Readings — From the September 2014 issue

Badlands

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From diary entries made during a 1936 visit to America by Vladimir Pozner (1905–1992), a French novelist and screenwriter, included in his travelogue The Disunited States, published last month for the first time in English by Seven Stories Press. Translated from the French by Alison Strayer.

January 7. David Rubin, a thirty-three-year-old mechanic, was arrested today. Firemen discovered him in his smoke-filled room. Rubin explained that he had tried to set the furniture on fire. He was alone and very sad. He thought the fire would draw people to his room. “Either that or death,” he said.

A judge who found an Adventist guilty of not respecting the Sabbath received a letter from a resident of Knoxville. He offered a duck to anyone who could quote passages from the Scriptures that named Sunday as the Sabbath.

The News of Englewood reports that a hundred poor families of this rich Jersey City suburb eat straight from the trash cans, concluding: “This is a state of affairs that must be rectified at once, a state of affairs that any red-blooded citizen will want to put a stop to, even if it costs him his bottom dollar. The necessary amount must be raised immediately to build a waste incinerator that will put an end to these revolting practices.”

In Newton, a well-to-do suburb of Boston, Reverend Barth of the Unitarian Church delivered a five-word sermon: “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” The follow-up was performed by dancers.

A white goes to a black brothel in Brooklyn where the going rate is twenty-five cents a trick. He is taken upstairs and beaten so badly that in court he is unable to recognize his attackers. The judge says: “And what did you think you’d get for twenty-five cents from blacks? The next time you’re looking for that kind of service, choose a decent sort of place.”

This ad was published in a newspaper in Stockton, California, where single men are not entitled to unemployment benefits: “Seeking wife. Veteran, denied unemployment relief, must marry or starve.”

March 24. Ad in the Boston Evening Transcript: “Idealist seeking a worthy cause for career.”

Around Tenth Avenue, the area they call Hell’s Kitchen. A boy of four years aims a tiny wooden gun at a two-and-a-half-year-old girl and pulls the trigger, while she, with an angelic and lightly sensual smile, puts the barrel against her belly.

Broadway. Shirts for sale, cars for sale, women for sale, gods for sale. Behind a display window dappled with butterflies: “Sale on pens,” a young man, puffy-faced and poorly shaven, draws the same line over and over with a pen he’s chosen from the stack in front of him: “Special Day. Come in and buy me.”

The New York Anti-Vivisection Society decided to give its semiannual reward — a statuette — to a Brooklyn police officer who saved the life of a wounded wild duck by dabbing antiseptic solution onto the wound.

April 17. Former journalist Max Schulz committed suicide in a small New Jersey town. He left a note saying that “our economic system, which throws a man in the garbage when he’s over fifty, gives you no reason to keep on living.” Schulz was fifty-one.

April 27. In Chicago, two boys of nineteen who murdered a doctor have each been sentenced to 199 years in prison. The Daily Mirror wrote: “A sentence of 199 years for murder seems cruelly long, but remember, many religions, maybe yours included, teach us that for crimes less serious than murder, sinners are imprisoned for all eternity. In comparison, 199 years is a short time.”

April 28. Read in the New York Evening Journal: “A newspaper should be interesting. It should also give you the bare facts. Crime is interesting as well as important. In our country and in this day and age, it would be difficult to find a subject more interesting and more important.”

In a hairdresser’s window: we specialize in physiognomic haircuts.

Caption in a laxative ad: fired . . . because of constipation.

An agency: who is the einstein of advertising?

Poster for a funeral home: a dignified burial for only $150. as cheap as you want and impressive as necessary.

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