Thursday, July 1, 2021

“The Right Path”

“I say, Gerry!”

Knock, knock, rap, rap.

“Gerry, are you in there?”

Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith came awake. It wasn’t a dream, it wasn’t a nightmare, this was real, and someone was at the door of his tiny sixth-floor tenement flat.

“I say, Gerry!”

“What is it?” croaked Gerry.

“Oh, you’re alive,” said the voice. “It’s me – ‘Addison’, as such I am known, ha ha.”

Oh Christ.

Gerry worked his forty-eight-year-old and much-abused corporeal host to a sitting position on the side of his bed, his stockinged feet on the bare floorboards. He saw that he was still wearing his old Scotch-flannel trousers.

“May I come in, cher Gérard?”

Oh, Christ on the cross and all the gambling Roman soldiers and the wailing women.

“I mean,” said Addison’s voice. “If I may? I’ve brought coffee.”

Coffee? Addison? Who had never before brought anything to that door but his own baleful self and his awful work-in-progress?

“I’ve brought you a doughnut as well, old chap. Permission to come aboard, sir?”

“Sure,” said Gerry, and the word sounded like a strangled cough, so he said it again. “I mean, sure, just give me a second, Addison. What time is it anyway?”

“It’s nigh on to one o’clock, old man. In the afternoon!”

Oh, Christ. On his cross, looking down on all those people who were glad it was he on the cross and not they.

Five minutes later Addison sat in one of Gerry’s two chairs, the one that had arms but no cushion, and Gerry sat in the other, his writing chair, no arms but with a cushion, a well worn cushion but better than none.

“So you really got through the whole thing? All two hundred and forty-eight pages?”

“Sure did, Addison. Couldn’t stop turning the pages,” said Gerry. It occurred to him that it was very easy to lie to someone who didn’t want to hear the truth.

“I know it was a lot to ask, that you should read the entire thing in one night.”

“Oh, not at all.”

“How’s that coffee?”

“Good, Addison.”

“I didn’t know how you took it, but I told Ma it was for you, and she said you took milk and sugar.”

“Yes, just the way I like it, thanks, Addison.”

“That’s how I like it too. You know what Ma told me? Quite risible. ‘Mister Gerry likes his coffee sweet and brown, just like his women,’ she told me. Sweet and brown. Just like his women. Ha ha.”

“Ha ha.”

“So.” Addison took a sip of his own coffee. “Ah. You know, you can take those fancy coffees in the French and Italian cafés, expresso and whatnot, just give me a cup of Ma’s humble chicory coffee!”

“Yeah, it’s a lot cheaper than the stuff in those fancy cafés too,” said Gerry.

“Heh heh, yes, how was that jelly doughnut?”


“Ma told me you were partial to the jelly.”

“Yeah, it was great,” said Gerry.

“So you really liked the book?”

How late had he stayed at that Henry’s Horseplayers Bar last night? Until closing. And it had closed at four a.m.…


“Yes, Addison.”

“You really liked my book?”

“Oh. Yes, I really liked it, Addison. Very, uh, impressive.”

“So you don’t have any what our theatrical friends call ‘notes’?”


“Suggestions for improvement shall we say.”

“Oh. No.”

“Nothing at all?”

“Not really.”

“Nothing you would change?”

“No, it all looked pretty, um, you know –”

“What about the flashback?”

“The flashback?”

“The extended flashback to Buck’s childhood, which, come to think of it, extends all the way from page 42 to the end of the pages I gave you.”

“Oh, right, no, I mean yes, I thought that worked very well. Quite effective.”

“So you don’t think it was a mistake to have a two-hundred page flashback?”

“Um, no –”

“That it didn’t, you know, put a stop to the action for perhaps too long?”

“I didn’t think so. No. Not at all –”

How would Gerry know? He’d only read a handful of sentences of the whole horrible thing –

“I’m so glad to hear that,” said Addison, “because, as you saw, the flashback was still in progress on page 248, and I’m thinking it might continue for another hundred or so pages.”

“Why not?”

“Exactly my feeling, Gerry. I mean, what’s so great about ‘action’, per se. Is not all existence a form of action?”

“You’ve got a point there, Addison.”

Addison lighted up his second Philip Morris Commander since he’d been sitting there. Gerry had smoked up all his Bull Durham last night, and he certainly wouldn’t turn up his nose at one of those Philip Morris Commanders himself. But Addison had never in their three-years’ acquaintance even once offered him a cigarette, and it didn’t look as if he were about to start now –

“What about typos or errata?”

“Typos? Errata?”

“Typographical errors, or other mistakes – misspellings, calling characters by the wrong names, having a character wear a black hat in one paragraph and a white hat in the next, that sort of thing.”

“Oh. That sort of thing. Well, this might be hard to believe, but I didn’t find a single, um, erratum, Addison.”

“Not a one?”

“No, not a single one. I mean, it’s possible I might have missed one or two –”

“Do you think it’s possible? But I thought you gave it a careful reading.”

“Oh, I did.”

“Then don’t you think you should have noticed any possible mistakes?”

“Uh,” time to improvise, “here’s the thing, Addison, I was so enthralled, so caught up, that I was reading fairly quickly –”

“So it was a real page-turner you’re saying.”

“Exactly. A page-turner. So it’s possible, I mean, remotely possible that I might have missed a minor typo or two.”

“Wow, you had me worried there for a second. But, you know, I suppose my publisher will have his copy-editors go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

His publisher. Good God the man was deluded.

“So, to sum up, you think I’m on the right path?”

“The right path?”

“With the direction the book is going?”

“Oh, sure,” said Gerry.

“So I should just keep on the way I’m going?”

“Yes, by all means.”

“God, what a relief,” said Addison. “I was so worried you wouldn’t like it.”

“No,” said Gerry, baldfaced, “I loved it.”

“Would you like to read more pages as I continue?”

Okay, nip this right in the bud.

“Y’know, Addison, thanks, but I really think I’d prefer to wait until you’ve finished the whole thing. So that I can, you know –”

“Just plow through it all at once.”


“I quite understand.”

Gerry lifted his paper coffee cup, and saw that it was empty, not a drop left. He sighed.

“Are you finished your coffee?” said Addison.


“What about a drink?”

A drink!

“A drink?”

“How about we toddle down to Bob’s. I’ll buy you a bock.”

So, a red-letter day. Addison treating Gerry not only to a take-out coffee and a jelly doughnut, but a bock as well!

“Sure,” said Gerry. “Thanks, Addison. Don’t mind if I do.”

“The very least I can do,” said Addison.

And so the two failures (after dropping off Addison’s typescript at his own tiny apartment on the fourth floor) went around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar.

Gerry was in the clear now, at least until Addison gave him his completed book to read, not that Gerry would read it, but he would pretend to read it, and the great world would keep spinning obliviously.

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

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