The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1940

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.

Sound the “Retreat”

July 6, 1940

No Knee Knuckles

By Greg Clark, June 15, 1940

“How’s the new car coming?” asked Jimmie Frise.

“Not so good,” I replied. “I can’t make up my mind.”

“I suppose you’ve got the new car jitters?” said Jimmie.

“The what?”

“The new car jitters,” said Jim. “You get it from listening to car salesmen.”

“I guess that’s what I’ve got,” I admitted. “I thought buying a new car was as simple as falling off a log. But, dear me!”

“You must just shut your mind,” said Jim, “and trust your eyes and the feel of the car under you. That’s the only way. If you listen to the salesmen, especially these 1940 model salesmen, you will never buy a car.”

“I suppose,” I said, “I could stuff cotton in my ears and start all over again.”

“That’s a fair substitute for strength of character,” admitted Jim. “Which car were you leaning toward?”

“Well,” I said, “it narrowed down pretty well to three. An Eight, a Six, and one of these Slither-Slips or whatever you call them.”

“What were the points for and against these final three?” asked Jim.

“The Eight,” I said, “we liked best because it was a color we have always been wanting, it had a nice wide door for my mother-in-law and it had no do-funny business about changing gears.”

“Why didn’t you take it?” asked Jimmie.

“Well, for example,” I explained, “the salesman of the Six pointed out that this Eight hadn’t the right streamlining, that it didn’t have five-ply safety glass all around, like his, and if you are to believe these boys, the speed on the highways this coming season is going to be so great you are going to be lucky to escape several head-on collisions and five-ply safety glass all around is imperative.”

“M’mm,” said Jim. “Anything else the matter with the Eight?”

“It has knuckle-knees,” I said, “and the Six salesman said this makes it an experimental car.”

“Why didn’t you buy the Six?” asked Jim.

“Ah,” I said, “it was not only $400 less than the Eight, but it was semi-streamline and it hadn’t hush-hush brakes. You might just as well go and drive over a cliff as venture out on the highway this season without hush-hush brakes.”

Why Not a Referee?

“What color was the Six?” asked Jim.

“Oh, various colors, but not like the Eight,” I said. “But as the Eight pointed out to me, this Six has not got a bumpo body. And did you know that if you got caught between two street cars in anything but a bumpo body you were as good as dead?”

“I don’t often get caught between two street cars,” said Jimmie.

“But you see the point of his argument?” I said, “Then, too, this Six didn’t have torque, or syncro-starting, nor did it have air-resisto windows.”

“Dear me,” breathed Jim. “What was the other car you were thinking of?”

“The Slither-Slip,” I said, “or whatever it is. Now, Jimmie, until you have been in one of those Slither-Slips you have never really been motoring. You just ought to bathe your body in those seats! Boy, how they glide!”

“And why didn’t you choose it?” asked Jimmie.

“It had no knee-knuckles,” I said. “And it was really so advanced. Think of the resale value!”

“I thought you were buying a car, not selling one,” Jim remarked

“You don’t understand, Jimmie,” I cried. “When you are buying a car you are doing a whole lot more than merely buying a car to ride in. You are engaging in an investment. You must consider the financial aspect. Now, while all the cars are headed in the direction of complete streamlining they all agree that about the time I would want to turn in my Slither-Slip it would be hopelessly old-fashioned. In three years everything will be ultra-streamline.”

“That’s a funny argument,” said Jim.

“All their arguments are funny,” I agreed. “They have got me weak in the knees, frightened and confused.”

“You’ve got the new car jitters,” said Jim.

“What there ought to be,” I stated, “is a government referee who could attend all car sales to censor any remarks that might enjitter the customer.”

“Or,” said Jim. “car sales ought to be forbidden in private, but should be conducted in a place downtown, like the stock market, where all the salesmen could get at you at once. It would be a riot, but they would all have an even chance at the public. And the only jitters you would get would be that mild sort of stock market jitters.”

“I went through the stock market crash far easier than I am going through this job of buying a new car,” I admitted.

“I tell you what we could do,” said Jimmie. “Why not invite the three salesmen up to your house tonight, all at the same time, and discuss their cars in a sort of committee?”

I was amazed at the idea.

“How perfectly simple!” I cried. “Of course. Why didn’t anybody ever think of that before?”

“There you are,” said Jim, rather proudly. Just tell each one to be at your house at 8 p.m. Tell him to bring a demonstrator car with him. And then you can sit there and let them sell their cars. They wouldn’t dare knock each other’s cars to their faces.”

“Of course!” I said, “You be there, too, in case I need support.”

“Sure.” said Jim.

I telephoned the three dealers, the Eight, the Six and the Slither-Slip, and they all agreed with alacrity to come up to the house and bring the papers with them.

Jim strolled along about a quarter to eight. My family was out to the pictures and I arranged the living-room nicely to accommodate the boys when they arrived.

The Eight arrived first. He started right to work, but I said I was expecting some others in and would he wait a few minutes.

The Slither-Slip arrived next.

It was like roosters in the barnyard. They just stopped and stared at each other for a minute. I introduced them, but they didn’t shake hands. They just thinned their lips and looked at each other. The Six arrived last. He was a boundy sort of young man, he bounded up the walk and bounded in the door and bounded into the room. He took one glare at the other two chaps and then bounded back to the door.

“Some other time,” he said thickly when I detained him.

“But I wanted to hear all three of you at the same time,” I cried. “I have narrowed it down to you three cars, and now I want it threshed out.”

The Six bounded back into the room. The other two got to their feet smartly.

“This was your bright idea!” hissed the Six with a look like death takes a holiday on his face. He was baring his teeth at the Eight.

“Is zat so!” said the Eight, just like Mae West.

“I think,” said the Slither-Slip softly, that if you two birds will just beat each other up. Mr. Clark and I can get down to business with these papers.”

It all happened very suddenly. All three, at the sight of the papers, dashed together. There was a wild mix-up. Jim and I stepped in to touch them on the arm, and remind them of the business aspect of our meeting.

“Maybe,” said the Eight man, seizing me by the collar, “it was his own idea!”

There was a moment of great confusion and whirling about the bumping and thudding. And when it was over Jimmie was sitting on the chesterfield and I was out on the small chair beside the telephone. Mussed up.

And the three salesmen were racing their engines out in the dark, angrily, super-chargedly.

“High pressure,” said Jimmie, rising and straightening his garments. Those boys are suffering from high pressure.”

“Aren’t you supposed to introduce a salesmen to one another?” I demanded indignantly, flattening my hair and retying my tie.

“Not in the presence of a customer,” said Jimmie. “Like feeding lions, you are supposed to feed them in different parts of the cage.”

“They have the jitters,” I snorted angrily. “Flying off like that.”

“Which car do you fancy?” inquired Jim.

“If those birds had waited a minute instead of turning on us,” I said, “I was going to suggest that they stage a three-way fight and the best man get my order.”

“I know a chap,” said Jimmie, “he is by profession an architect, but he has lately tried selling cars.”

“What about him?”

“Well, he has been in business now three months and hasn’t sold a car. He’s sort of shy,” said Jimmie. “Why don’t you let me send for him, and he’ll sell you a car in five minutes, without a single word being spoken.”

“What car is he selling?” I asked.

“I forget,” said Jimmie. “But what difference does it make? They are all good cars. You can’t have several billion dollar manufacturing concerns making cars without them turning out a 100 per cent product. About the only real difference in them is the name.”

“But synchro-suspension and high-compression ventilation!” I cried.

“Different names for the same thing,” said Jim. Let me telephone my friend. He just lives a few blocks from here.”

“Go ahead,” I said.

Jim ‘phoned. In about 10 minutes a shy, gentlemanly chap arrived. He had nothing to say. He didn’t have a demonstrator with him, but he had a few dog-eared sales agreements in his pocket.

He went out with Jim and me into the lane and looked at my car and guessed how much it was worth on the trade-in. Then we figured out the price.

“What color, Mr. Clark?” he asked.

“Dark, lustrous green,” I said.

“If we haven’t a green we’ll make it a nice dark blue,” said he gently.

I signed. We chatted and listened to the radio.

Then Jimmie and the salesman left. I happened to watch them down the front walk. And when they got out to the street they did a funny thing.

Jim and his friend the salesman joined hands and danced gleefully all over my sidewalk.


Editor’s Note: An eight is an eight cylinder car, and a six is a six cylinder car. All of the other types of technologies are made up.

Women and Children First

By Gregory Clark, London, June 8, 1940

Writing from London after returning there from France and Belgium, Gregory Clark tells the tragic story of the millions of refugees who have been forced to flee from their native lands, from their homes-into an unknown filled with ever-present horror and peril

Neither Attila the Hun nor Genghis Khan, who mercilessly exterminated all humanity they met in their paths for the same reason that we might exterminate grasshoppers in the west, ever had pleasure of seeing more human tragedy and disaster than we have seen in Belgium and France in the past few weeks.

The tragedy of the refugees was not fully told at its full tide because of the staggering character of other news. The speed of the German mechanized attack and unexpected twists of events stole the spotlight from what was after all a far greater tragedy–the bloody pilgrimage of several millions of people from their native lands, from their kind homes, into an unknown filled with ever present horror and peril. In what used to be called the Great War there also was tragic pilgrimage of Belgians, but at least they fled with the path fairly open before them.

In this awful flight every step of the way was blazing with terror. The path before them was filled with menace. They fled from the one horror in the full knowledge that they were heading into unremitting horror of the millions who took part, and are still taking part in that awful pilgrimage I feel sure I saw nearly 200,000 of them in the seven days I toiled my way from Brussels to the coast ahead of the rapidly advancing enemy. And this article will detail with such detachment as possible to an emotional man the main features of the picture that now must hang on the walls of humanity’s grand gallery along with the tragic murals of Caesar, Attila, Genghis Khan, Napoleon and all the great names of pride.

Like a Forest Fire

But do not console yourselves as you read this in thinking all this is over. It goes on. Where could these rivers of humanity go? Could they just sink into the ground? At the time of writing, the estimate is that 150,000 of them have perished and so sunk into the ground. But poor splendid France has taken them in their millions and is spreading them somehow all over her already crowded campagne. In my time I have heard my fellow countrymen speak critically of the French, saying they were too canny, too parsimonious, too greedy for money. Never again can I be silent before so vicious an opinion. For I have seen France with absolutely wide arms welcoming to her soil these tortured, laboring, penniless millions. Not with canniness, but with generosity sublime from the highest to the lowest, France has to her great military peril welcomed and made safe the path of these refugees. If France is canny about money it is because so many times each century France has to mother another million of the earth’s forsaken. To be so great a mother France must indeed be thrifty.

Many years ago when I was a boy camping on the Muskosh river in the Georgian bay, I saw a great forest fire. I witnessed that never-to-be-forgotten spectacle of the forest’s secret people, the deer, the birds, the squirrels, the fox, the slow, struggling porcupine fleeing before the crackling horror of fire.

When I stood on the road between Tournai and Brussels and watched the full tide of refugee columns I saw the gentle creatures of the wilds once more.

Here before me on the wide highway was an endless throng, in cars, in huge farm wagons, on bicycles, but far the greatest number just on foot, toiling, not fast but with exhaustion already two or three days old in terrible forward-bending agony. In a forest fire creatures do not race, they flee in little exhausted, bewildered spurts. So with these women and children and men in a never ending flood to the number of millions on all roads.

Allies Show Humanity

I first contacted the tragedy at Arras, where I arrived in the war area by train. The advance guard of the refugees were there–the fairly well off, who had good cars and experience of travel to enable them to make time. These were citizens of Holland and Belgium who had already experience of bombing in the larger cities of their native lands. The night I arrived Arras was bombed for the first time. It was set on fire, and hardly had flames started to leap, before out from hotels, private homes, sheds and shelters where they had taken refuge, emerged the tide of refugees to continue their tragic way.

“We cannot remain,” they told me. “We have already been bombed every place we have stopped since we left our homes. We must be on our way.”

“Where to?” I always asked and without one exception to that question the answer was ever the same. They did not know.

From the moment of my arrival until, along with all the rest of the war correspondents, I was marched by the officers in charge of us aboard a ship at Boulogne, already under intense bomb fire, there was no yard of road, no village however tiny, no field that was not filled with this awful tide of humble humanity. You must realize now, of course, that this refugee flood was a German weapon as coldly calculated and as viciously employed as any fifth column. In despatches to The Daily Star I called it the sixth column, and that describes it. The reason for the random bombing of cities and towns was merely to drive out of those places onto the roads again the pilgrim hordes to block and embarrass the roads for French and British armies. With heart in mouth, I watched from day to day for any sign that our armies might face the problem with an almost lawful necessity and drive the refugees from the roads. God be praised, whatever the net results of this first battle may be, both French and British treated these hopeless people with humanity that never lapsed.

Look at Your Canada

So much for argument of the case. Now for the evidence. If these be too cruel throw the paper aside, get to your feet and look out the window at your beloved Canada, and dedicate yourself to it anew. For there are no non-military objectives any more. Your sweetest child is today a military objective of first rank. For if that tender child be blasted before your eyes so rendering you and all who see it helpless, then surely is not that a military objective of greatest importance?

Near Enghien while watching Junker dive bombers methodically and very technically blasting that little town to radiant hell, I stood on the roadside while the refugee throng, hurried by this fury, went bending by. Two children, possibly three and four years old, hand in hand, their heads wobbling on necks so weary were they, struggled along behind their parents. The father pushed a barrow, the mother carried a great sheet bag of treasures. They got ahead of the toddlers following, when one Junker, having dropped its bombs on Enghien, banked around and followed the road, emptying machine-guns into the crowds. Three great Belgian horses drawing a heavy cart stampeded. Nobody had time to reach the children. They were trampled as little moths and crushed under foot.

I came through Tournai in the morning and saw in the sunlit old Belgian town dense mobs of refugees trying to buy bread massed in the park and all along the curbs in family and village groups, while old men went foraging in vain. It was like a fair day. But on every face were terror and exhaustion. Eyes were glazed in the fight with sleep, for sleep was too deadly for a mother with their children lying in attitudes of endless weariness across their laps or clasped in their arms. There could be no sleep in this funeral march of a nation for at any minute out of blue summer sky might come howling death.

Seeing a City Die

On my way back through Tournai five hours later, after witnessing the death and destruction of cities and towns, I found that 29 bombers in precise formation had come over at 4.30 in the afternoon and dropped 200 high-explosive bombs at random into the fair-day-thronged town. No place of military importance had been hit; not the station, not the main road junctions in or around the town, no barracks, no defences. Just the streets, the parks, two churches, a convent. And how many died in that carnage of a summer afternoon has not been known.

With heart shut tight and eyes half closed against the horror, we went through Tournai, its flames rising in four great pillars of smoke for the spectacled professors on high in their planes to note and check. In the streets and alleys and doorways the dead had been already laid aside by the doggedly toiling Belgian police, firemen and emergency crews. In one convent four nuns at prayer were killed and 20 wounded and their mother superior, a princess of Belgium 67 years of age, was marshalling what was left of her Benedictine daughters to flee and join the sleepless army on the road.

In Amiens we arrived to find a city with street cars and traffic and busy shops not unlike a decent residential area of Paris. The following morning bombs were falling, and the city was dying under our eyes, with shops and homes deserted. Amiens, crammed with refugees at nightfall, was by morning light a city of the dead, with all its people and all its refugees joined in that strange, slow toiling flood, that slow stampede if such a thing is imaginable. Near Amiens I saw a car laden on the roof with mattresses packed with family and bags and with a dead child tied on a running board seeking a burial place and an hour’s respite for the last rites. Hundreds of young people had bandaged heads and bodies. Older people injured simply gave up and quit the flight.

I saw a company of Belgian boy scouts on bicycles in scout uniform, three of them with bandaged wounds pull up where a bomb had fallen near the road to render first aid to 10 or 15 people laid out in fields. A scoutmaster about 20, who was superintending work of his refugee scouts, said rather hopelessly to me, “The trouble is these poor souls want to die. We haven’t been able to do much good this past week because the minute they get hit they take it for an excuse to go and die under a hedge. Maybe I will be the same when my turn comes.”

I saw this same scoutmaster in Boulogne later and three of his boys were killed in bombing at Arras while working in the inferno there, rescuing wounded. Three boys I had seen stacking bicycles on the roadside to leap to the help of others.

Use Refugees as Screen

The thing to remember amidst all this of which I only give most terribly sketchy glimpses of what I, one man, was able to see at any tiny given instant at one tiny spot in wide France, is that amidst it all, the British and French armies had to try to organize defence against the on-rushing enemy. All savage tribes shove a screen of prisoners ahead of them in attacking. Nobody who witnessed that first terrible week in Belgium and Northern France can ever be persuaded that the Germans did not use with complete heartlessness the screen of millions of refugees behind which to make their attack.

But do not think of the refugees as having found rest now at last. Millions of them are in France and a haven has to be found for them. Millions with only what they could carry of their earthly goods. Few of them without some member of their little flock lost.

They are members now of that ancient and noble brotherhood embracing all races and all ages of the martyrs of innocent and trampled humanity.


Editor’s Notes: Greg was a war correspondent during World War Two, was a witness to the invasion of Belgium and France, and had to be evacuated back to Britain. This story describes some of his experiences just a week and a half after the fall of Belgium, and weeks before the final fall of France.

The Cap’s a Good Old Scout

January 13, 1940

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