Harry of Five Points6 min read


John M. Ford
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Act I, Scene 2 of Harry of Five Points, in which is explained the Salic Law:

So let me put it thusly, boss, and youse

Who is the molls and goons and likewise guys

To him who is your leader. You got nix

To keep you outta French guys’ speaks and joints,

But some bull from this mouthpiece Pharamond,

“In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant,”

“No doll can get the goods in Salic land,”

Which neighborhood those Frogs make like what is

The French North Side, which this guy Pharamond,

Pulled out of his own keister, so to speak.

Yet judges bought with their own moolah say

This Salic property is German, like

Up in Detroit and on the Pittsburgh side,

Where Big Chuck having whacked the Saxon gang,

They set up shop and started making gin.

And, since they did not fancy German dolls

(Though I got no such preferences myself)

They made this regulation that no broad

Can wear no pants up in no Salic land. [Laughter from the nobles.]


The second installment:

HARRY. Let’s hear the guys what Dolphin-boy has sent.

[Some flunkies take a powder.]

So now we make to parley. On our feet,

Is everybody packin’ proper heat?

We own that joint. They just ain’t got the word.

And if they still don’t, we must bust stuff up,

And run things big, like Barnum tendin’ bar

In big fat France, her racetracks and her numbers,

And maybe we will blow it. Them’s the breaks.

There have been lots of guys we only knew

From all the flowers at their funerals.

And if I get a daisy-patch in France

These Frogs will know that they was right messed with,

And all of Harry’s guys will take the Fifth.

[The Consiglieri slouch in.]

AMBASSADOR. Bonjour, Big Henry. You is lookin’ good.

But I have gotta make things understood:

You wanna sit and listen for a while,

Or shall we settle this back-alley style?

HARRY. What is not messed with, there we do not mess.

Our beer is strong, our judges paid on time,

And every jerk we whack has whacking won.

So lay it on the table from your boss

And what is up his snoot.

AMB. Let’s cut the crap.

You sent a note that him what’s runnin’ France

Should give a wad of territory up

’Cause Crazy Eddie ran a game there once.

On this, my boss the Dolphin ain’t so keen,

Says that you is a, or is smokin’, dope,

An’ wonders how you got in them long pants.

You risk a grabbing by the wide lapels,

And havin’ your hat handed you real hard.

But hey, he pays his markers. So here is

A bunch of boodle that should square things up,

And put this stupid tsimmis in the bag:

So’s all the gloves stay on. Thusly the swag.

HARRY. What ante, Uncle?

EXETER. Crooked dice, big guy.

HARRY. Dis Dolphin, he’s a stand-up guy, with style.

We thank you muchly, as we like to say.

But tell youse, when we make our come-out roll

On your green felt, we’re gonna hit a streak

That you are gonna pay some vig to fade.

You let him know we got a golden arm,

And he had better hock the silver now

’Cause Dolphins do not swim too good with sharks.

I guess he heard how we hung out with grinds

And welshers. But, y’know? That marker’s paid.

We sniffed at our joint here, ’cause of its looks,

But then we saw the second set of books.

But, you know kids. They ain’t got no respect.

And what ain’t theirs, it gets it in the neck.

But you tell Fish-face that my dice are square

As is his noggin, and he can lay odds

When I step up to make my play in France

The way I knot my tie and wear my hat

May make me look a Reuben at the Ritz,

But I got me an open-fronted suit,

And when I hoof it on your bully-vards

You’re gonna think I came from MGM.

And tell the welsher that his lousy dice

Will knock him over like a hick-town bank,

And he may end up short a rib or two

When dem bones roll. For Adas from Decatur

And corners and Big Reds are on the line,

He’ll get the hardways, make a cocked-up toss

And find he’s starin’ at two bloodshot eyes

Till he can grab a boxcar out of town.

But hey, we’ve drawn, but we ain’t seen the flop.

Your boss, he might get lucky. And he might

Get called while holdin’ bupkis. Get my drift?

He’s ponied up his bankroll like a mensch,

So tell him I will cover all of it.

My boys are all dressed up; can’t keep ’em down

On no damn farm, when they see Paris town.

Now eighty-six these wiseguys. Toodle-oo.

But don’t plug them or nothin’. We is through.

[Ambassadors make tracks.]

EXETER. Cripes, what a buncha patzers.

HARRY. Like the man said, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.


Third installment, y-clept ‘A Coupla French Chicks Sittin’ Around Talking’:

[Rouen. The FRENCH KING’S resort and casino.]

[Here comes ALICE. solus, she thinks.]

ALICE. Bon Dieu, achetez-moi un Mercedes-Benz, Je travaille pour Katy —

[KATHERINE busts in.]

KATHERINE. Alice, tu as ete en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage.

ALICE. Un peu, madame.

KATHERINE. Je te prie, m’enseignez; il faut que j’apprenne a parler. Comment appelez-vous le caf’ en Anglais?

ALICE. Le caf’? Elle est appelee de joint.

KATHERINE. De joint. Et les gentilhommes?

ALICE. Les gentilhommes? Ma foi, j’oublie les gentilhommes; mais je me souviendrai. Les gentilhommes? Je pense qu’ils sont appeles de guys; oui, de guys.

KATHERINE. La caf’, de joint; les gentilhommes, de guys. Je pense queje suis le bon ecolier; j’ai gagne deux mots d’Anglais vitement. Comment appelez-vous le alcool?

ALICE. Le alcool? Nous les appelons de hooch.

KATHERINE. De hooch. Ecoutez; dites-moi si je parle bien: de joint, de guys, et de hooch.

ALICE. C’est bien dit, madame; il est fort bon palaver.

KATHERINE. Dites-moi l’Anglais pour le musique.

ALICE. De boogie-woogie, madame.

KATHERINE. Et le boulevardier?

ALICE. De cheap bastard.

KATHERINE. De cheap bastard. Je m’en fais la repetition de tous les mots que vous m’avez appris des a present.

ALICE. Il est trop difficile, madame, comme je pense.

KATHERINE. Excusez-moi, Alice, ecoutez: d’hand, de fingre, de hooch, d’bookie-wookie, de cheap Bastille.

ALICE. De cheap bastard, madame.

KATHERINE. O Seigneur Dieu, je m’en oublie! De cheap bastard. Comment appelez-vous la danse?

ALICE. De Sharleston-Sharleston, madame.

KATHERINE. De Sharleston-Sharleston. Et le chevalerie?

ALICE. De made guys.

KATHERINE. De made guys. Sans peur et sans reproche?

ALICE. Peut-’tre, madame.

KATHERINE. La danse, de Sharleston-Sharleston; le chevalerie, de made guys.

ALICE. Oui. Sauf votre honneur, en verite, vous prononcez les mots aussi droit que les natifs de Brooklyn…

KATHERINE. Je ne doute point d’apprendre, par la grace de Dieu, et en peu de temps.

ALICE. N’avez-vous pas deja oublie ce que je vous ai enseigne?

KATHERINE. Non, je reciterai a vous promptement: de joint, de guys, de pooch —

ALICE. De hooch, madame.

KATHERINE. De hooch, de boogie-woogie, de sheep-bastard.

ALICE. Sauf votre honneur, de cheap bastard.

KATHERINE. Ainsi dis-je; d’cheap bastard, de sharleston-sharleston, et de made guys. Comment appelez-vous les flics et la prison?

ALICE. Les cops, madame; et le joint.

KATHERINE. Le cops et le joint. Mais le joint, c’est le caf’ aussi! O Seigneur Dieu! ils sont mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d’honneur d’user: je ne voudrais prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France pour tout le monde. Foh! le cops et le joint! Neanmoins, je reciterai une autre fois ma lecon ensemble: de joint, de guys, de hooch, de boogie-woogie, de cheap bastard, de Sharleston-Sharleston, de made guys, de cops, d’autre joint.

ALICE. Excellent, madame! Madame c’est pr’t ’ la f’te de soir!

KATHERINE. C’est assez pour une fois: allons-nous a Yves Saint Laurent.


  • John M. Ford

    John M. Ford, called “Mike” by his friends (although the M stood for Milo), was a writer, game designer, lyricist and poet. Web of Angels, his first science fiction novel, was published in 1980 when he was 23, and prefigured the Web years before it came into being. He won two World Fantasy Awards: The Dragon Waiting won best novel in 1984, and “Winter Solstice, Camelot Station” was a poem which won best short fiction in 1989. He was a regular at a Twin Cities play-reading group, and a moderator at Making Light, where he often posted spontaneous verse in the comment threads, to general delight. He passed away in 2006. His work at Making Light is collected here.

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