HE forgot Paul Riesling in an afternoon of not unagreeable details. After a return to his office, which seemed to have staggered on without him, he drove a "prospect" out to view a four-flat tenement
in the Linton district. He was
inspired by the customer's admiration of the new cigar-lighter. Thrice its novelty
made him use it, and thrice he hurled half-smoked cigarettes
from the car, protesting, "I GOT to quit smoking so blame much!"
Their ample discussion of every detail of the cigar-lighter led them to speak of electric flat-irons and bed-warmers. Babbitt apologized for being so shabbily old-fashioned as still to use a hot-water bottle, and he announced
that he would have the sleeping-porch wired at once. He had enormous and poetic admiration, though very little understanding, of all mechanical devices. They were his symbols of truth and beauty. Regarding each new intricate mechanism--metal lathe
, two-jet carburetor
, machine gun
, oxyacetylene welder
--he learned one good realistic-sounding phrase, and used it over and over, with a delightful feeling of being technical and initiated.
The customer joined him in the worship of machinery
, and they came buoyantly up to the tenement and began that examination of plastic slate roof, kalamein
doors, and seven-eighths-inch blind-nailed flooring, began those diplomacies of hurt surprise and readiness to be persuaded to do something they had already decided to do, which would some day result in a sale.
On the way back Babbitt picked up his partner and father-in-law, Henry T. Thompson, at his kitchen-cabinet works, and they drove through South Zenith, a high-colored, banging, exciting region: new factories
of hollow tile with
gigantic wire-glass windows, surly old red-brick factories stained with tar, high-perched water-tanks, big red trucks like locomotives, and, on a score of hectic side-tracks, far-wandering freight-cars from the New York Central
, the Great Northern
-plateaus, the Southern Pacific
and orange groves
They talked to the secretary of the Zenith Foundry Company about an interesting artistic project--a cast-iron
fence for Linden Lane Cemetery
. They drove on to the Zeeco Motor Company and interviewed the sales-manager,
Noel Ryland, about a discount on a Zeeco car for Thompson. Babbitt and Ryland were fellow-members of the Boosters' Club, and no Booster felt right if he bought anything from another Booster without receiving a discount. But Henry
Thompson growled, "Oh, t' hell with 'em! I'm not going to crawl around mooching discounts, not from nobody." It was one of the differences between Thompson, the old-fashioned, lean Yankee
, rugged, traditional, stage type of
American business man, and Babbitt, the plump, smooth, efficient, up-to-the-minute and otherwise perfected modern. Whenever Thompson twanged, "Put your John Hancock
on that line," Babbitt was as much amused by the
as any proper Englishman
by any American
. He knew himself to be of a breeding altogether more esthetic and sensitive than Thompson's. He was a college
graduate, he played golf
, he often smoked
cigarettes instead of cigars, and when he went to Chicago
he took a room with a private bath. "The whole thing is," he explained to Paul Riesling, "these old codgers lack the subtlety that you got to have to-day."
This advance in civilization
could be carried too far, Babbitt perceived. Noel Ryland, sales-manager of the Zeeco, was a frivolous graduate of Princeton
, while Babbitt was a sound and standard ware from that great department-store,
the State University
. Ryland wore spats
, he wrote long letters about City Planning
and Community Singing, and, though he was a Booster, he was known to
carry in his pocket small volumes of poetry
in a foreign language
. All this was going too far. Henry Thompson was the extreme of insularity
, and Noel
Ryland the extreme of frothiness
, while between them, supporting the state
, defending the evangelical
churches and domestic brightness and sound business,
were Babbitt and his friends.
With this just estimate of himself--and with the promise of a discount on Thompson's car--he returned to his office in triumph.
But as he went through the corridor of the Reeves Building he sighed, "Poor old Paul! I got to--Oh, damn Noel Ryland! Damn Charley McKelvey! Just
because they make more money than I do, they think they're so superior. I wouldn't be found dead in their stuffy old Union Club! I--Somehow, to-day, I don't feel like going back to work. Oh well--"
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