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PART ONE

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

PART TWO

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

A note to fans of Little Golden America: as of issue No. 22, Admit Two adopted a PDF format, which means you will have to access individual back issues to get to further chapters of Ilf and Petrov's American adventure.

 

oLittle Golden America                     by    ILYA ILF AND EUGENE PETROV

_______________________________________________________________________

o

 

 o

Chapter Eight…

  A New York Arena

 

 

     THE MEMBERS of the Dutch Treat Club meet every Tuesday in a white

salon of the New York Hotel Ambassador.

     The very name of the club gives a precise conception of the rights and

duties of its members. Everyone pays for himself. On this powerful

economic basis quite a number of journalists and writers joined together.

Yet there is an exception. Guests of honor do not pay. But they are

obliged to deliver an amusing speech. It does not matter what the sub-

ject is, so long as the speech is amusing and brief. If it turn out not to

be funny, then at any rate it must be short because the meeting is at

lunchtime and the entire celebration lasts only one hour.

     In reward for this speech the guest receives a light lunch and a large

plaster-of-Paris medal of the club on which is portrayed a reveler, in a

crushed top hat, who has fallen asleep under the club’s initials.

     While all applaud, the medal is hung around the neck of the guest,

and all quickly depart. Tuesday is a business day. All the members of

the Dutch Treat Club are business people. At the stroke of two they

are already sitting in their offices and doing business. They advance

culture or simply make money.

     At such a gathering we met the manager of Madison Square Garden,

the largest New York arena, where boxing matches of importance are

held, where the very biggest meetings and the very biggest of everything take place.

     On this particular Tuesday the guests were ourselves, the newly ar-

rived Soviet authors, a famous American motion-picture actor, and the

manager of Madison Square Garden whom we have just mentioned.

     We prepared a speech, emphasizing chiefly not its humor but its

brevity, and we attained the latter completely. The speech was translated

into English and one of us, in no way embarrassed by the fact that he

found himself in such a large gathering of experts of the English lan-

guage, read it from a sheet of paper.

     Here it is:

     “Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen:

     “We have come on a great journey from Moscow to see America.

Besides New York we have had time to be in Washington and in Hart-

ford. After living a month in New York we felt the pangs of love for

your great and purely American city.

     “Suddenly we were doused with cold water.

     “’New York is not America,’ we were told by our New York friends.

‘New York is only the bridge between Europe and America. You are

still one the bridge.’

     “Then we went to Washington, District of Columbia, the capital of

the United Sates, assuming thoughtlessly that surely this city was Amer-

ica. By the evening of the second day we felt with satisfaction that we

were beginning to discriminate a little in matters American.

     “’Washington is not America,’ we were told. ‘It is a city f govern-

ment officials. If you really want to see America, you are wasting your

time here.’

     “We dutifully put our scratched suitcases into an automobile and went

to Hartford, in the state of Connecticut, where the great American writer,

Mark Twain, spent his mature years.

     “Here we were again honestly warned:

     “’Bear in mind that Hartford is not yet America.’

     “When we began to ask about the location of America, the Hartford-

ites pointed vaguely to the side.

     “Now we have come to you, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, and ask

you to show us where America really is located, because we have come

here in order to learn as much as we can about it.’

     The speech was a great success. The members of the Dutch Treat

Club applauded it a long time. Only much later we learned that most

of the members of the club did not understand a single word of this

speech, because the strange Russo-English accent of the orator drowned

out completely the profound thought concealed in it.

      Mr. Chairman, however, who sat near us, had evidently caught the

sense of speech. Turning his thin and clever face to us, he struck

his little gavel and, stopping thus the storm of applause, said in the

ensuing silence:

     “I regret very much that I myself cannot tell you at the moment where

America is located. Come here again on the sixth of November, 1936,

for it will be clear then what is America and where it is located.”

     This was a witty and the only correct answer to our question. On

November 6th was to be held the presidential election, and Americans

felt that it would determine the path along which America was to

proceed.

     Then the tall man whom the chairman called “Colonel” was given the

floor. The colonel began to bark at once, looking ironically at those

foregathered here.

     “My business,” he said, ‘consists of renting Madison Square Garden

to all comers, and anything in the world that may happen there suits

me. The Communists want it for a meeting against Hitler, so I rent the

hall to the Communists. The Hitlerites want a meeting against the

Communists, I rent the hall to the Hitlerites. In my building the Demo-

crats may be cursing the Republicans today, but tomorrow the Repub-

licans contend from the same platform that Mr. Roosevelt is a Boshevik

and leads America to anarchy. My hall is for everybody. I do my busi-

ness. I nevertheless do have my convictions. Not long ago the defenders

of Bruno Hauptmann, who killed the Lindbergh baby, wanted to rent

my hall for agitation in favor of Hauptmann. I refused to rent my hall

to those people. But anybody else is welcome to come. Pay your money

and take your places, no matter who you are, Bolsheviks, anarchists,

reactionaries, Baptists, it’s all the same to me.”

     Having roared this out, the manly colonel sat down and took to

finishing his coffee.

     In Madison square Garden, in this “hall for all,” to use the colonel’s

expression, we saw a feature boxing match between the former world

champion, the Italian Carnera, and a German boxer, not the best but a

first-rate one.

     The arena of Madison Square Garden is not a circle like the usual

circus arenas, but an elongated rectangle. At a very sharp incline around

the rectangle rise rows of chairs. Even before the match begins the eyes

of the onlooker are presented with an inspiring spectacle—he sees twenty-

five thousand chairs at once, he sees twenty-five thousand seats in one

theater. In the event of a boxing match, chairs are places also in the

arena, surrounding the entire ring.

     A strong white light fell on the platform of the ring. The rest of the

place was in twilight. Raucous cries of vendors in white two-horned caps

resounded throughout the huge building. The vendors, making their way

between the rows of chairs, offered salted nuts, salted biscuits, chewing

gum, and small bottles of whisky. Americans are by their nature a

chewing people: they chew gum, candy, the ends of cigars; their jaws

are always moving, clicking, and snapping.

     Carnera appeared in the next to the last match. Amid deafening greet-

ings he walked into the ring and looked around with that sullen and

apprehensive glance which is the attribute of all extremely tall and

exceedingly strong men. It is the look of a man who is constantly fearful

of crushing something or of mangling it.

     Carnera is not known in his native Italy by his surname. There he

has a nickname: “Il Gigante.” “Il Gigante” is an exceedingly rangy and

long-armed person. If he were a conductor of a Moscow streetcar, he

would very easily collect fares from people all over the car while stand-

ing on the front platform. “Il Gigante” threw off a bright-colored robe

and displayed himself in all his beauty—long, bony, looking like an

unfinished Gothic cathedral.

     His opponent was a sturdy blond German of middle height.

     The signal sounded, the managers rant out of the ring, and Carnera

quietly began to beat up the German. And he did not so much beat him

as trash him. The peasant Carnera seemed to be performing the agri-

cultural work customary to him. His two-meter-long arms rose and fell

with the regularity of flails. Most frequently they struck the air, but on

those rare occasions when they fell on the German the New York public

shouted: “Carnera, boo!” The inequality of strength between the oppo-

nents was altogether too evident. Carnera was much taller and heavier

than the German.

     The audience was excited, nevertheless, and yelled as if the issue of

this fight had not been predetermined. Americans make a very noisy

audience. At times it seems that they come to boxing and football

matches not to look on, but to yell. The roar was constant throughout the

match. Whenever the fans did not like something or thought that one

of the boxers was not fighting fairly, was being cowardly or dishonest,

they yelled in chorus: “Boo, boo!” and the auditorium was transformed

into a drove of nice bisons in soft hats. The onlookers helped the fighters

with their outcries. For the three and a half round of the fight between

Carnera and the German the fans expended so much energy, made so

many motions, that had this potential been  properly utilized, it would

have sufficed to build a six-story house with a flat sun roof and a café-

teria on the first floor.

     In the third round the German finished almost blind. His eye had

been badly hurt. In the middle of the fourth round he suddenly swung

out his arms like a card player who was losing and walked out of the

ring, refusing to continue the fight.

     A frightful “Boo! boo!” filed the vas spaces of the Garden. It was

not considered sporting to walk out of the ring. Boxers must be carried

out of the ring; which is exactly what the audience expects for its money.

But the German was evidently so nauseated by the prospect of being

knocked out in another minute or two that he decided to stop fighting.

     The onlookers booed all the time that the unfortunate boxer was

making his way back-stage. They were so indignant at the behavior of

the German that they did not even bother to cheer the victor. “Il

Gigante” clasped his hands overhead, then put on his beautiful silken

robe, befitting a courtesan, dived under the ropes of the ring, and in a

dignified manner returned to the dressing room, walking like an old

work horse returning to the stable to shove tis long muzzle into a bag

of oats.

     The last pair presented no special interest, and soon with others we

were walking out. At the exit the news vendors were selling the night

editions of Daily News and Daily Mirror, on the first pages of which

in large letters was printed the news that Carnera won over his oppo-

nent in the fourth round. Between the minute this event occurred and

the moment we bought the newspaper containing the news about the

match no more than half an hour had elapsed.

     In the nocturnal sky flamed the electric sing “Jack Dempsey.” Having

finished his career in the ring, the great boxing champion opened near

Madison Square Garden a bar and restaurant where sport fans gather.

It would never occur to any American to blame Dempsey for turning

from a sportsman into a barman. The man is making money, he is doing

business. Does it make any difference how he earns his money? That

money is best of which there is most!

     Boxing may be like or disliked. That is the private affair of every

man. Boxing is a sport, perhaps a rough and even an unnecessary sport,

but still a sport. As for the American wrestling match, that is a spectacle

which is in no way sporting, however astounding it may be.

     We saw such a wrestling match in the same Madison Square Garden.

     According to the rules of American wrestling… As a matter of fact,

why speak of rules, when the peculiarity of this combat consist pre-

cisely in that it has no rules whatever? You may do anything you like:

break your opponent’s arm; shove fingers into his mouth in an effort to

tear it, while at the same time the opponent tries to bite off the fingers;

pull the hair; simply beat him up; tear the face with fingernails, pull

off ears; choke his throat—everything is permitted. This form of combat

is called wrestling, and there are actually people who evince a genuine

interest in it.

     The fighters roll in the ring, pressing against each other, and lie like

that for ten minutes at a stretch. They weep in anguish and anger, they

snort, spit, scream, and in general carry on in a disgusting and shame-

less manner—like sinners in hell.

     The disgust is increased when a half hour later you begin to under-

stand that all this is the silliest kind of sham, that it is not even a street

fight between two drunken hooligans. When one strong man really

wants to break the arm of another he can do it at any time with a

certain twist. In wrestling, however, despite all the frightful gestures,

there is never any harm done to the part of the body. But Americans,

like children, believe this naïve deception and are frantic with delight.

     Even if wrestling were carried on seriously it would merit nothing but

contempt.

     Certainly, this vulgar spectacle cannot compare with the competition

of the cowboys! In this same rectangular arena, sullied by wrestling, we

once saw a rodeo, a competition of Western cowherds.

     This time there was no ring and there were no chairs. Clean sand lay

from one end to the other of the huge arena. On a stand sat musicians

in cowboy hats and blew for all they were worth into their horns and

fifes. The gates opened into the wooden enclosure, and out came the

parade of the participants.

     On fine little horses rode the representatives of the romantic states of

America, cowboys and cowgirls from Texas, Arizona, Nevada. The brims

of the heroic hats swayed. The girls greeted the public by raising their

arms in a mannish salute. There were already several hundred riders in

the arena, yet more cowboys continued to ride in.

     When the gala part of the performance was over, the artistic part

began.

     The cowboys took their turns in riding out of the gates atop short,

but wildly jumping, steers. In all probability these steers had been hurt

before and were brought into the arena because they bucked with incred-

ible persistence. The task of the rider was to stay on the back of the

animal as long as possible, without catching on with his hand and while

holding his hat in his right hand. From the ceiling hung a huge stop

clock which the entire hall could watch. One cowboy held on to an

infuriated bull for seventeen seconds, another for twenty-five. Some

riders were thrown to the ground after two or three seconds. The winner

managed to hang on for something like forty seconds. The cowboys had

the intent, bashful faces of country lads who did not want to disgrace

themselves before their guests.

     Later, one after the other, the cowboys rode out on their horses, swing-

ing a lasso wound in a circle. In front of the horse, its little tail up, a

calf hopped around in an exhilarating gallop. Again the stop clock went

into action. Unexpectedly the rope flew out from the hands of the cow-

boys. The loop hung in the air like something alive. For a second the

calf lay on the ground, and the cowboys hurried to it in order as quickly

as possible to bind it according to all the rules of the Texas science and

to transform it into a well-tied, although a desperately bellowing, bundle.

     The rodeo fans yelled and put down in their little books the seconds

and fractions of seconds.

     The most difficult feat was left to the end. Here the cowboys had

something to work on. An angry, bucking cow was led out of the gates.

She dashed over the arena with a speed one would never expect of any

domesticated animal. The mounted cowboy pursued the cow, jumped on

her neck at full gallop, and, seizing her by the horns, forced her to the

ground. The most important and the most difficult part was to throw

the cow to the ground. Many did not succeed in that. Having gelled the

cow, it was necessary to bind all her four legs and to milk a little milk

into a little bottle, which the cowboy hurriedly pulled out of his pocket.

He was allowed only one minute for all this. Having milked the cow, the

cowboy triumphantly lifted the little bottle over his head and cheerily

ran behind the barrier.

     The brilliant exercises of the cowboys, their songs sung in a minor key,

and their black guitars, made us forget the heavy thuds of boxing gloves,

the dripping maws, and the tear-smeared faces of the wrestlers.

     The colonel was right. In his arena one could see both the good and

the bad.