The Good Samaritan

Damon Runyon

The slight sag to my left shoulder was caused by friends crying on it through the years as they narrated their troubles in connection with the divine passion, which is to say love.

I once developed a sort of rash like an eczema on my chest and examination by a skin specialist left him puzzled, an unusual state of mind for a skin specialist, I will have you know. As a rule those guys can recommend oils, unguents, salves and ointments with incredible readiness and at prices the same. Incredible.

“Runyon,” my fellow said, “I fear you will have to give up ocean bathing.”

“Doc,” I said, “I have not bathed in the ocean since the year following the big wind in Miami. I mean the big one. It was in ’26.”

“Humph,” the doctor said, “I don’t think this rash could have lasted that long but I am sure it is due to salt water. Where could you have come in contact with salt water?”

“Oh, shucks, Doc,” I said. “I can explain that. It is from the tears of the love-lorn who weep on my shoulder; they—the tears—seep through my apparel to my hide. You know—fellows who want to cry their hearts out on somebody’s shoulder and seek mine knowing how accommodating I am. But I didn’t think they would give me the itch. What’ll I use, Doc?”

“Boo-hoo-hoo!” he suddenly bawled dropping his head on that same willing old shoulder. “I want to tell you about finding a letter from another guy in my dame’s handbag the other night when she forgot it in my office. It was in answer to one from her and—”

Perhaps if I tell you how I handled that situation you will understand my increasing popularity as a sort of human wailing wall among the emotionally distraught. I said, “Oh, pooh, letters mean nothing and the fact that the guy had answered her merely indicated that he was a gentleman and meticulous in keeping up his correspondence.” I said, “One of my own greatest faults was in not answering letters promptly and—”

“But this letter was a sizzler,” the doctor said. “It closed with row after row of X’s. Do you know what that means?”

“Sure,” I said. “Force of habit. You go to your young lady and apologize for being a cad and reading the letter.”

Well, I saw them together the other night and they were very friendly toward me, though if I had not known my business and had advised the guy to give her a good rousting around about that correspondence, I would have had to endure an evening of dagger glances from both.

In short, I take the dame’s part and try to find excuses for her conduct when a gentleman weeper tells me what a dirty deal she is giving him and I take the guy’s end when a lady weeper is combing him out to me, because I know that as soon as they make up and start comparing notes, I am bound to wind up winner on both sides. They all say, “Gee, Runyon is a nice fellow!”

But it was not always thus. I can remember when I was a social pariah because of my naïveté in actually putting out advice when a guy came to me asking for advice, in one of these situations. I would say, “Look, Fred, everybody in town knows that doll is triple-timing you and if you have a lick of sense you will pack her in and forget her.” I would say, “Why, Percy, I cannot see how you have stood her nagging and extravagance and bad temper as long as you have.”

Or I would say, “Mary, it is about time you opened your eyes and saw what a creeping, crawling, pusillanimous scoundrel you are married to, and while I never wanted to open my mouth to you, now that you have asked me, I have to tell you the truth.”

Then one day I opened my eyes in a hospital and a nurse was saying, “Yes, it is a wonder he was not killed because six men and six women ganged up on him and gave him a slugging over some advice he had been spreading around”—and that was the moment I switched my tactics.

I still get caught in the switches occasionally but not often enough to do any great harm. Once I had two shoulder weepers at once, one on each shoulder, and when they turned around and looked at one another they saw they were husband and wife who had been crying to me about each other.

They clinched and walked away together and heartily despised me ever afterwards because the wife asked me through her tears if she was not entitled to a quarter of a million separation money and I said I thought that was only fair, and the husband asked if I did not think two hundred and fifty G’s too much to give a brisket and in an absent minded moment I said it was a helluva package all right and I would see her in Paducah first.