(Copyright, estate of Gaillard Hunt)
CITY OF MASTERLESS MEN
That afternoon Peter did not seem to be able to get down to work. He stared at the case on his desk -- it was long and involved and dry as dust, and messed up by informalities, it had been that way in the morning and it had not got straightened out by itself while he was eating lunch. He could not do anything on it right now, that was all there was to it.
He glanced around the Division. The boss was reading and signing letters, and everyone else was working except Heindrick who was covertly perusing the Western Auto Supply catalogue. Peter pulled open the top drawer of his desk where he kept the Morning Telegraph opened to the past performances.
Top High was a bet all right. Had a five-point advantage over his field on his best form, and he would run to his best form today because his last two races showed he was due. Liked mud, and it was muddy at Chicago. A front-runner -- he'd jump off on top and splash Illinois mud in their faces and forget to stop this time. Worth a $10 bet, wouldn't break him if he lost and the odds might be high enough to put him in a very good position if he won.
He went out of the room and walked down the corridor to the telephone booth and dialed the bookmaker's number. Busy. He hung up, took the returned nickel, waited a while, and dialed again. Still busy. He went back to the division.
The race would not be run until three-thirty, anyhow. Meanwhile there was this case. But he could not bring his mind to focus on the case. Might as well do something else, if he got behind in his work he could come in some evening and catch up. He took his letter pad and began writing, slowly at first and then faster, with half sentences, key words and abbreviations until he covered a page and a half. Looking it over he found it was an outline of something that made sense. Then he wrote it out in full, erasing, changing sentences, throwing out whole paragraphs, transposing.
Finally he had it finished and read it over:
You're Lucky To Have a Job
A government 's staunchest upholders should be its "servants" -- its office- and job-holders. This is invariably true where the job-holder, having been appointed in return for his or his friends efforts in establishing the current regime, rests (I say "rests" advisedly) secure until the regime falls. However, in this country "patronage" has largely been supplanted by Civil Service, which means that the civil employe is selected for his training and ability and so his position is not much different from that of his brother in Industry, and his feelings are apt to be the same. The experiences and consequential attitude toward the Existing Order of myself and the other men in my Government Bureau, therefore, have a fair chance of being representative of the diminishing army of young white-collar men who are still employed.
In 1926 I took a Civil Service examination, and when the red tape had cleared away I found myself a Junior Examiner in the Patent Office at Washington. The work was interesting and the pay, while not high, was enough for my needs and was augmented every few months by a promotion of $100 a year. The discipline was easygoing and the annual thirty days of leave could be taken as desired. Moreover, I was receiving training which would eventually make me proficient in the specialized, not overcrowded profession of Patent Law and there were many young men in the Office who had the same idea. We worked hard, primarily to learn and secondarily because a good record in the Office was a recommendation "on the outside" -- the fact that promotions were supposedly based on efficiency was only incidental. We put in our evenings at various law schools, and became so permeated with the (to us) fascinating baggage of our trade that our noon-day specials were eaten to the tune of Contributory Infringement and a pint of Maryland rye on Saturday night was likely to provide a debate on the ruling in the Six Carpenters Case.
If we needed incentive there were, for instance, my division chief and his assistant. The chief had been in the Office twenty-eight years and had asthma, the assistant was in his nineteenth year of service and had a stone in his kidney. These ailments and the nearness of the next promotion were their only topics of conversation. Their type was numerous; some had lawn-mowers, some radios, and other had bad health but all had the outlook of an effortless, gradual rise in the government service, climaxed by retirement. Not for them the uncertainty and competition of private industry.
And, as if we needed more incentive, stories would drift in that Doe, who passed the Bar in '26 and left the Office in '27, was making $6000 with Dupont; that Roe had an office with two assistants and a draftsman; that Moe had won a half-million dollar infringement suit. When, with these stories ringing in my ears, I got an opening with a corporation, I resigned. I thought I was on my way to fairer fields, but in a few months the slump came and I was back.
It was just good fortune that I was able to reenter the Office. Since then one by one the others have returned and some were admitted but a great many were placed on a waiting list where they still are. Meanwhile Moe's big clients have gone bankrupt; Roe has had to fire his assistants and draftsman and sits in his rent-defaulted office waiting for cases; Doe is now doing preliminary searches -- when I saw him he told me that he averaged nine dollars a week last year, and added that I was lucky to have a job.
To all outward appearances it is the same job that I left. There is a gradually diminishing stack of application files on my desk. The new ones are placed at one end in the order of filing and from the other end I pull a "case," act on it, report it to the chief, and pull out the next case. If the stack should become too small a portion of another man's work would be transferred to me, and if it got too large the operation would be reversed.
I work until I have a reasonable average showing for the week, and then I loaf.
This loafing becomes increasingly difficult. Periodically the Commissioner holds a meeting of division chiefs in which he points out that the average output per man has dropped l5% from 1931 and 20% from 1929. This is calculated to spur them on to spur us on, and so the discipline is no longer easy-going - - the chief has become like a schoolmaster in charge of study hall. His tirades are easily provoked and invariably have a theme: "I can recommend you for dismissal - - you're lucky to have this job." But it is possible to read a novel behind a case file, and it is possible to advance a legitimate excuse to leave the division and go to an obscure men's toilet where, behind the latched door, nickels and dimes change hands via the dice, wielded by men who will also turn in an average week's work.
Sometimes we just talk, but it is seldom shop talk as formerly. The conversation covers a variety of subjects -- from jigsaw puzzles to social statistics - - and it has become markedly evident that the boys have begun to Read Books. There is one phrase, however, that is barred from our conversation by common agreement. It is: "You're lucky to have a job."
The last panhandler to whom I gave fifteen cents was a healthy young man on his way to Florida. He spoke of the surf bathing, the mild climate, and the generosity of race-goers until my envy was thoroughly aroused, and as we parted he observed that I was lucky to have a job. Then there is my cousin, two years out of college, who plays tennis, goes to dances, and is supported by his family -- typical nouveaus pauvres, smug in their fashionable state. He drinks my fifty-cent whisky, declines to buy ginger ale, and tells me I am lucky to have a job.
Yes, I have a job, but the job that I once thought was a start upward has turned out to be a leaky refuge on the way down. My destiny is controlled not by my own efforts but by a gang of politicians afraid of a veterans' lobby but unafraid of the District's voteless government workers. Washington has the highest living expenses of any large city in the country (vide Congressional salaries debate) so they cut pay, bar promotions, and abolish annual leave. This Congress is strongly pledged to economy --they are likely to cut personnel on a basis of seniority. Hence we younger men sometimes envy the chief and assistant chief -- they have a security that we lack -- but not out loud. Asthma and kidney stones are forgotten as they contemplate their reduced incomes. They are on the down grade too, and their chances of improvement are the same as ours, which (considering the present ratio of government income to expenditures) are nil. As to learning, we are in the position of Seniors forced to take Freshman geometry over and over. And if we did learn, to what end? The outlook in Patent Law is bleak -- ask Doe, Roe or Moe -- our goal is crumbling while we watch. We can go no higher, our present position is shaky; meanwhile we do our drudgery, draw our pay, and try to keep out of debt. We have jobs, but so do those who labor for meal tickets.
Our incentive is gone, and our superiors know it. Their only recourse is to crack the whip of fear, and the falling output testifies to its effectiveness. Every man does a reasonable amount of work, then we loaf and talk. And the ever recurrent topic is, "Where are we heading?"
We don't know, but most of us think that the good machine is running down -- we can hear the hissing of its gaskets. Not long ago we saw a scared president sic the cavalry on fifteen thousand unarmed veterans. These men flew the Stars and Stripes because it was good lobbying but we doubt whether many of them are staunch upholders of the System now. Daily we read of the embattled farmers of the middle west, entrenched against that mainstay of our civilization -- the Sanctity of Contract. We know personally many men who are substantially destitute, completely disillusioned and discontented, and we realize there are thousands, even millions, like them. We hear the Boys on the Hill wrangle about inflation, retrenchment, and whatnot, without caring. This may be just a slump, but to us it looks like the breakup of the System.
A job does not always make a conservative, and some of our utterances would send us up for twenty years if made publicly in Georgia. We, and thousands of similarly situated young men elsewhere, do not consider that a position is long endurable where all progress is blocked and the position itself is unpleasant and insecure. Where the only alternative is to be indefinitely on the streets, we are impatient of the System under which such a state of affairs exists. We are not built to stay in a rut. We want a change.
We do not know what the change will be. We are too clean-shaven to carry a banner for Foster and we see too much of government operations to endorse Thomas. But out of the chaos -- the bigger and better chaos of the not-far-distant future - - a new, workable System will arise, and we will be found in the front rank. We who are still working are keeping our tools sharp, and the new System will need us. And if a revolution is in order, if we are called upon to storm some Bastille, to wade somewhere or other knee-deep in blood, we can easily be roused to fighting hysteria. The formula is simple. Just send someone among us who will say: "You're lucky to have a job."
He tore off the sheets containing what he had written, folded them and put them in his pocket. Then he looked at the clock. It was three thirty-four.
He walked rapidly through the door and down the hall to the phone booth. More often than not they did not run exactly on time, so in all probability he could still get his bet down. He dialed the number -- no busy signal this time, on the third ring the bookie's noncommittal "Hello."
"This is Mann. Gimme Top High ten to win."
"That race is over, Mann. Top High won it. Closed eight to one. Sorry. Anything else?"
"No," said Peter. He left the booth and went into the toilet, pulling the folded paper from his pocket. There he tore it into halves and crumpled it and started to throw it into the bowl, but stopped. He might as well type it up and send it somewhere, but it was unlikely that any editor would give him eighty bucks for it.
The theatre season opened late in the summer with "Three's a Crowd" coming to the National after a season on Broadway. Peter took Ellen and afterwards they went down the street to O'Donnell's and sat in a booth far to the back where the cool air and fishy smell from the pantry came through the swinging doors. They ordered crab flake salad and talked about the show agreeing that Fred Allen was just about tops in the way of comedians and wasn't slapstick enough to get anywhere in radio and Libby Holman was a torch singer to end all torch singers it was too bad she wouldn't and Clifton Webb's "Comedy of Errors" skit was a striking performance.
"Peyton will like that," said Ellen. "He won't like Clifton Webb's 'I saw the end of it' song though."
"I don't think he will either," said Peter, "He and Jane are going tomorrow and we can check on it then. But how did he ever get into the conversation anyhow?"
"He's so awful it's hard to keep him out of conversations. And whenever we go around to your house, there he is, Jane ought to know better."
"She claims it's the lack of men. But just why is it you have such an aversion to him?"
Ellen explained in detail, and it became evident she had just had a long talk with Jane on the subject. Jane did not know whether she liked Peyton or not, and if so to what extent. At least when she was with him there was a large doubt; when she was away from him she was sure she did not like him. But the trouble was he was always calling up and coming around and it was the course of least resistance to go with him, so she was almost always with him. She knew of lots of reasons not to like him. To begin with there was something off-color about his background. He came from some small town up in Connecticut and always kept very quiet about it, and he had said once, just in passing, that he did not like his mother. Later she had probed him about it and he had given a long involved explanation which included the phrase, "My mother, however, comes from peasant stock and when my father died she reverted to type - - ." The upshot was that he considered his mother common, and there was nothing much wrong in someone's being opposed to his mother, but, if it was on the grounds of commonness, he should not be common himself. And a lot of things that Peyton did were common. For instance, he did not know how to eat, and when she had him to dinner at home he would eat self-consciously. His taste in clothes was not especially good, although he was always neat, and he had a sort of arrogant, patronizing manner toward servants and taxi drivers. And there was his way of talking about women. It wasn't open bragging as Ed Collins would do if he did it - -it was a sort of cold feelinglessness. "It was spring and I amused myself with her." And stories of how hard it was to get away from them after it was all over. Jane realized that some women go for peculiar things but she also knew that Peyton was not irresistible and she wondered how many of the stories were true and on how many his imagination had led him astray. Furthermore, he had a dirty mind -- didn't run to dirty jokes because the subject was too serious -- but had little ways of letting you know what he was thinking about. "In fact," concluded Ellen, "His whole approach is objectionable. Seems to be obsessed by women, or himself in relation to women."
"So you think he won't like Webb's song because it's a caricature of the smooth, woman-killing man of the world that he sets himself up to be?"
"That's it. Why Jane lets him stay around is beyond me."
"It's not beyond me," Peter said. "She has the Indian sign on him, and she enjoys having the Indian sign on someone. If she was more conventional or less selfish she wouldn't let it go on, but she does. The mystery to me is why he doesn't get wise to himself."
"He won't," she answered emphatically. "And I wish she'd get rid of him."
"Well, I don't like him, but he interests me. Trouble is almost everyone is listless. This thing he's got -- this craving for women or love for himself - - narcissum -- I mean narcissism -- even that is better than listlessness. Listlessness is the curse of the world. People just don't give a damn about anything. I like someone who gives a genuine big damn about something."
"Is that why you like me?"
"I like you for a plurality of reasons. But to get back to listlessness. Listlessness is the cause of the depression. It's the reason we have Prohibition. It's why nothing is being done to get out of the depression. Nobody gets mad at things, not mad enough to do anything. People just don't feel any emotion strong enough to ever get out of line. They just go along, expending energy only to stay in line, exercising thought only on how to stay in line, and no wonder they collectively get into a mess. Hell with 'em. Hell with Peyton, but hell with the general public too."
They finished eating and went out and got his car from the parking lot. It was a warm September night and she sat close to him and ran her arm through his. He had to keep both hands on the wheel in the downtown traffic, and he drove up Pennsylvania Avenue and behind the Treasury and back of the White House. As he approached Seventeenth Street he asked her if she wanted to go anywhere uptown and she said, "Not unless you do. Just drive on out somewhere."
He turned down Seventeenth onto the Speedway and put his arm around her and drove with one hand along the edge of the Tidal Basin to the Fourteenth Street Bridge. He turned onto the bridge and the draw was open, with lights glimmering on the ripply surface of the river. They stopped at the end of the line of cars waiting to go through.
He drew her closer and she leaned her head back with her eyes closed and he knew she wanted to be kissed but he also knew that it was all up to him - - he could kiss her if he wanted to but it was not necessary and if he didn't she would be that much nicer to kiss later on. Instead he put his cheek against hers and turned sideways in the seat until her warm and responsive breasts could be felt against his chest. Then he released her and pulled out his cigarettes. She took one, they lit up and he put the car in gear and sat waiting for the draw to close. There were one or two things he wanted to figure out.
The draw closed and the line of cars got under way. He crossed the bridge and turned into Columbia Pile. There was quite a bit of traffic there and after a short distance he turned off into Ridge Road -- it was a smooth eighteen-foot highway and practically deserted, it twisted and turned and ran into and out of valleys and they rode for several miles in silence, He knew that sooner or later he would have to park somewhere and something would have to be done about the situation.
He had been going with her for over a month now, and nothing had been said or done to put their relationship on a definite basis. It couldn't last that way.
It would be nice if it could. She was about the best company he had ever known and was congenial with him -- it wasn't that she always agreed with him on everything but he always felt that whatever he said she would understand and would usually answer along the same lines. It might be that anyone who wanted to pay attention to him could do the same but so far no one had - - at least no one who was anything like her.
He knew she was in love with him but that was the hell of it. Any girl when she goes for a guy is interested exclusively in guy. May pretend to be interested in the things the guy is interested in but . . . .
Why didn't he just move in and be done with it, as Peyton said. Chances were at least even that he could do it without any trouble. No use pretending he wasn't all there below the belt -- in fact raising hell right now. But that would set up a totally new situation. A liaison can be a hell of mess if you take it a shade too seriously, and all casualness would be out in this one. On the other hand the thought of marriage gave him the willies -- it was all tied up with geraniums and lawnmowers and overstuffed furniture. Besides guys just didn't get married nowadays, unless they got something out of it. Marrying for love belonged to the dim lost era of the good apprentice. Guys nowadays were cheap and sordid, but why should he break union rates? And end up a penny-conscious sucker like Heindrick.
Couldn't tell her all this -- you don't tip your straight flush. On the other hand you don't get all paralyzed and tongue-tied and get left at the post holding it, like the man at Jimmy's that night.
He cleared his throat and said, "Did I ever tell you about the corporation theory of love?"
"You know you didn't."
"Well, when two people like each other and love each other and associate together they're just two people enjoying each other, but when they enter seriously into the love business they automatically set up a corporation. A corporation is a legal entity, a distinct third person, and thereafter the two people carry on their dealings with the corporation. Each strives to come out ahead - - to get more out of the said corporation than he or she puts into it."
"I get the idea," she said. But she did not carry it further, she just stayed silent with her head against his shoulder.
He said, "It's a curse to be always figuring out angles like that."
He drew her closer and she raised her face and said in a low voice, almost a whisper, "I want you to figure out the angles. Everything is up to you."
There did not seem to be any answer to that so he kissed her. It was like skidding, or like starting on a ski ride down a steep slope where you're going faster every second and you know you soon won't be able to stop and have no idea where the trail leads or where it ends. The kiss lasted a long time and only stopped when he became aware that a car was coming down the highway.
After all they were right on the road, so he put both hands on the wheel and sat waiting for the car to go by. It slowed appreciably as it approached, and as it went past a young male voice yelled, "Take it easy, Bud, you'll be getting it soon enough." There was a chorus of laughter and the car accelerated and was gone.
Peter gripped the wheel and snarled, "Cheap bastards."" He was silent and angry for a few moments, then he and Ellen simultaneously started to laugh.
They were still laughing as he started his engine and maneuvered the car around. "Damn," he said. "Trust the general public to brush aside the various ramifications and get to the crux of something."
But the crack from the kids in the car had postponed the showdown. He knew he could not get back to it now if he tried. She was thoroughly enjoyable on the ride back to town, they talked of "Three's a Crowd" and listlessness and the depression and when he kissed her goodnight it was just a swell kiss and not a ski ride.
WARM SPRINGS, GA. -- AMONG THE VISITORS TO PRESIDENT ELECT ROOSEVELT HERE EARLY THIS MORNING WAS SENATOR SSSSS?:&$#7%%%%%%
SENATOR CUTTINGS, N.M. HE SAID HE LAID HIS LEGISLATIVE VIEWS BESIDE THOSE OF THE PRESIDENT-ELECT AND THEY WERE COMPATIBLE AND SIMILAR -REGARDING INDEPENDENT REPUBLICANS HOLDING CHAIRMANSHIPS OF COMMITTEES I SCARDCELEY EXPECT THEM TO BE
DEPRIVED OF THEOIR POSTS- SAID SENATOR CUTTINGS
VACAVILLE, CAL. -- 6 ALLEGED LEADERS OF A STRIKE WHICH HAD DISRUPTED FRUIT PICKING IN VACA VALLEY WERE TAKEN FROM VACAVILLE JAIL TODAY BEATEN, PAINTED RED, AND TOLD NEVER TO RETURN.
BERLIN -- ALBERT EINSTEIN WENT BEFORE THE AMERICAN COUNSEL EARLY TODAY AND ANSWERED QUESTIONS REGARDING HIS POLITICAL VIEWS, PEREQUISIT TO OBTAINING A PASSPORT VISA. THE STATE DEPARTMENT EXPLAINED THEY HAD FORWARDESXXX FORWARDED A DEMAND FROM A PATRIOTIC WOMEN'S ORGANIZATION THAT HE BE BANNED ON THE GROUJDXXX GROUNDS THAT HE IS A COMMUNIST.
ALSO VISITING THE PRESIDENT ELECT EARLY THIS MORNING WAS GENERAL J.S. COXEY, MAYOR OF MASSILLON, 0. WHO EXPLAINED THE MONETARY PLAN HE PUT BEFORE CONGRESS LAST SESSION FOR PAYMENT OF WAR DEBTS IN SPECIALLY PRINTED CURRENCY WHICH WOULD BE PUT INTO CIRCULATION IN THE U.S. TO END THE DEPRESSION.
THE 6 MEN BEATEN WERE AMONEG THE 15 ARRESTED DURING A CLASH
IN FRONT OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SATURDAY IN WHICH 1000 TOWNSMEN
ATTACKED A STRIKE MEETING OF 150 FRUIT PICKERS WHO WERE DEMANDING $1.50 A DAY. THE SHERIF AFTER A PROLONGED SEARCH WAS UNABLE TO LOCATE THE ASSAILANTS.
BERLIN -- GEN. KURT VON SCHECTER TOOK THE HELM OFTHE REICH TODAY. HE SPENT MOST OF THE MORNING IN CONFERENCE WITH PLOITICAL LEADERS NOTABLY ML#2 345 NOTABLY HERMAN WILHEM GOERING SPEAKER OF THE LAST REICHSTAG.
WASHINGTON -~ MAJOR E.W. BROWN, CHIEF OF POLICE, EARLY TODAY WARNED SPECTATORS TO KEEP AWAY FROM SCENES OF HUNGER MARCH ACTIVITIES. WHILE HE DOES NOT EXPECT TROUBLE HE WILL BE BETTER ABLE TO HANDLE AN EMERGENCY UF CROWDS OF ONLOOKERS ARE NOT PRESENT, MAJOR BROWN SAID. MAJOR BROWN STATED THAT HE HAD A LARGE AND ADEQUATE SUPPLY OF TEAR GAS ON HAND TO MEET ALL EMERGENCIES, MOSTLY OF THE TYPEC
TO PRODUCE EXTREME NAUSIA.
WASHINGTON -- SPEAKER GARNER WILL RECOGNISE REP. SUMNERS CHAIRMAN OF THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE THEREBY THROWING INTO THE HOUSE FOR ACTION A RESOLUTION FOR REPEAL OF THE PROHIBITION AMEND?ENT . SUMMERS WILL MOVE SUSPENSION OF THE RULES SO THE REPEAL RESOLUTION MAY BE ADOPTED.
GENEVA -- AMERICAN DELEGATES MADE IT PLAIN TO THE 4 BIG NATIONS
OF EUROPE THAT THEY WERE ENTERING THE DISARMAMENT DISCUSSIONS
WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT THE BASIS OF THE DISARMAMENT PROCEEDINGS WAS DISARMAMENT PURE AND SIMPLE PROCEEDINGS WAS DISARMAMENT PURE AND SIMPLE
ADD HUNGER MARCH
REPORTS THAT THE HUNGER MARCHERS WERE PLANNING A SURPRISE MOVECAUSED 2 BUSLOADS OF POLICE TO BE SENT TO THE CAMP. 100 METROPOLITAN POLICE AUGMENTED THE CAPITALPOLICEFORCE. ADMISSION TO THE SENATE AND HOUSE GALLERIES WAS BY TICKET ONLY. AT THE WHITE HOUSE A HEAVY GUARD SURROUNDED THE EXECUTIVE MANSION. WHITE HOUSE AND METROPOLITAN POLICE PATROLLED THE GATES AND SIDEWALKS. SIGHTSEEING COMPANIES WERE INFORMED THEY COULD NOT SHOW VISITORS AROUND AS USUAL.
IF THE RESOLUTION SPONSORED BY GARNER TOMORROW SHOULD FAIL THERE ARE TWO COURSES OF ACTION. THEY ARE: FIRST, A MOYERUIO
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SECOND, NULDS CEDFRAS VGTYHBN C BHYUJ7OSD [[[[[[[[[[[[[S5SSS
ADD HUNGER MARCH
4 CASES OF INFLUENCZA WERE REPORTED AT THE CAMP EARLY TODAY. DR. WM. C. FOWLER PUBLIC HEALTH DIRECTOR SAID THEY WERE PROBABLY CAUSED BY THE NIGHT SPENT UNDER INADEQUATE SHELTER. HE WOULD ASSIGN 2 PHYSICIANS FROM THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT TO THE CAMP ON NEW YORK AVENUE NORTHEAST TO BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR ANY CONTAGIOUS DISEASES PUBLIC HEALTH DIRECTOR FOWLER SAID.
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