"Is that a fact! Georgie, do you hear that? They get their fresh garden peas out of the garden, in Italy! By golly, you live and learn, don't you, Antonio, you certainly do live and learn, if you live long enough and keep your strength. All right, Garibaldi, just shoot me in that steak, with about two printers'-reams of French fried spuds on the promenade deck, comprehenez-vous, Michelovitch Angeloni?"
Afterward Elbert Wing admired, "Gee, you certainly did have that poor Dago going, W. A. He couldn't make you out at all!"
In the Monarch Herald, Babbitt found an advertisement which he read aloud, to applause and laughter:
Old Colony Theatre
Shake the Old Dogs to the WROLLICKING WRENS The bonniest bevy of beauteous bathing babes in burlesque. Pete Menutti and his Oh, Gee, Kids.
This is the straight steer, Benny, the painless chicklets of the Wrollicking Wrens are the cuddlingest bunch that ever hit town. Steer the feet, get the card board, and twist the pupils to the PDQest show ever. You will get 111% on your kale in this fun-fest. The Calroza Sisters are sure some lookers and will give you a run for your gelt. Jock Silbersteen is one of the pepper lads and slips you a dose of real laughter. Shoot the up and down to Jackson and West for graceful tappers. They run 1-2 under the wire. Provin and Adams will blow the blues in their laugh skit "Hootch Mon!" Something doing, boys. Listen to what the Hep Bird twitters.
"Sounds like a juicy show to me. Let's all take it in," said Babbitt.
But they put off departure as long as they could. They were safe while they sat here, legs firmly crossed under the table, but they felt unsteady; they were afraid of navigating the long and slippery floor of the grillroom under the eyes of the other guests and the too-attentive waiters.
When they did venture, tables got in their way, and they sought to cover embarrassment by heavy jocularity at the coatroom. As the girl handed out their hats, they smiled at her, and hoped that she, a cool and expert judge, would feel that they were gentlemen. They croaked at one another, "Who owns the bum lid?" and "You take a good one, George; I'll take what's left," and to the check-girl they stammered, "Better come along, sister! High, wide, and fancy evening ahead!" All of them tried to tip her, urging one another, "No! Wait! Here! I got it right here!" Among them, they gave her three dollars.
Flamboyantly smoking cigars they sat in a box at the burlesque show, their feet up on the rail, while a chorus of twenty daubed, worried, and inextinguishably respectable grandams swung their legs in the more elementary chorus-evolutions, and a Jewish comedian made vicious fun of Jews. In the entr'actes they met other lone delegates. A dozen of them went in taxicabs out to Bright Blossom Inn, where the blossoms were made of dusty paper festooned along a room low and stinking, like a cow-stable no longer wisely used.
Here, whisky was served openly, in glasses. Two or three clerks, who on pay-day longed to be taken for millionaires, sheepishly danced with telephone-girls and manicure-girls in the narrow space between the tables. Fantastically whirled the professionals, a young man in sleek evening-clothes and a slim mad girl in emerald silk, with amber hair flung up as jaggedly as flames. Babbitt tried to dance with her. He shuffled along the floor, too bulky to be guided, his steps unrelated to the rhythm of the jungle music, and in his staggering he would have fallen, had she not held him with supple kindly strength. He was blind and deaf from prohibition-era alcohol; he could not see the tables, the faces. But he was overwhelmed by the girl and her young pliant warmth.
When she had firmly returned him to his group, he remembered, by a connection quite untraceable, that his mother's mother had been Scotch, and with head thrown back, eyes closed, wide mouth indicating ecstasy, he sang, very slowly and richly, "Loch Lomond."
But that was the last of his mellowness and jolly companionship. The man from Sparta said he was a "bum singer," and for ten minutes Babbitt quarreled with him, in a loud, unsteady, heroic indignation. They called for drinks till the manager insisted that the place was closed. All the while Babbitt felt a hot raw desire for more brutal amusements. When W. A. Rogers drawled, "What say we go down the line and look over the girls?" he agreed savagely. Before they went, three of them secretly made appointments with the professional dancing girl, who agreed "Yes, yes, sure, darling" to everything they said, and amiably forgot them.
As they drove back through the outskirts of Monarch, down streets of small brown wooden cottages of workmen, characterless as cells, as they rattled across warehouse-districts which by drunken night seemed vast and perilous, as they were borne toward the red lights and violent automatic pianos and the stocky women who simpered, Babbitt was frightened. He wanted to leap from the taxicab, but all his body was a murky fire, and he groaned, "Too late to quit now," and knew that he did not want to quit.
There was, they felt, one very humorous incident on the way. A broker from Minnemagantic said, "Monarch is a lot sportier than Zenith. You Zenith tightwads haven't got any joints like these here." Babbitt raged, "That's a dirty lie! Snothin' you can't find in Zenith. Believe me, we got more houses and hootch-parlors an' all kinds o' dives than any burg in the state."
He realized they were laughing at him; he desired to fight; and forgot it in such musty unsatisfying experiments as he had not known since college.
In the morning, when he returned to Zenith, his desire for rebellion was partly satisfied. He had retrograded to a shamefaced contentment. He was irritable. He did not smile when W. A. Rogers complained, "Ow, what a head! I certainly do feel like the wrath of God this morning. Say! I know what was the trouble! Somebody went and put alcohol in my booze last night."
Babbitt's excursion was never known to his family, nor to any one in Zenith save Rogers and Wing. It was not officially recognized even by himself. If it had any consequences, they have not been discovered.