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Now and then: a word from John Steinbeck

" I remember ’29 very well. We had it made (I didn’t but most people did). I remember the drugged and happy faces of people who built paper fortunes in stocks they couldn’t possibly have paid for. ‘I made ten grand in ten minutes today. Let’s see – that’s eighty thousand for the week.’

In our little town bank presidents and track workers rushed to pay phones to call brokers. Everyone was a broker, more or less.

At lunch hour, store clerk and stenographers munched sandwiches while they watched the stock boards and calculated their pyramiding fortunes. Their eyes had the look you see around the roulette table.

I saw it sharply because I was on the outside, writing books no one would buy. I didn’t even have the margin to start my fortune. I saw the wild spending, the champagne and caviar through windows, smelled the heady perfumes on fur-draped ladies when they came warm and shining out of the theatres. “Then the bottom dropped out, and I could see that clearly too because I had
been practicing for the Depression for a long time. I wasn’t involved with loss.

I remember how the Big Boys, the men in the know, were interviewed and re-interviewed. Some of them brought space to reassure the crumbling millionaires: ‘It’s just a natural setback’; ‘Don’t be afraid – buy – keep buying’.

Meanwhile the Big Boys sold and the market fell on its face.

Then came panic, and panic changed to dull shock. When the market fell, the factories, mines, and steelworks closed and then no one could buy anything, not even food. People walked about as if they had been slugged . .

Then people remembered their little bank balances, the only certainties in a treacherous world. They rushed to draw the money out. There were fights and riots and lines of policemen. Some banks failed; rumors began to fly. Then frightened and angry people stormed the banks until the doors clanged shut.

John Steinbeck
A Primer of the ‘30s

1 Com:

Jim Jay | October 14, 2008

This is great! Never seen this quote before, really gets into the guts of the thing.

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