Mickey and the "Collegemen"
by Charles Hoy Fort
Maybe it was snobbishness in me, but in my early life there was things that sort of grated on me, and I had a longing for more refined ways of living. The first things in the morning, I'd be told:
"Mickey, take this dime and the flask down to the grocery-store and get me ten cents' worth of the drop. Don't go to the corner, Mickey! I don't want my little boy to go to the saloon. They charges twice as much there. Go get your mother a nice half-pint."
I know it was snobbishness in me, but that talk didn't seem to have no culture in it; and all the rest of the day there wasn't much culture in our home, as the flask was running every hour, and the old man's best pants going into hock when the money was gone; and then pints of beer all night till the scrapping begun. Snobbishness is a bad fault, I give in, but it did seem to me there wasn't much refinement in our lives when the old man trun the lamp and got a pint swashed back in his face for his frivolity; and then rasseling down the stairs to the courtyard; and pretty soon the sound of the gong, as the patrol-wagon backs up for the lot of us.
They was my parents, but there seemed something lacking in their cultivation; and I was so snobbish I cleared out and went boarding. Right from then there was a desire I had; it was to know and be friends with them that's refined and talks without cussing, and don't do their scrapping out on the fire-escape.
So I get histories and study history hard, so I'll know how to talk, if I ever do get acquainted with the refined folks I so much want to know. But how am I to form them acquaintances? I plan it all out and see how it can be gone about.
There's a swell class of lads goes to Darcey's pool parlors, which ain't no two-cents-and-a-half-a-cue joint at all. There's three lads there; and one of them, named Delancey Bushwhacker, is preparing to go to college in the fall. That makes a most tremendous hit with me! If I could only get acquainted with them lads; and one of them so cultivated he's going to college in the fall! Then what astonishing wisdom must be his! I study harder than ever and cultivates them lads, just longing something fierce to be refined like them. Spots them ten every time they'll play a game with me and blows in all my wages, though it's a good trade I have. Say, just think of it! Me, which was little Mickey of the tenements, actually at last playing pool with a lad that's going to college in the fall.
My chance comes. Delancey says for me to drop around and see him next night. And I do and go up to his room, where he is with Max Lanthorne and Harry Andrews, them other two.
"Make yourself comfortable, sport, before I tell you what the idea is. Glad to see you on time!" says Delancey.
"The pleasure is all mine!" I say, showing my manners. "That's a picture of the Battle of Gettysburg, ain't it? General Meade done grand and Pickett's charge was in it."
And I'm just yearning for to hear him say something with Latin in it, and talk learned, so I can't understand but will respect very much. And I'm gaping at the remarkable ornaments of his room, because it's good manners to show interest in other folks' belongings.
Delancey says: "Yes, I'm preparing for college, you see."
I'm all over with awe, I am! How hard he must study, and how fortunate he is! But he points to a rack of old pipes; and what that has to do with preparing for college is more than I can see.
"And there!" he says. On the walls is the one picture I mentioned; but all over is signs of boarding-houses and saloons and candy-stores.
"I guess I don't know much about preparing for college," I says. "The Spanish Armada came over in 1588. But what has signs to do with it?" I ask. And if he'd only say something with Greek in it! Me from the tenements and longing for cultivation are like a boiler-maker wishing for soft music to play to him once in awhile.
"Oh, every student steals signs," says Delancey. "There's no use going to college if you ain't a good sign-stealer; and I must say I'm pretty proficient, I am. Me and the gang pinched every one of these; and I think I'm proficient to make a name for myself in any college."
"Oh, yes," says Max, "sign-stealing comes first in the kooriculum."
"Look at that beer kag!" they cry. "Ain't that something of an achievement? And we swiped it ourselves from a saloon! There's Jimmie Harris down the street. He's going to college, too. But all he's done was to swipe a platter off a free-lunch counter, sandwiches and all. He'll never mattriklelate for no seat of learning on just for doing that."
"But the cigar sign!" some one says. "Jimmie's got us all beat holler with his cigar sign. While he's got that great and glorious achievement to boast of, we dassen't hold up our heads in his presents."
Delancey says to me: "How'd you like to be one of us in a little enterprise? You think you could?"
"De Sota discovered the Mississippi!" I says. The others begin to laugh and wink, but Delancey says:
"All you got to do is to prove your worthiness," he says; "and we'll be glad to welcome you--for the evening."
"Try me!" I say.
I'm excited! And now we'll see whether all me studying has fitted me for refined society. Maybe they'll put me through an examination to see am I cultivated enough for to associate with them.
"General Jackson won the battle of New Orleans!" I cry. "There was seven hills of Rome. George Washington crossed the Delaware!"
"That may be so," says Delancey, not joining the laughing of the others, "but never mind that just now. You see us in great distress. There's only three of us, and we need a recruit who's strong and ready. You've heard mention of one Jimmie Harris? Well, even if he is our rival, I must say he just done a remarkable achievement. He stole the Indian cigar sign from in front of Schwartz's; and, though we can't hope to beat that exploit, we may equal it."
"Oh, yes! We can steal another!" says I, confused and not knowing much what I am saying, but all dazed with disappointment, as down our way there was as much cultivation as this, and more, us not stealing a poor man's goods but only from ginneys.
"Good!" says Delancey. "That's the spirit that would make a successful college career for you. Well, down the street is another cigar-store; and it has a sign just as good. The proprietor got tired of Indians; and he's got a fine wooden cop in front of his store. We can win that; and Jimmie will be beat, so he'll reform or have to go down and steal the Statue of Liberty."
I just stand and look foolish and wonder what it was I expected, after all; and these lads that was brought up proper is so childish; and wouldn't be so silly had they to work hard to live; and for a little more you'd have me suspect going to college wasn't cultivation.
"Here's a stout rope with loops on it," says Delancey. "A spry lad like you can easily climb down it, when we get to the end of the roof of this row of houses. Then you're on the cigar-store roof. The rope has a noose. Sling it over the sign, and the four of us pulls with all our might."
And I do like they say, because I'm in their room and don't know how to refuse, but just feeling disgust for the foolishness of them.
We goes over the row of roofs, and I'm the one that climbs down to the cigar-store roof. It's dark and getting late, and there don't seem to be no difficulty. I looks over the edge and see the sign and with one throw lands the noose around the middle of it. Me on one roof and the others twenty feet above pulls for all we're worth. And all the time we had the idea it could be did nice and quiet and no excitement. Say, the whole front of the store is busted in as we tug and drag. A window frame goes smash. There's the most fearful hollering and most frightful roars. The roof-gutter breaks off, but our souls is in the dragging on that rope; and a blue mass comes bobbing up over.
I don't know yet how I got down, except that I lept out blind into a back yard. And just what was the reflections and sentiments of that fine two-hundred-and fifty pound cop when all of a suddent he felt himself swinging skyward is something I'm not investigating.
I gave it up then. I do long for cultivation; but for preparing for college, I ain't got the true spirit and ain't quite silly enough.
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