Doing something for humanity
may be fine—for humanity—but
rough on the individual!
Illustrated by ASHMAN
He had quite a rum-blossom
on him for a kid, I
thought at first. But
when he moved closer to the light
by the cash register to ask the
bartender for a match or something,
I saw it wasn't that. Not
just the nose. Broken veins on his
cheeks, too, and the funny eyes.
He must have seen me look, because
he slid back away from the
The bartender shook my bottle
of ale in front of me like a Swiss
bell-ringer so it foamed inside the
"You ready for another, sir?"
I shook my head. Down the
bar, he tried it on the kid—he was
drinking scotch and water or
something like that—and found
out he could push him around.
He sold him three scotch and
waters in ten minutes.
When he tried for number four,
the kid had his courage up and
said, "I'll tell you when I'm ready
for another, Jack." But there
wasn't any trouble.
It was almost nine and the
place began to fill up. The manager,
a real hood type, stationed
himself by the door to screen out
the high-school kids and give the
big hello to conventioneers. The
girls came hurrying in, too, with
their little makeup cases and their
fancy hair piled up and their
frozen faces with the perfect
mouths drawn on them. One of
them stopped to say something to
the manager, some excuse about
something, and he said: "That's
aw ri'; get inna dressing room."
A three-piece band behind the
drapes at the back of the stage
began to make warm-up noises
and there were two bartenders
keeping busy. Mostly it was beer—a
midweek crowd. I finished my
ale and had to wait a couple of
minutes before I could get another
bottle. The bar filled up
from the end near the stage because
all the customers wanted
a good, close look at the strippers
for their fifty-cent bottles of beer.
But I noticed that nobody sat
down next to the kid, or, if anybody
did, he didn't stay long—you
go out for some fun and the
bartender pushes you around and
nobody wants to sit next to you.
I picked up my bottle and glass
and went down on the stool to
He turned to me right away
and said: "What kind of a place
is this, anyway?" The broken
veins were all over his face, little
ones, but so many, so close, that
they made his face look something
like marbled rubber. The
funny look in his eyes was it—the
trick contact lenses. But I tried
not to stare and not to look
"It's okay," I said. "It's a good
show if you don't mind a lot of
He stuck a cigarette into his
mouth and poked the pack at me.
"I'm a spacer," he said, interrupting.
I took one of his cigarettes and
He snapped a lighter for the
cigarettes and said: "Venus."
I was noticing that his pack of
cigarettes on the bar had some
kind of yellow sticker instead of
the blue tax stamp.
"Ain't that a crock?" he asked.
"You can't smoke and they give
you lighters for a souvenir. But
it's a good lighter. On Mars last
week, they gave us all some cheap
"You get something every trip,
hah?" I took a good, long drink
of ale and he finished his scotch
"Shoot. You call a trip a
One of the girls was working
her way down the bar. She was
going to slide onto the empty
stool at his right and give him
the business, but she looked at
him first and decided not to. She
curled around me and asked if
I'd buy her a li'l ole drink. I said
no and she moved on to the next.
I could kind of feel the young
fellow quivering. When I looked
at him, he stood up. I followed
him out of the dump. The manager
grinned without thinking and
said, "G'night, boys," to us.
The kid stopped in the street
and said to me: "You don't have
to follow me around, Pappy." He
sounded like one wrong word and
I would get socked in the teeth.
"Take it easy. I know a place
where they won't spit in your
He pulled himself together and
made a joke of it. "This I have
to see," he said. "Near here?"
"A few blocks."
We started walking. It was a
"I don't know this city at all,"
he said. "I'm from Covington,
Kentucky. You do your drinking
at home there. We don't have
places like this." He meant the
whole Skid Row area.
"It's not so bad," I said. "I
spend a lot of time here."
"Is that a fact? I mean, down
home a man your age would likely
have a wife and children."
"I do. The hell with them."
He laughed like a real youngster
and I figured he couldn't
even be twenty-five. He didn't
have any trouble with the broken
curbstones in spite of his scotch
and waters. I asked him about it.
"Sense of balance," he said.
"You have to be tops for balance
to be a spacer—you spend so
much time outside in a suit.
People don't know how much.
Punctures. And you aren't worth
a damn if you lose your point."
"What's that mean?"
"Oh. Well, it's hard to describe.
When you're outside and you lose
your point, it means you're all
mixed up, you don't know which
way the can—that's the ship—which
way the can is. It's having
all that room around you. But if
you have a good balance, you feel
a little tugging to the ship, or
maybe you just know which way
the ship is without feeling it.
Then you have your point and
you can get the work done."
"There must be a lot that's
hard to describe."
He thought that might be a
crack and he clammed up on me.
"You call this Gandytown," I
said after a while. "It's where
the stove-up old railroad men
hang out. This is the place."
It was the second week of the
month, before everybody's
pension check was all gone. Oswiak's
was jumping. The Grandsons
of the Pioneers were on the
juke singing the Man from Mars
Yodel and old Paddy Shea was
jigging in the middle of the floor.
He had a full seidel of beer in his
right hand and his empty left
sleeve was flapping.
The kid balked at the screen
door. "Too damn bright," he said.
I shrugged and went on in and
he followed. We sat down at a
table. At Oswiak's you can drink
at the bar if you want to, but
none of the regulars do.
Paddy jigged over and said:
"Welcome home, Doc." He's a
Liverpool Irishman; they talk
like Scots, some say, but they
sound almost like Brooklyn to
"Hello, Paddy. I brought somebody
uglier than you. Now what
do you say?"
Paddy jigged around the kid
in a half-circle with his sleeve
flapping and then flopped into a
chair when the record stopped.
He took a big drink from the seidel
and said: "Can he do this?"
Paddy stretched his face into an
awful grin that showed his teeth.
He has three of them. The kid
laughed and asked me: "What
the hell did you drag me into
"Paddy says he'll buy drinks
for the house the day anybody
uglier than he is comes in."
Oswiak's wife waddled over for
the order and the kid asked us
what we'd have. I figured I could
start drinking, so it was three
After the second round, Paddy
started blowing about how they
took his arm off without any
anesthetics except a bottle of gin
because the red-ball freight he
was tangled up in couldn't wait.
That brought some of the other
old gimps over to the table with
Blackie Bauer had been sitting
in a boxcar with his legs sticking
through the door when the train
started with a jerk. Wham, the
door closed. Everybody laughed
at Blackie for being that dumb
in the first place, and he got mad.
Sam Fireman has palsy. This
week he was claiming he used to
be a watchmaker before he began
to shake. The week before, he'd
said he was a brain surgeon. A
woman I didn't know, a real old
Boxcar Bertha, dragged herself
over and began some kind of
story about how her sister married
a Greek, but she passed out
before we found out what happened.
Somebody wanted to know
what was wrong with the kid's
face—Bauer, I think it was, after
he came back to the table.
"Compression and decompression,"
the kid said. "You're all
the time climbing into your suit
and out of your suit. Inboard
air's thin to start with. You get
a few redlines—that's these ruptured
blood vessels—and you say
the hell with the money; all you'll
make is just one more trip. But,
God, it's a lot of money for anybody
my age! You keep saying
that until you can't be anything
but a spacer. The eyes are hard-radiation
"You like dot all ofer?" asked
Oswiak's wife politely.
"All over, ma'am," the kid told
her in a miserable voice. "But
I'm going to quit before I get a
"I don't care," said Maggie
Rorty. "I think he's cute."
"Compared with—" Paddy began,
but I kicked him under the
We sang for a while, and then
we told gags and recited
limericks for a while, and I noticed
that the kid and Maggie had
wandered into the back room—the
one with the latch on the
Oswiak's wife asked me, very
puzzled: "Doc, w'y dey do dot
flyink by planyets?"
"It's the damn govermint,"
Sam Fireman said.
"Why not?" I said. "They got
the Bowman Drive, why the hell
shouldn't they use it? Serves 'em
right." I had a double scotch and
added: "Twenty years of it and
they found out a few things they
didn't know. Redlines are only
one of them. Twenty years more,
maybe they'll find out a few
more things they didn't know.
Maybe by the time there's a
bathtub in every American home
and an alcoholism clinic in every
American town, they'll find out
a whole lot of things they didn't
know. And every American boy
will be a pop-eyed, blood-raddled
wreck, like our friend here, from
riding the Bowman Drive."
"It's the damn govermint,"
Sam Fireman repeated.
"And what the hell did you
mean by that remark about alcoholism?"
Paddy said, real sore.
"Personally, I can take it or leave
So we got to talking about that
and everybody there turned out
to be people who could take it or
leave it alone.
It was maybe midnight when
the kid showed at the table
again, looking kind of dazed. I
was drunker than I ought to be
by midnight, so I said I was going
for a walk. He tagged along
and we wound up on a bench at
Screwball Square. The soap-boxers
were still going strong. Like I
said, it was a nice night. After
a while, a pot-bellied old auntie
who didn't give a damn about
the face sat down and tried to
talk the kid into going to see
some etchings. The kid didn't get
it and I led him over to hear the
soap-boxers before there was
One of the orators was a mush-mouthed
evangelist. "And, oh, my
friends," he said, "when I looked
through the porthole of the spaceship
and beheld the wonder of
"You're a stinkin' Yankee liar!"
the kid yelled at him. "You say
one damn more word about can-shootin'
and I'll ram your spaceship
down your lyin' throat!
Wheah's your redlines if you're
such a hot spacer?"
The crowd didn't know what he
was talking about, but "wheah's
your redlines" sounded good to
them, so they heckled mush-mouth
off his box with it.
I got the kid to a bench. The
liquor was working in him all of
a sudden. He simmered down
after a while and asked: "Doc,
should I've given Miz Rorty some
money? I asked her afterward
and she said she'd admire to have
something to remember me by,
so I gave her my lighter. She
seem' to be real pleased with it.
But I was wondering if maybe I
embarrassed her by asking her
right out. Like I tol' you, back
in Covington, Kentucky, we don't
have places like that. Or maybe
we did and I just didn't know
about them. But what do you
think I should've done about
"Just what you did," I told
him. "If they want money, they
ask you for it first. Where you
"Y.M.C.A.," he said, almost
asleep. "Back in Covington, Kentucky,
I was a member of the Y
and I kept up my membership.
They have to let me in because
I'm a member. Spacers have all
kinds of trouble, Doc. Woman
trouble. Hotel trouble. Fam'ly
trouble. Religious trouble. I was
raised a Southern Baptist, but
wheah's Heaven, anyway? I ask'
Doctor Chitwood las' time home
before the redlines got so thick—Doc,
you aren't a minister of the
Gospel, are you? I hope I di'n'
say anything to offend you."
"No offense, son," I said. "No
I walked him to the avenue and
waited for a fleet cab. It was almost
five minutes. The independents
that roll drunks dent the
fenders of fleet cabs if they show
up in Skid Row and then the
fleet drivers have to make reports
on their own time to the company.
It keeps them away. But I
got one and dumped the kid in.
"The Y Hotel," I told the driver.
"Here's five. Help him in when
you get there."
When I walked through
Screwball Square again,
some college kids were yelling
"wheah's your redlines" at old
Charlie, the last of the Wobblies.
Old Charlie kept roaring: "The
hell with your breadlines! I'm
talking about atomic bombs.
Right—up—there!" And he pointed
at the Moon.
It was a nice night, but the
liquor was dying in me.
There was a joint around the
corner, so I went in and had a
drink to carry me to the club; I
had a bottle there. I got into the
first cab that came.
"Athletic Club," I said.
"Inna dawghouse, harh?" the
driver said, and he gave me a big
I didn't say anything and he
started the car.
He was right, of course. I was
in everybody's doghouse. Some
day I'd scare hell out of Tom
and Lise by going home and
showing them what their daddy
Down at the Institute, I was in
"Oh, dear," everybody at the
Institute said to everybody, "I'm
sure I don't know what ails the
man. A lovely wife and two lovely
grown children and she had to
tell him 'either you go or I go.'
And drinking! And this is rather
subtle, but it's a well-known fact
that neurotics seek out low company
to compensate for their
guilt-feelings. The places he frequents.
Doctor Francis Bowman,
the man who made space-flight a
reality. The man who put the
Bomb Base on the Moon! Really,
I'm sure I don't know what ails
The hell with them all.
—C. M. KORNBLUTH
Produced by Greg
Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction November 1952.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.