With the Assistance of Fryhuysen
by Charles Hoy Fort
If you were a bricklayer, likely enough you would believe in bank presidents or United States senators or carpenters. You would have a small opinion of bricklayers. I knew one bricklayer who said: "I'd rather be a roofer; every man in my union is mean enough to stare at people coming from pawnshops."
A carpenter said: "Plumbers are pretty good fellows, and for some reason bricklayers are a decent sort, but every carpenter I ever knew would eat turkey sandwiches before a starving family."
Said a plumber: "I wish I'd started in with the plane and saw; carpenters are the right sort to work with, but I never knew a plumber who wouldn't shovel snow on a freezing cripple."
Every man seems all contempt for his own kind, because he knows his own kind best. Outside his experience, he believes that virtues in moderation may possibly exist.
But take one with nothing outside his experience. Take one who knows everything, sees everything, and goes everywhere. The newspaper man, of course. A newspaper man must be a cynic without reserve.
Here is the office of a New York newspaper's Brooklyn edition. Young Fryhuysen of the staff is playing with the cat. He pushes the cat away and looks severe, realizing that to play with a cat is beneath the dignity of one of his importance. Just can't help it -- he's very young -- has to tie a string around a paper ball and dangle it for the cat to dab at. Puts the ball in his pocket hastily; says a few enormous cuss words and lights a cigar the size of a cucumber. He knows he's guilty. He cannot deny that he is contemptibly young, but will do his best to conceal it.
The copy reader looks up at the ceiling and remarks in his impersonal, mechanical way:
"Don't prefix `Mr.' to the name of a man of no importance."
Young Bingler, who is learning the business, squirms, fearing that this advice has been overheard by the city editor. And how Bingler hates this copy reader, who seemingly addresses no one, but means him every time.
"Begin at the bottom of the first page and leave room for the head to be written."
And Bingler eats a lead pencil as his shortcomings are advertised by this dragon, who corrects everyone else's copy silently.
The managing editor comes down from his coop upstairs, which he shares with the artist. He believes in encouraging us occasionally. He looks at a group of us, and says:
"That was a good story of yours in this morning's."
Four of us, greatly flattered, bow and say: "Thank you, Mr. Bluneum," each annoyed by the conceit of three others.
We have a caller. He is a little man and is greatly agitated.
He says: "I want to see the editor. I don't want to get anyone in trouble, but I feel I must complain about this. Newspapers are often pressed for time, I know -- still, my complaint must be entered."
Bingler squirms and tries to look unconcerned; he has had many escapes, but it may be a more serious matter this time.
Says the little man: "About anything else I wouldn't mind, but to say the least this is very annoying. I've been a constant reader for many years and feel that you will do me justice."
"Doc" White draws him aside; very likely it was Bingler who had bungled with something, but "Doc" himself might have slipped, as one will at times. It would be just as well to keep the matter from the attention of "Old" Buttons," the city editor.
Says the little man: "Make a note of it, please. My name is Hiffles. Second page, fifth column, five-eighths down, you have me H-i-f-l-e-s. I may depend on you to correct the error? You will give the correction as great prominence as the error?"
"Doc" says gravely: "We're a little too busy to get out an extra, but will an editorial notice do?"
Yes, an editorial notice would do very well, and the little man leaves the office, satisfied that justice will be done, returning to repeat, in case we should forget: "There's two f's in it!"
The copy reader drones: "Spell all names with capital letters only." And Bingler draws a picture of him digging up bodies in a cemetery, which is the only revenge that he can think of. He looks over his work of the day before and finds "Mr. Hifles" to be one of "among those present" in a half-stick notice of the Paul O'Brien's Club's "smoker."
We have another caller. A youth. He says, sternly: "I want youse to send up one of your best journalists. The Alpher and Hameger Club is going to give a drimatic performance at Lyric Hall this evenin'. We want some journalists and art fellers."
No one seems deeply impressed as he expected; he draws me aside, showing me a program.
"That's me; Mr. Adolphus Leclaire. Can't you spread about me, seein' it's me give you the information? If you charge `ad' rates, I'll pay you good for it, anything up to a dollar."
I have nothing to do until five o'clock; I might as well encourage him to amuse the other fellows, though they are well accustomed to this sort of thing.
"What would you like to have said about you?"
"You can't get in about divine afflatus, can you? Could you make it drimatic intensity?"
"Oh, yes; no trouble at all."
Then the youth bares himself, and is unashamed.
"Jus' call me follyin' in Ed Booth's footsteps, and I'll make it all right with you. Say the stage ain't lost nothin' by Joe Jefferson retirin' 'cause there's Adolphus Leclaire with his mantelpiece descended onto him. Say he's got a pure young brow and dreamy, and, though but a mere striplin', has fires in him -- you know the sort of thing to say. Just say he has verves in him."
The youth went away, repeating: "I'll make it all right with you."
I can't help it! How can I be otherwise than cynical when I see so much of this craze to have one's name in print? It is something that I cannot understand. To be sure, I was well pleased to see my own name when I was a witness in a certain investigation, but only because those I knew would hear of me and know how I was getting along.
The other night, at a little affair at the Press Club, I was down for a toast and saw to it that my name should not be omitted, and have not spoken since to a reporter who left out one of my letters, but -- why, that's different and comprehensible; for business reasons it is well for me to be advertised in the newspaper world.
And of all insistent, persistent, recurring names in the Brooklyn papers, the name of Victoria Vibbler was the name I marvelled at! A "brilliant function" over on the Heights; Miss Victoria Vibbler was there. Something else of importance; Miss Vibbler was there. Positively everything; Miss Victoria Vibbler was positively there. Her gowns! Her diamonds! Descriptions of Miss Vibbler came first; then came matrons, old-timers and débutantes of well-known families.
Always did Miss Vibbler come first in all the newspapers. And what interested me was that Miss Vibbler, whoever she was, was not of a well-known family. If you can name the streets of Brooklyn, you know the names of these families, except that the Fultons and the De Kalbs are not at present giving pink teas. But there was neither Vibbler Street nor Vibbler Avenue; so who could the Vibblers be?
Of course Fryhuysen knew, for that was his specialty. He did "society," to the contempt of old "Mac," the police reporter, who had contempt for anything without gore in it. I might have asked, only curiosity was never my way; then, too, I disliked to ask Fryhuysen anything. We had to keep him down; let that young fellow think he knew anything that we did not know, and for a month he would gush information, flaunting our ignorance of diamonds, the owners and the cost; gowns, whether domestic or imported, and how to behave in the dining room. Altogether, my interest in what I could not find out made me decidedly out of sorts.
"Old Buttons" gave me an assignment one afternoon. It troubled me. Some Brooklyn minister had burst forth again. I forgot the wording of it, but his query was whether society was rotten or merely gamey.
Said Old Buttons: "Get up a good story with interviews kept down to a stick each. You'd better see Miss Vibbler first, she seems to be the leader nowadays, and start off with her views."
Miss Vibbler again! I looked over ordinary directories and an "Elite" directory. There were "Vans" and "Vons," but not a "Vib" could I run across.
Without thinking, I asked Old Buttons, which was not a wise thing to do, for one should know everything one's self, and if the old fellow should not know, he would surely pretend to know and answer with something misleading.
"The Vibblers?" he snapped. "They are of the new set. They live -- Why don't you ask Fryhuysen? Such matters are his department. But he's out in Woodhaven now. Well, begin with Miss Vibbler, and be back before the night men come on."
This time I would have to ask Fryhuysen, and of course I knew where to find him. Of all "fakirs" that young fellow was the most brazen on the staff; which is saying a good deal, for few of us would hesitate to fill out space with coined names, which is easier than to bother asking "those present" their names.
As to sermons -- we wrote our own. The day before, I had been sent to a lecture on Abraham Lincoln, somewhere miles away in the Eastern District. Naturally, I walked merely over to the library and, asking for a biography, wrote my own lecture, which was creditable enough to the lecturer, for I took more pains than I should have taken with veritable extracts.
I went down to Cripplemug's saloon under the office. Fryhuysen was at the telephone, calling up "Old Buttons," not ten feet away over his head.
He said: "Is that you, Mr. Buttling? It's Fryhuysen. Where am I? Out in Woodhaven. There's nothing in this story except a tip that leads out past Jamaica. Shall I bother with it? No? How long? Well, I'll be back in an hour; though perhaps it may take me a little longer, as there's a pretty hard road ahead."
Then he went out in the back yard to rub mud on his shoes; for once he had been sent out in the country, along a muddy road, and was not clear in explaining why his shoes still wore their morning polish.
"You'll do that once too often, Fryhuysen," said I, for I very much dislike to see "faking" in others. We have duties and responsibilities, and should be at least honest, is what I say.
Fryhuysen only laughed and said it was pleasanter in Cripplemug's, which seemed to him a convincing argument.
Said I, very much disliking to ask him anything: "Where can I find Miss Vibbler?" And then pleased enough was I, for this time I had him! He knew no more than I, and ignorance here in his own department worried him.
"Oh, give any old address!" he suggested. "I've seen her often enough; in fact, I don't know where I don't see her; but she must be a pretty slick sort and does no entertaining herself, and where she lives I don't remember, if I ever did know. If you describe her flatteringly, she won't make any kick about it. Fact is, I attend most of my functions and have interviews right here."
He was enthusiastic in the description I asked for. Exquisitely arched eyebrows, lips like the kissing petals of a rosebud -- well, a stocktaking of Venus would be an inventory of Miss Vibbler; and his enthusiasm inspired me so that my description was copied by the evening papers, their reporters ostensibly having the interviews, just as every day they "rehashed" everything of Fryhuysen's -- gowns, diamonds and "those present."
Said Old Buttons: "Then you found the Vibblers?"
I said: "Oh, yes! No trouble."
"Ah! Well, there's not much in Brooklyn I haven't at my finger ends. Lived just where I told you? I described her accurately, did I? Didn't make any mistake in the family, did I?"
Said I: "You certainly know your Brooklyn, Mr. Buttling." And that cost nothing.
If it had, I could not have paid. Those young fellows! They had my salary. During the day, things were easy enough in the office; no signs of much discipline, smoking permitted, and we could go out at any time for anything wanted and then sit in the bootblack's chair, the office boy ready to call down; but at night, when no one was in command, except the night editor, who was quite one of us, there was poker.
There was poker; so this evening I had to go around the corner to the restaurant that we called a "hash house" and a "beanery" when the ghost walked, and were glad enough to go when the ghost was not ghosting.
Number six waited on me.
Number six was a pleasant little person, and if you were very hard pressed, would short-check for you, a pie ticket for a sirloin, if you would then get passes from the dramatic critic for her.
Said number six: "Ain't she grand, though?"
I said: "Yes?"
"She goes into the grandest society, and you'd never expect to see her here, would you? But she does, because I read about her every morning. Ain't she grand, though? Just think of coming to this cheap joint when she's in with all the old families and has a bushel of diamonds, though of course not wearing them in here."
"Why, Miss Vibbler!"
Number six hastily picked up dishes and fled, for talking to customers -- that is, too much talking -- was forbidden, and the head waitress was bearing down upon us in all the grandeur that is a head waitress' own.
This important person swept between tables to lean over some one who had just come in, taking a chair with his back to my back.
Said the head waitress: "Say, it's something fierce all the respect I'm getting! I have all these girls daffy about me and my social triumphs! Can't you see me at Remsens' ball this evening, like a good boy, just among those present? Just this once and not again in a good while, or you may be caught."
Said Fryhuysen: "Sure, Vic; you can go anywhere you want to -- on paper. Just mix up some kind of swell combination of dress goods, and I'll have you in it at the Remsens'. No; no one'll ever bother to kick."
And what I wonder at is that anyone should see any difficulty in "getting into society."
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