The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: September Page 1 of 3

Not SO Sweet!

Charles looks at everything with the same expression. You can’t tell whether the thing he is reading is a cheque from his brokers or vice versa.

By Gregory Clark, September 29, 1928

“What have you this week?” asked the editor.

“Nothing,” I said. “I can’t seem to get going since that article by Charles.”

“That was only meant in fun,” said the editor

“It may be, but I’ve had to shave off my moustache, borrow $500 to pay a lot of debts, answer a lot of letters and generally clean up. I haven’t had time to do any work.”

“Why,” asked the editor, “not take your revenge?”

“Charles is bigger than me.”

“I mean,” said the editor, “take your revenge by writing one about Charles. Revenge is sweet.”

“He wouldn’t stand for it,” said I. “He’s funny that way.”

The editor and I leaned out and looked through the door at Charles. He was sitting at his desk, close up to it, his back very straight. Charles looks at everything with the same expression. You can’t tell whether the thing he is reading is a cheque from his brokers or vice versa. He even reads his own stories with perfect emotional control. In all the time he has been with us he has never been known to stop the rest of the office working while he read aloud a few choice sentences.

“Not a very promising looking prospect,” said I.

“Every man is vain,” the editor mused. “Charles is probably no different. Go at him by stealth. Don’t let on you are going to interview him. But if he suspects anything his vanity may overcome his suspicions.”

“Yeah, but,” said I, “what will I interview him on? He hasn’t got any weaknesses, therefore you can’t describe his character.”

“Eh?’ said the editor.

“And he hasn’t got any hobbies, so you can’t make fun of him.”

“Don’t be bitter,” the editor said.

“He’s one of those cold-minded men that nobody could interview but himself. You know the kind of people Charles interviews? I’d sooner go out and interview Scarborough Bluffs.”

“You are afraid of Charles,”

“Say, listen …”

I got up and walked out to Charles. He was reading something. It looked like the annual report of a bank or something.

“Hello, Charles.”

“Good morning, Greg,” he replied, looking up politely.

“Say, Charles, you ought to have some kind of sport. You ought to fish or shoot or something.”

“Why? Don’t I look well?”

“Yes, you look all right. But I don’t like to see a man who hasn’t any hobby.”

“I have. I play golf.”

No Angle of Approach

“Gosh. It’s the first I ever heard of it. I never heard you even speak of golf.”

“Why should I?”

“Well, what I mean to say … a fellow might … what I mean to say, you hear me mention fishing now and then.”

“Your fishing wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t hear about it,” said Charles.

The trouble with interviews is you are liable to get into arguments.

“We’ll let that pass,” I said. “How about your golf? What’s your handicap?”

“It’s a delicate subject,” replied Charles.

“Sure, but I’m interested, Charles. Just as a friend, you understand? This is very interesting about you. Suddenly coming across a thing like that. Tell me something about it.”

“What shall I tell you?”

“Well, for instance, about golf. Which is your favorite golf stick?”

Charles has an inscrutable way of gazing at you. He began to tap the paper he was reading ever so gently on his desk. Then a smile slowly spread all over his face. And he just looked at me and said nothing. Not a word.

“I’ve been decent with you,” I said. “I’ve told you all about fishing. You might tell me about golf. I’d like to hear about golf. Maybe I’d like to play it if it was a good game.”

Charles continued to smile.

“Ask some of the other boys,” said he. “Bill Orr or Deacon Johnson know far more about it than I do.”

“Oh, well,” said I.

I went back into what is generally called the editor’s sanctum.

“No luck,” I said. “Revenge may be sweet, but this is sour.”

“Well, you don’t expect to get an interview in three minutes, do you?”

“No,” I said. “But there isn’t any angle of approach. I tried to get him going on sport. He plays golf.”

“Certainly,” said the editor. “The way to Interview him is to go and play a game of golf with him.”

“I’d drop dead before I’d ever take a golf stick in my hand.”

“Take him to lunch then. That’s the way he interviews the big fellows. Lunch or a golf game.”

“Who? Henry Ford and Al Smith and all those fellows?”

“That’s the way he gets them,” said the editor. “They’re all human, after all.”

“Charles isn’t,” said I.

“Well, then, work him this way. Tell him you are going to interview somebody and ask him how he goes about it. It would make an interesting story. The public like to know how you go about interviewing these big men.”

“But,” said I, “I don’t want to play him up. I want to get my revenge on him. I want to describe his character.”

“Won’t that show when you tell how he gets the facts out of men like Hoover and Big Bill Thompson of Chicago?”

A Psychological Gunman

“I suppose I could make him out a sort of a gunman.”

“Sure,” said the editor. “A dandy heading, ‘Psychological Gunman.'”

“You would spoil it!”

“Don’t give up. Revenge is sweet,” the editor egged me on. “Get after him. You can pry him open.”

“With a brad awl. Like an oyster,” said I.

I walked out to Charles again. He had a pink slip in his hand. It looked like the second notice from the electric light company. But Charles was viewing it with the same composure with which he would regard a complimentary memo from the chief.

“Charles.”

“Good morning again,” said he.

“I’ve got a big interview I’ve got to do. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me some ideas about interviewing big men.”

“Are you kidding?” asked Charles.

“Certainly not. You’re the interview man. I never do interviews.”

“Then why not let me interview this fellow? Who is he?” asked Charles.

“No, the editor has asked me to get this interview and I couldn’t very well pass it up, could I? But tell me, what’s your method of approaching these big fellows?”

“Usually on foot,” Charles replied.

Charles arrives in some ceremony for his appointed interview.

“But seriously, Charles. There is surely some technique about it. Do you write them first? Do you make appointments and so forth, and arrive in some ceremony?”

“Yes, I hire the town band and get a bunch of the boys to make a torchlight procession.”

“I wish you’d help me, Charles. I’ve often helped you. Remember the time I introduced you to the police sergeant?”

“Well, then, what do you want?”

“I want to know how you go about interviewing these nabobs, these moguls of finance and industry and politics.”

“All right,” said Charles. “You walk into the room. They ask you to sit down. They offer you a cigar. You don’t take it. You talk to them. They talk to you. You look at your watch. In twenty-five minutes your train is leaving. You apologize, rise, shake, hands and depart. That is an interview.”

“But what about technique?”

“It is all bunk.”

“How do you analyze them? How do you arrive at an estimate of their character?”

“No man reaches a high place in any work whose character has not been made manifest.”

“Then interviews are easy?”

“Easy as rolling off a log,” said Charles.

“I disagree with you.” I retorted, and walked back into the editor’s room.

“Well?” asked the editor.

“Bad,” said I. “Think of all the years Charles and I have been friends, working on the same jobs, sharing our toothbrushes and so forth, and now he turns to me the frozen face.”

“Maybe he is on to you. If Charles is nothing else he is shrewd.”

“I have been very guarded.”

The Art of Interviewing

“Well, do what he did to you, then,” said the editor. “Ask him all about his views on Canada as a nation and whether we should have a governor-general.”

“We couldn’t possibly print Charles’ views on that sort of thing.”

“That’s right. But didn’t you get anything out of him on the art of interviewing?”

“He said it was nothing.”

“We know better.”

“Yeah, but how can you describe the character of a man who says to you that the art of interviewing is all bunk?”

“Well,” said the editor quietly, “that’s kind of a character sketch in itself.”

“I don’t want to leave a good impression like that,” I said. “He’s got to get his.”

“Well,” said the editor, “he’s a worker. You know that. Make him out a regular steam engine for work. The public likes to think of other people working like the dickens. It explains the general failure.”

“Then I’ll make out that Charles is nothing but a toiler. A kind of robot. A mechanical man. That’s the stuff.”

“All right,” said the editor, “get him to tell you how he got on top of that stuff about the St. Lawrence waterways. There was a job.”

Once again I crossed the room to Charles

“Ah,” said he. “Welcome. You seem a little restless this morning.”

“Say, Charles, a fellow was asking me the other day how you got around all that material about the St. Lawrence waterways, how you went about it, and so forth. By golly, I couldn’t tell him. I wish you’d tell me some time the story of how you go about getting a grasp on subjects like that – technical and involved and complex.”

“It is work,” said Charles. “You wouldn’t understand that.”

“Charles, you are being nasty?”

“No, I am being careful.”

“Look here, Charles, you don’t suspect me of anything, do you?”

“Anything?”

“Well, I mean to say, we’ve been friends long time. We’ve slept in the snow together and ridden in aeroplanes together and been summer bachelors together and all that sort of thing.”

“Granted,” said Charles.

“We’ve banged around all these years together in the unhappy business of amusing and entertaining the public, getting frozen in Elk Lake and attending functions that made us both sick, risking our lives and going hungry together …”

“You got the big half of that porcupine,” interrupted Charles. “But what are you driving at?”

“Well, then, Charles, why don’t you help me? I want you to tell me some things about you?”

“Yes?”

“You asked me my object in life and I told you.”

“So you did.”

“Then will you tell me your object in life?”

“Yes. My object in life is to have a large bathroom with a fireplace in it.”

Well, what I mean to say, what can you do with a man like that!

What can you do with a man whose object in life is to have a large bathroom with a fire place in it!

Editor’s Notes: This is a story about Charles Vining, a fellow reporter at the Star Weekly. He was only at the Star Weekly for three years, with this year, 1928, as his last.

Whoa – Steady Boy!

September 26, 1936

“Is My Face Red?”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 24, 1932

“I feel,” says Jim Frise, “as if one good laugh and the world would feel a lot better. It’s too darn serious.”

“In the olden days,” said I, “when the world was darkest with wars or pestilence, the clowns and troubadors used to wander the world making everybody laugh. Now is the time for Charlie Chaplin to get busy on a new film.”

“What the world needs,” says Jim, “is a good practical joke. Announce an eclipse and then don’t have one, or something.”

“They pulled that one a couple of weeks ago,” said I. “How about getting a lot of bankers and statesmen to announce that the depression is over. That would be a good one.”

“I mean real, practical jokes,” said Jim.

“Let’s start the ball rolling,” said I. Ah, me!

So we thought up a few practical jokes, all for the sake of humanity.

Our first act was an old-timer. We got a roll-up tape line, 66 feet long, from the office carpenter and took it up Yonge St. to a place just north of Hennessy’s drug store.

It was about 3 p.m. and a fine day, with plenty of shoppers and no end of motor cars.

I held one end of the tape measure and Jim took the other and, watching for a lull in the traffic, he crossed the road, pulling the tape measure after him.

Traffic all stopped politely.

On reaching the far side, Jimmie looked anxiously about and felt in his pockets. Amongst those who stopped to see what was happening was an earnest young man of the sort who are always willing to help.

“Would you mind holding this?” asked Jim politely. The young man eagerly seized the end of the tape.

On my side of Yonge, I had an equally interested group of spectators. I selected an elderly gentleman with a walking stick and spectacles. He obligingly accepted my end of the tape.

The motor traffic and street cars by this time were stopped in both directions, and everybody was very polite.

Then Jimmie and I quietly disappeared in the crowd and met, by prearrangement, down near the Canadian National ticket office.

We looked back and there was quite a jam. Cars and street cars, pedestrians and bicyclists all were paused respectfully, while an earnest young man and an obliging old man solemnly held the tape across the street.

Then things happened. Somebody, probably a policeman, inquired what the idea was.

“A man told me to hold this,” said the young man.

“I was requested to hold it,” said the old man.

Or maybe they both dropped the tape like hot potato. Anyway, the brief traffic jam ended and Jim and I stood at the corner of King and Yonge to watch the world laugh.

Down the street came a thunder cloud of angry Torontonians. Not a laugh in a boat load. We heard snatches of comment.

“Just like the city hall,” said one. “Tear a road up and then don’t know what for. Why, on my street -“

“Silly saps!”

“Didn’t know what they were holding it for!”

Jim and I hurried away and hid in a restaurant to think up some more practical jokes.

Thinking Up a New One

 “I tell you a great one,” said I. “We go and buy a park bench exactly like the city benches they have up in Queen’s Park. We sneak it into Queen’s Park and then start to walk off with it. The park attendants come running and order us to drop it. Wo refuse and say it is ours. The park attendants go and call the police. The cops come and we still try to make off with the bench. So they arrest us. They send for the wagon. We get taken to the police station. And there we produce our receipt for the bench, proving it is ours. Ha, ha, ha!”

“Swell,” said Jim. “Then we go down to Riverdale Park, then out to High Park and Sunnyside. We can pull that one all over the city until the police are sick of the sight of us.”

So we bought a nice park bench for $14.50 and hired a man with a small covered truck to deliver it to us in Queen’s Park.

Nobody noticed us lift it off the truck, as we did the trick around on the east side near that horse-trough where there is a good screen of bushes.

“Now then,” said Jim.

So we started walking across the park. The bench was much heavier than benches used to be in the parks I used to sit in in Toronto. It had cement ends with wooden slats for the seat.

And the afternoon was hot.

Nobody paid any attention to us.

Across by the bandstand a man was cutting grass. We carried the bench past him. He was a bad-tempered looking man, like most park gardeners.

He stopped mowing to wipe his brow.

“Hot work, boys,” he said.

So Jimmie and I set the bench down and had a rest on it.

Coming down from the Avenue road end was a mounted policeman, slowly walking his horse in the humid afternoon.

“If we make it snappy,” I said, “we can intercept him down there at the corner of the parliament buildings.”

We started across the road, struggling anxiously with the bench, with every appearance of guilt. The cop went right on past

So we made it snappy and reached the west side of the road just as the policeman hove down on us. We started across the road, struggling anxiously with the bench, with every appearance of guilt.

The cop went right on past.

We set it down on the far boulevard. The policeman smiled over his shoulder at us.

“Old stuff, boys,” he called. “The university students try to play that one on us every autumn.”

So we sat down again on the bench. “Not such a good joke,” said Jim.

We had not made any arrangements about having the small truck call back for the bench as we figured the police van would take it along as evidence.

“We could take it back to the store and get our money back,” said I.

“Let’s give it to the city,” said Jim. “Let’s carve on the seat here, ‘Donated to the City of Toronto by Two Big Practical Jokers.'”

But it was too hot for carving. So we just donated it anonymously.

As we walked down University avenue I thought of another one.

“We’ll go down Yonge street,” said I, “and all of a sudden I will grab off my hat and kneel down and clap it down on to the pavement, as if I had caught something underneath it. We will both kneel down and I will keep peeking cautiously underneath the edge of my hat, and you act all excited, trying to see under, too. We will act as if we had caught the most wonderful thing in the world.”

“Swell,” said Jimmie. “This one won’t cost anything. Let’s see, $2.50 for the tape measure we lost and $14.50 for the bench.”

So we turned over to Yonge and just above Eaton’s we strolled until we got an open space in the crowd, and then I made a sudden dive, swapped my hat off and clapped It down on an imaginary canary on the pavement.

I knelt down and peeped under the brim of the hat, with every sign of excitement, and all the passer-by stopped

I knelt down and peeped under the brim, with every sign of excitement, and all the passers-by stopped.

When I looked for Jim he was not there. Not only was he not kneeling beside me, but he wasn’t even in the crowd.

“The big quitter,” I muttered, bending down for another cautious look under the brim of my hat.

By this time the crowd was jammed almost on top of me. So I quietly picked up my hat, put it on my head, stood up and walked off.

The crowd did not make a sound. Not laugh. Not a smile. They did look bewildered and a trifle alarmed.

“If Jimmie had only waited,” I said to myself, “he would have enjoyed that one.”

So down near Ryrie’s I decided to try it again, all on my own. I went through the act again and was just nicely kneeling down when I felt somebody grab me.

Not a Laugh in a Load

I was yanked to my feet by two eager-looking young men who were about the size of Argo oarsmen. They held me with my arms pinned behind me and rushed me into a doorway.

“Here,” I yelled, “what’s the idea!”

“Get him inside,” gasped one of the two Argos, “and I’ll hold him while you go and phone for a taxi. Don’t let the police in on this!”

It so happened that they had me jammed into the doorway to the hairdressing parlors of Mr. Wellington Knight, who is an old friend of the Clarks, and he came out to see what the scuffle was.

“Here,” he cried, “let go of Mr. Clark!”

“Ssh!” warned the big boy, holding me more firmly, “this is a dangerous nut escaped from Whitby!”

“Dangerous nothing!” said Mr. Wellington Knight, who is a man of action with or without curling irons. “Let go of that man. That’s Mr. Gregory Clark of The Star.”

The big chap was impressed.

“Let me show you,” I gargled; “let me get at my pocketbook!”

Reluctantly and ready to dodge if I pulled a gun, the big boy relaxed his hold enough to let me produce my police pass, driving license, and so forth.

And at that minute the other large boy returned, panting.

“What is the meaning of this?” I demanded. “Grabbing a man on the street and announcing that he is a dangerous nut escaped from a hospital?”

“Well,” said the first young man, “what were you doing crawling around on your hands and knees on Yonge street?”

“I was playing practical joke,” I spluttered. “Even so, what right have you –“

“Well,” said the two of them, “the doctor pointed you out to us.”

“What doctor?”

“The doctor from Whitby, he said he was,” said the two big young men. “He came up to us where we were standing over there by the Arcade, and he was very excited. ‘Boys,’ he said, ‘I’m a doctor from Whitby and I have just recognized an escaped nut from our hospital. He is very dangerous. There is a reward of a hundred dollars for his capture, and if you can just grab him and slap him into a taxi, without the police getting in on it, why you will have the reward all to yourselves.’ So he pointed this gentleman out to us. We crossed the road and just as we got behind you, you suddenly grabbed off your hat, made a pass at nothing at all with it, and started crawling around –“

A horrible thought struck me.

“What did this doctor look like?” I demanded.

“Well, he had on a brown suit,” said the boys.

“And he was tall, clean shaven,” said I. “a straw hat and dark twinkling eyes?”

“Yes, that’s him all right.”

“Jimmie Frise!” I cried. “It was Jimmie Frise!”

So Wellington Knight, the two Argos and I walked over and climbed up to Jim’s attic. When we went in Jim was lying back in his chair, with tears running all over his face.

“Oh, here you are!” he choked.

“Yes,” said I bitterly, “here I am! And here are two young men looking for a hundred dollar reward.”

Jim gave them each a dollar for their trouble.

“You see,” said Jim, “your practical jokes weren’t working out very well, so I just thought one up for myself.”

“If Mr. Knight here hadn’t come on the scene,” I cried, “those two bullies would have had me into a taxi and half way to Whitby by now.”

Mr. Knight went over and sat on Jim’s table and helped him shed tears.

So I just walked out on them, which goes to show that as far as practical jokes are concerned there isn’t a laugh in a load.


Editor’s Note: Greg and Jim shared an office in the top floor of the Toronto Star building at the time. It could be called an “attic” since it was not a full floor. This is one of their earliest stories.

The Vicissitudes of a Green Father

The cries of the multitude, when they beheld what he was about to do, filled the whole hospital.

One thing the father of a first born infant must beware of is an alarm clock.

Those first few weeks when a young man is making the acquaintance of his first child are fraught with many difficulties. For one thing, he need expect no sympathy or understanding from anybody connected with his household. However enthusiastic he may be, everything he does will be wrong. But of all things in this dark, blundering and difficult time, let him put not his trust in alarm clocks.

A certain young man recently was presented with a large and lusty son. It might be said right at the start that from the moment of the arrival of this remarkable small son the poor young father entered on a career of unparalleled and unenlightened blunder.

The first thing he did was to rush down town and buy a beautiful blue enamel and gold locket, heart shaped.

This, with sundry gladioli, roses, zinnias, marigolds, candies, all-day suckers, rattles, dolls, horses, and teething rings, he bore triumphantly and proudly to the hospital.

Several female relations on both sides of the family, various nurses, hospital officials, and other people of the indignant sex were grouped around the sanctum where his new son lay.

Of course, they did not notice his approach. In fact, they had not been aware of his existence all day. They had told him of the arrival of his son merely as an afterthought.

The poor young man stood there, proud, smiling eagerly, yearning to be recognized as a party to this great event. The ladies were cooing and exclaiming, oblivious to his presence. So the father produced the blue locket on its chain, and advanced with an air of proprietorship to hang it about the neck of his son.

The cries of the multitude, when they beheld what he was about to do, filled the whole hospital. The young father was well nigh done to death by the infuriated ladies. A nurse threatened him with a chloroform pad.

It appears that heart-shaped lockets are for girls, and girls only. To present a boy with a locket is considered the most deadly of insults!

But who was to tell the young father that beforehand? Nobody! Nobody cared.

Now the young man is kept in fear and trembling by all his relations, who threaten to tell his wife all about it as soon as she is up and about. And he has hidden the locket, the horses, the candy bulls-eyes, and the teething rings in his desk at the office.

A book of hints to young fathers should certainly be written. The etiquette, for instance, of the drawing-room is a bagatelle to the etiquette of the nursery. When a father, beholding his first born son for the first time, sees him lying helplessly on his side, his little face pressed on the hard, flat mattress and crying fit to explode, nothing could be more natural for the father to do than to try to set the little fellow up on end and make interesting faces to amuse him. But it is astonishing the way every body will jump on him if he tries it.

Then again, they don’t feed a baby till it is two or three days old. Ordinary people may believe this is right. But you can’t expect a father to believe it, when he sees his child desperately trying to eat its own little hands.

This young man I speak of brought up a couple of egg sandwiches and a few arrowroot biscuits in his pocket the second day, intending to sneak them surreptitiously to his son. But the nurse caught him, and ejected him with violence from the room. They simply won’t trust you at all.

It is when the baby arrives home from hospital that the real trials begin, and young fathers should be warned of this period.

The last thing the nurse tells you at hospital is not to “spoil” the baby. If it cries, don’t pick it up. If you pick it up it will learn to cry until you do pick it up. Of course, if you think it has a pain you can pick it up for a moment–

In the case I speak of, the baby slept all day and all evening of its first day home. But at midnight it opened up. Naturally, it was in pain. Father, mother, and maternal grandmother All took turns till dawn in relieving its pain. The minute it was laid down it was in pain. The minute it was picked up and sung hymns to its pain departed.

After two nights of this, the father stated it was his opinion that the baby was not in pain, but was, in short, in danger of being spoiled.

In vain he quoted nurses. He might as well have been a murderer. What little respect for him was left in his family’s eyes was by this statement dissipated into thin air.

Now comes the alarm clock. This young man wound up his trusty, old alarm clock and set it for two o’clock in the morning, the baby’s halfway feeding time.

To the ladies of the household he said:

“Retire. I will keep watch. I will let him cry little, before lifting him, to see if he won’t stop of himself. And don’t worry about the time. I have set my alarm clock for two. I will get up and bring the baby in.”

This speech, delivered with a dignity and an air of authority, did much to restore the prestige he had lost in recent weeks.

Now, this is what happened. At two o’clock the baby was in his mother’s arms, and had been there for some hours. Maternal grandma was sitting rocking into the small hours. Father lay in the adjoining room sound asleep on his couch.

Suddenly the alarm clock bursts forth. It rings and rings. Even the baby’s cries are stilled by it.

Father moves drowsily. He reaches out and turns off the alarm, and with comfortable snuggle sinks again into profound slumber.

And in the other lighted room, grandma and mother and baby look significantly at each other, in silence.

To what greater depths of ignominy can that father fall? Betrayed by sleep and an alarm clock, he let his little son go hang! Go starve!

He will not hear the end of that. It matters not that the family all was and the baby warm and cuddled.

It to the spirit, not the performance, that counts, that cuts.


Editor’s Note: This is one of a number of stories Greg wrote about in the early 1920s about being a father.

H.M.S. Noazark

September 23, 1939

The Noazark has been painted with dazzle camouflage, which was used extensively in World War I. Unlike other forms of camouflage, the intention of dazzle is not to conceal but to make it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed, and heading. It’s effectiveness was unknown. Many people (presumably, Jim included) thought early on in the Second World War that is would be similar to the First. Dazzle was rarely used in the Second World War as radar largely made it useless.

Going, Going, Gone

“Reputed,” droned the auctioneer’s voice,”to be genuine Ming! Nine-fifty I am offered!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 20, 1947

“Come on!” pleaded Jimmie Frise. “They’re fun!”

“Auction sales are a fraud,” I scoffed. “They’re a racket!”

Jim had slowed the car in front of an old house in the downtown district which had been converted into an auction sale headquarters. Over the lighted portico, a large canvas banner proclaimed “Auction now in progress.” And cars were parked densely all around, while a regular church congregation seemed to be pouring into the emporium.

“Come on,” egged Jim. “We’ve nothing better to do.”

“I haven’t seen ‘Great Expectations’ yet,” I complained. “We can find it at one of the neighborhood theatres.”

“Look,” said Jim, “movies are all the same. Once you’ve seen one movie, you’ve seen all movies. But an auction sale is a riot. You see human nature revealed there in the raw – not all taffied up by some movie director. If you want a good chuckle, go to an auction sale.”

“Jim, they’re just a racket!” I protested, as he started to manoeuvre for a parking space up the street. “And it’s just junk they sell.”

“Oh, don’t think I was suggesting we buy anything,” laughed Jim. “It’s just to see the show.”

“It’s always the same, Jim, I made my last bid. The same old crowd always attends these auction sales. The auction sale habit is like the bingo habit or the racetrack habit or any other rut certain people seem to get into. You see the same types at an auction sale just as you see the same types at a race track. There’s an auction sale type.”

“Exactly,” agreed Jim, turning off the ignition. “And it’s fun to see them in operation, just the same as it’s fun to watch a bingo crowd. First of all, there’s the regular dealers who are in attendance, the secondhand dealers and antique dealers. Attending auction sales is a part of their business. They pick up a few dollars worth of odds and ends, bric-a-bric, china, silver, to eke out their own stocks in their shops.”

“Then,” I pointed out, “there are those other semi-professionals – they don’t have stores. But it’s a sort of sideline or hobby with them. They attend auctions as regular as the second-hand dealers, to pick up odds and ends which they take home, and then either sell to their friends and neighbors, or else advertise them in the want ads of the daily newspapers, turning over a little profit.”

“There could be worse hobbies,” asserted Jim, as he wound up the car windows. “It doesn’t cost anything. There’s no admission charge to an auction sale. And after a little experience, I suppose a man can become real expert at picking up things he knows he can make two or three dollars on.”

“It’s these second-hand dealers,” I pointed out, “and these semi-professional picker-uppers who make it next to impossible for the ordinary guy, like you or me ever to get anything worth while at an auction, Jim. They don’t just walk into an auction and sit down, like us They go beforehand and size up the merchandise that’s going on the block. They spot all the articles of any value and wait for them to come up. They have made up their minds in advance how much they will go for it, and still leave them a margin of profit on the resale.”

“That’s when you see the fun start, at an auction,” agreed Jim, as we left the car and started down street towards the emporium. “When the dealers begin bidding against each other.”

“With the odd outsider, like us,” I recollected, “butting in and upsetting the apple cart.”

“A good auction sale,” explained Jim, “is one that has a few worthwhile articles salted in among the junk. Only the dealers and the professionals know the real stuff from the junk. But their bidding, on the real stuff excites the rest of the congregation to bid on the junk. And that’s where the gravy comes in. For the auctioneer.”

We went up the steps and into the spacious and cluttered rooms of the old mansion.

A smell of new carpets and old dust filled the air. From the big living room and dining room of the old house – which had been opened up into one large chamber for the auction hall – came the monotonous but incisive voice of the auctioneer, rising above a low babble. The sale was already under way.

But in the lofty and outer halls, numbers of people, the men hat in hand, were wandering around with that slightly absent air you observe on people in an art gallery. They were inspecting the great clutter of goods piled and stacked around awaiting their turn on the auction block.

There were great heaps of carpets and rugs all rolled up. There were articles of furniture, tables, nets of tables, lamps, with shades, chairs, sofas, chesterfields, beds, dressers. All were spotless and recently polished.

“Just look at the rugs and carpets,” said Jimmie “Where do all the rugs come from that are put on auction?”

“Culls, I suppose,” I suggested, “and seconds picked up from jobbers or from the manufacturers. Besides, probably any number of these auction addicts get into the habit of buying and trading back their rugs every little while. The home of an auction addict probably never does get set. It’s in an eternal state of flux. They keep on adding little bits here and little bits there – each new piece of furniture upsetting the design or color scheme; so they’ve got to sell things to restore the balance. Probably a real bad auction addict never keeps a rug more than three months. Turn it in and snap up a new one.”

We examined the furniture. None of it was anything we would ever want to own. It was either large and florid, or extra plain. A great many pieces seemed random bits that had got cut adrift from what once upon a time must have been suites. We also examined a find set of china that was really beautiful, except that a pale bilious green rim on each piece spoiled it completely.

“Now how the dickens,” demanded Jim, the artist, “could any designer ever ruin a lovely design by such a fool rim as that?”

“Probably something went wrong in the mixing of the colors and in the firing,” I suggested, “and as the result this set has been on the auction circuit for the past 20 years. If you owned a china factory, and something got spoiled like this, what would you do? Why, sell it to an auctioneer! It’s the last hope for things that go wrong.”

A rising babble and mutter in the big room made us stop and listen. The auctioneer’s voice took on a ringing tone, excited. And we could hear the rising clamor stabbed by voices making rapid bids as they were shooting their bids like arrows.

We hurried over to the auction room doorway and stretched our necks and tiptoed to see over the heads of the others suddenly attracted.

“Sixty!” shot the auctioneer, leaning tensely. “Do I hear sixty-five? Sixty-five, do I hear?”

“Sixty-two-fifty!” came a hoarse voice.

“Sixty-five!” snapped another voice.

There was a deadly stillness.

“Seventy? Do I hear seventy?” rasped the auctioneer. There was dead silence.

“What’s selling?” I whispered to a tall man in front of me.

“A pair of Dresden china figures,” be replied quietly. “The dealers are after them.”

“Going!” wheedled the auctioneer. “Going!”

And they went at seventy.

Half a dozen people got up to leave and Jimmie and I seized the chance to get seats.

“Maybe,” chuckled Jim, “we’ll see that set of bilious china go.”

We had arrived right in the middle of a list of china, glassware, ornaments and other crockery. The battle of the dealers for the Dresden figures had stirred the crowd to great excitement. Everybody was shifting in their chairs and chattering excitedly. The next item was a large red glass vase which the auctioneer described as reputed to be genuine Bohemian, though I’m sure I have seen any number of the same down in the basement china departments of the big stores. Large, dark and ruby red.

The bidding started at $1 and went in about five minutes to $10. One of the bidders was a young woman, sitting just in front of us, obviously a newlywed. For every bid she upped, her young husband turned a glowing face on her, as though he loved the sound of her voice. Several other women and a couple of men were on the tilt. The auctioneer seemed a bit startled at the bidding, because he went over and had another good look at the red monstrosity, as if to make sure he wasn’t making some sort of mistake. When he resumed, he let the bidding go to $11.50 and then knocked it down very suddenly to the young newlyweds.

“You’ll notice,” whispered Jim gleefully, “there were dealers in on the tilt.”

“How about those two men bidding?” I suggested.

“Probably a couple of the auctioneer’s shills,” said Jim, “spotted in the crowd to excite the bidding. The shills always look like dealers.”

Sure enough, the beautiful set of china with the bilious border was tenderly brought in by three or four auctioneer’s helpers and ceremoniously displayed to the audience. The auctioneer described it as genuine Milton, one of the famed English chinamakers, and for the past 20 years the prized and tenderly cared for treasures of one of the city’s most prominent families.

“What am I offered?” he demanded.

“A hundred!” called a man.

“A hundred and ten!” promptly came a woman.

“A hundred and twenty!” rung another man.

“A hundred and twenty!” took up the auctioneer enthusiastically. “Come now, ladies and gentlemen…”

A curious apathy stood like a fog curtain between the auctioneer and the audience, and almost abruptly, knocked it down to the man who had bid the $120.

“A shill!” whispered Jimmie.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, we saw the man who bid the $120 out in the hallway showing some rugs to a pair of women.

“What a racket!” chuckled Jimmie, as we watched a man bid down all contestants for a brass coal scuttle that went for $14. And six glass tumblers that went to a fat man for $7. And a large glass dome, such as you see sandwiches displayed under in railroad restaurant counters, for $4.

“What the dickens,” I muttered, “would anybody want a thing like that?”

“Maybe the guy owns a railroad restaurant lunch counter,” hazarded Jim.

I was busy watching the crowd bidding on the next thing trying to pick the shills from the genuine bidders, and the dealers from the semi-professionals, and the neophytes from the newlyweds, when I heard Jimmie suddenly sing out:

“Four-fifty!”

I turned sharply. Sure enough it was Jim! He was sitting slightly forward on the edge of his chair, his chin lifted, his face flushed and a queer look in his eye.

Somebody called “Four seventy-five!” and Jim, rising slightly, snapped “Five!

I raised myself to see what was going.

It was one of those huge china vases, three feet high, in bright Chinese red, green and gold, with a golden dragon writhing around it.

I hadn’t seen one in years. Back in my boyhood, my grandmother had one in the front hall to put umbrellas in.

“Six-twenty-five!” rang Jim’s voice, as I realized the bidding was cracking faster and faster.

“Jim!” I hissed, taking his sleeve.

“Seven!” yelped Jimmie, jerking his sleeve from my grasp.

I furtively stood up and took another look, to be sure. Yes, the auctioneer’s helper was lifting the huge vase with laborious effort, to show its great weight. I noticed, now, that the slender neck of the vase would not permit umbrellas to go in it. It must have been for something else my grandmother had the bulky thing standing in the front hall.

“Nine!” quivered Jimmie’s voice beside me.

“Reputed,” droned the auctioneer’s voice, “to be genuine Ming! Nine-fifty I am offered!”

“Ten!” I shouted unexpectedly.

“Ten-fifty!” barked Jim.

“Hey!” I hissed, leaning out to try and fix his attention. “What the Sam Hill do you want that great ugly thing for?”

“You keep out of this!” snarled Jim, a wild look in his eyes, and elbowing me away. “Eleven-twenty five!”

The bidding had swept past us.

“Twelve!” I shouted.

“Twelve-fifty croaked Jim, turning his shoulder to me.

Well, it went at $14.25, to Jim!

And 20 minutes later we were outside in the lobby, paying the $14.25 to the cashier, while the auctioneer’s helper stood by, holding the great vase in his arms.

We both felt curiously limp and bewildered, as though we had been smitten by a sudden fever, sort of instantaneous malaria. Our faces were flushed. I had to lend Jim my $4.60 to eke out the $14.25.

Neither of us wished to look at the vase, which the helper kept confronting us with.

“I’ll carry it out to your car?” he wheedled. “You’ve got a car?”

“We’ll carry it,” said Jim grimly, pocketing his receipt.

We picked it up. Jim the heavy butt end, I the slender neck. We walked sideways to the door.

We picked it up, Jim the heavy butt end, I the slender neck

On the verandah, just at the top of the concrete steps, Jim’s foot caught, and he slipped.

The priceless Ming vase crashed to splinters down the steps.

“Thank heavens!” I gasped.

“Gosh!” whuffed Jimmie, taking his handkerchief and mopping his brow, “the way that thing strikes you! I didn’t know I was bidding. I just heard my voice!”

“It’s all very confusing, Jim,” I consoled, patting his shoulder. “Will we get somebody to come and sweep up this?”

“No, no,” said Jim, heading down the driveway. “They’re used to it. They expect it.”

And as we melted into the shadows, we saw the auctioneer’s helper come out with a carton and a broom and hastily sweep up the remnants.


Editor’s Notes: Great Expectations was a film released in 1946. It was adapted for the stage by Alec Guinness from the Charles Dickens novel. He also starred in the movie version.

$14.50 in 1947 is equivalent to $195 in 2020.

Where are the Bartenders of Yesterday?

“The expression on their faces of some of the old boys, as they sipped pink pop, was more than I could stand.”

By Gregory Clark, September 15, 1923

Into the private office of the manager of a large wholesale establishment on Wellington street was admitted a middle-aged gentleman of refined appearance who told the information girl guarding the sanctum that he was an old friend of the manager.

The manager looked up as the visitor entered, stared at him with a look of puzzlement on his face, and smiled.

The visitor was smiling broadly.

“I have called,” he said, “to see if I could write you up for some insurance under a new plan my company offers men of your age.”

“Now, I’m pretty busy,” said the manager. Then, halting, he asked:

“Look here: I know your face well, but hanged if I can place you.”

Still smiling broadly, the visitor came closer to the manager’s desk. Laying his hat down, he snatched a newspaper off the desk, flicked it open, and, with a sudden movement, tucked it like an apron into his vest. Then, leaning both hands on the manager’s desk he leaned forward and said:

“What’s yours, sir?”

The effect was remarkable on the manager. He leaped to his feet and cried:

“Tim, you old scoundrel! Where have you been all these years?”

And the two set about shaking hands as if they were long-lost brothers.

But they were simply two old friends, a bartender and one of his pet customers, meeting for the first time after seven years of drought.

Tim was head bartender in the downtown bar regularly patronized by this business man for years. An intimacy had grown up between them such as few not habituated to drinking in bars can imagine. A formal intimacy like that between golfers and their old pro, or between a lady and her housekeeper of twenty years.

Making him seated and comfortable, the manager asked his old friend:

“What have you been doing?”

“Well,” said Tim, pulling on the cigar. “I have had some rough times. When the old establishment closed, in 1916, I had no plans, like all bartenders, and couldn’t believe it when the doors were really closed. The old boss offered me a job around the hotel as a sort of watchman. But I was deeply insulted. A soft drink bar was opened in the old bar, and I served exactly four days there, for some of the old boys came in, and to see the look on their faces as they drank a glass of pink pop was really more than I could bear. I felt fallen in the world. I felt unclassed. Without warning, for my kids were all grown up, I packed a valise and went over to the States. Not belonging to their union, I had a bad two years there. I was in several New York towns in succession, but getting further and further down in the mouth.

“When the States went dry, I hadn’t enough money to take me to Montreal, the last oasis. So I worked at odd jobs and darn near starved–“

“Poor old Tim,” stuck in the manager, with real sympathy.

“No, no. It was good for me,” said Tim. “While serving in a bar in Syracuse I made the acquaintance of an insurance man. Two years ago I met him on the street one day, and he gave me a job selling insurance.

“‘If a man who has listened to as many sad life stories as you can’t sell insurance,’ he said to me. ‘nobody can.'”

“So here I am looking up, one by one, all my old friends across the mahogany. Do you remember that sad story you told me one night–“

“Easy, Tim, easy!” implored the manager, a changed man after seven years.

“–about your fears for your poor family, and you feeling that your heart was in a delicate condition?”

“Tut, Tim I have a golf handicap of eight.”

At any rate, Tim drew forth, in the approved manner, his booklets and folders outlining in graphic style the proposition his company had to make to business men of fifty and over. And It was a good proposition, in spite of the sentimental appendages to the deal.

For Tim wrote his old friend policy for ten thousand.

Where are the four hundred and fifty bartenders who, up to seven years ago, were quenching Toronto’s thirst with beers, wines and liquors? Where are the skilful jugglers amongst them whom men traveled far to see, as they tossed a cocktail from glass to glass, a gleaming rainbow four feet long? Where are these repositories of the sad life stories of thousands of male citizens of this now happy city?

Their union is broken up. Thorough enquiries at the Toronto Labor Temple failed to discover Arthur O’Leary, former business agent of the Bartenders’ Union, in his heyday one of the most popular figures in the labor world.

Strange to relate, a good many of Toronto’s bartenders have stuck to bartending, even though the quality of the goods they sell is different.

In remnant of what used to be one of the longest bars in Toronto, now remodeled down to a mere fragment of its old glory, a bartender of twenty years’ experience admitted that he was too old to change his calling just because the law changed.

“Is there much difference between selling liquor and soft drinks?” he was asked.

“I feel,” he replied, “like a banker who has failed and has had to take up the grocery business for a livelihood. As a bartender, I was the friend and confidante of members of the business world, half the city hall staff knew me by name, city fathers took council with me, mayors have wept on my shoulder. In the old days, my customers were regular customers. But of that bunch–“

And he waved a contemptuous hand at a dozen people, mostly idle young men, lounging against the soda bar.

“–of that bunch I don’t know one. Never saw them before in my life.”

“What effect has prohibition had on your income?”

“I don’t get one-third the wages I used to make and I get no tips. My income is about a quarter what it was.”

“Prohibition has hit you hard?”

“Yes it has. But I still think the going of the bar is the best thing ever happened. I do, really. For one good bar, where men had a drink, there were three crooked bars where men got drunk. I never let a man get drunk off my bar in my life. Some bartenders considered their job was to rake over the coin. Some of us, however, figured our job was to serve refreshment to men. But we all got hit just the same.”

Most of the bartenders who are still serving drinks are serving them over the former bars of old hotels. Only a couple are in soda parlors.

A few of the bartenders have gone up in the world. One owns a good hotel near the centre of the city. Others have retail businesses, grocery, hardware and boot and shoe.

One very gifted bartender is now in charge of a gasoline station, and is serving up gas and oil without a hint, in the way he serves up a pint of “medium,” that he was in his day one of the most skilful drink slingers in the city.

But others, the older ones, have had a very poor time the last seven years. Some are jobless, some are janitors and handy men around old hostelries.

“It took prohibition,” said one old bartender, who has been out of a job four of the seven years since his profession quit him, “to show up how shallow was bar-room friendship. I had lived in it so long that I had begun to imagine it was genuine.”

“Men who called me affectionately by name when they ordered a drink, sports who got me to do favors for them, men I’ve cashed checks for, all turned me down when I called on them.”

“I wanted a job, recommendation. But a month after the bars were closed, most of them had forgotten who I was. Not three out of fifty of them held out the helping hand when I was in need.”

Perhaps the hardest part of prohibition to the bartender was not the loss of his calling, but the discovery of the fact that the bar-room affection that shed a glamor over his trade was as thin and unsubstantial as the beer fumes that induced it.


Editor’s Note: Prohibition went through all sorts of referendums and polls between 1916 and 1927 in Ontario when it was repealed. Greg was likely not in favour of prohibition, but his newspaper was. At the time of the article in 1923, Howard Ferguson had been elected Premier, and would move slowly and cautiously on limiting the restrictions.

“Five Minutes to Closing Time”

September 17, 1921

Money Trouble

The storekeeper picked up the new twenty-dollar bill and examined it closely … In every face, all of a sudden, suspicion. Cold undisguised suspicion.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, September 16, 1944

“What is it,” asked Jimmie Frise, “that makes us Canadians so desperately respectful of authority?”

“I don’t imagine,” I replied, “that we’re any more respectful of authority than other people. The English, for instance, or the Germans.”

“Ah,” argued Jimmie, “yes, but the Germans have to be respectful or have their fingers jammed in doors in internment camps. And as for the English, it’s only put on. Did you ever try to pull a little authority over an Englishman?”

“If I had the authority, I think the English would recognize it as readily as anybody else,” I informed him.

“If you were an Englishman and had the authority,” corrected Jim. “They have a sort of agreement among themselves, a working agreement. But you take Canada. Somebody up top says what’s what and we all submit. There are no outbreaks. It isn’t as if these authorities had any tough gendarmes or black shirt police to back them up. I’m beginning to think Canadians are the most docile people on earth.”

“Remember the Chinese,” I protested. “Or the Eskimos.”

“All I’m thinking of,” said Jim, “is that cop back there at that fork in the highway. The way he ran up alongside of us and arrogantly turned us into the side of the road with a flick of his head.”

“He was perfectly right,” I said, “you didn’t slow down at that fork. There was a sign distinctly saying ‘slow to 15 miles’.”

“I’ve passed that fork a hundred times,” said Jim, “and there never was a cop there before.”

“That isn’t the point,” I assured him. “The law is the law whether there are any cops looking or not.”

“I don’t mind how many laws we’ve got,” said Jim, “so long as I am not humiliated in the enforcement of them.”

“You’re not mad at the cop,” I jeered. “You’re only mad at yourself for being so humble.”

“I wasn’t humble,” stated Jim. “I was only sensible.”

“You squawk about Canadians being docile,” I laughed, “and if ever I saw a docile Canadian, it was you when that cop nodded you haughtily to the side of the road and then bawled the daylight out of you.”

“I stared him straight in the eye,” cried Jim.

“Yes,” I said, “with your eyes wide and alarmed and full of an expression of deepest respect and humility.”

“We’ll Have to Be Smart”

“Oh, I did not,” protested Jim heatedly. “I did nothing of the kind. And anyway, how could you see me when you were cringing down in your seat as if God had suddenly appeared at the car window.”

“You were servile,” I declared. “You even called him sir.”

“An old habit,” said Jim, “I contracted in the last war. It was his khaki uniform.”

“Well,” I agreed, “it does seem absurd to me the way we kowtow to a cop. The way they bawl us out, the tone they take, you would think they were magistrates instead of cops. I don’t think we should put up with it.”

“The next cop,” said Jim, “I’m going to put in his place, if he so much as uses a tone I don’t like. He’s an employee.”

“Now you’re talking,” I said, sitting up hopefully to watch for cops.

“There must be some guilty conscience in us, or something,” mused Jim. “We Canadians must be descendants of people who came to this country fleeing from the law. All servility is based on fear. We must have some inherited fear of cops.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” I said guardedly (because after all what do we really know about our great-great-grandfathers?).

“I wish,” sighed Jim, “I had inherited something else from my ancestors than a guilty conscience. Craftiness, for example. I had a great-uncle Zebulon who was the craftiest man in seven townships. If I was crafty, I’d know what luck we were going to have tonight in finding the best place to go fishing.”

“It won’t be hard to find out,” I said. “A few discreet inquiries around the village.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “there are only nine houses, one general store and a gasoline pump in this village. Every man in the place is a musky fisherman. Dyed in the wool. The muskies at this time of year have left the weed beds and the deeps and have come in shore, along by the rocks and boulders. They are easier to catch and fight harder than at any other time of year. It is the peak, the glorious climax of the fishing season. These villagers look upon this season of the year as their share of the fishing. All summer long even in wartime they have been working madly for the benefit of vacationists who were getting all the fishing. Now the vacationists are gone, and it’s the villagers turn. They will resent us even arriving.”

“We’ll worm it out of them,” I assured him.

“We’ll have to be pretty smart,” said Jim.

“We can watch where they fish,” I reminded him.

“Yes, and waste half the morning trying to locate them,” argued Jim. “They’ll all be out before daybreak.”

“Jim,” I said, “you’ve got a poor opinion of country people. All we need to do is the old trick. Buy a few things at the general store, ask a few questions. Buy some gasoline, ask a few questions. Rent a boat, ask a few questions. Put two and two together, and there we are.”

Full of Great Quietness

We floated deeper into the musky country where civilization and the rocks were coming to grips. The farms grew fewer and more curiously laid out in fields bordered with shoals of primitive rock. We saw the first maples, gone gold and red. The villagers are right. This is the best time of year to go fishing.

The villages began to be farther apart. We left cement for gravel and gravel for sand, and finally entered a lovely narrow road winding amidst rocks and tall hardwood forests which we knew, according to our written directions, was the road that led to our happy destination where, along the rocky shores of a twisted and many-bayed lake, the big muskies, sick of the rotting weed beds, lay in the pure shallow shore water, waiting for something to wiggle past them, such as a well-cast lure.

And towards evening, we came to the village, full of a great quietness amidst all the equipment it had for summer, its park, the brightness, its shuttered outlying cottages. We cruised slowly down its one street, planning our campaign of reconnaissance.

“The general store, first,” I suggested.

And in front of the general store we drew up. It was the regular general store, with its ceiling covered with galvanized pails, bundles of hats, baled socks, boots. One side groceries. Other side, drygoods. Back, hardware.

Three or four men lingered leaning on counters as if expecting nothing to happen anyway.

“Good evening,” we said cheerily, in that easy city fashion. Our entry seemed to break a spell that had been holding the general store in thrall.

Everybody muttered except the storekeeper, an elderly gray moustached man who eyed us over his spectacles and said nothing. He went ahead quietly parcelling something out of sight.

Jim and I wandered slowly down the store, looking at the merchandise to see what we could reasonably buy as an excuse for visiting the store. Something inexpensive but useful.

“I think I’ll get a pair of overalls,” I said quietly, whispering through my nose.

“Nice bandanas,” murmured Jim. “How about a couple of bandanas each? Handy fishing.”

“You get the bandanas,” I muttered, “and I’ll take a hank of that clothes line. Good stuff to have in our kit for an anchor.”

“O.K.,” agreed Jim, “and two or three cans of tomatoes. I don’t like drinking this weedy water; and canned tomatoes are swell.”

“O.K.” I muttered, as we turned and proceeded to the front of the store where everybody was covertly taking us in out of the corners of their eyes.

The storekeeper finally finished whatever he was doing and came and stood facing us, planting both palms on the counter.

“Good-evening,” said Jim, amiably. “How much are those bandanas?”

“Two for a quarter,” said he, handing down a sheaf of them.

We examined them carefully.

“Two of them,” said Jim pleasantly.

“How much is that clothesline?” I inquired with a winning smile.

The storekeeper looked at me expressionlessly and said: “Thirty cents.”

“I’ll love one,” I informed him enthusiastically.

But it seemed very difficult to rouse any response. Jim strolled back eyeing the shelves speculatively, and I followed.

“What did I tell you?” Jim murmured. “We’re suspected.”

“Ask about the fishing anyway,” I whispered.

“Not now,” said Jim shortly. “Hostile.”

Our murmured conversation was not lost upon the silent company in the store. The merchant was tying up our small purchases in paper.

“Three cans of tomatoes,” said Jim. “About a pound of cheese and a box of soda biscuits.”

A Faint, Cold Smile

The storekeeper slowly gathered these items and set them on the counter. He seemed to be waiting. So did all the others. A curious electrical feeling was in the dim air of this store.

“That will be all,” said Jim, reaching into his pocket.

“Here,” I said, “you bought the gasoline. I’ll attend to this.”

“No,” said Jim, “I want this changed.”

And he laid a crisp new $20 bill on the counter.

The storekeeper’s hands paused in the act of spreading a piece of wrapping paper. He stared at the bill. He picked it up gingerly and examined it closely. He held at up to the light. “I can’t change this,” he said.

“Can you get it changed handy?” asked Jim.

The storekeeper looked long and steadily at Jim. Then he shifted his gaze to me. There seemed to be a faint cold smile in his eyes.

“No,” he said.

“Can any of you gentlemen?” said Jim, turning to the others standing back in the store.

They stirred and looked away and shook their heads.

“Here,” I said diving into my pocket. But I had only 17 cents and a $10 bill, the expenses of the fishing trip, plus any sudden emergencies.

“Can you change the ten?” I said, tossing down the nice new Bank of Canada dix.

The storekeeper reached out cautiously and picked it up and examined it closely. He shot a quick look around at the men standing behind us.

“No,” he said. “Sorry.”

“Well, heh, heh,” I said, “I’ve only got 17 cents. How much have you got, Jim?”

“Just a dime,” said Jim.

“You can take two cans of tomatoes,” said the storekeeper, “or the two bandanas. Or the rope and one can of tomatoes. Or…”

“Maybe the gas-pump man can change it,” suggested Jimmie.

“Do You Mean to Insinuate?”

All eyes turned to one of the men standing back of us. He, it seems, was the service-station man.

“Sorry,” he said. “All I got is tens myself.”

In every face, all of a sudden, suspicion. Cold, undisguised suspicion.

“Gentlemen,” I said, “do you mean this money is no good?”

I picked up my 10 and examined it closely.

“It may be all right,” said the garage man, he was a heavy set and sulky type, “but there has been some phoney money spread around this country lately.”

“Do you mean to insinuate,” I demanded of the public at large, “that we are trying to pass bogus money? Are you accusing us at being criminals?”

Nobody replied, but the storekeeper turned his back and began replacing on the shelves the articles we had almost bought.

Jim and I looked anxiously around at the faces. They were mostly averted, and there was no friendliness on any of them.

“Could you tell us,” asked Jim, “If there is a boarding house in the village open or anywhere we can put up for a couple of nights?”

Everybody looked at us.

“We’re here for a couple of days’ fishing,” I put in.

“Fishing?” said the sulky garage man. “Well, my mother takes in a couple now and then.”

“Mrs. Tom is still open, I believe,” said the storekeeper.

His and everybody else’s face had come to life.

“I’ll slip over and see what mother says,” said the garage man, buttoning his windbreaker in a business-like way.

“Muskies you’re after, eh?” said the storekeeper, breaking into a friendly grin.

“Yes,” we said, “but er … ah…”

“Oh, that’s all right,” said the storekeeper. “If you want that stuff I can change your 20 easy enough.”

“How’s this?” demanded Jim. “A minute ago…”

“Sure, sure,” soothed the storekeeper. “But you acted so suspicious when you came in.”

“Suspicious?” I asked.

“Guilty as anything, the both of you,” laughed the storekeeper, starting to hand down the tomatoes and bandanas again “Didn’t they gents?”

Everybody smiled and nodded.

“I couldn’t figure out,” said the storekeeper, whose name proved to be McAndrews, and can he ever catch muskies? – “until you laid down that new 20, and naturally I thought there was something funny about it.”

“Well,” said Jim, “if we looked guilty it was only because our real purpose coming in here was to get some tips on where to go fishing tomorrow, but we were going to buy some odds and ends and ask you casually …”

“Ah,” said Mr. McAndrews, “a guilty conscience always shows.”

“All right,” said Jim, “here’s a straightforward question.”

And we got a straightforward answer, and five muskies, and we know the first name of the whole 14 men in the village and we hope to leave a lot of tens and twenties there in the future.


Editor’s Note: $20 in 1944 would be $301 in 2020, so 10s and 20s were quite valuable back then.

Here’s Boo Boo Again!

September 10, 1938

This is another illustration by Jim for a story by Merrill Denison after he moved to New York to work on Broadway, that features his dog Boo Boo.

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