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HOME > Biographical > A Book About Myself > CHAPTER XXXV
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 The LaClede, as I have indicated, was the center of all gossiping newspaper life at this time, at least that part of it of which I knew anything. Here, in idling groups, during the course of a morning, afternoon or evening, might appear Dick or Peter, Body, Clark, Hazard, Johnson, Root, Johns Daws, a long company of excellent newspaper men who worked on the different papers of the city from time to time and who, because of a desire for companionship in this helter-skelter world and the certainty of finding it here, hung about this corner. Here one could get in on a highly intellectual or diverting conversation of one kind or another at almost any time. So many of these men had come from distant cities and knew them much better than they did St. Louis. As a rule, being total strangers and here only for a short while, they were inclined to at conditions as they found them here and to boast of those elsewhere, especially the men who came from New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago. I was one of those who, knowing Chicago and St. Louis only and wishing to appear wise in these matters, boasted vigorously of the superlative importance of Chicago as a city, whereas such men as Root of New York, Johnson of Boston, of New Orleans, and a few others, merely looked at me and smiled.  
“All I have to say to you, young fellow,” young Root once observed to me if roughly after one of these heated and senseless arguments, “is wait till you go to New York and see for yourself. I’ve been to Chicago, and it’s a way-station in comparison. It’s the only other city you’ve seen, and that’s why you think it’s so great.” There was a certain amount of toleration in his voice which infuriated me.
“Ah, you’re crazy,” I replied. “You’re like all New Yorkers: you think you know it all. You won’t admit you’re beaten when you are.”
The argument proceeded through all the different aspects of the two cities until finally we called each other damned fools and left in a huff. Years later, however, having seen New York, I wanted to apologize if ever I met him again. The two cities, as I then learned, each individual and wonderful in its way, were not to be contrasted. But how sure I was of my point of view then!
Nearly all of these young men, as I now saw, presented a sharp contrast to those I had known in Chicago, or perhaps the character of the work in this city and my own changing viewpoint made them seem different. Chicago at that time had seemed to be full of exceptional young men in the reportorial world, men who in one way or another had already achieved considerable local repute as writers and coming men: Finley Peter Dunne, George Ade, Brand Whitlock, Ben King, Charles Stewart, and many others, some of whom even in that day were already signing their names to some of their contributions; whereas here in St. Louis, few if any of us had achieved any local distinction of any kind. No one of us had as yet created a personal or literary following. We could not, here, ; the avenues were not the same. And none of us was hailed as certain to attract attention in the larger world outside. We formed little more than a weak or union, recognizing each other genially enough as fellow-craftsmen but not offering each other much in our rough state beyond a class or professional recognition as working newspaper men. Yet at times this LaClede was a kind of bear garden, or mental wrestling-place, where unless one were very guarded and sure of oneself one might come by a quick and hard fall, as when once in some argument in regard to a current political question, and without knowing really what I was talking about, I made the statement that palaeontology indicated so-and-so, whereupon one of my sharp confrères suddenly took me up with: “Say, what is palaeontology, anyhow? Do you know?”
I was completely , for I didn’t. It was a comparatively new word, outside the colleges, being used here and there in arguments and editorials, and I had taken it over. I floundered about and finally had to confess that I did not know what it was, whereupon I endured a laugh for my pains. I was thereafter wiser and more cautious.
But this, in my raw, ignorant state, was a very great help to me. Many of these men were intelligent and informed to the cutting point in regard to many facts of life of which I was extremely ignorant. Many of them had not only read more but seen more, and took my budding local to being somebody with a very large grain of salt. At many of the casual meetings, where at odd moments reporters and sometimes editors were or sitting about and discussing one phase of life and another, I received a back-handed slap which sometimes jarred my pride but invariably widened my horizon.
One of the most interesting things in my life at this time was that same North Seventh Street police station mentioned, to which I went daily and which was a center for a certain kind of news at least—rapes, riots, murders, fantastic family complications of all kinds, so common to very poor and highly congested neighborhoods. This particular station was the very center of a mixed , slum and negro life, which even at this time was still to me in some of its aspects. It was all so dirty, so poor, so , so starveling. There were in it all sorts of streets—Jewish, negro, and run-down American, or plain slum, the first crowded with long-bearded Jews and their fat wives, so , smelly and generally offensive that they sickened me: rag-pickers, chicken-dealers and feather-sorters all. In their streets the smell of these things, picked or chickens, many of them decayed, decayed meats and vegetables, half-sorted dirty feathers and rags and I know not what else, was sickening in hot weather. In the negro streets—or rather , for they never seemed to occupy any general thoroughfare—were rows or one-, two-, three-and four-story or barns of frame or brick crowded into back yards and with thousands of blacks of the most and idle character hanging about. In these hot days of June, July and August they seemed to do little save sit or lie in the shade of buildings in this vicinity and or the world with laughter or in silence. Occasionally there was a fight, a murder or a low love affair among them which my time here. In addition, there were those other streets of soggy, decayed Americans—your true slum—filled with as low and a population of whites as one would find anywhere, a type of animal dangerous to the police themselves, for they could riot and kill horribly and were at best. Invariably the police traveled here in pairs, and whenever an alarm from some policeman on his beat was turned in from this region a and all the officers in the station at the time would set to the rescue, sometimes as many as eight or ten in a police , with orders, as I myself have heard them given, “to club the —— heads off them” or “break their —— bones, but bring them in here. I’ll fix ’em”; in response to which all the Irish huskies would go forth to battle, returning frequently with a whole vanload of combatants or combatants, all much the worse for the contest.
There was an old fat Irish sergeant of about fifty or fifty-five, James King by name, who used to amuse me greatly. He ruled here like a under the captain, whom I rarely saw. The latter had an office to himself in the front of the station and rarely came out, seeming always to be busy with bigwigs of one type and another. With the sergeant, however, I became great friends. His place was behind the central desk, in the front of which were two light standards and on the surface of which were his blotter and reports of different kinds. Behind the desk was his big swivel chair, with himself in it, , , coatless, vestless, collarless, his round head and fat neck beady with sweat, his fat arms and hands moist and laid heavily over his stomach. According to him, he had been at this work exactly eight years, and before that he had “beat the sidewalk,” as he said, or traveled a beat.
“Yes, yes, ‘tis a waarm avenin’,” he would begin whenever I arrived and he was not busy, which usually he was not, “an’ there’s naathin’ for ye, me lad. But ye might just as well take a chair an’ make yerself comfortable. It may be that something will happen, an’ again maybe it won’t. Ye must hope fer the best, as the sayin’ is. ’Tis a bad time fer any trouble to be breakin’ out though, in all this hot weather,” and then he would elevate a large palmleaf fan which he kept near and begin to fan himself, or swig from a of ice-water.
Here then he would sit, answering telephone calls from headquarters or marking down reports from the men on their beats or answering the complaints of people who came in hour after hour to announce that they had been robbed or their homes had been broken into or that some neighbor was making a nuisance of himself or their wives or husbands or sons or daughters wouldn’t obey them or stay in at night.
“Yes, an’ what’s the matter now?” he would begin when one of these would put in an appearance.
Perhaps it was a man who would be complaining that his wife or daughter would not stay in at night, or a woman complaining so of her husband, son or daughter.
“Well, me good woman, I can’t be helpin’ ye with that. This is no court av laaw. If yer husband don’t support ye, er yer son don’t come in av nights an’ he’s a , ye can get an order from the judge at the Four Courts compellin’ him. Then if he don’t mind ye and ye waant him arrested er locked up, I can help ye that way, but not otherwise. Go to the Four Courts.”
Sometimes, in the case of a parent complaining of a daughter’s or son’s disobedience, he would relent a little and say: “See if ye can bring him around here. Tell him that the captain waants to see him. Then if he comes I’ll see what I can do fer ye. Maybe I can scare him a bit.”
Let us say they came, a shabby, overworked mother or father leading a boy or girl. King would assume a most air and after listening to the complaint of the parent as if it were all news to him would demand: “What’s ailin’ ye? Why can’t ye stay in nights? What’s the matter with ye that ye can’t obey yer mother? Don’t ye know it’s agin the laaw fer a minor to be stayin’ out aafter ten at night? Ye don’t? Well, it is, an’ I’m tellin’ ye now. D’ye waant me t’lock ye up? Is that what ye’re looking fer? There’s a lot av good iron cells back there waitin’ fer ye if ye caan’t behave yerself. What’re ye goin’ t’do about it?”
Possibly the one in error would relent a little and begin arguing with the parent, charging unfairness, cruelty and the like.
“Here now, don’t ye be taalkin’ to yer mother like that! Ye’re not old enough to be doin’ that. An’ what’s more, don’t let me ketch ye out on the streets er her complainin’ to me again. If ye do I’ll send one av me men around to bring ye in. This is the last now. D’ye waant to spend a few nights in a cell? Well, then! Now be gettin’ out av here an’ don’t let me hear any more about ye. Not a word. I’ve had enough now. Out with ye!”
And he would and grow red and pop-eyed and fairly roar, shoving them out—only, after the victim had gone, he would lean back in his chair and wipe his forehead and sigh: “’Tis tough, the bringin’ up av childern, hereabouts especially. Ye can’t be blamin’ them fer waantin’ to be out on the streets, an’ yet ye can’t let ’em out aither, exactly. It’s hard to tell what to do with ’em. I’ve been taalkin’ like that fer years now to one an’ another. ’Tis all the good it does. Ye can’t do much fer ’em hereabouts.”
It was during this period, this summer time and fall, that I came in contact with some of the most interesting characters, newspaper men especially, flotsam and jetsam who drifted in here from other newspaper centers and then drifted out again, newspaper men so intelligent and definite in some respects that they seemed worthy of any position or station in life and yet so indif............
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