Friday, September 30, 2022

“Nothing in This Whole Wide World”

Waldo McGee stood with his wooden dummy Mickey Pumpernickel under his arm outside the “green room” (which doubled as a storage room), and he smoked one last Old Gold while he waited for Shirley and Tony and the band to finish their set.

“Listen, Mickey,” said Waldo, “There’s something I been wanting to say to you.”

“Spill,” said Mickey, or rather he communicated telepathically, on account of people looked at Waldo and Mickey funny when they had private conversations out loud.

“It’s this, pal,” said Waldo. “When I croak, I want you to find a new partner.”

“What do you mean, when you croak?” said Mickey.

Even though they weren’t talking out loud, Waldo’s lips moved ever so slightly when Mickey spoke telepathically, just like they did onstage in their act.

“I mean I ain’t gonna live forever,” said Waldo.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” said Mickey. “What’s with this morbid shit when we’re like two minutes away from going on?”

“Look, I’m sorry, Mickey, but it’s been like welling up in me. It’s like I got gas from eating beans on toast and I just gotta let it out, ya know?”

“I know I’m trying to get in the right frame of mind to entertain these punters out there who are paying good money to have a good time, and I don’t need you to be bringing me down, daddy-o! Now zip it.”

“How many years we been together, Mickey? Thirty?”


“Thirty-two years, and I ain’t getting no younger. You, you don’t age, but me, every day I get older, every day I feel more like shit, every day I get closer to that hole in the ground –”

“Oh, Jesus Christ, Waldo, tell it to the marines, will ya?”

“All’s I’m saying is I don’t want you sitting on a shelf somewheres. I want you to find a new partner, some good younger guy, to like keep the act going.”

“Don’t you worry about me, buddy. Worry about yourself. Maybe cut back on the booze and the smokes a little, you ever think about that?”

“Sure I think about it.”

“Maybe take a little exercise now and then.”

“I exercise.”

“You exercise your right arm lifting a glass to your mug.”

“That ain’t nice, Mickey.”

“I am only speaking the truth, Waldo. You try taking care of yourself you got a good twenty years left.”

“No way I got twenty years.”

“Fifteen then. Ten. Just watch the booze. And the smokes. Take a walk now and then.”

“I walk.”

“Yeah, you walk from the bar to the jakes to strangle the worm, and then back to the bar again.”

“That still counts as exercise.”

“Yeah, right, it is to laugh.”

“Just promise me.”


“That you will find a new partner when I croak.”

“Awright, awright, if it will shut you up, yes, I will find a new partner when you croak, all right?”

“Some fresh young kid.”


“You can teach him everything.”


“Everything we learned these thirty-two years.”

“Okay, sure.”

“Working all them dives. All them nights. All our jokes and bits.”

“Okay, Waldo.”

“But, look, you gotta tell him to work out his own material, too.”


“That is very important. That he finds his own, like, voice.”

“Okay, Waldo.”

“Promise me.”

“I promise, Waldo.”

Shirley was singing another one of her and Tony’s original numbers. The audience didn’t seem to mind, drunk and getting drunker as they always were, and Shirley and Tony and the boys would slip into one of the old warhorses every now and then just to keep the marks on their toes – “Starlight” or “Body and Soul” or “You Go to My Head” – but right now they were laying down one of their new compositions…
When I walk down this lonely street
every fella that I meet
says, "Hey, baby, trick or treat?"
but they don’t seem so reet to me
in fact they seem pretty beat to me,
so, "Scram, Sam," I says,
"and tell your story walkin’
because this jive that you’re talkin’
don’t mean nothing to me…"
She nodded over to Waldo and Mickey through the smoke. That meant she was getting ready to wind the number up.

Waldo took one last drag on the Old Gold, then stubbed it out in the sand in the standing ashtray there.

“You ready, Mickey?” he said.

“Ready as I’ll ever be, partner.”

“All right then,” said Waldo.

“Let’s kill ‘em,” said Mickey.

“Don’t mean nothing in this whole wide world to me,” sang Shirley. 

Tony tinkled out a final arpeggio and Zeke the drummer tickled the snare with the brushes. Some of the people clapped, and a couple of the drunker ones hooted approvingly.

“Thank you, ladies and gents,” said Shirley into the mike, “thank you very much. Tony and the boys and I are gonna take a little break to wet our whistles, but we’ll be back for two more sets! And now let’s hear it for Waldo McGee and Mickey Pumpernickel!”

Waldo grabbed the wooden chair at the side of the stage and carried it and Mickey up the two steps.

“Knock ‘em dead, Waldo,” said Shirley.

“Sure, doll,” said Waldo, and he set the chair down with Mickey on it while he lowered the mike stand. Then he picked Mickey up again and sat himself down in the chair, with Mickey on his lap. He looked out at the crowd.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” said Waldo into the mike, “and I use those terms of address in their loosest possible sense.”

This got a ripple of laughter, just like it usually did. It was one of Mickey’s lines, something he came up with at a Kiwanis gig in Sheboygan before the war, and for some reason it never grew old.

“My name is Waldo McGee,” said Waldo, “and this little guy here is my friend Mickey Pumpernickel.”

“And he uses the term friend in its loosest possible sense,” said Mickey, and this got an even bigger laugh…

I got this, thought Mickey. Even if McGee don’t got it, I got it, and as long as he don’t keel over dead in the middle of a joke I’m gonna keep on getting it. 

“Hey, McGee –” said Mickey.

“Yeah, Mickey,” said Waldo.

“I got a question for ya.”

“Shoot, Mickey.”

“My question is, if I’m the wooden dummy how come you’re the one puts away bourbon like you got two wooden legs?”

The punters laughed at the gag, just like they always did when they were drunk enough…

{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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