Thursday, April 20, 2023

“Enfant Terrible”

“And a brandy for the lady,” said the bartender. “Howya doin’, Bubbles?”

“I’ll be doing a hell of a lot better after I step outside this Christian Brothers,” said Bubbles, and she did just that.

“On my tab, please,” said Milford to the bartender.

“Thanks, pal,” said Bubbles.

“Oh, you’re quite welcome, miss!”

“Better give me another one, Louie,” said Bubbles, pointing to her emptied glass. “That one was just to warm me up.”

“Here ya go, beautiful,” said Louie, who still had the brandy bottle in his hand, and he refilled the little glass.

“Put that one on my tab, too, please,” said Milford.

“Thanks, again, big spender,” said Bubbles, and she took her Philip Morrises out of her purse.

“My pleasure, miss,” said Milford. “May I offer you my seat?”

“What a gentleman,” she said, and she climbed gracefully up onto Milford’s barstool.

The configuration of the little group was now Milford standing sidewise facing Bubbles to his right, with Addison squeezed in next to him with Polly perched over there on the stool to the left.

“Milford, Polly,” said Addison, trying not to sound quite as drunk as he was getting, two sheets to the wind by his reckoning, but bidding fare for a third, “I should like to introduce you both to my friend Bubbles.”

“Very pleased to meet you, Miss Bubbles,” said Milford, lighting her cigarette with his monogrammed silver-plated lighter.

“Hello, there!” called Polly, eagerly. She so rarely met anyone except the girls who worked at the automat. Who was this glamorous creature, and could they possibly become friends?

“Hiya, doll,” said Bubbles, after exhaling a great cloud of smoke. And who was this dweeber? She had the look of one of these would-be poets, the Village was crawling with them. But hadn’t she seen the frail pushing nickels at the change booth at the automat over on Bedford?

“What do you do, Miss Bubbles?” said Polly, speaking loudly to be heard through all the surrounding chatter and jukebox music.

“Let’s say I’m an entertainer,” said Bubbles, which was true enough.

Milford felt his brain abruptly lurch back in on itself, as it so often did, and although he was aware that Bubbles and Polly continued to pass words back and forth to each other through the smoky air, and that Addison was piping counterpoint sounds that might be construed as words, perhaps even words not utterly devoid of meaning, nonetheless they might all have been speaking Urdu for all that Milford knew, and he knew not a word of Urdu. Why was he here? Yes, to meet Polly, sitting over there on the other side of Addison, Polly who was now leaning forward and bending her small wide-eyed face in the direction of Bubbles, saying words to Bubbles. Milford looked to his right and there was the regal face of Bubbles, turned serenely in the direction of Polly.

Why, oh, why was Bubbles so beautiful, so full of life? Why was Polly so dull in comparison? How could he go from being in love with Shirley De LaSalle this morning, to being in love with Polly this afternoon and early evening, to now being smitten by this goddess who walked the earth with the name of Bubbles?

Was he, after all, in fine and at bottom, incontrovertibly insane?

And he sank yet deeper into his own private world, as the words and the music and the smoke and the noise of the bar became no more real than a background scene in a movie… 

All Milford had ever wanted was to be the voice of his generation. Was that too much to ask?

And what was his generation, anyway? Since being sent down in disgrace for conduct unbecoming in only his first year at Princeton he had hardly known anyone of his generation, or of any other for that matter. Was it his fault he was forced by cruel circumstance to live at home with his harpy of a mother and Maria the housemaid? Was he to blame that the only people he ever met were the dreary bores at Alcoholics Anonymous?

But, wait, could this – all this, this garishly-colored movie playing out before him and all around him – could this be his generation? Was this the equivalent of the Parisian cafés frequented by the artists and poets of the 1920s? Perhaps it was! And if it was (or was it “if it were”?) then there must still be a chance for him to be its voice!

But first he must find his voice, his true and unique voice. He must stop imitating Dylan Thomas, or, worse, Vachel Lindsay, or Robinson Jeffers. He must speak, and, more importantly, write in his own original voice. But what was his voice? His voice had always sounded so whiny to himself, and didn’t his own mother habitually call him (along with “l’enfant terrible”) a “mewling sniveling brat”?

What he must do, he must be a man, and then and only then would he find his voice, and, in finding his voice, he would also claim his manhood, and, indeed, perhaps, his immortality.

He would be the voice of his generation…

“Hey, pal, what’s your name again?”

Bubbles had jabbed his arm with her elbow.

“Milford?” said Milford, not at all sure at this point.

“All right, Milford, raise your glass.”

“Okay,” said Milford, and he picked up the small glass she had pointed to.

“Bottoms up,” she said.

“To friends!” said Addison.

“Yes, to all my lovely new friends!” said Polly.

Polly and Addison and Bubbles were all holding up small glasses of something brown, and they brought them in unison to their lips.

And Milford raised his own glass and drank it down, the old familiar fire coursing down his throat.

Yes, he would be the voice of his generation, God damn it. And then his mother would see who was the mewling sniveling brat, and who the real enfant terrible was!

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

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