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Stoopnagle on the Fair by Col. Stoopnagle

            Sometime when you're not doing anything in particular, take a sly glance at your New York State license plate.  On top, just under the upper edge, and above the number, you'll find "New York World's Fair 1939."  Of course, if you have no car of if your license plate is from Pennsylvania or Connecticut or some such other silly place, you'll just have to keep trying until you find a New York plate.  I can't bother spending half my time asking each one of you; you'll just have to use a little ingenuity and spunk.

            Now the term New York World's Fair 1939 means, I suppose, that sometime in 1939, in New York, there is a World's Fair.  The "World's" can't possibly mean it belongs to the World, because it doesn't;  it belongs to Gr-v-r Wh-l-n and the bondholders.  But if the World wants to come and enjoy it, things are oaky doaky with G.W. and the B-h's.  They were going to call it The New York Gr-v-r Wh-l-n's and the Bondholders' Fair 1939, but that seemed a little involved, and the extra words would have had to continue on around the New York license plates, with "d-holders' Fair 1939" on the back.  This would have meant taking the license plate off every time you wanted to know how the sentence finished.  The front of the plates would then have read: "New York Gr-v-r Wh-l-n's and the Bon."  This would have been quite misleading.  Of course they could have made the license plates twice as large or the printing twice as small, but they didn't, so there you are!

            Before getting into the meat of this thing, with a detailed explanation of how to understand the Fair without going inside the gates, I shall first tell you how to get to the Fair.  There are several ways:

            (1)  Walk.

            (2)  Crawl.

            (3)  Be Mrs. Roosevelt.

There are other ways, too, such as driving, bus-ing, train-ing, flying, and boating, but everything is crowded those ways.  If you (1) walk, and you happen to be starting from, say, the Manhattan end of the 59th Street Bridge, go across the bridge, turn left and ask a policeman the following question: "How do I get to the World's Fair?"  This will please the policeman, who has been instructed not to bark at out-of-towners, and will save me all the trouble of giving you the proper route.  If you (2) crawl, you are still too young to go to the World's Fair.  And if you are (3) Mrs. Roosevelt, you'll be there already.

            At the outset, I may as well admit boldly that I have yet to go inside the grounds of the Fair.  I hear about tired feet, the fact that it would take a month to see everything, that food prices are high in certain restaurants, and a whole lot of stuff like that, and it makes me want to delay my real visit until somebody does something about these things.  However, I'm not one to discourage you, and besides, I have a friend who holds some of the bonds.  Go ahead and go inside if you want to.  As for me, I'll read the publicity and simply drive around the outside until I get up enough nerve to tackle the problem.  I shall therefore treat this whole thing from the standpoint of an outsider.  But I'll bet I know pretty nearly as much about what goes on in there as those who have the admission price.

            They talk about the World of Tomorrow, but they don't give tomorrow's date.  Way back as far as I can remember, during the Pan-American Exposition, they were talking about the World of Tomorrow.  They built their buildings in a style of architecture destined to be that of "tomorrow," and then when tomorrow came the new buildings didn't look one whit like those at the Exposition.  And people were glad, I guess.  The present World's Fair, with all its color and its surrealist architecture, is no more like the buildings we will build tomorrow than, well, than anything.  By the time that tomorrow comes, it'll be time for another World of Tomorrow, and they'll build it to look strange again, and then they'll immediately forget it, figuring on the next World of Tomorrow.  It's a vicious progression, and what the end will be, nobody knows -- not even Major Bowes.

            I suppose the French Pavilion is different from the British Pavilion, don't you?

            So much has been written about Billy What-you-may-call-it's Aquacade, that I suppose a few additional words won't mean anything one way or the other.  I understand it's playing to swimming-room-only night after night, and that Eleanor Whosis, who divorced Art Whatsis and will marry Billy What-you-may-call-it after he gets his divorce from the woman who sings "My Man" and plays the part of Baby Somebody, really got her start, aside from being able to swim better than anybody else, from the glass or so of champagne she is alleged to have drunk going over to the Olympics, which she was not allowed to enter, eventually, by the guy who took the party over, named Brun-something.  So one might say, perhaps, that the Aquacade's phenomenal success is due somewhat to champagne, no matter how you figure it.  This is not the proper example for our youth, though, some will say, and should be discouraged, to say nothing of divorces.  They tell me (the publicity men) that the Aquacade is the most beautiful spectacle in the world, outside of all the other spectacles which are also the most beautiful spectacles in the world, and if you are driving around outside the fair grounds, don't fail to pause at the spot where the Aquacade can't quite be seen from.  It would be quite a thrill if you could catch a glimpse of it, especially without paying.  Tarzan Something-muller swims there, too, and if it weren't for his long hair, he'd be breaking more swimming records instead of more hair records.  They do say that the swimmers really swim pretty well, at that; at least it's one spot in the world where bathing beauties bathe.

            It is said that there is a Hindu Pavilion somewhere at the Fair.  However, a committee headed by an invisible man, looked into the thing and found a rather heavy rope sticking straight up in the air but no Pavilion.  Nearby were three cobras, blowing soapbubbles to charm some fakirs, but decent inquiry from the committee brought nothing but hisses from the fakirs, who later turned out to be snakes, the fakers.

            If I ever finally get inside the Fair Grounds, I'm heading direct for the Amusement Area, as the papers call it.  Here one may see, I understand, all of the following things to say nothing of some others:

            (a)  The Slide of Death.  Before this hair-raising stunt, a young man stands on a platform 2,000 feet high, after being flown up there and let down by parachute.  It usually takes several days of trial and error before the parachute drops directly on the platform, however, the platform being only ten inches in diameter.  When he finally drops down on it, often his parachute gets caught or fails to close properly, and sometimes he's up there monkeying around with the darned thing for a whole week before he's able to extricate himself.  By this time the crowd below is getting restless and hungry, and the Women's Auxiliary of the We Feed the Crowd When They Have Been Waiting Too Long for the Slide of Death Association, have to pass coffee and doughnuts among them.  This also keeps these women away from home for months at a time and causes no end of anxiety on the part of their children and husbands, who are wallowing around in dirty dishes up to their necks.  However, anything for a thrill, and at the simple push of a button by Mayor LaGuardia, a horn blows, a rocket is set off, the Marine Band plays Slide, Kelly Slide, and amid the cheers and huzzahs of the tired crowd, the man on the platform seizes a violin E-string in his teeth, which is attached to a pulley, and leaps into space.  If the taut wire is taut, and if the violin string holds, two minutes later the man will be huddled safe in a damp washcloth a mile away at the other end of the wire.  However, as often-time happens, even in the best regulated Amusement Areas, if the man starts to chew gum or his teeth come out, or something, then they have to get another man.

            (b)  Ralph Roark and his Rankling Rhythm.* Popular favor in music is even more fleeting these days than fame acquired from other methods of entertaining the public.  This applies especially to orchestra leaders who play what we lovingly refer to as "hot" or "jive."  At prep schools throughout the country, an orchestra is either made or broken in the shake of a lamb's tail.  I recall hearing that at one of the parties at some school, attended by every boy in the place, they had a band led by, we'll say, Arthur Shaheimer.  At the beginning of the dance, he was without doubt the most popular maestro on the air or on records, and had held his coveted position for three whole days.  The boys paid a fabulous sum to him to appear for their dance.  Then suddenly, right in the middle of of Arthur's rendition of "Hot, Lowdown, and Languorous," all the boys and girls turned and ran to Flushing House to hear a recording of the new king of swing, Grantland Fishnagle, who didn't realize he was best until four days later, which was too late to cash in because he had been supplanted the day before by Auggie Augsberger and his Tepid Trumpeteers.  Consequently, when the Fair Committee was faced with this appalling situation, they got together and decided to hire a band which would experience no ephemeral popularity, but would remain the sweethearts of the jitterbugs right on through 1939 and 1940.  They put their heads together (it sounded like a game of croquet for a minute there) and finally made their decision.  The Fair would hire the ten leaders of the current ten best orchestras, and each in turn would be the leader of the band just as long as his popularity lasted.  Some would last an hour, some three hours, and so far, the record is held by Ralph Roark and his Rankling Rhythm, who held sway for three hours, ten minutes, and five seconds.  The only trouble with the whole situation was that after hiring the ten orchestra leaders, there was no money left for players, so the music must have been more on the silent than on the solid side;  in fact, there was no music at all, as none of the leaders could play anything.  But inasmuch as this awesome silence was welcomed with great gusto by jive-haters, it caused quite a stir among music lovers, and was allowed to continue to the present day.  Now opera lovers may pass through the Amusement Area and be amazed and pleased with the decided lack of swing, punctuated only at intervals by the drone of the motor of the airplane that tries to drop the slide of death guy on that platform.

            (c)  The Old Mill.  This concession is operated in somewhat the same manner, I am led to believe, as the regular, run-of-the-mill Old Mills in other amusement areas, except that the Radio Motif has been added.  While the ordinary Old Mill has three-mile-an-hour water running through it, and a horrible series of ghoul, ghost, and scarecrow scenes for entwined lovers not to notice as they pass by, the World's Fair Mill has something more novel and up-to-date.  At the third turn in the darkness, the Old Mill enthusiast is treated to a lovely bit of subtle advertising by a radio time buyer.  It is sponsored by Pappy Gladstone's Personal Money Lending Company, whose seventeen agancies are scattered around New York and New Jersey.  I have learned from listening to radio that Pappy is so glad to lend you money that he'll even come up to your house with it.  Anyway, so that the public will continue to believe this, Pappy has arranged a couple of beautifully conceived scenes.  The first is a middle-class working man being hit over the head with a flatiron by his wife because he hasn't earned enough money to pay the last installment on his car.  The second scene is Pappy Gladstone offering the wife a check for seven hundred and fifty dollars, happy to take only the house, the car, their acre of land, and a note for $1,200 in return.

            One of my friends wept tears as he passed by this simple little presentation.  He went directly to the 45 dash 817 carolyn Avenue at Blimp Street office of the Gladstone Personal Money Lending Company, and offered Pappy Gladstone his own personal check for $1,200 to cover Pappy's loan to the middle-class working man and his wife.  Pappy took the check and hit my friend over the head with a second-hand automobile which happened to be parked nearby.  My friend has never forgotten the incident, and to this day, you may see him walking arm in arm with Pappy through Central Park paths at twilight.  Behind them are several uniformed guards, with guns.  In case you are interested in making Pappy a loan, and you live in New York, you may call me at MEridian 7-1212, and I will arrange it for you.  On the other hand, if you live in Newark or Jersey City, it's your own lookout.

            (d)  All the Rest of the Amusements in the Amusement Area.  I suppose, too, that there are the dart-throwing stalls, the hit-the-what-you-may-call-it-and-you-get-a-cigar places, and surly fellows with long cheroots who urge you to have your weight guessed or no pay.  But even after writing this startling expose, I feel I'll wait a while longer before I actually go inside the Fairgrounds. 

[From Promenade, July 1939]

 

* Subject to change without notice -- even to Ralph.

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Page created November 14, 2006.  Copyright 1998-2006 by Richard D. Squires.