Thursday, January 20, 2022

“Baltimore Handshake”

It was a small studio apartment, just slightly less cramped than Addison’s own tiny place. The narrow bed had brass rails, or, if not brass, then brass-like…

“You know what’s interesting,” said Addison, “I live on Bleecker also, but a bit farther to the east.”

“Yeah?” said Bubbles. “How much farther to the east?”

“Oh, right at the corner of the Bowery, actually.”

“Jesus Christ, is that the best you can afford?”

“Well, you see, Bubbles, I am a man of letters, I suppose you might even say a bohemian, and so –”

“I don’t care what religion you are. Take your coat off.”

She removed her own fur or fur-like coat and hung it on a clothes tree near the door.

“Where should I put my umbrella?”

“Try sticking it in that priceless Ming Dynasty vase there that already has an umbrella in it.”

“Oh, is it really a Ming Dynasty vase?”

“Yeah, they had a sale on them at Woolworth’s.”

Addison inserted his umbrella in the vase, making a mental note to keep an eye out for the sales at Woolworth’s. Bubbles went over to the bed, and he removed his fedora and topcoat and hung them up on the tree.

“May I ask what you pay for this place, Bubbles?”

“What do you care?”

“Well, you see, I’m writing a novel, a prose epic of the Old West actually, and after it’s published I plan to move to more spacious quarters, in a less shall we say colorful neighborhood, heh heh. My ideal location is Sutton Place, but, who knows, perhaps a nice garden flat or even a small townhouse here in the Village?”

“Yeah, perhaps,” she said.

There was a short bookcase on the other side of the doorway, and Addison had wandered over to it. He always liked to see what books people read, if any, and along with a lot of movie and fashion magazines, Bubbles did have some actual books on her shelves.

Forever Amber. Did you enjoy that novel?”

“It was okay.”

The Fountainhead. So you’re a Randian?”

“I never finished it.”

A Rage to Live. How was that?”

“Look, buddy, I don’t have all night.”

Addison turned, and she was sitting on the bed wearing only a slip, a brassiere, and stockings, which latter she was in the process of rolling down.

“Oh, my,” said Addison.

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, nothing. I just –”

“Just what?”

“Well, I thought we were perhaps going to have a cocktail.”

“A cocktail? What do you think I’m running here, a speakeasy?”

“Ha ha, well, no, but, gee, this seems somewhat precipitous.”

“What does?”

“You divesting yourself of your garments.”

“Would you prefer I left them on? Get them all wrinkled? Are you gonna iron them for me?”

“Well, ha ha, I’m afraid I’m not a very good hand with a clothes iron –”

“Then what’s your problem?”

“Well, I simply thought we were going to have a bit of a chat, you see, and if not a cocktail, then, oh, I don’t know, perhaps a cup of tea, or coffee, a sandwich –”

“Does this look like Horn & Hardart’s to you?”

“A hot cocoa?”

“Look, enough fooling around, buddy. Now pay up first. A sawbuck like we agreed.”

“A sawbuck.”

“Yes, ten bucks, just like we settled. A sawbuck a throw, a fin for a BJ.”

Suddenly it all came clear to Addison.

“Oh, dear.”

“Oh dear what?”

She had removed her second stocking, and she draped it with the other one on the foot rail of her small bed.

“I misunderstood,” said Addison.

“What did you misunderstand.”

“I misunderstood your invitation.”

“You what?”

“I didn’t realize, that you, um, you see, that is, I didn’t quite grasp that you are, uh –”

“A hooker?”

“I was going to say a lady of the night. Or perhaps a demimondaine is a better term.”

“If you’re trying to get out of paying the ten bucks, guess what, you got another think coming, pal.”

“Oh, it’s not that,” said Addison, not quite truthfully, “it’s just that, gosh.”

“I know you’ve got it. I saw it. You paid for those drinks out of a double sawbuck, and the bartender gave you eighteen bucks back. And when we left you dug in your pants and left him a quarter tip.”

“Do you think that was not enough?”

“I don’t care if you’re a cheapskate with bartenders. I only care that you’re trying to get out of paying me my ten clams.”

“But –”

“No buts. You’re wasting my time here when I could be making money. There’s a sap in my purse on that night table, and don’t think I’m afraid to use it.”

“A sap?”

“A piece of springy steel wrapped in leather for bashing wiseguys and welshers in the head. You want to see it?”

“No, thank you.”

“Ten bucks. Put it on the table and let’s get this over with.”

“But, excuse me, what was that other, uh, choice you mentioned?”


“Something about a fin, for a J&B, or –”

“A fin for a BJ?”

“Yes, that. A fin is five dollars?”

“Five bucks, yeah, for a BJ.”

Addison wasn’t sure what a BJ was, but he didn’t let on.

“Well, that certainly seems very fair,” he said. “However, I wonder, are there any other even more reasonable options, and I only ask because you see my rent is due soon, and –”

“Jesus, you really are cheap, aren’t you?”

“Well, you see, it’s just that I’m on a budget until my novel is finished.”

Bubbles sat there staring at him.

“All right,” she said. “I can let you have a Baltimore handshake for three bucks, but then you gotta buy me some more cocktails down at the San Remo.”

“You want to go back down to the San Remo?”

“I don’t intend to spend all night in this dump listening to Amos and Andy and Fibber McGee and Molly on the Philco, that’s for sure.”

“And you’d like to sit with me at the San Remo?”

“Until some other high roller comes along. Why not? You make me laugh,” she said, although she hadn’t laughed yet.

Addison paused.

“How many cocktails do I have to buy you exactly?”

“Jeeze. Look, just come over here, buster, and let’s get this show on the road.”

It didn’t take long. 

And when it was over, Addison wondered, did this count? 

Did a “Baltimore handshake” count as losing one’s virginity? 

He decided that it did.

{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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