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A Bowery Breakfast

A Bowery Breakfast image
Parent Issue
Public Domain
OCR Text

On the west side of the Bowery, , way between Grand and Broome utreets, } stands a. dingy, whitewashed briok , ing, differing from its neighbors only in a wooden pórtico surmounted by a cross, beneath which is inscribed in guilt let ters, "Carmel Chapel." On the wire blind of a large window are the words, 11 Pree Reading-room of the Young Men's ' Christian Association- Bowery Branch." Beneath, a narrow staircase leads to a dimly hghted cellar, on the door of which ' a sign-board tells the wayfarer that for I five cents per ineal breakfast, dinner and supper can be had within. On the curbstone in front of the doorway is a suspended bulletin board, on which are pasted advertisements for male help cut from all the daily journals. The occasional appearance of a written demand for labor, giving tangible promise of sincerity, so to speak, excites an exceptional interest. In the -gray of the morning while the air even on her' warm days is still raw, groups of shivering men gather from every quarter in front of the closed doors of this building. The banqueting hall is soon thronged, and offshoots from the growing crowd listlessly wander along the sidewalk, casting rnany a longing glance toward the cellar as they pass and repass its rathor inhospitable portal. The bulletin is besieged by an ever changingthrong seeking with outstretched necks and haggard faces a chance of employment. Occasionally one borrows a stumpy pencil from an unwilling neighbor, scrawls a hasty address, and with a lingering look at the scène of his ,mtprl hrpakfust, dashes off in shadowv hope of work, probably to return within an hour, the prospect of a warm meal ahead his sole stay from despair. The majority, however, having noted a few addresses for subsequent reference, impatiently awaited the hour of breakfast. This crowd is coinposed of persons ranging from the squalid child of twelve to the withered old man of sixty. Here chatter a couple unshaven, uuwashed, uncombed, unshod, looking as if a good rush would dust away the pulverized ags that soarcely oonceal their nakedess. The street has evidently afforded ,hem lodgings during the past night. Tonder, deeply absorbed in the pages of a newspaper, innoeently found on a doortep, stands a cluster oi three young men. Pheir pinched faces bear the marks of respectability and intelligence ; their well-brushed garments the traces of age and hard use. In their threadbare ;ure the sabby shadly overlies the geuteel. Even their poor attempts at spruceness ' sring out more glaring the worn defects they seem to hide. The i'reshly turned collar, by its whiteness, adds to thedinginess of the shirit beneath, while the gloss on the down-heoled shoe shows inore clearly its unsightly rents. Brawny worknien, plentiful here, have lost, their caroless swagger along with their ruddy cheeks and hopeful hearts, and huddle together ori the doorsteps inuttering in whispers, as ii' misi'ortune had robbed them of voice with work. Promptly at seven the cellar door is thrown open, and a shuffliug rush is made fot a'dmittance. The room full, the door is bolted against the eager throng; and so the going tide alternately ebbs and flows, the fed yielding to the famished all are satisfied. The first press of the crowd subsiding, froin the side streets and recessos where it has hitherto bashfully lurked, issues a more prtsentable class to keep the descending Btream full. It would be amusing, it' not pathetic, to watch their shame-faeed desire to shuu attention. Their approach , to the cellar steps is marked by a oaltn indifference, their arrival by a hasty glancc ■ round, and their disappearance by a sudden plunge. Now, also, come the Bturdy ' teamster, tho bilí- distributor, the boot-black, and the lively newsboy, proudly independent in the consoious possession of a picayune. No shrinking tiinidity about their eutrance to their restaurant, but an honest coniplaconcy in the air with which they sraack thenecessary coin on the table,and stoutly demand the equivalent break fust. These are the aristócrata of the establishment. Among this impeoonious crowd the posessor of a dollar is a capitalist. ïhero aro two rooms, the rearmost devott'd to cullinary secrets, the first to dinning-room purposes. Dowu tho center oxtunds :i narrow pine tablo, iianked by unbacked pine benches, packed olosely by greedy visitors. The breakfast and supper consist of two thick slices of dry bread and a pint bowl of hot coffee ; for dinner the latter is exchanged for thick, nutritiva soup. No neod of any savory relish ; Spartan sauce is all-sufficient, to judge by the ravenous rapidity with which the scanty portions disappear. The sole defect of the ineal is its iiisufñciency. So evidently thinks a thinfaced large-eyed, mop-headed giant carefuliy holding his modioum of bread over bis basm lest a single crumb should be lost. He eyos enyiously the professional beggar opposite, who is steadily extracting uiisceilaneous hoards of rneat and scraps from his ragged pockets preparatory to commenciug operations on the steaming coffee beiore him. There is a fascinatiou in that savage stare, never diverted while ho eruncheshis ownallowance. The beggar feels it, looks up, and offers some of his own store. A large, Vtitt Vanrl otiíÍ with thfi SlllHTile ioints oony iiciuu, ttiiu wiLii mo owif ju" and broad-topped fingers, indicative of mechanical pursuits, is eagerly thrust forward, the beggar's offering quickly grabbed and dragged across the tablo. The fierce delight dies out of his grimy face, and there is a mist in his eyo and soinething like a sob in his voice as he disjointedly whispers : " Thank you, boss; eaten nothing for two days; saddler by trade, no work ; couldn't beg, thought I'd starve, but it's mighty hard. The beggar prossus moro upon hiin, and tho man ager of the room, within ear-shot, instead of the customary demand for silence brmgs a second allowance of bread and corïee. " Had a good-coek tail this morning," apolog'etically whispers a burly Germán drayman as he pays for a second serving. " Nothing like a cock-tail to give an appetite." " Yes there is," sneers a cadaverous skeleton opposite, " starvation." "Ivish some 'ud invent something to do avay with h'appetite h'altogother," huskily wheezes a half-starved little Cockney, in a short coat, a red neck clotti, and invisible shirt, and a ecrubby pair of mutton chop whiskers. "I'd patronize 'im sure, 'specially if 'e vos wery cheap. Purwisions is good, but yer can't allus get 'em ; backer ain't bad, 'specially if yer take 'nuff to sicken yer. I've tried tight strapping until my middle 'ud shame the thinnest gal on Regent street, but blow me, it don't choke the cry in my insides ; and a chap can't strap 'isself right through, can 'e ? I vish I vas in huid Hengland again," he wistfully continúes : " Oh, vot a jolly diuner I'd 'ave at the 'En and Chickens," and lost in the delightful anticipation he sinks into dreamy silence. " Why didn't ye stay there when ye was there, bad cess to ye 't' tauntingly inquires an old Hibernian in a patched jacket and a great hurry. Faith, it's ye and the liko of ye that takes the bread out of the mouths of us as it belonss to !" " Because I vos a fooi,'' as il Deiongs to ducíiuso j. vub wji bitterly returns the other, as he quite the room. " I'm rioh !" soliloquises a sad, observant, middle-agéíi man, in a buttoned-up, coat, a frayed pajier collar, and a pair of cracked spectacles. " Yes, rieh, like the rest of you ; rieh in poverty, rags and misery." Occasionally a Peabody among them divides a purchaeed second allowance with a neighbor, or two unite their resources to buy tvvo cents' worth of bread, or three of coffee. Very few pay cash, the bulk hand in checks for gratuitous meals previously distributed by the officers. And so trom seven until nine the gloomy cellar daily ministers to hundreds of untort uñates a cheer and comfort of which it has littlo itself.


Old News
Michigan Argus