This is one of the best things I have read about a man’s personal experiences during the Great Depression years. It was particularly meaningful at the time I was looking at the end of my working career, or at least its temporary interruption. This is a different world yet not so long ago.
Some notes I made:
P. 31 – “I can stand on a dime and tell you whether it is heads or tails. That’s how thin the soles of my shoes are.”
P 33 – Talking about the “Swill” they are fed in the missions: “It is lousy with this taste of saltpetre. They douse it with this stuff to help you be a good christian. That is thoughtful of them.”
P 43 – Chapter 4 is devoted to an incident where he encounters a transvestite and sleeps with the fellow/girl in order to get a decent meal and smoke. The language is interesting. He either went out of his way to use every phrase and word commonly associated with these folks of it just came naturally…hard to tell. In the course of the telling he used words that I was a bit surprised to find in use in the 1930’s: “queer”, “fairy”,”fruit” and “Pansy”. As he says at the end of the chapter: “You can always count on a stiff having to pay for what he gets.”
P 73-75 – An encounter with a woman who has a 2-week old child with her. He buys her a meal for a quarter and she abandons the child on the nearby bus bench in the rain. They watch as a passerby notices the child and gets a cop who takes the chile…who knows where. There is no remorse of judgement by either of them….one does what is necessary.
P 82 – There are no jobs…something that is repeated over and over thru the book. This man tries….
P 84 – An encounter with a rookie prostitute that turns out reasonably well for both of them…at least as long as the rent is paid…..She says “When I stepped out of the doorway to you, I wanted something to eat. Nothing was wrong that would give me something to eat.”
P 126 – There is a story of riding the rails, something that I have read up on in other places trying to understand the language. Jumping onto a moving train was an art form of sorts. It had to be practiced and performed precisely or one fell. This chapter tells of a fellow who tried and failed to hop a freight that everyone else knew was already moving too fast. Fe failed and went under the wheels of the train, losing both legs. He died on the spot. Another died in the boxcar they eventually were able to get onto. Graphic and straight up…not for the weak to read.
P 134 – A quote from the industrialist Samuel Gompers…who by the way was honored with a U.S. Postage Stamp in his honor…”I regard my employees as I do a machine, to be used to my advantage, and when they are old and of no further use I cast them into the street.”
Much talk in the book related to politics…leaning to the communist side of things. But as to a revolution, not going to happen – you can stop any revolt with a warm bed and a full meal.
A gun was referred to as a “gat”…from Gatling gun…