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CHAPTER VIII The Pea-nut Mind
I am in the happy position of never having gazed upon a pea-nut in my life. Therefore my notions of what the pea-nut may be are of the haziest.

But I gather as the result of some research that it is a species of provender, and that it is purchased and consumed by the American masses in pretty much the same spirit and on pretty well the same occasions that the common Cockney of our own happy British Islands purchases and devours barcelonas and whelks. In other words, a pea-nut is an inevitable concomitant of a lower-class American holiday. It is always with them. It is the one article that you may depend upon obtaining not only at every American dry goods store, but at every street-fair, park, beach, and entertainment ground throughout the country. It is a comestible beloved of old and young alike, and when the American boy or girl’s mouth is not at work on chewing gum it is working overtime on pea-nuts.

When a working-class American wants a holiday—and sometimes when he would rather stay at home—he sets out[72] with his wife and family for the nearest park. In England, of course, a park means, for the working classes at any rate, a somewhat decorous and over-laid-out open space where there is a band-stand, a range of concrete promenades, a Swiss chalet where bad tea is provided, a policeman, and a number of hard seats. In America, however, the park is an entirely different affair. It is always a place in which you can buy pea-nuts. Not only so; it is a place in which the benevolent American entrepreneurs throw together aggregations of “attractions” such as are to be seen nowhere else on sea or land. I find, for example, that for Cream City Park, Lyons, Ill., the following amusement devices are to be provided during this present summer:—

“Old Mill, Merry-Go-Rounds, Penny Arcade, Circular Swing, Cave of the Winds, Billiard and Pool Parlours, Jap Ping-Pong Parlour, Cane Rack, Baby Rack, Illusion Shows, Baby Incubator, Pony Track, Razzle-Dazzle, and ‘other novelties.’ There are also to be Japanese Tea Gardens, Ice Cream Stands, Soft Drink Stands, Candy and Pop Corn Stands, and facilities for the sale of pea-nuts.”

Another of these parks at Aldoc Beach, near Buffalo, is described as[73] “running seven days a week” and as possessing “the most magnificent Pine Grove and Great Lake,” together with “a $100,000 Summer Hotel, a $15,000 Figure Eight, a $5,000 Rustic Vaudeville Theatre, and a $5,000 Dance Pavilion,” in addition to a Blinding Array of Restaurants, Chubbuck Wheels, Houses of Mirth, Box-Ball Alleys, Shooting Galleries, Circle Swings, and Stands for the sale of Soft Drinks, Tobaccos, Sandwiches, Ice Creams, Frankfurters—and pea-nuts.

There are literally thousands of these parks scattered throughout the United States, and at all and each of them roaring provision is made for the people’s enjoyment. Compared with our English parks, with their sad, uncertain County Council bands, they fire the imagination. Practically they represent the old English fair—which the drab English authorities have so ruthlessly stamped out—very much modernised, Americanised, and “notionised.” Here the pea-nut reigns supreme. You chew it on the Razzle-Dazzle and in the Baby Rack and the Old Mill and the House of Mirth and the Chubbuck Wheel, and even in the $15,000 Figure Eight and the $5,000 Rustic Vaudeville. It is pea-nuts, pea-nuts, pea-nuts all the time, and nobody hopes, and nobody[74] has the least desire to get away from them—from pea-nuts.

Now, as the parks are open throughout the year and run seven days a week, and are all situated within easy distance of large centres of population, it follows that the consumption of pea-nuts in America is something enormous. If the yearly supply were to be put into trucks and looped up into a procession, it would probably take that procession 368 days to pass a given point.

The big fact that I wish to bring out is that the Americans are a pea-nut-fed nation. With this simple statement it is possible to account for a great deal that is otherwise inexplicable in the American genius and character.

Nut-chewing is a habit which has been in vogue on the earth for an incredible period. Originally developed by the Simian races, it was at one time the only known dietetic habit that did not involve bloodshed. It fell into neglect in Europe with the coming of the white man, and throughout the dark ages which ensued nobody appears to have given it a thought. It remained for the genius of America to revive it, and there can be no doubt that the renascence has been brought about in a thoroughly adequate and successful manner.

For, as I have shown, all America[75] now chews pea-nuts. As the result, they are a square-jawed, massy-faced race, martyrs to dyspepsia, fussy in the matter of appetite, and indiscriminate in the general selection of viands, their staples under this head consisting of fat pork and beans, corn mush and jungle-canned beef. Moreover, by dint of the assiduous and long-continued absorption of pea-nuts, they have acquired what may be reasonably termed a pea-nut mind.

If you can imagine the vast hordes of the original nut-chewers of antiquity suddenly set down in the midst of the machinery and advantages of twentieth-century civilisation, and imagine what they would proceed to do in the circumstances, you have gone a great way towards a true conception of the American people as they really are. Their habits and manners and aspirations and desires appear in effect to be based entirely on nut-chewing, which, as every naturalist is aware, tends to render the chewer acquisitive, cute, tricksome, not given to reflection, tough and nimble of body, and reasonably devoid of soul. The habit carries with it, also, an innate love of what is noisy and showy, and a vanity which passes ordinary human understanding. It is all based on the desire to dazzle.

So long as America has parks, so long[76] will she chew pea-nuts, and so long as she chews pea-nuts, so long will she continue to remain as artlessly, amazingly and convincingly American as she is at the present moment. To take a few pertinent instances, you will find that all American oratory is simply and solely pea-nut oratory. I append an extract from a speech delivered at the New York Board of Aldermen by a representative from the Borough of Brooklyn, as reported in an American paper:—

“I demand this ordinance to your attention fer the sake of humanity and fer the cause of freedom. Has introduced two ordinances on this subject before, and now I am submittin’ this Bill instead of them two. Maybe I don’t know nuthin’ about how things is over here on this side of the bridge, but I know just how it is in Brooklyn. An’ I wanter tell you that them motormen over in Brooklyn is grinded under the heels of their masters just as the slaves was drove in the olden times by his masters, an’ it’s time fer us to interfere in this here matter now.

“Now you may want to know why them motormen don’t come over here and speak up to you for their rights. If the is suffering such outrages as this, you asks, why don’t they come here and tell us that they is sufferin’ and ast us to life the yoke from offen them?

[77]

“I’ll tell yer why they don’t come. They dasn’t. That’s why.

“They’re afraid, because they’re slaves and dasn’t speak up fer themselves. If they was to come over here and say to this committee, ‘We want you to protect us in our rights for the reason that we’re sufferin’ and frozing in the winter,’ what would happen?

“Why, before them men got through speakin’ their names would be taken and telegraphed to their masters, and when they got back to their cars them masters would tell them they hadn’t no more use for ’em no more furever.”

Herein surely one may trace the effects of pea-nuts as easily as white paint can be seen on a negro.

Now let us turn to a sample of English “as she is wrote” and apparently spoken by the American who can read:—

The story about that fisherman wasn’t so bad. He was an old guy, and so poor he had a hard time getting three squares a day, and he had a wife and three kids to support. For some reason too deep for your uncle, he had a rule to pitch his nets in the sea only four times a day. One morning he went out fishing before daylight, and the first drag he made, he copped out a dead donkey. That made him pretty sore. Dead donks were a frost, and he was out one throw. He win out a lot of mud, the next throw, and he was sick, and he makes a howl about fortune.

[78]

“Here I am,” says he, “hustling all day long and every day in the week; I got no other graft but this; and yet as hard as I wrestle I can’t pay rent. A poor man has no chance. The smooth guys get all the tapioca, and the honest citizen nit.”

Then he throws again, and finds another gold brick—stones, shells, and stuff. I guess he was pretty wild when he sees that. Three throws to the bad and nairy fish.

When the sun came over the hill, he flopped down on his knees and prayed like all good Mussulmens, and after that gave the Lord another song.

English of this description runs very badly to pea-nut. It is distorted and degraded and entirely ungrammatical. Yet no one will deny that, if it is not commonly written, it is at least commonly spoken, even in such centres as New York and Boston. To American ears and eyes there is nothing about it that can be quarrelled with. Every American knows what is meant by “guys,” “tapioca,” “nit,” “gold-brick,” “nairy,” “squares,” “hot-air,” and so forth; and he uses these and similarly squalid words and phrases in his daily speech and conversation. If you were to tell him that such a sentence as “he win out a lot of mud, the next throw” was grammatically unsound and impossible, he would ask you please to be[79] so kind “as not to pull his leg.” He is mentally incapable of distinguishing the kind of muss I have quoted from writing of a correct order, and when it creeps into his newspapers, and fictional publications, as it is continually doing, he never as much as suspects that there is anything wrong.

Such a pea-nutty view of language points its own moral. It is a view that is universal among Americans, and it can be proved to obtain even among the best of American authors, who habitually use some of the crudest Americanisms without knowing it.

I need scarcely add that the pea-nut flavour predominates in most American affairs. The advertising of the country is done wholly on pea-nut principles, its politics are run on pea-nut lines, and its professional men and financiers indulge in every species of pea-nut methods. No doubt one should be charitable enough to refrain from blaming them for it. They are to the manner born, and the pea-nut idiosyncracy is so firmly implanted in their natures that it would be impossible for them to shake it out, even if they tried. So that they go on pea-nutting and pea-nutting from generation to generation, and in spite of the extraordinary number of colleges, free schools, reading clubs, and general[80] facilities for culture, they remain clear pea-nut right through.

As I do not happen to wish them any particular harm, I shall express the pious hope that they will long continue to pea-nut.


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