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    MCVT
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This story is not intended to reflect the practices of all individuals, or groups.  I ask that you not judge the past by current values/standards but to remember that we will never be able to calculate the true losses of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  Instead, appreciate the perseverance and creativity people practiced to survive and succeed.

There are brief allusions to violence and sexual activities described. 

Tender Loins - 2. Chapter 2/6

Abandoning a problematic cousin, David finds a young man in a difficult situation, together they go to West Coast for work. An unusual opportunity opens that changes their lives immediately. Across the US, thousands of men find the same opportunity, life improves for many. From that one chance, big changes begin yet larger forces beyond their control work against them, do they have the mettle to realize their dreams?

There are brief allusions to violence and sexual activities described.

Tender Loins, Part 2 of 6

 

Since we had no family or friends in San Diego, we had to build good reputations from the ground up. Had to find ways to survive while we kept some dignity about us – ready for a job if one opened up.

Garbage cans in town were usually picked through, Romy suggested we watch for the ritzy restaurants to take their trash out. They took it to the alley early in the morning, before the garbage truck arrived. We got there a few minutes earlier and filled our jar and cans with whatever looked like it would make meal of soup. Food lines were problems – fights broke out and rough trade, easier to forage off the leavings of wealthier folk and eat from the bounty of the land.

Found a pair of shoes in an alley – looked like they were spotted with blood. Hoped the man wearing them butchered meat. Kept those; maybe we could sell or trade them. Only stayed in the city shelter long enough to get our hair cut and wash our clothes. Other days, as we scrounged short tasks to earn enough for gas, we slept under a tarp in the back of the truck parked in a canyon – lots of canyons around San Diego.

When we pulled into our usual canyon, we knew there were others nearby inside their own campsites, and never bothered anyone – they didn’t bother us as an unspoken agreement. One night, we heard a ruckus, about a half mile down the road and ran to see what was going on. The family didn’t douse their campfire well enough. Flames were climbing, spreading. Quickly, we ran back and threw all our things in the truck and left – didn’t stop till we were in Otay Mesa, flat land. Went back the next day to find acres of our canyon blackened – several houses on top of the ridges were burned as well. Romy wanted to go into the burned campground. Went to dark hulk of a car and looked through it, tearing through the still-smoldering seats then the trunk.

“What are you doing?”

“My dad was a driver. People hide valuables in their cars thinking no one will look...” He held out his hand. In his palm were two black flattened mounds and the remnants of several dollar bills. I looked closer – those were corners of twenty-dollar bills – worth nothing now. He spit on the flat mounds and rubbed them. Looked like gold, yellow but dull metal. “How much do you think it’s worth?” He asked.

“Not sure.”

Romy was young but he observed human nature, he began kicking around through the ashes, looking for anything else we could salvage. Found a hunting knife with a sturdy blade away from the fire, handle was gone - we could fix that. Old cast iron skillet with charred bits of their last dinner; still usable. Kinda sad finding parts of a toys among the ashes. Wondered where the family was now.

That gold brought us luck – not because we sold it, no. That next week I got on one day of work at a gas station south of Logan Heights. Well-heeled clientele from Logan and Banker’s Hill to get full service. Did my best to impress the clients and the owner. The gas station was located near Coronado Bay, pumping gas and checking the oil levels, simple tasks and steady work in cool breezes. Romy went off during the days, making a few coins sweeping parking lots and stocking for a few stores in the area. Still sketchy, finding work for him – he was so young competing against the older, experienced men.

As we scrounged the alleys and back streets, I smelled reefer and the alcohol; I noticed some folks turned to the trade, selling themselves, and I suspected Romy could have sold himself in the right places. He was a good-looking young man, but he never even mentioned it. I didn’t either. Kept telling him we’d make it somehow with our self-respect, though we looked and smelled so poor. We held out and held on scavenging day-old newspapers for any sign the economy was improving. Listened to the radio at work, heard the ads for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

After our canyon was burned, we camped south and east of the downtown area near National City, going to Imperial beach to shower on the sidewalk near the restroom. Most nights we made soup, Sundays we split soda crackers and a can of sardines, we’d dine and watch the blazing sunsets together as we talked about our days and discussed any strategies for work. I suggested we find a place to park and grow a few rows of corn and beans, maybe some squash.

Romy laughed, “Somebody’ll steal them while we’re working.”

He was probably right. When I told him about our chicken, steers and milking cows, having to hoe row after row for our food, he seemed surprised. He never knew much of farms being raised in Chicago. Had to explain the feeling of freedom was nurtured in the outdoors, being one with the earth that feeds you is a good life.

Romy explained his life – feast or famine it seemed to me. His dad was a big man who commanded a lot of respect on the streets of the Windy City, was recruited early by the trucker’s union and rose in their ranks. Romy’s family went from living in a walk-up tenement to a real house with a yard when he was a boy. Later, his parents sent him to a boarding school – had to leave when the all-boy’s school found him with another student. Then Romy went to public school. Going to public school wasn’t hard for Romy, he had a good education so far and did well - for a while.

A few years later his father was still with the teamsters and earned the trust of the leadership. He and another man were put in charge of picking up the union dues from the workers every Friday. Thousands of dollars in cash; each workplace steward had a brown envelope in a black bag that contained a list of the workers who’d paid along with their dues. Because that much cash is a temptation, you never know who’s got designs on it. Money disappeared from the delivery truck they drove; more the next week. Romy’s Dad didn’t come home after driving his route after the fourth theft. Police said it appeared someone had held up the truck they drove. Romy’s family heard nothing from Mr. Dolcevita for a week, then two weeks. Being a smart woman, Romy’s mother sent her three children across the US to distant relatives, unsure if the thugs at the union hall would come looking for her thinking she involved with the theft and kidnap her children. She hopped the border for Canada and went back to Italy. Chicago was corrupt and violent during those times – lots of dirty dealing.

Through all that, Romy became street-smart. He could spot a crook at twenty paces – the bookies, sharks, and cons. He knew their tricks from the sidewalks of Chi-town but never suggested a shell game or asked me to shill – nothing like that. I’d made it clear to him that I couldn’t risk my reputation being around trouble.

Kept thinking about his family, wondered if his mom made it back home… “Do you ever write your mom?” I asked later. “She probably wants to know you’re okay after what happened to your dad.”

“Not sure where to address the letter.”

“We’ll find out.” I explained we could go to the library and look on a world map, “Maybe find a town close to where she was from in Italy. They’ll get the letter to her – postmasters know everyone.”

The reason I recall that night clearly was because I’d read of the violence in Chicago before. It was in almost every issue of any newspaper I found. Crime bosses established territories for distribution of illegal booze before prohibition ended but didn’t sell them, they reopened the speakeasys. Strangely, it was the information that Romy told me before we lay down to sleep – words that linked together a lot of what I heard. Romy told me about bathhouses and there were bars – usually shady bars only for men. Nighteries before, now the hidden joints, and questionable haunts. Strange sensation learning history that directly related to me – those old bars were where men met other men like us.

“I was glad when Mom sent me to my uncle and all the men. Well, I was glad until Uncle found out. Don’t know what happened to the man he caught kissing me.” He sighed, “But now I can be myself.”

“Some call us an abomination – you were lucky that man was your uncle, otherwise we might not be having this conversation.”

“We look okay, act okay – no one would guess.” He paused, “We’ll find those places. I know we will.”

The next day, we mailed a sheet of paper we wrote the letter on, folded it by the instructions and sent it to Brindisi, Italy with a note on the back asking the postmaster to please find and deliver this to Serafina Cancio Dolcevita and hoped for the best.

Our evenings were calm. Romy told me about geography, history, lots of things I didn’t know. Sometimes I showed him the Big and Little Dippers, Orion and the planets like my grandfather had taught me. Told him about trueing wheels and how we made and repaired the old wagon wheels and the ways of my mother’s people. The information we passed back and forth was new to the other, and we developed a deep appreciation for our different pasts.

We slept on our small mattress in the bed of the truck, often naked when the weather was warm. Our bodies touched and I remembered sleeping with my brothers. Sometimes I felt Romy pulling his dick, I did the same. All in silence – we were close, and though we both loved men, we weren’t quite the men for each other.

Survival was first on our minds.

We made it through a year living on little or nothing while the government dithered over a few bucks that would have sprung us into a place with a roof. Trust deepened between us – Romy didn’t want to go back to Chicago. That might be veering too close to the “family” in organized crime, he wasn’t familiar with the relatives where his brother and sister were living. He wanted a new start. I just wanted a start on full-time work. We needed each other those days, hope was as scarce as coin.

About that gold – or what we thought was gold. Prices on gold were fixed, the US was on the gold standard to stabilize the dollar’s value and the economy. Didn’t seem like that worked out well. We took the two small mounds and I got out my Michelin repair kit and stuck them inside the hem of my coat with adhesive and a patch near the three dollars and sixteen cents I’d tucked into the placket. Couldn’t even tell they were there, but we had to hold onto that coat.

July, 12, 1933

Dear Mother,

Write to me at General Delivery, National City, California. Jonathan’s gone. I have a buddy. The ocean and the beach are beautiful. Heard about the Civilian Conservation Corps, am going to apply. Will send home money every month if I they take me. Hope all is well. Love, David.

Romy and I worked through the spring and summer, earning enough for what we needed and keeping ourselves from looking like animals. Romy took that pair of shoes he found and we filled them with newspaper and cardboard till they fit enough to wear while odd-jobbing. Lots of people liked Romy, he found a few regular jobs cleaning and stocking, unloading trucks around town. I was hired on an extra day pumping gas and fixing cars. Two days a week doubled my income but it was still meager pay. Romy occasionally found us some clothing someone left out by an ashcan; we struggled and stuck together sharing what we had, and were finally able to afford Postum once a week.

The day had been overcast while I worked, cool and I trueing out-of-round wheels and made repairs all day. It was Friday – pay day. Met up with Romy at a corner near the row of small businesses near San Ysidro, cash in hand. Went into our favorite bodega – I was tired of Milkorno with dandelion greens.

“Get a can of sardines tonight, and peaches – gonna talk money.” I winked at Romy and grabbed a bar of licorice. “You like this?” He made a face, so looked around and decided this announcement needed something special. Bought a bottle of cheap wine – I knew nothing of drinking, only saw it was cheap and had a basket overflowing with purple grapes on the label. Those grapes looked so luscious, the wine must be good, right?

Crackers and sardines and a little extra tonight. We sat on the tailgate of the truck sharing our dinner, opened a can of peaches to spear with our knives and drank our wine passing the bottle back and forth.

“What’s this about money?”

Looking at him without his shirt, I saw Romy’s ribs and collarbones jutting out from his smooth skin, “They’re taking applications for the CCC soon. Announced it on the radio today.” I explained we’d get paid and get training while we worked the forests and roads. “Six-month commitment, stay on for two years if you like. Room, board, and pay – thirty a month. Only hitch is you have to send twenty-five bucks back home every month. Feds are priming the pump – getting the money goin’ around again.”

“Don’t I have to be seventeen to work?” He asked, slurring his words from the wine. “Few months shy.”

“Probably lots of guys signing up won’t have birth certificates – mamas had ‘em on the farms. Just say you’re seventeen. We’ll get schooling and a skill. C’mon, if you don’t like it after six months, move on. You’ll leave with money in your pocket. Worth a shot.”

I took a slug of the wine. Burned my throat as Romy took another drink. “How do we get in?”

“Applications at the post office…” We sat in silence as our heads spun with alcohol. My brain wouldn’t shut down, my heart was beating fast. He’d half-agreed to stay with me after so long together, hard to imagine life without Romy.

Thinking about the CCC - I’d never worked and lived in a big group of men, that was too big of a dream for this Okie. With Romy, we could take the knocks of learning the ropes together watching out for each other. I wanted to kiss Romy for bringing that calm to me by asking how we get in the CCC. Leaning toward him, only wanting to smell his familiar sweat, Romy turned and kissed me, held my face, he pulled me to him, “One time you told me you dreamed about being with a man...” He whispered and rubbed my cock through my pants.

During all the hours I’d driven the narrow, hot roads I’d fantasized all the ways my body would fit with another man. Kissing, licking and sucking every part of him, and his lips on me. There were a thousand ways I wanted to take a man and be taken. My imagination saw ways to mate almost everywhere I looked, but never let myself try. Now, this tender boy was stroking me, kissing me. Being hard as any crowbar and half-drunk, seems my spirit soared around Orion and jumped through the constellations above us. Wanted it to last but couldn’t stop it – being this close was too much. We got ourselves naked and with the oil from a sardine can, my rod found the fastest way to where I wanted to be - inside him. I came like a dam burst, then my seed jumped out again and again till my sac was empty. Aching and empty after only a few strokes.

Smelling the sardine oil and my fluid, I fell on him. His dick was hard and twitching, his man juice leaking. Rubbed myself against him with the last few drops of oil. Just a few rubs and I felt his twitch and his hot release between us. Silent, strong declaration; almost made me cry. Sweaty and wet, my dreams were finally realized and were better than anything I imagined. So much satisfaction, it made me want more, a lot more.

Hard time waking up the next morning, I grinned, not knowing what to say. Romy was smiling, too, walking a little funny, but we cleaned up and he dropped me off at work then went to the post office. We only had one pencil, it was short, but Romy sharpened the lead, sat on the side of the garage in the truck and started filling in the tiny spaces on the CCC application form.

On my lunch break he handed me a blank application, “I don’t want to use my last name.”

“Why?”

“It’s an odd name – they might recognize it from Dad’s union work. Could make it hard if they check on me. The CCC is part of tamping down the organizing.” He looked out the window, “I want steady work, maybe graduate high school while I’m there.” He held up his CCC brochure looking disappointed.

“You got another problem – you have to send part of your pay to someone every month. Who you gonna send it to?”

Biting his lower lip, “Better think about this.”

Reading through the requirements, “You know it’s going to be hard work, building fire towers and clearing brush. We could wait...” I offered.

After a few moments, “How much harder is it going to get for us? We’re always hungry. We stink. We’re filthy. Everyone around us is filthy and stinking… Everything around us is filthy and stinking.” He looked into my eyes. “I’m sick of living like this if there’s a better place with work – being so broke for so long is wearing me down. Has to be just as hard on you. We gotta try.”

His outburst of honesty surprised me. Romy just summed up our lives since we’d met. Glanced around and leaned over to kiss his cheek. Since we’d met, he’d become thinner, lankier, a little taller. Romy’s body would be filling out soon – he needed more food than we could rustle up.

Looked at him differently now. He’d come a long way with me and stuck by my side - wondered if that was from need or want.

November 12, 1933

Dear Mom, Am in CCC - working the forests with a buddy. Address: CCC Camp, Alpine, California. Sending you 25 every month. Please let me know all is well. Love, David

How did Romy get in? He used the name McCann. Romero McCann. Like me, he had no birth certificate, we said he was born on the reservation. Then we alluded to an imaginary liaison my father had years ago, complicating our relationship. No one asked after we prattled on about second and third nieces and nephews and cousins between the prairie and the res.

Sold my old truck for twenty dollars and surprised to get that then got a mailbox under the name of R. Dolcevita. Romy’s “mother” lived in a shanty town near the border without a street address or house number so we said. The feds swallowed all that hook, line and sinker to fill their needs for getting recruits to get the CCC going. The first hires had to be the best in order to make the CCC reputation shine for the next group and the continued funding. Romy and I looked like clean farm boys with a strong work ethic; prime workers.

We got our physicals first. Then we were tested for skills and mental fitness and got plenty of paperwork all stamped with approvals and clipped together. Found out through the processing that some of the men they’d chosen couldn’t read or write, and most had no identification – that was a relief.

Ours was a diverse group. Some men bore scars on their faces and arms, some tattoos, some looked too slight for the work ahead of us. We were all alike in that we were eager for a chance to earn.

Had to look twice – a familiar face passed me as he boarded the camp-bound bus. Stubbled chin, dirty shirt, and looking tired – took a few minutes to place him, but here was Toddy Stein from outside of Little Rock, the man I met on the road after I left Guymon. He’d just made it in the last group of men being assessed. Sold his truck and sent his wife and children to family in Los Angeles. Good to see him again. He didn’t say much – preoccupied with his family’s welfare until he could put a check in the mail.

Rode a big, white school bus with forty men through the hills east of San Diego. Another bus was to come later filled with more men. Took the Sunrise Highway up the Cleveland Forest and got out to find an area cleared for three wood-slat buildings and lots of tents in rows – old army tents that stood about seven feet high in the center. I noticed each one had wires – we had lights! Inside each tent were six or eight narrow metal cots and a small foot locker underneath each.

We were lined up in outside the bus and portioned among the numbered tents. “Remember your tent number. That’s your home for the next six months.” A camp leader called out and divided us into groups alphabetically, by last name.

We were shuffled to the dining hall. Smelled good in there – real food but we had to wait to eat. Each man was given his clothing, toiletries and a schedule, in return we handed over our bags. “What the hell you got in here boy?” The man asked Romy when he passed our bag to him.

Stepping beside him, “Tools. I work tires and wheels.” I answered.

“You two related?”

“Distant cousins – we’re from Osage country, out there in Oklahoma, ya’ know…” Romy started rambling, a trick he’d learned to stop a conversation with anyone getting too nosy about us.

The CCC worker dug through my bag like he had all the others looking for contraband. Then, he took it and handed me a receipt. We and our tent-mates were taken to the shower for delousing and another quick medical check. Everything was timed, and we moved along between the guys from tents seven and nine till everyone was showered, shaved and dressed. Took our old clothes and what little we had to our tent and tried the cots immediately. Felt good, but we’d work hard, manual labor for this narrow cotton luxury.

At noon a bell rang – that meant meals were ready. Good to see Romy in front of a full plate, eating like he’d never tasted mashed potatoes and fried fish before. Looking down the long table, I saw other men attacking their food. Sure, we were all hungry – we could ask for seconds here, too. Didn’t say anything, but I had to wonder who would last the six months. Causing problems got you kicked out – something like a dishonorable discharge from the military. If you lasted, you’d get help finding work, carry your certificates with you.

I winked at Romy and looked around for Toddy. He waved – “Tent twelve.”

“Number eight.” I nodded and ate hearty that meal. That afternoon we were separated by educational level and to decide which classes to take. Romy wanted to take the business courses. It was hard for me to decide, I told them I wanted to take the math classes and I’d decide the rest later. You know they found out I had a tool kit and fixed cars and wanted me to go into the mechanical repair courses. It wasn’t my choice, I wanted something more than digging grease from under my nails all my life. Maybe I’d take the agriculture course I didn’t mind being plain dirty. They agreed to let me wait but had to have an answer within the week while people shifted between classes.

That afternoon we got our work orders. There were four crews: scrubbers, road crew, carpenters and springers. Scrubbers cleared scrub making fire breaks and generally cleaning out underbrush, road crews built and maintained roads. Carpenters constructed the look-out towers and worked in the camp. I was assigned to the springers – hunting for springs and making small concrete catch basins below them.

Romy went to the carpenter crew building the lookout towers. I found out being a springer was easy. We scoured the forest for any small stream or spring, dug a channel and made a basin with concrete to catch the water for the wildlife. Dry most of the year in the Cleveland Forest and it was full of life. Small mammals and deer, even mountain lions they said would come to drink from our basins. Carried our cement and tools in wheelbarrows, switching off through the shift. Much easier than working engines and tires.

Romy liked carpentry and enjoyed measuring, sawing, bolting and erecting the towers, then sometimes his crew worked around the camp buildings. One of the older supervisors took a liking to him and another guy and had them working in the camp offices and fixing the out buildings. I was proud – Romy was more refined than the other guys around camp, had manners, knew how to speak with the supervisors and get along with the management.

Tanned and lean, no longer pitifully skinny, he was a shining beauty as he showered. Hard work and plenty of food did him good. I noticed he was more of a man almost every day – balls and dick were bigger, swung when he walked, heavily haired with a thick, dark swath down his front. All the men were told to look at the wall ahead of us as we showered and be quick. Always got hard when I saw him naked, he was too. Showering side by side, it was easy to glance at each other.

Showers were hard for him. His eager, young cock wouldn’t settle down for longer than a few moments and being around so many men only made it worse. Yeah, I noticed the men who quickly glanced and looked away, noted the ones who glanced and didn’t look away. No lingering in the showers, there was another crew of men waiting behind us, stinking and grimy.

One of the men in our tent got a radio out of his possessions and we listened to all kinds of programs at night - music, dramas, news and a woman from Los Angeles – a preacher-lady. Though I didn’t really care about theology, the way she spoke was different from the other preachers who condemned, begged or moaned. Sister Aimee told her stories like she was really there and made them feel real to me. She even talked to the spirits, and healed people. Hard to believe all she was doing – soup kitchens, helping the poor in so many ways and never asking a cent from the downtrodden. Had a big church and invited everyone. Everyone. No special sections for the Coloreds, Indians, Asians or anyone else – they all sat together as a huge family.

While her program played in the dim light of the tent, no one moved – listening closely. She was a beacon to us by her work, she showed us that there was real goodness on the earth, explaining a bright future; we wouldn’t always have to fight for a few pennies. Restored our faith in the goodness of humanity for those moments. Spoke of her Jesus – he was another man like us, poor, working the byways for years like Romy and I had done. Sister Aimee loved her Jesus more than any mortal. Not so sure of heaven and hell and all that, but when they sang about Little Moses, my heart pounded; made me think of finding Romy.

Romy was impressed with the thousands of people who followed her. One of the men in camp ordered literature from her church. New way of thinking about religion. Seemed to me she was showing how to redistribute wealth, a political act close to communism, and she did make it sound appealing.

One Friday night, after the evangelist’s program ended, the guys turned the radio off, we lay quietly reading, two guys were playing cards on their foot locker. All calm till our big, blonde tentmate came in – Andrew Michaels. He’d already been called down for slinging gravel on other men’s’ boots if they didn’t do something to his liking. Michaels was a bully, most men avoided him, he worked the road crew on his first rotation, hated sweating and shoveling earth – let us know every evening. Loud guy, cussing “the bitch” when we ate – said he was only in camp with us cause his wife made him apply. The rest of us suspected he couldn’t hold work in town due to his temper.

Michaels fumbled around in the area of his cot for a while, muttering about the supervisors, I think he was late coming in that night because he was pulled aside for another warning from the bosses. The men in the tent went quiet and turned away, hoping he’d shut up and go to sleep.

Michaels didn’t shut up – started cussing a couple of guys in our tent. Then he stood in front of me as I sat on the side of my cot, “Hey prairie nigger, your little papoose got light duty? Heard he’s in camp all day – injuns get privileges now? Place is going to the dogs.” He brawny body filled the space between the beds - in a foul mood for some reason and aiming his displeasure at me.

“Romy was asked to work in camp.” I said, turning away. From the corner of my eye, I saw Romy get off his bed and stand at the end of my cot. Then, I smelled it. Michaels had been drinking – where’d he get it? Booze was prohibited.

“Your squaw lickin’ the big-shots’ totem poles? What say we powwow and get you buffalo-jockeys to suck my peace pipe.” He leaned closer, I couldn’t get away and got ready - slipping my foot between his, I’d roll back on my cot and lift my foot into his balls if he went on.

“Fuckin’ redskins.”

That’s all it took.

So fast you couldn’t see it, I gripped the side of my cot, jerked my foot upward shoving it between his legs till my right foot hit his nuts hard. Then I rolled back fast over my cot and stood behind it. He tumbled back, clutching his groin while the other men watched, lifting him back to his feet. Looking past him, I saw one of the camp supervisor’s face at the opening of the tent.

My heart stopped. I waited to be called out for starting a fight.

“Michaels, pack your gear.” The supervisor tossed an envelope on the end of my cot and waited while the big man packed his things mumbling curses. For a moment I thought I’d have to leave with Michaels. Flooded with fear, I kept myself as calm as I could while I looked around. The other guys nodded and gave me small smiles, but that didn’t make me feel any better – I had to keep this work. My family needed the money I sent, but feared leaving Romy.

Amazingly, the supervisor left behind Michaels and said nothing to me. I could only stare as they walked away.

Romy grabbed the envelope and his face lit – “From your mom!”

With Romy beside me, we read her letter several times together. Mom was doing well, Dad found work delivering linens around town to several hospitals in Philly. Said they used the money I sent to buy coats for my brothers and Caroline. My brothers were in public school but got held behind. Mom complained about the housing – lived in an apartment in in Old City in Philly. She wanted to be back on the land.

She signed it, “All my love, Mom.” I kissed those words written by her hand. It was in those moments I realized that things really had taken a turn for the better in my life – a big change had started.

At camp, our days began before sunrise; breakfast and off with our crews till 11:30 lunch break, then back at it. Studies started at three in the afternoon, went till dinner and one more hour afterward – usually a lecture on patriotism, government workings and civic duties.

Romy took different classes, ahead of me. Toddy and I were in the same math class, him on the twelfth level and me on my seventh level. We sat together and solved the exercises in our workbooks those months. Our teacher showed us how to use numbers to figure out all kinds of problems. Like how many men to put in each tent, how to figure the volume of a tank, pounds, ounces, miles, inches – we covered it all, it seemed. Cash I could deal with easily, now I studied formulas. Then we learned about bank accounts and balancing a checkbook. Paying bills and getting loans and making contracts were coming, I read ahead in my book before lights-out. Contracts interested me; made everything clear and organized.

Leadership classes were held in the mess hall after dinner on Sunday nights. Learned leadership is more than yelling at people – hollering at them to stop slacking, berating them to finish up. Had to keep records and show men how you wanted them to act, then how to be fair. Some folks didn’t learn much from their homes and parents. Leaders have to appeal to men’s ambition and conscience with your example, develop trust by being consistent - keeping your word. The camp leaders were from the military – most were good at showing us leadership.

We worked through our different crews, got our pay and sent our money monthly. Got more letters from Mom thanking us. Romy and I stashed our small monthly pay only buying what wasn’t provided by the camp. Most of the men bought candy bars, trashy magazines; frivolous things. Romy and I asked the camp managers to bring books – I wanted to read what a guy named Twain wrote. The men laughed about the antics in his books. To everyone’s surprise, a box of books arrived within the week – those were borrowed away the same night. Murder mysteries became my favorites. The characters were devious!

Romy became excited about his future – he liked business classes and organizing his work crew to get their assigned jobs done. I’d decided to study agriculture. My life on the farm served me well and the classes came easily.

After the trouble causers in camp were weeded out and life fell into a comfortable routine. Few men wanted to visit their work sites while they were off so I took Romy out in the woods on Sunday afternoons along the paths worn by the deer showing him different plants and outcroppings I’d learned about. Leaning over a boulder on the top of a mountain, he gently took me while I looked out on a wide horizon feeling his shaft move in and out my ass to mate me - to feel is hands on my back, then grabbing my hips moaning as he’d fill me, those moments I felt like the world was offering me bounty in perfect measure. I was filled with love at my rightful place in the universe and all time during those afternoons.

In a grove of scrub oak, we’d lay on a blanket with folded bread with jelly from breakfast. We watched the clouds, talking about our futures. We’d kiss and embrace naked near a small stream and clean up aside one of the small catch basins I’d made with my crew.

As we walked back to camp, I always felt privileged, in a sense. The other men didn’t have the luxury of sex, though I suspected there was more going on that I knew about; secrets kept to themselves.

 

Six months came quickly; we signed up for another stint. About a third of the men dropped out that first six months. They’d had enough of the hard labor or enough confidence to start up back in the city with their training. Most had contacts, family and opportunity – especially now. There were big red, white and blue National Recovery Administration signs in the window of businesses. Those business were supposed to support national reconstruction by hiring CCC men.

The long white bus came again bringing new recruits including several colored men. They were put into a separate tent. All the men were shuffled around that afternoon. That night, I saw Toddy Stein sliding his footlocker under a cot in our tent. He was staying on along with us and I was glad of it.

Toddy had endured some of my kind of harassment – he was a Jew and insulted often for it. Men around the camp said terrible things about Toddy and his children. I didn’t know much about Jewish people, yet insults all hurt the same. Glad to have him in our tent. Something about him was calming, he wasn’t any kind of hot-head, he was working to support his family.

After the incident with Michaels I got a reputation for being an angry Indian on the war path. That surprised me – I wasn’t angry. Romy told me to learn to whistle some of the pop songs and smile more often. I was poker-faced, but I practiced whistling and smiling. Toddy thought I’d gone crazy and teased me. He’d whistle along with me and then change the tune to confuse me. Funny guy, he was an easy friend. Late into the nights he told us about Jewish people and their beliefs, their customs. Interesting what he said but not anything I’d be interested in living. It was work being Jewish – lots of rules and prohibitions but they were aimed at making a good man and a good home he explained.

Romy became a crew leader, erecting barracks for the expansion of the camp. The next year, they expected to be running half-capacity with over two hundred men; a year later at full-capacity with four hundred. Mess hall and all the other buildings had to be doubled or tripled. Plenty of construction work, then all the plumbing and wiring. Romy thrived with the extra work and was in camp every day reading blueprints and stacking lumber and supplies.

Because crews had mostly experienced men, we all relaxed after we’d tested the different supervisors to find what annoyed them. We all knew each other by this time and some of the men decided to request a favor; a man from each tent stepped forward to the supervisor’s table at lunch one day, we asked for a radio on the mess hall. The guys loved music, singing “inky dinky do,” “hidey-hidey-hidey ho…” Crazy lyrics and snappy tunes. I enjoyed watching them dance and strut through the tent at night calling themselves “cool cats.”

We got that radio in the mess hall and live entertainment as some of the men pushed the tables aside and danced. That did more for morale than lectures on patriotism. Good evenings, men enjoying themselves. I’ll never forget those hot nights under the bare bulbs hanging down and the voices of men as they sang “Blue Moon” and “Solitude.” Romy was right in the middle singing with them and learning jive-talk. I wanted to join with them, but I was too well-practiced in staying to the side to avoid trouble.

Romy, Toddy and I stayed our full two years, gaining muscle and our certificates. As we rode the bus into San Diego, we sat at the back of the bus away from the others with our friend Toddy, feeling a heavy load of melancholia with our parting – we’d become close. Shared secrets, covered for each other a few times when we needed to be alone.

Toddy was a man I respected; I listened when he leaned close, “You’re always welcome in Torrance – we’ll make room for you two.” He glanced toward the group then back, “I have something you might need. Information.” He paused, I was confused, he’d always been easy to speak with. “You two aren’t related, you’re, um – men’s men, right? Cousins don’t spend so much time in the woods.” He whispered.

Romy and I froze.

“It’s alright... Come by the house, I’ll show you around LA. Still working your way up the coast, right?”

“Yep. Heard the government’s putting money into the counties to help the farmers. Got my agriculture certificate so I’m going to apply with them.” I tried to change the subject.

“More to life than work, Dave. Put your load down a while and enjoy life – you and Romy will do well. Promise you’ll come visit us?” He wrote his address on corner of a magazine and stuck it in my bag. “I need to repay you. Promise me?” He winked. We shook hands when we got off the bus, promising to visit.

In San Diego, we walked Toddy to the train depot by the bay, then walked up the street to the YMCA. The next day we got on the bus and went to get his checks from his postal box. Damn hard time cashing them with Romy’s old school identification card, but he was able to sign them over to me. Teller wouldn’t part with the cash, till I pulled out my CCC identification and certificates – handing over twenty-five hundred to man in work clothes raised a lot of questions till the bank manager handled the transaction, then wished us well saying we were doing a great service to the nation.

Cash in hand, we were smarter, stronger, but still faced the enemy of a weak economy. Two-thousand plus dollars was great, but how long would we have to make it last?

Never discussed finances because we never had enough to discuss. Romy and I stared at each other for a moment. Romy could have gone off on his own with his money. Mine had gone to my family but for the few bucks in my pocket. He could have split it or given me some, I guess. He didn’t but looked me square in the eyes and told me we were going to be rich men, and this money would seem like chump change in a few years, “We’re gonna make it, I know we will.”

Tender Loins, End of Part 2 of 6

Thanks to those who've enjoyed this work. Again, all comments for improvement or thanks are welcome.

v

Copyright © 2020 MCVT; All Rights Reserved.

As always, your comments on improvements are welcomed.  I hope you enjoy this saga as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Thank you.

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Chapter Comments

I'm enjoying the story and glad Romy and Dave have bonded. With Dave, Romy has acquired both someone to love and a surrogate family.

I confess I had to pause and take a break when the confrontation began with Michaels, fearing the potential outcome. I was as relieved as Dave it turned out so well.

Romy seems to have a plan in his mind for their future. The money they have to stake them is a lot for the time period and they are both bright boys.

The only criticism I have is that you should try to tell the story more with dialogue.

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Thank you.  I appreciate your comment and will use that idea.  Dialogue can be difficult at times; need to work on that.

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An excellent chapter, strong and emotive.  Very well done and thank you for sharing.

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1 hour ago, MCVT said:

Thank you.  I appreciate your comment and will use that idea.  Dialogue can be difficult at times; need to work on that.

v

Showing rather than telling is one of the most challenging skills of a writer's art to learn, but characters each have their own unique voice. It's a matter of tapping into that and allowing them to move the story along.

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