Men I'm Not Married To
by Dorothy Parker
No matter where my route may lie,
No matter whither I repair,
In brief—no matter how or why
Or when I go, the boys are there.
On lane and byways, street and square,
On alley, path and avenue,
They seem to spring up everywhere—
The men I am not married to.
I watch them as they pass me by;
At each in wonderment I stare,
And, "but for heaven's grace," I cry,
"There goes the guy whose name I'd wear!"
They represent no species rare,
They walk and talk as others do;
They're fair to see—but only fair—
The men I am not married to.
I'm sure that to a mother's eye
Is each potentially a bear.
But though at home they rank ace-high,
No change of heart could I declare.
Yet worry silvers not their hair;
They deck them not with sprigs of rue.
It's curious how they do not care—
The men I am not married to.
In fact, if they'd a chance to share
Their lot with me, a lifetime through,
They'd doubtless tender me the air—
The men I am not married to.
"Oh, boy!" people say of Freddie. "You just ought to meet him some time! He's a riot, that's what he is—more fun than a goat."
Other, and more imaginative souls play whimsically with the idea, and say that he is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Still others go at the thing from a different angle, and refer to him as being as funny as a crutch. But I always feel, myself, that they stole the line from Freddie. Satire—that is his dish.
And there you have, really, one of Freddie's greatest crosses. People steal his stuff right and left. He will say something one day, and the next it will be as good as all over the city. Time after time I have gone to him and told him that I have heard lots of vaudeville acts using his comedy, but he just puts on the most killing expression, and says, "Oh, say not suchly!" in that way of his. And, of course, it gets me laughing so that I can't say another word about it.
That is the way he always is, just laughing it off when he is told that people are using his best lines without even so much as word of acknowledgment. I never hear any one say "There is such a thing as being too good-natured" but that I think of Freddie.
You never knew any one like him on a party. Things will be dragging along, the way they do at the beginning of the evening, with the early arrivals sitting around asking one another have they been to anything good at the theatre lately, and is it any wonder there is so much sickness around with the weather so changeable. The party will be just about plucking at the coverlet when in will breeze Freddie, and from that moment on the evening is little short of a whirlwind. Often and often I have heard him called the life of the party, and I have always felt that there is not the least bit of exaggeration in the expression.
What I envy about Freddie is that poise of his. He can come right into a room full of strangers, and be just as much at home as if he had gone through grammar school with them. He smashes the ice all to nothing the moment he is introduced to the other guests by pretending to misunderstand their names, and calling them something entirely different, keeping a perfectly straight face all the time as if he never realized there was anything wrong. A great many people say he puts them in mind of Buster Keaton that way.
He is never at a loss for a screaming crack. If the hostess asks him to have a chair Freddie comes right back at her with "No, thanks; we have chairs at home." If the host offers him a cigar he will say just like a flash, "What's the matter with it?" If one of the men borrows a cigarette and a light from him Freddie will say in that dry voice of his, "Do you want the coupons too?" Of course his wit is pretty fairly caustic, but no one ever seems to take offense at it. I suppose there is everything in the way he says things.
And he is practically a whole vaudeville show in himself. He is never without a new story of what Pat said to Mike as they were walking down the street, or how Abie tried to cheat Ikie, or what old Aunt Jemima answered when she was asked why she had married for the fifth time. Freddie does them in dialect, and I have often thought it is a wonder that we don't all split our sides. And never a selection that every member of the family couldn't listen to, either—just healthy fun.
Then he has a repertory of song numbers, too. He gives them without accompaniment, and every song has a virtually unlimited number of verses, after each one of which Freddie goes conscientiously through the chorus. There is one awfully clever one, a big favourite of his, with the chorus rendered a different way each time—showing how they sang it when grandma was a girl, how they sing it in gay Paree and how a cabaret performer would do it. Then there are several along the general lines of Casey Jones, two or three about negroes who specialized on the banjo, and a few in which the lyric of the chorus consists of the syllables "ha, ha, ha." The idea is that the audience will get laughing along with the singer.
If there is a piano in the house Freddie can tear things even wider open. There may be many more accomplished musicians, but nobody can touch him as far as being ready to oblige goes. There is never any of this hanging back waiting to be coaxed or protesting that he hasn't touched a key in months. He just sits right down and does all his specialties for you. He is particularly good at doing "Dixie" with one hand and "Home, Sweet Home" with the other, and Josef Hofmann himself can't tie Freddie when it comes to giving an imitation of a fife-and-drum corps approaching, passing, and fading away in the distance.
But it is when the refreshments are served that Freddie reaches the top of his form. He always insists on helping to pass plates and glasses, and when he gets a big armful of them he pretends to stumble. It is as good as a play to see the hostess' face. Then he tucks his napkin into his collar, and sits there just as solemnly as if he thought that were the thing to do; or perhaps he will vary that one by folding the napkin into a little square and putting it carefully in his pocket, as if he thought it was a handkerchief. You just ought to see him making believe that he has swallowed an olive pit. And the remarks he makes about the food—I do wish I could remember how they go. He is funniest, though, it seems to me, when he is pretending that the lemonade is intoxicating, and that he feels its effects pretty strongly. When you have seen him do this it will be small surprise to you that Freddie is in such demand for social functions.
But Freddie is not one of those humourists who perform only when out in society. All day long he is bubbling over with fun. And the beauty of it is that he is not a mere theorist, as a joker; practical—that's Freddie all over.
If he isn't sending long telegrams, collect, to his friends, then he is sending them packages of useless groceries, C. O. D. A telephone is just so much meat to him. I don't believe any one will ever know how much fun Freddie and his friends get out of Freddie's calling them up and making them guess who he is. When he really wants to extend himself he calls up in the middle of the night, and says that he is the wire tester. He uses that one only on special occasions, though. It is pretty elaborate for everyday use.
But day in and day out, you can depend upon it that he is putting over some uproarious trick with a dribble glass or a loaded cigar or a pencil with a rubber point; and you can feel completely sure that no matter where he is or how unexpectedly you may come upon him, Freddie will be right there with a funny line or a comparatively new story for you. That is what people marvel over when they are talking about him—how he is always just the same.
It is right there, really, that they put their finger on the big trouble with him.
But you just ought to meet Freddie sometime. He's a riot, that's what he is—more fun than a circus.
Mortimer had his photograph taken in his dress suit.
So long as you keep him well inland Raymond will never give any trouble. But when he gets down to the seashore he affects a bathing suit fitted with little sleeves. On wading into the sea ankle-deep he leans over and carefully applies handfuls of water to his wrists and forehead.
It's curious, but no one seems to be able to recall what Charlie used to talk about before the country went what may be called, with screaming effect, dry. Of course there must have been a lot of unsatisfactory weather even then, and I don't doubt that he slipped in a word or two when the talk got around to the insanity of the then-current styles of women's dress. But though I have taken up the thing in a serious way, and have gone about among his friends making inquiries, I cannot seem to find that he could ever have got any farther than that in the line of conversation. In fact, he must have been one of those strong silent men in the old days.
Those who have not seen him for several years would be in a position to be knocked flat with a feather if they could see what a regular little Chatterbox Charlie has become. Say what you will about prohibition—and who has a better right?—you would have to admit, if you knew Charlie, that it has been the making of him as a conversationalist.
He never requires his audience to do any feeding for him. It needs no careful leading around of the subject, no tactful questions, no well-timed allusions, to get him nicely loosened up. All you have to do is say good evening to him, ask him how everybody over at his house is getting along, and give him a chair—though this last is not essential—and silver-tongued Charlie is good for three hours straight on where he is getting it, how much he has to pay for it, and what the chances are of his getting hold of a couple of cases of genuine pinch-bottle, along around the middle of next week. I have known him to hold entire dinner parties spellbound, from cocktails to finger bowls, with his monologue.
Now I would be well down among the last when it came to wanting to give you the impression that Charlie has been picked for the All-American alcoholic team. Despite the wetness of his conversation he is just a nice, normal, conscientious drinker, willing to take it or let it alone, in the order named. I don't say he would not be able to get along without it, but neither do I say that he doesn't get along perfectly splendidly with it. I don't think I ever saw any one who could get as much fun as Charlie can out of splitting the Eighteenth Amendment with a friend.
There is a glamour of vicarious romance about him. You gather from his conversation that he comes into daily contact with any number of picturesque people. He tells about a friend of his who owns three untouched bottles of the last absinth to come into the country; or a lawyer he knows, one of whose grateful clients sent him six cases of champagne in addition to his fee; or a man he met who had to move to the country in order to have room for his Scotch.
Charlie has no end of anecdotes about the interesting women he meets, too. There is one girl he often dwells on, who, if you only give her time, can get you little bottles of chartreuse, each containing an individual drink. Another gifted young woman friend of his is the inventor of a cocktail in which you mix a spoonful of orange marmalade. Yet another is the justly proud owner of a pet marmoset which becomes the prince of good fellows as soon as you have fed him a couple of teaspoonfuls of gin.
It is the next best thing to knowing these people yourself to hear Charlie tell about them. He just makes them live.
It is wonderful how Charlie's circle of acquaintances has widened during the last two years; there is nothing so broadening as prohibition. Among his new friends he numbers a conductor on a train that runs down from Montreal, and a young man who owns his own truck, and a group of chaps who work in drug stores, and I don't know how many proprietors of homey little restaurants in the basements of brownstone houses.
Some of them have turned out to be but fair-weather friends, unfortunately. There was one young man, whom Charlie had looked upon practically as a brother, who went particularly bad on him. It seems he had taken a pretty solemn oath to supply Charlie, as a personal favour, with a case of real Gordon, which he said he was able to get through his high social connections on the other side. When what the young man called a nominal sum was paid, and the case was delivered, its bottles were found to contain a nameless liquor, though those of Charlie's friends who gave it a fair trial suggested Storm King as a good name for the brand. Charlie has never laid eyes on the young man from that day to this. He is still unable to talk about it without a break in his voice. As he says—and quite rightly, too—it was the principle of the thing.
But for the most part his new friends are just the truest pals a man ever had. In more time than it takes to tell it, Charlie will keep you right abreast with them—sketch in for you how they are, and what they are doing, and what their last words to him were.
But Charlie can be the best of listeners, too. Just tell him about any little formula you may have picked up for making it at home, and you will find the most sympathetic of audiences, and one who will even go to the flattering length of taking notes on your discourse. Relate to him tales of unusual places where you have heard that you can get it or of grotesque sums that you have been told have been exchanged for it, and he will hang on your every word, leading you on, asking intelligent questions, encouraging you by references to like experiences of his own.
But don't let yourself get carried away with success and attempt to branch out into other topics. For you will lose Charlie in a minute if you try it.
But that, now I think of it, would probably be the very idea you would have in mind.
Lloyd wears washable neckties.
You would really be surprised at the number of things that Henry knows just a shade more about than anybody else does. Naturally he can't help realizing this about himself, but you mustn't think for a minute that he has let it spoil him. On the contrary, as the French so well put it. He has no end of patience with others, and he is always willing to oversee what they are doing, and to offer them counsel. When it comes to giving his time and his energy there is nobody who could not admit that Henry is generous. To a fault, I have even heard people go so far as to say.
If, for instance, Henry happens to drop in while four of his friends are struggling along through a game of bridge he does not cut in and take a hand, thereby showing up their playing in comparison to his. No, Henry draws up a chair and sits looking on with a kindly smile. Of course, now and then he cannot restrain a look of pain or an exclamation of surprise or even a burst of laughter as he listens to the bidding, but he never interferes. Frequently, after a card has been played, he will lean over and in a good-humoured way tell the player what he should have done instead, and how he might just as well throw his hand down then and there, but he always refuses to take any more active part in the game. Occasionally, when a uniquely poisonous play is made, I have seen Henry thrust his chair aside and pace about in speechless excitement, but for the most part he is admirably self-controlled. He always leaves with a few cheery words to the players, urging them to keep at it and not let themselves get discouraged.
And that is the way Henry is about everything. He will stroll over to a tennis court, and stand on the side lines, at what I am sure must be great personal inconvenience, calling words of advice and suggestion for sets at a stretch. I have even known him to follow his friends all the way around a golf course, offering constructive criticism on their form as he goes. I tell you, in this day and generation, you don't find many people who will go as far out of their way for their friends as Henry does. And I am far from being the only one who says so, too.
I have often thought that Henry must be the boy who got up the idea of leaving the world a little better than he found it. Yet he never crashes in on his friends' affairs. Only after the thing is done does he point out to you how it could have been done just a dash better. After you have signed the lease for the new apartment Henry tells you where you could have got one cheaper and sunnier; after you are all tied up with the new firm Henry explains to you where you made your big mistake in leaving the old one.
It is never any news to me when I hear people telling Henry that he knows more about more things than anybody they ever saw in their lives.
And I don't remember ever having heard Henry give them any argument on that one.
After Joe had had two cocktails he wanted to go up and bat for the trap drummer. After he had had three he began to get personal about the unattractive shade of the necktie worn by the strange man at the next table.
Oliver had a way of dragging his mouth to one side, by means of an inserted forefinger, explaining to you, meanwhile, in necessarily obscured tones, the work which his dentist had just accomplished on his generously displayed back teeth.
Albert sprinkled powdered sugar on his sliced tomatoes.
End of Men I'm Not Married To by Dorothy Parker