Thursday, January 2, 2020

“New Year’s Eve Story; or, Back to the Bowery”

It was December 31st, and Reggie Wertham had finally spent all but ten bucks of the three hundred and forty dollars he had rolled from that passed-out swell in the alleyway next door to Bob’s Bowery Bar. That had been Thanksgiving day, so he had had a good five weeks living high off the hog here at the Hotel St Crispian.

The St Crispian was a nice clean old-fashioned Greenwich Village hotel, reasonably priced, with good food and pleasant entertainment downstairs at the Prince Hal Room. Reggie had made friends with Mortimer the elevator operator and Jake the bellhop and Olaf the doorman (through the time-honored method of tipping them each a fin on his first night here), and the three of them had seen to Reggie’s every modest want. Jake had even asked Reggie if he would like some tail, but Reggie hadn’t taken him up on the offer. To be quite honest he was afraid a piece of tail would be a bringdown – you know, thinking about the girl’s impoverished background and sick little brother, that kind of thing. No, Reggie preferred to spend the swell’s gelt on steaks and chops and cocktails in the Prince Hal Room, on Philip Morris Commander cigarettes and a warm and comfortable bed in a room that was not in a flophouse.

But now he was down to his last ten, and it was time to say goodbye to the St Crispian.

He dressed in the new grey flannel suit he had bought at Al’s Tall and Small Men’s Shop down the street on 7th Avenue, his new stout Thom McAn brown brogues, and the passed-out swell’s red-and-grey regimental-stripe silk tie and Camel’s hair topcoat and felt trilby hat with a blue feather in it.

He was clean, bathed, freshly shaved and barbered, and he knew he wouldn’t be any of those again for quite some time, if ever.

Reggie picked up his cheap new Gladstone with a couple of changes of fresh linen in it, and left his room for the last time. He went across the hall with no regrets and pressed the elevator button.

On the way down Mortimer said, “So you’re leavin’ us, Mr. Wertham.”

“Yes, I am,” said Reggie. “Business calls, I’m afraid. But here, Mortimer, I want you to have this.”

He handed Mortimer a one-dollar bill.

“Gee, thanks, Mr. Wertham,” said Mortimer. “Have a good business trip, and I hope you’ll be stoppin’ with us again next time you’re in town.”

“I certainly shall, Mortimer.”

Outside on Bedford the sky was grey and snow was just beginning to fall. Reggie turned up the collar of his topcoat.

“You want cab, Mr. Vertam?” said Olaf, the ancient doorman.

“No, thank you, Olaf,” said Reggie. “I think I’ll walk.”

“Is good to walk in snow,” said Olaf.

“Yes, it is,” said Reggie. “Well, happy new year, Olaf.”

“Happy new year, Mr. Vertam,” said Olaf, “and as we say in my old country, may your akvavit be strong and fiery like your women.”

“Ha ha,” said Reggie, and he started down the steps. But then he stopped and turned, went back up to Olaf and gave him a dollar, which left him with seven, because he had given Jake a buck in the lobby.

Seven bucks, way more than enough for a grand new year’s eve blowout at Bob’s Bowery Bar and a fifty-cent cot at the Parker Hotel flophouse.

He turned left and started walking in the falling snow, back down to the Bowery.

It was New Year’s Eve, and, who knew, maybe it wouldn’t even be his last one…

{Please go here to read the “adult comic book” version with illustrations by the illustrious rhoda penmarq.)

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