Friday, December 9, 2022

“A Minor Character”


Farmer Brown was talking, you could tell because his lips were moving, but to Addison it was all just part and parcel of the noise of the bar, the music and chatter, the shouting and drunken laughter.

Yes, this was that happy peak of inebriation, and Addison could smile and nod as if he actually knew what the Farmer was saying,  and after all, wasn’t the old boy drunk as a lord himself? Was he any more cognizant of whatever rubbish he was spewing than Addison? Did Farmer Brown himself care any more about whatever it was he was saying than Addison did, which was not at all?

That girl Shirley De LaSalle was onstage singing again with the combo – what was the song? Addison couldn’t recall ever hearing it before…

Somewhere there's a fella –
somewhere there’s a guy,
somewhere there's a hell of
a chap for such as I…

And across the smoky room was that frightening painted hag who had supposedly been the Farmer’s one true love, sitting with that painted old boy, both of them no doubt as plastered as the Farmer and Addison were, surrounded by lots of other drunken people in this lounge.

And was this what it was all about in the end? Drunkenness? The surrendering of oneself to the chaos of existence?

“So what do you think, Henderson?” impinged the Farmer’s words on Addison’s alcoholic musings.

“What?” said Addison. 

“What do you really think about this Joyce fella? You’re a novelist, and so your opinion means something.”


“Yeah,” said the Farmer. “What do ya think? Is he really on the up and up or what?”


“Yeah. I mean, what do you really think?”

What did Addison think of Joyce? To be honest he really didn’t have any opinion, but, hey, you couldn’t say that to a guy who was buying you drinks and giving you Old Golds to smoke all night, so…

“Oh, I think Joyce is marvelous,” said Addison.

“Marvelous!” said Farmer Brown. “Now there ya go. ‘Marvelous.’ A real gift for the old literary prose, right?”

“Oh, yes, absolutely,” said Addison, taking a cigarette from the Farmer’s open silver case.

“Marvelous,” said the Farmer, picking up his silver monogrammed lighter, a perfect match for the monogrammed case. He clicked the clicker, and after a few tries a flame appeared, and Addison accepted the light. Cigarettes were good, yes, and free cigarettes were best of all.

“Thanks, Mr. Brown,” said Addison.

“Farmer,” said Farmer Brown. “Please, call me Farmer, Patcheson. Like I said, all my pals call me Farmer, and I really want you to consider me your pal.”

“Okay, ‘Farmer’,” said Addison.

“Someday,” said the Farmer, “I’m gonna finish that book.”

Addison said nothing, he had nothing to say, not that having nothing to say always stopped him from saying anything, but at the moment he couldn’t be bothered to say a word.

“I said someday,” repeated the Farmer.

“Oh,” said Addison, realizing that politeness called for some sort of response.

“Yes, someday I’ll finish it, as the good lord above is my witness!”

“Uh-huh,” said Addison, having no idea what the Farmer was talking about.

“You know how many years I’ve been trying to finish it?”

“Uh, no,” said Addison.


“Uh, I don’t know, gee, five years?”

“Not even close, my friend. Not even close. Try twenty-five!”


“Twenty-five years. Maybe twenty. But somewheres in that range. Let’s say twenty-two years.”

“Okay,” said Addison.

“Twenty-odd long years, my friend, that’s how long it’s been taking me.”

“For what again?”

“To read the book.”

“Oh, the book.”

“Yes,” said the Farmer. “Odysseus. By your good man Joyce.”

“Oh!” said Addison. “You mean Ulysses?

“That’s the one!” said the Farmer. “Ulysses! Greatest novel of the century. And nigh on a quarter of a century is how long I’ve been trying to read that darned book.”

“Yes,” said Addison, “well, uh, Ulysses is a rather, shall we say, a demanding work –”

“I’ll say! And someday, by golly, I’m gonna finish it. If it kills me.”

“Oh, I’m sure you will finish it,” said Addison.

“That Joyce,” said the Farmer. “Say what you will about the man, he could write!”

“Oh, yes,” said Addison.

“Like a motherhumper,” said the Farmer. “Pardon the expression, but that’s just the way we speak back in Indiana. The man could write like a goldarn motherhumper, and I’ll fight any fella that disagrees with me!”

“Oh, you’ll get no disagreement from me, Farmer –”

“And I’m glad to hear it, Mackieson. Because, when they’re tallying up the great names of modern literature, there’s gonna be one fella that’s up if not at the very top of the list, then certainly in the top ten, and that’s our boy Joyce.”

“Yes, he was, uh, certainly, one of the foremost –”

“Yes, good old Joyce Kilmer,” said the Farmer. “That man could write like a motherhumper!”

Suddenly Addison realized that maybe he should make this current drink his last of the night.

The band had been taking an instrumental break, and now Shirley De LaSalle stepped up to the microphone again and sang…

Down, down, down,
to Chinatown I go,
downtown I go,
so low, so low I go
but not too low and
not too slow…

“Yes, sir, Mr. Joyce Kilmer,” said the Farmer again. “There was your man for your glittering literary prose!”

Yes, it was time to go home, thought Addison. The only question was, should he get one more drink from the Farmer, one for the road? Or would he regret it?

“Y’know, our friend Joyce was a fair to middling poet as well,” said the Farmer.

“Oh?” said Addison, that single syllable all he could manage at the moment.

“Fair to middling,” said the Farmer. “You know this one? It goes kinda like this:

“I think that I shall never see
a tree from sea to shining sea.

“A tree whose lusty mouth is pressed
against my lady’s heaving breast.

“A tree which looks way up at the sky
and says, 'Hello, there, big guy!’

“Always wondered what that poem meant,” said Farmer Brown. “Say, I see your glass is empty, MacPherson. Would you like another?”

Ah, what a question! Yes, he would like another, but somewhere deep in Addison’s brain was the awareness of the thick long hangover that already awaited him, and which would only be made thicker and longer by another Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale, and didn’t he have a novel he should be “working on” on the morrow?

“I’m very sorry,” said Addison, “and I thank you, Mr. Brown –”

“Farmer, my lad, Farmer –”

“And I thank you, Farmer, but I really should be going –”

“But why, Ackerman? The night is young!” said the man who was far from young but still young at heart, apparently.

“I must work on my own novel tomorrow, you see,” said Addison, his words feeling like mud he was pushing through his lips into the world.

“Ah, yes,” said the man, the bloodshot eyes behind the thick lenses of his glasses seeming like portals to all the madness of the world and all possible worlds, “your ‘novel’. Very well, my friend, I understand, you are an artist, a writer, whereas I, my fate is to be just ‘a guy in a bar’. But before you go, just do me one favor, Thatcherman.”

“Of course,” said Addison.

“Promise to put me in your novel, your monumental sprawling epic of the American Old West. Slip me in there, buddy. Suitably disguised of course, mutatis mutandis and so forth, poetic license and all that, but just put a version of me in your book – not a major role necessarily, but just a minor character.”

“Okay,” said Addison, “how about a guy in a saloon?”

“Precisely! A guy in a saloon! Will you do that for me, Patterman, just give me some small measure of immortality in your great work?”

Addison said yes, he would certainly do that, and gladly.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated and with additional dialogue by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

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