On Saturday afternoons Titania and I always have an adventure. On Sundays we stay at home and dutifully read manuscripts (I am the obscure creature known as a “publisher’s reader”) but Saturday post meridiem is a golden tract of time wherein we wander as we list.
The 35th Street entrance to McQueery’s has long been hallowed as our stell-dich-ein. We meet there at one o’clock. That is to say, I arrive at 12:59 and spend fifteen minutes in most animated reflection. There is plenty to think about. One may stand between the outer and inner lines of glass doors and watch the queer little creatures that come tumbling out of the cloak and suit factory across the street. Or one may stand inside the store, on a kind of terrace, beneath pineapple shaped arc lights, looking down upon the bustle of women on the main floor. Best of all, one may stroll along the ornate gallery to one side where all sorts and conditions of ladies wait for other ladies who have promised to meet them at one o’clock. They divide their time between examining the mahogany victrolae and deciding what kind of sundae they will have for lunch. A very genteel old gentleman with white hair and a long morning coat and an air of perpetual irritation is in charge of this social gallery. He wears the queer, soft, flat-soled boots that are suggestive of corns. There is an information bureau there, where one may learn everything except the time one may expect one’s wife to arrive. But I have learned a valuable subterfuge. If I am waiting for Titania, and beginning to despair of her arrival, I have only to go to a telephone to call her up. As soon as I have put the nickel in, she is sure to appear. Nowadays I save the nickel by going into a booth and pretending to telephone. Sure enough, at 1:14, Ingersoll time, in she trots.
We have a jargon of our own.
“Eye-polishers?” say I.
“Yes,” says Titania, “but there was a block at 42nd Street. I’m so sorry, Grump.”
“Eye-polishers” is our term for the Fifth Avenue busses, because riding on them makes Titania’s eyes so bright. More widely, the word connotes anything that produces that desirable result, such as bunches of violets, lavender peddlers, tea at Mary Elizabeth’s, spring millinery, or finding sixpence in her shoe. This last is a rite suggested by the old song:
And though maids sweep their hearths no less
Than they were wont to do,
Yet who doth now for cleanliness
Find sixpence in her shoe?
A bright dune does very well as a sixpenny piece.
We always lunch at Moretti’s on Saturday: it is the recognized beginning of an adventure. The Moretti lunch has advanced from a quarter to thirty cents, I am sorry to say, but this is readily compensated by the Grump buying Sweet Caporals instead of something Turkish. A packet of cigarettes is another curtain-raiser for an adventure. On other days publishers’ readers smoke pipes, but on Saturdays cigarettes are possible.
“Minestrone or consomme?”
“Two minestrone, two prime ribs, ice cream and coffee. Red wine, please.” That is the formula. We have eaten the “old reliable Moretti lunch” so often that the routine has become a ritual. Oh, excellent savor of the Moretti basement! Compounded of warmth, a pungent pourri of smells, and the jangle of thick china, how diverting it is! The franc-tireur in charge of the wine-bin watches us complaisantly from his counter where he sits flanked by flasks of Hoboken chianti and a case of brittle cigars.
How good Moretti’s minestrone tastes to the unsophisticated tongue. What though it be only an azoic extract of intense potato, dimly tinct with sargasso and macaroni–it has a pleasing warmth and bulk. Is it not the prelude to an Adventure?
Well, where shall we go to-day? No two explorers dickering over azimuth and dead reckoning could discuss latitude and longitude more earnestly than Titania and I argue our possible courses. Generally, however, she leaves it to me to chart the journey. That gives me the pride of conductor and her the pleasure of being surprised.