The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Sports

"Dead Eye"

By Greg Clark, February 20, 1937

“Have you noticed,” asked Jimmie Frise, “these new shooting galleries around?”

“Don’t tell me,” I cried, “that shooting is coming back.”

“It is,” said Jim, “and with a bang. All over the country these little shooting galleries are opening up. You shoot for a pool.”

“Money?” I inquired sharply.

“Cash,” agreed Jim. “A certain amount of what everybody pays for his shots goes into a pot, like in poker. The target is a very tricky one. It is the capital letter Z. With three shots, you have to obliterate all the letter Z, which is in red ink on the target. If the slightest trace, of red remains, after your three shots, you lose. Only the most expert marksmen, and the luckiest marksmen, can cut out all that Z with three shots from a little .22 rifle.”

“Does the pot get very big?” I asked.

“I’ve heard of it growing to $60,” said Jim. “Often it goes as high as $20.”

“By George,” I assured him, “that’s worth shooting for.”

“And very exciting, too,” said Jim. “These little shooting galleries are located in shops and stores; and in their front windows they stick up signs or a blackboard and announce the size of the pool every hour or so. When the word spreads that the pool is growing big, the boys gather from far and wide to take a shot for the big money.”

“And the greater the excitement.” I supposed, “the bigger the pool grows, because nervousness and excitement spoils the shooting.”

“I heard of a case down in one western Ontario town,” said Jim, “where an old Black Watch sergeant-major, one of those regular old soldiers, used to wait until the pool got up around twenty bucks, and then he’d walk in and collect. He has carried off eight or nine of these big pools, I’m told.”

“I can picture that,” I laughed. “A Scotsman, cool and practical. And an old soldier. And he just walks in, very calm and cold-blooded, and shoots that twenty bucks right into his Caledonian pocket.”

“Certain of the bigwigs in the country,” said Jimmie, “look with disfavor on these shooting galleries. They are trying to find out how they can be stopped.”

“Why?” I demanded. “Don’t they want the plain people to have any fun?”

“Well, for instance,” said Jim, “old Colonel Lundy-Lane or some other patriot, sees in these shooting galleries a nefarious plan by which the Reds are getting in their target practice. And then Mr. Bulger Baggs, that widely known public pest, who watches the morals of the nation, hates to see anybody making $20 as easily as by shooting. If you let people make money easily, what will happen to the nation’s supply of hard workers? And anyway, Mr. Baggs is no good at shooting, himself, or he’d be down collecting those twenties.”

“Jim,” I said, “if public opinion in the persons of our prominent patriots and well known wealthy moral guiders is going against these shooting galleries, we had better get busy.”

“As Good As in My Pocket”

“Would you come with me and try a hand at it?” asked Jim.

“The money is as good as in my pocket right now, Jim,” I assured him. “You’ve never seen me really shooting. Do you realize, if I had cared to follow it, I would have been one of the greatest Bisley shots in history?”

“I’ve been hunting with you,” said Jim.

“Ah, yes, hunting,” I protested. “I admit that at hunting I am no great shakes. But that is no test. You take a little man like me, working in an office fifty weeks of the year, and then suddenly going out into the wilds to clamber about on rocks and through swamps, carrying a great big eight-pound high-power rifle. No wonder I can’t hit anything. And anyway, the muzzle blast and kick of those big rifles.”

“Now I come to think of it,” said Jim, “in twenty years I have never seen you hit anything.”

“Jim,” I informed him, “I’m not one to talk about myself and my exploits, but did you ever know I have shot at Hythe, which is the greatest musketry range in the world? Do you know that all the time I was in the army, I was conniving, every time my regiment was out of the line, to get the job of musketry officer? That I seized every opportunity that presented itself in a period of three years to shoot at the ranges? That I have fired tens of thousands of rounds?”

“But did you hit anything?” asked Jim.

“My boy,” I advised him, “there is all the difference in the world between range shooting and field shooting. Some of the greatest hunting shots in the world are no good at all at targets. And some of the greatest target shots couldn’t hit game with the flat side of a shovel.”

“Are you any good with the .22 rifle?” asked Jim.

“I’ll show you whether I am any good or not,” I informed him, “when we go to lunch. Are there any of these shooting galleries handy?”

“There’s one a couple of blocks over,” said Jim. “I looked in yesterday. The pot was around $8 at that time. And there were about fifteen guys lined up to shoot for it.”

“Jim,” I said, “in the army, my men called me Bull Clark, because of the way I used to shoot nothing but bull’s-eyes. At all ranges from one hundred yards up.”

“Maybe,” said Jim, “you took up target shooting in self-defence. Bull Clark, eh?”

“That’s what they called me,” I reminisced tenderly. “In the dark, as I would come along the trenches amongst my merry men, and they wouldn’t notice me on account of my size, I would hear them talking about me. ‘Wait,’ they’d say, ‘until the little Bull comes along.’ And that sort of thing, all very affectionate. Oh, they knew a good shot when they saw one.”

“Likely they did,” agreed Jim.

“Of course,” I related, “an officer is not supposed to do much shooting in the trenches. He leaves that to his men, and spends his time in administration.”

“Down in dugouts,” helped Jim.

“Well,” I explained, “you daren’t show any lights in the trenches, and an officer has to spend a good deal of his time down in dugouts, reading orders and looking at maps and that sort of thing, by the light of a candle.”

“It all seems very reasonable to me,” said Jim.

Firing At the Little Z

 “But often,” I went on, “my men used to plead with me to take shots in the trenches, when good targets offered. I recall one time they called me up out of the dugout in great excitement and pointed to a dark figure standing out in No Man’s Land. Even in the dark, I could see it was a German. The boys thrust a rifle into my hands and begged me to fire. But just in time I recollected the traditions of the British army and, instead of shooting, I ordered my men to line the parapet and open fire on the German. They just burst out laughing because it was a dummy they had put up for my amusement.”

“Still,” said Jimmie, “if you had shot you’d have hit it, don’t you think?”

“To tell the truth,” I confessed, “I have trained my mind and eye to the nice perfections of shooting at a range, with the result that both in hunting and in war I am a little at sea when it comes to what you might call rough and ready shooting. But with a prize of $20 up, I feel sure my former talents will come to the fore again.”

“In the artillery,” said Jim, “we really had no practice at what might be called shooting. It was more like arithmetic. There we’d be, in the mud, with our gun, its nozzle pointing off into space. Three miles away, over a couple of hills, would be the enemy. So we’d sit down with a piece of paper and do some figuring. We’d add and subtract, then we’d multiply and divide. And thus we would get a number. Then we’d walk over to the gun and twiddle some dials around until we got that number, or one near it. We would all strip to the waist and then fire six shells furiously at that number. Then we’d sit down and wait. If we didn’t get any messages from our own infantry that we were hitting them, we knew we were hitting the enemy. And from then on, all we did was shoot so many shells off in the morning and so many in the evening, and everybody was happy.”

“You don’t know what shooting is,” I informed him.

So at noon, after lunch, we strolled around to the new style shooting gallery which was in a formerly vacant dry goods shop. At the rear, sheet steel backdrops served to catch the bullets fired. The range was only ten feet, and you fire standing from the off-hand position, not resting your rifle on anything. But the target was so tiny, a sheet of paper with the Z to be cut out with three .22 bullets only if they were placed with supreme accuracy one on the top bar, one on the diagonal and one on the bottom bar of the letter. You could win cigars by shooting at other and easier targets. But it was the Z that was attracting most customers. Each one who missed increased the size of the prize.

And the pot was $9.75.

We watched the boys for some time before our turn came. They seemed to be pretty good. The rifles were regular little .22 repeaters, and after each three shots, the attendant changed the card and put up a new Z. Plenty of times, those marksmen would cut the top and bottom bar, but their third shot would go wild. Perhaps with nervousness

“Maybe the rifles are phoney,” I suggested to Jim.

“No,” he said, “they’re good enough to shoot right on the good shots.”

“Maybe every third cartridge,” I said, “is defective?”

“No, it’s the human element that provides the trick,” said Jim. “Watch.”

The shooters set themselves in fancy stances. Took curious holds and grips on the little rifle. Some held it lightly as a feather. Others wrapped themselves around it, as if they were trying to climb up it. Some fired almost the instant the sights fell on the tiny target. Others aimed and held their breath and aimed and held breath until you were fit to scream with the delay.

But none of them out the little Z clean. There were a couple of arguments, when near complete obliterations were achieved. But in each case tiny bit of the red letter was visible.

Jim stepped up. He fired four rounds of three. I felt sorry for him. He went at it so like the artillery. He thought he was firing shrapnel.

“Strip down to your waist, Jim,” I recommended, when, in three rounds, he had not even hit the Z anywhere. On his fourth round, he hit the top of the Z But his next two shots were two inches off.

“Here,” he said. “Let’s see what you can do, Bull.”

But it takes time to get the hang of a rifle again, and of a strange rifle. I may say it only took me two rounds to discover that what a man needs, even a very famous marksman, is practice.

“Well, Bull,” said Jimmie as we hurried out to make room for nee shooters, “you didn’t do so good.”

“I wasn’t trying,” I said. “Jim, I’ll tell you what let’s do. That big cellar of yours is perfect. I’ll borrow my son’s .22 and we can spend a few evenings brushing up. A little practice is all I need. And then we can go back in there and clean it up. Boy, did you see that pot when we left! It was $14.25. That would buy a lot of trout flies.”

Practice in the Cellar

So after supper, Jimmie and I repaired to his big cellar den, where he has the pool table and the paintings of Old Archie and the Town Constable on the walls in various sporting activities such as crap shooting and cock fighting, and we set up a rifle range. Jim had some sheet iron, and we nailed up a sort of protecting wall of boards to the back of which the sheet iron was tacked, and we then proceeded to work. We shut all doors to keep the crack of the little rifle from disturbing the neighbors, and made red, white and blue targets of suitable size for a range of 25 feet.

I soon showed Jimmie what shooting was. Jimmie showed me, too. We made series of bulls until we reduced the target to a mere patch in order to make it a sporting proposition.

“Why couldn’t we shoot like this at noon?” I demanded.

“Well, for one thing,” said Jim. “we’re leaning on the billiard table; and besides we’re using stronger ammunition, these are what they call ‘long rifle’. They’ll knock a cow over.”

“Let’s try some fancy shooting,” I suggested. “Just making bulls is too tame.”

So we tried off-hand shooting, that is, firing without a rest. At this, we were not quite so hot. Next, we tried firing five rounds rapid. We would fill the magazine with five shells, and then fire as fast as possible to see how many bulls we could get. We didn’t get so many. In fact, some of our shots were a foot or more off the target.

“I tell you,” I exclaimed, “we could practice snap shots. We could turn our back to the target, and then when the other fellow calls fire, we wheel around and fire at the target point blank.”

This was great fun. Some of our shots were on the target, but most of them were off on the planks to the side.

I was taking my third turn at snap shooting and fired a specially quick one when there came a dreadful crash from the cellar room next door.

“The fruit,” said Jim, rushing for the door.

As he opened the door, a cloud of smoke billowed into the room.

“The furnace,” shouted Jim.

And in an instant all was confusion as Jimmie and I rushed about opening windows and doors. We inspected the fruit cellar and found that a bullet had struck a quart of peaches, bursting it and causing it to topple several bottles of cherries, plums and marmalade to the floor in transit.

On inspecting the furnace, we discovered seventeen bullet holes in the pipes, through which little spouts of smoke and fumes were leaping.

“I guess you didn’t put enough thicknesses of planks and sheet iron to stop the bullets,” I explained.

“Thank goodness you hit the fruit,” said Jim, “or else we might have gone on shooting the furnace up and smothered us.”

But even so, we had scarcely time to get the furnace pipe plugged with putty and the house aired and the fruit cellar mopped up before the family got home.

“It’s just one of those things,” Jimmie called laughingly up the cellar stairs in answer to inquiries. “We were just trying a little off-hand target shooting.”

“It’s a boy’s game,” I remarked when he came back into the room.

“You said it, Bull,” agreed Jimmie.


Editor’s Notes: This story appeared in “Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing” (1980)

22 Caliber ammunition is most common caliber in small rifles.

$20 in 1937 would be $170.50 in 2020.

Bisley is the location in Britain of the National Shooting Centre. Hythe Ranges is a British military shooting range.

The off-hand shooting position is a standing position, and considered the hardest.

Sleighing Party

By Greg Clark, February 8, 1936

“It’s the axle,” said Jimmie Frise.

“Then,” stated I, not indignantly, “we’re here for the night.”

“I guess so,” said Jim, staring around the strange little village, with its steamy windows throwing a faint light on the deep snow banks piled high against little stores, sheds, cottages.

“What does the garage man say?” I asked.

“He says it’s the axle,” replied Jim. “And it will take at least three hours to fix, and he’s got an engagement tonight.”

“An engagement?” I cried. “Do you mean to say he won’t fix our car because he’s got an engagement? An engagement? Whoever heard of garageman having an engagement?”

“He’s a very nice young fellow,” said Jim. “I told him we weren’t going any place except fox hunting, and we’d put up here for the night.”

“Is there a hotel?” I demanded.

“No, but he said he would run around and find a place for us.”

“Some old widda,” I snorted. “Damp spare beds, unslept in for fifteen years. An ice cold spare room, with golden oak dresser and an afghan…”

“Well, it’s a broken axle,” reminded Jim.

I entered the garage with Jimmie and we stood looking at the car, from under which scrambled a handsome young man wiping his hands hastily on waste.

“Well, young man,” said I, “I hear you’ve got an engagement. Do you suppose there is anything two visitors like us might do in this town?”

The young chap studied us excitedly for a moment.

“You might like to come with us,” he said.

“Where?”

“A sleighing party,” said he.

Jim and I looked at each other.

“I haven’t been on a sleighing party,” cried Jim, “for thirty years!”

“Perhaps the young ladies,” I said, “wouldn’t care to have a couple of elderly strangers horn in on what really is a very merry and intimate occasion.”

“It’s a stag sleighing party,” said the young garage man. “That is, kind of.”

“Stag?” said I, “What is it, a lodge? Or a Liberal rally?”

“It’s a kind of church affair,” explained the young fellow, unbuttoning his brown overalls and starting to peel out of them. He did not look to me like a Bible class young man.

“We’ll come,” said Jim, eagerly. “I don’t fancy going to bed at a quarter past eight.”

“Come on, then,” said the lad. “We can arrange where you stay after we come back. Leave it to me.”

So we left our bags and hunting gear in the car and followed the young chap out into the wintry world where he led us at a fast swinging stride up the village street under a moon so glorious, so round and radiant. it was like day. There was an air of excitement about our young friend. Past the church we hastened, where lights glowed in the basement windows. Past the end cottages. Out a couple of hundred yards past the end of the village, to a side road.

A Little Bit Puzzling

“Gents,” said the young man, “we are gathering at a farmhouse a little way up. Will you wait here? Just till I explain to the boys who you are.”

“Fine, fine,” said Jim and I. “It’s a lovely night to be waiting at a crossroads.”

And he left us and sped away up the road, while we stood under the splendor of the winter moon, amid the deep drifts, inhaling the crystal air and looking back at the shadowy village with its quiet lights.

“Jim,” I cried, “what a great way to live. Just drop down into a village like this, and right away enter into the heart of it.”

“Ah, the country,” said Jim, waving his arms and beating his chest with them. “The longer I live, the more foolish I feel for ever coming into a city.”

“Think,” I said, “of the simplicity and beauty of this life. This gentle village. This wide, quiet world of snow and moonlight. Of peace and kindliness.”

“Compare it,” said Jim, addressing the wide empty night, “with the strife and warfare of cities. That splendid young man we are with. So excited over a simple thing like a sleighing party. In a city, that young man would have to be up to all sorts of hellery to work up an excitement like this. Just a sleighing party. A church affair.”

Far off, we heard sleigh bells. We stared up the road and presently saw a big object moving down the snowy road towards us.

“Jim,” I stated, “there is an innocence about country life that we have lost in cities forever.”

“I thank heaven,” confessed he, “that I am still able to be thrilled by a sleighing party.”

And thrilled we were, as the mellow jangle of the sleigh bells grew louder, and the huge sleigh, hauled by sturdy horses, squealed across the snowy road towards us, and we heard the ringing laughter and shouts of young men.

The sleigh pulled up and our friend, accompanied by three or four other young chaps, leaped out and welcomed us gaily. And in a moment we were being hoisted aboard the sleigh and buried deep in buffalo robes and heavy blankets smelling richly of horse.

Beside me sat a very short, heavily built young man who seemed, under his rowdy cap, to be the least likely member of a young men’s Bible class I had ever met with.

“What an interesting group,” I said to him, as the sleigh lurched forward and the whip cracked and the bells and voices raised a din. “I understand this is some sort of church affair?”

“Sort of,” admitted the heavy youth, huskily.

“I associate church sleighing parties,” I conversed, “with a more, a more … shall I say?… a more …”

“Sissy?” helped the young man.

“Well, not sissy, exactly, but a less muscular and hearty type of young man,” I explained. “More reserved. Your companions are such a gay and hearty lot. It must be wonderful to attend a meeting of your Bible class.”

Gathering Excitement

“It sure must be,” admitted the young fellow beside me, and he started a song. It wasn’t exactly a sleighing party song. The last time I heard it was east of Arras twenty years ago.

So there I sat, across from Jim, while we lurched and tugged through the night, under the ambient moon, turning north off the highway into a road aisled with tall cedars and balsams, and the young men sang and shouted gaily, and at the front, a group of the party stood up and cheered the horses on.

The horses, as a matter of fact, plodded much more rapidly than any I remembered of old sleighing parties. I remarked this to Jimmie.

“Sleighing parties,” he confessed across to me, over the fragrant buffalo robes, “seem to have pepped up.”

And after we had lurched and jangled two or three miles up lonely country roads, we sensed a gathering excitement in our twenty friends. Many of them leaped out and ran beside the sleigh at the hills and grades. And the crowd up at the driver’s seat, standing, were like rooters at a game.

“This is a curious sleighing party,” I shouted to Jim.

And then we heard our friends shouting:

“There they are, there they are! Giddap, giddap, sktch, sktch, give ’em the gad, Tom.”

Jim and I stood up. Far ahead on the road we beheld a dark object.

“Another sleigh,” cried Jim.

“It’s a race,” I exclaimed. “Let’s hop out and help.”

So Jim and I got out and ran beside the sleigh, holding on. The big sleigh sped, the bells clashed and sang and twenty figures bobbed and leaped alongside, while the driver of our sleigh wielded his whip and the horses broke into a blundering canter.

“They see us!” shouted someone.

And the sleigh ahead, which we had been rapidly overtaking, began to move more quickly.

With shouts and urgings, with bells and squealing of runners, we chased. I got winded and managed to haul myself aboard the sleigh. Presently Jim joined me.

“What thrill,” I shouted. “But what a shame our side is handicapped by us.”

“We were invited,” gasped Jim, recovering his wind.

“A racing sleigh party,” I cried, “Who ever heard of such a delightful way to spend a night. It takes the country to think things up.”

Now we could see dark figures piling out of the sleigh ahead and running alongside to lighten it. But slowly, slowly, we gained on them. Through another dark aisle of cedar and spruce we plunged and again out into a wide and shining open stretch. But ahead loomed a slow rise and when our plunging friends outside the sleigh saw that, they yelled in triumph. And steadily, steadily, we overlook the other party.

As we neared, it seemed to me like a boarding party in the old pirate days. I could hear the shrill screaming of feminine voices. Snowballs, hunks of hard snow off the road whizzed past us. When a piece of wood about the size of a stove stick thudded into the sleigh, I began to get anxious.

“Jim,” I said, “I don’t like this.”

But already we were overtaking the first sleigh, and crowding past it, forcing it over towards the ditch. Already some of our party had bounded ahead and were clasped in mortal combat with men who leaped out of the leading sleigh. Inside of half a minute, amid the screams of girls, the jangling of bells and the snorts of excited horses, twenty wild fighting figures were tumbling in the show, with yells, grunts and shouts and thuds. And suddenly over the side of our sleigh came very large young man who dealt me terrific punch on the side of the head, one of those country swings, and then trampling all over me, charged bull-like at Jimmie.

The Annual Thrill

Thus we were engaged in speechless heaving and grabbing and heavy breathing amidst the tumult for a few moments, until I heard a girl’s voice above me saying: “Oh, you brutes.”

But by the time we got to our feet, while the fighting was still going on in spots and spasms, out along the ditches and fences I saw my short heavy friend, grasping a girl by the elbow with each hand and dragging them from the other sleigh into ours.

And inside of one minute, the whole entire load of ladies was shifted. They yelled and laughed and protested. One young lady was weeping bitterly. Several strange young men charged forlornly at our sleigh but were violently thumped and tripped and flung backwards. Meanwhile, two or three of our party were unhitching the horses of the other sleigh, and presently brought them around and tied them to the back of ours. By this time our sleigh was jammed to suffocation and a valiant rearguard stood around us to beat off the failing attacks of the enemy. And with a final uproar of shouts of okay and ready we lurched into action and moved away.

Behind us, some of them following part way with fists shaking and gestures of despair, were left on the road the men of the first party.

And down under the vastly grinning men, we rode while girls’ voices screeched and laughed and still the young lady wept.

“Aw, cut it out, Grace,” called one girl from the tangled heap of robes and laughed.

“I won’t,” stamped the weeping girl. “I saw Eddie’s nose bleeding. You brutes.”

But presently there was singing, and working his way heavily back to Jim and me came the squat young man of my acquaintance leading large bundled figures behind him.

“That was the Bible class,” explained him to us. “Gents, I’d like to introduce our chaperones to you. They’ll be your partners, Mrs. McGiffin and Mrs. Hawtrey.”

And Mrs. McGiffin and Mrs. Hawtrey were squealing loudly the way chaperones do and waggled themselves space in the sleigh and sat with us, telling about the annual thrill when the church sleighing party is always ruined by the bad boys of the village.

With horses afore and aft, and merry bells thundering and songs rising one after another, we smothered across the white country and down the dark aisles and came at last to the village.

And in the village we drew up, with shouts and cheers, before the church where people came rushing out to welcome us and we all raced excitedly into the church basement where there was rich dark smell of coffee and long tables were spread under glaring lights with pies and cake and fruit and jam and sandwiches of ham, cheese, chopped egg, pork, cold beef, salmon, pickle salad and some private mixture that one never met before and never will meet again.

And there we ate and sang and ate again and looked at fifty bright and ruddy faces and eyes so clear and strange and filled with shy and lovely expressions that you never see in cities anymore; and a little old minister got up and spoke to this unexpected flock of young men, making hay while the sun shone, he explained; and after everything was eaten and the songs were being gone over for the third and even the seventh me seventh time – that seventh timer was the one about the music goes round and around ho,ooo,ooo,ooo – a few shy, angry young men came creeping down the basement entrance and into the door where they were met with loud and wild cheers of derision and crusts were flung at them; all but one brave, slim fellow with a bruised nose, who strode whitely and furiously in and sat down beside the little girl who had been weeping.

And under the silver radiance of the moonlight we went forth and Mrs. McGiffin took us into her house and she was a widda and the furious young man with the bruised nose was her son and we sat and had another tea and our room was the spare room, and the dresser was golden oak and there was an afghan and the floor was icy cold. But the bed was high and deep and dry and warm.

And the next morning we went fox hunting.


Fancy Figures

By Greg Clark, February 2, 1940

If you’re not wealthy, not beautiful and not outstanding in charm, what do you have to do to get into society? Greg and Jim try to become expert figure skaters

“Socially,” said Jimmie Frise, “we don’t amount to much, do we?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I retorted. “I have a tuxedo hanging up in the attic in a pillow-slip to keep the moths out of it.”

“I mean,” said Jim, “you never see our names in the list of those present at things. You never see our pictures in the newspapers holding a horse’s head or standing with knee bent looking off into space at the hunt. We’re not in society.”

“Oh, we get about,” said I.

“What I mean is,” said Jim, “they had that big military ball a little while ago. Why weren’t we there? In kilometres marched, in cooties squashed, in socks worn out, in blisters on our heels, I bet you were more entitled to be at that military ball than three-quarters of the people who were there that got their names in the paper.”

“Military,” I said, “is used in a different sense in society. Society is a little hard to understand. For instance, you could no more crash society than you could crash the Masons. You have to have wealth or position or beauty or charm.”

“Well,” said Jim, feeling in his pants pockets, “we haven’t got wealth. I don’t believe we’ve got beauty, and if you’ve got charm I’ve got parrot’s disease. But just the same I think we ought to try and get into society. And the way you do it is by doing the things society does.

“What, for instance?”

“Something fashionable, like riding horses or flying airplanes or throwing big parties.”

“Count me out,” I said. “Horses give me hay fever, to put it mildly. And as for airplanes and parties– “

“I’ve got it!” cried Jimmie. “Figure skating! Everybody of any account can figure skate. It’s the loveliest form of exercise. It has grace, charm, style. It would transform us into creatures of fashion.”

“You mean that sort of whirling around,” I inquired, “On skates? I thought that was a sissy sort of thing.”

“Sissy!” exclaimed Jim. “So is riding a horse over a six-foot jump sissy! So is playing rugby. It takes more to be a good figure skater than it takes to be a good golfer.”

“Something tells me–” I began.

“Come on,” cried Jim. “Be a sport. Get somewhere. Don’t be content to let life slide by. I’ll arrange everything.”

“I don’t want to waste a lot of money finding out I’m not cut for society,” I warned him.

“Listen,” said Jim, “Arthur Donaldson of the advertising department is a member of the Skating Club. He’s an old-timer. Boy, can he figure skate! He can draw figures on the ice.”

“I bet he can’t do a figure five without slipping.”

“I bet he can draw Premier King on the ice.”

“I’ll show you.”

So Jimmie asked Arthur if we could investigate the art of figure skating a short distance, and Arthur very kindly took us up to the Skating Club.

The Skating Club has a lovely sheet of ice entirely surrounded by pleasant rooms and galleries and places to eat and sit about with soft cushions. I noticed the soft cushions especially. I noticed also the lovely mantels for leaning on, in case you can’t sit down.

Arthur borrowed a couple of pairs of skates for us and we put them on.

Personally, I never saw such skates. My recollection of skating is a little hazy, but I do recall that after a few staggers and several slithers and a little waving of the arms you could manage to scoot joyously around in circles.

These skates Arthur presented to Jim and me were shaped like new moons. They were curved. Little as ordinary skates give you to stand upon, these figure skates gave you about one mean little inch on the ice and the rest of them curved up to the front like a rocking chair.

Even on the wooden platform around the ice they caused my ankles to knuckle inward and Jim’s to knuckle out.

“Come along,” urged Arthur, giving a few little hops and then gliding beautifully out on to the ice. There were only two girls and an instructor up at the far end of the rink. “They’ll never notice you,” said Arthur quietly.

Remembering -as who does not?- the skill with which we used to skate, I slid on to the ice. It was a ghastly sensation. The skates started rocking, the little curved blades had no sense of direction, and without the slightest co-operation from me I found myself on my back. Good old Jimmie came instantly to my rescue, sliding boldly on to the ice. He fell on top of me.

Arthur curved graciously over to us, and with murmurs of sympathy stood there while Jimmie and I slowly crawled up him, like sailors going up a mast.

“Now, now,” said Arthur, “take it easy. Just stand steady and get your balance and take little strokes until you feel assured.”

“Let me take your arm, Arthur,” said I.

“You wouldn’t learn that way,” said Arthur. He withdrew his arm from my clutches. Jim and I stood steadily for an instant, his ankles out, mine in. Then his feet went from under him as if an unseen foe had kicked him. Whether I sat down for company or whether I was blown down by the wind of Jimmie’s fall I can’t say, but the next thing I did was to crawl on hands and knees for the wooden platform. And as I passed Jim I hissed in his face:

“Society!”

I removed my skates and watched Jim for a little while in my sock feet, until he was thoroughly convinced that he would have to reduce his leg length before entering society.

Arthur, as we sipped hot chocolate on soft-cushioned chairs in the club rooms, assured us that we had done splendidly.

“You made a better beginning than most,” said he.

“What do the average do?” asked Jim.

“Just lie down and refuse to get up?”

So we drove back to work.

“It only goes to show,” I said to him as we drove, “that people in society have got something special. What have we got?”

“We don’t give up yet,” said Jimmie. What we’ve got to do first is to recover our ice legs. I suggest that we do a little skating on public rinks on ordinary states first, and then try out those curvy ones.”

“I know already that I’m not cut out for society,” I assured him.

“Listen,” said Jim, “don’t be a quitter. To get on in life you’ve got to have determination. I’ll pick you up next Saturday afternoon at three o’clock. I’ll have the skates.”

“I’ll be out,” said I.

But Jim called at three in his car. You can’t refuse an old friend who comes honking at your door.

“I’ll watch you bust into society,” said I getting into his car. “But you use a funny part of your anatomy for busting, I’ll say.”

“We aren’t going to a public rink at all,” said Jim. “My kids skate on a kind of pond down in the Humber valley. It’s all isolated. Nobody will see us. We’ll just go down there and do an hour’s practice and it will make us feel like a million dollars.”

Down in the Humber valley below Lambton Jim led me to a pond about as big as a school yard. A dozen suburban kids had a bonfire by its side and were having a grand old game of shinny on the puddle.

“How deep is this pond?” I asked one of the suburban kids who stopped to watch me wobble on to the ice in my borrowed skates.

“How high is the sky?” retorted this radio-minded youth from York township and skidded away into his gang.

With wide and rather ungraceful strides, as if we had three or four knees in our legs instead of one, Jim and I stroked our way out into the middle of the pond.

“Hey!” came a half dozen shrill voices from the bonfire. “It’s soft out there!”

I grabbed for Jim and Jim grabbed for me.

Our feet went out from under us, backward, we fought frantically to hold our balance and then down we went as one man. One man with two large points of contact.

The ice gave way softly, without any drama at all.

We sat down in nine inches of cold water.

Jim struggled to his feet and helped me to mine. All the little York township boys stood in a circle and cheered us.

I tried to think of something to say but none of the things that came to my mind seemed fit for the occasion.

But as we waddled, with legs ajar, back to Jim’s car, we both came to the conclusion that society is for them as likes it.


Editor’s Notes: This story is shorter than the average one. Usual stories are about 2500 words, while this one is only 1500 words. This reduced story length seemed to only exist in early 1940, so it may have been initiated by concerns of newsprint restrictions early in the war.

Jimmie mentions Parrot Disease, also known as Psittacosis.

Premier King is William Lyon Mackenzie King. It was not uncommon at the time to refer to the Prime Minister as Premier.

Lambton is a neighborhood in Toronto, in an area then known as West York.

When asking how deep is the pond, he gets the smart-ass reply “How high is the sky”. This is the second line in the Irving Berlin song, “How Deep Is the Ocean?“, written in 1932. It was a popular ballad from this time period covered by many Jazz musicians.

It's As Easy as Easy

By Greg Clark, January 16, 1937

“No more fooling,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ve got to take up skiing. It’s the rage.”

“It came,” I regretted, “just ten years too late for us.”

“Nonsense,” cried Jim. “There’s thousands of men our age skiing.”

“They started when they were younger,” I countered.

“It’s as easy as easy,” Jim informed me. There is no trick in it. You keep thinking of skiing as jumping off high ski jumps. That isn’t skiing, any more than high fancy diving is swimming. Skiing is like sailing. Or swimming. Nine-tenths of all skiing is just floating along over lovely levels and slopes, and one-tenth of it is sliding down pleasant hills with a sense of grace and speed that no other sport can give.”

“It looks the clumsiest sport I ever saw,” I protested. “Any I’ve ever seen skiing were either waddling or sprawling. In fact, outside the movies, I may say I have never to my knowledge seen a skier standing up.”

“It goes to show you,” groaned Jim, “just what prejudice can do to a man. We’ve had a couple of unfortunate experiences on skis. That settles it, as far as you are concerned.”

“It sure does,” I confirmed. “I’m not one of those who have to eat a whole egg to know it’s bad. Any game that makes me look and feel like a fool, that bumps me and bruises me and robs me of all my self-control isn’t going to get a second chance at me.”

“I know you are not a bigoted man,” said Jim, “so that is why I now ask you to keep an open mind in this matter and consider a few more points.”

“My mind,” I agreed, “is slightly ajar, but only slightly.”

“Skiing,” said Jim, “has come to stay. It is not a fad. It is as natural born a Canadian sport as it is possible to conceive.”

“It was born in Norway,” I corrected, “as a quick way for coming down a mountain. The Norwegians have never yet invented as quick a way for going back up the mountain.”

“Canadians, you admit,” said Jim, “are an outdoor people. They have more outdoors than most countries. Millions of square miles of Canada are nothing but outdoors. Good for nothing else forever.”

“Hence,” I agreed, “three hundred million dollars’ worth of tourists per annum.”

“Why leave it to the tourists?” asked Jim. “Now, in summer, we all go to summer cottages or camping. We fish and boat and swim. We are an outdoor people. But come winter, we hole up, like bears. Why? Because, except for skating, snowshoeing and tobogganing, there is nothing outdoors in winter to attract us.”

“I like holing up,” I stated. “Beside a bright fire.”

“Skating and tobogganing,” went on Jim, are restricted by the amount of clear ice and the hills available. Snowshoeing is a dreary business of picking them up and setting them down. But now comes skiing.”

“Hooray, slither, thud,” said I.

“Once You Get the Hang of It”

“Skiing, once you get the hang of it,” said Jimmie, “is the most fascinating, alluring, glorious sport there is. Unlike golf and tennis, it can be enjoyed by young and old. You can go as far as you like with it. Like fishing. You can restrict yourself to just floating around near home, enjoying the simple pleasure of sailing over the bright snow, amid the woods and fields. Or you can go as far as you like into the countless intricacies of the sport, learning to go with speed, with ever increasing style, over hills, over jumps, rushing at wind speed through forest aisles, as fully in control of your graceful movements as though you were walking, and all the time in the glorious pure winter air.”

“It costs money,” I pointed out.

“It is one of the few sports,” replied Jim, “that costs no more than the initial outlay. If you play golf, after you’ve bought your golf clubs you have to pay fees forever. If you ski, you just run outside the city and start skiing. It costs no more than walking.”

“There’ll be some catch in it,” I argued. “Or if there isn’t, somebody will soon put one in it.”

“They can’t,” said Jim. “Right now, all around the city for miles and miles there are the loveliest ski trails winding over the countryside, and what do they cost? Nothing. Because they are simply the trails left by others who have gone ahead. You just climb out of your car, find good trail clearly defined where plenty of other skiers have gone, and follow. Where the many have gone is the finest country, the best slopes, the prettiest scenes.”

“It sounds,” I said, “a little too good to be true.”

“All the best things in life do,” said Jim.

Thus, reluctantly, Jim persuaded me to go and shop around the ski stores with him. There were outfits from $8 up. But there were also boots alone that cost $28, and skis alone that went to fifty dollars. And of all the garments, gadgets and accessories to be seen in these ski stores, only a modern motor car emporium could show any greater diversity.

We ended up by buying $10 skis, and $4 poles; boots at $7, and three dollars’ worth of wax, klister, blister and blung or some such names, meaning wax for wet snow, medium snow and dry snow.

One thing about skiing, once you let it take hold of you, even by the tips of your fingers, it gets a grip that is worse than strong drink. Before Jim and I got home, we had bought ski pants and ski spats, ski coats and ski neck scarves, ski belts and ski lunch bags, ski garters and ski socks; ski berets and ski goggles; in fact, both of us had to leave our purchases out in the car in the garage until our families went to the movies after dinner.

To Live Up to Costumes

Part of any sport is the costume. The big thing, with thousands of horse addicts, for example, is the smart riding togs, in which they can drape themselves gracefully around fences and fashionable barnyards. Shooting and fishing call for a certain style, even if it is no style. Skiing certainly has costume. Jim and I dressed up in our new outfits and we visited together. These clothes give you a rugged feeling a sort of wide-legged, heavy-footed, glint-eyed Scandinavian feeling.

Saturday noon, in a keen and platinum-skied weather, we sortied out and joined the northward parade, on all highways, of cars bristling with skis. Less than an hour’s run north, we joined one of the numerous side road processions of cars seeking the white open spaces. And on a hill top, of pine and cedar, dark against the glorious white, we parked in the ditch along with dozens of other cars. And out over the wholesome world, traced with snake fences and etched woods, we could see hundreds of skiers, like dancers on damask….

“To-day,” said Jim. “we’ll try no hills. No fancy steps at all. Nothing but elementary straight sliding on the level.”

“We’ll have to live up to these clothes a bit,” I reminded him.

On the running-board, we sat to adjust the heavy clever harness of the skis.

“Will we be warm enough?” I asked, the keen stinging wind rattling spumey snow against us.

“As soon as we get going, we’ll warm,” said Jim.

And then we stood up, and started with slow, easy skids of the skis, to proceed to the sloping field edge, and enter on that far-flung dance of winter. It was, as Jim said, as easy as easy. No steep slopes, but slow rolling fields, down which it was a curious thrill to propel ourselves with ski poles and up which it was no trick at all to climb.

“It is like sailing,” I shouted to Jim, as we drifted from one fair field to another.

“Wind in the face,” cried Jim, “crisp snow under foot, blood tingling …”

“It’s warm,” I confessed.

“I was just thinking,” admitted Jim, veering nearer me, “we put on a little too much clothing. I often marveled at those ski costumes in the store, so flimsy.”

But we rested frequently and took it easy and cooled off wherever we felt like it. And presently, even the far-off hilltop where we had left our car dropped from sight behind the rolling hills of York county.

On fences, we saw coats and jackets hung. Haversacks and scarves and even caps were suspended from fence posts, such is the comradeship of the ski world, nobody fears to leave their possessions about.

“If I could take off this jacket,” I told Jim. “I could enjoy it a lot better.”

“Me, too,” agreed Jim, sliding for a little piney copse where against the dark green shone the colors of sundry garments where fellow skiers had hung them.

With jackets off, we took a new lease of life. A valley sloped away from the little copse, and into the valley ran a regular highway of ski tracks. Into the valley slid Jim and I, and amongst beautiful trees, we guided our points, slow slopes being followed by short steep climbs, and valleys branching off valleys, and all along the way we found garments and lunch bags suspended from the branches. And the gayer we went, the more we shed, Jim hanging up on one small cedar tree his cap, scarf, mitts and belt, so flushed and tingled were we with this rejoicing little valley.

All Hills Are Up

A little later, at the top of one of the steep short climbs, I shed my outer integuments, and Jim even removed his shirt.

“My underwear is perfectly respectable,” he retorted to my shocked glare. So I took off my shirt, too, and we turned into a more enticing valley than any we had yet seen, while from before and behind came little volleying parties and doubles and singles of skiers, all with such look of pleasure on their bright faces, it was like being a boy again.

But presently, even bereft of all extra garments, we began to tire.

“Jim,” I said, resting against a tree that fortunately presented itself, “we shouldn’t take it too hard or too far the first time. I bet we’ll ache to-morrow.”

“We can turn back any time,” agreed Jim, puffing.

So after a little rest, we turned and headed back through the valleys.

But, imperceptibly to the human eye, especially the human eye on skis, this valley sloped just the least little bit. And by the time we came out into the next valley, we were pretty weary.

“Tchah,” said Jimmie, as we rested.

“Pffffff,” I agreed.

We started up the next valley. It too had a gentle, an almost imperceptible, slope. Valley led into valley, like the joints of a clothes dryer. Sometimes we came to a fork in the valley, but I left the choice of the fork to Jimmie, who is taller and therefore can see farther.

In all the valleys were these glittering trails of ski tracks, and along all the trees were the garments shed.

“Jim,” I said, “we ought to be coming to that little cedar with our shirts on it.”

“Next bend, I think,” said Jim.

“Funny how chilly it is,” I remarked, “when you stop.”

“Funny how much oftener you stop going than coming,” said Jim.

But we did not come to the little cedar tree, and the next bend was a valley full of large gray boulders through which the trail led windingly.

“We certainly,” I declared, “did not come down this valley.”

But rather than go back and correct our bearings, Jim decided it would be easier if we climbed out of the little valley on to the level and struck overland for the right one.

We found one valley, and two valleys, cutting overland, but neither of them did we recognize. We then found a deep valley and then another shallow one. They were full of skiers both coming and going, who could not, even when we halted them, tell us if they had noticed on a small cedar tree a blue shirt and a green shirt and sundry caps, scarves and fancy woollen belts.

But nobody had. So I borrowed a pair of gloves off a tree, but Jimmie wouldn’t. And we went up valleys and across fields and down valleys, asking everybody if they had seen a cedar tree with blue shirts and green shirts on it.

So we abandoned the search and headed over hill and dale for what Jimmie said was the direction of our car. And we came at last to a side road where a skiing party took us into their car and drove us at dark to the highway, where, we were able to hire a taxi cab with blankets and go finding our own car.

“We still have our skis,” said Jim, as deeply wound up in rugs and cloth things Jim found under the back seat, we headed for home.

“And our pants,” I added gratefully.

The first lesson in skiing,” said Jim, don’t wear too much clothing.”

“And the second lesson,” said I, “is, all hills are up.”


In the Ring!

By Greg Clark, November 24, 1945

“I’ve got two ducats,” announced Jimmie Frise, “to the wrestling match.”

“Ducats?” I inquired.

“Free tickets,” explained Jim. “Dead heads. Passes.”

“Jim,” I enunciated, “I have made it a lifelong principle never to accept free tickets to anything. They are free for either of two reasons. Either they are trying to pad the house, because they can’t attract a paying crowd, or else they are trying to interest you in the show for ulterior purposes.”

“Does it occur to you,” demanded Jim bitterly, that there may be good guys in the world who are just good guys? Is it possible for your small suspicious brain to conceive that maybe somebody just wanted to do a friendly thing?”

“Who gave you the tickets?” I asked.

“Bill Tooke,” replied Jim.

“Aaaaah,” I leered. “The promoter of the wrestling bouts!

“Bill has been a friend of mine for years,” cried Jimmie indignantly. “I’ve known him long before he ever was a promoter. He and I have played hundreds of games of snooker pool together. What is there more natural than that Bill should drop in and hand me a couple of ducats to the bouts? Haven’t I sent him a platterful of trout in the spring? Haven’t I given him the odd bass…?”

“I wouldn’t object,” I replied, “to a fight promoter sending you the hind leg of a moose in return for a platterful of trout. But it looks fishy to me when he drops in and hands you a couple of tickets to a wrestling bout he’s interested in.”

“And what,” gritted Jim, “do you suspect he has in mind?”

“He has in mind,” I informed him, “that you will persuade me to come to the wrestling bout with you, and we’ll do a story on it.”

“Did I,” shouted Jim, “invite you to come with me? I had no earthly intention of inviting you to come with me! I merely announced that I had a couple of ducats to the wrestling match, if I remember right.”

“Your intention,” I asserted, “was to interest me.”

“I hadn’t the least intention of asking you to come with me,” declared Jim hotly. “I know your attitude towards wrestling. I know your attitude towards all manly sports. Do you think I want to spend a whole evening beside you, listening to you sneering at the contenders, at the referee, at the very crowd around you?”

“Backside sports!” I sneered obligingly. “Five thousand sportsmen sitting on their backsides watching two fake sports fighting in a ring for money!”

“See what I mean?” muttered Jim to the office walls.

“Rugby,” I scoffed. “Fifteen thousand sportsmen and sportswomen sitting muffled in rugs athletically watching 15 guys rolling in the mud!”

“Aw, go ahead,” groaned Jim, starting to work furiously at his drawing board.

“Racing!” I pursued caustically. “Twenty thousand sportsmen clutching gambling tickets in their sweaty fists, watching eight little sportsmen on horses racing around a circle.”

“Okay, okay,” breathed Jim deeply.

Life’s Contests

“The only sport in the world,” I stated, “is that in which people participate. Fishing, shooting, tennis, golf – they’re sport. But all these so-called sports events, which consist of 10 guys doing something and 10,000 guys sitting watching them, are the reverse of sport. They’re evil. They’re destructive. When the great Roman Empire first began to totter, they built their first arena.”

“What bunk!” protested Jim. “Can you imagine a rugby team going out and playing another rugby team without an audience, just for the sheer sport of it?”

“If they did, they would really be sportsmen,” I pointed out, “and not young gentlemen exerting themselves for gain.”

“Gain!” Jim yelled in fury. “Do you mean to insinuate …”

“To stand forth,” I cut in, “before all his fellow students as an outstanding rugby player is a form of gain to a young man going to Varsity.”

“Well, the whole of life then,” insisted Jim, “is a form of gain. Everybody tries to stand forth. The housewife tries to cook well, in order to stand forth as a good housewife. The good mechanic tries to excel at his machine, not merely to male wages, but to stand forth among his fellow workers as an outstanding man. You think you’re so smart! All you’ve done is bring to light the true character of sport. Sport in its widest and best sense is the contending between men to show who is the better and the best man. Or the best team of men.”

“Heh, heh, heh,” was all I could think of.

“From babyhood,” pursued Jim hotly, “right through life to the grave, the best feature of the struggle of life is the contending to bring out the best in us. What do they have baby shows for? To give people, at the very beginning, a chance to show that they are the best.

Why do young expectant mothers knit, knit, knit? Is it only to prepare warm clothes? Not if you look at what they are knitting. It is to get ready to try and show the prettiest baby on the whole street. Why do they have reports cards in school? To show who’s the smartest. If life was without these contests, if life consisted of nothing more than a dull routine in which nobody was expected to try and get ahead of the other fellow, how long do you think it would be before the world would slip back into the native thatched villages from which we have risen?”

“We’re already half way back to the native thatched village,” I retorted, “when 15,000 of us are content to sit back in easy chairs and watch two gross, bulging gladiators from the caveman age squash each other to death.”

“It’s all part of the competitive system,” explained Jim. “I admit it isn’t the best form of sport.”

“You’d rather go fishing?” I taunted.

“Certainly,” replied Jim. “But don’t put any sanctimonious airs on about fishing. You talk very unctuously about going fishing in order to enjoy nature. You are always sounding off about the non-competitive character of fishing. It is for itself alone that you go fishing. But I never saw anybody come so pompously up the village road as you do when you are carrying a creel full of trout. And I must say I know nobody who has had his picture taken oftener holding up a big pike or a big bass …”

“Now just a minute,” I protested.

“I have often noticed,” went on Jim strongly, “that guys who aren’t much good at competitive games are always ardent followers of sports in which they can take their wives or young sons with them, such as fishing”

“Now, look here,” I insisted.

“In fishing,” proceeded Jimmie, “there is no referee. In shooting, there is no umpire. That kind of sport appeals strongly to a man who is trying to excel but who prefers to excel in his own opinion rather than under the scrutiny of his fellow men. If he uses worms, nobody is looking, and he invariably has a trout fly on his line by the time he emerges from the stream to meet his fellow sportsmen. If he shoots a partridge sitting on the ground, who is to see him? It was always ‘racing across, at 40 yards, on the wing,’ by the time he meets up with his fellow hunters …”

“Speak for yourself,” I said bitterly.

“In all men,” rounded off Jim, “there is a desire to excel at something. When the time comes in a man’s life that he realizes he can no longer excel anybody – that is the tragic hour. Life itself, business, industry, the home, the school, the church, all our institutions are based on that desire to excel that is the very spark of our existence. And sport is that spark applied for fun, for relaxation, for leisure. It is the one field in which we can watch others excel without personal pain.”

“It’s sadistic,” I submitted. “We like to see others suffer.”

Jim hit the drawing board a violent bang.

“Okay,” he shouted. “DON’T come to the wrestling!”

But I did.

After all, there is much to be said for Jim’s point of view. If thousands and tens of thousands of people, young and old, go to hockey games and race-tracks and prize-fights and other activities in which a tiny fraction of one per cent of those gathered does anything more than sit and yell, there must be something in it. A man of my age can’t be right all the time. It would be bad for him. So I went.

It was worse than I thought. In the nasty wet November night, we parked our car and walked with a throng into a cold, large, damp arena already blue with fog of cigar and cigarette smoke. We were a little late getting there, Jim being always late, and the first bout was already under way, so that the shadowy arena was full of the deep wolf-like baying of humanity calling for a kill. We were shown to our seats, which were hard benches. If I ever take a free seat, I like it padded.

Not only were the benches hard, but the people sitting in the gloom all around me impressed me as a very hard lot, too. The only lights were the spotlights centered on the ring where the wrestlers were lying down together in the most grotesque attitude. In the dim reflected light, swirling with smoke, I took time to glance around at my fellow sportsmen.

Now, I do not mean to insinuate that these were underworld types. In fact, I was astonished to see, sitting four places to my right, an old and respected friend of mine who is sidesman in a church and a great leader in the social life of Toronto. But in this dim and smoky setting a strange change had come over him. He was smoking a cigar and was leaning forward with an expression of fury on his face.

Amid the baying. I heard him distinctly yell: “Break his neck! Twist his head off!”

I sat up as high as I could and looked at the ring. Just in time, too. In the livid glare, I saw the two contenders, heavy, gross men, stager heavily to their feet, back up and then charge each other like bulls. You could positively feel the collision of them. It thudded on the thick air. One got a strangle-hold on the other, walked him slowly, terribly backwards and bending him back, started to saw his victim’s neck in short, savage strokes, along the ropes of the ring… The arena went mad. But instead of them charging the ring and putting an end to this monstrous thing, they were standing on their benches, cheering!

“Fake!”

It was all over. The cheering died. I stood I on my bench. I supposed the victim was dead, his head rolling on the mat. But in a moment, as the roars died away and everybody turned their attention from the ring to one another, I saw the two contenders jump down and walk up the aisle past us. The man who had had his head sawed off was grinning and waving to friends in the audience.

“Fake!” I yelled shrilly.

Jim pulled me down by my coat.

But my yell had attracted notice, and my friend the sidesman and social worker leaned over and shook hands with me.

“Well, heh, heh,” he cried above the din. “I’d never expect to see you here! I thought you’d be away deer hunting…”

“It’s over,” I said.

“Have a cigar,” he cried, holding out a fat one.

Now, I never smoke cigars. But there was something in the air, something in the shrewd, excited faces around me that upset my normal attitudes. I took the cigar.

There is something also about a cigar that is very disturbing. Grip a cigar in the corner of your mouth, and it gives you a very curious feeling. A feeling of importance of mastery. Jutting out of your jaw, its rich aroma bathing your face, a cigar does something to your ego. It fortifies it. Take a modest, self-conscious little man and put a big cigar in his teeth, and he begins to swell.

And by the time the cigar has burned down to a butt, and the butt is firmly clenched in the side molars, jutting rakishly out of the corner of his mouth, a man has masculine feeling impossible to inspire with a cigarette or even a big pipe.

I lighted up the cigar during the intermission between bouts. The next item on the card was between a pair of local palookas of some fame, but a long way off from being headliners. After sizing them up through my cigar smoke, I selected the one in blue trunks for my money. And he received the benefit of my voice for about 15 minutes of agony, during which his opponent, a vicious type if ever I saw one, bent him, corkscrewed him, butted him, gave him the elbow in the wind pipe and one thing and another, until he lay limp and beaten.

It was in the intermission after this bout, by which time my cigar was a butt and I had it clamped in masterly fashion in my left molars, that Bill Tooke the promoter, passing up the aisle to get the headliners, spotted Jimmie.

“Hi, Jim,” he yelled. “What are you doing back here? I’ve got seats up front for you. HEL-lo, Mr. Clark! How are you enjoying it?”

“So-so,” I said between clenched teeth and the cigar butt. “So-so.”

“Aw, come up front,” pleaded Bill. “You’ll enjoy it better.”

And under his personal ushering, Jim and I went to the front where the seats were the sort you should give away free. Good comfortable ones.

By now, the chill had been driven out of the arena by the heat of the crowd, and we took off our coats and relaxed. Past my cigar butt, I nodded in that casual sporty fashion, to several prominent people lounging around the ringside. I jutted my jaw out und gazed up at the ring as if wrestling bouts were just a dab of salted almonds to an old sportsman like me.

When the two behemoths for the headline bout came swaying and thudding down the aisle to the ring, I nearly swallowed my cigar butt. The last of such men, I had always thought, had been painted on the walls of caves 10,000 years ago. Only in cartoons, I imagined, could such human mammoths be conjured up. They were hot merely colossal. They were prehistoric. Their arms were bigger than my legs. Their torsos were as wide as my torso, from Adam’s apple to the seat of my pants, turned sideways. They were hairy, their chins were granite blue, their heads were mere knobs and their eyes were sunken in the bone that you could not see them. They moved slowly, ponderously. To the rising storm of cheers and boos, they grinned, and their grin would chill your blood.

They hoisted themselves up over the ropes with all the grace of steam shovels hoisting two tons of rock out of a hole. Under the garish lights, they turned and stared contemptuously out over the throngs, now hysterical with roars and yells. The worst looking of the two threw off his bath robe and came over and leaned on the ropes right above us. He stared down gloomily and bared his teeth at us in a prehistoric snarl.

Gripping the cigar butt firmly, I bared my teeth back at him in a snarl and felt butterflies flying around in my stomach.

“Quite a boy,” said Jim.

“Glrp,” I replied, biting hard.

“My money on him,” said Jim.

“Was he looking at me,” I asked, “or at you?”

“He was just looking around,” explained Jim easily. “They always do that.”

The announcer stood forth and bellowed the formal chant, e-nouncing Bolo the Executioner in this corner; and in that corner, Przffst, the Head Hunter, champion of the World.

Przffst, the Head Hunter, was the big gorilla that had snarled at me.

I threw my cigar butt away.

The two stood up and acknowledged the formless roar of cheers and boos and a sort of frenzy settled over the vast arena, the way the sound of machines fills a factory when the power is turned on.

The referee skedaddled back into a corner. The two human rhinoceri pulled their heads in like turtles and bent their arms wide from their sides and began circling. There was no dancing or prancing, as in boxing. It was more like two Mark VI tanks preparing to kiss each other. Quite softly, they clutched. The crowd went berserk.

Up went Przffst, the Head Hunter, as though he were light as a feather, as though he were made of celluloid, hollow. Bolo the Executioner had lifted him as a child might be lifted, made three slow rotations of himself and his awful burden held high over head, and then, bracing himself so that his fat body seemed suddenly to corrugate from neck to knee with a thousand cords of muscle, hurled the Head Hunter to the mat with a thud that made my chair jump.

I went mad.

“Kill him, kill him,” I screeched above the tornado, trying to pierce my lone voice like a knitting needle into the ears of Bolo the Executioner. “The big stuffed sofa! Jump on him. Break all his four legs. He’s full of horse hair … he’s stuffed …”

“Don’t Get Excited”

But before Bolo could land – though he jumped into the air, folded his knees and tried to land with his 300 pounds on Przffst’s stomach, knees first – Przffst, with an incredible agility, rolled and bounded to his feet, crouching.

In the fraction of an instant’s silence that befell, my voice jabbed: “The Head Hunter! He needs a head!”

And as he closed with Bolo, his head appeared over Bolo’s shoulder, as though he had his teeth buried in it. And though his eyes wore sunk about an inch into his cheek bones, I swear they were looking straight at me.

They twisted and fell and rose and fell, all in one massive ball of about half a ton of human flesh while I kept silence. Then Bolo, by some means invisible to my eye, though the crowd must have seen it for they roared, got a foothold on Przffst; and his mouth as wide as a lard pail in agony. Przffst threw up his arms and went face down on to the mat, his giant frame shuddering like that of a hippopotamus pierced by Zulu spears.

“Kill him,” I roared, jumping up, “break his leg off, the big mattress! He’s stuffed! He’s full of hay …”

“Don’t get excited,” said Jim, pulling my arm. “It’s only starting. They’re just warming up …”

For in truth, the hateful Head Hunter, despite his agony, got some kind of a foul hold on Bolo, that splendid specimen, that friend of man, that St. George, that killer of dragons; and over went Bolo in one vast shudder of agony, letting go Przffst’s foot. And Przffst was on top of Bolo, smashing his face on the mat, thump, thump, thump. I could feel my chair jolting.

On and on it went, under these vicious lights. On and on went the tornado of sound. Time and again, Bolo, whose unpleasant features slowly evaporated every time he got the splits on Przffst or sawed his neck on the ropes, almost had the world champion killed. But always that dreadful monster, appearing more dreadful each time, by some fiendish and foul trick, broke the magnificent Bolo’s grip and sent him shuddering to the floor.

And each time the Head Hunter nearly died of strangulation, my plaudits for Bolo rang and pierced the typhoon. Turtle head, upholstered hogshead, stuffed dummy, gorilla, I called him. But Jim shouted cheerfully to take it easy. “They can’t hear you,” he said.

So phony, fake, fraud, I called him, humbug, lead-swinger, forger, window-dresser, gold-bricker, dope, mudcat, slug.

I looked around. How I would like another cigar!

And then it ended, I didn’t see it actually. All that happened was that Bolo the Executioner was on his broad back. And the Head Hunter was tossing his dressing-gown on lightly and vaulting over the ropes like ballet dancer.

He wore that terrible grin. He paused and looked down at me. I had no cigar butt.

“Hey,” he snarled, “cut me off at de knees and call me Shorty.”

He reached down lightly.

“Git up in dere wit your friend,” he chuckled. And he tossed me up there.

When Jimmie and Bill Tooke got me back down in my chair, Jimmie said: “He couldn’t have heard you.”

And Bill Tooke said: “I wouldn’t have had this happen for worlds. He didn’t know who you were.”

“But he knew what I was,” I said, before I thought.

Hurray For Our Side

By Greg Clark, February 5, 1938

“Well,” said Jimmie Frise, “I guess we’re snowed up.”

“Nonsense, Jimmie,” I heartened him, “let’s get that farmer in there to tow us through this drift. Maybe this is the last drift between here and Toronto.”

“Look,” expostulated Jim, “we’ve spent four dollars already on being towed out of four drifts. The nearer we get to Toronto, the higher goes the price of being towed out of drifts. What we’ve got to do is settle down somewhere for the night and wait for the snow-plows to clear the highways.”

“Aw,” I protested, “I hate spending the night in a strange farm house, ousting some poor hired man out of his rightful bed.”

“Farmhouse be hanged,” cried Jim, “we’ll get this farmer here to haul the car into his lane and we’ll leave it there. Then we’ll get him to drive us in a cutter to the nearest town. There’s a light in the distance, see?”

It had just turned dark, and through the murk and mighty swirl of the blizzard, we could dimly see the tops of fence posts, the shadowy form of a line of evergreens marking the lane of an old-fashioned farm house, and far down the lonely and swiftly drifting road, the faint glare of headlights of cars stalled like ourselves, and beyond them the fainter suspicion of the lights of a town.

“Jim,” I stated, “this is a lesson to us to read the probabilities before we set out on long motor trips in the winter.”

“I did read them,” assured Jim, “and they said fair and mild.”

“I hate,” I stated, “spending the night in some strange little town. In the first place, hotels have gone out of the hotel business all over the country. They’re either just big boarding houses, where local garage men and Hydro linesmen put up. Or else, after passing from hand to hand downwards in an ever-weakening decline, they are now in the possession of some still hopeful old hotelman who lives there with two of his daughters and seven grandchildren, and nothing in the world staggers and upsets them more than to have guests arrive.”

“Don’t you believe it,” said Jim, as we sat there in the warm car firmly sunk and embedded in a big curving snow-drift, “there are some mighty pleasant little hotels in some of these small town.”

“With Bible texts hung around the walls,” said I.

“The tourist traffic,” corrected Jim. “has revived some of these small town hotels in the last few years. I’ve been in some dandies.”

“The beds,” I muttered, “cold and damp. The bacon a quarter of an inch thick. And the eggs leathery. And mashed potatoes served with the bacon and eggs for breakfast. Ugh! A side dish of slightly browned and slightly warmed mashed potatoes.”

“I guess our troubles of the past two hours,” said Jim, kindly, “have got you down.”

“Why did we ever start for home?” I cried.

“Because you insisted,” retorted Jim.

“Well, why did you give in?” I triumphed angrily.

“Let’s go in and see if this farmer will tow us off the road and gives us a cutter ride to town,” said Jim.

Not So Dull

We got out of the car, leaving the headlights glaring, and waded and hopped heavily through the great edge-crested drifts towards the long line of firs at the far end of which glowed home lights. And we found the household just finishing dinner in the great old kitchen, the room at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit from the immense stove, the table stacked so high with provender, the one side of the table could hardly see the other. They invited us to stop for supper; which we did, having hot roast pork. cold head cheese and cold ham, mashed potatoes, and sliced turnips and carrots mixed, a most delightful combination, sliced in long, thin fingers. The bread was home made, the apple sauce was spiced with cloves and there were cookies made of oatmeal with dates in them that I wish you could have tasted. Around this table, watching Jimmie and me eat, were the elderly father and mother, two middle-aged daughters and two middle-aged sons and one child of eight. Their whole interest in life, outside of turning on the news broadcast so loud that it shook all the shelves of the kitchen, was to see us eat. They passed and handed and urged and shoved. They high-pressured and ganged up on us.
And after we had eaten, and they had turned off the radio the minute the raucous newscast was ended, we all went into the next room, ladies and all, where one of the men sat at the piano and we all sang Harry Lauder songs while he chorded more or less accurately. To feed to suffocation and to sing as loud as possible was the ritual of entertainment in this grand old Ontario home, with all of them acting as if we were nightly guests in their midst. And then, reluctantly, one of the men said:

“Well, gents, if we’re going to town we’d better go now, because the game is at 8 o’clock sharp.”

“Game?” said Jimmie,

“Hockey game,” said Ed, which was his name. “The junior finals for this district.”

“Man,” cried Jim, “my friend here has been complaining about having to spend the night in some dull little town.”

“He’ll not be complaining,” laughed Ed, taking his coat off the door. “It’s our town against Buckleton, only twenty miles west. That makes for friendly rivalry.”

“If they ever get here.” I suggested.

“They’d get here,” said Ed, “if they had to climb the Rocky Mountains. They figure on beating us on our own ice.”

Everybody laughed and Jim said, “what a hope.”

And in a few minutes we had the car towed off the highway into the lane and an old-fashioned farm sleigh hitched with two horses, laden with hay and bedded with robes, quilts and blankets, into and under which we all got, including the old and the young; and with bells jangling mellowly we drove out the tall firred lane and on to the highway.

What had been a blizzard, an enemy, frustrating and menacing to us in our modern high-power car, was now a thing of beauty, the great wind and the dry show sweeping and driving helplessly over us, while we in our sleigh conquered. The deepest drifts which to modernity had been impassable, the two hearty horses simply went around or plunged straight through. We slewed and tipped and swung, but all was merry and chattery, and Ed and his brother, hunched in their old brown fur coats on the driving seat above us, kept up a strong sound to the horses, the bells grew to a music chimed to the white and lovely night; and, when one of the women started sweetly to sing “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds,” and we all softly joined, I do not think in all my life anything so suddenly and simply filled me with the sense of beauty. I thought of the poor, silly world, striving with its little machines to master, and only being mastered: a thousand million monkeys on a thousand million sticks.

We came in twenty minutes to the town, and down its main street with cars angle-parked and half buried before the steamy windowed shops. The streets were busy with bent and side-ways figures thrusting into the blizzard, all heading one way. The game.

We drove into a great yard and the horses were unhitched and led into a shed. Through the snow we walked out to the street and to a large domed rink, a simple great curve of roof. Through unpainted entrances and halls, ice cold, we filed and so to the rink. Inside, on rough narrow benches, the great throng was already gathered, the rink was full of loud noise, yells and echoing cries. We were crowded into seats, but all around us were packed the bright country people, with their eager or quiet faces, the shy girls who stared stonily in front and the girls not shy who, twisting and turning their heads to look up at the ranks behind and above them, were full of nudges and ducks and laughs and giggles. Small towns are full of girlish intrigue.

Where we sat with our new-found friends was in the midst of the home-town section. Across from us, a section not so full yet, had been reserved for the Buckleton rooters.

“I Can’t Skate”

The rink continued to fill until it seemed it could hold no more. Suddenly, amidst a great hosanna, the home team started to stumble out on to the ice and then the Buckleton team followed and the din became deafening. Ed, who had been down at the rail talking to some of the players. came back up with a look of anxiety on him.

“The referee isn’t here yet,” he said, “And the managers won’t agree on any local man, either here or in the Buckleton crowd.”

“Referee?” cried Jimmie. “Why Ed, you’ve got a referee right here.”

“Who?” said Ed and I together.

“Why, Mr. Clark,” cried Jim excitedly. “Did you ever hear of the West Toronto Juniors?”

“Did I?” cried Ed, looking at me with wonder.

“Well, Mr. Clark,” said Jim, “was a member of the executive of the West Toronto Juniors. They were O.H.A champions in 1931. They were runners-up in 1932.”

I just sat and smiled comfortably.

“Mr. Clark,” cried Ed, “would you referee?”

“No, no, no,” I exclaimed. “No, no, no.”

“Of course he will,” shouted Jimmie standing up. “Certainly he will. He’s only shy. Come on, go down, Ed, and ask the teams if a member of the West Toronto club will do for referee.”

“No, no, Ed, no, no,” I shouted, rising, and trying to catch Ed as he floundered down through the crowded benches. I saw him, as in a daze, beckoning to players and a group gathering. I saw interested, almost reverent gazes lifted to me. I sat down weakly.

“Come on,” said Jim. “Get out to the dressing room. We can borrow skates.”

“Jim, Jim,” I begged, “I don’t know anything about hockey. I was just on the executive to get the team some publicity and wangle radio announcements.”

“Come on,” commanded Jim, starting to shove me. “You can referee a game. Just ring the bell every now and then and face off.”

“But, Jim,” I gasped, struggling to sit down, “I don’t even know an off-side. I never did know an off-side. I’ve sat through hundreds of games …”

“Just ring the bell,” said Jim, who had hoisted me up and started shoving me past everybody’s knees. The teams were now ganged up below, looking very happy about the whole thing, and a voice in a megaphone was explaining. I heard my name. I heard West Toronto Juniors. I heard loud roars and boos.
All perspiring and dazzled, I was led down icy cold alleys to a dressing room, where a half a dozen managers were introduced and somebody had me sitting down sizing me up for skates.

“Jim,” I said, bending him near, “listen, I can’t even skate. I haven’t been on skates for thirty years.”

“Aw, anybody can skate,” said Jim.

“Jim, listen,” I begged. “I tell you, I never really took any interest in hockey. I was only a member of the committee to help wangle things. Look: I don’t know the rules.”

“Ring your bell,” said Jim. “That’s all there is to it.”

“Jim, you don’t understand,” I cried, “all the years I went to hockey games I wasn’t following the play, I was watching some one guy, the goalie or a defence man or even some funny looking bird in the crowd. I tell you I can’t go on with this. I don’t know the first rule …”

“Do you realize,” hissed Jim. “that you are holding up a great crowd that will be bitterly disappointed if the game is called? And if you won’t serve …”

They arrived with skates. They brought a rather oversize white sweater for me. I took off my coat and put on the skates with numb and trembling fingers. It was all blurry and confused, it was like that dream of the house on fire.

“Have you a copy of the rules?” I demanded, standing up.

“Yes, sir,” cried one of the Buckleton management, handing me a little frayed book from his pocket. I pretended to study up a paragraph or two. I had never seen the book before in my life, except in Doe MacIntyre’s hand.

Amidst the sense of hurry, I started out the alleys, accompanied by a respectful and helpful throng of managers and coaches, Jimmie helping me from behind.

The ice was icy. Amidst deep cheers I stepped down on to it, clinging to the rail. I was handed the bell and I rang it authoritatively, after the fashion I had seen scores of junior hockey referees waggle it. I stepped forth and slid for the centre of the ice, in the pot-bellied, ponderous way referees do, reflecting dimly the while that, after all, most hockey referees are punk skaters. I hoped my initial shove from the rail would carry me to the middle.

It did. I came to a slow, dignified stop, just exactly about middle ice, and once again I waggled the bell and stood ready. Amidst a deepening stillness, the teams took up their positions, and the two centre men skated towards me. The home town boy was an enormous lad for eighteen. He was redheaded, rugged and ugly. He looked about twenty-four to me. The Buckleton centre was a long, lean youth with a very wicked expression on his face for one so young. according to the rules.

Glancing around at the players, in the way I had seen referees do, I leaned forward and dropped the puck.

Calling ‘Em Wrong

It was as if lightning had struck the place.

A sudden rocketing roar filled the rink, the two figures before me slashed and leaped and from all sides flying figures seemed to come in blazing colors and at inhuman speed, while I stood paralyzed. Things in general seemed to be moving towards one end of the ice, so cautiously I followed. A thunderclap of sound suddenly exploded amidst the deafening roar: I saw a red light blink on down there where I was heading and those solid cliffs of human flesh on all sides seemed to be lifted by pandemonium, they became a living storm of humanity, leaping, waving, and roaring.

“Good,” I muttered. “A goal. Now I just skate back to the middle again.”

But to me, in vast furious curves, came figures blazing and surrounded me, all shouting, glaring, waving immense gauntleted hands and arms. I pushed resolutely through the gathering cluster, and picked the puck up out of the net, where a goalie lay, face down as if dead. I picked the puck up and started to skate back to centre ice.

It was all over very suddenly. The sound, which had been continuous, and filling the air like wool, all on the instant seemed to double and throb and vibrate. It was a formidable sound. I was instantly surrounded by multicolored players, who started shoving me and thrusting and I could see the infuriated face of the red-headed centre man bent low down, his eyes rolling. Through the gaps in this milling mob I could see things being thrown on the ice, and one glimpse I got of Jimmie, standing down at the rail, leaning forward, his familiar face purple and … booing!

Yes, booing. I felt the impact of something striking the outer rim of the mob around me, which, by its colors, I took to be the members of the Buckleton team, and then the lights went out.

Something crashed into me and I went down under a heap of fighting, grunting bodies, the din grew high with screams, and I covered my face and head with my arms, saying “so this is hockey.”

I heard a low voice near me grating my name.

“Jim,” I replied wildly. “Jim.”

It was Jim. And he dragged me across the darkness of ice and hoisted me over the rail. Through unseen and fighting shapes, he propelled me between rough plank walls to what, when the lights came on, proved to be the dressing room where my dear old overcoat lay, friendly.

“You booed,” I yelled.

“The goal was off-side,” shouted Jim back. “Miles off-side. And you allowed it.”

“A good referee,” I shouted, “always calls ’em as he sees ‘em. I’ve heard Lou Marsh say that.”

“Yeah,” retorted Jim, “but not on home ice. That was the Buckleton team shoved that one in.”

So the game was called on account of the unavoidable absence of the referee.


Editor’s Note: Pre-World War Two, hockey referees wore white sweaters with a shirt and tie, as illustrated here. Rather than have whistles, they would ring bells. Note that in the drawing, Greg holds the bell by the clapper. This is to prevent the bell from ringing while the play is on.

Lou Marsh was an NHL referee and Greg and Jim would have known him when he worked at the Toronto Star in the early 1930s. There are even some stories from that time staring Greg and Lou. He died in 1936, only two years before this story was published.

This story was also published in “Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors” (1979).

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