“Yes, maybe—Kind of shame to not keep in touch with folks like the McKelveys. We might try inviting them to dinner, some evening. Oh, thunder, let’s not waste our good time thinking about ’em! Our little bunch has a lot liver times than all those plutes. Just compare a real human like you with these neurotic birds like Lucile McKelvey—all highbrow talk and dressed up like a plush horse! You’re a great old girl, hon.!”
He covered his betrayal of softness with a complaining: “Say, don’t let Tinka go and eat any more of that poison nutfudge. For Heaven’s sake, try to keep her from ruining her digestion. I tell you, most folks don’t appreciate how important it is to have a good digestion and regular habits. Be back ’bout usual time, I guess.”
He kissed her—he didn’t quite kiss her—he laid unmoving lips against her unflushing cheek. He hurried out to the garage, muttering: “Lord, what a family! And now Myra is going to get pathetic on me because we don’t train with this millionaire outfit. Oh, Lord, sometimes I’d like to quit the whole game. And the office worry and detail just as bad. And I act cranky and—I don’t mean to, but I get—So darn tired!”
To George F. Babbitt, as to most prosperous citizens of Zenith, his motor car was poetry and tragedy, love and heroism. The office was his pirate ship but the car his perilous excursion ashore.
Among the tremendous crises of each day none was more dramatic than starting the engine. It was slow on cold mornings; there was the long, anxious whirr of the starter; and sometimes he had to drip ether into the cocks of the cylinders, which was so very interesting that at lunch he would chronicle it drop by drop, and orally calculate how much each drop had cost him.
This morning he was darkly prepared to find something wrong, and he felt belittled when the mixture exploded sweet and strong, and the car didn’t even brush the door-jamb, gouged and splintery with many bruisings by fenders, as he backed out of the garage. He was confused. He shouted “Morning!” to Sam Doppelbrau with more cordiality than he had intended.
Babbitt’s green and white Dutch Colonial house was one of three in that block on Chatham Road. To the left of it was the residence of Mr. Samuel Doppelbrau, secretary of an excellent firm of bathroom-fixture jobbers. His was a comfortable house with no architectural manners whatever; a large wooden box with a squat tower, a broad porch, and glossy paint yellow as a yolk. Babbitt disapproved of Mr. and Mrs. Doppelbrau as “Bohemian.” From their house came midnight music and obscene laughter; there were neighborhood rumors of bootlegged whisky and fast motor rides. They furnished Babbitt with many happy evenings of discussion, during which he announced firmly, “I’m not strait-laced, and I don’t mind seeing a fellow throw in a drink once in a while, but when it comes to deliberately trying to get away with a lot of hell-raising all the while like the Doppelbraus do, it’s too rich for my blood!”