top of page

Chapter Four

It is evening.[1] I sit on this park bench and watch the people as they pass. A guy comes down the walk. He twists and wiggles with mincing steps. His eyelashes are mascara'd, and his cheeks are rouged. His lips are flaming red with lipstick. He sits down on this bench beside me. He is perfumed plenty, and he smells pretty good.

"Oho," I think, "this guy is queer, and he doesn't care who knows it."

He pulls out a gold cigarette case and puts a cigarette between his lips. I notice that the lipstick dyes the end of it red. He reaches in his pocket and fumbles for a match. He knows he hasn't got a match. I know he hasn't got a match. We are playing a game.

"Got a match, deary?" he says.

"Sure." I give him a match.

"Care for a smoke?"

I take a cigarette. It is a high-class cigarette. You will not find any like it lying over the curbs. It has a cork tip.

"It's certainly nice in the park this evening," he says.

He purses up his lips and hums like a bird.

"Nicer than last night," I say. "I slept on this bench last night."

This fairy[2] already knows I am on the fritz, but this will make sure he knows it.

"Awful cold?"

"Cold as hell."

"No covers?"

 "Newspapers. Newspapers are warm, but the cold comes up through the cracks in the bench."

 "That is awful," he says.

"Yeah, it sure is tough," I say.

"How do you eat?"

He knows how I eat, but we are playing a game.

"I eat wherever I can," I say. "Sometimes I get a hand-out from a house. Sometimes a cup of coffee from a restaurant."

"You poor dear," he says. "It must be terrible to live like that."

"What can a guy do?" I say. "A guy has got to live."

"Why, I should think you would be skin and bones," he says.

He lays his hand across my leg. I must not jerk my leg away.. He is feeling me out. If I jerk my leg away, he will see that he is not going to make me. This queer will not put out for a meal until he sees that I am a good risk. I leave my knee where it is. These pansies give me the willies, but I have got to get myself a feed. I have not had a decent feed for a week.

"I am not so skinny," I say.

This guy motions around the park.

"Everyone seems to have a girl," he says.

"You have to have dough to get a girl," I say. "Girls are expensive. If you haven't got any dough, you haven't got any girl."

"Did you ever have a girl?" he says.

"Sure, I had a girl," I say, "but I lost my dough, so I lost my girl."

"A good-looking fellow like you ought to get a girl without any money," he says.

He pinches my leg.

I feel the goose-pimples on my leg and the shivers on my back. A pansy like this, with his plucked eyebrows and his rouged lips, is like a snake to me. I am afraid of him. Why I am afraid of this fruit with his spindly legs and his flat chest, I do not know.

"Not so you can notice it," I say. "Girls want the dough."

"Well, sometimes two fellows can have a pretty good time together," he says. "Did you ever go out with any fellows?"

"I never did," I say.

I am lying, but if this queer wants a virgin, that's what he gets.

"I bet you and I could have a wonderful time together," he says. "When two people get to know each other real well, they find they have just a lot in common."

"That's right," I say.

"What are you doing tonight?" he says.

"Not a thing," I say.

"How would you like to go to a good show tonight?"

"I would like that fine, but hell — " I look down at my seedy clothes, and my shoes without soles.

"I can fix you up with clothes," he says. "I have a friend about your size. I will get some from him."

 "That will be fine," I say.

"And a bath," he says,- "you will feel better after a good warm bath. I have a bath in mauve tile in my apartment. You will feel better after a good warm bath."

His eyes sparkle when he mentions the bath. He licks his lips. I notice that he smears the lipstick when he licks his lips. He takes hold of the end of my belt and fingers it.

"That is a nice belt you have on," he says. "That belt must have cost plenty of money when it was new."

My belt is a cheap belt. It cost two bits when it was new. It is old and frayed at the edges now, but we are playing a game. "It is a pretty good belt," I say.

He starts to unfasten it. There are people here. They will see him. I pull away. He notices that I pull away. He lets go of my belt.

"Can you meet me here tonight at eight o'clock?" he says. "Sure, I'll meet you here," I say.

He pulls four bits out of his pocket. He has decided I am a good risk.

"This is for your dinner," he says.

"Thanks," I say. "You are all right."

He pulls out a mirror and straightens the lipstick on his lips.

"Gracious me," he says, "I am a total wreck." He gets up. "Well, deary, don't forget. Toodle-doo until tonight." He wiggles down the walk.

I am a lucky stiff running into this queer. For every queer there is a hundred stiffs to make him[3]. It is seven o'clock. I have an hour to wait. I walk over to this hash-house[4] across the street and order me a beef stew. This joint smells like a slopjar, but the grub is cheap and hits the spot.

"Did you make her?" this skinny stiff next to me at the counter says.

"Make who?" I say.

"Mrs. Carter," he says. "I see you talkin' to her in the park."

"So her name is Mrs. Carter?" I say. "Sure, I made her for four bits. I got a date for tonight."

"You better fill it. She's in the dough. Lousy with it." "Any strings on her?"

"Not now. She was livin' with a stiff she picked up off the street, but Geraldine, that big red-headed guy with the scarred face, took him away from her."

"How did Mrs. Carter like that?" I say.

"Mrs. Carter says that Geraldine is a two-timing bitch. She says that if Geraldine didn't look so much like a wolf, she would pull her hair out by the roots."

"Will she treat a guy right?" I say.

"She will treat a guy swell," he says, "if she likes him. You are a lucky stiff making Mrs. Carter. There are plenty of stiffs in this town would give their eye teeth[5] to make Mrs. Carter."

 "Where does she hang out?"

"She lives up on the Avenue with the swells. The joint she lives in is lousy with queers, and what is more, they are lousy with jack[6]. Mrs. Carter rooms with a cashier of a bank."

"He queer, too?" I say.

"Sure, she's queer," he says, "but you will not have a chance with her. Mrs. Carter would cut your throat if you tried to pull the wool over her eyes. She is a tough customer. She says she will scratch Geraldine's eyes out does she get the chance. My advice is stick to Mrs. Carter."

I finish my beef stew and go back to the park. There are more people here now. The benches are full. They loll on the grass. It is dark. Every other guy is a queer. The other guy is trying to make her. They twist down the walk. They ogle[7] the guys that pass as they sit on the benches. They wink at the prospects.

An old guy sits on the bench across from me. He is as queer as they make them. He keeps ogling at me. I do not pay him any attention. He purses up his lips. He clucks through his teeth like an old hen.

"Missus," I think, "you are wasting your time. I am waiting for my meal ticket. I am waiting for Mrs. Carter. Mrs. Carter rooms with a cashier of a bank, and what is more, she is lousy with jack herself."

I cannot be bothered with an old queer who clucks through his teeth like a hen.

It is a good thing I am not flirting with this old guy, for I spot Mrs. Carter frisking down the walk. The stiffs are winking as she passes. They whistle low. They cannot whistle loud. The coppers will hear them. The coppers will let you whistle low, but not loud. She does not pay them any attention. She breezes straight up to the bench where I am sitting.

"Right on the dot, deary," she croons. "Your glad rags are waiting at the apartment."

I get up. The rest of these stiffs scowl at me. They are jealous. We walk down the street. We are going to this fairy's room. It is misery for me to walk on the street with this queer. People stop in their tracks and watch her wiggle. They look at her rouged lips and her plucked eyebrows. They laugh.

"Oh ho," they say, "she has got a beau."

I turn my eyes to the ground and try not to pay any attention. What the hell? This guy is my meal ticket. I will go right along to his room. I wish we were there now, though. I do not like to have people winking at me. Maybe they will think I am queer, too. I'd like to see some bastard accuse me of being queer. The first guy that calls me a pansy, it will be just too bad for that guy. That guy will never call anyone else a pansy.

We are getting into the ritzy[8] section. There are big apartments on this street. It will cost plenty of jack to pay rent on one of these joints. I can see that this guy is in the big dough, all right. We turn into the one with the red marquee in front. The floor of the hall is covered with blue tile. There are marble statues, and paintings that are real paintings on the walls. This is some joint, all right. We take the elevator. The elevator boy grins at this queer. I bet this guy is one of his best customers. I bet this guy will make this queer, himself. This is a funny world, and there are a lot of funny people in it. That is one thing I have learned since I have been on the road.

We walk down the hall and stop before room 22. He opens the door. I follow him in. My mouth pops open when I stand inside. Never have I seen such a classy lay-out. The walls are black. The ceiling is black, black satin that hangs in folds to the floor. It is a big room, a big room like a room in a palace. A chandelier of glass stretches from the ceiling. It hangs from bronze chains. The links are as big around as my wrist. My shoes sink far down into this thick, gray rug. My shabby shoes without soles do not belong on such a rug as this.

There is another guy sprawled out on a sky-blue lounge. I can see that this guy is queer, too. He is decked out in a peach negligee. It is edged in gold. He crosses his legs as he reads.

 There is no hair on them. They are shaved. On one of his ankles is a bracelet, a silver bracelet. On it is a pink cameo[9] as big as an egg.

"Have a good date, deary?" he says without looking up from his book.

"Look for yourself," Mrs. Carter says.

This guy looks up, and squeals when he sees me. He jerks his negligee down over his legs like a woman would do, and jumps up.

"Stay right where you are, deary," Mrs. Carter says, "this is my date. Meet my room-mate, Gloria," she says to me. "She is cashier in a bank."

"How do you do?" I say.

Gloria does not answer. She is sulking at Mrs. Carter. She lies stomach-down on the lounge and pretends she is reading. She is not reading. She is only pretending.

"Wait here until I change my rags," Mrs. Carter says to me.

She goes into the bedroom and closes the door. Gloria winks at me and squenches up her nose at Mrs. Carter in the bedroom. I do not pay her any attention. I remember what the stiff in the hashhouse told me. I cannot take any chances. Those nails of Mrs. Carter's, sharp-pointed and painted a flaming red, were meant for something. I do not wish to have my eyes scratched out.

"Come and sit by me," she whispers.

I shake my head no.

"Afraid of her?" she says. "She couldn't hurt a flea."

She speaks low, but I am afraid Mrs. Carter will hear. I do not answer.

"You are blond," she says, "and Mrs. Carter is blond. You do not go together. I am brunette. My hair is wavy. Mrs. Carter's is straight."

She tosses her head to show me her hair is wavy.

"I come here with Mrs. Carter," I say. "She bought me a meal. What can I do?"

 "I will buy you plenty of meals, deary," she says, "better meals than she will buy you. How would you like to have a new suit? Your clothes are shabby. How would a new suit be?" "A new suit would be fine," I say. "I could use a new suit." "What color do you like?" she says.

"Gray," I say. "I like a double-breasted gray suit with two pants."

"You would look good in a gray suit," she says; "a gray suit would be the thing. I will get you one tomorrow." "What about Mrs. Carter?" I say.

"Mrs. Carter?" she says. "Who cares about Mrs. Carter. She is an old hag."

"She might hear you in the other room," I say.

She lowers her voice.

"Do you know how old Mrs. Carter is?" she says.

"No," I say, "I don't know."

"Twenty-eight, that's how old. Twenty-eight. If she didn't wear the war paint like a common whore, she'd look fifty."

"You don't use much paint," I say.

"I do not have to use much paint," she says, "I am only twenty-three. When I look as old as Mrs. Carter, I will shoot myself."

"You do not even look twenty-three," I say.

"Do you know what Mrs. Carter will do to you when she is through with you?" she says.

"No," I say. "What will she do?"

"She will kick you out in the cold, that is what she will do. I see her kick plenty of her beaux out in the cold. When she is through, she is through. Now, I like you. I would never kick you out in the cold. You can stay with me as long as you want. I like you a lot. I will take better care of you than Mrs. Carter."

The bedroom door opens. Mrs. Carter comes in. She is wearing a black nightgown that is made of silk.

"You will have to sleep on the lounge tonight, Gloria," she says.

Gloria does not answer. She is burned up[10].

 "Come on in the bedroom," Mrs. Carter says to me.

I follow her in. She makes a face at Gloria as she closes the door.

"She is a cat," she says, "a jealous, two-faced cat."

I sit down on the lounge. She sits down beside me. We are not going to a show. I can see that. That was only a gag.

"Nice place you have here," I say. "I have never seen a classier place." I have to say something.

"Yes, it's nice," she says. "I'm glad you like it. You can stay here for a long time if you want to."

She moves up closer to me and puts her arm over the back of the lounge. Her fingers touch my neck. I feel the cold chills go up my back. I pull away.

She frowns.

"What's the matter?" she says. "Don't you like me?"

"Sure, I like you," I say.

"You don't act like it," she says.

"Well," I say, "a guy likes to get acquainted a little bit first.

Sure, I like you fine, but a guy likes to wait a little first."

"Don't you think I'm pretty?" she says.

"Sure, you're pretty," I say. "You're a good-looking guy, all right."

She frowns again.

"I am not a guy," she says.

"Well," I say, "you're a good-looking —you're a good-looking girl."

"As good-looking as Gloria?"

"Better, a lot better than Gloria."

"She is a slut," she says, "a no-good, double-crossing slut.

She would take you away from me if she could. Could she?"

"Her?" I say. "Not her. She hasn't got a chance. I just can't see Gloria."

I am ashamed of all this. I am sick in the stomach, I am so ashamed of all this. What can I do? What I am doing is all I can do. A stiff has got to live.

"What did she say about me in there? " she says.

 "Nothing," I say. "She didn't say nothing."

"She said something. I heard her mention my name. What did she say?"

"Oh, she said: 'How do you like Mrs. Carter?' That's all she said: 'How do you like Mrs. Carter?' "

"What did you tell her?"

"'Fine,' I said. 'I like her fine.' "

"Did you just say that or did you mean it?"

"I meant it. Sure, I meant it."

"Were you ever in love with anyone? Did you ever have a girl?"

"Sure, I was in love. Sure, I had a girl. I told you in the park I used to have a girl. But I haven't any girl now. I haven't got any dough. No dough, no girl."

"Are you still in love with her?" she says.

"Well," I say, "what good would it do me? What good would it do a stiff if he was in love with his girl? When a guy loses his job in his home town, he has to go on the fritz. He has to grab himself a drag[11] out of town. A guy can't be dinging back doors for hand-outs and flopping behind signboards when his girl lives in the next block."

"I don't want you to have a girl," she says ; "I want you to stay here."

"That is nice of you," I say.

"You won't have to worry about eating here. You won't have to sleep behind signboards, either. I have a nice bed."

Her eyes sparkle when she looks at her bed. It is an oak bed. An oak bed with sky-blue spreads, and pillow slips of silk.

She gets up and crawls into the bed.

"Come on to bed," she says.

"In a little bit," I say.

"It is cold out there. It is nice and warm in here," she says.

I want to put this off as long as possible. But not this guy. He wants to go to bed. He will not talk any more. He yawns. "I can't sleep with the light on," he says. "Come on to bed."

It is chilly here, and I am sleepy. I will have to go to bed some time. This queer will stay awake until I do go to bed.

What the hell? A guy has got to eat, and what is more, he has got to flop.

"Sure," I say, "I am ready for the hay."

You can always depend on a stiff having to pay for what he gets. I pull off my clothes and crawl into bed.

[1] This chapter was excised from the British edition. Instead, its publishing house (Constable) inserted a lengthy justification, which concluded: “We have cut out Chapter IV entirely–cut it out with reluctance and with shame, merely consoling ourselves with the thought that fortunately the continuity of the book is in no way affected. Were we wrong to cut it out? No one can possibly say. Would we have been guilty of corrupting youth had we left it in? Once again, no one–in advance–has the smallest idea.”

[2] Fairy: “a homosexual man” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[3] Make Him: “to make sexual advances (towards).” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[4] Hash House: “a cheap café or restaurant” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[5] Eye Teeth: “If you say that you would give your eyeteeth for something, you mean that you want it very much and you would do anything to get it” (Collins English Dictionary, web.)

[6] Lousy with Jack: “money” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web); here meaning “flush with cash.”

[7] Ogle: “an amorous glance, a frankly sexual stare” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[8] Ritzy: “smart, chic, fashionable; wealthy, affluent” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[9] Cameo: “a small piece of sculpture on a stone or shell cut in relief in one layer with another contrasting layer serving as background” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, web).

[10] Burned Up: “annoyed” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[11] Drag: “as a vehicle, i.e. that which is dragged (by horses or an engine)” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web); referring to a slow freight train here.

bottom of page