The Dusenberg Place

ALEX ATKINSON lives in London, has written several plays and three novels; his shorter work appears frequently in Punch and other periodicals.


I DON’T want anyone to think I go to the cinema simply for entertainment. I’m a shrewd man with a serious turn of mind. I like to find out about people; and after half a lifetime of watching American films, I have been able to build up a vivid mental picture of the typical American family — the Dusen bergs.

The Dusenberg place is a handsome, colonial-style, brownstone, prefabricated, weatherboard house designed by Trank Lloyd Wright. It has a porch, and the ground floor consists of one room, combining living room, bar, dinette, and kitchen, on account of the shortage of doors in the ! .S. During the hot weather everybody sleeps on the roof. Here too the family gathers each year w hen tlie floods carry the house another few miles nearer the Mississippi, or the Potomac, or t he Hudson, or wherever it is.

Somewhere around the back of the house there is a kind of barn, where an old character-man is constantly shoeing horses, whittling, spitting, saying “Goldarn it,” or teaching the young’uns how to track mountain lion without stepping on a twig. He is Zcke, the handy man, or hand. He is also called Rube, or sometimes Seth, or Cain, or Abel.

Each, bedroom has an adjoining bathroom, and people keep coming out of these bathrooms at all hours of the day or night, fresh from the shower, wearing luxurious beach robes if they are male, and transparent negligees if they arc not. Then they= either light a Chesterfield and drift downstairs to mix a Martini in a Steuben glass jug, or they light a Lucky and go into a built-in wardrobe to find a frock.

Sometimes they find a body as well, and when the D.A. comes he may have to hold a Dusenberg on suspicion, and pretty soon the colored maid has given her notice, and the brooding silence of night descends on the Dusenberg place.

There is also an attic, where relatives who are fleeing from the F.B.I., the Reds, the Feds, the gorillas, a blonde, or whatever it is they are fleeing from, may hide out until the thing blows over. Here also, in a trunk, there is the ball dress that was worn by an ancestor of Mrs. Dusenberg on the night the Civil War broke out. Every time Mrs. Dusenberg creeps up to get it out and fondle it, she hears violins playing “Dixie.”

Mrs. Dusenberg is getting on in years now (rising thirty-eight). She has honey-colored hair, like everybody else, bust 37, waist 24, hips 34. She can sing, swim, play the piano, make coffee, ride horses, hold a gun the right way round, and see without glasses. Her name is Virginia.

Her daughter is Gail, aged eighteen (honey-colored hair, bust 37, waist 24, hips 34). She can do everything Mom can do, and several other tilings, like working up such a lather in her bath that an onlooker would never know whether she had on a swim suit or not.

Mr. Dusenberg (Ed) is an executive who never lias anything on his desk but framed photographs; and whenever he comes home worn out from the office, something terrible has happened. Sometimes escaped convicts are dozing in the living room with prices on their heads and their feet up on the hi-fi equipment. Sometimes the place is surrounded by mutation ants eight feet tall. Sometimes Dwight, the son, is toying with the idea of becoming a liberal. \\ hat ever it is, Ed gets it sorted out before long, but it doesn’t help his ulcers.

One way and another, the Dusenbergs live a pretty full life. They go to their summer place in the Adirondacks in the fall, and one match is all they need to set lire to the logs in the grate. Ed spends a good deal ol his time in Chicago, wearing a comical hat with a tassel on it for the sake of convention, and watching naked call girls pop up out of cakes but not meaning any harm. W hen he isn’l there you’ll find him chewing gum in a bowling alley, eating nuts at a bull game, being sworn in as a deputy in Wyoming Territory, being pushed off a cliff by Virginia and her no-good boy friend for the sake of the insurance, or wrestling on a girder with some Commies, with the plans in his pocket and Virginia down below wringing her hands.

Guil is usually winning a beauty contest. At other times she is courted by a morlician with a crew cut who keeps taking her to the Stork Club in a Yellow Cab; kidnaped by men with eyes like slits who keep squabbling among themselves about which of them is going to give her a great big kiss; or chosen to play the lead in a Big Musical because she hasn’t any experience.

I know it all sounds idyllic, but there are snags and hazards. For one thing, the telephone wires are tapped the whole time. For another thing, it’s not too easy to get to sleep at night, what with the wail of sirens, and the television, and the Mardi Gras.

Sometimes I wonder how the Dusen bergs have managed to put up with it all these years, but I suppose there are compensations. They can go on a picnic with two thousand other people to get away from it all, and maybe pull somebody’s shirt, off. They can be psychoanalyzed. They can be married in the small hours by doddery reverends in their dressing gowns. They can go to college and major in tap dancing. They can get on a committee at the drop of a hat, or in the movies at the hitch of a skirt. If the worst comes to the worst, they can spend ten days in. Europe and realize how fortunate they are to have a refrigerator, two ears, and a sheri 11 who can’t be bribed.

The point is, I know them as well as I know the people next door, and I don’t want Hollywood to think I’m not grateful for the knowledge.