Sunday, 31 August 2008

31 August 2008

kept right on yodelling. The mother was silent. Raymond and the kids were giggling in the bedroom. A California home! I hid in the grapevines digging it all. I felt like a million dollars; I was adventuring in the crazy American night. Bea came out slamming the door behind her. I accosted her on the dark road. “What’ the matter?” “Oh we fight all the time. He wants me to go to work tomorrow. He says he don’t want me fooling around. Jackie and I want to go to New York with you.” “But how?” “I don’t know honey. I’ll miss you I love you.” “But I have to leave.” “Yes, yes. We screw one more time then you leave.” We went back to the barn; I made love to her under the tarantula. What was the tarantula doing? We slept awhile on the crates. She went back at midnight; her father was drunk; I could hear him roaring; then there was silence as he fell asleep. The stars folded over the sleeping countryside. In the morning Farmer Heffelfinger stuck his head through the horse gate and said “How you doing young fella?” “Fine. I hope it’s all right my staying here.” “Sure thing. You going with that little Mexican floozie?” “She’s a very nice girl.” “Very pretty too. I think the bull jumped the fence. She’s got blue eyes.” We talked about his farm. Bea brought my breakfast. I had my canvas bag all packed and ready to go to New York, as soon as I picked up my money in Selma. I knew it was waiting for me by now. I told Bea I was leaving. She had been thinking about it all night and was resigned to it. Emotionlessly she kissed me in the vineyards and walked off down the row. We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time. “See you in New York Bea” I said. She was supposed to drive to New York in a month with her brother. But we both knew she wouldn’t make it somehow. At a hundred feet I turned to look at her. She just walked on back to the shack, carrying my breakfast plate in one hand. I bowed my head and watched her. Well lackadaddy, I was on the road again. I walked down the highway to Selma eating black walnuts from the walnut tree, I went on the SP tracks and balanced along the rail, I passed a watertower and a factory. This was the end of something. I went to the telegraph office of the railroad for my money order from New York. It was closed. I

Saturday, 30 August 2008

30 August 2008

what the pitch was. There were five cousins in all and every one of them was nice. They seemed to belong to the side of Bea’s family that didn’t fuss off like her brother. I loved that wild Freddy. He swore he was coming to New York and join me. I pictured him in New York putting off everything till manana. He was drunk in a field someplace that day. I got off the truck at the crossroads and the cousins drove Bea home. They gave me the high-sign from the front of the house: the father and mother weren’t home, they were off picking grapes. So I had the run of the house for the afternoon. It was a four-room shack; I couldn’t imagine how the whole family managed to live in there. Flies flew over the sink. There were no screens, just like in the song. “The window she is broken and the rain she is coming in.” Bea was at home now and puttering around pots. Her two sisters giggled at me. The little children screamed in the road. When the sun came out red through the clouds of my last Valley afternoon Bea led me to Farmer Heffelfinger’s barn. Farmer Heffelfinger had a prosperous farm up the road. We put crates together, she brought blankets from the house and I was all set except for a great hairy tarantula that lurked at the pinpoint top of the barn-roof. Bea said it wouldn’t harm me if I didn’t bother it. I lay on my back and stared at it. I went out to the cemetery and climbed a tree. In the tree I sang “Blue Skies.” Bea and Raymond sat in the grass; we had grapes. In California you chew the juice out of the grapes and spit the skin away, a real luxury. Nightfall came. Bea went home for supper and came to the barn at nine o’clock with delicious tortillas and mashed beans. I lit a woodfire on the cement floor of the barn to make light. We screwed on the crates. Bea got up and cut right back to the shack. Her father was yelling at her, I could hear him from the barn. She’d left me a cape to keep warm; I threw it over my shoulder and skulked through the moonlit vineyard to see what was going on. I crept to the end of a row and kneeled in the warm dirt. Her five brothers were singing melodious songs in Spanish. The stars bent over the little roof; smoke poked from the stovepipe chimney. I smelled mashed beans and chili. The old man growled. The brothers

Friday, 29 August 2008

29 August 2008

sopping up the brew. I was through with my chores in the cottonfield. I could feel the pull of my own life calling me back. I shot my mother a penny postcard and asked for another fifty across the land. We drove to Bea’s family’s shack. It was situated on an old road that ran between the vineyards. It was dark when we got there. They left me off a quarter-mile up and drove to the door. Light poured out of the door; Bea’s six other brothers were playing their guitars and singing. The old man was drinking wine. I heard shouts and arguments. They called her a whore because she’d left her no good husband and gone to L.A. and left Raymond with them. But the sad fat brown mother prevailed, as she always does among the great Fellaheen peoples of the world, and Bea was allowed to come back home. The brothers began to sing gay songs. I huddled in the cold rainy wind and watched everything across the sad vineyards of October in the Valley. My mind was filled with that great song “Lover Man” as Billy Holliday sings it. “Someday we’ll meet, and you’ll dry all my tears, and whisper sweet, little words in my ear, hugging and a-kissing, Oh what we’ve been missing, Lover Gal Oh where can you be…” It’s not the words so much as the great harmonic tune and the way Billy sings it, like a woman stroking her man’s hair in soft lamplight. The winds howled. I got cold. Bea and Ponzo came back and we rattled off in the old truck to meet Freddy. Freddy was now living with Ponzo’s woman Big Rosey; we tooted the horn for him in rickety alleys. Big Rosey threw him out. Everything was collapsing. That night Bea held me tight, of course, and told me not to leave. She said she’d work picking grapes and make enough money for both of us; meanwhile I could live in Farmer Heffelfinger’s barn down the road from her family. I’d have nothing to do but sit in the grass all day and eat grapes. In the morning her cousins came to get us in another truck. I suddenly realized thousands of Mexicans all over the countryside knew about Bea and I and that it must have been a juicy, romantic topic for them. The cousins were polite and in fact charming.. I stood on the truck platform with them as we rattled into town, hanging on to the rail and smiling pleasantries, talking about where we were in the war and

Thursday, 28 August 2008

28 August 2008

the frightful plain. The cowboy music twanged in the roadhouse and carried across the fields all sadness. It was allright with me. I kissed my baby and we put out the lights. In the morning the dew made the tent sag; I got up with my towel and toothbrush and went to the general motel toilet to wash; then I came back, put on my pants which were all torn from kneeling in the earth and had been sewed by Bea in the evening; put on my ragged strawhat which had originally been Raymond’s toy hat; and went across the highway with my canvas cottonbag. Every day I earned approximately a dollar and a half. It was just enough to buy groceries in the evening on the bicycle. The days rolled by. I forgot all about the East and all about Neal and Allen and the bloody road. Raymond and I played all the time: he liked me to throw him up in the air and down on the bed. Bea sat mending clothes. I was a man of the earth precisely as I had dreamed I would be in Ozone Park. There was talk that Bea’s husband was back in Selma and out for me; I was ready for him. One night the Okies went mad in the roadhouse and tied a man to a tree and beat him to a pulp with sticks. I was asleep at the time and only heard about it. From then on I carried a big stick with me in the tent in case they got the idea we Mexicans were fouling up their trailer camp. They though I was a Mexican, of course; and I am. But now it was getting on in October and getting much colder in the nights. The Okie family had a woodstove and planned to stay for the winter. We had nothing, and besides the rent for the tent was due. Bea and I bitterly decided we’d have to leave. “Go back to your family” I gnashed “For God’s sake you can’t be batting around tents with a baby like Raymond; the poor little tyke is cold.” Bea cried because I was criticizing her motherly instincts; I meant no such thing. When Ponzo came in the truck one gray afternoon we decided to see her family about the situation. But I musn’t be seen and would have to hide in the vineyard. We started for Selma; the truck broke down and simultaneously it started to rain wildly. We sat in the old truck cursing. Ponzo got out and toiled in the rain. He was a good old guy after all. We promised each other one more big bat. Off we went to a rickety bar in Selma Mextown and spent an hour

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

27 August 2008

ing dishes on South Main street. But I knew nothing about picking cotton. I spent too much time disengaging the white ball from its crackly bed; the others did it in one flick. Moreover my fingertips began to bleed; I needed gloves, or more experience. There was an old Negro couple in the field with us. They picked cotton with the same Godblessed patience their grandfathers had practised in prewar Alabama: they moved right along their rows, bent and blue, and their bags increased. My back began to ache. But it was beautiful kneeling and hiding in that earth: if I felt like resting I did, with my face on the pillow of brown moist earth. Birds sang an accompaniment. I thought I had found my life’s work. Bea and Raymond came waving at me across the field in the hot lullal noon and pitched in with me. Be damned if little Raymond wasn’t faster than I was!---and of course Bea was twice as fast. They worked a-head of me and left me piles of clean cotton to add to my bag, Bea workmanlike piles, Raymond little childly piles. I stuck them in with sorrow. What kind of an old man was I that I couldn’t support his own ass let alone theirs. They spent all afternoon with me. When the sun got red we trudged back together. At the end of the field I unloaded my burden on a scale, it weighed a pound and a half, and I got a buck fifty. Then I borrowed one of the Okie boys’ bicycle and rode down 99 to a crossroads grocer store where I bought cans of cooked spaghetti and meatballs, bread, butter, coffee and cake, and came back with the bag on the handlebars. LA-bound traffic zoomed by; Frisco—bound harassed my tail. I swore and swore. I looked up at the dark sky and prayed to God for a better break in life and a better chance to do something for the little people I loved. Nobody was paying attention to me up there. I should have known better. It was Bea who brought my soul back: on the tent stove she warmed up the food and it was one of the greatest meals of my life. Sighing like an old Negro cottonpicker, I reclined on the bed and smoked a cigarette. Dogs barked in the cool night. Freddy and Ponzo had given up calling in the evenings. I was satisfied with that. Bea curled up beside me, Raymond sat on my chest, and they drew pictures of animals in my notebook. The light of our tent burned on

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

26 August 2008

work. Everybody told me to go to the farm across the highway from the camp. I went, and the farmer was in the kitchen with his women. He came out, listened to my story, and warned me he was only paying so much per hundred pound of picked cotton, three dollars. I pictured myself picking at least three hundred pounds a day and took the job. He fished out some long canvas bags from the barn and told me the picking started at dawn. I rushed back to Bea all glee. On the way a grapetruck went over a bump in the road and threw off great bunches of grape on the hot tar. I picked it up and took it home. Bea was glad. “Raymond and me’ll come with you and help.” “Pshaw!” I said. “No such thing!” “You see, you see, it’s very hard picking cotton. I show you how.” We ate the grapes and in the evening Freddy showed up with a loaf of bread and a pound of hamburg and we had a picnic. In a larger tent next to ours lived a whole family of Okie cottonpickers; the grandfather sat in a chair all day long, he was too old to work; the son and daughter, and their children, filed every dawn across the highway to my farmer’s field and went to work. At dawn the next day I went with them. They said the cotton was heavier at dawn because of the dew and you could make more money than in the afternoon. Nevertheless they worked all day from dawn to sundown. The grandfather had come from Nebraska during the great plague of the Thirties---that selfsame dustcloud my Montana cowboy had told me about---with the entire family in a jaloppy truck. They had been in California ever since. They loved to work. In the ten years the old man’s son had increased his children to the number of four, some of whom were old enough now to pick cotton. And in that time they had progressed from ragged poverty in Simon Legree fields to a kind of smiling respectability in better tents, and that was all. They were extremely proud of their tent. “Ever going back to Nebraska?” “Pshaw, there’s nothing back there. What we want to do is buy a trailer.” We bent down and began picking cotton. It was beautiful. Across the field were the tents, and beyond them the sere brown cottonfields that stretched out of sight, and over that the snowcapped Sierras in the blue morning air. This was so much better than wash-

Monday, 25 August 2008

25 August 2008

live with big Rosey but she threw me out last night. I’m gonna get my truck and sleep in it to-night.” Guitars tinkled. Bea and I gazed at the stars together and kissed. “Manana,” she said, “everything’ll be allright tomorrow, don’t you think Jackie-honey man?” “Sure baby, manana.” It was always manana. For the next week that was all I heard, Manana, a lovely word and one that probably means heaven. Little Raymond jumped in bedclothes and all and went to sleep; sand spilled out of his shoes, Madera sand. Bea and I got up in the middle of the night and brushed the sand off the sheets. In the morning I got up, washed and took a walk around the place. We were five miles out of Selma in the cotton fields and grape vineyards. I asked the big fat woman who owned the camp if any of the tents were vacant. The cheapest one, a dollar a day, was vacant. Bea and I scraped up a dollar and moved into it. There was a bed, a stove and a cracked mirror hanging from a pole; it was delightful. I had to stoop to get in, and when I did there was my baby and my baby-boy. We waited for Freddy and Ponzo to arrive with the truck. They arrived with beer bottles and started to get drunk in the tent. “How about the manure?” “Too late today----tomorrow man we make a lot of money, today we have a few beers. What do you say, beer?” I didn’t have to be prodded. “Dah you go---DAH YOU GO!” yelled Freddy. I began to see that our plans for making money with the manure truck would never materialize. The truck was parked outside the tent. It smelled like Ponzo. That night Bea and I went to sleep in the sweet night air beneath our dewy tent and made sweet old love. I was just getting ready to sleep when she said “You want to love me now?” I said “What about Raymond.” “He don’t mind. He’s asleep.” But Raymond wasn’t asleep and he said nothing. The boys came back the next day with the manure truck and drove off to find whiskey; they came back and had a big time in the tent. That night Ponzo said it was too cold and slept on the ground in our tent wrapped in a big tarpaulin smelling of cowflaps. Bea hated him; she said he hung around her brother in order to get close to her. Nothing was going to happen except starvation for Bea and me, so in the morning I walked around the countryside asking for cottonpicking

Sunday, 24 August 2008

24 August 2008

digging the girls and trying to pick up a few for him and Freddy; and then, as purple dusk descended over the grape country, I found myself sitting dumbly in the car as he argued with some old Mexican at the kitchen door about the price of a watermelon the old man grew in the backyard. We had a watermelon; we ate it on the spot and threw the rinds on the old man’s dirt sidewalk. All kinds of pretty little girls were cutting down the darkening street. I said “Where in the hell are we?” “Don’t worry man” said big Ponzo “tomorrow we make a lot of money, tonight we don’t worry.” We went back and picked up Bea and her brother and the kid and drove to Fresno. We were all raving hungry. We bounced over the railroad tracks in Fresno and hit the wild streets of Fresno Mextown. Strange Chinamen hung out of windows digging the Sunday night streets; groups of Mex chicks swaggered around in slacks; mambo blasted from jukeboxes; the lights were festooned around like Halloween. We went into a Mexican restaurant and had tacos and mashed pinto beans rolled in tortillas; it was delicious. I whipped out my last shining five dollar bill which stood between me and the Long Island shore and paid for the lot. Now I had two bucks. Bea and I looked at each other. “Where we going to sleep tonight baby?” “I don’t know.” Freddy was drunk; now all he was saying “Dah you go man---dah you go man” in a tender and tired voice. It had been a a big day. None of us knew what was going on, or what the Good Lord appointed. Poor little Raymond fell asleep on my arm. We drove back to Selma. On the way we pulled up sharp at a roadhouse on the highway---highway 99. Freddy wanted one last beer. In back of the roadhouse were trailors and tents and few rickety motel-style rooms. I inquired about the price and it was two bucks. I asked Bea how about it and she said fine, because we had the kid on our hands now and had to make him comfortable. So after a few beers in the saloon, where sullen Okies reeled to the music of a cowboy band. Bea and I and Raymond went into a motel room and got ready to hit the sack. Ponzo kept hanging around; he had no place to sleep. Freddy slept at his father’s house in the vineyard shack. “Where do you live Ponzo” I asked. “Nowhere man. I’m supposed to

Saturday, 23 August 2008

23 August 2008

was selling manure to farmers, he had a truck. Freddy always had three or four dollars in his pocket and was happygolucky about things. He always said “That’s right man, there you go---dah you go, dah you go!” And he went. He drove seventy miles an hour in the old heap and we to Madera beyond Fresno to see some farmers. Freddy had a bottle “Today we drink, tomorrow we work. Dah you go man---take a shot.” Bea sat in back with her baby: I looked back at her and saw the flush of joy in her face. The beautiful green countryside of October in California reeled by madly. I was guts and juice again and ready to go. “Where do we go now man?” “We go find a farmer with some manure laying around- -tomorrow we drive back in the truck and pick it up. Man we’ll make a lot of money. Don’t worry about nothing.” “We’re all in this together!” yelled Ponzo. I saw that was so- -everywhere I went everybody was in it together. We raced through the crazy streets of Fresno and on up the Valley to some farmers in backroads. Ponzo got out of the car and conducted confused conversations with old Mexican farmers; nothing of course came of it. “What we need is a drink!” yelled Freddy and off we went to a crossroads saloon. Americans are always drinking in crossroads saloons on Sunday afternoons; they bring their kids; there are piles of manure outside the screendoor; they gabble and brawl over brews; everything’s fine. Come nightfall the kids start crying and the parents are drunk. They go weaving back to the house. Everywhere in America I’ve been to crossroads saloons drinking with whole families. The kids eat popcorn and chips and play in back. This we did. Freddy and I and Ponzo and Bea sat drinking and shouting with the music; little baby Raymond goofed around with other children around the jukebox. The sun began to get red. Nothing had been accomplished. What was there to accomplish? “Manana,” said Freddy, “manana man we make it; have another beer, man, dah you go, DAH YOU GO!” We staggered out and got in the car; off we went to a highway bar. Ponzo was a big loud vociferous type who knew everybody in San Joaquin valley apparently. From the highway bar I went with him alone in the car to find a farmer; instead we wound up in Madera Mextown

Friday, 22 August 2008

22 August 2008

all glee-giggles. The man was a good man, his truck was poor. He roared her up and crawled on up the Valley. We got to Selma in the wee hours before dawn. I had finished the wine while Bea slept and I was proper stoned. We got out and roamed the quiet leafy square of the little California town---a whistle stop on the S.P. We went to find her brother’s buddy who would tell us where he was; nobody was home. It all went on in rickety alleys of little Mextown. As dawn began to break I lay flat on my back in the lawn of the town square and kept saying over and over again, “You won’t tell what he done up in Weed will you? What’d he do up in Weed? You won’t tell will you? What’d he do up in Weed?” This was from the picture Of Mice and Men with Burgess Meredith talking to (Geo. Bancroft.) Bea giggled. Anything I did was allright with her. I could lay there and go on doing that till the ladies came out for church and she wouldn’t care. But finally I decided because her brother was in these parts we’d be all set soon and I took her to an old motel by the tracks and we went to bed comfortably. Five dollars left. In the morning Bea got up early and left to find her brother. I slept till noon; when I looked out the window I suddenly saw an S.P. freight going by with hundreds and hundreds of hoboes reclining on the flatcars and rolling merrily along with packs for pillows and funny papers before their noses and some munching on good California grapes picked up by the watertank. “Damn!” I yelled. “Hooee! It is the promised land.” They were all coming from Frisco; in a week they’d all be going back in the same grand style. Bea arrived with her brother, her brother’s buddy and her child. Her brother was a wildbuck Mexican hotcat with a hunger for booze, a great good kid. His buddy was a big flabby Mexican who spoke English without much accent and was loud and overanxious to please. I could see he had eyes for Bea. Her little boy was Raymond, seven years old, darkeyed and sweet. Well there we were, and another wild day began. Her brother’s name was Freddy. He had a 38 Chevvy. We piled into that and took of for parts unknown. “Where we going?” I asked. The buddy did the explaining---his name was Ponzo, that’s what everybody called him. He stank. I found out why. His business

Thursday, 21 August 2008

21 August 2008

grapes in the cool California mornings hit me right. But there were no jobs to be had and much confusion with everybody giving us innumerable tips and places to go that didn’t materialize a job. Nevertheless we ate a Chinese dinner and set out with reinforced bodies. We went across the SP tracks to Mexican town. Bea jabbered with her brethren asking for jobs. It was night now, and the little Mextown street was one blazing bulb of lights: movie marquees, fruit stands, penny arcades, Five and Tens. Hundreds of rickety trucks and mudspattered jalopies were parked. Whole Mexican fruitpicking families wandered around eating popcorn. Bea talked to innumerable Mexican and got all kinds of confused information. I was beginning to despair. What I needed, what Bea needed too was a drink, so we bought a quart of California port for 35c and went to the boxcars in back to drink. We found a place where hobos had drawn up crates to sit over fires. We sat there and drank the wine. On our left were the boxcars, sad and sooty red beneath the moon; straight ahead the lights and airport pokers of Bakersfield proper, to our right a tremendous aluminum Quonset warehouse. I mention this because exactly a year and a half later I came right by there again with Neal and I pointed it out to him. Ah it was a fine night, a warm night, a wine-drinking night, a moony night, and a night to hug your girl and talk and spit and be heavengoing. This we did. She was a drinking little fool and kept up with me and passed me and went right on talking until midnight. We never budged from those crates. Occasionally bums passed, Mexican mothers passed with children, and the prowlcar came by and the cop got out to piss but most of the time we were alone and mixing up our souls ever more and ever more till it would be terribly hard to say goodbye. At midnight we got up and goofed towards the highway. Bea had a new idea. We would hitch hike to Selma her hometown and live in her brother’s garage. Anything was all right with me. On the road, not far from that damned and fated Spanish style motel- -that great good motel that hung me up and made me meet Bea---I made Bea sit down on my bag to make her look like a woman in distress. Right off a truck stopped and we ran for it

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

20 August 2008

took off on a red car to Arcadia, California, where Santa Anita is located under snowcapped mountains. It was night. We were pointed towards the enormity which is the American continent. Holding hands we walked several miles down the road to get out of the populated district. It was Saturday night. A thing that made me madder than I’d ever been since I left Ozone Park happened: we were standing under a roadlamp thumbing when suddenly cars full of young kids roared by with streamers flying. “Yaah! yaah! we won! we won!” they all shouted. Then they yoo-hooed us and got great glee out of seeing a guy and a girl on the road. Dozens of such cars passed full of young faces and “throaty young voices” as the saying goes. I hated every single one of them. Who did they think they were yaahing at somebody on the road just because they were little highschool punks and their parents carved the roast beef on Sunday afternoons. Who did they think they were making fun of a girl reduced to poor circumstances with a man she wanted to stick with. We were minding our own business. And we didn’t get a blessed ride. We had to walk back to town and worst of all we needed coffee and had the misfortune of going into the only place open, which was a highschool sodafountain, and all the kids were there and remembered us. Now they saw the added fact that Bea was Mexican. I refused to go on another minute. Bea and I wandered in the dark. I finally decided to hide from the world one more night with her and the morning be damned. We went into a motel court and bought a comfortable suite for about four dollars---shower, bath towels, wall radio and all. We held each other tight and talked. I loved this girl in that season we had together, and it was far from finished. In the morning we boldly struck out on our new plan. We were going to take a bus to Bakersfield and work picking grapes. After a few weeks of that we were headed for New York in the proper way, by bus. It was a wonderful afternoon riding up to Bakersfield with Bea: we sat back, relaxed, talked, saw the countryside roll by and didn’t worry about a thing. We arrived in Bakersfield in late afternoon. The plan was to hit every fruit wholesaler in town. Bea said we could live in tents on the job. The thought of living in a tent and picking

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

19 August 2008

because her sister wasn’t supposed to see me and like it. Dogs ran by. There were little lamps illuminating the little rat alleys. I could hear Bea and her sister arguing in the soft warm night. I was ready for anything. Bea came out and led me by the hand to Central Avenue, which is the colored main drag of L.A. And what a wild place it is, with chickenshacks barely big enough to house a jukebox and the jukebox blowing nothing but blues, bop and jump. We went up dirty tenement stairs and came to the room of Bea’s friend, Margarina, a colored girl, who owed Bea a skirt and a pair of shoes. Margarina was a lovely mulatoo; her husband was black as spades and kindly. He went right out and bought a pint of whisky to host me proper. I tried to pay part of it but he said no. They had two little children. The kids bounced on the bed, it was their play-place. They put their arms around me and looked at me with wonder. The wild humming night of Central Avenue---the nights of Hamp’ Central Avenue Breakdown---howled and boomed along outside. I thought it was wonderful, every bit of it. They were singing in the halls, singing from their windows, just hell be damned and lookout. Bea got her clothes and we said goodbye. We went down to a chickenshack and played records on the jukebox. A couple of negro characters whispered in my ear about tea. One buck. I said okay. The connection came in and motioned me to the cellar pisshouse, where I stood dumbly as he said “Pick up, man, pick up.” “Pick up what?” I said. He had my dollar already. He was afraid to point at the floor. I looked everywhere; he motioned with his head at the floor. It was no floor, just basement. There lay something that looked like a little brown turd. He was absurdly cautious. “Got to look out for myself, things ain’t cool this past week.” I picked up the turd, which was a brownpaper cigarette, and went back to Bea and off we went to the hotel room to get high. Nothing happened. It was Bull Durham tobacco. I wished I was wiser with my money. Bea and I had to decide absolutely and once and for all what to do: we decided to hitch to New York with our remaining monies. She picked up five dollars from her sister that night. We had about thirteen or less. So before the daily room rent was due again we packed up and

18 August 2008

all, talk to everybody, but Bea and I were too busy trying to get a buck together. We went to Hollywood to try to work in the drugstore at Sunset and Vine. Now there was a corner! Great families off jalopies from the hinterlands stood around the sidewalk gaping for sight of some movie star and the movie star never showed up. When a limousine passed they rushed eagerly to the curb and ducked to look: some character in dark glasses sat inside with a bejewelled blonde. “Don Ameche! Don Ameche!” “No George Murphy! George Murphy!” They milled around looking at one another. Handsome queer boys who had come to Hollywood to be cowboys walked around wetting their eyebrows with hincty fingertips. The most beautiful little gone gals in the world cut by in slacks; they came to be starlets; they ended up in Drive Ins. Bea and I tried to find work at the Drive Ins. It was no soap anywhere. Hollywood Boulevard was a great screaming frenzy of cars; there were minor accidents at least once a minute; everybody was rushing off towards the furthest palm…and beyond that was the desert and nothingness. Hollywood Sams stood in front of swank restaurants arguing exactly the same way Broadway Sams argue at Jacob’s Beach New York, only they wore Palm Beach suits and their talk was cornier. Tall cadaverous preachers shuddered by. Fat women ran across the Boulevard to get in line for the quiz shows. I saw Jerry Colonna buying a car at Buick Motors: he was inside the vast plate-glass window fingering his mustachio. Bea and I ate in a cafeteria downtown which was decorated to look like a grotto. All the cops in L.A. looked like handsome gigolos; obviously, they’d come to L.A. to make the movies, even me. Bea and I were finally reduced to trying to get jobs on South Main street among the beat characters who made no bones about their beatness and even there it was no go. We still had eight dollars. “Man I’m going to get my clothes from Sis and we’ll hitch-hike to New York” said Bea. “Come on man. Let’s do it. If you can’t boogie I know I’ll show you how.” That last part was a song of hers. We hurried to her sister’s house in the rickety Mexican shacks somewhere beyond Alameda Avenue. I waited in a dark alley behind Mexican kitchens

Sunday, 17 August 2008

17 August 2008

together for better or for worse. When we woke up we decided to hitch hike to New York together; she was going to be my girl in town. I envisioned wild complexities with Neal and Louanne and everybody, a season, a new season. First we had to work to earn enough money for the trip. Bea was all for starting at once with the twenty dollars I had left. I didn’t like it. And like a damnfool I considered the problem for two days, as we read the wantads of wild new L.A. papers I’d never seen before in my life, in cafeterias and bars, until my twenty dwindled to just over ten. The situation was growing. We were very happy in our little hotel room. In the middle of the night I got up because I couldn’t sleep, pulled the cover over baby’s brown shoulder, and examined the L.A. night. What brutal, hot, siren-whining nights they are! Right across the street there was trouble. An old rickety rundown roominghouse was the scene of some kind of tragedy. The cruiser was pulled up below and the cops were questioning an old man with gray hair. Sobbings came from within. I could hear everything, together with the hum of my hotel neon. I never felt sadder in my life. L.A. is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets godawful cold in the winter but there’s a feeling of whacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. L.A. is a jungle. South Main street, where Bea and I took strolls with hotdogs, was a fantastic carnival of lights and wildness. Booted cops frisked people on practically every corner. The beatest characters in the country swarmed on the sidewalks---all of it under those soft southern California stars that are lost in the brown halo of the huge desert encampment L.A. really is. You could smell tea, weed, I mean marijuana floating in the air, together with the chili beans and beer. That grand wild sound of bop floated from beerparlors; it mixed medleys with everykind of cowboy and boogie-woogie in the American night. Everybody looked like Hunkey. Wild negroes with bop caps and goatees came laughing by; then longhaired brokendown hipsters straight off route 66 from New York, then old desert rats carrying packs and heading for a parkbench at the Plaza, then Methodist ministers with ravelled sleeves, and an occasional Nature Boy saint in beard and sandals. I wanted to meet them

Saturday, 16 August 2008

16 August 2008

simple soul she couldn’t fathom my kind of glad nervous talk. I let it drop. She begun to get drunk in the bathroom. “Come on to bed!” I kept saying. “Sixfoot redhead, hey? And I thought you was a nice college boy, I saw you in your lovely sweater and I said to myself ‘Hmm ain’t he nice.’ No! And no! You have to be a goddam pimp like all of them!” “What on earth are you talking about?” Don’t stand there and tell me that sixfoot redhead ain’t a madame, cause I know a madame when I hear about one, and you, you’re just a pimp like all the rest I meet, everybody’s a pimp.” “Listen Bea, I am not a pimp. I swear to you on the Bible I am not a pimp. Why should I be a pimp. My only interest is you.” “All the time I thought I met a nice boy. I was so glad, I hugged myself and said ‘Hmm a real nice boy instead of a pimp.’” “Bea,” I pleaded with all my soul, “please listen to me and understand. I’m not a pimp.” An hour ago I thought she was a hustler. How sad it was. Our minds, with their store of madness, had diverged. O gruesome life how I moaned and pleaded, and then I got mad and realized I was pleading with a dumb little Mexican wench and I told her so; and before I knew it I picked up her red pumps and hurled them at the bathroom door and told her to get out. “Go on, beat it!” I’d sleep and forget it; I had my own life, my own sad and ragged life forever. There was dead silence in the bathroom. I took off all my clothes and went to bed. Bea came out with tears of sorriness in her eyes. In her simple and funny little mind had been decided the fact that a pimp does not throw a woman’s shoes against the door and does not tell her to get out. In reverent and sweet little silence she took off all her clothes and slipped her tiny body into the sheets with me. It was brown as grapes. I bit her poor belly where a Caesarian scar reached clear to her button. Her hips were so narrow she couldn’t bear a child without getting gashed open. Her legs were like little sticks. She was only four feet ten. She spread her little legs and I made love to her in the sweetness of the weary morning. Then, two tired angels of some kind, hungup forlornly in an L.A. shelf, having found the closest and most delicious thing in life together, we fell asleep and slept till late afternoon. For the next fifteen days we were

Friday, 15 August 2008

15 August 2008

boy!” I said. The bus arrived in Hollywood. In the gray dirty dawn, like the dawn Joel McRea met Veronica Lake in the picture Sullivan’s Travels in a diner, she slept in my lap. I looked greedily out the window: stucco houses and palms and drive ins, the whole mad thing, the ragged promised land, the fantastic end of America. We got off the bus at Main street which was no different than where you get off a bus in Kansas City or Chicago or Boston, redbrick, dirty, characters drifting by, trolleys grating in the dawn, the whorey smell of a big city. And here my mind went haywire, I don’t know why. I began getting the foolish paranoiac idea that Beatrice---her name---was a common little hustler who worked the buses for a guy’s bucks, and that she had regular appointments like ours in L.A. where she brought the sucker first to a breakfast place, where her pimp waited, and then to a certain hotel to which he had access with his gun or his whatever. I never confessed this to her. We ate breakfast and a pimp kept watching us; I fancied Bea was making secret eyes at him. I was tired. Goofy terror took over my soul and made me petty and cheap. “Do you know that guy?” I said. “What guy?” I let it drop. She was slow and hungup about everything she did; it took her a long time to eat, and smoke a cigarette, and she talked too much; I kept thinking she was stalling for time. But this was all utter nonsense. The first hotel we hit had a room and before I knew it I was locking the door behind me and she was sitting on the bed taking off her shoes. I kissed her meekly. Better she’d never know. To relax our nerves I knew we needed whisky, especially me. I ran out and fiddled all over twelve blocks of town till I found a pint of whiskey for sale at of all places, a newsstand. I ran back all energy. Bea was in the bathroom fixing her face. I poured one big drink in a waterglass and we had slugs. Oh it was sweet and delicious and worth my whole lugubrious voyage. I stood behind her at the mirror and we danced in the bathroom that way. I began talking about my friends back east. I said “You ought to meet a great girl I know called Vicki. She’s a sixfoot redhead. If you came to New York she’d show you where to get work.” “Who is this sixfoot redhead?” she demanded suspiciously. “Why do you tell me about her?” In her

Thursday, 14 August 2008

14 August 2008

die! Damn fool talk to her! What’s wrong with you? Aren’t you tired of yourself by now?” And before I knew what I was doing I leaned across the aisle to her---and said, “Miss, would you like to use my raincoat for a pillow?” She looked up with a smile and said “No, thank you very much.” I sat back trembling; I lit a butt. I waited till she looked at me, with a sad little sidelook of love, and I got right up and leaned over her. “May I sit with you, Miss?” “If you wish.” And this I did. “Where going?” “L.A.” I loved the way she said L.A.; I love the way everybody says L.A. on the Coast, it’s their one and only golden town when all is said and done. “That’s where I’m going too!” I cried. “I’m very glad you let me sit with you, I was very lonely and I’ve been traveling a hell of a lot.” And we settled down to telling our stories. Her story was this: she had a husband and child. The husband beat her so she left him, back at Selma south of Fresno, and was going to L.A. to live with her sister awhile. She left her little son with her family, who were grapepickers and lived in a shack in the vineyards. She had nothing to do but brood. I felt like putting my arms around her right away. We talked and talked. She said she loved to talk with me. Pretty soon she was saying she wished she could go to New York too. “Maybe we could!” I laughed. The bus groaned up Grapevine Pass and then we were coming down into great sprawls of light. Without coming to any particular agreement we began holding hands, and in the same way it was mutely and beautifully and purely decided that when I got my hotel room in L.A. she would be beside me. I ached all over for her; I leaned my head in her beautiful hair. Her little shoulders drove me mad, I hugged her and hugged her. And she loved it. “I love love” she said closing her eyes. I promised her beautiful love. I gloated over her. Our stories were told, we subsided into silence and sweet anticipatory thoughts. It was as simple as that. You could have all your Gingers and Beverlies and Ruth Gullions and Louannes and Carolyns and Dianes in this world, this was my girl and my kind of soulgirl, and I told her that. She confessed she saw me watching her in the bus station. “I thought you was a nice college boy.” “Oh I’m a college

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

13 August 2008

the safe, plumb forgot. What happened…a thief came in the night, acetylene torch and all, broke open the safe, riffled up the papers, kicked over a few chairs and left. And that thousand dollars was sitting there right on top of the safe, what do you know about that?” It was an amazing story. What time I was making too, four hundred miles in seven hours! Ahead of me burned the vision of Golden Hollywood. Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road. He left me off the south side of Bakersfield and then my adventure began. It grew cold. I put on the flimsy Army raincoat I’d bought in Oakland for $3 and shuddered in the road. I was standing in front of an ornate Spanish style motel that was lit like a jewel. The cars rushed by, L.A.-bound. I gestured frantically. It was too cold. I stood there till midnight, two hours straight, and cursed and cursed. It was just like Stuart Iowa again. There was nothing to do but spend a little over two dollars for a bus the remaining miles to Los Angeles. I walked back along the highway to Bakersfield and into the station, and sat down on a bench. In the madness of the night you never can dream what will happen---and I’d never dreamed I’d sit on that bench again a week later, going North, and under the wildest and dearest circumstances. I had bought my ticket and was waiting for the L.A. bus when all of a sudden I saw the cutest little Mexican girl in slacks come cutting across my sight. She was in one of the buses that had just pulled in. Her breasts stuck out straight and true; her little flanks looked delicious; her hair was long and black; and her eyes were great big blue things with a soul in it. I wished I was on the same bus with her. A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world of ours. The announcer called the L.A. bus. I picked up my bag and got on it; and who should be sitting alone in it, but the Mexican girl. I sat right opposite her and began scheming right off. I was so lonely, so sad, so tired, so quivering, so broken, so beat---all of it had been too much for me---that I got up my courage, the courage necessary to approach a strange girl, and acted. Even then I spent five minutes beating my thighs in the dark as the bus rolled. “You gotta, you gotta or you’ll

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

12 August 2008

I were lost. In Oakland I had a beer among the bums of a saloon with a wagon wheel in front of it, and I was on the road again. I walked clear across Oakland to get on the Fresno road. I was on the verge of entering that great buzzing valley of the world, the San Joaquin, where I was destined to meet and love a wonderful woman and go through the craziest adventures of all before I got back home. Two rides took me to Bakersfield four hundred miles south. The first one was the mad one: a burly blond kid in a souped-up rod. “See that toe?” he said as he gunned the heap to eighty and passed everybody on the road. “Look at it.” It was swathed in bandages. “I just had it amputated this morning. The bastards wanted me to stay in the hospital. I packed my bag and left. What’s a toe.” Yes indeed, I said to myself, look out now, and I hung on. You never saw a driving fool like that. He made Tracy in no time. Tracy is a railroad town; brakemen eat surly meals in diners by the tracks. Trains howl away across the valley. The sun goes down long and red. All the magic names of the Valley unrolled—Manteca, Madera, all the rest. Soon it got dusk, a grapey dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries. I stuck my head out of the window and took deep breaths of the fragrant air. It was the most beautiful of all moments. The madman was a brakeman with the SP and he lived in Fresno; his father was also a brakeman. He lost his toe in the Frisco yards switching. I didn’t quite understand how. He drove me into buzzing Fresno and let me off the south side of town. I went for a quick coke in a little grocery store by the tracks and here came a melancholy Armenian youth along the red boxcars, and just at that moment a locomotive howled, and I said to myself, “Yes, yes, Saroyan’s town.” Whither went that Mourad?---to what glooms? What Fresno dreams? I had to go South; I got on the road. A man in a brandnew pickup truck picked me up. He was from Lubbock Texas and in the trailer business. “You want to buy a trailer?” he asked me. “Any time, look me up.” He told stories about his father in Lubbock. “One night my old man left the day’s receipts sittin’ on top of

Monday, 11 August 2008

11 August 2008

Sunday. A great heat wave descended; it was a beautiful day, the sun turned red at three. I started up the mountain at three and got to the top at four. All those lovely California cottonwoods brooded on all sides. I felt like playing cowboys. Near the peak there were no more trees, just rocks and grass. Cattle were grazing on top of the Coast. There was the Pacific, a few more foothills away, blue and vast and with a great wall of white advancing from the legendary Potato Patch where Frisco fogs are born. Another hour and it would come streaming through Golden Gate to shroud the romantic city in white, and a young man would hold his girl by the hand and climb slowly up a long white sidewalk with a bottle of Tokay in his pocket. That was Frisco; and beautiful women standing in white doorways, waiting for their man; and Coit Tower, and the Embarcadero, and Market street, and the eleven teeming hills. Lonely Frisco for me then---which would buzz a few years later when my soul got stranger. Now I was only a youth on a mountain. I stooped, looked between my legs, and watched the world upside down. The brown hills led off towards Nevada; to the South was my legendary Hollywood; to the North the mysterious Shasta country. Down below was everything: the barracks where we stole our tiny box of condiments, where Dostioffski’s tiny face had glared at us, where Henri had me hide the toy-gun and where our squeaking yells had transpired. I spun around till I was dizzy; I thought I’d fall down as in a dream, clear off the precipice. “Oh where is the girl I love?” I thought, and looked everywhere, as I had looked everywhere in the little world below. And before me was the great raw bulge and the bulk of my American continent; somewhere far across gloomy crazy New York was throwing up its cloud of dust and brown steam. There is something brown and holy about the East; and California is white like washlines and empty-souled---at least that’s what I thought then. I’d learn better later. Now it was time to pursue my moon along. In the morning Henri and Diane were asleep as I quietly packed and slipped out the window the same way I’d come in, and left Marin City with my canvas bag. And I never spent that night on the old ghostship, the Admiral Freebee it was called, and Henri and

Sunday, 10 August 2008

10 August 2008

He was being deliberately rude. I remembered the night he wouldn’t let us have our party in Denver; but I forgave him. I forgave everybody, I gave up, I got drunk. I began talking moonshine and roses to the Monsieur’s young wife. She was a real Parisian woman, about thirty five, sexy and aloof but warm and womanly. I piled indignities to the ceiling. I drank so much I had to rush out of the booth for a leak every two minutes, and to do so I had to hop over the Monsieur’s lap. Everything was falling apart. My stay in San Francisco was coming to an end. Henri would never talk to me again. It was horrible because I really loved Henri and I was one of the very few people in the world who knew what a genuine and grand fellow he was. It would take years for him to get over with. How disastrous all this was compared to the nights I wrote him in Ozone Park and planned my red line Route Six across America. Here I was at the end of America…no more land…and now there was nowhere to go but back. I determined at least to make my trip a circular one: I decided then and there to go to Hollywood and back through Texas to see my bayou gang, then the rest be damned. Temko was thrown out of Alfred’s. Dinner was over anyway so I joined him, that is to say, Henri suggested it, and I went off with Temko to drink. We sat at a table in the Iron Pot and Temko said “Sam,” he said, “I think I’ll get up and conk him.” “No Jake,” I said, carrying on with the Hemingway imitation, “just aim from here and see what happens.” We ended up swaying on a streetcorner. I never dreamed I’d be back on that same streetcorner two years later---and then again three years later. I said goodbye to Temko. In the morning, as Henri and Diane slept, and as I looked with some sadness at the big pile of wash Henri and I were scheduled to do in the Bendix machine in the shack in the back (which had always been such a joyous sunny operation among the colored women and with Mr.Snow laughing his head off) I decided to leave. I went out the porch. “No dammit” I said to myself. “I promised I wouldn’t leave till I climbed that mountain.” That was the big side of the canyon that led mysteriously to the Pacific ocean. So I stayed another day. It was

Saturday, 9 August 2008

09 August 2008

I said “You mean to tell me you’re going to spend a hundred dollars on your father---he’s got more money than you’ll ever have!---you’ll be in debt man!” “That’s all right,” said Henri quietly and with defeat in his voice “I ask only one last thing of you---that you, TRY at least to make things look all right. I love my father and I respect him. He’s coming with his young wife, straight from a summer of teaching at Banff in Canada. We must show him every courtesy.” There were times when Henri was really the most gentlemanly person in the world. Diane was impressed and looked forward to meeting his father; she thought he might be a catch if his son wasn’t. Saturday night rolled around. I had already quit my job with the cops, just before being fired for not making enough arrests, and this was going to be my last Saturday night. Henri and Diane went to meet his father at the hotel room first; I had traveling money and got crocked in the bar downstairs. Then I went to join them all, late as hell. His father opened the door, a distinguished little man in pince nez glasses. “Ah” I said on seeing him, “Monsieur Cru, how are you? Je suis haut!” I cried which was intended to mean, in French “I am high, I have been drinking,” but means absolutely nothing in French. The man was perplexed. I had already screwed up Henri. He blushed at me. We all went to a swank restaurant to eat, Alfred’s on the North Beach, where poor Henri spent a good fifty dollars for the five of us drinks and all. And now there transpired the worst thing ever. Who should be sitting at the bar in Alfred’s but my old friend Allan Temko!---he had just arrived from Denver and got a job at the Sanfran Chronicle. He was crocked. He wasn’t even shaved. He rushed over and slapped me on the back as I lifted a hiball to my lips. He threw himself down on the booth beside Mr.Cru and leaned over the man’s soup to talk to me. Henri was all red as a beet. “Won’t you introduce your friend Jack?” he said with a weak smile. “Allan Temko of the San Francisco Chronicle” I tried to say with a straight face. Diane was furious at me. Temko began chatting in the Monsieur’s ear. “How do you like teaching High School French?” he yelled. “Pardon me, but I don’t teach High School French.” “Oh, I thought you taught High School French.”

Friday, 8 August 2008

08 August 2008

horses are going to eat a lot of oats this week with my hundred dollar bill.” Things grew to worse proportions; the rain roared. Diane originally lived in the place first, so she told Henri to pack up and get out. He started packing. I pictured myself all alone in this rainy shack with that shrew. I tried to intervene. Henri pushed Diane. She made a jump for the gun. Henri gave me the gun and told me to hide it; there was a clip of eight shells in it. Diane began screaming, and finally she put on her raincoat and went out in the mud to get a cop, and what a cop!---if it wasn’t our old friend San Quentin. Luckily he wasn’t home. She came back all wet. I hid in my corner with my head between my knees. Gad what was I doing three thousand miles from home? Why had I come here? Where was my slowboat to China? “And yet another thing you dirty cuntlapper” yelled Diane “tonight was the last time I’ll ever make your filthy brains and eggs, and your filthy lamb curry, so you can fill your filthy belly and get fat and sassy right before my eyes.” “It’s allright,” Henri said quietly, “it’s perfectly all right. When I took up with you I didn’t expect roses and moonshine and I’m not surprised this night and this day. I tried to do a few things for you---I tried my best for both of you---you’ve both let me down. I’m terribly, terribly disappointed in both of you” he continued in absolute sincerity “I thought something would come of us together, something fine and lasting, I tried, I flew to Hollywood, I got Jack a job, I bought you beautiful dresses, I tried to introduce you to the finest people in San Francisco. You refused, you both refused to follow the slightest wish I had. I asked for nothing in return. Now I ask for one last favor and then I’ll never ask a favor again. My father is coming to San Francisco next Saturday night. All I ask is that you come with me and try to look as though everything is the way I’ve written him…in other words, you, Diane, you are my woman; and you Jack, you are my friend. I’ve arranged to borrow a hundred dollars for Saturday night. I’m going to see that my father has a good time and can go away without any reason in the world to worry about me.” This surprised me. Henri’s father was a distinguished French professor in Columbia University and a member of the Legion of Honor in France.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

07 August 2008

down that he’d lost his wallet in back of the grandstand at the track. “The truth is,” I said, “we lost all our money on the races, and to forestall any more hitching from racetracks from now on we go to a bookie, hey Henri?” Henri blushed all over. The man finally admitted he was an official of the Golden Gate track. He let us off at the elegant Palace Hotel; we watched him disappear among the chandeliers, his pockets full of money, his head held high. “Wagh! Whoo!” howled Henri in the evening streets of Frisco. “Kerouac rides with the man who runs the racetrack and SWEARS he’s switching to bookies, Diane! Diane!” he punched and mauled her- -“Positively the funniest man in the world! There must be lots of Italians in Sausalito. Aaaah-how!” He wrapped himself around a pole to laugh. But it started raining that night as Diane gave dirty looks to both of us. Not a cent left in the house. The rain drummed on the roof. “It’s going to last for a week” said Henri. He had taken off his beautiful suit, he was back in his miserable shorts and Army cap and T-shirt. His great brown sad eyes stared at the planks of the floor. We could hear Mr. Snow laughing his head off across the rainy night somewhere. “I get so sick and tired of that sonofabitch,” snapped Diane. She was on the go to start trouble. She began needling Henri. He was busy going thru his little black book in which were names of people, mostly seamen, who owed him money. Beside their names he wrote curses in red ink. I dreaded the day I’d ever find my way in that book. Lately I’d been sending so much money to my mother that I only bought four five dollars worth of groceries a week. In keeping with what President Truman said I added a few more dollars worth. But Henri felt it wasn’t my proper share; so he’d taken to hanging his grocery slips, the long ribbon slips with itemized prices, on the wall of the kitchen for me to see and understand. Diane was convinced Henri was hiding money from her, and me too for that matter. She threatened to leave him. Henri curled his lip “Where do you think you’ll go?” “Charlie.” “CHARLIE? A groom at the racetrack? Do you hear that Jack, Diane is going to go and put the latch on a groom at the racetrack. Be sure and bring your broom dear, the

06 August 2008

“Eh? Eh? What’s that you say?” They bolted. I’ve never understood why I did that, I knew queers all over the country. It was just the loneliness of San Francisco and the fact I had a gun. I had to show it to someone. I walked by a jewelry store and had the sudden impulse to shoot up the window, take out the finest rings and bracelets and run to give them to Diane. Then we could flee to Nevada together. These were mad dreams. The time was coming for me to leave Frisco or I’d go crazy. I wrote long letters to Neal and Allen at Bill’s shack in the Texas bayou. They said they were ready to come join me in Sanfran as soon as this and that was ready. The fantastic story of what they were doing down in Texas came to me later. Meanwhile everything began to collapse with Henri and Diane and me. The September rains came, and with it harangues. Henri had flown down to Hollywood with her, bringing my sad silly movie original, and nothing had happened; the famous director Gregory LaCava was drunk and paid no attention to them; they hung around his Malibu beach cottage; they started fighting in front of other guests; there were recriminations behind the wire fence that barred them from the swimming pool, and they flew back. The final topper was the racetrack. Henri saved all his money, about one hundred dollar, spruced me up in some of his clothes, put Diane on his arm and off we went to Golden Gate racetrack near Richmond across the Bay. To show you what a heart that guy had: he put half of our stolen groceries in a tremendous brown paper bag and took them to a poor widow he knew in Richmond. We went with him. There were sad ragged children, a housing project much like our own, wash flapping in the Califirnia sun. The woman thanked Henri. She was the sister of some seaman he vaguely knew. “Think nothing of it Mrs. Carter,” said Henri in his most elegant and polite tones, “there’s plenty more where that came from.” We proceeded to the racetrack. He made incredible twenty-dollar bets to win and before the seventh race he was broke. With our last two food dollars he placed still another bet and lost. We had to hitch hike back to San Francisco. I was on the road again. A gentleman gave us a ride in his snazzy car. I sat up front with him. Henri was trying to put a story

05 August 2008

gulls. Nobody noticed, except an old woman with a bag of groceries who turned around. “AAAAh*hoo!” howled Henri. There was an old rusty freighter out in the bay that was used as a buoy. Henri was all for rowing out to it, so one afternoon Diane packed a lunch and we hired a boat and rowed out to it. Henri brought some tools. Diane took all her clothes off and lay down to sun herself on the flying bridge. I watched her from the poop. Henri went clear down to the boilerrooms below, where rats scurried around, and beagn hammering and nagging away for copper lining that wasn’t there. I sat in the dilapidated officer’s mess. It was an old, old ship, it had been beautifully appointed at one time. There was scrollwork in the wood, and old built in seachests. This was the ghost of the San Francisco of Jack London. I dreamed at the sunny messboard. Rats ran in the pantry. Once upon a time there’d been a blue-eyed sea captain dining in here. Now his bones were wove with immemorial pearls. I joined Henri in the bowels below. He yanked at everything loose. “Not a thing. I thought there’d be copper, I thought there’d be at least an old wrench or two. This ship’s been stripped by a bunch of thieves.” It had been standing in the bay for years. The copper had been thieved by a hand a hand no more. I said to Henri “I’d love to sleep in this old ship some night when the fog comes in and the thing creaks and you hear the big B*O of the buoys.” Henri was astounded; his admiration for me doubled. “Jack I’ll pay you five dollars if you have the nerve to do that. Don’t you realize this thing may be haunted by the ghosts of old seacaptains. I’ll not only pay you five I’ll row you out and pack you a lunch and lend you blankets and candle.” “Agreed!” I said. Henri ran to tell Diane. He was amazed at my courage. I wanted to jump down from a mast and land right in her cunt, but I was true to Henri’s promise. I averted my eyes from her. Meanwhile I began going to Frisco more often; I tried everything in the books to make a girl. I even spent a whole night with a girl on a parkbench, till dawn, without success. She was a blonde from Minnesota. There were plenty of queers however. Several times I went to Sanfran with my gun and when a queer approached me in a barjohn I took out the gun and said

04 August 2008

delighted. I suddenly began to realize that everybody in America is a natural born thief. I was getting the bug myself. I even began to try to see if doors were locked. The other cops were getting suspicious of us; they saw it in our eyes; they understood with unfailing instinct what was on our minds. Years of experience had taught them the likes of Henri and Me. In the daytime Henri and I went out with the gun and tried to shoot quail in the hills. Henri sneaked up to within three feet of the clucking birds and let go a blast of the .32. He missed. His tremendous laugh roared over the California woods and over America. “The time has come for you and me to go and see the Banana King.” It was Saturday; we got all spruced up and went down to the bus station at the crossroads. Here we spent an hour playing the pinball machine. We knew how to tip on it and left a hundred games there for anybody who wanted some fun. Henri’s huge laugh resounded everywhere we went. He took me to see the Banana King. “You must write a story about the Banana King” he warned me. “Don’t pull any tricks on the old maestro and write about something else. The Banana King is your meat. There stands the Banana King.” The Banana King was an old man selling bananas on the corner. I was completely bored. But Henri kept punching me in the ribs and even dragging me along by the collar. “When you write about the Banana King you write about the human interest things of life.” We strolled through the streets of San Francisco. Henri had no use for Chinatown. He took me back to see the Banana King. I told him I didn’t give a damn about the Banana King. “Until you learn to realize the importance of the Banana King you will know absolutely nothing about the human interest things of the world,” said Henri emphatically. On the highway in back of our shack, up the hill, Henri planted birdseed in the ditch in the hope of raising a crop of marijuana. The only time we went to look at the progress of the thing a cruising car pulled up beside us. “What are you boys doing?” “Oh, we’re members of the Sausalito police force, we work down there at the barracks. Just spending an afternoon off.” The cops went away. Down by the Sausalito waterfront Henri suddenly whipped out his gun and shot at the

03 August 2008

just to chance meeting a deer---Henri had seen deers around, the Marin country being wild even in 1947---when I heard a frightening noise in the dark. It was a huffing and a puffing. I thought it was a Rhinoceros coming for me in the dark. I grabbed my gun, I grabbed my balls. A tall figure appeared in the canyon gloom; it had an enormous head. Suddenly I realized it was Henri with a huge box of groceries on his shoulder. He was moaning and groaning from the enormous weight of it. He’d found the key to the cafeteria somewhere and just got his groceries out the front door. I said “Henri I thought you were home. What the hell are you doing?” And he said “You know what President Truman said, we must cut down on the cost of living.” And I heard him huff and puff into the darkness. I’ve already described that awful trail back to our shack up hill and dale; he hid the groceries in the tall grass and came back to me. “Jack I just can’t make it alone. I’m going to divide it into two boxes and you’re going to help me.” But I’m on duty.” “I’ll watch the place while you’re gone. Things are getting rough all around. We’ve just got to make it the best way we can and that’s all there is to it.” He wiped himself. “Whoo! I’ve told you time and time again Jack that we’re buddies, and we’re in this thing together. There’s just no two ways about it. The Dostioffskis, the chief Davies, The Texes, the Dianes, all the evil skulls of this world are out for our skin. It’s up to us to see that nobody pulls any schemes on us. They’ve got a lot more up their sleeves besides a dirty arm. Remember that. You can’t teach the old maestro a new tune.” “Whatever are we going to do about shipping out?” I finally asked. We’d been doing this thing for ten weeks. I was making fifty-five dollars a week and sending my mother an average of forty. I’d spent only one evening in San Francisco in all that time. My life was wrapped in the shack, in Henri’s battles with Diane, and in the middle of the night in the barracks. Henri was gone off in the dark to get another box. I struggled with him on that old Zorro road. We piled up the groceries a mile high on Diane’s kitchen table. She woke up and rubbed her eyes. “You know what President Truman said? He said for us to cut down on the cost of living.” She was

02 August 2008

his pocket. “Did you take it?” “I’m not in California, which is a land of fruit and nuts, either you go nuts or you go fruit, for the benefit of what my mother used to call my health. You stick with the old maestro and we’ll make beautiful music on their evil skulls. Kerouac I’m absolutely convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that this Dostioffsky, this man, this worm, is nothing but a thief because of the shape of his evil skull.” Henri was a compulsive thief. He was just like a little boy. Somewhere in his past, in his lonely schooldays in France, they’d taken everything from him; his parents just stuck him in schools and left him there; he was browbeaten and thrown out of one school after another; he walked the French roads at night devising curses out of his innocent stock of words. He was out to get back everything he’d lost; there was no end to his loss; this thing would drag on forever. The barracks cafeteria was our meet. We looked around to make sure nobody was looking and especially to see if any of our copfriends were lurking about to check on us, then I squatted down and Henri put a foot on each shoulder and up we went. He opened the window, which was never locked, as he saw to it in the evenings, scrambled through and came down on the flour table. I was a little more agile and just jumped and crawled in. Then we went to the soda fountain. Here, realizing a dream of mine from infancy, I took the cover of the chocolate ice cream and licked at it. Then we got ice cream boxes and stuffed them---poured chocolate syrup over and sometimes strawberries too---took wooden spoons---then walked around in the dispensary, the kitchens, opened iceboxes to see what we could take home in our pockets. I often tore off a piece of roastbeef and wrapped it in a napkin. “You know what President Truman said,” Henri would say, “we must cut down on the cost of living.” One night I waited a long time as he filled a huge box full of groceries. Then we couldn’t get it through the window. Henri had to unpack everything and put it back. But he was racking his brain. Later in the night, when he went off duty, a strange thing happened. I was taking a walk along the old canyon trail

01 August 2008

any humanly possible way I’d train to take only twenties.” Henri was full of such mad schemes; he talked about that dog for weeks. Only once an unlocked door. I didn’t like the idea so I sauntered on down the hall. Henri stealthily opened it up. He came face to face with the very thing he despised and loathed in life. This was the face of the barracks supervisor. Henri hated that man’s face so much that he told me “What’s the name of the Russian author you’re always talking about- -the one who put the newspapers in his shoe and walked around in a stovepipe hat he found in the garbage pail.” This was an exaggeration of what I’d told Henri of Dostoevsky the holy Russian novelist saint. “Ah, that’s it…that’s IT…DOSTIOFFSKI…A man with a face like that supervisor, the manager, the boss man of the place. The only unlocked door he ever found belonged to Dostioffski. Not only that, but D. was asleep when he heard someone fiddling with his doorknob. He got up in his pajamas. He came to the door looking twice as ugly as usual. When Henri opened it he saw a haggard face suppurated with hatred and dull fury. “What is the meaning of this?” “I was only trying this door…I thought this was the…ah..moproom. I was looking for a mop.” “What do you MEAN you were looking for a mop.” “Well..ah.” And I stepped back and said “One of the men puked in the hall upstairs. We have to mop it up.” “This is NOT the moproom. This is MY room. Another incident like this and I’ll have you fellows investigated and thrown out! Do you understand me clearly?” “A fellow puked upstairs,” I said again. “The moproom is down the hall. Down there”- - and he pointed, and waited for to go and get a mop, which we did, and foolishly carried it upstairs. I said “Goddamn it Henri you’re always getting us into trouble. Why don’t you lay off. Why do you have to steal all the time.” “The world owes me a few things, that’s all. You can’t teach the old maestro a new tune. You go on talking like that and I’m going to start calling you Dostioffsky.” “Okay Hank. Go put the mop back.” “You go put the mop back. I’ve not given up on these doors.” He claimed he once found a man sleeping with a dollar sticking out of

31 July 2008

and he came back pissing mad. “I told some boys in there to keep quiet and they’re still making noise. I told them twice. I always give a man two chances. Not three. You come with me, and I’m going back there and arrest them.” “Well let me give them a third chance,” I said, “I’ll talk to them.” “No sir, I never gave a man more than two chances.” I sighed. Here we go. We went to the offending room and Tex opened the door and told everybody to file out. It was embarrassing. Every single one of us was blushing. This is the story of America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do. So what if a bunch of men talk in loud voices and drink in the night. But Tex wanted to prove something. He made sure to bring me along in case they jumped him. They might have. They were all brothers, all from Alabama. We all strolled back to the station. Tex in front and me in back. One of the boys said to me “Tell that crotch-eared meanass to take it easy on us, we might get fired for this and never get to Okinawa.” “I’ll talk to him.” In the station I told Tex to forget it. He said, for everybody to hear, and blushing, “I don’t give anybody no more than two chances.” “What the hail,” said the Alabaman, “what difference does it make. We might lose our jobs.” Tex said nothing and filled out the arrest forms. He arrested only one of them; he called the prowl car in town. They came and took him away. The other brothers walked off sullenly. “What’s Ma going to say?” they said. One of them came back to me. “You tell that Texas sonofabitch if my brother ain’t out of jail tomorrow night he’s going to get his ass fixed.” I told Tex, in a neutral way, and he said nothing. The brother was let off easy and nothing happened. The contingent shipped out; a new wild bunch came in. If it hadn’t been for Henri Cru I wouldn’t have stayed at this job two hours. But Henri Cru and I were on duty alone many a night and that’s when everything jumped. We made the first round of the evening in a leisurely way, Henri trying all the doors to see if they were locked and hoping to find one unlocked. He’d say “For years I’ve an idea to develop a dog into a superthief who’d go in to these guys rooms and take dollars out of their pockets. I’d train him to take nothing but green money; I’d make him smell it all day long. If there was

30 July 2008

of jail---got thirty days---here it is SIXTY days and he ain’t showed up.” And this was the big point of the story. They’d put such a fear in him that he was too yellow to come back and try to kill them. I began to worry he might try it and mistake me for Tex in a dark barrack alley. The old cop went on, sweetly reminiscing about the horrors of San Quentin. “We used to march ‘em like an Army platoon to breakfast. Wasn’t one man out of step. Everything went like clockwork. You should have seen it. I was a guard there for thirty years. Never had any trouble. Those boys knew we meant business. Now a lot of fellows get soft guarding prisoners and they’re the ones that usually get in trouble. Now you take you- -from what I’ve been observing about you , you seem to me a little bit too LEENIENT with the men.” He raised his pipe and looked at me sharp. “They take advantage of that, you know.” I knew that. I told him I wasn’t cut out to be a cop. “Yes, but that’s the job that you APPLIED FOR. Now you got to make up your mind one way or the other, or you’ll never get anywhere. It’s your duty. You’re sworn in. You can’t compromise with things like this. Law & order’s got to be kept.” I didn’t know what to say: he was right: but all I wanted to do was sneak out into the night and disappear somewhere, and go and find what everybody was doing all over the country. The other cop, Tex, was short, squat, muscular, with a blond crewcut, and a nervous twitch in his neck like a boxer always punching one fist into another. He rigged himself out like a Texas ranger of old. He wore a revolver down low, with ammunition belt, and carried a small quirt of some kind and pieces of leather hanging everywhere like if he was a walking torture chamber: shiny shoes, low-hanging jacket, cocky hat, everything but boots. He was always showing me holds: reaching down under my crotch and lifting me up nimbly. In point of strength I could have thrown him clear to the ceiling with the same hold and I knew it well; but I never let him know for fear he’d want a wrestling match. A wrestling match with a guy like that could end up in shooting. I’m sure he was a better shot; I’d never had a gun in my life. It scared me to even load one. He desperately wanted to make arrests. One night we were alone on duty

29 July 2008

it was my duty to put up the American flag on a sixty foot pole, and this morning I put it upside down and went home to bed. When I came back in the evening the regular corp of cops were sitting around grimly in the office. “Say bo, what was all the noise around here last night. We’ve had complaints from people who live in those houses across the canyon.” “I don’t know” I said “it sounds pretty quiet right now.” “The whole contingent’s gone. You was supposed to keep order around here last night---the Chief is yelling at you---and another thing---do you know you can go to jail for putting the American flag upsidedown on a government pole.” “Upsidedown?” I was horrified; of course I hadn’t realized it; I did it every morning mechanically. I shook out its dust in dew and hauled her up. “Yessir,” said a fat cop who’d spent thirty years as a guard in the horrible prison known as San Quentin, “you could go to jail for doing something like that.” The others nodded grimly. They were always sitting around on their asses; they were proud of their jobs. They took their guns out and talked about them, but they never pointed them. They were itching to shoot somebody. Henri and me. Let me tell you about the two worst cops. The fat one who had been a San Quentin guard was pot bellied and about sixty, retired and couldn’t keep away from the atmospheres that had nourished his dry soul all his life. Every night he drove to work in his 37 Buick, punched the clock exactly on time, and sat down at the rolltop desk. They said he had a wife. Then he laboured painfully over the simple form we all had to fill out every night--- rounds, time, what happened and so on. Then he leaned back and told stories. “You should have been here about two months ago when me and Tex” (that was the other horrible cop, a youngster who wanted to be a Texas ranger and had to be satisfied with his present lot) “me and Tex arrested a drunk in Barrack G. Boy you should have seen the blood fly. I’ll take you over there tonight and show you the stains on the wall. We had him bouncing from one wall to another, first Tex hit him with his club, then I did, then Tex took out his revolver and snapped him one, and I was just about to try it myself when he subsided and went quietly. That fellow swore to kill us when he got out

28 July 2008

ing our guns off our asses and yawning, and the old cops told stories. It was a horrible crew of men, men with copsouls, all except Henri and I. Henri was only trying to make a living, so was I, but these men wanted to make arrests and get compliments from the Chief in town. They even went so far as to say that if you didn’t make at least one arrest a month you’d be fired. I gulped at the prospect of making an arrest. What actually happened was that I was as drunk as anybody in the barracks the night all hell broke loose. This was the night when the schedule was so arranged that I was alone for six hours…the only cop on the grounds; and not that anybody knew it, but everybody in the barracks seemed to have gotten drunk that night. It was because their ship was leaving in the morning. They drank like seamen do the night before the anchor goes up. I sat in the office, in a rolltop chair, with my feet on the desk, reading Blue Book adventures about Oregon and the north country, when I suddenly realized there was a great hum of activity in the usually quiet night. I went out. Lights were burning in practically every damned shack on the grounds. Men were shouting, bottles were breaking. It was do or die for me. I took my flashlight and went to the noisiest door and knocked. Someone opened it about six inches. “What do you want?” I said “I’m guarding these barracks tonight and you boys are supposed to keep quiet as much as you can” or some such silly remark. They slamd the door in my face. I stood looking at the wood of it against my nose. It was like a western movie; the time had come for me to assert myself. I knocked again. They opened up wide this time. “Listen” I said “I don’t want to come around bothering you fellows but I’ll lose my job if you make too much noise.” “Who are you?” “I’m a guard here.” “Never seen you before.” “Well, here’s my badge.” “What are you doing with that pistolcracker on your ass?” “It isn’t mine” I apologized “I borrowed it.” “Have a drink, for krissakes.” I didn’t mind if I would. I took two. I said “Okay boys? You’ll keep quiet boys? I’ll get hell you know.” “It’s allright kid,” they said, “go make your rounds, come back for another drink if you want one.” And I went to all the doors in this manner and pretty soon I was as drunk as anybody else. Come dawn,

27 July 2008

the necessary routine and to my surprise the bastards hired me. I was sworn in by the local police Chief, given a badge, a club, and now I was a special policeman. I wondered what Neal and Allen and Burroughs would say about this. I had to have Navy blue trousers to go with my black jacket and cop cap; for the first two weeks I had to wear Henri’s trousers; since he was so tall, and had a potbelly from eating voracious meals out of boredom, I went flapping around like Charley Chaplin to my first night of work. Henri gave me a flashlight and his .32 automatic. “Where’d you get this gun?” “On my way to the coast last summer I jumped off the train at North Platte Nebraska to stretch my legs and what did I see in the window but this wonderful little gun which I promptly bought and barely made the train.” And I tried to tell him that North Platte Nebraska meant to me---buying the whiskey with the boys---and he slapped me on the back and said I was the funniest man in the world. With the flashlight to illuminate my way I climbed the steep walls of the south canyon, got up on a highway streaming with cars in the night Frisco-bound, scrambled down the other side almost falling, and came to the bottom of a ravine where a little farmhouse stood near a creek and where every blessed night the same dog barked at me for nights. Then it was a fast walk along a silvery dusty road beneath inky trees of California---a road like in the Mark of Zorro and a road like all the roads you see in the Western B movies---I used to take out my gun and play cowboys in the dark. Then I climbed another hill and there were the barracks. These barracks were for the temporary quartering of overseas construction workers. Then men who came through stayed there waiting for their ship. Most of them were bound for Okinawa. Most of them were running away from something---usually the law. There were tough groups of brothers from Alabama, shifty men from New York, all kinds from all over. And knowing full well how horrible it would be to work a full year in Okinawa they drank. The job of the special guards was to see that they didn’t tear the barracks down. We had our headquarters in the main building, just a wooden contraption with panelwalled offices. Here at a rolltop desk we sat around shift-

26 July 2008

without knowing it was picking up from this amazing man Mr.Snow..And I say tho Henri was having worklife problems and bad lovelife with a sharp-tongued woman he at least had learned to laugh almost better than anyone in the world and I saw all the fun we were going to have in Frisco. The pitch was this: Henri slept with Diane in the bed across the room, and I slept in the cot by the window. I was not to touch Diane. Henri at once made a speech concerning this. “I don’t want to find you two playing around when you think I’m not looking. You can’t teach an old maestro a new tune. This is an original saying of mine.” I looked at Diane. She was a fetching hunk - - a honey-colored creature, but there was hate in her eyes for both of us. Her ambition was to marry a rich man. She came from a smalltown in Kansas. She rued the day she ever took up with Henri. On one of his big show off weekends he spent a hundred dollars on her and she thought she’d found an heir. Instead she was all hung up in this shack and for lack of anything else she had to stay there. She had a job in Frisco, she had to take the Greyhound bus at the crossroads and go in everyday. She never forgave Henri for it. He made the best of things. I was to stay in the shack and write a shining original story for a Hollywood studio. Henri was going to fly down in a Stratosphere liner with his harp under his arm and make us all rich; Diane was to go with him; he was going to introduce her to his buddy’s father who was a famous director and an intimate of WC Fields. So the first week I stayed in the shack in Marin City writing furiously at some gloomy tale about New York that I thought would satisfy a Hollywood director, and the trouble with it was it was too sad. Henri couldn’t barely read and so he never even saw it, he just carried it down to Hollywood a few weeks later. Diane was too bored and hated us too much to bother reading it. I spent countless rainy hours drinking coffee and scribbling. Finally I told Henri it wouldn’t do; I wanted a job; I had to depend on them for cigarettes. A shadow of disappointment crossed Henri’s brow---he was always being disappointed about the funniest things. He had a heart of gold. He arranged to get me the same kind of job he had, as a guard in the barracks. I went through