Babbitt By Sinclair Lewis Chapters 13-14

 

CHAPTER XIII

I

IT was by accident that Babbitt had his opportunity to address the S. A. R. E. B.

The S. A. R. E. B., as its members called it, with the universal passion for mysterious and important-sounding initials, was the State Association of Real Estate Boards; the organization of brokers and operators. It was to hold its annual convention at Monarch, Zenith's chief rival among the cities of the state. Babbitt was an official delegate; another was Cecil Rountree, whom Babbitt admired for his picaresque speculative building, and hated for his social position, for being present at the smartest dances on Royal Ridge. Rountree was chairman of the convention program-committee.

Babbitt had growled to him, "Makes me tired the way these doctors and profs and preachers put on lugs about being 'professional men.' A good realtor has to have more knowledge and finesse than any of 'em."

"Right you are! I say: Why don't you put that into a paper, and give it at the S. A. R. E. B.?" suggested Rountree.

"Well, if it would help you in making up the program — Tell you: the way I look at it is this: First place, we ought to insist that folks call us 'realtors' and not 'real-estate men.' Sounds more like a reg'lar profession. Second place — What is it distinguishes a profession from a mere trade, business, or occupation? What is it? Why, it's the public service and the skill, the trained skill, and the knowledge and, uh, all that, whereas a fellow that merely goes out for the jack, he never considers the-public service and trained skill and so on. Now as a professional — "

"Rather! That's perfectly bully! Perfectly corking! Now you write it in a paper," said Rountree, as he rapidly and firmly moved away.

II

However accustomed to the literary labors of advertisements and correspondence, Babbitt was dismayed on the evening when he sat down to prepare a paper which would take a whole ten minutes to read.

He laid out a new fifteen-cent school exercise-book on his wife's collapsible sewing-table, set up for the event in the living-room. The household had been bullied into silence; Verona and Ted requested to disappear, and Tinka threatened with "If I hear one sound out of you — if you holler for a glass of water one single solitary time — You better not, that's all!" Mrs. Babbitt sat over by the piano, making a nightgown and gazing with respect while Babbitt wrote in the exercise-book, to the rhythmical wiggling and squeaking of the sewing-table.

When he rose, damp and jumpy, and his throat dusty from cigarettes, she marveled, "I don't see how you can just sit down and make up things right out of your own head!"

"Oh, it's the training in constructive imagination that a fellow gets in modern business life."

He had written seven pages, whereof the first page set forth:

{illustration omitted: consists of several doodles and "(1) a profession (2) Not just a trade crossed out (3) Skill & vision (3) Shd be called "realtor" & not just real est man"}

The other six pages were rather like the first.

For a week he went about looking important. Every morning, as he dressed, he thought aloud: "Jever stop to consider, Myra, that before a town can have buildings or prosperity or any of those things, some realtor has got to sell 'em the land? All civilization starts with him. Jever realize that?" At the Athletic Club he led unwilling men aside to inquire, "Say, if you had to read a paper before a big convention, would you start in with the funny stories or just kind of scatter 'em all through?" He asked Howard Littlefield for a "set of statistics about real-estate sales; something good and impressive," and Littlefield provided something exceedingly good and impressive.

But it was to T. Cholmondeley Frink that Babbitt most often turned. He caught Frink at the club every noon, and demanded, while Frink looked hunted and evasive, "Say, Chum — you're a shark on this writing stuff — how would you put this sentence, see here in my manuscript — manuscript now where the deuce is that? — oh, yes, here. Would you say 'We ought not also to alone think?' or 'We ought also not to think alone?' or — "

One evening when his wife was away and he had no one to impress, Babbitt forgot about Style, Order, and the other mysteries, and scrawled off what he really thought about the real-estate business and about himself, and he found the paper written. When he read it to his wife she yearned, "Why, dear, it's splendid; beautifully written, and so clear and interesting, and such splendid ideas! Why, it's just — it's just splendid!"

Next day he cornered Chum Frink and crowed, "Well, old son, I finished it last evening! Just lammed it out! I used to think you writing-guys must have a hard job making up pieces, but Lord, it's a cinch. Pretty soft for you fellows; you certainly earn your money easy! Some day when I get ready to retire, guess I'll take to writing and show you boys how to do it. I always used to think I could write better stuff, and more punch and originality, than all this stuff you see printed, and now I'm doggone sure of it!"

He had four copies of the paper typed in black with a gorgeous red title, had them bound in pale blue manilla, and affably presented one to old Ira Runyon, the managing editor of the Advocate-Times, who said yes, indeed yes, he was very glad to have it, and he certainly would read it all through — as soon as he could find time.

Mrs. Babbitt could not go to Monarch. She had a women's-club meeting. Babbitt said that he was very sorry.

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At the end of the novel, Babbitt rotely endorses the notion that America's world-famous equality




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