Canadians, and some artillery, army service corps and stuff got to France. They got there, started on a railway journey inland and were turned around and landed back in the port of Brest within 24 hours. To say they never fired a shot in the blitzkrieg would not be accurate. They did fire their Brens at German mine-layer planes that flew over Brest while the Canadians were packed on a little channel steamer, the Canterbury, tied to the quay, waiting for permission to leave the harbor for England again.

However, some odd things happened on that in-and-out. We had arrived in Brest at daybreak Friday morning. Three battalions in two ships. It was a fine sunny morning.

These Canadians were the first-born of the new war. These were the first comers; and I tried to concentrate my mind and imagination on them to capture if I could the feelings of soldiers going to battle for the first time. But they marched off the ships and got into the waiting trains as glib and easy as children going on a picnic. And mark you, this was June 14, and for more than a month, the world had been rocked by the blitzkrieg. For all they knew, the three battalions of them were heading straight into hell. But it was a fine morning for it.

Alas, or hallelujah, as the case may be, they did not meet hell. We who saw the three battalions off waited around all day Friday in Brest, in expectation of fresh shiploads of Canadians arriving. It was that evening, in Brest, already jammed and seething with refugees and that air of bright-eyed hope on the verge of disaster, that we learned the three trains of Canadians were already being ordered to turn around. The next afternoon, Saturday, they arrived back in Brest and marched without delay straight aboard the little Canterbury tied to the east quays of that crowded harbor.

There at the quay we stayed, tied up, all Saturday evening, all Sunday night and all day long of the bright Sunday, until nearly 6 p.m. before orders came to cast off moorings and hie for England. To me, who had been through the blitzkrieg three weeks before and had been at Boulogne and seen what the Germans could do with Heinkels and Dorniers to a seaport, the delay was agonizing. These blythe Canadians, bitter at being re-embarked, all packed like buttons in in a bag aboard this tiny channel steamer.

Big Man Takes It Easy

It was Saturday evening just before dark, and we all crowded the rails to look ashore in expectation of casting off hawsers any minute, when a big rich-looking civilian car rolled out on the quay. In it sat a chauffeur, and behind a large, elderly gentleman in civilian tweeds. The car was packed to the roof with handsome leather bags, brief and dispatch cases.

Out of the car stepped the large gentleman, with his walking stick, a massive, elderly man with a military moustache. He showed some papers to the guard at the gangway. Officers inspected the documents and the stranger was at once passed up the gangway aboard the ship.

I, being a war correspondent, walked up to the stranger and inquired who he was, the only civilian on this ship. He was Hon. Hugo Baring, continental director of the Westminster bank.

One of the famous Baring family that has been engaged for generations in British banking and world business enterprise. Sixth son of the first Lord Revelstoke, related to the Earl of Cromer and many other Barings who have become peers.

In these brown leather bags were items of interest to Westminster bank, as to its continental affairs. Mr. Baring told me that he had dispatched the bank’s gold, documents, etc., and 30 of its staff off by a more southern French port. He had decided to make a lone departure via Brest.

Could he get a cabin, he inquired? Ah, the cabins were all full of wounded, of nursing sisters and a group of some 20 Salvation Army lassies driven from their canteens across France. Where could he settle himself, then, in the salon or where? Ah, the salon was all rigged up as a first aid and emergency station. How about something to eat? Well, there were no arrangements on board for eating. This was a troopship, and all there was aboard, in the nature of grub, were the rations of the troops.

This elderly, amiable man sat down on his bags on the open deck of the Canterbury finding space for his well-shod feet amidst the legs of recumbent bucks of the R.C.R. and Hasty P’s; rested his big hands on his stick and relaxed. This continental director of one of the greatest and, at the moment, perhaps most embarrassed banks on earth, remarked mildly that this was nothing new to him. It was not until I got back to London and looked him up in the blue books that I found he had been wounded in the South African war with the 4th Hussars, wounded at Ypres with the British G.H.Q.. and had been in Siberia in 1918 with the British forces. That accounted for a kind of limp and a twist the big man showed when he walked.

He sat and walked among us all that night, next day, next night and then Monday morning saw Plymouth with the rest of us from the foggy deck of the Canterbury. In all that time, he had no food but the bully beef, the little new style hardtack cookies of the private troops, and the sergeant-major’s tea. He slept with his head on a table or a rail, or with his hands clasped on his stick, his body resting forward on it. Elderly, rugged, continental director of a great bank, he seemed perfectly at ease in body and mind. Never referred once to his business. Never wondered aloud what was going on, where was his staff from Paris, where his gold.

But amid all that was abortive, broken, twisted, lost and bewildered amidst the famous in-and-out of Brest, this picture of a great banker, scion of nobility, master of wealth, partner of destiny, dependent upon the charity of private soldiers from the far distant face of the earth, remains to me. He was discovering what wealth is; what nobility; what destiny. All in the hands of private soldiers.

Banker Sews on a Button

It was at Brest I also met a duke and did him a little service. But before I leave one banker, I would like to mention another I met, on board a ship coming to Canada. A most charming man, Simon Epstein, a Jewish banker born in Russia, most of his life spent in Paris, but for the last 10 years in London. An international banker, of great wealth from time to time, probably a millionaire more than once. But at the time I met him, a refugee, not very sure whether he had any money or not. And not much caring, because his wife and sons were safe in America.

Of the many amusing stories he told, this one remains. It was 10 years ago, when he was a Parisian, and spoke English very little. He came to America to visit friends in Chicago. He had only part of a day in New York, so he made the Grand Central Station his headquarters and walked up Fifth and Madison Park Aves., drinking in the wonder and the beauty of downtown New York. It was his first view of the new world and it amazed him. He was a wealthy banker. Strolling the golden streets of New York. He felt his braces slip as a pants’ button came off.

Banker or no banker, he halted and saw the button roll on the pavement. He picked it up and recollected having seen, a few blocks back, one of those little hole-in-the-wall pressing and tailoring establishments, operated by co-religionists of his, tucked in amidst the towering splendors of New York. He strolled back and went in and with his poor English and their various English, managed to purchase a needle and small spool of thread for five cents.

For mark you, one does not become a wealthy banker by being too proud to sew on a button. Mr. Epstein had noted, in the Grand Central Station, that downstairs was a magnificent marble department, the toilets and lavatories, which included among its other marvels, a whole row-of private chambrettes or toilets into which you were able to purchase your private way by inserting five cents in the slot on the little individual door handle.

Mr. Epstein proceeded to select a cubicle. He removed his trousers and sat down on the seat to sew the button on. As he started to thread the needle, the spool, as spools will, rolled off his knee and spun away along the floor, under the partitions of two of the adjoining cabinets.

Mr. Epstein peered under the partitions and tried to draw the spool back. But it just rolled and unwound. No matter what he did, the spool played truant. Now, banker or no banker, five cents or no five cents, a man who is a man is not going to let a spool of thread get away on him. Mr. Epstein opened the cubicle door and peered out. In the great marble hall of these super toilets, nothing stirred. Mr. Epstein, laying his trousers on the seat, nipped out and picked up the spool. And heard the door click behind him.

There stood Mr. Epstein, Paris banker, in his coat and vest but no pants, in the vast, forbidding marble emptiness of the Grand Central gentlemen’s department; and his pants inside and all his money in the pants. In a foreign city, his command of the language sketchy in the extreme, Mr. Epstein felt panic. Down the marble stairs he heard footfalls.

The stranger saw the spectacle of Mr. Epstein, paused and half turned to retreat upstairs.

“A neeckel,” said Mr. Epstein. “A neeckel, please.”

And with motions of his hands, he tried to explain that if he had a nickel, he could open the door and recover his pants. But the stranger eyed him with increasing suspicion and fled upstairs. To return almost immediately with a New York cop swinging his stick and demanding to know what was going on here.

Mr. Epstein, needle and spool in hand, explained in various French, Russian and English gestures, the calamity of what had happened

“A neeckel,” he pleaded, in conclusion.

It took four nickels to locate the right cubicle, because Mr. Epstein had forgotten which one he had selected, since they all look

alike. But he got his pants, returned the cop’s four nickels very happily, retired into the cubicle, threaded the needle, sewed on the button and duly returned to walk the sounding streets of New York.

And this was the story Mr. Simon Epstein told as we plunged across the wastes of seas off the northwest coast of Ireland, all lights out, and the watch stared into the wind and spray, westward-bound for the new world where Mr. Epstein, international banker, refugee, hoped to see his wife and sons.

Souvenir of a Duke

To get back to Brest for a minute; on the Saturday, as we waited in mounting anxiety for the 48th Highlanders, I got assurance from the officers of the Canterbury that they could not sail for at least a couple of hours by reason of tides; and I went back into the city to visit the hotel which was military headquarters for the area to see if they had any word of the missing Canadians. The city was already showing the unmistakeable signs of that fatal despair which I had seen, three weeks before, in Lille, Arras, Amiens, Boulogne. The streets were jammed from wall to wall with crowds of refugees in a slow-motion, almost immobile anxiety.

At the H.Q. hotel, a captain of the movement control staff eyed my badges and stepped up to me.

“You are a correspondent?” he asked. “My name is Keith-Braden. When are you planning to leave here?”

“I’ve already got aboard the Canterbury,” I said.

“How are you fixed for baggage?” he asked. “We movement control blighters are in a bit of a hole. We have to stay to the last and we won’t have any chance to get our baggage off…”

“You get me a working party,” I said, “and I’ll take all the baggage you want.”

“I’ve got a friend here,” said Keith Braden, and a middle-aged major came over, a quiet, scholar type of a man rather than the sort of dasher they usually have on staffs. The major said he had a suitcase and a cavalry great coat.

“Send ’em along,” I said. “As long as I have somebody to carry the stuff down to the Canterbury …”

The two officers disappeared and presently came back with two big, shabby suitcases, the kind of suitcases of which I have several in the attic. And a huge cavalry great coat. We arranged where I was to deliver them in London.

“Take mine,” said Keith Braden, “to my tailor’s in Bond St. And the Marquess will want his sent to his house, I suppose.”

“The Marquess?” said I.

“This is the Marquess of Cambridge,” explained Keith Braden, and the scholarly gentleman shook hands with me.

“Ah,” said I, “I’ll take your baggage anyway. You don’t have to be a marquess.”

“But he IS the Marquess of Cambridge,” laughed Keith Braden.

And while they tied tags on their shabby suitcases I stood and looked out the big hotel windows at the surging mobs of the poor French, their faces turned upwards while the air raid sirens bansheed, for there were German raiders over by this time. And it did seem a strange thing to see a marquess of the royal connection stooped over, in the foreground of that grim and woeful window picture, tying a tag on a rusty old valise.

I put the bags on the Canterbury deck where the boys of the Hasty P’s and the R.C.R. could see the tag. I left them and the cavalry great coat in the care of the nearest of the lads, sprawled in half sleep on the deck. And when it rained in the middle of the night, went up and found one of the lads had put on the marquess’ great coat and was lying wrapped in its voluminous folds asleep. It was a tidy when I retrieved it in the morning.

And it was all tidy when I returned the baggage to the Marchioness two days later in London.

“How was he when you saw him,” asked her grace.

“Fine,” I assured her, thinking of him bending over tying on tags, against that hotel window with its great surging picture of despair moving across it.

“I do hope he gets away,” she said.

He did. Keith Braden wrote me a note of thanks, and said they nipped off on the last boat, after seeing Brest set afire.


Editor’s Notes: This story was printed as Greg was a war correspondent in WWII. The original photo of him in his uniform in the microfilm of the newspaper was muddied, so I substituted it with a better copy of the same photo from one of his books.

Heinkels and Dorniers were German planes in WWII.

Ambushed!

August 24, 1940

The end of summer is again time for Jim to promote the Canadian National Exhibition, or the “Ex”.

Horse Sense

As I backed away from the dog, I felt my hat being lifted from my head….

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 18, 1940

“When the races start…” started Jimmie Frise.

“Horse racing,” I informed him, “ought to be abolished. In time of war, I can imagine nothing more sheerly wicked and wasteful than horse races.”

Jimmie slowly turned purple.

“Horse racing,” he gritted, “is the foundation of the breeding of horses for war…”

“Heh, heh,” I laughed pleasantly. “You’re a bit out of date, my boy. The Duke of Wellington might have used that antique argument. But times have changed. The mechanization of the army has pricked that bubble, my friend. Horse racing is doomed. Since the army no longer needs horses, your horse racing stands forth as what it really is. A sheer gambling device. As bare-faced as a roulette wheel.”

Jimmie slowly changed to a deeper shade of purple.

“It is the sport of kings,” he said huskily.

“And of absconding bank clerks,” I sneered.

“It is the last manly sport left,” grated Jim. “The last he-man game, where a man can feel his freedom and his power. Life is being social-serviced out of all reality. One by one, all sports, all games, are being scienced, organized, made safe and prim. The only game left where a man can go and feel he is a hell-dinger is racing.”

“That’s a fine recommendation,” I scoffed

“Is it?” queried Jim sadly. “Here we are with a war on our hands, and we want fighting men. Yet, for the past 20 years, we have been breeding all kinds of men except fighting men. We have been breeding gentlemen and scholars. We have been teaching our young men to play the game, lawfully and piously. We have been stressing the social rights of men, so that tolerance is our ideal. And all of a sudden, we want a million men with intolerance in their hearts, a high and mighty intolerance.”

“And what has all this got to do with horse racing?” I interjected.

“Well, you say horse racing should be abolished,” said Jim, “which declaration is part and parcel of the namby-pamby spirit of the age. The same point of view would abolish not only horse racing but all the other tough, rough and nasty characteristics of our society that we need so desperately right now.”

“Do you mean to say that if our young manhood was a horse racing lot, they would be better soldiers?” I demanded.

“I certainly do,” stated Jim. “I would say offhand that the more horse racing, corner lounging, pool room loafing, crap shooting, low down element we had in the country, the tougher and more deadly our army would be. There is no use blinding ourselves to the facts. Maybe it would be a fine thing to have a country so advanced that we had nothing but the type best described as splendid young fellows. But in the last war, it seems to me the splendid young fellows were the company clerks. And when you wanted a raiding party, you went snooping around after the corner boys and the crap shooters and the racetrack bums.”

“You’re romanticizing the bum,” I protested.

“Think it over,” suggested Jimmie. “Recollect your toughest job in the old war. Who were the guys with you?”

And I had to recollect Jimmie Post and Sergeant Sturgess and Charlie Windsor and people like that, whom I could hardly describe as public-spirited citizens. In fact, they did know a lot of horses’ names, now that I came to think of it.

More Than a Sport

“What is it about horses.” I inquired, that gets men the way it does?”

“They’re so game,” said Jim, emotionally. “There are only three animals out of all Christendom that have won the hearts of men. The horse, the game cock and the dog. These three have a heart, a spirit, that is high and noble in the sense that men can conceive. Bulls aren’t noble. Rams, cats, hogs aren’t noble. Out of all the animal kingdom the only creatures man has chosen for his love are the horse, the dog and the game cock. Why? Because they fight on though the blood blinds them.”

“It seems a low standard,” I asserted.

“Stick to your high ideals,” cried Jimmie, “and see where you land in this war! This is a war in which the noblest attributes of the horse, the game cock and the dog are the things that count in men.”

“You would drag us down to the level of our enemies,” I stated.

“You bet,” said Jim.

“Still,” I said, “it is some satisfaction to know that the old hypocrisy about racing being important to the breed of horses is exploded at last.”

“Why is the French army buying horses all over Canada and America?” demanded Jimmie. “Why are there ships laden with horses streaming across the Atlantic every day?”

“The French eat horses,” I explained.

“Yes,” said Jim, “but before they eat them, they have them to drag ration wagons across shell riven roads impassable to machines, and to haul guns forward where the last tank has sunk in the mire. Up over the night black tracks and paths, the horses will struggle, laden with ammunition and food and water, while the engines lie dead for want of gas, blown to hell in some vast holocaust. No, sir, in the end will be a man, and behind him, laden till he sags, a horse. That is the old tradition.”

“I still don’t see what racing has got to do with it,” I insisted. “It wasn’t race horses that brought me up my rations and my bombs at Vimy. It was plugs.”

“Racing,” stated Jim, “makes men respect and admire horses. If horses merely hauled bread wagons and plows, men would not respect them. It is that little extra something a horse has that earns men’s respect.”

“It’s a funny world,” I muttered, “when you come to think about it.”

“And when you think of a crowd of 10,000 people, jammed at a race meeting,” said Jim, “don’t forget the tens of thousands who wish they were there, at that minute.”

“I suppose,” I agreed.

“And don’t forget,” went on Jim, “the ones that live by race horses, the thousands of men whose livelihood is breeding and rearing and training horses.”

“Just so,” I admitted.

“Why, when you come to think of it,” cried Jim, “it’s not only a sport, it is not only an industry, it’s a cult. How else can you explain those who get up at 4 a.m. for no other reason but to go down and watch horses train?”

“Lunatics,” I submitted.

“Okay, I’m a lunatic,” said Jim bitterly. “Because this morning I was up at 4 a.m. and down at the Woodbine, and tomorrow morning I’ll be up again at 4 a.m. to drive down…”

“For goodness sakes, what for?” I protested.

“What do you get up at daybreak to go fishing for?” demanded Jim. “You know as well as I do that you don’t get any more fish. It’s just a legend. You get up in order to enjoy the mystery of the sport. To be up with the dawn, while all mankind sleeps on. To look into the mists of the morning, with the birds and the beasts. It’s purely religious.”

Rising With the Dawn

What can you see about race horses at 4 a.m.?” I scoffed.

“Horses,” said Jim raptly, “rise with the dawn. You arrive at the race track, when morning mists still wreath it. In all the little stables and huts you hear the stamp and whinny of the horses and the muffled calls of men. Roosters crow, dogs bark. All is astir. You hear the champ and grind of feeding. The high, spirited yell of blooded horses. Out in the mist, you see the boys leading the blanketed beasts, and the jockeys saddling them up, and the trainers standing by with thoughtful chins. Out on the deserted track you see the gamesters led, and, fresh and full of heat, the splendid beasts run… like wild things, like heroes, like creatures of fire and courage. Between the furlong and quarter-mile posts they rush, in the mist, while the trainers clock them…”

“And,” went on Jim, “along the fences, stand such as I, with our clocks, timing them, too. Yes, at all race tracks, you will find the devotees, the devout, only a handful, straggled apart along all the fences in twos and threes, getting to know the horses by sight, imagining they can tell, from what they see through the mists of dawn, what cannot show in the printed form chart…”

Well, Jimmie went on in such a vein that, somehow or other, I must have become mesmerized by his fervor and I asked him to include me in his plans for the morrow. Because I set my clock for 4 a.m. and got up in the pink gray of dawn, tiptoed about a resentful house for a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal and stood in the silent morning out in front until Jim bowled round the corner and picked me up and drove pell-mell for the race-track.

And it was all as he foretold. Maybe a dozen cars were parked in the open court of the track besides ours. And besides the trainers and stable crews resident at the track, maybe twenty devotees were scattered along the rails in the brightening morning in groups of two and three, intently watching the antics of a dozen horses idly curvetting and now and then racing, in short bursts, about the track near and far.

Jimmie led me along the white fences, greeting this group and that a little standoffishly, as though they were all special worshippers at an early service. We picked a vacant spot along the fence, with nobody within 20 yards either side of us, and there leaned. Jim pointed out this horse and that, by name. The trainers led them out, the jockeys rode them slowly around the track, as though merely exercising them. Every little while one of the would suddenly burst into stride and race madly a short distance. It was then we were all supposed to be electrified, because it was these sudden explosions that were imagined to be the tests by which the trainers knew what shape the horses were in. And it was our privilege to try and time them, clock them, and make shrewd guesses as to what unknown possibilities the various, horses possessed.

“So what?” I inquired after about fifteen minutes of this business of leaning on fences. “It’s a nice scene. It’s fresh air, and the morning is pleasant. But is this all there is to it?”

Jim had his watch cupped secretly in his hand, and was intently peering at a horse far off on the other side of the track, galloping furiously.

“Look,” I said, “nobody is watching you. Nobody cares if you time them or not. This is all pretence.”

“So is all sport,” said Jim. “It’s the hocus pocus with which we invest things, whether they be sport or professions or any belief whatsoever that makes them interesting. If you can’t feel the spell of all this, okay.”

“I sure can’t,” I said, stamping my feet and slapping my hands to warm them.

Animals Are Mind Readers

We walked around the track to the stables.

At the first three stables, there were “no admittance” signs, and when we spoke to the stable boys, they regretted to inform us that the owners did not allow strangers to hang around. But at the fourth stable, Jimmie seemed to be well known for the black man sitting in the doorway of one of the shacklike stables, hailed him cheerily and called, and two or three men popped their heads out the doors and cried “Jimmie” as if they really meant it.

The stables were in pairs, each two being a little household unto themselves. The aisle between was a sort of barnyard, and from the stables opposite, the horses looked out of their stalls amiably. The crews went busily about, feeding, grooming, bandaging, combing tails and manes. And the smell of fried eggs and bacon mingled with the odor of hay and saddle soap.

As we entered, the trainer and the stable boys came forward and shook hands warmly with Jim, which made me feel that there must be some fellowship about this horse business, after all. Jim introduced me right and left.

There was a sort of gipsy charm about the whole affair. Horses whinnyed and stamped, men ducked eagerly about their little chores, voices cried gaily. And a white bull terrier, with slant eyes, the only kind of dog that really can never mean anything to me, came lazily around a corner of the stables, saw me, and broke into a bow-legged and very muscular canter.

Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw it, and there was no doubt about it. It was not the mere fact that Jimmie and I were strangers that intrigued that bull terrier. It was me he was interested in.

He made straight for my calves, and, whirling as he came by, rounded with a high, nasal growl.

“Hey,” said the black man, who was standing by, and he gave a kick at the dog.

“Here, Sam,” warned the trainer, sternly.

But Sam’s slanty eyes were mere slits as he split his long jaw back and bared his bone crushers in another nasty grow at my legs. The fat part.

I backed away.

“Heh, heh,” I said, “nice doggie.”

A small banty game cock came out of one of the stalls all in a fluster of cackles, and, as if attracted by the increasing row, strutted down his wings and advanced upon me. And, as I backed away from the dog, I felt my hat lifted from my head

One of the horses in the stalls behind me had stretched out and lipped my hat, tossed it in the air. Before anybody could so much as speak, a hairy looking goat bounced out of the same stall and snatched my hat off the ground and ran, shaking the hat from side to side. And nibbling at it.

“It’s just a trick,” shouted Jimmie above the laughter and yelling. The black man was chasing the goat and one of the stable boys was driving Sam back, though the dog twisted muscularly from side to side, as though determined to take one bite, about the size of a pound of butter, out of my leg. The banty rooster crowed excitedly and pranced back and forth, taking little runs in my direction.

“Look,” said the trainer, “if you don’t mind I think they’ve got something against you…”

“I’ll be glad to go,” I stated clearly. “If can get my hat.”

“The boy is getting it,” said the trainer. “But if you don’t mind, before they all get upset…”

He was escorting me out.

“Animals are funny,” he said, as we reached the main lane of the stable. “They take scunners.”

The black man came laughing back with my hat. It was shapeless and muddy, and the goat’s chewing was like pleats all along one side of the brim.

“I’ll see you later,” called Jimmie to his friends, the trainer, and boys.

And we walked down the main lane towards the clubhouse and the white fences again.

“You can have your cult,” I submitted.

“Don’t tell me animals aren’t mind readers,” retorted Jim.


Editor’s Notes: Horses were used extensively in World War Two, primarily by the Germans and the Soviets for transport. However Greg was basically correct, in that the war relied more on trucks and engine power.

As we are back at the race track, there is a stereotypical depiction of a black man. See my article About Stereotypes for more information.

A scunner, means taking a strong dislike to something. I don’t know what a hell-dinger is.

The Winter’s Crop

March 16, 1940

The Hard Way

“Excuse me,” I said, “could you spare me a dime for a cup of coffee?” “You’re a comic, Mr. Clark,” laughed the tall man, all his solemnity departed.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 9, 1940

In which Greg and Jim learn it’s not easy job panhandling or selling on the street

Jim Frise and I were walking back from lunch when a young man with his coat-collar turned up stopped us and whispered:

“Could you spare me the price of a cup of coffee?”

I fumbled and Jim paid. A quarter. And a kind smile.

“Jim,” I said, “how much do you give away in a week to panhandlers?”

“Bread on the waters,” said Jim. “Get a line of credit. Some day I may be wanting a dime.”

“I bet,” said I, “it costs more than two bits to work up courage enough to beg a dime on the street.”

“It would take more than I’ve got,” said Jim.

“That would make an interesting story for the folks,” said I. “You and me trying our hand at bumming dimes.”

“You do the bumming,” said Jim, “and I’ll follow at a distance and make sketches.”

“You’re afraid,” I declared.

“So are you,” said Jim.

It was a sunny March day. Spring was in the air. The noon streets were crowded. I made a quick, rabbit shooter’s estimate of the throng and selected a tall, solemn man wearing a hard hat and smoking a cigar.

“Excuse me,” I said, touching his arm and falling out to the side of the pavement. I turned up my coat collar.

“Could you spare me a dime for a cup of coffee?” I muttered.

“Ha, ha!” laughed he.

“Please,” said I: “I ain’t had nothing to eat or drink since the day before yesterday.”

“You’re a comic, Mr. Clark,” laughed the tall man, all his solemnity departed.

I looked at him. But his face was unfamiliar.

“I’m not worrying about that $47,” he smiled. “Take your time. I know you’re good for it.”

Forty-seven dollars! Let’s see, who did I owe $47 to? Sixty-five, 40, nineteen… ah. yes! Forty-seven dollars to the insurance company that insures my car. I suddenly recognized him as the cashier who accepted my cheques through a cage at the insurance company.

“Ha, ha,” said I. Jim was right at my elbow by now. “I was afraid you would be getting after me for that money. Ha, ha.”

“Quite all right,” said the cashier. He was still chuckling. “You’ve got a great line, Mr. Clark.”

“Good-day,” I said laughingly.

“How much did you get?” asked Jim, very puzzled.

“Hang it,” said I, “I owe too many people money to attempt panhandling. I knew that guy. He was the cashier of the insurance company that handles my car insurance and I owe them $47. He thought I was kidding him about owing the money.”

“Try again,” said Jim. “Pick somebody not so well dressed. See what it feels like to be turned down.”

“Don’t Spend It on Drink”

We came to The Star lane and there was a seedy-looking man in a derby hat standing watching the crowd pass. I sidled up to him.

“Excuse me,” said I, “but could you spare me the price of a cup of coffee?”

He looked sharply at me, up and down.

“Listen, buddy,” said he; “I’m working this side. You pick another block, will you?”

“Huh?”

“You’re pretty well dressed to be working this game,” said the man in the derby. “Are you really hungry?”

“Haven’t et since Thursday,” said I.

“Here,” he exclaimed sympathetically. He dug down into his pocket, pulled out a half a dozen dimes and nickels and handed me one dime.

“Don’t spend it,” said the man in the derby, “on strong drink.”

Jim and I shuffled off down the street.

“I’ll frame this dime,” said I. “The first dime I ever panhandled.”

“This adventure,” said Jim, “is going all flooey. We ought to think up something else to study the situation, I tell you. Let’s sell something. Let’s put up one of these stands in a lane or in some nook along the street and sell things. We will see what it feels like to make an honest living.”

“How about stuff to take spots off vests?” I asked.

“Or corn killer?” said Jim.

“You’re a good spieler,” said Jim. “You make up the spiel and I’ll handle the sales in silence.”

“But let’s get something unusual to sell, something useful. The big thing in all merchandising is the idea,” said I.

“One thing I always want and never have around my house,” said Jimmie, “is nails. No matter how many nails and tacks and screws I buy I never can find them.”

“That’s an idea,” said I. “We could get a little tin box about the size of a tobacco tin and fill it with an assortment of tacks and nails and sell them like hot cakes. After we have exhausted the street corner sales we could go from door to door. We could organize a company and hire hundreds of unemployed men, and not only would we be relieving the economic situation but we would be rendering real public service to the homes of this city. And at the same time we could make money. “Suppose,” said I, “we only made one cent on each box of assorted nails. There are at least 90,000 homes in Toronto alone. Let’s not think of Canada yet. But 90,000 cents is how much, Jimmie? Nine thousand dollars! Nine thousand dollars! Jimmie, at one cent profit. That’s $4,500 apiece.”

Jimmie was walking with his head in the air, thinking.

“It’s $900, not $9,000,” said he. I did a little figuring.

“Well, anyway,” said I, “that’s $450 each. Just from Toronto alone. You take Ontario-“

“Wait a minute,” said Jimmie. “We are going to do this for a story. Let’s go down to one of those wholesale hardwares and get a supply of them and try it. Are you game?”

So we went down to Wellington St. and went into a hardware supply house, and while Jimmie did the buying I leaned on the counter and wrote out the notes for my selling talk.

A young clerk with red hair waited on Jim.

Ten of these little boxes,” said the clerk, “at seven cents each. And nails?” He did a little figuring. “One-inch brads, one-and-a-half, two-inch, two-and-a-half and three-inch nails, a couple of packages of tacks, some screws, assorted screws.”

We laid the empty boxes along the counter and with the nails and tacks spread out we took a pinch of this and a pinch of that and filled the boxes.

“What do these come to?” asked Jim.

“The red-headed clerk added up the cost. “Seventy for the tins and 45 for the nails and screws. A dollar and 15 cents.”

“Let’s see,” said Jim. “That comes to 11 ½ cents a box. We will charge 15 for them and make three and a half cents a box.”

The clerk listened and nodded.

So Jim and I sunk the boxes in our coat pockets and went out to look for a good place to stand.

“Let’s get well away from the office,” said I. “Our friends will buy them if they see us. We don’t want any sympathy buying. Let’s sell on our merits.”

So we got on Church St. above King. There was a vacant store front, with dust and papers gathered in the doorway.

Jim held a box in each hand and I started my spiel:

“Come this way, gents; come this way!” Three men were passing, but none of them looked at us. “Here y’are,” I shouted louder. “Here y’are, gents! A boon to every household. The secret of domestic happiness. No more quarrels about where the hammer and nails are. No more fingers smashed trying to straighten old nails. No more lockjaw from fooling with rusty nails. Here y’are, gents, the discovery of the century. Something you have been looking for all your life. This way, gents.”

Jim had the lids off and the boxes held forth to the public view. But seven more people passed and none of them paused.

“Sensational value!” I yelled. “A dollar’s worth of handiness for only 10 cents.”

“Fifteen,” hissed Jim.

“Fifteen cents,” I bellowed. “Come this way, ladies and gents, and give your wife a surprise! Bring peace and comfort to your home. Hang that picture! Nail up that fruit shelf in the cellar! Mend that broken window sill. For 15 cents, gents, a box of nails that will last you a lifetime.”

There are not many people on Church St. anyway.

“Make it louder,” said Jim. “And funnier.”

“Take a box of nails home to your little boy, ladies and gents. A boy can have the time of his life with this little magic box. He can nail up everything. Every boy is yearning for a box of nails like this. Look, 15 cents!

Not as Easy as It Looks

One man stopped and looked at us.

“That’s a good idea,” he said. And walked on.

“Make it 10 cents,” said Jim.

“Ten cents,” I bellowed. “Less than cost, ladies and gents. The greatest boon to the housewife-“

“Appeal to the men,” growled Jim. “There aren’t any women.”

“Hide this box of nails in your collar-box,” I cried, “and you’ll always have nails-“

“Men don’t have collar boxes any more,” said Jim. “Your spiel is rotten. Offer 11 ½ cents worth of nails for 10 cents.”

“Going out of business,” I bellowed. “Selling at a loss, 11 ½ cents worth of nails for 10 cents!”

A man with a tool-bag stopped and looked as us.

“Do you mean to say,” he demanded sourly, “that that is 11 cents worth of nails?”

“Counting the tin box and the nails,” said Jim, “there is 11 ½ cents worth there.”

“Well, then,” said the man, “don’t offer 11 cents worth of nails for 10 cents, because you haven’t got ’em.”

A young fellow was standing out on the curb.

“Ten cents,” I yelled. “A box of nails for 10 cents. How about you?”

The young chap came over.

“How many have you got at 10 cents,” he asked.

“Ten,” said I.

“I’ll take the lot,” said he. He held out a dollar bill.

Jim and I unloaded our pockets, and the young man took them all and stuffed them into his coat.

“Excuse me,” said Jim, “but aren’t you the fellow at the hardware store that waited on us?”

“Yes,” smiled he, and I saw his red hair under his cap.

“Well,” said Jim and I.

“I make 15 cents on this deal,” said he. “In times like these, 15 cents isn’t to be sneezed at. It buys my lunch.”

Jim and I went one way and he went the other.

“The trouble was,” said Jim, “your spiel was no good. You have to be a special kind of personality for selling things.”

“All you did,” said I, “was stand there like a cigar store Indian with the boxes in your hands. You should have used gestures. You should have held them and demonstrated them.”

“Like a cloak model,” said Jim.

“I guess panhandling and selling things the street isn’t as easy as it looks,” said I. “But I wish we had kept one of those boxes of assorted nails. That was a swell idea. They’d come in mighty handy around the house.”

So we both turned back down to the hardware supply house and got a box each from the red-headed clerk.

He charged us 15 cents.

“Labor and overhead,” he said.

“Could you spare me a dime for a cup of coffee?” I muttered to the tall man.
“Here y’are gents!” I shouted. “A boon to every household!”
“Listen buddy,” said he, “I’m working this side. You pick another block, will you?”

Editor’s Notes: This story seemed too “Depression related” for 1940. The style seemed a little off too, so I decided to investigate further. There are so many stories, that I have not read them all, and usually only read them for the first time when I randomly choose one to feature. I knew that there were stories repeated when Greg was away on different occasions as a war correspondent in World War Two, but was not aware of the extent. So I did a more extensive review of the stories , and this is indeed a repeat of “Dimes Come Tough” from November 19th, 1932, one of their earliest ones. I’m still missing some time periods from the war, but there seems to have been extensive periods of repeats in early and late 1940, and from the summer of 1943 right to the beginning of 1945. The images at the bottom are from the 1932 story.

“Cast your bread upon the waters” is from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 11:1. Nowadays we would say “pay it forward”, meaning, do a good deed and someday someone will do a good deed for you.

It may be confusing when Greg mentioned the well-dressed man had a “hard hat”. In this case he meant that he was wearing a Bowler hat, which is made of hard felt, rather than a fedora, or other style, which would be made out of a softer felt.

Greg was also showing his age when he suggested the nails could be kept in a collar box, and Jim told him so. Circa 1860-1920, men’s collars and cuffs were detachable from shirts. The idea was that you could change the collars and cuffs to keep them looking nice without having to change the shirt. They could also be made of separate material like celluloid to keep them stiff. The collar box was somewhere where you could store them to keep them clean.

Cat’s Paw

With nasty spitting sounds, the cat retreated farther and farther out on the cross-beam.

“What life requires of us, now and then, is a feeling of sudden desperation.” Like climbing telephone poles after cats, for instance

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 6, 1940

“Come for a walk,” said Jimmie Frise, appearing at my front door. “It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon.”

“A walk?” I said, being in the middle of a good book on trout fishing.

“A walk,” said Jim. “W-a-l-k. Look, you move your feet like this. Walk.”

“Okay,” I said. “Only you sort of surprised me.”

“The way you acted,” said Jim, as I threw on my overcoat, “you would think I had invited you to come for a fly or a creep or a hop-scotch or something.”

Rusty was with him, waiting on the steps, and I joined them and we stepped merrily out into the mellow winter sunshine. It was for a fact a lovely afternoon.

“Walking,” said Jim, as we started away, “is becoming an unusual act. Your surprise, at my invitation, was probably quite normal. It is probably far more unusual to receive an invitation to come for a walk than to receive an invitation to come for a fly in an airplane.”

“Walking,” I agreed, “is going out of fashion. The only walking we do any more is the little we have to do between vehicles. We walk to the garage. Then we walk from the parking lot to the office. Then we take the elevator.”

“At the office,” went on Jim, “everything is laid out on an economic plan that requires as little walking as possible between departments. The less walking done in a modern plant, the happier the management is.”

“And rather than walk three rooms to see a colleague,” I pointed out, “we telephone him on the private switchboard.”

“The whole scheme of modern life,” said Jimmie, “is to eliminate walking. I suppose the perfection towards which we are struggling is to have all mankind squatted on a soft pillow and carried from place to place by miraculous vehicles. A vehicle to lift us, on our pillow, out of bed in the morning, carry us all over the world, and then deposit us tenderly back in bed at nightfall, without having to set foot on the vulgar earth.”

“I wonder, Jim,” I submitted, “if all our troubles may not be due to our loss of touch with the earth? My grandmother would never let me wear rubber-soled running shoes when I was a boy because she said it would give me weak eyes. She held the opinion that it was necessary for human beings to touch the earth all day. If you cut yourself off from the earth by any unnatural substance like rubber, you were like a plant whose stem was cut.”

“Well, the less we walk,” said Jim, “the worse off we seem to become. The more we perfect our mechanization, the less human we grow. Never in the world’s history did we walk less. And never were we in a greater muddle, intellectual, spiritual and physical.”

“My grandmother may have been right,” I declared. “Maybe we are children of the earth after all. Maybe we have to keep touch with the soil. Maybe there is some divine elixir, like electricity, that exudes out of the earth into our bodies. And to have perfect strength and health of mind and body, we have to get our daily charging, through our feet.”

Contact With the Earth

“Well, I will say this,” submitted Jimmie. “Most of the craziness of the present world comes from cities rather than from the country. You don’t find many country people in the governments that lead the various nations to disaster. The more industrialized people grow, the crazier they grow. And living in cities, they rarely touch the earth with their feet.”

“We might have hold of something there, Jim,” I declared.

“Look at Rusty,” said Jim, pointing to his amiable Irish water spaniel. “See how he scorns the sidewalk. The sidewalk is dry and warmed by the sun. Yet Rusty prefers to adventure out on the icy and snowy lawns. Why? Because he is in contact with the true earth.”

“Maybe my grandmother was right,” I repeated. “Maybe there is some strength we get out of walking on the earth.”

“When people are ill,” said Jim, “we send them out into the country. We say it is the country air. With the wind blowing all day, how can country air be any different from the air in cities? No, it isn’t the air that heals people. It is something that comes out of the earth, some emanation, some rays, unseen, essential. And we can’t get them in cities of concrete and brick.”

“There is a blind need to put our feet on the earth,” I pointed out. “Look at golfers. Is there anything in the game of golf to justify the passion golfers develop for it? Biffing a silly little ball around the fields? But when you understand that the passion these men have for the game arises out of the soil, then all is clear. They think they love the game because of the club and ball. They really love it because, as slaves of the city, they are given the opportunity, in golf, to walk on the earth and absorb the life-giving rays, whatever they are.”

”That’s true of all outdoor sports,” said Jimmie. “What can there be in fishing trips which are always a fizzle, or shooting trips where you never see any game, yet which call us out, time after time?”

“You’re right,” I agreed. “As the bee is drawn to the flower we are drawn to the country. We think up a thousand excuses for going to the country. The simple fact is, we have to go to the country to get recharged out of the earth.”

“Walking,” asserted Jim, “should be enforced. The more our masters, the industrialists, eliminate walking as waste, the more we should make laws requiring so many miles of walking from all of us who are workers in cities. All city workers should work five days. And then, by law, have to go walking in the country for two days. Then the world would return to normal.”

“I’m glad you brought me on this walk, anyway,” I informed him. “I feel more normal already.”

Nothing Like Walking

There is a kind of winter’s afternoon that is not excelled by any other hour of all the year. May and early June at its loveliest always is lovelier by reason of contrast with the dreary March and April that preceded it. Star-scattered nights of August are incomparable, but there is the murmur of September in them. A mid-January afternoon, with a slight melting at the edges of roofs and crispness unsalted with wind or chill, is a jewel of time. Its vivid brightness, its purity, its hardness is like a diamond. It defies comparison with May or October. It has no sadness or envy in it. Every sound rings. No thought of sprouting flower or of vivid dying leaves creates that sense of time’s movement. Men close to 50 might choose to live in a perpetual afternoon of mid-January.

“Did you ever try to keep a record,” I asked Jimmie, “of the actually perfect hours of your life? There are not many of them.”

“Most of them,” said Jim, “have usually been associated with walking.”

“You’re quite right,” I agreed. “You don’t get into accidents or smashups while walking, Mischief never suggests itself to a man on his two feet.”

“Walking is the most peaceful of all things,” said Jim. “Let even two such peaceful men as we are sit down for five minutes, and trouble starts.”

“Atta boy, Rusty,” I said suddenly.

Because Rusty had come upon a cat sunning itself on a sidewalk. And with his tail wagging and a look of expectation, Rusty was moving in a stiff circle around the cat which slowly arched itself into a standing position and turned its head malevolently towards Rusty.

“Here, Rusty,” commanded Jim shortly.

“Atta, boy, Rusty,” I muttered.

And with a pounce and a hoarse bark, Rusty accepted the more agreeable of the two suggestions and made for the cat.

“Hyah,” roared Jim indignantly.

But Rusty was after the cat and chased it briefly to a telephone pole, up which it went, much to Rusty’s delight.

“Now, look,” accused Jim. “See what you did.”

“Good boy, Rusty,” I asserted.

Jim walked over and scolded Rusty away from the pole where he was barking,

“Okay, come on,” I suggested.

“You can’t leave a cat up a pole like that,” said Jim hotly.

“What are you talking about,” I retorted. “If a cat can run up a pole, can’t it run down?”

“No, it can’t,” said Jim. “The poor creature might be marooned up there all night. It might never come down. They might have to get the fire department to come and rescue it.”

“Oh, nonsense,” I protested. “You’ve another of those cat-conscious people. Don’t baby them.”

“Furthermore,” said Jim, “I don’t altogether like the way you interfere between me and my dog. When I speak to my dog. I don’t like people to countermand my orders.”

“Cats always excite me,” I apologized. “I’m sorry, Jim, but whenever I see a cat, something malicious springs to life in me.”

“There are people who love cats more than we love dogs,” stated Jim.

“A cat is not a normal human associate,” I stated. “It is purely a pet. You might just as reasonably love a crocodile. A dog is a natural friend of man, because it serves him, hunts for him, guards him. What does a cat do? Just creeps slyly about the house. And kills songbirds.”

A door opened in the house immediately beside us and a lady looked out.

“How,” she asked, “are you going to get it down?”

“Oh, it’ll come down as soon as we go away, madam,” I explained nicely.

“Oh, no it won’t,” said the lady. “We’ve had to have the fire department come more than once to rescue that cat.”

I looked up the pole, and hanged if the silly thing had not gone up right to the crosspiece.

“Why do people keep animals like that around?” I demanded.

“Why do people keep dogs,” retorted the lady, “that haven’t been sufficiently trained to leave cats alone?”

“The dog is perfectly all right,” Jimmie informed her, “if he weren’t sicked on by people who have no business to.”

“Do you suggest,” I asked, “that I climb up that pole and rescue that cat?”

“Well, you don’t suggest I do?” countered Jim.

“I’ll go up,” offered a small boy standing by, “for a quarter, mister.”

“No you won’t,” cried the lady. “We don’t want any children killed around here just because people keep savage dogs.”

“Lady,” said Jim. “this dog is no savage.”

“There are usually some young fellows hanging around that drug store Sunday afternoons, Jim,” I suggested. “Suppose we walk around by the corner and I get a couple of them to come and climb the pole?”

“Are you scared of a little climb like that?” demanded Jim. “With those rungs sticking out?”

“Certainly not,” I informed him. “But what do I do when I get the cat? I hate the feel of cats. So soft and limp.”

“Pshaw,” scoffed Jimmie. “Scared of a kitten. And I’ve seen you grab great big slimy muskellunge and haul them bodily into a canoe …”

“I don’t like soft, mushy things,” I stated firmly.

“Okay,” said Jim, unpleasantly, “okay, come on and hire some young hero hanging around the drugstore.”

“Just a minute,” called the lady on the veranda. “Are you going to leave that cat up there?”

“We are going to get somebody to bring it down,” I explained.

“Why can’t you get it down?” demanded the lady in one of those penetrating voices.

“Because,” called Jimmie, “he doesn’t like soft, mushy…”

Which caused me to leap to the pole and start up it before he even got the sentence finished. What life requires of us, now and then, is a feeling of sudden desperation.

But It Just Backed Up

Much as I dislike heights, even moderate ones, I clambered from spike to spike up the pole, and as I approached the top, the cat, with nasty spitting sounds, retreated farther out on the cross-beam.

“Come on, kitty,” I said, masking my natural instincts regarding cats in a gruff, kindly manner.

But cats have always been to me creatures that lacked any true human affinity. Even the most pampered cats act as if they didn’t really give a tinker’s rivet for their master or mistress or the fine home they share. True, they have a coy way of arching their backs and rubbing themselves against your leg. Or they will lie and purr on your lap. But that only goes to show how cheaply, with a little purring, you can wangle your way through life.

This cat eyed me with hard, glaring eyes. It bared its teeth in a soundless meow and arched its whiskers at me.

“Come on,” I said, not unkindly “Let’s both get down out of this.”

But it just backed up.

“Grab it,” called Jim. “Pick it up by the scruff of the neck. It won’t hurt you.”

In my boyhood, I have carried mice and even snakes in my pockets and all I can ask is, that those who dislike mice or snakes offer me the same respect I have for their fancies.

“Will you come down,” I hissed at the cat.

“Ffftt,” said the cat.

“He won’t come down,” I explained to Jim.

“For Pete’s sake,” said Jim disgusted.

So I reached quickly and caught the cat by the horribly loose fur on his neck, and pulled him clear of the cross-beam to which he stuck like a burr with all his nasty little claws. I lifted him and he curled around and clawed my wrist but I hung on and came down the rungs so slick and so quick Jim says I practically slid the whole way.

As I neared ground, I let go the cat and it lit as light as a ping pong ball and danced away for the veranda.

And even Rusty didn’t move. He just sat and looked eagerly at Jimmie and I never opened my mouth.

So we went to the drug store after all and I got a 15-cent bottle of iodine and carefully dabbed all my scratches. And for the remainder of the walk, we talked about the war, not about walking.


Editor’s Notes: More homespun wisdom from Greg’s Grandma Greig can be found in many of the stories Greg wrote that were collected in his solo books.

This was a nice example of Jim working a different angle, making the illustration long and thin, taking up the whole length of the newspaper page.

Fancy Figures

By Greg Clark, February 2, 1940

If you’re not wealthy, not beautiful and not outstanding in charm, what do you have to do to get into society? Greg and Jim try to become expert figure skaters

“Socially,” said Jimmie Frise, “we don’t amount to much, do we?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I retorted. “I have a tuxedo hanging up in the attic in a pillow-slip to keep the moths out of it.”

“I mean,” said Jim, “you never see our names in the list of those present at things. You never see our pictures in the newspapers holding a horse’s head or standing with knee bent looking off into space at the hunt. We’re not in society.”

“Oh, we get about,” said I.

“What I mean is,” said Jim, “they had that big military ball a little while ago. Why weren’t we there? In kilometres marched, in cooties squashed, in socks worn out, in blisters on our heels, I bet you were more entitled to be at that military ball than three-quarters of the people who were there that got their names in the paper.”

“Military,” I said, “is used in a different sense in society. Society is a little hard to understand. For instance, you could no more crash society than you could crash the Masons. You have to have wealth or position or beauty or charm.”

“Well,” said Jim, feeling in his pants pockets, “we haven’t got wealth. I don’t believe we’ve got beauty, and if you’ve got charm I’ve got parrot’s disease. But just the same I think we ought to try and get into society. And the way you do it is by doing the things society does.

“What, for instance?”

“Something fashionable, like riding horses or flying airplanes or throwing big parties.”

“Count me out,” I said. “Horses give me hay fever, to put it mildly. And as for airplanes and parties– “

“I’ve got it!” cried Jimmie. “Figure skating! Everybody of any account can figure skate. It’s the loveliest form of exercise. It has grace, charm, style. It would transform us into creatures of fashion.”

“You mean that sort of whirling around,” I inquired, “On skates? I thought that was a sissy sort of thing.”

“Sissy!” exclaimed Jim. “So is riding a horse over a six-foot jump sissy! So is playing rugby. It takes more to be a good figure skater than it takes to be a good golfer.”

“Something tells me–” I began.

“Come on,” cried Jim. “Be a sport. Get somewhere. Don’t be content to let life slide by. I’ll arrange everything.”

“I don’t want to waste a lot of money finding out I’m not cut for society,” I warned him.

“Listen,” said Jim, “Arthur Donaldson of the advertising department is a member of the Skating Club. He’s an old-timer. Boy, can he figure skate! He can draw figures on the ice.”

“I bet he can’t do a figure five without slipping.”

“I bet he can draw Premier King on the ice.”

“I’ll show you.”

So Jimmie asked Arthur if we could investigate the art of figure skating a short distance, and Arthur very kindly took us up to the Skating Club.

The Skating Club has a lovely sheet of ice entirely surrounded by pleasant rooms and galleries and places to eat and sit about with soft cushions. I noticed the soft cushions especially. I noticed also the lovely mantels for leaning on, in case you can’t sit down.

Arthur borrowed a couple of pairs of skates for us and we put them on.

Personally, I never saw such skates. My recollection of skating is a little hazy, but I do recall that after a few staggers and several slithers and a little waving of the arms you could manage to scoot joyously around in circles.

These skates Arthur presented to Jim and me were shaped like new moons. They were curved. Little as ordinary skates give you to stand upon, these figure skates gave you about one mean little inch on the ice and the rest of them curved up to the front like a rocking chair.

Even on the wooden platform around the ice they caused my ankles to knuckle inward and Jim’s to knuckle out.

“Come along,” urged Arthur, giving a few little hops and then gliding beautifully out on to the ice. There were only two girls and an instructor up at the far end of the rink. “They’ll never notice you,” said Arthur quietly.

Remembering -as who does not?- the skill with which we used to skate, I slid on to the ice. It was a ghastly sensation. The skates started rocking, the little curved blades had no sense of direction, and without the slightest co-operation from me I found myself on my back. Good old Jimmie came instantly to my rescue, sliding boldly on to the ice. He fell on top of me.

Arthur curved graciously over to us, and with murmurs of sympathy stood there while Jimmie and I slowly crawled up him, like sailors going up a mast.

“Now, now,” said Arthur, “take it easy. Just stand steady and get your balance and take little strokes until you feel assured.”

“Let me take your arm, Arthur,” said I.

“You wouldn’t learn that way,” said Arthur. He withdrew his arm from my clutches. Jim and I stood steadily for an instant, his ankles out, mine in. Then his feet went from under him as if an unseen foe had kicked him. Whether I sat down for company or whether I was blown down by the wind of Jimmie’s fall I can’t say, but the next thing I did was to crawl on hands and knees for the wooden platform. And as I passed Jim I hissed in his face:

“Society!”

I removed my skates and watched Jim for a little while in my sock feet, until he was thoroughly convinced that he would have to reduce his leg length before entering society.

Arthur, as we sipped hot chocolate on soft-cushioned chairs in the club rooms, assured us that we had done splendidly.

“You made a better beginning than most,” said he.

“What do the average do?” asked Jim.

“Just lie down and refuse to get up?”

So we drove back to work.

“It only goes to show,” I said to him as we drove, “that people in society have got something special. What have we got?”

“We don’t give up yet,” said Jimmie. What we’ve got to do first is to recover our ice legs. I suggest that we do a little skating on public rinks on ordinary states first, and then try out those curvy ones.”

“I know already that I’m not cut out for society,” I assured him.

“Listen,” said Jim, “don’t be a quitter. To get on in life you’ve got to have determination. I’ll pick you up next Saturday afternoon at three o’clock. I’ll have the skates.”

“I’ll be out,” said I.

But Jim called at three in his car. You can’t refuse an old friend who comes honking at your door.

“I’ll watch you bust into society,” said I getting into his car. “But you use a funny part of your anatomy for busting, I’ll say.”

“We aren’t going to a public rink at all,” said Jim. “My kids skate on a kind of pond down in the Humber valley. It’s all isolated. Nobody will see us. We’ll just go down there and do an hour’s practice and it will make us feel like a million dollars.”

Down in the Humber valley below Lambton Jim led me to a pond about as big as a school yard. A dozen suburban kids had a bonfire by its side and were having a grand old game of shinny on the puddle.

“How deep is this pond?” I asked one of the suburban kids who stopped to watch me wobble on to the ice in my borrowed skates.

“How high is the sky?” retorted this radio-minded youth from York township and skidded away into his gang.

With wide and rather ungraceful strides, as if we had three or four knees in our legs instead of one, Jim and I stroked our way out into the middle of the pond.

“Hey!” came a half dozen shrill voices from the bonfire. “It’s soft out there!”

I grabbed for Jim and Jim grabbed for me.

Our feet went out from under us, backward, we fought frantically to hold our balance and then down we went as one man. One man with two large points of contact.

The ice gave way softly, without any drama at all.

We sat down in nine inches of cold water.

Jim struggled to his feet and helped me to mine. All the little York township boys stood in a circle and cheered us.

I tried to think of something to say but none of the things that came to my mind seemed fit for the occasion.

But as we waddled, with legs ajar, back to Jim’s car, we both came to the conclusion that society is for them as likes it.


Editor’s Notes: This story is shorter than the average one. Usual stories are about 2500 words, while this one is only 1500 words. This reduced story length seemed to only exist in early 1940, so it may have been initiated by concerns of newsprint restrictions early in the war.

Jimmie mentions Parrot Disease, also known as Psittacosis.

Premier King is William Lyon Mackenzie King. It was not uncommon at the time to refer to the Prime Minister as Premier.

Lambton is a neighborhood in Toronto, in an area then known as West York.

When asking how deep is the pond, he gets the smart-ass reply “How high is the sky”. This is the second line in the Irving Berlin song, “How Deep Is the Ocean?“, written in 1932. It was a popular ballad from this time period covered by many Jazz musicians.

War Loan Ad

January 13, 1940

Nuts!

By Greg Clark, September 21, 1940

“This war,” stated Jimmie Frise, “is completely different from any previous wars.”

“I’ll say it is,” I admitted, “with air bombings and …”

“No, no,” interrupted Jim; “I don’t mean just the weapons. A thousand years ago they used giant wooden catapults to heave barrels of burning tar over the walls of cities. There is really no difference in the tools of war. The difference I refer to is that in old wars they wanted big, strong, tough men for the army. Now they want trained intelligences.”

“Machines call for something more than brawn,” I pointed out.

“In old wars,” went on Jim, “all we lost were the biggest and toughest of our population. Now we are risking our more precious possession – our intelligent men.”

“Maybe it is time the brainy ones took a share in defending the country,” I suggested. “In old wars the strong guys marched away and the brainy ones stayed at home and profiteered.”

“I think the strangest thing I have met with in a long time,” said Jimmie, “was a young man of my acquaintance, a big, magnificent specimen of a 23-year-old who broke down and wept because he hadn’t his matriculation and couldn’t get into the air force.”

“That’ll teach him,” I remarked.

“But one of the good things about this war,” continued Jim, “is that it is stressing the importance of intelligence and training. All the talk about education and schooling of the past 50 years didn’t stir up the young men and youth of the world the way this war will.”

“I suppose we’ve got to think up some good out of the war,” I admitted.

“Think of the way everybody’s mind is being stirred up,” said Jim. “I bet there was more geography learned in the eight months between September, 1939, and May, 1940 than was learned in all the schools and universities of the world in the past century.”

“Even the knitting is becoming more intellectual,” I added. “Last war the girls knitted socks and mufflers, and occasionally a brave girl would try a balaclava helmet. But you should see the complicated things they are knitting for this war. Navy mitts, with flaps for the trigger fingers to come out. Flying helmets and complicated chest protectors.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jim, “this war is bringing out the brains. When this war is over there will be 100,000 expert motor mechanics in Canada.”

“A man who can take a Bren gun apart,” I agreed, “won’t be stumped by a mere outboard motor.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, “this war is showing up a lot of rackets. The motor repair business is one of them. If all those hundreds of thousands of youngsters can learn motor mechanics in a matter of a few days, there is no reason why anybody, especially intelligent people couldn’t do their own motor repairs and do them better than any garage that is trying to pay the rent by slapping 50 jobs through each day.”

“I think it’s the grease and oil that scares me off,” I admitted. “Like so many pioneers’ grandsons, I hate getting mucky. My ancestors got too mucky. I’m the reaction.”

Attempting a Valve Job

“What I’m working up to,” confessed Jim, “is my car needs a valve job. And in times like these I can’t see any reason why I shouldn’t do it myself.”

“Go ahead,” I urged him. “Go right ahead.”

“I mean,” said Jim, “with motor mechanics so scarce now, I wouldn’t be gypping anybody out of a living by doing what they ought to do. And besides, I haven’t got the money.”

“Go right ahead,” I assured him. “It’s one of those things you have to make up your own mind about.”

“Well, I was hoping you’d perhaps be interested enough to want to share in the experience,” said Jim. “Somebody would have to help me.”

“Get your brother-in-law,” I suggested. “He’s more your height for lifting things. Any time I help you I always get the low end.”

“What I really need you for,” confessed Jim, “is to help me follow the book of instructions I’ve got. You’re so good at that intellectual stuff.

“I might come over,” I said.

And I did.

Jim has a book all about engines. It is called “Your Engine.” It is filled with drawings, showing machinery, with dotted lines, and hands lifting things off, and arrows pointing. Jim and I went down to his garage and turned on the lights. He has a big box full of all the tools he has ever had with all his cars, and as he never turns the tools in with an old car, he has about 200 pounds of them.

While I sorted out tools Jim sat on the running-board and read the chapter entitled: “Removing Carbon and Grinding Valves.”

“Remove spark plugs and unscrew cylinder head, retaining nuts at X, X, X,” read Jim.

“Where is XXX?” I asked.

“Never mind – that’s on the diagram,” said Jim “Let me read it all through, and then we can go over it, sentence by sentence suiting the action to the words.”

He read on and on, while I punctuated it with tools on the cement floor. It sounded rather terrible as he proceeded. The tools were mostly rusty and many of them seemed injured or broken. But I had them strung from the front of the garage to the back by the time Jim concluded the chapter on removing carbon.

“I tell you,” I said, as Jim stood up and spit on his hands. “Let’s get a mechanic to come over. He could just sit here, on his night off and watch just to see we don’t go wrong.”

Jim gave me a look. “Do you mean to say,” he burst out “that a couple of high-class, intelligent men like us can’t follow a book of rules?”

He swept the engine hood cover off his car and exposed the large, cold, rusty and sullen-looking engine.

“Hand me the thingummy,” he said. “You know. Unwinds spark plugs.”

It is that bent jigger you use to change tires with, too. There were seven of them on the floor, and I picked the newest-looking one.

Unwinding a Lot of Nuts

Jim unwound the spark plugs and with a large wrench started in on the lid that hides the works. There were a lot of wires from the spark plugs, and he laid them aside. The iron lid of everything did not seem to be any freer when the nuts came off, so he got me to help him, and we drove a cold chisel along the crack and pried the lid off. It was heavy, and when it gave it gave suddenly and fell over on the far side, crashing into the carburetor and one thing and another. But we dragged it out and laid it on the floor.

Revealed now was a most unholy pickle of oily rods, springs, rockers, like the inside of a grandfather’s clock.

“Now,” said Jim, briskly, looking at the book, “take wrench and remove rocker arms and tappets. Hand me wrench.”

Out of the pile of wrenches on the floor I gave him a couple of 1926 and a 1934. He selected one and proceeded to seize hold of the oily wreckage, like a gentleman starting to carve the carcass of yesterday’s chicken. He pulled this way and that, and presently, without the least trouble, pulled out a long thin rod as long as a skewer. Bending down, he located several of these and drew them out and then, after loosening all the nuts that showed, the rocker arms fell off with a loud clank.

“Now remove cylinder head,” said Jim “Lend a hand there, lad.”

“Can I unwind nuts, too?” I inquired.

“Sure,” said Jim “Go to them.”

So I on one side and Jim on the other, unwound nuts until we each had a pile of them on the running boards and several on the floor.

Jim heaved the cylinder head and it came over my side, crashing on to the generator, the starting motor and bending the oil intake pipe. It was very heavy, and the sets of springs sticking up from it caught in various projections, so that we had to rig a rope over one of the scantlings of the garage roof and haul it out of the engine and even at that it brought several other things with it, including the rod that is attached to the choke. We hoisted it and then eased it down on to the floor.

Now we could see right into the engine, with its pistons and cylinders and carbon was to be seen on all sides.

“To remove pistons.” said Jim, “pan must be first removed.”

We looked for a pan, but none was visible.

“Well,” said Jim, “you can’t scrape carbon off the cylinders until you take out the pistons. Maybe they come out some other way.”

We pried at them, rapped them, undid several small nuts here and there, but if pistons are those things that fill the cylinders the way the porridge part of a double boiler fits the water part, then we couldn’t budge them.

“Would the pan be underneath?” I asked.

So Jim took a flashlight and disappeared under the engine.

“There is a kind of a big pan under here,” said Jim, hitting it with a wrench. “Hear it?”

“Take it off,” said I. “It won’t hurt.”

“Come on down,” invited Jim.

Trying to Get ‘Em Back

We found the pan was attached with large nuts, and these required one man to hold the big 1927 wrench and the other to hit the wrench with a hammer. It is curious how different a hammer is when you are lying down aiming east instead of south. Jim let me do the hammer part until I hit his head, which was three feet from the wrench. Then he let me hold the wrench for a rest. We got all the nuts off but the last one.

“Easy now,” said Jim as he unwound it; get under here and get ready to hold it with your arms and knees.”

The nut came off and down came the pan, teetering, and in it were two gallons of old black oil, most of which Jimmy got on top of him, and I got the rest of it by lying in it and absorbing it from below.

“Why didn’t you think of that?” I cried as we struggled from under the pan and got to our feet. But Jim, wiping oil out of his eyes, was studying the book, “Your Engine.”

The taste of oil is sickening. I wonder any mechanic ever looks as well as he does.

“Now, how about the pistons?” said Jim “Pistons may be removed from main shaft.”

But we could not find the main shaft. We looked everywhere except underneath for it, and of course neither of us intended to get underneath any more that night. The floor was half an inch deep with gravy.

“If I were to start the engine now,” suggested Jim, “I bet everything would fall out, pistons and all, so we could get at them. But I don’t want to sit in the seat with all this oil on me.”

So we went back to removing nuts and bolts and laying them in neat piles.

“When do you start grinding the valves?” I asked.

Jim picked up the book, which was already soaking up quite a lot of oil, and read:

“Insert valve-grinding tool. Do you see a valve-grinding tool anywhere there?”

“What’s it like?”

“I don’t know, it will be a sort of file or something. Look around you’ll see one.” But I could find nothing that resembled a valve-grinding tool.

“Jim,” I asked, “what time is it?”

“Ten-fifteen,” said he, in some surprise.

“I’ll have to be going,” said I.

“Going?” cried Jim. “What do you mean, going? Good heavens, we have just started. You’ve got to help

me put this all back again.”

“Nothing doing,” said I. “I said I’d come and help you unassemble it, but I don’t intend to sit up all night over your car.”

“Here, just a minute,” said Jim. “Let’s put it together again, and I’ll pass up grinding it. We’ll just throw it together in a few minutes.”

“I’ll stay a little while and help you with the heavy bits,” said I.

“Let’s put that pan on,” said Jim.

“Leave it till morning,” said I. “Most of the oil will be run off by then or dried up.”

“Then this big cylinder head,” said Jim.

“Hold on,” said I; “we took a lot of little nuts out since then. And these pins. Get everything back the way we took it out.”

Calling for the Expert

And that was where we began to tire of the job. Because none of the nuts fitted. They all seemed to have shrunk or swelled. Jim bent down and breathed heavily on his side while I grunted and spat on my side, in the best mechanic style, but pretty soon we both straightened up and leaned back to rest our backs, and looked at it.

“Have you got any on yet?” asked Jim

“I’ve got two on, but they don’t go on very far.”

Jim came around to my side and then we both went back to his side. There seemed to be far more places for nuts to go on than there were nuts.

“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle,” said Jim.

“Go and telephone for a garage man,” said I. “Unless you don’t want your car this week.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Jim, reaching in with his wrench. There was a clatter and a clunk and Jim had dropped his wrench and it had gone down somewhere into the machinery. “Hand us the flashlight.”

We both peered and felt and fiddled, but we could not see or feel that wrench. My hand being oily, I felt the flashlight slipping and it suddenly fell into the works. Its light went out, and no matter how we probed and fumbled, we could not feel the flashlight. And the garage light was a fixture in the roof.

“Go and telephone a garage,” said I.

So Jim went in and called a garage and came back and sat on the running board with me. The garage man came with his derrick car, and when he saw us and the car be put his cap back on his head and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Gees,” he said.

“How much is a carbon and valve job?” asked Jim.

“Oh, about $16 on this car,” said the garage man.

“Well, we’ve got it all open for you, said Jim; “that ought to cut some of the labor cost.”

“I was just figurin’,” said the garage man. “It would cost about six dollars more to get all them nuts back and that pan in place. You’ve clean disemboweled her, ain’t you?”

“We’ve lost a wrench and a flashlight in her somewhere,” said Jim.

“And these nuts and pins,” said the garage man. “How did you happen to get them piled up so nice?”

“How long will it take you?” asked Jim.

“About all day tomorrow,” said the garage man doubtfully, walking all around the car and sizing up the piles of stuff.

So I drove Jim to work the next day.

Demonstration

By Greg Clark, August 31, 1940

“Look at that,” exclaimed Jimmie Frise under his breath.

Across the street, a brand new light blue car was pulled up at the curb and a man and his wife were circling slowly and daftly around it while right behind them, an eager expression on his face, another man, obviously a car salesman, followed them close.

“We ought to be pleased somebody has enough money to buy a new car,” I submitted.

“I hope they don’t buy that one,” said Jim. “I had one of those in 1930. Of all the lemons I ever owned!”

“That’s a pretty good make of car now,” I corrected. “In 10 years they can improve a car a lot.”

“The makers of that car,” stated Jim, “are not interested in making cars. All they’re interested in is making money. I like a car made by people who have all the money they want and who therefore go in for making cars.”

“Nobody ever has enough money,” I disagreed. “Just because man has a hundred million dollars, do you think he will quit? Never. He will dig in with fresh zest to see if he can have as much fun making the second hundred million as he had with the first. Don’t ever delude yourself with the idea men will get tired of making money.”

“I hope he doesn’t buy that car,” said Jim anxiously, as we watched the neighbor get in behind the wheel of the light blue beauty, while his wife and the salesman got in the back seat.

“What the dickens has it got to do with you?” I demanded. “Relax, brother.”

“There is really only one car on the market,” stated Jim. “I’ve got my second one now …”

“Oho, Jim,” I scoffed, “not that thing you drive! That’s not a car that’s a truck. You don’t …”

“I suppose,” said Jim, bitterly, “you would recommend the make of car you drive? When two weeks after you bought it, you were threatening the people who sold it to you that you would drive ’round the streets of Toronto with a big sign on it, “This Is a Lemon’.”

“Every new car takes a little time to break in,” I confessed. “I admit I was a little hasty about that car. It’s certainly okay now. But that poor old lawn mower of yours. Why, Jim, there isn’t a week goes by that I don’t hear you cursing and moaning about your car…”

“Just a habit,” cut in Jimmie. “Just a habit. A man gets into the habit of cussing out his car. It’s only a trick for covering up his own neglect of the car, not getting the little things attended to greasing, tightening up and so on. I tell you, a car has to be a good car to stand up to the treatment I give it.”

“It seems to me,” I said, “your car has been in the repair shop twice in the past three weeks?”

“Well, it’s a year old.” explained Jim, “and just nicely broken in. It needed the clutch relined and then the other day I heard a kind of whine in the rear end. They put in a new bearing or two. That’s nothing out of the way at the end of a year. Why, the car I had in 1930 of that make across the road there, had to be torn apart and entirely rebuilt with spare parts in the first six months I owned it.”

Selecting a New Car

“The wise guys tell me,” I stated, that the sure way to get a good car is this: Inquire around the garage as to which make of car had the most grief last year. Then buy one of that make this year. The makers having suffered a severe lesson one year go the limit to ensure a good car the next year.”

“There they go,” interrupted Jim. The lovely car across the road gave a grind or two of new and unaccustomed gears and slowly moved into action. Smooth as a canoe, it crawled into speed and vanished, so fresh and graceful, up the street.

“Just like a bride,” mused Jimmie. “A man with a new car is a man in love.”

“Selecting a new car,” I mused too, “is like marriage. For better or for worse. You make your choice. And what comes of the match depends not only on how you treat the car, but what the car has in it. Like wives, lots of cars can be treated terribly and still stand up and play the game. And others, no matter how you pamper them, are forever cranky and forever letting you down.”

“Let’s watch for them coming back,” said Jim. “We can tell by the expression on their faces. Gee, I hope he doesn’t choose that car.”

“Why not?” I insisted.

“Because,” said Jim. “I’ve got an idea. You know who I bought my car from? He’s one of our gang that plays pool at noon…”

“Aaaaaahhh,” I exclaimed. “So that’s how you select your car?”

“It’s as good a way as any,” growled Jim. “Anyway, I was just thinking it would be a nice thing to turn him a little business. If these people come back with a look on their faces that means they aren’t decided yet, I’m going to phone Sam to come right out with a demonstrator car.”

“Kind of nervy, don’t you think?” I submitted.

“I’m a good neighbor,” retorted Jim. “I see a neighbor trying to choose a new car. What more decent thing could I do than give him the benefit of my experience?”

“Yes, and throw a sale in the direction of one of your pool-shooting friends,” I added.

“Well,” said Jim, “business has been bad lately, and Sam hasn’t been able to put his mind on his game. There is no use playing pool with a man whose mind is depressed. If I can cheer the guy up …”

Around the corner came the light blue car. Slow and pretty, she crept up the street in that stately pace we subject new cars to. She halted across the street and the three sat in her, considering. The salesman talked eloquently and took out a little book and read from it. The wife kept squirming around viewing the inside from various angles. The husband in front kept playing with the gadgets and shifting the gears and opening the glove box in the dash. Turned on lights. Tooted the horn delicately.

“Pssst,” hissed Jim. “It’s no sale, I can tell. If it was a sale, the wife would have been in the house by now to telephone her friends.”

“Let’s watch,” I muttered,

The salesman got out and lifted the hood. He persuaded the husband to get out and come and look in. But the husband walked around to the back, opened the trunk and stared in.

“No sale, no sale,” whispered Jim excitedly “When a man looks like that into the trunk compartment, it’s no sale. I’m going in to call Sam.”

And Jim dashed in and I heard him at the telephone. Across the street, the little drama played itself out. The wife sauntered up the walk and stood looking back at the car thoughtfully. The husband stood slightly aloof while the salesman perspired and indicated, with his finger point, special passages out of his little black book. Then Jim came out.

“Sam isn’t at the shop and he isn’t at home,” he groaned. “I bet he is somewhere shooting pool.”

“I’ve got it,” I offered. “Why don’t you demonstrate for Sam? With your car.”

Jim’s eyes lighted. He half started across the lawn.

“Wait,” I cautioned. “The decent thing would be to let the other poor devil depart in peace.”

So we sat gloating on the steps until the salesman of the light blue car finally and reluctantly got in, sat talking with the door open, shut the door, talked through the window, started the engine, continued to talk, let in gear, and went on making his final sales appeal, and at last lurched off and the husband started up the walk.

“Well,” called Jim cheerily and loudly, arresting him. “So it’s a new car for our street, hey?”

“What did you think of that one?” called the neighbor, whose name is Mr. Beevins.

“Pretty!” said Jim, “and you both looked mighty nice in it. But did you like the engine?”

“It all seemed a little stiff and wooden,” said Mr. Beevins, walking back down his walk and we walked down ours to meet him. “I like a car with a sort of lithe feeling, a sort of sinewy feel, if you get me.”

“Exactly,” agreed Jim. “Have you ever tried a So-and-So?”

Naming his own make of car.

“I’ve been in them. That’s a good car,” Mr. Beevins said. “But I had my mind on something a little less expensive.”

“Pshaw,” said Jim, “it’s only $100 or so more, and you get more than your money’s difference, I can tell you.”

“I’ve got four or five salesmen coming tonight,” said Mr. Beevins. “I’m not being stampeded. I’m going to try them all and take the one that sells itself. No salesmen for me. I’m letting the cars do it.”

“Why don’t you include a So-and-So?” suggested Jim, enthusiastically. “Now, you know what sort of a man I am. You’d know about how I would treat a car. Yet that So-and-So of mine has given me the most marvellous …”

Jim stopped and turned abruptly for his side drive as though suddenly smitten with an idea.

“Hold on a second,” he called back to us. “You’ve got five minutes.”

“There’ll be another salesman in about 10 minutes,” said Mr. Beevins to me. “I’ve got them coming on the half hour and the hour.”

“I think he’s going to let you try his car,” I suggested.

“Oh, no, no,” protested Mr. Beevins starting back up his walk.

“It’s not a bad idea,” I submitted earnestly. “After all, you don’t buy a car on its looks.”

With a roar and a rattle, Jim backed his old So-and-So out the side drive, showing how lithe and sinewy it was.

Before Mr. Beevins could retire into his house, Jim had backed in a large, agile curve and was talking out the window.

“Hop in here and take the wheel Beevins,” cried Jim, heartily. “It won’t take five minutes. You’ll get a better idea of the smartest car on the market today from driving this old bus than from all the specially oiled and selected demonstrators …

“I’ve got another salesman coming in about seven minutes,” protested Mr. Beevins.

“Just around the block,” said Jim.

So Beevins got in behind the steering wheel and I got in back.

“From the purely disinterested angle of a satisfied user,” said Jim, as Beevins stepped on the starter cautiously and fumbled at the clutch.

Beevins was not at ease. He gripped the steering wheel and puckered his face. He started to turn the corner to go around the block.

“No, no, straight on,” cried Jim, startling Beevins into keeping on up the street until we came to the highway.

“Just run her a piece out here,” said Jim, his arm affectionately along the back of the seat, “and let her out. I want you to feel a real sinewy car. As one neighbor to another, hey?”

He laughed gaily but Beevins just sat with his face puckered anxiously, humped over the wheel.

“Okay, we’re clear,” said Jim, “step on her.”

Too Much Neighborliness

Mr. Beevins stepped very reservedly on the gas and we got to forty. I haven’t been in Jim’s car lately, and I didn’t know it had so many sounds. It had a loud roar, a sort of base note, over which rang a dozen lesser tunes, of rattles, clunks, clicks, hisses and buzzes. Something tinny was loose somewhere and it kept a sort of faint clanging note going.

“Don’t pay any attention to the noises,” shouted Jim, cheerily. “That’s just the way I neglect it. But wait till you get her up around 60. The smoothest perform …”

She was going 40 when suddenly there was a bump and a horrible grinding sound which at the same time dragged the car to an agonized stop. Mr. Beevins steered her shakily to the shoulder of the road.

“It sounds like the rear end,” I submitted.

“I think a wire gave way,” said Jim. “Ignition.”

We got out and Jim lifted the hood while I got down and looked underneath. I could hear something hissing. The big dirty iron housings looked hot.

Mr. Beevins looked at his watch.

“The salesman will be at my house,” he said, “and my wife will be fussy about me being there.”

“Just a minute,” said Jim, “I want you to feel this baby at 60.”

“I’m afraid I’ll simply have to get back,” said Mr. Beevins. Traffic was whistling past and Mr. Beevins raised his thumb in the time honored signal.

“Now, just a second, Beevins,” pleaded Jim. “I’ll get this right in a minute. Don’t fret. We’ll be on our way home in five minutes.”

But Beevins went ahead thumbing and suddenly a small, sleek, low, racey seal brown car swooped to a stop just a few yards beyond us and Beevins ran towards it.

“Thanks, all the same, Frise,” he waved back. “This is the same make of car the salesman is waiting to show me…”

And he patted the seal brown stranger car’s top affectionately as he slid inside.

And like a bird taking off, that small sleek car swept almost soundlessly into motion and vanished like a streak up the highway homeward.

“That’s gratitude,” said Jim.

“You can carry neighborliness too far,” I pointed out.

“I hope he gets what he deserves,” said Jimmie. “Any man who buys a car on the appearance of it fresh from the factory …”

“I suppose,” I agreed, “that he ought to ride in all the neighbors’ crocks and choose the make that is the least wrecked.”

“What’s the matter with this?” demanded Jim hotly. “This is no crock. Apart from rattles …”

“And at the moment it won’t go,” I recalled to him.

So 100 yards up was a garage and came down and looked at us and diagnosed that the rear end had gone.

“It can’t be,” cried Jim. “I had the rear end overhauled less than a week ago.”

“Well,” said the garage man, “the rear end is gone.”

So Jim had it towed away downtown to the garage that does all his work. And we rode in the front of the towing truck as far as the front steps where we sat until dark and saw Mr. Beevins decide on the light blue one his wife had liked best right from the start.


Editor’s Notes: It was common in those days for car salesmen to come to your house to demonstrate cars, rather than go to them.

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