Impressions of the East Side, Part II




New York Call, Sept. 10, 1911, p. 15


For Part I see "Impressions of the East Side, Sept. 3, 1911.





Impressions of the East Side


The East Side is full of superstition. Superstitious fear prompts them in many of their acts. If they can give a penny to a blind man, they feel sure it will bring them "luck;" they fear to mix meat and milk, not so much because of religious scruples as because it brings them bad "luck." One of the desires of their life is to move up town, to cleaner quarters, but even when they are able to, the fear that "luck" will leave them, keeps them down town. A physician of some repute, living down town, when asked why he lives down there when his practice is mostly up town, said, "'Luck' came to him there and he will stay with it." Almost everything depends on "luck," to them it seems almost a part of their religion, and is difficult to overcome.

Their great desire is to get "rich" and employ men and women. The capitalistic instinct to be your own "boss" and make off the labor of others is everywhere. It is ridiculous to think for a moment that the class struggle is on the East Side only and every one who understands the meaning of the words, knows only too well that it is everywhere. But certainly it is at its height on the East Side, for there it is the aim and ambition of everybody to bleed everybody else. The doctors, druggists and lawyers all take a share in this. The druggists charge from 10 to 15 cents more on every article than is paid elsewhere.

An example of the doctor's bleeding is shown by the story which follows: During the very hot weather a rash broke out on an infant whose parents had had a little "luck" in accumulating this world's goods. The ever kind neighbors and friends of the parents advised them to go to a baby specialist, just for a change of "luck," they said, as the baby had not been well since birth. These were easily persuaded, and the first visit cost them $5. The specialist then sent the mother to another physician to have her milk tested, which cost five more. Then both parents had to have their blood tested, which cost five each, and go back again to the first specialist to tell him there was nothing the matter with either the milk or the blood, which cost five more, or $25 in all. And the first day it grew a little cooler the baby's rash disappeared!

It is surprising to see the large number of push carts, and one wonders how they can exist there, when it is impossible for some people to buy only the bare necessities of life. But the fact is that over half of the people there do not patronize the push carts, and the other half who do are compelled to buy the same articles over and over again, so cheap are the wares. A pair of stockings cost 15 cents, but after one day's moderate wear they are unfit for darning, so badly and of such wretched material are they made.

The fruit peddlers too astonish you at the thriving business they seem to do. But when you have eaten with these people for a few days the same erratic appetite takes hold of you, and meat, fish and bread no longer satisfy you, and if there is a cent to be had you find yourself on your way to the fruit carts too, eagerly longing to quench the terrible hunger which has taken possession of you. The people are always eating, for they are always hungry.

The parents' love of the little ones is almost animal like in its emotions, especially to those under four, after that--well--it's just like waiting for the years to pass till they can bring in some return for their earthly existence.

The shouting, screaming and swearing at the children and even at the infants, is impossible to conceive of, having had no childhood themselves it is difficult for them to realize the evolution or state of the child mind, and a child of four or five is expected to think and act like the parents, which accounts for the many slaps the little tots get all around. They are proud to call their children Americans, and when they are able, or brave enough to try their "luck," in a new section, they emerge to the upper East Side. There they rapidly develop, and improve in manners, language and habits. In a few years they have outgrown that neighborhood and the West Side becomes their Mecca.

The word Socialism is almost a household word among them. They have neither the fear, nor have they the disgust which our friends up town have of the word. Yet the deep, and abject pity with which they regard you when they discover that you are a Socialist is a hundred times more maddening and much more difficult to meet. If you had escaped from an asylum with a placard of "harmless" on you they could not treat you with more tenderness. They will even listen to you while you expound your Socialism to them, but when you have finished they will smilingly shake their heads, and tell you that it is a beautiful dream, but as long as the world lasts, "Brains" will be the only thing that can count. On their explaining just what "Brains" mean, you find that the principle the druggist used when he charged them 10 cents more than the article could be purchased for elsewhere is the brilliant example.