1

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 Twelve…

  A Little Big Town

   

     AN AUTOMOBILE journey across America is like a journey across an

ocean, monotonous and magnificent. Whenever you go out on deck, in

the morning or in the evening, in a storm or a calm, on Monday or on

Thursday, you will always find water, of which there is no end. When-

ever you look out the window of an automobile there will always be

an excellent smooth road, with gasoline stations, tourist houses, and bill-

boards on the sides. You saw all this yesterday and the day before, and

you know that you will see the very same thing tomorrow and the day

after. And the dinner in the state of Ohio will be the same as yester-

day’s when you passed through the state of New York—quite as on a

changes in the menu of your dinner, or in the disposition of the pas-

sengers’ day. It is in this consistent sameness that the colossal dimensions

and the incalculable wealth of the United State are expressed. Before

saying about Eastern America that this is a mountainous or a desert or

a forest land, one wants to say the main thing, the most important thing,

about it—it is the land of automobiles and electricity.

     The journey was scarcely begun when we managed to violate the

principal point of our daily itinerary as worked out by Mr. Adams.

     “Gentlemen!” he had said before our departure. “Travel on American

roads is a serious and dangerous thing.”

     “But American roads are the best in the world,” we countered.

     “That is precisely why they are the most dangerous. No, no, don’t

contradict me! You simply do not want to understand! The better the

roads, the greater the speed with which the automobiles travel over

them. No, no, no, gentlemen! This is very, very dangerous! We must

agree definitely that with the approach of evening we retire for the night,

and that’s the end of it! Finished!”

     That is exactly how we agreed to behave.

     But now an evening found us on the road, and we not only did not

stop as Mr. Adams demanded, but put on the lights and continued to

fly across the long state of New York.

     We were approaching the world center of the electrical industry, the

town of Schenectady.

     It is frightful to race at night over an American highway. Darkness to

the right and to the left. But the face is struck by the lightning flashes

of automobile headlights coming at you. They fly past, one after the

other, like small hurricanes of light, with a curt and irate feline spit. The

speed is the same as in the daytime, but it seems to have doubled. In

front, on a long incline, stretches the mobile prospect of display lights,

which seem to put out of sight the red lights of the automobiles imme-

diately in front of us. Through the rear window of the machine con-

stantly penetrates the impatient light of the vehicles that re catching up

with us. It is impossible to stop or to decrease the speed. You must race

ahead, ever ahead. The measured, blinding spurts of light cause a man

to begin yawning. The indifference of sleep possesses him. It is no longer

comprehensible whither you are riding or what for, and only somewhere

in the nethermost depth of the brain persists the frightful thought: any

minute now some gay and drunken idiot with an optimist grin will

cut into our machine, and there will be an accident, a catastrophe.

     Mr. Adams was restless in his seat beside his wife, who with true

American self-assurance entered into the mad tempo of this nocturnal

race.

     “Why, Becky, Becky!” he muttered in desperation. “What are you

doing? It’s impossible!”

     He turned to us. His spectacles flared with alarm.

     “Gentlemen!” he pronounced in the voice of a prophet. “You do not

understand the meaning of an automobile catastrophe in America!”

     Finally he managed to persuade Mrs. Adams to decrease her speed

considerably and to deny herself the pleasure of outracing trucks. He

accustomed us to the monastic routine of genuine automobile travelers,

whose aim is to study the country and not to lay down their bones in

a neatly dug trench beside the road.

     Only a good deal later, toward the end of the journey, did we begin

to appreciate the value of his advice. During its one and a half year’s

participation in the World War America lost fifty thousand killed, while

during the past year and a half fifty-six thousand of America’s peaceful

inhabitants perished as a consequence of automobile catastrophes. And

there is no power in America that can prevent this mass murder.

     We were still about twenty mile form Schenectady, but the city was

already demonstrating its electrical might. Street lamps appeared on the

highway. Elongated, like melons, they gave off a strong, yet at the same

time not a blinding, yellow light. One could see it gathering in those

lamps—that which was not a light but an amazing luminous thing.

     The city came upon us unnoticeably. That is a peculiarity of American

cities when you approach them by automobile. The road is the same,

only there are presently more billboards and gasoline stations.

     One American town hung before the entrance to its main street the

placard:

THE BIGGEST SMALL TOWN

 IN THE UNITED STATES

 

     This description—the biggest small town—splendidly suits Schenec-

tady, and, as a matter of fact, also the majority of American towns that

have risen around large factories, grain elevators, or oil wells. It is the

same as the other small towns, withy its business center and residential

part, with its Broadway or Main Street, but only bigger in length and

width. As a matter of fact, it is a large city. It has much asphalt, brick,

and many electric lights, probably more than Rome, and certainly it is

bound to have more electric refrigerator than Rome, and more washing

machines, vacuum cleaners baths, and automobiles. But this city is

exceedingly small spiritually, and in that regard it could very well dis-

pose of itself in one of our little lanes.

     In this city where, with amazing skill, are manufactured the smallest

and largest electrical machines that have ever existed in the world,

from an egg beater to electric generators for the Boulder Dam Hydro-

electric Station on the Colorado River, the following incident happened:

     A certain engineer fell in love with the wife of another engineer. It

ended with her divorcing her husband and marrying the man she loved.

The entire small town knew that this was an ideally pure romance,
that wife had not been unfaithful to her husband, that she patiently

waited for the divorce. The American god himself, as demanding as a

new district attorney, could not have found any fault. The newlyweds

began to lead a new life, happy in the thought that their tribulations

were over. As a matter of fact, their tribulations were only beginning.

People stopped going to their home, people ceased to invite them out.

Everybody turned away from them. It was a real boycott, the more

devastating because it happened in a big small town, where the principal

recreation consists of calling and receiving callers for a game of bridge or

poker. Essentially, all these people who drove the young couple out of

their midst were in their heart of hearts quite indifferent to the problem

of who lives with whom, but—a decent American must not get divorced.

That is indecent. All this led to the driving out of town of the man who

permitted himself to fall in love with a woman and to marry her. It was

a good thing that at that time there was no depression and he could

easily find another job.

     The society of a town which grew up around a large industrial enter-

prise and is entirely connected with its interests, or rather with the

interests of the bosses of the enterprise, is invested with a terrible power.

Officially a man is never dismissed because of his convictions. In Amer-

ica one is free to profess any views, any beliefs. He is a free citizen.

However, let him try not to go to church or let him try to praise com-

munism, and something will happen whereby he will stop working in

the big little town. He himself will not even notice how it happened.

The people who will get rid of him themselves do not believe in God,

but they go to church. It is indecent to refrain from going to church.

As for communism, that is something for dirty Mexicans, Slavs, and

Negroes. It is no business for Americans.

     In Schenectady we stopped at a hotel that provided three kinds of

water—hot, cold, and iced—and went for a walk through the city. It was

only about ten o’clock in the evening, yet there were almost no pedes-

trains. Against the curbs stood dark automobiles. At the left of the hotel

was deserted filed overgrown with grass. It was quite dark there.

Beyond the field, on the roof of a six-story building, a sign lit up and

went slowly—G.E.—General Electric Company. It was like the

monogram of an emperor. But never did emperors have such might at

their disposal as these electrical gentlemen who have conquered Asia,

Africa, who have firmly implanted their trademark over the Old and

the New World, for everything in the world which is in any way con-

nected with electricity is in the end connected with General Electric.

     Beyond the hotel on the principal thoroughfare wavered strips of light.

There a feverish automobile life was on. But here was an excellent

concrete road running around the field, which was dark and deserted.

There was not even a sidewalk here. It seemed that the builder of the

road thought it improbable that there could be found people in the

world who would approach the office of the General Electric on foot

instead of driving up in an automobile.

     Opposite the office was a glass booth on wheels attached to an ancient

trucklike automobile. In it sat an elderly, mustached man. He was sell-

ing popcorn, a roasted corn which bursts open in the form of white

boutonnieres. On the counter glowed a gasoline flare with three bright

wicks. We tried to guess what popcorn was made of.

     “This is corn,” the vendor said unexpectedly in Ukrainian Russian.

     “Can’t you see? It’s ordinary corn. But where are you from that you

speak Russian?”

     “From Moscow.”

     “No fooling?”

     “No.”

     The popcorn vendor became quite excited and walked out of his

booth.

     “Well, now, let’s see—are you here as delegates from the Soviet gov-

ernment,” he asked, ‘or did you come here to work, to perfect your-

selves?”

     We explained that we were merely traveling.

     “I see, I see. Just taking a look at how things are going in our United

States?”

     We stood a long time at the glass booth, eating popcorn and listening

to the vendor’s story, which was full of English words.

     This man had come to the United States some thirty years ago from

a small village in the government of Volhynia. Now this little village is

in Polish territory. At first he worked in mines, digging coal. Then he

was a laborer on a farm. Then workers were being hired for the loco-

motive works in Schenectady, so he went to work in the locomotive

works.

     “That’s how my life passed, like one day,” he said sadly.

     But now for six years he had been without work. He sold everything

he had. He was evicted from his home.

     “I do have a Pole as my manager. We sell popcorn together.”

     “Do you earn much?”

     “Why, no, hardly enough for dinner. I’m starving. My clothes—you

can see fro yourself what they’re like. I haven’t anything to wear

for going out into the street.”

     “Why don’t you go back to Volhynia?”

     “It is even worse there. People write it’s very bad. But tell me how

is it with you, in Russia? People say different things about you. I simply

don’t know whom to believe and whom to disbelieve.”

     We found out that this man who had left Russia in the dim past

attentively follows everything that is said and written in Schenectady

about his former homeland.

     “Various lecturers come here,” he said, “and speak at the high school.

Some are for the Soviet government, other are against it. And whoever

speaks for the Soviet government, they write bad things about him,

very bad.

     “For example, Colonel Cooper spoke well about the Soviet govern-

ment, so they wrote about him that he sold out. Got two million for it.

A millionaire farmer returned and praised the Soviet state farms. It was

said that they built a special Soviet state farm for him. Not long ago a

woman schoolteacher from Schenectady went to Leningrad, lived there,

and then came back and praised Russia. Even about her they said that

want to say anything against the Soviet government.

     “But what do you think yourself?”

     “What difference does it make what I think—would anybody ask me?

I only know one thing—I’m going to the dogs here in Schenectady.”

     He looked at the slowly glowing initials of the electric rulers of the

world and added:

     “They have built machines. Everything is made with machines. The

workingman hasn’t a chance to live.”

     “What do you think—what should be done so that the workingman

may live an easier life?”

     “Break up and destroy all-machines!” replied the vendor of popcorn

firmly and with conviction.

     More than once in America we heard talk of destroying machines. This

may seem incredible, but in a land where the building of machines has

reached the point of virtuosity, where the national genius has expressed

itself in the invention and production of machines which replace com-

pletely and improve many time the labor of man—it is precisely in this

country that you hear talk that would seem insane even in a madhouse.

     Looking at this vendor, we involuntarily remembered a New York

cafeteria on Lexington Avenue where we used to go for lunch every

day. There at the entrance used to stand a pleasant girl in an orange

calico apron, marcelled and rouged (she undoubtedly had to be up at

six in the morning in order to have time to arrange her hair), who

distributed punch tickets. Six days later, in the very same place, we saw

a metal machine doing the work of the girl automatically—and at the

same time it gave off pleasant chimes, which, of course, one could not

very well expect from the girl. We remembered also the story we heard

in New York of a certain Negro who worked on a wharf as a con-

troller, counting bales of cotton. The work suggested to him the idea of

inventing a machine that would count the bales. He invented such a

machine. His boss took advantage of this invention gladly, but dis-

missed the Negro, who henceforth was jobless.

     The next day we visited the factories of the General Electric. We

are not specialists; therefore, we cannot describe the factories as they

deserve to be described. We don’t want to give the reader an artistic

ornament instead of the real thing. We ourselves would read with pleas-

ure a description of these factories made by a Soviet engineer. We did,

however, carry away from there an impression of high technical wisdom

and organization.

     In the laboratories we saw several of the best physicists in the world,

who sat at their work with their coats off. They are working for the

General Electric Company. The company doesn’t give them very much

money—not more than twenty thousand dollars a year. Such salaries are

received only by the most prominent scientists. There are few of these

people. But there are not limits to the means necessary for experiment

and investigation. If a million is needed, they’ll give a million. That is

why the company has managed to get the best physicists in the world.

No university can give them such opportunities for research as they

receive there in a factory laboratory.

     But then, everything that these idealist invent remains the property

of the firm. The scientist advance science. The firm makes money.

     At a luncheon in a cozy and beautiful engineers’ club, several of the

engineers, to our great surprise, expressed thought that reminded us

very much of what the unemployed vendor of popcorn had been saying.

Naturally they were not expressed in such primitive form, but the es-

sence remained the same.

     “Too many machines! Too much technique! The machines are respon-

sible for the difficulties that confront the country.”

     This was aid by people who themselves produce all kinds of remark-

able machines. Perhaps they were already foreseeing the moment when

the machine will deprive of work not only workers but even themselves,

the engineers.

     Toward the end of the luncheon we were introduced to a thin and tall

gray-haired gentleman on whose cheeks played a healthy tomato-colored

flush. He proved to be an old friend of Mr. Adams’s. Little fat Adams

and his friend whacked each other’s shoulders for a long time, as if

they wanted to beat the dust out of each other’s coats.

     “Gentlemen,” the beaming Mr. Adams told us, “I present to you

Mr. Ripley. You can get a lot of good out of this man if you want to

understand the meaning of American electrical industry. But, but! You

must ask Mr. Ripley to show you his electric house.”

     We asked.

     “Very well,” said Mr. Ripley. “I will show you my electric house.”

     And Mr. Ripley asked us to follow him.

only there are presently more billboards and gasoline stations.

     One American town hung before the entrance to its main street the

placard:

THE BIGGEST SMALL TOWN

 IN THE UNITED STATES

 

     This description—the biggest small town—splendidly suits Schenec-

tady, and, as a matter of fact, also the majority of American towns that

have risen around large factories, grain elevators, or oil wells. It is the

same as the other small towns, withy its business center and residential

part, with its Broadway or Main Street, but only bigger in length and

width. As a matter of fact, it is a large city. It has much asphalt, brick,

and many electric lights, probably more than Rome, and certainly it is

bound to have more electric refrigerator than Rome, and more washing

machines, vacuum cleaners baths, and automobiles. But this city is

exceedingly small spiritually, and in that regard it could very well dis-

pose of itself in one of our little lanes.

     In this city where, with amazing skill, are manufactured the smallest

and largest electrical machines that have ever existed in the world,

from an egg beater to electric generators for the Boulder Dam Hydro-

electric Station on the Colorado River, the following incident happened:

     A certain engineer fell in love with the wife of another engineer. It

ended with her divorcing her husband and marrying the man she loved.

The entire small town knew that this was an ideally pure romance,
that wife had not been unfaithful to her husband, that she patiently

waited for the divorce. The American god himself, as demanding as a

new district attorney, could not have found any fault. The newlyweds

began to lead a new life, happy in the thought that their tribulations

were over. As a matter of fact, their tribulations were only beginning.

People stopped going to their home, people ceased to invite them out.

Everybody turned away from them. It was a real boycott, the more

devastating because it happened in a big small town, where the principal

recreation consists of calling and receiving callers for a game of bridge or

poker. Essentially, all these people who drove the young couple out of

their midst were in their heart of hearts quite indifferent to the problem

of who lives with whom, but—a decent American must not get divorced.

That is indecent. All this led to the driving out of town of the man who

permitted himself to fall in love with a woman and to marry her. It was

a good thing that at that time there was no depression and he could

easily find another job.

     The society of a town which grew up around a large industrial enter-

prise and is entirely connected with its interests, or rather with the

interests of the bosses of the enterprise, is invested with a terrible power.

Officially a man is never dismissed because of his convictions. In Amer-

ica one is free to profess any views, any beliefs. He is a free citizen.

However, let him try not to go to church or let him try to praise com-

munism, and something will happen whereby he will stop working in

the big little town. He himself will not even notice how it happened.

The people who will get rid of him themselves do not believe in God,

but they go to church. It is indecent to refrain from going to church.

As for communism, that is something for dirty Mexicans, Slavs, and

Negroes. It is no business for Americans.

     In Schenectady we stopped at a hotel that provided three kinds of

water—hot, cold, and iced—and went for a walk through the city. It was

only about ten o’clock in the evening, yet there were almost no pedes-

trains. Against the curbs stood dark automobiles. At the left of the hotel

was deserted filed overgrown with grass. It was quite dark there.

Beyond the field, on the roof of a six-story building, a sign lit up and

went slowly—G.E.—General Electric Company. It was like the

monogram of an emperor. But never did emperors have such might at

their disposal as these electrical gentlemen who have conquered Asia,

Africa, who have firmly implanted their trademark over the Old and

the New World, for everything in the world which is in any way con-

nected with electricity is in the end connected with General Electric.

     Beyond the hotel on the principal thoroughfare wavered strips of light.

There a feverish automobile life was on. But here was an excellent

concrete road running around the field, which was dark and deserted.

There was not even a sidewalk here. It seemed that the builder of the

road thought it improbable that there could be found people in the

world who would approach the office of the General Electric on foot

instead of driving up in an automobile.

     Opposite the office was a glass booth on wheels attached to an ancient

trucklike automobile. In it sat an elderly, mustached man. He was sell-

ing popcorn, a roasted corn which bursts open in the form of white

boutonnieres. On the counter glowed a gasoline flare with three bright

wicks. We tried to guess what popcorn was made of.

     “This is corn,” the vendor said unexpectedly in Ukrainian Russian.

     “Can’t you see? It’s ordinary corn. But where are you from that you

speak Russian?”

     “From Moscow.”

     “No fooling?”

     “No.”

     The popcorn vendor became quite excited and walked out of his

booth.

     “Well, now, let’s see—are you here as delegates from the Soviet gov-

ernment,” he asked, ‘or did you come here to work, to perfect your-

selves?”

     We explained that we were merely traveling.

     “I see, I see. Just taking a look at how things are going in our United

States?”

     We stood a long time at the glass booth, eating popcorn and listening

to the vendor’s story, which was full of English words.

     This man had come to the United States some thirty years ago from

a small village in the government of Volhynia. Now this little village is

in Polish territory. At first he worked in mines, digging coal. Then he

was a laborer on a farm. Then workers were being hired for the loco-

motive works in Schenectady, so he went to work in the locomotive

works.

     “That’s how my life passed, like one day,” he said sadly.

     But now for six years he had been without work. He sold everything

he had. He was evicted from his home.

     “I do have a Pole as my manager. We sell popcorn together.”

     “Do you earn much?”

     “Why, no, hardly enough for dinner. I’m starving. My clothes—you

can see fro yourself what they’re like. I haven’t anything to wear

for going out into the street.”

     “Why don’t you go back to Volhynia?”

     “It is even worse there. People write it’s very bad. But tell me how

is it with you, in Russia? People say different things about you. I simply

don’t know whom to believe and whom to disbelieve.”

     We found out that this man who had left Russia in the dim past

attentively follows everything that is said and written in Schenectady

about his former homeland.

     “Various lecturers come here,” he said, “and speak at the high school.

Some are for the Soviet government, other are against it. And whoever

speaks for the Soviet government, they write bad things about him,

very bad.

     “For example, Colonel Cooper spoke well about the Soviet govern-

ment, so they wrote about him that he sold out. Got two million for it.

A millionaire farmer returned and praised the Soviet state farms. It was

said that they built a special Soviet state farm for him. Not long ago a

woman schoolteacher from Schenectady went to Leningrad, lived there,

and then came back and praised Russia. Even about her they said that

want to say anything against the Soviet government.

     “But what do you think yourself?”

     “What difference does it make what I think—would anybody ask me?

I only know one thing—I’m going to the dogs here in Schenectady.”

     He looked at the slowly glowing initials of the electric rulers of the

world and added:

     “They have built machines. Everything is made with machines. The

workingman hasn’t a chance to live.”

     “What do you think—what should be done so that the workingman

may live an easier life?”

     “Break up and destroy all-machines!” replied the vendor of popcorn

firmly and with conviction.

     More than once in America we heard talk of destroying machines. This

may seem incredible, but in a land where the building of machines has

reached the point of virtuosity, where the national genius has expressed

itself in the invention and production of machines which replace com-

pletely and improve many time the labor of man—it is precisely in this

country that you hear talk that would seem insane even in a madhouse.

     Looking at this vendor, we involuntarily remembered a New York

cafeteria on Lexington Avenue where we used to go for lunch every

day. There at the entrance used to stand a pleasant girl in an orange

calico apron, marcelled and rouged (she undoubtedly had to be up at

six in the morning in order to have time to arrange her hair), who

distributed punch tickets. Six days later, in the very same place, we saw

a metal machine doing the work of the girl automatically—and at the

same time it gave off pleasant chimes, which, of course, one could not

very well expect from the girl. We remembered also the story we heard

in New York of a certain Negro who worked on a wharf as a con-

troller, counting bales of cotton. The work suggested to him the idea of

inventing a machine that would count the bales. He invented such a

machine. His boss took advantage of this invention gladly, but dis-

missed the Negro, who henceforth was jobless.

     The next day we visited the factories of the General Electric. We

are not specialists; therefore, we cannot describe the factories as they

deserve to be described. We don’t want to give the reader an artistic

ornament instead of the real thing. We ourselves would read with pleas-

ure a description of these factories made by a Soviet engineer. We did,

however, carry away from there an impression of high technical wisdom

and organization.

     In the laboratories we saw several of the best physicists in the world,

who sat at their work with their coats off. They are working for the

General Electric Company. The company doesn’t give them very much

money—not more than twenty thousand dollars a year. Such salaries are

received only by the most prominent scientists. There are few of these

people. But there are not limits to the means necessary for experiment

and investigation. If a million is needed, they’ll give a million. That is

why the company has managed to get the best physicists in the world.

No university can give them such opportunities for research as they

receive there in a factory laboratory.

     But then, everything that these idealist invent remains the property

of the firm. The scientist advance science. The firm makes money.

     At a luncheon in a cozy and beautiful engineers’ club, several of the

engineers, to our great surprise, expressed thought that reminded us

very much of what the unemployed vendor of popcorn had been saying.

Naturally they were not expressed in such primitive form, but the es-

sence remained the same.

     “Too many machines! Too much technique! The machines are respon-

sible for the difficulties that confront the country.”

     This was aid by people who themselves produce all kinds of remark-

able machines. Perhaps they were already foreseeing the moment when

the machine will deprive of work not only workers but even themselves,

the engineers.

     Toward the end of the luncheon we were introduced to a thin and tall

gray-haired gentleman on whose cheeks played a healthy tomato-colored

flush. He proved to be an old friend of Mr. Adams’s. Little fat Adams

and his friend whacked each other’s shoulders for a long time, as if

they wanted to beat the dust out of each other’s coats.

     “Gentlemen,” the beaming Mr. Adams told us, “I present to you

Mr. Ripley. You can get a lot of good out of this man if you want to

understand the meaning of American electrical industry. But, but! You

must ask Mr. Ripley to show you his electric house.”

     We asked.

     “Very well,” said Mr. Ripley. “I will show you my electric house.”

     And Mr. Ripley asked us to follow him.