June 21, 2010

The Irregular Blather June 21, 1931

No Journal was published Sunday, June 21, 1931. Just time for a brief scholarly exploration today. Last Monday, davidlefool left a comment with the interesting query:
I wonder if anyone made an index to track prostitution prices during the GD.
After some searching I was unable to find a historical index of this important economic indicator, which probably indicates better than anything the contemporary level of, as Keynes put it, animal spirits. I did find a possible baseline figure in an anecdote from Ben Hecht's fine memoir “A Child of the Century,” involving Mr. Hecht and H.L. Mencken on a long walk past the “hotel zone” one day in Chicago. I'll let Mr. Hecht take it from there:

Mencken demanded a water closet. There were no empty cabs to flag, the city being overrun with visiting politicians and their families. The nearest lavatory of which I knew was half a mile off, unless the great man cared to take his chances in Grant Park across the boulevard.

It's that fine beer you gave me,” said Mencken. “Three of the bottles exploded while still in my pockets but I drank the other six. For Christ sake, don't tell me a big city like Chicago hasn't got a water closet on every corner!”

I stopped, having remembered something. We were passing one of the town's old whore houses. The place was partially boarded up and ready for the demolition hammers. I led Mencken inside, up a deserted stairway, to a remembered water closet.

On the wall above the toilet, Mencken read aloud a quatrain written there in indelible pencil.
O lady of lustful gyrations,
O Vandal of velvet and vice,
O Creature of carnal elations -
Why will not a two-spot suffice?
It was entitled “Three Shy” and my name was signed boldly on it.

You have a true poet's heart,” said Mencken as we departed the derelict brothel, “a love of women and a lack of funds. And I can say I never read a poem under better conditions.”

So, I think that establishes our pre-Depression baseline number at $5 (I think the preceding took place in the early 1920's). Carrying the time series forward must remain the subject of further research ...

1 comment:

  1. They don't make 'em like they used to:

    One gadget, the Radiumator, was supposed to produce radioactive water that not only cured the patient's heart and kidney ailments but also revived his wilted flowers. This machine retailed for $10,000.

    Life - 12 Jan 1962

    I'd rather take my chances with the ladies of the night myself. Cheaper too.