After English class one day Mrs. Curtis asked me to stay.
She had great legs and a lisp and there was something about the legs
and the lisp together that heated me up. She was about 32, had culture and style, but like everybody else, she was a goddamned liberal and that didn’t take much originality or fight, it was just more Franky Roosevelt worship. I liked Franky because of his programs for the poor during the Depression. He had style too. I didn’t think he really gave a damn about the poor but he
was a great actor, great voice, and he had a great speech writer. But he wanted us in the war. It would put him into the history books. War
presidents got more power and, later, more pages. Mrs. Curtis was just a chip off old Franky only she had much better legs. Poor Franky didn’t have any legs but he had a wonderful brain. In some other country he would have made a powerful dictator.
When the last student left I walked up to Mrs. Curtis’ desk. She smiled
up at me. I had watched her legs for many hours and she knew it. She knew what I wanted, that she had nothing to teach me. She had only said one thing which I remembered. It wasn’t her own idea, obviously, but I liked it:
“You can’t overestimate the stupidity of the general public.”
“Mr. Chinaski,” she looked up at me, “we have certain students in this
class who think they are very smart.”
“Mr. Felton is our smartest student.”
“What is it that troubles you?”
“There’s something . . . troubling you.”
“This is your last semester, isn’t it?”
“How did you know?”
I’d been giving those legs a goodbye look. I’d decided the campus was
just a place to hide. There were some campus freaks who stayed on forever. The whole college scene was soft. They never told you what to expect out there in the real world. They just crammed you with theory and never told
you how hard the pavements were. A college education could destroy an individual for life. Books could make you soft. When you put them down, and really went out there, then you needed to know what they never told
you. I had decided to quit after that semester, hang around Stinky and the gang, maybe meet somebody who had guts enough to hold up a liquor store or better yet, a bank.
“I knew you were going to quit,” she said softly. '"Begin’ is a better
“There’s going to be a war. Did you read 'Sailor Off The Bremen’?”
“That New Yorker stuff doesn’t work for me.”
“You’ve got to read things like that if you want to understand what is
happening today.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You just rebel against everything. How are you going to
“I don’t know. I’m already tired.”
Mrs. Curtis looked down at her desk for a long time. Then she looked up
at me.
“We’re going to get drawn into the war, one way or the other. Are you
going to go?”
“That doesn’t matter. I might, I might not.”
“You’d make a good sailor.”
I smiled, thought about being a sailor, then discarded that idea.
“If you stay another term,” she said, “you can have anything you want.”
She looked up at me and I knew exactly what she meant and she knew that I knew exactly what she meant.
“No,” I said, “I’m leaving.”
I walked toward the door. I stopped there, turned, gave her a little
nod goodbye, a slight and quick goodbye. Outside I walked along under the campus trees. Everywhere, it seemed, there was a boy and a girl together. Mrs. Curtis was sitting alone at her desk as I walked alone. What a great triumph it would have been. Kissing that lisp, working those fine legs open, as Hitler swallowed up Europe and peered toward London.
After a while I walked over toward the gym. I was going to clean out my locker. No more exercising for me. People always talked about the good clean smell of fresh sweat. They had to make excuses for it. They never talked about the good clean smell of fresh shit. There was nothing really as
glorious as a good beer shit—1 mean after drinking twenty or twenty-five beers the night before. The odor of a beer shit like that spread all around
and stayed for a good hour-and-a-half. It made you realize that you were really alive.
I found the locker, opened it and dumped my gym suit and shoes into the trash. Also two empty wine bottles. Good luck to the next one who got my locker. Maybe he’d end up mayor of Boise, Idaho. I threw the combo lock into the trash too. I’d never liked that combination: 1,2, 1, 1,2. Not very
mental. The address of my parents’ house had been 2122. Everything was minimal. In the R.O.T.C. it had been 1, 2, 3,4; 1, 2, 3, 4. Maybe some day
I’d move up to 5.
I walked out of the gym and took a shortcut through the playing field.
There was a game of touch football going on, a pick-up game. I cut to one side to avoid it. Then I heard Baldy: “Hey, Hank!”
I looked up and he was sitting in the stands with Monty Ballard. There
wasn’t much to Ballard. The nice thing about him was that he never talked unless you asked him a question. I never asked him any questions. He just looked at life out from underneath his dirty yellow hair and yearned to be a biologist. I waved to them and kept walking.
“Come on up here. Hank!” Baldy yelled. “It’s important.”
I walked over. “What is it?”
“Sit down and watch that stocky guy in the gym suit.”
I sat down. There was only one guy in a gym suit. He had on track shoes
with spikes. He was short but wide, very wide. He had amazing biceps, shoulders, a thick neck, heavy short legs. His hair was black; the front of
his face almost flat; small mouth, not much nose, and the eyes, the eyes were there somewhere.
“Hey, I heard about this guy,” I said.
“Watch him,” said Baldy.
There were four guys on each team. The ball was snapped. The
quarterback faded to pass. King Kong, Jr. was on defense. He played about halfway back. One of the guys on the offensive team ran deep, the other ran short. The center blocked. King Kong, Jr. lowered his shoulders and sped toward the guy playing short. He smashed into him, burying a shoulder into his side and gut and dumped him hard. Then he turned and trotted away. The pass was completed to the deep man for a TD.
“You see?” said Baldy.
“King Kong . . .”
“King Kong isn’t playing football at all. He just hits some guy as hard
as he can, play after play.”
“You can’t hit a pass receiver before he catches the ball,” I said.
“It’s against the rules.”
“Who’s going to tell him?” Baldy asked.
“You going to tell him?” I asked Ballard.
“No,” said Ballard.
King Kong’s team took the kickoff. Now he could block legally. He came
down and savaged the littlest guy on the field. He knocked the guy completely over, his head went between his legs as he flipped. The little
guy was slow getting up.
“That King Kong is a subnormal,” I said. “How did he ever pass his
entrance exam?”
“They don’t have them here.”
King Kong’s team lined up. Joe Stapen was the best guy on the other
team. He wanted to be a shrink. He was tall, six foot two, lean, and he had guts. Joe Stapen and King Kong charged each other. Stapen did pretty good. He didn’t get dumped. The next play they charged each other again. This time Joe bounced off and gave a little ground.
“Shit,” said Baldy, “Joe’s giving up.”
The next time Kong hit Joe even harder, spinning him around, then running him 5 or 6 yards back up the field, his shoulder buried in Joe’s back.
“This is really disgusting! That guy’s nothing but a fucking
sadist!” I said.
“Is he a sadist?” Baldy asked Ballard.
“He’s a fucking sadist,” said Ballard.
The next play Kong shifted back to the smallest guy. He just ran over
him and piled on top of him, dropping him hard. The little guy didn’t move
for a while. Then he sat up and held his head. It looked like he was
finished. I stood up.
“Well, here I go,” I said.
“Get that son-of-a-bitch!” said Baldy.
“Sure,” I said. I walked down to the field.
“Hey, fellas. Need a player?”
The little guy stood up, started to walk off the field. He stopped as
he reached me.
“Don’t go in there. All that guy wants is to kill somebody.”
“It’s just touch football,” I said.
It was our ball. I got into the huddle with Joe Stapen and the other
two survivors.
“What’s the game plan?” I asked.
“Just to stay the fuck alive,” said Joe Stapen.
“What’s the score?”
“I think they’re winning,” said Lenny Hill, the center. We broke out of
the huddle. Joe Stapen stood back and waited for the ball. I stood looking
at Kong. I’d never seen him around campus. He probably hung around the men’s crapper in the gym. He looked like a shit-sniffer. He also looked like a fetus-eater.
“Time!” I called.
Lenny Hill straightened up over the ball. I looked at Kong.
“My name’s Hank. Hank Chinaski. Journalism.”
Kong didn’t answer. He just stared at me. He had dead white skin. There
was no glitter or life in his eyes.
“What’s your name?” I asked him. He just kept staring.
“What’s the matter? Got some placenta caught in your teeth?”
Kong slowly raised his right arm. Then he straightened it out and
pointed a finger at me. Then he lowered his arm.
“Well, suck my weenie,” I said, “what’s that mean?”
“Come on, let’s play ball,” one of Kong’s mates said. Lenny bent over
the ball and snapped it. Kong came at me. I couldn’t seem to focus on him. I
saw the grandstand and some trees and part of the Chemistry Building shake
as he crashed into me. He knocked me over backwards and then circled around me, flapping his arms like wings. I got up, feeling dizzy. First Becker K.O.'s me, then this sadistic ape. He smelled; he stank; a real evil son-of– a-bitch.
Stapen had thrown an incomplete pass. We huddled.
“I got an idea,” I said.
“What’s that?” asked Joe.
“I’ll throw the ball. You block.”
“Let’s leave it the way it is,” said Joe.
We broke out of the huddle. Lenny bent over the ball, snapped it back
to Stapen. Kong came at me. I lowered a shoulder and rushed at him. He had too much strength. I bounced off him, straightened up, and as I did Kong
came again, knifing his shoulder into my belly. I fell. I leaped up right
away but I didn’t feel like getting up. I was having breathing problems.
Stapen had thrown a short complete pass. Third down. No huddle. When
the ball snapped Kong and I ran at each other. At the last moment I left my
feet and hurled myself at him. The weight of my body hit his neck and his head, knocking him off balance. As he fell I kicked him as hard as I could
and caught him right on the chin. We were both on the ground. I got up
first. As Kong rose there was a red blotch on the side of his face and blood
at the corner of his mouth. We trotted back to our positions.
Stapen had thrown an incomplete pass. Fourth down. Stapen dropped back
to punt. Kong dropped back to protect his safety man. The safety man caught the punt and they came pounding up the field, Kong leading the way for his runner. I ran at them. Kong was expecting another high hurdle. This time I dove and clipped him at the ankles. He went down hard, his face hitting the ground. He was stunned, he stayed there, his arms spread out. I ran up and kneeled down. I grabbed him by the back of the neck, hard. I squeezed his neck and rammed my knee into his backbone and dug it in. “Hey, Kong, buddy, are you all right?”
The others came running up. “I think he’s hurt,” I said. “Come on, somebody help me get him off the field.”
Stapen got him on one side and I got Kong on the other and we walked him to the sideline. Near the sideline I pretended to stumble and ground my left shoe into his ankle.
“Oh,” said Kong, “please leave me alone . . .”
“I’m just helpin’ ya, buddy.”
When we got him to the sideline we dropped him. Kong sat and rubbed the blood from his mouth. Then he reached down and felt his ankle. It was skinned and would soon begin to swell. I bent over him. "Hey, Kong, let’s finish the game. We’re behind 42-7 and need a chance to catch up." “Naw, I gotta make my next class.”
“I didn’t know they taught dog-catching here.”
“It’s English Lit 1. “
”That figures. Well, look, I’ll help you over to the gym and I’ll put
you under a hot shower, what you say?”
“No, you stay away from me.”
Kong got up. He was pretty busted. The great shoulders sagged, there
was dirt and blood on his face. He limped a few-steps. “Hey, Quinn,”he said to one of his buddies, “gimme a hand . . .”
Quinn took one of Kong’s arms and they walked slowly across the field toward the gym.
“Hey, Kong!” I yelled, “I hope you make your class! Tell Bill Saroyan I said 'hello’!”
The other fellows were standing around, including Baldy and Ballard who
had come down from the stands. Here I had done my best ever god-damned act and not a pretty girl around for miles.
“Anybody got a smoke?” I asked.
“I got some Chesterfields,” Baldy said.
“You still smoking pussy cigarettes?” I asked.
“I’ll take one,” said Joe Stapen.
“All right,” I said, “since that’s all there is.”
We stood around, smoking,
“We still have enough guys around to play a game,” somebody said.
“Fuck it,” I said. “I hate sports.”
“Well,” said Stapen, “you sure took care of Kong.”
“Yeah,” said Baldy, “I watched the whole thing. There’s only one thing
that confuses me.”
“What’s that?” asked Stapen.
“I wonder which guy is the sadist?”
“Well,” I said, “I gotta go. There’s a Cagney movie showing tonight and
I’m taking my cunt.”
I began to walk across the field.
“You mean you’re taking your right hand to the movie?” one of the guys
yelled after me.
“Both hands,” I said over my shoulder.
I walked off the field, down past the Chemistry Building and then out
on the front lawn. There they were, boys and girls with their books, sitting on benches, under the trees, or on the lawn. Green books, blue books, brown books. They were talking to each other, smiling, laughing at times. I cut
over to the side of the campus where the “V” car line ended. I boarded the “V,” got my transfer, went to the back of the car, took the last seat in
back, as always, and waited.

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