فصل 06

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فصل 06

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Chapter six

The Cost of Living

I worked in the markets for one day, but I didn’t go back. I had a bed, and Major bought food, and I did the cooking and washed the dishes. Then I got involved in a trip to the mountains and didn’t see Dean and Carlo for five days. Babe Rawlins borrowed a car. We bought suits and drove to Central City, Ray Rawlins driving, Tim Gray sitting in the back, and Babe up front. Central City was an old town that was once called the Richest Square Mile in the World, because of the silver that could be found in the hills.

Babe Rawlins knew of an old house on the edge of the town where we could sleep for the weekend. All we had to do was clean it - which took all afternoon and part of the night, but we had plenty of beer so everything was OK.

We called out to girls who went by in the street. “Come and help us. Everybody’s invited to our party tonight.” They joined us, and soon the sun went down.

It was a wonderful night. Tim, Rawlins, and I went to a bar and had a few extra-big beers. There was a piano player in the bar, and beyond the back door was a view of the mountain in the moonlight. Later, we went back to our house and the girls were getting everything ready for the party. Soon great crowds of girls came in, and then we danced and sang and drank more beer. The place filled up. People brought bottles. The night got more and more exciting. “I wish Dean and Carlo were here,” I thought.

There were beds in the other rooms, and I was sitting on one talking to a girl. Suddenly, there was a great crowd of teenage boys rushing in. They were drunk, and they spoiled our party. After five minutes, every girl left with one or the other of them. Ray, Tim, and I decided to go back to the bars. Major was gone, Babe and Betty were gone.

There was some kind of tourist from Argentina in one place, and he got annoyed when Ray gave him a push to make room at the bar. Ray gave me his glass and knocked him down. There were screams, and Tim and I pulled Ray out. We went to other bars, and much later we rolled back to the house and went to sleep.

In the morning I woke up and turned over. A big cloud of dust rose from the bed. I tried to open the window, but it wouldn’t open. Tim Gray was in the bed too, and we started coughing. Our breakfast was stale beer. Babe came from her hotel and we got our things together, ready to leave. Suddenly, everything seemed to be going wrong. As we were going out to the car, Babe slipped and fell flat on her face. We helped her up and got in the car. Major and Betty joined us, and it was a sad ride back to Denver.

My time there was coming to an end, but I had no money. I sent my aunt an airmail letter asking her for fifty dollars. “It will be the last money I ask you for,” I wrote. “You will get it back as soon as I get work on that ship.” The money arrived two days later, and I bought a bus ticket for San Francisco, spending half the fifty. In a last phone call, Dean said he and Carlo might join me on the West Coast.

I was two weeks late meeting Remi Boncoeur in San Francisco. There was a note pinned on the door of his house: Sal Paradise! If nobody is home, climb in through the window. Signed Remi Boncoeur.

Remi was asleep, but he woke up and saw me come in through the window. “Where have you been, Paradise?” he said. “You’re two weeks late!” He slapped me on the back, hit Lee Ann, his girl, on the chest, laughed and cried and screamed, “Oh, Paradise! The one and only Paradise! Did you see, Lee Ann? He came in through the window!”

I soon discovered that Lee Ann had a cruel tongue and said bad things to Remi every day. They spent all week saving pennies and went out on Saturdays to spend fifty dollars in three hours. Remi slept with Lee Ann in the bed across the room, and I slept on a couch by the window.

“You must not touch Lee Ann,” Remi told me. “I don’t want to find you two kissing and making love when you think I’m not looking.” I looked at Lee Ann. She was a pretty, honey-colored girl, but there was hate in her eyes for both of us.

Remi was working as a guard at the barracks, and he got me a similar job. The barracks were the temporary home of building workers who were going overseas. They stayed there, waiting for their ship. Most of them were on their way to Okinawa, Japan. And most of them were running away from something - usually the law.

One night I was the only guard in the barracks for six hours. Everybody seemed to be drunk that night. It was because their ship was leaving in the morning. I tried to get them quiet, but I finally gave in and had a drink with them. Soon I was as drunk as anybody else.

I earned fifty-five dollars a week and sent my aunt forty. Some nights Remi and I were working together and Remi tried all the doors, hoping to find one unlocked.

“Why do you have to steal all the time?” I asked him.

“The world owes me a few things, that’s all,” he said.

When we got to the barracks kitchen, we looked around to check that nobody was there. Remi opened a window and climbed through, and I followed him. We looked in the refrigerators to see what we could take home in our pockets. One night I waited a long time as he filled a box with cans and other food. Then we couldn’t get it through the window and Remi had to put it all back. Later that night, he found a key to the kitchen and went back and filled the box again.

“Paradise,” Remi said, “I have told you several times what the President said: “We must cut the cost of living.”

There was an old rusty ship near the shore, and Remi wanted to row out to it. So one afternoon Lee Ann packed a lunch and we hired a boat and went out. I watched Lee Ann take all her clothes off and lie down in the sun, then Remi and I went down to the engine rooms, and began looking for anything valuable, but there was nothing there.

“I’d love to sleep in this old ship one night when the fog comes in,” I said.

Remi was amazed. “Sal, don’t you realize there may be the ghosts of old sea captains on this thing? But I’ll pay you five dollars if you’re brave enough to do it.”

“OK!” I said. Remi ran to tell Lee Ann. I went too, but I tried not to look at her.

I wrote long letters to Dean and Carlo, who were now staying with Old Bull Lee in Texas. And everything began to go wrong with Remi and Lee Ann and me. Remi flew down to Hollywood with something I had written, but he couldn’t get anybody interested in it and he flew back. Then he saved all his money, about a hundred dollars, and took Lee Ann and me to the races at Golden Gate, near Richmond. He put twenty dollar bets on to win, but before the seventh race he was broke. We had to hitch-hike back to San Francisco.

We had no money, and that night it started raining. Lee Ann was angry with both of us. She was sure that we were hiding money from her. She threatened to leave Remi.

“Where will you go?” asked Remi.

“To Jimmy,” she said.

“Jimmy!” said Remi. “A clerk at the races! Did you hear that, Sal?”

“Get out!” she told Remi. “Pack your things and get out.”

Remi started packing, and I imagined myself all alone in this rainy house with that angry young woman. Then Remi pushed Lee Ann and she began screaming. She put on her raincoat and went out to find a cop. She didn’t find one and came back all wet, while I hid in my corner with my head between my knees. “What am I doing three thousand miles from home?” I thought. “Why did I come here?”

“And another thing, you dirty man,” shouted Lee Ann. “Tonight was the last night I cook for you so that you can fill your stomach and get fat and rude in front of my eyes.”

“I’m very disappointed in both of you,” said Remi. “I flew to Hollywood, I got Sal a job, I bought you beautiful dresses, Lee Ann. Now I ask only one thing. My father is coming to San Francisco next Saturday night. Will you come with me and pretend that you, Lee Ann, are my girl, and that you, Sal, are my friend? I’ve arranged to borrow a hundred dollars for Saturday night. I want my father to have a good time, and go away without any reason to worry about me.”

This surprised me. Remi’s father was a doctor. “A hundred dollars! He’s got more money than you will ever have!” I said to Remi. “You’ll be in debt, man!”

“That’s all right,” he said quietly. “He’s coming with his young wife. We must be very pleasant and polite.”

Lee Ann was impressed, and looked forward to Saturday.

I had finished my job at the barracks and this was going to be my last Saturday night. Remi and Lee Ann went to meet his father at the hotel room first. I got drunk in the bar downstairs, then went up to join them all very late. I said something loud in bad French to Dr. Boncoeur, and Remi got angry and embarrassed.

We all went to an expensive restaurant where poor Remi spent at least fifty dollars for the five of us. And now the worst thing happened. My old friend Roland Major was sitting in the restaurant bar! He had just arrived from Denver and had a job on a San Francisco newspaper. He was drunk. He came over, slapped me on the back, and threw himself into the seat next to Dr. Boncoeur.

Remi had an embarrassed red face. “Please introduce your friend, Sal,” he said.

“Roland Major of the San Francisco Argus,” I said, trying not to laugh. Lee Ann was very angry with me.

Major began chatting in Dr. Boncoeur’s ear. “How do you like teaching high-school French?” he shouted.

“Excuse me, but I don’t teach high-school French,” said Boncoeur.

Major knew that he was being rude, but didn’t care. I got drunk and began to talk nonsense to the doctor’s young wife. I drank a lot, and had to go to the men’s room every two minutes. “Everything is going wrong,” I thought. “Here I am at the end of America - no more land - and nowhere to go except back. But I’ll go to Hollywood, and back through Texas and see my old friends.”

In the morning, while Remi and Lee Ann were asleep, I decided to leave. I quietly climbed out of the window, and left with my bag.

And I never did spend the night at that old ghost ship.

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