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Herbert Huncke's America - Edited By Jerome Poynton Literary Executor - Ed Leary (1939-1944) Part 1 - January 2020

ED LEARY (1939-1944) PART 1

I hadn’t been in New York long when I met Eddie. When I first arrived I was stone-broke—and like every young kid who hits New York I went directly to Forty-second Street. I hadn’t known anything about Forty- second Street but the name—nevertheless, there I went—in no time becoming hip to the hustling routine—getting by fairly easily—meeting all kinds of people—having experiences I never suspected possible. 

I soon became acquainted with many of the regular habitués—one night getting disgustingly drunk with a kid who was going on his second year as a Forty-second Street hustler—doing a little stealing on the side— taking me along on this particular occasion—showing me how to break into automobiles—stealing such item as suitcases, topcoats, suits or anything of value left in the car—and because we were drunk and hardly recognized what we were doing, we got caught—each of us ending up serving six months in Rikers Island. 

This was my first prison experience and although in many respects  unpleasant—at the same time interesting. 

When we were released we went right back to Forty-second Street. 

At the corner of Eight Avenue and Forty-second Street there used to be a notorious bar where petty crooks—fags—hustlers—and people of every description hung out—known as the Bucket of Blood—although that wasn’t the real name. Someone would say, “Man, I’ve got to cut out now—I’ll pick you up later at the Bucket of Blood”—and you knew where he meant. I guess every city has its Bucket of Blood because I have run into several of them all over the country. 

The first night following my release I went into the Bucket of Blood and met Eddie. 

I had been standing at the bar—looking the crowd over and nursing a glass of beer—when from out of nowhere Eddie came over and spoke to me. He said, “Hi, would you like to have a drink with me?” I said, “Sure, why not?” He told me to go ahead and order a shot of whiskey and forget the beer. He said he had been watching me for some time and figured I was probably broke and could use a couple of drinks. 

The place was exceptionally crowded with people pushing and milling around the bar —the jukebox blasting some popular record. The whole room was filled with smoke—the overhead fluorescent light filtering through, giving the place an eerie quality. The shouting and talking deafened one—mixed with the blaring sounds of music—the general atmosphere was like a small slice of hell. 

Eddie said he had seen me before and asked me to guess where he had seen me. 

I named a few places around the square. Each time he shook his head, smiling—at last saying, “It was in jail—over on the Island. I used to watch you in the mess hall at chow-time. Your company went in ahead of mine. I noticed how you always kept yourself looking pretty sharp—your hair combed just so—you stood out from the others around you. I tried to meet you but somehow it never worked out. I figured you might hang around the Square.” 

Eddie’s appearance was good-looking in the sense he bore himself with a quiet dignity—conservatively—with the suggestion of an inner turbulence threatening to come to the surface were he to relax—piquing my curiosity—giving me the impression of depth. His coloring was medium- light. His facial features finely drawn—somewhat sharp and pointed—eyes gray, from within full of light—his mouth thin and well shaped. His hair was wavy—streaked silver gray—of which he was exceedingly self- conscious.

He was about twenty-eight at the time I am speaking of—and he was sure his hair made him appear old—then he was sure it was conspicuous or that it made him look effeminate. 

We stood talking at the bar a long time—getting a little drunk—telling each other about ourselves—our plans, our experiences, how we had gotten into trouble, into jail—finally one or the other mentioned narcotics.

He told me he had first started using heroin or H while in the Army in Panama. 

At that time he used stuff for a period of about eighteen months until he ran into some difficulty with a girl he was shacking up with who, in a fit of jealousy —as I remember the story—reported him to the Army authorities causing him to be dishonorably discharged after being sent to the stockade where he served almost three years. 

He returned to his beloved Brooklyn—staying off stuff—getting a job as a trolley driver—until one night two years before we met, he pulled into the car barn, stepped down off his car into the path of a car pulling into the barn—was hit—receiving a broken leg. While convalescing he became involved with a male nurse who would occasionally supply him with morphine and he was soon hooked.

I told him of my own experiences with junk in Chicago. Of how along with a friend of mine I had started picking up on heroin—finally getting mildly hooked—having to kick when my only source of supply had been arrested and sent to jail. I explained I was pretty green about the whole routine and that when it became necessary to kick I went to my mother— who had been very upset—but had sensibly taken me to her doctor, who had given me a reduction cure. 

I told Eddie it had been an unpleasant experience, but actually not too much trouble and that it had happened about three years ago. 

During our conversation we both discovered that we were still interested in junk and that we both preferred it to drinking. 

I mentioned knowing a pot connection who might be around although I hadn’t seen him since getting out of jail—that I liked smoking pot—we called it gauge or tea in those days—and perhaps if we looked around we could find him. 

Eddie said he didn’t like smoking it—that he didn’t like the kick. He felt if one was going to smoke, it should be the pipe—opium pipe. He did suggest maybe the guy would know where to score some H—asking me if I would like to shoot a little stuff?

We had another drink at the bar discussing what we would do if we did score. 

I told him—as he had guessed—I was broke without even a place to sleep and had come into the joint intending to pick up a queen, score for some loot, and get a place to stay. 

Eddie said not to worry about that—if I wanted to I could check into a hotel with him—he was planning on staying in Manhattan for a couple of days anyway—besides he liked me and this would give us an opportunity to get to know each other better—also he was anxious by now to get some stuff and get on. I had taken an immediate liking to Eddie and this plan suited me fine. 

Shortly after leaving the Bucket of Blood, along Eight Avenue between Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth Streets, we located Hugh the pot connection and asked him to make a heroin score for us. As it happened he had recently run into some fellow uptown while picking up his supply of pot who had suggested he might run into some of his customers anxious to cop some stuff and get in touch with him—he could get as much as he wanted.

Stuff was being pushed in capsules at the time and we asked Hugh to pick up two. 

Eddie and I had decided to check into a small hotel at Fifty-first Street and Eighth Avenue where I had stayed a few times before being arrested. I was sure we could get a room without difficulty. 

We arranged to meet Hugh in the coffee shop on the corner in an hour.

Eddie and I continued up the avenue until we reached the hotel where we rented a room for a week, Eddie having decided at the last minute—since he was holding fairly heavy financially—he might as well stake me to a room as it would give him a place to fall into should he return to the city sooner than he expected. 

While we were waiting for Hugh to get back we cut down the street to a drugstore where I used to be able to buy anything short of the real McCoy —Benzedrine, Seconal, Nembutal, eye droppers, and hypodermic needles. We bought two droppers and a couple of spikes—needles, No. 26 half-inch, and some wires for cleaning them. Then we stopped at the Automat for coffee and, before leaving, picked up two teaspoons. 

We had been doing a lot of talking—feeling each other out about our likes and dislikes—and the more I learned about Eddie the greater my interest in him became. Although I had met thieves and hustlers and knock- around characters of all kinds in the past couple of years, Eddie was the first I met who lived by his wits—impressing me as being competent and capable of carrying out his plans. He was intelligent and carried himself with what is generally termed—in the vernacular of the underworld—class. 

The story will continue in the February 2020 MM Report!

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