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New York Times, January 25, 1899. I’ve long been fascinated by the folkloric/pop cultural/editorial cartoon trope of the arrogant rich guy lighting his cigar with a flaming banknote, which I reckon I first encountered while basking in the majestic comic strip universe of Walt Kelly’s Pogo. The latter syndicated feature was a keystone of my parents’ courtship, and so I arguably owe my very existence to the genius of Mr. Kelly. In any case, there were all these fascinating paperback Pogo anthologies about the house when I was a tad, and my Talmudic study of them by flashlight under a blanket was one of the formative reading experiences of my life. So: one of Kelly’s peripheral but fully-fledged characters was this bowler-hatted millionaire mouse called F. Olding Munny, who was forever lighting his “ceegars” with $100 bills. This drove me nuts as a kid, as I desperately needed to know how the bill was induced to burn in the first place, and why F. Olding didn’t just light his smoke from the initiating flame. Which is to say that I got it, but at the same time I didn’t get it, though simultaneously I was completely aware that there was something I wasn’t getting.
Aaaanyway, until now I had never run across evidence that this singular gesture of conspicuous consumption had genuine historical/behavioral roots. And for some reason, it makes me very happy to learn this.
Regarding said “‘Chop Suey’ at 1,261 Broadway”: Lately I’ve become interested in the history of the assimilation of Chinese cuisine into the American mainstream. It’s early innings yet, but as near as I can tell there were moments in any city with a substantial Chinese population when only “bohemian” Caucasians would eat at Chinese restaurants run by actual Chinese, while less adventurous round-eyed diners patronized para-Chinese “chop suey” joints owned and operated by other white folks. So that’s what I think we are looking at here.
Also: “in the presence of a number of women” is pretty awesome as a scandalizing detail. It’s good to keep in mind that America still maintained the purdah just century or so ago, if only as an index of how quickly this stuff can change.
1)I like the “stopping at” as synonym for “staying at.” Ostensibly related to the British idiom of “stopping in” (“staying at home”).
2) Aha: So he admits there were women present! Scoundrel.

Huh: stuffing bills into the pockets of the women, without reference to lap dances or peeling. All they had to do was show up! Kinder, gentler times, clearly.

That is a remarkable career, no question.

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