This is written on the letterhead of J.H.Zimmer Co.,
Long Island Real Estate, Farms and Water Front Property. James is
trying to capture his life dilemma as methodically as he knows how.
Would he turn into a back-slapping small-town Rotarian or simply a
restless misfit? Or should he force his wings open and fly into the
unknown future, independent of his family?
Tuesday 6.29.26, from James in Lynbrook NY
June 28 night
This paper [the letterhead] strikes the tone of what this letter
is to be a business discussion. There is a possibility of choosing
between alternatives in the near future, and I want to know your
feelings on the subject.
First I will attempt to outline two pictures, as nearly
impartially as I can, in form both narrative and descriptive
beginning with the nearer (no attempts at unity or order):
I. The alternative as per letterhead:
A. The Great God Real Estate.
1. Market is at present inordinately dull; may pick up in
3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years.
2. None of the offices are doing much; our office nothing
we are newcomers to the field.
3. There is a fair prospect of developing a moderately
lucrative business in two or three years time; this is a
growing suburban section wherein real estate cannot remain
4. My father is willing to pay me $25 a week plus half
commissions, or half profits.
5. The work involves no very high order of intelligence;
listings must be kept up to date, the geography of the
section known, catchy advertisements written.
6. Theoretically, there is great room for ability to size
up people and their wants; to be diplomatic; to play the
Let the link-sausage manufacturer and his rotund spouse from Brooklyn do
their own sizing up.
7. Practically, the usual operation is pretty mechanical
in 90% of transactions or attempted transactions; you spread
your wares in the form of shiny new houses, all more or less
alike, and let the link-sausage manufacturer and his rotund
spouse from Brooklyn do their own sizing up; in rare
instances clients come along with whom a certain amount of
finesse and non-Babbitt jargon may be to advantage employed.
8. Success in this business is greatly enhanced by
attendance at real estate dinners; by being a Rotarian and
an Elk; by being a staunch citizen and ballyhooing
ecstatically from the soft drinks booth at the Volunteer
B. A few advantages
1. More or less your own boss.
2. No commuting.
3. Your own time (little trips, days off, etc., etc.,
arrangeable most anytime).
4. Time for reading, for tennis, for a languid philosophical
5. No commuting
6. Fair prospects for a quite pleasant little home in the
woods pretty soon.
C. Future Prospects
1. Financially about as good as most businesses, which may
not mean very good.
2. Subjective state: either subdued to being a platitudinous
booster, a conventional small town business man, or if not
so subdued, still a misfit as a good Realtor.
The Great God of Real Estate offers you the opportunity of
becoming the wife of Mr. J.H.Zimmer, Real Estate and
Insurance, Homes and Homesites 5 minutes from the station.
No very adventurous business future; the greatest in
intellectual matter we might have to discuss in re my
business would be a speculation on a business lot or the
prospects of making a given sale. Social, or friendship,
value of business associates practically nil. Lots of time
off; late morning rising; country life, tennis, a house in
the trees and fresh air. Wife of a struggling real estate
salesman for some years Plenty of financial uncertainty,
but deplorably little life uncertainty not much gypsy
spirit an attempt to start at a not too high top
rather than a start at a hard, discouraging bottom in something
that smacks a little less of the auctioneer, the insurance
The Other Alternative: The Great Unknown, which is so seldom Great and
not long Unknown.
1. This alternative looms much more vaguely; may be but a
The Great Unknown, which is so seldom Great and not long Unknown
2. Involves an attempt to secure a job which may ultimately
lead to a position, at best of only mild financial success
and popular success, in which work, some brain action, and a
general attempt at refinement and intelligence are business
assets of more value than wind, steam, and speed.
3. Possibly reporting; possibly hack writing; possibly a
sort of secretaryship to some man; possibly at the bottom in
some publishing house; perhaps personnel work with a large
4. Low salary.
5. Few shows, few new hats, no entertainment, a one room
apartment in not the most desirable section of the city for
a year or so, then a suburban place & commuting. Pretty
regular hours; Sat. PM's and Sundays the only time-off to be
6. Rather greater independence from Pater Zimmer; perhaps a
psychological but certainly not a material advantage; Pater
Zimmer is usually willing to advance aid of sundry sorts
without taking credit unto himself for so doing.
7. A certain amount of pioneer spirit, as contrasted to the
comparatively flabby policy of trying to fall into a
business which is somewhat of a graft, rake-off, unearned
increment sort when it is good, and a thankless, anxious,
uncertain job when it is bad.
8. This option holds the chance of ultimately winding up in
as sordid a trade as Option One; under stress of gnawing
hunger and ill-shod progeny, you know, one is glad to spear
a sinecure in the cloak-and-suit trade.
Conditions like this seem quite inevitable. By way of
example, Archie, who was my roommate in Larkin's house first
term of 1922-23: he graduated 3-1/2 yrs. ago and has
been married 3 years; at present he finds himself unable to
get a job paying more than $25 a week in his profession of
engineering. Louis Roess, while rather better situated by
virtue of having brains, is starting in as an instructor at
$1200 or $1400 per year.
The other night Mrs. Beaman, a doctor's wife who was my S.S.
teacher in days gone by, called on us; a delightful lady, has a son and
daughter in college. I showed her your picture. She was so delighted
that she started in at once making plans for me. She said that when she
married, her first bureau consisted of a packing box with cloth nailed
over the front of it. It seems to have had no cultural ill effects on
her; rather the reverse.
Mr. Ebberts had to ask his boss to advance him two weeks pay
ahead in order to finance bread and butter during his first
week of married life.
All this by way of encouraging you for the objectively drab
days that are coming to you.
But about these alternatives: ponder this unintelligible set
of dilemma horns, and tell me what you think we should do
don't say "whichever you prefer," because I want but one
thing you under whatever circumstances you find most
This is a business letter, however, so I must fight down the
things I want to say until anon.
Don't allow time to elapse between your receipt of my
letters and answering them just write as often as