Thursday, February 2, 2023

“Slaying”


The drunker they got, the more they laughed, and the more they laughed, the louder they laughed. It was always this way, working the nightclubs and lounges and the Kiwanis and Shriners conventions and the Catskills resorts and Jersey shore VFW posts, and now after all these years Waldo McGee and his wooden dummy Mickey Pumpernickel finally had a good steady gig, here in the Prince Hal Room at the Hotel St Crispian.

“Hey, McGee,” said Mickey, looking up at Waldo, “wake up, you’re dropping your cues like they’re hot potatoes!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mickey, what was you saying?”

Even this got a laugh from the people. Talk about easy crowds…

“You see what I got to deal with here?” said Mickey to the punters. “This guy. This schlimazel. You shoulda seen him a coupla hours ago, back in our trap: ‘I ain’t goin’. I ain’t goin’ in. I can’t go in there no more, Mickey. I’m through. I can’t do it.’ And ya know what I did? Ya know what I did, folks?”

“What’d ya do, Mickey?” yelled up the fat drunk guy at the table down front.

“I’ll tell ya what I did,” said Mickey, and he raised his little wooden fist. “Pow! Hard right cross!”

And Mickey punched Waldo in the jaw. The crowd burst into laughter

“Ow!” said Waldo, after the laughs had pretty much subsided. “That hurt, Mickey!”

“Ah, I pulled it, ya big baby,” said Mickey. He turned to the crowd again. “You folks shoulda seen that haymaker I gave him earlier today. Pow!” Mickey feinted another punch to Waldo’s jaw, and Waldo flinched, but the punch stopped an inch short. “I knocked him right outa the sack. Didn’t I, McGee?”

Waldo was getting that weird sensation again, like he was leaving his body, floating up above the little stage, up above all these people drinking and laughing at the tables and the bar.

“Hey, McGee,” yelled Mickey, “I said, ‘Didn’t I?’”

Mickey was way down there, six, eight feet down there, and Waldo was up here, floating up above Mickey, and floating up above his own body which was holding Mickey on his lap.

“Didn’t I, McGee? Didn’t I knock you right outa the rack and onto the floor?”

Yes, he had.

“Didn’t I, McGee?”

And the crowd down there, the people, all the drunk people...

“Hey, didn’t I, McGee? Didn’t I? Answer me, goddammit!”

“What’s that, Mickey?”

“I said, and I repeat for the twelfth time, didn’t I hit you with a Joe Louis haymaker hard right cross that knocked you right out of your cot and onto the floor?”

“Oh, yes, yes, you did, Mickey,” said Waldo.

The crowd laughed at this. Why did they laugh? It wasn’t particularly funny. It must have been Waldo’s delivery, his strange delivery on account of he was floating eight or ten feet above the stage, or maybe it was because even now when Waldo was talking in his own voice, he wasn’t moving his lips, just like when Mickey was speaking.

“Yes, you really did, Mickey,” Waldo went on. “Knocked me for a loop, sent me sprawling onto the hard wooden floor.”

“Ha ha, lookit, Mabel,” yelled the fat guy down front, “he’s not even moving his lips!”

“That’s ‘cause he’s a ventriloquist, ya fat slob!” said Mickey. “The best in the business.”

“I agree!” said the fat guy, “but ain’t he only supposed to not move his lips when you’re talking?”

Mickey just looked at the guy for a beat. Then he turned to Waldo.

“Waldo,” he said, “do this guy a favor and move your lips when you’re talking.”

“He ain’t my boss,” said Waldo, floating up there above the smoke and the people, and, sure enough, his lips didn’t move. “Fuck him.”

And the fat guy laughed and so did everybody else.

Even Mr. Bernstein, over at the bar, who literally was Waldo and Mickey’s boss, even he laughed. Sure, he would have to ask Waldo to watch the language in the future, but you had to admit the guy was an original. Him and that crazy dummy. And you know what? Even if Waldo and Mickey slipped up now and then and let a curse word out, well, you know what? If any of these people complained, let them complain. Let them take their trade somewheres else. In fact, in Waldo’s words, fuck them. 



The crowd was laughing again.

Mr. Bernstein didn’t know how Waldo and Mickey did what they did, taking it right up to the edge of outraging the audience, even going over the edge, and then, boom, it was like this, and the punters were splitting their sides. It was a mystery, but McGee and Pumpernickel were killing. They were slaughtering.

And now McGee was moving his own lips again, almost like he had just woken up from a dream.

“I’m sorry, Mickey,” he said. “What was you saying?”

And the crowd roared.

Slaying, thought Mr. Bernstein. Murdering.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2023

"The Show Must Go On"


“I just can’t do it no more,” said Waldo McGee. “I can’t do it, I tells ya. I just ain’t got it in me.”

“Ah, dry up,” said Waldo’s wooden dummy, Mickey Pumpernickel.

“That’s what I should do,” said Waldo. “Dry up. Then sweep me up and dump me in the ash can and put me out on the street for the garbage men to collect.”

“Don’t tempt me,” said Mickey.

“I toldja,” said Waldo. “Find yourself a new partner, a new straight man. ‘Cause I’m through, Mickey. Washed up.”

“Tell it to the marines.”

“You think I’m kiddin’, Mickey. I ain’t.”

Waldo was sitting back against the brass headrail of his bed, in his undershirt and boxer shorts. Mickey sat by his side, a lighted cigarette in his little painted mouth, the smoke trailing up to the ceiling in the light of the bedside lamp. Outside it was getting dark, the street lights coming on, snowflakes were falling and swirling through the girders of the elevated tracks, and you could just hear and feel the faint rumble of the Third Avenue train in the distance, coming downtown from uptown.

Mickey glanced at his wristwatch.

“I’m giving you five minutes to get out of this rack and get dressed.”

“I ain’t gettin’ dressed,” said Waldo.

“You gonna just not show up at the hotel? Miss a gig for the first time in our career?”

“I’ll go down the hall and phone Mr. Bernstein.”

“And tell him what? You got a tummy ache?”

“I’ll tell him I ain’t comin’ in. And I ain’t comin’ in at all no more.”

“You’re gonna quit. Like that. No notice.”

“I can’t go in there no more.”

Mickey took the cigarette out of his mouth and tapped its ash into the ashtray next to him on the bed. The ashtray was made out of sturdy green glass and emblazoned with the bold legend in gold:

 



The St Crispian Hotel  “Our Service Is Swell!”


“I wisht you wouldn’t smoke in bed, Mickey. I toldja oncet I toldja a million times.”

“Whatta you care?”

“I don’t care about me, but this bed catches fire then you’d be the first thing gets burnt to a crisp.”

“Well, thank you for your solicitude,” said Mickey. “I did not know you cared.”

Mickey put the cigarette back into his eternally grinning lips.

“Of course I care,” said Waldo. “What else I got to care about?”

“How about your self respect?” said Mickey. “You ever think about that?”

Waldo said nothing.

“Well?” said Mickey. “What about it? What about your self respect?”

“Leave me alone.”

Mickey looked at the watch on his wrist again. It was a child’s watch, with an illustration of a monkey’s head on its face. Even though it was a child’s watch, it still looked enormous on his little wooden wrist.

“That’s four minutes you got to get dressed.”

“I ain’t gettin’ dressed.”

Suddenly the elevated train was roaring by outside, and the window panes rattled. And then the last car passed and the roar faded away.

Mickey took the cigarette out of his mouth again and this time he laid it in the ashtray.

“Don’t make me get rough, Waldo. Don’t make me do that.”

“I ain’t making you do nothin’, Mickey. You do what you gotta do. I gotta do what I gotta do. Which is lie right here.”

“Hey, ya know what?” said Mickey. “I am really getting tired of your shit. Now get the fuck up before I smack you in the jaw.”

“You said I still got four minutes.”

“That was then. This is now, and I am telling you to get your scrawny ass outa this bed and get dressed.”

“Or what?” said Waldo.

“Or what?” said Mickey.

“Yeah,” said Waldo. “Or what. What’re you gonna do. You’re nothing but a wooden dummy.”

“Take out them dentures,” said Mickey.

“Why?” said Waldo.

“’Cause I’m gonna smack you in the mouth and I don’t wanta break ‘em,” said Mickey.


Mrs. Morgenstern stood outside the door.

“Mr. McGee. Mr. McGee, you all right?”

“What?” came Waldo’s voice through the door.

“I said you all right?”

“Yeah, fine, Mrs. Morgenstern, fine.”

“What was all that yellin’ and thumpin’?”

“Nothing, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

“It sounded like you was gettin’ murdered.”

“We were just rehearsing, Mrs. Morgenstern,” said Mickey’s voice.”

“Rehoising?”

“Yeah,” said Mickey. “’Rehoising’ as you say. A new bit for our act.”

“It sounded like bloody murder.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Morgenstern,” said Mickey’s voice. “We got carried away. We promise it won’t happen again.”

“As long as you’re okay,” said Mrs. Morgenstern, and she realized suddenly that she was talking to a wooden ventriloquist’s dummy. “I mean, the both of ya.”

“We are both perfectly okay,” said Mickey. “Ain’t we, Waldo?”

“Yes, we’re both fine,” said Waldo McGee.

“Well, okay, then,” said Mrs. Morgenstern, and she went back to where she had left off sweeping the hallway.

Meshugge. They were both meshugge, Mr. McGee and his wooden dummy, Mickey Pumpernickel, the both of them…


Back in his room Waldo McGee picked himself up from the floor, and rubbed his jaw. Mickey was still sitting on the bed, with the butt of the cigarette in his mouth.

“You really hurt me, Mickey,” said Waldo.



“I meant to hurt you,” said Mickey.

“And now you got Mrs. Morgenstern upset. What if she kicks us out?”

“She ain’t gonna kick us out. That lady’s got a heart of gold.”

“Yeah, but still,” said Waldo. “You didn’t have to hit me that hard.”

“I will bear that in mind in the future. Now, you gonna get dressed?”

“Yeah,” said Waldo. “I’ll get dressed.”

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

Thursday, January 19, 2023

“Recipe for Happiness”


“If there were a recipe for happiness, it would be known to all men and to all women; alas, happiness is not like an apple pie, although, perhaps, happiness is an apple pie, warm from the oven…”



Not unusually, it had taken Gerry (“the Brain”) Goldsmith an entire afternoon to compose just one sentence for his “book of philosophical musings”, now more than two decades in the making, and tentatively titled Pensées for a Rainy Day, Vol. I. 


As was Gerry’s wont, he left the sheet of paper in his old Royal portable, all the better to resume work on the morrow, and he stubbed out his latest Bull Durham in the the chipped glass ashtray emblazoned with the legend THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL – OUR SERVICE IS SWELL.


Time for a bock!



Gerry wondered, would his young friend Araminta Sauvage care to join him and go around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar? He hadn’t seen her for a few days, since recovering from his rather severe bout with ‘flu, which she had so kindly nursed him through. He felt he had not properly thanked her for her ministrations – the bowls of soup, the hot and cold compresses and cups of tea, the laundering of his ancient pajamas.

He had picked up his latest remittance check today at Mr. Goldstein’s office, so he was flush. Perhaps Araminta would consent to Gerry’s treating her to an early dinner?

The Third Avenue Elevated roared by outside Gerry’s window, taking people home from their jobs. Gerry had no job, had never had a job, and was this not in itself a reason, a cause for happiness? Could it be that he was happy without quite realizing it? These were matters he might take in hand at his typewriter tomorrow, if he remembered, if he cared by then.

Gerry pulled on his old camel’s hair chesterfield, draped his even older Andover rowing-team muffler dashingly around his neck, popped his twenty-eight-years-old fedora on his head and went out, leaving the door unlocked as usual, because he had lost his last key over a year ago, and was too shy to ask Mrs. Morgenstern for yet another replacement.


Down Gerry went from the sixth floor to the second-floor landing, and then down the hall to Araminta’s door.

He raised his closed right hand to knock but was stopped by a horrifying sound.

“Oh! Oh! Oh my God!”

It was Araminta’s voice! Was she in distress?

“Oh dear God in heaven!”


What could be the matter? Was she in some sort of existential crisis?

“Dear God, oh my God!”


It must be a severe crisis indeed for her to be crying out thus.

“Don’t stop! Don’t stop! Oh! Please don’t stop!”

But if it were a crisis, why would she not want it to stop?

“Oh, yes, yes, yes, give it to me!”

Why should she want God, or the universe, to give her such agony? Was it some deep-seated guilt, but if so, guilt for what? For the crime of being young, and beautiful, and sensitive?



“Give it to me!”

No, she did not deserve to flagellate herself this way! He must knock, and talk to her, and tell her she was a beautiful and innocent and wonderful person.

Gerry pulled his hand into a tight fist and drew it back, preparatory to pounding it on the door.

“Oh, Terry! Yes, yes, yes!”

And just in time Gerry opened his fist and lowered his arm, as the veil fell.

So, Araminta was back with young Terry Foley.

This was, if not exactly to be expected, then neither was it to be unexpected. Terry was an oaf, but a genial oaf, and, more important, Terry was young, as was Araminta, and youth was drawn to youth.

“Yes, Terry! Oh, yes! Give it to me!”


Gerry turned, and almost on tiptoe, walked back to the staircase.

Outside it was starting to snow again, wet cold flakes tumbling down out of a sky the color of the circus tents of Gerry’s youth, when he would sit on the wooden benches watching the elephants dancing and the acrobats flying up above.

Across the street was Ma’s Diner, looking warm and inviting, and through the steamed glass of the window he could see Ma behind the counter – warm, friendly Ma.

Perhaps it would be wise to stop in at the diner and have a bite to eat before heading over to Bob’s? Yes, that would be a good idea. A hearty plate of Ma’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes, with fresh peas glistening with butter. And a smile from dear Ma. And for the first time Gerry wondered, was there a husband in the picture for Ma? Was she even really a “Ma”, or was that only her nickname, her professional sobriquet? And what was her age? Surely she was no older than Gerry.

Yes, a good meal at Ma’s Diner was just the thing, and then he could head over to Bob’s. If not the meatloaf, perhaps Ma’s signature “Fatback ‘n’ Beans Stew”? Or – especially considering that all Gerry had eaten today was one chocolate Danish –  what about Ma’s “All Day Breakfast Special”, only a dollar for two eggs, home fries, and “your choice” of bacon, ham, or homemade sausage, washed down of course with lashings of Ma’s “bottomless” cups of strong hot chicory coffee? And then – why not? – a slice of Ma’s apple pie, the only question being with vanilla ice cream or cheddar…

Out into the heavier falling snow Gerry stepped, and, yes, it occurred to him that he was happy, or at least on the verge of happiness…





{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, January 12, 2023

“Gilbey and God and the Devil”

How long had it been since Gilbey had seen God? Two years? Three? 

Time meant little to Gilbey. The days blended together, the days and the nights, but still he knew he had seen God that one time, lying in the dark in his little room at the Sunshine Hotel. It was like this big bright light. It stayed there for like a minute that seemed like forever, and it didn’t say nothing, but it didn’t have to. And then it went away. But it was God all right.

Then a year or so later Gilbey had seen the Devil, and again it was in the middle of the night, in his room, and this time it was like a blackness in the darkness, a hole through the night that opened up and went on forever and ever into darkness and blackness. It hadn’t said it was the Devil, but Gilbey knew.

So that was it, God the one time, and the Devil another time, and Gilbey stuck here in the world between the two, with the days and the nights blending together and falling away, all of them alike, all of them a little different.


They hadn’t had any work today down at the job center and so Gilbey walked around in the cold. This was one of the days when he didn’t have a dime in his pocket, not even a nickel for an automat coffee, but that was okay, that was what the soup kitchens were for, for days like this one, and at lunch time Gilbey went in to Brother Lou’s Friendly Mission and had some potato soup and bread and a cup of joe. Then he went out onto the Bowery again to walk around some more.

“Gilbey!”

It was that guy Smiling Jack, with his leather satchel of books hanging from a strap across his chest.

“Oh, hiya, Smiling Jack.”

“Whatcha doing, Gilbey?”

“Just walking around, Smiling Jack.”

“No work today?”

“No, they wasn’t hiring. Or at least they wasn’t hiring me.”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“I haven’t seen you at the meetings, Gilbey.”

“I don’t like them meetings.”

“But they’re good for you, Gilbey.”

“I get antsy at them meetings. All them guys talking.”

“Talking helps, Gilbey.”

“It don’t help me.”

“Why don’t you come with me now? I was just heading down to Old St. Pat’s for a two o’clock meeting.”

“I don’t know, Smiling Jack.”

“You just gonna walk around all day in the cold? Come on over, warm up with some nice hot coffee.”

Gilbey hesitated.

“They got doughnuts?’

“There will be doughnuts, yes.”

It was cold, bitter cold, so Gilbey said okay.


In the church basement Gilbey drank the coffee from a Dixie cup and ate a doughnut, and a guy next to him gave him a cigarette.

After a while, Smiling Jack asked Gilbey if he would like to say something. Gilbey said he would and he went up to the podium.

“My name is Gilbey,” he said. “And I don’t want to talk about being an alcoholic. What I want to talk about is this one time I seen God and this other time I seen the Devil. What I don’t understand is everything. How come I seen God but that once and the Devil but that one other time? How come I am in this body and my name is Gilbey? How come I am here today and not somewheres else? How come everybody is where they is? How come the world is here? How many more days I’m gonna walk around before I’m dead, and then will I see God or the Devil? Or nobody? That’s what I want to know, but ain’t nobody telling me. Ain’t nobody telling me nothing.”

There was silence in the smoky room, two dozen men and women smoking cigarettes and holding Dixie cups.

“Is that all, Gilbey?” said Smiling Jack, while Gilbey still stood there.

“Yeah, I guess that’s all,” said Gilbey.

“Thank you, Gilbey,” said Smiling Jack.

“Can I sit down now?”

“Yes, of course, my friend.”

Gilbey went back to his folding chair and sat down.

The young guy next to him leaned close to him and said, “That was brilliant.”

“Thanks,” said Gilbey.

“You’re lucky,” said the young guy. “At least you saw God once.”

“Yeah,” said Gilbey. “But I seen the Devil too.”

“Cigarette?”

“Yeah, thanks,” said Gilbey.

The guy had a pack of cigarettes that Gilbey hadn’t ever seen before, called Woodbines, and he shook out one for Gilbey, and gave him a light with a paper match.

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