RECENTLY I met a friend on a city street; a friend whom I had not seen for some years. He clapped a hand on my shoulder.
"Hi, stranger! Where been, and what doing?"
I told him North, and looking.
“Great. Say, how about dropping around tonight? I’m throwing a little party for Peggie’s birthday. Glad to have you. Be great to be all together again. Wife okay? Good. About nine.”
It was a nice party—frolic and light refreshments. The usual quota of guests there were who stayed close to the kitchen. At eleven o’clock my friend clapped a confidential hand on my shoulder.
“While I think of it,” he murmured, “your share will be four-eighty.”
Very shortly afterward, we left. The next day I dropped in at the office of a mutual friend to find the answer. He lay back in his chair and grinned.
“So you’ve been out to Chiselhurst,” he chuckled understanding^.
“Huh?” I must have stared.
“Which was it, their wedding anniversary or Peggie’s birthday?”
I told him, and he nodded.
“Peggie’s had eleven birthdays this year that I know of, and anniversaries fall thicker than autumn leaves.” He sobered. “George has slipped since we knew him. That’s how they pay their rent.”
It seemed incredible, but he told me more. For two years they had never been without an expensive radio—demonstrators. Their apartment furnishings were changed periodically, as dealers became wise. Drapes, rugs and etceteras were handled in the same way. Food required a slightly different technique, but fell under the same general heading. That their circle of friends changed as did the other items goes without saying.
Periodical floppings-in from Canada’s Northland to Canada’s cities invariably produce their surprises. In 1928 we were stood on our ear by, to us, a new gadget four-wheel brakes. The following year we spent hours in a line-up of aving toe-trampers that ended in “Broadway Melody,” our
first talkie. In late ’34 we packed our bedrolls and padded into town prepared for nothing less than monetary reform and television, only to encounter as our current surprise the fact that on every hand, in every strata of society, people were gaily engaged in a new and gentle art.
Fellow Canucks, we present the art known as chiselling.
Chiselling in business is a subject we would prefer not to disturb with any lesser implement than a long-handled stable fork. News columns within past months have reeked of it, screened and filtered at that. One story that didn’t appear but should have, concerned a certain Christmas Hamper Fund completely financed by the newspaper sponsoring it, including space for appeals and acknowledgments, radio programmes, and operating staff. The public responded as never before. But hamper orders later filled by certain chain and department stores and paid for from the fund were found to contain meat that, tested by Government health inspectors, was condemned.
Unbelievable? Criminal? Tut, tut, Agatha. Just a little good-natured chiselling.
With which mild sample of what the business world might produce, let us return our borrowed fork to its tub of disinfectant solution and bustle back to the drawing-room.
To define the word “chiselling” as blithely practised in varying degrees today, would require an indiarubber phrase. It is a social game less vicious perhaps than pilferage, and less old-fashioned than sponging. Even the smartest of people may take great pride in their prowess, recounting chiselling incidents as one might recount adventures met on a hunting trip. In fact, chiselling in
many cases is nothing more than a hunt ; a hunt for a means of obtaining something legitimately but at a reduction on its quoted price.
A young girl, socially prominent before her marriage, now blundering along on an allowance, sprang to her feet at a Saturday night party exclaiming: "Shops close in two
minutes. Who’s coming with me to chisel tomorrow’s roast?” Some friends went along. She wheeled her coupé up before a butcher shop and hopped out. "Just hit it right. They’re closing. See that roast in the window tagged a dollar-ten? I’ll chisel it for fifty cents.” She strolled in.
And chisel it she did. On entry she displayed the halfdollar and advised the butcher that she was limited to that amount. Following ten minutes of browsing around, during which she chatted in friendly fashion, returning periodically to gaze at the coveted roast in the window, the butcher was seen to be noticeably weakening. He was tired, anxious for home. That roast must be stored until Monday, anyway. There was nothing else that seemed to tempt the young lady. He succumbed, as on previous Saturday nights other shopkeepers under a like weight of circumstance had succumbed, and the trophy of the chiselling chase was paraded triumphantly homeward.
UKW OF US are guiltless in some way of chiselling. The habit some people have of turning news-stands into reading rooms might annoy us, but the corner news kid whose headlines we peruse briefly in passing has a living to
make, too. Of course no man would go the length of those shopping dowagers who, with pencil and paper, openly and unashamed, copy knitting patterns from those particular magazines specializing in such frivolities; but I know a gentleman, a Member of Parliament, whose only acquaintance with a certain famous book was made, a chapter a day during the noon recess, at a news counter.
But chiselling in these enlightened days is seldom confined to any such petty endeavors. Your wife who sends her brother in Halifax a silver cigarette case for Christmas that you got a month earlier for your birthday, and your buying of another, complete with lighter, with the burglary insurance money collected for its supjxased theft from your house, might smell of fraud. Instead of that, such dealings have come to be considered smart by so many young people that burglary insurance rates in certain Canadian cities have soared to a new high, admittedly a big price to pay for a little off-hand chiselling.
Stores, particularly big stores, are considered legal prey, just as governments have always been. The habit of individuals buying wholesale is staunchly defended by droves of “right” people who salve their conscience with the claim that the article isn’t worth a nickel more than its wholesale
price. The unfair part of this type of chiselling, for which in the final analysis the wholesaler is mainly responsible, is that those most able to afford the retail price for an article are the ones in a position to wangle it wholesale.
In this regard, men are mostly the culprits.
A woman prefers bright lights and service to a stuffy warehouse layout, and does her chiselling in the open market. She’s smart. She has to be.
Exchanging gifts received for cheaper ones and collecting a refund on the balance, or even collecting a full refund on gift articles, is no new dodge; although returning flowers to florist shops after a holiday with a demand for a refund was a new and amazing angle encountered recently by many florists.
Such blunt dealings lack the finesse of most modern-day chiselling, as does the custom of wearing cloaks and gowns while held on approval. The modern girl would not stoop to such a whiskery routine. She has a better one that allows her permanent possession of the apparel at a fraction of its marked price.
An exclusive gown model displayed in the French Room of a large store snags her eye. Although beautiful in design and construction, no part of it ever saw France, and she knows it. It’s a gyp and a racket, she tells herself, and she goes out after that gown with a conscience crystal clear.
Three days later the exclusive model is hanging on a rack immediately outside the French Room door. In some inexplicable manner it has become slightly soiled, and its price has of necessity been reduced. Qur lady finds it there, and in her evident anguish appeals to the head saleslady.
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“This little model I was looking at yesterday—why is it tossed among such ordinary others?”
Merely a slight soiling, she is assured, and the price has been reduced. Perhaps something else would do? Perish the thought! Nothing but this little French model would ever do now, and of course one wouldn't dream of wearing a soiled gown. Oh, dear me!
Eventually the department manager joins the cast of our little playlet, with superb acting on both sides. The price of the model is further reduced, and a bargain is about to be struck when suddenly the anguished buyee discovers cause for further outburst. A button is missing, a button so exclusively exclusive that, if the manager’s own lengthy and suave discourse on exclusiveness is to be believed, it cannot possibly be matched. In other words, the manager has talked himself right up a tree. A further generous reduction is made for the missing matchless button, and the deal is closed.
If the situation is properly and nicely handled, the store pays for the cleaning. Of course one must exercise care not to oversoil the gown while in the French Room, fingermarks or a little dust being sufficient for white and pastel models. Sometimes, too, after the deal is made the missing button may be discovered under a rug comer, but mostly it’s better to keep it in your purse until you get home.
ALL CHISELLING is not mercenary.
• Some of our most finished chisellers, found among the sporting fraternity, care not a fig about finance. They are publicity bent, or have a “meet-celebrities” complex that drives them onward to the accomplishment of great things.
Many a photographer, nursing a hardwon negative of royalty through his pet solutions with love in his heart, has tom his hair in an agony of frustration at what it later discloses. Nestling on the prince’s shoulder or being held daintily under his arm, is the grinning headpiece of some wellknown local playboy, a chiseller only oí notoriety.
The second Ross-McLamin scrap in New York was the scene of some sprightly spotlight chiselling. A moneyed lad about Jimmie’s home town, going East for the fight on his own, chiselled a press card for the occasion. Early in the fracas he chiselled forward to a front-line vacancy that modestly displayed a nationally-famous sport scribbler’s name in block letters. During the intervals he maintained his chiselling status by autographing programmes for worshipping fans.
No one knows how he chiselled through the airtight police cordon into the ring, but the astounding fact remains that when the hand of our Hamish was raised in victory our playboy was first there to grasp it. Before the elaborate bouncing machinery much in evidence under such circumstances could get under way, he was at a microphone and had chiselled a message of great goodwill to the world at large, from a certain commercial Canadian playground.
They tossed him far and they bounced him hard, but they couldn’t wipe that grin of glee from our chiseller’s face. >' Hotels long have been targets for slippery work in varying degrees, but recently there has arisen a new form of well-bred chiselling, or, as the hotelmen view it, a new species of aristocratic nuisance. Each evening an elderly, well-groomed couple would appear in the lounge, and later would be seen in a bridge game with house guests. They made friends, and conducted themselves in harmony with their luxurious surroundings. But when they began bringing other friends with them the management politely intervened.
At writing, these jovial oldsters are frequenting their third hotel lounge of the current season. A discreet probing into their background reveals nothing more sinister than the fact that playing their bridge in hotel lounges with strangers appears less likely to muss up their own tidy little fiat.
While it seems not unusual in any social circle today to invite twenty guests and have the actual arrivals swell to thirty, the hotels would seem to bear the real brunt of the chiselling throng. A New Year’s frolic at any big hotel develops, after midnight, into a veritable chisellers’ convention. They slide past the doormen or down ventilator shafts; they enter in laundry baskets and with chefs’ supplies; they gain admittance disguised as chambermaids, vacuum-cleaner repair men, electricians, or travelling medical clinics. But they enter.
Once inside, the place is theirs. With room space chiselled from any casual acquaintance as headquarters, they crash the dance, without tickets of course, visit, and gleefully join in any activities they may encounter wherever a door is ajar.
They drop into your room and become the life of the party. They borrow your toiletries, use your best razor, long distance their mother in Montreal with tears in their eyes but at your expense. They call room service and happen to be out when the boy arrives. They borrow your partner’s best facial repair kit and suddenly remember they left the faucet running on the fifteenth floor or a boy friend is ordering food downstairs—no ! doubt at someone else’s table. Nothing is ; safe from them, not even your spare suspenders.
Whatever the cause, be it Old Man Depression, a hangover from boom days, or a state of far-advanced socialism, the chiselling rage seems sweeping the country', wave upon wave; from the timid soul who tells Central he got a wrong number and gets , his nickel returned, to the filling-station attendant who flashed a borrowed room key on a doorman and ushered thirty people into a big hotel with the grandiloquent air of a distinguished host.
A Dubious Victory
AMONG SOME individuals at least,
• steps are being taken to stem the flood. One young crusader, determined that his New Year’s party should not be ruined by any such invasion of chisellers, issued strict orders. The switchboard operator was told to accept no out calls— guarding against the mother-in-Montreal gag; each member of his party was given a key so that the door need not be left ajar, or knocks answered; room service was given a pass-phrase that must accompany all orders.
It worked nicely, so nicely that the young host waxed boastful of his victory, and later allowed himself to relax and enter into the spirit of the New Year with considerable vim. In fact, during his visits here and there among friends he overdid things slightly. For a brief space of time he was enveloped on his various jauntings by a fuzzy blanket of fog, from which he finally emerged upon the threshold of his own room. The door was slightly ajar and he heard strange voices. He rechecked the room number. Yep—448. His jaw jutted belligerently. After all his precautions—chisellers !
He kicked the door open and entered. His worst fears were realized. The room was jammed with merrymakers, not one of whom he could recall having seen before.
Flaming with a righteous indignation he battled well, but numbers finally overcame him. Sprawled in the corridor, with one eye slowly closing, he blinked up at an unfamiliar bellboy and suddenly the awful truth burst upon him.
He had chiselled his way into the wrong hotel.