Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THEY CALL ME CARPENTER
A Tale of the Second Coming
Charles F. Nevens
True and devoted friend
The beginning of this strange adventure was my going to see a motion
picture which had been made in Germany. It was three years after the
end of the war, and you'd have thought that the people of Western
City would have got over their war-phobias. But apparently they
hadn't; anyway, there was a mob to keep anyone from getting into the
theatre, and all the other mobs started from that. Before I tell
about it, I must introduce Dr. Karl Henner, the well-known literary
critic from Berlin, who was travelling in this country, and stopped
off in Western City at that time. Dr. Henner was the cause of my
going to see the picture, and if you will have a moment's patience,
you will see how the ideas which he put into my head served to start
me on my extraordinary adventure.
You may not know much about these cultured foreigners. Their manners
are like softest velvet, so that when you talk to them, you feel as
a Persian cat must feel while being stroked. They have read
everything in the world; they speak with quiet certainty; and they
are so old--old with memories of racial griefs stored up in their
souls. I, who know myself for a member of the best clubs in Western
City, and of the best college fraternity in the country--I found
myself suddenly indisposed to mention that I had helped to win the
battle of the Argonne. This foreign visitor asked me how I felt
about the war, and I told him that it was over, and I bore no hard
feelings, but of course I was glad that Prussian militarism was
finished. He answered: "A painful operation, and we all hope that
the patient may survive it; also we hope that the surgeon has not
contracted the disease." Just as quietly as that.
Of course I asked Dr. Henner what he thought about America. His
answer was that we had succeeded in producing the material means of
civilization by the ton, where other nations had produced them by
the pound. "We intellectuals in Europe have always been poor, by
your standards over here. We have to make a very little food support
a great many ideas. But you have unlimited quantities of food,
and--well, we seek for the ideas, and we judge by analogy they must
"But you don't find them?" I laughed.
"Well," said he, "I have come to seek them."
This talk occurred while we were strolling down our Broadway, in
Western City, one bright afternoon in the late fall of 1921. We
talked about the picture which Dr. Henner had recommended to me, and
which we were now going to see. It was called "The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari," and was a "futurist" production, a strange, weird freak
of the cinema art, supposed to be the nightmare of a madman. "Being
an American," said Dr. Henner, "you will find yourself asking, 'What
good does such a picture do?' You will have the idea that every work
of art must serve some moral purpose." After a pause, he added:
"This picture could not possibly have been produced in America. For
one thing, nearly all the characters are thin." He said it with the
flicker of a smile--"One does not find American screen actors in
that condition. Do your people care enough about the life of art to
take a risk of starving for it?"
Now, as a matter of fact, we had at that time several millions of
people out of work in America, and many of them starving. There must
be some intellectuals among them, I suggested; and the critic
replied: "They must have starved for so long that they have got used
to it, and can enjoy it--or at any rate can enjoy turning it into
art. Is not that the final test of great art, that it has been
smelted in the fires of suffering? All the great spiritual movements
of humanity began in that way; take primitive Christianity, for
example. But you Americans have taken Christ, the carpenter--"
I laughed. It happened that at this moment we were passing St.
Bartholomew's Church, a great brown-stone structure standing at the
corner of the park. I waved my hand towards it. "In there," I said,
"over the altar, you may see Christ, the carpenter, dressed up in
exquisite robes of white and amethyst, set up as a stained glass
window ornament. But if you'll stop and think, you'll realize it
wasn't we Americans who began that!"
"No," said the other, returning my laugh, "but I think it was you
who finished him up as a symbol of elegance, a divinity of the
Thus chatting, we turned the corner, and came in sight of our goal,
the Excelsior Theatre. And there was the mob!
At first, when I saw the mass of people, I thought it was the usual
picture crowd. I said, with a smile, "Can it be that the American
people are not so dead to art after all?" But then I observed that
the crowd seemed to be swaying this way and that; also there seemed
to be a great many men in army uniforms. "Hello!" I exclaimed. "A
There was a clamor of shouting; the army men seemed to be pulling
and pushing the civilians. When we got nearer, I asked of a
bystander, "What's up?" The answer was: "They don't want 'em to go
in to see the picture."
"It's German. Hun propaganda!"
Now you must understand, I had helped to win a war, and no man gets
over such an experience at once. I had a flash of suspicion, and
glanced at my companion, the cultured literary critic from Berlin.
Could it possibly be that this smooth-spoken gentleman was playing a
trick upon me--trying, possibly, to get something into my crude
American mind without my realizing what was happening? But I
remembered his detailed account of the production, the very essence
of "art for art's sake." I decided that the war was three years
over, and I was competent to do my own thinking.
Dr. Henner spoke first. "I think," he said, "it might be wiser if I
did not try to go in there."
"Absurd!" I cried. "I'm not going to be dictated to by a bunch of
"No," said the other, "you are an American, and don't have to be.
But I am a German, and I must learn."
I noted the flash of bitterness, but did not resent it. "That's all
nonsense, Dr. Henner!" I argued. "You are my guest, and I won't--"
"Listen, my friend," said the other. "You can doubtless get by
without trouble; but I would surely rouse their anger, and I have no
mind to be beaten for nothing. I have seen the picture several
times, and can talk about it with you just as well."
"You make me ashamed of myself," I cried--"and of my country!"
"No, no! It is what you should expect. It is what I had in mind when
I spoke of the surgeon contracting the disease. We German
intellectuals know what war means; we are used to things like this."
Suddenly he put out his hand. "Good-bye."
"I will go with you!" I exclaimed. But he protested--that would
embarrass him greatly. I would please to stay, and see the picture;
he would be interested later on to hear my opinion of it. And
abruptly he turned, and walked off, leaving me hesitating and angry.
At last I started towards the entrance of the theatre. One of the
men in uniform barred my way. "No admittance here!"
"But why not?"
"It's a German show, and we aint a-goin' to allow it."
"Now see here, buddy," I countered, none too good-naturedly, "I
haven't got my uniform on, but I've as good a right to it as you; I
was all through the Argonne."
"Well, what do you want to see Hun propaganda for?"