Thursday, February 27, 2020

“The Ballad of Addison the Wit”

He had a real name of course, although no one knew or cared what it was, because shortly after he began haunting Bob’s Bowery Bar a year or so ago some wag (was it Seamas McSeamas the Irish poet?) had dubbed him “Addison the Wit”, after the character “Addison DeWitt” in the movie All About Eve; the joke, the bad joke being that Addison the Wit was always trying to be scathingly witty just like the character in the movie – trying but abysmally failing.

And now poor Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith was trapped here at the end barstool on this crowded Friday evening at Bob’s, with Addison sitting to his left and not another empty seat in the house.

Gerry liked to drink (of course he did), but he liked to drink at a gentlemanly, leisurely pace, short glasses of Bob’s basement-brewed house bock, and hardly ever a whiskey. But now, here he had been stuck next to Addison a half-hour by the clock on the wall, a half-hour that felt like a year, and he was already on his third imperial pint of bock and his second double Cream of Kentucky. At this rate he would have to be carried home in another half hour. But what could he do, except suffer, and hope against hope that he would notice a stool open up somewhere down the bar.

He hadn’t said more than three words to Addison this whole time, but that hadn’t stopped Addison and his flow of failed witticisms, oh, no, on and on he and it went –

“And so I said to the chap,” he droned, “my dear fellow, if she were to be any more tawdry she would be on sale at Woolworth’s! Ha ha, on sale at Woolworth’s!”

Gerry said nothing.

Addison smiled, he didn’t care, or if he cared he sure didn’t show it, he even turned to his left where the big river boss Tommy McCarthy sat, but Tommy merely glared at him, and Addison quickly turned back to Gerry.

“As if everything at Woolworth’s isn’t normally cheap and tawdry,” he explicated, “but you see, this lady was so cheap that she could have been on sale even at Woolworth’s!”

Gerry merely sighed, and took a good sip of his Cream of Kentucky.

“So,” said Addison, “have you heard about this new Cocteau film at the Thalia?”

Gerry said nothing. He heard words coming from Addison’s mouth, but his brain and the bock and whiskey had filtered the words of any meaning they might possibly hold.

“I find Cocteau to be more,” said Addison, “how shall I put it, more ambitious than artistically successful, but then is not ambition the fatal curse of any artist? By the way, you know what I always say, ‘When I hear the word Art I reach for my peashooter.’ Get it, not my revolver but my peashooter, because, really, isn’t most so-called art –”

“Hey, Addison,” said Janet the waitress. She was transferring some empty glasses and bottles from her tray to the service area at the end of the bar, just to Gerry’s right. “Shut the hell up.”

“I beg your pardon, dear Janet, heh heh,” said Addison.

“I said clam the hell up. Can’t you see you’re boring the Brain to death?”

“But, my dear Janet, Gerard and I are merely having some carefree repartee –”

“Beans,” said Janet. “The whole time he’s been sitting there you haven’t taken a breath from your blathering for one second. Give the poor guy a break and put a lid on it for a while.”

“But, but –” said Addison.

“But nothing,” said Janet. “Why don’t you get it through your thick skull that you ain’t George Sanders, or Clifton Webb, or Monty Wooley, nor Oscar Levant neither. You’re just some boring bum in a bar.”

“Heh heh,” said Addison. “Oh, my, Janet, you are a spitfire, heh heh –”

Janet ignored him.

“Don’t worry, Brain,” she said, “soon as I see a spot open up somewheres I’ll come and get you and you can get free of this idiot.”

She went off with her empty tray.

“Heh heh,” said Addison. “That Janet! Quite the little hellcat she is. The tongue of an adder, and quite a merciless adder at that! Of course she didn’t mean a word of it. Heh heh. Heh heh. Heh.”

And then a strange thing happened.

Gerry felt sorry for Addison.

How strange.

That one could feel sorry for someone so tedious.

And yet there it was, and Gerry couldn’t deny it.

And then Gerry found himself saying something that before this moment he never would have dreamed he could possibly say, not in a thousand years:

“May I buy you a drink, Addison?”

“Pardon me?” said Addison.

“I said may I buy you a drink.”

“You want to buy me a drink?”


Addison then did something he rarely if ever did: he paused before speaking, and Gerry even thought he could see tears welling in the man’s eyes.

“Why, yes,” said Addison, “thank you, Gerry, don’t mind if I do. You know what I always say about drinking, I always say, heh heh, I always say –”

Gerry mentally turned the volume down on Addison’s voice, and raised a finger to attract Bob’s attention.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq.}

Thursday, February 20, 2020


“Master,” said the apprentice monk, “what is the meaning of life?”

“Come closer, my son,” said the ancient monk, and the apprentice monk leaned closer.

The ancient monk snapped a quick left jab to the apprentice monk’s nose, and the lad fell back onto his posterior.

Stanching the flow of blood with the sleeve of his robe the young apprentice said, “So that is the meaning of life, Master, a punch to the nose?”

“Come closer again, my son,” said the ancient monk.

He had bruised the knuckles of his left hand, so this time he gave the boy a stout right cross to the jaw.


It had taken Gerry “The Brain” Goldsmith all afternoon just to come up with those six sentences, but they were good ones, if he did say so himself. He left the sheet of paper in his trusty old Royal portable, so he would be all set to resume work on his “book of philosophical reflections” on Monday. But today was Friday, the beginning of the weekend, and even though Gerry had no “real” job (unless you could call writing his book a job), and indeed had never held a job in all his forty-seven years of life on this planet, he still considered it just and meet to give himself the weekend off from his literary “work”. He believed it was essential to rest his brain and let it lie fallow after five days in the trenches of reflection and creation. Time for a bock!

Gerry threw on his old camel’s hair chesterfield, wrapped his threadbare Andover rowing-team muffler around his neck, put on his twenty-seven-year-old Brooks Brothers fedora, left his little efficiency apartment, and went down the six flights to Bleecker Street. 

Snow was falling yet again from the darkening sky. Gerry loved the gentle beauty of the snow, as long as he didn’t have to spend too much time in it, and fortunately his haunt Bob’s Bowery Bar was just right around the corner…

The place was packed, with those who had just got off work, and with those who didn’t work, and those like Gerry who “worked” but didn’t get paid for it. 

God, how Gerry loved this place. A man – especially a literary man, a philosopher – needed a home away from home, especially when his home was a tiny one-room flat (formerly a storage closet) with a two-burner hot plate. As much as he enjoyed his work, a man needed to get out, to see people, to talk, and, yes, to drink!

But where to sit? Bob’s was usually crowded at this time on a Friday, but today it seemed even more mobbed than usual. All the tables were full, and men and women stood two and three deep at the long bar. Gerry would have loved to join his friends “the poets” (Hector Phillips Stone, the doomed romantic poet; Seamas McSeamas, the hearty Irish poet; Howard Paul Studebaker, the Western poet from Hackensack; Frank X Fagen, the nature poet who never left the Lower East Side; good old Scaramanga, the leftist poet who was always more than ready to let loose with a rousing song of the Spanish Civil War; and genial Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III, the Negro poet) but the round table at which the poets usually sat was full to capacity. Of course Gerry could join those standing at the bar, but his old Harvard lacrosse knee injury had been acting up lately, and he found it difficult to stand for more than a few minutes. But wait! What did he spy through the fog of tobacco smoke but an actual empty stool down there at the far right of the bar! Quickly he headed for it before someone else could claim the real estate.

Gerry heaved himself up on the stool (he really must work on losing a few pounds, perhaps start doing the odd push-up and sit-up of a morning – he would start tomorrow!) and, breathing a sigh of relief, laid a crumpled dollar bill on the bar.

“And how was today’s assault on the pantheon, dear Gerard?”

Gerry flinched, and realized with horror why this end-seat was empty. Reluctantly he turned to his left and saw none other than the colossal bore everyone called Addison the Wit.

Damn the bad luck!

“Have you nudged Aristotle from his pride of place yet, dear boy?”

Gerry sighed again, this time in despair. It was true, he considered himself a philosopher, but sometimes it was hard, sometimes it was so damned hard to be philosophical.

“Found out yet the meaning of so-called life in this vale of tears?”

Bob came over, took his cigar out of his mouth just long enough to say:

“Usual, Brain?”

Usually Gerry paced himself with short glasses of Bob’s delicious basement-brewed house bock, but if he must sit next to Addison the Wit, there was nothing for it but…

“I think this evening I’ll start with the imperial pint of bock, please,” he said to Bob.

“Ah, the imperial pint,” rhapsodized Addison, “a fitting libation for the emperor of unpublished philosophers!”

Gerry flinched, again, and then quickly said, before Bob could head for the taps:

“Oh, and Bob, a shot of Cream of Kentucky too, please.”

“Ah,” said Addison, “the Cream of Kentucky, to loosen the tongue of the Wittgenstein of the beer stein, the bard of the Bowery –”

“Second thought, make that a double, Bob,” called Gerry to Bob, who was already drawing the imperial pint.

Bob nodded. He understood.

(Continued here.)

{Please click here to read the “adult comics” version of this story in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the amazing rhoda penmarq.}

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"Pick-Up and Delivery"

After six days and (according to his notes) seventy-nine different bars, Joe finally caught up with Philip at a joint called Bob’s Bowery Bar, down at the Bowery off Bleecker.

“Oh, hi, Joe,” said Philip, after staring at Joe’s face for a full minute.

“Finish your drink, Mr. Mortimer, then we’re taking a ride.”

“What if I don’t want to go?” said Philip, after a long pause. At this stage of his week-long bender there were more or less long pauses between every sentence or sentence fragment he uttered.

“We can do it the easy way or we can do it the not so easy way, Mr. Mortimer, but either way we’re doing it.”

Philip took another long pause, or another long pause took him. He turned and looked at old Bob over there behind the bar, smoking a cigar.

“Bob?” he said.

“Time to go, Philip,” said Bob.

Another long pause.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. Thank you, Bob.”

He shoved his pile of money forward across the bar.

“That’s too much, Philip,” said Bob.

“Well, get the bar a round on me then, and you keep the change, please, Bob.”

Philip raised his glass of bock, and emptied it.

“Okay, Joe,” he said. “Let’s go.”

He almost fell getting off his stool, but Joe got his arm, and the two men headed for the entrance, Joe keeping a tight grip on Philip’s arm.

Outside it was daytime, although Philip would not have been surprised if it had been night. The sky was grey like the color of wet cold sand, the sooty snow was piled up on the curbing.

“The usual place?” said Philip.

“The usual place,” said Joe. “Your room is already reserved. We should beat rush hour, and with luck we’ll be there in less than two hours.”

“Maybe I’ll sleep in the car.”

“It would probably be best if you did,” said Joe.

“Do you have a little something for me, just in case I can’t sleep?”

“I got a fresh pint of Cream of Kentucky in the glove compartment, Mr. Mortimer.”

Philip took a deep breath of the cold air.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s do this.”

They made it in an hour and forty-five minutes. At the reception desk it took Philip half a minute to sign the form, and then he put down the pen and turned to Joe.

“Well,” he said, “here I go again. Thanks, Joe.”

“Good luck, Mr. Mortimer.”

They shook hands. Philip’s hand was as cold as a dead fish lying on ice.

“Until next time,” said Philip.

“Until next time,” said Joe.

He stopped at this diner he knew nearby off the Hudson River and had a good meal, baked ham with pineapple and red-eye gravy, mashed potatoes, stewed cabbage, fresh warm rolls, a slice of apple pie with cheddar cheese, a pot of coffee. It got dark outside, and then it started to snow. Joe paid his bill, got the receipt for his expense account, went out to the Studebaker and started the long drive back to the city.

{Please click here to read the “adult comics” version of this fable in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the legendary rhoda penmarq.}

Thursday, February 6, 2020

"Who Cares?"

Philip was so drunk that he was living almost entirely in the present moment. Anything less recent than the past minute was a blur, and had been a blur for almost a week now, although he was only vaguely aware of the number of days; if someone had asked him how long he had been on a bender he would have paused and said something like, “At least three days, I should think, or, wait, four? Five? Less than two weeks, certainly, I hope, anyway. What was the question?”

Right now he was talking to a guy here in Bob’s Bowery Bar. He knew he was in Bob’s because there was good old Bob over there behind the bar himself, and he hadn’t even thrown Philip out yet. Good man, Bob!

“He asked me my favorite football team,” said the guy. What was his name? He was a dull guy, whoever he was. “I told him I’m sure I haven’t got one,” said the dull guy. ”Now if they had asked me my favorite playwright I should have said without a moment’s hesitation Philip Barry, followed very hard by Kaufman and Hart.”

“What?” said Philip.

“He asked me my favorite football team,” said the guy. “I told him I’m sure I don’t have a favorite.”


“Yes, a favorite football team.”

“Who cares?” said Philip.

“Who cares if I have a favorite football team? Or who cares about football teams at all?”


“I don’t follow,” said the guy.

“You don’t follow.”

“No, heh heh, I don’t quite follow your, uh, question –”

“The question,” said Philip.

“Yes,” said the boring guy. “I don’t quite understand what the question is.”

Philip only stared at the boring guy for a moment, maybe two moments, or was it a minute? And then he said:

“What question?”

“What question?” said Mr. Boring Man. “The question of who cares what my favorite football team is, or, perhaps, the question of who cares what anyone’s favorite team is.”

“Favorite football team?”

“Yes. Precisely.”

Philip paused for another moment or a dozen moments, he didn’t know how many and he didn’t care, and then he said:

“You know who my favorite football team is?”

“I assure you I have no idea,” said this boring guy.

Addison, that was what they called him! Addison the Wit, because he was always trying to be like George Sanders in that Bette Davis movie. Addison DeWitt? Addison the Wit. The witty guy who wasn’t witty…

“Please don’t keep me in suspense,” said Addison the Wit. “I can only bate my breath for so long, dear chap.”

“What?” said Philip.

“Your favorite football team.”

“What about it?”

“What is it?” said old Addison.

“Who cares?” said Philip.

Addison took pause. If Philip had not been buying he might have moved to another stool, if not in high dudgeon, then certainly in at least a mild huff, or perhaps simply turned in the other direction, give him a bit of the arctic icy cold shoulder. However, Philip was buying the drinks and had shown no sign of stopping buying them, and so one did what one had to do. All part of the spiritual dues one must pay for membership in the sacred brotherhood of Bacchus!

“Anyway,” said Addison, trying to put a brave face (or a seemingly brave face) on the situation, “anyway, this chap asked me what my favorite football team was, and you know what I told him?”

“Who cares?” said Philip.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comics” version at A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq.}