and everybody was everywhere. "Full house," said the driver, "let's go." It
was a bad ride. We swayed, we tilted. I made every effort to hold the blood
in as I didn't want to get anybody stinking. "Oh," I heard a Negro woman's
voice, "I can't believe this is happening to me, I can't believe it, oh God
help me!"
God gets pretty popular in places like that.
They put me in a dark basement and somebody gave me something in a
glass of water and that was that. Every now and then I would vomit some
blood into the bedpan. There were four or five of us down there. One of the
men was drunk -- and insane -- but he seemed strong. He got off his cot and
wandered around, stumbled around, falling across the other men, knocking
things over, "Wa wa was, I am wawa the joba, I am juba I am jumma jubba
wasta, I am juba." I grabbed the water pitcher to hit him with but he never
came near me. He finally fell down in a corner and passed out. I was in the
basement all night and until noon the next day. Then they moved me upstairs.
The ward was overloaded. They put me in a dark corner. "Ooh, he's gonna die
in that dark corner," one of the nurses said. "Yeah," said the other one.
I got up one night and couldn't make it to the can. I heaved blood all
over the middle of the floor. I fell down and was too weak to get up. I
called for a nurse but the doors to the ward were covered with tin and three
to six inches thick and they couldn't hear. A nurse came by about once every
two hours to check for corpses. They rolled a lot of dead out at night. I
couldn't sleep and used to watch them. Slip a guy off the bed and pull him
onto the roller and pull the sheet over his head. Those rollers were well-
oiled. I hollered, "Nurse!" not knowing especially why. "Shut up!" one of
the old men told me, "we want to sleep." I passed out.
When I came to all the lights were on. Two nurses were trying to pick
me up. "I told you not to get out of bed," one of them said. I couldn't
talk. Drums were in my head. I felt hollowed out. It seemed as if I could
hear everything, but I couldn't see, only flares of light, it seemed. But no
panic, fear; only a sense of waiting, waiting for anything and not caring.
"You're too big," one of them said, "get in this chair."
They put me in the chair and slid me along the floor. I didn't feel
like more than six pounds.
Then they were around me: people. I remember a doctor in a green gown,
an operating gown. He seemed angry. He was talking to the head nurse.
"Why hasn't this man had a transfusion? He's down to ... c.c.'s."
"His papers passed through downstairs while I was upstairs and then
they were filed before I saw them. And, besides Doctor, he doesn't have any
blood credit."
"I want some blood up here and I want it up here NOW!"
"Who the hell is this guy," I thought, "very odd. Very strange for a
They started the transfusions -- nine pints of blood and eight of
A nurse tried to feed me roast beef with potatoes and peas and carrots
for my first meal. She put the tray before me.
"Hell, I can't eat this," I told her, "this would kill me!"
"Eat it," she said, "it's on your list, it's on your diet."
"Bring me some milk," I said.
"You eat that," she said, and walked away.
I left it there.
Five minutes later she came running into the ward.
"Don't EAT THAT!" she screamed, "you can't HAVE THAT!! There's been a
mistake on the list!"
She carried it away and came back with a glass of milk.
As soon as the first bottle of blood emptied into me they sat me up on
a roller and took me down to the x-ray room. The doctor told me to stand up.
I kept falling over backwards.
I tried but I couldn't stand up. I fell over backwards.
"Oh shit," he said to the nurse, "take him away."
Easter Sunday the Salvation Army band played right under our window at
5 a.m. They played horrible religious music, played it badly and loudly, and
it swamped me, ran through me, almost murdered me. I felt as close to death
that morning as I have ever felt. It was an inch away, a hair away. Finally
they left for another part of the grounds and I began to climb back toward
life. I would say that that morning they probably killed a half dozen
captives with their music.
Then my father showed with my whore. She was drunk and I knew he had
given her money for drink and deliberately brought her before me drunk in
order to make me unhappy. The old man and I were enemies of long standing --
everything I believed in he disbelieved and the other way around. She swayed
over my bed, red-faced and drunk.
"Why did you bring her like that?" I asked. "Why didn't you wait until
another day?"
"I told you she was no good! I always told you she was no good!"
"You got her drunk and then brought her here. Why do you keep knifing
"I told you she was no good, I told you, I told you!"
"You son of a bitch, one more word out of you and I'm going to take
this needle out of my arm and get up and whip the shit out of you!"
He took her by the arm and they left.
I guess they had phoned them that I was going to die. I was continuing
to hemorrhage. That night the priest came.
"Father," I said, "no offense, but please, I'd like to die without any
rites, without any words."
I was surprised then because he swayed and rocked in disbelief; it was
almost as if I had hit him. I say I was surprised because I thought those
boys had more cool than that. But then, they wipe their asses too.
"Father, talk to me," an old man said, "you can talk to me."
The priest went over to the old man and everybody was happy.
Thirteen days from the night I entered I was driving a truck and
lifting packages weighing up to 50 pounds. A week later I had my first drink
-- the one they said would kill me.
I guess someday I'll die in that goddamned charity ward. I just can't
seem to get away.
My luck was down again and I was too nervous at this time from
excessive wine-drinking; wild-eyed, weak; too depressed to find my usual
stop-gap, rest-up job as shipping clerk or stock boy, so I went down to the
meat packing plant and walked into the office.
"Haven't I seen you before?" the man asked.
"No," I lied.
I'd been there two or three years before, gone through all the paper
work, the medical and so forth, and they led me down steps four floors down
and it had gotten colder and colder and the floors had been covered with a
sheen of blood, green floors, green walls. He had explained the job to me --
which was to push a button and then from this hole in the wall there came a
noise like the crushing of fullbacks or elephants falling, and here it came
-- something dead, a lot of it, bloody, and he showed me, you take it and
throw it on the truck and push the button and another one comes along. Then
he walked away. When he did I took off my smock, my tin hat, my boots
(issued three sizes too small) and walked up the stairway and out of there.
Now I was back.
"You look a little old for the job."
"I want to toughen up. I need hard work, good hard work," I lied.
"Can you handle it?"
"I'm nothing but guts. I used to be in the ring, I've fought the best."
"Oh, yes?"
"Umm, I can see by your face. You must have been in some fierce ones."
"Never mind my face. I had fast hands. Still have. I had to take some
dives, had to make it look good."
"I follow boxing. I don't recall your name."
"I fought under another name. Kid Stardust,"
"Kid Stardust? I don't recall a Kid Stardust."
"I fought in South America, Africa, Europe, the islands, I fought in
the tank towns. That's why there're all these gaps in my employment record -
- I don't like to put down boxer because people think I am kidding or lying.
I just leave the blanks and to hell with it."
"All right, show up for your med. at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow and we'll put
you to work. You say you want hard work?"
"Well, if you have something else . . ."
"No, not right now. You know, you look close to 50 years old. I wonder
if I'm doing the right thing? We don't like you people to waste our time."
"I'm not people -- I'm Kid Stardust."
"O.k., kid," he laughed, "we'll put you to WORK!"
I didn't like the way he said it.
Two days later I walked through the passgate into the wooden shack
where I showed an old man my slip with my name on it:
Henry Chinaski and he sent me on to the loading dock -- I was to see
Thurman. I walked on over. There were a row of men sitting on a wooden bench
and they looked at me as if I were a homosexual or a basket case.
I looked at them with what I imagined to be easy disdain and drawled in
my best backalley fashion:
"Where's Thurman. I'm supposed to see th' guy."
Somebody pointed.
"I'm workin' for ya."
He looked at me.
"Where's yor boots?"
"Boots? Got none," I said.
He reached under the bench and handed me a pair, an old hardened stiff
pair. I put them on. Same old story: three sizes too small. My toes were
crushed and bent under.
Then he gave me a bloody smock and a tin helmet. I put them on. I stood
there while he lit a cigarette, or as the English might say: while he
lighted his cigarette. He threw away the match with a calm and manly
"Come on."
They were all Negroes and when I walked up they looked at me as if they
were Black Muslims. I was over six feet but they were all taller, and if not
taller then two or three times as wide.
"Hank!" Thurman hollered.
Hank, I thought. Hank, just like me. That's nice.
I was already sweating under the tin helmet.
"Put 'im to WORK!!"
Jesus christ o jesus christ. What ever happened to the sweet and easy
nights? Why doesn't this happen to Walter Winchell who believes in the
American Way? Wasn't I one of the most brilliant students in Anthropology?
What happened?
Hank took me over and stood me in front of an empty truck a half block
long that stood in the dock.
"Wait here."
Then several of the Black Muslims came running up with the wheel-
barrows painted a scabby and lumpy white like whitewash mixed in with
henshit. And each wheelbarrow was loaded with mounds of hams that floated in
thin, watery blood. No, they didn't float in the blood, they sat in it, like
lead, like cannonballs, like death.
One of the boys jumped into the truck behind me and the other began
throwing the hams at me and I caught them and threw them to the guy behind
me who turned and threw the ham into the back of the truck. The hams came
fast FAST and they were heavy and they got heavier. As soon as I threw one
ham and turned, another was already on the way to me through the air. I knew
that they were trying to break me. I was soon sweating sweating as if
faucets had been turned on, and my back ached, my wrists ached, my arms
hurt, everything hurt and I was down to the last impossible ounce of limp
energy. I could barely see, barely summon myself to catch one more ham and
throw it, one more ham and throw it. I was splashed in blood and kept
getting the soft dead heavy flump in my hands, the ham giving a
little like a woman's butt, and I'm too weak to talk and say, "hey, what the
HELL'S the matter with you guys?" The hams are coming and I am spinning,
nailed like a man on a cross under a tin helmet, and they keep running up
barrows full of hams hams hams and at last they are all empty, and I stand
there swaying and breathing the yellow electric light. It was night in hell.
Well, I always liked night work.
"Come on!"
They took me into another room. Up in the air through a large entrance
high in the far wall one half a steer, or it might have been a whole one,
yes, they were whole steers, come to think of it, all four legs, and one of
them came out of the hole on a hook, having just been murdered, and the
steer stopped right over me, it hung right over me there on that hook.
"They've just killed it," I thought, "they've killed the damn thing.
How can they tell a man from a steer? How do they know that I am not a
"Swing it?"
"That's right -- DANCE WITH IT!"
"O for christ's sake! George come here!"
George got under the dead steer. He grabbed it. ONE. He ran forward.
TWO. He ran backwards. THREE. He ran far forward. The steer was almost
parallel to the ground. Somebody hit a button and he had it. He had it for
the meat markets of the world. He had it for the gossiping cranky well-
rested stupid housewives of the world at 2 o'clock in the afternoon in their
housecoats, dragging at red-stained cigarettes and feeling almost nothing.
They put me under the next steer.
I had it. Its dead bones against my living bones, its dead flesh
against my living flesh, and the bone and the weight cut in, I thought of a
sexy cunt sitting across from me on a couch with her legs crossed high and
me with a drink in my hand, slowly and surely talking my way toward and into
the blank mind of her body, and Hank hollered, "HANG HER IN THE TRUCK!"
I ran toward the truck. The shame of defeat taught me in American
schoolyards as a boy told me that I must not drop the steer to the ground
because this would prove that I was a coward and not a man and that I didn't
therefore deserve much, just sneers and laughs, you had to be a winner in
America, there wasn't any way out, you had to learn to fight for nothing,
don't question, and besides if I dropped the steer I might have to pick it
up, and I knew I could never pick it up. Besides it would get dirty. I
didn't want it to get dirty, or rather -- they didn't want it to get dirty.
I ran it into the truck.
The hook which hung from the roof was dull as a man's thumb without a
fingernail. You let the bottom of the steer slide back and went for the top,
you poked the top part against the hook again and again but the hook would
not go through. Mother ass!! It was all gristle and fat, tough,
I gave it my last reserve and the hook came through, it was a beautiful
sight, a miracle, that hook coming through, that steer hanging there by
itself completely off my shoulder, hanging for the housecoats and
butchershop gossip.
A 285 pound Negro, insolent, sharp, cool, murderous, walked in, hung
his meat with a snap, looked down at me.
"We stays in line here!"
"O.k., ace."
I walked out in front of him. Another steer was waiting for me. Each
time I loaded one I was sure that was the last one I could handle but I kept
one more
just one more
then I quit. Fuck it.
They were waiting for me to quit, I could see the eyes, the smiles when
they thought I wasn't looking. I didn't want to give them victory. I went
for another steer. The player. One last lunge of the big-time washed-up
player. I went for the meat.
Two hours I went on then somebody hollered, "BREAK."
I had made it. A ten minute rest, some coffee, and they'd never make me
quit. I walked out behind them toward a lunch wagon. I could see the steam
rising in the night from the coffee; I could see the doughnuts and
cigarettes and coffeecakes and sandwiches under the electric lights.
It was Hank. Hank like me.
"Yeah, Hank?"
"Before you take your break, get in that truck and move it out and over
to stall 18."
It was the truck we had just loaded, the one a half block long. Stall
18 was across the yard.
I managed to open the door and get up inside the cab. It had a soft
leather seat and the seat felt so good that I knew if I didn't fight it I
would soon be asleep. I wasn't a truck driver. I looked down and saw a half-
dozen gear shifts, breaks, pedals and so forth. I turned the key and managed
to start the engine. I played with pedals and gear shifts until the truck
started to roll and then I drove it across the yard to stall 18, thinking
all the while -- by the time I get back the lunch wagon will be gone. This
was tragedy to me, real tragedy. I parked the truck, cut the engine and sat
there a minute feeling the soft goodness of that leather seat. Then I opened
the door and got out. I missed the step or whatever was supposed to be there
and I fell to the ground in my bloody smock and christ tin helmet like a man
shot. It didn't hurt, I didn't feel it. I got up just in time to see the
lunch wagon driving off through the gate and down the street. I saw them
walking back in toward the dock laughing and lighting cigarettes.
I took off my boots, I took off my smock, I took off my tin helmet and
walked to the shack at the yard entrance. I threw the smock, helmet and
boots across the counter. The old man looked at me:
"What? You quittin' this GOOD job?"
"Tell 'em to mail me my check for two hours or tell 'em to stick it up
their ass, I don't give a damn!"
I walked out. I walked across the street to a Mexican bar and drank a
beer and then got a bus to my place. The American school-yard had beat me
The next night I was sitting in a bar between a woman with a rag on her
head and a woman without a rag on her head, and it was just another bar --
dull, imperfect, desperate, cruel, shitty, poor, and the small men's room
reeked to make you heave, and you couldn't crap there, only piss, vomiting,
turning your head away, looking for light, praying for the stomach to hold
just one more night.
I had been in there about three hours drinking and buying drinks for
the one without the rag on her head. She didn't look bad: expensive shoes,
good legs and tail; just on the edge of falling apart, but then that's when
they look the sexiest -- to me.
I bought another drink, two more drinks.
"That's it," I told her, "I'm broke."
"You're kidding."
"You got a place to stay?"
"Two more days on the rent."
"You working?"
"What do you do?"
"I mean, how have you made it?"
"I was a jockey's agent for a while. Had a good boy but they caught him
carrying a battery into the starting gate twice. They barred him. Did a
little boxing, gambling, even tried chicken farming -- used to sit up all
night guarding them from the wild dogs in the hills, it was tough, and then
one day I left a cigar burning in the pen and I burned up half of them plus
all my good roosters. I tried panning gold in Northern California, I was a
barker at the beach, I tried the market, I tried selling short -- nothing
worked, I'm a failure."
"Drink up, she said, and come with me."
That "come with me" sounded good. I drank up and followed her out. We
walked up the street and stopped in front of a liquor store.
"Now you keep quiet," she said, "let me do the talking."
We went in. She got some salami, eggs, bread, bacon, beer, hot mustard,
pickles, two fifths of good whiskey, some Alka Seltzer and some mix.
Cigarettes and cigars.
"Charge it to Willie Hansen," she told the clerk.
We walked outside with the stuff and she called a cab from the box at
the corner. The cab showed and we climbed in back.
"Who's Willie Hansen?" I asked.
"Never mind," she said.
Up at my place she helped me put the perishables in the refrigerator.
Then she sat down on the couch and crossed those good legs and sat there
kicking and twisting an ankle, looking down at her shoe, that spiked and
beautiful shoe. I peeled the top off a fifth and stood there mixing two
strong drinks. I was king again.
That night in bed I stopped in the middle of it and looked down at her.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"What the hell difference does it make?"
I laughed and went on ahead.
The rent ran out and I put everything, which wasn't much, into my paper
suitcase, and 30 minutes later we walked back around a wholesale fur shop,
down a broken walk, and there was an old two story house.
Pepper (that was her name, she finally gave me her name) rang the bell
and told me --
"You stand back, just let him see me, and when the buzzer sounds I'll
push the door open and you follow me in."
Willie Hansen always peeked down the stairway to the halfway point
where he had a mirror that showed him who was at the door and then he made
up his mind whether to be home or not.
He decided to be home. The buzzer rang and I followed Pepper on in,
leaving my suitcase at the bottom of the steps.
"Baby!" he met her at the top of the steps, "so good to see
He was pretty old and only had one arm. He put the arm around her and
kissed her.
Then he saw me.
"Who's this guy?"
"O, Willie, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is The Kid."
"Hi!" I said.
He didn't answer me.
"The Kid? He don't look like a kid."
"Kid Lanny, he used to fight under the name Kid Lanny."
"Kid Lancelot," I said.
We went on up into the kitchen and Willie took out a bottle and poured
some drinks. We sat at the table.
"How do you like the curtains?" he asked me. "The girls made these
curtains for me. The girls have a lot of talent."
"I like the curtains," I told him.
"My arm's getting stiff, I can hardly move my fingers, I think I'm
going to die, the doctors can't figure what's wrong. The girls think I'm
kidding, the girls laugh at me."
"I believe you," I told him.
We had a couple of more drinks.
"I like you," said Willie, "you look like you been around, you look
like you've got class. Most people don't have class. You've got class."
"I don't know anything about class," I said, "but I've been around."
We had some more drinks and went into the front room. Willie put on a
sailing cap and sat down at an organ and he began playing the organ with his
one arm. It was a very loud organ.
There were quarters and dimes and halves and nickles and pennies all
over the floor. I didn't ask questions. We sat there drinking and listening
to the organ. I applauded lightly when he finished.
"All the girls were up here the other night," he told me, "and then
somebody hollered, RAID! and you should have seen them running, some of them
naked and some of them in panties and bras, they all ran out and hid in the
garage. It was funny as hell! I sat up here and they came drifting back one
by one from the garage. It was sure funny!"
"Who was the one who hollered RAID?" I asked.
"I was," he said.
Then he walked into his bedroom and took off his clothes and got into
his bed. Pepper walked in and kissed him and talked to him as I walked
around picking the coins up off the floor.
When she came out she motioned to the bottom of the stairway. I went
down for the suitcase and brought it up.
Everytime he put on that sailor's cap, that captain's cap, in the
morning we knew we were going out on the yacht. He'd stand in front of the
mirror adjusting it for proper angle and one of the girls would come running
in to tell us:
"We're going out on the yacht -- Willie's putting on his cap!"
Like the first time. He came out with the cap on and we followed him
down to the garage, not a word spoken.
He had an old car, so old it had a rumble seat.
The two or three girls got in front with Willie, sitting on laps,
however they made it, they made it, and Pepper and I got in the nimble seat,
and she said -- "He only goes out when he doesn't have a hangover, and when
he's not drinking. The bastard doesn't want anybody else to drink either, so
watch it!"
"Hell, I need a drink."
"We all need a drink," she said. She took a pint from her purse and
unscrewed the cap. She handed the bottle to me.
"Now wait until he checks us in the rearview mirror. Then the minute
his eyes go back on the road take a slug."
I tried it. It worked. Then it was Pepper's turn. By the time we
reached San Pedro the bottle was empty. Pepper took out some gum and I lit a
cigar and we climbed out.
It was a fine looking yacht. It had two engines and Willie stood there
showing me how to start the auxiliary motor in case anything went wrong. I
stood there not listening, nodding. Some kind of crap about pulling a rope
in order to start the thing.
He showed me how to pull anchor, unmoor from dock, but I was only
thinking about another drink, and then we pulled out, and he stood there in
the cabin with his captain's cap on steering the thing, and all the girls
got around him.
"O, Willie, let me steer!"
"Willie, let me steer!"
I didn't want to steer. He named the boat after himself: THE WILLHAN.
Terrible name. He should have called it THE FLOATING PUSSY.
I followed Pepper down to the cabin and we found more to drink, plenty
to drink. We stayed down there drinking. I heard him cut the engine and he
came down the steps.
"We're going back in," he said.
"What for?"
"Connie's gone into one of her moods. I'm afraid she'll jump overboard.
She won't speak to me. She just sits there staring. She can't swim. I'm
afraid she'll jump over."
(Connie was the one with the rag around her head.)
"Let her jump. I'll go get her out. I'll knock her out, I've still got
my punch and then I'll pull her in. Don't worry about her."
"No, we're going in. Besides, you people have been drinking!"
He went upstairs. I poured some more drinks and lit a cigar.
When we hit dock Willie came down and said he'd be right back. He
wasn't right back. He wasn't back for three days and three nights. He left
all the girls there. He just drove off in his car.
"He's mad," said one of the girls.
"Yeah," said another.
There was plenty of food and liquor there though, so we stayed and
waited for Willie. There were four girls there including Pepper. It was cold
down there no matter how much you drank, no matter how many blankets you got
under. There was only one way to get warm. The girls made a joke of it --
"I'm NEXT!" one of them would holler.
"I think I'm outa come," another would say.
"You think YOU'RE outa come," I said, "how about ME?"
They laughed. Finally I just couldn't make it anymore.
I found I had my green dice on me and we got down on the floor and
started a crap game. Everybody was drunk and the girls had all the money, I
didn't have any money, but soon I had quite a bit of money. They didn't
quite understand the game and I explained it to them as we went along and I
changed the game as we went along to suit the circumstances.
That's how Willie found us when he got back -- shooting craps and
drunk, "I DON'T ALLOW GAMBLING ON THIS SHIP!" he screamed from the top of
the steps.
Connie climbed up the steps, put her arms around him and stuck her long
tongue into his mouth, then grabbed his parts. He came down the steps
smiling, poured a drink, poured drinks for us all and we sat there talking
and laughing, and he talked about an opera he was writing for the organ.
The Emperor of San Francisco. I promised him I'd write the words to
the music and that night we drove back into town everybody drinking and
feeling good. That first trip was almost a carbon of every trip. One night
he died and we were all out in the street again, the girls and myself. Some
sister back east got every dime and I went to work in a dog biscuit factory.
I'm living in someplace on Kingsley Street and working as a shipping
clerk for a place that sold overhead light fixtures.
It was a fairly calm time. I drank a lot of beer each night, often
forgetting to eat. I bought a typewriter, an old second-hand Underwood with
keys that stuck. I hadn't written anything for ten years. I got drunk on
beer and began writing poetry. Pretty soon I had quite a backlog and didn't
know what to do with it. I put the whole works into one envelope and mailed
it to some new magazine in a small town in Texas. I figured that nobody
would take the stuff but at least somebody might get mad, so it wouldn't be
wasted entirely.
I got a letter back, I got two letters back, long letters. They said I
was a genius, they said I was startling, they said I was God. I read the
letters over and over and got drunk and wrote a long letter back. I sent
more poems. I wrote poems and letters every night, I was full of bullshit.
The editoress, who was also a writer of sorts, began sending back
photos of herself and she didn't look bad, not bad at all. The letters began
getting personal. She said nobody would marry her. Her assistant editor, a
young male, said he would marry her for half her inheritance but she said
she didn't have any money, people only thought she had money. The assistant
editor later did a stretch in a mental ward. "Nobody will marry me," she
kept writing, "your poems will be featured in our next edition, an all-
Chinaski edition, and nobody will ever marry me, nobody, you see I have a
deform- ity, it's my neck, I was born this way. I'll never be married."
I was very drunk one night. "Forget it," I wrote, "I will marry you.
Forget about the neck. I am not so hot either. You with your neck and me
with my lion-clawed face -- I can see us walking down the street together!"
I mailed the thing and forgot all about it, drank another can of beer
and went to sleep.
The return mail brought a letter: "Oh, I'm so happy! Everybody looks at
me and they say, 'Niki, what happened to you? You're RADIANT, bursting!!!
What is it?' I won't tell them! Oh, Henry, I'M SO HAPPY!"
She enclosed some photos, particularly ugly photos. I got scared. I
went out and got a fifth of whiskey. I looked at the photos, I drank the
whiskey. I got down on the rug:
"O Lord or Jesus what have I done? What have I done? Well, I'll tell
you what, Boys, I'm going to devote the rest of my life to making this poor
woman happy! It will be hell but I am tough, and what's a better way to go
than making somebody else happy?"
I got up from the rug, not too sure about the last part. . . .
A week later I was waiting in the bus station, I was drunk and waiting
for the arrival of a bus from Texas.
They called the bus over the loudspeaker and I got ready to die. I
watched them coming through the doorway trying to match them up with the
photographs. And then I saw a young blonde, 23, good legs, live walk, and an
innocent and rather snobbish face, pert I'd guess you'd call her, and the
neck was not bad at all. I was 35 then.
I walked up to her.
"Are you Niki?"
"I'm Chinaski. Let me have your suitcase."
We walked out to the parking lot.
"I've been waiting for three hours, nervous, jumpy, going through hell
waiting. All I could do was to have some drinks in the bar."
She put her hand on the hood of the car.
"This engine's still hot. You bastard you just got here!"
I laughed.
"You're right."
We got into the old car and made it on in. Soon we were mar- ried in
Vegas, and it took what money I had for that and the bus fare back to Texas.
I got on the bus with her and I had thirty-five cents left in my
"I don't know if Poppa's gonna like what I did," she said.
"0 Jesus o God," I prayed, "help me be strong, help me be brave!"
She necked and squirmed and twisted all the way to that small Texas
town. We arrived at 2:30 a.m. and as we got off the bus I thought I heard
the bus driver say -- "Who's that bum you got there with you, Niki?"
We stood in the street and I said, "What did that busdriver say? What'd
he say to you?" I asked, rattling my thirty-five cents in my pocket.
"He didn't say anything. Come on with me."
She walked up the steps of a downtown building.
"Hey, where the hell you going?"
She put a key in the door and the door opened. I looked above the door
and carved in the stone were the words: CITY HALL.
We went on in.
"I want to see if I received any mail."
She went into her office and looked through a desk.
"Damn it, no mail!! I'll bet that bitch stole my mail!"
"What bitch? What bitch, baby?"
"I have an enemy. Look, follow me."
We went down the hall and she stopped in front of a doorway. She gave
me a hairpin.
"Here, see if you can pick this lock."
I stood there trying. I saw the headlines:
I couldn't pick the lock.
We walked on down to her place, leaped into bed and went at what we had
been working toward on the bus.
I'd been there a couple of days when the doorbell rang about 9 a.m. one
morning. We were in bed.
"What the hell?" I asked.
"Go get the bell," she said.
I climbed into some clothes and went to the door. A midget was standing
there, and every once in a while he shook all over, he had some type of
malady. He had on a little chauffeur's cap.
"Mr. Chinaski?"
"Mr. Dyer asked me to show you the lands."
"Wait a minute."
I went back on in. "Baby, there's a midget out there and he says a Mr.
Dyer wants to show me the lands. He's a midget and he shakes all over.
"Well, go with him. That's my father."
"Who, the midget?"
"No, Mr. Dyer."
I put on my shoes and stockings and went out on the porch.
"O.k., buddy," I said, "let's go."
We drove all over town and out of town.
"Mr. Dyer owns that," the midget would point, and I'd look, "and Mr.
Dyer owns that," and I'd look.
I didn't say anything.
"All those farms," he said, "Mr. Dyer owns all those farms and he lets
them work the land and they split it down the middle."
The midget drove to a green forest. He pointed.
"See the lake?"
"There's seven lakes in there full of fish. See the turkey walking
"That's wild turkey. Mr. Dyer rents all that out to a fish and game
club which runs it. Of course, Mr. Dyer and any of his friends can go
anytime they want. Do you fish or shoot?"
"I've done a lot of shooting in my time," I told him.
We drove on.
"Mr. Dyer went to school there."
"Oh, yeah?"
"Yup, right in that brick building. Now he's bought it and restored it
as a kind of monument."
We drove back in.
"Thanks," I told him.
"Do you want me to come back tomorrow morning? There's more to see."
"No, thanks, it's all right." I walked back in. I was king again. . .
And it's good to end it right there instead of telling you how I lost
it, although it's something about a Turk who wore a purple stickpin in his
tie and had fine manners and culture. I didn't have a chance. But the Turk
wore off too and the last I heard she was in Alaska married to an Eskimo.
She sent me a picture of her baby, and she said she was still writing and
truly happy. I told her, "Hang tight, baby, it's a crazy world."
And that, as they say, was that.