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October 26, 1940 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1940-10-26

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By Jay McCormick

F IVE MEN sat at a round table play-
ing poker. It was payday, and in
the firemen's room on the star-
board side of the after cabin they
had started the game. Around the table
were a fireman, an oiler, and a second
mate, a porter from the galley, and
another oiler. The fireman had red hair.
He was like all the red-heads. He was
tall and thin, with a long nose in two
joints and a big adam's apple that moved
on his thin neck. His hair was curly and
his forehead had pushed back at the
sides so there wasn't too much hair in
front. He had freckles, not like a kid's,
but a man's freckles, and he could laugh
so that people liked him. His talk was a
half-drawl and through the nose a little.
Everybodg called him "Red".
He hadn't liked the navy. It wasn't
that he couldn't take orders, or that
stokers there worked any harder than
on the lake boats, but he never had to
be told to work. If the Chief wanted
something done on this boat he came
around and looked the other way, not
timid, but careless, and said, "Say, Tom,
I want to get those so and sos cleaned
out sometime." Tom was his name, or
Red. and he didn't like to be called Carn-
He was a very honest man, although
he sometimes lied.
John the Oiler was a wop some of the
boys liked and some didn't. If they had
all liked him he would have been a nice
squat, smiling wop, but being misunder-
stood by a few guys brought out the dago
in him. He was most wop, for his father
had run a blind pig and sang and was
happy with the many kids, but John's
mother was part dago, with a black
moustache over her sharp lips. When he
felt equal and was talking along with
everybody John had a round face with a
smile, but when somebody pulled a joke
on him you couldn't tell, he might get
mad, and his face would get longer, and
his eyes get deep and black, and his
mouth close up tight. It depended on
whether the joke made him feel short
or just one of the boys.
There are a lot of men like Ragsdale.
Sometimes a kid doesn't grow up inside,
he shaves and works but just thinks
about the same. Rag would send away
for everything. He always had punch
boards that you picked the name of your
best girl on, if she was named Violet
or Henrietta or Yvonne, and you won an
electric razor and if he sold all the
chances and sent in the money so did
Rag. Fourteen years he had been on the
lakes, and he still bought pictures of the
boat taken from the High Bridge in
Cleveland. The story about Rag was
that when he was wheeling and wanted
to get his mate's papers he tacked a
chart of the lakes on the bottom of the
bunk over his and would lay memorizing
courses until he fell asleep. Somehow
he got his papers one winter, and after
some years during which captains died
or retired and men above him quit to
go with other fleets, Rag was a second
He couldn't quite realize he was
a mate though, and on sunny days in
the summer he would get out the can
of brass polish and clean up the binnacle
and the door knobs of the pilot house.
He did things himself that he should
have told deck hands to do, and often
he did them wrong. He was less than no
good tying up at a dock, for he got ex-
cited and ran down the deck waving his
arms over his head while the watchman
at the for'ard deck engine quietly took
over. The captain would get sore as hell
at Rag, but he never bawled him out bad.
He would just stand on the bridge swear-
ing softly, looking sort of wonderingly
down at where Rag would be struggling
with the ladder while a couple of deck-
hands stood aside, then the captain
would grin and walk back to the pilot

house making remarks to the wheels-
The one who didn't know Rag was
funny was his wife in Alpena. She was
a town girl, small and unnoticeable, and
Rag seemed pretty big to her, and very
sweet even after the kid was born. She
drove down to the stone dock every time
the boat got in, and stood alone, look-
ing quietly proud as Rag ran around
up on the deck getting the boat in. If
he was on watch she sat on the bench
just for'ard of the bunker and watched
aim be on watch.
Charley was sort of like him, only lots
younger. Charley was the third mate's
nephew from Wisconsin, which rated
him a job as a porter in the galley. a
rotten job. There are two rotten jobs
on such a boat. The other one is the
other porter in the galley.
Britmore lived downtown in Detroit,
and when he got the boat organized ie
was going to go back downtown where
lie belonged. The men seemed stupid
and weak to him, and a tough bunch
to sign up. Most of them were old-tim-
ers, and suspicious of the union. Brit
shouldn't have cared, ie should have
let them go to hell. But the thing they
didn't know, the thing even the ones
in the union office didn't know was that
Brit believed in humanity , and want-
ed to die for it and serve it the way his
father had in the old I.W.W. before the
War. Under a poker face and a sarcastic
voice Brit was a young guy, hopeful, see-
ing ideals smashed hundreds of ways
and remaining an idealist. But he never
showed his sincerity, that would have
queered him. He had a job to do, and
showing what went on inside of him
wasn't part of it.
Once a heavy steel fire bar had drop-
ped on Red's right hand, and now there
was no little finger, only a short stump.
He held his cards in his left hand, and
after tapping them on the table and
fanning them out an instant he closed
the fan with his incomplete hand and
began dropping the first three chips on
top of the largest stack, slowly, click,
click, click, then a pause and click, click,
click, holding the chips between the
thumb and the first two fingers.
He looked around the table. John the
Oiler he didn't know about. Rag had a
pair, probably queens. He would open.
Charley would stick, then Brit would
raise, then he, would raise Brit so as
to get some idea about John. Brit would
be trying to figure out what he had the
same way. He looked at Rag again.
John had to battle always his black
wop face. Why the Christ hadn't he
dealt himself something. He couldn't
frown or move in his chair because Red
Carnahan would catch that out of the
corner of his eye and know. He ran his
tongue up and down against his front
teeth, then stopped because his mouth
night move, or his throat go in and

out. God damn Carnahan anyhow. The
others were nothing. Brit was smart, but
he never won. He looked at his hand
again, then down at the chips before
him, waiting for Rag.
When he got his pay today, Rag had
had to hand back twenty bucks to the old
man. A second mate can't afford to owe
the old man money, but boy, how lie
needed that dough. There was skates
for the kid, and then she said about
the fall dress last time he was home. and
she wouldn't and he had to have dough.
Maybe he'd win this nand, queens were
good, and he might get another if he
drew three and didn't try to bluff. He
swallowed. and heard the silence.
"Oh, that's right, I open don't I? Well,
let's say three to start with." His hand
had already counted out the three chips
while he had been studying, so he just
threw them into the pot.
"Jacks or better, eh, Rag? Well they
better be better." Charley threw his three
chips in, trying to make them land flat
the way Red's always did, but one of
them rolled on across toward John. John
stopped the wavering chip and shoved it
back into the center, looking at Char-
ley mean, but not speaking. Charley
looked at the fives, a red one and a
black one. Maybe he better try to bluff
these guys. Then he rooked at the single
low stack of-chips. No, maybe he better
not. They didn't bluff easy, and they
didn't play friendly like the boys at
home. You couldn't brag about how you
had outsmarted them, or anyhow you
didn't. Nobody was friends here on the
boat like they were up in Wisconsin. You
couldn't kid both these guys, and when
they laughed at you it was at you, not
because your joke had been funny.
When they came in today one of them
had said "Damn nice the company fix-
ing up this room here." Brit had looked
around at the oak table, the six chairs,
the coaldust in front of the lockers
where the firemen had changed from
dirty dungarees into not so dirty dun-
garees. from thick-sole work shoes into
high slippers with elastic sides, and said
as dry as he could, "Yeah, the sons-a-
bitches only makin' a million a year off
this boat, they can afford it. But no bon-
uses." Red and John had nodded but the
other two might have argued only they
were afraid of being called company
men. Which they were, and which so
many of them were on this line.
"I'll bump you two. I can't afford it,
but the company pays me good," Brit
said, and laughed, looking at Charley
who got fifteen a week as porter in the
galley. "Eh, Tom?"
"Yeah, I'm buyin' a Rolls Royce in
Toledo when we get in. Your two and
two better," Red said.
Ah, hell," John said and threw his
cards down. He picked up what was left
of the pack and glared at Rag. "Stick-

Rag spread his cards again and look-
ed at them hard. Did they have any-
thing? Should he stick or get out? He
was out thirty bucks right now. But
queens were good, and maybe that third
one if he took three on the draw. But
thirty bucks. The skates, ┬░her dres
"Sure," he said, and put four chips in.
Then he was sorry he had done it, and
he knew he would lose, and wished he
could stop playing right then and go up
to his room and lie down and try to for-
get about the rent and the kid and her.
Thirty bucks. That was the rent.
Charley was leaning back lighting a
cigarette. He held the match wrong sto
he had to twist his head away from the
flame to keep the smoke out of his eyes.
Then he took a good puff and did get
smoke in his eyes, but he didn't rub
them, and used the hand he would have
rubbed them with to shove his 'chips
into the pot. "Me too." he said, then
took the cigarette out of his mouth
and blew ,hard.
Brit shoved two chips in without
"How many?" John said to Rag.
"Two, no, three" Rag said, and pulled
three cards out of his hand. John count-
ed three cards from the pack and toss-
ed them all together to Rag. Red watch-
ed his face as he picked them up, and
knew that the third queen was there.
While John was throwing three care
to Charley, Red thought fast..Rag was
just about ready to quit. He must r'
twenty-five or thirty bucks in the hol-.
But if he won this pot, he'd stick in t
game a long time, because he'd figun'
his luck had changed. So he'd better w".
and then, well, Red knew that if h'
really wanted to win he could. Br.
more had just taken two cards, whi",.
meant that he had three of somethi"
because Britmore never took the trouble
to bluff.
"One," Red said, and knew that Br"-
rare was looking at him to see ifrn
really had them or was pulling some-
thing. But Brit wasn't so smart.
Rag also looked at Red. With John the
Oiler out, Red was the guy he was
afraid of. By God if he lost on three
queens he was through. But maybe Tom
was bluffing, or drawing to a straight
and wouldn't get it. Rag was afraid
two ways. He was afraid if he didn't bet
it right he wouldn't get enough .on his
three queens. He was afraid if he bet
right and ran the pot up somebody else
would have him beat, and he would be
>ut ten or fifteen bucks more. He hated
poker, and would quit after this hand,
win or lose. It was the stiffest game he
had ever been in, and he saw what he
couldn't see in the piker games, that he
was no poker player, that he was just a
God damn fool losing money that he
ought to use for the kid, for her dress.
John flipped a card to Red, and lit a
cigarette which he took from the pack in
the pocket of his blue shirt without tak-
ing the pack out. He was sore about
Rag having a hand and him not havin
one. The dumb bastard didn't know
how to play cards. He scraped his chair
back and went to the door. He stuck his
head out and spit on' the steel deck.
The air was moist, and maybe they'd
run into a fog. Get to Toledo later then.
Well, so later. His watch was over at
ten, anyhow. He came back in and sat
down, having glanced at Charley's hand
as he passed behind him. The hick. Two
pair, both small. Rag had his hand hid-
den close to him, the cards bent into a
Rag bet five, Charley stayed, Brit
raised two, Red raised Brit two more.
After he threw in the chips Red let
Rag see for just an instant a too it -
nocent look. That would make R
raise, for he would be sure Red was bh'
fing. Rag raised Red five. Charl' y
Continued on Page Ten

Editor .................................................... Ellen Rhea
Fiction Editor .....................................Jay W. McCormick
Joanne Cohen, Gilberta Rothstein, Ray Ingham, Emile Gele,
Barbara Richards
Essay Editor ..................................... Richard M. Ludwig
John Baker, Betty Whitehead, Frances Patterson, Laurence
Spingarn, M. M. Lipper, Bruce W. Forbes
Poetry Editor ......................... ................. John Brinnen
Carol Bundy, Betty Baer, Bertha Klein, Joan Clement
Book Review Editor .................................... James Green
Mort Jampel, Gerald Burns, Edward Burrows
Art Editor .................... .................... Tristan Meinecke
Publications Editor .................................. Shirley Wallace
Joan Siegel, Joan Doris, Jean Mullins, Erath Gutekunst, Rose
Ann Kornblume, Barbara DeFries
Advisory Board:
Arno L. Bader, Herbert Weisinger, J. L. Davis. Morris Greenhut,
Allan Seager, Emil Weddige

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