I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. –Charles Dickens
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER EIGHT: PART TWENTY-FOUR: THE FALL
During the festive and hopeful Christmas season, all through Noxtown and its even poorer and meaner inner streets, known as Blowtown, you could see, in the faces of the poor, the profound disappointment in their slackjawed countenances; the incredible delicacy and the indelible credulousness of their thwarted ambitions and their blasted dreams.
These dreams you could almost touch and taste; as from every warren and burrow and cold-water flat impoverished denizens emerged to wash down the snowlined streets, and from every flatbed car in the railroad yards and every tramp steamer from the forlorn grey docks and from every nearby and faraway frozen harvest field they fled to converge upon those neighborhoods and their low estates–the fantastic Black Hole of the innermost city, also known as The Devil’s Acre, in which there were dozens of wooden structures housing single-story saloons from which, at all hours, men and even boys no older than ten emerged sobbing and snarling drunk; two-story storefronts housing illicit gambling parlors; manorial red-lit three-story Houses of Ill Repute; and cellar dives in which opium smokers and powder-sniffers and hasheesh-eaters and absinthe fiends and other abandoned and profligate wretches wasted away their short and often consumptive lives.
As, all through the shops Uptown, small boys in Faunterloy suits were dragged whining past shop windows furiously alive with magical displays of model trains and Golemesque Santas in full red-suited and black belted regalia and trees ablaze with dozens of lighted candles and dozens upon dozens of the onion-shaped lights and delicate glass balls and elaborately carved wooden ornaments then fashionable, deep in the trackless wastes of barren Blowtown cold crumbling red bricks of decaying tenements met the hungry and angry eyes of the newly-arrived ragged and shoeless beggars and accompanying rabble who always portended trouble during this solstice season.
A brief trip down the half-snow-covered sidewalks of Blowtown, made by the Reverend John Otis Cross, a prosperous Ministerial Gent warmly wrapped in a fur-lined mantle who mistakenly elected to take the air,for a fact-finding tour in broad daylight. on a day balmy for December, doubtless revealed the following spectacles and flashes of superb vulgarity.
A jowly panhandler with rheumy red eyes desperately mumbling out his pleas for small coins–You Know You Got a Penny Mister; You Know You Got a Penny; Gimme a Penny, You Know You Got It To Spare.
A down-at-the-bootheels beaver-hatted cardsharp dressed in black with a florid red mustache, with his three-card game set up upon a portable table, urging the gullible: Try Your Luck Try Your Luck; You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play; Fortune Favors the Brave; Try Your Luck; Don’t Be Afraid.
A hard-looking character with a false white beard dressed in festive red with white fur trim ringing a cracked bell in front of small battered kettle hanging from jury-rigged wooden tripod, purporting to be a representative of a great charitable organization.
A disgruntled wine-mad hobo dressed in a battered derby hat and an overlarge clean white linen shirt recently cadged from an unguarded clothesline, burning his sandwich board out of sheer insane cussedness, laughing while the flames licked red around the stylized white script recommending that the passerby should Eat at Joe’s.
A fatalistic derelict with wild white hair and a dense growth of black beard desperately scratching at fantastic fleas imaginary or real, slouched in front of a five-cent flop house with his battered Fedora hoping to cadge a few pennies to be used toward a bottle, if not the night’s lodging, the temperature being moderate with only intermittent chill blasts from the arctic north.
A shivering and dispossessed Carny Talker lurking outside of that miserable Shanty known as the Seven Stars Tavern with his palms extended, stepping up and blocking the passway and saying Gimme a Nickel For a Pigfoot I Was There on San Juan Hill How About a Drinky for a Poor Old Man.
And through these wasted streets also strode the fantastic Bully of Blowtown, none other than Smash Conklin, who, although undeputized, had as his job the corralling of these fantastic travesties of neighborhood eccentrics. As was his wont, he treated each of them according to what the Ward Boss, Adam Tyler, regarded as their just desserts. Conkin was only in it for the main chance; he was a manipulator who had charm but who was also prone to telling fantastic lies, inflating his own importance; completely guileful and unscrupulous; utterly without shame or guilt; with no respect for decency or tender human feelings; forever in need, like some feckless roving shark, for either lashing out at or cooly surveying his ostensible prey. He lived by his own Code, which could be described as What’s In It For Me And The Men As Pays Me? As so it was that Smash Conklin cut a wide swath through the less-than-festive residents of Blowtown who lingered on the streets in fading hope of some profit.
The jowly panhandler got a smack in the ribs and the breadbasket, good and hard, and was told to Peddle Your Papers Elsewhere. (Dozens of pennies flew from his pockets, and he was not afraid to gather in each and every one of them while Conklin glared down at him like some proprietary Moloch.)
Conklin next sidled up to the beaver-hatted cardsharp and shook him down for a double-saw and gently advised him to set up shop on some other street corner within far walking distance, if he knew what was good for him. (Instead, the cardsharp, divested of a quarter of his day’s profits, elected to retire instead to his top-story room in The John Raines Hotel, one of the city’s once genteel but now shabby grand residences for traveling salesmen and other transients.)
The fake Santa Claus was shaken down for a sawbuck and permitted to continue to ring his cracked bell and cry out in his cracked voice for alms for the poor. (Meaning, of course, himself.)
The wine-mad hobo took one gimlet look at Conklin and fled, leaving his smoldering sandwich board behind him. (He was last seen hopping a fast freight to Gibsonia and points west.)
The fatalistic derelict slumped down in his doorway and feigned deafness as Conklin kicked at him repeatedly. Standing nearby, John Otis Cross watched him in wonder and dismay.
The two of them–Smash Conklin and The Reverend Cross–were bound to collide, and they did; in front of the Seven Stars Tavern. The Carny talker who was standing there took one look at Uglyface, whom he knew well, and made himself mighty scarce. Leaving Reverend Cross alone to face him.
“Who are you?” said Conklin.
“The Reverend John Otis Cross.”
“Do you know who I am?”
“No, Sir, I do not.”
“I’m Mr. Conklin. I am an associate of Alderman Tyler, and I’ve been sent down here by him specifically to look after you.”
“I appreciate the offer, but–“
“Do you know who I AM?”
“Why, certainly, Sir; you just told me; but–“
“Do you know where you ARE?”
“Why, certainly, but–“
“This is my back yard. This is Blowtown. Alderman Tyler says you got no business here. Now, Blow.”
One look at Conklin’s leering, scarred face was enough to convince the good Reverend that discretion was, in this of all cases, the better part of valor, and so he hailed a passing Hanson Cab and directed the driver to a swell Uptown Hotel, and so passed out of Blowtown–and, for the most part, out of our story.
“Tender Effusions of Laxative Woodcocks”
BUREAU OF CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION
CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU
WHICH INDUSTRY FUNDS YOUR STATE’S POLITICIANS?
THE HOBO HERO (1935)
TEN WORDS YOU CAN SAY IN PUBLIC BUT PROBABLY SHOULDN’T
5*AVATAR OF THE ZEITGEIST
THE ETON SCHOLARSHIP QUESTION
6* DAILY UTILITY
THE WORLD OF HIDDEN EMOTIONS
Ridiculous: foolish, silly, funny, etc.; Alienated: rejected, dumped, deserted, etc.; Uncomfortable: restless, tense, anxious, etc.; Confused: blank, empty, hollow, etc.; Hurt: offended, upset, wounded, etc.; Inadequate: powerless, weak, insecure, etc.
WHAT READER SPECIES ARE YOU?
CRICKETS SINGING SLOWED DOWN SOUNDS LIKE A HUMAN CHOIR
11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
ADVICE FROM AN OLD FARMER
Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.
Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.
Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.
A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.
Words that soak into your ears are whispered… not yelled.
Meanness don’t jes’ happen overnight.
Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.
Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.
It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.
You cannot unsay a cruel word.
Every path has a few puddles.
When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.
The best sermons are lived, not preached.
Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna happen anyway.
Don’t judge folks by their relatives.
Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
Live a good, honorable life… Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.
Don ‘t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t bothering you none.
Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a Rain dance.
If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.
Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.
The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin’.
Always drink upstream from the herd.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.
If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around..
Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.
Don’t pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he’ll just kill you.
Most times, it just gets down to common sense.
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE. 723.
FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
In the future, Pundits will make a passionate case that Frosty the Snowman is White.