My study window opens onto Hyde Park. It educates and amuses me when I look down from my tower. How human life flows here and there under my feet! As the garden gates are opened, the girl from the street crawls in first. He has finished his deplorable work. He shivers in the lichen morning; hurrying to his short rest. Poor slave! They were lured down to the lowest rung of the galley; remained on the chain. Civilization—evil fool—they say needs such a thing. You are what the dogs of some eastern city are. But I think there’s no need to spit on you. Back in the shed! If the sky is kind, perhaps you dream of a clean home; they rested there with beautiful silver chains around their necks.
A worker is coming – woodcutter, water pumper; – he trudges tiredly to work. His leaden eyes are still sleepy; he carries the food in a bag on his back. The first strike of the tower clock is heard from Big Ben. Hurry, fellow slave; otherwise, the inspector’s whip plows your back: “Cover yourself; you don’t need dreamcatchers here”.
An industrialist is coming; tool bag attached to his back. It also listens anxiously to the bell ringing. Because his whip is waiting for him too.
After that, shop boy, shop girl; so as not to waste time, they fall in love on the way. Then slaves of desks; department store employees; employers and workers; clerks and merchants; office workers and business owners. Place, place, you slaves of mixed fate. Put on the chains.
Laughing and laughing, an army of children: the children of slaves. Be diligent, little children; when the time is here, then you will take the creaking oar out of our hands; take our place in the rushing process. We won’t be slaves forever, my little ones. There are good laws in this country. As many years as you spent on the galley, you will spend the same number on the fields; we demand our freedom. Then, children, we go back to where we were born. You will have to be left behind; you need it for us-60-to take the job. Woman; hurry to school, little ones; learn to become good little slaves.
The slaves of the more educated ranks follow with dignity. – Writers, doctors, judges, poets; – attorney-at-law, artist; actor, priest. They also stumble across the park, anxiously glancing at their watches here and there so as not to be late for the appointed meeting. They think of cost lists, details, money, what needs to be earned; for hats that will have to be paid for; to invoices; which will have to be equalized. Among all the many slaves, their punishment is the worst. Their pitcher, as they expect, is not two- or three-pronged like the others; it is woven from fifty branches. Just work, slave, or else you’ll sink to where they smoke twopenny cigars; you can sink even lower, drinking a shilling spritz; you can still lose the car and have to travel by omnibus. Your wife’s dress will be last year’s fashion; your pants will buckle. They are exiled from Kensington to Kilburn. Surely, you have received a multilingual whip, my beloved brother.
The slaves of fashion come into view after them. They are dressed with embarrassing care, curled out. Liberian, magnificent Hajduk; they are intended more for eye candy than for everyday use. You have to come here every day, happy or sad. They can go this way, but only this way; they can only use the same words in their conversations with each other. You have to drive slowly between Hyde-Park Corner and the Magazine for an hour and a half. Only these clothes are allowed to be worn; only gloves of this color; their tie can only have this pattern. In the afternoon, you have to come out again, but by car; differently dressed; for an hour and a half they slowly trot up and down in a crazy procession. But you have to get dressed again for lunch; unpleasant social obligations have to be fulfilled after lunch. Finally, their heads fall on their shoulders from fatigue and boredom.
In the evening, the slaves return from work. Brothers, they think of their magnificent defense speeches; schoolboys, they cut the donkey-eared grammar here and there. City traders, breaking their heads in shops. Shopboys and shopgirls are now walking home in silence; a worker, an industrialist, returns home. Two or three-61-hour is yours now, slaves; you can think, play, have fun, love, if you are not too tired to think, have fun, love. Then to bed; be ready, tomorrow is new work.
Darkness engulfs the twilight; here is the street girl again. Like the shadow, it overwhelms the City’s sun. Now is the time to act. Evil and misery arise in the wake of his work.
The whip of necessity drives me; we are working; the entire slave camp. If we don’t do the work, the whip will crack; we feel the pain in our stomachs, not our backs. Because of all this, we call ourselves free people.
One or two bravely fight to be truly free; and these are outcasts. We, well-bred slaves, shy away from them. In this world, the price of freedom is fasting, a dirty den. Our life is only bearable if we have put the ring around our neck.
Sometimes people ask themselves: – What is this endless work for? Why all this house building, all this cooking, all this sewing? Is the ant that much more enviable than the cricket if it spends its whole life digging and carrying food? There is no time left for the song. What is this compulsive instinct? It drives us to a thousand jobs to satisfy our thousand desires. We turned the world into a factory to supply ourselves with games. In order to buy luxury, we sacrificed our comfort.
Children of Israel! why didn’t you stay in peace in the wilderness?! It must have been a lovely, friendly wilderness! Simple, healthy food was always ready there. You never had problems with taxes or rent; there were no poor among you. Your digestion was never bad; you never have any problems with a thousand diseases, all of which stem from overeating. One portion of manna for each person; no more, no less. You didn’t even know if you had kidneys. Doctors did not quibble with their theories; with their medicines and bills. You were neither owners, nor tenants, nor lien holders, nor renters. You didn’t know the lawyer; no advice was needed; you could argue with your neighbors as much as you liked. You had no treasures, no farms, no rusting splendor. Your wives and children were taken care of. It didn’t worry me-62-age of concern; you knew there would always be enough to live on. Your funeral – a simple, no-frills operation – was organized by the chief of the tribe. Look, look, poor, clumsy child; didst thou come out of the land of Egypt so fresh, that thou couldst not remain there in peace? You were hungry for husos pot, even though you knew what it contained! You have to clean out that dirty pot; you also have to cut wood to put on the fire. An animal must be raised to fill the meat pots; feed must be produced, as you fatten the animal to fill your meat pot.
The husospot is our whole life’s work. We sacrifice our comfort on the altar of the meat pot; we leave our peace of mind. We sell our birthright for a bowl of lentils.
Children of Israel, didn’t you see how long the punishment you took upon yourself would be when you set up the image of the Calf in the wilderness? You fell before him, crying: “Let this be our God.”
You wanted lamb. Haven’t you thought about the price a person pays for lamb? Servants of the Golden Calf, you! I see them, here they lie with their heads in front of my eyes; a tired, endless crowd. I see: they work there in the mines; black sweat drips from their faces. I see them in sunless cities; they are silent, grumpy, stooped. I see them there in dry fields. I can also see it in the fire of furnaces. In blue and black suits, as soon as they step into the slaughterhouse to sacrifice their lives and blood in the service of the Golden Calf! Soldiers! They also sacrifice for the Golden Calf! I see how they wear the rough clothes; I see it in smoke, steam, fire; in a slip, with an apron; both in the service of Borju. They covered the earth; they flooded the sea. Or they are chained to numbers; to the desk. They plow the land where the Golden Calf was born. They build ships; they launch the ship, it again carries the Golden Calf. The pots are poured into molds; the bowls; a table is carved and laid; they stand a chair; they dream of gravy; bring salt out of the ground; they weave damask; they prepare the wedge to serve the Golden Calf.
The world is for us to eat of the Golden Calf. War and trade, laws, science! What else, if not the four pillars, on which the Golden Calf rests? He is ours-63-Our God. On his back, we came from the vast primeval forests, where our ancestors ate nuts and fruit. He is our God. His church will be on every street. His blue-robed priest always stands at the door: he calls the people to worship. Listen! his voice can be heard through the gas-stained air: “It’s time!” it’s time! take it, people, take it! Bring here the sweat of your cheeks, the pain of your hearts: take Borjuhus on it. Give him the best years of your life. Here with your thoughts, hopes, and love: You will get Borjuhus for it. It’s time! It’s time! Take it!
Children of Israel, tell me: with all its flavor, was Borjuhus worth this price?
Well what? Have we learned wisdom over so many centuries? I recently spoke with a very rich man. He calls himself a financier, I don’t know what the word means. He leaves his beautiful house – he lives twenty kilometers from London – every morning. In winter and summer, it goes up at a quarter to eight o’clock. He has a quick, private breakfast while his guests are still asleep. By the time he returns, there is just enough time to get dressed quickly for the splendid luncheon, which he really can’t attend; too tired; he is too busy with his thoughts. If he allows himself some rest, he spends it in Ostend. He goes down there for a week or two; just when it’s most uncomfortable there, when most people are down. He takes his secretary with him; he gets a thousand rushes, chases them away every day; he has a private telephone, he can talk directly to London; he takes it up to his bedroom.
The telephone is a useful invention. Businessmen wonder how the world could have turned without it before. I myself think that he is a normal, ordinary person, who has all the passions of his species, because he does not keep his business affairs, his person, a thousand meters away from this noble invention. I dare to imagine that Jób, Grizelda, or Sokrates would have really liked a telephone for a while. Sokrates, for example, would have become famous if he rented a telephone for three months. As for me, I’m a bit sensitive about it. I once lived for a month in an official room with a telephone. If it can be called life at all. They said if I had stayed there, I would have kept the-64-tool for another two or three months, I’m getting used to it nicely. But I have friends – once fearless, high-spirited men – who now stand in front of their phone for a quarter of an hour straight, and it doesn’t even answer. They say that at first they also shouted and cursed, just as I did; but now, it seems, their spirit is defeated, crushed. It’s like this: either your phone breaks you, or it breaks you. You want to visit someone who lives two streets away, next door. You put on your hat; you’re there in two minutes if you want. You’re about to leave when you come face to face with the phone. You think: well, I’ll call, let me be sure if he’s home. The case begins with the fact that you ring half a dozen times and no one answers half a dozen times. You burn with impatience, with the indignity of being neglected. You leave the device there and sit down to write an angry letter to the center, but before you finish, the doorbell rings. You grab the listener and yell at him:
“How come I don’t get an answer when I ring the doorbell?” I’ve been standing here for three quarters of an hour, pulling the phone. I’ve rung there thirty times so far. (It’s not true. You only pulled it eight times; three-quarters of an hour is also a strong exaggeration; but you feel that the raw truth is not suitable in the current situation.) – Please, this will not work, – you continue – I will file a report. Why do I have a phone if I don’t get an answer when I ring? A person pays a huge sum to get this crap, and then the dog doesn’t even care about the person. I’ve been ringing since morning. How long have you been ringing since morning?
You are waiting for an answer.
“What?… how?… I don’t understand what he said.”
“I’m saying that I’ve been ringing for an hour and a half and there’s no answer,” you shout. “I’m filing a complaint with the company.”
“What about the company?” Don’t let them talk so closely that you can’t hear a word. Which number do you like?
– The devil hide in my mouth; I’m asking why I don’t get an answer when I ring.
“Eight hundred and what?”
You have become incapable of argument. The structure would collapse, -65-you can only use such pronunciations. If you only say half of what you feel, it causes an explosion where the wire is a little weaker. There is no human word that can describe the situation quite correctly. A cannon would be the only tool you could use to assert your opinion. You give up the fight; you no longer want to answer; you bluntly state that you want a connection with four-seven-five-six.
“Four-four-five-six?” she asks.
– No; four-seven-five-six.
“Did you like to say six-five or five-six?”
“Six to five; no way! I say five or six; no way, – just wait a moment. I don’t know which one it was anymore.
“Then you’d better look into it; says the young lady strictly. “It keeps me up all morning.”
You look up the number again; it finally declares that you are already connected; now you hold the listener close to your ear and wait.
And if anything in this whole world can make a man look ridiculous, then this situation is it. You stand there on tiptoe; you are intently paying attention to the small device in your hand. You don’t hear anything. Your back hurts, your head hurts; even your hair hurts. You hear the door open behind you; as someone enters the room. You can’t turn around. You look ugly on him; you hear the door slam again. It immediately dawns on you that this is most likely Henrietta. He promised to visit me at half-past twelve; it was like taking you to lunch. It was eleven o’clock when you started this infernal machine; it must be half past twelve now. Suddenly your whole past life slips before you; sad memories of your grandmother come back to life. You wonder how much longer you can endure this situation; basically, is it really necessary to talk to the person first, who lives there a street or two away. Then the person at the center will ask you if you are done.
“Are we done?” – you say bitterly; – but we haven’t started yet!
“Hurry up!” – came the answer, – because it is not possible to maintain the connection for so long.
At this warning, you grab the tool again. “Is he finally there?” – you shout to soften him up-66-the heart of any friend of the Order of Mercy. Then – what a beauty! what happiness! you hear a human voice answer from far away:
– I’m here; so what is it?
“Are you four-five-seven-six?” Williamson?
“Who’s talking there?”
“It’s eight-one-nine; Jones.
– No; Jones. Are you four-five-seven-six?
“The back; what does he want?
“Is Mr Williamson at home?”
“Home?” “Who’s talking there?”
“Jones!” Is Mr Williamson at home?
“Samson?” – I do not hear anything.
You pull yourself together with a final effort; with superhuman patience, you understood with his head that you wanted to know if Mr. Williamson was at home; to which he replies (at least he fears that.) He is at home, all morning.
You get your hat and you pass.
– If you please; I want to speak to Mr Williamson.
“Yes, we are sorry, sir; – is the polite answer; – went.
– Went? How come? They just said on the phone that he was home all morning.
– No; we said he wasn’t home all morning.
Go back; you sit down in front of the phone and stare at it. It hangs there calmly, undisturbed. If it were an everyday, ordinary device, then this would be its last hour. You would go straight down to the kitchen, grab the ax and split it into different pieces; let every man in all London receive it. But electricity annoys me, and then there’s something about this phone, the way it’s standing there with the black hole and the curly wires, that takes away your courage. You get the feeling that if you don’t treat him well, something will come out of him and scare him; you will still end up in court;-67-God Save! you’d rather be content with cursing the whole thing.
Everything goes so smoothly if you want to talk about your station. But that’s not the worst side of what the phone can do. He is a reasonable person, if he has gathered a little experience, he will continue to live calmly and leave him alone. But you are not the cause of the worst problems. You want to continue working today; you give the order not to be disturbed. Lunch time has passed; you think, you close your eyes; even the objects in the room should not disturb you while you are thinking. You are determined that you will not leave your chair for a while. All of a sudden the phone rings. You jump up; until the moment you don’t know for sure whether you were shot at or the victim of a dynamite attack. In your tenderness, while hesitating, you remember that maybe if you don’t take it all into account, they will get bored and leave you alone. But their method is not like that. The bell rings furiously every ten minutes. There is nothing around you to wrap your head around. You think you’d better get the whole thing over with. You face your fate and shout wildly:
– What is that? What does he want?
No answer, only a confused murmur; somehow you slowly realize that there are two people cursing each other. It’s a really ugly language they use to talk to each other. The phone, which is extremely suitable for continuing insults. Ordinary everyday speech is only vaguely heard in it; but every word that two such people say to each other can be heard clearly in the telephones of every subscriber in London.
There is no point in waiting for them to be ready. When they are exhausted, you question your listener again. There is no answer. You’re going crazy; you become sarcastic; but being sarcasticly superior when you don’t know if someone on the other end is listening or not isn’t sane fun.
Well, after about a quarter of an hour of questioning: “Well. Is he there with the phone?” “I’m here!” “Then it’s fine.” The young lady at the center will ask you what you want.
“I don’t want anything,” you answer.-68-
“Then why are you suspending the student?” he answers; – it’s not for playing.
You will not be able to speak for a while because of indignity; you come to your senses, you explain that they were looking for you.
“Who was looking for it?” he asks.
– I do not know.
“You’d better know,” he notes.
You cut the shell there with general disgust; you sit back. As soon as you are there, the bell rings again; you jump up and want to hear what the hell they want; where the hell are they looking for.
“Don’t talk so loudly.” What do you want? Why does he ring and then not answer? Leave me alone.
“We can’t get Hong Kong, but we can get it for seventy-four!”
– Correct; I’m sorry too.
“Would you take Zulus instead?”
– What do you want from me? you ask.
“Would you take Zulus?” Zulus; seventy-three and a half?
“I don’t need it if you give six of it to a six.” What is he talking about?
“About Hong Kong… that we can’t get it for seventy-four”—but wait just a minute. (The minute passes.) Is he still there?
“I’m here, but you probably don’t want to talk to me.”
“Well, we can get it if you want Hong Kong for seventy-four-seven-eight.”
“The hell is chewing Hong Kong with it.” I say you are talking about the wrong address. I said once.
“How much did he say once?”
“I told you once that you’re not talking about the right place.” I understand that he didn’t want to talk to me.
“Who’s talking there?”
– Oh yeah; isn’t it one-nine-eight?
“Good morning then.”
– Good afternoon.
How can a European sit down after that-69-talk about the crisis in a cheerful voice? Even if it is necessary otherwise, this is also a reason to give up the phone. Before, I was busy with something completely different, I brought arguments that, if not serious in themselves, were related to a very serious matter; to the never-satiable nature of man’s desire for economy. The fact that I saw the word “telephone” spelled out distracted me from such a high-flying moral debate. The result of this is that the many wild critics at “Uj Humor” will turn against me, if this book falls into their hands as punishment for their crimes. So let’s forget about this outing and return to the millionaire acquaintance.
One day, after lunch, we sat together in his dazzlingly decorated dining room. We lit our cigars at the silver lamp. The butler drew back.
“This cigar here; – remarks my friend suddenly, probably without any “á propos”, – it costs six shillings apiece; I take it in thousands.
“I really believe it,” I say, “because it’s worth it.”
“Well, for you,” he answers almost wildly. “What do you usually pay for a cigar?”
We’ve known each other for years. When we first met, his entire office was a back room on the fifth floor in a dirty side street off the Strand. He has since disappeared from there. We used to have lunch together here and there at a restaurant in Great Portland Street for ninety one shillings.
Our friendship is strong enough to handle such a question.
“Threepence; I answer. “From Skatulyás, it costs a little more than two pence.”
– Well, look; – says; — and his twopenny cigar gives him as much pleasure as my fiveshilling cigar gives me. That’s a loss of around four shillings and ninepence every time you hit it. My cook gets two hundred pounds a year. I never enjoy my lunch more than when it costs four shillings; add a quarter of a bottle of Chianti. Because looking at my own person, he says, what difference does it make to me, whether you drive me to my office by car or by omnibus? I often take the omnibus; I avoid a lot of trouble with it. It is unnecessary for a man to look at the back of his carriage,-70-if the policeman lets omnibuses go half an hour earlier. Before that, I didn’t even have enough money for an omnibus. – I walked from Hammersmith to the “office” every morning. I was much healthier. I get irritated when I think about how hard I work without getting any pleasure out of it. My money brings joy to a lot of people, whom I don’t care about, who are my friends only because they hope for some benefit from me. If I could eat a hundred-guinea dinner all by myself every night, and enjoy it four hundred times as much as I did at fourshillings; then yes. Then it would make some sense. God, why can’t I do it?
I’ve never heard him speak. In his rapture he rose from the table; he started pacing up and down the room.
“Why don’t I put my money down at two and a half percent?” – He continues. “Even if it turns out worst, I’m sure I have five thousand a year.” According to common sense, what does a person need more of? I always say to myself: I will do it. Why don’t I?
“Why doesn’t he really do it?” – I answer echo image.
“That’s what I want to know from you,” he says. “You claim to understand human nature; it’s a secret from me. If you were me, you would do as I do; he knows well. If a man were to leave a hundred thousand pounds to himself tomorrow; he would start a paper, or build a theater—he would engage in some damned trick to get rid of his money and go through seventeen hours a day of excitement; of course he would.
I hung my head in shame. I felt he was not accusing you unjustly. It’s always been my dream to make music, to own a theater.
“If we only worked for what we could afford,” he continues, “the City could close tomorrow morning.” I want to get to the bottom of the instinct that drives us to work for work’s sake. What kind of devil is he who is on our backs, urging us to work forever and ever?
A servant entered with an urgent order from one of his mines in Austria. We had to part. On the way home, a-71-I thought about his words. What’s this endless work, robot? How do we get up every morning; do we wash, get dressed to undress in the evening and go to bed again? Why do we work so much for the money with which we buy bread; bread that gives strength for further work? Why do we live to simply say goodbye to each other at the end? Why do we work, we bring children into the world, who just die again; who are also buried.
What is our mad pursuit; our passionate desires? It doesn’t matter in the infinity of time, did the Unio flag or another tricolor flag wave over the battlefield of Badajoz at some point? Yet we spilled our blood on the nugget to decide the issue. If the ice age has come again and clothes the world with silence; is it important then, whose foot touched the North Pole first? Yet, generation after generation, our white bones are the benchmarks on the way there. We shall be of worms so soon; does it matter whether we love it or hate it? Only the hot blood rushes in our veins, our hearts and brains wear out in our pursuit of shadowy, foggy hopes; and they all fade away as we approach them.
The bud is on a flower bed; he absorbs all the sweetness of the earth, he closes his cup every night; sleep. Then, in a strange form, love surrounds him: he longs to mix his passion fruit with the passion fruit of other flowers. Then the colored leaves fall; a wandering beetle carries the seed from flower to flower. And the season changes; brings sunshine and rain; the flower withers; he will never know how long he lived; he thinks the garden was built for him; he is not for the garden. In its tiny soul, which is perhaps also its stomach, the coral beetle dreams of a home and food. He works himself deep into the dark waters, he doesn’t know about the coral islands he creates.
But the question remains? What good is all this? Science explains it. Through years of struggle and suffering, the race improves; through ape, man came from ether. In the work of the coming years, we will move further and further away from the animal. Struggle, through pain; our brain sweats blood; but we ascend to the angels. We enter the realm of angels.-72-
But what is construction for? What are the countless years? Because man is not born immediately as a god, what he wants to be; does he not already have all the abilities at his birth, what did his ancestors die to acquire? What’s the point of striving to become what “I” can be? Why should an I come after me, my own successor, before whom I must be a savage. If all things are possible before the creator of the Universe: what then is the protoplasmic cell; why isn’t your future husband ready right away? Why so many wasted human generations for him to live and mature? Am I nothing but a grain of dust, which makes the soil of the Future fertile?
Or if our destiny is fulfilled on other constellations, why the suffering on this planet? Are we working on a job that is too big to notice? Our passions and desires are so many whips; are we chasing them with their help? Perhaps all theories promise more hope than the knowledge that our entire trying, suffering life is nothing more than the whirlwind of our bodies’ perpetual, changing form; prison? If we look back at the piece of time with which our dim eyes measure the world, what do we see? Civilizations built with infinite care; swept away, lost to time. Creeds for which men have lived and died; they turned into a light joke. Greek art was swept away by the dust of Gothic culture. Napoleon strangled the dream of brotherhood in blood. We have nothing left but the hope that the work itself, not the result, is the true greatness. Maybe we are children who ask: – What were these lessons for? What will these be good for? But the time will come when the son will understand, he has learned grammar and geography: even the numbers of years are important. But you only understand when you’ve left school, when you’ve stepped out into the world. After all, when we grow up a little, we too will understand the question of our existence.