Saturday, March 22, 2014

Montague Glass

Montague Glass (1877-1934) was trained as a lawyer but later shifted from business law to a very successful full-time career as a comic writer of stories, novels, and plays.  He is best known for his characters Abe Potash and Mawrus Perlmutter, two small-businessmen in the New York City garment trade.  Their shrewd, commonsense conversations covered topics that ranged from business to politics to international affairs.  Glass's graceful and realistic use of Jewish dialect is a delightful ingredient of the Potash and Perlmutter stories.

The following excerpt is the first chapter in Glass's book Worrying Won't Win (1918).

[Note: A brief summary of historical context may be helpful.  From the comments by Potash and Perlmutter on the current international events, the chapter below must have been written in September of 1917.  Russia was in turmoil after the February Revolution, which arose from the incompetent management of the war effort and the devastation of the Russian economy.  Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated in March of 1917, and he and his family had been exiled first to Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo and then in August moved to the Governor's Mansion in Tobolsk.  (They would later be imprisoned in the town of Yekaterinburg, where they would be assassinated in July of 1918.)  Alexander Kerensky was Prime Minister of the short-lived Russian Provisional Government.  The October revolution would soon begin, giving control of the government to the Bolsheviks.]


Yes, Abe," Morris Perlmutter said to his partner, Abe Potash, as they sat in their office one morning in September, "the English language is practically a brand-new article since the time when I used to went to night school.  In them days when a feller says he is feeling like a king, it meant that he was feeling like a king, aber to-day yet, if a feller says he feels like a king it means that he's got stomach and domestic trouble and that he don't know where the money is coming from to pay his next week's laundry bill.  Czars is the same way, too. Former times when you called a feller a regular czar you meant he was a regular czar, aber nowadays if you say somebody is a regular czar it means that the poor feller couldn't call his soul his own and that he must got to do what everybody from the shipping-clerk up tells him to do with no back talk."

"Well, it only goes to show, Mawruss," Abe commented.  "There was a czar, y'understand, which for years was not only making out pretty good as a czar, y'understand, but had really as you might say been doing something phenomenal yet.  In fact, Mawruss, if three years ago R. G. Dun or Bradstreet would give it a rating to czars and people in similar lines, y'understand, compared with the czar already, an old-established house like Hapsburg's in Vienna would be rated N. to Q., Credit Four, see foot-note. And to-day, Mawruss, where is he?"

"Say," Morris protested, "any one could have reverses, Abe, because it don't make no difference if it would be a czar oder a pants manufacturer, and they both had ratings like John B. Rockafellar even, along comes two or three bad seasons like the czar had it, y'understand, and the most you could hope for would be thirty cents on the dollar ten cents cash and the balance in notes at three, six, and nine months, indorsed by a grand duke who has got everything he owns in his wife's name and 'ain't spent an evening at home with her since way before the Crimean War already."

"What happened to the Czar, Mawruss," Abe said, "bad seasons didn't done it.  Not reckoning quick assets, like crowns actually in stock, fixtures, etc., the feller must of owned a couple million versts high-grade real property, to say nothing of his life insurance, Mawruss."

"Czars and life insurance ain't in the same dictionary at all, Abe," Morris interrupted.  "In the insurance business, Abe, czars comes under the same head as aviators with heart trouble, y'understand. I bet yer over half a czar's morning mail already is circulars from casket concerns alone, Abe, so that only goes to show how much you know from czars."

"Well, I know this much, anyhow," Abe continued.  "What put the Czar out of business, didn't happen this season or last season neither, Mawruss. It dates back already twenty years ago, which you can take it from me, Mawruss, it don't make no difference what line a feller would be in czars wholesale, czars retail, or czars' supplies and sundries including bomb-proof underwear and the Little Wonder Poison Detector, y'understand, the moment such a feller marries into the family of his nearest competitor, Mawruss, he might just as well go down to a lawyer's office and hand him the names he wants inserted in Schedule A Three of his petition in bankruptcy."

"Did the Czar marry into such a family?" Morris asked.

"A question!" Abe exclaimed. "Didn't you know that the Czar's wife is the Kaiser's mother's sister's daughter?"

"Say!" Morris retorted. "I didn't even know that the Kaiser had a mother. From the heart that feller's got it, you might suppose he was raised in an incubator and that the only parents he ever knew was a couple of packages absorbent cotton and an alcohol-lamp."

"Well, that's what I am telling you, Mawruss," Abe said.  "With all the millionaires in Russland which would be tickled to pieces to get a czar for a son-in-law, y'understand, the feller goes to work and ties up to a family with somebody like the Kaiser in it, and you know as well as I do, Mawruss, one crook in your wife's family can stick you worser than all your poor relations put together."

"Even when your wife's relations are honest, what is it?" Morris asked.

"Gewiss!" Abe agreed. "And can you imagine when such a crook in-law is also your biggest competitor?  I bet yer, Mawruss, the poor nebich wasn't home from his honeymoon yet before the Kaiser starts in cutting prices on him."

"Cutting prices was the least," Morris said.  "Take Bulgaria, for instance, and up to a few years ago that was one of the Czar's best selling territories.  In fact, Abe, whenever the Czar stops off at Sophia, him and the King of Bulgaria takes coffee together, such good friends they was."

"Who is Sophia?" Abe asked.  "Also a relative of the Kaiser?"

"Sophia is the name of one big town in Bulgaria," Morris replied.

"That's a name for a big town — Sophia," Abe remarked.  "Why don't they call it Lillian Russell and be done with it?"

"They could call it Williamsburg for all the business the Czar done there after the Kaiser got in his fine work," Morris said.

"And after all, what good did it done him?" Abe added.  "Because you know as well as I do, Mawruss, the Kaiser ain't two jumps ahead of the sheriff himself.  In fact, Mawruss, the king business is to-day like the human-hair business and the green-goods business.  It's practically a thing of the past."

"Did I say it wasn't?" Morris asked.

"Being a king ain't a business no more, Mawruss. It's just a job," Abe continued, "and it's a metter of a few months now when the only kings left will be, so to speak, journeymen kings like the King of England and the King of Belgium and not boss kings like the King of Austria and the Kaiser.  Why, right now, that Germany is his store, and that the poor Germans nebich is just salespeople; and he figures that if he wants to close out his stock and fixtures at a sacrifice and at the same time work his salespeople to death, what is that their business, y'understand."

"Well, that's the way the Czar figured," Morris commented.  "For, Abe, the Kaiser has got an idee years already he was running Russland on the open-shop principle, and before he woke up to the fact that the people he had been treating right straight along as non-union labor was really the majority stockholders, y'understand, they had changed the combination of the safe on him and notified the bank that on and after said date all checks would be signed by Jacob M. Kerensky as receiver."

"You would think a feller like the Czar would learn something by what happened to this here Mellen of the New Haven Railroad," Abe said.

"Yow learn!" Morris replied.  "Is the Kaiser learning something from what they done to the Czar?"

"That's a different matter entirely," Abe retorted.  "With a relation by marriage, you naturally figure if he makes a big success that he fell in soft and that a lucky stiff like him if he gets shot with a gun, y'understand, the bullet is from gold and it hits him in the pocket yet; whereas, if he goes broke and 'ain't got a cent left in the world, y'understand, it's a case of what could you expect from a Schlemiel like that.  So instead of learning anything from what happens to the Czar, I bet yer the Kaiser feels awful sore at him yet. Why, I don't suppose a day passes without the Kaiser's wife comes to him and says, 'Listen, Popper, Esther (or whatever the Czar's wife's name is) called me up again this morning; she says Nicholas 'ain't got no work nor nothing and she was crying something terrible.'

"'Well, if she's going to keep on crying till I find that loafer a job,' the Kaiser says, 'she's got a long wet spell ahead of her.'

"'She don't want you to find him no job,' the Kaiser's wife tells him.  'All she asks is you should send 'em transportation.'

"'Transportation nothing!' the Kaiser says.  'I already sent transportation to the King of Greece, Ambassador Bernstorff, Doctor Dernburg, this here boy Ed und Gott weisst wer nach.  What am I? The Pennsylvania Railroad or something?'

"'Well, what is he going to do 'way out there in Tobolsk?' she says.

"'If he would only of acted reasonable and killed off a couple million of them suckers, the way any other king would do, he never would of had to go to Tobolsk at all,' the Kaiser says.

"'Aber what shall I say to her if she rings up again?' she asks.

"'Say what you please.' the Kaiser answers her, 'but tell Central I wouldn't pay no reverse charges under no circumstances whatsoever from nowheres.'"

"And who told you all this, Abe?" Morris asked.

"Nobody," Abe replied. "I figured it out for myself."

"Well, you figured wrong, then," Morris said.  "The Kaiser don't act that way.  He ain't human enough, and, furthermore, Abe, the Kaiser don't talk over the telephone, neither, because if he did, y'understand, it's a cinch that sooner or later the court physician would be giving out the cause of death as shock from being connected up with the electric-light plant by party or parties unknown and Long Live Kaiser Schmooel the Second — or whatever the Crown Prince's rotten name is."

"Any one who done such a thing in the hopes of making a change for the better, Mawruss," Abe commented, "would certainly be jumping from the frying-pan into the soup, because if the Germans got rid of the Kaiser in favor of the Crown Prince it would be a case of discarding a king and drawing a deuce."

"Sure I know," Morris said, "but what the Germans need is a new deal all around.  As the game stands now in Germany, Abe, only a limited few sits in, while the rest of the country hustles the refreshments and pays for the lights and the cigars, and they're such a poor-spirited bunch, y'understand, that they 'ain't got nerve enough to suggest a kitty, even."

"Well, it's too late for them to start a kitty now, Mawruss," Abe said.  "Which you could take it from me, Mawruss, the house is going to be pulled 'most any day.  Several million husky cops is going up the front stoop right this minute, Mawruss, and while they may have a little trouble with them — now — ice-box style of doors, it's only a question of time when they would back up the patrol-wagon, y'understand, because if the Germans wouldn't close up the game of their own accord, Mawruss, the Allies must got to do it for them."

"But the Germans don't want us to help 'em," Morris said.  "They're perfectly satisfied as they are."

"I know it," Abe said. "They're a nation of shipping-clerks, Mawruss.  They're in a rut, y'understand.  They've all got rotten jobs and they're scared to death that they're going to lose them.  Also the boss works them like dawgs and makes their lives miserable, y'understand, and yet they're trembling in their pants for fear he is going to bust up on them."

"Then I guess it's up to us Allies to show them poor Chamorrim how they could be bosses for themselves," Morris suggested.

"Sure it is," Abe concluded, "and next year in Tobolsk when the Kaiser joins his relations by marriage, Mawruss, he's going to pick up the Tobolsker Freie Presse some morning and see where there has been incorporated at last the Deutche Allgemeine Wohlfahrtfabrik, with a capital of a hundred billion marks, to take over the business of the K. K. Manufacturing Company, and he's going to say the same as everybody else: 'Well, what do you know about them Heinies? I never thought they had it in them.'"

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