Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tutti-Frutti (Stream of Consciousness)

Jesse Halsey
2726 Cleinview Ave.
Cincinnati, Ohio

Why had he come? Why couldn’t he have been sick; one of his headaches. They came Sundays when he didn’t want them; why couldn’t he have had one tonight?

The new rector sat uneasily on the edge of his chair. Then, realizing he was uneasy, or looked uneasy, he sat back in the chair and assumed a still more unnatural pose. “It must look that way,” he thought, “for he was trying so hard that it should not look that way.”

It was at the table of his leading parishioner, Judge Hill. The Judge sat at the head, the rector was at his right. Why had he come in these clothes? Everyone else had on a diner jacket. They would think he didn’t know; and he didn’t, he had to admit it. He had come from a country parish to the big city; how should he know that for an affair like this one was supposed to wear a Tuxedo?

The Judge had asked him to say grace. He had, in a perfunctory way, but all the time he was thinking of the slave of his grandfather’s, who was invited out to dinner and, when asked to say grace, had said, “Lord bless the bread, but curse the skunk.” Not that this table suggested the equivalent of skunk, but he had overheard the Judge’s wife tell his wife that sweetbreads were coming. Why hadn’t he followed his wife’s suggestion and worn his high vest and dog collar and Tuxedo, that was, he had heard, correct for a clergyman. This sack suit and this speckled tie, black and red dots; little red dots. Surreptitiously he looked down over his chin. Yes, how strange it must look. A red tie! Everyone else with a Tuxedo, white shirt bosom and black bow tie. How strangely that old man’s was tied. Let’s see—yes, he was Mr. Straley—or was it spelled Strahley? Never mind, even old Mr. Strahley, who was kept on the vestry because he once had been a generous giver, even he had a Tux, and knew enough to wear it, even if he couldn’t tie a bow right side out.

What would they think? Would it hurt him in his work? He had tried to be a man among men, didn’t want to be stuck up nor preacherish, so had worn a business suit and a tie, instead of a dog collar. A dog collar and dinner jacket, that would have been the thing but—with a start he realized that Mr. Thomas, the treasurer, had finished a story and that everyone had laughed except himself. What a fool the old fellow looked, laughing at his own joke, but the rector must laugh, too, and laugh he would and did; a little late. And then he wondered, was it off color? Men seldom laughed like that at stories unless they were off color. He hadn’t really heard it. What would they think of him now he had laughed at that kind of a story. Was it that kind? He must pay attention.

Now the Judge was speaking . . . they must make a budget . . . run a church like a business . . . what did the rector think of that? “Yes,” “certainly,” “surely.” But he knew so little of business, or society, not to wear a Tux; and at his leading member’s house; all the vestry there; he their new rector in fashionable St. David’s. What would they think of him?

“Yes, sir.” “Yes.” They would add another hundred a month to the poor fund; that would be enough.

Poor they must think him, or ignorant, not to wear a Tux. Anyway, his wife, (who was dining now with the Judge’s wife upstairs,) she was dressed appropriately. Why wasn’t she there, then they could look at her. They must have noticed that she, anyway, was properly dressed. He wasn’t stingy.

Sixty dollars more on the janitor’s salary? “Why, yes, yes, sir.” Sixty dollars would buy a Tux; he’d have one tomorrow, and, by George, no one would catch him napping again. But this was today—and here he was.

What was that? Didn’t his host know he was a dry, in practice and in principle? Why should he be humiliated before his men—surely that was what it was—champagne. It sparkled; it bubbled; it looked like that kind of a bottle; it was wrapped in a napkin. What infernal set-up was this? An effort to make a fool of him . . . he would show them . . .

Just then; “Parson have some cider?” from the host. Cider? Then it was alright. Why, of course, the Judge was a dry, too. He had known that. Why had he been so critical? That Tux. He knew it but, confound it, the thing was out of hand. What a fool to be so miserable . . . Here they were all his friends; his Board, his backers. Wake himself—he must. What did they care for a Tux? Or, he care? Or, what should he care if they did care? Why? No reason at all. Forget it. And, with a mighty effort, he concentrated on the budget.

And then, just then came, the sweetbreads. How he hated them. No farmer’s boy could like in’ards. Butchering days on the plantation came back: his olfactory nerves rebelled. He must surely leave the table. Again, with a mighty effort, he resolutely helped himself, sparingly to be sure, but helped himself. Maybe there were mushrooms in it; he could pick them out and pretend to eat. And there would be other things. Green peas, likely. He would make out, yes. Everything was good—except the sweetbreads. Butchering day . . . brains was it, or pancreas?. . . his old father had never worn a dinner jacket . . . curse it, what difference did it make. What was that story? He must add his bit of conversation. But he would choke, there were no mushrooms in it. He was eating sweetbreads, guts. With a gulp, he swallowed, then a big sip of cider—that was better.

The glass chandelier flashed overhead; the great oak sideboard carved and laden with china looked across at him. Thank God there was no mirror in it to flash back his red spotted tie! His glass was being filled. Why had he misjudged his host? The kindest of friends were these, they wouldn’t care . . . but they might. Oh, for a Tux!

“Good sermon the rector had last Sunday,” he could just overhear. He tried not to, but that only sharpened his auditory nerves the more.

“Good sermon last week.” “Which?” “The Babylonian Garment.”

They were making fun of him. That wedding guest who came without the proper clothes. That was the parable he had expounded. They were making fun of him—a wedding garment. “Friend, how camest thou in hither not having on a wedding garment?” No Tuxedo. And the guest’s answer. “And he was speechless.” Well, that was true of him tonight, alright. How true the old Scripture was—“speechless!”

Dessert was being served. Already his parishioners had discovered his inordinate love of ice cream. Once a year as a country boy, now once or twice a week as a city minister, he had ice cream; and so much of it, and so good.

“Take more, Parson, Mrs. Hill has made your kind.”

Tutti-frutti! His favorite. They had tried to please him. And he had come like this—a red dotted necktie—just like tutti-frutti .  . .He must look like some Holy Roller preacher with no Tuxedo. Why hadn’t he had some sense?

“Coffee, sir?”

No, he didn’t drink coffee. Maybe he’d better; it might straighten out his nerves and sharpen his wits.

The Judge had begun some of his best stories and soon he would be called on. What could he say? He had no stories. He had no proper clothes, why should he have stories? He, who didn’t know how to dress himself—no Tux, no toast, no good.

Yes, here is came. The Judge was standing.

“Gentlemen, our Rector, a young man, a gentleman, a scholar. God bless him.”

The vestrymen were on their feet. They drank his health. He bowed and thanked them. He started to speak. They were looking at him, interest centered on that red spotted tie. No Tux, a sack suit. They must be thinking of that, not of his speech. What was he saying? Red and flustered, he sat down.

Next morning at nine-thirty the rector was at the leading tailor’s being measured for a Tuxedo. “He was hard to fit.” “Those football shoulders!”

“Sixty dollars, sir, for this grade, and seventy for that with silk lining.”

“Better have the seventy, I guess. When will it be ready?”

“Two weeks.”

“So long as that?” . . . “Yes, a high-cut vest . . .” “And order me a dozen clerical collars . . . size sixteen.” “Thank you.” “Good day.”

At dinner that night the rector’s pretty wife was all animation. Mrs. Hill had called and they had driven to the country.

“You must have made a great hit last night,” she said, with pride in her voice.

“Mrs. Hill said the Judge told her how your Mexican stories charmed the whole company. They thought it lovely that you wore a business suit—‘no airs or society climbing’—something like that. The treasurer is glad you don’t smoke and the Judge don’t’ like a minister to button his collar in the back, except on Sunday.”

The dining room door swung open. The maid appeared with dessert. It was a mould of tutti-frutti ice cream.

“A surprise from the Hills,” said the wife as she sliced it down.

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