Thursday, September 10, 2020

"Goldfarb's Holler"


Jace Calhoun had always tried to be a good feller. It weren’t his fault he kept getting into trouble. All across the wild west he had roamed, just trying to find peace, excepting every durn town he pulled into there was always somebody who wanted to throw down on him. And why? He was a nice guy, but maybe it was just because he was so nice, and also because he was a six-foot-two rangy strapping drink of cool mountain spring water with a broad flashing grin and a good word and a howdy-do for everybody he met.

Take this one feller he met when Jace pulled into this mining town in the Badlands name of Goldfarb’s Holler.

Herbert Goldfarb paused at his typewriter. Where the hell had “Goldfarb’s Holler” come from? Who the hell ever heard of a Badlands mining town called Goldfarb’s Holler? See, this is what happened when you were overworked and underslept, tired, and hungry. But his rent was over a month overdue, and Herbert really wanted to get a story written today. If he got it finished by mid-afternoon he could take the El up to the Minchkin Publications offices, shove his way in and go right to Al Schwartz’s desk, throw it down and ask for a ten-buck flat fee. But first he had to write the damn thing.

Time was short and typing paper was expensive, so Herbert decided to let Goldfarb’s Holler stay.

Where was he? Oh, yeah…

First thing Jace did after he found a stable for his horse Bosco was the first thing he did whenever he came to a new town. He hit the nearest saloon.

It was around noon and the place was packed. Didn’t nobody work in this town? And then he realized that most of the fellers in here were very dirty, and so they must be miners and they were in here on their lunch break.

What Jace really wanted was a beefsteak, some fried taters, and a bottle of whiskey. Now that was a lunch. Maybe some pie afterwards, then a nice nap.

Herbert realized he was really hungry. No breakfast today, not even toast, let alone the daily breakfast special across the street at Ma’s Diner. Damn, that beefsteak Jace wanted sounded good. What was today? Tuesday? Ma’s Diner’s Tuesday all-day special was her delicious chicken-fried steak! For seventy-five cents you got a juicy thick chicken-fried T-bone, hand-cut french fries and your choice of veg, and depending on what was available Herbert liked the succotash or the “breaded ‘n’ fried” Jersey tomato slices. Beverage included, and Herbert would always go for Ma’s house chicory coffee, with plenty of cream and sugar…

He was getting distracted again.

Back to the story.

“Hey, miss,” said Jace to a comely dark-haired waitress going by with a tray full of beers and whiskeys, “can I get a table for one?”

“What, are you nuts, cowboy? Look at this joint, you see an empty table?”

“Well, how long do you think the wait is for a table?”

“How the hell do I know?”

“Could I just put my name down? It’s Jace, Jace Cal–”

“What do you think this place is, Delmonico’s?”

“I’d just like to put my name on the waiting list. I could have a drink at the bar, and –”

“Do I look like I got a waiting list?”

“Oh, then is there a hostess I could talk to?”

Jace looked around for a hostess stand.

“Hey, Mabel, this guy bothering you?”

This was said by a fancy-looking dude in a black suit, smoking a thin cigar.

“He’s an idiot,” said the waitress. “Wants to know if we have a waiting list for tables.”

The dude looked at Jace.

“What’s your problem, pal?”

“I just want to get some lunch.”

“Then why you bothering Mabel?”

“I didn’t mean to bother her, but since she seems to work here, I thought she might be able to help me to get a table so I could eat lunch.”

“You want to hog a whole table for yourself when this place is this busy?”

“Maybe just a small table?”

“We have a few deuces, but they’re all occupied at present.”

“Oh, so you work here too?”

“I own this establishment.”

“Hey, Zeke,” said the waitress, “can I drop these drinks off now? The beer’s getting warm and flat while this moron is holding me up.”

“Yes, go on, Mabel.”

The waitress went off and the dude looked at Jace again.

“I hope you didn’t come here looking for trouble.”

“All I want is some lunch, mister. A nice beefsteak, some fried taters, a bottle of red eye. Is that too much to ask?”

“Not at all,” said the dude. “But if you’re gonna come in here looking for trouble, let me tell you something, you’re gonna find it, in spades.”

The dude drew back the skirts of his frock coat, draping their folds behind the pearl handles of twin revolvers in a black gun belt twinkling with .45 cartridges in their little leather loops.

“Oh, jeeze, mister – what is it, Zeke?”

“You can call me Mr. Zeke. You haven’t earned the right to call me Zeke. Yet.”

“Okay, Mr. Zeke – my name’s Jace, by the way, Jace Calhoun.” Zeke ignored Jace’s offered hand. Okay, thought, Jace, be that way. “Okay, fine, skip the handshake, I get it. But, look, I’ve been riding since dawn, no breakfast, and I’m tired and sore and hungry, and all I want is a beefsteak, and some potatoes, and a bottle of cheap whiskey. And then, if it’s not too much trouble, I would like a room, to sleep in. And I’d like to get a bath after I wake up from my nap. Is all that too much to ask?”

“I don’t know,” said Zeke. “Is it?”

Herbert had reached one of those points in a story where you really had to have something happen. Should he go right for a gunfight now? Maybe just a bar brawl? Or maybe a gunfight could break out in another part of the saloon? Would Jace ever get his beefsteak?

A knocking sounded on Herbert’s door.

“Mr. Goldfarb?”

It was Mrs. Morgenstern. Great.

“Mr. Goldfarb, I hear you typing, so I know you’re in there.”

“Coming, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

Herbert got up from his table and walked the six feet to the door. He opened it.

“Look, Mrs. Morgenstern, I know my rent’s overdue, but if I can finish this story I’m writing today I can give you ten dollars this evening, I mean I think I can if I can run it uptown to this publisher that takes most of my stories. What’s that?”

“I baked a cinnamon babka. I thought you might like some.”

She had a tin tray with a plate on it, with three thick slices of babka. Next to the plate was a big ceramic mug, steaming.

“A nice fresh hot mug of coffee, too. Cream and sugar, right?”

“Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

“And listen, if you sell your story, you ain’t got to give us ten tonight. Maybe a fin.”

“A fin, yes, a five, well, okay, I’ll try to at least get you five.”

“I know you work hard. All day I hear you typing in here.”

“I try. But the publishers only pay –”

“Just keep typing away. Someday you’ll write one of them best sellers, like Herman Wouk, Harold Robbins.”

“I wish.”

“Okay, I got work to do myself. See ya later, Mr. Goldfarb.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Morgenstern –”

But she was already headed down the hall.

Herbert closed the door and sighed. The coffee smelled good. The babka smelled good.

He took the tray over to his little table and set it down next to his typewriter.

He took a bite of babka. Delicious, and still warm! He took a sip of the coffee, and then looked at the page in his typewriter.

Jace sighed. He didn’t want a gunfight. He wanted a beefsteak, some potatoes, some whiskey, maybe a slice or two of pie or cake, and then a room with a bed.

“Okay,” he said, “look, Mr. Zeke, how about if I just try to find a spot at the bar, and I’ll have my lunch standing up if I have to.”

“You probably will have to.”

“Could I at least ask you for a room that I can go to after my lunch?”

“All we have is a fourth floor single looking out over the pig yard in back.”

“That would be perfect.”

“A dollar a night, in advance.”

“That seems very reasonable.”

“You can pay me now.”

Jace dug out a silver dollar from his Levi’s, and gave it to Zeke.

“I’ll send the bellboy over to get you at the bar in about an hour.”

“That would be fine,” said Jace.

Great, thought Herbert, now to get a good gunfight in here. He took another bite of the delicious babka, and a good gulp of the coffee, and he got back to work.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, with two-fisted art work by Rhoda Penmarq…}

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