Thank You, Mr President
Nothing helps an accomplished raconteur like the supreme confidence that his audience is utterly enchanted. When Mr. Roosevelt told a story, there was not a doubt in his mind that every person listening to him was literally hanging on each syllable. He loved to tell parables. And after he told them a few times, he was dead certain that they were true.
During the early stages of the war when inflationary trends were first showing themselves in force, he told a press conference a story. He swore it was true.
It seems a garage mechanic friend of his 'dropped in' for a chat. Now, how in the world a mechanic ever dropped in on Mr. Roosevelt was beyond explanation. He claimed a lot of friends in comparatively low stations of life. I regarded them as his imaginary playmates because I doubted seriously one of them ever existed. He told often of a Chinese laundryman he knew, a baseball player, a small dirt farmer, a garage man.
This mechanic, he said, had come to him complaining about the high price of strawberries in February. His 'missus,' the mechanic was alleged to have told the President, was having to pay a God-awful price for strawberries.
The President said he lectured his mechanic friend sharply. Since when could mechanics afford strawberries out of season? Why didn't they eat something else? Why throw away their defense plant wages in such a foolish fashion?
The President used this to prove that the price line actually was being held, but that too many people were spending their money on unnecessary luxuries.
About six months later, the inflation question came up again in a press conference. Someone wanted to know whether the President really thought the price line was being held, and how much longer it would last.
The President declined to comment directly. He thought for a moment and added that there were too many people like a master mechanic he knew.
This man, he said, had dropped in 'to chat' and complain about the high price of asparagus. His 'missus,' the President said of the mechanic, was complaining bitterly about having to pay such a dear price for asparagus.
And since when, the President said he told the mechanic, did he find it necessary to have asparagus, out of season, on his menu? Why didn't they eat something else? Why, contribute to inflation by wasting their defense plant wages on unnecessary luxury items?
I could not resist it. I knew it was presumptuous and bordered on the disrespectful, but I had to ask the question.
'Mr. President,' I said, 'is that the same mechanic who came in a few months back complaining about the price of strawberries?'
The press conference exploded into roars of laughter.
Mr. Roosevelt turned a little pink and shouted over the guffaws: 'My God, Merriman. It's true. It is true. It was the same man.'
But he could hardly finish the sentence because he was laughing too hard, himself.