فصل 07

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فصل 07

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Chapter seven

Love in LA

Two rides took me to the south side of Bakersfield, and then my adventure began. I stood for two hours on the side of the road, as cars rushed by toward Los Angeles. None of them stopped, and at midnight I began walking back into the town. I was going to have to spend two dollars or more for a bus ticket to LA, so I went to the bus station.

I was waiting for the LA bus when I suddenly saw the prettiest little Mexican girl. She was in one of the buses that came in for a rest stop. Her hair was long and black, and her eyes were great big blue things. I wished that I was on her bus, and felt a pain like a knife in my heart, the way I did every time I saw a girl that I loved going in the opposite direction in this too-big world.

Some time later, I picked up my bag and got on the LA bus. And who was sitting there, alone? It was the Mexican girl! I sat opposite her and began planning immediately. I was so lonely, so sad, so tired, so broken, that I found the courage to talk to her. “Miss, would you like to use my raincoat for a pillow?”

She looked up with a smile. “No, thank you,” she said.

I sat back, shaking, and lit a cigarette. I waited till she looked at me, with a sad little look of love, and I got up and went over to her. “May I sit with you, miss?” I said.

“If you want to,” she said.

And I did. “Where are you going?”

“LA,” she said, and I loved the way she said it. I love the way everybody says “LA” on the Coast; but then, it’s their one and only golden town.

“That’s where I’m going too,” I said.

We sat and told each other our stories. Her story was this: she had a husband and a child. Her husband beat her, so she left him, and was going to LA to live with her sister for a while. She had left her little son with her family.

We talked and talked, and I wanted to put my arms around her. She said she loved to talk with me, and without saying anything about it, we began to hold hands. And in the same way it was silently and beautifully decided that when I got to my hotel room in LA, she would be beside me. I ached all over for her, and I rested my head in her beautiful hair.

“I love love,” she said, closing her eyes, and I promised her beautiful love.

The bus arrived in Hollywood, in the gray, dirty dawn, and she slept in my arms. We got off at Main Street, and here my mind went crazy. I don’t know why. I began to imagine that Terry - that was her name - was a girl who tricked men and took them to a hotel, where one of her friends waited with a gun. But I never told her this.

The first hotel we saw had a vacant room, and soon I was locking the door behind me and she was sitting on the bed taking off her red shoes. I kissed her gently, then went out and got some whisky. Terry was in the bathroom when I got back. I poured whisky into one big water glass, and we started to drink.

“I know a girl called Dorie,” I told her. “She’s six foot tall and has red hair. If you come to New York, she will show you where to find work.”

“Who is this Dorie?” she said, suspecting something bad. “Why do you tell me about her?” She began to get drunk in the bathroom.

“It doesn’t matter. Come on to bed,” I said.

“Six foot, and with red hair?” she screamed. “And I thought you were a nice college boy! But you’re a man who employs prostitutes!”

“No! Listen, Terry!” I cried. “It’s not true! Please, listen to me and understand, I’m not like that!” And then I got angry. “Why am I begging a stupid little Mexican girl to believe me?” I shouted. And I picked up her red shoes and threw them at the bathroom door. “Get out!” Then I took off my clothes and went to bed.

Terry came out of the bathroom with tears in her eyes, saying “Sorry! I’m sorry!” Her simple and strange little mind had decided that the kind of man who employs prostitutes does not throw shoes at doors. Sweetly and silently she took off her clothes and slid her little body into bed next to mine. I made love to her, and then we fell asleep and slept until late afternoon.

We were together for the next fifteen days. We decided to hitch-hike to New York together; and she was going to be my girl. Terry wanted to start at once with the twenty dollars I had left. I didn’t like it. Like a fool, I considered the problem for two days, and my twenty was soon ten. But we were very happy in our little hotel room.

LA is the loneliest city in America; New York gets ice cold in the winter, but it’s a friendlier city. South Main Street, LA, where Terry and I walked sometimes, was full of lights and wildness. Cops stopped and searched people on almost every corner. You could smell beer and marijuana in the air. All the cops in LA were handsome, and were hoping to get into Hollywood movies. Everyone came to get into Hollywood movies, even me. Terry and I tried to get work, but failed. We still had ten dollars.

“I’m going to get my clothes from my sister and we’ll hitchhike to New York,” said Terry. “Come on, let’s do it.” So we hurried to her sister’s house, somewhere out beyond Alameda Avenue. I waited in a dark street behind some Mexican kitchens because Terry didn’t want her sister to see me. I could hear Terry and her sister arguing in the soft, warm night. I was ready for anything.

Terry came out and took me to an apartment house in Central Avenue. And what a wild place that is. We went up dirty stairs and came to the room of Terry’s friend, Margarina, who owed Terry a skirt and a pair of shoes. Terry got her clothes, then we went out on to the street and a black guy whispered “marijuana” into my ear. “One dollar,” and I said OK, bring it.

So we went back to the hotel room and smoked the little brown cigarette - but nothing happened. It wasn’t marijuana at all! I wished that I was wiser with my money.

Terry and I decided to hitch-hike to New York with the rest of our money. She got five dollars from her sister that night. Now we had about thirteen dollars. We got a ride in a red car to Arcadia, California, then walked several miles down the road and stood under a road lamp. Suddenly, cars full of young kids went by. They laughed and shouted at us, and I hated every one of them. “Who do they think they are, shouting at somebody on the road?” I thought. “Just because their parents can afford roast beef on Sundays.” And we didn’t get a ride.

That night, in a little four-dollar hotel room, we held each other tight and made a plan. Next morning we were going to get a bus to Bakersfield and get a job picking grapes. We could live in a tent. After a few weeks of that, we could go to New York the easy way, by bus.

But there were no jobs in Bakersfield. We ate a Chinese dinner, then went across the railroad lines to the Mexican part of town where Terry talked with the Mexicans, asking for jobs. It was night now, and the little Mexican street was bright with the lights of movie theaters, cafes, and bars. Terry talked to everybody, then we bought a bottle of whisky and went and sat near the railroad buildings. We sat and drank till midnight, then got up and walked to the highway.

Terry had a new idea. “We can hitch-hike to my home town, Sabinal, and live in my brother’s garage,” she said.

We got a ride in a truck and arrived in Sabinal just before dawn. I took her to an old hotel by the railroad and we went to bed comfortably.

In the bright, sunny morning Terry got up early and went to find her brother. I slept till noon. Terry arrived with her brother, his friend, and her child. Her brother’s name was Rickey. He was a wild Mexican guy who liked whisky, and he had a car. His friend, Ponzo, was a big fat Mexican who spoke English without much accent. I could see that he liked Terry. Her little boy was Johnny, seven years old, with dark eyes, and a sweet kid.

“Today we drink, tomorrow we work!” Rickey said. And off we went to a bar. It was a noisy place, and soon we were drinking and shouting with the music while little Johnny played with other kids. The sun began to get red, and we came out and got into the car again. Off we went to a highway bar, and later I spent a dollar on a meal for Terry and me in a Mexican restaurant. Now I had four dollars.

Rickey was drunk and poor little Johnny was asleep on my arm as we drove back toward Sabinal. That night, Terry and Johnny and I slept in a place with rooms for rent and tents out at the back. We had a room. Rickey drove on to sleep at his father’s house, and Ponzo went to find his truck to sleep in.

In the morning I got up and went for a short walk. We were five miles outside of Sabinal, in cotton and grape-picking country. I asked the woman who owned the place, “Are any of the tents vacant?” and she said there was one. It was the cheapest - a dollar a day. I gave her a dollar and we moved into it.

Later I went to look for some cotton-picking work, and got a job with one of the farmers. He gave me a big sack and told me to start at dawn the next day. On the way back, some grapes fell off the back of a truck, and I picked them up and took them back for Terry and Johnny.

“Johnny and I will help you pick cotton,” Terry told me. “I’ll show you how to do it. It’s hard work.”

She was right. Picking cotton was hard work, and after an hour the next day my fingers began to bleed and my back began to ache. But it was beautiful country. Across the fields were the tents, and beyond them the brown cotton fields; and beyond them the snow-topped Sierra Mountains in the blue morning air.

Johnny and Terry arrived at noon to help me. And little Johnny was faster than I was! And, of course, Terry was twice as fast. We worked together all afternoon, and when the sun got red we went back with my sack. The farmer weighed it - and gave me one-and-a-half dollars. Then I borrowed a bicycle from one of the other men and rode down to a highway store and bought bread, butter, coffee, and cake. On the way back, traffic going to LA and San Francisco almost knocked me off my bicycle, and I swore and swore. I looked up into the dark sky and prayed to God for a better life and a better chance to do something for the little people I loved. But nobody was listening.

Every day I earned less than two dollars. It was just enough to buy food in the evening. Time went by, and I forgot about Dean and Carlo and the road. Johnny and I played all the time, and Terry mended clothes. It was October now, and the nights were colder. Finally, we did not have enough money to pay the rent for the tent.

“We have to leave here,” I said. “Go back to your family, Terry. You can’t live in tents with a baby like Johnny, the poor little thing is cold. And I have to get to New York.”

“I want to go with you, Sal,” she said.

“But how?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “But I’ll miss you. I love you.”

“But I have to leave,” I said.

“Yes, yes. We lay down one more time, then you leave,” she said.

So we made love one more time.

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