Thursday, October 7, 2021

“What Is Art?”

 "Art is something made by someone that makes somebody else glad to be someone."

Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith gazed at the sentence which had been the sole bounty of his afternoon’s work.

Was it nonsense?

For that matter, was it any more or less nonsensical than any other sentence in his work-in-progress, his “volume of philosophical observations” with the current working title of Pensées for a Rainy Day?

And indeed it had begun to rain outside.

He turned from his old Royal portable and gazed out his window at the El tracks in the rain. He heard that familiar whirring and rumbling in the distance as the Third Avenue train approached, its noise growing louder and louder until it passed by on its way down to the Houston Street stop.

Inside the windows of the train were the faces of people heading homeward from their jobs.

The last car of the train passed, and now as its roaring receded Gerry heaved a sigh.

He very rarely composed more than one sentence in a day, but, seized by an inspiration, he turned to his typewriter again and quickly typed the following:

“For the philosopher the only truly noble work is the avoidance of work.”


And say what you would about Gerry Goldsmith, if he had accomplished nothing else in his forty-eight years on the planet he had managed never to have a job.

But who could accuse him of laziness when he had written not one but two sentences in one afternoon?

Well, he deserved his reward for a good day’s work, and soon, umbrella in hand, he was working his way down the six flights to the street.

However, on the landing of the second floor he heard a woman crying, sobbing, and, yes, keening.

As much as Gerry wanted only that first delicious mouthful of bock, he was still a good man, a gentleman as well as a philosopher, and so he turned into the hallway of the second floor. The crying voice sounded familiar, and as he walked towards the sound of the sobbing he suddenly knew who it belonged to, because he was standing outside the door of young Araminta Sauvage.

He knocked on the door.

“Hello, Araminta?”

“Go away!”

“It’s me, Gerry.”


“Gerry Goldsmith, from up on the sixth floor?”

“Oh, that Gerry. What do you want?”

“I heard you crying.”

“I was that loud?”

“Well, yes.”

“Oh, dear, I’m so sorry.”

“Please don’t apologize. Are you all right?”

“Would I be crying if I were all right?”

“Oh. Good point. Well, if you’re all right, I guess I’ll be going along then.”

“I just said I’m not all right! You’re such a typical man, you never listen!”

“Now it is I who must apologize.”

“Wait a minute.”

Gerry waited. What had he got himself into now? All he wanted was a bock. All he wanted was to go out into the rain and around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar and order a bock. And then to drink it. And then to order another one and drink it, and so on…

Not a minute later, but more like four minutes (possibly five), Araminta’s door opened, and there she stood. Gerry was no expert in these matters, but he guessed that she had washed her face and re-applied eye makeup and lipstick. It would take a far more observant man than Gerry to tell that she had just been sobbing.

“Won’t you come in, Mr. Goldsmith?”

“Well, I –”

“Please, come in.”

“All right, thank you, Miss Sauvage.”

He took off his hat and entered, and Araminta closed the door behind him. Gerry had only been in here once before, the summer before last, when Araminta had thrown her housewarming tea party, at which he had gotten so drunk that the whole evening was like a dim memory of a memory in a dream, but a pleasant dream.

Araminta took his hat and his umbrella, put the umbrella in a large vase near the door, and hung the hat on a clothes tree.

“Please sit on the divan, Mr. Goldsmith. It’s really quite comfortable.”

Gerry sat down on the divan, which was covered with gaily colored scarves. In fact nearly everything in the flat was draped in gay dramatic scarves and shawls.

“Would you like some tea, Mr. Goldsmith?”

“Well, I was just heading out for a bock, actually.”

“Oh, you men and your precious bocks!”

“Okay, I’ll have tea, thank you, Miss Sauvage.”

“Bother tea! What is it with women and their precious endless cups of tea?”

“I, uh –”

“What about sherry?”

“Sherry is good,” said Gerry.

“You sit right there while I get the bottle and glasses.”

Gerry sat right there, and within a minute Araminta was sitting with her legs folded under her next to him on the divan, and they each held a jelly glass filled almost to the brim with Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

“You’re probably wondering why I was weeping uncontrollably.”

“Well, I admit I was, how shall I put it, concerned –”

“You may smoke if you’d like.”

What a question, Gerry nearly always liked to smoke, and so he took out his pouch of Bull Durham and his packet of Top papers.

“Oh, do please roll me one of those,” said Araminta, and Gerry duly did.

A half hour went by, and Gerry learned that Araminta had looked at her boyfriend Terry Foley’s novel-in-progress while he was out of his apartment, and there was a girl in the book named Annabella who was a poetess and who wore a beret and black stockings. Araminta wore black stockings even now, and she didn’t have her black beret on her head, but Gerry could see it hanging on the coat stand, right next to his own fedora.

“How dare he?” she now said. “How dare he put me in his stupid novel?”

“Well –”

“Well what? And don’t defend him!”

“Well, I was only going to say that writers, artists, they must get their material from where they will –”

“Yes, but he makes me look like an idiot, a pretentious little fool!”

“Yes, but, perhaps –”

“Perhaps what?”

“Perhaps he doesn’t see it that way.”

“Oh,” she said, and she paused. She stubbed out her current cigarette. “You know, you may be right, Mr. Goldsmith. You see, just between you and me, Terry is not as bright as he thinks he is. It’s quite possible that he thinks the girl in his novel is the cat’s meow.”

“I should think,” said Gerry, “that it might be flattering to be the inspiration for a character in a novel.”

“Here, have some more sherry.”

She emptied what was left of the bottle into Gerry’s jelly glass.

How long had it been since Gerry had sat in a woman’s domicile, alone with her, not to mention an attractive young woman, with the rain falling gently outside? 

Or was this the first time?

“Would you do something for me, Mr. Goldsmith?” said Araminta.

“Of course.”

“If I show you my breasts, will you tell me if you think one is markedly larger than the other?”

And here Gerry’s little world began to crash around his ears.

{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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