I didn’t know what ‘that’ was but I didn’t time my exit well. I caught the buckle as my foot came down on the bed. The kid who slept there had meanwhile slid over the side. I had done nothing wrong but I realized I had been foolish to follow my cicerone. I accepted the buckling as well deserved for my folly. I learned the intended lesson, I was never caught in the same way again. In addition I added a page to my collection of methods of perfidy.
Now, these two thugs were as cool as could be. They did a cool strut out of the toilet giving Mrs. Miller a little disdainful motion to back off. She did. Then they strolled out of the dorm and into the night never to be seen again. Nor did we ever have two itinerants stay overnight again.
Hirsh had failed but he tried again. This time he wanted to see it, so he devised an elaborate trifle that could have afforded him but little pleasure. House mothers, as I said, came and went. Then one fine day a beauteous young girl of eighteen showed up to titilate us. She was buxom and lovely.
She seemed to take to us boys and made a point of always including me. At first I was as enamored as the rest but then it became apparent to me that this young woman was emotionally disturbed. She had a mean vicous streak; I began to avoid her. But she persisted.
She began to have us engage in ridiculous games that made us look like fools. I wouldn’t participate but held back. I was an alert little boy. I noticed a lot of things. I was sensitive to being fenced in, consequently I kept an eye on the sidewalk. I knew how many people walked by and looked at us every day. When she was with us the traffic increased significantly.
Then one day she suggested that we sing a comic song. It was called ‘Napoleon avec cinq cent soldats.’ The trick was that first we sang it through; with each repeat we sang one less word and we silently mouthed one more word and substituted a gesture for the sound. Thus halfway through we sang half the words mouthed the rest and made a bunch of signs. The final result of course was a bunch of guys moving their mouths silently and waving and hopping like looneys. As she explained it everyone would think we were crazy and we wouldn’t care. The joke would be on them. It would be funny.
I knew that they wanted to think we were crazy. I cared, I didn’t want to give them confirmation. She placed us in the most conspicuous place in the yard. As the gig began I noticed that traffic began to increase to abnormal proportions on the sidewalk. I stepped back and dissociated myself from the group, eyeing the sidewalk sullenly. I noticed a dark haired man with hope in his eyes lose that hope when he saw I wasn’t participating. I didn’t know him but I knew what he wanted.
I said something sharp to the house mother. She left that night and never returned.
Whatever punishment Hirsh had devised for me, whatever attempt he had originated to extract homage from me in the third grade had been aborted by my transference from Emerson to Longfellow. He would renew his efforts both through the orphanage and Longfellow. But now as the third grade closed I was faced with the partial relief of another summer. I would only have to contend with the madness of the Children’s Home.
I was standing contentedly with my hands in pockets in the door of the library when the little boy who had been admitted when I had was led out of the infant’s ward. I gave a little yawn as he waddled up in his little six year old walk. As he approached he looked up with a searching look that indicated he wanted a friend, a helping hand.
I decided to be compassionate, give the little tyke a break.
‘Hi ya, kid. How are you today?’
‘I going to die now now.’ He replied disconsolately.
I could no longer be surprised by such statements. I had seen and heard a lot.
‘Oh yeah?’ I calmly replied. ‘Going to die? How’s that?’
‘I have to go to the hospital and have my tonsils pulled out. They’ll probably pull my life out with them.’
‘Oh yeah? Tonsils huh? Well, that isn’t so much to worry about. Tonsils come out pretty easy. It won’t kill you. Why I had my tonsils pulled when I was just your age.’ I said as reassuringly as possible.
‘Oh yeah. It made me sick for a few days, couldn’t swallow. But I had a lot of ice cream because it melted and I could get it down.’
‘A lot of ice cream?’ He said hopefully.
‘Uh huh. But I had a mother at the time; I don’t know if they’ll give you ice cream in this dump. Well good luck, kid.’ I said as they led him away.
‘Thanks.’ He replied with a grateful look.
The Old Master Fiddler had a million schemes. His brain was constantly busy surveying every nook and cranny for some scheme to turn a dollar. Generally he preferred crooked schemes that would show how much more clever he was than others, how easily he could outwit them. He could stretch an ethic however if a scheme appeared to be real good but more or less honest he would still do it. Besides a good operator like himself could always introduce quasi-dishonest twists.
Once again I was in the library when I overheard Darwen talking to a couple of men. They were explaining to him that post-war China had a ravenous appetite for scrap paper. Old newspapers and boxing could be gotten free and sold to them. Darwen’s head snapped back and his eyes lit up. He wasn’t overly bright but when he heard collect newspapers he immediately thought of we inmates as free labor, when he made the connection of free paper with free labor that represented one hundred percent profit.
His head bobbed back forward. ‘You don’t say? They’ll take as much as they can get, huh? Hmmm.’
As he sat over his coffee that evening running over his list of cons and cheats the thought of China and paper re-entered his mind. The thought of such an immediate return appealed to him. Pressing us into use without compensation gratified his need for cleverness, for: ‘The little fools will never know how they are being used.’ Then too, as the paper would have to be baled he could charge the cost of the paper press to the Home and get free use of it. Also he could make Cappy and Skippy overseers of we mere collectors so that they would be commanding their inferiors. The Darwens would get all the benefits and we, simple fools that we were, would do all the work. Then too, he could represent the collection to us as charitable thereby doubly gulling us. It penciled out on paper. The Fiddler ordered a paper press for the Home.
There were some dozen of us who for whatever reasons agreed to collect paper for him. I really should have known better, others did, but then what other excitement was there that summer. Darwen went out and cadged some Western Flyer wagons to transport the papers. He gathered us out on the front porch to give us our instructions.
That morning they were bringing the little five year old back from the hospital. I went over and looked at him as they carried him out of the ambulance on a stretcher. He looked a lot worse than I remembered feeling when I had mine out. He saw me, recognized me and gave me a weak smile. I was apprehensive for him.
Darwen finished up his chatter; the Jr. Fiddlers were trying to be important when I and my two teammates pulled our wagon down the driveway to begin asking householders for their scrap paper. It was a very humiliating experience. I had known how clownish I looked in my oversized shoes and attire. I knew that we looked worse than our school mates. But between the Home and school it had been more or less tolerable. Now whatever door we knocked on we were greeted with unconcealed repugnance, hostility and derision. I suppose that the fact that we were from the Orphanage and collecting for ‘charity’ got us their old papers. Even then they degraded us to get them. Sometimes we had to clean the place where they kept the old papers, sometimes we had to dig around in the dirt to separate them. As a side lesson I began to learn about public appearances and private realities.
All told the various teams collected a fair amount that first day. We were able to bale up a half dozen bales.
I was feeling pretty glum about our treatment that day. I sat brooding after the paper had been baled when I remembered the kid who had had his tonsils out. I decided to go to the dispensary to see how he was doing. They had him in an unsupervised room behind a closed door. I turned the knob and opened the door. I jumped back in horror. The kid’s premonition had been right, something had gone wrong. He was coughing uncontrollably. Little droplets of blood spattered me as I saw the walls and ceiling covered with red dots. I ran for the dining room where I knew some house mothers were.
I ran up before one: ‘Come quickly, come quickly, the boy with the tonsils is dying.’ I yelled excitedly.
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake Farley, he’s not dying.’ she replied ironically.
‘Yes he is, yes he is, there’s blood all over.’ I yelled.
‘Farley, you always…’ She began’
‘No I don’t always.’ I yelled grabbing her arm and pulling desperately. ‘Come on, come on, he’s dying.’
The metal state of these women was not too far removed from ours but now she condescended to humor me. ‘Oh, all right Farley, but I’m going to be angry with you if there’s nothing wrong.’
Needless to say she sprang into action when she saw the room. The boy had lost a lot of blood. He was gone from the Home a long time. I never saw him come back and don’t know what happened to him.
I set out with my companions with a heavier heart the next day. By then the word had got out that we were coming and our reception was even less cordial. So here we ragamuffins were in our ludicrous clothing, I, in those ridiculous oversize shoes, begging from door to door for yesterday’s newspapers. I was determined that this was my last try when we stumbled on the house of Mrs. Stout. I was overjoyed. I jumped up and down. ‘Mrs. Stout, Mrs. Stout.’ But this was a different Mrs. Stout than at the Home. She at first had no idea of our purpose and thought I had sought her out. A momentary look of displeasure was effaced as she slid into her Children’s Home mode. Her relief was evident when we explained our mission and she realized she had been discovered accidentally. I perceived the whole situation but gave no indication of my comprehension.
At the Orphanage she was all love and care. here at her home we were an unpleasant reminder of another world. Mr. Stout, who must have been unemployed, came out to look at us with evident disgust. His two boys hung back as though we had the plague. There at Mrs. Stout’s I became really aware for the first time that we of the orphanage cut a different figure. Under Mr. Stout’s rebuking eye I began to critically examine the fat woman, her scroungy husband, two scruffy kids and unkempt house.
As I looked at her two kids I spotted the similarity of our clothes. The difference was that theirs fit and matched. I looked at the shoes of the younger one and my blood froze. He was wearing my old shoes. I grasped the half-truth and leaped to a conclusion. Mrs. Stout had only found the shoes the next day and realized they would be perfect for her youngest son within a few months. She appropriated them as she did with any item that caught her eye. Now, I thought that she had had them taken off my feet for her boy. My heart filled with rancor towards her.
The Eloy were well dressed. I could see that these kids were dressed Morlock level. I could feel, if not exactly see, that the difference between these kids and us was as great or greater than the difference between them and the Eloy. The full horror of my situation hit me. I rejected the fullness of it but the flavor lingered.
While I had been concentrating on my thoughts Mr. Stout had been chastising Mrs. Stout who was trying to impose discretion on him to no avail.
Mr. Stout was vociferating: ‘What rock in hell did this crowd crawl out from under? Is this the trash you associate with at that goddamned place?’
I felt my companions wither on their vines. I saw their self-respect flit like bats from a cave at sundown. I was sorry for them. I had already been trained by hardships. I had also seen the ‘good life’ at Mrs. Johnson’s. I had been able to build up a tenuous sense of self worth. I looked steadily at the man finding nothing admirable. He was a poor breadwinner. He should have been at work and he didn’t even have a job in the flushest job market ever. His house, garage and yard were a mess. His child was standing in my shoes. He couldn’t even clothe his own children. At that moment I believed everything Mrs. Miller had said about men. They were contemptible.
I was collecting my thoughts to tell him what he was when Mrs. Stout interjected: ‘For God’s sake hush, Jim. They can’t help themselves. You’d have to see that place to believe it. I don’t know what Jack Darwen’s scheme is but he’s obviously using them for something.’
We threw the papers she gave us on top of the wagon. I stopped and looked up at Mrs. Stout. ‘You won’t be coming back to the home, will you.’
I made it an affirmative statement, not a question. She looked back at me and shrugged.
With heavy hearts and studied expressions we made our way back to the Orphanage. None of us had an appetite for further collections. Further collections proved unnecessary for, from our perspective, Mr. Darwen had lost interest in the project. What had actually happened was that in the time that the Fiddler heard about it and our collection, incredibly, the market had collapsed as the Communists drove Chiang Kai Chek across China. Darwen was stuck with a paper press and several thousand pounds of baled paper stored in a room on the ground floor of the Orphanage. Life is full of freaks; Darwen was robbing the Home from one end to the other but those silly bales of paper which he hadn’t even stolen would give him away.
Darwen would have let the matter drop there with a disgusted wave of the hand had not Angela Darwen insisted that he do something nice for his collectors. Darwen put his bow to the fiddle. ‘Something’ was a little gathering in his bedroom. His apartment, adjacent to our dorm on the fourth floor consisted of three bedrooms, a bathroom and a small kitchen/dinette. How Angela Darwen put up with the man I never could understand.
Darwen gathered six of us who had collected papers and his two sons in his bedroom. This was a small room. Some of us sat on Darwen’s bed, I and another leaned against his footboard. Cappy and Skippy stood in front of the bathroom door. On the side of the room opposite their mother, Angela Darwen, stood against the wall by the door leading into the dorm, double delta style, watching. I hope she was the kind of woman I thought she was. I could love her no longer if she wasn’t.
The Old Master Fiddler was in high spirits as he was about to again display his consummate skill. He gave a couple of winks to Cappy and Skippy, drew his mouth back on the right side in a cunning smile and announced: ‘All right, guys, we know you worked hard. To show our appreciation for your efforts we’re going to give you a little reward. Let me ask you, what do you think your efforts were worth?’
I’d already thought about that one. I piped up fully expecting him to give it: ‘A dollar, Mr. Darwen.’
My evaluation was greeted with a chorus of yesses.
Darwen gave an alarmed look as though he hadn’t expected a fair price to be asked.
‘No. No. Now, hold on. If I gave you all a dollar I wouldn’t have anything left over for myself. That wouldn’t be right would it? No, of course not. I’ve got a box of chocolates in my hand.’
‘Yeah.’ I said to myself. ‘Like we’re going to get a box of chocolates when you won’t give us a dollar.’ I don’t know why guys like Darwen don’t think that people see those winks, but they don’t. They are apparently so absorbed in their own cleverness that they think the world is too stupid to catch on.
I had been standing alert readying myself for a just reward. I now eased back off the balls of my feet unto my heels and slumped against the footboard. I could see the con coming from that dishonest son-of-a-bitch.
‘Now, I can’t give you a dollar but you’re each going to get to choose one piece of chocolate.’
My face flushed with wrath which he probably thought was anticipation. My heart was filled with gall because of the remarks of Mr. Stout, and this yo-yo is going to offer me one piece of candy. Then too I knew that the tale had not been told.
‘Now,’ Mr. Darwen continued. ‘One lucky person is going to get a nickel because one piece of chocolate has a nickel in the wrapper.’
Well, I knew for a fact that there were only two lucky people in the room and that must have been what the winks were for. Skippy and Cappy had not done a thing but they not only were getting a chocolate but one of them was going to get the nickel.
I glowered absolute contempt at Darwen. He offered the box to me with his thumb on one of the chocolates. ‘Aw, I don’t deserve a chocolate.’ I said. ‘Let someone who deserves it more than I have it. Give it to Skippy or Cappy.’
‘Nonsense, Farley, you’ve put in your effort, as little as it was, you should have one too.’
I tried to get the one he had his thumb on. He pulled the box back and shook his head no at me. I sullenly took another. The others tore theirs open looking for the nickel. I held mine behind my back waiting for the announcement. Cappy held his piece out tauntingly: ‘I got it.’ He said with a smirk that stated his superiority. While he drew their attention I bent down and flipped mine under their bed.
‘Well, I guess Cappy’s just naturally luckier than you orphan kids.’ Darwen chuckled.
Lucky my oversized shoes, you crooks. I thought.
At that moment Jack Darwen was the very epitome of authority, self-seeking and rotten to the core. He, they, would rig every contest, drawing or lottery to gratify their desires. The winner is always known in advance if you know the players. There is no need to participate in these events. No matter how difficult it may be to rig these things they are all rigged. Don’t hold your breath.
As much as I loved Angela Darwen I looked over at her and despised her. She must have known it wasn’t all luck. She and Jack must talk these things over. A man’s only a man and is subject to innumerable faults but the jerk she was married to was beneath contempt. I looked at her in wonder; I didn’t care what anyone thought of me, I was better than than the whole damn world. My contempt rose, developed and flowered. How could anyone respect those contemptible beings.
I stored up the disgust I felt for Darwen in my heart. My heart still rankled over his taking the Flying Horse Of Oz out of my hands. I soon became witness to the futher perfidy of the Fiddler. The last little bit of humilation, unsuccessful humiliation, that Hirsh had had of me was the song of the young house mother. Hirsh had a fantasy of me in which I was to become a ‘honey dipper’ in adult life. A ‘honey dipper’ was one who cleaned the pits of outdoor toilets. ‘Honey dippers’ were legendary in my youth but I never actually saw one. It was a discreet insult to call someone a ‘honey dipper.’ the reply, of course, was ‘I’ll bring up a little something for your lunch.’ Outdoor toilets were disappearing fast as, I imagine, was the vocation of ‘honey dipper.’
One day as Hirsh was driving West up Sandy, which crossed Nelson at the North side of the Home, he spotted some of the boys atop the lid of the garbage bin. It immediately occurred to him what pleasure it would give him to see me up there. It seemed the appropriate place for what he considered human garbage. He pulled some strings. Now, the guys who sat up there had fought for and claimed it for their very own. All of a sudden they were down and recommending the place to me. Well it was a nice sunny spot of a morning and I took it. Those guys who had fought for and defended the place now walked off saying: ‘The garbage is where you belong.’ I found the comment highly amusing coming from guys who had honored the place for weeks.
There was a dark haired man who strolled past and said with a little chuckle: ‘Say, that looks like a nice place to sit.’ He was not of the Home so I couldn’t see or hear him. I sat as though alone.
Jack Warden had gutted the library and old clothes weren’t prime income, the newspaper scheme had fallen through so the Fiddler was looking for an additional source of income. Jack wasn’t really very smart. He now hit on the idea of selling our food stores. Darwen was incapable of discerning the difference between charitable contributions like clothes and books and expenses like food stores that were purchased and could be traced. No one had said anything about the clothes and books, why should they say anything about provisions? One of the things that made John D. Rockefeller luckier than the Fiddler was that he could distinguish between the two categories but that little detail escaped the attention of ‘unlucky Jack.’
Jack wasn’t especially discreet either. As I sat up on the garbage bin and watched he had the driver back his van right up to the pantry door, literally door to door so you could step out of the pantry into the truck. And in broad daylight. I was too young to fully understand yet I watched in amazement munching on an apple. It was like watching an old time movie.
The driver noticed me. As a thief, he had more caution than the Fiddler. He looked at Jack and nervously tilting his head in my direction asked: ‘Do you think its wise to do this with him watching?’
Mr Darwen burst out into derisive laughter: ‘Him? That kid is worthless. He’s so ineffectual that I doubt he could string enough words together to tell anybody.’
Darwen probably found that chocolate under his bed and ate it.
Darwen was right to an extent. I didn’t have much power; but then the Lord moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform and chooses strange vessels to perform them.
I had entered Hirsh’s mind like a disease. I was the bitterness that gave the juice of the poison red berries their flavor. He was becoming increasingly obsessed with me because I wouldn’t render homage. The fact that I had completely ignored him, one of the leading citizens of the Valley, from my perch on the garbage bin seared his soul.
He had missed me in the third grade but he had wonderful plans for the fourth grade. But this was midsummer and school was a long way off. He needed emotional reinforcement. He had reacted to my indifference by feeling ridiculous, even clownish. He conceived a desire to make me even more ridiculous looking than I already was and he felt.
That left him with nothing to work with but my hair. I still had a decent haircut. There was a woman named Mildred who worked in the kitchen. Hirsh had known her in high school. He now showed a little interest in her and was able to do her a couple small favors. He did want a favor in return. It was nothing she couldn’t do without a clear conscience. He merely wanted her to give me money for a haircut at a specific barbershop. Dave was a big man, he gave the fifty cents out of his own pocket.
Mildred collared me and told me I was to get a haircut at Job’s Tonsorial over on Roth St. I was surprised because the Home brought in their own barber who cut the whole fourth floor at one time. I had no reason to doubt that a new system was in effect as I took the fifty cents from her and started for Roth St.
Roth St. was a fairly long walk. I was irritated because I was sure their were other shops closer. But I found the place. As I walked in a fellow talking to the barber said: ‘This is him, Job.’ I should have walked out but I had my assignment. I always tried to be very conscientious in fulfilling any task. As an orphan it was very necessary that I show that I was competent. The Barber was more timid but his friend showed that air of expectant hostility as he reached for the phone to dial a number and say: ‘He’s here.’
I was looking over the shop and spied a poster over the window. The poster exhibited men from the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force with what were supposed to be representative haircuts of each service. I studied them for a moment. As I got into the chair I said: ‘I’ll have the haircut like the guy in the Navy.’
The barber diddled around while his fellow made some insulting comments that I didn’t like. Then through the window I saw a new car drive up and park across the street. This was still 1947; it took a little pull to get a new car. The guy was a dark haired man who flipped a newspaper in front of him with a sly smile while he stared at me from a face turned a quarter in my direction, not the right way to catch the light. Something was up and I knew it, but I didn’t know what.
I asked who the guy in the car was to show that I was hep. Both men disclaimed knowledge. I also saw that the barber was butchering my hair. Tufts stood up all over my head. I had cowlicks where no one had ever had cowlicks before. ‘Hey.’ I said. ‘That’s not like the guy in the Navy. Look at the picture.’ I asked him to correct the cut before it was too late. Both men just laughed at me. I was angry. When they persisted I got furious. The barber and his pal got abusive. Now, I was only a little boy. I was only nine. I was baffled by my treatment. I had never seen grown men treat a little boy like I was being treated. But what could I do? Curse them, but so what?
The barber’s pal gave a nod over at the car and said: ‘This ought to make him happy.’
I was yelling at the barber demanding he correct the haircut.
‘Aw, shut up you little bastard, you’re lucky you’ve still got hair. Now, gurrahere.’ He slurred kicking me toward the door.
There was nothing for it. I was outnumbered and outmanned. I stormed out of the shop to the guffaws of the guy in the car across the street. Hirsh’s god was watching him as I stormed down the street in high dudgeon.
‘Where did you get that haircut?’ One of the house mohers commented wryly. I hadn’t been happy about it. My impotent anger and stormy walk as I disappeared down the street to his unheard chuckles must have pleased Hirsh greatly. Not as much as the arrival of the new school year. I was to begin the fourth grade as a caricature of a comic strip buffoon. Everyone would have a good laugh on me for as long as they liked. Hirsh, at the time, whether at work or walking down the street would tilt his head back swallow an involuntary laugh as his face lit up with delight. He chuckled to himself as he ladled soup in his mouth at dinner while Michael gave him an appreciative smile in return in the midst of chewing and swallowing.
When I left third grade I was made aware of a distinction that had escaped me. In the hubbub of entering the Orphanage and Longfellow all my efforts had been directed to keeping my head above water. Thus I had it explained to me that there were two classrooms for each grade. A room where the ‘better’ kids attended and a room to which we of the orphanage were relegated along with the lesser of the better. This would explain some of the hostility directed at me- us- by those of the better who had been condemned to attend with we of the least.
I had been unaware that there were two third grade classrooms. But as third grade ended one of the Eloy jabbed me in the chest with his finger while explaining viciously that in the fourth grade I would not be in the first class like he but the second which is exactly where I belonged. I didn’t understand why I had been singled out for such treatment. It was because I was an uppity nigger. I should have known my place but I wouldn’t take it. Well, the charge was inaccurate but I was guilty.
At that time I convinced myself that I would be assigned to the better classroom. So I walked down to school, discovered the room and took a seat. The room was large bright and airy. It even smelled good. A row of large windows facing East rose into a high ceiling.
I sat there with my clown shoes, bizarre clothing and spiky hair drawing the scandalized stares and exclamations of fellow students who looked as dissimilar to me as possible. I knew at that time that a crime was being committed against me.
The teacher called roll without mentioning my name. Looking at me with mild disapproval she asked: ‘Is there anyone who’s name I didn’t call?’
The Blacks call it slippin’ and slidin’. Perhaps if I had said nothing and continued to attend for a few days when discovered I might have been able to slip into the class and continue to occupy the extra seat that I was sitting in. But I raised my hand being unfamiliar with slippin’ and slidin’. I was ejected from class. I resisted as stoutly as I ever have; I did not accept the ejection in good grace. I wanted to be in that class.
I was half pulled, half led to the other class. It was in a daylight basement. Irregularly shaped and in front of the furnace room. It was dark, close and, while not smelly, it was slightly aromatic. All my fellows from the Orphanage were lined against the South wall. They looked up as I was dragged in. I met the hostile glare of the Eloy condemned to share exile with us. I was not going to be less uppity in the fourth grade than the third. I refused to take a seat with the other orphans against the wall but assertively took a seat in front of the small narrow windows.
Trouble began immediately. I refused to accept the status accorded me. The others might accept being white niggers but I wouldn’t. I was unaware to a large extent of what was actually happening and how my actions were perceived by the Eloy.
The Beauty, or at least the most desirable girl, of the fourth grade was Susan Webster. She was the daughter of one of Beverly Webster- Hirsh’s sisters. I immediately decided that I would fall in love with her.
‘You gotta be crazy. You’re nuts Gresham. You’re not good enough for her. You dope. You live in the Orphanage. You’re nothing.’
That was wrong. I was something. In some vague way I decided to make a play for her. She was in the upstairs class. I waited for her one day to declare my love or some such. Word leaked out. As she came down the stairs, they were sort of a grand staircase leading to an atrium area around which were arranged the classrooms, various Webster’s and allied families like the Marshalls bounded down the stairs roughly pushing me away, holding me back, while others surrounded Susan Webster and protectively rushed her past me out of the schoolyard and down the street.
Many indignant glances were cast my way and cries of ‘You’d better watch your step, Gresham.’ I dismissed the idea. I didn’t know her and I could see that I wasn’t going to get anywhere. They, however, did not dismiss my attempt so lightly. I had given them a grave affront.
A delegation was organized to go to the Children’s Home to advise them to warn me to keep my place. I was in my invaluable listening post, the library, when they arrived. You don’t have to be a man or woman of the world to know that no Hirshes, Websters, or Marshalls were represented in their ranks. No, these indignant mothers and daughters were of that station beneath the top and just above the bottom of the middle class. The elite never do their own dirty work; they find others to do it for them.
As is the case on these occasions they were dressed to reflect their quality. They were wearing better than their Sunday best. The clothes were Easter Parade quality. The manners were hoity-toity. To indicate the distance between themselves and ‘our class’ they affected that peculiar manner of speaking that is thought to express real quality. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke in that high pitched, roof of the mouth, almost nasal, trilling, thrilling manner. With her, though it was absurd, it was natural. With these women it was stilted and affected.
I listened in astonishment as I quickly realized they were talking about me. I had really offended them by my presumption in approaching Susan Webster. They explained to the really astonished clerk the difference between their children and the inmates. The differences were so great that had we had intercourse no offspring would have been possible. They didn’t say that exactly but the idea was that we were two different species like cats and rats. We were inferior. The other inmates knew their place but I was a problem. They wanted the clerk to talk to me and make me understand. The clerk was flabbergasted. She was somewhat hurt by the comparison, feeling it unjust, and she also knew better than to approach me with such a message. She said so. She invited them to tell me themselves. the ladies and daughters politely declined and left with a threatening: ‘Well, we can’t be held responsible for whatever happens.’ If not, then, who?
David Hirsh’s actions and attitude toward me had drawn some attention. Thwarted by my move from Emerson to Longfellow in the third grade he had devised an elaborate plan to obtain submission, actually a surrogate of submission, in the fourth grade. It was a dangerous plan for him and he should not have attempted it. It involved far too many people and was far too open.
Solomon, David’s father, had picked up bits and pieces from chance remarks from David and he had had the plan explained to him by a friend who became aware of it. Solomon found a moment to talk to this son.
‘David, my son, the thing you are doing with this boy, don’t you think that perhaps the situation is getting out of hand. I know the grief you feel, you have explained it to me, because of what happened to Michael because of this boy. I agree with you that our family has been wronged. But what you are proposing now will put our family in jeopardy if it fails, which, forgive me my son, I think it must.’
‘I want him to submit to Michaels’ authority father.’
‘I know, I know, my son. But Michael is Michael, he is only himself. God has made us significant and God had made this boy insignificant. In the very nature of things he is inferior to our Michael and must submit in fact in not in fancy. He is an orphan, he must remain an orphan. The passing of time and the will of the Upper will abase him very low. Oh, I know that King Arthur, Romulus and Remus and Theseus among others also were waifs and that they succeeded in being mighty but that was in accordance with God’s will because they were noble children who only realized their birthright after many trials. But these are almost legendary and the goiim lie. Those things can’t happen in this modern age. The boy is doomed to failure. God has willed it. Let God deal with him.’
‘But, he publicly humiliated our Michael, your grandson, father, he has to be publicly humiliated himself. He must accept Michael as his superior.’
‘Listen, David, my son, please listen to your old father. The Lord of the World, Our God, the God of Vengeance, has said ‘Vengeance is mine.’ He has selected us to prosper and he has blighted this boy’s life. God is wiser than all of us. He is all knowing. We have only to submit to his His will and accept It. Please leave justice in God’s hands, my son. Hear me this one time.’
David hesitated, looked left at the floor and right at the ceiling. Filial devotion contended with his shattered pride in his breast. He looked at his father and said: ‘I will see if there isn’t some other solution first. But, if he rejects it, then…’
‘I know that you will do what is best, my son.’ Solomon said bowing slightly to David.
According to my mind the Eternal was a weak reed to lean on. Interpreted in their light, the Lord was about to avert his countenance because they had failed to observe his Law.
David felt he must honor his father’s request even though he understood nothing of his argument. He really wanted a public humiliation that I would acknowledge. He sat and thought. He thought and he came up with what he thought was an acceptable compromise. Unfortunately the script was not given to me to learn my part. The answer was as clear to David as anything had ever been. It was a beautiful vision. While not a fully public humiliation it would involve himself and Michael and the six Eloy boys while the Eloy girls could observe from windows. David thought it might be acceptable.
Actually he had a sneaking admiration for my resistance. What he thought was a failure of his plan in the second grade impressed him with my fortitude. In deference to Solomon he thought that after I had submitted to himself and Michael I might even be adopted as a sort of an auxiliary or mascot. After the plan succeeded.
David had a fair grasp of the Bible. He had learned it all at Fortress of God but it did embrace both Testaments. A singular attainment for a Jew. He had also understood the text without the fantastic interpretations placed on it by the Protestants.
As David looked out his window on the corner of Kishinev and Hephep he spied the pump across the street mid-block on Kishinev.
In those days in the Valley, tap water was considered too impure to drink. It was used only for cooking and bathing. Drinking water was obtained in buckets from pumps; the upright kind with the handle that moves the plunger up and down to draw water. Many people had private pumps on their property. For those who didn’t public pumps were placed in various locations beside the street.
David Hirsh looked out at this pump. As he looked a passage from the New Testament of John forced its way into his consciousness. It was a popular text of the time amongst preachers. He got out Beverly’s Bible and said: ‘Let’s see, John…here it is, Chapter 4.’ He read:
5. Then cometh He to a city in Samaria which is called Sychar near to a parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
6. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore being wearied with his journey sat thus on the well; and it was about the sixth hour.
7. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus saith unto her: Give me to drink.
8. (For his deciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.)
9. Then saith the woman of Samaria unto Him; How is it that thou being a Jew, asketh drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria for the Jews have no dealings with the Samarians.
10. Jesus answered and said unto her; if thou knowest the gift of God and who it is saith to thee; Give me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of him and he would have given thee ‘living’ water.
11. The woman saith unto him; Sir, thou hast nothing to draw water and the well is deep; from whence then hast thou that ‘living’ water?
12. Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself and his children and cattle?
13. Jesus answered and said unto her, Whomsoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.
14. But, whomsoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
15. The woman saith unto Him; Sir, give me this water that I thirst not neither come here to draw.
The story meshed in David Hirsh’s mind with his desires. He cast me in the role of the Samarian woman; the six Eloy boys and the six Eloy girls as Jesus’ disciples with himself in the role of Jesus. If I recognized to whom I spake and made proper obeisance he would extend the ‘living’ water of forgiveness to me whereby I would never thirst again in the sense that he and the Eloy would cease to torment me and even accord to a ‘Samarian’ a sense of dignity by adopting me into their group as a mascot. Nor, in the social sense of both school and orphanage was such a role to be necessarily despised. There were many others, both orphans and parented kids, who would have accepted the role with alacrity and pride.
As David conned the idea in three dimensional relief in his mind it seemed perfect. He had written out all the parts down to my responses. It would not have been necessary for me to say anything. He mused on it with relish for more than an hour projecting the scenario over and over. It seemed perfect. There was the added fillup that as a Samarian or Canaanite I would be fulfilling the Biblical prophecy that the Canaanites should be hewers of wood and carriers of water for the Israelites. Hirsh’s mind was actually dazzled by the brilliance of the scheme.
Solomon had spoken wisely to David but David would not hear. His Biblical precepts had had no effect on him and he had none of classical education. He was now allowing his primal unfettered, uninstructed desires to impel him on a course that would contribute nothing to his welfare. Millennia of experience and education lay fallow. Man is by nature a savage beast. Hirsh was acting the natural man. After who knows how many millennia of unrestrained bestiality man began to find ways, or proximity to other men compelled him to find ways, to curb his unrestrained inclinations. As the state gained power laws were passed and enforced to restrain those passions and bring order into affairs. On the intellectual level two avenues of attack were attempted. On the one hand the authors of the Bible attempted to restrain base impulses by creating a God who created order and to impose that order ordained habits that one must observe. The observance of these habits or rules took up the whole of man’s days and life. Thus the authors of the Bible encased man in a concrete straight jacket, a superstructure to compel him to abandon his bestial instincts, an attempt to replace the individual’s will with ‘God’s’ will. There is always an astonishing naivete in Biblical prescriptions. There are many who assert, even in this day and age, that God wrote the Bible. When He did He failed to note that he had created a round world revolving around the sun. This was a cardinal error that astonishes one. For in a round world with a crust over a molten core the weight of the crust pressing inward caused the crust to fracture into what later pundits, perhaps not so familiar with the will of God, have called tectonic plates. As the world turns the tectonic plates move. As in the North Pacific plate it creeps North and West at a steady rate. Thus the Hawaiian Islands are strung out West and North of the permanent hot spot from which magma constantly bubbles up from the core.
Human nature may be compared to the tectonic plates which God failed to recognize when, according to some, he prescribed the six hundred thirteen rules of conduct that all men should, or will someday, observe when his Law is established on earth by his Chosen People. Thus while the super structure is built up to direct men’s desires into non-destructive paths, man’s nature like the tectonic plates continues to creep along hurling the superstruction to the ground from time to time. Man’s will cannot be so encased, to believe so is to embrace a false premise. Plucking among the wreckage of the attempt a fellow discovered psychology. Hirst was at this moment failing his God.
Hirsh knew nothing of the other attempt to control one’s nature that might be contained in the prescription: Know Thyself. Certain other thinkers realized that human nature could not be contained but must be altered at the tectonic level. Thus they did not impose a created order on things but said that all was ever in the process of becoming. That’s the difference between religion and science.
They said: Know thyself. Understand your nature and adjust it to your needs. Apply reason and intelligence to altering your behavior to produce more desirable results. Restrain and direct your impulses along productive paths. David Hirsh, had he been aware of such an approach, like most of mankind, would have rejected it as interfering with his real self. He, as nearly all, would rather court disaster and blame the stars than become disciplined.
Reflecting the American portion of his education David Hirsh dearly loved a turkey shoot. I would be defenseless; entirely at his mercy. Like the Indians at Sand Creek, Thatcher’s Pass and Wounded Knee he would to the equivalent of striking at dawn while the enemy was asleep in his teepee.
The only crime the Indians had committed was being in America first. My crime was rather like the coal miners at Holly Grove who had refused their services to the mine owners. They went out on strike. As a result they had been compelled to vacate their company housing and had removed to a tent city. As they peacefully slept of a morning an armored train pulled slowly up the tracks and stopped before their tents. Volley after volley of machine gun fire was poured into the sleeping miners. Indians at Wounded Knee, White miners at Holly Grove.
But perhaps I am being too hard on American mores. Perhaps they are the universal mores of the common man. Perhaps the common man dearly loves a defenseless victim. The Nazis, who were as common as you can get, dearly loved to beat a bound victim. The favorite execution of the Communists who vied with the Nazis for the expression of basal instincts was a pistol shot in the back of the head of a bound kneeling victim. Also a favorite of the criminals of the lower East Side.
So as Hirsh set his plans in motion it was with the elation of perfect concealment. I would be the victim but I would never know what happened. Yet, somehow, we always destroy ourselves.
As the maples turned red and the leaves took on their varied hues Mildred called me into the kitchen one day.
‘How’d you like to make yourself useful for a change, Far?’ She said sweetly leaning forward to my level and giving me a hint of what grown men so desire. I gasped. They were lovely, even if I had only the vaguest notion of such desires.
She touched my vanity. I did want to be useful. I wanted to do anything that would make me feel worthwhile and build my self-esteem.
‘Sure.’ I said enthusiastically. ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘Far, I want you to take these two buckets and go to the well on Kishinev Street and fill them for me.’
I was taken back on a couple of accounts.
‘Well, what’s wrong with the pump over there that you always use?’ I said pointing to the pump that was sunk through the counter into the aquifer.
‘That’s broken.’ She lied.
My next response was: ‘Kishinev St? That’s a long way away.’
Then I thought I would show how really useful I could be. ‘You know, Milly.’ I said as manfully as possible, I was remembering those wonderful breasts. ‘There’s a pump only three blocks away. I could use that one, it’ll be closer and faster.’
‘No, Farley, honey. I want you to use the well on Kishinev St.’
‘But Milly, that’s a long way away and the buckets of water are heavy and I’m not very big.’
‘Do you want to be useful or not, Farley.’ It doesn’t take much to steal candy from a baby. Of course I wanted to be useful.
She handed me a couple two and half gallon buckets and I set off for Kishinev St. I made a jog and found Hephep St. which ran East-West. Kishinev ran North-South. The day was one of those beautiful days of early Indian Summers. Fluffy white clouds glided across a cerulean sky. The air was clear and becoming crisp as it was about four o’clock. I strode along with my buckets happy to make my contribution to the happiness of the Home if not mankind.
Hephep took a little dogleg at Kishinev so that David Hirsh’s house faced squarely down Hephep giving him a clear view for several blocks. The streets of the Valley were lined with old giant trees in those days before it became Little Lagos. Block on block the huge trees rose from the ground every thirty feet or so, to merge their canopy of leaves and branches with their neighbors while arching across the street to shake hands with their opposites. In the summer the verdant cover was beautiful, in the fall gorgeous, as the flaming leaves fell and space opened in the boughs for the light to shine through. As Hirsh looked anxiously out his window he thought he spied a form appearing alternately among the trunks of the trees. There was always a chance, in Hirsh’s mind, that I would ‘cheat’ and use a closer well. I was a good boy; I was too good. I passed up the closer well taking the long walk to Kishinev. Hirsh watched a while then smiled to himself when he knew it was me. He watched my little nine year old form as it got closer. He smiled broadly, reached up and tweaked his nose and said softly: ‘Isn’t God good to me.’
He slipped out the back door into the alley and came out mid-block to avoid being noticed by me. As I turned the corner on Kishinev I saw a tall dark man standing by the well. I should at least have recognized his face for I had seen him from the lid of the garbage bin and across the street from the barber shop. But a strange thing had happened to my mind when I died on the playground in the second grade. All the others died with me. I could not remember them. I shut the unpleasantness associated with them out of my consciousness. I could only recognize those with whom I was compelled to come into daily contact. I remembered but few names from the past and not many faces. People like Hirsh passed through my life like ghosts. They might seem vaguely familiar after I encountered them but I was never aware of how I might have known them. The trait would frustrate and anger the Eloy as our paths later crossed. They remembered me very well and by rights I should have known them. But I didn’t. I ignored them and they attributed it to willful arrogance.
The form was vaguely familiar, enough so to make me vaguely apprehensive. David Hirsh was now twenty-nine. For some reason he was beginning to walk with a faint stoop. His hair was still dark and his hairline was intact. Much of the handsomeness of his youth was leaving him. He was one of those who seem to grow thinner as time passes. The fat that lies under the skin of the face was beginning to evaporate. The skin of his forehead was beginning to grow taut and assume a parchment like quality. the angularities of his face were becoming apparent as the flesh evaporated. His former fine straight nose had developed a bump just below eye level. Not to the effect of a Roman Nose but a disfiguring hump. His nose was becoming more prominent as the flesh disappeared from the side bases. His bitter temperament was rising to the surface and was beginning to be displayed about his eyes and mouth.
I eyed him apprehensively as I separated my buckets to place one under the spout. It seemed odd that a grown man would be hanging around an obscure pump on a side street.
Hirsh had memorized, or nearly memorized John 4. He had been reciting it to himself while waiting for me. He was nearly beside himself with the success of his plan. Here I was delivered, as it were, at his feet.
He was behaving oddly. Actually he had made me look as he felt. He had always felt uncomfortable and an outsider because he was Jewish. He had always felt he had to demonstrate his power. When that power was frustrated as it had been by my mother, father and myself, he turned the failure back in upon himself and derided himself. He felt like a clown. Thus he had made me clownish as vengeance for having made him feel clownish. I looked as he felt, but tried to feel as he looked when among his equals. There was a strange reversal of roles present.
Hirsh had a handkerchief in his hand which he held before his breast twisting it like a woman in anguish. He writhed before me now placing one foot behind him on tiptoe now the the other. He spoke to me in a strange falsetto as though he were the woman at the well and I was the Christ. He was totally unaware of his actions and their effect on me.
‘Give me a drink of water little water boy.’ He trilled at me in that strange falsetto.
I looked at him like he was crazy. As he became feminine I adopted an exaggerated manliness beyond my years.
‘Don’t you live around here, mister?’ I asked.
‘Yes.’ He cooed in that falsetto. ‘But I want you to give me a drink.’
I looked at him in amazement. What he was he going to do, drink from the bucket?
‘There’s the spout.’ I volunteered generously. ‘I’ll pump it for you.’
‘But I don’t have a cup, how shall I drink?’ He trilled.
‘Well, cup your hand like we all do and suck it up into your mouth.’
‘Oh gracious, I couldn’t do that.’ He said in that high voice.
‘Well, look mister. I got a long walk ahead of me, so I’ve got to fill my buckets.’
I levered the handle up and down as the water splashed into the bucket. He stood there twisting and gyrating. I kept him apprehensively in the corner of my eye.
I filled the buckets all the way. When I left the ninth grade I was five feet even and ninety-eight pounds. I don’t know how big I was but I couldn’t have been over four feet or eighty pounds. When I hoisted the buckets they weren’t more than an inch or two off the ground and they must have weighed, at least they felt like it, as much as I did. You can see how diabolically clever Hirsh was.
I was surprised by the weight and for the first time realized the magnitude of being useful. It was going to be a long eight blocks back. I not only had to lift up but hold the buckets away from my body. The circumference of the rim was fourteen or sixteen inches so I had to raise up and push out, it was impossible to push the full buckets far enough away so that they wouldn’t bump against my legs and spill all over me. Then too, the wire handles cut into my fingers and nearly ripped my knuckles apart. Hirsh turned away and bit his knuckle to suppress his laughter.
I blew out my breath and set the buckets down while I mentally reevaluated my task. I realized that an evil man stood before me as Hirsh suppressing a chuckle but unable to suppress his glee at my discomfiture said, his voice quivering with malicious laughter:
‘Say, that’s a mighty big job for a little man like you’ His voice had returned to his normal range.
‘I can handle it.’ I said in my most manly voice attempting to ignore him.
His face took on a subdued vicious cast as he made an offer to alieviate my suffering: ‘You know, those handles are likely to cut into your fingers. You should have a couple rags so it won’t hurt so much.’
Like a cat with his foot in a trap I knew that I was being ridiculed but like the cat I didn’t know what to do about it. The cat will sit down and unconcernedly groom himslef hoping that the trap will be gone when next he tries to walk away. My mind churned. I had no idea who the guy was or what he wanted of me.
My brow clouded and my voice lowered as I said: ‘Yeah, mister, I’ve done this before. The rags only get in your way and they pack down after a few steps and hurt just as much. So, if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got a job to do.’
Hirsh stepped in front of me to prevent my leaving.
‘Oh, so you’re experienced at this are you my little man?’ His voice began in its normal range and ended in that falsetto coo.
‘Well, then, little boy, you should know about those little wooden handles that knowledgeable people like myself have on their bucket handles to protect their hands. I’m surprised a knowledgeable little fellow like you didn’t think of that beforehand.’ He said in a spiteful tone.
He was too obvious. My brows hooded my deep set eyes as I realized I was being made sport of.
‘You should ask for those handles when you get back to the orphanage.’
He had made a mistake in referring to the orphanage but my distres at the magnitude of my task prompted by Hirsh’s needling prevented my from responding. His egoism prevented his noticing.
Unaware that I was talking to a man with ‘living’ water to offer me I found him just a man with too much water for his land. I was failing Hirsh’s test.
‘Yeah, that’s a good suggestion. I’ll ask for them when I get back to the Home.’ I said unconsciously acknowledging his slip. ‘But now I’ve got work to do. I have to get going before it gets dark.’
My eyes bulged as I hoisted the buckets and pushed them as far away from my body as possible. After I had taken only a couple steps the water had splashed over the rims dowsing my pants and running into my shoes.’
Hirsh shook with laughter as he said with controlled viciousness: ‘For an experienced little fellow you’ve really overfilled your buckets. I would think an old hand like you would have known better.’
I didn’t know who he was or what he was doing, rather than dealing with Jesus I thought I was dealing with Satan. I wanted to be away from him. I gratified his ego by showing my exasperation. ‘Look mister, I know what I’m doing. Why don’t you mind your own business.’
David Hirsh flipped his finger at me as though to say: ‘Bing.’ and then turned laughing that falsetto laugh, flipping his forearms up over his shoulders like a girl, he skipped down the street saying something I couldn’t comprehend at the time. It was the twenty-second verse of John 5: ‘Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship for salvation is with the Jews.’
Four thousand years of history went down the tubes because today there is no salvation. The Truth for David Hirsh was lurking in the not too distant future.
My buckets were nearly half-empty by the time I turned the corner of Hephep. I trudged manfully back to the home to deliver my burden to Mildred. Hirsh had called ahead already.’
‘I’ll need two more tomorrow, Farley, OK?’
‘Sure, Milly, but say, here’s an idea. How about getting me a couple of those wooden handles so my hands won’t hurt so much. My fingers feel like they’re going to fall off.’
I had swallowed my pride and acted on Hirsh’s suggestion. I should have thought of it myself.
‘No, Sorry, Far, but those are all we have. You’ll have to use them. You’re a big boy aren’t you?’
I swallowed some more pride and decided to try rags; my hands were killing me.
The next afternoon I set out with my buckets and rags for the well on Kishinev St. I turned the corner of Hephep half expecting to find the old weirdo, but I was relieved to see he wasn’t there. Like any practiced thief who, suspected of shoplifting, seeks concealment by entering the shop next door, David Hirsh and his son Michael were standing before their bay window to watch the fun.
I had spilled half the water on the way back the previous day, so after a debate over whether to fill the buckets half or three quarters of the way I decided to pit my strength and skill against three quarters. As I rounded the corner of Hephep I found the six Eloy boys ranged in a gauntlet, three on each side of the sidewalk. The American male dearly loves the turkey shoot. Just as the coal operators had machine gunned the sleeping strikers, so I now, with both arms occupied, was to be ‘machine gunned’ by the Eloy. David and Michael Hirsh viewing the scene through their window began to laugh uproariously and hysterially at my predicament set up by their cleverness. They exchanged gleeful glances because they were so clever that I didn’t even know what was happening.
Our social differences had been deeply accentuated by my encounter with Hirsh the previous day. In the story the Jews despised the Samarian. As a Samarian I was untouchable to the Eloy; thus, while they meant to torment me, they had no intention of hitting me as that would involve a personal contact beneath their dignity.
They ran up to me in a very threatening manner but then kicked the bucket. The rags were already scrunched and in the way. The kicks aggravated the pain in my fingers. The Eloy shouted out comments like: ‘Come on Gresham, admit it, you’re a jerk. Or, say it Gresham, you’re not as good as we are.’ Or, ‘Yah, Gresham, you deserve it, admit it.’ Or, ‘Give it up Gresham and we’ll stop.’
I attempted to ignore them while returning epithets. It was their intention to gain my submission. It was my intention only to maintain my dignity. I was of the Orphanage, they weren’t. We had nothing in common. I had done nothing to them that I was aware of. I didn’t understand their attention, other than that they always tormented me.
At one point I set my buckets down to chase them. As I did so my arms shot up over my head because of the countervailing tension on my muscles from holding out the buckets. I had to exercise them to gain control of them. They only laughed at me and retreated beyond my reach, while a couple of them ran up to my buckets and tried to kick them over.
David and Michael Hirsh watching from their window were in stitches.
I was aware of the shrieks and gales of laughter but I was too preoccupied to pay attention. The shrieks and gales were coming from a couple of houses on Hephep that contained the Eloy girls. While David and Michael Hirsh watched from the end of the street the girls watched from the side of Hephep.
The gauntlet continued nearly to the end of the block when the Eloy boys gave up. With the exchange of a flurry of insults they left me with my buckets and my sense of duty.
For this incident was almost as vital to me as the scene in the second grade. I had undertaken the task solely because it made me feel useful. The task redeemed my sense of self-worth. It gave significance to my being. It made me feel significant in my own eyes. Hirsh was making me feel like a fool. He was negating my sense of redemption. He was a cruel and criminal man. Once again he was not aware of the extent to which he was succeeding. My self-respect had been crushed in the second grade and now my self-esteem was severely impaired. Whereas I assumed an aura of guilt in the former instance I now imbibed a spirit of sycophancy toward authority. I would become aware of this and to offset the characteristic I was forced to be at the same time disdainful. The combination produced an unusual affect and distaste toward myself.
At the same time a peculiar reversal of attitudes had taken place in my mind. I had reversed the roles. I became a martyr. I had subconsciously registered Hirsh’s retreating remark of the previous day: ‘Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship for salvation lies with the Jews.’ and assumed the role of the Jews while relegating Hirsh and the Eloy to the roles of Samarians. My personality would now become thoroughly confusing to others and a twisted, contorted burden to myself. Layer and layer of distraction was being added to my burden.
I gave Mildred the result of my effort. She informed me that the water would be needed the next day. I reluctantly agreed to do it.
The weather had been gorgeous the previous two days. As I turned the corner into Kishinev Street, this day was no exception. I had a vague notion of being put upon by Mildred; I certainly did not associate the dark man and the Eloy with Midred’s request, that would all come together later, but I couldn’t understand what made the Kishinev well better than the well that was only three blocks away. I thought that Mildred was a mean woman.
There was no Hirsh at the well and no Eloy as I turned the corner of Hephep. There was only a brilliant blue sky full of little fluffy daubs of clouds and the colorful autumn leaves gracefully gliding from the emerging black branches of the giant trees. The autumn leaves drifted past windows of the silent houses. David and Michael Hirsh and the Eloy watched silently from their posts, the Hirshes from Kishinev St and the Eloy from the houses on Hephep. They were silently condemning me. David Hirsh now thought he had to take the step against which his father, Solomon, had advised him.
Their faces were grim as they watched me waddle down the street carrying my burden amidst the falling leaves. Had a photographer been posted across the street on a porch roof he could have taken a charming picture. As I walked in my oversized shoes and waif like clothing with my spiky hair and who knows what expression on my face a red leaf floated into the middle of my right hand bucket. Unlike the previous day the scene was silent and placid. As I sat my buckets down to remove the leaf had the photographer clicked his camera a post card might have been made of the picture which would have elicited the oohs and aahs of lovely ladies in shops as they viewed it. They would never have known the truth of the little White pickaninny nor would they have cared to hear it had someone explained the picture to them.
The leaf fell in the water as this incident dropped into my soul. Would that it had been as easy to pluck the incident from my soul as it was to pick the leaf off the water.
I dropped the buckets before Mildred and turned and walked away. She was a dead woman to me. I never acknowledged her again. She had ceased to exist for me.
I returned to my post in the library as the events of the previous three days entered my mind. My mind began to react to them as the lesson I drew from them permeated and directed my subconscious.
I stood brooding, hands in pockets, in the doorway of the library when the front door opened and a man who was attempting to suppress the self importance he felt into an urbane manner that implied impartiality entered. He was a man elevated to a role beyond his hopes and mental preparation who nevertheless admired the relaxed air of aristocracy and attempted to assume it in the execution of his duties. His attempt at manners clashed with the commonness of his physiognomy and attire.
He introduced himself to the clerks as Councilman Adamski. He had made an appointment to inspect the premises. As with all government agencies he said that there was nothing wrong with it just time for a periodical visit. He had enough sense to not say annual, as he hadn’t been there for over a year. Actually the truth was Darwen’s accomplice in the kitchen stores had been noted by neighbors and caused suspicion.
Darwen was not as vulnerable as it might appear nor was Councilman Adamski’s anonymous information well founded.
The entire machinery of the home promptly took action to conceal the shortages. They were very charming in hopes of sidetracking Councilman Adamski by personal suasion; for they were all guilty in lesser degrees than Warden. Mrs. Miller with her contempt for men was the only honest one among them. The rest, without exception, had furbished their children with donated clothing. They had all taken foodstores for their personal use. They were a furacious lot. Thus, now it was in all their interests to direct Councilman Adamski’s attention elsewhere.
Ever curious and and ready for excitement, I joined the party and followed them on their tour. Everything was charmingly explained. In truth the Home was well administered. The rooms and floors were clean, everything was in good repair. Darwen was a good handyman and conscientous in the performance of those duties. Then we came to the room where the paper press and bales of paper were stored. The clerk passed it off as merely a storage room, but I, acting intuitively flung the door open to expose the press and bales of paper. Councilman Adamski looked at them. he was somewhat perplexed.
‘What’s this?’ He demanded.
His Orphanage conducters were mumbling some explanation. I thought that they might not know. Well, I did know. I didn’t care about Darwen’s misappropriation of stores; had I known I would have resented, but accepted his theft of the clothing. I did care about the Flying Horse Of Oz that he had taken out of my hands; I did care about the miserable time Cappy got the chocolate with the nickel in it.
You can do some of the people some of the time but you should never try to do all of the people all of the time. I shot my arrow into the air.
I piped up stringing my words carefully together; ‘Mr. Darwen used us kids to collect the papers so he could sell them for money.’
The key point was not money as I thought it would be.
‘What do you mean ‘used us kids?” The Councilman queried.
Somewhat baffled by his question I replied: ‘He used us all to go around the neighborhoods and collect the papers.’
‘He did, did he?’ The Councilman chuckled, relieved by the reasonableness of my answer. ‘Well, little fellow, how much did he pay you?’
‘Little fellow’ was insulted by the use of the term and replied petulantly that Darwen hadn’t paid us anything.
Councilman Adamski misunderstood the reason for my petulance but my manner gave him cause to reflect.
‘He didn’t pay you anything? Do you mean that he took your labor and kept all the profit for himself?’
That wasn’t what I meant but it sounded good to me so I decided to run with it. ‘Yes, sir.’ I don’t know what flight Councilman Adamski had gotten off but it was clear to him that Darwen had been using us as slave labor. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way but I had little trouble in agreeing with him.
‘One impropriety leads to another…’ Councilman Adamski sagely thought out loud. Had Mrs. Miller been there she would have bellowed out: ‘All men are liars, cheats, sneaks and thieves.’ Thus the investigation of Jack Darwen’s administration was begun. The only thing evident or sufficient for censure were the missing provisions. The investigation began continuted on through the autumn.