A Civil Matter

One of the unexpected pleasures of listening to vintage radio shows is hearing bits of dialogue that are relevant to life in the 21st century. While reviewing the episodes of Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator in my collection recently, several exchanges gave me reason to hit pause and reflect on current events.

Craig, played with breezy nonchalance by William Gargan, was a New York detective who frequently took lumps on the head but who also gave as good as he got both with his fists and his tongue. Sometimes, when Barrie was en route to his nondescript office in a building on Madison Avenue, he engaged in snappy patter with elevator operator Jake, a Vermont transplant played by uncredited Parker Fennelly. Jake’s laconic answers suggest he could easily have been kin to Parker’s Titus Moody, resident Yankee in Allen’s Alley.

     However, in the episode of January 9, 1952 that most caught my attention, Fennelly assumed the role of a cagey old salt named Obermeyer who proved evasive when Craig approached him on the docks in hopes of finding a way to “Murder Island.”

Craig: You rent motor boats?

Obermeyer: You can read.

Craig: Sassy at your age and you won’t make out with St. Peter.

Obermeyer: What do you want?

Craig: Civility.

Obermeyer: Ain’t got any. Rent boats.

Right then it hit me like a blackjack delivered to the back of Craig’s cranium, though I didn’t tumble all the way until the seaman admitted he knew Barrie was a detective because of his big feet, bad jokes, and swelled head, and suspicious Craig asked pointedly, “Do you have some reason for being a little slippery?”

Consider the slippery slope of recent months when public discourse in the political arena has consisted of insults, innuendoes, mudslinging, partial truths, pussyfooting, unfounded claims, equivocation, bold-faced lying and deception, name-calling, profanity, backstabbing, and bickering. One wonders what would happen if the candidates with the swelled heads seriously asked the American people what they wanted and were told quite bluntly “Civility!” The unspoken but honest answer would have to be “Ain’t got any. Want votes.”

Despite taking more than his share of blows from all sides, Barrie Craig never became a whiner, which is more than be said about some aspirants vying for the highest office in the land. Before the political conventions begin with discord certain to be on the agenda and then nominees from both parties descend to unprecedented depths of acrimony, keep in mind Barrie’s prescient assessment of an uncivil cabdriver in “Ghost’s Don’t Die in Bed” from September 7, 1954: “Somebody must love him, but it must be uphill work.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

           

 

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