Lem Hooper on Genoa
by Ellis Parker Butler
Court Officer Durfey approached the desk of our eminent jurist, Justice of the Peace Lem Hooper, with a frown of perplexity on his brow.
"What's the matter with them Rooshuns, Judge, that the conference at Genoa would not give them what they wanted?" he asked.
"Well, I'll tell you, Durfey," said Judge Hooper, putting down his pipe. "I'll tell you all about it. So far as those Russians were concerned that conference at Genoa was what you might call a meeting of the bank directors of the United World and Universe Bank, Uncle Sam absent but having the real cash. So in comes Russia, with a black eye and looking like a tramp.
"'Gents,' Russia says, 'I'll tell you how it is. I got a little business up there in the corner of Europe and over in Asia, and it's gone all to thunder. I'll admit that -- it's gone all to thunder! You see, gents, I had a little fire in my store --'
"'Fire?' says one of the directors, suspicious-like. 'Fire? How come you had a fire, Ivan? Who set the fire?'
"'Well, gents, I did!' says Russia. 'It was like this: I had some old stock on hand -- Czars and property and one thing and another -- and I sort of figgered if I had a good fire and collected a bunch of communistic insurance I'd be fixed pretty good. And I would have been, gents, only the Commune and Soviet Millennium Insurance Company went blooey on me. They didn't make good, gents. So that's how it is. That's why I'm here, gents. I just want you to back me up with a few billion dollars or so -- cash or credit -- and I'll be all right in no time. I got a good property there, if it's handled right.'
"'George,' says one of the directors, 'just hand me this man Ivan's record with this bank, will you, if you've got it handy,' and one of the clerks named Lloyd George gets out the discount book and the card catalogue and turns to the Ivan Russia page.
"'If I may make so bold,' says Lloyd George, with a gentle smile, 'I'd like to call the attention of the directors to the fact that Ivan's record is not quite what we would like it to be. One rule of this bank is that when a man buys goods he must expect to pay for them.'
"'How about that, Ivan?' a director asks.
"'Well, that rule, now, I can't promise to abide by, gents,' says Ivan. 'Paying for what I buy is against my principles, as you might say. I'm a man of principle --'
"'Hum!' says the director. 'Well, how about this other bank rule -- "If a man borrows money and promises to repay it, he must repay it." How about that?'
"'Well, now,' says Ivan, 'that's all right for you folks, but I'm doing business a different way. You see, gents, it's against my principles to repay anything. I got principles --'
"'Hum!' says the director. 'I see! It's against your principles to pay for the goods you've already bought, and it is against your principles to pay back the money you've already borrowed. The only thing that is not against your principles is to borrow some more -- is that it?'
"'Yes, mister!' says Ivan. 'You got me right; I'm a man of principle, I am. It could be that I'd say to you, "No! I don't like the way you gents do business and I won't borrow from you no more," but I ain't got no prejudices. Money is money --'
"'Well, my good man,' says the director, 'if you have no prejudices we do have a few. One is that goods bought must be paid for, and another is that money borrowed must be repaid, and the third is that the man who comes here to borrow more money and swears he will not pay what he has already borrowed is not a good risk. George, see Ivan out and watch that he don't steal the penholders off the customers' desks.'
"That's what happened at Genoa, Durfey. Ivan went there and said, 'I don't believe in property rights and I want to borrow your property awhile.' He went there and said, 'It'll be all right, gents; I'm a man of principle, and I'll return your property unless I happen to think it is against my principles to return it.' It's hard to do business with a man like that, Durfey.
"The trouble with Russia, Durfey, is that it don't vote the good old Human Nature ticket. It made a mistake and got itself elected on the Angelic Millennium ticket, and there ain't no such animal. When mankind turns its back on human nature and calls in the angels to run things the chances are that the angels keep right on strumming their golden harps up in Heaven, and what comes in is the wolves.
"To my notion, Durfey, one of the basic qualities of all living beings is property ownership. If my wife goes out in her garden and plants a petunia seed, and waters it, and grows the flower, she feels it is her flower and that she owns it, and she don't want the City Council to vote it to Bill Jones's wife. The trout in the brook will fight for the stone it hides behind, and the sparrow on the roof will fight for its nest. Even the wolf, dad-baste it! will fight for its den.
"Maybe, Durfey, the angels are satisfied to go up to the heap of harps each morning and take any one that is handed out, and be happy, but a man likes to own his own harp. The Russian has misjudged human nature and human desire; he's been a poor guesser. Down below here, Durfey, a man wants something to own. I don't know that I've ever seen perfect communism in but one place on this earth in all my life."
"And where was that, boss?" asked Durfey.
"Well, I hate to say it, Durfey," said Judge Hooper, "but it was one time when I saw a mass of maggots in a rotten cheese. And somehow, Durfey, I don't seem to feel that a cheese owner would consider a maggot a good financial risk."