Washington Post
Unsigned Reprint
31 January 1915

The Janitor on "The Tommers"


[New York Telegraph.]

  "I DON'T believe them 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' people are really folk at all," morosely said the janitor of the village theater. "They don't seem to possess any homes, live anywhere or have friends any place—at least, of all that we've had, one time and another, none got any friends here.

  "They are the stealin'est scoundrels on earth, I know that; one gang ripped our elegant baronial castle off'n its frame and carried it away folded up in a trunk. And hatchets—you know a hatchet around an opery house is used to build furniture with, and as a hand saw, an auger, a gavel in Court scenes, to protect the beautiful heroine when the pistol is mislaid, and so forth—the property man of one 'Tom' show took and showed me a prop trunk filled with 471—count 'em, 471—hatchets that they'd smudged durin' the season, not b'cuz they had use for so many, but simply b'cuz they could get 'em.

  "They ain't actors, either, and I can prove it! In the first place, it ain't actin' that keeps that historic old drama toterin' along down the corridors of time year after year, but the fact that our fathers and mothers saw it when it had a mighty mission to perform and carried a thrillin' message to their hearts—time, you know, when the old conundrum used to tickle folk so: 'Which would you rather kiss, Harriet Beecher Stowe or the Pope's toe?'—and they forget that times have changed since then, and go on recommendin' it as a great moral lesson. Why, and when a manager organizes this kind of a show he doesn't advertise for actors and actresses, but just gets a pack of dogs, a jack or two, and then prints a notice that he wants 'Tom people,' or 'a full U. T. C. company,' or something of the kind. I presume to say that no self-respectin' actor would prostrate himself to the extent of doublin' in brass in the band and in three different parts on the stage, playin' 'utility' to the 'leads' and 'heavies' of a donk and a parcel of hounds.

  "Ah, I know those 'Tommers' like a book! I once trooped out with a gang of 'em. It was like this: They showed in the Hall here, and the landlord of the hotel, who was real wide betwixt the eyes, made 'em pay up before the performances, and when it was over the manager—his name was Hooks, and he lived right up to it—told Potter (he's the proprietor of the Opery House, you know), told Potter that though the house's percentage was really one fourth of the take-in, there wasn't any core left, so to joke about it; in short, if Potter got his one fourth the show would strand right here—and Hooks smiled genially at Potter. Potter glared like a bassylisk at Hooks. But Hooks explained, if Potter could send a representative along to the next town he could have out of the first money taken in at the box office enough to pay his percentage in full, and he cheerily promised to pay the representative liberally for his time.

  "Potter loves money real well, but he didn't love the idea of supportin' a gang of hungry 'Uncle Toms' for the rest of their natural lives, as he would have been liable to have to do, bein' the only any-ways-near-theatrical man in town, and, therefore, kinder like their next to kin, and so he sent me along with 'em to the next town. To make a long story short, I didn't get the money there, or any place else, I may say, anticipating the climax a little. A writ of attachment took the surplus there, and, of course, I couldn't object to going one town farther, as long as I was sure of gettin' my due there, and so forth. One place it was one thing and another it was something else. The upshot was that I trooped along for several weeks, all the time expectin' tomorrow to get what was comin' to me, and just as regularly not gettin' it. The first few days I noticed several men in the company glarin' malevolently at me, and at length found out that when I joined there was already with the party three Deputy Sheriffs, four landlords and one other opery house janitor besides me, all of 'em with their pockets full of promises and all playing in the band, or leadin' the dogs or doin' whatever else they were talented for. And Hooks presently put me to currying donks. He said I ought to be willin' to make myself useful as well as ornamental; and it kinder looked so.

  "That man, Hooks, was a Napoleon in his way! One night, when we were playing in town, I d' know where, the Opery House was upstairs over a drugstore, and there was a stairway leadin' from the lower floor up back of the stage, b'cuz the druggist stored his surplus stock in one of the dressin' rooms, with a big padlock on the door, by the way. Well, as I was dubbin' around, before the performance, I heard voices and saw a light below, and slipped part way down the stairs to gratify my curiosity; and there was Hooks monkey-doodlin' the drug-clerk. There were silver-backed hair brushes, and cut glass perfumery squirts, and so on, spread on the show case, and Hooks was tellin' the clerk of the joys of a theatrical life, and declarin' that he didn't know when he had seen a young man who 'peared to be so absolutely cut out for an actor. The clerk swelled and flushed, and acknowledged that it had always been his wildest dream to tread the mimic boards, and Hooks blandly requested him to tread a little so's he could see how he walked, and while the clerk's back was turned, snaked off his plug hat, popped a silver do-funny into it, and socked it back on his head. And then he explained that the clerk must understand that at the beginnin' his salary would be small, but he'd get it; and, at the word 'get,' he inserted a silver-backed hair brush into his pocket. Then I had to go and look after my donks, and I don't know what followed—I didn't say anything, for misery loves company—but, anyhow, the drugclerk didn't troop out with us, and Hook's clothes were full of silver dinkies for quite a spell after that.

  "Finally, so many Sheriffs, landlords, and so-ons, joined us that we had to sleep three or four in a bed, and every now and then I'd get pushed out on the floor and hurt my game leg. Bime-by, the genuine 'Tom' people took to quittin', till at last there wasn't anybody left but me and the rest of the suckers, and then Hooks organized us into a minstrel company, and went right on. But he had his trials, for from one town he telegraphed to the advance agent:

  "'Make a town where the landlord sings tenor. These sons-of-guns are all bass.'

  "I couldn't sing, nor dance, nor anything, and pretty soon Hooks discharged me for incompetency; and I made my way home with the aid of the G. A. R. posts on my route. And ever since, when anybody tries to grandiloquize 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' in my hearin', by gosh, they ain't talkin' to me! I've been there!"