(Copyright, estate of Gaillard Hunt)
CITY OF MASTERLESS MEN
Anderson had a room for which he paid a dollar and a quarter a week, it was in a building on Third Street with a dirty brick front and it was on the third floor -- the landlady had used beaverboard partitions to subdivide the rooms already on that floor into a lot of smaller rooms that she rented cheap. All he had was a bed and a chair and half a window -- he had never seen the man who occupied the adjoining room but they got along fine because neither ever made a move to close the window. It only looked out on a blank wall four feet away anyhow. There was one toilet with a bathtub at the end of the corridor and sometimes there was hot water. But, as Anderson said when he took it, it was a flop, and he had slept lots worse places.
One evening he was walking along New York Avenue headed for his room. For some reason they had had a busy day at the restaurant and he had to stay to clean up, and after he got through eating it was dark, but he had become used to washing dishes and did not feel tired. Instead he felt restless and discontented -- and that was how not being tired affected him.
At the corner where he usually turned off New York Avenue there was a cop standing. Anderson paid him no attention until he noticed that the cop was staring right at him and then it was too late to do anything about it but what the hell, he was working -- he had nothing to be afraid of. But before he could pass, the cop stepped to the middle of the sidewalk and pointed his nightstick at Anderson's chest. "You-man, where you going?"
"Home," said Anderson.
"Whadddya mean, home?"
Anderson gave his address and the cop answered, "That's a flophouse. Sure you got the price of a room? How long you been in this town?"
"Three or four months. I been working."
"Yeah?" said the copper. "You come along." He ran two fingers through Anderson's belt and walked him down the Avenue.
It was only a short distance to No. 1 Precinct Station and there the cop pushed him in front of the desk sergeant. "Vag," he said.
The sergeant looked up. "I'm working," Anderson said quickly.
"Hell you are. Where?"
Anderson named the restaurant and the sergeant reached for the phonebook and said, "You don't look like you're working."
He picked up the phone and dialed the number and had to give Anderson's name and description twice while the receiver squeaked. Then he said, "All right, thanks," and put down the instrument.
"What do you do there?"
"On the day shift."
"Uh-huh. They said you were the day dishwasher. You can go, but you listen to me. We have orders to clear the city of vagrants and panhandlers. If you've got a job don't go around looking like a vagrant. Why don't you get some decent clothes?"
''Can't get ' em on four dollars a week.''
The sergeant looked incredulous. "They pay dishwashers more than that. Sure you don't spend it for whiskey?"
"That's what I get."
"Anyhow you get yourself looking better if you don't want to get picked up. I don't blame the officer for bringing you in. Get some clothes."
"How can I on what I make?"
"That's your problem," said the sergeant as he waved Anderson out. He was free, the night air felt cold and the city felt hostile. He kept peering ahead for cops as he walked back to the rooming house.
There, sitting on the edge of the bed, he felt a louse run down his leg and suddenly he was disgusted with the whole business and he wanted to quit this job and be moving on. It was that Goddamn four bucks a week. The full insult of it struck him square in the face and he was mad. At least six dollars below scale. Except in a few places there was no union scale for dishwashing but there was always a scale that men talked about and held out for and if you worked for less you were a damn fool; you were a bastard for cutting the scale. It was all right to work for less long enough to get the wrinkles out but if you kept at it you were a sucker. Now he'd got the wrinkles out -- that was why he felt this way -- he ought to go draw his time and look for a decent job someplace. But there weren't any decent jobs. He knew that. There weren't any jobs. Everybody thought the next town was good, and while you were going there you met guys coming from there and they thought the town you'd just left was good. Everybody thought things would pick up next month but they never did. There weren't any jobs, and if he quit he'd just be back on the bum, and the missions were full of guys that would be glad to get his job -- a man's belly don't pay a bit of attention to the scale. But it was hell to be working and still have to wear crummy clothes and get picked up on the street. He had to get a front. It hadn't made any difference at first -- the sheer pleasure of eating regular and sleeping in a bed had taken up all the slack in his feelings and he didn't do anything but work and sleep, and he hadn't realized what bad shape he had gotten himself into until he found he could go on week after week just working and eating and sleeping. But now that he was sort of caught up it did make a difference. He would get some clothes, somehow. Aside from room rent all he had to pay out for was Bull Durham, and he'd take every cent of the rest and buck those second-hand Jews on D Street and maybe he could get something. He had been just about all winter on this job and he could stand it a while longer, and maybe by summer he would be looking decent and be a damn sight closer to being on his feet.
He peeled off his socks and walked barefoot to the bathroom and washed them. Then he hung them on the steam pipe in his room to dry and went to bed.
Next evening when he had swept out the kitchen and washed his sink and the night dishwasher had come to work, he got his dinner and took it out front to one of the tables. The counterman and the waitress were already there -- she was eating an egg salad and looked just as fresh as she did in the morning. The only other people in the place were a couple of cab drivers eating coffee and donuts.
"Yeah," the counterman was saying. "Yeah, I told that man I ought to play 541 because I seen it on a streetcar this morning but instead I have to go play 485. Gus heard me tell him I ought to play 541, didn't you, Gus?" He appealed to the cook who had just sat down.
"I wasn't paying attention," said the cook. "What happened?"
"541 was the number, that's all happened. That's all. Now what are you going to do with something like that?"
"I wouldn't try to do anything with it. One thousand numbers -- all got an equal chance. Forty percent against the player. They take that number from the mutuel totals of the first three races and what you see on a streetcar ain't got a bit of bearing on how it comes out."
"Yeah. Rank superstition. Just plain down rank superstition."
"Tell him about it, Gus," said the waitress.
They ate in silence for a while, then Anderson said, being careful not to talk too loud, "Anyone ever get a raise in this place?"
They all waved an emphatic negative.
"Say," said the counterman with a glance toward the cigarette counter where the boss sat buried in a newspaper. He leaned forward confidentially. "Say, Frank's so tight he steals from his own cash register. Won't do no harm to ask him -- he's a good fellow and all that because he knows it pays -- but that's all the good it'll do you. I been here three years now and ain't seen hide nor hair of a raise."
"Me neither," said the waitress.
"Well, he ought to know a man can't make it on what I get," said Anderson.
"That ain't the point," said the cook. "He knows what he can get a man for, with conditions like they are. He ought to be able to see it would be more economical to give his dishwashers a fair wage and have them stay, instead of having to break in a new man every so often, but he don't. You been here a lot longer than most of 'em stay, for that matter."
"Haven't you started hankering for those side-door pullmans?" said the counterman to Anderson.
"Aw. You've just never been anywhere."
"No," said Gus. "He's one of these guys that thinks that if the rest of the world is as big as it is between here and Alexandria it's sure a whopper."
"Yeah?" said the counterman. "Well I notice that it's us guys that stay in one place where they know people that gets all the steady jobs."
"The home guard always was a sucker for that steady job stuff. Steady till they don't need you, you mean. You're on the labor market same's the rest of us."
"Anyhow we get all the pretty girls. Don't we sweetie?" He put his arm around the waitress but she brushed him off. He turned to Anderson. "Why don't you save all the money you make instead of spending it?"
"Don't you read the papers? Hoover says spend. Put money in circulation. Bring back prosperity."
"The boy's patriotic," said the hasher, laughing.
Next payday after work Anderson went down on D Street. Everything was open because it was Saturday night, and there were several secondhand stores between Ninth and Tenth with the dealers standing out front soliciting. He stopped to look in a window once -- the display ran to revolvers, blackjacks and binoculars -- and the dealer was upon him immediately: "What you interested in, Bud? Got watches, underwear, nice spring camelshair topcoats eleven fifty, come in try one on." Anderson shook his head and turned away. The dealer called after him, "Hey come back here -- hey Mac, hey Bill, Jimmy, Jack, Shorty, Buck, Larry, Johnny, Mike -- " and the dealer next door took it up: "Wait a minute. Hey Slim, Frank, Pete, Smitty, Whitey, Andy --Anderson hesitated, and the man caught his arm. "Come inside, Andy, got something I want to show you." But he shook him off and went on. He would be back to see those guys later.
What he needed first was a pair of pants that looked all right and would wash. He already had two shirts and three sets of underwear and the first idea was to get rid of the crumbs.
He did not know where he had picked them up -- in a flophouse or a mission or somewhere - - but he had been crummy for a long time, so long that they did not bother him so much any more but that did not keep him from wanting to get rid of them. The only way to get rid of body lice is to take a hot bath using plenty of soap and put on a complete change of clothing, from the skin out. Then for a couple of weeks or more you must take a bath every day with plenty of hot water and change your underwear, and you must change your outer clothing frequently, too. They lay their eggs in the roots of the hair and other strategic places and for several weeks every now and then a stray will itch along your crotch or abdomen, but after a certain length of time, with baths and changes of clothing, you will be rid of them completely.
Before he got the dishwashing job Anderson had been on the bum for over a year and a half, and when you are on the bum you pay less attention to such things as lice than you do to front -- you keep your shirt as clean as possible, wear a tie, keep clothes brushed and so forth -- as a means to an end. This is to avoid cops and get openings when you're hustling. If you have no front, people can spot you when you approach and get ready to turn you down but if you look halfway decent, at least from a short distance after nightfall, it doesn't occur to them -- they think you want a match or want to ask a direction or something and you have more chance of putting over your story and getting something. But now Anderson did not have to hustle so he wanted to get himself fixed up starting from scratch.
There was an Army and Navy store on Eleventh and E and he went there and bought himself a pair of khaki pants for forty-nine cents. Then he needed a jacket and they cost too much there so he went back down to D Street and the secondhand dealer said, "Hello Andy come right in I'll fix you up. He had made up his mind not to go for more than two dollars and the man showed him a secondhand zipper jacket claimed to be good as new and a perfect fit for three fifty. After much talk and after Anderson had started for the door twice the man said he could have it for two. "I'm losing money but I want to do you a favor."
"Wrap it up," said Anderson.
On the way back to the rooming house he stopped at a laundry on Fourth Street run by a Chink named Charley Goon and picked up his bundle. It was only a shirt and underwear but it would help. Especially the underwear.
When he got to his room he sat on the bed and counted his money. One thirty-one. Sounded like a number -- a good number to play if he had anything left over Monday. He did not have enough to pay the rent but he was going to leave because the room was crummy. It probably wasn't when he got there but anyhow it was now.
He looked down the narrow corridor and saw the bathroom was empty so he peeled off his pants and coat, kicked them under the bed, picked up his bundles and his extra suit of underwear and went to take a bath. There happened to be some hot water and a bar of soap there and he bathed, put on his clean underwear and shirt and new clothes, then gingerly picked up his dirty stuff and wrapped it in the paper from one of the bundles and went down the stairs and outside.
The jacket felt smooth and clean and his pants were stiff and starchy but it was good to have a pair of pants with a crease in them for a chance. He walked over to the Chink's, left his laundry, then went along New York Avenue looking for another rooming house. There was a cop standing on the corner at Fourth Street but Anderson did not even quicken his pace when he walked by.
After inquiring at a couple of places that turned out to be too expensive he finally found one with a wop landlady that was about right, and asked to see the room. It was on the fourth floor and was the same kind of beaverboard proposition as the one he had left except that it looked cleaner. There was a faint smell of kerosene but he knew from experience that kerosene is not as objectionable as what they use it to get rid of.
While the landlady stood by, he pulled up the sheet and looked carefully in the end crease and corner of the mattress. If they weren't there they weren't anywhere, and they weren't there. The landlady held out her hand and said, "Dollar a week, pay in advance."
LIMA, PERU - - PRESIDENTE LUIS SANCHEZ CERRO LIFTED THE STATE OF MARSHAL LAW TONIGHT IN PREPARATION FOR THE 3 DAY FIESTA CELEBRATING THE 111THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
TOKYO -- CHINA-JAPANESE TENSION IN THE JEHOL PROVINCE OF INNER MONGOLIA INCREASED WITH REPORTS THAT GONSHIRO ISIIMOTO HAD NOT BEEN RELEASED.
ST. JOHNS, NEWFOUNDLAND -- A SYNDICATE OF CANADIAN BANKS MOVED TO GUARD THIS CITY FROM FURTHER DAMAGE AT THE HANDS OF ITS UNEMPLOYED. THE SYNDICATE ANNOUNCED IT WOULD LEND $100000 FOR RELIEF.
REAR ADMIRAL RICHARD EVELYN BYRD WAS UNANIMOUSLY ELECTED TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN OF THE NATIONAL ECONOMY LEAGUE WHEN IT WAS ORGANISED WITH ENDORSEMENT OF PRESIDENT HERBERT HOOVER AND GOVERNOR FRANKLIN D, ROOSEVELT. THE LEAGUE WILL FIGHT GOVERNMENT
EXTRAVAGANCE BEGINNING WITH WWWW ELIMINATING ANNUAL PAYMENT OF
APPROXIMATELY 450 MILLION DOLLARS TO VETERANS.
GENERAL KURT VON SCHEICHER OVER THE RADIO SAID THAT THE GERMAN GOVERNMENT WAS ABSOLUTELY DETERMINED TO REORGANISE THE ARMY SO
AS TO ATTAIN A CERTAIN DEGREE OF SECURITY
JACK HANAUSER, 32, FORMER PUGILIST AND ALLEGED SLUGGER IN LABOR DIFFERENCES WAS FOUND GUILTY IN GENERAL SESSIONS OF ASSAULT AND BATTERY IN THE THIRD DEGREE FOR STRIKING REUBEN ROSENBERG, HEAD OF THE BANGOR CLOTHING CO. AT BROADWAY AND 16TH STREET ON JUNE L_XXX IC XXXXXX ?&7~ XXX 16.
SECRET SERVICE AND AGENTS OF J.W. POOLE, COMPTROLLER OF CURRENCY ARE VIGOROUSLY INVESTIGATING REPORTS THAT -WHISPERING CAMPAIGNSIN VARIOUS SECTIONS OF THE COUNTRY ARE USED BY COMMUNISTS TO START RUNS ON BANKS
DR. J.C. GEIGER, CITY HEALTH OFFICER OF SAN FRANCISCO, ANNOUNCED TODAY THAT THE MUNICIPALITY WOULD TEST FREE OF CHARGE ALL SAMPLES OF LIQUOR PRESENTED FOR ANALYSIS. THE OFFER WAS MADE AFTER 3 PERSONS HAD DIED AFTER DRINKING LIQUOR WHICH HAD AOPPARENTLY BEEN POISOMED.
GLEN FALLS, N.Y. - - HUGH FRAYNRE XXX FRAYNE OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR TOLD DELEGATES TO THE CONVENTION OF THE STATE ALLIED PRINTING TRADES THAT THE PORFITS OF MACHINERY SHOULD GO TO THE WORKMEN WHOM THAT MACHINERY REPLACES. HE PREDICTED THAT THE TIME WILL COME WHEN MACHINERY WILL NOT BE INSTALLED UNLESS IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, OR
PROVED IT WILL NOT THROW LARGE NUMBERS OF WORKERS OUT OF EMPLOYMENT.
IN POMTIAC CAPTAIN IRA H. MARMON, HEAD OF THE SECRET SERVICE DEPARTMENT OF THE STATE POLICE, TODAY REVEQQ XXX REVEALED THE EXISTENCE OF A PLOT TO UNDERMINE THE STRUCTURE OF THE FIRST NATIONAL BANK BY -WHISPERING-
THE PLOTTERS SOUGHT TO DESTROY CONFIDENCE IN THE INSTITUTION BY A SERIES OF TELEPHONE CALLS TO DEPOSITORS. CAPTAIN ROWLAND XXX CAPTAIN MARMON SAID THAT TELEGRAMS FOUND IN THE ROOM OF AN ALLEGED COMMUNIST NAMED ROWLAND INDICATED THE EXISTENCE OF THE PLOT TO UNDERMINE THE FINAN CIAL STRUCTURE OF THE CITY. TELEGRAMS WERE WORDER IN THE EASILY RECOGNISED UNDERWORL JARGOT UXTENSIVELY USED BY COMMUNISTS.
ONE TELEGRAM READ ;;: -WORK ON BIG JUGS UNION TRUST AND C.T. PROGRESSING. LOCAL AGISTATION BUREAUS FUNCTIONING IN GOOD SHAPE.
1ST NATL ON SKIDS. EXPECTED TO SLOUGH-.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- GOVERNOR WILLIAM H. MURRAY HAD ANOTHER AR
ROTECT THE RED RIVER BRIDGE ON THE OKLAHOMA TEXAS BODER GGGGGGGG
INST -INFERIOR FEDERAL COURTS-
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