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- The Native Son - 4/6 -
the enfranchised women of California give intelligent guidance to the feminists of a whole nation; public opinion is so enlightened that it sets a pace for the rest of the country and labor is so progressive that it is a revelation to the visiting sociologist.
Indeed, nowhere in the whole world, I fancy, is labor so healthy, so happy, so prosperous. California brings to the workers' problems the free enlightened attitude characteristic of her. As between on the one hand hordes of unemployed; huge slums; poverty spots; and on the other a well-paid laboring class with fair hours, she chooses the latter, thereby storing up for herself eugenic capital.
I have always wished that California would strike off a series of medals symbolic of some of the Utopian conditions which prevail there. I would like to suggest a model for one. I was walking once in the vicinity of the Ferry with a woman who knows the labor movement of California as well as an outsider may. Suddenly she whispered in my ear, " Oh look! Isn't he a typical California labor man?"
It was his noon hour and, in his shirt sleeves, he was leaning against the wall, a pipe in his mouth. He was tall and lean; not an ounce of superfluous flesh on his splendid frame, but a great deal of muscle that lay in long, faintly swelling contours against it. He was black haired and black-mustached; both hair and mustache were lightly touched with grey. His thicklashed blue eyes sparkled as clear and happy as a child's. In their expression and, indeed, in the whole relaxed attitude of his fine, long figure, was an entertained, contented interest, an amused tolerance of the passing crowd. You will see this type, among others equally fine, again and again, in the unions of California.
Yes, that spirit of democracy is not only strong but militant.
Militant! I never could make up my mind which made the fightingest reading in the San Francisco papers, the account of Friday's boxing contest or of Monday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors. They do say that a visiting Easterner was taken to the Board of Supervisors one afternoon. In the evening he was regaled with a battle royal. And, and - they do say - he fell asleep at the battle royal because it seemed so tame in comparison with the Board of Supervisors.
The athletic instinct in the Native Son accounts for the star athletes, boxers, tennis players, ball players; that art instinct for the painters, illustrators, sculptors, playwrights, fiction writers, poets, actors, photographers, producers; that spirit of democracy for the labor leaders and politicians with whom California has inundated the rest of the country.
I started to make a list of the famous Californians in all these classes. But, when I had filled one sheet with names, realizing that no matter how hard I cudgelled my memory, I would inevitably forget somebody of importance, I tore it. up. Take a copy of "Who's Who" and cut out the lives of all those who don't come from California and see what a respectable-sized volume you have left.
If any woman tourist should ask me what was the greatest menace to the peace of mind of a woman travelling alone in California, I should answer instantly - the Native Son. I wish I could draw a picture of him. Perhaps he's too good looking. Myself, I think the enfranchised women of California should bring injunctions - or whatever is the proper legal weapon - against so dangerous a degree of male pulchritude. Of course the Native Son could reply that, in this respect, he has nothing on the Native Daughter, she being without doubt the most beautiful woman in the world. To, this, however, she could retort that that is as it should be, but it's no fair for mere men to be stealing her stuff.
This is misleading!
That agglomeration of the Anglo-Saxon, the Celt and the Latin, has endowed the Native Son with the pulchritude of all three races. In eugenic combination with Ireland, California is peculiarly happy. The climate has made him tall and big. His athletic habits has made him shapely and strong. Both have given him clear eyes, a smooth skin, swift grace of motion. Those clear eyes invest him with alook of innocence and unsophistication. He is as rich in dimples as though they had been shaken onto him from a salt-cellar. One in each cheek, one in his chin - count them - three! The Native Daughter would have a license to complain of this if she herself didn't look as thou she'd been sprinkled with dimples from a pepper-caster. In addition - oh, but what's the use? Who ever managed to paint the lily with complimentary words or gild refined gold with fancy phrases? The region bounded by Post, Bush, Mason and Taylor Streets contains San Francisco's most famous clubs. Any Congress of Eugenists wishing to establish a standard of male beauty for the human race has only to place a moving-picture machine at the entrance of any one of these - let us say the Athletic Club. The results will at the same time enrapture and discourage a dazzled world. I will prophesy that some time those same enfranchised women of California are going to realize the danger of such a sight bursting unexpectedly on the unprepared woman tenderfoot. Then they'll rope off that dangerous area, establish guards at the corners and put up "Stop! Look! Listen!" signs where they'll do the most good. And as proof of all these statements, I refer you to that array of young gods, filing endlessly over the sporting pages of the California newspapers.
And I'll pay for the privilege. What the Chamber of Commerce ought to do, though, is to advertise that this concession will be put up at auction. Indeed, if this sale were made an annual event, women bidders would flock to California from all over the world.
A Native Son told me once that he had been given the star-assignment of newspaper history. Somebody offered a prize to the most beautiful daughter of California. And his job was to travel all over the State to inspect the candidates. He said it was a shame to take his pay and I agreed that it was sheer burglary. All I've got to say is that if anybody wants to offer a prize for the handsomest Native Son in California, I'll give my services as judge. I will add that after nearly two years of war-time Europe, in which I have had an opportunity to study some of the best military material of England, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland - the Native Son leads them all. I am inclined to think he is the best physical specimen in the world.
But there is a great deal more to the Native Son than mere comeliness. That long list of nationally-famous Californians proves this in one way, the high average of his citizenship in another. Physically he is a big, strong, high-geared, high-powered racing machine; and he has an inexhaustible supply of energy for motive fluid and an extraordinary degree of initiative and enterprise for driving forces. That initiative and enterprise spring part from his inalienable pep, his vivid interest in life; and part from that constructive looseness of the social structure, which gives them both full play. If the Native Son sees anything he wants to do, he instantly does it. If he sees anything that he wants to get, he promptly takes it. If he sees anything that he wants to be, he immediately is it. He saunters into New York in a degage way and takes the whole city by storm. He strolls through Europe with an insouciant air and finds it almost as good as California. All this, supplemented by his abiding conviction that California must have the most and best and biggest of everything, accounts for what California has done in the sixty-odd years of her existence, accounts for what San Francisco has done in the decade since her great disaster, accounts for that wartime Exposition; perhaps the most elaborate, certainly the most beautiful the world has ever seen.
The Native Son has a strong sense of humor and he invents his own slang. He expresses himself with the picturesqueness of diction inevitable to the West and with much of its sly, dry humor. But there is a joyous quality to the San Francisco blague which sets it apart, even in the West. You find its counterpart only in Paris. Perhaps it is that, being reenforced by wit, it explodes more quickly than the humor of the rest of the country. The Californian with his bulk, his beauty, his boast and his blague descending on New York is very like the native of the Midi who with similar qualities, is always taking Paris by storm. Marseilles, the chief metropolis of the Midi, has a famous promenade - less than half a dozen blocks, packed tight with the peoples and colors and odors of two continents - called the Cannebiere. The Marseillais, returning from his first visit to Paris, remarks with condescending scorn that Paris has no Cannebiere. Of course Paris has her network of Grand Boulevards but - So the Californiac patronizingly discovers that New York has no Market Street, no Golden Gate Park, no Twin Peaks, no Mt. Tamalpais, no seals. Above all - and this is the final thrust - New York is flat.
Somebody ought to invent a serum that renders the victim immune.
Some day medical journals will give the same space to the victims of California hospitality that they now allot to victims of Oriental famines. For with Californians, hospitality is first an instinct, then an art, then a religion and finally a mania. It is utterly impossible to resist it, but it takes a strong constitution to survive. Californians will go to any length or trouble in this matter; their hospitality is all mixed up with their art instinct and their sense of humor. For no matter what graceful tribute they pay to famous visiting aliens, its formality is always leavened by their delicious wit. And no matter how much fun they poke at departing or returning friends, it is always accompanied by some social tribute of great charm and originality.
A loyal Adopted Son of California, a novelist and muckraker, returned a few years ago to the beloved land of his adoption. His arrival was made the occasion of a dinner by his Club. He had come back specifically on a muckraking tour. But it happened that during his absence he had written a series of fiction stories, all revolving about the figure of a middle-aged woman medium. In the midst of the dinner, a fellow clubman disguised as a middle-aged woman medium began to read the future of the guests. She discoursed long and accurately on the personal New York affairs of the returned muckraker. To get such information, the wires between the committee who got up the dinner and his friends in New York must have been kept hot for hours. Moreover, just after midnight, a newsboy arrived with editions of a morning paper of which the whole first page was devoted to him. There were many, highly-colored accounts of all-night revelries; expense accounts, of which every second item was champagne and every fifth bromo-selzer, etc., etc.
Of course but a limited number of papers with this extraneous sheet were printed and those distributed only at the dinner. One, however, was sent to the Eastern magazine which had dispatched our muckraking hero to the Golden Gate. They replied instantly and heatedly by wire to go on with his work, that in spite of the outrageous slander of the opposition, they absolutely trusted him.
This was only one of an endless succession of dinners which dot the social year with their originality.
During the course of the Exposition, the governing officials presented so many engraved placques to California citizens and to visiting notabilities that after a while, the Californians began to josh the system. A certain San Franciscan is famous for much generous and unobtrusive philanthropy. Also his self-evolved translation of the duties of friendship is the last word on that subject. He was visited unexpectedly at his office one day by a group of friends. With much ceremony, they presented him with a placque - an amusing plaster burlesque of the real article. He had the Californian sense of humor and he thoroughly enjoyed the situation. Admitting that the joke was on him,
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