As part of the oral history project, in May of 1939, Philip Marcus sat down with a project worker and talked about what it was like to be a newsboy on the streets of Chicago. Here is a little of what he had to say concerning dodges that he and his friends used to use:
When papers was a penny apiece was the days when I was selling them. I was a little lad then, and I lived on the streets practically all day, days and nights both. We used to sneak in the burlesque houses or the all-night places on West Madison Street and sleep there. The only trouble with that was the ushers would come around every hour or so and throw the flashlight in your face to see was you awake. You wasn’t supposed to go to sleep. Sometimes they threw us out.
We had a lot of dodges. A penny was a lot of money to us, and a nickel was a hell of a lot. A dime or a quarter was a fortune.
I practically grew up on a pool table.
Here’s one of the dodges us newskids used to have in those days for making money.
You know how a guy is when he buys a newspaper. He’s a fan of something or other, baseball nine time out of ten, and he’s got the boxscore habit. You hand him a paper, and right away he’s looking at the boxscore; he’s holding the paper in one hand, reading the scores, and the other hand’s stuck out for the change; he takes his change by ear, see, by ear and touch if you get it; he’s reading. So me, I lay a penny in his hand if it’s a nickel, say, that he gave me. Then I click the second penny on the first and count two. And the same with the third penny. Each time the penny drops on the other pennies in his hand. But the last penny I hold onto; I click it on the other pennies, but I don’t let go on it, and he thinks he’s got all of his change. Nine times out of ten he sticks the pennies in his pocket without even lookin’ at them, an’ that’s the dodge.
Here’s another petty larceny trick we had. We’d pull it at car stops where they had stop lights.
When the streetcar was waiting for a red light to turn, we used to run up alongside the car and the people in the car would stick their hands through the windows for a paper. He’d stick his hand outside the window and maybe he’d have a nickel or a dime in it instead of the change, the penny, and later, when the war started, two pennies.
If he gave us a nickel or a dime, it was just too bad. We’d fumble, we’d try and we’d fumble—boy; we sure had to dig deep for that change —and we’d run along beside the car when it started, but—it never failed—we just couldn’t reach him, the car would be picking up speed and we just couldn’t reach his hand with that change. It never failed to happen. But I’ve had guys got off the car at the next stop and come back and make me give them their change. They were wised up, I guess, or maybe they’d sold papers once themselves. Anyway, I’ve had that happen to me.
One of our favorite stunts, if a guy didn’t have anything smaller than a nickel or a dime or a quarter or something like that was to plead we had no change. Then we’d go to some convenient saloon—there was always a saloon handy—and these saloons, they all had two entrances. They guy would watch us go in one entrance an’ stand outside it waitin’ for us to come out with his change. But we’d slip out the other entrance an’ go lookin’ for another guy who needed change for a nickel or a dime or a quarter or somethin’ like that.