human nature. Of course some greatnwriters can do more—perhaps paint annentire life into a few pages. But genuisesnare even more rare than writers of goodnstories—and it doesn’t pay to play at beingna genius if you are not.nUamon Runyon was no genius, butnhe wrote wonderful stories. One of thenmost endearing things about Runyon isnthat, in the middle of the Depression, hengot paid a dollar a word for these storiesnand sold batches of them. That may benthe very heart of what’s good about hisnwriting. In the introduction by TomnClark we hear Runyon saying:nMy measure of success is money. Inhave no interest in artistic triumphsnthat are financial losers. I would likento have an artistic success that alsonmade money, of course, but if I had tonmake a choice between the two, Inwould take the dough.nWhat an American. And it is exactlynthe Americanness of these stories that isntheir greatest appeal. We are short onnfolklore in America, being so young.nSince we grew into modernity beforenmuch of our premodern folklore had anchance to take root, we have even lessnthan we might. What does Johnny Appleseednhave to do with our America?nEven Paul Bunyan, big and American asnhe is, doesn’t have a really strong claimnon us. Runyon wrote a lot of splendidnfolklore of a type I don’t think we willnever lose. The America Runyon writesnabout is postfrontier, a lot more closedinnand interdependent than the countrynin which our infant folklore developed.nBut the Americans in his stories go at thisnclosed-in existence with the same freewheelingningenious opportunism thatnbecame part of the national character onnthe frontier. Runyon once said of an acquaintance,n”What this fellow does isnthe best he can, but the field, beingnslighdy overcrowded is none too well. Itnis a very crowded profession these days.”nThat’s the modern, urbanized, industrialized,nhard-times version of the frontiernspirit, the only version most AmericansnChronicles of Cttlturencan experience these days.nMost of the heroes and heroines ofnRunyon’s folklore have a somewhatnrelaxed attitude toward the law. This isnnot to suggest that the essence of thenAmerican character is criminal, butnrather that this posture versus conventionsnis a moral instinct which may benat the basis of any great thing we maynachieve as leader of the free world. Runyon’sncharacters are American heroes becausenthey know instinctively, without antrace of ideology, without a touch ofnMarxism, that a lot of what passes fornmorals is only mores. And a lot of whatngets promoted as mores is really just somensegment of society trying to run things tonsuit its own interests. Because Americansnknow these things instinctively, they willnnever be impressed by an ideology thatnmakes a big deal about revealing them.nA real American won’t lecture a hypocriticalnmillionaire about class warfare.nHe’ll just tell the millionaire to blow itnout his ear.nMy favorite story in this folklore veinnis “The Lacework Kid,” written duringnWorld War II. Its Americanness standsnout all the more clearly because it is set innGermany, in a POW camp.nIn his prewar, Broadway, incarnation,nthe Lacework Kid was a professional cardnplayer, that is, a shark, adept at dealingnfrom the bottom of the deck, palmingncards and all the other uicks of the trade.nBut Runyon doesn’t say this directly—hennever treats his heroes so indelicately:nHe has long slim white hands like ansociety broad and in fact there is nondoubt that his hands are the secret ofnthe Lacework Kid’s success at his tradenof card playing as they are fast andnflexible and have youth in them, andnyouth is the one thing a good cardnplayer must have, because age stiffensnfingers up more than somewhat. Butnof course age is a drawback in everythingnin this wicked old world.nThis indirection is part of Runyon’snhumor. But the real reason he won’t saynit more directly is that he wants us tonnnrealize that it needn’t be said—everyn”professional” card player, on Broadwaynat least, is a shark. The implication is thatnthe Kid, despite the demands of his profession,nis not a moral outcast.nThe war comes and the Kid, a gunnernon a B-29, is shot down and takennprisoner. It turns out that the commandantnof the POW camp spent many yearsnin America as a diplomatic attache andndeveloped a passion for American ginnrummy. He is desperate for someone tonplay. The Kid, like any serious cardnplayer, thinks gin is a game for idiots.n”Schultz [he tells the sergeant of thenguard] nearly everybody in the UnitednStates of America plays gin rummy. Thenlittle children in the stteet play it. Oldnbroads play it. I understand there is antrained ape in the Bronx Zoo that plays itnvery nicely and I am not surprised, becausen… I can teach any dumb animal tonplay gin rummy if I can get it to hold tenncards.” Gin was Runyon’s favorite game.nNevertheless, the camp guards, headednby the sergeant, convince the Kid tonplay the commandant for money, withnthe guards staking the Kid. All these arrangementsnare made in a wonderfullynAmerican dialect which stands out like ansore thumb in the German setting. Thensergeant tells his fellow guards that thenKid can make “a Jack jump out of thendeck and sing Chattanooga Choo-Choonif necessary.” After explaining to the Kidnthat he will get 25 percent of the winningsnthe German guard tells him “I willnpersonally guarantee your end.” Whatncan be more American than “your end”nunless it is “a piece of the action”?nOf course the Kid bankrupts the commandantnand, indirectly, every one ofnthe guards because the commandantnforces them to loan him money so he cannkeep playing. Pretty soon the Kid is thenonly person in camp with any money.nThe commandant appears to commitnsuicide, and the Kid uses his winnings tonbribe the guards to turn their backs whilenthe prisoners escape. The Kid gets anmedal and returns to Broadway to tell thenstory at Mindy’s.nWhat better way to beat the nazis andn