It was just another drunken night at Bob’s Bowery Bar, a Tuesday night, not that it mattered a whole hell of a lot what night it was, because every night is a Saturday night when you don’t work for a living, or when you hardly work, or work just enough so you can get your load on every night of the week.
Hector Philips Stone, the doomed romantic poet, came out of the men’s room and went over to Janet, who was standing at the service bar waiting for Bob to fill her order.
“Oh. Hi,” she said.
“Hey, Janet, Wednesdays are still your night off, right?”
“How about we get together tomorrow?”
“And do what?”
This was a question she had never asked before.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe we could have dinner at Ma’s Diner?”
“We could go somewhere else if you like.”
She turned and stared at him.
“Why don’t you just say what you want, Hector?”
“Well, all right then, hang it all, Janet! We could go to my flat, and –”
“You call that a flat? I call it a room.”
“Well, I think the term is ‘studio apartment’.”
“Forget it, Hector.”
“Why are you acting like this?”
“I ain’t acting like nothing.”
“Are you angry with me about something?”
“All you do is drink and sleep and write your stupid poems.”
“Well, this is true.”
“You don’t give a shit about me.”
“That is not true.”
“Forget it, Hector.”
“But what did I do?”
“You didn’t do nothing except be you.”
“But what else can I be except me?”
“Nothing. And that’s why I ain’t gonna hang around with you on my night off, because I know what you want to do, and I don’t want to do it with you, or with nobody, so don’t feel bad.”
She turned away and picked up her tray of drinks and went off.
Hector stood there and watched her. He took out his cigarettes and lighted one up. What had he done? Or had he done nothing, and merely been himself, and that really was the problem?
It was too bad, because he was fond of Janet. He was pretty sure it had only been that one night that they had fully made love, if you could call it that, and, sure, he had been drunk, but that was to be expected, wasn’t it? Had he performed clumsily? As it was, he could barely remember even that one time. It had happened almost as in a dream, and he had fallen asleep, and when he woke up in the middle of the night she was gone, leaving only a small bloodstain on his sheet (which, to be honest, he had not even noticed until several days later). Had she gotten angry because he had fallen asleep, or, let’s face it, passed out? Had he snored? Had his breath smelled?
It was such a cliché to say it, but women were a mystery. He headed for the table where his friends the other poets sat, drinking and shouting.
He would write a poem about this. It was only through poetry that his life made sense.
On the way to the table he passed Janet who was on the way back to the service bar with her tray filled with empty glasses and bottles and an empty beer pitcher.
“Oh, I say, Janet, could you bring me and the fellows another pitcher of bock when you get a chance?”
Holding the tray in the upraised palm of her left hand she took the empty pitcher by its handle, and Hector stared in disbelief as she reared back and walloped him on the side of his jaw with it. The pitcher was very sturdy, and it didn’t break, but Hector went down, landing on his lean backside.
“Wow,” said Howard Paul Studebaker, the western poet, “you fellers see that?”
“Got him good,” said Frank X Fagen, the nature poet.
“The boy said something wrong,” said Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III, the Negro poet.
“Glad it wasn’t me,” said Scaramanga, the leftist poet.
“Lover’s spat,” said Seamas, the Irish poet.
Hector sat there in the sawdust, rubbing his jaw, watching Janet stride over to the service bar. He didn’t know what he had done to deserve such treatment, but somehow he was sure that he did deserve it.
(Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only rhoda penmarq…)