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.
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.)