The Charlotte News
Monday, December 9, 1940
Site Ed. Note: "Street Scene" is one of Cash's rare human interest pieces. While the piece might smack a little of paternalism to our most post-post-modern eyes, it was quite remarkable in 1940 for a Southern journalist to pause for ten minutes to observe an African-American child and then devote editorial space to write about the observation in something other than Sambo-mockish terms. Cash sees this curious little boy as a future Audubon before he sees him as possibly a "first-rate yard-man", and then qualifies it all as simply the probable result of the pique of any little boy's curiosity. It becomes harder to dehumanize the person written up in the newspaper hypocoristically as a human being, just as one's own child. We have to wonder whether the little boy ever saw the editorial and what became of him. Perhaps he went to Tuskegee and became an airman; perhaps, he became a writer.
"Pet Peeve" once again calls up Cash's sensitivity to loud noise of which he would complain as well in his last days alive in Mexico City, by way of the last article he ever wrote, "Report from Mexico". (See also, "Devil Horns", June 6, 1940; "Ear-Busters", June 17, 1940; "Small World", July 22, 1940; and "Add Whistles", February 27, 1941) Perhaps, this recurring theme led some then to speculate after his death, in an effort to explain an otherwise inexplicable "suicide", that Cash suffered from a brain tumor. But, of course, Cash also tempered his remarks on the scourge with characteristic good humor and self-effacement; not to be taken therefore too terribly seriously.
Moreover, the complaint, seemingly omnipresent with him by 1940, at least in print, was nothing new for Cash. He had stated it as far back as April, 1933 in The American Mercury piece, "Close View of a Calvinist Lhasa", in a slightly more poetic sounding view of Charlotte's metropolitan array: "Physically, it is nearly Middle Western. The South survives in the yellow wash of the sunlight; in an occasional burst of flowers and vines about the shacks where the coons live in the alleys back of Friendship Baptist Church; in two or three blocks of moribund old houses set back in shaggy lawns along North Tryon Street where it descends to the Seaboard depot; above all, in the sedate beauty of the Old First Presbyterian Church, which sends up its single gracile spire from a park of great trees in the heart of the downtown district. But, for the rest, the scene is supremely commonplace and modern--a matter of the inevitable crown of so-called skyscrapers, of a girdle of factory villages and sub-divisions, of warehouses and spur tracks, of chain stores and filling-stations, of countryclubs and snooty suburbs with their faces new-washed, and of an infernal din which, when the citizens are in a really patriotic mood, when they bear down on their automobile horns with true civic zeal, is comparable to nothing save Hell or Chicago's Loop." (And, incidentally, as we have stated before, be not alarmed by Cash's use of the word coon above; read our "A Brief Words on Words", introduction to the Mercury articles, and understand his contextual usage, not just in the context of the paragraph and article or even in the context of the whole set of Mercury articles, but also within the context of the time and place from which Cash wrote them, as well as his intent, clear as it is, in so employing such phraseology. And, so, likewise be not led astray into the realm of literalism by Cash's query below in "Street Scene" re what was in the little boy's head, styled a "little black box"; for an "hellbox", in old journalistic lingo, is the container wherein goes the printer's discarded type--thus, perhaps a little ironic, cryptic twist to suggest understanding something about humankind, especially that portion of it too often typed, then discarded by society, ab initio, without taking even a little time from a busy day to understand its print.)
And, indeed, while Charlotte wasn't quite yet big enough probably in 1940 to exhibit the echoing cacophony produced in the canyons of concrete, steel and glass in most major metro areas today, (including, no doubt, downtown Charlotte), anyone who has ever worked in full view and earshot of one of them knows that it can indeed be a distracting discordance to the mind to be deep in thought on some matter when out of the distant vale comes a shrilling honky-honker, especially when answered by another deeper-beeper. And in 1940, they didn't have personal stereos and headphones to blot out the dissonance. (Though by 1955 or so, most parents were of the mind that the younger set had adopted one form of dissonance to blot out another; of course--hence, rock 'n' roll is here to stay, at least as long as the loudness of the post-atomic age in the crib shall persist. Boom. Boom-boom. Boom-be-bop-a-diddle.)
Furthermore, a perusal of medical literature does not suggest heightened sensitivity to noise, known as hyperacusis or misophonia, as symptomatic of brain tumors; merely rather of some deterioration in the nerve which operates the inner ear, causing moderate to loud noise to be unusually amplified to compensate. But if that was some physical malady of Cash, it doesn't appear to explain why he also liked to play the "Ride of the Valkyries", and other such concrescent pieces, at high volume--as heard often by his hallmate, Pete Knight, in the Frederick. Loud dissonance and loud music are two different animals altogether. So, unlikely 'twas due to any brain tumor or even hyperacusis. Cash, a small town country boy born and raised, just didn't much care for the idea of living too near Hell. In his youth, Cash was more apt to hear, as the loudest sounds apparent, a delightful admixture of a seventeen-year-old cicada clicking out a rhythm from its tiny stomach, a cricket perturbating its legs, while a frog gulped fresh air by the creek, not the rattling career of internal combustion engines whizzing by in an air-disturbing whoosh--(still not so four-barreled apparent in the country wilds of North Carolina even by the mid-1950's that we didnít have a chance to hear mostly just the cicadas and their slightly syncopated rhythm aces ourselves in and around small Tar Heel towns on lazy summer evenings in those later days). Yet, it is hard to go but so far in writing about one's contemporary culture, or of its past, even in the South, if one persists at Walden Pond for the duration. Thus, like Thomas Wolfe out of the quiet mountain nest of Asheville, from Boiling Springs and Shelby, Cash did venture forth into the cold, cruel urban world, Hell's bells and all.
Common People Have No Zest for Conquest
From Salonika, Daniel De Luce of the Associated Press writes as follows:
"Grazia (thank you)!" many Italians whispered as their wounds were dressed. When young nurses brought soup to men who had gone hungry for days during the fighting on the cliffs in the Albanian mountain wilderness, they broke into wide smiles... Italian privates fraternized willingly with the Greeks who ministered to them. "Soddisfatti (we are satisfied)!" they exclaimed--and most added that they hoped the war would end soon. "Sometimes they say bad things about Mussolini when their wounds hurt most," a seventeen-year-old nurse told me... A group of wounded Fascist officers, including a colonel, were husky, powerful men who bore little physical resemblance to many privates, who appeared gaunt and frail.
The little people of Italy are obviously one of the basic explanations of Mussolini's present plight and his desperate shifting of commanders in an effort to stave off rapidly approaching disaster for his dream of empire. The Italian people, as a whole, are incapable of the mad-dog ferocity native to the Germans, and twenty years of Fascism has not turned them into the kind of fanatical brutes which make up the head and front of the German army.
More than that they have no stake in this war and are plainly tired of that everlasting word, "glory." Glory, they know, consists in the murder of women and children and mourning bands for the women and children of Italy. More still, they are a home-and-family-loving people. They undoubtedly resent the starving of their families for glory. And they want to get back to their little brown villages and sit again in the streets at evening and drink their rough red wine and talk and laugh, not to stare with sightless eyes at circling buzzards in a foreign land.
Mussolini has his hands full with the Greeks. He may presently have them fuller still with the little people of Italy.
Concerning a Small Black Boy and a Show Window
The Christmas shopping crowds hurried through the streets, but the little black boy on South Tryon Street paid them no heed. His back was turned on them, his eyes fixed on a show window. In his arms he hugged the bootblack box, but he was neatly and warmly clothed. And on his head he wore one of those imitation leather helmets the white and black boys like to wear. You guessed it, like the others, he spent most of his play time being alternately an aviator or a football hero.
But the window on which he gazed raptly was no toy window, full of pint-sized footballs and model airplanes. It was the window of a flower shop. Inside there was color and form, arabesques of red and gold and purple and pink and orange and green, of bud and bloom and branch and leaf and tendril. That and no more. It was no passing curiosity which held him, for we watched him for ten minutes and he was still there when we left. And moreover, his eyes were very wide and there was a sort of breathlessness in the droop of his mouth and the stance of his stocky little body.
What was happening in the brain inside the little black box which was his head? We don't know, of course. Maybe the first soft explosion of form and color and experience of a potential Audubon of plants. Maybe only the gentle delight of a born gardener and somebody's future first-class yard-man. Or perhaps, again, just the startled pleasure of a little boy suddenly aware for the first time in his life of the mystery of form and color in the immeasurably lovely earth. But his small face was somehow very full of wonder and desire.
Vichy Recklessly Sets Out To Tame French Peasant
Maybe the Vichy Government will get away with it, but the odds are heavy that it won't.
Under a decree published yesterday, all French agriculture is to be put on a corporative basis. The peasants will be organized by families of regional agricultural corporations controlled by the government. And the regulations of the corporation will apply to all persons in each district whose work is connected with farming or rural crafts.
In short, France is to have essentially the system Russia invented and which the Nazis long ago took over. The peasants will be told what to plant, how much, will have to hand over so much of it to the State, and sell the rest for a price fixed by the government. Nobody will be allowed to dispose of land save as the government decrees, and nobody will be able to leave the land and enter other occupations without the consent of the government.
And in one respect the French peasant will be even worse off than the Russian muzhic or the German Bauer. For an effort to line up Catholic sentiments in favor of the Vichy gang has taken over the most vicious element in the new Spanish corporative state and set out to suppress the individual and his rights altogether, replace him with "the family."
But the French peasant has been the stoutest individualist in Europe ever since the Revolution. He clings fiercely to his little plot of land, and his rights to do with it as he pleases. He was the most bitter enemy of Communism in France precisely because of that attitude. And it is not likely that he will take more kindly to communism simply because it is offered to him under another name.
Who Will Join Up To Put A Stop to This Nuisance?
It may be that our auditory nerves are more sensitive than most. Or that we are simply getting crustier with age. Or that it is so still up here in the tower room that the street noises, when we descend to their level, pound against ears that are accustomed to nothing louder than the chirping of the tower starlings.
It could be that we are just querulous, and certainly we seem to be unsupported in this particular irritation. Don't the rest of youse guys mind those ear-shattering automobile horns--the ones that screech like a wood saw hitting a railroad spike?
On the highways there is some argument for such equipment. A horn's sound has to race ahead and make itself heard over the engine noises of the car in front. But in town their use is simply a gratuitous, ill-dispositioned breach of such peace as the automobile has left us.
There is no reason to put up with them, and surely there are enough pedestrians and polite car-owners left to organize and gag them. There is, it happens, a law.
It is an ordinance of the City of Charlotte, reading as follows:
It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to blow or cause to be blown any horn or sound-making device which emits an excessively loud, unnecessary noise or signal upon a motor vehicle upon any of the streets of the City of Charlotte, excepting, however, the ordinary and usual motor vehicle signaling device.
The penalty for each and every violation of the above--ten bucks
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