Thursday, September 23, 2021

“The French Have a Word for It”


“Order anything you want, pal, anything at all. And I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but you look like you could use a good feed. Now let me ask you a question. Have you eaten today?”

“Today?”

“Yes.”

“Does after midnight last night count? Because I think I might have had a hot dog at Bob’s after midnight last night.”

“I mean since this morning, pal. Have you had a meal since this morning?”

“As in this morning since daylight?”

“Yes.”

Smiling Jack’s smile rarely seemed to falter, but it was quivering slightly now, just on the verge of disappearing.

“Well, now that you mention it, Jack,” Addison was making it a point to try to remember Smiling Jack’s name, “no, I haven’t eaten today. You see, I was in bed all day actually.”

“Let me guess, after being out all night drinking.”

“How did you know?”

“Addison, just look at you.”

“Must I?”

“Look at yourself in the mirror there, buddy.”

They were sitting at the counter, and there was a mirror across the way, behind the stacks of coffee cups and plates. Addison looked at his reflection.

“Good God, I look like a bum!”

“Grey-faced, unshaven, drawn. Suit, shirt and tie all wrinkled and stained. Hat that looks like Primo Carnera sat on it. Eyes all bloodshot and watery –”

“Okay, okay, I get it, Jack. I mean, jeeze, we can’t all be the picture of jolly pink slightly chubby health that you are.”

“Don’t take it personal, pal,” said Smiling Jack, his smile back in full force now.

Ma was standing there.

“You gentlemen ready to order?”

“How you doin’, Ma?” said Jack.

“Doing fine, Mr. Jack.”

“How’s the meatloaf today?”

“Same as every day.”

“I’ll take the meatloaf then, Ma. With peas and mashed potatoes. And a nice hot cup of your chicory coffee, thank you very much.”

“How about you, Mr. Addison?”

“Is the meatloaf really good?” asked Addison. Normally he only had toast here, or a doughnut, sometimes a hot cross bun, because these were the cheapest items on the menu.

“Addison,” said Smiling Jack, “Ma’s meatloaf is the best in the city.”

“Really?”

“Best in the city. I’ve probably eaten in every darned diner in this town, and Ma’s meatloaf is hands down the best.”

“Okay, then, I’ll try the meatloaf,” said Addison.

“Go for the mashed potatoes and peas, too,” said Jack.

“You think that’s a good combination?”

“I think it’s the classic combination, Addison. Now there is a body of thought that prefers the French fries, with gravy, and coleslaw, and I’m not going to say that’s a bad combination, because it’s not, but if you’re talking classic, I mean the real deal, you just gotta go with the mashed and peas.”

“Okay, that’s what I’ll have then,” said Addison.

“Something to drink?” said Ma.

“Oh, I don’t care,” said Addison. He knew he couldn’t get beer here, so he really didn’t care.

“Go for the chicory coffee,” said Smiling Jack.

“Okay, sure,” said Addison. “Chicory coffee.”

Ma hadn’t written anything down, she never did, and she went away to give the order to her short-order cook, Moses.

She brought back two cups of the chicory coffee.

“Another Lucky while we’re waiting on our dinner?” said Jack.

“Sure, thanks, Jack,” said Addison.

Jack lighted them both up with his Zippo.

“Addison, my friend, I’m gonna make you my special project,” said Smiling Jack.

“Pardon me?”

“My special personal project.”

“What?”

“Call it a reclamation project.”

“I wasn’t aware I needed to be reclaimed.”

“’Cause I’ve been where you are, buddy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Drunk every night, sleeping it off every day.”

“Well, I’m not drunk quite every night, Jack.”

“You’re not?”

“I mean, not completely drunk.”

“Just a little drunk?”

“Well, I like to have a few after my day’s labor.”

“Your labor?”

“Yes. I hope you didn’t think I was a total layabout.”

“And what sort of labor is it that you do exactly, Addison?”

“I am a –” (Should he say it? yes, damn it, why not? It was true, wasn’t it?) “I’m a novelist.”

“You write novels?”

“Well, I’m writing a novel.”

“Gee, I had no idea.”

“So you thought I was just some opinionated failed intellectual holding forth in a bar?”

“Well, gee, pal –”

“I am in fact in the midst of writing an epic, a prose epic, of the American west.”

“A western?”

“I prefer to call it a prose epic, set in the American west. I shouldn’t want to limit the work by calling it a mere ‘western’.”

“No, of course not. Do you have a title for it yet?”

“I do indeed. Sixguns to El Paso.”

Sixguns –”

To El Paso.”

“And is that like, Six Guns to El Paso, as in six separate guns, or ‘sixguns’ as one word?”

“That’s a very good question, and in fact, it’s ‘sixguns’, one word, one plural word.”

“So it’s more than one sixgun.”

“Yes.”

“But not, like, six sixguns.”

“No, just ‘sixguns’. Sixguns to El Paso.”

“Got a ring to it. Six Guns to El Paso!”

Sixguns to El Paso. Not Six Guns to El Paso.”

“Right, that’s what I meant to say. What’s it about?”

“What’s it about?”

“Yeah,” said Jack, his smile flickering just ever so faintly again. “What’s it about? I mean, the story and all –”

“The story –”

“Yeah. I mean if you don’t mind telling me –”

“Oh, no, I don’t mind.”

“So what’s it about?”

Jack’s smile had disappeared, disconcertingly so. Addison paused before answering.

“How much time do you have, Jack?”

And now Smiling Jack’s smile returned.

“I have all night, my friend.”

Addison thought for a moment. On the one hand, here was a fellow actually asking Addison to talk about his work, something that had never happened before, ever, but on the other hand the man was obviously not an intellectual. Would Addison’s words make even the slightest impression on Smiling Jack’s brain cells, or would they simply bounce off, like so many verbal rubber balls, or, to try another figure of speech, would they be absorbed into the spongy mass of Jack’s brain, absorbed and lost forever, like – like what? Like raindrops in the ocean? Could he compare the brains of a fellow like Smiling Jack to the ocean?

He became aware of his reflection in the mirror again.

Good God, did he really look like that? In his mind’s eye he had always seen himself as looking rather like George Sanders, but instead he looked like the sort of person George Sanders would cross the street to avoid.

And there was Smiling Jack in the mirror, smiling, waiting patiently for Addison to speak. Well, the man had asked, and so all Addison could do was attempt to answer his question. Perhaps it would be artistically helpful to try to explain his work in terms that could be comprehended by a layman, an everyman, like Smiling Jack.

“Well, Jack, I think my book is about many things. On the surface, it is a tale of revenge, rather in the classic Homeric tradition, but, beneath the surface, it is a study of the very nature of existence, of memory, of time, and consciousness, and, yes, of the unconscious, of the hidden but powerful currents –”

“Here’s your meatloaves, gentlemen,” said Ma, and she laid the plates down.

Jack stubbed out his Lucky Strike.

“Oh, thank you, Ma! This looks and smells delicious!”

“More coffee?”

“When you get a chance, Ma, thank you.”

Addison stubbed out his own Lucky Strike and picked up his knife and fork.

Smiling Jack had already started in.

The food was magnificent. Smiling Jack had been right. There was just something perfect, and perfectly satisfying about the meatloaf and the mashed potatoes – both the meat and the potatoes liberally slathered with the thick gravy – and the slightly al dente peas, glistening with butter, popping with flavor in his mouth.  

And, as he ate, Addison saw his reflection in the mirror, eating, and he fancied he saw himself turning into the very likeness of George Sanders, and, really, he thought, is not our inner soul our true self, whereas this body one walks around in is only the all-too-temporary host of the soul?

With each swallow of food he felt not only his ravaged corporeal host being nourished, but, yes, his soul as well.

“Pretty good, hey, Addison?”

“Delicious.”

“I didn’t steer you wrong with the meatloaf and mashed, did I?”

“Far from it.”

“And the peas, Addison. The peas are essential.”

“Yes, I think you’re right, Jack.”

“The peas just give it that I don’t know what.”

“Yes, a certain je ne sais quoi.”

“I don’t know what that is, pal.”

“Oh, it’s just French for I don’t know what.”

“Exactly,” said Smiling Jack. “Leave it to them French people to have a word for I don’t know what!”

And he dug back in.

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


Thursday, September 16, 2021

"The Sponsor"


As it happened, Addison was the last speaker of the evening. He really felt he had so much more to say, but at last Smiling Jack came up to him, excused himself, and told Addison that the group only had the use of the church basement until eight P.M.

“What? You mean we have to leave?”

“I’m afraid so, old buddy. New Testament bible study group has the room next.”

“Oh, well, in that case,” said Addison.

“You can continue next time,” said Smiling Jack.

“Next time?”

“Wouldn’t you like to come again?”

“Oh, sure, why not?”

The room was already emptying out, and in fact, Addison couldn’t have helped but notice that at least half the other people in the room had left while he was speaking.

Outside in the church courtyard, the early-September night was falling. A group of people stood around the side entrance, bibles in hand.

Smiling Jack offered Addison another Lucky Strike, and he lighted them both up with his Zippo.

“So what did you think, Addison?”

“Oh, I thought it was wonderful,” said Addison. “You know, I’ve never had an experience like that before, a whole roomful of people listening to me talk.”

“Well, that’s one of the cornerstones of the program, buddy. People with the same disease, listening to each other tell their stories.”

“People with the same disease?”

“Alcoholism, buddy!”

“Oh, right,” said Addison. “Yes, I suppose that is a sort of disease, isn’t it?”

“We believe so, brother.”

“But isn’t all of life a sort of disease?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I mean, you catch the disease of life as soon as you are pulled screaming from your mother’s womb, and then you start to die.”

Smiling Jack’s smile had faltered, but now it returned.

“Heh heh, you slay me, Addison!”

“So how was I?”

“How were you?”

“My, my, what do you call it –”

“Your testimony?”

“Yes.”

“May I be honest, old chum?”

“Oh, by all means, please, be brutally honest.”

“You went on maybe just a little too long, buddy.”

“I did?”

“Just a little.”

“I didn’t know there was a time limit.”

“The thing is, we like to give others a chance to talk too, old boy.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Jack. It is Jack, isn’t it?”

“Jack it is! Smiling Jack, that’s me.”

“I’ll try to remember not to wax too verbosely next time. Next time I’ll try to keep it under an hour if I can.”

“Twenty minutes might be a good goal,” said Smiling Jack.

“Twenty?”

“That’s what we try to keep it to, buddy. So that other people can have a chance to talk.”

“Twenty minutes?”

“Yes, twenty minutes, pal.”

“Well, I could certainly try to reign myself in–”

“And one other thing.”

“Yes?”

“And please don’t take this the wrong way.”

“What’s the wrong way?”

“Please don’t be offended by what I am about to say, old buddy.”

“Oh, dear, what is it? I was boring, wasn’t I? That’s what those bums up at Bob’s Bowery Bar always tell me. ‘Shut up, Addison. you’re boring. Put a lid on it, Addison, nobody wants to hear it. God, you’re fucking boring, Addison.’ So you’re saying I was boring.”

“It’s not that so much, buddy.”

“It isn’t? Oh, thank God. I should hate to think I was boring, and to be honest I did wonder why so many people got up and left while I was speaking. I thought that was rather rude of them.”

“Maybe they had places to be, Addison.”

“Yes, that was probably it.”

“But here’s the thing –” said Smiling Jack.

“I was too diffuse, wasn’t I? But you see, Jack, I was not expecting to speak this evening, and so that whole performance was ex tempore, you see. Next time I’ll prepare an outline, perhaps, maybe some index cards as to the topics I want to touch on.”

“Well, that’s the thing I wanted to mention, buddy. The topics.”

“I went on too long about Joyce versus Woolf, didn’t I?”

“Well –”

“And perhaps my thoughts on Heidegger should have been relegated to a whole evening for themselves.”

“Yes, perhaps, but, here’s the thing, Addison, the organization is called Alcoholics Anonymous.”

“Yes, so I gathered.”

“And so, traditionally, if you get up to speak, you’re expected to speak about your problems with alcohol.”

“Oh. But could not that get a little, shall we say, dreary?”

“Perhaps, my friend, and, yes, to be quite honest, there’s not usually a whole lot of laughs at these meetings, but –”

“There certainly were not with those speakers who preceded me. Good God! Could they have been any more grim?”

“Heh heh, maybe not, old buddy, but you see we don’t come to these rooms for laughs, Addison, we come to help each other stay sober.”

“Oh.”

“And we do this by listening to each other’s stories.”

“I see.”

“And telling our own stories.”

“That’s what I liked about it,” said Addison. “Telling my story. I’ll try to do better next time.”

“If I may gently suggest, old buddy, just try to stick to your story as it relates to your illness.”

“My illness?”

“Your alcoholism.”

“Oh, right. Sure, I suppose I can do that,” said Addison, “maybe.”

“Addison, chum, I’m going to propose that you let me be your sponsor.”

“My sponsor?”

“Yes. Just someone in the program who’s there to help you. To lend an ear. If you should need an ear.”

“Gee, thanks,” said Addison, “uh –”

“Jack,” said Smiling Jack.

“Yes – Jack,” said Addison.

“Smiling Jack, that’s me.”

“Smiling Jack,” said Addison.

They were still standing in the courtyard, by the side entrance of the church. The people in the New Testament bible study group had all gone inside. It was was full dark now, and the streetlights had come on. The stub ends of the two Lucky Strikes glowed in the dimness.

“So, where are you off to, Smiling Jack?” said Addison.

“I was thinking of getting a bite to eat somewhere, Addison. Would you care to join me?”

“I only have a dollar and seventy-six cents on me.”

“My treat.”

“Oh, well, if you insist.”

“I insist, old buddy.”

“I could really go for a cold beer, too,” said Addison. “What’s today, Tuesday?”

“Um, yes,” said Smiling Jack.

“Y’know, if we head up to Bob’s Bowery Bar, I think on Tuesdays they have Bob’s Mom’s Irish stew special, quite reasonable too, just a dollar, and with your choice of a fresh-baked roll or Uneeda crackers. Goes really well with Bob’s basement-brewed bock.”

“Well, I don’t know about the bock, Addison, old chum.”

“Well, if the bock’s too strong for you, he’s got Rheingold on tap, that’s pretty light, and it should also go quite well with the Irish stew I should think.”

“Addison, old chum, I don’t drink.”

“What, not even beer?”

“Not even beer. You see, I’m an alcoholic, buddy.”

“Oh, right. I forgot.”

“And if I am not very much mistaken, I think you’re an alcoholic, too, Addison.”

“Yes, sure, of course, but just a bock or two –”

“A bock or two leads to a bock or two dozen, old friend.”

And Addison remembered the previous day and night. Yes, it had been at least two dozen bocks, speaking conservatively.

“I’ve got an idea, pal,” said Smiling Jack. “Do you know Ma’s Diner? It’s right near Bob’s, up on the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery –”

“Ma’s Diner? I live right across the street –”

“Well, what say you and me go there and see what ol’ Ma has on her Tuesday night specials?”

“Well, Ma doesn’t have a liquor license, you know. No beer there, or bock –”

“She makes a terrific pot of chicory coffee, though. And wonderful iced sweet tea.”

“Yes, her chicory coffee and sweet tea are pretty good –”

“Let’s take a stroll up to Ma’s, old buddy.”

“Well, okay,” said Addison. “Since you’re treating.”

“Yes, since I’m treating,” said Smiling Jack.

And they passed through the courtyard and out through the iron gate. The thing was, thought Addison, after a nice meal at Ma’s (and, yes, he was starving!), he could say good night to Smiling Jack, and then discreetly head over to Bob’s, where a dollar and seventy-six cents would go a long way in the bock department

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

Thursday, September 9, 2021

"Smiling Jack"



Had Addison ever been so hungover? No, goddammit, this time was the absolute worst. And it was all Gerry’s fault, buying him so many bocks. It was true, Gerry was Addison’s friend, his only friend, but a true friend would have forced him to go home hours before he got so abysmally drunk. Oh, but Addison had so wanted to talk to Gerry about his work-in-progress, Sixguns to El Paso, which Gerry had been so kind as to read – and he had liked it! Gerry had honestly liked the work. That was all Addison wanted, a little validation, a little encouragement after a lifetime of failure upon failure.

The whole episode was a blur. All the thousands of words Addison had spoken to Gerry in that day and night of drinking, all those insights which had seemed so brilliant and inspired at the time, he could barely remember any of it, all of it lost, lost forever, down the drain of drunkenness.

Oh, when would he learn?

Still lying in his narrow bed, Addison glanced at his watch. It had stopped. He had no idea what time it was, but, judging by the dirty light that oozed through his window, it must be late afternoon, perhaps even early evening.

He was hungry, but would he even be able to eat without vomiting? Well, there was only one way to find out. And anyway, he couldn’t bear lying in here in this tiny sweltering apartment any longer. He must go out!

There was no need to get dressed, because he had never undressed, he hadn’t even taken his shoes off.

About a half hour later Addison finally emerged from his building. There across Bleecker Street was Ma’s Diner, and the dollar and seventy-six cents in coin that Addison had scrounged up from various pockets and drawers and the change tray by his door would be plenty for a nutritious breakfast at Ma’s. After standing on the hot sidewalk for a minute he summoned up the energy to fling himself across the street, and, fortunately, the garbage truck that was passing at that moment just managed to avoid running him down and ending his troubles forever.

When he reached the opposite curb he could smell those delicious smells wafting from Ma’s as some other bum opened the door to leave the diner, but these odors triggered an internal chemical reaction inside Addison’s half-poisoned corporeal host which caused  him to double over with nausea and then to stagger to Ma’s window, where he rested for two minutes, the palms of his sweating hands and the side of his unshaven cheek pressed against the warm plate glass.

No, he wasn’t quite ready to eat, and he gathered himself and reeled off to the nearby corner of the Bowery, where he turned right, and continued to walk and weave, trying not to fall. 

Yes, a walk was the thing! Just walk a while, and then after his stomach settled, find someplace to sit and eat and have a cup of coffee. Or, and maybe this was not so bad an idea, maybe he should stop in at one of the many inexpensive drinking establishments in the neighborhood, and have a hair of the dog? But only one, maybe two, tops, and then, perhaps, a bite to eat, some pretzels maybe…

Addison didn’t know how long he walked, it was almost as if he were walking in a dream, but somehow he found himself passing a large church on his right, on the other side of an old brick wall. Up ahead were a group of men and a few women standing around smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk by the gate of an iron railing.

“Hey, there, fella,” said a smiling chubby man as Addison approached.

“Hello,” said Addison.

“You remember me? Jack. They call me Smiling Jack. I used to see you up at Bob’s Bowery Bar all the time.”

“Oh,” said Addison. “I think I might vaguely remember you.”

“Ah, but I remember that dry cutting repartee of yours! Your name’s Addison, right?”

“Well, that’s what they call me,” said Addison.

“Addison the Wit! Ha ha! I’m so glad you’ve come round, Addison, old fellow.”

“Let’s go, Jack,” said another guy. “It’s time.”

“Well, come along then, Addison,” said this Smiling Jack, and he took Addison’s arm. “This your first time?”

“First time for what?”

“First time for the first day of the rest of your life, my friend!”

“What insanity is this?” said Addison.

“There’s that rapier Addison wit! Now come along, buddy. You’re doing the right thing and you won’t regret it.”

Addison was too weak and confused to resist, and he found himself being herded along with the group through the iron gate, across a courtyard to an entranceway to the right of the main entrance of the church, through the doorway and across a dim hall and down some stairs to a large basement room.

Smiling Jack handed him a Dixie cup of coffee with extra cream and sugar, and then a Lucky Strike (although Addison preferred his Philip Morris Commanders), and soon enough he was sitting next to the jolly fat man, in a folding chair. Someone said a few introductory words at a facing table, and then people began to talk about their drinking problems. How tedious! 

Addison finished his cup of coffee and cigarette, and then another cup and another one of Smiling Jack’s Lucky Strikes, and at last he felt he had the strength to get up and leave.

He stood up.

“Go ahead,” said Smiling Jack, “don’t be afraid, Addison.”

“What?”

“No judgment here, my friend. Just go right up there and tell your story.”

“Tell my story?”

“Yes.”

“But – where do I start?”

“Just say your name, say you’re an alcoholic, and then start talking.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all, brother. Here, have another Lucky Strike. It’ll help!”

The next thing he knew Addison was sitting at the table.

“Hello,” he said. “They call me Addison.”

“Hi, Addison,” said a couple of dozen voices. “Hello, Addison. Welcome, Addison!”

Of course Addison wasn’t his real name, but then, wasn’t this outfit supposed to be anonymous?

“I suppose one might reasonably say that, among my other thumbnail character descriptions – exempli gratia: intellectual, critic, flâneur, wit, and, yes, also, and perhaps most importantly, the author of a western prose epic-in-progress – I am an alcoholic.”

To Addison’s surprise, this introductory remark elicited a smattering of applause.

These people were listening to him. To him! Unlike all those bums at Bob’s Bowery Bar who always told him to clam up, to dry up, to stuff a sock in it, to shut his fucking trap, unlike even his only friend Gerry, whose eyes (let’s face it) occasionally glazed over as Addison descanted on the superiority of Jules Romains over Proust, and who sometimes even covered his mouth with his clenched fist to stifle an obvious yawn, no, these good people were all looking at him, wide-eyed, waiting politely to hear what he had to say.

Amazing!

And Addison began to tell his story.

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

Thursday, September 2, 2021

"The Dime"

 

Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith finished urinating, and then looked at his face in the mirror above the bathroom sink. Yes, he definitely must have slept for a night and a day and the whole following night, because just look at that stubbled growth of whiskers on his face!

He shaved, and then came out of the bathroom into the one and only other room of his tiny sixth-floor walk-up apartment. He went to the window and stood there in his boxer shorts looking out at the bright hot day and the sunlight pouring down on the tracks of the Third Avenue Elevated.

God, but he felt good!

When was the last time he had awoken without even a trace of a hangover? It must have been that long-ago summer between graduating from Andover and matriculating at Harvard, because, let’s face it, once he hit Cambridge the gloves were off as far as drinking went. Yes, it had been a good solid twenty-five or thirty years of daily (or at least nightly) drinking, and it had taken nothing but an epic marathon of slumber for him finally to go for an entire day and night without consuming even a drop of fermented or distilled beverages.

It was all so very odd.

And now, looking out his window and down on the shimmering haze of the Bowery, Gerry suddenly experienced a vivid flash of memory, a memory of a dream, a dream of a shabby little man in a cloth cap, with a dead cigar, sitting at the writing table right here in this room.

What little man?

He somehow knew that little man.

It was almost as if Gerry had always known him…

And then he remembered, and this was definitely not a dream: the little man in his room was that shabby little fellow that Gerry had given a quarter to, his last quarter, when Gerry and Addison had been sitting drunkenly on the stoop downstairs, after their excruciatingly boring day and night of drinking.

Perhaps the little man in his room had not been a dream. After all, where did that cigar stub in his ashtray come from? 

What must have happened was that Gerry must have invited the little chap upstairs. He had no memory of doing so, but then Gerry couldn’t remember half the things he did when he had a good load on. So that must have been it, he had invited the little guy up here, God knows why, and the fellow had left his cigar stub in the ashtray. Fine, so that mystery was solved.

The little man whom Gerry had given his last quarter to…

Which meant that now, as good as Gerry felt, he was flat stony broke, with not a dime to his name, and he wasn’t due to pick up his monthly remittance envelope until, when, Friday? And what was today? Tuesday? No, if he had slept through yesterday then today must be Wednesday. Well, he hated to do it, but he would just have to schlep uptown to Mr. Goldstein’s office and ask for an advance on his allotment. Old Mr. Goldstein wouldn’t care, that was for sure, in fact he would doubtless be highly amused. Still, it was embarrassing. Gerry had only rarely ever gone over his monthly allowance of a hundred dollars, which was usually quite sufficient to his modest needs and wants. The only problem was, without even one thin dime for public transportation, Gerry would have to make it all the way up to 52nd Street by shank’s mare. And when was the last time that Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith had walked more than a few blocks at a time? He honestly couldn’t remember, but surely twenty years was a conservative guess.

Gerry continued to gaze out and down at the dirty Elevated tracks and girders, down to the street with the cars and trucks driving by, and the poor people dragging slowly along the sidewalks. It was bright and blazing hot out, August, definitely not the sort of day he would have chosen for his first long walk in decades. But what else could he do? 

What he should do was go downstairs and ask that ass Addison for a dime for the Elevated. How many bocks had Gerry bought Addison during that hellish and seemingly-eternal tête-à-tête the day and night before yesterday? Twenty? No, more like twenty-five or even thirty bocks, not to mention putting up with the man’s phenomenal boringness for a dozen hours or more. Knowing Addison, he would balk at coughing up even a dime, but too bad for him, he owed Gerry, he owed Gerry a hell of a lot more than a dime!

But then, almost as soon as Gerry had the thought, he had second thoughts.

First second thought: asking Addison for the loan of a dime to take the Elevated would mean that Gerry would actually have to talk to Addison, never an attractive proposition.

Second and more serious second thought: Gerry would doubtless be forced to explain to Addison the reason for his request for a loan of a dime, and then Addison would know that Gerry would be getting an advance on his remittance, which would mean that Addison would take this knowledge as carte blanche to invite Gerry to treat Addison to God only knew how many bocks on another long day’s and night’s journey through the jungles of drunken faux-literary tedium.

No, there was nothing for it but to be a man about it, and walk all the way uptown, despite the brutal August heat, and just hope that he didn’t drop dead of a massive heart attack or stroke or cerebral hemorrhage on the way.

Gerry turned away from the window, and his gaze fell upon his nearby writing table (indeed everything in Gerry’s tiny apartment was nearby everything else), that table on which sat his old Royal portable along with the pages of his work in progress, his “book of philosophical observations” tentatively titled Pensées for a Rainy Day, and also his ashtray (emblazoned with the legend THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL – OUR SERVICE IS SWELL), filled with his Bull Durham butts and that mysterious little man’s stub of a cigar.

Absent-mindedly Gerry walked the three steps to the table and picked up the ashtray, meaning to empty it into the waste-paper basket next to the table, but, as he did so, he saw a sliver of something dully gleaming in the midst of the ashes and butts. With one finger he moved the cigar stub aside, and there, mirabile dictu – it had been sitting under the cigar stub this whole time – was a dime. Ten cents! 

He picked out the coin and blew on it, the breath of life. It was an old dime, worn and smooth, one of the old Seated Liberties, and the date seemed to be 1888. Well, you didn’t see too many of those around in circulation anymore! Was it worth anything? Who knew? At any rate, it would certainly do for the Elevated ride uptown.

Gerry quickly got dressed and went out, and it never even occurred to him to wonder how that Seated Liberty dime had found its way into his ashtray, but, dear reader, it can now be told that the coin had been purposefully deposited there by the little man called Bowery Bert, otherwise known as the guardian angel of this impoverished and strange quarter of the city.

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