COHEN'S IN SOMNIA
IT was Saturday afternoon and cold and drizzling, and clients were conspicuous by their absence, so at four o’clock, I closed my office for the day and hurried around the corner for a comforting cup of coffee.
At first I thought the restaurant was empty, but espied my genial friend Max Lubinberg seated in a far corner. He did not notice my entrance and sat grinning away at his cakes and; coffee asif they were a huge joke. I sat down opposite him.
“Wel 1, Lubinberg,” I began, “you look like a Cheshire cat laughing at a half-pound of butter.
What’s the joke?”
“Hello, Nathan,” he gurgled, and went off into a perfect spasm of chuckles.
His fat face wrinkled up until his twinkling black eyes were half hidden, his small mustache
was lost beneath his decidedly “commercial” nose, and his chubby little body overflowed his chair and shook like a bowl full of jelly. He looked like a Jewish version of Old King Cole, and certainly was as merry an old soul as ever sold cheap clothing, “the very latest style, and all wool but the buttonholes.”
“Nathan,” he said at last, “real life is piles stranger as what fictionings is, ain’t it? Sure it is. I guess being a young feller yet, that you go sometimes to a moving picture show? Of course you do—no use to denying it.”
He had a bewildering way of asking me questions and then answering them himself to his own liking before I could open my mouth. So being anxious to hear the story I contented myself with an affirmative nod. “Perhaps when
you seen it such a picture of a feller starting out to chase another feller, and first one mans and then another, and pretty soon womens and dogs and police and everybody chases after him, falling over baby carts and ladders and peanut wagons; that it is all a nonsense and never happens, in really true life— don’t you?”
“Of course, that’s what everybody says.”
“Well, Nathan, you are wrong once, that’s alius. Such a thing did happen, and I seen it. Me, myself, only yesterday!”
“Tell me about it,” I said, and after he had allowed me to order him more coffee, he took a long breath and began :
“You know we got such a clique: me and my wife, and Cohen and his wife and son Julius, what’s a doctor, and Jacobs and his daughter, Hattie, what’s a mighty jolly girl, even if she is nearly a old maid.
“Once a week we meet at somebody’s house for what the Englishers call a ‘bit of a shine,’ and for a little game of poker, five cents limits, for sociability only. The ladies, they takes hands, too, and, honestly, Nathan, if we men don’t keep our eyes peeled, they skin us every time.
“This here night I’m telling you about, we meets at Jacobs’. Hattie Jacobs always gives us a fine spread. I wish you could taste once her cakes—I bet you that you changes your mind right away about being a bachelor, and begin to call on her steady.
“I had just bluffed them out of a eightycent pot, and you ought to have seen those faces when I showed them my hand ! Well, Julius was shuffling the cards, and Jacobs—he always makes jokes—starts in to josh Cohen about how he nearly had bluffed him only a little while before, on a pair of deuces, too.
“Cohen, he can’t take a josh; he is the very most literalist man I ever see; and right away he gets mad.
“He says he aint no piker, and he is a game loser, and nobody can walk around his collar, and he begins to put on airs like a tin horn gambler.”
“ ‘All the same,’ says Jacobs, ‘you pretty near lost all of sixty-five cents, and I bet you if you had, you would’a got such a case of cold feets that you’d ’a dropped out of the game.’
“Cohen starts to swell up like a toy balloon, same as he always does when he gets mad, and Mrs. Cohen, she sees it there is going to be a fuss-fest, so she puts water on the troubled oil—Ach Gott! I got that back side befront, I mean she puts her finger in the pie.
“ ‘Oh, Mr. Jacobs,’ she says, ‘I guess you don’t know Sig. I tell you truthfully he is naturally a regular plunger. I have to wat-ch him night and day, that he don’t throw away his money. But anyway, he goes and squanders three dollars on such wickedness as Sweepstake tickets. A fine example he is setting for his son, I must say.’
“Hattie Jacobs, she asks what is sweepstake tickets—a raffle on a broom? Then Julius, he explains that Druckmeyer, a feller that we all know, that runs a cigar store, gets up a sort of a lottery business on a English Derby.
“He tells her that it is something like a raffle, only instead of a Battenburg bedspread, or a china clock, or a turkey, the winners gets cash. It’s strictly on the square, and each ticket stands a chance to win a prize. The biggest one is four thousand dollars.
“Right away, Hattie wants to buy some, and everybody gets to talking about it. We forget all about cards, and a stranger hearing nothing but Derby and sweep would be justified in thinking it was instead of a decent, respectable poker party, a convention of hatters and broom makers.
“Julius, he tells us that he heard that all the tickets are sold already, and Jacobs, he offers to buv Cohen’s tickets for twentyfive cents profits, each.
“First it was fun, and then earnestness, and they got to haggling like a pair of rag men over a bag of bottles, and, finally, Cohen sells Jacobs the tickets at a profit of fifty cents on each ticket, and thinks he had done a neat piece of business.
“Mrs Cohen aint satisfied. She thinks Cohen should’a got more for them and she begins to scold him for such recklessness, and says he’s got a right to keep them after buying them, and anyway a card-party aint no place for business.-
“Julius he says he feels it in his bones them tickets are winners, and surely Nathan, that feller is bony enough to be a
fine prophet. Notwithstanding, Jacobs keeps the tickets, and Hattie, she says, come out to supper and everybody forgets about it.
“Five days later, that’s yesterday, comes the day for the drawing. Jacobs he is always an early bird, and when he goes down by his jewelery store in the morning, he stops off at Druckmeyer’s and finds out that on the tickets he bought from Cohen, he don’t win so much as a mouldy pretzel.
“He aint exactly overjoyed to think that he lost four dollars and fifty cents for nothing, but he is a cheerful sort of a idiot and don’t cry no tears.
“All of a sudden he thinks how Cohen, if he’d lost that much money, would’a gone up in the air and come down with a bad case of St. Vitus’ dance fully developed. Also, he thinks how Cohen will give him the laugh since he got stung, and so he makes up his mind he shall play a little joke on Cohen and if anybody laughs, it won’t be Cohen.
“I tell you Nathan, that there Jacobs is a devil of a feller for jokes. I hope he takes it pity on me; because I’m old and fat and got a bald head and a weak heart; and don’t play any of his monkey business on me.
“I was in his store to get some change when he comes in.
“ ‘Listen,’ he says to Adolph ; that’s his watchmaker; T want you to call up Sigmund Cohen, the real estate broker. It’s early yet, and you’ll be sure to catch him in.”
“ ‘I’m fixing up a fine surprise party for Cohen this morning.’ He says to me.
“ ‘That’s why I want Adolph to ’phone him. If I do it, he’ll sure know my voice, and he don’t know Adolph’s from a buzzsaw’s.’
“ ‘Where’s his office?’ says Adolph.
“That makes me laugh. It shows you don’t know that Cohen. Such a cheapskate he is that he won’t have a decent office down town, but makes it in his house to save a few dollars office rent every month—and him just stuffed with money. ‘Go ahead Adolph and ring him up.’ And he goes on and tells him what to say.
“Adolph, he is tickied to death to play jokes himself and so soon as he stopped laughing he rings up.”
“‘HelloI Is Mr. Cohen there? This is Druckmeyer’s. cigar store speaking. Please to call Mr. Cohen; we got some great news for him.’
“Adolph nearly busts. He claps his hand over the mouth-piece and says he can hear Mrs. Cohen hollering, all excitement, to Cohen.
“Cohen comes to the ’phone and Adolph tells him he is the clerk at Druckmeyer’s store what has charge of the drawing, and that one of Cohen’s tickets wins the four thousand dollar prize, and he shall come right away down by the store and get the money.
“Cohen bites like a hungry perch and forgets to hang up the ’phone.
“Adolph listens and tells Jacobs and me how he has a fine fit because he’s sold the tickets to Jacobs. Mrs. Cohen she is so mad at him that she says if he don’t get them back and draw the four thousand himself, that she will go and get herself such a divorce. Julius he is almost crying and says he always thought his Dad had softenngs of the brains, and now he knows it.
“All of a sudden, Adolph he hears the door bang three times, and we guess Cohen is headed for Jacobs’ store with Mrs. Cohen and Julius close behind.
“I seen a good customer of mine going into my store and I had to go over, but being right-across the street, I didn’t miss much.
“The Cohen’s live easy, twenty blocks away, but I give you my solemn word that Cohen runs them twenty, in seven minutes one quarter and two ticks—flat. He comes tearing down the street with no hat and no coat ; his white vest all over splashes from mud; his big gold watch-chain stretched like a ocean cable across that corporation of his, what as you know, is fully ten inches over the building line; sweat pouring off him, and puffing like a switch engine going to a wreck.
“Two blocks behind, comes Mrs. Cohen, scolding as fast as she could talk and every once in awhile running back a few steps to pick up a piece of hair what’s shook off. She left a trail of hair-pins twenty blocks long. Behind her comes Julius, hollering to wait for him, he’s sprained his ankle, but she won’t pay no attention.
“People is rubbering and three kids and four dogs are following along like it was a circus. Mrs. Cohen I guess dont’s weigh no more than three hundred pounds.
“Just outside Jacob’s door, Cohen stops and tries to swallow his heart what’s high enough up in his throat from running, for him to bite a chunk out of it, and tries to
get his brèath back, and look as cool as a cucumber.
“Then he puts on the same smile as the cat what’s just eaten the canary ; and don’t know there is feathers stickin’ all over her whiskers; and walks in.
“ ‘Hello,’ says Jacobs, ‘Whatcha been doin’—a Marathon?’ ‘Anytime I does, lemme know,’ says Cohen, panting like a panther.
“ ‘Julius says I should take a quick walk every morning for my health. That’s what I been doing. I thinks to myself there ain’t no harm mixing a little business with pleasure, though I don’t get much pleasure, and so I drops in to tell you I wants to buy back them sweep tickets what I sold you.’
“ ‘It is printed on the end of them, ‘Not transferable,’ and ever since I sold them to you Jacobs, I don’t feel good. It goes against my conscience, and sooner than do a wrong by Mr. Druckmeyer, I want to buy them back from you and not lost it any more sleep.
“Jacobs he says; ‘Why don’t you tak* hot baths Cohen, if you’ve got insomnier?
Julius being a doctor, he should know what to do.’
“ ‘That’s a good idee. I’m much obliged. But how about them tickets?’ says Cohen.
“Jacobs asks him is that the only reason he wants them back? Maybe he heard something, perhaps they are winners! Cohen swears he never heard nothing, and right in the middle of it, the door flies open and in comes Mrs. Cohen!
“Her face is as red as fire, her hair falling down, and shé has busted a under-arm seam, and she is as mad as a wet hen.
“She sees eemejitaly that Cohen ain’t got the tickets back.
“‘Robber!’ she screeches at Jacobs, ‘four thousand dollars one of them tickets won on the drawing, and you buys it for nothing almost from my weak-minded husband. Give it quick here! It was mine all the time. The tickets ain’ttransferable. You can’t get the money. Oi! Oi! Mutter! such a cruelty to keep away from a woman the money what belongs to her.’
“Then Jacobs, he pretends to get excited. ‘So that’s the reason! It’s four thousand dollars that keeps you awake eh? I thought you got awful sudden a conscience!’
“ ‘It ain’t for your health you chasès down here, but to cheat me, a honest man what paid you what you asked for them tickets, out of his rights. You’re an angel, you are!’
“He dances up and down behind the counter, like a cat on hot bricks. ‘Oh Joy ! Oh Goodness! Adolph did you hear? I won the four thousand dollars by Druckmeyer’s lottery business! Hooray! I will buy me such a airy-plane with the money!’
“Just then Julius staggers in with a lame ankle
“ ‘Oh you will, hey?’ he says. ‘Well that money belongs to you no more than chalk’s like cheese! Those tickets are ours, and you’re a fine sand-bagger as well as a seller of phony jewelery if you don’t give them up right now—this minute—at once! Popper had no right to sell the tickets in the first place.’ ”
“ ‘No, says Cohen, butting in again. ‘Well Jacobs, whatcha going to do about it?’
“Jacobs tells them they got a healthy nerve all right, but he ain’t no hog and he will give Mrs. Cohen a fine diamond ring. No sir, not for six diamond rings. They all have fits again. That don’t go a little bit. Julius he starts in to call names. Mrs. Cohen begins to cry, and Cohen says he will run quick to Druckmeyer’s store and tell him not to pay the money.'
“Jacobs yells to Adolph to run tell Druckmeyer that he owns the tickets, and Adolph chases out of the store like a fireman looking for trouble, toward Druckmeyer’s.
“Cohen and Mrs. Cohen follow, licketty split, as tightas they can go down the street, and Julius limps along after, swearing in German, French and English. He’s always putting on airs over his fancy education.
“I leave one clerk in my store and take the two others and the errand boy and my bull-dog, and we goes too.
“Everybody stops and rubbers and says what’s up? Somebody says a fire; somebody else says a murder; another one says a lottery ; a girl says it’s a elopement, and evervbody turns in and follers.
“Fat fellers, thin fellers, girls, womens, kids, bull-dogs, terriers, spitzes, one gravhound, two pugs and a collie and me, fatter’n a side of bacon, bringing up in the rear.
“At the second corner the blind man sees there is something doing and he puts his cup in his pocket, takes off his dark glasses and goes along; while the poor crippled pencil man puts his crutches under his arm and legs it along like the best of us.
“Say, Nathan, it was funny. People sticking their heads out winders and wondering why the fire engines didn’t come. A old lady, showing a awful stretch of white stocking, and holding a green umbrella over her head, patters along just ahead of me gasping like a chicken with the pip, and every once in awhile letting out a squeak what was a cross between ‘Police’ and ‘Stop Thief!’
“Going around a corner, somebody tripped over a ladder and three girls and a kid fell over him. Meyer Levi is awful near-sighted and he fell down a coal-hole: somebody stepped on the collie’s tail and the dogs began to fight; and I give you my
word, Nathan, every minute I thought I’d
bust laughing. I had a stitch in my side worse as pleurisy.
“The Cohens beat the crowd to Druckmeyer’s by about one minute and a half. Cohen and Julius commence to talk at the top of their voices to Druckmeyer about how he shall not pay Jacobs the money; how they are going to have him arrested ; and the whole business.
“It was a great hash about poker-party, diamond ring, ‘thought he was a friend,’ robber, strangler, swindler, and Mrs. Cohen having hysterics in the corner by the cigar-lighter.1
“The crowd gets bigger every minute, the store is jammed, and Druckmeyer nearly goes crazy trying to find out what’s the trouble.’
“Mrs. Cohen’s hair catches fire from the lighter, somebody yells fire, three folks turn in separate alarms, somebody ’phones for the ambulance, Druckmeyer’s clerk throws a bucket of water all over Mrs. Cohen, two policemen come tearing up, and there is a regular hullabaloo such as I never seen since the dav I was horned.
“They put Mrs. Cohen, more scared than hurt, into a carriage, and she was driven off home, shaking her fist out of the window and scolding like a Yiddish magpie, just as a fire engine, two hose carts and a hook and ladder came flying around the corner.
“Adolph whispers in Druckmever’s ear. Then Druckmeyer asks Cohen the numbers of the tickets he had, and looks at his list,”
“ ‘Cohen,’ he says, ‘Can you take a
“ ‘Somebody about the size of Max Jacobs has been playing tricks on you. Them tickets didn’t win so much as a brass button, no matter who owns them. You had all your worry for nothing.’
“Cohen and Julius pretty near drop dead while they turn all colors in the rainbow and some what ain’t.
“They swear and stutter and stammer, and the crowd gets on to the joke and laughs. I bet you Nathan they felt like a nickel’s worth of dog meat chopped up fine.
“Such sights as they were! Muddy, no hats, sweating rivers, lakes and bays, their collars in strings like macaroni, and about a hundred bums laughing fit to kill themselves at them.
“They scoots for home as fast as they came, while the crowd goes into kinks laughing.
“When they got to Jacobs’ store they stuck their heads in. ‘Fakir,’ says Cohen.
“‘Sand-bagger!’ says Julius, but all Jacobs savs is, ‘How’s your insomnier now, Cohen?”’
Lubinberg rose and helped himself to a tooth-pick.
“Our poker club is busted up into smithereens, for the Cohens they won’t speak any more to the Jacobs’, and I’d hate to hang until Jacobs asks them to forgive him. That feller, for all his joking, is as proud as a toad with side pockets.”