Delegates at Large

Damon Runyon

July 1932

When it comes on summer, and the nights get nice and warm, I love to sit on the steps in front of the bank at Forty-eighth Street and Seventh Avenue, where a guy can keep himself cool. Many other citizens are fond of sitting on the bank steps with me, and usually we sit with our coats off, speaking of this and that.

Sometimes you can see very prominent citizens sitting with me on the bank steps, including such as Regret, the horse player, and old Sorrowful, the bookie, and Doc Daro and Professor D. and Johnny Oakley and The Greek, and often strangers in the city, seeing us sitting there and looking so cool, stop and take off their coats and sit down with us, although personally if I am a stranger in the city I will be a little careful who I sit down with no matter how hot I am. Well, one night I am sitting on the bank steps with Big Nig, the crap shooter, and a guy by the name of Skyrocket, who is nobody much, when all of a sudden I notice three guys standing on the sidewalk taking a very good long gander at me, and who are these guys but certain characters from Brooklyn by the name of Harry the Horse, and Spanish John and Little Isadore, and they are very hard characters indeed.

In fact, these characters are so hard that I am glad that none of the depositors of the bank can see them standing there, as such a scene is just naturally bound to make any depositor nervous. In fact, it makes me more nervous than somewhat, and I am by no means a depositor. But of course I do not let on to Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore that I am nervous, because they may get the idea that I am nervous about them and take offense.

Well finally I say hello to them, and they all say hello right back, and I can see that they are not inclined to take offense at me, but then they start looking at Big Nig and Skyrocket in such a way that I can see they are taking offense at Big Nig’s face and at Skyrocket’s too, and personally I do not blame them, at that, as these are faces such as may give offense to anybody.

Furthermore, Big Nig and Skyrocket can see that these Brooklyn characters are taking offense at their faces and in practically no time Big Nig and Skyrocket are walking briskly up Forty-eighth Street. Then Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore take off their coats and sit there with me quite a while, with nobody saying much of anything, and I am wondering what these characters are doing in this neighborhood, because they know they are by no means welcome along Broadway or anywhere else in town for that matter, when finally Harry the Horse speaks as follows:

“Well,” Harry says, ”we are going out West tomorrow. Yes,” he says, “we are going away out to Chicago, but,” he says, “do not ask us to call on anybody in Chicago for you, as we will be very busy while we are there.”

Now it happens I do not know anybody in Chicago for them to call on, and if I do know anybody there I will just as soon think of sending them a bottle of prussic acid as to ask Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore to call on them, but naturally I do not mention such an idea out loud. And although I am dying to know why they are going to Chicago, of course I do not ask them, as such a question is bound to be regarded as inquisitive by these characters. So I only say I hope and trust that they will have a very pleasant journey to Chicago and that they will return safe and sound, although I am secretly hoping they never return at all, because if there are any citizens this town can spare it is Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore, and especially Harry the Horse.

In fact, the chances are that Brooklyn, where Harry resides, will be glad to pay him a bonus to move away from there, because he is always carrying on in such a way as to give Brooklyn a bad name, while Spanish John and Little Isadore are no boost to the borough, either. But Spanish John and Little Isadore only do what Harry tells them, and what Harry tells them is generally something that causes somebody plenty of bother.

There is no doubt that Harry the Horse has a wild streak in him and he is very mischievous, and is always putting Spanish John and Little Isadore up to such tricks as robbing their fellow citizens of Brooklyn and maybe taking shots at them, and sometimes Harry the Horse personally takes a shot or two himself. Naturally, this practice is most distasteful to the citizens of Brooklyn, who are very fond of peace and quiet.

Well, anyway, Harry the Horse and Spanish John and Little Isadore sit on the bank steps with me quite a while. Finally however, they get up and put on their coats and shake hands with me and say they hope to see me when they get back from Chicago, and then they go away, and I do not hear of them again for several weeks.

Now one hot night I am again sitting on the steps with a number of prominent citizens, when who comes along but Little Isadore, and he motions me to follow him up the street. It is the first time I ever see Little Isadore without either Harry the Horse or Spanish John and when I join him, naturally I ask him about the others, and Little Isadore speaks to me as follows:

“Harry is in a hospital in Chicago,” Little Isadore says. “Spanish John is out there waiting for him to get well. I come back home,” Little Isadore says, “to raise some scratch to pay Harry’s hospital fees.

“He is all bunged up. It comes of mixing in politics with a doll,” he says. “Maybe you will like to hear the story.”

Naturally I say I will be greatly pleased to hear it, so we walk around to Mindy’s restaurant, and Little Isadore orders up a sirloin steak smothered in onions, and while he is eating this steak he begins to talk.

Well (Little Isadore says), we go to Chicago all right the day after we last see you, and we go to Chicago by special invitation of some very prominent parties out there. I will mention no names, but these parties are very prominent indeed, especially in beer, and they invite us out there to take care of a guy by the name of Donkey O’Neill, as it seems this Donkey O’Neill is also in beer in opposition to the prominent parties I speak of.

Naturally, these parties will not tolerate opposition, and there is nothing for them to do but to see that Donkey O’Neill is taken care of. But of course they do not wish him to be taken care of by local talent, as this is a very old-fashioned way of transacting such matters, and nowadays when anybody is to be taken care of in any town it is customary to invite outsiders in, as they are not apt to leave any familiar traces such as local talent is bound to do.

So the prominent parties in Chicago get in touch with Angie the Ox, in Brooklyn, and Angie speaks so highly of Harry the Horse and Spanish John and me that we get the invitation, which anybody will tell you is a great honor. Furthermore, six G’s and all expenses go with the invitation, and this is by no means alfalfa.

We go to Chicago by the Twentieth Century train, and it is a nice trip generally, except that while we are in the club car playing pinochle Harry the Horse gets to looking at a doll with more interest than somewhat. Now, it is by no means like Harry the Horse to look at a doll. In fact, in all the years I am associated with Harry the Horse, socially and in business, he never before looks at a doll more than once, or maybe twice, because he claims that all dolls are more or less daffy.

But I will say that the doll in the club car is worth looking at, and anybody can see that she has plenty of class, although personally I like them with legs that are not quite so spindly. She is by no means a real young doll, being maybe twenty-five or twenty-six, and anybody can see that she knows what time it is.

Furthermore, she is very stylish, and even if Harry the Horse is a guy who gives dolls a tumble this is about the last doll you will figure him to tumble, because she looks as if she may be such a doll as will holler for the gendarmes if anybody as much as says boo to her.

But Harry the Horse does not seem to be able to keep his eyes off her, and by and by he quits our pinochle game and takes a chair next to her and lets on he is reading a magazine. The next thing anybody knows, Harry is talking to the doll very friendly, which is a most astonishing sight to Spanish John and me, although Harry can talk first rate when he feels like it, and furthermore he is by no means as bad looking as the photos of him the cops send around make him out.

Well, the conversation between Harry the Horse and the doll is also most astonishing to Spanish John and me, because we hear her say to him like this:

“Yes,” she says, “I am going to Chicago. I am going to attend the convention,” she says. “I am a member of the New York Delegation. Some great questions are to be decided in Chicago,” she says. “I love politics, and I think it will be a good thing if all women take an interest in politics. Do you not think so?”

Well, Harry the Horse may not be the smartest guy in the country, but he is smart enough to say yes every now and then to the doll, because if a guy keeps yessing a doll long enough, she is bound to figure him a bright guy, and worth looking into.

By and by the doll mentions that her name is Miss Maribel Mario and that she lives on Park Avenue in the winter and at Southampton in the summer, so it does not take a mind-reader to figure that she must have plenty of potatoes.

Finally she takes to asking Harry the Horse questions, and as Harry is about as good an offhand liar as there is in the United States, his answers are very satisfactory indeed, although personally I figure he is stretching it a little bit when he tells her that we are also going to the convention in Chicago.

Well, Miss Maribel Mario seems pleased to learn this news from Harry the Horse, and she says to him as follows: “Of course you are delegates?” she says.

“Yes,” Harry says, “such is indeed the case.”

“Why,” Miss Maribel Mario says, “we will all be in the convention together. How nice!” she says. “What district are you from?”

Well, naturally Harry does not wish to speak of Brooklyn, because it is never a good policy for a guy to mention his address when he is away from home, so he says we are from no district in particular, which does not sound to me like the right answer, but it seems to suit Miss Maribel Mario.

“Oh,” she says, “I understand. You are delegates at large.” Well, I am glad Harry the Horse lets it go at this and turns the conversation back to Miss Maribel Mario, and anybody can see that Miss Maribel Mario is such a doll as does not mind having the conversation about herself, although it makes me very nervous when I hear Harry the Horse speak to her as follows: “Lady,” Harry says, “does anybody tell you how beautiful you are?”

Naturally, I expect to see Harry the Horse given plenty of wind at once for this crack, but it seems it proves interesting to Miss Maribel Mario, and she is still listening to Harry when Spanish John and me go to bed.

Afterwards I learn Miss Maribel Mario listens to Harry the Horse until midnight, which is most surprising because Harry is a guy whose grammar is by no means perfect, but it seems that no doll minds a guy’s grammar as long as he is speaking well of her. And Harry the Horse tells me that he does not fail to give Miss Maribel Mario plenty the best of it in all his remarks. Furthermore, Harry says, she is deserving of everything he says, which shows that Harry is impressed by Miss Maribel Mario more than somewhat.

The next morning when our train pulls into Chicago we see her on the platform, but she is so surrounded by other dolls, and also by several guys who wear swell clothes and little mustaches, that she does not see us, and Harry the Horse is very thoughtful all the rest of the day.

Well, Chicago is a very large and busy city, with many citizens walking around and about, and among these citizens are many parties wearing large badges, and it seems that these parties are from different parts of the country and are delegates to the national convention that is going on in Chicago at this time.

Furthermore, it seems that this convention is a political proposition, and the idea is to nominate a candidate for President, and also a candidate for Vice-President, if they can get anybody to take it. It is this convention that Miss Maribel Mario is talking about on the train.

But of course Harry the Horse and Spanish John and me have no interest in a matter of this kind, because our business is to look up these prominent parties who invite us to Chicago, and find out just what is what. But Harry the Horse does not seem anxious to get down to business at once, and is wandering around looking as if he is slug-nutty, and I hear he goes over to the Blackstone on Michigan Boulevard where Miss Maribel Mario is stopping, to see if he can get a peek at her.

Naturally, I am somewhat disgusted with Harry the Horse, and so is Spanish John to think that he becomes interested in a doll when we have important business to attend to, so I am very glad when a representative of the prominent parties who invite us to Chicago calls on us at our hotel to explain just what our hosts expect of us. This representative is a guy by the name of Snooksy, and he is very apologetic because he says it looks as if we may be delayed in town a few days.

“This Donkey O’Neill has plenty of political strength,” Snooksy says. “In fact,” he says, “he is a delegate to the big convention, and,” he says, “we figure it may not be a good idea to take care of him when he is in such a prominent spot. It may cause gossip,” Snooksy says. “The idea is to wait until after the convention, and in the meantime I will entertain you gentlemen the best I know how.”

Well, this seems fair enough, and the news cheers up Harry the Horse, as he figures the delay will give him more chance to see Miss Maribel Mario, although he admits to me that he cannot get near her at the Blackstone, what with her having so many friends around.

I ask Harry the Horse why he does not walk right in and send his name up to her, but it seems he cannot remember the name he gives her on the train, and anyway, he does not wish her to find out that it is all the phonus bolonus about us being delegates to the convention.

Harry says there is no doubt in his mind that he must be in love with Miss Maribel Mario, and he will not listen to my idea that maybe it is the change in climate that does not agree with him.

Well, I wish to say that this Snooksy is a splendid entertainer in every respect, and he takes us around and about the city of Chicago, and wherever we go he introduces us to many prominent characters, although I noticed that Snooksy never introduces us by the same names twice, and before the evening is over I am from four different cities, including San Francisco, Dallas, Texas, Shreveport, Louisiana, and Oskaloosa, Iowa.

But nobody ever asks any questions, as it seems the citizens of Chicago are very polite in this respect, so we all enjoy ourselves thoroughly, especially Spanish John, who claims the beer in Chicago is almost as good as the kind Angie the Ox sells in Brooklyn.

Well, for a couple of days and nights we are entertained by Snooksy, and even Harry the Horse cheers up, and I commence to think he forgets Miss Maribel Mario, until early one a.m. we are in a joint where there is plenty of beer and other entertainment, including blondes, when a bunch of guys wearing badges happen in.

Anybody can see from the badges that these guys are delegates such as are walking around and about all over town, and, furthermore, that some of them are delegates from New Jersey, which is a spot well known to Harry the Horse and Spanish John and me, although one guy seems to be from Massachusetts and another from Texas. But they are all full of fun and beer, and one thing and another, and they take a table next to us, and the first thing anybody knows we are very neighborly together.

Well, by and by I notice Harry the Horse examining the badge one of the New Jersey guys is wearing, and I also hear Harry asking questions about it, and it seems from what the guy says that anybody wearing such a badge and carrying a certain card can walk in and out of the convention, and no questions asked. Then I hear Harry the Horse speak to the guy as follows:

“Well,” Harry says, “I am never in a convention in my life. I only wish I have such a badge,” he says, “so I can see how a convention works.”

“Why,” the guy says, speaking out loud so the others hear him, “this is a terrible state of affairs. Here is a guy who is never in a convention,” he says. “Why,” he says, “you will have my seat at the morning session while I will be catching up on some sleep, although,” the guy says, “the chances are you will find it all very tiresome.”

With this the guy unpins the badge on his chest and pins it on Harry the Horse, and furthermore he takes a card out of his pocket and gives it to Harry, and then he calls for more beer, while the other boys commence asking Snooksy and Spanish John and me if we will care to see the convention, too.

Personally, I do not care a whoop about seeing any convention, but the guys are so cordial about the matter that I do not have the heart to say no, so pretty soon there I am wearing a New Jersey badge, while Spanish John has a Massachusetts badge and Snooksy the badge belonging to the guy from Texas.

Also, we have cards saying we are delegates, and are full of instructions how to act and what to answer in case anybody starts asking questions. And now you know how it comes that Snooksy and Harry the Horse and Spanish John and me are sitting in the convention next day, although Spanish John and Snooksy are not doing much sitting, but are wandering around, and afterwards I hear there is some complaint from delegates about losing their leathers containing their return tickets and funds.

Now of course I never have any idea of going to the convention when the guys pin the badges on us, and I have no idea Harry the Horse will even think of such a thing, but nothing will do him but we must go, and he will not listen to my argument that the other delegates from New Jersey will see that we are strictly counterfeit. So there we are, and as it turns out there is great confusion in the convention when we get in, and nobody pays any attention to anybody else, which is a break for us.

In fact, Harry the Horse and me become quite pally with some of the guys around us, especially as Harry remembers before we start for the convention about a case of good beer that Snooksy sends us, and figuring we may need a refreshing dram while sitting in the convention, he slips several of these bottles into his pockets and wraps up several more, and this beer goes very nice indeed when Harry starts passing it about.

Personally I am greatly disappointed in the convention, because it is nothing but a lot of guys and dolls in a large hall, with signs stuck up here and there on sticks, with the names of different states on the signs. A guy up on a big platform is hammering on a table and yelling very loud, and everybody else seems to be yelling, and it strikes me as most undignified, especially as some of the guys start marching up and down the aisles carrying on quite some.

Several of the signs with the names of states on them are being lugged up and down the aisles, and every now and then a new sign bobs up in the procession, and then the racket gets worse than ever. I am about to mention to Harry the Horse that we will be better off in some more quiet spot when I notice him looking toward a sign that says New York on it, and who is sitting in a chair alongside this sign but Miss Maribel Mario, looking very beautiful indeed.

Well, I know enough to know that this sign means that the New York delegates are somewhere around close, and I am wondering if any of my friends from my old hometown are present among them, because by this time I am getting more homesick than somewhat.

Then all of a sudden some of the New York bunch joins the marchers, and a tall, skinny guy reaches for the New York sign with the idea of carrying it on the march.

At this, Miss Maribel Mario stands up on her chair and grabs hold of the sign, and the skinny guy starts to pull and haul with her, trying to get the sign away from her. Personally, I will not give you two cents for a roomful of such signs, but afterward somebody explains to me that the marching up and down the aisles, and the hollering, is a demonstration in favor of some proposition before the convention, such as a candidate, or something else, and in this case it turns out to be something else.

It seems that a state sign in such a procession means that the delegates from this state like the proposition, but it also seems that sometimes the delegates from a state are all split up, and some are by no means in favor of the proposition, and they do not like to see their sign lugged around and about, as it gives a wrong impression. Well, it all sounds like a lot of foolishness to me and most unbecoming of grown guys and dolls, but there the skinny guy is, tugging one way at the New York sign, and there Miss Maribel Mario is, tugging the other way and showing a strength that is most surprising. In fact, she is even money in my book to out-tug the skinny guy, when Harry the Horse arrives on the spot and lets go with a neat left hook which connects with the skinny guy’s chin.

He drops to the floor all spraddled out, leaving Miss Maribel Mario still standing on the chair with the sign, and anybody can see that she is greatly pleased with Harry the Horse’s hook, as she gives him a large smile and speaks as follows:

“Oh,” she says, “thank you so much! I am glad to see you are on our side.”

Well, just then a short chunky guy makes a reach for the sign, and Harry the Horse lets go another hook, but this one lands on the guy’s noggin and only staggers him. Now the marching seems to stop, and one and all commence surging toward Harry the Horse.

Nearly everybody present, including many dolls, seems to be trying to get a pop at Harry, and he is letting punches fly right and left, and doing very well with them indeed. In fact, he has quite a number of guys down when a guy who seems to be about seven feet high and very thick through the chest, comes pushing his way through the crowd.

The big guy is wearing an Illinois badge, and as he pushes through the crowd he speaks as follows: “Let me attend to this matter,” he says. Then when he finally gets close enough to Harry, he hauls off and hits the back of Harry’s neck and knocks him into the chair on which Miss Maribel Mario is standing. Personally I consider the blow a rabbit punch, which is very illegal, but anybody can see that the big guy is such a guy as is not apt to pay any attention to the rules.

The chair on which Miss Maribel Mario is standing goes down as Harry the Horse hits it, and Miss Maribel Mario goes with it, still holding on to the sign, and as she gets down she lets out a loud scream. She is up at once, however, and she floes not seem to be hurt, but she is very indignant, because she realizes the public must see what kind of underwear she has on when she goes down.

She is holding the sign in both hands as she arises, and at the same time Harry the Horse also comes up, but very weak and staggering, and it is nothing but instinct that causes Harry to reach for his hip pocket, because generally Harry has the old equalizer in his pocket.

But when we arrive in town one of the first things Snooksy tells us is that we must not go around rodded up except when he tells us, as it seems that being rodded up is against the law in Chicago, especially for strangers, so instead of the old equalizer what does Harry find in his hip pocket but a bottle of good beer.

And when Harry finds this bottle of good beer in his hip pocket, he also remembers about another bottle of good beer in the side pocket of his coat, so he outs with both these bottles of good beer, holding one in each hand by the nozzle, and starts waving them around to get a good windup on them before dropping them on some nearby noggins.

Well, personally I always consider this action most unfortunate, as it seems the bottles of good beer give Miss Maribel Mario a wrong impression of Harry the Horse, especially as one of the bottles suddenly pops open with a bang, what with the good beer getting all churned up from the waving around, and the foam flies every which way, some of it flying over Miss Maribel Mario, who speaks to Harry the Horse as follows:

“Oh,” she says, “so you are one of the enemy, too, are you?” And with this, Miss Maribel Mario hauls off and whacks Harry over the noggin with the New York sign, busting the sign staff in two pieces, and knocking Harry out into the aisle, where the big guy with the Illinois badge walks across Harry’s chest, with Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, California and Georgia following him one after the other.

Personally, I consider Miss Maribel Mario’s action very unladylike, especially as it causes a great waste of good beer, but when I visit Harry the Horse in hospital the next day he does not seem as mad at her as he is sorrowful, because Harry says he learns she makes a mistake, and he says anybody is apt to make a mistake.

But, Harry says, it ends all his ideas of romance because he can see that such mistakes are bad for a guy’s health, especially as this one mistake gives him five broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a cauliflower ear and internal injuries. Harry says his future will be devoted entirely to getting even with the big guy with the Illinois badge, although, he says, he will not take this matter up until after we dispose of the business for which we are invited to Chicago.

But Snooksy, who is present at this discussion, does not seem to think there will be any business for us. In fact, Snooksy states that our hosts are disappointed in the outcome of our visit.

“You see,” Snooksy says, “the big guy who assaults Harry is nobody but Donkey O’Neill himself, in person, and,” Snooksy says, “the chances are, if he ever sees Harry again he will break his legs as well as his ribs. So,” Snooksy says, “my people think the best thing you can do is to go home as soon as you are able, although,” he says, “they are greatly obliged to you, at that.”

Now (Little Isadore says) you know the story of our trip to Chicago, and what happens out there.

“But,” I says to Little Isadore, “what is this convention of which you speak, a Republican or a Democratic convention?”

“Well,” Little Isadore says, “I never think to ask, and anyway, this is not worrying me one way or the other. What is worrying me,” he says, “and what is also worrying Harry the Horse and Spanish John, is that Angle the Ox may hear the false rumor that is being circulated in Chicago that we try to break up a demonstration in the convention, in favor of beer because of Harry the Horse’s love for Miss Maribel Mario. You see,” Little Isadore says, “it seems that Miss Maribel Mario is one of the most notorious Drys in this country.”