Passing the Word Along

Damon Runyon

Since I lost my voice or about 90 per cent of its once bell-like timbre, I have discovered many inconveniences as well as some striking conveniences.

The greatest inconvenience is that it involved explanations to friends on meeting them for the first time since the vocal abatement and they are grieved by the absence of my former thunderous salutations.

You see in my set warmth of greeting is rated by the size of the hellos you give and receive and I was always noted for issuing the hood rive, or top size, the good old “Hello, hello, hello, hello, the old well, well, well, hello, hello, hello.”

Now that I am perforce down to the 6⅞ size hello for one and all which is just a nubbin of a hello and the brush off kind you give a gee you do not like my friends are inclined to huffiness toward me until I explain about the voice.

This is a bit of strain in itself but fortunately they soon start telling me about remedies that cures other blokes they know so all I have to do is to stand there and nod my head at intervals.

I find the nod wonderfully noncommittal, especially when someone is delivering a big knock against someone else because word cannot be carried to the knockee that Runyon was a party to the knock. At least they cannot quote a nod.

I am occasionally distressed by strangers to whom I address myself in my low murmur answering me in imitative whisper, possibly inadvertently, possibly because they think I am kidding and possibly just because they have no sense. Sometimes even my friends do the same thing in that gentle spirit of mockery of human affliction from which many actors and others have long drawn their humor.

You have undoubtedly heard some of our public performers discoursing humorously on cross-eyed persons, on bald heads, on the deaf and the dumb and the lame and the halt. You have perhaps seen them simulate limps and other distortions of the body to point up their jokes. It is a common practice for us to apply nicknames suggestive of affliction such as “Gimp,” “Frip,” “Humpty,” “Deafy,” “Blinky,” “Baldy” and the like.

False teeth and glass eyes and the toupee have long been standard items of jest among our jokesters. A person who is compelled to resort to a hearing device, one of the greatest boons to afflicted humanity ever invented, is said to be “wired for sound” which is supposed to be good for a hearty laugh.

And not only is infirmity one of our leading topics of humor but it is often brought up by men in moments of anger against the infirm, as when they say things like “That one-legged so-and-so,” as if the infirmity itself was a reproach.

Of course the humor that deals with infirmities is in bad taste. Most American humor is in bad taste and growing worse under the present vogue for the suggestive and the downright obscene in the spoken and written word. But even the suggestive and the obscene is not as unkind as the humor dealing with bodily affliction.

The hale and hearty shun the afflicted and I cannot say I blame them much. I can well imagine that I am a great trial to my friends who have to bend their ears close to my kisser to hear what I am saying. Maybe it would be better for all concerned if I did not try to talk at all because everybody else is talking these days and I would not be missed.

I carry a pad of paper in my pocket and when conversation is indicated I jot down my end of the gabbing on paper and pass it on to my vis-à-vis who takes a glaum at the chirography, crumples up the slip of paper and casts it aside, nodding his head or muttering a noncommittal um-huh because he cannot read it any more than I can after it is two hours cold.

The forced practice has produced a headache for me as this morning I was waited on by four guys who were all mighty belligerent. I mean they all wanted to place the sluggola on me. They wanted to bash out my brains, if any. I mean they were sizzling.

The first one to appear we will call Pat, though his name is really Pete. He had a piece of paper in his hand that he handed to me, saying, truculently:

“What does this mean?”

The paper had obviously been wadded up and smoothed out again and I could not decipher the writing, though it looked familiar.

“Who wrote this?” I asked Pat (in writing).

“You did,” he said, fiercely.

Then it dawned on me that it was indeed my own writing and I read it better.

“Pat is a louse,” the writing said.

I tried to remember when I had written it. It could scarcely have been at the editorial council in Joe Connolly’s office because insects were not discussed, only a few heels. As a matter of fact I did less talking in Joe Connolly’s office than anywhere else in town because when I walked in he had a great big pad of foolscap lying on his desk and I felt insulted. It was a hint that I talk a heap.

It might have been in Lindy’s late at night when I had a meeting with Oscar Levant and Leonard Lyons, but it comes to my mind that we did not get as far down in the alphabet as the P’s. We quit at the O’s because I ran out of pad paper and Lindy commenced to get sore at the way I was working on the backs of his menu cards.

I was busy writing out a denial for Pat when Joe and Ike and Spike, as we will call them, came barging in and each of them had a crumpled slip, and were so hot that taken jointly you could have barbecued a steer on them. I read one slip that said Mike would rob a church, another that stated that Ike would guzzle his grandmamma if he thought it would help him while there was still another that I would not think of putting in a public print. I did not realize that I knew some of the words.

I think if there had been only one present he would have belted me but the four being there at the same time complicated matters because each one knew the others are copper hollerers or stool pigeons, which is what I had in mind in my writing, and would belch to the bulls if a murder or mayhem came off.

So they finally left muttering they would see me later and I was taught a lesson about leaving written testimony scattered around. However, I think that there is a plot for a great crime story in all this by my favorite mystery writer of the moment, Raymond Chandler of Los Angeles. I mean he could have the real killer going about dropping notes that finally land him in the gas chamber at Quentin because Chandler puts all his mysteries in California as if we do not have them in Florida, too.

I notice that whipping out the pad sends most of my acquaintances to searching themselves for their specs and they invariably have some fatuous remark to make about getting old as if I did not know by just looking at them or remembering how long I have known them.

I do not pull the pad and pencil on the dames. I just shake hands and grin idiotically. Most women are near-sighted since infancy and too vain to wear cheaters but why should I embarrass them. Besides not all of them can read.