ALL the way home from Maine, Babbitt was certain that he was a changed man. He was converted to serenity. He was going to cease worrying about business. He was going to have more “interests”— theaters, public affairs, reading. And suddenly, as he finished an especially heavy cigar, he was going to stop smoking.
He invented a new and perfect method. He would buy no tobacco; he would depend on borrowing it; and, of course, he would be ashamed to borrow often. In a spasm of righteousness he flung his cigar-case out of the smoking-compartment window. He went back and was kind to his wife about nothing in particular; he admired his own purity, and decided, “Absolutely simple. Just a matter of will-power.” He started a magazine serial about a scientific detective. Ten miles on, he was conscious that he desired to smoke. He ducked his head, like a turtle going into its shell; he appeared uneasy; he skipped two pages in his story and didn’t know it. Five miles later, he leaped up and sought the porter. “Say, uh, George, have you got a —” The porter looked patient. “Have you got a time-table?” Babbitt finished. At the next stop he went out and bought a cigar. Since it was to be his last before he reached Zenith, he finished it down to an inch stub.
Four days later he again remembered that he had stopped smoking, but he was too busy catching up with his office-work to keep it remembered.
Baseball, he determined, would be an excellent hobby. “No sense a man’s working his fool head off. I’m going out to the Game three times a week. Besides, fellow ought to support the home team.”
He did go and support the team, and enhance the glory of Zenith, by yelling “Attaboy!” and “Rotten!” He performed the rite scrupulously. He wore a cotton handkerchief about his collar; he became sweaty; he opened his mouth in a wide loose grin; and drank lemon soda out of a bottle. He went to the Game three times a week, for one week. Then he compromised on watching the Advocate–Times bulletin-board. He stood in the thickest and steamiest of the crowd, and as the boy up on the lofty platform recorded the achievements of Big Bill Bostwick, the pitcher, Babbitt remarked to complete strangers, “Pretty nice! Good work!” and hastened back to the office.
He honestly believed that he loved baseball. It is true that he hadn’t, in twenty-five years, himself played any baseball except back-lot catch with Ted — very gentle, and strictly limited to ten minutes. But the game was a custom of his clan, and it gave outlet for the homicidal and sides-taking instincts which Babbitt called “patriotism” and “love of sport.”
As he approached the office he walked faster and faster, muttering, “Guess better hustle.” All about him the city was hustling, for hustling’s sake. Men in motors were hustling to pass one another in the hustling traffic. Men were hustling to catch trolleys, with another trolley a minute behind, and to leap from the trolleys, to gallop across the sidewalk, to hurl themselves into buildings, into hustling express elevators. Men in dairy lunches were hustling to gulp down the food which cooks had hustled to fry. Men in barber shops were snapping, “Jus’ shave me once over. Gotta hustle.” Men were feverishly getting rid of visitors in offices adorned with the signs, “This Is My Busy Day” and “The Lord Created the World in Six Days — You Can Spiel All You Got to Say in Six Minutes.” Men who had made five thousand, year before last, and ten thousand last year, were urging on nerve-yelping bodies and parched brains so that they might make twenty thousand this year; and the men who had broken down immediately after making their twenty thousand dollars were hustling to catch trains, to hustle through the vacations which the hustling doctors had ordered.
Among them Babbitt hustled back to his office, to sit down with nothing much to do except see that the staff looked as though they were hustling.
Every Saturday afternoon he hustled out to his country club and hustled through nine holes of golf as a rest after the week’s hustle.
In Zenith it was as necessary for a Successful Man to belong to a country club as it was to wear a linen collar. Babbitt’s was the Outing Golf and Country Club, a pleasant gray-shingled building with a broad porch, on a daisy-starred cliff above Lake Kennepoose. There was another, the Tonawanda Country Club, to which belonged Charles McKelvey, Horace Updike, and the other rich men who lunched not at the Athletic but at the Union Club. Babbitt explained with frequency, “You couldn’t hire me to join the Tonawanda, even if I did have a hundred and eighty bucks to throw away on the initiation fee. At the Outing we’ve got a bunch of real human fellows, and the finest lot of little women in town — just as good at joshing as the men — but at the Tonawanda there’s nothing but these would-be’s in New York get-ups, drinking tea! Too much dog altogether. Why, I wouldn’t join the Tonawanda even if they — I wouldn’t join it on a bet!”
When he had played four or five holes, he relaxed a bit, his tobacco-fluttering heart beat more normally, and his voice slowed to the drawling of his hundred generations of peasant ancestors. IV
At least once a week Mr. and Mrs. Babbitt and Tinka went to the movies. Their favorite motion-picture theater was the Chateau, which held three thousand spectators and had an orchestra of fifty pieces which played Arrangements from the Operas and suites portraying a Day on the Farm, or a Four-alarm Fire. In the stone rotunda, decorated with crown-embroidered velvet chairs and almost medieval tapestries, parrakeets sat on gilded lotos columns.
With exclamations of “Well, by golly!” and “You got to go some to beat this dump!” Babbitt admired the Chateau. As he stared across the thousands of heads, a gray plain in the dimness, as he smelled good clothes and mild perfume and chewing-gum, he felt as when he had first seen a mountain and realized how very, very much earth and rock there was in it.
He liked three kinds of films: pretty bathing girls with bare legs; policemen or cowboys and an industrious shooting of revolvers; and funny fat men who ate spaghetti. He chuckled with immense, moist-eyed sentimentality at interludes portraying puppies, kittens, and chubby babies; and he wept at deathbeds and old mothers being patient in mortgaged cottages. Mrs. Babbitt preferred the pictures in which handsome young women in elaborate frocks moved through sets ticketed as the drawing-rooms of New York millionaires. As for Tinka, she preferred, or was believed to prefer, whatever her parents told her to.
All his relaxations — baseball, golf, movies, bridge, motoring, long talks with Paul at the Athletic Club, or at the Good Red Beef and Old English Chop House — were necessary to Babbitt, for he was entering a year of such activity as he had never known.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57