Gideon Planish, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 25

Dr. Gideon Planish was a man not slothful, not tardy, but forever going about his master’s business — Peony being his master.

The office routine at the Every Man a Priest Fraternity was almost too easy for him. As automatically as a spider spits out thread, he wrote the suitable “literature,” and it was sent to the old Eskimo Culture list of prospects, explaining that in this Desperate Crisis, unless they ran, not walked, to their desks and instantly made out checks to the Every Man Fraternity, it was doubtful if Christianity would last till mid-August.

He did not fret over the returns, for Mrs. Piggott and Miss Tundra were generous — so far. To his expert and cynical eye it was certain not only that some day these ladies would go gunning for something newer and sexier, for Communism or Anti–Communism or Glands or Vitamins or Surrealism, but that in his next incarnation as a messiah, he would have to take a drop from his present salary of six thousand to forty-five or six hundred.

But as he said merrily to his wife, “It’s a swell racket while it lasts — and of course, baby, I don’t mean ‘racket’ in any invidious sense — in fact, I’m fully conscious of my privilege in being able to pour new wine into a church that has become stultified by formalism and by the very grandeur of its imposing —”

“There’s a swell movie at the Tetrarch–Plaza,” said Peony.

He showed his industry and social value by writing and sending out free to interested friends a pamphlet on the need of introducing modern science and economic distribution into religion. The only time Carlyle Vesper made any trouble was when, after reading Dr. Planish’s masterpiece, “More Horse–Power in the Chancel,” he complained, “But, Brother, it seems to me that instead of breaking away from the church machine, you’re trying to turn the professional preachers into sales engineers. Of course I’m not a man of much book education —”

“No, Carlyle; if you will pardon me, you’re NOT!” Dr. Planish was as genial as a hangman. “Can’t you see that just now, with an upset world, it isn’t the time to start these revolutionary experiments that will disturb people’s sense of confidence and alienate a lot of the best and most responsive top men? No, no. You really must trust the wider judgment and sharper sense of spiritual technique that I have acquired over so many years.”

“I see. Well, excuse me, Brother. You told me to take some copy to the printer.”

Vesper’s peasant habit of calling him “Brother” was Dr. Planish’s only mosquito on this outing.

Every national organization is afflicted by crank letters and fanatic callers, but nowhere had they been such pests as at the Every Man a Priest Fraternity.

Nine-page mimeographed documents with shaky additions in pen, promising the solution of international enmity by using wooden money, or by having the world controlled by a board composed of the Pope, Josef Stalin and the author of the suggestion, who would work cheap. Pathetic letters from old ladies about ancestral first editions of Robert J. Ingersoll, which they were now forced to part with. Brusque letters from businessmen beginning, “What do you guys think you’re up to?” Vasty telegrams from young preachers who would be very appreciative of ten thousand dollars, to be sent by return wire, with which they could go to Edinburgh and study. Callers with information about the Occult Inner Secrets of Subconscious All–Power as Revealed to a Scotch Geologist and Poet in an Ancient and Hidden Monastery in Tibet. The unemployed musician who came in and wept about his wife, and wouldn’t quit weeping and go away for less than a dollar, cash.

At last Dr. Planish saw a way of making Vesper really earn his thirty-five a week. He turned all the crank letters and irritating callers over to Vesper, and he himself was left free to hold meetings in Miss Ramona Tundra’s suite in the Ritz Towers, and to get better acquainted with “Deacon” Wheyfish.

The Hon. Ernest Wheyfish, ex-congressman, author of Make Them Pay While They Pray, was not a nice man, but he was an authority on Giving to Philanthropies, and an inspired diagnostician of Prospects. Let him take an ordinary sucker list and he could, by innate genius, by an inner and spiritual nose, smell out the fact that this name was useless, but that other marked a man who could be encouraged to double his annual contribution.

He stood four-square on the principle that, far from harvesting only the rich and middle class, we ought to look on the glorious majority of the poor as a philanthropic field yet unplowed, but so fertile that the pioneer fundraiser could only lift up his eyes in thanksgiving.

He peeped into every new organization to promote religion — and there were perhaps six new ones a week in New York City — because these bush-leaguers might have some new ideas, and new philanthrobbers to tap. Sometimes it was even worth while combining with them, and later dropping their original founders out of the window while keeping their typewriters, wastebaskets, pretty stenographers and lists of supporters.

Deacon Wheyfish had originally been proprietor of an organization called the National Christian Excelsior Crusade, which, even more piously than the Cizkon, promulgated the principle that if you can get your workers to attend prayer-meeting and to buy their own homes, on time, then you have them where you want them. But he had now divided this sacred assembly into two bodies: The Family Prayer Crusade, managed by Constantine Kelly, that unreconstructed Brooklyn Irishman who said he was a Baptist and in fact crossed himself every time he saw a Rockefeller; and the mammoth Blessed to Give Brotherhood, of which the Deacon was president, executive secretary and, decidedly, the treasurer.

The Blessed to Give was the department store of philanthropic enterprises. It was interested in helping out fifty different charities. Often it worked through apparently rival associations, and it announced, “Whenever we see that somebody can do any given job better than we can, we do not hesitate to pass any contribution right on to them, with no charge for routing or bookkeeping.”

In his first week at the Every Man Fraternity, Dr. Planish received an unsolicited check for five dollars from the Blessed to Give, with an explanation from Deacon Wheyfish that in return he wanted nothing but a kind smile — and some names of interesting new contributors.

There were scurrilous and uncharitable enemies who charged that quite a little of the money stuck to the Blessed to Give mail-chute in passing on, but the Deacon in answer published a budget showing that he, as the officers, couldn’t have kept more than $942.00 a year out of contributions of $200,000.

Deacon the Honorable Wheyfish looked as a grasshopper would look if it had a rough complexion and wore a Biblical white tie and clocked blue socks.

There were friends of the Deacon who said that he should have gone on and become one of the professional money-raisers who do not spoil their pure art by fussing over where the money goes, but are engaged to put on campaigns for a college, a church or a Christian mission to China.

The best of the money-raisers will not waste time on any objective under a hundred thousand dollars; they much prefer a million; and they get, as their fee, an amount which equals anywhere from five per cent to ninety-five per cent of the total blessed treasure. They represent such noble causes that they can command cabinet officers to preside at dinners, and permit bishops to introduce strip-teasers at spectacles attracting 25,000 persons at five dollars each. They efficiently make use of the “boiler-room,” in which caramel-voiced young women sit all day long, telephoning to hundreds of strangers, “This is Judge Wallaby’s secretary, and His Honor would like you to buy four ten-dollar tickets to the Fiduciaries’ Fund Festival. If you’ll have the check ready, I’ll send right over for it.” (Judge Wallaby? Is he that demon of the traffic court? You buy the tickets.)

Deacon Wheyfish might actually have become one of these higher money-raisers, even though most of them were Eastern university men with Phi Beta Kappa keys, who could placidly entertain their captives at the Brahmin Club; but he jeered that he’d rather run his own show, and not have to kiss the feet of a lot of old male hags. He remained supreme in his smaller world, revered even if he wasn’t liked by his fellow organizators, and when he invited Dr. Planish to a lunch of executives and publicity counsels, the Doctor was delighted to go.

There were only a dozen men and four women at the luncheon, a simple repast of inedible food in a private room over an Italian restaurant, but those sixteen people had the strength of sixty in influencing the course of good works. Dr. Planish was there, and Chris Stern, OF COURSE, and Professor Goetz Buchwald, Commander Orris Gall of the Zero–Hour American National Committee for the Organization of Global Co-operation. Rabbi Lichtenselig, Professor Campion of the Children’s Re-education Program, and rather unexpectedly, since he was a gay and charming man, the most intelligent in the room, Dr. Nahum Lloyd, graduate of Howard University and secretary of the Cultural League for the Colored Races.

Dr. Planish approved much less of Dr. Lloyd than of the distinguished Dr. Elmer Gantry, who was torridly also present. Dr. Gantry was pastor of the Spiritual Home Methodist Tabernacle on Morningside Heights, but he was better known as a radio pastor, with his weekly Torch Sermons and Swing Sermons and Blue Sermons and Vitamin Sermons, in which, with a splendid combination of modern slang and long hard words, he tried to show the younger generation that God is in the automobile just as much as He was in the oldtime hay-ride. Quite a number of lady society reporters and several male editorial writers had noted that “There is no better living exponent of a streamlined gospel than Dr. Gantry.” But he did not appear at today’s luncheon as a latter-day Henry Ward Beecher, but as the directive secretary of the Society for the Rehabilitation of Erring Young Women.

Deacon Wheyfish arose and spoke to them, earnestly:

“Our friend Dr. Gideon Planish, who has had such a rich and varied experience in the nation’s capital, but who tells me that he is practically a stranger in New York, and whom we are glad to welcome to organizational circles here, is, as you can see, a sterling character, but I’m afraid he’s a bit of a naughty fellow, too, because, with that sparkling wit of his, he refers to the gentry of our profession as ‘organizators’.

“But what I think he is getting at is that all of us ought to have a much more hardboiled professional attitude, instead of the sentimental approach, and, say, he’s dead-right — you bet he is. What we need today is to perceive that raising money, raising lots of money, not for one single second stopping in raising all the money we possibly can and then going beyond that and doing the impossible in money-raising — this is not, as some old-fashioned sentimentalists like to think, just a minor detail and bother in organizational work, but our first big duty, our very biggest one, first, last and all the time.

“We all talk too much about the supposed PURPOSES of our organizations: how we feed so and so many children or help the victims of T.B. That work is glorious, that is near divine, and yet I’m going to venture a statement so radical that it will probably land me right in Moscow with the other reds, for I want to tell you right here and now that our primary mission isn’t to SPEND the money we collect, but to train people, all the people, to give, to give generously, to keep on giving not only to accomplish charitable ends, but to expand their own miserable, narrow peanut souls by the divine HABIT of giving.

“If they come to me and squeal and carry on and say that if they give as I want ’em to, it’s going to cramp their family lives and keep their children from having a lot of fool extras like music and endanger their savings accounts and so on and so forth, then I don’t tell ’em I’m sorry — not me, not one bit of it. No, sir! I say, ‘That’s fine, Brother! Now you’re learning to give in Jesus’s way — to give till it hurts — yes, and hurts your family as well as yourself. That’s fine,’ I say. You bet!

“And when a lot of cranks and critics and mean-souled little carpers and cussers come around and say, ‘Deacon, where’s your financial report — where’s your certified proof that you haven’t wasted any money?’— why, then, I feel like saying to ’em, ‘Damn it’— yessir, I get so mad I could curse — I feel like saying, ‘Damn it, how do you cold-hearted and cold-faced carpers and critics know but what maybe the best training to expand the soul of man is to dig down for money that somebody WILL waste!’ . . . Not, you understand, that we ever do waste one cent or even get any real salaries at the Blessed to Give Brotherhood, and our books are audited by the great firm of French, Saffron and Gubbey, C.P.A.‘s, you understand, and show that every penny contributed to us, except for the items of overhead, postage, printing and rent, goes directly to some great body dealing with domestic or foreign relief, every last penny! You bet!

“As many of you know, philanthropy, in hard dollars and cents, already ranks eighth among the major industries of America. But it ought to rank first. What can a man purchase in the way of a motor car, a bathtub or a radio that will afford him such spiritual benefit, or for that matter such keen pride and pleasure and social prestige, as the knowledge that he is permitting the better organization executives the means and the leisure to go around doing good, and the reputation of being the best giver in his whole neighborhood? We may have to hypnotize him a little to make him realize that, but how satisfied he will be when he does! You bet!

“The philanthropic industry has been steadily increasing, but not because of any improving generosity or imagination among the great body of givers — not on your life — the sluggards — bless ’em! It’s only because they’ve been scientifically coaxed to give — scientifically, mind you. The raising of funds must be a separate calling, with an infallible technique. And yet some of you, my friends, tend to forget this, and go around daydreaming about what good you’d do if you only had the cash, instead of tackling it the scientific way; first raising the cash, and THEN seeing if there’s some good you can do with it. You all know, or ought to, that far beyond the fancy reasons that we spring in public addresses — like native virtue and friendliness and the responsibilities we’re supposed to feel toward one another in a democracy — far beyond these are the two REAL factors: improved methods of obtaining gifts on our part, like using the radio and movie stars; and then, when we get folks into it, making them keep up the habit of giving.

“That’s our job. Don’t reason with folks — get them into the HABIT of filling out pledge cards just as regularly as they brush their teeth, and make ’em feel guilty as hell if they fail to do either one! You bet!

“You know that it’s been determined that the habit of giving is on three stages. Highest of them is the passionate love of God — though I’m sorry to say that in the budget, the gifts from this class don’t add up very big — there’s too few of ’em. Then there’s the class that gives from a kind of restless feeling that they ought to be useful. Lowest, but maybe most important of all to unprejudiced thinkers like ourselves, is the class that is pushed by fear, vanity and self-interest: the fellows that are afraid of revolution, the silly woman that gives us maybe one-tenth of what she spends on war-paint, MAYBE, so that she’ll get praised as generous, and be invited on important committees.

“Now there we have the whole darn thing worked out, in perhaps the most profound psychological analysis since Freud invented birth-control, and yet what do we do? We go on circularizing and making personal appeals and getting our front, the top men, to telephone to all three of these classes of donors on exactly the same grounds, instead of laying our plans to attack each one separate, and with a different appeal. That’s why philanthropy is only the eighth industry, that’s why so many dollars go to the automobile tycoons that properly belong in our coffers, and it’s all our fault.

“But what really gets my goat is the highly undemocratic belief that the mass of the people are so miserably shiftless and ornery that they don’t even want to join their betters in giving. I tell you, I come from the commonest kind of common people, and I resent the imputation against the morale of this great class, and the unprofessional incompetence that fails to see that here is not a negligible but the very most important source of fund-raising.

“It’s the deepest and richest mine in the country, and yet it hasn’t hardly been prospected. Don’t the Scriptures say, ‘As a man thinketh, so he is’? Well, if you’ll get your THINKING right, and on a higher plane, you’ll realize that there’s almost a hundred and thirty million people in this far-flung land, and that, at a mere dollar apiece, means one — hundred — and — thirty — million gold simoleons, and I guess that’s worth the attention of even a highbrow like Dr. Planish or Professor Buchwald!

“Yes, sir, the fundamental principle of the art and profession of increasing the universal giving of money is that mighty few people do give much unless they’re ASKED to give. And it’s up to us, particularly in these necessitous days when the war clouds seem to be rolling up over Europe, to up and gird our loins and ask — and demand — and insist — that those hundred and thirty millions come through for the titanic moral and patriotic plans that we have so competently laid out, but in which we are checked for the lack of just a few pitiful millions of dollars. Now is the time! Don’t forget that the menace of war, properly presented, will scare into giving even those people, rich or poor, who have been the most obdurate to our pitiful appeals for help.

“Come on, gentlemen and ladies, get out from under that bushel and, on behalf of the suffering and ignorant multitude, hit that line of potential lower-bracket contributors, and hit it hard! You bet your life!”

Dr. Planish was inspired by this Patrick Henry of philanthropy, and inspired further by attending a two-day Round Table Conference conducted by Commander Orris Gall, which presented a series of papers on geopolitics, the certainty that Hitler would some day go to war, the certainty that he wouldn’t, and the use of graphs. It was like the contents of a very earnest and well-bred magazine that was, during the incarceration of the editorial staff, being conducted by several candidates for the Ph.D. degree.

Out of all this Dr. Planish was beginning to weave a plan. He would merge dozens of organizations — Wheyfish’s, Kelly’s, Gall’s, Kitto’s, Stern’s — into one, and let these men in as vice-presidents, but he would be the supreme head, though at first he might work under Colonel Charles B. Marduc, the master as he was the publicizer of American speed and idealism. The time for his central powerhouse might not come for another year or two, but now he was ready to meet and really talk to the Colonel. His ambition was settled; his home was settled.

In Greenwich Village, on Charles Street, they had found an oldish house which pleased the Doctor by its cheapness, Peony by its tall drawing-room windows, Carrie by having a garden simply roaring with cats.

The gold and scarlet Chinese Chippendale cabinet, the blue Chinese rug, the jade Chinese lamp, the birch radio cabinet, and the portable bar could all rest now, happier than they had ever been, in the long drawing-room with its marble fireplace. There were four master bedrooms, which gave young Carrie a room of her own, and gave Dr. Planish a study, into which he fondly dragged the old splintered desk he had used as a college instructor.

They had a home now, and they were only a step or two from glory.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57