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Chapter Eight

I wait, and, Christ, but the hour goes slow. I stand in this soup-line. Back of me and before me stretch men. Hundreds of men. I huddle in the middle of the line. For two hours I have stood here. It is night, and ten minutes before they start to feed. The wind whistles round the corners and cuts me like a knife. I have only been here for two hours. Some of these stiffs have been here for four. Across the street people line the curb. They are watching us. We are a good show to them. A soupline two blocks long is something to watch. These guys on the curb are not in any soup-line. They have good jobs. They have nothing to worry about. It must be pretty soft not to have anything to worry about.

Sixty seconds in a minute, I think, and ten minutes. That makes six hundred seconds. If I count up to six hundred, slow, they will be started when I finish. I begin to count. I count to a hundred, but I can get no further. I have to stop. I am too cold to count. I stomp my feet on the concrete walk. I swing my arms high over my head. It is a damn shame to stand in this line as cold as I am, but I have to stay. I am hungry. I have to get a little something in my belly. I wait. We stiffs in the souplines are always waiting. Waiting for the line to start moving. The bastards. They keep us standing out in the cold for advertisement. If they let us in and fed us, where would the advertisement be? There wouldn't be any. They know that. So they keep us out in the cold so these people on the curb can have their show.

There is a commotion up in front of me. Stiffs bunch around in a knot. A cop pushes them back in line. There is a stiff stretched out on the ground. He is an old stiff with gray hair. His eyes are wide open, but he does not move a lick. He is tired of waiting for this line to start moving. He is stretched out on the concrete, and dead as four o'clock. I can see that this stiff is lucky. There will be no more waiting for him. They cover him up with a sheet and load him in the mission truck. He is off to the morgue. There is no fuss when a stiff kicks off in a soup-line. There is no bother. They throw a sheet over him and haul him away. All he needs now is a hearse and six feet of ground, and they will have to give him that. That is one thing they will have to give him. And it will not make any difference to him how long he has to wait for it. It must burn them up plenty to have to give a stiff six feet of ground for nothing.

This old stiff croaking like this out in the cold puts this bunch in a bad humor. They shove and cuss at these guys in the mission who make us stand in the cold. They can see that we mean business. They open the doors and let us in. A mission stiff hands us a pie pan, a tin cup, and a spoon. We carry them up to where these guys are standing over these tubs of stew. It is scorching hot in here. These mission stiffs that are ladling out the stew are sweating. The sweat drips from their faces and falls in the stew. But that is nothing. What is a little sweat to a stiff? What can a stiff do about it if it maybe turns his stomach?

We get our pan of stew and our cup of water and sit down at the table. The room is filled with these tables. A mission stiff walks along the aisles with a basketful of stale bread. He throws it to us like a guy throwing slop to hogs, and we catch it. This stew is made of carrots that were rotten when they were cooked, but we eat it. We have to. A stiff can't stand the cold outside unless he has a little something in his belly. I bolt down this stew and get out. The smell of this place will turn a guy's stomach. It smells like a slop-jar.

Now for a smoke. I am dying for a smoke, but I am not holding any smoking. I keep my eye peeled over the curb. A guy will throw a snipe on the walk, and a wind will come along and blow it over the curb. You will find your biggest snipes[1] over the curb. I spot one in front of this drug store. It is a big one. It is not half smoked. I can see that the guy who threw this butt away was in the big dough. I slouch up to this snipe and stop. I put my feet between it and the store. I lean down to tie my shoe. I am not tying my shoe. I am picking up this snipe. What these guys in the drug store don't know won't hurt them.

I walk back to this mission and stop by this stiff who leans up against the telephone pole. He is sporting a pretty good front. He carries a roll of chicken wire under his arm. You can hardly tell this guy is a stiff.

"That was awful stew," I say.

"What was?" he says.

"That slop they feed you in the mission."

"You eat that slop?"

"What else is a guy going to eat?" I say. "A guy can't starve."

"A stiff with brains don't need to eat slop, and he don't need to starve," this guy says.

"Sez you," I say.

"Sez me," he says. "I have got a ten-cent piece." He pulls this ten-cent piece out of his pocket. "What would you buy if you had a ten-cent piece?"

I think. What can a stiff buy with a ten-cent piece when he is half starved? Well, a good cup of coffee will hit the spot right now. A good cup of warm coffee will go a long way when you are hungry.

"Coffee and sinkers is what I would buy if I had a ten-cent piece," I say.

"And that is just why you have to eat slop," he says.

"What has that got to do with me eating slop?" I say.

"You do not use your brains," he says. "Why do you think I lug a roll of chicken wire under my arm?"

"I have been wondering about that ever since I see you on the comer," I say. "Why do you lug it?"

"The coppers," he says, "that's why."

"What do coppers have to do with chicken wire?" I say.

"When you walk up the main stem," he says, "how do you go, fast or slow?"

"Any stiff knows that," I say. "I go as fast as hell. If you do not go fast, the goddam coppers will stop you and frisk you on the street."

"You are right," he says. "But I don't walk fast on the main stem or anywhere else, and the coppers don't bother me."

"They don't bother you?" I say.

"They do not," he says. "They don't think I am a stiff. What would a stiff be doin' with a roll of chicken wire under his arm?"

"You are a smart stiff," I say. "I have never tried that."

"It's just as easy to be a smart stiff as a dumb stiff," he says. "All coppers are dumb. A smart stiff will fool a copper every time."

"You didn't say what you were going to do with your ten cent piece," I say.

"I will show you some brains that are real brains and not imitations," he says. "We blow this dough for two doughnuts, see? Then we hot-foot it to a corner where a bunch of dames is waitin' for a street-car. We plant one of these doughnuts on the curb and go across the street. When enough dames is waitin' there, I duck across the street, dive at this sinker, and down it like I ain't et for a week. Dames is soft, see. This racket is good for a buck and sometimes two bucks."

I can see that this stiff has got brains, and what is more, he has got imagination.

"How long have you been working this little trick?" I say.

"Since I have been on the fritz," he says.

"And the bulls, don't the bulls ever break up your racket?" I say.

"Bulls!" he says. "I am too smart for the bulls. Come on, and I will show you why I don't eat the slop they throw out in the mission."

We go into this bakery and buy two doughnuts. They are no ordinary doughnuts. They are big and honey-dipped. I have never seen a prettier picture than these two doughnuts. That is because I am damn near starved. I want to sink my teeth into one of them, but I know that that is foolishness. After I was through eating it, I would be hungrier than ever. When you are starved and get a little something to eat, you are hungrier than ever. We can't waste any time eating one of these doughnuts. We are on our way to try out a little scheme that took lots of brains to think up.

We slouch down the street until we spot a good comer. There are a bunch of women waiting there for a street-car. When it comes along and they get on, we take this chance to lay one of our doughnuts on the curb. We put it in plain sight. Anyone waiting for a car can see it. I carry the other one, and we walk across the street and wait. In a little while there is another bunch of women on this corner. There are some men too, but we are not interested in the men. Men are hard, but women are soft. A woman does not like to see a hungry stiff starve to death. A man does not care if a stiff starves to death or not.

"Now is my chance," this stiff says.

He slouches across the street. I stand here and watch him. He has got the guts, all right. There is no doubt that this guy has got the guts. I can see now why this guy does not need to eat mission slop. A stiff with this much guts can live like a king. He stops across the street and lets his eyes fall on this doughnut on the curb. It is a picture sitting there. I expect to see him make a dive for it, but he does not. This stiff is deeper than that. He knows how to do it. He just stands there and watches it. These women see him looking. I can see they are thinking why will a guy stand on the street and watch a doughnut? He walks on by and stops a little ways up the street. Pretty soon he comes back. He walks far over to the curb and snatches it up on the fly. He hits it over behind a telephone pole. By the way he acts, you would think this was the first doughnut this stiff ever snatched off the curb. You would not think this guy has been pulling this gag for years. He downs this doughnut almost whole. It looks as though this stiff is plenty starved. You would think he has not eaten in a month of Sundays[2]. That is what these women think. That is what he wants them to think.

This big fat woman in the brown coat reaches down in her pocketbook and fishes out some change. She walks over behind the post and hands it to this stiff. He shakes his head no, but he holds out his hand yes. This guy wants it to look as though it hurts his pride to take dough from this woman. I can see that this guy will never need to swill slop in a mission. If one person is going to be big-hearted, everybody wants to be big-hearted. Four or five of these women fish around in their pocketbooks and walk over to this stiff who hides behind the post. This is real money. This is not chicken-feed that this guy is taking in. One of these women shells out a buck. I can see the green of it from across the street. If I had the guts, I can see that there would be one more dummychucker[3] in this town tomorrow than there is today. You just dive down on a doughnut, and these women do the rest.

He thanks these women and walks up the street. In a little while I walk after him. I do not want these women to think I am with him.

"You are the stuff," I say. "That is the prettiest little trick I have seen in a long time."

"You will go a long way before you find a prettier little racket than dummy-chucking," he says. "How much do you think I cleaned up on that doughnut?"

"I don't know," I say, "but I saw you get a buck."

"Two bucks and sixty-five cents," he says. "That is how much I made on one doughnut, and you wanted to spend that ten-cent piece on a cup of lousy coffee. You have got to have brains and imagination to get along on the fritz.”

Me and this stiff hot-foot it to a restaurant and order up a good meal. This guy is alright when he leaves he slips me a four-bit piece

“Any stiff that eats mission slop ought to have his fanny kicked,” he says. “There are too many doughnuts in this world for a stiff to eat mission slop.”   

I sit here in this restaurant and think. Why can’t I do what this stiff does? I have as much brains as he has. I have the imagination, too. But I cannot do it. It is the guts. I do not have the guts to dive down on a doughnut in front of a bunch of women. There is no use talking. I will never have the guts to do that.

[1] Snipes: “(US) picking up cigarette ends from the gutter; thus snipe-shooter n., shoot a snipe/shoot” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

[2] month of Sundays: “a very long time” (Farlex Dictionary of Idioms, web).

[3] Dummychucker: “(UK/US Und.) one who throws fake epileptic fits, either to fool medical assessors, or, when in public, to allow confederates to pick the pockets of a crowd who gathers round the supposed sufferer” (Greene’s Slang Dictionary, web).

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