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Literature / The Pushcart War

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A satirical Young Adult novel, told in the style of a Faux Documentary, by Jean Merrill, about the "war" between trucking companies who want the streets of New York City to themselves, and the pushcart owners, who come up with a plan to shoot the trucks' tires with peashooters, proving who is really destroying traffic. Hilarity, involving a botched photography contest, a tax on tacks, a mediocre student in secretarial school, gangs of children, a bulletproof Italian car and a movie star named Wenda Gambling, ensues.

This book contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Harry the Hotdog holds the record for the most popped tires and is pretty proud of it.
  • The Alleged Expert: The three qualified panelists on a panel to discuss NYC's horrendous traffic do nothing of note besides discussing things that people already know in fancier terms and suggesting "a more thorough conditioning of drivers to hopeless situations." The only remotely accurate and insightful comment gets uttered by a movie star who is only invited to the panel as a publicity stunt.
    "And what do you think, Ms. Gambling?" asked the moderator, as the there experts began to argue with each other.
    "I don't know what they're talking about." said Wenda Gambling.
    "Well," said the moderator, who was not quite sure himself, "I believe our subject this evening was traffic."
    "Oh," said Wenda Gambling. "Well I think there are too many trucks and that the trucks are too big."
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Many of the pushcart peddlers use sentence constructions that are typical of native Yiddish speakers who later learned English. Some of their names are Ambiguously Jewish too - most notably Mr. Jerusalem and Papa Peretz.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: The novel claims it was based on a true story. While certain events are implausible (like attacking trucks with pea-shooters), it's theoretically possible... until you realize that the copyright date is before the time that the events in the book supposedly take place. This is deliberate, as the book was presented as a history written long after the events described therein. Interestingly, its publishers update the "historical" time frame with each new edition. It was originally published in 1964 describing events in 1975. Later releases said 1986 and 1998. The most recent version says 2029.
  • Big Badass Rig: The truck companies have three sizes of trucks: the smallest (about the size of trucks today), all the way up to Mighty Mammoths, Ten-Ton Tigers and Leaping Lemas.
  • Commander Contrarian: Played for Laughs with Papa Peretz, the most nervous and hesitating of the senior pushcart peddlers, but still a dedicated member of the group.
  • Cool Old Lady: General Anna, who pops the truck tires by hand and is remarkably successful, thanks to looking like a harmless granny who's just looking for something that fell on the ground.
  • Corrupt Politician: Mayor Emmett P. Cudd. At the end he senses which way the wind is blowing and changes his tune, winning a third term.
  • Creator Cameo: Jean Merrill and Ronni Solbert both appear among the list of New Yorkers who wrote letters to the editor in support of the pushcarts.
  • Dartboard of Hate: Frank the Flower has a crocheted dartboard with pictures of trucks in his cell, with knitting needles substituting for darts.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Large corporations in New York City pushing small businesses out of work so they can become "too big to fail," met by ragtag resistance? Tony Kushner, the writer of Angels in America, claimed that the novel predicted the events of Occupy Wall Street several decades in advance.
  • Exactly What I Aimed At: Played for laughs. After the pushcart vendors use their pea shooters to take out the tires of the large trucks, they listen to a news report which details the outcome. The report includes a woman claiming to have been hit by one of the pea shooters. Maxie asks the group "Who missed?" Harry the Hot Dog says indignantly that he didn't miss, but the lady had insulted his hot dogs, and he couldn't resist.
  • Five-Token Band: Justified — many of the pushcart owners are recent immigrants who would naturally have a bigger stake in the war.
  • Fruit Cart: Lots, given the setting, and lots of plowing through them, again given the setting. At the end of the book, about two hundred pushcarts of all varieties are blocking the street as a protest to try to end the titular "war". A truck driver who has a grudge against one of the vendors deliberately drives through the blockade. Then, for bonus points, a pushcart axle goes through his windshield and he loses control and plows into a cafeteria window.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: The Big Three concoct a plot to assassinate Maxie Hammerman, the Pushcart King. Maxie gets word of this, and brings the Police Commissioner to their secret poker and/or plotting meeting. At the meeting, he tells the Commissioner that while he and the Big Three have their differences, they still get together every so often for a friendly gambling match. The Big Three quickly figure out what he's doing, but they can't do anything with the Commissioner right there. Maxie ends up winning a lot of their money, as well as the bulletproof Italian car they were going to use for the job.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: In-Universe, while Wenda Gambling is a major backer of the Pushcart operators, a movie that gets made about the war has her fire the first shot at a truck tire, and save the life of Morris the Florist during the peace march, when really it was deemed that too many people would be watching Wenda to have her shooting any tire be smart, and it was General Anna who saved Morris.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The mayor who's in the trucking companies' pocket tries convincing everyone not to oppose the trucks by stating that they stood for progress and also delivered a lot of good things like peanut butter. So if you were against the trucks, you were against progress. You might even be against peanut butter. And no decent person could be against peanut butter!
  • Letters to the Editor: When the photo of Mack hitting Morris the Florist is published in the papers, hundreds of letters in support of the pushcarts are sent in, signifying public support for the pushcarts.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: Louie Livergreen of the Big Three is the son of a (now dead) pushcart peddler who was a caring, hard-working man, while Louie is a Corrupt Corporate Executive who is openly ashamed of his father and never visited him after making it big.
  • Meaningful Name: Maxie Hammerman is a pushcart repairman who uses a hammer a lot.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: After its initial press run, later editions have bumped up the date of the book from 1976 to 1986, 1998, and now 2029.
  • Noodle Incident: The head of the pea tack squad is mentioned as being one of the few people in the city who knows that Maxie is the pushcart king, but the circumstances behind this are never explained.
  • The Plan: The trucking companies plan to monopolize the city streets by first getting rid of the pushcarts before going after other smaller vehicles. Needless to say, the pushcart vendors prove to be a lot more trouble than expected.
  • Pop the Tires: The pushcarters get revenge on trucks by using pea-shooters to shoot pins at their tires. Although they aim at parked/stuck-in-traffic trucks to keep them stopped; they avoid shooting at people or deliberately causing an accident. When Frank gets caught popping a tire and jailed for it, the pushcarters stop, only for the children of the city to copy Frank's "crime" for fun.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • While the police chief is somewhat ignorant about the real nature of the trucks-pushcart war and a bit too eager to believe Frank the Flower's confession, he does refuse to charge Maxie after being presented with alternate explanations for the evidence against him, and refuses to release Mack from jail (despite pressure from the mayor and the Big Three) over his many crimes.
    • The head of the pea tack squad is diligent in his duties (and smart enough to know a real suspect when he hears Maxie Hammerman's name), but is also apologetic after realizing how he's been (somewhat) unjustly suspicious of a factory owner who he went to a lot of effort to besiege when the man refused his orders to shut down.
  • Refuge in Audacity: When a policeman notices Anna bending over, prepared to pop a truck tire, she tells him that she's looking for her lost hatpin and he believes her, helps her find the pin that she'd been about to pop a tire with (and covertly popped a tire with during her approach) then wishes her a good day.
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie: Maxie is interrogated by the police commissioner about the map that shows where trucks have gotten their tires popped. Maxie claims that its a map where pushcarts have been doing good business, and the fact they are at locations where trucks gotten flat tires is due to how the stalled trucks caused those who lived nearby to rely on the pushcart vendors for their errands.
  • Signature Headgear: Frank the Flower always wears a hat with fresh flowers in it, changing them every day.
  • Taking the Heat: Frank the Flower is caught shooting at tires, and in order to protect the rest of the pushcart owners claims he shot all 18,991 of the downed trucks himself because he's a crackpot. It actually works.
  • Thrown from the Zeppelin: Teased but subverted during the Three's meeting about their master plan. Walter the Tiger says that he doesn't mind pushcarts and small trucks and feels conflicted about the next step. Louie and Big Moe pointedly tell him that he can get onboard or the Three will become the Two, and he reluctantly backs down.

  • Token Good Teammate: Walter the Tiger is the only one of the Big Three to ever show much discomfort with their plans or question the other two, although it doesn't amount to that much.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The book is a satirical interpretation of the Revolutionary War, with the pushcarts as the colonies and the trucks as the British.