Monday, April 21, 2008


by Charles Durang

In a country not far from here once lived an old woman and her son, Jack. They were very poor and, one day, the old woman called her son to her side.

"Jack," she said, "we have nothing left now but our cow, and she has gone dry. I'm afraid you must take her to the city and sell her."

So Jack set out for the Big City, leading the tired cow behind him. Soon he was back, carrying two pieces of paper.

"Jack," said his mother, "what are those pieces of paper? And where is the money for selling the cow?"

"Mother, I have wonderful news!" cried Jack. "We will soon be rich, for I have made two Big Deals in the city." Jack's mother, knowing that her son was a good boy but not all that bright, waited apprehensively for him to explain. "I have here a deed to a very busy bridge, for which I traded the cow. Within a few days, all the tolls which are collected at this bridge will begin to arrive in our mailbox!"

"Oh, Jack," cried the old woman, "you are a fool and an oaf, for you have fallen for the oldest shuck in the book." And she began to cry.

"Not only that, Mother," Jack went on relentlessly, "but I have traded our little home for an interest in a big building which will be built right here, on this very spot, starting tomorrow!"

"Oh, curses and twaddle, you wretched rube! Where shall we live?"

"Do not cry, Mother," Jack said. "I was told that we may stay in the paint shed while the building is going up, and shall have a room in the basement right beside the boiler for as long as we wish." The old woman subsided and began to pack her few possessions in an old cavalry footlocker.

The next day, sure enough, many men and machines arrived at the farm and began to work noisily. Within a week, a vast building was growing toward the sky. Jack watched in amazement from a nearby hill.

Soon the building had grown one hundred stories tall, and Jack and his mother moved into their new apartment, which they shared with the boiler, the fuse box, four hundred garbage cans and three shovels.

"Jack, I shall never forgive you for this," his mother said, "that I must spend the rest of my days in this miserable room."

"Oompah," said the boiler.

One day, after weeks and months went by, and no money had ever arrived for Jack's share of the building, he decided he must do something about it, for his mother's sake. He left the little room and began to climb the stairs.

Up, up, up he climbed, to the twentieth story, where he stopped for lunch. Up and up, to the fiftieth floor, where he made camp for the night. And still higher, until late on the second day he reached the top floor.

There was only one door there. It said, "A.B. Bienstock, Chairman of the Board." Jack knocked politely enough. When no one answered, he opened the door. A little old man sat, with his back to Jack, hunched over a machine that went "click, click" and spat out a long strip of thin tape. Each time the machine went "click, click," the man picked up his telephone and said,

"Sell Consolidated Amalgamated."

"Buy Associated Conglomerated."

"Buy Western Eastern."

"Sell Brazil."

Jack said, "Ahem, sir..."

The man spun around in his chair. He said, "Fee, fie, fo, fum!" for his teeth had fallen out as he spun.

He bent over to pick them up. Then he said, "How did you get in here?" And into the telephone he said, "Sell Limited Incorporated."

"I am Jack," said Jack, "from the Boiler Room. I am supposed to be receiving money for selling you my house so you could put up this building."

"Preposterous and fiddle faddle," said the Chairman of the Board. "I don't make arrangements like that."

"If you please, sir, it says so here on this piece of paper," said Jack, showing him the contract. And sure enough, among all the whereases, howevers, and party of the first parts, it said so.

"Son, I am A.B. Bienstock, and this is my building. I will give you a quarter to go away." And he did. Then he turned back to his machine, which went "click, click."

"Is that a machine for making money?" asked Jack.

Without turning around, Mr. Bienstock said, "Yes. I make lots of money with it. Which is why I haven't time to talk to you. Go away."

With that, Jack ran around the big desk, snatched up the money-making machine, and ran out into the hall.

"Fee, fie, fo, fum," roared the Chairman again. Then he picked up his teeth and ran after Jack.
Jack ran down the hall to the end, but there was no doorway out, and the window didn't open. He was trapped!

As A.B. Bienstock came running toward him, Jack dropped to the floor, and the man tripped over him and crashed right through the window.

"Feeee!" he shouted as he began falling.

"Fiiiee!" he yelled at the ninety-second floor, and all the workers came to look out the windows.

"Foooe!" he said at the seventy-ninth floor, picking up speed.

"Have my chauffeur waiting at the door," he ordered as he passed the forty-fifth floor.

"Good day," he said pleasantly to the workers at the thirtieth, eighteenth, and third floors.

His car pulled up to the front door just as he arrived and crashed through the top of it. He told the chauffeur, "To the hospital," and they drove off.

Some days later, Jack and his mother were sitting in their apartment watching the money-making machine. It went "click, click," and the tape came out and said CONAM 21 1/4...EXPIM 6 7/8...GRSOU 12 1/2...

Jack said to his mother, "If we knew what that meant, we could say 'buy this' or 'sell that' on the telephone, if we had a telephone." Just then, there was a knock++on the door. Jack opened it.

It was A.B. Bienstock! He had on a lot of bandages, and one arm was in a sling. He said, "Jack, you are a rave and smart boy. Therefore, I am making you a full partner in my building. From today, half is mine and half is yours. May I have my machine back now?"

"Sure," said Jack, handing it over. "When do I start getting my half of the rent?"

Mr. Bienstock gave the machine to his chauffeur and said, "Not for a while. We haven't been able to rent any of the building since I fell out of it, and all the tenants we had have left. But here's your half of the tax bill. Good day."

Jack looked at the bill. It was for $438,651.26.

His mother began to cry and pack her footlocker.

Moral: leaving well enough alone is better than half a loaf.

Other places to hang out...