APRIL 3, 2015

Copyright 2015 FRANCIS DIMENNO

For feudalism, caste, the ecclesiastic traditions, though palpably retreating from political institutions, still hold essentially, by their spirit, even in this country, entire possession of the more important fields, indeed the very subsoil, of education, and of social standards and literature.—Walt Whitman



Count Victor Justin next turned his attention to Jimmy Ragmop, the red headed, red bearded, freckle-faced Polack who was kept around by Tipsy Smith the Barkeep to sort of keep the place in some semblance of cleanliness, even though any fool could see that the layers of accumulated grime were such an established fact that the formed an intrinsic part of the ambiance of the place.

Jimmy Ragmop liked to sing, and he seemed always to have an earie for all the latest tunes to come down the pike, a fact duly noted by Count Victor Justin. 

“We have here,” said Count Justin Victor, “in the person of Jimmy Ragmop nee Raczkowski, one of the variants of the human race as provided by nature in all its variegated glory. Though he is not gifted by great strength as splendid as that of the celebrated strongmen of the past, and though in celerity he is not as swift as some of the fastest members of his tribe, he nonetheless possesses two of the attributes which distinguish mankind from a mere beast. Namely, and to wit—forgive my pleonasm—I do tend to get carried away—he has a heart to sing, and he has a soul to express himself. If these seem but minor attributes when one considers how few people are at liberty to express themselves even in the most degraded ways. Perhaps this mere barroom is not an optimal location for Jimmy, here, to demonstrate his skills. And yet, nonetheless, he is herein always assured of an appreciative audience who does not mind his occasional forays into certain sentimental favorites. He sings here, in lieu of the most trig domiciles, in just the way that water seeks its own level, or a liar lies as fast as a dog can trot.”

“Hey,” says Jimmy Ragmop. “Who you are calling liar?”

“Never mind that,” said Count Victor Justin. “You will find, in this magnificent specimen of Polish Ham, the truest meaning of the word ‘Liberty’. He is as the Lilies of the field, that neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon is all his glory is not arrayed, etcetera, etcetera. For all of his Polish forebears, he is a truly antic specimen of homo Americanus—as fully assimilated into our culture and byways as the most parsimonious seventh-generation Yankee, or, for that matter, as the most extravagant Cavalier. His nature is seemingly boundless—he eats up the miles—in him is embodied the entire history of the growth of the Republic—he needs no glad-rags to announce his presence on the great stage—he simply, “Is”. He is as variable as a summer storm, and yet as plain-spoken as a barking dog who desires to be fed.”

“Hey,” says Jimmy Ragmop. “Who you are referring to as dog?”

“Go away lad,” said Count Victor Justin, “I’m trying to talk you up here. Sir Jimmy,” he said, pointing in his general direction, “exemplifies all the most grand American traditions. Slavery—yes, there is an element of that—but also song—joyful, harmonious, ineluctable music to swell the heart and gladden even those who live off the fat of the land, to say nothing of their more humble brethren.”

“Do we dare for one moment to speculate—to theorize—to, perhaps, formulate—some variety of commonplace explanation for the ebullience of this humble son of toil? No more so than for the birds. Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. In music, we see the workings of the very universe, for music consists of notes, and notes are expressions of mathematical relations, and the universe is composed of numbers, and, therefore, quod est demonstrandum, the universe is composed of music, so to speak. The musician, therefore, strikes the key-note of all there is.”

Jimmy Ragmop visibly blushed, perhaps less because of the Count’s speech, which I doubt he understood in full, and more because of the attention being drawn to him.

“Tut tut, Jimmy,” said the Count. “No need to be back’ard. Now, how can we reconcile the contradiction of this humble Bar Boy being, at one and the same time, the primus mobile? We can’t. Such contradictions were never meant to be solved. Let us, instead, interharmoniously—so to speak—weave the two strands together like a melody and a counter-melody. Is it not both fitting and meet that this practitioner of song–mired down as he currently is in this veritable Diabolo’s Den–should have the very voice of an angel? I use the word angel and devil interchangeably, because they are each aspects of the other, and you can’t have celestial angels without fallen angels. No—let me reiterate that, although our good friend Captain Jimmy has the voice of an angel, he is not entirely blameless in his personal life—eh wot? Eh wot? Do ye care to confess your depredations, Young Lucifer? “

 “Hey,” says Jimmy Ragmop. “What you mean—hunh?”

“I’ve been reading the newspapers. Ut! But never let it be said that the Count is not without his resources in other areas as well. And I would like to know several things, though of course I hasten to add that this is not a court of law and you are not on trial. Just between friends, Jimmy—who is it who eats the best bits among the Free Lunch that Tipsy Smith, our fine proprietor, is kind enough to supply his hungry customers with? Many’s the time I have seen you secretly rolling prime slices of beef into sly little cylinders and bolting them down when you think that nobody’s looking. But you sing like an angel, there’s no denying that. Many’s the time, too, that I’ve seen ye draw yourself a beer and drink it down, quick as a wink, whilst spilling nary a drop, while Tipsy’s attention is occupied elsewhere. O, but singing is thirsty work, to be sure. And so is hanging around Red Mary’s joint, hoping one of her doxies will take pity on ye on account of your being stony broke? Boys will be boys, though, of course, you are doing all of this while you are supposed to be back in the Seven Stars, keeping an eye on the bar. And then, sometimes you’re not so broke, and you squander a suspicious amount of money in her fine establishment, and one has to wonder where a Bar Boy comes upon such a seeming largesse?”

To all of these charges Tipsy Smith cocked an angry eye at Jimmy Ragmop, but give the little runt credit—he held his tongue.    

“As I have said, I’ve been reading the newspapers. Ut! But never let it be said that the Count is not without his resources in other areas as well. That, for all his sweet vocalizing, certain bar-boys might be making too free and easy with Mr. Smith’s valuable property. I have heard that certain mokes  have been bad-mouthing Mr. Smith and his fine establishment. Even going so far as to pass counterfeit coinage among the more gullible strangers who are unhappy enough to fall into this particular establishment at certain times. That certain suspicious kitchen fires might—possibly–be laid to the door of Young Angel-voice here. Mind you, these are only rumors, and rumors, as such, are certainly not actionable. Sure—and doesn’t he sing like a dream? Permit me, if you will, one further spell of philosophizing.  People who have a moiety—a mere moiety, mind you—of good common sense will realize that is people like Jimmy here were on top—if, for instance, he were to gain wider fame as a singer of songs—that all his bad qualities would likely be amplified, so to speak, as it were, in a manner of speaking. His vices would be magnified. His capricious behavior would know no earthly bounds. And his crudeness would unduly influence youngsters such as Red Mary’s whelp.”

The Count paused for effect. During which time he glanced over at me. “Imagine Jimmy Ragmop if he, by right, given his immense talent, were to dominate the world. He would prove, no doubt, to be the most unmitigated scoundrel who ever walked the earth, instead of the mild, and—dare I say it—rather bleary-eyed wretch he currently presents himself to be. Instead of the angelic dunce, he would no doubt find himself a raft of crafty advisors and present himself as a veritable Beezelbub of wicked intrigues.”

“Imagine, too,” said the Count, “what the consequences will be when Jimmy Ragmop the singer and idiot savant takes it into his wooly head to marry one of Red Mary’s whores and make an honest woman of her. One can see in the cards which I hold in my hand the following scenario play itself out. (He paused to consult his tarot deck.)

“Oh, my, this is quite rich,” said the Count, with a delighted expression on his somewhat less than benign visage. “Jimmy the Ragmop is quite the boy.”

It took a considerable amount of coaxing to prize the truth from the Count, but, eventually, he relented.  

“Jimmy has sold his talent in the service of a cruel and capricious master. Whether this be Tipsy Smith or some future employer is difficult to say. He takes on all sorts of jobs related to his avocation. He plays piano in a cathouse. He takes a job in a piano store. He ventures forth to the big city and makes the acquaintance of several popular composers. He becomes their agent in presenting their newest compositions to the public. He takes to the vaudeville stage. Soon he is quite well known. He becomes prosperous, and has many children, but that prosperity comes with a price, for he is compelled to entertain some pretty unsavory characters. There…the cards abruptly stop.”

People looked at Jimmy Ragmop with a new respect from that time on. Even his old nemesis, Smash Conklin, was content to simply ignore him, rather than bedevil him with snarling insults, as was his habit in the past. But Jimmy Ragmop, as though wishing to avoid his wonderful fate, was, from that day forward, without song, and, as a matter of fact, he seldom spoke again. Damn the Count, for ruining him—but damn Jimmy, too—for letting it happen.













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