Monday, December 23, 2019

“The Bob’s Bowery Bar Christmas Miracle”

“Gee, them girls was sumpin,” said Little Joe, the littlest of the five or six guys named Joe who frequented Bob’s Bowery Bar. “They was really sumpin. I ain’t never seen girls like them in here before.”

“And you never will again,” said Seamas McSeamas, the Irish poet. “’Twas an aberration, lad. An errant shifting of the stars and planets.”

“They said they was gonna come back in on Christmas Eve for Bob’s annual Christmas party,” said the guy they called Wine, because all he drank was white port wine and lemon juice.

“Them girls was in their cups when they said that,” leaned in fat Angie, the retired whore who now sold artificial flowers on the street. “They won’t come back in this joint. Them girls was class, my friend – high class.”

“High class they was, Angie,” said Seamas. “Terpsichoreans by profession.”

“You watch your mouth, you drunken Mick,” said Angie. “They was ladies and I ain’t gonna sit here listenin’ to you impugn ‘em.”

“I was not impugning them, dear Angie,” said Seamas. “A terpsichorean you see is a dancer.”

“Then whyn’tcha say that instead of showin’ off with your big words, ya pretentious Paddy bastard ya.”

Seamas could see Bob looking at them from down the bar, so he let it go. No one ever won an argument with Angie, retired whore or not.

“Gee they was swell babes,” said Little Joe. “I sure would like to see ‘em again.”

“Me too,” said Wine. “I wouldn’t try to talk to them or nothing. I just would like to look at them.”

“Me too,” said Little Joe. “I wouldn’t know what to talk to them about anyways.”

“Ladies like that don’t talk to bums like youse guys,” said Angie.

“I realize that, Angie,” said Little Joe. “I’m just sayin’ is all.”

“The Brain talked to them,” said Wine. “I seen ‘em. They was just chatterin’ away with the Brain.”

“The Brain is an educated man,” said Seamas. “A philosopher.”

“He’s a bum,” said Angie.

“That may be true,” said Seamas, “but he is an educated bum if you will, and a philosophical one.”

“A bum,” said Angie.

“He went home with ‘em,” said Wine. “I seen ‘em. Went out the door together.”

“That is because they live in the same building round the corner,” said Seamas.

“They live around here?” said Little Joe.

“Right around the corner,” said Seamas.

“Maybe they will come in then,” said Little Joe. “For the party I mean.”

“Don’t bank on it, baby,” said Angie.

“I’ll tell ya one thing,” said Wine. “I ain’t leavin’ here all night, just in case they do come in.”

“You better take it easy on that white port wine and lemon juice then,” said Angie.

It was only five in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and so the annual Bob’s Bowery Bar Christmas Eve party was hardly in full swing yet, but not only Wine, but Little Joe, and Seamas, and even Angie, they were all determined to stay here all night just in case the two beautiful girls did show up. Of course, they all no doubt would have stayed all night anyway, or for as long as their funds lasted, but now they had a real reason not to go anywhere else, a reason even more important than the desire for drunken oblivion and loud meaningless roistering.

The time passed, and more of the usual crowd rolled in out of the snow falling outside, and at seven Bob and his mom and Janet the waitress laid out the annual free Christmas buffet: pretzels and chips, hard-boiled eggs, hot cross buns, pigs-in-blankets, and three big hotel pans filled with hot roast beef in gravy, hot turkey in gravy, and hot ham in red-eye gravy, with a mountain of kaiser rolls to make sandwiches with. Many of the regulars hadn’t eaten all day in anticipation of the free once-a-year feast, and Bob prevented no one from coming back for more, even Seamas, who ate at least seven sandwiches and no one knew how many hardboiled eggs and pigs-in-a-blanket.

The one regular customer notably missing all night was Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith, but it was known that Gerry came from a wealthy family, so maybe he was scrounging off them this Christmas Eve; it was possible, if only faintly so.

The hours tumbled loudly by, the bar was packed, but still the two beautiful young ladies had not appeared.

Little Joe actually began to cry into his bock beer.

“They ain’t comin’,” he said. “They ain’t comin’. They ain’t comin’ tonight nor never.”

“Brace up, lad,” said Seamas. “At least you saw them that one night. Try to remember that, and hold tight to the memory in your heart.”

“Just one more time I wanted to see ‘em,” said Wine. “Just once. I wouldna tried to talk to them or nothin’. Honest. I wouldna scared ‘em away. I only just woulda looked.”

“I toldjez they wouldn’t come,” said Angie. “Ladies they was. Real ladies. Sumpin you clowns wouldn’t know about.”

More time roared by in drunkenness and shouted carols, and if anything the bar got even more packed, but then, just as the old Ball railroad clock above the bar clicked midnight, the front door opened, letting in a blast of snow and icy air. As if on command everyone in the bar fell quiet and turned to look. The only sound was Bing Crosby on the juke box, singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”.

At first the swirling snow obscured the man holding the door open, but then everyone could see it was no other than Gerry Goldsmith, known as the Brain, in his same old ancient chesterfield coat and battered grey fedora. Looking outside, he made a gallant waving motion with one arm, and who should walk in like two goddesses out of the Christmas falling snow but the two beautiful young ladies, the blonde called Pat and the brunette named Carlotta. Pat wore a leopard-spotted pillbox hat and Carlotta a snow-dappled red beret. Laughing they entered, and the smiling Brain pushed the door shut against the snowstorm.

“It’s a miracle,” whispered Little Joe.

“A Christmas miracle,” said Seamas.

“Now I know there is a God,” said Wine.

“Ladies,” said Angie. “Real ladies. Smiling at Christmas on the likes of us, and God bless ‘em.”

Well, I’ll be damned, thought Bob, and he decided right then he wasn’t going to charge those girls for a single drink, and, what the hell, the Brain too. 

Because it was a miracle.

A goddam Christmas miracle.

{Kindly click here for the “adult comic book” version in A Flophouse Is not a Home, with art by the fantastic rhoda penmarq.}

Thursday, December 19, 2019

"The Butler"

“Oh, my dear God!” said Carlotta.

“What,” groaned Pat, from her bed on the other side of the “oriental” folding screen which afforded them at least the fantasy of more than one room in their apartment (“Lg studio w/kitchenette & bath. Heat water electric incl. Bleecker off Bowery”).

“Oh my dear God in Heaven!” said Carlotta.

“What?” said Pat.

“I’m so hungover!” said Carlotta.

“Oh,” said Pat. “Is that all it is. I thought maybe a rat jumped up on your bed and was staring at you.”

“Heh heh,” said Carlotta, as opposed to actually laughed Carlotta.

“What did we do last night?” asked Pat, not in the sense of what awful thing did we do last night, but rather a simple curious question as to what in fact the two girls had done.

“We went to Bob’s Bowery Bar after we left the Prince Hal Room.”


“Yes, we did.”

On their opposite sides of the oriental (made by immigrant Chinese women in a little factory down in Mott Street) partition each girl lay on her back smoking a cigarette. Carlotta had an ashtray on her stomach, a glass ashtray with the words THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL WHERE THE SERVICE IS SWELL emblazoned on it in gold and red paint. Pat was using an open copy of Photoplay for an ashtray, dropping her ashes on an article titled MONTY CLIFT – HOLLYWOOD’S BROODING LONER? OR SECRET LOVER BOY?

“Oh, my dear Lord,” said Pat, after a half-a-minute’s rare silence between the young ladies. “I remember! What were we thinking?”

“That’s just it,” said Carlotta. “We weren’t thinking. Those guys in the Prince Hal Room kept buying us drinks and we got drunk. And then when they got fresh we ran out and jumped in a cab to supposedly go home.”

“I remember, and when the cab passed by Bob’s Bowery Bar we thought it would be a good night to try it out, heh heh. After that I remember nothing.”

“We were so drunk.”

“I hope we didn’t disgrace ourselves,” said Pat, stifling a yawn.

“It’s a dive. How could we disgrace ourselves there?”

“Good point. Well, at least we got home somehow.”

“I want coffee. I’ll give you a dollar if you make a pot of coffee.”

“The hell with you, sister. You make it.”

“I make splendid coffee,” said a man’s voice.

Both girls screamed and pulled their bedclothes up to their necks, being careful not to drop their cigarettes, although Carlotta’s ashtray and Pat’s Photoplay both slid to the floor.

A man laboriously stood up from where he had apparently been lying on the rug at the feet of the two beds. He was a middle-aged, dumpy fellow, wearing a shabby old chesterfield and a beat-up fedora. Each girl could see exactly one half of him on either side of the oriental Mott Street screen.

“I assume the coffee and percolator are in your kitchenette?”

He smiled at each girl in turn on either side of the screen, his hands folded together in an ingratiating sort of way.

“Who,” said Carlotta.

“Are you,” said Pat.

“Oh,” said the man. “I could have sworn we introduced ourselves last night, but I’m Gerry. Gerard Goldsmith. But please call me Gerry. They all call me ‘The Brain’ down at Bob’s, heh heh, God knows why, but please, call me Gerry.”

Simultaneously each girl suddenly recognized the man as someone they had passed occasionally on the stairs of their tenement apartment house, a funny-looking man who always doffed his hat and said good day or good evening with a shy smile.

“What,” said Carlotta.

“Are you doing here,” said Pat.

“’Gerry’,” said Carlotta.

“You don’t remember inviting me in?” said Gerry, turning his glance from one side of the screen to the other, in order to include both girls in the question.

“We,” said Pat.

“Invited you,” said Carlotta.

“In,” said Pat.

“’Gerry’” said Carlotta.

“Yes, and what a swell time we had!” said Gerry. “In fact, I should say it was the most, what’s the word, scintillating time I’ve ever had in my life!”

Oh, no, thought both girls, simultaneously. Please God no.

“Uh,” said Carlotta.

“Um,” said Pat.

“So, I’d better get to that coffee,” said Gerry. “Don’t you two ladies even budge. Just let me know, cream or black, and how many sugars?”

Both girls paused before answering. They heard the el roar by on the other side of the building, and after its roar had faded Carlotta said cream, two sugars, and Pat said cream, one sugar.

{Kindly click here to read the "adult comic book" version with art by the fabulous rhoda penmarq in A Flophouse Is Not a Home.}

Friday, December 13, 2019

"The Genie"

It didn’t happen often, but Harry Beachcroft was stuck. He had been sitting at his battered old Royal portable all afternoon, and he still hadn’t typed a single word. This is what happened when your rent was a month overdue, when you hadn’t had a story or a novel accepted in three months, this is what happened when you really needed to make a sale!

Harry lighted up another Philip Morris Commander and looked out through the thick smoke of his fifth-floor walk-up out at the grey December rooftops of the Bowery, at the elevated tracks, at the sky that promised snow. How he wished he could be downstairs and just around the corner at Bob’s Bowery Bar, hoisting an imperial pint of Bob’s rich basement-brewed bock, carousing with the rest of the gang of pulp writers, bad poets, four-flushers, punks, and assorted reprobates, but he had promised himself he wouldn’t go down to the bar until he had at least knocked out a first draft of a story or the first chapter of a novel or maybe a novella. Something, goddammit!

Why couldn’t a genie suddenly appear out of this cloud of cigarette smoke and tell him a story fully-formed, so that all Harry would need to do was type it up – and Harry was a fast typist, too!

The hell with it, the thing to do was just to start typing, just bash out the first nonsense that came into his head, and let the devil take the hindmost.

And so Harry typed:

Gary Meeker was blocked, blocked goddammit! He had been sitting here in his Bunker Hill hotel room overlooking the Angel’s Flight railway tracks all this hot August afternoon, trying to find a way into this screenplay he needed to write, and write quick, before he got kicked out of his room and had to shift quarters to Skid Row. Mel Melvin over at Colossal Studios had promised him five hundred bucks for an original script in their Range Riders of the Jungle series if he could turn it in by Monday, but here it was Friday and he had idea zero, zilch, nada, nothing! What he wouldn’t give for an angel to drop down from heaven and give him a story idea – an angel, a genie, a devil, Gary didn’t give a damn.

“Well, here I am,” said a voice, kind of like Peter Lorre’s, and Gary turned, and sitting there yogi-style on the unmade bed was a little guy dressed up like an Arabian. He was smoking a roll-your-own, and if Gary was not mistaken it was a reefer. “You say you need a story, Mr. Meeker? I got a million of them. You ready?”

“Sure, pal,” said Gary. “Fire away. But can you make it about the Range Riders of the Jungle?”

“No problem,” said the little guy.

“Okay, then,” said Gary. He cracked his knuckles, then splayed his fingers over his battered old Olivetti portable. “Go.”

And the genie began to tell his tale.

Illustration by the fabulous rhoda penmarq. Click here to read the fully-illustrated "adult comic book" version in A Flophouse is Not a Home.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

"Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei"

They called him “the whiskey priest”, but strictly speaking this was a misnomer, because Father Frank didn’t care too much what he drank, so long as it had alcohol in it. People also called him a “defrocked priest”, but this was wrong, too; he had never been officially dismissed from the clergy; no, one day he simply walked away from the diocesan “rest home” he had been sent to (for the sixth time), and he never came back, nor did he return to his post at Old St. Pat’s down on Mulberry Street, where he had become infamous for his drunken sermons and for quaffing a whole chaliceful of sacramental wine in one go.

Father Frank now lived in the Parker Hotel, the cheapest flop on the Bowery, and he made his living, such as it was, by begging on street corners, wearing an old army overcoat over his cassock and collecting donations in an ancient tambourine.

“Alms for the poor!” he would call, shaking his tambourine. “Alms for the poor!”

Sometimes, especially if he had been sipping from a bottle, he would get creative and call out: “Alms for the damned! Alms for the wretched and the hopeless and the misbegotten, like myself, yes, like myself!”

It’s true he kept all the donations for himself, but was he not poor after all? Was he not wretched and hopeless and misbegotten?

He had a sideline of sorts, ministering to his fellow bums on the Bowery, dispensing in alleyways the sacred host in the form of Uneeda biscuits, for which he asked in return only a slug or two of Tokay or whatever other libation might be offered. He would also hear confessions, seated on an overturned Andy Boy crate, and always giving a penance of three Hail Marys and three Our Fathers, no matter what the sins, of theft or sloth, of blasphemy or onanism, or even of murder.

When he had the money Father Frank’s favorite stop was Bob’s Bowery Bar, and Bob let no one bother or make fun of him. A single rap on the bar with his Marine Corps ring was the only warning he gave. Bob was not a religious man himself, but in his time in the marines he had seen many mortally wounded men gain some solace in their last gasping breaths thanks to the presence of a chaplain and his murmured prayers.

One night, as he had done innumerable times before, Father Frank slumped forward with his face on his crossed arms on the bar, and as usual, Bob came over and shook his shoulder, saying, “Hey, Father, wake up. This ain’t the Plaza Hotel.”

But this time Father Frank did not wake up. He fell off his stool and down to the sawdust and spittle on the floor, and simultaneously his soul rose up to the gates of God’s great house on a hill.

“Well,” he thought, “I always knew this day of reckoning would come, so let’s get it over with.”

He walked up the winding stone path and finally mounted the steps to the porch, where St. Peter sat at his table with his smoking pipe, his great book open before him. He wore a colorless old canvas jacket, and he looked at Father Frank over his wire-framed glasses.

“No need to go through a great rigamarole, St. Peter,” said Father Frank. “I know I’m guilty, so just point me the way to Hell, and I’ll be on my way.”

“Guilty of what?” said St. Peter.

“Of being a drunk,” said Father Frank. “A hopeless degenerate drunk.”

“Look,” said St. Peter, after a very brief pause, “take this.” He scribbled something on a pad with his quill pen, then tore the sheet off and handed it to Father Frank. “Go in that door there, and hand this over inside.”

Father Frank looked at the piece of paper.

“You mean I’m not going to Hell?”

Again St. Peter took a very brief pause.

“It seems to me,” he said, “as if you’ve already been in Hell for what –” he glanced at the great book before him, “for fifty-three years. Or don’t you agree?”

Father Frank went in the door, handed over the slip of paper to the man there, and a docent led him through many long corridors and cavernous rooms and finally to a bar much like Bob’s Bowery Bar.

“Just sit anywhere you like, Father, table or bar, and a server will be right with you.”

Father Frank found an empty stool at the crowded and smoky bar.

“What can I get you, Father?” said the bartender.

“I’ll take the blood of Christ,” said Father Frank.

“Up or on the rocks, Father?”

(Art by the fabulous Rhoda Penmarq. Kindly click here to read the fully-illustrated version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home.)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

"A Thanksgiving Miracle"

On this cold and grey November afternoon Reggie Wertham sat on an upside down Andy Boy crate in the alleyway next door to Bob’s Bowery Bar, drinking from a quart bottle of Tokay wine. He would much rather have preferred to be sitting and drinking in the warmth of Bob’s establishment, but, alas, he was short of funds, and had only fifty cents in his pocket, which was enough for a cot in the Parker Hotel, the cheapest flop on the Bowery, or, alternatively, the plat du jour at Ma’s Diner, but not both.

The thing to do was to drink the Tokay slowly, to try to savor it and make it last, and not guzzle. But of course Reggie guzzled – he was not a man of great self-control, which was only one the many reasons he was on the bum and had been for ten years.

Suddenly a swell-looking chap in a camel’s hair topcoat tumbled into the alleyway.

“This place taken?”

“Why, no,” said Reggie. “Help yourself, sir.”

The man collapsed against the brick wall and slid down to the cobbles next to Reggie.

“Whatcher name, pal?”

“Reggie,” said Reggie. “What’s your name?”

The man’s chin fell to his chest. He was wearing a nice-looking felt trilby hat, with a blue feather in it.

Suddenly his head popped up again.

“Whatcher name, buddy?”

“Cyrus,” said Reggie.

“Cyrus. The king!” said the man, and his head once again slumped forward.

His shoes were shined, cordovans. His blue socks looked like silk, with tiny black and red clocks.

The head popped up once more.

“Whudjur name, pardner?”

“Jason,” said Reggie.

“Jayzon anna fuggin Argonauts!” said the man, and this time he slumped completely over against the Andy Boy crate.

Reggie shoved the guy’s shoulder.

“Hey, buddy, wake up. This ain’t the Ritz Hotel.”

The man began to snore.

The guy looked like he could spare it, so Reggie got off the box, reached into the camel’s hair, and found the guy’s wallet.


Pay dirt.

Three hundred and forty-three dollars, in fifties, twenties, tens, fives, and singles. Reggie put three singles back in the wallet for carfare, he was not a brute, and he stuck the wallet back into the guy’s flannel trousers. He was just about ready to go, when he figured what the hell, pulled the fellow’s camel’s hair coat off, and tucked his own ragged old gabardine around the guy. For good measure he took the man’s hat, and replaced it with his own foul old woolen watch cap. He left the swell his nice suit and shirt, his shoes and socks, but he took his neck tie, which was silk, with a red and grey regimental pattern.

A brief cab ride later Reggie presented himself at the front desk of the venerable Hotel St. Crispian.

“I should like a room, with a view,  and I shall pay in advance for one week.”

“Of course, sir,” said Mr. Bernstein, who was used to bearded but well-off eccentrics. For all he knew this not very fresh-smelling fellow was a Nobel laureate, a famous professor, author, or sculptor.

“Would you like me to reserve you a table for dinner, sir? I ask because we still have a table available for the eight o’clock seating.”

“Are you always so busy for dinner here?”

“Ha ha, I wish we were, but, you know, it’s Thanksgiving, and we always fill up for our famous ‘Turkey ‘n’ Trimmings’ table d’hôte.”

Today was Thanksgiving? Reggie had had no idea! After all, a holiday was just another day on the Bowery.

“Yes, by all means,” said Reggie, “a table for one for the eight o’clock seating, please.”

At last, a Thanksgiving with something to be thankful for. In another week he would doubtless be back on the Bowery, but that was the future, and the future was for squares.

(Artwork by the talented rhoda penmarq. Kindly click here to read the fully-illustrated version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home.)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

"Ten Pages a Day"

Harry Beachcroft had one rule, which was to knock out ten pages a day, no matter how hungover he was. He gave himself one day a week off, Sunday, which meant he could really tie one on Saturday night at his favorite stop, Bob’s Bowery Bar, conveniently located just around the corner from his fifth-floor walk-up at Bleecker and the Bowery.

Today was Monday, a grey November Monday in the year of our Lord 1950. Harry rose at noon as usual, and went down to Ma’s Diner across the street for his usual breakfast, scrambled eggs, scrapple, hash browns, burnt toast, and lashings of black coffee while he read the Times. You never knew, you could get a good story idea from the Times. He left his usual fifty-cent tip, then crossed the street again and went back up to his one-room flat and his battered old second-hand Royal portable.

Harry rolled a blank sheet of paper into the machine and lighted up a Philip Morris Commander. At present he had at least a dozen stories out circulating at the pulps, and three novels (a western, a detective, an exotic oriental adventure) making the rounds of the paperback publishers. He’d finished up his most recent novel on Saturday, so now it was time to start a new “project”. 

What would it be, a short story, a novel, maybe a serializable novella? As usual, he had no idea. But something always came to him, something clicked in his brain once he’d rolled that blank sheet into the machine and lighted up that first Philip Morris.

Harry started typing:

Barry Beecham had one rule, and he stuck to it. Ten pages a day, no matter what. Rain or shine, horribly hungover or just normally hungover, he always ground out ten full pages before he let himself call it quits for the day and went around the corner to Big Bill’s Bar and that first gloriously satisfying mug of bock.

Barry picked up a fresh sheet of typing paper and rolled it into his old Remington standard, a gift from his father on his matriculation at Yale.

Barry had just finished a story the day before, so it was time to start a new one. What would this one be? A science fiction yarn? An African jungle adventure? Maybe a war story – they were always fun to write, even if Barry had been 4-F (chronic bunions) himself. Whatever, something would come, who knew, maybe a new novel? He had made a cool three hundred bucks from his last one, Range Riders of the Open Steppes, about a band of cowboys in Czarist Russia, pulling off “one last caper” – robbing the fabled Orient Express!

Barry lighted up a Camel, and started typing:

Larry McGarry had one steadfast rule. Ten pages a day. Come hell or high water, that was his quota, ten pages, and he never let himself go across the road to Phil’s Roadhouse for that first cold “English style” ale until he had finished those ten pages…

(Illustration by rhoda penmarq. Click here to read the more lavishly-illustrated version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home.)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

“Try not to be an ass, but…”

If you find you’ve been an ass,
it’s best not to deny it.
Apologize once, and then,
for Christ’s sake, just be quiet.

– Horace P. Sternwall,  Songs of the Dumb (1957; an Ace Books paperback original; out of print)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Brawny Embraces

Woo hoo – my new novel is out! This one takes place in Greenwich Village in 1957, and includes no computers or iPhones. Please click on the link below, and support your friendly local novelist. There’s already one hilarious advance review you can read, and if you click on the cover image you can peruse the first fourteen or so pages for free and decide for yourself if this book is just your cup of expresso bongo. And – as a special introductory offer you can purchase this fun-packed 326-page novel for the low, low, crazy low price of only $9.95! Also available as a Kindle e-book.

Click here to buy it, my homies.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

"Miami Beach"

(Continued from here.)

“Good morning, Gladys, and how was your new year?”

“We stayed in and listened to Guy Lombardo on the radio.”


“And how was your new year’s, Mr. Goldsmith?”

Roaring drunk at Bob’s Bowery Bar, but no need to go into all that, so Gerry simply said, “Oh, a cocktail or two with some old friends, heh heh.”

“Here’s your envelope, Mr. Goldsmith, and happy new year to you.”

Gladys handed him the plain envelope and Gerry with his usual casual air slipped it under his threadbare old chesterfield and into the inside breast pocket of his equally threadbare old tweed suit.

“Thank you, Gladys, and may I wish you and your family a most happy new year!” 

“Yeah, thanks, but before you go, Mr. Goldstein asked me to ask you to go in and see him when you came in.”

“Oh, dear. Did he say what it was about?”

“Nope. You can head right back. He’s not busy.”

Whatever could it be? Two months in a row that old Mr. Goldstein had asked to see him! 

Gerry went through the worn wooden gate, past the reception area and down the hall. Mr. Goldstein’s door was open.

“Mr. Goldstein?”

“Ah, Mr. Goldsmith, come in, sir. Please take a seat.”

Had Gerry’s luck turned again, but this time for the worse? His great fear in life was that somehow his fifty-dollar remittance would be canceled. What could he do if that happened? The thousand dollar inheritance from Aunt Edna, and what was left of his brother Alistair’s hundred dollar “Christmas present” (or bribe, ha ha), would only last so long, and what if he didn’t finish his book and get it accepted by a publisher before the money ran out? He would have to find work of some sort, but what sort of work? Night watchman? Fish monger? Could he be one of those fellows who walked around wearing sandwich boards advertising cheap two-for-one suits? Did those chaps get a staff discount?

“Relax, Mr. Goldsmith, it’s not bad news.”

“Oh, thank God. Could you tell I was worried?”

“You were as pale as a ghost, but I see the healthy color returning to your cheeks even as we speak. In fact I have some more good news for you. Your remittance has been increased from fifty a month to one hundred a month.”

For the first time in his life, Gerry Goldsmith fainted. He had passed out of course, many times, but he had never fainted. Fortunately he had been sitting down, and when he came to he was still in the chair.

“Here, drink this,” said Mr. Goldstein. “It’s whiskey. You like whiskey, don’t you?”

What a question. Gerry drank it down in a gulp and handed the dixie cup back to Mr. Goldstein.

“Feel better?”

“Very much so. Did I dream that you said my remittance has been increased to a hundred a month?”

“It’s no dream, Mr. Goldsmith. All legal. A hundred a month till the day you leave this vale of tears.”

“But, how, why, what?”

“I’m not supposed to tell you, but let’s just say a certain member of your family has added the extra fifty. And the money is guaranteed by a trust for the span of your life.”

“Alistair. My brother Alistair.”

“I am not at liberty to say.”

“He arranged to see me, you know, right before Christmas, and after I hadn’t heard from him for twenty years, and he slipped me a hundred dollars.”


“Ha, yeah, maybe. Or more likely just hoping I wouldn’t try to contest Aunt Edna’s will.”

“I can tell you, Mr. Goldsmith, that there were certain, how shall I put this, vaguenesses in your Aunt Edna’s estate.”

Gerry shrugged.

“None of that concerns me,  Mr. Goldstein.”

Mr. Goldstein said nothing for a moment, and then he said, “Again, I am not at liberty to divulge details, but, Mr. Goldsmith, I like you, and I just want to say that if you did wish to contest your Aunt Edna’s will I should be glad to take the case, for free, gratis, and for nothing, until or unless you should receive a settlement satisfactory to you.”

“Oh, God, no, Mr. Goldstein. I wouldn’t dream of it. I hadn’t even spoken to my Aunt Edna since since, gee, my college graduation, and I’m sure Alistair needs her money more than I do, what with his house, and three kids, one in college and all.”

“Your brother, Mr. Goldsmith, was a wealthy man even before he received your aunt’s bequest. While you, if you don’t mind my saying so, live on the Bowery, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“Yes, this is true, Mr. Goldstein, I do technically live on the Bowery, but I have my own room, small, but with my own bathroom, and a two-burner hot plate, and my building is kept scrupulously clean even if it is a mite shall we say shabby.”

Mr. Goldstein paused.

There was a carved wooden cigarette box on his desk. He flicked it open, pushed it towards Gerry.


“Sure, thanks, Mr. Goldstein.”

Gerry reached over and took one out. Philip Morris Commander. He was used to rolling his own, so this was a real treat. He lighted it up with the desk lighter in the shape of a fat little Buddha.

“I admire you, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“You do? Whatever for?”

“Because you stick to your guns. You live the way you want to live, and you are a philosopher. How’s the book coming, by the way?”

“Thank you so much for asking, Mr. Goldstein. I am happy to report that I now have nine pages completed and all typed up!”

“Nine pages in a month – not bad. I think Gustave Flaubert would have been more than happy to produce nine pages in a month,” said Mr. Goldstein, without apparent irony.

“I probably would have had a dozen or more pages done,” said Gerry, “but, you know, the holidays.”

“Sure, the holidays, you’ve got to celebrate a little bit.”

Gerry touched his left breast where the remittance envelope was safely secreted.

“So the envelope really contains one hundred dollars?”

“It does, and for every month of your life from here on.”

“What a windfall! I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.”

“Look,” said Mr. Goldstein. “I’m going to be frank. Again, I shouldn’t say this, but I am seventy-two years old and I don’t care. Your brother Alistair is a rich man, and he’s made himself even richer with your late Aunt Edna’s estate. He is hoping to buy you off with fifty dollars a month, whereas, if you pursued the case, there is a very good chance you could come into possession of several hundred acres of prime Miami Beach real estate.”

“Miami Beach? Florida?”

“Yes. You have a very likely claim to the property, or at least a healthy piece of it. It might take a year or two, but you could wind up a well-off man yourself.”

It all struck Gerry as very tedious. Lawyers, depositions, having to show up in court early in the morning, when he loved to sleep late.

“Just say the word, Mr. Goldsmith, and I can start the ball rolling.”

“Miami Beach.”

“Miami Beach. Prime real estate, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“I don’t even like the beach, Mr. Goldstein. Thanks, but I can’t be bothered. I need to concentrate on my book you see.”

Gerry walked out of the building, onto 52nd Street. It was snowing. He took off his old fedora (Brooks Brothers, vintage 1927, graduation present, and unlike his old suit and chesterfield, it fitted him as well as it ever had), and he looked up at the glowing grey sky up there above the tops of the buildings, and he let the cold snowflakes dapple against his face.

One hundred a month. He decided on the spot that he would talk to his landlady Mrs. Morgenstern, and request, no, demand, that she raise his rent from fifteen a month to, what, thirty? No, let’s not go crazy here. Make it twenty-five, that was fair. Fortune had been good to him, and it was the least he could do to spread it around a little.

A cab stopped in front of him. A cab. He hadn’t taken a taxi-cab ride since – since when? Since his college days, with his friends, on a drunken spree.

He got into the cab.

“Where to, buddy?”

“Bleecker and the Bowery, please.”

He would stop off at Bob’s Bowery Bar – it was two-for-one hot dogs on Mondays. He would have four hot dogs, and, to celebrate his good fortune, a couple of mugs of bock to wash them down with. Then, up to his room and the old Royal portable. Just one good sentence maybe, and then a good long nap.

Life was good, and Gerry enjoyed his first cab ride in twenty-eight years, driving downtown through the snowy streets to his home in the slums.

Miami Beach, and Other Tales of the Bowery, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Pinnacle Books paperback original, 1955; out of print.

Friday, June 14, 2019

"The Bodhisattva Is My Buddy"

As he did on every first day of the month – or on the first Monday of the month if the first fell on a weekend or holiday – Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith made the journey by foot and by subway from his sixth-floor walk-up tenement room at Bleecker and the Bowery to the midtown offices of the firm of Goldstein, Goldberg and Gold to pick up his remittance envelope.

Jerry emerged from the subway at 52nd Street into the bracing cold and looked up at that sky of solid steel grey up there between the buildings of Manhattan that scraped against it.

It was Monday, January the third – a new year!

At the age of forty-eight, Gerry  felt that his life had finally turned around. The previous month had been the best month of his life, since – since when? Perhaps since the month of his graduation (barely, but nonetheless) from Harvard, way, way back in that glorious year of 1927, when all of life lay spread out before him like an all-you-can-eat country club buffet. A week after getting his diploma he had boarded a tramp steamer for Calais with his graduation money in his Boy Scout wallet and with the security of his fifty dollars a month remittance (courtesy of the late Grandmother Goldsmith) for the rest of his life.

Yes, fifty a month went a long way in those halcyon days of the late 1920s, even in Paris, where he had lived lazily and contentedly for two years, in his cheap hotel on the rue Claude Bernard with the bathroom down the hall. 

But, sadly, as the years passed by after his return to the States (just in time for the crash of ‘29), and as Gerry passed from beamish boy into chubby and dissipated and terminally shabby middle-aged man, that fifty a month had become harder and harder to scrape by on. But Gerry had always remained true to his principles. He had never seriously considered getting a job, even when, as usually happened during the last week of a given month, he had to live on day-old pumpernickel bread and hard-boiled eggs and forgo bock beer and even roll-your-own tobacco, no, he had accepted his lot, and all the while he had continued his work on his great magnum opus, his book of philosophical reflections, begun back in his youthful days of loafing in the cafés of Montparnasse and the Latin Quarter, subsequently filling up dozens of those schoolboy marble composition books all through the grey years, and which, just this past month, he had finally begun “typing up” with his old Royal portable, finally rescued from pawn thanks to the unexpected inheritance of one thousand dollars from his Aunt Edna.

And then there had been that puzzling out-of-nowhere Christmas card from his younger brother Alistair, and their Christmas Eve afternoon meeting at the bar at the Plaza, culminating in Alistair slipping him an envelope containing five twenty-dollar bills. Oh, sure, Gerry knew why Alistair had given him the hundred, hoping to mollify him so that Gerry wouldn’t try to contest Aunt Edna’s will; it was so like boring Alistair. How much had the old girl left Alistair, anyway? A hundred thousand? More? Gerry had no idea, and he didn’t care. If he stretched out that thousand-dollar windfall he might not have to have a bockless and tobaccoless last week of the month for a couple of years, and by that time his book would be finished, perhaps already published, with the royalties just streaming in.

His latest title for the book?

The Bodhisattva Is My Buddy.
Ha ha, just what the reading public was ready for in these dull and humorless commercialized years of the 1950s!

{Continued here.}

The Bodhisattva Is My Buddy., and Other Fables of Our Modern Age, by Horace P. Sternwall; an Ace Books paperback original, 1955; one printing, never republished.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

"The Albigensian Heresy"

(Continued from here.}

The guy had a name of course, but nobody knew or cared what it was, because in Bob’s Bowery Bar he was known as Funk, short for “Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia”, which is what Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith started to call him because Funk was always showing off how much he knew about everything. “Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia” was a little long, though, so pretty soon he just became known as “Funk”, Funk the obnoxious know-it-all.

Billy Baskins had never actually spoken to Funk, in fact Billy hardly spoke to anyone. He was known as a quiet guy in the bar, and no one knew that the reason he was so quiet was that he was an aspiring elegant international assassin, and Billy knew from his magazine stories that a good assassin was always a little mysterious, the quiet type. But Billy couldn’t help but overhear Funk, because besides being a know-it-all, he was loud. But one thing Billy knew, the guy was obnoxious, and nobody liked him. He really was a perfect choice for a practice assassination with Billy’s new pistol.

Billy really wanted not to screw up this job, and so he decided to take his time, to observe Funk, and study his habits, so that he could pull off the assassination at the perfect time and place, like a real professional.

Billy stuck his pistol into his waistband, put on his old coat and went down the six floors of his tenement and around the corner to Bob’s.

Funk was already there, and you could hear his annoying voice as soon as you came in the door, yammering away in his high-pitched whine.

There were seats open on either side of Funk, because no one wanted to sit next to him, but that didn’t keep him from butting into conversations on either side of him, all the way down to both ends of the bar.

Billy took a stool to the left of Funk and ordered the house bock.

“The Albigensian Heresy?” Funk was saying to the Brain, four seats away. “You want to know about the Albigensian Heresy? I’ll tell you all about the Albigensian Heresy!”

The Brain had been facing the other way, talking to that young poet guy Hector Philips Stone, but he turned around to address Funk.

“Why, no, Funk,” he said, “I don’t want to know all about the Albigensian Heresy, but thank you for offering.”

And he turned back to the young poet.

“I know all about the Albigensian Heresy,” said Funk. “All about it. Y’know what’s really inneresting about the Albigensian Heresy? I’ll tell ya, and this is something most people don’t know, because they don’t read, but I’ll tell ya –”

Suddenly Bob was standing in front of Funk and he rapped his Marine Corps ring on the bar, and everybody knew what that meant.

“Your beer is finished,” said Bob, “and so are you. Now get the hell out of here and don’t come back.”

“What, I can’t talk about the Albigensian Heresy?” said Funk. “What about the First Amendment? What about freedom of speech?”

“I’ll tell you about freedom,” said Bob. “Freedom from loud-mouthed obnoxious know-it-alls like you, which is what I’m gonna have as soon as you take your ass out that door. Or do I have to kick it out the door?”

“Wow,” said Funk. “A guy can’t even have a little conversation.”

“Out,” said Bob. “I ain’t gonna tell you again.”

“Jeeze,” said Funk. “I’m going, I’m going. Wow.”

And he scooped up his loose change from the bar and left.

Billy quickly finished his mug of bock.

“Thanks, Bob.”

“What? Only one?”

“Gotta meet somebody. Maybe I’ll be back later.”

He left a quarter for Bob and quickly walked out. So, a change of plans, but a professional assassin had to learn how to think on his feet. He would have preferred to wait and study Funk’s movements and habits, but it was now or never, because for all he knew he might never see Funk again, and he would have to find somebody else to practice an assassination on.

Outside he saw Funk walking slowly up the block, and Billy quickly followed him. Now was as good a time as any because the street was empty. It was just another cold Tuesday night on the Bowery, and anybody who could be inside and warm was inside and warm. When he was about six feet away from Funk he took out the pistol, aimed, pulled the trigger.

But the gun wouldn’t fire! He kept squeezing the trigger, because in the movies they always said squeeze, don’t pull the trigger, but nothing happened.

He shoved the gun back under his coat. How embarrassing.

Just then Funk stopped and turned around.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said.

“Hi,” said Billy.

“Did you see what Bob just did?”

“I did,” said Billy, joining him, “and I wanted to tell you I don’t think he was very fair.’

“I know! Can’t a guy talk?”

“Sure he can,” said Billy.

“You want to get a drink somewhere?” said Funk.

“Sure,” said Billy.

“You know any good places?”

“Sure,” said Billy. “Come with me, I know a great place.”

His fine mind was working overtime, the way an assassin’s mind should. He led Funk over towards the East River, where he said he knew this one really great bar where they let people talk if they wanted to talk.

When they reached a particularly deserted block of warehouses, Billy interrupted Funk, who was going on about the Albigensian Heresy again.

“Hey, Funk, you know anything about guns?”

“I know all about guns,” he said. “What do you want to know?”

“Well, I bought this pistol, and I know it’s loaded, but when I pull the trigger it won’t fire. Do you want to see it?”

“You mean you have it on you?”

“Yes, I bought it for personal protection.”

“Of course.”

Billy brought out the pistol.

“Ah, a .45,” said Funk. “Service model. So what’s the problem?”

“I pull the trigger but it won’t shoot.”

“Oh, jeeze, weren’t you in the service?”

“No, I was 4-F.”

“Here, gimme.”

Billy handed him the gun.

“Lookit,” Funk said. “You got to rack the slide first, like this, see? That puts a bullet in the chamber.”

“Ah, I get it,” said Billy. “So now it will shoot.”

“No, not yet. You see this little switch here? That’s the safety, you got to flick the safety down like this, and now it’s ready to fire.”

“Safety down, then fire.”

“Correct. Now I’m going to flick the safety up again, which means it won’t fire until you what?”

“Until I flick the safety down again?”

“That is correct.”

He handed the gun back to Billy.

“Thanks, Funk.”

“Actually, my name isn’t really Funk, it’s –”

Billy flicked the safety down, pointed the pistol at Funk’s chest, and fired. The pistol jumped in his hand, but he held onto it, and Funk fell backwards.

Billy looked around. Not a living soul. He bent over and looked down at Funk in the pale light of the street lamp. Funk stared up at nothing, and he would never talk about the Albigensian Heresy again.

The Return of the Last of the Elegant International Assassins, by Horace P. Sternwall, Monarch Books, 1952; out of print.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

"The Return of the Last of the Elegant International Assassins"

Billy Baskins realized that if he was ever going to become a successful elegant international assassin he would have to learn how to be much more careful.

His first “contract” had proved disastrous. True, he had successfully assassinated Marie McCarthy’s husband Jerry, but only after accidentally also assassinating Marie, who had hired Billy for the job in the first place. And so he hadn’t made a dime from the job. Billy realized later that he should have taken a quick moment to check Marie and Jerry’s persons to see if they had any money on them, but, no, he had been too drunk and panicked to think of that. Anyway, who was he kidding, how much money would a couple of stew bums like those two have on them, especially after celebrating Marie’s birthday in Bob’s Bowery Bar all night?

The first thing Billy decided was that he couldn’t just be assassinating people by hitting them on the head with a brick; he needed to get a gun, like a proper international assassin. This proved surprisingly easy to do, but then, after all, Billy lived in a very poor and crime-ridden slum, so if there was anywhere in the world one could hope to purchase an illegal firearm, where else but the Bowery?

All he did was go up to that gang of teenagers who hung out near Billy’s tenement. They were called the Windbreakers, probably because they all wore windbreakers, but then what did Billy know, maybe they wore windbreakers because their gang was called the Windbreakers?

Billy already knew the kids, because every time he passed “their” corner (northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery, right near Bob’s Bowery Bar) he had to give them fifty cents’ “toll”.

So this day, as he was giving their leader Terry his fifty cents, he came right out and asked the kid if he could get him a gun.

“What kind of gun, square man?”

Billy hadn’t given it much thought, but he said, “A pistol?”

Terry paused before answering, and looked up and down the block.

“Meet me in the alley outside Bob’s in one half hour, and bring fifty bucks.”

“Fifty?” said Billy. His savings were daily getting depleted, and it hadn’t occurred to him that illegal guns were so expensive. “Don’t you have anything cheaper?”

“No. But I got a government-issue .45 automatic with the serial number filed, and just because I like you, square man, I throw in a loaded seven-shot ammo mag.”

“Well, okay, then.”

Suffice it to say that one hour later (Terry had been over a half-hour late, and he hadn’t even apologized) Billy sat on his narrow bed in his sixth-floor tenement room holding his new pistol.

Terry had shown him how to pop the ammo magazine out and put it back in again, and Billy did this repeatedly, just for practice.

Now, while he was waiting for someone to offer him his next contract, it occurred to Billy that he should try a “practice” assassination.

But who should he assassinate? There were eight million people in this city. Surely thousands of those people would be missed by no one, and so the ethical thing to do (Billy knew that a good assassin always had a code of ethics) would be to pick out someone really obnoxious, someone who had no friends, someone no one would miss.

And Billy knew just the person!

That really boring guy who had started hanging out at Bob’s Bowery Bar lately – the one that they called “Funk”, short for “Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia”, because he was such a know-it-all. Yes, Funk would do, he would do just fine.

(Continued here.)

The Return of the Last of the Elegant International Assassins, by Horace P. Sternwall, Monarch Books, 1952; out of print.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"Wild Times"

It had been another good day for Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith; after less than a month of work on assembling his book of philosophical reflections (his latest title: God is Only Dog Spelled Backwards), today he had not only finished his third page, but got a start on the fourth. He left the sheet of paper in his old Royal portable (all ready and waiting for tomorrow’s assault on immortality), pulled on his threadbare chesterfield and left his little room on the sixth floor of his Bowery tenement.

On the third floor landing he came upon his landlady, young Mrs. Morgenstern, who appeared to be prizing up a wad of chewing or bubble gum from the floor with a butter knife.

“And a good day to you, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

“Good day to you, Mr. Goldsmith. How’s the great book comin’?”

“Oh, swimmingly, swimmingly – I started the fourth page today!”

“Fourth page already! By this rate it should be done in another ten years, no?”

“Perhaps, Mrs. Morgenstern, perhaps!”

Gerry continued on down the stairs.

Ah, Mrs. Morgenstern! Would only that he were twenty years younger, or even ten years! Five years? No, that was stretching it…

He went out into the biting but bracing cold and around the corner into the smoky and comforting warmth of Bob’s Bowery Bar.

The after-work crowd was all there, even though most of this crowd didn’t work.

Gerry found an empty stool between Hector Philips Stone (the doomed young romantic poet) on his left, and that strange little guy Billy Baskins, on his right.

Gerry had worked hard today, and now he was due his reward, a fine brimming mug of Bob’s basement-brewed bock.

He had enjoyed that first soul-satisfying deep swallow when suddenly Hector spoke, out of nowhere:

“What was it like in Paris, in the Twenties?”

Paris, in the Twenties.

Two years spent idling in cafés, wandering the streets, going to movies, sleeping the greater part of each day away.

Yes, it had been a good time, or as good as time got.

As good a time as any time of Gerry’s had got.

“It was pretty great, Hector,” he said, and he remembered with fond amusement the one time he had tried to visit the Louvre, only to find the place was en grève, on strike, and he never did manage to make it back there again. It was hard to get to museums when one slept until two or three in the afternoon every day, and it was so much nicer to wake oneself up in a civilized fashion, sitting at a table drinking café au lait, reading an abandoned French movie magazine and watching the girls walk by.

“Did you ever meet Hemingway, or Picasso, or Gertrude Stein?”

Once Gerry had seen Hemingway, he was pretty sure it had been Hemingway, at Shakespeare and Company. Another time he had definitely spotted Picasso at the Dôme. And another time he had stood next to Gertrude Stein when she was buying some apples from a stand.

“Well, you know, Hector,” Gerry prevaricated, “one couldn’t help but run into all sorts of people in those days, in Paris.”

“I guess those were pretty wild times,” said Hector.

Wild times? Was sleeping into the afternoon, sitting in cafés, walking idly around and going to movies what one could reasonably call wild times? No, but why disappoint the young fellow?

“Oh, yes, wild times, Hector, wild times.”

Wild Times, and Other Tales of Bohemia, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Kozy Book “paperback original, 1935; out of print.

Monday, May 27, 2019

"A Christmas Miracle"

It was the first Christmas card Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith had received since his college days, and it was from his younger brother Alistair, whom he hadn’t heard from in at least twenty years.

Inside the card was written:

“Dear Gerry, I know it’s been a long time but I thought perhaps we could have a drink next week. Could you meet me at the bar at the Plaza on Friday, say, 4pm? Please reply by return post if this is convenient for you. As ever, Al.”

As ever? As far as Gerry knew, Alistair had never liked Gerry. What could this be about? But who was Gerry to be churlish? He had never sent a Christmas card in his life, but he immediately went out to the drug store and bought one, then went to the post office, bought one stamp, and sent it off to Alistair, with a note saying he would be delighted to meet him at the Plaza the following Friday, which happened to be Christmas Eve.

Gerry deliberately arrived fifteen minutes late, because he knew the drinks at the Plaza would be expensive, and he didn’t want to get stuck having to pay for one himself.

Sure enough, there was Alistair. He looked fat, and worried.

“Hi, old buddy,” said Gerry.

“Well, hello there, stranger!” said Alistair, brimming with false bonhomie.

The next half hour soared with tedium.

Alistair had three kids, they were all doing well, one was already at Harvard, carrying on the family tradition. His wife was doing well. His business was doing well. Gerry wanted to scream with boredom. How was it he could happily spend hours at Bob’s Bowery Bar with the bums and degenerates and not be bored, and yet here he was with his own flesh and blood, and all he wanted to do was escape?

Finally Alistair got to the point.

“Anyway, Gerry, I guess you’re wondering why I got in touch after all this time.”

“I must say I was surprised.”

“It’s about Aunt Edna.”

“Aunt Edna? What about her?”

“Well, I mean, about her passing away, and her will.”

“Oh, yes, very sad, but she lived a long life, what was she, eighty something?”

“Yeah, in her eighties. But, look, I heard about what she left you.”

“Oh, really? Well, I must say I was pleasantly surprised she left me anything.”

“A thousand dollars isn’t much, Gerry.”

“To me it’s a lot. You see, it’s allowed me to get my old typewriter out of hock, and so now I can finally finish my book.”

“Your book. Wasn’t that supposed to be a book of philosophy or something?”

“Yes, a book of philosophical reflections. My latest title is Raindrops on a Leaky Roof.

“Ha ha, clever. So you’re not disappointed?”

“Disappointed? What about?”

“That she only left you a grand.”

“No. Why should I be disappointed? I’ve never had anywhere close to a thousand dollars in my life.”

“Oh, that’s swell, Gerry. I’m glad to hear that.”

And finally Gerry understood. Aunt Edna must have left Alistair a packet, because he worked, because he had a family and was an upright citizen, because he was everything that Gerry decidedly was not, and Alistair was afraid Gerry might make a stink and try to get some more money.

Gerry had never liked Alistair, and he didn’t like him any more now, but when Alistair took an envelope out of his pocket and slid it over to him on the bar top, Gerry took it. He was no one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Just a little Christmas present,” said Alistair. “Well, look, I have a train to catch, so have a good holiday, Gerry, and let me know if your book ever comes out.”

Gerry didn’t even open the envelope until he had settled onto his usual stool at Bob’s Bowery Bar. There were five twenties in it. He took one out and put the rest away.

Christmas Eve or not, the bar was filled with all the usual gang. To Gerry’s immediate left sat Hector Philips Stone, the doomed young romantic poet, staring into an empty glass.

“May I buy you a beverage, Hector?”

“Of course you may, Brain,” said Hector. “But I shall not be able to reciprocate.”

“Your lugubrious presence is all the reciprocation I should want,” said Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith, and he signaled to Bob. “Bob, two bocks, please, and take it out of here.”

Bob didn’t see too many twenty-dollar bills in here, and he held it up to the overhead light.

“I hope it’s not counterfeit,” said Gerry. “It was a Christmas present.”

A Christmas Miracle, and Other Tales, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Pinnacle Books “paperback original”, 1955; out of print.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

"Café Express"

“Everybody has a point in his life when he begins to live more in the past than he does in the present, and once that point is reached it’s all downhill to the grave.”

Today was the second day of Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith’s “typing up” of his book of philosophical reflections, and the above sentence was the second in the first marble composition book of the dozens he had filled over the past twenty-six years.

The sentence, written when Gerry was still but a beamish lad of twenty-two, gave him pause. How had he attained such wisdom at such a tender age?

He remembered the time and the circumstances well: his second year as a committed flâneur in Paris, living comfortably off his fifty-dollar-a-month remittance, residing in a cheap hotel on the rue Claude Bernard, sleeping until mid-afternoon every day, spending his time sitting in cafés, walking aimlessly, and going to movies, until that one windy and cold winter’s day at the Café de Flore when he had finally begun “to write”. He wrote one sentence that first afternoon, and then, deliciously exhausted, he took a stroll by the Seine, and then popped into a movie theatre to see the new Garbo. Then a few glasses of bock at the Dome, a croque-monsieur, a chat with some French students, most of which went over his head, but he pretended to understand anyway. A couple of more bocks and then back to the rue Claude Bernard and to bed.

The next day he brought his copybook with him to the Flore again, and sure enough, he came up with this second of his philosophical reflections:

“Everybody has a point in his life when he begins to live more in the past than he does in the present, and once that point is reached it’s all downhill to the grave.”

He remembered being so struck by the profundity of the thought that he felt his work for that day was done, and he closed up his notebook and ordered another café express. All of life beckoned to him, and, being only twenty-two, he still lived in the present.

Gerry typed up the sentence, changing not a word.

He gazed out of his grimy window at the snow-covered rooftops of the Bowery, at the chimney pots breathing smoke up into the ashy grey sky. The elevated train came roaring by from uptown, filled with people who had jobs, going to their homes, and Gerry thanked God, if there was a God (and this was a question he intended to grapple with at the appropriate time, or times, in his book) that he had no job and had never had a job; he closed his eyes in a sort of ecstasy, and when he opened them he was twenty-two years of age, going on twenty-three, sitting at his favorite table in the Café de Flore, looking out the window at a grey wintry afternoon on the Boulevard St. Germain. He was young again, or still. The life of the forty-eight-year-old failure of a remittance man had all been a long and not even very vivid dream, and now real life in all its glory and possibility lay spread out before him!

Gerry ordered another café express, and he re-opened his composition book with its black-and-white marbled cover. He licked the tip of his #2 pencil. He felt another brilliant thought coming on, and he had only to allow it to emerge.

Café Express, and Other Tales of the Bowery, by Horace P. Sternwall, an Ace Books “paperback original”, 1955; out of print.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

"Confucius Says"

“Confucius says that he who speaks unceasingly of himself is the most tedious of men.”

Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith had opened the very first of the dozens of schoolboy composition books he had filled over the years with the raw materials of his “book of philosophical reflections”, and this was the very first sentence he had written. He had not dated the entry, but he remembered the day well. He had brought several of the black-and-white marble copybooks with him when he went to Paris to learn how to be a writer of some sort after his graduation from Harvard in 1927, and after a year-and-a-half of lounging in cafés, one blustery cold winter’s day at the Café de Flore he opened this very copybook, licked the point of his pencil and wrote that first sentence.

And it was brilliant! No need to revise or rewrite it at all.

So today was the day when he would finally begin to type up his magnum opus. If even half the sentences in all those piles of copybooks were even half so brilliant, his work would not be so hard at all – after all, had he not been working, in his way, all these past, what, twenty-six years or so, (mathematics was not his strong point)? After all, even on those days when he had only written one sentence, that was work, of a sort. In fact, even on the many days when he wrote no sentences, that was work also, because some days it was best to let the brain lie fallow, to let life flow through one’s soul and brain, and when an aperçu was ready, well, then as likely as not it would rise up from the depths, fully-formed, just as the Confucius sentence had done.

In fact Gerry had never read Confucius, and he had made up the sentence from whole cloth, but the false attribution was part and parcel of the beauty of the sentence, for by ascribing this morsel of wisdom to the ancient Chinese philosopher, the young Gerry was living that wisdom, by effacing his own authorship of the thought. Brilliant!

Gerry had set up his old Royal portable (rescued, at long last, thanks to his late Aunt Edna’s unexpected bequest of an incredible one thousand dollars, from Iggy’s Pawn Shop, where it had languished on the shelf these past twenty years) on his little table in front of his window that looked out on the Bowery and the El tracks. He had inserted a new ribbon and a fresh sheet of paper. Now it was time to begin.

In the upper right corner  of the sheet he typed the number “1”, and he was all set to type up the Confucius sentence when he remembered that he needed to type in the title of his book.

But what was the title? He had come up with so many titles over the years. Droppings from a Broken Sky. Hello from Hell. Zero Is Not a Number. The Song of the Mute Man. Don’t Say You Kant When You Can…

He was seriously thinking of going back to Pensées for a Rainy Day, but he wasn’t quite sure, and so he decided, for the nonce, to leave the space for the title blank, and instead went right to the byline:

by Gerard Goldsmith

Nobody called Gerry “Gerard”. In fact nobody called Gerry “Gerry”. His landlady, nice young Mrs. Morgenstern, called him Mr. Goldsmith, but all the gang at Bob’s Bowery Bar always called him "Brain'. But you couldn’t write a book of philosophical reflections and sign it “Gerry Goldsmith”, nor could you sign it “Mr. Goldsmith”, or, God forbid, “the Brain”. His middle name was Llewellyn, but, no, “Gerard Llewellyn Goldsmith” sounded far too pretentious, so “Gerard Goldsmith” it would have to be.

Now what? Should he write an introduction, or an author’s preface? No, that was boring, no one ever read that stuff, or at least Gerry never did.

What about a chapter heading, or a chapter title? Again, no. Who said a book needed chapters? Looking back over all these years of filling up all these marble composition books with his thoughts, weren’t all these words really one very long chapter, like the very long chapter of a man’s life?

No, better just to dive right in, and so, copying from the old and water-damaged composition book laid open at his left elbow, he typed out that first sentence, rather surprisingly making not a single error:

“Confucius says that he who speaks unceasingly of himself is the most tedious of men.”

Brilliant. Really brilliant. A good start.

Gerry realized he was hungry. What time was it? He had no idea. He had long ago pawned his old Wittnauer pocket watch, as well as his alarm clock, but it must be going on well into the late afternoon at least, and he hadn’t had a thing to eat yet today. In fact, all he had eaten for the past week had been day-old pumpernickel, butter, and eggs that he boiled himself on his little hot plate, and with no bock beer at all.

Today was two-for-one hot dog day down at Bob’s Bowery Bar, and so Gerry decided that he had done a good day’s work, and now it was time for some food and refreshment.

Outside his grimy window, snow began to fall out of the grey sky onto the Bowery and over the El tracks, over the rooftops and the smoking chimney pots and the dirty brown buildings, the first snow of the winter, and soon the ugliness and despair of these streets would be made beautiful, for those like Gerry who could see the beauty.

He left the sheet of paper in the typewriter, all ready for tomorrow’s work, and he put on his threadbare old chesterfield coat and went out and down the six flights of stairs and then around the corner to Bob’s. 

One thing he was sure of, he wasn’t going to tell any of the guys and gals at Bob’s about Aunt Edna’s bequest. He may be a philosopher, but Gerry was no idiot!

Confucius Says, and Other Tales, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Pinnacle Books paperback original, 1955; out of print.

Monday, May 20, 2019

"Her Small Bit"

Normally it was a bit of a struggle for Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith to climb the stairs to his tiny efficiency apartment on the sixth floor, but today he all but floated up those stairs. On the fifth floor he met his landlady, young Mrs. Morgenstern, working her broom down the stairs. The building was old, and shabby, but the hallways and staircases were kept scrupulously clean, and his rent was only fifteen dollars a month.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Morgenstern. What a fine day it is!”

“It’s freezing out there.”

“Ah, yes, but it’s a bracing cold.”

“I don’t know what that means, Mr. Goldsmith. You know I don’t speak English good.”

“I mean it’s the sort of cold that makes you feel alive!”

“Oh, okay, I get it. As long as you don’t freeze to death.”

“Ha ha, yes.”

“What’s all that you got there, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“This, my good lady, is my old Royal portable typewriter, which I have at long last redeemed from the pawnbroker. In this paper sack is a ream of twenty-pound typing paper, and with it in there are two typewriter ribbons.”

“Let me guess, this means you’re finally gonna finish your book?”

“It means, Mrs. Morgenstern, that the light at the end of the tunnel is now ever so slightly visible.”


“I mean, yes, now I am about to start the final stage of preparing my book for publication.”

“Good for you, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“Oh, yes, I am very happy, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

“You don’t mind my asking, how’d you finally get the money to get your typewriter out of hock?”

Gerry was on the very verge of telling her about his Aunt Edna’s surprise bequest of a thousand dollars, but then he remembered that his rent was by far the cheapest in the building, even if his apartment was literally an expanded and renovated storage closet.

“Some three months ago,” Gerry lied glibly, “I resolved to try to save twenty-five cents a day, which feat I accomplished by forgoing one bock beer each day. And now – voilà!”

“Well, that’s swell, Mr. Goldsmith. I wish you the best of luck with your book.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

And off the chubby fellow in the threadbare chesterfield coat went up to the sixth floor.

Poor Mr. Goldsmith, thought Mrs. Morgenstern, sweeping the dust and cigarette butts and gum wrappers down the stairs. She didn’t believe for one second that cock and bull story about saving a quarter a day, but she didn’t blame Mr. Goldsmith for fibbing. However he had got that money, hook or crook, at least he had spent it on a typewriter and paper and typewriter ribbons, and not on whiskey like some of the tenants in this building would have done without a second thought.

Her husband Jake said they were giving that little efficiency away for fifteen bucks a month, and after Jake himself had knocked down a wall and put a Murphy bed and a toilet and shower in it, and a sink with hot and cold water, but who else were they gonna get to take it even for thirty or forty a month who would be so nice and polite like Mr. Goldsmith?

And, who knew, maybe he would finish his book, and it would get published, and he’d make a lot of dough from it. Then maybe she would raise the rent on him. Maybe bring it up to twenty a month. Or maybe not. At least Mr. Goldsmith said good afternoon when he passed you on the stairs, unlike some of the bums she could name in this building.

And even if Mr. Goldsmith never finished his book, where else was he gonna go? Some flop house? An educated, polite man like him, even if he did drink? 

No, Mr. Goldsmith could stay on, at fifteen a month. What with two kids and the headaches of running this building, Mrs. Morgenstern didn’t have the time to read much herself except for the movie magazines that Pat and Carlotta on the second floor would give her when they were done with them, but somebody had to write the books in the world, and by giving Mr. Goldsmith a cheap rent Mrs. Morgenstern would be doing her bit, her small bit.

Her Small Bit, and Other Tales of the Working Folk, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Pyramid Books paperback original, 1955; out of print.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

"Kant Is Just a Four-Letter Word"

The first of the month, and so as usual Gerry Goldsmith (known as “the Brain” to all the other regulars at Bob’s Bowery Bar) arrived at the offices of Goldstein, Goldberg, and Gold bright and early to pick up his allotment of fifty dollars. Bright and early for the Brain was not what it was for the rest of the world, and so the time was 11:45 am.

He went right over to Gladys’s desk at reception. Gladys always had his money for him, in fives and singles, in a plain envelope.

“And good morning to you, Gladys. How’s the family?”

“A continuing heartache, Mr. Goldsmith, but what are you going to do?”

“What can one do but soldier on?”

She handed him the envelope and Gerry put it away in the inner pocket of his old tweed suit, worn under his even older camel’s hair chesterfield, with its velvet collar which had been royal purple once but was now a faded ashy blue.

“Mr. Goldstein asked me to ask you to see him in his office when you came in.”

“Oh dear. Did he say why?”

“Nope. Just asked me to ask you to see him when you came in. You can go right in, Mr. Goldsmith.”

Gerry’s heart seemed to fall two inches beneath the flab of his his chest. Had his annuity run out, or been canceled in some way? Did his grandmother not leave enough of the ready in her will to last beyond these twenty-seven years during which these monthly payments of fifty dollars had been his sole source of income?

Like a condemned man, Gerry opened the well-worn waist-high wooden gate, went through the reception area and down the hall to Mr. Goldstein’s office. He had only spoken with Mr. Goldstein perhaps a dozen times in all these years.

The door was open, and there was old Mr. Goldstein sitting at his cluttered desk.

Gerry stood in the doorway.

“Mr. Goldstein?”

“Ah, Mr. Goldsmith. Please come in, and take a seat, sir.”

On legs of rubber Gerry staggered over and took a seat in one of the two ancient arm chairs in front of the desk.

“Please don’t spare me, Mr. Goldstein. Just give it to me straight. If my remittances are to be ended with the new year I’ll just have to find paying work of some sort. Perhaps I could be a night watchman? Or, I don’t know, if you might have an opening for a minor clerical position here, or even a messenger’s job, I am quite familiar with the city’s public transformation system. The Goldsmiths have always been an enterprising clan, and maybe it’s best that I start to make my own way in the world.”

“Relax, Mr. Goldsmith. Your monthly remittances will remain the same, fifty dollars a month, probably up until the day you die, which let us hope will not be for many years. It’s about your late Aunt Edna.”

Aunt Edna. Gerry’s mother’s sister, whom he hadn’t seen since he graduated from Harvard. He had belatedly gotten word of her demise last year, but of course his circumstances had made it impossible for him to attend the obsequies all the way down in Florida.

“It seems the lady remembered you in her will, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“She what?”

“She remembered you. To the tune of one thousand dollars.”

If before Gerry’s heart had descended two inches, now it seemed to rise four inches. His mouth opened, but no words escaped.

A thousand dollars.

It was December the first, 1954, he was forty-eight years of age, and tears came to Gerry’s eyes.

“Would you like a glass of water, Mr. Goldsmith?”

“What? No, no, it’s quite all right, but tell me, do I get it all at once, or what?”

“If you like we could give you a check right now.”

“But I don’t have a bank account,” said Gerry, in a mild panic. “I’ve never had a bank account!”

“Again I say, ‘Relax, Mr. Goldsmith.’ With the check it would be easy as pie to start up a bank account, and within a few days you could start withdrawing cash whenever you like.”

“Oh, but that all sounds so complicated. Couldn’t you keep the money for me, and I could just come in and get some of it now and then?”

“Certainly, Mr. Goldsmith. If you like we could even put the money in savings bonds for you, and you could make a little interest on it.”

“I don’t understand these things. I don’t even know what a savings bond is, but I like the idea of earning interest, so, sure.”

“Leave it to us, Mr. Goldsmith. You would just have to let us know how much money you would like us to keep available for you at any given time.”

“How about if you kept, say, fifty dollars available for me?”

“You’ve become used to the sum of fifty dollars.”

“Yes, I suppose I have.”

“We could do that, Mr. Goldsmith. Any time you should need some cash, just drop by the office, and we’ll make sure always to have at least fifty dollars in the kitty for you.”

“Oh, that would be splendid. I wonder, could I have a little of it now?”

“We always have a small sum in the petty cash box, Mr. Goldsmith. How much would you like?”

“I need twelve ninety-nine.”

“Twelve ninety-nine?”

“Yes, to get my typewriter out of hock.”

“I see. You’re writing a book, aren’t you?”

“Yes, a book of philosophical reflections, and now I can finally get my typewriter out of the pawn shop and start typing it up, so all I need is twelve ninety-nine.”

“You’ll need some typewriter paper. And you should probably invest in an extra typewriter ribbon or two.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. Yes. Do you think I should take out fifteen dollars?”

“Why not make it an even twenty?”

“Sure, twenty it is then. Thank you, Mr. Goldstein.”

“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Goldsmith. And please keep me apprised on the progress of your book.”

“Oh, I will!”

“Do you have a title for it yet?”

“Y’know, Mr. Goldstein, I’ve gone through many titles for it over the years, but just on the way over here I had the idea to call it Kant Is Just a Four-Letter Word.”

“Ha ha. Delightful, Mr. Goldsmith.”

Mr. Goldstein gave Gerry a chit for the twenty dollars, Gerry thanked him again, profusely, and glided from the office with the paper in his hand to give to Gladys out at the front desk.

Mr. Goldstein sighed.

Who knew, perhaps this strange fellow Gerard Goldsmith was the next Kant?

Kant is Just a Four-Letter Word, and Other Fables of Our Time, by Horace P. Sternwall, an Ace Books paperback original, 1955; out of print.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

"The Quarter"

The Brain always introduced himself as “Gerard Goldsmith, but please call me ‘Gerry’; Gerry with a ‘g’.” But pretty soon everybody wound up just calling him “Brain” if they were addressing him directly, or referring to him as “the Brain” on those rare occasions when someone was talking about him.

At the age of twenty-one, upon his graduation from Harvard, Gerry had come into an annuity from his deceased grandmother, which was doled out, in accordance with that good lady’s last will and testament, in monthly payments of fifty dollars. She had hoped that this income would ease young Gerry’s passage through life, but yet not shield him from the need to earn a good living. The lady had underestimated Gerry’s laziness, however, and he had never worked a day in his life. This fifty a month had seemed a goodly sum when Gerry first began receiving it back in 1927, and indeed he had spent a couple of years living fairly comfortably in Paris, where, if he had never met Ernest Hemingway, or James Joyce, or Picasso, he had met people who had met people who had known or claimed to know Hemingway or Joyce or Picasso.

The fifty a month however went not nearly so far in the year of our story, which is 1954, and Gerry now lived in a tiny efficiency apartment on the sixth floor of a tenement on the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery, and he wore the same three-piece tweed Brooks Brothers suit he had been wearing since 1931. Gerry had put on a bit of weight over the years, and the suit had been “let out” several times over the decades until it could be let out no more, and so Gerry left the top button of his trousers unbuttoned, left the waistcoat completely unbuttoned, and only (and just barely) fastened the middle button of the coat, but he didn’t fool anyone, and his fat bulged at the side and the stomach and the rear, but still Gerry wouldn’t buy a new suit, because new suits cost money, even used Goodwill suits cost money, and Gerry would much rather spend his money on bock beer.

Whenever anyone asked Gerry what he “did”, he would say, “I’m writing a book.”

He would then wait, hoping that his interlocutor would ask what his book was about. If they didn’t ask, which was usually the case, he would finally break down and add:

“A book of philosophical reflections.”

If anyone asked him the book’s title, although practically no one ever did, he would reply, depending on the day or the year or his mood, with: 

The Philosophy of a Fool.

Aphorisms of an Ass.

Thoughts Cast Into the Wind.

Against Kant: or, a Critique of the Critique of Pure Reason.

Lucubrations of a Loon.

Lately he had been calling his book Pensées for a Rainy Day.

Some people thought that the Brain was a fraud, that he wasn’t really writing a book, but they were wrong.

If anyone had been invited up to the Brain’s little room (no one had ever been invited) they would have found stacks upon stacks of those children's’ copybooks with the black-and-white marbled covers, and these copybooks were indeed filled with aphorisms, observations, and rhetorical questions. Someday Gerry Goldsmith (familiarly known as “the Brain”) would begin the tedious but necessary work of amassing all these notes into a book that he could submit to a publisher. But in order to do this he knew he needed a typewriter, and in fact he once had owned a portable Royal typewriter, but he had hocked it during that cold winter of 1934. Every once in a while he would wander into Iggy’s Pawn Shop on Mulberry and check to see if the machine was still on the shelves, and it was always there. Not to waste the trip, sometimes Gerry would pawn some little item: his last pair of cufflinks; his tennis racket from his days on the Harvard team; his last remaining golf club, a MacGregor driver; his Andover class ring, an only slightly moth-eaten cashmere scarf.

Sometimes the Brain would muse that if only he abstained from bock beer for just a couple of weeks or so he could get the old Royal out of hock and set to work on whipping his manuscript into shape, and then it would just be a matter of lugging it over to a reputable publisher.

But two weeks without bock? Even one week?

No, that was asking too much.

And so he continued living as he always lived, going back and forth from Bob’s Bowery Bar (conveniently located in the building next door to the tenement in which Gerry lived) to his little room, and occasionally jotting down a thought with a #2 pencil in a schoolboy copybook.

But Gerry did not despair, because he knew that someday he would find a ten-dollar bill on the pavement, or perhaps on the sawdust-strewn floor of Bob’s Bowery Bar. And once he had that ten-dollar bill it would only be a matter of a month’s modest economizing (perhaps making do one day a week with only cornflakes for breakfast instead of his customary scrapple, eggs, home fries and fried tomatoes) to raise the further two dollars and ninety-nine cents he would need to get his typewriter out of hock.

And so it was on this cold November morning as Gerry staggered around the corner to Bob’s for his eye-opener shot of whiskey and hearty breakfast he saw a quarter lying in full view on the pavement. Without shame he bent over and picked it up.

A quarter. A long way from the $12.99 he needed to redeem his typewriter, but it was a start. If he could only save another quarter every day he would have a sufficiency to reclaim his typewriter in, what, fifty-two days? Let’s round it out to sixty. Two months. Let’s say three months. A mere moment of time in the great scheme of things. He pocketed the quarter and went into Bob’s.

After his usual shot of “Chinese whiskey” (his jocular name for Schenley’s blended American whiskey) and his scrapple, eggs, home fries and breaded-and-fried tomatoes, washed down by two mugs of Bob’s excellent basement-brewed house bock, he was all set to go back upstairs and take his usual leaden nap when he remembered the quarter he had found, which just happened to be the price of a mug of Bob’s house bock.

Gerry fished out the quarter and laid it on the counter.

“I think I’ll just have one more mug of your fine bock beer, Bob,” he said. 

Tomorrow was another day, and he would start saving then.

The Quarter, and Other Stories, by Horace P. Sternwall, Ace Books, 1955; out of print.