Soon after the fight with my brother-in-law I became fully aware of the problems that I faced. And quickly enough I tried thinking of ways to survive. The distance back to Kansas was insuperable. I never thought of seeking shelter and food at the Salvation Army or some other charity. Yet there were some other things I considered; the worst was robbery. This I came closest to one dawn when I found myself alone on the trolley with an aging conductor. It was my birthday, and we were back in St. Paul. The trolley operator had already gone for coffee to a café across the street. The conductor poked me awake, saying that we were at the end of the line. He stood there, just above me, with a bundle of green bills wadded together with a rubber band. At the sight of them, my hand tightened about a switchblade in my pocket. I rose slowly, looking through the windows to see who was about. We were alone. His back was toward me as we walked to the rear of the car. Perspiration rolled from my armpits, and the anxiety of evil-doing must have shown on my face. I pressed the button, and the long blade popped out.


“Yes.” He turned and looked calmly at the blade. I looked at him, trembling now, with all my mother’s teaching coming hot at me.

“Conductor,” I said, “would you give me a dollar for this knife? I’m hungry and I don’t have any place to stay.”

He watched me for a second. “You can keep the knife,” he said. “Come on over to the café, and I’ll buy you a meal.”

I stood shaking for a moment, not knowing what to do, then I closed the blade. “I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s all right,” he answered, peeling off two dollar bills. “Go where you want and get some grub.”

“It’s okay. I can manage.”

“Take it,” he insisted, “and keep yourself out of trouble.” I refused the money, jumped out of the car and hurried off, more frightenend and ashamed than I had ever been in my life.