Yet on the telephone they said only:
“South 343. No, no, no! I said south—South 343. Say, operator, what the dickens is the trouble? Can’t you get me South 343? Why certainly they’ll answer. Oh, Hello, 343? Wanta speak Mist’ Riesling, Mist’ Babbitt talking. . . ’Lo, Paul?”
“’S George speaking.”
“How’s old socks?”
“Fair to middlin’. How ’re you?”
“Fine, Paulibus. Well, what do you know?”
“Oh, nothing much.”
“Where you been keepin’ yourself?”
“Oh, just stickin’ round. What’s up, Georgie?”
“How ’bout lil lunch ’s noon?”
“Be all right with me, I guess. Club?’
“Yuh. Meet you there twelve-thirty.”
“A’ right. Twelve-thirty. S’ long, Georgie.”
His morning was not sharply marked into divisions. Interwoven with correspondence and advertisement-writing were a thousand nervous details: calls from clerks who were incessantly and hopefully seeking five furnished rooms and bath at sixty dollars a month; advice to Mat Penniman on getting money out of tenants who had no money.
Babbitt’s virtues as a real-estate broker—as the servant of society in the department of finding homes for families and shops for distributors of food—were steadiness and diligence. He was conventionally honest, he kept his records of buyers and sellers complete, he had experience with leases and titles and an excellent memory for prices. His shoulders were broad enough, his voice deep enough, his relish of hearty humor strong enough, to establish him as one of the ruling caste of Good Fellows. Yet his eventual importance to mankind was perhaps lessened by his large and complacent ignorance of all architecture save the types of houses turned out by speculative builders; all landscape gardening save the use of curving roads, grass, and six ordinary shrubs; and all the commonest axioms of economics. He serenely believed that the one purpose of the real-estate business was to make money for George F. Babbitt. True, it was a good advertisement at Boosters’ Club lunches, and all the varieties of Annual Banquets to which Good Fellows were invited, to speak sonorously of Unselfish Public Service, the Broker’s Obligation to Keep Inviolate the Trust of His Clients, and a thing called Ethics, whose nature was confusing but if you had it you were a High-class Realtor and if you hadn’t you were a shyster, a piker, and a fly-by-night. These virtues awakened Confidence, and enabled you to handle Bigger Propositions. But they didn’t imply that you were to be impractical and refuse to take twice the value of a house if a buyer was such an idiot that he didn’t jew you down on the asking-price.
Babbitt spoke well—and often—at these orgies of commercial righteousness about the “realtor’s function as a seer of the future development of the community, and as a prophetic engineer clearing the pathway for inevitable changes”—which meant that a real-estate broker could make money by guessing which way the town would grow. This guessing he called Vision.