Thursday, January 23, 2020

"Basket Lunch"

Hector Philips Stone felt terrible. It’s true that normally this doomed romantic poet felt more or less terrible, but today he felt extra terrible. Not only was he subsumed by his usual Weltschmerz, along with just an average hangover, but his jaw, his left shoulder, and his left kneecap all ached terribly from where Janet, the beautiful waitress at Bob’s Bowery Bar, had smacked him with her leather sap the night before. And why? All because she had overheard him announcing his intention to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge after the bar closed down.

Next time he would keep it to himself, God damn it! Just go down to the bridge and do it without first broadcasting it to all the world, or at least to the tiny portion of the world consisting of Bob’s bar and its patrons and staff.

Well, he would never be able to make it to the bridge today, that was for sure. It was all he could do to limp the six feet to his little bathroom and and then back to his bed, forget about making it all the way down six flights of stairs to the street, even if he did have bus fare to the bridge, which he hadn’t.

On top of everything else he was hungry, starving! Once again he had forgotten to eat the previous day, preferring to spend the last of his Christmas money on bock beer and shots of Schenley’s whiskey at Bob’s. So maybe he wouldn’t have to go to the bridge after all, maybe he would starve to death. Not as dramatic as jumping off the bridge, but pretty damned romantic and pathetic, that was for sure.

It occurred to him that he might jump out the window, but his lone window was stuck, and had been stuck ever since Mr. Morgenstern had managed with great difficulty to close it when the cold weather came this past November. Of course he could try to break the window pane, but he hated to put Mr. and Mrs. Morgenstern to the expense of replacing the glass, especially since he was over a month in arrears on his $20-a-month rent.

Misery. Such was his lot. He wondered if he had some aspirin, and he was thinking about dragging himself out of bed and hobbling to the bathroom to check the medicine cabinet, when a knocking sounded on his door.

“Yes, who is it?”

“It’s me, Janet.”

Janet? Had she come to finish him off?

“Let me in, Hector.”

“Come in, it’s not locked.”

He never locked the door, knowing he would only lose the key if he did.

Janet came in, carrying a wicker basket, covered with dishtowels.

“I thought you might be hungry.”

She came over and sat on the side of the bed, and laid the basket down, pulling off the dishtowels.

“You got sandwiches here, roast beef, chicken, liverwurst and ham-and-cheese. A container of split pea soup, eat that before it gets cold. Some hard-boiled eggs, and there’s hot tea with milk and honey in this big container. This here is Bob’s Mom’s boysenberry pie, still warm. Eat up, and I asked Mrs. Morgenstern to check in on you later today to see if you need anything. How’s your knee, anyway? Is it broke?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Let me check.”

She started to pull the bedclothes away, Hector’s old army blanket and the quilt his Grandma Stone had made for him when he went away to college. Hector drew his legs up and grabbed at the covers.

“Janet, please! I’m not dressed!”

“You wearin’ underpants?”

“Yes, but –”

“Oh, please, don’t you know I got a little brother?”

She yanked away the blankets and felt Hector’s swollen knee.

“Okay, it ain’t broke. Another week or two you’ll be dancing the black bottom with the best of them.”

Hector covered up his legs.

“I assure you I have never danced the black bottom and never will.”


She had laid out all the provisions on Hector’s little night table, and now she stood up, taking the empty basket and the dish towels.

“I’ll stop by tomorrow around the same time. Rest that leg, and don’t go jumping off any bridges in the meantime.”

Without another word she left Hector’s small room, closing the door behind her.

Hector waited until he heard her steps going down the stairwell, and then he broke into great heaving sobs. Three minutes later he caught his breath, wiped his face on his grandma’s quilt, and then he began to eat and drink.

{Please click here to read the full-fledged “adult comics” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, with illustrations by the illustrious rhoda penmarq.)

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