The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Repairs Page 1 of 2

High Wire

“I spread my arms wide on the shingles and wiggled inch by inch up that precipitous slope to Jimmie’s assistance…”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 6, 1935.

“My radio,” said Jimmie Frise, “is on the bum.”

“The same here,” I said. “Last night, I couldn’t get anything but sopranos and dramas.”

“I mean,” said Jimmie, “mine won’t work. It hisses and squawks and when you do get a program, it throbs and wavers.”

“You should have heard the soprano I had on last night,” I agreed. “Talk about throbbing and squawking.”

“What I mean is,” persisted Jim, “there is something mechanical wrong with mine.”

“Don’t be too sure,” I argued. “Even if you buy a new one, you’ll get sopranos that hiss and squeal worse than if your tubes were worn out. And dramas – there are certain hours, nowadays, where you can twist right around the dial and find nothing but dramas, tense-voiced men and terrified women. My idea is that we radio listeners should be able, at all times, to get what we want on the radio.”

“Oh, is that so?” said Jim.

“Certainly it’s so,” I said heatedly. “Why shouldn’t it be?”.

“Did it never occur to you,” demanded Jim, “that the people who put on that free entertainment are doing a rather magnificent thing for us?”

“Free?” I shouted. “Do you call it free entertainment when I pay $300 for the machine that allows those guys to shove their commercial advertisements right into the sanctity of my home?”

“Er-ah,” said Jim.

“Er-ah, exactly,” I said. “You are like a lot of other people. You sit down with a sappy grin and listen thankfully while hundreds of commercial enterprises come and yell at you.”

“But some of those advertisers,” pointed out Jimmie, “pay as much as $10,000 for a half-hour program.”

“Why shouldn’t they,” I inquired, “when there are potentially 1,000,000 listeners? We shouldn’t have to listen to baloney. There should be a law against baloney.”

“You could easily turn it off if you don’t like it,” explained Jim.

“Why should I have to get up, in my own home,” I shouted, “and turn off my own machine because some public nuisance is allowed on the air?”

“I never heard that argument before,” admitted Jim.

“Well,” I said, “there are too many sopranos and too many dramas on the air. And too many public speakers. And too many comedians. And too many gabblers. Gabble, gabble, gabble. Do you know, there is a fortune waiting for the announcer who will speak in a slow, dreamy voice? The way some of those announcers talk, you’d think they were describing a hotel fire.”

A Kind of Electric Scum

“Well, even so, I wish my radio was working right,” said Jim. “There are enough lovely programs to make it worth while.”

“Sure there are,” I agreed. “There is the Booka Boola hour. They don’t even announce the program. They just start a vast, heavenly orchestra and a more than heavenly choir. And for half an hour, without a single yammering, stuttering human voice to spoil it, they fill your house with ecstasy.”

“And the symphonies on Sunday,” said Jim.

“You can always turn off the commentator,” I admitted, “the guy who needs to clear his throat. He’s got me coughing so hard by the time his turn is over, I can’t hear the rest of the program. Curious about commentators, isn’t it? They’ve all got a bad cold.”

“I think it’s my tubes,” said Jim. “Although I got a new set just before Christmas.”

“Maybe it’s your aerial,” I said.

“I haven’t got an aerial,” said Jim.

“What?” I cried. “No aerial? How do you expect to catch the music out of the air without an aerial?” Hah, hah, hah, “so you’re radio isn’t working right?”

“Lot’s of people haven’t got aerials,” affirmed Jim.

“Nonsense, my dear boy,” I assured him. “You’ve simply got to have an aerial. Don’t you understand the first principles of radio? Don’t you appreciate the simplest everyday facts of radio?”

“I do not,” confessed Jim.

“The ether,” I showed him, “is full of waves. Not little waves like on Lake Ontario or even on the Atlantic ocean. But great big waves, as you can understand, seeing how big nothing is as compared with something. See?”

“Certainly,” said Jim.

“So these colossal waves go waving along, sometimes more than other times; for instance, when there is a storm, the waves are rough, as you can see from your radio. In bad weather, it is harder to catch the music with your aerial than in nice smooth weather.”

“I always understood,” interrupted Jim, “that radio was instantaneous. That we heard the music at the same instant it was heard in the studio away off in New York or London.”

“That just goes to show you,” I said, “how fast those ether waves are. But they have to be fast. They have to travel from here to the moon, to the sun, to the farthest star. And naturally, if a wave has to travel that far, it has got to be moving. That is, if it wants to get there in any sort of time at all. If the ether waves were slow, they might get so tired going a billion miles that they would lose interest altogether in where they were going. So you see the scientific principle there? They have a long way to go. So naturally, they go fast.”

“I think I follow you,” said Jim.

“Anyway, there on the top of that illimitable sea of ether, with gigantic waves flowing away in all directions, floats a sort of wreckage, a sort of flotsam and jetsam, of squeaks, squeals, moans, groans, words, notes, howls, yowls, bawls, squalls.”

“I can see it,” said Jim, closing his eyes. “A sort of scum.”

“A kind of electric scum,” I corrected, “to put it scientifically. You have to understand the science of physics these days, Jim. And this is where your aerial comes in.”

“Ah,” said Jim.

“You stick your aerial up into the air,” I demonstrated, “and it has, as you may have noticed, a kind of fish net or trap of wires on it. It catches that scum. That floating wreckage from a thousand ships. And down the wire into your house comes that stuff you catch in your aerial trap.”

“Mmmmm,” agreed Jim. “But how do you select only certain wreckage from all that must get tangled in your aerial?”

“That is done,” I said, “by the dials. That would be too technical for a beginner like you to understand. But you can see how important it is to have an aerial. My dear chap, without an aerial, you can’t expect to trap anything. No wonder you have been getting nothing.”

“I wonder how much it costs to put up an aerial?” Jim mused.

“Don’t be absurd,” I said. “You can put up the aerial yourself. Just get some wire and make a sort of bird cage out of it.”

“I have an old bird cage down cellar,” said Jim.

“Perfect,” I assured him. “Nail the bird cage on to a clothes prop, fasten a wire that will run to the ground, and nail the pole to the roof. Simple.”

“Lend me a hand?” asked Jim.

“Sure,” said I.

So we arranged to attend to the matter before supper, when we would still have daylight. It was only a matter of a few minutes to fasten the old bird cage on to a clothes prop and to attach to it the end of a long piece of telephone wire that would run down and in Jimmie’s side window. Jim borrowed ladders from a neighbor and we set them up to the roof.

“Which end will you carry?” asked Jim.

“You don’t need me up there,” I smiled.

“Of course I do,” cried Jim. “It’s the only place I do need you.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Jim, but I get the jimjams up any heights. You know that.”

“Listen, you’re on a roof. A big broad roof. Don’t be silly, I can’t hold it and nail it, both.”

“Absolutely no, Jim,” I assured him. “I get dizzy even hanging pictures.”

“What did I ask you to help me for?” cried Jim. “Was it to help me nail this thing in the cellar?”

“You’ll need somebody to stay on the ground and tell you if you have it straight up,” I pointed out. “I’ll do that part.”

“Then,” said Jim, “I’ll have to put it off until I get somebody with enough insides to climb a ladder on to a practically flat roof.”

“Being afraid of heights is not a matter of insides,” I protested. “It has to do with deep and hidden complexes. It is due…”

“Never mind,” said Jim, starting back to the cellar door.

“All right, then,” I said. “I’ll help. I’ll take the lower end. You go first.”

Alone On the Ridge

So Jim went up the ladder first, hoisting the bird cage end of the pole, and I followed, bearing the heavy or bottom end of the pole. Jim went carefully. So did I. Jim got to the roof.

“Wait till I take off my boots,” he called down. “Hold everything.”

“You’ll catch cold,” I warned, for the evening was growing dark and chill. Jim’s boots passed me going down. Then I saw his legs vanish slowly over the edge of the roof. Only his hands showing, he hoisted the pole, and I lifted.

“Hold steady,” said Jim, quietly, when I came to the top. He was sprawled out. What had looked like a big flat roof was now a steep and precipitous cliff.

“I’ll stay here,” I said, clutching the rungs and hooking my feet.

“Take off your boots,” said Jim, “it’s easy then, in your sock feet.”

“Never,” I assured him. “Just never.”

Jim shoved the pole and cage ahead of him, and with arms and legs spread wide, hinched himself up that awful eerie slope.

I closed my eyes and just hung tight.

“All right,” called Jim. “Come along.” When I opened my eyes, Jim was sitting straddle the roof peak, holding the pole upright beside the chimney.

“Come and hold it while I nail it here,” said Jim unsteadily.

“Jim, I’m sorry,” I said. “It couldn’t be done.”

Jim stared grimly at me in the twilight. The air was growing colder. Grimly, he stared.

“So,” he said, “my old friend, my dear old friend, gets me straddled up here and leaves me flat.”

I hooked one leg through the rungs. I slowly untied my laces. I heard my boots drop sickeningly to the distant earth.

I spread my arms wide on the shingles. I inched myself forward, my sock feet clinging pathetically to the last rungs. I thought of the war. I remembered crawling like this, so flat, across dark hushed fields, and I wished I was back at the war again, in No Man’s Land, out from Mericourt. It was better there.

I felt Jim’s grip on my arm. I got up straddled beside him. I held the pole. Jim nailed and hammered. He wound wire around the chimney.

“Now,” he said, “wait here until I go down and attach the wire to the radio, to see if we have the connections right.”

“It’ll be all right, Jim,” I said. “Let’s both go down together.”

“Wait,” said Jim, already leeching his way down the slope. “I’ll holler as soon as I find it’s working.”

“Don’t be long,” I called, as his head vanished over the edge.

I sat astride the ridge. The darkness was settling. The houses far below me across the street were all warmly lighted.

The Roof Gets Steeper

Suddenly, up the chimney, through the house, out the windows of Jim’s house, I heard a great orchestral boom. The radio was working. Working immensely. The house seemed to tremble, to vibrate with it.

“Ah,” I said, clearing my throat and getting ready to make the descent. I would call Jim up on some pretext, so that he would be standing at the top of the ladder to receive me.

I heard the program change. I heard it loud and then soft; I heard men’s voices jabbering fiercely in the supper-time children’s hour.

“Hey,” I roared.

A man passing quickly on the street, homeward bent, paused and looked all around him. Then hurried on.

Down the chimney, I roared: “Hey, hey.”

And in the Frise house, the tumult and thunder of a radio in good working order filtered through cracks and windows and walls and chimney. It was dark.

“Hey,” I bellowed, covering my sock feet with my coat tails.

I thought of taking my penknife and throwing it at a window of a neighboring house. But there were no windows near enough. I watched for passing pedestrians, but everybody in Jimmie’s district comes home by car. A dog went by. I yelled at him. He just ran.

“Help, Help, HAAAALP,” I get go.

I drummed with my heels on Jim’s roof. But all I heard was a constantly shifting faint series of programs, as Jimmie and all his family tried out the beautiful radio.

And every single minute that passed, that vanishing roof grew steeper.

“I-I don’t even know exactly where the ladder end is,” I quavered to myself. “Oh, haaaaaalllp.”

Then I solved it. I reached out and caught the aerial wire. I gave it a sharp yank. It parted.

I waited.

“Hello, up there,” came Jimmie’s voice from the backyard.

“Come up,” I said, “something has happened to the aerial.”

Jim came up. I saw his head emerge over the edge.

“Wait there,” I said. And down the slope I crabbed, my feet feeling for him.

“It suddenly faded,” said Jim.

“The wind shifted the pole,” I said. “I think the wire parted.”

So while I went down the ladder, Jim removed his boots and clawed up to the bird cage.

“Physics,” I said to him, as he came down and joined me at the foot of the ladder, “is a thing everybody ought to know a little about in these days.”

Editor’s Notes: This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978). I like the fact that in the introduction to that book, they call out this story as an example of “the old days”, because imagine that you need an aerial on the roof for your radio! But then aerials for television would go from common for 40 years only to become scarce again for 20-30 years, but you now see some digital aerials back on houses.

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?”). ↩︎

Concrete Facts

With his little drill, the man set to work on the cement…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 23, 1935.

“There are, say, about fifty guys in the world,” said Jimmie Frise, “who know whether there is going to be war and who’s to be in it. Fifty guys. A few politicians, a few big bankers and generals. The rest of us three or four hundred millions in Europe and America just sit back and wait.”

“I’m sorry, Jim,” I confessed. “But the people chose them.”

“So they just leave things to them,” went on Jim. “They chose them, of course, because of their great interest in their welfare, didn’t they? They elected all those big international financiers and statesmen and generals, didn’t they? They went through the highways and by-ways of the world, seeking the most upright, gentle, kindly and humane of all men. And these they set up at their head, and said, brother, lead us in green pastures, beside the still waters.1

“Not exactly that way.” I agreed.

“No,” cried Jim. “Not exactly. But by reason of their brain-power, their hunger for wealth and influence, their incentive, as they call it; by reason of the drive and fury and cleverness, they chose themselves, rose up, fighting, scheming, battling, manoeuvring, gathering, amassing and hoarding, until they became the leaders, whether they were politicians or generals or super business men.”

“Aw, Jimmie,” I complained, “you’re bitter.”

“Bitter?” asked Jim. “Bitter? Oh, no. I’m just so happy that all over the world. there are such unselfish, humanitarian gentlemen at the controls of the human race.”

“How can people get a more tender type of man to be their rulers?” I demanded.

“If I knew,” said Jim, “I would tell you.”

“Well, then,” I shouted, “what do you suppose people can do about it? I don’t want a war any more than anybody else. But how can you stop them?”

“If I knew,” said Jim, “I would tell you.”

“It gives me an awful pessimistic feeling,” I submitted.

“You are a student of Nature,” began Jimmie, sitting back. “You spend all the time you can out on the good earth, looking at the birds, the trees, the flowers. I have seen you, almost like a simpleton, standing watching just the seasons coming and going. You love the good earth. It is a religion to you.”

“Yes,” I breathed.

“Very well,” said Jim. “In your interest and devotion to Nature, are you one of those who thinks we humans are outside Nature. Do you think we are something separate from Nature, and that Nature is only a sort of picture, at which we, from the outside, gaze?”

“Nature is God,” I said.

“Or do you think we humans are part of Nature itself,” questioned Jim; “that we are right inside the frame of that picture, part with the animals, the birds, the trees, the good earth itself?””

“That is the way I try to feel,” I admitted. “That is why I stand, if you like, like a simpleton, just feeling, feeling the seasons come and go. Come and go.”

Fighting Off the Facts

“I’ve got that feeling lately,” said Jim, gently. “This last while, with all the wars and confusions and muddles we humans are in, I have developed the notion within my own heart, that after all, we are only an item in Nature, and that now Nature’s laws are in process of working on us.”

“How?” I asked.

“Except in us humans,” said Jim, “the law of life is the law of the jungle. But we shouldn’t call it the law of the jungle. Because the law of the jungle also applies to the song birds in Muskoka and the mice in York county; we deceive ourselves when we talk, solemnly, about the law of the jungle, because that makes it seem far away. It is right here. In our gardens. The terrible, basic, stark law of Nature, the survival of the fittest.”

“And how do we come into it?” I inquired.

Because we humans,” said Jim, “are in the picture of Nature, too. And Nature’s laws govern us before any other laws. For some two or three thousand years, we have been artificially fighting off the facts by endlessly, struggling to prove that we are better than beasts, that there is something higher and nobler in us, that we are, after all, outside the grim grip of Nature.”

“And we aren’t?” I asked.

“We aren’t,” said Jim. “I show you the whole round world to prove it. In this age of grace, here we are looting and destroying and enslaving. Despite all the ruins of beauty two thousand years old, we are smashing and destroying again just like the Goths and Vandals who made those ruins, two thousand years ago. You can’t beat Nature. Nature has us in her grip.”

“This is terribly pessimistic, Jim,” I groaned.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Jimmie. “Maybe we weren’t ever intended to be civilized. Maybe all this war and international confusion is just Nature’s patient way of sending us back to the good earth again, to dwell in caves and rude huts again, and to take our place in the good old natural struggle against bears and sabre-tooth tigers, and to hunt the mammoth.”

“The bees live in communities, Jim,” I pointed out, “and they have no wars.”

“And no politics, either,” explained Jimmie. “And they don’t elect their queen bee, either. She doesn’t rise up to enslave all her fellow bees. She’s born. God creates her. She hatches from the egg a different shape and size, bigger, more beautifully colored. She is queen by Nature’s decree, not the bees’.”

“Then it is not a case of going back to the land,” I suggested.

“Not at all,” said Jim. “It is going back to the jungle. Give us another great big slaughter of a war, another completely smashing and exhausting war, and about ninety-nine per cent. of us will be glad to throw together a valise full of blankets, pails and frying pans and beat it forever from so-called civilization to live alone, in isolated families, in some secret, safe forest. That is where Nature raised us. We left it of our own free will. We worked out a scheme called civilization. It wasn’t Nature’s idea. If Nature had that idea, she would have worked it out with some of her other creatures. So now we are headed back to where we belong.”

To Abandon Civilization

“Will you come and see me sometimes, Jimmie?” I asked. “Maybe we could get a couple of forests not too far apart. Let’s arrange a series of whistles and signals so that we can find one another once in a while. We could pass our signals down to our children so that a Clark would never fling a spear into a Frise, as they lurk through the jungle.”

“Maybe we could both go to the same. forest.” thought Jimmie. “You and your kids take one end of it, and I and my kids. would take the other.”

“It would never do, Jim,” I explained. “Sooner or later, it would come to a blood feud, and your great grandchildren would slay mine, or vice versa. The way it is now, the birds in Muskoka arrive on their ancestral nesting grounds, and they fight, even the tiny little white-throated sparrows that sing ‘Poor old Canada, Canada, Canada’, even these bright, tiny birds fight like demons amongst themselves until, by the time the nests are to be built, no two birds occupy the same feeding range of so many acres of bush. I have seen deadly battles between wrens, tiny brown wrens. All because they could not both nest in the same section of bush. There wasn’t enough feed in that one area of bush to support two families of wrens. Now Nature knows just how much woods a wren needs for its bailiwick. And Nature decrees that these wrens shall fight to the death, if necessary, until only one wren remains to nest. That’s Nature. And it isn’t in any jungle, either. It’s in every beautiful glade in Muskoka and all over the great big world.”

“Well,” said Jim sadly, “when the time comes for us to abandon civilization and head back for the bush, we can at least go part way together. We might go up Yonge St. as far as Orillia together.”

So we sat, brooding on the imminent end of a life-long friendship.

“Speaking of war,” said Jim, at length, “I have to lay a new concrete floor in my cellar. I was out getting the cement and stuff last night. And I was just thinking, hadn’t I better build a sort of concrete pill box in my cellar while I am at it? For air raids, and so forth.”

“And earthquakes, too,” I pointed out. “A good concrete vault in the cellar might prove a very handy item if these earthquakes become a habit around here.”

“War and earthquakes,” mused Jim. “The two things we can’t control. In the face of these two great manifestations of Nature, man can do nothing but fall back wholly on himself. What good are communities, cities, states, when an earthquake or a war strikes? Nothing. It is each poor little man for himself, just the same as in the jungle.”

“My dear boy, in war,” I protested, “men are in mass.”

“Yet every man is all alone,” stated Jim. “When you die, it is a solitary business. There is little or no satisfaction that ten other men are dying with you.”

“I fail to see it,” I declared. “It was just to defeat these disasters of war and earth- quake and what not that man invented the social idea and formed communities, instead of facing life lonely and alone, each in his separate den, like bears, in the jungle.”

“The deadliest feature of society,” propounded Jimmie, “is that masses of innocent men are swept away in the passion of war; and as far as earthquakes go I imagine you could survive it by yourself, but think of the dreadful battle in a great city to secure food and drinking water, just the simple essentials, after a real good earthquake? No, sir, either for war or earthquake, I would rather have a concrete pill box in the back areas of Muskoka than live on the finest avenue in Toronto. I think I’ll build me a pill box.”

“It might almost pay you,” I agreed. “About the safest place I ever was in in the war was a German pill box at Passchendaele. It was sunk in the ground almost to ceiling level. Its walls were five feet solid concrete and its roof was seven feet solid concrete. No shell could ever smash it.”

“Did any shells hit it while you were in it?” asked Jim.

“Several,” I said. “They sounded like somebody dropping a boot upstairs, that’s all.”

“What were you doing in the pill box?” asked Jim idly.

“Well, it sounds silly, but I had a typewriter,” I said, “and I was typing out the recommendation for Tommie Holmes’ V.C.”

“How quaint,” said Jim. “In a war, sitting in a pill box, with a typewriter, typing out a recommendation.”

“In septuplicate, too,” I added. “Six carbon copies and one original. In a pill box. In the mud. With shells landing on the top and sounding like a boot dropped upstairs.”

Nice Concrete Porridge

“War,” said Jimmie, “is silly.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “but now that my memory recaptures that scene, twenty years ago, I was just figuring how you would build that heavy concrete pill box. We ought to remember things like that, Jim. We might need them some day again.”

“How would you like to come over tonight,” asked Jim, “and help me mix concrete for my cellar floor?”

“Nothing,” I said, “would please me better.”

So I got out my muskie fishing overalls and old boots and went over to Jim’s after supper where he had suspended the start of operations until I should arrive.

Jim had built a concrete mixing box in the yard. It was like a mortar mixing box, of planks, about six feet square and a foot high. I explained to Jim that the way concrete was really mixed was in a machine. But Jim solved that by showing me he had bought a new quick-drying cement that dried in a very short while, and you mixed fine sand with it to make it the consistency you required.

So Jim arranged that, while I mixed and stirred the concrete, he would hod2 it down to the cellar and spread it.

It was a fine starry night. We flung in bags of sand and bags of cement, and stirred in water with the hose. We made a nice porridge of concrete, and colored it with red powder from another bag. Jim had a little cup to test the proper thickness of the mixture.

“If it stands up, it is too thick,” said Jim. “If it smears down, it is too thin, but if it just sags a little, it is just right.”

So while Jim tested, I stirred, and finally we got just the right mixture of cement, sand and water, and Jim proceeded to carry the hod down into his brightly lighted cellar.

Up and down he trotted, while I stirred and stirred. In between hod trips, I tried, under the stars, a few little designs of pill boxes and bombproof shelters of one kind and another. I scooped out small handfuls of the concrete and moulded the little fortifications on Jimmie’s lawn.

About the tenth trip Jim made down the cellar, I was stooping down with a sort of ultra-modern design of a pill box, for dealing with poison gas as well as bombs and shells, when I inadvertently backed up against the board wall of the concrete mixing box.

And in a second, I had toppled backwards into the soggy cement. I sank a foot. I rolled over, keeping my chin above the heavy, boggy mixture, and got my elbows on the bottom and heaved.

But in rolling over. I had gathered my overalls a heavy load of the cement and it weighed me down.

“Jimmie,” I shouted loudly. “Jimmie.”

Jim came up the cellar steps.

“Quick, Jim,” I shouted. “It’s drying.”

And Jim rushed and took a grip my head and dragged me out of the box.

Wonderful Discovery

“What the heck?” he asked.

“I tripped, and fell in,” I explained.

“Well, it seems to be pretty dry, why haven’t you been stirring it?” demanded Jim. “Quick, come down cellar till we get your clothes off.”

Like a knight in heavy armor, I waddled to the cellar stairs and eased myself down. I was carrying about six inches of concrete all over me, except my head. My feet were the heaviest.

“Snappy,” said Jim. “It’s drying. And the heat of your body is helping it. This new-fangled concrete dries fast.”

I felt no panic. I reached the cellar and took my time selecting a good spot to undress, off Jim’s freshly laid floor.

“O.k.,” I said. “Unbutton the top button of my overalls, Jim.”

Jim shoved his hands into the concrete and I felt him fumbling for the button. My own hands were useless, encased in huge boxing gloves of the stuff.

Then I felt Jim starting to grab and fumble faster and faster and I looked at his face. It was white.

“It’s hardened,” he gasped. “Wait till I get a hammer or something.”

But by the time Jimmie had failed to find his hammer and had called at two neighbors until he borrowed one, I was encased in solid concrete from head to foot.

“My dear chap,” Jim groaned, as he beheld me, solidly rooted into the fresh concrete of his new floor.

“Jim,” I said, “get busy. Get a chisel. Get some stone masons. Phone the Labor Temple3. Get a bomb.”

Jim was hammering at me. It was vain. It was idle. His blows did not sound even like a little girl’s slipper falling to the floor in the room above.

“Jim,” I said, “on second thought, I tell you what you do. Go and get a hod of that concrete upstairs and pour it over my head. Encase me. Mummify me. Seal me up forever, and then at last I will be safe against all bombs and shells and poison gas and everything.”

“I wish,” said Jim, “I had never talked the way I did. Can you stand it until I go and get help?”

“I feel a great peace,” I stated.

And as I stood there, waiting for Jim to return with a squad of concrete workers and masons with mallets and roadworkers with those automatic machines for chopping up pavement. I thought how wonderful was my discovery!

“All we need,” I mused, “is a bag of this rapid-drying cement in the cellar of every house, one bag per member of a family. And a gas mask each. And the instant the alarm is sounded, everybody dive for the cellar, mix up a batch of concrete, bathe in it, adjust the nozzle of the gas mask in the mouth, pour the last hodful over the head and, presto – a personal pill box, a private, intimate fortress. And let the enemy do his worst, he cannot reach us in our final and complete individuality.”

But Jim just brought one man with him, a little old man in an old frayed sweater coat: and he, with a little electric buzzer sort of thing, cut a few cuts in the concrete and peeled it off me like peeling an orange.

“Jim,” I said, “our fortunes are made.”

But I didn’t tell him about it yet, because I want to have it patented.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. From the Bible, Psalm 23. ↩︎
  2. A hod is a three-sided box mounted on a pole for carrying bricks, mortar, or other construction materials over the shoulder. ↩︎
  3. A Labor Temple is in reference to a building like a community centre that houses labour unions. ↩︎

Paint Job!

Rusty saw a cat. Then the tragedy happened. He chased the silly cat… it took a flying jump on to the car

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 10, 1934.

“Your car,” said Jimmie Frise, “needs a paint job.”

“It has reached the stage,” I admitted, “where it either has to have a paint job or it has to be turned in.”

“With an engine like that,” said Jim, “you would be crazy to turn it in.”

“The funny part of it is,” I said, “a paint job at the moment seems more expensive than the first instalment on a new car.”

“Heavens!” said Jim.

“A paint job,” I pointed out, “will cost $50. Right now. Whereas the first instalment on a new car will only come to about $38. And then I won’t have to pay it till a month from now!”

Jimmie looked at me curiously.

“I suppose,” he said, “the bulk of the public is like you.”

“I pride myself,” I agreed, “that I am an average man.”

“I tell you what,” said Jim. “I’m an artist. Color is my line. I am free and easy with a paint brush. If you like I will help you do a paint job on your car.”

“A home-made paint job,” I demurred, “always looks amateurish.”

“Sir,” said Jim, indignantly, “not even the most expert car painting establishments have artists in their employ!”

“I beg your pardon, Jimmie,” I cried hastily. “Of course I would be delighted to have you help paint the car. The only fear I have is that I might undo all the good you are capable of doing. I am a terrible painter. I get paint in my hair. Inside my shoes. It is incredible.”

“With me to guide you,” said Jim, “I think you would do a very good job of painting.”

“After all,” I agreed, “if we make a mess of it, I can turn the car in.”

“Now how about the color?” asked Jimmie.

“It is a kind of beige now,” I said. “A lightish brownish color.”

“Isn’t it funny,” said Jim, “how many bright-colored cars are shown at the motor shows and how many drab black, blue and other dull-colored cars the public buys?”

“I was thinking,” I said, “of a nice dark blue. It would be a nice change from its present color. And if we do a good job, the neighbors might even think it was a new car I had.”

“Funny,” remarked Jim, “how many new cars the neighbors sell!”

“Say dark blue with black fenders,” I suggested.

“I see,” said Jim, “that at heart you are a chartered accountant! You have a cold, mathematical mind! For you there is no joy in life. You have no soul for color.”

“I love color!” I cried. “I know no man who goes as crazy as I do in the spring, at the sight of tulips, daffodils…”

“Yet you want a black car,” said Jimmie. “You want to add to the gloom of this sad city. Toronto, with its sober streets, its drab windows, its cautiously dressed people. Never a splash of color, never a joyous burst of bright hue.”

“Express Yourself in Color”

“It is in the air of this country to be sober,” I pointed out.

“What!” shouted Jim. “With Ontario and her blue skies, her intense greens, her world-famous riot of autumn reds, purples, golds and yellows! With half her surface water, Ontario is one of the most colorful lands in all the world!”

“M’mm,” said I.

“As a true Canadian, a true denizen of Ontario, “went on Jimmie, excitedly, “you ought to express yourself in color. You should rebel against drabness. You, a son of the fifth and sixth generation in this glorious, color spangled Ontario!”

“Quite so,” I admitted proudly.

“And here you have the chance of a lifetime,” said Jimmie. “You are going to paint your own car, with the help of an artist. Let your car bespeak your true Canadian character!”

“What color do you suggest?” I inquired.

“Colors!” cried Jim. “Not color. I suggest a red body for the red leaves of October. Blue mudguards for the blue sky of Ontario, and the blue water of our myriad lakes. And the top…”

“Black,” I said.

“Everybody has a black top,” cried Jim scornfully. “Why not use a little imagination? I say, paint the top like an awning, which, after all, a top really is. Paint it red and yellow!”

“Oh, Jim!”

“Yes, sir, red and yellow, for the autumn leaves, for the fruitful grain fields of Ontario, for the yellow sands of Wasaga Beach and the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie!”

“Jimmie,” I breathed, “you are inspired!”

“How about Saturday afternoon?” demanded Jimmie, hotly.

“Done!” I said. “Let’s see, I’ll buy the paint. Red, blue, yellow.”

“And better get a little green for trimming,” said Jim.

Saturday noon, I had the garage laid out with all the paint and the brushes, step-ladders and so forth. My family was away for the day. Jim arrived the minute he was through his lunch and we donned our overalls.

Jim took a bed slat and ruled off the roof of the car into stripes, as we did the top first so as to have any paint drip down on the lower works before they were done.

“Now,” said Jim, “you do the yellow stripes and I’ll do the red.”

From the top of step-ladders it was no trick at all to do stripes.

In the winter sunlight that top looked lovely.

“I am sorry,” I said, as we surveyed it, “so few people will be able to see it.”

Unfinished Symphony

Then we started on the tonneau. Rapidly the scarred beige of the old car vanished under the proud, bold strokes of two patriots laying on the red of autumn leaves, the red of wintergreen berries, the red of wild strawberries, of Indian flame, of the scarlet tanager and the red-headed woodpecker, and all those other beautiful things we have in Ontario.

“We’re spilling a lot,” I said to Jim.

“The blue will cover it,” cried Jim, who was quite carried away by his emotions. He was swinging his paint brush the way the conductor of a symphony orchestra swings his baton during those rich, juicy bits.

Rusty, Jim’s so-called Irish water spaniel, was sitting watching us with delight. Next to water, which he has hardly ever seen, Rusty loves paint. He is an artist’s water spaniel and has chewed up many a tube of water colors in his day.

We finished the red, and started on the blue. The chassis, they call it. The blue was the blue of Ontario’s sky, of her lakes, of the eyes of her fairest daughters. I tried some out on one side of the hood.

“We should do this to music,” cried Jimmie, “we should have the radio playing ‘O Canada.'”

“Jim,” I said doubtfully, “take a look at it now we’ve done this side.”

“A symphony!” exclaimed Jim.

“It looks like an advertisement for something,” I said. “Gum or maybe barbers supplies.”

“It is an advertisement,” cried Jim. “An advertisement of Ontario, of her boundless color, of the spirit that animates at least one citizen of this joyous, flaming country!”

“But will my mother-in-law go to church in it?” I said. “If any of my folks get married, can we go to the wedding in it? Or won’t I run up the price of an ordinary paint job in taxi bills?”

Jim gave me a cold, long stare.

“Have you no imagination?” he asked.

Jim was up on one mudguard and I was over on the stepladder at the far side, sopping up some pools of yellow and red that had gathered in the corners of the roof, when the tragedy happened.

Rusty saw a cat. He chased the silly cat. The cat ran around the car a couple of times, and then took a flying jump on to the hood.

“Arrrgh!” screamed Jim.

But I was glad.

The cat slithered over the hood, Rusty followed, with swimming motions. The cat leaped to the roof. I helped it.

Rusty skated all over the roof. On to the hood again and along the mudguards.

Then up the alley they chased. So I went around to Jimmie’s side where he was shading his artist’s eyes with his cleanest hand.

“Let us call this the first coat,” I suggested gently, “and as soon as this dries, give it a good coat of black all over.”

Jim peeked at it through his fingers.

“Marbled,” he muttered. “Or shot, like silk. A sort of modernistic effect.”

“Or what do you say I turn it in?” I asked.

“I believe in signs and omens,” said Jim. “I guess this means to turn it in.”

So any day now a car dealer is going to get a shock.

Rusty saw a cat. Then the tragedy happened. He chased the silly cat… it took a flying jump on to the car

Editor’s Notes: $50 in 1934 would be $1,065 in 2022.

A tonneau is an area of a car or truck open at the top. It can be for passengers or cargo.

This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978), and was the cover image. The colour image really makes the difference in this story. It is also an early story, so for whatever reason it is considerably shorter than the standard later.

Three-Legged Tables Are Best

Aunt Sally pushed the door open and promptly dropped all her parcels. “My grief,” she gasped. “We were only trying to even off the legs,” said Jimmie eagerly. “You said you …

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 3, 1942.

“It’s time,” uttered Jimmie Frise, “that we quit thinking that machines were going to win this war.”

“You must admit,” I pointed out, “that airplanes and tanks and machine tools are playing an important part.”

“Nothing,” declared Jim firmly, “nothing but brains will win this war and it is time we woke up to that fact. Machines are all very well. But look at them. All over the deserts of the world, all over the jungles, the beaches, the mountains, the machines are strewn in tangled and rusty wreckage. And where are we? Just about where we started. Both sides. Machines nearly won the war in 1940 when the Germans overran France and just about blitzed Britain to pieces. But nearly isn’t enough. Something bigger than machines beat them.”

“Was it brains?” I inquired bitterly.

“No, it wasn’t brains,” admitted Jim, “but it was the next thing to them – the human spirit. The blind human spirit, which needs only brains to make it supreme over fate itself.”

“The best brains in all countries,” I asserted, “have been devoted to the production of machines as being the winning factor in this great struggle.”

“It occurs to me,” stated Jimmie, “that it was not the best brains of all countries but merely the most highly paid brains of all countries that filled us full of this machine war stuff. I imagine the biggest paid brains in the world, in Germany, France, Britain and America, were these hired by the machine making industries of the world before the outbreak of war. The minute war loomed, these bimboes immediately saw the opportunity for themselves as well as for their industries. So they put on a powerful campaign to convince us that their machines would win the war for us.”

“I must admit,” I confessed, “that there was a decided similarity in the early stages of the war between propaganda and big business advertising. After all, you would hardly expect the board of directors of a big machinery industry to sit back and let moujiks win the war with clubs and pitchforks.”

“We let the wrong kind of brains,” declared Jim, “lead us into this war and the wrong kind of brains are still selling us machinery. The Japs only use machinery where 1,000 or 10,000 human lives won’t do the job better and cheaper. We go on the theory that a $50,000 machine is cheaper than one human life.”

Hypnotized by Machines

“Isn’t that so?” I demanded indignantly.

“Yes, it is so,” said Jim. “But meanwhile will it win the war? My own idea is that nobody above the rank of foreman should be allowed to have any further share in the war thinking. Let us get rid of all presidents, chairmen of the board, general managers, managers and even superintendents. To date, in all countries, these have loused things up good.”

“It is merely silly,” I declared, “to think that it is not a machine war. What gave the Germans command of France in 40 days in 1940? Simply this: that they had 11 armored divisions and we had only one.”

“If we had had any brains,” countered Jim, “we could have starved and gunned those 11 divisions into eternity in 10 days. All we had to do, about May 15, 1940, once we saw what those 11 armored German divisions were doing, was to bring ashore a British admiral.”

“An admiral?” I protested.

“Yes, a British admiral,” said Jimmie, “and appoint him generalissimo of the Allied forces. Because we knew by May 15 that all that was happening was that 11 flotillas of battleships were loose in the land. A British admiral would have figured the thing out in one night. By noon of May 16, the British army would have been converted into a seagoing institution. The artillery of the British army would have been converted into tank hunters – as they are in Libya today – and the British infantry would have been converted into an organization to serve the guns. There would not have been a German tank in France by May 30.”

“You’re very wise after the fact,” I snooted.

“All we did,” declared Jim, “was spread our infantry out, as in the Boer or Crimean war, and put our artillery back of them to support them. It was pie for tanks. All we had to do was to turn our infantry into a tank-seeking force whose only other job, after locating the tanks, was to act as horses, mules and human tractors, to drag those guns to where they could shoot tanks. It was that simple. But nobody could think simply. They were hypnotized by machines.”

“I’m willing to bet you,” I informed him, “that it will be a machine – a new, astonishing. revolutionary machine, that will win this war.”

“What will win this war,” retorted Jimmie, “is more likely to be something as simple and homely and old-fashioned as Aunt Sally’s cranberry pie.”

“Cranberry pie?” I exclaimed.

“We’ll be at Aunt Sally’s,” said Jim glancing at his wrist watch, “in five minutes. And within five minutes more, I bet you we will be sitting at the kitchen table eating a quarter of a cranberry pie each.”

“She keeps them handy?” I suggested,

“From now on,” said Jim dreamily, “Aunt Sally always has cranberry pies in the pantry. She makes them with the open face you know: with strips of pastry across, instead of the usual lid on a pie. It’s a great wonder to me that cranberry pie is not equally popular in Canada with blueberry pie. The cranberry is an even more widely distributed berry than the blueberry. You find cranberries from coast to coast and right up to the Arctic Circle. And, boy, do they taste good, with their queer, tangy, wild flavor!”

“They’re the perfect autumn flavor,” I agreed. “I bet a cranberry has more vitamins in it than alfalfa.”

“It is my private opinion,” declared Jim, “that wild ducks, robins and geese and all the birds that have to fly to the Gulf of Mexico, eat a few cranberries before setting out. And that’s what gives them the pep to go that awful journey through space and storm.”

And in less than five minutes we were in Aunt Sally’s side drive and rapping at her side-door.

“Mercy, Jim,” she cried when she opened the door. “It’s you, and I haven’t a cranberry pie in the house!”

“Nonsense,” said Jim, heartily, “it wasn’t for cranberry pie we came to see you. We just happened to be passing this way…”

“It’s a queer thing,” said Aunt Sally, taking our hats and coats and pulling out kitchen chairs for us, “but you never happen past my house except in October and November.”

“Nonsense,” laughed Jimmie.

“I’ll go out right away,” said Aunt Sally, “and get some cranberries. I’ve got to go out and do a little shopping anyway…”

But before she went she had to sit down and chat for a while. She had to get all the family news from Jim since last November, almost.

Aunt Sally is one of those ladies who talk best while resting their elbows on the table. And in chatting with her, it is best to rest your elbows on the table too. It is the natural attitude for the kind of intimate. easy gossip of which Aunt Sally is mistress.

“Drat this table,” exclaimed Aunt Sally, as she rested her elbows. “It’s got one short leg and it keeps wobbling around.”

“Put a bit of paper under the short leg,” said Jim.

“I do, but I sweep it up when I’m redding up,” said Aunt Sally, stooping over to examine the defective leg.

“All tables,” stated Jimmie, “should have only three legs. No table needs more than three legs. But they always put four legs on a table, and in the course of time one leg warps and you’ve got to joggle in it.”

To Cure the Wobble

So we all three rested our elbows on it, which held it more or less solid except when one or the other of us lifted our weight for a minute, and then the table interrupted the flow of whoever was talking at the moment by giving a sharp little tip and making a bump with its shortest leg.

“Drat the thing,” repeated Aunt Sally, rising and getting her hat. “I’ve been going to nail a little piece of shingle on that short leg for the past 10 years. Now, boys, I’ll only be 15 minutes. And when I come back you can sort the cranberries while I mix the pastry, and it won’t be half an hour before we have a cranberry pie. And a fine pot of tea.”

And she bustled off, without Jimmie even offering to drive her up to the corner in his car.

“I figure,” said Jim, when she slammed the door, “we can fix her table for her while she’s out.”

So he opened the pantry drawers and found a hammer, saw, a tin of assorted nails. And after exploring around the back kitchen and the yard, we found a small piece of a cigar box lid which had been used to cover a knothole in the back fence.

“We’ll use this,” said Jim. “I remember nailing this piece of cigar box on that very knothole 30 years ago. It was to keep a lot of little girls who lived next door then from spying on our Indian camp we had here in Aunt Sally’s yard.”

We turned the table over, with its legs in the air, and with my sharp penknife whittled the piece of cigar box into a disc just the right size to fit over the defective leg of the table. By testing carefully, we had determined it was the northeast leg that was short. With two small tacks we nailed the disc on the leg and then reversed the table to its normal position.

“Worse than ever,” declared Jim, as we tried the table. It joggled now in three directions instead of one. Now it has three short legs.”

So we turned the table over on its back again and studied the problem.

“Let’s,” I suggested, “cut a thin slice off all three other legs, to bring them to the same length as the warped one.”

“Why didn’t we think of that at first?” cried Jim, seizing the saw.

“Careful to get it flat across,” I warned, holding the leg while Jim worked the saw and got it to start its bite into the old dry wood of the table leg.

After one slice, the others came easy. A saw is like that. It soon understands what you require of it. And we took a neat slice off the three legs and reversed the table in to its feet again.

We touched it and it teetered like a seesaw.

“Good heavens,” I said.

“We must have cut the short one by mistake,” worked out Jim.

It was obvious, on examination, that that is exactly what we had done: for now we had one very long leg, two medium long legs and one very short leg, which had been the short one.

“Okay,” said Jim, upturning the table again, “we’ll measure them this time. We’ll do it scientifically.”

With the broom-handle we measured the shortest leg, marked the length with a pencil, and then checked off an equal length on the three other legs, to get them all the same.

“Make it snappy,” I warned Jim. “Let’s have it done before Aunt Sally gets back.”

Jim sliced off the three discs in record time. And we turned the table back on its legs feeling sure the problem was solved.

“Heck,” said Jim heatedly.

For there was a worse wobble than ever. From whatever side you touched the table it teetered.

We got down on hands and knees and studied the situation.

“I think,” I offered, that you’ve got them on the slant. You can see each leg is sort of standing on tip toe.”

“It still shouldn’t wobble,” said Jim, giving it a nasty push.

“Measure them up again,” I said resolutely. “This time let me do the sawing. I’m shorter. I can see what I am doing better than you.”

Again we upturned the table. And after carefully measuring the leg lengths with the broom-handle, marking the length of the shortest leg on each of the others, I set to work and sawed off, net a thin wafer, as Jim had tried to do, but a good substantial chunk.

“We’ll have enough for croquinole.” muttered Jim, anxiously, as he watched me at work.

When Dee Dee, Aunt Sally’s little dog, scratched at the kitchen door we knew we were in for it. Aunt Sally pushed the door open and promptly dropped all her parcels.

“My grief,” she gasped.

“We were only trying to even off the legs,” said Jimmie eagerly. “You said you…”

“It isn’t the legs,” cried Aunt Sally brokenly. “It’s the top that has warped. You would never get them level by sawing the legs even.”

“Well, who ever would have thought of that?” exclaimed Jimmie indignantly. “Anybody would imagine that a table that wobbled had a short leg…”

“It’s never a short leg,” snorted Aunt Sally angrily. “It’s always a warped top. Anybody that knows anything about tables would know that.”

“Which teaches us,” I chimed in, “never to meddle with things we don’t know anything about.”

“Like tables?” said Jimmie. “Then what do we know about?”

“Oh, wars and things,” I sighed, putting the saw back on its hook in the pantry.

So we sorted the cranberries while Aunt Sally, with many a backward look at the sorely stunted table, mixed the pie crust on the cupboard edge.

And while the two pies were in the oven Jimmie and I went three doors south to Mr. Dimmick, the carpenter and cabinet-maker, and arranged with his wife for him to come up after supper and organize four new legs for Aunt Sally’s kitchen table.

Editor’s Notes: Moujiks are a term for Russian peasants.

“Redding up” is an old term meaning to wash up, or tidy.

Croquinole, or Crokinole, is a disc flicking board game from Canada.

Clothes Make the Man

“Can you do my windows starting tomorrow at 8 a.m.?” she inquired crisply.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 25, 1941.

“The funniest thing,” said Jimmie Frise, “is the effect the uniform has on men.”

“I’d be as proud as a rooster,” I informed him, “if they’d let me back into it.”

“I don’t mean that,” explained Jimmie. “What I mean is, some of the finest looking men, the minute they put on uniform, look like tramps. And some of the dowdiest looking men of my acquaintance, as soon as they don uniform, turn out to be Adonises.”

“It’s perfectly simple,” I explained. “The uniform is standardized. Thus, the guy who could cover up his physical imperfections as to shoulders or legs by choosing artfully tailored clothes is shown up in his true light when he puts on uniform. And many a man who is physically perfection has never had the taste or the money to buy the clothes that would show him off.”

“Besides, in uniform,” said Jim, “you can’t slouch around. I think good appearance is mostly a matter of tidiness anyway. It isn’t the quality of the clothes. It’s the way you keep them.”

“The reason I wear such loud clothes,” I confided, “is because I am really so shy. I want people to look at my clothes, rather than at me, see?”

“Who ever would have thought of that?” cried Jim. “I bet you were a funny looking soldier.”

“Before I got to France.” I admitted, “my size kind of caused a snicker. I was only five foot two and seven-eighths. And I only weighed 106 pounds and 11 ounces.”

“You have the fractions,” said Jim.

“A man my size always has to use the fractions,” I pointed out. “But once I got to France there were no more snickers. I am told that plenty of big 200-pound comrades of mine used to say their prayers at night in the trenches and ask God to make them little like me.”

“I guess small men are handiest in war,” agreed Jim. “But suppose you had been a private soldier. How would you have got a uniform to fit you?”

“I was a private soldier,” I informed him. “For six weeks. By that time they couldn’t find a uniform small enough, so they made me a lieutenant and told me to go and buy my own uniform.”

“So that’s why so many famous generals are small men,” exclaimed Jimmie.

“Listen,” I said, “do you realize why I have worked so hard all my life? Do you know what boiled me full of ambition to make money? Just the fact that in Toronto street cars my feet do not touch the floor when I am sitting on the seats. So I just had to have a motor car. You have no idea what a spur it is to be a runt.”

“You don’t wear high heels,” remarked Jim, studying my boots.

“No, sir,” I assured him. “When you are a shorty, the trick is to pretend you don’t care. The smartest thing to do is to wear clothes that accentuate your shortness.”

We’re All Self-Conscious

“What the heck,” scoffed Jimmie. “Who cares how big you are? Anyway, who looks at you?”

“Oh, we’re all self-conscious about something,” I declared. “Big men are often more self-conscious than little men. I once had a big man six feet four and 300 pounds of muscle tell me almost in tears about how self-conscious he was. He said every time there was a dog-fight or whenever a drunk made a scene on a street car, everybody looked at him in expectation. He is scared of dogs and hates drunks. He is just a big, shy man. Yet whenever there is any trouble, the whole world looks to him to make a hero of himself.”

“By George, I never thought of that,” said Jim.

“He said he got so he was scared to go out, scared to walk the street, scared to go anywhere,” I described, “for fear of some trouble arising that everybody would expect him to deal with because of his size. That’s being self-conscious.”

“Nobody would ever expect you to jump in and stop a fight,” agreed Jim.

“And that’s why, if I do jump in, I’m a heck of a hero,” I explained. “You don’t know what an awful temptation it is to a little man to jump in and be a hero. That’s what makes us self-conscious. Self-consciousness, after all, is just fear. What we are scared of makes us self-conscious. If I am scared of being poor, I try to look rich. And if I am scared people will find out I am rich, I try to look poor. Life is very complicated.”

“It sure is,” admitted Jimmie. “But the good old uniform makes life a lot simpler for a great many of us. Personally, I wasn’t a bad looking soldier.”

“You’re one of those men, Jim,” I confessed, “who looks the same whether he is in a business suit, a pair of overalls or a nightshirt.”

“I wore overalls,” said Jimmie, “the first 16 years of my life, around the farm. And I’m proud of it.”

“So you should be,” I stated. “In fact, one of my Christmas presents this year was a suit of overalls. $2.95. I bought them myself and sent them up to the house anonymously.”

“What the dickens do you want overalls for?” demanded Jim.

“They are the greatest things in the world,” I informed him, “for fishing, rabbit shooting, gardening and pattering around the car. They are warm. They keep rain off you. They keep you clean. But, most of all, they have a curious psychic effect on people like me. My ancestors all wore overalls. And the minute I put mine on, I suddenly feel capable. All my city-bred helplessness vanishes. This past month I have learned more about the engine in my car than I ever learned before. Why? Because I had overalls on. And my mind seemed to work.”

“Such stuff,” said Jim.

“It’s a fact, Jim,” I assured him. “Clothes make the man. Dress up in a tuxedo with a white stiff shirt and light evening pumps on and you suddenly are infused with a feeling of elegance. You walk with conscious pride. You are witty. Your tongue grows nimble. Your whole being has a swing and a lilt to it.”

“It’s a fact,” admitted Jimmie.

“Put on your oldest clothes,” I continued, “a little ragged, a little skimpy and bulged at the knees, and you feel lazy and dopey and listless. When I put on my overalls I suddenly feel mechanical. I go all artizany. I seem to feel strong muscles in my forearms and my hands get rough.”

“Hold on, hold on,” begged Jimmie.

“I am filled with a sense of capability,” I insisted, “of knowledge of hammers and saws. I can pick up a hammer in my ordinary business clothes and I go all kind of helpless. With overalls on, I can pick up a hammer and feel as if I had been born with a hammer in my hand.”

“You’re a Jekyll and Hyde,” said Jim.

“We can all be Jekyll and Hydes,” I declared, “with a few changes of clothes.”

A Man in Overalls

“How would you like to give me a demonstration of this miracle in your overalls?” demanded Jim.

“Any time,” I assured him.

“Well, it’s like this,” said Jim. “Last November I put the storm windows on without washing them. The family was at me every day and I kept putting it off on account of the deer hunting and one thing and another.”

“One of the things I don’t feel like,” I interrupted, “is putting on storm windows in my overalls. It only applies to the mechanical arts, like engines, carpentering and so on.”

“Wait till I explain,” said Jim. “So one Saturday, when the folks were all out, I got the urge and put the storm windows all on. But it seems I should have had them washed first. The family, which wanted me to put them up so badly, hadn’t washed the windows. They were going to do that whenever I got in the mood to put them up. So there was an awful row.”

“If it’s done, it’s done,” I assured him.

“No,” said Jim; “they were pretty bad when I put them up, but they’re worse now. They’ve got to come down.”

“If you put them up without help,” I inquired, “why do you need a man in overalls to help you take them down?”

“Okay,” said Jim, “okay, if you don’t want to lend a hand to a friend. And this is wartime, too.”

“Storm windows are silly, Jim,” I said. “You should have your house insulated.”

“Okay,” said Jim, “okay. Never mind.”

“It would only be to put my overalls on,” I said, “if I did lend you a hand.”

“Like a fool,” said Jim, “I broadcast all over the house that I would take the windows down and wash them myself. If it was just to take them down I wouldn’t ask any help. But when they came home and found I had put them up right out of the cellar, all dusty and grimey, I announced that I would take them down and wash them.”

“Aw, they won’t hold you to that,” I protested.

“Oh, yes, they will,” replied Jim. “You can’t brag around my house.”

“Well,” I said.

So we quit at 3 in the afternoon and I went home and put my overalls on. I keep them in the attic closet, where I can go and try them on now and then when none of my children are around. I have also worn them quite a bit working on the car, shovelling the snow, putting up some new bird feeding houses in the yard, and anything I can think of. They are my most exciting Christmas present, even if I did send them up anonymously.

They give you a nice, broadlegged feeling when you get them on.

“You look better than I’ve ever seen you look,” declared Jim when I walked down his sidedrive in them. “You look kind of … natural.”

“Thanks, Jim,” I said. “I knew you wouldn’t kid me.”

Jim got a pail of hot water, a chamois, some rags and a scrub brush. We carried out the stepladder and started on the front living-room windows. Jim would climb up and unbutton the window and pry it out of the frame. Then I would draw the bottom out and take hold and lower it down. In overalls, you grab hold of things with your arms and chest, in a most businesslike fashion, because the more dirt you get on your overalls, the better they are.

On that same principle, I took the lead in the washing of them, because a little soapy water splashed on my overalls would only increase their beauty.

“Well,” said Jim, “you’re right. I never saw such a change in anybody in my life.”

“Here y’are,” I said, with a rowdy, window cleaner air. And I handed him up the beautifully polished window and he slipped it into the frame and I banged it home with a good strong, rough hand.

The Magic Garment

We had got pretty well along with the front windows when the elderly lady who lives right opposite Jim came across the road and up the walk.

“I suppose,” she said, “you’ll be all day at this job?”

“We won’t be done before dark, ma’am, “I assured her.

Jimmie came down off the stepladder and joined us. He didn’t have overalls. All he had on was his old fishing clothes.

“Can you do mine starting tomorrow at 8 a.m.?” she inquired crisply.

She was so sharp and businesslike, I thought Jimmie had certainly got on the most amiable relations with his neighbors.

“And how much,” she inquired shrewdly, “do you charge? Is it by the window or by the hour?”

I looked at Jim to let him in on the joke.

But he was just standing staring at the lady with a puzzled frown.

“Well, usually, madam,” I said, “we charge by the window. We measure the window in square inches, and…”

“Nonsense,” said the lady, very choppy; “I have it done each year, the whole house, for $6. I’ll give you $6 and no more.”

“What do you say, Jim?” I hedged, feeling he should be in the neighborly fun.

“Well, aw, ugh,” said Jim, changing position and standing more squarely in front of the lady so she could get a look at him.

She glanced at him briefly, but looked at once back to me as though I were the one to deal with.

“I’ve been watching you,” she said, and you certainly do a good job. My windows don’t really require a second washing at this season of the year. But I have decided that you do so thorough a job I will have you do mine. Come. When will it be? Tomorrow? That will suit me best. And I will pay $7, seeing it is winter.”

“Aw, er, wuh,” said Jimmie, smiling broadly and opening his coat to show his business collar and shirt underneath.

“Well, ma’am,” I said, “we are busy tomorrow, but we’ll give you a ring the first day we’re free. How will that do?”

She looked at me impatiently.

“Very well,” she said. “Make it a good clear day. But I suppose you know your business.”

So I wrote down her name and telephone and she walked back across the road, stamped the snow off and went indoors.

“Well,” said Jim, “I’ve lived across the street from the lady for 10 years. I know her as well as I know you. She knows me as well as you do.”

“She thought you were my helper,” I said. “She practically brushed you off.”

“She certainly didn’t recognize me,” said Jim.

“People never look at faces,” I stated. “They just look at clothes.”

“Then any little embarrassment I have felt,” said Jim, “over washing windows here on my front lawn has been wasted.”

“Precisely, Jim,” I agreed. “If any neighbor happened to notice us working around your house they’ve just said to themselves, the Frises are having something done, and forgotten about it.”

“It was your overalls,” cried Jim.

“The magic garment,” I exulted.

So we have arranged that when the lady across the road calls Jim’s house to get the names of the window cleaners who did such a thorough job the family will give her the telephone number of the first window cleaning outfit we found in the book.

And we hope they wear overalls when they arrive.

Each to His Trade

“Good day, gentlemen,” said the little financial man.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 20, 1934

“My family,” said Jimmie Frise, “are after me to clean the furnace pipes.”

“It’s a trifling job,” I said. “My gardener does it in a few minutes each year and doesn’t even mention it at the end of the month.”

“Still,” demurred Jimmie, “I don’t see why I should rob some poor man of a dollar.”

“It would do you good to engage occasionally in a little unpleasant toil,” I said. “One of the things that is wrong with the world is specialization, not only in industry, but in life itself.”

“How do you mean?” demanded Jim.

“We kick about the deadening effect of mass production,” I stated, “and the evil effect upon the human race of having men doing one small thing over and over again all their lives, like screwing up nuts or tightening a bolt or some other automatic action. It drives men mad. But how about us all living our lives as automatically, never straying out of the rut, always doing the same things every day at the same time, getting out of bed the same side, shaving in the exact same way, starting with our top right cheek and ending with our left neck, kissing the same woman goodby each morning at the same place in the same hallway, and so forth.”

“What has this got to do with stove pipes?” demanded Jim.

“The deadly routine of your life.” I went on, “includes a furnace, and you stoke it and shake it, and remove the ashes and stoke it again. But the ghastly routine would be broken if, once in while, you cleaned the pipes. It would be like getting out of bed the other side, and shaving your left neck first and ending with your right top cheek, and kissing somebody else goodby in the front hall. It would give you a fresh and sudden zest.”

“I never heard anybody rave about furnace pipes the way you do,” said Jimmie. “How about helping me with them?”

“I could ask my gardener to,” I agreed.

“How about the ghastly monotony of your own life?” sneered Jim.

“I often shave backwards,” I said. “And sometimes I kiss my little daughter goodby instead.”

“If I clean the furnace pipes,” said Jim, “it won’t be for any philosophic or psychopathic reason. It will be simply to save a buck. For five years now I have been trying to end the depression by spending all I made, by sharing my work with others, by hiring people on the slightest pretext to do my work for me. But I can’t see it has made the slightest difference. So from now on I am going to be thrifty and careful like everybody else, and do all my own chores and sole my own boots and cut my own grass and clean my own furnace pipes.”

“And what will you do with the money you save?” I asked.

“I’ll buy bonds,” said Jim.

“That’s patriotic,” I assured him. “Instead of spending your dollars on small jobs like furnace pipes and your garden, you will lend It to the government to pay relief. Then, after they have paid relief to a few million people, you get your money back in ten years. Meantime, who paid the relief?”

“Don’t confuse me,” begged Jim. “I am trying to do the right thing by my country. My country wants cash. To lend it to them, I am going to cut down my spending. I am going to do my own furnace pipes.”

“And the people you no longer help support,” I argued, “will get your money just the same, only in relief.”

“I suppose so,” admitted Jim.

“Then,” I demanded, “where does the money come from, twenty years from now, when the government pays you back the money they borrowed from you?”

“Look,” said Jim, “I have five children. In twenty years they will all be grown up and making money. The government can reborrow from them to pay me back.”

“I’d rather have my furnace pipes done by a pipe cleaner,” I said. “It makes him happy. And it only costs me two dollars. It wont cost my grandchildren anything.”

“But there will be five Frises to borrow from instead of only one pointed out Jim. “It will be easier. That’s what the government figures on. It will be easier to borrow by the time their note to me falls due.”

“It looks to me,” I said, “as if we were paying for having our pipes cleaned and cleaning them ourselves. It is all very confusing.”

“I only want to do what is right,” said Jim. “If they say spend, I spend. If they say save, I save.”

“And if you spend, it’s gone,” I enlightened, “and if you save, It’s loaned.”

But Jimmie had risen from the steps of his house, where we had been sitting in the sunshine, and was staring at a little man walking down the street.

This little man was small and smudgy. Under his arm, he carried a roll of what appeared to be very dirty carpet, and from the ends of the carpet protruded filthy brushes on long wire handles.

“Speak of the devil,” exclaimed Jimmie.

The little man, passing, halted and in a deep English voice cried.

“‘Ow’s yer pipes?”

“Come up a minute,” called Jimmie.

“A real chimney sweep, like in Dickens,” I breathed to Jim.

The little man drew nigh and rested his roll of carpet.

“Are you a chimney sweep?” I asked excitedly, picturing him as one who has spent his entire childhood and infancy in the chimneys of Old London.

“No, sir,” he said, with dignity. “I am a financial man, by profession, but during the present interregnum, as you might say, I am picking up what I can.”

“You clean chimneys?” asked Jim.

“I clean furnace pipes,” said the little man.

“How much do you charge?”

“Two dollars,” said he.

“Two dollars!” cried Jim. “Two bucks Just to rattle a few furnace pipes into an ash can! Man, you’re crazy.”

“It’s quite a job,” said the chimney man.

“Why, for two dollars I could drive my car from here to Montreal!”

“But your pipes would still be choked,” said the small man, “when you got back ‘ome.”

“Two dollars! Why, that is ridiculous,” said Jim. “Some of you people have no sense of proportion. Just because a job is a little unpleasant, you charge three times what it is worth. My friend and I can do those pipes in a few minutes after supper.”

“I shouldn’t try it of an evening, sir,” said the little man. “Professionally speaking.”

“Thanks very much,” said Jim, dismissing the small man, who hoisted his roll of carpet. “I had no idea.”

And as the little man retired down the walk, Jim said: “Look here, you save Saturday afternoon, we’ll do mine and yours both.”

“Mine were done,” I pointed out.

“Lend me hand, just for the experience,” said Jim. “I want to look into this business of small jobs. Two bucks!”

Saturday Jim drove me home from the office very kindly and then reminded me, as he let me out, to come over at 2 p.m.

It is curious how seldom one looks at a furnace. One visits it in the dark, shovels coal into a glowing hole, rattles a shaker, reaches up to a familiar doohickey and turns the draft on or off, and the furnace remains a dimly seen, faintly disliked, something to be admitted only part way into one’s consciousness.

Jim and I surveyed his furnace in some awe. It was a bulging and somehow bowlegged sort of furnace. It was aged and scaley and corroded. There were bands or bolts of clay around it that fell away like dust when you touched them. Everything was rusty and squeaked.

Dark Cloud of Endeavor

The pipes were fragile and sagged. When we slapped them, they felt soggy and stuffed.

“How long is it since you had your pipes cleaned?” I asked Jim, doubtfully.

“I don’t recall them being cleaned.”

“Why, you have been wasting fuel for years and haven’t been getting a fraction of the British thermal units you should have been getting.”

“You’d better take off your coat,” said Jim, throwing his across the empty coal bin stall.

I stood ready while Jim stretched up and took firm hold of the joint of pipe that vanished into the cellar wall. It was stuck. It was corroded.

He tapped it with a stick. He hammered it with the shaker handle. He punched a hole in it.

“Poof,” said Jim, as a darkish mist filled the air.

“Get a couple of chairs, and we’ll both take hold and twist,” I suggested.

So Jim got on a box and I got on a chair, and we took firm hold of the pipe and twisted.

It was only a matter of a fraction of a second, but as the pipe came free, Jim, who was curved in one of these fantastic postures tall men can get into when doing the most commonplace things, lost his balance off the box and I felt a heavy and clumsy pipe slip from my grasp.

“Are you there, Jim?” I asked, from the depths of the inky darkness which had suddenly enveloped the furnace room.

“Curious-pfft-smell, isn’t it-pfft!” said Jim from below.

“We had better go outside,” I suggested.

“Tale a section of pipe each,” said Jimmie. “There are ash cans in the side drive.”

I felt above and found a sagging section of pipe. It came fairly easily into my arms, but I felt a cool dry flood of something like talcum powder flow over my hands and wrists as I tilted the pipe level.

“Easy, there,” said Jimmie, coughing.

By only half breathing, we got out of the cellar, dark as night, into the semigloom of the stairs, and preceding Jimmie, I carried the pipe to the side door. It was heavy. You can have no idea how neglected those pipes were. I saw a garbage can and I dumped the pipe smartly head first into the can.

A great whoof of midnight whirled into the bright afternoon air.

“Make way,” gasped Jim, behind me, and as I turned, still marvelling at the fog, I beheld a devilish figure, black from head to foot, heave a section of pipe alongside mine into the ash can, and another and a vaster and a more deadly black cloud billowed into the air.

“Jimmie!” I cried. “You’re filthy. What have you been doing?”

But I could tell by the red gape of Jim’s mouth in his face that I too, was soiled.

“You’ll pay for cleaning this suit, young man,” I assured him. The more you try to brush soot off, the worse you get. Especially if you are perspiring a little.

“Keep still,” said Jim. “Wait till I think.”

But from the rear of the house came screeches and screams and moans in a female voice. It was the next door neighbor. We ran around the corner, and there was a lady, her arms held over her head like the statue of victory, and she was staring transfixed at three large curtains or drapes of a silvery blue color, that were hanging on the clothesline, while the dark cloud of our endeavor slowly engulfed them like a fog.

“Dear, dear,” said Jimmie, drawing me back from the corner.

Better Stay in the Rut

To the lady’s screams were suddenly added loud, brief and profane shouts of a man.

It was the man whose house abuts the rear of Jim’s place.

Head low to avoid the cloud, he came hurling over the fence and faced us.

“Look at that!” he roared. “Painted this morning, and now look at it!”

We could make out the back of his house. I was finished in white and light green. The cloud was aiming straight at it, and vanishing into the paint as cigarette smoke vanishes into an electric fan.

The lady was standing waiting.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Jim, “I will make it right with you.”

“They just came back from the cleaners,” wept the lady, “and I was airing that smell off them before putting them up before dinner when my father-in-law is coming and we have roast chicken, and they cover the living room windows and now …”

“That job,” interrupted the man, “cost me forty-eight dollars and to have the back done, by George, will cost you at least twenty. Twenty, l estimate. Yes, sir, twenty would be fair estimate.”

There we stood, with the two pipe sections upended in the ash can, and with us the man and the lady, when we heard footsteps up the drive and the little man with the roll of carpet that we had seen last Wednesday joined us.

“Glory!” yelled Jim.

“Good day, gentlemen,” said the little financial man.

“How did you turn up?” said Jim, trying to wring the little man’s hand, but the little man evaded him.

“I overheard you say Saturday, so I just dropped around. I do quite a little business this way, whenever I hear of gents planning to clean their furnaces.”

He laid his roll of brushes down in a business-like way.

“I’ll give you $5 to clean all this up,” cried Jimmie. “That is, if you can empty these two joints as well.”

“It would have been better,” said the little man, “if you had left the pipes. But I’ll do what I can.”

“Five dollars,” said Jim.

“And a dollar and a half to clean this suit,” I said.

“And a dollar and a half for this one,” added Jim, looking down at himself.

“And twenty for the paint job,” I calculated.

“And say three for the curtains?” contributed Jim.

The little man, who had trotted down the collar, reappeared.

“You’ll need new pipes,” said he. “These are all rotted and pitted.”

“How much?” asked Jim. “I should estimate about two,” said he.

“Total,” said Jim, “thirty-three dollars.”

He was very cheerful.

“Now you see,” said Jim, “that it is best not to try to get out of the rut. Accept the ghastly monotony of your life. And don’t try to be thrifty. It always costs you more in the end. Each man to his trade. I’m an artist. You’re a writer. And this gentleman cleans furnaces.”

“The furnace itself,” said the little man, picking up his carpet roll, “isn’t in bad shape.”

Editor’s Notes: $2 in 1934 would be almost $40 in 2021. $33 would be $650.

Old coal furnaces ran by having coal delivered through a chute in the basement window, and would require the owner to stoke the furnace with coal to keep it hot. The shaker handle was accessible from the outside and you would crank it to activate shaker plates in the bottom that would help the ashes from the burnt coal to get to the bottom ash pan. You would have to then collect the ash to put in an ash can that would be picked up from your curb.

This story appeared in Silver Linings (1978).

Goodbye To Summer

“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau. But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, August 30, 1947.

“It’s hard to believe!” muttered Jimmie Frise.

“That summer’s over?” I sympathized.

“No,” said Jim, heatedly. “That here we are, all packed and waiting for Joe Badeau to come with the launch and take us away. And not one – NOT ONE – thing have we done that we planned to do this summer!”

“We fished,” I pointed out.

“Yah, but the roof!” cried Jim. “We planned to stain the shingles on the roof. We’ve got the shingle stain down there in the boathouse, and it’s been there since early July!”

“And the verandah and steps,” I recollected.

“Yes, and the paint for them,” declared Jim angrily, “has been right there in the boathouse, too.”

“And the wharf!” I remembered.

“Yes,” said Jim bitterly, “the wharf! Remember the plans we drew last April and May, of the new wharf? Those sketches must be around here somewhere.”

“Aw, Jim,” I consoled, “it’s always like that at a summer cottage. Nobody ever gets the jobs done that they plan in spring.”

“But, Greg,” protested Jim sharply, “this isn’t the first year we’ve fiddled away on that wharf. Last summer, don’t you remember, we came up here with every intention of repairing the wharf and putting some new logs under the far end?”

“Well, last year,” I pointed out kindly, “don’t forget, there was a nail shortage. You couldn’t get spikes …”

“Spikes!” cried Jim. “Why, the year before that, we got a whole pailful of six-inch spikes! Don’t you recall? They’re down in the boathouse, too!”

“Ah, yes,” I admitted. “Then, this is the third summer…”

“And the blankets!” went on Jim, enumerating our sins. “My wife brought up all those blankets from the city for us to wash in this lovely soft water”

“We never got around to it,” I excused.

“Never got around to it?” expostulated Jim. “We never got around to anything!”

The baggage was all stacked on the cottage verandah. Inside, all was clean and tidy and ready to be abandoned to the long silence of fall, winter and spring. The shutters were up. Screen doors removed and stacked in the spare room. Pails turned upside down. Kettles emptied. All left-over food of every description packed in a carton to take home. And in a little while, around the islands, would come Joe Badeau with his launch to carry us off.

“Blankets,” I pondered. “I can’t understand why we didn’t do the blankets. There’s nothing I like better than tramping blankets in a tub.”

“You can’t wash blankets in a city,” agreed Jim, “the way you can up here. A tubful of warm water. A good mild suds. And us in our bare feet, tramping, tramping, tramping…”

“And then, two separate tubfuls of clear water to rinse them,” I reminded. “Tramping and tramping again.”

“And don’t forget the shaking,” gloated Jim. “The two of us with a blanket between us, shaking and whipping the water out, until it is white and fluffy.”

“And then,” I concluded, “hanging them on the line, in a fresh west wind, on a fine sunny day. Man, no new fangled washing machine can wash blankets like that!”

“How sweet and soft they are,” sighed Jim, “for the winter!”

“But,” I sighed too, “we didn’t do them! We didn’t get around to it.”

Jim got up off the trunk he was sitting on and stood staring out over the bay.

“What DID we do this summer?” he demanded. “Let’s just pause and take stock of ourselves. I tell you, it’s nothing to feel smug and easy about. When you think of all the things we had set down in black and white…”

“Listen, Jim,” I soothed, “summer is like that. Summer cottages are like that. You aren’t supposed to do anything, really, at the summer cottage. At home, in the spring, when you’re dreaming of summer, you are in the grip of the city and its purposeful spirit. You make a lot of plans. That’s part of being in the city. But the real joy of summer is to let everything go hang ….”

“But you’d think,” cut in Jim, “that we would at least have enough sense, enough energy, to attend to the upkeep of the place. Most of the things we intended to do were necessary repairs and upkeep. I can’t think why we didn’t stain those shingles on the roof, for one thing.”

“Or the wharf,” I admitted. “We were in swimming every day, down there at the wharf. There’s all those logs there, on the beach. All we had to do, any day, was go and get an axe, a hammer, and that pail of spikes out of the boathouse …”

“Exactly!” cried Jim. “Every time we were in swimming, that dilapidated old wharf was right there before our eyes. What happens to people like us when they seem to go blind to their duty, to their plans, to their intentions …”

“Aw,” I soothed, “when you’re in swimming, it’s so cool and pleasant and dreamy.”

“But that wharf!” protested Jim. “GLARING at us.”

We both turned our embarrassed gaze down at the old wharf. I don’t know how many years old it really is. It is a composite of many years and many wharves. Some of the logs and a few of the planks must date back 30 years. The stone-filled crib that is the foundation of the outer end has been skewgee as long as anybody can remember. The inner end leans upon the rock, inches under water when the water is high: cockeyed and aslant and high and dry when the water is low. It has been unsafe to walk on for five seasons. Guests and strangers alike have sprained ankles on it; picked up splinters; skidded off into the water from it. It is an eyesore and a public reproach.

Yet, with a few pieces of log pried under it for legs with a couple of fresh chunks spiked on to the trembling crib, a dock fit for another 10 years could be made by two gentlemen in their bathing suits in about, say, 40 minutes.

“Conscience, Jim,” I propounded, “must be at its lowest ebb in summer. It may be that conscience is like a barometer and has its high periods and its low periods. Maybe the seasons have a lot to do with human conduct. For instance, I would think conscience is at its highest fury about the middle of February and at its lowest about the end of July.”

“All these jobs stared at us,” gloomed Jim, “day after day. And we utterly ignored them.”

“Human nature remains,” I uttered, “a profound mystery. For centuries, great minds – philosophers, teachers, preachers, kings, politicians – have been studying human nature with tireless zeal. Billions of words have been written by men of every race and clime, trying to solve the mystery of human nature. But guys like you and me go right on being mysterious, even to ourselves.”

“What time is it?” demanded Jimmie, with sudden intent.

“Ten-twenty,” I informed him. “Every once in a while across the centuries, some great leader rises up who thinks he has got the mystery of human nature solved. And he sets forth to master the world with his knowledge. Hitler was the latest of them …”

“Joe Badeau will be here at 11,” stated Jim, taking off his city coat and starting to unbutton his city shirt collar. “We’ve got exactly 40 minutes ….!”

“No, no, no, Jim!” I protested, leaping up.

“We’ll put on our bathing suits,” he declared. “In a jiffy. We can hoick a couple of logs under this end of the wharf. I’ll get the spikes and the axe …”

“Aw, Jim, Jim!” I begged. “You can’t make good in 40 minutes the errors and omissions of a whole summer. Look, sit down, take it easy. It’s our last few minutes here in this lovely place …”

But Jim had popped indoors and seized our bathing trunks off the hook in the store room. He came forth and tossed me mine.

“Jim, be reasonable, “I pleaded. “Joe Badeau always arrives ahead of time. He’ll be rounding the point in five or 10 minutes.”

“Come on,” commanded Jim, filled with an extraordinary zeal.

And he popped out of his trousers and shorts and into his trunks.

“I’ll go get the axe, and the pail of spikes,” he announced, striding off the verandah, “and we can haul a few short logs.”

Now, I like a dip about as well as anybody. But this I was one of those coolish August days with a brisk west wind ablowing, and the cool water of the deeper lake being churned by lively waves.

“Jim,” I called, “we don’t both have to be in our trunks, do we?”

“Don’t hedge!” shouted Jim over his shoulder “Here’s our chance to make some amends to our character. Come on, get into your trunks!”

Character! Is surrendering to the soft and Idle charm of summer a weakness of character? Is it wrong to enjoy the bounty of the seasons? Why should summer end in a hasty scramble, as though we were slaves, and conscious the driver with a whip? Why should not summer end like a song, lingering in the heart?

I got into my trunks.

I listened for the far mutter of Joe Badeau’s engine. But the August wind and waves denied me.

Jim unlocked the boathouse and came out with the axe and a large bucket containing the six-inch spikes purchased three, maybe four, years ago, for this very purpose. I picked up the hammer and the swede saw from its nail. The swede saw is that lumberjack weapon like a modernized bucksaw. It melts its way through old dry logs.

“Snappy, now,” ordered Jimmie. “Let’s select three or four good stout logs.”

Boldly, he jumped into the water up to his armpits at the deeper end of the dock and scrutinized the underpinnings.

“We need a six-foot log on this side,” he announced very engineeringly, “and the mate to it on the opposite side. Here on the crib, I should think three pieces, let’s see, four feet long, will tighten her up.”

“The ice, this winter,” I prophesied coldly, “will swipe the logs from under…”

“Then, we need a nice light log, about 20 feet long, as a crowbar, to hoist her up a little while I spike the…”

I walked off the dock and into the rushes along the beach where sundry logs, drifted in over the years, were either lying half-buried in the sand, or were dry as old bones up among the shrubbery of the shore:

Jim came behind me with the swede saw.

“Here’s one,” he announced. “Cedar, at that!”

And out of the harsh grass, he hoisted one end of an eight-inch cedar log, dried and bare from maybe half a century of weathering. Out of its middle, we cut two fine posts six feet long. The swede saw released the imperishable aroma of cedar with the sawdust.

A little farther along, we pulled out two old pine sawlogs that probably escaped from the lumberjacks’ booms years ago when they were cutting through this part of the country.

“Enough here,” announced Jim. “to build an entire new crib.”

With the saw, we cut four good billets for the crib.

“I think I hear Joe Badeau!” I exclaimed.

We both paused to listen.

“I don’t hear him,” said Jim.

Neither did I.

So we went and hunted up a long, light log for me to use as a pry or lever, while Jim was setting the new legs under the dock.

All these selected pieces of wood we dragged over to the wharf. Using a boulder for a base, I thrust one end of the 20-foot pole under the edge of the wharf, and then leaned all my weight on the other end. This raised the more dilapidated end of the wharf slightly, so that Jim, in the water, could jag one of his six-foot logs underneath, upright, for a leg or support. With his six-inch spikes, driven in obliquely, he secured the legs to the battered old stingers.

Working fast, Jim set both legs in place and then moved around to the crib. This was where I entered the water too, to tow the crib pieces into place and hold them while Jim, with the axe, drove spikes wherever he could find a spot they would bite between the fresh logs and the old cribbing,

“I hear him!” I announced.

Jim harked a moment.

“Okay,” he said, “we’ve just got time to get half a dozen rocks to put in the crib.”

Many of the original rocks had fallen out of the crib during the years of disintegration. Three or four we found with our feet on the lake bottom, and these we lifted easily, in the water, and set back in the crib.

“That’ll hold her,” I suggested, hopefully.

“The crib is the foundation of the whole thing,” asserted Jim. “Come on.”

In the neighboring sand, we found and uprooted half a dozen more boulders, which tear the arms out of you to carry. We were exhausted by the time the crib was declared full by Jim.

“There!” he heaved. “Now I can face the winter with a decent conscience!”

Joe Badeau was rounding the point, a mile away.

We dashed up to the house, dried, and dived into our clothes. Together, we carried down the trunk. Individually, we toted down the dunnage bags, grips and cartons.

“There,” cried Jim. “Feel how solid she is!”

The old wharf DID feel solid.

Joe Badeau was 100 hundred yards out.

“Hi-ya, Joe!”

Jim dashed up to the cottage to lock the door.

I stood on the wharf while Joe steamed in.

The wind was with him.

His boat is old, his engine older.

Often before this, it had failed to respond to his rusty gear shifts and throttles.

On it came.

“Hey!” I warned.

Jim was half-way down the rocks.

“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau.

But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.

There was a splintering crash. Everything gave way. The old wharf just tilted up and surrendered.

In went all the baggage, the trunks, the cartons, the dunnage bags, the grips.

And me.

“How’s your conscience?” I gritted, as Jim lent me a helping hand back onto the rock.

“Whoa!” yelled Joe Badeau. But inexorably, the old boat bored straight ahead.

Editor’s Notes: This is another example where you can see the difference between the original colour image, and the microfiched version, especially in the case of later Montreal Standard stories where the image is split over 2 pages. This is the only example of a Montreal Standard story where I have the original, and you can see that the picture is not printed in full colour. I’m not sure what this printing process is called, but it can be seen in some older magazines, which I assume was cheaper.

Skewgee means slanted or crooked.

A Swede saw was a name for a modern bow saw. It was invented in the 1920s by a Swedish company.

The Mechanics of the Thing

“… in the mechanical arts you have a true demonstration of social effort.” “Ouch,” screamed Jim.

The first rule is: Leave things alone. Particularly things like lawn mower blades

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, July 18, 1942.

“You’re looking particularly gloomy,” observed Jimmie Frise.

“I’ve been thinking,” I explained, “and it always makes me bilious.”

“You want to be careful,” warned Jim. “You should leave the thinking to those whose job it is. Suppose everybody started thinking. What a fine mess we’d be in then!”

“Don’t be cynical, Jim,” I cautioned. “Isn’t it time everybody started thinking? We have been leaving everything to the guy whose job it is. Or was. If some bird was interested in politics, we left polities to him. If some bloke liked soldiering, we left soldiering to him. If some other baby liked making great big steel tractors, we left making great big steel tractors to him. Then along comes a war. So we leave the conduct of the war to the guys who like politics. And we leave the soldiering to the bloke who likes soldiering. And we leave the making of tanks to the baby who likes making tractors. It never occurred to us that maybe these people who liked doing those things were no more fitted to save us from disaster than any other three busybodies we might pick out at random.”

“Now, now, now,” protested Jimmie. “Doesn’t it stand to reason that people experienced in government should be trusted with government in an emergency? Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that people interested in soldiering should be entrusted with handling our soldiers when we raise them? And doesn’t it make sense that industrialists should know more about producing war material than anybody else?”

“What you say proves,” I informed him, “that you haven’t been thinking. You’ve got faith. But you aren’t thinking.”

“Then,” smiled Jimmie loftily, “what should I think?”

“I suppose,” I weaseled, “that because a kid likes to play hockey, you should let him on the championship team?”

“But the way you find your championship team,” crowed Jim, “is by scouring all the lesser teams. You don’t make a championship hockey team out of wrestlers and tennis players. That is precisely how we get government, soldiers and industrialists. Out of all those playing those games, we select the best.”

The Eternal Battle

“I have trapped you,” I announced. “You still think war is a game. Our government, our army and our industry are not bridge tables. Neither are they private clubs or lodges in which only members may play. War is a convulsion. It is a desperate illness of the body social. It is a natural disaster like smallpox or infantile paralysis. It is like the eternal battle between the birds and the insects. It is one of the awful manifestations of nature. Periodically, one of the tribes of man that is down suddenly struggles to rise up. It happens endlessly, all across history, like the struggle of water to seek its level; like the battle of the jungle; like the fight in a garden between the plants; or the never-ending combat between the trees of the forest.”

“I admit war isn’t a game,” submitted Jim.

“Peace is a game,” I asserted. “A shabby, sordid sort of game, at that; in the hands of a lot of cigar-chewing promoters. But war is life and death; as it was in the beginning. War calls for fighters. And now the fighters must come to the top. By fighters, I don’t mean the noisy boys, the assertive, star performers who drew the big gates in the game of peace. What is there about government that a strong fighting man could not learn in 30 days? All he has to do, after 30 days’ study, is push button and call in a chief clerk to give him the technical data he wants. You and I have both been soldiers. What is there about soldiering that a clever man who has never soldiered could not learn in 30 days? All he has got to do is push a button and call in a department manager in the uniform of a general, to get any technical data he needs at the moment. What is there about one industry that a good man in any other industry cannot take in at a glance? The greatest successes in industrial and financial history have been created by clever, outstanding and fighting men who came in from the outside. War is neither a matter of government, of soldiering nor of industry. War is fighting. And what is fighting? Is it a game? Is it a thing of rules? A lot of dead men thought so, like Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon. They all ended in ruin, because fighting is another thing entirely – a matter of imagination of courage, of intellect and of soul. And as Caesar, Napoleon and all the rest found out, too late, the fighters hardly ever wore uniform, hardly ever had any political connection and hardly ever had the patience to collect, like raspberries, one by one, a billion dollars.”

To Help the Fighters

“You’ve ruled out all the ways we have of selecting our leaders,” complained Jim.

“And our leaders are ruling themselves out,” I assured him, “to make way for the fighters.”

“How will we select the fighters,” demanded Jim.

“You never select the fighters,” I explained. “They are a gift from on high.”

We sat in silence, thinking biliously.

“How useless my life has been,” muttered Jim. “Thirty years drawing cartoons. What good are cartoons now?”

“Thirty years emitting words,” I mumbled, for myself. “Like the drip from a pump.”

“We’re too old to fight,” said Jim, “but isn’t there something we could do to help the fighters?”

“We aren’t even good enough in the legs,” I snorted, “to be water boys, like Gunga Din.”

“We can still shoot,” calculated Jimmie. “We could be guerrillas.”

“I’ve often thought,” I suggested, “that we men from 50 to 60 years of age, if we were trained, could be recruited into special maintenance companies for the tank corps. Did you ever notice, around a garage, that the fellow who really does the problem jobs, on ignition, or on faulty timing, or any of the tricky cases, isn’t the strong, husky bird in his 20’s and 30’s? It is nearly always a middle-aged man, often in his 50’s or better.”

“By jingo, that’s a fact,” said Jim.

“The big husky boys,” I went on, “do the tire changing and the jacking up and the big, noisy jobs. But when your car has to be approached as if it were a murder mystery, it is always some middle-aged gent, in the dirtiest overalls, mostly wearing spectacles, who comes in, quiet and bold, and solves the puzzle. It seems to me that in this modern tank warfare, they are trying to get along without the very men they need most.”

“The men who fight the tanks,” agreed Jim, “can be the young, dashing, tough lads. But the maintenance squads… do they have to be young and dashing?”

“The light aid detachments,” I explained, “and the repair units that follow tanks into action have to be as nippy as the tanks themselves.”

“So they say,” added Jim.

“One thing,” I summed up, “in this day and age, every man ought to know some mechanics. The time has come, in human affairs, when it isn’t enough merely to be a smart buyer or a clever, seller; lawyers, parsons, accountants, salesmen, executives, even doctors, are so much baggage when fighting comes to the bare fists as it is now. Every living man, regardless of his age, should be trained to be able to make something with his hands. Every man should be a mechanic, if only to dig swiftly and cleverly with a shovel; or to splice a telephone wire or do rough carpentry.”

“Look,” said Jim. “At all the technical schools, at the universities, they are conducting classes, night classes, to teach people any one of the many mechanical arts.”

“Then…” I said with finality.

“Of course,” cried Jimmie. “Let’s get going. Let’s make a team specializing on heavy motors. You become the ignition expert and I’ll be the carburetor expert. It will be something,” cried Jim eagerly, “to fill our nights, this autumn. Every night we work, we’ll feel of more use. This awful feeling of sitting. doing nothing…”

“And in the course of a few weeks,” I stated, “we would be fit to grab hold of a job, instead of standing by and watching.”

“Even if we can’t be of practical use,” pursued Jim, “the training will at least make us the better able to understand what our fellow men are doing with their lives. In Norway, there are no private schools. All rich and poor, farmer and banker, are given the same education as far as they go. They all speak the same language, understand the same ideas. It knits them closer together as citizens. In our country, everybody ought to be made to master some mechanical craft and everybody should be taught literature, agriculture and business practice. Then, when we part to go our separate ways in life, we won’t feel like foreigners to one another as we do now.”

“Jim,” I confessed, “in the past 30 years, I haven’t mended a tap or repaired a broken switch. I haven’t even tacked down any weather-stripping. I blush to think of all the hundreds of little jobs I have passed up, around my home, in favor of calling in the plumber, the electrician or the handy man.”

Repairing the Lawn-mower

“It isn’t that you are lazy,” suggested Jim. “It is merely that you have been taught, from your earliest childhood, in school and in life itself, that you must be smart enough to be able to employ other people to do the work that is done by hand. The beau ideal of our educational system is not the white collar man. He is the white-handed man!”

“And now, in all our war camps from the Arctic to the tropics,” I exclaimed, “the commando is our ideal in a desperate effort to convert all our soft white hands into hard brown hands.”

“Okay, carburetors for me,” cried Jim, rising and rolling up his sleeves in expectation.

“I’ll run up tomorrow noon,” I said, “and find out what I can about these night classes at Varsity and at the technical schools.”

“After all,” said Jim eagerly, “just because I have been an artist all my life, surely all the stuff my farmer ancestors had hasn’t petered out of me.”

“One of my grandfathers,” I asserted, “was a stone mason and the other was a farmer who worked 200 acres. I bet I’ve got the stuff in me, if only give it a chance.”

With his sleeves rolled up, Jimmie walked around the room, tested the light switch, tried the window latches, lifted up a chair and felt its rungs.

“There are a hundred things a man can do…” he mused.

“I’ve got it,” he cried suddenly, “My lawn-mower. There’s the very thing. I’ve been intending to repair my lawn mower for two years now.”

“Clocks and lawn-mowers,” I cut in, “are two things my grandmother told me no man should tinker with.”

“Come on,” said Jim, rolling his sleeves still higher. “We’ll begin at the beginning. We’ll tackle the job on hand, just to show our hearts are in the right place.”

First he led me down cellar where, from shelves, drawers, boxes, he assembled the most extraordinary collection of tools. A wrench, hammer, file, oil can, at least half a dozen spanners of assorted sizes.

“Who said you weren’t mechanical?” I demanded in admiration.

“Some of them,” said Jim, “workmen have left behind. Others I borrowed from neighbors so long ago I forget whose they are. Every home has a scattering of tools like this.”

Out in the garden, Jim brought forth the lawn mower from the corner of the garage.

“Why, that’s a swell lawn mower,” I cried. “What’s the matter with that?”

“It needs sharpening,” said Jim, file already in hand. “And the blades need adjusting, Every once in a while, they jam some way.”

“Do you sharpen a lawn mower with a file?” I inquired dubiously

“You sharpen everything with a file,” explained Jimmie.

With a small spanner, Jim explored around among the nuts and bolts until he found the one that held the blade assembly in place. And in a jiffy, he had the blades, all in one piece, out on the ground.

“Feel them,” he said, “dull as a hoe.”

So while Jim scrubbed at the blades with the file. I tinkered around with the frame, oiling here, wiping off there: tightening loose nuts and screws and discovering, for the first time, the simple principle of gears which makes a lawn mower operate.

In 10 minutes. Jim had a nice gleaming edge on all the blades, including the big one in the frame. He wished he had a scythe stone to finish off the job, he said. When he was a boy on the farm, the thing he liked best was to watch a man stoning a scythe with long, strong strokes of the stone and a flexing wrist, making a sweet ring of steel in the summer air.

To Go to Night School

“Now,” said Jim, lifting up the blade assembly.

As his helper, I held the frame steady and helped direct the little ends of the axle into place.

“Gimme the small spanner,” ordered Jim, very mechanic like.

He tightened the nut carefully. But the blade assembly wobbled very loose in its frame.

“Have you touched any of those other nuts?” he demanded.

“I tightened a few of them up,” I explained. So Jimmie went all over the various nuts and screws, loosening and tightening, while feeling the set of the blades in the frame.

“It doesn’t hang level,” I pointed out.

“Not likely to,” muttered Jim, “with people tinkering all over the job. The first rule of mechanics is, don’t tinker. Leave things alone.”

“All I did was oil it,” I protested indignantly, “and tighten up a couple of these nuts that were just about falling off.”

“Here,” said Jim, “take this spanner. I’ll hold the blades in the proper position, and you tighten up the different nuts until it takes hold, just the way I’m setting it.”

I took the spanner and tightened. I tightened here and I tightened there, little by little the way you put on a spare tire.

“Easy now,” warned Jim.

“How’s she coming?” I inquired.

“It’s starting to grasp hold,” admitted Jim.

“One thing about mechanics,” I said, “you always have to have a helper. There is something very companionable about mechanics.”

“Easy,” said Jim. “Pay attention.”

“In most other lines of work,” I said, “you work alone. Writers, artists, lawyers, salesmen, they all work alone. But in the mechanical arts, you have a true demonstration of social effort…”

“OUCH!” screamed Jimmie very unexpectedly.

“Oh,” I replied, turning the wrench firmly in the other direction.

“Oucheeeeeee!” yelled Jimmie in agony.

The tip of his finger was caught between the blades and the edge of the mower.

“Turn it the other way,” he roared.

“That’s tightening it,” I gasped, heaving in the opposite direction.

“Take your foot off it,” bellowed Jim,

And with the littlest move of the mower my way, the blade opened and Jim snatched his finger out.

“It was your darn foot,” he accused bitterly “shoving on the mower that made the blade catch me.”

“I was just getting a good purchase on the spanner,” I explained. “Is it cut?”

“No,” growled Jim, “but it might have been.”

“I’m very sorry,” I assured him. “I was just shoving with my foot…”

“Don’t describe it,” said Jim, standing up and shaking his hand rapidly, to take the pain out of his finger.

“I was doing the best I knew how,” I insisted.

“Listen,” said Jimmie, “there is a mechanics to all things. There is a mechanics to lawnmowers. If you shove one way, the blades go one way; if you shove the other, the blades go the other. It is the same with politics, soldiering and business. There is a mechanics to them all. First, you have to be an apprentice. Then you have to be a journeyman. It takes a long time to be a master mechanic.”

“It’s a funny thing we can’t tinker with a lawn-mower,” I asserted, “a simple thing like a lawn-mower. We’re not saps exactly.”

“Yet,” said Jim, putting the end joint of his bruised finger in his mouth, “you are prepared to let guys at least as clever as us tinker with government, soldiering and industry?”

“There’s a big difference,” I claimed, “between waging war and mending lawn-mowers.”

“You’d be surprised,” retorted Jimmie, “how much alike they are, in the main.”

So when his finger stopped hurting, Jimmie held the blades steady with a stick. And I braced both feet on the frame and took hold of the spanner and tightened all the nuts until the veins stood out on my forehead.

And the lawn mower hums like a Spitfire.

Editor’s Note: A scythe stone is a long narrow sharpening stone.

Wiring Party

Every time we freed ourselves of one coil of wire we were seized by another…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 6, 1936.

“Tell me,” said Jimmie Frise, “something about the war.”

“Jimmie,” I exclaimed, “this is wonderful of you. Nobody ever asks me about the war any more.”

“Oh, I just wanted to freshen up my memory of some of the infantry angles,” said Jim. “Us artillery men missed certain features, you know.”

“Jim,” I said, “this is very kind of you. You can have no idea how congested I get sometimes just from wanting to talk about the war. But nobody will let me. I’ve worn out all my family. I used to look forward to the days when my little sons would be old enough to want to hear about the war. But now that they are getting into long pants they haven’t the slightest interest. If I even try to stick in just one little apologetic anecdote about the war they hear somebody whistling outside and jump up and leave me flat.”

“Don’t forget,” said Jim, “I’m a veteran myself.”

“Yes, but,” I pointed out, “the artillery couldn’t have had all the adventures the infantry had. Don’t forget that.”

“Oh, is that so?” said Jim.

“Just the same old thing every day for you gunners,” I explained. “Firing a modern gun is just like working a lathe or running an engine. You don’t see anything. You just twiddle some wheels, adjust some gadgets, pull a string and bang she goes off into space, aimed at an arithmetical calculation instead of a romantic target.”

“Is that so?” said Jim.

“But don’t let me offend you,” I hurried. “You wanted to hear about the war. My dear boy, I appreciate this more than I can tell you.”

“Just a certain aspect of it,” said Jim.

“It has got so,” I assured him, “that not only does my family walk out on me whenever I introduce even the least teeny weeny bit of war, even just in passing, but now my old gardener has folded up on me. He used to love to have me walking beside him when he was running the lawn mower, for example, and tell him about the war. Many’s the hour we have sat in the garden when he was edging or weeding, and remembered old times together. But now whenever I see him he is so busy he just has to rush.”

“Maybe you have told him all your stories for the second time,” suggested Jim.

“Second time?” I protested. “My dear boy, a war story doesn’t really get rich and fruity until the third or fourth time.”

“What I wanted to know,” said Jim, “was about these wiring parties. What was a wiring party?”

“Ah, now you are asking somebody,” I cried, settling back. “Jim, you are talking now to one of the most expert wirers in the world. I have strung literally miles of wire. I have laid acres and acres of barbed wire.”

“You mean your men did,” said Jim.

“Naturally,” I admitted. “An officer does not go around, as a rule, with canvas mitts on hauling barbed wire. When I speak of having strung miles of barbed wire I speak as an engineer speaks when he says he has built miles of road, see? But as a matter of fact, Jim, I have actually laid quite a lot of wire myself in my time. I remember one night…”

Infantry Experts

“Tell me,” said Jim, “was the wire in big coils?”

“No, no,” said I. “It came in tight spools or bobbins. Remember, we had to carry that wire into the trenches, as well as string it after we got it there. I recollect one night – was it in June, seventeen …?”

“Was it springy, sort of?” asked Jim. “When you started to undo a coil of it did it spring out and get all tangled?”

“No, no,” I assured him. “You cut a couple of small bits of tie wire, and then, with the spool on a stick, you just backed up and unrolled it. Now, this night I speak of in June, I think it was, seventeen, or was it May? Now, let me see? We went from Enquin lez Mines back up to Les Brebis and Mazingarbe…”

“I should think,” said Jim, “that anybody who had handled barbed wire could handle almost any kind of wire.”

“You’re right,” I said. “There were about 300,000 Canadians in the infantry from time to time and every one of those men to-day, wherever he is, is an expert wire man. But as I was telling you, we were on the Bully Grenay front, out by Loos, you remember. It was a fine summer’s night…”

“How did you get the wire tight?” asked Jim. “After you had laid it where you wanted it, how did you pull it snug and tight?”

“A fine summer’s night,” I explained. “One of those luminous June nights, with the stars fairly dripping from the sky. It was quiet, too. Here and there a flicker of guns, like summer lightning. Now and then the lazy bang of a five-nine somewhere in the distance …”

“How many men would you use on one spool of wire?” asked Jim.

”The major says to me, ‘Clark,’ he says, ‘I want you to take the wiring party tonight. It’s a ticklish bit. It’s those old chalk pits. On our side, the wire is about as useful as a lace curtain. I want some wire in there that is wire. I want you to handpick your party, Clark,’ he says, ‘and make a night of it.’ It must have been about nine o’clock …”

“Is this the story,” asked Jim, “about the time the two Germans crawled out and asked you the time, thinking you were a German?”

“Ha, ha,” I laughed. “You’ve heard that, eh? Wasn’t that a scream?”

“I have heard it six or seven times,” admitted Jim admiringly, “and every time it gets better.”

“One keeps remembering details,” I explained. “I wonder if I ever told you one little detail in that story about…”

“What I am trying to get at,” said Jim, still laughing reminiscently. “is this – you see, I had no experience of wiring – and now I am trying to put up a fence at my place. I wanted your advice.”

“A wire fence?” I asked.

“You know that little green wire fence I’ve got?” said Jimmie. “Gyp, my new setter, can hop it in her stride. What I am doing is putting up about twenty tall stakes, with holes bored through them, and then stringing two wires along them, about a foot apart, above the top of the regular fence. Then I am going to plant morning glories and sweet peas and things and grow a sort of screen. I don’t think Gyp will jump through that.”

“It should be very simple.” I said, “just threading wire through holes in stakes.”

“I was trying it last night,” said Jim, “but the wire coil springs out fearfully when you snip the little bits of wire tying the coil together.”

“Hold it with one hand, my dear fellow,” I smiled, “and thread it with the other.”

“I wish I had been in the infantry,” sighed Jim.

“Tut, tut,” I said. “I’ll run over after dinner to-night.”

Which I did, and Jimmie had all the material laid out just like a regular old supply dump back of the lines in Flanders. Four large coils of good stout wire. A heap of long green painted stakes with holes ready bored in them. Smaller posts of two by four for reinforcing them.

“You haven’t the stakes up yet? I pointed out.

“I got three or four up as you see,” said Jim, “but I thought I had better get your advice on that, too, because half the problem of wiring must be the stakes, isn’t it?”

“Quite right,” I agreed. “I recall one time down on the Arras front, out by a place called Roclincourt straight ahead from Madagascar Dump, if you remember?”

“Sure,” said Jim. “Which do you suggest? Should we just drive the stakes down or should we first dig a little hole to soften the earth and then drive them in?”

“On this Roclincourt front,” I explained, “”the problem consisted of an overbody of soft, mucky earth on top of a stratum of hard chalk. And the way we drove our angle iron stakes and screw stakes was this.”

“Here’s a shovel,” said Jim.

He removed his coat and vest eagerly and picked up a fence stake and carried it over to the side of the garden. I followed suit, bringing the shovel. I dug a small hole. About a foot deep.

“Now,” said Jim, “which will I do? Hold the stake or drive it with the axe?”

“You hold it,” I agreed. “I’ll show you a trick or two.”

So in a matter of twenty minutes we had three stakes well and firmly buried in their proper places, except that the first one had the holes for the wire pointing the wrong way.

“That won’t matter,” I showed. We will just jog the wire there and it will make it all the tighter.”

In less than an hour we had ten stakes firmly planted, and that gave us the one full side of the garden and all along the bottom.

“Now, Gunner,” I explained, “we’ll string some wire just before it gets dark, so that you will know how to carry on.”

“This is the part I am interested in,” said Jim.

The big coils of wire were heavy. It would be impossible to hold one in one hand and steer it with the other. So we agreed that one of us would carry the coil and the other steer it through the little holes in the pickets. Jim handed me the pliers to snip the tying wire around the coils.

“Wire,” I explained, as I squatted down to snip, “has a character all its own.”

“Shouldn’t you kneel on it?” asked Jim, “before you cut that last bit?”

I snipped and the coil of wire sprang into the air with a twanging, hissing sound like a serpent. It seemed to be wrapping itself around me. I threw myself on it, and held it down.

“Jimmie,” I commanded, “lend a hand here and tuck it back under me.”

So I lay on it while Jim slowly tucked it back in rings and circles about the size it was originally.

“Ease up a little,” said Jim. “As I coil these coils under you.”

“We never used to have this happen in Flanders,” I said.

“Upsadaisy,” said Jim, “but not too much. Just relax a trifle, while I slide this end under.”

And thus spreadeagled on the very untidy and always struggling wire, I lay while Jim patiently worked it back under me.

“I wish some of your old troops could see you now,” said Jim, appreciatively. “The ones that you used to wire miles and miles with.”

“They’d help me if they did,” I declared.

“And be just about as handy as you are,” said Jim.

“One time,” I said, “out near the Canal du Nord, it was in August, eighteen, if I recollect…”

“Ease up a little,” said Jim, “just a little.”

“We were stopped,” I continued, “on account of our flanks having failed to keep up with us, so I had to put out some wire, just a temporary belt of wire, while we dug in and waited for a day or so…”

“Lift your left leg,” said Jim.

“That’s very wiry wire,” I admitted, after we had got most of it back somehow and laid the axe and a few stakes on it to hold it down.

“I’ll sit on it,” said Jim, “right here on the ground while you work it out carefully and fasten one end to the first stake.”

So Jim sat on the rather untidy coil while I sought out the end of the wire and slowly edged out yard after yard of it until I had enough to reach the first post, up near the house end of the proposed fence. With staples I secured it firmly and wound it several times around the post.

“Now,” I said.

“Good heavens,” said Jim.

For now, having secured one end, we had the whole coil on the ground before us to thread through the holes of the dozen remaining pickets.

“Mmm,” said I. “I guess we should have threaded it first, eh?”

“In the artillery,” said Jim, “we always put the shell in the breech before we fired the gun.”

“I’ll thread this end,” I explained. “It will all come to the same thing.”

It did. In removing a few more coils, Jim eased up just a trifle too high and a whole burst of coils leaped front tinder him and, like lariats, flung themselves around me before I could grasp the situation and let go my end. Jim seeing me trapped, foolishly leaped up to help me and as he did so, the clever coils had him. In a moment, we were both netted in the wire, which, every time you freed yourself of one coil seized you with another.

“Up around Arras,” asked Jim, “what did you do when this kind of thing happened?”

“It didn’t happen,” I declared. “We had proper wire. Barbed wire. Wire that had some sense to it.”

“I suppose all you had to do was call the troops, and they uncoiled you?” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said, as I shoved the coils down off my chest and legs, only releasing them to have them snare Jim instead. “I think you might remember that I sunk most of those pickets for you. I did the digging. I did the pounding.”

“It was your experience with wire that I wanted,” said Jim. “Even gunners can dig holes.”

We gradually got free of the wire, and it committed a few more twangs and leaps and futile snatches in our direction and then subsided into a large, loose and twisted tangle in the middle of Jim’s garden.

“Now let’s see,” said Jim.

“Jim,” I said. “I promised my boys I’d drive them over for an ice cream soda before bed.”

“Good old infantry,” said Jim.

So when I looked back as I went down the gate steps, Jim was standing, the way the gunners always did, just looking down with his hands in his pockets.

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