MAN ABOUT TOWN
by O. Henry
There were two or three things that I wanted to know.
I do not care about a mystery. So I began to inquire.
It took me two weeks to find out what women carry in
dress suit cases. And then I began to ask why a mattress
is made in two pieces. This serious query was at first
received with suspicion because it sounded like a
conundrum. I was at last assured that its double form
of construction was designed to make lighter the burden
of woman, who makes up beds. I was so foolish as to
persist, begging to know why, then, they were not made
in two equal pieces; whereupon I was shunned.
The third draught that I craved from the fount of knowledge
was enlightenment concerning the character known as A Man
About Town. He was more vague in my mind than a type should
be. We must have a concrete idea of anything, even if it be
an imaginary idea, before we can comprehend it. Now, I have
a mental picture of John Doe that is as clear as a steel
engraving. His eyes are weak blue; he wears a brown vest
and a shiny black serge coat. He stands always in the
sunshine chewing something; and he keeps half-shutting
his pocket knife and opening it again with his thumb. And,
if the Man Higher Up is ever found, take my assurance for
it, he will be a large, pale man with blue wristlets showing
under his cuffs, and he will be sitting to have his shoes
polished within sound of a bowling alley, and there will
be somewhere about him turquoises.
But the canvas of my imagination, when it came to limning
the Man About Town, was blank. I fancied that he had a
detachable sneer (like the smile of the Cheshire cat) and
attached cuffs; and that was all. Whereupon I asked a
newspaper reporter about him.
"Why," said he, "a 'Man About Town' something between a
'rounder' and a 'clubman.' He isn't exactly--well, he
fits in between Mrs. Fish's receptions and private boxing
bouts. He doesn't--well, he doesn't belong either to the
Lotos Club or to the Jerry McGeogheghan Galvanised Iron
Workers' Apprentices' Left Hook Chowder Association. I
don't exactly know how to describe him to you. You'll
see him everywhere there's anything doing. Yes, I suppose
he's a type. Dress clothes every evening; knows the ropes;
calls every policeman and waiter in town by their first
names. No; he never travels with the hydrogen derivatives.
You generally see him alone or with another man."
My friend the reporter left me, and I wandered further
afield. By this time the 3126 electric lights on the
Rialto were alight. People passed, but they held me not.
Paphian eyes rayed upon me, and left me unscathed. Diners,
heimgangers, shop-girls, confidence men, panhandlers,
actors, highwaymen, millionaires and outlanders hurried,
skipped, strolled, sneaked, swaggered and scurried by me;
but I took no note of them. I knew them all; I had read
their hearts; they had served. I wanted my Man About
Town. He was a type, and to drop him would be an error--a
typograph--but no! let us continue.
Let us continue with a moral digression. To see a family
reading the Sunday paper gratifies. The sections have
been separated. Papa is earnestly scanning the page that
pictures the young lady exercising before an open window,
and bending--but there, there! Mamma is interested in
trying to guess the missing letters in the word N_w Yo_k.
The oldest girls are eagerly perusing the financial reports,
for a certain young man remarked last Sunday night that
he had taken a flyer in Q., X. & Z. Willie, the
eighteen-year-old son, who attends the New York public
school, is absorbed in the weekly article describing
how to make over an old shirt, for he hopes to take a
prize in sewing on graduation day.
Grandma is holding to the comic supplement with a two-hours'
grip; and little Tottie, the baby, is rocking along the
best she can with the real estate transfers. This view
is intended to be reassuring, for it is desirable that
a few lines of this story be skipped. For it introduces
I went into a cafe to--and while it was being mixed I
asked the man who grabs up your hot Scotch spoon as
soon as you lay it down what he understood by the term,
epithet, description, designation, characterization or
appellation, viz.: a "Man About Town."
"Why," said he, carefully, "it means a fly guy that's
wise to the all-night push--see? It's a hot sport that
you can't bump to the rail anywhere between the
Flatirons--see? I guess that's about what it means."
I thanked him and departed.
On the sidewalk a Salvation lassie shook her contribution
receptacle gently against my waistcoat pocket.
"Would you mind telling me," I asked her, "if you ever
meet with the character commonly denominated as 'A Man
About Town' during your daily wanderings?"
"I think I know whom you mean," she answered, with a
gentle smile. "We see them in the same places night
after night. They are the devil's body guard, and if
the soldiers of any army are as faithful as they are,
their commanders are well served. We go among them,
diverting a few pennies from their wickedness to the
She shook the box again and I dropped a dime into it.
In front of a glittering hotel a friend of mine,
a critic, was climbing from a cab. He seemed at
leisure; and I put my question to him. He answered
me conscientiously, as I was sure he would.
"There is a type of 'Man About Town' in New York," he
answered. "The term is quite familiar to me, but I
don't think I was ever called upon to define the
character before. It would be difficult to point you
out an exact specimen. I would say, offhand, that it
is a man who had a hopeless case of the peculiar New
York disease of wanting to see and know. At 6 o'clock
each day life begins with him. He follows rigidly the
conventions of dress and manners; but in the business
of poking his nose into places where he does not belong
he could give pointers to a civet cat or a jackdaw. He
is the man who has chased Bohemia about the town from
rathskeller to roof garden and from Hester street to
Harlem until you can't find a place in the city where
they don't cut their spaghetti with a knife. Your 'Man
About Town' has done that. He is always on the scent
of something new. He is curiosity, impudence and,
omnipresence. Hansoms were made for him, and gold-banded
cigars; and the curse of music at dinner. There are
not so many of him; but his minority report is adopted
"I'm glad you brought up the subject; I've felt the
influence of this nocturnal blight upon our city, but
I never thought to analyze it before. I can see now
that your 'Man About Town' should have been classified
long ago. In his wake spring up wine agents and cloak
models; and the orchestra plays 'Let's All Go Up to
Maud's' for him, by request, instead of Handel. He
makes his rounds every evening; while you and I see
the elephant once a week. When the cigar store is
raided, he winks at the officer, familiar with his
ground, and walks away immune, while you and I search
among the Presidents for names, and among the stars
for addresses to give the desk sergeant."
My friend, the critic, paused to acquire breath for
fresh eloquence. I seized my advantage.
"You have classified him," I cried with joy. "You
have painted his portrait in the gallery of city
types. But I must meet one face to face. I must study
the Man About Town at first hand. Where shall I find
him? How shall I know him?"
Without seeming to hear me, the critic went on.
And his cab-driver was waiting for his fare, too.
"He is the sublimated essence of Butt-in; the refined,
intrinsic extract of Rubber; the concentrated, purified,
irrefutable, unavoidable spirit of Curiosity and
Inquisitiveness. A new sensation is the breath in his
nostrils; when his experience is exhausted he explores
new fields with the indefatigability of a--"
"Excuse me," I interrupted, "but can you produce one
of this type? It is a new thing to me. I must study
it. I will search the town over until I find one. Its
habitat must be here on Broadway."
"I am about to dine here," said my friend. "Come inside,
and if there is a Man About Town present I will point
him out to you. I know most of the regular patrons here."
"I am not dining yet," I said to him. "You will excuse
me. I am going to find my Man About Town this night if
I have to rake New York from the Battery to Little Coney
I left the hotel and walked down Broadway. The pursuit
of my type gave a pleasant savor of life and interest
to the air I breathed. I was glad to be in a city so
great, so complex and diversified. Leisurely and with
something of an air I strolled along with my heart
expanding at the thought that I was a citizen of great
Gotham, a sharer in its magnificence and pleasures, a
partaker in its glory and prestige.
I turned to cross the street. I heard something buzz
like a bee, and then I took a long, pleasant ride with
When I opened my eyes I remembered a smell of gasoline,
and I said aloud: "Hasn't it passed yet?"
A hospital nurse laid a hand that was not particularly
soft upon my brow that was not at all fevered. A young
doctor came along, grinned, and handed me a morning
"Want to see how it happened?" he asked cheerily. I
read the article. Its headlines began where I heard
the buzzing leave off the night before. It closed
with these lines:
"--Bellevue Hospital, where it was said that his
injuries were not serious. He appeared to be a
typical Man About Town."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~