I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 4
Brother, you said a mouthful. This shining light of the revolution didn’t know it, but he’d stated the case perfectly. That’s what I wanted them to do—laugh at him.
“Listen, Tootsie,” I said. Listen was right. I was going to make a speech. I hoped she’d keep her ears open. “The trouble with you is you haven’t got any nerve. You’re not thinking about those poor kids that lug bundles around in the heat and snow and rain for seventy hours a week and more at fifteen bucks each. All you’re thinking about is what those pot-bellied bosses are going to say to you at that conference this afternoon. Just because they’re gonna kick like steers when you put the Strike Committee’s demands before them, you want to reduce them. You’re willing to take those few bucks out of those poor kids’ envelopes just so you should have it easier for an hour or two at a conference. Stop thinking about yourself so much. Think of those poor kids.” This was getting a little thick. A couple more sentences of that bull and my stomach would do a double flip. “Go in there and tell those kikes what we want. Twenty-five dollars a week minimum. Forty hours. Time and a half for overtime. Two-weeks’ vacation. The whole works, or else.”
“Aah, gee, Harry I tell you we—”
“Tootsie, dear,” I said slowly, “You’re going to be late.”
He opened his mouth and then closed it. Then he shrugged and got up.
“Okay, Harry,” he said, “but remember—I told you.”
That was one for the books. Tootsie Maltz told me! “You remember.” I said. “You give your report on the conference at the general meeting to-night. We’ll see you then.”
He stood there, hesitating.
“What’s the matter,” I said. “Forget something?”
“You coming with me, Regina?” he said.
Before she could say anything, I stood up and put my hand on his shoulder.
“What’s wrong, Tootsie?” I said. “You scared or something?”
“Who me? What’s there to be scared about?”
“I don’t know,” I said, grinning. “But maybe you do. What do you want Regina for, to carry you when you get weak?” I was willing to bet she could do it, too.
“Nah, I just thought—”
“You just run along then,” I said, slapping him on the shoulder, “and give them the works. Remember,” I added as he turned away, “eight o’clock to-night. Pythian Temple. Don’t be late.”
I waited until his fat figure went through the door and turned up the block before I sat down again.
She didn’t talk, just sat facing me across the table, shoving the salt shaker around in little circles. I pretended that I was looking at the menu, but I kept watching her with my eyes half closed. There were other people in the restaurant, talking and moving around, and outside trucks and streetcars kept going by. But I could still hear the way she breathed, in short gasps, with her mouth open, as though she were holding herself back and trying to make it sound natural. Through my elbows on the table I could feel how tense she was. I had a feeling she was going to break the spell with some crack about Tootsie, but she didn’t.
“How about having something else?” I said, rustling the menu.
She jumped a little and then smiled and shook her head quickly.
“Oh, no. I’ve had enough, thanks. Anyway, I’m eating too much.” She giggled. “I’ve got to watch my figure, you know.”
Baby, I thought, you don’t know the half of it. Watching her figure was a job for the police force, working in double shifts.
“What’s the matter with your figure?” I said, although I could have answered that question myself in a short little lecture of twenty minutes or so. “It looks all right to me,” I said, giving her the once-over in a way that wouldn’t leave any doubts in her mind.
She giggled crazily and moved her can into a more comfortable position on the chair.
“You’re a funny one, all right,” she said.
“Who me? Why, I’m the most serious guy you ever met.”
“Yeah, you’re serious! You’re all the time kidding and joking and things like that. What do you do for a living, anyway?”
So that’s how she got the short nose. She must’ve worn a couple of inches off it by sticking it into other people’s business.
“Me? Why me,” I said, “I’m a poet.”
“A poet. You know, one of these guys with long hair that goes around making up poems.”
“Ah, come on. Cut it out. There you go kidding again.”
“Honest, I mean it. I’m a poet.”
“Yeah, a poet!”
“Sure. I even made up a poem about you.”
Well, if this baby wasn’t a case of arrested development, then she was Sarah Bernhardt.
“Sure, about you. You want to hear it?”
Well, I figured, here I go.
“There was a young girl from Alaska,
Who would put anyone that would ask her.
But then she—”
Suddenly she hid her face in her hands and began to giggle so hard that I had to stop reciting and grab the table to keep it from going over.
“Nathan!” I called to the waiter. “Check!”
From now on every minute I spent in preparation was just so much time wasted. I was in.
WHEN WE REACHED THE Pythian Temple the crowd was all settled. But Tootsie hadn’t begun to speak yet. He was sitting at the table on the platform, thumbing through a small batch of papers. There were no more seats, so we found a small cleared space against the rear wall, near the door, and leaned against it. I was a little surprised at the turnout. It wasn’t quite eight yet, and the meeting had been called for eight sharp. They seemed a little more interested than they had been a week ago.
Promptly at eight Tootsie stood up. There was very little noise, and that stopped at once.
“The purpose of tonight’s meeting, fellows,” he said, “is to hear the report of your Strike Committee’s conference with the Dress Manufacturers’ Association which was held this afternoon.” He talked slowly and carefully, as though he wanted them to understand that what he said was very important. “You know what our demands were, and you know what the alternative is that we threatened them with if they refused us.” He moved forward a few inches on the platform. “Well, I’m not going to waste any more time or keep you in suspense.” I knew what the answer would be, but even I found myself leaning forward a little anxiously. “They said no,” Tootsie said, and paused.
I leaned back against the wall, relieved. So that was all right.
“They turned us down flat,” he said. “They laughed at me.”
Could you blame them?
The crowd began to shift about a little, and you could hear the chairs squeaking and the shoes scratching as they moved a few inches on the floor.
“I told them what we’d do if they turned us down,” he said, “but they didn’t care. They just laughed at me.” His voice rose a little. “They said go ahead!”
He hoisted a part of his behind onto the small table and sat like that, swinging one leg.
“As far as the Committee is concerned,” he said, “there’s only one thing left to do. And that’s to set the date for the strike.” He looked at one of the papers in his hand. “We’ve decided to show these guys that we mean business. No crapping around. We told them what we wanted and what we’d do if they said no. Well, they said no. All right, then, we’re gonna let them have it right between the eyes. The Committee has set the date for the day after to-morrow. Any objections?” He looked around the large room. They all looked at each other. Nobody spoke. “What do you say, then? Is the day after to-morrow okay?”
“Okay!” they yelled suddenly and went into an uproar. They climbed out of their seats and pounded each other on the back and shoved chairs around and threw wads of paper into the air and cursed at the top of their voices unt
The pot got nervous and grabbed my arm.
“Gee,” she said, “maybe we better get out of here.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “True-Blue Harry is at your side to protect you.”
“I’m not kidding,” she said. “They’ll begin to throw chairs in a minute.”
“Okay,” I said, “let’s edge our way to the door. We can wait for Tootsie outside.”
If I could have used that can of hers like a snow plow, we could have broken our way through a mountain in thirty seconds flat. But after what happened that afternoon, that wouldn’t have been polite. So I led the way slowly to the door and in a few minutes we were outside. I took her to the doorway across the street, facing the entrance to the Temple, and said, “We’ll wait for Tootsie here. It won’t take long.”
She looked disappointed.
“What do we have to wait for him for?” she said.
“I just want to ask him if he thinks the Giants’ll win the pennant next year,” I said.
She giggled, but her heart wasn’t in it. I knew where her heart was.
“I mean, what’s the sense of standing around like this, doing nothing. We could, well, we could meet Tootsie later.”
“Yeah?” I said. “Where?”
“Oh—I don’t know,” she said slowly, biting her lip. “But I guess we could meet him later.”
If it was ice cream, she’d eat it.
“Nah,” I said, “we’ll wait for Tootsie.”
It took even less time than I thought it would. In less than a half hour they came pouring out, still excited, and spread out in all directions in small groups. Tootsie came out with the last batch, and we crossed over to meet him.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Okay,” he said, “but what happened to you?”
“They got so wild in there, it wasn’t safe where we were standing, so we came outside to wait for you. Everything all right?”
“Swell,” he said. “It’s all set for the day after to-morrow. I told them where to report for their picket signs and we split them up according to the buildings they work in. The only thing that worries me is what the cops’ll do about the mass picketing.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “They can’t do a thing. It’s not really mass picketing. There’s a couple dozen firms in each building, and if they got the names of their firm on their picket signs, there may be a couple dozen guys picketing each building, but it’s really only one guy for each firm. See what I mean?”
“Oh, yeah. That’s right.”
Well, I’d sleep better that night. Tootsie had said it was right.
“So all right, then,” I said, putting my hands on their arms, “I’ve gotta run along now.” I turned to Tootsie. “I’ll see you to-morrow at the restaurant? Say about nine or so? There’s a coupla little things I’d still like to talk over.”
“Okay, Harry,” he said, “I’ll see you to-morrow at nine.”
“No, wait a minute,” I said. “Better make it ten. I’m a little tired. And sometimes my mother, you know, she doesn’t wake me up on time or something like that. Better be on the safe side, and make it ten. Ten all right?”
“Sure,” he said. “To-morrow at ten.”
“You mean you’re leaving?” she cried.
There was a brain for you. Einstein’s only rival.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve got a coupla things to take care of.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointed.
I knew what I was passing up. But I was still saying good night.
First of all, this was no time to get Tootsie sore at me. And then, too, I really felt sorry for him. He’d suffered enough for one night.
And secondly, it would have been against my principles not to say good night. I never go back to the same pump too often. As long as I had my health and was in my right mind, nothing that wore skirts was going to tie a string to me.
“There’s only one thing worries me,” Tootsie said. “I hope they don’t forget all about the strike by the day after to-morrow.”
“Just you leave that to me,” I said. “They won’t forget.”
WHEN WE CAME OUT of the restaurant I said to Tootsie, “You wait for me here. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”
“Where you going?”
“To get my nose picked. Just wait, will you? I’ll be back in ten minutes.”
The garage was right around the corner, on Fourth Avenue. The driver was standing in front of it, waiting for me.
“Everything set?” I said.
“Everything set,” he said.
I followed him inside and up to a long, closed truck, with smooth black sides. Along the edge of the truck at the top, on both sides, was a long, thin cylinder, with a piece of rope hanging from the middle, like a window shade. I pulled the long sheets of oilcloth down and let them snap up again. I did it a few times, on both sides, to make sure they were working.
“They’re both okay,” the driver said, leaning out of the caboose up front.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, “but I just wanted to make sure.” I opened the door in the back and climbed inside. He watched me over his shoulder through the little window over the front seat.
“How’s the mike?” I asked.
“Okay,” he said. “You can test it if you want to.”
I flicked my fingernail against the nickel rim of the mouthpiece and a short, sharp bellow came out of the loudspeaker in the roof of the truck.
“I told you it was okay,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, “I know.”
I climbed out and closed the door in the back carefully. Then I walked up front and got in on the seat beside him.
“Turn into Thirty-Fourth,” I said. “I want to pick some body up near the corner.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Wait a minute,” I said. I dug into my pocket and brought out my wallet. I took out a five and gave it to him. “Don’t get tough with the cops and let me do all the talking.” I didn’t like his attitude and I didn’t want everything spoiled because he might get temperamental or something. At this stage of the game another five or so made no difference. “I paid your boss already,” I said, “so that’s for you. And if you don’t scrape your fenders there’ll be a little more for you later.”
“Okay,” he said and grinned.
We drove out of the garage and up to Thirty-Fourth. Then we turned and drew up in front of the restaurant. Tootsie’s chin dropped another three inches when he saw me get out of the truck.
“What the hell is that?”
I turned around to take a good look at it.
“Maybe I’m wrong,” I said, “but it looks like a truck to me.”
“Sure it’s a truck. What do you think, I’m dumb or something?” Well, he certainly wasn’t something. “But what the hell is it for?”
“Well, you’re looking a little peaked, and I thought a little ride in the fresh air would do you good, so I just went out and rented me a truck, and so here we—”
“But no kidding, what’s it for?”
“This, my boy,” I said, tapping the fender, “is the latest way of running a strike that has yet been invented.”
“What the hell, am I nuts or are you?”
“Well, Tootsie, I feel perfectly okay.”
“But what the hell is it for?”
“Jesus Christ on a raft!” I said. “What did you do, make a record of that? Don’t you know any other songs?”
“Yeah, but what the?—”
“Ah, nuts,” I said, grabbing his arm. “Here, you’re gonna ride up front here, with the driver. I’m gonna be inside, on the floor, so nobody can see me.” I handed him a piece of paper. “That’s the route we’re gonna follow. You keep reading it to the driver, to make sure we stay on it, and keep your eyes open. If anything starts to happen, anybody starts to get tough, maybe the cops or somebody, you let me know. Understand?”
“But my eye,” I said. “Look at this.”
I grabbed the piece of rope on the side of the truck and pulled down the wide sheet of oilcloth and fastened the piece of rope to a nail at the bottom. The sheet of oilcloth that came down like a window shade was a sign. It said: SHIPPING CLERKS ATTENTION! DON’T FORGET THE GENERAL STRIKE! TO-MORROW AT 8:00 A.M.!
“Gee,” Tootsie said.
“Yeah, gee!” I said, pulling him after me around to the other side of the truck. I hauled down the other sign and fastened it at the bottom. By now a small crowd was beginning to collect, so I pushed him into the truck next to the driver and climbed into the back myself. I parked myself on the mattress on the floor and motioned to the driver.
“Get going,” I said.
“What time is it?”
“Ten after twelve.”
“That’s just right. Go right up Thirty-Fourth till you hit Broadway, then turn right and go up Broadway slowly, about ten or fifteen miles an hour, till you hit Forty-Second. Then turn left twice and go down Seventh Avenue, till you hit Thirty-Fourth. After that follow the route on the paper I gave him.” I pointed to Tootsie. “Understand?”
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