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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 Thirteen…

  … Mr. Ripley's Electric House

   

     MR. RIPLEY led us to the entrance of his little house and asked us to

press  the button of an electric bell.

     Instead of the usual bell we heard melodic sounds as if issuing from a

music box. The door opened by itself, and we found ourselves in the

anteroom.

     Mr. Ripley walked up to a box hanging on the wall, opened a small door

with an accustomed gesture, and showed us an electric machine.

     “Five types of electric bells,” he said, with a smile. “If a guest rings at the

door, you hear the melody that you have just heard. If you press the but-

ton in order to call for a servant from the room, yu hear an aria from

Carmen.”

     Mr. Ripley pressed a button and the apparatus actually played “Love

like a bird, but unearthly…”

     “The bell for breakfast is the Yale University March, and the bell for

dinner is an English Christmas carol. There is also an alarm signal. Alto-

gether there are five types of electric bells. It’s a pity that our firm has not

yet invented a signal which could tell what kind of guest was ringing—

pleasant or unpleasant,” said the master of the house.

     Having made this joke, Mr. Ripley laughed.

     “But this is nothing—merely an electrical curiosity. Now I will ask you to

come into my office.”

     Mr. Ripley represented a widely scattered type in America, the pink-

cheekd and gray-haired businessman. This type is mad up of Americans

between forty and fifty years old, prospering on good incomes, a good

appetite, and a tremendous reserve of optimism. Having at the age of

forty become pink-cheeked and gray-haired, the gentleman remains so

to the end of his days, and after that it is no longer possible to say how

old he is, whether fifty or sixty-eight. Arriving in his office, Mr. Ripley

sat down at once in an easy chair between his writing table and a shelf of

books, and, placing his feet on a chair, lit a cigarette.

     “This is how I rest after work,” he remarked, exhaling the smoke through

his mouth.

     He puffed hastily, without inhaling, intent on blowing out as much

smoke as possible.

     “It is not so harmful to smoke,” he informed us, “as it is to breathe in the

smoke which has gathered in a room, isn’t that so? Most harmful of all

is bad air.”

     Here we notice that the smoke did not spread through the room and

did not gather as usual, but before our eyes it drifted in the direction of

the bookshelf and disappeared among the books. Having noted the effect

produced by his actins, Mr. Ripley began to smoke harder than ever.

In the most miraculous way the smoke crept to the bookshelf, momentarily

surrounded the edges of the books, and immediately disappeared. Not even

the smell of tobacco remained in the room.

     “Behind the books is hidden an electrical ventilation system,” Mr. Ripley

explained.

     He walked to a round glass mechanism containing several arrows and

said:

     “The electrical instrument for regulating the temperature of the room.

You like to have it cool at night—let’s say, about fifty-three degrees. And

from seven o’clock in the morning you want it to be about sixty-five, or

anything else you may desire. You turn the arrow like that, and this arrow

like this, and you may calmly go to sleep. The instrument will carry out

your desire. It will be warm here when it is cold in the street, and cool

here when it is hot in the street. It will be done automatically. Everything

else in this office is a trifle. This lamp shade throws a comfortable light at

the writing desk. If you turn it, the lamp will illuminate the ceiling, which

will reflect the light and spread it over the entire room. Now the room is

softly lighted, while the source of light is hidden ad does not cut the

eyes.”

     Then Mr. Ripley went into the dining room. Here were various elec-

trical instruments which were well made, although they did not astound

us with their novelty: a coffeepot, a toaster, a teakettle with a whistle, and

a frying pan for cooking America’s national dish, bacon or ham and eggs.

All these were the latest models. On the buffet, apparently for contrast, was

an old spirit lamp. Americans like to demonstrate graphically the history

of technique. Ford, side by side with his modern factory, has a museum

where are exhibited old automobiles and engines. In the yard of the fac-

tory of General Electric stands one of the first electrical machines as a kind

of monument; and in the cable shop, beside a lathe from which uninter-

ruptedly crawls the latest model of cable that is automatically covered with

a silvery lead casing, is exhibited Edison’s first cable encased in a clumsy

cast-iron pipe.

     But Mr. Ripley delivered the main blow to his visitors in the kitchen.

Here stood an electric stove of amazingly clear creamy whiteness.

     “In the lower part of the stove is a drawer for dishes,” said Mr. Ripley.

“Here the plates are always warm and it is not necessary to heat them

specially before dinner. You want to cook dinner, soup, and roast. You

prepare the soup meat and the vegetables, put them in the pot, add water,

and put it on top of the stove. Then you prepare the meat for the roast and

put it in the oven. Then you go up to a special apparatus on the right

side of the stove and move one arrow to ‘soup’ and the other to ‘roast.’

After that you can calmly go to work. The dinner will not be spoiled, even

if you do not return until evening. As soon as it is ready, the heating au-

tomatically decreases. Only a low temperature will be kept up, so that

the dinner should not be cold by the time of your arrival. There is never

any soot in my kitchen, because there is an electric draft right over the

stove.”

     Mr. Ripley quickly took a piece of paper out of his pocket an lit it.

The smoke and the soot disappeared immediately.

     “But one thing is bad! After all the cooking there are many bones, potato

peelings, and other garbage.”

     Mr. Ripley’s face expressed suffering, but a second later it was lighted

up with an optimistic smile. He walked up to a square metallic drum

placed beside the stove and raised its lid.

     “Here you throw all the refuse and garbage and, after closing the lid,

turn on the electricity. In a few minutes the drum will be empty and clean.

The refuse is ground and carried away through the drains.”

     Mr. Ripley quickly seized a Sunday newspaper, which weighed five

pounds, crumpled it with difficulty, threw it into the drum. We heard a

brief clatter, and the pink-cheeked gentleman lifted the lid with triumph.

The drum was empty.

     In the course of ten minutes Mr. Ripley, as deftly as a juggler, solved

with the aid of electricity two more great kitchen problems—the preserva-

tion of supplies and the washing of dishes.

     He showed us an electric refrigerator, which not only needed no ice

but, on the contrary, prepared it in a special little white bathtub, which

looked like a photographer’s, in the shape of neat transparent little cubes.

In this refrigerator were compartments for meat, milk, fish, eggs, and fruit.

     Then the lid of another drum was taken off. It had a number of various

shelves, shelvelets, and hooks.

     “Here you place the soiled dishes, spoons, plates, pots. Then you close

the lid and turn on the electric current. From all sides streams of hot water

beat against the dishes, and a few minutes later they are clean. Now it is

necessary to dry them. Oh, what a job that is and how unpleasant to wipe

dishes! Isn’t that true? But no! After washing, the supply of water auto-

matically stops and in its place dry air pours out of special jets. A few

more minutes—and your dishes, gentlemen, are clean and dry.”

     Mr. Ripley quickly showed us an electric machine for beating eggs, and

then asked us to go upstairs to the bedroom. There he quickly took off

his coat and lay down on the bed.

     “Imagine that I am asleep.”

     Without any effort we painted in our imagination the restful picture

entitled, “Papa Sleeps.”

     “But now it is morning. It is time to rise. Oh, oh, oh!”

     He rose and yawned quite naturally.

     “Pay attention to this lamp. I turn on the electricity, and while I, stretch-

ing and yawning, take off my pajamas, the lamp shines on my body. But

this is no ordinary lamp. It is an artificial sun, which gives a normal tan.

There are ten minutes at my disposal. I rise from my bed and walk up to

this gymnastic apparatus. Here I turn on another quartz lamp and, con-

tinuing to be tanned while lying in the sun, I begin my gymnastics. People

don’t like to do gymnastics in the morning. Our firm took that into con-

sideration. Therefore, you don’t have to make any movements. You only

put these belts around you and turn on the electricity. The apparatus mas-

sages you in the most conscientious manner. However, according to the

gentlemen, is far from being a perfect instrument. He might forget to

look at his watch and to turn off the electricity. The apparatus will not

let him forget. It will stop its activity of its own volition, and it will do so

precisely in five minutes.”

     We had more than once met with this type of phenomenon in Ameri-

can technique. It is called “foolproof”—protection from the fool. High tech-

nique distrusts man, has no faith in his resourcefulness. Wherever possible

it tries to protect itself from errors native to a living creature. The term

which was invented to describe it is cruel, ruthless—foolproof—protection

from the fool! At the construction of the largest hydroelectric station in

the world, Boulder Dam, we saw a crane which lowered wagonloads of

materials into a deep ravine. It is easy to imagine all the complexity and

danger of such an operation. It is sufficient merely to confuse the electric

buttons that regulate this apparatus to cause a catastrophe. But there can

be no mistake. In the steering booth where the mechanic sits there is

only one button. The machine does everything on its own. It will never

come to work in a state of inebriety. It is always composed, and its re-

sourcefulness is beyond all praise.

     Mr. Ripley continued to show us more and more new electric wonders

of his little house. Here were an electric razor and the latest mode vacuum

cleaner and a washing machine and a special ironing press, which has

taken the place of the electric iron, that anachronism of the twentieth cen-

tury. When from under a smoothly polished table he pulled an electric

sewing machine, we were already worn out. If at that moment Mr. Ripley

would have led us into the yard an, turning to the house, had said” “Stand,

little house, with your back to New York, with your front facing me,”

and the little house, like the little hut on hen’s legs, would have fulfilled

this request with the aid of electricity, we would not have been much sur-

prised.

     It is time to tell who this Mr. Ripley is. He is in charge of the publicity

department of the General Electric Company. Translated into Russian,

publicity means advertising, yet this is too simple an explanation. Publicity

is a much broader concept. In American life it plays a role perhaps no

less important than that of technique itself.

     We have come to associate with American publicity the vociferousness of

Barkers, countless placards, premiums, bleaming electric signs, and so

forth. There is, of course, that kind of advertising in America. However,

this method of uninterruptedly stunning the consumer is used only by

manufacturers of cigarettes, chewing gum, alcohol, or that cooling drink,

Coca-Cola.

     Mr. Ripley’s little house is not an advertising house. It is a scientific house.

Here the gray-haired gentleman, day in and day out, month in and month

out, calculates the cost of exploiting this or that electric appliance. By the

side of each one of them hangs a meter. Mr. Ripley carries on experi

ments and tests the new machines from the point of view of economy. Then

he writes a book. He is an author. And in that book there are no chauvinis-

tic cries to the effect that the products of General Electric are better than

the products of Westinghouse. On the contrary, when we asked Mr. Rip-

ley whether Westinghouse refrigerators are good, he told us that they are

very good. In his book he explains how convenient it is to use electricity

in everyday life, and proves with the aid of authentic figures that electricity

is cheaper than gas, oil, and coal. In his book there is precise information

about the cost of an electric stove per hours, per day, per week, and per

month. In conclusion he informs you that the exploitation of the entire

electric house costs seven dollars a week. He knows well that this

is the best method of persuading the consumer.

     Contemporary American technique is incomparably higher than Amer-

ican social conditions—that of a capitalist society. While that technique

produces ideal things which make life easier, social conditions do not let

the American earn enough money to buy these things.

     Deferred payment is the foundation of American trade. All things in the

home of an American are bought on time: the stove on which the cooks,

the furniture on which he sits, the vacuum cleaner with which he cleans

his rooms, the house itself in which he lives—everything is acquired on

time. For all this he must pay money over a score of years. Essentially,

neither the house nor the furniture nor the wonderful gadgets of an almost

ideal life belong to him. The law is very strict. If out of a hundred pay-

ments he makes ninety-nine and does not have enough money to make

the hundredth payment, the thing is paying for will be taken away.

For the vast majority, property is a fiction. Everything, even the bed on

which this desperate optimist and enthusiastic defender of property sleeps,

belongs not to him but to the industrial company or to the bank. It is

enough for a man to lose his job, and the very next day he begins to under-

stand clearly that he is no kind of proprietor at all, but the most ordinary

slave, alike a Negro, only white in color.

     Yet it is impossible to refrain from buying.

     A polite ringing of the doorbell and in the room appears an utter

stranger. Without wasting time on any introductory speeches, the visitor

says:

     “I have come here to place a new electric stove in your kitchen.”

     “But I already have a gas stove,” replies the astonished proprietor of the

little house, the washing machine, and the standardized furniture, which

he must still pay for over many years.

     “The electric stove is much better and more economical. However, I’m

not going to argue with you. I will install it and I shall return in a month.

If you don’t like it, I will take it away. But if you like it, the terms are

very easy: twenty-five dollars the first month, and then…”

     He installs the stove. In a month the master of the house has had

time to assure himself that the stove is really remarkable. He is already

accustomed to it and cannot part with it. He sings a new agreement and

begins to feel as rich as Rockefeller.

     You will agree that this is much more convincing than an electric sign.

     It would seem that in the life of the average American—or, in other

words, of the American who has a job—there must come the moment when

he will pay up all his debts and really become a proprietor. But that is not

so easy. His automobile has become old. The firm offers him a new ex-

cellent model. The firm takes the old machine back for a hundred dollars,

and for the remaining five hundred it give him wonderfully easy terms:

the first month so many dollars, and then…

     Then the happy owner somehow loses his job, and his new automobile,

with its two signals, electric lighter and radio set, is returned to its real

owner, the finance company which gave him the easy terms.

     That’s the trouble! They don’t sell him trash, but really fine things. In

recent years the production of objects of mass consumption has reached per-

fection in America. Well, now, how can you restrain yourself and refrain

from buying a new vacuum cleaner in spite of the fact that the old one is

good enough to use for another ten years?

     Not long ago in New York a new method of advertising was begun.

     Into the apartment of a New Yorker who has been through the mill and

knows all the ropes enters a man and says:

     “Hello. I am a chef. I want to cook a good nourishing dinner for you

and your guests—with my groceries.”

     Noticing a sardonic smile on the face of the New Yorker, the newcomer

adds hastily:

     “It will not cost you a single cent. I make only two conditions. In the

first place, the dinner must be cooked in my pots, which I will bring with

me, and, in the second place, you must invite no fewer than seven ladies

to the dinner.”

     On the appointed day the chef comes with his pots and prepares a pala-

table dinner. Toward the end of the banquet he solemnly appears in the

dining room, asks whether the guests are satisfied with the dinner, and

writes down the addresses for the women present. Everybody is delighted

with the dinner. The chef modestly tells them that a dinner like that can

be cooked by any housewife, if she will only use his special pots. The entire

company goes into the kitchen and examines the pots. Every one of them

is divided into three sections. They have some kind of special bottom

which presumably aids the preservation of vitamins. However, there is

very little untruth here. The pots are really good, and the conditions of

purchase are easy. The next day the chef goes to the various addresses

and closes his deals. The enchanted housewives purchase full sets of pots.

Again—deferred payments. The pots are actually better than the old. But

it is no easier to live. On the contrary, it is harder, because there are addi-

tional debts.

     No! Electric sings and newspaper advertisements are merely the pre-

paratory work.

     Every year in America an interesting event occurs. A building company,

having united with the society of architects and electric firms, builds a

house. It is something like Mr. Ripley’s house. But there, in addition to the

electric novelties, everything is a novelty—the architecture, the building

materials, the furniture, even the yard. Having built this house, the en-

terpreneurs, consolidating on a commercial basis, announce a national

competition for the description of this house. Any citizen of the United

States is free to describe this house, in verse or in prose. The author of the

best description receives the best-described house as his premium. This

event does not fail to arouse tremendous interest. The last time the house

was received by a poor sixteen-year-old girl. The newspapers were glad to

print her biography and portrait. She was offered a job in the advertising

department of a large enterprise—but the girl is, of course, beside the point.

The point is that, carried away by her startling happiness, the readers were

carried away at the same time with projects for perfecting their own lives.

In the evenings fathers of families put on their spectacles and, pencil in

hand, calculated that the purchase of such a house on very easy terms

was not such a terrible thing at all: the first payment would come to so

many dollars, and then…

     Leaving the hospitable Mr. Ripley, we thanked him and in farewell

we asked:

     “Now you have lost several hours because of us. You knew very well

that we would not buy a refrigerator or a stove, didn’t you?”

     “But maybe someday you will write about my little house,” replied the

gray-haired, pink-cheeked gentleman. “Good publicity is never wasted.”