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Chapter Three

I sit down at the table in this mission. They shove this stew before us. It is awful. It smells bad. The room is full of the stench of this rotten stew. What am I going to do? What can I do? I am a hungry man. Food is food to a hungry man, whether it is rotten or not. I've got to eat. I take up a spoonful of this stuff and gag. As hungry as I am, I can't down this swill. This slop is not fit for hogs. I push it away and pick up the bread. This bread is hard and stale, but it hits the spot. Who am I to say it is no good? I've got to eat. This stiff next to me at the table leans far over his plate and goes after his swill. He is hungrier than I am.

"Ain'tcha goin' ter eat yer stew?" he says to me.

"No, I can't go this stuff."

"Kin I have it?"

"Take it, and welcome," I say.

He reaches over and takes my stew. He ladles up a spoonful. He makes a slushing noise when he sucks it in. I don't pay any attention. If a guy wants to suck in his swill, who am I to get my stomach turned? I have seen the day when I would have socked a guy on the kisser who sat next to me and made a noise like that. But that was before I went on the fritz. I used to wear spats then. Imagine me wearing spats now. I can stand on a dime and tell you whether it is heads or tails. That's how thin the soles of my kicks are.

This guy socks in another spoonful. He gulps and chokes. He sticks his fingers down his throat and pulls out a yellow overcoat button. What are these bastards putting yellow over-coat buttons in the stew for? Have they run out of their rotten carrots? Don't they know you can't make a decent stew out of yellow overcoat buttons? This stiff holds this yellow overcoat button up in the air.

"Looky" he yells down the table, "looky what I found. Any you blokes need a button fer yer overcoat?"

"See can you find a gray overcoat button," this stiff at the other end of the table yells. "My overcoat is gray. I can't be puttin' yellow overcoat buttons on a gray coat."

"Today is yellow overcoat button day. You kin not be gittin' yer choice of buttons till comes hash day," this stiff says. "A stiff kin not be gittin' his choice of buttons ever' day." Another guy digs down in his stew.

"Wait till I see can I find needle and thread. You gotta have needle and thread."

These other stiffs start digging down in their stew to see can they find needle and thread. Not all of them, though. Four or five guys gag and get up from the table. These are hungry men, but the yellow overcoat button turns their stomach. They will soon get over that. I was like that once. That was when I used to wear spats.

This mission stiff who is the overseer of the kitchen walks up the aisle.

"What's eatin' you stiffs?" he yells. "Any more racket out of you, and I will throw you out in the street."

"Cain't a stiff do a little huntin'?" this old guy with all the badges pinned on him says.

"What the hell are you huntin' for?" he says.

"I am huntin' fer me a watch and chain," says one of these stiffs. "How kin I tell what time you feed, if I don't have me a watch and chain?"

"That is good stew," says this mission stiff. "I watched them make that stew myself."

"She ain't sech good stew," says this old man with the badges. "I cain't find me a overcoat. She is purty frosty out. I sure would like to find me a overcoat." He digs down in his stew.

These other stiffs all start to laugh. This mission stiff is getting his dander[1] up.

"What the hell are you talkin' about?" he says. "Get out of here before I call a cop."

This old guy grins and beats it outside. He does not mind missing his supper. You will find better suppers than this in the sewers.

I sip at this coffee. This dirty-looking stuff in the tin cup is coffee. It is not French drip coffee. You can't taste the coffee in it. You can taste the saltpetre[2] in it, though. It is lousy with this taste of saltpetre. They douse it with this stuff to help you be a good Christian. That is thoughtful of them.

I finish this stuff and go out in the chapel. You get no flop in this mission unless you listen to the sermon. For seven nights a week I have to listen to a sermon. They are long sermons. Sermons that last for three hours. This chapel is a big room. It is filled with stiffs waiting for their flop. Around the walls are religious pictures in fancy colors. It is warm in here. It is damp and chilly in the parks, but it is warm in here.

They have a woman preacher tonight. She stands in the pulpit and waves her arms and jumps up and down. She is going strong. Her voice is like a rasp that grates on your nerves. She is burning up. The sweat pours down her face. She is whooping it up because she is on her favorite subject. She is preaching about getting washed in the blood of the Lamb[3]. They always preach about getting washed in the blood of the Lamb. I am sick of all this. I have heard it so many times.

Now, that girl on the left in the choir is not bad-looking. She looks nice sitting up there with her pink dress, and the violets pinned to her waist. She is too damn good-looking to be wasting her time in this joint. She is daffy like the rest of them, though. She must be daffy[4], or she would not be in this joint trying to get a bunch of stiffs to get washed in the blood of the Lamb.

This woman preacher has been giving these stiffs plenty of hell, and now she is getting ready to hand out the old soft soap[5].

"The trouble with you dear men is that you are away from the blessed saving power of Jesus Christ," she says. "You got to get washed in the blood of the Lamb. Only Christ can make you clean. Won't you come up and give your hearts to Christ tonight? Everything will be yours. Peace will be yours. Peace and calm will come into your souls. You will be new men. Christ can give you what you want. Is it a job you want? Christ can give you a job. Ask and you shall receive. How many men will come up to the altar tonight and give their hearts to Christ? Hold up your hands."

We do not hold up our hands. We are old-timers. We have tried this stunt before. Once in Denver I kneeled at the mourners' bench till I had blisters on my knees. I prayed for a job. I thought for sure I'd get me a job. Well, sister, I didn't get any job. I got throwed in their lousy can for sleeping in the park. No, we cannot fall for that stuff. We are old-timers. We are on to your little tricks.

"Will every man in the house bow his head while we ask the blessing of God upon each of you dear, unfortunate men? Let every head be bowed in the presence of the Lord. I see some men in the rear of the room reading newspapers. Put your newspapers away, men. This is no place to be reading of temporal things. You know, men, that is just the trouble with us today. We are too much taken up with worldly things. If we could just get back to God and let the blessed Savior have His way with us, our troubles would vanish like the driven snow. Let every head in the house of God be bowed. Thank you, men."

We bow our heads. We know better than not to bow our heads. We've seen too many stiffs get kicked out in the cold because they didn't bow their heads. We are sick of this drivel this dame is handing out, but it is warm in here. It is cold outside.p

"Now, men, while every head is bowed and every heart is lifted, how many of you men would like to have us pray for you? You don't have to come up in front. You don't even have to stand on your feet. Just raise your hand if you would like to have us pray for you. Some of you men have hearts so heavy with burdens you can hardly bear them. Many of you dear souls are standing on the brink of despair, and some even on the brink of eternity. Oh, brother, we know One who will deliver you from the darkness. We know One who will fill that sick heart of yours with new life and new hope. Raise your hands so we will know who to pray for. God hears and answers prayer."

It is the same old stuff. I can see that it is the same old stuff. She is leading them up slow. This is only the first step. Some of these stiffs who are new to this are going to find themselves kneeling up there at the mourners' bench, and wondering how they got up there.

"Raise your hands men," she says. "Just raise your hands. You don't have to come up in front."

Fifteen or twenty raise their hands. They want to be prayed for. I raise my hand. The more hands that are raised, the sooner she will quit harping. She is running true to form tonight. She makes the next step.

"Thank God there are so many men realize the healing power of Jesus Christ. You men who raised your hands, how many of you have the courage to stand up on your feet? I tell you, men, it takes courage to stand up on your feet in the presence of your fellow men, unafraid, and ask God to help you. Some of you men haven't got that courage. How many will stand up and ask God to help you?"

It is the same old stuff. She is soft-soaping them now.

 "Come on, men," she says, "who will stand up first for Jesus Christ?"

Some mission stiff in the front row stands up. That's what he's here in the front row for, to lead the lambs to slaughter. Come back here in a year, and you will find this same mission stiff standing up and asking God to help him. As much as these guys ask for help, you'd think they'd get a little help sometimes.

"I am always ready to stand up for ‘the Lord," this mission stiff says.

A couple of young punks stand up. They don't know what it's all about. They feel like I did that time in Denver when I wore blisters on my knees. Pretty soon there are ten standing up. Twenty raise their hands. Ten stand up. That's a pretty good average. This dame is pretty good. She is going strong. She has got them where she wants them. They are standing up.

"Now you men that are standing on your feet, just come up here to the altar. I want to give every one of you a Bible. I want you to study God's word. I want you to know God."

She holds out the Bibles to them. They are standing up. It is easier to go up and get the Bible than to sit back down in their seats while she is holding them out to them. She has got them where she wants them. They march up front and take this paper-backed book. It is not a Bible. It's just one book of the Bible. I know. I've got plenty of them. I was new then. I am an old-timer now. They don't get me to stand up on my feet to be prayed for any more. These stiffs take these books and start back towards their seats. But they don't get away with this stuff. Who do they think they are to get away with this stuff?

"Just a minute, men," she says. "I'd like to ask God's special blessing on each of you dear brothers tonight. Won't you kneel at the altar for just a few seconds?"

These guys stop in their tracks and look funny. They don't know what to do. Well, what can they do? Kneel at the altar, that's all they can do. She didn't get them up here to give them a paper-backed book. She got them up here to kneel.

They kneel.

"Let us pray," she says.

She starts to pray. When she starts to pray, all the choir and the mission stiffs gather around the mourners' bench. They put their arms around these guys that are roped at the altar, and start working on them to give their hearts to God. The young punk on the end of the bench is lucky. He draws the girl in the pink dress with the violets pinned to her waist. I do not blame that guy if he gives his heart to God. For five, ten minutes nobody gives their heart to God. These guys start to squirm on their knees. This mourners' bench hasn't got any soft rug to kneel on. These mission guys are smart. They make you so miserable you will give your heart to God so you can get up off your knees. Pretty soon some guy can't stand it any longer. I see him shake his head. This mission stiff who has his arm around him gets to his feet. He has a grin on his map a yard wide. The punk gets up, too. His knees are all in. He can hardly stand up.

"Praise God," this mission stiff yells, . "the lamb was lost, but now he is found."

He shakes hands with the punk.

Everybody shakes hands with the punk.

"Amen," shouts the red-headed woman with the big legs. "Glory to God!" somebody yells back.

The skinny woman at the organ begins playing a hymn. She is glory-bound. She slams down on the keys with all her might. She wiggles her shoulders and throws her head back. There is a wild look in her eyes. She jumps off the stool and starts dancing a jig. She keeps time with the clapping of her hands. Everyone else starts clapping their hands.

This woman preacher watches this organ-player dance and keeps time by pounding her foot on the floor. Christ, but she's happy. She has got these guys where she wants them. She raises her hand in the air.

"What did all the people say?" she yells at the choir and the mission stiffs.

"All the people said amen," they yell back.

One by one the rest of these stiffs that are roped at the mourners' bench get to their feet. It's hell on your knees to stay there for half an hour.

"Brother, do you give your heart to God?" shouts this woman preacher to the stiff with the purple birthmark on his face. He shakes his head yes, he gives his heart to God.

"Though your sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow," she yells.

She claps her hands together. She has got these stiffs where she wants them.

"Praise God. Washed in the blood," yells one of these mission stiffs. "God will take care of you. Whatever you need, God will give it to you."

"I need a shave," pipes up this stiff in the third row. "Am I next?"

This mission stiff sputters. This woman preacher does not sputter. She walks to the edge of the pulpit and points her finger at this stiff.

"Brother," she says, "the Devil has got you. The Devil is living in your soul. We want nothing to do with the Devil here. Beat it."

This guy grins and goes out. It will be the park bench for him. It don't pay to talk back to a mission stiff.

"Praise God, men," she says, "the Devil is now out of this house. The house of the Lord is no place for Satan. All evening I have felt his presence here. I tell you men, when you get close to Jesus Christ, when you have touched the hem of His garment, you can feel the Devil when he's in the same room with you. You can look into people's eyes and see him. I can see him in some of your eyes now. Oh, sinners, won't you run him out and come up to the mourners' bench? " Nobody runs the Devil out.

All these guys that went up to the mourners' bench line up and march upstairs. They do not sleep with us sinners. They have been washed in the blood. They sleep in the converts' room. There are clean sheets on the beds of the converts' room. They are not lousy. A stiff who wears blisters on his knees at the mourners' bench deserves a good, clean flop.

This woman preacher wipes the sweat off her face and sits down. She has had a hard night's work. A mission stiff in a purple suit and a pair of red suspenders takes her place in the pulpit.

It is time to testify. After the preaching it is time to testify.

"How many of you men would like to stand up and tell what God has done for you?" yells this mission stiff.

These stiffs are in this joint because they have no place to get in out of the cold, and this bastard asks them to stand up and tell what God has done for them. I can tell him what God has done for them. He hasn't done a damn thing for them. I don't though. It is warm in here. It is cold outside.

Another mission stiff gets up. You can always depend on a mission stiff telling what God has done for him.

"For twenty years I was a dope fiend — "

For Christ's sake, won't someone knock this hophead[6] back in his seat? Every night I have to listen to this guy. Every night he adds a little bit extra. But then maybe you can't blame this crazy slop-swiller. Every guy likes to shine a little bit. Testifying is the only chance he has. Maybe you can't blame this guy for getting up and saying for twenty years he was a dope fiend. When he gets up, he is good for half an hour. He knows he is fixed for half an hour. You can't make a guy sit down when he is telling what Jesus Christ has done for him.

"I just couldn't get along without my shot of snow[7]," he says.

"I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't work or eat. Brethren, the Devil had such a hold on me that I wished I was dead. One rainy night I was crouched all alone in my room. I was just a twitchin' all over. I was out of dope. I just felt as though if I didn't get me some dope, I would go daffy. 'Satan,' I said, 'by the grace of God, I am goin' to lick you[8].' I pulled out my old dust-covered Bible that had been layin' there in the desk since my angel mother passed over to her reward. I made myself set down at the table and read it. I read for an hour before I closed the good book up. 'Now then, Satan,' I says, 'you and me are goin' to fight it out.' Well, sir, we wrestled there all night, me and Satan. First he would be on top, and then me. Along about mornin' when the sky was gettin' gray in the east, and Satan just about had me licked, I looked out of the window. Brethren, what I am tellin' you is the God's truth. There, lookin' into the window was the face of Jesus Christ, just as plain as that picture of Him on the wall. I see Him look into my eyes pitying like, and I saw His lips move. 'Satan,' He says, 'this is no child of yours, this is My child. Son, your sins are forgiven. Come into My service.' Well, sir, from that day on, I have never touched a pinch of dope. Praise God, blessed be the name of the Lord!"

He sits down. No one else gets up. Even the mission stiffs are too fagged out[9] to tell what God has done for them. We stand up. This woman preacher says the benediction. We march upstairs to the third floor. Most of the stiffs pull off their clothes and crawl into these dirty blankets. Some of them go in to wash. I go in to wash, myself.

I notice this guy in the gray suit. He is a middle-aged guy. He has not been on the fritz[10] long. I can tell. Up and down, back and forth he walks. He is plenty nervous about something. He does not pay any attention to the rest of these stiffs. He walks from one end of the room to the other. His eyes are glued to the floor. I know what he is thinking. I have walked like that myself. Up and down through the night.

"She is a tough life, buddy," I say.

 He does not look up. He does not answer. A nice friendly guy.

"She will all come out in the wash," I say.

"Yeah," he says, "she will all come out in the wash."

He walks into one of these toilets and closes the door. I go on with my washing. I do not think any more about this guy. All at once a roar comes out of that toilet. Smoke curls up over the door. I know what caused that roar. A gun caused that roar. That damn fool has shot himself. That is plain. I run over to the door and try to open it. It is locked from the inside. The stiffs are pouring into this toilet now. They have heard the shot. I get down on my hands and knees and look through the crack in the door.

"What do you see?" some stiff says.

"Plenty," I say.

I am sick in the stomach when I get up. I have seen all I want to see. This guy is sprawled out on the floor with a hole in his head. It is a jagged hole. There is a pool of blood on the floor. His arm is folded up under his head. Some of the blood drips in his hand and runs down the sleeve of his coat. Some of this blood is darker than the rest. That is not blood. That is his brains. This guy is stone dead, all right. His eyes are wide open.

"What's he wanna bump hisself off fer?" says this stiff with the boils on his face. "There ain't nothin' to bump yerself off fer."

"He bumped hisself off because he's got the guts to bump hisself off," says this other stiff. "We are afraid to bump ourselves off, so we live in mission flops and guzzle lousy mission slop.”

Somebody has called an ambulance. This stiff does not need an ambulance. He needs a hearse. They run us all out into the hall. We huddle in a bunch and wait to see them carry this stiff out. They bring him out with a sheet spread over him. It is a clean sheet. It came from the converts' room. This is the first time this stiff has had a clean sheet over him for a long time.

I go back to my room and sit on the edge of my bed. It is cold sitting here, but I do not mind the cold. I am thinking about bumping myself off. Why not? It don't hurt. I bet that guy never knew what hit him. Just a jagged hole, and a pool of blood mixed with black, and it is all over. He had the guts, and now everything is all right with him. After a guy bumps himself off, he don't have any more troubles. Everything is all right with him.

I walk over to the window. Down below me is the alley, but I cannot see it. The glass of the window is covered with fly specks, and besides, it is dark and murky down there. It is a long way to the bottom. It is three stories to the bottom. Three stories, with a nice concrete pavement to light on. If a guy was to jump head-first out of this window, it would be all over. Just a few seconds, and it would be all over. I think of that blood splotched with black on the toilet floor. I think of me sprawled on the pavement in the blackness of the alley below.

"Messy," I think, "messy and gooey."

I pull off my clothes and crawl into bed.

[1] Dander: “to infuriate, to anger” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[2] Saltpetre: Used as “a sexual suppressant” (David Cressy, Saltpeter: The Mother of Gunpowder [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013], 35).

[3] Blood of the Lamb: “The term “washed in the blood of the Lamb” in the Bible refers to being washed by virtue of the blood of Jesus.” (Reference Dictionary. Web.)

[4] Daffy: “an eccentric, a mad person; hysteria” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[5]  Soft-Soaping: “to flatter, to charm, thus soft-soaping, flattery” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[6] Hophead: “the user of any drug.” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[7] Snow: “cocaine.” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[8] Lick You: “to thrash, to beat up.” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).; referring to giving someone a beating.

[9] Fagged out: “exhausted” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[10] On the Fritz: “impoverished” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web); referring to living on the streets; homeless.

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