lilly pulitzer bathroom decor

lilly pulitzer bathroom decor

this is audible harper audio presents ham on rye by charles bukowski performed by christian baskous chapter 1 the first thing i remember is being undersomething. it was a table, i saw a table leg, i saw the legs of the people, and a portionof the tablecloth hanging down. it was dark under there, i liked being under there. itmust have been in germany. i must have been


between one and two years old. it was 1922.i felt good under the table. nobody seemed to know that i was there. there was sunlightupon the rug and on the legs of the people. i liked the sunlight. the legs of the peoplewere not interesting, not like the tablecloth which hung down, not like the table leg, notlike the sunlight. then there is nothing…then a christmas tree.candles. bird ornaments: birds with small berry branches in their beaks. a star. twolarge people fighting, screaming. people eating, always people eating. i ate too. my spoonwas bent so that if i wanted to eat i had to pick the spoon up with my right hand. ifi picked it up with my left hand, the spoon bent away from my mouth. i wanted to pickthe spoon up with my left hand.


two people: one larger with curly hair, abig nose, a big mouth, much eyebrow; the larger person always seeming to be angry, often screaming;the smaller person quiet, round of face, paler, with large eyes. i was afraid of both of them.sometimes there was a third, a fat one who wore dresses with lace at the throat. shewore a large brooch, and had many warts on her face with little hairs growing out ofthem. “emily,” they called her. these people didn’t seem happy together. emilywas the grandmother, my father’s mother. my father’s name was “henry.” my mother’sname was “katherine.” i never spoke to them by name. i was “henry, jr.” thesepeople spoke german most of the time and in the beginning i did too.


the first thing i remember my grandmothersaying was, “i will bury all of you!” she said this the first time just before webegan eating a meal, and she was to say it many times after that, just before we beganto eat. eating seemed very important. we ate mashed potatoes and gravy, especially on sundays.we also ate roast beef, knockwurst and sauerkraut, green peas, rhubarb, carrots, spinach, stringbeans, chicken, meatballs and spaghetti, sometimes mixed with ravioli; there were boiled onions,asparagus, and every sunday there was strawberry shortcake with vanilla ice cream. for breakfastswe had french toast and sausages, or there were hotcakes or waffles with bacon and scrambledeggs on the side. and there was always coffee. but what i remember best is all the mashedpotatoes and gravy and my grandmother, emily,


saying, “i will bury all of you!” she visited us often after we came to america,taking the red trolley in from pasadena to los angeles. we only went to see her occasionally,driving out in the model-t ford. i liked my grandmother’s house. it was asmall house under an overhanging mass of pepper trees. emily had all her canaries in differentcages. i remember one visit best. that evening she went about covering the cages with whitehoods so that the birds could sleep. the people sat in chairs and talked. there was a pianoand i sat at the piano and hit the keys and listened to the sounds as the people talked.i liked the sound of the keys best up at one end of the piano where there was hardly anysound at all—the sound the keys made was


like chips of ice striking against one another. “will you stop that?” my father said loudly. “let the boy play the piano,” said mygrandmother. my mother smiled. “that boy,” said my grandmother, “wheni tried to pick him up out of the cradle to kiss him, he reached up and hit me in thenose!” they talked some more and i went on playingthe piano. “why don’t you get that thing tuned?”asked my father. then i was told that we were going to seemy grandfather. my grandfather and grandmother


were not living together. i was told thatmy grandfather was a bad man, that his breath stank. “why does his breath stink?” they didn’t answã©r. “he drinks.” we got into the model-t and drove over tosee my grandfather leonard. as we drove up and stopped he was standing on the porch ofhis house. he was old but he stood very straight. he had been an army officer in germany andhad come to america when he heard that the streets were paved with gold. they weren’t,so he became the head of a construction firm.


the other people didn’t get out of the car.grandfather wiggled a finger at me. somebody opened a door and i climbed out and walkedtoward him. his hair was pure white and long and his beard was pure white and long, andas i got closer i saw that his eyes were brilliant, like blue lights watching me. i stopped alittle distance away from him. “henry,” he said, “you and i, we knoweach other. come into the house.” he held out his hand. as i got closer i couldsmell the stink of his breath. it was very strong but he was the most beautiful man ihad ever seen and i wasn’t afraid. i went into his house with him. he led meto a chair. “sit down, please. i’m very happy to seeyou.”


he went into another room. then he came outwith a little tin box. “it’s for you. open it.” i had trouble with the lid, i couldn’t openthe box. “here,” he said, “let me have it.” he loosened the lid and handed the tin boxback to me. i lifted the lid and here was this cross, a german cross with a ribbon. “oh no,” i said, “you keep it.” “it’s yours,” he said, “it’s justa gummy badge.” “thank you.”


“you better go now. they will be worried.” “all right. goodbye.” “goodbye, henry. no, wait…” i stopped. he reached into a small front pocketof his pants with a couple of fingers, and tugged at a long gold chain with his otherhand. then he handed me his gold pocket watch, with the chain. “thank you, grandfather…” they were waiting outside and i got into themodel-t and we drove off. they all talked about many things as we drove along. theywere always talking, and they talked all the


way back to my grandmother’s house. theyspoke of many things but never, once, of my grandfather. 2 i remember the model-t. sitting high, therunning boards seemed friendly, and on cold days, in the mornings, and often at othertimes, my father had to fit the hand-crank into the front of the engine and crank itmany times in order to start the car. “a man can get a broken arm doing this.it kicks back like a horse.” we went for sunday rides in the model-t whengrandmother didn’t visit. my parents liked the orange groves, miles and miles of orangetrees always either in blossom or full of


oranges. my parents had a picnic basket anda metal chest. in the metal chest were frozen cans of fruit on dry ice, and in the picnicbasket were weenie and liverwurst and salami sandwiches, potato chips, bananas and soda-pop.the soda-pop was shifted continually back and forth between the metal box and the picnicbasket. it froze quickly, and then had to be thawed. my father smoked camel cigarettes and he knewmany tricks and games which he showed us with the packages of camel cigarettes. how manypyramids were there? count them. we would count them and then he would show us moreof them. there were also tricks about the humps onthe camels and about the written words on


the package. camel cigarettes were magic cigarettes. there was a particular sunday i can recall.the picnic basket was empty. yet we still drove along through the orange groves, furtherand further away from where we lived. “daddy,” my mother asked, “aren’twe going to run out of gas?” “no, there’s plenty of god-damned gas.” “where are we going?” “i’m going to get me some god-damned oranges!” my mother sat very still as we drove along.my father pulled up alongside the road, parked near a wire fence and we sat there, listening.then my father kicked the door open and got


out. “bring the basket.” we all climbed through the strands of thefence. “follow me,” said my father. then we were between two rows of orange trees,shaded from the sun by the branches and the leaves. my father stopped and reaching upbegan yanking oranges from the lower branches of the nearest tree. he seemed angry, yankingthe oranges from the tree, and the branches seemed angry, leaping up and down. he threwthe oranges into the picnic basket which my mother held. sometimes he missed and i chasedthe oranges and put them into the basket.


my father went from tree to tree, yankingat the lower branches, throwing the oranges into the picnic basket. “daddy, we have enough,” said my mother. “like hell.” he kept yanking. then a man stepped forward, a very tall man.he held a shotgun. “all right, buddy, what do you think you’redoing?” “i’m picking oranges. there are plentyof oranges.” “these are my oranges. now, listen to me,tell your woman to dump them.”


“there are plenty of god-damned oranges.you’re not going to miss a few god-damned oranges.” “i’m not going to miss any oranges. tellyour woman to dump them.” the man pointed his shotgun at my father. “dump them,” my father told my mother. the oranges rolled to the ground. “now,” said the man, “get out of myorchard.” “you don’t need all these oranges.” “i know what i need. now get out of here.”


“guys like you ought to be hung!” “i’m the law here. now move!” the man raised his shotgun again. my fatherturned and began walking out of the orange grove. we followed him and the man trailedus. then we got into the car but it was one of those times when it wouldn’t start. myfather got out of the car to crank it. he cranked it twice and it wouldn’t start.my father was beginning to sweat. the man stood at the edge of the road. “get that god-damned cracker box started!”he said. my father got ready to twist the crank again.“we’re not on your property! we can stay


here as long as we damn well please!” “like hell! get that thing out of here,and fast!” my father cranked the engine again. it sputtered,then stopped. my mother sat with the empty picnic box on her lap. i was afraid to lookat the man. my father whirled the crank again and the engine started. he leaped into thecar and began working the levers on the steering wheel. “don’t come back,” said the man, “ornext time it might not go so easy for you.” my father drove the model-t off. the man wasstill standing near the road. my father was driving very fast. then he slowed the carand made a u-turn. he drove back to where


the man had stood. the man was gone. we speededback on the way out of the orange groves. “i’m coming back some day and get thatbastard,” said my father. “daddy, we’ll have a nice dinner tonight.what would you like?” my mother asked. “pork chops,” he answered. i had never seen him drive the car that fast. 3 my father had two brothers. the younger wasnamed ben and the older was named john. both were alcoholics and ne’er-do-wells. my parentsoften spoke of them. “neither of them amount to anything,”said my father.


“you just come from a bad family, daddy,”said my mother. “and your brother doesn’t amount to adamn either!” my mother’s brother was in germany. my fatheroften spoke badly of him. i had another uncle, jack, who was marriedto my father’s sister, elinore. i had never seen my uncle jack or my aunt elinore becausethere were bad feelings between them and my father. “see this scar on my hand?” asked my father.“well, that’s where elinore stuck me with a sharp pencil when i was very young. thatscar has never gone away.” my father didn’t like people. he didn’tlike me. “children should be seen and not


heard,” he told me. it was an early sunday afternoon without grandmaemily. “we should go see ben,” said my mother.“he’s dying.” “he borrowed all that money from emily.he pissed it away on gambling and women and booze.” “i know, daddy.” “emily won’t have any money left whenshe dies.” “we should still go see ben. they say hehas only two weeks left.” “all right, all right! we’ll go!”


so we went and got into the model-t and starteddriving. it took some time, and my mother had to stop for flowers. it was a long drivetoward the mountains. we reached the foothills and took the little winding mountain roadupwards. uncle ben was in a sanitarium up there, dying of tb. “it must cost emily a lot of money to keepben up here,” said my father. “maybe leonard is helping.” “leonard doesn’t have anything. he drankit up and he gave it away.” “i like grandpa leonard,” i said. “children should be seen and not heard,”said my father. then he continued, “ah,


that leonard, the only time he was good tous children was when he was drunk. he’d joke with us and give us money. but the nextday when he was sober he was the meanest man in the world.” the model-t was climbing the mountain roadnicely. the air was clear and sunny. “here it is,” said my father. he guidedthe car into the parking lot of the sanitarium and we got out. i followed my mother and fatherinto the building. as we entered his room, my uncle ben was sitting upright in bed, staringout the window. he turned and looked at us as we entered. he was a very handsome man,thin, with black hair, and he had dark eyes which glittered, were brilliant with glitteringlight.


“hello, ben,” said my mother. “hello, katy.” then he looked at me. “isthis henry?” “yes.” “sit down.” my father and i sat down. my mother stood there. “these flowers, ben.i don’t see a vase.” “they’re nice flowers, thanks, katy. no,there isn’t a vase.” “i’ll go get a vase,” said my mother. she left the room, holding the flowers.


“where are all your girlfriends now, ben?”asked my father. “they come around.” “i’ll bet.” “we’re here because katherine wanted tosee you.” “i know.” “i wanted to see you too, uncle ben. i thinkyou’re a real pretty man.” “pretty like my ass,” said my father. my mother entered the room with the flowersin a vase. “here, i’ll put them on this table bythe window.”


“they’re nice flowers, katy.” my mother sat down. “we can’t stay too long,” said my father. uncle ben reached under the mattress and hishand came out holding a pack of cigarettes. he took one out, struck a match and lit it.he took a long drag and exhaled. “you know you’re not allowed cigarettes,”said my father. “i know how you get them. those prostitutes bring them to you. well,i’m going to tell the doctors about it and i’m going to get them to stop letting thoseprostitutes in here!” “you’re not going to do shit,” saidmy uncle.


“i got a good mind to rip that cigaretteout of your mouth!” said my father. “you never had a good mind,” said my uncle. “ben,” my mother said,” “you shouldn’tsmoke, it will kill you.” “i’ve had a good life,” said my uncle. “you never had a good life,” said my father.“lying, boozing, borrowing, whoring, drinking. you never worked a day in your life! and nowyou’re dying at the age of 24!” “it’s been all right,” said my uncle.he took another heavy drag on the camel, then exhaled. “let’s get out of here,” said my father.“this man is insane!”


my father stood up. then my mother stood up.then i stood up. “goodbye, katy,” said my uncle, “andgoodbye, henry.” he looked at me to indicate which henry. we followed my father through the sanitariumhalls and out into the parking lot to the model-t. we got in, it started, and we begandown the winding road out of the mountains. “we should have stayed longer,” said mymother. “don’t you know that tb is catching?”asked my father. “i think he was a very pretty man,” isaid. “it’s the disease,” said my father.“it makes them look like that. and besides


the tb, he’s caught many other things too.” “what kind of things?” i asked. “i can’t tell you,” my father answered.he steered the model-t down the winding mountain road as i wondered about that. 4 it was another sunday that we got into themodel-t in search of my uncle john. “he has no ambition,” said my father.“i don’t see how he can hold his god-damned head up and look people in the eye.” “i wish he wouldn’t chew tobacco,” saidmy mother. “he spits the stuff everywhere.”


“if this country was full of men like himthe chinks would take over and we’d be running the laundries…” “john never had a chance,” said my mother.“he ran away from home early. at least you got a high school education.” “college,” said my father. “where?” asked my mother. “the university of indiana.” “jack said you only went to high school.” “jack only went to high school. that’swhy he gardens for the rich.”


“am i ever going to see my uncle jack?”i asked. “first let’s see if we can find your unclejohn,” said my father. “do the chinks really want to take overthis country?” i asked. “those yellow devils have been waiting forcenturies to do it. what’s stopped them is that they have been kept busy fightingthe japs.” “who are the best fighters, the chinks orthe japs?” “the japs. the trouble is that there aretoo many chinks. when you kill a chink he splits in half and becomes two chinks.” “how come their skin is yellow?”


“because instead of drinking water theydrink their own pee-pee.” “daddy, don’t tell the boy that!” “then tell him to stop asking questions.” we drove along through another warm los angelesday. my mother had on one of her pretty dresses and fancy hats. when my mother was dressedup she always sat straight and held her neck very stiff. “i wish we had enough money so we couldhelp john and his family,” said my mother. “it’s not my fault if they don’t havea pot to piss in,” answered my father. “daddy, john was in the war just like youwere. don’t you think he deserves something?”


“he never rose in the ranks. i became amaster sergeant.” “henry, all your brothers can’t be likeyou.” “they don’t have any god-damned drive!they think they can live off the land!” we drove along a bit further. uncle john andhis family lived in a small court. we went up the cracked sidewalk to a sagging porchand my father pushed the bell. the bell didn’t ring. he knocked, loudly. “open up! it’s the cops!” my fatheryelled. “daddy, stop it!” said my mother. after what seemed a long time, the door openeda crack. then it opened further. and we could


see my aunt anna. she was very thin, her cheekswere hollow and her eyes had pouches, dark pouches. her voice was thin, too. “oh, henry…katherine…come in, please…” we followed her in. there was very littlefurniture. there was a breakfast nook with a table and four chairs and there were twobeds. my mother and father sat in the chairs. two girls, katherine and betsy (i learnedtheir names later) were at the sink taking turns trying to scrape peanut butter out ofa nearly empty peanut butter jar. “we were just having lunch,” said my auntanna. the girls came over with tiny smears of peanutbutter which they spread on dry pieces of


bread. they kept looking into the jar andscraping with the knife. “where’s john?” asked my father. my aunt sat down wearily. she looked veryweak, very pale. her dress was dirty, her hair uncombed, tired, sad. “we’ve been waiting for him. we haven’tseen him for quite some time.” “where did he go?” “i don’t know. he just left on his motorcycle.” “all he does,” said my father, “is thinkabout his motorcycle.” “is this henry, jr.?”


“he just stares. he’s so quiet.” “that’s the way we want him.” “still water runs deep.” “not with this one. the only thing thatruns deep with him are the holes in his ears.” the two girls took their slices of bread andwalked outside and sat on the stoop to eat them. they hadn’t spoken to us. i thoughtthey were quite nice. they were thin like their mother but they were still quite pretty. “how are you, anna?” asked my mother. “i’m all right.”


“anna, you don’t look well. i think youneed food.” “why doesn’t your boy sit down? sit down,henry.” “he likes to stand,” said my father. “itmakes him strong. he’s getting ready to fight the chinks.” “don’t you like the chinese?” my auntasked me. “no,” i answered. “well, anna,” my father asked, “howare things going?” “awful, really…the landlord keeps askingfor the rent. he gets very nasty. he frightens me. i don’t know what to do.”


“i hear the cops are after john,” saidmy father. “he didn’t do very much.” “what did he do?” “he made some counterfeit dimes.” “dimes? jesus christ, what kind of ambitionis that?” “john really doesn’t want to be bad.” “seems to me he doesn’t want to be anything.” “he would if he could.” “yeah. and if a frog had wings he wouldn’twear his ass out a-hoppin’!”


there was silence then and they sat there.i turned and looked outside. the girls were gone from the porch, they had gone off somewhere. “come, sit down, henry,” said my auntanna. i stood there. “thank you, it’s all right.” “anna,” my mother asked, “are you surethat john will come back?” “he’ll come back when he gets tired ofthe hens,” said my father. “john loves his children…” said anna. “i hear the cops are after him for somethingelse.” “what?”


“rape.” “rape?” “yes, anna, i heard about it. he was ridinghis motorcycle one day. this young girl was hitch-hiking. she got onto the back of hismotorcycle and as they rode along all of a sudden john saw an empty garage. he drovein there, closed the door and raped the girl.” “how did you find out?” “find out? the cops came and told me, theyasked me where he was.” “did you tell them?” “what for? to have him go to jail and evadehis responsibilities? that’s just what he’d


want.” “i never thought of it that way.” “not that i’m for rape…” “sometimes a man can’t help what he does.” “i mean, after having the children, andwith this type of life, the worry and all…i don’t look so good anymore. he saw a younggirl, she looked good to him…she got on his bike, you know, she put her arms aroundhim…” “what?” asked my father. “how wouldyou like to be raped?” “i guess i wouldn’t like it.”


“well, i’m sure the young girl didn’tlike it either.” a fly appeared and whirled around and aroundthe table. we watched it. “there’s nothing to eat here,” saidmy father. “the fly has come to the wrong place.” the fly became more and more bold. it circledcloser and made buzzing sounds. the closer it circled the louder the buzzing became. “you’re not going to tell the cops thatjohn might come home?” my aunt asked my “i am not going to let him off the hookso easily,” said my father. my mother’s hand leaped quickly. it closedand she brought her hand back down to the


table. “i got him,” she said. “got what?” asked my father. “the fly,” she smiled. “i don’t believe you…” “you see the fly anywhere? the fly is gone.” “it flew off.” “no, i have it in my hand.” “nobody is that quick.”


“i have it in my hand.” “bullshit.” “you don’t believe me?” “no.” “open your mouth.” “all right.” my father opened his mouth and my mother cuppedher hand over it. my father leaped up, grabbing at his throat. “jesus christ!”


the fly came out of his mouth and began circlingthe table again. “that’s enough,” said my father, “we’regoing home!” he got up and walked out the door and downthe walk and got into the model-t and just sat there very stiffly, looking dangerous. “we brought you a few cans of food,” mymother said to my aunt. “i’m sorry it can’t be money but henry is afraid johnwill use it for gin, or for gasoline for his motorcycle. it isn’t much: soup, hash, peas…” “oh, katherine, thank you! thank you, both…” my mother got up and i followed her. therewere two boxes of canned food in the car.


i saw my father sitting there rigidly. hewas still angry. my mother handed me the smaller box of cansand she took the large box and i followed her back into the court. we set the boxesdown in the breakfast nook. aunt anna came over and picked up a can. it was a can ofpeas, the label on it covered with little round green peas. “this is lovely,” said my aunt. “anna, we have to go. henry’s dignityis upset.” my aunt threw her arms around my mother. “everythinghas been so awful. but this is like a dream. wait until the girls come home. wait untilthe girls see all these cans of food!”


my mother hugged my aunt back. then they separated. “john is not a bad man,” my aunt said. “i know,” my mother answered. “goodbye,anna.” “goodbye, katherine. goodbye, henry.” my mother turned and walked out the door.i followed her. we walked to the car and got in. my father started the car. as we were driving off i saw my aunt at thedoor waving. my mother waved back. my father didn’t wave back. i didn’t either. 5


i had begun to dislike my father. he was alwaysangry about something. wherever we went he got into arguments with people. but he didn’tappear to frighten most people; they often just stared at him, calmly, and he becamemore furious. if we ate out, which was seldom, he always found something wrong with the foodand sometimes refused to pay. “there’s flyshit in this whipped cream! what the hellkind of a place is this?” “i’m sorry, sir, you needn’t pay. justleave.” “i’ll leave, all right! but i’ll beback! i’ll burn this god-damned place down!” once we were in a drug store and my motherand i were standing to one side while my father yelled at a clerk. another clerk asked mymother, “who is that horrible man? every


time he comes in here there’s an argument.” “that’s my husband,” my mother toldthe clerk. yet, i remember another time. he was workingas a milkman and made early morning deliveries. one morning he awakened me. “come on, iwant to show you something.” i walked outside with him. i was wearing my pajamas and slippers.it was still dark, the moon was still up. we walked to the milk wagon which was horsedrawn.the horse stood very still. “watch,” said my father. he took a sugar cube, put it inhis hand and held it out to the horse. the horse ate it out of his palm. “now you tryit…” he put a sugar cube in my hand. it was a very large horse. “get closer! holdout your hand!” i was afraid the horse would


bite my hand off. the head came down; i sawthe nostrils; the lips pulled back, i saw the tongue and the teeth, and then the sugarcube was gone. “here. try it again…” i tried it again. the horse took the sugarcube and waggled his head. “now,” said my father, “i’ll take you back insidebefore the horse shits on you.” i was not allowed to play with other children.“they are bad children,” said my father, “their parents are poor.” “yes,” agreedmy mother. my parents wanted to be rich so they imagined themselves rich. the first children of my age that i knew werein kindergarten. they seemed very strange, they laughed and talked and seemed happy.i didn’t like them. i always felt as if


i was going to be sick, to vomit, and theair seemed strangely still and white. we painted with watercolors. we planted radish seedsin a garden and some weeks later we ate them with salt. i liked the lady who taught kindergarten,i liked her better than my parents. one problem i had was going to the bathroom. i alwaysneeded to go to the bathroom, but i was ashamed to let the others know that i had to go, soi held it. it was really terrible to hold it. and the air was white, i felt like vomiting,i felt like shitting and pissing, but i didn’t say anything. and when some of the otherscame back from the bathroom i’d think, you’re dirty, you did something in there… the little girls were nice in their shortdresses, with their long hair and their beautiful


eyes, but i thought, they do things in theretoo, even though they pretend they don’t. kindergarten was mostly white air… grammar school was different, first gradeto sixth grade, some of the kids were twelve years old, and we all came from poor neighborhoods.i began to go to the bathroom, but only to piss. coming out once i saw a small boy drinkingat a water fountain. a larger boy walked up behind him and jammed his face down into thewater jet. when the small boy raised his head, some of his teeth were broken and blood cameout of his mouth, there was blood in the fountain. “you tell anyone about this,” the olderboy told him, “and i’ll really get you.” the boy took out a handkerchief and held itto his mouth. i walked back to class where


the teacher was telling us about george washingtonand valley forge. she wore an elaborate white wig. she often slapped the palms of our handswith a ruler when she thought we were being disobedient. i don’t think she ever wentto the bathroom. i hated her. each afternoon after school there would bea fight between two of the older boys. it was always out by the back fence where therewas never a teacher about. and the fights were never even; it was always a larger boyagainst a smaller boy and the larger boy would beat the smaller boy with his fists, backinghim into the fence. the smaller boy would attempt to fight back but it was useless.soon his face was bloody, the blood running down into his shirt. the smaller boys tooktheir beatings wordlessly, never begging,


never asking mercy. finally, the larger boywould back off and it would be over and all the other boys would walk home with the winner.i’d walk home quickly, alone, after holding my shit all through school and all throughthe fight. usually by the time i got home i would have lost the urge to relieve myself.i used to worry about that. 6 i didn’t have any friends at school, didn’twant any. i felt better being alone. i sat on a bench and watched the others play andthey looked foolish to me. during lunch one day i was approached by a new boy. he woreknickers, was cross-eyed and pigeon-toed. i didn’t like him, he didn’t look good.he sat on the bench next to me.


“hello, my name’s david.” i didn’t answer. he opened his lunch bag. “i’ve got peanutbutter sandwiches,” he said. “what do you have?” “peanut butter sandwiches.” “i’ve got a banana, too. and some potatochips. want some potato chips?” i took some. he had plenty, they were crispand salty, the sun shone right through them. they were good. “can i have some more?”


i took some more. he even had jelly on hispeanut butter sandwiches. it dripped out and ran over his fingers. david didn’t seemto notice. “where do you live?” he asked. “virginia road.” “i live on pickford. we can walk home togetherafter school. take some more potato chips. who’s your teacher?” “mrs. columbine.” “i have mrs. reed. i’ll see you afterclass, we’ll walk home together.” why did he wear those knickers? what did hewant? i really didn’t like him. i took some


more of his potato chips. that afternoon, after school, he found meand began walking along beside me. “you never told me your name,” he said. “henry,” i answered. as we walked along i noticed a whole gangof boys, first graders, following us. at first they were half a block behind us, then theyclosed the gap to several yards behind us. “what do they want?” i asked david. he didn’t answer, just kept walking. “hey, knicker-shitter!” one of them yelled.“your mother make you shit in your knickers?”


“pigeon-toe, ho-ho, pigeon-toe!” “cross-eye! get ready to die!” then they circled us. “who’s your friend? does he kiss yourrear end?” one of them had david by the collar. he threwhim onto a lawn. david stood up. a boy got down behind him on his hands and knees. theother boy shoved him and david fell over backwards. another boy rolled him over and rubbed hisface in the grass. then they stepped back. david got up again. he didn’t make a soundbut the tears were rolling down his face. the largest boy walked up to him. “we don’twant you in our school, sissy. get out of


our school!” he punched david in the stomach.david bent over and as he did, the boy brought his knee up into david’s face. david fell.he had a bloody nose. then the boys circled me. “your turn now!”they kept circling and as they did i kept turning. there were always some of them behindme. here i was loaded with shit and i had to fight. i was terrified and calm at thesame time. i didn’t understand their motive. they kept circling and i kept turning. itwent on and on. they screamed things at me but i didn’t hear what they said. finallythey backed off and went away down the street. david was waiting for me. we walked down thesidewalk toward his place on pickford street. then we were in front of his house.


“i’ve got to go in now. goodbye.” “goodbye, david.” he went in and then i heard his mother’svoice. “david! look at your knickers and shirt! they’re torn and full of grass stains!you do this almost every day! tell me, why do you do it?” david didn’t answer. “i asked you a question! why do you do thisto your clothes?” “i can’t help it, mom…” “you can’t help it? you stupid boy!”


i heard her beating him. david began to cryand she beat him harder. i stood on the front lawn and listened. after a while the beatingstopped. i could hear david sobbing. then he stopped. his mother said, “now, i want you to practiceyour violin lesson.” i sat down on the lawn and waited. then iheard the violin. it was a very sad violin. i didn’t like the way david played. i satand listened for some time but the music didn’t get any better. the shit had hardened insideof me. i no longer felt like shitting. the afternoon light hurt my eyes. i felt likevomiting. i got up and walked home. 7


there were continual fights. the teachersdidn’t seem to know anything about them. and there was always trouble when it rained.any boy who brought an umbrella to school or wore a raincoat was singled out. most ofour parents were too poor to buy us such things. and when they did, we hid them in the bushes.anybody seen carrying an umbrella or wearing a raincoat was considered a sissy. they werebeaten after school. david’s mother had him carry an umbrella whenever it was theleast bit cloudy. there were two recess periods. the first gradersgathered at their own baseball diamond and the teams were chosen. david and i stood together.it was always the same. i was chosen next to last and david was chosen last, so we alwaysplayed on different teams. david was worse


than i was. with his crossed eyes, he couldn’teven see the ball. i needed lots of practice. i had never played with the kids in the neighborhood.i didn’t know how to catch a ball or how to hit one. but i wanted to, i liked it. davidwas afraid of the ball, i wasn’t. i swung hard, i swung harder than anybody but i couldnever hit the ball. i always struck out. once i fouled a ball off. that felt good. anothertime i drew a walk. when i got to first, the first baseman said, “that’s the only wayyou’ll ever get here.” i stood and looked at him. he was chewing gum and he had longblack hairs coming out of his nostrils. his hair was thick with vaseline. he wore a perpetualsneer. “what are you looking at?” he asked me.


i didn’t know what to say. i wasn’t usedto conversation. “the guys say you’re crazy,” he toldme, “but you don’t scare me. i’ll be waiting for you after school some day.” i kept looking at him. he had a terrible face.then the pitcher wound up and i broke for second. i ran like crazy and slid into second.the ball arrived late. the tag was late. “you’re out!” screamed the boy whoseturn it was to umpire. i got up, not believing it. “i said, ‘you’re out!’” the umpirescreã med. then i knew that i was not accepted. davidand i were not accepted. the others wanted


me “out” because i was supposed to be“out.” they knew david and i were friends. it was because of david that i wasn’t wanted.as i walked off the diamond i saw david playing third base in his knickers. his blue and yellowstockings had fallen down around his feet. why had he chosen me? i was a marked man.that afternoon after school i quickly left class and walked home alone, without david.i didn’t want to watch him beaten again by our classmates or by his mother. i didn’twant to listen to his sad violin. but the next day at lunch time, when he sat down nextto me i ate his potato chips. my day came. i was tall and i felt very powerfulat the plate. i couldn’t believe that i was as bad as they wished me to be. i swungwildly but with force. i knew i was strong,


and maybe like they said, “crazy.” buti had this feeling inside of me that something real was there. just hardened shit, maybe,but that was more than they had. i was up at bat. “hey, it’s the strikeout king!mr. windmill!” the ball arrived. i swung and i felt the bat connect like i had wantedit to do for so long. the ball went up, up and high, into left field, ’way over theleft fielder’s head. his name was don brubaker and he stood and watched it fly over his head.it looked like it was never going to come down. then brubaker started running afterthe ball. he wanted to throw me out. he would never do it. the ball landed and rolled ontoa diamond where some 5th graders were playing. i ran slowly to first, hit the bag, lookedat the guy on first, ran slowly to second,


touched it, ran to third where david stood,ignored him, tagged third and walked to home plate. never such a day. never such a homerun by a first grader! as i stepped on home plate i heard one of the players, irving bone,say to the team captain, stanley greenberg, “let’s put him on the regular team.”(the regular team played teams from other schools.) “no,” said stanley greenberg. stanley was right. i never hit another homerun. i struck out most of the time. but they always remembered that home run and whilethey still hated me, it was a better kind of hatred, like they weren’t quite surewhy.


football season was worse. we played touchfootball. i couldn’t catch the football or throw it but i got into one game. whenthe runner came through i grabbed him by the shirt collar and threw him on the ground.when he started to get up, i kicked him. i didn’t like him. it was the first basemanwith vaseline in his hair and the hair in his nostrils. stanley greenberg came over.he was larger than any of us. he could have killed me if he’d wanted to. he was ourleader. whatever he said, that was it. he told me, “you don’t understand the rules.no more football for you.” i was moved into volleyball. i played volleyballwith david and the others. it wasn’t any good. they yelled and screamed and got excited,but the others were playing football. i wanted


to play football. all i needed was a littlepractice. volleyball was shameful. girls played volleyball. after a while i wouldn’t play.i just stood in the center of the field where nobody was playing. i was the only one whowould not play anything. i stood there each day and waited through the two recess sessions,until they were over. one day while i was standing there, more troublecame. a football sailed from high behind me and hit me on the head. it knocked me to theground. i was very dizzy. they stood around snickering and laughing. “oh, look, henryfainted! henry fainted like a lady! oh, look at henry!” i got up while the sun spun around. then itstood still. the sky moved closer and flattened


out. it was like being in a cage. they stoodaround me, faces, noses, mouths and eyes. because they were taunting me i thought theyhad deliberately hit me with the football. it was unfair. “who kicked that ball?” i asked. “you wanna know who kicked the ball?” “what are you going to do when you findout?” “it was billy sherril,” somebody said. billy was a round fat boy, really nicer thanmost, but he was one of them. i began walking toward billy. he stood there. when i got closehe swung. i almost didn’t feel it. i hit


him behind his left ear and when he grabbedhis ear i hit him in the stomach. he fell to the ground. he stayed down. “get up andfight him, billy,” said stanley greenberg. stanley lifted billy up and pushed him towardme. i punched billy in the mouth and he grabbed his mouth with both hands. “o.k.,” said stanley, “i’ll take hisplace!” the boys cheered. i decided to run, i didn’twant to die. but then a teacher came up. “what’s going on here?” it was mr. hall. “henry picked on billy,” said stanleygreenberg. “is that right, boys?” asked mr. hall.


“yes,” they said. mr. hall took me by the ear all the way tothe principal’s office. he pushed me into a chair in front of an empty desk and thenknocked on the principal’s door. he was in there for some time and when he came outhe left without looking at me. i sat there five or ten minutes before the principal cameout and sat behind the desk. he was a very dignified man with a mass of white hair anda blue bow tie. he looked like a real gentleman. his name was mr. knox. mr. knox folded hishands and looked at me without speaking. when he did that i was not so sure that he wasa gentleman. he seemed to want to humble me, treat me like the others.


“well,” he said at last, “tell me whathappened.” “nothing happened.” “you hurt that boy, billy sherril. his parentsare going to want to know why.” “do you think you can take matters intoyour own hands when something happens you don’t like?” “then why did you do it?” “do you think you’re better than otherpeople?” mr. knox sat there. he had a long letter openerand he slid it back and forth on the green felt padding of the desk. he had a large bottleof green ink on his desk and a pen holder


with four pens. i wondered if he would beatme. “then why did you do what you did?” i didn’t answer. mr. knox slid the letteropener back and forth. the phone rang. he picked it up. “hello? oh, mrs. kirby? he what? what? listen,can’t you administer the discipline? i’m busy now. all right, i’ll phone you wheni’m done with this one…” he hung up. he brushed his fine white hairback out of his eyes with one hand and looked at me. “why do you cause me all this trouble?”


i didn’t answer him. “you think you’re tough, huh?” i kept silent. “tough kid, huh?” there was a fly circling mr. knox’s desk.it hovered over his green ink bottle. then it landed on the black cap of the ink bottleand sat there rubbing its wings. “o.k., kid, you’re tough and i’m tough.let’s shake hands on that.” i didn’t think i was tough so i didn’tgive him my hand. “come on, give me your hand.”


i stretched my hand out and he took it andbegan shaking it. then he stopped shaking it and looked at me. he had blue clear eyeslighter than the blue of his bow tie. his eyes were almost beautiful. he kept lookingat me and holding my hand. his grip began to tighten. “i want to congratulate you for being atough guy.” his grip tightened some more. “do you think i’m a tough guy?” he crushed the bones of my fingers together.i could feel the bone of each finger cutting like a blade into the flesh of the fingernext to it. shots of red flashed before my


eyes. “do you think i’m a tough guy?” he asked. “i’ll kill you,” i said. “you’ll what?” mr. knox tightened his grip. he had a handlike a vise. i could see every pore in his face. “tough guys don’t scream, do they?” i couldn’t look at his face anymore. i putmy face down on the desk. “am i a tough guy?” asked mr. knox.


he squeezed harder. i had to scream, but ikept it as quiet as possible so no one in the classes could hear me. “now, am i a tough guy?” i waited. i hated to say it. then i said,“yes.” mr. knox let go of my hand. i was afraid tolook at it. i let it hang by my side. i noticed that the fly was gone and i thought, it’snot so bad to be a fly. mr. knox was writing on a piece of paper. “now, henry, i’m writing a little noteto your parents and i want you to deliver it to them. and you will deliver it to them,won’t you?”


he folded the note into an envelope and handedit to me. the envelope was sealed and i had no desire to open it. 8 i took the envelope home to my mother andhanded it to her and walked into the bedroom. my bedroom. the best thing about the bedroomwas the bed. i liked to stay in bed for hours, even during the day with the covers pulledup to my chin. it was good in there, nothing ever occurred in there, no people, nothing.my mother often found me in bed in the daytime. “henry, get up! it’s not good for a youngboy to lay in bed all day! now, get up! do something!”


but there was nothing to do. i didn’t go to bed that day. my mother wasreading the note. soon i heard her crying. then she was wailing. “oh, my god! you’vedisgraced your father and myself! it’s a disgrace! suppose the neighbors find out?what will the neighbors think?” they never spoke to their neighbors. then the door opened and my mother came runninginto the room: “how could you have done this to your mother?” the tears were running down her face. i feltguilty. “wait until your father gets home!”


she slammed the bedroom door and i sat inthe chair and waited. somehow i felt guilty… i heard my father come in. he always slammedthe door, walked heavily, and talked loudly. he was home. after a few moments the bedroomdoor opened. he was six feet two, a large man. everything vanished, the chair i wassitting in, the wallpaper, the walls, all of my thoughts. he was the dark covering thesun, the violence of him made everything else utterly disappear. he was all ears, nose,mouth, i couldn’t look at his eyes, there was only his red angry face. “all right, henry. into the bathroom.” i walked in and he closed the door behindus. the walls were white. there was a bathroom


mirror and a small window, the screen blackand broken. there was the bathtub and the toilet and the tiles. he reached and tookdown the razor strop which hung from a hook. it was going to be the first of many suchbeatings, which would recur more and more often. always, i felt, without real reason. “all right, take down your pants.” i took my pants down. “pull down your shorts.” i pulled them down. then he laid on the strop. the first blowinflicted more shock than pain. the second


hurt more. each blow which followed increasedthe pain. at first i was aware of the walls, the toilet, the tub. finally i couldn’tsee anything. as he beat me, he berated me, but i couldn’t understand the words. i thoughtabout his roses, how he grew roses in the yard. i thought about his automobile in thegarage. i tried not to scream. i knew that if i did scream he might stop, but knowingthis, and knowing his desire for me to scream, prevented me. the tears ran from my eyes asi remained silent. after a while it all became just a whirlpool, a jumble, and there wasonly the deadly possibility of being there forever. finally, like something jerked intoaction, i began to sob, swallowing and choking on the salt slime that ran down my throat.he stopped.


he was no longer there. i became aware ofthe little window again and the mirror. there was the razor strop hanging from the hook,long and brown and twisted. i couldn’t bend over to pull up my pants or my shorts andi walked to the door, awkwardly, my clothes around my feet. i opened the bathroom doorand there was my mother standing in the hall. “it wasn’t right,” i told her. “whydidn’t you help me?” “the father,” she said, “is always right.” then my mother walked away. i went to my bedroom,dragging my clothing around my feet and sat on the edge of the bed. the mattress hurtme. outside, through the rear screen i could see my father’s roses growing. they werered and white and yellow, large and full.


the sun was very low but not yet set and thelast of it slanted through the rear window. i felt that even the sun belonged to my father,that i had no right to it because it was shining upon my father’s house. i was like his roses,something that belonged to him and not to me… 9 by the time they called me to dinner i wasable to pull up my clothing and walk to the breakfast nook where we ate all our mealsexcept on sunday. there were two pillows on my chair. i sat on them but my legs and assstill burned. my father was talking about his job, as always.


“i told sullivan to combine three routesinto two and let one man go from each shift. nobody is really pulling their weight aroundthere…” “they ought to listen to you, daddy,”said my mother. “please,” i said, “please excuse mebut i don’t feel like eating… “you’ll eat your food!” said my father.“your mother prepared this food!” “yes,” said my mother, “carrots andpeas and roast beef.” “and the mashed potatoes and gravy,” saidmy father. “i’m not hungry.” “you will eat every carrot, and pee on yourplate!” said my father.


he was trying to be funny. that was one ofhis favorite remarks. “daddy!” said my mother in shocked disbelief. i began eating. it was terrible. i felt asif i were eating them, what they believed in, what they were. i didn’t chew any ofit, i just swallowed it to get rid of it. meanwhile my father was talking about howgood it all tasted, how lucky we were to be eating good food when most of the people inthe world, and many even in america, were starving and poor. “what’s for dessert, mama?” my fatherasked. his face was horrible, the lips pushed out,greasy and wet with pleasure. he acted as


if nothing had happened, as if he hadn’tbeaten me. when i was back in my bedroom i thought, these people are not my parents,they must have adopted me and now they are unhappy with what i have become. 10 lila jane was a girl my age who lived nextdoor. i still wasn’t allowed to play with the children in the neighborhood, but sittingin the bedroom often got dull. i would go out and walk around in the backyard, lookingat things, bugs mostly. or i would sit on the grass and imagine things. one thing iimagined was that i was a great baseball player, so great that i could get a hit every timeat bat, or a home run anytime i wanted to.


but i would deliberately make outs just totrick the other team. i got my hits when i felt like it. one season, going into july,i was hitting only. 139 with one home run. henry chinaski is finished, the newspaperssaid. then i began to hit. and how i hit! at one time i allowed myself 16 home runsin a row. another time i batted in 24 runs in one game. by the end of the season i washitting .523. lila jane was one of the pretty girls i’dseen at school. she was one of the nicest, and she was living right next door. one daywhen i was in the yard she came up to the fence and stood there looking at me. “you don’t play with the other boys, doyou?”


i looked at her. she had long red-brown hairand dark brown eyes. “no,” i said, “no, i don’t.” “why not?” “i see them enough at school.” “i’m lila jane,” she said. “i’m henry.” she kept looking at me and i sat there onthe grass and looked at her. then she said, “do you want to see my panties?” “sure,” i said.


she lifted her dress. the panties were pinkand clean. they looked good. she kept holding her dress up and then turned around so thati could see her behind. her behind looked nice. then she pulled her dress down. “goodbye,”she said and walked off. “goodbye,” i said. it happened each afternoon. “do you wantto see my panties?” “sure.” the panties were nearly always a differentcolor and each time they looked better. one afternoon after lila jane showed me herpanties i said, “let’s go for a walk.” “all right,” she said.


i met her in front and we walked down thestreet together. she was really pretty. we walked along without saying anything untilwe came to a vacant lot. the weeds were tall and green. “let’s go into the vacant lot,” i said. “all right,” said lila jane. we walked out into the tall weeds. “show me your panties again.” she lifted her dress. blue panties. “let’s stretch out here,” i said.


we got down in the weeds and i grabbed herby the hair and kissed her. then i pulled up her dress and looked at her panties. iput my hand on her behind and kissed her again. i kept kissing her and grabbing at her behind.i did this for quite a long time. then i said, “let’s do it.” i wasn’t sure whatthere was to do but i felt there was more. “no, i can’t,” she said. “those men will see.” “what men?” “there!” she pointed. i looked between the weeds. maybe half a blockaway some men were working repairing the street.


“they can’t see us!” “yes, they can!” i got up. “god damn it!” i said and iwalked out of the lot and went back home. i didn’t see lila jane again for a whilein the afternoons. it didn’t matter. it was football season and i was—in my imagination—agreat quarterback. i could throw the ball 90 yards and kick it 80. but we seldom hadto kick, not when i carried the ball. i was best running into grown men. i crushed them.it took five or six men to tackle me. sometimes, like in baseball, i felt sorry for everybodyand i allowed myself to be tackled after only gaining 8 or 10 yards. then i usually gotinjured, badly, and they had to carry me off


the field. my team would fall behind, say40 to 17, and with 3 or 4 minutes left to play i’d return, angry that i had been injured.every time i got the ball i ran all the way to a touchdown. how the crowd screamed! andon defense i made every tackle, intercepted every pass. i was everywhere. chinaski, thefury! with the gun ready to go off i took the kickoff deep in my own end zone. i ranforward, sideways, backwards. i broke tackle after tackle, i leaped over fallen tacklers.i wasn’t getting any blocking. my team was a bunch of sissies. finally, with five menhanging on to me i refused to fall and dragged them over the goal line for the winning touchdown. i looked up one afternoon as a big guy enteredour yard through the back gate. he walked


in and just stood there looking at me. hewas a year or so older than i was and he wasn’t from my grammar school. “i’m from marmountgrammar school,” he said. “you better get out of here,” i told him.“my father will be coming home soon.” “is that right?” he asked. i stood up. “what are you doing here?” “i hear you guys from delsey grammar thinkyou’re tough.” “we win all the inter-school games.” “that’s because you cheat. we don’tlike cheaters at marmount.” he had on an old blue shirt, half unbuttonedin front. he had a leather thong on his left


wrist. “you think you’re tough?” he asked me. “what do you have in your garage? i thinki’ll take something from your garage.” “stay out of there.” the garage doors were open and he walked pastme. there wasn’t much in there. he found an old deflated beach ball and picked it up. “i think i’ll take this.” “put it down.” “down your throat!” he said and then hethrew it at my head. i ducked. he came out


of the garage toward me. i backed up. he followed me into the yard. “cheatersnever prosper!” he said. he swung at me. i ducked. i could feel the wind from his swing.i closed my eyes, rushed him and started punching. i was hitting something, sometimes. i couldfeel myself getting hit but it didn’t hurt. mostly i was scared. there was nothing todo but to keep punching. then i heard a voice: “stop it!” it was lila jane. she was inmy backyard. we both stopped fighting. she took an old tin can and threw it. it hit theboy from marmount in the middle of the forehead and bounced off. he stood there a moment andthen ran off, crying and howling. he ran out the rear gate and down the alley and was gone.a little tin can. i was surprised, a big guy


like him crying like that. at delsey we hada code. we never made a sound. even the sissies took their beatings silently. those guys frommarmount weren’t much. “you didn’t have to help me,” i toldlila jane. “he was hitting you!” “he wasn’t hurting me.” lila jane ran off through the yard, out therear gate, then into her yard and into her house. lila jane still likes me, i thought. 11


during the second and third grades i stilldidn’t get a chance to play baseball but i knew that somehow i was developing intoa player. if i ever got a bat in my hands again i knew i would hit it over the schoolbuilding. one day i was standing around and a teacher came up to me. “what are you doing?” “nothing.” “this is physical education. you shouldbe participating. are you disabled?” “is there anything wrong with you?” “i don’t know.”


“come with me.” he walked me over to a group. they were playingkickball. kickball was like baseball except they used a soccer ball. the pitcher rolledit to the plate and you kicked it. if it went on a fly and was caught you were out. if itrolled on through the infield or you kicked it high between the fielders you took as manybases as you could. “what’s your name?” the teacher askedme. “henry.” he walked up to the group. “now,” he said,“henry is going to play shortstop.” they were from my grade. they all knew me.shortstop was the toughest position. i went


out there. i knew they were going to gangup on me. the pitcher rolled the ball real slow and the first guy kicked it right atme. it came hard, chest high, but it was no problem. the ball was big and i stuck outmy hands and caught it. i threw the ball to the pitcher. the next guy did the same thing.it came a little higher this time. and a little faster. no problem. then stanley greenbergwalked up to the plate. that was it. i was out of luck. the pitcher rolled the ball andstanley kicked it. it came at me like a cannonball, head high. i wanted to duck but didn’t.the ball smashed into my hands and i held it. i took the ball and rolled it to the pitcher’smound. three outs. i trotted to the sideline. as i did, some guy passed me and said, “chinaski,the great shitstop!”


it was the boy with the vaseline in his hairand the long black nostril hairs. i spun around. “hey!” i said. he stopped. i looked athim. “don’t ever say anything to me again.” i saw the fear in his eyes. he walked outto his position and i went and leaned against the fence while our team came to the plate.nobody stood near me but i didn’t care. i was gaining ground. it was difficult to understand. we were thechildren in the poorest school, we had the poorest, least educated parents, most of uslived on terrible food, and yet boy for boy we were much bigger than the boys from othergrammar schools around the city. our school was famous. we were feared.


our 6th grade team beat the other 6th gradeteams in the city very badly. especially in baseball. scores like 14 to 1, 24 to 3, 19to 2. we just could hit the ball. one day the city champion junior high schoolteam, miranda bell, challenged us. somehow money was raised and each of our players wasgiven a new blue cap with a white “d” in front. our team looked good in those caps.when the miranda bell guys showed up, the 7th grade champs, our 6th grade guys justlooked at them and laughed. we were bigger, we looked tougher, we walked differently,we knew something that they didn’t know. we younger guys laughed too. we knew we hadthem where we wanted them. the miranda guys looked too polite. they werevery quiet. their pitcher was their biggest


player. he struck out our first three batters,some of our best hitters. but we had lowball johnson. lowball did the same to them. itwent on like that, both sides striking out, or hitting little grounders and an occasionalsingle, but nothing else. then we were at bat in the bottom of the 7th. beefcake cappallettinailed one. god, you could hear the shot! the ball looked like it was going to hit theschool building and break a window. never had i seen a ball take off like that! it hitthe flagpole near the top and bounced back in. easy home run. cappalletti rounded thebases and our guys looked good in their new blue caps with the white “d.” the miranda guys just quit after that. theydidn’t know how to come back. they came


from a wealthy district, they didn’t knowwhat it meant to fight back. our next guy doubled. how we screamed! it was over. therewas nothing they could do. the next batter tripled. they changed pitchers. he walkedthe next guy. the next batter singled. before the inning was over we had scored nine runs. miranda never got a chance to bat in the 8th.our 5th graders went over and challenged them to fight. even one of the 4th graders ranover and picked a fight with one of them. the miranda guys took their equipment andleft. we ran them off, up the street. there was nothing left to do so a couple ofour guys got into a fight. it was a good one. they both had bloody noses but were swinginggood when one of the teachers who had stayed


to watch the game broke it up. he didn’tknow how close he came to getting jumped himself. 12 one night my father took me on his milk route.there were no longer any horsedrawn wagons. the milk trucks now had engines. after loadingup at the milk company we drove off on his route. i liked being out in the very earlymorning. the moon was up and i could see the stars. it was cold but it was exciting. iwondered why my father had asked me to come along since he had taken to beating me withthe razor strop once or twice a week and we weren’t getting along. at each stop he would jump out and delivera bottle or two of milk. sometimes it was


cottage cheese or buttermilk or butter andnow and then a bottle of orange juice. most of the people left notes in the empty bottlesexplaining what they wanted. my father drove along, stopping and starting,making deliveries. “o.k., kid, which direction are we drivingin now?” “north.” “you’re right. we’re going north.” we went up and down streets, stopping andstarting. “o.k., which way are we going now?” “west.”


“no, we’re going south.” we drove along in silence some more. “suppose i pushed you out of the truck nowand left you on the sidewalk, what would you do?” “i mean, how would you live?” “well, i guess i’d go back and drink themilk and orange juice you just left on the porch steps.” “then what would you do?” “i’d find a policeman and tell him whatyou did.”


“you would, huh? and what would you tellhim?” “i’d tell him that you told me that ‘west’was ‘south’ because you wanted me to get lost.” it began to get light. soon all the deliverieswere made and we stopped at a cafe to have breakfast. the waitress walked over. “hello,henry,” she said to my father. “hello, betty.” “who’s the kid?” asked betty.“that’s little henry.” “he looks just like you.” “he doesn’t have my brains,though.” “i hope not.” we ordered. we had bacon and eggs. as we atemy father said, “now comes the hard part.” “what is that?”


“i have to collect the money people oweme. some of them don’t want to pay.” “they ought to pay.” “that’s what i tell them.” we finished eating and started driving again.my father got out and knocked on doors. i could hear him complaining loudly, “howthe hell do you think i’m going to eat? you’ve sucked up the milk, now it’s timefor you to shit out the money!” he used a different line each time. sometimeshe came back with the money, sometimes he didn’t. then i saw him enter a court of bungalows.a door opened and a woman stood there dressed


in a loose silken kimono. she was smokinga cigarette. “listen, baby, i’ve got to have the money. you’re into me deeper thananybody!” she laughed at him. “look, baby, just give me half, give mea payment, something to show.” she blew a smoke ring, reached out and brokeit with her finger. “listen, you’ve got to pay me,” my fathersaid. “this is a desperate situation.” “come on in. we’ll talk about it,” saidthe woman. my father went in and the door closed. hewas in there for a long time. the sun was really up. when my father came out his hairwas hanging down around his face and he was


pushing his shirt tail into his pants. heclimbed into the truck. “did that woman give you the money?” iasked. “that was the last stop,” said my father.“i can’t take it any more. we’ll return the truck and go home…” i was to see that woman again. one day i camehome after school and she was sitting on a chair in the front room of our house. my motherand father were sitting there too and my mother was crying. when my mother saw me she stoodup and ran toward me, grabbed me. she took me into the bedroom and sat me on the bed.“henry, do you love your mother?” i really didn’t but she looked so sad that i said,“yes.” she took me back into the other


room. “your father says he loves this woman,”she said to me. “i love both of you! now get that kid outof here!” i felt that my father was making my mothervery unhappy. “i’ll kill you,” i told my father. “get that kid out of here!” “how can you love that woman?” i askedmy father. “look at her nose. she has a nose like an elephant!” “christ!” said the woman, “i don’thave to take this!” she looked at my father:


“choose, henry! one or the other! now!” “but i can’t! i love you both!” “i’ll kill you!” i told my father. he walked over and slapped me on the ear,knocking me to the floor. the woman got up and ran out of the house and my father wentafter her. the woman leaped into my father’s car, started it and drove off down the street.it happened very quickly. my father ran down the street after her and the car. “edna!edna, come back!” my father actually caught up with the car, reached into the front seatand grabbed edna’s purse. then the car speeded up and my father was left with the purse.


“i knew something was going on,” my mothertold me. “so i hid in the car trunk and i caught them together. your father droveme back here with that horrible woman. now she’s got his car.” my father walked back with edna’s purse.“everybody into the house!” we went inside and my father locked me in the bedroom andmy mother and father began arguing. it was loud and very ugly. then my father began beatingmy mother. she screamed and he kept beating her. i climbed out a window and tried to getin the front door. it was locked. i tried the rear door, the windows. everything waslocked. i stood in the backyard and listened to the screaming and the beating.


then the beating and the screaming stoppedand all i could hear was my mother sobbing. she sobbed a long time. it gradually grewless and less and then she stopped. 13 i was in the 4th grade when i found out aboutit. i was probably one of the last to know, because i still didn’t talk to anybody.a boy walked up to me while i was standing around at recess. “don’t you know how it happens?” heasked. “fucking.” “what’s that?”


“your mother has a hole…”—he tookthe thumb and forefinger of his right hand and made a circle—“and your father hasa dong…”—he took his left forefinger and ran it back and forth through the hole.“then your father’s dong shoots juice and sometimes your mother has a baby and sometimesshe doesn’t.” “god makes babies,” i said. “like shit,” the kid said and walked off. it was hard for me to believe. when recesswas over i sat in class and thought about it. my mother had a hole and my father hada dong that shot juice. how could they have things like that and walk around as if everythingwas normal, and talk about things, and then


do it and not tell anybody? i really feltlike puking when i thought that i had started off as my father’s juice. that night after the lights were out i stayedawake in bed and listened. sure enough, i began to hear sounds. their bed began creaking.i could hear the springs. i got out of bed and tiptoed down to their door and listened.the bed kept making sounds. then it stopped. i hurried back down the hall and into my bedroom.i heard my mother go into the bathroom. i heard the toilet flush and then she walkedout. what a terrible thing! no wonder they didit in secret! and to think, everybody did it! the teachers, the principal, everybody!it was pretty stupid. then i thought about


doing it with lila jane and it didn’t seemso dumb. the next day in class i thought about it allday. i looked at the little girls and imagined myself doing it with them. i would do it withall of them and make babies, i’d fill the world with guys like me, great baseball players,home run hitters. that day just before class ended the teacher, mrs. westphal, said: “henry,will you stay after class?” the bell rang and the other children left.i sat at my desk and waited. mrs. westphal was correcting papers. i thought, maybe shewants to do it with me. i imagined pulling her dress up and looking at her hole. “allright, mrs. westphal, i’m ready.” she looked up from her papers. “all right,henry, first erase all the blackboards. then


take the erasers outside and dust them.” i did as i was told, then sat back down atmy desk. mrs. westphal just sat there correcting papers. she had on a tight blue dress, shewore large golden earrings, had a tiny nose and wore rimless glasses. i waited and waited.then i said, “mrs. westphal, why did you keep me after school?” she looked up and stared at me. her eyes weregreen and deep. “i kept you after school because sometimes you’re bad.” “oh, yeah?” i smiled. mrs. westphal looked at me. she took her glassesoff and kept staring. her legs were behind


the desk. i couldn’t look up her dress. “you were very inattentive today, henry.” “yeah?” “‘yes’ is the word. you’re addressinga lady!” “oh, i know…” “don’t get sassy with me!” “whatever you say.” mrs. westphal stood up and came out from behindher desk. she walked down the aisle and sat on the top of the desk across from me. shehad nice long legs in silk stockings. she


smiled at me, reached out a hand and touchedone of my wrists. “your parents don’t give you much love,do they?” “i don’t need that stuff,” i told her. “henry, everybody needs love.” “i don’t need anything.” “you poor boy.” she stood up, came to my desk and slowly tookmy head in her hands. she bent over and pressed it against her breasts. i reached around andgrabbed her legs. “henry, you must stop fighting everybody!we want to help you.”


i grabbed mrs. westphal’s legs harder. “allright,” i said, “let’s fuck!” mrs. westphal pushed me away and stood back. “what did you say?” “i said, ‘let’s fuck!’” she looked at me a long time. then she said,“henry, i am never going to tell anybody what you said, not the principal or your parentsor anybody. but i never, never want you to say that to me again, do you understand?” “i understand.” “all right. you can go home now.”


i got up and walked toward the door. wheni opened it, mrs. westphal said, “good afternoon, henry.” “good afternoon, mrs. westphal.” i walked down the street wondering about it.i felt she wanted to fuck but was afraid because i was too young for her and that my parentsor the principal might find out. it had been exciting being in the room with her alone.this thing about fucking was nice. it gave people extra things to think about. there was one large boulevard to cross onthe way home. i entered the crosswalk. suddenly there was a car coming right at me. it didn’tslow down. it was weaving wildly. i tried


to run out of its path but it appeared tofollow me. i saw headlights, wheels, a bumper. the car hit me and then there was blackness… 14 later in the hospital they were dabbing atmy knees with pieces of cotton that had been soaked in something. it burned. my elbowsburned too. the doctor was bending over me with a nurse.i was in bed and the sun came through the window. it seemed very pleasant. the doctorsmiled at me. the nurse straightened up and smiled at me. it was nice there. “do you have a name?” the doctor asked.


“henry what?” “chinaski.” “polish, eh?” “german.” “how come nobody wants to be polish?” “i was born in germany.” “where do you live?” asked the nurse. “with my parents.” “really?” asked the doctor. “and whereis that?”


“what happened to my elbows and knees?” “a car ran you over. luckily, the wheelsmissed you. witnesses said he appeared to be drunk. hit and run. but they got his license.they’ll get him.” “you have a pretty nurse…” i said. “well, thank you,” she said. “do you want a date with her?” asked thedoctor. “do you want to go out with her?” thedoctor asked. “i don’t know if i could do it with her.i’m too young.” “do what?”


“you know.” “well,” the nurse smiled, “come seeme after your knees heal up and we’ll see what we can do.” “pardon me,” said the doctor, “but ihave to see another accident case.” he left the room. “now,” said the nurse, “what streetdo you live on?” “give me the number, sweetie.” i told her the house number. she asked ifthere was a telephone. i told her that i didn’t know the number.


“that’s all right,” she said, “we’llget it. and don’t worry. you were lucky. you just got a bump on the head and skinnedup a little.” she was nice but i knew that after my kneeshealed, she wouldn’t want to see me again. “i want to stay here,” i told her. “what? you mean, you don’t want to gohome to your parents?” “no. let me stay here.” “we can’t do that, sweetie. we need thesebeds for people who are really sick and injured.” she smiled and walked out of the room. when my father came he walked straight intothe room and without a word scooped me out


of bed. he carried me out of the room anddown the hallway. “you little bastard! didn’t i teach youto look both ways before you cross the street?” he rushed me down the hall. we passed thenurse. “goodbye, henry,” she said. “goodbye.” we got into an elevator with an old man ina wheelchair. a nurse was standing behind him. the elevator began to descend. “i think i’m going to die,” the oldman said. “i don’t want to die. i’m afraid to die…”


“you’ve lived long enough, you old fart!”muttered my father. the old man looked startled. the elevatorstopped. the door remained closed. then i noticed the elevator operator. he sat on asmall stool. he was a dwarf dressed in a bright red uniform with a red cap. the dwarf looked at my father. “sir,”he said, “you are a repugnant fool!” “shortcake,” replied my father, “openthe fucking door or it’s your ass.” the door opened. we went out the entrance.my father carried me across the hospital lawn. i still had on a hospital gown. my fathercarried my clothes in a bag in one hand. the wind blew back my gown and i saw my skinnedknees which were not bandaged and were painted


with iodine. my father was almost runningacross the lawn. “when they catch that son-of-a-bitch,”he said, “i’ll sue him! i’ll sue him for his last penny! he’ll support me therest of his life! i’m sick of that god-damned milk truck! golden state creamery! goldenstate, my hairy ass! we’ll move to the south seas. we’ll live on coconuts and pineapples!” my father reached the car and put me in thefront seat. then he got in on his side. he started the car. “i hate drunks! my father was a drunk. mybrothers are drunks. drunks are weak. drunks are cowards. and hit-and-run drunks shouldbe jailed for the rest of their lives!”


as we drove toward home he continued to talkto me. “do you know that in the south seas thenatives live in grass shacks? they get up in the morning and the food falls from thetrees to the ground. they just pick it up and eat it, coconuts and pineapple. and thenatives think that white men are gods! they catch fish and roast boar, and their girlsdance and wear grass skirts and rub their men behind the ears. golden state creamery,my hairy ass!” but my father’s dream was not to be. theycaught the man who hit me and put him in jail. he had a wife and three children and didn’thave a job. he was a penniless drunkard. the man sat in jail for some time but my fatherdidn’t press charges. as he said, “you


can’t get blood out of a fucking turnip!” 15 my father always ran the neighborhood kidsaway from our house. i was told not to play with them but i walked down the street andwatched them anyhow. “hey, heinie!” they yelled, “why don’tyou go back to germany?” somehow they had found out about my birthplace.the worst thing was that they were all about my age and they not only hung together becausethey lived in the same neighborhood but because they went to the same catholic school. theywere tough kids, they played tackle football for hours and almost every day a couple ofthem got into a fist fight. the four main


guys were chuck, eddie, gene and frank. “hey, heinie, go back to krautland!” there was no getting in with them… then a red-headed kid moved in next door tochuck. he went to some kind of special school. i was sitting on the curb one day when hecame out of his house. he sat on the curb next to me. “hi, my name’s red.” we sat there and watched the guys play football.i looked at red. “how come you got a glove on your left hand?”i asked. “i’ve only got one arm,” he said.


“that hand looks real.” “it’s fake. it’s a fake arm. touch it.” “touch it. it’s fake.” i felt it. it was hard, rock hard. “how’d that happen?” “i was born that way. the arm’s fake allthe way up to the elbow. i’ve got to strap it on. i’ve got little fingers at the endof my elbow, fingernails and all, but the fingers aren’t any good.” “you got any friends?” i asked.


“me neither.” “those guys won’t play with you?” “i got a football.” “can you catch it?” “straight shit,” said red. “go get it.” “o. k….” red went back to his father’s garage andcame out with a football. he tossed it to me. then he backed across his front lawn.


“go on, throw it…” i let it go. his good arm came around andhis bad arm came around and he caught it. the arm made a slight squeaking sound as hecaught the football. “nice catch,” i said. “now wing me one!” he cocked his arm and let it fly; it camelike a bullet and i managed to hold onto it as it dug into my stomach. “you’re standing too close,” i toldhim. “step back some more.” at last, i thought, some practice catchingand throwing. it felt real good. then i was the quarterback. i rolled back,straight-armed an invisible tackler, and let


go a spiral fly. it fell short. red ran forward,leaped, caught the ball, rolled over three or four times and still held onto it. “you’re good, red. how’d you get sogood?” “my father taught me. we practice a lot.” then red walked back and let one sail. itlooked to be over my head as i ran back for it. there was a hedge between red’s houseand chuck’s house and i fell into the hedge going for the ball. the ball hit the top ofthe hedge and bounced over. i went around to chuck’s yard to get the ball. chuck passedthe ball to me. “so you got yourself a freak friend, hey, heinie?”


it was a couple of days later and red andi were on his front lawn passing and kicking the football. chuck and his friends weren’taround. red and i were getting better and better. practice, that’s all it took. alla guy needed was a chance. somebody was always controlling who got a chance and who didn’t. i caught one over the shoulder, whirled andwinged it back to red who leaped high and came down with it. maybe some day we’d playfor u.s.c. then i saw five boys walking down the sidewalk toward us. they weren’t guysfrom my grammar school. they were our age and looked like trouble. red and i kept throwingthe ball and they stood watching us. then one of the guys stepped onto the lawn.the biggest.


“throw me the ball,” he said to red. “why?” “i wanna see if i can catch it.” “i don’t care if you can catch it or not.” “throw me the ball!” “he’s got one arm,” i said. “leavehim alone.” “stay out of this, monkey-face!” thenhe looked at red. “throw me the ball.” “go to hell!” said red. “get the ball!” the big guy said to theothers. they ran at us. red turned and threw


the ball on the roof of his house. the roofwas slanted and the ball rolled back down but managed to stick behind a drain pipe.then they were on us. five to two, i thought, there’s no chance. i caught a fist on thetemple, swung and missed. somebody kicked me in the ass. it was a good one and burnedall the way up the spine. then i heard a cracking sound, it was almost like a rifle shot andone of them was down on the ground holding his forehead. “oh shit,” he said, “my skull is crushed!” i saw red and he was standing in the centerof the lawn. he was holding the hand of his fake arm with the hand of his good arm. itwas like a club. then he swung again. there


was another loud crack and another of themwas down on the lawn. i began to feel brave and i landed a punch right on a guy’s mouth.i saw the lip split and the blood began to dribble down his chin. the other two ran off.then the big guy who had gone down first got up and the other one got up. they held theirheads. the guy with the bloody mouth stood there. then they retreated down the streettogether. when they got quite a way down the big guy turned around and said, “we’llbe back!” red began running toward them and i ran behindred. they started running and red and i stopped chasing them after they turned the corner.we walked back, found a ladder in the garage. we got the football down and began throwingit back and forth…


one saturday red and i decided to go swimmingat the public pool down on bimini street. red was a strange guy. he didn’t talk muchbut i didn’t talk much either and we got along. there was nothing to say anyhow. theonly thing i ever really asked him about was his school but he just said it was a specialschool and that it cost his father some money. we arrived at the pool in the early afternoon,got our lockers, and took our clothes off. we had our swimming trunks on underneath.then i saw red unhitch his arm and put it in his locker. it was the first time sincethe fight i had seen him without his fake arm. i tried not to look at his arm whichended at the elbow. we walked to the place where you had to soak your feet in a chlorinesolution. it stank but it stopped the spread


of athlete’s foot or something. then wewalked to the pool and got in. the water stank too and after i was in i pissed in it. therewere people of all ages in the pool, men and women, boys and girls. red really liked thewater. he leaped up and down in it. then he ducked under and came up. he spit water outof his mouth. i tried to swim. i couldn’t help noticing red’s half-arm, couldn’thelp looking at it. i always made sure to look at it when i thought he was occupiedwith something else. it ended at the elbow, sort of rounded off, and i saw the littlefingers. i didn’t want to stare real hard, but it seemed as if there were only threeor four of them, very tiny, curled up there. they were very red and each of the tiny fingershad a little fingernail. nothing was going


to grow anymore; it had all stopped. i didn’twant to think about it. i dove under. i was going to scare red. i was going to grab hislegs from behind. i came up against something soft. my face went right into it. it was afat woman’s ass. i felt her grab me by the hair and she pulled me up out of the water.she had on a blue bathing cap and the strap was tight around her chin, digging into herflesh. her front feeth were capped with silver and her breath smelled of garlic. “you dirty little pervert! trying for freegrabs, are you?” i pushed away from her and backed off. asi moved backwards she followed me through the water, her sagging breasts pushing a tidalwave in front of her.


“you dirty little prick. you wanna suckmy titties? you got a dirty mind, huh? you wanna eat my shit? how about some of my shit,little prick?” i backed up further into the deeper water.i was now standing on my toes, moving backwards. i swallowed some water. she kept coming, asteamship of a woman. i couldn’t retreat any further. she moved right up to me. hereyes were pale and blank, there wasn’t any color in them. i felt her body touching mine. “touch my cunt,” she said. “i know youwant to touch it, so go ahead, touch my cunt. touch it, touch it!” she waited.


“if you don’t, i’m going to tell thelifeguard you molested me and you’ll be put in jail! now, touch it!” i couldn’t do it. suddenly she reached underand grabbed my parts and yanked. she almost tore my dong off. i fell backwards into thedeep water, sank, struggled, and came to the top. i was six feet away from her and beganswimming toward shallow water. “i’m going to tell the lifeguard you molestedme!” she screamed. then a man swam between us. “that littleson-of-a-bitch!” she pointed at me and screamed at the man. “he grabbed my cunt!” “lady,” said the man, “the boy probablythought it was the grate over the drain.”


i swam over to red. “listen,” i said, “we’ve got to getout of here! that fat lady is going to tell the lifeguard that i touched her cunt!” “what’d you do that for?” red asked. “i wanted to see what it felt like.” “what’d it feel like?” we got out of the pool, showered. red puthis arm back on and we dressed. “did you really do it?” he asked. “a guy’s got to get started sometime.”


it was a month or so later that red’s familymoved. one day they were gone. just like that. red never said anything in advance to me.he was gone, the football was gone, and those tiny red fingers with fingernails, they weregone. he was a good guy. 16 i didn’t know exactly why but chuck, eddie,gene and frank let me join them in some of their games. i think it started when anotherguy showed up and they needed three on a side. i still required more practice to get reallygood but i was getting better. saturday was the best day. that’s when we had our biggames, other guys joined in, and we played football in the street. we played tackle onthe lawns but when we played in the street


we played touch. there was more passing thenbecause you couldn’t get far with a run in touch. there was trouble at the house, much fightingbetween my mother and my father, and as a consequence, they kind of forgot about me.i got to play football each saturday. during one game i broke into the open behind thelast pass defender and i saw chuck wing the ball. it was a long high spiral and i keptrunning. i looked back over my shoulder, i saw it coming, it fell right into my handsand i held it and was in for the touchdown. then i heard my father’s voice yell “henry!”he was standing in front of his house. i lobbed the ball to one of the guys on my team sothey could kick off and i walked down to where


my father stood. he looked angry. i couldalmost feel his anger. he always stood with one foot a little bit forward, his face flushed,and i could see his pot belly going up and down with his breathing. he was six feet twoand like i said, he looked to be all ears, mouth and nose when angry. i couldn’t lookat his eyes. “all right,” he said, “you’re oldenough to mow the lawn now. you’re big enough to mow it, edge it, water it, and water theflowers. it’s time you did something around here. it’s time you got off your dead ass!” “but i’m playing football with the guys.saturday is the only real chance i have.” “are you talking back to me?”


i could see my mother watching from behinda curtain. every saturday they cleaned the whole house. they vacuumed the rugs and polishedthe furniture. they took up the rugs and waxed the hardwood floors and then covered the floorswith the rugs again. you couldn’t even see where they had been waxed. the lawn mower and edger were in the driveway.he showed them to me. “now, you take this mower and go up and down the lawn and don’tmiss any places. dump the grass catcher here whenever it gets full. now, when you’vemowed the lawn in one direction and finished, take the mower and mow the lawn in the otherdirection, get it? first, you mow it north and south, then you mow it east and west.do you understand?”


“and don’t look so god-damned unhappyor i’ll really give you something to be unhappy about! after you’ve finished mowing,then you take the edger. you trim the edges of the lawn with the little mower on the edger.get under the hedge, get every blade of grass! then…you take this circular blade on theedger and you cut along the edge of the lawn. it must be absolutely straight along the edgeof the lawn! understand?” “now when you’re done with that, you takethese…” my father showed me some shears. “…and you get down on your knees and yougo around cutting off any hairs that are still sticking up. then you take the hose and youwater the hedges and the flower beds. then


you turn on the sprinkler and you let it runfifteen minutes on each part of the lawn. you do all this on the front lawn and in theflower garden, and then you repeat it on the rear lawn and in the flower garden there.are there any questions?” “all right, now i want to tell you this.i am going to come out and check everything when you’re finished, and when you’redone i don’t want to see one hair sticking up in either the front or back lawn! not onehair! if there is…!” he turned, walked up the driveway, acrosshis porch, opened the door, slammed it, and he was gone inside of his house. i took themower, rolled it up the drive and began pushing it on its first run, north and south. i couldhear the guys down the street playing football…


i finished mowing, edging and clipping thefront lawn. i watered the flower beds, set the sprinkler going and began working my waytoward the backyard. there was a stretch of lawn in the center of the driveway leadingto the back. i got that too. i didn’t know if i was unhappy. i felt too miserable tobe unhappy. it was like everything in the world had turned to lawn and i was just pushingmy way through it all. i kept pushing and working but then suddenly i gave up. it wouldtake hours, all day, and the game would be over. the guys would go in to eat dinner,saturday would be finished, and i’d still be mowing. as i began mowing the back lawn i noticedmy mother and my father standing on the back


porch watching me. they just stood there silently,not moving. once as i pushed the mower past i heard my mother say to my father, “look,he doesn’t sweat like you do when you mow the lawn. look how calm he looks.” “calm? he’s not calm, he’s dead!” when i came by again, i heard him: “push that thing faster! you move like asnail!” i pushed it faster. it was hard to do butit felt good. i pushed it faster and faster. i was almost running with the mower. the grassflew back so hard that much of it flew over the grass catcher. i knew that would angerhim.


“you son-of-a-bitch!” he screamed. i saw him run off the back porch and intothe garage. he came out with a two-by-four about a foot long. from the corner of my eyei saw him throw it. i saw it coming but made no attempt to avoid it. it hit me on the backof my right leg. the pain was terrible. the leg knotted up and i had to force myself towalk. i kept pushing the mower, trying not to limp. when i swung around to cut anothersection of the lawn the two-by-four was in the way. i picked it up, moved it aside andkept mowing. the pain was getting worse. then my father was standing beside me. “stop!”


i stopped. “i want you to go back and mow the lawnover again where you didn’t catch the grass in the catcher! do you understand me?” my father walked back into the house. i sawhim and my mother standing on the back porch watching me. the end of the job was to sweep up all thegrass that had fallen on the sidewalk, and then wash the sidewalk down. i was finallyfinished except for sprinkling each section of the lawn in the back yard for fifteen minutes.i dragged the hose back to set up the sprinkler when my father stepped out of the house.


“before you start sprinkling i want to checkthis lawn for hairs.” my father walked to the center of the lawn,got down on his hands and knees and placed the side of his head low against the lawnlooking for any blade of grass that might be sticking up. he kept looking, twistinghis neck, peering around. i waited. “ah hah!” he leaped up and ran toward the house. “mama! mama!” he ran into the house. “what is it?”


“i found a hair!” “you did?” “come, i’ll show you!” he came out of the house quickly with my motherfollowing. “here! here! i’ll show you!” he got down on his hands and knees. “i can see it! i can see two of them!” my mother got down with him. i wondered ifthey were crazy. “see them?” he asked her. “two hairs.see them?”


“yes, daddy, i see them…” they both got up. my mother walked into thehouse. my father looked at me. “inside…” i walked to the porch and inside the house.my father followed me. “into the bathroom.” my father closed the door. “take your pants down.” i heard him get down the razor strop. my rightleg still ached. it didn’t help, having felt the strop many times before. the wholeworld was out there indifferent to it all,


but that didn’t help. millions of peoplewere out there, dogs and cats and gophers, buildings, streets, but it didn’t matter.there was only father and the razor strop and the bathroom and me. he used that stropto sharpen his razor, and early in the mornings i used to hate him with his face white withlather, standing before the mirror shaving himself. then the first blow of the strophit me. the sound of the strop was flat and loud, the sound itself was almost as bad asthe pain. the strop landed again. it was as if my father was a machine, swinging thatstrop. there was the feeling of being in a tomb. the strop landed again and i thought,that is surely the last one. but it wasn’t. it landed again. i didn’t hate him. he wasjust unbelievable, i just wanted to get away


from him. i couldn’t cry. i was too sickto cry, too confused. the strop landed once again. then he stopped. i stood and waited.i heard him hanging up the strop. “next time,” he said, “i don’t wantto find any hairs.” i heard him walk out of the bathroom. he closedthe bathroom door. the walls were beautiful, the bathtub was beautiful, the wash basinand the shower curtain were beautiful, and even the toilet was beautiful. my father wasgone. 17 of all the guys left in the neighborhood,frank was the nicest. we got to be friends, we got to going around together, we didn’tneed the other guys much. they had more or


less kicked frank out of the group, anyway,so he became friends with me. he wasn’t like david, who had walked home from schoolwith me. frank had a lot more going for him than david had. i even joined the catholicchurch because frank went there. my parents liked me going to church. the sunday masseswere very boring. and we had to go to catechism classes. we had to study the catechism book.it was just boring questions and answers. one afternoon we were sitting on my frontporch and i was reading the catechism out loud to frank. i read the line, “god hasbodily eyes and sees all things.” “bodily eyes?” frank asked. “you mean like this?” he asked.


he clenched his hands into fists and placedthem over his eyes. “he has milk bottles for eyes,” franksaid, pushing his fists against his eyes and turning toward me. then he began laughing.i began laughing too. we laughed a long time. then frank stopped. “you think he heard us?” “i guess so. if he can see everything hecan probably hear everything too.” “i’m scared,” said frank. “he mightkill us. do you think he’ll kill us?” “we better sit here and wait. don’t move.sit still.” we sat on the steps and waited. we waiteda long time.


“maybe he isn’t going to do it now,”i said. “he’s going to take his time,” saidfrank. we waited another hour, then we walked downto frank’s place. he was building a model airplane and i wanted to take a look at it… the afternoon came when we decided to go toour first confession. we walked to the church. we knew one of the priests, the main man.we had met him in an ice cream parlor and he had spoken to us. we had even gone to hishouse once. he lived in a place next to the church with an old woman. we stayed quitea while and asked all sorts of questions about god. like, how tall was he? and did he justsit in a chair all day? and did he go to the


bathroom like everybody else? the priest neverdid answer our questions directly but still he seemed like a nice guy, he had a nice smile. we walked to the church thinking about confession,thinking about what it would be like. as we got near the church a stray dog began walkingalong with us. he looked very thin and hungry. we stopped and petted him, scratched his back. “it’s too bad dogs can’t go to heaven,”said frank. “why can’t they?” “you gotta be baptized to go to heaven.” “we ought to baptize him.”


“think we should?” “he deserves a chance to go to heaven.” i picked him up and we walked into the church.we took him to the bowl of holy water and i held him there as frank sprinkled the wateron his forehead. “i hereby baptize you,” said frank. we took him outside and put him back on thesidewalk again. “he even looks different,” i said. the dog lost interest and walked off downthe sidewalk. we went back into the church, stopping first at the holy water, dippingour fingers into it and making the sign of


the cross. we both kneeled at a pew near theconfessional booth and waited. a fat woman came out from behind the curtain. she hadbody odor. i could smell her strong odor as she walked past. her smell was mixed withthe smell of the church, which smelled like piss. every sunday people came to mass andsmelled that piss-smell and nobody said anything. i was going to tell the priest about it buti couldn’t. maybe it was the candles. “i’m going in,” said frank. then he got up, walked behind the curtainand was gone. he was in there a long time. when he came out he was grinning. “it was great, just great! you go in therenow!”


i got up, pulled the curtain back and walkedin. it was dark. i kneeled down. all i could see in front of me was a screen. frank saidgod was back in there. i kneeled and tried to think of something bad that i had done,but i couldn’t think of anything. i just knelt there and tried and tried to think ofsomething but i couldn’t. i didn’t know what to do. “go ahead,” said a voice. “say something!” the voice sounded angry. i didn’t thinkthere would be any voice. i thought god had plenty of time. i was frightened. i decidedto lie. “all right,” i said. “i…kicked myfather. i…cursed my mother…i stole money


from my mother’s purse. i spent it on candybars. i let the air out of chuck’s football. i looked up a little girl’s dress. i kickedmy mother. i ate some of my snot. that’s about all. except today i baptized a dog.” “you baptized a dog?” i was finished. a mortal sin. no use goingon. i got up to leave. i didn’t know if the voice recommended my saying some hailmarys or if the voice didn’t say anything at all. i pulled the curtain back and therewas frank waiting. we walked out of the church and were back on the street. “i feel cleansed,” said frank, “don’tyou?”


i never went to confession again. it was worsethan ten o’clock mass. 18 frank liked airplanes. he lent me all hispulp magazines about world war i. the best was flying aces. the dog-fights were great,the spads and the fokkers mixing it. i read all the stories. i didn’t like the way thegermans always lost but outside of that it was great. i liked going over to frank’s place to borrowand return the magazines. his mother wore high heels and had great legs. she sat ina chair with her legs crossed and her skirt pulled high. and frank’s father sat in anotherchair. his mother and father were always drinking.


his father had been a flyer in world war iand had crashed. he had a wire running down inside one of his arms instead of a bone.he got a pension. but he was all right. when we came in he always talked to us. “how are you doing, boys? how’s it going?” then we found out about the air show. it wasgoing to be a big one. frank got hold of a map and we decided to get there by hitch-hiking.i thought we’d probably never make it to the air show but frank said we would. hisfather gave us the money. we went down to the boulevard with our mapand we got a ride right away. it was an old guy and his lips were very wet, he kept lickinghis lips with his tongue and he had on an


old checkered shirt which he had buttonedto the throat. he wasn’t wearing a necktie. he had strange eyebrows which curled downinto his eyes. “my name’s daniel,” he said. frank said, “this is henry. and i’m frank.” daniel drove along. then he took out a luckystrike and lit it. “you boys live at home?” “yes,” said frank. “yes,” i said. daniel’s cigarette was already wet fromhis mouth. he stopped the car at a signal.


“i was at the beach yesterday and they caughta couple of guys under the pier. the cops caught them and threw them in jail. one guywas sucking the other guy off. now what business is that of the cops? it made me mad.” the signal changed and daniel pulled away. “don’t you guys think that was stupid?the cops stopping those guys from sucking-off?” we didn’t answer. “well,” said daniel, “don’t you thinka couple of guys have a right to a good blow job?” “i guess so,” said frank.


“yeah,” i said. “where are you boys going?” asked daniel. “the air show,” said frank. “ah, the air show! i like air shows! i’lltell you what, you boys let me go with you and i’ll drive you all the way there.” “well, how about it?” “all right,” said frank. frank’s father had given us admission andtransportation money, but we had decided to save the transportation money by hitch-hiking.


“maybe you boys would rather go swimming,”said daniel. “no,” said frank, “we want to see theair show.” “swimming’s more fun. we can race eachother. i know a place where we can be alone. i’d never go under the pier.” “we want to go to the air show,” saidfrank. “all right,” said daniel, “we’ll goto the air show.” when we got to the air show parking lot wegot out of the car and while daniel was locking it frank said, “run!” we ran toward the admission gate and danielsaw us running away.


“hey, you little perverts! come back here!come back!” we kept running. “christ,” said frank, “that son-of-a-bitchis crazy!” we were almost at the admission gate. “i’ll get you boys!” we paid and ran inside. the show hadn’tstarted yet but a large crowd was already there. “let’s hide under the grandstand so hecan’t find us,” said frank. the grandstand was built of temporary planksfor the people to sit on. we went underneath.


we saw two guys standing under the centerof the grandstand and looking up. they were about 13 or 14 years old, about two or threeyears older than we were. “what are they looking at?” i asked. “let’s go see,” said frank. we walked over. one of the guys saw us coming. “hey, you punks, get out of here!” “what are you guys looking at?” frankasked. “i told you punks to get out of here!” “ah, hell, marty, let ’em have a look!”


we walked over to where they were standing.we looked up. “what is it?” i asked. “hell, can’t you see it?” one of thebig guys asked. “see what?” “it’s a cunt.” “a cunt? where?” “look, right there! see it?” he pointed. there was a woman sitting with her skirt bunchedback underneath her. she didn’t have any


panties on, and looking up between the planksyou could see her cunt. “see it?” “yeah, i see it. it’s a cunt,” saidfrank. “all right, now you guys get out of hereand keep your mouths shut.” “but we want to look at it a little longer,”said frank. “just let us look a little longer.” “all right, but not too long.” we stood there looking up at it. “i can see it,” i said. “it’s a cunt,” said frank.


“it’s really a cunt,” i said. “yeah,” said one of the big guys, “that’swhat it is.” “i’ll always remember this,” i said. “all right, you guys, it’s time to go.” “what for?” asked frank. “why can’twe keep looking?” “because,” said one of the big guys, “i’mgoing to do something. now get out of here!” we walked off. “i wonder what he’s going to do?” iasked. “i don’t know,” said frank, “maybehe’s going to throw a rock at it.”


we got out from under the grandstand and lookedaround for daniel. we didn’t see him anywhere. “maybe he left,” i said. “a guy like that doesn’t like airplanes,”said frank. we climbed up into the grandstand and waitedfor the show to begin. i looked around at all the women. “i wonder which one she was?” i asked. “i guess you can’t tell from the top,”said frank. then the air show began. there was a guy ina fokker doing stunts. he was good, he looped and circled, stalled, pulled out of it, skimmedthe ground, and did an immelman. his best


trick consisted of a hook on each wing. twored handkerchiefs were fastened to poles about six feet above the ground. the fokker flewdown, dipped a wing, and picked a handkerchief off the pole with the hook on its wing. thenit came around, dipped the other wing, and got the other handkerchief. then there were some sky-writing acts whichwere dull and some balloon races which were silly, and then they had something good—arace around four pylons, close to the ground. the airplanes had to circle the pylons twelvetimes and the one that finished first got the prize. the pilot was automatically disqualifiedif he circled above the pylons. the racing planes sat on the ground warming up. theywere all built differently. one had a long


slim body with hardly any wings. another wasfat and round, it looked like a football. another was almost all wings and no body.each was different and each was grandly painted. the prize for the winner was $100. they satthere warming up, and you knew you were really going to see something exciting. the motorsroared like they wanted to tear away from the airplanes and then the starter droppedthe flag and they were off. there were six planes and there was hardly room for themas they went around the pylons. some of the flyers took them low, others high, some inthe middle. some went faster and lost ground rounding the pylons; others went slower andmade sharper turns. it was wonderful and it was terrible. then one of them lost a wing.the plane bounced along the ground, the engine


shooting flame and smoke. it flipped overon its back and the ambulance and the fire truck came running up. the other planes keptgoing. then the engine just exploded in another plane, came loose, and the remainder of theplane dropped down like something lost. it hit the ground and everything came apart.but a strange thing happened. the pilot just slid back the cockpit cowling and climbedout and waited for the ambulance. he waved to the crowd and they applauded like mad.it was miraculous. suddenly the worst happened. two planes tangledwings while circling the pylons. they both spun down and crashed and both caught on fire.the ambulance and fire engine ran up again. we saw them pull the two guys out and putthem on stretchers. it was sad, those two


brave good guys, both probably crippled forlife or dead. that left only two planes, number 5 and number2, going for the grand prize. number 5 was the slim plane almost without wings and itwas much faster than number 2. number 2 was the football, he didn’t have much speed,but he made up a lot of ground on the turns. it didn’t help much. the 5 kept lappingthe 2. “plane number 5,” said the announcer,“is now two laps ahead with two laps to go.” it looked like number 5 was going to get thegrand prize. then he ran into a pylon. instead of making the turn he just ran into the pylonand knocked the whole thing down. he kept


going, straight down the field, lower andlower, the engine at full throttle, and then he hit the ground. the wheels hit and theplane bounced high into the air, flipped over, skidded along the ground. the ambulance andfire engine had a long way to go. number 2 just kept circling the three pylonsthat were left and the one fallen pylon and then he landed. he had won the grand prize.he climbed out. he was a fat guy, just like his airplane. i had expected a handsome toughguy. he had been lucky. hardly anybody applauded. to close the show they had a parachute contest.there was a circle painted on the ground, a big bullseye, and the one who landed theclosest won. it seemed dull to me. there wasn’t much noise or action. the jumpers just bailedout and aimed for the circle.


“this isn’t very good,” i told frank. “naw,” he said. they kept coming down near the circle. morejumpers bailed out of the planes overhead. then the crowd started oohing and ahhhing. “look!” said frank. one chute had only partially opened. therewasn’t much air in it. he was falling faster than the others. you could see him kickinghis legs and working his arms, trying to untangle the parachute. “jesus christ,” said frank.


the guy kept dropping, lower and lower, youcould see him better and better. he kept yanking at the cords trying to untangle the chutebut nothing worked. he hit the ground, bounced just a bit, then fell back and was still.the half-filled chute came down over him. they cancelled the remainder of the jumps. we walked out with the people, still watchingout for daniel. “let’s not hitch-hike back,” i saidto frank. “all right,” he said. walking out with the people, i didn’t knowwhich was more exciting, the air race, the parachute jump that failed, or the cunt.


19 the 5th grade was a little better. the otherstudents seemed less hostile and i was growing larger physically. i still wasn’t chosenfor the homeroom teams but i was threatened less. david and his violin had gone away.the family had moved. i walked home alone. i was often trailed by one or two guys, ofwhom juan was the worst, but they didn’t start anything. juan smoked cigarettes. he’dwalk behind me smoking a cigarette and he always had a different buddy with him. henever followed me alone. it scared me. i wished they’d go away. yet, in another way, i didn’tcare. i didn’t like juan. i didn’t like anybody in that school. i think they knewthat. i think that’s why they disliked me.


i didn’t like the way they walked or lookedor talked, but i didn’t like my father or mother either. i still had the feeling ofbeing surrounded by white empty space. there was always a slight nausea in my stomach.juan was dark-skinned and he wore a brass chain instead of a belt. the girls were afraidof him, and the boys too. he and one of his buddies followed me home almost every day.i’d walk into the house and they’d stand outside. juan would smoke his cigarette, lookingtough, and his buddy would stand there. i’d watch them through the curtain. finally, theywould walk off. mrs. fretag was our english teacher. the firstday in class she asked us each our names. “i want to get to know all of you,” shesaid.


she smiled. “now, each of you has a father, i’m sure.i think it would be interesting if we found out what each of your fathers does for a living.we’ll start with seat number one and we will go around the class. now, marie, whatdoes your father do for a living?” “he’s a gardener.” “ah, that’s nice! seat number two…andrew,what does your father do?” it was terrible. all the fathers in my immediateneighborhood had lost their jobs. my father had lost his job. gene’s father sat on hisfront porch all day. all the fathers were without jobs except chuck’s who worked ina meat plant. he drove a red car with the


meat company’s name on the side. “my father is a fireman,” said seat numbertwo. “ah, that’s interesting,” said mrs.fretag. “seat number three.” “my father is a lawyer.” “seat number four.” “my father is a…policeman…” what was i going to say? maybe only the fathersin my neighborhood were without jobs. i’d heard of the stock market crash. it meantsomething bad. maybe the stock market had only crashed in our neighborhood.


“seat number eighteen.” “my father is a movie actor…” “nineteen…” “my father is a concert violinist…” “twenty…” “my father works in the circus…” “twenty-one…” “my father is a bus driver…” “twenty-two…”


“my father sings in the opera…” “twenty-three…” twenty-three. that was me. “my father is a dentist,” i said. mrs. fretag went right on through the classuntil she reached number thirty-three. “my father doesn’t have a job,” saidnumber thirty-three. shit, i thought, i wish i had thought of that. one day mrs. fretag gave us an assignment. “our distinguished president, presidentherbert hoover, is going to visit los angeles


this saturday to speak. i want all of youto go hear our president. and i want you to write an essay about the experience and aboutwhat you think of president hoover’s speech.” saturday? there was no way i could go. i hadto mow the lawn. i had to get the hairs. (i could never get all the hairs.) almost everysaturday i got a beating with the razor strop because my father found a hair. (i also gotstropped during the week, once or twice, for other things i failed to do or didn’t doright.) there was no way i could tell my father that i had to go see president hoover. so, i didn’t go. that sunday i took somepaper and sat down to write about how i had seen the president. his open car, trailingflowing streamers, had entered the football


stadium. one car, full of secret service agentswent ahead and two cars followed close behind. the agents were brave men with guns to protectour president. the crowd rose as the president’s car entered the arena. there had never beenanything like it before. it was the president. it was him. he waved. we cheered. a band played.seagulls circled overhead as if they too knew it was the president. and there were skywritingairplanes too. they wrote words in the sky like “prosperity is just around the corner.”the president stood up in his car, and just as he did the clouds parted and the lightfrom the sun fell across his face. it was almost as if god knew too. then the cars stoppedand our great president, surrounded by secret service agents, walked to the speaker’splatform. as he stood behind the microphone


a bird flew down from the sky and landed onthe speaker’s platform near him. the president waved to the bird and laughed and we all laughedwith him. then he began to speak and the people listened. i couldn’t quite hear the speechbecause i was sitting too near a popcorn machine which made a lot of noise popping the kernels,but i think i heard him say that the problems in manchuria were not serious, and that athome everything was going to be all right, we shouldn’t worry, all we had to do wasto believe in america. there would be enough jobs for everybody. there would be enoughdentists with enough teeth to pull, enough fires and enough firemen to put them out.mills and factories would open again. our friends in south america would pay their debts.soon we would all sleep peacefully, our stomachs


and our hearts full. god and our great countrywould surround us with love and protect us from evil, from the socialists, awaken usfrom our national nightmare, forever… the president listened to the applause, waved,then went back to his car, got in, and was driven off followed by carloads of secretservice agents as the sun began to sink, the afternoon turning into evening, red and goldand wonderful. we had seen and heard president herbert hoover. i turned in my essay on monday. on tuesdaymrs. fretag faced the class. “i’ve read all your essays about our distinguishedpresident’s visit to los angeles. i was there. some of you, i noticed, could not attendfor one reason or another. for those of you


who could not attend, i would like to readthis essay by henry chinaski.” the class was terribly silent. i was the mostunpopular member of the class by far. it was like a knife slicing through all their hearts. “this is very creative,” said mrs. fretag,and she began to read my essay. the words sounded good to me. everybody was listening.my words filled the room, from blackboard to blackboard, they hit the ceiling and bouncedoff, they covered mrs. fretag’s shoes and piled up on the floor. some of the prettiestgirls in the class began to sneak glances at me. all the tough guys were pissed. theiressays hadn’t been worth shit. i drank in my words like a thirsty man. i even beganto believe them. i saw juan sitting there


like i’d punched him in the face. i stretchedout my legs and leaned back. all too soon it was over. “upon this grand note,” said mrs. fretag,“i hereby dismiss the class…” they got up and began packing out. “not you, henry,” said mrs. fretag. i sat in my chair and mrs. fretag stood therelooking at me. then she said, “henry, were you there?” i sat there trying to think of an answer.i couldn’t. i said, “no, i wasn’t there.” she smiled. “that makes it all the moreremarkable.”


“yes, ma’am…” “you can leave, henry.” i got up and walked out. i began my walk home.so, that’s what they wanted: lies. beautiful lies. that’s what they needed. people werefools. it was going to be easy for me. i looked around. juan and his buddy were not followingme. things were looking up. 20 there were times when frank and i were friendlywith chuck, eddie and gene. but something would always happen (usually i caused it)and then i would be out, and frank would be partly out because he was my friend. it wasgood hanging out with frank. we hitch-hiked


everywhere. one of our favorite places wasthis movie studio. we crawled under a fence surrounded by tall weeds to get in. we sawthe huge wall and steps they used in the king kong movie. we saw the fake streets and thefake buildings. the buildings were just fronts with nothing behind them. we walked all overthat movie lot many times until the guard would chase us out. we hitch-hiked down tothe beach to the fun house. we would stay in the fun house three or four hours. we memorizedthat place. it really wasn’t that good. people shit and pissed in there and the placewas littered with empty bottles. and there were rubbers in the crapper, hardened andwrinkled. bums slept in the fun house after it closed. there really wasn’t anythingfunny about the fun house. the house of mirrors


was good at first. we stayed in there untilwe had memorized how to walk through the maze of mirrors and then it wasn’t any good anymore. frank and i never got into fights. we were curious about things. there was a moviefeaturing a caesarean operation on the pier and we went in and saw it. it was bloody.each time they cut into the woman blood squirted out, gushers of it, and then they pulled outthe baby. we went fishing off the pier and when we caught something we would sell itto the old jewish ladies who sat on the benches. i got some beatings from my father for runningoff with frank but i figured i was going to get the beatings anyhow so i might as wellhave the fun. but i continued to have trouble with the otherkids in the neighborhood. my father didn’t


help. for example he bought me an indian suitand a bow and arrow when all the other kids had cowboy outfits. it was the same then asin the schoolyard—i was ganged-up on. they’d circle me with their cowboy outfits and theirguns, but when it got bad i’d just put an arrow into the bow, pull it back and wait.that always moved them off. i never wore that indian suit unless my father made me put iton. i kept falling out with chuck, eddie and geneand then we’d get back together and then we’d fall out all over again. one afternoon i was just standing around.i wasn’t exactly in good or in bad with the gang, i was just waiting around for themto forget the last thing i had done that had


made them angry. there wasn’t anything elseto do. just white air and waiting. i got tired of standing around and decided to walk upthe hill to washington boulevard, east to the movie house and then back down to westadams boulevard. maybe i’d walk past the church. i started walking. then i heard eddie: “hey, henry, come here!” the guys were standing in a driveway betweentwo houses. eddie, frank, chuck and gene. they were watching something. they were bentover a large bush watching something. “come here, henry!” i walked up to where they were bending over.


“it’s a spider getting ready to eat afly!” said eddie. i looked. the spider had spun a web betweenthe branches of a bush and a fly had gotten caught in there. the spider was very excited.the fly shook the whole web as it tried to pull free. it was buzzing wildly and helplesslyas the spider wound the fly’s wings and body in more and more spider web. the spiderwent around and around, webbing the fly completely as it buzzed. the spider was very big andugly. “it’s going to close in now!” yelledchuck. “it’s going to sink its fangs!” i pushed in between the guys, kicked out andknocked the spider and the fly out of the web with my foot.


“what the hell have you done?” asked chuck. “you son-of-a-bitch!” yelled eddie. “you’vespoiled it!” i backed off. even frank stared at me strangely. “let’s get his ass!” yelled gene. they were between me and the street. i randown the driveway into the backyard of a strange house. they were after me. i ran through thebackyard and behind the garage. there was a six-foot lattice fence covered with vines.i went straight up the fence and over the top. i ran through the next backyard and upthe driveway and as i ran up the driveway i looked back and saw chuck just reachingthe top of the fence. then he slipped and


fell into the yard landing on his back. “shit!”he said. i took a right and kept running. i ran for seven or eight blocks and then satdown on somebody’s lawn and rested. there was nobody around. i wondered if frank wouldforgive me. i wondered if the others would forgive me. i decided to stay out of sightfor a week or so… and so they forgot. not much happened fora while. there were many days of nothing. then frank’s father committed suicide. nobodyknew why. frank told me he and his mother would have to move to a smaller place in anotherneighborhood. he said he would write. and he did. only we didn’t write. we drew cartoons.about cannibals. his cartoons were about troubles with cannibals and then i’d continue thecartoon story where his left off, about the


troubles with the cannibals. my mother foundone of frank’s cartoons and showed it to my father and our letter writing was over. 5th grade became 6th grade and i began tothink about running away from home but i decided that if most of our fathers couldn’t getjobs how in the hell could a guy under five feet tall get one? john dillinger was everybody’shero, adults and kids alike. he took the money from the banks. and there was pretty boy floydand ma barker and machine gun kelly. people began going to vacant lots where weedsgrew. they had learned that some of the weeds could be cooked and eaten. there were fistfights between men in the vacant lots and on street corners. everybody was angry. themen smoked bull durham and didn’t take any


shit from anybody. they let the little roundbull durham tags hang out of their front shirt pockets and they could all roll a cigarettewith one hand. when you saw a man with a bull durham tag dangling, that meant look out.people went around talking about 2nd and 3rd mortgages. my father came home one night witha broken arm and two black eyes. my mother had a low paying job somewhere. and each boyin the neighborhood had one pair of sunday pants and one pair of daily pants. when shoeswore out there weren’t any new ones. the department stores had soles and heels theysold for 15 or 20 cents along with the glue, and these were glued to the bottoms of theworn out shoes. gene’s parents had one rooster and some chickens in their backyard, and ifsome chicken didn’t lay enough eggs they


ate it. as for me, it was the same—at school, andwith chuck, gene and eddie. not only did the grownups get mean, the kids got mean, andeven the animals got mean. it was like they took their cue from the people. one day i was standing around, waiting asusual, not friendly with the gang, no longer really wanting to be, when gene rushed upto me, “hey, henry, come on!” “come on!” gene started running and i ran after him.we ran down the driveway and into the gibsons’ backyard. the gibsons had a large brick wallall around their backyard.


“look! he’s got the cat cornered! he’sgoing to kill it!” there was a small white cat backed into acorner of the wall. it couldn’t go up and it couldn’t go in one direction or the other.its back was arched and it was spitting, its claws ready. but it was very small and chuck’sbulldog, barney, was growling and moving closer and closer. i got the feeling that the cathad been put there by the guys and then the bulldog had been brought in. i felt it stronglybecause of the way chuck and eddie and gene were watching: they had a guilty look. “you guys did this,” i said. “no,” said chuck, “it’s the cat’sfault. it came in here. let it fight its way


out.” “i hate you bastards,” i said. “barney’s going to kill that cat,” saidgene. “barney will rip it to pieces,” said eddie.“he’s afraid of the claws but when he moves in it will be all over.” barney was a large brown bulldog with slobberingjaws. he was dumb and fat with senseless brown eyes. his growl was steady and he kept inchingforward, the hairs standing up on his neck and along his back. i felt like kicking himin his stupid ass but i figured he would rip my leg off. he was entirely intent upon thekill. the white cat wasn’t even fully grown.


it hissed and waited, pressed against thewall, a beautiful creature, so clean. the dog moved slowly forward. why did theguys need this? this wasn’t a matter of courage, it was just dirty play. where werethe grownups? where were the authorities? they were always around accusing me. now wherewere they? i thought of rushing in, grabbing the catand running, but i didn’t have the nerve. i was afraid that the bulldog would attackme. the knowledge that i didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary made me feelterrible. i began to feel physically sick. i was weak. i didn’t want it to happen yeti couldn’t think of any way to stop it. “chuck,” i said, “let the cat go, please.call your dog off.”


chuck didn’t answer. he just kept watching. then he said, “barney, go get him! get thatcat!” barney moved forward and suddenly the catleaped. it was a furious blur of white and hissing, claws and teeth. barney backed offand the cat retreated to the wall again. “go get him, barney,” chuck said again. “god damn you, shut up!” i told him. “don’t talk to me that way,” chuck said. barney began to move in again. “you guys set this up,” i said.


i heard a slight sound behind us and lookedaround. i saw old mr. gibson watching from behind his bedroom window. he wanted the catto get killed too, just like the guys. why? old mr. gibson was our mailman with the falseteeth. he had a wife who stayed in the house all the time. she only came out to empty thegarbage. mrs. gibson always wore a net over her hair and she was always dressed in a nightgown,bathrobe and slippers. then as i watched, mrs. gibson, dressed asalways came and stood next to her husband, waiting for the kill. old mr. gibson was oneof the few men in the neighborhood with a job but he still needed to see the cat killed.gibson was just like chuck, eddie and gene. there were too many of them.


the bulldog moved closer. i couldn’t watchthe kill. i felt a great shame at leaving the cat like that. there was always the chancethat the cat might try to escape, but i knew that they would prevent it. that cat wasn’tonly facing the bulldog, it was facing humanity. i turned and walked away, out of the yard,up the driveway and to the sidewalk. i walked along the sidewalk toward where i lived andthere in the front yard of his home, my father stood waiting. “where have you been?” he asked. “get inside,” he said, “and stop lookingso unhappy or i’ll give you something that will really make you unhappy!”


21 then i started attending mt. justin jr. high.about half the guys from delsey grammar school went there, the biggest and toughest half.another gang of giants came from other schools. our 7th grade class was bigger than the 9thgrade class. when we lined up for gym it was funny, most of us were bigger than the gymteachers. we would stand there for roll call, slouched, our guts hanging out, heads down,shoulders slumped. “jesus christ,” said wagner, the gym teacher,“pull your shoulders back, stand straight!” nobody would change position. we were theway we were, and we didn’t want to be anything else. we all came from depression familiesand most of us were ill-fed, yet we had grown


up to be huge and strong. most of us, i think,got little love from our families, and we didn’t ask for love or kindness from anybody.we were a joke but people were careful not to laugh in front of us. it was as if we hadgrown up too soon and we were bored with being children. we had no respect for our elders.we were like tigers with the mange. one of the jewish fellows, sam feldman, had a blackbeard and had to shave every morning. by noon his chin was almost black. and he had a massof black hair all over his chest and he smelled terrible under the arms. another guy lookedlike jack dempsey. another guy, peter mangalore, had a cock 10 inches long, soft. and whenwe got in the shower, i found out i had the biggest balls of anybody.


“hey! look at that guy’s balls, will ya?” “holy shit! not much cock but look at thoseballs!” “holy shit!” i don’t know what it was about us but wehad something, and we felt it. you could see it in the way we walked and talked. we didn’ttalk much, we just inferred, and that’s what got everybody mad, the way we took thingsfor granted. the 7th grade team would play touch footballafter school against the 8th and 9th graders. it was no match. we beat them easy, we knockedthem down, we did it with style, almost without effort. in touch football most teams passedon every play, but our team worked in lots


of runs. then we could set up the blockingand our guys would go for the other guys and knock them down. it was just an excuse tobe violent, we didn’t give a damn about the runner. the other side was always gladwhen we called a pass play. the girls stayed after school and watchedus. some of them were already going out with high school guys, they didn’t want to messwith jr. high school punks, but they stayed to watch the 7th graders. we were known. thegirls stayed after class and watched us and marveled. i wasn’t on the team but i stoodon the sidelines and sneaked smokes, feeling like a coach or something. we’re all goingto get fucked, we thought, watching the girls. but most of us only masturbated.


masturbation. i remember how i learned aboutit. one morning eddie scratched on my bedroom window. “what is it?” i asked eddie. he held up a test tube and it had somethingwhite in the bottom of it. “come,” said eddie, “it’s my come.” “yeah, all you do is spit on your hand andbegin rubbing your cock, it feels good and pretty soon this white juice shoots out ofthe end of your cock. that stuff is called ‘come.’” “yeah.”


eddie walked off with his test tube. i thoughtabout it a while and then i decided to try it. my cock got hard and it felt real good,it felt better and better, and i kept going and it felt like nothing i had ever felt before.then juice spurted out of the head of my cock. after that i did it every now and then. itgot better if you imagined you were doing it with a girl while you whacked-off. one day i was standing on the sidelines watchingour team kick the shit out of some other team. i was sneaking a smoke and watching. therewas a girl on either side of me. as our guys broke out of a huddle i saw the gym coach,curly wagner, walking toward me. i ditched the smoke and clapped my hands.


“let’s dump ’em on their butts, gang!” wagner walked up to me. he just stood therestaring at me. i had developed an evil look on my face. “i’m going to get all you guys!” wagnersaid. “especially you!” i turned my head and glanced at him, casually,then turned my head away. wagner stood there looking at me. then he walked off. i felt good about that. i liked being pickedout as one of the bad guys. i liked to feel bad. anybody could be a good guy, that didn’ttake guts. dillinger had guts. ma barker was a great woman teaching those guys how to operatea submachine gun. i didn’t want to be like


my father. he only pretended to be bad. whenyou’re bad you didn’t pretend, it was just there. i liked being bad. trying to begood made me sick. the girl next to me said, “you don’t haveto take that from wagner. are you afraid of him?” i turned and looked at her. i stared at hera long time, motionless. “what’s wrong with you?” she asked. i looked away from her, spit on the ground,and walked off. i slowly walked the length of the field, exited through the rear gateand began walking home. wagner always wore a grey sweatshirt and greysweatpants. he had a little pot belly. something


was continually bothering him. his only advantagewas his age. he would try to bluff us but that was working less and less. there wasalways somebody pushing me who had no right to push. wagner and my father. my father andwagner. what did they want? why was i in their way? 22 one day, just like in grammar school, likewith david, a boy attached himself to me. he was small and thin and had almost no hairon top of his head. the guys called him baldy. his real name was eli lacrosse. i liked hisreal name, but i didn’t like him. he just glued himself to me. he was so pitiful thati couldn’t tell him to get lost. he was


like a mongrel dog, starved and kicked. yetit didn’t make me feel good going around with him. but since i knew that mongrel dogfeeling, i let him hang around. he used a cuss word in almost every sentence, at leastone cuss word, but it was all fake, he wasn’t tough, he was scared. i wasn’t scared buti was confused so maybe we were a good pair. i walked him back to his place after schoolevery day. he was living with his mother, his father and his grandfather. they had alittle house across from a small park. i liked the area, it had great shade trees, and sincesome people had told me that i was ugly, i always preferred shade to the sun, darknessto light. during our walks home baldy had told me abouthis father. he had been a doctor, a successful


surgeon, but he had lost his license becausehe was a drunk. one day i met baldy’s father. he was sitting in a chair under a tree, justsitting there. “dad,” he said, “this is henry.” “hello, henry.” it reminded me of when i had seen my grandfatherfor the first time, standing on the steps of his house. only baldy’s father had blackhair and a black beard, but his eyes were the same—brilliant and glowing, so strange.and here was baldy, the son, and he didn’t glow at all. “come on,” baldy said, “follow me.”


we went down into a cellar, under the house.it was dark and damp and we stood a while until our eyes grew used to the gloom. theni could see a number of barrels. “these barrels are full of different kindsof wine,” baldy said. “each barrel has a spigot. want to try some?” “go ahead, just try a god-damned sip.” “what for?” “you think you’re a god-damned man orwhat?” “i’m tough,” i said. “then take a fucking sample.”


here was little baldy, daring me. no problem.i walked up to a barrel, ducked my head down. “turn the god-damned spigot! open your god-damnedmouth!” “are there any spiders around here?” “go on! go on, god damn it!” i put my mouth under the spigot and openedit. a smelly liquid trickled out and into my mouth. i spit it out. “don’t be chicken! swallow it, what theshit!” i opened the spigot and i opened my mouth.the smelly liquid entered and i swallowed it. i turned off the spigot and stood there.i thought i was going to puke.


“now, you drink some,” i said to baldy. “sure,” he said, “i ain’t fuckingafraid!” he got down under a barrel and took a goodswallow. a little punk like that wasn’t going to outdo me. i got under another barrel,opened it and took a swallow. i stood up. i was beginning to feel good. “hey, baldy,” i said, “i like this stuff.” “well, shit, try some more.” i tried some more. it was tasting better.i was feeling better. “this stuff belongs to your father, baldy.i shouldn’t drink it all.”


“he doesn’t care. he’s stopped drinking.” never had i felt so good. it was better thanmasturbating. i went from barrel to barrel. it was magic.why hadn’t someone told me? with this, life was great, a man was perfect, nothing couldtouch him. i stood up straight and looked at baldy. “where’s your mother? i’m going to fuckyour mother!” “i’ll kill you, you bastard, you stayaway from my mother!” “you know i can whip you, baldy.” “all right, i’ll leave your mother alone.”


“let’s go then, henry.” “one more drink…” i went to a barrel and took a long one. thenwe went up the cellar stairway. when we were out, baldy’s father was still sitting inhis chair. “you boys been in the wine cellar, eh?” “yes,” said baldy. “starting a little early, aren’t you?” we didn’t answer. we walked over to theboulevard and baldy and i went into a store which sold chewing gum. we bought severalpacks of it and stuck it into our mouths.


he was worried about his mother finding out.i wasn’t worried about anything. we sat on a park bench and chewed the gum and i thought,well, now i have found something, i have found something that is going to help me, for along long time to come. the park grass looked greener, the park benches looked better andthe flowers were trying harder. maybe that stuff wasn’t good for surgeons but anybodywho wanted to be a surgeon, there was something wrong with them in the first place. 23 at mt. justin, biology class was neat. wehad mr. stanhope for our teacher. he was an old guy about 55 and we pretty much dominatedhim. lilly fischman was in the class and she


was really developed. her breasts were enormousand she had a marvelous behind which she wiggled while walking in her high-heeled shoes. shewas great, she talked to all the guys and rubbed up against them while she talked. every day in biology class it was the same.we never learned any biology. mr. stanhope would talk for about ten minutes and thenlilly would say, “oh, mr. stanhope, let’s have a show!” “no!” “oh, mr. stanhope!” she would walk up to his desk, bend over himsweetly and whisper something.


“oh, well, all right…” he’d say. and then lilly would begin singing and wiggling.she always opened up with “the lullaby of broadway” and then she went into her othernumbers. she was great, she was hot, she was burning up, and we were too. she was likea grown woman, putting it to stanhope, putting it to us. it was wonderful. old stanhope wouldsit there blubbering and slobbering. we’d laugh at stanhope and cheer lilly on. it lasteduntil one day the principal, mr. lacefield, came running in. “what’s going on here?” stanhope just sat there unable to speak.


“this class is dismissed!” lacefield screamed. as we filed out, lacefield said, “and you,miss fischman, will report to my office!” of course, after that we never studied ourhomework, and that was all right until the day mr. stanhope gave us our first examination. “shit,” said peter mangalore out loud,“what are we going to do?” peter was the guy with the 10-incher, soft. “you’ll never have to work for a living,”said the guy who looked like jack dempsey. “this is our problem.” “maybe we ought to burn the school down,”said red kirkpatrick.


“shit,” said a guy from the back of theroom, “every time i get an ‘f’ my father pulls out one of my fingernails.” we all looked at our examination sheets. ithought about my father. then i thought about lilly fischman. lilly fischman, i thought,you are a whore, an evil woman, wiggling your body in front of us and singing like that,you will send us all to hell. stanhope was watching us. “why isn’t anybody writing? why isn’tanybody answering the questions? does everybody have a pencil?” “yeah, yeah, we all got pencils,” oneof the guys said.


lilly sat up in front, right by mr. stanhope’sdesk. we saw her open her biology textbook and look up the answer to the first question.that was it. we all opened up our textbooks. stanhope just sat there and watched us. hedidn’t know what to do. he began to sputter. he sat there a good five minutes, then hejumped up. he ran back and forth up and down the center aisle of the room. “what are you people doing? close thosetextbooks! close those textbooks!” as he ran by, the students would close theirbooks only to open them again when he had run past. baldy was in the seat next to mine, laughing.“he’s an asshole! oh, what an old asshole!”


i felt a little sorry for stanhope but itwas either him or me. stanhope stood behind his desk and screamed, “all textbooks mustbe closed or i will flunk the entire class!” then lilly fischman stood up. she pulled herskirt up and yanked at one of her silk stockings. she adjusted the garter, we saw white flesh.then she pulled at and adjusted the other stocking. such a sight we had never seen,nor had stanhope ever seen anything like it. lilly sat down and we all finished the examwith our textbooks open. stanhope sat behind his desk, utterly defeated. another guy we jerked around was pop farnsworth.it began the first day in machine shop. he said, “here we learn by doing. we will beginright now. you will each take an engine apart


and put it back together, until it is in workingorder, during the semester. there are charts on the wall and i will answer your questions.you will also be shown movies about how an engine works. but right now please begin todismantle your engines. the tools are on your workshelf.” “hey, pop, how about the movies first?”some guy asked. “i said, ‘begin your project!’” i don’t know where they got all those engines.they were greasy and black and rusted. they looked really dismal. “fuck,” said some guy, “this one isa hunk of clogged shit.”


we stood over our engines. most of the guysreached for monkey wrenches. red kirkpatrick took a screwdriver and scraped it slowly alongthe top of his engine carefully creating a black ribbon of grease two feet long. “come on, pop, how about a movie? we justgot out of gym, our asses are dragging! wagner had us doing the hop, skip and jump like abunch of frogs!” “begin your assignment as requested!” we started in. it was senseless. it was worsethan music appreciation. some clanking of tools could be heard and some heavy breathing. “fuck!” hollered harry henderson, “i’vejust skinned my whole god-damned knuckle!


this is nothing but fucking white slavery!” he wrapped a handkerchief tenderly aroundhis right hand and watched the blood soak through. “shit,” he said. the rest of us kept trying. “i’d ratherstick my head up an elephant’s cunt,” said red kirkpatrick. jack dempsey threw his wrench to the floor.“i quit,” he said, “do anything you want to me, i quit. kill me. cut my ballsoff. i quit.” he walked over and leaned against a wall.he folded his arms and looked down at his shoes.


the situation seemed truly terrible. thereweren’t any girls. when you looked out the back door of the shop you could see the openschoolyard, all that sunlight and empty space out there where there was nothing to do. andhere we were bent over stupid engines that weren’t even attached to cars, they wereuseless. just stupid steel. it was dumb and it was hard. we needed mercy. our lives weredumb enough. something had to save us. we’d heard pop was a soft touch but it didn’tseem true. he was a giant son-of-a-bitch with a beer gut, dressed in his greasy outfit,and with hair hanging down in his eyes and grease on his chin. arnie whitechapel threw down his wrench andwalked up to mr. farnsworth. arnie had a big


grin on his face. “hey, pop, what the fuck?” “get back to your engine, whitechapel!” “ah, come on, pop, what the shit!” arnie was a couple of years older than therest of us. he had spent a few years in some boys’ correctional school. but even thoughhe was older than we were, he was smaller. he had very black hair slicked back with vaseline.he would stand in front of the mirror in the men’s crapper squeezing his pimples. hetalked dirty to the girls and carried sheik rubbers in his pockets. “i got a good one for you, pop!”


“yeah? get back to your engine, whitechapel.” “it’s a good one, pop.” we stood there and watched as arnie beganto tell pop a dirty joke. their heads were close together. then the joke was over. popbegan laughing. that big body was doubled over, he was holding his gut. “holy shit!oh my god, holy shit!” he laughed. then he stopped. “o.k., arnie, back to your machine!” “no, wait, pop, i got another one!” “yeah, listen…” we all left our machines and walked over.we circled them, listening as arnie told the


next joke. when it was over pop doubled up.“holy shit, oh lord, holy shit!” “then there’s another one, pop. this guyis driving his car in the desert. he notices this guy jumping along the road. he’s nakedand his hands and feet are tied with rope. the guy stops his car and asks the guy, ‘hey,buddy, what’s the matter?’ and the guy tells him, ‘well, i was driving along andi saw this bastard hitch-hiking so i stopped and the son-of-a-bitch pulls a gun on me,takes my clothes away and then ties me up. then the dirty son-of-a-bitch reams me inthe ass!’ ‘oh yeah?’ says the guy getting out of his car. ‘yeah, that’s what thatdirty son-of-a-bitch did!’ says the man. ‘well,’ says the guy unzipping his fly,‘i guess this just isn’t your lucky day!’”


pop began laughing, he doubled over. “oh,no! oh, no! oh…holy…shit, christ…holy shit…!” he finally stopped. “god damn,” he said quietly, “oh mylord…” “how about a movie, pop?” “oh well, all right.” somebody closed the back door and pop pulledout a dirty white screen. he started the projector. it was a lousy movie but it beat working onthose engines. the gas was ignited by the spark plugs and the explosion hit the cylinderhead and the head was thrust down and that


turned the crankshaft and the valves openedand closed and the cylinder heads kept going up and down and the crankshaft turned somemore. not very interesting, but it was cool in there and you could lean back in your chairand think about what you wanted to think about. you didn’t have to bust your knuckles ondumb steel. we never did get those engines taken apartlet alone put back together again and i don’t know how many times we saw that same movie.whitechapel’s jokes kept coming and we all laughed our heads off even though most ofthe jokes were pretty terrible, except to pop farnsworth who kept doubling over andlaughing, “holy shit! oh, no! oh, no, no, no!”


he was an o.k. guy. we all liked him. 24 our english teacher, miss gredis, was theabsolute best. she was a blonde with a long sharp nose. her nose wasn’t much good butyou didn’t notice it when you looked at the rest of her. she wore tight dresses andlow v-necks, black high-heeled shoes and silk stockings. she was snake-like with long beautifullegs. she only sat behind her desk when she took roll call. she kept one desk vacant atthe front of the room and after roll call she would come down and sit on that desk top,facing us. miss gredis sat perched there with her legs crossed and her skirt pulled high.never had we seen such ankles, such legs,


such thighs. well, there was lilly fischman,but lilly was a girl-woman while miss gredis was in full bloom. and we got to gaze uponher for a full hour each day. there wasn’t a boy in that class who wasn’t sad whenthe bell rang ending the english period. we’d talk about her. “do you think she wants to be fucked?” “no, i think she’s just teasing us. sheknows she’s driving us crazy, that’s all she needs, that’s all she wants.” “i know where she lives. i’m going overthere some night.” “you wouldn’t have the balls!”


“yeah? yeah? i’ll fuck the shit out ofher! she’s asking for it!” “a guy i know in the 8th grade said he wentover there one night.” “yeah? what happened?” “she came to the door in a nightgown, hertits were practically hanging out. the guy said he had forgotten the next day’s homeworkand wondered what it was. she asked him in.” “no shit?” “yeah. nothing happened. she made him sometea, told him about the homework and he left.” “if i had of gotten in, that would havebeen it!” “yeah? what would you have done?”


“first i would have corn-holed her, theni would have eaten her pussy, then i would fuck her between the tits and then i wouldforce her to give me a blow job.” “no kidding, dreamer boy. you ever beenlaid?” “fuck yes, i’ve been laid. several times.” “how was it?” “lousy.” “couldn’t come, huh?” “i came all over the place, i thought i’dnever stop.” “came all over the palm of your hand, huh?”


“ha, ha, ha, ha!” “ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!” “ha, ha!” “all over your hand, huh?” “fuck you guys!” “i don’t think any of us has been laid,”said one of the guys. there was silence. “that’s shit. i was laid when i was sevenyears old.” “that’s nothing. i was laid when i wasfour.”


“sure, red. lay it on good!” “i got this little girl under the house.” “you got a hard?” “you came?” “i think so. something squirted out.” “sure. you pissed in her cunt, red.” “balls!” “what was her name?” “betty ann.”


“fuck,” said the guy who claimed to havegotten laid when he was seven. “mine was named betty ann too.” “that whore,” said red. one fine spring day we were sitting in englishclass and miss gredis was sitting on the front desk facing us. she had her skirt pulled especiallyhigh, it was terrifying, beautiful, wondrous and dirty. such legs, such thighs, we werevery close to the magic. it was unbelievable. baldy sat in the seat across the aisle fromme. he reached over and began poking me on the leg with his finger: “she’s breaking all the records!” hewhispered. “look! look!”


“my god,” i said, “shut up or she’llpull her skirt down!” baldy pulled his hand back and i waited. wehadn’t spooked miss gredis. her skirt remained as high as ever. it was truly a day to remember.there wasn’t a boy in class without a hard-on and miss gredis went on talking. i’m surethat none of the boys heard a word she was saying. the girls, though, turned and glancedat each other as if to say, this bitch is going too far. miss gredis couldn’t go toofar. it was almost as if there weren’t even a cunt up there but something much better.those legs. the sun came through the window and poured in on those legs and thighs, thesun played on that warm silk pulled so tightly. the skirt was so high, pulled back, we allprayed for a glimpse of panty, a glimpse of


something, jesus christ, it was like the worldending and beginning and ending again, it was everything real and unreal, the sun, thethighs, and the silk, so smooth, so warm, so alluring. the whole room throbbed. eyesightblurred and returned and miss gredis went on sitting there as if nothing was happeningand she kept talking as if everything was normal. that’s what made it so good andso terrible: the fact that she pretended that it wasn’t happening. i looked down at mydesk top for a moment and saw the grain in the wood heightened as if each pattern wasa pool of whirling liquid. then i quickly looked back at the legs and thighs, angeredwith myself that i had looked away for a moment, and perhaps missed something.


then the sound began: “thump, thump, thump,thump…” richard waite. he sat in a seat in the back.he had huge ears and thick lips, the lips were swollen and monstrous and he had a verylarge head. his eyes were almost without color, they didn’t reflect interest or intelligence.he had large feet and his mouth always hung open. when he spoke the words came out oneby one, halting, with long pauses in between. he wasn’t even a sissy. nobody ever spoketo him. nobody knew what he was doing there in our school. he gave the impression thatsomething important was missing from his makeup. he wore clean clothing, but his shirt wasalways out in the back, one or two buttons were gone on his shirt or on his pants. richardwaite. he lived somewhere and he came to school


every day. “thump, thump, thump, thump, thump…” richard waite was jerking-off, a salute tomiss gredis’ thighs and legs. he had finally weakened. perhaps he didn’t understand society’sways. now we all heard him. miss gredis heard him. the girls heard him. we all knew whathe was doing. he was so fucking dumb he didn’t even have sense enough to keep it quiet. andhe was becoming more and more excited. the thumps grew louder. his closed fist was hittingthe underside of his desk top. “thump, thump thump…” we looked at miss gredis. what would she do?she hesitated. she glanced about the class.


she smiled, as composed as ever, and thenshe continued speaking: “i believe that the english language isthe most expressive and contagious form of communication. to begin with, we should bethankful that we have this unique gift of a great language. and if we abuse it we areonly abusing ourselves. so let us listen, heed, acknowledge our heritage, and yet exploreand take risks with language…” “thump, thump, thump…” “we must forget england and their use ofour common tongue. even though english usage is fine, our own american language containsmany deep wells of unexplored resources. these resources, as yet, remain untapped. giventhe proper moment and the proper writers,


there will one day be a literary explosion…” yes, richard waite was one of the few we nevertalked to. actually, we were afraid of him. he wasn’t somebody you could beat the shitout of, that would never make anybody feel better. you just wanted to get as far awayfrom him as possible, you didn’t want to look at him, you didn’t want to look atthose big lips, that big unfolding mouth like the mouth of a bruised frog. you shunned himbecause you couldn’t defeat richard waite. we waited and waited while miss gredis talkedon about english versus american culture. we waited, while richard waite went on andon. richard’s fist banged against the underside of his desk top and the little girls glancedat each other and the guys were thinking,


why is this asshole in this class with us?he’s going to spoil everything. one asshole and miss gredis will pull her skirt down forever. and then it stopped. richard sat there. hewas finished. we sneaked glances at him. he looked the same. was his sperm laying in hislap or was it in his hand? the bell rang. english class was over. after that, there was more of the same. richardwaite thumped it often while we listened to miss gredis sitting on that front desk withher legs crossed high. we boys accepted the situation. after a while we even were amused.the girls accepted it but they didn’t like it, especially lilly fischman who was almostforgotten.


besides richard waite, there was another problemfor me in that class: harry walden. harry walden was pretty, the girls thought, andhe had long golden curls and wore strange, delicate clothing. he looked like an 18thcentury fop, lots of strange colors, dark green, dark blue, i don’t know where thehell his parents found his clothes. and he always sat very still and listened attentively.like he understood everything. the girls said, “he’s a genius.” he didn’t look likeanything to me. what i couldn’t understand was that the tough guys didn’t mess withhim. it bothered me. how could he get off so easy? i found him one day in the hall. i stoppedhim.


“you don’t look like shit to me,” isaid. “how come everybody thinks you’re hot shit?” walden glanced over to his right and wheni turned my head to look in that direction, he slid around me as if i were something fromthe sewer and then a moment later he was in his seat in the class. almost every day it was miss gredis showingit all and richard thumping away and this guy walden sitting there saying nothing andacting like he believed he was a genius. i got sick of it. i asked some of the other guys, “listen,do you really think harry walden is a genius?


he just sits around in his pretty clothesand doesn’t say anything. what does that prove? we could all do that.” they didn’t answer me. i couldn’t understandtheir feelings about this fucking guy. and it got worse. word got out that harry waldenwas going to see miss gredis every night, that he was her favorite pupil, and that theywere making love. it made me sick. i could just imagine him getting out of his delicategreen and blue outfit, folding it across a chair, then climbing out of his orange satinshorts and sliding under the sheets where miss gredis cuddled his curly golden headon her shoulder and fondled it and other things as well.


it was whispered about by the girls who alwaysseemed to know everything. and even though the girls didn’t particularly like missgredis, they thought the situation was all right, that it was reasonable because harrywalden was such a delicate genius and needed all the sympathy he could get. i caught harry walden in the hall one moretime. “i’ll kick your ass, you son-of-a-bitch,you don’t fool me!” harry walden looked at me. then he lookedover my shoulder and pointed and said, “what’s that over there?” i looked around. when i looked back he wasgone. he was sitting in the class safely surrounded


by all the girls who thought he was a geniusand who loved him. there was more and more whispering about harrywalden going over to miss gredis’ house at night and some days harry wouldn’t evenbe in class. those were the best days for me because i only had to deal with the thumpingand not the golden curls and the adoration for that kind of stuff by all the little girlswith their skirts and sweaters and starched gingham dresses. when harry wasn’t therethe little girls would whisper, “he’s just too sensitive…” and red kirkpatrick would say, “she’sfucking him to death.” one afternoon i walked into class and harrywalden’s seat was empty. i figured he was


just fucking-off as usual. then the word driftedfrom desk to desk. i was always the last to know anything. it finally got to me: harrywalden had committed suicide. the night before. miss gredis didn’t know yet. i looked overat his seat. he’d never sit there again. all those colorful clothes shot to hell. missgredis finished roll call. she came and sat on the front desk, crossed her legs high.she had on a lighter shade of silk hose than ever before. her skirt was hiked way backto her thighs. “our american culture,” she said, “isdestined for greatness. the english language, now so limited and structured, will be reinventedand improved upon. our writers will use what i like to think of, in my mind, as americanese…”


miss gredis’ stockings were almost skin-colored.it was as if she were not wearing stockings at all, it was as if she were naked therein front of us, but since she wasn’t and only appeared to be, that made it better thanever. “more and more we will discover our owntruths and our own way of speaking, and this new voice will be uncluttered by old histories,old mores, old dead and useless dreams…” “thump, thump, thump…” 25 curly wagner picked out morris moscowitz.it was after school and eight or ten of us guys had heard about it and we walked outbehind the gym to watch. wagner laid down


the rules, “we fight until somebody hollersquit.” “o.k. with me,” said morris. morris wasa tall thin guy, he was a little bit dumb and he never said much or bothered anybody. wagner looked over at me. “and after i finishwith this guy, i’m taking you on!” “me, coach?” “yeah, you, chinaski.” i sneered at him. “i’m going to get some god-damned respectfrom you guys if i have to whip all of you one by one!”


wagner was cocky. he was always working outon the parallel bars or tumbling on the mat or taking laps around the track. he swaggeredwhen he walked but he still had his pot belly. he liked to stand and stare at a guy for along time like he was shit. i didn’t know what was bothering him. we worried him. ibelieve he thought we were fucking all the girls like crazy and he didn’t like to thinkabout that. they squared off. wagner had some good moves.he bobbed, he weaved, he shuffled his feet, he moved in and out, and he made little hissingsounds. he was impressive. he caught moscowitz with three straight left jabs. moscowitz juststood there with his hands at his sides. he didn’t know anything about boxing. thenwagner cracked moscowitz with a right to the


jaw. “shit!” said morris and he threwa roundhouse right which wagner ducked. wagner countered with a right and left to moscowitz’face. morris had a bloody nose. “shit!” he said and then he started swinging. andlanding. you could hear the shots, they cracked against wagner’s head. wagner tried to counterbut his punches just didn’t have the force and the fury of moscowitz’. “holy shit! get him, morrie!” moscowitz was a puncher. he dug a left tothat pot belly. wagner gasped and dropped. he fell to both knees. his face was cut andbleeding. his chin was on his chest and he looked sick.


“i quit,” wagner said. we left him there behind the building andwe followed morris moscowitz out of there. he was our new hero. “shit, morrie, you ought to turn pro!” “naw, i’m only thirteen years old.” we walked over behind the machine shop andstood around the steps. somebody lit up some cigarettes and we passed them around. “what has that man got against us?” askedmorrie. “hell, morrie, don’t you know? he’sjealous. he thinks we’re fucking all the


chicks!” “why, i’ve never even kissed a girl.” “no shit, morrie?” “no shit.” “you ought to try dry-fucking, morrie, it’sgreat!” then we saw wagner walking past. he was workingon his face with his handkerchief. “hey, coach,” yelled one of the guys,“how about a rematch?” he stood and looked at us. “you boys putout those cigarettes!” “ah, no, coach, we like to smoke!”


“come on over here, coach, and make us putout our cigarettes!” “yeah, come on, coach!” wagner stood looking at us. “i’m not donewith you yet! i’ll get every one of you, one way or the other!” “how ya gonna do that, coach? your talentsseem limited.” “yeah, coach, how ya gonna do it?” he walked off the field to his car. i felta little sorry for him. when a guy was that nasty he should be able to back it up. “i guess he doesn’t think there’ll bea virgin on the grounds by the time we graduate,”


said one of the guys. “i think,” said another guy, “that somebodyjacked-off into his ear and he has come for brains.” we left after that. it had been a fairly goodday. 26 my mother went to her low-paying job eachmorning and my father, who didn’t have a job, left each morning too. although mostof the neighbors were unemployed he didn’t want them to think he was jobless. so he gotinto his car each morning at the same time and drove off as if he were going to work.then in the evening he would return at exactly


the same time. it was good for me becausei had the place to myself. they locked the house but i knew how to get in. i would unhookthe screen door with a piece of cardboard. they locked the porch door with a key fromthe inside. i slid a newspaper under the door and poked the key out. then i pulled the newspaperfrom under the door and the key came with it. i would unlock the door and go in. wheni left i would hook the screen door, lock the back porch door from the inside, leavingthe key in. then i would leave through the front door, putting the latch on lock. i liked being alone. one day i was playingone of my games. there was a clock on the mantle with a second hand and i held conteststo see how long i could hold my breath. each


time i did it i exceeded my own record. iwent through much agony but i was proud each time i added some seconds to my record. thisday i added a full five seonds and i was standing getting my breath back when i walked to thefront window. it was a large window covered by red drapes. there was a crack between thedrapes and i looked out. jesus christ! our window was directly across from the frontporch of the andersons’ house. mrs. anderson was sitting on the steps, and i could lookright up her dress. she was about 23 and had marvelously shaped legs. i could see almostall the way up her dress. then i remember my father’s army binoculars. they were onthe top shelf of his closet. i ran and got them, ran back, crouched down and adjustedthem to mrs. anderson’s legs. it took me


right up there! and it was different fromlooking at miss gredis’ legs: you didn’t have to pretend you weren’t looking. youcould concentrate. and i did. i was right there. i was red hot. jesus christ, what legs,what flanks! and each time she moved, it was unbearable and unbelievable. i got down on my knees and i held the binocularswith one hand and pulled my cock out with the other. i spit in my palm and began. fora moment i thought i saw a flash of panties. i was about to come. i stopped. i kept lookingwith the binocs and then i started rubbing again. when i was about to come i stoppedagain. then i waited and began rubbing again. this time i knew i wouldn’t be able to stop.she was right there. i was looking right up


her! it was like fucking. i came. i spurtedall over the hardwood floor in front of the window. it was white and thick. i got up andwent to the bathroom and got some toilet paper, came back and wiped it up. i took it backto the toilet and flushed it away. mrs. anderson came and sat on those stepsalmost every day and each time she did i got the binocs and whacked-off. if mr. anderson ever finds out about this,i thought, he’ll kill me… my parents went to the movies every wednesdaynight. the theatre had drawings for money and they wanted to win some money. it wason a wednesday night that i discovered something. the pirozzis lived in the house south of ours.our driveway ran along the north side of their


house and there was a window which lookedinto their front room. the window was veiled by a thin curtain. there was a wall whichbecame an arch over the front of our driveway and there were bushes all about. when i gotbetween that wall and the window, in among all those bushes, nobody could see me fromthe street, especially at night. i crawled in there. it was great, better thani expected. mrs. pirozzi was sitting on the couch reading a newspaper. her legs were crossed,and in an easy chair across the room, mr. pirozzi was reading a newspaper. mrs. pirozziwas not as young as miss gredis or mrs. anderson, but she had good legs and she had on highheels and almost every time she turned a page of her newspaper, she’d cross her legs andher skirt would climb higher and i would see


more. if my parents come home from the movie andcatch me here, i thought, then my life is over. but it’s worth it. it’s worth therisk. i stayed very quiet behind the window andstared at mrs. pirozzi’s legs. they had a large collie, jeff, who was asleep in frontof the door. i had looked at miss gredis’ legs that day in english class, then i hadwhacked-off to mrs. anderson’s legs, and now there was more. why didn’t mr. pirozzilook at mrs. pirozzi’s legs? he just kept reading his newspaper. it was obvious thatmrs. pirozzi was trying to tease him because her skirt kept climbing higher and higher.then she turned a page and crossed her legs


very fast and her skirt flipped back exposingher pure white thighs. she was just like buttermilk! unbelievable! she was best of all! then from the corner of my eye i saw mr. pirozzi’slegs move. he stood up very quickly and moved toward the front door. i started running,crashing through the bushes. i heard him open his front door. i was down the driveway andinto our backyard and behind the garage. i stood a moment, listening. then i climbedthe back fence, over the vines and on over into the next backyard. i ran through thatyard and up the driveway and i began dog-trotting south down the street like a guy practicingfor track. there was nobody behind me but i kept trotting.


if he knows it was me, if he tells my father,i’m dead. but maybe he just let the dog out to takea shit? i trotted down to west adams boulevard andsat on a streetcar bench. i sat there five minutes or so, then i walked back home. wheni got there, my parents weren’t back yet. i went inside, undressed, turned out the lightsand waited for morning… another wednesday night baldy and i were takingour usual short cut between two apartment houses. we were on our way to his father’swine cellar when baldy stopped at a window. the shade was almost down but not quite. baldystopped, bent, and peeked inside. he waved me over.


“what is it?” i whispered. “look!” there was a man and a woman in bed, naked.there was just a bedsheet partly over them. the man was trying to kiss the woman and shewas pushing him away. “god damn it, let me have it, marie!” “but i’m hot, please!” “take your god-damned hands off me!” “but, marie, i love you!” “you and your fucking love…”


“marie, please.” “will you shut up?” the man turned toward the wall. the womanpicked up a magazine, bunched a pillow behind her head, and began reading it. baldy and i walked away from the window. “jesus,” said baldy, “that made me sick!” “i thought we were going to see something,”i said. when we got to the wine cellar baldy’s oldman had put a big padlock on the cellar door. we tried that window again and again but wenever actually saw anything happen. it was


always the same. “marie, it’s been a long time. we’reliving together, you know. we’re married!” “big fucking deal!” “just this once, marie, and i won’t botheryou again, i won’t bother you for a long time, i promise!” “shut up! you make me sick!” baldy and i walked away. “shit,” i said. “shit,” he said.


“i don’t think he’s got a cock,” isaid. “he might as well not have,” said baldy. we stopped going back there. 27 wagner wasn’t done with us. i was standingin the yard during gym class when he walked up to me. “what are you doing, chinaski?” “nothing?” “how come you’re not in any of the games?”


“shit. that’s kid stuff.” “i’m putting you on garbage detail untilfurther notice.” “what for? what’s the charge?” “loitering. 50 demerits.” the kids had to work off their demerits ongarbage detail. if you had more than ten demerits and didn’t work them off, you couldn’tgraduate. i didn’t care whether i graduated or not. that was their problem. i could juststay around getting older and older and bigger and bigger. i’d get all the girls. “50 demerits?” i asked. “is that allyou’re going to give me? how about a hundred?”


“o.k., one hundred. you got ’em.” wagner swaggered off. peter mangalore had500 demerits. now i was in second place, and gaining… the first garbage detail was during the lastthirty minutes of lunch. the next day i was carrying a garbage can with peter mangalore.it was simple. we each had a stick with a sharp nail on the end of it. we picked uppapers with the stick and stuck them into the can. the girls watched us as we walkedby. they knew we were bad. peter looked bored and i looked like i didn’t give a damn.the girls knew we were bad. “you know lilly fischman?” pete askedas we walked along.


“oh, yes, yes.” “well, she’s not a virgin.” “how do you know?” “she told me.” “who got her?” “her father.” “hmmm…well you can’t blame him.” “lilly’s heard i’ve got a big cock.” “yeah, it’s all over school.”


“well, lilly wants it. she claims she canhandle it.” “you’ll rip her to pieces.” “yeah, i will. anyhow, she wants it.” we put the garbage can down and stared atsome girls who were sitting on a bench. pete walked toward the bench. i stood there. hewalked up to one of the girls and whispered something in her ear. she started giggling.pete walked back to the garbage can. we picked it up and walked away. “so,” said pete, “this afternoon at4 p.m. i’m going to rip lilly to pieces.” “you know that broken-down car at the backof the school that pop farnsworth took the


engine out of?” “well, before they haul that son-of-a-bitchaway, that’s going to be my bedroom. i’m going to take her in the back seat.” “some guys really live.” “i’m getting a hard just thinking aboutit,” said pete. “i am too and i’m not even the guy who’sgoing to do it.” “there’s one problem though,” said pete. “you can’t come?” “no, it’s not that. i need a look-out.i need somebody to tell me the coast is clear.”


“yeah? well, look, i can do that.” “would you?” asked pete. “sure. but we should have one more guy sowe can watch in both directions.” “all right. who you got in mind?” “baldy.” “baldy? shit, he’s not much.” “no, but he’s trustworthy.” “all right. so i’ll see you guys at four.” “we’ll be there.”


at four p.m. we met pete and lilly at thecar. “hi!” said lilly. she looked hot. petewas smoking a cigarette. he looked bored. “hello, lilly,” i said. “hi, lilly baby,” said baldy. there were some guys playing a game of touchfootball in the other field but that only made it better, a kind of camouflage. lillywas wiggling around, breathing heavily, her breasts were moving up and down. “well,” said pete, throwing his cigaretteaway, “let’s make friends, lilly.” he opened the back door, bowed, and lillyclimbed in. pete got in after her and took


his shoes off, then his pants and his shorts.lilly looked down and saw pete’s meat hanging. “oh my,” she said, “i don’t know…” “come on, baby,” said pete, “nobodylives forever.” “well, all right, i guess…” pete looked out the window. “hey, are youguys watching to see if the coast is clear?” “yeah, pete,” i said, “we’re watching.” “we’re looking,” said baldy. pete pulled lilly’s skirt all the way up.there was white flesh above her knee socks and you could see her panties. glorious.


pete grabbed lilly and kissed her. then hepulled away. “you whore!” he said. “talk to me nice, pete!” “you bitch-whore!” he said and slappedher across the face, hard. she began sobbing. “don’t, pete, don’t…” “shut up, cunt!” pete began pulling at lilly’s panties. hewas having a terrible time. her panties were tight around her big ass. pete gave a violenttug, they ripped and he pulled the panties down around her legs and off over her shoes.he threw them on the floorboard. then he began


playing with her cunt. he played with hercunt and played with her cunt and kissed her again and again. then he leaned back againstthe car seat. he only had half a hard. lilly looked down at him. “what are you, a queer?” “no, it’s not that, lilly. it’s justthat i don’t think these guys are watching to see if the coast is clear. they’re watchingus. i don’t want to get caught in here.” “the coast is clear, pete,” i said. “we’rewatching!” “we’re watching!” said baldy. “i don’t believe them,” said pete. “allthey’re watching is your cunt, lilly.”


“you’re chicken! all that meat and it’sonly at half-mast!” “i’m scared of getting caught, lilly.” “i know what to do,” she said. lilly bent over and ran her tongue along pete’scock. she lapped her tongue around the monstrous head. then she had it in her mouth. “lilly…christ,” said pete, “i loveyou…” “lilly, lilly, lilly…oh, oh, oooh ooooh…” “henry!” baldy screamed. “look!” i looked. it was wagner running toward usfrom across the field and also coming behind


him were the guys who had been playing touchfootball, plus some of the people who had been watching the football game, boys andgirls both. “pete!” i yelled, “it’s wagner comingwith 50 people!” “shit!” moaned pete. “oh, shit,” said lilly. baldy and i took off. we ran out the gateand halfway up the block. we looked back through the fence. pete and lilly never had a chance.wagner ran up and ripped open the car door hoping for a good look. then the car was surroundedand we couldn’t see any more… after that, we never saw pete or lilly again.we had no idea what happened to them. baldy


and i each got 1,000 demerits which put mein the lead over magalore with 1,100. there was no way i could work them off. i was inmt. justin for life. of course, they informed our parents. “let’s go,” said my father, and i walkedinto the bathroom. he got the strop down. “take down your pants and shorts,” hesaid. i didn’t do it. he reached in front of me,yanked my belt open, unbuttoned me and yanked my pants down. he pulled down my shorts. thestrop landed. it was the same, the same explosive sound, the same pain.


“you’re going to kill your mother!”he screamed. he hit me again. but the tears weren’t coming.my eyes were strangely dry. i thought about killing him. that there must be a way to killhim. in a couple of years i could beat him to death. but i wanted him now. he wasn’tmuch of anything. i must have been adopted. he hit me again. the pain was still therebut the fear of it was gone. the strop landed again. the room no longer blurred. i couldsee everything clearly. my father seemed to sense the difference in me and he began tolash me harder, again and again, but the more he beat me the less i felt. it was almostas if he was the one who was helpless. something had occurred, something had changed. my fatherstopped, puffing, and i heard him hanging


up the strop. he walked to the door. i turned. “hey,” i said. my father turned and looked at me. “give me a couple more,” i told him, “ifit makes you feel any better.” “don’t you dare talk to me that way!”he said. i looked at him. i saw folds of flesh underhis chin and around his neck. i saw sad wrinkles and crevices. his face was tired pink putty.he was in his undershirt, and his belly sagged, wrinkling his undershirt. the eyes were nolonger fierce. his eyes looked away and couldn’t meet mine. something had happened. the bathtowels knew it, the shower curtain knew it,


the mirror knew it, the bathtub and the toiletknew it. my father turned and walked out the door. he knew it. it was my last beating.from him. 28 jr. high went by quickly enough. about the8th grade, going into the 9th, i broke out with acne. many of the guys had it but notlike mine. mine was really terrible. i was the worst case in town. i had pimples andboils all over my face, back, neck, and some on my chest. it happened just as i was beginningto be accepted as a tough guy and a leader. i was still tough but it wasn’t the same.i had to withdraw. i watched people from afar, it was like a stage play. only they were onstage and i was an audience of one. i’d


always had trouble with the girls but withacne it was impossible. the girls were further away than ever. some of them were truly beautiful—theirdresses, their hair, their eyes, the way they stood around. just to walk down the streetduring an afternoon with one, you know, talking about everything and anything, i think thatwould have made me feel very good. also, there was still something about me thatcontinually got me into trouble. most teachers didn’t trust or like me, especially thelady teachers. i never said anything out of the way but they claimed it was my “attitude.”it was something about the way i sat slouched in my seat and my “voice tone.” i wasusually accused of “sneering” although i wasn’t conscious of it. i was often madeto stand outside in the hall during class


or i was sent to the principal’s office.the principal always did the same thing. he had a phone booth in his office. he made mestand in the phone booth with the door closed. i spent many hours in that phone booth. theonly reading material in there was the ladies home journal. it was deliberate torture. iread the ladies home journal anyhow. i got to read each new issue. i hoped that maybei could learn something about women. i must have had 5,000 demerits by graduationtime but it didn’t seem to matter. they wanted to get rid of me. i was standing outsidein the line that was filing into the auditorium one by one. we each had on our cheap littlecap and gown that had been passed down again and again to the next graduating group. wecould hear each person’s name as they walked


across the stage. they were making one biggod-damned deal out of graduating from jr. high. the band played our school song: oh, mt. justin, oh, mt. justin we will be true, our hearts are singing wildly all our skies are blue… we stood in line, each of us waiting to marchacross the stage. in the audience were our parents and friends. “i’m about to puke,” said one of theguys.


“we only go from crap to more crap,” saidanother. the girls seemed to be more serious aboutit. that’s why i didn’t really trust them. they seemed to be part of the wrong things.they and the school seemed to have the same song. “this stuff brings me down,” said oneof the guys. “i wish i had a smoke.” “here you are…” another of the guys handed him a cigarette.we passed it around between four or five of us. i took a hit and exhaled through my nostrils.then i saw curly wagner walking in. “ditch it!” i said. “here comes vomit-head!”


wagner walked right up to me. he was dressedin his grey gym suit, including sweatshirt, just as he had been the first time i saw himand all the other times afterward. he stood in front of me. “listen,” he said, “you think you’regetting away from me because you’re getting out of here, but you’re not! i’m goingto follow you the rest of your life. i’m going to follow you to the ends of the earthand i’m going to get you!” i just glanced at him without comment andhe walked off. wagner’s little graduation speech only made me that much bigger withthe guys. they thought i must have done some big god-damned thing to rile him. but it wasn’ttrue. wagner was just simple-crazy.


we got nearer and nearer to the doorway ofthe auditorium. not only could we hear each name being announced, and the applause, butwe could see the audience. then it was my turn. “henry chinaski,” the principal said overthe microphone. and i walked forward. there was no applause. then one kindly soul in theaudience gave two or three claps. there were rows of seats set up on the stagefor the graduating class. we sat there and waited. the principal gave his speech aboutopportunity and success in america. then it was all over. the band struck up the mt. justinschool song. the students and their parents and friends rose and mingled together. i walkedaround, looking. my parents weren’t there.


i made sure. i walked around and gave it agood look-see. it was just as well. a tough guy didn’tneed that. i took off my ancient cap and gown and handed it to the guy at the end of theaisle—the janitor. he folded the pieces up for the next time. i walked outside. the first one out. but wherecould i go? i had eleven cents in my pocket. i walked back to where i lived. 29 that summer, july 1934, they gunned down johndillinger outside the movie house in chicago. he never had a chance. the lady in red hadfingered him. more than a year earlier the


banks had collapsed. prohibition was repealedand my father drank eastside beer again. but the worst thing was dillinger getting it.a lot of people admired dillinger and it made everybody feel terrible. roosevelt was president.he gave fireside chats over the radio and everybody listened. he could really talk.and he began to enact programs to put people to work. but things were still very bad. andmy boils got worse, they were unbelievably large. that september i was scheduled to go to woodhavenhigh but my father insisted i go to chelsey high. “look,” i told him, “chelsey is outof this district. it’s too far away.”


“you’ll do as i tell you. you’ll registerat chelsey high.” i knew why he wanted me to go to chelsey.the rich kids went there. my father was crazy. he still thought about being rich. when baldyfound out i was going to chelsey he decided to go there too. i couldn’t get rid of himor my boils. the first day we rode our bikes to chelseyand parked them. it was a terrible feeling. most of those kids, at least all the olderones, had their own automobiles, many of them new convertibles, and they weren’t blackor dark blue like most cars, they were bright yellow, green, orange and red. the guys satin them outside of the school and the girls gathered around and went for rides. everybodywas nicely dressed, the guys and the girls,


they had pullover sweaters, wrist watchesand the latest in shoes. they seemed very adult and poised and superior. and there iwas in my homemade shirt, my one ragged pair of pants, my rundown shoes, and i was coveredwith boils. the guys with the cars didn’t worry about acne. they were very handsome,they were tall and clean with bright teeth and they didn’t wash their hair with handsoap. they seemed to know something i didn’t know. i was at the bottom again. since all the guys had cars baldy and i wereashamed of our bicycles. we left them home and walked to school and back, two-and-one-halfmiles each way. we carried brown bag lunches. but most of the other students didn’t eveneat in the school cafeteria. they drove to


malt shops with the girls, played the jukeboxes and laughed. they were on their way to u.s.c. i was ashamed of my boils. at chelsey youhad a choice between gym and r.o.t.c. i took r.o.t.c. because then i didn’t have to weara gym suit and nobody could see the boils on my body. but i hated the uniform. the shirtwas made of wool and it irritated my boils. the uniform was worn from monday to thursday.on friday we were allowed to wear regular clothes. we studied the manual of arms. it was aboutwarfare and shit like that. we had to pass exams. we marched around the field. we practicedthe manual of arms. handling the rifle during


various drills was bad for me. i had boilson my shoulders. sometimes when i slammed the rifle against my shoulder a boil wouldbreak and leak through my shirt. the blood would come through but because the shirt wasthick and made of wool the spot wasn’t obvious and didn’t look like blood. i told my mother what was happening. she linedthe shoulders of my shirts with white patches of cloth, but it only helped a little. once an officer came through on inspection.he grabbed the rifle out of my hands and held it up, peering through the barrel, for dustin the bore. he slammed the rifle back at me, then looked at a blood spot on my rightshoulder.


“chinaski!” he snapped, “your rifleis leaking oil!” “yes, sir.” i got through the term but the boils got worseand worse. they were as large as walnuts and covered my face. i was very ashamed. sometimesat home i would stand before the bathroom mirror and break one of the boils. yellowpus would spurt and splatter on the mirror. and little white hard pits. in a horribleway it was fascinating that all that stuff was in there. but i knew how hard it was forother people to look at me. the school must have advised my father. atthe end of that term i was withdrawn from school. i went to bed and my parents coveredme with ointments. there was a brown salve


that stank. my father preferred that one forme. it burned. he insisted that i keep it on longer, much longer than the instructionsadvised. one night he insisted that i leave it on for hours. i began screaming. i ranto the tub, filled it with water and washed the salve off, with difficulty. i was burned,on my face, my back and chest. that night i sat on the edge of the bed. i couldn’tlay down. my father came into the room. “i thought i told you to leave that stuffon!” “look what happened,” i told him. my mother came into the room.


“the son-of-a-bitch doesn’t want to getwell,” my father told her. “why did i have to have a son like this?” my mother lost her job. my father kept leavingin his car every morning as if he were going to work. “i’m an engineer,” he toldpeople. he had always wanted to be an engineer. it was arranged for me to go to the l.a. countygeneral hospital. i was given a long white card. i took the white card and got on the#7 streetcar. the fare was seven cents (or four tokens for a quarter). i dropped in mytoken and walked to the back of the streetcar. i had an 8:30 a.m. appointment. a few blocks later a young boy and a womangot on the streetcar. the woman was fat and


the boy was about four years old. they satin the seat behind me. i looked out the window. we rolled along. i liked that #7 streetcar.it went really fast and rocked back and forth as the sun shone outside. “mommy,” i heard the young boy say, “what’swrong with that man’s face?” the woman didn’t answer. the boy asked her the same question again. she didn’t answer. then the boy screamed it out, “mommy! what’swrong with that man’s face?” “shut up! i don’t know what’s wrongwith his face!”


i went to admissions at the hospital and theyinstructed me to report to the fourth floor. there the nurse at the desk took my name andtold me to be seated. we sat in two long rows of green metal chairs facing one another.mexicans, whites and blacks. there were no orientals. there was nothing to read. someof the patients had day-old newspapers. the people were of all ages, thin and fat, shortand tall, old and young. nobody talked. everybody seemed very tired. orderlies walked back andforth, sometimes you saw a nurse, but never a doctor. an hour went by, two hours. nobody’sname was called. i got up to look for a water fountain. i looked in the little rooms wherepeople were to be examined. there wasn’t anybody in any of the rooms, neither doctorsor patients.


i went to the desk. the nurse was staringdown into a big fat book with names written in it. the phone rang. she answered it. “dr. menen isn’t here yet.” she hungup. “pardon me,” i said. “yes?” the nurse asked. “the doctors aren’t here yet. can i comeback later?” “but there’s nobody here.” “the doctors are on call.” “but i have an 8:30 appointment.”


“everybody here has an 8:30 appointment.” there were 45 or 50 people waiting. “since i’m on the waiting list, supposei come back in a couple of hours, maybe there will be some doctors here then.” “if you leave now, you will automaticallylose your appointment. you will have to return tomorrow if you still wish treatment.” i walked back and sat in a chair. the othersdidn’t protest. there was very little movement. sometimes two or three nurses would walk bylaughing. once they pushed a man past in a wheelchair. both of his legs were heavilybandaged and his ear on the side of his head


toward me had been sliced off. there was ablack hole divided into little sections, and it looked like a spider had gone in thereand made a spider web. hours passed. noon came and went. another hour. two hours. wesat and waited. then somebody said, “there’s a doctor!” the doctor walked into one of the examinationrooms and closed the door. we all watched. nothing. a nurse went in. we heard her laughing.then she walked out. five minutes. ten minutes. the doctor walked out with a clipboard inhis hand. “martinez?” the doctor asked. “josã©martinez?” an old thin mexican man stood up and beganwalking toward the doctor.


“martinez? martinez, old boy, how are you?” “sick, doctor…i think i die…” “well, now…step in here…” martinez was in there a long time. i pickedup a discarded newspaper and tried to read it. but we were all thinking about martinez.if martinez ever got out of there, someone would be next. then martinez screamed. “ahhhhh! ahhhhh!stop! stop! ahhhh! mercy! god! please stop!” “now, now, that doesn’t hurt…” saidthe doctor. martinez screamed again. a nurse ran intothe examination room. there was silence. all


we could see was the black shadow of the half-opendoorway. then an orderly ran into the examination room. martinez made a gurgling sound. he wastaken out of there on a rolling stretcher. the nurse and the orderly pushed him downthe hall and through some swinging doors. martinez was under a sheet but he wasn’tdead because the sheet wasn’t pulled over his face. the doctor stayed in the examination roomfor another ten minutes. then he came out with the clipboard. “jefferson williams?” he asked. there was no answer.


“is jefferson williams here?” there was no response. “mary blackthorne?” “harry lewis?” “yes, doctor?” “step forward, please…” it was very slow. the doctor saw five morepatients. then he left the examination room, stopped at the desk, lit a cigarette and talkedto the nurse for fifteen minutes. he looked like a very intelligent man. he had a twitchon the right side of his face, which kept


jumping, and he had red hair with streaksof grey. he wore glasses and kept taking them off and putting them back on. another nursecame in and gave him a cup of coffee. he took a sip, then holding the coffee in one handhe pushed the swinging doors open with the other and was gone. the office nurse came out from behind thedesk with our long white cards and she called our names. as we answered, she handed eachof us our card back. “this ward is closed for the day. please return tomorrow if youwish. your appointment time is stamped on your card.” i looked down at my card. it was stamped 8:30a.m.


30 i got lucky the next day. they called my name.it was a different doctor. i stripped down. he turned a hot white light on me and lookedme over. i was sitting on the edge of the examination table. “hmmm, hmmmm,” he said, “uh huh…” i sat there. “how long have you had this?” “a couple of years. it keeps getting worseand worse.” “ah hah.”


he kept looking. “now, you just stretch out there on yourstomach. i’ll be right back.” some moments passed and suddenly there weremany people in the room. they were all doctors. at least they looked and talked like doctors.where had they come from? i had thought there were hardly any doctors at l.a. county generalhospital. “acne vulgaris. the worst case i’ve seenin all my years of practice!” “fantastic!” “incredible!” “look at the face!”


“the neck!” “i just finished examining a young girlwith acne vulgaris. her back was covered. she cried. she told me, ‘how will i everget a man? my back will be scarred forever. i want to kill myself!’ and now look atthis fellow! if she could see him, she’d know that she really had nothing to complainabout!” you dumb fuck, i thought, don’t you realizethat i can hear what you’re saying? how did a man get to be a doctor? did theytake anybody? “is he asleep?” “he seems very calm.”


“no, i don’t think he’s asleep. areyou asleep, my boy?” they kept moving the hot white light abouton various parts of my body. “turn over.” i turned over. “look, there’s a lesion inside of hismouth!” “well, how will we treat it?” “the electric needle, i think…” “yes, of course, the electric needle.” “yes, the needle.”


it was decided. 31 the next day i sat in the hall in my greentin chair, waiting to be called. across from me sat a man who had something wrong withhis nose. it was very red and very raw and very fat and long and it was growing uponitself. you could see where section had grown upon section. something had irritated theman’s nose and it had just started growing. i looked at the nose and then tried not tolook. i didn’t want the man to see me looking, i knew how he felt. but the man seemed verycomfortable. he was fat and sat there almost asleep.


they called him first: “mr. sleeth?” he moved forward a bit in his chair. “sleeth? richard sleeth?” “uh? yes, i’m here…” he stood up and moved toward the doctor. “how are you today, mr. sleeth?” “fine…i’m all right…” he followed the doctor into the examinationroom. i got my call an hour later. i followed thedoctor through some swinging doors and into


another room. it was larger than the examinationroom. i was told to disrobe and to sit on a table. the doctor looked at me. “you really have a case there, haven’tyou?” he poked at a boil on my back. “that hurt?” “well,” he said, “we’re going to tryto get some drainage.” i heard him turn on the machinery. it madea whirring sound. i could smell oil getting hot. “ready?” he asked.


he pushed the electric needle into my back.i was being drilled. the pain was immense. it filled the room. i felt the blood run downmy back. then he pulled the needle out. “now we’re going to get another one,”said the doctor. he jammed the needle into me. then he pulledit out and jammed it into a third boil. two other men had walked in and were standingthere watching. they were probably doctors. the needle went into me again. “i never saw anybody go under the needlelike that,” said one of the men. “he gives no sign at all,” said the otherman. “why don’t you guys go out and pinch somenurse’s ass?” i asked them.


“look, son, you can’t talk to us likethat!” the needle dug into me. i didn’t answer. “the boy is evidently very bitter…” “yes, of course, that’s it.” the men walked out. “those are fine professional men,” saidmy doctor. “it’s not good of you to abuse them.” “just go ahead and drill,” i told him. he did. the needle got very hot but he wenton and on. he drilled my entire back, then


he got my chest. then i stretched out andhe drilled my neck and my face. a nurse came in and she got her instructions.“now, miss ackerman, i want these…pustules…thoroughly drained. and when you get to the blood, keepsqueezing. i want thorough drainage.” “yes, dr. grundy.” “and afterwards, the ultra-violet ray machine.two minutes on each side to begin with…” i followed miss ackerman into another room.she told me to lay down on the table. she got a tissue and started on the first boil. “does this hurt?” “it’s all right.”


“you poor boy…” “don’t worry. i’m just sorry you haveto do this.” miss ackerman was the first person to giveme any sympathy. it felt strange. she was a chubby little nurse in her early thirties. “are you going to school?” she asked. “no, they had to take me out.” miss ackerman kept squeezing as she talked. “what do you do all day?” “i just stay in bed.”


“that’s awful.” “no, it’s nice. i like it.” “go ahead. it’s all right.” “what’s so nice about laying in bed allday?” “i don’t have to see anybody.” “you like that?” “oh, yes.” “some of the day i listen to the radio.” “what do you listen to?”


“music. and people talking.” “do you think of girls?” “sure. but that’s out.” “you don’t want to think that way.” “i make charts of airplanes going overhead.they come over at the same time each day. i have them timed. say that i know that oneof them is going to pass over at 11:15 a.m. around 11:10, i start listening for the soundof the motor. i try to hear the first sound. sometimes i imagine i hear it and sometimesi’m not sure and then i begin to hear it, ’way off, for sure. and the sound gets stronger.then at 11:15 a.m. it passes overhead and


the sound is as loud as it’s going to get.” “you do that every day?” “not when i’m here.” “turn over,” said miss ackerman. i did. then in the ward next to us a man startedscreaming. we were next to the disturbed ward. he was really loud. “what are they doing to him?” i askedmiss ackerman. “he’s in the shower.” “and it makes him scream like that?”


“i’m worse off than he is.” “no, you’re not.” i liked miss ackerman. i sneaked a look ather. her face was round, she wasn’t very pretty but she wore her nurse’s cap in aperky manner and she had large dark brown eyes. it was the eyes. as she balled up sometissue to throw into the dispenser i watched her walk. well, she was no miss gredis, andi had seen many other women with better figures, but there was something warm about her. shewasn’t constantly thinking about being a woman. “as soon as i finish your face,” she said,“i will put you under the ultra-violet ray


machine. your next appointment will be theday after tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.” we didn’t talk any more after that. then she was finished. i put on goggles andmiss ackerman turned on the ultra-violet ray machine. there was a ticking sound. it was peaceful.it might have been the automatic timer, or the metal reflector on the lamp heating up.it was comforting and relaxing, but when i began to think about it, i decided that everythingthat they were doing for me was useless. i figured that at best the needle would leavescars on me for the remainder of my life. that was bad enough but it wasn’t what ireally minded. what i minded was that they


didn’t know how to deal with me. i sensedthis in their discussions and in their manner. they were hesitant, uneasy, yet also somehowdisinterested and bored. finally it didn’t matter what they did. they just had to dosomething—anything—because to do nothing would be unprofessional. they experimented on the poor and if thatworked they used the treatment on the rich. and if it didn’t work, there would stillbe more poor left over to experiment upon. the machine signaled its warning that twominutes were up. miss ackerman came in, told me to turn over, re-set the machine, thenleft. she was the kindest person i had met in eight years.


32 the drilling and squeezing continued for weeksbut there was little result. when one boil vanished another would appear. i often stoodin front of the mirror alone, wondering how ugly a person could get. i would look at myface in disbelief, then turn to examine all the boils on my back. i was horrified. nowonder people stared, no wonder they said unkind things. it was not simply a case ofteen-age acne. these were inflamed, relentless, large, swollen boils filled with pus. i feltsingled out, as if i had been selected to be this way. my parents never spoke to meabout my condition. they were still on relief. my mother left each morning to look for workand my father drove off as if he were working.


on saturdays people on relief got free foodstuffsfrom the markets, mostly canned goods, almost always cans of hash for some reason. we atea great deal of hash. and bologna sandwiches. and potatoes. my mother learned to make potatopancakes. each saturday when my parents went for their free food they didn’t go to thenearest market because they were afraid some of the neighbors might see them and then knowthat they were on the dole. so they walked two miles down washington boulevard, to astore a couple of blocks past crenshaw. it was a long walk. they walked the two milesback, sweating, carrying their shopping bags full of canned hash and potatoes and bolognaand carrots. my father didn’t drive because he wanted to save gas. he needed the gas todrive to and from his invisible job. the other


fathers weren’t like that. they just satquietly on their front porches or played horseshoes in the vacant lot. the doctor gave me a white substance to applyto my face. it hardened and caked on the boils, giving me a plaster-like look. the substancedidn’t seem to help. i was home alone one afternoon, applying this substance to my faceand body. i was standing in my shorts trying to reach the infected areas of my back withmy hand when i heard voices. it was baldy and his friend jimmy hatcher. jimmy hatcherwas a good looking fellow and he was a wise-ass. “henry!” i heard baldy calling. i heardhim talking to jimmy. then he walked up on the porch and beat on the door. “hey, hank,it’s baldy! open up!”


you damn fool, i thought, don’t you understandthat i don’t want to see anybody? “hank! hank! it’s baldy and jim!” he beat on the front door. i heard him talking to jim. “listen, i sawhim! i saw him walking around in there!” “he doesn’t answer.” “we better go in. he might be in trouble.” you fool, i thought, i befriended you. i befriendedyou when nobody else could stand you. now, look at this! i couldn’t believe it. i ran into the halland hid in a closet, leaving the door slightly


open. i was sure they wouldn’t come intothe house. but they did. i had left the back door open. i heard them walking around inthe house. “he’s got to be here,” said baldy. “isaw something moving in here…” jesus christ, i thought, can’t i move aroundin here? i live in this house. i was crouched in the dark closet. i knewi couldn’t let them find me in there. i swung the closet door open and leaped out.i saw them both standing in the front room. i ran in there. “get out of here, you sons-of-bitches!” they looked at me.


“get out of here! you’ve got no rightto be in here! get out of here before i kill you!” they started running toward the back porch. “go on! go on, or i’ll kill you!” i heard them run up the driveway and out ontothe sidewalk. i didn’t want to watch them. i went into my bedroom and stretched out onthe bed. why did they want to see me? what could they do? there was nothing to be done.there was nothing to talk about. a couple of days later my mother didn’tleave to go job hunting, and it wasn’t my day to go to the l. a. county general hospital.so we were in the house together. i didn’t


like it. i liked the place to myself. i heardher moving about the house and i stayed in my bedroom. the boils were worse than ever.i checked my airplane chart. the 1:20 p.m. flight was due. i began listening. he waslate. it was 1:20 and he was still approaching. as he passed over i timed him as being threeminutes late. then i heard the doorbell ring. i heard my mother open the door. “emily, how are you?” “hello, katy, how are you?” it was my grandmother, now very old. i heardthem talking but i couldn’t make out what they were saying. i was thankful for that.they talked for five or ten minutes and then


i heard them walking down the hall to my bedroom. “i will bury all of you,” i heard my grandmothersay. “where is the boy?” the door opened and my grandmother and motherstood there. “hello, henry,” my grandmother said. “your grandmother is here to help you,”my mother said. my grandmother had a large purse. she setit down on the dresser and pulled a huge silver crucifix out of it. “your grandmother is here to help you, henry…” grandmother had more warts on her than everbefore and she was fatter. she looked invincible,


she looked as if she would never die. shehad gotten so old that it was almost senseless for her to die. “henry,” said my mother, “turn overon your stomach.” i turned over and my grandmother leaned overme. from the corner of my eye i saw her dangling the huge crucifix over me. i had decided againstreligion a couple of years back. if it were true, it made fools out of people, or it drewfools. and if it weren’t true, the fools were all the more foolish. but it was my grandmother and my mother. idecided to let them have their way. the crucifix swung back and forth above my back, over myboils, over me.


“god,” prayed my grandmother, “purgethe devil from this poor boy’s body! just look at all those sores! they make me sick,god! look at them! it’s the devil, god, dwelling in this boy’s body. purge the devilfrom his body, lord!” “purge the devil from his body, lord!”said my mother. what i need is a good doctor, i thought. whatis wrong with these women? why don’t they leave me alone? “god,” said my grandmother, “why doyou allow the devil to dwell inside this body’s body? don’t you see how the devil is enjoyingthis? look at these sores, o lord, i am about to vomit just looking at them! they are redand big and full!”


“purge the devil from my boy’s body!”screamed my mother. “may god save us from this evil!” screamedmy grandmother. she took the crucifix and poked it into thecenter of my back, dug it in. the blood spurted out, i could feel it, at first warm, thensuddenly cold. i turned over and sat up in the bed. “what the fuck are you doing?” “i am making a hole for the devil to bepushed out by god!” said my grandmother. “all right,” i said, “i want you bothto get out of here, and fast! do you understand me?”


“he is still possessed!” said my grandmother. “get the fucking hell out of here!” iscreamed. they left, shocked and disappointed, closingthe door behind them. i went into the bathroom, wadded up some toiletpaper and tried to stop the bleeding. i pulled the toilet paper away and looked at it. itwas soaked. i got a new batch of toilet paper and held it to my back awhile. then i gotthe iodine. i made passes at my back, trying to reach the wound with the iodine. it wasdifficult. i finally gave up. who ever heard of an infected back, anyhow? you either livedor died. the back was something the assholes had never figured out how to amputate.


i walked back into the bedroom and got intobed and pulled the covers to my throat. i looked up at the ceiling as i talked to myself. all right, god, say that you are really there.you have put me in this fix. you want to test me. suppose i test you? suppose i say thatyou are not there? you’ve given me a supreme test with my parents and with these boils.i think that i have passed your test. i am tougher than you. if you will come down hereright now, i will spit into your face, if you have a face. and do you shit? the priestnever answered that question. he told us not to doubt. doubt what? i think that you havebeen picking on me too much so i am asking you to come down here so i can put you tothe test!


i waited. nothing. i waited for god. i waitedand waited. i believe i slept. i never slept on my back. but when i awakenedi was on my back and it surprised me. my legs were bent at the knees in front of me, makinga mountain-like effect with the blankets. and as i looked at the blanket-mountain beforeme i saw two eyes staring at me. only the eyes were dark, black, blank…looking atme from underneath a hood, a black hood with a sharp tall peak, like a ku-klux-klansman.they kept staring at me, dark blank eyes, and there was nothing i could do about it.i was truly terrified. i thought, it’s god but god isn’t supposed to look like that. i couldn’t stare it down. i couldn’t move.it just stayed there looking at me over the


mound of my knees and the blanket. i wantedto get away. i wanted it to leave. it was powerful and black and threatening. it seemed to remain there for hours, juststaring at me. then it was gone… i stayed in bed thinking about it. i couldn’t believe that it had been god.dressed like that. that would be a cheap trick. it had been an illusion, of course. i thought about it for ten or fifteen minutes,then i got up and went to get the little brown box my grandmother had given me many yearsago. inside of it were tiny rolls of paper


with quotations from the bible. each tinyroll was held in a cubicle of its own. one was supposed to ask a question and the littleroll of paper one pulled out was supposed to answer that question. i had tried it beforeand found it useless. now i tried it again. i asked the brown box, “what did that mean?what did those eyes mean?” i pulled out a paper and unrolled it. it wasa tiny stiff white piece of paper. i unrolled and read it. god has forsaken you. i rolled the paper up and stuck it back intoits cubicle in the brown box. i didn’t believe it. i went back to bed and thought about it.it was too simple, too direct. i didn’t


believe it. i considered masturbating to bringme back to reality. i still didn’t believe it. i got back up and started unrolling allthe little papers inside the brown box. i was looking for the one that said, god hasforsaken you. i unrolled them all. none of them said that. i read them all and none ofthem said that. i rolled them up and put them carefully back into their cubicles in thelittle brown box. meanwhile, the boils got worse. i kept gettingonto streetcar #7 and going to l. a. county general hospital and i began to fall in lovewith miss ackerman, my nurse of the squeezings. she would never know how each stab of paincaused courage to well up in me. despite the horror of the blood and the pus, she was alwayshumane and kind. my love-feeling for her wasn’t


sexual. i just wished that she would enfoldme in her starched whiteness and that together we could vanish forever from the world. butshe never did that. she was too practical. she would only remind me of my next appointment. 33 the ultra-violet ray machine clicked off.i had been treated on both sides. i took off the goggles and began to dress. miss ackermanwalked in. “not yet,” she said, “keep your clothesoff.” what is she going to do to me, i thought? “sit up on the edge of the table.”


i sat there and she began rubbing salve overmy face. it was a thick buttery substance. “the doctors have decided on a new approach.we’re going to bandage your face to effect drainage.” “miss ackerman, what ever happened to thatman with the big nose? the nose that kept growing?” “mr. sleeth?” “the man with the big nose.” “that was mr. sleeth.” “i don’t see him anymore. did he get cured?”


“he’s dead.” “you mean he died from that big nose?” “suicide.” miss ackerman continued toapply the salve. then i heard a man scream from the next ward,“joe, where are you? joe, you said you’d come back! joe, where are you?” the voice was loud and so sad, so agonized. “he’s done that every afternoon this week,”said miss ackerman, “and joe’s not going to come get him.” “can’t they help him?”


“i don’t know. they all quiet down, finally.now take your finger and hold this pad while i bandage you. there. yes. that’s it. nowlet go. fine.” “joe! joe, you said you’d come back! whereare you, joe?” “now, hold your finger on this pad. there.hold it there. i’m going to wrap you up good! there. now i’ll secure the dressings.” then she was finished. “o.k., put on your clothes. see you theday after tomorrow. goodbye, henry.” “goodbye, miss ackerman.” i got dressed, left the room and walked downthe hall. there was a mirror on a cigarette


machine in the lobby. i looked into the mirror.it was great. my whole head was bandaged. i was all white. nothing could be seen butmy eyes, my mouth and my ears, and some tufts of hair sticking up at the top of my head.i was hidden. it was wonderful. i stood and lit a cigarette and glanced about the lobby.some in-patients were sitting about reading magazines and newspapers. i felt very exceptionaland a bit evil. nobody had any idea of what had happened to me. car crash. a fight tothe death. a murder. fire. nobody knew. i walked out of the lobby and out of the buildingand i stood on the sidewalk. i could still hear him. “joe! joe! where are you, joe!” joe wasn’t coming. it didn’t pay to trustanother human being. humans didn’t have


it, whatever it took. on the streetcar ride back i sat in the backsmoking cigarettes out of my bandaged head. people stared but i didn’t care. there wasmore fear than horror in their eyes now. i hoped i could stay this way forever. i rode to the end of the line and got off.the afternoon was going into evening and i stood on the corner of washington boulevardand westview avenue watching the people. those few who had jobs were coming home from work.my father would soon be driving home from his fake job. i didn’t have a job, i didn’tgo to school. i didn’t do anything. i was bandaged, i was standing on the corner smokinga cigarette. i was a tough man, i was a dangerous


man. i knew things. sleeth had suicided. iwasn’t going to suicide. i’d rather kill some of them. i’d take four or five of themwith me. i’d show them what it meant to play around with me. a woman walked down the street toward me.she had fine legs. first i stared right into her eyes and then i looked down at her legs,and as she passed i watched her ass, i drank her ass in. i memorized her ass and the seamsof her silk stockings. i never could have done that without my bandages. 34 the next day in bed i got tired of waitingfor the airplanes and i found a large yellow


notebook that had been meant for high schoolwork. it was empty. i found a pen. i went to bed with the notebook and the pen. i madesome drawings. i drew women in high-heeled shoes with their legs crossed and their skirtspulled back. then i began writing. it was about a germanaviator in world war i. baron von himmlen. he flew a red fokker. and he was not popularwith his fellow fliers. he didn’t talk to them. he drank alone and he flew alone. hedidn’t bother with women, although they all loved him. he was above that. he was toobusy. he was busy shooting allied planes out of the sky. already he had shot down 110 andthe war wasn’t over. his red fokker, which he referred to as the “october bird of death,”was known everywhere. even the enemy ground


troops knew him as he often flew low overthem, taking their gunfire and laughing, dropping bottles of champagne to them suspended fromlittle parachutes. baron von himmlen was never attacked by less than five allied planes ata time. he was an ugly man with scars on his face, but he was beautiful if you looked longenough—it was in the eyes, his style, his courage, his fierce aloneness. i wrote pages and pages about the baron’sdog fights, how he would knock down three or four planes, fly back, almost nothing leftof his red fokker. he’d bounce down, leap out of the plane while it was still rollingand head for the bar where he’d grab a bottle and sit at a table alone, pouring shots andslamming them down. nobody drank like the


baron. the others just stood at the bar andwatched him. one time one of the other fliers said, “what is it, himmlen? you think you’retoo good for us?” it was willie schmidt, the biggest, strongest guy in the outfit.the baron downed his drink, set down his glass, stood up and slowly started walking towardwillie who was standing at the bar. the other fliers backed off. “jesus, what are you going to do?” askedwillie as the baron advanced. the baron kept moving slowly toward willie,not answering. “jesus, baron, i was just kidding! mother’shonor! listen to me, baron…baron…the enemy is elsewhere! baron!”


the baron let go with his right. you couldn’tsee it. it smashed into willie’s face propelling him over the top of the bar, flipping himover completely! he crashed into the bar mirror like a cannonball and the bottles tumbleddown. the baron pulled a cigar out and lit it, then walked back to his table, sat downand poured another drink. they didn’t bother the baron after that. behind the bar theypicked willie up. his face was a mass of blood. the baron shot plane after plane out of thesky. nobody seemed to understand him and nobody knew how he had become so skillful with thered fokker and in his other strange ways. like fighting. or the graceful way he walked.he went on and on. his luck was sometimes bad. one day flying back after downing threeallied planes, limping in low over enemy lines,


he was hit by shrapnel. it blew off his righthand at the wrist. he managed to bring the red fokker in. from that time on he flew withan iron hand in place of his original right hand. it didn’t affect his flying. and thefellows at the bar were more careful than ever when they talked to him. many more things happened to the baron afterthat. twice he crashed in no-man’s-land and each time he crawled back to his squadron,half-dead, through barbed wire and flares and enemy fire. many times he was given upfor dead by his comrades. once he was gone for eight days and the other flyers were sittingin the bar, talking about what an exceptional man he had been. when they looked up, therewas the baron standing in the doorway, eight-day


beard, uniform torn and muddy, eyes red andbleary, iron hand glinting in the bar light. he stood there and he said, “there betterbe some god-damned whiskey in this place or i’m tearing it apart!” the baron went on doing magic things. halfthe notebook was filled with baron von himmlen. it made me feel good to write about the baron.a man needed somebody. there wasn’t anybody around, so you had to make up somebody, makehim up to be like a man should be. it wasn’t make-believe or cheating. the other way wasmake-believe and cheating: living your life without a man like him around. 35


the bandages were helpful. l.a. county hospitalhad finally come up with something. the boils drained. they didn’t vanish but they flatteneda bit. yet some new ones would appear and rise up again. they drilled me and wrappedme again. my sessions with the drill were endless. thirty-two,thirty-six, thirty-eight times. there was no fear of the drill anymore. there neverhad been. only an anger. but the anger was gone. there wasn’t even resignation on mypart, only disgust, a disgust that this had happened to me, and a disgust with the doctorswho couldn’t do anything about it. they were helpless and i was helpless, the onlydifference being that i was the victim. they could go home to their lives and forget whilei was stuck with the same face.


but there were changes in my life. my fatherfound a job. he passed an examination at the l.a. county museum and got a job as a guard.my father was good at exams. he loved math and history. he passed the exam and finallyhad a place to go each morning. there had been three vacancies for guards and he hadgotten one of them. l.a. county general hospital somehow foundout and miss ackerman told me one day, “henry, this is your last treatment. i’m going tomiss you.” “aw come on,” i said, “stop your kidding.you’re going to miss me like i’m going to miss that electric needle!” but she was very strange that day. those bigeyes were watery. i heard her blow her nose.


i heard one of the nurses ask her, “why,janice, what’s wrong with you?” “nothing. i’m all right.” poor miss ackerman. i was 15 years old andin love with her and i was covered with boils and there was nothing that either of us coulddo. “all right,” she said, “this is goingto be your last ultra-violet ray treatment. lay on your stomach.” “i know your first name now,” i told her.“janice. that’s a pretty name. it’s just like you.” “oh, shut up,” she said.


i saw her once again when the first buzzersounded. i turned over, janice re-set the machine and left the room. i never saw heragain. my father didn’t believe in doctors whowere not free. “they make you piss in a tube, take your money, and drive home to theirwives in beverly hills,” he said. but once he did send me to one. to a doctorwith bad breath and a head as round as a basketball, only with two little eyes where a basketballhad none. i didn’t like my father and the doctor wasn’t any better. he said, no friedfoods, and to drink carrot juice. that was i would re-enter high school the next term,said my father. “i’m busting my ass to keep people fromstealing. some nigger broke the glass on a


case and stole some rare coins yesterday.i caught the bastard. we rolled down the stairway together. i held him until the others came.i risk my life every day. why should you sit around on your ass, moping? i want you tobe an engineer. how the hell you gonna be an engineer when i find notebooks full ofwomen with their skirts pulled up to their ass? is that all you can draw? why don’tyou draw flowers or mountains or the ocean? you’re going back to school!” i drank carrot juice and waited to re-enroll.i had only missed one term. the boils weren’t cured but they weren’t as bad as they hadbeen. “you know what carrot juice costs me? ihave to work the first hour every day just


for your god-damned carrot juice!” i discovered the la cienega public library.i got a library card. the library was near the old church down on west adams. it wasa very small library and there was just one librarian in it. she was class. about 38 butwith pure white hair pulled tightly into a bun behind her neck. her nose was sharp andshe had deep green eyes behind rimless glasses. i felt that she knew everything. i walked around the library looking for books.i pulled them off the shelves, one by one. but they were all tricks. they were very dull.there were pages and pages of words that didn’t say anything. or if they did say somethingthey took too long to say it and by the time


they said it you already were too tired tohave it matter at all. i tried book after book. surely, out of all those books, therewas one. each day i walked down to the library at adamsand la brea and there was my librarian, stern and infallible and silent. i kept pullingthe books off the shelves. the first real book i found was by a fellow named upton sinclair.his sentences were simple and he spoke with anger. he wrote with anger. he wrote aboutthe hog pens of chicago. he came right out and said things plainly. then i found anotherauthor. his name was sinclair lewis. and the book was called main street. he peeled backthe layers of hypocrisy that covered people. only he seemed to lack passion.


i went back for more. i read each book ina single evening. i was walking around one day sneaking glancesat my librarian when i came upon a book with the title bow down to wood and stone. now,that was good, because that was what we were all doing. at last, some fire! i opened thebook. it was by josephine lawrence. a woman. that was all right. anybody could find knowledge.i opened the pages. but they were like many of the other books: milky, obscure, tiresome.i replaced the book. and while my hand was there i reached for a book nearby. it wasby another lawrence. i opened the book at random and began reading. it was about a manat a piano. how false it seemed at first. but i kept reading. the man at the piano wastroubled. his mind was saying things. dark


and curious things. the lines on the pagewere pulled tight, like a man screaming, but not “joe, where are you?” more like joe,where is anything? this lawrence of the tight and bloody line. i had never been told abouthim. why the secret? why wasn’t he advertised? i read a book a day. i read all the d. h.lawrence in the library. my librarian began to look at me strangely as i checked out thebooks. “how are you today?” she would ask. that always sounded so good. i felt as ifi had already gone to bed with her. i read all the books by d. h. and they led to others.to h. d., the poetess. and huxley, the youngest of the huxleys, lawrence’s friend. it allcame rushing at me. one book led to the next.


dos passos came along. not too good, really,but good enough. his trilogy, about the u.s.a., took longer than a day to read. dreiser didn’twork for me. sherwood anderson did. and then along came hemingway. what a thrill! he knewhow to lay down a line. it was a joy. words weren’t dull, words were things that couldmake your mind hum. if you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live withoutpain, with hope, no matter what happened to you. but back at home… “lights out!” my father would scream. i was reading the russians now, reading turgenevand gorky. my father’s rule was that all


lights were to be out by 8 p.m. he wantedto sleep so that he could be fresh and effective on the job the next day. his conversationat home was always about “the job.” he talked to my mother about his “job” fromthe moment he entered the door in the evenings until they slept. he was determined to risein the ranks. “all right, that’s enough of those god-damnedbooks! lights out!” to me, these men who had come into my lifefrom nowhere were my only chance. they were the only voices that spoke to me. “all right,” i would say. then i took the reading lamp, crawled underthe blanket, pulled the pillow under there,


and read each new book, propping it againstthe pillow, under the quilt. it got very hot, the lamp got hot, and i had trouble breathing.i would lift the quilt for air. “what’s that? do i see a light? henry,are your lights out?” i would quickly lower the quilt again andwait until i heard my father snoring. turgenev was a very serious fellow but hecould make me laugh because a truth first encountered can be very funny. when someoneelse’s truth is the same as your truth, and he seems to be saying it just for you,that’s great. i read my books at night, like that, underthe quilt with the overheated reading lamp. reading all those good lines while suffocating.it was magic.


and my father had found a job, and that wasmagic for him… 36 back at chelsey high it was the same. onegroup of seniors had graduated but they were replaced by another group of seniors withsports cars and expensive clothes. i was never confronted by them. they left me alone, theyignored me. they were busy with the girls. they never spoke to the poor guys in or outof class. about a week into my second semester i talkedto my father over dinner. “look,” i said, “it’s hard at school.you’re giving me 50 cents a week allowance. can’t you make it a dollar?”


“a dollar?” he put a forkful of sliced pickled beets intohis mouth and chewed. then he looked at me from under his curled-up eyebrows. “if i gave you a dollar a week that wouldmean 52 dollars a year, that would mean i would have to work over a week on my job justso you could have an allowance.” i didn’t answer. but i thought, my god,if you think like that, item by item, then you can’t buy anything: bread, watermelon,newspapers, flour, milk or shaving cream. i didn’t say any more because when you hate,you don’t beg… those rich guys like to dart their cars inand out, swiftly, sliding up, burning rubber,


their cars glistening in the sunlight as thegirls gathered around. classes were a joke, they were all going somewhere to college,classes were just a routine laugh, they got good grades, you seldom saw them with books,you just saw them burning more rubber, gunning from the curb with their cars full of squealingand laughing girls. i watched them with my 50 cents in my pocket. i didn’t even knowhow to drive a car. meanwhile the poor and the lost and the idiotscontinued to flock around me. i had a place i liked to eat under the football grandstand.i had my brown bag lunch with my two bologna sandwiches. they came around, “hey, hank,can i eat with you?” “get the fuck out of here! i’m not goingto tell you twice!”


enough of this kind had attached themselvesto me already. i didn’t much care for any of them: baldy, jimmy hatcher, and a thingangling jewish kid, abe mortenson. mortenson was a straight-a student but one of the biggestidiots in school. he had something radically wrong with him. saliva kept forming in hismouth but instead of spitting on the ground to get rid of it he spit into his hands. idon’t know why he did it and i didn’t ask. i didn’t like to ask. i just watchedhim and i was disgusted. i went home with him once and i found out how he got straighta’s. his mother made him stick his nose into a book right away and she made him keepit there. she made him read all of his school books over and over, page after page. “hemust pass his exams,” she told me. it never


occurred to her that maybe the books werewrong. or that maybe it didn’t matter. i didn’t ask her. it was like grammar school all over again.gathered around me were the weak instead of the strong, the ugly instead of the beautiful,the losers instead of the winners. it looked like it was my destiny to travel in theircompany through life. that didn’t bother me so much as the fact that i seemed irresistibleto these dull idiot fellows. i was like a turd that drew flies instead of like a flowerthat butterflies and bees desired. i wanted to live alone, i felt best being alone, cleaner,yet i was not clever enough to rid myself of them. maybe they were my masters: fathersin another form. in any event, it was hard


to have them hanging around while i was eatingmy bologna sandwiches. 37 but there were some good moments. my sometimefriend from the neighborhood, gene, who was a year older than i, had a buddy, harry gibson,who had had one professional fight (he’d lost). i was over at gene’s one afternoonsmoking cigarettes with him when harry gibson showed up with two pairs of boxing gloves.gene and i were smoking with his two older brothers, larry and dan. harry gibson was cocky. “anybody want totry me?” he asked. nobody said anything. gene’s oldest brother, larry, was about22. he was the biggest, but he was kind of


timid and subnormal. he had a huge head, hewas short and stocky, really well-built, but everything frightened him. so we all lookedat dan who was the next oldest, since larry said, “no, no i don’t want to fight.”dan was a musical genius, he had almost won a scholarship but not quite. anyhow, sincelarry had passed up harry’s challenge, dan put the gloves on with harry gibson. harry gibson was a son-of-a-bitch on shiningwheels. even the sun glinted off his gloves in a certain way. he moved with precision,aplomb and grace. he pranced and danced around dan. dan held up his gloves and waited. gibson’sfirst punch streaked in. it cracked like a rifle shot. there were some chickens in apen in the yard and two of them jumped into


the air at the sound. dan spilled backwards.he was stretched out on the grass, both of his arms spread out like some cheap christ. larry looked at him and said, “i’m goinginto the house.” he walked quickly to the screen door, opened it and was gone. we walked over to dan. gibson stood over himwith a little grin on his face. gene bent down, lifted dan’s head up a bit. “dan?you all right?” dan shook his head and slowly sat up. “jesus christ, the guy’s carrying a lethalweapon. get these gloves off me!” gene unlaced one glove and i got the other.dan stood up and walked toward the back door


like an old man. “i’m gonna lay down…”he went inside. harry gibson picked up the gloves and lookedat gene. “how about it, gene?” gene spit in the grass. “what the hell youtrying to do, knock off the whole family?” “i know you’re the best fighter, gene,but i’ll go easy on you anyhow.” gene nodded and i laced on his gloves forhim. i was a good glove man. they squared off. gibson circled around gene,getting ready. he circled to the right, then he circled to the left. he bobbed and he weaved.then he stepped in, gave gene a hard left jab. it landed right between gene’s eyes.gene backpedaled and gibson followed. when he got gene up against the chicken pen hesteadied him with a soft left to the forehead


and then cracked a hard right to gene’sleft temple. gene slid along the chicken wire until he hit the fence, then he slid alongthe fence, covering up. he wasn’t attempting to fight back. dan came out of the house witha piece of ice wrapped in a rag. he sat on the porch steps and held the rag to his forehead.gene retreated along the fence. harry got him in the corner between the fence and thegarage. he looped a left to gene’s gut and when gene bent over he straightened him witha right uppercut. i didn’t like it. gibson wasn’t going easy on gene like he’d promised.i got excited. “hit that fucker back, gene! he’s yellow!hit him!” gibson lowered his gloves, looked at me andwalked over. “what did you say, punk?”


“i was rooting my man on,” i said. dan was over getting the gloves off gene. “did i hear something about being ‘yellow’?” “you said you were going to go easy on him.you didn’t. you’re hitting him with every shot you’ve got.” “you callin’ me a liar?” “i’m saying you don’t keep your word.” “come on over and put the gloves on thispunk!” gene and dan came over and began putting thegloves on me. “take it easy on this guy,


hank,” gene said. “remember he’s alltired out from fighting us.” gene and i had fought barefisted one memorableday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. gene had done pretty good. i had small hands and if you have smallhands you’ve either got to be able to hit hard as hell or else be some kind of a boxer.i was only a little of each. the next day my entire upper body was purple with bruisesand i had two fat lips and a couple of loose front teeth. now i had to fight the guy whohad just whipped the guy who had whipped me. gibson circled to the left, then the right,then he moved in on me. i didn’t see the left jab at all. i don’t know where it caughtme but i went down from the left jab. it hadn’t hurt but i was down. i got up. if the leftcould do that what would the right do? i had


to figure something out. harry gibson began to circle to the left,my left. instead of circling to my right like he expected, i circled to my left. he lookedsurprised and as we came together i looped a wild left which caught him high and hardon the head. it felt great. if you can hit a guy once, you can hit him twice. then we were facing each other and he camestraight at me. gibson got me with the jab but as it hit me i ducked my head down andto one side as quickly as i could. his right swung around over the top, missing. i movedinto him and clinched, giving him a rabbit punch. we broke and i felt like a pro.


“you can take him, hank!” yelled gene. “go get him, hank!” yelled dan. i rushed gibson and tried a right lead. imissed and his left cross flashed on my jaw. i saw green and yellow and red lights, thenhe dug a right to my belly. it felt like it went through to my backbone. i grabbed himand clinched. but i wasn’t frightened, for a change, and that felt good. “i’ll kill you, you fucker!” i toldhim. then it was just head-to-head, no more boxing.his punches came fast and hard. he was more accurate, had more power, yet i was landingsome hard shots too and it made me feel good.


the more he hit me the less i felt it. i hadmy gut sucked in, i liked the action. then gene and dan were between us. they pulledus apart. “what’s wrong?” i asked. “don’tstop this thing! i can take his ass!” “cut the shit, hank,” said gene. “lookat yourself.” i looked down. the front of my shirt was darkwith blood and there were splotches of pus. the punches had broken open three or fourboils. that hadn’t happened in my fight with gene. “that’s nothing,” i said. “that’sjust bad luck. he hasn’t hurt me. give me a chance and i’ll cut him down.”


“no, hank, you’ll get an infection orsomething,” said gene. “all right, shit,” i said, “cut thegloves off me!” gene unlaced me. when he got the gloves offi noticed that my hands were trembling, and also my arms to a lesser extent. i put myhands in my pockets. dan took harry’s gloves off. harry looked at me. “you’re pretty good,kid.” “thanks. well, i’ll see you guys…” i walked off. as i walked away i took my handsout of my pockets. then up the driveway, just at the sidewalk, i stopped, pulled out a cigaretteand stuck it into my mouth. when i tried to


strike a match my hands were trembling somuch i couldn’t do it. i gave them a wave, a real nonchalant wave, and walked away. back at the house i looked at myself in themirror. pretty damn good. i was coming along. i took off my shirt and threw it under thebed. i’d have to find a way to clean the blood off. i didn’t have many shirts andthey’d notice a missing one right away. but for me, it had finally been a successfulday, and i hadn’t had too many of those. 38 abe mortenson was bad enough to be aroundbut he was just a fool. you can forgive a fool because he only runs in one directionand doesn’t deceive anybody. it’s the


deceivers who make you feel bad. jimmy hatcherhad straight black hair, fair skin, he wasn’t as big as i was but he kept his shouldersback, dressed better than most of us, and he had a way of getting along with anybodyhe felt like getting along with. his mother was a bar maid and his father had committedsuicide. jimmy had a nice smile, perfect teeth, and the girls liked him even though he didn’thave the money the rich guys had. i would always see him talking to some girl. i don’tknow what he said to them. i didn’t know what any of the guys said to any of them.the girls were impossibly out of reach for me and so i pretended that they didn’t exist. but hatcher was another matter. i knew hewasn’t a fairy but he kept hanging around.


“listen, jimmy, why do you follow me around?i don’t like anything about you.” “ah, come on, hank, we’re friends.” he even got up once in english class and readan essay called “the value of friendship,” and while he was reading it he kept glancingat me. it was a stupid essay, soft and standard, but the class applauded when he finished,and i thought, well, that’s what people think and what can you do about it? i wrotea counter-essay called, “the value of no friendship at all.” the teacher didn’tlet me read it to the class. she gave me a “d.” jimmy and baldy and i walked home togetherfrom high school each day. (abe mortenson


lived in the other direction so that savedus from having to walk with him.) one day we were walking along and jimmy said, “hey,let’s go to my girlfriend’s house. i want you to meet her.” “ah, balls, fuck that,” i said. “no, no,” said jimmy, “she’s a nicegirl. i want you to meet her. i’ve finger-fucked her.” i’d seen his girl, ann weatherton, she wasreally beautiful, long brown hair and large brown eyes, quiet, and with a good figure.i’d never spoken to her but i knew she was jimmy’s girl. the rich guys had tried tohit on her but she ignored them. she looked


like she was first-rate. “i’ve got the key to her house,” saidjimmy. “we’ll go there and wait for her. she’s got a late class.” “sounds dull to me,” i said. “ah, come on, hank,” said baldy, “you’rejust going to go home and whack-off anyhow.” “that’s not always without its own merits,”i said. jimmy opened the front door with his key andwe walked in. a nice clean little house. a small black and white bulldog ran up to jimmy,wagging its stub tail. “this is bones,” said jimmy. “bonesloves me. watch this!”


jimmy spit in the palm of his right hand andgrabbed bones’ penis and began rubbing it. “hey, what the fuck you doing?” askedbaldy. “they keep bones on a leash in the yard.he never gets any. he needs release!” jimmy worked away. bones’ penis got disgustingly red, a thin,long string of dripping inanity. bones began making whimpering sounds. jimmy looked upas he worked away. “hey, you wanna know what our song is? i mean, ann’s song andmy song? it’s ‘when the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls.’” then bones was making it. the sperm spurtedout and on the carpet. jimmy stood up and


with the sole of his shoe rubbed the comedown into the nap of the carpet. “i’m gonna fuck ann one of these days.it’s getting close. she says she loves me. and i love her too, i love her god-damnedcunt.” “you prick,” i told jimmy, “you makeme sick.” “i know you don’t mean that, hank,”he said. jimmy walked into the kitchen. “she’sgot a nice family. she lives here with her father, mother and brother. her brother knowsi am going to fuck her. he’s right. but there’s nothing he can do about it becausei can beat the shit out of him. he’s nothing. hey, watch this!”


jimmy opened the refrigerator door and pulledout a bottle of milk. at our place we still had an icebox. the weathertons were obviouslya well-off family. jimmy pulled out his cock and then peeled the cardboard cap off thebottle and put his cock in there. “just a little, you know. they’ll nevertaste it but they’ll be drinking my piss…” he pulled his cock out, capped the bottle,shook it, and then placed it back in the refrigerator. “now,” he said, “here’s some jello.they are going to eat jello for dessert tonight. they are also going to eat…” he took thebowl of jello out and held it and then we heard a key in the front door and the frontdoor opening. jimmy quickly put the jello back into the refrigerator and closed thedoor.


then ann walked in. into the kitchen. “ann,” said jimmy, “i want you to meetmy good friends, hank and baldy.” “hi!” “this one’s baldy. the other guy is hank.” “hi.” “i’ve seen you guys around campus.” “oh yeah,” i said, “we’re around there.and we’ve seen you too.” “yeah,” said baldy. jimmy looked at ann. “you all right, baby?”


“yes, jimmy, i’ve been thinking aboutyou.” she moved toward him and they embraced, thenthey were kissing. they were standing right in front of us as they were kissing. jimmywas facing us. we could see his right eye. it winked. “well,” i said, “we’ve got to getgoing.” we walked out of the kitchen, through thefront room and out of there. we walked down the sidewalk toward baldy’s place. “that guy’s really got it made,” saidbaldy. 39


one sunday jimmy talked me into going to thebeach with him. he wanted to go swimming. i didn’t want to be seen wearing swimmingtrunks because my back was covered with boils and scars. outside of that, i had a good body.but nobody would notice that. i had a good chest and great legs but nobody would seethat. there was nothing to do and i didn’t haveany money and the guys didn’t play in the streets on sunday. i decided that the beachbelonged to everybody. i had a right. my scars and boils weren’t against the law. so we got on our bikes and started out. itwas fifteen miles. that didn’t bother me. i had the legs.


i breezed with jimmy all the way to culvercity. then i gradually began to pedal faster. jimmy pumped, trying to keep up. i could seehim getting winded. i pulled out a cigarette and lit it, held out the pack to him. “wantone, jim?” “no…thanks…” “this beats shooting birds with a beebeegun,” i told him. “we ought to do this more often!” i began pumping harder. i still had plentyof reserve strength. “this really gets it,” i told him. “thisbeats whacking-off!” “hey, slow up a little!”


i looked back at him. “there’s nothinglike a good friend to go biking with. come on, friend!” then i gave it all i had and pulled away.the wind was blowing in my face. it felt good. “hey, wait! wait, god damn it!” yelledjimmy. i started laughing and really opened up. soonjim was half-a-block back, a block, two blocks. nobody knew how good i was, nobody knew whati could do. i was some kind of miracle. the sun tossed yellow everywhere and i cut throughit, a crazy knife on wheels. my father was a beggar in the streets of india but all thewomen in the world loved me… i was traveling at full speed as i reachedthe signal. i shot through inside the row


of waiting cars. now even the cars were backthere behind me. but not for long. a guy and his girl in a green coupe pulled up and drovealongside me. “hey, kid!” “yeah?” i looked at him. he was a bigguy in his twenties with hairy arms and a tattoo. “where the fuck do you think you’re going?”he asked me. he was trying to show off in front of hisgirl. she was a looker, her long blond hair blowing in the wind. “up yours, buddy!” i told him.


“i said, ‘up yours!’” i gave him the finger. he kept driving along beside me. “you gonna take shit off that kid, nick?”i heard his girl ask him. “hey, kid,” he said, “i didn’t quitehear what you said. would you mind saying that again?” “yeah, say that again,” said the looker,her long blond hair blowing in the wind. that pissed me. she pissed me. i looked at him. “all right, you want trouble?park it. i’m trouble.”


he zoomed ahead of me about half a block,parked, and swung the door open. as he got out i swung wide around him almost into thepath of a chevy who gave me the horn. as i swung around into a side street i could hearthe big guy laughing. after the guy was gone i wheeled back ontowashington boulevard, went a few blocks, got off the bike and waited for jim on a bus stopbench. i could see him coming along. when he pulled up i pretended that i was asleep. “come on, hank! don’t give me that shit!” “oh, hello, jim. you here?” i tried to get jim to pick a spot on the beachwhere there weren’t too many people. i felt


normal standing there in my shirt but wheni undressed i was exposed. i hated the other bathers for their unmarred bodies. i hatedall the god-damned people who were sunbathing or in the water or eating or sleeping or talkingor throwing beachballs. i hated their behinds and their faces and their elbows and theirhair and their eyes and their bellybuttons and their bathing suits. i stretched out on the sand thinking, i shouldhave punched that fat son-of-a-bitch. what the hell did he know? jim stretched out beside me. “what the hell,” he said, “let’s goswimming.”


“not yet,” i said. the water was full of people. what was thefascination of the beach? why did people like the beach? didn’t they have anything betterto do? what chicken-brained fuckers they were. “just think,” said jim, “women go intothe water and they piss in there.” “yeah, and you swallow it.” there would never be a way for me to livecomfortably with people. maybe i’d become a monk. i’d pretend to believe in god andlive in a cubicle, play an organ and stay drunk on wine. nobody would fuck with me.i could go into a cell for months of meditation where i wouldn’t have to look at anybodyand they could just send in the wine. the


trouble was, the black robes were pure wool.they were worse than r.o.t.c. uniforms. i couldn’t wear them. i’d have to thinkof something else. “oh, oh,” said jim. “there are some girls down there lookingat us.” “so what?” “they’re talking and laughing. they mightcome down here.” “yeah. and if they start coming over i’llwarn you. when i do, turn on your back.” my chest had only a few boils and scars. “don’t forget,” said jim, “when iwarn you, turn over on your back.”


“i heard you.” i had my head down in my arms. i knew thatjim was looking at the girls and smiling. he had a way with them. “simple cunts,” he said, “they’rereally stupid.” why did i come here? i thought. why is italways only a matter of choosing between something bad and something worse? “oh, oh, hank, here they come!” i looked up. there were five of them. i rolledover on my back. they walked up giggling and stood there. one of them said, “hey, theseguys are cute!”


“you girls live around here?” jim asked. “oh yeah,” one of them said, “we nestwith the seagulls!” they giggled. “well,” said jim, “we’re eagles. i’mnot sure we’d know what to do with five seagulls.” “how do birds do it anyhow?” one of themasked. “damned if i know,” jim said, “maybewe can find out.” “why don’t you guys come over to our blanket?”one of them asked. “sure,” jim said.


three of the girls had spoken. the other twohad just stood there pulling their bathing suits down over what they didn’t want seen. “count me out,” i said. “what’s wrong with your friend?” askedone of the girls who had been covering her ass. jim said, “he’s strange.” “what’s wrong with him?” asked the lastgirl. “he’s just strange,” said jim. he got up and walked off with the girls. iclosed my eyes and listened to the waves.


thousands of fish out there, eating each other.endless mouths and assholes swallowing and shitting. the whole earth was nothing butmouths and assholes swallowing and shitting, and fucking. i rolled over and watched jim with the fivegirls. he was standing up, sticking his chest out and showing off his balls. he didn’thave my barrel chest and big legs. he was slim and neat, with that black hair and thatlittle nasty mouth with perfect teeth, and his little round ears and his long neck. ididn’t have a neck. not much of one, anyway. my head seemed to sit on my shoulders. buti was strong, and mean. not good enough, the ladies liked dandies. if it wasn’t for theboils and scars, though, i’d be down there


now showing them a thing or two. i’d flashmy balls for them, bringing their dead air-headed minds to attention. me, with my 50-cents-a-weeklife. then i saw the girls leap up and follow jiminto the water. i heard them giggling and screaming like mindless…what? no, they werenice. they weren’t like grown-ups and parents. they laughed. things were funny. they weren’tafraid to care. there was no sense to life, to the structure of things. d. h. lawrencehad known that. you needed love, but not the kind of love most people used and were usedup by. old d. h. had known something. his buddy huxley was just an intellectual fidget,but what a marvelous one. better than g. b. shaw with that hard keel of a mind alwaysscraping bottom, his labored wit finally only


a task, a burden on himself, preventing himfrom really feeling anything, his brilliant speech finally a bore, scraping the mind andthe sensibilities. it was good to read them all though. it made you realize that thoughtsand words could be fascinating, if finally useless. jim was splashing water on the girls. he wasthe water god and they loved him. he was the possibility and the promise. he was great.he knew how to do it. i had read many books but he had read a book that i had never read.he was an artist with his little pair of bathing trunks and his balls and his wicked littlelook and his round ears. he was the best. i couldn’t challenge him any more than icould have challenged that big son-of-a-bitch


in the green coupe with the looker whose hairflowed in the wind. they both had got what they deserved. i was just a 50-cent turd floatingaround in the green ocean of life. i watched them come out of the water, glistening,smooth-skinned and young, undefeated. i wanted them to want me. but never out of pity. yet,despite their smooth untouched bodies and minds they still were missing something becausethey were as yet basically untested. when adversity finally arrived in their lives itmight come too late or too hard. i was ready. maybe. i watched jim toweling off, using one of theirtowels. as i watched, somebody’s child, a boy of about four came along, picked upa handful of sand and threw it in my face.


then he just stood there, glowering, his sandystupid little mouth puckered in some kind of victory. he was a daring darling littleshit. i wiggled my finger for him to come closer, come, come. he stood there. “little boy,” i said, “come here. ihave a bag of candy-covered shit for you to eat.” the fucker looked, turned and ran off. hehad a stupid ass. two little pear-shaped buttocks wobbling, almost disjointed. but, anotherenemy gone. then jim, the lady killer, was back. he stoodthere over me. glowering also. “they’re gone,” he said.


i looked down to where the five girls hadbeen and sure enough they were gone. “where did they go?” i asked. “who gives a fuck? i’ve got the phonenumbers of the two best ones.” “best ones for what?” “for fucking, you jerk!” i stood up. “i think i’ll deck you, jerk!” his face looked good in the sea wind. i couldalready see him, knocked down, squirming on the sand, kicking up his white-bottomed feet.


jim backed off. “take it easy, hank. look, you can havetheir phone numbers!” “keep them. i don’t have your god-damneddumb ears!” “o.k., o.k., we’re friends, remember?” we walked up the beach to the strand wherewe had our bicycles locked behind someone’s beach house. and as we walked along we bothknew whose day it had been, and knocking somebody on their ass could not have changed that,although it might have helped, but not enough. all the way home, on our bikes, i didn’ttry to show him up as i had earlier. i needed something more. maybe i needed that blondein the green coupe with her long hair blowing


in the wind. 40 r.o.t.c. (reserve officer training corps)was for the misfits. like i said, it was either that or gym. i would have taken gym but ididn’t want people to see the boils on my back. there was something wrong with everybodyenrolled in r.o.t.c. it almost entirely consisted of guys who didn’t like sports or guys whoseparents forced them to take r.o.t.c. because they thought it was patriotic. the parentsof rich kids tended to be more patriotic because they had more to lose if the country wentunder. the poor parents were far less patriotic, and then often professed their patriotismonly because it was expected or because it


was the way they had been raised. subconsciouslythey knew it wouldn’t be any better or worse for them if the russians or the germans orthe chinese or the japanese ran the country, especially if they had dark skin. things mighteven improve. anyhow, since many of the parents of chelsey high were rich, we had one of thebiggest r.o.t.c.’s in the city. so we marched around in the sun and learnedto dig latrines, cure snake-bite, tend the wounded, tie tourniquets, bayonet the enemy;we learned about hand grenades, infiltration, deployment of troops, maneuvers, retreats,advances, mental and physical discipline; we got on the firing range, bang bang, andwe got our marksmen’s medals. we had actual field maneuvers, we went out into the woodsand waged a mock war. we crawled on our bellies


toward each other with our rifles. we werevery serious. even i was serious. there was something about it that got your blood going.it was stupid and we all knew it was stupid, most of us, but something clicked in our brainsand we really wanted to get involved in it. we had an old retired army man, col. sussex.he was getting senile and drooled, little trickles of saliva running out of the cornersof his mouth and down, around and under his chin. he never said anything. he just stoodaround in his uniform covered with medals and drew his pay from the high school. duringour mock maneuvers he carried around a clipboard and kept score. he stood on a high hill andmade marks on the clipboard—probably. but he never told us who won. each side claimedvictory. it made for bad feelings.


lt. herman beechcroft was best. his fatherowned a bakery and a hotel catering service, whatever that was. anyhow, he was best. healways gave the same speech before a maneuver. “remember, you must hate the enemy! theywant to rape your mother and sisters! do you want those monsters to rape your mother andsisters?” lt. beechcroft had almost no chin at all.his face dropped away suddenly and where the jaw bone should have been there was only alittle button. we weren’t sure if it was a deformity or not. but his eyes were magnificentin their fury, large blue blazing symbols of war and victory. “whitlinger!”


“yes, sir!” “would you want those guys raping your mother?” “my mother’s dead, sir.” “oh, sorry…drake!” “no, sir!” “good. remember, this is war! we acceptmercy but we do not give mercy. you must hate the enemy. kill him! a dead man can’t defeatyou. defeat is a disease! victory writes history! now let’s go get those cocksuckers!” we deployed our line, sent out the advancescouts and began crawling through the brush.


i could see col. sussex on his hill with hisclipboard. it was the blues vs. the greens. we each had a piece of colored rag tied aroundour upper right arm. we were the blues. crawling through those bushes was pure hell. it washot. there were bugs, dust, rocks, thorns. i didn’t know where i was. our squad leader,kozak, had vanished somewhere. there was no communication. we were fucked. our motherswere going to get raped. i kept crawling forward, bruising and scratching myself, feeling lostand scared, but really feeling more the fool. all this vacant land and empty sky, hills,streams, acres and acres. who owned it all? probably the father of one of the rich guys.we weren’t going to capture anything. the whole place was on loan to the high school.no smoking. i crawled forward. we had no air


cover, no tanks, nothing. we were just a bunchof fairies out on a half-assed maneuver without food, without women, without reason. i stoodup, walked over and sat down with my back against a tree, put my rifle down and waited. everybody was lost and it didn’t matter.i pulled my arm band off and waited for a red cross ambulance or something. war wasprobably hell but the in-between parts were boring. then the bushes cracked open and a guy leapedout and saw me. he had on a green arm band. a rapist. he pointed his rifle at me. i hadno arm band on, it was down in the grass. he wanted to take a prisoner. i knew him.he was harry missions. his father owned a


lumber company. i sat there against the tree. “blue or green?” he hollered at me. “i’m mata hari.” “a spy! i take spies!” “come on, cut the shit, harry. this is agame for children. don’t bother me with your fetid melodrama.” the bushes cracked open again and there waslt. beechcroft. missions and beechcroft faced each other. “i hereby take you prisoner!” screamedbeechcroft at missions.


“i hereby take you prisoner!” screamedmissions at beechcroft. they both were really nervous and angry, icould feel it. beechcroft drew his sabre. “surrender ori’ll run you through!” missions grabbed his gun by the barrel. “comeover here and i’ll knock your god-damned head off!” then the bushes cracked open everywhere. thescreaming had attracted both the blues and the greens. i sat against the tree while theymixed it up. there was dust and scuffling and now and then the evil sound of rifle stockagainst skull. “oh, jesus! oh, my god!” some bodies were down. rifles were lost. therewere fist fights and headlocks. i saw two


guys with green arm bands locked in a death-grip.then col. sussex appeared. he blew frantically on his whistle. spit sprayed everywhere. thenhe ran over with his swagger stick and began beating the troops with it. he was good. itcut like a whip and sliced like a razor. “oh shit! i quit!” “no, stop! jesus! mercy!” “mother!” the troops separated and stood looking ateach other. col. sussex picked up his clipboard. his uniform was unwrinkled. his medals werestill in place. his cap sat at the correct angle. he flipped his swagger stick, caughtit, and walked off. we followed.


we climbed into the old army trucks with theirripped canvas sides and tops that had brought us. the engines started and we drove off.we faced each other on the long wooden benches. we had come out, all the blues in one of thetrucks, all the greens in the other. now we were mixed together, sitting there, most ofus looking down at our scuffed and dusty shoes, being jiggled this way and that, to the left,to the right, up and down, as the truck tires hit the ruts in the old roads. we were tiredand we were defeated and we were frustrated. the war was over. 41 r.o.t.c. kept me away from sports while theother guys practiced every day. they made


the school teams, won their letters and gotthe girls. my days were spent mostly marching around in the sun. all you ever saw were thebacks of some guy’s ears and his buttocks. i quickly became disenchanted with militaryproceedings. the others shined their shoes brightly and seemed to go through maneuverswith relish. i couldn’t see any sense in it. they were just getting shaped up in orderto get their balls blown off later. on the other hand, i couldn’t see myself croucheddown in a football helmet, shoulder pads laced on, decked out in blue and white, #69, tryingto block some mean son-of-a-bitch from across town, trying to move out some brute with tacoson his breath so that the son of the district attorney could slant off left tackle for sixyards. the problem was you had to keep choosing


between one evil or another, and no matterwhat you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. atthe age of 25 most people were finished. a whole god-damned nation of assholes drivingautomobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, likevoting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves. i had no interests. i had no interest in anything.i had no idea how i was going to escape. at least the others had some taste for life.they seemed to understand something that i didn’t understand. maybe i was lacking.it was possible. i often felt inferior. i just wanted to get away from them. but therewas no place to go. suicide? jesus christ,


just more work. i felt like sleeping for fiveyears but they wouldn’t let me. so there i was, at chelsey high, still inthe r. o. t. c., still with my boils. that always reminded me of how fucked up i was. it was a grand day. one man from each squadwho had won the manual of arms competition within his squad stepped into a long linewhere the final competition was to be held. somehow i had won the competition in my squad.i had no idea how. i was no hot shot. it was saturday. many mothers and fatherswere in the stands. somebody blew a bugle. a sword flashed. commands rang out. rightshoulder arms! left shoulder arms! rifles hit shoulders, rifle butts hit the ground,rifle stocks slammed into shoulders again.


little girls sat in the stands in their blueand green and yellow and orange and pink and white dresses. it was hot, it was boring,it was insanity. “chinaski, you are competing for the honorof our squadron!” “yes, corporal monty.” all those little girls in the stands eachwaiting for her lover, for her winner, for her corporate executive. it was sad. a flockof pigeons, frightened by a piece of paper blown in the wind, flapped noisily away. iyearned to be drunk on beer. i wanted to be anywhere but here. as each man made an error he dropped out ofline. soon there were six, then five, then


three. i was still there. i had no desireto win. i knew that i wouldn’t win. i’d soon be out of it. i wanted to be out of there.i was tired and bored. and covered with boils. i didn’t give cream-shit for what they werechasing. but i couldn’t make an obvious error. corporal monty would be hurt. then there were just two of us. me and andrewpost. post was a darling. his father was a great criminal lawyer. he was in the standswith his wife, andrew’s mother. post was sweating but determined. we both knew thathe would win. i could feel the energy and all the energy was his. it’s all right, i thought, he needs it,they need it. it’s the way it works. it’s


the way it’s meant to work. we went on and on, repeating various manualof arms maneuvers. from the corner of my eye i saw the goal posts on the field and i thought,maybe if i had tried harder i could have become a great football player. “order!” shouted the commander and i rippedmy bolt home. there had been only one click. there had been no click to my left. andrewpost had frozen. a little moan rose from the grandstands. “arms!” the commander finished and i completedthe maneuver. post did too but his bolt was open…


the actual ceremony for the winner came somedays later. luckily for me there were other awards to be given. i stood and waited withthe others as col. sussex came down the line. my boils were worse than ever and as alwayswhen i was wearing that itchy brown wool uniform the sun was up and hot and making me consciousof every wool fiber in that son-of-a-bitching shirt. i wasn’t much of a soldier and everybodyknew it. i had won on a fluke because i hadn’t cared enough to be nervous. i felt badly forcol. sussex because i knew what he was thinking and maybe he knew what i was thinking: thathis peculiar type of devotion and courage didn’t seem exceptional to me. then he was standing right in front of me.i stood at attention but managed to sneak


a peek at him. he had his saliva in good order.maybe when he was pissed-off it dried up. in spite of the heat there was a good westwind blowing. col. sussex pinned the medal on me. then he reached out and shook my hand. “congratulations,” he said. then he smiledat me. and moved on. why the old fuck. maybe he wasn’t so badafter all… walking home i had the medal in my pocket.who was col. sussex? just some guy who had to shit like the rest of us. everybody hadto conform, find a mold to fit into. doctor, lawyer, soldier—it didn’t matter whatit was. once in the mold you had to push forward. sussex was as helpless as the next man. eitheryou managed to do something or you starved


in the streets. i was alone, walking. on my side of the streetjust before reaching the first boulevard on the long walk home there was a small neglectedstore. i stopped and looked in the window. various objects were on display with theirsoiled price tags. i saw some candle holders. there was an electric toaster. a table lamp.the glass of the window was dirty inside and out. through the rather dusty brown smeari saw two toy dogs grinning. a miniature piano. these things were for sale. they didn’tlook very appealing. there weren’t any customers in the store and i couldn’t see a clerkeither. it was a place i had passed many times before but had never stopped to examine.


i looked in and i liked it. there was nothinghappening there. it was a place to rest, to sleep. everything in there was dead. i couldsee myself happily employed as a clerk there so long as no customers entered the door. i turned away from the window and walked alongsome more. just before reaching the boulevard i stepped into the street and saw an enormousstorm drain almost at my feet. it was like a great black mouth leading down to the bowelsof the earth. i reached into my pocket and took the medal and tossed it toward the blackopening. it went right in. it disappeared into the darkness. then i stepped onto the sidewalk and walkedback home. when i got there my parents were


busy with various cleaning chores. it wasa saturday. now i had to mow and clip the lawn, water it and the flowers. i changed into my working clothes, went out,and with my father watching me from beneath his dark and evil eyebrows, i opened the garagedoors and carefully pulled the mower out backwards, the mower blades not turning then, but waiting. 42 “you ought to try to be like abe mortenson,”said my mother, “he gets straight a’s. why can’t you ever get any a’s?” “henry is dead on his ass,” said my father.“sometimes i can’t believe he’s my son.”


“don’t you want to be happy, henry?”asked my mother. “you never smile. smile and be happy.” “stop feeling sorry for yourself,” saidmy father. “be a man!” “smile, henry!” “what’s going to become of you? how thehell you going to make it? you don’t have any get up and go!” “why don’t you go see abe? talk to him,learn to be like him,” said my mother… i knocked on the door of the mortensons’apartment. the door opened. it was abe’s mother.


“you can’t see abe. he’s busy studying.” “i know, mrs. mortenson. i just want tosee him a minute.” “all right. his room is right down there.” i walked on down. he had his own desk. hewas sitting with a book open on top of two other books. i knew the book by the colorof the cover: civics. civics, for christ sake, on a sunday. abe looked up and saw me. he spit on his handsand then turned back to the book. “hi,” he said, looking down at the page. “i bet you’ve read that same page tentimes over, sucker.”


“i’ve got to memorize everything.” “it’s just crap.” “i’ve got to pass my tests.” “you ever thought of fucking a girl?” “what?” he spit on his hands. “you ever looked up a girl’s dress andwanted to see more? ever thought about her snatch?” “that’s not important.” “it’s important to her.”


“i’ve got to study.” “we’re having a pick-up game of baseball.some of the guys from school.” “on sunday?” “what’s wrong with sunday? people do alot of things on sunday.” “but baseball?” “the pros play on sunday.” “but they get paid.” “are you getting paid for reading that samepage over and over? come on, get some air in your lungs, it might clear your head.”


“all right. but just for a little while.” he got up and i followed him up the hall andinto the front room. we walked toward the door. “abe, where are you going?” “i’ll just be gone a little while.” “all right. but hurry back. you’ve gotto study.” “i know…” “all right, henry, you make sure he getsback.” “i’ll take care of him, mrs. mortenson.”


there was baldy and jimmy hatcher and someother guys from school and a few guys from the neighborhood. we only had seven guys oneach side which left a couple of defensive holes, but i liked that. i played center field.i had gotten good, i was catching up. i covered most of the outfield. i was fast. i likedto play in close to grab the short ones. but what i liked best was running back to grabthose high hard ones hit over my head. that’s what jigger statz did with the los angelesangels. he only hit about .280 but the hits he took away from the other team made himas valuable as a .500 hitter. every sunday a dozen or more girls from theneighborhood would come and watch us. i ignored them. they really screamed when somethingexciting happened. we played hardball and


we each had our own glove, even mortenson.he had the best one. it had hardly been used. i trotted out to center and the game began.we had abe at second base. i slammed my fist into my mitt and hollered in at mortenson,“hey, abe, you ever jacked-off into a raw egg? you don’t have to die to go to heaven!” i heard the girls laughing. the first guy struck out. he wasn’t much.i struck out a lot too but i was the hardest hitter of them all. i could really put thewood to it: out of the lot and into the street. i always crouched low over the plate. i lookedlike a wound-up spring standing there. each moment of the game was exciting to me.all the games i had missed mowing that lawn,


all those early school days of being chosennext-to-last were over. i had blossomed. i had something and i knew i had it and it feltgood. “hey, abe!” i yelled in. “with all thatspit you don’t need a raw egg!” the next guy connected hard with one but itwas high, very high and i ran back to make an over-the-shoulder catch. i sprinted back,feeling great, knowing that i would create the miracle once again. shit. the ball sailed into a tall tree atthe back of the lot. then i saw the ball bouncing down through the branches. i stationed myselfand waited. no good, it was going left. i ran left. then it bounced back to the right.i ran right. it hit a branch, lingered there,


then slithered through some leaves and droppedinto my glove. the girls screamed. i fired the ball into our pitcher on one bouncethen trotted back into shallow center. the next guy struck out. our pitcher, harvey nixon,had a good fireball. we changed sides and i was first up. i hadnever seen the guy on the mound. he wasn’t from chelsey. i wondered where he was from.he was big all over, big head, big mouth, big ears, big body. his hair fell down overhis eyes and he looked like a fool. his hair was brown and his eyes were green and thosegreen eyes stared at me through that hair as if he hated me. it looked like his leftarm was longer than his right. his left arm


was his pitching arm. i’d never faced alefty, not in hardball. but they could all be had. turn them upside down and they wereall alike. “kitten” floss, they called him. somekitten. 190 pounds. “come on, butch, hit one out!” one ofthe girls pleaded. they called me “butch” because i playeda good game and ignored them. the kitten looked at me from between his bigears. i spit on the plate, dug in and waved my bat. the kitten nodded like he was getting a signalfrom the catcher. he was just showboating. then he looked around the infield. more showboating.it was for the benefit of the girls. he couldn’t


keep his pecker-mind off of snatch-thoughts. he took his wind-up. i watched that ball inhis left hand. my eyes never left that ball. i had learned the secret. you concentratedon the ball and followed it all the way in until it reached the plate and then you murderedit with the wood. i watched the ball leave his fingers througha blaze of sun. it was a murderous humming blur, but it could be had. it was below myknees and far out of the strike zone. his catcher had to dive to get it. “ball one,” mumbled the old neighborhoodfart who umpired our games. he was a night watchman in a department store and he likedto talk to the girls. “i got two daughters


at home just like you girls. real cute. theywear tight dresses too.” he liked to crouch over the plate and show them his big buttocks.that’s all he had, that and one gold tooth. the catcher threw the ball back to kittenfloss. “hey, pussy!” i yelled out to him. “you talkin’ to me?” “i’m talking to you, short-arm. you gottacome closer than that or i’ll have to call a cab.” “the next one is all yours,” he told me. “good,” i said. i dug in.


he went through his routine again, noddinglike he was getting a sign, checking the infield. those green eyes stared at me through thatdirty brown hair. i watched him wind-up. i saw the ball leave his fingers, a dark fleckagainst the sky in the sun and then suddenly it was zooming toward my skull. i droppedin my tracks, feeling it brush the hair of my head. “strike one,” mumbled the old fart. “what?” i yelled. the catcher was stillholding the ball. he was as surprised at the call as i was. i took the ball from him andshowed it to the umpire. “what’s this?” i asked him.


“it’s a baseball.” “fine. remember what it looks like.” i took the ball and walked out to the mound.the green eyes didn’t flinch under the dirty hair. but the mouth opened up just a bit,like a frog sucking air. i walked up to kitten. “i don’t swing with my head. the nexttime you do that i am going to jam this thing right up through your shorts and past whereyou forget to wipe.” i handed him the ball and walked back to theplate. i dug in and waved my bat. “one and one,” said the old fart.


floss kicked dirt around on the mound. hestared off into left field. there was nothing out there except a starving dog scratchinghis ear. floss looked in for a sign. he was thinking of the girls, trying to look good.the old fart crouched low, spreading his dumb buttocks, also trying to look good. i wasprobably one of the few with his mind on the business at hand. the time came, kitten floss went into hiswind-up. that left hand windmill could panic you if you let it. you had to be patient andwait for the ball. finally they had to let it go. then it was yours to destroy and theharder they threw it in the harder you could hit it out of there.


i saw the ball leave his fingers as one ofthe girls screamed. floss hadn’t lost his zip. the ball looked like a bee-bee, onlyit got larger and it was headed right for my skull again. all i knew was that i wastrying to find the dirt as fast as i could. i got a mouthful. “seerike two!” i heard the old fart yell.he couldn’t even pronounce the word. get a man who works for nothing and you get aman who just likes to hang around. i got up and brushed the dirt off. it waseven down in my shorts. my mother was going to ask me, “henry, how did you ever getyour shorts so dirty? now don’t make that face. smile, and be happy!”


i walked to the mound. i stood right there.nobody said anything. i just looked at kitten. i had the bat in my hand. i took the bat bythe end and pressed it against his nose. he slapped it away. i turned and walked backtoward the plate. halfway there i stopped. i turned and stared at him again. then i walkedto the plate. i dug in and waved my bat. this one was goingto be mine. the kitten peered in for the non-existent sign. he looked a long time, then shook hishead, no. he kept staring through that dirty hair with those green eyes. i waved my bat more powerfully. “hit it out, butch!” screamed one of thegirls.


“butch! butch! butch!” screamed anothergirl. then the kitten turned his back on us andjust stared out into center field. “time,” i said and stepped out of thebox. there was a very cute girl in an orange dress. her hair was blond and it hung straightdown, like a yellow waterfall, beautiful, and i caught her eye for a moment and shesaid, “butch, please do it.” “shut up,” i said and stepped back intothe box. the pitch came. i saw it all the way. it wasmy pitch. unfortunately, i was looking for the duster. i wanted the duster so i couldgo out to the mound and kill or be killed. the ball sailed right over the center of theplate. by the time i adjusted the best i could


do was swing weakly over the top of it asit went by. the bastard had suckered me all the way. he got me on three straight strikes next time.i swear he must have been at least 23 years old. probably a semi-pro. one of our guys finally did get a single offhim. but i was good in the field. i made some catches.i moved out there. i knew that the more i saw of the kitten’s fireball the more iwas apt to solve it. he wasn’t trying to knock out my brains anymore. he didn’t haveto. he was just smoking them down the middle. i hoped it was only a matter of time beforei golfed one out of there.


but things got worse and worse. i didn’tlike it. the girls didn’t either. not only was green eyes great on the mound, he wasgreat at the plate. the first two times up he hit a homer and a double. the third timeup he swung under a pitch and looped a high blooper between abe at second base and mein center field. i came charging in, the girls screaming, but abe kept looking up and backover his shoulder, his mouth drooping down, looking up, looking like a fool really, thatwet mouth open. i came charging in screaming, “it’s mine!” it was really his but somehowi couldn’t bear to let him make the catch. the guy was nothing but an idiot book-readerand i didn’t really like him so i came charging in very hard as the ball dropped. we crashedinto one another, the ball popped out of his


glove and into the air as he fell to the ground,and i caught the ball off his glove. i stood there over him as he lay on the ground. “get up, you dumb bastard,” i told him. abe stayed on the ground. he was crying. hewas holding his left arm. “i think my arm is broken,” he said. “get up, chickenshit.” abe finally got up and walked off the field,crying and holding his arm. i looked around. “all right,” i said,“let’s play ball!” but everybody was walking away, even the girls.the game was evidently over. i hung around


a while and then i started walking home… just before dinner the phone rang. my motheranswered it. her voice became very excited. she hung up and i heard her talking to myfather. then she came into my bedroom. “please come to the front room,” she said. i walked in and sat on the couch. they eachhad a chair. it was always that way. chairs meant you belonged. the couch was for visitors. “mrs. mortenson just phoned. they’ve takenx-rays. you broke her son’s arm.” “it was an accident,” i said.


“she says she is going to sue us. she’llget a jewish lawyer. they’ll take everything we have.” “we don’t have very much.” my mother was one of those silent criers.as she cried the tears came faster and faster. her cheeks were starting to glisten in theevening twilight. she wiped her eyes. they were a dull lightbrown. “why did you break that boy’s arm?” “it was a pop-up. we both went for it.” “what is this ‘pop-up’?”


“whoever gets it, gets it.” “so you got the ‘pop-up’?” “but how can this ‘pop-up’ help us?the jewish lawyer will still have the broken arm on his side.” i got up and walked back to my bedroom towait for dinner. my father hadn’t said anything. he was confused. he was worried about losingwhat little he had but at the same time he was very proud of a son who could break somebody’sarm. 43 jimmy hatcher worked part time in a grocerystore. while none of us could get jobs he


could always get one. he had his little moviestar face and his mother had a great body. with his face and her body he didn’t havetrouble finding employment. “why don’t you come up to the apartmentafter dinner tonight?” he asked me one day. “i steal all the beer i want. i take itout the back. we can drink the beer.” “where you got it?” “in the refrigerator.” “show me.” we were about a block a way from his place.we walked over. in the hallway jimmy said, “wait a minute, i’ve got to check themail.” he took out his key and opened the


lock box. it was empty. he locked it again. “my key opens this woman’s box. watch.” jimmy opened the box and pulled out a letterand opened it. he read the letter to me. “dear betty: i know that this check is late andthat you’ve been waiting for it. i lost my job. i have found another one, but it putme behind. here’s the check, finally. i hope that everything is all right with you.love, don.” jimmy took the check and looked at it. hetore it up and he tore the letter up and he put the pieces in his coat pocket. then helocked the mailbox. “come on.”


we went into his apartment and into the kitchenand he opened the refrigerator. it was packed with cans of beer. “does your mother know?” “sure. she drinks it.” he closed the refrigerator. “jim, did your father really blow his brainsout because of your mother?” “yeah. he was on the telephone. he toldher he had a gun. he said, ‘if you don’t come back to me i’m going to kill myself.will you come back to me?’ and my mother said, ‘no.’ there was a shot and thatwas that.”


“what did your mother do?” “she hung up.” “all right, i’ll see you tonight.” i told my parents that i was going over tojimmy’s to do some homework with him. my kind of homework, i thought to myself. “jimmy’s a nice boy,” my mother said. my father didn’t say anything. jimmy got the beer out and we began. i reallyliked it. jimmy’s mother worked at a bar until 2 a.m. we had the place to ourselves.


“your mother really has a body, jim. howcome some women have great bodies and most of the others look like they’re deformed?why can’t all women have great bodies?” “god, i don’t know. maybe if women wereall the same we’d get bored with them.” “drink some more. you drink too slow.” “o.k.” “maybe after a few beers i’ll beat theshit out of you.” “we’re friends, hank.” “i don’t have any friends. drink up!” “all right. what’s the hurry?”


“you’ve got to slam them down to get theeffect.” we opened some more cans of beer. “if i was a woman i’d go around with myskirt hiked up giving all the men hard-ons,” jimmy said. “you make me sick.” “my mother knew a guy who drank her piss.” “yeah. they’d drink all night and thenhe’d lay down in the bathtub and she’d piss in his mouth. then he’d give her twenty-fivedollars.” “she told you that?”


“since my father died she confides in me.it’s like i’ve taken his place.” “you mean…?” “oh, no. she just confides.” “like the guy in the tub?” “yeah, like him.” “tell me some more stuff.” “come on, drink up. does anybody eat yourmother’s shit?” “don’t talk that way.” i finished the can of beer in my hand andthrew it across the room.


“i like this joint. i might move in here.” i walked to the refrigerator and brought backa new six-pack. “i’m one tough son-of-a-bitch,” i said.“you’re lucky i let you hang around me.” i jammed a can of beer under his nose. “here, drink this!” i went to the bathroom to piss. it was a veryladylike bathroom, brightly colored towels, deep pink floormats. even the toilet seatwas pink. she sat her big white ass on there and her name was clare. i looked at my virgincock. “i’m a man,” i said. “i can whip anybody’sass.”


“i need the bathroom, hank…” jim wasat the door. he went into the bathroom. i heard him puking. “ah, shit…” i said and opened a newcan of beer. after a few minutes, jim came out and satin a chair. he looked very pale. i stuck a can of beer under his nose. “drink up! be a man! you were man enoughto steal it, now be man enough to drink it!” “just let me rest a while.” “drink it!” i sat down on the couch. getting drunk wasgood. i decided that i would always like getting


drunk. it took away the obvious and maybeif you could get away from the obvious often enough, you wouldn’t become obvious yourself. i looked over at jimmy. “drink up, punk.” i threw my empty beer can across the room. “tell me some more about your mother, jimmyboy. what did she say about the man who drank her piss in the bathtub?” “she said, ‘there’s a sucker born everyminute.’” “jim.”


“uh?” “drink up. be a man!” he lifted his beer can. then he ran to thebathroom and i heard him puking again. he came out after a while and sat in his chair.he didn’t look well. “i’ve got to lay down,” he said. “jimmy,” i said, “i’m going to waitaround until your mother comes home.” jimmy got up from his chair and started walkingtoward the bedroom. “when she comes home i’m going to fuckher, jimmy.” he didn’t hear me. he just walked into thebedroom.


i went into the kitchen and came back withmore beer. i sat and drank the beer and waited for clare.where was that whore? i couldn’t allow this kind of thing. i ran a tight ship. i got up and walked into the bedroom. jimwas face down on the bed, all his clothes on, his shoes on. i walked back out. well, it was obvious that boy had no bellyfor booze. clare needed a man. i sat down and opened another can of beer. i took a goodhit. i found a pack of cigarettes on the coffee table and lit one. i don’t know how many more beers i drankwaiting for clare but finally i heard the


key in the door and it opened. there was clareof the body and the bright blond hair. that body stood on those high heels and it swayedjust a little. no artist could have imagined it better. even the walls stared at her, thelampshades, the chairs, the rug. magic. standing there… “who the hell are you? what is this?” “clare, we’ve met. i’m hank. jimmy’sfriend.” “get out of here!” i laughed. “i’m movin’ in, baby, it’syou and me!” “where’s jimmy?”


she ran into the bedroom, then came back out. “you little prick! what’s going on here?” i picked up a cigarette, lit it. i grinned. “you’re beautiful when you’re angry…” “you’re nothing but a god-damned littlekid drunk on beer. go home.” “sit down, baby. have a beer.” clare sat down. i was very surprised whenshe did that. “you go to chelsey, don’t you?” sheasked. “yeah. jim and i are buddies.”


“you’re hank.” “he’s told me about you.” i handed clare a can of beer. my hand shook.“here, have a drink, baby.” she opened the beer and took a sip. i looked at clare, lifted my beer and hada hit. she was plenty of woman, a mae west type, wore the same kind of tight-fittinggown—big hips, big legs. and breasts. startling breasts. clare crossed her wondrous legs, a bit ofskirt falling back. her legs were full and golden and the stockings fit like skin.


“i’ve met your mother,” she said. i drained my can of beer and put it down bymy feet. i opened a new one, took a sip, then looked at her, not knowing whether to tookat her breasts or at her legs or into her tired face. “i’m sorry that i got your son drunk.but i’ve got to tell you something.” she turned her head, lighting a cigaretteas she did so, then faced me again. “yes?” “clare, i love you.” she didn’t laugh. she just gave me a littlesmile, the corners of her mouth turning up


a little. “poor boy. you’re nothing but a littlechicken just out of the egg.” it was true but it angered me. maybe becauseit was true. the dream and the beer wanted it to be something else. i took another drinkand looked at her and said, “cut the shit. lift your skirt. show me some leg. show mesome flank.” “you’re just a boy.” then i said it. i don’t know where the wordscame from, but i said it, “i could tear you in half, baby, if you gave me the chance.” “all right. let’s see.”


then she did it. just like that. she uncrossedher legs and pulled her skirt back. she didn’t have on panties. i saw her huge white upper flanks, riversof flesh. there was a large protruding wart on the inside of her left thigh. and therewas a jungle of tangled hair between her legs, but it was not bright yellow like the hairon her head, it was brown and shot with grey, old like some sick bush dying, lifeless andsad. “i’ve got to go, mrs. hatcher.” “christ, i thought you wanted to party!” “not with your son in the other room, mrs.hatcher.”


“don’t worry about him, hank. he’s passedout.” “no, mrs. hatcher, i’ve really got togo.” “all right, get out of here you god-damnedlittle piss-ant!” i closed the door behind me and walked downthe hall of the apartment building and out into the street. to think, somebody had suicided for that. the night suddenly looked good. i walked alongtoward my parents’ house. 44 i could see the road ahead of me. i was poorand i was going to stay poor. but i didn’t


particularly want money. i didn’t know whati wanted. yes, i did. i wanted someplace to hide out, someplace where one didn’t haveto do anything. the thought of being something didn’t only appall me, it sickened me. thethought of being a lawyer or a councilman or an engineer, anything like that, seemedimpossible to me. to get married, to have children, to get trapped in the family structure.to go someplace to work every day and to return. it was impossible. to do things, simple things,to be part of family picnics, christmas, the 4th of july, labor day, mother’s day…wasa man born just to endure those things and then die? i would rather be a dishwasher,return alone to a tiny room and drink myself to sleep.


my father had a master plan. he told me, “myson, each man during his lifetime should buy a house. finally he dies and leaves that houseto his son. then his son gets his own house and dies, leaves both houses to his son. that’stwo houses. that son gets his own house, that’s three houses…” the family structure. victory over adversitythrough the family. he believed in it. take the family, mix with god and country, addthe ten-hour day and you had what was needed. i looked at my father, at his hands, his face,his eyebrows, and i knew that this man had nothing to do with me. he was a stranger.my mother was non-existent. i was cursed. looking at my father i saw nothing but indecentdullness. worse, he was even more afraid to


fail than most others. centuries of peasantblood and peasant training. the chinaski bloodline had been thinned by a series of peasant-servantswho had surrendered their real lives for fractional and illusionary gains. not a man in the linewho said, “i don’t want a house, i want a thousand houses, now!” he had sent me to that rich high school hopingthat the ruler’s attitude would rub off on me as i watched the rich boys screech upin their cream-colored coupes and pick up the girls in bright dresses. instead i learnedthat the poor usually stay poor. that the young rich smell the stink of the poor andlearn to find it a bit amusing. they had to laugh, otherwise it would be too terrifying.they’d learned that, through the centuries.


i would never forgive the girls for gettinginto those cream-colored coupes with the laughing boys. they couldn’t help it, of course,yet you always think, maybe…but no, there weren’t any maybes. wealth meant victoryand victory was the only reality. what woman chooses to live with a dishwasher? throughout high school i tried not to thinktoo much about how things might eventually turn out for me. it seemed better to delaythinking… finally it was the day of the senior prom.it was held in the girls’ gym with live music, a real band. i don’t know why buti walked over that night, the two-and-one-half miles from my parents’ place. i stood outsidein the dark and i looked in there, through


the wire-covered window, and i was astonished.all the girls looked very grown-up, stately, lovely, they were in long dresses, and theyall looked beautiful. i almost didn’t recognize them. and the boys in their tuxes, they lookedgreat, they danced so straight, each of them holding a girl in his arms, their faces pressedagainst the girl’s hair. they all danced beautifully and the music was loud and clearand good, powerful. then i caught a glimpse of my reflection staringin at them—boils and scars on my face, my ragged shirt. i was like some jungle animaldrawn to the light and looking in. why had i come? i felt sick. but i kept watching.the dance ended. there was a pause. couples spoke easily to each other. it was naturaland civilized. where had they learned to converse


and to dance? i couldn’t converse or dance.everybody knew something i didn’t know. the girls looked so good, the boys so handsome.i would be too terrified to even look at one of those girls, let alone be close to one.to look into her eyes or dance with her would be beyond me. and yet i knew that what i saw wasn’t assimple and good as it appeared. there was a price to be paid for it all, a general falsity,that could be easily believed, and could be the first step down a dead-end street. theband began to play again and the boys and girls began to dance again and the lightsrevolved overhead throwing shades of gold, then red, then blue, then green, then goldagain on the couples. as i watched them i


said to myself, someday my dance will begin.when that day comes i will have something that they don’t have. but then it got to be too much for me. i hatedthem. i hated their beauty, their untroubled youth, and as i watched them dance throughthe magic colored pools of light, holding each other, feeling so good, little unscathedchildren, temporarily in luck, i hated them because they had something i had not yet had,and i said to myself, i said to myself again, someday i will be as happy as any of you,you will see. they kept dancing, and i repeated it to them. then there was a sound behind me.


“hey! what are you doing?” it was an old man with a flashlight. he hada head like a frog’s head. “i’m watching the dance.” he held the flashlight right up under hisnose. his eyes were round and large, they gleamed like a cat’s eyes in the moonlight.but his mouth was shriveled, collapsed, and his head was round. it had a peculiar senselessroundness that reminded me of a pumpkin trying to play pundit. “get your ass out of here!” he ran the flashlight up and down all overme.


“who are you?” i asked. “i’m the night custodian. get your assout of here before i call the cops!” “what for? this is the senior prom and i’ma senior.” he flashed his light into my face. the bandwas playing “deep purple.” “bullshit!” he said. “you’re at least22 years old!” “i’m in the yearbook, class of 1939, graduatingclass, henry chinaski.” “why aren’t you in there dancing?” “forget it. i’m going home.” “do that.”


i walked off. i kept walking. his flashlightleaped on the path, the light following me. i walked off campus. it was a nice warm night,almost hot. i thought i saw some fireflies but i wasn’t sure. 45 graduation day. we filed in with our capsand gowns to “pomp and circumstance.” i suppose that in our three years we musthave learned something. our ability to spell had probably improved and we had grown insize. i was still a virgin. “hey, henry, you busted your cherry yet?” “no way,”i’d say. jimmy hatcher sat next to me. the principalwas giving his address and really scraping


the bottom of the old shit barrel. “americais the great land of opportunity and any man or woman with a desire to do so will succeed…” “dishwasher,” i said. “dog catcher,” said jimmy. “burglar,” i said. “garbage collector,” said jimmy. “madhouse attendant,” i said. “america is brave, america was built bythe brave…ours is a just society.” “just so much for the few,” said jimmy.


“…a fair society and all those who searchfor that dream at the end of the rainbow will find…” “a hairy crawling turd,” i suggested. “…and i can say, without hesitation, thatthis particular class of summer 1939, less than a decade removed from the beginning ofour terrible national depression, this class of summer ’39 is more ripe with courage,talent and love than any class it has been my pleasure to witness!” the mothers, fathers, relatives applaudedwildly; a few of the students joined in. “class of summer 1939, i am proud of yourfuture, i am sure of your future. i send you


out now to your great adventure!” most of them were headed over to u.s.c. tolive the non-working life for at least four more years. “and i send my prayers and blessings withyou!” the honor students received their diplomasfirst. out they came. abe mortenson was called. he got his. i applauded. “where’s he gonna end up?” jimmy asked. “cost accountant in an auto parts manufacturingconcern. somewhere near gardena, california.” “a lifetime job…” said jimmy.


“a lifetime wife,” i added. “abe will never be miserable…” “or happy.” “an obedient man…” “a broom.” “a stiff…” “a wimp.” when the honor students had been taken careof they began on us. i felt uncomfortable sitting there. i felt like walking out.


“henry chinaski!” i was called. “public servant,” i told jimmy. i walked up to and across the stage, tookthe diploma, shook the principal’s hand. it felt slimy like the inside of a dirty fishbowl. (two years later he would be exposed as an embezzler of school funds; he was tobe tried, convicted and jailed.) i passed mortenson and the honor group asi went back to my seat. he looked over and gave me the finger, so only i could see it.that got me. it was so unexpected. i walked back and sat down next to jimmy. “mortenson gave me the finger!”


“no, i don’t believe it!” “son-of-a-bitch! he’s spoiled my day!not that it was worth a fuck anyhow but he’s really greased it over now!” “i can’t believe he had the guts to fingeryou.” “it’s not like him. you think he’s gettingsome coaching?” “i don’t know what to think.” “he knows that i can bust him in half withouteven inhaling!” “bust him!” “but don’t you see, he’s won? it’sthe way he surprised me!”


“all you gotta do is kick his ass all upand down.” “do you think that son-of-a-bitch learnedsomething reading all those books? i know there’s nothing in them because i read everyfourth page.” “jimmy hatcher!” his name was called. “priest,” he said. “poultry farmer,” i said. jimmy went up and got his. i applauded loudly.anybody who could live with a mother like his deserved some accolade. he came back andwe sat watching all the golden boys and girls go up and get theirs.


“you can’t blame them for being rich,”jimmy said. “no, i blame their fucking parents.” “and their grandparents,” said jimmy. “yes, i’d be happy to take their new carsand their pretty girlfriends and i wouldn’t give a fuck about anything like social justice.” “yeah,” said jimmy. “i guess the onlytime most people think about injustice is when it happens to them.” the golden boys and girls went on paradingacross the stage. i sat there wondering whether to punch abe out or not. i could see him floppingon the sidewalk still in his cap and gown,


the victim of my right cross, all the prettygirls screaming, thinking, my god, this chinaski guy must be a bull on the springs! on the other hand, abe wasn’t much. he washardly there. it wouldn’t take anything to punch him out. i decided not to do it.i had already broken his arm and his parents hadn’t sued mine, finally. if i busted hishead they would surely go ahead and sue. they would take my old man’s last copper. notthat i would mind. it was my mother: she would suffer in a fool’s way: senselessly andwithout reason. then, the ceremony was over. the studentsleft their seats and filed out. students met with parents, relatives on the front lawn.there was much hugging, embracing. i saw my


parents waiting. i walked up to them, stoodabout four feet away. “let’s get out of here,” i said. my mother was looking at me. “henry, i’m so proud of you!” then my mother’s head turned. “oh, theregoes abe and his parents! they’re such nice people! oh, mrs. mortenson!” they stopped. my mother ran over and threwher arms about mrs. mortenson. it was mrs. mortenson who had decided not to sue aftermany, many hours of conversation upon the telephone with my mother. it had been decidedthat i was a confused individual and that


my mother had suffered enough that way. my father shook hands with mr. mortenson andi walked over to abe. “o. k., cocksucker, what’s the idea ofgiving me the finger?” “the finger!” “i don’t know what you’re talking about!” “henry, i really don’t know what you’retalking about!” “all right, abraham, it’s time to go!”said his mother. the mortenson family walked off together.i stood there watching them. then we started walking to our old car. we walked west tothe corner and turned south.


“now that mortenson boy really knows howto apply himself!” said my father. “how are you ever going to make it? i’ve nevereven seen you look at a schoolbook, let alone inside of one!” “some books are dull,” i said. “oh, they’re dull, are they? so you don’twant to study? what can you do? what good are you? what can you do? it has cost me thousandsof dollars to raise you, feed you, clothe you! suppose i left you here on the street?then what would you do?” “catch butterflies.” my mother began to cry. my father pulled heraway and down the block to where their ten-year-old


car was parked. as i stood there, the otherfamilies roared past in their new cars, going somewhere. then jimmy hatcher and his mother walked by.she stopped. “hey, wait a minute,” she told jimmy, “i want to congratulate henry.” jimmy waited and clare walked over. she puther face close to mine. she spoke softly so jimmy wouldn’t hear. “listen, honey, anytime you really want to graduate, i can arrange to give you your diploma.” “thanks, clare, i might be seeing you.” “i’ll rip your balls off, henry!”


“i don’t doubt it, clare.” she went back to jimmy and they walked awaydown the street. a very old car rolled up, stopped, the enginedied. i could see my mother weeping, big tears were running down her cheeks. “henry, get in! please get in! your fatheris right but i love you!” “forget it. i’ve got a place to go.” “no, henry, get in!” she wailed. “getin or i’ll die!” i walked over, opened the rear door, climbedinto the rear seat. the engine started and we were off again. there i sat, henry chinaski,class of summer ’39, driving into the bright


future. no, being driven. at the first redlight the car stalled. as the signal turned green my father was still trying to startthe engine. somebody behind us honked. my father got the car started and we were inmotion again. my mother had stopped crying. we drove along like that, each of us silent. 46 times were still hard. nobody was any moresurprised than i when mears-starbuck phoned and asked me to report to work the next monday.i had gone all around town putting in dozens of applications. there was nothing else todo. i didn’t want a job but i didn’t want to live with my parents either. mears-starbuckmust have had thousands of applications on


hand. i couldn’t believe they had chosenme. it was a department store with branches in many cities. the next monday, there i was walking to workwith my lunch in a brown paper bag. the department store was only a few blocks away from my formerhigh school. i still didn’t understand why i had beenselected. after filling out the application, the interview had lasted only a few minutes.i must have given all the right answers. first paycheck i get, i thought, i’m goingto get myself a room near the downtown l.a. public library. as i walked along i didn’t feel so aloneand i wasn’t. i noticed a starving mongrel


dog following me. the poor creature was terriblythin; i could see his ribs poking through his skin. most of his fur had fallen off.what remained clung in dry, twisted patches. the dog was beaten, cowed, deserted, frightened,a victim of homo sapiens. i stopped and knelt, put out my hand. he backedoff. “come here, fellow, i’m your friend…comeon, come on…” he came closer. he had such sad eyes. “what have they done to you, boy?” he came still closer, creeping along the sidewalk,trembling, wagging his tail quite rapidly. then he leaped at me. he was large, what wasleft of him. his forelegs pushed me backwards


and i was flat on the sidewalk and he waslicking my face, mouth, ears, forehead, everywhere. i pushed him off, got up and wiped my face. “easy now! you need something to eat! food!” i reached into my bag and took out a sandwich.i unwrapped it and broke off a portion. “some for you and some for me, old boy!” i put his part of the sandwich on the sidewalk.he came up, sniffed at it, then walked off, slinking, staring back at me over his shoulderas he walked down the street away from me. “hey, wait, buddy! that was peanut butter!come here, have some bologna! hey, boy, come here! come back!”


the dog approached again, cautiously. i foundthe bologna sandwich, ripped off a chunk, wiped the cheap watery mustard off, then placedit on the sidewalk. the dog walked up to the bit of sandwich,put his nose to it, sniffed, then turned and walked off. this time he didn’t look back.he accelerated down the street. no wonder i had been depressed all my life.i wasn’t getting proper nourishment. i walked on toward the department store. itwas the same street i had walked along to go to high school. i arrived. i found the employees’ entrance,pushed the door open and walked in. i went from bright sunlight into semi-darkness. asmy eyes adjusted i could make out a man standing


several feet away in front of me. half ofhis left ear had been sliced off at some point in the past. he was a tall, very thin manwith needlepoint grey pupils centered in otherwise colorless eyes. a very tall thin man, yetright above his belt, sticking out over his belt—suddenly—was a sad and hideous andstrange pot belly. all his fat had settled there while the remainder of him had wastedaway. “i’m superintendent ferris,” he said.“i presume that you’re mr. chinaski?” “you’re five minutes late.” “i was delayed by…well, i stopped to tryto feed a starving dog,” i grinned. “that’s one of the lousiest excuses i’veever heard and i’ve been here thirty-five


years. couldn’t you come up with a betterone than that?” “i’m just starting, mr. ferris.” “and you’re almost finished. now,” hepointed, “the time-clock is over there and the card rack is over there. find your cardand punch in.” i found my card. henry chinaski, employee#687 54. then i walked up to the timeclock but i didn’t know what to do. ferris walked over and stood behind me, staringat the timeclock. “you’re now six minutes late. when youare ten minutes late we dock you an hour.” “i guess it’s better to be an hour late.”


“don’t be funny. if i want a comediani listen to jack benny. if you’re an hour late you’re docked your whole god-damnedjob.” “i’m sorry, but i don’t know how touse a timeclock. i mean, how do i punch in?” ferris grabbed the card out of my hand. hepointed at it. “see this slot?” “i mean, ‘yes.’” “o.k., that slot is for the first day ofthe week. today.” “ah.” “you slip the timecard into here like this…”


he slipped it in, then pulled it out. “then when your timecard is in there youhit this lever.” ferris hit the lever but the timecard wasn’tin there. “i understand. let’s begin.” “no, wait.” he held the timecard in front of me. “now, when you punch out for lunch, youhit this slot.” “yes, i understand.” “then when you punch back in, you hit thenext slot. lunch is thirty minutes.”


“thirty minutes, i’ve got it.” “now, when you punch out, you hit the lastslot. that’s four punches a day. then you go home, or to your room or wherever, sleep,come back and hit it four more times each working day until you get fired, quit, dieor retire.” “i’ve got it.” “and i want you to know that you’ve delayedmy indoctrination speech to our new employees, of which you, at the moment, are one. i amin charge here. my word is law and your wishes mean nothing. if i dislike anything aboutyou—the way you tie your shoes, comb your hair or fart, you’re back on the streets,get it?”


a young girl came flouncing in, running onher high heels, long brown hair flowing behind her. she was dressed in a tight red dress.her lips were large and expressive with excessive lipstick. she theatrically pulled her cardout of the rack, punched in, and breathing with minor excitement, she put her card backin the rack. she glanced over at ferris. “hi, eddie!” “hi, diana!” diana was obviously a salesgirl. ferris walkedover to her. they stood talking. i couldn’t hear the conversation but i could hear themlaughing. then they broke off. diana walked


over and waited for the elevator to take herto her work. ferris walked back toward me holding my timecard. “i’ll punch in now, mr. ferris,” i toldhim. “i’ll do it for you. i want to start youout right.” ferris inserted my timecard into the clockand stood there. he waited. i heard the clock tick, then he hit it. he put my card in therack. “how late was i, mr. ferris?” “ten minutes. now follow me.” i followed along behind him.


i saw the group waiting. four men and three women. they were all old.they seemed to have salivary problems. little clumps of spittle had formed at the cornersof their mouths; the spittle had dried and turned white and then been coated by new wetspittle. some of them were too thin, others too fat. some were near-sighted; others trembled.one old fellow in a brightly colored shirt had a hump on his back. they all smiled andcoughed, puffing at cigarettes. then i got it. the message. mears-starbuck was looking for stayers. thecompany didn’t care for employee turnover (although these new recruits obviously weren’tgoing anywhere but to the grave—until then


they’d remain grateful and loyal employees).and i had been chosen to work alongside of them. the lady in the employment office hadevaluated me as belonging with this pathetic group of losers. what would the guys in high school think ifthey saw me? me, one of the toughest guys in the graduating class. i walked over and stood with my group. ferrissat on a table facing us. a shaft of light fell upon him from an overhead transom. heinhaled his cigarette and smiled at us. “welcome to mears-starbuck…” then he seemed to fall into a reverie. perhapshe was thinking about when he had first joined


the department store thirty-five years ago.he blew a few smoke rings and watched them rise into the air. his half-sliced ear lookedimpressive in the light from above. the guy next to me, a little pretzel of aman, knifed his sharp little elbow into my side. he was one of those individuals whoseglasses always seem ready to fall off. he was uglier than i was. “hi!” he whispered. “i’m mewks. odellmewks.” “hello, mewks.” “listen, kid, after work let’s you andme make the bars. maybe we can pick up some girls.”


“i can’t, mewks.” “afraid of girls?” “it’s my brother, he’s sick. i’vegot to watch over him.” “sick?” “worse. cancer. he has to piss through atube into a bottle strapped to his leg.” then ferris began again. “your startingsalary is forty-four-and-a-half cents an hour. we are non-union here. management believesthat what is fair for the company is fair for you. we are like a family, dedicated toserve and to profit. you will each receive a ten-percent discount on all merchandiseyou purchase from mears-starbuck…”


“oh, boy!” mewks said in a loud voice. “yes, mr. mewks, it’s a good deal. youtake care of us, we’ll take care of you.” i could stay with mears-starbuck for forty-sevenyears, i thought. i could live with a crazy girlfriend, get my left ear sliced off andmaybe inherit ferris’ job when he retired. ferris talked about which holidays we couldlook forward to and then the speech was over. we were issued our smocks and our lockersand then we were directed to the underground storage facilities. ferris worked down there too. he manned thephones. whenever he answered the phone he would hold it to his sliced left ear withhis left hand and clamp his right hand under


his left armpit. “yes? yes? yes. comingright up!” “chinaski!” “lingerie department…” then he would pick up the order pad, listthe items needed and how many of each. he never did this while on the phone, alwaysafterwards. “locate these items, deliver them to thelingerie department, obtain a signature and return.” his speech never varied. my first delivery was to lingerie. i locatedthe items, placed them in my little green


cart with its four rubber wheels and pushedit toward the elevator. the elevator was at an upper floor and i pressed the button andwaited. after some time i could see the bottom of the elevator as it came down. it was veryslow. then it was at basement level. the doors opened and an albino with one eye stood atthe controls. jesus. he looked at me. “new guy, huh?” he asked. “what do you think of ferris?” “i think he’s a great guy.” they probably lived together in the same roomand took turns manning the hotplate.


“i can’t take you up.” “i gotta take a shit.” he left the elevator and walked off. there i stood in my smock. this was the waythings usually worked. you were a governor or a garbageman, you were a tight-rope walkeror a bank robber, you were a dentist or a fruit picker, you were this or you were that.you wanted to do a good job. you manned your station and then you stood and waited forsome asshole. i stood there in my smock next to my green cart while the elevator man tooka shit. it came to me then, clearly, why the rich,golden boys and girls were always laughing.


they knew. the albino returned. “it was great. i feel thirty pounds lighter.” “good. can we go now?” he closed the doors and we rose to the salesfloor. he opened the doors. “good luck,” said the albino. i pushed my green cart down through the aisleslooking for the lingerie department, a miss meadows. miss meadows was waiting. she was slenderand classy-looking. she looked like a model.


her arms were folded. as i approached heri noticed her eyes. they were an emerald green, there was depth, a knowledge there. i shouldknow somebody like that. such eyes, such class. i stopped my cart in front of her counter. “hello, miss meadows,” i smiled. “where the hell have you been?” she asked. “it just took this long.” “do you realize i have customers waiting?do you realize that i’m attempting to run an efficient department here?” the salesclerks got ten cents an hour morethan we did, plus commissions. i was to discover


that they never spoke to us in a friendlyway. male or female, the clerks were the same. they took any familiarity as an affront. “i’ve got a good mind to phone mr. ferris.” “i’ll do better next time, miss meadows.” i placed the goods on her counter and thenhanded her the form to sign. she scratched her signature furiously on the paper, theninstead of handing it back to me she threw it into my green cart. “christ, i don’t know where they findpeople like you!” i pushed my cart over to the elevator, hitthe button and waited. the doors opened and


i rolled on in. “how’d it go?” the albino asked me. “i feel thirty pounds heavier,” i toldhim. he grinned, the doors closed and we descended. over dinner that night my mother said, “henry,i’m so proud of you that you have a job!” my father said, “well, aren’t you gladto have a job?” “yeah? is that all you can say? do you realizehow many men are unemployed in this nation now?” “plenty, i guess.”


“then you should be grateful.” “look, can’t we just eat our food?” “you should be grateful for your food, too.do you know how much this meal cost?” i shoved my plate away. “shit! i can’teat this stuff!” i got up and walked to my bedroom. “i’ve got a good mind to come back thereand teach you what is what!” i stopped. “i’ll be waiting, old man.” then i walked away. i went in and waited.but i knew he wasn’t coming. i set the alarm to get ready for mears-starbuck. it was only7:30 p.m. but i undressed and went to bed.


i switched off the light and was in the dark.there was nothing else to do, nowhere to go. my parents would soon be in bed with the lightsout. my father liked the slogan, “early to bedand early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” but it hadn’t done any of that for him.i decided that i might try to reverse the process. i couldn’t sleep. maybe if i masturbated to miss meadows? too cheap.


i wallowed there in the dark, waiting forsomething. 47 the first three or four days at mears-starbuckwere identical. in fact, similarity was a very dependable thing at mears-starbuck. thecaste system was an accepted fact. there wasn’t a single salesclerk who spoke to a stockclerkoutside of a perfunctory word or two. and it affected me. i thought about it as i pushedmy cart about. was it possible that the salesclerks were more intelligent than the stockclerks?they certainly dressed better. it bothered me that they assumed that their station meantso much. perhaps if i had been a salesclerk i would have felt the same way. i didn’tmuch care for the other stockclerks. or the


salesclerks. now, i thought, pushing my cart along, i havethis job. is this to be it? no wonder men robbed banks. there were too many demeaningjobs. why the hell wasn’t i a superior court judge or a concert pianist? because it tooktraining and training cost money. but i didn’t want to be anything anyhow. and i was certainlysucceeding. i pushed my cart to the elevator and hit thebutton. women wanted men who made money, women wantedmen of mark. how many classy women were living with skid row bums? well, i didn’t wanta woman anyhow. not to live with. how could men live with women? what did it mean? whati wanted was a cave in colorado with three-years’


worth of foodstuffs and drink. i’d wipemy ass with sand. anything, anything to stop drowning in this dull, trivial and cowardlyexistence. the elevator came up. the albino was stillat the controls. “hey, i hear you and mewks made the bars last night!” “he bought me a few beers. i’m broke.” “you guys get laid?” “i didn’t.” “why don’t you guys take me along nexttime? i’ll show you how to get some snatch.” “what do you know?”


“i’ve been around. just last week i hada chinese girl. and you know, it’s just like they say.” we hit the basement and the doors opened. “their snatch doesn’t run up and down,it runs from side to side.” ferris was waiting for me. “where the hell you been?” “home gardening.” “what did you do, fertilize the fuchsias?” “yeah, i drop one turd in each pot.”


“listen, chinaski…” “the punchlines around here belong to me.got it?” “got it.” “well, get this. i’ve got an order herefor men’s wear.” he handed me the order slip. “locate these items, deliver them, obtaina signature and return.” men’s wear was run by mr. justin phillips,jr. he was well-bred, he was polite, around twenty-two. he stood very straight, had darkhair, dark eyes, brooding lips. there was an unfortunate absence of cheekbones but itwas hardly noticeable. he was pale and wore


dark clothing with beautifully starched shirts.the salesgirls loved him. he was sensitive, intelligent, clever. he was also just a bitnasty as if some forebear had passed down that right to him. he had only broken withtradition once to speak to me. “it’s a shame, isn’t it, those rather ugly scarson your face?” as i rolled my cart up to men’s wear, justinphillips was standing very straight, head tilted a bit, staring, as he did most of thetime, looking off and up as if he was seeing things we were not. he saw things out there.maybe i just didn’t recognize breeding when i saw it. he certainly appeared to be abovehis surroundings. it was a good trick if you could do it and get paid at the same time.maybe that’s what management and the salesgirls


liked. here was a man truly too good for whathe was doing, but he was doing it anyhow. i rolled up. “here’s your order, mr. phillips.” he appeared not to notice me, which hurt ina sense, and was a good thing in another. i stacked the goods on the counter as he staredoff into space, just above the elevator door. then i heard golden laughter and i looked.it was a gang of guys who had graduated with me from chelsey high. they were trying onsweaters, hiking shorts, various items. i knew them by sight only, as we had never spokenduring our four years of high school. the leader was jimmy newhall. he had been thehalfback on our football team, undefeated for three years. his hair was a beautifulyellow, the sun always seemed to be highlighting


parts of it, the sun or the lights in theschoolroom. he had a thick, powerful neck and above it sat the face of a perfect boysculpted by some master sculptor. everything was exactly as it should be: nose, forehead,chin, the works. and the body likewise, perfectly formed. the others with newhall were not exactlyas perfect as he was, but they were close. they stood around and tried on sweaters andlaughed, waiting to go to u.s.c. or stanford. justin phillips signed my receipt. i was onmy way back to the elevator when i heard a voice: “hey, ski! ski, you look great in your littleoutfit!” i stopped, turned, gave them a casual waveof the left hand.


“look at him! toughest guy in town sincetommy dorsey!” “makes gable look like a toilet plunger.” i left my wagon and walked back. i didn’tknow what i was going to do. i stood there and looked at them. i didn’t like them,never had. they might look glorious to others but not to me. there was something about theirbodies that was like a woman’s body. they were soft, they had never faced any fire.they were beautiful nothings. they made me sick. i hated them. they were part of thenightmare that always haunted me in one form or another. jimmy newhall smiled at me. “hey, stockboy,how come you never tried out for the team?”


“it wasn’t what i wanted.” “no guts, eh?” “you know where the parking lot on the roofis?” “see you there…” they strolled out toward the parking lot asi took my smock off and threw it into the cart. justin phillips, jr. smiled at me, “mydear boy, you are going to get your ass whipped.” jimmy newhall was waiting, surrounded by hisbuddies. “hey, look, the stockboy!” “you think he’s wearing ladies’ underwear?”


newhall was standing in the sun. he had hisshirt off and his undershirt too. he had his gut sucked in and his chest pushed out. helooked good. what the hell had i gotten into? i felt my underlip trembling. up there onthe roof, i felt fear. i looked at newhall, the golden sun highlighting his golden hair.i had watched him many times on the football field. i had seen him break off many 50 and60 yard runs while i rooted for the other team. now we stood looking at each other. i leftmy shirt on. we kept standing. i kept standing. newhall finally said, “o.k., i’m goingto take you now.” he started to move forward. just then a little old lady dressed in blackcame by with many packages. she had on a tiny


green felt hat. “hello, boys!” she said. “hello, ma’am.” “lovely day…” the little old lady opened her car door andloaded in the packages. then she turned to jimmy newhall. “oh, what a fine body you have, my boy!i’ll bet you could be tarzan of the apes!” “no, ma’am,” i said. “pardon me, buthe’s the ape and those with him are his tribe.”


“oh,” she said. she got into her car,started it and we waited as she backed out and drove off. “o.k., chinaski,” said newhall, “allthrough school you were famous for your sneer and your big god-damned mouth. and now i’mgoing to put the cure on you!” newhall bounded forward. he was ready. i wasn’tquite ready. all i saw was a backdrop of blue sky and a flash of body and fists. he wasquicker than an ape, and bigger. i couldn’t seem to throw a punch, i only felt his fistsand they were rock hard. squinting through punched eyes i could see his fists, swinging,landing, my god, he had power, it seemed endless and there was no place to go. i began to think,maybe you are a sissy, maybe you should be,


maybe you should quit. but as he continued to punch, my fear vanished.i felt only astonishment at his strength and energy. where did he get it? a swine likehim? he was loaded. i couldn’t see anymore—my eyes were blinded by flashes of yellow andgreen light, purple light—then a terrific shot of red…i felt myself going down. is this the way it happens? i fell to one knee. i heard an airplane passingoverhead. i wished i was on it. i felt something run over my mouth and chin…it was warm bloodrunning from my nose. “let him go, jimmy, he’s finished…”


i looked at newhall. “your mother suckscock,” i told him. “i’ll kill you!” newhall rushed me before i could quite getup. he had me by the throat and we rolled over and over, under a dodge. i heard hishead hit something. i didn’t know what it hit but i heard the sound. it happened quitequickly and the others were not as aware of it as i was. i got up and then newhall got up. “i’m going to kill you,” he said. newhall windmilled in. this time it wasn’tnearly so bad. he punched with the same fury,


but something was missing. he was weaker.when he hit me i didn’t see flashes of color, i could see the sky, the parked cars, thefaces of his friends, and him. i had always been a slow starter. newhall was still tryingbut he was definitely weaker, and i had my small hands, i was blessed with small hands,lousy weapons. what a weary time those years were—to havethe desire and the need to live but not the ability. i dug a hard right to his belly and i heardhim gasp so i grabbed him behind the neck with my left and dug another right to hisbelly. then i pushed him off and cracked him with a one-two, right into that sculpted face.i saw his eyes and it was great. i was bringing


something to him that he had never felt before.he was terrified. terrified because he didn’t know how to handle defeat. i decided to finishhim slowly. then someone slugged me on the back of thehead. it was a good hard shot. i turned and looked. it was his red-headed friend, cal evans. i yelled, pointing at him. “stay the fuckaway from me! i’ll take all of you one at a time! as soon as i’m done with this guy,you’re next!” it didn’t take much to finish jimmy. i eventried some fancy footwork. i jabbed a bit, played around and then i moved in and startedpunching. he took it pretty good and for a


while i thought i couldn’t finish it butall of a sudden he gave me this strange look which said, hey, look, maybe we ought to bebuddies and go have a couple of beers together. then he dropped. his friends moved in and picked him up, theyheld him up, talked to him, “hey, jim, you o.k.?” “what’d the son-of-a-bitch do to you,jim? we’ll clean his drawers, jim. just give us the word.” “take me home,” jim said. i watched them go down the stairway, all ofthem trying to hold him up, one guy carrying


his shirt and undershirt… i went downstairs to get my cart. justin phillipswas waiting. “i didn’t think you’d be back,” hesmiled disdainfully. “don’t fraternize with the unskilled help,”i told him. i pushed off. my face, my clothes—i waspretty badly messed up. i walked to the elevator and hit the button. the albino came in duetime. the doors opened. “the word’s out,” he said. “i hearyou’re the new heavyweight champion of the world.” news travels fast in places where nothingmuch ever happens.


ferris of the sliced ear was waiting. “you just don’t go around beating theshit out of our customers.” “it was only one.” “we have no way of knowing when you mightstart in on the others.” “this guy baited me.” “we don’t give a damn about that. that’swhat happens. all we know is that you were out of line.” “how about my check?” “it’ll be mailed.”


“o.k., see you…” “wait, i’ll need your locker key.” i got out my key chain which only had oneother key on it, pulled off the locker key and handed it to ferris. then i walked to the employees’ door, pulledit open. it was a heavy steel door which worked awkwardly. as it opened, letting in the daylight,i turned and gave ferris a small wave. he didn’t respond. he just looked straightat me. then the door closed on him. i liked him, somehow. 48


“so you couldn’t hold a job for a week?” we were eating meatballs and spaghetti. myproblems were always discussed at dinner time. dinner time was almost always an unhappy time. i didn’t answer my father’s question. “what happened? why did they can your ass?” “henry, answer your father when he speaksto you!” my mother said. “he couldn’t hack it, that’s all!” “look at his face,” said my mother, “it’sall bruised and cut. did your boss beat you up, henry?”


“no, mother…” “why don’t you eat, henry? you never seemto be hungry.” “he can’t eat,” said my father, “hecan’t work, he can’t do anything, he’s not worth a fuck!” “you shouldn’t talk that way at the dinnertable, daddy,” my mother told him. “well, it’s true!” my father had animmense ball of spaghetti rolled on his fork. he jammed it into his mouth and started chewingand while chewing he speared a large meatball and plunged it into his mouth, then workedin a piece of french bread. i remembered what ivan had said in the brotherskaramazov, “who doesn’t want to kill the


father?” as my father chewed at the mass of food, onelong string of spaghetti dangled from a corner of his mouth. he finally noticed it and suckedit in noisily. then he reached, put two large teaspoons of white sugar into his coffee,lifted the cup and took a giant mouthful, which he immediately spit out across his plateand onto the tablecloth. “that shit’s too hot!” “you should be more careful, daddy,” saidmy mother. i combed the job market, as they used to say,but it was a dreary and useless routine. you had to know somebody to get a job even asa lowly bus boy. thus everybody was a dishwasher,


the whole town was full of unemployed dishwashers.i sat with them in pershing square in the afternoons. the evangelists were there too.some had drums, some had guitars, and the bushes and restrooms crawled with homosexuals. “some of them have money,” a young bumtold me. “this guy took me to his apartment for two weeks. i had all i could eat and drinkand he bought me some clothes but he sucked me dry, i couldn’t stand up after a while.one night when he was asleep i crawled out of there. it was horrible. he kissed me onceand i knocked him across the room. ‘you ever do that again,’ i told him, ‘andi’ll kill you!’” clifton’s cafeteria was nice. if you didn’thave much money, they let you pay what you


could. and if you didn’t have any money,you didn’t have to pay. some of the bums went in there and ate well. it was owned bysome very nice rich old man, a very unusual person. i could never make myself go in thereand load up. i’d go in for a coffee and an apple pie and give them a nickel. sometimesi’d get a couple of weenies. it was quiet and cool in there and clean. there was a largewaterfall and you could sit next to it and imagine that everything was quite all right.philippe’s was nice too. you could get a cup of coffee for three cents with all therefills you wanted. you could sit in there all day drinking coffee and they never askedyou to leave no matter how bad you looked. they just asked the bums not to bring in theirwine and drink it there. places like that


gave you hope when there wasn’t much hope. the men in pershing square argued all dayabout whether there was a god or not. most of them didn’t argue very well but now andthen you got a religionist and an atheist who were well-versed and it was a good show. when i had a few coins i’d go to the undergroundbar beneath the big movie house. i was 18 but they served me. i looked like i couldbe almost any age. sometimes i looked 25, sometimes i felt like 30. the bar was runby chinese who never spoke to anyone. all i needed was the first beer and then the homosexualswould start buying. i’d switch to whiskey sours. i’d bleed them for whiskey soursand when they started closing in on me, i’d


get nasty, push off and leave. after a whilethey caught on and the place wasn’t any good anymore. the library was the most depressing placei went. i had run out of books to read. after a while i would just grab a thick book andlook for a young girl somewhere. there were always one or two about. i’d sit three orfour chairs away, pretending to read the book, trying to look intelligent, hoping some girlwould pick me up. i knew that i was ugly but i thought if i looked intelligent enough imight have some chance. it never worked. the girls just made notes on their pads and thenthey got up and left as i watched their bodies moving rhythmically and magically under theirclean dresses. what would maxim gorky have


done under such circumstances? at home it was always the same. the questionwas never asked until after the first few bites of dinner were partaken. then my fatherwould ask, “did you find a job today?” “did you try anywhere?” “many places. i’ve gone back to some ofthe same places for the second or third time.” “i don’t believe it.” but it was true. it was also true that somecompanies put ads in the papers every day when there were no jobs available. it gavethe employment department in those companies something to do. it also wasted the time andscrewed up the hopes of many desperate people.


“you’ll find a job tomorrow, henry,”my mother would always say… 49 i looked for a job all summer and couldn’tfind one. jimmy hatcher caught on at an aircraft plant. hitler was acting up in europe andcreating jobs for the unemployed. i had been with jimmy that day when we had turned inour applications. we filled them out in similar fashion, the only difference being where itsaid place of birth, i put down germany and he put down reading, pa. “jimmy got a job. he came from the sameschool and he’s your age,” said my mother. “why couldn’t you get a job at the aircraftplant?”


“they can tell a man who doesn’t havea taste for work,” said my father. “all he wants to do is to sit in the bedroom onhis dead ass and listen to his symphony music!” “well, the boy likes music. that’s something.” “but he doesn’t do anything with it! hedoesn’t make it useful!” “what should he do?” “he should go to a radio station and tellthem he likes that kind of music and get a job broadcasting.” “christ, it’s not done like that, it’snot that easy.” “what do you know? have you tried it?”


“i tell you, it can’t be done.” my father put a large piece of pork chop intohis mouth. a greasy portion hung out from between his lips as he chewed. it was as ifhe had three lips. then he sucked it in and looked at my mother. “you see, mama, theboy doesn’t want to work.” my mother looked at me. “henry, why don’tyou eat your food?” it was finally decided that i would enrollat l.a. city college. there was no tuition fee and second-hand books could be purchasedat the co-op book store. my father was simply ashamed that i was unemployed and by goingto school i would at least earn some respectability. eli lacrosse (baldy) had already been therea term. he counseled me.


“what’s the easiest fucking thing to take?”i asked him. “journalism. those journalism majors don’tdo anything.” “o.k., i’ll be a journalist.” i looked through the school booklet. “what’s this orientation day they speakof here?” “oh, you just skip that, that’s bullshit.” “thanks for telling me, buddy. we’ll goinstead to that bar across from campus and have a couple of beers.” “damn right!”


the day after orientation day was the dayyou signed up for classes. people were running about frantically with papers and booklets.i had come over on the streetcar. i took the “w” to vermont and then took the “v”north to monroe. i didn’t know where everybody was going, or what i should do. i felt sick. “pardon me…” i asked a girl. she turned her head and kept walking briskly.a guy came running by and i grabbed him by the back of his belt and stopped him. “hey, what the hell are you doing?” heasked. “shut up. i want to know what’s goingon! i want to know what to do!”


“they explained everything to you in orientation.” “oh…” i let him go and he ran off. i didn’t knowwhat to do. i had imagined that you just went somewhere and told them you wanted to takejournalism, beginning journalism, and they’d give you a card with a schedule of your classes.it was nothing like that. these people knew what to do and they wouldn’t talk. i feltas if i was in grammar school again, being mutilated by the crowd who knew more thani did. i sat down on a bench and watched them running back and forth. maybe i’d fake it.i’d just tell my parents i was going to l.a. city college and i’d come every dayand lay on the lawn. then i saw this guy running


along. it was baldy. i got him from behindby the collar. “hey, hey, hank! what’s happening?” “i ought to cream you right now, you littleasshole!” “what’s wrong? what’s wrong?” “how do i get a fucking class? what do ido?” “i thought you knew!” “how? how would i know? was i born withthis knowledge inside of me, fully indexed, ready to consult when needed?” i walked him over to a bench, still holdinghim by his shirt collar. “now, lay it out,


nice and clear, everything that needs to bedone and how to do it. do a good job and i might not cream you at this moment!” so baldy explained it all. i had my own orientationday right there. i still held him by the collar. “i’m going to let you go now. but someday i’m going to even this thing out. you’re going to pay for fucking me over. you won’tknow when, but it’s going to happen.” i let him go. he went running off with therest of them. there was no need for me to worry or hurry. i was going to get the worstclasses, the worst teachers and the worst hours. i strolled about leisurely signingup for classes. i appeared to be the only unconcerned student on campus. i began tofeel superior.


until my first 7 a.m. english class. it was7:30 a.m. and i was hungover as i stood there outside the door, listening. my parents hadpaid for my books and i had sold them for drinking money. i had slid out of the bedroomwindow the night before and had closed the neighborhood bar. i had a throbbing beer hangover.i still felt drunk. i opened the door and walked in. i stood there. mr. hamilton, theenglish instructor, was standing before the class, singing. a record player was on, loud,and the class was singing along with mr. hamilton. it was gilbert and sullivan. now i am the ruler of the queen’s navy…


i copied all the letters in a big round band… stick close to your desks and never go to sea… and you all may be rulers i walked to the rear of the class and foundan empty seat. hamilton walked over and shut off the record player. he was dressed in ablack-and-white pepper suit with a shirt-front of bright orange. he looked like nelson eddy.then he faced the class, glanced at his wrist watch and addressed me:


“you must be mr. chinaski?” i nodded. “you are thirty minutes late.” “would you be thirty minutes late to a weddingor a funeral?” “why not, pray tell?” “well, if the funeral was mine i’d haveto be on time. if the wedding was mine it would be my funeral.” i was always quickwith the mouth. i would never learn. “my dear sir,” said mr. hamilton, “wehave been listening to gilbert and sullivan in order to learn proper enunciation. pleasestand up.”


“now, please sing, stick close to your desksand never go to sea and you’ll always be the ruler of the queen’s navy.” i stood there. “well, go ahead, please!” i went through it and sat down. “mr. chinaski, i could barely hear you.couldn’t you sing with just a bit more verve?” i stood up again. i sucked in a giant seaof air and let go. “if ya wanna be da ruller of dey queen’s naby stick close ta yur desksan neva go ta sea!” i had gotten it backwards.


“mr. chinaski,” said mr. hamilton, “pleasesit down.” i sat down. it was baldy’s fault. 50 everybody had gym period at the same time.baldy’s locker was about four or five down from mine in the same row. i went to my lockerearly. baldy and i had a similar problem. we hated wool pants because the wool itchedour legs but our parents just loved for us to wear wool. i had solved the problem, forbaldy and myself, by letting him in on a secret. all you had to do was to wear your pajamasunderneath the wool pants. i opened my locker and undressed. i got mypants and pajamas off and then i took the


pajamas and hid them on top of the locker.i got into my gym suit. the other guys were starting to walk in. baldy and i had some great pajama storiesbut baldy’s was the best. he had been out with his girlfriend one night, they had goneto some dance. in between dances his girlfriend had said, “what’s that?” “what’s what?” “there’s something sticking out of yourpant cuff.” “my goodness! you’re wearing your pajamasunderneath your pants!” “oh? oh, that…i must have forgotten…”


“i’m leaving right now!” she never dated him again. all the guys were changing into their gymclothes. then baldy walked in and opened his locker. “how ya doing, pal?” i asked him. “oh, hello, hank…” “i’ve got a 7 a.m. english class. it reallystarts the day out right. only they ought to call it music appreciation i.” “oh yeah. hamilton. i’ve heard of him.hee hee hee…”


i walked over to him. baldy had unbuckled his pants. i reached overand yanked his pants down. underneath were green striped pajamas. he tried to yank hispants back up but i was too strong for him. “hey, fellows, look! jesus christ, here’sa guy who wears his pajamas to school!” baldy was struggling. his face was florid.a couple of guys walked over and looked. then i did the worst. i yanked his pajamas down. “and looky here! the poor fucker is notonly bald but he doesn’t hardly have a cock! what is this poor fucker going to do whenhe confronts a woman?” some big guy standing nearby said, “chinaski,you’re really a piece of shit!”


“yeah,” said a couple of other guys. “yeah…yeah…”i heard other voices. baldy pulled his pants up. he was actuallycrying. he looked at the guys. “well, chinaski wears pajamas too! he was the guy who startedme doing it! look in his locker, just look in his locker!” baldy ran down to my locker and ripped thedoor open. he pulled all my clothing out. the pajamas weren’t in there. “he’s hidden them! he’s hidden themsomewhere!” i left my clothes on the floor and walkedout on the field for roll call. i stood in the second row. i did a couple of deep kneebends. i noticed another big guy behind me.


i’d heard his name around, sholom stodolsky. “chinaski,” he said, “you’re a pieceof shit.” “don’t mess with me, man, i’ve got anedgy nature.” “well, i’m messing with you.” “don’t push me too far, fat boy.” “you know the place between the biologybuilding and the tennis courts?” “i’ve seen it.” “i’ll meet you there after gym.” “o.k.,” i said.


i didn’t show up. after gym i cut the restof my classes and took the streetcars down to pershing square. i sat on a bench and waitedfor some action. it seemed a long time coming. finally a religionist and an atheist got intoit. they weren’t much good. i was an agnostic. agnostics didn’t have much to argue about.i left the park and walked down to 7th and broadway. that was the center of town. theredidn’t seem to be much doing there, just people waiting for the signals to change sothey could cross the street. then i noticed my legs were starting to itch. i had leftmy pajamas on top of the locker. what a fucking lousy day it had been from beginning to end.i hopped a “w” streetcar and sat in the back as it rolled along carrying me back towardhome.


51 i only met one student at city college thati liked, robert becker. he wanted to be a writer. “i’m going to learn everythingthere is to learn about writing. it will be like taking a car apart and putting it backtogether again.” “sounds like work,” i said. “i’m going to do it.” becker was an inch or so shorter than i wasbut he was stocky, he was powerfully built, with big shoulders and arms. “i had a childhood disease,” he told me.“i had to lay in bed one time for a year


squeezing two tennis balls, one in each hand.just from doing that, i got to be like this.” he had a job as a messenger boy at night andwas putting himself through college. “how’d you get your job?” “i knew a guy who knew a guy.” “i’ll bet i can kick your ass.” “maybe, maybe not. i’m only interestedin writing.” we were sitting in an alcove overlooking thelawn. two guys were staring at me. then one of them spoke. “hey,” he askedme, “do you mind if i ask you something?” “go ahead.”


“well, you used to be a sissy in grammarschool, i remember you. and now you’re a tough guy. what happened?” “are you a cynic?” “probably.” “are you happy being a cynic?” “then you’re not a cynic because cynicsaren’t happy!” the two guys did a little vaudeville handshakeact and ran off, laughing. “they made you look bad,” said becker. “no, they were trying too hard.”


“i’m unhappy. if i was a cynic it wouldprobably make me feel better.” we hopped down from the alcove. classes wereover. becker wanted to put his books in his locker. we walked there and he dumped themin. he handed me five or six sheets of paper. “here read this. it’s a short story.” we walked down to my locker. i opened it andhanded him a paper bag. “take a hit…” it was a bottle of port. becker took a hit, then i took one. “you always keep one of these in your locker?”he asked.


“i try to.” “listen, tonight’s my night off. why don’tyou come meet some of my friends?” “people don’t do me much good.” “these are different people.” “yeah? where at? your place?” “no. here, i’ll write down the address…”he began writing on a piece of paper. “listen, becker, what do these people do?” “drink,” said becker. i put the slip into my pocket…


that night after dinner i read becker’sshort story. it was good and i was jealous. it was about riding his bike at night andthen delivering a telegram to a beautiful woman. the writing was objective and clear,there was a gentle decency about it. becker claimed thomas wolfe as an influence but hedidn’t wail and ham it up like wolfe did. the emotion was there but it wasn’t spelledout in neon. becker could write, he could write better than i could. my parents had gotten me a typewriter andi had tried some short stories but they had come out very bitter and ragged. not thatthat was so bad but the stories seemed to beg, they didn’t have their own vitality.my stories were darker than becker’s, stranger,


but they didn’t work. well, one or two ofthem had worked—for me—but it was more or less as if they had fallen into place insteadof being guided there. becker was clearly better. maybe i’d try painting. i waited until my parents were asleep. myfather always snored loudly. when i heard him i opened the bedroom screen and slid outover the berry bush. that put me into the neighbor’s driveway and i walked slowlyin the dark. then i walked up longwood to 21st street, took a right, then went up thehill along westview to where the “w” car ended its route. i dropped my token in andwalked to the rear of the car, sat down and lit a cigarette. if becker’s friends wereanywhere as good as becker’s short story


it was going to be one hell of a night. becker was already there by the time i foundthe beacon street address. his friends were in the breakfast nook. i was introduced. therewas harry, there was lana, there was gobbles, there was stinky, there was marshbird, therewas ellis, there was dogface and finally there was the ripper. they all sat around a largebreakfast table. harry had a legitimate job somewhere, he and becker were the only onesemployed. lana was harry’s wife, gobbles their baby was sitting in a highchair. lanawas the only woman there. when we were introduced she had looked right at me and smiled. theywere all young, thin, and puffed at rolled cigarettes.


“becker told us about you,” said harry.“he says you’re a writer.” “i’ve got a typewriter.” “you gonna write about us?” asked stinky. “i’d rather drink.” “fine. we’re going to have a drinkingcontest. got any money?” stinky asked. “two dollars…” “o.k., the ante is two dollars. everybodyup!” harry said. that made eighteen dollars. the money lookedgood laying there. a bottle appeared and then shot glasses.


“becker told us you think you’re a toughguy. are you a tough guy?” “well, we’re gonna see…” the kitchen light was very bright. it wasstraight whiskey. a dark yellow whiskey. harry poured the drinks. such beauty. my mouth,my throat, couldn’t wait. the radio was on. oh, johnny, oh johnny, how you can love!somebody sang. “down the hatch!” said harry. there was no way i could lose. i could drinkfor days. i had never had enough to drink. gobbles had a tiny shot glass of his own.as we raised ours and drank them, he raised his and drank. everybody thought it was funny.i didn’t think it was so funny for a baby


to drink but i didn’t say anything. harry poured another round. “you read my short story, hank?” beckerasked. “how’d you like it?” “it was good. you’re ready now. all youneed is some luck.” the second round was no problem, we all gotit down, including lana. harry looked at me. “you like to duke it,hank?” “well, in case you do, we got dogface here.” dogface was twice my size. it was so wearisomebeing in the world. every time you looked


around there was some guy ready to take youon without even inhaling. i looked at dogface. “hi, buddy!” “buddy, my ass,” he said. “just getyour next drink down.” harry poured them all around. he skipped gobblesin the highchair, though, which i appreciated. all right, we raised them, we all got thatround down. then lana dropped out. “somebody’s got to clean up this messand get harry ready for work in the morning,” she said. the next round was poured. just as it wasthe door banged open and a large good-looking kid of around 22 came running into the room.“shit, harry,” he said, “hide me! i


just held up a fucking gas station!” “my car’s in the garage,” harry said.“get down on the floor in the back seat and stay there!” we drank up. the next round was poured. anew bottle appeared. the eighteen dollars was still in the center of the table. we werestill all hanging in there except lana. it was going to take plenty of whiskey to dous in. “hey,” i asked harry, “aren’t we goingto run out of drinks?” “show him, lana…” lana pulled open some upper cupboard doors.i could see bottles and bottles of whiskey


lined up, all the same brand. it looked likethe loot from a truck hijack and it probably was. and these were the gang members: harry,lana, stinky, marshbird, ellis, dogface and the ripper, maybe becker, and most likelythe young guy now on the floor in the back seat of harry’s car. i felt honored to bedrinking with such an active part of the population of los angeles. becker not only knew how towrite, becker knew his people. i would dedicate my first novel to robert becker. and it wouldbe a better novel than of time and the river. harry kept pouring the rounds and we keptdrinking them down. the kitchen was blue with cigarette smoke. marshbird dropped out first. he had a verylarge nose, he just shook his head, no more,


no more, and all you could see was this longnose waving “no” in the blue smoke. ellis was the next to drop out. he had a lotof hair on his chest but evidently not much on his balls. dogface was next. he just jumped up and ranto the crapper and puked. listening to him harry got the same idea and leaped up andpuked in the sink. that left me, becker, stinky and the ripper. becker quit next. he just folded his armson the table, put his head down in his arms and that was it. “the night’s so young,” i said. “iusually drink until the sun comes up.”


“yeah,” said the ripper, “you shit ina basket too!” “yeah, and it’s shaped like your head.” the ripper stood up. “you son-of-a-bitch,i’ll bust your ass!” he swung at me from across the table, missedand knocked over the bottle. lana got a rag and mopped it up. harry opened a bottle. “sit down, rip, or you forfeit your bet,”harry said. harry poured a new round. we drank them down. the ripper stood up, walked to the rear door,opened it and looked out into the night. “hey, rip, what the hell you doing?” stinkyasked.


“i’m checking to see if there’s a fullmoon.” “well, is there?” there was no answer. we heard him fall throughthe door, down the steps and into the bushes. we left him there. that left me and stinky. “i’ve never seen anybody take stinky yet,”said harry. lana had just put gobbles to bed. she walkedback into the kitchen. “jesus, there are dead bodies all over the place.” “pour ’em, harry,” i said.


harry filled stinky’s glass, then mine.i knew there was no way i could get that drink down. i did the only thing i could do. i pretendedit was easy. i grabbed the shot glass and belted it down. stinky just stared at me.“i’ll be right back. i gotta go to the crapper.” we sat and waited. “stinky’s a nice guy,” i said. “youshouldn’t call him stinky. how’d he get that name?” “i dunno,” said harry, “somebody justlaid it on him.” “that guy in the back of your car. he evergoing to come out?”


“not till morning.” we sat and waited. “i think,” said harry,“we better take a look.” we opened the bathroom door. stinky didn’tappear to be in there. then we saw him. he had fallen into the bathtub. his feet stuckup over the edge. his eyes were closed, he was down in there, and out. we walked backto the table. “the money’s yours,” said harry. “how about letting me pay for some of thosebottles of whiskey?” “forget it.” “you mean it?”


“yes, of course.” i picked up the money and put it in my rightfront pocket. then i looked at stinky’s drink. “no use wasting this,” i said. “you mean you’re going to drink that?”asked lana. “why not? one for the road…” i gulped it down. “o.k., see you guys, it’s been great!” “goodnight, hank…”


i walked out the back door, stepping overthe ripper’s body. i found a back alley and took a left. i walked along and i sawa green chevy sedan. i staggered a bit as i approached it. i grabbed the rear door handleto steady myself. the god-damned door was unlocked and it swung open, knocking me sideways.i fell hard, skinning my left elbow on the pavement. there was a full moon. the whiskeyhad hit me all at once. i felt as if i couldn’t get up. i had to get up. i was supposed tobe a tough guy. i rose, fell against the half-open door, grabbed at it, held it. then i had theinside handle and was steadying myself. i got myself into the back seat and then i justsat there. i sat there for some time. then i started to puke. it really came. it cameand it came, it covered the rear floorboard.


then i sat for a while. then i managed toget out of the car. i didn’t feel as dizzy. i took out my handkerchief and wiped the vomitoff my pant legs and off of my shoes as best i could. i closed the car door and walkedon down the alley. i had to find the “w” streetcar. i would find it. i did. i rode it in. i made it down westviewstreet, walked down 21st street, turned south down longwood avenue to 2122. i walked upthe neighbor’s driveway, found the berry bush, crawled over it, through the open screenand into my bedroom. i undressed and went to bed. i must have consumed over a quartof whiskey. my father was still snoring, just as he had been when i had left, only at themoment it was louder and uglier. i slept anyhow.


as usual i approached mr. hamilton’s englishclass thirty minutes late. it was 7:30 a.m. i stood outside the door and listened. theywere at gilbert and sullivan again. and it was still all about going to the sea and thequeen’s navy. hamilton couldn’t get enough of that. in high school i’d had an englishteacher and it had been poe, poe, edgar allan poe. i opened the door. hamilton went over andlifted the needle from the record. then he announced to the class, “when mr. chinaskiarrives we always know that it is 7:30 a.m. mr. chinaski is always on time. the only problembeing that it is the wrong time.” he paused, glancing at the faces in his class.he was very, very dignified. then he looked


“mr. chinaski, whether you arrive at 7:30a.m. or whether you arrive at all will not matter. i am assigning you a ‘d’ for englishi.” “a ‘d,’ mr. hamilton?” i asked, flashingmy famous sneer. “why not an ‘f’?” “because ‘f,’ at times, equates with‘fuck.’ and i don’t think you’re worth a ‘fuck.’” the class cheered and roared and stomped andstamped. i turned around, walked out, closed the door behind me. i walked down the hallway,still hearing them going at it in there. 52 the war was going very well in europe, forhitler. most of the students weren’t very


vocal on the matter. but the instructors were,they were almost all left-wing and anti-german. there seemed to be no right-wing faction amongthe instructors except for mr. glasglow, in economics, and he was very discreet aboutit. it was intellectually popular and proper tobe for going to war with germany, to stop the spread of fascism. as for me, i had nodesire to go to war to protect the life i had or what future i might have. i had nofreedom. i had nothing. with hitler around, maybe i’d even get a piece of ass now andthen and more than a dollar a week allowance. as far as i could rationalize, i had nothingto protect. also, having been born in germany, there was a natural loyalty and i didn’tlike to see the whole german nation, the people,


depicted everywhere as monsters and idiots.in the movie theatres they speeded up the newsreels to make hitler and mussolini looklike frenetic madmen. also, with all the instructors being anti-german i found it personally impossibleto simply agree with them. out of sheer alienation and a natural contrariness i decided to alignmyself against their point of view. i had never read mein kampf and had no desire todo so. hitler was just another dictator to me, only instead of lecturing me at the dinnertable he’d probably blow my brains out or my balls off if i went to war to stop him. sometimes as the instructors talked on andon about the evils of nazism (we were told always to spell “nazi” with a small “n”even at the beginning of a sentence) and fascism


i would leap to my feet and make somethingup: “the survival of the human race dependsupon selective accountability!” which meant, watch out who you go to bed with,but only i knew that. it really pissed everybody i don’t know where i got my stuff: “one of the failures of democracy is thatthe common vote guarantees a common leader who then leads us to a common apathetic predictability!” i avoided any direct reference to jews andblacks, who had never given me any trouble. all my troubles had come from white gentiles.thus, i wasn’t a nazi by temperament or choice; the teachers more or less forced iton me by being so much alike and thinking


so much alike and with their anti-german prejudice.i had also read somewhere that if a man didn’t truly believe or understand what he was espousing,somehow he could do a more convincing job, which gave me a considerable advantage overthe teachers. “breed a plow horse to a race horse andyou get an offspring that is neither swift nor strong. a new master race will evolvefrom purposeful breeding!” “there are no good wars or bad wars. theonly thing bad about a war is to lose it. all wars have been fought for a so-calledgood cause on both sides. but only the victor’s cause becomes history’s noble cause. it’snot a matter of who is right or who is wrong, it’s a matter of who has the best generalsand the better army!”


i loved it. i could make up anything i liked. of course, i was talking myself further andfurther away from any chance with the girls. but i had never been that close anyhow. ifigured because of my wild speeches i was alone on campus but it wasn’t so. some othershad been listening. one day, walking to my current affairs class, i heard somebody walkingup behind me. i never liked anybody walking behind me, not close. so i turned as i walked.it was the student body president, boyd taylor. he was very popular with the students, theonly man in the history of the college to have been elected president twice. “hey, chinaski, i want to talk to you.”


i’d never cared too much for boyd, he wasthe typical good looking american youth with a guaranteed future, always properly dressed,casual, smooth, every hair of his black mustache trimmed. what his appeal was to the studentbody, i had no idea. he walked along beside me. “don’t you think it looks bad for you,boyd, to be seen walking with me?” “i’ll worry about that.” “all right. what is it?” “chinaski, this is just between you andme, got it?” “listen, i don’t believe in what guyslike you stand for or what you’re trying


to do.” “so?” “but i want you to know that if you winhere and in europe i’m willing to join your side.” i could only look at him and laugh. he stood there as i walked on. never trusta man with a perfectly-trimmed mustache… other people had been listening as well. comingout of current affairs i ran into baldy standing there with a guy five feet tall and threefeet wide. the guy’s head was sunk down into his shoulders, he had a very round head,small ears, cropped hair, pea eyes, tiny wet


round mouth. a nut, i thought, a killer. “hey, hank!” baldy hollered. i walked over. “i thought we were finished,lacrosse.” “oh no! there are great things still todo!” shit! baldy was one too! why did the master race movement draw nothingbut mental and physical cripples? “i want you to meet igor stirnov.” i reached out and we shook hands. he squeezedmine with all his strength. it really hurt.


“let go,” i said, “or i’ll bust yourfucking missing neck!” igor let go. “i don’t trust men with limphandshakes. why do you have a limp handshake?” “i’m weak today. they burned my toastfor breakfast and at lunch i spilled my chocolate milk.” igor turned to baldy. “what’s with thisguy?” “don’t worry about him. he’s got hisown ways.” igor looked at me again. “my grandfather was a white russian. duringthe revolution the reds killed him. i must get even with those bastards!”


“i see.” then another student came walking toward us.“hey, fenster!” baldy hollered. fenster walked up. we shook hands. i gavehim a limp one. i didn’t like to shake hands. fenster’s first name was bob. there wasto be a meeting at a house in glendale, the americans for america party. fenster was thecampus representative. he walked off. baldy leaned over and whispered into my ear, “they’renazis!” igor had a car and a gallon of rum. we metin front of baldy’s house. igor passed the bottle. good stuff, it really burned the membranesof the throat. igor drove his car like a tank, right through stop signals. people blew theirhorns and slammed on their brakes and he waved


a fake black pistol at them. “hey, igor,” said baldy, “show hankyour pistol.” igor was driving. baldy and i were in theback. igor passed me his pistol. i looked at it. “it’s great!” baldy said. “he carvedit out of wood and stained it with black shoe polish. looks real, doesn’t it?” “yeah,” i said. “he’s even drilleda hole in the barrel.” i handed the gun back to igor. “very nice,”i said. he handed back the jug of rum. i took a hitand handed the bottle to baldy. he looked


at me and said, “heil hitler!” we were the last to arrive. it was a largehandsome house. we were met at the door by a fat smiling boy who looked like he had spenta lifetime eating chestnuts by the fire. his parents didn’t seem to be about. his namewas larry kearny. we followed him through the big house and down a long dark stairway.all i could see was kearny’s shoulders and head. he was certainly a well-fed fellow andlooked to be far saner than baldy, igor or myself. maybe there would be something tolearn here. then we were in the cellar. we found somechairs. fenster nodded to us. there were seven others there whom i didn’t know. there wasa desk on a raised platform. larry walked


up and stood behind the desk. behind him onthe wall was a large american flag. larry stood very straight. “we will now pledgeallegiance to the flag of the united states of america!” my god, i thought, i am in the wrong place! we stood and took the pledge, but i stoppedafter “i pledge allegiance…” i didn’t say to what. we sat down. larry started talking from behindthe desk. he explained that since this was the first meeting, he would preside. aftertwo or three meetings, after we got to know one another, a president could be electedif we wished. but meanwhile…


“we face here, in america, two threats toour liberty. we face the communist scourge and the black takeover. most often they workhand in hand. we true americans will gather here in an attempt to counter this scourge,this menace. it has gotten so that no decent white girl can walk the streets anymore withoutbeing accosted by a black male!” igor leaped up. “we’ll kill them!” “the communists want to divide the wealthfor which we have worked so long, which our fathers labored for, and their fathers beforethem worked for. the communists want to give our money to every black man, homo, bum, murdererand child molester who walks our streets!” “we’ll kill them!”


“they must be stopped.” “we’ll arm!” “yes, we’ll arm! and we’ll meet hereand formulate a master plan to save america!” the fellows cheered. two or three of themyelled, “heil hitler!” then the get-to-know-each-other time arrived. larry passed out cold beers and we stood aroundin little groups talking, not much being said, except we reached a general agreement thatwe needed target practice so that we would be expert with our guns when the time came. when we got back to igor’s house his parentsdidn’t seem to be about, either. igor got


out a frying pan, put in four cubes of butter,and began to melt them. he took the rum, put it in a large pot and warmed it up. “this is what men drink,” he said. thenhe looked at baldy. “are you a man, baldy?” baldy was already drunk. he stood very straight,hands down at his sides. “yes, i’m a man!” he started to weep. the tears came rollingdown. “i’m a man!” he stood very straight and yelled, “heil hitler!” the tears rolling. igor looked at me. “are you a man?” “i don’t know. is that rum ready?” “i’m not sure i trust you. i’m not sosure that you are one of us. are you a counter-spy?


are you an enemy agent?” “are you one of us?” “i don’t know. only one thing i’m sureof.” “i don’t like you. is the rum ready?” “you see?” said baldy. “i told you hewas mean!” “we’ll see who is the meanest before thenight is ended,” said igor. igor poured the melted butter into the boilingrum, then shut off the flame and stirred. i didn’t like him but he certainly was differentand i liked that. then he found three drinking cups, large, blue, with russian writing onthem. he poured the buttered rum into the


cups. “o.k.,” he said, “drink up!” “shit, it’s about time,” i said andi let it slide down. it was a little too hot and it stank. i watched igor drink his. i saw his littlepea eyes over the rim of his cup. he managed to get it down, driblets of golden butteredrum leaking out of the corners of his stupid mouth. he was looking at baldy. baldy wasstanding, staring down into his cup. i knew from the old days that baldy just didn’thave a natural love of drinking. igor stared at baldy. “drink up!”


“yes, igor, yes…” baldy lifted the blue cup. he was having adifficult time. it was too hot for him and he didn’t like the taste. half of it ranout of his mouth and over his chin and onto his shirt. his empty cup fell to the kitchenfloor. igor squared himself in front of baldy. “you’re not a man!” “i am a man, igor! i am a man!” “you lie!” igor backhanded him across the face and asbaldy’s head jumped to one side, he straightened


him up with a slap to the other side of hisface. baldy stood at attention with his hands rigidly at his sides. “i’m…a man…” igor continued to stand in front of him. “i’ll make a man out of you!” “o.k.,” i said to igor, “leave him alone.” igor left the kitchen. i poured myself anotherrum. it was dreadful stuff but it was all there was. igor walked back in. he was holding a gun,a real one, an old six-shooter.


“we will now play russian roulette,” heannounced. “your mother’s ass,” i said. “i’ll play, igor,” said baldy, “i’llplay! i’m a man!” “all right,” said igor, “there is onebullet in the gun. i will spin the chamber and hand the gun to you.” igor spun the chamber and handed the gun tobaldy. baldy took it and pointed it at his head. “i’m a man…i’m a man…i’lldo it!” he began crying again. “i’ll do it…i’ma man…” baldy let the muzzle of the gun slip awayfrom his temple. he pointed it away from his


skull and pulled the trigger. there was aclick. igor took the gun, spun the chamber and handedit to me. i handed it back. “you go first.” igor spun the chamber, held the gun up tothe light and looked through the chamber. then he put the gun to his temple and pulledthe trigger. there was a click. “big deal,” i said. “you checked thechamber to see where the bullet was.” igor spun the chamber and handed the gun tome. “your turn…” i handed the gun back. “stuff it,” i toldhim. i walked over to pour myself another rum.as i did there was a shot. i looked down.


near my foot, in the kitchen floor, therewas a bullet hole. i turned around. “you ever point that thing at me again andi’ll kill you, igor.” he stood there smiling. he slowly began toraise the gun. i waited. then he lowered the gun. that was about it for the night. we wentout to the car and igor drove us home. but we stopped first at westlake park and renteda boat and went out on the lake to finish off the rum. with the last drink, igor loadedup the gun and shot holes in the bottom of the boat. we were forty yards from shore andhad to swim in… it was late when i got home. i crawled overthe old berry bush and through the bedroom


window. i undressed and went to bed whilein the next room my father snored. 53 i was coming home from classes down westviewhill. i never had any books to carry. i passed my exams by listening to the class lecturesand by guessing at the answers. i never had to cram for exams. i could get my “c’s.”and as i was coming down the hill i ran into a giant spider web. i was always doing that.i stood there pulling the sticky web from myself and looking for the spider. then isaw him: a big fat black son-of-a-bitch. i crushed him. i had learned to hate spiders.when i went to hell i would be eaten by a spider.


all my life, in that neighborhood, i had beenwalking into spider webs, i had been attacked by blackbirds, i had lived with my father.everything was eternally dreary, dismal, damned. even the weather was insolent and bitchy.it was either unbearably hot for weeks on end, or it rained, and when it rained it rainedfor five or six days. the water came up over the lawns and poured into the houses. who’dever planned the drainage system had probably been well paid for his ignorance about suchmatters. and my own affairs were as bad, as dismal,as the day i had been born. the only difference was that now i could drink now and then, thoughnever often enough. drink was the only thing that kept a man from feeling forever stunnedand useless. everything else just kept picking


and picking, hacking away. and nothing wasinteresting, nothing. the people were restrictive and careful, all alike. and i’ve got tolive with these fuckers for the rest of my life, i thought. god, they all had assholesand sexual organs and their mouths and their armpits. they shit and they chattered andthey were dull as horse dung. the girls looked good from a distance, the sun shining throughtheir dresses, their hair. but get up close and listen to their minds running out of theirmouths, you felt like digging in under a hill and hiding out with a tommy-gun. i would certainlynever be able to be happy, to get married, i could never have children. hell, i couldn’teven get a job as a dishwasher. maybe i’d be a bank robber. some god-damnedthing. something with flare, fire. you only


had one shot. why be a window washer? i lit a cigarette and walked further downthe hill. was i the only person who was distracted by this future without a chance? i saw another one of those big black spiders.he was about face-high, in his web, right in my path. i took my cigarette and placedit against him. the tremendous web shook and leaped as he jumped, the branches of the bushtrembled. he leaped out of the web and fell to the sidewalk. cowardly killers, the wholebunch of them. i crushed him with my shoe. a worthwhile day, i had killed two spiders,i had upset the balance of nature—now we would all be eaten up by the bugs and theflies.


i walked further down the hill, i was nearthe bottom when a large bush began to shake. the king spider was after me. i strode forwardto meet it. my mother leaped out from behind the bush.“henry, henry, don’t go home, don’t go home, your father will kill you!” “how’s he going to do that? i can whiphis ass.” “no, he’s furious, henry! don’t go home,he’ll kill you! i’ve been waiting here for hours!” my mother’s eyes were wide with fear andquite beautiful, large and brown. “what’s he doing home this early?”


“he had a headache, he got the afternoonoff!” “i thought you were working, that you’dfound a new job?” she’d gotten a job as a housekeeper. “he came and got me! he’s furious! he’llkill you!” “don’t worry, mom, if he messes with mei’ll kick his god-damned ass, i promise you.” “henry, be found your short stories andbe read them!” “i never asked him to read them.” “he found them in a drawer! he read them,be read all of them!”


i had written ten or twelve short stories.give a man a typewriter and he becomes a writer. i had hidden the stories under the paper liningof my shorts-and-stockings drawer. “well,” i said, “the old man poked aroundand he got his fingers burned.” “he said that he was going to kill you!he said that no son of his could write stories like that and live under the same roof withhim!” i took her by the arm. “let’s go home,mom, and see what he does…” “henry, he’s thrown all your clothes outon the front lawn, all your dirty laundry, your typewriter, your suitcase and your stories!” “my stories?”


“yes, those too…” “i’ll kill him!” i pulled away from her and walked across 21ststreet and toward longwood avenue. she went after me. “henry, henry, don’t go in there.” the poor woman was yanking at the back ofmy shirt. “henry, listen, get yourself a room somewhere!henry, i have ten dollars! take this ten dollars and get yourself a room somewhere!” i turned. she was holding out the ten.


“forget it,” i said. “i’ll just go.” “henry, take the money! do it for me! doit for your mother!” “well, all right…” i took the ten, put it in my pocket. “thanks, that’s a lot of money.” “it’s all right, henry. i love you, henry,but you must go.” she ran ahead of me as i walked toward thehouse. then i saw it: everything was strewn across the lawn, all my dirty and clean clothes,the suitcase flung there open, socks, shirts, pajamas, an old robe, everything flung everywhere,on the lawn and into the street. and i saw


my manuscripts being blown in the wind, theywere in the gutter, everywhere. my mother ran up the driveway to the houseand i screamed after her so he could hear me, “tell him to come out here and i’llknock his god-damned head off!” i went after my manuscripts first. that wasthe lowest of the blows, doing that to me. they were the one thing he had no right totouch. as i picked up each page from the gutter, from the lawn and from the street, i beganto feel better. i found every page i could, placed them in the suitcase under the weightof a shoe, then rescued the typewriter. it had broken out of its case but it looked allright. i looked at my rags scattered about. i left the dirty laundry, i left the pajamas,which were only a handed-down pair of his


discards. there wasn’t much else to pack.i closed the suitcase, picked it up with the typewriter and started to walk away. i couldsee two faces peering after me from behind the drapes. but i quickly forgot that, walkedup longwood, across 21st and up old westview hill. i didn’t feel much different thani had always felt. i was neither elated nor dejected; it all seemed to be just a continuation.i was going to take the “w” streetcar, get a transfer, and go somewhere downtown. 54 i found a room on temple street in the filipinodistrict. it was $3.50 a week, upstairs on the second floor. i paid the landlady—amiddle-aged blond—a week’s rent. the toilet


and tub were down the hall but there was awash basin to piss in. my first night there i discovered a bar downstairsjust to the right of the entrance. i liked that. all i had to do was climb the stairwayand i was home. the bar was full of little dark men but they didn’t bother me. i’dheard all the stories about filipinos—that they liked white girls, blonds in particular,that they carried stilettoes, that since they were all the same size, seven of them wouldchip in and buy one expensive suit, with all the accessories, and they would take turnswearing the suit one night a week. george raft had said somewhere that filipinos setthe style trends. they stood on street corners and swung golden chains around and around,thin golden chains, seven or eight inches


long, each man’s chain-length indicatingthe length of his penis. the bartender was filipino. “you’re new, huh?” he asked. “i live upstairs. i’m a student.” “no credit.” i put some coins down. “give me an eastside.” he came back with the bottle. “where can a fellow get a girl?” i asked.


he picked up some of the coins. “i don’t know anything,” he said andwalked to the register. that first night i closed the bar. nobodybothered me. a few blond women left with the filipinos. the men were quiet drinkers. theysat in little groups with their heads close together, talking, now and then laughing ina very quiet manner. i liked them. when the bar closed and i got up to leave the bartendersaid, “thank you.” that was never done in american bars, not to me anyhow. i liked my new situation. all i needed wasmoney. i decided to keep going to college. it wouldgive me some place to be during the daytime.


my friend becker had dropped out. there wasn’tanybody that i much cared for there except maybe the instructor in anthropology, a knowncommunist. he didn’t teach much anthropology. he was a large man, casual and likeable. “now the way you fry a porterhouse steak,”he told the class, “you get the pan red hot, you drink a shot of whiskey and thenyou pour a thin layer of salt in the pan. you drop the steak in and sear it but notfor too long. then you flip it, sear the other side, drink another shot of whiskey, takethe steak out and eat it immediately.” once when i was stretched out on the campuslawn he had come walking by and had stopped and stretched out beside me.


“chinaski, you don’t believe all thatnazi hokum you’re spreading around, do you?” “i’m not saying. do you believe your crap?” “of course i do.” “good luck.” “chinaski, you’re nothing but a wienerschnitzel.” he got up, brushed off the grass and leavesand walked away… i had been at the temple street place onlyfor a couple of days when jimmy hatcher found me. he knocked on the door one night and iopened it and there he was with two other guys, fellow aircraft workers, one calleddelmore, the other, fastshoes.


“how come he’s called ‘fastshoes’?” “you ever lend him money, you’ll know.” “come on in…how in christ’s name didyou find me?” “your folks had you traced by a privatedick.” “damn, they know how to take the joy outof a man’s life.” “maybe they’re worried?” “if they’re worried all they have to dois send money.” “they claim you’ll drink it up.” “then let them worry…”


the three of them came in and sat around onthe bed and the floor. they had a fifth of whiskey and some paper cups. jimmy pouredall around. “nice place you’ve got here.” “it’s great. i can see the city hall everytime i stick my head out the window.” fastshoes pulled a deck of cards from hispocket. he was sitting on the rug. he looked up at me. “you gamble?” “every day. you got a marked deck?” “hey, you son-of-a-bitch!”


“don’t curse me or i’ll hang your wigon my mantlepiece.” “honest, man, these cards are straight!” “all i play is poker and 21. what’s thelimit?” “two bucks.” “we’ll split for the deal.” i got the deal and called for draw poker,regular. i didn’t like wild cards, too much luck was needed that way. two bits for thekitty. as i dealt, jimmy poured another round. “how are you making it, hank?” “i’m writing term papers for the otherpeople.”


“brilliant.” “yeah…” “hey, you guys,” said jimmy, “i toldyou this guy was a genius.” “yeah,” said delmore. he was to my right.he opened. “two bits,” he said. we followed him in. “three cards,” said delmore. “one,” said jimmy. “three,” said fastshoes.


“i’ll stand,” i said. “two bits,” said delmore. we all stayed in and then i said, “i’llsee your two bits and raise you two bucks.” delmore dropped out, jimmy dropped out. fastshoeslooked at me. “what else do you see besides city hall when you stick your head out thewindow?” “just play your hand. i’m not here tochat about gymnastics or the scenery.” “all right,” he said, “i’m out.” i scooped up the pot and gathered in theircards, leaving mine face down. “what did ya have?” asked fastshoes.


“pay to see or weep forever,” i said sweepingmy cards into the deck and mixing them together, shuffling them, feeling like gable beforehe got weakened by god at the time of the san francisco earthquake. the deck changed hands but my luck held, mostof the time. it had been payday at the aircraft plant. never bring a lot of money to wherea poor man lives. he can only lose what little he has. on the other hand it is mathematicallypossible that he might win whatever you bring with you. what you must do, with money andthe poor, is never let them get too close to one another. somehow i felt that the night was to be mine.delmore soon tapped out and left.


“fellows,” i said, “i’ve got an idea.cards are too slow. let’s just match coins, ten bucks a toss, odd man wins.” “o.k.,” said jimmy. “o.k.,” said fastshoes. the whiskey was gone. we were into a bottleof my cheap wine. “all right,” i said, “flip the coinshigh! catch them on your palms. and when i say ‘lift,’ we’ll check the result.” we flipped them high. caught them. “lift!” i said.


i was odd man. shit. twenty bucks, just likethat. i jammed the tens into my pocket. “flip!” i said. we did. i won again. “flip!” i said. fastshoes won. i got the next. then jimmy won. i got the next two.


“wait,” i said, “i’ve got to piss!” i walked over to the sink and pissed. we hadfinished the bottle of wine. i opened the closet door. “i got another bottle of winein here,” i told them. i took most of the bills out of my pocketand threw them into the closet. i came out, opened the bottle, poured drinks all around. “shit,” said fastshoes looking into hiswallet, “i’m almost broke.” “me too,” said jimmy. “i wonder who’s got the money?” i asked. they weren’t very good drinkers. mixingthe wine and the whiskey was bad for them.


they were weaving a bit. fastshoes fell back against the dresser knockingan ashtray to the floor. it broke in half. “pick it up,” i said. “i won’t pick up shit,” he said. “i said, ‘pick it up’!” “i won’t pick up shit.” jimmy reached and picked up the broken ashtray. “you guys get out of here,” i said. “you can’t make me go,” said fastshoes.


“all right,” i said, “just open yourmouth one more time, say one word and you won’t be able to separate your head fromyour asshole!” “let’s go, fastshoes,” said jimmy. i opened the door and they filed past unsteadily.i followed them down the hall to the head of the stairway. we stood there. “hank,” said jimmy, “i’ll see youagain. take it easy.” “all right, jim…” “listen,” fastshoes said to me, “you…” i shot a straight right into his mouth. hefell backward down the stairway, twisting


and bouncing. he was about my size, six feetand one-eighty, and you could hear the sound of him for a block. two filipinos and theblond landlady were in the lobby. they looked at fastshoes laying there but they didn’tmove toward him. “you killed him!” said jimmy. he ran down the stairway and turned fastshoesover. fastshoes had a bloody nose and mouth. jimmy held his head. jimmy looked up at me. “that wasn’t right, hank…” “yeah, what ya gonna do?” “i think,” said jimmy, “that we’regoing to come back and get you…”


“wait a minute,” i said. i walked back to my room and poured myselfa wine. i hadn’t liked jimmy’s paper cups and i had been drinking out of a used jellyglass. the paper label was still on the side, stained with dirt and wine. i walked backout. fastshoes was reviving. jimmy was helpinghim to his feet. then he put fastshoes’ arm around his neck. they were standing there. “now what did you say?” i asked. “you’re an ugly man, hank. you need tobe taught a lesson.” “you mean i’m not pretty?”


“i mean, you act ugly…” “take your friend out of here before i comedown there and finish him off!” fastshoes raised his bloody head. he had ona flowered hawaiian shirt, only now many of the colors were stained with red. he looked at me. then he spoke. i could barelyhear him. but i heard it. he said, “i’m going to kill you…” “yeah,” said jimmy, “we’ll get you.” “yeah, fuckers?” i screamed. “i’mnot going anywhere! anytime you want to find me i’ll be in room 5! i’ll be waiting!room 5, got it? and the door will be open!”


i lifted the jelly glass full of wine anddrained it. then i hurled that jelly glass at them. i threw the son-of-a-bitch, hard.but my aim was bad. it hit the side of the stairway wall, glanced off and shot into thelobby between the landlady and her two filipino friends. jimmy turned fastshoes toward the exit doorand began slowly walking him out. it was a tedious, agonizing journey. i heard fastshoesagain, half moaning, half weeping, “i’ll kill him…i’ll kill him…” then jimmy had him out the doorway. they weregone. the blond landlady and the two filipinos werestill standing in the lobby, looking up at


me. i was barefooted, and had gone five orsix days without a shave. i needed a haircut. i only combed my hair once, in the morning,then didn’t bother again. my gym teachers were always after me about my posture: “pullyour shoulders back! why are you looking at the ground? what’s down there?” i would never set any trends or styles. mywhite t-shirt was stained with wine, burned, with many cigarettes and cigar holes, spottedwith blood and vomit. it was too small, it rode up exposing my gut and belly button.and my pants were too small. they gripped me tightly and rose well above my ankles. the three of them stood and looked at me.i looked down at them. “hey, you guys, come


on up for a little drink!” the two little men looked up at me and grinned.the landlady, a faded carole lombard type, looked on impassively. mrs. kansas, they calledher. could she be in love with me? she was wearing pink shoes with high heels and a blacksparkling sequinned dress. little chips of light flashed at me. her breasts were somethingthat no mere mortal would ever see—they were only for kings, dictators, rulers, filipinos. “anybody got a smoke?” i asked. “i’mout of smokes.” the little dark fellow standing to one sideof mrs. kansas made a slight motion with one hand toward his jacket pocket and a pack ofcamels jumped in the lobby air. deftly he


caught the pack in his other hand. with theinvisible tap of a finger on the bottom of the pack a smoke leaped up, tall, true, singularand exposed, ready to be taken. “hey, shit, thanks,” i said. i started down the stairway, made a mis-step,lunged, almost fell, grabbed the bannister, righted myself, readjusted my perceptions,and walked on down. was i drunk? i walked up to the little guy holding the pack. i bowedslightly. i lifted out the camel. then i flipped itin the air, caught it, stuck it into my mouth. my dark friend remained expressionless, thegrin having vanished when i had begun down the stairway. my little friend bent forward,cupped his hands around the flame and lit


my smoke. i inhaled, exhaled. “listen, why don’tyou all come up to my place and we’ll have a couple of drinks?” “no,” said the little guy who had litmy cigarette. “maybe we can catch the bee or some bachon my radio! i’m educated, you know. i’m a student…” “no,” said the other little guy. i took a big drag on my smoke, then lookedat carole lombard—mrs. kansas. then i looked at my two friends.


“she’s yours. i don’t want her. she’syours. just come on up. we’ll drink a little wine. in good old room 5.” there was no answer. i rocked on my heelsa bit as the whiskey and the wine fought for possession. i let my cigarette dangle a bitfrom the right side of my mouth as i sent up a plume of smoke. i continued letting thecigarette dangle like that. i knew about stilettoes. in the little timei had been there i had seen two enactments of the stiletto. from my window one night,looking out at the sound of sirens, i saw a body there just below my window on the templestreet sidewalk, in the moonlight, under the streetlight. another time, another body. nightsof the stiletto. once a white man, the other


time one of them. each time, blood runningon the pavement, real blood, just like that, moving across the pavement and into the gutter,you could see it going along in the gutter, meaningless, dumb…that so much blood couldcome from just one man. “all right, my friends,” i said to them,“no hard feelings. i’ll drink alone…” i turned and started to walk toward the stairway. “mr. chinaski,” i heard mrs. kansas’voice. i turned and looked at her flanked by my twolittle friends. “just go to your room and sleep. if youcause any more disturbance i will phone the los angeles police department.”


i turned and walked back up the stairway. no life anywhere, no life in this town orthis place or in this weary existence… my door was open. i walked in. there was one-thirdof a cheap bottle of wine left. maybe there was another bottle in the closet? i opened the closet door. no bottle. but therewere tens and twenties everywhere. there was a rolled twenty lying between a pair of dirtysocks with holes in the toes; and there from a shirt collar, a ten dangling; and here froman old jacket, another ten caught in a side pocket. most of the money was on the floor. i picked up a bill, slipped it into the sidepocket of my pants, went to the door, closed


and locked it, then went down the stairwayto the bar. 55 a couple of nights later becker walked in.i guess my parents gave him my address or he located me through the college. i had myname and address listed with the employment division at the college, under “unskilledlabor.” “i will do anything honest or otherwise,” i had written on my card. nocalls. becker sat in a chair as i poured the wine.he had on a marine uniform. “i see they sucked you in,” i said. “i lost my western union job. it was allthat was left.”


i handed him his drink. “you’re not apatriot then?” “hell no.” “why the marines?” “i heard about boot camp. i wanted to seeif i could get through it.” “and you did.” “i did. there are some crazy guys there.there’s a fight almost every night. nobody stops it. they almost kill each other.” “i like that.” “why don’t you join?”


“i don’t like to get up early in the morningand i don’t like to take orders.” “how are you going to make it?” “i don’t know. when i get down to my lastdime i’ll just walk over to skid row.” “there are some real weirdos down there.” “they’re everywhere.” i poured becker another wine. “the problem is,” he said, “that there’snot much time to write.” “you still want to be a writer?” “sure. how about you?”


“yeah,” i said, “but it’s pretty hopeless.” “you mean you’re not good enough?” “no, they’re not good enough.” “what do you mean?” “you read the magazines? the ‘best shortstories of the year’ books? there are at least a dozen of them.” “yeah, i read them…” “you read the new yorker? harper’s? theatlantic?” “this is 1940. they’re still publishing19th century stuff, heavy, labored, pretentious.


you either get a headache reading the stuffor you fall asleep.” “what’s wrong?” “it’s a trick, it’s a con, a littleinside game.” “sounds like you’ve been rejected.” “i knew i would be. why waste the stamps?i need wine.” “i’m going to break through,” said becker.“you’ll see my books on the library shelves one day.” “let’s not talk about writing.” “i’ve read your stuff,” said becker.“you’re too bitter and you hate everything.”


“now you take thomas wolfe…” “god damn thomas wolfe! he sounds like anold woman on the telephone!” “o.k., who’s your boy?” “james thurber.” “all that upper-middle-class folderol…” “he knows that everyone is crazy.” “thomas wolfe is of the earth…” “only assholes talk about writing…” “you calling me an asshole?”


“yes…” i poured him another wine and myself anotherwine. “you’re a fool for getting into that uniform.” “you call me an asshole and you call mea fool. i thought we were friends.” “we are. i just don’t think you’re protectingyourself.” “every time i see you you have a drink inyour hand. you call that protecting yourself?” “it’s the best way i know. without drinki would have long ago cut my god-damned throat.” “that’s bullshit.” “nothing’s bullshit that works. the pershingsquare preachers have their god. i have the


blood of my god!” i raised my glass and drained it. “you’re just hiding from reality,” beckersaid. “you’ll never be a writer if you hidefrom reality.” “what are you talking about? that’s whatwriters do!” becker stood up. “when you talk to me, don’traise your voice.” “what do you want to do, raise my dick?” “you don’t have a dick!” i caught him unexpectedly with a right thatlanded behind his ear. the glass flew out


of his hand and he staggered across the room.becker was a powerful man, much stronger than i was. he hit the edge of the dresser, turned,and i landed another straight right to the side of his face. he staggered over near thewindow which was open and i was afraid to hit him then because he might fall into thestreet. becker gathered himself together and shookhis head to clear it. “all right now,” i said, “let’s havea little drink. violence nauseates me.” “o.k.,” said becker. he walked over and picked up his glass. thecheap wine i drank didn’t have corks, the tops just unscrewed. i unscrewed a new bottle.becker held out his glass and i poured him


one. i poured myself one, set the bottle down.becker emptied his. i emptied mine. “no hard feelings,” i said. “hell, no, buddy,” said becker, puttingdown his glass. then he dug a right into my gut. i doubled over and as i did he pusheddown on the back of my head and brought his knee up into my face. i dropped to my knees,blood running from my nose all over my shirt. “pour me a drink, buddy,” i said, “let’sthink this thing over.” “get up,” said becker, “that was justchapter one.” i got up and moved toward becker. i blockedhis jab, caught his right on my elbow, and punched a short straight right to his nose.becker stepped back. we both had bloody noses.


i rushed him. we were both swinging blindly.i caught some good shots. he hit me with another good right to the belly. i doubled over butcame up with an uppercut. it landed. it was a beautiful shot, a lucky shot. becker lurchedbackwards and fell against the dresser. the back of his head hit the mirror. the mirrorshattered. he was stunned. i had him. i grabbed him by the shirt front and hit him with ahard right behind his left ear. he dropped on the rug, and knelt there on all fours.i walked over and unsteadily poured myself a drink. “becker,” i told him, “i kick ass aroundhere about twice a week. you just showed up on the wrong day.”


i emptied my glass. becker got up. he stooda while looking at me. then he came forward. “becker,” i said, “listen…” he started a right lead, pulled it back andslammed a left to my mouth. we started in again. there wasn’t much defense. it wasjust punch, punch, punch. he pushed me over a chair and the chair flattened. i got up,caught him coming in. he stumbled backwards and i landed another right. he crashed backwardsinto the wall and the whole room shook. he bounced off and landed a right high on myforehead and i saw lights: green, yellow, red…then he landed a left to the ribs anda right to the face. i swung and missed. god damn, i thought, doesn’t anybody hearall this noise? why don’t they come and


stop it? why don’t they call the police? becker rushed me again. i missed a roundhouseright and then that was it for me… when i regained consciousness it was dark,it was night. i was under the bed, just my head was sticking out. i must have crawledunder there. i was a coward. i had puked all over myself. i crawled out from under thebed. i looked at the smashed dresser mirror andthe chair. the table was upside down. i walked over and tried to set it upright. it fellover. two of the legs wouldn’t hold. i tried to fix them as best i could. i set the tableup. it stood a moment, then fell over again. the rug was wet with wine and puke. i founda wine bottle lying on its side. there was


a bit left. i drank that down and then lookedaround for more. there was nothing. there was nothing to drink. i put the chain on thedoor. i found a cigarette, lit it and stood in the window, staring down at temple street.it was a nice night out. then there was a knock on the door. “mr.chinaski?” it was mrs. kansas. she wasn’t alone. i heard other voices whispering. shewas with her little dark friends. “mr. chinaski?” “i want to come into your room.” “i want to change the sheets.” “i’m sick now. i can’t let you in.”


“i just want to change the sheets. i’llbe just a few minutes.” “no, i can’t let you in. come in the morning.” i heard them whispering. then i heard themwalking down the hall. i went over and sat on the bed. i needed a drink, bad. it wasa saturday night, the whole town was drunk. maybe i could sneak out? i walked to the door and opened it a crack,leaving the chain on, and i peeked out. at the top of the stairway there was a filipino,one of mrs. kansas’ friends. he had a hammer in his hand. he was down on his knees. helooked up at me, grinned, and then pounded a nail into the rug. he was pretending tofix the rug. i closed the door.


i really needed a drink. i paced the floor.why could everybody in the world have a drink but me? how long was i going to have to stayin that god-damned room? i opened the door again. it was the same. he looked up at me,grinned, then hammered another nail into the floor. i closed the door. i got out my suitcase and began throwing myfew clothes in there. i still had quite a bit of money i had wongambling but i knew that i could never pay for the damages to that room. nor did i wantto. it really hadn’t been my fault. they should have stopped the fight. and beckerhad broken the mirror… i was packed. i had the suitcase in one handand my portable typewriter in its case in


the other. i stood in front of the door forsome time. i looked out again. he was still there. i slipped the chain off the door. theni pulled the door open and burst out. i ran toward the stairway. “hey! where you go?” the little guy asked.he was still down on one knee. he started to raise his hammer. i swung the portabletypewriter hard against the side of his head. it made a horrible sound. i was down the stepsand through the lobby and out the door. maybe i had killed the guy. i started running down temple street. theni saw a cab. he was empty. i leaped in. “bunker hill,” i said, “fast!”


56 i saw a vacancy sign in the window in frontof a rooming-house, had the cabby pull up. i paid him and walked up on the front porch,rang the bell. i had one black eye from the fight, another cut eye, a swollen nose, andmy lips were puffed. my left ear was bright red and every time i touched it, an electricshock ran through my body. an old man came to the door. he was in hisundershirt and it looked like he had spilled chili and beans across the front of it. hishair was grey and uncombed, he needed a shave and he was puffing on a wet cigarette thatstank. “you the landlord?” i asked.


“yep.” “i need a room.” “you workin’?” “i’m a writer.” “you don’t look like a writer.” “what do they look like?” he didn’t answer. then he said, “$2.50 a week.” “can i see it?”


he belched, then said, “foller me…” we walked down a long hall. there was no hallrug. the boards creaked and sank as we walked on them. i heard a man’s voice from oneof the rooms. “suck me, you piece of shit!” “three dollars,” i heard a woman’s voice. “three dollars? i’ll give you a bloodyasshole!” he slapped her hard, she screamed. we walkedon. “the place is in back,” the guy said,“but you are allowed to use the house bathroom.” there was a shack in back with four doors.he walked up to #3 and opened it. we walked


in. there was a cot, a blanket, a small dresserand a little stand. on the stand was a hotplate. “you got a hotplate here,” he said. “that’s nice.” “$2.50 in advance.” i paid him. “i’ll give you your receipt in the morning.” “fine.” “what’s your name?” “i’m connors.”


he slipped a key off his key ring and gaveit to me. “we run a nice quiet place here. i wantto keep it that way.” i closed the door behind him. there was asingle light overhead, unshaded. actually the place was fairly clean. not bad. i gotup, went outside and locked the door behind me, walked through the back yard to an alley. i shouldn’t have given that guy my realname, i thought. i might have killed my little dark friend over on temple street. there was a long wooden stairway which wentdown the side of a cliff and led to the street below. quite romantic. i walked along untili saw a liquor store. i was going to get my


drink. i bought two bottles of wine and ifelt hungry too so i purchased a large bag of potato chips. back at my place, i undressed, climbed ontomy cot, leaned against the wall, lit a cigarette and poured a wine. i felt good. it was quietback there. i couldn’t hear anybody in any of the other rooms in my shack. i had to takea piss, so i put on my shorts, went around the back of the shack and let go. from upthere i could see the lights of the city. los angeles was a good place, there were manypoor people, it would be easy to get lost among them. i went back inside, climbed backon the cot. as long as a man had wine and cigarettes he could make it. i finished offmy glass and poured another.


maybe i could live by my wits. the eight-hourday was impossible, yet almost everybody submitted to it. and the war, everybody was talkingabout the war in europe. i wasn’t interested in world history, only my own. what crap.your parents controlled your growing-up period, they pissed all over you. then when you gotready to go out on your own, the others wanted to stick you into a uniform so you could getyour ass shot off. the wine tasted great. i had another. the war. here i was a virgin. could you imaginegetting your ass blown off for the sake of history before you even knew what a womanwas? or owned an automobile? what would i be protecting? somebody else. somebody elsewho didn’t give a shit about me. dying in


a war never stopped wars from happening. i could make it. i could win drinking contests,i could gamble. maybe i could pull a few holdups. i didn’t ask much, just to be left alone. i finished the first bottle of wine and startedin on the second. halfway through the second bottle, i stopped,stretched out. my first night in my new place. it was all right. i slept. i was awakened by the sound of a key in thedoor. then the door pushed open. i sat up on the cot. a man started to step in. “get the fuck out of here!” i screamed.


he left fast. i heard him running off. i got up and slammed the door. people did that. they rented a place, stoppedpaying rent and kept the key, sneaking back to sleep there if it was vacant or robbingthe place if the occupant was out. well, he wouldn’t be back. he knew if he tried itagain that i’d bust his sack. i went back to my cot and had another drink. i was a little nervous. i was going to haveto pick up a knife. i finished my drink, poured another, drankthat and went back to sleep. 57


after english class one day mrs. curtis askedme to stay. she had great legs and a lisp and there wassomething about the legs and the lisp together that heated me up. she was about 32, had cultureand style, but like everybody else, she was a god-damned liberal and that didn’t takemuch originality or fight, it was just more franky roosevelt worship. i liked franky becauseof his programs for the poor during the depression. he had style too. i didn’t think he reallygave a damn about the poor but he was a great actor, great voice, and he had a great speechwriter. but he wanted us in the war. it would put him into the history books. war presidentsgot more power and, later, more pages. mrs. curtis was just a chip off old franky onlyshe had much better legs. poor franky didn’t


have any legs but he had a wonderful brain.in some other country he would have made a powerful dictator. when the last student left i walked up tomrs. curtis’ desk. she smiled up at me. i had watched her legs for many hours andshe knew it. she knew what i wanted, that she had nothing to teach me. she had onlysaid one thing which i remembered. it wasn’t her own idea, obviously, but i liked it: “you can’t overestimate the stupidityof the general public.” “mr. chinaski,” she looked up at me, “wehave certain students in this class who think they are very smart.”


“yeh?” “mr. felton is our smartest student.” “what is it that troubles you?” “there’s something…troubling you.” “maybe.” “this is your last semester, isn’t it?” “how did you know?” i’d been giving those legs a goodbye look.i’d decided the campus was just a place to hide. there were some campus freaks whostayed on forever. the whole college scene


was soft. they never told you what to expectout there in the real world. they just crammed you with theory and never told you how hardthe pavements were. a college education could destroy an individual for life. books couldmake you soft. when you put them down, and really went out there, then you needed toknow what they never told you. i had decided to quit after that semester, hang around stinkyand the gang, maybe meet somebody who had guts enough, to hold up a liquor store orbetter yet, a bank. “i knew you were going to quit,” she saidsoftly. “‘begin’ is a better word.” “there’s going to be a war. did you read‘sailor off the bremen’?”


“that new yorker stuff doesn’t work forme.” “you’ve got to read things like that ifyou want to understand what is happening today.” “i don’t think so.” “you just rebel against everything. howare you going to survive?” “i don’t know. i’m already tired.” mrs. curtis looked down at her desk for along time. then she looked up at me. “we’re going to get drawn into the war,one way or the other. are you going to go?” “that doesn’t matter. i might, i mightnot.” “you’d make a good sailor.”


i smiled, thought about being a sailor, thendiscarded that idea. “if you stay another term,” she said,“you can have anything you want.” she looked up at me and i knew exactly whatshe meant and she knew that i knew exactly what she meant. “no,” i said, “i’m leaving.” i walked toward the door. i stopped there,turned, gave her a little nod goodbye, a slight and quick goodbye. outside i walked alongunder the campus trees. everywhere, it seemed, there was a boy and a girl together. mrs.curtis was sitting alone at her desk as i walked alone. what a great triumph it wouldhave been. kissing that lisp, working those


fine legs open, as hitler swallowed up europeand peered toward london. after a while i walked over toward the gym.i was going to clean out my locker. no more exercising for me. people always talked aboutthe good clean smell of fresh sweat. they had to make excuses for it. they never talkedabout the good clean smell of fresh shit. there was nothing really as glorious as agood beer shit—i mean after drinking twenty or twenty-five beers the night before. theodor of a beer shit like that spread all around and stayed for a good hour-and-a-half. itmade you realize that you were really alive. i found the locker, opened it and dumped mygym suit and shoes into the trash. also two empty wine bottles. good luck to the nextone who got my locker. maybe he’d end up


mayor of boise, idaho. i threw the combo lockinto the trash too. i’d never liked that combination: 1, 2, 1, 1, 2. not very mental.the address of my parents’ house had been 2122. everything was minimal. in the r.o.t.c.it had been 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4. maybe some day i’d move up to 5. i walked out of the gym and took a shortcutthrough the playing field. there was a game of touch football going on, a pick-up game.i cut to one side to avoid it. then i heard baldy: “hey, hank!” i looked up and he was sitting in the standswith monty ballard. there wasn’t much to ballard. the nice thing about him was thathe never talked unless you asked him a question.


i never asked him any questions. he just lookedat life out from underneath his dirty yellow hair and yearned to be a biologist. i waved to them and kept walking. “come on up here, hank!” baldy yelled.“it’s important.” i walked over. “what is it?” “sit down and watch that stocky guy in thegym suit.” i sat down. there was only one guy in a gymsuit. he had on track shoes with spikes. he was short but wide, very wide. he had amazingbiceps, shoulders, a thick neck, heavy short legs. his hair was black; the front of hisface almost flat; small mouth, not much nose,


and the eyes, the eyes were there somewhere. “hey, i heard about this guy,” i said. “watch him,” said baldy. there were four guys on each team. the ballwas snapped. the quarterback faded to pass. king kong, jr. was on defense. he played abouthalfway back. one of the guys on the offensive team ran deep, the other ran short. the centerblocked. king kong, jr. lowered his shoulders and sped toward the guy playing short. hesmashed into him, burying a shoulder into his side and gut and dumped him hard. thenhe turned and trotted away. the pass was completed to the deep man for a td.


“you see?” said baldy. “king kong…” “king kong isn’t playing football at all.he just hits some guy as hard as he can, play after play.” “you can’t hit a pass receiver beforehe catches the ball,” i said. “it’s against the rules.” “who’s going to tell him?” baldy asked. “you going to tell him?” i asked ballard. “no,” said ballard.


king kong’s team took the kickoff. now hecould block legally. he came down and savaged the littlest guy on the field. he knockedthe guy completely over, his head went between his legs as he flipped. the little guy wasslow getting up. “that king kong is a subnormal,” i said.“how did he ever pass his entrance exam?” “they don’t have them here.” king kong’s team lined up. joe stapen wasthe best guy on the other team. he wanted to be a shrink. he was tall, six foot two,lean, and he had guts. joe stapen and king kong charged each other. stapen did prettygood. he didn’t get dumped. the next play they charged each other again. this time joebounced off and gave a little ground.


“shit,” said baldy, “joe’s givingup.” the next time kong hit joe even harder, spinninghim around, then running him 5 or 6 yards back up the field, his shoulder buried injoe’s back. “this is really disgusting! that guy’snothing but a fucking sadist!” i said. “is he a sadist?” baldy asked ballard. “he’s a fucking sadist,” said ballard. the next play kong shifted back to the smallestguy. he just ran over him and piled on top of him, dropping him hard. the little guydidn’t move for a while. then he sat up and held his head. it looked like he was finished.i stood up.


“well, here i go,” i said. “get that son-of-a-bitch!” said baldy. i walked down to the field. “hey, fellas. need a player?” the little guy stood up, started to walk offthe field. he stopped as he reached me. “don’t go in there. all that guy wantsis to kill somebody.” “it’s just touch football,” i said. it was our ball. i got into the huddle withjoe stapen and the other two survivors. “what’s the game plan?” i asked.


“just to stay the fuck alive,” said joestapen. “what’s the score?” “i think they’re winning,” said lennyhill, the center. we broke out of the huddle. joe stapen stoodback and waited for the ball. i stood looking at kong. i’d never seen him around campus.he probably hung around the men’s crapper in the gym. he looked like a shit-sniffer.he also looked like a fetus-eater. “time!” i called. lenny hill straightened up over the ball.i looked at kong. “my name’s hank. hank chinaski. journalism.”


kong didn’t answer. he just stared at me.he had dead white skin. there was no glitter or life in his eyes. “what’s your name?” i asked him. he just kept staring. “what’s the matter? got some placentacaught in your teeth?” kong slowly raised his right arm. then hestraightened it out and pointed a finger at me. then he lowered his arm. “well, suck my weenie,” i said, “what’sthat mean?” “come on, let’s play ball,” one of kong’smates said.


lenny bent over the ball and snapped it. kongcame at me. i couldn’t seem to focus on him. i saw the grandstand and some trees andpart of the chemistry building shake as he crashed into me. he knocked me over backwardsand then circled around me, flapping his arms like wings. i got up, feeling dizzy. firstbecker k.o.’s me, then this sadistic ape. he smelled; he stank; a real evil son-of-a-bitch. stapen had thrown an incomplete pass. we huddled. “i got an idea,” i said. “what’s that?” asked joe. “i’ll throw the ball. you block.”


“let’s leave it the way it is,” saidjoe. we broke out of the huddle. lenny bent overthe ball, snapped it back to stapen. kong came at me. i lowered a shoulder and rushedat him. he had too much strength. i bounced off him, straightened up, and as i did kongcame again, knifing his shoulder into my belly. i fell. i leaped up right away but i didn’tfeel like getting up. i was having breathing problems. stapen had thrown a short complete pass. thirddown. no huddle. when the ball snapped kong and i ran at each other. at the last momenti left my feet and hurled myself at him. the weight of my body hit his neck and his head,knocking him off balance. as he fell i kicked


him as hard as i could and caught him righton the chin. we were both on the ground. i got up first. as kong rose there was a redblotch on the side of his face and blood at the corner of his mouth. we trotted back toour positions. stapen had thrown an incomplete pass. fourthdown. stapen dropped back to punt. kong dropped back to protect his safety man. the safetyman caught the punt and they came pounding up the field, kong leading the way for hisrunner. i ran at them. kong was expecting another high hurdle. this time i dove andclipped him at the ankles. he went down hard, his face hitting the ground. he was stunned,he stayed there, his arms spread out. i ran up and kneeled down. i grabbed him by theback of the neck, hard. i squeezed his neck


and rammed my knee into his backbone and dugit in. “hey, kong, buddy, are you all right?” the others came running up. “i think he’shurt,” i said. “come on, somebody help me get him off the field.” stapen got him on one side and i got kongon the other and we walked him to the sideline. near the sideline i pretended to stumble andground my left shoe into his ankle. “oh,” said kong, “please leave me alone…” “i’m just helpin’ ya, buddy.” when we got him to the sideline we droppedhim. kong sat and rubbed the blood from his mouth. then he reached down and felt his ankle.it was skinned and would soon begin to swell.


i bent over him. “hey, kong, let’s finishthe game. we’re behind 42-7 and need a chance to catch up.” “naw, i gotta make my next class.” “i didn’t know they taught dog-catchinghere.” “it’s english lit i.” “that figures. well, look, i’ll help youover to the gym and i’ll put you under a hot shower, what you say?” “no, you stay away from me.” kong got up. he was pretty busted. the greatshoulders sagged, there was dirt and blood


on his face. he limped a few steps. “hey,quinn,” he said to one of his buddies, “gimme a hand…” quinn took one of kong’s arms and they walkedslowly across the field toward the gym. “hey, kong!” i yelled, “i hope you makeyour class! tell bill saroyan i said ‘hello’!” the other fellows were standing around, includingbaldy and ballard who had come down from the stands. here i had done my best ever god-damnedact and not a pretty girl around for miles. “anybody got a smoke?” i asked. “i got some chesterfields,” baldy said. “you still smoking pussy cigarettes?”i asked.


“i’ll take one,” said joe stapen. “all right,” i said, “since that’sall there is.” we stood around, smoking. “we still have enough guys around to playa game,” somebody said. “fuck it,” i said. “i hate sports.” “well,” said stapen, “you sure tookcare of kong.” “yeah,” said baldy, “i watched the wholething. there’s only one thing that confuses me.” “what’s that?” asked stapen.


“i wonder which guy is the sadist?” “well,” i said, “i gotta go. there’sa cagney movie showing tonight and i’m taking my cunt.” i began to walk across the field. “you mean you’re taking your right handto the movie?” one of the guys yelled after “both hands,” i said over my shoulder. i walked off the field, down past the chemistrybuilding and then out on the front lawn. there they were, boys and girls with their books,sitting on benches, under the trees, or on the lawn. green books, blue books, brown books.they were talking to each other, smiling,


laughing at times. i cut over to the sideof the campus where the “v” car line ended. i boarded the “v,” got my transfer, wentto the back of the car, took the last seat in back, as always, and waited. 58 i made practice runs down to skid row to getready for my future. i didn’t like what i saw down there. those men and women hadno special daring or brilliance. they wanted what everybody else wanted. there were alsosome obvious mental cases down there who were allowed to walk the streets undisturbed. ihad noticed that both in the very poor and very rich extremes of society the mad wereoften allowed to mingle freely. i knew that


i wasn’t entirely sane. i still knew, asi had as a child, that there was something strange about myself. i felt as if i weredestined to be a murderer, a bank robber, a saint, a rapist, a monk, a hermit. i neededan isolated place to hide. skid row was disgusting. the life of the sane, average man was dull,worse than death. there seemed to be no possible alternative. education also seemed to be atrap. the little education i had allowed myself had made me more suspicious. what were doctors,lawyers, scientists? they were just men who allowed themselves to be deprived of theirfreedom to think and act as individuals. i went back to my shack and drank… sitting there drinking, i considered suicide,but i felt a strange fondness for my body,


my life. scarred as they were, they were mine.i would look into the dresser mirror and grin: if you’re going to go, you might as welltake eight, or ten or twenty of them with you… it was a saturday night in december. i wasin my room and i drank much more than usual, lighting cigarette after cigarette, thinkingof girls and the city and jobs, and of the years ahead. looking ahead i liked very littleof what i saw. i wasn’t a misanthrope and i wasn’t a misogynist but i liked beingalone. it felt good to sit alone in a small space and smoke and drink. i had always beengood company for myself. then i heard the radio in the next room. theguy had it on too loud. it was a sickening


love song. “hey, buddy!” i hollered, “turn thatthing down!” i walked to the wall and pounded on it. “i said, ‘turn that fucking thing down!’” the volume remained the same. i walked outside to his door. i was in myshorts. i raised my leg and jammed my foot into the door. it burst open. there were twopeople on the cot, an old fat guy and an old fat woman. they were fucking. there was asmall candle burning. the old guy was on top. he stopped and turned his head and looked.she looked up from underneath him. the place


was very nicely fixed-up with curtains anda little rug. “oh, i’m sorry…” i closed their door and went back to my place.i felt terrible. the poor had a right to fuck their way through their bad dreams. sex anddrink, and maybe love, was all they had. i sat back down and poured a glass of wine.i left my door open. the moonlight came in with the sounds of the city: juke boxes, automobiles,curses, dogs barking, radios…we were all in it together. we were all in one big shitpot together. there was no escape. we were all going to be flushed away. a small cat walked by, stopped at my doorand looked in. the eyes were lit by the moon:


pure red like fire. such wonderful eyes. “come on, kitty…” i held my hand outas if there were food in it. “kitty, kitty…” the cat walked on by. i heard the radio in the next room shut off. i finished my wine and went outside. i wasin my shorts as before. i pulled them up and tucked in my parts. i stood before the otherdoor. i had broken the lock. i could see the light from the candle inside. they had thedoor wedged closed with something, probably a chair. i knocked quietly.


i knocked again. i heard something. then the door opened. the old fat guy stood there. his face washung with great folds of sorrow. he was all eyebrows and mustache and two sad eyes. “listen,” i said, “i’m very sorryfor what i did. won’t you and your girl come over to my place for a drink?” “or maybe i can bring you both somethingto drink?” “no,” he said, “please leave us alone.” he closed the door.


i awakened with one of my worst hangovers.i usually slept until noon. this day i couldn’t. i dressed and went to the bathroom in themain house and made my toilet. i came back out, went up the alley and then down the stairway,down the cliff and into the street below. sunday, the worst god-damned day of them all. i walked over to main street, past the bars.the b-girls sat near the doorways, their skirts pulled high, swinging their legs, wearinghigh heels. “hey, honey, come on in!” main street, east 5th, bunker hill. shitholesof america. there was no place to go. i walked into apenny arcade. i walked around looking at the


games but had no desire to play any of them.then i saw a marine at a pinball machine. both his hands gripped the sides of the machine,as he tried to guide the ball with body-english. i walked up and grabbed him by the back ofhis collar and his belt. “becker, i demand a god-damned rematch!” i let go of him and he turned. “no, nothing doing,” he said. “two out of three.” “balls,” he said, “i’ll buy you adrink.” we walked out of the penny arcade and downmain street. a b-girl hollered out from one


of the bars, “hey, marine, come on in!” becker stopped. “i’m going in,” he said. “don’t,” i said, “they are human roaches.” “i just got paid.” “the girls drink tea and they water yourdrinks. the prices are double and you never see the girl afterwards.” “i’m going in.” becker walked in. one of the best unpublishedwriters in america, dressed to kill and to die. i followed him. he walked up to one ofthe girls and spoke to her. she pulled her


skirt up, swung her high heels and laughed.they walked over to a booth in a corner. the bartender came around the bar to take theirorder. the other girl at the bar looked at “hey, honey, don’t you wanna play?” “yeah, but only when it’s my game.” “you scared or queer?” “both,” i said, sitting at the far endof the bar. there was a guy between us, his head on thebar. his wallet was gone. when he awakened and complained, he’d either be thrown outby the bartender or handed over to the police. after serving becker and the b-girl the bartendercame back behind the bar and walked over to


“yeh? what ya want in here?” “i’m waiting for my friend,” i noddedat the corner booth. “you sit here, you gotta drink.” “o.k. water.” the bartender went off, came back, set downa glass of water. “two bits.” the girl at the bar said to the bartender,“he’s queer or scared.” the bartender didn’t say anything. thenbecker waved to him and he went to take their order.


the girl looked at me. “how come you ain’tin uniform?” “i don’t like to dress like everybodyelse.” “are there any other reasons?” “the other reasons are my own business.” “fuck you,” she said. the bartender came back. “you need anotherdrink.” “o.k.,” i said, slipping another quartertoward him. outside, becker and i walked down main street. “how’d it go?” i asked.


“there was a table charge, plus the twodrinks. it came to $32.” “christ, i could stay drunk for two weekson that.” “she grabbed my dick under the table, sherubbed it.” “what did she say?” “nothing. she just kept rubbing my dick.” “i’d rather rub my own dick and keep thethirty-two bucks.” “but she was so beautiful.” “god damn, man, i’m walking along in stepwith a perfect idiot.” “someday i’m going to write all this down.i’ll be on the library shelves: becker.


the ‘b’s’ are very weak, they need help.” “you talk too much about writing,” i said. we found another bar near the bus depot. itwasn’t a hustle joint. there was just a barkeep and five or six travelers, all men.becker and i sat down. “it’s on me,” said becker. “eastside in the bottle.” becker ordered two. he looked at me. “come on, be a man, join up. be a marine.” “i don’t get any thrill trying to be aman.”


“seems to me you’re always beating upon somebody.” “that’s just for entertainment.” “join up. it’ll give you something towrite about.” “becker, there’s always something to writeabout.” “what are you gonna do, then?” i pointed at my bottle, picked it up. “how are ya gonna make it?” becker asked. “seems like i’ve heard that question allmy life.” “well, i don’t know about you but i’mgoing to try everything! war, women, travel,


marriage, children, the works. the first cari own i’m going to take it completely apart! then i’m going to put it back together again!i want to know about things, what makes them work! i’d like to be a correspondent inwashington, d.c. i’d like to be where big things are happening.” “washington’s crap, becker.” “and women? marriage? children?” “crap.” “yeah? well, what do you want?” “to hide.”


“you poor fuck. you need another beer.” the beer arrived. we sat quietly. i could sense that beckerwas off on his own, thinking about being a marine, about being a writer, about gettinglaid. he’d probably make a good writer. he was bursting with enthusiasms. he probablyloved many things: the hawk in flight, the god-damned ocean, full moon, balzac, bridges,stage plays, the pulitzer prize, the piano, the god-damned bible. there was a small radio in the bar. therewas a popular song playing. then in the middle of the song there was an interruption. theannouncer said, “a bulletin has just come


in. the japanese have bombed pearl harbor.i repeat: the japanese have just bombed pearl harbor. all military personnel are requestedto return immediately to their bases!” we looked at each other, hardly able to understandwhat we’d just heard. “well,” said becker quietly, “that’sit.” “finish your beer,” i told him. becker took a hit. “jesus, suppose some stupid son-of-a-bitchpoints a machine gun at me and pulls the trigger?” “that could well happen.” “hank…”


“will you ride back to the base with meon the bus?” “i can’t do that.” the bartender, a man about 45 with a watermelongut and fuzzy eyes walked over to us. he looked at becker. “well, marine, it looks likeyou gotta go back to your base, huh?” that pissed me. “hey, fat boy, let him finishhis drink, o.k.?” “sure, sure…want a drink on the house,marine? how about a shot of good whiskey?” “no,” said becker, “it’s all right.” “go ahead,” i told becker, “take thedrink. he figures you’re going to die to save his bar.”


“all right,” said becker, “i’ll takethe drink.” the barkeep looked at becker. “you got a nasty friend…” “just give him his drink,” i said. the other few customers were babbling wildlyabout pearl harbor. before, they wouldn’t speak to each other. now they were mobilized.the tribe was in danger. becker got his drink. it was a double shotof whiskey. he drank it down. “i never told you this,” he said, “buti’m an orphan.” “god damn,” i said.


“will you at least come to the bus depotwith me?” we got up and walked toward the door. the barkeep was rubbing his hands all overhis apron. he had his apron all bunched up and was excitedly rubbing his hands on it. “good luck, marine!” he hollered. becker walked out. i paused inside the doorand looked back at the barkeep. “world war i, eh?” “yeh, yeh…” he said happily. i caught up with becker. we half-ran to thebus depot together. servicemen in uniform


were already beginning to arrive. the wholeplace had an air of excitement. a sailor ran past. “i’m going to kill me a jap!” he screamed. becker stood in the ticket line. one of theservicemen had his girlfriend with him. the girl was talking, crying, holding onto him,kissing him. poor becker only had me. i stood to one side, waiting. it was a long wait.the same sailor who had screamed earlier came up to me. “hey, fellow, aren’t you goingto help us? what’re you standing there for? why don’t you go down and sign up?” there was whiskey on his breath. he had frecklesand a very large nose.


“you’re going to miss your bus,” i toldhim. he went off toward the bus departure point. “fuck the god-damned fucking japs!” hesaid. becker finally had his ticket. i walked himto his bus. he stood in another line. “any advice?” he asked. the line was filing slowly into the bus. thegirl was weeping and talking rapidly and quietly to her soldier. becker was at the door. i punched him on theshoulder. “you’re the best i’ve known.” “thanks, hank…”


“goodbye…” i walked out of there. suddenly there wastraffic on the street. people were driving badly, running stoplights, screaming at eachother. i walked back over to main street. america was at war. i looked into my wallet:i had a dollar. i counted my change: 67â¢. i walked along main street. there wouldn’tbe much for the b-girls today. i walked along. then i came to the penny arcade. there wasn’tanybody in there. just the owner standing in his high-perched booth. it was dark inthat place and it stank of piss. i walked along in the dark aisles among thebroken machines. they called it a penny arcade but most of the games cost a nickel and somea dime. i stopped at the boxing machine, my


favorite. two little steel men stood in aglass cage with buttons on their chins. there were two hand grips, like pistol grips, withtriggers, and when you squeezed the triggers the arms of your fighter would uppercut wildly.you could move your fighter back and forth and from side to side. when you hit the buttonon the chin of the other fighter he would go down hard on his back, k.o.’d. when iwas a kid and max schmeling k.o.’d joe louis, i had run out into the street looking formy buddies, yelling “hey, max schmeling k.o.’d joe louis!” and nobody answeredme, nobody said anything, they had just walked away with their heads down. it took two to play the boxing game and iwasn’t going to play with the pervert who


owned the place. then i saw a little mexicanboy, eight or nine years old. he came walking down the aisle. a nice-looking, intelligentmexican boy. “hey, kid?” “yes, mister?” “wanna play this boxing game with me?” “free?” “sure. i’m paying. pick your fighter.” he circled around, peering through the glass.he looked very serious. then he said, “o.k., i’ll take the guy in the red trunks. helooks best.”


the kid got on his side of the game and staredthrough the glass. he looked at his fighter, then he looked up at me. “mister, don’t you know that there’sa war on?” we stood there. “you gotta put the coin in,” said thekid. “what are you doing in this place?” iasked him. “how come you’re not in school?” “it’s sunday.” i put the dime in. the kid started squeezinghis triggers and i started squeezing mine. the kid had made a bad choice. the left armof his fighter was broken and only reached


up halfway. it could never hit the buttonon my fighter’s chin. all the kid had was a right hand. i decided to take my time. myguy had blue trunks. i moved him in and out, making sudden flurries. the mexican kid wasgreat, he kept trying. he gave up on the left arm and just squeezed the trigger for theright arm. i rushed blue trunks in for the kill, squeezing both triggers. the kid keptpumping the right arm of red trunks. suddenly blue trunks dropped. he went down hard, makinga clanking sound. “i got ya, mister,” said the kid. “you won,” i said. the kid was excited. he kept looking at bluetrunks flat on his ass.


“you wanna fight again, mister?” i paused, i don’t know why. “you out of money, mister?” “oh, no.” “o.k., then, we’ll fight.” i put in another dime and blue trunks sprangto his feet. the kid started squeezing his one trigger and the right arm of red trunkspumped and pumped. i let blue trunks stand back for a while and contemplate. then i noddedat the kid. i moved blue trunks in, both arms flailing. i felt i had to win. it seemed veryimportant. i didn’t know why it was important


and i kept thinking, why do i think this isso important? and another part of me answered, just becauseit is. then blue trunks dropped again, hard, makingthe same iron clanking sound. i looked at him laying on his back down there on his littlegreen velvet mat. then i turned around and walked out.


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