Thursday, October 29, 2020

"Audie Murphy"

“Jesus Christ almighty,” said Fat Angie, the retired whore, “will you just shut the hell up, Addison?”

“But –”

“Listen, wiseguy, nobody wants to hear your attempted witticisms. Don’t you know how boring you are? Why can’t you just keep your mealy mouth shut now and then instead of trying to be so goddam clever all the time? Ain’t life boring enough without having to hear your crap?”

“Oh my.”

“I’ll oh my you. I’ll oh my you right off that bar stool if you say one more word to me, and don’t think I won’t.”

High among Addison’s inalienable attributes was cowardice, so he resisted the urge to try to come up with a withering riposte. He stared into the dregs of his bock. This was what his life had come to, to be lambasted by an overweight (but still powerful looking) retired prostitute in a Bowery bar.

Angie was sitting to Addison’s left, and so he turned to his right, where the big river boss Tommy McCarthy sat. If there was anyone in this joint more frightening than Angie, it was Tommy McCarthy. The big man had never said one word to Addison, nor even acknowledged his existence in any way. However, just as nature abhors a vacuum, Addison abhorred keeping silent, and so now, with an almost suicidal lack of common sense, he decided to try to engage Tommy McCarthy in conversation.

“So, Tommy, have you seen any good films lately?”

Tommy had been staring into his own half-drunk glass of bock, but now he turned and glared at Addison.


This was something. Tommy had actually said a word to Addison!

“I asked if you’ve seen any good films lately.”

“What do you care?”

“Well, I was simply curious. For instance I recently saw this marvelous new Cocteau film at the Thalia, and –”

Something about Tommy’s glare caused Addison to run out of words. A silence that could only be called awkward ensued. Addison knew he should just shut up, but his guardian demon forced him to speak again.

“I find that the films from France tend to be so much more substantial than those that come from Hollywood. It seems that the French approach the art of cinema as an art, and not merely as a mode of mass entertainment –”

“I like that Audie Murphy,” said Tommy.

“Audie Murphy?”

“Yeah, Audie Murphy. He’s a little guy, but he sure killed a lot of Krauts in the war. Just ‘cause a guy’s little don’t mean he can’t be a killer. I like them Audie Murphy westerns.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, although I did rather enjoy Murphy’s perhaps naive performance in Huston’s adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage.”

“Yeah, that one wasn’t so bad, but I prefer the westerns.”

“I’ll have to see one sometime. You know, there is a school of thought that the western is one of the few truly American genres –”

“You know why I like westerns?”

“Is it because of the stark way that good is presented as the antithesis of evil, and the way that the struggle of good versus evil is presented in –”

“I like westerns because the bad guy always gets shot by the good guy in the end.”


Addison realized that he was sweating. He was actually conversing with Tommy McCarthy!

“Unlike real life,” said Tommy.

“I beg your pardon.”

“Unlike real life, where the bad guys don’t always get shot in the end.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true.”

“Real life don’t work that way.”

“Yes, I think you have a point there –”

“What’s your name?”

“Well, they all call me Addison here, heh heh, because supposedly I try to act like the George Sanders character Addison DeWitt in the film All About Eve, ha ha, but actually my name is –”

“Listen, Addison, good guys don’t always get to shoot the bad guys in the end.”


“Sometimes the good guys get shot in the end.”

“Yes, well, uh –”

“Life ain’t a Audie Murphy movie, pal.”

“Y’know, you’re probably right –”

“I know I’m right. And this is why I like Audie Murphy movies. They ain’t like life. They’re like the way life should be.”

“Yes, well, as I say, I’m not very familiar with Mr. Murphy’s filmography –”

“What was that movie you were talking about?”

“The Cocteau film?”

“Whatever it was.”

“Well, it’s this French film, directed by Jean Cocteau –”



“I like westerns. Audie Murphy. Randolph Scott. Tim Holt.”

“Well, you know, Tommy, there’s an argument, and in fact it’s been promulgated by the French critics, that John Ford’s westerns have elevated the western to the level of an American mythopoeia –”

“The good guy shoots the bad guy in the end.”

“Um –”

“Unlike real life.”


Addison considered saying more, but for once he kept his demon under control. He must learn not to push things.

“One other thing,” said Tommy.

“Yes?” said Addison.

“In real life the bad guys don’t always wear black hats. Sometimes the bad guys wear white hats. And sometimes the good guys wear black hats.”

Addison fought that all-too-familiar compulsion to say something, anything, so long as it was clever. But he couldn’t help himself.

“Sometimes,” he said, “good guys wear grey hats.”

Tommy stared at him with those icy cold blue eyes.

Had Addison gone too far? Would one of those massive fists smash him in the face? Should he back-pedal? Should he simply jump off of his stool and run out of here, never to come back? Should he –

“Grey hats,” said Tommy, at last, “black hats, white hats. Brown hats. It don’t matter. Any bum can buy a hat, it don’t matter what color. You think Audie Murphy cares what color his hat is?”

“I shouldn’t think so.”

“Damn straight,” said Tommy.

He continued to stare at Addison for another half a minute, and then he returned his gaze to his bock.

The danger had passed, and Addison decided not to press his luck further. Tomorrow he would scan the newspaper listings, and see if any Audie Murphy films were playing. If so he could catch a matinée, and then the next time he sat next to Tommy McCarthy he would really have something to talk about.

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

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