Thursday, September 2, 2021

"The Dime"


Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith finished urinating, and then looked at his face in the mirror above the bathroom sink. Yes, he definitely must have slept for a night and a day and the whole following night, because just look at that stubbled growth of whiskers on his face!

He shaved, and then came out of the bathroom into the one and only other room of his tiny sixth-floor walk-up apartment. He went to the window and stood there in his boxer shorts looking out at the bright hot day and the sunlight pouring down on the tracks of the Third Avenue Elevated.

God, but he felt good!

When was the last time he had awoken without even a trace of a hangover? It must have been that long-ago summer between graduating from Andover and matriculating at Harvard, because, let’s face it, once he hit Cambridge the gloves were off as far as drinking went. Yes, it had been a good solid twenty-five or thirty years of daily (or at least nightly) drinking, and it had taken nothing but an epic marathon of slumber for him finally to go for an entire day and night without consuming even a drop of fermented or distilled beverages.

It was all so very odd.

And now, looking out his window and down on the shimmering haze of the Bowery, Gerry suddenly experienced a vivid flash of memory, a memory of a dream, a dream of a shabby little man in a cloth cap, with a dead cigar, sitting at the writing table right here in this room.

What little man?

He somehow knew that little man.

It was almost as if Gerry had always known him…

And then he remembered, and this was definitely not a dream: the little man in his room was that shabby little fellow that Gerry had given a quarter to, his last quarter, when Gerry and Addison had been sitting drunkenly on the stoop downstairs, after their excruciatingly boring day and night of drinking.

Perhaps the little man in his room had not been a dream. After all, where did that cigar stub in his ashtray come from? 

What must have happened was that Gerry must have invited the little chap upstairs. He had no memory of doing so, but then Gerry couldn’t remember half the things he did when he had a good load on. So that must have been it, he had invited the little guy up here, God knows why, and the fellow had left his cigar stub in the ashtray. Fine, so that mystery was solved.

The little man whom Gerry had given his last quarter to…

Which meant that now, as good as Gerry felt, he was flat stony broke, with not a dime to his name, and he wasn’t due to pick up his monthly remittance envelope until, when, Friday? And what was today? Tuesday? No, if he had slept through yesterday then today must be Wednesday. Well, he hated to do it, but he would just have to schlep uptown to Mr. Goldstein’s office and ask for an advance on his allotment. Old Mr. Goldstein wouldn’t care, that was for sure, in fact he would doubtless be highly amused. Still, it was embarrassing. Gerry had only rarely ever gone over his monthly allowance of a hundred dollars, which was usually quite sufficient to his modest needs and wants. The only problem was, without even one thin dime for public transportation, Gerry would have to make it all the way up to 52nd Street by shank’s mare. And when was the last time that Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith had walked more than a few blocks at a time? He honestly couldn’t remember, but surely twenty years was a conservative guess.

Gerry continued to gaze out and down at the dirty Elevated tracks and girders, down to the street with the cars and trucks driving by, and the poor people dragging slowly along the sidewalks. It was bright and blazing hot out, August, definitely not the sort of day he would have chosen for his first long walk in decades. But what else could he do? 

What he should do was go downstairs and ask that ass Addison for a dime for the Elevated. How many bocks had Gerry bought Addison during that hellish and seemingly-eternal tête-à-tête the day and night before yesterday? Twenty? No, more like twenty-five or even thirty bocks, not to mention putting up with the man’s phenomenal boringness for a dozen hours or more. Knowing Addison, he would balk at coughing up even a dime, but too bad for him, he owed Gerry, he owed Gerry a hell of a lot more than a dime!

But then, almost as soon as Gerry had the thought, he had second thoughts.

First second thought: asking Addison for the loan of a dime to take the Elevated would mean that Gerry would actually have to talk to Addison, never an attractive proposition.

Second and more serious second thought: Gerry would doubtless be forced to explain to Addison the reason for his request for a loan of a dime, and then Addison would know that Gerry would be getting an advance on his remittance, which would mean that Addison would take this knowledge as carte blanche to invite Gerry to treat Addison to God only knew how many bocks on another long day’s and night’s journey through the jungles of drunken faux-literary tedium.

No, there was nothing for it but to be a man about it, and walk all the way uptown, despite the brutal August heat, and just hope that he didn’t drop dead of a massive heart attack or stroke or cerebral hemorrhage on the way.

Gerry turned away from the window, and his gaze fell upon his nearby writing table (indeed everything in Gerry’s tiny apartment was nearby everything else), that table on which sat his old Royal portable along with the pages of his work in progress, his “book of philosophical observations” tentatively titled Pensées for a Rainy Day, and also his ashtray (emblazoned with the legend THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL – OUR SERVICE IS SWELL), filled with his Bull Durham butts and that mysterious little man’s stub of a cigar.

Absent-mindedly Gerry walked the three steps to the table and picked up the ashtray, meaning to empty it into the waste-paper basket next to the table, but, as he did so, he saw a sliver of something dully gleaming in the midst of the ashes and butts. With one finger he moved the cigar stub aside, and there, mirabile dictu – it had been sitting under the cigar stub this whole time – was a dime. Ten cents! 

He picked out the coin and blew on it, the breath of life. It was an old dime, worn and smooth, one of the old Seated Liberties, and the date seemed to be 1888. Well, you didn’t see too many of those around in circulation anymore! Was it worth anything? Who knew? At any rate, it would certainly do for the Elevated ride uptown.

Gerry quickly got dressed and went out, and it never even occurred to him to wonder how that Seated Liberty dime had found its way into his ashtray, but, dear reader, it can now be told that the coin had been purposefully deposited there by the little man called Bowery Bert, otherwise known as the guardian angel of this impoverished and strange quarter of the city.

{Please 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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