I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 10
“Sure I know it, Ma,” I said. “But what’s the sense of me wasting my time? You know what lawyers are making today? You know how many of them are starving? Why, for crying out loud, Ma, I make more in one week in that delivery business of mine, than most lawyers they make in a year.”
“That’s nothing, Heshie,” she said. “For a good one, there’s always room.”
“You must’ve been listening to Mrs. Heimowitz again,” I said, reaching for more blintzes. “That’s what they all say. For a good one there’s room. They’re crazy. For a good one there’s never enough room. Well, I’m good, Ma, and there’s plenty of room all right, but not in the law business. Not for me. I got bigger plans than that.”
“All right, Heshie,” she said, “so you don’t make so much money at the start. But look at the respect. Look how nice it is for Mrs. Heimowitz she should walk down the street and everybody should say that’s the lawyer’s mother. Don’t you want people should look after your mother and say that?”
“No,” I said. “I want people should look after my mother in the street because she’s wearing diamond rings and fur coats and they should say there goes Mrs. Bogen, she’s got a good son.”
“But Papa, when he was alive, he always wanted—”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I know what Papa wanted. But that’s just what was the trouble with Papa. That’s why we lived on the East Side and in the Bronx all our lives on twenty bucks a week. Because Papa couldn’t be bothered figuring out what was the best and quickest way to make money. He had to waste his time figuring out what was the highest-class fancy—”
“Heshie!” she said sharply. “Is that a way to talk?”
“I know, Ma,” I said. “I’m sorry. It’s just that every time we get started talking about it, we end up the same way. Now, look. If I’d’ve listened to you and to what Papa said I’d still be working as a shipping clerk for fifteen dollars a week and tearing my eyes out going to school at night. Like this, I’m still young, I got my own business, we got plenty of money, we can begin to live right, we can buy what we want, we can—”
“All right, Heshie,” she said with a sigh. “All right.”
I got up and came around the table toward her.
“So come on, Ma,” I said, kissing her. “Let’s stop fighting and arguing and let’s go out for a walk and to buy a couple of things. All right?”
“All right,” she said.
I helped her with the dishes and then she got dressed and we went out.
We walked down the street together, stopping every once in a while to talk to the neighbors sitting in chairs on the sidewalk. What I liked about her was the way she could make even a simple thing like that seem important and dignified, not kikish and washwomanish like the rest of them.
As we came near the 179th Street corner she nudged me and spoke in my ear.
“There’s that Mrs. Heimowitz,” she said. “That’s the one that her Murray is a lawyer.”
“She looks it,” I said. “You’d think a lawyer’d be ashamed to have his mother wear a worn-out pair of shoes like that. What’s the matter, can’t he afford to get her a new pair?”
“Ssshhh,” Mother said, and then, “hello, Mrs. Heimowitz.”
“Hello, Mrs. Bogen,” she said. “Your son is home early, isn’t he?”
I smiled and nodded and Mother said, “Yes.”
“The lawyer isn’t home yet,” Mrs. Heimowitz said with a sigh. “He works so hard, and such important work, yet too, he doesn’t get home till I don’t know when.”
“Tsk, tsk,” Mother said. “My Heshie, he took a half a day off from his business he should come home to take his mother out shopping a little.”
“Nice going, Mom,” I said out of the corner of my mouth as we moved on.
“She always shows off that lawyer son of hers in front of me,” she said bitterly.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, patting her arm. “I’ll get you a couple of things to-night that’ll give you a chance to show off to her until she’ll get blue in the face.”
We turned into Tremont Avenue and walked until we reached a dress shop.
“This is our first stop,” I said, as we went in.
I didn’t even give her a chance to look over the first selection that the salesgirl trotted out. I took one look at the price tags and sent them back.
“Haven’t you got anything more expensive than this?” I said.
“Why, yes, sir. I didn’t know—”
“Bring out the best you’ve got,” I said.
“Heshie!” Mother whispered to me sharply. “That’s no way to buy! They’ll think you’re a dope and charge you anything they want.”
“Don’t worry about it, Ma,” I said. “You just pick out what you want. I’ll handle the rest.”
For a while she couldn’t seem to make up her mind. There were six on the rack. Three of them were simple and quiet and expensive-looking. The others were flashy and cheap and just the kind of stuff I hate. But this was her party and I wasn’t butting in. She could have whatever she wanted.
“I don’t know which one to take,” she said finally.
“What do you mean, ‘which one’!” I said. “You go ahead and pick yourself two or three.”
“What’s the matter with you, Heshie?” she said, laughing. “Are you crazy to-day?”
“I’m not crazy,” I said, “and you’re not taking only one dress. You’re taking at least two. Understand?”
She stood there, hesitating.
“What’s the matter, Ma?” I asked.
“I can’t make up my mind,” she said. “I like these.” She pointed to the three simple, quiet ones. “But—”
“But since you gave me that long speech about the beauty parlor,” she said, “I’m just thinking, maybe I ought to get these—” she pointed to the flashy ones—“maybe they’ll make me look a little—a little younger.”
I laughed out loud and gave her a big hug, right in the middle of the store. All of a sudden I felt a new way about my mother. All of a sudden I felt proud of her.
“Gee whiz, Ma,” I said, “you’re a corker, all right. Go ahead and take the ones you like,” I said, “and don’t take all that beauty parlor talk too seriously. I was only kidding anyway.”
“All right, then,” she said to the salesgirl. “I’ll take this one.”
She pointed to one of the nice-looking dresses.
“What’s that?” I said sharply.
“I said I’ll take this one,” she said.
“That’s what I thought I heard,” I said. “What did I say about this one dress business, hah?”
“Oh, Heshie,” she said, “Don’t act like a baby. One dress is enough for—”
“Never mind,” I said, and turned to the salesgirl. “Are all these dresses my mother’s size?”
“All right,” I said, “then wrap them all up.”
“All three, sir?”
“But Mama!” I said, imitating her voice. I felt so good about her having had the taste to pick something dignified, and not something that would make her look like a loud Bronx blouse, that I was willing to buy out the shop for her. “How are you going to make Mrs. Heimowitz eat her heart out if you haven’t got enough dresses to wear a new one every day?”
“All right, Heshie,” she agreed, shaking her finger at me. “But remember, that’s all.”
“That’s all nothing,” I said. “The Bronx is full of shoe stores and hat shops and underwear shops, isn’t it?”
She slapped my shoulder playfully.
“I don’t want you should waste your money like that, Heshie,” she said.
“Who says it’s wasting it?” I said, hugging her. “I don’t know why, but to me it’s a pleasure, Ma.”
TAKE ME, FOR INSTANCE. I can read the handwriting on the wall long before
The trick is simply to recognize that it’s writing. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it. Sometimes it looks like Miss Marmelstein.
“And what did you say your last name was?” I said, letting my eyes take their time as they crossed the Alps.
“Marmelstein,” she said.
“All right, Miss Marmelstein,” I said, “then you know what’s wanted of you.” Or did she? “You can take your things off and get to work.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bogen.”
I nodded briskly and turned back to the papers on my desk. Baby, I thought, wait till we get around to the point where I’m thanking you.
I got up and walked to the filing cabinet at one side of the room. I opened the top drawer and began to thumb through the papers in it. I didn’t have to. I wasn’t looking for anything. But standing in that position, leaning over the pulled-out drawer, I could get a clear view of her in profile, as she sat at the switchboard, with her chest sticking out in a way that did my heart good.
She knew I was looking at her because I could see her face grow red and she put her hand up to the back of her neck to adjust the wave in her hair. Once or twice she almost turned around to face me, but she caught herself in time and kept her eyes fixed on the switchboard.
I laughed to myself when I thought of what her face would look like if I went up to her and told her what I was thinking. The temptation was so great that I almost walked over and began to speak.
Hello, Miss Marmelstein. How are you? That’s good. Oh, all right, thank you. Can’t kick. Don’t strain yourself, Miss Marmelstein. You don’t have to lean forward that far. In fact, Miss Marmelstein, you could have taken a day off to-day. I mean, for a change, you could have worn a brassiere to-day. What? Oh, pardon me. I didn’t think I was being subtle. No, of course not. I don’t mind. What I mean is, Miss Marmelstein, it’s no go to-day. There, there, now. Don’t take it that hard. You do? Well, I don’t really blame you. From what I understand, that’s the best way to take it. No, please, please, it’s not that. No reflection on your ability at all, Miss Marmelstein. Look, Miss Marmelstein, suppose you stop working so hard waving that chest of yours under my nose. Fine. There, that’s better. But—ha, ha, ha—I’m not displeased, though. It’s a good thing to find out. But not to-day. Some other time, maybe. To-day, Miss Marmelstein, to-day you’re a piece of handwriting on the wall, that’s what you are. Ha, ha, ha. You don’t? Why, that’s easy. Let me translate. You, of all people, should know how a good thing gets around. Doesn’t it, though? The competition gets terrific, doesn’t it, Miss Marmelstein? Before you know it, there are too many people around. And then, of course, there’s only one smart thing to do. And that’s to go and find something else. Yes, indeed, Miss Marmelstein, we’re both in the same boat. A thing that’s as good as my business can’t help getting a reputation. And all you need, Miss Marmelstein, is a reputation. You know that. My bet is that before long there’ll be dozens of people in the delivery business. But I won’t be one of them, Miss Marmelstein. Because I’ve seen the handwriting on the wall. And I’m getting out, Miss Marmelstein, while I’m still the only one that can see it. Do I make myself clear? That’s it. That’s it exactly. I’m going to cash in while I’m ahead. I do make myself clear? Good. You do? Well, that’s too bad. Because frankly, Miss Marmelstein, if I was as talented in one direction as you are, I wouldn’t want to learn anything else. Oh, now, please. It’s not that at all. I would teach you, if I could, Miss Marmelstein. But I’m afraid it won’t do. When it comes to a talent like that, Miss Marmelstein, it’s a lot like your figure. Votes don’t count. You’re either born that way, or you aren’t. So it doesn’t help to stuff the ballot boxes or pass out dime cigars. Miss Marmelstein! Please! I told you I wasn’t—Oh, well, all right. Let’s.
I walked back to my desk and moved around the papers on top of it for a few minutes. Then I took my hat and went over to the switchboard.
“I’m going out, Miss Marmelstein,” I said, staring hard at her. They looked like the money, all right, but the way they built brassieres nowadays, you never could tell. Still, this looked like it was worth the trouble of finding out. “I’ll be back a little late. You can put my messages in the book and I’ll—but wait. I’ll tell you what. I’ll try to get back before six. You wait for me, will you? I’m going out to see some people, and I may want to dictate a couple of letters when I get back. I’ll try to get back as early as I can.”
Well, I said I’d try, didn’t I?
“All right, Mr. Bogen,” she said.
As I walked down the street I kept meeting my clients. I nodded and said hello and moved on. By the time I reached the bank I was good and sore. My business was good. But compared with some of the heels whose bundles my men schlepped at two bits a piece, my take was chicken feed. I had more on the ball than they had, and there was no reason why I couldn’t deal myself a couple of hands from the same deck. Why should I be jockeying their bundles? Why shouldn’t I be in a position where I was hiring guys to make deliveries for me?
I didn’t bother trying to figure out the answer to this one. As far as I was concerned there wasn’t any. I was glad I’d run into those clients. Now I knew what my next move was going to be.
“Give it to me in fives,” I said to the teller.
It was Thursday, Mama’s payday. I got a kick out of giving it to her in small bills, so that it felt like a lot. It was a pleasure to hand it to her. In fact, if I didn’t keep close watch on myself, I would’ve found myself not only giving it to her in a big wad, but also made up of big bills. That’s the kind of soft-hearted dope I am. But there was no hurry. When my next move went through, she’d get her cut. I’d see to that. For me, the world owed her a little extra.
When I got out, I stood in the street, hesitating. Three-thirty in the afternoon, and nothing to do. That was progress for you. But I wasn’t satisfied. There were guys who had nothing to do after as early as twelve o’clock. And there were some who didn’t have to go to work at all, weren’t there? Well, at least I had a goal.
I decided to go up to the Capitol.
When I got out, the clock on the Paramount said six-thirty. But I didn’t hurry. I knew my customers. She’d be there.
I came into the office briskly, though, like I’d just settled a deal for moving Pennsylvania Station over to Forty-Second Street and shifting Grand Central over to Thirty-Third.
She was at the switchboard, typing away busily.
“Sorry to be so late,” I said, “but I was detained at a conference.”
“That’s all right, Mr. Bogen,” she said.
It was, eh? Well, we’d soon see.
I breezed into my private office, slammed the drawers of my desk around a little, then came out again, holding a blank sheet of paper.
“What’s that you’re working on?” I asked.
“The bills,” she said. “Mr. Maltz said it’s the first of the month—”
“Good for Mr. Maltz,” I said.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Bogen?”
“Don’t bother,” I said. “Mr. Maltz was just telling you it was the first of the month and—”
“And he said I should type up the bills,” she continued. “He said they had to be in the mail to-night.”
“That’s right,” I said. “By the way, where is Mr. Maltz?”
“Why, he’s not here, he—”
“You mean that?”
She looked startled, then she saw my smile and she smiled too.
“I mean, he left a short while ago. He said he had an appointment.”
“Oh,” I said. “For a while, from what you said, I thought he was hiding under a desk or something.”
That one was pretty lousy, but what the hell, when you’re paying them a salary, they laugh at the lousy ones, too. She laughed.
“No, Mr. Bogen. He left. He said he had an appointment.”
“We-ell, I’ll tell you,” I said, scratching my head and looking at the piece of blank
“All right,” she said quickly.
Well, well, well. This was going to be interesting.
“Wait’ll I get my hat,” I said.
There goes another rule, I said to myself as I adjusted the brim in the mirror. And a good one, too. Never crap where you eat. But I don’t worry much about breaking rules. As long as I know them, that’s enough for me.
And besides, this was different. I was paying her a salary anyway, wasn’t I? And the office rent was the same whether I used it eight hours a day or twenty-four, wasn’t it? And besides, that rule was only for rummies, to see that they don’t get themselves tied up. Which was something I didn’t have to worry about. I don’t get myself tied up.
A WEEK LATER I was watching Tootsie through the crack in my door. I waited until he put on his topcoat and hat and began to pull on his gloves.
“Say, Tootsie!” I called.
He stopped short and looked quickly toward my room, but I knew he couldn’t see me. The opening wasn’t wide enough.
“Can I see you for a minute, Tootsie?”
I spoke in a loud voice so he could hear me through the partitions.
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