Thursday, July 18, 2024

"The Enormous Men's Room"

Inside was an enormous and cavernous men's room, with a long row of urinals on the right side and a long row of sinks on the left, and a few paces inside the doorway was a wooden podium with a tall gaunt man in a dark suit standing behind it.

"Welcome," he said. "Oh, and Mr. Whitman! So good to see you again, sir!"

"Good to see you, Charles," said Mr. Whitman, continuing to guide Milford forward with his hand on the young fellow's back. "How's it hanging, my friend?"

"It is hanging well, sir. And yourself?"

"No use complaining, Charlie, no use complaining, and, anyway, who gives a shit?"

"I do, sir."

"Well, that's very nice of you to say, Charlie. And the wife, the kids?"

"All very well, sir, or no worse than might be expected. My wife's lumbago still pains her in the cold and rainy weather, and my son is due to be released from the reformatory in the spring, his good behavior willing. My daughter's pregnancy was unfortunate but we have resigned ourselves. My youngest son's polio is being treated by the best doctors we can afford."

"And your angina?"

"No better, but little worse, which at my age is something to be thankful for."

"Indeed, Charlie. We pass from one vale of tears to another, first skipping merrily, then trudging dutifully, finally crawling, but someday our troubles end."

"Only to begin again, sir."

"And so the great wheel of life turns," said Mr. Whitman. "You know, there's a very great Hindu epic called the Mahabarata, and –"

"Um," said Milford.

"Yes, Wilfrid?" said Mr. Whitman.

"Look, Mr., uh, Whitman, I, um, I really have to, um, you know, so if I could just go ahead, you and this gentleman can continue chatting –"

"Wow, you really do have to go, don't you, stepping from one foot to another as if you're dancing the Black Bottom."

"Yes, I really have to go," said Milford.

"I take it you two gentleman are together?" said the thin man at the podium.

"Yes, Charles," said Mr. Whitman. "Young Master Williford is with me."

"Hello, Mr. Williford," said the man. 

"It's Milford, actually," said Milford, "and, look, I really don't mind just going ahead, I see lots of empty urinals in here, so if I could just –"

"So would that be one or two urinals?" said the man, glancing from Milford to Mr. Whitman. "Or perhaps a urinal and a stall?"

"Make it two urinals, Charlie," said Mr. Whitman, "Adjoining if at all possible."

"Of course, Mr. Whitman."

There was an engraved service bell on the podium, and the man struck its button smartly with the heel of his hand, the ring echoing through the huge long room.

A tiny man in a bellboy's red and black costume with white gloves and cocked cap with a chin strap sauntered up from somewhere.

"What's up, boss? Oh, hey, Mr. Whitman, whaddya say, whaddya know?"

"As usual I say too much despite knowing too little, Benny," said Mr. Whitman. "And how are you?"

"Not too bad, Mr. Whitman, considering I am a midget who works in a men's room reeking with the stench of piss and shit."

"Benny!" said the man at the podium. "Language, please!"

"Aw, Mr. Whitman don't mind, do ya, Mr. Whitman?"

"Not at all," said Mr. Whitman, who was knocking the bowl of his pipe against his knuckles, and letting the ash fall to the tiled floor.

"That's what I like about you, Mr. Whitman," said the tiny man. "You're a man of the people. Who's your buddy?"

"Mumfort, meet Benny."

"Hiya, Mumfort," said Benny.

"Hi," said Milford, "but, okay, look, everybody, I really have to go, so if you guys don't mind, I think I'll just jump ahead, and –"

"Hold your horses, pal," said Benny. He turned to the thin man. "What's the call, boss?"

"Two urinals, please, Benny," said the thin man.

"Adjoining, if possible," added Mr. Whitman.

"Adjoining, Benny," said the thin man.

"Two adjoining urinals, coming up!" said the tiny man. Then he turned to Mr. Whitman again. "But how are you, Mr. Whitman? Everything okay?"

"Never better," said Mr. Whitman, who had taken his pouch out and was filling his pipe again.

"You want to finish packing your pipe first?"

"Yes, just give me a moment here," said Mr. Whitman, tamping the gummy mixture with his big index finger.

"Take your time, Mr. Whitman," said the tiny man, "I'm here all night."

"Really?" said Mr. Whitman. "You like the overnight shift?"

"Love it," said the tiny man. "Me, I'm a night owl. Nothing I like better than getting off at seven in the morning, then going down the bar for some scrapple and eggs and home fries, maybe a stack of johnny cakes just the way I like 'em, with a half-dozen thick rashers of extra crisp bacon laid on top and slathered in butter and blackstrap molasses, wash it all down with a schooner or three of cold beer, then go to my trap and sleep like a baby."

"Sounds good to me," said Mr. Whitman. He had taken his box of Blue Tip kitchen matches out, but the thin man at the podium beat him to it, taking a wooden match from a small wooden box on the podium, striking it on his thumb, and leaning forward and giving Mr. Whitman a light.

"Oh, my God," said Milford.

"What's eating you, pal?" said the tiny man.

"I just really have to urinate," said Milford. "I'm sorry, but can't I just go ahead and –"

"Look, sonny, can't you wait just two seconds till Mr. Whitman gets his pipe lit?"

"Okay," said Milford, "fine, I'll wait."

"Sheesh," said the tiny man. "Hey, Mr. Whitman, where'd you dig this guy up, anyways, Bellevue or the Tombs?"

"Ha ha, neither, my friend, neither," said Mr. Whitman, puffing on his pipe. "He's okay, just a little impatient."

"Patience is a virtue," said the tiny man.

"So it is," said Mr. Whitman, "so it is." He took the pipe out of his mouth and gazed fondly at it, while slowly exhaling an enormous cloud of sweet thick smoke. "Y'know, Benny, sometimes the old sayings have a lot of truth in them, like for instance, 'All good things come to those who wait.'"

"And bad things too, Mr. Whitman," said the little man.

"This is true," said Mr. Whitman. "You wait long enough, and not just the good will come, but, yes, the bad as well."

"And, if I may dare to interpose," said the tall thin man, who seemed eager to re-enter the conversation, "also the indifferent."

"Yes, the indifferent too," said Mr. Whitman. "That too. There's no denying it."

"And, again, not that I would claim to be a philosopher," the thin man went on, "but is not the preponderance of life nothing but the indifferent? The humdrum, the repetitive, the dull plodding forward into the great unknown?"

"You got something there, boss," said the tiny man. "Like, how many times have I done just what I'm doing now? Walking back and forth to and from this podium, escorting gentlemen to urinals and terlet stalls, whilst passing the time of day with the same old pleasantries and platitudes?"

"The same actions, repeated," said the thin man, "the same words spoken, the same thoughts thought, ad infinitum."

"Hey, Charles," said Mr. Whitman, with a smile, "I thought you said you were no philosopher!"

"Oh, my goodness, Mr. Whitman," said the thin man, "I am just a simple man, but I have plenty of time to think in my profession, to think and to observe, and to ponder."

"Um," said Milford. "Look –"

"Oh, by the way, Muggles," said Mr. Whitman, "how rude of me. Would you care for another puff or two from the old peace pipe?"

"No, thank you."

"I think you'll find that the first bowl is good, the second one better, the third, better still, but it is not until the fourth that we begin to reach that state our Buddhist friends call satori." He proffered the pipe to Milford, stem first. "Go ahead, take a good long hit. Take two!"

"No thanks, Mr. Whitman –"

"'Walt', please," said Mr. Whitman. "I thought we had well gotten beyond this 'mister' honorific."

"No, thanks, Walt," said Milford.

"It'll always be Mr. Whitman for me," said the tiny man. "I know my place, and I'm happy in it."

"So also I," said the thin man. "We all have our places in life."

"But I wonder," said Mr. Whitman, "must those places remain set, as in stone?"

"That is a question not for such as I to attempt to answer," said the thin man.

"Like I said," said the tiny man, "I'm happy in my place."

"Oh, my God!" said Milford, again, but this time with an exclamation point.

"Don't you want a drag, Mookford?" said Mr. Whitman, who was still proffering the pipe to Milford.

"No, thank you," said Milford, "because the thing is, at the risk of sounding tediously repetitive, the thing is, I really, really, really –"

"What?" said Mr. Whitman, "because now you 'really' are getting repetitive, with all these reallys, ha ha –"

"I just really have to go. Like right now."

"Oh," said Mr. Whitman. "Okay."

"So can we go now?" said Milford. "Because I really need to pee."

"Christ, buddy," said the tiny man. "Don't wet yourself already."

"Ha ha. All righty then," said Mr. Whitman. "What do you say, Benny? My friend Mimsley does seem anxious to get going, so shall we set forth?"

"I'm ready if you are, Mr. Whitman."

"Right then, let's go!" said Mr. Whitman.

"Thank God!" said Milford.

"God ain't got nothing to do with it," said the little tiny man.

Mr. Whitman pursed his lips at this remark, nodding as if thoughtfully, then turned and addressed the thin man at the podium, "Well, on that stoic note, Charles, we will catch you on the return trip."

"Right you are, Mr. Whitman," said the thin man at the podium. "Enjoy!"

"I'm sure we will," said Mr. Whitman, and to the tiny man, "lead on, Benny, lead on!"

The tiny man did a smart about-face, and looking over his shoulder, cried, "Once more unto the breech, fellas!"

"Ha ha," said Mr. Whitman again, as if heartily, and, putting his great hand on the small of Milford's back, gave him a shove, and Milford stumbled forward in the footsteps of the tiny man, who was singing 

Oh I been a wild rover

and I been a bold romancer,

and I have wandered all over

from Maine to Port-au-Prince, sir!

So don't you give me no lip

when I leap and cock my hip

'cause I ain't no common chancer

but a jolly good buck dancer…

The row of urinals seemed endless in this enormous room, and most of them were occupied, but not all, and it seemed the little fellow was attempting to obey his injunction to find two adjoining urinals; Milford decided not to complain for the time being, and concentrated on trying to hold it in.

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

Thursday, July 11, 2024


The unknown words danced and sang and crashed like waves through the universe inside Milford's skull, he felt the moist warmth of the four women subsuming his corporeal host, he breathed in their perfume and their animal scent and their breath tasting of juniper berries and mulled Christmas wine, and he felt his self dissolving.

Okay, said his inner voice, his alter ego, laughably called Stoney, this is it, whatever it is, now you enter some other realm, never to return, but don't feel bad, my friend, the realm you come from was never that great to begin with…

"Don't be afraid," said the blonde-haired woman, looking into his eyes, and with both of her hands on his cheeks.

"Nothing to be afraid of," said the woman with mahogany-colored hair, caressing and squeezing his right arm.

"Yeah, relax, baby," said the one with the upswept dark hair, palpating his negligible biceps muscle, "let us take care of you."

The one behind him, the red-headed woman, pressed her fingers into his ribcage, and continued to whisper the foreign words and phrases into his ear.

"My, you are sweating profusely," said the blonde, smiling, and she lifted a sweat-daubed finger from Milford's cheek, and touched it to her tongue. "You should let us remove this heavy peacoat."

"And that thick ribbed fisherman's sweater you have on under it," said the mahogany-haired woman.

"Might as well get out of those dungarees and stout workman's brogans while we're at it," said the dark-haired woman.

The redhead behind him said something foreign, but Milford caught what sounded like the phrase "boxer shorts".

"No," he said, weakly.

"Yes," said the blonde woman, and the women to his right and left also said yes. The one behind him said something foreign, but Milford had no doubt she was saying yes as well.

Yes, also said Stoney, his faithful inner being, this really is it, then, it was nice knowing you, I guess…


A loud, deep, commanding voice, a man's voice.

"Milbourne, what the hell are you doing in here?"

All four of the women drew back from their quadruple embrace, and Milford managed to turn around.

There, standing in the open doorway, was Walt Whitman, or at least the man who claimed to be Walt Whitman.

"What the hell, son?"

"Um," said Milford.

"'Scuse me, Red," said Mr. Whitman, and, putting the pipe he held into his teeth, he gently moved the red-headed woman aside, lifting her up and setting her down with both of his huge hands, then he took the pipe out of his mouth again. "All right, now just what the hell is going on in this den of female iniquity?"

"Nothing," said the blonde woman.

"Yeah, nothing at all," said the mahogany-haired woman.

"Less than nothing," said the dark-haired woman.

"I love the way you lifted me up like that, Walt," said the redhead. "So masterful!"

"Yeah, great, Red," said Mr. Whitman, and he grabbed Milford's arm. "Come on, little buddy, let's get you out of this accursed hen house."

"Why do you want to spoil our fun, Walt?" said the blonde.

"I will choose not to dignify that question with a direct response, Blondie," said Mr. Whitman, "but I will say that I shall not allow you wenches to spoil what precious innocence this lad possesses. And now, if you will excuse us, come on, Molbourne."

"It's Milford," said Milford.

"What did I say?" 

"Melbourne, then Milbourne, and then Molbourne."

"Okay, whatever, come on."

He pulled Milford by the arm, toward the doorway.

"'Bye, Milford!" trilled all four women, in unison.

At least they got his name right.

Mr. Whitman pulled Milford through the doorway, shutting the door behind him. He turned and looked down at the younger man.

"Jeeze, it seems I can't leave you alone for a minute. What the hell were you doing in there?"

"I was looking for the men's room. I had to pee."

Mr. Whitman sighed, and brushed off Milford's peacoat with his hands, even though there wasn't anything to brush off.

"You reek of perfume now, and of woman-musk. And also you're absolutely drenched with perspiration."

"I'm sorry."

"What were you thinking?"

"I wasn't thinking."

"Well, I suppose that's obvious. Stupid question, I suppose. I've been looking all over for you. What happened to you? Louisa and I came back to the bar from dancing the Black Bottom, and you had quite disappeared!"

"I just felt I had to leave,, because of the mushrooms, and the hashish, and everything, and I wandered through strange corridors, and somehow I wound up in this bar…"

Mr. Whitman glanced into the bowl of his pipe, then knocked it against the door jamb, letting the dead ashes fall to the floor.

"So," he said, taking out his tobacco pouch from the pocket of his chore coat, "you left one bar and wound up in another bar."

"Yes, and I met this woman, I think her name was Miss Blackbourne –"

"Oh, Margaret Blackbourne?"

"You know her?"

"Know her well," said Mr. Whitman, refilling his pipe with the gummy stuff in the pouch, "they call her 'the Black Widow', also 'the Queen of Darkness', or, my personal favorite, 'the Doyenne of Doom' – nice gal if you like that pale gloomy femme fatale type. Me, I go more for strong country gals and washerwomen, with thick strong wrists and powerful legs, but, hey, if she's your type, who am I to be judgmental." He put away the pouch and took out his box of Blue Tips, struck one and put the flame to his pipe. "Why?" he said, puffing and drawing the thick fragrant smoke. "Did you find her attractive?"

"I find any woman who talks to me attractive."

"Not picky then, eh, my lad?"

"I can't afford to be picky. As I think I told you, I'm still a virgin, and at the rate I'm going I'm going to die a virgin."

"Ah, my boy," Mr. Whitman exhaled an enormous cloud of the thick smoke into Milford's face, "there is plenty of time still for you to enjoy the vigorous hearty joys of copulation. Why are you fidgeting? I hope I'm not boring you."

"No," lied Milford, and then, truthfully, "but I still really have to pee."

"Oh, of course. Well, we wouldn't want you to pee yourself, would we? Come on, let's get you to the men's room. I could go for a stout manly piss myself."

"I'm afraid."

"Afraid of what, for the Godhead's sake?"

"I'm afraid of going to the men's room."

"Afraid of going to the men's room. You're kidding me, right?"

"No. Every time I go to a men's room something weird happens."

"Okay. Listen, Morton –"


"Listen, Milford, I'm going to tell you something which you'd do well to learn and take to heart. It took me a long time to learn it myself, but, mark me well, my lad, the sooner you learn it, the happier you'll be."

"I don't think I'll ever be happy."

"Okay, fine, then let's say less miserable. Can you accept that possibility?"

"Yes, provisionally."

"Then do you want to hear it?"

"I don't care."

"Well, here it is anyway. Hearken to me, my son."


"Are you listening?"

"As well as I am able to, while desperately needing to pee."

"Well, hold it in for just a minute whilst I unmuzzle my wisdom, as the bawdy Bard once said."

"Okay, I'm listening," said Milford, just to get it over with.

"It is only this, my dear Millfold, this and only this. Everywhere you go, anywhere you go, or are taken to, or dragged kicking and screaming to, or wind up in seemingly merely by chance – something weird will happen. Anywhere, everywhere, anyhow, anyway, count on it, the one and only thing you can count on is something weird will happen. Until you die. Which will also be weird. And only then will the weirdness cease, although, unfortunately, so will you."

"All right."

"I give you this piece of hard-won wisdom, free, gratis and for nothing. And why? Because I like you. Don't ask me why, but I do."

"Thank you."

"Good. Now let's go and get you to that men's room."


"It's just right over here. Come on."

He took Milford's arm again, and led him up, or down, the dim corridor and around a corner to another door, on the left. This one actually had a sign, reading


"Hommes," said Mr. Whitman. "How pretentious, but what do you expect, it's a poets' bar."

"I'm still afraid."

"Well, get over it then, unless you want to piss in your jeans, now stop being such a pussy. I'll be in there with you."

"I can't help it. I'm terrified."

"Oh, for Vishnu's sake, here," he proffered his pipe to Milford, "take a few big tokes of this, it'll calm you down.

Forgetting for the nonce that the pipe's bowl held a mixture of burley and hashish, Milford took the pipe. Mr. Whitman struck another kitchen match, put the flame to the bowl, and Milford  drew deeply, once, twice, thrice, and then for good measure a fourth time. And as he exhaled the thick sweet smoke it was as if he also exhaled his terror, or at least the better part of it.

"Feel better now?" asked Mr. Whitman, tossing away the match.

"Yes," admitted Milford.

"Good," said Mr. Whitman, and he took the pipe from Milford's hand. "Now get the hell in there."

Milford sighed, this was his twelve-thousandth-and-twenty-sixth sigh since unwillingly rising up out of oblivion many months ago the previous morning. If his doom lay in here, or madness, or both, then at least he could face it, or them, with an empty bladder.

He pushed open the door and went, or floated, inside, guided along by Mr. Whitman's powerful hand on his back.

{Please go here to read the unexpurgated "adult comix" version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated, and with original poetry, by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}