Thursday, January 9, 2020

“Hector’s New Year’s Resolution”

It was new year’s eve, and Hector Philips Stone, the doomed romantic poet, had but one resolution for the new year: the next day, January the first, he would walk out to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge and jump off, and good riddance to it all – the failure, the struggle, the tedium, the poverty…

Earlier this day it had occurred to him, for no particular reason, to check his mail box downstairs, something he tended to do no more often than once a week if that, and, lo and behold, what should he find in the midst of the usual pile of rejection letters from literary magazines and publishers, but a Christmas card from his dear old Grandma Stone, and in it, oh happy day, was a twenty dollar bill.

Twenty bucks! Just enough, in fact way more than enough, for one final grand blowout around the corner at Bob’s Bowery Bar. One last glorious drunk, and then after the bar closed at 4 am and Bob kicked everyone out, that ultimate long reeling walk through the slums down to the East River, shimmering grey and cold in the sickly glow from an opaque sky the color of a filthy old circus tent, and then out to the enormous hulking bridge and the end of it all…

Hector pulled on his old army overcoat, wrapped his muffler around his thin long neck, pulled on his Greek fisherman’s cap, and went down the six flights of stairs to Bleecker and a driving snowfall and then around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar.

It was only five o’clock but already the joint was packed with boisterous revelers, including all the usual gang of failed poets, all sitting at the usual round top: loud and hearty Seamas McSeamas the Irish poet, who always spoke in a shout if he spoke at all; Howard Paul Studebaker, the “western poet”, born and bred in Hackensack, whose entire experience of the west had been six weeks on a dude ranch in New Mexico when he was twelve years old, before his old man lost his money in the crash; Frank X Fagen the nature poet, who probably hadn’t been closer to nature than Washington Square Park in a dozen years; Scaramanga, the leftist poet, despite the fact that he had been drummed out of the Communist Party for unrepentant dipsomania and general obstreperousness; and Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III, the Negro poet, whose specialty was poems of the Harlem tenements, although he had lived for years just up the block at the Parker Hotel flophouse, and hadn’t actually been up to Harlem since he had been bounced out of the old Cotton Club one night in 1934 for drunkenly invading the stage in an attempt to declaim his poetry during a Cab Calloway performance. But these were Hector’s friends, his only friends, and so it was fitting that his last night on earth should be spent in their company.

Hector was not well known for buying rounds, and so imagine his buddies’ surprise when he hailed Janet the waitress and ordered two pitchers of Bob’s basement-brewed bock for the table as well as shots of Schenley’s whiskey for all.

This was just about the last thing Hector remembered clearly of this new year’s eve. There were songs, shouted songs of Irish rebels from Seamas, cowboy songs sung in a surprisingly clear tenor by Howard, “On the Banks of the Wabash” from Frank X, “The International” and some supposedly Spanish Civil War songs from Scaramanga, “Ol’ Man River” from Lucius, and even Hector let loose with a favorite Gregorian chant. Beyond that was only oblivion…

Hector awoke the next day with the worst hangover of his life, which was saying something. He was lying in his bed fully-clothed, still wearing his old army coat, his muffler, and his Greek fisherman’s cap. He forced himself out of bed to the bathroom.

When he had finished voiding his bladder he stared at his thin unshaven face in the mirror. Boy, what a blowout that had been! Despite his killing hangover he felt terrifically hungry. Had he not eaten yesterday?

He staggered out of the bathroom and sat down on his bed.

On his night table, right next to the overflowing ashtray (on which was painted the legend THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL WHERE THE SERVICE IS SWELL) was Grandma Stone’s Christmas card. He picked it up and read her palsied handwriting:

Dear Hector,
Please put this twenty to good use.

Well, if getting absolutely bombed was putting the twenty to good use, then he had followed her injunction to the letter.

Hector wondered if he had blown the entire twenty, and he searched his pockets. Mirabile dictu, he found five crumpled one dollar bills. Happy day, he could go across the street to Ma’s Diner and treat himself to an enormous hangover-dulling breakfast, and then come back to his room and have a good long nap!

Hector went down the six flights to Bleecker, and once again it was snowing. It was dusk and the street lights were blinking on in the swirling snow. So he had slept through the whole day – no wonder he was so hungry!

So this was the new year. Had he made any resolutions? He had a vague idea that he had made at least one, but the devil if he could remember what it was. He walked up to the corner of the Bowery and crossed Bleecker Street to Ma’s. Thank God she ran her breakfast menu all day long, because Hector was in the mood for eggs and scrapple, home fries, toast with lots of butter, half a dozen of Ma’s homemade doughnuts, a big slice of apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and lashings of Ma’s strong black coffee. What a great way to start the new year!

{Please click here to read the “adult comic” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, with illustrations by the inimitable rhoda penmarq.}

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