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Chapter Two

It rains. It will rain all night, but I cannot stand here in the wet all night. I shiver in this doorway and watch this peroxide blonde in the red hat hurrying down the street. She jumps from awning to awning, and eyes the cars that plow through the water in the street. She is on the make, and soaked to the skin. The wind drives against her and through her and plasters her dress to her legs. She ducks into this doorway I am in. "Think it'll rain, sweetheart?" she says.

"If it don't rain tonight, it will tomorrow," I say. "You can't never tell about rain."

"Got another cigarette, deary?" she says. "I'm dyin' for a cigarette."

I give her a cigarette. She pulls out a vanity case and looks at her face.

"Holy God," she says, "look at me. How's a girl goin' to keep her complexion in weather like this?"

"What are you kicking about?" I say. "You're alive, ain't you? It ain't wet. It only looks wet. The sun'll be up tomorrow, beautiful like."

She takes a swipe at her face with her handkerchief. It leaves a streak from her eyes to her chin. The water runs down the streak and drips off her chin in pink drops. She pulls her red hat off her head. It leaves a red smudge across her forehead.

"Tra, la la," she says. "How sweet the blue birdies sing! You flopped in a mission last night. I can tell by the way you talk you flopped in a mission. Look at this goddam hat. Just look at it. Limp as a rag. The goddam kike said it wouldn't fade.. Now look at it. I oughta take it back and stuff it down his throat."

She wads it up in her hand and squeezes the water out of it. It makes a red pool at her feet.

"I see you once or twice in Grumpy's hashhouse," I say. "I eat in Grumpy's when I'm lucky on the stem."

"Pleased to meet you socially," she says. "Call me Myrtle. I only eat in Grumpy's for the change. Most of the time I am up on the Avenoo with the swells."

"My name is Tom," I say. "I am expecting a registered letter, myself."

She wipes her face off with her handkerchief and puts on a new coat of paint.

"My hair ain't naturally blond," she says; "I dyed it."

"Yeah?" I say. "You'd never know it."

"Yeah," she says, "I dyed it, and the goddam stuff cost me my job. 'Six blondes is enough for one house,' the madam says. 'Dye 'er black or get out.' 'Like hell I'll dye 'er black,' I says. 'Me spend five bucks for a dye, and then spend five more to ruin it? Not on your fanny/ I says."

"Fire you?"

"Right out on the street. Throws my clothes out on the street and pushes me out on top of them, the old whore."

"How is the street?" I say. "Tough?"

"Tough?" she says. "Say, I ain't seen a live one all day. I I jumped in and out of so many doorways I got the jitters."

She peels her eyes across the street. There is a guy standing over there in a doorway. He is a young guy with a sporty front. There are gray spats on his kicks, and white kid gloves on his hands.

"Do you see what I see?" she says. "Has he give you a tumble[1]?" I say.

"Watch me land him," she says. "This is the first live one I seen all day. I'll let you ding him before I reel him in."

 "Thanks," I say. "I could use a few nickels till my registered letter gets in."

"Watch my technic," she says.

I keep my eyes peeled on this guy across the street. He is falling for the bait, all right. He shifts his eyes from her to me. He does not know what to think of me. He makes up his mind. He crosses the street and stops beneath this awning. He whistles low under his breath and keeps time with the drum of his fingers on the window. This is my chance to make a flop.

"Buddy," I say, "could you spare me a few dimes to get a flop? I'm down on my luck with no place to flop."

He looks at me and smiles. I can see that this guy is all right.

"Buddy," he says, "do you know what I would do if I was down on my luck with no place to get in out of the rain?" "No, what would you do?" I say.

"I would get me a job and go to work," he says.

He turns his back on me and walks over to the girl.

"Hello, good-looking," he says.

"Hello, yourself," she says.

The lousy bastard. And I thought this guy was all right. Go to work, would he? Does he think I would be standing here in the rain and the cold if there was work to be had? There is no work. They laugh at you for asking for work. I give this smart guy a look and walk on down the street. When I hit the skid road,[2] I stop under another awning. I can see that I am not the only one in the wet and the cold. Old Bacon Butts hobbles up the street and stops by my side. I met him in the mission. When he is not gassed up on bay rum, he talks of blowing up the banks.

"Well, well, my little spewm[3] of the system," he says, "where do you flop tonight?"

"On the street," I say. "I am not holding a jitney[4]."

"Say not so," he cackles. His bloodshot eyes sparkle. He is gassed up plenty. "For the meek in spirit, the International House."

We walk through the rain, Bacon Butt and me. It beats down on his matted hair and drizzles through his beard. The drops sparkle like diamonds as the street-lights flash on his face. I almost have to grin when I think of diamonds in old Bacon Butts's beard. He would pick them out and swap them for bay rum.

We walk.

"Rain all you damn please," I think. "You can't hurt me. I'm as wet as I can get. I'm soaked to the skin. You can't hurt me."

"I'm an old man," whines old Bacon Butts, "an old, old, man, and I gotta go huntin' me a rat-hole at night." "Yeah, it's hell," I say.

I can't be shedding any tears over old Bacon Butts. I have to find me a rat-hole myself. Besides, he is gassed up.

"I worked hard in my day," he says. "Worked like a horse and broke my health, and now I ain't got a decent place to flop."

His old voice cracks. His puffy eyes fill with tears.

"Yeah," I say, "that's tough. That sure is tough, that is. There ain't no justice in this world. A man just don't get a square deal in this world."

Old Bacon Butts takes another swig from his bottle. He sobs short, cackly sobs in his coat collar.

We turn left down this alley. Half-way down we slip through the doorway of this empty building. We tiptoe upstairs and go into this room. There are other stiffs in this room. We can hear them snore. We strike matches to keep from stepping on them. In one corner is a pile of burlap sacks. They are dry. Good enough for a couple of drowned rats hunting a hole.

I spread my bed upon the floor. I pull off my wet clothes and crawl naked between the sacks. Christ, but it feels good to be lying here. It is cold outside. I can hear the patter of the rain beating down on the tin roof. It is wet outside and cold. But I am not wet or cold. I am warm and dry.

"To hell with you," I say. "Rain all you damn please. I am warm."

It is good to be warm and dry. I had a good beef stew today. My belly is full. What have I got to worry about? Nothing.

Nothing to worry about until tomorrow. I pull these sacks up around my chin and I think about those poor bastards out in the rain. They are wet and cold. But I am warm and dry. My eyes get heavy. I fall asleep.

I do not know how long I am asleep. I awake with a jerk. All around me are lights. They flash back and forth. It seems as though there are a thousand lights that flash through the dark. I hear a rat squeal and scurry across the floor. What the hell? I am half asleep, but I know that there is something wrong. My heart pounds. It chokes me. I am afraid. I hear heavy shoes thudding on the floor. I hear stiffs running back and forth and yelling at the top of their voices. A light flashes into my eyes and blinds me.

"Get up out of there," says a voice. "Get up out of there before I kick the living hell out of you."

I know what it is now. It is the bulls. Jesus Christ, can't they ever let a man alone? A man can't even sleep. You can't crawl into an empty rat-hole, for the bulls[5]. This bull grabs me by the throat and yanks me to my feet. I reach over and bundle my clothes up in my arms. He thinks maybe I am reaching for a gat or a club. I feel his fist smash into my mouth. I feel the blood that oozes from my lips. I dress as they shove us outside. There are a bunch of cops out here. There are a bunch of stiffs herded between them. They are red-eyed and sleepy.

"Your paws tough?" this cop says to me.

"They oughta be," I say. "I done enough hard work in my day."

"Well, they better be," he says. "It's the rock pile for you lousy bums."

"Where's the rock pile?" says one of these stiffs.

"They're diggin' a ditch four miles long, and they need some help," this copper[6] says.

"You lousy stiffs will have a place to flop tomorrow night," chirps in this other one.

I want to take this bull by his dirty neck and choke him till his tongue hangs out. The bastard has got himself a place to flop; what does he care about us? I don't say anything, though. They would sap me down proper if I said anything. I am on to their little tricks. I huddle down as far as I can go in my coat collar, but it does no good. The rain beats down in sheets. It drizzles through my clothes. Here I am soggy and miserable.

There it was warm and dry.

Down the street shrieks a siren. It is the black Maria[7] come to get us. She pulls up at the curb. They open the door.

"Taxi?" says this stiff with the wooden leg. "I didn't call any taxi."

"All right, haul in, and make it snappy," says this cop.

We get in. I am lucky. I get a seat. They crowd all of us in here like cattle. We are cattle to them. Damn them. Some day they will pay for this. For ten minutes we gasp in here. We are packed like sardines.

"Blow 'em up," yelps old Bacon Butts. He is down on the floor with two stiffs using him for a stool. "Blow the bastards up. Ram a stick of dynamite up their fannies. One stick for every copper. Give me a good dark box car. Give me a good sharp knife, and a copper to use it on. 'So, you bastard, you will throw me into a lousy patrol wagon, will you? Take that and that.' Give me a dark box car and a good sharp knife, and I will pull their yellow guts out with my bare hands."

A stiff crams his hat into old Bacon Butts's mouth. It will not do for the coppers to hear a stiff talking like this. It doesn't matter to a copper if he is gassed up or not.

 We pull to a stop. We pile out in front of the precinct jail and hurry inside to get out of the rain. More bulls meet us at the door and start frisking us.

"Got a gat?" this cop snaps at the guy with the scarred face.

"What the hell would I be doin' with a gat? I am out of work and cain't find any work," he says.

"You're a goddam liar. You're a lousy bum, and you wouldn't work if you had work."

"Yeah," this stiff says, "that's what you think."

"Open your trap to me again, and I will kick the living hell out of you. Next."

I am next. I walk up in front of this cop. I hold out my arms from my sides. I know how to do it. I have been frisked more times than I got fingers and toes.

"An old-timer, eh?" he says. "How many times you been here before?"

"None," I say.

"Got a gat?"

"No, sir."

The dumb bastard. If I am holding a gat, does he think I will tell him? He goes through my pockets.

"Got a razor?"

"I got a safety razor."

"That's a razor, ain't it. I asked you did you have a razor. I didn't ask you for any of your lip." "Yes, sir," I say. The bastard.

"Got any money?"

"I got a ten-cent piece."

"You dirty bums never have any money. You never will have any money. You are no damn good, the whole bunch of you.


I go over to the guy at the desk.

"What name did you give the last time?" he says.

"No name," I say. "There wasn't any last time."

"All right, Jesse James, what's the handle this time?"

"Thomas Kromer," I say.

Does this smart bastard think I will make up a name? What do I care who knows I am in this lousy can? The tight sons of bitches wouldn't give me a drink of water if my tongue was hanging out.

"My home is in Huntington, West Virginia," I say. I know all of these questions. I want to get it over with. I am sleepy. A guy can't even get a chance to sleep.

"Who in the hell asked you where your home was?" he says. "Your home is wherever you can find some rotten swill[8] to stuff in your bellies."

 "Sorry," I say.

"Occupation?" he says. "Anything that pops in your head.

Song-writer, sky pilot, anything." "Mechanic," I say.


"Twenty-six." Will this bastard never be finished with his questions?

"You'll be six months older when you get out. Next."

A cop shoves me into a big room. It is lined on all sides with cells. It will turn your stomach with the stench of unflushed commodes. The turnkey unlocks the door of one of these holes and shoves me in. He locks it and goes back after an-other stiff. I look around. There are two bunks on the wall. One on top of the other. A drunk is sprawled out in each of them. They have vomited all over the floor. I wonder where in the hell do they expect a guy to sleep. It is two o'clock in the morning. Do they think I am going to stand on my feet all night? If they do, they are crazy. The bastards. What do they care if I have to stand on my feet all night? I hammer on this steel door with my hands. I have to pound a long time before anybody comes to the door.

"What do you want in there?" It is the turnkey.

"Where is a guy going to sleep in here? There's drunks in both bunks, and the floor looks like a privy."

 "Sleep on your head, Lily-fingers," he says, "or on your pink teddies."

"I ain't slept in two nights, and I gotta get me some sleep," I say.

"What the hell do I care where you sleep?" he says. "You pound on that door again, and I will come in there and sap you down." He goes away.

A young punk with fuzz on his face sticks his nose through the bars of the cell across the hall.

"What you in for?" he says.

"Vag[9]," I say. "I slept in an empty building to get in out of the rain, and they send me up for vag."

"Vag!" he says. "Hell, you ain't growed up yet. You know what I'm in here for?"

"No, what are you in here for?" I say.

"A hold-up, that's what I'm in here for," he says, "a holdup."

This is a smart punk. He is not dry behind the ears yet. He is stuck on himself because he got caught pulling a stick-up. I let him gas through the bars. I do not pay any attention to him.

This guy in the next cell sticks his nose out.

"Like your suite, deary?" he yells.

He has a squeaky voice. I can see that his eyebrows are plucked, from where I am. This guy is as queer as they make them.

"Yeah, I like it fine," I say.

"The bitches," he says. "The goddam bitches. They raided my flat and broke up my date. A girl can't even have a decent date without the goddam cops breaking in."

This guy lying on the bunk gets up and shoves this queer away from the bars. He is a wolf. He does not want this pansy to be talking to me. He is jealous.

"For Christ sake, Florence, set down so's I can get me some sleep," he says.

 I walk up and down the floor. Up and down. I keep this up for hours. I can't stand it any longer. I sit down in a corner and put my head in my hands. I am all in. Before I know it, I am dead to the world. I do not awake until morning.

"Water," moans the drunk in the top bunk, "for God's sake, won't someone give me some water?"

Nobody pays any attention to him. The drunk in the bottom bunk gets to his feet. I start to crawl in his bunk. I've got to get me some sleep. He clenches up his fists and starts towards me. I could kill him, but I get back in my comer. No use to have any trouble with a drunk.

"You're a bastard," he says. "Ain'tcha a bastard? You're a lousy bum. You're all lousy bums. The bastards won't keep me in here. I got dough. I'll show 'em, the bastards won't keep me in here. Take my money away from me, will they?" He leans over to me. "I'm too smart for these cops. I put most of my money in my shoe."

He takes off his shoe and reaches down in the toe. He pulls out a wad of bills.

"So they think they can outsmart me, do they? I'm drunk, but I ain't nobody's fool."

He waves this dough around in the air. I see one of the bills drop to the floor. I put my foot on it. I figure it is mine by rights of my having my foot on it. He crawls back in his bunk and goes to sleep. I put this fin down in the toe of my shoe and sit back in my corner.

I wait for breakfast. That is a good joke. For two hours I squat in this comer before the turnkey opens the door.

"Where's my breakfast?" I say.

"Breakfast, hell!" he says. "There ain't no breakfast. It's the court for you bums."

They load us in the black Maria and take us to court. We pull in at the back door. They hand us a ham sandwich. We eat it and march to the courtroom and the prisoner's box. There are thirty of us stiffs here. There will have to be two trials.

 The prisoner's box is not big enough to hold us all. You won't read a better joke than this in a book. Don't they know a stiff has got to sleep?

A guy with a bald head and a black bow tie starts reading a paper. He is telling us what we are charged with. He mumbles something about no visible means of support. He mumbles something about vagrancy. What this guy means is, we slept in an empty building to get in out of the rain. He don't say that, though. He says we have no visible means of support. Does he think I would sleep in that lousy building if I was holding anything? We don't understand all this guy mumbles. We don't listen very close. We are too sleepy. He stops reading. The judge looks up. He has a hard face. Well, hard face or not, what can he do to a guy for sleeping? A guy has got to sleep.

"What have you got to say for yourself? " this judge asks the first guy.

"I am out of work. Last night it was rainin', and I didn't have any place to sleep. I— "


"I have been sick. I was afraid of gettin' wet, so I— "


"I am out of work and — "


These guys don't get a chance to say anything. They no more than get started than he goes to the next guy. He is kangarooing them. They haven't got a chance. I am down near the end of the box. I make up my mind to make a hit. I have a good education. Let me see. 1 will plead guilty with mitigating circumstances. That sounds all right. This judge will see that I am no ordinary stiff.

"Your honor," I will say very polite, "I am guilty, with mitigating circumstances."

The rest of the stiffs will perk up their ears when they hear this. They will not know what mitigating circumstances are, but the judge will know.

 "Explain the mitigating circumstances," he will say.

"Your honor, as you know very well, the nation is faced with a world-wide crisis in unemployment. There are three things which are prime requisites of every civilized man, and even savage. These things are food, clothing, and shelter. We are confronted with the necessity of crime or beggary. It is inevitable, your honor, one choice or the other must be made. Rather than degrade ourselves with stealing, we are compelled to beg for the mite we eat. But we must sleep. Somewhere, your honor, we must sleep. In good weather we sleep in the parks. But yesterday it rained. The parks were soaked. This building was empty. We did not break in. It was empty. We had no alternative. We must sleep. We cannot sleep in the rain."

This will give this judge a rough idea. The trouble with these stiffs is they haven't got the guts to speak up. They are scared to death of this judge. Hell, this judge is no better than any other stiff to me. I will stand up for my rights. I will plead guilty with mitigating circumstances. I bet his ears will perk up when he hears a stiff pleading guilty with mitigating circumstances.

He comes on down the line. I go over my spiel in my head. I will be polite, but I will show this guy I am just as good as the next one. He gets to me.

"What have you got to say for yourself?" he says.

"Your honor," I say, "I am guilty with— "

"That's all I want to know. Next."

He don't give me a chance to say anything. I will not stand for this. I don't have to stand for this. Can you imagine a guy like this? They call this a free country, and this guy don't give me a chance to say anything. Maybe they can pull this on some of these stiffs with no education, but they can't pull it on me. I have got a good education. I've had good jobs in my time. I had privileges then, and I got privileges now. I stand up on my feet. Everybody looks at me. This judge gets red in the face. He yells for me to sit down. I do not sit down. All the coppers yell for me to sit down. Everybody is craning their necks to see what is going on. A big, fat woman with a red dress and a pocked face stands up in her seat and thrashes her hands in the air.

"Sock the old judge on the beezer," she yells at me. "Take a poke at the cossacks[10]."

A cop plops her down in her seat. Another cop pulls out a blackjack and starts over to me. What the hell can I do against a cop with a blackjack? He would sap me down proper, and all the rest of these cops would help him. A stiff hasn't got a chance. They know a stiff hasn't got a chance. I sit down.

This judge stands up. He is burned up, and his face is flaming red.

"Sixty days, or a hundred dollars. Take them away."[11]

[1] Tumble: “to seduce, to have sexual intercourse; thus tumbling n., sexual intercourse” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[2] Skid Road: “the centre, in any town or city, for down-and-outs, alcoholics, tramps and other poor or homeless individuals” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[3] Spewm: “scum” (The Century Dictionary, New York: Century Company, 1911).

[4] Jitney: “a 5-cent piece, a nickel” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[5] The Bulls: “the police” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[6] Coppers: “the police” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[7] Black Maria: “a prison van for conveying prisoners” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web); referring to any police transporter.

[8] Swill: “unpleasant food or drink” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[9] The crime of Vagrancy. Vagrancy laws in the early twentieth century  were “a ubiquitous tool for maintaining hierarchy and order in American society. Their application changed alongside perceived threats to the social fabric, at different times and places targeting the unemployed, labor activists, radical orators, cultural and sexual nonconformists, racial and religious minorities, civil rights protesters, and the poor” (Risa L. Goluboff and Adam Sorensen, “United States Vagrancy Laws,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History, 2018, web).

[10] Cossack: “a policeman” (A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant, vol. 1 [London: George Bell & Sons, 1897], 261)

[11] Kromer recalls: “I was sentenced to sixty days in Occoquam Prison in Washington for sleeping in an empty building during a storm. Some friends got me out in eight days” (“Autobiography,” Waiting for Nothing, London: Constable, 1935). He is referring to the Occoquan Workhouse in Lorton, Virginia.

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