Thursday, March 4, 2021

“Sixguns to El Paso”

Addison held off going back into Bob’s Bowery Bar for as long as he could, which as it happened was only five days. Where else was he going to go? Oh, sure, there were probably dozens of bars within a ten-minute walk of his tenement building, but if he went to one of them he would only have to go through the whole tedious process of becoming “a regular” all over again. Those initial, strained conversations – the prospect was depressing. And, really, why should he avoid Bob’s, when all he would really be doing was avoiding Tommy McCarthy? And did Tommy even care? Probably not. What was Addison to Tommy, but someone he had gone to an Audie Murphy movie with one time. Someone who, on the way to the movie, had sat in Tommy’s big Studebaker while Tommy went into some dockside bar called Sailor Sid’s, someone who had heard a popping sound that might or might not have been a gunshot, someone to whom Tommy, upon returning to the car, had given a pistol, still warm, “to hold”. Someone whom Tommy had subsequently offered vague employment at the fantastical wage of a hundred dollars a week. Someone who, after a week of the most intense anxiety had somehow gathered the courage to tell Tommy that he would not be able to accept the position, nor to continue to carry the gun.

It was a rainy day, and cold, the last day of February. Addison stood for a minute smoking a Herbert Tareyton in the entranceway of his building. It was going on for four o’clock, the beginning of the alleged happy hour, and around the time that Tommy habitually came into Bob’s.

This was what his life had come to, and Addison a Swarthmore man, living in a tiny tenement flat, jobless, subsisting on the generosity of his grandmother and his great aunts while he “worked on his book”, and afraid to go to his local bar for fear of encountering a semi-literate thug of a river boss. Well, let’s get it over with. What was the worse that could happen? He flicked his cigarette butt into the rain, pulled up the collar of his old Burberry trench coat, and set off to meet his fate.

One minute later he opened the door of Bob’s Bowery Bar, and breathed in that welcoming warm miasma of smoke, whiskey, bock beer, and unwashed human beings. Not unusually for a Friday at this time, the place was packed. Bob had finally installed a juke box this past year, but the machine was silent, because juke boxes required coins to be played, coins that could be better spent on alcoholic beverages. Nevertheless the barroom resounded with the harsh babble of the bibulous. Resounded with the harsh babble of the bibulous, there he went again, mentally transforming every sensation into pretentious prose, he would never learn, he would never stop, not until he was stopped entirely by death.

Through the mob and the smoke he could see the broad overcoated back and shoulders of Tommy McCarthy, at his usual place at the bar, down near the men’s room. If there had been an empty seat anywhere else, Addison in his cowardice would have taken it, but of course the only free stool at the bar was the one to Tommy’s left. Addison took a deep breath of the warm heavy air and headed over for it.

Tommy was reading the afternoon Federal-Democrat, as usual, with his usual cigar and his glass of bock.

“Hey, Addison,” said Bob. “Where you been? You catch the flu or something?”

“Heh heh, no, Bob, just, uh, just, um –”

Bob didn’t care where Addison had been, and without asking he went to the taps to draw Addison’s usual bock. Addison had a quarter all ready (a glass of Bob’s basement-brewed bock was only a nickel, and, really, wasn’t this one of the main reasons why Addison liked the place?), but when Bob put the glass down on a soiled cardboard Rheingold coaster, Tommy disengaged his enormous left hand from his Federal-Democrat and tapped the pile of bills and change in front of him.

“Outa here, Bob. Gimme another one too, and a shot of Schenley’s. You want a shot, Anderson?”

“Of Schenley’s?” said Addison.

“No, of Napoleon fucking brandy.”

“Oh, heh heh, uh, um –”

“Give Anderson a Schenley’s too, Bob.”

For some reason Tommy always called Addison Anderson, but Addison didn’t care, Addison wasn’t his real name anyway. Bob went away, presumably to get the drinks, and Tommy went back to his Federal-Democrat.

When Bob had brought the fresh bock for Tommy and poured the two shots, Addison finally got up the nerve to say, “Well, thank you, Tommy.”

Tommy said nothing, just picked up his shot and continued reading the paper.

Addison picked up his own shot.

“Here’s to you, Tommy.”

Tommy had already tossed back his shot and put the glass down. Again he said nothing, and so Addison quickly drank his own whiskey down. The whiskey helped. Here’s what he would do. He had broken the ice, and so now he would drink his bock, and then order just one more. He would offer to buy Tommy a bock, and, yes, a Schenley’s, and Tommy would probably refuse both. Then Addison would finish his second bock and leave. The next time would be easier…

“Fuck this shit,” said Tommy, and he folded up the paper. “I don’t know why I read it, it’s all bullshit. Where you been?”

“Who, me?” said Addison.

“No, the man in the moon.”

“Heh heh, well, I’ve been, uh, I’ve been rather busy with my book this week –”

“Your book.”

“Yes, you see, I had rather an access of interesting ideas these past few days, and I thought I should strike while the iron is hot, you know, make hay while the sun –”

“I thought maybe you’d stopped coming in this dive.”

“Oh, no,” said Addison, “not me, heh heh, it’s just, you know, my, uh, book?”

“What’s this book about again?”

He had told Tommy, or tried to tell him, at least a dozen times before, but here he went again.

“Well, it’s a comparative study of trends in literary criticism, since the turn of the century, with a special emphasis on Anglo-American –”


“Pardon me?”


“Do you mean why write about trends in, uh –”


“Literary criticism?”


“Um –”

“Who wants to read that shit.”

Tommy said it just like that, without a question mark.

“Well, uh, I suppose the audience for such a book is rather limited, but –”

“I told you what you should write.”

“You did?”

“Yeah. Westerns.”


“Westerns. That’s the kind of shit people really want to read. Not these trends in what the fuck –”

“Literary criticism.”

“Yeah. Nobody wants to read that shit. Why you want to waste your life. Look at me, you think I like doing what I do?”

“I don’t know, Tommy, I would assume you do –”

“If I had an education like you I would write westerns. Like Zane Grey. Harold P. Sternhagen. Jake C. Higgins. Horace P. Sternwall. Them guys. Take my advice, Anderson, don’t waste your fucking life. You only get one ride on this merry-go-round. Don’t fuck it up. Write westerns.”

“You really think I should?”

“You ever hear me say one motherfucking thing I didn’t mean?”

“Well, no, no –”


“Westerns,” said Addison. “Well, you know, Tommy, I’ll tell you what, I’ll give it some thought –”

“What’s there to think about.”

“Westerns,” said Addison.

“Westerns,” said Tommy. He looked at his watch, polished off his bock. He put down his glass and shoved his pile of money toward the Bob side of the bar. “I got to go. Business.”

“Well, nice talking to you, Tommy, and thanks for the advice –”

Tommy heaved his great body off his stool.

“Westerns,” he said. He saluted in Bob’s direction, and walked off in that way he had, as if he would walk through a brick wall if it was in his way.

Westerns, thought Addison. Could it be possible? Was Tommy right? First he would need a title, a good title was essential, and then the story could flow from that. What was a good western title?

Sixgun. Prairie. Cowboys. Gunmen. Cactus. Laredo. Tucson. El Paso. Sixgun. Sixguns.

Sixguns to El Paso!

That was it, a splendid title. Sixguns to El Paso. Or what about Six Sixguns to El Paso, or was that a bit de trop? No, Sixguns to El Paso, tout court, don’t overthink it. He would start tomorrow. Then he would go to Bob’s around four, and wouldn’t he have something to tell Tommy.

Sixguns to El Paso!

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

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