The Kid from Hoboken

An Autobiography by Bill Bailey1

"To my son Michael

You are the best thing in my life.

I tried to leave you a better world."


We had gone as far as the train would take us. The fascists had uprooted the tracks past the point we had reached.

"All out! All out!" a commanding voice shouted. "Move it out. On the double."

Some 650 Americans who made up the Abraham Lincoln Brigade quickly jumped out of the rickety boxcars, throwing to the ground blankets, rifles, ammo belts and knapsacks. We were in a strange part of the country. The air was hot and the countryside was dry. We could smell burnt gunpowder in the hot breeze. We were glad to leave the boxcars that had been our home for the past day and a half. It had been a slow, cautious trek as the train worked its way from our southern takeoff point to this northern town in Spain, a town that few of us had ever heard of.

Less than half the men in our refurbished battalion were seasoned troops. Most of us, including myself, were new arrivals from the States. We had had about three weeks of training in Tarrazona, the base camp for the American volunteers.

We spent that training period on dry maneuvers that is, maneuvers where we only went through the motions of firing a rifle or a machine gun. We used rocks to simulate the lobbing of hand grenades. Some days were spent at lectures, or in classes breaking apart our rifles and machine guns, learning the importance of all the parts, then putting them back together. We were limited to only one type of rifle and one type of machine gun, both made in the Soviet Union.

None of us had fired more than five live rounds of ammunition during all of our days in training. Ammunition was expensive and hard to come by for the republic. Firing live ammunition was a luxury frowned upon. "Wait," we were told. "You'll have a chance to fire all the live ammunition you want. At the front. At the fascists."

The train started to move in reverse once we had cleared off it. The engineer and trainmen were nervous and eager to get away from the air that heavy with spent gunpowder.

We were just two kilometers away from the fascists. Only a small hill blocked our view of our objective, the town of Quinto. Nearby our artillery batteries had dug in with their two anti-tank cannons and two French 75s. The shelling had started early in the morning. For the first time in my life I was within 20 feet of a cannon as it went off.

Our pace quickened as we charged toward the front, passing the artillery units, lugging our machine guns with one hand, toting a can of ammunition with the other; our rifles strung across our backs weighed us down further. Now we had left behind the cannons; still, each shot made us feel as though our heads would roll off. We thought the metallic screeching and ringing of weird whistles would never still. Our main fear was that a shell would fall short and land on us.

As far as the eye could see to our left and right, battalions of men were advancing on the town. I recognized several high-ranking officers standing on the high spot of the hill, directing operations.

The town's only church tower suddenly appeared in view. Surrounding the church clustered the town of Quinto, a town of cobblestoned streets and two-storied stone houses, a town that the fascists had boasted was superbly fortified.

To the republicans, it was a town that was the front door to the more important cities of Belchite and Zaragossa, and a town that had to be won. It was the beginning of a huge government offensive.

As we got over the rise our company paused for a moment. We watched a group of light Russian bombers, flying in a low wing-to-wing formation, drop their bombs in unison on a heavily-fortified position. The thundering sound of the bursting bombs and the smoke and dirt rising into the sky dispelled any illusion , if one held any, that this was not the real thing.

Our pace quickened. We were running toward the town. Far to our left, we could hear the yelling of an American infantry company advancing to the first line of the fascist trenches.

Bullets were whistling past us, making their crackling, popping noise as we neared the line of fire where we could be observed by entrenched fascists and picked off easily.

Bill McCarthy, an ex-altar boy, an ardent anti-fascist and my close buddy, found a gully that headed toward town. Crouched over, we advanced. A Spanish soldier from another company crossed our path. We heard the crack of a bullet and the soldier fell flat on his face. McCarthy and I ran to see if he was dead. The Spaniard looked stunned, then tried to get up. As he lifted his head from the ground blood started to flow from his jaw in the same manner as wine would flow from a keg once the plug was pulled. The sight of the blood panicked him. He put up his hands toward the small hole in his jaw to stop the flow. Now the blood ran through his fingers and down his arm. He tried to get up. McCarthy jumped on him, holding him down. To stand up would guarantee a target for a sharpshooter.

He shouted out, "Pedro, Pedro," but no one answered. I had my emergency bandage on my belt. I ripped it off and opened it, and McCarthy deftly applied the bandage to his face. The bullet had entered his jaw, then rounded its way down his body and out his lower back.

The mass of blood on his clothing, face, hands, and even in his hair made it appear that his life was over. He must have felt that way, too. Using every available word we could muster in Spanish, we tried to convey to him that he was okay, that the war was over for him, he would go to a hospital, then home.

We got him calmed down enough to get the bandage securely around him, then told him to stay quiet and in the same spot until he could gather a little strength, or until the stretcher-bearing first aid men caught up with him. We commenced to move away from him. We got no more than a few feet when we heard the sound of panic behind us. Our friend had turned around and discovered he was lying just a few feet from a dead Moor. The sight of the Moor with bandages wrapped around a head wound and his body puffed up by the sweltering sun was enough to make our wounded friend decide not to wait for the stretcher bearers. With great effort he was crawling toward the rear.

The closer we advanced toward the town the fiercer the fighting became. The fascists were now lobbing artillery and mortar fire at us. Shells were landing in a disorganized pattern. Bullets went pop-pop-pop overhead and whined as they ricocheted everywhere. There were the shouts of those in command: where to direct your fire, where to advance . . . "Where the hell's the Third Company?" And there were calls for the stretcher bearers.

We had come upon an abandoned fascist trench. Several of the enemy lay close by. There had been no time for the fascists to remove their dead. In fact, there had been no time for them to properly dress their wounded. One dead soldier had part of a bandage taped around his head while the rest of the bandage lay neatly at his side.

Joe Sansome, an automobile worker from Detroit and a buddy of ours, came charging up close behind us. He noticed one of the dead fascist soldiers was wearing a pair of abrogados, Spanish rope-soled shoes with steel cleats. He started to untie them from the soldier's feet. I protested.

"This sonofabitch is wearing better shoes than I am," he roared back. "Besides, he has no use for them anymore." He proceeded to pull them off the soldier.

We moved on, panting and sweating under the midday sun. We found a shell hole and rested for a moment to catch our breaths and gulp a mouthful of water from a quart-size canteen that felt as heavy as a ship's anchor.

I closed my eyes for a moment to avoid a droplet of sweat from rolling into them. It felt good. The restful moment got me thinking that at this time yesterday I had been enjoying the Spanish countryside as our train chugged its way past olive groves and vineyards. The only noise we had heard was was the sound of the clanking engines as they labored pulling us up through the mountain pass.

Now the tranquility had ceased. The beautiful countryside was no longer green and lush and sweet-smelling, but a landscape of manmade horror of mangled bodies bloating and swelling in the scorching sun, eyes popping right out of their sockets and stomachs swelling, bursting open and sending forth a stink of rotting human flesh that would infiltrate the depths of your being.

McCarthy was trying to say something to me, but I was oblivious to all but my own thoughts we cannot enjoy the luxury of a long respite. We must move out and stay closer to the rest of the Company. The blasting of shells and the popping of bullets are intensifying. Seems like every goddamn two-bit problem in the world is coming to a head around us. Damn it to hell, it's boiling hot. Even the pebbles and stones we crawl over are hot to the touch. Not a cloud in the sky.

My face is covered with sweat and heavy dust. We move about with our mouths open, sucking in air. Our nostrils have long ago stopped functioning. They are clogged with the fine dust of the Spanish earth. The stink of the dead brings us to the verge of vomiting. We try not to breathe in the stinking air. Big buzzing flies are everywhere. They fly from feeding on the dead to land on our faces. We grow to hate them with a vengeance.

The sight of the dead has a psychological effect, even though the dead are fascists. Nobody had lectured us about what no-man's land would look like. The noise, the sight and sound of a ricocheting shell twirling through the air is frightening to even the most experienced soldier. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, then I wonder if anyone looking in my eyes right now could see my deep inner feelings: the urgency of wanting to get at the throats of the fascists, yet the fear that one of them will get me before I get him. I wonder, too, how I'm stacking up in the eyes of my fellow soldiers, whether or not I'm falling short in my responsibilities to them. Myriad thoughts are weaving in and out in a fleeting moment.

I even try to find humor in the situation by asking myself what the hell I'm doing here, going through all this torture, when I could be safely home with an easy task like passing out leaflets calling for support of the Spanish people's cause or stuffing envelopes for some political campaign. I'd be free from the dangers and the stink of death all around me. I know I would not be satisfied with that, and I try to remember where it all started, this great urge to right the wrongs of an insane society. Was it back when that cop slugged me on the picket line during my first effort to build a union? Or was it during the reform school riot when the guards forced me up against the wall with my hands raised over my head and made me watch as they clubbed into unconsciousness many of my friends?

No, it went back farther than that. Somewhere the handwriting was on the wall and my destiny was spelled out for me. Perhaps it was when I was clutching fast the handle of the baby carriage . . . away back to those tiny hands clutching the handles . . ..

Book 1

Chapter I: Jersey City Genesis

I don't recall holding onto one side of the baby carriage while learning to walk. Nor being taken on a walk through the park one cold winter morning. Nor the woman who walked up to my mother that morning and questioned her about why I was constantly falling down while taking short steps when only a few days ago I was walking erect. She suggested that my mother take me to the nearest hospital and have me checked over. She did just that.

For the next several months I went through all sorts of treatments, as well as experiments, to stop the spread of the polio that had gripped me. Four months later I was released, with one leg shorter than the other by half an inch. Compared to the hundreds of other kids who were caught in that particular epidemic, I came off fairly lucky.

I suppose the first words I heard of any conversation were my mother denouncing my dad's failure to bring home his paycheck without first stopping in the local pub and spending half of it on his boozing buddies. I don't recall ever being picked up by the old man and held in his arms, or receiving any hugs or kisses from him like I saw in pictures. All I could recollect was the fear that he put into the family as he came home falling-down drunk. Then the tears started and there was much yelling and shouting between my mother and father, while all the kids tried to hide in different parts of the house to stay out of reach of the old man. When the yelling and arguing stopped, it was because the old man would give my mother a belt and knock her against the wall. That was the price she paid for protesting too loudly and too often against his preference for drink over his love of family. At this stage of life, I don't think my dad had any great love for the family or my mother.

They had met in Ireland. It was shortly after she had returned to the outskirts of Waterford from two years of "service" in South Africa. Ireland in those days was Great Britain's melting pot for an abundance of cheap labor forced on by poverty and hunger. Mother applied for a "position" and was accepted for work as a kitchen maid in the home of a well-to-do English doctor on a beautiful estate in Cape Town.

Back in Ireland, this beautiful woman, Elizabeth Nolan, met my dada meeting she always regretted, so she said. Raised as a Catholic by a strict Irish family, she abided by all the dogmas of the Church. My father had just returned from India, where he had done a hitch or two for His Majesty's occupation troops. He cut a handsome figure in his white uniform, Sam Browne belt, saber, bobby-type colonial hat and a rifle across his shoulder.

In those days of hunger and poverty it was easy to get soldiers to go abroad, especially when they were guaranteed three meals a day and fringe benefits. To trick the enlisted men into signing up for another hitch in the "colonies," the British paid them off on the spot in cash when their enlistments were up. The British hoped in this way the discharged men would go off to town, spend it all on drink, end up broke, and come back to sign up for another hitch. Too many did just that. But my old man was fairly sharp on the ways of the British. He took his pay, proceeded to Bombay and managed to get himself a job as a coal-passer on a ship going to England.

While en route homeward, the ship stopped for bunkers in an African port. It was a balmy Sunday. They lay at anchor, awaiting the coal barges. The old man was trying to sleep after a tough watch in the boiler room. Out on the hatch, a bunch of crew members had improvised a band and started to entertain themselves. One of the songs they sang was "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?" The old man was awakened by the banging of pots and pans used by the crewmen as musical instruments. He came charging out on deck ready for a fight. Why had they improvised a song with his name in it? After being calmed down somewhat by his fellow crew members, he was convinced that the song had nothing to do with him, but had been written and set to music many years before.

When my old man arrived back in Ireland, he still had part of his army pay. It was this money that helped pay the passage for him and my mother to the United States. As my mother told the story, when they came ashore at Ellis Island, it was full of "foreign" people. Many of them could not speak or understand a word of English. There was a man pinning tags on them and giving them new names, then waving them on. There was a man and his wife in front of my mother. He must have been a Russian. He had a long beard. The officer asked his name. Nobody could understand it, so the officer said, "Your name from now on is Nickolas Goldman," and he let him pass on to the ferry boat that took them all to New York City.

After having thirteen kids, my dad concluded that there was no way out of this trap. More and more, he resorted to the bottle. Unable to feed the family on the small paycheck he got from working as a hod carrier and common laborer, he made it a practice to stop off in several saloons before coming home. What little he did manage to withhold from the bartenders and bring home was barely enough to pay the rent, let alone put bread and potatoes on the table. As his drinking became heavier, the arguments in the saloons became more heated, frequently resulting in bloody fights.

Being Irish was one thing, but being Catholic to boot was a tough combination, especially when many signs could be seen on factory gates that "No Irish Need Apply." To be Irish meant to be on the bottom rung of the social ladder. In those days, the Irish and the Poles lived in the same area of the slums of Jersey City. Without a doubt, they were the poorest, most rundown neighborhoods.

The old man was a tough and dirty fighter. He had never heard of the Marquis of Queensbury, but if he had, he could not have cared less. He rarely came home after a drinking bout without a bloody nose or black eye. It was getting impossible to reason with him. One day, two policemen came to the door.

"We want your husband," one of them told my mother.

"And what has he done now?" she asked.

"He bit half the ear off of Stephen O'Riley in a fight," the officer replied.

In the past two years Mother had had him arrested four or five times for beating her and for non-support. But when it came time to face the judge and have the old man put away, she began to think about the few dollars he did bring home; she would not appear in court to proceed against him. However, after the cops removed the old man this time, she no longer had the forgiving feeling. She started packing what was packable: some old clothes, a few pots and pans. My younger sister, then only six months old, was put into the baby carriage. Leading the way with the brood following close behind, my mother walked clear across Jersey City into another of the city's slums, this one located right on the waterfront.

I was not to see the old man again until some forty years later. That he didn't follow us was proof of his feeling of liberation when we left him.

Maybe the hand of nature was kind to us. Of the thirteen kids my mother gave birth to, seven had died. It appeared that every second kid made it. One died from spinal meningitis; the other six died in early infancy. Malnutrition had its effect.

I think that the Catholic Church is cruel to demand of its followers to go on bearing child after child with no visible means of feeding them. The poorer our family became, the more children my mother bore. The Church encouraged large families. It meant more disciples and greater influence for the Church. But to the poor, it offered nothing but privation and misery, especially for those who lived in the city.

We had moved into the top floor of a broken-down tenement at 44 Hudson Street. There was no hot water or heat; no gas or electricity. Kerosene lamps were the main source of light. One toilet served the entire tenement, and that one was downstairs in the backyard. The building was located on the last street, facing the waterfront. Across the street stood the Vulcan Ironworks, a large two-block structure that housed a machine shop. Several hundred workers worked six days a week around the clock, and the shop's riveting guns, steam hammers, and compressors reverberated all over the neighborhood. From our window we could see ships, tugboats, and barges ply up and down the Hudson River.

On the corner of our block was a ship's chandler called Mullins. He had everything to outfit a ship or tugboat, including a cellar full of big rats. Across from Mullins was a saloon. Sixty or seventy-five people could line up shoulder to shoulder against the highly-polished bar of carved oak. Big brass spittoons sat scattered throughout the saloon in two inches of fresh-smelling sawdust. A few doors up the street stood the livery stable. Some fifty truck horses were boarded there. In the summer heat, the smell became so unbearable you could not keep your windows open. A few doors past the stable was a resin works, and then came more broken-down tenement houses long ignored for repairs by the corporation landlords. These housed the poor Irish and Polish families, some of them just six months off the boat, and, in the case of the Polish, struggling with their first words of English.

Our house had several legends attached to it. One was that a man was found swinging by the neck on the clothesline in back. Another was that a head had been found in the front room of the floor we occupied, while the rest of the body was discovered stuffed in a steamer trunk in the cellar. Every time I heard the wind rattle the windows or shake the roof, I had the feeling it was the ghost of the head rolling across the room, looking for the rest of its body.

The first month at the new residence was the toughest. Everyone slept on the floor. There were no beds. Soon the neighbors learned that we were just another family fleeing from a drunken father and they quickly came to our aid. They brought some old tattered blankets, old coats, and dented pots and pans, all of which my mother made good use of. They even gave us an old spring which she mounted on several egg crates to make her own bed.

The clan was made up of Isabella, the oldest, followed by John Patrick, Kathleen, Mike, William and Alice. The birth of Alice marked the thirteenth kid. All the kids were delivered with the help of a neighborhood midwife or just neighbors. My mother never did see the inside of a hospital when giving birth. Within a month after moving into the new residence, my mother had her routine worked out. John and Isabella would take the basket and collect dirty laundry from a few families not too poverty-stricken to afford such a service. These families lived about eight blocks away, in an area considered a "better neighborhood."

Kate and I had to gather firewood, chop it into small stove-length pieces and haul it up the long flight of stairs. On the stove, my mother kept a small washtub in which she boiled the laundry. Removing it to the sink, she would scrub for the rest of the day on a wooden scrubbing board. On days when there was no laundry from the neighbors to wash, she would take off early in the morning to catch a ferry boat to New York, where she sought jobs as a scrub woman in those monstrous, tall buildings that lined Wall Street. On most other occasions, when she had done the laundry and there was still part of a day left, she would hand down instructions to the older kids and then rush off to find an evening of cleaning work.

Early in the morning, she would quietly walk up the squeaky stairs, enter the house on tiptoes and make sure we were all covered. After a few hours of sleep she was up cooking oatmeal and warming the house. Then laundry had to be hauled from the line and four or five irons placed on the stove. The rest of the day was spent ironing, and when the clothes were neatly folded in the basket, the delivery was made.

Within three months she had saved enough to buy two old beds. Through word of mouth, we had two roomers within a week. One old guy was a tugboat captain who had a tough time holding down a job because of hitting the bottle. But drunk or sober, he managed to get in and out of his room without ever making a sound, and always to the delight of my mother, he paid his rent on time. The other roomer was a strong, muscular Portuguese, a coal-burning fireman who had given up going to sea and instead worked only on tugboats within the harbor. He was known around the waterfront as "Spick." All the kids in the neighborhood loved him because he was generous and kind. Every now and then he would dole out a handful of pennies to the kids. A penny bought an all-day jawbreaker. When he got drunk, the kids would surround him and beg him to do his "needle trick." Out came a hat pin, and he slowly pushed it through the muscle of his arm until it exited on the other side. For an encore, he pushed it through one side of his hand in the same manner. We stood there transfixed, our eyes on the needle as he pushed it through. What an experience! The kids talked about it for hours. We revered him as some special god.

The new prosperity improved our daily lives. My mother always bought potatoes and onions by the sack, and that was good for a week. Two 25-pound sacks of flour barely made it to the end of the week. The smell of freshly-baked bread permeated the air every other night. With success and more food, however, came the big rats that were a constant scourge in the neighborhood. Most of the sewer pipes drained right into the river, making for an easy entrance of the big water rat. In the still of the night you could hear them screaming and scratching their way up into the wall-pipe recesses to get into the pantry. You could close up one hole and they would chew away to make another. I remember my mother many times sitting up half the night with a stick in her hand, guarding the breadbox against some daring rat. In our neighborhood, it was nothing to hear of some baby left alone in the baby carriage in a hallway during the day being chewed on by rats. I had a deadly fear of them.

One day I was in one of the boarders' rooms, looking at some pictures in a magazine, when I heard a big commotion in the hallway. I opened the door and saw my mother and sister chasing an overfed rat with brooms. The rat saw an opening and charged right into the room over my bare feet. I collapsed in a dead faint. Ever since then, I have maintained a deep respect for rats. I stay away from them. Much of the rat problem was finally solved, at least on our floor, when my brother came in one day with about 20 empty bottles and proceeded to smash them into small pieces to fill up all the holes where the rats had managed to get into the house.

Playmates in the neighborhood were plentiful. I can't remember ever being alone for too long in the streets. A boy named Peter was my favorite. He was about my age. One day we had a disagreement. He socked me one, and I socked him back even harder. He started to cry. His mother, a Pole who lived beneath us, heard his cries and came charging to the window. She immediately launched into a verbal attack against me and my family and all the Irish in Ireland and America. She cursed me in Polish and in the few English words she knew. My mother came to the window, and soon it became a yelling match. One word led to another. Soon our mothers were confronting each other in the hallway, and then in the street.

For the next ten minutes, both mothers were engaged in a slugging and hair-pulling match that brought out half the neighborhood and all the drunks from the local saloon. They stood and cheered the two mothers on. Peter and I stood in the background, sick with fright as we watched our mothers pulling each other's hair and throwing punches and listened to the yells of the drunks as they chose sides. I don't recall who stopped the fight, but when I went into the house, fearing a thrashing for being the culprit who started it all, I found the two mothers sitting at a table drinking beer and nursing their wounds. They became good friends after that day.

Of the playmates I spent time with, three stand out in my mind: Stella, Olga and Pauline. They were the three children of a Polish family that lived in the same tenement, on the bottom floor. Their father was a steel worker--when he found work. Their mother made excellent kilbosi, a Polish sausage, and other strange and nice-tasting dishes with cabbage and meat. You knew when things were good for them when their kitchen had lots of kilbosi rings hanging from the ceiling. When things were bad, like they were so many times, meals were cabbage soup or just steamed cabbage. At least once a week we shared a meal in each other's home.

I was always their pride and joy; they played with me and kept an eye on me, too--at least some of the time. In our backyard we had a series of little woodsheds besides the one housing the toilet shared by all of the tenants. A lot of times we played in one of the woodsheds, especially when the weather was too wet or windy or cold for us to be out in the yard. One day the game we were playing, whatever it was, soon got switched to "Papas and Mamas." Without a doubt, we played that game as realistically as we knew how. The boy would pretend to be drunk, and the girl would plead with the boy to stop drinking and be kind to the family. All the kids experienced some sort of personal misery in their homes, and it was easy for them to play this game.

When it came time for Pauline to perform, she lifted her dress and exposed her little bloomers, which she proceeded to lower to the ground. Seven years old, she stood there naked from the waist down. She walked over to me and said, "Take out your peter."

"What peter?" I asked stupidly.

"That peter!" she replied, pointing to my mid-section and then opening my pants with great authority. Now that "peter" was exposed, I stood there, waiting for the next shocker. Pauline spread herself on the floor of the woodshed and pulled me over to her. "All right, now," she commanded. "Do it."

"Do it? Do what?" I asked.

"Oh, come on," urged Pauline as she pulled me down on top of her and held me as she wiggled and twisted. I just lay there, bewildered. What a stupid game, I told myself.

A few minutes later Pauline got up, put on her bloomers and shouted, "You are the stupidest thing on earth! All you know is how to play cowboys and Indians. You don't know how to play the good Mamas and Papas games. You're a dummy! I'm not gonna play with you anymore, so there!" And she ran out of the woodshed, leaving me standing there like the dummy I was with my pants open.

Since kerosene lamps provided the main illumination in the house, fires were the main cause of destruction. At least once a week there was a fire of some kind in the neighborhood. The fire engines would come charging down the street with a Dalmatian dog, their mascot, running ahead of the speeding horses.

The fireman was surely a hero in my book. I associated firemen with my first toys. For me, the fireman was associated with Christmas more than Santa Claus. When the holidays drew near, firemen picked out the children of the neediest families in the area of their stations. The Baileys were always on the list. We were given tickets, and on Christmas Eve we lined up outside the station house, ready to dash in when our turn came to have the choice of a few toys and a bag of Christmas candy. Those toys were made to last for the rest of the year, and then some.

Three blocks to the right of where I lived, Hudson Street stopped at a canal. There was a small wooden pier. Some old rafts used by ships' painters bobbed and banged against the decrepit pilings of the pier. Old pieces of rope knotted together kept the rafts from floating away. Across the canal, a distance of about a city block, was a small island where a lot of guys went fishing or crabbing on Sundays. A small flat-bottomed boat holding about 15 people plied back and forth during daylight hours. Between the boat landings was a securely-hooked steel cable. The boat operator simply guided himself hand-over-hand along the cable until he reached the other side.

I was fascinated by boats, and when left alone I would manage to walk down the few blocks and stand on the pier and watch the life rafts bob and bang against the pier. One Sunday I stood alone on the pier. No one was around. I looked at the rafts. How nice it would be to be on one, I thought. A ladder, running straight up and down, was nailed to the pier. I reached the first rung, then carefully lowered myself down one rung at a time. I put one bare foot on the raft; it moved away from the dock, and I fell into the water. Only by a miracle was I able to grab onto some old pieces of rope. The water reached up to my neck. I screamed, "Mama! Mama . . ." all the time holding on to that rotting piece of rope. As the raft moved away from the pier, I looked out and saw the flat-bottomed boat making its way across the canal. It was filled with men wearing bright straw hats; many were in their Sunday clothes.

They heard my screams. The boat stopped. I saw three men jump in, clothes and all. Before I knew it, I had been hauled up out of the creek. "Do you know where you live?" one man asked.

I pointed down the street. The guy put me on his shoulder and, dripping water all the way, carried me to the house. "All right now," he said, "get on upstairs--and stay away from that pier." He put me down and left.

I walked into the hallway. All I could think of was the thrashing that awaited me if I walked into the house. That morning my mother had put a new set of underwear she had made from flour sacks on me. I remembered her last words as I went out to play: "Don't get dirty. If you get those nice things filthy, you'll get a thrashing you'll never forget."

The threat terrified me. Now here I was, soaked with the oily, smelly water of the canal. My front was covered with a heavy black mass of oil or oakum that smelled bad. I envisioned the thrashing, contemplating my chance of outrunning her, or of running from one hiding place to another. I knew I would get caught in the end. It was always that way. Better to hide in the recess behind the stairway. There I sat for two hours, trembling, my lips turning blue.

I heard footsteps on the stairway. My mother was coming down to go to the toilet in the yard. I crawled deeper into the corner, hoping to go unnoticed, but foul-smelling little pools of water all around the hallway led directly to me. She stood there for a moment in shock. I said nothing. Only my chattering teeth made strange noises. She reached down, grabbed me and carried me upstairs. She took off my clothes and quickly threw a blanket around me. Within minutes she had hauled in the big washtub from the fire escape and filled it with water, and in I went. Next, she was out the door and down to the saloon to buy a half pint of rye whiskey. She mixed some of this with hot water and sugar and fed the potion to me. After the bath, I explained what had happened. There was no thrashing. A lot of hugs and kisses, and she put me to bed.

Two weeks later, at the same pier, I watched a Polish mother tear out her hair as she identified her son. He had been playing around the edge of the pier and fell in and drowned. Searching with long hooks a few days later, they had found him. His little body lay under a canvas sheet. The crabs had gotten to him. The mother's screams of sorrow and pain stayed with me for many years. It was the first dead person I ever saw.

Our neighborhood was always filled with some sort of excitement, especially on Saturdays, which was pay day. The saloons did their biggest business on Saturdays. In those days, you did not buy a bottle of beer. You did your beer shopping with a tin pail which generally held a gallon or two. When mother had company, she would hand me a pail and a ten-cent piece, invariably instructing, "Go over to Paddy's and have him fill it up first, then hand him the dime." Then she would put her finger on the lard and run it inside the pail. This was to keep the suds down, in the hope that the bartender might fill the pail more generously. But the bartenders were wise to this; most times they would take the pail and wash it out with boiling water from the clam broth steamer. Thus you would get your share of the suds. But the bartenders at Paddy's knew that to pull this trick on my mother would bring her right over in person, ready to dust a bottle over their heads.

The saloon was always a source of excitement for me. Paddy's had one of the best and longest bars in Jersey City. Sometimes five bartenders were employed on a Saturday, and fifty or sixty men lined up against the bar. The brass foot rail extending along the bar was highly polished, as were the spittoons that stood at the base of the bar. At the far end was the free lunch counter. A big steaming pot of clams and clam juice sat amid trays of sausage, baloney, pigs' knuckles, pretzels, potato salad and bread. All this, of course, was for patrons only, and most made good use of it. Near the entrance, just inside the swinging doors, stood a big piano. Traveling piano players were in great demand at that time. They would go from bar to bar, playing and picking up all the free drinks they could handle, sometimes getting donations from the patrons. The piano at Paddy's was never idle. If it wasn't "My Wild Irish Rose," it was "Alice Blue Gown" or "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," or a lively Irish jig. I had to get the attention of the bartender fast, grab the beer and get home before the beer turned flat. If I was a good boy, I might be allowed a few sips.

In the late afternoon, as things became lively in the bar, the inevitable would happen. You could hear some glass breaking, followed by yelling, and you knew the fight was on. Out they'd come, belting and butting each other with their heads until one hit the deck and got the boots. Finally someone who had the authority to stop the fight would step in. When I was a few years older, I vowed that when I grew up and became a great big man, I would close down all the saloons in the world and stop all the misery that emanates from them.

Chapter II: Crime, School and Church

There came a period which seemed to have arisen without much warning. It seemed that all the work came to a halt. My mother was going out seeking work as usual, but she came home earlier looking frightfully disappointed. Going to the other side of the tracks to collect the washing had ceased. There was no money coming in. Even running down for a pitcher of beer was less frequent. For a while, we had been living it up. My mother was getting lots of work in New York scrubbing floors. We had two paying lodgers, and John had a part-time job in a battery shop a few blocks away from the tenement. There was always a sack of potatoes or onions on hand. Pig tails, pig feet and neckbones had been plentiful. Now, the two rooms were vacant, John had lost his job, and the meat disappeared from the table. We were making it on potatoes and onions. As time went on, the lard disappeared from the bread and the second helpings of potato and onion stew stopped. We were slipping backward.

I woke up one morning to a big meal of oatmeal, fresh bread and milk. It stayed that way for the next several weeks, until a day when Officer Kelley came to the door. In the form of passing on news, he stated that someone was stealing bread and milk from in front of the grocery stores in the neighborhood. They were about to get caught, unless "whoever it was" stopped doing it.

My brothers had been getting up at five in the morning, slipping out of the house and making for a different grocery store every day. In those days fresh bread was delivered to a big bread box outside the store before it opened. The milkman came around at the same time and deposited the milk bottles next to the bread. It was an easy touch. All one had to watch for was the patrolman who walked the beat. He had several blocks to cover, but you had to time yourself carefully. After that warning, the fresh bread and milk ceased coming into our house. When my mother raised this matter with my brothers, they claimed they got the food by working for the grocer, doing odds and ends.

When I heard the words "election time" around the house, we had boiled chicken and a few good meals. A few days before election day, the Democrats would woo the poor's votes by coming around with a basket of groceries. Generally a chicken or small ham sat atop the groceries, which consisted of about ten pounds of potatoes and onions, five pounds of beans, and two cans of corned beef. On election day, the ward heeler came to the house and took you by the hand to the polling place. It was obvious why the Democrats were constantly being elected. Unfortunately, elections were far between.

The clan was resourceful and survival-wise. Sister Kate went to the local slaughterhouse and got herself a job for 15 cents an hour. She worked three days a week, six hours a day. Her job, like that of the dozen other kids with her, was to cut and trim away all the old decayed meat on the hams that were sent to the slaughterhouse by the local butchers. The meat was then put into a cooker and a grinder. It wound up as the good old American hotdog.

In proportion to the amount of time on the job, the slaughterhouse would permit their employees to purchase some of these parts for a few cents. Every day that sister Kate worked, she managed to bring home some parts of an animal, and when no one was looking, she did what most of the slaughterhouse workers did--she shoved something under her apron and kept her fingers crossed as she went out of the gate.

Then John talked himself into a baker's helper job with some baker who saw a good opportunity to exploit young labor. From eight at night until one in the morning, he helped mix dough, make buns and crullers and scrub up the basement when the baking was done. The baker paid him ten cents plus all the stale bread he could take home.

Once again we were back among the eating and living part of society. As the wrinkles worked their way out of the stomach, both John and Kate rebelled against their poorly-paid jobs. First it started as a protest, but my mother told them to get back to work. So Kate allowed herself to be caught coming out of the gate with a ham under her apron. They fired her. Two days later, John told the baker he was tired of taking home stale bread and loaded himself down with fresh doughnuts, thus ending his promising career as a baker.

We were slipping again. One night I heard a commotion in the hallway. It was my two brothers working like beavers, stashing away all the equipment from Mullins Chandlery shop on the corner. They had broken into the place through a back window, and while they had intended to take only a few items to peddle, they found the taking so easy that they just continued to take, until half the hallway was full of fire axes, lanterns, bells, bilge pumps and what not.

The word got out and Officer Kelley made the arrest. In court the judge heard only bad things about them. There was a truant officer's report that the brothers spent more time out of school than inside, and that the truant officer had to chase them across rooftops, only to be attacked by them when he had them trapped. My mother tried to get the priest to say a few words on their behalf, but he refused on the basis that the only time they came to mass was when they were dragged into church. The judge was firm--too firm. He sent them both to New Jersey's toughest reform school, a place called Jamesburg.

John had always been the hothead, the shrewd one, the thinker and philosopher. He bided his time and carefully planned his escape. He told Buck about it and asked him if he wanted in. Buck felt that the risks were too great if both of them tried to make it and that John would stand a better chance on his own. After several years, the time came for John to make his break. The men were in the fields, hoeing potatoes next to a corn field where the plants were high. John made his break through the field, only to discover that five black trustees were right behind him, racing like fiends to catch him. The rewards for the trustees would be great. For catching an escapee, their time would be cut in half, and lots of other goodies would come their way. For the escapee, on the other hand, the first reward for being caught was a cold drenching by a fire hose, followed by a beating with rubber hoses, followed by more time added to the original sentence. All privileges would be wiped out. As John put it a number of years later, "When I saw those bums behind me, the very thought of those rubber hoses added new dimensions to those legs of mine, and I not only outran them, I didn't stop until I reached the hills and valleys of Wyoming." He changed his name and got a job stringing up telephone poles across the prairie, then he joined an oil rig crew.

Brother Buck remained at Jamesburg, where he spent a total of ten years for unlawful entry. He was discharged from Jamesburg without ever spending one day in its classrooms, unable to read or write.

So my mother had a little less to worry about now. Two boys under lock and key. Two less mouths to feed. Nonetheless, she still had to think about the three girls and one boy left in the clan.

I was dolled up one morning and, hand and hand with my mother, I proceeded off to school. St. Peter's Church and the school attached to it were about six long blocks away. After some formalities, my mother departed, and I was led into a room by a nun who was the teacher. The room was full of little kids sitting in little chairs. There were blackboards all around the room with ABCs and numbers written on them. A chair was pointed out for me to sit in. It was too small for me. (I was always big for my age. At age fourteen I was six feet tall.) A suitable chair was found. I sat facing the teacher. A strange sensation came over me. I felt trapped. No longer could I yell and run and jump. My world of fun and laughter had been changed. Now it was a strange discipline, without laughter, with everyone made to sit and face the nun in front of us. Our eyes followed her as she walked to and fro, motioning and gesticulating, pointing to odd-looking little marks that sat over some of the letters. Every now and then she would rap her stick on the desk to get the attention of her pupils who sat staring at the giant sitting among them.

The ABCs were easy for me. I already knew the alphabet and was able to match up words that fit with AT, like bAT, mAT, sAT, etc. All this had been taught to me at home by my older sisters and playmates. When the nun found that she couldn't teach me anything, and that I caused a distraction for the rest of her pupils, I was sent "upstairs" to another class.

Discipline in a Catholic school in those days was pretty tough. The teachers, all nuns dressed in black and white habits, wore rope belts around their waists. Attached to the belt was a crucifix about six or eight inches long that dangled from a set of heavy prayer beads. Also dangling from the belt was a hunk of rubber about a foot and a half long, an inch thick, and three inches wide. Its very presence, dangling there, wrapping itself around the cross or bouncing off the black habit, was enough to strike fear into the student. For the slightest infraction, you were called to the front of the class and told to face the students and put out your hands, palms up. In a manner befitting a czar, the nun would pronounce the sentence: "Five on each hand." If you pulled your hands back before the chunk of rubber landed solidly across your palms, you were given some extra raps.

Every Sunday morning all the school children lined up outside the church with their class groups. At ten minutes before eight, all marched inside, took their seats and waited for the mass to begin. If you were late for the lineup or failed to make mass altogether, you had to come up with a very special reason, because on Monday morning, after morning prayers, the teacher would announce: "All those who were late for mass step to the front of the class." I would swallow hard and listen to my heart pound as I walked up to receive my punishment, and "God's will" was "fulfilled."

There was never any doubt in my mind that the nuns used their power of excessive punishment to terrorize the students. The rubber strap and the long blackboard pointer were only two of the instruments used to inflict physical punishment. It wasn't that I committed more mischief than the rest of the kids, or that I was any less smart than the rest of them, that I received well above my share of physical punishment. I think now that it was because the nuns did not have any great admiration for my family, and my mother in particular. There was a prevailing attitude among some that the Irish were irresponsible drunkards and their children misfits.

During the early years that I spent at Catholic school, my mother could not afford to buy me shoes. I was the only one in the entire school who came to class without shoes. For the first week or two, there had been a little ridicule from the kids, but that died down. When I entered the school, the nuns told Mother that I would have to wear shoes. My mother said that within a few days I would have the shoes. Those few days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, and it remained a point of contention between me and the nuns. When winter came, I walked into class with freezing cold, wet feet. The nun growled as usual when she looked down at my feet, but neither the church nor the school ever offered me a pair of shoes.

One day I was late for school, and I remembered a shortcut. It saved me a block, but I had to cross a stinking, mud-clogged creek that was a drain-off from a chemical factory a dozen blocks away. As luck would have it, I misstepped, and both legs sank into the stinky slime. Running and trying to wipe mud from your legs is an awkward maneuver, and when I entered the class about three minutes late It was obvious that all hell was going to break loose. Not only did I smell from the slimy mud, which was now drying on my legs, but I had left a series of footprints on my way to class. Mud still oozed between my toes. I was immediately admonished and not allowed to take my seat. The nun wrote a hasty note and told me to go home and give it to my mother. I left the class, humiliated.

I found my mother leaning over the tub, scrubbing clothes. I handed her the note. She couldn't read it since she had never attended school in Ireland. She took the note over to one of the bartenders at Paddy's saloon. He was a smart Irishman, able to read and write. She became rigid as the bartender read what the nun had written: her son was no longer welcome in her class unless he came properly dressed like the rest of the children. I think the part that hurt her most was where the nun stated that, in addition to her son wearing shoes, he should be properly bathed; didn't she know there was a law against sending children to school in an unsanitary condition? That did it. I had a hard time keeping up with my mother's pace as we headed for the school. Up the stairs she ran, throwing open the door and blazing in, with me trailing meekly behind. The nun turned and faced Mother, then looked at me. I wished I were somewhere else.

"Are you the one who wrote this note and sent my boy home?" my mother shouted at the nun. The nun looked at the class; they were all wide-eyed, sitting in expectation.

"I will not discuss anything about your son here. We will do it in the Mother Superior's office," she replied, slightly shaken.

"Like hell we will," my mother shouted back. "We'll talk about it here and now. Who the bloody hell do you think you are, with your God-almighty airs, to tell me that I don't keep my boy clean?"

"You will not talk that way in front of me or the children," said the nun as she tried to make her way past my mother to the door. Mother grabbed her by the shoulder and swung her around. The kids in the class became frightened. The nun turned white.

"And another thing," shouted my mother as she removed her hand from the nun's shoulder, "if you keep whipping my boy the way you have been, I'm gonna come up here and lay that rubber strap across your ass so you know how it feels!" At that moment, I felt that God had just written down my name on His list of those who must do their share of shoveling in Hell.

The nun quickly blessed herself with the sign of the cross. The shouting had brought another nun into the room. Realizing what was taking place, she made a fast exit to inform the Mother Superior. A few moments later Mother Superior came charging into the room. There was more shouting; all of a sudden it stopped and I found myself standing alone in front of the class. The trio had left for Mother Superior's office.

After what seemed like a hundred years, the nun and my mother returned. Mother led me out into the hallway. "Go to the washroom and scrub your legs with lots of soap and make sure they're nice and clean. Then go back to class." She turned and walked out of the building.

That afternoon at home I found out what had taken place in Mother Superior's office. In exchange for the nuns tolerating me at school without shoes or regulation clothing, my mother had given her word to never enter a classroom without first getting permission from Mother Superior. Furthermore, she was never to use the word "hell" in the manner she did in front of the nun and children and never, under any circumstances, was she to use the word "ass." The school was ready to accept the fact that her son had to travel quite a distance to reach the school, and therefore his feet would be dirty. He was to go to the washroom to clean up before entering class. That ended this particular battle.

For the next few days, I had a feeling that the nun was just waiting for me to step out of line so she could lay it on me. But I kept my nose clean. Also, she had tasted the wrath of my mother, and perhaps she would try to avoid it.

Holy Communion was approaching. For an entire month the class was engaged at least two hours a day in preparation for it. We had to study and to rehearse all the moves leading up to the altar and receiving the Holy Sacrament. Two weeks before the actual day, all the children were handed a list to take home to their parents which was to be read and complied with. It specified the clothing we were to wear for the occasion. It so happened that there was not one item on the list that I had or could easily get. My mother said nothing.

One week before the momentous day, we were asked to confirm that our parents would comply with the list of instructions. When called upon, everyone in the class said yes, their parents would comply. When it came time for me to answer, I said I didn't know. The nun asked me if I intended to wear shoes at the altar. I said that as far as I knew, there were no shoes for me, so I supposed I would go to the altar without them. On my way out the door that afternoon, the nun called me aside and told me to tell my mother that I would not be able to take communion this time because I obviously was not ready for it, my family having failed to make the required preparations.

When my mother heard this, she hit the ceiling. Next morning, hand in hand, we went to school. I saw the fire in her eyes and sensed the volcano that was building. This time the nun had anticipated my mother's move, and she and the Mother Superior were standing outside the classroom when we arrived. We were ushered into the Mother Superior's office. Mother Superior quickly moved to safety behind her desk and sat down. My mother wasted no time with niceties.

"My boy is going to make his communion, clothes or no clothes. The good Lord dressed all His life in a burlap sack. You want my boy to be all dolled up. Well, biddies, if you want him to be all dolled up and to wear shoes, then you get him the clothes and shoes because I can barely get the money to feed him. Come Sunday, you mark my word, may God strike me, he will be in church to make his communion."

That ended the second battle. My mother never allowed the nun or Mother Superior to utter a word on their own behalf. She took me by the arm, walked out of the office and told me to go on to class.

Two days before communion, I was called out of class by a nun I had never seen before. She took me uptown where all the stores were located. When it came time to make communion, I paraded up to the altar dressed in my little white suit and white shoes. That was my first pair of shoes, my first suit. For once, I felt like one of God's little lambs. As my mother sat watching me in church, I'm sure she didn't miss letting the person next to her know that I was her son.

Chapter III: The Altar Boy Disaster

Electricity and electric lights in the house were things you dreamed about. All the houses in my neighborhood had neither gas nor electricity. Our illumination came from the kerosene lamp. A lamp stood in the hallway and on the stairwell. When the wind blew through the hallway, the lamp danced a shadow off the wall. If it was strong, it would blow out the light. To me, the shadows were ghosts dancing around the hallway, and when the light was blown out, it meant that the ghosts were standing by, ready to trap a victim. My little world was made up of ghosts and bogey men. It wasn't cruelty on my mother's part; she just didn't know any better way to make the kids come in before dark than by saying, "You better get in the house before it gets dark and the bogey man comes looking for you." Perhaps her family had said the same thing to her when she was a youngster in Ireland.

Any of the kids in the area could point to a house and say it was haunted or say they saw a spook. I was convinced the spooks were waiting for me on the stairs. Nothing could persuade me to climb those stairs once it got dark, no matter how much my mother yelled out of the window for me to come up. Sometimes she came down to fetch me. Other times someone older was going up, and they would hold my hand all the way. Every now and then Officer Kelley would come by around eight o'clock, and up those stairs we would go. One thing I was sure of--no ghost in his right mind would attack a policeman. No sir, no way. I was safe, and the spooks were foiled by the arm of the law.

There were many times that my mother was away in New York City looking for work. During those times my sisters were in charge. They dragged out their old school books and read and reread stories to me. All the stories stayed with me, adding to my fantasies.

As part of our class work, once in a while one of the kids was called to the front of the class to sit in a special chair and tell a story. I had not been called upon yet. One day our regular teacher was sick and we had a relief teacher in her place. It was storytelling day. She looked around the class as I shrank in my seat, wishing I could crawl into a hole. She pointed to me. My legs felt like lead weights as I slowly walked up and sat in the storyteller's chair. There was no way out. I was trapped, so I told them one of the stories my sisters had read to me. My sisters' stories were ones that belonged in classes several grades higher than the one I was cutting my teeth in. I talked for 35 minutes, exceeding a 20-minute limit. My storytelling so impressed the nun that she let me go on past the time. Everybody was taken by surprise. The story was a hit, and my self-esteem improved vastly.

The following week my regular teacher returned. Again it was storytelling day. She pointed to me. "I hear that you tell good stories. Come. Let me hear one." I told another of my stories, this time with more confidence and less stage fright. It went over well. The nun started to have more respect for me. She knew that someone at home was tutoring me. Even my homework was always attended to. The new image brought fewer raps on the knuckles and red palms from the strap. However, a couple of months later, I ran out of stories. The last one I told in class was a disaster. I had to make it up as I went along, and I shocked everyone, including the nun, with a tale of heads floating through the air in search of their bodies. It was enough to send me back to my seat feeling that I had lost a possible career as a storyteller in addition to my place on the teacher's pet list.

St. Peter's Church, with its school, was big. It served the spiritual needs of a large part of Jersey City. The staff of nuns and priests was enormous. Wedged on one side of the church was a large rectory. At least fifteen people were employed in the kitchen. My mother managed to get a job there. She was on the bottom rung of the ladder, peeling potatoes and onions and washing the pots and dishes. When the food was ready, she changed her apron and served the food, cleaned off the tables, washed some more pots and dishes, mopped the floors and took care of a dozen other jobs.

The tables were stacked with the best foods and wines. She would watch some of the priests drink wine and gorge themselves with food, then belch and go staggering out of the dining room. In the meantime, she was watching out for her own brood. She would fill up a tin can she brought with her with soup or stew or whatever she could lay her hands on, clamp on the lid and hand it to me as I left school to go home for lunch. I would share the little pail of warm food with the rest of the brood and return to school. In the evenings, I could hear my mother grumbling about the job to some of her friends who came to the house. While playing with an old toy in the front room, I could hear her belligerent tones: "Drunken pigs! That's all they are, just pigs! They fall all over that table from drinking all that wine. They pinch and make grabs at the nuns. They carry on like they were in a cat house! It's a disgrace to the Savior." Of course, all this talk left me with the impression that the rectory was a madhouse, with drunken priests running amok, chasing the poor nuns from pillar to post. My mom was a religious person. She respected God and said her prayers often. Even though she was filled with all the myths, beliefs and superstitions of religion, she thought nothing of belting some priest or shoving a nun against the wall when, in her opinion, they deserved it. To her, they were just people assigned to carry out the Lord's work, and they did it rather poorly while making sure that they lived high on the hog. She could not find time to attend church regularly, but she made sure that the rest of the family went to mass on Sunday.

In Ireland, the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon a family is to have one of the sons ordained as a priest. That ensures special social status for the family and a safe-conduct pass into heaven. If priesthood was desirable in Ireland, it was even more desirable in America. The only factor that prevented more of the Irish from choosing the ecclesiastical pursuit was poverty. Most families could not afford to have one of their number taken away from the production lines; it meant less pay flowing into the family coffers. The larger the family, the easier the sacrifice. But the Church kept its eyes open for anyone who might make a good candidate for priesthood.

One day I was told to report to the Mother Superior after class. In her office I found five schoolmates. I took my seat and waited to hear what disaster I had created. I'm sure the others felt the same way. Mother Superior was a tough old gal. We feared her more than anyone else in the school. She was a strict disciplinarian who would go so far as to box your ears even if you were kneeling at the altar and she thought you weren't paying enough attention. She looked up from her desk over her pince-nez. "You six boys have been chosen as candidates for altar boys."

Aha. I gulped. At least I wasn't going to get lumped up or blamed for some crisis which I knew nothing about. Still, I wasn't too happy at the thought of becoming an altar boy. It meant more time in church after school, and less time playing and having fun in the streets. I went home and told my mother the news. She showed no hostility nor any great elation about it, taking it as a matter of course. I knew that in the back of her mind she figured it would help to keep me out of trouble.

I discovered that the great task of the altar boy was memorizing, as an actor does his part on the stage, the various words the priest will use to be followed by some specific motion. In the training sessions I attended, I was told to watch the action of the priest celebrating mass and to listen to the cue in Latin. To me, trying to understand Latin was like trying to understand the Italian pushcart dealers--impossible. If the priest did the same thing over and over without altering his physical movements in any way, I had no difficulty. I was already learning the names of the garments that are worn, as well as some of the terms and meanings of the rites and mass itself: the bread and wine, the body and blood, the wafer, the altar, the consecrated bread.

One Sunday, while in training, the six of us were permitted to sit to one side of the altar during mass. We were to observe and get the true feeling by closely watching the priest at work, as well as watching the altar boys who were all well-versed professionals. Father McIntyre was conducting the mass. He was a little, frail man with a crop of silvery hair that stuck out unmanageably from the sides of his head. Everyone in the church hierarchy knew that Father McIntyre was always a little tipsy from sampling too much of the grape. Since he was considered one of the best when it came to handling the mass, he was used on weekdays to visit homes to help chase away the devil and shake up parents into making their children attend mass.

As he passed me upon entering to walk to the altar from the wing where we were seated, the strong odor of wine was on his breath. He conducted the mass on shaky legs, and anyone in the front pews could not have failed to recognize that he was "under the influence." Ordinarily, the amount of wine used on the altar was less than a petite wine glass. But Father McIntyre always insisted that the chalice used in the Sacrament of the Lord's supper be filled to the brim. The chalice held a pint of wine. After Father McIntyre downed the wine, his small-boned body would straighten up with a little jerk and a warm glow of contentment would pass his face. Once mass was over, he staggered off the altar in a rush to "refresh himself."

One afternoon I and a chum named Tommy and another named Connell were told to practice some more. We dressed up in the altar boy's attire and set about our assignment. Everything had to be the same as if the actual mass were being held--except, of course, there was no live organ, no choir, priest or flock. The chalice had been filled with wine, just as Father McIntyre would have wanted it, right up to the brim. Since we were on our own, with no one watching us, we started to play around. Soon I was imitating Father McIntyre and his staggering walk across the altar. Then Tommy tasted the wine and handed me the chalice. I drank some, then some more, and Tommy and I finished the whole pint in no time. I remember the tomb-like atmosphere of the smaller church, located in the basement of the main church, with candles serving as lights. Our heads started to spin and we became noisier and rowdier as we chased each other around and across the altar, now and again hiding in the confessional box, and having lots of fun. We should have known that since Connell did not take part in the drinking of the wine or the running around the altar, he would not see the humor of the episode. Suddenly, doors were banging and lights came on all over the place. What had been a vast darkness only seconds before was now lit up with hundreds of little lights. I stood up, reeling to and fro, and faced at least three priests, several nuns-including Mother Superior, and Connell.

"Why, the little devils are drunk!" Mother Superior shouted after she came face to face with us and smelled our breaths. I was defrocked right then and there, under a torrent of words I did not understand. I felt several slaps to the ear, and a kick in the fanny from one of the priests. By the time I reached home, I was terribly sick, vomiting all the way down the street.

That was the end of my ecclesiastical career. Somehow I always looked at that episode as blowing my chance for an easy way to heaven, or even sainthood.

Word got around that I had been found drunk on the altar. Some people passed me by in the neighborhood as if I were some sort of monster about to take a bite out of them. Someone said, "He's Irish. What can you expect?" A few weeks later, when our class got promoted and moved onto a higher grade, Tommy and I were not among the lucky ones. We were held back as punishment.

Shortly thereafter, I was awakened on a Saturday morning by a sprinkling of cold water on my face. I looked up from my bed on the floor to stare into the face of Father McIntyre, who was walking through all the rooms, throwing holy water around and making with the words in Latin to chase away demons and devils. I pulled an old coat over my head and continued sleeping, feeling that I was well-protected against all evil.

It was St. Patrick's Day. The money my mother had been saving for a ham was spent instead on a flagstaff that extended some ten feet from the window sill. The biggest flag I ever saw dropped from the pole. You could see it several blocks away. It was as green as the new grass in the meadow. A harp and an angel with outspread wings, surrounded by a mass of shamrocks, filled the flag. Beneath it all were the words "Erin Go Bragh."

It was my mother's way of shouting her defiance of the New World, which had promised so much but delivered so little. She flew the flag of Ireland's new freedom. I suppose it was also her way of paying her respects to her brother Patrick, who was killed by the Black and Tans during the Easter uprising. She hated the British with a vengeance. In one of her melancholy moments, when she had sipped a beer or two, she would allow the tears to roll down her face and tell of the letter from her sister Bridget which related how the Black and Tans forced their way into their mother's house, dragging out the younger brother Patrick and accusing him of being a member of the Irish Republican Army. With their dear mother imploring the British officers to let her son be, they stood him up against the door on the outside of the house and shot him dead. The bullet went through Patrick and then through the door.

Chapter IV: The War and Uncle Harry

My sister Isabell, whom we called Bella, was the oldest. Her health was not the best. She had served as the shock absorber in my father's attempt to break from what he considered a hopeless cause. Bella always took my mother's side and protected her. This, of course, increased my father's wrath against Bella. Some doctors said she was tubercular and should have lots of rest, good food, and emotional stability; by no means should she be allowed to toil in overcrowded, dusty factories.

Bella worked in most of the factories in the area. At one of them which produced batteries, she had to breathe the harsh fumes for ten hours a day. As a result of three months' toil in that place, she was hospitalized on and off for four months. Another of her jobs was a six-week stint in the slaughterhouse, isolated in a steam room. Her job was to direct a live steam hose onto a big slab of meat that came into her area on hooks moving on rollers. The constant wet steam sent her back to the hospital, with an even longer stay away from work. My mother tried to find her other kinds of work, but jobs were not plentiful for young women outside of factories, sweatshops, slaughterhouses and hospitals. Perhaps, for my sister, World War I came in time, for in it she saw an opportunity to break away. She joined the Nurses Corps and was sent to an outlying hospital for training.

Two days before she was to depart for France, she came home. She looked good, healthy and well-fed. She said goodbye to us as she donned her black nurse's cape; then she kissed us. Her ship was three days away from France when the captain received word that the Germans had surrendered and the war was over. The ship immediately turned around and headed back to the United States.

Bella left home shortly after being released from service in the Nurses Corps. She married and gave birth to two wonderful boys. But she was racked with back pains, colds, and weak lungs. She died of cancer at age 65 and was buried in a town near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California.

Our dwelling was about six blocks from the ferry terminal that adjoined the train depot. Trains took off from here for all points in Jersey. It was at this depot where thousands of soldiers boarded trains for Camp Dix, the Army training grounds. It was to this same depot that the soldiers returned from Fort Dix to board ships for France in World War I. The war seemed to move on a fast track; I remembered the soldiers leaving, and suddenly they seemed to be home again. A series of parades with marching music celebrated their homecoming.

No one was able to explain why most of the people in our area, as well as in other areas, suddenly started to scratch. We were told that the soldiers had brought back some itch from the war. Every three days for the next two weeks, I walked to the County Hospital and, along with many hundreds of kids and grownups, stood in a line two blocks long. Slowly we moved ahead, clutching our buckets, pails or tin cans, waiting for that happy moment when a hospital staff member would thrust his arm into a 50-gallon can and come up with a quart-size scoop of salve. On the way home, we started smearing the salve all over us to ease the discomfort of the "soldier's itch." That, too, passed in time.

At the same time the troops were returning home, a stranger entered our household. He was a tall, slim Irishman from County Cork. He had joined the American Army and gone overseas to fight in several battles: Chateau Thierry, the Marne, and other battles in France. He had been gassed and put through the wringer, finally returning labeled a "shell-shock case." My mother introduced him to us with, "Meet your Uncle Harry."

In the beginning, this big Irishman was very congenial, always smiling and showing what good bridgework he had. In his dress he had no equal. He kept himself immaculate. He could spend an hour just polishing his shoes, making sure he got the right shine. It wasn't long before "Meet your Uncle Harry" changed to "Take this cup of tea to your stepfather," or "Don't make too much noise; your stepfather is trying to sleep."

So, my mother had remarried, we were told, and from now on we were to take orders from, and be disciplined by, Harry. It was fairly obvious that someone was bound to come along and fill the void in my mother's lonesome life. Even with a dozen kids around her she could still be lonely. My mom had met Harry years before at a St. Paddy's Day picnic. At that time he was carefree and charming. After he returned from the war, he sought my mother out and found her, separated from my father, vulnerable to his charm.

It wasn't long before the honeymoon was over. That came through to me via a slap across the face that sent me reeling across the room. I looked into the eyes of what appeared to me at the moment to be a madman. I glanced past him to my mother for some sort of protection or comfort. But all she said was, "You deserved it."

The discipline was tightening up. I did not like it one bit, nor did I like the stepfather. Two weeks after he took over the reins, he sent me out to sell newspapers. I would buy the Jersey Observer for two cents per paper and sell it for three cents. If I sold ten papers in a day, that was ten cents profit; ten cents could buy a lot. So I hustled around with papers under my arm, rain or shine, and competed with the other barefoot kids who ran around the street.

My biggest day in the newspaper game was during the Dempsey-Carpentier fight in Boyle's 30 acres, in Jersey. I met the newspaper man and his horse and buggy at the Lackawanna Railroad Ferry Depot. I gave him twenty cents in advance for ten papers. Instead of the ten papers, he handed me a bundle of 100.

"Here, these are for you. I'll be around later to pick up any papers you don't sell, and the money."

I panicked. "Why so many papers?" I protested.

"Never mind," he soothed me. "You'll sell them all today. Just shout as loud as you can when the people come off the ferry boats, `Read all about it! All the facts about the big fight!'"

I did as he ordered. I shouted my "read all about it" as each ferry boat brought in hundreds of people who would disembark and catch other transportation to the fight. The Observer carried a picture of the Manassas Mauler, Jack Dempsey, on its front page in a posed shot facing the French challenger, Georges Carpentier.

Within two hours I had sold out the hundred copies. I didn't realize how much money I really had, since many people handed me a nickel or a dime and said, "Keep the change."

The newspaper man came around, left some more papers and took some of the money. I went home with two papers I hadn't been able to peddle. As I emptied my pockets onto the kitchen table, there were smiles and pats on the back and words like, "He's a great boy."

Old stepfather kept his eyes open for little jobs for me. One day, the potato man came past our house. He had a horse and cart loaded down with a mountain of potatoes. A big sign on the wagon read "TWENTY-FIVE POUNDS FOR TWENTY-FIVE CENTS." The peddler was fat; he didn't look like someone who looked forward to climbing long flights of stairs all day. Harry had a little chat with him. Then he called me out to accompany the potato man and assist him in his work. "And be sure to do everything the man tells you or you'll catch it when you get home," was his parting shot.

All that day, the horse and cart moved slowly through the poor neighborhoods of the city, the potato man shouting out his bargain. People stuck their heads out the windows to holler down their orders. He loaded the bags, handed them to me and told me what to collect. It seemed like most of those who bought potatoes lived on the top floors. Sometimes I had to climb the stairs again to take back change.

At one place where we stopped, a good-looking woman put her head out the door and beckoned to the peddler. He came back to me and said, "Kid, stay near the wagon, see? I'll be back in a few minutes."

When he finally reappeared, he was buttoning the fly of his pants. "Here, take these potatoes to that woman. Don't collect nothing. She already paid me."

At six that evening, we finished, with 25 pounds of potatoes left. He let me off the cart at my house and handed me 25 cents and the potatoes. Again I was the hero, but I was so exhausted I could not stay awake to eat. I curled up under a few old coats and blankets and fell asleep.

If our mother had expected things to improve economically around the house by giving us a stepfather, she was soon to be sadly disappointed. Old Harry rarely held down a job longer than the first or second paycheck. He was full of excuses. The war, he said, had taken the best out of him. He was suffering from ulcers brought on by his service in France, he said. This also meant that if there was fresh butter or milk around the house, it would go to him. While we spread lard and salt on our bread, he drowned his toast in butter. While he drank fresh milk, we poured a spoonful of condensed milk over a bowl of snow and pretended it was ice cream. Harry received a small disability check from the government because of his war injuries. But that check was spent days before it ever arrived. Harry also loved the taste of the foamy suds, and he was no stranger to the thrills of wiping out a bottle of Irish whiskey.

Again my mother had to be the provider, taking in washing, scouting around for cleaning jobs. There was one fail-proof way we recognized the pressure building up in her. Ordinarily, if I was doing something she did not like, she would say, in a comforting voice, "Stop it." If I ignored the warning, she would come charging at me with Harry's razor strop in her hand and whack me across the fanny. But when she was under pressure, there was no comforting warning. Instead, she would lay it on before I knew what was happening.

One day I turned quickly to see her charging toward me. I put out my arm in self defense. She stopped short, and in that moment, I made a gesture of swinging at her.

"Don't you dare hit your mother. You hear me?" she shouted. I said nothing, but felt happy that the charge resulted only in a verbal blast instead of the strop. She continued with her tirade. "In Ireland, you can always tell the bad people who struck their mothers. When they died, their hands stuck up out of the grave."

For many months afterward, I would carry the picture in my mind of graveyards in Ireland with hands exposed above the ground. I didn't want my hand sticking out from the grave; from that day on, I never struck back.

Sister Kate had been dating a young Polish guy called Chick. He worked on and around the vast fleet of barges which were towed up and down the Hudson and East Rivers, laden with cargo. He lived a few blocks down the street with his mother and two younger brothers. When he came to the house to court Kate, he always stopped at the bakery and bought a bag of sugar buns. I liked him. The romance had gone on for six months. There was mention of marriage, but my mother thought that Kate should wait at least another year.

One night, the winds blew and the rain came down heavy. The barges tied together alongside the docks banged and stretched their mooring lines. It looked as if some of them might be set adrift. Chick was called from the house to go down and make sure they were secured. Crossing from one barge to the next with a lantern in his hand, he slipped and fell between the two. He was crushed, then drowned. It was a night he was to have taken Kate to an uptown movie.

For three days and nights, Chick's body was laid out in an open coffin in the front room of his house, while friends of the family came at all hours to kneel before the casket and pray. His mother was constantly in tears. On the third day, the horse-drawn hearse came to the house and took him to the burial grounds, removing the black ribbon that had been pinned on the front door to let everyone know there had been a loss in the family.

The sudden tragedy of Chick's death was a shock to sister Kate. In the next six months, she came close to joining a Catholic order to become a nun. Instead, she married two years later, raised a family of five, and died of a heart attack in San Francisco at the age of sixty-two.

Chapter V: Hoboken Drama and Petty Larceny

One day I came home to find the house full of excitement. There were several wooden barrels in the center of the kitchen. What few dishes we had were being wrapped in newspaper and placed in the barrels. We were moving.

It wrung my heart to say goodbye to all my friends--Pauline, Peter, Helen--all the kids I had grown up with. The refrain of my farewells, repeated again and again, was that I would return some day.

Hoboken, my new residence, was one mile square. Our house was adjacent to the industrial area, not far from the railroad tracks. My mother sent me to public school instead of enrolling me in Catholic school. She did not want to start the hassles all over again about not having money for books or regulation clothing. In public school one needed not to worry about such details. Books were free, and the only clothing requirement was that it be clean.

Public School Number Five took in a large section of Hoboken. It was only a couple of blocks from where I lived. I adapted easily to the new classroom routine. The time I had spent at St. Peter's parochial school had made it that much easier. Here, discipline was more relaxed; I didn't witness anyone being brutalized with a ritual morning stropping across the palms for little infractions of dogmatic rules. There I found the greatest teacher who ever lived, Alice A. O'Rafferty. She was a small, frail woman with pince-nez, impeccably dressed. She was in her fifties. She could see through me as no one else could. Within five minutes, she knew when I was about to commit some sort of mayhem in class. Once, while she was facing the blackboard, chalking up the next day's lessons, I began performing a little mimicry, waving my hands in all directions. Without turning around or pausing in her writing she said, "Will the person who is making a fool of himself please stop." From that moment, I figured she had some spiritual power working for her; she did not turn her head once, yet she knew I was the one performing. For years afterward, the incident remained a mystery. I finally decided that, somehow, she got my reflection bouncing off her glasses when she tilted her head a certain way.

She lived in a better section of Hoboken, the area that faced the river. At night she could look out the window and see the towering lights of New York City, including the Woolworth Building, the world's tallest. In front and in back of her residence she had gardens full of lovely flowers. Alice A. O'Rafferty immediately noticed that I lacked three good meals a day, as well as warm clothing. It did not take her long to discover that I came from a family with a good many problems.

At least three times a week, a young Jewish boy whose father owned a furniture store on the main street would bring her an apple. She would thank him warmly and leave the apple on her desk all day. I would stare at it, cursing the "teacher's pet" for boot licking. When it came time to dismiss the class, Miss O'Rafferty would always have someone stay behind to clean the blackboard erasers. Usually that was me. When I had finished my chore she would say, "Put this apple in your pocket and eat it when you get home." Finally I realized that whenever I saw the apple on her desk, I should stay behind after class.

On Easter Sunday she had me come to her house to receive an Easter basket loaded with eggs and chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. When Christmas came around, she again invited me to her house. When I arrived, she had me try on an overcoat. It was a beautiful, long, black wool coat, several sizes too big for me. I was so grateful to receive it that I cried with jubilation. I felt warm all over.

Our school maintained its own traffic control police. I was assigned a street corner to patrol. My job was to stop all traffic, letting the kids cross safely. A badge was strapped to my upper arm. After the area was cleared of kids, all the badges were tuned in to the assistant chief, who put them in the janitor's workshop until the next day. Within three months, I took over the assistant chief's job. The collection of badges fell to me. The janitor was a heavy smoker who left partial packs of cigarettes all through his workshop. Every time I walked in with the badges I saw a pack here and there, but never any janitor. It was the perfect setup.

Just a few months after moving to Hoboken, I teamed up with the local group of kids always responsible for petty mischief. Naturally, we were all striving to grow up quickly--to be rid of childish chores and to shed those knicker pants and long stockings. Smoking was one of the evil steps to growing up and reaching manhood. "Look at me!" you felt like shouting to the whole darn world, "Look! I'm smoking! I'm a grownup! Don't lay any more kid stuff on me, I'm a man!" We would sit around in groups of five or six, carefully watching the one guy who knew how to inhale as he slowly drew in the smoke and let it out through his nose. Man! That was something: to make smoke come out of your nose like a dragon! That was living!

After days and days of trying, I finally made the grade and found myself going around in a dizzy twirl. We would buy small packs of "Sweet Caporals" or "Mecca," which came in half-size packs for a nickel. But nickels were hard to come by, and the discovery that the janitor left cigarettes lying around was the perfect solution. At first, I only took a cigarette or two out of his pack, leaving the package where it was. But as time went on and the demand for cigarettes grew stronger, I began taking the entire pack.

These easy pickings and a life of crime came to a fast end one afternoon when the janitor hid in a closet. Peeking out, he watched me play "Raffles." He jumped out of his hiding place and dragged me to the principal's office. The principal looked up when we entered. "Aha, you finally caught him!"

I stood there like a sheep ready for shearing. Had this been the parochial school, I would have been drawn and quartered. Here, however, the discipline was different. My own teacher was still in the building. She was summoned. Now I was boiling with indignation at being caught--I would have to face Miss O'Rafferty. She came in, looked at me and said, "Wait outside." After a few minutes, she came out and walked me away from the door. "Why didn't you come to me and ask for money for cigarettes instead of stealing them? If you must smoke--and I think it's asinine that you do--I would rather give you the money than see you steal it and end up this way. What am I going to do with you?" She looked at me with those eyes I was sure always peered right through me. I studied the floor.

"Look me in the eye when I talk to you," she demanded.

I raised my head sheepishly, but I couldn't keep my eyes focused on hers. "What do you think should happen to you for stealing?" she asked. I didn't utter a word. "Very well, then. I will find something for you to do that will keep you out of mischief."

The next day she had a list of things for me to do. She named two books I had to read. Each morning I was to bring a written report on my reading. For at least a month, my play time with the "gang" was reduced to nearly zero. I didn't realize at the time that she was increasing the tempo of my education.

Not long afterward, news that a play was shaping up spread through the school. I was assigned a part in "A Day at the Court of King Arthur." I was handed two typewritten pages; for the next three weeks I was to learn lines. The juicy role was that of King Arthur. He was played by the richest kid in the school, Sol Fineman, whose father was a well-established doctor. King Arthur sat in a big royal chair, elevated two feet off the floor. This way he could look down on his subjects. All he did in the play was shout to his court flunky, "Who dares enter the court of King Arthur?" The flunky would then announce the name of the caller. The king would answer, "Let him enter," and the flunky would bang his staff on the floor and shout, "Enter, sir, and pay your respects to the King." The King was dressed in royal garb, and he was always on stage.

My big problem with my lines was a difficulty in pronouncing "Hoboken." I kept saying "Hobucken," It infuriated the teacher. As a cure, she worked out a formula: no matter where I was, if she approached me, I was to repeat the word, "Hoboken."

"Just remember the word `hobo'," she said.

I mumbled, talked to myself, and kept repeating, "hobo, hobo, hobo." I finally got it: "Hoboken."

In the play, I represented the Red Cross. I stood in the wings waiting for my cue. I carried a big white flag with a red cross in its center. The pole to which the flag was attached was nine feet long and heavy. I was to walk up to a designated spot, stopping about ten feet from the king.

When the flunky announced, "Come, sir, and pay your respects to the King," I came charging out much too fast. Instead of stopping within ten feet of the king, I charged ahead, holding the flag pole almost straight up and stopping six feet away. I started to recite, "Five years ago, the President of the United States called upon the children of our country to organize for services during the great World War. Among the hundreds of thousands of children to answer the call were the children of Public School Number Five of Hobo Ken." There were other lines about the number of bundles of clothing and toys that we gathered and something about how our gifts brought hope and enlightenment to the children who were victims of the war in Europe. I was terrified that I might fumble my lines in front of so many people in the auditorium, so I blurted them out quickly. I felt so good when I reached the last line, so proud that I had "done it," that I failed to pay attention to the position of the flagpole.

Instead of stepping back several feet and then turning to exit the way it had been rehearsed, I turned quickly to get off the stage as fast as I could. Though I have no memory of doing so, I lowered the flagpole. It clunked Sol Fineman, alias King Arthur, right on the head, knocking loose his crown. He tried to maintain his composure. But now I turned, and as the pole swung around, it belted him on the side of the face. A series of "oohs" and "aahs" came from the audience. The king was dethroned and sprawled on the floor.

By a stroke of good fortune, I was the last of the king's subjects to appear before him. The curtain came down, and someone picked up the king and his crown and gave him a handkerchief to wipe away his tears. Someone else called me a dummy. And still someone else called for first aid for the scratch on the king's head. Fortunately, it was the last day of school before summer vacation. Everybody would have many weeks to forget the incident.

The main toughie in the neighborhood was a kid named Carson, whom we called Kit. He was small in comparison to the rest of the "mob," but he was skinny and fearless. He was as crooked as a barrel of snakes. He had knew where every small merchant in the neighborhood kept his money overnight. The only obstacle that had face him so far was how to break into a place without tripping the alarm. On such small details, however, he was working assiduously. Kit was much admired by all of us. He knew how to smoke a cigarette, blowing smoke out of his nose and mouth at the same time. He taught us all a lot of tricks.

There were a few saloons in the area that catered to petty thieves. Carson knew them all. One time when things were tough--meaning that there was little to steal and peddle--Carson made a deal with one of the saloon keepers to buy all the electric light bulbs he could steal. The streetcars and buses that made up the transportation system of Hoboken each carried a 100-watt bulb in a cage-like structure in the rear. Just as the streetcar or bus was about to take off from its corner stop, one of the "mob" would climb onto the rear bumper. Holding on with one hand, he would use the other to flip open the cage and unscrew the bulb. Then he would hop off at the next stop. Within three days the Hoboken transportation company was without lights. That brought about an innovation: the two-prong bulb that could not be attached to the system in houses. We were out of business.

In the meantime, the saloon keeper bought bulbs from us at two for a nickel. For a while, there was competition in the "mob" as to who could hop aboard the most streetcars and buses in one day. It was considered only natural that our leader, Kit Carson, won all the honors. We blew our loot on cigarettes, pizzas and charlotte russes. Carson, with his ever-keen eye, picked a grocery store in our immediate neighborhood for his next caper. He knew that the Italian owner never walked home with the store receipts on a Saturday night. So, one Saturday, he climbed up on a roof across the street from the store. From this vantage point he could look down into the large window of the Italian's place. He watched as the owner went about his routine of emptying the cash register, counting the money, separating the ones from the twos, fives and tens, stuffing it into a small cloth sack, and finally locking it in a small steel container. Carson watched, his heart beating faster, as the owner went to the oatmeal shelf, removed a few cartons, placed the cash box on the shelf, then neatly replaced the oatmeal cartons. Out went the lights. He locked the door and went home.

Skinny, tough, small, wiry Carson was clever enough not to call upon the 12 or 13 kids who made up the "mob" to join him in the burglary. He picked only two who suited his purpose. Come Monday, there was much activity in the neighborhood. Cops and detectives ran in and out of the grocery store. From time to time, the owner would come out and stand in front of the door, slapping his head with his open palms and shouting something in Italian. I imagined he, a poor, humble Italian who had been robbed, was appealing to the neighborhood to please bring back his money, whoever had stolen it. To us kids, it was obvious who stole it.

Carson and the two others were not around to witness the antics of the police and owner. No sir, Carson and his cohorts were busy at Rockaway Beach and its amusement park, spending some $200 which just the previous day had rested comfortably behind some boxes of oatmeal. Around the middle of the week, after four days of swimming, eating hot dogs, drinking countless bottles of soda, smoking countless cigarettes and taking in all the amusements the park offered, the trio came home, tanned, refreshed, well-fed--and broke. Since the cops knew Carson as the neighborhood petty crook, they picked him up when he arrived home. He lived up to his tough reputation: after several hours of grilling, he said nothing. The cops let him go.

How did he enter the store, since it was wired against burglary? The rest of the mob asked him that a number of times. The secret lay in the transom over the store's front door. The door itself had been wired against unlawful entry, but the transom wasn't. Since it was the middle of July and a heat wave scorched the city, the grocer invariably left the transom shutter wide open when he locked up. Carson had turned this opportunity to his advantage.

Carson's cutting out most of the mob from the goodies didn't sit well with us. We realized that he could not be relied on to cut us in on any future lucrative projects. We would have to cut it on our own. Of all the ways of making penny-ante dough, the junk-shop route was the most appealing. If you weren't inclined toward robbing stores or grabbing somebody's purse, you could locate and collect any old junk and haul it to the junk shop. Copper paid most, with brass and then lead following in price. Old rags paid very little; you needed a whale of a load to get ten or fifteen cents. An empty house in the middle of the block became our target. One of my cohorts and I managed to sneak into this house through an open rear window. It had three stories. All of its pipes were exposed, as they were in most of the old homes in those days. All the pipes were lead. We knew enough to go to the basement, search out the valve and shut the water off. The rest was easy. We went to the top floor and yanked off the pipes under the sink. We rolled up some 25 pounds of lead and wrapped it in a sack. We fixed the door so we could re-enter when we returned. Then we headed for the junk shop with our loot. It weighed out at 27 pounds. At five cents per pound, it came to $1.35. That night we sat on the doorstep, eating a pizza and licking a charlotte russe, happy in the knowledge of the location of more lead pipe, which meant more pizza and charlotte russes.

There are all sorts of laws, some good and some bad. The law of averages was one we were not familiar with. On the fifth day, we had worked ourselves down to the first floor. We used a hacksaw which cut easily through the pipe. We even brought our own burlap bags to hold the lead. Soon it became clear that the more lead we took to the shop, the more the owner cheated us. According to him, the price of lead could go down in a single night by as much as a penny. If we didn't like it, we could always haul our stuff to the other junk shop ten blocks away. Exhausted as we were, ten blocks did not appeal to us. Sometimes we made two trips a day with our lead. We were making it in the junk business. The other kids were jealous, watching us smoke "tailor-made" cigarettes and eat pizzas every night. We kept the source of our wealth to ourselves.

It happened quickly. Two detectives nailed us as we took a few steps outside the house, each of us with a bag of lead over our shoulders. The steel-barred doors clanged shut behind us. Caged! We were in a cell with two bunks chained to the wall, two lumpy straw mattresses, a couple of moth-eaten thin gray blankets and two tin cups. The walls were full of scratches and penciled initials, with a word or two for the wise: "Don't cop a plea with Judge Sullivan," Advised one. "Make your peace with God," counseled another. We were lucky. Our families came and took us home after a few hours. I had my ears boxed that night and my mother chased me from room to room as she laid the poker across my butt.

Five days later, my mother appeared with me before a judge in his private chambers. The red-faced, pudgy man sat behind a desk. To his right sat the probation officer. My mother faced him nervously. He shuffled a few papers, then looked at me. "You don't seem to have any productive outlet," suggested the judge.

My mother jumped in quickly. "But he's really a good boy, sir. It's just some bad company he got into lately."

"It's always bad company," countered the judge. "Every mother or father that comes before me insists on blaming their son's habits on the company he keeps, never on him."

"But he has never been in trouble before, sir. And besides, I gave him a good licking when I got him home. That will teach him," ventured my mother.

"I think he needs more than a good licking," replied the judge as he turned toward the probation officer. "Let's try two weeks at the Farm for Wayward Boys." It was all over. My mother started weeping. I pouted. The probation officer took me by the hand and led me outside into another office.

"He goes to the Farm," he informed the man at the desk.

"Sit there and don't move," ordered the man. An hour later, a small bus took me to the Farm.

The Farm was located on the fringes of Jersey City. It was comprised of a few buildings, a large number of work sheds, and plenty of rich black soil. There were a hundred kids there, all from the working class. I remember no fat ones; they were all skinny, bony guys like myself, who entered the place hungry. This was the first time I had been forcibly separated from the family. I did not like it. Only the fear of being humiliated by the other kids kept me from bursting into tears. Every kid at the Farm was in the same boat.

During the day, we were sent out to work in the fields, to hoe row after row of carrots, cabbages and onions; to pull weeds; or to fertilize the rows with manure. At meal times, we crowded together in a small building, the mess hall, to eat. The food was plain but fresh, and there was plenty of it. A wire fence seven feet high separated us from the outside world. What kept kids from trying to escape was the fear of a severe beating, an ice cold shower, and more time at the Farm.

The day I entered the place, a nurse checked me over and gave me a few tests. Three days later I was summoned to her office, and within minutes I was en route to a hospital at a place called Snake Hill. I had diphtheria. After ten days in the hospital, I returned to the Farm to serve the rest of my two weeks.

Back on the streets, I quickly picked up my old habits. I was back to smoking, back to making plans to turn knowledge into money. I found a few hours of work in one of Hoboken's three bowling alleys, setting pins a couple of nights a week. The competition was tough, and even two bits for three hours of backbreaking work was considered good.

Another boy and I went on a scouting expedition, looking for something to turn into cash. We wound up around the big car barns that housed and serviced Hoboken and Jersey City street cars and buses. All sorts of fire ladders led to the roof of the one-story structure. We climbed one, expecting to get a view rather than to find anything of value. We scanned the city in all directions, locating our school, the city hall, the church. Nothing we noticed on the roof could be negotiated into cash, and we prepared to leave and scout other territory. My partner caught his pants on a piece of thin metal sticking out slightly from the roof parapet a foot below the top of the roof. As I bent down to untangle his cuff, I discovered that the pitch-covered metal was copper. A bonanza! A complete city block of copper! It was used as a waterproofing sealant strip that ran around the top of the roof. All we had to do was work the copper sheeting loose from the side of the wall, pull and tear. The sheeting would peel off in ten-foot strips. We would roll it up, step on it to flatten the roll, pop it into a burlap bag, and haul it off to the junk dealer.

Once a day, we appeared on the scene with our potato sacks. We checked the area to make sure no one was around, then we climbed the roof and started our operation, the "big rip-off." Each day's work netted us at least three dollars apiece. That was big money for the short amount of labor involved. And if the junk man had been honest with his weights and prices, we would have been paid triple that. As it was, we were happy for small favors. For ten days we tore up that roof, peeling off copper strips as if we were peeling bananas. The junk man gloated over our success.

On the eleventh day it rained, and we laid off work to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The next day, when the sun came out, we too were out with our sacks, ready for work. As we started to leave with our sacks loaded, a small army of conductors and repairmen fell upon us. The roof had sprung a thousand leaks. The machine shop was soaked with rain water. Someone had gone to the roof to check, found all the weather proofing torn up or missing, and then set the trap. The game was up. A week later, it was back to the same judge, then back to the same Farm. This time the sentence was doubled. If you returned to the Farm for a second time, they made it rough for you. No more simple work like picking potato bugs off leaves or pulling weeds. "Shake hands with the pick and shovel," they told me. I spent that month digging ditches, with very few breaks. That did it--no more jails, I told myself. No more banditry.

Three days on the outside, bored and broke and listening to the heated arguments between my mother and stepfather started me off again. A few blocks from the neighborhood stood an expensive hotel and drinking place. Only the very rich and sporty frequented it. A few other kids and I started hanging around it, looking for an opportunity. One night we spotted a swanky car pulling up. The driver got out and entered the bar. The car was full of rich-looking suitcases. The door was unlocked. We opened the door and pulled out the first suitcase we saw. We headed down the street to a dark alley. The suitcase was loaded with the most expensive shirts we had ever seen. Someone peering out of an upper-story window had seen us commit the act. The police received a fair description. We hid the suitcase under a warehouse loading platform. Every evening for three days straight, we made a trip to the suitcase to change shirts. For three days we were the ritziest kids in Hoboken, while the cops continued their search for us. A detective picked two of us up after he noticed us wearing silk shirts under overalls with sneakers. We insisted that the shirts belonged to our fathers, but the detective was suspicious. We were held until some member of the family appeared to take us home.

My mom came to get me. The first thing she said when she saw me was, "Just wait until I get you home. You'll get the licking of your life." The detective smiled at this. In the next breath she said, "And where did you get that shirt? You never had it on when you left the house."

The detective turned and stared at me. That was it. The detective got the suitcase and the rest of the shirts and I got nabbed for rap number three. This was serious. Now I was really flouting the law. This meant being sent to a strict reform school where there would be harsh treatment and few privileges. I did not get a beating when I got home. Instead, my mother was rather morose about the whole deal. She felt that she had unintentionally put the finger on me. She was worried. After all, the other two brothers had been sent to the strictest reform school in New Jersey, and she didn't want to see the same thing happen to me.

As luck would have it, the juvenile judge went off on a two-week vacation, leaving a backlog of cases. There were just three more weeks of summer vacation.

Chapter VI: Hell's Kitchen

About ten days later, my mother found the answer to some of her problems. We packed up and moved to New York City, right into the middle of notorious Hell's Kitchen, on West 38th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. The Hoboken police were so pleased to get rid of me, they never pursued the matter. I was glad to be out of there.

Adjusting to a new neighborhood always takes a while. You stand around and watch the action in the streets for a while. Pretty soon you get to know who the toughest character is, who the good guys and bad guys are. The local kids start their scrutiny of you the minute you haul the first piece of furniture into the house. The block we lived in was made up mostly of Irish, with a scattering of Greeks. A block away, Poles dominated; in the block on the other side of us it was Italians.

On Saturdays, between West 38th and West 42nd Streets on both sides of 9th Avenue, pushcart vendors took over. From six in the morning to almost midnight, almost anything edible was for sale. The competition was keen, yet there were never any arguments among vendors. I soon learned that, by carefully crawling under certain pushcarts from the rear, I could steal a fair number of shopping bags. Legitimately, these sold for five cents apiece; I sold them for four. Sometimes I could even lift some fruits and vegetables. Generally, from these little crawling expeditions around the pushcarts I was able to supply the household with enough potatoes and onions and other vegetables to last until the following Saturday. Sometimes I or another kid would get caught and receive a good kick in the ass. We couldn't show our faces to any of the vendors on the block for a long time without having the word passed that the petty crooks were on the loose.

I managed to make a few legitimate dimes on the side. At nine or ten at night, the pushcart owners closed shop. Usually too tired to haul their carts back to the stables, they called on the kids to help. For ten cents, we would dash like madmen to the stable, then run back to pick up another cart. If we were lucky we might come out with fifty cents. That was enough money to take us through the week. We never spent the money on movies, because we could always sneak into them through unlatched back doors or through toilet windows.

Up to now, the stepfather's contribution to the family had been negligible. His hitch in the army during World War I had been the best thing he'd ever done from the vantage point of the idleness he had enjoyed ever since. He developed the attitude that the time he spent fighting to make the world safe for democracy qualified him to be taken care of for the rest of his life. The world owed him a living and he was going to make it pay dearly. The rest of the world may have loved "Harry Longlegs" for winning the war in Europe, but no one in my family was impressed. Manual labor was alien to him. Whenever some government bureaucrat insisted he put as much zeal into finding suitable employment as he did demanding an increase in his disability check, he would cough and complain about how he was left disabled by the "German gas attack." He was one of the most articulate letter writers I can remember. He knew enough about the law and how congressmen and bureaucrats operated to get some traction with his letters when other means failed. All government-run hospitals were open to him. Whenever the booze got to him and he needed a few weeks' rest and good food, he'd complain about his condition and get admitted to any number of hospitals. During the severe winter months he would find his way into a hospital in the warm regions, where he would loaf and eat nourishing food while the family lived on potato and onion stew and stuffed their shoes with newspaper to keep out the chill. He spent more time inside convalescent homes than he did outside of them. For those on-and-off moments when he was around, it was clear that as a husband he was a failure. As a provider, he was a disaster. He provided nothing but confusion and broken promises. He managed to lift the lion's share right off the top of what little did trickle into the house. My mother had long since given up on him. It was becoming routine to enter the house and hear her denouncing him and his forbears as drunks and lazy freeloaders.

Our move into this six-story tenement in the heart of Hell's Kitchen had been made with the understanding that, for a big cut in rent, Mother would act as janitor. It meant turning on the gas lights on each floor in the evening and turning them off in the morning, sweeping the stairs and organizing the garbage disposal, and generally looking after the tenement for the owners, whoever they were. My mother had expected the stepfather to lend a hand in this project, but that, too, turned out a disappointment. When the time came to perform his duties, he ducked into the local pub. Here in the smelly saloon, where everyone fought for elbow room at the bar, he found sympathetic ears into which he could pour his stories about the big battles he took part in and how the "Huns" had gassed him at the Marne. Such stories generally brought him free beer, and he was never without something to eat since the free lunch counter was always full.

One Sunday my mother sent me off to church with a nickel to put in the collection. It was a beautiful day, and I couldn't see spending it in church. I joined a few other kids in some fun that ended with us rolling dice and pitching pennies with the money intended for the collection plates. When I came home, Harry Longlegs asked, "What did the priest have to say for his sermon?"

I thought fast because I could see the steam rising in him. "I dunno," I replied.

"You don't know!" he bellowed, starting to draw the belt out of his pants' loops. I figured I was in for it. My mother was in the next room sewing, but she was aware of what was happening.

I backed a few inches away from him, watching as he wrapped part of the belt around his fist. I made one more attempt to pacify him. "I sat in the back. I couldn't hear him so well. I think he said something about more people should come to Mass." Just then my mother entered the room. "Leave him be," she ordered.

Harry looked at her with wild eyes. "There's nothing worse than a liar," he shouted, "and he's lying. He's never been to church. He hasn't even got a bit of dust on his knees where he's supposed to have been kneeling." I was glad to see my mother enter the fray. But the belt was still snugly wrapped around Harry's fist; he still looked angry.

"The way those damn priests carry on," suggested my mother, "I can't tell what the hell they're saying half the time myself. And those Eye-talians can't even speak English. No one can understand their gibberish. I wish they'd get a good Irish priest in that parish."

Harry Longlegs was not to be outdone. Having lost that particular round, he gave it another try, shaking his belted fist in my direction. "I catch you one more time lying, I'll give you the back of my hand that will knock you to kingdom come," he promised. I looked at my mother, trying to thank her with my eyes. However, she gave me the feeling that she knew I was lying and she didn't like it either.

For a boy growing up in New York, two daydreams predominated. One was of the Wild West and cowboys and buffaloes, Indians and mountains, and good guys and bad guys. The dream included all the goodies that reward good guys, like the rancher's beautiful daughter and the keys to the city where the good deeds were performed. The other dream was of some far-off island in the Pacific, with swaying palm trees, grass shacks under coconut trees and lovely native women running around freely with just a handkerchief covering them. It was a dream of swimming and fishing, of eating delicious foods and enjoying rest and contentment with never a need of anything, of being the number-one friend of the mighty island chief or, better still, being the chief himself.

Since I always lived around the docks and ships, it was only natural for me to yearn to be aboard a ship, if only to escape my immediate surroundings. As the heated battles increased at home, the pressure to run away increased. At least twice a year, I would give it a try. Once I got as far as Princeton before bumping into a pair of state troopers. Another time I begged a ride on a truck. "Where ya goin'?" asked the driver once I was seated comfortably next to him.

"To Lincoln Highway," I told him.

"Yeah, but where on Lincoln Highway? That runs all the way from New Jersey to California."

"Oh, any place out West where the cowboys are," I answered airily. The driver looked at me suspiciously, saying no more, and went a few miles down the road. He pulled over to a cop and told him I was a runaway. Into the local clink I went. Within several hours my mother was contacted, and again I was on my way home.

One time, a Greek kid on the block and I managed to get to the railroad yards. We opened a boxcar, climbed in and closed the door. An hour later someone walked along the tracks, checking the cars. He locked our door and put a seal on it. We were well-hidden behind cases of machinery and stove grates. The train moved out and rolled all night. When we awoke in the morning, we were somewhere in the state of Delaware. Our car was antiquated. We could see the daylight through some of the cracks. We were locked in, and now we were hungry. Each minute our panic and starvation increased. We had visions of the door being opened and someone finding two young boys dead of starvation. There was only one thing to do--get the hell out. We took the stove grate and used it as a battering ram. For the next forty minutes, we rammed and rammed that door until we had a hole in it big enough to jump out when the train slowed. Once out on the highway, we were picked up by cops. One more trip to the wild-and-woolly West aborted! One thing can be said, however: each trip took me further away from home and closer to my dreams.

One of the most difficult things for me as a kid was rising early in the morning for the trudge to school. Every morning I would say the same thing: "Tonight I'm going to go to bed early and get enough sleep." But it never happened.

My mother had a cleaning job downtown. She went to work at midnight and returned no earlier than 8:30 in the morning. That meant I had to wrestle with three alarm clocks she set up surrounding my cot. The water from the oatmeal would be sitting on the stove. "Just light it," she would say, "and when the water boils, pour some oatmeal in the pot." Somehow it never tasted good when I made it, so I let it go. I would grab a piece of bread, smear on some lard and a dash of salt and run out the door, chewing on the bread until I got to class.

One day at school, a blackboard eraser, sitting near an open window, fell from the sill to the street. The teacher asked me to recover it. I found it and was on my way back to class when a horse and wagon stopped at the curb. It was a bakery wagon. The driver had already finished his rounds with fresh doughnuts and crullers and had picked up the stale ones. He was stopped near the school, rearranging his load. My stomach was growling from hunger. "Hey, mister, could you spare a hungry boy some stale doughnuts?"

The driver looked down at me. Even the horse turned its head. He handed down four or five long twisted crullers covered with sugar. Before I even took the time to thank him, I had eaten two of them, to the driver's astonishment. "Don't you get anything to eat at home?" he asked.

"Not very much," I answered.

"Be here the same time tomorrow," he said, "and I'll give you some more."

Every day for a week, I managed to excuse myself from class and pick up some stale doughnuts. Each time he handed me a larger amount. I had too many for one person to eat, so I began to share them with a few of my close friends. The teacher had no inkling of what was going on. When she found out, she insisted that all the doughnuts be brought to class and shared equally with all the kids who were hungry. I never knew so many kids were that hungry. They all lined up for their share. By that time, the doughnut man was delivering 50 to 75 stale doughnuts to me each morning. I tried to think of something nice to say to him for the kind thing he was doing for the hungry kids in my class. One day I said, "Mister, I hope that if you should die you'll go to Heaven right away, and your horse, too." He smiled. "Thanks, kid."

Hell's Kitchen was by no means a haven for the poor. The only thing the people in the neighborhood had in common was their poverty. The area itself had a high crime rate. A legend on our block had it that if anyone walking through our neighborhood had a new suit of clothes on, the odds were ninety-nine to one that he would be stripped naked before he reached the end of the block.

All sorts of gangs operated out of Hell's Kitchen. The big guys carried the "smokers," or guns. They hung out at the neighborhood Social Club. Everyone respected them out of fear. After these big toughs came the teenagers. They had their own leader and their own spheres of influence. It was always the big desire of the teenagers to advance to the rank of the "heavies," because the latter had the best fringe benefits and the most respect.

One morning I woke up amid a lot of noise. From my window I could see the street filled with cops. A manhole plate in the middle of the gutter was open. An informer had called the police and told them to lift the manhole cover. From the hole, the cops pulled out a guy who had been strangled with piano wire. He was some minor hood from another neighborhood who had overstepped his territory and tried to exert some muscle. The cops thought it futile to hunt down his killer. Murder was a rather common occurrence in the poor sections of New York City. The police couldn't have been happier if all the gangsters and toughs bumped each other off. What fascinated me was how the hell someone could come along and throw a body down the manhole in the middle of the street--a very busy street, at that--within 50 feet of my window. And no one had seen or heard anything! That took organization.

We lived on the ground floor. The ground-floor apartments in that neighborhood all looked like forts or jails. Steel, covering both the front and rear windows, made it harder for burglars to enter. There was an unwritten law: when you heard the cops' whistle or the police siren, you pulled down your shades. You saw nothing, heard nothing, even when the hoods forced their way into your house to escape the police. It was standard practice and common knowledge that, if the police caught you with a gun, you were beaten into unconsciousness. Perhaps a broken jaw or arm was another reward for carrying a pistol and getting caught. At any rate, you generally went to the hospital before going to the station house. I had watched several such beatings, then stepped over the spilled blood of the victim.

It was the night before Christmas. I was up late after running back and forth to the stable with pushcarts. The avenue had settled down to just a few straggling drunks reeling their ways home. In the middle of the block, about twenty feet from me, I saw two men stop a drunk. They saw me, too, but paid no attention. They asked the drunk for a match, then immediately started to go through his pockets as if assisting him in the match hunt. It was only when the drunk objected, aware of what was happening, and then tried to resist, that the brass knuckles rapped him across the chin, and he was dragged into a hallway a few feet away. When I came on this scene, at least five men were stretched out in that hallway, oblivious of each other. Within half an hour five more came stumbling along. Each fell for the same, "Got a match, buddy?" that got him a rap across the chin and the haul into the hallway. These two characters were so cool they didn't even look up the street to see if there was a cop around. They couldn't have made much of a haul, since most drunks would have unloaded most of their cash in the saloons. I suppose they were hard-pressed themselves to pull such bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. I told my mother about it when I walked into the house. Her reply was, "Shut up and go to bed."

The kids called him "Judas." He was a hefty goat with a beautiful set of horns. He was well-groomed, well-fed and seemed to understand that he was special, that he had a job to do and he was doing it well.

Down on the Westside Waterfront was the slaughterhouse. Its main supply of pigs, cattle, lambs and sheep arrived by way of barges from farming areas further up the Hudson. The length of one city block separated the pier where the animals disembarked from the door of the slaughterhouse. Before the arrival of a barge, slaughterhouse workers lined up wooden fences from the gangplank to the slaughterhouse door to keep the animals from drifting or roaming away from their destination. On hot summer days we used to lean on that fence, watching.

One particular day a barge of sheep arrived, easily more than a thousand. The gangway was erected, but the sheep balked. A few workmen tried getting behind them. Several moved down the gangway, but a moment later ran back onto the barge. Then a workman signaled toward the slaughterhouse and down trotted Judas. He passed us with an air of importance as we sneered, stuck our tongues out and cat-called. He ignored us. About 500 feet from the gangway he stopped and let out a "baaa." The sheep came running down the gangway. Judas turned and loped toward the slaughterhouse, a thousand bleating sheep behind him. I was impressed with the magic which allowed Judas to lead a thousand sheep to slaughter. (Years later another Judas, named Hitler, did the same thing to the Germans, and the world still talks of the "magic" this man worked on a whole nation that brought it close to annihilation.) One day Judas disappeared. We asked what happened. A shipment of goats arrived and Judas got mixed up among them, losing his bell and collar. His fatal mistake did not end the game; another Judas replaced him, and he, too, knew his job.

Problems between my mother and stepfather were mounting. The bigger they got, the more difficult to solve they became. On one of my mother's scrubbing jobs, the forelady (a slavedriver in my mother's estimation) insisted that lye be used in the scrub water. Another scrub woman, in the course of her work, became enraged with the forelady and slammed a lye-water soaked mop onto the floor. A splash of this water got into one of my mother's eyes. It bothered her for many years thereafter and led to her losing 90 percent of her sight in that eye. The day came when her eye bothered her so much that she could not go to work. As a result, she lost her job. When the stepfather came home drunk and belligerent, she became extremely unhappy. He demanded something to eat. She told him to go back to the place where he spent his money to get fed. One argument brought on the next. They became heated. The more they argued, the hungrier the stepfather felt. Finally, in a burst of hopeless frustration, he advanced toward Mother and slapped her across the face. She stumbled, then regained her footing. It was her first husband all over again. Quickly, she went to the bureau drawer and pulled out a stiletto that Brother John had sent her from his navy trip to South America. She drew it from its sheath as the stepfather advanced. He did not see the silvery razor-sharp blade come toward him since he was hell-bent on repeating the slap. The stiletto point caught him just above the groin; it entered about an inch. He jumped back from the pain and threw his hands down as the blood came rushing out. His eyes lit up with fear. He looked soberly at my mother as she stood motionless, the stiletto still clutched in her hand, poised and watching blood drip down his shoes. Harry Longlegs hurried out of the house and up the street, where he hailed a cab to take him to Bellevue Hospital.

As the shock of what he had forced her to do subsided, my mother expected the police to arrive and arrest her for attempted murder. They never came. At the hospital, the doctors recognized a knife wound right away. They summoned the police. Harry Longlegs knew that there was a strong code of ethics involving the family when it came to dealing with the police; you never informed on or involved the family. He told the police someone tried to rob him and, when he resisted, they stabbed him. The police accepted the story; it was a logical happening in a place like New York City, especially Hell's Kitchen.

If Harry Longlegs learned anything from that experience, it was that my mother was no longer going to allow anyone to slap her or push her around. From that day on, he had a new respect for her, although it did not increase his desire to find a job. Never again did he raise his hand against her.

Anyone visiting New York City for the first time might imagine that it was a paradise and playground for young kids. Not by a long shot. There were some parks, a few YMCAs with swimming pools, but on the whole, the poor NYC kid, desperate for a swim, dove into the filthy Hudson River during summer months. The smaller kids crowded around fire hydrants along the East and West Sides of New York, their only relief in the city's poor sections from the sweltering summer heat.

The kids I hung out with always headed for an open pier on the Hudson River, the swimming pool for kids up and down its length. Every pier had outside ladders on which you could climb back to the deck. Swimming in the Hudson was playing in the big leagues; when the tide was out, it was still at least ten feet deep. So, if you went to the bottom, there was no walking ashore. The particular pier from which we swam also happened to be one which people came to in the dark of night to dispose of unwanted items: bed springs, old pipe, wire. To these cast-offs the kids swimming there never paid any attention; we'd just strip naked and dive in.

It was Saturday. The weather was devastatingly hot. Every window in New York City was open, yet escaping the heat was impossible. I decided to head for the pier and take a swim. On my way I picked up two other kids. A block before we reached the pier, we heard the clanging of an ambulance behind us, speeding in our direction. We could see a crowd at the pier. We just figured that the weather had brought out a lot of kids. The ambulance raced past us. Obviously now, it was headed straight for the pier. We quickened our pace. Then we were running to get onto the pier and down to where the ambulance had stopped. When we joined the milling people, we understood what had happened. The tide had been at its lowest level in months. If you looked carefully, you could see an outline below the murky water: a bed spring. A kid we knew, considered a good diver, had dived straight down. Those on the pier waited for him to come up. He never did. They called the cops. The cops called the harbor patrol, then a fireboat. When I reached the scene, they had found the boy. They were hauling him up. Attached to him was a huge milk container. He had made his dive without taking into account the low tide. His head had entered and become stuck in the can. The firemen dislodged his head, put him in a basket and hauled him away in the ambulance like a slab of meat.

The patrol boats left the scene. The local fire truck returned to its station. The cops went about their duties elsewhere. Kids coming on the scene stripped, jumped in and swam around, as if nothing had ever happened. I left. I had had my last swim in the Hudson River.

Chapter VII: Confirmation and Other Hustles

No Catholic family could consider its members Catholic if they did not make confirmation. Of the seven holy sacraments, baptism and confirmation rank as the most important.

My mother had been "diming it," that is, every chance she got she stowed away a dime, a quarter or anything she could afford. The money was to outfit me for that day. A month before the big day, I was sent to attend a special class at St. Bernard's School in the Greenwich Village area. The class, taught by a priest, centered mainly on the questions and answers contained in the Catechism. Not too long before we had made our Holy Communion, a rite to bring us into God's commune, to make us children of God. Now we were advancing into a higher order; we were becoming soldiers for the Lord, to let the devil know that he was now dealing with people who carried a certain immunity, a confirmed dedication, an invisible shield to wage war against the legions of the devil and what he stood for.

The last week of the class was taken up with drilling: how to walk to the altar without falling flat on your face or making a fool of yourself. For a whole week, Mother had been shopping for odds and ends to attire me. How she managed to save at all was a mystery, but save she did, enough to buy me a double-breasted suit, patent-leather shoes, white shirt and tie and a haircut. On the Sunday of confirmation, a hundred of us sat in a special section of the church. The ceremony called for the bishop, sitting in a chair in the middle of the altar, to receive each kid who, with bowed head and clasped palms, stopped first at the attending priest who sat only inches from the bishop. Between our palms, sticking out conspicuously, each of us held a card on which was written our full name and, in bold letters, the name of the saint each of us had taken as a middle name. In my case, it was St. James.

The church was crowded. We sat there nervously, knowing that our parents were watching our every movement. The moment came for the long, slow line leading to the altar. Every candle in the church was lit. The half-nauseating aroma of incense hung like a heavy cloud in the glow of the candles that emblazoned the altar, the statues surrounding the inner church, and those that lighted the way to the stations of the cross. I came to the first stop. The priest took the card from my hand and slowly read off the name to the bishop. This priest was a small, pudgy man with a red-apple face, white hair sparsely cropped, with small-rimmed glasses that sat on the lower part of his nose. In the school adjoining the church he taught history and was known as Brother Philip. The kids called him other names: Porky, Fatty, Roly-Poly and Lard Ass.

Placing a hand under my chin, the bishop raised my face and mumbled some words in Latin. As clear as a bell, he mentioned James, then gave me a slight slap across the face. This was to make me aware that I had reached the stage of awareness of the pains that man is able to inflict on man, so I was told. Now, strengthened by the holy sacrament, I bowed and trudged back to my seat, an earlier warning from the priest reverberating in my mind: that he would deal personally with anyone who so much as wrinkled the rug he walked on and that, by the time he finished kicking his ass around, he wouldn't be able to sit down for a month. Minutes later the big show was over. Unlike at West Point, our rites did not end with our tossing our hats in the air or blowing horns or otherwise making bigger jackasses of ourselves. We merely went quietly with our families to perform the remaining glorification of manhood, picture taking. Again my mother had put herself in hock. I posed for the hired photographer with the certificate of confirmation in my hand.

The joker running the photo studio, taking advantage of a natural motherly weakness at such times, had talked her into buying a great big picture frame and two dozen prints. A few were dispatched to relatives in Ireland; the rest were stored in the family trunk, for reasons I never did discover. The two-foot enlargement in the round, fancy, high-priced frame was hung in the "big room." My mother found a convenient place for it: it covered a place on the wall where a huge patch of plaster had fallen. Well, that was that. Another step toward sainthood, while the mother took another step deeper into poverty. The Church was satisfied, but the poor little guy at the corner grocery who occasionally gave my mother credit just had to wait a little longer for payment on his bill.

Very few rackets open to kids around my neighborhood weren't monopolized by some other kid, older and smarter in the way of making a fast dollar. I had had to content myself with doing things the hard way: rolling pushcarts to the stable or selling an occasional "Extra" edition of some newspaper. Now, however, I found a new outlet for my energy and a way to make a few cents. Up on Broadway, the "Great White Way," as it was called, was the theater section of New York. Once a show ended, the streets overflowed with people all eager to get home. Many searched for taxicabs, and that's where I came in. I would run up and down the street, hail a cab, and direct the driver to the spot where I hoped to receive a tip. When I wasn't searching for cabs, I was opening doors for people to get out. Many of the cab drivers cooperated. They were working stiffs themselves and knew what a buck meant. A lot of the time, cops would chase me away from the theater doors. At times, I would open as many as 25 doors before someone with a sympathetic soul would bounce me a dime. Yet some nights I made as much as $2.00, just catering to the theater crowd.

I came home from school one day right into the middle of a big yelling match between my mother and stepfather. As always after receiving his disability check, he was gassed up enough to be belligerent with my mother. Her complaint was that the money was needed more to keep the house together than to enrich the saloon keeper. When I walked in, the stepfather gave me a growl. In that instant I knew something was going to happen. To get the pressure off himself, the stepfather shouted at me. "Why don't you get a job and support yourself?" I looked at him, frowning, but said nothing.

"Damn it! Answer me when I talk to you!" he bellowed.

I was standing near the door. I put my hand on the doorknob. There he sat, tilted in his chair. "Why don't you get a job and support yourself, you drunken bum?" I yelled.

He raised his head, eyes bulging like those of a madman. He tried to get up, but I was out the door. I have no idea whether he ever made it to his feet. For the rest of the day, I stayed around the neighborhood, pouting and thinking things out. It seemed clear that my mother was never going to get rid of Harry Longlegs. That, I thought, was what made her so prone to take his side over mine. Conclusion: I had to cut out on my own.

As a matter of fact, Harry Longlegs continued this sort of life until he was 72. Long separated from my mother, alone, one rainy and cold night he stumbled out of a New York saloon and went staggering across the street toward his cheap hotel room. He was run over by a hit-and-run driver and left to bleed to death in the Ninth Avenue gutter. While few tears were shed over his death, my mother still thought enough of him to light a few candles and say a few prayers for him in church to hurry his soul to heaven. Perhaps, in their short life together, he did bring her close enough to happiness that, remembering him, her tears fell.

For the next two months, New York subway trains and stations were my home. Most New York subway stations were cold, drafty places, but I managed to find one that had heat: the Sixty-sixth Station on Seventh Avenue. IRT Lines had four wooden benches. One stood at the very end of the platform where few people ever lingered. The station was somehow protected from the chilly winds that characteristically blew through most other stations. I spent my days in whatever pursuits I could that would make a few dimes. Mostly I sold papers, especially "Extras," of which New York seemed to have at least one a day. When late evening came, I topped my day scouting cabs for the show crowd. Finally, a quick duck under the turnstiles to save a nickel, I'd ride to Sixty-sixth Street. There I'd find my bench and curl up for the night. No one ever bothered me.

One night I went to get my bundle of "Extras." The headlines announced that if two men named Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, the subways of New York would be blown up. It seemed that they were in the Boston penitentiary, awaiting execution. I had no idea what their crime had been or why they were being sent to the chair. Not too long after that, the headlines in my "Extras" said in big bold letters, "Sacco and Vanzetti Die in Electric Chair." I scurried to all my familiar places, screaming out the headline. In an hour I sold 100 papers. I headed for my Sixty-sixth abode. When I got off the train, six uniformed cops were standing guard on the platform, eyeing everyone who came off the trains. Obviously, they would not tolerate me hanging around the station while they stayed alert for "bombers." I got back on the subway and rode uptown. At every station, cops were all over the place. I had to stay on the train and ride it all night. Only a few years later was I to realize the significance of the Sacco and Vanzetti episode.

I ran into a kid around my age. He told me about oyster boats. "If you get down around the coast of Delaware, you can always get a job on an oyster boat," he assured me. That intrigued me to no end. For a week or two I thought about it constantly. With three dollars in my pocket and a little more knowledge of the highways, I set out for the coast of Delaware. Five days later, around six in the evening, while walking the ten miles toward Salisbury, Maryland, I was hit by a fast-rolling oil tank truck and knocked thirty feet off the road. I don't remember being hit, or even seeing the truck. All I heard was, "We got to get him to a hospital. Let's put him in the back." I woke enough up to see a faint view of the rear seat of a sedan. The next I recall was someone saying, "I done all I can for him. The hospital is only two miles toward town." I sank into unconsciousness again.

Now a woman's voice was saying, "We nevah accept anyone in the front door. Take him around back, please." I woke up in the morning, my arm in a cast, my head bandaged. I stayed in that hospital for the next three weeks until my mother and my sister Kate and her husband rode down in a Model T and took me home. I never did see the coast of Delaware and, to this day, have never seen an oyster boat. However, now I considered myself a "traveler." I was growing like a stringbean, tall and skinny. I always told people I was at least eight years older than I really was.

For six stitches in the forehead, a broken arm and a very painful banged-up leg, the court awarded me $1,000. Two hundred and fifty went to the lawyer right off the top.

I was back in school, making up for part of the time lost roaming the countryside. I was doing rather well, too. In two weeks I would be promoted to the fifth grade. But while I was running the scholastic hurdles, the real world, the one at home, was shaking. The stepfather was off in some convalescent home being well-fed and cared for by the government while we were going hungry. My mother went to the school principal. After an hour's discussion, a decision was reached. I would be allowed to leave school to go to work after I graduated into fifth grade on one condition: I would attend night school. I had little to do with the decision making. My mother agreed to everything. I was handed "working papers." This certified to all concerned, especially potential employers, that I had special permission from school to drop out and work, a decision the school made in exceptional cases. To me it was a welcome relief. I wasn't crazy about school. School was for kids. Work: now that was something to look forward to. It put you among men.

With working papers in hand and a list of want ads clipped from the local papers, off I went with two pieces of bread smeared with oleo and salt. For every ad I answered, it turned out there were three or four kids standing in line ahead of me. I had covered twenty-five ads and must have walked ten miles uptown, downtown and across town. I was slowly making my way home at about 3:30 when someone pinned up a sign outside a building: "Boy Wanted. Apply Room 404." In a flash I was in Room 404. Someone said, "It's a job doing odds and ends. Be here at eight tomorrow morning, ready for work." I dashed home and shouted the good news. Sauerkraut, neck bones and boiled potatoes that night for supper tasted good. I complained to my mother that the job was way across town. How about dough for fare?

"Go around to the church and ask to see Father O'Rourke. Tell him you have a job and need carfare. You'll give it back when you get paid. Fifty cents should do it."

A knock on the rectory door brought a pudgy priest to the door. He was picking his teeth. "Yes? What do you want?" he asked roughly, eyeing me closely. For some reason I became embarrassed at that moment about the decrepit coat I was wearing. Self-consciously, I reached for the collar and drew it closer around the back of my neck. I hesitated. "Yes? What do you want?" he asked again, more roughly now. "Are you deaf?"

"I want to see Father O'Rourke about getting 50 cents," I answered.

His eyes bulged a bit. A scowl appeared on his face. "Get away from here," he said, starting to close the door.

"Wait a minute," I shouted, "I came here to see Father O'Rourke about getting some money for . . ."

He cut me off. "Stay away from here, bum." He slammed the door.

That was all I needed. My mother was at the sink washing dishes. "Did you get the money for carfare?" she wanted to know.

"No," I told her. "He called me a bum and slammed the door in my face."

"Who called you a bum?"

"Some priest who answered the door."

She put on a coat, not even stopping to remove her apron, and rushed out the door, with me right behind her. I stepped back a foot or two and waited while she pounded on the rectory door. The light went on in the small alcove. As the door slowly opened, my mother was lashing away. "Who called my son a bum?" she hollered to the same priest who, only a few minutes earlier, had been assailing me. He looked astonished. She didn't give him a chance to say anything. "You fat-bellied slob! Who are you to call my son a bum?"

The priest raised his hands to his face as if expecting a blow from my mother. She kept talking, her voice rising. She criticized his occupation, the way he lived without working, his height, his weight, the way he dressed, his contempt for poor people, especially the Irish. She wondered loudly why he didn't go back to Italy or Spain or wherever he came from. In fact, she raised so much hell that two more priests came to the door. They tried to calm her. Failing that, one went off and brought the top man to the door: Father O'Rourke. He recognized Mother immediately. He raised his hand and my mother stopped talking. The other priests left the scene. Father O'Rourke led us into his office. In a deep Irish brogue that made Mother feel at home at once, he apologized for his underlings' crude manners.

Father O'Rourke was a big man in the parish. When he spoke, everyone sat up and took notice. After he found out what the shouting was all about, he calmly pulled out a desk drawer, pulled out a small box and took out five one-dollar bills. He handed them to my mother. Quickly, my mother thanked him and apologized for shouting at the priests. Father O'Rourke smiled, gave her the sign of her blessing, then walked us out to the door. He wished me well and told my mother he expected to see her at mass on Sunday. His last comment to her as he closed the door was, "Yes, the Lord does work in mysterious ways." On the way home I was given a lecture on the merits of having more Irish priests and fewer "Eye-talians."

Chapter VIII: Introduction to "Honest Labor"

The firm where I worked employed about 20 people. They made fiber-board sample cases for salesmen. There were several presses, a lathe, a number of rivet machines, glue pots and tables. When I wasn't working at a rivet machine I was slopping glue in the sample cases and inserting a fine lining. Caught up with gluing, I swept, then piled. that's how it went for eight hours a day. After I got home, there was no time for playing in the streets with the guys; I was too tired. I began getting into bed earlier.

For the first month the job was interesting, as were the men I worked with. There was a lot of kidding around on the job, and that made the time go faster, the work less tiresome. With the passing of each week, the work became more burdensome, dull and uninteresting. I had learned everything there was to learn in the small shop. The more I learned, the harder I worked. I was more in demand now. However, my piddling pay remained the same.

At that time, Harry Longlegs had returned from his latest "convalescence." He was in great shape: nice and tanned and enjoying good health. During the three previous weeks, he had been managing the spending of my little paycheck, even recommending how much money my mother should give me for lunch or spending money. I had been getting 35 cents each morning. That took care of a sandwich, soda and carfare. If I walked home, I saved the carfare. Cigarettes were two packs for a quarter--that is, the expensive ones like Luckys, Camels or Chesterfields. There were also cigarettes you could get for ten cents a pack. Since I smoked only a pack every two days, cigarettes posed no problem. On Saturdays and Sundays, though, I wanted money for the local movie houses.

I brought my check home this payday and handed it to the mother. Harry Longlegs looked it over. "Same amount, heh? Does anyone down there work overtime?"

"Yeah, a couple of guys do," I told him.

"How come you never work overtime and bring some extra money home?" He asked.

Refusing to answer, I walked into the bedroom. I was tired and depressed. Arguing with a man who wasn't even carrying his weight in the house was the last thing I wanted. I closed the door, but I could hear what he was saying to Mother: that I lacked ambition, had no drive, would never amount to anything. She just listened. I walked back out to the kitchen. I spoke to my mother. "I need a dollar for some shows this weekend." Harry looked at me with a shocked expression.

"A dollar is too damn much," he declared. "Walk across town to the Bowery. There's lots of cheap movies there. You can go for a nickel or dime. Give him 50 cents," he advised my mother. She fumbled in her pocketbook and found two quarters. She put them on the table. I tried to catch her eye, but she kept her head bowed. I scooped up the 50 cents, put on my coat and walked out. I never went back to the job.

I returned, instead, to the subway life. During the ensuing days, I succeeded in rounding up a few cabs, selling a few papers and even now and then washing dishes in a few restaurants in exchange for meals. I had five dollars stashed away in my watch pocket as I headed for the subway. I went up to the first person I saw and asked for a nickel to get me into the subway--a gimmick I used to conserve my own assets. Most people would say, "Sure. Get in the turnstile." They would drop the nickel into the slot, and that was that. As luck would have it, though, the first guy I bummed turned out to be a detective in need of a pinch. To the station house we went. There he searched me, but to my delight he failed to find my five dollars. Night court was in session when we got there. I was booked. The charge: panhandling/vagrancy, a misdemeanor. We entered a courtroom full of people, most of whom were men and women hauled in for selling without a license. They were taken care of pretty fast.

"Peddling neckties on 45th and Broadway without a license, your Honor," said the prosecutor.

The judge looked at the person's record. "This is the second time this month you've been cited. You people will just have to learn that you must get a license to conduct business on the street. Fifty dollars. Next case."

About 15 minutes later my name was called. "Stand up and face the judge," ordered the detective who had arrested me. I did as bid. The court grew quiet. The prosecutor intoned, "No prior record, your Honor." The judge cleared his throat, "Now, exactly what was this boy doing when you arrested him?"

"He approached me, your Honor, then panhandled me for money," said the detective proudly. A sympathetic murmur arose in court from the men and women sitting there on bare wooden benches. Even the detective turned at the sounds of disgust.

The judge turned to me. "How old are you, son?"

"I'm 19, your Honor."

"And where are your parents?"

"I have none."

"You have none?" he repeated incredulously.

"That's right, your Honor."

"Well, eh, when did you lose them? How long have you been on your own?"

"My parents died when I was 14, sir. I've been on my own ever since."

"You have no sisters or brothers, or anyone else to take care of you?"

"No, sir. I'm on my own," I replied with a modest look on my face and a quiver in my voice. Two cronies sitting close to the judge moved quickly toward him. In my eyes, there were three people conniving against me. I had visions of being led off to reform school. I was trapped. I started hating myself for bumming this guy, especially when I had five dollars safely tucked away in my pocket. Their conference lasted about 30 seconds.

The judge was speaking. "I am astonished," he was saying, "at your great stamina at survival. It is indeed a tribute to the youth of America. Here before me stands a young man, devoid of the love of a mother and the guiding wisdom of a father, fighting against the odds of a hostile environment. Young man, this court will not look the other way in your hour of need. This court will dismiss the charge of vagrancy against you. Out of respect for the hardships and loneliness you have faced, and will face in the future, this court will award you the sum of five dollars to help you on your way."

The two men near the judge smiled. The judge's great humanitarian gesture moved several people in the crowd to applaud, but the rest, not sure if applauding was permitted in the court, merely nodded their approval. A reporter quickly started to scribble. One of the men beside the judge left the podium and handed me a five-dollar bill. I looked up at the smiling judge and thanked him. "Can I go now?" I asked.

"Well, since this is Thursday, you can stay over until Monday. That way you'll have a nice rest and a fresh start." A jailer started walking toward me. I thought fast.

"Judge," I said loudly, "I have the chance of a job tomorrow. I must be there at 7:30 in the morning."

"All right, then. You can be released in the morning." With that the jailer led me through a door into a long cell-lined corridor. "Hey, Archie," he shouted to another guard at the far end. Archie met us halfway along the cell block. "This must be the first case in history where a New York judge gave someone money instead of taking it away! He gave this guy a five-dollar bill."

"Who's he? Some friend of the judge?" Archie wondered. Prisoners caged in the cells heard the conversation. They stared at me as I passed them. My cell had two bunks. So far I was the only tenant. I took out the five dollars and opened my shirt. I found a safety pin in my coat and pinned both five-dollar bills inside my underwear. If I was to be robbed, the would-be thieves would have to undress me to do the deed. I slept with one eye open, waiting for something that never happened. In the morning, I was set free.

Shortly thereafter I dropped in to see my mother. I gave her a few dollars. That made her happy. She told me she'd been talking to a guy upstairs named Flynn. A fellow Irishman, he was a stevedore boss down on one of the West Side piers. She had been after him for months to do something for her son. Every time she heard him on the stairs, she went out on the landing to ask him the same question: "When are you going to do something for your own kind and put my lad to work?" This same evening was no exception. As he came thumping up the stairs she corralled him. From where I was sitting in the kitchen I could hear him yell, "Oh all right! All right! Have him at the pier at 7:30 in the morning."

The pier was only three blocks away. A circle of men was forming at the pier gate. I joined it. At 7:30 sharp Flynn broke through the circle, and pointing here and there started picking the men who would work that day. Most of them he called by name. He passed me up about three times. I felt he had forgotten his promise of the night before. I didn't care one way or another, since I'd been up early and was falling asleep. The longer I stood there, the more I disliked the whole idea. "You," he finally shouted, waving a bony finger at me. I jumped out of the circle and headed onto the pier.

We were being paid from eight o'clock, but here we were inside the pier fifteen minutes early. We went from door to door, pulling on chains to roll up the high doors that opened to the outside dock. That was time the employers were getting from us for nothing. No ship had come in. However, a big railroad barge did arrive alongside with 20 freight cars. We hauled long gangways up to the barge deck; then, grabbing hand-trucks, we walked up the gangway to the boxcar assigned to us. For the rest of the day, we ran in front of that hand-truck. Flynn proved not an easy guy to get along with. You could be working like a mule, yet he'd never be around to see you perform. Just let one piece of freight fall off your hand-truck, though, and he'd be right there, hands on his hips and a scowl on his face. "You better change your boarding house," he'd advise. That remark usually meant you were washed up at the end of the day. When these accidents happened to me occasionally, however, he'd say nothing. He'd just scowl and shake his head. I figured he was thinking about having to pass my mother's door to get to his place. He knew she wouldn't hesitate for a moment to drop a piss-pot on his head. So where other guys got the gate at the end of the day, I got by.

The wages were 48 1/2 cents an hour. After 44 hours of work per week, I was handed $21.36. I took the money home, where my mother relieved me of all of it. Then she handed me $1.36 as my weekly allowance. Since they didn't allow smoking on the job and it would have been impossible to light a cigarette anyway, almost everyone chewed tobacco. Around noon, the hotdog man would bring his pushcart to the pier. For a nickel you got a hotdog and a half pound of sauerkraut. Two of these were almost a meal. But my mother always made lunch for me, so the $1.36 stretched through the week.

The job lasted four months. I became fairly good at it. The hand-truck and all its idiosyncrasies became second nature to me. For the first three months, I had been totally unaware of the real game being played on that pier: a special "Retirement Fund" was being organized for Flynn, who had one of his favorites contacting each stevedore regularly. He'd collect 25 to 50 cents from each man every week. That didn't include extra collections to buy Flynn a bottle of "Irish Mist" every Friday, on his birthday or on any other holiday the man's cronies saw fit to celebrate. Anyone who didn't kick in weekly was given the worst kind of work and was soon washed out of the job entirely if he didn't straighten up. For the first three months no one had bothered me about the collections. At the beginning of the fourth month, however, a Flynn crony, an ex-boxer with cauliflower ears nicknamed "Canvasback" approached me. It was all I could do not to reel under his foul alcoholic breath. "Hey you," he called out to me.


"You been here for three months."

"Yeah? So what?" I never did like this guy. Here I was, working my guts out on the job. But every time I noticed him he was sitting on his ass.

"This is a collection for Paddy Flynn when he retires."

"Oh yeah?" I asked. "When's he gonna retire?"

"How do I know? I'm just taking the collection. What're you? A wise guy?" He regarded me suspiciously. I could see he was getting a bit excited because he rapidly sniffed through his nose, just like most ring fighters.

"No, I'm no wise guy. I just wanted to know, that's all," I said.

"Well, how about a contribution then?"


"You mean you ain't gonna give nothin' for the boss's retirement?" he asked roughly.

"That's right," I told him, wondering if I was going to get slugged.

"You sound like one of those wise punks. You think yer pretty smart, heh? Maybe you're better than us?" A whistle blew, calling the men back to work. I headed for my hand-truck. Behind me, the half-inebriated, foul-smelling, punch-drunk ex-boxer was mumbling words I couldn't make out. I was angry with myself; I hadn't told him off strongly enough. I was mad, too, that the men I was working with every day, men who appeared to be good guys, were allowing themselves to be blackmailed into kicking back some of their hard-earned dough to Flynn, who wasn't likely to retire for twenty years.

Every day sweat poured down my face and back from running the loads on my hand truck; I lived in fear of mistakes and went home all aches and pains. Now along comes this plug-ugly, whose flattened nose takes up most of his face, trying to shake me down for an hour's pay. The hell with the bum! And with Flynn, too. The hell with all these guys who kicked in to this petty graft!

Little did I realize that this practice was widespread up and down the waterfront, not just in the port of New York. Because there were no unions, all sorts of gangsters and their crooked schemes dominated life on all the piers. If you wanted a job you had to grease the palm of the creep who controlled the employment. While many men resented the practice of paying off, most went along with it because they needed the jobs. They saw nothing on the horizon that indicated anything better in the near future. To be blacklisted from one pier was the same as being blackballed from all of them. In a few days, word got out and it meant no more jobs for you. In the long run, it was easier to kick in. To me it was the worst form of humiliation a working man could be put through. Not only must he bust his back on the job, not simply must he scurry like a whipped dog, but he also had to pay part of his wages in kickbacks for the privilege. Not for me, I thought.

For the next month I was assigned the worst jobs on that pier. Even my good hand-truck was taken away. In its place, I was given one with a bent axle and bad handles. Just dragging that truck around empty was rough enough. Loaded, it put every muscle in my body to the test. I left the pier evenings dragging my ass. I began to fear going to work in the morning, not knowing what would be next. Twice during that month I ran into Canvasback. Each time he opened his mouth and grinned, showing a mouthful of broken teeth. I was determined to take anything they handed out. However, my body wasn't up to it. At the end of the fourth month, I concluded I was fighting a losing battle. On Monday I failed to show up. Much to my mother's dismay, that ended my stint as a stevedore.

One beautiful Sunday I was down at Battery Park, where there was a small aquarium. Nearby were some pleasure boat landings. The way the park jutted out from the end of Manhattan made it the meeting place of the East and Hudson Rivers. Most ships, barges and tugboats that entered the harbor had to pass Battery Park. I watched as the world's then-biggest liner, the Leviathan, slowly glided past the Statue of Liberty, made the turn into the Hudson River, then headed toward its uptown pier. This sleek ex-German liner was a magnificent sight. Once known in Germany as the Vaterland, it was impressive to watch, listening to her giant whistles blow to clear smaller craft from her path.

Ships had always wormed their way into my soul. They implied far-away, enchanted places like those in storybooks and moving pictures--smoky dens in Port Said, the rickshaw men padding barefoot through Shanghai's noisy streets. I made up my mind that the next day I would go from pier to pier, ship to ship, and try to get a job on one of them.

Unions in those days had no control over the jobs aboard American merchant ships. In fact, what few unions there were on the waterfront were dormant. If a seaman wanted to ship, he had various ways to solicit his own job. He could cater to one of the shipping "crimps" who preyed along the waterfront. These were "professionals" who worked hand-in-hand with the steamship companies. their job was to screen out malcontents or radicals who might get aboard and create trouble for the owners. They, in turn, favored a group of seamen loyal to one or two companies.

One shipping center, financed partially by government funds and known as the United States Shipping Board, hired men for ships run by the government. Unfortunately, this outfit was run by some shady characters who had their hands out for side-money. Aside from coal-passers or coal-burning firemen, many of the better jobs available through this agency were simply sold.

For me, the best plan was to go from ship to ship. By three that afternoon I was pretty well bushed. I must have boarded 20 ships, sought out the officer in charge and been turned down. Some had men posted at the top of the gangway who wouldn't let me aboard. On some piers the guards would prevent me from entering without a pass.

Finally I stood at the gate to Pier 1, the last, not far from Battery Park. Lying snugly against the pier was a small freighter named the Lake Gaither. She was one of a dozen belonging to the Newtex Line, a freight-hauling company that ran ships between New York and Texas ports. Compared to the mighty Leviathan, she looked like a lifeboat. Yet she was the last ship on the Hudson River side of New York. I decided that, after visiting her, I'd call it a day. Perhaps tomorrow I could start along the East River and work my way uptown. The mate was a tall man of 60 with the appearance of a slow-moving farmer. He was sitting at a small desk in his combination room. "Sir," I started, "do you have any jobs open on deck?"

He looked me up and down, lowering his head and peering over his glasses. "How old are you, son?" he asked.

"I'm 21, sir," I lied, gulping several times and trying to remember quickly the birth year should he ask for it.

"How long have you been going to sea?" was his next question.

"About five years, sir." He drew the long thin palm of his hand across his chin. He started to say something, hesitated, then said, "There's an ordinary seaman's job open. You want that?"

"Yes, sir. Yes, sir!" I almost shouted.

"All right, then. You can get your gear and be back aboard to take the gangway watch at six tonight." I didn't tell him that I had my "gear" already with me. In fact, on me. But I dashed off wildly, ran across the street and bought a toothbrush, a pair of socks, a pair of dungarees and a blue denim shirt. I got back on board in time to stand watch at the top of the gangway.

Chapter IX: Maiden Trip to Sea

There was no doubt about it. I was about the best gangway man who ever set foot on board the Lake Gaither. Standing there like a wooden soldier, I was afraid to move. I had the glorious feeling that the ship belonged to me personally. Men were coming up and going down the gangway. I paid no attention to them. It was not until a few days later that I found out that I was supposed to keep track of people who came aboard, making sure they didn't walk off with the ship's contents. I was not, as I thought, to guard the gangway from someone who might steal it.

The next day I met the crew. Most of them were old-timers; a few were young people. They all went about their work as if it were the first time any of them had ever seen each other. The crew's quarters and mess room were at the after end of the ship. The galley was midships, and the mess man brought food back in small metal containers. No matter what the menu was, I managed to eat my share and more. For the next three days the Lake Gaither took cargo into her small narrow holds. At five o'clock on the third day, with hatches battened down and booms secured, the lines were let go on the dock and the ship eased out of her pier into the Hudson River. She turned slowly, and with her bow now facing the open sea, glided smoothly past the Statue of Liberty. Her course was set for the Gulf of Mexico.

I had just finished supper when the A.B. stuck his head in the messroom. "The mate wants an ordinary to the bow, on the double." The other ordinary told me, "You take the early watch, and I'll relieve you at midnight."

It was stirring to stand on the bow, looking over the forepeak into the vast expanse of sea, watching the shoreline grow dimmer until it disappeared. Lights were beginning to appear as the night settled in and around the ship. Now a little breeze started to blow. Before long it turned into a cold wind. I felt sleepy. The bow was slowly pitching as the sea grew rough. As I stepped back a few feet to get out of the chilly wind, I felt the heat from the cylinder head of the anchor windlass. It was good and warm. I found a burlap bag lying on the deck and folded it to place on the cylinder as a comfortable seat. I sat there feeling protected and cozy, just waiting for someone to come up to the bow and drop the anchor for the ship to wait until daybreak when she would steam up and continue on her way. I had no idea a ship traveled at night. How could they see, I wondered. And while I waited, I fell asleep. I must have slept for two hours. When I woke up, total darkness surrounded me. The ship was pitching and rolling as the seas roughened. For a moment the darkness scared me. While focusing my thoughts, I heard the footsteps of the ordinary seaman on the steel deck as he walked toward the bow to relieve me.

"Hey, you," he hailed as he reached the top rung in the ladder to the fo'c's'le head, "the mate wanted to know what the hell happened to you. Why don't you answer any bells from the bridge? Why aren't you reporting any lights?"

"What bells? What lights?" I asked, dumbfounded. The guy threw up his hands in disgust. I walked to the fo'c's'le. I heard eight bells ring from the bridge. It was midnight. Then I heard eight bells ring from the bow in answer. The voice of the seaman who had relieved me floated over my head as he shouted toward the bridge, "All lights are bright, sir." The mate replied from the bridge, "Okay." Sleep came easy that night.

The Lake Gaither was a slow ship, a real tramp as the word goes. She appeared to be in no hurry to get where she was going. As we sailed south the weather improved with each dawn. Now the seas were calm and beautiful. The days were sunny and hot. However, waking up and seeing no sign of land anywhere gave me an eerie feeling.

It soon became apparent to all hands that I had never been to sea before. As a result, the old-timers treated me like someone from whom nothing could be expected. Their instructions to me sounded like this: "Take this can of paint to the paint locker. It's located in the bow of the ship. When you get there, it will be the second door on the port side, or left side, facing the sharp part of the ship. The light is on your left when you open the door. Be sure to turn out the light and close the door when you leave."

At the same time, the crew was equally determined to teach me something about their profession. Whenever we were working around an item, one of them would give me a complete history of the item and its function on board ship. As for the routine work, it went on day after day. My previous notions of a ship and life aboard it were being kicked to smithereens. Besides my belief that the ship anchored nights to wait for daylight, I had an idea that, once the ship started out to sea, most work would cease until it reached port. I learned in a hurry that on board ship there is no such thing as running out of work. I found that, provided something were shown me correctly, I was able to latch onto the idea of it fairly quickly. I learned all the bell signals: a light to port, one bell; a light to starboard, two; a light dead ahead, three. When the quartermaster at the wheel rang the hour on the wheelhouse bell, I would ring the bell on the bow and politely holler up toward the bridge, "All lights are bright, sir." Then I'd hear the mate's response, "All right."

There was one thing I could not seem to do: learn how to paint. I managed to get the paint on the bulkhead, all right, but the paint bucket was always in danger of being stepped on or kicked over. I did my share of both on that ship.

There came the morning we were to arrive at Houston, Texas. I had been up half the night with a case of "Channel Fever." We sailed into Galveston Bay and slowly worked our way up the ship channel to Houston. At least a hundred Negro longshoremen were waiting for us. They grabbed the lines and tied the ship against the dock. Then they boarded us and began opening the cargo hatches. Texas: the biggest state in the Union! Somehow I had expected cowboys to ride down the pier to the ship. From the chilly sidewalks of New York only a few days ago, I was now bathing in the warmth of the Texas sun and watching the slower pace of its inhabitants. The longshoremen were proficient in their profession--the cargo hit the docks and it was trucked off quickly.

Along the side of the warehouses that dotted the long pier were drinking fountains 200 feet apart. Odd to my eyes was the sign over each fountain: "For Whites Only" and "For Colored Only." That evening I took a bus at the gate that took me uptown. Even on the bus there was a sign: "Colored seated in the rear." I found the whole thing puzzling. The idea of two different drinking fountains repelled me. It was my awakening to discrimination.

Emptied of its general cargo, our ship sailed for Freeport, a short distance down the coast. Here we loaded with raw sulfur which came aboard in bulk. With that, we sailed back up the coast to Texas City, where we topped off with more sulfur. Texas City was a small town with one movie show. Everyone in town seemed to have some connection with the sulfur production industry. All the night, ton after ton of sulfur was dumped into the ship's holds. sulfur dust was everywhere. No matter how we jammed down our portholes or trimmed the ventilators or sealed up our doors, our eyes smarted from the fine dust that seeped through everything.

The next morning after breakfast, a middle-aged guy came aboard. He had a bundle of newspapers. He handed me one. It was The Industrial Worker, a paper published by the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as the IWW. Out on deck, I opened the paper. I started reading the preamble on the editorial page:

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few who make up the employing class have all the good things in life. Between these two classes, a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production and abolish the wage system. We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever-growing power of the employing class.

There was a lot more, but I was interrupted from reading as I heard the steel bulkhead shut behind me. I turned to face the guy who had given me the paper as he came out on deck. "You find the Worker interesting?" he wanted to know.

"I don't know. I never read this paper before," I told him.

He put out his hand for me to shake. "My name is Gunnar Andersen. I represent the Marine Transport Workers for the entire Gulf." I shook his hand, not understanding a thing he was saying. He looked at me and asked, "You been going to sea long?"

"No, this is my first trip."

"You belong to a union?"


"Then you belong with us, in the MTW.," he assured me.

"Why?" I asked.

"To protect what conditions you now have and make improvements in them. How much are you getting now?"

"Forty-seven fifty a month."

"That's what I mean," he stressed. "You should be getting a lot more than that. They're taking advantage of you."

"Who is?"

"The system. The capitalist system, that's who. They know you're young. They know you need a job, that you're inexperienced. So they try to buy you as cheaply as possible. Tomorrow they'll try to buy you even cheaper. We've got to stick together as a class. You can't make it on your own. It's the class that has to make it together. You must never forget that you're a member of the working class."

He was reaching into his pocket to pull out some pamphlets when the boatswain came along. "Get up to the bow and help work over some turnbuckles," he ordered. I said a quick goodbye to my new-found friend and hurried forward.

Finally we were loaded. Mooring lines were let go and we headed out to sea. Destination: Baltimore. Once a ship gets well under way, seamen's conversation usually turns to what happened the night before: "Who was that broad I saw you with last night?" Always one of them would be suffering from a hangover. Some guy who couldn't lift his head off the mess room table without yelling in pain would announce, "Boy, what a great time I had last night!" That always puzzled me. What a price he paid for enjoyment! Was it really worth it? I thought maybe such guys would ask for information about the damage they did or the mischief they got into the night before, but I discovered that, drunk as some of them got, they could nevertheless trace almost every step they took and every drink they downed before collapsing.

The Lake Gaither rode the Gulf waters beautifully when she was loaded down. It was pleasant to stand on her bow, riding the smooth tropical waters and watching the fast-moving porpoises race through it, zigzagging before the bow. Up ahead, the moon was full, fairly close to the horizon, straight in the course we were steering. The oceanic highway seemed to be lit up just for us and the ship headed right down the center of the lane.

The mate looked at his watch. It was time for the sailor at the wheel to be relieved for coffee. The mate walked out on deck and blew a whistle that meant for the ordinary to come to the bridge. I had taken a number of lessons from different sailors on how to steer the ship. I felt I was capable now of keeping her on course. I got behind the wheel. The sailor showed me the course we were steering. It was right down that moonlit path. For the first two minutes there was no problem. Then I noticed the compass move to the left. I tried to check it by quickly turning the wheel to the right. Then the compass came rapidly around, but moved to the right. I turned the wheel to the left.

Meanwhile, the mate had gone into the chart room to work over the course on some charts. After I had spent ten minutes trying to get the compass to stop on the course indicated to me by the sailor, the mate came out of the chart room. "What the hell happened to the moon?"

"I don't know," I admitted. He walked out on the wing of the bridge, looked directly aft and saw the moon in all its shining glory. He dashed back into the wheelhouse.

"What the hell are you trying to do?" he shouted. "Take us back where we came from? You're steering in the opposite direction. Get the hell back up to the bow and don't ever come up here again while I'm here." He took the wheel and eased the ship completely around. By the time I had reached the bow, we were once again gliding straight down the middle of the moon's light.

When the sailor returned from his coffee break, the loud-mouthed mate began telling him all about it. I could hear his belittling remarks. You would have thought I was responsible for the sinking of the Titanic to hear him talk. Right then and there I asked God to sink the Lake Gaither and see to it that the loud-mouthed third mate get his just desserts. While waiting for God to answer my prayer, I turned my attention to the crazy jumping and flopping of the porpoises, who seemed to be having all the fun.

For the next several days, while the Lake Gaither slowly worked her way northward, I dipped into the Industrial Worker. I picked up on what I had started on the editorial page, that preamble:

The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe our on banner the revolutionary watchwords, "Abolition of the wage system."

It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized not only for the every day struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall be overthrown. By organizing industrially, we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

One small article reported on some Colorado coal miners were striking for a daily wage of $7.50. It related how the state police were mobilized against the strikers. Men were clubbed and manhandled, then jailed for their efforts to organize mines. The articles interested me, but much of the contents confused me. I remembered the IWW representative telling me that I was a "member of the working class." I still didn't know what he meant by "the class," although my sympathies were with those the paper reported on. Why, I asked myself, do a thousand working men allow twenty policemen to bash their skulls in with clubs and chase them down the street like a bunch of wild turkeys? Why the hell don't they take a stand and rout the police? Pick up baseball bats and strike back; that's the way I'd play it. These questions left me feeling depressed and troubled.

We were in Chesapeake Bay, chugging our way ever closer to Baltimore. Soon word came down to "stand by fore and aft." I moved to the bow, which was my station, and helped stretch out the mooring lines. We tied up at Sparrow's Point, an industrial area on the outskirts of Baltimore. Within minutes, monstrous steel "grabbers" wheeled up on tracks and stopped at each hatch. Every time the "grabber" reached into the hatch, her steel jaws would close on sulfur. With every grab, four or five tons of the chemical were lifted out of the hold and deposited in gondolas for hauling away.

In a way, I was impressed with Baltimore. I'd never seen such rows and rows of brick houses with their white stone stoops. I wondered how a drunk could find his way in the middle of the night and pick the right house when street after street all were the same size, painted the same color and had that white marble-like stoop in front. I took in a movie, drank a gallon of fresh milk, ate a number of candy bars and headed back to the ship. The next day we set out for New York. The windy cold weather made my nose run and eyes water just standing lookout on the bow. The Statue of Liberty looked good to me. It felt as if I'd been away from New York for a hundred years.

The captain sat at a small table, the chief mate next to him. The ship's articles lay before them. A pile of bills and some change were neatly stacked on the table. We lined up according to rank, the boatswain heading the line. I brought up the rear, being the last name on the ship's articles, the ordinary seaman. When I reached the table, feeling good, the mate read my name off to the captain. The captain ran his finger across the paper. "Sixty-one dollars and thirty-four cents," he said. He peeled off five tens, two fives, a dollar bill and thirty-four cents in change. That little pile of bills almost frightened me. So much money! I picked it up, rolled the bills tightly and stuffed the roll into my pocket. The mate stopped me when I started out.

"As hard as you tried to desecrate the traditions of the sea-going profession, to set it back a hundred years, I still think you have the makings of a good seaman. If I were you, I'd sign on for another trip and learn some more about the sea. How about it?"

The money weighed heavily in my pocket. Such a large sum deserved a better fate than being lumped up in a pocket. Why, with that much money I could buy anything! I was rich, I told myself. "No," I told the mate. "I want to stay ashore a while."

"I'll bet you'll be broke in a week," he shot as I sauntered out.

Chapter X: A Morgan Line; A New Orleans Whore

Since I had sailed away, my mother had moved downtown to the waterfront. Things at home had changed. Brother Buck was working as a truck driver. At that time the driver examination was given orally, and he had no difficulties. He was saving to get married, so he became tight-fisted with his dough. Brother John had a hard time trying to bum cigarette money from him, a reversal of fortunes that caused John to resent his brother. It got so the two would slug it out whenever they got enough drink in them to forget they were brothers.

John had come home from the West flat broke. He had amassed a small fortune stringing up telephone poles across Wyoming and Oklahoma and, after that, drilling for oil. However, he had squandered and gambled away his loot long since and was forced to return to the poverty he had fought so hard to leave behind. His personality had changed drastically. Perhaps the keen competition he met in his life away from home had transformed him into the dour, nasty barroom brawler he had become, a guy who would hit you with little provocation. Out of work at the moment, he spent his nights at the local speakeasy, besotting himself with brew or the bathtub gin notorious in those days. He'd charge home late at night or early in the morning.

One particular cop on the beat in our neighborhood took a dislike to John. They ran into each other one day. Words were said. It came almost to a fight. A few weeks later they met again. This time they swung at each other. When the fight was broken up, John seemed to have bested the cop--who, incidentally, was considered a sweetheart by nobody in the neighborhood. From then on, the cop kept his distance, but bided his time. At three one morning John left a speakeasy, loaded to the gills and barely able to find his way home. The streets were deserted. As he came to within a few feet of the tenement door, he saw two cops standing nearby. One of them was the one with whom he had the beef. John smelled trouble. He couldn't have run even if he thought of it; and he was too drunk to yell. Instead he went right to both cops, hands raised for battle. They punched, clubbed and kicked him within an inch of his life.

Inside, my mother, always with an ear cocked for trouble, heard a strange noise. It sounded like a club being bounced off a head, or perhaps a head banging on pavement. She flew to a window and raised it. Hearing the sound of the window opening, the cops hightailed it from the scene, leaving John stretched out on the sidewalk, bloody and unconscious. Buck and I, aroused from sleep, went down and hauled John upstairs. Not an area on his face was without injury. He was bleeding profusely from at least six wounds in his skull. "Call an ambulance," demanded my mother.

Down at the corner, I contacted Bellevue Hospital. "You say you need an ambulance?" queried the hospital operator.

"Yes, right away. And a doctor, too."

"Is the ambulance for you?"

"No, it's for my brother. He's bleeding bad."

"And what happened to your brother?"

"He was beaten up."

"Beaten up? By whom?"

"I think by two policemen."

"Oh? Two policemen, you say?"

"Yes. Please hurry with the ambulance." I gave the operator my name and address and raced home. My mother was sponging John's head and face with towels and basins of water. The place looked like an army hospital operating room behind front lines. Two hours later my mother sent me back to the phone to find out what had happened to the ambulance. When the operator answered, she started with the questions. I broke in.

"I've answered all those questions before. Where the hell is the ambulance?"

"We're working on that, sir," was her reply.

Back at the house, John was still unconscious. His lips were puffed and his nose was clogged with coagulated blood. Although the bleeding had slowed, he was in pain, moaning fearfully as he tried to breathe. By noon, some nine hours after we had dragged him upstairs, he was resting. All bleeding had stopped. We had removed most of his clothes. Black and blue marks from the clubbing he had taken spotted his body all along its length. His groans and moans had ceased; he was snoring now. The ambulance, of course, never came. I understood that I shouldn't have mentioned the cops.

Within ten days John's aches and pains were gone. His wounds healed under my mother's good care. But bitterness, hostility and deep hatred were brewing inside him. He talked to Buck about seeking revenge. God only knows what might have happened to that cop; however, in the end justice triumphed independently of my brother. This cop had been involved in other nefarious activities. Things started closing in on him. Finally a small announcement appeared in the papers. He had been found dead, a bullet through his head. Suicide, the news story suggested. No one ever knew the real story; no one really cared. The bastard was dead. No further harm could come from him. John was happy--yet disappointed.

The mate on the Lake Gaither had been right. The money seeped through my fingers. I had been taking in two shows a day, stopping at every hotdog stand or ice cream parlor along the way. John was bumming me left and right. Finally I was down to loose change in my pockets. I started my waterfront tours, moving from shipping master to shipping master. There were jobs, but the favorites were getting them.

The crimps were spread out. It took all day, without rest, to go from one of them to the next, finding a few of them on the lower West Side of New York, more down on South Street, two or three along the East Side, then on to Brooklyn and to one in Staten Island. Finally I wound up at the American Export Line in Jersey City.

The Morgan Line on the West Side offered the most promise for a job. So many of their ships ran from Boston to the Gulf ports that at least one was sure to arrive in New York each day. At times two would come in; there were even days when five would be tied up at the docks, loading cargo. Their shipping office was located on a pier. Usually 50 or more men would be waiting in the office for a friendly nod or wink that meant one or more of them would have a job. Three telephone booths stood against the wall, all in constant use when a ship was in.

While waiting for that nod or wink I would sneak into a booth, stuff the return coin slot with toilet paper, then sit down and await action. Cursing, then a banging of the receiver on the hook would soon resound. Another engineer or mate would storm out of the booth, slamming the door. That was my signal to return to the booth and pretend I was making a call while I worked the toilet paper stuffing back down. One day I pocketed $1.50. That took care of my immediate needs. The first few days around the office got me nowhere job-wise. I had to figure out a plan of action. I decided to make a complete nuisance of myself. So, every two hours, I'd walk into the crimp's private office unannounced and ask if there were any job openings. I'd be told to stay out in the waiting room. Two more hours and there I'd be again. When I saw the shipping master going home, I followed him a few feet with the same question: "When you gonna give me a job?"

This went on for a week. Several times I noticed the crimp trying to avoid me on his way out to lunch, but I caught up with him at the side door. Finally I was given the nod: an ordinary seaman's job on the El Lago.

This ship was quite different from the Lake Gaither. For one thing, it had no wooden hatch covers. Instead, there was one huge steel lid that had to be lifted at one end and stood straight up when cargo was being worked. Furthermore, this ship had a bow like a destroyer's--sharp, made for speed. Finally, everyone in the engine room except the engineers was black. On deck all hands were white; in the steward's department, all were black.

We pulled out of New York bound for New Orleans, a part of the country I had not yet seen. Every steamship line had some distinguishing feature. The Morgan Line, owned by the Southern Pacific Railway, was known for two things. The first was its food. "Morgan Line strawberries," as the men called the prunes that were served for breakfast, dinner and supper, were plentiful, but no one on their freighters ever saw an egg. Their staples were cheap cuts of meat, boiled potatoes, grits and fish. Their meals were interchangeable: breakfast could easily have been dinner or supper. A good set of teeth and a strong stomach constituted an advantage. Their second characteristic was the type of boatswains they were known for: real "super-dupers" famous for the amount of work they could get out of men.

Two days from the Mississippi River we ran smack into a well-developed hurricane. The captain decided to make for the pilot station. But as we approached the pilot boat, rocking from side to side and bobbing up and down, we could see that it would be impossible to launch a dory and row the pilot to our ship. We were waved off. "Go seaward until the hurricane blows over," came the faint, wind-tossed cry. Wind-battered, the El Lago took a nosedive into the mountainous waves, then rolled over almost onto her side. As she pitched, her propeller rose out of the water, then the bow came up out of the sea. Propeller still churning, the bow crashed back down at the other end, sending shudders from stem to stern. It was practically impossible to get around on deck. Working forward of the midship housing was ruled out because the winds and heavy seas crashing over the bow made passage impossible, despite life lines strung up everywhere. These winds were so strong that if you left your coat unbuttoned it would be ripped off your back. But that company-loving, faithful, loyal bastard of a boatswain saw to it that all the sailors kept right on working.

By morning I could not eat breakfast. I had had no sleep, having tied myself into my bunk for fear of being thrown out by violent pitching and rolling of the ship. I felt sicker by the minute. The mere smell of salty sea spray that permeated the entire ship was enough to make me dash for the toilet. Going to work that morning seemed a fate worse than death. The only place that felt right was my bunk. But that so-and-so boatswain had other ideas for me. "Get yourself a bucket and some rags and scrub the emergency steering wheel cover," he ordered as I faced him with my semi-blue countenance. I could have sworn that there was glee in his eyes when he saw how sick I was. I was sure I was preparing to meet my Maker.

I dug up some rags and a bucket and filled the bucket with fresh water. Inching around the after-housing, I saw a huge wooden wheel enclosed in tight-fitting canvas. Just then a big wave broke alongside, sending tons of water crashing over the deck. I dropped the bucket and rags, grabbing the first part of the steering wheel I could reach. Water washed up to my knees. The ship took a nosedive, leaving the deck clear again. Where was my bucket with the rags? The sea had washed them halfway down the deck. To retrieve them, I had to study the situation a moment and try to anticipate the ship's next roll. I let a few rolls and dips pass. Then, stomach in mouth, I made a dash of 50 feet, grabbed the bucket and scooted back. I was just in time to wrap my arms around the steering apparatus, clutching the empty bucket between my legs. Another wave washed over the deck.

An hour later the boatswain came by to check my work. He found me crouched in a small recess behind the steering wheel. I was soaked to the skin, so seasick I could hardly hold my head up. "Get off your ass!" he shouted. I looked at him forlornly, then struggled up. "I want this job finished before noon," he declared as he walked away.

I looked upward. The gray sky was filled with turbulent clouds. Holding tightly to the steering wheel, I prayed in the direction of those lowering mists: "If there really is a God up there, I demand at this very moment that You sink this ship and put us all out of our misery, especially the rotten boatswain." The ship continued its careening, the winds kept right on blowing--and the clouds stayed put. In fact, it was only after four more days and nights that we doggedly worked our way back to the mouth of the Mississippi. Then the strength of the hurricane abated. We tied up alongside the dock just a block from Canal Street, the main drag of New Orleans. My stomach began settling.

I went off for a walk, again in a new place. I walked from the foot of Canal Street, where the paddle-wheeling Mississippi steamboat was docked, straight up. After two hours in one direction I turned and was heading back toward the waterfront. I found myself on a street called Conti, the hub of the city's red light district. Every house on some six blocks of Conti Street was a whorehouse. Called "The French Quarter," the area was made up of small hotels, rooming houses, bars, small restaurants and dance halls. At night the street was alive with activity. Whores sat at open windows, soliciting trade from the passerby. Cops stood on corners or slowly walked their beats. Their main function, of course, was to protect the whores from violence from customers or other whores. If some guy was staggering drunkenly around the area making boisterous remarks, the cops quietly and quickly removed him from the neighborhood.

My clothes were sticking to my sweaty body from the long walk in the southern heat. I was tired and thirsty. I went into the first bar I came to. I wanted to sit in some shade and have a cool drink. The bar was empty except for a woman bartender. I ordered an orange soda with lots of ice. I sat back and relaxed, enjoying my drink. The woman looked me over for a while. Finally she moved closer to where I was sitting. "How about a nice hot woman to go with that cold drink, honey?" she suggested.

I gulped and got caught with a straw dangling from my lips as I lowered the glass. "Huh?" I answered blankly. She leaned on the bar in front of me, her breasts resting on the bar. "How about coming upstairs with me, heh?" I made a loud sucking noise as I drew up the last of the soda water. Then I worked the straw around in the ice, biding my time before replying. I had heard guys on board ship say that a guy should know what the price was before jaunting off with a trollop and, no matter what she asked, he should always make her back down on the price. That, they claimed, would make her keep the price within a sailor's reach. After this pause that felt like an hour, I said as matter-of-factly as I could, as though I were an experienced man, "How much?"

She smiled. "Three dollars for a short time."

"I ain't got three dollars," I told her.

"How much you-all got then, honey?"

"One dollar," I said.

"Is that all you got? A dollar? What you-all expect to get for a little ole dollar?" I didn't answer. I tried to suck the ice water up from the bottom of my glass. "Well, wait one little ole minute," she told me as she walked toward the door a few feet to the rear. "Lila Lee!" she shouted toward the door.

"Yeah, what is it?" came from the other side.

"There's a man here who wants to take me upstairs, but he only has a dollar. What do you want me to do?"

A pause. Then the voice floated out from the other side. "It's okay, honey. Take him upstairs. But remember: no `round the world stuff. Y'all hear me now?"

"Yes, Lila Lee," the bartender replied.

The room upstairs contained a bed, a small dresser, a wash bowl and a chamber pot. A curtained window overlooked a small courtyard. I stood in the center of the room like a bewildered sheep. She closed the door behind her and snapped a latch. She kicked off her shoes. I sat down on the edge of the bed and started to unlace my shoes. I felt trapped. "Oh, no you don't," she shrilled. "You heard what Lila Lee said. None of that `round the world stuff. Just keep those shoes on, honey."

I stopped fiddling with my shoes. I started unbuttoning my shirt. "Now stop all that," she ordered harshly. "You wanna get me in trouble?" I stopped unbuttoning my shirt. She pulled up her dress, slipped down her pants and worked her feet out of them. Then she lay down on the bed and pulled her dress up to her chest. "Well? C'mon now," she urged, holding the hem of her dress in both hands at her chest. "Whatcha all expect for a dollar, Clara Bow?"

I stepped out into the bright New Orleans sunshine, feeling a little bit weak. Little droplets trickled down my leg. I imagined that everyone I passed could tell that I had just been seduced. Slowly I returned to my ship. In the best tradition of the sea, I had done my part to keep the price down. That seemed important. But what the hell had she meant by "`round the world"? Well, I was still young--just 14, to be exact. I'd have plenty of time to find out.

The trip home was uneventful. We had nice sunny weather all the way. The boatswain got into a beef with the chief mate one day when both of them were boozing it up ashore. The argument ended with the mate telling the boatswain he was fired the minute the ship hit New York. After that, the boatswain became a sweet, lovable prince. Work was kept to a minimum. Whenever he showed up he was always ready to swap yarns. How simple it was, evidently, to change a loud-mouthed Simon Legree into a halfway decent person: just fire the bastard. With his security wiped out, he was cut down to the same size as the rest of us.

Chapter XI: From Stowaway to Jailbird

I was on the beach again in New York, this time with less pay. I visited some of the old haunts, hoping to run into friends. The offices of most of the shipping crimps were crowded. In a few it was impossible to even get a foot in the doorway let alone an interview. President Coolidge was ending his term in office. A new president named Herbert Hoover was taking over. Some industries were doing okay, but the maritime industry was slacking off. Ships were laying off men, throwing them on the beach.

Now just about everywhere I went in New York City I would find someone mounting a soapbox. Uneasiness was in the air, but at the moment I was unable to pinpoint it. Within a few weeks my money had disappeared. I made a few trips to some of the crimps; it was hopeless. I went over to Brooklyn to visit "The Greek," who had the manning contract with most of the oil tankers. He ran a rooming house-whorehouse-clothing store, speakeasy and loan-shark racket. I met him leaving his office. "Hey, Parkas, how about a job?"

He looked at me and spit on the ground. "Why should I give you a job?" he wondered.

"Because I need one," I reasoned.

"Why should I give you a job before I take care of my own men? You don't eat in my restaurant, you don't sleep in my boarding house, you don't buy your clothes in my store, you don't drink my booze. Why, you don't even screw my girls. Now, tell me why I should give you a job?" I had no answer for that. I just looked at him glumly. He pushed a cigar into his mouth, bit off the tip and spit it at my feet. then he lit the thing. "You help me, I'll help you. See me after you spend a little time at my places." Away he walked.

If there's anything worse than being broke, it's being broke in New York City and living with a mother who keeps repeating that Patrick down the street loves his mother more than I do, because he got a job the other day. This message I was getting from the time I rose in the morning until I pulled the covers up over my head at night. Clearly, the less I stayed around the house, the less abuse I would have to listen to.

So, there I was in the Automat on West 42nd Street, sipping hot chocolate, when who should blow in but "West Coast Ed." I had met this guy a few years back. Ed Singer had done a little seagoing in his time, and some harvesting in Kansas wheat fields, but most of all he had done a lot of railroading--that is, riding freight trains. In fact, his nickname referred to the many trips he had made by boxcar to the West Coast. He knew and could reel off all the division and subdivision points in the far-flung railroad system of America. For the past three months he'd been here in New York, trying to ship out. Like me, he now felt the effort was futile.

"Two months ago, I was down in Tampa," he confided. "There were about three tankers that needed men. The weather down there is always warm and enjoyable. But the best thing is the Seamen's Institute there, which puts you up for at least two weeks--sometimes three, with two meals a day. You can't beat that with a stick." We finished our chocolate. "Tell you what," he started again, "if I don't make a ship by Friday, I'm gonna take off Saturday for Florida. Wanna come along?"


"Okay, then. Maybe. Maybe I'll see you Friday at the Port Mission."

The next few days proved as disappointing as the ones before: no jobs, more seamen hitting the beach, more ships laying up. The weather kept getting colder and nastier. Tampa began to look damn good. So when Friday rolled around, I was at the Port Mission, trying to keep warm while waiting for West Coast Ed. True to his word, he came marching up the stairs and saw me. "Coming along, then?"

"Yes, why not? When do we leave?"

He opened a newspaper to the shipping page. "Lessee. The Iroquois sails tomorrow for Jacksonville . . . but here's the Algonquin going to the same place on Monday. Maybe we should try the Iroquois first. We get dumped off her, we can always hit the Algonquin.

The Iroquois was a sleek passenger ship that sailed to warm, sunny Florida, a good two-and-a-half day run from New York. Of the Iroquois's two smokestacks, one was a dummy. Its only function was to enhance the ship's appearance. Its interior served as a storeroom for odds and ends.

We went aboard three hours before any passengers arrived, before it became hectic at the gangways. We pretended to be longshoremen going on board to work. No one noticed us. Once aboard we had to find a suitable hiding place. We began studying one spot; we'd okay it, then, a few minutes later, we'd realize it wasn't good enough. Off we'd go, seeking another. Most places that seemed likely also seemed like places that would be searched before departure. Soon passengers were boarding. We had to disappear quickly. Ed glanced at the dummy stack. It had enough junk in it to convince him that it was a good hideaway. "You go find another spot," he advised. "No sense both of us getting caught if they discover this one."

I continued searching nervously. More and more faces bobbed past me. Departure time was drawing closer. I scanned the top deck, but saw nothing that offered shelter. One more small stairway remained and I'd be at the wheelhouse. I started to head back the way I'd come when I noticed a big box on deck. I opened it. Inside were a small cannon and a lot of line; it was the Lyle Gun, which is used for lifesaving missions. Here was a space just large enough for me if I lay atop the line with my knees pulled up. I got in, hoping no one would pull the lid back up. Inside, motionless, I started to get cold. Soon I imagined I heard voices and whistles. Then I dozed off into a fitful sleep.

Pitching, rolling, engine vibrations and the wind howling around the box awakened me on that chilly December afternoon. I pushed up the lid. My god, it was dark out there! I climbed out, glancing quickly around me. We were out in the open sea, past the point of return. I was safe from being sent ashore. For better or for worse, I was on my way to Florida . . . but that was a good thousand miles away. Right now I was freezing on a windswept deck, watching this French lady, the Statue of Liberty, blend into the darkness and into the ever more distant, unhappy past.

Above me bulked the bridge. Here was the point of authority, the officers' mountain peak, the captain's sanctuary. I would report to the first officer I met, give myself up. In the best tradition of the sea, the officer would see to it that I had a warm, secure shelter and was properly fed. I climbed the few steps to the bridge. The icy wind grew stronger with each step. I cursed loudly against the bitter cold. I couldn't see an officer out on the wing of the bridge. They were all enjoying the warmth of the wheelhouse. Only a fool would expose himself to this weather, I told myself.

As I opened the wheelhouse door, two officers and a quartermaster sat facing me. I braced myself against the door to prevent the wind from slamming it shut. "I wish to report myself as a stowaway, sir," I addressed all three. The mate regarded me with utter disgust. The quartermaster at the wheel didn't deign to look up from his compass. The junior mate just stared into space.

"Look, fellow," the mate finally intoned wearily. "You're about the fifth stowaway that's reported to this bridge in the last half hour. I suggest you go see the old man. Report to him."

I turned and headed for the crew's quarters, where I knew I'd feel more at home. I got myself a cup of hot coffee from the messroom. I wondered what happened to my partner; had he been discovered? I didn't see him around. The coffee made me feel better. Sitting right next to the engine room was cozy, too. Well, I had to see the captain. I climbed the steps from deck to deck until I came to his door. A knock brought his orderly. "I wish to report to the captain that I am a stowaway," I droned to the orderly, who started to mumble something.

At that instant a voice from another room asked, "What is it, Davis?"

"There's another stowaway here, sir. Wants to report."

The captain came charging into the drawing room. "Who wants to report what?" he shouted. He looked at me as I stood there with my cap in my hand, clad in a dirty sweater missing most of its buttons. "Who," he inquired, "are you, sir?"

"I'm a stowaway, sir," I replied rather proudly in what I thought was the tradition of seagoing stowaways. I waited, attentive and poised, for the captain to recognize another mariner in distress and offer me the comforts due me.

"Oh, you're a stowaway, are you?" he yelled. I took another quick look at this captain. He was small, about 65 years old, with a short crop of white hair on his small head. Obviously he was a man who was easily excited. My eyes traveled down to his patent leather shoes, up to tuxedo pants, suspenders and a white starched shirt which he had been buttoning when I knocked at his door.

"Yes, sir," I tossed back at him smartly.

He shook his fist at me. "I'll give you all the stowing away you're looking for by the time I've finished with you! You're the eighth stowaway so far."

"Tenth, sir," Davis amended.

"Ah, yes, tenth! What the hell is happening to this ship? Is there a sign on it somewhere stating that it's reserved for stowaways? Is there?"

"I don't think so, sir. See, I'm a seaman looking for work."

"Work, is it? Boy, I'm going to see that you get all the work you can handle! When I'm finished with you and all those other goddamn stowaways, one thing is for sure, you'll never again stow away on my ship! Now get off this deck. Go on, go below--and stay out of the passengers' sight. When we get to port, I'm turning the whole lot of you over to the police. Go on, I said; get away from here before you dirty the passageway."

"The old bastard!" I consoled myself as I made for the crew area. What a wrecker of tradition! What a captain! Well, I must have knocked at his door at the wrong time. I'd caught him dressing for dinner. On these passenger ships the officers dressed in tuxedos and sat at the passengers' tables. Big deal! They supplied salty tales which gave the passengers something to talk about when they got back ashore. Occasionally, you can bet, they were enticed to a stateroom by some cute hot passenger. That was prohibited, of course, but among the upper class anything can be overlooked. Captains are agents of The Company and must always be ready to act in its best interest. I suppose this captain was shaken up by the fact that his ship carried so many stowaways; that wouldn't look good in the top office. They were in business to haul money-paying passengers, not freeloaders who'd eat up all the food they could lay hands on.

I followed the captain's orders; I stayed out of the way of passengers and close to crew quarters. I found several burlap bags and piled them up close to the nice warm boiler room door. In the messroom, a large group of men sat around chatting. Most of them were my fellow stowaways. Ed turned up, too. Always alert, always intent on keeping one foot ahead of disaster, he knew how to take advantage of the situation. He'd been the second stowaway to appear before the captain, who had told him to go hang around the engine room entrance. Ed knew that if he performed any work on the ship it would be considered paying his passage, and he couldn't be arrested for stowing away. He'd gone directly to the engine room. There he found the engineer on watch and told him the captain had sent him down to work. The engineer picked up the phone. "Captain? This is Garber, engineer. Did you send a stowaway down to me to work?" Ed could hear a squawking coming out of the earpiece and the engineer half turned his head, keeping his beady eyes unwinkingly on him. There was a click. The engineer hadn't gotten another word out of his mouth. "All right," he told Ed wearily. "Get busy and earn your passage."

He put Ed to work polishing the brass around the engine room. Ed was overjoyed because, once more, he'd foiled those who hoped to send him to the slammer. Ed said that when the captain thought it over, he made the engineer appear before him, admonished him and even threatened to fire him.

One stowaway was a Negro. He'd been working in New York for the past year. He had saved up a hundred dollars, a sizable chunk of dough for those days. He was heading home to visit his wife and children in Florida and naturally didn't want to spend any of it on transportation. In a restaurant adjacent to the pier, he talked to a steward from the Iroquois. This man was also a Negro, like all the unlicensed members in the steward department. He had heard that the stowaway wanted to exchange $15 for a white steward's jacket. That was as good as a pass to get on or off the ship. Once the stowaway had come on board in this manner, word was passed that he had a few dollars. Enticed into a crooked card game by the same man who had rented him a jacket, he ultimately lost every penny. When the game ended, someone informed the officers that he was a stowaway and he was sent off to loll with the rest of the freeloaders.

Another two of the stowaways were young kids about 18 years old. Both dressed well and looked as neat as any of the passengers. They were going to work the Florida golf links as caddies. They walked aboard and mingled with the passengers. However, after most of the passengers had retired to their staterooms, these two guys were left drifting. That is how they attracted the suspicious eye of a steward, who turned them in.

I was getting ready to spread my potato sacks out on deck and go to sleep when the engineer approached me. As officers went in those days, he was a halfway decent guy. Maybe he felt sorry for me or liked me. "The whole ship is talking about the stowaways," he informed me. "That's all the passengers can talk about. A couple at my table are all excited about coming down here and meeting some. They look pretty well- loaded. What if I brought them down here and introduced them to you? Maybe you could pick up a few bucks. Any objections?"

"No," I told him. "Let `em all come down here. Who cares?"

Whatever dream I was having at two in the morning, stretched out there on the deck, was rudely interrupted. Someone shook my shoulder. From my tired eyes I looked up into the engineer's face. He was dressed in his tuxedo, looking like a penguin. Close behind him stood two passengers, a man and a woman. The woman looked down at me with parted lips, eyes wide. She held onto the man next to her. He studied me, a half-smile on his apprehensive face. The engineer, tilting his head slightly, gave me a quick wink. "These passengers wanted to see a stowaway."

I tried to dredge up a smile for them, but who can smile at two in the morning after having been awakened? They didn't put out their hands, so neither did I. They just stood there awkwardly. The man broke the silence. "And where are you going?" he wanted to know. The woman inched closer to his side. "To Tampa, or maybe St. Petersburg, to see if I can get a tanker and go to work."

"How does it feel to be a stowaway?" It was her turn to question me. I thought her eyes were going to bulge right out of their sockets. At that moment, I swear I was more afraid of her than she was of me. I had no idea whether she was going to scream or attack me. I hemmed and hawed for a few seconds, working up my act. Then I laid it on heavy. I told them how all my plans were being destroyed because the captain was so mean and nasty. He was going to send us to prison when we docked. I ended with how broke I was and how desperately I needed any kind of financial assistance.

Still grinning, his eyes never leaving my face, the man reached down into his pants' pockets, all the time making small talk about how lucky I was that I didn't have to pay to travel. "Why," he exclaimed, "I have to put out a bundle for myself and the little woman here." He handed me what he had in his fist. "Well, we have to go now," he explained. I thanked him and watched them disappear through the door to the passenger deck. I opened my fist, expecting to count at least two or three dollars in change. All that was there was a handful of pennies, 25 in all. The bastard! The cheap rotten bastard!

After a moment or two I cooled down. Aw, hell; that's what came from setting my expectations too high. I even considered the brighter side of the incident. I was twenty-five cents richer than I had been ten minutes earlier, and that was a lot of money--at least in comparison to some poor sonofabitch who didn't have that much.

A few hours before the ship reached Florida, the mate rounded up all the stowaways except for my friend West Coast Ed. We were locked in the mail room, where we could feel the engines vibrating as the Iroquois moved closer to the Jacksonville docks. Not long after, when all passengers had disembarked, the police arrived. We were handcuffed, and leg-irons were locked onto us, a chain running form leg-irons to handcuffs. If the police do this for a guy merely stowing away, I wondered, what the hell must happen if he's being held for murder?

The next day we appeared before a judge. Since there was no specific charge for stowing away, we were charged with vagrancy. "And what brings you to Florida?" asked the judge, having found out that we had all come from New York. We stood there, mute. "Well? Can't any of you speak?"

"To find work, sir." I found my tongue.

"Work?" snorted the judge. "Don't you realize that we have a lot of our own people out of work? Does it make sense that we should favor you people for jobs over our own unemployed?" Again we all stood silent. "You, Gibson," said the judge to the Negro stowaway, "seem to be the only Florida native in this group. You have any money?"

"No, sir."

"In that case," declared the judge, "I will have to fine you $25 or sentence you to 30 days at the county prison. Unless, of course you have someone to sponsor you and pay your fine." He glanced over the people in court. "Is there someone who wants to sponsor this man?"

A hand was raised. A short, thin, middle-aged man stepped forward. "My name is Owens, sir. I run the gas station down on Beaver Street. I'll sponsor this man."

"This man wants to sponsor you," the judge told Gibson. "Is that all right with you? If you agree, it means you'll have to work for him for 30 days. You'll live at home with your family, but you'll be on your honor to work faithfully for 30 days. If there's any complaint of any kind about your work, you'll be sent to the county prison. Now, if agree to all this, you and Mr. Owens can get together and work out your schedule." Gibson agreed. He went to Owens and both of them left. Well, here was a neat racket!

Now the judge centered his attention on the rest of us. "Anyone here with any money that can pay a fine, before I sentence you to prison?" he asked.

The two would-be caddies raised their hands. "I have ten dollars," said one. "I have five dollars," added the other.

"Good," the judge said. "I fine you ten dollars or thirty days in jail. And you, I fine you five dollars or thirty days in jail." The two went over to the clerk and paid the fines. "The rest of you are sentenced to 30 days in the county prison."

"The Jacksonville Blue Jays," the prison was called. Later I remembered it when German concentration camps were described. It had three main buildings, all stone. One housed Negro prisoners, the second housed white prisoners and the third was for administrators. In my cell were packed 50 men; all slept on canvas bunks five high. Naturally, whoever came last got the top bunks. The cell had windows covered by steel bars with no glass. The sanitary arrangements were primitive. At one end of the cell water flowed from a pipe. Here is where one drank and washed. The water ran out of the cell at the other end of the wall, and that was the toilet. The water itself must have run through underground sulfur pits. It tasted horrible and stank. Try mixing sulfur water with urine and let the heat hit that; that will give you an idea of how that cell stank day and night.

Eating conditions were just as elementary. Adjoining the cell block was the dining room. It boasted several long, solid wood tables about a foot wide. Every two feet or so there was a depression in the table itself which served as a bowl. Into this your vittles were poured. Breakfast was beans and grits; lunch was grits and beans; supper was beans and grits again. That went on for six out of seven days. For whatever reason, on Fridays we were served fish, fried stiff as an ear of corn. So happy were the prisoners to have a change in menu that they stuffed fish into their blouses and smuggled it into the cell block. To the stinking sulfur water and urine-soaked wall smell was added the stench of greasy fish.

The Blue Jays was no rest camp. After breakfast the guards lined us up outside the mess hall and marched us off to work. The are where we stopped was a proposed site for an airfield. Our job was to dig all the sand and dirt from around and beneath trees. Then we had to chop the trees down in sections so they would burn easily. There was no end of trees. The area was dense with small sturdy oaks. The guards gave us orders, then stood off and watched us work. While the Blue Jays was a chain gang, none of the men in my unit wore chains. These were used only on men doing six months or more. They were considered the most likely to haul ass the first chance they got.

Once while I was there, an argument arose between one of the guards and a prisoner. This wound up with the prisoner getting 24 hours in the "sweatbox." This box was about 50 feet from the cell block, where everyone could see it from the glassless, barred windows. A man inside this box could not stand up, bend down, sit or squat. Those 24 hours subjected him to constant pain. Sleep was impossible. The night chill merely added one more misery. When a man goes into the sweatbox the other prisoners watch. Usually the man going in needs no persuasion. He walks to the box; his body is fitted to its curves, and the door is slammed shut. When he comes out, the prisoners again watch. The guard opens the box door. Now the prisoner falls out like a sack of potatoes. He's left on the ground for a few minutes. Then a few prisoners get him on his feet and walk him to his cell block. In very few cases did such a prisoner ever repeat an offense against a guard.

One thing can be said about living in close quarters: when anyone tells a story, everyone is bound to hear it. Many of the guys in my cell block were guys on the road. They were easy victims, picked up by local sheriffs at will and given the usual 30 or 60 days for vag. Whenever a road-building project was under way, roundup of vagrants was widespread. Another typical time for the dragnet was during harvest time on state or county farms. The twice-burned veteran and road-wise old timer could both tell you what states and areas to steer clear of and when. In this part of the country, the airport was number one on the county's list. Most of the men in my cell block were victims of that round up. They came from all over the country, but most of them were from the West, especially California and Oregon. To me, California meant "the West." It had a magic ring to it. The mere sound of names like Black Bart, Pony Express, Death Valley, Golden Gate, and, above all, San Francisco and the Barbary Coast was music to my ears. Every night, new stories went around of the West and all the strange country that stretched out beyond the state of Florida.

These men were not your traditional hoboes with "bindle" on back, walking the tracks from town to town. They were farmers, cowboys, steel workers, teamsters and just about any other laborer imaginable. They were following up on rumors of jobs, any kind of jobs. While pursuing that goal they had to steer clear of every sheriff or deputy who was looking for convict labor. It was no time for a hobo to do any fuzzy thinking. He had to keep his eyes open and his head revolving to outwit the law.

If any of us asked an old timer about some particular spot, he would patiently devote as long as needed to brief us. "Watch out for Baseball Bat Gannon this side of El Paso," one of them would warn. Gannon was a railroad detective who specialized in beating up riders with a baseball bat. Many a prayer was said for his demise, but the bastard lived to a ripe old age. "If you make it to Tucson, the jungle is one mile east of the city. The stew pot is always on the fire, but you better bring along something to put into it," another would advise.

I felt pretty comfortable among my cell mates by the time Liberation Day arrived. One of the more concerned officers warned me, "Better walk back to Jacksonville instead of trying to hitch. You take a chance that way of being picked up by the law and you'll wind up back here."

Chapter XII: Riding Boxcars

The city was a long way off. I kept my head down on the way, "sniping butts," that is, searching for decent-sized cigarette butts. It was midday. My stomach was growling loudly. I saw a ship in the harbor. I was sure that a friendly word and a messman would be on board. A lock on the messroom door and a note reading, "Strangers: Stay Out!" proved me wrong. Tough luck. But maybe a job was available. The first assistant engineer's room door was slightly ajar. I could see his desk. On it, among some papers, was a pack of cigarettes and a dollar bill. I knocked on the door; no answer. I had an impulse to walk in and adopt that dollar. But thoughts of a lifetime on the chain gang rose before me. I walked away.

Down in the engine room I located the engineer, who was repairing a pump. He looked at me as if I were out of my mind when I asked if there were any jobs in the engine room. "How the hell did you get aboard my ship? Git your ass up that ladder and git ashore, quick-like, or I'll call the cops." Then he mumbled something about how easy it was for any bum to get aboard his ship.

The bastard, I said to myself. When I reached the top deck, I glanced back at him. He had returned to fixing his pump. My stomach was still growling, the messroom was still locked and my imagined friendly word and warm meal in reality were a disaster. I had to pass the engineer's office again on my way to the dock. This time I turned my head just once, all around, fast. Not a soul in sight. Pushing open the door, I grabbed the dollar and cigarettes. In a trice, I was down that gangway. On the way off the pier, my heart was pounding like a jackhammer. I quickened my pace.

When I had gone five blocks from the ship I found a restaurant. I was so excited I forgot how famished I was and ordered only a piece of pie and a cup of coffee. That reduced my dollar bill to change. Now let someone prove I had taken it. There would be just loose change on me, while the engineer would be swearing that a bill was missing. I faced the window as I ate, watching for the Law. Across the street, a signpost sported two arrows: "Waycross, Georgia," that way; "Tampa," this way. Heaven only knows why I selected the arrow pointing to Waycross. My original intention was to get to Tampa or St. Petersburg. Besides, Waycross was a lousy way to start me toward my real, if still subconscious goal: the wild and woolly West. Nevertheless, there I was out on the highway, making rapidly for the Georgia state line. I felt secure in the knowledge that 85 cents were hidden in various places all over my body (in case I was held up).

I've often wondered why, when the going is tough and people have no warm clothes, the weather will invariably get freakishly cold. That's how I marched into Georgia; nights were near freezing and mornings confronted me with frost an inch thick. Georgia made its first impression on me with the many chain gangs I passed along its roads. The uniforms were black and white; their tools were picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. I kept my head down when I passed them, trying to act as if I were the boy from just down the road. I avoided their eyes; I didn't want to see their sorrow and pain.

I arrived in Waycross on a Sunday. Dirty and shabby though I was, everybody I passed gave a friendly greeting, a practice that impressed me. "Good afternoon," each would say with a dip of the head. I hoped the people would be as generous as they were polite, but no such luck. I knocked on at least six back doors for something to eat before someone handed me a jelly sandwich. Things were obviously rough in Waycross, too. As darkness approached, I knew that the only safe place in town had to be the jail.

The sheriff showed me an empty cell and bid me goodnight. It was warm. They furnished two blankets. Before the night was over, several more guys moved in to occupy some of the empty bunks. The sheriff could only have been delighted that we had come to his jail. He wouldn't have to go looking for us now. If we were snugly inside the jail, we couldn't commit any crimes. We were protected, he was protected. All we hoped was that he wouldn't double-cross us by holding us for vagrancy the next day.

That night, as I reflected on the past week, I made up my mind that footing my way through the United States was not for me. No sir; from now on I was going to use the great American railways. Hell, didn't my own people, the shanty Irish, help lay the tracks across the country? The least I could do was see how they were being used.

A mile outside Waycross, I and a handful of others heading west waited. A freight train rumbled slowly toward us, its stack belching black smoke as the fireman worked up a full head of steam. We scrambled aboard any open car we could catch. The train started picking up speed. Then two long toots of the engine whistle let us know the train was going to "highball"run wide open. There's a lot to be said about traveling in a boxcar, especially an empty one. You can get up and walk around or even trot. You can sing, holler and shout. You disturb no one, if you're alone. Through the wide open door you can watch the countryside go by; you can smell the country air mingled with the odor of sulfur, as the fireman piles more soft coal onto the fire. When it rains, there's a roof over your head. When the wind howls, you can always close the door a wee bit more to keep out the gusts and the cold.

For a novice, danger lurks in and around freight trains. They exact a heavy toll in injuries and deaths. Fortunate indeed is the man who can ride with a few old timers. Three such veterans were in the car with me. I spread out in the back of the car. Then I lay down with my head against the bulkhead. One of the more experienced travelers promptly chided me for being so amateurish. "Why, you can get your brains bashed out, lying like that!" he said. "Suppose the train comes to a sudden stop? Or humps some cars in the middle of the night? Your head would be bashing up against these walls like a yo-yo. Always lie sideways in the car. Then the most that can happen to you is you roll a bit." He went back and sat down with the other two. I heard one comment quietly, "It's hard to teach these young kids anything nowadays. They think they know everything."

And the train rumbled through the night, racing toward Tallahassee and the Gulf of Mexico. I was amazed at how much there was to learn. My three boxcar buddies never missed an opportunity to give me a critical blast about my ignorance of life on the road. Once all I did was stand and peer out the door at the passing countryside. "Do you want your head chopped off?" came the sharp reprimand. "You got the door open a foot. You got yer head stickin' out. Suppose the engineer braked in an emergency? This door would chop your neck in two like one of them French . . . er, whatchamacallits."

"A guillotine," volunteered one of his sidekicks.

"Yeah, that's it. A guillintine. Yer head would go bouncin' along the tracks. Now, the trick is to shove a wedge in the door so it can't slide. Otherwise keep yer head inside the car. Does that make sense?"

I nodded sheepishly. The boxcar sage continued. "Aside from the danger of gettin' yer head lopped off, you could get kicked off the train." He let that one sink in for a moment, then elaborated. "When the train is going around a curve, and you're standin' there with yer head out the door sniffin' at the scenery, the brakeman can see you from his caboose. Yeah. First time the train makes a water stop, he'll be back here and drive you off. If you're ridin' through town, could be the station master sees you, and he'd telegraph ahead for some railroad bull to meet you. So watch yerself when you stand at an open door."

Again the other guy commented, "Can't do a thing with these young kids nowadays. They think they know everything."

Contrary to some beliefs, a train is not in constant motion. A lot of time is spent for refueling, water stops or rumbling onto a side track to let a crack passenger train or fruit manifest pass. In most cases the stops are only a matter of minutes. But there are also times when the train can be sidetracked for as long as an hour or more. Then you have a right to worry. You have no idea what the problem is, and you can't help wondering if the entire train will be searched and everyone get kicked off. You huddle in your car, holding your breath every time someone walks past.

My traveler champs were right on their toes when our train pulled to a stop in the middle of nowhere. We were on a slight curve, and the caboose was visible. Three brakemen climbed down and started the long walk toward the engine, some hundred cars ahead. Quickly, one of the older men with me found a piece of wood in the car. Using it as a wedge, he opened the door about six inches; then he rammed the wedge against the door so it could be neither opened nor closed. "We can't afford to be locked in," he explained. "The only way to lock us in now would be with a crowbar. Most brakemen won't do any more work than they have to. If the door is too hard to close, they won't mess with it."

"But what if they look in and see us?" I wondered.

"How can they? Can't you see I set the door so they can't open or close it, let alone put their heads in? That's the point. Get it now?"

I nodded. Then I waited for the other old geezer to repeat how smart-assed the kids were nowadays and how no one could teach them anything. But this time he skipped it. We all moved to a far corner of the car and sat there in silence. We could hear the brakemen's footsteps as they approached. The door of the car next to ours was open. They stopped and closed it. Now they reached our car. "Another one," grunted one brakeman. "They should make it a law not to hitch onto any car unless it's shut tight and locked." They yanked the handle, trying to pull the door closed. Failing that, they tried to open it. Finally one grumbled, "Aw, screw it! Leave the sonofabitch the way it is. It's not going anywhere. Let's get up to the engine and see what's going on." We heaved a sigh of relief. My admiration for the wisdom of these older men rose considerably.

We had crossed into Florida and had long passed Tallahassee when two of the old timers waited for the train to slow down on a hill. They said goodbye and jumped. Landing on their feet, they waved us out of sight. "There go a couple of bean farmers making for home in Calhoun County," the remaining veteran told me. "I'll be getting off another 75 miles from here. That's the shortest way to Andalusia. Ever in Andalusia?"

"No. Never even heard of it. Where is it?"

"It's in Alabama. I have a daughter there. She and her husband run a small farm. Pigs and peanuts. Or peanuts and pigs. I'll let them put me up for a couple of weeks. Don't know where I'll go after that. Every place seems the same. Can't even offer your services to anyone for room and board anymore. Anyway, you stay right on here. Mobile is a division point. The train will stop there, probably change engines and crews. If the train slows down before you get into the yard, get off. Otherwise, watch those railroad dicks; they're bad medicine." About two hours later he shook me out of a nap. "This is where I get off, kiddo," he announced. "Close the door when I leave, and take care of yourself, son," he said as he eased himself out of the car to the ground.

I was alone--and I didn't like it. The train rumbled on at a slow pace. I narrowed the opening of the door the way my departed buddies had shown me, ramming home the wedge. The world around me was settling down for the evening. Stars began appearing, and with them lights in many farmhouse windows. Hunger, the shaking of the car and the monotonous clippity-clap of the wheels on the tracks soon put me to sleep. I woke up early the next morning to dead silence and a chill that had gotten to my bones. I opened the door onto a deserted roadway. A sign read "Pensacola One Mile."

I had no idea of how or whether we were sidetracked. One thing I did know: I was starving to death. Mobile or no Mobile, food was the most important item on my list at the moment. I rolled back the door, jumped out and moved onto the highway. About half a mile down the road I came to a small farmhouse. I saw two cows and a horse. A back window showed a light. Before I reached the door, a dog spotted me. Barking and yelping, he came charging at me, stirring up such a fuss that the woman who emerged from the kitchen door had to throw a stick at him to quiet him. I stood motionless until she asked what I wanted. "Something to eat, ma'am. I'll gladly work for it."

"We're poor people, too, mister. This is the first house that everyone comes to, either from the trains or from the road. Twenty times a day someone asks for food. Sometimes I wish we never moved so close to the tracks; so much misery to see! But I'll give you what I can." She went into the house and returned with two slices of bread and a strip of well-done sow belly. The dog sidled up, wagging its tail, bumming me for part of my breakfast. The woman chased him away.

"Do you want me to do some work?" I asked.

"No, I can handle what little there is. You go on now, with God's blessing and a Merry Christmas." I thanked her and left, having made short shrift of the bread and the sow belly. That had been just enough food to work up a really good appetite. I kept moving. Suddenly it struck me: she had said Christmas! It was Christmas Day! Well, Christmas had never had any special meaning for me, anyway. So why get excited about it now? All it did was remind me of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pie. Hell with it! I'd settle for a few more slices of bread and more of the fried pig belly.

I ambled down Pensacola's main drag. Christmas decorations hung between telephone and light poles. Few cars and even fewer people were out. It was still early. The sun was beginning to warm the day. For the first time that morning I felt comfortable. But one thought still dominated me: food. With each restaurant that I passed, I tried to decide whether to bum it for something to eat. Finally an eatery captured my attention. In the window stood a big picture of Santa Claus with a wide grin on his white, whiskered face. On his back hung a huge sack. Sticking out of the sack was a card with the restaurant owner's picture on it. The message read: "It is the season to be merry, yet let us remember those without." A religious nut, I figured. Well, I was one of "those without." I went inside to test the owner. He sat at the cash box a few feet from the door. I sucked in a lungful of air and moved right up to him.

"I'm hungry, without work or funds. I'm willing to work for something to eat." I said it quietly, so as not to put him on the spot if anyone overheard us.

He smiled. "Today is Christmas. All the merchants have chipped in to provide anyone who needs it with a warm Christmas meal. The sheriff asked us to inform any such person that he may have it at his office in back of the courthouse. It's only two blocks straight down that way, then half a block to your left. See? Tell him Ronnie, from Ronnie's Cafe, sent you."

What he said made sense. First of all, it guaranteed that drifters and down-and-outers would get a good meal without bothering restaurant owners or local people. Then it would give local merchants a good name for their kindness, while making it easier for the local police to know where all the out-of-towners were. At the sheriff's office, the sheriff and his two deputies sat around a desk, laughing their heads off about something or other. "Mr. Ronnie, of Ronnie's Cafe, sent me here for your Christmas special," I interrupted.

"All right, Bert. Here's another one for our Christmas special. Take him on down."

"Follow me," the deputy instructed. A door led to a corridor; another door led into a large room with four small cells and a larger holding cell. Behind the cell door, there were 15 men already locked in.

"Hey, man!" one of them shouted at the deputy. "When we all gonna eat?"

"Soon. Pretty soon, now," the deputy assured him as he unlocked the cell door. He asked me to step inside, then locked the door behind me. "Pretty soon," he repeated, grinning. And off he went.

An uneasy feeling arose in my stomach. I was mad at myself for being such a hog; I should have made do with the sow belly and bread. No, no; I must be crazy. Surely they would feed us. Didn't the restaurant owner say that all the merchants had taken up a collection to treat us? Hell, these guys are just impatient. I bet the food is being cooked up for us now.

Two hours went by amidst the grumbling of the men who shared my cell. A rattle of a key in the outer door, at last! We're going to eat. All eyes were on the door. It opened. The deputy led two more men into our cell. "Damn it, man!" shouted one of my cell mates. "When do we eat? I've been here four hours now. I'm hungry, man! Hungry!"

The deputy smiled. "Pretty soon," he soothed. "Pretty soon." Another two hours passed. No one spoke anymore. Some stretched out and went to sleep. We were aroused from our torpor by a loud cursing in the outer corridor. The door opened. Two deputies dragged a young man into the cell block, pushing him in among us.

"You better let me out of here, right now! Y'all here me?" he cried.

"You stay right there now and get some sleep," was the deputy's reply.

"You just wait till mah dad hears what you done! He'll put some spurs in your ass, y'all hear me?"

"Your dad ain't gonna do nothin' of the kind," replied the deputy, a big smile creasing his face.

"You're a liar and a mother," shot back the youngster, grabbing the bars and trying to shake them.

"Now watch your mouth, Clem," warned the deputy, his smile disappearing. "No need to talk like you do. You're drunk and you have to stay here until that corn whiskey wears off. Why don't you be a good boy and lay down and sleep?" Believing he'd had the final word, the deputy moved toward the exit. But the guy who'd repeatedly asked about food took a step closer to the bars.

"Hey, deputy! Just when do we get that Christmas dinner that all the merchants paid for?" he demanded.

"Any time now," the deputy promised.

That brought the young drunk back to the bars. "Y'all ain't gonna get no Christmas dinner, no way!" he yelled.

"You shut your mouth, Clem," ordered the deputy, letting go his grip on the doorknob and turning toward Clem.

"You know you ain't gonna feed these here men `cuz you and those other mothers pocketed the money! Just wait till my dad hears about this!"

The deputy marched straight up to the bars. No trace of a smile hid his anger now. He stared directly at the youngster. "Listen here, Clem! You or your dad ain't gonna say nothin'! Now just shut up, you hear?"

"My dad is too gonna say a lot of things when I tell him what you're doin' to these poor men. Pocketing money that was collected for them . . ."

"You better hush up, Clem, 'cuz yer dad gave us permission to lay some leather on your ass if we ever bring you in here for being drunk. Now don't make me come in there and whip your ass!"

"Crook! You're a cheap, dirty crook, that's what you are!" half-sobbed the fellow. "Let me out of here!"

With a scowl the deputy said loudly, "If we're crooks, your daddy is the biggest crook of all." With that he slammed the cell door shut with a clang. At seven o'clock that night the sheriff and two deputies opened the cell and let us all out except the mayor's son, who was fast asleep. They led us out in front of the courthouse. "If y'all just march straight down this here street, you'll reach the outskirts of town in about five minutes. Don't stop to ask anyone questions; don't bother none of the merchants. And don't come back here. If any one of you are caught in town, I promise him six months building roads."

None of us could imagine how much money had been collected from the merchants, but it seemed clear to us that the mayor was part of the setup of rotten crooks. I found it hard to understand how a handful of supposedly respectable people could callously pocket the few dollars that would have meant so much to us poor hungry men that Christmas Day.

The sign stretched out across the street proclaimed, "Peace on earth; goodwill to all men." "Balls," I mumbled as I passed beneath it. I was headed for the next train west.

Chapter XIII: On the Bum in Dixie

No one except the station master knows for sure when the next freight train is due. You have to sit around in a spot you hope will be advantageous for catching it. Then you question everyone who passes to find out what each one knows about the schedule.

A local passenger train was due within an hour. The freight train might come by in five minutes or sometime tomorrow. No one knew. But you can't wait around for tomorrow on the road. Survival is the name of the game, and for that you have to seize the opportunity--which, like the freight train, has no schedule. I'd never caught a passenger train, so I was a bit wary of the idea. Yet, before me lay the long road to Mobile, fraught with danger. Few men who use the railroads as transportation relish the thought of riding the "blinds" on passenger trains. The blinds are the space between the coal water tender and the first car, which is usually a U. S. mail car. A man must stand up in a very small space, exposed to the rain, wind and cold. Many times, hot cinders from the smokestack blow in his face. These blinds are hard to reach because the fireman sits on one side, the engineer on the other. Generally both of them are leaning out of the engine cab, trying to get signals from the conductors. Those two are usually the first to roust you off.

As things stood, I decided that if the chance came I'd give it a try. Anything seemed better than that long hike down the highway. I found myself a partner who felt the same way I did about Pensacola. He suggested we walk back along the tracks toward the water tank and wait there in the hope that the engine would have to take on water. From a distance, we watched the train pull into the station. Five minutes later it eased slowly out and stopped at the water tank. Night had fallen, but we could still make out the fireman and engineer maneuvering the spout from the water tank. A yank on a hanging rope and water poured into the water tender. We waited, protected by growing darkness. It took the fireman and engineer a minute to push the spout back out of the way and climb back down to the engine cab. In that short period, both of us rushed out of our shadowed retreat and hopped aboard.

Late that night our local stopped before a bank of signals two miles out of Mobile. We jumped off. Working our way across innumerable tracks, we finally located a street. Riding the blinds would prove handy in the days and months ahead. But at the moment we were occupied making our way into Mobile. I knew it was a big port. Ships from all nations stopped off there to load cotton, the major product of the region. I'd heard seamen speak of Mobile. As I crossed the bridge over its bay, I could see many ships in the harbor, outlined in the dark. Their presence gave me a warm feeling.

My new friend and I parted company. He went his way while I worked my way to the city, making for the waterfront. A soft-spoken man in charge of the YMCA listened to my story of no funds and a need for a place to sleep. He gave me a room and a chit for breakfast.

One big problem on the road is staying clean--especially keeping free of lice and crabs. That takes a lot of baths and it means trying to keep your clothes clean, almost an impossibility. Many times the local sheriff's jail is your best camping place. If you hit the right one, and it's not overcrowded, the sheriff may allow you to use hot water for a bath and to wash your clothes--which you hope will be dry when he turns you loose at six in the morning.

From the Mobile "Y," with a bath, a shave, some clean clothes I had washed out the previous night and a substantial breakfast under my belt, I struck out toward the fleet of freighters I had seen the night before in the bay. I had a feeling this would be my lucky day. However, a glance around the bay at the dozen ships tied up there revealed in the glare of daylight that they were just "laid-up ships." They were ships without crews, belonging to companies that were either bankrupt or on the verge of bankruptcy. I stopped at a seamen's club. It was packed with unemployed seamen sitting around playing cards. "Things might be better in New Orleans," volunteered one of them. "It's a bigger port."

Most seamen hanging around Mobile, I discovered, were "homeguard." They were locals, natives of Mobile with homes and families in the area. Of course, if any of these ships started operating again, they'd be the first hired. And nobody appeared to be in a mad rush to put those ships back into operation.

Wearily I again set my sights westward. New Orleans was a big port, many times bigger than Mobile. Perhaps I'd strike it lucky there. It took me two days to reach New Orleans, because the railroad yard around Mobile was hot with railroad bulls. It wasn't considered healthy to let one of them catch you roaming those yards. So most of the time I was too far away to catch any of the trains as they came high-balling past. Instead of boarding the fast freight, I had to grab a slow-moving local that ran from town to town, shunting off a car here and a car there.

I'd been in New Orleans before. Its streets and quarters were familiar to me. I made for the waterfront and presented myself to a clerk in the seamen's mission. I wanted a place to sleep and something to eat. The place was crowded with unemployed seamen. Since I was from out of town, I was given two days' lodgings, four meals and the polite information that there would be no other relief. The meals were simple, and no lunch was served.

It was the same story here as on the Mobile waterfront: ships laying up and discharging crews, no business, companies folding. As jobs for seamen dried up there was less work for longshoremen, teamsters and warehousemen--all jobs related to the transportation of goods. Some seamen claimed that oil tankers were still doing a booming business; it was cargo ships that were laying up. I wondered if I should concentrate on tankers instead of freighters. I tried visiting some of the shipping crimps who hired men for tankers. There I soon saw their favorites, the "company" men, had first crack at any job openings. That let me out, since I was neither a tankerman nor imbued with company loyalty. Moreover, I was a "foreigner" amidst these men who glared at me with hostility. I decided my best bet would be to visit the ships and try to influence the officers in charge. Maybe I'd hit it lucky that way.

When I'd been in New Orleans for five days, I knew I'd have to connect with something or get out of town. The few charitable organizations in that city could hardly feed and lodge me indefinitely. Between them all, five days was considered liberal. I picked up a railroad timetable at the depot. One of the most important items for a guy on the road is a railroad timetable. Generally a map of the route for the railroad he hopes to use is included; the schedule generally tells the number of passenger trains in service and the towns where they stop; it names divisions and subdivisions and contains plenty of other vital information.

I'd heard from a couple of knowledgeable characters that the best and safest place to catch a freight for Baton Rouge was five miles out of town. The Mississippi River zigzagged toward Baton Rouge, a fueling terminal for oil tankers. As they worked their way up river these tankers passed large piers and warehouses, adjacent to which were railroad tracks--twenty at first, narrowing down to four further out of town. Next to the tracks a wire fence separated the yard from the city street.

About a mile up that street I studied the tracks and piers. A ship was moving slowly up river. She was so heavily-laden that I could make out only her stack and part of her mast. Could this ship intend to dock close by? The vessel rounded a bend and the mast disappeared. Then a warehouse pier cut the entire ship from view. She's docking, I thought. I'll be the first man aboard, in case there's a job. I found a gate. A man was guarding it. I made as if to go through it. He stopped me. "This is railroad property, mister. Where do you think you're going?"

"A ship just came in over there. I want to get aboard and see if there's a job on her," I told him.

He followed my pointing finger. "There's no ship there, and none is expected. Now stay off railroad property," he ordered.

I walked away angry. Just what I figured: he has a job, so he doesn't give a damn about the guy who hasn't. Well, screw him! I saw that ship pull in there and I'm going to get into that pier. I went further up the street. When I thought I was a safe distance from the gate, I scaled the fence. Then I hopped on and off row after row of boxcars lying idle in the yard. With only a few more yards to the pier, I came face to face with the same guy from the gate. "Didn't I tell you to stay off railroad property?" he shouted.

"I only want to get to that ship," I insisted.

"Goddamn it! There's no ship there. I told you that. Now I have to arrest you. Next time, maybe you'll pay attention to me." He handcuffed me. I still protested that there was a ship there.

"All right. You want to see for yourself? Come on." He yanked me a few more feet toward the warehouse, then through a door. We were on the face of the pier, looking out over the flowing Mississippi. Far up the river, the stern of the ship I had imagined docking was dwindling into the distance. "You satisfied now?" he sneered.

Into the neighborhood police station we marched. "Trespassing on railroad property, a Section 109-A," he told the booking officer who sat at a desk.

"Arresting officer?" asked this person.

"Detective Delacroix, railroad security," answered my man. I was booked and led to a cell a floor above the station entrance. There were three cells, each with two hammocks which served as beds. They sported a small sink, a horrible toilet, no chairs, tables or other comforts. A weak light glimmered overhead. Well, here I was in jail again. I sat wondering what I'd done wrong to land me in this mess. It was probably my stubbornness, I decided. Well, I'd have to make the best of a bum situation.

I had thought I was alone. However, pretty soon I heard someone sobbing from a cell about 20 feet away which I couldn't see from my angle. Whoever it was had my sympathy. At best, jails are miserable places that put the best of us to the test. I sat on my bunk and counted the rivets that held the small space together. Around four o'clock a small, white-haired jailer shuffled up the stairs toting two small bottles of coffee and two sandwiches. He gave me one sandwich and coffee; the other he took to the sobber's cell. I devoured my rations in less than a minute. I crumpled the waxed paper and threw it on the floor, since there wasn't a refuse pail. then I lay back in a hammock to digest the meal.

Scratching sounds--sounds of the waxed paper being rolled around the floor, made me look down. My heart almost stopped. A rat the size of an average cat sat wolfing down the paper. Then another about the same size walked through the cell's bars into my space. The intruder tried to cut himself in on some of the food-scented paper, but the first rat nipped him on the back and away he scurried. Having consumed all the paper, the first rat nosed around, picking up a crumb here and there, then walked outside through the bars and disappeared. Jesus Christ, I thought, now I have something else to worry about. All it would take would be two of these bastards to carry me off. The hammocks seemed well enough off the ground. From now on, I vowed, not a crumb would be allowed to fall on the deck. In fact, for self-protection, I rolled up a few small pieces of whatever I was served into the waxed paper, twisted it tightly, and tossed the little bundle from the cell. It worked.

I had scraped the last Bull Durham flakes from the sack. They made a very tiny cigarette. During the night I'd smoked half a sack of Durham. I blamed that on the rats who raced around the floor at will, screeching. Rats and I never did, and never will, get along. I've seen a few babies in my time left unattended in hallways, with soft pink skin that had been nibbled on by rats. I've seen my mother fight them off to protect bread in our breadbox. I was afraid of them. Their presence made me ill at ease. Now here it was early morning, and the last of the Bull Durham was going up in smoke.

When the jailer dragged up the wooden stairs with a small bottle of hot coffee and an egg sandwich, I was awake. This would be the last food I'd get until five in the evening. In fact, it might be the last of the jailer I'd see till then. I wanted to attract his attention to see if he'd buy me a pack of tobacco. I held a nickel in my hand as he approached my cell. I started to talk to him, but he paid no attention. As he passed me the coffee, I asked him again if he'd take my nickel and at his leisure buy me some Durham. Again he paid me no heed. He went to the other cell, out of sight. As he started back toward the stairs, I started flailing my arms through the bars to get his attention. He stopped. "If you're talking to me, don't, because I'm stone deaf." With that he padded back down the stairs.

Two hours later, long after I'd taken care of the rats and had watched them dash away with the sandwich wrappings, I smelled the faint odor of tobacco. Then I noticed the drift of smoke in the air, wafting from the other cell. I pressed against my cell door. "Hey, buddy! Any chance of getting some tobacco from you?" I shouted. No reply. Again I shouted, "Hey, friend, can you spare some tobacco?"

A soft answer came back. "Get the guard to pass these cigarettes."

Muffled discussion was going on below. I hollered for the guard several times. Silence. I reconciled myself to waiting for the evening meal to see the guard again. About half an hour later, creaking stairs betrayed approaching footsteps. It was the old white-haired guard. From the top of the stairs he came straight to my cell and extended a hand. "Here," he grunted, handing me a pack of cigarettes. "White men don't beg niggers for anything." With that he stumped back down the stairs.

For a moment I was stunned. Why, the old sonofabitch could hear all the time, especially from way down there! I lay there puffing on my gift cigarettes, pondering this concept that it was wrong for a white person to ask help from a colored one. It didn't make sense to me at all.

I had now been behind bars for three days. I asked the guard why I was not being released, or why I didn't at least appear before a judge. He mumbled something about a holiday and the courts being closed down. On the fourth day, they brought a young guy in and put him in the cell next to mine. I couldn't see him, but we could talk. He was a local and didn't feel like talking, he said. He must have been important, because every hour or two that afternoon some detectives or cops would come up, take him out of the cell, hand- and leg-cuff him and then bring him back after an hour or more. When they returned him to his cell and removed his irons, he'd always be shoved inside with something like, "Get in there, you punk bastard!"

Around midnight, I was awakened to the sounds of shuffling feet, dragging chains and a banging door. My eyes were open just in time to see three detectives grab my neighbor by the back of the neck and pull him up from the floor. He made no sound. Now, with the light directly over him, I could see him fairly well for the first time. He couldn't have been more than 20, a slim, blond youngster. A few bruises showed on his face and his lip was swollen. After they left, I went back to sleep.

At about three in the morning, they were back. This time two detectives were dragging the prisoner up the stairs. He appeared semi-conscious and could hardly stand. The detectives removed the cuffs and leg irons and pushed him back into the cell. As things settled down, I could hear a low, painful moaning from his cell. After half an hour, I got out of my hammock, leaned up against the wall and struck up a conversation. "Hey, fella," I broke the silence, keeping my voice as low as possible and my eye on the floor below.

The moaning stopped for a moment. Then a sharp cry of pain broke out. "Yeah?" the prisoner choked.

"What's going on?"

"I'm pissing blood," he replied.

"Pissing blood? How come?"

"They've been beating me and kicking me in the kidneys. I'm black and blue."


"They want me to get up and run so they can shoot me. They take me out to the race track when no one is around, then start beating and kicking me. They keep telling me to make a run for it. But I know that they want to shoot me."

"But why?"

There was another sharp cry of pain. Someone shouted from below. "Shut up there! If you don't, I'll come up and hose you down!"

I slid back quickly into the hammock. Somehow I managed to sleep again. I awoke around seven. The guard was standing there with the coffee and sandwich. At noon the guard opened my cell and led in a guy about 30. He was neatly dressed. I could hear a lot of loose change jingling in his pockets. We exchanged greetings. He hooked up the other hammock and sat in it.

"What are you in for?" I asked.

"Peddling tea," he said. How the hell could a man get arrested for selling tea? It didn't sound right. However, I didn't pursue it.

"But it's all right," he continued. "I'll be out of here as soon as my wife hears about it. this happens at least once a month."

Now I was really puzzled. Cops arresting a man at least once a month for selling tea on the streets? Christ, why the hell don't they leave him alone so he can make a living?

"If you're awakened during the night," I informed my new cell mate, as if I were an old- timer, "it's because there's a guy in the next cell who the cops take out in the middle of the night and beat up. He's pissing blood, he told me this morning."

"Who is he?" my cell mate asked.

"Someone they brought in the other night. Young guy."

"I bet it's one of those bank robbers," he exclaimed. "Is he a blond fellow about six feet, skinny?"

"Yeah, that description fits him," I agreed.

"I could see into the cell as I came in here. There's no one in it. It's empty," he assured me.

"Gee, he must have gone out while I was asleep," I guessed.

"Those three guys are crazy," he declared. "They went into the bank with sawed-off shotguns. Told everybody to put their hands up, and before anyone could do it one guy fired a blast at the ceiling. The shot was so big it ripped out part of the ceiling and some of the shot ricocheted all over the place. A woman was hit. She died on the way to the hospital. The bank guard didn't have a chance to put up his hands, either. He took a full blast. A cop passing the bank heard the shooting and came charging in. They blew him back through the door, right into the street.

"Someone saw the cop bleeding on the street and called more cops. They panicked out of the bank without grabbing any money. A car was waiting for them. They took off like madmen. After only one block they ran into a police car with three cops in it on their way to the bank. Right away, the cops shot the hell out of them. One guy's dead; another's in the hospital, close to dying; this guy here was the only one they got in good enough shape to throw in jail. There are enough people out there who want to hang these guys. They're crazy; they could have cleaned out that bank without firing one shot!"

"Boy, that's all news to me!" I told him.

"Hell, man, the papers are full of it. Great big headlines. That's all people are talking about. These two guys are gonna hang." He looked toward the stairway. "Darned that woman! She should've been here long ago to bail me out of this mess."

Later in the afternoon the guard came up, carrying several small pots and pans. He handed them to my cell mate. "Here," he said. "It's from your wife. She said she was having trouble bailing you out. You may have to stay overnight." He handed me the usual bottle of coffee and a sandwich. The guy's wife had cooked him a complete hot meal: rice creole with sausages, a small steak, creamed asparagus, French-dripped coffee and some cake. Far too much for one man to eat, I thought. "Join in," he invited. I put my sandwich aside and enjoyed the feast.

The next morning, the guard came with one bottle of coffee and one sandwich--for me. "You," he poked his finger at my cell mate as he opened the door, "are free on bail. Your wife's waiting for you downstairs. Get going."

Another day in jail. The bank robber never returned to his cell. I learned that he had been removed to another, out-of-the-way station around New Orleans. Shifting prisoners was meant to make it difficult for parents or attorneys to reach them until the police were satisfied they had the proper confession and case against him.

I was alone again, thankful for the short stay of my "tea-selling" mate who had supplied me with cigarettes in addition to that great meal. Many months later I discovered that "tea" was another term for marijuana. They guy had been a marijuana pusher. Each stick (or cigarette) sold for 25 cents.

On the sixth day I was transferred to the main jail at the courthouse in downtown New Orleans. The place was swarming with prisoners, all--like me--held over the holidays. Now we were being processed in groups before the judge. "Any of you men native to New Orleans or Louisiana?" he asked. No one answered. "You have 24 hours to get out of town. If you're picked up after that, it'll be 30 days. Clear?"

Chapter XIV: The Education of a Hobo

I was back on the street, looking for a road to Baton Rouge so I could get started. A mile before entering town, I ran into a guy I'd met briefly at the seamen's mission in Mobile. He was on his way to Galveston to see a friend who'd promised to help him find a job. We decided to travel together, at least for a while. We played it safe by staying close to the river, as far from the main drag as possible. Fewer police were in the rundown section of town than in the business districts, we knew. We passed a grocery store. My friend decided to hit the grocer for something to eat. He came back with a box of soda crackers. "Not exactly caviar," he commented, "but twice as filling."

It was about 6:30; the sun had set. We found a shadowy doorway and sat down to eat our crackers. He was right. They were filling. The ferry was just across the street. How were we going to make it across on that boat without paying? A touring car slid slowly around the corner. We paid no attention to it. It steered right up beside the curb, only a few feet from where we were sitting. A powerful spotlight was turned on; its beam was directed into our faces, blinding us. A voice boomed, "Put your hands up or we'll blow you all apart!"

We stood up, my upraised hands still hanging onto the cracker box. Two men, double-barreled shotguns drawn, moved in, searched us, then shoved us into the car. We were on our way to jail. Holy Toledo, is that all there is? Jail?

We'd been caught in a roundup. Sixty men had been picked up and taken to the police station. We were processed before a table where three policemen and one young guy were sitting. "How about these two?" the policeman directed to the young guy in civilian clothes.

"No," he drawled, "that's not them."

We were put into a holding cell. Some men were already in there, stretched out on deck. "What the hell is this all about?" I asked anyone who was listening.

"That dummy sitting there," someone told me, "claims he stepped out of a restaurant and was robbed by two men. Says they took his week's pay. Twenty bucks. Bet it's money he lost in a poker game; he's trying to make his wife think he was rolled."

About five more men were brought in. There were no natives among them. The "victim" had stated that, when the robbers spoke to him, they had sounded "alien to the area." The two alleged robbers were never picked up. The whole search for them was shut down at midnight.

We had no blankets, but a hot stove in the cell overworked itself that night. At 6:30 the next morning, we were awakened by the roar of motors. Several big vans had pulled up beside the police station. "All right now! Y'all pay attention. We don't want to see your faces in town after this morning. Y'all hear? Just to make sure we don't, we're gonna take you outta town. Now, all those going north and west, go and get in that big van on your left. The ones going south and east, take the van on your right. Now git! And don't y'all come back in this here town again. Hear me good?"

Like a herd of sheep we shuffled out and climbed aboard. "Well, maybe they're doing us a favor. After all, we were heading west, so it'll be that much less we have to travel," I consoled my friend. The truck drove a good five miles out of town. In a clearing on the roadside, the door was opened.

"Okay, y'all, end of the line! Now, y'all remember what that officer told you back there. Don't be seen back in town." The driver slammed the door and took off. At least 20 of us were left standing around looking silly. Our surroundings seemed familiar--flat green countryside sprinkled with clumps of brush, a farmhouse in the distance.

"Why, the sonofabitch!" exclaimed one of the men. "They took us south instead of north! The guys wanting to go south must have been taken north! Them southern hoosier grit-eating bastards! I hope they croak."

Another fine mess. How were we to get back to Baton Rouge, onto that ferry, without winding up in jail again? Southern police humor, if that's what it was, was not appreciated. Well, let the whole station house laugh; we'd show `em.

My friend and I broke away from the others. Staying off the road, we worked our way back to town. At the city limits, we cut across some farm land to the river, being careful to stay out of sight. Several times I sank almost to my knees in swampy muck. My feet were soaked, my clothing ripped and torn by bushes and occasional barbed-wire fences. I looked like a scarecrow. We hoped to reach town at sundown.

Once again we reached the ferry. Few automobiles were making the trip this time, and very few passengers were boarding. One thing was certain: if we hung around studying the approach, worrying about how to obtain free passage, we'd be spotted quickly and picked up by the cops. That could set us back several months. No, we knew we had to get the hell out fast.

We decided to give the frontal approach a shot. We marched right up to the ticket man. He was alone. That gave us hope; with people around him, he'd be afraid to give free passage for fear of being reported and losing his job. We stood before him. Frankly, we looked terrible. The man studied us. Then my partner spoke up. "In the name of God, man, give us a break! We're trying to get to the other side to catch a freight train. We have no money for food, let alone fare."

The ticket man glanced fearfully around. No one was in sight. "Pass," he breathed.

A mile from the ferry landing, trains were being made up for the trek toward Memphis, Little Rock or the Dakotas. We checked and found out that our train would be ready to go at two in the morning. The night grew cold. We located a sand house and managed to squeeze into a corner. A sand house is a small shack built around a powerful stove and surrounded by sand. The stove's heat drives the moisture out of the sand, making it gritty. Every locomotive has a sand box inside. When the track becomes oily, the driving wheels slip and slide. That's when the engineer lets sand flow down a pipe in front of them. It creates sufficient friction to stop the sliding. We remained unnoticed in our corner when the brakeman came to fill buckets with hot sand to pour into the engine cab's sand box.

On cold, wintry nights, the sand house is favored by men on the road as well as railroad bulls. For that reason, there's always plenty of room in a sand house. In the four or five times I have kept warm in such a place, only once did a bull hustle me out, threatening to break my head if I ever came back. One bad thing about sand houses is that you're not the only live thing basking in their warmth. Though it's true that few men attract lice, the same can't be said about crabs. I did my share to carry on the crab strain; every famished one of them and their young seemed to thrive on chewing on me in sand houses. When these parasites turn up on you, it means not only plenty of baths, but boiling out all your clothing and smearing Blue Ointment all over your body. Most times, even this gives you only temporary victory. More than likely, next night, you'll be in another flophouse, ready to entertain a new crop of the pests.

Around 1:30 we shivered our way outside. Our train was all made up. Luckily, the yard was too windswept for the bulls to be out checking on hobos. A quick look and we were quickly climbing onto the roof of one of a long string of empty reefers. We unhooked the latch, then let ourselves down inside, securing the latch again.

Reefers are used to transport perishable cargo like fruits and vegetables. If they require ice (oranges, apples and grapes don't), two compartments, one on each end of the car, store it. As the wheels turn, a belt between the wheels runs a fan that circulates air around the cargo inside the car. Compared to conventional boxcars, reefers are kept clean. They offer privacy, each compartment accommodating only two people. There's no room for walking around, as in a boxcar, and visibility is zero; it takes a climb to see out. During daylight, if the car is loaded, the filler door has to be left ajar to circulate air. The brakemen pay strict attention to this part of the operation. If, from the caboose, they see a filler door closed, they make it a point at the first stop to raise the door and check the car over. For an empty car, it doesn't matter whether the filler door is open or shut. At night, the brakemen can't spot doors, so it's safe to pull it shut to maintain heat inside. If it had rained during the day, a piece of cardboard could be rigged to keep the water out, but it required experience to make it work.

Spotting the right reefer had been easy. Since most fruit and vegetables from the West were being shipped east, most empty reefers headed west. If the car used ice as a refrigerant, water would always be dripping from a drain at the end of the car. If the car was loaded, there would be a seal on the door locks.

Newspaper is always handy to have along on the road. Besides its use as a fire starter, it's good as a blanket. A few sheets, loosely folded, can be fitted between the back and the jacket. Another sheet, rolled up, can be stuff up your pants leg to keep cold air off your legs. Some old-timers insisted it was the newspaper ink that created the warmth. Whatever it was, newspapers prevented many a cold night disaster.

The engineer called in the brakemen with the whistle. The cars humped; air brakes were tested. The train lurched forward, starting slowly. We rolled out of the yard. Way up ahead, the shrill wail of the whistle told the world in two blasts that we were now about to highball. Our rattler rolled westward toward Texas, edging ever closer to the Gulf of Mexico. Almost every hour we stopped and sidetracked to let a fast passenger train pass or to sit and wait for signals. We didn't mind. We needed sleep.

As dawn approached, my riding companion, wondering aloud what part of the state we were passing through, climbed up and opened the manhole door enough to see out. I sat up, paper still stuffed up my pants legs and sleeves. I felt like a stuffed straw man; maybe I even looked the part. In any case, I was warm. My buddy backed his way down and pulled out his sack of Bull Durham. We both rolled cigarettes and sat back, puffing away. Up ahead the mournful whistle cut through the early morning mist as the train clattered past small towns, depots and sleeping villages. "We must have caught something about as good as a milk run," grumbled my partner. "Seems to be dragging its ass mighty slowly across the state. I bet we aren't averaging 30 miles an hour."

"I know we stopped at least three times," I chimed in.

"Yes, and must have lost an hour each time. At this rate, we'll never make Texas till late tonight." Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out a very small packet about the size of a pack of cigarettes. It held a needle and a spool of thread. "You carry one of these?" he queried as he threaded a needle.

"No," I told him, watching him start sewing up a small hole in his pants knee.

"Better get yourself a few needles and some thread at a five-and-dime store. Always handy to have if you're gonna hop rattlers the rest of your life," he advised. He took off his jacket, inspecting it carefully; then he started on a button. "If you're gonna travel this route for any time, there's only one way to do it: that's the right way. Be prepared for any emergency. Know the road. Do it right. Just like steamboating. To be a good sailor, you gotta know your ship, everything about it. Right? So, to ride these rattlers coast to coast you gotta know `em inside out. I've seen too many guys who thought they knew everything. Not interested to learn anything new. A few went to the hospital, a few went to the grave. How long you been riding these rattlers?" he wanted to know.

I sat there marveling at this guy. I figured him for about 40, yet he talked as if he'd done a lot of traveling. I liked the way he'd sewed up that hole in his pants. He wasn't pushy; he talked as if he knew a great deal and wanted to share it. I felt his concern for me; he didn't want to see me killed on the road. I learned something from everything he was telling me, just as I learned from the old-timer who showed me how to keep from being guillotined in a boxcar doorway. "Oh, a couple of weeks," I guessed.

"Well," he went on, relighting his cigarette, "suppose you were to hear words like `buggy' or `cage' or `chariot' or `shanty'? How about `doghouse,' `monkey,' louse house,' `crummy,' `palace,' or `way car'? What do you think all those fancy words refer to?"

"Something to do with a farm?" I guessed.

"No, no! We're talking about railroading. This is all railroad language, words you hear on the road, in and around railroad yards."

"Never heard them before," I assured him.

"Well, they all mean the same thing: caboose. You know what a caboose is?" he quizzed, handing me a match to relight my cigarette.

"Yeah, I know."

"Good. Almost every railroad line has its own lingo. For instance, you get up around Colorado, you hear railroad men call a locomotive `the hog.' In the South it's `the pig.' In the East it could be `the kettle,' or maybe `the jack,' or even `the smoker.' You see, all different names for the same thing."

I handed him back the matches.

"How about whistles?" was his next question. "How many do you know?"

"I know two long toots; that means highball . . . opening it up wide, full ahead," was my answer.

"Is that all?"


"You mean you been riding these rattlers for two weeks and you only know one whistle signal?"

I settled back; he was getting ready to tell me plenty.

"Now," he continued, "the one you hear all the time is two long, one short and one long--tells you the engineer's coming close to a highway crossing. If it was only one long blast, that would mean approaching a railroad station or another rail junction."

"Oh," I put in, trying to sound smart.

"Suppose it was two long and one short. That's the engine getting ready to pull over to a side track. That signal's used when approaching a meeting place for trains, or a waiting point."

I kept nodding wisely.

"Another one to remember," he went on, "comes after the train has left or is about to leave. Yeah, you better remember this one if you don't want to be left behind. It's either four or five long, and it's the engineer calling back the crew. If you drift any distance from a car, always keep in mind that whistle signal; it could save your life."

At this point a sharp wail drifted back from the locomotive: two long, one short and one long. "What's he saying?" my friend questioned, a gleam in his eye.

"We're meeting another train," I guessed.

"No! That's two long and one short. This was two long, one short and another long. I just finished telling you what it meant!"

"It slipped my mind," I admitted. Just then my ears picked up the faint clanging of a bell. It grew stronger till we passed it. Then it gradually became weaker and weaker until it was out of earshot. A little sheepishly I offered him my answer, "It was a highway crossing."

"Right. That's it . You're learning. That's not all, you know; there are others, like backing up or ordering brakemen to different parts of the train. But basically, the ones I told you are the important ones. Just memorize one a day till they become second nature to you. Know what I mean?"

"Gotcha," I agreed.

He pulled out his timetable map. "Lake Charles is a subdivision," he informed me. "We'll probably stop there. I'm hungry enough to eat a skunk. Maybe we can get a chance to hustle some grub somewhere."

The air was warming up now and my eyelids were growing heavy. When I woke up, perhaps two hours later, the train was slowing down. I could hear the click-click of the wheels as they rolled over a branch line and some transfer tracks, sign of an approach to a big town or city with a lot of railroad traffic. My friend was at the hatch door. "We'll be stopping at the other end for coal and water. Get ready to get off. Keep an eye peeled for the railroad bulls." He climbed down, rolled up the papers, brushed himself off, and then went again to peer out. When the train finally stopped, we were a mile or so west of Lake Charles. Cautiously, we clambered down from the cartop and worked our way around a few others. Finally we found a narrow dirt road. It was at least two blocks from the nearest house. "Let's get a move on," my partner urged. "We don't have much time."

As we hurried, we noticed other men emerging from other boxcars. They too were heading for the small section of homes nearby. "I'm going to hit that yellow house. You hit the one where that car is parked. Don't take all day. Meet me here as soon as you get something," my partner advised. He started across the lawn toward the back door. Noticing the other men rushing, I hurriedly knocked at the back door of the brown house. The back door is always better than the front for bumming. The kitchen is usually in the rear, and people might resent your walking up to the front door just to panhandle a meal. If they're willing, they have to walk through the house to get it for you. So approaching the back door is considerate.

I heard footsteps. I straightened my shoulders and, grabbing my coat cuffs, I tugged on the sleeves to pull out the wrinkles. The door opened and a sweet, gray-haired woman appeared. "Yes?"

"Ma'am, I'm traveling through to the West coast to find a job. I'm very hungry. If you can spare something to eat, I'll work for it willingly."

She opened the door a few inches more. "Land sakes," she quavered. "I don't know what this world is coming to. You're the third person today. Every day someone knocks, asking for food. Well, the good Lord has been kind to us; I won't turn my back on someone in need. You believe in God?"

"Oh, yes, ma'am. I pray all the time."

"That's a good boy. Have faith and the good Lord will provide." She toured her kitchen and came back with two sandwiches. "This will help you on your way," she declared.

I thanked her and sped back to our rendezvous spot. I was there first. I took out one sandwich: jelly. I nibbled on it slowly. My partner was still missing. I peered toward the engine; a lot of activity was in progress. Another engine was being hooked on. I grew nervous. I took a few steps toward the tracks. The new engine had been secured to the train. Four long blasts came from the steam whistle. Ah, yes . . . calling the train crew. I started toward the train, trying to pinpoint the car I had ridden in. I made up my mind to hop onto any car, just so I was on that train as it rolled out of Lake Charles. Turning again, I saw my partner trotting toward me, waving me ahead. I picked up speed.

We found our car and climbed down. I opened the other sandwich, which was a pork chop one. I offered him part of it. He refused; the man who had answered his knock insisted he eat his meal right at the door: spareribs, potatoes, bread and cabbage. He was full. He lay back, smoking, while I worked over the pork chop. With two powerful engines pulling our train, we were speeding toward Texas. The border was not far off.

Stretched out, resting, I studied my shoes. The heels were worn down to almost nothing; a few of the nails showed. Gaping punctures in the soles displayed my socks. The uppers had long since separated in places at the sole edges. There were no shoelaces, only shaggy twine.On the road you must have good shoes. Already I was finding it a bit difficult to hop a moving train, for there wasn't enough heel to stop my foot from slipping through the first step on the ladder as I pulled myself aboard. My big toe, emerging from one shoe, had already been banged up hitting the jagged rocks of the rail bed. That same toe had felt a splinter, thistles and a hot cigarette butt. To continue my trip, I would have to make a decent pair of shoes my number one project in the next big city we reached.

I was excited about Texas. I spent most of the trip between Beaumont and Houston peering out of the small overhead hatch, watching the countryside pass by. I was amazed at the large herds of grazing cattle, the big ranches and the oil derricks. But where were the cowboys?

The train stopped in the Houston yards. We hightailed it to the street before a railroad bull could spot us. "This is where I leave you," my partner announced. "I'm gonna scout around and see if there's a rattler leaving this evening for Galveston. If not, I'm gonna hit the highway. With any luck, I could be there in a couple hours. What are you gonna do?"

"I think maybe I'll look for the seamen's mission. They might put me up for the night. I have to get a pair of shoes. Then I'm heading west."

"Hey!" he exclaimed. "I just thought of something. Hit the undertakers up. Good place to get clothes and shoes. One more thing: about a mile from here, just a few yards past the city limits, is the jungle--in case you don't get a flop for the night. At least there'll be a fire going. Don't expect anything to eat unless you take along something for the stew pot. It's been nice knowing you and riding part of the way with you. Take care of yourself." We shook hands and he left.

I trudged on until I came to the ships' channel, which I remembered from my trip on the Lake Gaither. I followed the channel, passing warehouses, small factories, oil tanks and spur tracks. Then I bumped right into a policeman. Quickly, before he could size me up, I spoke. "I'm looking for the seamen's mission. I know it's around here somewhere."

"You a seaman?" he inquired, looking me up and down.

"Yes, sir," I said, wondering if he was going to take me in for vagrancy. He started to say something, then hesitated. This is it, I said to myself. He's going to pull me in.

He cleared his throat. "Stay on this road. About half a mile from here you'll see some oil tanks. Go past them one block, then make a right. The seamen's mission is right across from the YMCA."

The mission was right where he said it would be. Unlike the one in New Orleans, which had been crowded, this one had few inmates. The man at the desk was friendly. He examined my two discharge papers from the Lake Gaither and the El Lago. These, along with my pink seaman's passport, were my most precious possessions. Without them, I had no way to prove I was a seaman. Naturally the first thing any officer aboard any ship would want to hear about would be my experience at sea. My discharge certificates would inform him of my ability, seamanship and conduct while employed. Strange that in some circumstances a slip of paper was a seaman's best protection.

Satisfied, the clerk explained that the mission did not house anyone. He would give me a voucher for one of the cheap hotels in the area, good for a night's lodging. A voucher for supper and one for breakfast would also be issued to me. That was the sum total of assistance the Houston mission offered.

"Shipping must be good here," I commented. "I don't see many seamen around the place." I took the vouchers and left, slightly depressed. I found the flophouse, registered and was assigned a cot in a room with ten others. After a quick wash I meandered off with my voucher to the restaurant. It was a small, narrow cafe with a counter seating 25. Kept alive by the vouchers of its transient customers, it served food so bad they'd have been out of business if they had depended on cash-paying customers. The stuff had been cooked hours before and left steaming in open pans. Sliced bread sat on the counter in a wicker basket. Flies buzzed around where they pleased, landing in the sugar bowl, in the bread basket, on the utensils. I ate around the fringes of my meal. The liver smelled of rancid oil. The chili beans were so spicy I couldn't taste them. After fighting swarms of flies all through the meal, I had little remaining appetite for their dessert, bread pudding with raisins.

Back at the flophouse, I waited my turn to wash out my socks and underwear in the large sink. I hung them on a makeshift line in the hallway and went to catch some shut-eye. I woke up late. Most of the men who had been in the room had dressed and gone. Only three of us remained. I went to retrieve my laundry. Some sonofabitch had stolen my socks.

After breakfast I set my sights on getting a pair of shoes. With my big toe still sticking out through the front of my worn-out shoes, I headed for the main shopping street. I visited every shoe store I saw. All I asked was, "Have you a pair of left-behind shoes in any condition that might fit me?" After an endless number of stores, one storekeeper finally explained, "Customers don't leave their shoes behind like they used to."

It was already late in the afternoon. I had wasted the whole day trying in vain to bum a pair of shoes. Now I turned to bumming something to eat. A butcher shop came up with five hotdogs. Heading west, I located the jungle a half-mile outside Houston's city limits. My partner had underestimated the distance by quite a bit.

Chapter XV: Different Jungles, Different People

The jungle spread out about 500 yards from the east-west tracks in an open area surrounded by clumps of scraggy oak brush. Scattered around it were a few old car seats, a torn mattress, plenty of tin cans, grates and bricks. Two fires were going. One, tended by only one man, who I figured must be the cook, was small, glowing below a large grate on which rested three pots. The other, larger, fire was a good 20 feet from the smaller one. Four men were chewing the rag around it.

I'd had a different image of a jungle--something with big trees and a running creek or spring nearby. Here there were no trees, springs or creeks. The man tending the tin cans on the small fire noticed me. "Welcome, brother," he greeted, waving a knife in my direction. "Whatcha got?"

"Hotdogs," I replied, setting my small package down in front of him. He laid the dogs out on a flat rock, sliced them and plopped them into a five-gallon can that was stewing away.

"Let's see, now," he mused. "In that can we have some beef, some lamb, a half-pound of bacon, onions, potatoes, parsnips, cabbage, leeks, two pigs' feet--and now, five hotdogs. That should make a good mulligan."

"Is it ready yet?" shouted a man by the bigger fire.

"Hell no," the cook replied. "It's gotta simmer some more now. Take it on the slow bell. I'll let you know." He stirred again, then added a few pieces of wood to the fire. "It's time for another bucket of water, kid, and you're elected. Take this five-gallon can and go about a city block down the track there. You'll come to a brown tool shed. There's a fresh water pipe back of the shed. Bring as much water as you can carry. Make sure you turn that faucet off tight; otherwise those railroad guys might pull out that water line."

The mulligan stew was delightful. Despite the fact that two guys joined us while I was hauling the water, there was more than enough to go around. We sat or stretched out with heads propped up around the fire. These men were all older than I. What they talked about was mostly where they came from or where they were heading. Since our jungle was on Houston's west side, most of the men who passed through it were heading west. As always in my encounters with guys on the road, I learned a lot listening when they talked. Despite their various backgrounds or the difficulties they might be in, they all maintained a sense of humor, and each tried to outdo the other with their yarns. "Ever up in Casper, Wyoming?" asked a heavyset guy sitting on an old car seat.

"Yeah, think I went through there about five weeks ago," someone piped up.

"Did you stay in the jungle there, by any chance?"

"You mean that big hole about half a mile east of the city?"

"Yeah, that's the place. You know how that hole got there?"

"No. Looked to me like an old dried-up lake," the guy guessed.

"Well, lemme tell you the real story," urged the first. "About three years ago, there was a mean bastardly sheriff by the name of Kick `Em Paxton. He hated everybody. At least once a week, he'd ride out to the jungle. You never knew what time he'd show up, barge right in on you, kick over your stew pot and, if you were stretched out, kick you awake. He never arrested anyone, just whipped `em till they got on their feet and scrambled out of his sight. Many a poor guy's rib he broke."

The men shifted. Some lit corncob pipes. Grins lit most of the faces. "Well," the tale teller went on, "for a month he didn't show; most guys thought he had given up raiding the jungle. Things starting settling back to normal, with a half dozen people around at all times. One day two safe-crackers arrived in the jungle. They were old pros. They had a suitcase full of stick dynamite. They got themselves a fire going and started to boil down the sticks to make nitro. I guess they must have boiled down a pint of the stuff when someone yelled, `It's Kick `Em!' Everyone scattered in all directions, including the two safe-crackers, who ran like deer. When the sheriff walked into the jungle, it was empty. He walked from fire to fire, kicking over the tin cans that were to have been meals for the men that night. He reached the nitro, boiling away. He gave it one of his famous kicks. They say that people as far away as Douglas heard the explosion; that was 70 miles away. It broke windows up and down the main drag in Casper. People ran out into the streets scared stiff. To this day, not a single piece of Kick `Em has been found. So that's how that hole that looks like a dried lake got there."

If I ever get to Casper, Wyoming, I said to myself, I'm sure going to look up that jungle and see that hole. One of the men noticed I was wearing no socks. "You like going around with no socks?" he asked me.

"Hell, no. Someone stole my socks last night at the seamen's flophouse."

He reached into his small knapsack and handed me a rolled-up pair. "These should keep your feet warm. At the rate you're going, I'm sure you'll be on your feet pretty soon." Silence. "What?" he exclaimed. "No one laughed at that joke?"

I could have put the socks on by simply pulling my worn-out shoes up over my ankles, but I didn't. I took the shoes off and did it regularly.

The fire kept me warm during the night. Cook was up early. I woke up to the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. There was a big supply of bread. Time came for me to move out. Two men had already decided to walk through Houston and catch a train east. The other guys were in no hurry to leave. I asked about the best place to catch the train. "Walk straight down this track about two miles. You'll come to a junction line--one going right, the other left. The one you want goes straight west to San Antonio. Just before you get to that junction you'll see a paddle."

"A paddle? What's that?" I showed my inexperience.

"A paddle's a signal tower."

"Oh," I exclaimed, "the thing with all those little arms that go up and down?"

"Yeah," he told me. "That's what we call a paddle. Anyhow, stay on this side of the paddle in case the train is signaled to stop; catch it there.

It was a slow trip down those tracks. A passenger train passed me going at a good clip. She had several Pullman cars with their big windows, and a diner, where passengers were eating breakfast. I hardly had time to think about how lovely it would be to ride on a train like that when its tail-end passed, sending a gush of cool air and dust into my face. I scrambled back onto the track bed and continued my slow progress toward the paddle. The further from Houston I went, the more spaced out the homes were. Many were small ranches with a few sheep and maybe a horse or cow. I had to watch each step I took to be sure no pebbles got under my floppy shoe soles. The twine I'd used to bind the soles to the shoes had broken several times. After two hours I had covered not even half the distance. I was hot, tired and hungry. On my left were several small houses.

I knocked on the back door of the first house I reached. Chickens and a calf stood around in the backyard. No answer. At the next house I noticed some movement in a window. I knocked and a man came to the door. "Yup?" he greeted me.

"I'm willing to work for something to eat," I told him.

"Come inside," he invited, opening the door wide. Inside, lying on the floor on a large canvas sheet was a young deer with a small set of horns. It was cut up into sections, drenched in blood. "Killed this critter early this morning. Gutted him and carried him on my shoulders almost half a mile. Sit down there and I'll cut you a venison steak. Ever eat venison?"

"No, sir," I confessed. In fact, I didn't even know what the word meant, but I didn't say anything. I watched him slice off a huge hunk of meat.

"Now I'll get rid of this mess. Otherwise the flies will devour us. Give me ten minutes." He pulled up all four corners of the canvas mat and lifted it off the ground. Out the kitchen door he went.

While he was gone, I gave the place a quick scan. The number of dishes in the cupboard and the pots and pans I could see made it plain to me that this kitchen could accommodate a lot of people at one time. Maybe he had a wife and a lot of kids? I couldn't see into the living room because there was a swinging door between it and the kitchen. Two rifles leaned against the wall in one corner. Everything was neat.

The man returned. He went over to the sink and washed his hands. "Where you from, boy?" he inquired, drying his hands.

"New York."

"New York?" He was surprised. "That's a mighty long way from here. What brings you to Texas?"

"Trying to find work," I explained. He took the venison steak onto the board now. With the skill of a master chef he ran the tip of the knife around its edge. He said that would stop it from curling when it was frying. In a second, the steak was on the fire. He put two cups on the table, filled them with coffee and sat down. "You'll have a good meal under your belt in a few minutes," he assured me.

"Are you a rancher?" I wondered, hoping he had a little job for me.

"Nope. I'm the local sheriff."

I almost choked on my coffee. Of all the houses to bum for something to eat! Well, I was looking for work. After this guy finished with me, I thought, I'll be working for the state of Texas for six months. Well, at least he was going to feed me before he took me to jail. That was fine. I made up my mind that whatever he fed me, I'd just sit back and enjoy it. He got up and turned the steak in the frying pan. "No," he said. "I gave up ranching ten years ago. I was jawed into taking the sheriff's job by a couple of old buddies. Ever have anyone talk and talk you into something even though your head tells you no? That's the way it happened to me. This little community used to be overrun with all kinds of crooks and varmints that were run out of Houston. They'd all come here and set up operations. Somebody had to do it, so I cleaned the place up. Made `em all leave town--except for two that didn't. I hanged `em."

He set the steak down in front of me. Then he went and got some bread and white navy beans and laid them on the table. My first bite of steak tasted funny--gamey. I rolled it around in my mouth. After the second or third piece, I set to and ate the whole thing. There's always a time to get used to new tastes.

"Yes," he was telling me, "being a sheriff ain't all it's cracked up to be. Used to be that the state would take care of burying all the darn people you'd shoot. Now them polytechnicians in Austin have changed all that. Why, every time I shoot a nigger it costs me five dollars for the box! Five dollars to bury a critter we just used to plant in the ground in the old days. How you like that?"

I was getting more nervous with each mouthful. Suppose this guy decides to shoot me? I imagined myself lying in the cold Texas ground with him standing over me, complaining that it cost him five dollars to bury me. I started gobbling my food. Whatever he had in mind for me, I decided I wasn't interested. "How's that venison?" he asked as I choked down the last piece.

"Just fine. Just plain good." I tried to whip up enthusiasm.

"Plenty deer around here. Supposed to kill `em in season. Well, when you're hungry for venison, it's always the right season! Right?"

I tried to grin, but my face felt stiff. As he was pulling back his chair to get the coffee pot off the stove, he glanced down at my feet. "Say! What in tarnation have we got here? Something wrong with your feet, boy?"

"Oh, no, sir. My shoes are worn out. I've been trying to get a new pair."

"What size are they?"

"About size nine," I told him.

"Let's see if this old pair I have in the closet will fit you." They were work shoes, fairly new. My feet would barely go into them; wow, they were tight! But once I did get my feet inside them, it sure felt good to have a whole foot enclosed. "You can wear `em. Glad they fit. Take these old things and bury `em somewhere--away from here." He was grinning.

I was assured he wasn't going to arrest me--but I didn't wait around to find out. I thanked him and lit out. By the time I reached the signal tower along the tracks, I was in abject misery. My feet were all but crying out loud in those tight shoes. I finally had to sit down and take the damn things off. I took out my knife and slit open the sides of the shoes. That gave me added width. Next I cut the fronts out of the uppers, letting my sore, imprisoned toes stick out. Then I tore my handkerchief into several long strips. I soaked them in some water and wrapped them neatly around my skinned toes. In this way I achieved a more positive frame of mind.

It was clear that if a train did come along now, it would have to be a mighty slow freight in order for me to catch it. I was in no shape to dash for any distance alongside moving cars. I sat under the only tree around, a small oak, out of the blistering sun. What if no train came along? Should I sleep here? Perhaps a small fire against the night chill would be good. What about food? Should I try going back to that group of houses? What if I ran into the sheriff again? A craving for a cigarette began working on my nerves. I had lots of cigarette papers, but no tobacco. Toward the west, as far as the horizon, there seemed to be nothing but desert. I considered working my way back to the jungle, but a quick glance at my toes squelched that idea. I looked up at the semaphore and its arms. All showed green lights. It didn't matter, because there was no train coming from either direction. Then I noticed someone coming toward me from the west. I was happy to see him because he was puffing away on a cigarette. As he drew closer, I could see that he sported a moustache in the Zapata fashion. On his back he carried a small bundle. He wore a slightly-ragged straw hat tilted at an angle. His face was covered with a few days' growth of beard. His skin was bronzed. As he came nearer, I got up and went down the track to meet him. "Buenos días, amigo," he said.

My complete Spanish vocabulary consisted of gracias, buenos días, mucho and dame. "Buenos días," I returned his greeting, adding, "Dame cigarillo?"

He reached into his coat pocket and handed me a tobacco pouch. I took out enough to roll a cigarette. "Más, más," he urged. "Take more. Take more." I took another small amount, then thanked him. He continued his journey toward Houston.

Having made myself understood in Spanish without any previous experience in the language added to the pleasure of the cigarette. I returned to my oak tree for a moment. I dozed off in the hot sun. An hour must have passed. When I awoke two other guys were sitting near the track. "Been here long?" one queried.

"At least five hours," I informed him. "Nothing came, either way."

"My timetable show a passenger train due in Houston at four," one of them told me. "From the west. There should be a freight heading west before that."

Half an hour went by. The two talked quietly while I sat contemplating the future. A click, then a second click, came from the signal tower. I glanced up just in time to see the arms change position. The light, too, had changed; it was now red. My companions also noticed. "That's our baby," one announced. "We better get further up the track if we're going to board it."

The freight train was fairly long and many of the cars were empty. Doors were open and faces stared out from several of them. In some men sat with their legs dangling, enjoying the warm sun. In the train's center, a series of cars lay with doors wide open. We made for them. We were about to climb into the first one, but two men came to the door. "This is a family," one said calmly. Then we could see three women in the car, several men and six or seven young children. The code of the road required complete respect for this situation. We moved further back and boarded an empty car that seemed clean.

"We're seeing a lot of that lately," one of the men told me. "This is the fifth family I've seen on the road."

We were on our way west. The train rambled on. There's not much to do in a boxcar. Sometimes a guy with a needle and thread will catch up on his mending; some read books or newspapers; others sit in the doorway, taking the sun and watching the world go by. Still others just lie there, catching up on sleep. We were traveling at a fairly good speed, passing small towns with whistle wailing loudly. If luck held out, we'd be in San Antonio early in the evening.

About 25 miles from San Antonio our train sidetracked to allow an eastbound passenger train to pass. Several men came aboard. They had heard that there was a train derailment west of San Antonio and nothing was moving. The San Antonio police were said to be rounding up all vagrants caught in town. The derailment had filled the city with men and women bumming restaurants and homes. The local people were apprehensive. They had demanded that the police do something, and the police had responded in the only way they know--by getting rough with unfortunates and throwing them in jail. They had issued a warning that anyone caught outside city limits was okay, but woe to anyone caught with so much as a foot inside the line.

No one had any idea how long it would take to clear the tracks of wreckage. Every train coming into San Antonio from all over the country brought dozens of new faces. The news of the wreck was shouted from car to car. For the last five miles into the San Antonio yard limits, the train crawled at about five miles an hour. The deeper we moved into the yard, the more tracks there were, from single to double to triple and more. We stopped behind another string of freight cars. "Where's the jungle?" someone wanted to know.

"About two miles down the track from here," was the reply.

We fell in behind the speaker; others fell back of us, and men, women and children climbed down from the cars. We were in a freight yard where being caught by railroad bulls could mean jail or a rap across the ass or legs with a club. Yet as the procession swelled no one seemed to care one way or the other about the railroad police. We just trudged on, passing engineers and other railroad workers who paid not the slightest attention to us. Some of us carried small bundles, a hard bag or grip; others had blankets tied in neat bundles across their backs. Many, like myself, had nothing but the clothes on their backs. There must have been 50 of us.

From the clusters of heads I saw when we reached the jungle, I estimated about 150. Our little parade raised the jungle population to over 200--men, women and children. Fires were burning; the odor of cooking was in the air. Around the water tower close by people were dipping water into tin cans. Two hundred feet from our jungle another one was developing. I spotted a small fire with three people standing around it. I headed in their direction. A gallon paint can steamed away atop a metal screen set up on three stones above the fire. I smelled coffee. "Okay if I hang around here?" I inquired.

"All right with me," one man agreed.

"You can do your share of hauling wood," suggested another.

Twenty minutes later I brought back an armful of wood. More people had moved into the new jungle. A man and woman with three boys lit another fire and stretched a piece of canvas out on the ground. "Get a can and help yourself to some Mississippi mud," joked one guy, waving us toward a steaming gallon can of coffee. It did taste like mud. With so many fires burning, the air in the camp stayed warm that night. I woke up at three in the morning, hungry. Stars twinkled in the sky. I got up and made my way to the water tower. After a quick face wash, I started slowly toward the roundhouse, a half a mile toward San Antonio. I stopped a man entering the roundhouse. "Where can a guy get something to eat?" I asked.

"City's full of restaurants," he told me.

"I mean for nothing. I'm broke."

"That holds for most of us," he said. "Look. Here's something you might try. Get to the other side of the roundhouse. It will take you out to Fort Sam Houston. If you hurry you can get there before the troopers eat."

Fort Sam Houston was a cavalry post. I didn't know the troop or horse population it maintained at the time, but I could smell the place three blocks before I saw it. When I reached the mess hall door it was still dark. Pots and pans, dishes and silverware rattled as the mess hall staff prepared the place for breakfast. "Yeah? You here to join up or to bum something to eat?" asked a trooper who met me at the kitchen door.

"Something to eat," I admitted.

"Hey, sarge," he shouted. "See that heavy-set guy over there? See him? He's in charge. I only cook the stuff; he gives it away."

Tables and chairs to feed several hundred troopers were set up. I struggled halfway across the large mess hall through the tangle. He saw me coming. "Hungry, son?" he greeted me.

"Yes, sir."

"Then come with me." He led me back across the hall toward the kitchen. "Sit at this table. You have 25 minutes to stuff yourself sick. Be out of here before the bugler sounds mess call." He beckoned to a soldier close by.

Within 20 minutes I had eaten my fill, stuffed my pockets with bread, thanked the mess sergeant and departed. The sky lightened in the east. A block away I heard the bugler blowing reveille. I had to get back to the railroad tracks and into the jungle quickly before every policeman in town woke up and started hunting down vagrants. With a full stomach and a pocket full of bread, I felt good. Maybe I ought to join the cavalry! No, I didn't feel like playing nursemaid to a horse. Not now, at any rate.

Chapter XVI: A Dinner on the House

At noon two powerful Mallet engines hooked onto the lead car. A railroad detective came into the jungle. "We got word it's all clear up ahead. We're going to pull three trains out of here, one every 25 minutes. The first one's getting ready to leave now. Get aboard while you have a chance," he advised, adding, "If anyone's going to Abilene or Wichita, there's a train making up that should leave around five or thereabouts." He turned and went back toward the yard.

The women with kids were on their feet, picking up odds and ends, getting prepared to move on. I hopped into the first car that looked clean. Not all the jungle inhabitants left right away. Why two-thirds preferred to stay behind hoping to catch other trains, I'll never know. Maybe they didn't fancy riding with women and kids.

I was aboard, a whole car to myself, and the train was moving west. My stomach was full, yet I mechanically took out a slice of the good home-baked bread and slowly munched away as the world passed by my door; those army cooks and bakers knew their business. I thought about the railroad bull, playing conductor so meekly when perhaps only a little while before he'd been putting people in the slammer and kicking them in the ass when he found them on railroad property. I wondered how he felt about his new role: had he sincerely enjoyed passing on information to people less fortunate than he?

Lulled by the sound of the fast-moving wheels and full of bread, I slid the door two-thirds shut against the cold and stretched out on deck. Some hours later, when the chill night air woke me, the train was barely moving. The night was black. We seemed to be working our way through valleys and around mountains across creaky trestles. I felt lonely. Now I wished that I'd boarded a car with people in it. Another living creature, even a cat or dog, would have been better than the black emptiness of the frigid boxcar. I sat glumly, listening as the wheels telegraphed clickety-clack for every tiny separation in the tracks over which they rolled.

When dawn broke, a sprinkle of white on the desert shrubs advertised that light snow had fallen during the night. When the sun rose it would all melt away. Across the plains mountains on the Mexican side of the landscape were visible, but neither color nor line in the barren, forlorn desert marked any border. Three times that day we pulled to a stop under a water tower in the desert. There were no houses from which to bum food, no restaurants in which to exchange dishwashing for a meal. During the fifteen minutes needed to get water aboard and allow the engineer to oil some locomotive parts, it was possible to change cars or race to the water tower for a drink. I was satisfied with the car I was in. It was clean, and the cleanliness outweighed the loneliness.

I'd heard a guy in a Florida jail tell about a time when he'd been in a car with ten other men. As the train had slowed on a hill, two men came out of the brush and climbed aboard. They took out 45-caliber guns and forced everyone in the cars to empty their pockets. I had thought about this a few times and never could quite understand how a man could stoop so low that he would rifle the pockets of people as poor as freight train hoboes. At the same time, I had heard that some men on the road did carry a few dollars tucked away on themselves. Not me, though. They could hold me up; they'd find nothing.

At three o'clock the train began to slow down. A mile ahead there was a fair-sized town, Alpine. I knew my train was heading for El Paso, but my stomach told me to get off and find something to eat. I could catch the next train to El Paso. It never occurred to me that a few other guys riding the train would have the same idea. When most of us disembarked, we took the side away from town. We stood there as the train slowly worked its way out. We waited for the caboose to go by so we could cross the tracks into town. My mind harbored but one thought: hurry up and fill that stomach!

When the caboose finally passed, we got a shock. Standing before us, one foot on the running board of an old automobile and one arm cradling a shotgun, was the sheriff of Alpine. At the wheel sat his deputy. "You men stand right where you are! " he ordered. "No need for you to come into town; you're not welcome. You can sit right down there on the track if you like; another train will be along here in about four hours."

What else could we do? With all homes and businesses on the other side of the tracks, we were stymied. The sheriff produced a chair and made himself comfortable where he could keep an eye on us.The deputy backed the car up and headed back toward town. I kept my eyes on the more experienced heads. From the looks on their faces, I could see that they were seriously pondering the situation. One old guy motioned to the sheriff that he wanted to talk. To everything he said, the sheriff shook his head no. "Cow-punching creep," the old guy pronounced quietly as he returned to us. "All I asked was for him to allow a few of us who could afford to buy some bread and baloney to walk to the grocer's. He said no."

Later in the afternoon the wind picked up. A cold breeze swept in from the prairie. We buttoned our coats and pulled up our collars. The sun was sinking fast. Lights appeared in windows in town. The townspeople walked up to the tracks to peer across at us, as if we were on display. It grew dark. Where the hell was that train? I felt like I was starving to death. I'd had enough of this two-bit burg and wanted out. I saw well enough that this demeaning law enforcer expressed the moods and feelings of Alpine's population. I felt like spitting on the whole town.

At last the sound of a train whistle came through the cold night. A few minutes later it chugged into town and stopped. It was a local, going from town to town and picking up cattle cars. Right now 20 open-slatted cars were coupled to the small engine. "Get aboard!" the sheriff shouted. We opened a door and climbed in. The car had been used recently; dung and urine-soaked straw lay three inches deep. The stench was almost unbearable. With every move my arm rubbed against the side of the car where traces of dung still adhered. The train moved slowly out of town, maintaining that slow pace for the next three hours. It stopped once along the way to pick up one car. We huddled together for warmth. The person in the center was best protected. A cigarette, once lighted, quickly went the rounds, its original owner never seeing it again. If there ever was a common bond, this situation surely created it.

Alpine had won every round. First it had prevented us from entering its precincts. Then it had forced us to ride away from it in a cattle car. That sheriff must still be laughing about it. We'd have been delighted to hear that Alpine had been blown off the map.

The growls of my empty stomach weren't the only ones. "I'll tell you one thing I'm gonna do," announced a burly blond fellow. "When this outhouse comes to a stop, I'm gonna walk into the first restaurant I see and order a meal. I don't give a goddamn what they want to do about it, either."

"Me, too, " vowed another.

"Yeah, count me in," chimed a third.

Within five minutes, 15 men had volunteered to join the blond in ordering meals they couldn't pay for.

A dim glow on the horizon told us we were approaching a small town. Marfa, Texas, was very small indeed. No one met us. We scraped the dung off our shoes on the gravel and made for the few lights in town. Of the original group of volunteers, only 12 were left, with the blond leading the way. Only two places that looked like they could be eating spots were lit up. One was a combination drugstore and lunch counter. The blond said it looked too poor for us to lay such a burden on it, so we crossed the street to a cafe with a small counter inside and a sign in the front window: "Hurley's Cafe."

By now there were only seven of us. The big blond still in the lead, we ambled inside and sat down at the counter. I took another look: only four of us! There were no customers. Behind the counter stood a young woman and a man a bit older, her husband. The cook, older than the other two and built like a football halfback, peered from the kitchen door. The young woman put glasses of water in front of us. Had the owner asked to see our money, a practice common in those days, the episode would have been quickly over. But he didn't. Maybe he thought four people would bring in a sizable sale. "What'll it be?" asked the waitress as she placed a napkin and silverware in front of me.

"A hamburger steak with lots of onions and a cup of coffee, please," I ordered. The others said they'd have the same. Why didn't we order porterhouse or t-bone steaks as long as we weren't paying for the stuff?

The waitress and her husband stood a few feet away, keeping a close watch on us. Our appetites had been slightly dulled by the coffee and bread and butter; still, it was too late, even if we'd had the inclination, to pull in our horns and bow out. On came the main dishes. We ate in silence, cleaning the plates to the last morsels. By now all three members of the establishment were clustered behind the cash register, waiting for the bill to be paid. They undoubtedly were also waiting for our exit so they could air out the place.

The silence among us seemed to last an eternity. "Who's going to break the news?" the blond fellow wondered aloud. Three sets of shoulders shrugged. He cleared his throat. "Sir," he began. The three behind the cash register must have sensed what was coming; hostility appeared on their faces. Our blond friend began again. "You see, sir, we're without funds. We don't like to see you bear this expense alone. I used to be a deputy sheriff in Oklahoma. When things like this happened there, we'd present the county with a bill--and they always paid off. Could you do the same?"

The owner stepped toward the phone. "Well, I reckon we'll just wait till the sheriff shows up and see what he thinks."

The waitress removed the glasses of water from the counter. The cook rolled up his sleeves. Hurley screamed into the phone. "Well, operator, if he's not there, call his home!"

A short pause. The phone rang. "Look, Phyllis, if he's not in his office and he's not at home, call Jake's place. He must be there playing cards."

I asked myself if it had been worth it. A human being has two reactions to hunger. The first is panic: he'll take any risk to be fed. After his stomach is full and a penalty threatens, he feels fear. Our stomachs had been filled; now we were wondering what was in store. A beating? A stretch in jail? Or maybe a floater out of town? Whatever might come was already taking any joy out of the badly-needed meal.

The phone rang again. "What do you mean, he's not there? Well where the hell is he, anyway? Keep trying, that's all."

The cook moved out into the doorway near the street door. If we tried to make a break for it, he would make sure the attempt failed. The blond spokesman tried again. He wanted to discuss the county paying the bill. Hurley shut him up. "No need to say any more until the sheriff gets here," he told him.

The phone jingled. Hurley grabbed it. "Yes. What do you mean, nobody knows where he's at? Just what the hell are we paying that man for?" In the pause we could hear a female voice squawking into Hurley's earpiece. "I'll tell you what," Hurley said when the squawking stopped. "He's probably up there screwing the new whore who blew into town last week. Did you try her place? What do you mean, you can't do that? I got a right to know where the sheriff is every minute of the goddamn day . . . well, to hell with you, too!" He slammed the receiver down hard, his face red. Then he looked each of us over real good.

"All right, men. If the goddamn law is that bad in this town, then the feed is on me. You all hear that? It's on me." A few seconds earlier, the Hurley's Cafe staff would have stood and cheered if we had been lynched. Now, after Hurley's grand gesture, they congratulated us for having the courage to pull off such a stunt.

"Why, I'd have done the same thing if I was starving," confided Hurley. "Yeah, many's the time I was edging up to it myself," concurred the cook. Mrs. Hurley just smiled and refilled our cups of coffee. The cook brought out some Prince Albert tobacco and passed it around. We all rolled cigarettes and tilted our heads in pleasure. I sipped on my coffee and thought about how little it takes to stir up emotion in people. Remembering the sheriff's house outside of Houston where I had bummed another meal, I realized that he, too, had behaved like a compassionate human being. Had it been because he'd been asked to and was made to feel important? Suppose we'd asked Hurley. Would he have given freely? Did his rage result because his benevolence had not been called upon first? Nobody appreciated having something pulled on him. I was thankful for the outcome and thankful, too, for a guy like the blond ex-sheriff from Oklahoma. Without him there could have been a very different ending.

Naturally we all swore that someday we'd make the bill good. I don't know if the other three tried to do so, but I did. Some 45 years later I went back to that town. I found Mr. Hurley long dead and the cafe long gone. I did find Mrs. Hurley and tried to pay her. She refused the money.

Out on the street, we ran into a half dozen of our companion freight car riders. They were surprised that we were still in one piece. They had expected Texas justice to prevail; maybe they had even looked forward to see us all swing in the breeze from a tree limb.

We gathered around the water tower at the end of town. A small fire warmed us against the cold Texas night as we waited for the train. At two in the morning the El Paso freight stopped. Her three big engines were quickly serviced with water. But it was enough time for us to find an empty car and get aboard. None of the boxcars were empty, but the two coal gondolas were available. Despite the fact that we couldn't lie down due to the filth, we piled in, spurred by our desire not to press our luck with the local sheriff.

As rides go, this one was miserable. Fortunately the train moved fast behind its powerful engines, even through mountain passes. By dawn we were more than halfway to El Paso. El Paso: the pass. The city lies snugly against its sister city of Juarez, Mexico. A bridge over the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo) links the two. Our train crawled through the back streets of El Paso to the outskirts of the yard west of the city. We hopped off.

First we needed a place to stay, where we could wash up and get something to eat. We were all intent on staying out of trouble. We wanted to avoid jail. Someone said there was a central feeding place for the jobless, an armory. It wasn't far off.

The National Guard Armory occupied a full block. Men were walking in and out of the main gate. Inside a state trooper directed me to a corner of the lobby, where I was registered. The registrar told me, "You'll be given two meals--supper and breakfast. Since you're here early, though, you can have an extra breakfast. You'll be assigned a cot for tonight. Supper will be served from five to seven. You'll be expected to help clean up the area after supper and to set up your own cot. In the morning you are to fold your cot before breakfast. This is all we can do for you. Too many people need assistance. Here's your card. Show it to the man at the door."

The feeding system was well-organized and required a minimum of effort. It was done cafeteria-style. All the butter you could use was on the table. After eating you took your own dirty dishes to the dishwasher.

I had a whole day to explore the city. A border town, I had been told, is always a bawdy place, full of winos, junkies, petty thieves and tourists. Sometimes it's very difficult to stay out of trouble. No matter how hard you try, everything turns out wrong. I was determined not to let this happen to me. I passed up the wilder parts of the city and located a YMCA. I went into the reading room, pulled out my maps and studied them. I also wrote a letter to my mom, telling her everything was great and the world was treating me kindly. Why load worries onto her? A three-cent stamp would not be hard to come by; I could walk into a drugstore, envelope in hand, and speak to the man behind the counter in a voice loud enough for everyone nearby to hear, "I'm trying to mail this letter home to my mother in New York. Could you spare me a postage stamp?" (I was only turned down twice, both times in Los Angeles.) Many of these drugstores had lunch counters, and on a number of occasions I was even invited to have a sandwich and a cup of coffee.

It was time to return to the armory. Half a block from the main door I could smell beef stew. Inside a line of several hundred men was forming. Ten large ash cans, fifty gallons each, steamed away on the army stove. Army men cooked and served. As each dipper of stew was raised from the can and poured onto the tin plate, at least a half a pound of stew, mostly meat, was deposited. Seconds were permitted, but very few men needed them. These army cooks seemed proud of what they were doing for the jobless. I had no idea who--county, state or federal government--was supplying the food. Obviously, though, this was the best way to keep men from bumming individual restaurants and homes and ensuring that each got an equal share of what was available.

I needed a shower badly. Razor blades were available, and several men volunteered to cut hair for as many as they could before "lights out" was called. The cots stood in tiers. Two thin blankets provided enough warmth. An army sergeant made the rounds to make sure that everyone took a shower. An army doctor made quick checks of the men for obvious signs of disease.

I awoke at 6:30 to the delightful odor of breakfast. I folded the cot neatly and stored it, packing the blankets away for the next crowd due that evening. A short wait in line brought food. The next step would be the streets. To my surprise, no one was allowed outside. All doors were locked. The armory had acquired some new faces while we slept: members of the Immigration Department, a few Texas Rangers, several local cops and two state troopers. When the last man had eaten, an announcement was made for everyone to stand in a single line. Slowly, uniformed authorities passed down the file of men, occasionally questioning one or taking him out of the line to a small office. Immigration was searching for illegal aliens, Mexicans and Canadians; the police, troopers and Rangers were after known criminals. A few words from one of the local cops about the wisdom of leaving town and not getting arrested for vagrancy were not really needed.

Big blackboards on the wall listed train information needed to get out of town in either direction, along with locations to catch the trains. Once outside, I began waiting for the train west. On board, I settled back for a long ride. However, just a few miles outside of El Paso, the train stopped. Up and down the tracks, heads popped out of cars. Why the sudden stop? From a dirt road a few yards from the tracks hurried about a dozen tall, lanky Texas Rangers. At each freight car they ordered the occupants to come forward. Some Rangers insisted that the men come all the way out of the car. A Ranger appeared at my car, scrutinizing each face. "Any greaseballs in here?"

"What you lookin' for?" asked one of the riders with a slight smile.

"Greasers, illegal Mexicans. That's what I'm looking for. Well, none in this car." He moved on to the next one. An hour was consumed by this search. The Rangers netted four or five captives. Apparently, this had been a surprise move. There was no place on the train for anyone to hide. No one could have jumped off without being seen. The Rangers had the train surrounded. You couldn't help but feel sorry for the victims. After making it across the border, eluding local police and getting aboard a train, they had probably figured that within a few hours they would be out of the state and en route to a more prosperous life. Instead they'd been yanked off the train in the desert, within a hair's breadth of success.

Chapter XVII: At Last, California!

A slow moving freight, picking up cars along the way, brought me into Tucson early in the morning. The sun was bouncing heat waves against the ground and there was no breeze as I came to the city's outskirts from the train junction. I walked around a bit, trying to decide what to do. Should I bum a meal? Should I stay overnight? What were my immediate plans?

The heat became unbearable, exhausting me. Across the street a church and its buildings occupied half a block. Its door was open. Inside it was dark and empty. Candles flickered in a corner near the altar. Despite two open doors, the atmosphere was cool, as if some protective spirit prevented the heat from entering. I knelt and said a few Our Fathers. Then I settled back in my wooden bench and fell asleep. I must have slept for two hours when someone touched my shoulder. Startled, I blinked awake to the sight of a woman's inquisitive face above me. "You must be terribly tired to fall asleep in a church," she said.

"Yes, ma'am. I am tired."

"Do you live around here?"

"No, ma'am. I'm from New York. I'm looking for work here."

"Oh, my! All the way from New York! Do you have any money?"

"No, ma'am."

"How do you eat, then?"

"I suppose you call it begging. But I always try to work for it."

"When did you last eat?"

"I don't remember."

"You don't remember?" She appeared astonished.

"That's right, ma'am. I don't remember."

"Are you hungry?"


"Did you pray today?"

"I did."

"What did you pray for?"

"For something to eat."

"You better come with me."

I followed her into the torrid head. Next to the church a walkway, protected from the sun's rays by a leafy roof of trees, led to the rectory. A chubby priest sauntered back and forth, reading his breviary. As we approached he lifted his head. "I found this young man sleeping in the church," the woman told him.

The priest closed his book. I could see he was making one of those five-second judgments about me. The woman continued. "He's a Catholic boy from New York trying to find work. He has no money and he's utterly famished. Will you please get him some food from the kitchen?"

The plump little cleric, who obviously disliked me on sight, replied, "I'm sorry, but the kitchen has been cleaned up and is closed."

"Well, then," countered the woman, "we can't very well let him starve, now can we?" Not waiting for a reply, she quickly added, "Will you give me some money so he can eat? I'll repay you when I come to mass on Sunday."

"I don't carry money with me," replied the priest.

I disliked him immensely because I could see through him. The woman didn't see him as he really was: a well-fed, potbellied oaf of a man who only cared about himself. But whether she saw through him or not, she was a fast thinker. "Well," she demanded, "if you haven't got it with you, will you get it while we wait for you?" That sounded authoritative enough. The priest went into the rectory. He came back and handed me 50 cents. Compared to nothing, that was a lot of money. On the road, there are ways to make a few cents stretch a long way. Later, in a store, I had the 50 cents changed into nickels and dimes.

With a nickel in hand I entered the first restaurant I saw. "This is all the money I have in the world," I lied to the man behind the counter. "Could you give me something to eat for it?" This ploy works four out of five times; in fact, it makes it hard for anyone to turn you down. You may not eat steak, but if worse comes to worse, there's always the traditional Western standby--a bowl of chili and crackers. He did not accept my nickel as payment; very few people would. Who wants to take someone's last penny?

My heels were down. I went into the shoemaker's and used the same ruse, only this time I raised it to a dime. The shoemaker put a pair of heels on for me and refused the dime. Of course, I attributed all of this to the few simple prayers I had said in church earlier.

Being wealthy has its disadvantages. I now had to ensure that my riches were safely hidden. If some of the guys I encountered knew I had 50 cents, they would very well slit my throat for it. With nothing in my pockets I had no such worry. I stashed the 50 cents under my armpits. I kept only a nickel in my pocket.

I caught a freight out of Tucson in the cool evening. Alone in the boxcar, I settled in for a long night's haul to the California border. With the door open, I fell asleep. The dead silence of the boxcar informed me I was no longer part of the train on which I started out. We were sidetracked miles from anywhere. I became perplexed. What the hell was I going to do miles from nowhere, out in the desert? Fully awake now, I realized we were in some sub-junction with five sets of track. On the second set of tracks away from me stood several railroad work cars. I could smell cooking and hear women's voices. A ventilation door opposite me opened. A woman caught sight of me with my clothes rumpled and hair all disheveled. She turned her head and spoke into the car to someone. Another woman's face appeared, looked at me and withdrew.

It was the cook's car for a railroad section gang of Mexican-American workers. Breakfast was being prepared for the crew. The railroads had the best possible system for their work gangs. A series of cars in which they made their homes, with a cook's car attached, carried them to work. This gang would most likely remain here for a week or two until all the maintenance work was caught up. Then along would come the engine and haul them all to a new trouble spot, perhaps hundreds of miles away. It certainly kept the family together.

I heard, "Psst!" One of the woman was beckoning me. "Entra," she invited, and I climbed aboard and sat down at a table. "Comida," she explained. "Desayuno." She made a gesture of putting food into her mouth. Then she scooped something up from the frying pan and put it in front of me. "Huevos fritos con chorizo," she said, smiling.

She was a small, rather plump woman with strong black hair tied behind her head. Her face was warm and pleasant. She spoke no English and seemed to know that I spoke no Spanish, so she acted out her side of the conversation.

I dug into the eggs with chorizo. The first mouthful almost blew my head off, it was so hot. Tears welled in my eyes. I fought for breath, trying to make it seem like I was ecstatic about the food. A full plate still lay before me. "Quieres más salsa?" she asked, moving a bowl of God only knew what in front of me. I sensed at once that this bowl was my nemesis. Tears still blocking my vision, I managed to convey no, thank you. I downed the rest of my coffee and rolled up another tortilla, hoping that would soothe my pain. The first law of courtesy demanded that the plate be cleaned, regardless. How could I claim to be on the verge of starvation and leave something on the plate? It had to be done.

"Gracias, muchas gracias," I finally got out, bowing my head to humble myself before these two women--who in trying to do me a good turn had almost murdered me.

I was lucky; an hour later another westbound freight came by, stopped, unhitched a few cars and went on its way. I climbed aboard, still slightly afire.

His name was Bannister, John Sebastian Bannister. He made it clear to me that he was not found of the name Johann Sebastian, hung on him by his father. He preferred to be called just plain Bannister. In his thirties, he was slightly shorter than I. He dressed neatly, and it was apparent that staying clean had top priority with him. Chicago was his home. His father ran a small music store there of which Bannister did not care to be a part. He had been on the road for the past six months, with no particular goal. "I had to get the hell away from the old folks," he explained. "They were carrying me on their shoulders. The burden was too much. They made a lot of sacrifices to put me through school. Four years in college, a degree in civil engineering, and I can't even get a job. Better they should have spent the money on themselves." Bannister had been the sole occupant of the car into which I had jumped. Of all the men on the road, he seemed the best organized. In a small army backpack he carried some personal things. A quart bottle wrapped in canvas was strapped to it. The pack was light and very flexible, something he could run with that would not get in his way.

We were both headed for San Francisco. I hoped to pick up a ship; he wanted to inquire among the foreign consulates about a job abroad--building bridges, dams and whatever else civil engineers built. He knew about all the latest happenings on the road. He was the first to warn me of the police roadblocks intended to keep people out of California, especially Los Angeles. "The Oakies and Arkies are being turned back in droves," he told me. "The California police are even giving away free gasoline to make sure they leave the state. You know what?"


"This country is so screwed up, it may never get back to normal, that's what."

Bannister made it clear that as traveling companions "we share and share alike. You bum one place, I'll bum the next. None of this one man doing all the bumming and the other all the eating. I don't go for that."

"Me neither," I assured him. "Hey, you know what? Abraham Lincoln said something like that. Let's see now. Yeah, I think it was, `If God wanted some people to do the work and other people to do all the eating, he would have created some people with all mouths and others with all hands.' Yeah, I think that's how it went."

We crisscrossed over a highway, past a sign reading, "Yuma City Limits." The train slowed down through a small railroad yard. Within a few minutes we had left it behind. "Well," commented Bannister, watching Yuma fade into the distance. "You wanted to see California. This is it."

The California desert looked like all the others. Mexico was only a stone's throw away. The sun was setting. Soon the scorching desert heat subsided; the evening became cooler. The scenery changed rapidly. From the desert, we came upon mile after mile of lush green fields with rows planted in rich, black loam. My fellow traveler seemed to know this country well. "We're going through the Imperial Valley," he informed me, adding, "Most likely the richest part of California."

I was amazed. I couldn't tear myself from the door. Now we passed miles of orange trees. Yellow lemon trees also dotted the landscape. This, truly, was California. I wondered why the Indians and Mexicans had ever given up such lush and fertile property. The mountains on the Mexican side of the border began fading into the distance as the train chugged its way through the valley. Patches of arid desert appeared, broken by giant saguaros stretching their limbs skyward. The Salton Sea was not far away. Now we were traveling below sea level.

Five miles outside of Indio we stopped for water and bunkers. Five men came aboard the car. One had a potato sack half-filled with dates he said he had picked. He was willing to share them with us if we had something to share with him. Bannister reached into his pack and extracted a small loaf of bread. He hacked off a two-inch slice and the exchange was made. The dates were sweet. We had more than we could eat. "Hear tell that no one can get into Los Angeles. All roads are blocked," said the man with the dates.

"Who the hell owns Los Angeles, anyway?" challenged another man.

The train moved slowly through Indio, then picked up speed for Los Angeles. For at least ten miles before we entered the huge railroad yards of that city, we rode on a long straight stretch of track parallel to the main highway and just two hundred feet from it. The sun had long since set, but a full moon gleaming overhead cast its eerie light over the countryside. I noticed a car speeding up on the highway. As it came closer I could make out four policemen inside; they seemed to be staring at our car. Obviously they were following to make sure that none of us jumped off before the train reached the yard, where we could all be rounded up. I told Bannister.

"Look," he replied. "Two more police cars back of them."

The train was slowing now, whistle blowing every second. Only a few more minutes and it would be over. "Let's see if we can open this other door," Bannister suggested, leaping to it. Locked from the outside, it wouldn't budge. Our mistake--a smart rider would always make sure both sides were unlocked in case he had to use the other door. "Let's climb on top of the car and get off on the other side. They can't see us from there," Bannister tried again.

Carefully, we did it, the police watching every move. Unaware that one cop's car had slowed down and was trailing the caboose, we positioned ourselves on the train ladder, waiting for the train to slow down so we could hop off. But the train kept up a good speed until it reached the yard entrance. We jumped and practically flew a few feet toward a trash box, where we hid. Men were climbing off the train; policemen with flashlights were rounding them up. We thought we were safe, but the cops shone their lights on us, too. We joined the others in the roundup.

We stood under a street lamp. A cop blurted boastfully that we were all good for a 30-day waiver to get out of town. But first, he assured us, we'd get a night in the clink and an appearance before the judge. Then a radio message summoned the cops to their cars. They left only one man to handle all of us. "Everybody line up, single file," he ordered. "After you give me your name, move to the rear of the line. I want to get all of you before the wagons get here."

Bannister nudged me. "Let's go," he urged, half pulling me with him to the front of the line. "My name is John Bass. My partner here is Tom Carter," he told the cop who scribbled down the names.

"Go to the rear of the line and stay there," the cop advised. "Several wagons are on their way down here."

The line reached a corner, around which we slipped--and kept walking. Five blocks later we heard sirens. The wagons were speeding to pick up forty-eight men, minus two named Bass and Carter. At about ten o'clock we reached a place called Uncle Tom's Mission. It was on skid row with all the cheap flophouses and gag-and-vomit restaurants. We were admitted.

Some soup was left over, but cots were reserved only for those who saw the light by attending services and listening for two hours to some spellbinder as he castigated the devil and saved your soul. However, we would be given a blanket and allowed to sleep on the floor.

At 5:30 the next morning, Bannister woke me. "Let's dress and get the hell out of here," he urged, yielding to his good instincts. Who was I to question his wisdom? No sooner had we stepped outside the mission's front door than three big patrol wagons backed into the curb in front of it. Quietly we moved on.

Twenty-five miles from Los Angeles stands San Pedro, the city's main port. We took one of many roads leading to the coast. We passed a few large buildings, lots of open space and an occasional small factory. With each mile we covered, we came to a small community. Each had its own shopping center. One of us would go into the delicatessen and come out with what turned out to be a West Coast staple: bologna and bread. Bit by bit Bannister's pack grew heavy with the bread, bologna and liverwurst we collected. One woman who made up two sandwiches for me said, "I hope someone is doing the same for my son. He's out there somewhere, on the road."

At another store, a man gave me some rolls and bologna and then said, "Once a man came into this store. He waited till I served someone in front of him. I could tell something was wrong with him. When his turn came, he told me he was hungry but had no money. I made him up a big sandwich and gave it to him with a quart of milk. He thanked me, but before he left he said, `I came in here thinking that if you turned me down I'd take this gun and shoot you dead.' He took a big pistol out of his pocket and showed it to me. My philosophy has always been to help anyone in need. I was lucky that time. I hope I'll be lucky next time, if there is a next time."

Our hike to the port of San Pedro was leisurely. From there to Long Beach was only a short distance more. That night we camped on the beach. We found a tin can and boiled up some coffee and ate lots of bologna and bread. The weather was warm. We enjoyed the night's sleep.

Bannister had several contacts to visit in Long Beach. He thought there was a good possibility he could land some sort of job abroad. I decided I'd go back to San Pedro and check around on some of the ships to see how shipping was in the port. Several oil tankers were tied up inside the breakwater. I found out they were laid up. I scouted around for information. I decided to look up the YMCA in port. A man who said he was the assistant manager there talked with me. He was friendly and sympathized with my coming all the way from New York trying to find work. The more we talked, the friendlier he became. Finally he asked if I had any objections to working in the hold of oil tankers, cleaning them. I assured him I'd be most appreciative if such a job turned up.

He got on the phone and, while waiting, winked at me. "Maybe you're in luck," he confided. "Twenty men are going to be hired by this tank cleaning company tomorrow. Well, let's say 19 will be hired. You're to report to the tanker called Port Royale at this pier. Present this card to a man named Svensen. He's some sort of foreman. Meanwhile, how about some lunch? When you become wealthy you can repay me for it."

The job card said I must report at 7:30 a.m. I promised myself I'd be there bright and early. Back at our meeting place on the beach, Bannister had retrieved the food sack and had already dined. Two bottles of wine and a pint of whiskey stood in the sand. A quarter of the whiskey was missing. With the first few words out of his mouth, I knew where it had gone. Not only was he half-drunk, he was feeling miserable. "I visited three lard-ass sons of bitches today," he informed me. "Not one of them would offer me even a chair, let alone a job in their goddamn country. Nobody's building anything anymore. What's going to happen? Is the whole world coming to a standstill now that I've got myself a diploma that says I'm qualified to build a bridge to the moon, if that's what somebody wants?" He reached for the pint and took a swig.

"Well," I told him, feeling a bit bad about it, "I think I got myself a job. Ain't much. Cleaning oil tankers."

"That's more than I got. And you didn't have to go to college, either."

I wasn't much in the mood for drinking, but Bannister insisted that I have at least a shot of wine. One shot led to another and another, until we had cleaned up both bottles. "Don't worry about getting up in the morning," Bannister reassured me. "I'll have you up at 5:30 on the button."

The sun was shining in my eyes when I woke up. It was bright and already high in the sky. Disaster breathed down my neck as I pulled on my shoes. Bannister, flat on his stomach, showed no signs of awakening.

I headed toward San Pedro. Few cars came by, and most of those were going the other way. I walked, sometimes trotted, sweat pouring down my face. A pickup truck came by and stopped; I climbed in front. Before I could even thank the driver, I gulped, "What time is it?"

"Ten past eight," he replied.

"Oh, Christ!" I exclaimed loudly.

"What's wrong?" the driver wondered.

I told him about my pending job and that I was to have been there at 7:30.

"I'm going right by that place. I'll drop you off at the gate. Maybe it won't be as bad as you think."

The Port Royale lay tied up at the dock, empty, riding high out of the water. She was visible half a mile away. I hurried down the pier. In front of the gangway I met Svensen. I handed him the card. "So you're Bailey, heh? You know you were supposed to be here at 7:30?"

"My alarm clock broke down," I lied.

"Well, too bad for you and your alarm clock. I hired another man. Next time, when you get a job for Svensen and it says 7:30, make sure you're here at 7:30."

Well, I'd screwed myself on that one. Downhearted, feet heavy, I walked off the pier. There was nothing I could do but return to Long Beach, lie on the beach and watch for the movie actresses everyone said swam there.

Bannister was up and around when I got back, boiling coffee and looking foolish. "I thought you were working," he said.

"I would be if you'd woke me up like you said you would. I got there late and the boss said screw off."

"Well, what's a job nowadays, anyway? Sit back like me. Enjoy life. Just think: if you had a job you couldn't sleep late. You couldn't enjoy those fine bologna and liverwurst sandwiches and this delicious coffee. Here. Have a cup and forget small problems like jobs and money and the good things in life. You're too young to be corrupted so soon.'

We loafed around the beach the rest of the morning. At about 11:30 we heard a loud boom from the San Pedro area and watched a giant puff of smoke rise in the air. Minutes later we heard fire engines and ambulance bells as they rushed down the shore in the direction of the smoke, which now faded and drifted.

"What do you say, let's get the hell out of here and work our way to San Francisco?" suggested Bannister.

"Any time you're ready. I haven't seen one movie actress on this beach, anyhow. Some bum has been handing out a line."

Out on the highway, we footed it toward Los Angeles. The smoke had completely disappeared as we veered onto Long Beach Boulevard, putting the sea to our backs. A truck came by and stopped; the driver nodded toward the rear. We got aboard. An hour later we were standing along the railroad tracks, waiting for the northbound freight. We knew it was a bad spot, too far out of the yards, in a flat area. The train would highball long before she reached us. Yet we were afraid to move in closer to the yards, knowing it was loaded with railroad bulls with unfriendly attitudes. So we waited. Bannister shifted his knapsack. It was heavy with additional food we had bummed.

We heard her highballing way back in the yards. We would have to race with her. She came charging at us, picking up speed each second. Bannister tried to grab the handrail. I turned to face the cars, grabbed the rails and pulled myself aboard. Most of the cars were empty reefers. I worked myself back along the car tops, shouting Bannister's name. He had not made it.

I found a car with the lid open and climbed down, feeling depressed about Bannister. For one thing, he had all the food. An older man sat in the corner. He had sneaked into the yard while the engine was being serviced. "Did you hear the news?" he asked.

"News? What news?"

"About the big explosion in Los Angeles harbor."

"Oh, is that what that noise was all about?"

"Yeah. Some guys were scraping and cleaning an oil tanker. Must have had a spark, because it blew the tanker up. Killed about ten men; there are still some missing."

A tanker, I mused. "You don't know its name do you?"

"Sure. The radio said it was called Port Royale."

Chapter XVIII: San Francisco

I had finally reached my destination! I filled my lungs. It was a relief not to see the skyscrapers and elevator train structures I had left behind back East. I had completed a 3,000-mile plus trek on a shoestring. I was leaving one part of my life behind and was about to start anew.

The Embarcadero YMCA offered me a week's lodging. In that week I scouted all possible work areas. Shipping proved to be impossible for a drifter from another port. A centralized bureau which the seamen dubbed Fink Hall was crowded. Men stood around in groups, talking of the days gone by, hoping against hope that today would be their lucky day. This bureau was run by employer-picked personnel to ensure that no militant seamen were hired. I saw right away how impossible it would be, especially without any connections, to compete with the hundreds of men in that hall. I'd have to try boarding ships in the hope of finding a friendly officer to hire me.

Scrounging food was another problem. In a soup kitchen off Market between Third and Fourth, about 200 men were served a noon meal of mostly bread and soup. We stood at a counter to eat. On the waterfront, in the late afternoons, a woman known as the "White Angel" appeared with trays of food she collected from restaurants. Her chauffeured limousine would stop among 75 or 100 hungry, waiting men. A few of us opened the car doors and assisted her as she brought out the big baking pans of leftover food. She was an elegant woman who loved to dress in flowing white veils. Some said she had stock in several restaurants, enabling her to solicit leftover food easily. I stood in line almost every afternoon alongside the railroad tracks near Pier 23.

My week of free lodging at the YMCA ended. Along the waterfront and on some of the side streets off the Embarcadero stood all kinds of cheap hotels. Some of their rooms went for 30 cents a night. But even 30 cents was hard to come by. However, someone always figures out how to beat the system. Three men would get together, each kicking in a dime. One would go to the hotel and ask for a room facing the street. Half an hour later the window would open quietly and the key would be tossed down to the two men waiting outside. If one of the men had put up more dough than the others, he would get the right to sleep in the bed. The others stretched out on the floor.

One cold, foggy night, the hotel manager counted five men heading in one direction. His books showed he was only supposed to have three rooms occupied. He raided our room, and five of us were bounced out onto the street, minus our rent we had paid. But that incident was an exception. From then on, we picked our hotels more carefully. We made sure the manager's desk was not right in front of the door.

My lack of money was becoming a problem. At seven o'clock in the evening I would start from Market and Kearney Streets and slowly make my way toward North Beach, panhandling any guy who looked prosperous. Some nights I netted fifty cents; other times I'd have to settle for ten. Along Grant Avenue, almost every block had at least two bakeries. The fragrance of French bread baking permeated the air during the late evening hours until morning. If you timed it right, you could depend on at least half a loaf from any baker you spoke to when he left the oven area for some fresh air or a smoke in the street.

I had no luck getting a ship. In fact, even getting aboard to talk to the officers was difficult, if not impossible, because of the large numbers of guards on the piers.

One day, as I was slowly working my way to the soup kitchen door, I noticed a young man standing on top of a chair about 50 feet from the doorway. He was about 20, dressed in blue dungarees and a blue shirt. He started to harangue the hundred or so men in line. "Fellow unfortunates," he said, "we ask the leaders of the richest country in the world for work to support ourselves and our families. Their answer is to make us line up in the street like whipped dogs to receive a bowl of watered-down soup. This is the concern of the ruling class for the unemployed. Soup kitchens instead of jobs. Cheap, cockroach-ridden flophouses instead of decent places to live. Indignities and humiliations instead of human dignity. That's the answer of the bourgeoisie. Well, my fellow workers, the Communist Party has the weapon to correct this situation"

The cops moved quickly toward him, knocking him off the chair. A motorcycle cop rode in, halting his front wheel just inches from the neck of the helpless young man. One cop kicked him in the chest. Another yanked him up by the shoulders and tried to stand him on his feet. This man had not been a threat to anyone; he had used no violence. I found out later that he had been soapboxing on and off for the past three weeks in this spot.

We went inside and dined on potato soup and bread, no one referring to what we had just witnessed. I walked the few blocks back toward the waterfront. Try as I might to forget the beating, it stuck with me. "For what?" I kept asking myself. Just because he said we all should have jobs or a better place to live? Well, shouldn't we? Wasn't it so? Should blood really be splattered on pavements because a man speaks a raw truth? I felt no respect for the three cops who had beaten someone offering no resistance. Suddenly I took an intense dislike to the soup line in that alley. I decided never to return there again--or at least to make it only a last resort.

There had to be a better way of getting by than racing from one soup kitchen to another, winding up at night seeking another person in order to split the cost of a night's flop. The more I thought about it, the more desperate I became and the more my mind churned. The next morning I got on the ferry bound for Oakland. Ashore, I walked until I came to a well-to-do neighborhood with beautiful homes and spacious lawns. I approached one home and knocked. A middle-aged woman came to the door. "Yes?"

"Lady," I began nervously, "I'm out of work, hungry and destitute. I'm anxious to do any job you have, no matter what it is."

She hesitated. Then, "Well, we can't let you starve, now can we? Go around the back and I'll see what I can find for you."

For the next three months, five days a week, I boarded that Oakland ferry each morning and returned late in the afternoon slightly richer. The procedure was always the same: pick a well-kept house, knock on the door and make my pitch. Most people I talked to found something for me to do. The jobs lasted two or three hours and the average pay was thirty or thirty-five cents an hour. There were also fringe benefits. Invariably I was served some sort of lunch, at least a sandwich and a glass of milk. Sometimes I was given shirts, trousers and shoes. Once I was given a fairly new suit; the woman who gave it to me thought I would have better use for it than her son who was in college.

Word got around the neighbors. Each benefactor tried to outdo the previous ones. "And what did Mrs. Russell serve you for lunch the other day?" I would be asked. If I said that I had been served one sandwich and a glass of milk, I could be assured that I would now get two sandwiches and two glasses of milk.

This kind of success allowed me to find a better place to live, away from the waterfront. No longer did I have to throw keys out windows to a sharing partner. I had $20 in the bank. I owned two suits of clothes, shirts, socks, and two pairs of shoes. But the thing I wanted most--a ship--was not available.

One day I ran across my old partner, Eddie, who had stowed away on the Iroquois with me. He had come down from Seattle--no work up there, either, he assured me. I shared my success with him. I gave him some of my clothes. Inside a week, my bank account had shrunk to five dollars. "Whatta you say we haul ass out of here and head back East? Winter is over back there," he suggested to me after some time.

The next day I gave away what we could not wear or carry. What we carried was double everything: two pairs of socks, two shirts, two pairs of pants, a jacket under a topcoat. We wore our wealth. I felt like an Eskimo, but it was easier to discard than to obtain clothing. We had no trouble getting a train. However, instead of taking the southerly route by which I had arrived, our train made for Sacramento and across the Sierra Nevada, toward Utah and the great Salt Lake.

While Eddie was a much more experienced traveler than I, he lacked some of the aggressiveness needed on the road. When the time came to bum a handout, Eddie would pass up dozens of restaurants, pretending they didn't look good to him or that they looked "over-bummed." The practical effect of Eddie's hesitation was that the lion's share of providing food fell on me. That started to irritate me after a while, and we got into arguments about it. I knew that, sooner or later, he and I would have to part.

After crossing the Great Continental Divide, we stopped at Cheyenne. The word was out that road gangs were needed. The sheriff and his men were rounding up everyone who could not prove he had a job or other means of livelihood. But I was hungry and felt I had to take a chance. If the sheriff did catch me, at least he'd have to feed me, perhaps for 30 days, on the road gang. Eddie was strongly opposed to moving out of the jungle's safety toward the homes on the city's outskirts. My hunger won out, the thought of a warm meal pushing me toward the city. Since I knew the police would be patrolling the beaten route into town, I found a less conspicuous way in. The first house I noticed was a wooden affair one story high. On my way to the rear door, I came across a woman painting the side of the house. A few words with her left me with the paintbrush while she disappeared into the house to fix something for me to eat. This woman knew the sheriff's posse was rounding up men for the road gang. She wheeled out her Model T Ford and drove me through Cheyenne, letting me out on the far end of town where I could catch an eastbound train. Whatever became of Eddie, I have no idea. I was on my own.

Luckily a fast fruit manifest had stopped for bunkers in the Cheyenne yard. It was slowly moving out when I climbed aboard. It was an orange reefer, so there was no ice in the reefer compartments. I secured the hatch above me, making sure I could not be locked in accidentally. We pulled to a stop in Council Bluffs. This city, overlooking the Missouri River, is associated with famous names like Lewis and Clark. This, too, was the place from which Brigham Young led his followers to Salt Lake City. With such history, surely it would be good for a meal.

The weather was frosty. Despite all the clothes I was wearing, the cramped quarters of the reefer compartment made it hard for my blood to circulate. I was chilled to the bone as I walked down the main street, seeking a restaurant friendly enough for me to bum a meal. I passed a few hole-in-the-wall joints and decided they were all too poor to try. Finally I found a more likely place. I gave the guy my usual pitch, "I'm willing to work for a meal." That landed me behind the counter, cleaning a huge stove which evidently had not been cleaned in years. After that, a day's accumulation of dirty dishes had to be washed; the floor had to be swept and mopped, too. Three hours later I was told to sit down and enjoy the meal. The cook set a large steak in front of me. As I was putting the last morsel of it into my mouth, the cook came and stood beside me. "You know," he began, "we get a lot of the whore trade in here. When the town goes to sleep, the whores come in to have their last meal before going home."

I wondered what this information had to do with me. I listened.

"Well," the cook went on, "last night, this whore and her pimp stop by. The gal orders the best steak in the house. I cook it up and set it in front of her. She's smoking a cigarette, all the time arguing with her pimp. I could see she's working up a full head of steam."

I was still wondering what he was getting at.

"Would you believe it? She cuts off a piece of the steak and chews it a bit. Then she spits it right in his face, takes her cigarette and mashes it right out in the center of the rest of the steak, gets up and walks out. Well, what are you gonna do? Here it was a good steak with a cigarette butt standing up on it. I took it, removed the butt, washed it up a bit and put it back in the icebox. That's the one you're eatin'. Better than throwin' it away, huh?"

It was late by the time I left the restaurant. The weather had turned colder. I buttoned my topcoat and headed for the police station, the safest place I knew for a night's flop. One big holding cell had 25 men sprawled out on its floor. I found a few feet of space, and amidst the odor of stinking feet and the sounds of snores and the hissing steam radiator, I fell asleep. The sadistic policemen forced us penniless men to rise at five the next morning. Without even the benefit of a face wash we were ushered from the steam-heated cell into the cold morning air. The sun was still struggling to overcome the remnants of night; the streetlights were still on.

In the distance a horse-drawn cart clobbered over the rough pavement. Under the streetlight a darting figure of a man was making its way somewhere. I pulled my coat more tightly around my body, cursing the police. Eyes still bleary with sleep, I tried to figure out where I was. I kept searching for an open restaurant. My former fellow cellmates were probably all in the same boat, so I'd have to beat them to the punch. I hurried toward the business section of the city. I was anxious to get what I could quickly enough to beat it out of town before the police hit the streets. Goddamn! It was cold! I cursed the weather. Then I asked myself what the hell I was doing here in the first place. Before I had an answer, I noticed a small restaurant that catered to taxi drivers and other all-night clientele.

Condensation on the window obscured the interior of the place. When I went in I saw a counter with about twenty seats, only three of which were occupied. With his first glance the counterman could tell that I was a non-revenue customer. Before I could even make my pitch, though, he had the coffee cup filled and placed on the counter. He looked me in the eye, then beckoned to me to drink. I was afraid to touch the cup. "Gee, fella," "I confessed, "I ain't got a cent. But I'll hustle some work if you got it."

"There's only enough work for one, so enjoy it on me," he said. He put a hot buttered snail in front of me. Through the moisture-covered windows I could make out some activity on the streets. Some of my fellow lodgers from the previous evening were looking in. The moment they recognized me, they moved on. It's always a losing proposition to gang up on one restaurant.

Fortified with a good breakfast, I went to the yards, eager to get out of the cold and into a warm boxcar.

Chapter XIX: Going Home

With the weather turning colder by the minute, I did not feel inclined to linger in Des Moines and wait for a plushy steam car. A passenger train eased out of the station, but from where I stood it would have been impossible to grab the blinds. Besides, the engineer had his head out the window. Chances were that if he saw me trying to latch onto the coal tender's handrails he would have sent a blast of live steam at me. I let it go on by.

A lonesome whistle perked me up. A slow-moving engine approached, billowing smoke and fighting madly to gain speed. I hid until the engine went past me. Then I looked for a boxcar. A long line of cars trailed in the distance, but none of them looked like the usual freight boxcars. They seemed to be roofless gondolas; as they drew nearer, it looked like they were filled with sand. Well, to hell with it! Anything would be better than standing around blowing on my hands and stomping my feet. I pulled myself aboard by the handrails. I'd expected to be alone in the gondola, but two figures crouched at the other end. I crawled over to them. They raised their heads and welcomed me. They even moved over a few inches so I could share the hole they had dug so we could all stay out of the freezing wind.

On the road there is no such thing as hogging a cigarette. My bag of Bull Durham was received with pleasure. For some illogical reason, freezing to death seems easier when one can inhale Bull Durham smoke. As miserable as we were, we still found time to swap experiences. These two men had started the journey as strangers to each other. Now they talked as if they'd known each other all their lives. They'd caught the train about a hundred miles west of Des Moines. From bits of their conversation I gathered that one was a hardrock miner, the other a "high-climbing tree-topper" in the logging industry. "So," said the high climber, "you're heading to New York? I was there once. Too big for me. I like smaller places. Half the time I was there I was lost. Spent most of my time asking for directions."

"Ever been to Chicago?" the other guy asked me.

"No, never have. Should be an experience."

"Well," the tree topper assured me, "it's the same as New York. Maybe a little smaller, but almost the same."

"Best thing to do when you start to leave Chicago," said the hardrock miner, "is to grab the blinds on a passenger train. You'll be in New York in no time at all."

"Yeah," chimed in the tree topper, "but you better watch out for those trains that pick up water on the fly. All those hotshot passenger trains in the East do it nowadays."

I had no idea what he was talking about. Picking up water on the fly? I said nothing; I didn't want to show my ignorance. I should have spoken, though.

Chicago teemed with people, most jaywalking and ignoring traffic lights, just as in New York like my friend had predicted. I was wet, cold, hungry and sleepy. Some sort of instinct for security seems to direct your feet to the city's poor section, especially if you're not appearing well-to-do. It was ten o'clock. A cold wind blew off Lake Michigan. I shivered. Nose running, stomach growling, I wandered around the strange city slightly numb, knowing it was late. I knew something had better happen pretty damn soon. A policeman slowly walked his beat. His face seemed kind. I guessed I might approach him without his aiming his nightstick at my shins. "Officer," I appealed. "I just came into town from California on my way home to New York. Do you know of any place where I can get a bowl of hot soup and a night's lodging? I aim to leave in the morning."

"What? Another one?" was his reply. "Where the hell are all you kids coming from? You're the second in less than an hour! You kids ever stay in one place?"

I didn't answer.

"Well," he relented, "come with me. I'll see what I can do." A half block down the street we stopped at the door of a small restaurant. "See that theater across the street?" the cop asked me, pointing. "It's an all-night joint. Warm, too. Here's fifteen cents. Ten cents for the show and a nickel for a candy bar if you want one. When you leave this restaurant, go straight to the show. Find yourself a warm corner and sleep there. I don't want to see you on the streets until daylight. Clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Okay, now let's go in here and see what this Greek will do for you." A nod from the cop to the counterman and I was given a piece of everything left over from the steam tables. I gulped it all down with pleasure.

A light rain had wet the street when I entered the all-night movie house. Snores from some of the patrons suggested that most came here for the same reason I had. The picture on the huge screen grew fuzzy not two minutes after I sat down. I fell asleep in my wet clothes. When hunger awoke me, Harold Lloyd was jumping out of a window and into a fast-moving taxi. A patron left through a side exit and daylight lit up half the theater.

Outside it was dry but bitterly cold. A sharp wind hit my face. A pawnbroker was sweeping the sidewalk. "Is there a soup kitchen in town?" I asked him.

"Yes, straight down this street eight blocks, then turn right and go two blocks and you'll be right at the door." The cold quickened my step. I was there in no time, taking my place at the end of the line which stretched completely around the block. It moved--slowly, but it moved. "Who's running this soup kitchen? Salvation Army?" I queried the old-timer ahead of me.

"Salvation Army hell!" he exclaimed. "Those sons of bitches don't put out nothin'. This soup kitchen's set up by Al Capone. That's who runs it."

"You mean Al Capone the gangster?"

"Hey! We don't use that language about our benefactor. Don't let anyone hear you say that in the kitchen or you might wind up in the lake, face down."

"I just wanted to know if it was the Al Capone the papers are always talking about."

"That's the guy, all right. Let's just be thankful there's a guy like him around who, from the goodness of his heart, put this soup kitchen together. You won't see all the holy rollers and soul savers doing anything about us hungry guys. Besides, Capone set it up to save us from going Communist."

"Communist? How's that?"

"This city's full of them guys, just sittin' back and waitin' and bitchin' to take over the guv'ment. They figger if all the unemployed get hungry enough, the guv'ment will fall and they'll take over."

"Then what?"

"What?" he said. "Then you'll have some guv'ment like they got in Russia. That's `then what'! Is that what you want?"

He lost me somewhere. "Well," I hesitated.

"That's why Al Capone set up this soup kitchen, to save the American guv'ment from goin' Communist. Get it now?"

"Yeah. I suppose so."

"Boy, where you been? Don't you know what's happenin' in this land?"

"I think so," I ventured.

"Well, you don't sound like you do. Know how many meals that man puts out each day out of his own pocket?"

"No," I admitted, trying to size up this oldster. He must have been 60 years if he was a day; he was shabbily dressed, with a shirt and tie that did nothing for his wrinkled suit.

"He feeds thousands every week. Twice a day, seven days a week. All from the kindness of his heart. Even the chief of police said he's doing a great patriotic deed. He don't have to do it, you know. But he knows that if someone don't help us, the guv'ment will fall. Then we'd have nuthin'."

We were at the door. The scent of hot oatmeal floated in the air. Spoons and plates clattered. The place was gigantic; it must have seated over five hundred people. The first thing visible inside the door was a huge picture of "Scarface Al," with puffed-up cheeks and a grin. You got the feeling you were entering some holy place. While eating, I thought of Al Capone. It was universally accepted that he ran Chicago politics, the whorehouses, speakeasies, police department and all the rest of the graft and corruption in and out of town. He was the same Scarface whose thugs, while gunning down some opposition, had also mowed down five innocent kids in the street. I wasn't about to question why he was saving the country from Communism, gangster or not. I just ate like the rest, then got the hell out of there.

I went looking for the railroad station. It was too far to walk, as it turned out, so the nickel the cop had given me came in handy. Light snow fell. The streetcar dropped me almost at the railroad station's door. Inside I took a quick look around and saw, on Track Four, "To New York, Wolverine Limited. Departure 10:00 a.m." I knew I could never get through the passenger gate, so I went outside and walked two blocks to the end of the station. Pretending to be a railroad worker, I found a broom and put it over my shoulder. I went back along the tracks toward the terminal and train. There she was, the Wolverine Limited, taking on passengers. The engineer saw me. I waved at him, as any railroad worker would. He waved back.

I was in luck. The engine and tender sat on a bend of the track, invisible on one side from the passenger cars. Only the fireman could have seen me, but he was preoccupied with keeping up a full head of steam. A quick hop and I was aboard between tender and mail car. I wondered if anyone had seen me. I waited five minutes, ten, then fifteen. Would this goddamn train ever pull out. Or were they waiting for the cops to come and take me off? I felt the brakes being released, then heard a blast of steam. Then came the careful, ever-so-soft motion of the train starting. I was on my way! Too late now for anyone to spot me and throw me off. I squeezed back far into the mail car's alcove. Just enough room for one person to stand. This was a hotshot, one of the fastest trains on the line. The Twentieth Century got all the headlines, but the Wolverine was right up there with the best.

Town after town flashed by, recognized only by a wail of the locomotive whistle. When you ride the blinds, it's difficult to escape the engine exhaust smoke or the spatter of hot cinders. Those who do their traveling this way habitually carry goggles to protect their eyes from cinders. I had to maintain a firm grip. There was no place to go should the train stop suddenly, except maybe against the tender, or perhaps down between the tender and mail car onto the tracks. We were far out in the countryside now; farmhouses, cows and horses passed on the horizon. Then I heard it: a dull clunk, then a rasping sound, like metal scraping. Before I could figure out what was going on, a wave of ice-cold water hit me full in the face. The tender was filling with water from a long trough that ran smack down the middle of the track for a half mile. Using a scoop extending downward from the tender, the speed of the engine would force water up into the tender. Since the top lid on the tender was partially ajar to let out air, a lot of water was forced out and the wind and the train's momentum flung it against the mail car--to exactly where I stood.

After I recovered from the initial shock, I recalled what the tree topper had told me in that gondola about "taking water on the fly." An hour later, another wave of water hit me. If there had been a dry spot on me before, I was soaked now. Wet, cold, dirty from coal dust and cinders, all I could think of was getting off that train. We had crossed into Ohio. A road sign on the highway close to the tracks read, "Bryan, 25 miles." We were going too fast for me to jump off without killing myself, but I had to get off somehow. A herd of cows came to my rescue. They had broken through a wire fence and drifted onto the tracks, slowing the train to a crawl. Tooting his whistle, spewing live steam from both sides of the engine at the frightened cattle, the engineer made it possible for me to disembark. Once clear of the tracks I looked back at the moving train just long enough to see passengers peering out from their warm, comfortable parlor cars.

Around me was farm country. A climb over a wire fence put me on the edge of a plowed field. In each direction, about a block away, there were farms, but no roads. I decided on the house to my right. I stumbled over upturned soil soaked with several days' rain. It stuck to my already wet shoes, making them heavier with every step. What sort of reception would I get? Still shivering with cold, I knocked on the back door. A boy in his early teens opened the door. He took one look at me, and before he heard a word I said he shouted to his mother.

"My god! You poor boy!" she exclaimed when she saw me soaked and shaking. "Wait here." The woman returned with an undershirt, a blue denim workshirt and a pair of overalls. "I don't know what to do about that jacket you're wearing," she said. The jacket, soaked through, lay in a heap with the rest of my clothing. By the time she came in again I was dressed. "Here," she ordered, handing me a coat lined with sheepskin. "This should keep you from catching pneumonia."

"Mom!" shouted the youngster. "Not my coat! Not that one! Please!"

"Oh, hush, Jimmy. You have lots of coats. This one never did fit you well, anyway. Besides, this boy needs it more than you do right now."

"But, Mom," he pleaded.

She paid no attention. I felt uneasy, slipping my arm into the coat sleeve. I knew how difficult it was to part with cherished things. I could see the young fellow was close to tears, and I sympathized. Yet I could not refuse it; his mother wouldn't understand. The woman brought me a paper bag. "Here. Some sandwiches and cookies."

Bryan was only a mile down the track. En route, warm and dry again, I ate the sandwiches and cookies. Bryan was a water-and-coal stop for local trains. Before I reached it, a 30-car freight overtook me at a fast pace, too fast for me to climb on. But two blocks further on it slowed to a stop at the water tower. Running a bit but moving cautiously past the caboose for fear of being seen by some crabby, company-minded conductor, I found an empty car and crawled in. Then I eased the door shut. When the train started up I had no idea where it was going. All I knew was that it pointed east, and that's where I was going. A short nap refreshed me. The train rambled on at a fair speed. I pushed open the door to see more of the countryside. A billboard caught my attention: "Welcome to Michigan. When in Detroit, vacation at Lake St. Clair."

I spread out my weather-beaten map that I had rescued from my wet clothes. In the light from the open door I saw clearly--hell! This train was not moving east! Sometime during my nap it had veered northward. I was only a few miles from Detroit. Messed up again! Too much sleeping and not enough paying attention to where I was going. I would have to catch another train, backtrack toward Toledo, and from there travel across state to Pennsylvania. As the train slowed before entering the yards, I hopped off and started toward Detroit. On my left were many lines of railroad track. To my right was the river. Across the river I could see Ontario, Canada.

I passed a few dozen gondolas loaded with machinery. On the route board attached to each car was a destination card reading, "Ottawa." My map showed the route of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and Canadian National, both running along Lake Erie's coastline toward the New York coastline. I also discovered that a switch engine was lining up cars and pushing them toward a ferry nearby. I watched this routine for about an hour, then waited till the switch engine went into the yard for more cars. I picked out a gondola. Once aboard I crawled under a huge girder resting on blocks of wood. Another hour went by. At last my car was pushed aboard the ferry. Some yelling, the toot of a whistle, and we were on our way across the Detroit River to Windsor. Once on the Canadian side I took my time to scout out a clean boxcar. The car I chose had been lined around walls and floor with heavy paper, making it warm and comfortable. There was nothing else to do but lie down and relax. Several times I awoke and peered out the door. Darkness had descended. It was cold outside. I closed the door till the opening was no more than a foot wide.

At two in the morning I was awakened by an uncommon stillness: the car was not moving. A wet, cold spray was lashing my face. I heard water gushing in the distance. Opening the door, I made out a series of waterfalls. I waited a while for the train to start up again. The cold spray was everywhere. Another ten minutes passed. The cold drove me the hell out of the car. A walk down the track in the dark led me to a power plant. A light at one of the side doors suggested escape from the damp cold. Inside, several dozen boilers displayed roaring oil-burning fires. The heat beckoned. I saw no one. I sat down near one of the boilers and quickly fell asleep. The next morning growls from my stomach told me to find food. En route to the bridge, the luck of the Irish was with me. A small wooden house sported a sign: "Soup Kitchen for Canadian Veterans of the War. Niagara Falls, Ontario, Branch." New York was across the Falls.

Some men came out of the building. "Could a hungry guy get a cup of coffee?" I pleaded.

"You bet your blooming life he can. And some oats and bread, too," one of them assured me, taking me by the arm and leading me inside. "Even people who didn't fight in the war get hungry," he added with a smile. I was given a feast that put me back in good spirits. These men, I learned, were veterans of World War I. They were broke and unemployed, but through their own endeavors they were managing to produce two meals a day for some fifty men in town. They did it by collecting food from farmers and merchants.

Toward the other side on the bridge, I noticed a small booth. I was not aware that there was anyone in the booth until I reached a similar booth on the Canadian side. Someone yelled at me as I started to pass. "Hey, you! Where do you think you're going?" The questioner was a young immigration inspector.

"Home," I told him.

"So you're going home, now? And where would that be?"

"New York City."

"And how long have you been in Ontario?"

"I think about two days."

"Recite the alphabet," he demanded.

I couldn't imagine the reason for this; in fact, I thought he was crazy to ask me to do such a thing. All the same, I ran through the alphabet.

"Okay, you say you're from New York City," he said. "What does IRT stand for in the subway?"

"Interborough Rapid Transit."

"How much does a ride on the subway cost?"

"A nickel."

"All right. Head across the bridge. And good luck."

As I approached the booth on the U.S. side, two men eyed me. I tried to walk past without stopping. "Hey, boy!" one of them sang out. "Where you heading in such a hurry? Come back here. We want to talk to you." The questions began: Where were you born? When? What's your name? Where are you going? Where have you been? Then, "Identification. Show me some identification. Have you a passport?"

"No. But I do have seamen's papers."

They looked over the papers carefully. Most of the ink had been washed away. That meant more questions. "Who is the present mayor of New York City? The Governor of the state? Where is the Statue of Liberty? Where's the Bowery? Where's the `gashouse' section?"

I think now that these immigration officials were using me as a form of amusement. Throughout the interrogation they smiled broadly as they waited for each of my answers. Their last questions convinced me they were having fun with me: "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" After that, they let me pass.

Niagara Falls, New York, was not a big town. It was clean and neat. I had only gone 50 feet off the bridge toward town when a policeman approached me. "Where you from, boy?" he asked.

I started the whole routine again.

"You have a job, boy?"

"No, sir."

"You have any money, boy?"

"No, sir."

"Then you are a vagrant, boy."

"Well, I know that, but"

"But nothing," retorted the cop. "You better come along with me."

I'll say one thing about the jail in Niagara Falls, New York: it was the only one I encountered that had a shower bath. My cells had four bunks. An hour after entering, I had taken a shower, washed all my clothes and hung them over a steam radiator. It was a time to rejoice; I had lots of hot water, soap, peace and quiet in the cell. I wondered how the judge would size me up the next morning. Hell, how is someone penniless and without means of transportation to go from one place to another without being arrested and charged with vagrancy? I would have to do as I had done in similar situations: make the best of a bum situation.

Decked out in clean clothes, with a good night's sleep and a substantial breakfast behind me, I was led before the judge in a courtroom where 15 people sat facing the judge. "A case of vagrancy, your honor," declared the prosecutor.

"Where are you from?" asked the judge.

"New York City, sir."

"You have any money?"

"No, sir."

"How did you get here if you have no money?"

"By freight trains, sir."

"Freight trains? Don't you know it's unlawful to use freight trains for transportation?"

"Yes, sir."

The judge adjusted his glasses. "Fifteen days in the city prison," he said. Before the shock could take effect, however, he added, "unless the defendant can assure me he can get out of town within one hour. Think you can do that?"

"Oh, yes, sir! I sure can!"

After three days of getting on and off slow-moving locals, I reached Ossining, New York, on the Hudson River, home of the infamous Sing Sing. I wanted to get the hell out of there in a hurry. A passenger train entered the station. When it came to a stop I managed to get on the side opposite where the passengers disembarked. Next to the engine and coal tender was the mail car. I climbed aboard and stood in its alcove hoping I hadn't been seen. Just then the door opened. A heavyset man told me quietly, "You have to get off. This is a mail car."

"Okay," I told him. I watched as he closed the door, but did nothing. I heard the conductor's "All aboard!" Steam hissed as the engineer moved the throttle forward. We were moving. Perhaps I was safe. No--the door opened quickly. The same man placed a pistol at my head. His voice was no longer quiet, but rough. "I told you this is a U.S. mail car. Now get off or I'll have to blow your head off." It was a big pistol. I made a big leap.

Luckily for me, the train was doing only about ten miles an hour. After a few minutes, a dependable old freight came by. I had no further problems. Mile by mile, the freight worked its way down the banks of the Hudson River toward the big city. At ten o'clock that night I knocked on the door of my mother's flat in New York.

Home! Home at last!

Book 2

Chapter I: Booze and Petty Larceny

Home, a great refuge from the storms and hostile forces of the outside world: this sounds comforting, but my home did not fulfill any of these expectations. Within a few days, the same old pressures reasserted themselves.

"Get up and look for a job," the stepfather would say, shaking me vigorously. "This is not your boxcar where you can lay around all day. If you want to stay here, you have to earn your way."

It was hard to take this from him, since he was the biggest loafer on record. But my mother knew that, as bad as he was in providing, his small government pension check did offer something in the way of support.

I scanned the newspapers for jobs, running down what leads there were, but the want ad columns offered next to nothing. I'd come home exhausted from walking. If there was anything to eat, it was handed to me reluctantly. Even that was hard to eat when the discussion at the table centered on why I was not employed like "the boy up the street."

My mother was completely dominated by my stepfather. There was no argument I could use that could make her understand the situation. "Your stepfather is right. You don't care about getting a job and supporting your mother," she would say, removing the dishes from the table. After two weeks of this, I said to hell with the whole mess and started to concentrate on getting a ship. But shipping, too, was slowly diminishing. The seamen's shipping centers were crowded with men standing around like sheep in a pen waiting for a nod or a blink from the shipping master that meant they had a job.

I ran into an old buddy. He had a bottle of bootleg booze. A few nips and I was on my way to becoming a boozer. He had a room on the East Side, big enough to allow me to sleep on the floor. During the day we concentrated our energies on getting a meal or two, along with a twenty-five cent piece for a pint of booze, which we shared at night. Within a week, I knew the address of every bootlegger in the neighborhood. There was one in every tenement house. Each had his own formula for making the stuff. One house used potato peels, and the booze they made came out white. A spoonful of burnt sugar and it looked like the real thing. Others used raisins and plums. I saw stills of all shapes and sizes bubbling away in many of the joints I went to. If they weren't making booze, they were producing home brew, and the place stank with ether fumes or bubbling yeast.

The doors on the tenement speakeasies were usually the strongest doors in the building. Steel plate on the outside of the door made it easy to locate the business. All one had to know was the owner's code name and their hours of operation. The home speakeasy was a source of income for those who couldn't find a job but who had the necessary paraphernalia to set themselves up in business. It also served as a source of extra income for the beat cop who "knew nothing, heard nothing and did nothing."

For the next several months, I maintained no contact with the family and didn't care to. I shifted around during the day, eating where I could. As bad as things were, I always managed to end up with a bottle of booze at night. When my friend lost his room, I found another one. When there was no room, I found an empty truck along the waterfront as refuge from the cold and slept in that.

Soup lines were forming everywhere. As the days and weeks went by, the lines became longer. At first, there was a pride in people; they didn't want anyone to see them lining up for a free meal. But as time went on, that false pride disappeared and people talked openly of which soup line provided the better meal.

It was a warm Sunday morning that I lay flat out on the sidewalk, sound asleep. Someone was banging on my feet with a stick. I woke up. The sun was staring me in the face, as was a policeman. "Get on your feet, bum," he said coldly.

I reached my knees, and with a superhuman effort rose. I stood dizzy, sick to my stomach. The street was empty. My clothes were dirty and disheveled. One shoe was off my foot and lying a few feet away. My face was dirty, my hair a mess.

"Put your shoe on and get the hell off my beat before I run you in. Hear me?"

"Yes, sir."

It was only a block to the waterfront. I headed for an open pier where I knew I would find running water. Splashing myself with cold water to wake up, I quickly realized that what I had been doing had come to an end. I didn't appreciate the term "bum," but I knew that was what I had become. There had to be another way to get by, a better way than the one I had been pursuing.

A few days later, I ran into another old buddy known as "Junkyard Scotty." I had met him at the Seamen's Institute one day, and he had propositioned me to go into some kind of junk business. At the time it didn't appeal to me. Now it took on a new dimension. Over a bowl of soup, we discussed some of his ideas. They seemed simple enough. Scotty always seemed to have a few dollars with him. I put in with him.

He spent many hours traversing the neighborhoods, checking out the houses he passed and noting those that were empty. When he found a house that suited him, he would reappear the next day, posing as a delivery man with a package in his arms. He put on a show for anyone who may have been watching, going to the front door, trying the knobs and banging on the door. Finding the house empty, he proceeded to his next move.

I was handed a coil of telephone wire which I put over my shoulder. With small tools dangling around my belt, I would locate an alley door down the street, get into a backyard and work my way over fences until I came to the empty house. Had anyone witnessed my antics, they would have surmised that I was a telephone man doing some repair work. Once I reached the designated house, it was easy to pry open the back door or window and get inside. A quick survey of all the rooms followed, including a check of the walls to determine how soundproof they were. Making sure all the doors were locked, I would descend to the basement, shut off the water mains and start the actual job. With a simple hacksaw, we had every piece of lead pipe removed from a three-story house cut and rolled up in small coils, ready to be sacked and hauled away, all in two hours. For the hauling part of the enterprise, we waited until dark, then dashed out, fetched the burlap bags and got the stuff to the junk dealers. If the junk dealer knew you had a big load, he would stay open for an extra hour or two and, in most cases, he would lend you a pushcart to haul the stuff.

At least once a week we would case a place, enter and strip it clean of its lead pipe and brass fittings. I felt exuberant with money in my jeans again. When President Hoover was having his picture taken in full Indian headdress for the cameras, we were sitting back in the plush comfort of the theaters, watching him in newsreels.

If I saw my mother on the street, I would hand her a ten-dollar bill, with the explanation that I had a very small job. She asked no questions, but always parted with, "I pray the Lord will look out after you."

A few blocks from where I lived was a huge, five-story warehouse. It was jammed into a block of warehouses. The big door was bolted, and dirt and garbage blown by the wind had collected in front of it. The odd thing about this particular warehouse was that it had dirty windows--a sure sign of no steady people around. It was impossible to determine what was in that warehouse. Trying to break in from the front was impossible. We circled the block and found an old garage that had a ladder running up the side of the building to the roof. Once on the roof, we were within a hundred feet of the back of the warehouse. Since it was Sunday, no one was around to watch our activities. We felt safe going from roof to roof, then prying open a window and entering the warehouse.

Inside, we were amazed at what we found. The warehouse was owned by George M. Cohan, the great Broadway theatrical man. Floor after floor was stocked with scenery from plays of bygone years. There were trunks and trunks of costumes and crates of wigs, shoes and slippers. We searched every floor, looking for some item that could be turned into a few dollars. We knew we couldn't sell big canvasses or 17th-Century costumes. We had no idea of what their value might be. All we knew was that lead pipe, copper wire and brass fittings brought a good price at the junk dealers.

We continued our hunt through the warehouse. On the first floor, we found what we were looking for. Hundreds of chandeliers were lying in neat coverings or linings. These we had to rip off and take to the junk man. The stripping might well take a week. With a pair of pliers, we slipped off the brass outer layer of the chandelier, leaving a crude, cast iron skeleton. We then flattened out the brass tubing, making it heavier, but smaller. This was the finished product to take to the junk dealer.

After about six hours of desecrating some beautiful art objects, we ended up with one-hundred-and-fifty pounds of brass fittings. Split two ways, the money only took care of our immediate needs. Three days of this hard work for peanuts produced a new idea: to strip the huge copper cables used in the freight elevator. Since copper fetched next to the highest price for junk (aluminum brought the highest), we decided to concentrate on the elevator cable. This meant bringing in another guy, since it was hard work ripping through walls and tearing up sections of flooring.

We had no trouble picking the guy we wanted, a 230-pound coal passer from Liverpool nicknamed "The Lip" for his ability to sit down with a group of men and say nothing during an entire evening, as well as for his silence of movement. He was intelligent and sharp when engaged in conversation, but we didn't want him for his intellectual capacities, nor for his ability to maintain a high degree of serenity. We pulled him into our group because of his strength and endurance.

As a threesome, we got along great. The first day together we ripped up a good section of flooring and a piece of wall and rolled up some 200 pounds of copper cable. We stuffed it into sacks and sneaked out the front door, fixing it so it would be easy for us to return the next day. For the next three days we worked like mules, tearing up the floor and tracing the copper cables. But in the midst of success, carelessness overtook us. One day we could not enter through the front door. There was some activity in front of the warehouse. Workmen were repairing part of the street and we did not want to be seen going in. Instead we sought the original way we had found entry, through the back of the warehouse.

Nothing seemed out of line until we were climbing through the window and, upon turning, saw some guy flying pigeons off the roof across the street. He watched us entering the building, then quickly turned and looked the other way. We entered anyway. An hour later, we heard footsteps upstairs that turned out to be those of two policemen and a detective. Looking out the front window and down into the street, we saw a police car stationed at each end of the building. No escape was left. The best we could do was to try and hide, creating the impression that we had gotten away somehow. Quietly, we hid behind some tall canvas scenery as the police came to our floor. They saw the prop machine gun we had set up on a tripod as a jest. They took it seriously and took out their guns. We held our breaths. We heard the cocking of pistols as they entered the loft cautiously. I moved my arm to take it out of sight. The slight touch on the canvas must have sounded like the winds of a tornado to them. They turned quickly, firing their pistols in the direction of the sound. Fortunately for us, either their aim was bad or they were deliberately firing over our heads. Plaster chips from the wall rained down on us. Even among the cops, panic ensued. One shouted, "Throw away your guns and come out with your hands up!" while another shouted that we should throw away our guns and stay put.

There wasn't much to do but ease out slowly with our hands raised over our heads. When I emerged from behind the canvas, I faced three members of New York's Finest waving blue steel revolvers in my face. The police found themselves let down when they discovered that, with no guns or knives, we were not the big-time crooks they had figured on meeting, but penny-ante junk collectors.

One cop, furious that we weren't armed to the teeth, shouted, "Whatcha do with the goddamn gun? Where's the gat?"

"We ain't got no guns," replied the Lip shakily. The cop growled at the Lip. The revolver still in his hand, he brought it smashing down to the Lip's ear. He reeled back from the blow, dropping his hands to his ear, which started spouting blood. In a second, the blood covered the side of his face and ran down onto his shoulder. The pain must have been excruciating; the Lip twisted his face and, still dazed, looked at the cops as if he expected another blow. We were sure to be next, but the fury of the cop had been spent with the blow he gave the Lip.

Having searched us, they led us down the stairs to the front door. Outside, the street was deserted, as most streets are on a late Sunday afternoon. At both ends of the street we could see police cars. Within minutes, the Black Maria came rolling along and we were on our way to the station house. The desk sergeant took a look at the Lip's ear and decided he should be driven to Bellevue Hospital to have it stitched up. Two hours later, he was returned to the station house with seven stitches across his ear and a bandage that made him look like a Turk in a dress parade.

We were told to sit down and wait until the desk sergeant got around to booking us. Sitting there, we watched the never-ending parade of faces that came into the station. Some were victims; others were "victimizers." One guy was being dragged in by two burly policemen. His nose was bloody and it was evident he had undergone some rough treatment. "He took a poke at Officer O'Hanlon," the cop said as he turned to the desk sergeant.

"Oh, he did now, did he?" the sergeant said. "So it's fighting with policemen you like, is it?" he shouted at the prisoner. "You sit down in that chair or I'll knock the living Jesus out of you." The prisoner sat a few feet from the sergeant, took out his handkerchief, and started to wipe away the blood on his face.

As each cop came in off his beat, he would stop to receive acknowledgement from the desk sergeant. Then, looking at the bloody prisoner, he would ask, "And what's with this one?"

"Oh, he's a fine one," the sergeant would reply. "He likes to fight cops. He took a few belts at Officer O'Hanlon."

"Oh, he did now, did he?" the cop would answer. Then, facing the prisoner: "So you like to beat up on policemen, now do you? Huh?" Then the cop would aim a blow at the prisoner. This went on for some fifteen minutes. Twice the desk sergeant had to help the prisoner off the floor and back to his seat, but he never made a move to prevent cops from slugging the prisoner if they felt like it. In fact, the prisoner seemed to expect to be belted by every cop that entered the station. We never did find out how that guy made out. He was still sitting there when we were led out to be fingerprinted and "mugged." Afterwards, we were placed in a cell to await transportation to the Tombs, a horrid monstrosity of stone and steel located downtown next to the courts.

Chapter II: The Tombs-The Trial, the Prison

There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for the courts to hear and dispose of your case. For the next four weeks, I was interviewed by parole officers, probation officers, members of the D.A.'s office, and all kinds of investigators who examined and cross-examined me.

My two buddies arrested with me were interned on a different floor. Apart from all of us meeting in court now and then, there was one other way to communicate, and most prisoners knew about it. On Sundays, the call would go out for services. At nine in the morning it was Catholic mass; at ten, Protestant services. We all attended mass and sat in the same pew. While mass was proceeding, we would carry on a conversation. Several times during mass, the priest would stop and demand that everyone "shut up" so that others could follow the sermon. When mass was over, we were led back to our tiers where we waited for five minutes until we heard the call go out for those wanting to attend Protestant service to line up. If anything was left over from the first round of conversation, we could fill in the gaps the second time around.

The meals at the Tombs were horrible. The standing rule at feeding time was that everyone had to be locked in his cell. Upon entering the Tombs, you were handed a spoon, a large bowl and a cup. All were made of aluminum. If you had any money, it was taken away at the admissions office and you were given aluminum money. That money was the exchange medium used at the commissary. Once a day, a commissary man came to each floor with a large basket of stuff such as combs, writing paper, pencils and candy bars. Once in a while, he sold some homemade sandwiches. With the latter, he never got past the first floor without selling out--unless, of course, they were so foul-smelling that no one wanted them.

One day, strangely, some prisoners reported their bowls missing. It took three weeks to discover that a thief was using the bowls to make aluminum money.

My cell was on the top floor. An area about five feet wide separated the cell door and the center bars. I could stand at these bars and look straight down four floors. The last floor bottomed out to a broad hall some 30 feet from any cell door. I could not see the cells on the three floors below me. All the windows were 30 feet high, and you could not see out of them because they were made of non-transparent glass running from the bottom floor clear to the top of the building. Bars ran straight up, then across every few feet like a ladder. You could only look toward the window and see the sunlight filter through or watch the sun fade and the dark of night appear.

The prisoners on the lower floor had been let out for their walk. I lay in my bunk just thinking, as I often did, when I heard some voices on the lower floor shouting in my direction: "Hey, man, you better come down from there before you get into trouble." I saw nothing. Again I heard a shout, "Come on down from there. Whatcha trying to do?"

Then I saw him. He was a tall man climbing up those bars carefully, hand over hand, putting one foot ahead of the other. He was almost at the top now. I got out of the bunk and walked outside my door to stand, transfixed, at my tier bars. I watched him climb up the last few feet to almost the top of my tier. Was he trying to escape? But there was no possible way for him to escape. I quickly looked over the situation, waiting for the last step he would take before he realized escape was impossible. Then he would have to start down again.

But no. He stopped for a moment, making a slight adjustment and turning with his back against the window. Then he took his hands from the bars and let the weight of his head direct his plunge to the hard steel floor four stories below. His head made a dull thud as it made contact; then he rolled over on his back and lay still. I couldn't believe it: I had watched a human being commit suicide. He had found his way out. He beat the rap, as they said later. In the five or six weeks I spent at the Tombs, three men took that route.

Below the steel deck was another floor of cells where they kept the real tough guys. We were just the foam of the beer when it came to petty crooks, but below that floor walked the toughest characters in the underworld.

One day I was coming up from the visitor's floor. As one guard handed me on to another through the long series of gates, he passed a bit of news to his cohort. "They just nabbed Mad Dog Coll." The mere mention of this gangster's name sent chills up anybody's spine. The police mentioned his name as if he were a saint.

That night we had hotdogs for supper. They were big and round and garlicky. Since I like hotdogs, I complained that two were not enough. But on the floor where Mad Dog Coll was locked up, it was a different story. First there was a banging of tin cups against the steel cell door bars, the traditional form of prison protest. Then they took the hotdogs and threw them out of the cells. One guard later told another, "There were hotdogs bouncing all over the place like ping-pong balls." Of course, this action brought the warden out immediately. Mad Dog was screaming his head off about the rights of prisoners and the inhumane treatment they were receiving by being served what he himself "would refuse to serve to pigs."

The warden, never one to offend a real first-class bottom-of-the-barrel hood like Coll, caved in. The whole tier of toughies was served hamburger steaks which were rushed in to them from several area restaurants. It served the rest of us right--for ten cents' worth of guts, we could have had hamburger steaks that night, too. From information I received later, Mad Dog was treated like a dignitary for the length of time he remained at the Tombs.

Four weeks had passed. I was becoming a veteran of the Tombs. I got a message: my two buddies were being deported back to England. A number of prisoners passed along the word, adding that they bade me good luck and farewell. Three days later I was told my trial would be the next day. My sister Kate had been visiting me once a week and had even managed to have a dollar placed in my account. It at least kept me supplied with Bull Durham. For the previous two weeks, Kate had been working to have the charges against me dropped. She found the office of George M. Cohan, owner of the warehouse we had ripped off, and with some persistence got an audience with him. For an hour she explained her brother's action and told him about our life and background. Cohan became convinced that we were ragpickers and not hardened criminals. He would do what he could to spring me.

I stood before the judge in the huge courtroom, feeling as comfortable as if I had been standing in the center of Macy's window at noon with my fly open. Some guy read off the charge to the judge. I was charged with unlawful entry, a charge I had already agreed to at an earlier appearance before a probation officer. I was assured at that time that the judge would take into consideration my admission of guilt and place me on probation. I thought this was my little secret and that before the end of the day I would be walking free along the streets.

The judge looked at me standing tensely against the rail. He picked up a sheet of paper from the bench. "In this letter from Mr. George M. Cohan, whose warehouse you unlawfully entered, damaging its contents and property, he proposes that leniency be shown you. He proposes that instead of imprisoning you, we permit you to serve in his employment. He will deduct part of your salary to compensate himself for damages."

I figured the next word out of the judge's mouth would be about probation, but I figured wrong. The judge continued. "Now, I have studied the probation officer's report and recommendations, and I must say that I disagree with them--as I disagree with Mr. Cohan's proposition. There is a time in everyone's life when he needs a shock to snap him out of his rut, and you, young man, are in a house-wrecking, junk-collecting rut. With all due respect to Mr. Cohan, I suggest he confine himself to what he does best--tap-dancing his way around Broadway--and leave the matter of criminal punishment to those trained to administer it. I therefore sentence you to serve one year in the New York City Reform School with the hope that upon your release you will alter your way of life."

That was it.

I was asked no questions. I stood there like a dummy, mute, staring at the judge's bench, trying to figure out the meaning of his little talk. A cop came over, handcuffed me quickly and walked me to a side door. I was on my way across the "Bridge of Sighs" that joined the courthouse to the prison. Within minutes I was back in my cell, truly disgusted. I was disgusted with myself because I had trusted the word of the probation officer who was "100 percent sure, positive, no doubt about it" that I would be placed on probation for leveling with the powers that be. How dumb I was! I was supposed to be street-wise, wise to the machinations of the police. I was supposed to be the "conner," not the conned. I trusted someone and got the dirty end of it. That's what made me furious with myself. I wasn't too concerned with the one-year sentence. I was too mad about my own incompetence to even worry about what that year could mean to me.

Two more weeks passed as I waited to be transferred to my new home. After six weeks at the Tombs, I would have welcomed Devil's Island. When the transfer finally happened, it happened quickly, right after breakfast one morning, at six-thirty. I was marched down to the Property Office to pick up a few items, then directed into a corridor where I was placed in handcuffs and leg cuffs, with a chain running from my feet to the handcuffs. I was handcuffed to another prisoner and thrown into a van for a ride to the railroad station. There it was time for another lineup and check-off. People stared at us with our pale, bleached skin, white from imprisonment. There were 40 of us, all youngsters, all looking sheepish. Women moved closer to men as if they feared an attack from one of us.

Two officers in state troopers' garb and nice polished boots met us. They exchanged greetings with the two New York cops escorting us from the Tombs. The troopers had their own handcuffs; the old ones were taken off and the new ones put on. Leg irons were removed and we were directed aboard the train. We had the whole car to ourselves. We sat back and enjoyed the scenery as we headed into the interior of New York State. At Middletown we were ushered out to form a line. As the train pulled away we began a slow march down a lane and over a few hills. The march felt good and refreshing. The clear country air was stimulating, a huge difference from the stifling air of the Tombs. As we came over a small hill we saw the reform school, a large, oblong building, part administration, part cell block. Tucked away behind the high wire fence stood the mess hall; attached to that was the recreation hall. In the distance, another three-story building was visible. That was the new cell block that was to contain my domicile. The cells were entered through a strong, solid door, with a four-by-four window at the top. Inside were a cot, one chair and a small piece of wood attached to the wall as a desk. The back of the cell was hard, steel wire mesh. Three feet from the mesh was a barred window. The guard walked this pathway every two or three hours. By pressing his club against the screen, he could easily detect if something was wrong with it.

When we arrived we were ushered into the warden's office and told to empty our pockets. The warden lectured us about our responsibilities. Next, we were ushered into another room for a set of fingerprints, a mug shot and a number that would replace our names for the duration of our stay. A stop at the doctor's office was followed by one at the clothing department. Next came a walk to the barber shop where some snot-nosed sonofabitch told us how important he was as a barber and how easily the razor could slip. In other words, you better understand that the barber is a real tough guy. After a shower I was assigned to a cell block. Then it was meal time.

On the tables, which seated 20, the food had been dished out. The menu was best described the way older inmates summed it up for new arrivals: "Monday, it's bread and gravy; Tuesday, it's gravy and bread, followed on Wednesday by bread and gravy." After everyone finished eating, they picked up forks and spoons and placed them on a tray before guards. You learned quickly to guard your eating utensils; some sonofabitch was always trying to snatch hardware to make shivs out of them.

I was assigned to a ditch-digging detail. We marched out after breakfast, crossed the main highway and walked about a mile across some fields. The ditches served to drain off the heavy rains that hit this part of the country. I was happy with the work and the pick and shovel felt good after weeks of being cooped up. The air and the work made me hungry, and I never allowed my plate to go to the dishwasher with any food on it. If seconds and thirds were available, I was there with my plate.

On the third day I was there, it rained so hard no one could be let out to the fields for work. We were confined to the recreation building, where we sat on wooden benches hour after hour until it was time to march to the mess hall. It was a rule that when cell blocks were being called out everyone maintain absolute silence. The guards sat on a platform where they could keep an eye on everyone. They carried sawed-off cue sticks. As we sat there, I continued to mumble out the side of my mouth to the guy next to me while the cell blocks were being called. I had no idea that the guard stationed at the door saw or heard me, but he did.

When it came time to pass through the door, I had to go past him. He stood up, raised his stick, and brought it down on my head with all his might. I winced with pain and turned to look at him. Down came the stick again. My hat fell off. He allowed me the courtesy of bending down to pick it up, then he brought the stick down a third time. My head burned, and it felt like blood was running down the side of my face. I tried to put the cap back on, but the lump on my head, which was the size of an egg, was so painful that I kept the cap in my hand. I looked the guard in the eye. He had enough meanness in him for a dozen guards. "When we say no talking, we mean just that. No talking. Next time we'll unscrew your head and hand it to you. Now git."

I was embarrassed. After all, it happened in front of most of the inmates. But in a way, it made a little hero out of me, because I did not whimper or throw my hands up or even back off when he hit me. I stood there and took my lumps, and the inmates liked that. I got winks and nods and all sorts of signals from guys that sympathized with me. In my cell that night, I read the whole book to the Lord, demanding he lay it on this screw. That was my initiation. It took a week for the lump to subside.

The hardest part of prison life was boredom. Almost equally hard was the pressure, not from the authorities, but from fellow inmates. In most penal institutions, guards act as arbitrators in beefs between you and the system. The prisoners are the ones who run the complex affair that is supposed to punish you and make you sorry you ever committed your crime. For example: an inmate works in the admitting department. He knows immediately how much money you bring with you into prison. If it looks like a large sum, he'll pass this information on to the clique he is a part of. They in turn will either cozy up to you for any goodies that may fall their way or set you up for "protection." In other words, it may cost you one carton of cigarettes or a box of candy bars per week to "protect you from attacks" by the "other mob." (The other mob may never even know you have money in the first place.)

I was lucky. I never had any amount of dough sizable enough to start a gang war, so I never went through the "gang identification" pains. In this joint, four groups reigned. The Italians formed the biggest clique; the Irish came second; the negroes third. The fourth group was the one with no dough to fight over. If there was anyone in the latter group handy with his hands in the ring, he was encouraged to come over to one of the bigger groups. His encouragement included free cigarettes, candy bars, soap and flattery. To have a hard-hitting fighter associated with a group added some notoriety and status to the group. Sometimes a grudge match would be staged with bets made, and the two hitters would belt each other's head off in the ring. After that, group tensions would die down. My group was the fourth, which was comprised of at least half the inmates.

The guards took the attitude that the more the prisoners fought among themselves, the less they would fight with the guards--the old divide and conquer routine: keep the groups apart, but when they feel too "big," slap them down a little. The guards knew of about 90 percent of the "protection" activities. But they did not interfere. To do so would have broken up some of the rackets, but it also would have created new tensions for the guards to cope with. Thus, the victim despised the establishment for doing nothing to make his stay at least tolerable, and he held in contempt the "prison racketeers" who preyed on him and filled his already-miserable life with additional tensions.

Generally, during the first few days in prison, someone would point out to you all the main players. "That ugly-looking bastard over there blowing smoke rings into the air is Choir Boy Donohue. He's the number one Irishman. See the stupid-looking dago with the black sideburns and his cuffs rolled up? That's Minelli, the "Shiv." He's head man for all wops and dagos in here." My new-found friend continued to explain the scene to me. "They're all a bag of shit if you ask me. On the outside, I bet I could take either one of them. If I was real mad I could take them both at the same time. They're both loud-mouthed punks." To play it safe, I learned to stay the hell away from the Choir Boy and the Shiv, since everyone knew there were too many "dark alleys" in prison.

Behavior on the inside is not so different from that on the outside. I found, after just a few days in the "slammer," that some prisoners didn't want to work. They could amuse themselves and enjoy life fully without stirring one inch. The mere mention of work was enough to bring a sour look of disgust to their faces. There were others who saw it as their main obligation to pass on two-thirds of their work to you. To do as little as possible, in their way of thinking, was to "beat the system." Any prison guard with a work detail would know within the first half-hour what kind of worker he was dealing with. I was rather fortunate since I like work and hate idleness. To do nothing in prison was a fate worse than death to me. Time dragged. No matter what the job was, no matter how miserable, no matter how dirty or hard it was, I managed to plunge right into it with something approaching gusto. The guards recognized this. Even when it was time to take a break or change partners, I stayed right in there. Word got around fast: I was not a "goldbricker."

Three months went by. I was made a trustee of the cell block. Sometimes it was more of a pain in the ass than it was worth. It was like being an office boy. One inmate would say, "Hey, Slim, give this book to Charlie in Cell 12. He'll give you one for me." You would go back and forth until Taps and lights out. Being a trustee did, however, give you a better insight into that world. The guards, of course, expected you to be their eyes and ears and to report to them any breach of discipline among the men. They are still waiting for my report.

One night, between rounds of the guard, two of the Italian mob at one end of the cell block traveled all the way down to the other end to lump up some guy. The rule was not to be caught out of your bed. I had already been given the information that these two characters were going to punch some victim around. The victim, on the other hand, expected them. When the guard had passed through and was locking the outer gate (which meant that he wouldn't be around for at least an hour), the two mob members calmly got out of their bunks and started walking down the corridor toward the victim. There was tension as everyone saw the movement and knew what it was all about. The victim occupied the top bunk. They approached him on both sides. In a second, fists were flying. The two mob members were slugging like mad, but they were surprised by the resistance they were receiving from the victim, despite his awkward position on the top bunk. He was kicking and punching, and the sound of the bunk being jostled reverberated throughout the cell block. Somehow the sounds reached the ears of the guard. There was a clanging of steel doors below the floor. The mobsters raced to get back in their bunks before the guard appeared on the scene.

"What's going on in here?" the guard shouted to me as he fumbled with the keys in the cell block door.

"Nuttin'," I said.

"What's all that goddamn racket I heard downstairs?"

"I didn't hear any racket," I replied.

He opened the door. Ten feet from the door stood the bunks where the mafiosi were lying. He came right to their bunks. "You guys been out of your bunks, right?"

"No, sir," one replied.

He turned to me. "These guys been out of their bunks, right?"

"No, sirree," I said as if I were surprised that he would even dare think such a thing.

"Why are you two panting like steam engines? Like you been running, huh? How come? Huh?"

The two mobsters lay there. The guard rested the tip of his club on the bunk. He wanted to use it, but he had to be provoked enough. I could feel the silence as the guard waited for the answer that wasn't coming.

"Oh, that's somewhat my fault," I said. "When I was walking past this bunk, I slipped and fell and almost turned it over. When it looked like it was going to roll over, this guy jumped down. That's why he's panting. He got all excited." It was strictly bottom of the barrel. The guard knew I was lying. But it was better than standing there with my mouth open and nothing coming out. The guard growled a few more words, then picked up his club and left. The confrontation was over. The mobsters thanked me, and the victim had kind words, too. As much as I hated the cheap punks ganging up on some weaker guy, I knew there was a law that rises above all others in prison: you never blow the whistle in favor of the establishment.

It didn't take too long to get to know the homosexuals in prison. In some prisons, there may have been some attempt to separate them from the rest of the prisoners. However, in this joint everybody was thrown together. What little protection offered them was their cell. I learned that there was no system that could not eventually be cracked. This was no exception. Take this one homosexual on my block. He occupied the first cell the guard opened when it was time to let the men out to the bathroom. It takes a mighty smart guard to recognize all the faces he comes into contact with in prison. The prisoners rely on his inability. After the guard opened the first cell door to let out the homosexual, he continued down the line, opening doors. The homosexual would come out and one of the men occupying one of the bunk beds in the corridor would exchange places with him. When the guard left the cell block, the homosexual would go into the bathroom and accommodate anyone in the corridor who had sexual desires for him. This took place at least once a month. I saw most of the young guys trail off one by one from the corridor to be accommodated. The guard was never the wiser.

The longest time you could be sentenced to serve in this place was 36 months. That sentence was usually handed down to guys who committed rape. You could almost tell what a man was in for by asking the sentence. If he said 36 months, you knew it was rape. Two years was car theft or the use of a gun. One year was burglary, unlawful entry, second-story man, soft-shoe artist, boosters, hoisters, con men, drunk rollers or bag grabbers.

One group of six guys stayed to themselves most of the time. Their story was one of special depravity. They would wait up late at night, guzzling cheap wine, waiting for the moment when the old, tired scrub women were on their way home from scrubbing floors all night. These punks would waylay one of them, drag her off into an unlit hallway and gang-rape her. They had been caught in such an act. As bad as the other prisoners were, none of them had any time for these characters. Although they were not lumped up on by the inmates, there was a special hatred toward them. It created a constant tension that felt like it could explode at any time.

One of the prison's legends was about some hood who had blown his brains out. He too was one who grabbed women off the streets at night and raped them in dark hallways. This particular time, the legend went, this hood wanted to see who he was raping, so he lit a match and discovered it was his mother. I heard about ten variations on this story and cannot vouch for any of them, but it was quite a commentary on our society.

Chapter III: A Prison Riot

I had been there about five months when it happened. A prisoner took off. The last anyone saw him, he was running like hell over a small hill in the direction of the train depot. Immediately the siren went off. It could be heard for four or five miles in any direction. The siren was to alert farmers or others in the surrounding area that a prisoner was on the loose. All prisoners were knocked off work and marched back to the recreation hall on the double. This allowed a greater number of guards to hop into their cars and give chase. It was in the middle of summer and stifling hot. Naturally, everyone hoped that the prisoner would make it. (In fact, he did make it--for three months, then he was caught.) We were confined to the recreation hall for the rest of the day. We lined up for lunch, came out, and were ushered back to the hall just to sit. It was boring and tedious.

The mobs had their own particular sections to sit in, and in the Italian section, a few of the guys got a little belligerent during a game. The guard on duty (nicknamed Flossie because he was so neat in his attire and poised in his demeanor that he appeared effeminate) walked down the aisle, pointed his club at a couple of rowdies and told them to calm down. Slowly he walked back to his high seat and sat down. A few minutes later he got up from his chair and moved rapidly toward the Italian section. Everybody watched him. He walked right up to the two guys who were arguing and climbed upon a bench. He stood, legs apart, between them. Raising his club, he shouted, "You dago sonofabitches better shut up. This is the last time I'm warning you. Goddamn ginny bastards." Then he walked back to his chair. Almost everyone had heard him.

Complete silence overtook the hall. Several hundred boys sat there motionless, all watching the Italian section. There was some kind of action brewing there, but we could only hear muffled voices. Heads were shifting; it looked like orders were going out to all wing commanders. Minutes turned into hours. Finally came the command to prepare for dinner. It consisted of small pieces of lamb in gravy with mashed potatoes. The routine serving of prunes filled separate bowls. The bread plates were stacked high, as usual. I had no idea what, if anything, would happen. As I moved my plate toward my body, I felt a jarring of the table. The prunes in the bowl started to shake. A crash at the other end of the mess hall made me look up just in time to see a table standing on end and everything rolling off it. Tables were being upturned on both sides of the mess hall. My table rose up and food came sliding off. In the next instant, guards were beating guys to the floor with their clubs. From the far end, where most of the Italian leaders were sitting, came screaming and yelling. The guards were most active there, since that's where the riot started. A guard was hit in the face with an aluminum plate. His nose started to bleed and he fell to his knees, shouting for help. Some guards ran to his aid, and without determining the ones responsible, launched into all the boys with their clubs, hitting anyone within a few feet of the injured guard.

In my section, the guard stood where he was, shouting, "Up against the wall with your hands up."

Guards on their way out the main gate, heading home, heard the commotion and came running back. The siren went off, calling back any guards who had left the premises. The beatings increased in intensity. The guards, especially those at the other end of the hall where the rioting had started, were bringing their clubs down on head after head. Boys with their hands raised in surrender were clubbed into unconsciousness. The guards near our section were chafing to let themselves go as well. I'm sure that only the appearance of the deputy warden, a big Irishman named Sullivan, saved us from having our heads bashed in. Taking in the situation with one glance, Sullivan shouted to the guard nearest me, "Get these guys out to the yard so we can isolate the rest."

Another guard standing close by started to panic. He pulled out his revolver. Sullivan shouted, "Put that away before someone takes it off you!" The guard sheepishly reholstered his gun.

We were led off to the yard with our hands over our heads and made to stand in line within earshot of the bedlam inside. Guys came out of the mess hall in small groups to join the quickly-established single-file lines. Within fifteen minutes, all those able to walk out had been assembled and stood facing one direction with their hands over their heads.

The hospital staff came through the gate with stretchers and first aid equipment and went into the mess hall. Another orgy of beatings was started by the guards. No longer was it confined to a few of the Italian mob. It spread to guys in every group with which the guards had ever had any trouble. Up and down the line they walked, looking at every face. As soon as a guard decided that someone was to be lumped, he struck him across the face with his hand, then beat him across the head and back with his club. Any other guard close by might join the clubbing. Sometimes three guards clubbed one inmate. As soon as the guy was on the ground and showed signs of unconsciousness, they would leave him and continue up and down the line, looking for other victims.

The guard who had belted me over the head a few months earlier walked past me three times, looking me directly in the eye. I felt sure that he was debating whether to pull me out of the line and beat me into unconsciousness. Instead he yanked guys out all around me. Already some 35 inmates lay unconscious. When the orgy died down and the guards were satisfied they had singled out all the ringleaders and anyone else with influence, they went into a conference. As they discussed the situation, the stretcher bearers raced through the gate, transporting the victims to the hospital. At first they were simply bandaging the injured. Now they worried about getting the fallen away from the guards.

For the next two hours, we remained in the same position, hands over our heads. In the interim, the siren blared the all clear wail to anyone on the outside who might have been interested. Cell blocks were called, and away we marched to be locked up for the night. From my cell position, I was able to see the top floor of the administration building in the distance. The hospital was located there. All the lights were on. Every bed was occupied and cots were placed three deep to accommodate the injured. A doctor from town was called in to help. Of the inmates, three had suffered skull fractures and 35 required stitches in their heads. And the casualty list went on and on. It was a miracle of sorts that people could be beaten so savagely without anyone getting killed. It was not because the guards didn't try. Their eyes had been bulging out of their heads, either in ecstasy or terror, as they swung their clubs down on the heads and backs of the inmates.

Early the next morning, as the cell doors were opened for men to wash up, word got around: "No outgoing letters to be dropped in the box by anyone. Letters will be handed to the tier block trustee for depositing." This measure was being taken in case anyone was trying to communicate with outside authorities. No one had mentioned what the next event would be in this drama. Once in the mess hall, we didn't have to wait long to find out. Apart from sounds of shuffling feet and scraping benches, no other sound could be heard. The guys who had gone in earlier sat mute and motionless at the tables. Their hands were in their laps. I took my place at the table and did the same. We sat at the table for 30 minutes, staring at the food, our stomachs growling. Nobody touched a crumb--a great achievement since no advance notice had been given about the hunger strike.

When the guards were finally convinced that no one was going to eat, they marched us out into the yard, then into the recreation hall, where we sat until noon. No one was allowed to work. We were herded into the mess hall again, where the morning's scene was repeated. We sat mute and motionless. The sounds of growling stomachs grew like a brewing thunderstorm, but no one touched a thing. Ironically, that noon menu was extra special, something which had never happened before. Each plate held two of the most beautiful pork chops imaginable, with applesauce on the side and an orange next to the plate. It was a treat for hungry eyes. The enticement did not work; nobody finked.What strength the guys showed!

Out we went to the recreation hall again. I wondered how long this could go on. About mid-afternoon, two numbers were called out. The numbers belonged to the leading characters of the Italian and Irish mobs. They left the hall under an escort and headed for the warden's office. Later I learned what took place in the warden's office. Present at the session were the warden, the deputy warden, the chief of the guards, Minelli the Shiv and Choir Boy Donohue. The warden began by saying that he wanted to end the mess and get the institution back in order. Minelli, sitting nervously facing the warden, quickly started to speak. "My people was insulted. My people was called wops and dagos and bastards by your guards. We may be your prisoners, Mr. Warden, but we don't have to take that kind of talk. No, sir."

"Yeah," Donohue said. "Something has to be done with that guard called Flossie. Last week he insulted one of my fellows by saying the Irish are lower than pigs, and we ain't forgot that."

The chief guard spoke up and accused both Minelli and Donohue of lying and of being the fomentors of the riot. He ended up by telling them they better shape up or there would be another 75 men sent to the hospital. Donohue replied that if they wanted to send 75 more men to the hospital, that was one thing, but nobody had the right to insult a person's religious or native background, or their parents by calling the inmates bastards. Minelli repeated what Donohue said, then added that the inmates were also mad because the food was not good. Something should be done about the food, he said. The chief guard again berated the two spokesmen and accused them of deliberately planning to injure guards. He pointed out that, as a result of the riot, one of the guards received a broken nose and a split lip when he was hit in the face with a metal dish, and two guards were under doctors' care for shattered nerves. The guards were not about to forget this riot, and the inmates better toe the mark--or else.

The scowls on the faces of Minelli and Donohue were quiet evidence that warned the warden that at this stage nothing would be solved by this meeting. The only result would be a strengthening of the inmate's adamant positions. The warden told the chief guard to calm down. "All right," he said. "Let's say that some mistakes were made. Where does that leave us now? We want to end these tensions as quickly as possible. Yes, I will agree that no one in authority here has the right or privilege to castigate any inmate or verbally abuse him with profanity, nor insult his national background. I promise you now, and you know my word is my bond, that I will immediately investigate your charges, and if there is one inkling of truth to it, I will take disciplinary action against the guard responsible.

"As you can see, I'm being as fair as I can in this situation. I hope you see it it that way. I have an institution to run. No one has been sent here because he's an angel. But one thing we won't tolerate here is rioting--damaging city or state property, or violence against men sworn to uphold lawful authority. I promise you again that I will look into the charges you made and take stern measures if they prove to be true. All I ask in return is that this institution return to normal immediately, and that if there are further problems, you will sit down and talk them over with me. How about it?"

Minelli looked at Donohue, and without either saying a word to the other, Minelli replied that he would use his influence to get things back to normal. Then he asked, "But how about the food?"

"I promise you, if it is as you say it is, I will try to improve it immediately." The warden rose, signaling an end to the meeting.

By the time the two mobsters returned to the recreation hall, it was almost dinner time. Guards were in huddles everywhere. They were receiving news of the meeting and its outcome. Word among the inmates was being spread, too. Two words were sufficient enough to indicate that the inmates had won: "We eat." What we had won, none of us was sure.

For the next ten days, the food was jazzed up a little. It tasted better and there were more meat and green vegetables on the menu. For the next month Flossie was isolated from the main artery of inmate life and relegated to overseeing a handful of the sick, lame and lazy in the minor duties they were assigned. The administration also played a psychological trick on us in the next ten days. The injured, after being released from the hospital, wore huge bandages, and the administration put them on display. A special table was set up for them in the mess hall. Always in sight, they weren't allowed to communicate with the rest of the inmates. Within a week, the handful grew until it looked like a small army. Always, the head bandages made them stand out. Several weeks later, when they were finally integrated back into the rest of the inmates, we learned that 90 percent of them had no more than a lump on the head. They had not been able to communicate this. They all seemed to be in bad shape; the administrators had scored a point.

It took about two weeks before everything was back to normal. Then the food started to taste lousy again, the mobsters went back to their guerilla tactics on the newcomers and the guards fell back to scowling and growling at the inmates. The showing of a weekly movie was revived, however, with the showing of "Up in Isabel's Room." The female star surely raised morale a bit by showing her upper limbs and the cleavage of her bosom. As one guard said to another, "I'll bet there'll be a lot of bed pounding tonight."

A series of jobs within the institution were sought after. They were the "cream" jobs, the goodies, jobs like electrician, plumber, baker, and fireman. When I arrived at the joint, I had filled my card out with a list of jobs I most preferred: boiler room jobs or jobs requiring the use of tools, like plumber or electrician. About three weeks after the riot, it so happened that the plumber went home. The next morning, while I stood in the yard lineup to go out and dig more ditches, my number was called. Up to the main gate I went. The deputy warden, Sullivan, waited until I approached and removed my hat.

"Because of your good work and your ability to keep your ass out of the wringer here, you're being assigned to work with the plumber. I don't want to hear any complaints about you or of any funny business going on. I expect you to do a good job. You come highly recommended by all the guards you work with. Make one mistake and I throw you back to one of those guards, and you know what will happen to you. So get in there and do a good job."

I thanked him, as was the custom, and walked over to the guard who was a deputized officer and a qualified plumber. This job was considered a plum. The plumber was a first-rate guy. He was an excellent craftsman who knew his tools and their uses and taught me much. My only complaint was that we did not work long enough to fill the long periods of idleness. I was with the plumber for a week when a representative of the Italian mob contacted me. "Hey, plumber. We wanna get a dozen hacksaw blades. We wanna get `em tomorrow, see? Now don't forget. Remember, see? The boys want `em tomorrow, get me?" The sniveling runner for Morelli looked at me like I was infected with mange and backed off smoothly.

It gave me something to ponder. The shop contained hundreds of small cubicles that held parts and pieces of everything necessary to maintain a plumbing business. At this point, there was no record kept of the number of hacksaw blades used or what happened to the old ones when they were discarded. One thing I knew: the plumbing shop was the only place around where hacksaw blades could be found. That meant that if anyone was caught with a hacksaw blade it could be traced directly to the plumbing shop. I didn't want any part of this operation. I disliked the mobsters for what they were--cheap, pimpy characters who were enjoying the better life at the expense of someone else. Screw the bastards. I thought up a plan.

I took three old blades and meticulously reduced them to one-inch pieces. There's very little anyone would want to attempt with a one-inch piece of hacksaw blade. I slipped about six pieces into my pocket. That evening, when I entered the yard after work, I was contacted by the little grinning idiot. "You got the goods?" he asked. I reached into my pocket and handed him the pieces.

"Hey," he said, surprised, "whatcha got here?"

"That's the way I get them," I said. "The guard personally destroys all the used blades and the new blades are under lock and key. Besides, all the blades must be accounted for. There's absolutely no chance of getting a complete blade."

Back at the shop, I took all the old blades and destroyed them. The guard saw me doing it one day. "What's that all about?" he asked.

"I just want to make sure that I'm not held responsible for any blade ending up in hands other than the plumber's," I replied. He understood without elaboration.

Weeks flew by. On Monday mornings, every inmate passed a small platform outside the entrance gate to the yard and mess hall. Monday morning was when inmates due for release went home. These guys were awakened early, dressed in their "outside" clothes, given an early breakfast and made to stand on the platform so they could wave goodbye to all their friends. I had about seven more weeks before I, too, would stand there, making my farewells.

A month or two before one's sentence was up, he had the right to write a letter to the parole board asking for some time off for good behavior. A form letter was available, but after reading it I decided it was too mechanical and cold. I sat down and wrote my own short letter: "I have learned my lesson. I promise to all that I'll never return to this place. I ask for you consideration in allowing me my release before the expiration of my sentence. Thank you." Everyone said that a short note like that wouldn't get to first base. But ten days later it was announced that I was to get two weeks off. It surprised everyone, including the guards, since the parole board was not inclined to be liberal since the riots.

A few days before my release, I spent a lot of time thinking about the joint I was in and what was expected of me when I came out. There was no doubt in my mind about my sincerity of the pledge I had made to the parole board. Never, and I meant never, would I allow myself to end up in a joint like this again. It wasn't the guards or the treatment administered by those who ran the institution that shook me up--it was the inmates, my cell brothers. Their drive to be something they were not on the outside--small-time czars--filled me with the determination never to be placed again in a position where I would have to mingle with such scum.

I shed no tears when I stood on the platform the day I went home. It was different from the last train ride I had taken: no chains, no handcuffs, no guards, no people gaping at me as if I were some animal from another planet. There were two other guys with me. We reported to the parole officers as soon as we pulled into New York City. After signing a slip of paper, we received from the Treasury, on behalf of the people of New York City, the sum of $5.00. The parole officer listed things we could do, followed by a bigger list of things we could not do for fear of landing back in the slammer.

It was nice to be free, but it was also peculiar in a way. For almost a year, I had known that precisely every day of the week at a precise hour, I would walk to a mess room table covered with food, rain or shine. That had ended. Now it was shift and maneuver and scout around on my own again, understanding that there was only one law, the law of survival.

Chapter IV: Trip on the Hungry Ship

The restrictions placed on one when leaving jail are tremendous. I reported to a parole officer once a week. I was constantly asked about my habits. "Do you see any of your old friends? If so, do they engage in any unlawful activities? Have you looked for work? Where? What are your prospects? What are your social habits? How many shows did you see last week? Where did you get the money? Do you have a girlfriend? Where does she work? Do you sleep with her? What time do you go to bed? What time do you get up?"

I walked around the streets feeling like someone was always looking over my shoulder, waiting for me to make one mistake that would let them haul me right back. I found myself disassociating myself from old friends. I walked past the old pool hall, fearful that if I walked in to say hello, the wagon would be around to haul me away. At home the pressure started again, too: "Get a job or back you go."

The parole officer did not want to listen to any complaints about pressure from the family. He would say, "Keep looking and stay out of trouble." He would deem it a pleasure to send me back for another stretch. Once in a while he'd feel sorry if I wasn't eating too well and hand me a few meal tickets for Beefsteak John's in the Bowery--ten tickets, each good for a fifteen-cent meal. "It's the best I can do," he'd say. He had no jobs to offer. "Just keep looking and report back." A month passed. There was no progress to report. Just managing to stay out of jail was progress, I thought. I told him I heard there were jobs on coal colliers sailing out of Boston. Would it be okay to travel up there? Sure, he said. Just write him a letter every two weeks reporting my whereabouts and progress. I think he was glad to see me go.

I packed a few things, said goodbye to the family and took off for the Boston Post road. Hitchhiking wasn't bad. In several short rides, I was halfway there on the first night out. Since it was summer, it was nice sleeping on the side of the road. I had a sister living in New London. I decided to stop in and see her on my way to Boston. That afternoon, I arrived unexpectedly at Isabelle's doorstep. She was glad to see me and offered me a good supper, a bath and a nice bed to sleep in. Next morning she served a hearty breakfast, gave me a 50-cent piece and I was on my way.

I arrived in Boston in the late evening and got a room at the Seamen's Mission. New arrivals were always good for at least a week's free lodging. I was disappointed to learn that shipping in Boston was the same as in most other seaports--terrible. The harbor was full of laid-up ships. Most of them were coal colliers. So now what should I do? Hang around and wait? Pick up my stakes and try somewhere else? But where else? Seamen were reporting no jobs in any port. I decided to hang around.

When the week was up at the Seamen's Mission, I had to find other lodging. I went down to the wharf to watch the fishing fleet come in. Most of the boats were known as beam trawlers, all steel-hull boats made to survive any kind of weather. They were discharging huge halibut they had caught off the shores of Newfoundland. "Hey, pal," I shouted to a fisherman, "any chance of a fish?"

He threw me a 20-pound halibut. I went off to a poor neighborhood. A knock at a door brought a prospective customer. "I need 50 cents for a night's lodging. Care to buy my fresh fish so I can have a place to sleep tonight?" For the next two months, that was the way I got lodging money. There was always a fisherman who would oblige and a housewife who would buy. Several times I got the 50 cents without the person buying the fish. That was extra money.

Eating during the day was not too difficult. In the working-class section of Boston, especially in Little Italy, all the delicatessens were owned by Italians. It was easy to walk into any one of them and ask, "Any chance of some bologna and bread?" And that's exactly what you would get, a half-loaf of bread and some bologna or cheese. I don't think anyone ever refused a handout. The only rule was that you never went to the same place a second time. There were so many of them it would have been an insult to repeat. Between the Italian delicatessens and the sympathetic fishermen, life was not so bad. I continued to write my parole officer, always assuring him that I was "getting closer" to a job.

I went aboard almost every ship that arrived in Boston, searching for work. If I couldn't get work, perhaps I could get a meal. After three months of this, the weather started to get cold. I heard a rumor that a ship called the John Jay was laying in the shipyard nearly ready to take on a crew. The chief engineer was at his desk in his office. He looked nasty, and had probably been up all night drinking, without benefit of sleep. "Can you fire a boiler?" he asked.

"Sure can," I replied.

"Okay, be aboard at midnight to take the twelve to four watch. Have your clothes with you because we sail at eight."

That afternoon I bummed three empty wooden cigar boxes from a friendly man at the United Cigar store, then spent the next several hours walking the streets, picking up cigarette butts until all three boxes were filled.

The John Jay was built during World War I. She had not seen any wartime duty. Her maiden voyage had been scheduled close to the end of the war, but as she steamed from the shipyard to her new berth, she ran aground on a sandbar in the river. With her back broken and the war at an end, it was decided to tow her to the nearest lay-up point and leave her there. A number of years later someone found a new use for her. She was taken to the yard, underwent some repairs and was declared seaworthy again. Or so they thought.

On our trip, we were to travel empty to some Gulf port, pick up a load of wheat, cotton or some other bulk commodity and then proceed through the Panama Canal to China. It sounded great. It was just what we all needed, a nice long trip to sea, a time to get some good chow into us and end up with a good payoff. It didn't turn out that way.

We pulled out of Boston Harbor jubilantly, just in time to escape the hard, cold winter winds already blowing down from Nova Scotia. The first surprise came at the mess table. The mess boy came in from the galley and reported that we had eaten the allotment of food for supper. There were no seconds. A few of the men grumbled, but nothing more. We stuffed ourselves with bread. Next came the surprising information that the captain did not carry a slop chest on board. That meant nothing to buy at reduced prices, including cigarettes. "We'll pick up a complete slop chest in New Orleans," we were told. Now I was popular; In my spare time I broke up the cigarette butts I'd picked up on the streets of Boston and rolled them into cigarettes. Most of the crew knew I had tobacco, and sooner or later they would all bum me for a touch. I guarded it jealously.

The third and most devastating surprise came when we tried to speed up the engine. We found that the boilers were in such poor shape that bringing them up to top pressure would endanger us and the ship. So the boiler pressure was reduced. Thus the engine could produce no more than five or six knots instead of the expected thirteen or fourteen. That wasn't even enough to produce good ventilation in the engine room. Since the trip was going to take longer than expected, and since the boilers were leaky and required extra fresh water, our water for personal use was cut down to one bucket a day. The steward had the men line up in the morning at the pump with their buckets. Usually the men in the engine room bathe twice a day, each time they come off watch. We, however, had to reuse the water the second time around and then save the dirty water to wash our clothing. There was plenty of saltwater to use, but without saltwater soap on board, it was only good for rinsing.

We moved down the coast at a snail's pace, hugging the coastline for our own protection. Each watch brought new leaks in the boiler tubing, and each leak brought a reduction in boiler pressure. When we reached the coast of Florida, we were just making steerage. With the heat in the boiler and engine rooms reaching new heights, the lack of fresh water, a meager diet of poor food and constant bickering among the officers about responsibilities, the lid was ready to blow off.

Someone had the bright idea to throw a line off the stern end and fasten it to a bit on board. We attached a sharp hook covered with a white dish towel and trolled it in the wake. For two days we looked astern and watched as the hook trailed behind us. Then, just as we were passing the Florida Keys, a barracuda grabbed the hook. There was much excitement as men ran off to assist in hauling in the fish. "Careful, men," shouted the boatswain. "Let's not lose the sonofabitch. Remember, he's our supper."

We got him aboard. He was a fighting fish, a good five or six feet long. Once on the deck, he fought fiercely to get back into the water. His tail slashed back and forth. No one volunteered to take the hook out of his mouth. We stood looking at this giant in amazement, fighting for his life in this strange environment. Then the hook fell out of his mouth. His leaps off the steel deck seemed to be getting higher and higher. One more good leap and he would be back in the sea. "Do something, you guys; our supper is getting away!" shouted the boatswain, who managed to remain a respectful distance from the tail of the barracuda.

Two men grabbed fire axes from their racks and, without a moment's hesitation or regard for their own safety, started to chop at the head of the fish. Within a few moments, this terror of the seas lay dead on the deck. I found myself feeling sorry for him.

An hour later, it was supper time. We were supposed to have a beef stew for supper. The mess boys brought in the food. It was potatoes and baked barracuda. "Where's the beef stew?" one of the crew members asked.

"The steward said he's holding the beef stew for tomorrow, now that you have the barracuda to eat," the mess boy replied. This was followed by grumbling among the crew. Voices were becoming louder and louder. Two men got up to confront the steward about his policy of small portions of food. There were threats. Someone remarked that the steward could easily fall overboard while walking around the deck at night. From then on he locked himself in his room after the evening meal was served and the galley was locked up.

It was now a struggle between the system that was starving us to death and survival. If the law of physics demands that for every action there must be a reaction, it was soon to take place. I watched my mate, Fitzpatrick, the water tender, work in silence while leaning over the bench in the workroom. From a few feet away, I could see that he was filing something he had clamped in the jaws of a vise. He rubbed it vigorously with sandpaper. My curiosity got the best of me. "What's going on?" I asked, approaching him from behind.

"This is my answer to those belly-robbing bastards," he said. He was working on a key--in fact, several keys that would open a big brass padlock. "Do you know what the officers had to eat for supper while we were eating the lousy barracuda?" he asked. Without waiting for my reply he said, "They were eating a roast leg of lamb. How about that? Well, I got news for those bastards. They're playing the wrong game with the wrong guy. I've lost ten pounds already, and I don't intend to pull into New Orleans and have to be taken ashore in an ambulance because of starvation."

It was one in the morning. Everyone but the man on watch was asleep. Fitzpatrick grabbed a bucket and headed for the upper deck to the ship's ice boxes. In the quiet of the night, he manipulated the keys he had made into the lock until he heard a click. The lock opened. The ice box was stuffed with food. He loaded the bucket with fresh eggs, baloney, cheese and fruit. Re-locking the door, he found his way back to the boiler room. We stuffed ourselves with boiled eggs and other goodies, then hid the rest of the food below the floor plates, where they were safe until we returned to the boiler room for our next watch. We also enjoyed my collection of fine and rare tobaccos.

Unfortunately, on his third trip to the ice box, Fitzpatrick found that the locks had been changed. Our emergency rations outlet had come to an end.

We were lucky in avoiding storms. The weather was hot and the sea calm. Most of us had predicted that we would be sending out an S.O.S. for tugboats to come and tow us to port, but the boilers managed to hold together as we sailed past the Florida Keys and entered the Gulf of Mexico. The skipper accused the chief engineer of being incompetent, now that our speed was reduced to four and a half knots. The chief engineer accused the three assistant engineers of not knowing their business and told them they were all fired upon arrival in the first port. The cook accused the steward of hoarding the food and being incompetent in running the catering department. The steward told the cook he was fired when he hit port. The third deck officer was the son of the captain. The captain accused him of being more interested in taking sunbaths to look nice and tanned for his woman friends than he was in navigating and running a tight ship. The son told the father to go to hell and that he was quitting when the ship hit port.

The steward was maintaining tighter precautions for his safety. He was spending less time in the galley and more time in his locked room. Every time he appeared in the galley, the cook started to sharpen his cleaver. No words were exchanged between them.

Tobacco was disappearing and the men were getting edgy. Even my small supply of butts was down to a trickle. I was rolling them smaller, and there was always someone right there to share a smoke as soon as I lit up.

It was easy to watch, day by day, the radicalization of the crew. At first the protest was just a murmur that soon turned to loud grumbling, ending in verbal abuse and threats against those in command. One day, two engineers left a bucket of dirty clothes outside the door of the wiper's room. This meant that the wipers were to wash the clothes and deliver them clean to the engineers. Had this occurred the first or second day, the clothes might have been washed. But this was the tenth day of the voyage. Bucket and clothes were picked up and thrown overboard.

The dream of a long, beautiful trip to China with a big pay-off was blowing up in our faces as we moved deeper into the Gulf of Mexico and closer to New Orleans. The engineers, knowing now that they were fired on arrival, paid less attention to their duties. They reported to the engine room to stand their watches but did a minimum of repair work. A sanitary line used to flush the toilets was constantly breaking down and had to be repaired. That, too, was ignored. Instead, a bucket had to be thrown over the side to obtain the water to flush. "No spare parts" was the excuse of the engineers.

It was midnight Saturday when we worked our way up the Mississippi River, pulled alongside a grain dock and tied up. Word got around that we would be paid off Monday morning, that all crew members had been fired and that a new crew would show up during the pay off. We had our Sunday morning breakfast, then most of us went aft to our fo'c's'le to loll around. The chief engineer and chief mate came to the fo'c's'le. "All right. Everybody turn to. We have work to do. Prepare the storeroom to take on stores." No one moved.

"Well, you guys gonna move? You're still on the payroll, you know. So let's get with it." Still no one moved.

The mate looked threateningly at the crew. "You heard the order," he said. "Now let's turn to."

"Hey, mate," said one of the crew. "This is Sunday, and we're in port, and I'm a Catholic and I'm gonna visit my church for mass."

"All right, you can go. But the rest of you men turn to."

"I'm a Catholic, too," said another voice from the far end of the fo'c's'le. Soon we all joined in.

Defeated, the two officers stepped outside the fo'c's'le for a moment. Then the mate returned. "All right. But everybody better be on board at eight in the morning to receive stores."

We were jubilant over our victory. Though none of us had any money, we nevertheless dressed and went ashore. Anything to get away from that ship. (No one did go to church.) Monday, after breakfast, we learned that pay off would be at one, the time when the new crew was to come aboard. It didn't matter to us, since our pay ended at noon. Three trucks, loaded with ship's stores, were waiting for us as we left the messroom after a breakfast of fried liver, fried potatoes, oatmeal and stewed prunes.

Both storerooms, the engine room and deck stores, were located in the bow on the port side. The crew's quarters were located on the starboard side. The John Jay's bow was so curved that if you stood on the fore deck you had to extend yourself far over the rail to see the anchor. The storerooms, as well as the crew quarters, had very large port holes. In fact, they were large enough for a man to crawl through. The way the John Jay was docked, the storerooms were on the offshore side.

The stores were loaded onto a pallet board from the dock, hauled aboard by the ship's gear and landed outside the entrance to the forepeak. All we had to do was pass the stores hand to hand until the two men in the storeroom had stored it. The chief engineer and the chief officer stood on the dock as the goods came off the trucks. They checked their list against that of the trucker, then watched as the stores were hauled aboard. They were items like buckets, fire axes, shackles, turnbuckles, lanterns and parts and pieces to keep the ship operating.

My watchmate, Fitzpatrick, and a sailor known as the "Philadelphia Terror" were closeted in the storeroom handling the storage. As I passed the items from the pallet board to the next man, I could hear a faint plop-plop sound. Something was hitting the water. I continued passing the stores. Within two hours we had cleared three trucks of their stores. I went into the storeroom to talk with Fitzpatrick. The storeroom was empty! These two guys had taken all the stores that came aboard and casually tossed them out the port hole into the Mississippi River.

The storeroom was secured with huge padlocks. After lunch we eagerly awaited the payoff. The agent boarded with a briefcase full of dough, and within minutes we were called one by one into the salon. For the 23 days I was on the vessel, I was paid $26, or about $1.15 a day.

An empty feeling takes hold of the stomach when leaving a ship for good. Maybe it's because your security, no matter how minor, is kicked from under you. I collected my belongings, threw them into a pillowcase and headed for the gangway, just in time to see a tall guy working his way up. I waited until he stepped aboard. "Where's the chief engineer's room?" he asked.

I pointed in the direction of his room, then asked, "Are you one of the firemen?"

"Hell, no," he said. "I'm the new chief engineer."

After that, going down the gangway wasn't so bad. In a few seconds, the old chief engineer would get the shock of his life. The dumb bastard had no idea he would be given the axe, just like he had given it to the rest of us.

Chapter V: Conned by a Whore and a Company Lawyer

I found myself in a sleazy hotel in the French Quarter after paying the sum of $1.50 for a week's rent. I stowed my gear and headed for one of the restaurants in the area. A t-bone steak dinner cost 40 cents. I figured I had enough money to last two weeks and live comfortably, to boot. Since the area was adjacent to the whorehouse section, perhaps a look around would be in order.

They sat at the windows, their arms resting on the sashes, baking in the hot sunlight and talking to everyone who passed. "Hey, boy," one called out to me. "How about a trip around the world, only a dollar? Money back guaranteed. Hey, boy, you can't go wrong on that, huh? Come on in here and let Leila take you on a big trip."

I figured that perhaps this was the only `round the world trip I was ever going to take. Hell, why not, especially with a money-back guarantee? How could I go wrong? It's fair to say that every kid must get his fingers burned once or twice so he'll learn respect for fire. She demanded the dollar straight off. "Now, see that little ole clothes rack over there?" she pointed to the far end of the room. "You go hang your pants on that hook so they won't get all wrinkled up, then hurry back here."

It was several hours later at a coffeehouse when I discovered that my wallet was no longer weighted down with the small fortune I had earlier. Ten dollars were missing. The adrenaline pounded through my head. I mentally retraced my steps, then focused on the events at the whorehouse. Of course, that's where it had disappeared. Someone on the ship had told me about an experience he'd had once where a small door was rigged at the clothes rack. He had seen a hand reach out from the partition and rifle the pants hanging on the rack. That's exactly what had happened to me. I was furious--above all, at my own stupidity. To hell with it, I thought. I'll go back and demand my ten dollars. Off I stormed. En route I started to cool off. I concluded that the whore had a perfect right to roll me if I was that stupid. Hell, they barely made enough to live on why shouldn't they try for a little extra? Okay, then, I would work out a compromise with her: just give back five dollars, half the bundle.

She must have seen me coming, pulled in the shutters and closed the window. By the time I reached the door, a policeman was standing just a few feet away. I quickly realized that I was pursuing a lost cause. If I tried banging on the door or creating a scene, the cop would protect her interests; I would get stomped on and land in the slammer. Back in the hotel room, licking my wounds, I recounted my diminishing bundle. I was down to ten dollars and some change. The idea of sticking around New Orleans, waiting for another ship, no longer appealed to me. I knew that as soon as the last cent was gone I had to get out of town. Climbing aboard another string of boxcars held no more charm for me.

Two days later I was eating breakfast in a cheap restaurant when this red-headed guy, slightly older than me, sat down next to me. We quickly got into a conversation. He wanted to leave town quickly. He didn't care where he went, just so it was far away from New Orleans. I told him I was going down to one of the Morgan Line ships to try working passage to New York. He might try that, too.

The El Isleo was still discharging the last of her cargo when I climbed aboard, found the mate, and nearly begged him to take us on board to work our passage to New York. "Do you know how many men I already have on board doing just that?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Twelve. There's not enough spare bunks for them, and the steward is complaining about the cost of feeding so many extra hands."

I waited and listened to him talk. The more he talked the bigger my frown grew. "Well," he said finally, "what the hell. If seamen can't stick together and help each other out, then who can? Two more men won't sink the ship. Get your stuff and come aboard and find your own place to flop. We're sailing sometime tomorrow morning."

My new-found friend and I were happy that we had made the deal. I'm sure the mate was happy, too. For a few meals he had obtained the benefit of free labor. He would look good in the eyes of the company executives. This was a common practice during the depression, and it offered seamen the only transportation from one place to another with some security. However, with the employed men on the ship, it usually did not fit well. The "workaways," as they were called, remained a constant threat to their security. The mate or engineer could always remind the crew that enough professional seamen were always available to take over their jobs should they fail to carry out orders. Despite this, everyone usually got along fairly well, and no one was ever overworked or "worked to death."

It was by chance that my friend's coat lost a button and the front of it opened. Tucked between his shirt and trousers was the handle of a huge .44 pistol. I was stupefied. "What the hell are you doing with that gun?" I asked nervously.

"Some sonofabitch is trying to get me."

"Hell, man, you can go to jail for ten years if you're picked up by the law."

"Well, it beats having someone knock you off. Anyway, now that we're going up north, I'm gonna sell it tonight. I can use the money in New York."

I did not try to hide my nervousness. It wasn't every day that I traveled with a guy weighted down with a loaded .44.

"Look, I'll get my stuff and be aboard tonight," he said as we parted.

That night I bedded down on a smelly mattress on the aft deck and fell fast asleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke to noisy activity around me. I felt the vibration beneath me of a thousand feet jumping up and down on deck. When I awoke for breakfast, the mattress which I had set out for my friend had been slept on, but he was not in sight. In the mess room, the crew was deep in discussion about the events of the early morning. Each gave his own version of what he had seen or heard. I still couldn't get the full impact of what had happened until I reported to the bosun for my assignment. At that time the mate appeared. "What the hell kind of friends do you have?" he asked, grinning.

"Don't know what you mean," I replied.

"You ain't seen what happened early this morning?"

"No, sir. I was asleep."

"Well, it took more than ten cops to come on board and arrest your friend. He is your friend, right?" asked the mate.

"Not really. I just met him a short time ago. I don't even remember his last name."

"One sure thing," the mate said, "he won't have to worry about going north for some time. Seems your new-found friend took a gun and shot down two men. Killed both of them in cold blood, said the police. He made one mistake. He took a taxicab to the ship, then sold the pistol to the cab driver. They almost had to carry him ashore, he had so many chains and handcuffs on him."

We sailed within the hour. I never did find out what the shooting had been all about. I became so preoccupied with making my own way that I forgot the incident. The trip up north was uneventful. The work was easy; there was no pressure. The food was nothing to write home about. The second mate told me he had a cousin working with the shipping master of the Munson Line in New York. Maybe if he were to write a few words on my behalf it might do some good?

Upon arrival in New York my luck started to take a turn for the better. With the note in my hand I headed for Brooklyn and the Munson Line shipping office. The note worked wonders. I was assigned to a fireman's job on the Southern Cross, one of three passenger liners that ran from New York to Bermuda, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Trinidad. A new world was opening up for me.

The Southern Cross carried more than 40 men in the engine department, most of them Filipinos and Portuguese. In my forecastle of 20 men, I was the only native-born English-speaking person. I replaced a Filipino fireman who had to enter the hospital. The first few days aboard I was scrutinized by my roommates. Of course, many of the crew members would have preferred another Filipino, but my letter of introduction upset someone's plans. Since no one aboard ship knew me, I was viewed with suspicion. I could have been a "plant," set to catch many of the crew members who were small-time smugglers who brought small amounts of marijuana and jewelry into the country. Tobacco, cheap clothing and tools were some of the items they took out of the United States to sell in other countries.

One thing became clear on this ship. No one was going to get a draw in each port as is customary on most ships. This company was always on the verge of bankruptcy, or so they claimed. Wages were far below scale ($35 a month for firemen). The conditions were below standards, too. The company held on tight to its money and allowed only one draw per trip, and that was for only five dollars, in the port of Buenos Aires. It became obvious why many crew members resorted to petty smuggling

Having been briefed by the crew on the money situation and the best items to sell in South America, I used the few remaining hours before sailing to accumulate some tradable items. In addition to the huge soup lines forming all over New York City, clothing depots were popping up in all the working-class neighborhoods. A person went in, registered and received a carton. It contained three pairs of socks, a pair of blue bib overalls, two blue work shirts, underwear and a pair of cotton gloves--all new. People were more interested in jobs and food than in obtaining work clothes, especially clothes with bibs. Heck, they were the trademark of farmers. Nonetheless, they were there for the asking. I made three clothing depots, giving a different name at each. The clothes would prove valuable in the South American ports, where longshoremen would buy them up eagerly.

At every port I discovered new beauty. Pulling into Rio de Janeiro was an experience in itself. Sugar Loaf Mountain, topped by a tall statue of Christ, held me spellbound. But while the city was filled with magical scenes of awe-inspiring wonder, it was also overflowing with human misery. I walked from one end of the city to the other. If the United States was deep in a depression, Rio was sunk in the mire of extreme poverty. Unlike in the United States, which did offer some means of relief, in Rio the people could find no help from the government. Their most valuable asset, coffee, was a glut on the market and was now being used as fuel for locomotives. In spite of the deprivation and lack of essentials, the people were kind and friendly. This mixture of human warmth and the beauty of the city made me think that this would be an ideal port for me to drop anchor. I made up my mind shortly thereafter that the next trip down I would jump ship and spend some time in Rio.

Santos and Montevideo passed quickly into oblivion as we steamed up the river to Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires loomed slightly larger than Rio. It had a well-laid-out harbor with ships of many nations busy loading or discharging cargo. The tall buildings in the downtown business area were magnificent, stately structures, with a touch of old Spain. As I did in other ports when I was discovering something new, I walked through most of the city. Some parts of the city appeared to be filled with cafe/dancing halls and restaurants and, in several areas, a noticeable share of whores. Wherever drinks were sold or a band played, they appeared in large numbers. As soon as you sat down in any of the cafes for a drink, three or four would vie for a seat next to you--providing you bought them a drink. Once you chose one, you were never bothered again. The competition was keen, and to avoid fights, the girls devised their own working rules to which they strictly adhered.

The three days in Buenos Aires were hectic. Lots of work had to be done in the boiler room to prepare the ship for her return voyage. From eight to five we worked hard, scaling boiler tubes, scraping and cleaning bilges, overhauling pumps and doing a dozen other jobs necessary to keep the ship in excellent running shape. After a hard day's work and a quick shower, the crew dressed and headed for shore and the hundreds of nightclubs, gin mills and whorehouses for which the Buenos Aires waterfront was know. After drinking and whoring all night, we would struggle back to the ship in the early hours of the morning, hoping to catch an hour or two of sleep before beginning the old routine. After three days we were happy to have the ship nose away from the dock and head homeward, stopping at the same ports we made on our way south. The ports in South America were a country made for youth. One had to be young to put his body through the kind of punishment we subjected ours to. Reflecting on what I had seen, South America was a continent of abject poverty populated by beautiful people--kind, considerate, friendly.

In those days of seagoing, it was easy for seamen to "jump" ship. The sailor forfeited his wages and many times his personal gear. But once ashore he could remain as long as he wanted--provided he kept his nose clean, stayed away from the attention of the police and did not become a begging derelict. If he did step out of line and was arrested, he was held in jail until the next available ship arrived. He was placed aboard and forced to work his passage home. There were always dozens of beachcombers in most of the ports who managed to discreetly and comfortably subsist by visiting American ships and bumming what they could from the crew. You could always tell by the number of beachcombers whether or not the port was a good one. You found few beachcombers in ports where the cops were nasty and the food hard to get.

We had just pulled out of Bermuda; our next port was New York. I had purchased two parakeets in Rio as a present for my mother. Most of the crew had pets of some kind, including some monkeys. It was a daily ritual to take our pets to the upper forward deck for airing and grooming. We had to climb an almost perpendicular steel ladder with some 60 steps. I was on my way down to the crew's quarters when I misjudged one step and came crashing down with my back scraping every rung on the way. Parakeets and cage went bouncing a few feet away, with the birds screaming bloody murder. I lay on the deck dazed, wondering how many bones I had broken, when a fellow crew member came rushing toward me. He picked up the bird cage, then looked at me. "Are you crazy?" he said. "You could have killed those poor birds."

The next day I could barely get out of my bunk to go to work. Each vertebra hurt, as did my knees and instep. However, I managed to limp to work and make the day. In the meantime, some stoolpigeon bastard had informed the engineer that I was contemplating jumping ship next time in Rio. It was my fault for telling too many people my plans. No engineer looks forward to sailing short-handed.

As we pulled into New York, the crew was handed their boarding passes, as was customary. I looked at my pass. It said simply: "Pass the bearer with his personal belongings from the above-named vessel to the exit door of the pier. This pass is good for one passage only." That was the message, a nice way of saying you were fired without any confrontation with the engineer. The dream of loafing on the warm beaches of Rio was stillborn.

The next day I limped downtown to the Marine Hospital clinic to have my back x-rayed and bandaged. There were no broken bones, just a lot of chipped vertebrae. Two days later I received a letter from the company lawyer. He wanted to see me immediately. The con game was starting. As I entered his office, he greeted me like a long-lost relative, directed me to a plush chair, handed me a cigarette and even extended a light. "Sorry to hear about you getting injured on the Southern Cross," he said with a pained look on his face. "But, I have good news for you. The report from the doctor says there's nothing broken, and you'll be all right in a few days. Now, I know you're the type of guy that doesn't want to be pestered by lawyers or courts. I can tell by looking at you that you're a hard-working guy that just wants a fair shake of the dice. Am I right?"

"Yeah," I nodded.

"That's what I thought," he said. "Tell you what I'm going to do for you, since you're such a nice guy. I'm going to stick my neck out further than I ever have before. It's against company policy to settle up right away, but I had a talk with the shipping master just before you arrived. He tells me you're tops with the company because you're a hard worker. I told him it's company policy to take care of the good guys, the hard-working guys. I insisted that you be given first preference in hiring on any of our ships for the rest of your life. He agreed.

"Besides that," he said as he opened a drawer and took out a stack of bills and placed them on the desk, "I'm going to settle up with you right here on the spot because I know you'll need the money while you're recuperating. Now all we need is your signature."

The stack of bills, plus the promise of a "lifetime job" seemed too good to pass up. After all, there were no broken bones. I gladly signed a series of papers, picked up the bundle of one-dollar bills, which totaled fifty dollars, stuffed it in my pocket and limped out of his office.

Two days later the Pan American, a sister ship of the Southern Cross, arrived in port. Since I had preference with the company, I decided to visit the shipping master and exercise my new status by asking to be placed a board. The shipping master greeted me coolly. "So you're the guy who can't climb down a ladder without falling on his head. Sorry. No more jobs with this company."

"Wait," I said excitedly. "The company lawyer said I had preference in hiring."

"Bullshit," he said. "That lawyer tells that to everybody. We want men who can handle boilers, not a cage full of canaries. Besides, we hear you were intending to use one of our ships as a ferry boat and jump off in Rio. So get lost."

Chapter VI: Case of the Tragic Stowaway

Within a couple of weeks my back had healed. The aches were gone, and so was much of the money. On most busy street corners in New York City men and women were selling apples. It was a good way of making a small wedge in the wall of poverty. With my remaining few dollars I bought myself a case of nice red apples, found a corner and went into business. A case cost $1.50. If I sold all apples at five cents each, I could make a profit of six dollars.

For the next several weeks I labored at my job, shifting from area to area. One day I would work Riverside Drive, the next, Wall Street. The first week I sold two cases of apples. The competition was heavy. Even some unemployed stock brokers had set up apple stands along Wall Street. Huge boards announced in big bold letters, "Help those who want to work. Buy an apple." It was only when I saw some guy advertising two apples for a nickel that I knew the apple business was at an end. Well, back to making the rounds of the shipping masters and hope for a ship.

It was an occasion of being in the right place at the right time when I saw a middle-aged man cursing loudly in front of his car as I was about to enter the offices of the shipping masters of the United States Line. The man kicked his flat tire. Just to be nice, I volunteered to change it for him. Within a few minutes I had the car jacked up and the tire changed. He thanked me, gave me two dollars and asked what kind of work I did. I told him I was an unemployed seaman desperately looking for a ship. He handed me a card and told me to come to his office in the morning. It turned out he was the head shipping master for the entire line, serving some 30 ships.

The next day I found myself working in the boiler room of the SS American Farmer, a freighter with accommodations for 20 passengers that plied between New York and London. It was ten days to London, ten days back, and five days in each port, one full trip per month. On the first trip over we spent Christmas at sea. We had corned beef and cabbage instead of a turkey dinner. At each plate we found two packs of Wings cigarettes with a card that read, "The president of United States Lines wishes all its employees a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. In appreciation of your steadfast loyalty in these dark times in the company's history, we present you with this little token for the services you are rendering." (Wings cigarettes were a product of the depression. While regular cigarettes cost a quarter for two packs, Wings sold for ten cents a pack.)

One of the men I was arrested with in the long-ago warehouse caper lived in Liverpool. I sent him a letter before sailing and asked him to meet me in London. Upon arrival I received a letter saying he could not make the trip but would try on the next voyage. I spent five days in London taking in the sights as well as the local pubs. The city depressed me with its row upon row of tenements. The cold and foggy weather did nothing to endear the place to me. I couldn't help but recall all the cuss words my mother had used to describe the British for what they had done to Ireland. Eating fish and chips in a greasy newspaper while walking down the street only upset me more; I had the notion that the British were supposed to have better manners. Considering that I accepted Americans eating hotdogs while walking down Fifth Avenue, there was no rational reason for such an illusion. But somehow I expected something different in England.

The working class was in rough shape with unemployment so high. It was impossible to throw a cigarette butt into the gutter without someone diving into the street to pick it up. I couldn't understand why people had to pay a special tax to be able to listen to their radios. Still, I made the best of my stay in London and did find some interesting people to converse with.

Three days out of London the passenger steward reported that his lone passenger, a stock broker, had blown his brains out. Earlier he had received a radiogram telling him of reverses in the stock market. The body was wrapped in sheets and placed in the ship's ice box. The ship's doctor made out the death certificate, the cause of death being "by his own hands." When we arrived in New York the local authorities took issue with the report and it became a police matter. "Was he murdered on the high seas?" the police asked. An investigation was underway. Each member of the crew was questioned briefly. "What do you do on the ship?" the police asked me.

"I'm a fireman."

"How often do you get up on the upper deck, the passenger deck?"

"Never been up there," I replied.

"Not even for a lifeboat drill?" he asked, staring me in the eye.

"Not even for a lifeboat drill, since I'm on the twelve to four shift and that's the only time they hold the drill. I'm always in the boiler room."

Finally the police gave up on the matter. It was listed as suicide. The doctor, however, was removed from his position.

The next trip across started with a fierce storm on the first night out. Snow and sleet lashed the ship; mountainous waves crashed against her sides. We awoke to the news that we had a stowaway aboard. He was an Indian from Bombay who had lived in New York for five years, working as a dishwasher. His life's savings amounted to $7.60. He had received a letter from home saying that his mother was dying and had asked for him. He figured that since he was a British subject, he would stow away to England. Once there the British would be compelled to ship him home to Bombay. It was as simple as that.

Immediately the officers took a dislike to him. He was handed a blanket and told to sleep in the cold passageway, and if there was any food left over from the seamen's mess, he was welcome to it. To me he was a likable fellow. I spent time talking to him and understood his feelings about wanting to go home. To me he was just another one of those working stiffs who would never be allowed to climb higher than the bottom rung of the social ladder. I supplied him with an extra blanket, gave him cigarettes and managed to get him some extra snacks at night. A few hours before arrival in London, he was placed in the ship's brig to wait for the immigration authorities. I shook hands with him before the brig's door was bolted, telling him not to worry, for he would soon be on his way home.

My friend arrived from Liverpool and we both proceeded to have another look at the social life of London. We took in the pubs and strolled around Hyde Park later in the evening. It seemed like every whore in London gathered at this park to solicit. The bobbies enforced one rule: you could not stop and talk with the women. When you looked down the walkways, everyone was walking. There were benches, but no one was sitting. It was an eerie situation. Apparently it pacified the police and allowed the whores to stay in business.

My friend suggested that on the next trip over I should get off in London and live with him in Liverpool for a while. We would be able to see the whole country: Wales, Scotland, Ireland. I agreed.

We had just cleared Bishop's Light, the last navigational mark on the chart to the open sea. Our bow now pointed toward the banks of Newfoundland. I stepped out of the mess room and was shocked to see my Indian friend, the stowaway, resting on his haunches in a corner. "What are you doing here?" I asked.

"The British immigration wouldn't believe that I was from Bombay, so they are forcing the captain to take me back to New York." His face was wet with tears as he told me of the treatment he had received from the authorities. He had been locked up for five days, with abuse continually hurled at him. An hour before sailing, they took him back to the ship and into the brig, where he took more abuse, this time from the ship's captain. "I'll never get to see my mother," he said.

The North Atlantic weather was at its worst during this time of year. Lifelines had been secured around the deck. Snow and icy winds lashed at the ship. The distant cliffs and the shoreline of England soon faded into the cold misty night. Our bow would rise out of the sea, stay suspended for a moment on top of a wave, then plunge into a deep valley of churning sea. Our speed was reduced to no more than the steerage speed of two or three knots. In the boiler room we reduced our steam pressure. The storm raged all night without a letup. At breakfast my Indian friend approached me. "I would like to give you this five dollars in friendship," he said, thrusting his hand toward me. I was repelled by the offer and moved away. I would not take the money. My friendship was not for sale. He looked saddened by my refusal. I could see that he had not slept well during the night. He wore a heavy, long woolen overcoat buttoned tightly against his thin body. Someone had given him a pair of rubber galoshes to keep his feet dry and warm. Around his neck was a heavy scarf fastened with a safety pin. With eyes soggy from crying all night, he looked at me. "My dear friend," he asked, "do you think it wise if I talk to the captain and ask him to transfer me to any ship passing us that might be going to India? Do you think I should do that?"

I told him there was only one chance in a million that such a thing might happen. The seas were so rough that no lifeboat could be launched. Better to forget such a dream. Wait until you get back to New York to organize a plan, I told him. He turned, dragging his feet, and walked toward the port side of the passageway. It was the last I was to see of him.

I had been at work less than an hour when I heard a series of whistle blasts. It was the signal to stand by lifeboats. The engineer came running into the boiler room shouting orders excitedly, "Raise your steam pressure on all boilers; we have an emergency on deck." I could feel the ship starting to turn, then leaning way over on the port side. Would it right itself again, or would some big wave come along and lay the ship on her side for good? I found myself grabbing onto something stationary to hold to keep from falling or sliding into the boilers. Close to the opening ventilators that ran up to the boat deck, the sound of voices of men on deck could be heard. It all seemed garbled and only added to the confusion. For the next hour we went through a series of motions, lowering or raising steam pressure, slowing down the engines, then speeding them up, but never seeming to get anyplace. We continued to roll and pitch.

The engineer came into the boiler room for a routine check. "What the hell's going on up there?" I asked.

"Ah, that stupid Indian stowaway just jumped over the side," he shouted over the roar of a noisy motor. He quickly returned to the engine room. I felt a terrible disgust with myself. Had I used the brains I was gifted with, I might have been able to prevent that tragedy. I hated myself the more I thought about it. The offer of five dollars should have been my clue. Even in his naive way he must have known that he could not remain floating for long in the fierce North Atlantic, hoping to be picked up by a ship bound for India. It had to be out and out suicide.

We rolled for the next hour, then the search for the Indian was called off. We got back on course and headed for New York. At the mess room table, no one wanted to talk. Most of us felt saddened by the whole affair. The boatswain, a company man, uttered the last insult when he said, "Had I known the dumb bastard was going to jump, I would have kicked his ass some more and made him work harder." Most of us said nothing, but got up and left him alone at the table. The next day I talked to a sailor who had seen him go over the side and sounded the alarm. He said that in addition to the heavy clothing he had on, he also wore a life jacket. He watched, unable to stop him as he climbed over the rail and jumped into the sea. He saw him hit the water, go under quickly and never surface. His clothing and heavy boots were so cumbersome that he must have been dragged under the ship and sunk quickly. The life jacket was not able to suspend the weight of the waterlogged clothing. The sailor ventured to say that the coldness of the water would have killed him upon impact, so if consolation were needed, he did not suffer long.

Most of the crew hated the boatswain and the officers for their treatment of this man. One oiler was so embittered that he challenged the boatswain to a fight. "Try hitting me like you did that poor stowaway. Come on, make a pass." But the boatswain would not take the challenge. It became a standard joke on the ship that the captain was not interested in recovering the man, but just the company's life jacket.

We arrived in New York twenty days after we left London, ten days late because of severe weather, almost a record for late passage. If the stowaway's death was a surprise to me, I was to receive another, less tragic, surprise. Again some stoolpigeon had informed on me and said that I was going to pile off in London the next trip over. Again I was handed the one-way pass with bag and baggage to the street. Well, there went the tour of England. It was again my own fault for blabbing too much. I should have known that there are people in the world who will sell their souls to remain in the good graces of the officers, thus keeping themselves employed.

The death of the stowaway shook me up. I wanted to shout out to the whole world the plight of this poor soul and the result of man's inhumanity to man. Unlike in the death of the passenger during the previous trip, this time there was no inquiry.

Chapter VII: Join the Communist Party

I gave my mother some of the money I had earned. I found out she was lining up in the neighborhood soup line for one meal a day. "Everybody is doing it," she said. "It's the least this bloody country can do for me. You won't find this situation at home in Ireland. Only in this bloody country do they make old men and women stand in a soup line all day waiting for a bowl of watery, lousy soup." I looked at her face, like I had so many times before, and watched the frustration and quickness in speech come upon her as she got mad. I knew that no matter what she would survive. She was the surviving kind, a descendant of the "green mouths." (The "green mouths" were Irish found dead with their mouths green from grass they had tried to live on during the great famine brought on by the British in their determination to force the Irish into submission during the Cromwellian period.)

For the next several weeks I entered into a reflective, brooding mood. I started to think about all the time I had spent in reform school, time all wasted. I thought of my first trip to sea, to Texas with its drinking fountains all spouting the same water, but one "For Whites Only" and another "For Colored Only." I thought about the Texas sheriff who complained that the only drawback in killing "niggers" was that he had to put out five dollars from his own pocket to bury one. I though of the hunger and misery I had seen throughout the nation, men willing to fight each other and demean themselves for any kind of job.

I also though of the plight of the warm, friendly, generous people of South America, and of the English working class in their cold, drab stone houses. Finally I thought of the death of the lonesome, misunderstood Indian--so naive, so trusting, so beautiful at heart. His precious life ended needlessly in the stormy cold sea. God almighty, I thought, how in your wisdom could you be so cruel to the poor, so blind to their illness, when they ask so little of you?

There had to be some way to strike back. There had to be someone to confide in, someone who perhaps knew how to fight back against these injustices, someone who could show a better way to achieve more fulfilling lives for all of us.

There was a lot of activity shaping up on the waterfronts of most seaports in the country. There was one seamen's union, the American Seamen's Union, run by a guy named Smith. Smith had one program: "Run the foreigners off the American ships and make room for the American seamen." He offered no other way to fight than to write letters to congressmen. He expected Congress to eventually pass bills to remedy the situation. He had one asset that drew seamen to him. In his loft that served as his office and meeting room he set up a ten-cent breakfast: two eggs, toast and coffee. While eating your breakfast you were pounded with his propaganda, from first bite to last. Smith's walls were decorated with letters from every high official in Washington. They extolled his patriotism and wished him well. They made Smith feel important, but they didn't improve conditions or get jobs for the American seamen. His ranks were thin.

The big or major union, around since the late 1800s, was the American Federation of Labor's International Seamen's Union (ISU). To most of the seamen, it was a discredited union, since their major strike of 1921 had been sold down the river by the heads of the ISU--many of whom were still in the leadership. The union espoused the cause of the American seamen, but its officers sat on their fannies and, in true class collaboration, played ball with the shipowners, against the best interests of the seamen. Not one official was under the age of 50. Since only a handful of men belonged to the ISU, it was obvious that they were not able to support the leadership financially. Thus, money for wages and expenses came down from the parent body, the American Federation of Labor, whose policies were outright conservative.

During the depression years a new union appeared on the waterfronts of most American seaports, the Marine Workers' Industrial Union (MWIU). The MWIU was a product of the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL). It was a Moscow-inspired wing of the Red International of Labor Unions, an organization to counter the "do-nothing" unions in capitalist countries. The organizers of the MWIU worked hard at their jobs. They would make contact with every possible ship, distributing literature and giving sailors the message to organize into the MWIU. On many streets adjacent to the piers, MWIU organizers set up their soapboxes to reach the maritime workers. They were outspoken in fighting for relief for the unemployed seamen. One had to be totally blind not to recognize those who were fighting for the rights and welfare of the seamen. The sanctimonious AFL-ISU union officials sat on the sidelines watching the MWIU lecture, organize and lead the seamen and shouted invectives at the men, calling them "communist dupes."

The MWIU put out a monthly paper called the Marine Workers' Voice. The paper's editorial staff made no bones about its admiration for the Soviet Union, its leadership or way of life. From what I could see of the MWIU, it held the answers to many of my questions.

I was drinking coffee in one of the waterfront cafes when I met one of the organizers, a little squinty-eyed guy named John Robinson. I told "Robbie" about the trip on the American Farmer and the plight of the stowaway. "Why don't you write it all down as it happened, and maybe we'll publish it in the Marine Workers' Voice. We'll let everybody know about it," he said. For the next two days I worked on the story, getting in every possible detail. Being flat broke, I decided to walk downtown with my article to the MWIU office, a distance of about five miles. A shortcut veered me toward City Hall, where a demonstration to demand some relief for the jobless was converging. The streets surrounding City Hall had been blocked off to traffic. Mounted cops on horses as well as motorcycle cops tried to keep the crowd of around eight or nine thousand from reaching city officials in their well-guarded, square-block building. I continued walking downtown and was just about past the demonstration when all hell broke loose.

Cops came charging out of closed vans, swinging their clubs. There was yelling and screaming as the crowd scattered this way and that, not knowing which way to go since the cops were closing in and clubbing from all sides. The mounted patrol, whose horses were trained to disperse crowds, came charging into the demonstrators, horses knocking down men and women like ten pins. The police spared no one. Women were hit as fiercely and brutally as men. I saw a cop slap a middle-aged woman so hard on the face that she reeled in a circle before collapsing, unconscious, on the sidewalk. I tried to work my way toward her to pull her to a safe spot where she wouldn't be trampled. Several other guys had the same idea and beat me to her. The area was covered with picket signs dropped by fleeing demonstrators, and the police and horses trampled those, committing the final insult.

The police were many. Small groups of them came out of the doors of City Hall to stand and watch their fellow officers pursue and club the fleeing protesters. There was no way the demonstrators would reassemble. They were scattered too widely, and the police were moving all the time, clearing a larger margin between City Hall and the small pockets of demonstrators. I was disgusted with myself for not doing more, but I was also dismayed at the protestors for not using the sticks on their placards to defend themselves. Many protectors were hurt that day. The mayor, Jimmy Walker, thought that he had succeeded in even more firmly securing his position. But his graft-ridden administration would ultimately be driven from office.

I gave the article to Robbie and told him about the melee at City Hall. "I know all about it," he said. "We had about 25 seamen up there helping to do what they could to make the demonstration a success. A few of them got clobbered." He read the article, made a few minor corrections and said it was good, informative and to the point. Then he asked me to join the union. "Hell, all you're doing is cheating the union out of dues by not joining," he said. "It's only a dollar to join, and the first month's dues are a nickel if you're unemployed."

"I'll think it over," I told him. Actually, I wanted to join right then and there, but I didn't have the money. There was no longer any doubt about it. If I wanted to see things accomplished, it had to be done by the union. The men who could do the job were here. They were not sitting around complaining and talking about improving conditions, but doing nothing about it. I was now in contact with men who were devoted and highly-motivated in what they were doing.

Out on the street I met an old buddy, Blair. Blair was far ahead of me union-wise and politically. He had long ago convinced himself that solutions to economic problems came from honestly-led unions. He was delighted with my decision to join the MWIU. "Maybe I'll join with you," he said.

I started the long walk uptown to my neighborhood habitat. My mind was so preoccupied with joining the union that it did not even dawn on me that all I had to do was cut a small piece of thin cardboard into the shape of a nickel, cover it with tinfoil from a cigarette pack and put it into the subway instead of walking. Now my stomach was sending signals that food was a must. I'd start hitting the first guy who looked prosperous.

On every block I walked I picked at least two guys who looked like they could dispose of a few cents without suffering. I now had 50 cents, surely more than enough to get a good meal. But, I said to myself, if I could get fifty cents in six blocks without much effort, I should be able to collect one dollar and five cents. I'd give it a try. I forgot I was hungry. My enthusiasm and vigor increased. I became less choosy about who I bummed from. Before I got to 14th Street I had collected the final nickel. I quickly turned and headed back the way I had come. An hour later I plunked down the money in front of a powerfully-built, redheaded guy called Red Drummond. "You're now a union brother," he said, handing me my small membership book. "Be sure to attend the next membership meeting, this Thursday."

I scanned every page. Each had a section for dues payments and a slogan at the bottom. One was "Workers of the world, unite!" Another was "Make every ship a fortress of unionism!" The preamble at the beginning of the book was as forceful as the preamble of the IWW. The preamble of the MWIU stated in plain language that the working class has nothing in common with the ruling class, and the best thing that could happen would be for the working class to ally itself with the poor farmers and end the reign of the ruling, exploiting class.

My union book became my most precious possession. I found myself tapping my pocket on occasion just to feel assured I had not lost it. I was introduced as a new member at the union meeting, and I saw a lot of new faces, as well as a few old ones. At this meeting the chairman called for volunteers to work with the Port Organizing Committee (POC). It consisted of six or seven men who worked full-time in the port, visiting ships, barges and the piers, handing out literature, recruiting new members and contacting old ones, collecting dues and donations, selling the union papers and generally encouraging the men to organize for a united fight against the shipowners.

With my enthusiasm high, it was only natural that my hand went up and I volunteered. Other volunteers, in addition to Robbie, were Bell, a lanky Scot nicknamed "Ding-Dong," a capable guy with an unlimited flow of energy for organizing; Smithy Hopkins, Emory Reddin, "Coffee-an" Nelson, "Low-Life" McCormick and "Whitey" Baxter, all good men. We had to be at the union hall at seven in the morning. We were given a summary of the ships in port, the ships to concentrate on and where we had the most friends or sympathizers, as well as where we were likely to meet some hostility. Bundles of literature made up the night before, small enough to hide under a coat if necessary, were stacked on a table I was handed twenty cents, a nickel to be spent on the subway or El going to the ship, a nickel to return to the hall, and ten cents for a bowl of soup for lunch. In addition to the 20 cents there was a receipt book for any donations, some application cards for joining the union and some petitions calling for the freeing of some political prisoners. Since I was the trainee, I went along with Ding-Dong Bell. Our target was a United Fruit Company ship tied up on the lower West Side.

One of Bell's attributes was his keen ability to sense hostility before he stared it in the face. Long before we got to the pier, Bell filled me in on what to expect, assuming we were able to get past the gate guards and board the ship. "The longshoremen who work this pier hauling bananas are hostile to any attempt to organize a decent rank-and-file union," Bell told me. "At least 90 percent of the men are ex-cons paroled from all the jails in the state of New York. Basically they are all decent guys who paid their dues the hard way, but to get out of the stir on parole they have to have some sort of job to go to. That's where Joe Ryan fits in. He runs the International Longshoremen's Association and takes the responsibility to have these men paroled in his care. He pulls strings with United Fruit, and they hire all the ex-cons to unload bananas. Aside from the lousy wages and speedups the men must accept, they also have to act as Ryan's personal goon squad. That means stomping some guy's brains into the pavement if he advocates organizing a union. He threatens them with having the parole officers throw them back in the slammer if they fail to carry out his orders. Three weeks ago we set up our soapbox outside the pier at noon. Ten guys chased us down the street, tore up our literature and smashed our chair to pieces."

With our little bundles of literature tucked securely under our coats, we waited on the sidelines until we saw a big truck move on to the pier. While the guard's attention was with the truck driver, we quietly walked up the opposite side and onto the pier without being seen. Now we had to get aboard the ship without some company-minded mate spotting us. That was easy in this case because the ship was hauling bananas and lots of additional men were employed. There was no standard set of work clothes. We were taken for longshoremen and boarded the ship with no trouble.

Some crew members knew Bell, and he knew many of them on first-name bases. They greeted him as we entered the crew's quarters. He introduced me as a new member, then told me to go around with the literature and sell what I could. Bell had made the United Fruit ships part of his concentration. He was fairly well-known to most of the crew members who sailed the vast fleet of sleek white vessels that plied the Central American coast. Many of the crew members came from Central America. In fact, the company was more inclined to hire someone from Central America rather than someone from Boston or New York. They knew from experience that the man from Central America was usually married, with a family, and willing to work for low wages, just as long as he was able to get some money back to his family. Since he feared losing his job, he was less inclined to join a union and create ill feelings with his boss

The wages and working conditions on United Fruit ships were below par, yet, as with similar lines, they always had a waiting list of seamen hoping for jobs. Bell understood the reasoning that kept a man working under such conditions, and he also understood that sooner or later the workingmen would be forced to strike out in protest. He told me, "Sometimes the workers can feel this pressure, yet not fully understand it. That's where we come in. That's what we're here for, to explain to them how and why this happened and what they can do about it. After that's it's up to them. If you let it, the system will make a groveling dog out of you. That's why we're the real doctors of the working class. we recognize the illness and we know how to cure the patient."

Bell was not a complicated man. To him there were just two classes of people: those who owned the means of production, the capitalist class; and those who owned nothing but their labor power, the working class. "Then there's the bunch of leeches in the middle, the professionals, who neither produce nor own the means of production. Some people call them the middle class, but I call them the spoilers," Bell said.

The hour we spent aboard the ship was a learning one for me. Several crew members bought the Voice from me, giving me 50 cents and refusing to take change. One guy gave me two dollars and said, "Forget who gave it to you." But trying to get them to add their names to a petition was impossible. "Look, fellow," one oiler said to me. "You have more sense than that. If I put my name to that, somewhere, somehow, sometime, that petition will show up on the boss's desk and wham, I'll be out of a job." I didn't figure that. Hell, I wasn't afraid to sign my name, why should they be afraid to sign theirs? But that was another story, and somewhere along the way I would better understand the reluctance to sign.

The MWIU had several groups of men. One group was made up of guys who just sailed and did their agitating in a meticulous manner. They were always good for sizable donations when their ships came to port. They were the best source of contact with other men. Upon arrival they would hand over to the union POC the names of the men who were pro-union and might, with some urging, sign up for membership. Another group was made up of those who dropped into the union hall off and on, read the literature and ate at the union stew pot, where a bowl of beef stew cost 15 cents. They were always willing to join in demonstrations or help out on a picket line or hand out leaflets when called upon. The third and perhaps most important group in the MWIU was made up of those who were fully dedicated, the disciplined ones who made up the leadership of the union. They were the self-sacrificing ones who, rain or shine, could be depended on to be out there building the stepping stones to the barricades and the "final conflict" that would change the economic and political systems. They were the Communists.

For the next three weeks I worked every day with the POC, always visiting ships with an older member of the POC. On every ship I boarded I learned something new. I listened carefully to the old-timers as they talked unionism to the crew, destroyed myths, played down fears and shored up self-confidence in the men. In turn they sold more papers and got more men to join the union. I was now able to stand on my own feet and advance the union cause. Day by day I felt prouder and prouder of myself, and I jumped for joy when I finally talked a reluctant sailor into joining the union. What a tremendous feeling of exhilaration in doing the almost-impossible! It was like a whole rash of little pieces of a beautiful flower all coming together and producing a sweet-smelling rose. What doubts I may have had about my ability to accomplish things began to slowly wither away. Self confidence was a magical cure-all. But a deeper meaning was attached to this accomplishment, the feeling that what I had done would help in the long run to move humanity ahead toward a new life of fulfillment and dignity.

In those days of organizing people into political action, new pamphlets came off the left-wing press daily and dealt with every political subject that arose. Aside from the ten- to fifteen-page pamphlets, there were more sophisticated pamphlets and magazines, like the New Masses and the Communist. Every day I managed to read something new, and just about every day I was handed something new to read. I was learning that there was a country called the Soviet Union, or Russia, and that over there a new nation had been formed from the old. In the year of 1917 the workers and peasants joined forces and wrested control away from the despotic Czars. Now the working class was in control. The means of production were now in the hands of those who produced the goods. there was no unemployment, no police oppression, no exploitation. Everyone was equal and addressed each other as comrade. The country, I was told, was now being subjected to harassment and intimidation from the surrounding capitalists states that were forever organizing plots and sabotage against her. The most prominent names of those responsible for this new country were Lenin and Stalin, who learned from Marx and Engels.

The heavy or villain in this whole conspiracy to bring havoc and ruin to the new nation, aside from the surrounding bands of capitalists, was a guy named Trotsky. This guy, I read, was forever organizing groups both inside and outside of the Soviet Union who would harm the best interests of the Soviet people. On top of that, Trotsky was receiving aid and comfort from capitalist countries, who saw through him a means of destroying the new nation.

The idea that there was a country where everyone was equal, where there was no oppression, where workers and farmers controlled their own destinies, where unemployment was unheard of and where people referred to each other as comrade appealed to me. After all, what else was there in life that was worth fighting for? This had to be the dream, the ideal, the ultimate and most progressive form of life. I could not imagine the Russian seamen crisscrossing their own country in boxcars, fearful of police as they went from port to port begging for a job. I couldn't imagine them standing in a soup line with their ankles deep in snow, hoping the watery soup won't run out before they get to the head of the line. By all means, this new system was worth fighting for. It was worth any sacrifice to achieve.

I dug deeper into my books. I was now trying to read and understand everything I got my hands on. I was fascinated with how the crew of the Russian warship Aurora trained their guns on the Czarist palace and fired a salvo of shots that helped the common people wrest control. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. If I got hung up on questions, the guys at the MWIU hall could always help me.

Within six weeks of joining the MWIU I joined the Communist Party. I was not too surprised when I attended my first Party meeting in the basement of an old West Side tenement house and saw many of the leaders of the MWIU. The meeting was held in the flat of an old-timer named Clay. Clay had one hand. The other was a hook. Some said he had lost his hand in some California cannery when, during a speedup, it got caught in a machine. The major point on the agenda was always how to make the Party a more successful and influential organ of the working class. The members were very critical of their own work. They lauded their successes and berated their shortcomings. Honesty highlighted their discussions. I had never before known people who would stand and say, "Yes, I was wrong. I acted stupidly, and for that I should be criticized." There were reports on organization, recruiting, finances, literature sales and other matters that warranted attention. Finally Blair and I were introduced as new members. We stood while a simple pledge was read. In the pledge we committed ourselves to the high principles of advancing the cause of the working class toward a socialist society founded on the principles of Marx and Engels. We pledged to accept the discipline and leadership, to support and advance the Party in every way.

After we were accepted, we shook hands with everyone and felt like we were now part of something that was true and noble. We had a dedicated purpose to advance all the people like ourselves toward a better way of life.

Chapter VIII: Busted Again

A special warmth and a great feeling of comradeship emerged after I joined the Party. Almost every night I was invited by some comrade or other to come and "break bread" with him. That meant a plate of stew or whatever was on the menu that night. Most of our comrades lived in the poor sections of either the East or West Side. None of their apartments were elaborately furnished, but there was a special warmth about them that was welcoming. You had a feeling that, among your comrades, you were considered one of the greatest people on earth. They showed a genuine concern about your well-being and your health, and they wanted to share what little they had.

In those wonderful days of mutual concern, if a comrade failed to show up at a meeting, great concern was shown. Perhaps he was sick or injured. Someone was assigned to visit him. With such interest and love, was it any wonder that I felt I had found my niche, the right group to be with, the right party to belong to? I, too, quickly developed that comradely attitude and found myself eager to share what I had.

Many things I found hard to comprehend at the moment. The "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," the "Withering of the State," "Surplus Value," "Imperialism" and "Dialectical Materialism." Someone handed me a heavy volume of Marx's Capital. I read the first 50 words and had to put the book aside. It was impossible to understand. I found it easier to stay away from such high political readings and stick with the things I could easily understand, like 15- or 20-page pamphlets on working conditions.

In my field we were committed to making the maritime industry our main concern. Ships, tankers, barges, seamen, longshoremen--anything or anyone that dealt with water transportation. It did not mean that we were not interested in or connected to other industries. Many times we were called upon to send maritime workers to other areas of the city to help on picket lines or to protect a union officer that was being threatened by anti-union goon squads. We became aware of a strong feeling of solidarity with other workers. We shared their thoughts on the picket lines and quickly learned of their grievances and they learned about ours.

One morning I was handed a bundle of literature at the union hall and given the usual ten-cent fare, along with 20 cents for lunch. I carefully wrapped the bundle of Daily Workers, Marine Workers' Voices and several pamphlets. I was told what ship to visit. Another comrade was heading in the same direction, though to a different ship. It happened that I had about ten slot-machine slugs that were usable in either the subway or the El system. Why spend a nickel, I asked myself. I tin-foiled the slug and told my partner, "Look, if you don't want to use a slug that's okay with me, but I'll use one. Come in back of me quickly and drop your nickel in; that will erase my slug which otherwise will be on view in the powerful optic glass." He agreed.

At the elevated terminal at South Ferry, I walked into the turnstile, expecting my friend to come charging behind me. But, for reasons never explained, the dummy used another turnstile. I wasted no time dashing for the train. I could hear someone shouting behind me. Turning, I saw a plainclothes transit system detective hot on my heels. Alas, the damn train did not pull out fast enough. I was yanked off and led like a top-notch criminal to a side door in the change booth. He recovered the slug as evidence.

He was a big Irishman, with an old-timer's moustache and a derby hat. His brogue made him sound like he just stepped off the boat from Ireland. "So, me lad," he said, "at last we caught you. You think it's right to put slugs into the machine now, do ya?"

"I had to do it," I said. "I'm on my way to get a job. I could never make it in time if I had to walk."

He searched me; since I had the good money stashed away in my watch fob pocket with my belt over it, he never found it. But he did find the rest of the slugs, along with some tin foil. "So, yer been cheatin' like mad all along," he said. "Well, we'll see what the judge has to say about this."

I knew that my goose was cooked unless I could talk him out of going to the station house. "My poor Irish mother will be heartbroken when she hears about this," I said, looking downcast.

"And what part of Ireland would she be from?" he asked, sounding concerned.

"Why, from the best part, from Waterford," I replied.

"Ah, lad, now that is a mighty pretty spot. I'm from County Cork myself."

I could see now that I had this seamus hanging on the ropes. He displayed a certain amount of doubt on his face. He was no longer belligerent. I felt he was going to say now get the hell out of here, but I was wrong.

"Well, I have to take you in. I wish I didn't have to, but too many people saw me nab you, including the man in the change booth. But I won't report these extra slugs I found on you and maybe I'll say a nice word to the judge so he'll show mercy. Tell me, what's in the package?"

"Oh, some old clothes," I said, hugging it tighter under my arm and wishing there was some way I could dispose of it.

I was taken to Central Station where I was fingerprinted and mugged. In half an hour I would appear in court. "Have you ever been arrested?" asked the cop as he fingerprinted me.

"No," I replied, lying. Why make it easy for them?

Fingerprinting and mug shots over with, he told me to go into the washroom and wash the ink off my hands. I carried the bundle with me. When I came out it was without the bundle. The cop was busy pulling out drawer after drawer, looking for a file on me. For no reason I can think of, other than he didn't look in the right drawer, he found no record. He stamped a big NO RECORD across my card, then led me through a door into the courtroom. I felt relieved as I sat down in the prisoner's section. No previous record, no bundle of Communist literature.

A case was being argued in the courtroom. Lawyers from the International Labor Defense were defending a Young Communist Leaguer. She was charged with slugging a cop with her handbag while on a picket line. The ILD lawyers were demanding that she be released without bail pending her trial. No, said the judge, into a cell she goes.

"Are you going to send this young, defenseless girl of 20 to be locked up in a dank jail cell for the weekend?" asked the lawyer. "Is there no decency, no concern for human values? This child should be denied the love, warmth and security of her mother? Are we not witnessing a callous display of class injustice?" The lawyers voice rose higher and higher. As soon as he stopped there was a burst of clapping from some 30 people seated in the courtroom, all friends or comrades of the young woman, who stood before the judge with an angelic look on her face.

"Clear the court immediately," shouted the judge as he rose and left the room. Three uniformed cops quickly removed the ten back rows of people. Only a few were left sitting, and they had appeared shocked at the lack of decorum of those who were ousted. I felt confused. Here was one of my class-conscious soulmates carrying the good fight from the picket line right into one of the organs of the oppressive state. But the judge was being provoked by the courtroom demonstrators to the point where he would surely throw the book at her and anyone who would come after her. I wavered back and forth, trying to figure out some other methods she and her comrades could have used.

When the courtroom was clear and silence prevailed once again, the judge returned to the bench. "Now, counselor," said the judge, but before he could say another word he was cut off by the girl's attorney.

"Your Honor, may I make a brief statement that may adjudicate this matter to the satisfaction of the court?"

"Mr. Counselor, this court has shown more than its share of patience in this matter. You show no respect or regard for the officer who was hit in the face with a handbag full of marbles and may lose the sight of one eye. The fact that he was doing his duty at the time as a peace officer means nothing to you. Now you stand before me pleading for leniency for a defendant who packed the courtroom with her supporters who screamed obscenities. I have had it. Now go ahead and make your statement. I suggest you be brief, since my patience has been worn thin by this ordeal."

"It would seem to me," said the lawyer, "that since the court will not reconsider this unusually high bail on my young client, that you may wish to reappraise your decision by my further request. As an officer of the court, responsible to both my client and the court, I ask that the young defendant be placed in my custody. I guarantee that she will appear in court on the day and hour prescribed by you. I ask that Your Honor grant this request."

"I see no reason why this court should be compelled to grant the request, especially in view of the events that took place a few minutes ago. The court has ruled that the defendant be incarcerated pending trial. I see no reason to change it," argued the prosecutor.

"I do not need anyone to make up my mind for me," said the judge irritably. "I'll grant the request; have her in this court Monday morning at ten." He looked at the clerk. "Next?"

"The City and County of New York versus William Bailey. The matter before the court, that of William Bailey being charged under Penal Code 319-606A, that on this day he defrauded the Interborough Rapid Transit Company of their legal fee for transportation on their trains, by depositing a slug of no monetary or legal value. There is no prior record of the defendant."

The Irish detective said to me, "Just stand, and I'll talk to the judge."

"Are you the arresting officer?" the judge asked.

"I am, sir," said the detective. "But may I say, sir, that since this is his first offense, and he has made it clear to me that he will atone for his ways, that I would suggest leniency, sir?"

"I don't know. I really don't know. So many people today are trying to cheat their way through life in everything. They go into grocery stores and take things without paying for them. They think they can drop slugs in subway turnstiles whenever they feel like riding them. The mores of the country are fast going to hell. All right, young man. I'll come to the point. From now on, if you ever find the need to ride the subway and you have no funds, take my advice and walk. Meanwhile, I'll give you six months' suspended sentence. Don't ever appear before my court again."

On my way out of the building, the desk cop who had fingerprinted me said, "Hey, you. Come here and get your bundle that you left in the washroom."

What a great feeling to be free of judges and courtrooms. With the bundle under my arm I raced back to the union hall. There was great consternation among the half dozen guys at the hall. My riding buddy had reported that I had been arrested. The International Labor Defense lawyers had been notified and were trying to track me down. I was elated by the comradely feeling of concern for my welfare. No one was critical of me for using the slug, but no one said it had been a good idea, either.

So I was back in business again, slightly wiser to the "spot system" used by subway guards and aware that not all comrades could be relied upon to use their brains when requested to do so. I made sure that I would never again pair with that guy.

Days turned into weeks. There was something new for me to do every day. I read a lot at night when I was not attending some meeting or class. I attended street meetings, helping to set up the soapbox and passing through the crowd to sell literature or hand out leaflets.

In Europe, Hitler was making the most noise and gathering his forces. Persecution of Jews was becoming common. The ruling crowd in England was playing footsie with the Fascist regime preparing to take control in Germany. Their overall strategy, of course, was to incite and encourage a fascist nation to wage war on the Soviet Union. The two most pressing topics raised by the Party at its meetings was the growing menace of fascism in Europe and the depression at home. Wage cuts were taking place among those workers who still had jobs. All over the country, the small "left-wing" unions were making some progress, despite the fact that the employers had labeled these unions as Russian-led and their members as Russian dupes or Communists.

In many areas where there was no AFL union in the field, a left-wing union was set up. Nationwide, the leadership of the AFL sat on their fannies, completely demoralized, doing nothing to organize workers into their unions. But when the left-wing unions started to gain ground they denounced them, thus siding with the employers.

The Party put forward a series of slogans and programs that were fast capturing the imagination of the people: unemployment insurance for the unemployed, old-age pensions, guarantee of the right to a job, decent housing and medical care, the right to organize into unions, no discrimination because of race or color. The Party also created unemployed councils. The function of the councils were to fight for jobs and relief and to educate the unemployed to support strikes and not be used as strikebreakers.

From the ranks of the unemployed emerged many outstanding leaders. The councils held regular meetings and organized social activities. One of their main functions was to fight evictions. As soon as someone's furniture was moved to the street, we would gather it all up and move it back in, even if it meant smashing the locks. When this failed and it looked like the dispossessed family was locked out, members of the council would canvass the neighborhood, collecting a nickel here and there until they had enough money to satisfy the landlord.

National elections were on the horizon. President Hoover was incapable of solving the depressing mess that the country was in. The Soviet Union made it known that there was no such thing as an unemployed worker in their country. If the Russian people could exchange their capitalist system for a system that guarantees everyone a job, asked the Party, then why can't we abolish capitalism in the United States?

Our Party was growing. At every street corner meeting we asked for recruits. In most area of New York City the Party soapboxers were well-received, but not everywhere. I was at the union hall one day when Emory Reddin, a marine worker, appeared with his jaw wired up. He was pioneering a series of soapbox meetings in a West Side neighborhood, and on evening while he was speaking, some teenagers threw a can full of tomatoes at him. It landed directly on his jaw. It broke his jaw and blackened his eyes. Undaunted, he pledged to go out the following night to the same place and pass out leaflets. Such was the stuff that some Party members were made of. Perseverance, determination and grit were the order of the day if we were to be successful in organizing. If there were dangers or obstacles in a project we undertook, discussions were held and methods tried until we met with success. "There's no obstacle that can't be overcome," was the slogan we applied to everything. If things looked bleak, and sometimes they did, there was always an old-timer who would remind you that Karl Marx had already pointed out that capitalism's doom was inevitable. No exploitive system would last forever; every system would eventually die from its own contradictions and corruptions. Finally, they would all create their own grave diggers and bring in a new permanent order of things, where the workers would rule and poverty and want would be a thing of the past. However, he said, don't sit around and wait for it, get out there and bring it about.

Chapter IX: A Strike Aboard Ship

The MWIU leadership had developed a program of organizing. Its main emphasis was on the worst fleet of ships, where working conditions were well below the prevailing standards. In our industry there were several such companies, but the worst of the lot was the Munson Steamship Company. Munson had more than 35 ships, including freighters and passenger ships, that plied the trade between all the eastern United States ports and South America. Wages were the lowest; working and living conditions were utterly terrible. Most men took jobs on these ships because it was their desperate last effort to find work. Most stayed only long enough to get a few bucks, then tried something else.

The union believed that if 90 percent of its forces were to concentrate on these ships and bring the company to its knees, then like in the domino theory, the weakest link would bring down the others. The Munson Line shipping office was suddenly filled with MWIU members trying their best to get a job. I was familiar with the company since I had made a trip on one of its passenger ships, the Southern Cross. But I was not in good standing with the shipping master and stayed away from him.

A few days after the new policy was worked out I ran into Robbie. "Get whatever gear you can pull together and get down to Pier 82 right away. There's a job waiting for you as wiper on board the Mundixie. Here's the pass to get on board. Reddin originally got the job, but he can't make it. So you're elected. The shipping master's office will be closed up. Just go aboard and tell them that you're the new replacement. No one will ever be the wiser. Good luck, and remember--try to strike the sonofabitch the first port."

I gathered my small suitcase stuffed with literature. I also had two pairs of socks stuffed in my pocket, a toothbrush and the clothes on my back. The Mundixie was one of the oldest freighters in the Munson Line. Darkness had fallen as I worked my way down the pier and up the rusted gangway on board. A few flakes of snow were falling as the sailors pulled up the gangway and secured it to the side. "You made it just in time," said the engineer. "A few more minutes and we were determined to pull out short a man. It's 4:30, so go below and help out. You owe the company a half hour."

The sonofabitch, I said to myself. The bum wouldn't even let me put my gear away. I left it on deck, then went below to the engine room. I introduced myself to the engineer on watch, who seemed to be a decent guy, then stood around for the next half hour watching him work the throttle of the huge steam-reciprocating engine that moved the ship slowly away from the dock. Soon we were steaming down the Hudson River. When I went up on deck at five, the few puffs of snow had turned into a howling blizzard. I went aft to my quarters, stowed my suitcase and socks, and came back up midship to the mess room.

I had been in many a ship's mess room, but never one like this. There were no tables, no mess man to serve you. It was a small room with a one-foot ledge sticking out from the bulkhead. A small hole opened up from the galley next door. You went up to this opening and rapped your knuckles on the ledge to attract the cook's attention. He passed through a blue enamel plate with the food on it, with utensils. Four members of the engine room were sitting on high stools waiting when I went in. I rapped for the cook's attention. After a few moments, out came a plate with two hotdogs, a boiled potato in its jacket and two slices of bread. In a small side dish there were eight prunes. I was shocked. Never had I seen such a disgraceful display. Usually, if the food is bad on board a ship, then the rest of the conditions are likewise. I knew right then and there that this was the bottom of the barrel.

I ate my supper quickly, then put the plate back into the cubbyhole, waiting for seconds. I waited, then waited some more. I rapped for attention, then shouted loudly, "Hey, cook!" The cook, a middle-aged Chinese man, bent down to see me.

"What you want?" he asked.

"More food," I said loudly.

"You already had your supper," he said.

"That's not enough. I want seconds."

"No seconds," he replied. "The company only allow me 12 cent a meal to feed you guy. You already had your 12 cent."

"Oh yeah? I'll see about that."

The crew members looked at me as if I were some sort of nut. But I knew with all that talking I did I had better obtain some results. Otherwise, anything I said from now on would have no meaning. I picked up my plate, made my way out on deck and headed for the bridge, where I knew I would find the captain. The deck was covered with a foot of snow. Through the dark night the lighted torch of the Statue of Liberty was barely visible as we worked our way past her to the open sea. The winds were so strong that I had a hard time getting the wheelhouse door open. When I stepped in the mate, the captain and the sailor at the wheel turned in surprise. I stood there with my plate in my hand. "Yes," said the captain. "What is it?"

I reached out with the plate. "I was fed two measly hotdogs, a boiled potato and a bowl of prunes. When I asked for a second helping I was told that I'd had my supper and there was no more. I can't perform my work on two lousy hotdogs and two slices of bread. If this is all you're going to feed me, you might as well turn the ship around and put me off. I can't work on this diet."

The captain acted quickly. "Mate, take this man below and see that he gets more to eat."

I walked out of the wheelhouse first, but I could hear the mate say to the captain, "Looks like we've got a member of the IWW on board."

The cook was notified of the captain's wishes and I did not have to wait long before my plate came back from the galley with a double portion of everything. Now I was able to crow in front of the crew members still sitting around, waiting, no doubt, to see what would happen to me. I mumbled out loud, "The only goddam way you'll ever get anyplace is by fighting for it."

The next port would be Baltimore, usually a 36-hour trip from New York. Because of the raging blizzard, however, we forged along at greatly reduced speeds, facing buffeting winds and high seas. I quickly looked over the crew, feeling each one out on different issues. Word had gotten around the ship quickly that with a little action, changes were possible. I did not get the overwhelming enthusiasm I had expected. The usual response when I talked to a crew member was, "What's the use of fighting? No one wants to do anything." That statement fit many of the American seamen's thoughts about trying to improve their lot.

I unloaded some literature in various parts of the ship where I was sure it would be found by the crew. I knew that most people hated for someone to stick a leaflet or pamphlet in their face and say "Read it." It was better if I put some of my literature in places where the crew would find it on their own. I even set up two matchsticks with the material in such a way that I could tell if someone touched it. Around midnight I made the rounds to check on the literature. It had been moved--picked up and laid back down, but not read in any detail. It disturbed me that I could not entice seamen, aching to be organized, to read the literature that would help to solve their problems.

I sat down to organize my thoughts. What was it that prevented the men from reading the literature? Did they distrust the union? Were they afraid to be caught reading it? Was it that dull and uninteresting? What was it? And what could be done about it? I looked around the dingy-looking place we called the mess room. On the shelf-like table that extended along the wall were all sorts of books: romances, love stories, adventure stories, etc., all donated by the American Seamen's Institute Library Association. On every ship, the Institute would carry aboard a trunk full of books, then change the books every trip. The books were donations from the people to the "lonely seamen." The Institute made sure that no book favorable to the union cause or favoring class struggle would see the light of day aboard ship. Their censorship was perfect. The employers would never allow them to board their ships with literature that would undermine the employer's base. Yet the American seaman was an avid reader. Most of his off-duty time was spent reading. Three or four books were around each seaman's bunk.

Of course! That was the reason! He had so much other stuff to read. Something would have to be done about the library if I was to get the men to read the union literature. Knute Edmunsen, a sailor on the eight to twelve watch, came in to get out of the cold. He sat down and offered me a cigarette. He spoke first. "Are you a member of the Marine Workers?" he asked.

"Right," I replied.

"So am I," he said.

I was surprised and slightly mad. "If you're a MWIU member, how come you took so long to come forward?" I asked.

"I came aboard in Boston. I've only been on here a week. I don't even know anybody. In fact, I'm just getting to know the good guys from the bad. I didn't know about you. You could have been a company set-up, you know. Someone planted by the company. I had to wait and make sure."

"Well, are you sure now?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "And I'm glad, too. I had instructions in Boston to do everything to strike the ship, and believe me, I don't know the first way to go about it. What do you think?"

"I would say that we have a lot of work to do. I don't know if we're going to be successful in sitting this ship down in Baltimore or not, but one thing's for sure: we should work our asses off and give it a good try."

"What have you worked out, if anything? Where do we start? Come to think of it, there's one more guy on here, Mark Ackerman. He's a fireman on the four to eight watch. He came aboard with me in Boston. He's a good guy, not a member of the MWIU, but he hangs around the union hall in Boston and is sympathetic. Whatever we agree on, he'll go along, I'm sure."

"I think the first thing we have to do is get the crew to read the union literature I carried aboard. And this goddamn love story and super-duper detective junk the guys are reading from that phony library, well . . . that library has to go. Now, if all the books on board disappear, then they'll have to read something, right?"

"How the hell are you going to get rid of all the reading material on board?" he asked.

"First we start with this collection of junk," I said as I scooped up the books in the mess room, some 30 of them. "These are going over the side right now. Where is the library located?"

"There's a small room next to the radio shack. That's where the library box is," he replied.

Out on deck, I dumped the armful of books over the side. We climbed the snow-covered steps to the upper deck, and in the cold darkness of the night, we carried out the large trunk of books and heaved them over the side, trunk and all. Now the question remained: how to get my hands on the rest of the books aboard? There was only one way, unethical as it may have seemed. It was the only practical way. I would have to go from room to room, bunk to bunk, while the crew members were out, and as quickly as possible remove any books I found. Part of me said it was a lousy thing to do; the other part kept telling me that every effort must be used, no matter how low or unethical it may seem at the moment, to stir the men into action. After all, in the long run it was for their own good. There was no time to play the role of nice guy. Organizing at its best was a tough job. One had to take advantage of every opportunity, every maneuver, every flaw, every chance to get the men on the right track toward improving their lot.

Knute and I worked quickly, going from room to room and removing anything readable, without being detected by the crew. By four in the morning, we had been so successful that not a magazine or an old newspaper could be found on board. The startling thing was that nobody ever had the slightest notion of what was going on. Most crew members suspected that another crew member had taken their reading material.

Mark Ackerman, the fireman, was a sociable guy. When Knute introduced me to him I felt a warm assurance that he was the type who, once convinced, would go along with any plan to strike the ship. The three of us found a safe, secure part of the afterdeck to lay out some planes. We would have to work fast. We didn't have much time before we would be moving closer to shore and up the river to Baltimore. Luck remained with us. The blizzard grew fiercer and the vessel was slowed down some more.

With nothing to read, it was only a matter of a few hours before the crew started reading the literature I had brought aboard. There is not much to do aboard a freighter when your watch is over, especially at sea in the midst of a storm, other than curl up in your bunk and read. With the crew reading some decent literature for a change, the next step was to get them all together at a meeting. When I approached one guy to ask if he would attend a meeting to talk about improving conditions, he would say, "It's impossible to get this crew together. But if the other guys attend, I'll join in." The best way to go about it was to tell each guy that Joe would attend if he would.

Baltimore was the port where the Marine Workers' Industrial Union was by far the strongest. As a result, they were able to establish a system of relief for the seamen that was unheard of in any other port. Unemployed seamen got three meals a day, and they could choose to eat at some 20 waterfront restaurants. They could choose to reside in any of 25 or 30 rooming houses along the waterfront. But most importantly, the administration was in the hands of the seamen. Usually the Seamen's Church Institute officials controlled the administration of relief, and much racketeering, milking of funds and discrimination took place. The MWIU had wrested control of the administration of relief to seamen. Their main point was that there would be no discrimination. It was seamen administering to seamen. The MWIU participated in a special committee of seamen and government officials who checked weekly on the operation of the rooming houses and the satisfaction of the seamen. The same was done with restaurants; they made sure the food was good and wholesome and the seamen well-fed. Within six months after the takeover of control by seamen, surplus money was returned to the government--an unheard of phenomenon.

Baltimore was unique because of this far-reaching organizational step forward. None of the other ports in the entire country could duplicate it, no matter how hard the unions tried. The seamen's relief was still in the hands of the same old gang of petty grafters who manipulated government relief funds to the detriment of the seamen.

Baltimore became known throughout the United States as a port where unemployed seamen could get a decent break. As a result, organizational aspirations became stronger, and the MWIU flourished to the point of exercising control over 75 percent of employment of seamen in a Centralized Shipping Bureau, run no longer by some shipping crimp, but by a committee of seamen. Furthermore, they excelled at placing seamen aboard ship on the basis of their seniority. The man who had been registered the longest was given first preference for a job. Even shipowners, denied the right to pick and choose their men, had to admit that the new system was fair and just, and the quality of the men was excellent. Shipping companies which made Baltimore Their home base were encouraged by a strong show of unity to sign local contracts with the MWIU.

It was this strong example I showed to the crew of the Mundixie, encouraging them to think of their present plight of starvation wages, horrid food, and poor living and working conditions, and to cast their lot for unionizing the ship. It was by no means an easy task. Faced constantly with the belief that "you can't trust the other guy," our small group had to take each individual and convince him that he was the only holdout to calling a meeting and airing our views. Finally, after several hours of begging, cajoling and almost threatening some of the weaker elements, a meeting hour was agreed upon.

Secrecy was imperative. Although it was impossible to keep the information from reaching the bridge, we at least took steps to minimize what the officers might find out. A lookout was stationed at the door to the sailor's quarters. I opened the meeting. I explained as best as I could that the Munson Line was by far the worst offender in the entire shipping line when it came to poor wages and conditions; if we could topple Munson and win concessions, the rest of the steamship companies on the Coast would be sure to follow.

"Suppose we do go out on strike and we lose, then what?" asked one sailor.

The answer to that was simple. In the port we were heading for, Baltimore, the seamen had control of both the relief and most of the shipping. The striker would most likely fare better on strike than working. Everyone on board agreed that conditions were horrible. The promise of a three-month trip to South America with a possibly halfway-decent pay off at the end was a strong incentive to the men who had been on the beach for a long time. They listened to our arguments and weighed them carefully, and after two hours of debate they voted to strike when a strike vote was called. Two men opposed the strike because they thought we could not win it, but they promised that they would abide by the majority decision.

A three-man committee was elected to draw up the demands. Within ten minutes we had drawn up a partial list, which I submitted to the crew. They approved the following:

1. Wages to be elevated to the wages paid by the United States Shipping Board (up at least $30 for all ratings)

2. Recognition of a ship's delegate in all departments

3. Recognition of the MWIU as a bargaining agent

4. Elimination of all enamel eating utensils. Improvements in the quality and quantity of food. Coffee urn to be placed in crew's mess

5. Elimination of "donkey's breakfast" (straw) mattress

6. Overtime pay for more than eight hours of work a day

7. Cash draws in all ports

8. Installation of "slop chest" aboard ship

9. An immediate end to any and all discrimination because of a man's union outlook or affiliation

10. An end to all abuse by officers. No "hard timing" or forcing the crew to do officer's laundry on their time off

They were not world-shaking demands, but they were the most pressing items of the day to the crew. A strike committee was elected to present these demands upon arrival in port. I was chosen as chairman. Nine hours more and we would be pulling into Baltimore. As could be expected, there was excitement among the crew members. As careful as we tried to be, word nonetheless did get out to the officers that a strike was imminent. As we drew closer to the dock, the officers became more excited than the crew.

The most important thing at this moment was to get word to the union hall of our arrival and our intentions. The last line was played out to the dock to tie up the ship and the gangway was lowered. I went ashore and telephoned the hall; they promised quick support. At eight that morning, the three members of the strike committee converged on the captain's room with the list of demands. "I wish to have a talk with you, captain," I said.

"Yes, I've been expecting you," he said roughly. "In fact, I knew the minute you came barging into the wheelhouse complaining about the food that you spelled trouble. Let me state now, and I want all three of you to hear this well, I don't intend to negotiate with you on anything. Now you can all pack your bags and get off my ship."

"That's not the way it's going to be, captain," I said. "We don't intend to leave this ship until our demands are met."

"In that case I'll have to call the police and have you all removed."

"You may call the police, captain, but keep in mind one thing: if any violence takes place and any crew member is hurt, it's because of you and not us. We're before you asking to negotiate in peace."

"Please leave my room now," the captain said.

Quickly, we notified the crew of the captain's reaction. Then I ran out to the dock and made another phone call to the union hall. "Don't worry. We'll send a few cabloads of pickets out to the dock to picket the ship. Stay calm," was the reply.

Since we had pulled out the fireman from the boiler room, the engineers took over maintenance, keeping the boilers going with a load of steam. But no cargo- loading operations were attempted. In the late afternoon, three police officers came aboard. The captain called for the committee. "These officers wish to have a word with you," the captain said. The cops faced us calmly.

"I'm here to keep the peace," one cop said. "The captain tells me that all you men were fired and you refuse to leave the ship. We're here to make sure you do. I'm asking that you leave the vessel now, peacefully. Can I have your word that this will be done?"

"First off, this is a strike for better conditions. Second, we were fired after we presented our demands. Third, we don't recognize the Baltimore police as looking out for our best interests. Besides, you don't have any jurisdiction; maritime is a federal matter. We are committing no acts of violence. If you take us off this ship it will be by force, and we'll hold responsible each and every one of you, including the captain, for any injury to any member of the crew. It would be wiser for you to inform the captain that he should negotiate a settlement so we can all go about our work in peace."

The officer looked at the captain quizzically. "Get out of my room," the captain told us. "I'll find some way to settle this thing."

The captain ordered the galley closed down. There was no food. Some hot sandwiches and coffee were passed to us through the picket line. By early evening the captain had not returned from shore leave. We had the feeling that something was in the wind, but we had no idea what. We decided that all hands should pack their bags and have them ready in the event we had to get off the ship. At midnight, with all hands still holding firm by staying on board, we double-checked to see if the captain had returned. He was still ashore. The evening had grown cold; a sprinkle of light rain hit the deck. From all appearances it seemed that nothing was going to happen until morning. A two-man committee was delegated to stand lookout near the gangway and report anything that could remotely indicate trouble to us in the crew's quarters. Since the night was chilly and wet, the two men decided to stand watch in the mess room which adjoined the entrance to the gangway. From this vantage point they could detect anyone going up or down the gangway. The rest of us crawled up into our bunks fully-clothed and caught what sleep we could.

By three in the morning you could have heard a pin drop aboard the Mundixie. The two lookout men found the warm heat of the mess room too comforting and soon fell asleep. No one saw them coming, but some twenty-five of Baltimore's biggest cops sneaked aboard slowly and quietly, and within five minutes it was all over. They charged into the crew's quarters, handcuffed men while they were still asleep, then pushed and pulled them out on deck and down the gangway. Other cops acted as porters, carrying suitcases and dufflebags and depositing them on the dock.

In the distance I could hear the chug-chug of a motor launch inching its way toward the ship. It was loaded with scab seamen, recruited in Philadelphia and sped to Baltimore. The captain stood on the officer's deck and watched as the police hustled us off the ship. As the last man was escorted down the gangway, the captain shouted, "I told you I'd find a way to get my ship out! If you want what wages you have coming you can go to the company office uptown and get them. May you all rot on the beach! Good riddance!"

"Okay," shouted the cop, "you're in Baltimore now, on Baltimore territory. That's the way to the main gate. Get going." Outside the gate five pickets were walking back and forth, proclaiming that the Mundixie was on strike. None of them had the slightest notion of what had taken place. The police had used the same approach as the scabs, coming from the harbor in a launch.

From outside the gate we could see the black smoke rising from the smokestack as the Mundixie gathered up a full head of steam. The police let go the mooring lines. The ship moved away from the dock.

Chapter X: "Baltimore Soviet" and West Coast Strike

I felt defeated, humiliated, outmatched and outclassed. I tried, as I watched the ship disappear down the river, to go over all the plans and figure out what had gone wrong. I blamed myself for the two lookout men falling asleep. I should have known something like that would happen. What would my comrades in New York think about this? How could I ever face them again and convince them that they should continue to have confidence in me? I worried about such things. I had been given an assignment by comrades who had faith in me; I had failed them and the crew of the Mundixie. Well, the Mundixie was gone. I would have to pick up the pieces now. The men were destitute and broke and, if they felt like me, demoralized and defeated. They would have to be housed and fed. that was part of my responsibility, too. I realized there was more to leadership than merely leading men into a strike.

We piled into cabs with our baggage and headed to the union hall. The secretary, Anton Becker, received us warmly. I explained the plight of the men. Becker said it would create no problem. The men would be housed and fed and given shipping cards to ship out. "Don't feel bad about the ship getting away," Becker said. "After all, if we average one win in five that's good batting. Next time we'll be better organized. Let's learn and move ahead. Don't feel bad about it. The men must understand that it's always a gamble. And after all, what did they miss? They'll be better fed and taken care of here, and they'll end up going out on better ships. So cheer up, roll up your sleeves and prepare to get down to a lot of hard work around here. There's plenty to be done. As a Communist, you have your work cut out for you."

My new assignment was to work on publicity and help with a daily news bulletin issued by the union that was distributed to the seamen. I was thankful to be able to work alongside a comrade experienced in propaganda, and I learned much from him. We would sit up half the night, pounding away on dilapidated typewriters, writing and rewriting leaflets, putting them on stencils and running them off on a mimeograph.

As in New York, the MWIU was well-organized and prepared to meet every incoming ship, bombard it with literature, get petitions signed, take up collections for various causes and work hard to recruit new members into the union. The relief committee of seamen worked closely with members of the welfare department of the government. Their job was to oversee the relief distribution handed down from the government to the seamen. Some of our best Communist members were on the seamen's committee. One thing must be said for the relief committee: from the day of its inception to its demise, not one cent was ever pocketed in the form of graft or under-the-counter activities or spent for the personal use of any committee member. The fact that the committee was so efficient, that it ran so perfectly, made it a feather in the hat of the MWIU and a tribute to the waterfront leadership of the Communist Party.

While this was a near-perfect relief system, the government side did not always like the setup. They knew that they were under scrutiny. If they could have had it their way, the system would have been open to graft, favoritism and every form of discrimination against the seamen. Some of the restaurant and boarding house operators would have favored the committee being under full government control, because they might have benefited from kick-backs. But most operators were satisfied with things the way they were. They did not have to compete or pay under the counter to receive their share of business.

One drawback to the "Baltimore Soviet," as it was called by the seamen, was its size. Only so many could be accommodated, and no more. Seamen around the country started to hear about the beautiful setup in Baltimore: three meals a day, a place to stay, even a set of work clothes and razor blades. Baltimore would never be able to handle the hundreds of seamen that were looking for a haven. To avoid this, a limitation was agreed upon. When space was available in the allotted 250 rooms, unemployed seamen would be given room and board for one month. After that, if they had not shipped out, they would be compelled to move out and make room for another unfortunate seaman. However, most were hired within a month. Countless men came in on ships and made Baltimore their home port. These men, of course, had a pay day; they were on their own and not in need of immediate relief. The MWIU set the limitation policy with the objective that seamen, when they saw and experienced what was being done in Baltimore, would be induced to do the same in their own home ports.

Because of the influx of seamen into Baltimore, not a week passed without two to five new recruits joining the Party. We were able to select the best of the seamen, and the Party's influence was constantly growing.

The International Seamen's Union was the other union in the field. It was nearly dormant, doing little or nothing for the seamen. Instead they constantly shouted anti-Communist insults about everything the MWIU did. Its prestige was rock-bottom. While they had a handful of members in the port, most of them could be found in the MWIU hall playing checkers or cards with MWIU members.

A major asset of the "Baltimore Soviet" was the Centralized Shipping Bureau (CSB). Because of the MWIU's strength, a large percentage of the replacement of ships' crews went through it. Seamen registered according to rating and worked their way up the list, with the man registered the longest being given preference. Again, there was no discrimination, no graft, no favoritism. The seamen knew this and understood that it was the MWIU's leadership and their own vigilance that made the Bureau incorruptible. The chairman was a guy named Harry Alexander, a roly-poly Polish seaman who loved his role as shipping master and guarded the Bureau's high principles.

One of the biggest fleets of ships that made Baltimore its home port was the Ore SS Company, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel. Ore SS ran carriers to Chile in South America and docked at Sparrow's Point, a few miles outside of Baltimore. The MWIU had concentrated most of its forces on this one outfit. Soon it made the company recognize the CSB as the source of its manpower replacements. As a result, conditions on the 15 Ore ships improved tremendously. They became some of the best ships to sail on. They had a special wage scale that made their jobs sought after. Since the Baltimore seamen knew they were secure, they did not "homestead" the ships, but instead made a trip or two and then got off to make room for another seaman.

All this seemed like a never-ending walk in the Garden of Eden. But the Communists and the MWIU leaders constantly warned the rank and file that they were in danger of losing these hard-won conditions unless the movement to create similar conditions in all ports took shape.

Most shipowners, relief agencies, government officials and Seamen's Church Institute officials were united to break apart the "Baltimore Soviet." Shipowners all over were constantly putting pressure on the Ore Steamship Company to stop hiring union men from the Centralized Shipping Bureau. But the heads of the Ore Line were not about to take on the MWIU and the Baltimore seamen alone, and the promise of aid was too remote in coming. Several times "plants" were sent to infiltrate the ranks and cast doubt on the policies of the MWIU. Amateurs that they were, they were quickly exposed and chased out of town.

Most of the propaganda that I helped to write in our daily bulletins was directed toward encouraging seamen to stay united and protect their gains. While the Party did not raise banners proclaiming that it was the guiding light and leading force on the seamen's relief committee in Baltimore, neither did it deny its role or remain silent. The Party was very vocal in Baltimore, on the waterfront and in all industries in the area--especially in the steel mills which formed the major industry in Baltimore. Every week, a social event of some kind occurred either in the city or in an outer community like Highlandtown, a Finnish community. A spirit of strong comradeship existed among all the Baltimore Left.

In the world of revolution there are no holidays or days off. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the revolution goes on. Our object was to move the mass of people into the mainstream of revolutionary action. If you were out of work, you joined the Unemployed Councils organized in every neighborhood and became an active worker struggling within the system for the right to a job. Some organizations concentrated on getting relief for the destitute, others helped mothers with children. There were organizations to help the foreign-born, organizations to fight against war, organizations to fight against fascism. I cannot think of any one of these left-leaning organizations that was not started by members of the Communist Party. A Communist was at his or her best when working among people, and wherever people were, the Communists were sure to be there. We even had a special unit that concentrated on and worked among the National Guard to make sure they were neutralized in the event of a strike.

Every day representatives of the neighborhood relief councils escorted dozens of people to the relief agencies to demand immediate relief. Sometimes a small parade of 100 or more marched up to City Hall or the building which housed the relief agencies. The marchers would encircle a speaker who mounted a chair. The speaker would denounce the whole system of relief to the needy, denounce those in charge of administering relief as bureaucrats and lackeys of the capitalists and imperialists. Someone from the neighborhood ranks would be introduced. He or she would climb onto the chair and describe how they had to fight rats for the last scraps of bread in their tenements. The rhetoric, of course, was never for the benefit of the marchers, but for those on the sidelines who paused long enough to listen and observe.

When the speeches ended, a delegation would converge on the office to seek the person responsible for the distribution of relief. Sometimes arguments between the police and the delegation arose. The leaders would insist that the entire delegation be allowed into an office. Confrontations occurred. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost, and sometimes we couldn't get a foot in the door. A report of the outcome would be made to the demonstrators milling around the building. If victory was the result, it was a time to announce to the whole world that victory was a result of class-conscious workers fulfilling their revolutionary role in a bourgeois society.

Generally, I had enough work to confine me to the waterfront during the days. In the evenings I attended meetings. Only on a Saturday or Sunday was there a chance to relax, either by attending some politicized social or dance gathering or by dropping into one of the hundreds of local beer joints that the Baltimore waterfront was noted for. The joints were usually small storefront saloons with a few table and chairs and about three girls to solicit drinks and serve whatever needs you had in mind. A jukebox blared polkas and the hits of the day. There was just enough room to twirl a gal around on the dance floor. Beer was the only drink permitted, but for the elite customers there was always a bottle or two of the hard stuff to be found behind the counter.

Since I was now a member of a revolutionary, disciplined Party, I was always cognizant of what, when, where and why I did something. The Party did not take excessive drinking nor whoring around lightly. After all, a woman forced into whoring by the "male-dominated capitalist society" debased all of womankind. Communists were supposed to uplift the common people, not demean them, and frequenting whorehouses was considered taboo.

But the seaman was a different product of society. He spent most of his time away from home. He had little time in his career to create steady relationships. In most of the foreign ports he rarely ever got away from the perimeter of the waterfront, unless he was class-conscious or so intellectually-motivated that he found more solace and peace by visiting castles and museums. But the mass of seamen were not class-conscious and they did spend their time in the waterfront dives of the world. Since now I was considered one of the "class-conscious" workers, I had to make sure no one ever saw me go in or out of those joints.

With each passing day I learned something new. At least three times a week an open-air meeting was held on the waterfront. Around noon the MWIU rigged up its soapbox and spent the next hour haranguing the seamen on some issue or another. This we called our "educating process." It was here that I learned to partake in public speaking. Every radical sooner or later had to mount the "soapbox," and I was no exception. With a little guidance before I spoke, I soon became adjusted to the notion that I could mount the box and immediately launch into a tirade for or against the subject of the moment. Once the feeling of "butterflies" in the stomach passed the rest was easy. Days quickly moved into weeks and weeks into months. Big events were looming on the horizon, especially on the West Coast. We awoke one morning to hear the news that the longshoremen on the West Coast had "hit the bricks" and the MWIU was calling on its members as well as all seamen to follow suit, not just in support of the longshoremen's demands, but for demands of their own. Could we get the East Coast seamen and longshoremen to join the strike and make it nationwide? There were big debates on this question among us. The consensus was that the East and Gulf longshoremen who functioned under the gangster-led International Longshoremen's Association would not dare risk a strike in support of their West Coast brothers. After all, the head of the longshoremen's union, Joe Ryan was busy as a swarm of bees in a hive out on the West Coast trying to sell the strike down the river and force the men back to work on the conditions tantamount to servitude. No, it was not possible to get the longshoremen in the East to join any national strike movement. Instead, we worked among the rank and file and kept them informed of the truth of the strike while having them support their West Coast brothers any way they could. But what about the East Coast seamen? Was there any chance of having them join the strike? While we had some members among the seamen, we did not have enough employed aboard ships to make a tangible contribution. There was still much work to be done in educating the seamen about unionism. Many were too dependent on the favoritism of the company shipping master. They therefore shied away from militant unionism and were not about to make the supreme sacrifice of giving up their jobs on the pretext that they could win the strike or make radical changes for the better. No. Workers give a lot of serious thought to such a subject, especially if they stand to lose their livelihood. However, we would have to pitch in there and work extra hard to offer a maximum amount of support to the West Coast strikers. We increased the amount of our literature to the seamen and longshoremen tenfold. With every bit of news we received from the West Coast we issued special bulletins to the workers, always with the main theme that we could not allow the West Coast strikers to lose their strike. From those semen who were working, we asked for donations to be forwarded to the West Coast strikers while we also attempted to prepare them to join the union.

With each passing day we heard news of more West Coast ships' crews walking off and joining the picket lines. The strike had now enveloped all West Coast ports. As the strike intensified, so did the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of Ryan. Since he had been opposed to the strike from its inception, and since he had always worked hand-in-glove with the employers, he now doubled his efforts to sell out the strike as quickly as possible. The harder he tried to do this, the more united the strikers became. A new leader of the West Coast longshoremen was emerging; his name was Harry Bridges.

Bridges was a rank-and-file Australian longshoreman who had the guts, integrity and know-how to win the confidence of the men he worked with. They named him their strike chairman--to the dismay of the employers, who wanted nothing to do with him. While the men were manning the picket lines, Joe Ryan was busy working out a phony contract with the employers to break the strike and send the men back to work. At a mass meeting he presented the contract to the rank and file and told them they should "get back to work." The reply of the men was curt: "Shove it." Ryan and his contract were rejected and the strike continued. Having lost the battle, Ryan left town and let the cops, strikebreakers, and eventually the National Guard, to try to do the job.

Strikebreaking became a lucrative but somewhat dangerous occupation. Despite the danger, a sizable group of strikebreakers was recruited to man the ships and work the cargo. The group included students from the University of California. From a psychological point of view, it was necessary that the shipowners move as many ships as possible away from the docks and out to sea. They figured that if the strikers could see the ships moving out, it would demoralize them into giving up and returning to work. One such ship, manned by strikebreakers, pulled out of San Pedro and headed for the East Coast. Her name was the Felix Taussig, a freighter belonging to the McCormick SS Company. Word had gotten to us from San Pedro strike headquarters that she was heading our way. We were prepared for the arrival. We drew up several plans, all with the purpose of keeping the ship tied snugly against the dock.

The first plan was to convince the present crew to get off the vessel. Second, we sent some of our best people to the office of the McCormick shipping master. They would hang around "hoping" for work. We sent enough men to man the ship three days before the expected arrival. Luck was with us; there were only half a dozen of McCormick's faithful standing by.

When the Felix Taussig arrived, we had a hundred pickets to greet her. Also present was a large contingent of Baltimore cops. The crew could see us from the deck of the ship. We set up a soapbox, and for the next hour speaker after speaker mounted it and called for unity with the West Coast strikers. They asked the crew to lay down their tools and leave the ship. But all that day not a single crew member dared leave the vessel. Later in the afternoon, when most of the pickets were gone, a friendly longshoreman was approached and asked to get a message to one or more of the crew members. The message was that we would like a parley and would guarantee their safety.

Two of the crew stepped ashore. Five of us met them. Big Jack Kennedy, one of our organizers, opened the discussion. He was polite and diplomatic. "Look, fellows," he said calmly, "we know you didn't mean to take the ship out of San Pedro through picket lines. We know the shipowners lied to you about the strike. We're willing to forget all that, providing you guys clear off the ship."

"What guarantee do you give us that we won't be rolled or worked over if we get off?" asked the more articulate of the two.

"I will personally guarantee that not one man here in Baltimore will lay a hand on you or your money. You can join us here as brothers or you can return to where you came from. It makes no difference to us, just as long as you leave the ship."

"Okay, I'll leave the ship, and I'll talk to the rest of the men and see what they want to do. I can't say that all of them will leave, but I'll give them the message." The crew members standing on deck watched their representatives climb the gangway.

An hour went by and nothing happened. After three hours we detected activity on deck; then a mass of men and baggage came streaming down the gangway. We had won this beef!

What a great feeling to be able to convince men to take right action! We met the two men we had talked to earlier. They were leading the crew ashore. "We're afraid to stay in Baltimore, despite your assurances, so we're all getting out of here. Can we get that much help from you?"

Our small group assured them of our support. A few ran toward Lower Broadway to gather as many taxis as possible. Within 15 minutes the men were off to the railroad station, bound for destinations unknown.

Two men--one a sailor, the other an oiler refused to get off, as did the officers. We knew that the ship was crewless; she wasn't going anywhere, not in that condition. We now had the task of keeping the ship here. How we did that was of no importance, just so long as it stayed. With no crew aboard, the officers themselves managed to keep up the steam pressure. The ship just sat there, quiet.

The shipping master had gotten the word. He would have to supply a full crew, less two men. He could not be choosey. He dare not spend useless time checking each man's record. The captain needed men now, and it was up to the shipping master to immediately supply the crew. We were lucky. Most of the jobs were assigned to our troops. Five of the jobs went to out-and-out company men, men who stayed clear of unions. Word had gotten to us that the men were on their way to the pier. It was logical that we remove the few pickets we had at the pier to allow the men to pass. As we did so, we watched from a distance as the cops checked over the cabs, then waved them on. What we did not count on was that the skipper would order the gangway pulled up once the last man was aboard, preventing the rest of the cargo from being discharged and putting the ship to sea. The last thing any of our men wanted was to be aboard a struck ship at sea. When they heard the word to man their stations and prepare to get under way, there was a mass exodus to the gangway. This came as a surprise to the captain--and to us. The five company men stayed aboard, raising the total number of crew members to seven. Seven was too many.

Now what the hell were we to do? A quick meeting was called. In the discussion we focused on the seven men aboard. Would the captain dare to take the ship out with it so undermanned? We thought not. We felt he would try to secure the rest of the crew somehow. We were wrong. While we were still trying to come up with a practical perspective, one of the pickets came charging into the meeting to tell us that the Felix Taussig had eased away from the pier and was now heading down the river toward the open sea. The bastard got away, just like the Mundixie. She would pick up the additional men needed somewhere down the river. We phoned the MWIU branches in New York and New Orleans and warned them.

It was a blow to our port's prestige to have this ship slip from our fingers. We sent a letter of regret to the San Pedro strikers and told them what had happened. Meanwhile, the West Coast strike was taking on new dimensions. Cops were beating the pickets, raiding their union halls, destroying offices and arresting strikers and sympathizers by the dozens. Scabs working on the piers were being tracked down by the strikers and clobbered. Soon it became dangerous for a scab to be out of the confines of the police-guarded piers. Scabs were fed and housed aboard special ships set up for just that purpose. Every day efforts were being made up and down the coast to open the ports, but in most cases scabs trying to enter the piers under police protection were repelled and driven away. It took brave men to man those lines under such a brutal onslaught. I felt happy in the realization that my class, the working class, was getting itself organized and was now engaging the state structure in its daily battles.

I was called before our waterfront Party group. Kennedy laid it out for me: "We have nothing working for us in Norfolk. We have a Party office there but no one working in maritime. Now that the West Coast is out on strike it's important for us to have someone working among seamen down there. We want you to go to Norfolk as secretary of the MWIU, to set up a branch there. It won't be easy for you at first; there's a lot of territory to cover, including Newport News. There's an ILA local of coal trimmers there. The guys are fairly good and you can work with them around the coal colliers. We have a Party section organizer there, but he doesn't know much about seamen or longshoremen or even ships, so don't expect much from him. Once you get your feet on the ground, start getting out some bulletins and propaganda."

I hesitated, wondering if this honor was something far over my head and capabilities. I was assured by the others that we all had to learn sometime, and the experience in Norfolk would be the best schooling I could hope for. I agreed to do my best and suggested that they not expect too much from me.

Chapter XI: Organize in Norfolk

The next day I left for Norfolk with a ten-dollar bill tucked deep in my pocket, a few belongings in a shopping bag and a stomach full of butterflies. I found the Party office deep in the heart of the ghetto, in a ramshackle building that should have been razed to the ground long before. I met the Party section organizer, a guy named Joe Kline, a stocky, partially-bald man pounding away slowly on a typewriter. He peered through thick glasses as he tried to find the right keys on the old machine.

After introductions, Kline asked me many questions about my experiences, about things in Baltimore and about the West Coast strike. I asked when I would meet the rest of the comrades. He replied that there were none, but there were a lot of sympathizers, most of them small Jewish shopkeepers who were spread out in the ghetto.

Since Kline had a little office plus a large room that could hold 25 people, it was decided that I would use his office. He had a key made for me. It was also agreed that he would give me five dollars a week and write the Baltimore office to ask for two dollars more weekly, so I would have seven dollars a week total to live on. As it turned out, Baltimore decided against sending the two dollars, so I had to make it on five, which was not easy. I couldn't afford to rent a room, so I prepared to sleep on the floor.

My first evening there I went out and bought myself some bread, milk and baloney. I placed the food on the floor of my new quarters and went into the office to gather some papers to read while eating. When I stepped back into the room I was shocked to see six big gray rats chewing away on my supper. By the time I returned with a broom to chase them away, most of my supper had either been eaten or carried away. I got rid of the rest of the food, then sat in the far corner with the lights on all night, the broom snugly in my arms. The screaming and fighting of the rats echoed in the walls and ceiling and below the floor. The next day I found the hole beneath the sink where they found entry. I got myself as many glass bottles as I could, smashed them into small pieces and poured the pieces down around the hole. As the days went by I made it a practice to bring back a bottle each day to add to the hole.

It didn't take long to locate all the places where the seamen hung out: the bars, restaurants and cat houses. Most of my visits to ships centered on the coal colliers that converged on Norfolk and Newport News from all the eastern seaports. Since there was an MWIU branch in those ports which paid a lot of attention to the colliers, most of these coal-transporting ships were in pretty fair condition. Many good men were on these ships and bought the union papers from me.They even sneaked me into the mess room now and then for a meal.

There was one big pier that handled all the cargo. The large freighters from all parts of the world used this pier. The only drawback was that to get into it you had to pass through the main gate, which was constantly guarded. You also had to show a ship's pass to the guard. But I was a Communist with a sacred duty to perform; I couldn't let an obstacle like a guard at the gate prevent me from doing my duty. A wire fence surrounded the large compound. I scouted it thoroughly and found the right spot. Unobserved, I pulled up and bent part of the fence so I could crawl underneath it. With a bundle of literature strapped tightly to my waist, I crawled under the fence going in and coming out every time a ship pulled into those piers.

There were no lectures, no social events. Norfolk was culturally starved, and with no money I could not even take in a cheap movie or have a good meal in a decent restaurant. I washed out what clothes I had at Party headquarters and hung them out to dry. Lots of cheap restaurants could be found in the whorehouse area where I could get a bowl of beans for a dime. My diet consisted mostly of beans, donuts and catfish. I looked forward to those times when a special ship came in and I was offered a good meal.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, two men were shot down by the police when the employers made another effort to break the strike. The waterfront in San Francisco was splattered with workers' blood. A general strike had been called. The strike had reached its zenith. It would be won or lost in the next few days. Newspapers were running stories that the Communists were preparing to take over local government. The Red bogeyman became a daily feature in the papers. Communists were being singled out, arrested and beaten by the police. Vigilantes were organized and they raided the homes of known radicals, even beating women in their homes. Despite every obstacle thrown in their path, the Communists and striking seamen and longshoremen stayed together. I felt tormented, knowing that in another part of the country the great struggle was taking place, and I was in a somewhat safe position. I felt that no matter what I was doing, it wasn't enough. I developed guilt feelings. I felt frustrated. I felt mad at my fellow workers who were riding the ships up and down the coast, doing next to nothing to help their West Coast fellow workers. I managed to raise a few dollars to ship off to the West Coast. I sold more union papers and discovered that the East Coast seamen did accept the literature more readily than they did before the strike. But all this did not soothe my belief that the best solution would be for the East Coast seamen to "hit the bricks" in a united seamen's strike. I hid my feeling of disgust when I talked to seamen and found myself rationalizing why East Coast seamen would not revolt. I plodded on daily despite my feelings, because I knew that sooner or later they would revolt, and every day's work would bring the day of reckoning closer.

I will always remember one day. It was by far the best day of my entire stay in Norfolk. Two ships had come into the big pier. One belonged to the American France Line, the other was a Luckenbach ship. They were tied up end to end at the same dock. I boarded the American France ship first, went into the mess room and laid some literature on the table. Some crew members picked it up immediately and started to read it. The boatswain asked, "You belong to the MWIU?"

"Yes," I replied, not knowing whether I would be invited to leave or face an argument.

"Good," he said. "I wanna join up."

"Me, too," said another seaman.

I had all the necessary papers, application forms and membership books out on the table within seconds. As I started writing, other crew members came into the room and got one behind the other. I scribbled out their names and placed dues stamps in their books. I had signed up the entire crew. I learned later that one guy, the boatswain, was the best-liked guy on the ship, admired by the crew. He was a Bostonian from a family with a union background. All during the trip he told the crew that unionism was their best salvation. He was determined that at the first port they came to with an MWIU office, he was joining up. When I came aboard the stage had been set. All I did was sign up a willing crew.

If I needed a jolt to lift my spirits, this was it. I was walking on a cloud. I collected initiation fees and dues and money for the Marine Workers' Voice. In addition the crew made a substantial donation to the West Coast strikers and a five dollar donation to me, personally. (I turned this over to the MWIU, since I thought it was wrong to profit personally.)

Since I had literature left over, I decided to visit the Luckenbach ship. To my surprise I met someone in the crew who I had met earlier on a coal collier, Red Corrigan. "Glad you came aboard," he said. "A few of us want to join up."

Out came the books and applications. Nine members signed up. Red had laid the ground work in the short time he had been aboard. What a beautiful day! Back at my office I made all the preparations to send in the names and money to the head office in New York. I also requested more membership books.

News from the West Coast was inspiring. The ranks were holding solid. Fewer and fewer ships were sneaking out of ports. The strikers had tightened up many of the loose ends. The public was supporting the strike more since the shooting and murdering of the two pickets. There was a general strike of all labor in San Francisco which shut the city down tight as a drum. The ruling class had seen what labor could accomplish. In spite of all the terror and the jailing and wounding of strikers the strike was holding together. Employers started to talk of negotiations.

A small tattoo shop in Norfolk drew most of its business from the men from the Navy base and our merchant seamen. A large display of tattoo drawings decorated the four walls. A sign on the wall read: "If you don't see what you want, make up your own and we'll duplicate it." Since I was proud to be a Communist, I saw nothing wrong in advertising my Party affiliation or my politics. I was proud of what I was trying to accomplish. I sketched on paper a crude hammer and sickle with the inscription below: "United Forever." "Can you duplicate this?" I asked the tattooist.

"If you can draw it, I can duplicate it. Sit down," he said. He dipped the electrical needle into the ink. Some guy walked in and watched as the tattooist completed the sketch on my forearm by giving the background a blend of red, making it look as if the hammer and sickle were floating in the air with a red sunset in the background. "Hey," remarked the observer, "so you belong to the Woodworkers' Union?"

A week later a dear friend showed up in the port. Harry Hynes was in on a freighter for a two-day stopover. I had great admiration for this man. In addition to being a devoted Communist, he was a compassionate person. His first words were, "When did you last have a good meal?" We went to the best steakhouse in Norfolk, then to a movie, my first since being in Norfolk.

"How much are you getting to subsist on?" he asked.

"Five dollars a week," I replied.

"What rooming house are you staying in?"

"None. I sleep on the floor at Party headquarters and try to bum my meals off ships."

Hynes was shocked and irritated. "If the Party didn't have the money, I could understand it. But we have the money, at least enough to see that our full-time professional revolutionaries get a bed to sleep in and decent food to eat. It's a disgrace that you have to work seven days a week and panhandle your meals.

"Look, here's ten dollars. That's all I got left with me. If you're going to hand it over to the Party, I won't give it to you, but it's yours to use to live on. Buy a pair of Tom McAns, but use it. The Party don't need your little donation; they should be donating to you. When I get into New York, you can bet I'm going to raise hell about this. The nerve of those bureaucrats. You can bet your last dollar that none of them are sleeping on the floor or bumming their meals."

Harry had a contempt for Party bureaucrats. Since he was a Party veteran and a long-time seaman, he had visited most countries in the world. He could tell you the names of the leaders of the Party in most countries, then list each Party's handicaps or good points. He was extremely well-read and as a result very verbal within the Party. "Bureaucracy is the death-knell of the Party," he would say. "We expect it in bourgeois parties, but it has no place in the Communist Party. When it is allowed to exist, you'll see the Party going to hell, then disappearing."

He used to shock me with his condemnation of some of our leaders. He'd call them well-fed fat asses who couldn't understand that you don't try to put a square peg into a round hole. "You remember one thing," he told me. "You're the guy that's out there in contact with the enemy every day, while they're safe and snug behind their desks. Don't let no sonofabitch browbeat you when you think you're right. They might have read all the fancy books about class struggle and think they know all the answers, but you're the one out in the weather. If a bureaucrat beats you down once, he'll do it time and time again. Stand up to them or you're not worth your weight in salt. Before I leave you, let me tell you one more thing: vanity, especially Communist vanity, is not always a desirable asset. That hammer and sickle you have stenciled on your arm, why did you do that?"

"Because I'm proud to be a Communist," I said.

"There's nothing wrong with being proud to be a Communist, but do you have to wear a hammer and sickle on your forehead just because you're a Communist? That's what I mean about Communist vanity. Don't ever get the idea that the Communists have all the answers, that the Communists are supposed to do all the talking and the workers all the listening. That's bullshit. We don't have all the answers. The working stiff is loaded with answers, and the more you talk to him the more you'll find him coming up with most of the answers. The workers know what they want and our job is to help develop their thinking processes toward a class-struggle orientation rather than every man for himself. A Communist has to operate under many conditions. Do you think you could walk around in, say, Cuba or Germany with a hammer and sickle tattooed on you and survive? Hell, you'd be shot in half an hour. What the hell good would you be as a dead Communist? What the hell good would you be to the workers? We want live Communists; hell, we have enough dead ones already. Think about it. There will be times when you'll have to deny you're a Communist. If you want to stand out like a pimple on a log, that's one thing. But if you want to be instrumental and productive as a Communist should be, then for Christ's sake do something about that hammer and sickle."

Joe Kline, section organizer, called me into his office. "Next week you're to head for New York," he told me. "I recommended you as a candidate for the National Training School. I've just received word that you've been accepted. The school starts in two weeks. You have a week in New York to get squared away before school starts. Consider this a big honor. Not every one is admitted to this school. The class will be made up of only about 20 people. You can bet they'll be the best people we have in the American Party, the ones who'll be future leaders. I know I made a good recommendation. I know you'll do your best."

Chapter XII: Studying Marxism, Falling in Love

Fifteen of us piled into a special unmarked bus and headed up Broadway. As we passed the Times Building on Times Square, we could see news headlines appearing on a monitor on the building. One item caught our attention: "Kirov, member of Soviet Political Bureau, assassinated. Scores arrested. Fear strikes Russian leadership."

We were shocked. Kirov was a likable leader. He was young, perhaps the youngest member of the small group that made up the top leaders. Who would do such a thing, and why? We pondered this as the bus headed into the New Jersey countryside.

It was late when we arrived at the Nature Friends Camp about 60 miles outside of New York City. We drove up the pathway to what would be our home for the next six weeks. A large building housed the dormitory; the lodge and dining room were in another building not far away. The camp had been built by German anti-fascists who loved the outdoors. With winter at the doorstep, it was now reserved for us and the school. For the next six weeks we would eat our share of good food, abide in good comradeship, and immerse ourselves in books of class-struggle theory. No stone would be left unturned in the effort to make better Communists of us.

Of the thirteen male students, three were seamen. The rest were steel, auto and mine workers, along with one old man who was a sharecropper from the South. There were two women, one from the needle trades and the other an organizer in the Chicago stockyards.

Sometimes I felt like I was wasting my time at the school. I felt that too much of the stuff flew too high over my head. On several occasions I felt like throwing in the towel and taking off. But though in the beginning it did seem like I would never grasp the full meaning of what was being taught, in the following days it became easier. The teachers were outstanding, especially one we affectionately called "Pop" Mindel. He looked like Josef Stalin, with the same moustache and sharp penetrating eyes that gave the impression he could reach into the depths of your soul and read your innermost thoughts. We all learned to love and respect this man, and we suffered when he caught a cold.

After a hearty breakfast and a brisk walk in the cold air, we would settle down to the day's grind in class. Let no one say that the study of Marxism is easy for a grammar-school dropout. What rang a bell for me through all the theory was the study of the United States' and world trade union movements. This was something easy for me to sink my teeth into. It was Marx's theory that the trade unions were the tools and instruments of the class struggle. The trade union was the first school that a worker entered. Marx contended that the trade unions should be the best schools of Communism and would prepare the workers with the knowledge needed to wrest control of their own destiny. But, I knew, even the trade union movement had long ago been captured by agents of the capitalists, and in many cases they had been subverted into class-collaborating organizations. While I didn't absorb as much as I would have liked, I did learn enough to make future reading of theory a lot easier.

The two women were excellent students. Ann came from a family of needle trade workers. She started out in the woolen mills early, as a youngster, and quickly developed tuberculosis. (In fact, a few years after our school experience she became very ill and died.) The other woman, Pele, was extremely attractive, vibrant and in her early twenties. She personified health and beauty and had a brilliant mind. Sometimes she sat in front of me in class, and it was all I could do to keep my mind on the lectures. I was forever staring at her. As a Communist abiding by strict Communist discipline, however, I knew that all the wonderful dreaming I was doing about this luscious woman was, in fact, just dreaming. I suffered, too, from an inferiority complex which did not encourage the remote idea of sharing any part of her life. Yet she was a sheer delight to look at.

When the weather was good, one could climb a small mountaintop which was accessible by walking a short distance through the woods and then for ten minutes up to the ridge crest. From the ridge one could see the brilliant glow of the new York City skyline on a clear night. The air was always sharp, clean and invigorating. Most of us climbed this ridge many times a week, stared at the landscape, then made our ways back to the lodge. One moonlit night, Pele and I found ourselves walking back alone through a foot of snow toward the lodge. It was as if some magic force was at work when, halfway down the mountain, we both stopped. Something happened that I had only dreamed of. I looked her squarely in the eyes and we embraced and kissed. My nose ran from the cold mountain air and my heart pounded against my ribs as I held her as tightly as I could, making it almost impossible for her to breathe. She opened her eyes, quickly regained her posture, then nudged me away. "Don't try to be some smart ass," she said as she continued down the hill with me behind her.

I said nothing but continued to walk. My mind was racing with excitement and I could not control the beating of my heart. I felt that it could be heard miles away. If a man could grow taller with elation, then I felt as tall as the tallest tree in the woods. I had kissed the most beautiful woman in the world. When we were close to the lodge, she stopped and looked at me. She raised her arms, and we hugged and kissed for a few moments which seemed like an eternity. Then, as before, she composed herself and nudged me away. "Don't do that again," she said a bit threateningly. Her face flushed red and her eyes sparkled in the moonlight.

That night I rolled and tossed in a restless sleep. God, I felt so happy! Then, in the next moment, I would enter a fit of despair. Perhaps this would be the end of it. I would take giant steps in one moment, then fall back into a quagmire of self-doubt. This kept up all night. I was a wreck as I sat down to breakfast the next morning. I had eyes and thoughts only for Pele, who managed to cast a glance at me once in a while. I had always believed in an ability to transport thoughts to another person, and now I put my whole being into trying.

We met the next night and the night after, taking our long walk up to the mountain peak. When no one was around we hugged and kissed. In class we found ways of passing little messages of endearment to each other, even blinking with our eyes the most magical of words, "I love you."

One night I found her hastily writing a letter. "I'm writing to my boyfriend in Chicago, telling him I'm in love with a big scrawny character and that's just the way it is. See the mess you got me into?"

Since I did not know the man, I was indifferent to the suffering he might have to go through. Each day we grew closer to each other, and I worried about what might happen to us once school was over. There wasn't the slightest doubt that we loved each other; something would have to be done to keep us together.

One day a comrade named Peters appeared at our school. He was to lecture us on "Agitation and Propaganda." He was a short, neatly-dressed, handsome man with a likable style. He spent three days with us, and when he was not lecturing he was working on a pamphlet that later would be called, "Handbook on Party Organization," an easy-to-read manual on Party structure. He came to me with the first section. "I want you to read this. If you have any trouble understanding it, if there is even so much as one troublesome word, I must know." I read the material and was fascinated by it.

"I want this pamphlet to be easily understood by the workers who read it. Too many of our people write stuff and get carried away with their own egotistical verbiage, using phrases and words that I can't understand, and I've been around a long time. A worker does not understand, for example, what we mean when we use the phrase `the withering of the State.' We have to make our material easily understood, otherwise it will fall on deaf ears. Since you only went to the fifth grade in school, I feel that if you can understand it, then the average worker will, too."

The course came to an end. Now we were to return and apply our new knowledge to our daily activities. Pele and I made plans before she left New York for Chicago. We were to write often to each other, and I was going to make plans to get assigned to work in maritime on the Great Lakes so I could be close to her. It was a sad departure, but it was made easier by the fact that we were both disciplined Communists. We understood that the Party and our work took priority over our feelings. We would go on writing the most passionate letters to each other, always attesting our love for each other. Never had I found so much joy in writing letters.

In the real world of things, the West Coast strike had ended. The strikers had won. A new era of organizing was underway. The unions had come back into their own. They were here to stay, to be recognized aboard every West Coast ship. The maritime workers had taken a vote for what union they wanted to represent them. It was a foregone conclusion that they would vote for the old International Seamen's Union, since the striking rank and file had taken over most of the local's leadership and were on their way to making the union a worthwhile organization once again. However, the East Coast locals remained in the hands of the conservatives.

In view of the West Coast developments, the MWIU would have to dissolve. Its members would be asked to join the accepted union. A meeting was called of all the leaders of the MWIU. Men came to New York from all the ports in the United States where there was a branch. For two tiresome days, some 25 men who formed the backbone of the union argued about where to go from the present point. Should we stay in business despite the fact that all the West Coast seamen were now becoming members of the International Seamen's Union? Would we be a dual organization in the true sense? Should we disband the revolutionary MWIU and take our chances and join the ISU, hoping to make it a proud, progressive union in the long run?

There was no doubt, except in the heads of a few old diehards, of where we were headed. The consensus was that we had made our presence felt among the ranks, and now it was time to disband. We would urge all our members to use whatever means possible to join the conservative ISU on the East and Gulf coasts and fight like hell to make it a good organization. Now we had only to contact our members and carry out the plan. We would close the branch offices and turn over a new page in our history. It was at this point that I consulted a few leaders about my status. "I wish to be assigned to work on the Great Lakes, especially around Chicago," I said.

The reply was devastating. "No, your immediate assignment is to get into the ISU and ship out and create a base. We have enough people working on the Great Lakes." Poor Pele. I was forever saying, "Soon, soon we'll be together." But she would understand my predicament. She was a good Communist. She knew what Party responsibility was all about.

I was hurt by her curt and cold reply. A few days later I talked about the situation to an old comrade, Robbie. "Look," he said in the tender way he was noted for, "I can't understand why some of our people are as cold as a cup of yesterday's coffee, either. Maybe they don't knew any better, or maybe they don't give a damn, or maybe they're just robots devoid of feeling. I know how you feel about this gal, and if it were up to me, I'd say go up there. But it's not up to me, and I couldn't win a fight with these jackals if I tried.

They feel that if you have no strings tying you down, you'll perform better and be ready for any assignment. If you have a girlfriend who keeps urging you to hang around, you'll give up the industry and end up in some tin can factory just so you can rush home every night. If you're unattached, you'll be out on the ships where they think you belong. It's as simple as that. You and I know that if you go to Chicago, you'll go with the best intentions in the world. But if the girlfriend should ask you to stay around and find some other work to do, hell . . . you could even end up in the slaughterhouse clunking steers over the head just to be near her."

"What the hell am I supposed to do the rest of my life? Spend it going to whorehouses?" I asked bitterly.

"Give it a little more time. Something may work out. If it's good, it will hold."

Years later I learned that what Robbie had said was true. There was an organized, methodical reasoning among some of the maritime leadership that bordered on the sinister, a belief that kept most of the full-time Communist functionaries from becoming attached. It was cruel, even more so because it was nourished by leaders who told all who would hear that the Communist society was the ideal society and the only one in which the family was truly revered and held together. To question their decisions was to exhibit a "lack of Communist discipline."

Chapter XIII: Mediterranean Adventures

My radicalism was not too well-known among the conservative union officials in New York, and I decided that I stood the best chance of shipping out from that port. I hung around the office of the American Export Line, making sure that the shipping master saw me. I faced him when he came into work and I faced him when he left work. After ten days of this badgering, I was shipped as an oiler on the Exchange. I was to visit some 25 ports of North Africa, Spain, Italy and France.

The shipping company had a deal with the ISU. Although they had a contract with the union, they were not forced by the union to improve conditions on their ships. The company would tolerate union men on board, but they would have to come from the shipping office of the company. It was ideal for me, because it gave me the right to enter the union hall with my shipping card and obtain a full membership book. All I had to do was fill out an application and swear that I was not a member of a dual organization and that I would abide by all the rules and not bring the union into ill repute by any of my actions.

The ship had already been to several United States' ports to pick up cargo before I joined it. Now she was spending the next six days loading the balance of cargo at her Jersey City pier before starting on her trip to the Mediterranean. Two days before we were to sail my brother John showed up with another fireman known as "Trader Horn." Brother John had been friends with this Trader Horn character for a while, and it was by chance that both of them found their ways to the shipping master that day. It was also by chance that two men were immediately needed, and they were the only two around.

A grain barge pulled alongside of us and all that day poured tons and tons of grain down into one of the cargo holds. We put to sea. Over my bunk was the first Marxist-Leninist library that ship ever saw.

The Exchange was a turbine-driven freighter. She carried two passengers, both of them schoolteachers. She was a well-kept freighter. The fo'c's'le housed 12 men in one room. The inner structure was cleanly maintained and painted brightly, with a place for everything and everything in its place. From the time I awoke to go on watch until the time I went to bed, I agitated everyone I met. The topics covered everything, from creating one big union to a classless socialist society. I always made myself known as a Communist. The crew respected me for my openness and honesty, but more for my dedication to the work.

One night I sat lounging in the mess room; some men played cards or checkers, while others engaged in friendly debates on various subjects. Until now I had no idea of the background of my brother's buddy, Trader Horn. All across the Atlantic he had remained silent, being content to sit around reading or playing cards. Now he perked up when I mentioned a more desirable form of government, like that of the socialist kind in the Soviet Union. "Have you ever been to Russia?" he asked.


"Well, I have, and it's not like you say it is. I know. I even spent some time in their jails." He smiled as he watched the reactions of the crew members. He held their attention.

"Maybe it was partly my fault, but let me tell you one thing, it's no joke trying to live on two bowls of cabbage soup a day. That was more than the average worker was getting--out of jail." Even the checker players stopped playing.

He continued. "I answered an ad in the papers. They needed engineers to go to the Soviet Union to work for a year's contract. Two-thirds of my paycheck would be deposited in the bank in New York while I worked there. They gave me 50 men and women to train as engineers. With every damn move I made I had five of them under my feet, jotting down every damn thing I was doing. Some were so starved I had to smuggle some food to them. It was awful. I could have slept with anyone just for a piece of bread."

I was furious listening to this sonofabitch demean everything that was sacred to me. He went on.

"When I had been there about 11 months, I was arrested--pulled out of my bunk and carted off to jail. A couple of people who worked with me and spoke some English suddenly forgot how to speak. No one would tell me for three weeks what it was all about. In the mornings they opened the door and pushed in a bowl of cabbage soup and some black bread. Late in the evening they would do the same thing. After three weeks of this they accused me of being a spy and threatened to shoot me. After five weeks they yanked me out and shoved me aboard a train. For three days it rambled through Poland and into Germany. I ended up on board a limey ship and sailed from Hamburg to New York. If this is what you want to put over in this country, you're crazy."

"I don't believe one word of it!" I shouted.

"Do you read Russian?" he asked.

"Of course I don't."

"Well, let me help you." He reached into his pocket and took out some papers. A document had his picture on it. The page of writing with official seals were all in Russian, with a hammer and sickle imprint. There was no doubt that they were identification papers. "This is my special work permit, stating that I'm an engineer. This other document is my pay and subsistence book. Over here is the amount of rations I drew each week. Everything is here in writing. So there you are. I wouldn't be caught dead back in that place."

As they say in show business, this was a tough act to follow. There had to be more to his story than a group of Russian soldiers simply pulling him out of his sack and throwing him in jail. I must find out. I couldn't stay satisfied with his story. The next day, smarting under the abuse my ideals had undergone, I asked my brother about his "dear friend." "I won't tell you anything now," he said. "Maybe later."

A month later he told me the true story. Trader Horn had signed up as an engineer for a year in Russia, along with some 50 others. En route to the country, while passing through Rumania, someone contacted him and they made a deal. The Roumanians would deposit into a bank of his choosing the equivalent amount he was to make in Russia if he would submit a weekly report through a woman contact. He agreed, and for nearly a year he made his reports like clockwork. Then, either through his carelessness or the super work of the Russian police, Trader Horn and his double dealings were discovered. He fared a lot better than his young Russian contact: she was quickly disposed of by firing squad.

Now I was really mad at the bastard. Not only was he a liar, he was a two-bit spy who would sell his birthright down the river for a month's pay.

Aboard our ship there was a full-fledged, native-born Russian. He was called Big John. His last name was difficult to pronounce. He weighed about 245 pounds. He was very muscular and spoke decent English. The story went that his mother picked him up during the revolution and fled the country by way of China and Japan, finally settling in the United States. While he remembered little of Russia, his heart was in the Soviet Union. He hated his family for fleeing the revolution; he felt they should have supported the overthrow of the Czar and supported the soviets, or at least they should have stayed in the country to help rebuild it. Now that he was grown and could make his own decisions, he was trying hard to return to the Soviet Union. The Russian Consulate had his case under advisement and he was waiting daily for the news that it would be okay to return. In the meantime he pursued the sea for a living. On board he retired into his own world and had little or nothing to do with the rest of the crew, socially or politically. But my presence on board and my daily praise of the new Russian lifestyle aroused his interest. One day he invited me into his room. He told me about his life, how he grew up in an Indiana town and how he yearned to return to his native country despite his mother's protests. The Russian consulate had told him to "keep his nose clean" and perhaps in a year he would be allowed to "come home." This was the reason he stayed aloof from the crew.

Big John knew what was being said on board the ship. It was common knowledge now that Trader Horn had been a Roumanian spy operating in the Soviet Union. While Big John said nothing to anybody about it, he distorted his face in disgust whenever Trader Horn's name was mentioned.

We tied alongside the dock in Genoa. Just a few yards ahead was the stern end of one of Italy's big troop ships. It was quickly being loaded with thousands of young soldiers. In a few hours she would head across the Mediterranean, just another ship bound for the inglorious saga of Italian fascism and the invasion of Ethiopia. Blackshirt Fascists were among the mass of people who came down to the dock to see their sons off. Nearly every five minutes a cheerleader screamed out, "Viva il Duce!" and from a solid wall of outstretched hands a chorus echoed, "Viva il Duce!" Few smiles could be seen on any of the faces, except for those of the Fascist officers and Carabineri, who looked ridiculous with tall feathers streaming from their Alpine-style caps.

In the Mediterranean ports, a breakwater of stone generally curves out from the inlet, and the docks are built of solid slab stone right at the shoreline. Thus the ship lays snugly inside the breakwater against a flat wall. If the tides go down extremely low, one can wake up in the morning facing a solid stone wall. This was an opportunity I could not let pass. The tide was going out. The side port was already below the surface of the dock. A blank granite wall faced me. I got a can of white paint and a brush from the paint locker. With no one around to witness what I was doing, I faced the granite side of the pier and started painting.

The next night we finished discharging our wheat, and in the darkness we moved away from the dock and sailed for Leghorn. No one noticed the six-foot by six-foot hammer and sickle painted in white with the word "VIVA! written across the top. It wasn't much of a contribution, but it was something. That bastard Mussolini would know that no matter what his secret police did to wipe out the Communists, there was always one around to remind him that his days were numbered.

Our ship made some 14 ports around the Italian boot, and a few in Sardinia and Sicily. Our next and last port in Italy would be Naples. I had met a seaman in Palermo who had just arrived from Naples. He told me he had seen several Russian ships in that port. That suited me fine. If one was there when we arrived I would try to get a delegation from my ship to visit, so our crew could see the splendid conditions the Russian seamen were enjoying. I was on watch in the engine room when we sailed into the Bay of Naples. I had given instructions to a friend to scan every ship in port, and if he saw one with a hammer and sickle to pinpoint it for me when I came off watch.

He did sight a Russian freighter. It was tied up at the local coal dock not too far from where we were tied up. Now was the time to take this crew to see socialism at work. Ten men came with me, five, I'm sure, only because they liked me. Like most American seamen visiting strangers for the first time, they dressed in their best clothes--starched shirts, flashy ties, shined shoes. The day was hot and sultry. After we had walked about a block, I could feel the sweat running down my back. When we reached the coal dock we could barely see the freighter through the mist of coal dust that covered the area. We had to be careful making our way through the yard, crossing over several sets of railroad tracks and watching out for the huge buckets filled with coal that were constantly in motion. They swung from the ship's hold across our heads to the coal yard, where the coal was deposited in huge piles. The dust was heavy, and every time we put our feet down a cloud of coal dust arose. A few of the guys wanted to turn around right then and there, but since we had come this far they decided to complete the mission.

At last we reached the gangway. I encountered the first of several shocks.Not only was the gangway a rusty, dirty mess, but several steps were missing, rotted away. It would take a skillful sailor to be able to navigate the gangway if he returned to the ship drunk on a dark night. Our fellows were hesitant to climb aboard and they started to balk. I knew I had to take quick action, so I started up the gangway and showed how easy it was to bypass the broken steps. The men followed. About two steps from the top, a big Russian sailor suddenly appeared. He spoke in a deep bass in Russian, saying what could have been, "Where the hell do you think you're going?" I tried to explain in English. "Look, comrade, we're Americans. We come from that ship over there. To foster and cement comradely relations we would like to pay our respects to the crew of this ship and invite them to visit ours."

The Russian looked dumbfounded. "Nyet," he replied.

I gathered that that meant no. I would try another approach. "Look here, comrade. I am an American Communist and these are my friends. We want to look over conditions on your ship so we can make comparisons."

Again he answered, "Nyet."

"Hey," shouted one of the guys, "let's get the hell out of here before we're buried in coal. Tell him he can shove his ship."

The radio operator came on deck. He spoke some English. "What you men want?" he asked. I repeated what I had said to the sailor just seconds earlier. "But," he said, "I do not understand. Why you want to come aboard this ship?" Again I used the political approach. The fact that I said I was an American Communist may have swayed his decision. He allowed us to board. He said a few words to the sailor, who shrugged and walked away.

If the state of the gangway was a shock, so was the rest of the ship. A seamen can tell the condition of a ship by looking at two things: the crew quarters and the mess room. If the mess room is clean, with lots of portholes and plenty of condiments on the tables, one can assume she's a good feeder. On the Russian ship, there were no condiments other than a big bowl of salt. In the dish rack there were only soup plates. On the mess room bulkheads, or walls, were pictures of Lenin, Stalin and Marx. In one corner of the room was the "Red" library, which consisted of 40 or 50 books. On another part of the bulkhead was a three-foot-long design of the Russian rifle. There were no individual chairs at the table, only benches.

Our fellows scanned this room quickly and didn't find it interesting enough to spend more than a minute in it. Out on deck again, we came across a few crew members who eyed us suspiciously. We smiled at them and they returned the smile meekly, wondering if they were doing the right thing. They watched as we walked into the crew quarters, small rooms with two sets of double bunks. An old fruit box used as a chair was the only furniture around. A few hooks on the bulkhead held some dirty work clothes. The washroom was decrepit. The few sinks were stained with rust and water dripped from the faucets. No seats were on the toilets, and the deck was wet from leaky pipes. This was by far the worst ship I ever had the misfortune to be on board. There had to be something wrong. Surely a nation of revolutionaries who had just knocked off the Czar and repossessed the country would not tolerate such conditions.

My shipmates were giving me the nudge to get the hell off the ship and head for a gin mill and a cool drink. Since I was disappointed with what I saw, I looked for an explanation. I could not communicate with the crew, who just stood around grinning whenever we caught their eyes. As we moved closer to the gangway I met the radio operator. "You see what you want?" he asked, grinning.

"Hey," I said. "why the hell is this ship so rusty and filthy?"

"This ship was purchased from Romania six months ago," he said. "Maybe two more trips, maybe three more, who knows, we will finish with ship. Very old. We use to transport coal. Very dirty cargo. Too rusty to put on paint. Paint fall off. Chip rust, we put many holes in ship. Soon we make new ship. Russian needs many new ships. Goodbye."

Unfortunately the men were already on the dock when I had this conversation with the radio operator. They heard none of it. The first cafe we came across, away from the sprawling coal dust and noise of the overhead cranes, we shook off the dust and ordered drinks. Then it started. Everyone agreed that the ship was a disaster. They wouldn't believe the story that the ship was just bought from Romania. "That was the first Russian ship I ever visited," said one. "And the last." And so it went on for an hour as the guys drank their beer and thought of new things to criticize. Since it was our first experience with a Russian ship, we had no prior examples to use as comparison. Even my suggestion that we find another Russian ship to visit was ruled out with sarcasm.

The final shock came that evening when we headed back on board. Apparently Big John had run across one of the Russian seamen. After a number of drinks he invited the seaman aboard our ship. When we came aboard, Big John had left his friend in the mess room while he went aft to get something from his room. We found the Russian running his hand over the glossy-painted bulkhead and muttering in Russian. What the hell was he doing? As fate would have it, Trader Horn stepped into the mess room at that moment. He stood with us and watched the Russian now run his hand over the shiny, shellacked tabletop.

"Hey, Trader," asked one of the crew members, "you know anything about this language? What the hell is he saying?"

A grin appeared on Trader Horn's face. "He's telling us that he's never seen a mess room so beautiful and clean in all his life and how happy he would be to work on this ship."

What a mess, I told myself. Here I am trying to convince an American crew that their future lies in changing the form of their government and adopting that of the Soviet Union, and now one of the Russians who is supposed to be the fruit of socialism is on board a capitalist ship going nuts over a stupid paint job. I was furious and embarrassed and wished the Russian would get the hell off the ship.

Trader Horn's dislike of Russians surfaced. "Where did this crummy Russian come from? How did he get aboard our ship?" he shouted, grabbing the Russian by the shoulder. He was on the verge of dragging him to the door and shoving him out when Big John returned from his room. That was all it took. Big John swung an overhead right that caught Trader Horn on the head. He staggered toward the table. The Russian seaman, who was drunk by our standards, had no idea what was happening. He walked across the mess room to the icebox in the corner, opened it, reached inside and took out a few slices of bologna and started making himself a sandwich.We quickly surmised that a serious fight was developing. Acting in unison, we grabbed both men and held them back from each other. Trader Horn was content to lay partially stretched out on the bench and work off the dizziness from Big John's blow. The more we tried to restrain Big John, the more he bellowed curses at Trader Horn who, under the best of circumstances, was no match for Big John. As the shouting got louder and our grips got tighter, I noticed that the Russian seaman was wrapping three sandwiches he had made in old newspaper.

What had seemed like an eternity was over in a few minutes. Trader Horn was coaxed out of the messroom. Once he was out of sight, Big John quieted down and helped his friend bind up the sandwiches. On the surface, at least, peace reigned.

The next morning I came out on deck and discovered that the longshoremen were discharging copper ingots from number four hatch. They were coming out 25 bars to the pallet. I started thinking: Here Mussolini was invading Ethiopia. What was essential to his war machine? Copper. Copper to make bullets and artillery shells and to wire his communications system. I was ashamed of myself for being on a ship that carried this kind of cargo. I had not been on board when it was loaded, but if I had been I figured I would have done something. Now it was being taken ashore and perhaps being sent directly to the munitions factory. As a Communist I felt that I had betrayed the Ethiopians.

Marseilles was striking in contrast to the Italian ports. In Italy the national symbol was the protruding clenched jaw, steel-helmeted head and face of Mussolini. Most of the men there wore some sort of uniform, a sign of the war-oriented, Fascist regime. But here in this lovely seaport city the only sign of a uniform was that of the nattily-dressed French sailor with the red knob atop his blue felt hat. The dominant symbol here seemed to be the Communist Party's hammer and sickle. An election was in progress, and posters and signs were everywhere. One got the feeling of great strength and felt among friends. Only the language was different.

I was delegated to spend the daylight hours working with the engineer. He wanted someone who could stay sober for a few hours in a French port. I was the victim. I did my sightseeing during the night. I made contact with a French Communist whose English was as bad as my French. We managed to communicate our feelings of international solidarity while the rest of the crew was getting themselves plastered with French brandy and enamored of French whores. Our stay in France was much too short.

One of Spain's prettiest port cities, Barcelona seemed to be in some sort of upheaval as we stepped ashore. Soldiers walked around in pairs with rifles and fixed bayonets. They sauntered along the Rambalas to remind people that more than three persons congregating constituted a crime. Democracy was being challenged all over Spain. Miners were striking in the north and clashed with the police and troops who were dispatched to break their strike.

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, the cradle and center of the anarchist movement in Spain, seethed with undercurrents of discontent with the news that the strike of their brothers in the north had been broken. King Alfonse had been forced to abdicate back in 1931, but the current Second Republic found it difficult to grope its way into the 20th century. The large landowners and industrialists, the military and the Catholic Church were forever exerting pressure on the new republic. While these groups gave lip service to the republic's efforts to improve the conditions of the poor, they conspired in the background to seek international support in bringing death to the republic.

Apart from the country's political problems, Barcelona was a vibrant city, full of life and action. The cafes and the dance-hall honkey-tonks that could be found along both sides of the Rambalas teemed with action. The proverbial "sailor's paradise" of wine, women and song was epitomized in this port city.

One day brother John unintentionally became the focal point of the crew's solidarity on an issue not political, but rather related to a confrontation with the officers. At the time such an action was unheard of. When we had entered Barcelona's harbor, a tugboat met us and commenced the slow process of easing us alongside the long wharf. Only the sailors assigned to tying up the ship and the men on watch below were busy. The rest of the crew, the day workers, busied themselves, preparing to be the first ashore. Someone located a bottle of French brandy, and within minutes the men in the "black gang" started the "Battle of Barcelona." There were no fresh water showers in those days. You washed from a bucket. You used the fresh water rationed to you sparingly. It didn't take long for the brandy to produce its effects. Everyone wanted to bathe at the same time, and someone threw a bucket of soapy water at someone else. This started a round of moving soaped-up bodies attempting to escape snapping towels or onslaughts of pails of soap suds. John, whom I suspected started all of this, was trying to avoid a bucket of suds when his foot slipped on the soapy deck, sending him skidding into the bulkhead. One of his toes rammed tight under a small pipe close to the deck. There was a scream of pain, and the gaiety came to a sudden stop as John was carried to his bunk. The captain was notified. Within minutes a doctor arrived on board. He diagnosed a badly-bruised toe and ordered John to stay off his feet for the next week, preferably in his bunk. The gang said goodnight to him and took off for a night on the town. They left him propped up in his bunk with the remains of the French brandy. I left to go ashore at about eight, stopping to see if he needed anything. He was finishing off the bottle.

The Gambias Bar was the seamen's hangout in Barcelona. It was a huge bar with at least a hundred tables spread around over a big dance floor. A live orchestra banged out any tunes that came to mind. Since almost everyone in the place was half gassed-up, no one was ever sure if the musicians were in tune with each other. Waiters worked like beavers, moving through the mass of men and women to keep the tables supplied with drinks. At about midnight, as I made my way back to the ship, I stopped off at the Gambias for another drink. A great commotion was taking place in the middle of the cafe. Through the heavy mist of smoke I thought I could see someone dancing on a table. The someone resembled John. I dismissed the thought that it could be him; he was back in his bunk, incapacitated. But I should have known better. When I approached the table, I could see--there was John, dancing on the table with some gal, doing the Spanish Fandango to the cheers of everyone in the joint. His big toe, wrapped in bandages, seemed to have no effect on his dancing.

Like me, the first assistant engineer was also making his way back to the ship and stopped in for a nightcap. His eyes popped out as he saw John who, feeling no pain, stopped for a moment to gulp down a drink from a friendly donor, then continued his madcap dancing. The engineer left, and I departed soon after, leaving John and his buddies to continue celebrating.

The next morning I was up and ready for work as usual while the rest of the gang was moving about the fo'c's'le like zombies. John remained stretched out in his bunk, sound asleep. At precisely eight, another oiler and I were ready for work. The first assistant engineer started to fume. He got hold of the mate and proceeded back aft to the fo'c's'le. He made the mistake of entering the fo'c's'le and stood over John's bunk, nudging him awake. "Get your ass out of that bunk and get to work below," he shouted. Some crew members quickly reacted. "He's an injured man," said one. "The doctors gave him orders to lay off for a week."

"The hell with doctor's orders. I saw him dancing his fool ass off in the gin mill. If he can stand on a table to dance, he can stand in the engine room and do his dancing there with a swab in his hand."

The reaction was quick in coming. One fireman threw an empty bucket at the engineer. Another threw a shoe. The mate quickly departed, leaving the engineer to take an avalanche of profanity and threats. He quickly realized he was in hostile territory and backed out the door. John, of course, returned to his stupor, not realizing for a moment that he almost caused a minor mutiny. But a ship and its crew, unlike in any other industry, have a fast way of mending the errors of the previous days. Things were quickly put back in order and life went on as if nothing had ever happened. The ship must sail.

Our next port was Tarragona down the coast, just a short sail from Barcelona. Since the crew was in the process of sobering up from their stay in Barcelona, very few went ashore. But I did. Tarragona was a very small port, with dock space for one or two ships. The town itself had been one of the Roman towns built along the Mediterranean shore. Ruins of the Roman period were everywhere, with high columns and arches still evident. As a sailor's seaport it was a flop, with only a few wine cafes about. But the people were kind and easy-going. Never once did I hear a hostile word directed at me.

Further down the coast was the port of Alicante, still within the influence of Catalonia province. It was larger than Tarragona. I saw a few hammer and sickle emblems, but mostly anarchist union signs of the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and the Federacion Anarquista Iberia (FAI). Since this was anarchist territory it wasn't surprising. I knew very little Spanish and could not converse the way I would have liked to. Finding English-speaking people was difficult. But seamen and longshoremen have a knack of making themselves understood in a limited way, and I was able to talk with some people. When I returned to the ship, I found Brother John up and around and back to his old self, joking and wisecracking with the crew.

Valencia, a city about half the size of Barcelona, was quite beautiful, though it lacked the hilly back country of Barcelona. During the three days we spent there, I was ashore every day exploring the city. I was awed by its stately buildings. Like its sister city Barcelona, it was full of life. Here, too, slogans and posters pasted all over the walls extolled the republic. Hammers and sickles and clenched fists seemed to be everywhere. "Unidad" was the slogan most in evidence. The more I saw of this country and its people, the more I began to love it. Valencia was truly a working-class city, with light industry spread throughout. As in other ports, the kindness of the people impressed me most. I enjoyed eating in working-class restaurants and felt completely at home. Our three days in Valencia passed quickly. We had finished loading our cargo of fine Spanish wines and eased out of the harbor, away from the orange-blossom-scented air.

We worked our way down the coast, passing Cape Palos, and pulled into Malaga, another splendid city in the Andalusia province. It was a warm Sunday morning when we tied up. Once the engines were secured, the men not on watch were free to go ashore. Most of us had never seen a bullfight, and the excitement grew when we learned that this Sunday the bull ring was open. A few of us piled into a cab and headed for the Plaza de Toros and front-row seats. For the next two hours we watched the smooth maneuvering of the matadores and picadores who taunted, stuck, stabbed and inflicted every known insult upon the bull before finally putting it out of its misery. The animal did not stand a chance. Whenever he had his adversary in a position where he could do him harm, ten men would dash from behind the barricades to distract him. My sympathies were fully on the side of the bull. Weak-kneed from the loss of blood which poured from his wounds, he fell many times from exhaustion. It became the humane thing to finish him off. The animal then had an ear sliced off to be presented to the killer and was dragged around the ring and out the door it had charged through only minutes before, full of life.

I questioned this horrible game. How could it be a sport when the bull stood little or no chance of surviving? In the end it was doomed. Once in that arena it would never live to see the sun again. Since I liked animals, I could not bear to see them baited, teased, tortured and killed. How could such a warm and generous people go directly from church into the bull ring and enjoy the slaughter? It was my first and last visit to a bull ring. I could never reconcile myself to the existence of such a "sport." All sorts of arguments have since been offered me about what the bullfight means to the Spaniard and his culture, but I still could no more enjoy it than I could enjoy watching Christians thrown to the lions.

Malaga had more to offer than the Plaza de Toros. Wine shops were everywhere. Huge barrels rested on their sides; you brought your own bottle or jug and had it filled. The city was clean despite the large number of burros; the cobblestones in the streets scrubbed and polished. I had nothing but time on my hands until eight the next morning. I walked toward the edge of the city, my eyes taking in everything. Now that I knew a few words in Spanish to get me around, I had a little more confidence. Trying to order something to eat was still difficult, however. The menu baffled me. If someone sitting near me was eating something that appeared appetizing, I merely told the waiter with a nod, "Mismo."

I studied the bus line that ran down the main street and out of town. The fare was less than a nickel, and the bus wasn't worth much more. But the windows were down and it felt good to get out of the heat. I figured that if I didn't like what I saw at the end of the line, I could always stay on the bus and return safely. But when the little exhaust-spewing bus pulled out of the city and onto a dusty dirt road, laboring its way inland to another little town, I knew I had to get off and walk around. It was the last stop anyway.

Compared to the city I had just left behind, this little town was peacefully rural. Clean, like most Spanish cities and villages, it was surrounded by grape orchards as far as the eye could see, with olive trees in between shading the vines. The village inhabitants were peasants whose old little mule carts stood beside their stone houses. An occasional burro rested beside a cart, swirling its tail to shoo away flies. The people's faces, bleached by the sun, showed the years of their hard labor. They were friendly and smiled and nodded their heads. The houses they lived in, whitewashed stone with no electricity or water, reminded me of some small villages in Ireland. The water had to be hauled from a well in the square.

By chance I saw a sign on a door that read, "Partido Socialista." I walked into the storefront room about ten feet by ten feet. Three people were talking around a table loaded with literature. They stopped when I walked in. Wanting to show that I was a friend, I raised my fist in the international revolutionary salute and said "camaradas." They smiled and beckoned me to sit. Words poured out of them, none of which I could understand. "Americano," I said.

One quickly spoke to the others, "Ah, Estados Unidos, Americano, bueno."

"Uh, Americano marinero, vapor," was the next gem I came forth with.

"Si, si, marinero," said another.

I felt I was getting something through to them. "Communist, American," I said. Their faces broke into big smiles, and with a warmth for which the Spanish are noted, they extended their hands, each trying to tell me his name. "Mi vapor barco in Malaga," I said.

"Si, Malaga. Muy bueno," said one. "Muy grande," said another. There was a quick exchange of words between them, then one took off. The other continued talking to me as if I could understand Spanish. The only words I recognized were "comunista" and "socialista." After what seemed like only a few minutes, the person who had left returned with a friend, a young man of 20 who appeared better-dressed than the others.

"You speak English?" he asked with a bit of difficulty. I felt good now that someone was on the scene who spoke English, even if it wasn't perfect. For the next hour I talked to these four men. The fact that I was an American Communist and not an American socialist did not trouble them. They treated me as one of their own.

"You are the first American to come to this village. We are happy to see you and make friends. Do the American people know how we got rid of our king? What do they think of our new government? How are things in Barcelona? How big is the American Communist Party?" The questions went on and on. A bottle was brought out and we sipped wine and toasted my health and the new republic. Occasionally I would get in a question or two. From the interpreter's answers, I gathered that this little peasant village of campesinos was pro-Socialist but that they were still upset with the new government. The government had promised to redistribute the land after taking power, but up until now many obstacles had been created to prevent this. The people were unhappy with the delay; sooner or later things would come to a head.

It was getting late. I was afraid I might miss the bus and be left behind. I motioned that I had to leave, explaining that I had to return to my barco. We shook hands all around and shared a final drink of wine. This small group assured me that the revolution, which the Spanish people had started, would go on until won. I promised to return for another visit on the next trip. As I rode back on the bus, I felt elated about my friends, proud that I knew people who, against great odds, had dumped their king and were now trying to put the pieces together to form a better society for themselves. Little did I realize that only a couple of years later I would return to join them in defending their new republic against a fascist rebellion with a machine gun in my hand.

In Seville, the company agent came aboard with customs officials. In his briefcase he carried some cash for a draw and some mail. I expected a letter from my girlfriend, Pele. She said she would write often, but no letter. Damn that woman. Why couldn't she write like she promised? She knew how I valued her letters. She was probably surrounded by a bunch of boyfriends pawing her. That's the trouble with a beautiful woman, everybody was out with their fish hooks trying to grab her. Or maybe she was sick or hurt. After all, those gangsters in Chicago worked with the employers by going around and beating up on union organizers. She could be hurt and not want to say anything about it. Maybe she wasn't receiving my letters. I mailed a letter from every port. She couldn't be that busy. "Skipper's putting out a draw," the cook said. "Better go topside and get it before he closes up the safe."

Seville was overwhelming. Its churches were magnificent, tall steeples rising high in the sky over the beautiful, warm Andalusian city. It was a seafarer's port, with lots of nightclubs, restaurants and beautiful women. I took my customary walk, taking hours to go from one end of the city to another, delighted with the people I met. They were friendly and cheerful.

I looked for several things on my walks, especially the way of life of the people and the children. I found no children harassing strangers on the streets, offering to take them home to sleep with their sisters like children did in the poverty-stricken cities of the Orient. As in other parts of Spain, the people seemed to be managing. They didn't look well-off economically, but neither did they seem to be starving. They walked proudly with keen eyes, and one could feel their newly-found self-confidence.

Much political activity could be sensed in this region. Away from the main business street and off in the working-class residential streets, walls were covered with slogans and posters. Hammers and sickles were very much in evidence. I was angry that I couldn't speak the language well enough to be able to carry on a conversation. I could feel important things going on around me, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

The crew celebrated the first night in any port as if they had been at sea for ten years. Nightclubs were crowded with people, but the saloons were the places I liked best. On one side was the bar, on the other was the lunch counter. Between the two were tables and chairs. In Seville you were entitled to a plate of cooked shrimp in the shell with every beer or drink. If you preferred you could have a double-handful of peanuts; if there were other cooked meats, you could have them, too. It was just like the Hoboken free lunch counters in the old clam-broth houses on River Street--only with more goodies and more class.

Socially, I had been going ashore with one or two buddies to sit and drink or take in a nightclub. I discussed Marxism most of the time, which did not result in my buddies' being convinced of its validity. Still, they thought that it was more pleasant to be with me than with most of the other guys aboard ship. If for no other reason it was because we didn't end up in fist fights or by being carried back to the ship by police, dead drunk. They knew that I had to stay alert and not do anything that might bring me or my beliefs into ill repute. Once we had our fill of drinks a taxi took us back to the ship to be ready for work the next morning.

On the second day in Seville, at about two in the morning, I heard a skirmish taking place in the alleyway outside my fo'c's'le. By the time I hopped out of my bed and got into the alleyway, Big John had knocked down Trader Horn twice and was preparing to drag him on deck and toss him over the side. I doubt if any person other than myself could have had a restraining effect on Big John. "I'll kill the rotten bastard," John kept repeating as I raced for the doorway to block the exit. "Get out of my way, my good friend Bill. I want to drown this rat. He is no good to this world. Stand away." As much as I disliked Trader Horn, surely this was not the way to handle him. After some pleading on my part, Big John left Trader Horn lying on the deck, turned around and went to his room. Outside of a swollen lip and a few fingernail marks around his throat, Trader Horn showed little damage. The next morning he woke up feeling no pain. He couldn't remember what had happened the night before, so he said.

Two days later I found out what happened. Big John had been asleep in his bunk. Trader Horn came back aboard stewed to the gills and worked his way aft. Before getting to his room he had to pass the water tender's room which was Big John's sleeping quarters. He stopped, opened the door, walked in and put on the light. He walked over to the Russian's bunk, lowered his head and shouted, "You no-good Russian bastard! May you drown in your cabbage soup." Big John awoke shocked to see the man he disliked most standing within inches of him and hurling insults. He pushed Trader Horn out of the room into the alleyway and belted him. Trader Horn fell to the deck and remained motionless. The Russian figured that he was dead, but Trader Horn moved an eyelid. So the Russian decided to choke him to death. Since that was taking too long, he decided to throw him over the side and be done with it. That's when I stepped in.

I took a look at my status on board. Suppose something would have happened to Trader Horn, the big Red-baiter and ex-spy. Who would be blamed? Naturally it would be me, since the entire crew knew that Trader Horn and I never agreed on one single issue. It would have been difficult to convince the authorities that the number one Bolshevik on board didn't throw the sonofabitch over the side in the middle of the night. No, I had to protect myself, and the best way was by protecting Trader Horn, who by now was convinced that Big John and the Number One Communist were conspiring against him.

The return trip across the Atlantic was uneventful. As it was on most ships on the home leg of the voyage, the pace was more relaxed and less charged with expectations. There were two men that I concentrated my efforts on, my two buddies with whom I spent much of my time ashore. The questions of politics had become serious and our discussions longer. They wanted to help change the world but they were afraid that the discipline of the Communist Party would be too tough. I assured them that discipline was a necessary part of any serious organization that aimed to change society. Communist discipline was a discipline based on conviction. The more you were convinced, the greater the discipline. It was necessary, because without it there would be no worthwhile revolutionary organization among the workers. Revolutions are serious things. They can't be turned on and off like a faucet at someone's whim. There had been dozens of other politically-motivated organizations aimed at drastically changing the system, but because they lacked discipline they could never enter the mainstream of American thought to any substantial degree. They would wither and fade from the scene. Discipline meant giving account of yourself. It meant attending meetings, rallies and demonstrations, paying dues and answering for one's errors. In the final analysis, it meant contributing in every possible way to reach the final aim: that of changing the ownership of the means of production from the hands of the few, the capitalists, into the hands of the many, the working class, of changing a society whose mode of production was based on anarchy to a society planned down to the last pair of shoestrings, where guns and weapons of destruction would be a thing of the past and the adage of turning swords into plowshares a reality, where men could really call themselves brothers and to allow a person to go hungry would be considered a criminal act. To make changes toward these goals called for organization, discipline and conviction. At times many seemingly-insurmountable odds had to be faced. No time for summer soldiers. No one wanted violence, but there might be times when you couldn't run from it either.

The day before we reached New York, my two shipmates agreed to join. I would have something to show for my trip to the Mediterranean.

Chapter XIV: Ripping the Swastika off the Bremen

The next three weeks were spent running up and down the eastern seaboard discharging and loading before the next trip across. Ninety percent of the crew had been fired, including my brother the "Fandango Dancer." He didn't mind one bit; he had a good payoff. Three days before sailing to Europe for the second trip, I decided to get off. The trip had cost me 20 pounds in weight and many hours of sleep. The engineers tried to talk me into another trip. "We gotta have at least one guy around conscientious enough to show up for work in a foreign port," the second engineer said.

I finally received a letter from Pele. "When the hell are you coming to Chicago?" she wrote. "Soon, I hope." I would write and tell her to expect me in a week or two. I'd take a bus up.

The struggle against fascism was intensifying. With every threatening speech made by Hitler, the American Left retaliated with bigger anti-Nazi rallies and demonstrations. The American League Against War and Fascism was growing. Leaflets, pamphlets and books against the repressive fascist system multiplied by the thousands. Pressure by the people for the White House to take a firmer stand against this menacing reality increased.

A small group of us gathered at the New York City pier of the SS America, which was taking on passengers and preparing to sail for Hamburg. The pamphlet I was passing out showed a beautiful picture of a German castle on the Rhine, and the caption read, "Welcome to the new Germany." Inside, there was a drawing of a Nazi storm trooper leaning over a body on the ground and one of a Nazi concentration camp. It was a powerful piece of literature, and those passengers who read it before boarding soon lost their gay smiles. But Nazism or not, thousands of Americans continued to book passages and pay fares on the many ships that departed weekly for Germany.

On board the United States Line's newest sleek passenger ship running from New York to Hamburg, the Manhattan, was a seaman named Lawrence Simpson. Simpson was one of us, though he wasn't an outspoken Red. His function on board the Manhattan, outside of his regular duties as able-bodied seaman, was to transport anti-fascist literature from the United States to the handful of anti-Nazis still operating around the waterfront area of Hamburg. This was to be his fifth crossing. In the past he had been able to get bundles of literature safely into the hands of those opposing Hitler with no hindrances.

The Manhattan employed several hundred crew members. Most in the steward's department were German and pro-Hitler. Simpson had to be especially careful because he knew the activities of the crew were being reported to the German authorities. On this trip, he had planted his bundles of literature in what he thought was a safe place. But in his locker amid some papers he had several anti-Nazi stickers. When the Manhattan heaved to at the mouth of the Elbe at Cuxhaven to allow the pilot to board, several storm troopers boarded. They moved directly to Simpson's quarters. At his locker, they used a crowbar to smash away the lock and found the half dozen stickers. When Simpson protested, he was smashed across the face with a billy club. The American mate stood by and said nothing. When the Manhattan docked at Hamburg, Simpson was dragged ashore, arrested and thrown into solitary confinement.

The news of Simpson's arrest and beating shocked us profoundly. No longer was this just a matter of Simpson's own safety, but also the safety of the underground anti-Nazis. If Simpson talked under torture, dozens of underground fighters might be seized. Everyone knew that the life of a Communist or an anti-Nazi wasn't worth two cents in Germany. Brutality and torture were the stock in trade for the storm troopers; they were experts in making the strongest of their foes reveal their innermost secrets.

The New York Times carried a story from Germany about the boarding of the Manhattan and the seizure of Simpson. It contained a statement from the police that Simpson was the leader of an underground group on the Manhattan committed to undermining the authority of the German government. It further stated that the American consulate was trying to interview Simpson, who faced no fewer than ten years in prison. Simpson had been transferred to the notorious Moatbit prison, the same prison where Ernst Thaelmann, the secretary of the German Communist Party, was being held. The news story ended with the comment that so far no statements had been forthcoming from the American State Department.

I felt terrible. I was more than emotionally involved. Simpson was a seaman. He was one of us. There had to be some way to retaliate. What about those goddamn officers on board the Manhattan who allowed the storm troopers aboard and stood by doing nothing while they kicked Simpson to the deck?

After reading the Times story I had dinner with my buddy Robbie. We discussed the case and what could be done to get Simpson out of the hands of the Nazis. "He can't reveal the names of his contacts since they were never given to him. It was part of the plan. Of course the Nazis will put the heat on him for the names, but remember this: what you don't know they can't beat out of you. Simpson was given only a code word for a contact. That's all he knows, and it isn't much for the Nazis to go on. By now that underground group has scattered, the way they should. Larry knew that the Manhattan was loaded with Hitlerites. He was told several times to be extra careful. He volunteered for the assignment, and he did deliver a lot of stuff over there. But damn it, you have to remember that these are perilous times. Don't remember names--get that into your own head right now--or addresses. Never have anything in writing with names or addresses; that's a must for survival."

I always remembered this advice and it would prove to be useful in the coming years. But right now I was interested in doing something for Simpson. But what? "I'll discuss it with the district leadership uptown and see what we can come up with," Robbie said assuringly.

Days went by without any decision coming down from the district leadership. Why the hell were they taking so long? Another item appeared in the Times. The American consulate reported that they had talked with Simpson. He was in good health and awaiting trial. Apart from some bruises received when he "fell out of his bunk," he was in good shape. Simpson's father, who lived in Washington state and was anxious about his son's welfare, had written the State Department. So far no action had been taken. The State Department was maintaining a "wait and see" attitude. More time passed and still no decision from the district. I grew furious with the leadership who seemed to be sitting on their asses and doing nothing. Second thoughts about the "great" leadership of our Party were beginning to assail me.

Hitler had stepped up his attacks on Jews. Now they were denied access to public beaches. The week before they had been denied access to public swimming pools. Catholics were coming under attack. They were accused of refusing to spout the Nazi line at holy mass. The storm troopers were arresting priests and accusing them of harboring Communists. The concentration camps were loaded with trade unionists. The Nazis were having a field day.

On July 25 word got down to the seamen's section from the district. All seamen were to gather at the French Workers' Club uptown the following day to discuss plans for a demonstration at the pier of the North German Lloyd. There the SS Bremen was berthed, preparing to sail for Germany the same night. We would try to get as many people aboard as possible. As soon as the "all ashore" whistle would blow, our people would form a corridor to the bow. One or two guys were to rush up and grab the swastika, dash back through the line and bring it ashore. the demonstrators would pour gasoline on it and burn it. That was the plan.

"Who the hell worked out a plan like that?" I asked, astonished.

"Some lunkhead who never saw a ship before, I suppose," someone else replied.

On July 26 we dressed in our best clothes, as per instructions. I looked good in my new suit and Panama hat which I had purchased two weeks earlier. Three of us--Pat Gavin, a burly Irish seaman, Blair and myself--headed for the French Workers' Club. Since we were early, we stopped at a restaurant near the Club for a sandwich. "The plan sounds stupid," I said to Blair.

"No one who knows ships would ever dare propose such an unthinkable plan," he said. "Just think for a moment what they're asking us to do. We may be lucky just to get aboard, let alone walk to shore with their swastika."

"I suppose," chimed in Pat, "that they want us to fold it neatly before we take it ashore. Sounds like we're getting into another fiasco."

At the Club we were joined by many others, some we knew and some we were meeting for the first time. No one had any control of who walked into the building or sat down in the small meeting hall. Everyone, including the dozen or two women, was nicely-dressed.

A member of the district leadership addressed the gathering of some 50 people. "This is the way we'll play it," he said. "Ten of our maritime comrades will be stationed on the main deck. When the "all ashore" whistle blows, ten minutes before they pull in the gangway, two women will handcuff themselves to the mast. Then the seamen will make a rush for the bow, haul down the swastika, race back to the gangway and get off the ship. The crew will be diverted from the flag by the shouting of the handcuffed women. There should be no problems. Once off the ship the flag will be handed to the chairman of the demonstration and burned in front of the crowd. Comrade Burney will pass out a dime to each comrade who will board the ship; that's the cost to board as a visitor. Remember, appear to be going aboard to see someone off. Act cautiously. If there are no questions, let's get down to the ship." Before we had a chance to question some parts of the strategy, the crowd was on its way to the ship.

Pat Gavin was no Johnnie-come-lately to the struggle for human rights. As a youngster in Ireland, he fought on the side of the Irish Republican Army for Ireland's freedom from England's Black and Tans. Since his first days in the States he had allied himself with the revolutionary struggle of the people. He was always a good man to have at your side in the event of trouble. He walked with me and Blair to the pier.

The three of us had come to the conclusion that if by chance we were arrested, it would be less effective if we said we were Communists. Instead, if we said we were Catholics demonstrating against Hitler's terrorism of the German Catholics and other religious groups, it would be stronger and more effective. Since that was our plan, we cleaned out our pockets of all identification and bought some prayer beads, crucifixes and medals of various saints. As seamen we knew the halyard ropes attached to the swastika were strong; we would need something to cut them. A few razor blades would do. On the Upper West Side, for two blocks on either side of the pier, people in cars looked for parking space as hundreds of people made their way to the ship. The Bremen stood motionless alongside the pier. Her bow jutted up, looming over the street. Large, powerful floodlights in various parts of the ship directed their beams to one spot: the jackstaff which held the Nazi swastika. It fluttered brazenly in the summer breeze. It seemed as if all New York could look out their windows and see this flag lit up like a house on fire.

Some vendors had taken up positions at the gate of the pier to sell souvenirs such as little Nazi flags, buttons, pictures of the Bremen, postcards, etc. Pat bought himself a little Nazi button and pinned it to his coat. Blair and I bought little flags depicting a German castle with the word "Vaterland." It would be good camouflage. We pretended to be slightly drunk, waved our banners and made our way to the crowded deck. Things took on a new perspective as we viewed our task from this vantage point. The bow and the swastika seemed miles away. It would be impossible to carry out the original plan. Those who made it were fools with no conception of the deck of the ship. Crew members were lounging around the forward deck. There were three or four sea-breakers that would have to be hurdled. They were at least three feet high and ran the width of the forward deck. If this were not enough, the jackstaff was on top of a seven-foot rise on the bowsprit. It would take time to hurdle the sea-breakers and climb the bowsprit. The "planners" in their ivory tower were foolish to assume that once the action started the crew would be sympathetic to our cause and do nothing.

We began to recognize some of the faces in the crowd that moved in the short space near the gangway. Our watches read 9:20. In ten minutes the whistle would be heard. Bellhops and stewards would circulate in the passageways and along the deck saying loudly, "All ashore that's going ashore." This was the agreed-upon signal for some of us to reach the bow. We moved closer to another small group that stood at the railing. It was obvious to all of us aboard that the plan could not work. There was not a chance. We had to agree on something else and put it into effect in the next ten minutes. The demonstrators on the dock were growing in numbers and becoming louder. Within an hour their ranks had swelled from a few hundred to a few thousand, and more were coming. Banners and placards by the hundreds were on display: "Free Ernst Thaelmann. Free Lawrence Simpson. Down with Anti-Semitism. Unite Against War and Fascism." The roar of the crowd attracted the crew members who had been lolling on the forward deck. They all shifted to the starboard or offshore side to better see the demonstrators. That helped us adopt a new plan quickly. Some ten or fifteen of our seamen were on board. At the sound of the whistle, Bill Howe, George Blackwell and Ed Drolette were to work their way up the starboard deck to the bow. This would distract any crew members on the forward deck to move to the starboard side. Our small group on the port side would then try to make it to the bow unhindered. We took our positions, moving closer to the rail, knowing only seconds remained.

The sharp blast of the whistle was met by a loud roar of the demonstrators on the dock. The summon to disembark could be heard on the loudspeakers. Our men on the starboard side started to move forward. When "Low-Life" McCormick, who stood next to me and Blair, moved out of our group and toward the bow, he was quickly grabbed by an officer. "Sir," the officer said, "you're going the wrong way. The gangway is this direction." McCormick quickly brought up a right-hand punch that knocked the officer flat on his back in view of the crowd now pressing toward the gangway to get ashore. Women screamed, and the captain, looking down on the scene from the bridge, shouted orders to stop our men who were now racing toward the bow.

On the starboard side our men were slow in moving toward the bow. We on the port side had covered a greater distance and were now attracting the attention of the crew members who leaned over the starboard railing. They started moving toward the port side. Halfway up the deck, McCormick was stopped again, this time by a young officer and a crew member. They argued, but Blair, Gavin and I couldn't afford the luxury of standing back to protect one member. We had to keep pressing forward.

Now it was Gavin's turn to come face-to-face with two members of the crew. He wasted no time in throwing lefts and rights at them. Blair and I raced ahead. Only a few more feet to the bow. By now, other crew members had discovered the men moving forward on the starboard side and a battle ensued. Crew members appeared from all over the ship as the captain shouted orders over the loudspeaker for all crew members to get to the bow immediately.

A sailor grabbed Blair by the neck and tried to pull him to the deck. Blair had uncovered one end of his fountain pen and was vigorously jabbing the pointed end of the pen into the face of the sailor. I wanted to stop and yank the German off Blair; instead, I hurdled the last sea breaker and grabbed the first rung on the short ladder leading to the bowsprit. Pandemonium was all about me as I reached the top. The Nazi symbol was just a few inches from me. I drew a deep breath. Behind me I could hear the screams of the passengers, the barking of orders in German of the captain and the blowing of police whistles as dozens of police boarded the Bremen.

I grabbed the swastika and started to pull. The banner at first resisted, but then I heard it ripping along the seam. Still, it was hanging onto the halyard. I yanked some more. It wouldn't part. I panicked. Time was getting short. Goddamn that flag! It seemed to be stronger than canvas. Why wouldn't the rope part? I had to be careful; one misstep and I would be over the side and in the Hudson River. I grabbed the swastika more firmly, preparing to give it my all, when I noticed a pair of hands reaching up to grasp the top rung. My first instinct was to bring my foot down onto the hands; I thought it was a member of the crew coming to get me. But in the next second I recognized one of our guys, Adrian Duffy, a short, wiry seaman. "Hold the bastard tight!" he shouted. A snap of a switchblade, a quick slash at the rope, and the flag was free. Quickly, I tossed it overboard as the roar of the crowd reached a deafening crescendo. When I turned to get off the bowsprit, Duffy was gone. I noticed that Blair was still being walloped by several crew members. I jumped down to the deck, stumbled when I tried to get up and fell forward. Two crew members grabbed me and pulled me to my feet.

A quick glance showed Blair lying stretched out on deck. I did not waste time after I delivered a blow to one guy; it knocked him over one of the sea breakers. The other guy panicked and moved back a few feet. As I looked for a safe way down the deck I saw him again moving toward me. For a moment our eyes focused on each other. For a split second I had the feeling he was telling me, "Good work, comrade, but I have to put up a front." I did not wait for confirmation of my thoughts. As soon as he came within striking distance I swung at him, catching him on the jaw. He fell back. But I felt a wallop in the back of the head, another on the back, and I was down. As I tried to get up I noticed three crew members standing over me. A kick in the solar plexus knocked the wind out of me. A kick in the forehead and I started to see colored lights. Another kick caught me in the jaw. Stupefied, immobilized, I lay sprawled against the deck railing. It could not have been more than five or ten minutes when I was lifted to my feet and half dragged toward the gangway. Through swollen eyelids I could make out a mass of angry and stunned people blocking my way as cops shouted, "Open up. Let us through."

I heard a voice: "Why, they're all young punks, probably college kids." Then the crowd parted and I was once more on the dock. I was taken toward a small booth used by the ship's officers to validate passenger tickets. Horrified, I saw one man lying on his back, blood all over his face. The cops dragging me shouted to the bloody figure, "Is this the guy?"

The figure looked at me. "No," he mumbled.

Quickly I was taken out, walked a few feet from the booth, then taken back in again. "This is the guy, right?" asked the cop.

The bloodied figure looked at me again. "No," he said.

After that I stayed in the booth and was told to sit down. Low-Life McCormick was already there. His ear was badly bloodied and blood ran down the side of his face. Bill Howe sat next to him, and next to Bill sat George Blackwell. Blair was dragged in, holding his stomach, bruised in the face. They dragged in Drolette and laid him almost at our feet. He had been shot and his mid-section was soaked with blood. He lay there moaning, still conscious.

I could hear the steel door closing on the pier as the gangway was pulled from the Bremen and she pulled away from the dock. Where only minutes earlier hundreds of passengers and visitors had lolled on the dock, an equal number of policemen were now clearing the dock of all civilians.

Ambulances and doctors arrived and quickly we were all checked over. Blair was taken to the hospital. Drolette was placed on a stretcher and removed. The doctors threw a bandage on McCormick's ear. The medics wiped some blood off my face and commented that it wasn't necessary to take me to a hospital. The bloodied figure that lay on deck got the most attention. Later we learned that he was a Jewish detective named Solomon. The cops carried him out with loving care, cursing us as they passed him to a special ambulance. With the wounded out of the way, the four of us remaining sat in the booth contemplating our fate.

With over 200 cops now occupying the pier, all sorts of possible dilemmas had to be considered. Knowing the brutality of the New York cops toward radicals was one thing. Knowing how they felt when one of their own was killed or injured was another. Here we were in a pier occupied only by cops. Every few minutes cops sauntered over to the booth to look in on us with scowls of hatred on their faces. One thing was certain, the way I saw the picture: we were going to get worked over. Who was there to say that we didn't receive our injuries while trying to escape? Almost three-quarters of an hour had passed since the ship departed. What the hell were they waiting for?

Two cops from the harbor patrol walked into the booth, dressed in blue overalls. The riot call must have brought the patrol boats to the scene. I had a cigarette in my mouth as one of the cops moved closer. He took a slow look at each of us. I could sense that he wanted further provocation before striking out. He found it. "Who told you to smoke?" he shouted. He then slapped the cigarette out of my mouth.

From my vantage point I could see through the window to the inside of the pier. The cops had formed a circle. A high-ranking officer in gold braid was speaking to them. We could not hear what was being said. Then the circle broke up and the cops formed two lines facing each other, two feet apart. "On yer feet, bastards," said a sergeant. We were escorted out of the booth and slowly made our way down the steps through the line of cops to the outside of the pier. The streets were empty of demonstrators; only dozens of police cars and motorcycles were evident. We were pushed into a large paddy wagon. The door slammed shut and we moved out, with motorcycles in front and more police cars in back of us. As our motorcade of "New York's finest" moved closer to the precinct station, police had to battle their way up the street. Demonstrators had shifted from the pier to the police station, blocking the street. Hundreds of cops had to converge on the demonstrators to clear a path to the door amid cries of, "Here they come!"

We sat upstairs in the detectives' room, waiting for what was to come next. We could hear the demonstrators yelling and banging lids of garbage cans. A detective at a typewriter got up to shut the window. "I'd love to turn a machine gun on them bastards. I wish it was legal," he said as he eyed us. I knew there had to be more to this than just sitting around; a detective had been "worked over" and here we were sitting with our limbs intact. I passed word to the others: this would be a test of our convictions; usually the first one or two blows were toughest, but remember: we are just anti-fascists pissed off at Hitler for what he did to Simpson and to religious people in general.

A detective walked out of one of the side rooms, took a good look at each one of us, then told McCormick to follow him. They both entered the room; the door banged shut behind them. A few minutes later, there came the sound of something banging against the wall. The door opened and McCormick came barging out with the detective following and kicking him as he hustled back into his seat near us. "What happened in there?" I asked McCormick.

"One bull wanted me to admit that we were all Communists following orders to sabotage the Bremen. When I told him he was wrong he gave me a few clouts and threw me out."

The streets had been cleared of demonstrators. Quiet prevailed. Our "life histories" had been taken down on paper by the clerk. Once again we were hustled into a police van and moved downtown to the central police headquarters, where we lined up for fingerprinting and pictures. A white-haired police captain with a strong Irish brogue walked over to where we were sitting. To each man he said, "And what would your name be?" As he jotted down the names, he looked puzzled. In a whisper he told another policeman, "Why, they're all Irish! Not a Jew among them!"

At about four in the morning we were put back in the paddy wagon and driven back uptown to the precinct station, where we were placed in cells. Now we had a chance to put the pieces together, to appraise the events of the last eight hours. So far, from any angle, the demonstration was a success. It had brought thousands of people to the pier to protest against fascism. Newspapers were running headlines about the "riot" at the pier. Pictures were in every newspaper. The radio constantly blared news reports of the event. A man was shot and lay "near death," said some news reports. A detective was "savagely beaten and his fate is unknown," reported another story. The true story had to be pieced together. Solomon, the Jewish detective, had been assigned to the Bremen along with a group of other detectives attached to the anti-Red squad. Solomon had heard rumors that a demonstration was going to take place, and his assignment was to be aboard the Bremen. When the "riot" began and he watched the first group try to break through on the starboard side, he trailed after them to try and hold them off. But before he had a chance to nab one of our people he was stopped by some of the crew members. The crew thought he was one of the demonstrators. He broke away from several crew members and proceeded to catch up with Drolette. Drolette took a swing at him and knocked him to the deck. Solomon took out his pistol and fired off a shot, catching Drolette with a bullet to the groin. The crew did not understand. They quickly grabbed the gun from Solomon and threw it over the side. Solomon shouted, "I'm a cop! I'm a cop!" and tried to pin his badge to his coat. Again the crew members tightened their grips on him. They took his badge and threw it over the side, then they ganged up on him, kicking and punching him until he was unconscious and his face was a bloody mess.

Now the police had to find at least one individual on whom they could pin this rap. That was the reason we had been dragged before him for recognition. When it failed the first time, the cops tried dragging us before him again, hoping that the dumb cluck would say one of us was the guilty one. But Solomon was too stupefied to realize that a recognition was expected of him. One crew member later admitted that to him "Solomon looked like just another Jewish demonstrator."

The police department was in a quandary. On the one hand, according to them, they had notified the owners of the Bremen that a demonstration was in the making and wanted to offer "additional police protection." But the steamship agency had notified the police that extra protection was not necessary. To further complicate matters, the police were not sure that all the demonstrators were off the ship when it sailed from its pier. they insisted that a company of police stay aboard the Bremen until they reached the Statue of Liberty and conducted a cabin-by-cabin search for any demonstrator who might have sailed with the ship. Of course the passengers were unnerved by the searches. It was said that the captain ordered a lifeboat lowered and the area searched for the swastika. The company said that the banner was located and restored to the pole; others maintained that it was never found. Instead, a new one replaced the one that probably settled on the bottom of the muddy Hudson River.

Were the police convinced that they had arrested six seamen, all of the Catholic faith? At first, perhaps. When we were put into our cells, the contents of our pockets were placed into envelopes. The contents included our prayer beads, sacraments and crosses. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by a rattle on the bars of the cell. A cop stood on the other side. "Here," he said, "come get your beads. No man has a right to deny a religious man his prayer beads."

At nine that morning we were taken downstairs where we appeared before a judge. Bail was set despite the protest of the International Labor Defense lawyers who appeared on our behalf. Back to the cells we went. At noon, some drunken jailer appeared at my cell door. His breath reeked of bad gin. "Give me the key, Riley," he shouted to the other jailer. "I want to get in there and beat these bastards to a pulp." He rattled the doors until the other jailer coaxed him away.

There were two things I had to do--stay clean and calm. Off came my socks and bloody shirt, into the wash basin, then onto my bunk to hang dry. From my small window I could see light but couldn't see out. I could hear a group of people marching up and down the street shouting, "Free the Bremen demonstrators!" It was nice to hear that we were not forgotten.

At five in the evening I was bailed out by a young man and woman, placed in a cab and taken downtown to the ILD office. I thanked my benefactors, then found my way inside the office. "There's a lot of money we have to raise to get your buddies out of jail," I was told. "Your work had just begun." Within two days we had the rest of the men out on bail. It took working 15 hours a day, speaking at rallies and meetings, to raise the bail money. Everyone I came in contact with wanted to give me something to help us pursue the case in the courts.

Blair had gotten out of the hospital but ached all over. Drolette was recovering fairly well. The anti-Nazi sentiment around New York and throughout the country was on the increase. More stories were appearing in the papers about anti-Semitism is Germany. Goebbels pushed himself into the picture. He made an announcement that "a thing like this could only happen in an American city where they had a Jew for a mayor." This, of course, infuriated Italian Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia who, in turn, lashed out at the Nazis. To further strain matters, the Nazis claimed that their consulate office was not properly protected. LaGuardia, incensed, assigned ten of New York's Jewish cops and detectives to "safeguard" the consulate office on lower Broadway. This did not sit well with its occupants. All of this shaped up as a result of the Bremen demonstration.

A more aggressive drive against war and fascism was permeating the city. I spoke at an open-air meeting in Yorkville, the heart of the Nazi Bund area. We had expected a strong Nazi disruption, but the meeting was so well-attended that the Nazi's retaliation was minimal. A meeting at Madison Square Garden filled the auditorium with some 20,000 people. Fifty members of the police "Red squad" were in the audience. Five of the "Bremen Six," as we were later called, were on the platform. It was a fantastic experience speaking before such a large gathering. The ovation lasted 13 minutes. For the next several weeks I spoke at two meetings a day, gathering funds and support for the coming trial. Meanwhile, the Bremen had docked in Hamburg. Most of the crew and officers were removed from the ship, and some of them were sent to jail for failing to "protect the honor of the new Germany."

At least one day every two weeks we were lined up in court alongside our lawyers, who argued before the judge for more time to prepare our case, or for a reduction in bail, or for a motion to throw the whole case out. In one of our court appearances I saw a short guy take over the whole defense. Nicely-dressed in a white suit, he stood before the judge and words flowed smoothly out. His demure tone of voice shocked me. "Who the hell is this guy?" I asked one of the lawyers.

"Oh, that's Vito Marcantonio, the congressman from Harlem's San Juan Hill. He's one of the best." Marcantonio had volunteered to join the staff of the defense team. He was to appear only when he was in the city, away from his duties in Washington. He made several appearances for us, each time insisting that all charges be dropped. "If anyone should be tried before the court it should be the Nazis for destroying the human rights of the German people, for destroying the trade unions, destroying political parties and subjecting the Jewish people to lives of terror and concentration camps," he argued.

In Brazil, an anti-Nazi rally tore down the swastika from the German consulate building and burned it in the streets. In other places demonstrations against fascism showed open hostility against the German embassies. In Germany, the swastika, symbol of Hitler's party, was changed by decree to henceforth be recognized as the official flag of Germany. No longer was the desecration of the swastika to be directed against a political party. From now on, it would be a direct insult to Germany and the German people. The old flag of the Weimar Republic was a thing of the past.

Chapter XV: The SS California Strike

In the midst of all this activity I was surprised one day when Pele showed up at the door. A big meeting of Communist Youth leaders of the world was to be held in Moscow. She was to represent the American Communist youth movement, a high honor. But such a meeting had to remain secret at least until the meeting was in progress or concluded; no news of her being a candidate for this meeting was to be revealed. Even being seen with known Communists was to be taboo for her.

During a week of orientation meetings she attended in New York with the top Communist leadership before her departure, we managed to spend every free moment together. We made plans, and one of them was to get married. But, of course, that couldn't be done at the moment. "When I'm in Moscow, you can get the marriage license all set up, and the minute I return we'll get married," she assured me. We drove toward the pier of the Cunard liner that would take her to Europe. I left the cab a block earlier and kissed her goodbye. I felt elated; I walked on air. Everything was beginning to jell in the right direction.

One day we were told to appear in court before Judge Brodsky. It was several months since the Bremen demonstration, and after long delays we were reaching the high point. "Will the defendants rise?" asked the judge. We stood motionless as Judge Brodsky adjusted his glasses, then read from a prepared script. ". . . that in the eyes and minds of the defendants, this flag, this swastika, represented the black flag of piracy sailing high aloft a pirate vessel entering a peaceful port after it had just sunk a peaceful ship of state . . . " He concluded by stating that he had " . . . no other recourse than to dismiss the charges against defendants Blair, Bailey, McCormick, Blackwell and Howe." Drolette had been charged separately with felonious assault. The police claimed that when they picked him off the deck, he had clutched in his hand a pair of brass knuckles. Several months later, however, he too was released.

Now that the Bremen case was over, I had other things to worry about--like making a living. I planned to go down to the union hall the following day and try to ship out. Meanwhile, having received no letters from Pele in Moscow, and not knowing how long she was to remain there, I decided to call "Pop" Mindel in the Education Department of the Party headquarters to see if he knew anything about when she would be coming home. She had been gone for three weeks.

"You don't know?" he replied. "Why, she left here an hour ago to catch the Limited back to Chicago. She arrived early this morning."

I was shocked. I raced to Grand Central Station, looking for the train to Chicago. The station master said it had left 30 minutes earlier. No amount of rationalizing could account for what had happened. How could she return to New York without contacting me? I conjured up a dozen reasons why it wasn't possible for her to contact me. I wrote a quick letter and sent it off special delivery, then fidgeted for the next several days, waiting for an answer.

Her letter was cold. She started off by telling me of the "soul-searching" she had to do before writing the letter. Then she explained that at the Moscow meeting she had met a young German anti-fascist who worked in the underground. He had been arrested by the Gestapo and beaten and tortured, but eventually he had managed to escape death. She was in love with this comrade and that was that. There was nothing she could do about it, but our romance was over. While it may have been easy for her to call the romance ended, it was not so easy for me. For many years thereafter, I would be haunted by this aborted affair.

If the letter from Pele was a surprise, I was in for another, just as devastating. Since I was a member of the International Seamen's Union, whose East coast branches and leadership were dominated by right-wing officials, I had the occasion to attend a meeting. I should have been warned that something was amiss when I saw dozens of men at the meeting who were neither seamen nor members of the union. Every seat in the hall was filled. Some 150 were in attendance, compared to the 50 that usually showed up. The meeting started with the chairman announcing that important matters before the house required suspending the reading of the minutes of the previous meeting. "Yeah, let's get on with the important things," shouted one of the young guys whom I did not recognize.

Dave Grange, an official of the Cooks and Stewards division of the ISU, asked for the floor. Grange was a light-complexioned negro from the Bahamas who had worked his way into the hierarchy of the ISU. His record was that of a sellout artist to the employers. A high-living big spender who loved flashy cars and loose women, he didn't care where his money came from. He was a bombastic speaker who made good use of dramatics when he spoke. "Will you take a look at those creepy, slimy, snake-in-the-grass Communist bastards," he shouted to the crowd as he pointed a finger toward Smithy Hopkins and me. "Did you ever see such filth amidst a corps of clean, upstanding Americans?" he shouted.

"Never," shouted one youngster as others stood to get a better look at us.

"You know what I'd like to do this very moment?" shouted Grange.

"Tell us!" the crowd replied.

"I would like to build a platform over their slimy heads, then take a good dose of croton oil and crap all over their heads." The roar became louder, mingled with laughter. But there was no laughter from us. It finally dawned on us what this was all about. These kids, we would learn later, were recruited from some West Side social club. they were given two dollars and a blank union book and told to "follow the leader to oust some Communists from the union." To shore up the hand-picked mob, several of the small-time henchmen had been appointed "masters at arms," and five of them walked up and down the aisles encouraging men to applaud at the right time or boo when the occasion arose.

One of them, Tiger Murphy, I knew. He was one of those West Side small-time thugs, ex-boxer, ex-strong-arm man, ex-con and now paroled into the care of the union officials who employed him as a bodyguard. Everyone knew he packed a rod and didn't hesitate to use it if the occasion warranted. In spite of our social differences, we managed to be on speaking terms and said hello to each other on occasion. Now here he was parading up and down the aisle inciting this pack of two-bit jackals to commit mayhem on a few Communists at the meeting.

Grange continued to incite the mob. He was now telling them that we were professional, paid Moscow agents, trained and financed by "Moscow gold" to enter the union and sabotage it. As good Americans, they had called this meeting to nip this takeover in the bud. "They have brought this union into ill repute in the eyes of all loyal Americans who cherish the very earth we stand on, this same good earth that the forefathers of this nation are buried in. Are you loyal Americans going to stand by and watch this group of Moscow agents take over and wreck this beautiful nation? Are you?" he shouted.

"No, never!" came the reply from the hysterical mob.

"Now, don't get me wrong," Grange said. "We're going to give them something they don't have in Russia. We're going to give them a democratic trial; that's the democratic way, the American way, and if you loyal Americans think they are guilty, then these creeps have no place in this American union. Right?" Again, on command, the mob howled their approval. "All right, then. I'm going to appoint a trial committee made up of good, clean-cut Americans who will take the accused downstairs into the office and give them a fair trial. And when they have reached a decision, they will come back and report their findings to you, and you can agree or disagree. Now listen as I call the five men for the trial committee."

Grange called out five names, one of them being a German-born seaman, whom I knew to be a member of the German-American Bund. "These are the members who are on trial: Bailey, Hopkins, Alexander," Grange said as he handed the papers to one of the trial committee members.

When I heard my name mentioned I quickly got to my feet and asked for a point of order. The mob screamed out a series of invectives, but they quieted down when the chairman rapped for order. Tiger Murphy approached me. "Look, Bailey," he said. "See this rod?" He pulled back his coat to reveal a .45 automatic under his arm. "Don't make me use this. I will if I have to. So shut up and know when your time has come."

We followed the committee downstairs into a small office. "What're the charges?" I asked the man who headed the committee.

"I have them right here: dual unionism; being a secret member of the Marine Workers' Industrial Union; bringing the union into ill repute by having displayed in various newspapers that you are a member of the ISU; being associated with the Communist Party and known Communists; being a member of the League Against War and Fascism, a known Communist organization; and circulating petitions in behalf of Lawrence Simpson, a known Communist and now a prisoner in Germany."

While he read off these charges, we could hear the reverberation in the old wooden building of the speeches being made upstairs by some of the leaders. " . . . and when the committee brings in its report of guilty and recommends expulsion of these Commies, I think it must be the duty of you loyal Americans not only to vote for the committee recommendations, but to see that each of the accused Bolsheviks is personally escorted from this building by a committee of at least ten men. Make sure they don't return to dirty up this building ever again. I hope the ten men will be some of the strongest men we have in the hall." It would be a lie to say that we weren't a bit nervous after hearing this.

The Communists had a policy that if you were being tried in court, you should use the court as a forum for your views and reverse the procedure by placing the accusers on trial. Well, this was not a court of law, but there were similarities. I did not wait for the rest of the charges to be cited but quickly went on the offensive. "This is a pack of lies," I said. "First of all, the Marine Workers' Industrial Union has long been out of business, so that part of your statement is . . . " I didn't have time to finish before the German Bund member on the committee interjected, "Is it a lie that you went aboard one of our ships and pulled down our flag?"

"You're damn right. That's because your storm troopers went aboard one of our ships and yanked off an American seaman."

The chairman interrupted. "Look, no matter what you guys say, this committee is convinced that you're all guilty as charged, and you can sit there and deny the charges until you're all blue in the face; it won't make a bit of difference. You're not going to change the facts."

"Is this supposed to be a trial or a kangaroo court?" I asked.

"Call it what you may. The charges have been read to all you men, and you denied them. Therefore, you will all stand out in the hallway while we draw up our report to take upstairs."

In the hallway we could clearly hear the ruckus going on upstairs. It seemed like everyone was getting up and making speeches on how great it was to be an American, and how despotic the Communists were. Smithy spoke first, "Well, now what?"

There was no doubt that the committee had already decided we were guilty, and the result would be expulsion. However, the more dangerous aspect was the potential vigilantism we would have to contend with. What good could result from going back upstairs just to hear the report of the trial committee? From where we stood, the path was clear to the door at the bottom of the stairway. "Let's get out of here," I said, and we walked calmly down the steps, unbolted the door and stepped out into the fresh air of South Street.

In the streets we found ten or fifteen men standing around. They were the good, honest rank and file who tried to gain admission to the meeting but found the door bolted. They were shocked at what had taken place as they heard the loud, boisterous yelling of the mob that echoed down the street.

There was not a hell of a lot that could be done about gaining readmission to the ISU, at least not immediately. That was the opinion of the Party waterfront leadership. The union reactionaries were in control of the union completely, and only a rank-and-file movement of strong proportions could get us back into the union. It meant practically unseating the present leadership. Such a movement was still far off. However, there was one bright hope. The western division of the ISU was controlled by the progressive rank and file. They would be sympathetic to anyone ousted by the East Coast reactionaries.

West Coast ships that came to the East Coast made it a rule that when they needed replacements, they would call the union hall and ask for West Coast men. However, if a union man with a union book boarded the ship, he too would be considered for the job. And so, while in Brooklyn's Greenpoint one afternoon, I boarded the Alaskan, a ship of the American Hawaii SS Company. I was in luck. The engine room wiper had just quit, and the ship's delegate was a pretty good guy. He looked over my union book, listened to my story and said, "I don't recognize your expulsion. Get your gear and come aboard; the job is yours."

Earl King, a progressive union leader, had been elected secretary of the West Coast Marine Firemen's Union. He was a guy who had gone through the '34 strike and had a good record. When my ship reached San Francisco, I contacted him and explained what had occurred in New York. He knew all about the expulsions. He took my union book and had it transferred over to the West Coast division. "Your problems are solved," he said, "just so long as you sail on West Coast ships."

I remained on the Alaskan, making all the West Coast ports, then sailed back to the East Coast. It was nice to be among some of the best union men in the maritime industry, yet I felt that while the West Coast men had achieved their aim, the fulfillment of a progressive union on the East and Gulf Coasts was yet to be accomplished. Since I had been ousted for trying to achieve just that, I felt even more determined to succeed. When the Alaskan docked in New York, my mind had been made up. My bags were packed and I got off.

Since the Marine Workers' Voice, the newspaper published by the Marine Workers' Industrial Union, folded when the MWIU dissolved, there was need of a maritime paper for the East Coast and Gulf seamen. At this stage some waterfront Communists and some rank-and-file members of the ISU got together and decided to put out a mimeographed paper called the ISU Pilot. Since the union officials had lots of money to hire thugs and goons to stifle opposition, it became necessary to operate underground. The Pilot's editorial board, consisting of Tommy Ray, Harry Hines, Blair and Robbie, proved to be the best. The place of publication was kept secret. It started as a one-page sheet but soon picked up in popularity and additional pages were added. Volunteers were found who could move in areas frequented by seamen; they sold the paper for two cents a copy. The Pilot avoided generalities and dealt with such specific issues as cleaning out the gangsters and shipowner-oriented officials from the union. The latter responded as expected. Anyone found subscribing to, or helping in any was to distribute the Pilot was to be expelled. On several occasions, goons ripped the papers from the hands of seamen they caught reading it; in some cases they even beat them up. Despite this intimidation, the seamen were reading the Pilot, and its influence for honest unionism grew.

A new era in the life of the maritime industry was about to begin. It was to change the life of American seamen and cause reverberations even beyond the United States.

In January 1936, the SS Pennsylvania, a passenger ship that ran the intercoastal route between New York and California ports, arrived in San Francisco. The Pennsylvania belonged to the Panama Pacific Line which owned two other ships, the Virginia and the California. Each ship carried a crew of about 350. In that period, traveling between coasts was in great demand. These three ships were engaged in a lucrative trade carrying a full complement of passengers to and from the West Coast. The more money the company made, the worse the conditions became for the crew. "Job actions" appeared to be the only handle the seamen could use to get conditions improved. For example, an hour before the ship was due to sail, 50 or 60 crew members might hang back unless the fans were repaired in the crew quarters or more fresh milk was brought to the mess room tables.

It was a series of "beefs" that the company showed no inclination of resolving that forced the crew of the Pennsylvania to take a job action while the ship was in San Francisco. It was not well-planned. This was a strong union port, but the shipowners, having been warned ahead of time, managed to get the ship out of the port. With the help of unscrupulous East Coast ISU officials, 301 members of her crew were left stranded ashore. Now the stage was really set for revolt. Word spread back to the East Coast and the hatred and bitterness against the union officials grew in intensity.

The Pennsylvania continued south to the Panama Canal with its crew of strikebreakers. It passed her sister ship, the SS California, en route to San Pedro and San Francisco, in the middle of the night. When the California secured her lines to the dock in San Pedro, the crew was met by a delegation of the Pennsylvania's crew who rushed to encourage the California's crew to come to their support. The company had already made preparations to choke off any such support by canceling the voyage to San Francisco. But the crew of the California, beset with their own grievances against the company, decided to take on the grievances of their brothers on the Pennsylvania anyway. The California crew presented one demand: the company was to allow the crew of the Pennsylvania to return to New York aboard the California. If this were not allowed, the crew would not take the ship out of the port.

Among the crew members of the California were several Communist Party leaders, some old-time ex-IWW members, and some members of the ISU. Joe Curran, who later would rise to world prominence as a maritime labor leader, was also a member of the deck department crew. Curran was chosen spokesman.

The company realized that another of their ships was going to be tied up. They therefore consented to negotiate. Curran sat in on negotiations between the company, the crew of the Pennsylvania and the crew of the California. The negotiations ended in victory; the crew of the Pennsylvania was returned to New York on board her sister ship. The crew was jubilant as the ship steamed toward New York; the feeling of warm comradeship among the men was strong as they celebrated their newly-won strength based on unity.

The employers planned to fire the crew of the California upon arrival in New York. However, they had to proceed cautiously. President Roosevelt had signed into law the Wagner Bill, better known as the National Labor Relations Act. It guaranteed workers the right to organize into unions of their own choice. The company did not want to unleash an avalanche of anti-company sentiment. With this in mind, the crew was allowed to remain on board the ship, but their activities were closely watched. When the California sailed for the West Coast, no grievances had been settled.

It was March 1, 1936. The California arrived in San Pedro on its homeward voyage. A meeting of the ship's crew the night before had decided that the time was ripe to press their demands for parity in wages between the East and West Coast seamen. This would amount to an increase of $5 for the firemen and A.B.s, bringing their wages up to $62.50 per month; and a $10 raise for the steward's department, bringing up their wages to $50 per month. Curran was again called upon to present these demands to the captain. But word had already reached the captain through one of his spies. He in turn notified the company agents ashore who decided to recruit a replacement crew hours before the demands were even presented. Again the company miscalculated. They expected the crew to do what the Pennsylvania crew did, namely, to walk off. But the California had several Communists and old-time IWW members trained in organization aboard. After the demands were presented, the crew remained aboard ship, continuing with their everyday work. This baffled the captain and company officials. When the hour came to sail, the captain ordered the men to stand by to let go the mooring lines. It was here that the new strategy would undergo its first test.

The men refused to let go the lines. Through Curran, they told the captain that they were ready to perform all duties of maintenance and upkeep of the ship, but under no condition would they let go the lines--or let anyone else do it. Unless the ship was allowed to depart, replied the captain, the crew would face charges of mutiny. Again the orders were given and again they were refused.

For the next three days the ship remained tied to the pier. Newspapers throughout the country picked up the story. Playing down the crew's demands for improvements in conditions, they carried headlines characterizing the action as an act of mutiny, "defiance against lawful authority." Radio stations hourly carried news of the California, each time conjuring up another charge against the crew. "Impeding the U.S. mails," "insurrection," and "conspiracy" were added to "mutiny." Officials from the East Coast division of the ISU came aboard, first ordering the men, then begging them, to let go the lines and allow the ship to sail. When that failed, orders came from the Secretary of Commerce demanding the ship to be set free. No success. The Department of Justice got into the picture and "some 50 government agents were ordered to the scene of the mutiny." The crew held their own in the midst of this pressure that had its trying moments. The ship remained tied up. On the third day of the tie-up, a pier security officer came to the top of the gangway. He had a message for Curran. The Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, "wishes Mr. Curran to call her Washington office immediately."

For half an hour they talked, with Perkins finally asking, "Joe, just what is it you men want?" Curran laid it all out: elimination of the differential in pay between the East and West Coast seamen; overtime pay; all hiring through the union hall; improvement of the living and working conditions of the seamen; and, finally, a crackdown on the oppressive ISU officials. Perkins listened carefully. When Curran had finished, Perkins gave him her word of honor that there would be no coercion, intimidation or persecution of either him or the other crew members if they sailed the ship back to New York. She would use her good offices to set up a negotiating committee between the crew and the company officials upon the ship's arrival in New York.

Needless to say, there was dissension when Curran reported back to the crew. They had every right to be suspicious. Too many times they had been sold down the river. Some urged caution; others pleaded to stick it out and fight to the end. After lengthy discussion, the crew voted to sail the ship back to New York

True to form, the shipowners secretly met with some ISU officials on the East Coast. The idea was to play it smart. They agreed to raise the East Coast and Gulf seamen's pay by five dollars. This was supposed to take the zip out of the sails of seamen shouting or planning for a strike. They knew that when the California arrived in New York, the bottom would fall out for Curran and the crew since the ISU officials would expel them from the union. They assumed that most seamen would grab the five dollar bait dangled before them and not say a word in defense of the California crew's expulsion from the union, nor would they partake in any strike action.

While the shipowners were working to avoid a major strike on the East Coast with their five-dollar bribe, Secretary of Commerce Roper commenced a scathing attack in the newspapers against Perkins because of her commitment to the striking seamen. How dare she lend her office and a helping hand to mutinous seamen? The arguments grew heated as the California steamed toward New York. With Roper's anti-union and anti-Perkins attack, the shipowners felt confident in chastising the California crew and making an example of them. When the California docked on the West Side, some 65 crew members, the so-called ring leaders, along with Curran, were singled out for immediate discharge and were logged two days' pay for every day they had been on strike. In addition to this harsh treatment, they were to be blacklisted from sailing with the Panama Pacific Line. If this were not enough, Roper insisted that mutiny charges be placed against Curran and the crew. Perkins quickly persuaded Roosevelt to make Roper pull in his horns.

In the company's desperation to make an example of the California crew, they were bound to commit many errors. Singling out part of the crew for severe disciplinary action had the opposite effect the company had intended. It brought the rest of the crew to strike the ship in support of the men who were fired. The company retaliated by telling the public through newspaper ads that they would be canceling the next voyage of the California, for they feared for the public's safety. They expected the public to be infuriated with the union and crew and support the company's position. the shipowners even announced that from the goodness of their hearts they had advanced the wages upward another five dollars. The public ignored the shipowner's crocodile tears; the seamen bought it even less. The five-dollar increase was a matter of small concern to the seamen. What concerned them most was the question of having all hiring of seamen go through the union hall. Forced overtime without compensation had to come to a halt, too. If these two demands could be won, the rest of the conditions the seamen sought would fall into place.

I had attended a Party meeting the night after the California crew declared themselves on strike. I heard the report of the two Communist crew members. It was a favorable report on the unity of all departments on board. Even the officers were in full sympathy with the strikers and had at times lied in their reports to save some crew members from disciplinary action. The two Party members spoke in glowing terms about Curran. By all means, the strike had to be supported, and Curran should continue as the spokesman.

It was one of those weeks on the waterfront that found few ships in port. There were perhaps a dozen foreign ships, but American ships could be counted on the fingers of one hand. We quickly assessed our position. We found out that the American Trader was to arrive the next day from Europe and dock in the next pier. She belonged to the American Merchant Line; we had one Communist on board who worked in the steward's department.

Every waterfront Party member was expected to prove himself while this strike was in progress. The crew of the Trader was to be contacted upon arrival to learn if any support from them would be forthcoming. When I went down to the waterfront the next morning, the Trader had already been docked for several hours. I ran into an old buddy, Martie Garnier, a West Coast fireman. He told me that the Trader crew had already voted to strike in support of the California. Waterfront Party headquarters was just a few blocks from the West Coast piers. I dashed off to inform our people and arrived just in time to lend a hand on a leaflet congratulating the crew of the Trader on their stand. An hour later I was back on the waterfront distributing the leaflet.

With two ships now tied up, the momentum to win the strike had intensified. In the next few days no fewer than two leaflets came off the press daily, appealing to incoming ships for solidarity or urging the crews to strike. Another ship, another, and still another joined in. A report came in from Philadelphia that a ship's crew there had walked off. Seamen were making history.

Chapter XVI: A Beating by Baltimore Cops

I would have been content to stay on the New York waterfront, close to the historic events shaping up there, but some Party wheels had other ideas. I was called to a meeting of Party functionaries. It was the party's feeling that the strike would take on a major share of the American shipowners in confrontation, and that this was the time to intensify Party work among the maritime workers. From the discussion some decisions were made. I was assigned to Baltimore.

When the militant Marine Workers' Industrial Union had gone out of existence, much of the militant spirit that it engendered had left with it. The seamen's relief system that the MWIU had fought for and created for that port had disappeared. Now the port was controlled by arch-reactionaries of the ISU, and their job was to prevent any seamen from joining the strike of their New York brothers.

My job was to keep the seamen in the port informed of what was happening and to do everything possible to get them to join forces with the strikers in New York. Working through the Party office I had use of typewriters and mimeographs whenever I needed them. Several other Party seamen were on the beach in Baltimore when I arrived.

While crews in some ports were receptive to joining the strike, in a smaller port like Baltimore we encountered great reluctance to "hit the bricks." It took us ten days before we found a crew ready to join the ranks of the strikers. The SS Floridian was a small freighter that carried fertilizer and other bulk cargoes up and down the coast. A few dollars were collected from some Party sympathizers in Baltimore to rent an empty storefront right on the waterfront. It served as strike headquarters and a rallying center for the seamen in Baltimore. The Floridian crew was an enthusiastic one, made up mostly of young men. Over his protest, the boatswain, a man from Kentucky, was made chairman of the strike committee. We set up various committees to keep the crew active trying to extend the strike.

As the days passed, fewer and fewer ships entered Baltimore. In New York some 15 to 20 ships were tied up, their crews on the picket line. The shipowners now had to face reality. They had a strike on their hands. Hurriedly improvements were being made to keep other ships from joining the fast-growing ranks of strikers. Some crews found themselves sitting down to first-class meals in the mess room, while on other ships the "donkey breakfast" straw mattresses were being replaced by more comfortable cotton mattresses. The character of "Captain Bly" was quickly and quietly changing on board many ships as the crews were finding officers using new tactics in human relations. This had a big effect for many seamen, although they recognized that changes were a direct result of the strike. Only the strong-willed and militant crews took the big step and walked off.

Probably no other strike in the previous 20 years in New York had given such a shot in the arm to the Communist Party. Directives had been sent out to branches in the area to do everything possible to assist the strike. Some Party groups volunteered to canvas their neighborhoods and collect food and blankets for the strikers, while others filled strike headquarters with typewriters, desks, chairs, stationery and printing materials. In every Party publication, mention was made of the strike. Articles were written by trade union professionals about the strikers' need of trade union backing. It was only natural that, with hundreds of men and women engaged in the everyday class struggle, Party members were able to recruit many new supporters. The Communists made no attempt to hide themselves. On every committee Communists were elected to serve and they distinguished themselves by working zealously to make their contribution felt.

In Baltimore, we acted in the same manner. I contacted a liberal teacher from Johns Hopkins University who agreed to teach members of the strike committee better English and how to speak in public. My only error was that I failed to include myself in the class.

Still, after seven days of keeping the Floridian strike-bound, the shipowners, with the help of the gangster officials of the ISU, remanned the Floridian with scabs and sailed her in the middle of the night. Our ace in the hole was gone. She had been a symbol of man's courage to buck the odds and strike for the good of all seamen. Now we had lost our symbol in Baltimore. Our literature had to be changed. Our proud leaflet that read "There she lays!" had to be discarded. The sailing of the Floridian had a profound effect on some of the former crew members. They sank into a state of demoralization and moroseness.

In New York, the strike was reaching its zenith as the 25th ship's crew joined the strike. Of the 25 ships that were strike-bound, more than half had been crewed with scabs and returned to the high seas. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the struck ships would hire creeps, derelicts and scabs and head to sea. This was a high priority on the shipowner's list: keep the ships sailing at any and all costs to discourage other crews from joining the striking ranks and to show them that they could not win.

Since it was springtime in the East, the seamen named their strike, "The Spring Strike." It would involve some 7,000 seamen and succeed in collecting thousands of dollars from the public in its support. Hundreds of thousands of meals were served through our soup kitchens; millions of leaflets were distributed. In addition to picket line duty, the striking seamen took their case to the public via radio and demonstrations throughout the affected areas. Despite the support the strike received from trade unions throughout the country, the top leadership of the AFL did not abandon their attacks on the strike. Daily, via the press and radio, they continued to call the strike a Communist plot and the strikers all Communist dupes.

The strike was now in its eighth week. A meeting was called to evaluate it: where we had been, where we were at the moment and where we were going. This involved just the top leadership of the strike committee. The meeting continued throughout the day. There seemed to be a consensus that the strike had reached and passed its full effect. Nothing more could be gained by prolonging it. Over the previous eight weeks more than ninety ships' crews had participated. The rank-and-file movement to reform the ISU had involved thousands of seamen who never before had come face-to-face with the issue of building a strong rank-and-file union. The majority at the meeting were convinced that now these hundreds of seamen had to be gotten back on board ships. In this way future organization could be achieved.

When these decisions were reported to a general meeting, some greeted it with applause and others booed. Men took the floor and voiced their opinions regardless of how popular or unpopular they might be. A vote was taken. The majority had decided to terminate the strike. What remained now was to get a dialogue going between the ISU officials and the leaders of the rank and file to obtain assurances that there would be no retaliation or discrimination. After a few days of negotiations a pledge was given by the ISU executive board that gave assurances that most of the men would be allowed to return, with the exception of Curran and a few others. They were to remain expelled. (Included among the expelled members were several men of the Left who would play prominent roles in the future of the maritime industry, men like Blackie Myers, Ferdinand Smith, Joe Stack and Howard MacKenzie.)

The Party suggested setting up a permanent skeleton organization. A Seamen's Defense Committee was formed, to be headed by Curran and a few other leaders. The objectives of the committee were to keep in touch with the rank and file, to supply them with literature and to encourage them to organize their ships for the future, when another blow could be struck for honest unionism on the waterfront.

Down in Baltimore I greeted the decision to return to the ships with enthusiasm. Most of the crew of the Floridian had left town, heading for southern ports. Only a half dozen men stayed around to carry out the mandate of the New York Seamen's Defense Committee: prepare for a strike in the future. The Baltimore police who patrolled the Thames Street section of the waterfront made sure we understood that our presence was not something desired. We had been singled out by the officials of the ISU as radicals who deserved nothing better that to be driven out of town. Just a few years earlier, when the MWIU was strong in the port, the police had kept their distance from the waterfront. They recognized that any intimidation or strong-arming against the seamen would bring about a demonstration. However, with no strong union around to defend the seamen's rights, the police were now in a better position to push their weight around. They cornered drunken seamen, first rolling them of what money they carried, then clubbing them in the bargain. There was no limit to what the cops could do, and we knew we had to be extremely vigilant not to make a mistake which would give the police a chance to crawl on us.

Late one night, five of us were returning from a party meeting to our waterfront lodgings. We stopped in for a cup of coffee at a restaurant just a few feet from our rooming house. One of us had been nursing a pint of whiskey throughout the evening and was fairly out of it by the time we entered the restaurant. As fate would have it, sitting at the counter was the agent of the Baltimore branch of the ISU, Blythe, a reactionary bastard. We saw him, and he saw us. Unfortunately, our half-drunk companion saw him, too. He shouted a curse at him. The ISU agent said nothing but continued eating his meal. The man sitting next to him got up and left the restaurant. We tried to shut up our boisterous friend, and for a while we were successful. We continued drinking our coffee with relative peace of mind, but serenity was something too good to ask for. With the fury of alcohol taking the place of reason, our friend got up, walked behind the counter, picked up a long bread knife and moved toward the ISU agent. I jumped up, grabbed the knife from his hand and turned when I heard the door open. In walked six policemen who wasted no time in getting to me. Quickly we were hustled outside, then prodded with nightsticks to move across the street toward a dark section where the call box was located. "Looks like we caught you just in time, before you sliced off everyone's head," said a short, brutal-looking cop who faced me.

"I was not intending to use the knife," I said.

"You hate us, don't you?" the cop asked. I knew right then and there that the sidewalk was due to spring up and hit us in the face. There was silence as I pondered the predicament. "Well, don't you?" the cop said threateningly.

"I don't know what this is all about," I said. "We would like to continue on our way home."

"Now, isn't that nice. You want to continue on home. How come you're not talking like you were last week on that soapbox? How come? You're talking very quiet. I almost can't hear you. Last week you were shouting your Communist head off, calling the police all sorts of names. Remember? You like calling us names, huh?" He gripped the nightstick in the center and aimed straight at my face. The blow hit me right on the bridge of the nose. I winced, then watched him draw back and strike again. This time the blow caught me on the left side of the jaw. I could feel the jaw crack against the club. My nose was on fire. I could feel blood oozing down around my lips when the third blow struck, this time on the side of the nose. Now the blood really started to flow. Everything seemed to swirl around me, and as much as I wanted to raise my hands to protect my face from more blows, I could not transmit the signal from my brain to my hands. I heard another cop say, "For Christ's sake, hold it. He's got enough." Then another blow struck the side of my head. Another cop protested, "Don't kill him."

"Okay, sonofabitch. If you think you've been worked over now just wait until you get to the station house," said the club-wielding cop.

The wagon arrived and we got in. I was so numb from the blows that I knew that no matter what they would do to me at the station house, it could be no more devastating than what had already been done. As miserable as I felt, I was elated that as hard as he had belted me with that club, I did not fall down or plead with the bastard. It made him the smaller man. There was no way to stop the bleeding; it ran down the front of my pants and into my shoes, and when the wagon pulled in and we walked toward the booking desk, I could feel and hear the squish-squish of blood in my shoes. By now both eyes were closing up and my face was turning blue. It was difficult to breathe through my nose and I couldn't close my mouth against the broken, painful jaw.

When the desk sergeant looked down at me for the first time, he said in a tone bordering on panic, "For God's sake, get this man below and sponge his face." Two station house cops, treating me like a long-lost brother, escorted me to the lower cell block in the basement. For the next 20 minutes they laid sponges on my face, wiping off the blood, stopping the bleeding and trying to bring down the swelling. My companions settled down in one cell together, but I was given a cell to myself. There was no sleep that night as pain engulfed my head, nose and jaw.

I staggered out of my bunk in the morning feeling punch drunk. Now my eyes were really closed; I peered out through little slits. My face felt like someone had run a rasp file across it. Several loose teeth sent throbs of pain through my head. To endure the pain, I focused my thoughts on the great Russian revolutionary heroes who had undergone all sorts of torture by the Czarist police and still triumphed. I would do the same. The more I thought of a revolutionary like Karmal, the less I could feel the pain. A guard opened the door. "Here," he said, handing me a new white shirt. "Put this on; you'll feel better." I was not in the proper frame of mind to think and accepted the shirt, even allowing him to help put it on. My old shirt was stuck to my body with dried blood.

We stood before the judge in a small room devoid of chairs or benches. "So you are the troublemakers?" he said sarcastically, peering down at us from his bench.

"That's them, your honor," said the cop who had wielded the club. "A fine lot of troublemakers they are. Fomenting strikes and trouble on the ships and piers in our city."

"And which of the five of them was about to use the knife?" asked the judge.

"That tall one, sir," replied the cop, pointing at me.

"And these other four? What were they doing?"

"They were sitting down, encouraging the big one," the cop said.

"Very well. The four of you are given a thirty-day suspended sentence. But you," said the judge as he stared me straight in the face, "you seem to be the real troublemaker. Sixty dollars, or thirty days in the Baltimore penitentiary. That's all; clear the room."

The huge Baltimore penitentiary was something new to me. It was bigger than the New York Tombs. Every day at a certain hour the cell block door opened and newly-arriving prisoners walked through it. They were met by a large gathering of prisoners standing in a circle, looking for a friend or a face they knew. I could imagine what Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, must have felt like with his distorted face. When I walked through the ranks of the prisoners, there were sounds of shock. No one attempted to look me in the eye. My jaw was by now hanging open, and I was gasping for air.

Word had gotten out rather fast that the cops had beaten me up, and that I was no thief, but a radical. The guards in the prison took a sympathetic view toward me. At the dining room table, the rule was that whether you liked it or not, all food on your plate had to be eaten. Many prisoners stuffed their shirts with bread or other food they couldn't eat, then dumped it later. My plate was full of stew. I was sitting on the aisle seat, the guard only inches from me. I made several attempts to eat, but I concluded that it was less painful to risk more time in the slammer than to eat. I looked at the guard, waiting for a negative response. He saw the rough time I was having. He nodded his head that it was okay for me to leave the food on my plate, but I could remove the bread by stuffing it in my shirt.

I asked the guard if I could see the doctor. The doctor was a nasty bastard. The first thing he did was admonish me for wearing a button that read, "Striker." "Do you think that's all there is to life, striking?" I couldn't answer, but made a grunting sound. He sat me down in a chair, then, grabbing my chin, he quickly pushed the jaw upward. As steeled as I tried to be, the pain was overwhelming and I let out a terrible moan.

"Now it pains you, huh? Well, you should have thought about that before you went around striking. Here are some aspirins. The dentist will be in next week. You can see him."

Late that afternoon I was bailed out. My companions had visited a West Coast ship, one of the Weyerhauser Line. They told about my arrest and how urgent it was to get $60. The crew dug into their pockets. I was bailed out.

For weeks after the incident, I did not come across the cop who worked me over, though he was constantly on my mind. I had devised dozens of ways of doing away with him. But if my luck ran true to form, the creep would most likely die peacefully in bed at a ripe old age.

Things were quiet now in Baltimore. My jaw had healed. A sympathetic dentist worked on my loose teeth. With the exception of finding it hard to inhale through my nose, I started to feel okay. I got permission form the Party to move back to New York.

There was some talk of training me to take over a section of the Brooklyn waterfront as Party section organizer. Brooklyn handled a lot of the port of New York's shipping and was a heavy concentration point for longshoremen. For a few weeks I worked with the district organizer, following him to meetings and sitting in on conferences that seemed to go on day and night. I found myself seeing less of the waterfront and more of meeting rooms and postal workers or shirtmakers or newspaper peddlers, hearing their problems and possible solutions. It was all worthwhile, but darn it, I was a seaman. I felt homesick for the sight of a ship's mast. I was unhappy with my present assignment and I knew I would be a lot sadder if I were to be shackled to working in the job they had planned for me. In addition, there was talk about a pending West Coast maritime strike.

I took off one day and visited the Seamen's Defense Committee, the storefront headquarters of the permanent committee that was to prepare for the next East Coast strike. A West Coast ship had arrived in Jersey City and needed some men. They called and asked specifically for West Coast seamen who might be on the beach. It came at an ideal time. I took one of the jobs and headed for Jersey City and the President Garfield of the Dollar Steamship Line.

Chapter XVII: All Kinds of Solidarity on a Dollar Line Ship

The President Garfield was on the final stretch of a `round the world voyage. She had left San Francisco two months earlier. We were to head for San Francisco, the end of the voyage. A new, spirited breed of men were on this ship men who had gone through the San Francisco General Strike. They were seasoned fighters who held the shipowners in absolute contempt, never forgetting the men who had been beaten or even shot dead in the '34 strike. They were tough, hard-drinking men with a strong sense of loyalty to each other.

We set sail for Havana with some 250 passengers. The most unique feature of this ship was its skipper. His name was Gregory Cullen. An old master mariner, he hated unions and, above all, men from the fo'c's'le. In the tropics he wore the typical gentleman's gear as he paraded around the deck or bridge: white shorts, knee-high stockings, a Pith helmet and swagger stick. Mussolini was his hero and his closest friend was the Italian Fascist Count Ciano. Whenever Cullen was in the Mediterranean and met an Italian naval vessel, he ordered his sailors to race back and aft and stand by the American flag on the stern. As soon as both vessels came abreast of each other, the mate was to give a few short blasts of the whistle, a signal to the sailors aft to lower and raise the American flag while he stood at attention on the bridge, extending his arm in a Mussolini-fascist salute.

The President Garfield had a large number of Chinese in the stewards' department. The Dollar Line had a policy of using Asians on their passenger ships and operated a special school in Shanghai to recruit and train hundreds of Chinese men for company vessels around the world. The average pay for these men was $15 a month, which they received when they were paid off in Shanghai. The "Number One Boy" received a little more, because his job was to keep his brethren in line during the voyage. Since the Chinese were characterized as "indentured slaves" and had been used by the Dollar Line as scabs in the 1934 strike, the West Coast unions were waging a campaign to get them off the ships and replaced with union men. Their days were numbered.

Because they needed money for shore leave in foreign ports, they were forced to engage in rackets. In some ports where beer, booze or wine was cheap, they pooled their resources to buy up as much as they could. After the ship cleared port and the crew hankered for a taste of something alcoholic to get them on an even keel, the Chinese sold their stock to the crew at quadruple the original price.

Havana, a city of dire poverty, a sailor's port of cheap booze, open to every conceivable vice, was our last stopover before entering the Panama Canal. Young kids followed foreigners ashore in this humid city around in droves: "Hey, mister, you want to sleep with my sister, huh? Hey, señor, you want a virgin, cheap?" Havana was like a city under marshal law; soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets were on every street. Still, it was the last good place for a sailor to "let go" before reaching the more restrictive atmosphere of the West Coast. And "let go" we did, returning to the ship either staggering, singing or being carried. While the sailors reveled in merriment, the Chinese crew members were buying as much beer and rum as their pool of resources allowed.

We cast off late at night and set course for the Panama Canal. The next morning the crew staggered out of their drunken stupors looking or begging for a drink, and as usual the Chinese crew members ran back and forth between their quarters back aft to their more prosperous but hung-over ship mates, their arms full of bottles. Usually, under such circumstances, the crew would be back to normal by the end of the day. But in this instance something went haywire, and the crew members continued to buy, drink and remain intoxicated while carrying out their duties haphazardly.

Captain Cullen convened a conference of officers, then made a decision that the booze supply had to be put out of commission. At ten the next morning, the captain, chief mate, chief steward, chief engineer and ship's doctor proceeded aft with three sailors who had managed to stay sober. Without warning they entered the Chinese crew quarters, opened lockers and dumped through the portholes hundreds of bottles of beer and rum. Far off in the distance one could see the bobbing bottles sway back and forth on a smooth Caribbean Sea.

This may have helped to sober up the crew, but it also helped to foment mutiny among the Chinese. That evening almost every Chinese crew member assembled at a meeting back aft. We could hear them shouting and orating, but we could only guess what they were talking about. They were furious about being ripped off. Their little side business was wiped out. Their investment was gone. Their sacred territory, their quarters, had been violated by the raid of the officers. They were furious and wanted revenge. They talked of a strike in Panama.

One of them was sent to talk with us. He posed the question: "If the Chinese crew members were to strike in Panama, would the rest of the crew offer some support?" Our answer was immediate and absolute, "Yes." We would do everything possible to support them.

We too had looked upon the invasion of officers into the Chinese crew quarters and the ransacking of their personal belongings as outright discrimination, an insult. It could be only rectified by an apology and restitution of their property. Word was quickly passed to prepare for action in Panama.

As we drew closer to the Canal, the officers got wind of impending action and commenced to dicker with the Chinese. First they threatened them with harsh action once they reached Shanghai, perhaps never allowing them to sail again. This had no effect on the Chinese, since they were aware that their days on Dollar Line Ships were numbered because of union pressure. A few hours before entering the first lock of the Canal, all the officers agreed to chip in and compensate the crew for their loss. The Chinese were elated and the action in Panama was called off.

The distance from the dock in Panama to the city was about two miles. Orders were posted on the gangway that sailing time was six that evening. That didn't allow us much time for shore leave. We could only grab a cab, speed uptown, have a few beers at one of the bars and get back to the ship. I joined one of the many cab loads of men hell-bent on getting away from the ship for a few hours.

It was either quinine-loaded rice beer or the hot weather or a combination of beer, rum, coke and weather that almost screwed me up. An hour before the ship was to sail, I saw the last cab of men take off amid shouts to get me back on board. Somehow the cooling beer and the comforting shade from the stifling heat of the city brought me back to the bar; I figured I had plenty of time to grab a cab and return to the ship.

My pockets were now empty. I had no wallet, no passport; I had nothing but the clothes on my back. I was in sandals, without socks. It seemed like hours since the last cab of men departed for the ship. Well, if I was to leave with the ship, I had better get back and aboard. I tried to talk a cab driver into taking me back. "No dinero, no transporte," he said calmly as he drove off without me.

The hell with them, I thought. I'll walk. I headed down the palm-lined highway toward the shipping area. In my mind I kept repeating the old refrain, "Time and tide wait for no man." Over and over it went in my mind as I increased my unsteady pace toward my ship's home. I became convinced as I slowly started to sober up that the ship had long ago departed for Los Angeles. All right, so be it. I would get to the pier and curl up and go to sleep. Maybe I'd wake with a clear head in the morning and report to the consulate that I had been left behind.

Passenger ships carrying U.S. mail don't dilly-dally. If they say the departure time is six, the chances are better than good that she'll be easing away from the dock at six. You could set your watch by it. With my head tilted down, I staggered into the vast open area of the pier, convinced that I would find myself alone. Now to find a comfortable spot to lie down and sleep off my disappointment. When I raised my head I was blinded by the bright lights of the ship. There she was, secured to the dock, the way I had left her. Passengers were lined up against the dock, staring down at me. I heard someone say, "That must be him now." Then everyone seemed to start talking at once as I worked my way toward the gangway. I could make out several officers up on the wing of the bridge, looking down at me as if they were counting my steps.

It was the voice of Gregory Cullen I heard shouting, "We can hoist the red flag now. Orders from Moscow. The number one commissar is aboard. We can sail now. Goddamn it. Who the hell is running this ship?"

I awoke the next morning feeling hung over. The air in the quarters was stifling. The hum of the engines and their vibrations on the deck were evidence that we were far out to sea. With a splitting headache, I strolled out of my hot, stifling room to the open deck to get a breath of fresh air. Some crew members were stretched out on the after deck taking a sunbath. Others were sitting around talking or reading. I spied my working partner sitting alone reading and enjoying the hot sun on his bare back. He stopped reading as I sat down beside him. "Feeling hung over?" he asked.

"Sorta. Head feels heavy. This hot sun should help."

"Lots of guys are mad at you, you know."

"Why? I carry my end."

"It's not because of your work, but what happened yesterday in Panama. You could have screwed things up pretty bad, you know."

"Why? Just because I had a few more drinks than I could handle? Why should the guys be pissed off at me?"

"You could have missed the ship. It's a good thing the guys like you, otherwise they would have sailed without you."

"You mean they're mad at me because they had to wait a few more minutes for me?"

"No; that's not it. Don't you know the whole story of what happened yesterday?"

"No," I said, surprised that there even was a story.

"Well, when the last cab came back to the ship, it was about ten minutes before sailing time and the gangway was to be hauled aboard. "Footpad" John said you had refused to get into the cab. We figured you would be back within a few minutes before sailing time. We were fortunate the way things worked out. It was low tide and the main deck was flush with the dock. We were on the dock, just sitting around, when word came around that all the passengers were aboard as well as the mail. The bridge had called for the sailors to stand by to let go. Then we knew you wouldn't make it. So about ten of us stepped across the deck to the dock and just stood there. Cullen shouted from the bridge to get back aboard or he would sail without us. Then 15 more guys joined us. Cullen sent the mate down to find out what was going on. We told him that one of our men was en route to the ship and we didn't want to sail without him. A deal was made with the mate, and he got the captain's agreement for us to send out three men in a cab to locate you and bring you back.

Footpad John, Frenchy and the Pope grabbed a cab and set out to find you. They were ready to slap you up if you offered any resistance. Somewhere along the line they must have missed you, since they went up to the last gin mill you were seen in. They had a few beers, then started back. You had arrived and been on board for about five minutes when they showed up. They were still in doubt about what to do to further delay the ship, but when we told them you were aboard and in your bunk, everything else fell into place."

"Well, I'm glad it turned out the way it did," I said. "I owe them a word of thanks. But why the hell are they so mad at me?"

"You should be able to get the picture, but if you need to have it spelled out, then here it is: we have a good union gang here. We're mighty proud of our achievements. We don't like to get involved in personal stuff, you know, in something not connected with union activities. The guys know you're a good union man and have been through the mill like the rest of us. But they also know you're a Communist, and Communists aren't supposed to get all screwed up on booze so you lose your perspective. You put us all where the shipowners could crack down on us heavy. You know they're waiting for us to make mistakes. That's why the guys are pissed."

I didn't have the gall to come up with an argument against my friend's explanation. I felt bad about the predicament I had created for the men and fully appreciated what the crew had done for me. Without their warm feeling toward me and their sense of solidarity, I would have been in the local Panama jail waiting for deportation home as a workaway. There was only one thing to do, and I started immediately. I went from man to man for the next two days, apologizing for my behavior. Every one of them was wonderfully understanding and kind. I would never forget that incident.

Gregory Cullen was not to forget it either. Every day, news leaked down from the bridge about what Cullen had in store for the crew when we reached San Francisco. He made it known that every man was to be fired upon arrival and, furthermore, if our conduct was not maintained on a high standard, many of the men would be logged several days' pay.

About three days before arrival in San Pedro, we held our ship's meeting. For two hours the men blasted the conditions, or lack of conditions, on board. Our sleeping quarters were below the standard prescribed by the union. There was poor ventilation, not enough fans. The wash rooms needed repairs. Everything, from mattresses to eating utensils, needed replacing. It had been over two years since the 1934 maritime strike had been won, and still the shipowners were dragging their feet in correcting grievances. The crew was determined to wait no longer.

A three-man committee was elected to draw up the demands and present them to the captain. I was elected, along with the ship's delegate and Frenchy Prefontaine, the deck engineer. We worked late into the night drawing them up and typing them in presentable form. After listing our demands, we carefully worded the last sentence, which read, "We know that the company will do everything possible to get these conditions remedied prior to setting the date and hour for the next departure so there will be no delay in sailing." Word was sent to the captain that we wished to consult with him on a matter of "grave importance to the well-being of the vessel."

Word came back: "Provided the committee is properly-attired in clothing the standards of which pay tribute to the best traditions of the American Merchant Marine, the master will give the committee an audience from 2-2:30 p.m. Attire shall consist of clean-pressed blue dungarees; a blue shirt, pressed and open at the collar; black oxford dress shoes and white socks. Men are to be neatly-shaved and their hair groomed. It would be appreciated if the men wore the company slip-over jacket with the company insignia on the back. There will be no smoking in the master's presence. Men will reach the master's office via working companionway and stay clear of all passenger quarters. It is expected that the men will arrive on time."

The bastard would have the last word. We decided to comply with the requests, although there were some who considered it an insult that we had to press our clothes. At two we were outside his door. He was ready for us. His steward escorted us to chairs. In the office were the chief engineer, the chief mate, the chief steward and the ship's purser with a notebook in his hand.

The captain's office was spacious, as captain's offices were on most large passenger liners. The bulkheads were loaded with neatly-framed documents from diplomats thanking him for this or that favor. Resting on his desk were several photos, two of Count Ciano, with "to my dear friend" splashed across them. One photo showed him riding a white horse, with the Count nearby on a black horse. Some of his documents had fancy ribbons attached to them. But the picture that struck me the most was one of Mussolini in his steel helmet, with some Italian words written across the bottom.

This Mussolini-, fascist-loving character allowed us a few moments to glance around his treasury, then abruptly looked at his watch. "I have other appointments to attend to; I suggest you tell us what this request for a meeting is all about."

"Our living conditions are deplorable," said the delegate, wasting no time in coming to the point. He handed the captain the list of demands. "We are giving you an advance set of these requests so you can get them into the hands of your representatives in San Francisco."

The captain read the list out loud. When he reached the last sentence he drew himself upright in his chair. "Are you telling us you intend to strike this vessel if all these requests, as you call them, are not met?"

"We don't know, captain," said the delegate. "But you know how difficult it is to get a crew to sail a ship under these conditions."

"Difficult?" said the captain, his voice rising. "I know a lot of naval reserve men who would give their right eyes to sail this ship under present conditions, and furthermore . . . "

He was cut off by the mate who faced him and said in a conciliatory tone, "Of course we will see that the company representatives get this list." It was obvious that he was preventing a long diatribe against unions from the captain.

The captain took the hint. "Yes, Mr. Warner is correct. We will see that they are acted upon when we arrive in San Pedro. If you have nothing to add, the meeting is over. You men are excused. Be sure to return to your quarters the same way you came here."

We heard later that the captain was beside himself after we left. "There's nothing I'd love more than to lead a hundred naval reserve men up this gangway to roust every one of these union Reds not only off the ship, but off the waterfront as well. It's high time that we act like Americans and put a stop to unions before they eat us up. Mussolini has the right idea."

Our stay in San Pedro was short. There was just enough time to allow some passengers to disembark and some mail to be discharged. And there was time enough to allow us to mail a copy of our demands to union headquarters in San Francisco. On the way up the coast, we did not wait for the list to be posted to find out who the ones to be fired were. Most of the crew started packing their belongings, list or no list.

In the middle of the night, the list mysteriously appeared on the bulletin board. With typical brevity it read, "The following members of the ship's personnel may sign on for another voyage." Five names were on the list--to the dismay of those five members who, embarrassed, scratched them off.

As we edged alongside the dock in San Francisco, we could see a lot of activity. While it was usual to see some people meeting their friends, the number we saw was larger than usual. When we lowered the gangway, many of those on the dock came rushing up. It was then that we could tell that they were workmen from different crafts rushing aboard to put into action the demands we had raised. Within minutes hammers and saws were at work as workers tried to complete all improvements in time for the next sailing date. While most of us were not to enjoy the fruits of our action, a lot of other seamen had a more comfortable trip when the President Garfield put out to sea.

Chapter XVIII: The 1936 Pacific Coast Maritime Strike

The San Francisco waterfront was alive with activity. Longshoremen were working day and night shifts as the employers stepped up the pace to get as much cargo moving as fast as possible and their ships out to sea. Negotiations between them and the workers were to start, and the employers knew that a strike was looming, one that would tie up the entire West Coast from Alaska to Mexico.

There was no doubt about it: the shipowners were bursting at the seams in their desire to take on the unions and once and for all bust them. In July they had informed the unions that they were dissatisfied with the existing contracts and did not want to renew them. Here it was August 20 and negotiations were getting nowhere, because the shipowners kept telling the unions that they wanted to go back and restore the pre-1934 strike conditions. They insisted that the unions give up control of the hiring halls and that the longshoremen give up the six-hour day they had won in that strike.

While the shipowners pressed on with their "to hell with unions" attitude, the sea-going unions were demanding the eight-hour day aboard ships with paid overtime and also many other long-sought conditions and improvements. The shipowners' reply was that the whole matter be resubmitted to arbitration and, in the interim, the pre-1934 conditions be re-imposed. Earl King, speaking for the Firemen, told the shipowners to "go to hell."

It was nice to be back in San Francisco. I got myself a room in a cheap Embarcadero hotel, stowed my gear and went to the union hall to register and pay some dues. King, secretary of the Marine Firemen's Union, met me as I entered the hall. "Just the guy I wanted to see," he said. "When you get squared away with your book, let's go out and have some coffee. I want to talk to you."

King was one of the most honest and progressive union leaders on the West Coast. He was a big, roly-poly, soft-hearted guy who had worked his way up the union ranks. He managed to involve the rank and file in every action of the union.

"You know," he said to me in the waterfront restaurant, "we're about to get shafted by the shipowners. Negotiations ain't going nowhere. These bastards are hell-bent on locking us out. Up to now they haven't been able to bust up the unity we built on this coast. they think a long strike will split us apart. If things continue this way, we'll set up a strike committee and you better get on it."

"Why me?" I asked. "What about all the old-timers? Shouldn't they be on it?"

"Of course," he said. "But we want some young guys on it that have a lot of spunk and energy. Don't worry; the old-timers will be in the background shoring you up. Don't worry about them. Right now I want you to stick around and help with the union paper, the Black Gang News. It's only a mimeographed sheet, but it has a lot of potential. There are still a few weak cracks in our armor, and we don't have much time before the employers come down on us hard. We better get ourselves in ship-shape to meet them. There's too much at stake. You have your job cut out. I'm going to have you work with the guy that's editing the paper now, so you can get a grasp on things. How about starting in the morning?"

I agreed.

King kept me abreast of what went on daily. It was my job to help write the news for the union paper. Aside, he told me what was going on behind the scenes and why the shipowners were taking this hard-nosed attitude toward the unions. First of all, the shipowners had assessed all their members with a tonnage tax since 1934. That money was put into a fund to "take on the unions." It now amounted to well over $200 million. They were well-prepared. The Firemen's bank account amounted to less than $2,000.

Except for the San Francisco News, newspapers were blasting away daily with scare stories of the impending disaster the unions intended to "let loose on the people." The Red bogeyman was being revitalized in their stories and "Communist conspiracies" were being "uncovered" daily. The waterfront, according to these scare stories, was rife with "insidious plots."

The man the shipowners hated most in Washington, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, referred to as "that Red in the White House," was coming up for reelection. The employers hoped that Alf Landon, a Republican candidate, would beat Roosevelt. The employers were also counting on rifts in the ranks of labor like the one Harry Lundeberg, head of the Sailors' Union, was creating. Lundeberg and Harry Bridges were feuding over policy; the employers intended to widen this rift and take advantage of it.

The present contract was due to expire on September 30. At this point, with only 33 days of negotiations left, anything could happen. On August 27 I was working on a story for the paper. At the far end was King's office. he was hard at work preparing some data for a negotiating session in the afternoon. I looked up and saw five uniformed officers charging through the main office and into King's office. They were not ordinary cops but gold-braid lieutenants, captains and an inspector. I could not hear what was being said, but King came out of the office handcuffed and was hauled off to jail. It was a shock that rocked the waterfront.

The afternoon papers carried the headlines: "Union Leader Arrested in Murder Conspiracy." The article told of a ship's chief engineer who was stabbed to death on board the SS Point Lobos while it was tied up in Alameda. The killers got away. All of this had taken place some five months earlier. The police had tracked down and arrested one of the killers in Texas. He was supposed to have confessed and named not only Earl King, but Ernest Ramsay, a minor official, and Frank Connor, a ship's delegate. The papers played up the story as the murder of an anti-union engineer by a union goon squad.

Those familiar with the three men knew that they were incapable of such an act. If the employers figured on their arrest as being an instrument to divide the ranks, they were mistaken. The ranks became welded closer than they had ever been. Our union membership was convinced down to the last man that the shipowners had something to do with this plot to remove our able progressive leader in the middle of negotiations and a strike-threatening situation.

When word went out that King had been arrested, all the Communists in the Marine Firemen's Union met to map a strategy for the upcoming meeting of union agents. Late into the night we discussed the roster of union agents that were to attend that important meeting. About 15 of us attended. There were some brilliant men among this small group of Communists who had earned their spurs in the past struggles of the labor movement. We knew the union officials who were to attend this meeting and we had a good background of their work.

After a seemingly endless discussion, we agreed to throw our support behind John Ferguson who we know had a fine record of leading the Firemen's Union and who was a close buddy of King. King himself had proposed from jail that Ferguson take charge. The rest of the agents, though fine men, lacked either the ability or the charisma to keep the ranks together. An emergency call went out to all union branches on the West Coast to meet in San Francisco within two days to designate the replacement. The meeting was a big one. Every fireman came off the ships in port to attend. The hall was jammed. It was impossible to move around in the meeting hall a half hour before the meeting began. No one gave that any thought, since we were all concentrating on the long-term program of keeping the union together.

After all the facts of the arrest were made known to the union membership and a report was giving on the progress of contract negotiations, a motion was made to throw the floor open for nominations for a replacement to fill out King's term, a period of three months. Two nominees accepted, John Ferguson of Portland and Barney O'Sullivan of San Pedro. O'Sullivan had attached himself to a small group of right-wingers in San Pedro who were constantly critical of the militant policies emanating from union headquarters in San Francisco. Many of these right-wingers were connected with the American Legion and had made it quite clear that "Red-hot militants" were not welcome in that port. It was a foregone conclusion that O'Sullivan would not be able to divorce himself from this group if he were elected to lead the Firemen's Union in the militant path that King had chosen.

Ferguson won better than five to one. It was a great victory. Ferguson would continue the policies of King. When King was informed of the outcome he was elated. Ferguson was no Johnnie-come-lately. He was a seasoned Scottish-Irish seaman who had spent years stoking the coal-burning boilers on ships around the world. He had weathered some turbulent fighting for human rights in the forecastle. Above all, he was willing to take on the shipowners in the battles which loomed ahead.

If he had any major weaknesses, they were not apparent--although he did like to visit the racetracks and bet on the bangtails, and he enjoyed the taste of good Irish whiskey. Lots of members loved the same things. He was willing to work with anyone who was willing to fight the shipowners and that included Communists. Since that was the common denominator, I found myself working closely with Ferguson and learned much from the man.

Meanwhile, negotiations continued with the shipowners becoming more confident. To them it was just a matter of playing out the time until the contracts expired. On the 23rd of September, in the midst of negotiations, the shipowners informed the unions that on September 30 they would no longer accept ships' crew replacements from the union halls. They would only accept them from the pier heads. That was all the rank and file needed to hear. They were ready then and there to walk off the ships, but their desires and feelings were quelled for the moment.

There was another week to go on the contract. We did not want to give the employers an excuse to say we provoked the lockout. With only a few more days to go before the men would officially come off the ships, word came from the federal government to continue negotiations until October 15. Both sides agreed. The charade of negotiations went on.

On October 13, Washington again requested that negotiations continue and promised some investigative machinery to be put into effect and finalized by arbitration. This request was relayed to the rank and file. The union knew it was important to keep the public on our side; we also knew how vital it was to keep the onus of responsibility for a strike on the employers' shoulders. The membership up and down the coast was polled: should we allow the extension, and if no results were forthcoming by October 29, should we strike? The vote was overwhelming: extend the cut-off day to the 29th.

Not a single man on the entire waterfront had illusions that the shipowners would cave in by the 29th. We elected our strike committee and prepared for the showdown. I was elected to the Firemen's strike committee which consisted of ten men. From our own craft strike committee we elected delegates to the joint strike committee. I was also elected to that important group.

On the West Coast, the waterfront unions had a unique labor unity. After the 1934 strike, it had been agreed by the unions that there should be one overall labor body to coordinate the actions the unions undertook. This one centralized body came to be known as the Maritime Federation of the Pacific. Each union elected delegates to meet weekly and review all impending actions against the shipowners. Once an agreement was reached in this body, all unions were then notified of the proposed action. The Federation strengthened all craft unions in the maritime industry.

Men were still irritated by the deliberate slowness of the shipowners in living up to their part of the contract since the '34 strike. Before the Federation, the frustrations of the rank and file had erupted weekly into spontaneous picket lines at different ships or piers. At this rate, it was difficult for anyone to get a full weeks' work. You did not know from day to day whether you would be confronted by some craft union's picket line around your job. The Federation eliminated much of this "job action."

While this helped to stabilize the shipping industry for the employers, the employers still hated the Federation. They welcomed chaos in the industry. They were screaming for Washington to do something about "this mess." The more disruptions on the waterfront, the better for the employers. They feared stabilization, and the Federation was sticking in their throats like a bone.

At midnight on October 29, 1936, every facet of maritime transportation, with the exception of a few steam schooners working under separate contracts, came to a halt. Hundreds of firemen, engineers, mates, cooks, sailors and longshoremen stopped work up and down the coast.

The problems of conducting a strike of such magnitude were great. Many obstacles had to be overcome. Feeding and housing thousands of seamen away from their homes was a major one. Discipline had to be maintained. A health-and-welfare plan for strikers had to be organized. Committees on almost every facet of life were set up. Volunteers accepted responsibility. A huge empty loft on the Embarcadero was rented. Members of the Marine Cooks and Stewards took over the job of cooking thousands of meals for the strikers. For three months, progressive farmers and ranchers near San Francisco donated a large part of the food needed to feed the strikers. No strikers went hungry.

A committee dealing with housing contacted landlords to ask for their cooperation in allowing the strikers to stay housed in their hotels and apartments without pressure of meeting rent deadlines. A written guarantee was made stating that rents would be paid when the men were again earning paychecks. This satisfied the landlords and hotel keepers and alleviated pressure on the men.

Doctors and nurses were asked to donate time to care for the men's medical needs. They responded with enthusiasm. Those needing clothing had their problems taken care of by a special committee which solicited donations from many of the clothing shops near the waterfront that catered to the seamen in good times.

A security committee which became known as the Maritime Federation Patrol appeared on the front. Their job was to keep drunks off the front and to maintain order and discipline. Throughout the strike, not one man was arrested, nor any bloody noses counted. If someone became inebriated and showed signs of disorientation, he was escorted back to his waterfront hotel by the union patrol. If he persisted in threatening the tranquility of the waterfront, his union book was taken from him and he faced a disciplinary committee of his union peers. The men came down hard on the offender. Two weeks of peeling potatoes or onions or washing pots and pans encouraged most to stay sober and out of trouble.

From the very first we were well aware that it could be a long strike. All the unions settled down for a war of attrition. All paid officials were immediately cut off the payroll. They, like us, ate at the soup kitchen. Requests for funds from the treasury were scrutinized before being fulfilled.

The word along the front was, "Watch out for provocateurs," and "An injury to one is an injury to all."

Our publicity committee was housed on the upper floor of the Union Recreation Center. Here some 25 members of the committee worked on daily bulletins. Leaflets were sent to different communities in the city, and articles and fact sheets were sent to newspapers and unions throughout the country. We even supplied information about our strike to unions in foreign countries. Every hour of the day someone was working at one of the two dozen typewriters in the Center. Artists donated sketches or cartoons for the paper.

My job was publicity. I was in the midst of some of America's best trade union strategists. These old-timers were experienced fighters for trade unions and human rights. Most of them had been in the front ranks of the 1934 strike. What I had experienced in the past was child's play compared to what I was engaged in now.

It has been said that the 1934 strike was one of blood and class struggle from its inception, while the 1936-37 strike was fought with the typewriter.

The shipowners issued daily bulletins to the press that characterized the strike as "another Moscow takeover" or a "training ground for the Bolsheviks." Our publicity committee had to counter these assertions with facts and figures showing the strike for what it was, a matter of survival for the seamen and longshoremen.

One outstanding leaflet issued by the strike committee showed how to become a millionaire: simply get a loan from the government, rent or buy a ship, then get a government subsidy to run the ship. No need to risk a penny.

Facts and figures were given about the millions of dollars paid to shipping companies to keep their buckets of rust afloat and profitable while conditions for the men were intolerable. At first strikers merely answered the attacks of the shipowners, defending themselves against the gross charges leveled at them. But soon they took the offensive.

It had been common knowledge before the strike that a number of smaller shipowners had a strong desire to avoid the strike by meeting the demands of the unions. The three main companies on the Pacific Coast, the Matson, Dollar and American and Hawaiian Lines, however, whipped the smaller companies into line. Thus the seeds of discontent among the shipowners had been sown, and it was this that the unions took advantage of. We called them the "Big Three," and much of our propaganda was directed against these powerful companies. From a publicity point of view, the shipowners were losing the battle.

The shipowners also counted on several good hole cards that they hoped to play. One was the presidential election. But that hope was smashed to pieces when the voters reelected Franklin D. Roosevelt by a landslide.

One day a striker came running into the Firemen's hall shouting that 200 strikebreakers were marching down to the Embarcadero to enter the piers. Within seconds the union halls emptied as we dashed into the streets to intercept them. I was surprised to see a long column of negroes veer in from Market Street toward the waterfront. I and a dozen other men approached them. "Where you guys going?" we asked.

"We're going to work. That's where we're going," the leader replied.

"Not on this front, you're not. Not while there's a strike going on," we said.

"Since you guys don't allow blacks to work on the front when there is work, we have every right to work now," came the adamant reply.

Within seconds dozens of black longshoremen and members of the Marine Cooks and Stewards converged on them. "Take a good look at us," they said. "We're black and members of the unions, and it'll be a cold day in hell when we allow any of you to take our jobs when we're on the picket lines."

We attempted to explain how they were being used as strike breakers by the shipowners. They were hell-bent on making their way to the front. The black strikers laid down the law and between hot words a few punches were thrown. Their ranks broke and they fled back toward Market Street.

If the shipowners had hoped for some sort of "race riot" they were wrong from the start. They forgot the fact that the waterfront unions had long before adopted a pledge of no discrimination based on race, creed or color, and blacks were now a small but active part of the life and vitality of some of our trade unions, like the Longshoremen's and Cooks'; others, however, like the Sailors' Firemen's and Officers' unions, would remain "lily white" for years.

Having failed thus far to weaken the unions, the shipowners had another gimmick up their sleeves. They figured that if they negotiated contracts with one or two unions they could divide the workers. One day Lundeberg of the Sailors' Union and Ferguson of the Firemen's Union were called to a conference with the shipowners and they negotiated contracts for their two unions.

The Firemen held a special meeting and Ferguson made his report about the new contract. While the terms seemed favorable, the rank and file demanded that we stick to the pledge made before the strike, that "We all came out together; we'll all go back together." The rank and file quickly recognized this maneuvering for what it was, a way of playing one group against another, divisive union splitting that played into the shipowners' hands. Under no condition was the rank and file of the Firemen's Union going back to work while the rest of the unions lacked contracts. Even the rank and file of the Sailors' Union, over Lundeberg's objection, took this position. Again the shipowners were rebuffed.

The Communists in the Firemen's Union had urged the rank and file to support Ferguson for secretary. What had gone wrong with Ferguson? Were there flaws in his character that we failed to detect before his election? We discovered later that he had entered the country illegally. Investigative work by the FBI and the Department of Naturalization, urged by the shipowners, uncovered this. He was given the choice of a long prison term and deportation or playing ball with the shipowners. He chose to play the shipowners' game.

Since Lundeberg was anti-Bridges, the shipowners were inclined to favor him. Lundeberg lured Ferguson over to his camp and bit by bit cracks in the tight unity of the unions started to show up. Lundeberg had one way of dealing with the shipowners. He would simply tell them, "Come across with a good contract for my sailors or the Communists will take control of the union." His method paid off with good contracts for the sailors, with conditions unequaled by any of the other seagoing unions. With Ferguson now being drawn over to Lundeberg's tactics, the shipowners were not hesitant to play ball with him.

One of the sharp differences of opinion between Lundeberg and the rest of the maritime unions was related to the issue of releasing perishable cargo. The shipowners called perishable cargo still lying in the ships' holds as cargo "vitally needed by the people." It was a gimmick they felt would arouse anger against the unions. Many people, not realizing it was a ruse, did react favorably to the shipowners' propaganda and urged the unions to reconsider their policy of leaving the cargo in the holds. There was not actually that much perishable cargo remaining strike-bound, but irritation against the strike was beginning to be felt.

The matter came before the Joint Strike Committee and we debated it for several hours. The representatives from the Sailors' argued for Lundeberg's policy of not moving one ounce of the cargo. But the more mature on the committee urged that the cargo be worked so that one more argument of the shipowners could be deflated. The majority of maritime workers were in agreement.

Another thing that Lundeberg found fault with was the way the committee conducted publicity for public support. He felt that this method of conducting a strike was hogwash and playing footsie. But on this issue, too, the majority of the strikers agreed with the Joint Strike Committee. They believed that every conceivable legitimate weapon should be used by labor to win this strike; publicity from the workers' viewpoint could play a major role in winning support for our cause. Lundeberg eventually boiled everything down to two viewpoints: his and the "Commies'." With Ferguson a vacillating element in the Firemen's Union, the Communist within had to be on guard to prevent further sweetheart deals.

Lundeberg and Ferguson went to Washington, presumably to consult with some pro-labor congressmen. They wired back that the congressmen urged that unless the strike were ended, anti-labor legislation would be forthcoming. They urged the rank and file to make immediate peace with the shipowners. When these telegrams were read, the membership, enraged, called for Ferguson's resignation. Ferguson got the message. He returned to San Francisco and never mentioned the Washington caper again.

While things looked peaceful in the shipowners' ranks, the opposite was true. Since all the major policies were engineered and pushed through by the Big Three, much discontent was voiced from the smaller operators who wanted to settle and get their ships to sea. The unity of the strikers could not be broken, and the smaller companies began to exert pressure on the Big Three for an end to the strike. Finally the shipowners caved in and negotiations began in earnest. Agreements were worked out with all the unions and the terms put to a vote. The strike that had lasted 90 days came to a victorious end, and all crafts went back to work at the same time.

Overall, the results were good. All unlicensed crafts received a monthly increase of $10. The shipowners offered us nothing. We won the right to control and operate our union hiring halls. The shipowners had opposed this vigorously. Furthermore, we had won the right to receive pay for any overtime. Previously, the shipowners had offered us only time off in port. The officers also won a wage increase.

The cost to the shipowners of the 1934 strike was estimated at slightly more than $500 million. The 1936-37 strike had cost them around $686 million. Aside from their financial losses, there was a rebellion of small shipowners against the Big Three prompting the resignation of T. G. Plant, the president of the employer group. (T. G. had earned his nickname during the 1934 strike by standing and smiling while police lobbed tear gas shells at the strikers--Tear Gas Plant.)

The Party evaluated victories and defeats after every major battle in order to draw lessons for the future. Two days after the strike was ended, such a meeting was called for all Party functionaries and members within the waterfront unions. The meeting hall was packed. The last such meeting had been called a week before the strike. The attendance at this one was twice as large. Success breeds success.

The report at the meeting characterized the strike as an effort by the employers to smash the unity of the strikers and their unions. Reports were made about the strength of the Party forces in various crafts, the difficulties they faced and how they overcame them. After three hours of discussion the chairman summed it up: we, the members of the Party, had done an excellent job throughout the strike. In forging unity within the ranks of labor, we had upheld the best traditions of the revolutionary working class. The plot of the shipowners to destroy the waterfront unions had been dealt a crushing defeat. As Communists, we had won the respect of our fellow workers and trade unionists. In the eyes of our fellow workers we had conducted ourselves responsibly, honestly and courageously. To safeguard the gains won in the strike it was necessary to increase our influence by continuing to distribute Marxist literature and recruit new members among the workers.

Chapter XIX: Assignment in Hawaii

Slowly the waterfront began to operate again. Pier doors were opened to receive cargo as trucks waited in long lines to enter. Ships' smokestacks, which for three months had had a night cap over them, started to belch smoke as firemen and engineers busied about the engine rooms, putting life back into an old friend. The union dispatching halls were crowded with men waiting for jobs to be posted and for the dispatcher to call them out. On the Embarcadero, the sheltering shacks the pickets had built were being ripped down, their lumber returning to just another pile of dunnage alongside the pier. Waterfront landlords and hotel keepers were happy the strike was over. They had not seen any cash for three months. A few more weeks and the men who owed their room bill would make a draw and start mailing the money back from ports around the world.

It was time for me to think of what to do in the immediate future. I found it hard to decide just where I wanted to go. South America? Australia? Around the world? I would have to decide quickly. There was no money left. The soup kitchen had closed down. The hotel keeper was giving me questioning glances, wondering why I hadn't shipped yet. While thinking of possibilities, I received a phone call from the Haight Street Party office summoning me uptown. The Party organizer greeted me. He was quick and to the point.

"Here's the way things are," he said. "we have very little going for us over in the Hawaiian Islands. We've had a comrade there for the past five months, but we hear he has left the Islands; there's no one there to take his place. You have been proposed by several comrades as someone who could do a job over there and establish a permanent Party organization. Now, no one is suggesting you spend the rest of your life over there, just a minimum of six months or until you have a stable, functioning apparatus. You know from experience that the Islands have great possibilities for Party work. There's much poverty and terrible housing, and the conditions on the plantations border on serfdom. It will require someone with a lot of guts and a pioneer spirit. You have all the prerequisites to do the job."

"If you decide to go, remember: it won't be easy. You'll be on your own and there'll be no help from us, financial or otherwise. You'll have to rely on your own resources there. In fact, we won't be able to help even if you get arrested. Money and housing can be found in the Islands if you go after it. We think you can do a good job. Consider it, and let me know in a day or two."

That night I mulled over what he had told me. The challenge was worthwhile. Six months of my life was no big thing. I felt the experience would do me good and, most importantly, I was needed there. The next day I returned to Party headquarters. I was given three or four names. None of these people were out-and-out Communists, but they weren't anti-Communists, either. One of the four owned a small restaurant and could be counted on for an occasional meal.

With 50 blank membership application cards tucked away in my suitcase, I entered the Firemen's Union dispatching hall just in time to accept the engine room yeoman's job on board the SS Lurline. The Lurline was an ideal ship to take. It was one of the fastest passenger ships sailing between San Francisco and Honolulu. The crew ate well, better than on any freighter.

As an engine room yeoman, I had my own little office located on the top deck. I ate in the officer's mess and slept in my own small but comfortable room. The work and responsibilities entailed little physical strength, but rather the use of pen, pencil and typewriter. Records had to be kept and orders for repairs and spare parts had to be typed; crew lists for shoreside officials had to be made out. By all standards it was a nice soft job, clean and comfortable. Under most conditions it would be a job that one would want to hold down for a while. But I knew I must not fall in love with it; I had to get off in Hawaii.

Five days after leaving San Francisco the beautiful sight of Diamond Head loomed on the horizon. The Royal Hawaiian Band played and welcomed the passengers as our ship eased alongside the dock. The scent of sweet-smelling flowers was in the air. Honolulu was a beautiful place.

Now that I was here I had to get off. A rule was in effect that in a place like Hawaii, the possibility to quit the ship existed only if there was a replacement for your job--and it was an emergency. I saw an Isthmian Line ship in the harbor. I got an idea. I told the chief engineer that my brother was on this Isthmian ship and had been seriously injured and taken to the hospital. The doctors told me he may die within a week. I wanted to get off the ship and spend time with my brother. "Okay," said the chief. "I'll make out a voucher and the purser will pay you off. Hate to see you go."

I was stretched out on the warm sands of Waikiki Beach as I watched the Lurline pass on her way to San Francisco. I wondered about the tasks that loomed before me. Life in Honolulu was lived at a much slower pace than on the mainland. The rush to nowhere was almost at a comfortable standstill. Buses and other forms of transportation crept along at a leisurely pace. No one suggested that the speed be increased. It was open-shirt weather. No more heavy coats crushing the body. You could feel the sun's penetrating rays creep into the body and perk it up. The days of cold winds and damp fog were over, at least for a while.

The first couple of nights, I slept in a seamen's mission flophouse while I looked around for a place to stay permanently. I found one for two dollars a week. It was a two-story house a few blocks off Queen Street with coconut trees in front and a hen house in back. Five other tenants lived in the wooden-frame house. It had six sizable rooms. Mine contained only a bed and dresser. I noticed sailors and marines and a soldier come into the house arm-in-arm with the other tenants and I realized the tenants were whores plying their trade. It was an ideal place for me. No one would suspect that a Communist organizer would live in a whorehouse.

I contacted the people I was supposed to reach and the learning process began. Trade unions existed, all right, but most of them were for the elite--plumbers, electricians, bartenders and some other crafts. For the common working stiff there was very little organization. So much had to be done. The problem was where to start--and with what?

The land and most of the industry and business in Hawaii was run and controlled by what everyone knew as the "Big Five": Castle and Cook, Ltd.; American Factors, Ltd.; Alexander Baldwin, Ltd.; Thomas Davis and Company, and Brewer and Company. Anyone working for a living, renting a house, living in a hotel or eating the Islands' food would be doing business in some way with one of the Big Five. They controlled everything but the weather. To get in or out of the Islands, people had to sail with the shipping company of Castle and Cook, which controlled Matson Navigation Company. One airline, the famous "Clipper Ships," used Hawaii as a fueling stop en route to the Orient, but in the main, people and freight traveled on Matson Line ships. Pineapple and sugar cane en route to the mainland sugar mills traveled by Matson; so did all food entering the Islands from the West Coast ports.

To wage a war, one must have an army, and an army must have leaders. Since the class struggle was a war of workers pitted against employers, it was necessary to start at the grassroots level. The problem here was to find the first group that would eventually lead such an army. I had four contacts in Honolulu. One was a young Japanese bank teller, another a teacher at the university, the third a non-practicing lawyer and the fourth an owner of a cafeteria that catered to the armed services. None of them had any influence in any of the unions, but they had one thing in common: their hatred of the ruling Big Five and a fervent desire to see trade union organization come alive.

We sat in the teacher's car atop the famed Poli and peered down into the lush valley below us. we talked of contacts, people we could trust and people who wanted to be a part of a strong organization. The Japanese bank teller gave me two names of longshoremen who worked on the docks. They had tried on several occasions to get something going, and on these occasions they had been fired from their jobs. Now they were leery, yet they could be approached again. He would contact them and ask them to meet with me. The teacher said he knew a number of his students, most of them from the mainland, who were liberal enough to make a donation of a few dollars in the event we could get something moving. The lawyer had long ago attempted to put out a newspaper reflecting the problems of the workers. While it suggested organizational solutions and it was read by the workers, no actions were implemented because of a lack of leadership. He pledged to work with anyone to help reissue the paper if funds could be raised to cover the cost of printing. The cafeteria owner committed himself to help in any way. We planned to meet weekly with the understanding that discovery of our little group had to be prevented. The Big Five had their spies everywhere.

A few days later, two Japanese-Hawaiian longshoremen knocked at my door. We sat for three hours talking about unions and what they had done for the working man and woman, and how important it was to make this "paradise" a paradise for the workers in the true sense of the word. It was obvious to me from the minute the two men sat down that they were apprehensive, as they should have been. They came to listen, and listen they did. I could do no more than outline some labor history, some history of how unions came about because of abuse by employers. No way existed to deal with an employer except through a strong union. They were attentive, especially when I spoke of the gains by other crafts in the American labor struggles. We agreed to meet the following week for another session. They accepted responsibility for bringing at least two other close friends with them.

The following week I was to meet with nine new friends. At this meeting the original two opened up and started to ask questions. For three hours we went around and around, with most questions centering on how unions are formed and operated. The men wanted more of these meetings. They also wanted to start some action against the boss. I urged caution until we were better organized. There was one thing we could do that would help matters: get out an issue of the Voice of Labor.

For the next week we worked on a series of articles. Most of them dealt with the deplorable conditions on the waterfront and in the sugar mills. The articles needed work and had to be put in proper perspective. The school teacher and the non-practicing lawyer solved that problem. Within a week $60, the cost of printing 3,000 copies of the paper, had been collected; the Voice of Labor was revived. Distributing the paper was not a problem; the handful of volunteers accepted the task with glee. There was a good feeling that something at last was being started.

If we were to continue with a bi-monthly edition of the paper, the money to cover the cost of printing had to be guaranteed. When the West Coast ships arrived in port I boarded them and always found someone willing to make a donation toward helping to organize their fellow workers. Union seamen were always ready to help the less fortunate.

One day, as I was preparing to board one of the freighters, a large group of longshoremen came walking down the gangway. Jack, one of my group, was leading them off the ship. When some 25 of them were on the dock, one of the bosses shouted from the deck, "Okay, okay. Come back to work. Let's forget about it." The men started back up the gangway. When Jack passed me he gave me a wink and a smile. That evening he told me that the men in his gang were working their hearts out and requested a break, which the boss refused to give. Jack insisted and the boss fired him on the spot. As he started out of the hold, the rest of the gang followed him. It was a real display of solidarity, but more importantly, the boss had capitulated. This had been the first time that the men had backed each other up in several years. It gave them a feeling of brotherhood and solidarity.

The Islands, despite the outward veneer of calm and lushness, had always reeked with discontent among the working people. Ever since the day the first Bible pounder came ashore and created the fear of God in people with one hand while stealing everything under the sun with the other, people had been struggling to maintain their pride and put food in their stomachs. When the missionaries first came ashore, the people were enjoying easy-going lives with an abundance of fish, coconuts and fruits. The missionaries wasted little time in changing the Hawaiians' way of life.

Sugar soon became Hawaii's main money-making crop. To make a success of this venture, someone had to work from sun-up to sundown in the torrid fields, cutting and gathering cane--back-breaking work. The Hawaiians did not succumb easily to this form of servitude. As one said, "Why should any man be compelled to work from dawn to dusk week after week, performing back-breaking labor for someone else, when the fish were plentiful in the sea and coconuts dropped from trees?" Native labor would refuse to produce or bend to the lash of the whips by the owners who stood over them.

The "planters" had to look elsewhere for their labor. In their search they traveled the far corners of the world. Beginning in 1850 they brought in Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Filipino workers, as well as workers from all the island groups in the South Pacific. They preferred workers who could neither read nor write; illiteracy was considered an asset because it made labor more docile. No matter which ethnic group dominated a plantation, however, the fight to improve their working conditions always mushroomed in one way or another. Some of the conflicts resulted in severe reprisals by the planters and strikers were killed as the planters fought to maintain their oppressive rule.

The planters were skillful in the art of "divide and rule." As one ethnic group of workers went on strike, the planters would use another group to break the strike. Groups tended not to trust each other. There were times when unity did extend across ethnic lines, but in the end the planters always succeeded in pitting one group against another. The pages of labor history and struggle in the Islands are replete with terror, murder, beatings, jailings and deportations, all carried out by the planters. Unions were formed and prospered for a while, but the moment they struck against the deplorable conditions, the planters crushed them.

The majority of people working on the plantations were Filipino. The overseers, or "lunas," were Portuguese. It was a classic example of the planters' method of using one group to dominate another. The Filipinos hated the lunas. They rode up and down the fields on horseback and reported any worker who committed an infraction of the rules. The workers were fine or fired for an infraction. I learned after my first week in the Islands that the Filipinos were ripe for organization.

The seamen's unions, like the Marine Firemen, Sailors' Union of the Pacific and the Marine Cooks and Stewards, maintained branches in Honolulu. They were not there to organize the island workers, but merely to safeguard their own interests by supplying crew replacements for their organized ships that stopped off in the Islands. Most of the officials of these unions turned their heads the other way if anyone raised the question of organizing local workers. But the presence of the unions had a psychological effect on the local workers. It made them realize that they too could have a union to bring about good working conditions if they tried.

With a few dollars coming in from ships' crews and some donations from college students, we had enough money for another issue of the Voice of Labor. Ed Berman, the lawyer, stayed up all night putting the finishing touches on the paper. "There's one thing we have to do, and we might as well do it now," he said. "We should put the editor's name on the paper. If it's okay with you, you should be the editor."

"Me? The editor?" I replied. "You're crazy. After all, you do most of the work. Besides, it's your baby."

"You're known on most of the ships that come in here, and you're respected as well. Don't worry; I'll be here to dot the 'i's and cross the 't's for you." Without further argument, I became the editor, with my name on the editorial page.

There were fewer than a dozen small printing firms in Honolulu that would handle the job of printing the Voice of Labor. We would shop around, bargaining over price and time. We found a printer who promised to get the paper out in three days. This printer had been idle for over a week, with no business. After the three days were up, we went to pick up the paper.

"Sorry," he said. "Some hot emergency business came along." He was unable to do the job. He handed us back the copy. What was the "hot emergency business"? He was printing a batch of ink blotters for the Hawaiian Planters' Association.

Back we went to shopping around, and back to more delays. Our next printer found himself deluged with an order for envelopes which had to be printed immediately. The envelopes were for the Tourist Bureau. The planters were using this trick to stop the paper's publication. Often by the time we found a printer, the news in the paper was outdated. These were conditions we had to live with. We discovered that these little printers welcomed our business because they knew that once we left our job with them, they would receive work from the Big Five. One thing it did accomplish was that it increased our awareness that the spies of the Big Five were keeping track of our movements.

Joe Poindexter, the Roosevelt-appointed governor of the Islands and an ex-district judge, was a staunch Democrat and strong Roosevelt supporter, at least on some issues. But when it came to championing New Deal policies, Poindexter was not in the same ideological orbit as the President. The slums in Honolulu were awful and unemployment was high. While Roosevelt was trying to alleviate both problems on the mainland, Poindexter was doing little to improve the situation in his territory.

Berman asked me to interview the governor, since he professed to be pro-labor and surely pro-New Deal. I called his office and made an appointment as editor of the Voice of Labor. "He'll be a hard man to get anything from," Berman said, "but take a jug of booze. He likes to nip the bottle." I didn't take a bottle. I sat down in his office at the Palace. "What," I asked, "are you going to do about the lousy rat-infested slums that the poor people are living in?"

"We're going to take care of that," he replied.

"May I ask when?"

"As soon as we get the funds to build better houses."

"When will that be?"

"I have no idea."

"Do you feel," I asked, "that workers have a right to belong to unions of their own choosing?"

"Of course I do," he said. "My friend in the White House, President Roosevelt, specifically supports the Wagner Act which gives the workers the right."

"Could you make a statement for the paper," I pressed, "advocating and supporting the right of workers to organize and belong to unions?"

"Of course not."

"But you said you supported the Wagner Act."

"That's true," he replied. "But I don't intend as governor to stand up on a soapbox and agitate for workers to belong to unions. You may, but I don't see my office as fitted for that job."

I tried again. "Would you support a strike, say of sugar cane workers, if one occurred?"

"I won't support any strike," he said harshly. "I take a dim view of strikes."

"Do you think the Planters' Association treats their workers fair and square?"

"I find no evidence to the contrary. There are a lot of men who daily seek employment in the mills and cane fields. That should be a good indication that conditions are fair and equitable."

"Would your opinion change," I ventured, "if I laid on your desk case histories of mistreatment of workers and showed you proof of poor working and housing conditions?"

"You know, Mr. Bailey, even in the Garden of Eden one could find some agitators who would never be satisfied. That's the very nature of man. Hell, my wife's a good cook, but there are a lot of times when I don't find meals to my liking. One thing is for sure, I can bet you that for every dissatisfied worker you can come up with, I can find nine that are perfectly happy with their jobs and their working conditions. It's just semantics, Mr. Bailey."

My little group was getting bigger with each succeeding meeting. Individuals reported how they distributed the Voice of Labor and turned in the loose change they collected for it. New names of candidates for the group were submitted for the group's approval; we had long ago agreed to be careful to keep out informers.

There was one thing I had to do to strengthen any organization we tried to build, and that was to build the Communist Party. A few in the group showed promise of making good Communists. They were dedicated, honest and principled. In addition, they had the confidence of the other men in the group. I would have to spend time with them discussing things on a level deeper than just the trade union movement.

I was doing some shopping at the five-and-dime store when I saw some red muslin. I carried home a few feet of it, neatly painted a hammer and sickle on it and pinned it to the bare wall. What I had in mind was attaching it to the lance of the statue of King Kamehameha which stood guard at the entrance of the Royal Palace. Since it was never guarded, it would be easy to walk there on a dark night, climb up on the statue and unfurl it at the tip of the lance. In the meantime I would keep it on the wall. At the next meeting of the group, everyone sat facing the wall where the flag was draped. Several kept staring at it; I could see that it had caught their imaginations. At the end of the session, a few men stayed behind. Jack, the one I felt was a born leader, spoke first as he looked at the makeshift flag. "I don't know too much about that, but what I do know is good."

The others nodded. I sat back down and for the next hour we talked about the Communist Party and its symbol, the hammer and sickle. "Does this mean," asked Jack, "that if the Communists took control of the Islands, the land the missionaries stole from us would be taken back?"

"That would be number one on the list," I replied.

"That's good enough for us," Jack said. In the next three months I would accept 22 applications for the Party.

Chapter XX: Plantation Strike in Maui

My old friend Jack Hall stepped ashore from a Matson ship one day. Jack had sailed in the deck department. He liked to make the Islands his stomping grounds, enjoying the easy-going, carefree style. He was a devoted trade unionist and one I could talk to about politics. The only argument I had with Jack was over his constant need for drink. But it was his style; who the hell was I to find fault with it? Jack was well-versed on conditions in the Islands and was more than willing to lend a hand in creating some organization.

We had just finished eating in a local cafe when two men approached us. One was a member of the group, the other a stranger. He was introduced to as as Anton Fagel, a Filipino interested in organizing the sugar workers on all the islands. He said there was great interest among his Filipino brothers to start something. Together with the people in his organization, "Vibora Luviminda," he was ready to start a campaign of recruitment. All that was needed was some help from us. His supporters, he felt, might be more inclined to join if they knew they could depend on some backing from other trade unionists.

It meant taking the inter-island steamer to Maui and staying over there for at least a week. The boat left at five; it was now two. We decided to let Fagel know by four. We discussed it with several people, including Berman. We all agreed that it was an ideal opportunity. We had nothing to lose. If Fagel's predictions of union interest among his supporters did not materialize nothing was lost but our time. On the other hand, if what he said was true this could be the door that could open unionization of the plantation workers on all the Islands. We were aboard the ship when it departed at five.

We pulled into Lahina on the island of Maui. A few of Fagel's supporters were waiting for us with a car. We drove down a roadway lined with lush mango trees. In the distance were the huge fields of almost-ripe sugar cane. Our first meeting was to take place outside the gates of Puunene Plantation Number One. Fagel had sent runners out before us to encourage the workers to attend the outdoor meeting. When we arrived at the gates, some 100 workers were waiting for us. They greeted Fagel as an old friend; he spoke to them in Tagalog.

Fagel wanted us to talk to the men about the need to build and join a union, but not to raise the issue of a strike or work stoppage. I spoke to them about the horrible conditions the seamen endured before the advent of trade unions and how conditions had improved since that time. Our remarks were translated by Fagel.

Jack and I never knew what Fagel was translating. We assumed he was telling it as we said it. The men applauded us many times; it was obvious we were making a good impression. After these meetings, Fagel took out a little book and wrote down the names of those who paid him money to join the union. At this meeting of 100 more than half waited in line to pay their fee and join up. We returned to the car and rambled off to another plantation where a crowd was already waiting to receive us.

As each meeting progressed, I became more forceful in my remarks, calling the planters parasites, slave-drivers and two-faced monsters. The stronger my language became, the more fervent the response. Fagel recognized this and at no time, from what we could tell, did he attempt to put a damper on our language. At Puunene Number Two, more than 150 workers showed up. Unlike at previous meetings, they asked questions. Fagel relayed one to me, "What kind of support can we get from the trade unions to build a union here?"

Quickly the worker who had asked the question stepped forward. In clear English he said, "I asked if we had a strike here, could we get support from the mainland unions?"

Fagel looked embarrassed. I was eager to respond. "Our West Coast unions function on the premise that what hurts one worker hurts all workers. An injury to one is an injury to all. If there was a strike of sugar workers and the employers tried to move their sugar to the mainland, for example, the crews would refuse to move the ship. No one would touch a spoonful of sugar; that's how we would show our support for the struggle of our brothers."

The men rose to their feet to applaud.

On the fifth day, Jack Hall's voice gave out. He was unable to speak. We began to have doubts about the true intentions of Fagel. On several occasions we had spoken to him about changing the name of Vibora Luviminda to something more recognizable as a trade union, such as the sugar Workers' Union, but Fagel didn't go for it. We asked why he was avoiding any mention of a strike or the possibility of a strike. He said that he didn't want to rush matters until all the Islands were organized, including the pineapple workers and the mills. It was a plausible answer, and we didn't pursue the matter.

Since Jack could no longer orate at the meetings he wanted to take the next steamer back to Honolulu while I stayed on. There were more plantations to visit and more workers to hear the message. Jack departed and I stayed. It became obvious that we could not wrap up the work we had left without spending more time there. I agreed with Fagel when he suggested I stay another week.

At about this time I began to notice that every time we had a meeting, someone was taking down what was said on a notepad. I noticed a young, beautiful girl about 50 feet from the crowd busily writing down what was said. I walked over to her and politely asked what she was doing.

"I'm taking down in shorthand the remarks of the speakers," she said in a calm voice.

"Who are you working for?" I asked just as calmly.

"The Hawaiian Planters' Association," she replied.

From then on we knew that whatever we said would be a matter of record. Fagel was not disturbed by this and I figured the Association would receive reports one way or another anyway. Up to this point, no open hostility had surfaced at the meetings. The men assembled outside the plantation gates, we spoke, they asked questions, Fagel took their money and names and the meeting was over. However, at a plantation town near the town of Waikuku, a large gathering of men met us at the gate. The usual warm greetings were missing. The men seemed to be uptight, as if something were wrong. I did not know at the time that all the lunas, the much-disliked overseers, were at this meeting. They had not been invited but came as a threat to the workers, to let them know that an eye was being kept on them.

As I started to speak the heckling started. I tried not to notice and continued speaking. The heckling grew louder and more frequent until it became a battle between me and the hecklers, and the workers squatted on their haunches silently watching to see who would get the upper hand. I was not about to allow this small group of company men to take over the meeting. I continued but stopped when I heard several of them say something I couldn't understand, then erupt into giggles. I had to stop them and do it quickly in order to save the rest of the meeting. I thought for a moment about how to hurt them the most without physically attacking them, which I knew would be bad and a losing proposition.

"This jeering and snickering," I said, "reminds me of the time I was in Mexico many years ago. I was riding in a car with the leaders of some trade unions. There had been a big strike of peasants in the area. When we approached a small village I saw a lot of men hanging by the neck from telephone poles. I asked my friends in the car who these people were that hung from these poles.

"'They're Mexican lunas, the people who have kept us from getting better conditions. They're the very same people who jeered and snickered at us. We finally gave them their just desserts; now that can no longer jeer and snicker at us.'"

I continued. "Perhaps one day these hills I'm now facing will run with the blood of those who today snicker and sneer and oppress the workers of Maui."

The crowd roared with approval. The lunas wiped the smiles off their faces and quickly departed. It was a drastic statement to make, but then again it was a drastic situation. At least it was effective.

On the twelfth day of my stay in Maui I was alone, taking a relaxing stroll down the main street in Kahului, when a tall, well-built guy walked up alongside me. "Hey, Bill. I heard you talk last week at Paia. Boy, that was some speech. You sure have a flair for stirring people up. Too bad it's all wasted."

"Wasted? What do you mean?"

"Well," he said, "you're getting nothing out of this. Look, even your shirt's torn; that's the only one you got. You're wasting your time trying to do something for these people. Why not come to work for us? We'll give you a good job and pay you at least $150 a week to start with and a place to live."

"Just who are you?" I asked.

"My name's Dick Hyland. I work with the Hawaiian Planters' Association, and we need a guy like you. You can write your own conditions."

"Get lost, creep," I told him.

When I arrived back in Honolulu, I learned that Jack had shipped out on a "`round the worlder" two days earlier. He would be gone for three months. I reported to my group the essentials of what had happened in Maui and my judgment of Fagel's organizational drive. The consensus was that we should keep an eye on the situation. Anything could happen, although none of us thought a strike was very likely. Still, perhaps Fagel knew something we didn't.

I received a note in the mail one morning. Would I care to have dinner with a family to discuss some organizational possibilities among the clerks on the plantations? I accepted the invitation. The house of my host was in a swanky section of Honolulu. It must have taken a lot of bucks to live in such a place. The interior of the house was expensively furnished. The table was neatly laid out with a setting that would have made the King of Siam envious. I was afraid to sit down for fear the high-class furniture might protest my intrusion. My inferiority complexes were emerging. I quickly subdued them, however, as I concluded that this had to be part of the game used by the Hawaiian Planters' Association.

A man about 40, nattily-attired, introduced me to his wife who was dressed to kill. Cocktails appeared. The first drink almost knocked me for a loop, it was so strong. My mind raced with the speed of a buzz saw. With each sip I had to remind myself that this was a scheme to get me loaded so my tongue would loosen up. I was constantly on guard, yet friendly. The meal was one of the world's finest. It was so great that it bordered on obscene, but I stuffed myself as if it were my last meal.

My host said, "There are some of us who want to join forces with you people to bring organization to our group."

With conditions like the ones this guy was enjoying, who the hell needed organization, I thought. Why would he risk what he already has for something that is still in the abstract at this stage?

He continued. "Your people could help us a lot. Perhaps several of our people could meet with your group and work something out."

I tried to believe there might be some legitimacy to this, but my instincts told me to beware. He asked for names of my cohorts whom he could contact. What was the size of my group and how far did their influence prevail? I found the right words to veer my answers away from names or numbers and repeated things like, "We'll see what can be done" and "We'll discuss it and let you know." I felt relieved to get out of the place and back to my old haunts.

A guy approached me on the waterfront. He explained that he had read an article in the Voice of Labor about the war in Spain. "Look," he said, "I spent some time in the army. I worked in the ordnance department. I'm a crackerjack in my field. Sometime ago I worked on an invention that I refused to give to the army; I never liked the service. My invention is a grenade launcher. I drew up the blueprints and even made a model of it. I want to see that it gets into the hands of the right people, you know, the Spaniards who are opposing Franco. I don't have the blueprints with me, but if you'll come to my house tonight I'll give them to you and explain them so you or your friends can get them into the right hands."

"Okay," I said. "Just give me your address and if I can find the time I'll let you know." It was the last I saw of that guy. For all I know, he's still waiting.

Two soldiers approached me in one of the cheap restaurants I ate in. "Mr. Bailey," said one. "A friend of ours named Leon told us to contact you to do us a favor."

"What kind of favor?" I asked, surprised.

"We're fed up with the military. We want to get the hell off this island and go home to the mainland. We heard that you have a lot of friends on board the ships that go from here to the mainland. We want you to help us get out of here by having some of your friends hide us on board. There's a couple of hundred dollars in it for you. We hate the military; we'd do anything to get away from here."

With a small amount of effort I was able to brush off these obvious characters. I was determined not to be set up.

Two weeks had passed since my return from Maui. I had no idea what was happening over there until I answered a knock on my door. I opened it to find Fagel, all excited. "You have to come back with me to Maui," he said. "Things are very bad. Against my advice the men at Puunene Plantations One and Two have walked out on strike. I don't know what to do. You have to come and help us or everything will be lost."

The strikers had rented a small one-room dwelling in an alley of the main street of Waikuku. They sat around talking. The town was filled with strikers lolling about, doing nothing but waiting for the plantation owners to come on bended knees, begging them to come back to work. I was appalled by the inactivity of the men and the absence of men in leadership positions. I knew that inactivity leads to boredom, boredom to indifference, and indifference to demoralization. Something had to be done to get the strikers stirred into activity. Anything was better than sitting around or walking aimlessly about town.

Fagel called a small group of men around him. They were to be his band of leaders. They were also men who did not question Fagel. They were wonderful easy-going men whom I liked. We learned what had prompted the men to walk out. One of them in Puunene One had openly declared himself shop steward and urged everyone on the plantation to deal with the "union" (Vibora Luviminda) through him. One of the bosses resented his status, and arguments ensued which led to the walkout. Puunene Two subsequently joined them.

The men felt strong. Many of them had joined the Vibora Luviminda in the few weeks earlier. They saw themselves as part of a huge labor movement that stretched over to the mainland. They also believed that all it took was a few days off the job before the bosses would grant whatever they asked for. Unfortunately, Fagel had done nothing to dispel this notion.

The strikers continued to live on the plantations in their small windowless shacks. So far no effort had been made by the owners to eject them. That much was an asset to us. What about food, I asked Fagel. The company stores wouldn't allow the men to live on credit while "biting the hand" that feeds them, I told him. "I will have to use some of the funds to buy rice," Fagel said.

"Since there's a limited amount of money, why not have some of the men go to every store where the workers have traded and ask for donations of rice or beans or other staples?" I suggested. "Make it clear to the merchants that the more they support the strikers in their effort, the more money they'll have to spend in the stores later."

Ten two-man teams went out, determined to contact every store that sold rice. At the end of the day 65 fifty-pound sacks of rice and 20 sacks of beans had been collected. Our one-room strike headquarters had sacks piled to the ceiling. The merchants were more sympathetic when they were "threatened" by the relief committee with a boycott when the strike was over.

It was important to monitor activity on the plantations. We would have to know what work, if any, was carried out now that the regular work force was out on strike. I talked Fagel into sending out squads of men to ride around on all the roads adjacent to the plantations, watching for anything out of the ordinary. This kept about 20 men from moping around strike headquarters or drifting up and down the streets.

Reports indicated no unusual activity in the fields or mills. The employers were still in the initial shock of having their main force desert them. It had been seven days since the workers had walked out. Men were coming in to pick up their rations of rice and beans. So far fewer than 20 percent of the strikers had required this aid, and some of them appeared embarrassed collecting it.

In a strike situation, it's important to prevent any vacuum from developing. The employers must be kept on the defensive. The more charges and attacks that can be made against them, the more time they'll spend defending themselves. That gives them less time to mount attacks of their own. I suggested that Fagel send a wire to Governor Poindexter at the Palace in Honolulu urging him to use his good offices to compel the plantation owners to sit down with the strikers and negotiate the items in dispute. In addition I advised he contact the National Labor Relations Board.

Two days later we read in the Maui newspaper that the governor was urging the men on the island of Maui to return to work immediately. Some "hotheads" were being blamed for the strike. Nowhere was there mention of the conditions on the plantations or the reason for the strike. The governor was definitely on the side of the planters. This was no great surprise to me.

Fagel was becoming bewildered by the complex problems arising from the strike. The strikers were running out of money and Fagel had to shell out some dough from time to time to meet some of the essential needs of the strikers. He didn't like that too much. The strikers asked him questions he could not answer, and many times he provided the wrong answers form the top of his head. If only I could have relayed my thoughts to the men directly, I knew their ranks would have held solid. I had the feeling that Fagel never interpreted correctly my answers to their questions. The frustration kept my stomach in continuous turmoil. I could not argue with Fagel in front of the men. It was my duty to put up a good front with him in front of the men, as weak as he may have been as a leader. After all, he was their leader.

I was posting a letter at the post office when a man introduced himself to me. "Bill Bailey? My name's Clem Crowell. I'm the sheriff here. I don't know whose job is worse, yours or mine. But I'm pleased to meet you." He was an easy-going man with a nice manner about him. I might have expected some hostility from a sheriff whose territory was shut down by a strike, but not from Crowell. We exchanged pleasantries in the few minutes we stood together. Then he said, "Bill, I don't know about you, but I hate violence. The men have a lot of confidence in your word, and I'd like to share that confidence. I'll work with you and the men on strike any way I can, if you'll work with me and give me your word that you'll sit on any hotheads who want to create violence. Can I get your promise?"

I told him there should be no need for violence because it was self-defeating. If violence were to take place, it would not come from our ranks. We shook hands and went our separate ways.

Aside from the regular patrols which we organized to monitor activity around the plantations and the relief committee, we found little else for the men to do. They went fishing or lolled around town. It distressed me to see this mass of men doing nothing when it was a perfect opportunity to educate them in the class struggle. It was impossible for me to attempt it.

The small Island newspaper had handled the strike with a small item which read, "Puunene One and Two are experiencing some labor difficulties." There was not one word about the reasons for the strike or the number of men involved. On that same page was a headline: "Moscow Prepares for May Day."

An idea took hold of me. "We'll have a May Day parade on May 1st," I told Fagel.

"And what is May 1st?" he asked, surprised.

"It's International Workers' Day, the biggest day for the working man, when we lock arms around the world in solidarity with our brothers. It's a day to display our banners and proclaim our aims and make the bosses shudder. In every corner of the world men and women will be parading. Why not right here? It's the perfect place."

"I don't know if the sheriff will allow us to parade. We'll have to get a permit. What if he refuses?" asked Fagel.

"Look," I said. "When you have a couple of thousand people who want to parade, you don't ask for a permit. You just parade. It's as simple as that."

The message went out. Strikers and their friends would gather at strike headquarters at ten in the morning on May 1st for a parade. We purchased paintbrushes, ink and placard material. All night we cut placards, painted them and nailed them to sticks. I wrote out the messages on paper while the other men busied themselves painting the slogans. No one complained about the work; they found it meaningful and pleasing. I had all I could do dreaming up slogans: "Give us justice or return us to the Philippines; Eight hours a day is enough; Let the governor cut cane; Solidarity forever; Celebrate International Workers' Day; Mules enjoy better working conditions; Unions are the workers' best protection." All these had to be translated to Tagalog.

We studied the route we were going to take and wondered about the endurance of the workers. The plan was to start in Waikiki and march through the town on a good highway. From there we would continue to Kahului. An open-air meeting in the baseball field was to end the march. The parade might take several hours and tax the frail bodies of some of the workers. We made preparations for some cars to follow behind and pick up any marcher who could not endure the long walk.

On May 1st I awoke after two hours of sleep feeling as if my head were encased in cement. I was worried. Had the workers gotten the message from the runners? Would they turn out for a long, grueling march of over two hours? Had I done the right thing? What if only a few showed up--should we march? How would the bosses view all this? I walked out into the bright sunlight and my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. It was an hour before the start of the parade and the street was crowded with smiling faces awaiting the word to form ranks and march.

"Where's the band?" I shouted. A four-piece band was rushed into the small overcrowded room. Did they know "Solidarity Forever"? Did they know "Joe Hill"? No, no. But they did know "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here". Something would have to be done quickly. I hummed"Solidarity Forever" and they quickly picked up on it. I would have given my right arm to hear them play the "Marseillaise" or the"International" but both were too difficult to learn on short notice. Also, I doubted if theses workers understood the meaning of such songs.

The call went out to form ranks. "Hey, Bill," I heard a voice call. It was Sheriff Crowell. "This is highly unusual," he said.

"It's an unusual time," I replied.

"You know you're supposed to have a permit from my office to have a parade?"

"Maybe so, but all this happened so fast that we simply forgot to get one."

"That may be true, but you're breaking the law just the same," he said.

"Look Sheriff Crowell. You and I pledged each other that there would be no violence. Do you want me to tell this crowd of 3,000 people that they can't parade? That's what this parade is all about--cutting out the violence. It's a better way to show their wrath against injustices than through violence, right?"

"Maybe so, maybe so. Okay, I see your point. But do me one favor, please," he said.

"What's that?"

"Will you get rid of that sign that says `Mules are treated better by the planters'?"

"Okay, sheriff. But you and I know the mule has it made on the plantations."

We stepped out into the main street of Waikuku as the band struck up "Solidarity Forever". The sidewalks were lined with people clapping and smiling as the ranks filled with men, women and children. Leading the parade was a pretty, young Filipina girl, the daughter of one of the strikers. She was followed by a ten-foot banner which stretched across the roadway proclaiming, "May 1st, International Workers' Day" and myself, Fagel and three thousand workers. We were already two blocks down the main street and I could not see the end of the parade. The sun was unmerciful and sweat streamed down our faces.

Our little band was ecstatic as they crucified "Solidarity Forever" and "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here". All traffic on the highway came to a stop as all watched, maybe for the first time, a streaming mass of workers parading in protest. Every half mile the Hawaiian Planters' Association had their stooges out, tabulating the number of marchers and taking pictures. In back of the parade several cars joined in to pick up tired marchers or bring up water.

Word had gotten to the people in Kahului that we were coming. They lined the streets to welcome us as we entered town. We marched into the ball park and held our meeting. History had been made. May Day in the Islands traditionally was celebrated as Lei Day, an adoration of flowers. Now we had given it a new meaning, a meaning more important than placing flowers on a pedestal. The parade did wonders for morale. Some of the strikers were so excited in recognizing their own strength that they wanted to have a parade once a week. I doubted if my flat feet could have withstood the punishment.

I received word from Ed Berman in Honolulu that an agent of the National Labor Relations Board was flying to Maui to see what could be done to settle the strike. According to Berman he was a good guy, liberal and pro-union. He arrived in Maui and spent several hours meeting with the planters, listening to what they considered their limitations.

It was late in the evening when I arrived back after a trip to Lahaina. I received word that this guy wanted to see me. "As far as the record goes," he said, "we never met and this conversation never took place, okay?"

I agreed.

"I've had two sessions with the planters. They're not inclined to give an inch an anything. They're not worried about the crop since it's in the growing stage and not in danger. Maybe a month from now they'll be worried, but now, no. They're preparing to ask the governor for the use of WPA workers to enter the fields if necessary. That we don't need.

"Now, they made an offer. Not a big one, but an offer nonetheless. They will go for three cents more an hour and agree to recognize a workers' representative on the plantations. Maybe, if we're lucky, I could get them up to five cents an hour. Between you and me, I don't think there's a chance in hell to get any more from them.

"Fagel knows about this offer since I talked to him earlier today, but he hasn't said one word like yes or no. I have to get some answers by tomorrow noon, otherwise I fly back to Honolulu. Setting up another meeting with the planters may be hard to do."

On my way to headquarters I gave the situation a lot of thought. Of course three cents more an hour was not the greatest victory. But for the plantation barons to accept a workers' representative on the plantations was a gigantic step forward. The more I thought about it, the more enthusiastic I felt. When I arrived, Fagel was telling his buddies that under no circumstances would he accept such a settlement. He felt the men should hold out for at least 20 cents more an hour; the question of a workers' representative was not as important in the long run as a big wage increase, he said.

I entered the debate and explained how important the recognition of a representative was. Wasn't this strike touched off by the planters' dismissing someone who had declared himself a shop steward? With the recognition of union representation on the plantations he, Fagel, would have his right-hand men in a position to properly organize the ranks for a broader walkout in six months. True, the three-cent increase might not buy a lot of rice, but it was a recognition by the planters that the workers meant business and were a force to be reckoned with. Aside from that, no one knew what the situation would be like a month from now when the work force was needed in the fields to burn and harvest the cane. We could proclaim this a victory and use it to organize dozens of other plantations on the other islands. I told Fagel and the men it was their strike and the decision was up to them. It was, however, my belief that it would be to their advantage to grab the offer, go back to work, and organize in the near future for a bigger and better strike.

Fagel would have no part of it. No, he said, I know we can get 20 cents more an hour, maybe 25 cents. The NLRB man flew back to Honolulu. The strike went on.

For the next five days Fagel and I spoke very little. Every time I saw him, the worried look on his face grew heavier. Some of his close supporters he kept around were no longer bursting with enthusiasm. The numbers of men coming to headquarters daily for information began to diminish.

I realized that my effectiveness now was limited. I was wasting my time and eating the strikers' rice to boot. There were a lot of things I could be doing in Honolulu. I told Fagel there was not much more I could do and that I was going back to Honolulu, but if he needed me I would make myself available. That night I sailed back to Honolulu, feeling sorry for the strikers and hating myself for not being able to communicate with them better.

Two weeks later several strikers noticed one of their members busy at work in a field close to the roadway. They attempted to talk him into rejoining their ranks. He refused. The strikers pounced on him, chaining his feet and hands and putting him in the trunk of their car. They drove him to strike headquarters. There they again talked to him about rejoining the ranks, with the promise that they would unchain him and allow him to go back to his family if he did. He agreed and the chains came off. He immediately went to the sheriff and reported his story, and nine strikers were arrested for kidnapping.

Back in Honolulu I tried to catch up on things. I wrote a series of articles for some mainland labor papers urging support for the strikers.

The local newspapers were carrying stories about the war in Spain. One story told of men joining an International Brigade; they were already facing action on a front defending Madrid. Men from nearly every country in the world were fighting on the Loyalist side, including many from the United States. I could feel every fiber in my body react when I read the news about Spain. At last something concrete was being done to stop the ever-increasing advance of fascism. If they could defeat fascism in Spain, it could be defeated anywhere. Spain was on my mind every waking hour of the day.

I went about the usual routine of meeting with people, trying to draw people together, trying to cut through years of ethnic suspicion and bitterness on the parts of some groups against others. Right now the strikers on Maui needed all the support they could get. In spite of promises by Fagel, he did not remain communicative.

I picked up the morning paper, the Star Bulletin. The headline, "Alleged Labor Leader Faces Ten Years in Prison" caught my eye. Naturally I was interested in who this "alleged leader" was and what he had done to face ten years in prison. I was shocked to read that the "alleged labor leader" was Bill Bailey! The story mentioned speeches made to plantation workers that violated the Criminal Syndicalism Act. Such speeches, stated the article, "called upon the workers to commit violence. All the speeches were recorded verbatim, and the reports are now on the desk of the District Attorney, who will decide whether to issue a warrant for Bailey's arrest."

I wasn't that disturbed; this was part of the game and a risk one took for having convictions. Since they had not been able to stop me on other occasions, this would simply be another try at the old game of silencing me.

Later that afternoon somebody knocked at my door. I opened it to see a uniformed cop whom I knew from his beat along the waterfront. He wasn't as bad as most Honolulu cops tended to be at that time. "Bill," he said. "I have something to tell you. I have it from a good source that the D.A. is going to lower the boom on you. I also hear that the Lurline arrives in port tomorrow, then sails Saturday for San Francisco. If you're not on that ship, the D.A. intends to have you arrested."

That night I met with my group and relayed the news. "Look," I said. "I don't give a damn if they throw the book at me and throw away the key after they lock me up. If you guys want me to stay and fight it out, that's good enough for me. It's up to you."

To a man they were opposed to my staying and risking jail. They felt that they had learned enough about organizing to take it from there. If the Hawaiian planters and the Big Five were determined to throw me in prison, it would be done. No lawyer practicing in the Islands would dare stick his neck out to defend me. Better take off, they told me. You've made your contribution; it's up to us now.

I was sad to leave the Islands and all the wonderful friends I had made. I would always cherish the time I had spent in Hawaii, but already I had my sights set on Spain. It compensated for whatever I had left behind. One thing I did not realize at the time was that the nucleus I had left behind would one day make the Hawaiian Islands one of the strongest bastions of unionized labor. If I played only a small part in this development, I was happy.

Chapter XXI: Journey to War in Spain

It was nice to be back in my favorite city of strong unions and old friends. I would have no time to waste in San Francisco. My first task was to find all the information I needed to get to Spain. While looking up some old friends, I found out they had already reached New York on their way to Spain. I met some Party comrades, expressed my desire and the machinery was put into motion to get me on my way. I would have to obtain my passport, which was easy. All I needed was a few dollars for some photos and the cost of the passport.

At the passport office I worked on my application form. "Where do you intend to go?" was one of the questions on the form.

"Paris," I wrote, "to attend the Paris Exhibition."

"What is your occupation?" read the form.

"Studen," I wrote. I signed the application and handed the money and pictures to the young man behind the counter. He read the application and neatly added a "t" to "studen." He looked up at me and smiled and said, "Don't forget to keep your head down."

In the week I spent waiting for my passport, I wrote several long articles for the Western Worker, the West Coast Party newspaper, about the workers' lives in Hawaii.

Almost every week, five or ten men from the West Coast would depart from San Francisco for New York, then Spain. When my passport arrived, there was a big inscription printed across the first page, "Not valid for travel in Spain." After a few warm handshakes and last minute instructions on whom to contact in New York, I was on the Greyhound bus as it headed east. There were five of us on that bus heading for Spain. Two comrades had come down from Seattle, one from Portland and two of us from the San Francisco Bay Area. Our limited funds for traveling allowed for nothing more than hamburgers and coffee for the next five days across the United States. The bus stopped for a ten-hour wait in Chicago. That suited me fine; I had a chance to see Pele. It seemed like centuries since I had last seen her.

I took off for Pele's home while my four pals roamed around Chicago taking in the sights. She met me warmly and introduced me to her parents. Her mother had prepared a wonderful Hungarian meal. I sat at the table like a 14-year-old schoolboy looking across at Pele, trying to communicate with her. She seemed distant. Her good manners, if one may call them such, told her to wait until I had at least eaten my meal before telling me the bad news. "I'm getting married," she said as one might say, "It's a beautiful day" or "Pass the salt."

If there was any more conversation left in me it vanished. I stammered around a bit trying to find something more to say than "I hope you will be happy." It was still five hours before the bus was to leave, but it didn't matter. I wanted to get out and into the street.

"You will write?" she asked as I started to leave.

"Of course."

Back at the bus depot I sat around waiting for the other fellows to show up. I don't know when I ever felt more depressed. It was still a long wait. I decided to walk a bit. I came to an employment agency where they advertised jobs on placards that decorated the entrance. One caught my attention: "Marine Fireman for an ore carrier on the Great Lakes. $100 per week, plus room, board and liberal benefits."

I was amazed at the figure of $100 a week. That was over three times what a deep sea fisherman got. My curiosity got the best of me. I made my way upstairs to the office. A sign on the door read, "Please knock before entering." I knocked and waited a few seconds. The door opened, revealing a tall, shapely, good-looking woman in her late 20s in a revealing dress. "Yes," she said with an enticing smile. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm interested in the fireman's job. Can you tell me more about it?" I asked, finding it difficult to look her in the eye.

"Oh, you're looking for work. Well, that job is no longer available, but I'll let you work for me for five dollars, if you like."

"Well, that isn't what I had in mind," I answered.

"What did you have in mind? Trying to get me down to two dollars? Look, creep, if you don't think I'm worth five crummy dollars, then screw off down the street and for two dollars have your pick of all the black crows you want! Now get the hell down those stairs." She slammed the door shut.

The bus rambled through the night toward New York. My thoughts were jumbled and it was impossible to maintain any continuity for less than a minute. I hadn't expected Pele to tell me such devastating news. I rather believed that she might suggest that, once I returned from Spain, things could work out for us. That would have been welcome news. I had little sleep as our bus pulled into New York on a warm Sunday morning.

Perhaps 50 men listened to one of the speakers instructing us on the second major hop to Spain. "There's to be no screwing around on the ship," he advised sternly. "Remember, you're passengers en route to Europe, not Spain. As far as you're concerned, Spain does not exist, so don't mention it to anyone. We know there are members of the government aboard, even Franco agents, and their job is to stop volunteers from reaching Spain. They may sidle up to you and try to get a conversation going about Spain; stay clear of them. There's to be no boozing or chasing of women aboard.

"Now, each man will be given $100. We have experienced some maneuvering by the French immigration who are playing ball with the State Department. They have questioned some of our comrades about the money they had. A few of them had no money and the French wouldn't allow them in without some means of support. This $100 is not spending money; once you make contact in Paris you'll turn it over to our contact man. From then on you're in his hands. We will dispatch you in groups of 20. You will have a responsible comrade who will see that you toe the mark. If, in his judgment, one of you screws up, he'll decide whether or not you should be allowed to continue to Spain. Now, I'll call the name of the comrade who will be in charge, then I'll call the list of 20 he will be responsible for."

My name was called. I stood up so the 20 could see me. Two-thirds of them I knew, among them five seamen and the four who had traveled with me from the Coast.

We were to sail as third-class passengers on board the English liner Aquitania, which was one of the five largest ships in the world. It was two days before sailing. One thing had to be done. I would have to tell my mother that I took a job on some ship sailing for Europe and had no idea of the time of its return. I could never even try to explain to her that I was going to Spain to fight in a war where so far thousands of people had already been killed. There was no possible way that could be done; I didn't give it a second thought.

No one was on shore to wave goodbye as the liner moved away from the dock and sailed down the Hudson River, past the giant skyscrapers of Wall Street and out to sea. From the outset of the voyage we pretended not to know each other and avoided being seen in groups with three or more at any one time.

One big problem bugged me from the start. The dining room tables were set up for six people. I had been assigned to a table of five schoolteachers, all traveling together and over forty years old. They were charming, and their manners were impeccable. I sat at the end of the table, afraid to even ask for the salt to be passed. They passed up most of the heavy items on the menu and were content to nibble on the smallest amount of food possible. For the first two days I found myself leaving the table starved. At this rate I would be dead on arrival.

After the second day I ran into my waiter in the passageway.

"Hey, pal," I said. "How about doing me a favor?"

"Yes, sir. Anything you ask."

"From now on, don't ask me what I want to eat. Just keep bringing me everything that's on the menu."

From then on I ate as if trying to make up for all those years I went hungry. Since the teachers were always wrapped up in their own little world, they eventually paid no heed to the rushing waiter picking up empty plates and delivering full ones at my end of the table.

We awoke early one morning to find ourselves at anchor off LeHavre. The night before we had been told to be ready after breakfast to meet immigration and customs. After that we were to be ready to board with bag and baggage lighters to take us ashore.

We expected some trouble from the American consulate which had, on previous trips, attempted to convince some of our volunteers to return home passage free. Because the ship arrived so early, no consulate members were on hand. We passed all the necessary officials, boarded the lighter and within half an hour were riding a sleek passenger train to Paris.

For some reason we felt more secure on French soil than we had on board the ocean liner. We were in France, where the workers had helped elect a Popular Front government headed by Leon Blum the Socialist. We felt we were on some sort of sacred ground protected by a government which the Communists had helped elect. There was one salute, the Popular Front Salute, with the closed fist and raised arm. No sight was more welcome.

Paris was awe-inspiring. We disembarked from the train and worked our way through the hustle and bustle of the busy railroad station. Following instructions, we piled into taxi cabs, gave the drivers the address and awaited the next move.

Our contact was the headquarters of the Friends of the International Brigade. We were warmly greeted by French comrades and ushered toward the leader of the American volunteers. To my surprise, he was my old Norfolk section organizer Joe Kline, who greeted me with a big hug and a handshake. Each man gave him the hundred-dollar bill we had been entrusted with, along with a container of George Washington instant coffee. Why we brought this to Paris in such large quantities still remains a mystery. Quickly we received our new instructions. We were to stay in Paris overnight and leave the next afternoon. We were assigned to hotels. I found mine close to the Eiffel Tower. Taxis drove us to the hotel door. A sumptuous meal awaited us.

The men were on their own, free to take in the sights or just idle away the time until the next day. The Paris Exposition was taking place in the area of the Eiffel Tower. A few of us had toured as much of Paris as we cared to. Later that evening we took in the Exposition. It was a great experience; almost every country had its own exhibit building. Some parts of the exposition grounds reminded us of Coney Island, with hotdog stands and champagne stands in every nook and corner.

The two most striking buildings were those of the Russian and the German exhibits. Either by design or by accident, both buildings faced one another. The German building flew the swastika while the Russian building displayed a huge statue of a man and a woman posed with hammer and sickle held aloft. It looked as if they wanted to take off and hack away at the German exhibit. High aloft on the building flew the red banner with the hammer and sickle, the national emblem. At night the red banner stood out sharply with ten big spotlights shining on it.

For the next few hours we occupied one of the benches watching people pass us; every now and then we took turns visiting the concessionaires and returning with hotdogs on French rolls and large glasses of champagne. We all shared the feeling that this was perhaps the last time for some of us to ever see Paris. As the taste of the chilled champagne grew more delightful, we knew that it was the best time to get the hell out of there and snatch some sleep. Hopefully the next day would be a good day.

Cabs were waiting for us at the hotel door to take us and our belongings back to headquarters. We were permitted to take a few personal things out of the suitcases, nothing heavy or awkward, and the suitcases were then taken from us to be stored God knows where. For all practical purpose we had no further need of them.

Kline addressed us. "There have been some problems at the border, or frontier if you wish. No longer is it permissible to ride across the border in comfort. Some comrades before you had to hoof across the Pyrenees, and comrades after you will have to do the same thing. Some of our comrades have been caught by right-wing French border guards and arrested. You will have to be very careful.

"You will travel by train and get off at Toulouse. You will go through the station and go one block to your right. You will see a cafe called La Paix. Enter, sit down at a table and ask the waiter for lemonade with ice in it. He will handle the situation from there and instruct you further. For all practical purposes you men are geology students on a rock-hunting tour, if anyone should ask. If anyone here understands the slightest bit of French, now is the time to remember what you learned. I know it will come in handy."

We asked a number of questions, like what happens if Cafe La Paix is burned to the ground when we get there?

"Don't worry," said Kline. "Right at this moment they know the exact time you are to arrive. The 'railway system' we have going is so good that the chance of even getting lost is remote. If the place is burned to the ground, don't worry, some fireman will most likely come up to steer you correctly."

We played cards, read or slept as the train rambled on toward Spain. We wondered about our pending walk across the Pyrenees. None of us had any prior mountain experiences. In fact, none of us could even guess the height of the Pyrenees. All we knew was the Pyrenees separated us from our objective. Well, why worry about it; we still had a long way to go and a few obstacles to overcome.

Sure enough, Kline was right on target. They were waiting for our arrival. When we entered the cafe, tables were set for lunch. Our contact advised us to take the local train and get off at Carcassonne, where we were to go to a hotel called La Bleu Oiseau (The Blue Bird). Reservations had been made for a group of touring geology students. So good was the "railway system" that soup was already being poured into our dishes when we walked into the hotel.

We received our new instructions. After a good night's sleep and an equally good breakfast, we reboarded the local train for Perpignan. This time we had someone to escort us on the train and to our new contact. On a not-too-busy street we were ushered into a small hotel. We seemed to be the only people there with the exception of the hotel keeper, his wife and a maid and cook. Our contact told us to stay put, that the city was full of Franco and German agents and that we were too close to our final destination to allow anything to go wrong. We enjoyed some coffee while he went out to make contact with the guide who would take us across the mountains. An hour later he returned looking distressed. He beckoned me to accompany him. We drove for several miles toward the Spanish border and stopped at a neatly-painted cottage with a small vegetable garden surrounding it.

Our new contact must have been at least 60 years old, with slightly gray hair and a ruddy complexion. Once inside his comfortable home, the argument became heated between him and my companion. Since they argued in French it was impossible for me to know what they were arguing about. I had to guess when the old man kept making gestures like he had a backache or when he pointed to his feet and made a face as if describing pain in his feet. I guessed right when I concluded that my contact was trying to get him to take another group across the Pyrenees and he was protesting that he had just taken a group across the previous night and needed some rest and sleep. The old-timer's reluctance to guide the group heated up the argument. After another five minutes of loud utterances, the old-timer agreed. Smiles returned to their faces. We got into the car and returned to the hotel, where we were told again to wait while he departed.

Our friend returned two hours later. He motioned to us to follow him to the back of the hotel. At the door was an old bus, curtains drawn on all the windows. He quickly motioned us into the bus and warned us to stay away from the windows. We pulled out of the side alley and onto the main road that linked France with Spain. The sun was almost down as we made our way slowly to the border. A half a mile before the checkpoint, the bus pulled off the road and the driver turned off the engine. There was very little traffic coming or going on that road.

Anyone passing the bus would believe that it had broken down and remained empty. A rap sounded on the bus door. The driver opened it and motioned to us to rush into the thick brush and weeds that surrounded the foothills of the Pyrenees.

No words were wasted. Our guide for the trip, that old man, was leading the group up a deer path. He carried a small cane and maintained a fast pace. None of us had any idea of how long it would take to cross those mountains. Only the guide knew and he wasn't talking.

We had taken our first step from the bus at about 6:30 that night. It was now 11:30 and we were still walking at a fast pace, huffing and puffing. The end was nowhere in sight. From time to time, whenever one of our comrades slowed down and left a big gap in the ranks, the guide would dash back and come down once or twice with his cane on the comrade's behind. He would grumble something in French, then dash back to the front of the line. We learned why he carried that cane.

Every time we climbed one high peak, we looked up to see another one, much higher than the last. We forded a stream that almost made us scream. The ice-cold water reached our chests. Joe Sansome, one of my close companions, was almost carried downstream by the force of the rushing water. With our clothes soaked and the air chilly, we climbed ever upward.

At two in the morning, our guide stopped and motioned us to rest. We dropped to the ground like wet sacks of cement. We were thankful for the ten-minute rest. At three in the morning we were fairly close to the crest. The guide motioned us to stop and be quiet. Off in the distance a howling dog could be heard. "Guardia Frontera," said the guide. Frontier guards.

A few minutes of rest and he had us on our feet again. This area was perhaps the most dangerous, with patrolling guards from both the French and Spanish sides. It was the French side we were afraid of. If we were picked up by the Spanish, the most they would do would be to turn their heads and allow us to continue. After all, it was republican territory and we were not their enemy. With the French it could very well be another story. Not all the French were true believers in the Popular Front, and not all French were in sympathy with the Spanish Republican government. To be caught now by the French would be the worst disaster possible. How could I face anyone at home, telling them that I came 8,000 miles to be caught a mile from the border? No. If the French patrols were to show up, the best thing to do would be scatter and make a run for it. They may get some--but not all--of us. The terrain was in the guards' favor, but the darkness equalized some of the odds. I had come too far to be cheated out of my goal.

The stars began to fade and dawn started to edge the darkness. We were now walking in six inches of snow and a few of our men were slipping and falling. We were not climbing anymore. The ground seemed level. We could look ahead now. We saw no rising cliffs in front of us, just trees and the light of the rising day between them. Our guide motioned for us to slow our pace. "España," he said, pointing to the ground and not bothering to muffle the sound of his voice. We could have shouted with joy, but we were so tired no one dared expend energy on exultation.

We had reached the southern edge of the Pyrenees. Ahead of us we could see a long valley and at the end of the valley an old Spanish farm house. The area looked like any scene of the backroad country of Nevada. There were no horses or cattle or decent grazing grounds. There were just deer paths and dried-up creeks that would be overflowing with water when the rainy season came.

The guide stopped and pointed toward the farm house. "Casa," he said. He motioned for us to go on, then clenched his right fist and raised it a few inches above his head. Each man passed him and said thank you. As the last man moved down the side of the mountain, the guide turned and headed back toward France.We were in Spain, the territory of the Spanish Republican government. Many of us had traveled some 8,000 miles to be able to stomp our feet on Spanish soil. As we trudged toward the farm house we were shouting within ourselves, "Hey, you bloody fascist bastards, Franco, Mussolini and Hitler! We've come a long way and waited a long time for this opportunity to join thousands of other anti-fascists from all over the world to form the International Brigades. By God, we're finally here on a battle ground that may one day help to decide the fate of the human race. We may not be the most skilled army in this world, but one thing's for sure--we're going to make you pay for every indignity you committed against the peace-loving peoples of the world. We intend to give a good account of ourselves. From here on, you're going to know we're here."

Chapter XXII: Somewhere in Spain . . .



Dear Mom:

I wish I could be near you to hold your hand and explain in some detail the reasons for my death. I know at this point that it has fallen upon you in a way that I wish would not have happened. I wanted to explain to you the night before I left New York that I was really going to Spain, and the reasons why. But I knew that no matter what I might have told you, it would never have made sense to you. I found that trying to explain was an impossibility. I am sorry for that.

But, you see, Mom, there are things that one must do in this life that are just a little more than living. I could never be satisfied with just going through life knowing that there are millions of people all over the world who are being stepped on and pushed around by bullies.

I can recall the first time I missed your presence at home and discovered that you were out hunting for a job scrubbing floors in order to bring home some food for the family. I knew that something was very wrong with life, but I had no idea what to do about it to make it any different. It was only when I grew up and I too had to go around begging for work to live that I realized the wrongs had to be corrected.

In Spain there are countless thousands of mothers like yourself who never had a fair shake in life. Their whole existence has been one of trying to get enough food to stay alive for another day. One day these people did something about that. They got together and elected a government that really gave some meaning to their lives and promised to make it so that the millions of mothers like you would never again have to bend their knees and beg to exist in a world that had plenty for everyone.

But it didn't work out the way the poor people expected. A group of bullies decided to crush and wipe out this wonderful thing the poor people had accomplished and drive them back to the old way of life.

That's why I went to Spain, Mom--to help these poor people win this battle so one day it would be easier for you and the mothers of the future. I am not alone. Many of the men I associated myself with have mothers who have gone through much of the same hard times and misery you suffered.

Don't let anyone mislead you, Mom, by telling you that all this had something to do with Communism. The Hitlers and Mussolinis of the world are killing Spanish people who don't know the difference between Communism and rheumatism. And it's not to set up some Communist government, either. The only thing the Communists did here was show the people how to fight and win what is rightfully theirs.

You should be proud that you have a son whose heart, soul and energy were directed toward helping the poor people of the world get back what was taken from them. When the horrible conditions of this world are eventually made right, you can look with pride at those who will be here to enjoy it and say, "My son gave his life to help make things better, and for that I am grateful."

If it will make my departure from the world of the living a little easier for you, just remember this, Mom: I love you dearly and warmly, and there was never a moment when I didn't feel that way. I was always grateful and proud that you were my mom.

Your son,


I never had to have this letter mailed, although there were plenty of times when I thought I would have to.

I realized that I had not recognized my mother's understanding of what was taking place when I heard that she had joined a contingent of mothers who proudly marched up Fifth Avenue in New York City in a May Day parade. She walked behind a banner that read, "Support our sons who are fighting in the Lincoln-Washington Battalion, trying to keep Spain free."

Book 3

Chapter I: The Lonesome Ride Home

The trip back to San Francisco from New York was not too exciting. The Veteran's Committee had made some sort of deal with the American Bus Lines that ran to most major towns and cities. In my case the fare from New York to San Francisco was $35. This also included a breakfast valued at 25 cents, a lunch at 35 cents and a dinner valued at 45 cents. The trip took five days and five nights.

I sat next to a woman as we left the Chicago area. We got to talking. I told her I had been in Spain for the past year and a half fighting against Franco as a member of the Spanish People's Army. "My," she blurted out, "why are you riding a bus with all the money you made as a mercenary?"

If she was representative of the thinking of the American people, then I knew I had a tough job ahead of me trying to explain my presence in Spain.

I was lucky upon my return to San Francisco. Some people were waiting for me at the depot. I stayed with a Swedish longshoremen and his wife. For the next two weeks I was well-fed and rested and gained back some of the 23 pounds I had lost in Spain. While I was fattening up I checked with my union, the Marine's Firemen's Union, about shipping out. I had not paid any dues during my absence. Dues were $75, a large sum in those days. I was given a shipping card with permission to make a trip and pay off the debt on my first voyage.

I had heard a rumor that one of our veterans, Stanley Postek, could not be processed to leave Spain when most of the Internationals did because of his wounds. He had to go across the Pyrenees into France and ended up in a French concentration camp. He was able to escape with the help of some French Communists and was now hiding out in the seaport town of Marseilles, trying to stow away on an American ship for the United States.

Stanley was one of the young organizers that had been attracted to organize seaman into the Marine Workers Industrial Union. Most of his work had been done in and around New Orleans and Gulf ports. He was also an aspiring boxer and fought his way pretty high up in the ranks of the heavyweights. In fact, just a few months before he took off for Spain he had achieved the title of heavyweight champ of the Pacific Coast. He gave up his boxing career and set out to join the Lincoln Brigade in Spain.

I recall the morning that he caught up with our company. We were stationed not too far from the Rio Ebro. Our outfit was in a preparedness position and spending a lot of time training for the assault we were soon to make across the Ebro. Our ranks needed some reinforcements. In fact, we needed more than that. We needed food and a change of clothing. We needed tobacco and letters from home. The truth was, things were going badly for our side. Franco and his generals were winning more and more territory and with that the food supply. We were hungry and many things pissed us off which, if we had been well fed, would not have bothered us.

Here we were on a hot day, no idea of what tomorrow would bring, when we noticed far off down the road a truck approaching. A food truck, we hoped, since this was the way food was brought to us, in barrels aboard an open truck. It was also the way new men and replacements were brought to our battalion. We were in luck. It was our food truck and holding onto the side panels were several replacements. Among them were two that I recognized immediately, Archie Brown from San Francisco and Stanley Postek. Of course there were handshakes and hugs and greetings. Among the ranks of the vets we had a few characters who loved the excitement of making any newcomer feel that he was finding himself among a pack of weirdos. One such character was Johnnie Coons, a sailor from the West Coast. He started to sing a World War I song; I think it was called "I Want to Go Home" and one of its passages was "The bullets do whistle, the cannons they roar. I don't want to go to the front anymore. Ma, Ma, I'm too young to die. I want to go home." When our new arrivals heard this they looked at each other in disbelief. Archie seemed completely flabbergasted, but Stanley quickly sensed that it was all seamen's humor, that we were not brought over by the enemy.

About a week before we were assigned to go into action by recrossing the Ebro and routing the fascists on several fronts, something happened to Stanley and he ended up in the hospital. After a week of chasing the fascists back toward their home base of Salamanca, we found ourselves relieving the Lister Battalion atop Hill 666 in the Sierra Pandols. Hill 666 was a high spot atop a mean, rugged, arid, rocky ridge that overlooked the main entrance toward the city of Gandesa, which we had our sights on. It was on this mountain ridge that the fascists had dug in when they learned that the republicans had forded the Ebro. Their positions were immensely fortified, making it almost impossible for us to move them one foot, forcing us to become exposed. While we could see our objective, Gandesa, in the distance, there was no way we could get near it, let alone capture it, unless we broke through the lines atop this mountain.

Each hour that passed made this possibility less realistic. One day the fascists mounted an artillery barrage against us; it lasted from daybreak until seven o'clock that evening. At least one shell a minute hit the ridge we were on.

Perhaps it was the shape of the mountain ridge or indecisive aiming, but the attack did not do the damage the enemy expected. A few of our men were killed, some wounded. But we managed to maintain our positions and not cede one foot.

Many of the shells lobbed at us would slap the rocky ridge of the mountain, then ricochet to the rear of our position where they either exploded or spent themselves. It was one such shell that bounced off our position, then whirled itself down through the valley at our rear which connected with the road that carried our supplies to the front. As luck would have it that day, Stanley was once again riding to the front in a food truck. He had just come out of the hospital. With one hand on the truck's side panel and the other hand holding onto the food barrel, Stanley was expecting to join his comrades in the next few minutes. As the truck rounded the bend in the road, the ricocheting shell landed on the cab of the truck. It killed the driver and his helper immediately. The blast of the shell demolished the truck as well as blowing Stanley high in the air, slamming him against the mountainside some 30 feet away. He was picked up by the medics, bleeding and unconscious, and rushed back across the Ebro to the nearest hospital. His arm was smashed and the blast of the shell played havoc with other parts of his body, too.

I decided to rescue him. With this mission in mind, I joined the SS President Monroe, an American President Lines ship, for a trip around the world. One of her main ports in the Mediterranean would be Marseilles, where I expected to locate Stanley and stow him away. When we pulled into the dock, my eyes were trying to search him out. I spent a good part of the day looking for him, and it was only when I checked with some longshore members of the Communist Party that I learned that "the tall American with the wound in his arm" was safely stowed on board an American vessel bound for New York. I felt relieved that he was safe. As our vessel moved on down the Mediterranean, we passed the coastline of Spain. The war was still raging. While Barcelona and many other principal cities had fallen, Madrid was still holding out. Our radios were picking up broadcasts from both sides. The Madrid radio exhorted the republicans to continue the fight, while the fascist Franco stations were telling the people to throw down their guns and give up. It was sad. Very sad.

Chapter II: Go East

The smell of war seemed to dominate the air. More military-clad men and women were appearing on the streets in our city. It appeared to be just a matter of time before we would be up to our ears in it. Still, America seemed to be aloof from it.

Nominations for officers in the Firemen's Union were the topic on the waterfront. At a meeting of a small group of our Party members, it was decided that I should run for Port Agent of the New York branch. I would sooner have made a bid for Honolulu port agent, but Honolulu already had a halfway-decent guy there who was planning to run. For the New York position, a half-assed reactionary character was running for reelection. The complaint about him from the rank and file was that he was not paying attention to the job; he spent most of his time redbaiting anything and everything while conditions went down the drain. Yet, this guy had some qualities that some of the rank and file liked. I would have to work hard to beat him.

I was considered strong among West Coast firemen, but there were lots of men sailing out of the New York branch that needed to be contacted and won over. "Go east," I was told, "and campaign back there."

I joined the Columbian, an American Hawaiian Line freighter on the intercoastal trade, as an oiler. I quit the ship in New York. It was my responsibility to visit or make contact with any West Coast ships that came into any East Coast port while balloting was in progress. That meant, of course, dashing up to Boston or down to Philadelphia or across to Newark or to any little nook and corner a Marine Firemen's Union contracted ship might pull into.

Boarding a ship, I generally tried to catch the men at the messroom table when they were all together. I'd introduce myself, say a few words about what I was running for and my intentions when elected. In most cases I would run into some shipmate I had sailed with. That always made the job easier, since the crew member picked up the gauntlet and gave the crew the assurance that they were about to vote for the right man.

Our membership used the "Australian system" for voting a ballot handed each member with two envelopes, one blank. The voter was to mark the ballot, put it in the blank envelope, and place it in the other stamped envelope which carried the address and vault number of the bank. After a six or seven week period of voting, long enough to make sure that all the membership had a chance to vote, the ballots would be counted and the winners declared.

I decided to stay around New York until the ballots were counted. If I won, then I was right there for the job. If I lost I would grab a ship back to San Francisco and resume shipping off the West Coast.

One of the first things I did when I arrived in New York was contact my mother. Since my main purpose in New York was to visit ships and meet union members, requiring my being up late at night and on the move, I decided it would be best to find a furnished room where I would not be burdensome to my mom. I found one on the East Side. I promised Mom that I would drop in to see her as often as possible.

She lived in an old three-story tenement house on 11th Avenue and the corner of 24th Street. From her front window she could see the 23rd Street ferry slip and a few piers on the West Side. Her's was the only house of its kind in that area; many of the tenement houses had been razed years before to make room for industrial enterprises like one-story mechanic shops, a dairy delivery substation, a restaurant and a small service station. On the ground floor was a firm that specialized in valves of all kinds for small water craft and home plumbing. She lived in a two-room flat just above the valve shop. There was a long flight of stairs to get to her floor from the street. At the top of her stairs was a door that opened to a passageway that separated the rear flat from the front one. This door had a stained-glass panel where one could detect someone on the other side of it without making out who it was.

I came up the stairs one day and knocked on the glass-paneled door. I knocked and knocked some more, maybe four or five times. Getting no response, I called out to her loudly enough for her to hear me even if she was in another room. I detected some activity and finally her form emerged at the door. When she was assured that it was me, she unlocked the door. When it opened I could see tears in her eyes and fear in her face. "Son," she blurted out, "who did you kill? The FBI has been here looking for you and they said they'll be back to get you and they'll break down the door if necessary." She then dropped to the floor in a faint. I picked her up and carried her into the house, set her down on the bed, then dashed to the sink for water. A wet towel to her face and a sip of water brought her around.

Slowly I coaxed the story out of her, asking her on several occasions to backtrack for more details. She had heard a knock. While getting ready to answer it, she heard it repeated, this time louder and more rapid, becoming a banging which instilled her with fear since she thought it may have been some drunk who wandered up the stairs.

"Who is it?" she asked.

"It's the FBI. I'm looking for Bill Bailey and you better open this door."

Now my mother became more excited, afraid, nervous.

"What do you want with my son?" she asked.

"Never mind what we want him for. Where is he?"

"I don't know where he is."

"Yes you do. We know you know where he is. You better tell us. Now open this door so we can have a look."

"No, I won't," she replied. "I don't open my door for anyone."

"Lady, I'm gonna come back here tomorrow looking for him and you better produce him. If you don't open the door then, we'll put the axe to it."

She cooled down after assurance that I had done nothing wrong, especially anything that would require the FBI to be on my tail. I tried to hide my rage over what had happened. I excused myself and said I was going out for a pack of cigarettes and would be back a little later.

Out in the street I raced for the phone. When I reached the operator at FBI headquarters I said, "Lady, I want you to get this down pat. My name is Bill Bailey, spelled B-A-I-L-E-Y, and I want to tell you now, loud and clear, that if you ever again send an FBI man around to my mother's house and get her so unraveled and nervous, I promise you I'll put a hatchet into the skull of the dumb bastard you sent around. I will not stand by and see anyone upset my mother. Do I make myself clear?"

The operator was beside herself. "Sir, Mr. Bailey, please stay on the line. Easy, Mr. Bailey." I could hear the clicking of lines and a male voice came on. "Yes, Mr. Bailey, this is Agent Morgan. Now, what is it that's getting you all excited?"

I repeated what I had told the operator, this time slightly more excited than before. I even promised to take commit mayhem on not just one agent, but two if two should be sent. I was assured that the FBI had not sent anyone out looking for me, and they added that it was never their intention, now or ever, to harass an old woman. However, they did tell me they were anxious to find out what really happened. They proposed that I take a cab at their expense and ride downtown to their headquarters to explain once again, while they "checked other sources."

When I entered their office, four men were waiting for me. After introductions I was motioned to a chair, and I went over the episode again, venting my wrath at what the bastard had done to my mother. They showed much interest and sympathy, and as soon as I stopped talking one of the men said that after talking with me on the phone, they started to do some checking. They concluded that when I left the Pacific Coast to come east, I did not tell my draft board that I was making the move. If I mailed a notice, it never reached the board in time to abort their next step--turning the matter over to the FBI. An agent told me that a few thousand young people had been hired by the agency to do one thing only--to check up on, locate and harass men who were playing games with their draft boards and staying clear of the armed services.

Since the young kids were now part of the FBI apparatus, they really thought they were FBI agents and most times ran amok as if they were chasing down saboteurs or spies, said the agent. This was not the only complaint that had been made about their flights of fancy and weird tactics. "Maybe some of them do deserve a kick in the ass or a club across the head with a broomstick," he said, "but please, Bill, not the way you want to do it, with a hatchet!" He promised that he would intercede and make sure that it never happened again. It never did.

Chapter III: The War Years in New York, Part One

The electioneering was over. The ballots were in. All that remained was to count the ballots declare the winner. It was a nice day in New York City on December 7th. A movie was showing at the Paramount on Broadway. It was supposed to be a super-duper anti-Nazi movie. I decided to take it in. I needed the relaxation after weeks of election campaigning.

While I was deeply absorbed in the movie, the screen went black. Boos and jeers and stomping of feet sounded throughout the theater. Within a few seconds, a voice sounded over the loudspeaker: "Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt the program at this time to bring you a report from our nation's capitol. It has been reported that less than an hour ago warplanes launched from a Japanese carrier bombed the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. The report states that many ships have been sunk and hundreds of lives have been lost in this sneak attack. We have been advised to relay this message to all members of the armed forces--return immediately to your units for further orders. We shall now return to our program."

A terrible feeling of emptiness hit my stomach. I had shared the feeling with many of my left-wing friends that we would be knee-deep in the European war sooner than expected. But the Japanese were another matter. Some of their high-ranking statesmen were in Washington at the moment negotiating some matters with our Secretary of State, Sumner Wells. No, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a complete surprise. There were no more pretenses about war, nor about our responsibilities. We were up to our ears in it on all fronts. The Hitler-Mussolini-Hirohito anti-comintern pact was being put into operation by its third partner.

In the Pacific Ocean, our ships were ordered to seek refuge. Vessels now in various American ports were ordered into available shipyards to be fitted with both machine guns and heavy artillery pieces, powerful enough to destroy a submarine by a direct hit or at least give the ship and crew a fighting chance.

Life rafts were secured on the fore and aft rigging and life boats give extra equipment. The wheel house received some extra protection with cement blocks. The Lazaret was made into an ammo locker and the after housing on the poop decks were turned into a fo'c's'le for the gunnery crews which all ships were being quickly furnished with. A number of other features were added to the average ship to make it as safe as possible to survive at sea.

It was a new ballgame now. The election results put me in office by a whopping majority over two opponents, one a devoted right-winger who was forever boasting to the San Pedro membership of the union that he was in favor of organizing a group of American Legion veterans to march down the waterfront and drive all left-wingers out of town. The other opponent, the old New York port agent, was lazy and useless. But, hell, they were small potatoes now.

The job was now taking on new importance. No longer was it a job confined to protecting our engine room members against the money-hungry, union-hating ship owners, as well as protecting the integrity of the union. It was now a job demanding a higher sense of responsibility--one of seeing to it that the hundreds of new ships entering the merchant marine were manned by competent seamen who could deliver men and equipment necessary to win the war. These men and goods would have to be delivered across oceans teeming with enemy submarines.

Days passed quickly. I found myself opening the union office at six in the morning and closing it at eight or nine in the evening. Work was piling up. It seemed trivial to spend time fighting over a little beef like the number of ashtrays doled out in the messroom or some small infringement against our working conditions. The main issue as most saw it was to get the ships properly manned and shoved off to sea. It became an everyday sight to see two or three dozen ships, fully loaded, laying at anchor along the Hudson River, waiting for crews to take them to sea.

Every member of our union was working. We were now relying on a government-operated recruiting school that turned out young men as "qualified" seamen after two weeks of training. They were handed a slip to report to different union halls for ship assignments. The majority of ships we were starting to crew up were vessels assigned to us from the War Shipping Administration. They were known as Liberty ships--five-hatch, slow-moving vessels of some 12-13 knots maximum speed, driven by 2500 horsepower reciprocating engines.

They came from blueprints and shipyards of Henry J. Kaiser. A simply-built vessel, it was put together in prefabricated sections made in factories across the country and put in place by the welding torch. In the First World War, the job of the torch was the long, tedious job of the riveting gun, a harder, slower, and more costly procedure. One set of blueprints was used in the hundred or so shipyards that sprang up across the country. So efficient was the construction of the Liberty vessel that it became a badge of honor as to how quickly a shipbuilding crew, working around the clock, could put one together. One shipyard took 30 days from keel-laying to her assignment for sea duty. And the competition to beat that record would go on.

Of the youngsters that came through my union, I would say that 95 percent of them were bursting with enthusiasm as they accepted their assignment slip and raced out the front door to grab their gear and board their ship. Most looked at it as a new and daring adventure in their young lives and a means to make their mark in the effort to win the war. I don't imagine many at this stage gave much thought to the dangers they were about to come face to face with.

The dangers were many, but they were compounded by the very nature of the exercise of my craft in the engine room and boiler room. Located at least three stories below the main deck, they represented a terrifying trap in the event of a torpedo attack, even more so if the torpedo hit the engine room. The narrow steel ladder from the floor plates to the safety of the main deck offered a poor source of escape in a panic situation.

Yet, in spite of these potential dangers or odds against survival, men answered the bell which signified the time to relieve the watch below. It was a job someone had to do. To the seaman, his job was important to the war effort and contained as many dangers as the jobs of the aviator, foot soldier, or any other person giving his or her all to win the war. My job wasn't by any means confined to just manning the ships and settling some contractual beefs that arose from time to time. Many conferences took place between the War Shipping Administration, governed by Rear Admiral Land, union representatives, shipowners, and often members of Congress.

A call one morning from Admiral Land's office in Washington to come to a conference the following morning in Washington offered me my first flight on an aircraft, a twin-engine plane that seated about 50 passengers. In that period of our history, most transportation such as planes or railroad Pullmans were not easy to come by. A priority clearance that guaranteed you space on the plane or train had to be obtained. There was always the bus if you cared to wait in a line most often stacked with enough eager riders to fill several buses.

It was a simple procedure handled from the Admiral's office. His staff called the airline and reserved a certain number of seats, so many for each union. Of course they did not come free. The unions paid their own way. It was an interesting flight. We were ordered to keep all shades drawn on the windows while landing and taking off. I made the trip sitting next to my old and dear friend "Blackie" Meyers, vice-president of the National Maritime Union.

We took our designated seats in a room filled mostly with military men. The gold braid on their uniforms could have re-plated the White House dome in glittering yellow. It was a quietly-conducted and dignified meeting to determine what to do to save lives of seamen who might come under attack.

I remembered what one of the young survivors of a torpedo attack reported to me after he was rescued from being adrift ten days on a life raft. He lost several fingers and toes from frostbite and exposure. I reported at this conference that had the life raft medical kit contained some rubbing oil to prevent frostbite, he might still have all his fingers and toes. There were several other matters close to the same line that I raised as well. All issues, no matter how insignificant they may have appeared, were well-received. Those requiring action were, in most cases, acted on quickly. All in all, that meeting and the meetings to come were fruitful and had the best interests of the seamen in mind.

Chapter IV: The Expendable

A strange experience came my way one day. A young, Hawaiian-born Japanese fireman came into my office with tears in his eyes. He explained that he just had his seamen's papers taken away from him and he could not ship anymore. The reason? He was a Japanese-American, and he had a police record in the Hawaiian Islands. While growing up in Honolulu, he was arrested at age 13 for stealing a neighbor's bicycle. He was sentenced to two weeks at the reform school. Most of the Japanese on the Pacific Coast were now confined behind barbed wire because the government had convinced itself that it could no longer trust the Japanese, American-born or otherwise; it wanted to do the same to this seaman. But they were finding it hard to do. He had just arrived back in the country from Gibraltar a week earlier. His vessel, loaded with munitions, was blown up from under him when an enemy bomber made a direct hit on his ship. He and ten other crew members were the only ones that survived the attack.

The Navy brass knew they had a bum case on their hands trying to ship this seaman off to a concentration camp with a seagoing record like his, so they came up with the childhood caper of stealing a neighbor's bike. When he told me the story I really got pissed off. I got on the phone and called Naval Intelligence and insisted on a face-to-face meeting to get this youngster vindicated and back to sea.

We sat in a small room with five big wheels, loaded down with authority--campaign ribbons and gold stripes. No rank was less than that of captain. Some papers were pulled out of a folder. My friend's name was read off, some vital statistics touched on, and then his police record and the disposition of the case. I found it difficult to contain myself. "Are you telling me that because he stole a bike from a neighbor for what one must assume was a joy ride, and after he spent two weeks in a reform school, you're proposing to strip him of his livelihood and his citizenship? Hell, I could go aboard any American ship and I would guarantee that at least one in every three crew members has some sort of police record, be it for petty larceny, boozing up, or being evicted from some flophouse because they couldn't meet the rent. Yet you pick on this poor kid because he took a ride on a neighbor's bike. How insane! Are you aware that his last ship was blown up and sunk in Gibraltar harbor a few weeks ago? And, by the way, he's been back in this country one week and already he's looking for another ship. Now, to me, that's dedication."

"Well, Mr. Bailey," said the spokesman, "we have our commitment to our country to administer what is in the best interest of all, and it is our judgment that having him employed on American vessels is not in the country's best interest. He will be free to seek work elsewhere, but not on board our ships."

"Are you telling me, sir, that our country's interest would be in some sort of danger if this man were to resume following his occupation of shipping?" I asked.

The reply came back swiftly. "Yes, that's it. We consider his presence on an American ship a danger."

I looked at my friend; his face was ashen. Tears were welling up in his eyes. He was fighting to hold them back. If he felt bad, I was equally miserable. For a moment, I questioned my own attitude. Did I charge too far, too fast, too adamantly? Could I have negotiated this beef another way and maybe obtained better results? I looked at the panelists bearing the gold braid who had the authority to make life-dealing decisions for the industry. Four of the five would not even look at me, but one did. I detected a feeling of sorrow, of sympathy for my side. It was what Clarence Darrow always looked for, that one small slit of sun fighting to break through the dark clouds. It was my one big hope and the last possible effort I could make to save the situation. I decided to go all out.

"Well, if you say he's a danger to our country, just turning him loose as you propose is no solution nor is it in the best interest of our country. Therefore, as an American who loves his country as ardently as anyone in this room, I ask you to take him out and shoot him as the best form of protecting this country." My companion looked at me with a tinge of horror on his face. The military spokesman, annoyed, replied, "That's unthinkable. That's absurd, and not the issue."

"But it is the issue," I replied. "On the one hand you say he is a danger on board our ships and a danger to the security of the country, but on the other you don't seem to care where he would go to work, just so long as it's not on American ships. So you're willing to take this American-born youngster, wrest away his means of livelihood, and then throw this so-called bomb into the laps of the unsuspecting American people. The seamen I speak for have another view of this man. They say that any man who has the guts to haul a shipload of ammunition across the ocean dodging a wolfpack of Nazi submarines and reaching his destination only to be sunk by an enemy plane, be hauled out of the water after two hours of dog paddling, and then come home and insist upon being shipped out again, is the kind of shipmate they understand and feel proud to sail with. They also feel that if it's his destiny to die in this war, then by all means let him die by the hands of the enemy while he is fighting for our best interest, instead of, as you propose, dying by disgrace and humiliation because his family could not afford to buy him a bicycle when he was a kid. No, gentlemen, my membership--which as you well know are out there in the forefront delivering the goods--feel very strongly about this case, so strong that I am prepared to take it to the newspapers and to Mr. Roosevelt's office. I'm asking you to reconsider your decision."

My friend's face lit up like a Christmas tree. He was pleased with my remarks. The officer I wanted most to impress turned abruptly when I looked his way. He asked his fellow officers for a caucus. They quickly excused themselves and walked out of the room.

"Well," I said to my friend, "at least we tried, didn't we?" He leaned over closer to me. "You didn't mean it when you said I should be taken out and shot, did you?"

"Of course not," I quickly assured him. "It was just another way of getting across a point. Now I think we have a better chance, how much I don't know."

It was ten minutes before they came back into the room. All five men faced us. There was a calmness in the voice of the spokesman. "Mr. Bailey," he said, "we may have left you with the wrong impression, and we are sorry if that is the case. It is obvious to us that this case means a lot to your organization, to the young man in question and to you personally. In our group we do have differing opinions on this case, but we are of one opinion that we must all take responsibility for our action. Do you have enough confidence in this man that you would trust your life to him?"

Oh boy, I said to myself. We have a winner here, or at least pretty close to a winner. I looked at the officer who I surmised was on my side. There was a warm glow on his face. I almost got the feeling that he was communicating, "Well, I agree with some of your ideas and I told my associates we should reach some compromise with you."

"It's a good question, sir, and I'd like to answer it in the following way. I value my life, like you and you and anyone else. I trust my life wholeheartedly in the hands of this individual. On top of that trust, I would also be the first to volunteer to hang him if that trust is ever violated. That day, sir, I know will never come. If it will please the gentlemen at this session, yes, I take full responsibility for this man's actions. That, I swear to you."

"All right, then, I place this man in your hands and hope for the best. He can go back to sea. And as for you, Mr. Bailey, you certainly live up to your reputation of doing the best for your membership."

I shook hands with all the gold braid and departed as quietly as I had arrived. We had won the beef. We walked the five blocks to the union hall. All the time my friend heaped praise on me for getting him back his right to go to sea. I had only done what my job required--to represent him in the best possible way. I really didn't deserve all that fine praise, but once in a while it was nice to hear.

A few days later I shook hands with him and said goodbye as he signed on a ship that was to join a convoy of ships bound for the Russian port of Murmansk. I never saw him again.

Chapter V: Dancing on Broadway

I was contacted by some Broadway entertainers who wanted to establish a Stage Door Canteen strictly for merchant seamen, patterned after the now famous Hollywood canteen. I attended the meeting they arranged to go over some of the details. At first I was leery of the setup. I had that old paranoid feeling that some religious missionaries were out to "save" the heathen seamen. I was sure it would end up like many other well-intentioned endeavors--another means of slugging you over the head with the Bible. It turned out I was wrong.

At the first meeting only three representatives of seagoing unions were present. Here, we met many of those trying hard to put this together. Union people like myself just sat there with eyes and ears open and mouths shut. A week later we had another meeting where a progress report was made, and we were told that the project was going to bring a high level of entertainment to the merchant seamen. Stars of stage and screen were supporters of the canteen. So fast was the work progressing that the building had been obtained, a stage, screen, bar, and tables were already in place and a date was set for its opening. One of the geniuses behind the establishment of the canteen asked me to be on a greeting committee to take Mrs. Roosevelt by the hand as she exited her car and escort her into the canteen where she would be greeted by the crowd and cut the ribbon to officially open the canteen.

The idea almost blew my mind. I had visions of tripping and falling flat on my face in front of her or forgetting her name when we met. The reason I had been chosen over others was because I had done the most among seagoing union representatives to promote and support the project.

The day of the opening the police were on the scene. Crowd-control fences were set up in the street and the area cleared of cars and trucks. Ten minutes before Mrs. Roosevelt's car was to arrive, in popped Joe Curran, president of the National Maritime Union.

Curran was considered a progressive union official, outspoken and dead-set against the gangsterism and bureaucracy that some unions were noted for. A tall man with a strong voice, he was also a character who loved the glare of publicity on center stage. He knew how to handle himself with anti-union forces and always landed on his feet in debates. There were those in the Communist Party that used to say that Joe was cheating the Party of dues by not joining. After all, he was always carrying out the "Party line," at least as far as its trade union policies were concerned, they claimed.

When Mrs. Roosevelt's car pulled up to the door, Joe had already decided what his job was going to be. He consulted no one, but dashed out to meet her while a barrage of photo flashbulbs followed their every movement into the canteen. the first thing Joe said to her was, "My dear lady, when is your husband going to open up a second front in Europe?"

I could detect that many of those that put on this super opening did not find Curran and his remarks a highlight of the day, but there was nothing they could do about this at the moment.

Mrs. Roosevelt smiled and came into the building, shook hands with most of the committee and was handed a pair of scissors. She talked about the brave merchant mariners out there in the ocean laying their lives on the line, delivering the men and material to win the war.She made a few remarks about the goodness of the people who worked so hard to create the canteen for the seamen and thanked them warmly. Then she snipped the tape. The canteen was now open. Mrs. Roosevelt departed as gracefully as she arrived.

There was never a doubt where actors and actresses stood in their support of the war. Places were set up where seamen could go to pick up tickets for any stage play in the city. Blocks of tickets were set aside for seamen and members of the armed forces, all free. Aside from the cultural lift that seamen were now getting by new doors opening to them, with the canteen they also had a fascinating place to go for a dance and for other facets of life they had long been denied. Some seamen I knew took in a play every night of the week until they shipped out. The union halls always echoed with the talk of the shows one had seen the night before.

Chapter VI: The War Years in New York, Part Two

There was no question about it, the convoys going across the Atlantic, no matter how protected they may have been, were getting pounded by the German submarines operating in wolfpack fashion. Ships were disappearing in large numbers. The brunt of most of these attacks fell on the convoys going to Russia, but the convoys going to England weren't faring much better. The wolfpacks left their mark there, too. One morning I got a call from the Russian consulate. "Mr. Bailey, we would like you to come to our office this morning. We would like to have a talk with you."

I had no idea what this was about. Why would the Russians, of all people, want to see me? I would soon find out. I was cordially greeted and asked to take a seat by a middle-aged, almost bald man. His suit, gray with pencil stripes, did not do anything to perk up his appearance. It was too big in some places and too short in others. The cuffs on his pants almost flopped over his shoes. His bass voice directed me to the chair at his desk. In spite of his poor dress, the man came on friendly, with a smile that made me feel at ease.

In my own fashion I quickly scanned the large office, looking for something familiar. There were pictures everywhere on the four walls. Some faces I recognized and others I didn't. The two most dominant ones were a large oil painting of Stalin, with that wiry smile on his mustached face and there was that large delightful picture of Lenin, with a small cap lying on his head, his shirt collar open and his hands in his pockets, wearing that happy, disarming smile on his face.

Another painting drew my attention. It was that of Maxim Gorky, perhaps Russia's best storyteller. Here he was with a delightful, tousle-haired two-year-old boy sitting on his lap. Both looked into each others' face in a moment of sheer joy.

There were more pictures of people and cities and places I knew nothing about. But the two I searched for were those two rascals who had laid much of the foundation in their writings of what the new society would be like, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. I found them framed and facing each other in a far corner of the rich mahogany-paneled office

The man went to a drawer of a cabinet, pulled out a folder and placed it on the desk in front of me. The folder contained about ten long envelopes all neatly tied together with a rubber band. He said, "Each envelope bears the name of a vessel," and he reached in and pulled out the contents of one envelope. To my amazement, they were checks. "And these are checks made out to each member of the crew. In this case, these checks are for men in your engine room department."

I was even more confused about just what this was all about. What really was I called up here for? What was with these checks?

"I suppose I should have explained to you sooner. Well, my country is very thankful for all the sacrifices the American seamen have been making to get the aid to us to carry on the war against the Nazis. We are an appreciative people. We have decided that a small token of our thanks is in order. The checks here are made out to each crew member of an American vessel that has reached the shores of our motherland. It is a bonus of one month's pay for every brave sailor who risked his life in the cause of peace. I ask that you distribute these checks to your members who you know. Every month we will deliver to you, as well as other union representatives, checks for other ship's crews that reach our shores."

I thanked the consulate in behalf of our union and our members who would be the recipients of the checks, then offered a few words about the ultimate outcome in this united front war against the enemy of all the people, fascism.

My job now was to hunt down the men listed and give them this big hunk of surprise. So far the Russian government was the only one at that stage of history to give a special monetary bonus to foreign seamen. It was indeed a nice thing to do, and when I raised it in my report to the membership at our weekly meeting, the gathering burst into applause.

Chapter VII: The Problem Characters

It was never a joy to see some of our members come in after a tough trip of delivering the goods, get paid off, then go on a binge and end up two days later with empty pockets and a big hangover. They would come into the hall looking done in and sort of sheepish and try to take out the next ship. I would ask myself, is this all there is in life--a job, a payoff, a drunken binge, then a repeat of the same? Where do the fun and enjoyment begin? Maybe his next ship will not make it. Surely the brother deserves something better than what he has been getting.

As I looked into the faces of these men I began to see an image of myself, the way I was a few years earlier and the way I could have been now, had it not been for the Communist Party making me take a good look at myself and setting me on the track to make something of myself. "If you don't care for yourself, then try at least to care for your class. You are somebody, somebody important in the class struggle. Go out there and do with your fellow worker what we have done with you. That much you owe your class. Help them, rescue them from the tight hold the lumpen proletariat has on their throats and brains."

As I got to know a few of the "problem" characters and their weaknesses better I conceived a plan that could offer them something better than what they were used to. It required a little talking to get their approval, but in the end they agreed. When they paid off the vessel, I would take their money and go to the bank nearest the union hall, deposit it in their name, and give them enough money for things like room rent, clothes, and food. I would hold the book and make them come to see me in the event they needed more money. It was a pain in the ass, but it gave me a chance to keep tabs on them and try to exert a little fatherly advice in between binges. In most cases it worked well, and many times I held back on giving them money for boozing up.

Sometimes I would see them come staggering down the street looking for me and their bank book. Most bar owners did not like my approach to the problem. When they saw the money was not coming in fast enough, they refused credit. That suited me fine. Some of the bar keepers were agitating against me because of what I was doing to their business. "That so-and-so port agent who acts like their father! The nerve of that guy!" Hearing that, I knew I was doing the right thing.

Another method I used on a few of these characters was to see if I could prod them to take a trip home to visit the family. Life becomes so uncertain during wartime that perhaps the next ship would be his last. Why not see as much of the family as possible? A seaman, after a couple of months at sea, was entitled to at least 30 days ashore before the draft board got after him. Then it was ship out or get drafted. So this way he could easily spend a week with his family and he would be privy to certain priorities in transportation. It worked well.

Another scheme of mine was to get some of the lonesome characters into places like a Turkish bath for some relaxation after time at sea. I would also hunt down some places in the country like a spa or an inn where they could go for rest and relaxation for a week to enjoy nice surroundings and good food. On the surface, these things looked like they occupied a lot of my time, but they didn't. Most was accomplished by phone. Many good things developed from this small touch of care that was so important to some people. A few of the characters met some nice women who added a new dimension and meaning to their lives. New vistas that they never thought existed opened for them.

Many seamen had no living relatives at all. In case of their death the government gave a check for $5,000 to anyone designated by the seaman at the time of signing on for the voyage. A number of the seamen asked if it was okay if they designated me as their beneficiary. I turned this proposal down flat. No way would I allow myself to be the recipient of such an offer. Politely I thanked them and told them to leave it to some charitable organization. Seamen under such circumstances were wide open to be taken by every whore or shady barmaid. And I knew a few union officials that found no objection in encouraging their members to sign over their benefits to them.

We had a fireman in the union nicknamed "Deafy" Gannon. He had no hearing aid, and when you talked to him you had to shout your head off. While on board ship his sleeping quarters were located right below the five-inch cannon. While asleep one day, his ship's lookout spotted a submarine, and the emergency alarm brought the gun crew to their battle stations. Every gun on the ship fired at the submarine and the cannon fired a shot at least every minute and a half. Some 15 shots were fired. Each shot sent vibrations and quivers throughout the ship. They never hit the submarine, but scared it off. When Deafy awoke two hours after all the action died down, he complained to anyone within earshot that "a man can't get a decent sleep on board ship anymore because these young seamen are always banging shut the steel bulkhead doors and making all sorts of racket," and he wished the hell these young punks would be quieter.

One time a ship's delegate complained to me about a man in the engine room who should be removed from the ship; the men thought he was losing his marbles. I boarded the ship and found out that the fireman in question wore his "zoot suit" 24 hours a day. The suit was a head-to-toe rubber suit designed for the eventuality that one had to abandon ship. You got into it and pulled up the zipper, enclosing yourself in the rubberized suit with only your face showing. It kept you afloat and protected against the harshness of the sea. Your body heat was contained. The trouble with such comprehensive lifesaving gear was that it took too darn long to put it on in a life-and-death emergency. If and when a torpedo hit, time was too short to go to one's room, pull out the suit, put it on, and sally forth to the lifeboat.

What we had here was a man who so feared being subjected to an enemy attack that he judged his life as dependent on this rubber suit. He wore it in the engine room on watch, he wore it in the messroom while eating, and he wore it while sleeping. The men complained that he was creating a demoralized atmosphere among them. Besides, they said, he never took it off to bathe and he stank terribly. Wearing it in the boiling hot engine room was making him sick and he was beginning to show it in his actions and mannerisms. Thus, since everyone thought him crazy, he must be crazy, and he must be removed from the ship.

I found it a delicate situation. Just because he wore his zoot suit 24 hours a day didn't qualify him as a coward, because he was still standing his watches and answering the bell. I tried to reason with him and reach a compromise that would satisfy all hands. We ended it by claiming he was sick and obtaining a hospital form from the captain. Such a form got him off the ship for a vacation as well as a medical checkup, and everyone was happy. Of course, he thought he got the best of the deal by having a certificate that would guarantee him some extra time ashore. And the rest of the crew thought they got the best of the deal by getting him off the ship.

Chapter VIII: Wagons West

One morning I opened the office, collected the mail, and found a letter from headquarters telling me that in two weeks nominations would be open in all branches for officials for the coming year. I had been on the job for a year. With all the excitement and long hours and responsibilities, it felt like only six months. There were times when the job was exhausting me. The best break I had during the year was a week's vacation on Fire Island, and even that, while restful, was not too satisfying. I could use a month's vacation, but wars aren't won by taking long vacations. I consulted a few Party people about the coming nominations. "Yes, by all means, run for another term," they advised. With a bit of reluctance on my part, I was nominated for the same job. A couple of weeks later the race was on. While I had opposition for the job, it was an easy victory. So I continued right on doing the same things I had done yesterday and the days before that--keeping the ships moving with the hope that what we were all doing was quickening the pace that would bring the defeat of Hitlerism and the end of fascism.

As weeks became months I began to realize that many an old buddy would never return from his trip. Word often reached my office that an attack had been made on a convoy, along with a list of some of the vessels that went down. Sometimes the names of the men missing were given. After hearing this news I would feel remorseful and somewhat guilty. Here I was in a safe job that required getting up in the morning, dashing off to the union hall, and ascertaining the number of men that were needed that day to fill in with replacements and new ships. I might be settling a few minor beefs on some of the ships, but I never was in any danger unless I was hit by a taxicab while crossing the street. I began to feel more and more that everybody was making sacrifices in the war except me. I should be out there, too, dodging torpedoes and delivering the goods instead of going through the war safe and sound ashore. I began to yearn more and more for the confines of the engine room. Anyone could sit behind a desk and do what I was doing, I figured.

As an anti-fascist, an 18-month veteran of the Spanish Civil War and a Communist, how the hell could I tell anyone that I sat on my ass in a safe office while encouraging others to go out there and give their all to destroy Hitler and his master-race ideology? No, I couldn't handle it anymore. I found it hard saying goodbye to some of the younger kids I was shipping out. I began to look at them as if it were the last time I would see them.

A small notice in one of the newspapers helped to push me along on the idea of shoving off. It was an ad asking for someone willing to drive a car to the West Coast. They would be given sufficient gas ration stamps to get them there. After making an inquiry, I discovered the "Smiling Irishman" did have good reliable cars for reliable people to drive to Los Angeles. So I did two things: filed an application with the Maritime Commission to attend their engineering school in Alameda and proved my reliability to the "Smiling Irishman" for a car to drive West.

I found two seamen with homes on the West Coast, one from the National Maritime Union and the other a Marine Fireman, who wanted to share the ride with me to Los Angeles. I sent word to headquarters in San Francisco that I was resigning my port agent position. There was no problem with that since the New York branch had a dispatcher and a business agent who were capable of filling any gap I might leave. Some government maritime officials had heard that I was resigning. I got two phone calls from Washington telling me how important I was to the general overall effort to win the war and urging me to stay on the job and keep the ships moving. I ignored both calls.

The trip west held no great adventures for any of us, outside of a few flat tires. Gas seemed to be plentiful just as long as we had an ample supply of ration stamps. Getting a driver was the way one dealer got his stock moving from one used car lot on the East Coast over to a used car dealer on the West Coast where the sale of the car would bring double the price. The dealer paid nothing to the driver. He just loaned the car to the "reputable" driver, gave him a delivery address, a book of gas ration stamps, a handshake and a road map. The rest was up to the driver to read his map properly.

Chapter IX: The Ticket

Now that I was back in San Francisco, I had to come to a decision fast as to how I was to sail. Should I ship out in my old capacity as fireman-oiler-electrician, or should I use the years of knowledge of the engine and boiler rooms and sit for an examination to get my engineer's license and sail as an engineer? There was a big demand for engineers and I concluded that I could serve the country better by getting my engineer's ticket. I could go about obtaining my license in several ways. One was to sign up and attend the government training school across the Bay in Alameda. Here the government supplied you with all the necessary books, instructors, meals, dormitory, uniforms, doctors and other essentials. The only fly in the ointment was that first you had to spend a couple of months at the school and submit to camp life as one would in any military base. Another way was to go buy some books, go home and work like hell, and when you thought you had digested enough knowledge, go and sit for the exam. The third way was to take advantage of the "free enterprise system" by attending any of the half-dozen quickie schools which, for a small fee, prepared you for the exam.

The advantage of these schools was their ability to know the questions most likely to be asked by the examiners. You would be home in the evenings, minus all that discipline that your brothers at the government school were subject to. I opted for the quickie school, and for the next several weeks I was to think, drink, and consume short division, cube roots, square roots, fractions, logarithms, trigonometric functions, solutions of triangles, mensurations--all of which led me to manage so many formulas that they were coming out of my ears. I was taught the shortcut in arithmetic solutions, and for a fifth-grade grammar school dropout, this was a shock to the human system so great that I had to keep concentrating on the thought that if I made any mistakes the entire Nazi system, with Shicklegruber leading the pack, was going to laugh at me. That thought of not being able to add my weight to winning the war gave me lots of strength to stay awake for hours on end while I crammed knowledge into my think tank.

I was close to a nervous wreck when the day finally came--when I and ten other men sat down in the examiner's room at desks, poised with pen, pencils and paper and ready for that moment of truth. The examiner sat at a desk facing all the candidates. On his desk was a layer of pigeonhole compartments, one for each of us, with our names on them. Not all of us were seeking the same grade. I was trying for a third assistant's license, some others their second's, two were sitting for chief's tickets and two for their first assistant's tickets.

For the next two days we would approach his desk, and he would give us several cards with questions. Our job was to find the answers and include the methods we used to get the answers. Each card and worksheet was brought back to the examiner one at a time, and if all were correct and above board, he handed you the next set of questions. This went on for two days until he exhausted the packet of questions. With all questions and answers tied neatly in a bundle, he signed a document stating that you had passed and directed you to another office where your certificate was to be made out. What an accomplishment to have that certificate in my hand! I felt like a giant standing 20 feet high. Miss O'Rafferty, that dear old schoolteacher in Public School Number 5 in Hoboken, told me once that given half a break, I was the kind of boy that could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I wished she were alive to see this.

Two weeks before the examination, I had run into Walter Stich, an old buddy of mine. Walter had just made first assistant on a Liberty ship named John Paul Jones. He was elated that I was preparing for my ticket. "Look, Bill," he said, "we'll be going into the shipyard for a lot of patching up and to maybe get some bigger guns put on the ship. When we come put we'll be taking on a crew, including engineers. I'll keep the third's job open for you. It'll be nice to make your first trip out with friends. We'll make a good trip out of it. What do you say?"

I was not about to say no to this friendly gesture. And so it was that the John Paul Jones headed out the Golden Gate with me at the throttle, slightly shaken up and waiting for a disaster to happen. After a few watches with no breakdowns to contend with, confidence in my ability to handle the watch slowly mushroomed to a mere routine. We zigged and zagged our way across the Pacific Ocean alone, always thinking the enemy was out there just waiting till we crossed hairs in his sights. But the enemy must have had something more important to do than to chase after an old Liberty ship, especially one named John Paul Jones.

On a bright sunny morning almost 15 days after leaving the Golden Gate, we pulled into Milne Bay in New Guinea, passed through the anti-submarine nets, and dropped anchor among some 20 other ships. I appreciated the silence of the engine room and the stillness of the ship as it rode its anchor in the safety of our armed forces. What I could not understand after arriving was what the hell some 20 or more ships were doing there, anchored, when we were desperately in need of ships. Why weren't they being discharged and set free? I raised this question with a military officer who came aboard to receive the ship's manifest. "I don't make the rules on any of this," he told me, "but we don't have any place on land to properly store everything until it's ready to be used. So we pull in whatever ship has the cargo we need and unload. After all, it's better that goods stay aboard ship than lie out in the open. If the enemy decides to retake this island, it makes no sense to give him an island full of goodies as a bonus does it?"

I couldn't find any argument with that, but it boiled down to the fact that we were going to be here for a while. That "while" would be some 30 days. Then the anti-submarine nets were pulled open and we sailed out alone and headed to what we thought would be the Golden Gate, but soon we found our bow headed toward South America. The third day after our departure from Milne Bay we plowed head into a storm. With our vessel empty, we bounced and dove. As the vessel headed nose down into the sea, her stern would come up out of the water and her propeller, free of traction, would pick up speed. When the stern went back into the water, there would be a chugging and rattling and shaking of the ship from stem to stern. To keep the engine and other parts of the vessel from serious damage, we put into operation the "Butterfly" watch, or throttle watch as some called it. This was where the engineer stayed at the operating platform and pulled the Butterfly valve closed as the vessel's stern began its climb out of the water. This maneuver aborted the full blast of steam from going to the engine and slowed down the engine. As the propeller went back in the water, the valve was opened, a full blast of steam entered the engine, and the propeller once again resumed its required momentum. It was a tedious, time-consuming job, dull, but necessary.

What a joy it was when after 23 days of this arm-bending maneuvering the sun came out and there before us was the West Coast of South America. Another day and we pulled into a small town in Chile called Tocopilla. The little port, just big enough to handle one ship at a time, was crowded with people who greeted us with curiosity as we entered in our wartime colors with guns mounted fore and aft. This poverty-stricken town, where the tallest structure was the spire of the town church, was nestled against a backdrop of mountains. From a distance, you could make out what seemed to be primitive roads and paths cut into them. All these paths led into the town's only source of wealth, nitrate mines. We were there to pick up a cargo of nitrates. Now that the war was on, nitrate was a valuable cargo. We used it mostly in munitions production. Like most mariners, we were interested in what the town offered us. Was there a restaurant where one could get a decent meal? A dance hall or nightclub? Some souvenir shops? Yes, there were a little of each, including some women who had some personal assets to sell.

The three days at Tocopilla were good. We stretched our legs, had a few drinks, and enjoyed the people in the town who seemed to enjoy our company as well as the little prosperity the war was bringing them.

With a cargo priority we passed through the Panama Canal, our destination being Jacksonville, Florida. Leaving the last lock of the canal on the Caribbean side, we saw 15 ships at anchor. We learned they were waiting for more ships to join them in a convoy into the Atlantic under an armed escort.

I had expected some sort of escort to Florida, since the Caribbean was a submarine captain's delight; they used that area as one would a shooting gallery. The loss of our merchant vessels, especially tankers, was running pretty high around there. Yet, they were having us make the trip solo. We hugged the shoreline as closely as safety permitted.

Chapter X: Cape Grieg

I had developed a minor leg infection from a varicose vein. It had bothered me most of the trip. After we were secured to the dock in Jacksonville, I decided to get a doctor's certificate from the skipper and take off for the coast. Within two weeks, after some medical attention and some visits with old friends, I was ready to ship out. I ran into another old friend, Joe Russell. Joe had joined a ship called the Cape Grieg as chief engineer. The vessel was of the C-1 class. Unlike the slow-speed Liberty ship, the Grieg was a turbine-propelled vessel with a bow as sharp as that of a destroyer. Her crew's and officer's quarters were considered super compared to that of the Liberty's. Joe Russell had been an old organizer for the National Maritime Union as well as one of its founders.

One of the hatches on the Grieg was filled with beer, wine, and whiskey. When someone made a remark about the number of cases of "liquid joy" being loaded when ammo would have been more meaningful, a military officer chimed in to tell us that it was for "medicinal purposes." However, we were convinced that it was part of MacArthur's private stock.

Again we followed the same pattern as the prior ship and zigzagged unescorted across the Pacific. We pulled into Antewetok, where we were to await a survey being made of the area by our planes to check for surface or underwater enemy craft. After 24 hours the area was declared safe and we steamed off, again alone. The next stop would be the Mariana Islands. After a week of discharging supplies there we were off for our next stop, the New Hebrides. Aside from most of our cargo being discharged here, at least half the "medicinal supplies" went ashore--which brought big smiles from a delegation of gold-braid officers who watched the unloading.

Being a fast ship, we never stayed in any one place for long. We loaded up with pieces and parts of at least 200 airplanes that had crashed or been shot down. Not only was this good ballast to take home, but it was all good metal which would be reduced again to liquid form, and new parts would be made from the aluminum, copper and other metals.

Off again, we sailed down along the Great Barrier Reef and into the port of Brisbane, Australia, where we got rid of the rest of the "medicinal supplies." We loaded some more defective military equipment to take home. In Brisbane I took a trip out to the Koala Bear farm. It was a lovely place to make contact with the bears and meet the caretakers who delighted in talking about their charges. A young man I became attached to because of his love of the animals picked one out of the cage and handed him to me. The bear, a lovely, warm creature, wrapped his little arms around my side and then started to nibble on one of my shirt buttons. The young keeper noticed that the bear and I seemed to be enjoying a mutual love affair. "If I knew there was some way you could take care of this young guy," he said to me, "and he could live in the States, I would be delighted to put him in your charge. Truth is, there are so many things this native character must have to survive, which you don't have in the States, it would be criminal to give you one."

A day or two later, I and two other members of the crew went out to a riding ranch, hired some horses, and spent the next few hours galloping through some of Brisbane's beautiful woods.

About 50 miles inland from the port of Brisbane is a little town called Toowoomba. I took a bus trip to the town and forgot about the time. In the late afternoon, I found myself at the bus station, eager to return to the ship. I was shocked to see a sign on the depot door: "Closed. Will open 7 a.m. tomorrow." The bus had stopped running at 4 p.m. Here it was 5:30. Now what would I do? The bus was the only transportation in and out of the town. In the course of searching for the local gendarmes with the hope that they would come up with some idea for getting me to my ship, I came across a small locomotive sitting lonesome on a spur track with the engineer inside, reading a paper. I got his attention and explained who I was and how important it was for me to get back to join my ship in Brisbane.

He smiled down at me. "Maybe you're just in luck, Yank," he said.

"Oh?" I replied sheepishly.

"Our shift is about over. In a few minutes we'll be on our way back to Brisbane for the night. You can hop aboard now and we'll take you with us. Will that suit you, Yank?"

I couldn't get aboard fast enough. His partner, the fireman, was just as friendly. "Of all the soldiers that come down here from many countries," the fireman said, "We like the Yanks the most. Many of them are a lot of fun to be around. Only trouble we can see with them is that all our women are nuts over them. I guess it's because they are big spenders and sweep the women off their feet, buying them anything they want. Our blokes can't do that. We don't have the money like you Yanks. But that's all right. After all, you come a long way, why not enjoy yourselves? So, you say you're an engineer in the merchant navy?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Your engine room anything like our little engine room?"

"Yes, like the one on my last ship, a Liberty ship. But not on my present ship, which is turbine-driven."

"In that case, how would you like to sit at the controls and take her into Brisbane?"

Something I had wanted to do all my life was to stand behind the throttle on a locomotive and blow that little steam whistle, chugging my way from town to town. Here it was happening at the other end of the earth, in "down under" Australia. The little engine I was now in command of was used as a little work horse to shunt freight cars in the Brisbane locale. Her top speed was about 35 miles an hour. She burned oil for fuel. My two new Australian friends seemed to be enjoying themselves, watching me play out my boyhood fantasy. It didn't take long to cover the 50 miles to Brisbane. I relinquished my "command" with a warm handshake and said goodbye.

The trip back to the States was uneventful, outside of a few submarine scares. We pulled into Long Beach, where the Cape Grieg and I parted company. I had made up my mind to make an appearance before the examiners to upgrade my license.

Chapter XI: The Big Ticket

Since the government needed more skilled men on the ships, they were willing to pay for those willing to better their standing to come to school. The Maritime Commission set up a class for upgrading certificates. All that was required was that you had put in some sailing time on the old license. I had already accumulated enough time as third assistant to have it upgraded to at least second assistant or higher. I was satisfied with one hop up to second.

The school ran from 8:30 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon. Unlike the commercial, "free enterprise" school which I attended to obtain my first license, this one cost me nothing. In fact, in addition to the free education, if you passed the test and got your license, the government would throw in your uniform and topcoat as a bonus. If you flunked the test, you got none of the goodies. It was a good incentive.

After two strenuous weeks, I took my examination, got the uniform and topcoat, and was ready for my next ship with a brand new license. I was now a member of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA), and the dispatch hall was run the same way as the Firemen's hall: all the jobs were chalked on the board and the rotation system applied. I looked over the list of ships on the board. Of course, there was no way of knowing what part of the world they were heading for. While I was still looking, the dispatcher walked over to my side. "Hey, Bill, I have a brand new ship in the Richmond shipyard which will be commissioned for sea duty tomorrow. They need a first assistant to go aboard this afternoon and sort of take charge. The rest of the crew will follow in a day or two. How about grabbing her?"

"But I only have a second's ticket," I replied.

"That will make no difference," he said. "We'll make it on a waiver. You'll have no problem. I assure you."

"Okay," I said, if the company is willing to take me on that basis, I'll give it a try,"

My dispatch card had my name, ship and rank. The dispatcher directed me to the company office. There I met the port captain who would drive me to the ship. He was a nice, friendly old guy who made me feel comfortable as we rode across the Bay Bridge to Richmond. There she was, a brand new Liberty ship, the Samuel Gompers.

Old Sam Gompers was at one one time head of the American Federation of Labor, and like most of the top leadership of his period, he was a strong conservative. He was long gone, and now he had a Liberty ship named after him. The ship was teeming with men and women shipyard workers. Three other ships were being built there at the same time, but the Gompers was the only one that had a wisp of smoke coming out of her stack. Her propeller was slashing the water and all her mooring lines were taut and emitting squeaks for mercy, as if they were ready to break from the pressure.

We went down to the engine room and found the shipyard crew with open-neck quart milk cartons, dousing the engine with oil. The oilers were clad in rain gear and much of the oil splashed on them. They poured it on the engine, a quart every fifteen minutes. Every motor, every pump, was being tested at that moment. In fact, the testing had started at eight in the morning and here it was three in the afternoon, and the engine was still racing wide open.

While I walked around the engine room looking at the newness of everything, the port captain was consulting some of the big wheels in the shipbuilding business. I heard one of the yardsmen say to the port captain, "She's all yours now, cap. Let's shut her down for a rest." The engine came to a stop and men started mopping up oil and washing down the rods. A short while later the port captain said to me, "She belongs to us now. Take good care of her, Bill."

The next day the rest of the crew came aboard, including the chief engineer, a nice old character who had been coaxed out of retirement. The second assistant and third assistant engineers were young men and took to the responsibility immediately.

The Samuel Gompers steamed empty down to Port Hueneme, near Los Angeles. There we picked up a load of war materials, then took off to points in Alaska where we would engage in the battle to win back the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese. It was new territory for me. With a crew of eager-beaver youngsters--with the exception of a few old-timers who preferred the cool north to the hot South Pacific--we merged our energies to make the trip a success. After all, it was a brand-new ship, and what could go wrong on a brand-new vessel?

The first crisis came quickly. One of the crank pins on the main engine got hot from lack of oil and ended up scorching the babbitt, creating a totally new sound in the engine. In the beginning the engine had a beautiful purring sound. Now there was a horrible-sounding clunk-clunk every time the engine made a revolution. There were a few moments when I could have lassoed the young, lazy-ass oiler to the connecting rod and watched him go up and down for the rest of the voyage.

We spent close to four months running up and down the Aleutian chain feeding supplies to our troops. It was always cold and gray and one hell of a place to ever get torpedoed in, since the waters were frigid. But we came through it okay. New orders took us down to Seattle for refurbishing and new assignments. I was sitting at my desk there when a young man came to the door. He introduced himself and said he was from the FBI. He did not address me by name, but by rank.

"I hear you have some Communists on board," he said. "How is their performance? Any problems with them?" I smiled politely at him and gave him the best answer I could, "Hell, if you know where I can get my hands on more of them, let me know. They're the best darn workers on board."

He looked a little taken aback, but that was the end of the conversation. Apparently he had not been cued in as to who the Communists were on the Gompers.

Before the Gompers was to sail again she would have to undergo some repair work on her engine, especially on the connecting rod, as well as minor repairs on the air extractor. It would take maybe two weeks before the Gompers would work her way to the head of the list for a machinist gang. I packed up my bags and took a train for San Francisco.

It was at about this time that the Party leadership, being so wrapped up in winning the war, forgot what the bourgeoisie was all about. It was true that there was a lull period when most differences--that is, class differences--were set aside while the war raged on. Such things as strikes, stoppages of work, or lockouts were not the main issues. Labor had given a no-strike pledge for the war's duration. Most beefs and complaints were settled quickly. Both management and labor were pulling together to win the war. Of course, both the workers and shipowners had viewpoints of what life would be like after the war ended. The employers were thinking of how they were going to reap bigger profits once the war was over, and, foremost, they were thinking of how to handle the union situation. Meanwhile, the workers were being lulled to sleep with dreams of grandeur.

At this stage, the head of the American Communist Party, Earl Browder, wrote a book called Teheran and After. The unity and determination of these nations in the war was above reproach. Browder--and most of the Party leaders--had come to the conclusion that the capitalists and the working class were now sitting down and working together to win the war and to work out the peace, and that the future was going to be a great time. What the leadership was telling us was that "progressive capitalism" was anxious to let bygones be bygones, and from now on they would sit down at the same table with the workers. Together they would work in harmony to make the world a heaven on earth. This was the way the heads of the Communist Party were seeing things. The class struggle as defined by Karl Marx was about to be swept under the rug, and perhaps Marx with it.

Chapter XII: The PT Boat

I joined the George Powell, a Liberty ship, as first assistant. Walter Stich was chief engineer on this vessel. He was a fellow Party member with whom I had had the good fortune to have sailed several other ships. Walter was the kind of guy I loved to sail with. He was knowledgeable, an excellent engineer, and an easy man to talk with. I looked forward to a good trip.

On board our ship was a wonderful skipper named Ole Olson, a guy about 70 who had retired from the sea and was now brought back for the emergency. In the tropics he loved to walk around in his underpants and nothing else. His body was covered with hair, lots of it, and the crew hung a nickname on him, The Bear. His pot belly seemed out of control as it lopped over the top of his trousers. He cursed anything and everything: the military, the ship, the crew, the sea. Nothing was safe from his wrath. In spite of his temper, he was a great seaman and a great poker player. I liked him immensely, and he liked me.

Across from my room was the purser's office. A desk, some file cabinets, lots of paper and a typewriter were its main furnishings. When the purser was not around, I would make use of the typewriter to type my letters. While typing a letter one fine afternoon, I heard The Bear shouting in the alleyway. "Oh, purser, where are you?" He came to the purser's door and looked in. He was surprised to see me at the desk, typing away. "My God, I thought you were the purser. My, but you can type faster than the purser. Where did you learn all that? In college?" Before I had a chance to play with the answer he was gone on his way, looking for the purser.

That great navigational instrument, the sextant, always fascinated me. It was the age-old instrument that mariners had been using to crisscross their way across the oceans of the world. My opportunity to use one came one morning as the third mate was using his. He showed me how to bring the sun down to the horizon and obtain a reading. It just so happened on that The Bear appeared on deck and saw me with the sextant as I was giving my reading to the mate. "Hold it," he said, surprising me by coming directly to me to check the reading. He looked at my instrument, then took his own test. "By golly, I get the same reading as the first assistant." He turned to me with a surprised look on his face. "You sure are one smart guy."

I suppose the biggest surprise came to him a week later as we were being escorted through some islands in the Philippines, heading for the invasion of Subic Bay. In a ten-ship convoy that we caught up with about fifty miles from Subic Bay in the south China Sea, we had one destroyer and a smaller vessel, a destroyer escort. The destroyer headed the convoy, slowly zigzagging across the path of the slow-moving ships. The weather was hot, not a cloud in the sky. I stood on the bridge talking to the radio operator as we both rested our arms on the bridge railing, watching the antics of the destroyer and the other ships in front of us. Suddenly the destroyer's Morse code signaling light went into operation, dash-dot-dash. "He's saying something," I said to the radio operator. "I wonder what he's saying?"

"Looks like he's saying PQ, PQ, PQ, whatever that means. I don't know," the radio operator replied. "I better go into my shack and stand by the set in case he decides to reach me." He left the bridge. At this time The Bear came charging out from the wheel house, excited as a wet hen. "What the hell is that fool on the destroyer saying?" he asked, not really expecting an answer from anyone. "I think, captain, he's saying PQ, PQ, PQ, whatever that means," I replied, feeling safe that the radio operator knew his Morse code.

"PQ, PQ," replied the captain. "What the hell does PQ stand for?" The captain shouted to the chief mate in the wheel house. "Come out here and tell me what that silly bastard up ahead is talking about," he said to the mate. The mate, acting quickly, picked up his field glasses and stepped out on the bridge, focusing on the signal emanating from the destroyer. Then he replied, "It's PQ, PQ. He keeps repeating PQ, PQ."

"I know it's PQ, PQ. That's what the first assistant said it was! What I want to know is what the hell PQ means!"

"I don't know," said the mate.

"Well, damn it," shouted The Bear, "go and find out. Why the hell does the first assistant have to know everything? I must have the dumbest men on deck while the engine room has the smartest! Maybe I should become an engineer." I felt sorry for the mate, who surely didn't deserve all that pressure The Bear was putting on him.

After consulting the code book, the mate returned quickly to the bridge. "Well, what is it?" the captain asked.

"It means, batten down the hatches, a severe storm is ready to hit us."

The captain looked at the sky. It was never so clear as it was at that moment. "The silly bastards," he mumbled while looking at the destroyer.

An hour later a few drops of rain fell on the deck, not enough to glue a postage stamp.

The battle for Subic Bay was waged from the beach as our troops pushed back the Japanese soldiers and drove them inland. It all happened so fast that the Japanese were caught by surprise. First, the destroyer and escort rounded the lee side of the island, then came charging into the Bay with guns blazing away. This drove the Japanese from the beach area and put them to flight as the troop carrier moved in quickly to take advantage of the surprise and panic to get our troops onto the beach. Our Liberty ship was ordered to pull into the Bay right after our troops landed and got a foothold on the beach. We dropped anchor and stood by, waiting for word to uncover our hatches and prepare to unload the necessary supplies. Bullets coming from the Japanese soldiers in retreat were bouncing off our superstructure. We were fortunate that there were no big guns for the Japanese to use against us, since we were a stationary target. We were ordered to stay off the deck for fear we'd be hit.

The next morning things started to shape up more to our liking. The Japanese had been pushed to a safe distance from the beach. No longer were we in range of their trench mortars or rifle fire. We could still hear the sound and feel the tension of the raging fight up ahead and wondered how long it would take before the troops captured the main highway leading into Manila. This was the important phase of this battle, to divert part of the enemy troops away from the defense of Manila while another part of our invading army would attack Manila from another flank.

On the third day I took a rifle and a belt of ammo from our ship's armory, and with the third mate went ashore. We took advantage of our rank; none of the rank-and-file unlicensed personnel were allowed ashore. Only officers were, providing , of course, they were armed. Wearing the officer's cap gave us the privilege of moving anywhere we cared to.

The mate and I worked our way slowly toward the front lines, passing jeeps and ammo carriers on the way. The roadway was the scene of dead Japanese soldiers lying where they had fallen. A few had been hit with flame throwers and their bodies still smoldered. Some had been hit by shell fire and pieces of their bodies were everywhere, including a leg dangling from the limb of a tree. The stink of decaying corpses was nauseating in the hot and humid canyon we were traversing. It brought back memories of Spain. As we got closer to the front lines we came across a first aid and hospital waylay station. Many men who were wounded seriously at the front would have died had they been hauled to hospitals in the rear to be operated on. Here the doctors operated quickly on the wounded and tended those in shock, then moved them to safer and quieter surroundings for the long haul back to health. The front line "hospital" was a big morale booster to the soldier. At least he knew he would get immediate attention if he needed it.

In a small tent I saw at least 20 soldiers lying on cots with bandages wrapped around different parts of their bodies. They looked ashen and exhausted. None spoke, most slept. They had been operated on just a few hours before. Within the day they would be moved to a hospital at the rear. I asked the young doctor about some of the problems they were having in a hospital so close to the front lines. "The front is well-secured at this stage," he said. "We have no fear of being overrun by a counterattack or of being wiped out by a battery of cannon fire. The enemy has no cannons here and their strength has been sapped by our overpowering attacks. If we have a handicap, and we do have problems, it's a lack of whole blood. Our plasma is great, but whole blood is better. We must manage with what we've got."

That was all I needed to hear before my thinking processes took over. We headed back to the ship and reported what we saw. We talked to our crew about the hospital and the men lying there and the work of the doctors operating on men while the bullets whizzed over their heads and the need of whole blood for the wounded.

That night I wrote out a plea for blood donors to offer their blood to the wounded soldiers. All that was required was for them to sign their names to the list and when called on, to make the blood donation. In posting the notice on the bulkhead, I assumed I would be lucky to get half the crew. The next morning I looked at the board and almost went into a happy state of shock. The entire crew including officers, had signed the notice. The biggest surprise came when I saw The Bear's name.

I notified the command at the hospital and all that afternoon groups of five were hauled up to the hospital by jeep. They made their donations, and safely returned to the ship under a well-armed escort. Each donor was handed a short letter of commendation by the commanding officer. One of the nice things that would remain in the minds of the donors was that after they made the donation they were taken through the little hospital, and the wounded were told what the crew of the ship had done. The smiles on the faces of the patients were gratitude enough.

On about the fifth day at Subic Bay one of the young wipers came running to my room. "First, there's a PT boat alongside and the commander is asking for some water. I told him I would check with you."

The commander of the PT (patrol-torpedo) boat, a young man of 25 or 30, was waiting for me. Most of his crew of youngsters was also standing on deck, all with their eyes focused on me. The PT had her bow nudged against our ship's side while her motors created a small wave astern of her. "Yes, commander, what can I do for you?" I asked.

"Sir," he replied, "we are without water. I have asked three other ships for water and they turned us down. Are you going to turn us down, too?"

I could see all those young faces looking up at me. I had the feeling that if I turned them down they would all jump into the Bay. My first reaction was shock. How the hell could anyone turn down another soldier for some water? What the hell kind of people did we have on those other ships? Of course water was a scarce item, and an important one, too. But we were in a better position to make water. All it took was some oil and energy to turn salt water into fresh water. To deny another fighting man this essential was hard to comprehend. "Commander," I shouted down to him, "you can have all the water you need. Get out your hose. We'll have you connected up in a moment."

There were shouts of joy. I had the wiper bring up some water hoses and extend them down to their boats, and at the same time dropped down a line to secure their boat to our ship. I invited the commander to come aboard for a cup of coffee and had a Jacob's ladder put over the side for him to come aboard.

The young commander told me of the days he spent on his boat without any fresh food and nothing but canned army and navy rations. I was appalled by the injustice of the situation. These guys were not getting a decent shake of the dice. I asked him to have another cup of coffee and stick around, and I would be right back.

I headed for the captain's room. I was lucky to find him and the steward together. I explained to him about the PT boat and its water problem and the crew's food problem and the treatment they were getting. Then I suggested that we take the crew aboard, let them all bathe and clean up, then sit them down for a good meal on board. The captain looked at the steward. "Do we have enough to take care of the PT boat's crew?" he asked. The steward nodded. "We can manage." I raced back to tell the good news to the commander. He was pleased. His crew was jubilant.

Soap and towels were supplied and the trek up the ladder by the youngsters began. Hot water, perfumed soap, and the thought of a good meal made the men happy. Our crew members did everything possible to make it a festive occasion. The young commander told me he was awaiting orders to take his craft to Manila Bay in a day or two to cut off any retreat by the enemy. I asked him if he ever took "outsiders" along for the ride. "Yes,"he replied, "as long as they sign a waiver not holding the Navy responsible in case something should happen to them."

"I would like to make such a trip, if at all possible," I told him.

"I can't promise, but I'll keep it in mind."

I was enjoying an afternoon snooze the next day when someone came pounding on my door to tell me that a PT boat was standing by and an officer was shouting my name. I raced out on deck to be greeted by the young commander shouting to me to get a life jacket and come down the Jacob's ladder to his boat. Our purser, a San Franciscan named Schreve, followed me down the ladder. Our chief engineer, Walter Stich, shouted to the commander to make sure he brought us back alive.

Always alert, we followed the shoreline down the coast. Early that same morning, our Air Force had flown over our heads plane after plane of paratroopers bound for the fortress that dominated the entrance to Manila Bay, Corregidor. It had been extremely fortified since the Japanese had taken over the fortress. They put some of their best troops to man the guns we had left behind. Now, hundreds of paratroopers were being dropped on the fortress because the Japanese were so dug in that the only way they could be dislodged was by hand-to-hand combat. Of course, this put our paratroopers in the position of sitting ducks. Many were dead before they hit the ground. Others found it hard to land on the fortress grounds and ended up drowning in the waters around the objective since no small craft could get to them. Those that did make a safe landing were now engaged in some terrifying struggle to wrest control of the island from an enemy that knew their lives might come to an end if they lost control of the last remaining piece of real estate.

On our way down the 50-mile stretch of land, our crew tested out their guns. A blast of ten or twenty rounds from each of the machine guns was proof enough that the guns were in working order. With land on our port side and the vast China Sea off our starboard, the commander stayed just far enough off shore to remain in the safe zone--that is, safe enough not to be picked off by rifle fire should remnants of a retreating army be present. The commander, expecting action, had the crew on alert and stationed at their guns. I was surprised by the youthfulness of the crew. None seemed to be more than 17-years old, with the exception of the motormen and commander. Their faces had just smidgens of fuzz for beards. But beard or not, they all seemed to be well-trained as they went about their duties. As we came closer to Manila Bay, we could make out in the distance a huge armada of ships, including some big battleships, cruisers, mine sweepers, and some two dozen merchant vessels, within half a mile off Corregidor. The loud crackling of static and voices coming across the network with its links to other PT boats and the mother command vessel dominated the air and grew stronger. The screen of our radar was marked with lots of dark spots which represented the vast number of ships gathered in the area.

Our orders were to pass through the passageway of the two command vessels and enter Manila Bay. As our little PT boat swerved to the starboard and passed in between these two giant warships, the crews of both ships lined the railings and watched our boat follow another PT boat. They broke into applause in respect for and solidarity with the crews who manned the torpedo boats.

The sun was just disappearing as we passed through the gap with Bataan on our port and besieged Corregidor on our starboard. A voice came over the loudspeaker from the command vessel, "We will fire a star shell over the fort at 20-minute intervals. Be on the alert for enemy reinforcements moving to the fort as well as anyone escaping from the fort. If you are fired upon from the fort, do not return fire, as our forces are occupying various positions on the fort." "Message acknowledged," replied our commander. I tried to be observant as we passed into the Bay. There were parachutes scattered about on the island, some in the water. Rifle fire and machine gun fire could be heard all over the island. Boom, a star shell exploded over the island, descending slowly and lighting up the area like a Hollywood kleig light. We continued into the Bay, leaving Corregidor behind us.

Ahead of us we could see flames roaring skyward from the many fires within the city of Manila. It seemed like the entire city was being put to the torch. On the mainland, the Japanese were being attacked on one side by our forces which had landed at Subic Bay and were now being driven to their main force in Manila. To the right of Manila, our First Cavalry Armored Division was attacking the Japanese and driving them further toward Manila. It was a no-holds barred situation and one that would doom the Japanese troops.

In the midst of this three-sided attack, the retreating and besieged enemy was being harassed by a powerful movement of Philippine guerillas hell-bent on making the enemy pay dearly for their occupation of their country. Retreating enemy soldiers were shooting any civilian who got in their way.

As we lolled around the Bay, things started to get boring, and at the rate we were going, I figured I might as well find a safe spot, curl up and have a nap. But it was not to be. The commander shouted out, "Stand by, number one torpedo." The radar man had picked up a big ship lying close to shore. Our little boat veered to port and her engines slowed down. I had always believed that torpedo boats came upon their prey with engines wide open at top speed, coming close to the target, dropping the torpedo and veering off and away from the exploding ship. That was the picture one got from government propaganda. In actual life the opposite was true. We crept up on the vessel with our engines running extremely slow and muffled for sound. No one talked, but all eyes stared through the darkness, waiting for the first sight of the vessel. From the radar man came not just the sighting, but the distance to the object. Two thousand yards, then fifteen hundred yards, now less than a thousand yards from the vessel. I could see it now, at first just the silhouette. Now, closer, the smokestack in outline. We were using the brightness of a few stars and the occasional dim light from an exploding star shell to find our way. At that moment I had a great fear that the enemy aboard the ship knew we were there, had set their sights on us and were getting ready to blast the hell out of us and our little boat. I'm sure our commander sensed this also, but he did not show it.

Two men stood at the side of the forward torpedo. "Get ready now," said the commander. Our bow pointed directly at the enemy ship. "Fire. Let her go," he shouted. I heard the small whir of a motor start up. It was the alcohol-driven motor of the torpedo, slow at first, then increasing in speed as the whir got louder. I stayed clear of the torpedo, and not wanting to be in the way of the operation I moved to the far edge of the port side of the boat. In the semi-darkness there seemed to be some confusion at the torpedo rack. The torpedo should have been in the water by now and on its way to the enemy, but, no, the torpedo was still secured to the rack with its propeller going full speed. "Damn it!" shouted the commander. "Take cover; we have a hot one! Get me an axe!"

At this juncture I had some preconceived notions about torpedoes. I had believed that once the motor starts, it is preset for distance and when that distance is reached, the torpedo will explode. Thus, with the motor racing like crazy, it was racking up mileage and, I believed, could explode within seconds. Everybody had scattered, but the commander kept shouting for someone to bring him the fire axe. There were no two ways about it--I expected to be blown to kingdom come within a few seconds. I inched myself over the side of the boat and angled myself so that 95 percent of my body was just touching the water. Then another phobia arose. I'm scared to death of sharks, and the water in and around Manila was shark-infested. I had a notion that almost touching the water would invite a shark to take a nibble on me. The choice of being blown to hell or being a tidbit for some hungry shark stared me in the face. The commander, thankfully, got his hands on the fire axe and saved the day. I rose up to see him swing the axe at a carter pin holding the torpedo to its rack. He walloped it at least three times, but nothing gave. At this point he quickly retreated below deck into the cabin. Sparks started to fly from the motor, and strange new sounds were heard. Another 30 seconds passed, and the motor stopped. This brought the commander back on deck, this time with a flashlight in his hand. He turned it on the torpedo. "Damn it to hell, you pulled two pins and forgot the main one! No wonder it never dropped!" His remarks were sharp and directed to the two torpedo men, both youngsters in their late teens.

He easily withdrew the pin and the torpedo rolled off and into the water, quickly sinking to the bottom. Our little boat registered a slight tilt to port now that the weight was removed from the stateboard side.

"Ready port torpedo," he shouted, "and this time remove all of the goddamned pins!"

The youngsters said nothing but quickly went to the torpedo, removed two pins, and waited for the command to send it on its way. The commander maneuvered the boat to make sure he had the target in position before issuing the order to fire. "Get ready, on the mark," he said, and the two youngsters set the propeller in motion. "Drop it!" the commander shouted, and without incident the torpedo hit the water. For a moment, it seemed like it had disappeared and that this one, too, was lost, but up it came, leaving a fluorescent wake as it headed toward the ship.

I stood holding onto the railing, waiting for this big explosion to take place, but somehow the torpedo drifted off target . It missed the stern end of the vessel by a mere six feet and rode up the sandy beach. There was no explosion, but a lot of gun firing took place. We assumed it was the ship's crew who had taken their position on the beach rather than on the larger target of the ship. In the dark, they may have concluded that it was a landing party and were firing in the direction of the noise.

Our commander was beside himself with the bad luck he was having. We had no more torpedoes. He got on the walkie-talkie and made contact with the other torpedo boat. Within a few minutes the PT boat was within a few yards of us. Our commander related the incident and asked the other commander to finish the job. Within five minutes they launched their torpedo, and blasts of lightning hit the ship. It seemed that the torpedo hit one of the hatch sections just astern of the engine room sector. At least ten minutes went by after the explosion. We waited in silence. We could hear no cries of panic or any other noise coming from the ship. We had no idea what damage, if any, was done by the torpedo. Word was sent to the mother ship lying outside the Bay directing the operations of the PT boats, asking for permission to fire off a star shell to light up the area around the vessel to determine the scope of damage. A word of caution came back to keep a safe distance from the vessel after the shell was fired.

The shell brightened the area and for the first time we could see that it was a Japanese freighter, empty perhaps, with a sizable hole in the area of number four hatch. She had taken a slight list with water pouring through the hole as her hull rested on the sandy bottom, which didn't seem to be very deep.

By now the fire on Corregidor had slackened. Dawn was breaking. We had pulled away from the partially-sunk vessel and idled in the middle of the Bay with the other PT boat. We could hear the loudspeakers crackle as the commander on the mother ship announced that within the next half hour we should be prepared to make our way out of the Bay, since aircraft was due to fly over and drop bombs on designated targets. The ship, now wounded, was to be one of them.

At this moment the other PT boat revved its motors and, without anyone saying a word, raced off to starboard. We had no idea why this happened, until our radar man announced he had discovered a blip on his screen. In a few moments we noticed that, sneaking off under the cover of semi-darkness, there was a small, 35-foot motor barge similar to our LSTs. It had on board at least 20 Japanese marines, fully armed. Their mistake was being too late in abandoning Corregidor and heading for the mainland. Had they left in the middle of the night they might have gone undetected.

When the other boat reached them, there seemed to be no command given to haul or surrender. No time seemed to be wasted before a small cannon shot was fired from the PT boat. So powerful was the shot that it blew several of the marines out of the boat and into the Bay. Another quick shot, and the small vessel quickly sank. I could not see all the action after that, but I did hear a lot of machine gun fire, and then there was silence.

By the time we got on the scene, the other PT boat had pulled one of the marines out of the water and made him sit on deck near the bow. No one said a word or even attempted to give an explanation. We were left to make our own estimate of what could have happened. Our conclusion was that no one really cared much about taking prisoners. We had taken advantage of the surprise. The one lone prisoner on board was for identification purposes and whatever intelligence could be gotten out of him. He may have chosen to drown rather than become a prisoner, but apparently our men fished him out of the water before he had a chance to go under. And why didn't our radar man detect this moving vessel on his radar? He just wasn't looking closely enough. The long hours without sleep and charged-up nerves always operating on battle station alert played havoc with his eyesight. Had the other PT boat not been on the ball, the boatload of marines would have made it to the mainland.

We headed out of the Bay. Word had already been relayed that a Japanese landing craft and its passengers had been engaged in battle and one lone prisoner was coming in. We proceeded out of the Bay in the same fashion we had entered it, between several war ships with their crews lined up on deck, applauding as the PT boats slowly made their way to the mother command ship. The prisoner was handed over and we proceeded back up the coast to Subic Bay.

I had a chance to talk with the young commander as our boat slowly rode the warm swells up the coast. Why, I asked, did everyone seek protective cover when the torpedo was racing if they knew it would not explode? Why the panic?

"There was never any fear," he replied, "that the torpedo would explode. That happens only when it hits something solid. What I was afraid of was getting hit by parts of the motor."

"And how would that happen?" I asked.

"As the motor of the torpedo is set in motion, it begins to pick up speed, because the propellers have no resistance. Once it is in the water, it meets resistance and the motor remains safe. In our case the motor was set in motion on deck, as we expected to drop it into the water. Since we could not release it, the motor was now picking up speed, getting faster and faster. It reached what we call the critical speed and started to disintegrate. Once that happens, pieces of the motor start to fly here, there, and everywhere, and if a piece should hit you, it would be equal to being hit by a bullet. That's why seeking cover till the motor clunked out was the best thing to do. We lost a torpedo, but maybe saved some lives. So? Buy more war bonds."

Chapter XIII: The Bomb

Aboard ship there were many aspects a seamen enjoyed that his shoreside fellow worker did not. Aboard ship you were close to your work. You were close to the dining room and your meals were waiting for you at the proper hour. The spare time was yours to enjoy the best way you could, doing your laundry, sewing up clothing, writing, sunbathing or playing games with your shipmates. You were always seconds away from your bunk. Of course, one of the greatest advantages of the life of a shoreside worker was the loving companionship of loved ones who were always close by. The seaman traded home comforts for freedom in the form of a world tour, gratis. There were new ports, new sights, new languages and an education you couldn't get in a classroom.

The great excitement of shipboard life was the men you worked and sailed with. They made the trip a success or a nightmare. The more you sailed with the same crew, the more you learned about each other, your strengths and weaknesses. You learned who among them would hang tough in a crisis and who would fold.

My couple of weeks ashore between ships were coming to an end. I would have to ship in the next few days. I walked into the Marine Firemen's Union hall simply because I was near it and I wanted to check up on a few of my friends. I ran into an old buddy and dear friend, Sid Churgel. I had not seen Sid for nearly a year. While I was sailing as an engineer, Sid was sailing as electrician.

On the blackboard in the dispatching hall were the names of 25 ships that required crews. We scanned the list of ships and the personnel required. Sid turned to me with a smile, "Why don't you come along with me this time?" he asked. "You can go as chief electrician and I'll go as your assistant, or I'll go as chief and you as assistant. Whatever you like is okay with me."

The thought that within a few days I would be boarding a ship as an engineer and perhaps not know anyone on board made Sid's proposal a happy thought. Besides, Sid was a real first-class character. He was friendly, warm, generous, trustworthy, and a nice guy to be around.

"Why not?" I said. "You pick the ship."

We boarded the SS Laredo Victory, Sid as chief electrician and I as his assistant. Many sailors preferred the Victory ship over the Liberty ship. The main reason was that the Victory ship was faster that the 13-knot reciprocating engine-driven Liberty. The Liberty, under the best of conditions, had 2,500 horses pulling it along, while the new Victory ship was powered by a steam-driven, noisy turbine engine with 5,000 horses, which lent power to drive the Victory to 15 to 17 knots. In wartime that extra spurt of speed could be the difference between outrunning an enemy submarine or being its victim. The Victory had better sleeping quarters, a bigger galley, and bigger iceboxes that stored more food. Its cargo-working machinery was electric-run, and compared to the steam-driven winches of the Liberty ship, it was a safer and cleaner working environment. The electrician's sleeping quarters were on the main deck port side forward. It had two bunks, two portholes, lockers and a small settee and wash basin. It was much better than what we would have enjoyed on a Liberty.

We bid farewell to San Francisco and headed toward the Golden Gate and out to sea. We were loaded down with some special items in our cargo. Later we would learn that these items were a special new magnetic bomb and mine, extremely dangerous to ship. It was so dangerous, in fact, that it had to be stored on the upper deck in number three hatch. It had to have special shoring to make sure it did not shift so much as an inch or move around the cargo hold, otherwise it would blow the ship to kingdom come. This, of course, almost made a wreck out of the captain, who managed with every little storm to send the mates down into the hold to check and recheck those items.

There was much work that had to be done on this ship to bring it up to par. The last gang of electricians had left much of the machinery in need of some repair. Sid carefully mapped out the daily routine. One day we might find ourselves working in the engine room, the following day on the boat deck. Sid was the kind of mechanic who demonstrated a great interest in his work. He took few shortcuts, and every job finished could be expected to hold up under stress and pressure. We all realized that we were operating in the enemy's backyard. No cause for a breakdown could be permitted in the event our ship was called upon to outrun or outrace an enemy submarine. The breakdown of one lone water pump or a faulty generator could cost us our lives. Sid assured the ship's engineers, crew, and captain that it wouldn't happen on any ship Sid sailed on, and I was there to back him up.

I was learning something new every day from working with this guy. When he was unsure of something he got out the ship's plans to go over them. The captain and officers developed a healthy respect for Sid and that in turn made it a good ship.

I had had the good fortune of meeting Sid at a cooperative run by a number of young progressive people. It was a place frequented by young people hell-bent on doing everything possible to win the war. One of its women members worked as a machinist in a shipyard. Another worked in a warehouse. The doors were always open, and in the evenings debates and discussions on the war and its aftermath were the topics most discussed. It was a nice place to meet people with the same views and aims, and the atmosphere was always friendly and helpful.

For the next ten days the Laredo Victory zigzagged alone across the Pacific Ocean. When our workday was over, we found time to play cribbage or a new game Sid taught me called acey-deucy, a seagoing version of backgammon. There were lots of happy moments on that voyage. In addition to making repairs and enjoying our crib games, we devoted time to