Thursday, September 1, 2022

“Two Bucks and Change”

It was true that Bubbles had given him a couple of Baltimore handshakes (at three dollars per), and that once before she had allowed him to kiss her (for one dollar), on the cheek, with her looking away if not perhaps quite askance, but this was the first time she had allowed him to kiss her on her ruby red lips – and she did not even ask him to pay for it!

“Okay,” she said after half a minute, pushing her hands against his chest, “down, tiger.”

“Oh, just one more, please, Bubbles,” said Addison.

“No, Atcheson,” she said. “I said one kiss and I meant it.”

“How about if I gave you a dollar? I still have two dollars and change. You can have it all. Just one more brief kiss. I promise I’ll be quick.”

“Save your money, Atcheson. What are you gonna eat tomorrow if you give me your last two bucks and change?”

“I shall go hungry. Gladly! And anyway, who knows, I might get an envelope from home. My Aunt Agatha is quite overdue to send me something.”

“You and your aunts.”

“Yes, they are quite literally life-savers.”

“Where would you be without these women in your family sending you money?”

“I suppose I should have to find a job.”

“What sort of job?”

“Oh, I don’t know. A lowly clerk in some sort of office perhaps. A modern day Bartleby. ‘I would prefer not to.’”

“I’ll bet you’d prefer not to.”

“The idea of wasting my life working at a job has always been abhorrent to me.”

“Well, we’re on the same page there, buster.”

“One kiss.”

“Ixnay. Like I told you, I need my beauty sleep. I can’t be standing out here in the cold and damp all night making whoopee with you.”

“May I call you tomorrow?”

“You can do whatever the hell you want to do, Atcheson.”

“Perhaps we can meet for a drink.”

“With your two bucks and change?”

“You forget, my Aunt Agatha –”

“Look, don’t push it, buddy. I’m gonna tell you a secret.”

“I love secrets.”

“The secret is everybody gets boring if you’re around them too much.”

“I could never get bored with you.”

“You haven’t been around me that much. Give it time.”

“I should love to give it time.”

“You want to know another secret?”

“Oh, yes.”

“I’m me every single second of every day, and it’s not as glamorous as you might think. Good night, Atcheson.”

She already had her key out. She opened the door.

“Good night, Bubbles.”

She glanced at him but said nothing and went inside, closing the door behind her.

Addison sighed, then went down the steps, turned right, and began to walk along the glistening wet sidewalk between the ridges and piles of soot-encrusted snow. The cold drizzly rain had finally stopped, and he kept his old umbrella furled. He didn’t want to go home. It was still early – early for Addison, who rarely went to bed before four in the morning. He wanted to walk, and to think about Bubbles, and that kiss, that glorious kiss.

Bleecker Street. And there was the San Remo, where he and Bubbles had dined and drunk wine, and she had picked up the bill – surely her paying the tab meant that she really liked him! Well, just wait until he got his novel published, then he would treat her. In the meantime, there was Aunt Agatha, and Aunt Enid, and Great Aunt Edna, and his mother, and his two grandmothers, and their envelopes…

Oh, would that an envelope would arrive tomorrow! If he got a twenty he could take Bubbles somewhere really swell – 21, or the Stork Club, or the Copacabana! Not that he had ever been to any of those places, but he would bet Bubbles would like them.

He walked and walked, through the cold and the damp, but he did not feel the cold nor the damp, not with this fire within. He continued to walk along Bleecker, passing bars and bistros and bohemians and bums, and finally he saw a sign that said Seventh Avenue and realized he had been walking in quite the opposite direction from where he lived just off the Bowery – but what did it matter? What did anything matter? He turned left on Seventh, for no good reason, for no bad reason, for no reason at all.

A few more blocks and then he saw that automat where he had eaten lunch with that pathetic young fellow Milford earlier that day – God, it seemed ages ago! Should he go in there and have some pie and coffee? No, fie on that, a drink was more like it, damn it! Across the alley from the automat was that old hotel, the Hotel St Crispian. Addison had been there once, months ago, when he had gone with the rest of the Bob’s Bowery Bar gang to see that broken-down ventriloquist Waldo McGee and his dummy Mickey Pumpernickel on their opening night at the hotel’s cocktail lounge, the Prince Hal Room. It had been quite amusing as far as that sort of thing went, and, really, Addison had to admit he was easily amused. As long as he had a drink and a cigarette, preferably both paid for by someone else, who was he to complain, especially now that he was in love?  

Idly Addison went over to the entrance and next to it was a sign, with Dutch-angled photographs, which read:

The Prince Hal Room

Entertainment Tonight!

Featuring the “swinging” sounds of

Tony Winston & his Winstonians

with the stunning
chanteuse Shirley De LaSalle

(fresh from her nation-wide tour in
Fifty Million Frenchmen)

Also, the Betty Baxter Dancers!

(as featured on the
Schaefer Beer Variety Hour)

No cover charge. One-drink minimum.

And there at the very bottom of the sign was

With your compères Waldo McGee and Mickey Pumpernickel!

So the old boy and his dummy were still working here…

Addison decided to go in. He still had his two bucks and change, and it wasn’t as if he had anything better to do.

An enormous old doorman opened the door.

“Good evening, sir. Welcome to the Hotel St Crispian.”

“Good evening to you, my good man. I’m just here for a drink in the Prince Hal Room.”

“Of course, sir. Right across the lobby there.”

“Thank you,” said Addison.

“You are quite welcome, sir.”

Addison headed across the lobby, with its potted plants and rubber trees and comfy-looking divans and armchairs, with old people sitting in them reading newspapers.

Two dollars and change. Enough for two or three cocktails and a modest tip, and as for breakfast tomorrow, well, that was tomorrow, and this – this was now…

{To be continued next week. 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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