(Copyright, estate of Gaillard Hunt)
CITY OF MASTERLESS MEN
Anderson kept doing as the cook told him. He cleaned the plates into the garbage can as they came in, dumping the silver into a bucket, (watch out for the steak knives now, they're sharp -- keep 'em separate) then stacked the dishes in the sink. One half of the sink had to be kept always clean and running because it was for rinsing but the other side was for washing and had to be kept scaldingly hot and at the right concentration of soap powder (your hands will be bad for a few days----the lye in that powder eats 'em and the hot water blisters 'em but you'll get used to it). All he had to do was take a stack of dishes, wash, rinse and lay them on the drain board, then stack them up later, wiping when necessary, and carry the clean stack over to the window. The cook, when he demonstrated how it should be done, handled a stack of dishes high as his forearm and riffled and dealt them as a dealer does cards but Anderson did not have the knack to do this. (Take a smaller stack and do it right -- you'll get on to it.) The breakfast rush was on and most of the big plates had egg on them and his tooth was hurting and once he let the coffee cups go too long and the sharp-voiced counterman began yipping through the window. The cook ran over and grasped five cups in each hand, washed and rinsed them in two motions and said over his shoulder, "Keep your pants on now, won't get 'em any quicker that way." Another time the butter chips ran out, and again the cook had to help. Dishes were coming in faster than he could stack them; Anderson thought he was sunk but the cook said, "It's about over now, after you take care of these you're caught up."
Then there were pots to wash, and the cook showed him how to use steel wool and soap to cut the grease and this was not such a strain as keeping up with the dishes. His tooth was throbbing and pounding and he decided he might as well let the cook know, so when he was hanging the skillets on hooks by the range he told him. "Maybe I can do something for you later on," the cook said.
In the middle of the morning there was a lull. Anderson washed out his sink and emptied the garbage can and the cook said, "What'll it be, roast pork or stew?" He took stew, and sat down and ate it at a table in the kitchen.
When he had finished the cook said, "Go down here to the corner on Seventh Street and you'll see a big office building and go to Dr. Watson's office. Tell him you only got a dollar and a half. Here y'are, but I'll want it back one of these paydays."
The dentist stuck the needle deep into Anderson's gum. Then the other side. He looked at the syringe -- there was plenty of fluid left so he put some of it directly into the tooth through the cavity. For some reason the tooth had stopped hurting as soon as Anderson sat in the chair. "Now spit," said the dentist, and he busied himself with instruments for a few minutes.
He was a large man and when he positioned himself above Anderson and gripped the tooth with forceps Anderson felt he was wholly in his power. Down and sideways he pulled, then from side to side with a timed swinging and Anderson could feel the deep roots stir and tear loose and with a final wiggling motion the tooth was out. He held it up in the forceps and Anderson looked it over as if it were a fallen adversary, then leaned over to spit.
Back in the restaurant the dishes had begun to pile up. He spit some blood in the garbage and went to work, and soon had things under control. He felt a hundred percent better --in fact he felt almost good. The noon-hour rush got under way and the dishes came thick and fast but by now he knew enough to keep the coffee cups and butter chips from piling up and nothing ran out and the cook did not have to help him but stayed by the range and answered all orders by yelling "That's right." There was a new voice that broke through the clatter occasionally now -- it was a sweet voice and it said such things as "One T-bone, side of string beans, two vegetable soups coming" with a soft inflection as if she really cared. Anderson saw her at the window once or twice --she had straight black hair and looked a little like Joan Crawford -- and he realized he had not had anything to do with a woman since that time in Salt Lake City. He'd get him a room and stay on this job a while -- four a week was nothing but he got his meals and he needed a few square meals; now that his tooth was fixed up he felt fine and it was swell to know you're going to eat regular for a change. And he'd get to know the hasher with the sweet voice. Maybe he could get together a few bucks and get him a suit. It sure felt good not to have a toothache.
Peter and Jane were sitting alone at a table in Al's. As Peter finished his drink he said, "Damn it, I don't like the attitude of speakeasy proprietors."
"What's the matter with Al?" asked Jane. "There's nothing really wrong with him,"
"I don't mean him. I mean in general. I don't like to beg people for anything, much less beg 'em to let me get into a lousy place and spend high prices for bad whisky."
"With your approach I don't see how you get in anywhere. You look as if you're going to hold the place up."
"It's because it gives me a pain to have to beg some thug to let me et cetera," he said. He turned aside and said pssst and one of Al's young Italian waiters came up, and Peter ordered.
"Now don't go and get drunk in the afternoon," she said. "By the way, how was the Office?"
"Let's not go into the Office right now," said Peter emphatically.
Al's was one of a row of red brick buildings directly behind the Mayflower Hotel. They had previously been residences but some now showed signs of struggling to become business places -- here and there a display window had sprouted, while others retained their original form and indicated they were cafes or tailor shops by ornate signs. Still others were vacant -- one of these bore an ostentatious padlock and a notice, the validity of which was then being fought by the Realtor's Association, stating that the premises were closed for violation of the Prohibition Act. Two or three had opaque curtains in the front windows, and Al's was one of these. There was no sign, nothing to indicate even that Al served meals, which he did when urged, the restaurant motif being confined to the interior, with tables and not-too-clean tablecloths. The first floor, which consisted of a hall and front and back rooms separated by an arch, was used to seat the customers and the drinks were mixed in the basement. Al was a lithe latin with all the bumptuousness that a man engaged in an illegitimate enterprise usually has toward his customers -- he would talk interminably if given a chance and most of his stories centered on the cleverness and other desirable qualities of one Allen Collotti. He had also been known to make passes at girls who were brought there late at night, with never any violent results.
Washington was not a good speakeasy town. There were several nearby that catered to the lobbyists and conventiongoers who stopped at the Mayflower -- these were fly-by-night places which made up for their frequent raids by fancy prices. Al's was not like that. No cards were used because Al knew all of his clients personally and they were not lobbyists -- in fact they came for the most part from that section of Washington society which considers the Government an intrusion.
When the drinks came Peter said, "You can insist on policing my drinks if you like, but I notice you and Hilda have developed your thirst considerably since I left, too. For instance, I used to couldn't get you to go out and drink with me like this in the afternoon."
"We have degenerated. But the trouble is absolutely everybody has to take a few drinks before they can enjoy themselves. And it's so lacking in resources to have to fall back on liquor. Still we don't drink a great deal over a long time very often. I mean we don't go on very many Hemingway drunks."
"That's too bad. But just what officially constitutes a Hemingway drunk? I've forgotten."
"Eight hours. If you drink steadily for eight hours you're on a Hemingway drunk. Otherwise you're just drunk."
"So that's it," he said. "Runs entirely by time. Now it seems to me that Hemingway characters get into interesting situations and hand out interesting conversation to go with those drunks."
"The men do. But all his babes ever say is 'Gimme another drink.' Or 'Gimme another.'"
"Hell you say, Jane. They'd never put it as bluntly as that, anyhow."
"No. They might say 'I say, give a chap another fine. Or 'I say, give a chap another torero.' They might even say 'Oh, if you could only know what a woman goes through.' It's simply devastating how inarticulate they can be."
"Now you lay off of Hemingway's women."
"All right, Peter, I'll be more respectful toward the heroines of the maestro. But speaking of characters, what do you think of Peyton?"
He drained his drink, lit a cigarette and answered, "I cannot hand down an opinion at the present time, but I gather that he seems to have a lot of points. For one thing, I understand that he has a constant thirst, and I'm gummed with people who won't take a few shots with me when I want to."
She opened her handbag, took out a compact and put some powder on her nose, appearing blankly absorbed in the process until finished. Then she said, "Maybe so, but there's something peculiar about him. He's apt to sink into a deep silence at any time and you just can't get him out of it. Seems to think it's romantic or something. But the trouble is he's amusing at times and there aren't any interesting men in Washington."
"That sounds vaguely familiar."
"But it's true. There's some nice guys in Charlottesville but they so seldom get up here and we so seldom get down there."
He looked around. There was no one in the room so he walked over to the cellar stairs and yelled, "Hey, Al."
When he came back she said sweetly, "Haven't you had just about enough for now, Peter?"
"Why all this Clarence True Wilson stuff anyhow? Listen here, you can pick on whoever you want but I'm going to -- "
"You don't need to raise your voice."
Someone was coming up the stairs so he answered in a low conversational tone. "No, I don't need to raise my voice, but sometimes I find it highly desirable. I'm going to have another, you can take it or leave it."
She sighed and said, "I might as well if you're going to. I need to be well fortified to go out to dinner with Peyton anyhow."
He said "Two of the same" to the waiter, and when he had disappeared down the stairs Jane said, "Isn't it funny how when you're just slightly lit you notice so many things you don't when you're sober, such as how many cigarettes in that package and the pattern on those lace curtains? God but they're dirty, though. I've been coming here since February and they get worse and worse."
"Isn't February a useless month, though?"
"No. You just think that because it's smaller."
"Oh gimme a pencil. I'm going to write a poem." She bent over a slip of paper. He knew what the poem would be like, she had done them before in similar circumstances. It wouldn't make any sense and whatever sense it did make would not betray any feeling - - to do that would be sticking your neck out just as much as betraying feeling anywhere. It's out of order and you get put in your place and whoever puts you in your place gets that superior feeling. The game is to keep things going in a brittle little circle of alleged intelligent patter. You confine yourself to such things as Hemingway whisky James Joyce speakeasies Paul Robeson parties Stokowski scandal Wagner Bach The Ramblers nightclubs parties personalities The New Yorker Vanity Fair Fred Allen Corey Ford Donald Ogden Stewart Christopher Morley Ronald Firbank -- they're the cards, you draw play discard trump finesse bluff check and call but always avoid a showdown because showdown implies revealing what you've got and that might betray some kind of depth or feeling or something and that's a foul. So many things are foul. Menken has lately become foul. So is the depression or the Hunger March. Bruce Barton is foul but he ought to be. Likewise the Saturday Evening Post and Amos and Andy.
Bruce Barton and the Stevepost were not foul in Syracuse and Amos and Andy were aces. There the circle ran to automobiles radios golf and office gossip, and all these other things from Stokowski to Joyce were foul. There's some advantage in kids like Jane over the Boys at Syracuse. That damn smug Chief Clerk.
She looked up from the paper and chewed the pencil. Peter noticed that her eyes were unduly bright -- Al's drinks were strong, have to give him credit for that -- but he knew that no amount of alcohol would do anything to her conversation except increase it in volume. She finally finished and read:
"Oh who ever heard of February
It has less days than all of the months
It follows January and it goes before March
A man came down to the office the other day
Yet who ever heard of February.
The world goes naked past my door
Why am I grown so cold?"
"Not at all up to standard," said Peter.
"Oh, I've done much better, I'll admit." She folded the paper and put it into her handbag. "Peyton will appreciate it."
"You appreciate Peyton appreciating it."
"No, Peter. It isn't anything like that. I'm different from Hilda. I don't have to have a man all the time and she does. Still I do wish she'd do better than Ed Collins. All that Georgetown collegiate stuff - - "
"That brings up the lack of men again. And now that we 're talking in circles maybe you'll tell me about the Office."
"Why? Is it a case of can't get back in?"
"Then why the gripe everytime it's mentioned?"
"Maybe they welcomed me with open arms," he said. "Maybe I'm just griped at the idea of working there again. Anyhow if that's all we can find to talk about I'm going to have a quick one and shove off."
"Why not go out to dinner with me and Peyton?"
"Can't. Have to look something over."
"You wouldn't be interested. If you are, I'll tell you about it anon."
"Well, don't forget to meet us here later."
The floor of the Washington Auditorium was only partially filled when Peter got there, and he took a seat halfway to the stage. He could sit that close and still not be in the meeting.
The dusty old building had once been a theater, with boxes and an orchestra pit. Now the paint was scaling off the walls and the seats were rickety and cracked. On the stage several people were milling around, arranging chairs, connecting a microphone, conferring. The Hunger Marchers were seated from the front of the floor and there was considerable milling in the aisles. Their clothes were for the most part shabby and to Peter they looked somewhat debilitated even for long-time unemployed but their eyes were bright and their reactions were not slow. There was vitality of a sort in the noise they made. They went in for sharp, yipping yells, such as "When you're up you're up, when you're down you're down, when you're up against the Hunger Marchers you're upside down," and "What do we think of Hoover? -- Boooo." It reminded Peter of the I.W.W. meetings he had seen on South Street in New York many years previous.
He thought there must be more marchers coming, but apparently not -- the people on the platform were adjusting the microphone. One of them said, close to the instrument, "The god damn thing's screwed down," and the amplifiers roared it throughout the hall. They finally got it adjusted and the speeches began.
The leader, a chunky, fiery man named Benjamin, was a good speaker but Peter considered he devoted entirely too much time to giving the Socialists hell. Instead of fighting Hoover and Mellon this hardshell bigot fought the Socialists who were probably fighting him instead of Hoover. Like rival churches. Like the old Wobblies fighting the trade unions. But the Wobs also had definite suggestions to offer such as always quit a few minutes before eight bells fellow-worker pour the soogie down the scupper and gyp the shipowners fellowworkers put some holy stone in the grease cups of this winch and burn her bearings out fellow-workers sabotage boys solidarity fellow-workers this crew stands together. Drop a boom on that Chief Clerk.
When the meeting was about over and Peter walked up the aisle and looked over the faces of the scattered spectators he was slightly more impressed with the demonstration. There were few sneers, most of the faces showed that peculiar kind of fear-plus-indignation with which he could imaging the French nobles regarding the mob in the palace. The Hunger March had registered with the respectable citizenry, at least.
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