Lem Hooper Explains the Chinese Puzzle
by Ellis Parker Butler
Our eminent jurist, Justice of the Peace Lem Hooper, gave a friendly nod to Sam Lee, that esteemed Oriental laundryman having been haled to court by an irate citizen because he insisted that his laundry rule of "No tickee, no washee" superseded the usual property rights in three 16 1/4 collars and two white shirts.
"Belly cold, Mistla Hoopla," said Sam Lee, bowing deeply as he snuggled his hands in the wide sleeves of his loose blue Oriental jacket.
"It is, is it?" grinned the good-natured judge. "In that case, Sam, I might say, as the Irish washlady said to one of your compatriots on a day like this: 'Well, ye heathen, if yez put yer shirt inside iv yer pants like a Christian yer belly w'u'dn't be cold.' Have you heard that one before, Sam?"
"Evly day twloo-thlee times," admitted Sam Lee cheerfully.
"Have, hey?" said Judge Hooper. "Well, there's good sense in it, all the same, Sam. 'When in Rome do as the Romans do.' Take those Japs, now -- they wear regular coats and pants and vests."
"Sam no likee Jlap," declared Sam Lee.
"No, I don't suppose you do," agreed Judge Hooper. "I dare say I'd feel sort of irritated myself if I was China, Sam. I'd feel like one of these long-limbed St. Bernard dogs feels when a pesky flea hops onto him and takes a bite and Mr. Dog is too ancient and feeble and played-out to lift up a leg and do a little first-class scratching. If I was that flea-bit dog I wouldn't know whether to lie down and die or sit up and howl.
"One trouble with China, Sam, seems to be that she thinks it might be a good notion to bite herself in two and let the flea-bit half do its own scratching. The real trouble is that when a feeble dog is cut in half that way you don't have two dogs. You don't even have one dog; all you have is crow bait. And up in the top of the old tree the whole flock of European and Asiatic crows are craning their necks, all ready to flop down and eat hearty.
"Maybe you don't see any reason why Uncle Sam should lie awake nights worrying about China, Sam. His reason is pants, Sam; metaphorically speaking, it is pants. Take Japan, now. We've panted Japan in first-class shape. When we pried Japan's door open the flood of pants flowed in and onto the tidy Japanese legs, and the yen and the straw mat flowed out and into our own pants' pockets. The tidal wave of pants and normalcy and stiff hats that swept over Japan made all of us glad and some of us rich, Sam, and we hoped to see the same life-giving wave of civilization and trousers flow over China, but the trouble is that a dead dog has no use for pants. A dead dog stops panting. That's a pun, Sam, but it's no joke.
"The serious condition of China, Sam, is due to the fact that in a world that has taken to the creased trouser as a fish takes to water, China still clings to the garb of Confucius. In a world that is all modern Romans she won't do as the modern Romans do. In a world where the motto is 'This suit $35, reduced from $65,' it is justly thought that a heathen that wears his shirt outside his bloomers has no coat-pants-and-vested interests that need be respected. Another pun and a good one! I'm in fine form today.
"In other words, Sam, the nations believe that trade follows the grab, and they are ready to grab. All we would get would be a job lot of Oriental laundries and since the invention of the electric washing machine, the Oriental laundryman is quoted at ninety-nine per cent discount, market dull.
"Even a poor ignorant heathen like you, Sam, can see that Uncle Sam -- supported by Hinklestein & Blitz, makers of the famous Loddy-Daw College-Style Clothes, by Custom Coatmakers' Union No. 549, and by United Pantspressers' Union No. 642 -- is strong for a well-preserved China, able to stand on its own legs and cover them properly with a natty garment that has two hip pockets and ankle cuffs.
"Commerce! We want commerce, Sam, and I look with high hope to the conference at Washington. The delegates of the great but more or less wobbly nations of the world are assembled there, trying to re-arrange the pieces of the Chinese puzzle and from them build a hale and hearty China. It's a hard job, but I hope for the best. Unfortunately, a few of the pieces are missing. Because of the prevalence in this jurisdiction of boots with capacious legs I have been unable to give the conference the benefit of my wisdom, Sam, but I can sense their difficulties. In putting the puzzle together they come to the shinbone and it is not there.
"'The shinbone!' says Mr. Hughes. 'Who has the shinbone? The job is not complete until we have the shinbone. Who has it?'
"'He means Shantung,' says the French delegate, giving the Jap a sharp look.
"At that, Sam, the gentleman from Japan looks distressed but stubborn. He looks to see there are no ladies present.
"'So sorry!' he says. 'Would most gladly return Shantung shinbone but cannot do so. Sadly necessity compelled humble servant to create suspender buttons out of Chinese honorable shinbone. Removal of said buttons from European style Japanese pants at this moment probably result in suddenly downward drop of nice leg-coverings, causing intense grade of shame accompanied by naughty return of oldenly quality Japanese war-madness. Such a pity!'
"And there you are, Sam Lee! What can be done when shinbones have been carved into pants-buttons? Should somebody get the scissors and let the worst happen, or should old China try to hobble along without shinbones?
"But that's not what brought you here," said the judge. "What are you going to do about this man's laundry?"
Instantly Sam Lee's cheerfulness fled and an unfathomable Oriental blankness overspread his countenance.
"No tickee, no washee!" he said.
"And that," said Judge Hooper, "is just about China's attitude at Washington, too, Sam Lee."