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THE AUTOMOBILE CLUB





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In the editorial offices of the large daily newspaper Lathe, located on the second floor of the House of the Peoples, material was hurriedly being got ready for the typesetters.
News items and articles were selected from the reserve (material which had been set up but not included in the previous number) and the number of lines occupied were counted up; then began the daily haggling for space.
The newspaper was able to print forty-four hundred lines in all on its four pages. This had to include everything: cables, articles, social events, letters from correspondents, advertisements, one satirical sketch in verse and two in prose, cartoons, photographs, as well as special sections, such as theatre, sports, chess, the editorial, second editorial, reports from Soviet Party and trade-union organizations, serialized novels, features on life in the capital, subsidiary items under the title of "Snippets", popular-science articles, radio programmes, and other odds-and-ends. In all, about ten thousand lines of material from all sections was set up, hence the distribution of space was usually accompanied by dramatic scenes.
The first person to run to the editor was the chess correspondent, Maestro Sudeikin. He posed a polite though bitter question. "What? No chess today?"
"No room," replied the editor. "There's a long special feature. Three hundred lines."
"But today's Saturday. Readers are expecting the Sunday section. I have the answers to problems. I have a splendid study by Neunyvako, and I also have-"
"All right, how much do you want?"
"Not less than a hundred and fifty."
"All right, if it's answers to problems, we'll give you sixty lines."
The maestro tried for another thirty so that at least the Neunyvako could go in (the wonderful Tartokover vs. Bogolyubov game had been lying about for a month), but was rebuffed.
Persidsky, the reporter, arrived. "Do you want some impressions of the Plenum?" he asked softly.
"Of course," cried the editor. "It was held the day before yesterday, after all!"
"I have the Plenum," said Persidsky even more softly, "and two sketches, but they won't give me any room."
"Why won't they? Who did you talk to? Have they gone crazy?"
The editor hurried off to have an argument. He was followed by Persidsky, intriguing as he went; behind them both ran a member of the advertisement section.
"We have the Sekarov fluid to go in," he cried gloomily.
The office manager trailed along after them, dragging a chair he had bought at an auction for the editor.
"The fluid can go in on Thursday. Today we're printing our supplements!"
"You won't make much from free advertisements, and the fluid has been paid for."
"Very well, we'll clear up the matter in the night editor's office. Give the advertisements to Pasha. He's just going over there."
The editor sat down to read the editorial. He was immediately interrupted from that entertaining occupation. Next to arrive was the artist.
"Aha!" said the editor, "very good! I have a subject for a cartoon in view of the latest cable from Germany."
"What about this?" said the artist. '"The Steel Helmet and the General Situation in Germany'?"
"All right, you work something out and then show it to me."
The artist went back to his department. He took a square of drawing-paper and made a pencil sketch of an emaciated dog. On the dog's head he drew a German helmet with a spike. Then he turned to the wording. On the animal's body he printed the word 'Germany', then he printed 'Danzig Corridor' on its curly tail, 'Dreams of Revenge' on its jaw, 'Dawes Plan' on its collar, and 'Stresemann' on its protruding tongue. In front of the dog the artist drew a picture of Poincare holding a piece of meat in his hand. He thought of something to write on the piece of meat, but the meat was too small and the word would not fit. Anyone less quick-witted than a cartoonist would have lost his head, but, without a second thought, the artist drew a shape like a label of the kind found on necks of bottles near the piece of meat and wrote 'French Guarantees of Security' in tiny letters inside it. So that Poincare should not be confused with any other French statesman, he wrote the word 'Poincare' on his stomach. The drawing was ready.
The desks of the art department were covered with foreign magazines, large-size pairs of scissors, bottles of India ink and whiting. Bits of photographs-a shoulder, a pair of legs, and a section of countryside-lay about on the floor.
There were five artists who scraped the photographs with Gillette razor blades to brighten them up; they also improved the contrast by touching them up with India ink and whiting, and wrote their names and the size (3? squares, 2 columns, and so on) on the reverse side, since these directions are required in zincography.
There was a foreign delegation sitting in the chief editor's office. The office interpreter looked into the speaker's face and, turning to the chief editor, said: "Comrade Arnaud would like to know .. ."
They were discussing the running of a Soviet newspaper. While the interpreter was explaining to the chief editor what Comrade Arnaud wanted to know, Arnaud, in velvet plus fours, and all the other foreigners looked curiously at a red pen with a No. 86 nib which was leaning against the wall in the corner. The nib almost touched the ceiling and the holder was as wide as an average man's body at the thickest part. It was quite possible to write with it; the nib was a real one although it was actually bigger than a large pike.
"Hohoho! " laughed the foreigners. "Kolossal! " The pen had been presented to the editorial office by a correspondents' congress.
Sitting on Vorobyaninov's chair, the chief editor smiled and, nodding first towards the pen and then at his guests, happily explained things to them.
The clamour in the offices continued. Persidsky brought in an article by Semashko and the editor promptly deleted the chess section from the third page. Maestro Sudeikin no longer battled for Neunyvako's wonderful study; he was only concerned about saving the solutions. After a struggle more tense than his match with Lasker at the San Sebastian tournament, he won a place at the expense of Life-and-the-Law.
Semashko was sent to the compositors. The editor buried himself once more in the editorial. He had decided to read it at all costs, just for the sporting interest.
He had just reached the bit that said ". . . but the contents of the pact are such that, if the League of Nations registers it, we will have to admit that . . ." when Life-and-the-Law, a hairy man, came up to him. The editor continued reading, avoiding the eyes of Life-and-the-Law, and making unnecessary notes on the editorial.
Life-and-the-Law went around to the other side of him and said in a hurt voice: "I don't understand."
"Uhunh," said the editor, trying to play for time. "What's the matter?"
"The matter is that on Wednesday there was no Life-and-the-Law, on Friday there was no Life-and-the-Law, on Thursday you carried only a case of alimony which you had in reserve, and on Saturday you're leaving out a trial which has been written up for some time in all other papers. It's only us who-"
"Which other papers?" cried the editor. "I haven't seen it."
"It will appear again tomorrow and we'll be too late."
"But when you were asked to report the Chubarov case, what did you write? It was impossible to get a line out of you. I know. You were reporting the case for an evening paper."
"How do you know?"
"I know. I was told."
"In that case I know who told you. It was Persidsky. The same Persidsky who blatantly uses the editorial-office services to send material to Leningrad."
"Pasha," said the editor quietly, "fetch Persidsky."
Life-and-the-Law sat indifferently on the window ledge. In the garden behind him birds and young skittle players could be seen busily moving about. They litigated for some time. The editor ended the hearing with a smart move: he deleted the chess and replaced it with Life-and-the-Law. Persidsky was given a warning.
It was five o'clock, the busiest time for the office.
Smoke curled above the over-heated typewriters. The reporters dictated in voices harshened by haste. The senior typist shouted at the rascals who slipped in their material unobserved and out of turn.
Down the corridor came the office poet. He was courting a typist, whose modest hips unleashed his poetic emotions. He used to lead her to the end of the corridor by the window and murmur words of love to her, to which she usually replied: "I'm working overtime today and I'm very busy."
That meant she loved another.
The poet got in everyone's way and asked all his friends the same favour with monotonous regularity. "Let me have ten kopeks for the tram."
He sauntered into the local correspondents' room in search of the sum. Wandering about between the desks at which the readers were working, and fingering the piles of despatches, he renewed his efforts. The readers, the most hardboiled people in the office (they were made that way by the need to read through a hundred letters a day, scrawled by hands which were more used to axes, paint-brushes and wheelbarrows than a pen), were silent.
The poet visited the despatch office and finally migrated to the clerical section. But besides not getting the ten kopeks, he was buttonholed by Avdotyev, a member of the Young Communist League, who proposed that the poet should join the Automobile Club. The poet's enamoured soul was enveloped in a cloud of petrol fumes. He took two paces to the side, changed into third gear, and disappeared from sight.
Avdotyev was not a bit discouraged. He believed in the triumph of the car idea. In the editor's room he carried on the struggle, on the sly, which also prevented the editor from finishing the editorial.
"Listen, Alexander Josifovich, wait a moment, it's a serious matter," said Avdotyev, sitting down on the editor's desk. "We've formed an automobile club. Would the editorial office give us a loan of five hundred roubles for eight months?"
"Like hell it would."
"Why? Do you think it's a dead duck?"
"I don't think, I know. How many members are there?"
"A large number already."
For the moment the club only consisted of the organizer, but Avdotyev did not enlarge on this.
"For five hundred roubles we can buy a car at the 'graveyard'. Yegorov has already picked one out there. He says the repairs won't come to more than five hundred. That's a thousand altogether. So I thought of recruiting twenty people, each of whom will give fifty. Anyway, it'll be fun. We'll learn to drive. Yegorov will be the instructor and in three months' time, by August, we'll all be able to drive. We'll have a car and each one in turn can go where he likes."
"What about the five hundred for the purchase?"
"The mutual-assistance fund will provide that on interest. We'll pay it off. So I'll put you down, shall I?"
But the editor was rather bald, hard-worked, and enslaved by his family and apartment, liked to have a rest after dinner on the settee, and read Pravda before going to sleep. He thought for a moment and then declined.
Avdotyev approached each desk in turn and repeated his fiery speech. His words had a dubious effect on the old men, which meant for him anyone above the age of twenty. They snapped at him, excusing themselves by saying they were already friends of children and regularly paid twenty kopeks a year for the benefit of the poor mites. They would like to join, but. . .
"But what?" cried Avdotyev. "Supposing we had a car today? Yes, supposing we put down a blue six-cylinder Packard in front of you for fifteen kopeks a year, with petrol and oil paid for by the government?"
"Go away," said the old men. "It's the last call, you're preventing us from working." The car idea was fading and beginning to give off fumes when a champion of the new enterprise was finally found. Persidsky jumped back from the telephone with a crash and, having listened to Avdotyev, said: "You're tackling it the wrong way. Give me the sheet. Let's begin at the beginning."
Accompanied by Avdotyev, Persidsky began a new round.
"You, you old mattress," he said to a blue-eyed boy, "you don't even have to give any money. You have bonds from '27, don't you? For how much? For five hundred? All the better. You hand over the bonds to the club. The capital comes from the bonds. By August we will have cashed all the bonds and bought the car."
"What happens if my bond wins a prize?" asked the boy defiantly.
"How much do you expect to win?"
"Fifty thousand."
"We'll buy cars with the money. And the same thing if I win. And the same if Avdotyev wins. In other words, no matter whose bonds win, the money will be spent on cars. Do you understand now? You crank! You'll drive along the Georgian Military Highway in your own car. Mountains, you idiot! And Life-and-the-Law, social events, accidents, and the young lady -you know, the one who does the films-will all go zooming along behind you in their own cars as well. Well? Well? You'll be courting!"
In the depths of his heart no bond-holder believes in the possibility of a win. At the same time he is jealous of his neighbours' and friends' bonds. He is dead scared that they will win and that he, the eternal loser, will be left out in the cold. Hence the hope of a win on the part of an office colleague drew the bond-holders into the new club. The only disturbing thought was that none of their bonds would win. That seemed rather unlikely, though, and, furthermore, the Automobile Club had nothing to lose, since one car from the graveyard was guaranteed by the capital earned from the bonds.
In five minutes twenty people had been recruited. As soon as it was all over, the editor arrived, having heard about the club's alluring prospects.
"Well, fellows," he said, "why shouldn't I put my name down on the list?"
"Why not, old man," replied Avdotyev, "only not on our list. We have a full complement and no new members are being admitted for the next five years. You'd do better to enrol yourself as a friend of children. It's cheap and sure. Twenty kopeks a year and no need to drive anywhere."
The editor looked sheepish, remembered that he was indeed on the old side, sighed, and went back to finish reading the entertaining editorial.
He was stopped in the corridor by a good-looking man with a Circassian face.
"Say, Comrade, where's the editorial office of the Lathe!"
It was the smooth operator.

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