By Art Stevens
I was sitting in McDonalds the other day, over a cup of coffee and a chicken wrap, and reading a book I had taken from the library an hour or so before. I do a lot of reading, so I do this occasionally to break up the monotony of constantly being in my easy chair. Good light. Cheap coffee. It works for me. Today’s literary choice was something light, funny and enjoyable: A book of short stories by an old favorite: Damon Runyon. For those of you who don’t know about him, he wrote about New York in the early 1900s, the settings being Broadway, Time Square, Columbus Circle or occasionally the racetracks of Miami, Baltimore and Saratoga. Most memorable were the characters he created: people like Harry the Horse, Regret, Sorrowful, Willie the Worrier, Sky Masterson, Nathan Detroit and so many others. Two dozen movies have been made from his stories, two of which are in this book I’m reading. The great, successful Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls,” based on several of Runyon’s stories and characters, was later made into a film that starred Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine.
Anyhow, here I am reading, enjoying and loving the characters. The night before had turned into a long one as sometimes happens when you are coming to the end of a good book. I’m starting to feel that now as my eyelids are getting a little heavy. A little head-jerk upward a couple of times, and then I guess I was gone. Looking back now, I must have looked like the town drunk who came in for a place to sleep. What the heck. Drunks have to sleep too.
I remember the blissful silence; then I heard some people talking. No, this couldn’t be. That’s Harry the Horse. I just knew it was him because that’s how I imagined his voice when I was reading. No, this just cannot be. That was Sky Masterson. I tried to concentrate on making out the words.
HARRY THE HORSE: “So I’m talking to this guy at the track today, and he says to me like this: ‘I got less than a sawbuck in my pocket, and these guys are spending over a million bucks trying to be President.’ At that point, I didn’t even have a bill of ANY kind left”
NATION DETROIT: “It ain’t right, Harry. They’re supposed to be working for us. Just think; the way we can read these nags, what we could do with that kind of moolah. We’d be on easy street.”
SKY MASTERSON: “Gentlemen, what you say is right, but you are missing a more important point. These guys that are running are trying to BUY their way in. That is not supposed to happen in this country.”
HARRY THE HORSE: “Why don’t they pass a new law to stop that, Sky?”
SKY MASTERSON: “Harry, I think that’s the best idea you ever had, but you know better than anyone how loud money talks.”
NATHAN DETROIT: “Harry, I have a good night at the table last night. I’ll lend you a double sawbuck, but make sure I get a piece.”
Slowly, my eyes open, and as I try to re-focus, I hear a group of older gentlemen who are now seated at the next table. They seem to be in some sort of a political argument. About what, you ask? Well, the subject seems to be the amount of money being spent by both political parties, related to the pursuit of the presidency in the coming election. The gray-haired gentleman, who had to be in his mid-eighties, was doing most of the talking.
“We have a Supreme Court that tells us that now, corporations can give even MORE money to their political choice, and even keep it secret.”
“We have TV and radio networks that owe their very existence to the government. Why not divide the time needed for the political parties between these networks. It doesn’t have to be gratis. They certainly shouldn’t LOSE money by supplying the time, but when the parties CAN buy as much as they like, believe me my friends, they are in the process of buying the Presidency. The only ones that benefit from this, aside from themselves, ARE the networks. I’m not against them making money, but there are some things that are more important. I don’t say it must work EXACTLY like this, but don’t you agree that SOMETHING has to be changed.”
The other gentlemen at the table reacted in a very similar way. Mostly, they laughed at what they considered to be a ridiculous idea. Did their reaction eliminate the problem? Or do you think that it was not a problem in the first place?
Did I dream it? Did I hear these gentlemen in my sub-conscious state? I don’t have the foggiest idea. I do know though, that I have just a little more respect for Sky, Harry, and a gray-haired, old guy that eats in McDonalds.
If you should be interested in reading the book, the name of it is: Romance in the Roaring Forties (and Other Stories by Damon Runyon.) Introduction by Tom Clark. Published by Beech Tree Books.