Today’s script caught my fancy for two reasons.  One because, here in my corner of the East Coast, we are being paralyzed by snow, like New York City in the script. But I was also taken by what it says about the people of the time and fuel consumption. For my father, the situation led to a discussion about how you can make things sound a certain way, to me it spoke of  the mentality of people after the war. In February of 1946, the country was used to cutting back and doing without to make sure there was enough for all. I can’t imagine New York City of today shutting down all but “essential services” to save enough fuel to see them through the winter. To be asked to turn down your heat and not go to school or work for a day or two seems almost unthinkable now.  Maybe, if we had retained more of that compassion for each other and the common good, we would have decent healthcare and not quite so many dire problems to solve 64 years later, as we move into 2010.

And now, “More of this . . .  And a little of that.”
The entire city of New York was practically paralyzed.  No office buildings, no theatres, transportation was scant . . .It was a tie-up right enough. Radio was classified as an essential industry so we were permitted to come up to the studios and work as usual. It was just another day named Tuesday as far as I was concerned. But there was a good deal of excitement about it. It was all part of the tugboat strike and Mayor O’Dwyer, after taking a quick inventory of existing stocks of coal and oil, clamped down on heat and practically stopped the city dead in its tracks.

Murdoch says he thinks it was strictly a case of municipal jealousy.  New York was afraid that Philadelphia end Pittsburgh, with their transit and power strikes, would hog all the front page space. Things have leveled off some today. Almost everything is functioning again except the schools and I don’t think the juvenile heart of New York is breaking at that prospect.

But when a city like New York stops breathing, it’s noticeable. And it’s an arresting thing to observe how dependent a city of this size can be on a constant supply of fuel. I guess what with the mammoth office buildings and subways and palaces of amusement and canyons of industry, this city uses a hefty supply of fuel every day. . . . . . so much that it’s impossible to store much more than a few days’ reserve.

. . .with the strike as a start . . . some of us suburbanites got to swopping stories on the train going home yesterday and one of the fellows was telling us about his ten room house and how his heater eats oil like Lil’ Abner Yokum eats poke chaps. His windows and doors aren’t weather stripped and when the weather bites down sharp and cold he goes through a thousand gallons of fuel oil in a month! That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? When you say it that way.  And that brought us to the real nub of the discussion which was how things can be made to sound big or little, bad or good, depending on the way you say them.  We got to work with paper and pencil and figured out that a thousand gallons of oil a month works down to a pint every six minutes. Now, instead of saying a thousand gallons a month . . . if you were trying to impress a perspective buyer with how efficient the heating system is . . . you could say, we heat this whole big house for six minutes on just one pint of oil.  Sounds different, doesn’t it?

 And the same trick is employed on prices, too. Think how much cheaper it sounds to say $29.95 instead of $30.  Merchants in this country have learned that trick and have been trading on it for years.  In fact, we’re so used to prices like one a dollar ninety-eight or two sixty-nine that we don’t notice them anymore. 

A couple of boy cousins who were tossed into Australia by the heaving war, told me that when the Americans started getting into that country in sufficient numbers to make them a  considerable buying public, the Australian merchants, who had never gone in for it before, started to do the same thing with their prices. And it was odd to see price tags on merchandise reading instead of a flat two pounds, one pound eleven and nine pence!

And then, of course, ultimately we got around to that old chestnut which really clinches the fact that things can be made to sound the way you want them to sound.  The pessimist looks at the bottle and says, “It’s half empty”, the optimist looks at the same bottle and says, “It’s half full.”