Fiction > Sinclair Lewis > Babbitt
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Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951).  Babbitt.  1922.

Chapter XXI
 
I

THE INTERNATIONAL Organization of Boosters’ Clubs has be come a world-force for optimism, manly pleasantry, and good business. Chapters are to be found now in thirty countries. Nine hundred and twenty of the thousand chapters, however, are in the United States.
   1
  None of these is more ardent than the Zenith Boosters’ Club.   2
  The second March lunch of the Zenith Boosters was the most important of the year, as it was to be followed by the annual election of officers. There was agitation abroad. The lunch was held in the ballroom of the O’Hearn House. As each of the four hundred Boosters entered he took from a wall-board a huge celluloid button announcing his name, his nick name, and his business. There was a fine of ten cents for calling a Fellow Booster by anything but his nickname at a lunch, and as Babbitt jovially checked his hat the air was radiant with shouts of “Hello, Chet!” and “How’re you, Shorty!” and “Top o’ the mornin’, Mac!”   3
  They sat at friendly tables for eight, choosing places by lot. Babbitt was with Albert Boos the merchant tailor, Hector Seybolt of the Little Sweetheart Condensed Milk Company, Emil Wengert the jeweler, Professor Pumphrey of the Riteway Business College, Dr. Walter Gorbutt, Roy Teegarten the photographer, and Ben Berkey the photo-engraver. One of the merits of the Boosters’ Club was that only two persons from each department of business were permitted to join, so that you at once encountered the Ideals of other occupations, and realized the metaphysical oneness of all occupations—plumbing and portrait-painting, medicine and the manufacture of chewing-gum.   4
  Babbitt’s table was particularly happy to-day, because Professor Pumphrey had just had a birthday, and was therefore open to teasing.   5
  “Let’s pump Pump about how old he is!” said Emil Wengert.   6
  “No, let’s paddle him with a dancing-pump!” said Ben Berkey.   7
  But it was Babbitt who had the applause, with “Don’t talk about pumps to that guy! The only pump he knows is a bottle! Honest, they tell me he’s starting a class in home-brewing at the ole college!”   8
  At each place was the Boosters’ Club booklet, listing the members. Though the object of the club was good-fellowship, yet they never lost sight of the importance of doing a little more business. After each name was the member’s occupation. There were scores of advertisements in the booklet, and on one page the admonition: “There’s no rule that you have to trade with your Fellow Boosters, but get wise, boy—what’s the use of letting all this good money get outside of our happy fambly?” And at each place, to-day, there was a present; a card printed in artistic red and black:

SERVICE AND BOOSTERISM

Service finds its finest opportunity and development only in its broadest and deepest application and the consideration of its perpetual action upon reaction. I believe the highest type of Service, like the most progressive tenets of ethics, senses unceasingly and is motived by active adherence and loyalty to that which is the essential principle of Boosterism—Good Citizenship in all its factors and aspects.
DAD PETERSEN.        

Compliments of Dadbury Petersen Advertising Corp.
“Ads, not Fads, at Dad’s”

   9
  The Boosters all read Mr. Peterson’s aphorism and said they understood it perfectly.  10
  The meeting opened with the regular weekly “stunts.” Retiring President Vergil Gunch was in the chair, his stiff hair like a hedge, his voice like a brazen gong of festival. Members who had brought guests introduced them publicly. “This tall red-headed piece of misinformation is the sporting editor of the Press,” said Willis Ijams; and H. H. Hazen, the druggist, chanted, “Boys, when you’re on a long motor tour and finally get to a romantic spot or scene and draw up and remark to the wife, ‘This is certainly a romantic place,’ it sends a glow right up and down your vertebræ. Well, my guest to-day is from such a place, Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in the beautiful Southland, with memories of good old General Robert E. Lee and of that brave soul, John Brown who, like every good Booster, goes marching on—”  11
  There were two especially distinguished guests: the leading man of the “Bird of Paradise” company, playing this week at the Dodsworth Theater, and the mayor of Zenith, the Hon. Lucas Prout.  12
  Vergil Gunch thundered, “When we manage to grab this celebrated Thespian off his lovely aggregation of beautiful actresses—and I got to admit I butted right into his dressing-room and told him how the Boosters appreciated the high-class artistic performance he’s giving us—and don’t forget that the treasurer of the Dodsworth is a Booster and will appreciate our patronage—and when on top of that we yank Hizzonor out of his multifarious duties at City Hall, then I feel we’ve done ourselves proud, and Mr. Prout will now say a few words about the problems and duties—”  13
  By rising vote the Boosters decided which was the handsomest and which the ugliest guest, and to each of them was given a bunch of carnations, donated, President Gunch noted, by Brother Booster H. G. Yeager, the Jennifer Avenue florist.  14
  Each week, in rotation, four Boosters were privileged to obtain the pleasures of generosity and of publicity by donating goods or services to four fellow-members, chosen by lot. There was laughter, this week, when it was announced that one of the contributors was Barnabas Joy, the undertaker. Everybody whispered, “I can think of a coupla good guys to be buried if his donation is a free funeral!”  15
  Through all these diversions the Boosters were lunching on chicken croquettes, peas, fried potatoes, coffee, apple pie, and American cheese. Gunch did not lump the speeches. Presently he called on the visiting secretary of the Zenith Rotary Club, a rival organization. The secretary had the distinction of possessing State Motor Car License Number 5.  16
  The Rotary secretary laughingly admitted that wherever he drove in the state so low a number created a sensation, and “though it was pretty nice to have the honor, yet traffic cops remembered it only too darn well, and sometimes he didn’t know but what he’d almost as soon have just plain B56,876 or something like that. Only let any doggone Booster try to get Number 5 away from a live Rotarian next year, and watch the fur fly! And if they’d permit him, he’d wind up by calling for a cheer for the Boosters and Rotarians and the Kiwanis all together!”  17
  Babbitt sighed to Professor Pumphrey, “Be pretty nice to have as low a number as that! Everybody ’d say, ‘He must be an important guy!’ Wonder how he got it? I’ll bet he wined and dined the superintendent of the Motor License Bureau to a fare-you-well!”  18
  Then Chum Frink addressed them:  19
  “Some of you may feel that it’s out of place here to talk on a strictly highbrow and artistic subject, but I want to come out flatfooted and ask you boys to O.K. the proposition of a Symphony Orchestra for Zenith. Now, where a lot of you make your mistake is in assuming that if you don’t like classical music and all that junk, you ought to oppose it. Now, I want to confess that, though I’m a literary guy by profession, I don’t care a rap for all this long-haired music. I’d rather listen to a good jazz band any time than to some piece by Beethoven that hasn’t any more tune to it than a bunch of fighting cats, and you couldn’t whistle it to save your life! But that isn’t the point. Culture has become as necessary an adornment and advertisement for a city to-day as pavements or bank-clearances. It’s Culture, in theaters and art-galleries and so on, that brings thousands of visitors to New York every year and, to be frank, for all our splendid attainments we haven’t yet got the Culture of a New York or Chicago or Boston—or at least we don’t get the credit for it. The thing to do then, as a live bunch of go-getters, is to capitalize Culture; to go right out and grab it.  20
  “Pictures and books are fine for those that have the time to study ’em, but they don’t shoot out on the road and holler ‘This is what little old Zenith can put up in the way of Culture.’ That’s precisely what a Symphony Orchestra does do. Look at the credit Minneapolis and Cincinnati get. An orchestra with first-class musickers and a swell conductor—and I believe we ought to do the thing up brown and get one of the highest-paid conductors on the market, providing he ain’t a Hun—it goes right into Beantown and New York and Washington; it plays at the best theaters to the most cultured and moneyed people; it gives such class-advertising as a town can get in no other way; and the guy who is so short-sighted as to crab this orchestra proposition is passing up the chance to impress the glorious name of Zenith on some big New York millionaire that might—that might establish a branch factory here!  21
  “I could also go into the fact that for our daughters who show an interest in highbrow music and may want to teach it, having an A1 local organization is of great benefit, but let’s keep this on a practical basis, and I call on you good brothers to whoop it up for Culture and a World-beating Symphony Orchestra!”  22
  They applauded.  23
  To a rustle of excitement President Gunch proclaimed, “Gentlemen, we will now proceed to the annual election of officers.” For each of the six offices, three candidates had been chosen by a committee. The second name among the candidates for vice-president was Babbitt’s.  24
  He was surprised. He looked self-conscious. His heart pounded. He was still more agitated when the ballots were counted and Gunch said, “It’s a pleasure to announce that Georgie Babbitt will be the next assistant gavel-wielder. I know of no man who stands more stanchly for common sense and enterprise than good old George. Come on, let’s give him our best long yell!”  25
  As they adjourned, a hundred men crushed in to slap his back. He had never known a higher moment. He drove away in a blur of wonder. He lunged into his office, chuckling to Miss McGoun, “Well, I guess you better congratulate your boss! Been elected vice-president of the Boosters!”  26
  He was disappointed. She answered only, “Yes— Oh, Mrs. Babbitt’s been trying to get you on the ’phone.” But the new salesman, Fritz Weilinger, said, “By golly, chief, say, that’s great, that’s perfectly great! I’m tickled to death! Congratulations!”  27
  Babbitt called the house, and crowed to his wife, “Heard you were trying to get me, Myra. Say, you got to hand it to little Georgie, this time! Better talk careful! You are now addressing the vice-president of the Boosters’ Club!”  28
  “Oh, Georgie—”  29
  “Pretty nice, huh? Willis Ijams is the new president, but when he’s away, little ole Georgie takes the gavel and whoops ’em up and introduces the speakers—no matter if they’re the governor himself—and—”  30
  “George! Listen!”  31
  “—It puts him in solid with big men like Doc Dilling and—”  32
  “George! Paul Riesling—”  33
  “Yes, sure, I’ll ’phone Paul and let him know about it right away.”  34
  “Georgie! Listen! Paul’s in jail. He shot his wife, he shot Zilla, this noon. She may not live.”  35
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