Weldon and Ann Kees in Denver, 1939. (Courtesy of Stein Gallery.)
The houses were identical all up and down the block. One-story bungalows, oatmeal-colored stucco, with red-shingled roofs and copies of the evening paper folded in triangles on the porches.
To make sure, Purviance counted the houses from the corner. It was, after all, the only safe way. Once, he had opened the front door of the house next to his, to witness a sight he had not soon forgotten. If only he had had his camera that day! A lot of money was being made by some of the boys in that racket, he reflected.
Their house was the seventh from the corner.
Purviance limped up the steps, picked up the paper, and went inside. In the front room, his sister and some of her high school friends were playfully doing something to the dog that was causing it to howl in pain. His grandfather sat by the window, dropping poison into the goldfish bowl. He hummed contentedly, his upper plates rattling.
How good it was to be home!
Purviance went upstairs. Gangrene, the doctor had said. He went in the bathroom and examined his leg. It was a hideous color. The doctor had been quite right in his diagnosis. It would have to come off, anyone could see that.
Purviance put down the lid of the toilet and sat on it. The sooner the operation was over, the better. Perhaps that old crutch was still around, the one Aunt Hortense had used in the weeks following the nasty fall she had taken down the back steps. The crutch had been very helpful up until the time complications had set in.
He frowned; then his face cleared. He remembered seeing the crutch in the attic not many weeks before. It was still in fine shape; even the little rubber dingus on the end was pliable and secure. He would go up and get it later in the afternoon.
Currier & Ives
One of the most colorful of the Park scenes. Greeley strolling on driveway in foreground. Waterfall in center background. Hunter with his dog on river bank. Very attractive view of Mount Vernon. Old time winter scene: various types of sleighs, a group skating, children snow-balling. The “Robert E. Lee” steaming down the river, with a happy negro family dancing outside their cabin on the bank. The “Stonewall Jackson” sailing up-stream, with the same happy negro family on the roof of their cabin.
Colored coachman leading sleigh and pair of horses to door of a mansion. The family leaves for a drive. “The Shade and Tomb of Washington.” “Feeding the Chickens.” Terrific bayonet charge of the Ninth Ohio Volunteers. Pair of dogs raising a covey of partridges. “The Queen of the TurfMaud. S.” (Driven by W. W. Bair.) “Trotting for a Great Stake.” Part of the town in flames. Confederate army on foot; civilians in carriages flocking across bridge in foreground. An amusing cartoon of Jeff Davis, dressed in woman’s clothes, running from some Yankee soldiers. “Poor Trust is Dead, Bad Pay Killed Him.” (Dog, with “Trust” on his collar, lying on his back.)
“Look at Mama.” (Young lady holding a child near a mirror where she points out her mother’s image.) Two white kittens playing around a basket from which they are pulling the roses. Entitled, “Kitties Among the Roses.” Currier & Ives cat prints are now much sought for. Have you a Currier & Ives cat print?
“Grand National Democratic Banner” Peace! Union! and Victory! Colored lithograph. Portraits of Genl. Geo. B. McClelland and Hon. Geo. H. Pendleton. Figure of Liberty, scene emblematic of prosperity, clasped hands and horns of plenty. ($6.00) Washington on a river bank, seated on horse, telescope in right hand, arm extended. Washington on a gray horse. Washington on a brown horse. Washington on a different white horse. Washington asleep; through a doorway a glimpse of the camp.
In a cloud above his head three female figures representing Liberty (with her foot on a crown), Justice and others scattering flowers from a horn of plenty. Washington standing with his arm outstretched. “The Fiend of the Road” (Fine copy of this humorous winter scene.) $85.00.
"The Fruits of Temperance” (A contented family in a well furnished home. Through the window is a scene suggestive of commerce and industry.) “God Bless Our Home” (Motto on scroll with background of bouquet of flowers.) A ne’er-do-well trudging the roadside, a crying child by his side. The despairing wife follows carrying two younger children.
No. 1: “Skip softly lub, don’t sturb de ole man and de bull pup.” No. 2: “Hurry, Mister Johnsing, dars dat chile lopin wif de coachman.” Very amusing. (Pair, $15.00)
Interior of a shoe store. A female raising her skirt to show her new shoes. Clerk stands by apparently satisfied with the fit. White kitten on table trying to reach canary in cage. Curly-haired boy with hands clasped; border of red drapes. On the lawn the mother is seated with her youngest child. A brother and sister play with a St. Bernard dog. Is “Trust” on his collar? It is. Burning ships, vase of flowers, Indian brave in full war-paint, motto on scroll; apples, pears, strawberries, cherries, etc., with a bird in center of group. The animals enter the Ark under Noah’s direction. “Chang” and “Eng,” the World-Renowned Siamese Twins.
An American Study
“It’s all right with me,” he said. He was a large man in a white-and-blue striped shirt and a rather soiled panama hat. He had been perspiring freely.
“Oh, everything’s all right with you,” his wife said. “It would be all right with you if the sky fell in.”
She was complaining about the rain that had begun to fall just as they were about to start on a sight-seeing tour of the city.
The sky was dirty and streaked, and a girl in a red raincoat went by in the rain, her mascara running down her cheeks.
They went back into the hotel lobby, passing several men, each of whom wore a fez and an idiotic expression. A Shriners’ convention was on.
“I should’ve joined,” he said, looking at the men.
“What?” his wife asked. “Joined what?”
“The Shriners,” he said. “They’ve always impressed me as a pretty fine sort of organization.”
“You and your organizations,” she said bitterly. “As if I didn’t have enough that winter you was in the Klan.”
Her husband said nothing. They went by the potted palms, stepping over some Shriners who had passed out on the stairs. A few had assumed positions of some interest. The elevator was out of commission. They walked up the three flights.
In their room, the woman sat on the edge of the bed and took off her hat. It was a large purple hat with a velvet ribbon.
“Give me the phone book, Rumb Dumb,” she said.
He handed it to her. “What you going to do?”
“See if there’s any Feibleman’s in the book. I think Aunt Cora told me once that a cousin of ours lives down here.”
He went in the bathroom and began to shave.
“Water’s sure hard in this town,” he remarked.
She was looking in the F’s.
“About the hardest water we’ve run into, this trip.”
She raised her head. “Pipe down. How you expect me to concentrate with you talking all the time?”
He shaved cautiously around his chin and adam’s apple.
“Not a goddamn Feibleman,” his wife said after a while. “Not a goddamn one.” She dropped the book on the floor.
“Too bad, honey,” he said from the bathroom, getting lather in his mouth.
After dinner it had stopped raining and they saw one of the Hardy Family pictures, which was enjoying a three-day run at one of the neighborhood theatres near the hotel.
Editor’s note: Exhibits typically belong in courtrooms, and Weldon Kees, who wrote these sketches in Denver around 1940, often passed judgment on American life in the social commentary of his sardonic poetry and fiction. These pieces, not published in Kees’s lifetime, appear here for the first time under the collective title that he gave them.
Copyright © 1961, 1964 by the Lincoln City Libraries. Used with