Thursday, March 30, 2023

“The Angel in the Change Booth”

“I have written a poem for her,” said Milford.

“Pardon me?” said Addison, who was still thinking of Bubbles and her ivory-white thighs.

“I wrote a poem for her. About her.”

“A poem?”

“Yes, I wrote a poem.”


“About Polly.”


“The girl I’ve been telling you about!”

“Oh, the one at the automat?”


“The nickel-thrower.”

“Would you like to see it?”


“The poem.”


This was the problem with befriending poets. They always wanted you to read their poems. But on the other hand Milford had bought the drink Addison was now drinking, given him the cigarette he was smoking, and if he played his cards right there might well be more drinks and more cigarettes.

“You don’t have to read it,” said Milford.

“Oh, no, I should love to read it,” said Addison, with what little false enthusiasm he could muster.

“It’s just I want your opinion.”


“Your honest opinion.”

“Well, I am nothing if not honest,” lied Addison.

“And then maybe you can tell me if I should show the poem to Polly.”

“The nickel-thrower.”

“Yes, the girl I met at the automat. The one I’m meeting tonight. The one I wrote the poem for.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’ll like the poem if you wrote it for her.”

“How can you be sure.”

“Oh, I know women,” Addison lied again.

“Yes, I forgot,” said Milford. “You have a ‘lady friend’.”

“Yes, one might say that.”

“At that meeting in Old St. Patrick’s basement you went on and on about how deeply and madly in love you were.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“So you have a lady friend. With whom you are in love.”

“Yes, all this is – incontrovertible.”

“I suppose she’s nice,” said Milford.


“Is that her name?”

“Yes. Bubbles.”

“Your lady friend is named Bubbles?”


“She sounds like a chorus girl.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Is she a chorus girl?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You don’t know?”

“Well, I shouldn’t be surprised if she had been a chorus girl at one time or another in her life.”

“Well, what is she then? A dime-a-dance girl?”

“Not precisely.”

“Then what is she, precisely?”

“Do you really want to know?” asked Addison.

“Honestly?” asked Milford in return. “I couldn’t care less what she is. She’s not a prostitute, is she?”

“Define ‘prostitute’.”

“Good lord.”


“You’re in love with a prostitute?”

“Well, again, that depends on your definition of prostitute, old boy.”

“Does she accept money for sexual services.”

“Uh –”

“Dear God!”

“Milford, I had not suspected that you were so bourgeois.”

“I am not bourgeois! I despise the bourgeoisie. I also despise the upper classes. And the lower classes, come to think of it. But still – a prostitute!”

“Well, your lady fair is a nickel-thrower in the automat, and you don’t seem so judgmental about that.”

“My dear Addison, there is a world of difference between what you persist in calling a ‘nickel thrower’ and a common prostitute!”

“I never said Bubbles was common.”

Milford sighed.

“Okay, you’re right. I am behaving bourgeoisly. If that’s a word. I’m doing just the sort of thing my mother does, judging people prima facie. What do I care if your lady friend is a prostitute? She doesn’t make you pay, does she?”

“Not always –”

“Oh, God.”

“What’s the matter?”

“You say you’re in love with a woman and yet she makes you pay for sex?”

“Well, only for a Baltimore handshake now and then.”

“What in hell is a Baltimore handshake?”

“It’s when a girl grips your organ of reputed manhood, and –”

“Stop! Please, stop, I don’t want to know.”

“Well, you asked, dear boy.”

“What about regular sex, do you have to pay for that, too?”

“Define regular sex.”

“Oh, God, man, must I spell it out?”

“If it’s what I think you mean, no, I haven’t paid for that.”

“Thank God.”

“Not yet.”

“Not yet?”

“No,” said Addison, “you see, she normally charges ten dollars for what she terms a ‘throw’, and, well, that’s just a little out of my price range, so –”

“So you’ve never had proper sex with her?”

“What do you mean by ‘proper’?”

“Okay. Forget it. I’m sorry I asked.”

“Someday I hope she’ll give me a throw.”

“Without you having to pay ten dollars for it?”

“Yes, you see, unfortunately, in the fiscal sense I am entirely dependent on intermittent remittances from certain female members of my family. A five here, a ten-dollar bill there, perhaps a twenty on birthdays and major holidays –”

Suddenly Milford remembered the twenty-dollar bill his mother had insisted on giving him before he left the house, slipping it into the inside pocket of his coat. He now reached under his peacoat and brought out the folded banknote, then laid it on the bar in front of Addison.

“What’s this?” said Addison.

“It’s twenty dollars. I want you to take it.”

“Twenty dollars? You’re giving me twenty dollars?”

“Yes, please take it.”

Quickly Addison picked up the bill and shoved it into his shirt pocket, next to his heart.

“Gee, thanks, Milford.”

“I ask only one thing,” said Milford. “It’s that you take that twenty and save ten of it to buy a, what do you call it, a ‘toss’?”

“A throw.”

“A ‘throw’, yes, I want you to give it to Trixie –”

“You mean Bubbles?”

“Yes, sorry, give it to Bubbles and ask for a throw.”

“Well, I can only ask.”

“Do you mean she may refuse you?”

“She might. She can be rather – what’s the word – mercurial.”

Again Milford sighed.

“Look,” he said, “will you read my poem?”

“Sure, any time,” said Addison, thinking of all the drinks twenty dollars could buy, and, what the devil, maybe he would set aside ten of it and ask Bubbles for a throw. The worst she could say would be no. Well, no, she could probably say worse than that–

“Here,” said Milford, and he brought a rolled-up sheaf of paper from out of his peacoat.

“What’s that?” said Addison.

“It’s my poem.”

“Oh, you mean you want me to read it now.”

“Yes, now, because Polly is on her way here, and, as I said, I want you to tell me if I should show her the poem.”



“The nickel-thrower.”

“I wish you’d stop referring to her that way. She is really so much more than a cashier in an automat.”


“Yes. She’s a novelist.”


Another novelist. Addison supposed it was either that or a poetess, or sculptress, or lady painter.

“Go ahead,” said Milford. “Read it, before she gets here.”
So, thought Addison, that twenty in his pocket wasn’t entirely free, gratis, and for nothing. He would have to sing for his supper. Or at least read Milford’s poem. Or pretend to.

The sheaf of paper was tied with a red ribbon. Addison unknotted the bow, and spread the scroll out onto the bar. It was ten or a dozen pages, typed, on thick, expensive-looking paper, single-spaced, with long lines.

“So I should read the whole thing?”

“Yes, you should have time before Polly gets here.”

Addison looked at the first page, at the top of which was centered a title, dedication, and auctorial attribution:

The Angel in the Change Booth

(for P.P.)

by Marion Milford

Now it was Addison’s turn to sigh. He raised his glass, and found that it was empty except for a sad half-inch of melting lozenges of ice. He shook the glass and gazed into it, as if trying to will a fresh scotch-and-soda into existence.

“I’ll order you another drink,” said Milford, “now hurry up and start reading.”

“Thanks, Milford,” said Addison, and he realized his cigarette had burnt down to its last half-inch. Ostentatiously he stubbed it out in his ashtray.

“Here, take another Woodbine,” said Milford, and he shoved the pack toward Addison, and laid his nice monogrammed lighter on top of the pack.

Addison helped himself to a cigarette and a light, and as Milford got the bartender’s attention to order another drink, Addison picked up the top sheet and began to read, or, at the very least, to pretend to read…

{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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