King Vidor scatters road-tramp families like corn seed on the open fields of Our Daily Bread: The young couple, brimming with gee-whiz optimism, have nothing, find something: a farm to work on, the rich relative's almost-gift; and they work like mules--literally, with their assembled cooperative farmers, pulling the plows, making the earth turn for them.
And inevitably the Jean Harlow look-alike rattles into the homey Hooverville, dead sugar daddy bundled in the back, Jazz blaring, drowning out the Yumpin’ Yiminys and Oy-Veys that have managed to gather together, without too much fuss, to solve their American problems for themselves and each other, both at the same time. And her hips and curling pout work capitalistic wonders--looking not only for dough but the sheer thrill of giving the road a go: see where it leads and laugh out loud at it all.
But the dry soil calls out to the wayward husband, “Go west, young man, and grow up!”--and he turns back, and leads them all to dig the three-mile irrigation ditch--a climax as exciting as anything a boy with a gang of friends and some shovels could possibly imagine.
It ends with harvest and broad grins, an American Soviet without all the fuss--and I felt myself drawn in, good old Hollywood once more pulling my leg--but a flat voice mutters at my elbow, and I look over at the blank face--and it's Tom Kromer, his book Waiting for Nothing held up like an accusation--also without any fuss, but God how it lies on top of you, "deep almost as life."
And the stuff he tells me, I can hardly bear it, but he won't stop, and I can't stop:
"I lie here and try to think back. I try to think back over the years that I have lived. But I cannot think of years any more. I can think only of the drags I have rode, of the bulls that have sapped up on me, and the mission slop I have swilled. People I have known, I remember no more. They are gone. They are out of my life. I cannot remember them at all. Even my family, my mother is dimmed by the strings of drags with their strings of cars that are always with me in my mind through the long, cold nights. Whatever is gone before is gone. I lie here and I think, and I know that whatever is before is the same as that which is gone. My life is spent before it is started."
I ask him what can a man do, and he tells me, his voice so steady I'm afraid it will break my heart once and for all:
"I know well enough what he can do. All he can do is to try to keep his belly full of enough slop so that he won't rattle when he breathes. All he can do is to try and find himself a lousy flop at night. Day after day, week after week, year after year, always the same--three hots and a flop."
And just when I think I can stop, and go back to the movie, and watch them smile in the sun, Tom says, "She is a tough life, buddy"--and the worst part of it is that he is trying to comfort me. I want to give him everything I have and follow him, but he's gone before I can stand.