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Buttered Side Down: Stories

12.
Where The Car Turns At 18th
This will be a homing pigeon story. Though I send it ever so far--though its destination
be the office of a home-and-fireside magazine or one of the kind with a French story in
the back, it will return to me. After each flight its feathers will be a little more rumpled,
its wings more weary, its course more wavering, until, battered, spent, broken, it will
flutter to rest in the waste basket.
And yet, though its message may never be delivered, it must be sent, because--well,
because----
You know where the car turns at Eighteenth? There you see a glaringly attractive
billboard poster. It depicts groups of smiling, white-clad men standing on tropical shores,
with waving palms overhead, and a glimpse of blue sea in the distance. The wording
beneath the picture runs something like this:
"Young men wanted. An unusual opportunity for travel, education, and advancement.
Good pay. No expenses."
When the car turns at Eighteenth, and I see that, I remember Eddie Houghton back home.
And when I remember Eddie Houghton I see red.
The day after Eddie Houghton finished high school he went to work. In our town we
don't take a job. We accept a position. Our paper had it that "Edwin Houghton had
accepted a position as clerk and assistant chemist at the Kunz drugstore, where he would
take up his new duties Monday."
His new duties seemed, at first, to consist of opening the store in the morning, sweeping
out, and whizzing about town on a bicycle with an unnecessarily insistent bell, delivering
prescriptions which had been telephoned for. But by the time the summer had really set in
Eddie was installed back of the soda fountain.
There never was anything better looking than Eddie Houghton in his white duck coat. He
was one of those misleadingly gold and pink and white men. I say misleadingly because
you usually associate pink-and-whiteness with such words as sissy and mollycoddle.
Eddie was neither. He had played quarter-back every year from his freshman year, and he
could putt the shot and cut classes with the best of 'em. But in that white duck coat with
the braiding and frogs he had any musical-comedy, white-flannel tenor lieutenant whose
duty it is to march down to the edge of the footlights, snatch out his sword, and warble
about his country's flag, looking like a flat-nosed, blue-gummed Igorrote. Kunz's soda
water receipts swelled to double their usual size, and the girls' complexions were
something awful that summer. I've known Nellie Donovan to take as many as three ice
cream sodas and two phosphates a day when Eddie was mixing. He had a way of
throwing in a good-natured smile, and an easy flow of conversation with every drink.
While indulging in a little airy persiflage the girls had a great little trick of pursing their
 
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