Dorothy Parker wrote regularly for the “Short Turns and Encores” section of the Post. A New Yorker at heart, Parker was an establishing member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers, actors, and critics that included Harpo Marx and Noël Coward. Parker was known for her mordant wit and her unique portrayal of New York City. Her story “An Apartment House Anthology” from 1921 invites readers into a fictional Manhattan residence where a quirky cast of characters resides.
The Ground Floor
Mr. and Mrs. Cuzzens much prefer living on the ground floor, they often say. Sometimes, when Mrs. Cuzzens is really warmed up to it, she puts the thing even stronger, and announces to the world that she would turn down flat all offers to live on an upper floor, in this or any other apartment house in New York City, even if you were to become desperate at her firmness and present her with an apartment rent-free.
In the first place Mrs. Cuzzens is never wholly at her ease in an elevator. One of her liveliest anecdotes concerns an aunt of hers on her mother’s side who was once a passenger in an elevator which stopped short midway between floors, and doggedly refused to move either up or down. Fortunately it all ended happily. Cries for help eventually caught the attention of the janitor — it seemed little short of providential that he had always had quite a turn for messing around with machinery — and he succeeded in regulating the power so that Mrs. Cuzzens’ aunt reached her destination practically as good as new. But the episode made a terrific impression on Mrs. Cuzzens.
Of course it is rather dark on the ground floor, but Mr. and Mrs. Cuzzens regard that as one of the big assets of their apartment. Mrs. Cuzzens had a pretty nasty example of the effects of an oversunshiny place happen right in her own family. Her sister-in-law — not, Mrs. Cuzzens is careful to specify, the wife of the brother in the insurance business, but the wife of the brother who is on the road for a big tire concern, and is doing very well at it — hung some French-blue draperies at her living-room windows. And in less than a year the sunlight turned those curtains from their original color to an unwholesome shade of greenish yellow. Why, the change was so marked that many people, seeing them in this state, almost refused to believe that they had ever been blue. Mrs. Cuzzens’ sister-in-law, as is perfectly understandable, was pretty badly broken up about it. Naturally Mrs. Cuzzens would hate to have a thing like that happen in her own home.
There is another advantage to living on the ground floor. The rent there is appreciably smaller than it is on the stories above, although Mr. and Mrs. Cuzzens seldom if ever work this into the conversation. Well, it is easy to overlook it, in the press of more important reasons for occupying their apartment.
A Mean Eye for Freak News
Mrs. Cuzzens has a fund, to date inexhaustible, of clean yet stimulating anecdotes, of which the one about the elevator and the one about the curtains are representative. She specializes in the unique. Hers is probably the largest collection in the country of stories of curious experiences, most of them undergone by members of her intimate circle. She is generous almost to a fault in relating them too. About any topic that happens to come up will be virtually certain to remind her of the funny thing that once happened to her Aunt Anna or the queer experience her Cousin Beulah had that time in Springfield.
Her repertory of anecdotes undoubtedly had much to do with attracting Mr. Cuzzens to her, for Mr. Cuzzens leans heavily to the out-of-the-ordinary himself. In his after-dinner reading of the newspaper he cheats a bit on the front-page items, just murmuring the headlines over, and gathering from them a rough idea — if you could really speak of Mr. Cuzzens as harboring a rough idea — of what is going on in the way of the conventional holdups and graft inquiries. But he casts a mean eye over the oddities in the day’s news. He never misses the little paragraph about the man in Winsted, Connecticut, who entrusts a family of orphaned eggs to the care of a motherly cat, with gratifying results to one and all; or the report of the birth on an ocean liner, to a couple prominent in steerage circles, of a daughter, named Aquitania Wezlascki in commemoration of the event.
These specialties of Mr. and Mrs. Cuzzens work in together very prettily. They provide many an evening of instructive and harmless entertainment, while so far as expense goes, the only overhead is three cents for an evening paper.
Mr. Cuzzens puts on the slippers he got last birthday, and Mrs. Cuzzens unhooks a bit here and there as the evening wears on and she can feel reasonably sure that no one will drop in. As they sit about the grained-oak table in the glow of the built-in chandelier Mr. Cuzzens will read aloud some such fascinating bit of current history as the announcement of the birth, in Zanesville, Ohio, of a calf with two heads, both doing well. Mrs. Cuzzens will cap it with the description, guaranteed authentic, of a cat her mother’s cousin once possessed which had a double set of claws on each foot.
Clever Mr. Cuzzens
When the excitement of this has died down Mr. Cuzzens will find an item reporting that a famous movie star has taken a load off the public’s mind by having her eyelashes insured for one hundred thousand dollars. That will naturally lead his wife to tell the one about the heavy life insurance her Uncle David carried, and the perfectly terrible red tape his bereaved family had to go through before they could collect.
After twenty minutes or so passed in their both listening attentively to Mrs. Cuzzens’ recital, Mr. Cuzzens’ eye, sharpened by years of training, will fall on an obscure paragraph telling how an apple tree near Providence was struck by lightning, which baked all the fruit. Mrs. Cuzzens will come right back with the story of how her little nephew once choked on a bit of the core of a baked apple, and the doctor said it might have been fatal if he had got there half an hour later.
And so it goes, back and forth, all evening long.
But the Cuzzenses have their light side too. They often make a night of it at the movies. In fact Mr. Cuzzens, who is apt to be pretty slangy at times, says that he and the little woman are regular movie fans. Mr. Cuzzens loses himself so completely in the display that he reads each subtitle aloud. If it seems to him worthy, and if the operator leaves it on long enough, he reads it through twice. Both he and his wife take deeply to heart the news pictures, showing a grain elevator destroyed by fire in Florence, Georgia; or the living head of Uncle Sam formed by a group of Los Angeles school children.
Any trick effects on the screen leave Mrs. Cuzzens bewildered. She can never figure out how, for example, they make a man seem to walk up the side of a house. However, Mr. Cuzzens is awfully clever at all that sort of thing — more than one person has told him he should have gone in for mechanical work — and he explains the process on the way home.
Occasionally Mr. and Mrs. Cuzzens patronize the drama. There is a theater near them to which come plays almost direct from their run lower down on Broadway. The casts are only slightly changed; just substitutions in five or six of the leading roles. Both the Cuzzenses prefer comedies of the wholesome type, setting themselves on record as going to the theater to be amused. They say that they wouldn’t go around the corner to see one of those unpleasant plays, for there is enough trouble in this world, anyway. And after all, who is there that can give them any argument on that one?
Now and then they devote an evening to cards, playing a little interfamily game with Mr. Cuzzens’ married sister and her husband. The sport is kept absolutely clean. No money changes hands.
In the daytime, while Mr. Cuzzens is busy at his office — he is with a firm that makes bathroom scales, and it’s as good as settled that they are going to do something really worthwhile for him the first of the year — Mrs. Cuzzens is occupied with her own activities. She often complains that the days aren’t half long enough for her, but nothing really satisfactory has been done to remedy this, as yet. Much of her time is devoted to shopping, for there are always button molds to be matched, or a strip of linoleum for the washtubs to be priced, or a fresh supply of trick paper for the pantry shelves to be laid in. She is almost overconscientious about her shopping. It is no unusual thing for her to spend an entire day in a tour of the department stores, searching for a particular design of snap fastener or the exact match of a spool of silk. She reaches home at the end of one of these days of toil pretty well done up, but still game.
And then there are her social duties. She is one of the charter members of a bridge club which numbers just enough to fill two tables comfortably. The club meets every fortnight, giving the players a chance to compete for the brocade-covered candy box — the winner must supply her own candy, which is no more than fair — or the six embroidered, guest-room-size handkerchiefs, which the hostess donates in the interest of sport.
During these functions Mrs. Cuzzens takes part in a great deal of tense conversation about the way the skirt was gathered over the hips and came down longer in front. She also gives, and receives, ideas on novel fillings for sandwiches, effective patterns for home-knit sweaters, and simple yet snappy dishes for Sunday-night supper.
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Cuzzens is a native of New York. Up to a year or so after their marriage they helped swell the population of a town in Illinois which at the last census had upward of one hundred thousand inhabitants. They celebrate Old Home Week by a visit to the folks every year, but they congratulate themselves heartily that Mr. Cuzzens’ business prevents their staying more than a week. For they agree that after eight years’ residence in what Mr. Cuzzens aptly calls the big city they could never bring themselves to live in a small town again.
As Mrs. Cuzzens puts it, life in New York is so much broader.
The Second Floor East
The Parmalees are always intending to move, but somehow they never get around to it. Several times Mrs. Parmalee has come out flat with the statement that the very next day she is going to look for an apartment farther downtown. But what with one thing and another coming up, she never seems to be able to make it.
Yet after all, as they argue, they might be a whole lot worse off than staying right where they are. Of course they are pretty far uptown, away from the theaters and restaurants; but everybody in their crowd, including themselves, has a car. So, to use Mr. Parmalee’s very words, they should worry! It has often been remarked of Mr. Parmalee that it is not so much what he says as the way he says it.
Again, Mrs. Parmalee points out that it doesn’t really matter much where they live, for they are hardly ever home, anyway. To which Mr. Parmalee retorts, just like a flash, that she has said a forkful!
And when you come right down to it, Mrs. Parmalee has seldom said a truer thing. It is indeed a cold night for the Parmalees when they have nothing to gather around but their own gas logs. The evening begins to hang heavy along around half past seven, and from then on things get no better rapidly.
The Parmalees are not ones to lose themselves in reading. Just let Mr. Parmalee see who won the first race, and give him a look at the financial page to ascertain whether Crucible Steel is plucking at the coverlet, and he is perfectly willing to call it a day as far as the pursuit of literature is concerned. As for Mrs. Parmalee, she masters the really novel murders and the better-class divorce cases, while for her heavier reading she depends on the current installment of the serial running in one of the more highly sexed magazines. That done with, she is through for the month.
Conversation could not be spoken of as a feature of the evening, either. Mr. Parmalee has been called, over and over again, a perfect scream when he is out on a party. But at home he doesn’t really extend himself. A couple of half-hearted assents to his wife’s comments on the shortcomings of the janitor and the unhealthful effects of such changeable weather — and that’s, as someone has phrased it, that.
Life in the Parmalee Set
So you can see for yourself about the only thing left in the way of parlor entertainment is to come to the mat. The Parmalees’ battles are not mere family events; they come more under the head of community affairs. The entire apartment house takes an interest, almost a pride in them. Take them when they get going really strong and you won’t miss a syllable, even as far off as the top-floor apartment on the other side of the house. On a clear night with the wind in the right direction the people living three houses down have been able to enjoy every word of it.
The bouts almost invariably end in a draw. Mr. Parmalee, it is true, has a somewhat broader command of language than his wife, but she has perfected a short contemptuous laugh which is the full equivalent of a nasty crack. It leaves Mr. Parmalee practically flat, with nothing more inspired to offer than an “Is that so?” or a “Yeah, you’re perfect — you are!”
But these sporting events take place only rarely. The Parmalees have little time to indulge in home pleasures. Theirs is a full and sociable life. Mr. Parmalee is in what he jocosely calls the automobile game, and most of his friends are engaged in the same pursuit. And as their wives are Mrs. Parmalee’s intimates, you can just imagine how nice and clubby that makes everything.
Their social day begins around five o’clock, when the dozen or so members of their set meet at one or another’s apartment, for cocktails. The Parmalee coterie has been seriously inconvenienced since prohibition went into what has been called effect. It means that they can no longer meet at a hotel or a restaurant, as they used to in the old days. It is badly out of their way to gather at someone’s house, for it often involves their having to go all the way downtown again for dinner. But they have to make the best of it, just like you or me.
And it is comforting to know that the gentlemen still manage, as a rule, to pick up a little something here and there before they are met by what Mr. Parmalee calls, with screaming effect, their better seven-eighths. The ladies, collectively, are usually referred to, by their husbands and by one another, as the girls — which is something of an understatement.
Up to the time of meeting, Mrs. Parmalee, like the rest of the girls, has put in a crowded afternoon at a matinee, the hairdresser’s or the manicure’s; a blinding polish on the finger nails is highly thought of by both the male and female members of the Parmalees’ set. There is usually a great deal of trying on to be done, also, which does much toward taking up Mrs. Parmalee’s time and Mr. Parmalee’s money. He likes to see his wife dressed as elaborately as the wives of his friends. He is pretty fairly reasonable about the price of her clothes, just so long as they look as if they cost a lot. Neither of the Parmalees can see the point of this thing of paying high prices for unobtrusive garments. What they are after, Mr. Parmalee says, is their money’s worth. As is only just.
Mrs. Parmalee and her friends dress with a soothing uniformity. They all hold the same ideas about style; really you’d seldom find a more congenial group in every way. All the girls, including Mrs. Parmalee, are fundamentally large and are increasing in weight almost daily. They are always going to start dieting next Monday.
In general style and get-up the girls resemble a group of very clever female impersonators. They run to rather larger and more densely plumed hats than the fashion absolutely insists upon, and they don’t go in for any of your dull depressing colors. Always heavily jeweled, they have an adroit way of mingling an occasional imitation bracelet or necklace with the genuine articles, happily confident that the public will be fooled. In the warm weather their dresses are of transparent material about the arms and shoulders, showing provocative glimpses of very pink ribbons and of lace that you could hardly tell from the real.
There is a great deal of hearty gayety at the afternoon meetings of the crowd. You couldn’t ask to see people among whom it is easier to get a laugh. Any popular line, such as “You don’t know the half of it,” or “You’d be surprised,” is a sure-fire hit, no matter in what connection it is used. You might think that these jests would lose a little of their freshness after months of repetition, but you were never so wrong in your life. They never fail to go over big.
After a couple of hours of crackling repartee and whole-hearted drinking the Parmalees and their crowd set out for dinner. They dine at a downtown restaurant, if they plan going en masse to the theater afterwards. Otherwise they group themselves in their cars — most of the motors, like Mr. Parmalee’s, are perquisites of being in the automobile game — and drive to some favorite road house, where they not only dine but get in some really constructive drinking during the evening. Mr. Parmalee is the life and soul of these parties. It is, his friends often say, as good as a show to hear him kid the waiter.
Dancing occurs sporadically after dinner, but most of the time is devoted to badinage. There is much good-natured banter, impossible to take in bad part, about the attentions paid by various of the husbands to the wives of various of the other husbands.
Often the conversation takes a serious turn among the men, as they tell about how much they had to pay for the last case of it. Stories are related of the staggering prices exacted for highballs at some restaurant where they will still listen to reason; and someone is sure to tell about the dinner he gave the night before, giving the menu in full detail, and as a climax calling upon his audience to guess what the grand total of the check was. These anecdotes are told with the pride that other sportsmen exhibit in telling about the size of the fish they caught.
The ladies spend what could be figured up to be the greater part of the evening in going out to the dressing room to keep their color schemes up to the mark.
In the warmer months the Parmalees make no radical change in their way of living. But though they do not go away for any long vacation they get a welcome glimpse of nature by motoring to Long Beach for dinner three or four times a week with the rest of their crowd. They also manage to get a lot of wholesome country air and a refreshing eyeful of green grass down at the Belmont Park track.
What with all this talk of hard times and tight money wherever you go, it is cheering to see the Parmalees, who seem always to have it to spend. In his homy little chats with his wife Mr. Parmalee often gets quite worked up over where the money to meet their expenses is coming from; but he never lets it trouble him in his social life. Mr. Parmalee is a great advocate of being a good fellow when you have it. After all, as he has it figured out, the last places you can cut down are on theater tickets and restaurant checks and liquor.
It is also pleasant, in these days of change and restlessness, to think of the Parmalees going right along, never so much as thinking of wanting anything different. I wouldn’t want to be the one to say that there is never just a dash of hard feeling between certain members of the crowd; the Parmalees never claimed to be any more than human. But such little differences as may spring up from time to time are easily dissolved in alcohol, and the crowd goes right on again, as usual.
After all, it takes Mr. Parmalee, with that wit of his, to sum up their whole existence in one clear-cut phrase. He says that it is a great life if you don’t weaken.
The Second Floor West
The minute you step into her apartment you realize that Mrs. Prowse is a woman of fine sensibilities. They stick out, as you might say, all over the place. You can see traces of them in the handmade candles dripping artistically over the polychrome candlesticks; in the single perfect blossom standing upright in a roomy bowl; in the polychrome bust of Dante on the mantel — taken, by many visitors, to be a likeness of William Gibbs McAdoo; most of all in the books left all about, so that Mrs. Prowse, no matter where she is sitting, always can have one at hand, to lose herself in. They are, mainly, collections of verse, both free and under control, for Mrs. Prowse is a regular glutton for poetry. She is liable to repeat snatches of it at almost any time. There are heavier volumes, too, just as there are greater depths to Mrs. Prowse. Henry Adams, Conan Doyle in his latter manner, Blasco Ibanez, Clare Sheridan — all the boys and girls are represented.
Mrs. Prowse has not quite made up her mind as to whether it is more effective to have her books look well-thumbed or new and bright, though she rather inclines to the latter as being more decorative and less tiring. Most of the volumes are bound in red, which is, as Mrs. Prowse would put it, rather amusing with her orange curtains. If you were to pick up a book at random and go systematically through it you would find that, oddly enough, many of the pages, along after the middle, are uncut. But Mrs. Prowse’s guests are not apt to go through her books, and the effect is, as I was saying only a minute ago, great.
It is not only literature that Mrs. Prowse patronizes. Beauty in any form gets a big hand from her. She can find it, too, in places where you or I would never think of looking. The delicate brown of a spoiled peach, the calm gray of a puddle on the sidewalk — such things never escape her. Perhaps it is because she is so used to directing attention to things you might otherwise miss that Mrs. Prowse follows up the idea and coaxes you to notice those beauties which you couldn’t very well avoid. She is always putting in a good word for the sunset or the sky or the moon, never letting slip an opportunity to get in a little press work for Nature.
She feels such things considerably more than most people. Sometimes, indeed, her appreciation of the beautiful stops just short of knocking her for what is academically called a goal. In the midst of a friendly conversation, or perhaps when it is her turn to bid in a bridge game, Mrs. Prowse will suddenly be rendered speechless, and lean tensely forward, gazing hungrily out the window at a lonely star or a wind-tossed cloud. She has quite a bad time in pulling herself together on these occasions. She must start perceptibly, look dazedly around the room, and press her hand against her eyes for a moment before she can return to the commonplace.
It is a blow to Mrs. Prowse and her husband that there has never been what Mrs. Prowse refers to as the patter of little feet about the house. But she manages to get a bit of comfort out of the situation. With no children to tie her down she is free to do all the worthwhile things that beckon her. Look, for example, at what she accomplished during the past winter alone. She heard several lectures by visiting poets; went to two New Thought meetings; had her horoscope read and learned that her name should have been Valda; attended the annual luncheon of a club devoted to translating Browning into English; went to tea in Greenwich Village three times; took a lesson in lampshade making; heard a debate on whether or not a woman should take her husband’s name, and what of it; and had her hair permanently waved.
But at that, Mrs. Prowse does not feel that her time is fully occupied. What she would really like, she admits, is to work, and work hard. And there are several jobs for which she is forced to confess that she is just as well fitted as the next one.
She would consider, for instance, giving readings from the modern poets or doing selections from Maeterlinck to a soft accompaniment on the piano. She has thought, and pretty seriously, too, of the stage, which, she can’t help feeling, she could do much to raise from its present commercialism. It is really just a matter of ethics that keeps her from rushing right out and going to work at one of these positions. She doesn’t feel that it would be quite fair for her to take the job away from someone who might be in real need of the money.
You wouldn’t want to say right out that Mr. Prowse is not in sympathy with his wife’s ideas, but then again you would scarcely be justified in saying that he cheered her on. Mr. Prowse is apt to let things take their course, and not do any worrying about them.
He is fond of his business, golf, the Yankees, meat cooked rather rare, musical comedies and his friends. Mrs. Prowse accompanies him to the theater, and often tells his friends that they must come up sometime soon. But there is about her at these times an air of gentle martyrdom. You’d almost think you could hear the roar of the waiting lions, she does it so realistically.
Mr. Prowse’s policy of going about just as cheerfully as if his wife had no sensibilities whatever is a uniquely annoying one to her. Some of her most effective moods are absolutely frittered away on him. Mrs. Prowse has feelings which are almost always being severely injured; you run a chance of stepping on them if you come within ten feet of her. She is too delicately strung to come bluntly out and say what has hurt her. She seeks refuge in a brooding silence, and you must guess what it is all about.
Misunderstood but Faithful
Mr. Prowse is particularly bad at the game. He never seems to realize that anything is wrong. Sometimes she even has to call attention to her mental suffering and its cause. Even then he cannot be drawn into a really satisfactory battle. And it is, you will agree, practically impossible to work up any dramatic interest in married life when one of the principals won’t take part in the big scenes.
It is little wonder that Mrs. Prowse, though never actually saying that her marriage is anything but happy, sometimes intimates that she is not always understood.
She has always been somewhat taken with the idea of having an assortment of tame young men about her — nothing really out of the way, of course, just have them come to tea, and take her to picture galleries, and send flowers, and maybe write verses, which she could drop where her husband would find them. She has even gone so far, in the privacy of her room, as to invent a rather nice little scene, in which she mapped out what she would say to some smitten young tea-hound should he become too serious. It is a credit to Mrs. Prowse to report that her answer was to the effect that she could never forget the vows she made to Mr. Prowse at the altar.
In all the books, as it is useless to tell you, it is no trouble at all for a married woman to gather a flock of attentive young men about her. But Mrs. Prowse has found it rather rough going. The young men don’t seem to fall in with the idea. There was, it is true, a young man she met at a tea who was interested in interior decoration. In answer to her invitation he did call one afternoon — it was just by luck that she was wearing her beaded Georgette crêpe — and told her all about how she ought to live with purples. But when he found out that she really didn’t feel they could have the living room done over for another year anyway he faded gently out of her life.
And that, as a matter of fact, was about as far as Mrs. Prowse ever got along those lines.
As is no more than you would expect, Mrs. Prowse admits but few to her circle of intimates. She is constantly being disappointed in people, finding out that they have no depths. Perhaps the sharpest blow, though one frequently experienced, is in having people whom she had accepted as kindred spirits turn out to be clever on the surface, but with no soul when you came right down to it. Mrs. Prowse often says that somehow she can never bring herself to be intimate with people who are only clever.
And that really works out awfully well, for it makes it mutual.
The Third Floor East
You couldn’t find, if you were to take the thing really to heart and make a search of the city, a woman who works harder, day in and day out, than Mrs. Amy. She says so herself.
In the first place there are the two young Amys to occupy her attention. Everyone in the building is conscious of the presence of the two young Amys, but the Parmalees, in the apartment below, are most keenly aware of it.
It is in the fresh morning, when the Parmalees are striving to fulfill a normal desire for sleep, that the young Amys seem particularly near. The Amy children are early risers, and they have none of that morning languor from which office workers are so apt to suffer. Mrs. Parmalee, whose bedroom is directly beneath theirs, has often said that she would be the last one to feel any surprise if at any moment they were to come right on through.
Of course there is a resident nurse who looks after the little ones, but Mrs. Amy seems to find little or no relief in this. The nurse watches over them all day, and sleeps in the bed between their cribs at night, but, as Mrs. Amy says, she cannot worry over them as a mother would.
It is in worrying that Mrs. Amy accomplishes some of her most strenuous work. She confesses that there is scarcely a minute when her mind is at rest. Her worries even cut in on her nights, and she describes graphically how, tossing from side to side, she hears the clock strike twelve, half past twelve, one, half past one — sometimes it goes on that way up to three.
The past months have been especially trying to her, for the older Amy child has lately started school. He attends the public school around the corner, where his mother cannot help but feel that his time is devoted less to acquiring education than to running a splendid chance of contracting diseases and bringing them home, to share with his sister. During his first term Mrs. Amy has at different times detected in him symptoms of mumps, measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever, whooping cough and infantile paralysis. It is true that none of these ever developed, but that’s not the point. The thing is that his mother was just as much worried as if he had had record cases of them all.
Then there are her household cares to prey upon her. Annie, a visiting maid, arrives before breakfast and stays till after dinner, but Mrs. Amy frequently sighs that she is far from satisfactory. Twice, now, her gravy has been distinctly lumpy, and just the other day she omitted to address Mrs. Amy as “ma’am” in answering her. There may be those who can throw off such things, but Mrs. Amy takes them hard. Only the fact that she worries so over the prospect of not being able to get another maid prevents her from marching right out into the kitchen and formally presenting Annie with the air.
It seems as if there were some great conspiracy to prevent things’ breaking right for Mrs. Amy. Misfortunes pile up all through the day, so that by evening she has a long hard-luck story with which to greet Mr. Amy.
All through dinner she beguiles him with a recital of what she has had to endure that day — how the milkman didn’t come and she was forced to send out to the grocer’s; how she hurried to answer the telephone at great personal inconvenience, only to find it was someone for Annie; how the butcher had no veal cutlets; how the man didn’t fix the pantry sink; how Junior refused to take his cereal; how the druggist omitted to send the soap she ordered; how — but you get the idea. There is always enough material for her to continue her story all through dinner and carry it over till bedtime with scarcely a repetition.
Mr. Amy would be glad to do what he could to lighten her burdens, but Mrs. Amy, though she all but hints in her conversation that many of her troubles may be laid at her husband’s door, refuses to let him crash in on her sphere.
He has a confessed longing, for instance, to take the children out on the nurse’s Sundays off. But Mrs. Amy cannot be induced to see it. Her feeling is that he would be just as apt as not to take them in a street car, or to the zoo, where they would get themselves simply covered with germs. As she says, she would worry so while they were gone that she would be virtually no good by the time they got back.
Mr. Amy often seeks to persuade his wife to join him in an evening’s revelry at the movies or the theater, but she seldom consents. Her mind cannot come down to the pleasures before her when it is all taken up with what might be going on at home at that very minute. The house might burn up, the children might run temperatures, a sudden rain might come up and spoil the bedroom curtains; anything is liable to happen while she is away. So you can see how much there is on her side when she tells Mr. Amy that she feels safer at home.
Occasionally the Amys have a few friends in to dinner. Mrs. Amy obliges at these functions with one of her original monologues on the things that have gone wrong in her household during that day alone. They would entertain oftener, but what with the uncertainty of Annie’s gravy and the vagaries of the tradespeople, the mental strain is too great for Mrs. Amy.
Mr. Amy often has to take a man out for dinner, in the way of business. He used to bring his business acquaintances to dine with him at home, but it got on Mrs. Amy’s nerves to that degree that she had to put a stop to the practice.
She said it just bored her to death to have to sit there and listen to them talk about nothing but their business.
The Third Floor West
What is really the keynote of the Tippetts’ living room is the copy of the Social Register lying temptingly open on the table. It is as if Mrs. Tippett had been absorbed in it, and had only torn herself from its fascinating pages in order to welcome you.
It is almost impossible for you to overlook the volume, but if you happen to, Mrs. Tippett will help you out by pointing to it with an apologetic little laugh. No one knows better than she, she says, that its orange-and-black binding is all out of touch with the color scheme of the room; but, you see, she uses it for a telephone book and she is simply lost without it. Just what Mrs. Tippett does when she wants to look up the telephone number of her laundress or her grocer is not explained. And few people have the strength to go into the subject unassisted.
Some day when you happen to be reading the Social Register and come to the T’s, you will find that Mr. and Mrs. Tippett’s names are not there. Naturally you will take this for a printer’s error. But it is only too intentional. The Tippetts do not yet appear in the register, though they have every hope of eventually making the grade.
As soon as Mrs. Tippett feels that the one about using the Social Register as a telephone book has sunk in, she will begin to laugh off her apartment. She says that it is the greatest joke, their living way up here in this funny old house that has been made over into flats. You have no idea how the Tippetts’ friends simply howl at the thought of their living up on the West Side.
Whimsically Mrs. Tippett adds that what with so many social leaders moving down to Greenwich Village and over by the East River, it seems to her that the smart thing to do nowadays is to live in the most out-of-the-way place you can find.
Mr. Tippett will enlarge on the thing for you, if you stay until he comes home from business. Mr. Tippett solicits advertising for one of the excessively doggy magazines. There is not much in it, but it gives him an opportunity to come in contact with some awfully nice people. He will put over some perfect corkers about living so far uptown that he goes to work by the Albany boat; or he may even refer to his place of residence as Canada for you.
He bears out his wife’s statements as to their friends’ amusement at the apartment; in fact you gather from the chat that the Tippetts’ chief reason for occupying the place is the good laugh it affords their friends.
The Tippetts are exceedingly well connected, as you will learn just as soon as they get a chance to tell you. Mr. Tippett’s own cousin is not only included in the Social Register but has been referred to in the society weeklies — oh, not a breath of scandal, of course! — and often figures in the morning papers under the head of “among those present were.” The Tippetts are deeply devoted to her. She is seldom absent from their conversation. If she is ill their calls are more regular than the doctor’s. When she is away they carry her letters about and read them aloud to you at a moment’s notice. Way back in midsummer they start planning her Christmas present.
The Tippetts are kept busy the year round. Sometimes Mrs. Tippett says wistfully she almost wishes they were not quite so much in demand. Almost every day she has to keep an appointment with some friend, to have tea at one of the more exclusive hotels. She keeps a sharp lookout for any smart people that may be hanging around, so that at dinner she can breathlessly tell her husband whom they were with and what they had on.
It is great fun to be out with Mrs. Tippett. She can tell you who everybody is, where they originated, whom they married, what their incomes are, and what is going the rounds about them. From a close following of the society papers she really feels that she knows intimately all those who figure in their columns. She goes right ahead with the idea, and speaks of them by the nicknames under which they appear in the society press.
Mrs. Tippett is inclined to be a trifle overpunctual; haven’t you heard it called a good fault? She often arrives rather early for her tea engagements, and so, not being one to waste time, she dashes off a few notes on the hotel stationery while waiting.
Mr. Tippett — it may be from three years of close association — has got from her this admirable habit of catching up with his correspondence at odd times. For instance, when he drops in at some club, as the guest of a member, he frequently finds a few minutes to sit down at a desk and scribble off a letter on the convenient paper.
The Tippetts have many obligations to fulfill. They are so fond of Mr. Tippett’s cousin that they try never to disappoint her when she invites them to anything. This means they must spend two or three weekends at her country place, dine with her several times during the winter, and use her opera tickets once or even oftener. You’d really be amazed at the supply of subsequent conversation that the Tippetts can get out of any of these events.
Besides all this, they usually manage to attend one or two of the large charity affairs, for which tickets may be purchased at a not-so-nominal sum, and they always try to work in one session at the horse show.
This past season has been particularly crowded for Mrs. Tippett. Twice her volunteered aid has been accepted by a woman she met at Mr. Tippett’s cousin’s house, and she has helped arrange the counters at rummage sales. In short, things are coming along nicely with the Tippetts. They have every reason to be satisfied with their life.
Which is remarkably like Mr. Tippett’s business, in that, though there is not much in it, it brings them in contact with some awfully nice people.
The Top Floor East
There was a time when Mrs. Huff kept her own carriage and lived in a three-story house with a conservatory between the dining room and the pantry. I don’t feel that I am violating any confidence in telling you this, because Mrs. Huff would be the first one to say so.
All this was some time ago, when Mrs. Huff’s daughter Emma was still in school — in private school, Mrs. Huff is careful to say. And one good look at Mrs. Huff’s daughter Emma will convince you that her schooldays must have been indeed some time ago.
Shortly before Mr. Huff did what his widow refers to as passed on, the fortune began to meet with reverses, due mainly to Mr. Huff’s conviction that he could put Wall Street in its place during his spare time. Mrs. Huff clung as long as possible to her own carriage and the three-story house with the conservatory, but she had eventually to let them go, in the order named. For a good many years, now, she has been settled in this apartment, in the midst of as much of her palmy-days furniture as could be wedged into the place.
But to Mrs. Huff those good old days are as yesterday. They are as fresh in her mind and her conversation. She can — does, even — go on for hours about how often they had to have the palms in the conservatory replaced, and how much they paid for the fountain, which represented a little girl and boy holding a pink iron umbrella over themselves — she can see it now. From there she drifts into reminiscences of all the trouble they had with drunken coachmen before they got their old Thomas, who was with them twelve years.
Mrs. Huff and her daughter live the calm and ladylike life befitting former conservatory owners. They are attended by one maid, Hannah by name, who was once Emma’s nurse. She does the housework, washing, marketing and cooking; arranges Mrs. Huff’s hair and corsets; remodels the ladies’ clothes in the general direction of the styles; and is with difficulty persuaded to accept her wages each month — the same wages — which is rather a pretty touch of sentiment — as she was getting when she first entered Mrs. Huff’s employ. As Mrs. Huff says, Hannah is really quite a help to them.
Mrs. Huff relies chiefly for her diversion on the funerals of her many acquaintances and connections. She reads the obituary column each morning in much the same spirit that other people look over the What is Going on Today section. Occasionally if the day is fine and there is no really important funeral on hand she takes a little jaunt out to a favorite cemetery and visits various friends there.
Her minor amusements include calls on many sick and a few healthy acquaintances, and an occasional card party. Her stories of how often they had to change the palms and how much they paid for the fountain are the features of these affairs.
Miss Emma Huff suffers slightly from hallucinations; no, suffers is hardly the word. She manages to get quite a good time out of them.
She is under the impression that she is the desired of every man with whom she comes in contact. She is always arriving home fluttering from her adventure with the overzealous clerk in the shoe shop, or the bus driver who was too careful about helping her alight, or the floorwalker who almost insisted on taking her arm to direct her to the notions. Miss Huff never dares stay late at a friend’s house, for fear some man may spring from the shadows and abduct her on the way home.
Between adventures Miss Huff does a good deal of embroidery. If there were ever a contest in putting cross-stitch baskets on guest towels she would be entered scratch. Also, she is a mean hand at copying magazine covers in water colors. Last year she made all her own Christmas cards, and if all goes well she plans doing it again next Christmas.
Once or twice it has been suggested by relatives or overintimate friends that it might be rather nice for Miss Huff to commercialize her talents. Or, if her feeling for art would not allow that, she might find some light and ladylike employment — just to pass the time, is always hastily added.
Mrs. Huff awards these advisers what, in anybody else, would be a dirty look. She does not waste words to reply to any suggestion that a daughter of hers should enter the business world. For Mrs. Huff can never forget that she once kept her own carriage and lived in a three-story house with a conservatory between the dining room and the pantry.
The Top Floor West
There are, of course, a Mr. and a Mrs. Plank, but they sink indistinguishably into the background. Mrs. Plank may be roughly summarized as a woman who always knows what you ought to do for that indigestion, while Mr. Plank is continually going into a new business where “none of us is going to get much money at first.”
The real life of the Plank party is Arlette — Mrs. Plank let herself go, for the only time in her life, in the choosing of her daughter’s name.
Arlette is, at the present writing, crowding nineteen summers, and she looks every day of it. As for her mode of living, just ask anybody in the apartment house.
Arlette stopped school three years ago by her own request. She had no difficulty in convincing her mother that she had enough education to get along with anywhere. Mrs. Plank is a firm believer in the theory that, unless she is going to teach, there is no earthly use of a girl’s wasting her time in going all through high school. Men, says Mrs. Plank — and she has been married twenty-one years, so who could be a better judge? — do not select as their wives these women who are all full of education. So for the past three years Arlette’s intellectual decks have been cleared for matrimony.
But Arlette has not yet given a thought to settling down into marriage. There was a short season when she thought rather seriously of taking up a screen career, after someone had exclaimed over the startling likeness between her and Louise Lovely. But so far she has taken it out in doing her hair in the accepted movie-star manner, to look as if it had been arranged with an egg beater.
Most of Arlette’s time is spent in dashing about in motors driven by young men of her acquaintance. The cars were originally designed to accommodate two people, but they rarely travel without seven or eight on board. These motors, starting out from or drawing up to the apartment house, with their precious loads of human freight, are one of the big spectacles of the block.
The Skids for Eddie
It is remarkable how without the services of a secretary Arlette prevents her dates from becoming mixed. She deftly avoids any embarrassing overlapping of suitors. Her suitors would, if placed end to end, reach halfway up to the Woolworth Tower and halfway back.
They are all along much the same design — slim, not too tall, with hair shining like linoleum. They dress in suits which, though obviously new, have the appearance of being just outgrown, with half belts, and lapels visible from the back.
The average duration of Arlette’s suitors is five weeks. At the end of that time she hands the favored one a spray of dewy raspberries and passes on to the next in line.
The present incumbent, Eddie to his friends, has lasted rather longer than usual. His greatest asset is the fact that he is awfully dry. He has a way of saying “absotively” and “posolutely” that nearly splits Arlette’s sides. When he is introduced he says, with a perfectly straight face, “You’re pleased to meet me,” and Arlette can hardly contain herself. He interpolates a lot of Ed Wynn’s stuff into the conversation, and Arlette thinks it is just as good as the original, if not better.
Then, too, he knows a perfectly swell step. You take three to the right, then three to the left, then toddle, then turn suddenly all the way around and end with a dip; the effect is little short of professional.
But Arlette has lately met a young man who has his own car and can almost always get his father’s limousine when he takes you to the theater. Also, his father owns a chain of moving-picture houses, and he can get a pass for her.
So it looks from here as if the skids were all ready to be applied to Eddie.
Mrs. Plank worries a bit over her daughter’s incessant activities. She hears stories of the goings-on of these modern young people that vaguely trouble her, and she does wish that Arlette would take more rest. Naturally, though, she hesitates to bring the matter to her daughter’s attention. Occasionally she goes so far as to hint that Arlette might take a little interest in watching her do the housework, so that she can pick up some inside stuff on household matters that might be useful in her married life.
For all Mrs. Plank wants, she says, is to live to see her daughter making some good man happy.
Arlette’s ideas, now, seem to be more along the lines of making some good men happy.