The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Old Soldiers Never Die

By Greg Clark, July 30, 1938.

For twenty years three men have been waiting to talk back to their sergeant-major. At the Canadian Corps Reunion they get their chance

“What’s he mean, dumb insolence?” demanded Pte. Billings. “The old buzzard.”

“Dumb insolence,” explained Pte. Budd, this being in an estaminet near the village of Gouy-Servins in the year 1918, “dumb insolence is a sergeant-major’s pet crime. It means, you give him a dirty look. You didn’t say anything. You just looked it. So he crimes you. He has you up before the colonel for dumb insolence.”

“He can’t prove it, though,” interjected the third gravel crusher, Pte. Andrews. “He can’t have you up before the colonel and say, he had a dirty look on his face. He can’t do that.”

“Oh, yes he can,” said Pte. Billings, bitterly. “A sergeant-major can do anything.”

“I can’t go on,” said Pte. Budd darkly. “It can’t go on, boys. If the people back home knew what we were being subjected to over here. It isn’t the shell fire. It isn’t the mud and the lice. isn’t the lousy food. It’s the way we’re bullied and humiliated and shamed. Think of it. Three guys like us, three free-born Canadian citizens. And that blankety-blank old sergeant-major with his airs. You’d think we were dirt.”

“Why can’t we go before the colonel,” demanded Pte. Andrews, “and state our case? Why can’t we ask to be paraded before the colonel and tell him straight. Tell him, colonel, our lives are being ruined by this bloody old sergeant-major. He ought to be sent back to England, where he belongs. Around some parade ground in Shorncliffe, puffing and swelling, that’s where he belongs, not out here in France, with men.”

“We could ask the colonel,” expanded Pte. Budd, “how he expects to have any morale in this regiment, if he is going to let loose a vicious old rooster like the sergeant-major on us. Here we come out of the line, and right away, our lives are made hell.”

“The one reason I prefer being in the trenches,” contributed Pte. Billings, “is that you never lay eyes on that old buzzard. He sticks deep in the headquarters dugout for the whole trip. You never hear his voice, roaring like a bull. There he hides, sweet and soft and never making a sound for fear somebody will notice him and send him up the communication trenches.”

“And then,” took up Pte. Andrews, “the minute we come out of the line, oh, boy.”

“Yeah,” joined in Pte. Budd, “the night of the relief, when we are about three miles back, you begin to hear him. Faintly. Just a little bellow or two. Then, at four miles, he begins to really tune up. Hear him bellow. Hear him roar. And when we come into the village, there he is, standing at the crossroads, swollen up like an inner tube, roaring like a fog horn, pick ’em up, pick ’em up, make it lively there, you tramps.”

“Do you know what he called me, once?” asked Pte. Billings, pitifully. “He called me a hooligan.”

“He once said I looked like something,” chimed Pte. Budd, “that had been dug up by accident.”

“Hmmm,” said Pte. Andrews bitterly, gazing around the crowded estaminet where nine men were sitting at each of the tables for four, and a shabby mamselle was hurrying with glass pitchers of watery French beer. “I wonder we put up with it. Maybe the reason he never shows up, in the line, is that he is afraid he might get a shot in the back. There isn’t a man in this regiment that wouldn’t take a shot at him if he got the chance.”

“No shooting,” said Pte. Billings. There is enough shooting around here without any body having to shoot anybody in the back. He’ll get it one of these days. Mark my words. Things like that can’t go on forever. There is justice. He’ll get it. When he least expects it. Some day, in the deepest dugout, one of those rubber-tired shells with the long noses is going to go right through and hit him. Or maybe, when he’s standing as usual so big and important back in some safe village, some airplane is going to come over and drop a bomb square on top of him, right in the middle of one of his roars.”

“Couldn’t we send an anonymous letter to the colonel?” begged Pte. Andrews. “They’d never know who sent it. Just itemize a few of his worst deeds.”

“Today was the worst,” moaned Billings. “Us just walking along the street to this estaminet, and him standing there, with his stick under his arm, all pulled up like a telegraph pole, his mustache sticking out and that horrible grin on his face.”

“‘Well, my pretty soldiers, he says,'” recounted Pte. Andrews, “‘and where might you be going with no belts on and your tunics unbuttoned and your puttees put on like the wrappings on an Egyptian corpse?’ he says.”

“‘You’re filthy,’ he says,” remembered Pte. Budd. “‘You’re foul and you’re unclean.’ he says. ‘Your hair looks like a goat we once captured from the Afridis in the campaign of 1897. And you smell.'”

“Why shouldn’t we smell?” enquired Andrews. “Eighteen days in the line. Him, he had his nice little bath every morning in his deep dugout.”

“With water that should have been sent up for us, drinking water,” cried Budd.

“Goats,” grated Billings.

“And when we so much as looked at him,” said Andrews. “he roars, ‘Don’t look at me like that, my lads, or I’ll have you up for dumb insolence,’ he says.”

“Smell,” muttered Budd. “Wait till this war’s over. I’ve got it all worked out in my mind. I know what I’m going to do, after the war. I’m going to find that old buzzard, if it takes me years.”

“I’m going to lay for him,” echoed Andrews, “if I have to travel from Halifax to Vancouver.”

“Let’s form a pact,” said Billings. “Let’s form a secret society. The minute we’re out of uniform, we’ll start hunting for the old vulture. We’ll catch him and set him down on a chair. Then we take turns, like Heinies diving on an R.E.8, at telling him off. We’ll call him all the things he called us and all the things we have called him behind his back. We’ll tell him what the troops really thought of him, the big yellow belly. Taking advantage of his rank.”

“We’ll probably find him cleaning spittoons in some dirty little Montreal joint,” mused Buddy happily.

Planning Revenge

“Wherever we find him,” said Andrews, “we’ll take him and we’ll crucify him and we’ll call him down for hours until we can’t think of anything more to say and then we’ll beat him up.”

“That’s it,” agreed Budd, furiously. “We’ll just slap the starch right out of that silly mustache, and we’ll make him get down on his knees and beg our pardon. We’ll beat the tar out of him.”

“We’ll clip off his mustache,” said Billings.

And in the hum and din of the estaminet, the three sat, heads close together, a faraway and happy expression on their stubbled countenances.

“He pinches our rum,” muttered Andrews. “Every night in the line, each company, in rotation, loses one jar of rum, mysteriously.”

“It’s the only duty roster the old beggar keeps,” said Budd. “Which company’s turn is it tonight to lose one jar of rum out of their rations?”

“Don’t let’s forget.” said Billings, as a party of half a dozen newcomers burst in the estaminet door and started rowdily towards their table. “Don’t let us forget about after the war. If only one of us gets out, he promises the others that he’ll hound that old devil and get him and get him good.”

“It’s a promise,” agreed Andrews and Budd, reaching out dirty rough hands and clasping them across the stained table.

And then the newcomers dragged up chairs around the crowded little table and somebody started a new line of conversation. It was about that lousy old yellow belly, the sergeant-major.

Twenty years later, almost to the week, the day and the hour, Billings, Andrews and Budd are standing flushed and happy near the Prince of Wales gate of the Toronto Exhibition grounds. Age has not withered them, nor custom staled. Except for their bright blue berets and their clean though sweaty clothes, and a certain ripeness of feature that has developed, they are easily recognizable, here in their late 40’s, as the three lads that sat in the estaminet in Gouy-Servins, long ago in their middle 20’s.

Andrews has come from Edmonton, Budd from Newmarket and Billings is a Toronto boy, born, bred and bound. He has the Toronto look.

They have met by long appointment. They have been exchanging letters now for six months, ever since last January, when the big corps reunion was first mooted. They have been together now since Wednesday night, when Andrews arrived from the west and was met at the station by his two cronies.

They have been up to visit the two families, Budd’s and Billings’, where they stopped briefly and awkwardly and withstood the ironic stare of several children in their teens, and drank a lot of tea and ate a lot of pie. But they hurried back down town, where they sought out tables in dim places where they could lean far out on their elbows and set their berets at silly angles and unbutton the top button of their trouser bands, and tangle their feet, in an old fashioned way around the legs of their chairs.

“Somebody saw him yesterday,” said Billings, “right here. They said he came marching along him, with his beret and looking as sergeant-majory as ever, with his stick under his arm, pacing 120 to the minute and glaring fiercely at everybody, as if he was trying to recognize some of his old battalion.”

“Has he got nerve?” said Budd.

“He must be near 70 now,” said Andrews.

“Boy,” breathed Billings, “will it be a treat to see him.”

“Remember, now,” cautioned Budd. “Polite. No rough stuff. We’ll just gang up around him, very politely. We’ll be so glad to see him. And when we get him off by ourselves, we’ll let go.”

“Huh, huh, huh,” chortled Budd.

As If Old Muscles Stirred

They stood in the throng, now and then darting out to grab a passer-by and draw him into the group for a few minutes of pawing and back-slapping and laughter and bending over with glee. But the three never relaxed for an instant their watchful survey of the multitude in the colorful berets and the badges and medals and canes and pennants, milling in for the afternoon ceremonies.

“It’s him,” shouted Budd, suddenly, and all three leaped to tip-toe. “Look. On the grass over there, walking with his arm swinging away up.”

“Old Hatchet Puss,” breathed Andrews, as in prayer.

And the three, elbowing and tip-toe, thrust their way across the pavement in a wild scurry.

They reached the grass sward and curved, like hunting harriers, around ahead of their prey.

“Hello, sergeant-major,” said Billings, heartily.

The sergeant-major halted, clicked his heels, snapped his stick up under his armpit, and glared at the three.

“Let’s see,” he roared. “Who is this?”

“You remember me, Billings, B company?” said Billings.

“Billings?” bellowed the sergeant-major fiercely. “And who’s this?”

He threw his stick from under his armpit and pointed it scornfully at Andrews and Budd.

“Budd, sir,” said Budd.

“Andrews, major,” said Andrews.

They stood at attention, as if they couldn’t help it. As if old muscles stirred within them, forgotten muscles of the back, the thighs, the neck.

“Well, I’m damned,” barked the sergeant-major. “Billings, Budd and Andrews. Well, well. well. I’m delighted to see you.”

He snapped the stick up under his armpit again, and taking a smart pace forward, shoved his hand out at them as if it were a salute halted midway to the cap brim, fingers extended, palm turned out, tip of the middle finger….

The three stepped one pace forward, clicked and shook hands violently.

“Where have you come from? Where do you live?” roared old Hatchet Puss, in a voice like a ship’s whistle. “Are you married? Are you all working? Have you any children? Tell me all about yourselves!”

They started, but old Hatchet Puss interrupted them violently with a wave of his stick.

“What are you doing now?” he barked. “You look a little seedy. Have you been hanging about in beer parlors? What’s the matter with you? Straighten your beret, What’s Your Name. A little less on the back of your head. You wear it the way an old lady wears a bonnet. Are you enjoying yourselves?”

They were all in the midst of admitting they were enjoying themselves immensely when the sergeant-major roared:

“You’re coming up to tea. I brought my old lady down with me to visit my son during the reunion and I promised to bring her up some of the old battalion for tea. Fall in.”

There was a moment of indecision, a sort of flicker, as when a flock of blackbirds seems to lose direction for an instant, but then catches itself again.

“We’ll march to my son’s car,” barked the sergeant-major heartily. “I’ve got him waiting over here.”

“By the left,” roared the sergeant-major, dressing him, as of old.

The old boy got to the side and extended his stick to tap Andrews back into line, “queeeeeeek march!”

And he marking, they marched across the grass, left inclined, right inclined, marked time, wheeled, and then in column of threes advanced upon a motor car in which a huge young man, looking very much like the old man, sat grinning at the wheel.

“Halt,” roared the sergeant-major. “Left turn.”

Andrews and Budd and Billings filed into the back seat.

“Meet my son,” shouted the sergeant-major.

In the car, as they drove rapidly out of the multitude, the sergeant-major gave a brief account of himself.

“Returned to my old job,” he stated, loudly. “Bank messenger. Pensioned off three years ago. Live in a nice little cottage 20 miles out of town.”

One by one, with shouted questions, brief and businesslike, he queried the boys as to where they lived, how many children, what kind of jobs.

“Ah,” he roared, “it’s great to see my old boys a success.”

They pulled up in front of a pleasant little house. They marched in the side drive and into a garden where an old lady sat in a chair, a gentle little old lady.

They were paraded before her, column of threes, wheeled, halted, dressed by the right and then the nominal roll was called.

Tea was brought. Tea and tea biscuits and jam and white cheese.

“These were the men,” roared the old sergeant-major, “these were the men, mother, that made the victory possible.”

He slapped them on the shoulders. He got up and marched into the house for the cigars and cigarettes.

Andrews leaned one shoulder against a tree while Budd and Billings sat forward in their chairs.

“He’s a grand old man,” said Andrews confidentially to the old lady. “He was a father to us, in the war.”

“If it hadn’t been for him,” said Budd, “we’d have been like a lot of hoboes, I’m afraid.”

And when Billings saw the old sergeant-major coming out the back door balancing a tray of cigar and cigarette boxes, he leaped up:

“Let me give you a hand, major.”

And until the old man got his fill of them, they sat recounting the old days, while the old lady swung her gaze ever back, with pride and tenderness to her man; and finally he jumped up and barked:

“All right, lads, be off with you. Don’t get slack. Watch those berets. Wear them as I wear mine. Look! And listen to me: Square your shoulders. Try to look like men, not sandbags.”

And he allowed them the luxury of marching at ease out of the garden and even permitted them to slump into the son’s car, who drove them back down to the Exhibition grounds where they wandered easy in their minds amidst the multitude, having buried an enemy.


Editor’s Notes: On July 30, 31, and August 1, a reunion of the Canadian Corps was held in Toronto, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was estimated that 100,000 people would participate in the three-day celebration.

Dumb insolence is an offence against military discipline in which a subordinate displays an attitude of defiance towards a superior without open disagreement.

An estaminet is a French cafe that sells alcoholic drinks.

The Afridi are a Pashtun tribe in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The old sergeant-major must have been in the army during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880)

The Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 was a British two-seat biplane in the war. Heinies were a slang term for Germans.

A Ferry Tale

July 29, 1939

A “sock dollager” is slang for a something great or large. In this case, it is in reference to the size of the fish.

Hot Dogs

By Greg Clark, July 22, 1939.

“It’s little wonder,” declared Jimmie Frise, “that our generation is dying off in middle age.”

“Referring?” I inquired.

“Referring to you,” said Jim. “You’ve had the jitters now for three solid hours. Why don’t you relax?”

“Relax?” I cried. “Relax?” How can I relax when you said you’d be ready to leave at 12 noon. And now It is precisely 3.15 p.m.?”

“I have my work to do,” said Jim with dignity.

“You said you’d have it all finished last night,” I complained. “You said there would be nothing for you to do this morning but clean off your desk.”

“I miscalculated the job,” said Jim. “Anyway, what’s the difference? If we lose three hours on this end of the trip, let’s take three hours at the far end of it. Why this slavish devotion to plan?”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” I moaned.

“That’s what’s killing off the human race,” said Jim, working away industriously at his drawing board at a cartoon that should have been in last Tuesday. “Trying to be machines. Trying to work with the precision of a machine. Trying to make and keep schedules for everything. It’s unnatural. It’s killing us off.”

“You should live to a ripe old age,” I submitted.

“Now, look,” said Jim kindly. “Explain to me. What are you all in a lather about? Why are you acting slightly demented just because I am a couple of hours later than I expected to be?”

“Jim,” I pleaded, “we make arrangements to spend the week-end at Pat’s cabin. It’s 150 miles. We agree to leave at 12 noon sharp, so as to get there early enough to have part of the late afternoon and all evening. If we had got away on time, we would have been at the cabin by now. But where are we? Here. In Toronto. In your office. On a Saturday afternoon, in a deserted city. And you ask me, what am I fretting about?”

“But look,” said Jim calmly. “What real difference does it make? Next October, what difference will it make if we don’t go at all? Why get all in a foam over the fact that some trifling detail of a week-end trip away back here in midsummer was a little muddled? I can’t see it. Honestly I can’t. In a few hours today is yesterday. Next fall this hour is so far buried in the past you won’t even recall it. Then why in heaven’s name give this hour such tremendous importance?”

“Jim,” I began indignantly; but what could anybody say in reply to such outrageous thinking?

“The trouble with our generation,” went on Jim, “is it has no sense of the past or the future. It is aware only of the present. Nothing matters but now.”

“But, good heavens,” I argued.

“It’s machines that are to blame,” sighed Jim. “We invented machines about a hundred years ago. Now, instead of trying to be worthy of being God’s image, we are trying to make ourselves into the image of the new god, the machine.”

“That’s not bad, Jim,” I admired.

A Silly Human Mistake

“Human nature never was and never will be capable,” stated Jim in a platform manner, “of precision. There have been a lot of silly mistakes in human history. Men have tried to be a lot of things different from what they are. They have always paid for it. But the attempt to convert men into machines is the silliest and stupidest mistake of all. And we’ll pay for it heaviest. In fact, we are paying for it now. Paying for it in confusion and fear and anxiety and insecurity. Paying in world-wide bewilderment.”

“A man should still be capable of being on time,” I contributed.

“Absolutely not,” said Jim. “A man who presumes to be always on time is guilty of blasphemy. Not against God, but against human nature.”

“You can always think up remarkable excuses,” I said.

“Leave a man a man,” said Jim, “and he lasts 70, 80 years, hearty and happy. Try to make him a machine, and he wears out like a machine. Why is it, may I ask, that despite all the wonderful advances in medical science, the almost unbelievable surgical discoveries, the actually spooky revelations regarding glands, why is it that despite all this and all the improvements in every department of living, men do not only not live longer but live less long than they used to?”

“I admit we live shorter,” I said, “but we live better and more fully.”

“Puh,” said Jim. “Our whole social philosophy today is the philosophy of the libertine. Never mind tomorrow. Just live for today.”

“Life is ten times more interesting than it was in the Middle Ages,” I declared.

“Ask somebody who lived in the Middle Ages,” suggested Jim. “Life, my friend, is life. In proportion, life is just as dear to a bug as it is to a man. When you have it, it is all. When you lose it, you lose all. When you step on a bug, you have ended something that was, in its proportion, mysterious, beautiful, and never to be restored. You think nothing of stepping on a bug. But now, you are growing careless with your own life. You think only of now. You do not pause to look back over the past and remember all that was best in it. If you did, you would act in the present in such a way as to preserve in the future the most and the best of what you had in the past.”

“Hurry up with that cartoon,” I muttered.

“By George,” said Jim, “I just remember I haven’t had any lunch.”

“Let’s call the trip off,” I suggested bitterly. “I’ll go and ‘phone the village store to send a message in to Pat that we’ll be up some other time.”

“Five minutes, and I’m done,” said Jim. “And I can grab a sandwich or a chocolate bar in passing somewhere.”

“You’d better have some lunch,” I said reluctantly, “if you want to live to a ripe old age.”

But Jim set to and scratched the final pen strokes on his cartoon, studied the finished product wryly, rolled it up for the engravers, and we dashed for the corridor.

The lunch counter we usually snack at was closed. The downtown streets deserted except for a few underprivileged citizens in their best clothes slowly strolling in the desert of blank shop windows and pavement. So willy-nilly we hastened around to the parking lot, where our car stood all alone.

And in 15 minutes we had left the city behind and joined the ragged procession of the belated for the north.

“As a matter of fact,” pointed out Jimmie, “it is a lot pleasanter being late than getting caught up in the traffic fury of the early birds. The guys who are all trying to be first.”

And it was. Now and then a furious individual, all cramped up to his steering wheel, passed us madly. But most of us late-goers seemed to be a reconciled lot. A sense of our lateness imbued us. We just plodded along.

“Hot dogs, three hundred yards ahead,” sang out Jimmie, reading a sign.

“Okay, if you must,” I sighed, slackening for a gasoline station on the right hand side ahead. “I could do with one myself. If they’re any good.”

“Hot dogs are always good,” said Jim. “The mustard kills any bacilli, if any.”

“Ugh,” I stated.

When we ran off on to the gravel of the gas station we saw a little booth to one side labelled hot dogs. As we got out, a man came hurrying from inside the gas station, his hands and arms all smeared black with oil.

“Is it hot dogs, gents?” he asked anxiously. “I’m sorry. My wife has just run up to the village …”

“We’ll get to Pat’s some day next week,” I offered Jim.

“I’m right in the middle of a generator job,” said the service man, apologetically. “But if you like, help yourselves and leave the money in the cigar box behind.”

“Can we go right in?” exclaimed Jim, very pleased.

“The wieners are on a little gasoline heater,” said the garage man, pushing the side door of the booth open with his elbow, “and the buns are in that box there.”

“Okay,” cried Jim, heartily. “Go about your business, mister, and we’ll help ourselves.”

“You don’t mind?” smiled the garage man.

“This is swell,” assured Jim. “Self-serve hot dogs. The idea ought to go big.”

It was cosy in the booth. An old automobile sent served as a lazy bench. On a tiny gas burner a saucepan simmered, with three wieners in it, all plump and suntanned. I opened a large tin biscuit box, in which reposed dozens of hot dog buns.

“Nice and fresh,” I announced, pinching them.

“Okay, two up,” cried Jim.

Two Good Samaritans

And I slit the buns with the large knife lying on the shelf; Jim lifted the wieners and let them drip, laid them restfully in the buns. From the big jar of bright yellow mustard we ladled out the condiment in lush blobs.

“Yummmm,” said Jim, biting his.

And as we ate, conscious of the pleasantly sharp mustard, the soft bun and the gently bursting sausage between our teeth, another car whirled into the gas station yard and ran up in front of us.

“Five,” yelled the genial gentleman at the wheel. “Five fat ones and make it snappy, boys.”

The garage man came rushing out, all greasy and embarrassed.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said to the new arrivals. “My wife has had to run uptown. These gentlemen are just helping themselves…”

“Okay, brother,” Jim interrupted, “If you’ll appoint us your wife’s deputies we’ll gladly serve these folks.”

“That’s the spirit,” joined in the stranger.

“It’ll just be a minute,” said Jim, turning up the gas flame to make the water bubble. “I have to heat the weenies.”

In a basin on the lower back shelf lay a couple of dozen wieners, and from the pile Jim took six and popped them into the saucepan.

I dug out five buns and expertly slit them open.

“Gentlemen,” said the stranger, leaning outside on the counter, “I envy you. Gosh, how I envy you. Taking time off to do a decent little job like this for that garage man. And for me and my family. And for yourselves.”

“It’s a pleasure,” said Jim, standing back in the expert chef manner and shaking the saucepan on the flame.

“Now, you take me,” said the stranger. Those women in the car have been yelling at me for the past five hours to hurry, hurry, hurry. We’re late. It will be dark before we get to the cottage. The kids will be tired and cranky. It’s been an awful day. And here I stand, looking at two people who have all the time in the world to be a couple of good Samaritans along the highway.”

Jim stepped on my foot.

“Gosh, gentlemen,” said the stranger, “you’ve got the right slant on life.”

“Okay, brother,” said Jim, lifting the pan and seizing the fork to spike out the fatly gleaming sausages.

And with me holding the buns and the stranger ladling out the mustard, we did very expert job. And 50 cents went plunk very loud into the cigar box.

“There,” murmured Jim, as the stranger distributed the hot dogs, “that’s your answer. What could have happened to us up at Pat’s half as amusing as what has happened the past 10 minutes?”.

“Here’s some more,” I retorted, as another car, with four young people in it, whirled dustily on to our gravel.

“Okay,” said Jim, grabbing another handful of wieners from the basin and dumping them into the saucepan.

Nobody Complained

So I dived for the buns and slit them, and when the garage man came and grinned anxiously out the door of the gas station at us Jim yelled:

“We’ll carry on until your wife gets back!”

“She’ll be back any minute,” sang back the gas man. “She don’t like to miss any dimes.”

So we fed the four youngsters and before their hot dogs were assembled another car with two arrived; and a moment later a car with five; and by the time all these were served there were only three wieners left in the basin.

“Do we want another?” inquired Jim. “Before they all go?”

But before we could decide a final car hove in, with three customers. And the sausages now were all gone. We kept the pan stewing, the buns splitting and mustard flying, and when the last were served we hastily lifted the hooks and lowered the front of the booth as a sign that the hot dogs were run out.

“Well,” said Jim, “there’s eighteen hot dogs and $1.80 in the cigar box that wouldn’t have been there.”

“And we’re a good half hour later than we would have been,” I reminded.

And at that moment a car drew in and lady got out with a parcel. It was the garage man’s wife, sure enough, and he came out and explained to her what a fine job we had been doing for her. Which we blushingly took.

“Why, that’s lovely,” said she, coming in the booth and looking around, “but where did you get the wieners?”

“In the basin,” said Jim.

“Oh, mercy,” said the lady.

“Why, wha…” said Jimmie and I.

“Why, those,” cried the lady, “those were as stale as anything. I threw them out. I was up to the village for a new supply.”

A mucky kind of silence occurred.

“Were they bad?” I inquired hollowly.

“Not bad,” said the lady, “but stale. I wouldn’t have served them.”

“Nobody complained,” stated Jim. “Every body ate them very heartily.”

“Well, I suppose men feel differently,” murmured the lady, looking into the cigar box and ticking over the money with her finger tip.

“Anyway,” pursued Jim, “all hot dogs are good. The mustard fixes them.”

“And besides,” I added, “the human race is getting tougher all the time.”

Upon which, I stepped on Jim’s foot, and we shook hands and drove off and watched all the way along the highway for miles, but saw nobody dead.


Editor’s Note: Jim could be slow with his work, resulting in time where the presses had to be held up until he finished.

Gasoline Alley

July 21, 1928

This image by Jim accompanied an article by Fred Griffin about the proliferation of gas stations cropping up in Toronto. It is a statement not just on the number of gas stations, but on the number of cars in the city. He states that 25 stations were built in 1927, and 38 were built in the first 6 months of 1928. The article indicated that Toronto only had 15 gas stations in 1915, the first year they were built, with 72 built between 1915 and July 1926, followed by 12 in the last half of 1926.

“[Gasoline’s] earliest distribution was in sealed five gallon cans. You bought it and filled your own, after the fashion of filling your own lamps. After that came distribution in steel barrels equipped at first with spigots and later with pumps. Then was evolved the self-measuring automatic pump. And from that grew the modern service station.”

As for how many more gas stations Toronto could support:

“He arrived at Toronto’s need of 300 stations, or twice the present number, in the following way.
Toronto has some 90,000 cars of all sorts. Each uses an average of 300 gallons of gas per year. Toronto’s total gallonage would be there fore 27,000,000 gallons. A selling capacity of 100,000 gallons per service station per year should satisfy. This would call for 270 service stations.
Since this calculation took no recount of visitors and tourists, he thought that 300 service stations was very modest estimate Indeed of Toronto’s ultimate needs.”

The photo included with the illustration shows one of the oldest stations from 1915 at the corner of Queen and Davies Street. A gas station is no longer at the site, but you can see where is stood based on the street view today. Even the light post is in the same spot.

Icy Cold!

July 23, 1938

Groundhogs

By Greg Clark, July 18, 1936

“Groundhogs,” said Jimmie Frise, “are at their best right now.”

“For eating?” I begged.

“For shooting,” said Jim. “The fields are deep with grain or clover. The groundhogs have lost that anxious alertness of the spring. Fat and free, they sit on their little mounds. They make a perfect target.”

“A target, eh?” I asked.

“An animated target,” said Jim. “The mind of man can’t discover any other use for a groundhog. Their meat is too soft. Their fur is sleazy and thin. The divine purpose of a groundhog, as far as I can figure, is to provide an animated target for farm boys and city sportsmen in the offseason.”

“Hmmm,” said I.

“The bad points of a groundhog are well known,” said Jim. “They not only cat crops, such as winter wheat, clover and so forth. I’ve known farmers to have their entire crop of brussels sprouts ruined by groundhogs. But in addition to their damage to crops, groundhogs cause a lot of damage to horses, Horses step in groundhog holes and break their legs.”

“The survival of the fittest,” I explained. “Nature realizes that the horse has numerous and powerful friends, while the groundhog has none.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim. “I can’t figure out why Nature ever invented a groundhog. It has no earthly use.”

“Nature,” I stated, “didn’t figure the way man was going to steal the show when she did her designing. She simply set loose a lot of guesses. Nature is a gambler. She doped out a few hundred designs and then sat back and said go to it.”

“Wouldn’t it have been swell if the groundhogs had won?” jeered Jimmie.

“I can’t think of any life more agreeable than a groundhogs,” I admitted. “They have no economic value, therefore they are not enslaved like the cow and the horse and dog. Their fur is valueless, therefore they have not met the fate of the beaver and the fox. Their meat is of no interest, therefore they are not hunted as deer are.”

“Thank heaven,” said Jim, “for the sporting instinct of humanity, or the entire face of the earth would now be pitted with groundhog holes.”

“A groundhog,” I continued, “has a delightful life. Unlike the fox and the raccoon, he lives in a dugout of his own building, safe from life’s war. A nice warm dugout, with two or three entrances in case of danger. On his fast little legs he can jump into one of his dugout entrances at the first sign of hawk or human. He is a wise baby who digs his home in the midst of human endeavor. He selects a nice clover or grain field, and makes himself a home where he won’t have to move more than ten jumps from any one of his strategic entrances.”

“They’re stupid,” said Jim. “They sit erect like fools, right on the doorsill of their burrows, a perfect target.”

“In time,” I countered, “the groundhogs will learn that they can’t take any chances with men. The more groundhogs learn about us humans, the more they will develop long range rifles and telescope sights. So that in time, no groundhog will ever sit up at the door of his burrow. That is Nature’s way. Don’t think men are entitled to win in this gamble of Nature. Sooner or later, one of the other contestants in the race will get the bulge on us. And believe me, it will be a bulge.”

Winter Doesn’t Bother Him

“Do you mean,” demanded Jimmie, “that groundhogs might some day conquer the human race?”

“Why not?” I inquired. “Just because we humans have been top dogs for a few million years recently is no reason to suppose that Nature’s gamble is ended. The way men have been behaving lately. I’m willing to put a bet on the beetles at any reasonable odds.”

“Beetles!” ughed Jim. “Make it groundhogs.”

“Think,” I said, “of the way groundhogs hibernate during the winter. There is reals civilization. There is genuine economy. A groundhog. when the time comes, simply goes down into the deepest depth of his dugout, curls up, draws a few pebbles and handfuls of sand around him, and goes to sleep. Not for him are the hardships and rigors of winter. Not for him are starvation wages. He simply goes to sleep and spends all the winter months dreaming idly of the pleasures of summer. Then when spring comes, he wakes, and finds his winter dreams true, new shoots of grain growing, and life ready to amuse and feed him. Don’t you wish we humans had thought of hibernation about two hundred million years ago?”

“It would have been an idea,” agreed Jim. “No doubt Nature missed several good bets in connection with men, and hibernating was one of them. And wings was another. And a sting was another. I often wish I had a great big sting like a bee’s. But all the same, you haven’t mentioned any good reason for groundhogs. I don’t see why we shouldn’t consider them as just something to shoot at.”

“No doubt, you’re quite right,” I confessed. “Judged by the same standards, a great many human beings cut no more figure in this life than so many groundhogs. They might be regarded as something to shoot at.”

“The only difference is that the groundhogs can’t complain to the authorities. They can’t get even.” said Jim.

So when Wednesday, Jim’s half day off, came along and he signalled me to follow him from the office, I did so, and we walked down to the parking lot, and in Jim’s car was his rifle and several boxes of shells. And it being a lovely day and the birds likely to be mad with love and song. I went along, mostly to see the birds. Jim said that south of Georgetown were some wonderful sandy and gravel hills just lousy with groundhogs, and that way we went. And long before we spotted the first groundhog I was well paid by a no less beautiful sight than two cuckoos flying with their curious snakelike motion, and a Blackburnian warbler and no end of commoner birds which are to me like people I know as I pass along, and so life is less lonely.

Up a hill waving with green clover, and against a beautiful old boulder fence, we spied our first groundhog. He was all unaware, busily feeding, and not until we were within about forty yards of him did he suddenly sit up, the picture of indignation, his dark brow’s making him look very like an indignant fat man disturbed in his rightful business.

We lay down. Jim put the rifle to his shoulder and drew a careful bead. He drew and drew, breathing heavily and then holding his breath, and finally he touched off the trigger.

There was a loud plunk.

“Got him,” cried Jim, leaping up and racing towards the fence. But I saw the little brown beast scamper furiously and vanish into his hole in a sandy knoll of his own building.

“You only winged him,” I accused, as I ran alongside. “He got down his hole.”

“We’ll find him lying dead just inside the entrance,” said Jim.

But when we got to the little mound, and found the dark and secret entrance to the cave, there was no groundhog sprawled at the gate, nor was there any sign of blood.

“I heard it go plunk,” said Jim.

“Listen,” I commanded.

And from out the hole in the ground came, as from a distance of several feet, a faint squealing sound. It was a sound like newborn puppies make, and it was interspersed with a snapping or chopping sound which groundhogs make with their teeth as a warning.

“Jim,” I declared hotly, “there are babies in this den.”

“It’s the one I hit,” said Jim. “Squealing its last.”

“Pardon me,” I said, “but that is baby groundhogs making that squeaking sound.”

In the pleasant afternoon, soft with light and tenderness and joy and the love that broods in summer, we stood listening and then we knelt and finally we lay down with our ears at the hole.

“Suppose,” I accused, “that you have killed the mother of a brood of baby groundhogs?”

“Let’s go and find another,” said Jim, getting up.

“Jim. I’m going to dig these out,” I stated. “I’m going to go to that farm we passed back there and borrow a spade.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “why be a silly sentimentalist? Groundhogs are vermin. Why don’t you do something about all the beautiful baby sheep and baby pigs that are being slaughtered every day at the packing houses?”

“Wait till I come back with a shovel,” I commanded.

It was only a couple of fields back and the lady at the farmhouse gladly gave me a shovel.

“For groundhogs?” she said. “I hope you dig them all out.”

Jim was asleep on the mound when I got back. He said he would stand guard over the other exits of the groundhog burrow while I dug.

“It isn’t likely more than three or four feet down.” I assured him. And anyway. I want to show you what you have done.”

At first I intended to dig out the burrow the way drain menders dig out a sewer pipe, that is, by making a ditch that reaches down to it. But the entrance penetrated straight down for about five feet and then slowly sloped deeper still, and by the time I had burrowed six feet, I was under the stone fence and Jim was squatted at the entrance of the tunnel, watching me.

“Make it bigger,” he said, “so I can come down.”

“Go get a board off a fence,” I directed, “and come half way in and scoop the dirt back out as I dig.”

Ahead I could still hear the faint squealing of small animals, and this served to excite me on. Jim returned with a board and kneeling on knees and hands, he skited the earth I dug back between his hind legs like a terrier. We began to make progress.

The tunnel straightened out and ran like a gallery ahead. All I had to do was cut the earth around the hole already made by the groundhog and pass it back.

“Look,” I cried, “here’s a branch tunnel leading off. Isn’t this smart? Just like a German dugout in France.”

Something stabbed me on the knee.

“Jim,” I cautioned, “be careful with that plank.”

“It isn’t near you,” said Jim, skiting sand.

“Ouch,” I said, “what the dickens are you doing?”

Something whistled sharply, and a heavy furry object like a bag of something soft, such as flour, struck me violently in the pinnie.

“Back, Jim,” I shouted loudly. “Back.”

“What is it?” asked Jim, not backing, but leaning forward as if to see in the dark over my shoulder.

By now, there was a scuffling and a scurrying a whistling and a chunnying, a teeth-grating and a scratching; with a dexterous movement, I let Jim follow his curiosity while I heaved past him, and left him in rear. In the darkness, there was a sense of danger and of menace.

“Look out,” cried Jim in his turn, pushing at me to make way. “They’re attacking us.”

And with Jim assisting me, I made good time up the tunnel and we burst into the blessed wide open spaces with sand in our hair and grit in our teeth. We backed a respectable twelve feet from the hole we had made and stared down.

“For heaven’s sake,” said Jim, “the little brutes actually attacked us.”

From the shadows far at the bottom of our excavation there rose a chorus of menacing sounds, curious hoarse whistles and grindings, chucky grunts and snappings. Like a jack in the box, a brindled fat figure popped out a foot and then instantly back. It repeated this bold maneouvre three or four times while Jim and I stared ready for instant flight.

“I’ll be jiggered,” I said. “The little savages.”

So I stooped and grasped a boley, which is a pebble egg-sized or up.

“Easy,” cautioned Jim. “Don’t irritate them. We’ve only got a little twenty-two.”

He picked his rifle up gingerly, and held it behind him.

“In the case of bears,” I suggested in an undertone, “they say the best thing to do is walk quietly away. Don’t run.”

“Come on, then,” agreed Jim anxiously, for the sounds in the cavern were increasing, as if ground hogs were gathering from all the subterranean passages for miles around to man this pass of Thermopylae.

We backed slowly. We did not remove our eyes from the excavation. No fierce sabre-toothed groundhog head showed. We turned. We walked smartly. We ran. We got into the car and slammed the doors and rolled up the windows. Jim held the twenty-two on his knees.

“Ah,” we said.

“That’s gratitude for you,” I said. “Me trying to do a noble and humane deed, and they attack us.”

“You can carry humanitarianism too far,” said Jim. “Sometimes, humanitarianism is against the laws of life.”

“The ungrateful little brutes,” said I, bitterly.

“To tell you the truth,” said Jim. “I was afraid they might have rabies. That’s why I didn’t want to let them near me.”

“It was the shock that made me hurry,” I explained. “Shock and rage at their ingratitude. The vermin.”

Jim rolled down one of the car windows and stuck the twenty-two out. No fanged heads showed above the sandpile high up against the stone fence.

“Just fire one,” I said, “to show our contempt.”

So Jim fired one, and the little spurt of sand showed he had hit the fortifications.

“Yah,” I yelled. “Take that.”

So we drove back around through Georgetown and all the pretty little towns and scorned groundhogs from then on.


Editor’s Notes: Jim shows his farm-boy roots in this article, with his contempt for groundhogs, and his feeling they serve no purpose.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing, 1980.

It Had Its Baptism – Half a Million Men Were Its Godfather

By Greg Clark, July 11, 1925

Therefore The Maple Leaf, Borne Through Blood and Death, Has The Right to Its Place On The Flag of Canada – And The Spearhead That Foch Spoke About! – Here Is The Stuff of Which Flags Are Made and Tradition Is Perpetuated

Moved and seconded that the Canadian flag be the Union Jack with the Maple Leaf in gold emblazoned in the midst and the flag then mounted on a staff with a spear-head.

Fifty-seven thousand Canadian men lie on sundry half-forgotten hillsides of France and the low country with the maple leaf in brass on their breasts, though they be dust, enduring still.

Half a million Canadian men, with the maple leaf bright on their foreheads and on the collars, for four years made themselves known and marked in all of Britain, France, Belgium; in parts of the East, Saloniki, Egypt, Russia; and known, too, to every German.

In the Strand, on Princess street, Grafton street, the Rue da la Paix. Fifth avenue, the crowds would come alert and nudge one another when a plain figure in khaki, distinguishable from the hordes of brown only by brass maple leaves on brow and breast, went by.

“There!” they would say. “A Canadian! The fortress of Vimy – the quagmire of Passchendaele – the great spear-head of Amiens – the wolf pack that went with such a vengeful cry out from Arras, to Cambrai, Valenciennes, to Mons! A Canadian!”

We were known in every city and every village of more than half of Europe by a symbol, the maple leaf. Our clothes differed in no way from those of the British army, in which we served as a distinct corps. The Australian you could recognize a block away. We had only the little brass leaf. So we kept it very bright. There is no denying it: we were intensely proud of that small symbol. Men’s eyes, lighting on it, snapped swiftly to our faces. And we, conscious, stared back: conscious of fifty-seven thousand comrades left behind, on unfailing storied ground, near Ypres, on the Somme, on a certain impregnable ridge, in marshes by Passchendaele, and far and wide over a mighty battlefield of a hundred days, the hundred days of the spear-head, the days when we led the whole pack.

So the maple leaf, whatever shortcomings as a national emblem it might have had ten years ago, has no shortcomings now. It is hallowed and sanctified. Hall a million men went forth to give it meaning. Fifty-seven thousand men – and oh, that is many men! – wear it in their lonely graves.

If Canada’s performance in the world war has any meaning, national, international, imperialistic, political, then the maple leaf is important exactly in proportion to the importance of Canada’s entry on to the world stage.

When, at the Somme, we became a corps, and when, at Vimy, we got a commander of our own blood and bone, and the pride of our performance cost us no man knows what in life and death, we began to notice things. When we entered a soldiers’ hostel in the Strand, there over the central place hung all the flags of the British nations – the southern cross of Australia (and they with their distinctive, rakish uniform to boot!) – the flag of Africa, of India, even – and nothing for Canada save an ordinary marine ensign in error – we began to wish for something, too, of our own, that would symbolize the long miles between us and our home land, and the long generations far from the comfort and safety of these isles.

In the big canteens, back of the lines, again the flags of all the British nations, in each case the Union Jack with the marks of still further and greater unions on it – but nothing for Canada.

In the zone of battle a regiment goes by, columns of transport, of guns, and there, fluttering, the stars of Australia, and our guns bare and hard with never a shred of meaningful bunting on them, though their voices had as much meaning as any guns that faced the east.

The Meaning of Tradition

The Union Jack symbolizes the union of British races which founded the empire. The flags of the other nations that are growing up upon that foundation are, in every case, the Union Jack with certain further marks upon it to symbolize still further union and still wider empire. If Canada has been waiting for the right occasion to add her mark of union and of empire to the Union Jack, it has come. The maple leaf in gold emblazoned on the heart of the Union Jack.

The birth of a flag usually coincides with wars and conquests. Poetry and tradition are woven into it, if possible. Every old regiment in the world has certain honors and customs which it cherishes above all things. The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, for example, as a unit, salutes nobody but the King. That special privilege dates to the day King William’s horse ran away with him at a certain battle, and charging away from the firing line carried his majesty with great indignity through and scattered the King’s Own, which was marching to the fray. Recovering control of his steed, the king rode back and jokingly chided the colonel for not saluting the king as he passed; and he said: “From now on, this regiment salutes nobody but the king.”

And so it is. Another regiment drinks the king’s health standing with one foot on the mess table. Another breaks the glasses when the toast is drunk. The army and the navy are full of customs and special etiquette based on some treasured incident or precedent or privilege accorded in olden time.

Canada has just such a priceless incident to treasure if she has the imagination. Flags that have no tradition and symbolism in their weave are not flags but bunting.

After the great advance of the Canadian Corps at Amiens, when, with the crack French Tenth Army on their right and the Australians on their left, they thrust a great point into the German defenses towards Roy, Generalissimo Foch, the supreme commander, said: “The Canadians are the spear head of the allies.”

This is the stuff of which flags are made. If Caesar had said to one of his legions: “You are the spear-head of my army,” they would have passed those words to the ages, would have emblazoned spear-heads on their cuirasses and have worn spear-heads on their helmets. If a modern king had said those words to one of his regiments it would have been taken and treasured in symbolic form for all time.

Why not take the magnificent and historic compliment of the supreme commander of all the armies of the allies for a legend?

Let it be laid down officially as flag etiquette that in remembrance of Foch’s words, the Canadian flag, born out of that great conflict, be unfurled always and only on a staff with a spear head!

In every land, wherever the Union Jack of Canada be flung to the breeze, it must be on a staff with a gilded spear head, as part and parcel of the symbol. A hundred years from now, when other flags are flying, with whatever tradition their colors and devices portray, the Canadian flag shall fly on its spear-headed staff to remind all men and inspire our children with the historic statement of Foch on the occasion of Canada’s first appearance on the stage of the world as an entity and as a whole.

Here we have the material of tradition. There is this consolation. If we do not grasp it, probably our children will.

At the Olympic meet at Wembley last year, it was suggested by the British committee that all the empire contestants, in the great parade of all nations before the opening of the contests, be grouped together behind the Union Jack. The United States had hundreds of athletes in their section of the procession. Britain thought how fine and significant it would be to place the contestants from Canada, Australia, Africa, India and every corner of the empire in one grand and overwhelming battalion. The committees of the dominions thought differently. They decided definitely to march each behind its own flag in proper alphabetical order, in amongst all the other nations.

Canada Entitled to a Symbol

And they were right. The effect was this: A the procession of athletes of all nations, starting with A and passing through the alphabet, went by, nation by nation. And every few moments a British flag went by. Not one British flag but a score were in that great parade. One by one, the flags of the world went by the international throng, and first Australia with a splendid regiment of men carried the Union Jack and its marks of union and empire by. Then some more nations, and the British Isles went past, a great showing behind the Union Jack. Still more nations of the world, and then Canada. So the nations went past, one by one, and at the beginning and at the end came the flag of Britain with the escutcheons of her sons added. How Infinitely more imposing – this recurrence of Britain throughout that review of the nations -than had all the dominions followed under the one flag, the British committee realized fully as the moment passed.

But the flag the Canadians bore that day was not an official flag. Nor did it strike instant recognition by some symbol already known and respected from the eyes of the beholders from all parts of the world.

The objection raised to the use of the Union Jack with a device laid in the midst of it is that governors-general, lieutenant-governors’ and governors’ flags, from olden time, are the Union Jack with the coat of arms of the colonies they govern set in the middle. In the case of the Union Jack with the gold maple leaf emblazoned boldly in the centre, there can be no confusion with the governor-general’s flag, since his is the Jack with the Canadian coat of arms in the centre. The gold maple leaf without inscription of any sort laid in the heart of the Union Jack could have only one meaning, either here or in most of the countries of the world.

Artists must come into the discussion when the subject is a matter of color and form such as a flag. And the Group of Seven, intensest of all Canadian artists, might be expected to have some thought on the question of a Canadian flag.

“It is merely a question of time until we have a flag of our own in Canada,” said Lawren Harris, of the Group of Seven. “Canada is entitled to a symbol, because Canada is already as entity. The idea of the maple leaf, simply emblazoned, without scroll or legend, on the heart of the Union Jack appeals to me immensely. And the conception of the spear head appeals to me even more. For it is sentimental symbols of that sort which the inarticulate mass of people may take for their means of expression of the love of their country, above all others.”

And if there is any means by which Canada’s exploit in the world war can be preserved and brought to the notice and remembrance of all nations of the world could there be a more picturesque and romantic one than that flag etiquette should demand that flag to be flown only on a staff with spear head?


Editor’s Notes: This rather flowery article from 1925 was part of a movement for a distinct Canadian flag that developed after the First World War. Greg uses the term “ordinary marine ensign in error” to describe the use of the Red Ensign, Canada’s unofficial flag.

Ferdinand Foch was Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War.

Greg mentions the “Olympic meet at Wembley last year”. I believe he mixing up the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 held in Wembley, England, and the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Maybe the committee met at the Exhibition before the Olympics.

The Group of Seven were a famous group of Canadian painters.

The illustration behind the photos were by Jim.

The Kernel

July 11, 1942

Sprinkler System

By Greg Clark, July 14, 1945

“How much hose, inquired Jimmie Frise, “have you got left?”

“By golly,” I said, “I’ve only got about 30 feet.”

“That’s about what I’ve got,” muttered Jim. “And even that leaks.”

“Mine,” I informed him, “spurts all over at the tap. It has two main flaws which shoot fine jets about 15 feet. And in between are sundry soft spots that dribble.”

Mine’s exactly the same,” said Jim. “What I was going to suggest, we ought to pool our hose. I’ll bring my section over and we’ll make a new splice and join them up together. It will make one good hose. Then, on alternate nights we’ll roll it up and take it to each other’s house.”

“A fine suggestion,” I commended. “Maybe out of the two 30-foot lengths we could get one decent hose of 50 feet. Which would just about reach the foot of my yard.”

“Same here,” said Jim. “At this moment some of the best flowers I’ve got are parching to death, 10 feet out of range of my hose.”

“Shouldn’t we have bought some of this ersatz hose?” I inquired. “This wartime composition rubber? I see lots of that hose for sale.”

“Not me,” declared Jim. “I’m waiting for the experiments to end before I invest in any wartime substitutes.”

“I’ve talked to some people,” I advised, “who say that these rubber substitute hoses are better than any rubber hose they ever owned.”

“Maybe so,” said Jim. “But if rubber heels and the rubber soles you get on sport shoes these days are any sample of what rubber substitute is, I don’t want any of it. Did you ever notice the black scars the kids’ shoes make on the hardwood floors?”

“So that’s what it is?” I cried. “I’ve been wondering what those black scratches were.”

“Every scar,” asserted Jim, “is a little bit of wear and tear on the rubber substitute in the shoes. At that rate, they can’t last any time. And I bet hoses and tires are the same.”

“But it stands to reason,” I countered, “that science would sooner or later find some substitute for rubber. The minute the motor car was invented and good roads began to branch out in all directions all over the world, we should have foreseen that mankind would not for long be dependent on the juice of a tree that would only grow in certain restricted climates.”

“It does seem silly,” agreed Jim. “The whole world, from the Arctic through the temperate zones to the tropics and on down through the south temperate zone into the Antarctic, hundreds of millions of people with millions of motor cars each with five tires, all dependent upon a few South Sea Islanders squeezing the sop out of some special trees.”

“It isn’t good enough,” I submitted. “Science just had to get busy, war or no war.”

“Yet,” pointed out Jim, “look how dependent the world still is for so many different things on some small section of the world. Tea, for example. And coffee. How is it the whole world has become so victimized by certain habits and customs? Russia drinks billions of gallons of tea every day. Look at Britain, soaking up tea in lakes and gulfs. Up in northern Canada trappers having to have their pail of tea breakfast, noon and supper. And coffee! Millions of Americans, millions of South Americans, Frenchmen huddled over their coffee cups all along those open-air cafes of the boulevards. Spaniards, Italians …”

Mystery of the Moose

“That’s a queer thing,” I admitted. “A little bush grows in China and India. A few famished Chinese soak the dried leaves in boiling water. They’ll soak anything in boiling water. Sharks’ fins, birds’ nests. So they soak dried leaves. Presently, the queer little habit had spread all over the earth, and hundreds of millions simply can’t do without it.”

“Science hasn’t done anything about that,” pointed out Jim. “Maybe they can find a substitute for rubber. But can they find a substitute for all the other odd things men squeeze out of trees or pluck off bushes in comparatively small areas of the earth’s surface?”

“Do you know, Jim,” I mused, “it seems to me mankind is the laziest animal of all. Admitted, a moose is lazy. All a moose had to do, 1,000 years ago, was keep on slowly feeding south, through continuous lily pad ponds and willow brush and all the other things he eats, in order to reach the southern states. And there, in lush comfort, with no severe winter, the moose tribe would have found heavenly habitat. But are there any moose in Louisiana or Georgia? No. They are found exclusively in the hardest, bitterest spruce tracts of the north, where winter comes like grim death and hangs on for six months out of the 12. Why didn’t the moose tribe feed steadily southward? Why were they so lazy as to stick up in the inhospitable Canadian north?”

“Hmmm,” said Jim.

“The same with so many other beasts,” I said. “But man, apparently so energetic, so discontented, so eternally in search of better and more comfortable regions in which to live, is so lazy that If some Chinese shows him how to soak dried leaves in boiling water, mankind thinks the Chinese have the only leaves that can be soaked. Why haven’t we experimented with our own leaves?”

“Maybe we have,” said Jim. “Maybe those of us that are still left are the ones that haven’t – experimented. I think it is safer to let the Chinese experiment with soaking dried leaves and the Turks experiment with roasted berries. Always let somebody else do the experimenting. If they find something good and it doesn’t kill them, okay. Let’s use it.”

“That’s the trouble with us,” I protested. “Is there a sillier spectacle on earth than the past 30 years, with millions of motor cars racing all over the world, in seven continents, surely the most energetic and hectic spectacle in all human history. Yet the whole vast pandemonium dependent on the juice of some trees growing in a couple of small tropic areas. Modern industry may be a marvel. Modern science may be a wonder. But they both ought to be ashamed of themselves, putting the whole traffic of humanity on a foundation of bug juice from some pagan island.”

A Question of Rubber

“The best principle to observe in modern business,” explained Jim, “is, if it works, leave it alone. The first use of rubber in connection with traffic was rubber tires for wealthy men’s buggies and dog carts. Then – came the bicycle. And before anybody had time to invent a synthetic substance for the millions of bicycles in the 90’s, the rubber importers, who had got busy to meet the buggy trade, were able to produce enough wild rubber to meet the first onset of the bicycle tire trade. Then, foreseeing the great days ahead when the whole world would travel on bicycles, the rubber planters began to create orchards of rubber trees. Nobody foresaw the motor car. But by the time the motor car dawned, the rubber growers had got far enough ahead with their dreams of a world entirely bicyclized to meet the first onset of the motor car.”

“And of course,” I put in, “the motor car would have been simply out of the question without rubber tires.”

“Correct,” agreed Jim. “So you see, the rubber growers and rubber importers in every case were far enough ahead to meet the demand. So science had no call to get busy and invent a substitute. Industry always leaves well enough alone. Business says, if it works don’t change it. And that is why, up until now, there has been no call to science to invent a substitute for rubber.”

“Have they really got it?” I questioned. “Don’t you think rubber, like tea or coffee, like leather for shoes and wool for clothes, is something natural-born and right and fitting? Even if they do work out a perfect substitute for rubber, won’t there always be a demand for genuine rubber tires? They’ve invented no end of substitutes for wool and cotton for clothes. They’ve got imitation leather of every description. But people still like wool clothes as the ancient Romans did, and cotton, as the ancient Egyptians did, thousands of years before Christ. And can you imagine the day ever coming when men will give up genuine leather shoes?”

“Rather than be ruined,” Jim submitted, “I imagine the rubber planters of the east will offer their rubber so dirt cheap that the rubber Importers and the rubber processors will see the chance to make a little dough; and the rubber industry will be revived. Then we’ll witness a great pitched battle between the synthetic rubber interests and the natural rubber interests. Cartels will be formed. Little gangs of British bankers and investors, desirous of cutting the throats of other British bankers and Investors, will gang up with little gangs of American bankers and investors desirous of cutting the throats of other American bankers and investors. That’s a cartel.”

“I thought a cartel,” I interrupted, “was where all the British bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats got together with all the American bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats, because it was agreed that the public was hardly worth all the throat cutting. So they ganged up and cut the public’s throat instead.”

“I guess that is a cartel,” amended Jim. “And it may well be that rather than stage a pitched battle over synthetic rubber versus natural rubber they will organize a gigantic world-wide stock company of all the natural rubber plantations. All the planters will be bought out. All the importers and processors will be bought out. And then they’ll sell the stock to the public.”

“That would be a good way to put an end to the natural rubber industry,” I agreed. “But in the meantime I sincerely hope they get through with their experiments on synthetic rubber before the tire rationing comes off. Don’t you think one of us ought to invest in one of these rubber substitute hoses?”

“Look,” said Jim. “There’s just this one summer left. Surely we can pool our hoses and get by for the next couple of months. Then, by next year, either real rubber will be back or else a first-class substitute will be available. I have the feeling that with the war still on the best substitutes are still going into war materials.”

“Okay,” I subsided. “You bring your hose over and we’ll see what we can salvage from the two.”

So Jim ran home in the car and rolled his hose and brought it over to my garden. Jim’s hose was already synthesized. Of the 35 feet he had serviceable, 20 was an old smooth-bore type of hose dating back to the year of his marriage, about 1918. And the rest was the ribbed type, part of an extension he had bought about 1926.

Mine was just the one brand. It was the old smooth-bore style and was the relic of the first and only hose I ever bought. It had three splices in it. The passing years had seen soft spots and bends and cracks appear. I cut the defective section of a foot or so out, and then rejoined the good bits with those metal tubes and rings that splice hose together.

Evening in the Garden

Jim’s had an old-fashioned bronze nozzle. Mine had a more modern nickel-plated nozzle, with a knurled section for easy turning. But the connections at both my nozzle and the tap ends were so defective that regular fountains played at both ends. I had to stand at arm’s length from my nozzle; and even so my feet got soaked.

“So we’ll use my terminal connections,” suggested Jim.

A couple of summer bachelors can spend no more profitable evening than pottering in their gardens with hoses and hoes. With a sharp knife I severed from my three-spliced hose both the nozzle and the tap connection. We attached Jim’s hose to the tap to locate the best spot in which to splice in my hose.

His tap connection was flawless. Not a drop oozed. His nozzle was pretty good, but it had only two kinds of spray – either a great heavy flood like hailstones beating the zinnias and phlox; or else a fine mist of spray that would take all night to dampen the pansies.

But it was the mid-section of Jim’s hose that really fell short. There were several soft spots, dozy, like punky wood. These allowed water to seep out. There were also several real cracks, from which spouts of water 10 feet high curved up in various directions when the tap was turned up full.

“Jim,” I said, “this looks to me like a deal you’re putting over on me. There isn’t a five-foot stretch of your hose that hasn’t got a leak in it.”

“Cut it in the middle,” urged Jim, “and we’ll splice your hose in. Maybe with a good 30-foot section in the middle, like that, the water will flow too fast through mine to leak.”

“Nonsense; the more the pressure, the greater the leak,” I stated. “I don’t think it’s worth while trying to splice yours. Wait minute.”

And I went along and counted seven leaks.

“Each of those leaks,” I pointed out, “would require at least six Inches of hose cut out. That reduces your hose by close to four feet. And seven splices would require seven splicers.”

“Oh, try it anyway,” cried Jim. “We’ve got two splicers. Hitch her up and see if we can get enough pressure at the nozzle to reach the back of your yard. If not, we will simply have to go and buy some substitute rubber hoses.”

So we squatted down and went to work on the splices. We cut Jim’s hose at the junction between the old smooth-bore and the later model ribbed hosing. Then we dragged mine up and spliced its 32 feet in between.

When we pounded the end of the ribbed iron splicer into Jim’s hose, the perished rubber split, and we had to keep on paring off an inch or two until we finally hit upon the idea of filing the splicer a little smoother.

We got it hitched at last and then Jim walked back to the tap and turned it on.

It was quite a performance. I was holding the nozzle. If I turned it to the coarse stream a wavering jet, about seven feet long, wobbled and splattered heavily on the turf, digging a hole. If I turned to the fine spray a round balloon appeared, about the size and shape of an umbrella, and most of it drifted back to me.

An Idea Dawns

But back down the hose there was a wonderful display. From Jim’s two sections seven different spurts rose and arched in various directions. From both splices angry little explosions hissed in all directions. And from my section, in the middle, one very fine spurt and two smaller ones divided the north and south about equally between them.

We stood and watched for a moment.

“Turn her off, turn her right off, at the nozzle!” cried Jim suddenly. “Turn the way for the fine spray until she goes tight off.”

I turned. And as I did so all the spurts and fizzles and splutters suddenly arched higher. And three new ones appeared.

Jim strode up to me.

“My boy,” he cried excitedly, “this has been staring mankind in the face for centuries. Ever since hoses were first invented, we’ve been enslaved by the one idea. The fire hose. The hose with one stream to be directed on one target. But a garden hose should have not one but 10 or 20 outlets.”

“Don’t you see?” he expanded, “Talk about substitute rubber and drinking tea and coffee! Why, it has taken the war to show us what a proper garden hose should be like. Instead of the human race having to stand on damp lawns, steering a silly hose yard by yard over the flower borders, we invent a modern hose, a hose with 10 or 15 little nozzles. And then, all we do is walk down and stretch the hose the length of the garden, turn her on, and then sit back in the garden chairs and watch the garden get watered properly, simultaneously and at our ease!”

“Jim, if we patent this!” I gloated expectantly.

I laid the nozzle end down, and we walked the length of the hose, inspecting the leaks. Those that were not quite big enough, I enlarged with my pen knife, until they threw a nice spurt about 10 feet.

“Cut new holes, at regular intervals,” suggested Jim.

And judiciously turning the tap on and off, we spaced our cuts at regular intervals, until we had a series of 19 jets that, with the evening breeze wavering them, covered the whole expanse of the garden.

“Think,” I said, as we sat back in the deck chairs and watched the play of the little fountains, “of the old-fashioned sprinklers. The kind you had to keep getting up every few minutes to walk over wet grass and get squirted yourself, shifting them from place to place.”

“All we have to do now,” added Jim, “when we’re through, is turn off the tap and haul the hose back in. Only our hands get wet.”

As we sat and gloated, my next door neighbor came out and looked over the fence.

“Some hose,” he remarked.

“There you see,” I informed him, “the birth of a great idea. It is going to be patented. Our fortunes are made. This is the Frise-Clark hose. Or the Frike hose. Or maybe the Clarf hose. History is being made before your eyes.”

“Didn’t you ever see a cloth hose?” inquired my neighbor.

“A what?” I inquired.

“A cloth hose that waters the ground all along its length?” he asked.

“I certainly didn’t,” I said. “But anyway, it doesn’t sprinkle.”

“Sprinkling is the worst feature of hoses,” said the neighbor. “If we could water our gardens without sprinkling the flowers and foliage, causing them to weaken and blight, but merely wetting the earth, we would have the ideal hose. And we’ve got it in the cloth hose.”

“Where did you ever see one?” I demanded.

“You could have seen one for the past three summers,” said the neighbor, “by just looking over the fence.”

Which we did. And there, draped along the flower borders and over the grass, was an earth-brown hose of cloth, originally white, he told us. And it was quietly leaking water onto the parched earth, leaving the flowers and foliage to the dew, but richly soaking the ground and the roots.

“I got it,” he explained, “rather than one of those substitute rubber things.”

Jim and I went back to our garden chairs.

“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “I like the look of ours better.”

And we noticed, at the same time, that the spurts were not quite so high.

But when we counted them, instead of 19, there were already 22.


Editor’s Note: Rubber was rationed during World War Two. Innovations in the different types of synthetic rubber was stepped up to meet demand.

Squeaks don’t come any Narrower!

By Greg Clark, July 7, 1930

“I’d like to see Mr. Denison, please,” I said to the lady at the desk in the hospital corridor.

Yes, hospital. Merrill, whether from the after affects of being jiggled on a horse’s back or from too much golf, was taken from the train at an eastern town and rushed to hospital where he was operated on for appendicitis.

And taking the first train after hearing the bad news, I dashed down to his assistance.

“Mr. Denison?” asked the lady in white. “You mean Dr. Denison.”

“Ha, ha,” said I to myself, “the big scamp is masquerading as a doctor is he! Doctor of what? Doctor of architecture, doctor of horse-back riding, doctor of expense accounts?”

“Very well,” said I to the lady, “Doctor Denison.”

Far be it from me to disrupt any of Merrill’s little schemes.

“You are expected,” said the lady in white. “If you will just come this way, I will hand you over to the nurses.”

It was a nice little hospital, surrounded by beautiful bushy gardens, and its corridors were spotless and shiny. I was glad Merrill had the good fortune, if he must be stricken away from home, to land into such a hospital as this.

The lady in white led me down the corridor into a small white room. On a table lay a quantity of linen. And at one side of the room stood one of those wheeled cots on which the sick are taken for a ride.

“Just undress here,” said the lady in white, and put on that white gown there. When you are ready, ring this bell and the nurse will come for you.”

I looked at her in astonishment.

“Undress?” said I.

“Of course,” said she.

“Why undress?” I demanded.

“You can’t go in your business clothes,” said she.

“Ah,” said I, “for sanitation’s sake?”

“Exactly,” said the lady in white, going out the door.

Well, the last thing in the world I would do would be to carry germs into Merrill, lying there exhausted from his operation. But how wonderful, I said to myself as I unbuttoned my collar, the way science is advancing! Here in a small city hospital you couldn’t even go in to visit a friend without undressing and putting on a sanitary nightgown.

“I suppose,” said I, as I removed my boots, “the next thing they will be doing will be making you take a bath before you can visit a friend in hospital.”

The hospital nightie did not exactly fit me. It was more like a tent than a nightshirt. But I liked its extreme modesty.

I rang the bell.

Two nurses entered the room.

“Will you come this way, sir, for your bath?” said the one with the blue eyes.

“Bath!” said I.

“Yes, sir, you must take a bath.”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered,” said I.

So they led me through an inner corridor and left at the bathroom where I had a real good shower. It was a dandy needle shower. I felt fine. Merrill, said I, will be glad to look at a chap as fresh and rosy as me. After the train journey, this bath is a good idea.

“This Gentleman Pulls a New One”

When I came out of the bathroom, the nurses were sitting waiting for me.

“Now we will go to the ante-room,” said the blue-eyed one, “where the male nurse will prepare you.”

“Prepare me?” said I. “Is anything wrong?”

“No,” said the blue-eyed nurse. “Prepare you means shave you and that sort of thing.”

“But I shaved this morning,” said I, somewhat indignantly, for even on a train I pride myself on giving my chin a good clean scrape.

The blue-eyed nurse laughed prettily.

“He’ll do a much better job,” said the nurse.

“Well,” said I, “your hospital is away ahead of anything in Toronto. I never heard of such precautions as you take. Why, you would think I was the world’s champion germ carrier. But if you don’t mind, nurse, I think we will pass up the shave. I feel perfectly presentable now.”

“Dr. Denison insists on everything,” said the nurse.

“He would be to glad to see me if I was covered with mud.” said I.

“Well,” said the nurse, “I’ll have to see the superintendent. Will you wait here?”

I waited. Presently the two young nurses came back with an elderly lady with a peculiarly cool and determined face.

“Good morning,” said she. “How do you feel?”

“Great,” said I.

“Have you any pain?” said the superintendant.

“Pain,” I snorted. I never felt better in my life.”

“That’s splendid,” said the superintendent. “Now, tell me, did it have a flexible handle?”

“I beg your pardon,” said I.

“Did it have a flexible handle? Or a stiff handle? In other words,” said the superintendent, “will it bend?”

“I certainly beg your pardon,” said I, entirely bewildered.

“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent.

“What toothbrush?” I asked.

The superintendent turned and winked at the two nurses who were smiling shyly.

“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “that you swallowed.”

It was like a dream. I have had looney dreams like this often.

“I didn’t swallow any toothbrush,” said I, laughing.

“No?” said the superintendent. “Now, like a good man, you just come with us to the ante-room where the male attendant will prepare you. It’ll all be over in no time.”

“Look here,” said I, “there’s a mistake somewhere. I didn’t swallow any toothbrush. All I came here for was to visit my friend Mr. Denison.”

“Now that is ingenious,” said the superintendent to the two young nurses, talking to them just as if I were not there at all, or as if I were a specimen in a case. “It is not at all uncommon for patients to lose their nerve at the door of the operating room. And they are very clever about it too. But this gentleman pulls a new one. He was coming to visit his friend Mr. Denison. I must tell Dr. Denison that.”

She led on. I stood fast.

“Look here,” said I. “Excuse me. Just be good enough to ask Mr. Denison if he is expecting me.”

“Dr. Denison is expecting you,” said she. “He is changing now. You must be ready in five minutes.”

“But I don’t know any Dr. Denison,” said I, shakily, for I could see no way out of this. “I just got off the train half an hour ago and dashed up here to see my friend Denison, who was operated on for appendicitis yesterday.”

Bound, Gagged and Bathed

“There is no Mr. Denison operated on for appendicitis here,” said the superintendent. “Come, come, sir, pull yourself together. You are in a very dangerous situation.”

“I know it,” said I.

“If that toothbrush gets past a certain point, you are likely to have peritonitis and die.”

“Look here,” I yelled, “I swallowed no toothbrush!”

The superintendent turned to the nurses.

“This is the gentleman?”

“He was handed over to us,” they said.

“Short, medium stout,” said the superintendent, sizing me up. “How was he dressed?”

“In a brown suit,” said the blue-eyed nurse.

“Rather shabby?”

“Well, yes,” said the blue-eyed nurse. Never put your faith in blue-eyed nurses. They look at you with such sweet eyes, but they think your suit is shabby.

“This the man all right,” said the superintendent. “Just call MacWhirtie.”

It was impossible to look dignified in that nightshirt. I knew that. Then the door opened, and in came great giant of a sandy-haired Scotchman in overalls, the kind they have one of in every hospital. His hair grew down almost to his eyebrows, and he had blue, simple eyes.

“Just help this gentleman into the ante-room,” said the superintendent.

“Hand’s off!” I roared as MacWhirtie advanced.

But, making soothing and clucking noises, MacWhirtie swept me up, smothered me in the colossal nightshirt and laid me down on a table. I struggled. He held me down.

“Careful,” said the superintendent. “He’s got a toothbrush in him. Don’t let him struggle like that.”

So MacWhirtie got one of those crag-climbing strangle holds on me, and pinned me down.

I could see, from under MacWhirtie’s arm, a pallid little man in soiled white overalls approaching me with a shaving mug and an old fashioned razor.

“Get away from me,” I yelled.

The door opened and in walked a tall thin blond man.

“Well, well,” said he.

“Dr. Denison, this the gentleman that swallowed the toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “and he has got a little fright just at the last minute.”

“We’ll soothe him,” said the doctor, “Get off, MacWhirtie.”

I sat up.

“Doctor,” said I, “there will be the devil to pay over this. I just came in on the train half an hour ago…”

“Where do you feel it now?” asked the doctor, sitting down on the edge of the table, and putting a kindly arm around my shoulder.

“I say,” I said stoutly, “I came up here to visit my friend Mr. Merrill Denison who yesterday was operated on for appendicitis. And they have seized me, bound me, gagged me, bathed me, put me into this nightshirt…”

“Well, well,” said Dr. Denison.

“Well, well, nothing!” I shouted. “I warn you I am not the man you think I am.”

“Then why did you accept the nightshirt and take the bath?” asked the doctor, good-humoredly and patiently. “Like a good chap, now, pull yourself together.”

“Listen,” said I, desperately, and probably by this time I did look like a man who had swallowed a toothbrush, “how do I get out of this?”

“Just as soon we get the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “All right, MacWhirtie, just assist the gentleman into the operating room and we’ll do without the shave. I’ll use plenty of alcohol first.”

Blue-Eyed Nurses Should be Forbidden

MacWhirtie assisted me.

He laid me down on a cold marble table with dazzling lights in my face. I lay there wondering what Merrill would have done in such a predicament as this. Merrill would have said something witty. But I couldn’t think of anything witty. MacWhirtie was standing over me, with a great compassionate look on his simple face.

I smelt druggy smells. I heard something making sizzing noises. The nurses were busily dashing about the dazzling room. They rolled a big thing like a tank on a baggage hand truck over beside me. I sat up. MacWhirtie laid me down.

A silence fell on us all. The doctor smiled down on me.

Then the door of the operating room opened.

The lady in white who met me at the door of the hospital, stood there.

“The gentleman who swallowed the toothbrush is waiting downstairs,” said she.

The silence continued.

Nobody moved.

The smile faded from the bending face of the doctor.

MacWhirtie put one hand under me and helped me sit up.

“Well,” said I.

The blue-eyed nurse started to giggle. I think blue-eyed nurses should be forbidden. They have no sense of other people’s dignity.

“Well, sir,” said I, “you nearly had me disembowelled!”

“We were just going to X-ray you for the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “It would have been quite a hunt.”

“Now, how about taking me upstairs to see Mr. Denison,” said I.

“There is no Mr. Denison here,” said the superintendent in a business like voice. She was the sort of lady who takes the offensive especially when she in the wrong.

“I have a telegram in my pants, if I can get them,” said I, “informing me that he is here.”

“Maybe he is at the other hospital,” said the doctor.

“What other hospital?” I asked.

“There are two hospitals here,” said the doctor, “Just go to the phone and ask if there is a Mr. Denison over there.”

The blue-eyed nurse hurried out.

By the time I got my clothes on, which I donned in the same room with scared little man who was hastily undressing, the nurse informed me that Mr. Denison was indeed at the other hospital.

I shook hands with everybody, the doctor, MacWhirtie, the little man who was now wearing the large nightshirt, and even the blue-eyed nurse.

Then I took a taxi over to the other hospital.

“Mr. Denison?” said the lady in white sitting in the corridor of this hospital. “Just come this way.”

She led me down a corridor.

“Just a minute,” said I. She halted.

“I shaved this morning,” said I. “I’ve had a bath, this suit was French-cleaned only the day before yesterday, and I’m in highly sanitary condition.”

“Yes, sir,” said the lady in white, stiffly.

She opened door.

And there, pale, weary, but with one eye shut in silent greeting, lay Merrill.


Editor’s Note: This is one of the early “pre-Greg-Jim” stories that Greg wrote co-starring fellow writer Merrill Denison, from the Star Weekly. He also worked as a playwright and would later move to New York and still contribute occasionally to the Star Weekly. Jim would often illustrate these stories.

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