Thursday, September 8, 2022

“Those Who Are Dead”

 “Now this poem here,” said Farmer Brown, tapping the sheet of expensive typing paper, “the one titled ‘Those Who Are Dead’. This one I think is especially – what’s the word? Moving.”

“Moving?” said Milford. “Really?”

“Yes. Moving. That’s the word.”

Farmer Brown raised the sheet closer to his thick eyeglasses and read aloud, repeating the poem’s title:
Those Who Are Dead

Those who are dead
but who have not sense enough
to fall over,
those who stumble into church basements
with their cigarettes and their bloodshot eyes,
sipping stale coffee from Dixie cups
awaiting their turn to stand up and whine
about their wasted lives –
why, oh why must I listen to them,
night after night,
screaming silently with boredom
while I await my own turn
to stand up and bore them –
is this what I have to look forward to,
for the rest of my dreary existence –
the church basements,
the cigarettes,
the Dixie cups of bad, stale coffee?
“Yes,” said Farmer Brown. “Really quite moving.”

“Well, thank you, Mr. Brown.”

“Please, call me Farmer. All my friends call me ‘the Farmer’.”

“Okay – ‘Farmer’.”

“And may I call you – what was it again? Marion?”

“I would really prefer it if you just call me Milford.”

“Milford it is then. Now, ‘Milford’, I was struck by this image of the ‘church basement’. And if it is not too inquisitive of me to ask, what did you mean by that? Was it a reference to certain subterranean sodalities of organized Christian religion – those dark secret brotherhoods kept hidden away in the nether regions of Catholicism, say, the ones that are not bruited about in popular films like Going My Way or The Bells of St. Mary’s?”

“No, it’s just a reference to the church basements where AA meetings are often held.”

“You mean Triple-A?” said Farmer Brown. “The motoring club?”

“No,” said Milford. “Just two As. AA.”

“AA – anti-aircraft?”

“No, Alcoholics Anonymous.”

“Ah! I see – and now the poem takes on an even deeper meaning. So it’s a veiled commentary on secretive societies like Alcoholics Anonymous?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it ‘veiled’ –”

“And perhaps by extension to other sub rosa organizations like the Rosicrucians or the Illuminati? Y’know, back in Indiana my father wanted me to join the Knights of Pythias, but you know what? I guess I’m just not a joiner. I’ve always been a lone wolf so to speak. Forging my own solitary path through the uncharted wilderness of life. Do you have any other poems which deal perhaps with the Kabbalah?”

“Um, no, I’m not Jewish –”

“Neither am I. But I am fascinated by these mysterious cults and cabals and confraternities. For instance the Shriners always stay here in the hotel when they have their annual galas – now those are some crazy guys, I’ll tell you!”

“The Shriners?”

“Yes. Not bad fellows once you get a drink or two in them.”

“Well, as I’ve told you, Mr. Brown, I don’t drink.”

“Not even occasionally?”


“Not even as a shall we say social lubricant?”

“No. As I thought I made clear, I am an alcoholic.”

“But you’re so very young!”
“You can be young and still be an alcoholic.”

“Yes, I see your point. But tell me, to be an alcoholic, is it not necessary to imbibe shall we say over much of spiritous liquids?”

“Yes, I think that is a reasonable definition.”

“But – and I ask this in all simplicity – this would not include fermented beverages like beer or wine, is that not correct?”

“No, it is not correct. You can be an alcoholic even if you only drink beer or wine.”

“Even just beer?”

“Yes, even just beer.”

“But, surely, a glass of wine with a meal, or sitting at a café in the afternoon, and even a nice port by the fireside on a wintry wet night such as this one –”

“No, no, and no,” said Milford. “Have you never heard the term ‘wino’?”

“Ha ha, yes, of course, a delightful example of the American vernacular –”

“Well, do you think those winos sitting on the curbs on the Bowery with their bottles of Taylor port are not alcoholics?”

“Oh,” said Farmer Brown. “Point taken again! Yes, I suppose those unfortunates would fall under that general rubric, wouldn’t they?”

“They certainly would. I see them all the time at the meetings I go to.”

“And what meetings are these? The Knights of Columbus perhaps?”

“No, the AA meetings!”

“The anti-aircraft meetings? So you were in the war? You must have been awfully young. Was it very frightening shooting those machine guns up at the bombers?”

Milford sighed.

Onstage Shirley De LaSalle was singing again. He should just stop talking to this moron and listen to her, as she sang a song he had never heard before:
He’s my ding dong daddy
They say he’s not no good
He’s my big dong daddy
And he do me like he should…
“Oh, hello, Milford. Fancy meeting you here of all places.”

Milford turned. Who was it but that guy Addison.

“Oh, hi, Addison. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m very well, thank you very much. I wonder if I might join you?”

“Hi, there, fella,” said Farmer Brown. “Here, take my bar stool, I got it all warmed up for you.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t dream of taking your seat, sir,” said Addison.

“Heck, partner, I’ve been sitting all day! Now, please, take the seat.”

“Only if you insist.”

“Don’t mind standing for a spell. Tell the truth, after a few hours on a bar stool my rear end tends to get a bit tender, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, I think I do,” said Addison.

Farmer Brown heaved himself off the stool, and Addison sat himself on it. The old worn leather of the seat was indeed quite warm.

“Don’t mind standing at all,” said Farmer Brown, squeezing in between Addison and Milford, his shoulders abutting theirs, his beaming face turning from one of the younger men to the other. “So you’re a friend of Mumford’s too, sir?”

“Uh, yes,” said Addison.

“So also I,” said Farmer Brown. “We’ve only just met, but I already feel that I’ve known the lad all my life. Isn’t that right, Rumford?”

“Um, yes,” said Milford.

“Now some older fellows like me disdain the company of the younger generation,” said Farmer Brown. “But not me. You know what my motto is, sir?”

“I can’t say I do,” said Addison. “But I would like to know.”

“Listen to the young people,”
said Farmer Brown. “That’s my motto. Listen to the young people. Because maybe, just maybe, they might have something to say! Brown is my name. What’s your name, if I may be so bold?”

“Well, everyone calls me Addison.”

“Put ‘er there, Addison,” said the Farmer, extending his slightly pudgy soft hand, which Addison took in his thin soft hand.

“Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Brown.”

“Call me Farmer. That’s what they call me on account of my name is Brown. Farmer Brown my friends call me, and if you’re friends with Wilfred you’re friends with me.”

“All right then,” said Addison. “I’ll call you Farmer.”

“And I’ll call you Madison if I may.”

“Uh, well –”

“Let me buy you a beverage, Madison.”

Well, thought Addison, if this guy is buying he can call me anything he wants to…

“Thanks, ‘Farmer’,” he said.

“What are you drinking, Madison?”

“Whatever you’re drinking, Farmer.”

“Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale then,” said the Farmer.

Milford sighed again, and looked toward the stage. “He’s my boogie woogie papa,” sang Shirley De LaSalle, “and he knows how to treat me right.”
He’s my zoot suit cutie
Keeps me up all through the night…


{To be continued next week, et ad infinitum. 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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