Thursday, June 4, 2020

"Araminta's Tea Party"

At last Araminta had gotten all settled in at her new apartment, so she decided to throw a tea party for the new friends she had made at Bob’s Bowery Bar, so conveniently located just around the corner. After a month at the Jeanne D’Arc women’s residence over on West 24th Street (no guests allowed), it was such a thrill to be able to entertain!

On moving day Araminta had made friends with two very cool and absolutely divine young dancers and actresses who lived in the apartment next door, Pat and Carlotta, and so of course she invited them. She also invited Hector Phillips Stone (the doomed romantic poet who lived in this very same building, but up on the sixth floor), Seamas McSeamas (the Irish poet), Howard Paul Studebaker (the western poet), Frank X Fagen (the nature poet), Scaramanga (the leftist poet), and Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III (the Negro poet). She had run into that genial fellow they all called “the Brain” but whose real name was Gerry Goldsmith on the stairs, and it turned out he also lived up on the sixth floor, and so she invited him as well. She decided boldly to cross class lines and invited that cute waitress from Bob’s, Janet, who seemed genuinely surprised at the invitation, but she said she would come, which was nice, and her presence would help to keep the party from being a teensy too male-dominated.

Pat and Carlotta gave Araminta all the “gen” (as they called it) on the best grocery shops and bakeries and delicatessens in the neighborhood, and, most divine of all, steered her to Mo’s Pawn Shop, where she was able to pick up an enormous ancient Russian samovar for only five dollars, as well as a chipped but serviceable gallon-sized teapot and loads of mismatched china and cutlery.

Pat and Carlotta came over to help Araminta set things up. She had three kinds of cake (chocolate fudge, Jewish apple, German marble) three pies (Boston cream, rhubarb, apple), and a platter of assorted sandwiches on white, rye, and pumpernickel, and to wash it all down there was a pound of lapsang souchong from a little Chinese shop over on Mott Street.

The party was due to start at four, but Janet showed up twenty minutes early, and even brought what she called her specialty, an Oreo ice box cake.

“Oh, Janet, you shouldn’t have!”

“Hey, Araminta, you know how many tea parties I been invited to in my life?”

“I should think scads!”

“Nope,” said Janet. “This is my first.”

The boys started rolling in right on the dot at four, and soon enough the lads were making beer runs around the corner to Bob’s. Araminta had a guitar and she played along by ear as Seamas sang several Irish revolutionary songs, Scaramanga sang international revolutionary songs in English, French, Russian, Italian and Spanish, Lucius sang “St. James Infirmary” and “Ol’ Man River”, Howard sang some cowboy songs, Frank X sang “Nature Boy”, Pat and Carlotta sang show tunes, and even Hector ran upstairs for his banjo and came back down and sang a medley of Stephen Foster songs. Finally everyone urged Araminta to sing something.

“Very well,” she said. “If you don’t mind, I should like to improvise something. You see, I am a great believer in the concept of ‘jazz poetry’, and –”

“Shake it, baby!” yelled Scaramanga, who as usual had got a head start on everybody else.

“I beg your pardon,” said Araminta.

“I said shake it, don’t break it, baby!”

“Scaramanga,” said Lucius, “cool it, dude.”

“Wha’d I say?” said Scaramanga.

“Just be cool, man, and let Araminta sing.”

“Sorry, Lucius,” said Scaramanga. “Sorry, Araminta. I get carried away sometimes. Y’see, this is why they drummed me out of the party–”

“Well,” said Frank X, “you’re gonna get drummed out of Araminta’s tea party if you don’t behave.”

“Okay, I’ll shut up. Carry on, Araminta!”

And Scaramanga plopped down in a thrift-shop armchair, his chin dropping to his chest, his eyes closing.

“As I was saying,” said Araminta, “I am a great believer in the concept of shall we say extemporaneous poetry, and so I have been trying to develop a fusion of vocal jazz and poetry, and to that end, I should like to sing a song I shall compose on the spot.”

A chorus of affirmation ensued, and everyone gathered around where Araminta sat on a big cushion on the floor.

She waited until everyone had settled down, then struck a loud and ringing E-minorchord, and began to sing:

Friends, my good friends, 
yes, these are my friends
to the bitter ends
of time and tide,
until we take that final ride
in that long black hearse
or, perhaps worse,
are unceremoniously
piled in a lorry
and dumped in an unmarked
grave in Potter’s Field,
with no one there to say
“So long, friend,
it’s been real.”.
Yes, these are my friends;
some call them losers,
some call them boozers,
but these are my friends,
the lost and never found
rolling in the gutter
like trash in the breeze,
hear them lowly mutter,
these my good buddies,
“Ah, gee, ma, why me?
All I ever wanted
was to be free.”
But these, yes, these
are my friends, compadres,
these are my friends, mes amis,
these are my friends,
my friends, you, my pals,
all you chaps, and, yes, you gals,
my friends, my friends
to the ends of the ends
of time’s last ends,
my friends, my friends,
my lovely bohemian friends…

Araminta struck one final ringing E-minor chord, and its reverberations subsided over the hushed room.

When it became likely that the song was indeed over it was Lucius who spoke first, saying simply:


Then the room erupted in cries of brava and bravissima.

Araminta looked up at all her friends through misted eyes.

Scaramanga now awakened, and rising to his feet he stretched up his right arm with clenched fist and shouted:

“Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!”

He then sat back down and passed out again, but, no matter, the party was just getting started.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, with illustrations by my esteemed colleague rhoda penmarq…}

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