Nicky One

September 2, 1943

Dear Johanna,

It sure enough is hot as it could be today, so please don't mind the smears all over this paper, my hand is dumb and sticky from the heat. I don't know if you knew already, but it's me.

Me and Nicky are in Nevada. I reckon you probably won't care to hear from me, but Nicky, he's been writing to his Poppa, and I don't have no Poppa nor no one else to write to except you, so I'm writing to you. If you like, you can throw this letter right away, but I hope you won't. There's so much that's happened to us that I got to tell somebody, and Nicky already knows and he don't want to hear about it any more than he wants to relive it. I just want to relive it a little bit, so I don't forget.

We mostly came like hobos out here on trains after we left Omaha. I found out that you must get west of the Mississippi.

You have to, Johanna, somehow. It's like higher ground over here, but there ain't cars on the roads so often.They come along frequent enough I suppose, but they ain't so likely to pick up a couple fellas looking like we do.

We learned how to ride the trains from a ol' boy named Leslie Wright. He couldn't find any work and he couldn't be drafted, so he said he just spent his days with nowhere to be, feeling like he was late everywhere he went. He showed us how to wait where there's not any bulls alongside the curves where the train has to slow down enough you can grab a hold and keep it.

Nicky left his razor in a boxcar somewhere and decided he was gonna grow a beard. It took three or four weeks, but damned if he ain't got a fine mass of whiskers. Leslie and me and Nicky were going to stay on the "S & R" we were riding and go all the way to Oregon, but one day me and Nicky just jumped off. Leslie called out after us, 'Why did you do that for'' but I didn't have a reason I could say out loud, and I don't suppose Nicky did either.

The seat of my pants is worn plum out. I try to keep a handkerchief in my back pocket and let it hang down to cover it. But we've both of us just had baths because we just got paid off for our work, and we got bunks to lay on at night.

We've been working in Nevada on a ranch. Don't neither of us know nothing about horses or fences, but the old man here said we could earn our keep for a few days cleaning up after the real cowboys. The old man, his name is Hanshaw. He's dirtier than anyone I've ever seen that owned a house. Nicky did a drawing of a boat for one of Hanshaw's daughters. We both near got fired, Hanshaw, but the daughter smoothed him out. She even gave Nicky three dollars! Nicky wanted to go out and spend that money right away, and one of the cowboys said Nicky was welcome to take his horse into town. Nicky did, and he left that same night.

When it got be midnight the cowboy went into town after him. He said if Nicky was trying to ride off and keep his horse, he was gonna shoot him in the face. Out here in Nevada, horse thieves is the worst and most hated kind. I was worried. I knew Nicky wouldn't steal nothing but a bar of candy, but I was afraid the cowboy would think different. The problem with going somewhere nobody knows you is that you are judged by you actions and not a thing else.

It was almost morning when they came back. I was asleep but I hear them all laughing outside. Nicky was all covered in dust and he had big stains where his sweat had turned it to mud. That horse had got away from Nicky outside the store, and Nicky chased him all over town. The horse got spooked and wasn't gonna stop for nobody. When the cowboy found him, he was on the far edge of town and he'd had to give his last dollar to a couple black fellas and the three of them got a hold on it.

The horse was so wore out from being spooked all day that the cowboy made Nicky walk back. Nicky wasn't in too bad a way about it, though, and he sure was proud of the book of writing paper he bought. That was last night, and first thing after work today, he set down to write to his Poppa. He said I could have one of his stamps, so here I am writing you this letter.

The cowboys don't like neither of us too much right now, I think Nicky might have wore out our welcome. I want to keep on towards California. I hear that Hoover is big enough that your eyes want to come out of your head and look up and down at the same time just to see it all at once. Nicky's changed his mind, he doesn't want to keep west any more, he wants to go north. Utah and Oregon are up there, and I hear reckoning that the Coulee dam is as big as the other.

I'd like to keep writing to you all night, but I've already used up five sheets out of Nicky's paper. Even though I know you most likely won't read this, I guess It's good for me to write it, because it feels good.

I've been thinking about you a lot. Mostly during the days when I'm working. Most of my work is alone, and it gets to where I think the whole world might get caught up in my mind if I'm not careful. I wonder if you're still reading this, or if it's laying in your waste pail. I wonder if you're happy now. I'd like it if you were. I don't know if I'm happy cause I don't know for sure what that's like, but I think I must be as close to it as I can get.

We're gonna be leaving tomorrow or the next day cause our relations with the cowboys are spoiled. I'm afraid traveling is going to be hard and slow, but Nicky and me have been apart from each other often enough that we can stand to be stuck together again. When we get someplace where we'll be for a while, I'll write you again and maybe you'll write me back.

As Always Your Friend, Me

Letters from Underground