Darling! Let’s get deeply into debt.       

Hold your seats, ladies

I have been a clerk in a department store

Philip Wylie

Mom also has patriotism. If a war comes, this may even turn into a genuine feeling and the departure of her son may be her means to grace in old age. Often, however, the going of her son is only an occasion for more show. She has, in that case, no deep respect for him. What he has permitted her to do to him has rendered him unworthy of consideration – and she has shown him none since puberty. She does not miss him – only his varletry – but over that she can weep interminably. I have seen the unmistakable evidence in a blue star mom of envy of a gold star mom; and I have a firsthand account by a woman of unimpeachable integrity, of the doings of a shipload of these supermoms-of-the-gold-star, en route at government expense to France to visit the graves of their sons, which I forbear to set down here, because it is a document of such naked awfulness that, by publishing it, I would be inciting to riot, and the printed thing might even rouse the dead soldiers and set them tramping like Dunsany’s idol all the way from Flanders to hunt and haunt their archenemy progenitrices – who loved them – to death. (pp. 192-193)

Ancestor worship, like all other forms of religion, contained an instinctual reason and developed rituals thought to be germane to the reason. People sedulously followed those rituals, which were basically intended to remind them that they, too, were going to be ancestors someday and would have to labor for personal merit in order to be worthy of veneration. But mom’s reverence for her bold forebears lacks even a ritualistic significance, and so instructs her in nothing. She is peremptory about historical truth, mandates, custom, fact, and point. She brushes aside the ideals and concepts for which her forebears perished fighting, as if they were the crumbs of melba toast. Instead, she attributes to the noble dead her own immediate and selfish attitudes. She “knows full well what they would have thought and done,” and in that whole-cloth trumpery she goes busting on her way. (p. 194)

Hold your seats, ladies. I have been a clerk in a department store. Not merely that, but I have been a clerk behind the dress goods remnant counter. And not only that, but I have served and observed the matriarchy from the vantage point during sales. If there is a woman still on her feet and not laughing, nab her, because that will mark her as a ringleader in this horrid business.

Much of the psychological material which got me studying this matter of moms came into my possession as I watched the flower-hatted goddesses battle over fabric. I have seen the rich and the poor, the well-dressed and the shabby, the educated and the unlettered, tear into the stacked remnants day after day, shoving and harassing, trampling each other’s feet, knocking hats, coiffures and glasses awry, cackling, screaming, bellowing, and giving the elbow, without any differential of behavior no matter how you sliced them. I have watched them deliberately drive quiet clerks out of their heads and their jobs and heard them whoop over the success of the stratagem. I have seen them cheat and steal and lie and rage and whip and harry and stampede – not just a few times but week after week, and not just a few women but thousands and thousands and thousands, from everywhere. I know the magnitude of their rationalizing ability down to the last pale tint and I know the blackguard rapacity of them down to the last pennyworth.

I have, as a matter of confidential fact, twice beheld the extraordinary spectacle occasioned by two different pairs of rich and world-famous women who managed, in the morass the moms make of the remnant counter by ten o’clock each morning, to get hold of opposite ends of the same three and a half yards of Liberty crepe or dotted swiss and who found out that the object under scrutiny was also being considered by another. This I hold to be the Supreme Evidence.

In both cases both women were “merely looking,” but immediately they sensed possible antagonism for what might be a purchase (though the statistics ran about five thousand to one against that) they began to struggle with the state most insufferable to momism: competition.

First, perhaps, a lifting of a lorgnette; then a cold stare; next, a reproachful glance at the clerk, and a refined but snappy little jerk designed to yank free the far end of the goods. Riposte: a fierce clutch and a facial response in kind. Next, the buttery attempt – the so-called “social” smile – like a valentine laced around an ice pick, and a few words, “I beg your pardon – but I – er – am looking at – this remnant.” The wise clerk will now begin to search for the floorwalker and, in general, canvass his resources. (I should say, of course, that while I have seen only four renowned women engaged in this contretemps I have seen dozens of less distinguished moms hit the same jackpot.) The upper-class rejoinder to the foregoing gambit is, of course, “I’m quite sorry, but I happened to notice that I selected this piece quite some time before you picked up the end of it.” At this point a hard yank is, of course, optional. But usually there come two simultaneous jerks which loosen hair, knock both hats askew, and set the costume jewelry clattering. The women now start toward each other, down the remnant, hand over hand. Bystanders are buffeted. All dress goods that cover the rope of cloth are flung about. The dialogue takes a turn to “I’ll have to ask you so be good tough to let go of my material!” It rises in register to a near-scream. Upper lips begin to sweat. Chests heave. Elbows swing up to the ready.

Both women ate now yelling at once and the tonal quality is like the sound of fingernails drawn along slates. They punctuate their words with loud cries of “Manager!” and begin to jostle each other. Peripheral moms, punched by accident in the aggression, now take up with each other a contagion of brawls and bickerings. The principals, meanwhile, have met knuckle to knuckle in the middle of the fabric and are yowling in each others faces. Toward this the floorwalker or section manager moves cautiously. The thing has an almost invariable denouement. One woman stalks out of the store and closes her account by mail, only to open it within a matter of days. The other triumphantly purchases the draggled cloth, charges it, signs for it, bears it away, and has the truck pick it up the following afternoon.

I have been a clerk. Clerks are wallpaper to mom, and it has never occurred to her that she needs to hide her spurting soul from them. Clerks see moms in the raw – with their husbands, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, gigolos, and companion viragoes. That anybody such as I, an articulate man with a memory like a tombstone, should be standing behind a counter conducting an inadvertent espionage on the moms has never entered their brawling brains. But there I was – and I was there, too, in the church, and at the manse. And I have hung around hospitals a lot – and insane asylums.

It can be pointed out – and has, indeed, been pointed out before, though not, so far as I know, by any chap who has had such diverse and intimate contacts with the moms as I – that they are taking over the male functions and interpreting those functions in female terms. When the mothers built up their pyramid of perquisite and required reverence in order to get at the checkbook, and so took over the schools (into which they have put gelding moms), churches, stores, and mass production (which included, of course, the railroads, boats, and airplanes and, through advertising, the radio and the magazines), they donned the breeches of Uncle Sam. To this inversion I shall refer again. Note it.

I have explained how the moms turned Cinderellaism to their advantage and I have explained that women possess some eighty per cent of the nation’s money (the crystal form of its energy) and I need only allude, I think, to the statistical reviews which show that the women are the spenders, wherefore the controlling consumers of nearly all we make with our machines. The steel puddler in Pittsburgh may not think of himself as a feminine tool, but he is really only getting a Chevrolet ready for mom to drive through a garden wall. I should round out this picture of America existing for mom with one or two more details, such as annual increase in the depth of padding in vehicles over the past thirty years due to the fact that a fat rump is more easily irritated than a lean one, and the final essential detail of mom’s main subjective preoccupation, which is listening to the radio. The radio is mom’s soul; a detail, indeed.

It is also a book in itself, and one I would prefer to have my reader write after he has learned a little of the art of catching overtones as a trained ear, such as mine, catches them: But there must be a note on it.

The radio has made sentimentality the twentieth century Plymouth Rock. As a discipline, I have forced myself to sit a whole morning listening to the soap operas, along with twenty million moms who were busy sweeping dust under carpets while planning to drown their progeny in honey or bash in their heads. This filthy and indecent abomination, this trash with which, until lately, only moron servant girls could dull their credulous minds in the tawdry privacy of their cubicles, is now the national saga. Team after team of feeble-minded Annies and Davids crawl from the loud-speaker into the front rooms of America. The characters are impossible, their adventures would make a saint spew, their morals are lower than those of ghouls, their habits are uncleanly, their humor is the substance that starts whole races grinding bayonets, they have no manners, no sense, no goals, no worthy ambitions, no hope, no faith, no information, no values related to reality, and no estimate of truth. They merely sob and snicker – as they cheat each other.

Babies die every hour on the hour to jerk so many hundred gallons of tears. Cinderella kidnaps the Prince and then mortgages the palace to hire herself a gigolo. The most oafish cluck the radio executives can find, with a voice like a damp pillow – a mother-lover of the most degraded sort – is given to America as the ideal young husband. His wife, with a tin voice and a heart of corrosive sublimate, alternately stands at his side to abet some spiritual swindle or leaves him with a rival for as much time as is needed to titillate mom without scaring her.

The radio is mom’s final tool, for it stamps everybody who listens with the matriarchal brand – its superstitions, prejudices, devotional rules, taboos, musts, and all other qualifications needful to its maintenance. Just as Goebbels has revealed what can be done with such a mass-stamping of the public psyche in his nation, so our land is a living representation of the same fact worked out in matriarchal sentimentality, goo, slop, hidden cruelty, and the foreshadow of national death. (pp. 198-202)

From Chapter 11 of Generation of Vipers, Philip Wylie, Rinehart & Company, Inc., NY, 1942.

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