Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
Dinner à la Tango

By Edwin Björkman

(American critic, born in Sweden 1866)
IT is after eight o’clock in one of the smaller dining-rooms of a fashionable New York hotel. The middle of the room is cleared for dancing. At one end a small orchestra is working furiously at a melody that affects the mind like the triple-distilled essence of nervous unrest. Every table is occupied by merry groups of men and women in evening dress. Above our heads are strung almost invisible wires, to which are attached colored lanterns, gaudy mechanical butterflies, and huge red and green toy balloons. Just as we enter, a stoutish, heavy-faced chap with a monocle slaps the next man on the back and cries out:  1
  “We must be gay, old boy!”  2
  The open square in the middle is filled with dancers. They trip and slide and dip. They side-step and back-step and gyrate. They wave their arms like pump-handles, or raise them skyward, palm to palm, as if in prayer. There are among them young girls with shining faces full of inarticulate desire; simpering young men with a leer lurking at the bottom of their vacant stares; stiff-legged and white-haired old men with drooping eyelids; and stern-jawed matrons with hand-made faces of a startling purple hue. But on every face, young or old, bright or dull, there beams a smile or clings a smirk, for the spirit of the place demands gaiety at any price.  3
  On the tables are strewn gaily trimmed packages that open with a report, and yield up gaily colored paper caps. Rubicund gentlemen place the caps over their bald spots, while women pick the big butterflies to pieces, and put the fragments into their hair until they look like barbarous princesses. Men and women drink and dance, feast and flirt, sing and laugh and shout.…  4
  Gay is the scene indeed: gay the music and the laughter; gay the wine that sparkles in the glasses; gay the swirling, swaying maze of dancing couples; gay the bright balloons and brilliant dresses of the women. And it is as if my mind’s eye saw these words written in burning letters on the wall:
Leave care behind, all ye that enter here!
  But out there on Fifth Avenue a lot of unkempt, unreasonable men and women are marching savagely behind a black flag.  6

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