Thursday, August 4, 2022

“A Reet Guy”

“And so you see, Daisy,” said Terry, “my goal in my novel is to take what we have learned from Joyce and from Thomas Wolfe, and also from Hemingway and his epigones Mailer and Irwin Shaw, and, yes, even James Gould Cozzens, and to build on this sturdy foundation to bring the American autobiographical novel into a new realm, which will rise above the constraints of the author’s personal experience, which experience, qua experience, might perhaps not at face value present the most shall we say dramatic material –”

“Sounds interesting,” said Daisy.

“Perhaps you would like to read some of it someday?”

“What’s that?”

“The novel I’m writing. My work in progress. Young Chap, Whither Goest Thou?”

“Whither goest who?”

“That’s my working title, Young Chap, Whither Goest Thou? But I’m not married to it. I was thinking of changing it to I Don’t Want to Go Home Again, but, uh –”

“Well, I’ll tell you – Timmy is it?”

“Terry, actually.”

“I’ll tell you, Terry, the kind of novels I like to read are the ones they show in Times Square.”

“They show novels in Times Square?”

“Yeah, double features with gals like Marie Windsor and Susan Hayward and Ida Lupino.”

“Oh, you mean movies.”


“So you don’t like to read novels?”

“I like that one Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. I found it on a subway seat, and when I run out of movie magazines to read I’ll read a few pages of that. I’ve been reading it for a couple of years now, but it’s okay, it’s a pretty long book, so I’ve still got five or six hundred pages to go. You ever read that one?”

“Um, no,” said Terry, “I mean, I’ve heard of it of course.”

“They made a movie out of it with Linda Darnell, that was pretty good. Hey, speaking of subways, I got to go to work.”

“To work?”

“Yeah, work. You want to come with me?”

“To your work?”

“Why not? Maybe you’ll get some ideas for your novel.”

“But, what kind of work?”

“Working the hole.”

“The hole?”

“The subway. I work the subway and the el. You can help me.”

“Help you?”

“Yeah, you look so innocent and nice-guy, you’ll make a great stall.”

“What’s a stall?”

“It’s a guy or gal who distracts a mark so the dip can get his wallet.”

Suddenly Terry remembered what Mickey Pumpernickel had told him that Daisy did for a living.

“Daisy, I can’t help you pick people’s pockets!”

“Jeeze, don’t get so excited, Jerry.”


“Don’t get so excited, Terry.”

“I can’t help you rob people.”

“So don’t. It was only a suggestion.”

“Well, I’m sorry, Daisy – call me old-fashioned, but I am not a criminal.”

“Okay, take it easy.”

“I don’t mean to be judgmental.”

“Don’t matter to me if you are.”

“It’s just – what if I got caught?”

“You wouldn’t get caught. You’d only be the stall, the decoy. It’s like, you ask a likely mark what the next station is, and then when they tell you I lift their wallet. So you’re free and clear. Anybody gets pinched, it’s me.”

“I’m sorry, Daisy, but I just can’t do that. I am an artist, a writer –”

“Okay, settle down. I like working single-o anyhow. More gelt for me.”

“Gee, Daisy, you seem like such a nice girl –”

“I am a nice girl. But I gotta make a living.”

“Isn’t there some other way?”

“What, being a nickel-pusher at the automat? Or would you rather maybe I walk the streets?”


“So what’s the harm? It ain’t like I’m dipping poor people’s pokes. What would be the point of that? I strictly stick to the guys who are wearing Brooks Brothers suits. They can afford it, and if they weren’t so cheap they’d be taking cabs instead of the subway.”

“Well, maybe so, but –”

“I thought you were a reet guy.”

“I am a reet guy!”

“You’re a square, Kerry, a nice guy, but a total cube.”

“Terry – my name is Terry.”

“Terry. You seem like a nice guy, but you’re like a cardboard box, that’s how exciting you are.”


“Anyhoo, look, thanks for the drinks, but I really got to run. It ain’t safe to ride the el or the subway late at night.”

“No, I suppose that’s true.”

“Too many bums with busy hands. You don’t even know what a girl’s got to put up with. But it’s okay, they get fresh, I give them this.”

Daisy pulled a six-inch long hat pin out of her little hat and showed it to Terry.

“Gee,” said Terry.

“A quick poke with this teaches them heels some manners.”

“Um, uh, heh heh –”

She slid the pin back into her hat and then slid off her stool.

“Don’t take any wooden nickels, pal. Maybe I’ll see you in here again.”

“Well, it was very nice meeting you, Daisy.”

“Yeah, you too. Oh, and here.” She opened her purse and brought out a man’s wallet. It was Terry’s wallet, and she handed it to him. “Because I like you, Gary. In your own square way, you’re kind of a reet guy.”

“Thank you, Daisy,” said Terry.

She took her umbrella off the hook under the lip of the bar, said goodnight to Bob the barkeep, and walked away.

Terry opened his wallet. He was pretty sure there had been two singles and a five in it, and, sure enough, they were still in there. Maybe Daisy really did like him. Maybe she really did think he was reet guy.

{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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