the beer out in front of her breasts. You couldn't help liking her like
"You like working here?" he asked her.
"Oh yes, I meet a lot of men."
"Nice men?"
"Nice men and the other kind."
"How can you tell them apart?"
"I can tell by looking."
"What kind of man am I?"
"Oh," she laughed, "nice, of course."
"You've earned your tip," said Ronnie.
7:25. They'd said 7. Then he looked up. It was Curt. Curt had the guy
with him. They came over and sat down. Curt waved for a pitcher.
"The Rams ain't worth shit," said Curt, "I've lost an even $500 on them
this season."
"You think Prothro's finished?"
"Yeah, it's over for him," said Curt. "Oh, this is Bill. Bill, this is
They shook hands. The barmaid arrived with the pitcher.
"Gentlemen," said Ronnie, "this is Kathy."
"Oh," said Bill.
"Oh, yes," said Curt.
The barmaid laughed and wiggled on.
"It's good beer," said Ronnie. "I've been here since 7:00, waiting. I
ought to know."
"You don't want to get drunk," said Curt.
"Is he reliable?" asked Bill.
"He's got the best references," said Curt.
"Look," said Bill, "I don't want comedy. It's my money."
"How do I know you're not a pig?" asked Ronnie.
"How do I know you won't cut with the $2500?"
"Three grand."
"Curt said two and one half."
"I just upped it. I don't like you."
"I don't care too much for your ass either. I've got a good mind to
call it off."
"You won't. You guys never do."
"Do you do this regular?"
"Yes. Do you?"
"All right, gentlemen," said Curt, "I don't care what you settle for. I
get my grand for the contract."
"You're the lucky one, Curt," said Bill.
"Yeah," said Ronnie.
"Each man is an expert in his own line," said Curt, lighting a
"Curt, how do I know this guy won't cut with the three grand?"
"He won't or he's out of business. It's the only kind of work he can
"That's horrible," said Bill.
"What's horrible about it? You need him don't you?"
"Well, yes."
"Other people need him too. They say each man is good at something.
He's good at that."
Somebody put some money in the juke and they sat listening to the music
and drinking the beer.
"I'd really like to give it to that blonde," said Ronnie. "I'd like to
give her about six hours of turkeyneck."
"I would too," said Curt, "if I had it."
"Let's get another pitcher," said Bill. "I'm nervous.
"There's nothing to worry about," said Curt. He waved for another
pitcher of beer. "That $500 I dropped on the Rams, I'll get it back at
Anita. They open December 26th. I'll be there."
"Is the Shoe going to ride in the meet?" asked Bill.
"I haven't read the papers. I'd imagine he will. He can't quit. It's in
his blood."
"Longden quit," said Ronnie.
"Well, he had to; they had to strap the old man in the saddle."
"He won his last race."
"Campus pulled the other horse."
"I don't think you can beat the horses," said Bill.
"A smart man can beat anything he puts his mind to," said Curt. "I've
never worked in my life."
"Yeah," said Ronnie, "but I gotta work tonight."
"Be sure you do a good job, baby," said Curt.
"I always do a good job."
They were quiet and sat drinking their beer. Then Ronnie said, "All
right, where's the god damned money?"
"You'll get it, you'll get it," said Bill. "It's lucky I brought an
extra $500."
"I want it now. All of it."
"Give him the money. Bill. And while you're at it, give me mine."
It was all in hundreds. Bill counted it under the table. Ronnie got his
first, then Curt got his. They checked it. O.k.
"Where's it at?" asked Ronnie.
"Here," said Bill, handing him an envelope. "The address and key are
"How far away is it?"
"Thirty minutes. You take the Ventura freeway."
"Can I ask you one thing?"
"Yes, why?"
"Do you care?"
"Then why ask?"
"Too much beer, I guess."
"Maybe you better get going," said Curt.
"Just one more pitcher of beer," said Ronnie.
"No," said Curt, "get going."
"Well, shit, all right."
Ronnie moved around the table, got out, walked to the exit. Curt and
Bill sat there looking at him. He'walked outside. Night. Stars. Moon.
Traffic. His car. He unlocked it, got in, drove off.
Ronnie checked the street carefully and the address more carefully. He
parked a block and a half away and walked back. The key fit the door. He
opened it and walked in. There was a T.V. set going in the front room. He
walked across the rug.
"Bill?" somebody asked. He listened for the voice. She was in the
bathroom. "Bill?" she said again. He pushed the door open and there she sat
in the tub, very blond, very white, young. She screamed.
He got his hands around her throat and pushed her under the water. His
sleeves were soaked. She kicked and struggled violently. It got so bad that
he had to get in the tub with her, clothes and all. He had to hold her down.
Finally she was still and he let her go.
Bill's clothes didn't quite fit him but at least they were dry. The
wallet was wet but he kept the wallet. Then he got out of there, walked the
block and one half to his car and drove off.


This is what killed Dylan Thomas.
I board the plane with my girlfriend, the sound man, the camera man and
the producer. The camera is working. The sound man has attached little
microphones to my girlfriend and myself. I am on my way to San Francisco to
give a poetry reading. I am Henry Chinaski, poet. I am profound, I am
magnificent. Balls. Well, yes, I do have magnificent balls.
Channel 15 is thinking of doing a documentary on me. I have on a clean
new shirt, and my girlfriend is vibrant, magnificent, in her early thirties.
She sculpts, writes, and makes marvelous love. The camera pokes into my
face. I pretend it isn't there. The passengers watch, the stewardesses beam,
the land is stolen from the Indians, Tom Mix is dead, and I've had a fine
But I can't help thinking of the years in lonely rooms when the only
people who knocked were the landladies asking for the back rent, or the
F.B.I. I lived with rats and mice and wine and my blood crawled the walls in
a world I couldn't understand and still can't. Rather than live their life,
I starved; I ran inside my own mind and hid. I pulled down all the shades
and stared at the ceiling. When I went out it was to a bar where I begged
drinks, ran errands, was beaten in alleys by well-fed and secure men, by
dull and comfortable men. Well, I won a few fights but only because I was
crazy. I went for years without women, I lived on peanut butter and stale
bread and boiled potatoes. I was the fool, the dolt, the idiot. I wanted to
write but the typer was always in hock. I gave it up and drank...
The plane rose and the camera went on. The girlfriend and I talked. The
drinks arrived. I had poetry, and a fine woman. Life was picking up. But the
traps, Chinaski, watch the traps. You fought a long fight to put the word
down the way you wanted. Don't let a little adulation and a movie camera
pull you out of position. Remember what Jeffers said -- even the strongest
men can be trapped, like God when he once walked on earth.
Well, you ain't God, Chinaski, relax and have another drink. Maybe you
ought to say something profound for the sound man? No, let him sweat. Let
them all sweat. It's their film burning. Check the clouds for size. You're
riding with executives from I.B.M., from Texaco, from . . .
You're riding with the enemy.
On the escalator out of the airport a man asks me, "What's all the
cameras? What's going on?"
"I'm a poet," I tell him.
"A poet?" he asks, "what's your name?"
"Garcia Lorca," I say. . . .
Well, North Beach is different. They're young and they wear jeans and
they wait around. I'm old. Where's the young ones of 20 years ago? Where's
Joltin' Joe? All that. Well, I was in S.F. 30 years ago and I avoided North
Beach. Now I'm walking through it. I see my face on posters all about. Be
careful, old man, the suck is on. They want your blood.
My girlfriend and I walk along with Marionetti. Well, here we are
walking along with Marionetti. It's nice being with Marionetti, he has very
gentle eyes and the young girls stop him on the street and talk to him. Now,
I think, I could stay in San Francisco . . . but I know better; it's back to
L.A. for me with that machinegun mounted in the front court window. They
might have caught God, but Chinaski gets advice from the devil.
Marionetti leaves and there's a beatnick coffeeshop. I have never been
in a beatnick coffeeshop. I am in a beatnick coffeeshop. My girl and I get
the best -- 60 cents a cup. Big time. It isn't worth it. The kids sit about
sipping at their coffees and waiting for it to happen. It isn't going to
We walk across the street to an Italian cafe. Marionetti is back with
the guy from the S. F. Chronicle who wrote in his column that I was
the best short story writer to come along since Hemingway. I tell him he is
wrong; I don't know who is the best since Heming- way but it isn't H.C. I'm
too careless. I don't put out enough effort. I'm tired.
The wine comes on. Bad wine. The lady brings in soup, salad, a bowl of
raviolis. Another bottle of bad wine. We are too full to eat the main
course. The talk is loose. We don't strain to be brilliant. Maybe we can't
be. We get out.
I walk behind them up the hill. I walk with my beautiful girlfriend. I
begin to vomit. Bad red wine. Salad. Soup. Raviolis. I always vomit before a
reading. It's a good sign. The edge is on. The knife is in my gut while I
walk up the hill.
They put us in a room, leave us a few bottles of beer. I glance over my
poems. I am terrified. I heave in the sink, I heave in the toilet, I heave
on the floor. I am ready.
The biggest crowd since Yevtushenko ... I walk on stage. Hot shit. Hot
shit Chinaski. There is a refrigerator full of beer behind me. I reach in
and take one. I sit down and begin to read. They've paid $2 a head. Fine
people, those. Some are quite hostile from the outset. 1/3 of them hate me,
1/3 of them love me, the other 3rd don't know what the hell. I have some
poems that I know will increase the hate. It's good to have hostility, it
keeps the head loose.
"Will Laura Day please stand up? Will my love please stand up?"
She does, waving her arms.
I begin to get more interested in the beer than the poetry. I talk
between the poems, dry and banal stuff, drab. I am H. Bogart. I am
Hemingway. I am hot shit.
"Read the poems, Chinaski!" they scream.
They are right, you know. I try to stay with the poems. But I'm at the
refrigerator door much of the time too. It makes the work easier, and
they've already paid. I'm told once John Cage came out on stage, ate an
apple, walked off, got one thousand dollars. I figured I had a few beers
Well, it was over. They came around. Autographs. They'd come from
Oregon, L.A., Washington. Nice pretty little girls too. This is what killed
Dylan Thomas.
Back upstairs at the place, drinking beer and talking to Laura and Joe
Krysiak. They are beating on the door downstairs. "Chinaski! Chinaski!" Joe
goes down to hold them off. I'm a rock star. Finally I go down and let some
of them in. I know some of them. Starving poets. Editors of little
magazines. Some get through that I don't know. All right, all right -- lock
the door!
We drink. We drink. We drink. Al Masantic falls down in the bathroom
and crashes the top of his head open. A very fine poet, that Al.
Well, everybody is talking. It's just another sloppy beerdrunk. Then
the editor of a little magazine starts beating on a fag. I don't like it. I
try to separate them. A window is broken. I push them down the steps. I push
everybody down the steps, except Laura. The party is over. Well, not quite.
Laura and I are into it. My love and I are into it. She's got a temper, I've
got one to match. It's over nothing, as usual. I tell her to get the hell
out. She does.
I wake up hours later and she's standing in the center of the room. I
leap out of bed and cuss her. She's on me.
"I'll kill you, you son of a bitch!"
I'm drunk. She's on top of me on the kitchen floor. My face is
bleeding. She bites a hole in my arm. I don't want to die. I don't want to
die! Passion be damned! I run into the kitchen and pour half a bottle of
iodine over my arm. She's throwing my shorts and shirts out of her suitcase,
taking her airplane ticket. She's on her way again. We're finished forever
again. I go back to bed and listen to her heels going down the hill.
On the plane back the camera is going. Those guys from Channel 15 are
going to find out about life. The camera zooms in on the hole in my arm.
There is a double shot in my hand.
"Gentlemen," I say, "there is no way to make it with the female. There
is absolutely no way."
They all nod in agreement. The sound man nods, the camera man nods, the
producer nods. Some of the passengers nod. I drink heavily all the way in,
savoring my sorrow, as they say. What can a poet do without pain? He needs
it as much as his typewriter.
Of course, I make the airport bar. I would have made it anyhow. The
camera follows me into the bar. The guys in the bar look around, lift their
drinks and talk about how impossible it is to make it with the female.
My take for the reading is $400.
"What's the camera for?" asks the guy next to me.
"I'm a poet," I tell him.
"A poet?" he asks. "What's your name?"
"Dylan Thomas," I say.
I lift my drink, empty it with one gulp, stare straight ahead. I'm on
my way.


I had a jumpy stomach and she took pictures of me sweating and dying in
the waiting area as I watched a plump girl in a short purple dress and high
heels shoot down a row of plastic ducks with a gun. I told Vicki I'd be back
and I asked the girl at the counter for a paper cup and some water and I
dropped my Alka Seltzers in. I sat back down and sweated.
Vicki was happy. We were getting out of town. I liked Vicki to be
happy. She deserved her happiness. I got up and went to the men's room and
had a good crap. When I got out they were calling the passengers. It wasn't
a very large seaplane. Two propellers. We were on last. It only held six or
Vicki sat in the co-pilot's seat and they made me a seat out of the
thing that folded over the door. There we went! FREEDOM. My seatbelt didn't
There was a Japanese guy looking at me. "My seatbelt doesn't work," I
told him. He grinned back at me, happily. "Suck shit, baby," I told him.
Vicki kept looking back and smiling. She was happy, a kid with candy -- a 35
year old seaplane.
It took twelve minutes and we hit the water. I hadn't heaved. I got
out. Vicki told me all about it. "The plane was built in 1940. It had holes
in the floor. He worked the rudder with a handle from the roof. 'I'm
scared,' I told him, and he said, 'I'm scared too.' "
I depended on Vicki for all my information. I wasn't much good at
talking to people. Well, then we packed onto a bus, sweating and giggling
and looking at each other. From the end of the bus line to the hotel was
about two blocks and Vicki kept me informed:
"There's a place to eat, and there's a liquor store for you, there's a
bar, and there's a place to eat, and there's another liquor store ..."
The room was all right, in front, right over the water. The T.V. worked
in a vague and hesitant way and I flopped on the bed and watched while Vicki
unpacked. "Oh, I just love this place!" she said, "don't you?"
I got up and went downstairs and across the street and got beer and
ice. I packed the ice in the sink and sunk the beer in. I drank 12 bottles
of beer, had a minor argument of some sort with Vicki after the tenth beer,
drank the other two and went to sleep.
When I woke up, Vicki had bought an ice chest and was drawing on the
cover. Vicki was a child, a Romantic, but I loved her for it. I liad so many
gloomy devils in me that I welcomed it.
"July 1972. Avalon Catalena" she printed on the chest. She didn't know
how to spell. Well, none of us did.
Then she drew me, and underneath: "No neck and bad as hell."
Then she drew a lady, and underneath: "Henry knows a good ass when he
sees one."
And in a circle: "Only God knows what he does with his nose."
And: "Chinaski has gorgeous legs."
She also drew a variety of birds and suns and stars and palm trees and
the ocean.
"Are you able to eat breakfast?" she asked. I'd never been spoiled by
any of my past women. I liked being spoiled; I felt that I deserved to be
spoiled. We went and found a fairly reasonable place where you could eat at
a table outside. Over breakfast she asked me, "Did you really win the
Pulitzer Prize?"
"What Pulitzer Prize?"
"You told me last night you'd won the Pulitzer Prize. $500,000. You
said you got a purple telegram about it."
"A purple telegram?"
"Yes, you said you'd beat out Norman Mailer, Kenneth Koch, Diane
Wakoski, and Robert Creeley."
We finished breakfast and walked around. The whole place didn't add up
to more than five or six blocks. Everybody was seventeen years old. They sat
listlessly waiting. Not everybody. There were a few tourists, old,
determined to have a good time. They peered angrily into shop windows and
walked, stamping the pavements, giving off their rays: I have money, we have
money, we have more money than you have, we are better than you are, nothing
worries us; everything is shit but we are not shit and we know everything,
look at us.
With their pink shirts and green shirts and blue shirts, and square
white rotting bodies, and striped shorts, eyeless eyes and mouthless mouths,
they walked along, very colorful, as if color might wake up death and turn
it into life. They were a carnival of American decay on parade and they had
no idea of the atrocity that they had inflicted upon themselves.
I left Vicki, went upstairs, crouched over the typewriter, and looked
out the window. It was hopeless. All my life I had wanted to be a writer and
now I had my chance and it wouldn't come. There were no bullrings and boxing
matches or young senoritas. There weren't even any insights. I was fucked. I
couldn't get the word down and they'd backed me into a corner. Well, all you
had to do was die. But I'd always imagined it differently. I mean, the
writing. Maybe it was the Leslie Howard movie. Or reading about the life of
Hemingway or D. H. Lawrence. Or Jeffers. You could get started writing in
all sorts of different ways. And then you wrote a while. And met some of the
writers. The good ones and the bad ones. And they all had tinkertoy souls.
You knew it when you got into a room with them. There was only one great
writer every 500 years, and you weren't the one, and they most certainly
weren't the ones. We were fucked.
I turned on the T.V. and watched a bag of doctors and nurses spew their
love-troubles. They never touched. No wonder they were in trouble. All they
did was talk, argue, bitch, search. I went to sleep.
Vicki woke me up. "Oh," she said, "I had the most wonderful time!"
"I saw this man in a boat and I said 'Where are you going?' and he
said, 'I'm a boat taxi, I take people in and out to their boats,' and I
said, 'o.k.' and it was just fifty cents and I rode around with him for
hours while he took people to their boats. It was wonderful."
"I watched some doctors and nurses," I said, "and I got depressed."
"We boated for hours," said Vicki, "I gave him my hat to wear and he
waited while I got an abalone sandwich. He skinned his leg when he fell off
his motorcycle last night."
"The bells ring here every fifteen minutes. It's obnoxious."
"I got to look in all the boats. All the old drunks were on board. Some
of them had young women dressed in boots. Others had young men. Real old
drunken lechers."
If I only had Vicki's ability to gather information, I thought, I could
really write something. Me: I've got to sit around and wait for it to come
to me. I can manipulate it and squeeze it once it arrives but I can't go
find it. All I can write about is drinking beer, going to the racetrack, and
listening to symphony music. That isn't a crippled life, but it's hardly all
of it either. How did I get so limited? I used to have guts. What happened
to my guts? Do men really get old?
"After I got off the boat I saw a bird. I talked to it. Do you mind if
I buy the bird?"
"No, I don't mind. Where is it?"
"Just a block away. Can we go see him?"
"Why not?"
I got into some clothes and we walked down. Here was this shot of green
with a little red ink spilled over him. He wasn't very much, even for a
bird. But he didn't shit every three minutes like the rest of them, so that
was pleasant.
"He doesn't have any neck. He's just like you. That's why I want him.
He's a peach-faced love-bird."
We came back with the peach-faced love-bird in a cage. We put him on
the table and she called him "Avalon." Vicki sat and talked to him.
"Avalon, hello Avalon . . . Avalon, Avalon, hello Avalon . . . Avalon,
o, Avalon . . ."
I turned on the T.V.
The bar was all right. I sat with Vicki and told her I was going to
break the place up. I used to break up bars in my early days, now I just
talked about breaking them up.
There was a band. I got up and danced. It was easy to dance modern. You
just kicked your arms and legs in any direction, either held your neck stiff
or whipped it like a son of a bitch and they thought you were great. You
could fool people. I danced and worried about my typewriter.
I sat down with Vicki and ordered some more drinks. I grabbed Vicki's
head and pointed her toward the bartender. "Look, she's beautiful, man!
Isn't she beautiful?"
Then Ernie Hemingway walked up with his white rat beard.
"Ernie," I said, "I thought you did it with a shotgun?"
Hemingway laughed.
"What are you drinking?" I asked.
"I'm buying," he said.
Ernie bought us our drinks and sat down. He looked a little thinner.
"I reviewed your last book," I told him. "I gave it a bad review.
"It's all right," said Ernie. "How do you like the island?"
"It's for them," I said.
"The public is fortunate. Everything pleases them: icecream cones, rock
concerts, singing, swinging, love, hate, masturbation, hot dogs, country
dances, Jesus Christ, roller skating, spiritualism, capitalism, communism,
circumcision, comic strips, Bob Hope, skiing, fishing murder bowling
debating, anything. They don't expect much and they don't get much. They are
one grand gang."
"That's quite a speech."
"That's quite a public."
"You talk like a character out of early Huxley."
"I think you're wrong. I'm desperate."
"But," said Hemingway, "men become intellectuals in order not to be
"Men become intellectuals because they are afraid, not desperate."
"And the difference between afraid and desperate is ..."
"Bingo!" I answered, "an intellectual! . . . my drink . . ."
A little later I told Hemingway about my purple telegram and then Vicki
and I left and went back to our bird and our bed.
"It's no use," I said, "my stomach is raw and contains nine tenths of
my soul."
"Try this," said Vicki and handed me the glass of water and Alka
"You go and toddle around," I said, "I can't make it today."
Vicki went out and toddled and came back two or three times to see if I
was all right. I was all right. I went out and ate and came back with two
six-packs and found an old movie with Henry Fonda, Tyrone Power, and
Randolph Scott. 1939. They were all so young. It was incredible. I was
seventeen years old then. But, of course, I'd come through better than them.
I was still alive.
Jesse James. The acting was bad, very bad. Vicki came
back and told me all sorts of amazing things and then she got on the bed
with me and watched Jesse James. When Bob Ford was about to shoot
Jesse (Ty Power) in the back, Vicki let out a moan and ran in the bathroom
and hid. Ford did his thing.
"It's all over," I said, "you can come out now."
That was the highlight of the trip to Catalina. Not much else happened.
Before we left Vicki went to the Chamber of Commerce and thanked them for
giving her such a good time. She also thanked the woman in Davey Jones'
Locker and bought presents for her friends Lita and Walter and Ava and her
son Mike and something for me and something for Annie and something for a
Mr. and Mrs. Croty, and there were some others I have forgotten.
We got on the boat with our bird cage and our bird and our ice chest
and our suitcase and our electric typewriter. I found a spot at the back of
the boat and we sat there and Vicki was sad because it was over. I had met
Hemingway in the street and he had given me the hippie handshake and he
asked me if I was Jewish and if I was coming back, and I said no on the
Jewish and I didn't know if I was coming back, it was up to the lady, and he
said, I don't want to inquire into your personal business, and I said,
Hemingway you sure talk funny, and the whole boat leaned to the left and
rocked and leaped and a young man who looked as if he had recently had
electro-therapy treatment walked around passing out paper bags for the
purpose of vomiting. I thought, maybe the seaplane's best, it's only twelve
minutes and far less people, and San Pedro slowly worked toward us,
civilization, civilization, smog and murder, so much nicer so much nicer,
the madmen and the drunks are the last saints left on earth. I have never
ridden a horse or bowled, nor have I seen the Swiss Alps, and Vicki looked
over at me with this very childish smile, and I thought, she really is an
amazing woman, well, it's time I had a little luck, and I stretched my legs
and looked straight ahead. I needed to take another shit and decided to cut
down on my drinking.


It was a hotel near the top of a hill, just enough tilt in that hill to
help you run down to the liquor store, and coming back with the bottle, just
enough climb to make the effort worthwhile. The hotel had once been painted
a peacock green, lots of hot flare, but now after the rains, the peculiar
Los Angeles rains that clean and fade everything, the hot green was just
hanging on by its teeth -- like the people who lived inside.
How I moved in there, or why I'd left the previous place, I hardly
remember. It was probably my drinking and not working very much, and the
loud mid-morning arguments with the ladies of the street. And by midmorning
arguments I do not mean 10:30 a.m., I mean 3:30 a.m. Usually if the police
weren't called it ended up with a little note under the door, always in
pencil on torn lined paper: "dear Sir, we are going to have to ask you to
move quick as poscible."
One time it happened in mid-afternoon. The
argument was over. We swept up the broken glass, put all the bottles into
paper sacks, emptied the ashtrays, slept, woke up, and I was working away on
top when I heard a key in the door. I was so surprised that I just kept
fanning it in. And there he stood, the little manager, about 45, no hair
except maybe around his ears or balls, and he looked at her on the bottom,
walked up and pointed, "You -- you are OUT OF HERE!" I stopped stroking and
laid flat, looking at him sideways. Then he pointed at me. "And YOU'RE outa
here too!" He turned around, went to the door, closed it quietly and walked
down the hall. I started the machine again and we gave it a farewell good
Anyway, there I was, the green hotel, the faded green hotel, and I was
there with my suitcase full of rags, alone at the time, but I had the rent
money, was sober, and I got a room in the front facing the street, 3rd
floor, phone outside my door in the hall, hotplate in the window, large
sink, small wall refrigerator, a couple of chairs, a table, bed, and the
bathroom down the hall. And although the building was very old, they even
had an elevator -- it had once been a class joint. Now I was there. The
first thing I did was get a bottle and after a drink and killing two roaches
I felt like I belonged. Then I went to the phone and tried to call a lady
who I felt might help me but she was evidently out helping somebody else.
About 3 a.m. somebody knocked. I put on my torn bathrobe and opened the
door. There stood a woman in her bathrobe. "Yeah?" I said. "Yeah?"
"I'm your neighbor. I'm Mitzi. I live down the hall. I saw you at the
telephone today."
"Yeah?" I said.
Then she came around from behind her back and showed it to me. It was a
pint of good whiskey.
"Come on in," I said.
I cleaned out two glasses, opened the pint. "Straight or mixed?"
"About two thirds water."
There was a litle mirror over the sink and she stood there rolling her
hair into curlers. I handed her a glass of stuff and sat down on the bed.
"I saw you in the hall. I could tell by looking at you that you were
nice. I can tell them. Some of them here are not so nice."
"They tell me I am a bastard."
"I don't believe it."
"Neither do I."
I finished my drink. She just sipped on hers so I mixed myself another.
We talked easy talk. I had a third drink. Then I got up and stood behind
"OOOOOOh! Silly boy!"
I jabbed her.
"Ooouch!! You ARE a bastard!"
She had a curler in one hand. I pulled her up and kissed that thin
little old lady's mouth. It was soft and open. She was ready. I put her
drink in her hand, took her to the bed, sat her down. "Drink up." She did. I
walked over and fixed her another. I didn't have anything on under my robe.
The robe fell open and the thing stuck out. God, I'm filthy, I thought. I'm
a ham. I'm in the movies. The family movies of the future. 2490 A.D. I had
difficulty not laughing at myself, walking around hung to that stupid prong.
It was really the whiskey I wanted. A castle in the hills I wanted. A steam
bath. Anything but this. We both sat with our drinks. I kissed her again,
ramming my cigarette-sick tongue down her throat. I came up for air. I
opened her robe and there were her breasts. Not much, poor thing. I reached
down with my mouth and got one. It stretched and sagged like a balloon half-
filled with stale air. I braved on and sucked at the nipple as she took the
prong in her hand and arched her back. We fell backwards like that on the
cheap bed, and with our robes on, I took her there.
His name was Lou, he was an ex-con and ex-hard rock miner. He lived
downstairs in the hotel. His last job had been scrubbing out pots in a place
that made candy. He had lost that one -- like all the others -- drinking.
The unemployment insurance runs out and there we are like rats -- rats with
no place to hide, rats with rent to pay, with bellies that get hungry, cocks
that get hard, spirits that get tired, and no education, no trade. Tough
shit, like they say, this is America. We didn't want much and we couldn't
get that. Tough shit.
I met Lou while drinking, people walking in and out. My room was the
party room. Everybody came. There was an Indian, Dick, who shoplifted
halfpints and stored them in his dresser. Said it gave him a feeling of
security. When we couldn't get a drink anywhere we always used the Indian as
our last resort.
I wasn't very good at shoplifting but I did learn a trick from Alabam,
a thin mustached thief who had once worked for the hospital as an orderly.
You throw your meats and valuables into a large sack and then cover them
with potatoes. The grocer weighs the lot and charges you for potatoes. But I
was best at getting Dick for credit. There were a lot of Dicks in that
neighborhood and the liquor store man was a Dick too. We'd be sitting around
and the last drink would be gone. My first move would be to send somebody
out. "My name's Hank," I'd tell the guy. "Tell Dick, Hank sent you down for
a pint on the cuff, and if there's any questions to phone me." "O.k., o.k.,"
and the guy would go. We'd wait, already tasting the drink, smoking pacing
going crazy. Then the guy would come back. "Dick said 'no!' Dick said your
credit's no good anymore!"
"SHIT!" I would scream.
And I would rise in full red-eyed unshaven indignation. "GOD DAMN,
I would really be angry, it was an honest anger, I don't know where it
came from. I'd slam the door, take the elevator down and down that hill I'd
go ... dirty mother, that dirty mother! . . . and I'd turn into the liquor
"All right, Dick."
"Hello, Hank."
"I want TWO FIFTHS!" (and I'd name a very good brand.) "Two packs of
smokes, a couple of those cigars, and let's see . . . a can of those
peanuts, yeah."
Dick would line the stuff up in front of me and then he'd stand there.
"Well, ya gonna pay me?"
"Dick, I want this on the bill."
"You already owe me $23.50. You used to pay me, you used to pay a
little every week, I remember it was every Friday night. You ain't paid me
anything in three weeks. You aren't like those other bums. You got class. I
trust you. Can't you just pay me a dollar now and then?"
"Look, Dick, I don't feel like arguing. You gonna put this stuff in a
bag or do you want it BACK?"
Then I'd shove the bottles and stuff toward him and wait, puffing on a
cigarette like I owned the world. I didn't have any more class than a
grasshopper. I felt nothing but fear that he'd do the sensible thing and put
the bottles back on the shelf and tell me to go to hell. But his face would
always sag and he'd put the stuff in the bag, and then I'd wait until he
totalled the new bill. He'd give me the count; I'd nod and walk out. The
drinks always tasted much better under those circumstances. And when I'd
walk in with the stuff for the boys and girls, I was really king.
I was sitting with Lou one night in his room. He was a week be- hind in
his rent and mine was due. We were drinking port wine. We were even rolling
our cigarettes. Lou had a machine for that and they came out pretty good.
The thing was to keep four walls around you. If you had four walls you had a
chance. Once you were out on the street you had no chance, they had you,
they really had you. Why steal something if you can't cook it? How are you
going to screw something if you live in an alley? How are you going to sleep
when everybody in the Union Rescue Mission snores? And steals your shoes?
And stinks? And is insane? You can't even jack-off. You need four walls.
Give a man four walls long enough and it is possible for him to own the
world. So we were a little worried. Every step sounded like the landlady's.
And she was a very mysterious landlady. A young blonde nobody could screw. I
played her very cold thinking she would come to me. She came and knocked all
right, but only for the rent. She had a husband somewhere but we never saw
him. They lived there and they didn't. We were on the plank. We figured if
we could fuck the landlady our troubles would be over. It was one of those
buildings where you screwed every woman as a matter of course, almost as a
matter of obligation. But I couldn't get this one and it made me feel
insecure. So we sat there smoking our rolled cigarettes, drinking our port
wine and the four walls were dissolving, falling away. Talk is best at times
like that. You talk wild, drink your wine. We were cowards because we wanted
to live. We did not want to live too badly but we still wanted to live.
"Well," said Lou, "I think I got it."
I poured another wine.
"We work together."
"Now you're a good talker, you tell a lot of interesting stories, it
doesn't matter if they're true or not -- "
"They're true."
"I mean, that doesn't matter. You got a good mouth. Now here's what we
do. There's a class bar down the street, you know it, Molino's. You go in
there. All you need is money for the first drink. We'll pool for that. You
sit down, nurse your drink and look around for a guy flashing a roll. They
get some fat ones in there. You spot the guy and go over to him. You sit
down next to him and turn it on, you turn on the bullshit. He'll like it.
You've even got a vocabulary. O.k. so he'll buy you drinks all night, he'll
drink all night. Keep him drinking. When closing time comes, you lead him
toward Alvarado Street, lead him west past the alley. Tell him you are going
to get him some nice young pussy, tell him anything but lead him west. And
I'll be waiting in the alley with this."
Lou reached around behind the door and came out with a baseball bat, it
was a very large baseball bat, I think at least 42 oz.
"Jesus Christ, Lou, you'll kill him!"
"No, no, you can't kill a drunk, you know that. Maybe if he was sober
it'd kill him, but drunk it'll only knock him out. We take the wallet, split
it two ways."
"Listen, Lou, I'm a nice guy, I'm not like that."
"You're no nice guy; you're the meanest son of a bitch I ever met.
That's why I like you."
I found one. A big fat one. I had been fired by fat stupidities like
him all my life. From worthless, underpaid, dull hard jobs. It was going to
be nice. I got to talking. I didn't know what I was talking about. He was
listening and laughing and nodding his head and buying drinks. He had a
wrist watch, a handful of rings, a full stupid wallet. It was hard work. I
told him stories about prisons, about railroad track gangs, about
whorehouses. He liked the whorehouse stuff.
I told him about the guy who came in every two weeks and paid well. All
he wanted was a whore in a room with him. They both took off their clothes
and played cards and talked. Just sat there. Then after about two hours he'd
get up, get dressed, say goodbye and walk out. Never touch the whore.
"God damn," he said.
I decided that I wouldn't mind Lou's slugger bat hitting a homer on
that fat skull. What a whammy. What a useless hunk of shit.
"You like young girls?" I asked him.
"Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah."
"Around fourteen and a half?"
"Oh jesus, yes."
"There's one coming in on the 1:30 a.m. train from Chicago. She'll be
at my place around 2:10 a.m. She's clean, hot, intelligent. Now I'm takin' a
big chance, so I'm asking ten bucks. That too high?"
"No, that's all right."
"O.k., when this place closes up you come with me."
2 a.m. finally made it, and I walked him out of there, toward the
alley. Maybe Lou wouldn't be there. Maybe the wine would get to him or he'd
just back out. A blow like that could kill a man. Or make him addled for
life. We staggered along in the moonlight. There was nobody else around,
nobody in the streets. It was going to be easy.
We crossed into the alley. Lou was there. But Fatso saw him. He threw
up an arm and ducked as Lou swung. The bat got me right behind the ear.
Lou got his old job back, the one he had lost drinking, and he swore he
was only going to drink on weekends.
"O.k., friend," I told him, "stay away from me, I am drunk and drinking
all the time."
"I know. Hank, and I like you, I like you better than any man I ever
met, only I gotta hold the drinking down to weekends, just Friday and
Saturday nights and nothing on Sunday. I kept missing Monday mornings in the
old days and it cost me my job. I'll stay away but I want you to know that
it has nothing to do with you."
"Only that I'm a wino."
"Yeah, well, there's that."
"O.k., Lou, just don't come knocking on my door until Friday and
Saturday night. You may hear singing and the laughter of beautiful seventeen
year old girls but don't come knocking on my door."
"Man, you screw nothing but bags."
"They look seventeen through the eye of the grape."
He went on to explain the nature of his job, something to do with
cleaning out the inside of candy machines. It was a sticky dirty job. The
boss only hired ex-cons and worked their asses to death. He cussed the ex-
cons brutally all day long and there was nothing they could do about it. He
shorted them on their checks and there was nothing they could do about it.
If they hitched they were fired. A lot of them were on parole. The boss had
them by the balls. "Sounds like a guy who needs to be killed," I told Lou.
"Well, he likes me, he says I am the best worker he ever had, but I hadda
get off the booze, he needed somebody he could depend on. He even had me
over to his place one time to do some painting for him, I painted his
bathroom, did a good job too. He's got a place in the hills, a big place,
and you oughta see his wife. I never knew they made women that way, so
beautiful -- her eyes, her legs, her body, the way she walked, talked,
Well, Lou was true to his word. I didn't see him for some time, not
even on weekends, and meanwhile I was going through a kind of personal hell.
I was very jumpy, nerves gone -- a little noise and I'd jump out of my skin.
I was afraid to go to sleep: nightmare after nightmare, each more terrible
than the one which preceded it. You were all right if you went to sleep
totally drunk, that was all right, but if you went to sleep half-drunk or,
worse, sober, then the dreams began, only you were never sure whether you
were sleeping or whether the action was taking place in the room, for when
you slept you dreamed the entire room, the dirty dishes, the mice, the
folding walls, the pair of shit-in pants some whore had left on the floor,
the dripping faucet, the moon like a bullet out there, cars full of the
sober and well-fed, shining headlights through your window, everything,
everything, you were in some sort of dark corner, dark dark, no help, no
reason, no no reason at all, dark sweating corner, darkness and filth, the
stench of reality, the stink of everything: spiders, eyes, landladies,
sidewalks, bars, buildings, grass, no grass, light, no light, nothing
belonging to you. The pink elephants never showed up but plenty of little
men with savage tricks or a looming big man to strangle you or sink his
teeth into the back of your neck, lay on your back and you sweating, unable
to move, this black stinking hairy thing laying there on you on you on you.
If it wasn't that it was sitting during the days, hours of unspeakable
fear, fear opening in the center of you like a giant blossom, you couldn't
analyze it, figure why it was there, and that made it worse. Hours of
sitting in a chair in the middle of a room, run through and stricken.
Shifting or pissing a major effort, nonsense, and combing your hair or
brushing your teeth -- ridiculous and insane acts. Walking through a sea of
fire. Or pouring water into a drinking glass -- it seemed you had no right
to pour water into a drinking glass. I decided I was crazy, unfit, and this
made me feel dirty. I went to the library and tried to find books about what
made people feel the way I was feeling, but the books weren't there or if
they were I couldn't understand them. Going into the library was hardly easy
-- everybody seemed so comfortable, the librarians, the readers, everybody
but me. I even had trouble using the library crapper -- the bums in there,
the queers watching me piss, they all seemed stronger than I -- unworried
and sure. I kept going out and walking across the street, up a winding
stairway in a cement building where they stored thousands of crates of
oranges. A sign on the roof of another building said JESUS SAVES but neither
Jesus or oranges were worth a damn to me walking up that winding stairway
and into that cement building. I always thought, this is where I belong,
inside of this cement tomb.
The thought of suicide was always there, strong, like ants running
along the underside of the wrists. Suicide was the only positive thing.
Everything else was negative. And there was Lou, glad to clean out the
inside of candy machines to stay alive. He was wiser than I.
At this time I met a lady in a bar, a little older than me, very
sensible. Her legs were still good, she had an odd sense of humor, and had