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Waiting for Nothing and Other Writings

Tom Kromer

Publication Year: 1986

In "Waiting for Nothing" and Other Writings, the works of the depression-era writer Tom Kromer are collected for the first time into a volume that depicts with searing realism life on the bum in the 1930s and, with greater detachment, the powerless frustration of working-class people often too locked in to know their predicament.Waiting for Nothing, Kromer's only completed novel, is largely autobiographical and was written at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in California. It tells the story of one man drifting through America, east coast to west, main stem to side street, endlessly searching for "three hots and a flop"--food and a place to sleep. Kromer scans, in first-person voice, the scattered events, the stultifying sameness, of "life on the vag"--the encounters with cops, the window panes that separate hunger and a "feed," the bartering with prostitutes and homosexuals.

In "Michael Kohler," Kromer's unfinished novel, the harsh existence of coal miners in Pennsylvania is told in a committed, political voice that reveals Kromer's developing affinity with leftist writers including Lincoln Steffens and Theodore Dreiser. An exploration of Kromer's proletarian roots, "Michael Kohler" was to be a political novel, a story of labor unions and the injustices of big management. Kromer's other work ranges from his college days, when he wrote a sarcastic expose of the bums in his hometown titled "Pity the Poor Panhandler: $2 an Hour Is All He Gets," to the sensitive pieces of his later life--short stories, articles, and book reviews written more out of an aching understanding of suffering than from the slick formulas of politics.

Waiting for Nothing remains, however, Kromer's most powerful achievement, a work Steffens called "realism to the nth degree." Collected here as the major part of Kromer's oeuvre, Waiting for Nothing traces the author's personal struggle to preserve human virtues and emotions in the face of a brutal and dehumanizing society.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

This volume brings together for the first time the known writings of Tom Kromer (1906-1969), a Depression-era author whose one book, Waiting for Nothing, is a classic account of vagrant life during the thirties. Waiting for Nothing was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1935; it was favorably...

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pp. 1-129

It is night. I am walking along this dark street, when my foot hits a stick. I reach down and pick it up. I finger it. It is a good stick, a heavy stick. One sock from it would lay a man out. It wouldn't kill him, but it would lay him out. I plan. Hit him where the crease is in his hat, hard, I tell myself, but not too...

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pp. 131-205

This synopsis of "Michael Kohler" was prepared by Kromer for a 1936 application for a Guggenheim Fellowship. The synopsis is followed by the six completed chapters of the novel, left in typescript by Kromer at his death. These chapters, together with a shorter version of the synopsis, were first published in the West Virginia...


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pp. 209-211

When the little blonde with the pipestem legs and the little bronze crucifix next to her heart on a red string keeled over in front of the 5 & 10, and the reporter wrote the article about how she was starving to death on her feet because she was too proud to beg, there was an awful rumpus raised. They kept...

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pp. 212-223

It was 1930. The UP, SP, Sante Fe, B&O, and a hundred other lines stretched their tracks across the country that stank with the stench of overflowing silos and warehouses and granaries rotting with food and with feed that no one had the money to buy. Long rows of box cars sweated in the railroad yards and...

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pp. 224-227

—Shall it be said that there are two sides to the C&O tracks, or shall we measure to a gnat's eye equidistance between the rails and let the abortion take place, but always acting cautiously in removing cinders and creosoted splinters from the ties that might cause infection...

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pp. 228-233

Judson Art Glass Co., Makers of Fine Glass . . . and he'd pick up this pipe that lay on the rack and sprint with it to this tank that had in it the glass. These other working stiffs would circle the tank the same as my old man and you'd think this was a Merry-Go-Round in a circus when you'd see...


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pp. 237-240

You will see no Jesus Christ looks in the eyes of Edward Anderson's Hungry Men, no working stiffs dying of malnutrition on lice-infested blankets of three-decker bunks in the missions, no soup-lines that stretch for blocks in the city streets and never start moving. In a word, you find no Hungry Men...

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pp. 241-242

In Modern Man, Mr. Fergusson elaborates a complete theory of individual and group behavior, and in his own words says, "My purpose is to discover and define the underlying assumptions upon which modern behavior in the Western World is based." It is a thought-provoking book. The disintegration of...

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pp. 243-245

Cunningham's objective is worthy. He has attempted to show in this novelized life of "Pretty Boy" Floyd the conditioning of a mind to crime by the rottenness and inequality innate in the capitalist system. Had he concerned himself only with the exploits of this slain bank robber and "Public Enemy...


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pp. 249-252

A man dressed in the seedy garb of a "down and outer" possessing a sallow, hungry look, a glib tongue, and a limp, needs to have no fear of the wolf howling at the door as long as he stays in Huntington. By touching an occasional passerby for a "nickel for a cup of coffee," he can make at least five thousand...

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pp. 253-256

The Stockton Warehouse and Cereal Company workers strike is over, mediated by the Federal Labor Board at San Francisco. It was a great victory for labor, shrieks out the local press, and editorializes to the effect that "life is a serious business of give and take," and "you know there is an employers' side to...

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pp. 257-259

I am twenty-eight years old, and was born and attended school in Huntington, W. Va. My people were working people. My father started to work in a coal-mine when he was eight years old. Later, he became a glass blower, and unable to afford medical treatment, died of cancer at the age of forty-four. There...

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pp. 261-291

Relatively little is known about Tom Kromer's life, but that is just as well, since the important thing about his book Waiting for Nothing is not how closely it is based on the facts but how close it comes to the truth. The facts are that Thomas Michael Kromer was born on October 20, 1906, in...


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pp. 293-294


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pp. 295-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780820342368
E-ISBN-10: 082034236X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820307978
Print-ISBN-10: 0820307971

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 1986