Jobless, Jimmy Herf came out of the Pulitzer Building. He stood beside a pile of pink newspapers on the curb, taking deep breaths, looking up the glistening shaft of the Woolworth. It was a sunny day, the sky was a robin’s egg blue. He turned north and began to walk uptown. As he got away from it the Woolworth pulled out like a telescope. He walked north through the city of gilt letter signs. [...]
Everything made him bubble with repressed giggles. It was eleven o’clock. He hadn’t been to bed. Life was upside down, he was a fly walking on the ceiling of a topsyturvy city. He’d thrown up his job, he had nothing to do today, tomorrow, next day, day after. Whatever goes up comes down, but not for weeks, months. Spring rich in gluten.
He went into a lunchroom, ordered bacon and eggs, toast and coffee, sat eating them happily, tasting thoroughly every mouthful. His thoughts ran wild like a pasture full of yearling colts crazy with sundown. At the next table a voice was expounding monotonously:
“Jilted… and I tell you we had to do some cleaning. They were all members of your church you know. We knew the whole story. He was advised to put her away. He said, ‘No I’m going to see it through.’ ”
Herf got to his feet. He must be walking again. He went out with a taste of bacon inhis teeth.
Express service meets the demands of spring. O God to meet the demands of spring. No tins, no sir, but there’s rich quality in every mellow pipeful… socony. One taste tells more than a million words, than a million words. “All right hand over that million… Keep him covered Ben.” The Yonkers gang left him for dead on a bench in the park. They stuck him up, but all they got was a million words… “But Jimps I’m so tired of booktalk and the proletariat, can’t you understand?”
Chockful of golden richness, spring.
Dick Snow’s mother owned a shoebox factory. She failed and he came out of school and took to standing on streetcorners. The guy in the softdrink stand put him wise. He’s made two payments on pearl earings for a blackhaired Jewish girl with a shape like a mandolin. They waited for the bankmessenger in the L station. He pitched over the turnstile and hung there. They went off with the satchel in a Ford sedan. [...]
With every deep breath Herf breathed in rumble and grind and painted phrases until he began to swell, felt himself stumbling big and vague, staggering like a pillar of smoke above the April streets, looking into the windows of machineshops, buttonfactories, tenementhouses, felt the grim of bedlinen and the smooth whir of lathes, wrote cusswords on typewriters between the stenographer’s fingers, mixed up the pricetags in departmentstores. Inside he fizzled like sodawater into sweet April syrups, strawberry, sarsaparilla, chocolate, cherry, vanilla dripping foam through the mild gasolineblue air. [...]
He sat in Washington Square, pink with noon, looking up Fifth Avenue through the arch. The fever had seeped out of him. He felt cool and tired. Another spring, God how many springs ago, walking from the cemetery up the blue macadam road where fieldsparrows sand and the sign said: YONKERS. In Yonkers I buried my boyhood, in Marseilles with the wind in my face I dumped my calf years into the harbor. Where in New York shall I bury my twenties? Maybe they were deported and went out to sea on the Ellis Island ferry singing the International. The growl of the International over the water, fading sighing into the mist.
Manhattan Transfer, Chapter IV, by John Dos Passos, 1925.
Courtesy of the estate of John Dos Passos