The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1945 Page 1 of 4

Three’s a Crowd

The muskie landed smack into the canoe, exactly between Jim and me.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 7, 1945.

“How’s about a little side bet?” inquired Jimmie Frise.

“On?” I inquired.

“Who gets the first muskie,” said Jim. “After all, this is an auspicious occasion. It’s the first time we’ve been muskie fishing for five years. For you and me, it is the fifth freedom.”

“Then,” I submitted, “it is too sacred an occasion for betting. This fishing trip ought to be, actually, a sort of religious rite.”

“Aw,” scoffed Jimmie, as we shoved off from the summer hotel wharf and started paddling, “you always mix up your sport and your politics. Or your philosophy. Let’s just go fishing.”

“Okay,” I said, scanning the reedy shores eagerly. “But I don’t want to do any betting on who gets the first muskie. I just want to soak in this feeling of being fishing again in my native lakes. I could be dead five years, killed by a bomb on the road to Dunkirk, instead of sitting here in this canoe looking for good spot to cast. I could have been blown to bits by shells in Italy, by machine-guns in Normandy; I could have been torpedoed 50 times at sea, or crashed into the Atlantic or the Mediterranean in thousands of miles of flying…”

“And I,” cut in Jimmie, “could have died of pneumonia in the raw winter of ’41 or got an infected toe during the hot spell we had here in 1942….”

“Jim!” I said indignantly.

“But it’s true,” assured Jim, from the stern of the canoe. “We waste too much time thinking about life instead of in living. Every man can have his choice. He can either do what he likes or what somebody else likes. He can live the way he wants to live or the way his wife and family want him to live. He can do with these few hours, days, weeks, months and years that are allotted to him what he wants to do, or he can be bullied, wheedled, coerced, chivvied and jockeyed by society around him into wasting it all.”

“Wasting?” I snorted.

“Look,” said Jim. “The general impression is that society is organized by the majority of mankind for the general benefit of mankind. If that were so, why are so many people poor and distressed and harassed? If that were so, why are so many people living silly lives, like squirrels in a revolving cage, spending their one, only and very brief life doing what somebody else wants them to do, instead of doing what they themselves would like to do?”

“Life,” I explained, “is a co-operative enterprise. The perfect society would have all mankind living for all the rest of mankind.”

“Poppycock!” cried Jim, swinging the paddle. “That is the sort of bunk the smart rulers and owners of the world have been pushing, through schools and teachers and preachers, for hundreds of years. A few thousand years ago, when the big boys discovered that all the little people, if ganged up, could destroy them, they founded schools and colleges and churches and institutions for a stable society and began controlling the little people of the world not with clubs and swords but with ideas and ideals. You can bludgeon a million people far more easily with an idea than with a club.”

“Jim,” I expostulated. “This is treason. This is worse than communism.”

“Sure,” agreed Jim. “It is the next thing after communism. Communism is old stuff. It is just the latest scheme to keep the masses of the people happy and under control of the big fellows.”

“Who,” I demanded indignantly, “are the big fellows?”

“Whoever,” explained Jim, “wants to run the rest of us for their profit or amusement.”

“Amusement?” I protested.

Plan For the World

“Certainly,” said Jimmie, “When it becomes dangerous to try to run the mass of us for profit, the ambitious guys among us abandon that motive and adopt instead the motive of their own amusement. It’s the sense of their power they wish to enjoy. The old-fashioned and easy way of feeling power was by means of money. But the masses have got ugly. It is no longer safe, it isn’t even possible to convert your sense of power into money. The masses have got it all taxed and super-taxed. So, the ambitious guys among us adopt ideas and ideals instead of money. So long as they can be boss, so long as they can enjoy the sensation of their power, they are happy.”

“You make it look very horrible,” I muttered.

“It is horrible,” agreed Jim.

“Okay, then,” I countered hotly, “what does your new, super-communism suggest we do?”

“Kill off anybody who exhibits the symptoms of having the feeling for power,” said Jim. “Don’t just imprison them. Don’t just make laws to try to circumvent them. Kill them. The way you would kill rattlesnakes, tigers or malignant germs that might threaten the life and well-being of mankind as a whole. Destroy all the would-be leaders. Wipe out the people with initiative, ambition, and greed. It is all the same thing.”

“Why, Jim, you would bring the whole world to a standstill!” I cried.

“No,” corrected Jim. “Nothing mankind can do can bring the world to a standstill. That is the one little thing we have always overlooked. We have produced an endless and bloody series of Caesars, emperors, kings, protectors, dictators. Each has tried to impose his idea of the perfect life on the world with sword and fire. Each has gone down to dust and even his marble statues are mere disfigured remnants in museums. Museums in some land other than his own, as a rule. But the world goes round and round. Every day, the sun comes up the same as it did for Augustus Caesar or Hitler or for you and me this morning.”

“Yet each of these great and ambitious men,” I pointed out, “for all the blood and ruin of his passing, pushed the world ahead another step in its slow advance from barbarism.”

“You mean?” inquired Jim, steering for the shore, where a very inviting bed of rushes extended out by a rocky point – an ideal spot for a feeding muskie.

“These ambitious men, these Caesars, kings, protectors,” I offered, “each do something to forward their own selfish ends. They organize their own people. They develop science. They build roads, improve agriculture, build factories. They first exert their sense of power to improve their own nation in order to be strong enough to impose their power on surrounding nations. Thus science and industry are advanced.”

“At what a price!” exclaimed Jim.

“Then, to beat them, to destroy, them,” I pursued, “all the surrounding nations, and eventually the whole world, has to come abreast of the conqueror’s nation.”

“Then you approve,” demanded Jimmie, “of conquerors and of war?”

“I approve,” I said cautiously, “of that instinct in human nature which causes most men to compete with one another and which naturally brings forth a few men, as the result of the competition, who are extra-competitive, who are over-ambitious, who get out of control and sometimes, in their avid sense of power, bring trouble and often ruin on their fellow men.”

“You approve of them?” cried Jim.

“I said I approve of the instinct,” I corrected hastily.

“It’s the same thing,” said Jim.

“No. I think we can some day master the instinct of competition,” I submitted, “without destroying it, just the way we mastered the horse without destroying it. Back in the dawn of time, when men found that they had to kill and destroy most other animals, either to eat them or else to protect themselves, they found the horse. It was not particularly good to eat. It was not particularly dangerous, as were tigers or wolves. So they tamed the horse. I think we can tame the competitive. instinct in mankind. Some want to leave it wild, like a tiger, preying on us all. Some want to destroy it, like a tiger. I prefer to think of it as a wild horse, which we can tame and breed for our very great help and use.”

“You’ll never tame it,” said Jim. “It is the basic wild instinct of human nature.”

“We’ve nearly got it tamed now,” I declared.

“And you can say that,” protested Jim, “at this moment of the world’s history when the bloodiest war of all time is barely over!”

“With Europe a mass of ashes, ruin and nameless graves,” I proposed. “I think some profound ideas are bound to emerge. It was out of ruin and agony in the past that all our greatest ideas emerged.”

“Behead everybody,” cried Jim, “who shows the symptoms of ambition!”

“Behead us, then,” I triumphed, “for being so ambitious as to try to catch a muskie!”

“That’s different,” said Jim. “That’s just having fun.”

“Not for a muskie, it isn’t!” I pointed out, laying down my paddle and picking up my bait casting rod.

“How do we know a muskie doesn’t enjoy fighting us on the end of a line?” countered Jimmie, slowing the canoe and setting it sideways on, for me to cast towards the inviting rocks and weeds.

A Feeling of Power

“We’re here, Jim, right in this canoe, in this spot,” I reminded him, “because of that initiative deep in human natures, because of the competitive spirit in human nature. You and I are really here because we wish to compete with one another. We are here because we are tired of the dull routine, of our everyday lives. We want a little excitement. We want to exert our little sense of power, such as it is. I have power over this rod, this reel, this line. I have power to cast this lure. I have power and cunning to know just where to cast it, in the best hope of getting the biggest reward. I wish to exercise that power. I wish to feel that power. Baffled and beaten by my normal life, frustrated by editors, haunted by creditors, my life under control of hundreds of people around me over whom I have no power whatever, I come fishing here in order to exhibit what power I have.”

“Cast right in past that boulder there,” suggested Jimmie.

“Listen,” I said. “Leave this to me. This is my power I want to feel. You wait till your turn, and then feel your own power.”

“Okay, it’s exactly five minutes to ten,” said Jim. “I paddle you until five minutes to eleven. Then turn about, hour for hour. Let her go.”

I cast.

Those of you who don’t know the delights of a bait casting rod will have difficulty following me here. There is no sport like the bait casting rod. Unlike golf, in which you hit a ball and have to walk after it, with a bait casting rod you cast a lure and then reel it back to you. Like golf, bait casting is an exercise of skill in both distance and accuracy. You like to be able to cast the lure a long distance, when necessary, as in golf you like to make a good long drive. And as in golf, you like to make your approach shots and putts with skill and precision. More than three-quarters of golf is approach and field shots. More than four- fifths of bait casting is the making of accuracy casts at a certain rock, a certain log, a certain open space among the lily pads or rushes.

And you don’t have to walk after them.

You reel them slowly, enticingly back. Aw, bait casting has it all over any other sport you can think of. To be a practical bait caster is to experience that sense of power to its full. And you don’t have to hand in a score card, either. And you don’t even have to have somebody with you, some partner. You can get in your own boat and cast in solitary joy. If you catch fish, it is luck. The fish happened to be where you knew they should be. If you don’t catch fish, it isn’t your fault. The fish simply weren’t where they should have been. Your sense of power, of self-respect, is not damaged as it is in golf by a bad score.

“Take off that spoon,” said Jim, in the stern, “and put on a yellow and white plug.”

“Mind your own business,” I said, feeling my first cast slowly and letting the little spinner sink. My lure was a small brass and nickel spoon, on a seven-inch piano wire shank, with a weight of lead moulded right on to the piano wire to make it weighty enough to cast smoothly. Behind the spinner was a bucktail colored streamer concealing the good big bass hook. A hook that would hold the biggest muskie in the lake.

“On a day like this,” said Jim, “the muskies won’t be very active. They won’t be roaming around looking for food. They’ll be snoozing down amid the weeds, in the shadow of lily pads. You want a good bright, lively plug that will create a commotion and stir up the sense of power of the muskie. Irritate him. Challenge him. Employ your sense of power to awaken the sense of power of the muskie.”

“Now you are beginning to understand nature,” I applauded.

“Me, I’m going to use that jointed flap-doodle-bug, plug,” said Jim, “the red and yellow one with the silver spangle paint on it. I’m going to startle the muskie into feeling his authority is being flouted. A muskie rules, his bay or section of shore the way a dictator rules his nation. With endless vigilance, with tireless alertness. Let him see some creature ignoring his majesty, and the muskie takes a bang at it whether he is hungry or not.”

“I wish you understood human nature,” I said, “as well as you do muskie nature.”

“Take off that sissy little spinner,” said Jim.

“Mind your own business,” I replied.

“Hey, cast over past that little spur of rock sticking out,” hissed Jim. “There’s a deep shadow behind it. I bet it’s a pool 10 feet deep. The perfect spot for a royal snooze.”

“Look, Jim, you just paddle, see,” I said. “I do the casting. I do the picking of the spots. Your turn is next.”

However, I cast past the little spur of rock. It was, an ideal hole for a muskie. Behind the spur, the rock dropped sheer into a dark shadowy pool sheltered from the sun by rock and tree and the bush beyond. All around, for hundreds of yards, were stretches of lily pad bed, rushes and rocks where the dictator of these parts could find plenty of minnows, frogs, crawfish and the dainties of a muskie’s voracious appetite.

My lure sped in a smooth arc through the air. The little spinner spat lightly into the water a foot beyond the point of the rock spur. I commenced to reel almost at the instant the lure touched the water. As if it were some little frightened creature that had inadvertently fallen off the rock, I reeled it excitedly past the tip of rock and, stopping the reel for an instant, I let the lure pause and stagger on the very edge of the deep pool. A frightened, excited, bewildered little lure…

Action Stations

With a surge that washed waves three feet up the spur of rock, an enormous muskie rolled up out of the depth. His back, seeming a foot broad, arched out of the water, his back fin curved like a stallion’s neck. His vast reddish gleaming tail lifted and smote the water with a slap like a paddle. He dived. I struck.

With a sharp, slick snap-back of the rod tip, I set the hook in the muskie’s jaw.

“Glory!” roared Jim, starting to back the canoe away from shore.

We were about 30 feet out.

“Back, back!” I yelled.

When my hook jagged home in the huge fish’s jaw, he seemed to pause and hang suspended in the water the fraction of an instant. He shook his head. I was holding a tight line.

Realization dawned on that muskie in a lightning flash. He knew he was hooked.

“Baaa…” I screamed.

Through the water, straight for the canoe, came a great surging wave. I reeled madly. Jim backed madly.

But straight under the canoe raced the big fish, barely missing the bottom. We could feel the hump of his passage under us.

I had reeled. Not quite as fast as he had swum.

I felt the line tighten.

The muskie, feeling the sudden tension, rose for the surface and leaped.

My line was so short, his leap brought him round in an enormous, muscular curve of gnashing jaws, thrashing tail, every ounce of his many pounds of green and bronze energy flailing for its life.

Up and round he came.

Smack into the canoe, exactly between Jim and me.

His first gigantic convulsion threw my tackle box overboard. His second savage thrust pitched the lunch basket four feet in the air and overboard.

“Hey… hoy… who.. !” roared Jimmie.

“Ho, hi, wha…!” I joined.

But the thing was fated. The muskie lifted three feet in the air, and landed at my heels. He lifted four feet in the air and landed crossways within six inches of Jim’s knees.

His next crocodilian spasm upset the canoe.

Canoes always upset as if they had been built to upset. Smooth, slow, perfect.

I was still hanging on to my rod as we clung to the canoe and pushed it ashore. But when I reeled up, the muskie was gone.

We had lost our lunch, both tackle boxes, our clothes. Jim’s rod had stuck under the thwarts.

As we sat on the rock, looking at the soggy canoe and the quiet water glimmering in summer beauty before us, Jimmie raised his wrist watch. Shook it. Listened to it.

“Hmmm,” he said, “now we won’t know when my turn starts.”


Editor’s Note: Back when Jimmie was drawing for the newspaper, original art was not considered valuable. He would create these illustrations for the weekly series, or his Birdseye Center comic, and after the printers were done with them, it would be returned to him. More than likely, his early work (1910s-early 1930s) would just be thrown out after use. Later in his career, when the art was returned to him, he would often give away these originals to people who visited him at his office. A reader has sent me a picture of the original artwork for this story, where you can see the vivid colours.

Original Art, 1945

This Way to the Door!

But the sailor just put his knee under me and lifted me loose from the hold I had on the upright bars.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 12, 1945.

“War,” remarked Jimmie Frise, is always followed by a sissy period.”

“Ridiculous,” I asserted.

“The last war,” recalled Jim, “if you remember, was immediately followed by the jazz age. Every war in history has been followed by a sort of reaction, a sort of let-down. You would think the return of the soldiers would result in the whole country being revitalized and masculinized by the reception of so many tough old soldiers back into the community. But it isn’t the fact.”

“I don’t believe it,” I protested.

“Just cast your memory back to the last war,” said Jim. “Don’t you recollect how we slid almost without a ripple back into civilian life? It stands to reason. After five years of army life the boys can’t get too much of the soft things of civilian life. Besides, their womenfolk pamper them. The government, the city fathers, the big business organizations, everybody is making a big fuss about reestablishment. The first thing you know our big, rough, tough soldiers are cuddled right down into civilian life. And you’d never know they had ever left off a firecracker in their lives.

“It won’t be that way this time,” I asserted firmly. “This has been a different war from all others…”1

“Wait and see,” smiled Jim. “Everything is being planned. The skids are being greased. The downy beds are being prepared. The fullest preparations are being made to smother the returning soldier in comfort.”

“After the last war,” I cried, “it was a scandal the way the veteran was treated. Why, don’t you remember the Great War Veterans’ associations2 and the mass meetings to protest the way the poor devils were being mistreated…”

“That was only a handful,” stated Jim. “The vast majority of returned men were skillfully snuggled away, so that the veterans’ associations never could get enough strength to make any real disturbance.”

“The boys will be wiser this time,” I insisted.

“Wait and see,” repeated Jim darkly. “If there is one thing governments fear – and I mean all governments, including city and county councils and provincial governments – it is the return of a solid body of soldiers from a war. Caesar said it was easy to raise an army, but an awful job to disband one. It has been true throughout the centuries. Not only do governments fear the return of a solid block of troops, but business and industry and finance also fear it. Trade unions fear it. Bankers fear it. The whole civilian organization of a nation gets into a panic at the thought of the majority of its first-class manhood returning from war in a solid mass. After a big war, Caesar always used to contrive a series of little wars so that he could disband his army little by little and scatter it to various parts of the empire rather than let it, come home to Rome en masse.”

“Why should they fear the return of the nation’s best manhood?” I demanded indignantly.

“Look,” said Jim. “If you had spent your whole life and a vast amount of money fixing the world up the way you like it, how would you like to see a tidal wave of strong, healthy, hungry, ambitious young men coming sweeping your way? Especially if you felt a sense of immense obligation to those same healthy, hungry, ambitious young men?”

“I think,” I submitted, “that the end of a war ought to be celebrated by a nation-wide epidemic of resignations. There should be set aside, three months after Victory Day, a special day of national resignation, on which all presidents, managers, superintendents and foremen should publicly hand in their resignations to their various businesses. All public men should resign. All mayors, ministers of government, members of parliaments. All directors of businesses. And all these jobs would automatically be given to the logical choice among the returning veterans of the victorious war. Among the generals, brigadiers, colonels and senior officers of the army are men qualified in almost every line of business and every profession to take over. Among the junior officers, sergeant-majors and non-commissioned officers of the three services are young men from practically every kind of business and industry who could step right into the jobs of foreman and superintendent.”

A Conspiracy Afoot

“A fat chance of that,” laughed Jim. “That’s just what I am trying to tell you. It is the fear of all these well-placed and comfortably situated people all over the nation, that constitutes this widespread conspiracy now afoot to bring the soldiers home in dribs and drabs and smother them in kindness and comfort. Not only does nobody want to resign. They want to see 500,000 ex-servicemen come back home and sink into the scheme of things-as-they-are without so much as a ripple.”

“What do you mean by conspiracy?” I inquired sharply.

“Well, all this stuff you read in the papers and hear on the radio,” said Jimmie, “advising people how to handle their boys when they get home. You would think, to listen to these lectures, that all our boys are going to be a little wacky when they get home. Unbalanced. Suffering from their terrible experiences, they are likely to be quite irrational.”

“Well?” I said.

“Don’t you see,” cried Jimmie, “what a lovely scheme that is to discredit the boys when they get home? If they have any disturbing ideas, their families will think they are just a little shell-wacky and soothe them and pay no attention. The madder the boys get, the more their families will try to smother them with kindness and comfort, thinking they are unbalanced.”

“Oho,” I said.

“Suppose the boys,” went on Jim, “have worked out some pretty sound and advanced ideas about what is wrong with the world. They’ve seen Europe. They’ve learned at first hand what a lot of the things that are wrong with the world really consist of. But the minute they try to express these ideas, their families and friends will have been advised to pay no attention – the dear boys are just a little bomb-biffy.”

“What a dirty scheme!” I snorted.

“Just wait,” gloated Jim, “and see the jazz age the real owners of this world will stage for the boys on their return this time. Last war there were no subversive beliefs rampant in the world. You couldn’t call the leaders of the Great War Veterans of the last war bolsheviks. That word hadn’t been popularly introduced in those days. This time there are a lot of subversive ideas loose in the world. So the champions of Things-As-They-Were are pretty worried. They are looking around for names to call the agitators of tomorrow. Bolshevik is all worn out.”

“Jim,” I cried, “we old veterans ought to reorganize and get a big strong association ready to help the boys on their return!”

“Alas,” said Jim, “90 per cent. of us old veterans are long since dug in on the side of Things-As-They-Were. We’re just as worried over the return of all those 500,000 healthy, ambitious young men as anybody else. Rather, than us rebuilding big, powerful, last-war veteran associations, I expect the new returning veterans will simply take over the old associations lock, stock and barrel.”

“Then,” I pointed out, “the boys will have a solid body…”

“Yeah,” sighed Jim, “90 per cent. of them will be snuggled back into civilian life and couldn’t be persuaded to attend a veterans meeting for love or money.”

“What time is it?” I inquired.

“It’s time we were back at the office,” said Jim, glancing at his watch.

So we hustled down the street and boarded the street car.

As has been noticeable lately, there is an ever-increasing number of real soldiers scattered among us. In the downtown streets and in the street cars and buses you can pick out the returned veterans from among the uninitiated soldiers we have been familiar with all these past years.

The veteran soldier has a look all his own. He doesn’t need that colored square patch on his shoulder to identify him. There is all the difference between him and the home-front soldier that there is between a new book and an old book. Or between a brand new squeaky pair of shoes and a lovely old pair of shoes with a sort of deep shine on them. Or between a new hat and an old hat. They are tender to look upon.

Jimmie and I got seats, though the car was crowded. A couple of wounded soldiers got on at Bloor St. coming from the hospital, but we had no chance to give up our seats to them. Ten people were ahead of us. Eight of them were soldiers.

Generous and Gallant

Now, you don’t go offering your seat to a strapping big soldier in apparent perfect health.

But the sight of those other soldiers so promptly jumping up to give their seats to two of the boys with stiff legs sort of warmed us up. We felt generous and gallant.

Down the car aisle came two ladies. They were neither young ladies nor elderly ladies. They were Mrs. In-betweens.

They were all dressed up very smartly, and had those dizzy little handbags that women carry when they are going to a movie rather than shopping. They were obviously out for a time.

And they looked very self-conscious, as only Mrs. In-between can, as they sidled past the several soldiers. For the newly returned soldier can’t seem ever to get enough of an eyeful of his own fair sex here back home.

As the ladies came level with Jimmie and me, they paused in their airy flight. And nobody can float through space quite so noticeably airy as these Mrs. In-betweens, neither young, nor elderly.

I was on the outside. I worked out and stood up. Lifting my hat gallantly, I said:

“Have a seat, lady.”

Jimmie was also squirming out.

The two ladies drew back and stared indignantly at us.

Jimmie and I stood back, to allow the ladies our seat.

They haughtily lifted their shoulders, turned their backs and moved slightly away.

They exchanged a withering glance and their lips curled.

So rather crestfallen, Jimmie and I resumed our seats.

A titter ran through the back end of the car from our fellow-passengers who had seen the incident. And among those in front who turned around to see what was cooking were a big sailor and a large soldier, both of them salty.

At, which moment, one of the two ladies said audibly above the noise of the car:

“I’ve never been so insulted. Two old drips like them…”

The sailor looked back along the car and saw Jimmie and me both blushing. And all our neighbors eyeing us with amusement.

The sailor heaved ho.

“Which done it?” he inquired jovially of the two ladies.

Both ladies flashed a hot and indignant glance down at us.

The sailor winked at the soldier. The two rose up very tall.

The sailor reached over and pushed the stop button on the window frame.

“So,” he said, genially, taking hold of the whole front of my coat, my necktie, collar, Adam’s apple and lapels. “So, this is what goes on while us boys are away to the wars, huh?”

He lifted me up.

There were scattered exclamations from the other passengers around. “What do you mean… how dare…” I said, as I felt myself airborne.

The sailor set me down in front of him and began propelling me towards the door.

“Look here,” I shouted, “what is the meaning…”

But the sailor just put his knee under me and lifted me loose from the hold I had on the upright bars.

I glanced back in dismay, to see if none of the passengers would speak up in my behalf. And I saw the soldier hoisting Jimmie by the necktie.

Ready For the Heave

“A fine state of affairs,” boomed the sailor genially, addressing the car at large, “when two old grandpappies like this can ride around in public insulting ladies.”

“And good-looking bims, too,” said the soldier, cheerily, holding Jimmie at arm’s length.

The car came to a stop. But the sailor was so strange to landlubber’s ways that he did not know you have to stand down on the step to open the door.

He just held me ready, and waited for the door to open.

The soldier right behind had Jim ready, too.

“Listen, sailor,” I said huskily through my neckband up around my ears. “Would you be sport enough to ask those ladies how we insulted them?”

“Get ready, grandpappy,” replied the sailor, waiting for the doors to open.

“Hey,” came a stranger shoving from the rear of the car, “wait a second, boys. These gentlemen didn’t insult anybody….”

At which moment, the motorman, seeing nobody wanted off, started the car.

“Just a minute,” shouted the sailor.

But the car proceeded.

“What’s this?” asked the soldier of the agitated citizen who had come to our aid.

“Listen, all these gentlemen did was offer those ladies their seat,” insisted our champion.

“Go and ask them,” I strangled. “Go on and ask them how we insulted them…”

The sailor let go of me and went back towards the ladies who were the thrilled object of the whole car’s attention.

“You said these birds insulted you, lady,” said the sailor.

“They certainly did,” said they together emphatically.

“What did they say?” asked the sailor grimly.

“They didn’t say anything,” said they. “They offered us their seats. Two old drips like them! Offering us their seats. Us! What do they think we are, taking seats from two old drips old enough to be our grandfathers.”

They perked up their chins and waggled their eyelashes around at the other customers.

“They…. er…. ah….” said the sailor.

The soldier let go of Jimmie.

“Maybe some of you soldiers,” called the sailor generally, “would like to give up your seats to these two ladies?”

Nobody moved. A lot of people laughed.

“Dad,” said the sailor, taking my arm and patting my tie straight and dusting me off, “allow me to return you to your pew.”

He was redder in the face than I. The soldier practically picked Jimmie up in his arms and carried him back to our seat.

Everybody was happy except the two ladies who, after a moment, moved up to the middle door and at the next stop got off, after favoring the whole carload, especially all the soldiers, with haughty and withering glances.

“Dad,” said the big sailor, lingering, “I’m sorry about this. You see, us guys come home full of high ideals. We’re ready to jump right in and do the Lord Galahad act at the first opportunity. When I heard that dame say she was being insulted….”

“It’s okay, son,” I said, “those ladies were at the easy insulted age…”

So for the rest of the run to the office, the sailor and the soldier hung on to the rail of our seat and we talked about this war and the last one, and everybody around leaned and listened with interest.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. Post-War Veteran Re-Establishment was organized in World War 2, as the Department of Veteran’s Affairs was created in 1944, among other activities to avoid the issues after World War 1. ↩︎
  2. More information on the Great War Veterans’ Association can be found here. ↩︎

‘Wanna Lift?’

A fine looking car, with a fine looking gentleman leaning out the window, inched closer.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 28, 1945.

“How long have we got?” demanded Jimmie Frise feverishly.

He was putting the finishing touches on this week’s Birdseye Center cartoon. We were in his den, at home, where he works when he is badly behind schedule.

“We have,” I said, sternly consulting my watch, “one hour and 22 minutes.”

“I’ll make it,” he said, scratching furiously at the paper.

“Well, you know the consequences,” I informed him grimly. “You heard what the editors said.”

“Editors,” said Jim, “have grown very industrial lately. You would think it was shirts they were manufacturing, instead of newspapers.”

“Publishing,” I enunciated, “is an industry. And as such, it must keep up to date.”

“In the old days,” mused Jim, as he scratched, “men plowed with a hand plow and a team of horses. Now they use a gang plow1 behind a giant tractor. In the old days, men set type by hand and got newspapers out in such a leisurely manner that they would run off a couple of dozen, walk down to the hotel with them, let the boys look them over. And if there was nothing to complain of, why, the editor would have a couple more beers, walk back up to the plant and run off the rest of the edition.”

“Well,” I retorted, “you speak of tractors and plowing. You can’t deny that we are getting far better produce from the land than we did in former days. Why, there is hardly an agricultural item you can name that hasn’t been improved almost out of recognition.”

“Yep,” said Jim. “And more starving people in the world today than in all history.”

“There’s no connection,” I protested.

“There must be a connection,” said Jimmie. “There is always a connection. And it is finding the connection that is the biggest job in the world today. I think we should go back to the old way of producing newspapers. And only get one out when there is something new to report.”

“Huh,” I scoffed, “as if there isn’t plenty to report these days! Why, there is a regular avalanche of news.”

“What about?” inquired Jim mildly.

I didn’t even answer. I just looked at him, hunched over the drawing board.

“You mean the war?” inquired Jim, absently. “That isn’t new. That’s so old, everybody is tired of it. The war news ought to be cut down to a little paragraph. In fact, you might stick a little one-sentence paragraph up in the other corner from the weather probabilities. Something like: ‘Advance today 17 miles. Nine towns captured.'”

“And what would you fill up the rest of the paper with?” I inquired.

“News,” said Jim. “New stuff. Interviews with the greatest minds on earth about how we are going to work out real friendship between, say, America and Russia. Big stories on how we Canadians can get really interested in the Chinese people, in place of our present attitude, which is sort of like our interest in birds or butterflies.”

“Puh,” I said, “Who’d read that?”

“There you have it,” agreed Jimmie. “Newspapers always give the people what they want. In the old days, the newspapers gave the people serious arguments on public questions. The press was a sort of debating society. It was what the public wanted. When a man was plowing, behind a team of horses, plodding slowly over the fields, he wanted something to mull over in his mind. He didn’t want exciting, agitating news and sensations. He wanted something to ponder. Today, a man driving a gang plow tractor doesn’t want anything to ponder. He can’t ponder. How the heck could a man ponder, sitting up on the seat of a big roaring tractor yanking gang plows?”

“Get on with your drawing,” I warned, looking at my watch.

“Okay,” said Jim. “You talk. You tell me about all this Dumbarton Oaks2 business and Bretton Woods3.”

All About Depreciation

“Ah,” I said. “You have me there. That’s like asking me to explain the Einstein Theory. Only a few men in the world can understand these big international things.”

“Aha,” said Jim. “Maybe our plow-pushing grandfathers could, though.”

“Naturally,” I admitted. “Back in the pondering days.”

“Well, give me a sort of nutshell description of Bretton Woods,” suggested Jim, industriously scratching. “Put it in a few words. It’s about the gold standard, isn’t it?”

“To tell you the truth, Jim,” I confessed, “I don’t actually know. World politics isn’t as simple as religion. You can put the Christian religion into a nutshell by quoting the Golden Rule. But there are over 400 Christian sects. You can’t put world politics into even a Golden Rule4. So you can imagine how many sects there must be in world politics.”

“Well, suppose Bretton Woods is about the gold standard,” pursued Jimmie, “what is the gold standard?”

“Just concentrate on your drawing,” I suggested firmly.

“Gold standard,” persisted Jim.

“Well,” I began carefully, “you know about depreciation, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Jim, “depreciation is the fact that all property depreciates. You build a house, and it begins to depreciate the day you move in. Buy a new car, and it depreciates $500 as you sign the paper.”

“Exactly,” I explained. “One of the most distressing things about property of all kinds Is that it depreciates. This has worried mankind for countless ages. From the beginning of time. Our best brains have worn themselves out, across the centuries, trying to figure some way they could produce property that would not depreciate. A farmer toils all year to grow a crop. All the time he is working on it, his implements are depreciating. His horses are depreciating. His land is depreciating. He’s depreciating himself. His house, his barn, his pump, everything is depreciating in the process of producing a crop.”

“I can see that,” said Jim.

“Now, in olden days,” said I, “the farmer produced wheat in order to use some of it himself, but also to trade with the next farmer for the pork or hay that the other farmer produced. But everything he got, in exchange for what he produced, was perishable. The world was full of depreciation.”

“Everything perishes,” agreed Jim.

“But,” I clinched, “among men were a certain percentage, a small percentage, who weren’t content with that fact. They didn’t like the idea of everything depreciating and perishing. So they invented gold.”

“Aha,” said Jim.

“They explained to all the common people, the people who know in their hearts that everything perishes, and are content with that knowledge, I pursued, “that gold was a medium of exchange, only. To save time. To make it easy for people to deal in goods with one another, even at some distance.”

“It does do that,” admitted Jim.

“But its real and wicked characteristic,” I summed up, “was that it did not perish. It I did not depreciate. For crafty and greedy men who were smart at producing things, who by reason of their brains and industry, were able to produce far more than they needed, it was a way of preserving property right in the face of the one eternal natural law – that all things depreciate and perish.”

“So that’s gold?” cried Jim.

“The funny part of it is,” I explained, “the men who know and talk most about depreciation – industrialists and factory owners – are the busiest at trying to collect the largest amount of the one thing on earth that doesn’t depreciate – gold.”

“It’s the old dream of eternity,” said Jim. “Everybody trying to convert the perishable into the eternal.”

“It’s worse than that,” I checked. “While the mass of mankind is allowed only the perishable; while depreciation of everything they own, including their lives, is the very driving force of their lives, a small element of mankind – the smart, the clever and the hard-working – have kidded all mankind into agreeing that one thing is eternal – gold. Then let the poor man get it – if he can!”

“What devils,” cried Jimmie, “the clever people of the world are!”

“Not at all,” I assured him. “Clever people don’t understand about Bretton Woods any more than we do. They don’t even understand about gold. Most of them never see gold from one year’s end to the other, except in the ornaments they buy their wives. Gold got too clumsy to hoard. So they invented paper dollars. Paper dollars got too clumsy, so they invented bank accounts and stock markets. Now a man collects gold on his cuff. All he needs in his pocket is a dollar and a half in change.”

“The clever be damned,” said Jimmie, “they don’t even understand their cleverness.” And he gave a few final flourishes with his pen, unpinned the drawing and waved it in the air to dry it. “How long have we got now?” he demanded.

“Forty-three minutes,” I announced, startled. “Jim, we’ll have to hustle.”

“If we make good connections,” said Jim, racing into his coat, “we’ll have plenty of time. Six minutes to walk to the bus, 30 minutes on bus and street car…”

I led to the door, and very briskly we set off up the street and along the three blocks to the bus stop.

“Everything under control,” cried Jimmie. “There’s the bus just coming.”

And we hastened our steps and arrived at the bus stop exactly as the bus wheezed its brakes and drew up at the corner.

“Now we’ll make it right on the dot,” I said, as we started to swing aboard. “Thirty minutes exactly.”

A car horn tooted very brief and friendly.

A voice sang out –

“Can’t I give you a lift?”

And a fine looking car, with a fine looking gentleman leaning out the window, inched closer.

Jim pushed back and we waved to the bus driver.

“Thanks very much,” cried Jimmie, opening the car door.

“I saw you gentlemen hustling to catch the bus,” said the stranger genially, “and I figured you might be in a hurry.”

“We are, as a matter of fact,” I admitted, slamming the car door. “My friend here has an ‘or else’ situation on his hands. His boss told him that if he didn’t get his work down by a certain hour, the boss would take steps that would astonish us.”

As we sailed smoothly past the bus and speeded down towards the main highway to downtown, the stranger took us in with friendly but slightly amused glances.

“You must have a tough boss,” he said. “What’s your work?”

“He’s an artist,” I explained. “I’m a writer.”

“Well, well,” said the stranger, with the amused air of a gent who has accidentally picked up a couple of circus freaks.

“Yep,” said Jimmie, clutching his portfolio.

We whammed to the main corner and turned on to the main drag. Our driver was a business man who drove with that large, easy confidence.

“We’ll have a good 10 minutes to spare,” I said to Jim, showing him my watch. “We can pose around the editor’s door ostentatiously for 10 minutes and just show him.”

“I’ve got one call to make,” said the stranger. “It won’t take a minute. Where do you go?”

“To the Star Building.” I said anxiously.

“Within a block of where I park,” said the, business man.

He then announced the line of business he was in, explained that he was the executive manager and gave us a few brief biographical outlines of just who he was. He said any time we wanted an interesting story about Canadian business, we ought to look him up.

But we still stuck to the main downtown route, and at a good pace, and every block. we travelled, I felt easier.

Just One Call

All of a sudden, at Spadina Ave., he swerved the car south on to the old street.

“I’ve a brief call to make down here,” he said, “have to see a man about an order that has gone astray. Won’t be two minutes.”

Off into a dingy side street he turned, one of those old streets with churches converted into garages and old rough-cast houses used as storage places for unsightly merchandise of one kind and another.

Along this street, amid battered old trucks, he wound and wove his way, at a slow pace, until we turned into even a narrower and more dilapidated street, a blind street, cluttered with decrepit traffic of truck and horse-drawn wagon.

He drew up before a ramshackle factory of weathered planks.

“I’ll just be a couple of minutes,” he said cheerfully.

And he swung out and ran athletically up the steps and into the joint.

“I don’t like this, Jim,” I said. “We’re a good five minutes’ walk back to Spadina. And we’d have to transfer off Spadina and along King…”

“Why did we accept the lift?” groaned Jim bitterly. “We caught that bus just in the nick of time. It would have given us perfect connections, with time to spare…”

“We’ve got 16 minutes yet,” I said. “In this car we could make the office in about eight minutes.”

We sat forward and stared at the door of the drab factory.

“Big business executive,” I sneered.

“Well, he tried to do us a favor,” protested Jim.

“Big business,” I scoffed. looking at the decrepit view.

“Well, it’s in places like this,” assured Jim, “that gold is found. If it’s gold you are looking for, you never want to go to one of those big handsome buildings. The bigger and handsomer the edifice, the less chance you have of coming out of it with anything.”

I studied my watch.

“He’s been three minutes already,” I gritted.

“Whose idea was it,” demanded Jim, “to get off the bus and accept this lift?”

“Both of us,” I stated. “It’s human nature to accept a lift.”

“Without even thinking,” said Jim.

“The guy was good-natured about it,” I submitted. “He’s a good-hearted guy, no doubt. We’re good-hearted guys. And we were in a hurry…”

“The trouble is,” propounded Jimmie, “nobody stops to think any more. There is no time for pondering.”

The factory door opened, and our friend stuck his head out.

“I’m afraid I’ll be another 10 or 15 minutes…” he began.

But Jim and I were already out the doors and headed up the narrow cluttered street, back along the side street and out to Spadina.

We were 17 minutes late at the office.

But the editor was locked up in a conference with the vice-president for 40 minutes. So Jim had time to put a few more finishing touches on Birdseye Center while we waited.

Microfilm image

Editor’s Notes:

  1. A gang plow is a plow designed to turn two or more furrows at one time ↩︎
  2. The Dumbarton Oaks Conference was an international conference at which proposals for the establishment of the United Nations, were formulated and negotiated. The conference was led by the Four Policemen – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. It was held at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington, D.C., from August 21, 1944, to October 7, 1944. ↩︎
  3. The 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement was the first example of a fully negotiated monetary order intended to govern monetary relations among independent states. The Bretton Woods system required countries to guarantee convertibility of their currencies into U.S. dollars, with the dollar convertible to gold for foreign governments and central banks at US$35 per ounce of gold. ↩︎
  4. The Golden Rule  is the principle of treating others as one would want to be treated by them. ↩︎

All Afloat!

Instead of going towards the steps, the mattress described a lovely curve and headed for the side wall of the cellar.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 24, 1945.

“Hey,” came Jimmy Frise’s voice over the telephone, “can you come down here right away?”

“What’s up?” I replied anxiously.

“I’m flooded out,” cried Jim. “Come and lend…”

“Aw,” I said, “who isn’t flooded out? I’ve been in my cellar ever since before supper.”

“But look,” pleaded Jim, “it’s nearly four feet deep in the cellar and it’s still rising.”

“Four feet?” I scoffed. “Look: your house is on ground 10 feet higher than mine. And all I had was about three inches….”

“I see!” shouted Jim sarcastically. “So you’re telling me how much water I’ve got in my cellar? I tell you, it’s four feet deep. The only way I found out about it was when the furnace went out and I went down to investigate….”

“Clear the drains,” I counselled. “Stuff has clogged those little drain holes with the gratings in your cellar floor. Just clear those….”

“How the dickens,” bellowed Jim, “can I clear them when there is four feet of ice water, dirty ice water, in my cellar? Okay. Never mind. I just thought I’d ask you, as an old friend and neighbor….”

“Okay, okay,” I replied. “I’ll be right down.”

And I hung up. But when I got to the clothes closet for my coat, I suddenly thought: If he can’t reach the drains, what can I do? What does he want me down there for?

So I called him back.

“Look,” I said. “If I do come down, what can I do? If you can’t reach them….”

“Okay, okay,” groaned Jimmie distractedly. “I just thought. When water is engulfing your house, you look to your neighbors for help. Never mind.”

“Hold on,” I cried, as he seemed to be about to hang up. “Can I bring anything down that would help? Have you got long clothes props or anything?”

“No good,” said Jim. “The drain hole is around past the furnace. A straight pole won’t reach. How about your canoe? Hey! How about your canoe?”

“It wouldn’t go down your crooked cellar stairs,” I reminded him.

“In the cellar window!” cried Jim.

“Too high in the nose,” I said. “But say. I’ve got a better idea. I’ve got one of those floating mattresses the kids use in the summer. They use it in swimming.”

“Perfect!” shouted Jim.

“I’ll get it from the attic,” I assured him, “and be down in two minutes.”

I found the pneumatic mattress neatly folded in the attic, under a few suitcases and bicycles and things. It is one of those pre- war gadgets we used to buy the kids to try to make more enjoyable their two months of riotous luxury at the summer cottage. Remember? The stores used to be full of all sorts of rubber monsters, huge rubber ducks, blow up crocodiles, mud turtles. Every weekend, you used to go in on Fridays and buy them something to take up to adorn their vacation…. Ah, those were the days.

I hustled down street to Jim’s, where all the cellar lights were on and a sense of emergency seemed to pervade the house.

Jim and Rusty, his water spaniel, met me and ushered me immediately below decks.

“Why don’t you get Rusty to swim in and fix things?” I inquired.

But Rusty always hated water. He stood back on the steps and stared in terror at the unfamiliar element engulfing his lovely dry home.

Toronto’s Original Site

“This thing,” I said, unfolding the pneumatic mattress, “takes quite a while to blow up. You haven’t a bicycle pump or car pump?

“The bicycle pump is somewhere under that mess,” said Jim, “and I haven’t even seen a car pump for 10 years.”

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll blow till I’m run down. Then you can take it on.”

And while I blew, Jim sat on the dry step and soliloquized on the view.

“It’s a queer thing,” he mused. “We haven’t got nature beaten yet. And we’ve been trying for hundreds of centuries. All the past winter, nature has been pouring snow on Toronto, messing up our whole system of civilization, toppling our civic government, making mayors and aldermen and lifelong directors of civic departments look like a lot of bewildered old maids when their roof springs a leak.”

“Pffffff,” said the mattress.

“Nature,” I said, “is inconquerable.”

“Two thousand, three hundred years ago,” pursued Jimmie, chin in hand, “the Romans had worked out a system of perfect water supply, drainage, sewage disposal. Two thousand, three hundred years ago! Yet here we are, after all those centuries, made to look like a lot of cave men.”

“Pffffff,” said the mattress.

“Even cave men,” said I, “had enough sense to choose their caves well up a hillside, out of danger of flooding. But we’re so smart, we build our cities in swamps and gullies. Did you ever know that the original site of the city of Toronto was an alder swamp?”

“Why the dickens,” demanded Jimmie, gazing at the brown bog that filled his cellar, “did they ever choose such a site?”

“Well,” I explained, feeling the mattress which, so far, only showed a very slight chubbiness even if you pinched it into the corners, “pioneers were looking for mill sites even before they selected the land they wanted to clear for a cabin or a farm. A mill is the beginning of every community. A grist mill and a saw mill. No man was going to start clearing the bush until he knew how far he was going to have to carry a bag of grain on his back or drag his logs with his oxen.”

“Mmmmm,” said Jim. “I feel like a pioneer tonight.”

“All along the great lakes,” I pointed out, “you’ll see a town or a village at every river mouth. At every stream mouth, you might say. And some of the streams have dried up to trickles half a century back.”

“But Toronto’s site,” reminded Jim, “was an alder swamp.”

“A swamp,” I elucidated, “between two river mouths. Toronto never intended to grow out over the swamp. At the mouth of one of the two rivers, the Humber, there was a French trader’s fort that had been there 100 years before we British ever arrived. A little village started to grow around it, because there was a good mill up the Humber half a mile. But the British soldiers decided the Humber mouth was a poor place for the town, because the Yanks could get at us too easily from the lake. The other river, the Don, emptied into a fine big bay, with an island sheltering it. The Yanks couldn’t attack us from the lake if we built our village on the bay’s shore. They’d have to come in through the narrow channel or else land from their boats up the shore. And either way, we could lick the Yanks from dry land.”

“Here, let me blow that thing up,” interrupted Jim anxiously.

“Pifffffff,” said the mattress when I handed it to him.

“How do you know all this stuff about Toronto?” demanded Jim, as he bit on the nozzle of the mattress.

“My great-grandfather was born in York, as Toronto was then called,” I stated proudly, “the very day in April, 1813, that the Yanks captured and burned it.”

“Pffffffff!” said the mattress, startled.

“I never knew they burned Toronto!” cried Jim.

“Oh, yes, I informed him. “They burned us. They came by boat and shot our Humber fort to pieces and then marched over to the Don and sacked the village, burned it, and blew it up with gunpowder.”

“Why, the Huns!” expostulated Jimmie.

“They spared my great-grandfather,” I pointed out. “He was born that day, among the smoke and explosions.”

“It’s a pity,” said Jim, gazing at his furnace and at the various things floating around in the mess, “we didn’t take the hint and leave this site for a better one. Did you go right ahead and rebuild Toronto?”

“Mills,” I reminded him. “Don’t forget mills. Toronto was very fortunately situated. It had two rivers, with Humber Mills and Don Mills on them. Competition. You know Toronto! So we rebuilt the village and started slowly spreading out over the swamp. The rich and fashionable pioneers, the English remittance men, the owners of whiskey distilleries, slaughter houses and pill factories, soon moved out of the swamp up to the sandy heights back of the tag alders. And lo, Toronto was born.”

“Pffffff,” said the mattress.

“Low, did you say?” inquired Jim bitterly.

So he blew. And I blew. And little by little, we felt the comfortable flesh of air filling the rubber skin of the mattress.

“Try her now,” said Jim, sliding the mattress out on the dark and greasy flood.

“Try her yourself!” I retorted, stepping smartly back one step higher.

“Aw,” said Jim, “I weigh 40 pounds more than you.”

“Whose cellar is it?” I inquired.

“Besides, I can’t swim,” pleaded Jim.

“Haw,” I snorted, “it’s only four feet deep.”

“But I hate water,” muttered Jim, setting one foot lightly on the floating mattress.

“Well, you certainly don’t catch me,” I informed him, “floating around in that stuff!”

“Well, what did you bring it down for,” demanded Jim indignantly, “if you don’t trust it!”

“Listen,” I said earnestly. “You asked me to come and help you in an emergency. I brought this mattress. That’s the first constructive thing that has been done so far, in this emergency. And I did it. I suggest you do the rest.”

Jim leaned out and pushed with his hand on the middle of the mattress. It buckled slightly.

“Not enough air,” he said, and hauled her up for some more wind.

So we blew more, by turns, until the mattress took on that plump and shiny appearance that meant it was becoming a practical vessel fit for launching.

Jim tried it again. Standing on the step, holding my arm, he set one foot cautiously in the middle. It did not buckle. He let a little more weight on. The mattress sank very slightly.

“Easy, now,” I said. “Eeeeeaasy.”

But when he tried to lower his weight, the mattress started to slide out into mid-ocean.

Jim leaped back wildly with a cry. The mattress floated away.

“Aw, here!” I cried angrily. “What the Sam Hill1. If you’re not the descendant of pioneers, at least you’re the descendant of cave men. Here, hand me something to pull that thing back here.”

Afloat on the Deep

Jim handed me the long furnace poker which he had earlier salvaged by means of clothes prop.

“Watch this,” I said firmly.

I pulled the mattress back in with the poker.

I drew it securely against the first exposed step. I stepped cautiously but steadily into the middle of it, as you step into a canoe. It sank slightly in the middle under my weight but the edges, due to the even distribution of my weight, lifted evenly.

There I was, afloat.

“See?” I announced. “The heir of a long line of swamp dwellers knows how to do these things. Where’s the drain hole located?”

“It’s right over there, around the furnace,” said Jimmie, eagerly. “I think.”

“You think?” I exclaimed, paddling with the poker. “Don’t you know where the drain hole is? In your own cellars?”

“Well, to tell you the truth,” said Jim, “I’ve lived in so many houses, I can’t just recall off-hand if the one I am thinking of is in this cellar or in the last one we had….”

“Well, this is a fine time,” I expostulated, “to not know where your drain hole is! Am I supposed to go paddling all over, groping….”

“Pffffffff,” said the mattress.

“Hey!” said I.

But the mattress went right on saying pfffffffff, and I drove the poker to the bottom to give the craft a shove for shore and safety.

But the hook on the poker caught on something down below, and instead of a shove, it turned into a pull, which drew the mattress and me, over to the wall farthest from the steps and right under the window where the biggest part of the flood was coming in.

“Wait. I’ll get a rope,” shouted Jim, vanishing up the steps.

“PFFFFFFFFF,” said the mattress, really getting its wind up.

I disentangled the poker from whatever it was stuck on down below, braced it against the cellar wall, aimed my shove for the cellar steps and hove.

But the mattress was so rapidly losing its shape, and it had sunk so deep in the middle under my weight, with all four corners sticking up so sharply, my aim was bad. And instead of going towards the steps, it described a lovely curve and headed for the side wall of the cellar.

“Pfffffff,” said the mattress less vigorously.

“Jim–MIE” I roared.

I reached over the side and felt for the bottom with my poker.

The air in the mattress quite suddenly decided to move to the rear.

Only by the greatest agility did I avoid going into that icy muck head first. I went in middle, rear, first, but got my feet promptly on the cellar floor.

At which minute, Jim appeared on the cellar stairs with a piece of clothes line.

“Aw,” he said, with deep sympathy.

I just glared.

“Well,” sighed Jim cheerily, “seeing you’re in anyway, how about feeling around with your feet and seeing if you can find the drain hole?”

“That,” I said icily, “is exactly what I expected you to say.”

But as a true descendant of generations of swamp dwellers. I realized I should face up to the job. So feeling carefully with my feet, stepping over all kinds of things – it was an outboard motor that I had hooked the poker in — I felt and scraped with my feel using the poker for a staff. A lot of Jim’s property was down there. Bicycles, fishing tackle boxes, several framed pictures standing against the wall, a tool bench, all complete.

And finally, away across the cellar, at the opposite end from the furnace, I found the drain hole, clogged with hunting coats, ashes, ski boots, and sundry goods.

And feeling somewhat like a pioneer of the day the Yanks burned us, I went up to the kitchen and changed into some of Jim’s clothes.

And went home via the back lanes.

Microfilm image

Editor’s Note:

  1. “What the Sam Hill” is an American English slang phrase, a euphemism for “the devil” or “hell” personified (as in, “What in the Sam Hill is that?”). ↩︎

On the Double

A man came suddenly out of a shop door, let out a terrific bellow and started waving furiously at us.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 20, 1945.

“Ah,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “if we only had a little money!”

“What could you buy?” I protested. “You can’t buy shotgun shells. You can’t even buy .22 ammunition. You can’t buy any sporting goods…”

“What I’d like,” confided Jimmie, “would be to be walking down the street and find a wallet with $2,7631 in it.”

“Why that amount?” I asked.

“Oh, I just thought of a number,” sighed Jim. “I’d be walking down the street and there would be the wallet, a fine, tan one.”

“It wouldn’t be in your possession long,” I assured him. “Your conscience would at least make you put a lost-and-found ad in the paper if there weren’t one looking for it already.”

“Yes,” said Jim, “but suppose some unknown man dropped it, some American visiting Toronto overnight, and on arriving back at his hotel, and finding his wallet gone, he would drop dead.”

“Ah,” I considered.

“Nobody would know he had lost it,” went on Jim, “I wouldn’t know who he was. It would just remain an unsolved mystery….”

“He would be sure to leave some letters or other identification papers in a wallet with all that dough in it,” I pointed out.

“Yes, but this is just supposing,” explained Jim. “And the kind of guy I mean would be some mysterious individual, some crook, maybe, over here on crooked business, without any identifications.”

“Okay,” I said decisively, “finding a sum as big as that, you would simply have to notify the police. They’d take charge of it.”

“Aw, heck,” growled Jimmie. “Can’t I even suppose?”

“Go ahead,” I agreed. “But my point is, what would you do with all that. How much was it?”

“Two thousand, nine hundred and thirty- six dollars,” said Jim.

“It’s getting bigger,” I remarked. “Call it, $3,000.

“Nobody ever finds money in round numbers like that,” complained Jim. “Leave it at $2,866.”

“Any amount you like,” I submitted. “In the first place, finding all that money would simply move you up into a higher income bracket. You would feel so good with all that cash you’d spend it. Then, along comes the income tax…”

“I wasn’t figuring,” interposed Jim mildly, “on mentioning it to the tax department. It would be just found money, see?”

“My dear man,” I cried, shocked, “you have to report every cent, whether found or not.”

“In that case,” said Jim, “I don’t want to find any money. But in the first place you said, what could I spend the money on. And in the next breath, you say I feel so good at finding all that cash, I spend it.”

“We’re Sitting Pretty”

“Oh, I suppose a man could spend $2,800 if he had it,” I admitted. “But it wouldn’t he spent on anything useful. There is nothing of any really fundamental value to be bought any more. You can’t buy guns. There isn’t a car to be bought. There isn’t a canoe, let alone boat. About all a man could do with any surplus money he might come by these days is pay off his debts.”

“With wages as high as they are these days,” surmised Jim, “and with all the money there is, in comparison with what little there is to buy, there must be mighty few debts left unpaid.”

“Don’t forget the soldiers,” I reminded him. “There are 500,000 Canadians overseas. They aren’t rolling up any bank account.”

“But they’re going to get from $1,000 to $2,000 each for their rehabilitation grant,” said Jim. “That ought to cover any debts their wives may have run up. No, I’ll bet you, there are fewer debts outstanding in Canada today than at any other time in her history.”

“Think of poor old Britain,” I said. “And poor old France, and Italy and Germany and Russia. Do you think it’s lucky for Canada to be so comfortable?”

“Aw, nothing can happen to Canada,” cheered Jim. “The only enemies we had were Germany and Japan. They could have attacked our shores. But now! We’re sitting pretty. And all our debts paid and bonds in the bank.”

“Which puts us,” I announced, “in the worst position we have ever been in in our history. Because the better off you are, the more enemies you have, the envious friends you have, let alone enemies. I tell you, it’s just about now we Canadians ought to get anxious.”

“Aw, what are you giving us?” cried Jim. “Who would be enemies with dear little old far-off Canada?”

“Far-off?” I snorted. “Boy, we’re in the middle! Square in the middle of the map. We’re half-way between China and Europe. We’re half-way between Russia and the United States. We’re half-way between practically every place in the world. We have been brought up on flat maps, that showed Canada stuck away off in the far left-hand top corner. It’s time we started looking at the round map and see just where this comfortable, debt-paid, hotsy-totsy little country of ours is.”

“You can’t scare me with maps,” said Jim.

“Maps are about all we should be scared of,” I replied. “It is certainly maps the 300,000,000 people of Europe are scared of, right now.”

“Well, who would want any part of Canada?” demanded Jim.

“They’re talking about spheres of influence these days, Jim,” I offered darkly. “Suppose Russia announced that Canada came within her sphere of influence, so as to protect Russia against attack by the United States?”

“What nonsense!” laughed Jim.

“Or better,” I suggested. “Suppose the United States said they had to have a chunk of Canada in order to erect defences against possible aggression from Russia? Or China?”

“You’re dreaming!” scoffed Jimmie.

“When we were small boys, Jim,” I recalled, “do you remember the old scares in the United States about the Yellow Peril? How wild-eyed Americans foretold the day when Japan would fight America, so as to get land in which to expand the Japanese people outside their terribly limited islands? The Yellow Peril was scoffed at by 99 per cent of the American people. Well…?”

“Hm,” said Jim.

“What was a wild-eyed dream, I concluded, “has come true. And all I say is, the more comfortable and secure and happy a people is in that comfort and security, the more they should realize they have enemies. Enemies unseen. Enemies undreamed of.”

“It won’t be in our time,” said Jim.

“No,” I agreed. “And there are a few thousand old Americans long in their graves, who laughed loudest at the Yellow Peril, whose grandsons lie newly buried in the soil of uncharted Pacific islands.”

A More Pleasant Thought

“Well, I wish I had stuck to that wallet I was going to find,” muttered Jim, “with $2,985 in it. That was more pleasant to think about.”

“Okay,” I surrendered. “I’ll play. What would you buy with it, first of all?”

“Well, let’s see?” said Jim, looking up at the ceiling.

Suddenly he let the chair legs down with bump.

“Hey, what time is it?” he exclaimed.

“Ten to five,” I informed him.

“By golly, come on,” he cried. “I’ve got to pick up the steak at the butcher’s for supper. I nearly forgot, and they’ll be closed.”

So we threw our coats on, raced out to Jim’s side drive and piled into the car.

“Plenty of time, plenty of time,” I soothed.

“He closes as near after five, that old Scotchman,” urged Jim, “as the store gets empty. Any time after five, and if there isn’t a customer in the shop, bang goes the door and down comes the blind.

“Good old Davie,” I said, as we backed out.

We reached the butcher shop in good time. There were still three or four customers in the shop but you could see old Davie hustling to get them dealt with, his eye on the door all the time.

Jim got the steak and we exchanged a few cracks with Davie about rabbit hunting and the fact that it is only 14 weeks and two days to the opening of the trout season on May 1.

“In fact,” said Davie, “tae pit it anither way, in 10 weeks, it’ll be only four weeks and twa days…”

At which moment another customer opened the butcher shop door and Davie waved us angrily out.

“Now see what ye’ve done!” he hissed.

When Jim and I walked out to the car, there was another car double-parked outside of us.

“Well, well,” said Jimmie. “What nice manners people have in this district!”

As a matter of fact, at this busy hour of the afternoon, there were three or four cars double-parked along the one block of little shops. Last-minute shoppers.

Jim walked out, opened the door of the car that had us blocked and tooted the horn long and loud.

“Maybe he’ll recognize his own horn,” said Jimmie.

A couple of long minutes went by and nobody appeared.

“What an outrage!” stamped Jimmie angrily. “Imagine anybody having the infernal nerve…”

At which moment a dear old lady, with some knitting in her hands, came toddling out from the sidewalk.

“I hope,” she said, “we are not impeding you.”

“Oh, not at all,” said Jimmie, cheerfully.

“My daughter has just stepped into one of these stores,” said the old lady, getting in the car. “I was just along looking to see what was keeping her but I couldn’t see her.”

“Aw, she’ll be along,” said Jim heartily.

Three cars ahead, a truck started to work itself out from the curb.

“Ma’am,” said Jimmie, to the old lady in the car, “would you mind if I just drove you ahead into that open space the truck is leaving? Could you keep your eye peeled for your daughter when she comes along?”

“Oh, by all means,” said the old lady. “That’s very good of you, I’m sure.”

So Jim got into the driver’s seat, the key being left in. And I got on the running board, just to make sure the old lady would feel easy about strangers.

But as Jim started the car, and just as the truck moved out of the space, another car, with a hustling lady at the wheel, came smartly from behind and, cut in front of Jimmie, stealing the place.

“Well,” laughed Jim, “we’ll just go ahead a bit….”

But ahead, there were no more spaces. In fact, it was a good 75 yards before we found an opening.

“Jim,” I suggested, “go right around the block. This lady’s daughter will never find her away down here. It’s an imposition on the lady to have her get back and watch…”

“Okay, okay,” said Jim, putting on speed.

So we went around the block.

And as we slowly moved around the corner. in front of the shops, not only was there no parking space, but a man coming suddenly out of a shop door let out a terrific bellow and started waving furiously at us.

A Big Mistake

“Any relation of yours?” inquired Jimmie of the old lady.

“I’m sure I never saw the gentleman before,” said she, eyeing him shrewdly as we drove past. He started chasing us.

“What do you suppose is the idea?” demanded Jim.

And he was so busy figuring it out, that lost the one chance of a parking space that offered.

“Round the block again, Jim,” I counselled.

“You didn’t notice your daughter along there?” inquired Jim anxiously.

“I’m afraid I didn’t,” she said.

So we turned the corner and started around the block a second time. And then we heard the furious sound of a car horn right under our tail bumper.

Toot, toot, toot, went the horn furiously. And suddenly we felt a violent bump from its bumper.

“Hey, what’s this!” demanded Jimmie, hotly. And he slowed the car and stopped in the middle of the street.

The door of the car behind burst open and a lady came charging out.

“Mother, mother!” she cried breathlessly. “Where are these men taking you?”

And she tore the door open and seized the old lady by the arm protectively.

“Why, my dear,” said the old lady, looking around the car. “Isn’t this our car?”

“It isn’t, it isn’t!” cried the younger woman brokenly. “Oh, these brutes!”

“Calm yourself, darling,” soothed the old lady. “I must have got in this car by mistake and the two gentlemen were just going-“

The sound of heavy footfalls and loud breathing suddenly burst upon us from the other side.

And there, with two other men with him, one of them a truck driver armed with a large wrench, was the gentleman who had come out of the shop shouting at us.

“Aha,” he breathed furiously. “Caught in the act! Caught red handed! And with a pious old dame in it for camouflage, eh?”

“Come on,” said the truck driver loudly brandishing the wrench. “We’ve sent a call for the cops. Don’t try anything funny.”

“Oh, oooh,” wailed the younger woman the other door.

“Now, now, my dear,” cried the old lady, starting to get out.

“Stay where you are!” roared the truck driver, darting around the back of the car with the wrench.

“Don’t you dare, you brute,” screamed the young woman, taking up a defensive position in front of her poor old mother.

By which time, people were coming from all directions, and it was a mob scene, with us parked in the middle of the street.

Well, it took quite a lot of explaining. We told about the car double-parked outside ours. And how the old lady came along and got into the wrong double-parked car by mistake. And how, when we saw a space offering….

The truck driver said he would escort us back to the shop. And if our car was there, as we said, why, he would let us go.

But he followed behind us all the way, with the wrench.

“You see, Jim,” I explained, as we started back with the steak for Jim’s supper, “how easy a war starts? It is always somebody who thinks he is being wronged.”

“Two of them,” growled Jim.


Editor’s Note:

  1. $2,763 in 1945 would be $47,630 in 2023. ↩︎

Christmas Box

In an instant, the car was a screaming madhouse…. One mouse appeared on a lady’s shoulder.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 22, 1945.

“Watch that guy,” whispered Jimmie Frise.

I glanced around the street car and, observing Jim’s gaze, saw it fastened on a pleasant little elderly fellow opposite us

He had a cardboard box on his knees, which he held with both hands as if it contained the Holy Grail.

On his face was a sweet, faraway, tender look which he lifted above all the rest of us in the car, and his eyes twinkled and gleamed behind spectacles in an expression of intense anticipation.

“What about him?” I murmured to Jim.

“Watch,” said Jim quietly.

The car was fairly crowded but would be much more so at the next big transfer corner. I watched the little man.

He sat, lurching with the car, smiling to himself, a secret, proud smile. His eyes darted from side to side, unseeing, as he pictured something in his mind, something pretty nice.

Quietly, he bent down over the box on his knees. He seemed to be listening. His hands caressed the box.

Jim nudged me.

“So what?” I muttered to Jim.

“What do you suppose he’s got in that box?” demanded Jim softly. “Did you ever see so happy a man?”

“He’s been doing his Christmas shopping,” I suggested.

“Obviously,” agreed Jim, “but what has he got in that box?”

“Is this some new guessing game?” I inquired. “Riding in a street car and trying to guess what all the Christmas shoppers have got in their parcels?”

“He’s got half the people in the car watching him,” said Jim.

I glanced around. Sure enough, everybody who could see the little man appeared to be watching him.

Men with newspapers suspended before them were covertly observing him over the tops of their newspapers. Ladies, with that casual way they have, were fastening the little man with the corners of their eyes.

So I joined the party. I shifted my seat slightly to see around a man standing in the way.

With the fixed, faraway smile on his face, the little fellow let his gleaming eyes wander along the advertisement cards up along the car ceiling. Then, with a sudden recollection of his secret, he drew the box closer on his lap, bent slightly down, and shook the box ever so lightly.

Whatever response came from the box, the little man fairly glowed with joy. I glanced around, and saw that everyone watching him was nearly frantic with curiosity. They shifted their positions in an irritated fashion, and those immediately beside him leaned closer to him as if to try to overhear what he heard; or to peek.

“It wouldn’t be a pup?” I suggested to Jim.

“Box too small,” said Jim. “Might be a kitten.”

“He’d have air holes for a kitten,” I submitted. “Anyway, if it was a kitten, we could hear it meowing when the car stops.”

After a couple more blocks, the little man, cuddling the box close, leaned down and very cautiously raised one corner of the lid and peered within.

Then, lowering the lid, he lifted his radiant face in the same faraway expression and wrapped his hands around the box in a gesture of supreme possession.

Of All the Nerve!

“Darn it,” said Jimmie, “I wish we knew what was in there!”

“It’s none of our business, Jim.” I responded.

But the man sitting next to the little fellow couldn’t stand it any longer either. Leaning close, he spoke. The little man smiled happily at the questioner but did not open his lips. He just shook his head.

The baffled neighbor glanced around at the rest of us as much as to say, “Well, I did my best.”

Before we travelled another block, the little man, overcome with his own curiosity, bent down again, cautiously lifted another corner of the box lid and took a long, lingering peep in through the opening.

By this time, a regular fever of curiosity was in possession of the street car. Those standing began to shift down to the middle of the car in the hope of getting a closer look at the mystery. In fact, they shut off Jim’s and my vision of the little man, so we got up and gave our seats to a couple of ladies who moved down; and this enabled us to stand where we could keep the little man in view.

Oblivious to the excitement and curiosity he was inspiring, he let his absent gaze wander for an instant but immediately it returned to the box on his knees and he seemed to quiver with an inward delight.

“Why doesn’t somebody,” gritted Jim beside me “ask him straight out? A man shouldn’t be allowed to create all this curiosity.”

“It’s his business, Jim,” I asserted, leaning out so as not to lose sight of him. “Just look at this guy butting in in front of me. Of all the nerve!”

“Push him over,” ordered Jim.

I tapped the interloper on the shoulder.

“Pardon me,” I said, “but you pushed right in front of me.”

“It’s a crowded car,” replied the interloper.

“Yes, but you don’t have to jam right in front of me,” I insisted.

He reluctantly moved to one side, affording me a view under his elbow.

“Of all the vulgar curiosity,” I muttered to Jim. “Bulging in like that!”

“It’s the Christmas rush, you know,” reminded Jim. “Look! He’s peeping again!”

The little man was hunched down, lifting the box lid and taking another long, fascinated peep within the box.

The people beside him, behind him, in front of him, fairly coiled around in their desire to see what was in the box.

He restored the lid, patted the box tenderly and resumed his flushed and excited gazing at space.

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” exclaimed Jim under his breath, “why doesn’t somebody do something about it? Just standing there!”

A lady standing over him hanging to at strap – I had seen her sitting farther down the car only a moment before – leaned down and spoke smilingly to the little man.

He smiled bashfully up at her and said:

“Four!”

The lady leaned down and said something more, but the little man simply shook his head, beamed and cuddled the box more closely.

“Four what?” Jim passed the question.

And from both directions, “Four what?” was eagerly passed to the lady who had done, the interrogation.

“He just said four,” the lady announced to us all generally. “He didn’t say four what.”

“Ask him four what?” called Jimmie.

“Ask him yourself,” retorted the lady, but not relinquishing her place directly over the little man.

“Maybe he’s hard of hearing,” suggested the gentleman who had crowded so vulgarly in front of me.

“Here,” said Jim, “let me in there! I’ll ask him.”

The car had stopped at the big transfer point and a heavy Christmas crowd was shoving from the front end. Jim got in next to the little man. Putting on his best salesman smile, Jim leaned down and said very distinctly:

“You’ve got a surprise there, eh?”

“Four,” replied, the little man gently beaming.

“Four what?” Jim said more loudly.

“Yes, SIR,” agreed the little man enthusiastically. “Beauties!”

The Christmas crowd was making it tough for Jim, shoving.

“I say,” cried Jim, leaning low, “what are they? Four WHAT?”

“Only two bits each,” replied the little man agreeably. “Two bits. It’s a bargain.”

“WHAT are they?” persisted Jim, though several newcomers had jammed their way this far down the car and weren’t aware of the mystery that had all the rest of us in its grip. They shoved Jim rather roughly.

“Don’t mention it,” replied the little man amiably. “It’s a pleasure, I’m sure.”

Jim was shoved three seats back.

And for about six blocks, I lost my view, and Jim, tall as he is, could not crane far enough to see the little man either.

But by the time enough people had got off the car to allow us to resume our vigil, even the newcomers had been caught in the spell, and very grudgingly indeed they made room for me to peer under their elbows, and for Jim to stand tip-toe to look over their shoulders.

But there, lost in his happy maze of anticipation, was our little friend in the very act of lifting the box lid again for another wonderful peep at whatever was inside.

Long and craftily he gazed into the open corner. And when he replaced the lid, it was a starry gaze he listed, to turn and look out the car window to see where he was.

“Has anybody found out what he’s got?” Jim inquired those who had been lucky enough to stand close for the past few blocks.

Everybody shook their heads and ventured various opinions.

“It’s something alive,” decreed a lady with her arms full of Christmas parcels.” I heard him sort of whistling at it.”

“A canary, I bet you,” suggested another.

“No, canaries come in small wooden cages when you buy them,” announced another.

“I don’t think it’s anything alive,” asserted a third. “I think it’s some kind of toy he’s taking home to his grandson. Maybe an airplane.”

The little man was entirely indifferent to all this conversation right in his face. His hands enfolded in the box lovingly and he smiled inscrutably and happily at the coat front of the gentleman leaning right over him.

“I don’t think anybody,” declared Jim warmly, “has any right to create all this disturbance. Especially at this season of the year.”

“I suppose,” I said bitterly, “we should pile on top of him and rip the cover off the box and satisfy our curiosity.”

“If he’d only keep still,” protested Jim, “and not keep peeping all the time! If he’d only not look so excited!”

“My dear Jim,” I scoffed, “has it come to this, in cities, that nobody can have any private thoughts any more? Must we all wear dead pans? Even at Christmas time, can’t a man look happy and eager? This gentleman is taking something home to his little grandson. He is very delighted with his purchase. Maybe it’s a doll…”

When the Lid Came Off

“He said there were four,” corrected Jim.

“Maybe it’s four dolls,” I suggested, “for his little granddaughter.”

“He said they were two bits each,” pointed out Jimmie. “You can’t get dolls for two bits.”

“Jim,” I announced, “I’m prepared to move back to the far end of the car and forget it. I never saw such an exhibition of nosey idle curiosity in my…”

But I was cut short, because the little man was again bending slowly over, and with a delicate finger lifting one corner of the box for another peek.

We all surged close. We shoved, elbowed and shouldered one another for a closer look.

He raised the corner of the box lid about a quarter of an inch and then, lifting the box, put his eye to the hole and seemed transfixed by what he beheld. His hands shook. He heaved a sigh. And then, lowering the box and replacing the lid, gazed ecstatically from face to face of us all glaring above him.

“CANARY?” suddenly yelled the lady with all the parcels.

“Pardon me!” cried the little man.” I didn’t think! Of course you may have my seat. I’m terribly sorry…I…”

And as he scrambled to his feet, the lid of the box popped off and slid to one side, out leaped four white mice so fast and so twinkling, they seemed to vanish like blobs of quicksilver.

In an instant, the car was a screaming madhouse. Ladies shrieked and men yelled encouragement at them. One mouse appeared on a lady’s shoulder and powdered its nose. The lady, perfectly upright, fell perfectly horizontal, with three men easing her down. The little man had darted after his pets and on hands and knees shoved and dived amid the ankles of passengers all retreating in the two possible directions.

The car came to a stop. The doors slid open and there was a wild stampede for the exit, ladies fairly vaulting over the backs of those ahead, gasping and giving small squeaks or screams, while gentlemen soothed and shouted courage to them, at the same time assisting them out the car doors.

In a matter of 20 seconds, the car was empty, save for the little man and about five of the more valiant of the men, including Jim and me, who were forming ourselves into a posse to round up the mice.

“Shut the doors!” we commanded the motorman.

“What’s cookin’?” he called.

“White mice got loose,” shouted one of the posse.

“You’d think it was lions or tigers,” called the motorman.

“Hold everything, and they can get back on again,” commanded Jim.

“Who, the mice?” called the motorman.

“No, the passengers,” said Jim.

“To heck with that!” retorted the motorman, starting the car. “I’ve got a schedule to meet. If people want to get off my car, they can.”

So while the car made the next few blocks, the little man with his posse rounded up three of the four. Jim caught two in his hat. Another of the posse lapped his mitt over another. And after he had searched all over for the fourth, and had almost decided it had got off with the passengers, maybe in some lady’s hat, the motorman sang out:

“Aw, here’s the little darling up here! Right on my window sill.”

So the little man went up and snapped it into the cardboard box.

And we all shook hands with him, all flushed and beaming.

“It’ll be a great surprise,” he cried happily.

“It sure will,” we all agreed, slapping him on the back.

And we all got off at our corners.

The Station Bus!

December 15, 1945

The image above is from microfilm, while the one below is from a scan of the newsprint.

December 15, 1945

Counter Attack

I leaped from my stool and mounted the counter. I pinioned him with my eye and gave him a decisive swat.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 1, 1945.

“Will I be glad,” sighed Jimmie Frise, “to have my family back.”

“House in a mess?” I inquired.

“Ah, yes, the usual,” heaved Jim sadly. “All the beds slept in, one after another. I sleep in my own bed until the bedclothes fall off. Then I move into the next room. And so on. I average about a week to a bed.”

“Dishes?” I inquired.

“Yes, the sink full,” said Jim. “And both sides of the sink piled up. And ants all over.”

“Ants?” I exclaimed.

“Nothing attracts ants like a summer bachelor,” announced Jim. “I can’t find out where they come in. But there are regular processions of them across the kitchen floor, up the legs of the sink, in and around -the dishes…”

“Aw, Jim,” I protested. “You ought to wash the dishes. The least a summer bachelor can do is wash dishes. He can let the beds go. He can let the dust accumulate and the vestibule fill up with old newspapers, handbills, dodgers and advertising literature. But he should wash the dishes.”

“I don’t see it that way,” mused Jim. “If a man is abandoned by his family, if they all go traipsing off to the summer resort and live the life of Riley, swimming, loafing, fishing and keeping cool, while the poor old breadwinner stews in the city, he shouldn’t be expected to keep house, too.”

“But for your comfort, Jim,” I insisted. “Think how smelly the house must become with all those neglected dishes in the sink.”

“A closed-up house,” declared Jim, “gets smelly anyway.”

“But those ants, Jim,” I pursued. “Nasty little insects.”

“Nasty?” cried Jim. “Ants? Never. They are the cleverest creatures in the world. Man is a filthy monster compared to an ant. An ant spends its entire life cleaning up. From the minute it is hatched from the egg, it begins a life of tidiness that makes the finest housewife in the world look frowsy by comparison. The whole be-all and end-all of ant society is cleaning up. They found their colonies for no other apparent reason or purpose but to rid up the world. Ages before ‘good housekeeping’ was thought of, the ant had dedicated its life to housecleaning the earth. Without ants, this earth would be a pesthouse of filth, muck, disease and death.”

“What do they find so interesting in your kitchen?” I inquired slyly.

“My dishes,” agreed Jim cheerfully. “They know I shouldn’t leave my unwashed dishes in the sink. But they don’t look on the moral aspect of it. They don’t fuss and fume about it being my duty to wash the dishes, or that it is none of their affair. The minute they detect, by their miraculous radar equipment that each ant carries, a situation requiring a cleaning-up job, they go to it. Locked doors, screens, bug-proof walls – nothing stops them. Through brick walls, past the most efficient locks and defences, the ants penetrate to their job.”

“I don’t like them in the house,” I submitted.

“If they come into your house,” declared Jim, “it is because you have left something around that should have been cleaned up.”

“Like a jar of raspberry jam,” I suggested bitterly.

“You shouldn’t leave a jar of jam where ants can get at it,” explained Jim, “for if you do, it is spoiling already. And anything spoiling is part of the ants’ job. There are two main sorts of ants. Sugar eaters and fat eaters. If you overlook one little spot of grease that gets on the floor, from spilt milk or a sputter from the bacon frying, the fat eaters will be in to tidy it up for you. If you leave anything sweet about, the ants will be along in no time to get it out of the way before it starts to spread decay.”

The Value of Humans

“How about termites,” I demanded, “and red ants? They eat wood. They’ll ruin a whole house if it’s made of timber.”

“Sure,” said Jim. “How is an ant to know that the dead wood he is eating into sawdust and returning to the earth is part of your house? All he knows is that dead wood must be chewed up to make way for new trees. If it weren’t for the ants, there would be no forests anywhere. The world would be a vast petrified forest, choked with dead trees that leave no room for fresh growth.”

“You make ants sound almost as important as human beings,” I countered.

“Human beings?” snorted Jim. “They’re the least important of all. They’re just parasites. They don’t contribute anything to the earth. They just damage it, alter it, use it, live off it and give nothing back. Take the human race off the face of the earth, and they I would never be missed. The forests would thrive as ever, the wild creatures would swarm as of old, the seas would heave as blue and lovely and teem with undisturbed fish. But take the ants off the face of the earth – and boy, inside of 50 years the earth would be ruined. Changed beyond recognition. Altered fundamentally and perhaps fatally for most of the living things on it now.”

“You’re pretty disrespectful of the human race,” I asserted.

“All right,” said Jim. “Tell me one particular in which the human race would be missed on this earth if, by some miracle, a plague were suddenly to wipe out every last living human being. Tell me one single thing for which they would be missed by the rest of the earth.”

I couldn’t think of one.

“The human race,” triumphed Jim, “is the most perfect parasite designed by nature. A tiger is far more useful. He kills off the weak and the sickly of the animal races he preys on. Mankind not only does not kill off the weak and sickly. He eats only the healthiest and strongest of the things he preys on. And on top of that, he actually tries to heal the sickly and feed up the weak to make them strong enough to eat.”

“Aw!” I protested.

“Mankind has worked up so high an opinion of itself,” said Jim, “that it is a wonder nature doesn’t take some steps to put us back into our proper perspective. We think we own the earth. Yet, as a matter of fact, we are the least essential creature of all, including ants.”

“Wait until your family comes home,” I muttered, “and finds the kitchen full of ants.”

“Aw, I’ll explain it to them,” said Jim easily. “I’ll deliver them a lecture on ants.”

“Why don’t you batch it like me in the summer?” I urged Jim. “I found out long ago that the best way to be a summer bachelor is never to eat a meal in the house. Take all your meals out. When the family goes away for the summer, empty the ice box, empty the cupboards. Don’t allow a shred of food to remain. It is the only solution. Then the only problem you have is bed-making.”

“Part of the joy of summer bachelorhood,” disagreed Jim, “is in having your meals when and where you like. You can whip up an omelette and eat it on the back steps. You can feast to your heart’s content on a quart of milk and a box of your favorite corn flakes while listening to the radio in the living room. Independence. That’s the watchword of the summer bachelor.”

“And ants,” I added. “And mouldy smells.”

“Look,” suggested Jim, “come up to my house for supper with me tonight. I’ll prepare you a treat. I’ll serve you omelette a la ciboulette.”

“What’s that?” I inquired.

“I learned to make it in the last war,” expanded Jim. “At a farmhouse in Picardy. Ciboulette is French for chives. You know: those little oniony, garlicky-flavored things you grow in the garden. You cut a few of the green shoots. Chop them up very fine. Then beat up an omelette and mix the chives in. Yum. Omelette a la ciboulette. It is a combination of flavor curiously perfect. Like bacon and eggs, liver and bacon or bread and butter,”

“It sounds good, Jim,” I confessed.

“Come on,” coaxed Jim. We’ll each eat an omelette a la ciboulette and drink a pint of ice cold milk.”

“Is this a scheme,” I inquired, “to get me up to your house so I will help you wash up a whole summer’s dishes?”

“I assure you. I’m not going to do the dishes,” asserted Jim. “It’s a matter of principle.”

So we went up to Jim’s for supper. The sink was piled so high with plates, cups, bowls, that the top layers were balanced and interlaced so as not to slide and bring the whole pyramid into collapse. Jim had been obliged lately to use all sorts of dishes not ordinarily employed for eating, such as cut glass celery dishes which indicated he had dined off sardines within recent nights, and a gravy boat had traces of shredded wheat in it.

On either side of the sink he had stacked the frying pans, saucepans and all the Frise utensils…

“Jim,” I complained, “don’t you even rinse out a frying pan?”

“And deprive it of its protective film of grease?” cried Jim. “Not on your life. I don’t want rusty frying pans.”

I shuffled through the five or six frying pans and saucepans. Some had traces of egg, some of bacon, and one was decidedly fishy.

“When did you have fish?” I asked grimly.

“Ah, let’s see,” figured Jim. “A week ago Friday, I picked up a swell salmon steak…”

“Summer bachelor!” I sneered. “Summer hobo.”

Jim proceeded to sort through the tangled paper bags, boxes and packets that he had accumulated on the kitchen table.

“Good,” he said. “Six eggs.”

“Which frying pan are you going to use for the omelets a la ciboulette?” I inquired.

Jim bent down and rummaged through the pots and pans cupboard under the gas stove.

“Here’s a couple of granite pie plates,” he announced eagerly. “They’ll do fine.”

I looked around at the scene of wreckage and disaster. The perfect summer bachelor.

“Jim,” I announced firmly. “I won’t eat any omelette a la ciboulette off a granite pie plate. The ghost of Savarin and all the great French chefs would haunt us. I won’t be party to adding even one pie plate to this scene of devastation. I am ashamed of you. I never in all my summer bachelor years saw such a…”

“Here,” cried Jim, “let’s scrape out one of these frying pans, then!”

But I was firm.

“If it wasn’t a matter of principle with me,” I said, “I’d insist on you cleaning up this mess and washing every dish and scraping and polishing every pot and pan. But for 30 years and more, I have made it a rule never to help a summer bachelor wash his dishes. It’s a matter of principle. I’m one of those easy-put-upon people. I’ve had dozens of invitations to help in summer bachelor dishwashing bees. But I have refused them all. On principle.”

“Principle,” murmured Jimmie, and we flocked up and walked the three blocks over to the shopping district where the all-night lunch emporium, “The Swank,” offers summer bachelors the best available.

Mike, the Balkan, who runs “The Swank,” welcomed us cheerily and suggested a tomato omelette. He had not heard of ciboulettes. He was fresh out of bacon, fresh out of liver, fresh out of meat in general. But the good old hen had, as ever, come to the rescue of perishing humanity.

“Give me a fly swatter, Mike,” I commanded.

The place was busy with flies.

“Mike,” I protested, “why don’t you do something about these flies? When I was a young guy, the best restaurants had lovely sticky spirals hanging from the ceiling, covered with dead flies. They had plates distributed around the counters with a sort of iodine colored pad, in water, with dead flies by the dozen floating around. A first class restaurant like “McConkey’s” or Thomas’ “Chop House” had festoons of beautiful pink crepe paper suspended from the ceiling to which the flies were attracted away from the customers’ food.”

“Flies,” said Mike, “in September, flies.”

“But they’re foul, Mike, they’re filthy,” I assured him, as I swatted about. “They carry disease.”

“Everything,” said Mike, as he proceeded to organize the tomato omelette, “carries disease. Chipped cups. Chipped soup plates. Waitresses. We got to have inspection all the time. Disease. How would you rather die? Disease? Or old age?”

I swatted three flies at one swat.

“You’re Hipped”

“Flies?” said Mike. “Every fly has got a number on him. If he has got your number, you get him. Maybe here in Mike’s swell place, ‘The Swank.’ Maybe when you are asleep in a street car. Maybe when you are eating in big downtown hotel where lights are so dim, you can’t see flies.”

“Look,” cut in Jimmie, “you’re hipped on insects. How do we know what good or what evil flies do? We have spent the past 50 years discovering what evils the flies do. Have we tried to find out what good they do? Maybe without the flies, the whole economy of nature would collapse. Maybe these flies you are so blithely swatting are the carriers of good sense, of moderation, of kindliness… of all the things the world has been lacking in the past 50 years.”

I looked at him.

“Jim,” I said, “I realize that a summer bachelor goes from bad to worse. I understand the slow decline in the morale and mental stamina of a man abandoned by his wife and children for a couple of brief months. You spent the earlier part of today defending the ant. But I refuse to listen to a defence of that foulest of all insects, the dirty, disease-carrying, house fly.”

One lit on my nose.

I wafted him off.

He flew to the ceiling.

And very nimble, I leaped from my stool and mounted the counter. I pinioned him with my eye and gave him a decisive swat.

But “The Swank’s” counters are not above suspicion. I leaned a little far in making the shot. My rubber heel touched a small area of counter that the grease-consuming ants had not got their radar on.

I crushed four cartons of eggs, $1.60. I barked my right shin and skinned my left elbow. I broke one cup and two saucers. I ruined the tomato omelette.

“It will cost you,” elucidated Jim, as we helped each other in all directions, “$1.60 for the eggs, maybe 50 cents for the crockery, 80 cents for the omelette, and to get your suit cleaned – with things the way they are in the cleaning and pressing business, it will be three weeks before you have the use of that suit again – at, say, $1.50.”

“Wipe my elbow, wipe my elbow,” I cut in.

“All told,” pursued Jim, “this comes to maybe five bucks. All because of the unthinking, uncontrolled prejudice inherited from past generations of high-handed conceited human ancestors…”

“Listen, Jim,” I hissed, “you’re just a typical summer bachelor You’d even defend mice!”

The mouse?” cried Jim, as he wiped egg off me. “Well, sir, if it wasn’t for the field mouse…”

But Mike came around from the counter with a dish cloth to wipe me off and he suggested that if we would go back to Jim’s garden and get a handful of ciboulettes – chives to you – he would be most interested in faking up an omelette a la ciboulette.

Which we did.


Editor’s Notes: The “life of Riley” means a luxurious or carefree existence.

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was a French lawyer and politician, who, as the author of Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), became celebrated for his culinary reminiscences and reflections on the craft and science of cookery and the art of eating.

Pretty Budgie!

I had the cage open, and the budgie on my finger.
So I went to the roof, while Jim followed with the cage.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 25, 1945.

“Listen,” said Jimmie Frise over the telephone.

I listened.

“Hear that?” asked Jim excitedly.

“Hear what?” I demanded irritably.

“Aw, listen,” pleaded Jim.

I could hear Jim muttering. Then I heard some small squawks, like static on a radio with a loose tube.

“Did you get it?” cried Jim delightedly.

“It sounds as if you were twiddling with the mouthpiece,” I said.

“It said, ‘What’s cookin’?” declared Jim indignantly, “as clear as if it were a human being!”

“What did?” I inquired.

“The budgie,” replied Jim. “The neighbors left their budgie in my care and I am having more fun with it! Come on over.”

“What’s a budgie?” I snorted.

“A tiny little sort of parrot,” said Jim. “A love bird. It’s the prettiest little thing, and it talks. Talks like a streak.”

“Go ahead and talk with it,” I suggested. “I’m redding up my attic.”

“Aw, come on over,” protested Jim. “This is sensation. The thing actually talks.”

“So does a squeaky chair,” I retorted. “So does a new pair of cheap shoes.”

“Well, listen to this then,” commanded Jim. And I could hear him mawking and maudling the way aunties do with infants. There was a silence on the telephone and then came another sputter of static.

“Sktch-psst-ack-sktch-sktch!”

“Hear that?” yelled Jimmie.

“What did it say?” I asked politely.

“It said, ‘Come up and see me some time”,” shouted Jimmie enthusiastically. “Why, it was as clear as anything. The dear little thing!”

And I could hear him mawking again.

“Okay, I’ll come over,” I said, “if only to see you cuddling a bird.”

So I walked around to Jim’s. And found him in the living-room sitting in front of cage, cooing.

In the cage was the budgie, a small, solemn bird of a chalky green color, the color of billiard cue chalk. It sat vertically on its perch, bolt upright. It had a flat head and a small beak buried in its chin so that it appeared to be chinless. It was keeping up a small muttering sound and Jim was listening raptly. I walked up close and saw that the feathers of the bird were beautifully vermiculated or waved with color, and I thought what a perfect Blue Quill trout fly these feathers would make. A Blue Quill dry, size 16.

“Meet the nice gentleman,” cooed Jimmie.

“Scatch,” said the budgie. “Sktch-psst-ack-sktch!”

“Hear that?” cried Jimmie exultantly.

“It sounds as if it had a fish bone in its throat,” I suggested.

“Aw, what’s the matter with you?” snorted Jim. “It said ‘Pleased to meet you’ as clear as crystal.”

“Get it to say it again,” I proposed.

“Come on, Budgie,” cooed Jim. “Meet the nice gentleman, eh?”

“Scatch,” said the budgie

“There!” exclaimed Jim triumphantly. “What more do you want than that?”

“It said ‘Scatch’,” I protested.

“It said ‘Good-evening’,” declared Jim loudly, “as plain as I am saying it! Good- evening! Good-evening!”

“Scatch,” said the budgie. “Scatch.”

“There!” breathed Jim, looking at me with finality.

“Are You Serious?”

I looked at Jim. He was flushed. But otherwise he seemed his old self. I looked at the little bird. It was sitting bolt upright, looking excessively stupid for its size. Usually it takes a much larger bird to look so dumb.

“Jim,” I said quietly. “Tell me honestly. Can you hear that bird talking? I mean: can you make out words? Because all I can hear are sounds like a slate pencil on a slate. Or maybe like fitting a new tube in the radio.”

“Are you serious?” demanded Jimmie. “Do you mean to say you can’t make out what this bird is saying?”

“I certainly can’t,” I informed him firmly. “And what’s more, I don’t think you can.”

“This is the limit!’ said Jimmie, standing up abruptly. “I’ve heard of tone deaf people. And I’ve heard of all kinds of funny defects in people. But I can’t believe anybody in the world could fail to hear this budgie talking. Why, it is as clear and intelligible as a human being talking.”

“I’m not very good at parrots, Jim,” I apologized. “I’ve tried to hear parrots talking all my life. Everybody else can hear them. But to me, it just sounds like bird calls. If they say the parrot is saying ‘Pretty Polly’, it just sounds like ‘icky olly’ to me, and that’s a sound a parrot would make naturally.”

“Awff,” scoffed Jim, sitting down again and leaning to the cage.

“When they say the parrot is saying ‘hello’,” I continued, “it merely sounds like ‘awo’ to me. And from my knowledge of bird notes and bird songs, I’d say that cry is natural to a parrot. And no doubt the jungles resound all day with parrot calls that silly men, lonely in the jungle, imagine are human words the birds are trying to utter.”

“I suppose,” said Jim bitterly, “that you are going to try and argue that it is our own imagination that persuades us the birds are talking.”

“That’s precisely what I was working up to,” I admitted. “This whole parrot myth probably began ages and ages ago when some poor lonely cave man, lost in the jungle, let out a wild yell, a wild and unintelligible yell such as cave men would use in those days. And immediately, the jungle would be filled with the replies of parrots. Wild cries, equally unintelligible. And when the cave man got back home to his cave, he would tell his tribe, in whatever sign language the cave men used to help out the parrot-like sounds they used for speech, that he had been in a wild country full of birds that talked.”

“Pffff,” uttered Jim disgustedly.

“So began the myth of the talking bird,” I pursued. “And over the ages, supported by other experiences of lonely shipwrecked mariners and others who were only too eager to talk to birds or to anything, for that matter: the myth has grown. Until we find people today so carried away by their own imaginations that they think they can make out words when these birds emit normal squawks and yelps and whistles which are natural to them.”

“Hello, Budgie,” murmured Jim into the cage. “Hello, Budgie.”

“Prrrt,” said the budgie. “Uckle, uckle, uckle.”

Jim turned instantly and stared at me intently. “Didn’t you hear that?” he demanded tensely.

“Sure,” I said easily, “It said ‘Prrrt, uckle, uckle, uckle’.”

Jim shrugged his shoulders wearily and turned away.

“It said,” said Jim grimly, “‘What time do we eat?'”

It was my turn to grow anxious.

“Jim,” I declared. “You worry me. That darn bird merely made a few noises characteristic of it. It said ‘Prrrt, uckle, uckle, uckle’.”

“It said,” whirled Jim on me, “What time do we eat?’ as clearly as if you had said it!”

We glared at each other for a long moment.

“Jim,” I began cautiously, “this whole business illustrates, a human characteristic, a human weakness, which is one of the greatest problems on earth today. The problem of belief. I am almost prepared to believe, after this exhibition, that you can persuade human beings to believe anything.”

Jim just glared.

“There are hundreds of millions of people in this world,” I pursued, “all making parrot sounds. They learn parrot sounds in infancy to signify food, drink, warmth and such things as open the door, shut the door, and please pass the butter. Ninety-nine per cent. of all human sound being made all over the world at this minute – and what an awful din it must be! – is pure parrot talk. People making the noises they have learned and which they call speech.”

“You admit we understand each other,” muttered Jim. “You admit we hear each other’s words.”

The Human Jungle

“It is like the jungle,” I followed my fancy, “a vast human jungle filled with squawks, yelps, and all the other sounds of human speech, in English, German, Russian, Chinese, and the several hundred other series of parrot sounds which are organized into what we call languages. All over the world, the human jungle, hundreds of millions of people yelping at each other, in pairs, in groups, in congregations. And everybody looks intelligently at everybody else. They nod their heads in understanding. And they carry out the actions the sounds suggest. But, as I say, 99 per cent. of it is just yelping. It is not thinking. It is not really intelligent. It is like this bird saying ‘uckle, uckle, uckle,’ and you going straight to the kitchen to fetch it some seeds.”

“You’re balmy,” said Jim, turning back to the cage and starting to coo.

“It’s wholly a matter of imagination,” I said, “and a matter of us pretending we understand one another. But we don’t understand one another. Not really. We just sit in front of each other making sounds and pretending we find a meaning in what the other is saying.”

“Proving what?” demanded Jim, looking at the, budgie dearly.

“Proving that life is almost entirely a matter of our own separate imaginations,” I said.

Jim leaned forward murmuring to the vertical little bird which shuffled one way on the perch and then shuffled back, twittering and chuckling.

“What’s it telling you now?” I inquired sweetly.

“You wouldn’t understand,” said Jim. “Some people just haven’t got the gift of understanding.”

“Icker, icker, prrt,” said the budgie.

Jim turned slowly and smiled an inscrutable smile at me.

“Icker,” said the budgie, “uckle, uckle, icker.”

“Don’t you get that?” hissed Jim tensely. I went over and leaned at the cage too. ‘Icker dooker wecker eeeker?” lisped the budgie, eying me slyly with a small round eye.

It winked.

It was pale and beautiful and vertical.

“Whecker, dooker eat?” the budgie lisped.

I looked at Jim with astonishment.

He nodded hopefully and delightedly at me.

I leaned closer and stared intently at the gaudy little bird.

“When do we eat?” said the little budgie clearly and distinctly. I leaped back.

“Why, Jim!” I gasped, “It said, ‘When do we eat?'”

“Exactly,” said Jim grandly. “So you got it at last?”

“Hey!” I said, leaning close again. “Let’s hear some more.”

Jimmie cooed and asked the little budgie if it was tired and wanted to go to beddy-bye.

We listened intently.

“What’s cookin’?” said the budgie. “When do we eat?”

“Aw, the poor little thing is hungry!” I cried, excitedly. “Where’s its feed?”

“I fed it an hour ago, the seed glass is still half full,” pointed out Jimmie.

“Huh, dry old seed!” I snorted, “It wants something special. It wants a beef steak or a banana or a tomato or something…”

“Now, now, just because it can talk,” laughed Jim, “you don’t want to imagine it is a human being.”

But in the kitchen, I got a quarter of tomato and brought it in as an offering to the new wonder. New wonder to me, anyway.

“I felt the same astonishment,” gloated Jim, “when I first heard it talking. The neighbors left it with me last night. They’re coming home tonight. They never told me it could talk. I suppose they just thought I’d know. Well, I was sitting reading here this afternoon. The budgie was twittering away and I was paying no attention. When, all of a sudden, I heard it say: ‘How’s about letting me out? How’s about something to eat, eh?”

“As clear as that?” I breathed.

“I nearly fell off the chair,” said Jim. “And I’ve been talking to him ever since.”

I poked the tomato in. The budgie pecked at it.

“Thanks a million,” he said.

“Hear that?” we both roared at each other.

“Uckle, uckle,” laughed the budgie. “Don’t get excited.”

“Look, Jim,” I said warmly. “Let’s let him out. He doesn’t belong in a cage. Let’s let him out with us in the room.”

“Wait till I see all windows are closed,” said Jim, hurrying out to the other rooms.

By the time he got back, I had the cage door open and the budgie on my finger. He waddled along it, inspecting me and saying “Thanks a million.”

Then he flew.

He flew into the hall.

He flew right up the stairs.

“Holy smoke!” yelled Jim. “All the upstairs windows are open!”

And as we ran from room to room upstairs, we knew that the budgie had got outside.

We ran outside. And there was budgie up on the roof, shuffling one way and then the other, muttering and chuckling ecstatically and turning his head from side to side as he surveyed the wide world which was still his cage, as it is for all of us.

“You shouldn’t have let him out,” grated Jim angrily.

“We’ll get him, we’ll get him,” I said breathlessly. “Where’s your ladder?”

“He’ll only fly to the next house,” groaned Jim miserably. “And by dark, he’ll be blocks away. Oh, why did I ever telephone you!”

“A talking bird like this,” I said hopelessly, “is probably worth a great deal of money.”

“They’ll never forgive me,” moaned Jim. “Oh, why do I undertake to do things for people!…”

So we rushed down cellar and got the ladder. And when we got up, the pretty budgie was still on the roof, shuffling along, to right and left, and turning his head to survey the world.

“My responsibility,” I said briskly, as we leaned the ladder up. “I let him out.”

So I went to the roof, while Jim followed with the cage.

Bird’s Owner Returns

Many neighbors by this time had come out of their houses and were watching from windows. They called all sorts of advice, and one lady said the bird was as good as gone, and we might as well not risk our lives crawling around roofs. She had lost eight or 10 budgies, and not one had ever been recovered.

I crept along the ridge. The budgie flew up to the chimney top. I straddled the ridge and edged to within almost grasping distance.

“Come now,” I said quietly. “Don’t be a fool. Listen to reason. I admit a cage is a pretty grim thing. But all life is a cage. We’re all in cages. Laws, rules, customs, every one is a bar to a cage. The cats will get you. You need special seed…”

“Beat it,” said the budgie. “Leave me be.”

And when I reached, he flew up and off to the next house top.

“See?” shrilled the lady who had lost eight or 10.

We were just setting the ladder up on the house next door when the neighbors who own the budgie drove up.

Jim ran to them in extreme distress.

“Your budgie!” he said brokenly, pointing up. “It got out.”

“Okay, that’s nothing,” said the neighbor. “Don’t get excited. He gets out all the time.”

“But how will we…?” puffed Jim.

“Take it easy,” said the neighbor. “Just set the cage in my back yard. On a chair. Here, let the take the cage.”

And he put the cage on a garden chair and gave a couple of sharp whistles.

“Okay, now let’s all go inside and act as if nothing was amiss,” he said. “Come in behind the screen door.”

He gave another couple of shrill whistles.

And to our astonishment, the budgie fluttered awkwardly down from the neighbor’s roof, landed on the cage, and using beak and claw, lowered itself into the cage.

The neighbor walked casually out and shut the cage door and brought it in the house.

“Aaaaah!” breathed Jim and I together.

“When we discovered how it could talk,” said Jim, “and we realized how valuable it must be, we were nearly crazy when it got loose.”

“Talk?” said the neighbor.

“Yes, when we heard it talking,” went on Jim, “we had no idea these birds had such an extraordinary gift….”

“It can’t talk,” said the neighbor, looking at Jim, amused.

“Can’t talk!” cried Jim. “You should hear it!”

“All that twittering and stuff?” said the owner. “Nonsense. If you’re sort of imaginative, you can kid yourself into thinking it talks.”

“How long have you had that bird?”, demanded Jim.

“Ever since it came out of the egg last year,” said the owner.

“And you don’t know it can talk?” cried Jimmie, astonished.

“I sure don’t,” said the owner, sticking his finger in the cage. The budgie jumped on it. and pretended to attack it fiercely, making affectionate little twitters at the same time.

“Let me show you whether it can talk or not,” asserted Jim hotly.

“Aw, no, not tonight,” said the neighbor. “Anyway, I’ve got a leaky tap that talks already. It keeps saying, ‘Muddle, muddle, toil and trouble. Say, how about you boys helping me mend that tap, right now?”


Editor’s Note: “Redding up” means cleaning up.

Finders, Keepers

I stooped shrewdly and picked it up. Nobody was paying the slightest attention, all busy about their own silly affairs.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 19, 1945.

“Nix,” hissed Jimmie Frise, “look at the dough!”

“Where, who, which?” I responded sharply, stung by Jimmie’s urgence.

And there, right under my feet, in the midst of the crowded street, lay a roll of bills.

I stooped shrewdly and picked it up. Nobody was looking. Nobody was paying the slightest attention, all busy about their own silly affairs, letting good money lie loose under their very noses.

I slipped the wad into my pocket and we sauntered on.

“Let’s go around the corner and count it,” said Jim eagerly.

“There was a ten on the outside,” I muttered.

“I saw it first,” said Jim.

“I picked it up,” I informed him.

“You’d have walked right over it, like everybody else,” declared Jim, “if I hadn’t called your attention to it”

“We’ll split,” I submitted.

“Let’s see how much there is,” ordered Jimmie, halting and standing so as to shield me from the public view while I counted.

There were $17. A ten, a five and two ones.

“A very nice little sum,” said Jim very pleased. “Pick up a little wad like this every day of your life, and you wouldn’t have to worry.”

“It comes to $8.50 apiece,” I figured.

“Just about the cost, the expenses of a week-end fishing trip,” suggested Jimmie. “Gasoline, hotel bill and meals.”

“I’ll change the ten,” I said, “and give you your half right now.”

“Just a minute,” paused Jim. “After all, somebody lost this dough. Maybe it was some poor working girl. Maybe this is her week’s wages. She might have to pay her room rent and all next week’s meals out of it.”

I examined the little wad closely.

“It doesn’t look to me like a poor person’s money,” I stated. “It hasn’t that carefully folded, cramped, gripped-sort-of-look money that has fallen from a poor person’s possession.”

“Nonsense,” said Jim. “It might be a blind news vendor’s money. Or even a soldier’s pay.”

I examined the roll again.

“It has a sort of loose, easy-come, easy-go sort of look,” I declared. “It looks as it might be a gambler’s money. Maybe a bet he had just collected from some other worthless character.”

“I say,” proposed Jim, “that we keep it intact for a couple of days and watch the lost and found column. If some needy person lost that money, he will be sure to put a lost ad in The Star, giving the exact amount and maybe even the exact denomination of the four bills.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “But don’t forget, the rule of life is, finders keepers.”

“I still think,” said Jim, “that you should only get about a quarter or a third of the $17. After all, you were walking right past it, even though you are much closer to the ground than I am. If finders keepers is the rule, then my claim is morally and legally far greater than yours. All you did was pick it up for me.”

“Jim,” I said, “if you want to quarrel over a measly $17, you are welcome to it. After all, if two old friends like us, out for our daily lunch hour promenade, have to bicker and quarrel…”

“I’m not quarrelling,” asserted Jim. “I merely pointed out that you actually had nothing to do with the finding of the money, except, being much nearer the ground than me, you stooped and picked it up for me. I should by rights claim the whole $17. It was like me saying, Greg, hand me that money down there, will you?”

“Very good,” I said grimly. “Here’s your $17. And welcome.”

“Aw, now,” said Jim. “Don’t get sore. Over a little chicken feed.”

“I’m not sore,” I assured him. “I merely remark that it is a little small of you to bring up the legal and moral aspects of the matter which should really be an amusing little incident of a noonday stroll. Two life-long friends. Between them, they pick up $17…”

“Don’t forget,” said Jim, “that you were actually stepping over it when I called your attention to it.”

“I would have noticed it the very next instant,” I informed him. “Things catch my eye when I am close. It stands to reason, I am a foot shorter than you, a foot closer to the ground…”

“Well,” said Jim, pocketing the money, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. I’ll keep the money, and after we have allowed a decent interval for a lost and found ad to appear in the paper, I’ll pay all the expenses of our next week-end out of it. How’s that?”

“I thought I might buy a few trout flies,” I stated stiffly. “After all, treasure trove like that should be used to buy something more in the nature of a souvenir of a lucky find, a remembrance, sort of.”

“We’ll decide after we see whether it is advertised for or not,” said Jim.

So we continued our noon-hour stroll, a little frosty.

How Human Nature Works

But as we came into the stretch of King St. leading back to the office, the habits of a lifetime got the better of us and we loosened up in normal discussion.

“In miniature, Jim,” I presented, “our little argument about this measly $17 is the dead ringer for the vast arguments that are starting to grow all over the world right at this minute. It shows how human nature operates when there is anything to gain in an argument.”

“We really have no right to the money at all,” agreed Jim. “We should hand it over to the police.”

“So long as there is anything to be gained,” I pursued, “even the best of friends can come into conflict. If the basis of all the post-war settlements could be that nobody, no nation, no individual or group of individuals can make a single cent, or gain a single concession, the peace could be organized as easy as rolling off a log. But that can never be.”

“Who really won the war?” exampled Jim. “Did Britain win it by standing fast when all the world was at Germany’s mercy in 1940? Or did Russia win it by defeating Germany’s assault in 1941? For certainly if Russia had folded up in the 60 days everybody, even we, predicted, the Germans would have had their enormous strength all free to lash at England. And that would have been the end. Or did the U.S. win it, by her enormous war production and her immense and gallant fighting forces?”

“Who found that $17?” I inquired. “You saw it first. I undoubtedly would have seen it an instant later. And I actually did the picking up. Britain, Russia and the U.S. all have reason to believe that without their effort, the war would have been lost. At least, there aren’t many Britishers you can make agree that Russia won the war. And there aren’t many Yanks you can persuade that Britain really made it possible for the war to be won.”

“If we hand that money over to the police,” said Jim, “Neither of us will care a hoot who found it. It is only if we keep it that we start to argue who has the greater moral or legal right to it.”

“Well, now, don’t be hasty,” I cautioned.

“I was just pointing out,” explained Jimmie, “that if we could work out some plan of world settlement that eliminated all material gain from the peace negotiations, nobody would care a hoot who had the biggest share in fighting the war. But while a year ago we were fighting to save our skins, now it appears that zones of influence have to be arranged among the winners. And a zone of influence is nothing more nor less than cash money picked up by the nations off the street. A zone of influence means markets in which to sell, markets in which to buy raw materials at a cheap price, without competition from other nations. It means areas in which the influential men of the controlling big nation can get good jobs for their sons. All cash. All dough. All money to be picked up off the street.”

“Surely world government isn’t so shoddy and mercenary as all that,” I protested.

“When you come to think of it,” asserted Jim, “what is government of a nation, really? It is operating the nation so as to make it possible for the largest number of people to make the most money. Nothing more, nothing less. You think of government as being the creating and enforcing of laws. What are most laws about? Property.”

“Hmmmm,” I muttered.

Business Is Business

“You think of government,” went on Jim, “as being the building and keeping open of roads and communications. Why? To enable people to carry on business. The life of a nation is trade. And the government of a nation is first, last and all the time concerned with trade and business. You can’t think of a single department of government, or a single function of government that doesn’t trace back to making business better for somebody.”

“I suppose that’s true,” I confessed.

“Therefore,” said Jim, “why fool ourselves in thinking that governments now wrestling with world settlement problems are going to forget their chief and natural function and deal with world problems not as business men but as starry eyed philosophers?”

“Why doesn’t somebody,” I demanded, “come out flat and say so? If one of the great leaders in the world would just take a chance on his political future and make a radio speech to the whole wide world stating that business is business and call a halt to all the high sounding humanitarian platitudes!”

“It would be impossible,” said Jim. “Millions of men have died in this war. They didn’t die for business. They died for ideals.”

“But the ideal,” I pointed out, “is merely a decent suit of clothes for the naked fact that at the bottom of everything – of government, of national life, of life itself – is trade and commerce. Men live by business, therefore they die by it. Work, labor, trade, commerce are the very foundation of all human life and all human activity. How do we then get life so balled up and tragically ripped and torn in the name of idealism?”

“Precisely the same,” replied Jim, “as two old friends can get quarrelling over $17 they pick up on the street.”

“Well, I wasn’t quarrelling,” I informed him. “It was you who was doing the quarrelling. You kept trying to chisel me out of any claim to the find.”

“I was not chiselling,” insisted Jim politely. “I was merely stating a fact. If you remember, we were walking along, and I suddenly saw the money, just as you were about to step right over it unseeing…”

“I tell you,” I cut in, “that I never would have stepped over it. I see everything around my feet. It stands to reason, I am a short man. Short men always see the ground more clearly than tall men…”

“I should say, on the contrary,” stated Jim, “that a short man has to look up most of the time. Has to keep his eyes above, in order not to get stepped on.”

“Oh, well, if you want to be insulting,” I gritted.

And we walked the balance of the block to The Star office in dignified silence.

We went up and hung up our coats and went to our desks and started to work. The boy delivered The Star about 3 o’clock, and though it was nearly 1 o’clock when we had found the $17, Jimmie opened up the paper at the want ads, and found the Lost, and Found column.

“Here it is!” he sang out. And read it.

LOST: Will the two curious-looking characters who were seen picking up $17, a ten, a five and two ones, on Bay St., about 1 o’clock today. kindly return to owner. E. T. Blumm, 90 King St., before they get into trouble?

“Well,” I said aghast, “of all the insolence! Curious looking characters!”

“We’d better get in touch with him right away,” said Jim hurriedly. “We can’t afford to get mixed up in any scandal.”

Jim telephoned the man. He said he had just stepped into a cigar store and dialled a number on the pay telephone when he saw us pick up the money. He felt in his pocket and realized it was his $17. At that instant, the party at the other end of the call – Mr. Blumm’s boss – answered.

By the time Blumm got out on the street, we had disappeared.

So Jim said he would mail it to him in at registered letter.

“No,” Mr. Blumm said, “I’ll come right over for it.” Which he did.

And a pretty tight-fisted individual he turned out to be.

He took the money, said “thanks” through his nose and acted very much as if he thought Jimmie and I had every intention of keeping his measly $17.


Editor’s Note: $17 in 1945 would be $290 in 2023.

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