Thursday, December 1, 2022

“The Guano and Feed King of Indiana”


“Is that you, Marion?”

“No, Mother,” said Milford, removing his peacoat, “it is a burglar.”

“Ha ha, very funny. Take your shoes off, I don’t want you tracking wet all over the house.”

Obediently Milford hung up his newsboy’s cap, then sat in the foyer chair, took off his wet work shoes, and pulled on his slippers. Then he stood up.

“Good night, Mother,” he called.

“Come in here first.”

“I want to go to bed.”

“Indulge your mother and come in here.”

Milford sighed, and turned left down the hall to the sitting room where his mother sat in her chair, Daniel Deronda in her lap.

“How was your lunch with your friend?”

“My what?”

“Your lunch with your friend.”

“Oh, that, yes, it was quite nice, thank you.”

“It must have been quite a long lunch as it is now –” she glanced at the grandfather clock – ”nigh on eleven o’clock.”

“I – I – yes, um, I –” 

Should he lie? Would a lie be any better than the truth? How could one know?

“If you must know I was at the Prince Hal Room,” he said, the truth just welling up out of him for some strange reason or complex of reasons.

“Oh,” said Mrs. Milford, “so you did take your friend to lunch at the Prince Hal Room. I rather expected you to be a cheapskate and take that twenty I gave you and parsimoniously give your friend lunch at the automat, keeping the difference for yourself.”

This of course was exactly what Milford had done, but why tell the harridan?

“Yes,” he said, “so anyway, we, uh –”

“So you lingered at the Prince Hal.”

“Yes, one might say that.”

“You don’t seem drunk.”

“I am not drunk.”

“Join me in a glass of sherry.”

“Mother! How many times must I tell you, I am an alcoholic and I cannot have even one drink. Are you really trying to drive me by main force back to the sanatorium?”

“It’s only sherry, for goodness’ sake, Marion.”

“Even sherry!”

“So you mean to tell me you spent all afternoon and evening in the Prince Hal Room and had not even one drink.”

Milford sighed.

“You sighed,” said Mrs. Milford. “So you did drink.”

“I had one Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale. There, are you happy?”

“Only one? How does one spend some eight or nine hours in a cocktail lounge and have only one highball?”

“One does it when some oaf buys one a highball, and one drinks it before one realizes that aforementioned oaf has bought it for one.”

“Was the oaf your friend that you treated to lunch?”

“No, it was just some guy at the bar.”

“What was his name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do.”

“Okay, it was Brown. His name was Brown, but he called himself Farmer Brown.”

“Fiftyish, heavyset, never shuts up?”

“Oh dear God, you know this man?”

“Occasionally after a rigorous day’s shopping I have had a restorative martini at the bar in the Prince Hal Room. A cocktail bar is a public setting, and people do start talking to me, I don’t know why.”

“I can’t believe you know this man.”

“Farmer Brown has been haunting the Prince Hal and the lobby of the St Crispian for over twenty years. He’s not hard to miss, dear boy.”

“My mind is reeling.”

“You’ll get over it.”

“That you actually know the man.”

“I know many men.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means exactly what it seems to mean.”

“Dear God, do you have some sort of secret life, Mother?”

“Nothing secret about it. But how odd.”

“What’s odd? That you consort with barflies?”

“Farmer Brown is no common barfly. I’m told his family owns the largest guano and feed concern in Indiana.”

“Guano? Feed?”

“Next time you see the Farmer tell him hello for me.”

“I most certainly will not.”

“Have a sherry. I want to hear about your evening with the Farmer.”

“I’ll not have a sherry, and there is nothing to tell about my evening with the Farmer, except that he bored me silly.”

“He does go on. But he means well.”

“The man is mentally retarded.”

“What else did you do?”

“Who says I did anything else?”

“You did something else. A mother can tell.”

“I – I –”


“Oh what?” said Milford.

“Did you meet someone else?”

Again Milford sighed. Why try to hide anything from her?

“Okay, I met someone else,” he said.



“An attractive someone?”

“If you must know, yes. Extremely attractive.”

“I must ask, so please don’t become exercised with indignation. Was this person a man?”


“This attractive person you met, it was a man?”


“I’ll find out anyway, you know.”

“No, Mother, it was not a man, it was a – a –”

“A girl?”

“Yes! It was a girl! Okay? I met a girl! And you know what else? We’re having lunch tomorrow!”

“You’re having lunch with a girl?”

“Yes, as fantastic as that possibility may seem to you, I am having lunch with a girl!”

“Sit down. Pour yourself a sherry and tell me all about it.”

“No, I’m tired, and I want to go to bed.”

“How can you be tired after sleeping till one and then spending the rest of your day in the Prince Hal Room? Not exactly a grueling shift at a steel mill, is it?”

“Good night, Mother.”

“What is that in your hand.”

“What, this?” Milford held up the rolled-up sheaf of paper, tied with a red ribbon, which he had been holding all this time.

“I see nothing else in your hand.”

“It is a collection of my poems.”

“May I read them?”

“Most certainly not.”

“Did you show them to your friend? What was his name, Hatcherson?”

“Addison. And, yes, he did read my poems.”

“Did he like them?”


“He said he liked them?”

“I said yes, didn’t I?”

“Have you shown them to your new girl friend?”

“Mother, I can stand no more of this inquisition! Good night!”

“Don’t show her the poems, Marion. Don’t scare her off first thing.”

“Oh my God!”

And Milford turned and left the drawing room.

Mrs. Milford reached for the sherry decanter and refilled her glass. And all this time she had been sure the boy was homosexual. Will wonders never cease. Was a grandchild out of the question? Was her only child perhaps not the last of the family line after all? Well, one step at a time. She would prize more out of the lad on the morrow…

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

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