Thursday, August 20, 2020

“The Code of the Dummies”

“Hey, Mickey, wake up.”

The dummy Mickey Pumpernickel had been sleeping the oblivious sleep of the just beside the ventriloquist Waldo McGee in their bed at the Parker Hotel, but somebody or something was tugging at his little arm and whispering in his little wooden ear.

“Wake up, ya lazy bum.”

Mickey opened his eyes, looked to his right, and who was there in the dim moonlight coming in from the open window but his fellow dummy Mr. Fleeber.

“What the hell?”

“Shhh, not so loud, you’ll wake up McGee.”

McGee was snoring to beat the band.

Mickey sat up, reached for the Philip Morrises on the night table.

“He ain’t gonna wake up,” said Mickey. “He got loaded at that Bob’s Bowery Bar last night, so he’s out like a light.”

He shook out a cigarette, lighted it with a Hotel St Crispian paper match.

“What the hell’s up, Fleeber.”

“I wanted to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For getting McGee to loan Mo that double sawbuck, and for putting in a word with Louie.”

“Don’t mention it. When we’re flush, our buddies ain’t never gonna have to sleep in no alleyway nor drink no canned heat, and if we can help a buddy out, we’re gonna help him out. That’s just the way we roll.”

“Stand-up guys.”

“We try to be, Fleeber. We try. So how’s it going.”

“That’s the other thing I wanted to tell ya. Louie got us a gig.”

“No kidding? Where at?”

“Little jazz joint over to MacDougal, name of Mitzi’s Tap Room.”

“I heard of the place.”

“Tiny little basement joint, but class, Mickey. The owner, Miss Mitzi, she don’t hire no ham-and-eggers. She’s had Charlie Parker playing there, Coleman Hawkins, Helen Hume, Pee Wee Russell. Class. Anyways, she likes to have somebody work the crowd in between the musical acts, so Louie sent us over, I turned on the charm, and presto, she hired us on the spot.”

“No kidding.”

“Wednesday through Sunday nights, ten bucks a night, plus Mo gets a free meal. She’s got a little kitchen, y’understand, limited menu, but good home-cooking, she’s always got a nice stew or a stroganoff in the crock pot.”

“That’s swell, Fleeber.”

“We start this Wednesday.”

“I wish you the best of luck, my friend. If we wasn’t working ourself we’d come out and give yez a little support.”

“I understand, man. And you can tell McGee, another week and he’s got that double sawbuck back.”

“Don’t worry about it. Get settled first. You guys still down at the Starlight flop?”

“Yeah. It ain’t so bad.”

“Not bad for a flophouse. Soon’s you get your first pay, move in here at the Parker. It’s cheap, it’s clean. No bedbugs, no termites.”

“Okay, I’ll tell Mo that.”

“You need a good room, Fleeber. It’s hard to put on a good show when you know you’re going home at night to a goddam flophouse.”

“Don’t I know it?”

“So first get a room here, make sure Mo is solid and on his feet, then when you get a little bit ahead, you can pay us back.”

“You’re a reet guy, Mickey.”

“I got my moments.”

“I just wanted to say thanks.”

“Well, you’re welcome, Fleeber.”

“And I’m gonna make it up to you.”

“That ain’t necessary.”

“For me it is. For me it is, Mickey.”

Mickey let it go. He knew what Fleeber meant. It was the code. The code of the dummies. If they didn’t look out for each other, who the hell else was going to? Nobody, that’s who.

“I’ll let you get back to sleep now,” said Mr. Fleeber.

“Awright. Careful getting back to the flop this hour of the night.”

“I’m always careful, buddy.”

“How’d you get in here, anyways?”

“Up the drain pipe, then onto the fire escape.”

“Okay. Just watch your step getting down, that pavement down there ain’t made out of cotton candy.”

“Gimme five.”

The two dummies shook hands, and Mickey watched as Mr. Fleeber went across the room, climbed up onto the chair next to the window and then up onto the window sill.

He turned and waved.

“Whatta ya know, and a hidey ho!” he stage-whispered, and then he was out the window.

Mickey sat there finishing his Philip Morris Commander. Would Mo Mosco blow this opportunity? For that matter, would McGee keep on the straight and narrow? Mickey hadn’t minded Waldo getting loaded last night, it was Monday, their night off; the guy deserved one night a week to get a little loose, and God knew he’d pay the price today. Mickey would have to kick his raggedy ass out of bed and down the street to Ma’s Diner to get a good healthy breakfast in him, best thing in the world on a morning after. A stack of blueberry pancakes, half a dozen of them home-cured bacon rashers of Ma’s, maybe a side of scrambled eggs and some of them fried and breaded green tomatoes, wash it all down with a pot of coffee, finish up with a big slice of peach pie with ice cream, then back to the hotel for a nap.

Mickey stubbed out his cigarette, then lay back down. Waldo was still snoring. Let him sleep.

And soon Mickey Pumpernickel was sleeping too, dreaming of that cute little French marionette Madelon…

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the one-and-only Rhoda Penmarq…}

No comments: