The Blind Men and the Elephant
You live in San Francisco and I live in San Francisco, and so does the man who owns the peanut wagon on the corner, and none of us live in the same San Francisco—funny. We're like the blind men who each gave a different version of the elephant.
To some, San Francisco is always eight o'clock in the morning or six o'clock at night, swinging on the straps homeward, swallow their dinners and to a show in the evening. Such people never have wandered through Golden Gate Park of an afternoon or sunned themselves on the benches of Union Square. They have never seen San Francisco by week-day sunlight.
Then there are home women and leisure women to whom San Francisco is always afternoon, down-town in the shopping district with ladies in pretty clothes passing each other on the street or in and out of the sweet-scented stores.
To some, San Francisco is always night. A taxi-driver who used to be a newsboy down on the old Barbary Coast. He has never seen anything but the night life of the city. Not bad, but night provincial—a sort of male version of Trilby.
The neighborhood of Merchants Exchange on California Street is San Francisco to hundreds of men. They ride out to the golf links and into the country on Sunday. Occasionally they go to New York, but when they return San Francisco is limited to the neighborhood where men inquire anxiously—"Is she picking up any in the East?"
No matter how wealthy, no matter how poor, to each of us San Francisco is very much limited in the confines of what each of us is interested in. It's funny when you stop to think about it. How the Master of Marionettes must laugh at us when he sees us together. Perhaps some night after the show, the traffic cop raises his imperial hand and there, waiting to pass, the taxi driver of the night and a dear little home woman with her husband, and Mr. Chamber-of-Commerce and close to him a man who has never seen San Francisco by week day sunlight. There they all wait looking out of their eyes on San Francisco and each seeing it so differently.
San Francisco is one thing to you and another thing to me and something entirely different to the man on the peanut stand.
You're Getting Queer
Everyone ought to have—well, what is it that everyone ought to have? No, not a machine, not necessarily a garden and not even a camera. Everyone ought to have children. If not children of their own, then borrowed ones or nieces or nephews or the neighbor's kids. Everyone ought to have children.
People who have no children anywhere in their environment to whom they can talk intimately soon become queer and lop-sided. They may not always realize it but others will find them awkward and stilted and covered with cobwebs and dust. Such people will be found hard to get on with and full of snippiness. It is half what ails folks, that so many of them have no children in their lives and it affects them like malnutrition. Let a baby enter a street car filled with moldy, musty grown-ups and watch the starved looks and the foolish and pathetic boohs and pokes they will dart in the direction of the child.
It is often my privilege to tell stories to a group of babies, and one day when they were crowded close around me one of them exclaimed—"Hey, you spit right in my eye." Then it came to me what a lot of eyes I had probably spit into all down the years, and how no one had ever told me of it so frankly before. Children are so honest until we teach them to say that they're sorry when they're not, and to listen to stories that bore them and to pretend not to like Jazz when all the time they do.
Contact with children takes us back to the genesis of our being and revives in us something primitive and honest and natural. I saw a man recently being led out of a grown-up meeting by the hand of a child and he looked so cross about it and was so obviously trying to maintain his dignity while the child hurried him up the aisle. I thought how silly. When a child has to leave a meeting he has to, that's all, and there's no use in arguing or getting cross about it. And really how good it was for that pompous individual to get taken down a peg by the terribly human appeal of a little child.
All of us ought to find some children to tell stories to for our own sakes. And then when we have gotten Jack up the beanstalk and into the ogre's kitchen, and the ogre says in an awful voice—"I smell a human being," perhaps there will come to us some of the old thrill that we had forgotten.
If you don't know any children intimately, children who call you "George" or "Auntie Flo," children who run to meet you, children who hurt your pockets with anticipation, children to whom you read the funnies or whom you take to the movies, children for whom you may revive your childhood tricks of making a blade of grass squawk, or wiggling your scalp, or cutting out a row of dancing paper dolls, then hurry and get acquainted even if you are driven to pick them up. If you don't, then as sure as you're alive, you'll find yourself growing queer.
The Ferry and Real Boats
As a matter of fact the ferry isn't a boat at all. It is more like a house or a street car or a park full of pretty benches. It doesn't sail, it only plies, plies between two given points at stated intervals, and could anything be more dull. Nothing is more prosaic than a ferry unless it be an ironing board.
Even a barge is superior, and a barge doesn't pretend to be a boat. A barge goes somewhere and it gets mussed up by the real salt sea, and so do flat, old scows, honest and rough and sea-going. Any boat in the bay is superior to the effeminate ferry. Even the boat to Sacramento has a bit more atmosphere. As for tug boats, they are little, but O-my as they pull the great, impotent barges after them. Pilot boats have quite an air making the big, dignified steamers look foolish being yanked here and there. The tidy fisherman's motor boats look rather unimaginative, all tied in rows at Fisherman's Wharf, but they go somewhere, sometimes away down the coast and from their sides the long nets reach away down into the sea itself.
How the real boats in the bay must despise the ferry. Think of being called a boat and never once sailing out of the Golden Gate. How maddening it must be. If the ferry had any spirit at all, some day it would just switch about and go chunking out to sea. Imagine then the concern of the staid commuters from Oakland and Alameda to say nothing of the citizens of Berkeley and Marin County, to find themselves being borne away from their vegetable gardens and fresh eggs out to sea in a wooden boat.
I suppose there are many people living right here in San Francisco who have never sailed away out of the Golden Gate, people who have been bound economically or by love or duty, and have had to ply like the ferry daily between two given points. But can there be a man who has seen tall-masted schooners and long-bodied ocean-going steamers pass in and out of the alluring Golden Gate, and has never longed to sail away to the enchanted South Seas, or to Alaska. Such a man is not a man any more than the ferry is a boat.
If I could choose the boat I'd sail away upon, it would not be a coast-wise steamer, nor the prim Alaska packers nor even the steamers to the Orient. I'd choose me a four-masted schooner, carrying freight and going somewhere, anywhere, no one knows where. And then some day the wind would die or some night the wind would howl and there would come to me a great longing for or a ferry that should take me home at night in a safe and prosaic manner.
A Whiff of Acacia
In Connecticut now, and in Illinois and in Utah too, it is lilac time. Lilac time—I'll stop, if you please, to say the words over lovingly. In San Francisco now the lilacs are in bloom but it is not lilac time. In Golden Gate Park the rhododendrons are blossomed into gorgeous mounds of color but they are not an event in San Francisco, only an incident. In "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" set in the mountains of Virginia, they are the dominant background.
Poppies and lupine and many others are the flower tradition of California but they are not what I mean here. It is an impression of mine that San Francisco more than any other city has taken the traditional plants and flowers of other sections and made them into a composite that makes up the plant atmosphere of this city.
Take roses and geraniums and callas, none of which are epochal because they are always at hand. But with old Mrs. Deacon Rogers in Connecticut who nursed her calla through the long winter that she might take it to church on Easter Sunday, the calla was history.
Even the camellia San Franciscans take very philosophically. It has not, for instance, the supremacy that Dumas gives it in "Camille." In Sacramento they feature it more and an Easterner who saw them picking it in branches instead of single flowers, exclaimed: "Why, they think they're oleanders."
The plant and flower atmosphere of a community is very important. Some child is now growing up in the city, who some day will be far away when there will come to him a whiff, perhaps of acacia, and in an instant there will come surging over him all the feel and urge and thrill and wistfulness and dreams of his childhood, and he will be once more in the atmosphere of San Francisco. It will not include winter and summer but an all-round-the-year-ness, it will not mean a flower, but flowers, cherry blossoms from Japan, acacia from Australia, and the best from everywhere which all together will mean to him—San Francisco.
The smell of the acacia, which he knew as the wattle, inspired Kipling to write those words
"Smells are surer than sounds or sights To make your heart strings crack."
Perhaps many others see with me this difference between San Francisco and the rest of the country, as though nature here expresses herself in bounty more than in resurrection. Oh, well, whether it be "lilac time" or "all the time" to each locality there is its own beauty and, as for me, I have yet to find, in all my travels, the "place that God forgot."
It Takes All Sorts
"Hey, hey," called the tall, nervous man with the fat, little wife, waving his arms at the conductor for fear he would be carried past his corner.
"It takes all sorts of people to make a world," remarked the sensible-looking woman beside me.
It is not the first time that I have been impressed with the philosophy of those words. Who said them first, I wonder. "It takes all sorts of people to make a world." That is, if we only had one sort or even a number of sorts we would have no world. To make a world there must be all sorts, including the funniest folks we ever knew.
I looked from the sensible woman with her well-chosen clothes to the woman across the way. This second woman was a sort of dressed-up-and-no-place-to-go type, with a squirt of Cashmere Bouquet in the center of her handkerchief. And nothing on that went with anything else she had on. And a hat which one knew was a hat, because it was on her head, otherwise it might have passed for almost anything.
The woman beside me wouldn't have been caught dead looking like the second woman. Yet she should have been thankful for her. For it is only by contrast that the well-groomed look smart, and the overdressed look fussy. Whether that is Einstein's theory of relativity or not, I don't know. I only know that, "It takes all sorts of people to make a world."
There we sit on parade in these side-seater cars, and what we are is revealed so pitilessly to all who sit across from us. It is as though Fate were making jokes of us and sits us down beside the antitheses of ourselves. Such a one of Nature's jokes I saw recently. They were two men. The first was the sort whom one calls an "old boy." A racy individual, well-fed with a round front, an Elk, of course, a city man, reeking of good cigars, and an appraising eye out for a good-looking woman.
Beside him sat a man who had been studying birds in the Park. Berkeley was written all over him. A thin, pure type. He was dressed in field glasses and a bag full of green weeds and stout walking boots. There was an ecstatic glint in his eye which meant that he had discovered a long-billed, yellow-tailed Peruvian fly-catcher, "very rare in these parts."
So there they sat packed in so close and so terribly far apart, both so necessary to the making of a world.
And as they sat a boy entered the car with a shoe-box, full of holes, and out of the holes came a "peep" and then another. And the Berkeley man lost his abstracted look and the man-about-town laid down his paper and pretty soon the boy lifted the lid a bit and both men peeked in.
The Fog in San Francisco
Sunsets in the desert, spring in New England, black-green oaks lying on tawny hills in Marin County, fields of cotton on red soil in Georgia, surf on the rocks of Maine, moonlight on Mobile Bay, and the way the fog comes upon San Francisco on summer afternoons.
Sometimes when all its hills lie sparkling in the sunshine and children play on the sidewalks, young fellows whistle, business autos go zippity-ip around the corners, and the whole city is out of doors or hanging out of the windows, then suddenly in great billows the fog comes rolling in through the Golden Gate, and between the hills right up the streets into the city.
Then immediately all is changed and everything is nearer and more intimate and nothing of the city is left but the street you're on. Then you hurry home for supper and home seems good and sometimes you even light a little fire in the grate.
Still it is not a cold fog, it is not a wet fog, it is never an unkind fog. It comes swiftly, but very gently, and lays its cool, dainty hand on your face lovingly. Hands are so different, sticky or wet or clammy or hot, but the hand of the San Francisco fog is the hand of a kind nurse on a tired head. The rain is a beautiful thing too, but the fog has another significance.—It is the "small rain" that Moses spoke of—"My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass."
It is very beautiful too. My, but I've seen fogs that were ugly, and heard the fisherman say "She's pretty thick tonight." San Francisco fog is not like that, but like great billows of a bride's veil. Then in the morning when the sun comes it chases the bride and her veil out so fast, and they go out to sea together, sunshine and fog.
The other morning I awakened very early and there in the square of my window was a hard, black cube against a white background. I lay there and blinked and wondered where that telephone pole had come from, which like Jack's beanstalk, had grown there overnight. Then I saw that the fog had shut out the whole world and brought that pole close, and made it seem big and formidable and ugly.
The fog makes some people lose their perspective, and for others it only wraps with a great kindness the whole world and blots out all ugliness. But upon everyone, upon the just and unjust, this San Francisco fog lays its gentle hand lovingly and with an ineffable kindness.
A Block on Ashbury Heights
Sometimes in the afternoons when the mothers are out shopping and the youngsters have not yet returned from school our block looks so deserted and wind-swept and dull. The houses are so much alike. They all sit there in a row with their poker faces like close-mouthed Yankees refusing to divulge any secrets. But from the bow-windows where I sit and type, in spite of their silence the house fronts have become individualized into so many human stories.
I never stop to look out but somehow the stories get in through the window. For instance, I would not be so rude as to stare at the family washing which once a week is hung on the flat top of a neighbor's garage, but those clothes up there have a way of flapping in the wind so conspicuously that I cannot help see. There is the man of the house and his, shall I say garments, kick themselves about like some staid old deacon having his fling. Then there is the middle-sized bear whose bloomers, billowed by the wind, become a ridiculous fat woman cut off at the waist. And the little bear's starched clothes crack and snap while the revolving tree-horse whirls about like some mad dervish. I often wonder if the family know of the wild actions that take place on the roof.
It is a very respectable block inhabited mostly by grown-ups except one lively house where a dog lives with some boys and their incidental parents. The door of that house continuously bangs, and other boys with other dogs are always hanging around whistling under the windows.
Most of the windows are only used to admit light except one that is used to look out of and is inhabited by an old lady who sits all day and knits for her grandchildren. It must not be so bad, I think, to look out of the window upon life instead of always rushing off to catch a car that takes one into the thick of it.
Out of the window of my kitchenette I can look into the window of a girl in the next house. Every morning I get my breakfast by her dressing. My coffee I start as she begins to unwind her curls from their steel cages. I have a suspicion that she also dresses by me. If she sniffs my coffee first, I imagine she hurries with her curls. She is usually fixing her eye-brows to my toast and by the time I sit down she is doing her lips.
After that she goes off for the long day and so do most of the people in the block. Then at night they all return, drawn by some tie of love or habit or despair, each to his right place in the long row of houses, which have been sitting there all day with their poker faces, waiting.
The Greek Grocer
He had just opened a store on our street and in a Lady Bountiful spirit of helping him out, I went in to do a little trading. I told him I would like a can of baked beans. Baked beans, but he didn't seem to understand. So pointing over the counter where they were in plain sight, I said with all my teeth and tongue: "Baaked Beens." He followed my finger. "Oh," he said correcting me, "You min Purrk ind Bins."
That was the beginning and for weeks that Greek has been correcting my pronunciation. There is no use to argue about it. The fellow has no reverence for Noah Webster and besides there are more Greeks, nowadays, than Yankees, and their way is probably getting to be the right way. Sometimes I think it is we who are the "foreigners."
Once it was cauliflower. Now, I say cauliflower exactly as it is spelled but that isn't right. It is "Culliefleur," said staccato. And honey—one day I wanted honey and after I had sung "Hunnie, hunnie" in high C, and he didn't understand, I went around and picked out a jar of it. "Oh," he said reproachfully, "you min hawney."
A Scotch woman had a scene with him the other day over some "paeper." There is no way of spelling it as she said it. She kept repeating it and he kept getting the wrong thing. No, she didn't want paper but "paeper"—seasoning for the table—salt and "paeper." The more excited she got, the more Scotch she got and the more confused he. Then, when they were both fairly hysterical, I discovered that it was pepper.
Then you should have heard that Greek scold. He told her that it was "Pip-RR."
And she said back, "Paeper."
Then they argued and never once did either one of them get it "Pepper."
One day I heard him laying down the law to a woman who had dared question his price of "Rust Bif." He told her what he had to pay for it in "Cash Mawney" and asked her if she could do so, to explain. "Explin—you kin explin—explin." But she couldn't explain. So, chastened, she meekly bought the roast beef at his price.
Yesterday a U. C. girl was in and asked, "You are a Greek, are you not?"
"Naw," he answered, "you min Grrik."
Billboards or Art
If you like billboards you are not artistic. Take it or leave it. That's the criterion. It's not my verdict. Ask those who know, the literary clubs, the art clubs and our distinguished guests from Europe. I can remember away back when Pierre Loti visited this country and was so shocked at the glaring billboards that marred the beauty of New York harbor and blinded his continental eyes with their gaudy colors.
Now, I would like to be both artistic and fond of billboards. I can't be both. So I choose—billboards. Everyone who reads these words must make his choice.
I not only enjoy them; I think they are beautiful. A lovely splash of color in the grayness of the city, a sincere expression of American life, so sincere that the critics who take their opinions from Europe never have been able to sneer us out of them.
We must admit, those of us who admire billboards, that the critics had their justification in the early days. We have not forgotten the days when mortgaged farmers prostituted their barns by selling advertising rights to Hood's Sarsaparilla and Carter's Little Liver Pills and to Lydia Pinkham, and when Bull Durham marred every green meadow from Boston to Washington. Billboards were an unsavory addition to the landscape then. But the modern art of bill posting is quite a different thing and in California it has reached its highest development. Segregated spots of color in the dun cities, surrounded by well manicured lawns, supported by classic figures in white and lighted by dainty top lights. And out along the boulevards, how lovely they are at night, luminous breaks along the dark highways, suggesting so tactfully the kind of tire to use or the sort of mattress to lie upon.
The critic has had his mission. He has forced the Poster man. Fortunately though young America has not taken him seriously. If he had this country would have missed some of its most distinctive contributions to Art. The electric sign for instance. That was condemned as vigorously as the billboard. And today, tell me, anybody, anywhere what is more beautiful in all the world than the dancing lights of Market Street at night. In what a unique and vital way they express the life of the great modern city.
And anything that expresses Life, whether that life be mediaeval or the life of the machine age, that is Art. There.
How pleased everyone is to know that the pretty Palmolive girl who "kept her girl complexion" is married and has a sweet little daughter who has inherited her mother's skin.
I don't always take the posters seriously. Now, I don't believe that that man "would walk a mile for a Camel." He'd borrow one first. And "contented cows." Cows are always contented. All I've known. But they may have had bolshevikish notions recently, cud strikes, perhaps. Hence the accent on "contented cows," to reassure us that there is no "Red" propaganda in the milk. Then, there is the parrot; what a long time it takes to teach him to say "Gear-ardelly." And that sentimental touch, "If pipes could talk." They do.
Sometimes, in an absent-minded way, I get them confused, movies and merchandise, and find myself wondering who's starring in "Nucoa." Then there's that ecclesiastical looking party, the patron of Bromo-Quinine, whom I always take for some bearded movie star.
But to return to their artistic merits, they are artistic. Take those same "contented cows." What could be more futurist than the coal black sky under which they so contentedly graze? Or the henna hills so far away, or the purple grass they chew. Matisse and Picasso, great modernists, could not out-do those cows.
The cigarette men are particularly interesting. A bit over done. One cannot help wonder what enthusiasm they would have left for a gorgeous sunset having spent so much on, a cigarette. But I expect they are good men at heart and not so sensuous as they appear. There's that jolly old boy who hasn't had such a good smoke in sixty years. One wonders if his teeth are his own. They all have teeth. Everyone has teeth these days. It would be a change to see someone on a billboard with his mouth shut.
Golden Gate Park
Enter slowly, by foot is much the better way, and join the long, loitering procession.
Black-green foliage, the curious old-green of trees that never wither and never resurrect. Something very foreign or is it San Francisco? Cubist effects of the horizontally-lined cypress, vertical lines of the eucalyptus, and the soft, down-dropping of the willow trees and pepper.
Women on the benches tatting, reading, resting. A retired Kansan widower passes, glances sidewise. Well, no harm in looking at a comely woman. Gossip of mothers over baby carriages, "Only nine months old! Mine is a year. Well, we think he's pretty fine."
Comes the sight-seeing bus. Blare of the megaphone. "Seventeen miles of driveway, boost, boast, greatest in the world."
All day long the swings are swinging, rhythmic, slow to the touch of loving hands. Then at night when all is still and dark, they go on swinging dream children, rhythmic, slow.
Down the slide into the soft sand. Grandpa tending Nellie's children: "Careful there." Ding, ding like the sound of a temple bell the whirling, dizzy iron rings clang against their iron pole. Tramp of the patient little burros. "Mother, I want another cone."
Bum-ti-bum, too-too-too, ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-tahh, the band. Wagner by request. Music lovers in the crowd. A symphony orchestra is very fine, but simple people like ourselves, we also love a band.
I've never been to Japan, but this must be the way it looks. Tinkle of the wind bells, petals of Cherry floating down. Sorry, but I've used the last of the films. Well, we'll come again.
The bears, the big brown grizzlies, leave them now. Out, what is this! Fairyland of flowers and fragrance. Bears and orchids, wise planned contrast.
People with accumulative minds wander through the museum, very interesting, "Just look at this mosaic, John." Exhibit of modern art in the gallery. "Portrait of a girl," only a daub to the wayfaring man. Lovers in secluded places stealing a kiss, caught by the middle-aged. "Silly young things," wistfully.
Once all parks were private grounds. Free now to the poorest serf. Well, there's something century-gained. Some people say the world's growing worse all the time. Perhaps, perhaps....
Who cares. Lying flat on your back close to the smell of the earth, the great kind mother. Up, up at the sky, how deep, how blue. Is there a God? There must be Something; look at each perfect blade of grass. An airplane across the blue. There's something gained.
Automobiles in stately procession proud as horses ever were. Automobiles proudly rolling, swings swinging, people passing, and the swimming of all the water fowls, the swans, the Japanese ducks and the little mud hens. Infinitude of movement, infinitude of life, ineffable beauty. There must be a God. There must be Something back of it all.
Some one in San Francisco keeps hens. Not only hens, but a rooster. I distinctly heard him crow. It was in the very early morning, and like Tennyson's "Queen of the May"—lying broad awake—"I did not hear the dog howl, mother, but I did hear this crow."
It is Ralph Waldo Trine, I think, who says that "So long as there remaineth in it the crow of a cock or the lay of a hen a city is not a city." But I would not base the citifiedness of a city upon the mere crow of a cock any more than on the census. It is a vulgar criterion.
For human nature is human nature and nothing betrays human nature like hens. It is not surprising, therefore, that some woman has sneaked into the city limits a mess of hens. Neither is it an aspersion on the police.
Besides this was to be about eggs.
Has anyone noticed how eggs of late years are never just eggs, but classified? The hens seem to lay them classified. There are hen eggs and pullet eggs and large hen eggs and small hen eggs and large pullet eggs and small pullet eggs and strictly fresh eggs and ranch eggs and choice eggs and large dark eggs and all-mixed eggs and fresh cracked eggs and mixed color eggs and small brown and, oh, hundreds of sub-divisions.
The very latest I noticed were "dirty" eggs, 2 cents cheaper. I look next for "small dirty eggs." Why should they sound so unrefined? More so some way than "small dirty boys." But an artist must paint life as he sees it and I saw these "dirty" eggs on that bazaar—and bizarre—of diversities—Fillmore street.
On Haight street I saw "extra fresh eggs" and how an egg can be more than "fresh" I fail to see. Now, a man may be "extra fresh," but an egg is different. Even if it left the hen early it would still be only "fresh." Well, the grocer probably knows.
Every adjective he uses has its significance. Take "ranch" eggs, how pastoral they sound and fanned by fresh zephyrs. The same with "yard" eggs, such an "out in the open—let the rest of the world go by" impression they confer. And so reassuring, too, as though they couldn't have been manufactured for Woolworth's.
There is much, I find, to be written about eggs.
Isn't it "up-looking," as Mr. Wilson would say, that they are so cheap now?
I cannot help wondering if that woman's hens—the hens that went with the crow—if they laid well when eggs were so high.
On the California-Street Car
She was a little black girl about four years old, riding with her mother on the observation seat of the California street car. She was a little black girl and didn't know the difference—she might have been as white as milk for all she knew. She was poor but daintily dressed beside being very neat.
The rest of us in the car were grown-up and white—well-dressed people who looked as though we knew a lot. We were all riding along; we and the little black girl with her mother, when suddenly we came out from the surrounding wall of apartment houses into the open, facing a side street—.
And there before us, in all its morning glory, lay the great city of Saint Francis. It was just emerging out of fog. The smoke and steam rising, touched into color by the sun, softened it into a great mystery with forms and hulks coming into relief through the mists. For a moment it wasn't a city but a magnificent singing of the morning.
In a dull, inert way I suppose all of us, the grownup people, glimpsed some of its beauty. But we were all intent upon the business of the day—we didn't look out very far—.
But the little black girl who didn't know any better, the little black girl raised her two arms above her head and exclaimed in a high, joyous child voice—"GEE WHIZ!"
The men around the corner store at home were forever telling stories about the big yarns that Were told in the West. One of the favorites was that ancient one of the Western town that was so healthy they had to kill a man to start a graveyard.
Having been brought up on this tradition of Western yarns, I have been surprised since living here never to have heard a single story that didn't sound perfectly reasonable. But it has dawned on me recently that the "Yarns" are true. Therefore, they are no longer yarns, but facts.
Here is an oil boom story I heard first-hand the other day. I believe it, but you couldn't get those men around the corner store to believe it—.
It was in a dusty town where everyone rushed in to make quick money and never mind about the main street even if they did have to plough through dust to their knees. Then one day a heavy rain came that made the street one slough of soft oozy clay which no one could cross.
Then enters the hero. Even while they stood dismayed, gazing at each other across the clay, he appeared with a mud sled and took them all across for 50 cents a passenger and $1 if you had a bundle.
Now, I believe it. Didn't I see the man who had been there and paid his four-bits to cross? Imagine, if you can, though, trying to make those Yankees around the corner store believe that there was a town where one had to pay 50 cents to cross a narrow country road in a mud sled.
I believed a man who told me a story down in Kern County last summer. We were riding over the desert and I asked the stage driver the name of a low yellow bush that grows down there. He was an interesting fellow, that stage driver, who had been a buccaroo all his life and apparently knew all about the sage brush country. And when he didn't know he was not lacking in an answer. I like a man like that. Answer, I say, whether you know or not.
He said with great assurance that the little, low, yellow bush was "Mexican saddle blanket" or "Tinder bush," this last because it burns like tinder in the fall of the year.
"Why, that bush is so dry," he said, "that once when I lighted it to cook my bacon for breakfast it traveled so fast that by the time my bacon was cooked I was five miles from camp."
I laughed—I couldn't help it when I imagined that six-footer traveling across the desert with a frying pan over that low bush. I laughed because it was so real to me, but he misunderstood, and said so sort of hurt, "Don't you believe me?"
And I told him I did. And I did. And I do. Five miles isn't a great distance to travel over the desert after one's bacon.
Mr. Mazzini and Dante
Mr. Mazzini will never be rich. He takes too much time for philosophy and gossiping with the women, and he loves a joke too well, and his heart is too kind. He is a universal type, as old as the world is old, Theocritus knew him well.
"You pick me out some good cantaloupes," I said with deadly tact, and Mr. Mazzini answered that it couldn't be done and that melons were like men, that there was no sure way of picking them out for their kindness of heart. Then he took time over the melons to tell me how his mother in Italy, who was evidently something of a match-maker, had gotten fooled on a young man who was both "laze" and "steenge" in his youth but who made a very good husband.
One day it was figs, and I was strong for the nice appearing ones, but Mr. Mazzini told me a lot about figs and chose me some that were lop-sided from packing. What delicious figs they were, all stored with sunshine and sweetness and flavor just as he had told me. Mr. Mazzini owns his own store, and yet when he throws in a few extra, as he always does, because they are soft or a little specked, he will wink and glance slyly around just as though he were putting one over on the boss.
One morning I saw him sweeping out his store and he wore a woman's sweeping cap with the strings tied under his grisly old chin. When I saw him I just stood and laughed aloud, and he asked me why not, and said that a sweeping cap was just as good for a man as for a woman, and then he stopped his sweeping and gave me quite a male feminist talk. And he has a horse, Mr. Mazzini has, a fat old plug that peeks around his blinders as humorously as his master. Oh, I could just keep on talking about Mr. Mazzini for pages, but I started to speak of Dante.
I like the Italians and I like the Latin quarter where they live. I like it better than Ashbury Heights for instance. I like the way the Italians use their windows to look out of and to lean out of, and I like the way they have socialized the sidewalk. It's all a matter of taste, and I wouldn't criticize the people of Ashbury Heights simply because they use their well-curtained windows only to admit the light, and do not lean out and gossip with their neighbors and yell to their children, "Mahree, Mahree," nor sit out on their steps in the evening and play Rigoletto on the accordion. It's all a matter of taste.
Six hundred years ago Dante was an Italian, but he is much more than that today. After six centuries Dante belongs to all those and only those who can read him with appreciation and pleasure. Our scavenger is an Italian, and he reads Dante just as so many of the Anglo Saxon proletair read Shakespeare. So Dante belongs to this garbage man, not because he is Italian, but because he sincerely loves the Divina Commedia. A waiter, in Il Trovatore, a rarely honest man, acknowledged to me that he could not read Dante, and that every time he tried he got mad and threw the book away.
Dante belongs to the literary elect of all nations, Dante belongs to the great internationale of the immortals. Dante belongs to Eternity. And for that matter so does Mr. Mazzini.
On the Nob of Nob Hill
On the very nob of Nob Hill there is the ruin of a mansion which was the Whittell home. In ruins it still is a mansion. In ruins it is grander than any place around because it belonged to the grand days.
There is an enclosed garden in the rear after the fashion of old Spanish gardens in Monterey. And between the boards that cover a door in the high wall, one may peek and catch a glimpse of hollyhocks in a row and roses running wild, trellises of green lattice and ghosts of beautiful ladies having afternoon tea.
To one side of the mansion there is a formal garden that hugs up close to the ivy-covered walls of the house. It is such a garden as one sees in elaborately illustrated copies of Mother Goose "with silver bells and cockle shells." It's so beautiful that it doesn't seem real. California gardens are like that, and to those of us from bleak countries they look like pictures out of books. There is this well-groomed garden of the living present hugging up close to the ruins of yesterday and then, if you please, Mother Nature, with her penchant for whimsy, has grown right up against these two a riot of purple and gold lupine, a product of her own unaided husbandry.
I am not much on allegory nor sermonizing, but I declare San Francisco gets me started. And when walking along about one's business, one sees such a vivid picture, the allegory forces itself. The grandeur of yesterday, the serious beauty of today, and then the wild flowers that covered the hills before man interfered and will live on after man has gone into dust to make new flowers.
Such a contemplation would make some people blue but it gives me a feeling of something basic and secure and eternal in all this strange puzzle of life. It was a beautiful day up there on the tip-toe of Nob Hill. What a beautiful view they must have had from the mansion windows. The same sky and the same banks of heavy soft white clouds. And Job, that mysterious man of the Bible, must have looked up at just such a sky when those stern questions came to him:
"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding.
"Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of Him that is perfect in knowledge?"
"Hast thou with Him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?"
The nob of Nob Hill, how close it is to the sky.
The Leighton Press San Francisco, Cal