When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darknes sof the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. I was wishing I looked like Paul Newman—he looks tough and I don’t—but I guess my own looks aren’t so bad. I have light-brown, almost-red hair and greenish gray eyes. I wish they were more gray, because I hate most guys that have green eyes, but I have to be content with what I have. My hair is longer than a lot of boys wear theirs, squared off in back and long at the front and sides, but I am a greaser and most of my neighborhood rarely bothers to get a haircut. Besides, I look better with long hair.
I had a long walk home and no company, but I usually lone it anyway, for no reason except that I like to watch movies undisturbed so I can get into them and live them with the actors. When I see a movie with someone it’s kind of uncomfortable, like having someone read your book over your shoulder. I’m different that way. I mean, my second-oldest brother, Soda, who is sixteen-going on-seventeen, never cracks a book at all, and my oldest brother, Darrel, who we call Darry, works too long and hard to be interested in a story or drawing a picture, so I’m not like them. And nobody in our gang digs movies and books the way I do. For awhile there, I thought I was the only person in the world that did. So I loned it.
Soda tries to understand, at least, which is more than Darry does. But then, Soda is different from anybody; he understands everything, almost. Like he’s never hollering at me all the time theway Darry is, or treating me as if I was six instead of fourteen. I love Soda more than I’ve ever loved anyone, even Mom and Dad. He’s always happy-go-lucky and grinning, while Darry’s hard and firm and rarely grins at all. But then, Darry’s gone through a lot in his twenty years, grown up too fast. Sodapop’ll never grow up at all. I don’t know which way’s the best. I’ll find out one of these days.
Anyway, I went on walking home, thinking about the movie, and then suddenly wishing I had some company. Greasers can’t walk alone too much or they’ll get jumped, or someone will come by and scream “Greaser!” at them, which doesn’t make you feel too hot, if you know what I mean. We get jumped by the Socs. I’m not sure how you spell it, but it’s the abbreviation for the Socials,the jet set, the West-side rich kids. It’s like the term “greaser,” which is used to class all us boys on the East Side.
We’re poorer than the Socs and the middle class. I reckon we’re wilder, too. Not like the Socs, who jump greasers and wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks, and get editorials in the paper forbeing a public disgrace one day and an asset to society the next. Greasers are almost like hoods; we steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight oncein a while. I don’t mean I do things like that. Darry would kill me if I got into trouble with the police. Since Mom and Dad were killed in an auto wreck, the three of us get to stay together only as long as we behave. So Soda and I stay out of trouble as much as we can,and we’re careful not to get caught when we can’t. I only mean that most greasers do things like that, just like we wear our hair long and dress in blue jeans and T-shirts, or leave our shirttails out and wear leather jackets and tennis shoes or boots. I’m not saying that either Socs or greasers are better; that’s just the way things are.
I could have waited to go to the movies until Darry or Sodapop got off work. They would have gone with me, or driven me there, or walked along, although Soda just can’t sit still long enough to enjoy a movie and they bore Darry to death. Darry thinks his life is enough without inspecting other people’s. Or I could have gotten one of the gang to come along, one of the four boys Darry and Soda and I have grown up with and consider family. We’re almost as close as brothers; when you grow up in a tight-knit neighborhood like ours you get to know each other real well. If I had thought about it, I could have called Darry and he would have come by on his way home and picked me up, or Two-Bit Mathews—one of our gang—would have come to get me in his car if I hadasked him, but sometimes I just don’t use my head. It drives my brother Darry nuts when I do stuff like that, ’cause I’m supposed to be smart; I make good grades and have a high IQ and everything, but I don’t use my head. Besides, I like walking.
I about decided I didn’t like it so much, though, when I spotted that red Corvair trailing me. I was almost two blocks from homethen, so I started walking a little faster. I had never been jumped,but I had seen Johnny after four Socs got hold of him, and it wasn’t pretty. Johnny was scared of his own shadow after that. Johnny was sixteen then.
I knew it wasn’t any use though—the fast walking, I mean—even before the Corvair pulled up beside me and five Socs got out. I got pretty scared—I’m kind of small for fourteen even though I have a good build, and those guys were bigger than me. I automatically hitched my thumbs in my jeans and slouched, wondering if I could get away if I made a break for it. I remembered Johnny—his face all cut up and bruised, and I remembered how he had cried when we found him, half-conscious, in the corner lot. Johnny had it awful rough at home—it took a lot to make him cry.
I was sweating something fierce, although I was cold. I could feel my palms getting clammy and the perspiration running down my back. I get like that when I’m real scared. I glanced around for a popbottle or a stick or something—Steve Randle, Soda’s best buddy, had once held off four guys with a busted pop bottle—but there was nothing. So I stood there like a bump on a log while they surrounded me. I don’t use my head. They walked around slowly, silently, smiling.
“Hey, grease,” one said in an over-friendly voice. “We’re gonna do you a favor, greaser. We’re gonna cut all that long greasy hair off.”
He had on a madras shirt. I can still see it. Blue madras. One of them laughed, then cussed me out in a low voice. I couldn’t think of anything to say. There just isn’t a whole lot you can say while waiting to get mugged, so I kept my mouth shut.
“Need a haircut, greaser?” The medium-sized blond pulled a knife out of his back pocket and flipped the blade open.
I finally thought of something to say. “No.” I was backing up, away from that knife. Of course I backed right into one of them. They had me down in a second. They had my arms and legs pinned down and one of them was sitting on my chest with his knees on my elbows, and if you don’t think that hurts, you’re crazy. I could smell English Leather shaving lotion and stale tobacco, and I wondered foolishly if I would suffocate before they did anything. I was scared so bad I was wishing I would. I fought to get loose, and almost did for a second; then they tightened up on me and the one on my chest slugged me a couple of times. So I lay still, swearing at them between gasps. A blade was held against my throat.
“How’d you like that haircut to begin just below the chin?”
It occurred to me then that they could kill me. I went wild. I started screaming for Soda, Darry, anyone. Someone put his hand over my mouth, and I bit it as hard as I could, tasting the bloodrunning through my teeth. I heard a muttered curse and got slugged again, and they were stuffing a handkerchief in my mouth. One of them kept saying, “Shut him up, for Pete’s sake, shut him up!”
Then there were shouts and the pounding of feet, and the Socs jumped up and left me lying there, gasping. I lay there and wondered what in the world was happening—people were jumpingover me and running by me and I was too dazed to figure it out.Then someone had me under the armpits and was hauling me tomy feet. It was Darry.
“Are you all right, Ponyboy?”
He was shaking me and I wished he’d stop. I was dizzy enough anyway. I could tell it was Darry though—partly because of the voice and partly because Darry’s always rough with me withoutmeaning to be.
“I’m okay. Quit shaking me, Darry, I’m okay.”
He stopped instantly. “I’m sorry.”
He wasn’t really. Darry isn’t ever sorry for anything he does. Its eems funny to me that he should look just exactly like my father and act exactly the opposite from him. My father was only fortywhen he died and he looked twenty-five and a lot of people thought Darry and Dad were brothers instead of father and son. But they only looked alike—my father was never rough with anyone without meaning to be.
Darry is six-feet-two, and broad-shouldered and muscular. He has dark-brown hair that kicks out in front and a slight cowlick in the back—just like Dad’s—but Darry’s eyes are his own. He’s goteyes that are like two pieces of pale blue-green ice. They’ve got a determined set to them, like the rest of him. He looks older than twenty—tough, cool, and smart. He would be real handsome if hiseyes weren’t so cold. He doesn’t understand anything that is not plain hard fact. But he uses his head.
I sat down again, rubbing my cheek where I’d been slugged the most.
Darry jammed his fists in his pockets. “They didn’t hurt you toobad, did they?”
They did. I was smarting and aching and my chest was sore and I was so nervous my hands were shaking and I wanted to start bawling, but you just don’t say that to Darry.
Sodapop came loping back. By then I had figured that all the noise I had heard was the gang coming to rescue me. He dropped down beside me, examining my head.
“You got cut up a little, huh, Ponyboy?”
I only looked at him blankly. “I did?”
He pulled out a handkerchief, wet the end of it with his tongue, and pressed it gently against the side of my head. “You’re bleedin’like a stuck pig.”
“Look!” He showed me the handkerchief, reddened as if bymagic. “Did they pull a blade on you?”
I remembered the voice: “Need a haircut, greaser?” The blade must have slipped while he was trying to shut me up. “Yeah.”
Soda is handsomer than anyone else I know. Not like Darry—Soda’s movie-star kind of handsome, the kind that people stop on the street to watch go by. He’s not as tall as Darry, and he’s a little slimmer, but he has a finely drawn, sensitive face that somehow manages to be reckless and thoughtful at the same time. He’s got dark-gold hair that he combs back—long and silky and straight—and in the summer the sun bleaches it to a shining wheat-gold. His eyes are dark brown—lively, dancing, recklessly laughing eyes thatcan be gentle and sympathetic one moment and blazing with anger the next. He has Dad’s eyes, but Soda is one of a kind. He can get drunk in a drag race or dancing without ever getting near alcohol. In our neighborhood it’s rare to find a kid who doesn’t drink once in a while. But Soda never touches a drop—he doesn’t need to. He gets drunk on just plain living. And he understands everybody.
He looked at me more closely. I looked away hurriedly, because,if you want to know the truth, I was starting to bawl. I knew I was as white as I felt and I was shaking like a leaf.
Soda just put his hand on my shoulder. “Easy, Ponyboy. They ain’t gonna hurt you no more.”
“I know,” I said, but the ground began to blur and I felt hot tearsrunning down my cheeks. I brushed them away impatiently. “I’mjust a little spooked, that’s all.” I drew a quivering breath and quitcrying. You just don’t cry in front of Darry. Not unless you’re hurt like Johnny had been that day we found him in the vacant lot. Compared to Johnny I wasn’t hurt at all.
Soda rubbed my hair. “You’re an okay kid, Pony.”
I had to grin at him—Soda can make you grin no matter what. I guess it’s because he’s always grinning so much himself. “You’re crazy, Soda, out of your mind.”
Darry looked as if he’d like to knock our heads together. “You’re both nuts.”
Soda merely cocked one eyebrow, a trick he’d picked up from Two-Bit. “It seems to run in this family.”
Copyright © 1995 by S.E. Hinton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.