Strength of the Strong and Other Stories HTML version
South Of The Slot
Old San Francisco, which is the San Francisco of only the other day, the day
before the Earthquake, was divided midway by the Slot. The Slot was an iron
crack that ran along the centre of Market Street, and from the Slot arose the burr
of the ceaseless, endless cable that was hitched at will to the cars it dragged up
and down. In truth, there were two slots, but in the quick grammar of the West
time was saved by calling them, and much more that they stood for, "The Slot."
North of the Slot were the theatres, hotels, and shopping district, the banks and
the staid, respectable business houses. South of the Slot were the factories,
slums, laundries, machine-shops, boiler works, and the abodes of the working
The Slot was the metaphor that expressed the class cleavage of Society, and no
man crossed this metaphor, back and forth, more successfully than Freddie
Drummond. He made a practice of living in both worlds, and in both worlds he
lived signally well. Freddie Drummond was a professor in the Sociology
Department of the University of California, and it was as a professor of sociology
that he first crossed over the Slot, lived for six mouths in the great labour-ghetto,
and wrote THE UNSKILLED LABOURER - a book that was hailed everywhere as
an able contribution to the literature of progress, and as a splendid reply to the
literature of discontent. Politically and economically it was nothing if not orthodox.
Presidents of great railway systems bought whole editions of it to give to their
employees. The Manufacturers' Association alone distributed fifty thousand
copies of it. In a way, it was almost as immoral as the far-famed and notorious
MESSAGE TO GARCIA, while in its pernicious preachment of thrift and content it
ran MR. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH a close second.
At first, Freddie Drummond found it monstrously difficult to get along among the
working people. He was not used to their ways, and they certainly were not used
to his. They were suspicious. He had no antecedents. He could talk of no
previous jobs. His hands were soft. His extraordinary politeness was ominous.
His first idea of the role he would play was that of a free and independent
American who chose to work with his hands and no explanations given. But it
wouldn't do, as he quickly discovered. At the beginning they accepted him, very
provisionally, as a freak. A little later, as he began to know his way about better,
he insensibly drifted into the role that would work - namely, he was a man who
had seen better days, very much better days, but who was down on his luck,
though, to be sure, only temporarily.
He learned many things, and generalized much and often erroneously, all of
which can be found in the pages of THE UNSKILLED LABOURER. He saved
himself, however, after the sane and conservative manner of his kind, by
labelling his generalizations as "tentative." One of his first experiences was in the
great Wilmax Cannery, where he was put on piece-work making small packing