Thursday, April 2, 2020

“A Mob of Loners”

The Bleecker Street Boys weren’t the biggest mob on the Lower East Side, not by a long shot, but they were the most feared, for the simple reason that none of them cared if he lived or died. They were the hardest of the hard cases, and they didn’t like anybody, not even themselves. When they weren’t planning or pulling off a job they never hung out together.

The nominal boss of the gang, Georgie “Gaga” O’Reilly went home to the flat he shared with his mom, and read cowboy novels to pass the time.

Petie “Peepers” Silverstein spent his free time playing poker, and losing as much as he won, not that he cared either way; he just liked playing poker.

Albert “Uncle Albie” Albogino, the oldest of the mob at the age of thirty-three, liked to play handball against a warehouse wall, all by himself, all day.

Stevie  “Slick” Slivovitz sat in Washington Square Park all day, playing chess with himself. If it was raining or snowing he sat in the back booth at Ma’s Diner at Bleecker and the Bowery, playing chess with himself.

Howard “Hobie” Hobart pounded the heavy bag for a couple of hours every morning at Gleason’s Gym up in the Bronx, then he would take the Third Avenue El back downtown and drink bock beer at Bob’s Bowery Bar. He always sat at the bar alone, and he talked to no one except to Bob, and precious little to him. Usually everybody left him alone, but one evening Philip the uptown swell had decided to get his load on again and came in and took the stool next to Hobie.

Philip ordered a Manhattan, and when he got it he turned to Hobie.

“I think I’ve seen you in here before, fella. Call me Philip.”

Hobie looked at Philip but didn’t say anything.

“May I know your name, sir?” said Philip.

It was a busy Friday night, otherwise Bob would have already intervened by now. He was good at that sort of thing, twenty years in the United States Marine Corps had not been wasted on him. But he was currently engaged in pouring beers and drinks for other customers way down at the other end of the bar, and so there was no one there to suggest to Philip that he cool it before he wound up with a hard left hook to the jaw or worse.

“Ah,” said Philip, “you prefer to remain incognito! And I’m sure you have very good reasons for doing so. If I were smart I would also keep myself nameless. If not blameless, ha ha! Nameless but not blameless, no, sir, hardly. Unlike many of the fine people in this splendid caravanserai I freely admit I have no one but myself to blame for a life of dissipation –”

“Buddy,” said Hobie, at last.

“At your service, sir.”

“I like drinking here.”

“So also I! A wonderful place! Why –”

“I like drinking here so much that I would hate it if Bob would have to bar me from the joint for knocking you off that barstool and then stomping you with my steel-shanked shoes to a bloody pulp.”

“I would hate that, too, I assure you.”

“Then do us both a favor. Shut the hell up and leave me alone.”

“I only wanted a friendly chat.”

“I don’t.”

“So you really just want to sit there all alone, not talking to anyone?”

“That’s exactly what I want.”

“But doesn’t it get boring?”


“So you just sit there, staring at those rows of liquor bottles and at the mirror?”


“But what do you think about?”

“You don’t want to know what I think about.”

“But I do. Please tell me.”

“I think about how life is for the birds. I think about what a pain in the ass people are. I think about guys I want to slap around the next time I see ‘em.”

“And that’s it?”

“After a while I think I’m getting hungry, so I think about what I’m gonna eat.”

“Do you eat here?”

“Yeah. This is the only place I eat at.”

“What do you like to order?”

“The burger with hand-cut fries is good. Sometimes I’ll go for one of Bob’s Mom’s specials.”

“Y’know, I’ve been coming here off and on for years, but I’ve never eaten here.”

“The specials are always good, and the burger and fries.”

Suddenly Philip became aware of the blackboard above the mirror, scrawled with the words



“What about that mulligan stew,” said Philip. “Have you ever tried that?”

“Many times,” said Hobey.

“And what do you think?”

“To die for.”

“That good?”

“That good.”

“Wow, I’m not hungry now, but later maybe I’ll give it a try.”

Who was Philip kidding? He never ate when he was on a bender. He probably wouldn’t eat until a day or two after his family’s man that detective Joe Hooley found him again and either dragged him out to his parents’ house in the country or to the rest home, depending on how long the bender lasted. But it was nice at least to think about eating a nice mulligan stew.

He remembered suddenly that the nameless fellow had asked to be left alone, and so Philip shut up now, and stared into his drink.

For his part Hobie took a drink of his bock and wondered why out of nowhere he had just said more to this chump in a few minutes than he had to anyone, including the guys in his gang, for weeks, maybe months.

And the really weird part was that he suddenly realized that he felt like talking to the guy some more, but when he turned and looked at him the guy was staring intently into his drink, as if he were lost in thought, and so Hobie kept his trap shut. 

{Kindly click here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq.}

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