JANUARY 16, 2015
Copyright 2015 FRANCIS DIMENNO


Ben Hecht met Mencken and decided he resembled “a city alderman.”–Fred Hobson


The older you get, the less certain ye become about what it all means. I don’t know much, Yob. I’ll be beggared if I do. But this is what I believe I know. That urchins and crumb crushers always like to ball things up. Allus breaking things. Including their old mammy’s heart. And yowling fit to beat the band. I’m not just yaffling. They are surprising, like a mongrel that will circle three times before lying down but can turn on you over a doughnut. They will wake snakes. And they are enough to vex ye for the rest of your born days. When there’s bantlings involved, they always need a home. That’s for sure. That’s why the best thing you can do is buy up some real estate. 

That’s right, you heard me. Look at Alderman Adam Tyler, the ward-heeler and jumped-up jumbler.  It’s funny how well some yobs do. Some would say it’s a shame and a scandal. Birthed him nearly a dozen whippersnappers, all boys. Enough for a baseball team. “My hostages to fortune,” he would call them. “My eleven encumbrances.” He was known as Buddy. And “The Man in the Moon”. He was also known, more widely, as “The Yaller Boy,” not because he was a boy but on account of his yaller eyebrows and his yaller mustache and his yaller hair, slightly thinning on the top because he was nearin’ forty–though at the time, to me he seemed centuries old–but still a good crop. And also because he always carried around gold coins. They were his own yaller boys. The Actual. Known the world round. Feathers. Hay. Amigos. Sour Grapes. Bone. Corn in Egypt.  He would often call attention to them there coins of his’n in saloons and barrelhouses and suchlike places. He’s make his grand entry at the John Raines Hotel Lobby, say. Or Feist’s Cigar Store.You could smell him a mile off. Even in the Tonsorial Parlor, where Guiseppe the barber laid on the stinkum with a free and easy hand. 

Don’t call me a liar or say I’m making this up out of whole cloth or speaking for Buncombe. I’ll be beggared if I ain’t seed him show off his chips and chinkers many a time my own self. “Look at thishyer Yaller Boy” he would say, twirling some ooftish on the bar-top at the Seven Stars Saloon. “Watch ‘er sparkle.” And he’d make three rapid hissing sounds between his lower teeth, and then he would snuff the air. All that deadbeat gang of loochers and benchers, bemused with beer, would be hypnotized by the spinning coin and just when it was about ready to roll off the wooden bar, Alderman Tyler would snatch it up right smart in his right duke and say “Gotcha! Get right back in my plute, ye little sneak!”

The jumbo-sized Alderman was no longer as slender as a blade; the corny-faced omee had taken to drinking and eating to excess; he had a sizable corporation and an excessive corybungus and his face was a yaller as a wax candle, lending new meaning to his old time nickname of Yaller Boy. You could almost imagine him slowly melting in the sun, and his nose running down below his mouth. He allus wore a blue blazer with the crest of some sailing ship on it, and he allus reeked of cheap cologne. I wonder what it was he thought of as he splashed the foul-smellin’ perfumey water all over himself–Hot potatoes! the patooties will all go wild over this scent! Even though he was a supposedly happily married man, he still had an eye for an Angelic. You might say he was a cunny-burrow ferret. Or maybe he was one of those Yellofs who didn’t think at all and operated only on pure animal instinct, though I’ve known dogs who rolled in their own filth who were easier to bear the smell of than Yaller Boy Tyler. 

Tyler cracked a tidy crust. Survival of the fattest. He had all the chinkey at his command because he was what was known as a Patch, or a Fixer. He could get you a hay burner from his ready supply of baggage stock; he could get you a job on the sledge gang or as a luggage smasher or as a cook at the Hotel Dukey; he was always generous with his tips and with Ready John and the barber and the tailor and the bellboy was always glad to see him, though he only distributed his ample supply of silver to the small fry, who would do anything for some tin; he’d save the yaller boys for when he was making a grandstand play and helping a Yellof out of a jam. He would twirl his cane and twiddle his mustaches as though he were the consort of the Queen of May. “What kin I do ye for?” he’d bark out, half-laughing at his own joke. Then he’s liberally dispense the Oil of Angels.He wasn’t one to send you away with a flea in your ear. He’s always give you the benefit of his advice if not the actual Ready John. But he wasn’t one to make ducks and drakes of his ooftish; oh no. He allus expected some kind of a favor in return. He had pull, and he usually got what he paid for.  

No; whatever else you might say about him, he was a great man when it came to getting things done. In a close local election, he was the man you called. He would see to it that the proper wheels got greased. Oh, I don’t know a thing about vote fraud, but Tyler, he wrote the book. Of that you can be sure of as things go bump in the night.

How many ways can I say it without sounding like a blasted crackpot? He was a useful man to know. But if you weren’t in good with one of his cronies, ye weren’t much good to him and ye would never be in good with him unless he took a special shine to you. I think he liked me because he saw in me what he himself had once been–a sly little rogue who was allus looking for the man chance even before he had got the lay of the land. 

He was a dab Fixer, and whenever you played the Stars and Stripes Forever then oftentimes he would do you a favor–never out of the goodness of his heart, for he had none–he was no Ben Cull–but allus in the expectation that you would pay him back in return, or he could maybe take it out in trade, but for crumb-bums as didn’t have any juice or pull, why, it was allus brass on the barrelhead, pay up, or you can rot in jail, if that was the p’ticular fix you had gotten yourself into. Clancy the Copper was always ready willing and able to take the word of the Alderman about a p’ticular suspect, unless, of course, he was resistin’ arrest or some such foolishment; then it would take a little bit more in the way of palm oil to free the recreant rascal. 

Land of the Free, they call it, but Freedom ain’t Free–seems as though in the long and the short run, it costs an awful lot of money. That’s where the Alderman allus came in. He was the man with the bustle. He had a great deal of backstair influence. At the sound of crisp Alfalfa being shuffled or shiners clinking, he’d be there in a flash. Not literally, Yob–but it was a kind of sixth sense he had–he would always manage to float over to where the hard stuff was changing hands, and, if he knowed his business, and he nearly allus did, he would get his very own little cut of the enterprise. In the form of tow, wad, needful, pewter, posh, or John Davis. 

Remember what I said about the need to round yourself some kind of a stake or nest egg and put your money into buyin’ up real estate? Tyler followed that advice with a vengeance. They still talk about the Five-Thousand Dollar Phone Call. Stories vary. A friend of a friend of a brother of a doctor of a cousin says that Tyler once had it on good authority that such and such a back-slum was to be torn down and have a road built through it, or a swampland was about to have a school or hospital or a library built on it, and, lo and behold, he stands to make five thousand dollars with a single phone call. He was one of the Gentry; a founding member of the Acreocracy, him. They wouldn’t be burying him in no Potter’s Field. In fact, he owned the Potter’s Field. Planned to move some dirt around and build a skyscraper on it. And he did. You’d recognize its name in a minute, but I disremember.

Anyway, It was better than a fifty-dollar vacation, to hear him come the old soldier on his cronies, dispensin’ dead-wood earnest advice on all matters of sundries like some doddering old sheep’s head. To Cool Slopp the avuncular relation, he would tell him–on the D.Q.–to get another big watchdog, instead of relyin’ so much on Little Eamonn. But Slopp was uncommonly fond of as well as proud of the Pomeranian. Tyler had touched him on the raw, and so he would even risk backsassing an Alderman in order to defend the wee mite.

“My Eamonn is a four-legged burglar alarm, ye flymy fathead,” Slopp would hollar. “You’re a half-grown shad! My gnarler’s worth worth ten Buffers!” And Tyler would flee the Slopp pawnbroker’s establishment while holding his ears. 

He would tell Tipsy Smith over at the Seven Stars Saloon that he ought to work to attract a better class of clientele, so he could charge more for drinks and make more money.”What we serve here,” Smitty would say, “is a grown man’s dose. None of our geese are swans.  We don’t talk all lardy-dardy, and we don’t put up with no flub-dub or guff, ner frillies for the ladyfolk. They drink the same corpse-revivers as the rest of us, and, as a matter of fact, some of them could hold a candle to the devil–fine Lushingtons they be.” And then Smitty, he would go mum and nod his coconut and carry on wiping his glasses with the same old dirty rag, giving you the impression that what Tyler had said to him was all in one ear and out the other. 

Then Tyler would take to trying to reform the clientele, like a duffer, by talking tall to the sponges miking round the pub, but the effect was cold water down the back. “Why don’t you get wise to yourself?” he would say to simpleminded Jimmy Ragmop, whose only reply was usually Duh. He was, as we all knew, a downy-bird from Daisyville and dotty in the crumpet. He belonged in the Laughing Academy. Giving advice to that gooseberry was like giving straw to your dog and bones to your ass. 

“Why don’t you take better care of yourself?” he would say to the fiddle-faced cross-patch Musky Dan, and get in exchange for his kindly-intentioned advice a muzzy snarl from the streaky old hard-mouthed codger, who would yaffle him. “Enough of your chaff and blabber,” he’s reply, “It don’t signify, Yob. Everything is lovely and the goose hangs high, but fine words butter no parsnips.Better you should either stand me sam or mind your own bloody business, ye foreman of the jury with your bold-faced flabberdegaz–or I’ll give you a shove smack dab in your blind eye. Now, why don’t ye shut your potato-trap, me fine Mr. Wallah? You may be the gilded rooster on the top of the steeple, but when your time comes you can talk forty to the dozen to the devil Himself, but you’ll still be food for the worms, just like the rest of us, even if they place ye inside of a handsome mahogany box! Six feet tall on earth–six feet under in the grave! Memento Mori!”

The cribbage-faced crow-eaters and friday-facers could afford to ignore or even insult Alderman Tyler. They were too poor to pay him his graft and too small to be in a line to receive his favors. But he would tell the likes of Judge Rance Sniffle about a likely lad who was ready for the plucking and the Judge, for all his years, would bolt out of Feist’s Cigar Store like a shot. It’s like they say–cash on the nail makes the world go round, and no cull can say me nay. 

Same went for Titus Peep the Shyster Lawyer, and Coach Crump the real estate Mogul. Titus Peep would sell his soul to the man downstairs–if he hadn’t bargained it away long ago–for an extra morsel of brass, and Coach Crump was a cockhound–the lowest kind–a shrewd businessman, but a rank sucker when it came to a demi-rep or a dasher or any fad-cattle or dealer in fancy-work. He would always evatch a kool of the elrig. 

Tyler had an uncanny hold on the both of them. He was a born fool-trap monger. Maybe sometime I’ll tell you about it. 

You know, it just goes to show–if you want to eat aba daba, you got to show up at the grease wagon first. Opportunity doesn’t knock–it just sort of tiptoes around and peeks in at the keyhole to see if’n you’re awake.




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As LIFE wrote back in 1938:

But their major preoccupation was bodies—human bodies, animal bodies, bodies that looked half-human, half-animal. The “girlie” shows, which were hot and smutty, drew smaller audiences than the freaks from crowds made up of farmers, breeders and hillbillies. Only a few city people were present, although some urban sophisticates have discovered the county fair and are beginning to make America’s great harvest-time diversion a city-folk fad.


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Trawling through Farmer and Henley’s Slang and Its Analogues, of the terms I find most endearing are those for misers; for making a hasty getaway; for fools; for boasters and braggarts; for moochers, and for fat men. There are also plenty of hidden names for Policemen and policemen’s spies. I guess when you’re a crook, these are big concerns. Sprinkled here and there are the sorts of Americanisms one associates with Twain, whether rightly or not. Absquatulate, etc. I discovered that many of our current old saws date back to Shakespeare and Chaucer. That there are ten slang terms for the word “screw” (and thirty more besides). And that “To Arrive at the End of the Sentimental Journey” means “to possess a woman”.

The Professor (and indeed, his specialty, Science, entitled him to that high but by no means inaccurate, when applied to him, title of respect) mused fretfully upon the fate of his fellow bon vivants castaway, for an indeterminate, and, for him, this was the most frustrating aspect of his plight, amount of time, forced–by no means forced, but obliged–to countenance the antic behavior resulting from of the seriously diminished mental faculties of the lovable, if only by way of a force of nature insuperable, Gilligan…for indeed it was he.  


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