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.)