Thursday, November 3, 2022

“Who Cares About the Atomic Bomb?”

Farmer Brown turned again to Milford.

“Do me a favor, Crawford, will you promise me one thing?”

“What?” said Milford.

“Don’t blow it. Don’t do as I did with Miss Charlton, and succumb to shyness and cowardice. If Shirley indicates even the slightest interest, and I think she already has, seize your chance, my boy, boldly!”

“Well, maybe –”

“No maybes! Gals like quiet guys, but they also like a take-charge guy!”

“Well, okay,” said Milford.

Seven minutes later Milford and Shirley stood in the shelter of the service entrance of the hotel, in the harsh grainy light of a wire-encased electric light bulb. The rain had started up again, and across the alleyway forlorn people were visible through the fogged plate-glass windows of the automat, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, eating pie and split-pea soup.

“This,” said Milford, “this is beauty!”

“What,” said Shirley, “this alleyway?”

“Yes,” said Milford. “Look at the way the light plays on the wet cobblestones! Look at those people in the automat over there! Do they even know that they are in an Edward Hopper painting?”

“Somehow I doubt it, my man,” said Shirley.

“And you, Miss De LaSalle,” said Milford, “if I may say so, the harsh light of this filthy light bulb on the white skin of your face! You are more beautiful even than any of the greatest portraits of the Quattrocento!”

“I’m gonna take that as a compliment, daddy-o.”

“Oh, it is, Miss De LaSalle!”

“Call me Shirley. And by the way, you’re bogarting that joint, my friend.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The reefer, man. Let me have a toke, pal.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon, Miss De LaSalle!”



Milford was still hanging onto the reefer, so Shirley picked it out of his fingers. Poor fella, but there was something lovable about his idiocy. And how rich was he, anyway?

“Would you like to hear one of my poems, Shirley?”

“What, right now?”


“Sure, buddy.”

Milford drew the rolled-up sheaf of poems from inside his peacoat.

“What sort of poem would you like to hear?”

“A love poem,” said Shirley.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” said Milford, “but I don’t have any love poems…”

“Okay, then, your choice, Milford.”

The sheaf of expensive-looking paper was tied up with a red ribbon, which with furrowed brow Milford untied. He stuck the ribbon in the pocket of his peacoat and flipped though the pages.

“Let me see, I have lots of poems about existential despair –”

“Whatever, man,” said Shirley. “I can take it.”

“How about a social protest poem?”

“Let it rip, my dude.”

“Okay, this is a good one, I think. I call it, ‘My Friend, the Bomb’.”

“Sounds good.”

“I hope it’s good,” said Milford. He cleared his throat and began to read:
Who cares about the atomic bomb
as long as you have a nice green lawn?
Who cares about universal destruction
as long as you have your television?
Who cares about the plight of the Negroes
as long as you have your morning Cheerios?
Who gives a damn about the slums
or the Bowery bums
or the unpublished troubadour
whom you revile as a bore?
Who cares?
Not you, Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia –
not you, I’m telling ya!

Milford looked up from his poem.

“What do you think?”

“Pretty good, Milford,” said Shirley. She took a deep drag on the reefer, then exhaled slowly. “But I think I prefer love poems.”

“I will write you a love poem!” said Milford.

“No kidding?”

“Yes! The only reason I’ve never written one is that I’ve never been in love before.”


“Yes, before now!”

“Hold on, Charlie. We just met!”

“I don’t care,” said Milford. “I think you’re magnificent.”

“Take another toke of this reefer.”

“Oh, yes, wait –”

Clumsily Milford rolled up his poems again and shoved them back into his inside peacoat pocket, and then he took the reefer.

“You’re a funny guy,” said Shirley.

Milford drew deeply on the reefer, staring at Shirley’s angelic face in the grimy light of the electric bulb, with the cold rain falling behind her, and the fogged windows of the automat across the cobbled alleyway, the people in the automat smoking their cigarettes and drinking their coffee, eating their slices of pie and their ham-and-cheese sandwiches on rye…

Milford exhaled the smoke.

“I have just realized that all the poems I have written are as nothing,” he said. “When I get home tonight I will write my first good poem, and it will be about you, Miss De LaSalle.”


“It will be about you, Shirley.”

“That’s nice,” said Shirley. “Now pass that number one more time.”

Milford passed her the reefer. Already he was composing his new poem in his head. His first love poem. His first real poem…

{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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