Up Against It
( Originally Published 1916 )
IT is a terse Americanism, and expresses in solid, idiomatic language a solid, bitter fact: "Up Against It."
There's an army of them right in this city, an army of soldiers that battle for sustenance, an army fighting in the last ditch.
I saw and talked with one the other day. She was a mere child, just twenty-two. Her clothes were not new. Her neck was thin, her cheeks thin, her eyes, it seemed, too large.
"I am still trying to get a job," she said. "Oh! I'm pretty well; only I haven't as much strength as I had. You see, when I don't eat regularly it tells on me. I don't eat every day, and some days I only get one meal. And then I walk from where I room to the business places downtown. It's a long way. I get awful tired. My land-lady is awful good to me. She's waiting till I get my job. Gee! it's fierce to be up against it!"
Yet withal she was brave, cheerful, self-respecting, keeping her soul and her little body clean, while she fought with the wild wolves that hunt in cities.
"I got a raise yesterday," said a young man, a friend of mine. "I pawned my watch. I had a grand feed."
He had come to the city to study music. Oh ! the heart-breaking company of them that hope to live by music ! For every singer in a church choir, getting $5 a Sunday, twenty stand hungry for the place. For every girl in the theatre chorus, twenty have been turned away to tramp further. For every clerk in the stores there are three in line waiting, up against it.
It is the firing line of civilization.
It is the thin red line we have thrown out to meet the common enemy, Hunger.
Late at night I have seen them on the benches in the parks, sitting with a newspaper over the knees. There seems to be a deal of warmth in a newspaper. I have talked with them. They are sociable folks, much easier to approach than successful people.
I have always loved failures. They are more human. Their souls seem more visible than the souls of the prosperous.
Where the Salvation Army's drums are beating and horns blowing they congregate. That is my favorite church. Surely if the Messiah is anywhere He may be found there.
You can see them in the saloons. A glass of beer can be got for five cents. It is the little bit of light in lives most terribly dark.
They are not all tramps. There are mothers up against it, holding babies, looking all night into the darkness, as if into the eyes of Pauguk.
There are hard-working fathers who have plodded all day searching for what means more to them than salvation—a job.
There are boys, for whom crime bids.
There are girls, for whom human tigers lie in wait.
There are little children. I saw two, a little boy and girl, the other morning early; they were going through a garbage can, looking for scraps of food.
Those who have never been up against it do not know what a tragic world this is.