Thursday, December 31, 2020

“New Year’s Eve at the Sanitarium”

It was cold up here in the mountains, and when Philip came here this most recent time he had only brought his old Brooks topcoat. In his wanderings through the environs of the sanitarium he had noticed a general store in the village down the hill, and the store had coats in its window display, and so today, December 31, he decided to walk down and buy a winter coat after lunch.

Philip was heading through the reading lounge towards the front door when Edna got up from a chair and intercepted him.

“Are you going for a walk?”

“Yes. I was just going to walk down to the village and buy a winter coat.”

“Oh, my God, I need a winter coat! I came up here only with my light fall coat, and I absolutely freeze every time I go outside.”

“Me too,” said Philip.

“Is that topcoat all you brought up here?”

“Yes. I’m afraid I didn’t plan very well.”

“I didn’t plan at all. All I did was cry while my husband threw some clothes in a bag and drove me up here.”

Philip had heard it all before, but, let’s face it, everyone here repeated themselves a lot, including Philip. Edna was staring at him in that way she had. She never invited herself to go on a walk with him, but she always assented readily when he did invite her.

“Would you like to walk down to the village with me?” he said. “I did see some ladies’ coats in the window of the –”

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“No, of course not. It’ll be nice to have some company, and maybe you can help me choose a coat.”

“Please wait for me. I just need to get my coat. My fall coat, ha ha. Please wait for me. You’re not in a hurry, are you?”


“You’re sure you don’t mind?”


“I’ll just be a jiff.”

Philip knew what that meant, but what else did he have scheduled for his day, except for the afternoon group session, and that should be a ball, a bunch of drunks whining on New Year’s Eve. He sat down in the same easy chair Edna had vacated and picked up a magazine.

A half hour later Edna was there, with her fall coat on. Philip didn’t ordinarily notice much in the physical world, but even he could tell that she had fixed her hair and her makeup.

“Sorry I took so long. What are you reading in the New Yorker?”

“It’s a story about a man who’s considering suicide.”

“Does he commit suicide?”

“I don’t think so, because it’s written in the first person.”

“Maybe he wrote the story after he committed suicide.”

“Maybe so, but I think it’s going to end with him deciding not to.”

“Do you want to finish it, because I can wait if you want to.”

“No, I’ll finish it later.”

“Good, let’s go. I’m so excited!”

Outside the world was white, but the path to the road had been shoveled, and the road had been plowed, tall smooth rounded ridges of snow on either side of the road. They walked together down the middle of the road in the cold air. The snow was a flat thick white, and the sky up above the black branches of the trees was almost the same color as the snow, or the same lack of color.

Edna was young and pretty, but Philip didn’t want to get involved, that was the last thing he needed. Sometimes they would walk without speaking for a quarter of an hour, and then Edna would start talking, and talking. Philip didn’t mind. Listening to her troubles kept him from thinking of his own.

They had walked in silence for about five minutes when suddenly Edna put her gloved hand on Philip’s arm.

“Philip, stop.”

Philip stopped.

“What are we going to do tonight?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s New Year’s Eve! The whole world will be drunk and celebrating, and we’re going to be stuck in this dreary sanitarium!”

“It could be worse.”

“How could it be worse?”

“Oh, lots of ways.”

Philip took out his cigarettes, offered her one, which she took. Edna always took a cigarette, even though she smoked a different brand and usually had her own. He lighted the cigarettes with his lighter. The smoke rose up slowly in the cold air. She looked away, into the woods, and then looked back at him.

“You’re right,” she said. “It could be lots worse. Do you know what I did last New Year’s Eve?”


“Oh, right, I talked about it in group.”

“We’ve all done bad things on New Year’s Eve.”

“But my husband’s brother!”

“Well,” Philip said, after a brief pause, “I guess that’s why we’re here.”

Now Edna paused before speaking.

“You mean in the sanitarium,” she said.

“Yes,” said Philip, smiling.

“Not here on this road in the freezing cold.”

“Well,” said Philip, after yet another pause, “yes, we’re here on this road because we’ve misbehaved on New Year’s Eves in the past.”

“But this is a new New Year’s Eve.”


“And we don’t have to get stupid drunk just because the rest of the world is doing so.”


“Okay, let’s go into the village and buy those coats.”

“That’s the plan,” said Philip.

And they started walking again. They managed to walk right by the town tavern without going in, and at the general store they both bought matching Mackinaw hunting coats and sturdy rubber boots.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, December 24, 2020

"Christmas Eve on the Bowery"

It was Christmas Eve on the Bowery
and all the drunks was drinking,
just another night on the Bowery,
another night to get stinking.

But what about all them little brats
lying in their dirty cots?
Where was the mummies and the daddies,
of these poor underprivileged tots?

I’ll tell you where they was, my friend,
they was down at the corner dive
drinking tokay and basement brewed bock,
and just slightly less dead than alive.

And for them tykes a cold Christmas morn,
with no tree, no presents – sad, innit?
And for breakfast a bowl of cornflakes
with not a drop of milk to put in it.

Is there any hope for these poor childers,
brought up in such poor circumstances?
Yes, my friend, there is aways hope,
maybe not a lot, but them’s the chances.

And as for the few who survive to adulthood,
despite the filth, the rickets and T.B.,
the few who finish school and escape skid row,
they can always say, “Hey, look at me.

Me da was a drunk and me ma was a whore,
but I fought my way out of that slum
because I wanted to be something more
than just another pathetic Bowery Bum.”

Seamas McSeamas the Irish poet put down his pencil. Writing these lines had not only pushed him to the verge of depression, but given him a powerful thirst. Fortunately, he still had six bucks from his last welfare check, way more than enough to get his load on down at Bob’s Bowery Bar.

Seamas was already wearing his old overcoat and his tweed cap and muffler, his attic room was devilish cold, but what the hell, it was still a pretty good deal for only a sawbuck a month. What did any real poet need more than a roof over his head and his monthly dole check? Not a damn thing, that’s what. Seamas had no regrets. He had chosen his path in life.

Down the six flights of stairs of his tenement to Bleecker Street, and the snow was falling thick and heavy out of the black of the night. Across the street Seamas saw the glowing red neon sign

Ma’s Diner

and it occurred to him that in the fire of creation he had forgotten all about his supper. He hesitated. It was true that Bob served good cheap food, but there was always the very likely possibility that once Seamas got in the bar he would forget to eat, which would mean he would wake up on Christmas day not only as hungover as a dog, but quite probably without even a dime for a cup of coffee and a doughnut. Better to stop at Ma’s now and get something in his belly.

He crossed the street, and there by the entranceway of Ma’s, what had at first seemed to be a pile of snow now revealed itself to be a human being sitting against the wall.

“Hey, brother, what you doing sitting there?” said Seamas.

“What’s it look like I’m doing,” said the little snow-covered old man which was what the human being was. “I’m sitting here minding my own fucking beeswax.”

“Ah, shite,” said Seamas. This was all he needed, and him with only a fin and a single in his poke.

“All right, old-timer, up you go.”

“Fuck off.”

“That ain’t no way to talk now. Come on, gimme your hand and I’ll take you into Ma’s and get you a nice hot cup of joe and summat to eat.”

“Fuck you, Mick, I don’t need your charity.”

“But if you sit out here in this freezing cold and snow you’re sure to croak from the hyperthermia.”

“That’s my lookout. I ain’t looking for charity from no bog trotter.”

“Hey, watch it with the ethnic aspersions, pal.”

“What’re you gonna do about it, Paddy?”

“Jaysus, man, you got to be the most unpleasant bum in the whole neighborhood, and that’s saying something in this neighborhood.”

“What I do, I do the best,” said the little old man. “Hey, what’re ya doin’, harp?”

“I’m picking you up, you nasty little fuckwad,” said Seamas, doing exactly what he said.

“Off the cloth, moth,” said the little old man as Seamas pulled him up to his feet.

Seamas brushed some snow off the little man’s raggedy coat.

“Watch the threads, Ted,” said the obnoxious little bum.

“Look at ya, you’re damn near froze up like a popsicle already,” said Seamas.

“Fuck you and fuck your pity,” said the little man.

“Come on,” said Seamas, and he grabbed the little man’s little arm.

“Leggo my arm, ya big bully,” said the little man. “Stop manhandling me!”

Seamas was actually a pretty strong fellow for a drunk and a poet; when his welfare checks ran out he picked up day-work digging ditches on the road crews, and he dug ditches like a champion, it was in his blood he always said, digging ditches and writing poems and drinking, he wasn’t good at much, but he was good at them things. Anyway, it was no problem at all for Seamas to drag the little bum bodily into the cozy warmth of Ma’s Diner. Soon enough they were sat side by side at the crowded counter, and despite the little man’s protestations they each had a big order of Ma’s Christmas Eve plat du jour: fried Virginia ham with red eye gravy, collard greens, and mashed sweet potatoes slathered with plenty of butter, and then thick warm slices of Ma’s pumpkin pie topped with fresh whipped cream, and all of it washed down with lashings of her bottomless cups of fresh-ground chicory coffee.

“Well, that was good, weren’t it?” said Seamas, lighting up his Bull Durham.

“I’ve had worse,” said the little old man, taking a good draw on the Durham that Seamas had rolled for him. “But.”

“But?” said Seamas.

“Yeah, you heard me,” said the bum. “But.”

“But what?”

“But I’ve had better.”

Seamas held his peace. This had been the closest this little fucker had come to saying something not totally disagreeable yet. Best not to push him.

“Well, I’m gonna be taking off now,” said Seamas, after a minute of silence, except for the chatter of the other poor people in this joint and the sound of Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on the radio.

The little bum finished blowing the series of perfect smoke rings he was blowing, and then replied, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

Seamas paid the check, and gave Ma a fifty cent tip, making sure to hand it to her, because he didn’t trust the little guy not to steal it.

“Merry Christmas to ya, buddy,” he said to the bum.

The bum said nothing.

Seamas went out into the thick falling snow. Well, it was time to get that load on, although now he’d be getting a buck’s worth less loaded thanks to buying that obnoxious little bum a meal.

Inside Ma’s the little man continued to enjoy his cigarette, and asked Ma politely for a refill of his coffee. Little did Seamas know, but this little old man was none other than the archangel called Bowery Bert, the guardian angel of this impoverished neighborhood. Seamas had passed his test with flying colors, and thus had earned another ten years added to his pre-allotted span of life on this earthly plane. Of course, what Seamas chose to do with those extra ten years was entirely up to Seamas, and not up to any angel or even God in Heaven, no, it was entirely up to Seamas.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one and only Rhoda Penmarq, and from me and Rhoda and all the staff at Flophouse Enterpises™: Happy Holidays!}

Thursday, December 17, 2020

“Spread the Good Will”

 Tommy pulled the Studebaker into a parking lot in back of the Knickerbocker Building. 

“We can walk from here,” he said. “A couple blocks walk in the cold air, do us good.”

“Tommy, can I ask you something?” said Addison.

“Sure, Anderson.”

“About this gun.”

The big gun was heavy in his coat pocket.

“What about it?” said Tommy.

“Well, should I keep it in my pocket, or –”

“Yeah, keep it in your pocket.”

Tommy got out of the car, so Addison got out also. The air was cold.

“Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say, Tommy?” said the parking lot attendant.

Tommy tossed the fellow his car keys.

“I say if there’s a scratch on this car when I come back for it I’m sticking you in the trunk and dumping you in the Hudson River.”

“Ha ha, you want me to polish it up for ya, Tommy?”

“Sure, kid. Make it shine, like your nose.”

“Ha ha, you’re all reet, Tommy.”

Tommy took a bill out of his pocket, folded lengthwise.

“Here ya go, Curly.”

“Gee, a fin! Thanks, Tommy.”

“Merry Christmas, kid.”

“I don’t care what they say about you, Tommy.”

“Long as it ain’t the truth, right?”

“That’s right, Tommy. I’ll shine this baby up so good it’ll blind ya.”

“Yeah, you do that, Curly.”

Tommy and Addison walked together out of the lot and up Broadway through the throngs of people getting out of their jobs.

Addison was beginning to have second thoughts. He had never held a gun before in his life. He had been 4-F for the draft – flat feet and knock knees, and had spent the war years working in a plant in North Carolina that made parachutes. The pistol in his coat pocket seemed to drag his whole torso out of balance. Why had Tommy asked him to hold it? What had Tommy done in that Sailor Sid’s bar? Addison had heard a distinct popping sound. Had Tommy really not killed anyone? Maybe he had just wounded someone. “Just” wounded someone? And here was Addison – an intellectual, a Swarthmore man – walking along carrying this pistol! What had he gotten himself into? And all because he wanted to impress everyone by seeming friendly with the famous Tommy McCarthy, the big river boss. What a fool he was!

At the corner of Broadway and 42nd they came upon a sidewalk Santa Claus tinkling his bell.

“Hey, Tommy, what’s up?” said the Santa. His eyes were bloodshot, his nose was blotchy and red, and, even from several feet away, Addison could smell the alcohol on the man’s breath.

“Merry Christmas, Saul,” said Tommy. He took a roll of bills out of his pocket, peeled off a five and dropped it into the slot in the man’s kettle. Then he peeled off another five and handed it to the Santa, in that folded lengthwise way. “Buy yourself a little Christmas cheer with this.”

“Gee, thanks, Tommy,” said the Santa. “Merry Christmas to ya!”

“And a happy Hannukah to you, Saul,” said Tommy.

They walked on along 42nd Street toward Times Square.

“See, Anderson,” said Tommy, “this is why I can’t walk around too much. At this rate I ain’t gonna have the price of a ticket by the time we get to the movie.”

“Heh heh,” said Addison. “By the way, my name is actually –”

“But ya gotta spread the good will, y’know? In my line of work ya gotta spread the good will. Ya never know, someday I might need a favor from that parking lot kid, or from Saul the Jewish Santa. You know what I mean?”

“Sure, Tommy.”

“It’s the season of good will, anyways.”


“Ya gotta have good will, Anderson.”

“Certainly,” said Addison. “By the way, Tommy, do you mind if I ask you something again?”

“Nah, as long as it ain’t for a handout.”

“No, not at all!”

“Just kidding. What is it.”

“Well, how long do you want me to carry the gun?”

“What, the gun I gave you?”

“Um, yes.”

“Keep it.”

“Keep it?”

“Yeah, keep it till I ask for it back.”

“Keep it until –”

“I’ll let you know when I want it back. Why, you worried?”

“Well, just a little, I guess. I mean, don’t you need a license to carry a gun?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Well, you see, I don’t have a license, so –”

“Neither do I.”


“Don’t worry about it, Anderson. I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Oh. Uh –”

“You got a job?”

“A job?”

“A job. Something you do so that somebody gives you money for it.”

“Well, not really, you see, I’m working on a book –”

“What kind of book?”

“Well, it’s a study of literary trends in the –”

“You want a job?”

That parachute factory job was the only job Addison had ever had, and after more than three years of that hell he had never wanted another one, not as long as his grandmother kept the checks coming – “Well, gee, Tommy, I’m pretty busy with my book, you see, and, uh –”

“How about just like a part-time job. Like, on call.”

“On call?”

“Yeah, like when I need ya. Sometimes I’ll need ya, most of the time I won’t.”

“Gee, uh –”

“I’ll give ya a C-note a week, irregardless whether I need ya.”

“A C-note?”

“A yard.”

“A yard?”

“A hundred bucks.”

“A hundred dollars?”

“Yeah, starting today.”



Tommy stepped into the entranceway of Nedick’s. He took out that roll of bills again. He licked his thumb and started counting off bills. He peeled off a wad, and then stuck it into Addison’s coat pocket, the same one that the gun was in.

“Gee, Tommy,” said Addison.

“I need a guy like you,” said Tommy. “Well spoken like. You go to college?”

“Well, yes, as a matter of fact I did. I went to –”

“Let’s go see that movie now.”

They went out onto the sidewalk again. It was starting to snow. They walked along and Addison put his hand into the pocket, with the gun, and the hundred dollars. He’d only made forty-nine a week at the parachute factory. How could he say no?

The snow came down harder, and by the time they reached the Vauxhall Theatre it was coming down really hard.

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

Thursday, December 10, 2020

“Cold Beer Crabs”

Every morning Addison checked the movie listings in the Federal-Democrat, and finally, after three weeks, he hit pay dirt: the Vauxhall up on 42nd Street was showing The Preacher Wore a Sixgun! He could barely contain himself, but he waited until a little before four o’clock before going around the corner to Bob’s.

He deliberately grabbed a stool next to where Tommy McCarthy usually sat, down near the rest rooms, and, sure enough, shortly after four, Tommy came in.

“Hi, Tommy, how’s it going?”


Tommy took out a cigar and removed the cellophane, and Addison fought the urge to give him a light. He knew by now that Tommy didn’t like people lighting his cigar for him. Bob came over and put a bock in front of Tommy.

“You believe that fight last night?” said Bob.

“Un fucking believable,” said Tommy, and he put a kitchen match to his cigar.

“Half a minute into the second round,” said Bob. “Them people at the Garden should’ve asked for their money back.”

“Un fucking believable,” said Tommy again, and he tossed the match into an ashtray.

Addison had no idea what they were talking about, and so he discreetly kept quiet. He was trying to learn how to keep his mouth shut when he had nothing to say, but it was hard. It was very hard. He waited until Bob had brought Tommy his change. He had considered trying to buy Tommy’s bock, but he didn’t want to press his luck.

“Hey, Tommy, guess what?”


Tommy didn’t say this in a way that meant he wanted to know what Addison had to say, it was more as if he had been so absorbed by his thoughts that he hadn’t even heard what Addison had said.

“I said guess what,” said Addison.

“All right, what is it?”

“I checked the movie listings today, and, guess what, the Vauxhall up on 42nd is showing that Audie Murphy movie, The Preacher Wore a Sixgun.”


“Yes! Remember you asked me to tell you if I noticed that The Preacher Wore a Sixgun is showing again anywhere?”

“Yeah, that’s a good movie.”

“Look, I’ll show you the listing.” Addison had the Federal-Democrat all ready on the bar, open to the movie page and folded over, with the Vauxhall listing circled in purple ink. “Look, Tommy, see? It’s on a triple bill with The Lady Was No Lady with Beverly Michaels and Backstreets of Bangkok with Dan Duryea.”

“I ain’t seen them other two,” said Tommy.

“Would you like to go see the The Preacher Wore a Sixgun?”

“What, like now?”

“Well, I think the Vauxhall changes their bills twice a week, so if you wanted to catch The Preacher Wore a Sixgun you’d have to go sometime in the next few days.”

Tommy took a drink of his bock.

“Y’know, Tommy,” said Addison, casting caution to the winds, “if you wanted to try for a matinée tomorrow, maybe we could go see it together.”

Tommy turned and gave Addison one of those impenetrable looks of his.

Would this finally be the time when Tommy would send Addison flying backwards off his stool with one swipe of that enormous scarred-knuckled hand? But no, because after taking a deep drag of his cigar, Tommy spoke:

“I’m pretty busy this week. We got three freighters we gotta unload in the next three days, and if I ain’t on the docks them bums don’t do no work and they hijack half the cargo, especially when it’s Scotch whisky like what’s on one of these ships.”

“Gee, that’s a shame.”

“It’s a damn shame.”

Oh, well, Addison had tried. But what he could do, he could go see the movie himself, and then later he could talk to Tommy about it. That would really give them something in common.

But then Tommy spoke again.

“What’s the next show?”

“You mean of The Preacher Wore a Sixgun?”

“Yeah, when they showing it again?”

“Well, let’s see, let’s see, well, here we go, voilà, it looks like there’s a show at 5:15 actually –”

“Great,” said Tommy. “We got time then.”

“You mean you want to go now?”

“Yeah. You want to come? It’s a good movie, Anderson.”

“Well, Addison, actually –”

“Addison, right. You want to go?”

“Gee, I’d love to, Tommy –”

“I gotta make one little stop first, but if we leave now we got plenty of time.”

“Sure, whatever you say, Tommy.”

Ten minutes later Addison was sitting in Tommy’s big Studebaker, and Tommy parked the car on some dingy cobblestone street down by the East River.

“I’m gonna leave the engine running,” said Tommy. “I’ll be right back, then we’ll go see the movie.”

“Sure, Tommy.”

Tommy got out of the car and went into a bar. The bar had a faded grey and red sign:

Sailor Sid’s
Cold Beer Crabs

It was a chilly day in early December, and down the street Addison could see the river. It was that hour the French call "l’heure bleue", but here everything was the color of dirty concrete and soot-stained brick. There was a popping sound from somewhere outside. Addison waited, and Tommy came out of the bar, opened the car door, and got back in behind the wheel.

He took a gun out of his coat pocket.

“Here, take this, Anderson.”

“Take it?”

“Take it. Just stick it in your coat.”

Addison took the gun.

“I said stick it in your pocket,” said Tommy.

Addison stuck the gun in his coat pocket.

“Don’t worry,” said Tommy. “I didn’t kill nobody.”

Addison heaved a great sigh of relief.

“Not this time,” said Tommy, and he shifted the gear stick and pulled the big car out into the street.

(Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, December 3, 2020

"The Preacher Wore a Sixgun"

 The very next day after seeing the western triple feature at the Vauxhall, Addison dropped into Bob’s Bowery Bar for happy hour, and sure enough, there was Tommy McCarthy, the big river boss, sitting on his usual stool down near the rest rooms – and the stool to his left was unoccupied! Quickly Addison went over and claimed the seat before some other chancer could grab it.

Tommy was smoking a big cigar and staring into his bock, perhaps deep in thought.

“Hello, Tommy.”


“I said hello, Tommy.”

“Oh. Hi.”

Tommy went back to staring into his bock, and then he took a good drink of it, finishing it, and shoved the glass forward.

Bob came down and picked up Tommy’s glass.

“I say, Bob,” said Addison, “let me get Tommy’s next one, and I’ll have one of the same, too, if I may.”

Bob stared at Addison. In the two or three years this bore ass had been coming in here, he had never bought anybody a drink, and it was hard enough to get him to pay for his own drinks.

But Addison brought out a crumpled dollar bill and tentatively raised it chest height, so Bob went down to the bock tap.

Tommy said nothing, just sat there smoking his cigar.

When Bob brought the two bocks over Addison held out his dollar bill.

“Out of this, Bob.”

Bob took the bill and went to the register, but before he rang it in he held it up to the light of the electric Rheingold sign just to make sure it was kosher. It looked all right, so he rang it in and brought the eighty cents change back to Addison.

“Thanks, Bob,” said Addison, and he raised his glass. “Here’s to you, Tommy,” he said.

Tommy had already drunk a quarter of his bock, and now he put the glass down and turned to Addison.


“I said here’s to you, Tommy.”

“If you’re looking for a job, forget it. I got experienced men with families who ain’t gettin’ enough work.”

“Um, no, not at all, Tommy, I was just trying to be friendly, you know, ha ha.”

Tommy stared at Addison with those steely blue eyes, and then he turned back to his bock.

“By the way, Tommy,” said Addison, “on your recommendation I went to see an Audie Murphy film yesterday.”

Tommy turned and stared at Addison again.

“It was a film called Ride a Dead Horse,” said Addison. “And you know what? I thought it was simply marvelous.”

Tommy continued to stare at Addison. Was he going to send Addison flying off his stool with one back-handed swipe of that enormous left hand? Addison braced himself for the blow, but finally Tommy said, “That was a good movie.”

“I’m so glad you agree,” said Addison. “I thought the metaphor of the dead horse was really quite striking, and –”

“It was a good one,” said Tommy. “But ya know what was a really good Audie Murphy?”

“What’s that, Tommy?”

The Preacher Wore a Sixgun.”

The Preacher Wore a –”

Sixgun. You might think it was Audie who was the preacher who wore the sixgun, but it wasn’t. That was Dan Duryea. But Audie played the guy who thought the preacher killed his brother. But it wasn’t the preacher. It was Broderick Crawford, the big deal rancher.”

“Well, that sounds really good.”

“It might come around again. Every once in a while they bring these movies back and you can catch ‘em on a double or triple bill.”

“I’ll look out for it. The Preacher Wore a Sixgun.”

“If you hear it’s playing anywheres, let me know.”

“I’ll do just that, Tommy. Scour the movie listings every day.”

“You don’t got to scour the listings, but if you notice it’s coming around, you let me know.”

“Maybe we could go see it together?”

Tommy stared at Addison again. Had Addison gone too far? He always went too far. Either that or he didn’t go far enough. Once again he braced himself for a blow from that enormous fist.

At last Tommy spoke.

“I hope you ain’t one of these guys talks through a whole movie.”

“Oh, not at all!” said Addison. “When I’m watching a film I am quiet as a mouse.”

“Good,” said Tommy.

He raised his glass and emptied it, shoved the glass forward.

Bob came over and picked the glass up.

Tommy turned to Addison.

“What was your name again?”

“Well, they all call me Addison here, ha ha, but my real name is –”

“Give Addison another bock too, Bob,” said Tommy, and he turned to Addison. “You want a shot?”

“A shot?”

“Yeah. I’m gonna have a shot of Schenley’s with my bock. You want a shot, too?”

“Well, yes, a Schenley’s sounds delightful, Tommy.”

“Two bocks, two Schenley’s,” said Tommy to Bob, and Addison quickly polished off his own glass of bock.

This would show everybody.

This would show them.

Tommy McCarthy was buying him not only a bock, but a shot of Schenley’s!

This would show them all.

{Kindly click here to read the “adult comix” version illustrated by the one-and-only rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, November 26, 2020

“What Montaigne Said”

She waited until he finished talking, and then she started talking.

She went on for quite a while, twenty-five or thirty minutes, and then she just stared at him. She was breathing heavy.

Spike had nothing more to say, and he guessed Myrtle had nothing more to say, at least for the time being.

He put out his cigarette, got up, went and got his jacket and went out the door and down the four flights of stairs to the street.

The Bowery was dirty and cold, and the sky up above the Third Avenue El was the color of an old potato sack. Spike walked down the block to Bob’s Bowery Bar and went in. He didn’t have much money in his pocket, but he had enough to get his load on.

It was mid-afternoon on a November Sunday, the place was thick with smoke and drunks, but Spike saw an empty stool down near the toilets and he went for it before somebody else could.

On his left sat Fat Angie, the retired prostitute who sold flowers from a cart on the street. On his right was that guy they called Addison, although apparently that wasn’t his real name.

Bob came over, and Spike ordered his usual, a glass of the house basement-brewed bock. When Bob brought it to him, Spike said, “Wait a second, will you, Bob?” and he lifted the glass and downed it all in four gulps. “I’ll take another one, please, Bob,” he said.

While he was waiting for Bob to bring him his refill, Spike took out his cigarettes, he still had a few left, and he lighted one up.

“Hard day, Spike?” said Addison.

This was the trouble with this guy Addison. He always had to talk.

“No harder than most days,” said Spike.

“Do you know what Montaigne said?” said Addison.

“No, I don’t,” said Spike.

Addison told him what Montaigne said.

“Montaigne said that the only thing worse than being alive was not being alive.”

“How the fuck would this nitwit Montaigne know that?” said Angie, leaning into the conversation, such as it was.

“Well, I suppose it was just his opinion, based of course on a lifetime of philosophy, and his, um, experience of life, and –”

“Fuck his opinion,” said Angie.

Fortunately Bob was there with Spike’s fresh bock. He could relax and drink this one slow, or at least slower.

“What do you think, Bob?” said Addison.

“About what?”

“I was just telling Spike and dear Angie here that the great French philosopher Montaigne said that the only thing worse than being alive was not being alive.”

Bob took a puff on his Parodi.

“You know what I think?” said Bob.

“I should love to know what you think,” said Addison. Bob so rarely deigned to speak with Addison.

“I think I spent twenty years in the marine corps and another twenty-some years running this dive, and I still don’t know shit from Shinola.”

“Ha ha,” said Angie.

Bob took two dimes for Spike’s bocks and went to the register.

“Well,” said Addison.

Spike took a drink of his bock.

Maybe he shouldn’t get his load on after all.

Maybe Myrtle was right about what a bum he was.

Maybe he should just finish this bock and then go back up to the apartment and talk to her.

“Do you know what Voltaire said?” said Addison.

“What?” said Spike.

“I said do you know what Voltaire said?”

“Who’s Voltaire?”

“He was another great French philosopher. Voltaire. Do you know what he said?”

“No,” said Spike. “I don’t know what nobody said.”

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version profusely illustrated by rhoda penmarq.}

Tuesday, November 24, 2020


 THE FLY & I: VOLUME FOUR OF THE MEMOIRS OF ARNOLD SCHNABEL is now out and available on Amazon as both an old-fashioned paper "book" and a new-fangled Kindle e-book, at low, low, crazy low prices!

 Click here to buy your very own copy, kids – and remember: please enjoy responsibly!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

"The First Day"

The first week was always the hardest, but this had been the hardest first week ever. Shakes, chills, nausea, hallucinations, insomnia, hysterics, tears, laughing, etc., etc.

But a strange thing happened on the eighth day. Philip had gone to bed very early the night before, without taking any sleeping pills, and for the first time in months or years he slept deeply and soundly and long. He was sleeping so luxuriously, and with such interesting dreams, that he wanted to keep sleeping, but through the world of dreams he realized that he wasn’t dreaming that he had to urinate, that he actually real-world needed to urinate. He opened his eyes and his room was filled with light. He got out of bed and went to the bathroom.

In the mirror was his face, not looking great, but he had seen it looking much worse.

He went back to bed and fell asleep again.

When he awoke again he lay there feeling his body, and what was in it, and, yes, no denying it, he was not in pain. Amazing what something as simple as not drinking for a week could do.

After breakfast and his private session with Dr. Himmelmann, Philip took a walk around the grounds. It was a sunny cool day in early November, the week after election day. Philip hadn’t voted, and not just because he was in the sanitarium. Philip had never voted in his life. There was a grassy slope to the rear of the grounds, and Philip walked down and found a creek he hadn’t known was there, even though he had been to this sanitarium five or was it six times before.

He stood there looking at the flowing shallow water.

“Hello,” said a woman’s voice.

Philip turned around, and it was another patient, a young woman he had seen in group, what was her name?

“Hello,” he said.

“Do you mind if I join you?”

“Not at all,” said Philip.

She came down and stood next to him.

“Nature,” she said.

“Yes,” said Philip. “In the raw.”

“I’m Edna.”

“Hi, Edna. I’m Philip.”

“Do you have a cigarette?”


Philip took his cigarettes out of his cardigan pocket, and they both stood there smoking.

“I don’t know the name of a single one of these trees,” said Edna.

“Me neither,” said Philip.

“But they’re nice to look at anyway.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Have you been to this place before?”

“Oh, yes,” said Philip. “In fact, I was just thinking, this is my fifth or sixth time. Not to mention a few stays in hospitals.”

“You’re a veteran.”

“Yes, a battle-scarred veteran.”

“I’m a rookie. A raw recruit.”

“You’re young yet.”

“How old are you?”

Philip had to think for a moment.

“Thirty-five I think.”

“That’s not old. Are you married?”

“Only to the bottle.”

“Ha ha.”

“Are you?”



“Yes, I’m married. My husband put me in here. Can’t blame him.”

“Any kids?”

“No, thank God. Not yet. I can’t have kids unless I stop drinking.”

“That’s wise,” said Philip.

“But what if I have kids and then start drinking again?”

“Yes, that would be a problem.”

They stood there looking at the water flow.

“I’m getting a little cold,” said the young woman.

“You should head back then,” said Philip.

“Yeah. Do you want to come back too?”

“I think I’ll stay here a bit longer, maybe walk some more.”

“Do you want to sit together at lunch?”


“You said that funny.”

“We’re supposed to be careful about getting involved with other patients.”

“I know. But it’s only human to want to talk to people.”

“Then let’s have lunch together,” said Philip.

“I would like that,” she said.

She was attractive, even if she was a drunk. But then she was still young. 

She tossed her cigarette into the stream, it hissed and flowed away.

She turned and started up the slope.

Philip stood there finishing his cigarette.

As they said in the meetings, it was the first day of the rest of his life. Again.

{Please click here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, November 12, 2020

“Ride a Dead Horse”

The very next forenoon, scanning the Federal-Democrat’s movie listings over chicory coffee and a butter roll at Ma’s Diner, sure enough Addison found an Audie Murphy movie playing, at a theatre called the Vauxhall on 42nd Street. The film was called Ride a Dead Horse, the middle part of a triple bill bookended by Tombstone With No Name, starring Tim Holt, and Crack of the Whip with Randolph Scott.

It was a drizzly day, grey and cold, and every single person Addison saw on the street or on the Third Avenue El seemed to have a runny nose. Election Day was tomorrow, not that Addison cared about elections. He cared only for higher things: novels, movies, music, the theatre. “I confess I should have been one of those Germans blissfully unaware of Hitler’s rise to power,” he said at least once every three days, “remaining so until I was dragged off to a concentration camp as an insufficiently ardent son of der Vaterland.

Addison had never darkened the doors of the Vauxhall before, and he realized almost at once that this must be one of those theatres known as grindhouses or fleapits.

An ancient crone sat in the ticket booth, smoking a cigarette and reading the New Yorker.

“Anything good in the New Yorker?” said Addison.

“Somebody left it in the lobby. It ain’t exactly my cup of tea, but it’s something to look at.”

“What sort of magazines do you normally read?”

“Movie magazines.”

“Well, that stands to reason, you working at a movie theatre after all.”

“Yeah. You want a ticket, or are you just here to make conversation.”

“Yes, one ticket please.”

“A quarter.”

Addison gave the woman a quarter and she tore off a ticket.

“May I ask you a question?” ventured Addison.


“When does Ride a Dead Horse start?”

The woman glanced at a paper on her little desk, and then at her watch.

“You got about five minutes.”

“Have you seen it?”

“I ain’t big on cowboy pictures.”

“Oh, no? What sort of pictures do you like?”

“Joan Crawford. Barbara Stanwyck. Bette Davis.”

“Women’s pictures.”

“I’m a woman, ain’t I?”

“Yes indeed.”

“Cowboy pictures is for men. ‘Cause they all wish they was cowboys. Instead of what they are.”

“And what is that?”

The woman took a drag on her cigarette before replying.

“Bums,” she said.


“You heard me.”

“Surely not all men.”

“Not all of them. Just 99% of them.”

What else was there to say? Addison was a man, going to see a movie matinée on a Monday afternoon. He lived in a tiny fourth-floor walk-up on Bleecker, he had no job, and he lived off checks that his grandmother sent him while he supposedly worked on his book, a study of trends in Anglo-American criticism since the First World War.

“Well, thank you,” he said.

“You still got time to buy some popcorn,” said the woman, and she lowered her eyes to her New Yorker.

Addison went in and gave his ticket to a little old man.

“Just in time to catch the beginning of the Audie Murphy movie,” said the little old man, who wore a faded blue uniform with faded red and gold piping.

“Yes, I’m quite looking forward to seeing it,” said Addison. “You see, I was conversing with a friend of mine named Tommy McCarthy last night – perhaps you’ve heard of him? He’s an official with the stevedores’ union.”

“Tommy McCarthy, Tommy McCarthy. He had a brother name Jerry?”

“Yes, I believe he did.”

“Got bumped off with his wife Marie down on the Bowery.”

“Yes, quite shocking.”

“A peculiar crime,” said the little old man, “because they wasn’t robbed. But someone bashed both their skulls in with a brick.”

“Yes, that was, um, peculiar,” said Addison.

“Life is peculiar.”

“Yes,” said Addison. “As is death.”


“Death is peculiar, as is life.”

“What’s so peculiar about death?”

“Well, just the mystery of it I suppose.”

“What’s the mystery? You live, you die.”

“Yes, um, that’s true.”

“Of course it’s true. You know anybody who ever lived forever?”

“Not offhand, no.”

“Not offhand nohow. You live, you die. End of story.”

“Yes, heh heh.”

“You better hurry if you want to get some popcorn or go to the men’s room. Show’s about to start.”

“Yes, well, thank you.”



“What about Tommy McCarthy, the river boss?”

“Oh, it’s simply that Tommy was telling me last night that he’s quite the aficionado of Audie Murphy westerns.”

“No kidding.”

“No. You see, I had mentioned that I had recently seen this Cocteau film, and Tommy said –”

“He likes Audie Murphy movies.”


“So now you want to see one.”


“Tommy McCarthy told you he likes to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, you gonna jump off the Brooklyn Bridge?”

“Ha ha, well, probably not –”

“So go in, watch the movie. Make up your own mind.”

“I hope to.”

“Let me know what you think on the way out.”

“I will.”

“You better hurry up.”

Addison decided not to get popcorn, and not just because he was afraid of missing the beginning of the movie. It was more that he was afraid of the man behind the concessions counter, a thin grey moribund-looking fellow who looked more frightening even than the box-office lady or the ticket collector. He went through the swinging doors just in time to see the red brush-stroked title flashed across the screen, to the accompaniment of swelling music: Ride a Dead Horse.

But he had one more employee to deal with, a dwarfish usher with a flashlight.

“Where you want to sit, buddy?”

“Oh, I suppose about midway, as centered as possible.”

“Folla me.”

Addison followed the little man, his flashlight’s beam lighting the way through sluggish clouds of smoke. As far as Addison could see there were only about a dozen people in the auditorium, each patron indicated by the glowing red dot of a cigarette, cigar, pipe, or (if Addison’s sense of smell did not deceive him) marijuana reefer. When they got midway down the aisle, the usher stopped and flashed his light on a row of seats, revealing an enormous fat man halfway down the row, digging brutally into a large box of popcorn.

“Could I sit in another row?” whispered Addison.

“That guy ain’t gonna bother ya.”

“Perhaps, but I’ve changed my mind, and I think I’d like to sit farther down front.”

“No skin off my nose.”

Finally Addison sat himself in a seat about six rows from the front. Why was life so difficult?

A shot thundered through the auditorium, and a rider’s horse collapsed under him. The man rolled away in time to avoid a second and third shot, and crouched behind a convenient boulder. The fellow drew his six-gun, and a close-up filled the screen with the boyish face of the killer of more than two hundred men: Audie Murphy.

Several more gunshots rang out, ricocheting off the boulder.

Well, there’s that, thought Addison. At least no one is shooting at me.

Not yet, anyway.

And he settled down to watch the movie.

{Kindly click here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one and only rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, October 29, 2020

"Audie Murphy"

“Jesus Christ almighty,” said Fat Angie, the retired whore, “will you just shut the hell up, Addison?”

“But –”

“Listen, wiseguy, nobody wants to hear your attempted witticisms. Don’t you know how boring you are? Why can’t you just keep your mealy mouth shut now and then instead of trying to be so goddam clever all the time? Ain’t life boring enough without having to hear your crap?”

“Oh my.”

“I’ll oh my you. I’ll oh my you right off that bar stool if you say one more word to me, and don’t think I won’t.”

High among Addison’s inalienable attributes was cowardice, so he resisted the urge to try to come up with a withering riposte. He stared into the dregs of his bock. This was what his life had come to, to be lambasted by an overweight (but still powerful looking) retired prostitute in a Bowery bar.

Angie was sitting to Addison’s left, and so he turned to his right, where the big river boss Tommy McCarthy sat. If there was anyone in this joint more frightening than Angie, it was Tommy McCarthy. The big man had never said one word to Addison, nor even acknowledged his existence in any way. However, just as nature abhors a vacuum, Addison abhorred keeping silent, and so now, with an almost suicidal lack of common sense, he decided to try to engage Tommy McCarthy in conversation.

“So, Tommy, have you seen any good films lately?”

Tommy had been staring into his own half-drunk glass of bock, but now he turned and glared at Addison.


This was something. Tommy had actually said a word to Addison!

“I asked if you’ve seen any good films lately.”

“What do you care?”

“Well, I was simply curious. For instance I recently saw this marvelous new Cocteau film at the Thalia, and –”

Something about Tommy’s glare caused Addison to run out of words. A silence that could only be called awkward ensued. Addison knew he should just shut up, but his guardian demon forced him to speak again.

“I find that the films from France tend to be so much more substantial than those that come from Hollywood. It seems that the French approach the art of cinema as an art, and not merely as a mode of mass entertainment –”

“I like that Audie Murphy,” said Tommy.

“Audie Murphy?”

“Yeah, Audie Murphy. He’s a little guy, but he sure killed a lot of Krauts in the war. Just ‘cause a guy’s little don’t mean he can’t be a killer. I like them Audie Murphy westerns.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, although I did rather enjoy Murphy’s perhaps naive performance in Huston’s adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage.”

“Yeah, that one wasn’t so bad, but I prefer the westerns.”

“I’ll have to see one sometime. You know, there is a school of thought that the western is one of the few truly American genres –”

“You know why I like westerns?”

“Is it because of the stark way that good is presented as the antithesis of evil, and the way that the struggle of good versus evil is presented in –”

“I like westerns because the bad guy always gets shot by the good guy in the end.”


Addison realized that he was sweating. He was actually conversing with Tommy McCarthy!

“Unlike real life,” said Tommy.

“I beg your pardon.”

“Unlike real life, where the bad guys don’t always get shot in the end.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true.”

“Real life don’t work that way.”

“Yes, I think you have a point there –”

“What’s your name?”

“Well, they all call me Addison here, heh heh, because supposedly I try to act like the George Sanders character Addison DeWitt in the film All About Eve, ha ha, but actually my name is –”

“Listen, Addison, good guys don’t always get to shoot the bad guys in the end.”


“Sometimes the good guys get shot in the end.”

“Yes, well, uh –”

“Life ain’t a Audie Murphy movie, pal.”

“Y’know, you’re probably right –”

“I know I’m right. And this is why I like Audie Murphy movies. They ain’t like life. They’re like the way life should be.”

“Yes, well, as I say, I’m not very familiar with Mr. Murphy’s filmography –”

“What was that movie you were talking about?”

“The Cocteau film?”

“Whatever it was.”

“Well, it’s this French film, directed by Jean Cocteau –”



“I like westerns. Audie Murphy. Randolph Scott. Tim Holt.”

“Well, you know, Tommy, there’s an argument, and in fact it’s been promulgated by the French critics, that John Ford’s westerns have elevated the western to the level of an American mythopoeia –”

“The good guy shoots the bad guy in the end.”

“Um –”

“Unlike real life.”


Addison considered saying more, but for once he kept his demon under control. He must learn not to push things.

“One other thing,” said Tommy.

“Yes?” said Addison.

“In real life the bad guys don’t always wear black hats. Sometimes the bad guys wear white hats. And sometimes the good guys wear black hats.”

Addison fought that all-too-familiar compulsion to say something, anything, so long as it was clever. But he couldn’t help himself.

“Sometimes,” he said, “good guys wear grey hats.”

Tommy stared at him with those icy cold blue eyes.

Had Addison gone too far? Would one of those massive fists smash him in the face? Should he back-pedal? Should he simply jump off of his stool and run out of here, never to come back? Should he –

“Grey hats,” said Tommy, at last, “black hats, white hats. Brown hats. It don’t matter. Any bum can buy a hat, it don’t matter what color. You think Audie Murphy cares what color his hat is?”

“I shouldn’t think so.”

“Damn straight,” said Tommy.

He continued to stare at Addison for another half a minute, and then he returned his gaze to his bock.

The danger had passed, and Addison decided not to press his luck further. Tomorrow he would scan the newspaper listings, and see if any Audie Murphy films were playing. If so he could catch a matinée, and then the next time he sat next to Tommy McCarthy he would really have something to talk about.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, October 22, 2020

“A Gunslinger’s Dream”

 “Welp, here’s your room,” said the little fellow. “Sorry about the pigs outside in the yard down there, but this’n’s the only free room we got.”

“It’ll do,” said Jace Calhoun.

“You want me to close the window?”

“Yeah, sure, and draw them curtains shut while you’re at it.”

The little fellow went over to the window and Jace went over and sat down on the bed. He was tired, he was sleepy, and he was half-drunk. He drew his Peacemaker from its holster and slid the pistol under the pillow. He unbuckled his gun belt and draped it over the brass bedpost at the head of the bed, and then he started pulling his spurs and boots off.

The little guy came over after shutting the window and drawing the curtains.

“Okay,” he said. “You got your chamber pot by the bed there, all nice and clean. You got a pitcher of drinkin’ water and a clean glass on the night table. Feel free to smoke, and there’s a clean ashtray, although management asks that you be extra careful about smokin’ in bed.”

“All I want to do is take a nap,” said Jace.

“You want to get woke up any particular time?”

“No thanks.”

“I’ll put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door then.”


“You want me to fetch your traps from the livery stable?”

“I don’t care. I mean, yeah, sure, thanks.”

“I’ll fetch ‘em for ya. Don’t want to disturb your nap, so tell ya what, I’ll keep ‘em in the linen closet down the hall under lock and key, and then when you wake up you just tell me and I’ll get ‘em for ya.”

Jace was down to his union suit. The little guy picked Jace’s clothes up off the bed and draped them over a chair.

“You want a bath after your nap?”

“Yeah, great.”

“I’ll bring the tub in after you wake up and fill it up with hot water for ya, get you a nice clean bar of carbolic soap, clean towel.”

“That’ll be swell, but after my nap.”

“Wash off some of that trail dust.”

“Yeah, right.”

“And then we got a nice table d’hôte supper down at the saloon – roast pig tonight, with all the fixin’s. One dollar.”

“Sounds good.”

“Your choice of veg, with fried taters, baked beans, and hot cross buns.”

“Okay, I’ll probably take advantage of that.”

“Complimentary carafe of house red eye.”

“Sounds great.”

“Three kinds of pie, we got thistleberry, we got shoo-fly, I think we got Boston cream–”

“Good, whatever.”

“You want a lady, we can provide one of them, too.”

“We’ll see, right now I just want to take a nap.”

“Naps is good. Best thing for ya, especially if’n ya been ridin’ these mountain trails all the way from Deadwood.”

“Okay, I’m gonna take my nap now.”

“Sure you got everything you need?”

Suddenly Jace realized what the little fellow wanted.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“Jake. You need anything around here, you just ask old Jake.”

“Jake, pass me my Levi’s will you?”

Jake went over to the chair, picked up Jace’s crusty and dusty jeans and brought them to Jace. Jace stuck his fingers into the change pocket and brought out a silver dollar, flicked it to Jake, who caught it one-handed.

“Much obliged, Mr. Calhoun.”

“You’re welcome,” said Jace. 

He handed the jeans back to Jake, and the little man draped them over the chair again.

“Well, I reckon you’re all set then,” said Jake.

“I reckon so,” said Jace.

“Don’t you worry about that feller Claire St. Claire.”


“That little feller wanted to call you out.”

“Oh, him. I ain’t worried about him.”

“I don’t know what his problem is. It’s like he just wants somebody to shoot him.”

“Someday somebody will.”

“That’s true,” said Jake. “That’s very true. You keep challengin’ folks to gunfights, someday somebody’s gonna take you up on it.”

“Probably. Okay, look, Jake, I’m gonna take my nap now.”

Jace pulled back the covers, lay down, and pulled the covers up.

“I’ll make sure nobody disturbs you, Mr. Calhoun.”

But Jace was already asleep.

A thin young man was standing by his bed, he looked like a dude from back east, wearing glasses.

“Don’t mean to bother you, Mr. Calhoun, but my name is Herbert Goldfarb.”

“Goldfarb? Ain’t this town called Goldfarb’s Holler?”

“Yes, it is, actually.”

“So the town’s named after you?”

“Yes, I guess so. You see, I’m a writer, I write stories.”

“Like them dime novels?”

“Sort of, yes. And, well, I write stories about you.”

“Much obliged.”

“It’s a living. Only thing is, I’m having an artistic crisis. I feel as if I’m falling into the trap of writing formulaic, disposable trash.”

“That’s not good. Unless it pays well, I reckon.”

“That’s the thing, Jace, it doesn’t even really pay well. Like this story you’re in now, I’ll be lucky to make ten bucks from it.”

“Ten bucks ain’t bad.”

“Maybe so, but a guardian angel came to me and said I should try to write from the heart.”

“Sounds like a good idea.”

“So, the thing is, I might have to skip the inevitable gunfight with that little guy Claire St. Claire.”

“Fine by me.”


“Sure. You think I like having to shoot nitwits in every town I ride into?”

“I guess not, right?”

“No. It’s very –”


“Yes, disturbing.”

“So it’s okay with you if there’s no gunfight.”

“Look, all I want to do is take my nap, then get a nice hot bath, eat some roast pig, maybe have some fun with a nice little lady if there’s one that don’t look all diseased and sad.”

“I might be able to arrange that.”

“Then I would be very much obliged, Mr. Goldfarb.”

“Call me Herbert, or Herb.”

“Much obliged, Herb.”

Herbert woke up. It was still light out, and another El train roared by outside his window on its screeching way to Houston Street. He decided to sleep just a little bit longer. His story would still be there when he woke up.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, October 15, 2020

“Naptime for a Gunman”

The flapjacks were good, even with the blackstrap molasses instead of maple syrup. The little old guy – what was his name, Old Joe? – was still eating his own tall stack, which was nice, because that meant he wasn’t talking. Jace lifted his glass and finished the red eye that was in it. The saloon roared all around him, and someone was pounding on a piano.

“You finished them flapjacks now, Calhoun?”

Oh, Christ, this guy. He was still there, apparently, standing behind Jace.

“I say you finished them flapjacks, Calhoun?”

Jace sighed, then turned around to look down at the weaselly fellow, what was his name? A girl’s name? Carroll? Vivien? 

“I said, I say you finished them flapjacks, Calhoun?”

“I haven’t licked the plate, but, yes, as you can see, I’ve finished the flapjacks.”

“Then I think it’s time you and me stepped outside.”

Jace wanted a cigarette, but he didn’t feel like rolling another one. What he really wanted was a nap. A good, long, deep nap.

“Look, feller,” he said, “if we go outside and I shoot you, will that make you feel better?”

“I feel all right,” said the weaselly guy with a girl’s name. “Don’t you worry none about how I feel. You just worry about how you gonna feel after I shoot you dead.”

“If you shoot me dead I don’t think I’ll feel anything.”

“Well, mebbe so, mebbe not. But just don’t you worry about how I feel.”

“Let me ask you something – what was your name, Ashley?”

“Claire. Claire St. Claire, and if’n you make fun of my name I’ll shoot you right where you stand, never you mind about stepping outside first.”

“Claire St. Claire.”

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”

“Have you ever shot anyone, Claire?”

“Don’t you worry none about if I ever shot anyone. Mebbe I did, and mebbe I ain’t. But I’ll tell one one thing, cowboy, after I shoot you, you won’t be asking that question.”

“I won’t be asking any questions if you shoot me dead.”

“Well, that’s true. That’s definitely true. Dead men don’t ask no questions.”

“Or answer them.”

“That also is true. Dead men don’t ask no questions, nor do they answer them. That’s true.”

“Listen, Claire –”

“Mister St. Claire to you.”

“Mister St. Claire. I wonder if I can do you a favor.”

“What kind of favor.”

“The favor of not shooting you.”

“Don’t do me no favors.”

“The thing is, Claire, I’m really tired and extremely sleepy, and also more than a little drunk. Normally I would just draw my gun lightning quick right about now and crack you upside your tiny head with it, just so I wouldn’t have to go outside with you and shoot you. But because I’m so tired and sleepy and drunk I’d just as soon forget about it and go take a nap.”

The little weaselly fellow paused a moment.

“Ain’t no guarantee ‘twouldn’t be me what’d shoot you.”

“Of course not. But, as I say, instead of going through the tedium and bother of going out into the street with you, instead I would just draw my gun and clap you upside your small simian skull with it.”

“Mebbe you ain’t that quick. Mebbe I’m quicker.”

The weaselly fellow was holding his nervous hand just an inch above his holstered pistol. Jace was just a hair away from drawing his own Colt and braining the dolt when another little guy came up to him.

“Mister Calhoun? Mister Zeke sent me over to take you up to your room if’n you’re finished eatin’.”

“Oh, great,” said Jace. “Let’s go.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Claire St. Claire.

“You got any luggage?” said the little guy.

“Nope, I left my traps at the stable,” said Jace.

“Got a nice clean room for ya.”

“Great,” said Jace. “Let’s go.”

He turned to the old guy, who was licking his plate.

“Hey – Old Caleb?”

“Old Mose,” said the old fellow, looking up from the plate.

“Old Mose,” said Jace, “I’m going up to my room now and have a good long nap. You can finish off the bottle of red eye.”

“Much obliged, pardner! And thanks again for the flapjacks, too.”

“Hey,” said Claire St. Claire. “You can’t just go take a nap. We got bidness.”

Jace looked at him, and suddenly was overcome with an enormous yawn.

“Oh, excuse me,” he said, when the yawn subsided. He turned to the new little fellow. “Okay, let’s see that room.”

Herbert Goldfarb yawned mightily.

He couldn’t type another word. It was those flapjacks at Ma’s Diner. Even with three cups of Ma's chicory coffee, he just had to take a nap now.

He left the paper in the typewriter, got up from his little table, and walked the six feet to his bed. He undressed down to his boxer shorts, leaving his clothes on the footboard of the bed, and got under the covers. Would Jace Calhoun ever have a gunfight with Claire St. Claire? He had no idea. All he knew was that both he and Jace needed a good long nap right now, and then after the nap they would both find out if there was any shooting to be done.

Outside his window the elevated train roared and rumbled by on its way down to the Houston Street stop, and before the last car had passed Herbert was sound asleep.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, October 8, 2020

“The Man Who Shot Bluto Baggins”

 Jace refilled both their glasses with the red eye.

“Y’know,” said the old fellow, “you’re all right, pardner.”

“Thanks,” said Jace.

“And I ain’t just sayin’ that ‘cause you’re givin’ me red eye.”

Now that Jace had three glasses of the red eye in him he felt relaxed enough to start rolling a cigarette, and he got out his pouch of Bull Durham and his papers.

“I been all over this land o’ liberty,” said the old man. “From sea to shining sea, I seen all kinds of things and all kinds of people, and if there’s a one thing I learnt it’s how to tell shit from Shinola, and how to tell a good egg from a rotten egg. And I can tell you’re a good egg. I says I can tell you’re a good egg, buddy.”

Jace licked the perfectly rolled cigarette and got out his box of matches.

“Say, feller,” said the old man, “Mace, was it?”

“Pardon me?” said Jace.

“You said your name was Mace? Like maybe short for Mason?”

“No, it’s Jace, actually, Jace Calhoun.”

“Jace, that’s right! Short for Jason, I’ll warrant.”


Jace struck a match on the side of his chaps.

“Say, Jace, I wonder if you could spare some of that there tobaccy?”

Jace sighed, took the cigarette out of his mouth, placed it between the old-timer’s chapped lips, and gave him a light.

“Much obliged, Jace. Very much obliged. You’re a true Christian, you are.”

Jace said nothing, but tossed away the match and started rolling another cigarette.

The old fellow drew deeply on his sponged cigarette, and sighed, exhaling an enormous cloud of smoke.

“Yessiree Bob, Jace, this here’s what it’s all about. A good cigareet, a glass of red eye, some good companionship.”

The old fellow drank down his glass of red eye.

“Say, Jace, you mind I have another sup of that there red eye?”

Jace stifled a sigh, then nudged the bottle of red eye closer to the old man.

“Tell ya what, old timer – what was your name? Old Jacob?”

“Old Mose, actually.”

“Old Mose? Tell ya what, Mose, just help yourself to the red eye, as much as you like, and if we finish the bottle I’ll get another one. Also, I’ll leave the tobacco and the papers and the matches right on the bar here, and if you want to roll another one, or two, or as many as you want, you just go right ahead.”

“Dag nab it,” said Old Mose. “See, I’m never wrong about a fella. I can always spot a good man, from a mile away.”

Jace had a fresh cigarette rolled, and once again he struck a match on his rawhide chaps, and he lighted himself up.

“You Jace Calhoun?” said someone behind Jace.

Jace turned, and there was a little weaselly fellow there.

“Yes, my name is Jace Calhoun.”

“Jace Calhoun what gunned down Bluto Baggins?”

“Okay, listen, mister,” said Jace. “It’s true I shot Bluto Baggins, but it was a fair fight.”

“Bluto Baggins was a friend of a friend of mine’s friend.”

“A friend of a friend of yours?”

“A friend of a friend of mine was a friend of Bluto Baggins.”

“Okay, listen – what’s your name, by the way?”

“How come you want to know my name?”

“So that I can know how to address you.”

“You best not make fun of my name.”

“I won’t.”

“My name is Claire St. Claire.”

“Claire St. Claire?”

“I ain’t gonna say it agin.”

“Okay, listen, Claire –”

“Mister St. Claire to you.”

“Mister St. Claire. All I’m trying to do is smoke a cigarette, drink some red eye, and I hope to get some flapjacks soon. I’m sorry if I shot a friend of a friend of a friend of yours, but it was him or me.”

“That ain’t the way I heard it.”

“Well, that’s the way it was, I’m sorry.”

“I heard you dry-gulched him.”

“And who did you hear this from?”

“I heard it from this friend of my friend’s friend who was a friend of Bluto Baggins’s.”


“Damn right, okay.”

“Here’s what really happened, Claire. I shot Bluto Baggins in a crowded saloon with at least twenty or thirty witnesses who saw him challenge me to a gunfight and draw first. Fortunately for me he was not a very good shot, and after he fired I drew my Colt, took aim, and shot him just as he was about to fire again. The sheriff of the town was right there, and I was cleared of any culpability.”

“So you say.”

“It’s a matter of public record.”

“I’m a-challenging you to a draw, right now.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m waiting for my flapjacks.”

“You backing down?”

“Yes, I’m backing down, because all I want to do is relax, smoke my cigarette, drink some red eye, eat some flapjacks and then go take a nap.”

“You’re gonna take a real long nap real soon. A dirt nap.”

“Here’s your flapjacks, cowboy,” said a voice behind Jace. He turned, and it was the bartender, laying down a big plate of flapjacks. The barman put a rolled napkin down next to the plate, then reached under the bar and brought up an earthenware jug with a cork in it. “Blackstrap molasses,” he said. “We ain’t got no maple syrup.”

“Blackstrap molasses is fine,” said Jace.

“Butter on the side of the plate,” said the bartender. “Freshly churned.”

“Great,” said Jace. He unrolled the napkin and took out the knife and fork that had been in it. He uncorked the jug and poured molasses all over the flapjacks, took up the knife and slathered butter on top of the stack.

He took one more good draw from his cigarette before tucking in, savoring the anticipation.

“Them flapjacks sure look good,” said Old Mose.

“Hey, Calhoun,” said the weaselly guy, Claire St. Claire, “don’t you turn your back on me.”

The bartender was still standing there.

“Everything all right?” he said.

“Looks good to me,” said Jace.

“Them flapjacks really look good,” said Old Mose.

“Well, let me know if you need anything else,” said the bartender.

“As a matter of fact,” said Jace, “do you have an ashtray?”

“What? Yes, of course.” He reached under the bar and brought out an ashtray. It wasn’t clean, but it was an ashtray.

“Thanks,” said Jace. He put his cigarette in one of the indentations on the ashtray. “One other thing. Could I order another plate of flapjacks for my friend Old Mose here?”

He dug into his jeans and tossed a silver dollar on the bar top.

“Aw, gee, Mace,” said Old Mose. “I wasn’t anglin’ for no free flapjacks, I was just sayin’ they sure look good is all –”

“Tall stack?” said the bartender.

“Make it a tall stack,” said Jace.

“Aw, gee, thanks, Jake,” said Old Mose.

“I said turn around, Calhoun,” said Claire St. Claire.

Jace ignored the little weasel. Maybe the weasel would shoot him in the back, maybe he wouldn’t, but if he did shoot Jace, at least Jace would die eating flapjacks, and he tucked the napkin into the collar of his shirt and picked up his fork.

Herbert Goldfarb pulled the sheet of paper out of his typewriter.

What the hell was he writing?

No magazine in the world would accept this story. He was losing his mind. And then he realized: no, he wasn’t losing his mind, he was just hungry.

He shoved back his chair, stood up.

He got his jacket off the back of the chair, went the six feet to his door, went out without locking the door and went down the four flights of stairs and across Bleecker Street to Ma’s Diner, and took a seat at the counter.

“How’s it goin’, sugar?” said Ma.

“Great, Ma. Listen, I know it’s past breakfast time, but can I still get flapjacks?”

“Sure, honey. You want a short or a tall stack?”

“Tall. And I have an odd request.”

“Name it, sweetheart.”

“Could I have blackstrap molasses instead of maple syrup?”

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, October 1, 2020

“There’s a Reason Why They Call It the Badlands”

After a couple of minutes, during which Jace Calhoun fought back the urge to shout for service, one of the bartenders came over to him.

“Whaddaya want, cowboy?”

“I’d like some lunch, please.”

“So would I.”

“Do you have a menu?”

The bartender pointed with his thumb to a blackboard mounted on the wall behind him.

“You blind?”

“Yes, I saw that, but I thought you might also have a printed menu.”

“What’s the matter with the blackboard menu?”

“Nothing at all. I just thought that the blackboard menu might just be specials, and that you might also have a printed menu.”


“So the blackboard menu is your only menu?”

“Yes, and look, as you can see we’re really goddam busy in here, so if you’re not ready to order I’ll check back with you in five, ten minutes.”

“No! Look, your boss, Zeke –”

“Mister Zeke to you.”

“Okay, your boss, Mister Zeke, he recommended the chicken fried steak, but I see you also have a T-bone up there.”

“So you can read.”

“Heh heh, yes, so how’s the T-bone?”

“I get few complaints.”

“A buck-fifty, right?”

“That’s what it says, don’t it?”

“Yes. But what about that ten-alarm chili for a quarter, how’s that?”

“What do you want for a quarter?”

“Okay, well, does it come with bread?”

“The chili?”

“Yes, the chili, does it come with bread?”


“Okay, hardtack. And is the chili really hot? I mean spicy hot?”

“Why do you think we call it ten-alarm?”

“All right. Now Mister Zeke told me that you get a bottle of red eye with the chicken fried steak. Do you get a bottle of red eye with the chili?”

“No, but you get an imperial pint of our house bock.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad –”

“What more do you want for a lousy two bits?”

“Excuse me, cowboy,” said a small old man sitting on the stool to the right of where Jace stood. “Are you a vegetarian?”

“A vegetarian?” said Jace. “No, why?”

“Because the ten-alarm chili is a vegetarian chili.”

“It is?”

“Most assuredly. I’m a vegetarian, and I eat it every day.”

“I didn’t realize it was a vegetarian dish.”

“What do you expect for a quarter?” said the bartender.

“Well, it did seem pretty inexpensive,” said Jace.

“This is the 19th century,” said the bartender. “You need at least one or two vegetarian items on the menu.”

“I can see that,” said Jace. “Well, look, I think maybe I’ll just try the T-bone.”

“We’re out of the T-bone.”

“Okay, well, I’ll go for the chicken fried steak then.”

“Just sold my last order.”

Jace sighed.

“I’ll come back,” said the bartender.

“No!” said Jace. “Look, how about the ham and eggs for fifty cents?”

“All gone.”

“Go for the chili,” said the little old man. “It’s to die for.”

“I’m sure it is,” said Jace. “It’s just I’m not very good with hot spices, especially for my first meal of the day –”

“Then don’t order it,” said the old-timer. “No skin off my nose.”

“Okay,” said Jace, and he addressed the bartender again. “What do you have on the menu that you’re not out of yet?”

The bartender turned and looked at the menu for a moment, then turned to face Jace again.


“Flapjacks, great, I’ll take those.”

“Tall or short stack.”


“That’s another good vegetarian option,” said the little old man.

“Yes,” said Jace. “I’m sure it is.” Turning to the bartender again he said, “Do I get some red eye or beer with that?”

“Not included. You do get a bottomless cup of our house fresh-ground chicory coffee though.”

“Well, I was really hoping for a nap after lunch, and so I’d better not have coffee.”

“So don’t have it.”

“Can I substitute some red eye or at least beer for the coffee?”

“You looking for trouble, pal?”

“No, not at all, it’s just –”

“Look, it’s two bits for the flapjacks, pal. You don’t want coffee, fine, that’s on you. Order some red eye then, but I’m gonna charge you for it.”

“Okay,” said Jace, “look, I’ll take a tall stack of the flapjacks and I’ll also have a bottle of red eye.”

“It’ll be a quarter for the red eye.”

“Great, that sounds very reasonable. Could I have the bottle of red eye now while I’m waiting for my flapjacks?”

“Of course.”

The bartender reached under the bar, pulled out an unlabeled bottle and a whiskey glass and put it on the bar in front of Jace.

“Fifty cent,” he said. “For the red eye and the flapjacks. Pay in advance.”

Jace had his money all ready and he put down a silver dollar.

“Keep the change.”

“Thanks, big spender,” said the bartender.

Jace pulled the cork out of the bottle with his teeth, spat it onto the floor, filled his glass with the red eye, and drank it down in one go.

“I think you’ll like the flapjacks,” said the old timer. “I eat them every day.”

“At this point I don’t much care,” said Jace. “As long as it’s food.”

“You should really consider adopting a vegetarian diet.”

“Okay, I will,” said Jace, and he refilled his glass. It wasn’t the worst red eye he’d ever tasted. He drank this second glass down and felt a little better.

“Hey, old-timer,” he said, “can I ask you a question?”

“Fire away, sonny.”

“Why is everybody in this town so unpleasant?”

“I don’t think I’m unpleasant.”

“Okay, I generalized, I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted.”

Jace refilled his glass again.

“I wouldn’t mind some of that red eye,” said the old man.

“Sure,” said Jace. 

There was an empty glass in front of the old fellow, and Jace filled it up with red eye.

“To your very good health, sir,” said the old man, and they both emptied their glasses.

“They call me Old Mose,” said the old man.

“Jace,” said Jace, “Jace Calhoun.”

They shook hands. The old fellow’s hand was filthy, but Jace’s hand was not so clean either.

“There’s a reason why they call it the Badlands,” said Old Mose, and he shoved his empty glass toward Jace for a refill.

Herbert Goldfarb paused with his fingers over the typewriter keys. Was he losing his mind? No one would buy this story. He’d typed five or six pages, and not a gunfight or saloon brawl in sight. He needed to eat, that was the problem. But he was stone broke, all he had was one subway token to his name. At this rate he would never get this story in shape in time to take the el up to the Minchkin Publications offices and try to get Schwartz to take it for a sawbuck. He was doomed. He turned and looked out his one window at the steel girders and columns of the elevated train in the bright but dirty sunshine. Then he hung his head, in despair, and there, on the bare floorboards, was a ten-dollar bill. He bent down and picked it up, held it to the light. It was crumpled, and dirty, but it was real.

A ten-dollar bill.

Had his guardian angel left it here? Or had he himself somehow dropped it on the floor when he was flush, possibly when he had had one too many bocks at Bob’s Bowery Bar? He wouldn’t put it past himself. He only swept up once every couple of weeks or so, and the floor was littered with crumpled typewriter paper, gum wrappers, crushed Philip Morris packets, and dust bunnies.

Ten dollars. He could eat today, and he could even give Mrs. Morgenstern five bucks toward his overdue rent.

He pocketed the ten, and turned back to the sheet of paper in his typewriter.

He began to type again.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the one-and-only Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, September 24, 2020

“The Man Who Shot Johnny One Ear”

“I recommend the chicken fried steak,” said the man in the black suit.

“Okay, thanks,” said Jace.

“It’s our special today.”

“Well, that sounds good.”

“I wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t good.”

“No, of course not.”

“It’s a dollar.”

“Wow, a dollar?”

“Two four-ounce cutlets of lightly breaded tenderized cube steak, served  with our hand-cut house fried potatoes and choice of veg, what’s your problem?”

“Oh, no problem, in fact it sounds really good.”

“Jesus Christ, cowboy, I got to make a living here you know.”

“Yes, of course –”

“We serve the steak with a sauce Béarnaise, but if you don’t want Béarnaise you can get it plain or with ketchup or with our house hellfire sauce.”

“Could I get the Béarnaise on the side?”


“Could I also get the hellfire sauce on the side, you know, just to try it?”

The man in black paused for just a moment before replying.

“Sure, cowboy. Why not?”

“Much obliged.”

“You get a bottle of red eye with the meal, too.”

“A bottle of red eye is included with the steak special?”

“What did I just say?”

“I’m sorry, but, yeah, that sounds great, I mean, chicken fried steak and a bottle of red eye, that’s a pretty good deal –”

“Don’t forget the house fried potatoes and choice of veg.”

“I haven’t, yes, it all sounds –”

“What the hell else do you want?”

“Nothing, like I said, it really sounds –”


“Yes, it does –”

“Because it is.”

“Yes, I’m sure it is, so, look, I guess I’ll head over to the bar then and try to get my order in.”

“You do that.”

“See you later, Zeke.”

“Mister Zeke.”

“Sorry – Mister Zeke.”

“What did you say your name was?”

“Jace Calhoun?”


“Yes. Jace –”

“Jace Calhoun?”

“Yes. My first name is actually Jason, but –”

“Wait. Jace Calhoun who gunned down the Mason brothers over in Deadwood?”

“Okay, now that incident has been wildly misreported, Mr. Zeke –”

“Jace Calhoun who robbed the Danville train?”

“All right, hold on, I had nothing – or practically nothing – to do with that robbery –”

“Jace Calhoun who shot Johny One Ear in the back?”

“Okay, now look, that’s just not true –”

“So you’re saying you didn’t shoot Johnny One Ear.”

“Well, I’m not saying I didn’t shoot Johnny One Ear, per se, but – to just say I shot him in the back does not tell the whole story. You see, what happened was –”

“I thought you were hungry.”

“I am.”

“Then maybe you better get over to the bar and order that chicken-fried steak special before we run out of it.”

“Yes, of course –”

The man just stood there staring at him, and so Jace turned and headed for the bar.

Herbert Goldfarb pulled the page out of the typewriter and scrolled another one in. He reached for another bite of the babka and realized to his horror that all three pieces were gone. He rubbed his finger around the plate, gathered up the crumbs and licked them from his finger. He sighed. He was still hungry. Mrs. Morgenstern’s cinnamon babka was delicious, but it was hardly a nutritious lunch, especially considering that Herbert had had nothing for breakfast except a cup of black Nescafé with no sugar, and all he had had to eat for dinner last night was a hot dog with sauerkraut at Ma’s Diner.

He looked into the mug Mrs. Morgenstern had brought him, and at least there was a bit of coffee left in it – and it had cream and sugar in it, too, just the way he liked it. He drank it down, it was still almost warm, and so much better than black Nescafé with not a grain of sugar.

Okay, back to work. He really had to work a gunfight in here, or at least a saloon brawl. It was so hard to concentrate when all you could think about was food…

“So now you’re gonna feel sorry for yourself?”

Herbert turned, and it was a little old man, shabbily dressed, with wire-rimmed round glasses which magnified his eyes to twice their presumable actual size. He had a cloth cap on his head and a gnarled little cigar in his mouth.

“Who are you?” said Herbert. “How did you get in here?”

“Don’t worry about how I got in here,” said the little man. “Bert is my name. They call me Bowery Bert.”

“Y’know, now that I think about it, I’ve seen you around, at Ma’s Diner, and Bob’s Bowery Bar –”

“Oh, the keen novelist’s eye! So you do take some notice of your physical surroundings?”

“Well, to some extent. I know I’m self-absorbed, and that’s something I have been working on –”

The little man held up his little hand, like a miniature traffic cop.

“Stop. I am not here to hear your life story.”

“Oh, okay, then, well, may I ask then why –”

“I am a guardian angel.”

“A guardian angel? You’re my guardian angel?”

“I am the guardian angel for this area of the Bowery. I always have to explain this to everybody, but we do not have individual guardian angels for every single human being on the planet. We are given districts. My district is the Bowery, from Bleecker to Union Square and the adjacent blocks on either side of that storied thoroughfare you humans call the Bowery.”

“So – you’re here to help me?”

“Help is a strong word. I prefer the term ‘advise’.”

“Wow, thank you. So what do you advise me to do?”

“Cut the shit.”

“The ‘shit’?”

“Cut it, right now. You know why you’re starving and can’t pay your rent?”

“Well, the market for fiction is very competitive –”

“Bullshit. The problem is the crap you write, not the market place.”

“What’s the matter with the crap I write, I mean the stuff I write?”

“The problem is that you are writing according to formulas. You’re writing the same shit every other hack writer writes. So here’s my tip. Lose the formulas. Write from your heart, and from your brains. What’s your name again?”

“Herbert Goldfarb. But I write under various pen names. Like my detective stories are ‘Mack J. Collingsworth’, and my science fiction stories are ‘J. Phelps Bensonhurst’, but my westerns, like this one I’m writing now, are signed ‘Jake C. Higgins’ –”

“Try writing under your own name.”

“Herbert Goldfarb?”

“That’s your name, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but –”

“Look, I got to run. All day I got appointments, and trust me, some of these clowns are a hell of a sight more hopeless than even you are. Which is saying something.”


“Now get back to that story you’re writing. And remember: lose the formulas.”

“I think I at least have to get a gunfight or two in it.”

“Lose. The. Formulas.”

“Well, okay,” said Herbert.

He turned and looked at the page he had just typed. Then he turned back to the the little old man, but he was gone, all  except for the smell of his little cigar.

Herbert turned again, and looked at the blank page in his typewriter.

Jace found a place at the crowded bar. No stool, but at least he had a place to stand. He waited to get a bartender’s attention. He was determined to be patient, and determined to try to get through the day without a gunfight, or even a saloon brawl. Was that too much to ask?

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