Welcome to Part Two of Psmith, Journalist by P G Wodehouse, our latest audio adventure in Tales for Our Time - and hopefully a respite from the woes of the world, if only for twenty minutes before you lower your lamp. Anne Pinkava, a First Day Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club from South Dakota, says simply:
YES!!! This is my favorite Wodehouse book, and I'm so excited to have it in the Steyn catalogue.
Don't get too excited, Anne. Excitement is not yet illegal under the Covid commissars, but Dr Fauci cautions against it.
In our opening instalment of Psmith, Journalist, we were introduced to the placid pleasures of the weekly paper Cozy Moments. Visiting from England, Psmith is finding Manhattan rather too cozy and placid, but relief is on the horizon. In tonight's episode our hero meets an actual New York gangster:
Mr Jarvis was a celebrity.
By profession he was a dealer in animals, birds, and snakes. He had a fancier's shop in Groome street, in the heart of the Bowery. This was on the ground-floor. His living abode was in the upper story of that house, and it was there that he kept the twenty-three cats whose necks were adorned with leather collars, and whose numbers had so recently been reduced to twenty-two. But it was not the fact that he possessed twenty-three cats with leather collars that made Mr Jarvis a celebrity.
A man may win a purely local reputation, if only for eccentricity, by such means. But Mr Jarvis's reputation was far from being purely local. Broadway knew him, and the Tenderloin. Tammany Hall knew him. Long Island City knew him. In the underworld of New York his name was a by-word. For Bat Jarvis was the leader of the famous Groome Street Gang, the most noted of all New York's collections of Apaches. More, he was the founder and originator of it.
If a cat-loving mobster sounds a mere Wodehousian whimsy, like fascist strongman Sir Roderick Spode being a designer of ladies' lingerie, then think again: Plum based Bat Jarvis on Monk Eastman, the leader of a 1,200-strong gang of the Tammany years who ran a pet shop on Broome Street and listed his occupation on tax returns as "bird seller". If anything, in transforming Monk to Bat, Wodehouse toned him down a little: the real Eastman would venture out on business with a cat under each arm and a blue pigeon on his shoulder. "I like de kits and boids," said Monk. "I'll beat up any guy dat gets gay wit' a kit or a boid in my neck of de woods."
Upon his release from prison in 1917, Monk Eastman decided, in his early forties, to enlist in the US Army. At the physical, the doctor noted the many bullet and knife scars all over his body and asked which wars he was a veteran of. "Oh, a lot of little wars around New York, doc," said Monk. He served in France with "O'Ryan's Roughnecks" and, on his return, Governor Al Smith restored Eastman's voting rights.
A year later, back to his life of crime, he was arranging a little bootlegging business with a corrupt federal agent at the Bluebird Café, when the conversation went south and the fed emptied his canister into Monk. The cat-loving gangster was buried (as you can see above) in a flag-draped coffin with full military honors, a police escort, and four thousand doting New Yorkers in attendance.
We're a long way from Blandings Castle.
Tales for Our Time started as an experimental feature we introduced as a bonus for Mark Steyn Club members, and, as you know, I said if it was a total stinkeroo, we'd eighty-six the thing and speak no more of it. But I'm thrilled to say it's proved very popular, and and we now have quite an archive. If you're a Club member and you incline more to the stinkeroo side of things, give it your best in the Comments Section below.
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