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  Buttered Side Down Edna Ferber

That Home-Town Feeling

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We all have our ambitions. Mine is to sit in a rocking-chair on the sidewalk at the corner of Clark and Randolph Streets, and watch the crowds go by. South Clark Street is one of the most interesting and cosmopolitan thoroughfares in the world (New Yorkers please sniff). If you are from Paris, France, or Paris, Illinois, and should chance to be in that neighborhood, you will stop at Tony's news stand to buy your home-town paper. Don't mistake the nature of this story. There is nothing of the shivering-newsboy-waif about Tony. He has the voice of a fog-horn, the purple-striped shirt of a sport, the diamond scarf-pin of a racetrack tout, and the savoir faire of the gutter-bred. You'd never pick him for a newsboy if it weren't for his chapped hands and the eternal cold-sore on the upper left corner of his mouth.

It is a fascinating thing, Tony's stand. A high wooden structure rising tier on tier, containing papers from every corner of the world. I'll defy you to name a paper that Tony doesn't handle, from Timbuctoo to Tarrytown, from South Bend to South Africa. A paper marked Christiania, Norway, nestles next to a sheet from Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can get the War Cry, or Le Figaro. With one hand, Tony will give you the Berlin Tageblatt, and with the other the Times from Neenah, Wisconsin. Take your choice between the Bulletin from Sydney, Australia, or the Bee from Omaha.

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But perhaps you know South Clark Street. It is honeycombed with good copy--man-size stuff. South Clark Street reminds one of a slatternly woman, brave in silks and velvets on the surface, but ragged, and rumpled and none too clean as to nether garments. It begins with a tenement so vile, so filthy, so repulsive, that the municipal authorities deny its very existence. It ends with a brand-new hotel, all red brick, and white tiling, and Louise Quinze furniture, and sour-cream colored marble lobby, and oriental rugs lavishly scattered under the feet of the unappreciative guest from Kansas City. It is a street of signs, is South Clark. They vary all the way from "Banca Italiana" done in fat, fly-specked letters of gold, to "Sang Yuen" scrawled in Chinese red and black. Spaghetti and chop suey and dairy lunches nestle side by side. Here an electric sign blazons forth the tempting announcement of lunch. Just across the way, delicately suggesting a means of availing one's self of the invitation, is another which announces "Loans." South Clark Street can transform a winter overcoat into hamburger and onions so quickly that the eye can't follow the hand.

Do you gather from this that you are being taken slumming? Not at all. For the passer-by on Clark Street varies as to color, nationality, raiment, finger-nails, and hair-cut according to the locality in which you find him.

At the tenement end the feminine passer-by is apt to be shawled, swarthy, down-at-the-heel, and dragging a dark-eyed, fretting baby in her wake. At the hotel end you will find her blonde of hair, velvet of boot, plumed of head-gear, and prone to have at her heels a white, woolly, pink-eyed dog.

The masculine Clark Streeter? I throw up my hands. Pray remember that South Clark Street embraces the dime lodging house, pawnshop, hotel, theater, chop-suey and railway office district, all within a few blocks. From the sidewalk in front of his groggery, "Bath House John" can see the City Hall. The trim, khaki-garbed enlistment officer rubs elbows with the lodging house bum. The masculine Clark Streeter may be of the kind that begs a dime for a bed, or he may loll in manicured luxury at the marble-lined hotel. South Clark Street is so splendidly indifferent.

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Buttered Side Down
Edna Ferber

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