THE SOCIAL TRIANGLE
At the stroke of six Ikey Snigglefritz laid down his goose. Ikey was a tailor's apprentice. Are there tailor's apprentices nowadays?
At any rate, Ikey toiled and snipped and basted and pressed and patched and sponged all day in the steamy fetor of a tailor–shop. But when work was done Ikey hitched his wagon to such stars as his firmament let shine.
It was Saturday night, and the boss laid twelve begrimed and begrudged dollars in his hand. Ikey dabbled discreetly in water, donned coat, hat and collar with its frazzled tie and chalcedony pin, and set forth in pursuit of his ideals.
For each of us, when our day's work is done, must seek our ideal, whether it be love or pinochle or lobster `a la Newburg, or the sweet silence of the musty bookshelves.
Behold Ikey as he ambles up the street beneath the roaring «El» between the rows of reeking sweat–shops. Pallid, stooping, insignificant, squalid, doomed to exist forever in penury of body and mind, yet, as he swings his cheap cane and projects the noisome inhalations from his cigarette you perceive that he nurtures in his narrow bosom the bacillus of society.
Ikey's legs carried him to and into that famous place of entertainment known as the Caf'e Maginnis—famous because it was the rendezvous of Billy McMahan, the greatest man, the most wonderful man, Ikey thought, that the world had ever produced.
Billy McMahan was the district leader. Upon him the Tiger purred, and his hand held manna to scatter. Now, as Ikey entered, McMahan stood, flushed and triumphant and mighty, the centre of a huzzaing concourse of his lieutenants and constituents. It seems there had been an election; a signal victory had been won; the city had been swept back into line by a resistless besom of ballots.
Ikey slunk along the bar and gazed, breath–quickened, at his idol.
How magnificent was Billy McMahan, with his great, smooth, laughing face; his gray eye, shrewd as a chicken hawk's; his diamond ring, his voice like a bugle call, his prince's air, his plump and active roll of money, his clarion call to friend and comrade—oh, what a king of men he was! How he obscured his lieutenants, though they themselves loomed large and serious, blue of chin and important of mien, with hands buried deep in the pockets of their short overcoats! But Billy—oh, what small avail are words to paint for you his glory as seen by Ikey Snigglefritz!
The Caf'e Maginnis rang to the note of victory. The white–coated bartenders threw themselves featfully upon bottle, cork and glass. From a score of clear Havanas the air received its paradox of clouds. The leal and the hopeful shook Billy McMahan's hand. And there was born suddenly in the worshipful soul of Ikey Snigglefritz an audacious, thrilling impulse.
He stepped forward into the little cleared space in which majesty moved, and held out his hand.
Billy McMahan grasped it unhesitatingly, shook it and smiled.
Made mad now by the gods who were about to destroy him, Ikey threw away his scabbard and charged upon Olympus.
«Have a drink with me, Billy,» he said familiarly, «you and your friends?»
«Don't mind if I do, old man,» said the great leader, «just to keep the ball rolling.»
The last spark of Ikey's reason fled.
«Wine,» he called to the bartender, waving a trembling hand.
The corks of three bottles were drawn; the champagne bubbled in the long row of glasses set upon the bar. Billy McMahan took his and nodded, with his beaming smile, at Ikey. The lieutenants and satellites took theirs and growled «Here's to you.» Ikey took his nectar in delirium. All drank.
Ikey threw his week's wages in a crumpled roll upon the bar.
«C'rect,» said the bartender, smoothing the twelve one–dollar notes. The crowd surged around Billy McMahan again. Some one was telling how Brannigan fixed 'em over in the Eleventh. Ikey leaned against the bar a while, and then went out.
He went down Hester street and up Chrystie, and down Delancey to where he lived. And there his women folk, a bibulous mother and three dingy sisters, pounced upon him for his wages. And at his confession they shrieked and objurgated him in the pithy rhetoric of the locality.
But even as they plucked at him and struck him Ikey remained in his ecstatic trance of joy. His head was in the clouds; the star was drawing his wagon. Compared with what he had achieved the loss of wages and the bray of women's tongues were slight affairs.
He had shaken the hand of Billy McMahan.