A Call on the President

Damon Runyon

August 13 1937

When I got home from work the other night my wife Ethel ses O Joe, an awful thing has happened. Jim the mailman got fired.

I ses who fired him? She ses why, the Government fired him. Somebody told the Government that they saw him take a letter out of his mail sack and burn it. The Government ses Jim, why did you do such a thing, and Jim would not tell so they fired him.

She ses Joe, you go and see some politicians and have them make the Government put Jim the mailman back to work right away because he is too old to do anything else but carry the mail and he would starve to death in no time. It is not justice to fire a man who has carried the mail for over thirty years, she ses.

I ses Ethel sweets, I do not know no politicians that have got anything to do with the Government or justice. I ses anyway we are only little people and they are big people and what is the use of talking to them? I ses they would only give me a pushing around because that is what big people always do to little people.

Well, Ethel ses, who runs the Government? I ses the President of the United States runs the Government and she ses I bet anything the President of the United States would give Jim the mailman back his job if we tell him about it. Lets us go see the President of the United States.

I ses Ethel sugar plum, the President of the United States lives in Washington and he is a busy fellow and I do not think he would have time to see us even if we went there, and she ses now there you go rooting against yourself like you always do. We will go to Washington and see the President of the United States because it is important that Jim the mailman gets his job back. Why, she ses Jim the mailman would simply lay down and die if he could not keep on carrying the mail.

So the next day I got a days layoff and then we climbed in the old bucket and drove to Washington and my wife Ethel wore her best dress and her new hat, and I put on my gray suit and a necktie and when we arrived in Washington about noon, I ses to a cop, look cop, where do you find the President of the United States? He ses I never find him.

O, I ses, a wise guy, hey? I ses cop, I am a citizen of the United States of America and this is my wife Ethel and she is a citizen too and I asked you a question like a gentleman and you have a right to answer me like a gentleman.

Yes, my wife Ethel ses, we are from Brooklyn and we do not like to have hick cops get fresh with us. O, the cop ses, I am a hick am I, and she ses well you look like one to me. I ses pipe down Ethel honey, and let me do the talking will you, and the cop ses Buddy I have got one of those too, and I sympathize with you.

He ses you have to go to the White House to find the President of the United States. You follow this street a ways he ses, and you cannot miss. Give him my regards when you see him, the cop ses. I ses what name will I tell him. The cop ses George, and I ses George what? My wife Ethel ses drive on Joe, that hick cop is just trying to kid people.

So we followed the street like the cop ses and pretty soon we came to a big building in a yard and I ses well, Ethel, I guess that is the White House all right. Then I parked the old bucket up against the curb and we got out and walked into the yard and up to the door of this building and at the door there was another cop.

He ses what do you want? I ses who wants to know? He ses I do. I ses all right, we want to see the President of the United States and he ses so does a hundred million other people. He ses what do you want to see him about anyway? My wife Ethel ses Joe, why do you waste your time talking to the hick cops? I never saw so many hick cops in my life. She ses in Brooklyn people do not have to go around answering questions from cops.

Well, go back to Brooklyn the cop ses. Anyway, get away from here. I do not like to look at you he ses. Your faces make me tired. I ses cop, you are no rose geranium yourself when it comes to looks. I ses I am a citizen of the United States of America and I know my rights. I do not have to take no lip off of cops. I ses it is a good thing for you that you have got that uniform on, and that I have respect of the law or I would show you something.

He ses you and who else? I ses I do not need nobody else and my wife Ethel ses show him something anyway, Joe, and I might have showed him something all right but just then a fellow with striped pants on came out of the door and ses what is the trouble here?

I ses there is no trouble, just a fresh cop. I ses my wife Ethel and me want to see the President of the United States and this jerk here ses we cannot do so. I ses that is always the way it is with cops, when they get that uniform on they want to start pushing people around.

I ses I am a citizen of the United States of America and it is a fine note if a citizen cannot see the President of the United States when he wants to without a lot of cops horning in. I ses it is not justice for cops to treat a citizen that way. I ses what is the President of the United States for if a citizen cannot see him? My wife Ethel ses yes, we are not going to eat him, and I ses Ethel baby, you better let me handle this situation.

The fellow in the striped pants ses what do you want to see the President of the United States about? I ses look Mister, we came all the way from Brooklyn to see the President of the United States and I have got to be back to work on my job tomorrow and if I stop and tell everybody what I want to see him about I won’t have no time left. I ses Mister, what is so tough about seeing the President of the United States? When he was after his job he was glad to see anybody. I ses is he like those politicians in Brooklyn now or what?

Wait a minute, the fellow in the striped pants ses, and he went back into the building and after a while he came out again and ses the President of the United States will see you at once. What is your name? I ses my name is Joe Turp and this is my wife Ethel. He ses I am pleased to meet you and I ses the same to you. Then he took us into the building and finally into a big office, and there was the President of the United States all right. I could tell him from his pictures.

He smiled at us and the fellow in the striped pants who took us in ses this is Joe Turp of Brooklyn and his wife Ethel, and the President of the United States shook hands with us and ses I am glad to see you, and I ses likewise. He ses how are things in Brooklyn? Rotten, I ses. They always are. The Dodgers are doing better but they need more pitching, I ses. How are things in Washington? He ses not so good. He ses I guess we need more pitching here too.

He told us to set down and then he ses, what is on your mind Joe, but there was some other fellows in the office and I ses Your Honor, what my wife Ethel and me want to see you about is strictly on the q t and he laughed and motioned at the other fellows and they went out of the room laughing too and my wife Ethel ses what is so funny around here anyway? I ses nix Ethel. I ses nix now. Kindly let me handle this situation.

Then I ses to the President of the United States, Your Honor, you do not know me and I do not know you so we start even. I know you are a busy fellow and I will not waste your time any more than I have to so I better come to the point right away, I ses. My wife Ethel and me want to talk to you about Jim the mailman.

Yes, Ethel ses, he got fired from his job. I ses Ethel sugar plum, please do not butt in on this. I will tell the President of the United States all about it. Your Honor, I ses, when women start to tell something they always go about it the wrong end to, and he ses yes but they mean well. Who is Jim the mailman?

I ses Your Honor, Jim the mailman is a fellow over sixty years old and he has been carrying the mail in our neighborhood for thirty some odd years. My wife Ethel and me were little kids when Jim the mailman started carrying the mail. Your Honor, I ses, you may not believe it but my wife Ethel was a good-looking little squab when she was a kid. I can believe it, the President of the United States ses.

Well, Your Honor, I ses, you would think Jim the mailman was a grouchy old guy until you got to know him. He is a tall thin fellow with humped over shoulders from carrying that mail sack around and he has long legs like a pair of scissors and gray hair and wears specs. He is nowhere near as grouchy as he looks. The reason he looks grouchy is because his feet always hurt him.

Yes, my wife Ethel ses, I gave him some lard to rub on his feet one day and Jim the mailman ses he never had anything help him so much. My mother used to rub my pop’s feet with lard when he came home with them aching. My Pops was a track walker in the subway she ses. I ses look Ethel, the President of the United States is not interested in your pop’s feet and she ses well that is how I thought of the lard for Jim the mailman.

I ses Your Honor, Jim the mailman was always real nice to the kids. I remember one Christmas he brought me a sack of candy and a Noahs ark. Yes, my wife Ethel ses, and once he gave me a doll that ses mamma when you punched it in the stomach. I ses Ethel, honey, the President of the United States does not care where you punched it. Well, she ses you punched it in the stomach if you wanted it to say mamma.

Your Honor, I ses, old Missus Crusper lived a couple of doors from us and she was about the same age as Jim the mailman. She was a little off her nut. My wife Ethel ses Your Honor, she was not so. She was just peculiar. You should not say such things about Missus Crusper the poor old thing Joe, she ses. You ought to be ashamed of yourself to say such things.

All right, Ethel baby, I ses. She was peculiar, Your Honor. I mean Missus Crusper. She was a little old white-haired lady with a voice like a canary bird and she had not been out of her house in twenty-five years and most of the time not out of bed. Something happened to her when her son Johnny was born.

I had to stop my story a minute because I noticed Ethel at the window acting very strange and I ses Ethel, what is the idea of you looking out that window and screwing up your face the way you are doing and she ses I am making snoots at that hick cop. He is right under this window and I have got him half crazy. I ses Your Honor, kindly excuse my wife Ethel, but she is getting even with a cop who tried to keep us from seeing you and the President of the United States laughed and ses well, what about Missus Crusper?

I ses well, Missus Crusper’s name before she got married was Kitten O’Brien, Your Honor, and her old man ran a gin mill in our neighborhood but very respectable. She married Henry Crusper when she was eighteen and the old folks in our neighborhood ses it broke Jim the mailman’s heart. He went to school with her and Henry Crusper and Jim the mailman used to follow Kitten O’Brien around like a pup but he never had no chance.

Henry Crusper was a good-looking kid, I ses, and Jim the mailman was as homely as a mule and still is. Besides he was an orphan and Henry Crusper’s old man had a nice grocery store. He gave the store to Henry when he married Kitten O’Brien. But Jim the mailman did not get mad about losing Missus Crusper like people do nowadays. He ses he did not blame her and he ses he certainly did not blame Henry Crusper. He stayed good friends with them both and used to be around with them a lot but he never looked at another broad again.

The President of the United States ses another what? Another broad I ses. Another woman I ses. O, he ses. I see.

Yes, my wife Ethel ses, I bet you would not be the way Jim the mailman was, Joe Turp. I bet you would have been as sore as a goat if I had married Linky Moses but I bet you would have found somebody else in no time. I ses please, Ethel. Please now. Anyway, I ses, look how Linky Moses turned out. How did Lucky Moses turn out, the President of the United States ses, and I ses he turned out a bum.

Your Honor, I ses, Missus Crusper married Henry Crusper when she was about eighteen. Henry was a good steady-going fellow and he made her a fine husband from what everybody ses and in our neighborhood if anybody does not make a fine husband it gets talked around pretty quick.

She was crazy about him but she was crazier still about her son Johnny especially after Henry died. That was when Johnny was five or six years old. Henry got down with pneumonia during a tough winter.

Yes, my wife Ethel ses, my mother ses he never would wear an overcoat no matter how cold it was. My mother ses not wearing overcoats is why lots of people get pneumonia and die. I always try to make Joe to wear his overcoat and a muffler too, Ethel ses. I ses, Ethel, never mind what you make me wear, and she ses well Joe, I only try to keep you healthy.

Missus Crusper must have missed Henry a lot, Your Honor, I ses. Henry used to carry her up and down the stairs in his arms. He waited on her hand and foot. Of course much of this was before my time and what I tell you is what the old people in our neighborhood told me. After Henry died it was Jim the mailman who carried Missus Crusper up and down stairs in his arms until she got so she could not leave her bed at all and then Jim the mailman spent all his spare time setting there talking to her and waiting on her like she was a baby.

I ses I did not know Missus Crusper until I was about ten years old and got to running around with Johnny. He was a tough kid, Your Honor, and I had him marked stinko even then and so did all the other kids in the neighborhood. His mother could not look out after him much and he did about as he pleased. He was a natural-born con artist and he could always salve her into believing whatever he wanted her to believe.

She thought he was the smartest kid in the world and that he was going to grow up to be a big man. She was proud of Johnny and what he was going to be. Nobody in our neighborhood wanted to tell her that he was no good. I can see her now, Your Honor, a little lady with a lace cap on her head leaning out of the window by her bed and calling Johnny so loud you could hear her four blocks away because she always called him like she was singing.

My wife Ethel had quit making snoots at the cop and was sitting in a chair by the window and she jumped out of the chair and ses yes, Your Honor, Missus Crusper sing-sanged O hi, Johnny, and a hey Johnny, and a ho, Johnny, just like that.

The fellow in the striped pants stuck his head in the door but the President of the United States waggled a finger at him and he closed the door again and I ses look Ethel, when you holler like that you remind me of your mother. She ses what is the matter with my mother, and I ses nothing that being deaf and dumb will not cure. I ses Ethel, it is not dignified to holler like that in the presence of the President of the United States.

Why, Ethel ses, I was only showing how Missus Crusper used to call Johnny by sing-sanging O hi, Johnny, and a hey Johnny, and a ho, Johnny. I ses Ethel, that will do. I ses do you want to wake the dead?

Your Honor, I ses, Jim the mailman was around Missus Crusper’s house a lot and he was around our neighborhood a good deal too and he knew what Johnny was doing. As Johnny got older Jim the mailman tried to talk to him and make him behave but that only made Johnny take to hating Jim the mailman. The old folks ses Jim the Mailman wanted to marry Missus Crusper after she got over being so sorry about Henry but one day she told him she could never have anything to do with a man who spoke disrespectfully of her late husband and ordered him out of the house.

Afterwards Jim the mailman found out that Johnny had told her Jim had said something bad about Henry Crusper around the neighborhood and nothing would make her believe any different until long later. Your Honor, I ses, Johnny Crusper was one of the best liars in the world even when he was only a little kid.

The fellow in the striped pants came in the room about now and he bent over and said something in a whisper to the President of the United States but the President of the United States waved his hand and ses tell him I am busy with some friends from Brooklyn and the fellow went out again.

Your Honor, I ses, this Johnny Crusper got to running with some real tough guys when he was about seventeen and pretty soon he was in plenty of trouble with the cops but Jim the mailman always managed to get him out without letting his mother know. The old folks ses it used to keep Jim the mailman broke getting Johnny out of trouble.

Finally one day Johnny got in some real bad trouble that Jim the mailman could not square or nobody else and Johnny had to leave town in a big hurry. He did not stop to say good-bye to his mother. The old folks ses Jim the mailman hocked his salary with a loan shark to get Johnny the dough to leave town on and some ses he sent Johnny more dough afterwards to keep going. But Jim the mailman never ses a word himself about it one way or the other so nobody but him and Johnny knew just what happened about that.

Your Honor, I ses, Johnny going away without saying good-bye made Missus Crusper very sick and this was when she commenced being peculiar. Old Doc Steele ses she was worrying herself to death because she never heard from Johnny. He ses he would bet if she knew where Johnny was and if he was all right it would save her life and her mind too but nobody knew where Johnny was so there did not seem to be anything anybody could do about that.

Then one day Jim the mailman stopped at Missus Crusper’s house and gave her a letter from Johnny. It was not a long letter and it was from some place like Vancouver and it ses Johnny was working and doing well and that he loved her dearly and thought of her all the time. I know it ses that, Your Honor, because Jim the mailman wrote it all out by himself and read to me and ses how does it sound?

I ses it sounded great. It looked great too because Jim the mailman had fixed up the envelope at the post office so it looked as if it had come through the mail all right and he had got hold of one of Johnny’s old school books and made a good stab at imitating Johnny’s handwriting. It was not a hard job to do that. Johnny never let himself get past the fourth grade and his handwriting was like a child would do.

Missus Crusper never bothered about the handwriting anyway, Your Honor. She was so glad to hear from Johnny she sent for everybody in the neighborhood and read them the letter. It must have sounded genuine because Jennie Twofer went home and told her old man that Mrs. Crusper had got a letter from Johnny and her old man told his brother Fred who was a plain-clothes cop and Fred went around to see Missus Crusper and find out where Johnny was. Jim the mailman got hold of Fred first and they had a long talk and Fred went away without asking Missus Crusper anything.

Yes, my wife Ethel ses, that Jennie Twofer always was a two-face meddlesome old thing and nobody ever had any use for her. I ses look, Ethel, kindly do not knock our neighbors in public. I ses wait until we get back home and she ses all right but Jennie Twofer is two face just the same.

Your Honor, I ses, every week for over ten years old Missus Crusper got a letter from Johnny and he was always doing well although he seemed to move around a lot. He was in Arizona California Oregon and everywhere else. Jim the mailman made him a mining engineer so he could have a good excuse for moving around. On Missus Crusper’s birthdays and on Christmas she always got a little present from him. Jim the mailman took care of that.

She kept the letters in a box under her bed and she would read them to all her old friends when they called and brag about the way Johnny was doing and what a good boy he was to his mother. Your Honor, old chromos in our neighborhood whose sons were bums and who had a pretty good idea the letters were phony would set and listen to Missus Crusper read them and tell her Johnny surely was a wonderful man.

About a month ago the only legitimate letter that came to Missus Crusper since Johnny went away bobbed up in Jim the mailman’s sack, I ses. It was a long thin envelope and Jim the mailman opened it and read it and then he touched a match to it and went on to Missus Crusper’s house and delivered a letter to her from Johnny in Australia. This letter ses he was just closing a deal that would make him a millionaire and that he would then come home and bring her a diamond breastpin and never leave her again as long as he lived.

But Your Honor, I ses, Jim the mailman knew that it would be the last letter he would deliver to Missus Crusper because Old Doc Steele told him the day before that she had only a few hours more to go and she died that night.

Jim the mailman was setting by her bed. He ses that at the very last she tried to lean out the window and call Johnny.

Well I ses, some louse saw Jim the mailman burn that letter and turned him in to the Government and got him fired from his job but Jim could not do anything else but burn it because it was a letter from the warden of the San Quentin prison where Johnny had been a lifer for murder all those years, telling Missus Crusper her son had been killed by the guards when he was trying to escape and saying she could have his body if she wanted it.

Your Honor, I ses, I guess we have got plenty of gall coming to you with a thing like this when you are so busy. I ses my wife Ethel wanted me to go to some politicians about it but I told her the best we would get from politicians would be a pushing around and then she ses we better see you and here we are.

But I ses it is only fair to tell you that if you do anything to help Jim the mailman we cannot do anything for you in return because we are just very little people and all we can do is say much obliged and God bless you and that is what everybody in our neighborhood would say.

Well, my wife Ethel ses, Jim the mailman has got to have his job back because I would hate to have anybody else bring me my mail. I ses Ethel baby, the only mail I ever knew you to get was a Valentine from Linky Moses four years ago and I told him he better not send you any more and she ses yes, that is the mail I mean.

The President of the United States ses Joe and Missus Turp think no more of it. You have come to the right place. I will take good care of the matter of Jim the mailman. Then he pushed a button on his desk and the man in the striped pants came in and the President ses tell them I will have two more for luncheon. The fellow ses who are they and the President ses my friends Joe and Missus Turp of Brooklyn and my wife Ethel ses it is a good job I wore my new hat.

We drove back home in the old bucket after we had something to eat and I got back to work the next day on time all right and a couple of days later I saw Jim the mailman around delivering mail so I knew he was okay too.

I never gave the trip to Washington any more thought and my wife did not say anything about it either for a couple of weeks and then one night she woke me up out of a sound sleep by jabbing me in the back with her elbow and ses Joe, I have been thinking about something. I ses look Ethel, you do your thinking in the day time please and let me sleep.

But she ses no, listen Joe. She ses if ever I go back to Washington again I will give that hick cop a piece of my mind because I have just this minute figured out what he meant when he said he had one of those too and sympathized with you.