F.P.A. divides his time between the pool table of The Players and his home in Connecticut, with occasional forays into the lecture circuits.
by FRANKLIN P. ADAMS
IN Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy occurs “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish.”And in Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” he says — and this is really the subject of what my idolaters call Your Little Article—“Chill penury oppress’d their noble age, And froze the genial current of the soul.”These persons — the Article ones — are the same ones who say to anybody who may have written a poem that is fewer than twenty-eight lines, “Your Little Doggerel.”
This is the true story of the heroes and the heroines who have confided to me some of their prodigalities and penuries.
Take me, who never questioned any of my four children’s expensive traits, like clothes and books, and private schools and colleges. I am a conspicuous turner-out of electric lights, on which I might save 16 cents a year. Incidentally, candor forces the admission that those schools and colleges paid off, for two of my boys are now self-supporting.
Take my wife, a comparatively easy job. She is a return-postcard saver. When we get a return postcard, she uses it, scratches out the return address, and sends it to someone else. This saves, she says, about $1.50 a year. She is a great one to save dresses, have them cleaned at the Eagle place in Hartford, and first thing I know, I get a Bill Rendered, $59.50. “What is this for?" I ask gently. “I had your bathrobe cleaned, and some dresses.” Over each of many boxes from the same place, when opened, she says, “Why I ever had that old dress cleaned, I do not know.”So she either hives it away or sends it abroad, costing also a tidy sum for postage.
A friend of mine lives in the New York nineties. He is seventy-three. For years when a package has come to the house, he has carefully untied it instead of cutting it, and has saved countless miles of more string than anybody can possibly use. Yet he thinks nothing of taking a cab six days a week, going either to Gramercy Park or the Salmagundi Club, at 47 Fifth Avenue.
I know a prodigal hostess. There is usually a guest or two. They are always importuned to stay a week, though they may have come there for a day or two. She, and the cook, set a marvelous and expensive table. It must cost at leasl $10 a day for each guest. They are asked to stay a week or more because she hates to spend money for sheets and pillow cases to be laundered for another guest.
I know a man who always hangs back and lets the other man pay the subway fare, but will let a friend have $500 with no hope of getting it back. I know another man who would take you to dinner, and who is careless about money. Yet, no matter what the fare is, hungry or not, he will not leave anything on the plate. “Often I don’t like it,”he confessed, “but I hate to see food wasted.”
A friend of mine, John McNulty, has a closet full of fine shoes. I never have been there when he hasn’t been shining them and polishing them, instead of going next door and having them done. This I can understand, for he thinks so much of his footgear that he won’t trust them to an ordinary bootblack. What am I talking about? I do the same thing myself.
To this day, I won’t eat bread. As a boy, if I didn’t eat bread, I wasn’t allowed to have meat and potatoes, or a dessert. So I ate broad, and said that if I ever had anything to say, I’d never eat bread. This bread famine has been going on for more than forty years.
There is another penury that Iand many others —loathe. We get letters, almost form letters, saying the English teacher has assigned her, or him, to write an article about you. And will you please write a thousand words or so about how you get your inspiration, when you do your best work, and anything else about yourself. You are supposed to write the piece for nothing, of course. In the rare times when postage is furnished, I quote Dr. Samuel Johnson, who said, “No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
I know a motion picture star who makes untold money a year, who came east from Hollywood with a great hole in his coat. A soft touch for anybody, “I hate to buy a new coat.” he said. I know a really wealthy man who telephones his spinster sister, from New York to California, but has one of those threeminute egg glass timepieces in the telephone booth so that he won’t talk more than three minutes.
Again my wife: she doesn’t have to make a dateline, such as I have had to on newspapers and on the radio; yet she writes her letters on the train, loathing to waste that hour reading or looking at the Connecticut countryside. I tell her something or other, some big news. “How do you know that?" she asks. “I read it in your paper,”I reply. “Do you think that all I have to do is read the paper every day?" But she wastes time, according to me, telephoning for hours.
There are many of us who would rather buy a now type machine than change the ribbon on a good machine. After all, we say, ribbons don’t grow on trees.