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The Human Touch

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The English apparently don’t think very well of Secretary of State Hull’s plan that they pay what they owe the United States in goods. Payments in kind they’re called. One of the financial papers in London suggested that although a large consignment of Scotch whiskey might go some distance toward reducing England’s in debtedness, the shipment might prove disastrous to the "stability" of American business, for if we drank any part of the payment we couldn’t keep on working, and if we worked we couldn’t drink, and of what use would the liquor be to this generation if it had to stay in bottle for the next?

I myself, however, have to cast a dissenting vote, in favor of payments in kind and against English disapprobation. If someone owed me a large sum of money, say $5,267.49, I should be happy at least to consider a couple of payments in kind, such as a place in the country, a couple of suits of clothes and shoes and maybe a few shirts, ties and pajamas thrown in, and if any sum were still due I might consider wiping out the remainder of the debt by taking a couple of books, a tennis racquet, a pair of rubbers and an umbrella, and maybe $135 in cash. Of course all this is day-dreaming, because no one owes me so vast a sum as $5,267.49, but it is always pleasant to day-dream. Surely you must have day-dreamed with a million dollars at some time or other.

But this five thousand dollar day-dream of mine is perfectly logical, because I am almost a veteran of the payments in kind way of life. Not that I’ve ever been paid any salary in steaks, cereals, cream and coffee, but time and again when I’ve wanted something out of the line of steaks, cereals, cream and coffee—such things as pictures and books, for example—I have taken to the payments in kind system like a duck to water.


Let me tell you about my latest coup, in the barter system. I call it a coup because I believe that the advantage was mine, although the party of the second part is just as certain that the advantage was his. And I shall not disabuse him. After all, you can’t have a barter system without both barterers getting what they think they want.

For all of these years I have been getting along without anything like an honest-to-goodness dictionary. When in doubt about a word which is not often, I consult a Thesaurus, of which I have a number, including a Roget’s. I flatter myself that I have a living and a supple vocabulary, which hasn’t the smell of the lamp about it. But the worthy wife has long advocated a good dictionary and once threatened to purchase—and as a birthday gift!—one of those vast tomes which requires a stand on wheels all for myself. So far, I have averted the catastrophe.

The other evening, visiting at a friend’s home, I saw one of those fat two-volume Oxford dictionaries, the abridged (!) version. It was perfectly new. I expressed admiration, without desire. "What it?" asked the friend, unexpectedly. I emitted a long, horizontal#e-l-l," as if it might be possible to talk me into it. The friend, a practicing psychologist, had no great need of it, apparently, and was willing to consider terms, a barter arrangement. And I now have the Oxford in return for an armful of books from my collection, including the Charles and Mary Beard history of America, the abridged Travels in Arabia Deserta by Doughty, the Genghis Khan of Harold Lamb, two works by John Stuart Mill, a Veblen opus and a dozen others, including the one-volume "Decline of the West," by Spengler.


As the bartered books were being selected, I detected in myself a greater unwillingness to let go the book I had not read than those that I had. And I felt, I think, that the only reason I have on my shelves so many books which already have been read is, not that I expect ever to look into them again, but because I like to see them as reminders of the pleasant hours, and the informed hours, which they gave me—once. I have read "Genghis Khan." That, therefore, was extracted from the shelves with less of a pang than the Doughty book, of which, the following day, I obtained another copy from my favorite second hand book store—on credit, if you must know. And how am I going to pay for the Doughty book? With other books, of course.

I notice that the Dutch publisher of Walter B. Pitkin’s "Life Begins At Forty" suggests a spiritual barter, or compensation, system. On the jacket of their edition, they have this line, in Dutch, of course: "Recommended as an antidote for Herr Spengler." Even "Joe Miller’s Joke Book" would be that.


I am one of the objects of attack in the Yiddish paper, the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, issue of June 15th, in an article entitled Literary Dialogues. The participants in the dialogues are Chaim Lieberman and M. Winograd and I am selected for the honor of attack by reason of a squib I wrote upon learning of Mr. Lieberman’s decision to abandon Yiddish literature and devote himself only to journalism, and also because of doubts I cast on the existence of such a quantity of Yiddish literature.

Who is this squirt on The Bulletin, say the duologists in effect, who dares doubt the existence of a Yiddish literature? When an English-speaking dog comes into a house where the language is Yiddish, the dog becomes the master of the house, one of the writers points out, and in a sense that’s true.

Which reminds me of a gathering held once at my home, a gathering at which English was the common tongue. Practically all the guests were Jews. Only one couple was Gentile, but the mere sight of them served to goad a Jewish guest into telling Yiddish stories, which I rushed to translate as best I could for the benefit of our Gentile guests. Now the man who told the Yiddish stories that evening had been a guest on previous evenings when no Gentile was present and had never troubled to tell a story requiring the use of a single Yiddish word, and he has been a guest on subsequent evenings when no Gentile was present, and he spoke no Yiddish word.

Some day I shall broach this subject to the man who never chose to tell a Yiddish story until he saw Gentiles. He happens to be a man of medicine versed in psycho-pathology and in abnormal psychology, a man who is very much aware of twisted motivations in others, but not, perhaps, in himself. Although it may be true that the English-speaking dog becomes master of the house, I should like Messrs. Lieberman and Winograd to be informed of this curious exception to their rule.

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