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Short Stories

A Lardner Sampler

Updated 25 January 2006

Bib Ballads | The Young Immigrunts | Alibi Ike




Bib Ballads


The following light verse comes from Lardner's first published book (as sole author), Bib Ballads. Some have said that this sentimental writing is best forgotten; they must not have kids. It is not great literature, but that, of course, was not the intention. I include it on this page because it is rarely reprinted, because I think it shows a warm side of Lardner, and because it seems to me to have aged well. I can imagine modern parents clipping some of these poems for their refrigerators.



There's been a young stranger at our house,
A baby whom nobody knew:
Who hated his brother, his father, his mother,
And made them aware of it, too.

He stayed with us nearly a fortnight
And carried a grouch all the while.
Nor promise nor present could make him look pleasant;
He hadn't the power to smile.

He cried when he couldn't have something;
He cried just as hard when he could:
Kind words by the earful but made him more tearful,
And scoldings did just as much good.

He stormed when his meals weren't ready,
And when they were ready, he screamed.
He went to bed growling, got up again howling
And quarreled and snarled as he dreamed.

He's gone, and the child we are fond of
Is back, just as nice as of old.
But I hope to be in some port European
The next time he has a bad cold.



My son, I wish that is were half
As easy to extract a laugh
From grown-ups as from thee.
Then I'd go on the stage, my boy,
While Richard Carle and Eddie Foy
Burned up with jealousy.

I wouldn't have to rack my brain
Or lie awake all night in vain
Pursuit of brand new jokes;
Nor fear my lines were heard with groans
Of pain and sympathetic moans
From sympathetic folks.

I'd merely have to make a face;
Just twist a feature out of place,
And be the soul of wit;
Or bark, and then pretend to bite,
And, from the screams of wild delight,
Be sure I'd made a hit.



Perhaps in some respects it's true
That you resemble dad;
To be informed I look like you
Would never make me mad.
But one thing I am sure of, son,
You have a different line
Of humor, your idea of fun
Is not a bit like mine.

You drop my slippers in the sink
And leave them there to soak.
That's very laughable, you think
But I can't see the joke.
You take my hat outdoors with you
And fill it full of earth;
You seem to think that's witty, too,
But I'm not moved to mirth.

You open up the chicken-yard;
Its inmates run a mile;
You giggle, but I find it hard
To force one-half a smile.
No, kid, I fear your funny stuff,
Though funny it may be,
Is not quite delicate enough
To make a hit with me.



Since he began to talk and sing,
I've learned one interesting thing--
The value of a verb is small;
In fact, it has no worth at all.

Why waste the breath required to say,
"Wile toddling through the park today,
I saw a bird up in a tree,"
When "Twee, pahk, birt," does splendidly?


Why should one say, "Please pass the bread,"
When "Ba-ba me" is easier said?
And why "I'm starved. Have supper quick,"
When "LUNCH!" yelled loudly, does the trick?

Why "I've been riding on a train,"
When "By-by, Choo-choo" makes it plain?
"Let words be few," the poet saith,
So leave out words and save your breath.


Besides my little son's imagination,
Another thing he has appeals to me
And agitates my envious admiration--
It's his accommodating memory.

An instant after some unlucky stumble
Has floored him and induced a howl of pain,
He's clean forgotten all about his tumble
And violently sets out to romp again.

But if, when I leave home, I say that maybe
I'll get him something nice while I'm away,
It's very safe to bet that Mr. Baby
Will not forget, though I be gone all day.

Ah, would I might lose sight of things unpleasant:
The bills I owe; the work I haven't done,
And only think of future joys and present,
Like the approaching payday, and my son.






The Young Immigrunts In one respect, this humorous piece is a parody of The Young Visitors, a book supposedly written by a young girl named Daisy Ashford (the best study of this aspect of the book can be found in Ring Lardner, Junior's The Lardners: My Family Remembered). Many suspected at the time that the author of the preface, J.M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame), was the true author. Lardner's book is more than a simple parody of another. Knowledge of the Ashford book adds to the appreciation of Lardner's work, but the humor in The Young Immigrunts can be (and usually is) enjoyed without it.

The book is written from the point of view of Ring's son, Ring Junior, then called Bill. It gives the story of the real move East by the Lardner family (although Ring Jr. wasn't along for the ride in real life).

It was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, 192 (31 January 1920). Later that year it was published in book form by Bobbs-Merrill. Since then, it has been included in WHAT OF IT? (1925), FIRST AND LAST (1935), PORTABLE LARDNER (1946), and The RING LARDNER READER (1963). I include two of the most frequently quoted passages below.

from Chapter 3

A little later who should come out on the porch and set themselfs ner us but the bride and glum.

Oh I said to myself I hope they will talk so as I can hear them as I have always wandered what newlyweds talk about on their way to Niagara Falls and soon my wishs was realized.

Some night said the young glum are you warm enough.

I am perfectly comfertible replid the fare bride tho her looks belid her words what time do we arrive in Buffalo.

9 oclock said the lordly glum are you warm enough.

I am perfectly comfertible replid the fare bride what time do we arive in Buffalo.

9 oclock said the lordly glum I am afrade it is too cold for you out here.

Well maybe it is replid the fare bride and without farther adieu they went in the spacius parlers.

I wander will he be arsking her 8 years from now is she warm enough said my mother with a faint grimace.

The weather may change before then replid my father.

Are you warm enough said my father after a slite pause.

No was my mothers catchy reply.

from Chapter 10

The lease said about my and my fathers trip from the Bureau of Manhattan to our new home the soonest mended. In some way ether I or he got balled up on the grand concorpse and next thing you know we was thretning to swoop down on Pittsfield.

Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly.

Shut up he explained.



Alibi Ike This excerpt comes from one of Lardner's most famous short stories, "Alibi Ike." Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post (31 July 1915), this story has be reprinted just about everywhere. It was released as a movie by Warner Brothers in 1935. Here, I've included the first couple pages. Notice the journalistic qualities of the opening paragraph--concise, summative, engaging.

His right name was Frank X. Farrell, and I guess the X stood for "Excuse me." Because he never pulled a play, good or bad, on or off the field, without apologizin' for it.

"Alibi Ike" was the name Carey wished on him the first day he reported down South. O' course we all cut out the "Alibi" part of it right away for the fear he would overhear it and bust somebody. But we called him "Ike" right to his face and the rest of it was understood by everybody on the club except Ike himself.

He ast me one time, he says: "What do you all call me Ike for? I ain't no Yid."

"Carey give you the name," I says. "It's his nickname for everybody he takes a likin' to."

"He mustn't have only a few friends then," says Ike. "I never heard him say 'Ike' to nobody else."

But I was goin' to tell you about Carey namin' him. We'd been workin' out two weeks and the pitchers was showin' somethin' when this bird joined us. His first day out he stood up there so good and took such a reef at the old pill that he had everyone lookin'. Then him and Carey was together in left field, catchin' fungoes, and it was after we was through for the day that Carey told me about him.

"What do you think of Alibi Ike?" ast Carey.

"Who's that?" I says.

"This here Farrell in the outfield," says Carey.

"He looks like he could hit," I says.

"Yes," says Carey, "but he can't hit near as good as he can apologize."

Then Carey went on to tell me what Ike had been pullin' out there. He'd dropped the first fly ball that was hit to him and told Carey his glove wasn't broke in good yet, and Carey says the glove could easy of been Kid Gleason's gran'father. He made a whale of a catch out o' the next one and Carey says "Nice work!" or somethin' like that, but Ike says he could of caught the ball with his back turned only he slipped when he started after it and, besides that, the air currents fooled him.

"I thought you done well to get to the ball," says Carey.

"I ought to been settin' under it," says Ike.

"What did you hit last year?" Carey ast him.

"I had malaria most o' the season," says Ike. "I wound up with .356."

"Where would I have to go to get malaria?" says Carey, but Ike didn't wise up.

I and Carey and him set at the same table together for supper. It took him half an hour longer'n us to eat because he had to excuse himself every time he lifted his fork.

"Doctor told me I needed starch," he'd say, and then toss a shoveful o' potatoes into him. Or, "They ain't much meat on one o' these chops,"he'd tell us, and grab another one. Or he'd say "Nothin' like onions for a cold," and then he'd dip into the perfumery.

"Better try that apple sauce," says Carey. "It'll help your malaria."

"Whose malaria?" says Ike. He'd forgot already why he didn't only hit .356 last year.





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