Mr. Klinsky's Even Mind
by Ellis Parker Butler
At twelve o'clock Mrs. Abe Klinsky came down from upstairs and settled herself in the chair in the small railed-off space that was the office of Mr. Klinsky's Main Street electric and radio shop.
"Whoosh!" said Abe Klinsky, meaning it was a hot day. And it was a hot day. The stickum on the hanging flypaper was melting and dripping in resinous globules and even the air pushed by the vacillating electric fans was torrid. Mr. Klinsky ran his finger around the inside of his wilted collar and wiped his face with a damp handkerchief.
"You go up now, Abe dollink," said Mrs. Klinsky in her pleasant and almost appealing voice, her usual voice, "before it the ice from the ice tea melts. Such a nice cold lunch I got it for you, Abe."
"Good, mamma!" said Mr. Klinsky. "And, listen, mamma -- if Mr. Brodsky comes --"
Outside in the street there came a smack of metal on metal as a man parking a car bunted into the rear bumpers of Mr. Klinsky's delivery automobile. The man was Joe Sylvestro who ran the vegetable stand next door and instantly Mr. Klinsky was out of his shop, both fists raised, not for violence but for emphasis, and he shouted and denounced passionately, telling Mr. Sylvestro what he thought of him. No damage had been done, but Mr. Klinsky was hot and angry. He was in the habit of flaring up in this way for he had little control of his temper.
Mrs. Klinsky, looking out of the window of the shop, sighed, but Joe Sylvestro turned away from Mr. Klinsky and went into his own place of business without saying a word and, after scowling after his neighbor a moment or two, Mr. Klinsky made a hopeless outward gesture with his hands and went up to his lunch.
"Papa is flying off the hendle again," said Mrs. Klinsky to her daughter Reba.
"Yeah?" said Reba without interest.
Reba was a beautiful girl. She was sitting behind the counter half-way back in the shop, one knee over the other, reading a novel and slowly chewing gum. She was bent forward with one elbow on the upper knee. She detested helping in the shop and did not expect to be doing so much longer because she was to marry Sam Goldstein and her brother Irving was to take her place in the Main Street shop.
Mr. Klinsky owned two electric and radio shops, the one on Main Street and the one in Upper Westcote, and Irving Klinsky was now managing the one in Upper Westcote, but Mr. Klinsky expected to close the deal today by which Marcus Brodsky would become the owner of the Upper Westcote shop. Mr. Brodsky was to pay five thousand dollars for the Upper Westcote shop.
Mr. Klinsky had two excellent reasons for selling the other shop. One was that business in the Main Street shop was growing so heavy that running two shops made him rush around like a terrier in a room full of rats and the other was that he needed the five thousand dollars. The arrangement made with old Mr. and Mrs. Goldstein was that Reba should bring with her in marrying Sam the sum of three thousand dollars, cash money, to permit Sam to buy a half interest in the Globe Haberdashery. The balance of the five thousand Mr. Klinsky meant to use to clear up his indebtedness and increase the stock of the Main Street shop.
"From such a hot day your papa shouldn't fly off the hendle," said Mrs. Klinsky to Reba. "Mebby he gets it such a sunstroke such a hot day."
"You said it, ma!" said Reba without looking up from her book.
"From every time he flies off the hendle," said Mrs. Klinsky, "I get me a scare, Reba dollink. Oi, what a scare! Almust my heart it stops goink, Reba, so easy could your papa bust a brain in his head like Meester Olfendoffer and drop down dead maybe."
"Ain't it so?" said Reba with deep unconcern.
"Is it good bitzness, I esk you, Reba dollink," continued Mrs. Klinsky, "a bitznessman should fly off the hendle? What good comes when your papa gets mad at Meester Sylvestro, Reba, because from a leetle boomp from his ottermobile, if maybe Meester Sylvestro wants to buy it a radio sometimes, Reba, sometimes? Some place else he buys it a radio, yes? Better your papa should keep cool, Reba, and not go so crazy in the head all from so sudden always."
"Yeh? You tell him!" said Reba indolently, for she knew how hopeless it was to expect her excitable father to keep calm. Mrs. Klinsky was about to expound further her theory that a flaring temper was a serious handicap to a businessman, when the screen door was pulled open and a smart but wilted young man entered the shop. He had under his arm a shabby portfolio and without ceremony he pulled from this a placard on which were gaudily painted the words "No Checks Cashed."
"Signs, lady? Any signs today? How about this one?" the young fellow asked.
"We got," said Mrs. Klinsky with a careless wave of her hand toward the wall at her back. "We don't want no signs today, meester."
"How about this one?" asked the young man, showing another. "'All goods guaranteed' in three colors lady. Only fifty cents. How about 'Terms Cash' for thirty five cents -- a bargain!"
"We don't want no signs, meester," repeated Mrs. Klinsky.
"How about a motter?" asked the young man, digging into another part of his portfolio. "Genuine passy-par-tood motter, lady, eighteen by eight, genuine glass onto it, se'nty fi' cents."
"We don't want no motters, meester," said Mrs. Klinsky.
"Listen, lady," said the young man intensely. "To you I'll let this motter go for half price. Thirty fi' cents! Listen, lady -- I ain't took in enough today to buy my lunch; gimme thirty cents and you can have this swell passy-par-tood motter."
"We don't want no --" Mrs. Klinsky began again, but her eye caught the wording of the "motter" and she said suddenly "I take it, meester -- thoity cents."
The sentiment enunciated by the motto was "Keep An Even Mind Under All Circumstances." No one ever kept an evener mind than did Mrs. Klinsky but she was not buying the motto for herself; she had Abe in her thoughts. She did not turn to the cash register but took her own purse from the desk. She opened the purse and was about to put her neat little hand in it when she saw something round and small and silver protruding from one of the papers on the desk. It was a dime and she picked it up, surprised to see it there. She hesitated but decided it must have slipped out of her purse, and she added another dime and a five-cent piece to it.
"Thoity cents, lady -- thoity cents!" objected the young sign salesman, and Mrs. Klinsky added another nickel and with a brief "Thanks!" the young man went out. Mrs. Klinsky arose and hung the motto on the tack that held the insurance calendar to the wall behind the desk. For a moment she looked at it admiringly. She had settled into her chair again when her husband, having hurried through his lunch, entered the shop.
"Well, no Brodsky?" he asked and then his eye caught the new motto. Mrs. Klinsky, watching him interestedly, saw his back straighten with a first indignation, then his face lost its initial frown that threatened anger and took on a thoughtful frown as the noble words reached his consciousness. He was not going to flare up. He was accepting the implied reproof and the evident admonition and taking them well. What he said was almost thanks: "So! More of my good money you throw it away, yes? Out from my shop I can't go five minutes but out goes my good money for foolishness!"
"Oi, Abe dollink!" said Mrs. Klinsky sweetly, "from my own money I paid it for the motter only thoity cents for a present for you, Abe, and you should kick! Better you should remember what says it the motter, Abe, once: 'Keep It an Even Mind Under All Soicumstances,' Abe dollink, and not go flying off the hendle always."
"Hum!" said Mr. Klinsky, staring at the motto.
"Because," continued Mrs. Klinsky, "bitzness is bitzness, Abe, and not a lot of kids, gettink mad all the time. Because, Abe, when a man flies off the hendle the other feller gets it the edvantage, ain't it?"
"Hum!" said Mr. Klinsky again.
"Because, Abe," continued Mrs. Klinsky, "gettink mad ain't so good, Abe dollink. Sometime you could, like Meester Olfendoffer, bust a brain in your head, Abe, and fall down dead, flying off the hendle, and break my heart, Abe. Do I want you to be dead, Abe? No!"
Reba, hearing this, looked up from her book and at her father for she was surprised that he was not flaring into one of his angers to be thus preached at by his wife. The truth was that while he was eating his lunch a fly had buzzed around Mr. Klinsky's head and he had slapped at it a dozen times unavailingly until he flew into a passion and jumped up in anger.
His hand had been raised to slap at the fly when a queer feeling came over him, the veins of his head seemed to swell enormously, throbbing violently, the room spun around, everything slipped away from him, he felt weak and hollow and slumped into his chair trembling. He thought he was dying. He did not die. Slowly he recovered his normal state, but he was frightened.
"You could, once, think from Meester Goldstein, Abe -- such a fine old man!" continued Mrs. Klinsky, for old Mr. Goldstein was a model of calmness and content. Also of prosperity. "From livink he gets some good out of it, Abe, not always flying off crazy from the hendle. What you got it, Abe, in life but livink, anyway, Abe, and what good is it from bitzness if you get mad at it always?"
"You're right!" said Mr. Klinsky. "Right you are! I know it! 'An even mind --' yes! 'Under all soicumstances --' yes! You are right, mamma."
"Always in bitzness is it better to keep an even mind, Abe," said Mrs. Klinsky.
"Always in anything is it better to keep an even mind, mamma," said Mr. "Klinsky solemnly. "And from now on -- Well, Mr. Brodsky!"
"Hello, Klinsky!" said Mr. Brodsky, entering the shop. "And Mrs. Klinsky! Well, well!"
"Mr. Brodsky," said Mrs. Klinsky, getting out of her chair, and to Abe: "I go up now, Abe dollink, so you could talk bitzness with Mr. Brodsky. Reba, we go up now. And, papa, keep cool. Take it easy, dollink."
Her brown eyes swung in a quarter circle to the new motto on the wall, a mute warning to her husband to remember to keep an even mind, and a slight smile from Mr. Klinsky's lips acknowledged the warning and promised that he would.
"Now, I tell you, Abe," said Mr. Brodsky as soon as the two females were out of the shop, "we talk bitzness. Right now we close up this deal and get it over and done. Talk gets us nowhere. Money is what talks, Abe. We sit down and I write you out a check for forty-five hundred dollars and the deal is closed."
"What!" cried Mr. Klinsky, whirling on Mr. Brodsky, ready to fly into one of his usual passions at this unexpected drop from the price that had been practically agreed upon. "What!" he cried, but his eye rose to the motto on the wall -- "Keep An Even Mind Under All Circumstances" -- and at once he became coldly, cautiously calm. "You say forty-five hundred, Brodsky?" he said without visible emotion. "This is the first I hear of forty-five hundred, Brodsky. Five thousand we agreed upon, Brodsky, cash money in a certified check. Yes or no, Brodsky?"
"Five thousand you wanted, Klinsky," said Mr. Brodsky silkily. "But, listen, Klinsky -- just today I hear of a shop in Port Eglington I could buy for three thousand dollars, and no competition, Klinsky. I should pay you five thousand!"
Ordinarily Mr. Klinsky would have flown into a rage at this but he kept his eye on the motto on the wall.
"Is Port Eglington yet Westcote Brodsky?" he asked, and from that the argument went on to cover all the points the two men had already threshed out. Mr. Klinsky knew, and Mr. Brodsky knew, that this was merely Mr. Brodsky's last-gasp effort to lower the price. A dozen times Mr. Klinsky was on the point of blazing into anger but he held himself in. He kept his voice low and he was calm but firm. When Mrs. Klinsky and Reba came down they found the two men still at it, and if any one was showing temper it was Mr. Brodsky. Mrs. Klinsky was dropping into her chair when the telephone bell jingled. Mr. Klinsky reached for the instrument.
"Yes, this is Westcote 9-7765," said Mr. Klinsky. "This is Klinsky. This is Abe Klinsky. What you want? Who speaking?"
"This is the Grand Universal Bank and Trust Company, Westcote Branch," said the voice at the other end of the wire. "This is the bookkeeping department speaking. A check you gave the Apex Electric Supply Company had just come through, Mr. Klinsky, and your account does not meet it by twenty-six dollars. Shall we send the check back or could you make a deposit before three o'clock, Mr. Klinsky?"
"Listen!" said Mr. Klinsky, his face getting red. "You should tell me you send my check back --"
"Abe!" said Mrs. Klinsky warningly. "'An even mind' Abe dollink!"
Mr. Klinsky gave her a glance. He saw the motto behind her.
"Listen, please, Mr. Bookkeeper," he said softly into the phone, "right now I got it a bitzness deal here I could not make it a deposit right away, y'understand? You should hold that check and I make it a deposit before three o'clock. Am I right? As a favor to me, y'understand. Soitenly I make it a deposit. Positivel!"
Again Mr. Klinsky glanced at his wife and he was rewarded by the look of approval she gave him. He turned to Mr. Brodsky.
"So!" said Brodsky. "And now we get right down to bress tecks, Klinsky. Here I got it the bill of sale, Klinsky, all ready you should sign it in front from a witness, and here is it my certified check on the Interstate National Bank, Klinsky, as good as gold."
Mr. Klinsky took the check and looked at it. It was made out for forty-five hundred dollars, not for five thousand. He held it for a moment, his hand trembling.
"Abe dollink, I should see?" said the sweet voice of Mrs. Klinsky in its sweetest accents, and Mr. Klinsky handed her the check. She looked at it and held it toward Mr. Brodsky, smiling. "I guess we ain't sellink," she said. "Abe dollink, maybe now you are through with Mr. Brodsky you could go into Rudolph's and get it from fifteen cents me and Reba strawberry ice cream, yes? Such a hot day, Mr. Brodsky!"
She opened her purse.
"All right!" exclaimed Brodsky, throwing up his hands. "It's a go, Klinsky. I buy the shop, robber that you are!" He grinned as he reached into his pocket for another certified check, this one for five hundred dollars, and another bill of sale, this one for five thousand. Mr. Klinsky signed the bill of sale and Mrs. Klinsky wrote her name as witness in her childishly careful scrawl. Mr. Klinsky and Mr. Brodsky then shook hands amicably.
"And, believe me, Brodsky," said Mr. Klinsky, "you got it a bargain, it is the truth I am tellink you, Brodsky."
"You should tell me!" laughed Mr. Brodsky. "Don't I know it myself? Am I a fool I should make a bargain it ain't a bargain? No, Klinsky, I am sedisfied; I know what I am doink, Klinsky, and don't you forget it. So it is O.K., huh, Mrs. Klinsky? I am sedisfied, and he is sedisfied, and nobody got no kick comink."
"Oh, sure!" agreed Mrs. Klinsky, and with expressions of good will on both sides Mr. Brodsky departed to take possession of Mr. Klinsky's uptown shop.
As soon as Mr. Brodsky was out of the shop Mr. Klinsky grasped the telephone to let Irving know that the new owner was on his way, and Mrs. Klinsky called to Reba, who was again deep in her book, that everything was all right now.
"Now papa has got the money, Reba dollink, you could get married by Sammy as soon as you want to."
"Yeah?" said Reba, looking up long enough to reply; "Not this hot weather, I'll tell the world," and she went back to her book. Mr. Klinsky had hung up the receiver of the telephone. He rubbed the moist palms of his hands together.
"Fine, huh, mamma?" he said to Mrs. Klinsky.
"Fine, Abe sweetheart," agreed Mrs. Klinsky. "And you see how it goes, Abe, when you don't fly off the hendle, yes? Should you fly off the hendle, Brodsky gets mad too, Abe, and right away you are both mad, and maybe he goes out and don't come back at all. Ain't it so, dollink?"
"Sure, mamma, sure!" said Mr. Klinsky. "You are right -- ain't you always right, mamma?"
"Sometimes," said Mrs. Klinsky. "And how nice and fine it all goes, Abe, when nobody don't get mad and fly off the hendle. Like big bankers together you and Brodsky talked, not like children --"
"Bankers!" exclaimed Mr. Klinsky, looking at the clock, for the word reminded him of something. "Mamma, I got to make it a deposit right away. Quick, now!"
He handed her the two checks and from the cash register she took what larger bills were there, and on a deposit slip she began making out the ticket. As she did so she talked.
"Forty-five hundred. So, please, Abe, don't fly off the hendle no more. Five hundred. Keep an even mind, Abe, under all soicumstances. Sixty-two dollars. Because, Abe, always it pays to keep an even mind, ain't it so?"
"I give you right, mamma; always it pays to keep an even mind."
"Fifty hundred and sixty-two dollars," said Mrs. Klinsky. "Such a nice deposit, Abe. So go along by the bank, Abe."
She put the checks and the bills and the deposit ticket in the bankbook and Mr. Klinsky put on his hat and went out. He was happy; he was proud. He had built up the Upper Westcote shop from nothing and here was five thousand dollars to show for it. Reba could have her Sammy, he could pay all outstanding bills and increase the stock in the Main Street shop.
He entered the lobby of the Westcote Branch of the Grand Universal Bank and Trust Company and joined the considerable line in front of the A-to-M teller's window. There were eight ahead of him and he moved slowly until he was at last facing Mr. Tucker, the teller.
"Hot day, Mr. Klinsky," said Mr. Tucker. "You owe me a dime."
"I owe you a dime? How should I owe you a dime, Mr. Tucker? What you mean I owe you a dime?' Mr. Klinsky asked.
"You were a dime short yesterday," said Tucker. "One of those rolls of dimes you deposited yesterday was a dime short. It had only forty-nine dime's in it."
"I was a dime short?" said Mr. Klinsky indignantly. "What you mean only forty-nine dimes? Better you should count it again, Mr. Tucker. From years already I have been depositing in the bankrolls from dimes and nickels and now I am short a dime! Listen, Tucker, today I am sellink my Upper Westcote shop for five thousand dollars, and am I goink to steal yet a dime?"
"One of the rolls was a dime short," repeated Mr. Tucker.
"A dime short! Would I beat my bank out of a dime?"
"I only said one of the rolls was a dime short."
"He says I am stealink from the bank a dime," said Mr. Klinsky sarcastically to the man next in line behind him. "Listen, Tucker -- Am I a fool? Ain't I said it a thousand times even 'Could you be a big crook even, keep it by your bank a good reputation.' And he calls me for a dime a crook!"
"No, I didn't. I only said one of the rolls was a dime short," said Mr. Tucker patiently.
"And my wife for five years from before I married her being cashiers in seven or nine restaurants already," declared Mr. Klinsky. "From ten thousand dollars of such chicken feed is she making such rolls from money, and now she should put forty-nine dimes in a roll all from a sudden! No!"
"You are holding up the line, Mr. Klinsky," said Mr. Tucker.
"Go tell your troubles to a cop," said some one back in the line. "Here, I'll give you a dime."
"And insults even!" cried Mr. Klinsky, now thoroughly angry. "He offers me a dime like I was a beggar from the street sellink epples! From years yet I keep it an account in this bank and now I am a crook all of a sudden! Nice bitzness! Where's Overman?"
"Mr. Overman is in conference," said Mr. Tucker.
"Hah! Plompton, then? I speak with Plompton."
"Mr. Plompton is in conference."
Slowly, as is the habit of the kind, the tall uniformed warden of the lobby had been moving from his station at the far side of the lobby toward Mr. Klinsky. It was his duty to prevent trouble and Mr. Klinsky's voice had been loud. Mr. Klinsky looked up to see the big watchman at his shoulder and instantly Mr. Klinsky flew off the handle.
"Cops! And cops, even!" he shouted. "I should be for a dime arrested, maybe!"
"Just a little quieter," said the man in uniform. "Not so loud, that's all. Or get out of the line and give these other folks a chance at the window."
"And so!" cried Mr. Klinsky. "In America a man must shut up like in Russia when he is called a crook and a liar! Cossacks! From a dime! Huh! I will bring my wife she should tell you is she short a dime from a roll."
With that he turned from the window and pushed out through the doors of the bank. He almost ran back to his shop.
When he burst into the shop his wife saw that he was as angry as she had ever known him to be.
"Abe!" she exclaimed. "What heppened?"
"A dime!" he panted. "A dime they say you was short from a roll yesterday."
Mrs. Klinsky remembered the dime she had found lurking so slyly on the desk, the dime she had given the sign peddler.
"Yes, maybe, Abe," she explained. "It ain't so easy fifty dimes to roll up; maybe it could one dime get loose. On the desk I found it a dime -- Abe! Abe dollink! What is it the matter?"
Mr. Klinsky had thrown his hands in the air with a gesture of utter ruin. Had he returned to find his shop vanished and his wife and children murdered he could not have expressed greater despair. He had been wrong and Tucker had been right.
"Such a bitzness!" he exclaimed and was out of the shop again. He felt sick in the intense heat outside and once he thought he was about to collapse. His heart was beating painfully and he could feel the veins in his temples swelling again. Perspiration ran down his wrists and wet the bankbook in his hand. He must not drop with all that money in his hand, he thought, and he took a deep breath.
Already a small group had gathered before the closed doors of the Grand Universal Bank and Trust Company's Westcote Branch doors, and Mr. Klinsky glanced up at the bank's clock. It was not yet three; it was not quite half past two. And then Mr. Klinsky saw the white paper pasted on the bank's door and pushed up to it and read the words on it:
This bank closed by order of the State Bank Examiner.
Without a sound Mr. Klinsky collapsed. His knees gave way and he sank slowly to the step on which he was standing.
"Get some water," some one said. "He's fainted; he must have money in the bank."
But Mr. Klinsky had not fainted and he did not have money in the bank; he had his money in his hand.
The story of the failure of the Grand Universal Bank and Trust Company is pretty well known, as well as that it eventually paid its depositors only six cents on the dollar. But Mr. Klinsky lost nothing by the failure, having avoided depositing his five thousand dollars by flying off the handle three minutes before the authorities closed the bank.
To Mrs. Klinsky he has never confessed how angry he was over the dime shortage.
"Remember, Abe," she sometimes says, "always it pays to keep an even mind, ain't it so?"
"Sure!" he says, without so much as a smile. "Always sometimes, mamma."