“I tend to mind my own business. So I dinna generally make it a point,” said Count Victor Justin, “to excoriate or otherwise cut up the poor or even criticize them for their lack of enterprise. But in this great land of ours, there’s no excuse for not getting yours by grabbing for it with both brawny fists. What do they teach you in the schools? Nothing good. Readin’, writin’ and cipherin’ to the rule of three is all well and good, but these can only take you but so far. What they don’t teach you is how to succeed in the rough and tumble of the big city. That you must learn from your fellow students, and most of them have no more idea how to go about it than my colored manservant. Instead of learning a boy how to be a man in a man’s world, most schoolmasters and all schoolmarms have the sap of the American Sucker running through their palsied veins, and all they teach them is a bunch of meticulous nonsense about honor and charity and one’s civic duty. The kids, meanwhile, are starving, half of them. Better to teach them how to pinch an apple from the fruit stand–and not get caught. Oh, I’m sure–anyway, I’ve been told–that teaching is a fine profession, sure. But tending to the needs of a bunch of miserable, ungrateful, runny-nosed squalling brats is not my idea of a five thousand dollar vacation, nosiree. The only people who get suckered into that profession are dumb saps too weak to do any real work, and too lazy to even beg. They’d be bums and worse, most of them, if they only had the gumption. And these are the people we put in charge of our children. Great God! Rather than be one of those piss-poor, penny-ante flannel-mouthed pedants, I would rather work as a muck-raker–at least the pay is halfway decent.I would rather be a dipsomaniacal lumberjack–plenty of fresh air, and good grub, and who cares about a few missing fingers? I would rather work as a cigar store clerk–that there is where a young man can learn the ins and outs of how the world works. Everybody who’s of any consequence visits the tobacconist–right down from your small-time merchants right on up to your ward-heelers and grand sachems. That there is a worthwhile business to be in, and I ever have the ooftish I might very well set myself up as a proprietor. See if I don’t.
“Your average working man would rather do anything than think for himself, and that’s why he’s scared of going into business. because your average working man has no conception of how to get one over, and get back at the swells who are doing him dirt, and therefore he is always and will never be anything more than a harmless drudge. He lives by the sweat of his brow, and his wife is a fat, sweaty harridan in a greasy shift who smells like burnt onions and cabbage. His children, of which he has far too many, are a snot-faced gang of blubbering sprats with their beaks wide open and chock-full of noisy demands for someone to cram their trembling maws with grub.
“You can always tell a man who has grown up poor—he will shovel in the chow whenever he gets a chance. He will refuse to spend so much as one red cent unless he absolutely has to. Buy his wife a flower for two cents? Faugh! He would rather buy himself a frosty schooner of lukewarm reeb to chuck into his swillbucket of a belly.
“As for the wife, his so-called better half, she would steal the cracklin’s from her Mammy’s fat gourd. She would swipe the old man’s drinkin’ money out of his very pocket or even out from under his own pillow as he sleeps off a lush–and use the ooftish to buy some foolish gew-gaw like a bolt of cheap cloth for to fashion her a blouse. Though what she needs with such finery is a mystery; she is long past being over the hill. Any allure she still holds for the old man is generated from the bottom of a wine bottle, if you know what I mean. The poor fool snaps at that bottle of vino and glugs down the cheap poison like pink lemonade, and decides then and there to give the old woman a tumble, and who cares if the kiddies should happen to hear?
“How anybody can live that way I don’t know; but I am assured by some very reliable sources that they do. These people can’t even afford to dress their own children for school, so their crumb-crushers spend their idle time roaming the streets and eatin’ out of dustbins and stealing fruit and eventually graduate to robbing stores, and then they’re thrown in the reformatory, where they learn new and novel forms of deviltry. All because the old man simply cannot harness his appetites. To witness such a spectacle is far from edifying. It’s enough to make a man commit blasphemy against all the saints. All the lying ministers and all the prating politicians say You’ve Got To Have Hope—but the way I see it, the mass of men in this great country have just about played themselves out. On the farm they are stone ignorant and as innocent of city ways as a suckling sprat. In the city, they are even more degraded and miserable, so far as I can see. At least out on the farm, you can stave off hunger with potatoes and turnips, and burn cow flops for warmth. In the slums of the big city there are no such amenities, especially in the dead of winter.
“Here in the city, night soil men pick up the reeking effluvia which would otherwise run in torrents down the filth-choked cobblestones of the City Fair. And nearly all the children are addicted to pickles and strong drink. That’s a fact! If any of the wretches had ever seen a toothbrush, or even a bar of store-boughten soap–then I’ve seen a pig that can fly.”