Archive for December, 2010

December 9, 2010

I Must Remember to Keep Off the Trains When Overserved.

New York Sun, May 4, 1896

Seen on a Bridge Train
They Teased Him, Poked Fun at Him, and Sang to Him—He Thought It Wrong that a Gentleman Should Be the Butt of an Orphan Asylum Out on a Toot.

At that hour of the night they ought not to have been out at all. It had been Sunday for an hour, and they were seven little girls going to Brooklyn on a bridge train. The oldest of them might have been 10 years old and the youngest 7, and if they were in charge of anybody it was the young woman on the end seat, who wasn’t interested in them because she was too sleepy to be interested in anything.
As for them, they were equally interested in everything: the guards, at whom they giggled, the other passengers, at whom they snickered, and each other, every remark being greeted with little gusts of laughter. But principally they were amused at the man in the corner, because he was very, very drunk. Which was wrong of them.
It was he who remarked that at that hour of the night they ought not to have been out, adding thereto sundry reminiscences of his own happy childhood when he was wont to seek his trundle bed at 8 o’clock sharp every night, to be tucked in under his patch-work bed quilts which he pronounced “patch-worked bed quilt,” adding “hic!” in a loud voice.
Whereupon the seven little girls fairly twittered with glee. Still the matter might have rested there had not the first little girl in the line pointed the finger of scorn at him, and, making a whittling motion along it with another finger equally scornful, ejaculated:
That started the ball a-rolling.
“S-s-shame!” echoed the second little girl, also whittling her finger, and presently every girl in the line was performing that expressive digital indignity and hissing like an exasperated goose the syllable of contempt.
The drunken man was deeply grieved. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He sought to rise, but the floor was too unstable, so he sank back in his seat. Presently he said in a voice choked with sobs and hics that it was a pity to see a fine man (indicating himself) made the sport and mock of a crazy orphan asylum out on a toot, after which he drooped his head in a manner to suggest that his heart was broken. The first little girl peered at him curiously.
“He’s asleep,” she announced.
“He’s drunk,” said the second.
“Ain’t it awful: te-hee,” snickered the third.
“Awful drunk,” observed the fourth.
“He’s been drinkin’ beer, opined the fifth, and at that the posessor of the jag arose unsteady, but mighty in outraged dignity.
“Tai’true,” he cried. “’Sh lie. Al’ a beer in me. Hic. Al’ a—hic—beer—hic—hic—wazza laughin’—hic—at? Shink I’m shayin’ ‘hic’—hic—cause I ca’ help—hic—shayin’ ‘hic?’ Nossuch thing. Shayin’ ‘hic’ caush—hic—wanna shay ‘hic?’ ‘Tai’ no—hic—beer, zho. Shwhiskey!”

In the eloquence of his disclaimer he waved his arms wildly. His hat fell off and rolled into the aisle. Instantly a very wee girl at the further end of the line started up in a shrill voice the familiar ditty:

Where did you get that hat?
Where did you get that hat?
And all the others joined in:
Ain’t it a daisy one.
And just the latest style.
How d’ye like to have one
Jus’ the same as that?
When I go out the boys all shout:
“Where d’ye get that hat?”

Everyone else in the car began to laugh. But the man with the jag didn’t laugh. He looked first at the little girls. Then he looked at the hat, now rocking gently to and fro on its curved brim as the car swayed. It was to it that he addressed his remarks:
“Joo know,” said he, “joo know, I—hic—shink zhey’re—hic—makin’ funna you’n—hic—me. Wazzashink? C’mere!”
He made a grab for the hat, but his bump of location must have been way out of gear, for he didn’t come within a yard of it. This puzzled him.
“Mos’ shrprisin’ shing,” he observed, “gem’man ca’ getta hat—hic—hic—worn for shree—hic—years. Wazzamazzawezzahat? C’mere!”  He made another grab for it and missed again.
“’F at first—hic—y’don’ s—hic—ceed, y’ may ge’—hic—lef’ secon’ time,” he remarked philosophically and tried again.
This time he lost his balance and fell heavily upon the object of his search, crushing it flat. Instantly the chorus of little girls started up:

T’row ’m down, McCloskey!
Was to be the battle cry.
T’row ’m down, McCloskey!
You can lick him, if you try.

As that was all they knew of that song they repeated the lines several times while the subject of their vocal exercises crawled back to his seat and beat time with a heavy foot on the floor. Silence succeeded, and it occurred to him that he hadn’t recovered his headgear. This time he got it, held it up for inspection, and, observing its condition, set to work as best he might to straighten it out with bitter objurgations upon it for dodging when he first tried to capture it.
“Za’s wha’je git—hic—for tryin’—hic—to git away,” he observed, holding it out at arm’s length, whereupon the seven little girls, who seemed to be ready to sing upon as slight provocation as a comic opera chorus, burst out:
Oh, mamma, buy me that!
“Shing, birdie—shic—shing,” chanted the jag: “wish I—hic—haddashoggun. Wouldn’t—hic—do a shing to birdies. Hic!
He shook his fist at the chorus, who howled with mirth, and sang:

Oh, Uncle John,
Isn’t it nice on Broadway?
Oh, Uncle John,
Here I shall remain.
Oh, Uncle John,
Now that I’ve seen the Bow’ry [this with immense emphasis, which the jag
seemed to regard as personal],
I think the country’s awful slow, and I’ll never go back again.

“Ha—ha—hic—hic,” cried the object of their vocal jeers in an attempt at gayety. “I can shing my—hic—shelf. Hooray for shong:

Hic! How full I am—hic,
Hic! Do’ givvadam’—hic—

“O-o-o-o-oh! Ain’t he awful,” shrieked all the little girls in chorus. “You said a bad word. S-s-s-shame on you,” and seven little fingers went up for seven other little fingers to whittle on in the gesture of contempt.
“Hic! Do’ givvadam!” repeated the jag bravely, but his lip trembled.
“Hic! Do’ giv.”
“Brooklyn! All out!” shouted the guard, and the seven little girls trooped through the door pointing the finger of scorn at the unfortunate to the bitter end.
He sank back in his seat, and to the guard who helped him out of the car he stated in heartbroken tones that he was a highly respected comic illustration, and that all he wanted was a quiet place where he could be pasted up on the wall and left to finish a shattered life in peace and quiet.

[Transcribed by David Wondrich, December 8, 2010]