I'm certain my journey to the west has been more difficult than some and far less difficult than many others. As I grew older my life became more complex, more plagued by sometimes bad decisions, more consumed by problems, and less satisfying both to me and to those who knew me. As it progresses it also becomes more embarrassing to write about. I am learning just how impossible it is to write a thorough and completely truthful autobiography.
Paddy, Paddy…you homely little son-of-a-bitch, I love you.” It was 2:30 p.m., “Chicki” (her professional name) had just awakened and greeted Paddy. She did not seem surprised by my presence in their hotel room. I’m sure Paddy had told her about me. It was a large room, with its own bathroom, on the second floor of a building that housed an old, well-established corner cigar store, with a long restaurant counter at one end. Like most such stores of that time it sold all kinds of magazines and newspapers as well as cigars and tobacco. The upper two stories were hotel rooms similar to the one we were in at the moment, extra large rooms obviously meant for the “sporting crowd,” people who did not really live very domestically and who never cooked, but merely used them as temporary abodes. People, I surmised, much like Paddy and Chicki. Paddy had registered under an obviously French name. When the landlord said “French, huh?” Paddy responded “Yeah, I French a little.” He thought that was hilarious.
I thought Chicki was very pretty, with long dark hair, large brown eyes, lovely soft olive skin, and a trim figure. She looked like she might be a Latin, although her real name was not at all indicative of that. She also appeared to be intelligent. I wondered why she had become a prostitute. I wondered even more what she saw in Paddy. I don’t know what transpired between the two of them, I never saw any conspicuous displays of affection other than a kind of gentle banter. I assume Paddy had convinced her that he truly cared for her and wanted to stay with her and look after her. Presumably after they saved enough money she would give up whoring and they would do something else. Paddy’s immediate goal seemed to be simply getting enough money to buy a “baby Cadillac.” I think this was not an uncommon occurrence in those days, a man would make some money with a woman to get a grubstake to do something better, rather like young men were doing selling drugs in the 1960’s. And although Paddy’s appearance was hardly that of a matinee idol, he did have a kind of charm. Chicki’s weakness seemed to be shoes, she must have had easily fifty pairs, all expensive.
I never knew anything about Paddy’s family. He could well have been an orphan. He had worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for a time, somewhere out in the woods, building roads and I think also a Forest Service Camp. I learned this one day when I asked him about his strange tattoos. On his left arm, beginning at about the wrist, was a series of the most primitive tattoos I had ever seen. They were difficult to identify but the first one was apparently supposed to be a baby. He explained their origin. None of the young men that worked in his CCC camp owned much of anything. But one of them had a rather nice leather jacket. Paddy had a two day leave so he borrowed his friend’s jacket. He returned without it, explaining to his friend that he had traded it for a tattooing set. As he didn’t know how to tattoo, he practiced on himself. He soon gave it up. His friend was not pleased, but Paddy, who was as wiry and strong as a feral cat, and also had the morals of one, didn’t worry about such things.
Anyway, I saw Paddy frequently during the summer, and I came to know Chicki a little better. Paddy sometimes played in an all-night poker game. When he knew he was going to do that he asked me to meet Chicki when she got off work at 4:00 a.m., which I did a few times. She was always ravenous so we immediately went to a nearby all-night restaurant where she ate heartily. I have no idea what the regulars there thought about a skinny 17 year old kid with glasses sitting there with a whore at that early hour. From the looks of them I think they were probably only interested in their own immediate problems. Chicki would go to bed and I would try to sleep a bit in a nearby bowling alley. Later in the morning Paddy and I would meet for breakfast in a restaurant at the Davenport Hotel. Paddy always ordered “Poached Eggs Vienna Style,” which looked to me like a combination of milk toast and poached eggs. I thought it looked disgusting. Paddy thought it made him virile.
In spite of my friendship with Paddy I somehow managed to finish my course at Lewis and Clark High School. Summer was almost over. One day I was standing on a street corner waiting for the light to change to cross over to the bowling alley. I was wearing at that time a kind of brown suede jacket that was popular and had a cigarette in my mouth. An expensive car stopped for the light and an elegant well-dressed woman looked at me with such utter disgust I never forgot it. She was quite right, I looked like a punk. My break with Paddy came shortly after that. We were walking back from breakfast when Paddy stopped me and said, “Do you see that woman crossing the street with that brown bag?” I said I did. He then explained that she crossed the street there every morning with the proceeds from some business. He proposed we steal a car, he would drive it, while I would grab the bag of money. I said, “I don’t think so, Paddy.” That was the last time I saw him. I was told by Babe years later that Paddy was selling kitchenware door to door in Louisiana. I don’t know if that was true. I also heard that Chicki left him when she found out he was trying to get another whore working for him. His explanation that he was only doing it for them, apparently fell on deaf ears. Chicki was no fool.
The summer came to an end. I knew I did not want to be a gambler. My claustrophobia was so intense I knew I could never commit a crime and risk going to jail. It was time for the University. I still did not really want to attend. My father’s sense of inferiority over his lack of education motivated him to insist. I had no excuse for not going but I was not ready for it. More potential disaster awaited.