Thursday, August 11, 2022

“Like Oranges in the Sun”

After Waldo McGee and Mickey Pumpernickel had introduced the Betty Baxter Dancers, Waldo carried Mickey over to the bar where Milford was sitting by himself.

“So you came, kid,” said Mickey the dummy.

“Yes, as you see,” said Milford.

“You mind if McGee and I take this stool?”

“No, help yourself,” said Milford, and Waldo climbed up onto the stool. He settled Mickey on his lap facing Milford, and the dummy continued to do the talking, with Waldo’s lips only barely moving.

“So what do you think of the show so far?”

“Quite entertaining,” said Milford.

“Don’t this beat sitting alone in the automat, drinking coffee, all by yourself, smoking cigarettes, staring out the window at the cold pelting rain like you got the weight of the world on your narrow shoulders?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Look at the gams on them babes!”

Milford looked at the dancers, doing their dance.

“Yes, they are quite, um –”

“And what about that Shirley, the canary?”

“The what?”

“Shirley De LaSalle, the singer with the band.”

“Oh –”

“Ain’t she a living doll?”

“Yes, she’s very, uh –”

“This is life, kid. This.” The little dummy waved his little wooden arm in its bright yellow suit sleeve. “This is life’s feast.”

“Well, perhaps,” said Milford.

The bartender came over.

“Ginger ale, Waldo?”

“Yes, thank you, Raoul,” said Waldo, the first time he had spoken with his own voice since taking his seat. His voice was deeper than Mickey’s, thicker, sadder.

The band played and the dancers danced as the bartender brought Waldo a glass of ice and a bottle of White Rock ginger ale. Waldo poured some of the soda into the glass and watched it fizz, but Mickey Pumpernickel continued to look at Milford.

“What was your name again, kid?” said Mickey.

“Milford, just call me Milford.”

“I see you’re drinking ginger ale, too, Milford.”


“No booze, huh?”


“On accounta you have a, quote, drinking problem, unquote.”


“I wonder if you would mind doing McGee a favor, Milford.”

“What’s that?”

“When Raoul comes back this way again, ask him for a shot of Cream of Kentucky bourbon.”

“But I told you in the automat, I have a drinking problem, I’m an alcoholic, I probably shouldn’t even be in a place that serves alcohol –”

“Slow down, Wilfred. The shot ain’t for you. It’s for McGee, but pretend the shot’s for you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“McGee ain’t supposed to drink while he’s working, but he could really use a shot, so be a pal.”

“I don’t know, it doesn’t seem right –”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because I suspect he has a drinking problem too, and –”

“We’ll introduce you to Shirley.”


“We’ll introduce you to Shirley, the warbler.”

“The singer?”

“Yeah, just order a shot, and pretend like it’s for you, and then we’ll introduce you to Shirley.”

“You will?”

“Yeah. You scratch Waldo’s back, he scratches yours.”

“He will?”

“We both will.”

“She wouldn’t talk to me.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, kid. Look, here comes Raoul, now order a shot. Cream of Kentucky, but like it’s for you.”

The singer, Shirley De LaSalle, was sitting down at the end of the bar, smoking a cigarette, watching the dancers, or at least looking in their direction. Her legs were crossed, her hair was the color of oranges in the sun and her dress was the color of moonlight.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Milford to the bartender. “I wonder if I might have a shot of Cream of Kentucky bourbon.”

“Certainly, sir.”

The bartender poured the shot of bourbon, and took Milford’s money. As he was going to the cash register Waldo quickly lifted the shot glass and drank it down.

“Thanks, Alfred,” said Mickey. “Waldo needed that.”

“You’re welcome,” said Milford.

The bartender brought back Milford’s change.

“All right, Mumford,” said Mickey. “You kept up your end of the deal. Now grab your ginger ale and we’ll introduce you to Shirley.”


“Do we look like welchers to you?”

“Do you really think she’ll talk to me?”

“She’ll say hello. Beyond that it’s up to you, kid.”

“I don’t know. She’s very beautiful.”

“Of course she is.”

“What if she thinks I’m a bum?”

“She won’t think you’re a bum if you buy her a champagne cocktail.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Can you do that?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Then come on. She goes back on again after the dancers go off, so you got about five minutes to chat her up.”

“I’m afraid.”

“We’re all afraid, kid. We’re born afraid, we live afraid, we die afraid. And you can be a coward all your life or you can be a man. So what’s it gonna be?”

“Okay,” said Milford, after a pause. “I’ll do it.”

“That’s a boy. And, look, when we get over to Shirley, offer to buy her a champagne cocktail, and also order another shot of Cream of Kentucky.”

“But I don’t want a shot of Cream of Kentucky, I don’t drink, I told you –”

“The Cream of Kentucky ain’t for you, Rutherford.”

“Oh,” said Milford. “I get it.”

“Now come on. Times a-wasting. Shirley’s gotta go back on soon, and me and McGee gotta introduce her.”

“All right,” said Milford. He got off his stool, took his change from the bar, leaving a fifty-cent tip as a token of good faith, and, picking up his glass of ginger ale, he followed the little man and the dummy down toward the end of the bar, toward the beautiful young woman with orange hair.

{Kindly 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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