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Manhattan Transfer

The bar emptied gradually. Jimmy Herf was still standing at the end against the wall.

"You never get drunk, Mr. 'Erf." Congo Jake sat down back of the bar to drink a cup of coffee.

"I'd rather watch the other fellows."

"Very good. No use spend a lot o money ave a eadache next day."

"That's no way for a barkeep to talk."

"I say what I tink."

"Say I've always wanted to ask you. . . . Do you mind telling me? . . . How did you get the name of Congo Jake?"

Congo laughed deep in his chest. "I dunno. . . . When I very leetle I first go to sea dey call me Congo because I have curly hair an dark like a nigger. Den when I work in America, on American ship an all zat, guy ask me How you feel Congo? and I say Jake . . . so dey call me Congo Jake."

"It's some nickname. . . . I thought you'd followed the sea."

"It's a 'ard life. . . . I tell you Mr. 'Erf, there's someting about me unlucky. When I first remember on a peniche, you know what I mean . . . in canal, a big man not my fader beat me up every day. Then I run away and work on sailboats in and out of Bordeaux, you know?"

"I was there when I was a kid I think. . . ."

"Sure. . . . You understand them things Mr. 'Erf. But a feller like you, good education, all 'at, you dont know what life is. When I was seventeen I come to New York . . . no good. I tink of notten but raising Cain. Den I shipped out again and went everywhere to hell an gone. In Shanghai I learned spik American an tend bar. I come back te Frisco an got married. Now I want to be American. But unlucky again see? Before I marry zat girl her and me lived togedder a year sweet as pie, but when we get married no good. She make fun of me and call me Frenchy because I no spik American good and den she kick no out of the house an I tell her go to hell. Funny ting a man's life."