Under the carpet
of unblemished, immaculate, sterile,
untainted surroundings - We
rolled in the smut, filth, dust, dirt,
desecrations of man's sedimentary droppings
fulfilling the pattern designed epochs,
- Oh! incomprehensible Beauty!
Honey-sweetness unimaginable! inconceivable Bliss!
erect, flick off the rude, alien lint
- and tread
over the foot-worn carpet,
When I was a boy in Quebec we did not have radio programs which gave away treasure for knowing the name of the Lieutenant Governors under Lisgar, We had, instead, what was called Country Store Night. At every Friday's performance at the movies they gave away hams, eggs, potatoes, bolts of muslin, and a special grand prize, The way the prizes were awarded, you were given a number, the duplicate of which was placed in a hat. The manager then drew the lucky numbers from the hat.
I am speaking here of Mr. Gloncourt, the manager of the Monument Nationale - the movie theatre that served our French-Canadian community. He had had trouble with the attendance for some time. Consequently, Mr. Goncourt conceived the idea of giving big prizes at Country Store Night. Once he gave away a phonograph, Another night he gave away a whole roomful of furniture. The memorable night of my career, he gave away a piano.
People used to say, "How can Mr. Goncourt give away such treasure? The admission of 16 cents does not justify it."
Others said, "Advertising, That is the key to success!"
I, myself, often took paper and pencil and figured out how many attended the theatre and what the gross receipts were, They were seldom enough to pay for one piano, let alone ham, eggs, and muslin.
I asked my father about this, He said, "My boy, I am a musician, not a businessman; business is very mysterious. A man becomes rich and no one knows how. Possibly Mr. Goncourt is an alchemist and makes gold from hard coal."
My mother was no better. "I haven't time to worry about how he gives away prizes. I'm too busy trying to win one."
There came a day when I was standing in the lobby of his theatre when the great Mr, Goncourt came up to me, took me by the arm, and dragged me into a corner. He puffed once or twice and then said, "Would you like to see the show GRATIS and obtain 50 cents?"
"Yes," I said promptly.
"BIEN. Here, take this number. When it is called, you arise and come on the stage. Keep your mouth shut. Smile. Bow. Act happy. And I will give you 50 cents."
I went in. It was the third episode of "The Perils of Pauline" with Pearl White. Very exciting. The next picture was the fifth episode of "The Black Box," with Francis Ford and Grace Cunard. Very thrilling.
Then the lights went up and revealed the peeling paint, the worn plush seats, and the hot audience.
Mr. Goncourt came out on the stage and everyone cheered. He was followed by several helpers carrying hams, eggs, muslins, and so forth. Then, two big men pushed an excellent upright piano on to the stage, Mr. Goncourt removed his hat, and the numbers were placed in it.
One by one, numbers were drawn out and, one by one, lucky persons arose to the stage, shouting joyfully and receiving comments from friends and neighbors. A tension gripped the audience.
Slowly Mr, Goncourt's hand went into the hat and slowly it came out. You could have heard a fly breathe. Carefully and cautiously, Mr. Goncourt reguarded the number. "My friends, the lucky number is 772-sept ... sept ... deux," he pronounced as he eyed the audience.
Everyone looked at his neighbour. No one moved.
I sighed and put my hand in my pocket for a candy, the sort I always carried with me. My hand felt a small piece of cardboard Mr. Goncourt had given me.
"Me! Mel 772!" I shouted, my voice breaking. I clambered over legs, fell on my face in the aisle, scrambled, finally, on the stage.
"Aaaahhhl" said Mr. Goncourt joyfully. "BIEN. let me see, please, the ticket."
I held the card up high so all could see it. Everyone applauded. I picked out a note or two on the piano and there were cheers.
When the show was over I went back stage, and Mr. Goncourt was waiting with a smile. "Here," he said, "is your 50 cents. Thank you very much. Not a word now."
I put the 50 cents safely in my pocket. Then I said loudly, "When do you deliver the piano?"
"My small friend, the piano goes back to the store tomorrow. Do you believe I can afford to give away pianos? I can hardly pay the rent."
"I won the piano! I want the piano!" I said, "I have witnesses, I can have you arrested!"
Mr. Goncourt took me by the neck and threw me out in the alley.
For three days I brooded. I went, finally, to my Uncle William, the policeman, and said:
"I want to make it a present to MAMAN for her birthday. Never have I had the money for a good present. This time I want to give her a piano."
"Ah," said William.
"Mr. Goncourt never gives anything away. Everyone must bring it back, They are all his friends, It is against the law. You are the law, no?"
"I am the law," William agreed with dignity. "But I do not like trouble."
"I will tell everyone you took from M. Rideau $50. for permitting him to serve wine after hours,"
William glared at me, "All right," he agreed. "I will go with you. But I do not like trouble."
There was, in fact, no trouble, Mr. Goncourt, who had probably been worried for several days, nearly had apoplexy when he saw me with a policeman. "I cannot afford a piano,"" he said.
"We will attach the theatre. I understood you plan to sell it for many thousands," said William.
"No, N-," begged Goncourt, "Wait! The boy did not win the pianol I gave him the ticketl I placed the other end in the hat myself and made sure to draw it out from inside the band. It was dishonest, How can I give a piano to a dishonest boy?"
"Oh, scoundrel!" said my uncle, waving his club. "It is bad enough to cheat this small, helpless one, but yet you must smear his character, dirty the name of the family, and drag his small heart through the mud of false accusations! He rapped Mr. Goncourt on the head with the club.
The next day the piano was delivered to our house. My mother was overcome with joy. I was let off from sifting ashes for a month, and was given five dollars to spend.
Only my Uncle Louis was not impressed. "A piano acquired without earning it will do you no good."
I did not pay much attention to him. I was too excited, But he was, alas, right. In three months I was taking piano lessons - and in four I was wishing I had never won a prize.
I lay on my back in the warm sun: comfortable,
And gazed at the blue vastness above;
The air was silent and still,
And life was vacant and blue: still blue.
There was nothing, I was nowhere; but comfortable.
The blue was total, I sniffed,
Hollow and lost in the blue.
But no fragrance graced my nostrils.
I grew desperate for something alive,
A touch with the real I desired,
And then, far above me, a dove flew;
I smiled, closed my eyes, and was dead.