Thursday, October 27, 2022

"The Quiet Ones"

“And so you see,” said Milford, suddenly aware that he was sweating profusely, “what I am attempting to do in my poetry is to take the sense of song, of an earthly and yet ethereal rhythm – such as we find in the work of Dylan Thomas, or, perhaps, in an earlier day, Gerard Manley Hopkins – and yet to infuse it with the intelligence and social consciousness of men such as Auden, but – and this is a big but – with a uniquely American perspective –”

“Uh-huh,” said Shirley. “Me, I’m more into writing song lyrics myself, words that go with music, y’know?”

“You write songs?”

“Yeah, what do ya think half the stuff I’ve been singing tonight has been, daddy-o? That wasn’t all Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers!”

“Well, I did suspect that I hadn’t heard some of the songs before –”

“Yeah, me and Tony, that’s our piano player and combo leader, we like to make up songs together, and we discovered that after about nine o’clock the punters are mostly too drunk to know what they’re listening to, so we stick some of our own material in there. One of these days Tony says he’s gonna take the best numbers uptown to the publishers and see if we can’t get a deal.”

“Gee, that would be swell, Miss De LaSalle.”

“Call me Shirley, Rimford.”

“Well, it’s Milford, actually.”

“Milford, okay, I’ll remember that. So – Milford – do you make any money from your poems?”

“Oh, God no. I’ve never even had any of them published yet.”

“So, like, what do you do to fill your rice bowl?”

“My rice bowl?”

“Yeah, I guess what I’m getting at is do you have a job.”

“Oh, a job. No. Not exactly.”

“So, like, how do you pay your rent and eat?”

“Well, I live at home actually.”

“Oh,” said Shirley. “Around here?”

“Yes, not too far. 175 Bleecker Street. Between Sullivan and MacDougal.”

“Nice. Right near the San Remo, one of my stomping grounds. This an apartment?”

“Well, it’s a house, actually.”

“A whole house?”

“Well, yes. You see my great-grandfather built it, in 1859 I believe.”

“No kidding. And who else lives there?”

“Well, it’s just my mother and I. We have a maid who has a room in the attic. Or at least I assume she does, I’ve never seen it.”

“So – and please don’t be offended, Milford – but, are you, like, loaded?”

“Define loaded.”

“Are you rich.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m rich per se.

“But you don’t have to work.”

“My poetry is my work.”

“But you don’t have to work to earn your living?”

“Well, no, I suppose not.”

“So, let me ask you a question, Milford, if it’s not too personal.”

“Anything, Miss De LaSalle.”


“Anything, Shirley.”

“How come you dress like a dockworker? Or maybe a deckhand on one of those tugboats on the river?”

“You mean my peacoat?”

“Your peacoat. The wooly sweater. The Dead End Kids cap. The dungarees and work shoes.”

“This is my uniform.”

“Your uniform.”

“Yes, my uniform as a poet. But a poet of the people.”

“Okay, I can see that. It’s like you’ve got to dress the part.”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Just like me with the dresses I wear on stage.”


“So, if you don’t have to work, what do you do all day when you’re not writing poems?”

“Well, that’s all I do, really. I mean, I read, and I go to meetings –”

“What kind of meetings?”

“Alcoholics Anonymous, I’m afraid.”

“You mean you’re an alcy?”

“Yes. I can’t have even a single drink without getting horribly drunk.”

“Yeah? What’s that you’re drinking there then?”

Suddenly Milford realized with horror that the glass of ginger ale he had just nearly finished had been mixed with whiskey – he could feel the alcohol coursing through his entire being, and not just his physical being but also its emotional, mental and spiritual components.

“Oh, dear God,” he said. “What have I done?”

“Well, you heard Mr. Brown order you a Cream of Kentucky and ginger, right?”

“Yes, I did, Miss De LaSalle –”


“Yes, I did, Shirley, but, you see, I was distracted!”

“By what?”

Milford flushed deeply, the sweat now pouring profusely down his face and into the rolled collar of his hearty Breton fisherman’s sweater.

“I was distracted by you, Miss De LaSalle,” he said, and he cast his eyes downward to his glass. He might as well go ahead and finish it now, and he raised the glass and did so. “Okay, I should leave now.”

“What’s the rush?” said Shirley. “Don’t you want to hear my next set?”

“Yes, I do, Miss De LaSalle –”


“Yes, I do. Shirley, more than anything I want to hear you sing again, but, you see, I’ve just sent more than six months of sobriety down the drain, or rather, down my wretched gullet, and I’m afraid if I stay here I will only get disgracefully plastered, and wake up in an alleyway, suffused with misery both physical and moral. No, I’d better go.”

“Well, suit yourself, sailor,” said Shirley, “but, hey, why not just, you know, show a little self-control and try not to get plastered?”

“But you don’t understand, Miss De LaSalle, we have a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, ‘people, places, and things,’ and that means we must avoid people and places and things that will tempt us to drink. So I shouldn’t even be in a bar.”

“This isn’t a bar, it’s a hotel cocktail lounge.”

“Yes, but still –”

“You need to get a grip on yourself, Milford. You think I don’t feel like getting bombed every night? Singing for these clowns who don’t even listen? But I don’t get bombed. At least not every night I don’t. One champagne cocktail in between sets, that’s my limit. Maybe a couple after the show when me and the boys are winding down and Tony and I are working out a new number or two at the piano. The lush ain’t really my bag, on account of I got to watch my looks and my weight, you dig?”

“Yes, of course. You know, if you like, maybe you could come to a meeting with me sometime –”

“I’ve got a better idea. You smoke?”

“Of course, like a chimney,” said Milford, gesturing to his nearly empty pack of Woodbines.

“No, I mean tea, man – gage, muggles.”



“You mean marijuana?”

“You got it, daddy-o. Wait here while I get my wrap, and we’ll step out into the alleyway and fire one up. So much better than liquor, man!”

“But –”

“No buts. I got two words for you about tea, daddy: no hangover.”

“No hangover?”

“Nope. Wake up fresh as a daisy and ready to run a country mile. Wait here, I’ll be right back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

And Shirley picked up her sparkly purse and descended gracefully from her bar stool.

Milford turned and watched her go, gliding away as if on air back toward the area to the left of the stage, on which that strange little man with the puppet on his lap was still performing to the guffawing people at the tables and the bar.

Milford knew he should leave. He should never have come into this place. He should go home and recite the Serenity Prayer over and over until he fell asleep. But he stayed where he was. What could he do? He was in love.

That idiot Brown had been talking to Addison, but now he turned and noticed that the seat Shirley had been sitting in was empty.

“Say, where did Shirley go, Gifford?”

“She went to get her wrap,” said Milford. “We’re going out to the alley to smoke marijuana.”

A broad smile spread across Farmer Brown’s red face, and he clapped Milford on the shoulder.

“Well done, my boy! Well done!” He turned to Addison. “Did you hear that, Hutcherson? Gilbey is going out to the alley to smoke marijuana with Shirley!”

“Good for you, Milford,” said Addison, leaning forward over the bar to address him.

“It’s the quiet ones,” said the Farmer. “The quiet ones the girls like…”

{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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