Mr. Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) was an American humorist providing comic articles to Judge magazine (later the publisher of early articles by S.J. Perelman) after the Great War. Burgess arranged with Pan to publish four installments of his "Ain't Angie Awful!" series about the frustrated love affairs of young Angela Bish. Burgess's style is a bit heavy-handed for my taste, but his work retains some historical interest. Here is the first installment.
(December 13, 1919 Pan Vol 1, No. 6)
Ain't Angie Awful!
Being the Love Affairs of Angela Bish
By Gelett Burgess
I. The Adventure of the Six-Cent Store
In the good old days when girls wore ears and lacquered their faces only in the privacy of their own homes, Angela Bish held the proud position of 23rd assistant gum-chewer in a six-cent store. Also, between times, she sold hardware very hard, such as cast-iron screwdrivers, tin saws, imitation hammers, and gimlets that wouldn't gim.
All day long behind the counter she stood on one leg or the other, and sometimes on all of them; and the longer she stood, the less she could stand it.
Black was Angela's hair, and her black eyes were black. Now some, say Confucius, are born with black eyes, and some acquire black eyes; but Angela's ebon orbs were a birthday present from her dear, dead, fat father. Angela's dress was equally black, if not blacker; her finger-nails were all pronounced brunettes. But, in those days, all her thoughts were blonde.
Angela thought, for instance, that if a man kissed her it would within four minutes be followed by a perfervid proposal of marriage. At this time Angie's mind was not very strong. She was only thirteen years old, going on sixteen, and never yet had that funny face been kissed by mankind. Men had grabbed at her, of course, and even pecked at her lips; but no one yet had landed a base hit. Always she had struck them out.
Here's a little pathetic bit about Angie, now we're on the subject. Timidly, in private, ofttimes she would take down a photograph of Fairas Doughblanks, and lick it lovingly. Did he respond? Nay, he did but laugh at her – that same old lithographic laugh! How cruel life can be at times, to the working girl!
Don't you already feel, dear reader, that you know Angela Bish? Can't you almost see her lack of any real womanliness? If not, begin the tale again, and this time, please, pay more attention. You may have missed that part about her crass brass bangles, her semi-diamond rings, and that hungry-sad Child's Restaurant expression of hers. Did I tell you that her ears were pointed? Well, they were not.
No one, in those dank days, had ever called Angie a Vimp. But that wasn't her fault. Already she had got one job as a movie actress, but she was discharged because she hated having her photograph taken. Even as you and I, she said she'd rather go to the dentist. Angie, in fact, didn't know what a Vimp might be. Neither do I. But I think Angie wasn't one of them; and I'm quite positive she wasn't two. We both feel, don't we, that she was far, far too young.
A straight orphan was Angela Bish, yet the neighbours said she was always round. All that she remembered of her father was that he had died when she was only a few weeks old. The Bishes were sorry all that day.
Her mother – everyone right here will kindly shed a tear – was a woman. Only a woman, that is all, and yet it is through such noble creatures that life and love are possible. Let us pray... From this disagreeable old half-washed harridan Angela inherited her sex which was, at least so far, female, and a wild old goldfish who looked like William Jennings Bryan in a globular glass globe.
But hurry, reader, hurry; don't stop to ask why! We must get back to the shop to see our lovely heroine hard at work, the arctic zone of that hairy head wondering how to kindle the ardent temperament of her customers.
And especially she marked with indelible attention the pretty plaid Mister with purple spots and a beautiful half-burnt cigar who stood breathing puffs of peppermint into her fascinated face. How eagerly, when he picked up a hammer, she wondered how that would strike him! And when he turned with a sneer to the chisels and scissors she was in agony lest he should cut her dead. But six-cent cutlery is dull – dull as our own (surely we may now call her so) Angela Bish. The can-openers would have done far better to give her an opening.
Her hero only bought a paper of one-ounce tacks to put in his friend's dog food, and passed out of Angie's young life.
No, at this epoch, Angela knew as little of flirting as did the Swami Vivekananda, or Carrie Chapman Catt. For in those dull pre-Tango days ladies were low-necked gowns only in the evening; and, save for mere feet, they had no visible means of support. Men, to virtuous Angela, were just a queer kind of woman who wore pants and moustaches and hard hats, who smoked cigars, and, if they saw fit, married one. And yet Angie, pure as was her heart, longed wildly to be wild. Every girl does; in fact, if not in fancy. That's why they are called girls.
We now come to the morning of Angela's first adventure. Early was she awakened, and cheerily, by eight pounds of plaster falling from the ceiling upon her face, neck and suburbs. As usual, the vaudeville team in the room above were practising the shimmy dance and massaging each other with their feet. It always bored Angie, this time more than usual. She yawned, rose and went to work combing the lime powder from her ears and nostrils.
"Oh, I'm going to have good luck to-day!" she exclaimed, as the the toothbrush went through the locks of her glossy hair. Poor child! She had found only seven cockroaches in the water pitchers. It takes so little to make a young girl happy!
And aged egg she fried in a sardine tine, over a candle, now, and washed it down with a baked ham and the north-eastern half of an English plum pudding with champagne sauce, left over from her frugal little dinner of the night before. For her dessert – only the candle-end; and you know yourself how tasteless candles are without sugar. Next, after oiling herself all over with butter, she wriggled into her blue sausage skirt, and put on her hat. It looked like a cuspidor, but it wasn't. Angela never wore them.
Then it was that her great moment came. For years and years she had tried every morning, before the mirror, and every time she had failed. To-day something seemed to snap in her – it must have been her conscience strings – and without the slightest effort she discovered that she could say it.
Sobbing, half with regret, Angela knew that her childhood was over. She was free, free! – free to break hearts and pocket-books, free to wear long red earrings for ever and for ever – perhaps afterwards; who knows! In the ecstacy of ewomancipation she drank half a bottle of cologne and smoked two whole Chinese punk sticks. She was free, free!
Joyously she set out for the six-cent store, on the corner of 13th and 25th Streets, West.
Who would have suspected that, diagonally above that little turn, there beat a heart filled with naughty joy? Back of those black eyes were things that would have made Comstock weep. Yes, such was Angie that morning, if not sucher.
And behold, at 11.11 again He appeared where the hard hardware counter concealed the southern half of our little friend A. Bish. Her hero! The same plaid suit with the same dear spots, the same half-smoked cigar, the same sweet old breath, embalmed in peppermint, as per always.
Over the top she cast her eyes. He caught them.
"I say, girly, how much are these?"
"Can't you read? Everything on this counter is six cents."
"Yes, everything!" How simple are the truly great dramatic moments of life.
A red light flared in his eyes. "Then I'll take you!"
For a moment, perhaps for only a jiffy, Angie swooned. Love's hour had struck ONE! Then, ringing up his six cents, she gave a last look about at these to-be-forgotten scenes of her infancy, and calmly wrapped herself up in brown paper.
"Here you are," she said, firmly knotting the string about her waist. What she meant was, "Here I am!" But he understood. At such moments there is little need for words. One's instinct speaks.
In another minute he was outside the store, and Angie, trembling like a kangaroo with the flu, felt herself being carried down, down, down into the Subway.
Then all was dark, dark!
* * *
Three hours later, in a gorglorious apartment on the 101st floor of the Asdorf Waltoria, Angela regained consciousness, although her brain still reeled with the stupefying fumes of peppermint and romance. Her hero was gloating over his happy victim. Strewn about the room she counted several thousand cigar butts.
"Who are you?" she murmured loudly, "and why hast you took me here?"
"I am a manufacturer of tobacco ashes," was his reply, "and I need somebody to sift them and pack them into silver cans.
But life, dear reader, is not always one unbroken rosary of rapture. Not at all, or seldom. Some pearls are tears. Wherefore Angela's virtue was to remain to bore her for many, many years. Hardly had she begun rapturously to fear the worst, when came a loud rap at the door. Her hero turned pale, but, hastily and yet resolutely donning a pair of purple suspenders, he flung wide the portal.
Alas, there stood there, there did, with evil in his eyes, Mr. Burleson T. Woodrow, the proprietor of the six-cent store.
With evil in his eyes he cried the one word, "Give her back, you robber! Give her back!"
And so saying this, he held before the Hero's horrified gaze a small lead token. A little thing it was, small and round, hardly littler than a glass eye; but it had power to change Angela's destiny.
With one long, swift glance, she saw that her doom was sealed. Back she must go, back to the slavery of the hard, hard, hardware counter again. In one moment all her innocent dreams of vice had gefled.
"Oh, dammit!" she whispered.
Now little we know when a new accomplishment may prove useful!
For B.T. Woodrow held, in that large lobster-like hand, a counterfeit six-cent piece!