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The Adventures of Fatty Lewis by Arthur Killick


By Arthur Killick

Copyright, 1915, by A. F. Killick and W. P. Harvey


     "Having a lot of pride and being as good as your neighbors wouldn't be such a tough job if everyone would use a little judgment," Fatty Lewis declared. "But it looks like they won't."

     "What are you yelling 'police' about now?" Hurrah Smith inquired. "What's the neighbors done?"

     "It's me that's done," Lewis replied, "and they don't have to stick any forks in me to prove it. I know I'm done."

     "I thought the Lewis family was making a lot of social progress when Mrs. Lewis declared breakfast an absolute failure unless she had grapefruit," Lewis continued. "That wasn't no nasty little advance for a woman who a few years ago could just tell a lemon from an orange. But when she began crabbing because the Casaba melon wasn't the right flavor, I hopped. I knew they had raised the limit on a game that had started as penny ante.

     "I guess it's just another flash of Eve and the Pippin," Lewis added. "We had the neighborest little neighborhood you ever saw. You could sit on the front porch in your undershirt, with your shoes in the discard; eat dinner with your coat off; have your java with the meal instead of later; use a toothpick without sneaking out behind the hen-house, and let the beer wagon drive up in daylight. Oh boy, it was a regular Eden.

     "Along came ambition. Some social climber sodded his front yard. The guy next door showed the first one up by sodding both the front and back. A third tilted the ante and added rose bushes. Tulip beds, porch boxes and climbing vines followed each other as fast as bum hands in poker. Yard improvements were shut off only because all outdoor space had been used up.

     "A near-Alexander, disgusted with the failure of further yards to conquer, decided to tackle inside decorations. He had spent the first fifteen years of his life taking baths in the creek which ran through the farm. The next five years personal laundering was done in the family washtub. Just where he saw or heard of a regular bathtub never was learned. Yet he put one in and learned to operate it with the printed directions on the circular. That made it hard on the rest of it. But there was just one thing to do.

     " 'Get a bathtub' was the slogan. Grocery and butcher bills were pared and theaters cut out. Feathers were switched on last year's hats by the women. Children were threatened with malnutrition, but everybody had a bathtub.

     "Up bobs the usually safe, sane and conservative Mrs. Lewis with a bid for caste. Candles for the poor and coal oil lamps for the rich might do all right in Canton, where she broke into the vital statistics column, but nothing doing in the big city. Gas for the Lewis family. We had to wear celluloid eye shades at first to keep from going blind. Neighborhood visitors to the house shaded their eyes with their hands like Christopher Columbus looking for land, yet before half of us settled with the plumbing for installing gas, the woman next door, who found a pocketbook, jumped out in the lead for social honors and put in electricity.

     " 'Gas made such a poor reading light,' she said. She must have read a lot because one time while we were playing cards she remarked:

     " 'If I'd a knowd them was trumps I'd a went in with my Joker and took it!'

Fatty Lewis "Keeping Up With Neighbors"
"But the real blow came yesterday when a neighbor won an automobile by guessing how many beans there was in a jar."

     "Telephones declined from luxuries to necessities. One four-flusher put in both 'phones. He'd probably a-wrecked the neighborhood, but kind Providence in the form of an installment house grabbed his furniture and catastrophe was averted.

     "His downfall served as a warning. There was a lull in the struggle for social supremacy and several families almost got out of debt. Things got so dull that a card club was formed.

     "The first meeting was at our house. Mrs. Lewis had ham and cheese sandwiches and coffee. The next woman went a little stronger -- chili con carne, tamales and a salad. Fried chicken, chop suey and deep sea food spreads followed at the next meetings. It finally took a banquet to play four games of five hundred. The end of the card club was painless. It simply reached the stage where it was impossible to get enough food in an 8-room house to satisfy the hostess that the next woman couldn't outdo her.

     "The card club was a mistake. An awful mistake. The social battle between the women broke out all over again. One woman went downtown to a hairdresser. Another discounted the first by having a hairdresser come to the house. A silk kimono that was intended to squelch everybody only resulted in more and gaudier kimonos. The old neighborly touch for a cup of sugar, or enough cream for the old man's breakfast was abolished. None would admit their poverty. The exchange of light bread ceased. No one did their own washing and there wasn't a cotton stocking within three blocks of us.

     "One family took a trip to the springs; another made it to St. Louis; a third got to Chicago, while a two-thirds fare was on. We finally thought we were making an awful splurge going to Denver, and still some woman referred to our trip as a 'nice car ride.' It now takes a two-months' vacation in New York or California to get honorable mention.

     "I began to see my finish last week," Lewis continued. "One of the neighbors saved up enough tobacco coupons to get a phonograph. With the fall taxes due, winter's coal bill unsettled, a new uniform needed for myself and Christmas in the foreground, it looked like I was a blowed-up sucker. But the real blow came yesterday when a neighbor won and automobile by guessing how many beans there were in a jar. I might have seen the phonograph, but the motor car made me go to the deck with my hand."

     "It sure looks like there's no help for you," Smith assented.

     "I haven't got a chance," Lewis said. "It's a tough game keeping up with the middle classes. You either got to be awful rich or awful poor."

The Adventures of Fatty Lewis ~ A Serial ~ by Arthur F. Killick



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