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Monday, September 09, 2019

What to Do While the Family Is Away

Guest Blogger Dept.: Robert Benchley weighs in with sound advice for the temporary summer bachelor. The Detroit Athletic Club, founded in 1887 and still going strong, moved to a clubhouse in 1915 and simultaneously began publishing a monthly magazine, also still going strong. Benchley had an essay in almost every issue of it between 1920 and 1932.


SOMEWHERE OR OTHER the legend has sprung up that, as soon as the family goes away for the summer, Daddy brushes the hair over his bald spot, ties up his shoes, and goes out on a whirlwind trip through the hellish districts of town. The funny papers are responsible for this, just as they are responsible for the idea that all millionaires are fat and that Negroes are inordinately fond of watermelons.

Robert Benchley by Gluyas Williams
I will not deny that for just about four minutes after the train has left, bearing Mother, Sister, Junior, Ingabog and the mechanical walrus on their way to Anybunkport, Daddy is suffused with a certain queer feeling of being eleven years old and down-town alone for the first time with fifteen cents to spend on anything he wants. The city seems to spread itself out before him just ablaze with lights and his feet rise lightly from the ground as if attached to toy balloons. I do not deny that his first move is to straighten his tie.

But five minutes would be a generous allowance for the duration of this foot-loose elation. As he leaves the station he suddenly becomes aware of the fact that no one else has heard about his being fancy-free. Everyone seems to be going somewhere in a very important manner. A great many people, oddly enough seem to be going home. Ordinarily he would be going home, too. But there would not be much sense in going home now, without—. But come, come, this is no way to feel! Buck up, man! How about a wild oat or two?

Around at the club the doorman says that Mr. McNartly hasn’t been in all afternoon and that Mr. Freem was in at about four-thirty but went out again with a bag. There is no one in the lounge whom he ever saw before. A lot of new members must have been taken in at the last meeting. The club is running down fast. He calls up Eddie Mastayer’s office but he has gone for the day. Oh, well, someone will probably come in for dinner. He hasn’t eaten dinner at the club for a long time and there will be just time for a swim before settling down to a nice piece of salmon steak.

All the new members seem to be congregated now in the pool and they look him over as if he were a fresh-air child being given a day’s outing. He becomes self-conscious and slips on the marble floor, falling and hurting his shin quite badly. Who the hell are these people anyway? And where is the old bunch? He emerges from the locker room much hotter than he was before and in addition, boiling with rage.

Dinner is one of the most depressing rituals he has ever gone through with. Even the waiters seem unfamiliar. Once he even gets up and goes out to the front of the building to see if he hasn’t got into the wrong club-house by mistake. Pretty soon a terrible person whose name is either Riegle or Ropple comes and sits down with him, offering as his share of the conversation the dogmatic announcement that it has been hotter today than it was yesterday. This is denied with some feeling, although it is known to be true. Dessert is dispensed with for the sake of getting away from Riegle or Ropple or whatever his name is.

Then the first gay evening looms up ahead. What to do? There is nothing to prevent his drawing all the money out of the bank and tearing the town wide open from the City Hall to the Soldier’s Monument. There is nothing to prevent his formally introducing himself to some nice blonde and watching her get the meat out of a lobster-claw. There is nothing to prevent his hiring some bootlegger to anoint him with synthetic gin until he glows like a fire-fly and imagines that he has just been elected Mayor on a Free Ice-Cream ticket. Absolutely nothing stands in his way, except a dispairing vision of crêpe letters before his eyes reading: “—And For What?”

He ends up by going to the movies where he falls asleep. Rather than go home to the empty house he stays at the club. In the morning he is at the office at a quarter to seven.

Now there ought to be several things that a man could do at home to relieve the tedium of his existence while the family is away. Once you get accustomed to the sound of your footsteps on the floors and reach a state of self-control where you don’t break down and sob every time you run into a toy which has been left standing around, there are lots of ways of keeping yourself amused in an empty house.

You can set the victrola going and dance. You may never have had an opportunity to get off by yourself and practice those new steps without someone’s coming suddenly into the room and making you look foolish. (That’s one big advantage about being absolutely alone in a house. You can’t look foolish, no matter what you do. You may be foolish, but no one except you and your God knows about it and God probably has a great deal too much to do to go around telling people how foolish you were). So roll back the rugs and put on “Kalua” and, holding out one arm in as fancy a manner as you wish, slip the other daintily about the waist of an imaginary partner and step out. You’d be surprised to see how graceful you are. Pretty soon you will get confidence to try a few tricks. A very nice one is to stop in the middle of a step, point the left toe delicately twice in time to the music, dip, and whirl. It makes no difference if you fall on the whirl. Who cares? And when you are through dancing you can go out to the faucet and get yourself a drink—provided the water hasn’t been turned off.

Lots of fun may also be had by going out into the kitchen and making things with whatever is left in the pantry. There will probably be plenty of salt and nutmegs, with boxes of cooking soda, tapioca, corn-starch and maybe, if you are lucky, an old bottle of olives. Get out a cook-book and choose something that looks nice in the picture. In place of the ingredients which you do not have, substitute those which you do, thus: nutmegs for eggs, tapioca for truffles, corn-starch and water for milk, and so forth and so forth. Then go in and set the table according to the instructions in the cook-book for a Washington’s Birthday party, light the candles, and with one of them set fire to the house.

There is probably a night-train for Anybunkport which you can catch while the place is still burning.

*  *  *

To those male readers whose families are away for the summer:

Tear the above story out along dotted line and mail it to the folks, writing in pencil across the top “This guy has struck it about right.” Then drop around tonight at seven-thirty to Eddie’s apartment. Joe Reddish, John Liftwich, Harry Thibault and three others will be there and the limit will be fifty cents. Game will absolutely break up at one-thirty. No fooling. One-thirty and not a minute longer.

D.A.C. News, August 1922

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