Thursday, December 24, 2020

"Christmas Eve on the Bowery"

It was Christmas Eve on the Bowery
and all the drunks was drinking,
just another night on the Bowery,
another night to get stinking.

But what about all them little brats
lying in their dirty cots?
Where was the mummies and the daddies,
of these poor underprivileged tots?

I’ll tell you where they was, my friend,
they was down at the corner dive
drinking tokay and basement brewed bock,
and just slightly less dead than alive.

And for them tykes a cold Christmas morn,
with no tree, no presents – sad, innit?
And for breakfast a bowl of cornflakes
with not a drop of milk to put in it.

Is there any hope for these poor childers,
brought up in such poor circumstances?
Yes, my friend, there is aways hope,
maybe not a lot, but them’s the chances.

And as for the few who survive to adulthood,
despite the filth, the rickets and T.B.,
the few who finish school and escape skid row,
they can always say, “Hey, look at me.

Me da was a drunk and me ma was a whore,
but I fought my way out of that slum
because I wanted to be something more
than just another pathetic Bowery Bum.”

Seamas McSeamas the Irish poet put down his pencil. Writing these lines had not only pushed him to the verge of depression, but given him a powerful thirst. Fortunately, he still had six bucks from his last welfare check, way more than enough to get his load on down at Bob’s Bowery Bar.

Seamas was already wearing his old overcoat and his tweed cap and muffler, his attic room was devilish cold, but what the hell, it was still a pretty good deal for only a sawbuck a month. What did any real poet need more than a roof over his head and his monthly dole check? Not a damn thing, that’s what. Seamas had no regrets. He had chosen his path in life.

Down the six flights of stairs of his tenement to Bleecker Street, and the snow was falling thick and heavy out of the black of the night. Across the street Seamas saw the glowing red neon sign

Ma’s Diner

and it occurred to him that in the fire of creation he had forgotten all about his supper. He hesitated. It was true that Bob served good cheap food, but there was always the very likely possibility that once Seamas got in the bar he would forget to eat, which would mean he would wake up on Christmas day not only as hungover as a dog, but quite probably without even a dime for a cup of coffee and a doughnut. Better to stop at Ma’s now and get something in his belly.

He crossed the street, and there by the entranceway of Ma’s, what had at first seemed to be a pile of snow now revealed itself to be a human being sitting against the wall.

“Hey, brother, what you doing sitting there?” said Seamas.

“What’s it look like I’m doing,” said the little snow-covered old man which was what the human being was. “I’m sitting here minding my own fucking beeswax.”

“Ah, shite,” said Seamas. This was all he needed, and him with only a fin and a single in his poke.

“All right, old-timer, up you go.”

“Fuck off.”

“That ain’t no way to talk now. Come on, gimme your hand and I’ll take you into Ma’s and get you a nice hot cup of joe and summat to eat.”

“Fuck you, Mick, I don’t need your charity.”

“But if you sit out here in this freezing cold and snow you’re sure to croak from the hyperthermia.”

“That’s my lookout. I ain’t looking for charity from no bog trotter.”

“Hey, watch it with the ethnic aspersions, pal.”

“What’re you gonna do about it, Paddy?”

“Jaysus, man, you got to be the most unpleasant bum in the whole neighborhood, and that’s saying something in this neighborhood.”

“What I do, I do the best,” said the little old man. “Hey, what’re ya doin’, harp?”

“I’m picking you up, you nasty little fuckwad,” said Seamas, doing exactly what he said.

“Off the cloth, moth,” said the little old man as Seamas pulled him up to his feet.

Seamas brushed some snow off the little man’s raggedy coat.

“Watch the threads, Ted,” said the obnoxious little bum.

“Look at ya, you’re damn near froze up like a popsicle already,” said Seamas.

“Fuck you and fuck your pity,” said the little man.

“Come on,” said Seamas, and he grabbed the little man’s little arm.

“Leggo my arm, ya big bully,” said the little man. “Stop manhandling me!”

Seamas was actually a pretty strong fellow for a drunk and a poet; when his welfare checks ran out he picked up day-work digging ditches on the road crews, and he dug ditches like a champion, it was in his blood he always said, digging ditches and writing poems and drinking, he wasn’t good at much, but he was good at them things. Anyway, it was no problem at all for Seamas to drag the little bum bodily into the cozy warmth of Ma’s Diner. Soon enough they were sat side by side at the crowded counter, and despite the little man’s protestations they each had a big order of Ma’s Christmas Eve plat du jour: fried Virginia ham with red eye gravy, collard greens, and mashed sweet potatoes slathered with plenty of butter, and then thick warm slices of Ma’s pumpkin pie topped with fresh whipped cream, and all of it washed down with lashings of her bottomless cups of fresh-ground chicory coffee.

“Well, that was good, weren’t it?” said Seamas, lighting up his Bull Durham.

“I’ve had worse,” said the little old man, taking a good draw on the Durham that Seamas had rolled for him. “But.”

“But?” said Seamas.

“Yeah, you heard me,” said the bum. “But.”

“But what?”

“But I’ve had better.”

Seamas held his peace. This had been the closest this little fucker had come to saying something not totally disagreeable yet. Best not to push him.

“Well, I’m gonna be taking off now,” said Seamas, after a minute of silence, except for the chatter of the other poor people in this joint and the sound of Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on the radio.

The little bum finished blowing the series of perfect smoke rings he was blowing, and then replied, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

Seamas paid the check, and gave Ma a fifty cent tip, making sure to hand it to her, because he didn’t trust the little guy not to steal it.

“Merry Christmas to ya, buddy,” he said to the bum.

The bum said nothing.

Seamas went out into the thick falling snow. Well, it was time to get that load on, although now he’d be getting a buck’s worth less loaded thanks to buying that obnoxious little bum a meal.

Inside Ma’s the little man continued to enjoy his cigarette, and asked Ma politely for a refill of his coffee. Little did Seamas know, but this little old man was none other than the archangel called Bowery Bert, the guardian angel of this impoverished neighborhood. Seamas had passed his test with flying colors, and thus had earned another ten years added to his pre-allotted span of life on this earthly plane. Of course, what Seamas chose to do with those extra ten years was entirely up to Seamas, and not up to any angel or even God in Heaven, no, it was entirely up to Seamas.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one and only Rhoda Penmarq, and from me and Rhoda and all the staff at Flophouse Enterpises™: Happy Holidays!}

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