This page is antidedicated (or reversededicated or undedicated or counterdedicated) to the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the Interstate Highway System which destroyed the World of David Goodis.
In the early 1980's, Goodis' biographer, Philippe Garnier, traced the scenes of Goodis' Philadelphia stories. His conclusion: "I find it very difficult to image springtime in Philadelphia." Philippe Garnier, Goodis, vie en noir et blanc, Editions due Seuil, 1984. Video on Philippe Garnier.
Fantasy World of David Goodis
Professor David Schmid of the University of Buffalo told GoodisCON that Philadelphia gave David Goodis a way to explore what happened to his life. Goodis relived his own decline and fall through the lives of his characters.
Professor Schmid said there were three periods in Goodis' literary output. Beginning in 1939, Goodis wrote for pulp fiction magazines, while working in New York at advertising and public relations firms. About 1946, he was in Hollywood, where he wrote hard cover novels. About 1950 he began writing paperback novels while living in his parents' home in Philadelphia. Through his Philadelphia novels, Goodis was making sense of what had happened in his life.
Stacy Shreffler on the humor of David Goodis. YouTube by Duane Swierczynski
In a telephone interview, David’s lawyer, Julian Rackow, said that Goodis “must have lived in his imagination.” “He seemed to be in his own world.”
What a world that was. .
Goodis wrote about Philadelphia, when it was a gritty, ethnic, industrial town, priding itself as “The Workshop of the World.” Factories and mills were located inside working class neighborhoods. There was a bustling port bordering the Center City business district.
The main port street, Delaware Avenue, was lined with ancient warehouses. Delaware Avenue was paved--if you can call it that--with Belgian blocks (commonly called cobblestones) and crossed by railroad tracks. It was exciting for a boy be driven on Delaware Avenue, as the car jolted over railroad tracks and pits in the highway. Tug boats and ships were tied to the quay wall and old piers.
Leading into the port was Dock Street, a paved over creek, full of sheds and storefronts where wholesalers marketed food for the city’s retail stores.
To the west was Chestnut Street, the premier shopping street and the insurance district on Walnut Street near Independence Hall.
The Tenderloin--skid row--was north of Center City, next to Chinatown.
David Goodis’ works could be used as sources for a college course on the history and sociology of Philadelphia.
Redevelopment destroyed this Philadelphia. Delaware Avenue was paved and renamed Columbus Boulevard. In the area next to Center City, shipping was relocated. Piers were turned into condominiums and marinas. Industrial buildings were turned into night clubs. The sterile plaza called Penn's Landing replaced the most exciting part of the port. Route I-95 plowed through the area, leveling warehouses and port-related businesses. Dock Street was torn down. The food distribution activities were relocated to a modern center. High rise condominiums are now on Dock Street. Much of the insurance district was leveled for Independence National Historical Park. In the 1970’s, Chestnut Street was turned into a pedestrian mall. Businesses died and were replaced by dollar stores, partly because pedestrians were afraid to walk at night unseen by motorists. Twenty years later motor traffic returned to Chestnut Street and commerce is slowly reviving. The Tenderloin was torn down and now the homeless camp out all over Center City.
From Philadelphia Trolley Tracks. Route 8 car laying over on Delaware Avenue, just west of Norris Street.
One of David Goodis’ biggest sellers, Cassidy’s Girl, first published in 1951, is set in the port, and the tenements and dives nearby. The story involves a bus driver on the way down and his stormy, violent, love relationship with his violent wife. They live to drink and drink to live.
The citations are the Chapters and pages of the printed edition.
He described the port and food distribution area:
On the river side of Dock Street the big ships rocked gently on the black water like monstrous hens, fat and complacent in their roosts. Their lights twinkled and threw blobs of yellow on the cobbled street bordering the piers. Across Dock Street the stalls of the fish market were shuttered and dark, except for cracks of light from within, where purveyors of Delaware shad and Barnegat crab and clam and Ocean City flounder were preparing their merchandise for the early-morning trade. As Cassidy passed the fish market, a shutter opened and a mess of fish guts came sailing out, aimed at a large rubbish can. The fish guts missed the can and landed against Cassidy's leg. (3-17)
He described a rooming house:
The rooming house where Haney lived was a four-storied firetrap on Cherry Street. The landlady looked blankly at Cassidy as he stood in the doorway. She was a very old woman who smoked opium and Cassidy was only a meaningless blur in front of her eyes. (6-63)
Front and Market Streets, approximate locale of Cassidy's Girl.
From Philadelphia Trolley Tracks.
He described a waterfront tavern:
Lundy's Place had the appearance of something projected through old film onto a cracked screen. It was large and it had a high ceiling and the furnishings had no color, no gloss, no definite shape. The wood of the bar and tables was splintered and gray with time, and the floor had a mossy texture, like woven dust. Lundy himself was only another furnishing, something old and dull and hollow, moving from bar to table, moving back and forth behind the bar with a face of stone. Most of the regular customers sat at the tables, at the same table and in the same chair night after night after night. And Cassidy, standing outside and peering through the fogged window, knew exactly where to look. (3-20)
Frankford Elevated, north of Arch Street, overlooking port area and warehouses, 1957.
From Philadelphia Trolley Tracks.
He had a grim view of humanity:
He told himself there was nothing to hear and nothing to see. If he used his head, he'd get away from this vicinity and do it fast. He'd aim toward the freight yards. Or maybe race to the docks and dive in and swim across to Camden. Then take it from there. Go anywhere. But he shouldn't hang around here. This area was poison, and the faces of his friends in Lundy's Place were the faces of grinning idiots. His dear, devoted friends were a morbid assemblage on an escalator slowly going down. They grinned at him, beckoned to him, and he heard the decay in their liquor-cracked voices. He started to move away from the window. (15-141)
He had a grimmer view of marriage:
Cassidy shrugged. It wasn't much of a shrug. It was more of a sigh. He walked into the small kitchen and saw more wreckage. The sink was ready to collapse under the weight of empty bottles and filthy dishes. The table was a mess and the floor was worse. He opened the icebox and saw the sad remains of what he had expected would be his meal tonight. Slamming the door of the icebox, he could sense the uneasiness and disappointment going away and the rage coming back. A few loose cigarettes were on the table. He lit one, took several rapid puffs as he let his rage climb to high gear. When it reached that point, he barged into the bedroom. (1-6)
In the kitchen, Cassidy tried to clean up the mess of bottles and dishes and stale food. After a while he gave it up, decided he was starving and maybe there was enough in the icebox to help an empty stomach. He warmed some potatoes and buttered a roll, but when he had the food ready on the table, he couldn't look at it. Maybe coffee would help. He lit a fire under the percolator and sat down at the table and stared at the floor. He turned his head slowly and gazed out the kitchen window. The rain was letting up and he could hear its weak patter on walls and rooftops. If it rained for an entire month it wouldn't begin to clean these miserable tenements, he thought. The ugly cobbled streets like a pock-marked face. And the people. The water-front bums. The human ruins. A perfect specimen was right here in this kitchen.
The coffee was bubbling. He filled a cup and let the hot black sugarless liquid seep down his throat. It tasted awful. Well, it wasn't the coffee's fault. The mood he was in, anything would taste awful. Even champagne would taste like soapy water. Now what had made him think of champagne? Something had taken him back along the channels of the past, to a time when he had a taste for champagne, when he had the money to afford it. He tried to put the thought out of his mind. (2-12)
The living room was in the same disordered state. Either she had thrown another party or she hadn't moved a muscle to clean up the wreckage from three nights ago. He kicked a chair aside and walked into the bedroom and moved toward the closet. All at once he stopped to stare at an ash tray.
The ash tray rested on a table beside the bed. He looked at the cigar stub in the ash tray. Then he looked at the crumpled sheets on the bed, and one of the pillows on the floor. (6-56)
He opened the closet door. It was empty. He stood there blinking. The closet should have contained three suits and some slacks and a few pairs of shoes. The shelf at the top should have displayed at least a dozen shirts and an equal number of shorts and some socks and handkerchiefs.
But none of it was there. Just an empty closet.
Then he saw the slip of paper hooked onto a clothes hanger. He snatched at the paper and stared at her handwriting. He read the message half aloud. “If you want your clothes, go drag the river.”
Cassidy mashed the note in his fist. He raised his arm high and slammed the ball of paper to the floor. He aimed a kick at the closet door and as it banged shut some splinters flew from the broken wood. (6-57)
Snyder Avenue at Swanson Street, in the South Philadelphia port area, before 1957, area of
"The Moon in the Gutter." From Philadelphia Trolley Tracks.
He wrote as if he hated women:
He was seeing the night-black hair of Mildred, the disordered shiny mass of heavy hair. He was seeing the brandy-colored eyes, long-lashed, very long-lashed. And the arrogant upward curve of her gorgeous nose. He was trying with all his power to hate the sight of her full fruit-like lips, and the maddening display of her immense breasts, the way they swept out, aimed at him like weapons. He stood looking at this woman to whom he had been married for almost four years, with whom he slept in the same bed every night, but what he saw was not a mate. He saw a harsh and biting and downright unbearable obsession. (3-17)
Mildred was sitting at the table. She was pouring herself a stiff drink. She was sitting there comfortably with the drink and a cigarette. She was bent forward just a little so that her plump elbows were on the table, her tremendous breasts jutting out like a shelf above the table, her back slanting down straight along the spine until it made the start of the big bold swirling roundness, very heavy, very round, balanced with the rest of her, the brazen luscious roundness.
She saw Cassidy looking at her, and she bent further forward and twisted her body just a little so that she was effectively displaying the slimness of her waist in contrast to the big bulging roundness up front and in back. Then, very slowly, she lifted an arm and let her fingers sink deeply into the thick mass of her black hair, and with her other arm she sort of played around along the top of her blouse. Gradually the buttons up there were slipping out of the buttonholes. She bent over just a little more and it showed the massive thrust of her breasts, bared very low and trying to burst away from the edge of the brassiere. (13-28)
In Of Tender Sin, first published in 1952, Goodis gives a vivid description of skid row and the people who inhabit it. The story involves an actuarial assistant who visits the tenderloin and renews a relationship with an abusive, cocaine addicted woman from his past. The page numbers are from the edition by Serpent’s Tail, London (2001).
He described downtown Philadelphia:
He and Harry had acquired "the Chestnut Street look" and never lost it. As they merged with the lunchtime throng, the solemn Philadelphia faces coming out of insurance offices, advertising agencies, investment houses, they walked along Chestnut Street with a certain relaxed dignity. There was nothing flaunted about it, they had no idea it was there, and yet it added up to a suggestion of aloofness, just a touch of snobbery that wasn't really undemocratic, merely set them off from the loud glitter of Market Street, the saloons along Arch, and of course the flophouses in that other world, that tenderloin world of Eighth and Race. (30)
David Goodis must have done a field trip to skid row:
He was here in the core of the tenderloin. And at first he couldn't see them, the street seemed empty. But then he made out the shapes, the dim shapes huddled against dark walls. He saw the slumped shoulders and the lowered heads, and some of them sitting in doorways with their elbows on their knees. He saw them in the dirty glow of yellow lamps in unwashed windows.
Like dead men, strangely able to breathe and move even though they had died long ago. He looked at them and wondered vaguely what they were doing out here in the freezing weather. He didn't realize that his coat was unbuttoned and that he wasn't wearing is gloves--the gloves he had taken off in the taxi and left on the seat. So he walked north on Eighth Street, not feeling the cold, feeling only the closeness of the walls on both sides of Skid Row.
There was a certain comfort in the closeness of the walls. They were the walls of restaurants, the windows daring a man to come in and eat, if he could stand the food. And the walls of flophouses where it cost a quarter a night and no extra charge for the bugs. The walls of missions that provided a bowl of soup and salvation, and the walls covered with bright-colored posters that invited them to come in and see, for only twenty cents, a movie made twelve years ago. There were all these walls, and certain other walls of certain unsigned houses that contained, the broken bricks said, three floors of rooms where there were no limits, no rules, and anything could go on. (49)
Cambria and Richmond Streets, in Port Richmond, scene of many novels
by David Goodis. From Philadelphia Trolley Tracks.
He visited the clubs:
On Race Street he saw the orange and lavender lights of an after-hours club. But there was no one at the door, no one to ask him for a membership card. If he carried money, he was welcome. He went in. The place was on a slightly higher level that the average tenderloin saloon. But still he saw no faces that offered contact. For the most part, the men and women were paired up, and those who weren't paired up were having a private meeting with themselves and looked as though they didn't want to be bothered. (53)
And met the patrons:
She sat alone, in that dimly lit corner where all the other tables were empty. In front of her an empty glass waited to be filled again, and she was sitting there patiently, just like the glass, waiting for someone to come along and fill it.
There wasn't much paint, just lipstick and a little powder. The platinum-blonde hair was fluffy and then lost the fluffiness where the brilliantine smoothed it back along the temples, behind the ears. She wore dangling earrings that turned up at the ends, sort of following the quiet arrogance of her turned-up nose and the upsweep of her bulging breasts. (56)
He described K&A:
On the corner of Kensington and Allegheny he watched the receding taillight of the taxi, a little red eye that winked at him and said good-by as it went away down the snow-banked street.
He crossed Allegheny and walked along Kensington. As the street stretched away from the busy intersection the store fronts were smaller and gradually they became the shabby little shops struggling to keep alive. Some of them were already dead, and instead of merchandize in the windows there was only a curtain to show it just didn't pay to stay in business, and now me and my husband work in a factory. (93).
Kensington and Allegheny, 1971. From Philadelphia Trolley Tracks.
Among his characters are:
A woman who stood five feet four and weighed over three hundred pounds was buying a bottle of reducing pills. She gazed wistfully at the glistening black hair of Pete Lanson and his perfectly arranged features, all adding up to smooth good looks that blended with silky-smooth voice as he told her how wonderful this stuff was. She pictured in her mind the magic scene of a few months from now, when she’d walk in and he’d take one look and immediately go on the make.
She bought the stuff, knowing it wouldn’t work. Nothing worked: she’d tried just about everything. As she turned to leave the store, her mood became rebellious and she thought, to hell with it. Go on home and open the icebox and take out the rice pudding. (106)
He visited the speakeasies:
Where the winos and the hopheads gathered, the tenderloin had its own United Nations. They came here, the Chinese and the Africans, the Swedes and Peruvians and Scots, the Frenchmen and the Australians. They came and went and came back again to the dimly lit room that had no furniture, only the bottles on the floor, the cans of snuff, the little paper boxes containing the condensed kick of a thousand mules.
Bring your own supply. Or bring the money to buy some of mine. If you smile at me right, you'll get it for free. You want muscatel? It's here. You want the white stuff, the cooked corn? You want the real cheap wine, the Sneaky Pete? It's all here, in the Hall of Joy. Almost anything you crave, except the more expensive merchandise that we'd like to have but we can't afford it.
We have pitchers of beer that becomes more than beer when you add a couple of cigarette ashes. And the snuff, we have a cute little caper with that, we blend it with aspirin tablets and then put in any kind of cola drink and the total is the feeling you get just before the roller coaster starts the downward lunge. But you don't come down while you're in this room. Here it's the place of the take-off, the climb to the next higher level, and taking off again. Always going up.
With the shiny little blue tablets, mostly caffein. With the gray powders and the white powders that you sniff with your eyes half closed. With paper bags that you put over your head so you won't waste any smoke form the sticks of marijuana. Then you slowly life the bag and see the violet moon, so close you can touch it. (120-121)
11th and Filbert Streets, before 1958, about four blocks from the Tenderloin.
From Philadelphia Trolley Tracks.
He must have explored the flophouses:
He rounded a corner, went down Ninth, and followed Vine to Eighth Street. He started down Eighth and saw the sign above the flophouse doorway. It said the price was thirty-five cents. Without any further stipulations it said quite bluntly that you pay the thirty-five before you look at your bed.
There was nothing but the doorway and the stairway. He went up the stairs and saw an old man sitting at a table and reading a Greek newspaper. The old man asked him what he wanted and he said he wanted sleep. That was sufficient for the old man, who took the dollar bill and gave him his change and thumbed him toward the door behind the table.
Darby opened the door and saw the big room and the shaded electric bulbs hanging from the ceiling. All the bulbs were lit and some of the sleepers had handkerchiefs on their faces to protect their eyes from the glare. There were five rows of cots, eight cots to a row, and nearly all the cots were taken. Most of the men were asleep or trying to fall asleep, but some of the men sat on the edges of the cots and stared at the floor. Others stood in a silent group at the window facing Eighth Street. There was another group at the far end of the room, playing penny-ante poker and making their bets between grunts and coughs.
The sound of the room was mostly coughing. All kinds of coughs. The whisky cough, flat and dry. The wheezing tobacco cough, and the raw cough of a sore throat, the blood-filled cough of bad lungs, the wet and blobbery cough of a ruined respiration. Here and there the coughs were sliced with an occasional curse, a pronouncement of malice toward everything and anything.
Roaches ran in and out between the boards showing through the cracked plaster of the ceiling. The floor had its own unique carpet, softer than sand, and fully an inch thick: genuine dust. The soft, warm home for a thousand families of vermin. Other vermin liked the better climate above, and made their homes in the mattresses. (131-132).
Across the street from Reading Terminal, 1951, about five blocks from Tenderloin.
From Philadelphia Trolley Tracks.
He must have witnessed the horrors of drug addiction:
He tried to turn his eyes away from the plunger attached to the glass tube attached to the needle. But the thing told him he must keep on looking. And while that happened, Geraldine again reached into the paper bag and took out a little white box. She opened it and sowed him the white capsules. There were three of them in there, three tiny entertainers in their jackets of shiny celluloid, singing in unison--come on in, the water's fine.
Geraldine added her voice to the chorus, "For a year now." She sounded very happy. "It's been a dandy, dandy year." Then the words went rolling down an incline. "A terrible year." She sounded said. "Thought maybe I could stop and gave it a try. But what a laugh!" And after that, with the kind of frenzy that couldn't express itself in sound and showed only in the eyes, "Can't live without it, gotta have it, gotta have it." (166).
And possibly the narcotics trade:
"I push it," she said, then explained. "Bring in new customers. Not really what you'd call as pusher. All I do is hand out samples and pick up a commission when they really start to buy. There's a meeting once a week, and the board of directors gives me a list of what spots to hit."
"Oh, anywhere. Certain taprooms. A house across the street from a high school. Anywhere." She picked up the white box and gazed adoringly at the capsules. "Damn right," she told them. "Damn right you're expensive. Two hundred dollars an ounce." (167).
Did he see it used?:
He closed the door and turned and walked down the hall to the bedroom. He saw Geraldine hunched over on the edge of the bed, the arms out of the sleeves and the upper part of the dress rolled down to the waist. In one hand she had the syringe and two fingers of the other hand squeezed the flesh of the arm dotted with needle marks. She transferred the syringe from one hand to the other, sat up straight, and began to breathe the way a fighter breathes between rounds. Then she gazed with rapture at the needle and inserted it into the vein and pressed the plunger that slowly lowered the level of cocaine in the glass tube. (171).
Mifflin Street between 2nd Street and Moyamensing Avenue, before 1956,
neighborhood of "The Moon in the Gutter." Your webmaster's grandparents lived
on Galloway Street, see gap in buildings at second trolley.
From Philadelphia Trolley Tracks.
In The Moon in the Gutter, first published in 1956, Goodis vividly describes the world of Vernon Street and the people who live and work along the docks in South Philadelphia. The story centers on a stevedore who is tormented by the death of his sister who committed suicide after being assaulted. The page numbers are from the edition by Serpent’s Tail, London (1998).
He talked about speakeasies:
Kerrigan watched him as he walked away, crossing the cobbled surface of Vernon Street and heading towards the taproom on the corner of Third and Vernon. The name of the place was Dugan's Den and it was the only dive in the neighborhood that sold legitimate liquor. All the other joints were in the backrooms of wooden shacks or in the cellars of tenements. Most of the alcohol sold along Vernon Street was home-made and the authorities had long ago given up trying to catch all the bootleggers. Every once in a while there'd be a raid, but it didn't mean anything. They never kept them locked up for long. Just long enough to let them know that payoffs had to be made on time. So a few days later they'd be back in business at the same old stand. (5-6).
15 Christian Street, January 18, 1956. Torn down for Delaware Expressway.
He described a legal taproom:
Dugan's Den was twice as old as its proprietor, who was past sixty. The place had never been renovated and it retained its original floor and chairs and tables and bar. All the paint and varnish had vanished long ago, but the ancient wood glimmered with a high polish from the rubbing of countless elbows. Yet, aside from the shiny surfaces of the tables and the bar, Dugan's Den was drab and shabby. It was the kind of room where every time-piece seemed to run slower.
But few of the customers owned watches, and as for the clock on the wall, it wasn't even running at all. At Dugan's there was very little interest in time. They came here to forget about time. Most of them were very old men who had nothing to do and no place to go. And some were white-haired women with no teeth in their mouths and nothing in their heads except the fumes of cheap whisky. The specialty of the house was a double shot of fierce-smelling rye for twenty cents. (11).
He talked about political corruption:
He moved past the vacant lots on Fourth Street and walked parallel to a row of wooden shacks where the colored people lived. One of the shacks contained a still that manufactured corn whisky. The bootlegger's neighbors were elderly churchgoing people who continually reported the bootlegger to the authorities, and were unable to understand why the bootlegger was never arrested. The bootlegger could have told them that he always handed his payoffs to the law when his neighbors were in church. It simplified matters all round. (24).
130 Christian Street, May 11, 1956.
He described the neighborhood:
Bordering the wooden shacks there was an alley, then another vacant lot, then a couple of two-storied brick tenements filled with Armenians, Ukrainians, Norwegians, Portuguese, and various mixed breeds. They all got along fairly well except on week end, when there was a lot of drinking, and then the only thing that could stop the commotion was the arrival of the Riot Squad. (24-25).
He described the protagonist's home:
Passing the tenements, he crossed another alley and arrived at the three-storied wooden house that was almost two hundred years old. It was owned by his father and it had been handed down through four generations of Kerrigans.
He stood there on the pavement and looked at the house and saw the loose slats and the broken shutters and the caved-in doorsteps. There was only a little paint clinging to the wooden walls and it was chipped and had long ago lost its color, so that the house was a drab, unadorned gray, a splintered and unsightly piece of rundown real estate, just like any other dump on Vernon Street.
The Kerrigans occupied only the first floor; the two upper floors were rented out to other families, who were always bringing in more relatives. There was really no way to determine how many tenants were upstairs. From the noise they usually made, it sometimes seemed to Kerrigan that he was living underneath a zoo crammed to the limit with wild animals. But he knew he had no right to complain. The first floor did all right for itself when it came to making noise. (25).
Delaware and Packer Avenues, scene of fatal accident, November 14, 1951.
He described the docks:
The MG came onto Wharf Street and turned left and moved parallel to the docks. They were going very slowly now, cruising past the hulking shadowy shapes of piers and warehouses. In the black water along the wharves the big freighters were settled like motionless oxen waiting for morning. Within another hour the river activity would begin, the trucks would arrive to receive cargo from incoming ships, and workers would be straining under the weight of bales and crates and heavy cardboard boxes. But now, in the moonlight, the piers were deserted, and the only sound was the engine of the MG.
The car made a sudden an unexpected turn. he saw she was taking it onto the planks of a wide pier. On one side of the pier there was a big Dutch tanker, and the other side showed the suspension bridge that spanned the river like a huge curved blade of silver in the black sky. In front, the edge of the pier gave way to a couple of miles of deep water, its blackness streaked and dotted with the reflections of city lights. It was like millions of varicolored sequins on black satin. (43).
1448-1452 South 7th Street, February 24, 1956.
He talked about the cargo and the workers:
At ten in the morning the sun was like a big muzzle shooting liquid fire onto the river. Near the docks the big ships glimmered in the sticky heat. On the piers the stevedores were stripped bare to the waist, and some of them had rags tied around their foreheads to keep the perspiration from running into their eyes.
Alongside Pier 17 there was a freighter that had just come in from the West Indies with a cargo of pineapples, and the dock foremen were feverishly bawling orders, spurring the stevedores to work faster. There were some wholesale fruit merchants scurrying around, screaming that pineapples were rotting on the deck, melting away in the heat, while these goddamn loafers took their time and carried the crates as though they had lead in their pants. (66).
Another view of the neighborhood:
But as his gaze returned to the street he saw the dirty-faced kids playing in the gutter, he saw a drunk sprawled on a doorstep, and three middle-aged colored men sitting on the curb drinking wine from a bottle wrapped in an old newspaper.
Under the vermillion glory of the evening sun, the vast magnificence of an opal sky, the Vernon Street citizens had no idea of what was up there, they scarcely bothered to glance up and see. All they knew was that the sun was still high, and it would be one hell of a hot night. Already the older folks were coming out of shacks and tenements to sit on doorsteps with paper fans and pitchers of water. The families who were lucky enough to have ice in the house were holding chunks of it in their mouths and trying to beat the heat that way. And a few of them, just a very few, were giving nickels to their children to purchase ice on sticks. The kids shrieked with glee, but their happy sound was drowned in the greater noise, the humming noise that was one big groan and sigh, the noise that came from Vernon throats, yet seemed to come from the street itself. It was as though the street had lungs an the only sounds it could make were the groan and the sigh, the weary acceptance of its fourth-class place in the world. (84-85).
Pier 40 South, date unknown.
He described quickie-marriages:
There'd be no problem in finding the right person to perform a quick ceremony. On Third Street, off Vernon, a little old Greek was capable of legally tying the know in a matter of seconds. The Greek's son worked in City Hall, in the Marriage Bureau, and was faced with no trouble at all when it came to stealing licenses. The father and son were extremely popular in the neighborhood, for when Vernon men decided to make it legal, they didn't like to wait. (91-92).
g noise. (25).
In The Burglar, Goodis described working class Kensington:
They were looking at the haul. The four of them were on the second floor of a small, dingy house in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The house was in Dohmer's name and it was very small, part of a narrow street of row houses hemmed in by factories. The house was their dwelling place, their headquarters, and they called it the Spot. Dust and dirty air from the mills was always coming in even when the windows were closed. Gladden had a habit of throwing a cleaning rag at the windows and saying it was no use trying to fight this dust. After a while she would sigh and pick up the rag and go on with the cleaning. (11)
AAbout a third of the book is set in Atlantic City, where working class people visited and worked. Their lives were not of glitter:A
In the upstairs hall, the heat was dark and thick and carried the decay of the people who lived in these rooms. (78)
The book was full of blood and gore:
The next thing he noticed was Baylock. On the floor, knees bent, Baylock had one arm across his eyes and the other arm rigid behind hiim. Baylock's eyes were very wide and the pupils were trying to climb into his forehead. Blood from his hammered head was bright and flowing and spilling down the split skull in a wide stream that stayed wide as it reached the shoulder, then became a glistening red ribbon headed toward the elbow. Baylock was almost dead and while Harbin stood there and looked at him he tried to open his mouth to say something. This was as much as Baylock could do, and in the middle of trying to open his mouth, he pulled back his head and died. (78)
The moonlight was on Charley and it was rather bright where it came against the head and shoulders. There it seemed to be moving moonlight because the blood was still flowing. Only a small part of Charley's face remained. The rest of it caused Harbin to turn his head fast. (97)
Despite its title, The Burglar delves into the noir psychology of frustrated love:
Della pushed the gun at him. "Stand back. You try to take it from me and I'll pull the trigger. Then I'll pull it on myself.
Harbin felt very weak. He leaned against the edge of the bed. "You really want me that much?"
"There's nothing else I want." (83)
I didn't want to lose you and that's why I killed him. Not to keep you alive for your own sake, but for my sake. That makes it selfish. Makes it murder. You see what I mean? I murdered him. (102)
Jay Gertzman: David Goodis' Hardboiled Philadelphia