“Rats, old man, it lets off steam.”
“Oh, I know! After spending all noon sneering at the conventional stuff, I’m conventional enough to be ashamed of saving my life by busting out with my fool troubles!”
“Old Paul, your nerves are kind of on the bum. I’m going to take you away. I’m going to rig this thing. I’m going to have an important deal in New York and—and sure, of course!—I’ll need you to advise me on the roof of the building! And the ole deal will fall through, and there’ll be nothing for us but to go on ahead to Maine. I—Paul, when it comes right down to it, I don’t care whether you bust loose or not. I do like having a rep for being one of the Bunch, but if you ever needed me I’d chuck it and come out for you every time! Not of course but what you’re—course I don’t mean you’d ever do anything that would put—that would put a decent position on the fritz but—See how I mean? I’m kind of a clumsy old codger, and I need your fine Eyetalian hand. We—Oh, hell, I can’t stand here gassing all day! On the job! S’ long! Don’t take any wooden money, Paulibus! See you soon! S’ long!”
He forgot Paul Riesling in an afternoon of not unagreeable details. After a return to his office, which seemed to have staggered on without him, he drove a “prospect” out to view a four-flat tenement in the Linton district. He was inspired by the customer’s admiration of the new cigar-lighter. Thrice its novelty made him use it, and thrice he hurled half-smoked cigarettes from the car, protesting, “I got to quit smoking so blame much!”
Their ample discussion of every detail of the cigar-lighter led them to speak of electric flat-irons and bed-warmers. Babbitt apologized for being so shabbily old-fashioned as still to use a hot-water bottle, and he announced that he would have the sleeping-porch wired at once. He had enormous and poetic admiration, though very little understanding, of all mechanical devices. They were his symbols of truth and beauty. Regarding each new intricate mechanism—metal lathe, two-jet carburetor, machine gun, oxyacetylene welder—he learned one good realistic-sounding phrase, and used it over and over, with a delightful feeling of being technical and initiated.
The customer joined him in the worship of machinery, and they came buoyantly up to the tenement and began that examination of plastic slate roof, kalamein doors, and seven-eighths-inch blind-nailed flooring, began those diplomacies of hurt surprise and readiness to be persuaded to do something they had already decided to do, which would some day result in a sale.
On the way back Babbitt picked up his partner and father-in-law, Henry T. Thompson, at his kitchen-cabinet works, and they drove through South Zenith, a high-colored, banging, exciting region: new factories of hollow tile with gigantic wire-glass windows, surly old red-brick factories stained with tar, high-perched water-tanks, big red trucks like locomotives, and, on a score of hectic side-tracks, far-wandering freight-cars from the New York Central and apple orchards, the Great Northern and wheat-plateaus, the Southern Pacific and orange groves.