Whenever the summer gets too miserable, though, too hot and humid to bear, as during last year's Attack of the Heat Dome, I try to remind myself that there's an upside to it -- that it's good for the crops. And that I owe to Mr. Dooley.
Finley Peter Dunne is not the household name he was back at the turn of the last century, but he's still a giant in the history of American humor and newspaper commentary. He was a great reporter, but he was also a great humorist, and it is that which made his fame and his lasting contribution to American letters.
Dunne's great creation was Mr. Dooley, a Chicago barkeep from Ireland, whose commentary on issues of the day was funny, insightful, and extremely popular. Topical humor dates poorly, but many of his pieces are still wonderful to read, if you know some history, American and Irish. The dialect can be tough to get through, though; dialect writing is unusual these days, generally sends up the ol' racist flag when it occurs, and requires some familiarity with what it's supposed to sound like for the casual reader to pick out without a good deal of trouble. And yet it would be a pity if Dunne's work were to pass away because of political correctness, ignorance, and laziness. (Much of it can be found now on Gutenberg, and I encourage your patronage of that wonderful site.)
Not all his Mr. Dooley work was political or focused on single issues; some of it had broader themes. Which brings us back to this week's heat wave. May I present to you a short piece from Mr. Dooley in the Hearts of His Countrymen on this theme, from the days before air conditioning:
"Aho," said Mr. Dooley, drawing a long, deep breath. "Ah-ho, glory be to th' saints!"
He was sitting out in front of his liquor shop with Mr. McKenna, their chairs tilted against the door-posts. If it had been hot elsewhere, what had it been in Archey Road? The street-car horses reeled in the dust from the tracks. The drivers, leaning over the dash-boards, flogged the brutes with the viciousness of weakness. The piles of coke in the gas-house yards sent up waves of heat like smoke. Even the little girls playing on the sidewalks were flaming pink in color. But the night saw Archey Road out in all gayety, its flannel shirt open at the breast to the cooling blast and the cries of its children filling the air. It also saw Mr. Dooley luxuriating like a polar bear, and bowing cordially to all who passed.
"Glory be to th' saints," he said, "but it's been a thryin' five days. I've been mean enough to commit murdher without th' strength even to kill a fly. I expect to have a fight on me hands; f'r I've insulted half th' road, an' th' on'y thing that saved me was that no wan was sthrong enough to come over th' bar. 'I cud lick ye f'r that, if it was not so hot,' said Dorsey, whin I told him I'd change no bill f'r him. 'Ye cud not,' says I, 'if 'twas cooler,' I says. It's cool enough f'r him now. Look, Jawn dear, an' see if there's an ice-pick undher me chair.
"It'd be more thin th' patience iv Job'd stand to go through such weather, an' be fit f'r society. They's on'y wan man in all th' wurruld cud do it, an' that man's little Tim Clancy. He wurruks out in th' mills, tin hours a day, runnin' a wheelbarrow loaded with cindhers. He lives down beyant. Wan side iv his house is up again a brewery, an' th' other touches elbows with Twinty-Percint Murphy's flats. A few years back they found out that he didn't own on'y th' front half iv th' lot, an' he can set on his back stoop an' put his feet over th' fince now. He can, faith. Whin he's indures, he breathes up th' chimbley; an' he has a wife an' eight kids. He dhraws wan twinty-five a day—whin he wurruks.
"He come in here th' other night to talk over matthers; an' I was stewin' in me shirt, an' sayin' cross things to all th' wurruld fr'm th' tail iv me eye. ''Tis hot,' says I. ''Tis war-rum,' he says. ''Tis dam hot,' says I. 'Well,' he says, ''tis good weather f'r th' crops,' he says. 'Things grows in this weather. I mind wanst,' he says, 'we had days just like these, an' we raised forty bushels iv oats to an acre,' he says. 'Whin Neville, th' landlord, come with wagons to take it off, he was that surprised ye cud iv knocked him down with a sthraw. 'Tis great growin' weather,' he says. An', Jawn, by dad, barrin' where th' brewery horse spilt oats on th' durestep an' th' patches iv grass on th' dump, sare a growin' thing but childher has that little man seen in twinty years.
"'Twas hotter whin I seen him nex', an' I said so. ''Tis war-rum,' he says, laughin'. 'By dad, I think th' ice'll break up in th' river befure mornin',' he says. 'But look how cold it was last winter,' he says. 'Th' crops need weather like this,' he says. I'd like to have hit him with a chair. Sundah night I wint over to see him. He was sittin' out in front, with a babby on each knee. 'Good avnin',' says I. 'Good avnin',' he says. 'This is th' divvle's own weather,' I says. 'I'm suffocatin'.' ''Tis quite a thaw,' he says. 'How's all th' folks?' says I. 'All well, thank ye kindly,' he says, 'save an' except th' wife an' little Eleen,' he says. 'They're not so well,' he says. 'But what can ye expect? They've had th' best iv health all th' year.' 'It must be har-rd wurrukin' at th' mills this weather,' I says. ''Tis war-rum,' he says; 'but ye can't look f'r snow-storms this time iv th' year,' he says. 'Thin,' says he, 'me mind's taken aff th' heat be me wurruk,' he says. 'Dorsey that had th' big cinder-pile—the wan near th' fence—was sun-struck Fridah, an' I've been promoted to his job. 'Tis a most res-sponsible place,' he says; 'an' a man, to fill it rightly an' properly, has no time to think f'r th' crops,' he says. An' I wint away, lavin' him singin' 'On th' Three-tops' to th' kids on his knees.
"Well, he comes down th' road tonight afther th' wind had turned, with his old hat on th' back iv his head, whistlin' 'Th' Rambler fr'm Clare' and I stopped to talk with him. 'Glory be,' says I, ''tis pleasant to breathe th' cool air,' says I. 'Ah,' he says, ''tis a rale good avnin',' he says. 'D'ye know,' he says, 'I haven't slept much these nights, f'r wan reason 'r another. But,' he says, 'I'm afraid this here change won't be good f'r th' crops,' he says. 'If we'd had wan or two more war-rum days an' thin a sprinkle iv rain,' he says, 'how they would grow, how they would grow!'"
Mr. Dooley sat up in his chair, and looked over at Mr. McKenna.
"Jawn," he said, "d'ye know that, whin I think iv th' thoughts that's been in my head f'r a week, I don't dare to look Tim Clancy in th' face."