RIDIN' THE BLINDS
Every Sunday Lorry kept looking through the want ads and opportunity columns to see if he couldn't locate a position for himself. There were lots of traveling salesmen wanted; the idea of going on the road appealed to him; he wanted to get out of Kansas City, Missouri. Perhaps, elsewhere he might strike some luck; but he felt if he stayed around the stockyards or Mawx's livery stables all afternoon or hung about the Star Ladies Barber Shop and upper 12th in front of the up-to-date, swell, chorine hotels, he would never get on. Better to bum around the country, than be a city bum, he thought; he would at least get some experience out of that. Of course, if he could travel from state to state in a refined way, sleeping in Pullmans, eating in dining cars, that would be much better. As a salesman he could do all that; he could have money, wear classy vests, and wind up seeing the Grand Canyon.
But something worried him about all this. He had heard that high-class salesmen with large territories made as much as fifteen thousand a year. Drummers, who came into the shop when he was small, always seemed to have money to burn. If he remembered, they always carried a staple line, Libby's milk and canned foods or Rogers' silverware. If one could step into something like that, he might not feel so shaky about salesmanship; but he didn't know how to go about it; he didn't have any pull, and he felt he would never have the guts to go canvassing from house to house. If a fellow had backbone he could do it, but he didn't think he had any backbone.
Or if he could get into the offices of Armour's Packing Company, not as a stoop-shouldered clerk, but as private secretary to some big gun, that would be a way out of the rut. Of course, he didn't know how to take shorthand or do any typing, but he could catch on to that soon enough, if some one with connections and enough inside dope could work it for him.
One morning, going through as usual his Sunday Kansas City Star he noticed an ad that called for men who wanted to take up educational work as a profession and get paid while learning. Perhaps it was another one of those gags to draw suckers in, he thought, but he would call and see what it was all about.
The following Monday he was at the office at nine sharp. A lot of other men, snappily dressed and with salesmanship confidence were seated, smoking Fatimas while waiting their turns. Lorry was a little bit nervous, thought of leaving, but stuck around to see it through. He knew that once he got started, he had the gift of gab and could make an impression. When he was let into the private, office, he said "glad to meet you, sir,'" put in a few words, gotten out with snappy precision, listened with deference to the director without hearing much what he said, and was hired punctiliously.
When he got home to tell his mother that he was leaving for Beatrice, Nebraska the day after tomorrow, he was muddled about certain particulars. The first day he was to spend familiarizing himself with the catalogue, learning what visualization in education meant, and understanding just what psychology of talk was. The word salesman was avoided; they were not salesmen, they were told, but educators. Of course, they would have to do some pioneering; get the mothers interested, do the women's auxiliaries, speak before the different chambers of commerce; then everything would be easy rolling. He was to get twelve dollars a week, as a start, of course. This troubled him; he wasn't quite certain, as he was so absorbed in his own thoughts while the director was speaking to him, if he received the twelve dollars, whether his commissions averaged that or not. He couldn't remember whether there was a hitch there. The director seemed to skim over that, as the twelve one-dollar greenbacks didn't appear to concern the executive. However, his mother didn't warm up to the proposition as he had expected. She didn't want him to leave town. She wasn't quite sure what was best for Lorry; he was a good talker; he might get along and pick up some extra money. Anyway, she knew in the end she would have to give in to him.
Two mornings later the train pulled out; the crew had already gotten into their seats; as the westbound local moved slowly out of the iron trainshed, Lorry stood on the steps waving to his mother who wiped her steaming pince-nez glasses, her face fisted up, and on him.
They got into Beatrice in the evening; Lorry hadn't gotten chummy with any of the others, and stayed at a separate hotel. He walked about the town for a little, the lights of the candy store and gasoline station across from it making him lonely.
The next morning the crew and the manager got together. He assigned districts, spoke in a peppery, go-get-'em way, like a spittin' oracle; while Lorry was all the time trying without success to overcome the scarlet that was tingling all over his face. Cutting short with a "now, boys, let's get to work," he went off, the crew breaking up, mostly in couples, leaving Lorry behind up against a lamp-pole, asking himself why he had come, when he knew - while he was trying to wriggle out of what he knew - that it was a door-to-door canvass. He was shaky, had stagefright, felt as though he had locomotor ataxia or what it might feel to have it; he ambled about, turning into by-wagonroads or following the pavement down toward the shanty railway waiting room. Something had gotten into his mind which he was trying to push out; the idea of pulling out of that one cowtown and, perhaps, catching a train on the fly, and bumming off somewhere, kept sticking to him. But he didn't want to think of it; he ought to make a stab at selling anyway; it might do him some good to try to live down those creepy sensations he got whenever he thought of ringing some strange doorbell and rehearsing his sales talk, "Good-morning, madam, I'm representing the neo-educational league. A new method, based on scientific experimentation, for interesting your boy or girl in his studies. Visualization is what we call it. May I step in? Thank you. Every member of our crew is a college man, of course. We're out to get your subscription. The more names we secure the better hope there is of getting the Beatrice Board of Education to lay aside its old cobweb principles and take up visualization. Incidentally, the one of us who receives the most votes, each subscription, madam, counts as a vote, receives a college scholarship which entitles him to free tuition. By subscription you will be helping two causes. . . " Every time he repeated that, hoping to bolster himself up, something seemed to go out of his knees, and his mind went back again to that westbound train. He saw there was no use going over it; he had better push himself through somebody's door to get started either in or out.
Feebly he tapped at a door, not finding a bell, and kicked up against the gate, relieved that no one was at home.
A little girl coming out on the porch, called, "Whatcha want, mister?"
"'Sall right, come back," fumbled Lorry rapidly walking away, as though he had just assaulted somebody.
Down the road, he rapped with a little more get-up, straightening out his shoulders, with a "Fine morning, Mrs. Waters. Just been in to see your neighbor, Mrs. Kidder" on the tip of his tongue.
A woman came out with greasy-looking gray hair which seemed as though it had just gotten into the soup, saw a book under his arm, and slammed the door at him with a "don't 'low agents nor dogs here."
He stood there, his skin dryly stretched over his pushed-out cheek bones; something kept buzzing in his ears, and he couldn't seem to move or jerk himself out of it for the life of him. He dragged through the yard-dust, and on the other side of the fence; he stumbled on, tripping up against a jutting bed of rock which stuck out sharply above the other part of the road. Shambling on, he kept thinking up smart answers he might have whizzed over to that thing at the door. He was having a dialogue with himself; then he stopped, coming to, and thought he had better lay down on the job and skip. After a while he tried another, he had heard about the worst; besides, he thought of rounding out the morning before getting a bite. He almost sold a set of visualization catalogues to an old woman who asked him in, gave him a cup of hot coffee and a piece of homemade chocolate cake; it was for her grandson, and she would have to see her boy about it.
After a sandwich and a piece of pie at a lunch counter, he got off the main highway for fear he'd run into the manager or some one in the crew. He didn't want to wait and hear how many sets they had sold or listen to some wise bird in the crew haw out how many votes he had binned down. He slunk into the waiting room; his eyes zigzagged the time-table; a local was due at 1.15 and was headin' for Omaha, the corn center. Twenty-eight minutes to wait; if he could lay low till it pulled in, he could sneak out of those sticks without being seen. He got a ticket, sat hunched over in a corner behind a cold coal stove, watching the clock hands worm around. Suddenly he jerked up, rushed over to the hotel, up the stairs, went for his valise, checked out, and tore back. A few minutes later the locomotive puffed in, he slid his suitcase inside, swung on, and finding a seat, the train left Beatrice, Nebraska.
In Omaha he got a single room at the Paxton; it was a transient hotel for men on the road; lot of sporting women stayed there; it catered also to permanent roomers, and almost any day, when the sun was out, there was a string of loungers warming their bottoms in half-tipped cane chairs on the sidewalk. Some straws, and a Panama or two still shaded halfdozing eyes - although the straw hat season was up - which got the scraping wbeels of the street car and a slant on a leg up from the French heel as they skidded around the corner.
The first few days Lorry killed inside the movies; he took his meals at the cafeterias which were just coming in then, to cut down expenses. A fruit salad and some cake with milk was usually enough for him in the evening; some hot cakes at a lunch counter was his breakfast. He slept late in the mornings, always somewhat groggy as he got out of bed; and hardly ever turned in till after midnight.
His evenings were the hardest to pass away. He wanted to date up some fast woman hanging about the Paxton lobby; but he knew it was useless, as he didn't have the cash to show her a good time. Often, when he was about to go up to the room, a keen-looking skirt ascending in the elevator at the Paxton threw him off his resolution to roll into bed early so that he could be out in time to look for a job. He was never certain whether they had given him the once-over or not; and sometimes he would dash up the steps, his nerves in his fingers, see what floor the elevator stopped on, and walk by her room as she unlocked it, his eyes passing over into her tightly-skirted body. Afraid to stop or to try and get chatty, he walked down the hallway, coming back a minute later, standing in front of her door, hoping she would open it and ask him in. Traveling salesmen in Pullmans told stories like that, but nothing of the sort ever happened to him. Most of the time he wound up the night pacing the streets, following some woman to her doorstep, thinking she perhaps might sense what was going on in him, and let him talk to her. He thought of going to some dance hall, but his suit wasn't snappy enough, and his heels were badly run-down on one side; besides, most of them were coupled up. He always kept hoping he might run into Venus; he didn't know how to look her up; he didn't have her house number, and she wasn't in the telephone directory.
After he had paid his first week's bill at the Paxton and realized how low he was getting on cash, he decided he was going to get down to business. There was no use prowling the streets at night; he would never have any luck anyway; he might as well buck up and get to work. He spent his next few mornings sticking around employment agencies; he hadn't lined up anything yet; there was no likelihood either of getting a position as a floor-salesman in one of the large department stores. The war was over; and he heard there was a great letting down in production in all the big industries. That affected the small man too.
One afternoon he took his Hamilton railroad timekeeper to a pawnshop and hocked it for twelve bucks. He could have gotten much more; but he expected to take it out of hock soon, and that would be stiff if he pawned it for all it was worth. Having had nothing to eat, he dropped into a quick lunch, ordered up some Boston baked beans and a cup of steaming coffee, and then headed straight for the employment bureaus, considerably out of his shoes.
He found out that a crew of laborers were being shipped to Greening, Wyoming for road work on the Union Pacific. Lorry went in, stood in line, waiting his turn, but when he reached the table where the hiring agent stood, the latter toughened up with a "gimme a look at them hands, bo." Taking hold of Lorry's hands which he turned up on their palms, he corkscrewed the side of his mouth, "Them cornflake mitts won't do."
Others, some in overalls and in khaki shirts who knew the ropes, drew up their muscles, almost pushing their fists into the agent's face with a smirk, and got railroad passes for Greening, Wyoming. Lorry peered over the shoulder of a fellow who had just been O.K.'d, and who was examining the number on the piece of green pasteboard which was to give him a free ride for a thousand miles. Otherwise the card was blank; the number was scribbled on it in pencil. Lorry slipped out; he didn't want to make himself noticeable; scouting around the town, he dropped into printers' offices and into stationery stores asking for a piece of green cardboard.
In his hotel room, he scissored a piece square, pencilled a likely number on it, and packed his suitcase. He would have to clear out; he couldn't stall any longer; another week's rent was up, and he didn't have enough on him to meet it. Putting on a bold front and walking out of the hotel was the only way he could see clear. If they caught him they would probably have him locked up for petty larceny or violation of some hotel rule; but he had to risk it; he had to get out of Omaha; couldn't stand sticking around there any more; he was fed up with it.
Going down in the elevator, he went straight for the desk, leaving his valise next to a long wooden bench in the lobby facing the side exit. He glanced over some Union Pacific travel pamphlets in a decisive, business-like manner, took out his wallet, handed the clerk at the desk his last five, asking him for a couple of postage stamps, turned about, pretentiously placed his wallet back in his side coat pocket, catching the eye of the bellhop near the side exit, and started in that direction. Approaching his valise, the bellhop slid across the marble floor for it; Lorry, seeing out of the corner of his eye, while he was thoughtfully perusing the pamphlet, that there were several people at the desk screening off the vision of the desk clerk, he told the bellhop, gesturing offhandedly, to take it outside and that he would be with him in a moment. Turning the leaf of the Union Pacific booklet he moved for the door, his feet running after one another faster than he wanted them to. Outside, he tipped the bellhop a half buck, took his suitcase, started down the street at a dignified, leisurely gait at first, gradually getting closehuddled to the buildings, and then turned down a side street. At the next corner he caught a street car on the fly which happened to be going down to the railroad station.
Going into the American Express Railway Company he handed his suitcase over to a billing clerk to be shipped collect to Los Angeles. He had made up his mind he was going to bum his way out to the coast. He wanted to see California, the land of Sunkist oranges. Then he beat it out of the railroad terminal district; he was afraid he might look suspicious hanging about there and be picked up by a plainclothesman. He couldn't take chances and lose his freedom. That's all that seemed to matter now. The bulls were getting stricter, he heard; there were too many hoboes and second-story men floating around the country since the war.
That night he went into the cheap section of Omaha to rent a room for the night. He saw a couple of places where they had rooms, which were only half-partitioned and had to be shared with some stranger. They were only two bits a night, but he was sort of leery of them; sleeping on a cot, which looked dirty, slept-in, and roachy in the same cubiclelike space with some lousy stick-'em-up fellow for all he knew didn't appeal to him. Toward midnight he rented a clean-looking room in a more respectable hotel for a dollar.
Early the next morning he left the hotel, got some ham and eggs, and then walked down to the railroad yards outside of the station. The train was leaving at 7.12, going out on track 8, the number of the locomotive above the green headlight 213. He kept in the background, out of sight, and caught it as it came around the curve, hanging on tenaciously till he got a sure foothold and then crawled in between the blinds between the mail and baggage car. He had lit out of Omaha.
At a stop where the firemen took on water, he jumped down, located the car in which the Greening, Wyoming crew were seated, opened the door, and slipped into the lavatory, staying there till the train paced up again. Sticking the green pass into his cap between the fastening button, he came out and took a seat on the wooden bench next to another.
"Goin' to that -- hole of a Greening, buddy?" asked the fellow opposite him.
"Yep," returned Lorry in a low voice, his eyes fidgeting, as they saw the conductor nearing. He came by, looked at their passes, and went on.
"Greening's no place for a white man. Worse than the Mohave to get out of," came back the fellow across from him, wetting his dusty throat with his spit which he pushed down on the floor, scraping his hobnailed shoe over it.
"I suppose," returned Lorry, wiping his face with his dirty handkerchief. It wasn't noon yet; he'd have to sit up all night; it was a through train; he didn't know how he would get anything to eat.
Around 11.30 the others took their eats out of paper sacks, and started to pack away a couple of sandwiches. The fellow opposite him was eating away, his eyes in the paper bag, not looking at him. Lorry got up, moved through the aisle, and looked out of the door-window at the flat tableland passing him. The country looked parched and lolling like an old meaty dog with his tongue out. Looking for a paper sanitary cup, and finding none, he pressed down the faucet handle holding one hand under it to get the water as it came out in a thin, shaky stream. He tasted it, made a face; it had the stink of metal about it, like the water in a tin chamber pot. He came back after a while and tried to doze off. A foursome across the aisle were rattling way, the rest were quiet and seemed to have fallen in with the jogging motion of the train.
Towards six they took out their eats again; Lorry rose, swayed a little, as he passed through the aisle to the door-window again. The train had made a short halt in a small town; but he was afraid to get down; he didn't want to become too conspicuous, or take the chance of missing the train. The train wasn't due in Greening till 12.40 the next day. He thought of taking a drop of water again; but he felt that would only sicken him. He slept fitfully through the night; when he awakened some time before 5.30 the fellow across from him was beside him. He moved away from him, looking at the dull, metallic sky. He still had three one-dollar bills in his pocket; he could get a few decent feeds out of that. Seven hours to go; couldn't sleep any more, he kept looking at the country go by, still, not even alive as a cemetery, no vegetation, no memories there, getting into desert; they would soon be hitting Wyoming. He might get on to Cheyenne afterwards; he had heard about it as a boy; cowboy country, poker games, maybe he could get something to do there, and see a bit of the old dime-novel wild west fast dying out. He wanted to feel his pocket to see if his wallet was still there; but he didn't want to budge against the fellow next him, and tried to doze for a bit.
Later the hobnailed shoes shuffling out awakened him. Seeing an agent outside counting the men as they filed by and checking them off, he got off the other side of the tracks, going back a ways till the train went on.
Some twenty minutes afterwards he walked back along the wooden trestles avoiding the pointed cinders which cut into the thin soles of his shoes. A pipe shooting cold water was sticking up out of a triangle of damp grass; he moved over to it, put his face under it, letting the water run over his face and down his mouth. A little refreshed he looked about him for a lunch counter to fill up his sick belly. Patting his side pocket to see if his wallet was there, he abruptly stuck his hand into it, fumbling from one to the other rummaging through his inside coat pocket. he thought back for a moment; where could he have dropped it? He searched again.
Mechanically he dragged into the waiting room and slouched, his back looped over, his head appearing tied to it like a knotted laundry bag. Trying to join the Union Pacific road gang was out of the question; the agent would soon find out his pass number was faked up and there would be hell to pay. He wanted to go on; stick around for the next freight; pulling out his handkerchief, a coin fell down, rolling over the floor. Bending down he picked up the nickel and trudged out looking for a bakery. He went into a general merchandise store and bought a box of Loose Wiles Graham crackers and chewed on them, getting added taste out of them by drinking large quantities of water that fell out of the pipe outside the waiting room.
Toward the late part of the afternoon he caught an Acme freight going west. He climbed up on top and lay flat on his back. He kept an eye open on the lookout for the brakeman who made his rounds from one box car to the other watching for hoboes. If you had a union card, he heard, they wouldn't bother you; but he had never been in any kind of trade union; so he had to watch his step and keep his ears open.
He went into a dead sleep, awakening at night in a railroad yard. It looked like a big junction to him; the box cars were standing still; the engine was gone; they probably shunted and cut them; he couldn't make out. He got down, his bones blue and sticklike, getting a kick back all through him as he hit the ground. He felt all rheumatic, his body like the sooty side of an open coal box car. There were a lot of cars silently sprawled on different tracks that weren't made up. A locomotive, squeaking back on one track and headin' forward on another, made him feel less isolated. A signal night watchman was swinging red and green lanterns. It seemed that another train was being made up; some of the box cars which rammed into one another and coupled were Armour and Swift refrigerators; others were empty cattle cars. Down a bit a gang of boes were about, warming themselves at a bonfire near the watchman's station that was built like an outhouse. Lorry was cold, but kept away; he was a little leery of tramps and bums on the road.
As the cars and the engine coupled, some twenty-five boes jumped her; they were on the sides of the locomotive; some behind the coal car; others on top of the box car. The freight pulled out; Lorry threw out his arms, his fingers choking the metal rung of a ladder at the side. On top, he was two box cars down and away from the gang. He could hear them talking above the pensive scraping of the freight wheels. A couple of niggers, the rest whites started to come back; he wanted to dodge, but didn't know where to go. He sat there, his right arm twisted around the back of him, his body wiring against the tumbling-down night.
"Iz yu all a gerl, bo?" a nigger asked, splicing his mouth wide to get it out. Another hobo looked at him. Lorry looked suspicious there alone, shivering, his cap pulled down over his ears as though hiding long hair done up in a knot.
"Not hardly," coughed Lorry.
They stood about, divvying up a few potatoes they had roasted in the bonfire, then they trailed back, some bo hissing a "beat it, the brakeman!-"
"Pipe down, bo," growled a mick, "we'll throw the sonofabitch off if he comes this here way."
Lorry, who was apart, dropped down, hanging on to the sideladder for a long time, but no one appeared. Coming up again, he moved from one box car to the other, trying some of the sliding doors at the side. Finding one open, he swung himself down, falling inside. He closed it and huddled up in a corner. There was no straw around, and the bottom boards were splintered, with a stiff, desolate-feeling air coming up through the cracks. He kept fidgeting about, not seeming able to get fitted in right against some corner; there was a smell of human excreta coming from somewhere in the box car. He went off for an hour or so, and jarred up by some bump or other, it was hard to doze off again. The cold kept getting into him, tightening up his joints.
Some time early in the morning he stood up, stiff as a nail, kicking one foot out after the other to get the ache out of his knees, which felt as hollow to him as a bone chewed raw by an alley dog. Catching onto the ladder, he went above again. The boes were lying about, smokeridden figures. Lorry went over, sitting within earshot.
He heard one bo say, "Jailbirds, we're hittin' near Ogden; they's a lot of bulls thair; if you all wanchur dry bread and stew go on into Ogden an' getch yurselves pinched."
That's the way they took it, thought Lorry, a good way, no doubt; but he couldn't. He didn't care if he never saw any grub, he wanted his freedom, he wanted to knock about, hit the road whenever he felt like it, bum around the country. He would get through somehow, but he didn't want to run into a bull and be locked up. That began to bother him; he looked down; the train was rattling away at forty anyway; he wasn't sure; but he knew he couldn't jump. He'd have to wait till they got outside the yards of Ogden, Utah. He'd have to lay low, too, when he got in; he might get picked up in the streets. He wasn't quite sure what he would do yet.
Pulling into the yards outside of Ogden, Lorry jumped, hitting the coal cinders. He went down solid, bleeding at the hands and knees, and limped out of the railroad yards, stumbling toward the Lincoln Highway. He trudged along. half-heartedly hailing passing autos; he was too dirty; his shoes half off him; cinders in his ears; soot through his hair; no one would stop for him; they might think he was a stick-up. There was no way for him to change his clothes; his suitcase was probably in L. A. by this time. He would give a lot for a clean handkerchief and a piece of soap. He didn't dare go into the Ogden railway station; nothing would finish him sooner. No use moping, he thought; he had to get on. According to a milepost, he was about thirty-six miles from Salt Lake City; an interurban went by; there were a number of Mormon farms around, he believed; it would be pleasant riding decently into the Mormon center.
A Ford sedan coming along halted. "Can take you as far as Salt Lake if you're going that way," said the driver who looked like one of those good fellows on the road.
"Thanks very much," returned Lorry, getting in.
"Where you from, don"t mind my asking?" went on the man, making the bend.
"No, not at all, Kansas City."
"Whew! Are you one of those, I'm from Missouri, you've got to show me fellows?"
"I don't think so," answered Lorry, looking about him at the dry, humorless country.
He turned out to be a cigarette salesman. They made a few stops on the road at some candy, cigarette, and combination soda and sandwich counters. Then they headed on toward Salt Lake, where he took Lorry into a classy hotel restaurant and ordered up a real meal for him. Going into the lavatory first, Lorry put his head under the faucet, scrubbed his neck, ears, and face with the liquid soap that came out of a small tap connected with a cylindrical bottle. The salesman rambled on about spiritualism, his family, his wife, and two kids. Lorry listened; and when they parted the cigarette salesman said he was the brightest lad he had ever picked up. One had to be careful, he shook hands, who you were giving a ride; you never knew who was going to blackjack you and take your car. Well, he liked company, he concluded, and he was glad to have met him. He'd pick him up any time he ever saw him on the highway again. With a "so long" he slipped him a buck, and drove off.
He would sleep between the sheets that night; that was something. Of course, he wouldn't go blowing in his buck on a bed for the night. He had just had his fill of an honest-to-goodness feed; so he could keep going till morning without tightening his belt. As for getting a job, he couldn't tell. Salt Lake didn't impress him very much; it looked like a pretty cheap town to him; the thought of that made him sag a little. His good spirits went out like an old oil lamp. But at least he had gotten far enough to size up a burg. There was something about its gutters, shanties, macadam roads, depot, that got into his nostrils and gave him the feel of a town. Cities were smells that came from butcher shops, gasoline fumes, the storekeeper; he got at things through his nose, the way the American estimates other peoples, always through their sweats and kitchens.
He knocked about for a bit till he bumped into the bum section of town; he needed some sleep badly; he was all played out, he could feel that. A fellow had to watch out for himself or before he knew it, he would be down with t.b. . . . It was hard finding a clean hotel cheap; there was always something musty and oppressive like stale, leaking gas - and the ghastly white plaster got into his bones after a while. All that got him, like a mortuary, alley wind. Perhaps, it occurred to him, he might put up for the night at one of those mission houses; they ought to be fairly clean and reasonable; some well-laundered sheets on the cot, maybe even a regular-sized bed, and some doughnuts and hot coffee in the morning free of charge if you did a few hymns and some prayers with them. It would be worth it. But he was too fagged out to go on; he went inside a punk hotel, he could make that out before he opened the door. Well, what could one expect for two bits? Outside was a sign hanging crosswise, "Beds Twenty-Five and Fifty Cents." There weren't really any rooms there; space had been partitioned off, with four cots to a compartment for two bits, and two at fifty cents. He didn't like parting company with his buck; so he only let go of a quarter; after all, once he slept, what would be the difference? The afternoon wasn't quite out yet; so he could be alone for a time anyway. He dropped off his shoes, thinking as he looked at his holey, smelly socks that he had better drop in to the five and ten the next day for a pair.
Some hours later, he woke up feeling all groggy; maybe he had hit the hay too soon after his feed; he couldn't seem to get to sleep again. He was itchy all over; and for a minute he couldn't imagine what it could be. Of course, he hadn't had a bath since he was at the Paxton; and he hadn't gone in strong for them then, as he was too down to make any sort of effort. Perhaps, he had the measles or scarlet fever; dirty as he was he must have been collecting all kinds of germs. Suddenly it occurred to him to examine the bedsheets and the pillowcase; but the electric-bulb light hanging in the hallway was too thin to see anything. He had to give it up, he supposed. But he couldn't stop thinking about it. Finally he slipped into his pants and went out to the toilet. He got up as close under the light as he could, and looked under his b.v.ds. A lot of bumps on his skin; "Goddam bedbugs!" he let out. "Hell I'm goin' to get out of this lousy joint!"
When he was back on his cot again, he cooled off a little; his bones ached and felt as though they were splintered up; what was the use? He had better put up with it for the night. He needed a rest. Suddenly he jumped out from under the blanket and felt in his pants pocket to see if his six bits was still there. He didn't know how he could have left it open like that in his trousers. Two of the other three cots there were lain in; the bodies only partly undressed lay half out of the blankets which looked like mealy flour. Their socks, sticking out and loosely puffed about the toes, stunk; and their nostrils spread out like an uncorked stale beer bottle made him nose toward the wall next to him. Stealthily he counted his six bits, stacked it, and knotted it in his dirty handkerchief. Then as he used to do in the orphanage, whenever he had a dime or a quarter, he slipped it under his bedsheet and lay right on it. Turning around on them to see if they were asleep, he looked at them more closely.
What rotting carcasses all three of them were, he thought; why get superior, he hmphed, he probably stunk worse than they did. Birds of a feather, bunk and stink together. That's what one gets ridin' the blinds, boing about. It's an education in itself, cures dandruff, fifty-seven varieties, Mush Tate's dictionary, so is Billy Sunday . . . he laughed softly; it was a sort of swallow of cool Missouri country well-water soothing his tramp's throat . . . . Ho, oh, hum, um, um, he haw . . . abruptly he jerked around; a neck was out steadying two eyes out of the blanket on a pair of stilts; they were focussed on Lorry. He looked at them; twisted toward the wall and chortled inside . . . .
The next morning Lorry started for the Mormon tabernacle; he had heard stories about Brigham Young and Joseph Smith and their many wives. It was the upkeep that seemed to bother Lorry most; it was a shame the government had stepped in and cut out the rough stuff. Way back in 1800 and something there had been a lot of kicking; some ministers with no guts, he reckoned, had gotten up a petition or some fool nonsense against those highpowered Utah farmers. There was a grand fuss; and now all they had left was a tabernacle and a big organ; that's as much as he knew about the history of the Mormons. Anyway, they were an interesting race; and he wanted to get some more inside information, if there wasn't any admission to get in.
He didn't stick around long; there were no handouts being made; besides, things weren't so hot as he looked for; he guessed the government had pretty much taken the fire out of those boys. However, the mountains around Salt Lake weren't so bad; they were something like the climate in Los Angeles, one bo had told him; you couldn't live off it.
His trip to the state bureau didn't come off so well; Salt Lake was dead, the man behind the desk informed him; he said business all over was slack, labor tight, industry going to the dogs; but Lorry knew better; it was the Mormons dying out; history was vomiting all over itself again; look what happened to Spain when the Israelites were kicked out.
Lorry went off, omitted breakfast; he had to hang on to what he had; but at noon he splurged, blowing himself to ham and eggs, and took in a movie in the evening.
The evenings were the hardest to get through; he didn't play pool or shoot crap; besides, he didn't have the coin for such pastime, he hadn't been inside a library for ages; and if he did loiter about the bookshelves for an afternoon, he didn't know what to read anyway. "Henry Esmond" had never given him very much; and he quit "Pendennis" after the first ninety pages. He had been told at high school or somewhere that it was too deep for one his age; maybe it was, he didn't know. At any rate, he couldn't remember anything about it. As for that fellow Charlie Dickens, he gave him a pain, both he and his "Tale of Two Cities." That's what one got going to high school; well, he was going to California instead.
Well, Wallie Reid in "The Love Burglar" wasn't as good as a burlesque; but it was passably entertaining and made him forget himself for a couple of hours. After the movie was out, he walked the streets; the mountain air in his nose braced him, and he became moody and thoughtful, and wanted to walk straight through the night and get pensive about things around him. However, it didn't last long; before he knew it, he was all dragged out. Walking like that couldn't keep him up; he wished at that moment he had a hotel room to go to; there were probably loads of empty rooms in the town that night; if he could find one he'd climb in through the window and slip out about five in the morning without anyone knowing it.
Coming toward an alley next to which stood a transient hotel, he got back a bit deep in the shadow and swung up by his arms onto the firescape. The excitement inside him was getting the better of his cool resolve of the minute before; suddenly he heard some one's leather soles clacking against the sidewalk; it sounded like the heavy clodhoppers of a cop; he dropped, and snooped down low close beside the buildings moving toward the opposite exit on the other street. Then there came a whistle; his body stiffened out taut; he flew; zigzagged and got off toward the Union Station; he made for the tracks and thought of hitting out right away.
There was a singular quiet over the depot yards; the night was sooty and as lonely to him as a side-tracked caboose; nothing about but some red and green signal lanterns swinging near the switches. No boes about he could see; bulls on the job, he supposed.
Little later there were some box cars scraping along, desolately shunting; a locomotive came up, its headlights drawn out like batwings. He became all nerves and couldn't wait to hop her; he was going on, beatin' the bulls; he would take the blinds; lay low down a ways. Soon she would be all made up; he could get, like a jackknife in his ears, the coupling-pins knocking up against one another and connecting. He moved off around the bend where a bo was ditched, waiting; they said nothing, and kept back. A brakeman was lanterning along, peering at the rods and coupling-pins. The bo kept his ears up; he was watching something. In front of the station some one went about, as though he was making his night rounds. He looked like a bull; you could tell 'em, smell 'em out; they saw him go over to the brakeman and say a few words. It seemed as if he was giving him some dope on the q.t. and pointing in their direction. Then he disappeared; it seemed phony.
A bit later, the engine was making for the curve; the freight was made up; the bo flew for it; Lorry went for the box car right behind the coal dinky. As he stood up to look outside and behind him he got out of the corner of his eye a green lantern moving across the top as though suspended on wire; then something glittery in the dark, a splash of mercury in a dish. Something went out of him; it was the bull coming down with a pistol in his hand and the brakeman behind him swaying down from one box car to the other. Lorry jumped, made for the coupling-pins of a sidetracked freight in the next track, sidled through, went down again, fumbled in through the open door of a solitary refrigerating car, and caught, before he had time to think, a passenger moving through the depot yards. He was in the blinds between the baggage and mail car. He stood there, motionless, the wind out of him, the cinders flying back at him; he seemed to hang there; the night and wheels pounding back at him; his eyes on the lookout; the engine-piston kept pointing back at him, like the bull's automatic. But he was moving on, racketing past the cross-tracks, beyond the night watchman's signal lanterns and empty, sidetracked Pullmans. He looked behind him; the morgue had gone out of him; he had lit out of Salt Lake.
Lorry got as far as some big railroad junction; he didn't know just where it was; a bull coming down in front of the depot shot a flashlight in his face and said he'd run him in if he didn't clear out of town in a jiffy. Lorry got off, asked the bull which way the Lincoln Highway was, and walked out of the place. It must have been close to 3 in the morning. Anyway, he was on a fast mail; so he must have made good time. Walking the Lincoln Highway the rest of the night, he was unable to get a hitch. No one was going to be fool enough to give a bo a lift at that hour; too many cars being swiped; newspapers were full of it. He stopped in front of some gas stations on the way, but had no luck.
About 7 in the morning he reached the next town; a section gang was working on the roadbed; there wasn't much to the place except a roundhouse, a general grocery store, and some Union Pacific shanties for the road gang. Dead broke, he thought he could see the inside lining of his stomach turned outside. The town looked poorer than a Missouri farmer; no use trying to panhandle there. If there was only a pump somewhere he might stave himself up a bit with a drink of running water. But there was nothing in sight, not even hosspiss. He sat on the freight platform waiting; he couldn't move on; he had to stick right there even if it got him pinched by some hick bull in those parts. Nothing came by all morning, except a passenger going in the opposite direction, and it didn't stop. It was a hell of a joint to get out of; it looked to him like he was stuck there for good. He tried to stand up; he felt if he moved he would vomit; he tried to doze off, pulled his cap down over his eyes, and breathed in and out.
Toward the latter part of the afternoon, he woke up thinking he was in the Kansas City stockyards. Some cattle cars had pulled up; they squeezed, and came to a dead stop. He moved over, dragging along beside the track to the end of the freight. He saw nobody about; straw and cattle dung woke him up like a dose of smelling salts. Their heads stuck through the wooden bars, they tramped up the dust, as though they were being herded from one pen to the other. He thought of the Kansas City stockyards; the blacksmith outside the gate in front of which many a sucker had drawn a nag shot with arsenic. They never did get over the blacksmith stall in that stupid anvil chorus they pulled off in one of those Italian operas. He had heard it once in Cleveland after he had gotten out of the orphanage; it was his first opera; but he had a foretaste of that kind of stuff when those Euclid Avenue dames came to trill hightone concert bunk. It was stale molasses with flies stuck in it, some of those composers ought to go out and pitch horseshoes; they ought to do something, he felt, in order to keep away from music.
He noticed as he got down a ways a caboose coupled to the freight; it was tied up for a bit, lucky for him, maybe, in that Union Pacific - hole of a place. There was a stockman with one foot on the steps, jabbering away at the brakeman.
"She'll be pullin' out right soon, now, boss," spoke the brakeman going off in the direction of the engine.
Lorry had always gotten on well with cattleranchers and the old duffers who hung around stables and bosses; but now that be wanted something, he didn't know how to break into a conversation. Getting in on the good side of people wasn't his strong point. The stockman whizzed into the track-dust a spit of tobacco juice, and looked him over in an off-hand manner, as though he was bargaining for a head of cattle he was pretending not to be overmuch interested in. Jerkily, the cattle cars hit back on their coupling-pins, the livestock rose above the din like a jigsaw, and the freight started to move. The stockman, looking about to see that the brakeman was well out of sight, heyed, "Hop on, son." Lorry caught onto the rail, falling down on the steps, his legs giving way under him.
"You kin take yerself a seat on the bunk inside if yer tired, son. Where you bound fer?" asked the stockman, wadding the quid on one side of his mouth into a ball, so as not to appear to be buttin' into another fellow's business.
"As far as I can go," answered Lorry.
"We're set for Portland. You kin bunk in the caboose fer the night. We oughter be in around 10 or 11 in the morning if we make good time. I guess you 'pear honest."
"Thanks very much. That'll help a great deal. It looked like I was stuck for good."
Toward 6 the stockman took out a couple of Swiss-cheese sandwiches, poured some hot coffee out of a thermos bottle, which he divided with him.
"Ain't much on eatin' on train trips. Always upsets my stomach."
Lorry had to get up and make for the caboose water-closet no sooner had he gulped down the sandwich and coffee as he couldn't hold it. Coming back to the bunk, green in the face, the stockman said, "You look sick, boy. What's ailin' ya?"
"Just irregular feedin'. Couldn't hang onto the cheese, I guess."
About 10.30 the next morning they got into the Portland, Oregon stockyards. The stockman took him into a restaurant and treated him to two fried eggs, sunnyside up, hot muffins and coffee, and asked him if he wanted to keep him company to Seattle, which was only a hundred miles from Portland. That was as far as he was going; a much livelier town than Portland, he said. But that was out of Lorry's way; and besides he wasn't keen about the canneries of Seattle.
After he went off he wondered why he hadn't touched him for a couple of bucks; it wouldn't have broke him by a long shot; and it would sure have given him a helping hand. Well, the day was young yet, and he might land something right away. Funny he had never been able to connect as camp flunkey; if he could get off to a logging camp for a season he might lay aside a little money. But then, even if he could stick it out, what was the good; he would only eat it up on bed and grub and a few shows. He could see he'd never get anywhere; but he didn't know that he wanted to; or how to if he did. Perhaps, he might as well have stayed in Kansas City; but what could he have done there; herdin' cattle in the stockyards didn't lead to anything; he was no nervy salesman, that was as clear as day; and he didn't have any money to be one of those college dudes. They had it easy all right. Nothing to do but to study books and sit on their rumps in classrooms; and then go out and get into banks or go into business with their dads. A fellow had to have connections; that was all there was to it, unless he was one of those grinding wheels. Those fellows who worked themselves up - up to what? Well, he didn't know what he would ever do; he wasn't the kind that would ever amount to anything. He could sure see that.
Well anyway, he had to get a job, even if it was one of those stale jackass businesses draining greasy dishes under a scalding faucet, wiping 'em, washing 'em; always those goddam dishes till he thought his nerves, for the ache and fidgetiness they caused him, would drive him insane. He didn't know whether the country owed him a living; he didn't go in much for politics or socialism, whatever they called it. He had read some of Jack London a little, once tried "The Dream of Debs," but didn't quite get it. "Martin Eden" was better than a movie thriller; he'd have to read some of those books mentioned. He wished he knew enough to be a writer; it was funny he had never thought of that before; he liked it when his mother used to say, "he's always got his nose in a book." He knew he wanted to do some sort of work, but not the kind with somebody over you. To be a lone wolf, hit the trail by himself, that was what he wished. Maybe, he would get on yet; at least he felt he had a cue.
Around noon he was on as a busboy in a cafeteria; he had never seen so many cafeterias in his life. They looked like overgrown bathrooms to him. All those tiles right next to your table was enough to make any one sick. Portland was a slow town, no doubt about it; Christ, time would never pass if he had to stand on his feet all day. If there was at least a noon rush, he could forget himself, wheeling back and forth from the tables to the kitchen trays of dishes and glasses smeared with breaths and standing water.
In the afternoon he had to mop the linoleum. That was backbreaking; and he had a good mind to tell the proprietor that he had been hired as a busboy and not a chambermaid. But he knew how far that gaff would get him. He wished he were a waiter; he had never risen to waiterdom; there was something neat and snappy about a dish-juggler. The boss always seemed to have more respect for them. They often wore swallowtails or English-looking black vests and got tips and afternoons off. Balancing a tray of dishes from the kitchen to the dining room, remembering the orders by heart, pouring the coffee without spilling it on the white tablecloth, all that appeared to require months working around a restaurant and getting broken in.
He went over these things as he stooped over to rinse out the floormop; he was on an eight-hour shift; it wasn't quite 3.30; there would be supper to get over with before he was let out. Looking through the cafeteria window, the sense of bleak fall over the sidewalks, the light topcoats, an occasional velour, was in his eyes and chest. Well-dressed pedestrians smartly clacking along, going to the office, the film of the free air over their closeshaven faces, made him feel blue; November had a way of chilling one's bones and getting a bit of futility into one's blood. For a moment he almost wanted to be domesticated, cooped up in straw like poultry for the winter or stabled warmly in barny manure like livestock. Boing did appear to be a purple-fingered, desolate affair, leaving one out in the cold. He had better move on soon now, get his tramping over with, and settle in orange Los Angeles. Douching the mop in the waterbucket, he slowly and drowsily did the rest of the linoleum, not thinking of the passing time, till the five o'clock early birds started to straggle in for a salad and a glass of milk.
Later, untying his apron strings and slipping out of his white coat-jacket and into his shoddy coat, he approached the proprietor. He told him he was flat and asked him for his day's wages. He went to the cash register, handed him two green one-dollar bills and a half buck, and looked as though he didn't expect Lorry to show up again. Lorry on his way for a hotel room went into a secondhand store and bought two pairs of lisle socks for thirty-five cents. Then he rented a single room for the night for six bits, washed his cindery, trackdusty feet in the basin under the hot-running water, threw his old socks out the back window, and put on the new pair. It was too early to turn in; and, besides, he hadn't had a chance to see the town.
Suddenly, as he was going along, the evening air not overcold, it occurred to him that he was practically on the warm, west coast. Portland was on the Columbia River, the Columbia Salmon, which emptied into the Pacific. As he was walking through the rushy, theater section of Portland, the young janes, in a rather light get-up for November, their tailored skirts breezily swirling and gently rising above the knees while walking at a sociable pace, gave him his first feel of the coast. He got an orchestra seat at the box office of the Columbia Burlesque. He was just in time; the orchestra was playing in a dreamy, love-movie swing, "There's a long, long trail awinding into the land of my dreams."
The exterior asbestos curtain, reproduction of the downtown section of Portland photographed on it, was slowly rising. People were coming in taking seats; usherettes - they were just becoming the theater fashion - dressed as bellhops, were passing out programs. Some kid, who looked like the chocolate soldier, was calling out, "Salted peanuts, Lowney chocolates, bonbons, Hershies." The chandeliers above, like heavy cut-glass, disappeared as the footlights put an edge on the gilt, Louis Quinze boxes.
The night started in with a peppery pony revue; fleshtone tights and some high kicking, a Jewish comedian in a New York derby began the funny-faced stuff; the star came down a staircase, doffed her cape, and did a waltz duet with the leading man, throwing in a few acrobatic stunts to trick up the tempo. The between-the-act chatter, the necking in the dark, the Portland janes, who looked fast, out in the aisles, flipping back above their stockinged knees bits of silk slips, warmed him considerably. Two cute chorines, the hit of the evening, in tulle that just grazed the thighs on which the lighting reflector in back played pastel colors, tooted through long paper horns, "Coax me, come on and coax me, If you want me badly, love me madly . . ." were great. They had the audience, no getting around that; they were peaches; and when they tossed their bobbed heads, the lustre of brilliantine on them, and cooed again, as a soft pink from the colored glass in back moved over the linear valley of their chicken-breasts, "Coax me, come and coax me, I'll be your tootsie wootsie, If you'll coax me," it made him wish he had one of them on a parlor sofa. Just to pet with and nervously touch would be enough; he wouldn't have to go too far, he thought, and it would ease up that black hollowness in him a little.
When the show was out, he hung around the stagedoor for a while; it was ridiculous, he knew that, but it suited his mood, and who could tell, maybe, he might make a chance acquaintance with some lonesome kid who wanted a little company, wanted to pass the time away, and be coaxed for a squeeze or a kiss. He went back to the hotel, undressed, and turning out the light, almost wished be hadn't gone to the burlesque. They were too exciting; made him long for things he couldn't have.
He lasted three days at the cafeteria; the monotony of busing dishes on an eight-hour shift wasn't for him, he decided. The next day he loafed about; footed it to the residential parts of the city; he wanted to see some of those winter roses he heard grew in Portland. Too, he wanted his fill of the sun; he had been missing that for a few days; he felt his pastimes were too limited to give up his walks, foolin' in the late five-o'clock sunlight if he had a mind to.
About 4 he stopped in front of a buttermilk stand to get a drink and a sandwich, and noticing a sign, "fountain man wanted" asked for the job. He really didn't want it, but he felt he could use some extra change; and besides, getting on as soda-squirt might mean a rise in the world for him. Anyway, it was a new thing, as far as he was concerned; he had heard that drugstore fountain men got as much as forty per week. This might be a start. At midnight, the close of his shift, he got his day's wages, and instead of returning directly to the hotel, he went toward the Columbia. The night river air, blowing in his face, edged him up a bit; the itch for boing on was at him again; he would hit out for Frisco . . . .