Saturday, March 14, 2020

“A Father’s Advice”

One cold grey day in March a young fellow carrying a duffel bag came into Bob’s Bowery Bar, and after looking around in the smoky dimness he came up to the guy everybody called Buffalo Bill, on account of he was so cheap they said he squeezed a nickel so hard he made the Indian ride the buffalo’s back.

It was mid-afternoon, not too crowded, and Buffalo Bill was sitting alone at the bar nursing a glass of bock and waiting for some fool to come in and sit next to him and maybe buy him another bock.


Bill turned and looked at the kid.


“Yeah, it’s me, Dad.”

“What’d ya do, bust out?”

“No, I turned eighteen, so they had to let me out.”

“You’re eighteen?”

“Yeah, eighteen today.”

“Happy birthday.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Buffalo Bill was afraid the kid was going to ask him for money, but, what the hell, he couldn’t just tell him to get lost, could he?

“Well, sit down, boyo. You’re eighteen now, old enough to drink like a man.”

“Well, I don’t really want a drink, actually, Dad.”

“You don’t? Why the hell not? You ain’t a pansy, are ya?”

“No, but it’s only two in the afternoon, and I ain’t much of a drinker anyways. I mean, I been in reform school since I was twelve.”

“Don’t they make moonshine there, pruno?”

“Sure they do, but that homemade stuff don’t taste so good.”

“You sure you ain’t a pansy?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Well, sit down, anyway.”

The kid laid down his duffel bag and sat down. Bob came over.

“How old are you, kid?”

“I just turned eighteen today, sir.”

“This is my boy, Bob,” said Bill. “He just got out of Hell Gate reform school today. How about one on the house for him to celebrate his birthday?”

“Because you’re too cheap to buy your own son a birthday drink?”

“Wow, Bob,” said Buffalo Bill. “I mean, you know, wow.”

“You want a drink, kid?” Bob asked the kid.

“Could I just have a ginger ale?” said the kid.

“Sure,” said Bob.

Buffalo Bill looked worried, so Bob said, “Don’t worry, Bill, I’ll let him have a ginger ale on the house for his birthday, and because he just got out of Hell Gate.”

“Hey, that’s real nice of you, Bob,” said Buffalo Bill, suppressing a great sigh of relief.

Father and son were quiet as Bob went and got a ginger ale, laid it in front of the kid, and then went back to reading his Federal-Democrat at the end of the bar.

After a minute the kid said, “So what you been doing, Dad?”

“Ah, you know,” said Buffalo Bill, “this and that. I got a few irons in the fire. What about you? Gonna go back to boosting cars?”

“Nah, I’d like to not be locked up for a while, if you know what I mean.”

“Sure,” said Bill. “I can see that. Nothing wrong with that. So you gonna get a job or something?”

“I was thinking of joining the navy.”

This time Buffalo Bill couldn’t help himself and he did sigh, with relief.

“Hey, that’s great, kid. Join the navy and see the world.”

“Yeah, well, I just thought I’d say hi since I just got out of the place.”

“I’m glad you did, son, glad you did. You see your mother yet?”

“She’s dead, Dad.”

“Oh, right, I forgot.”

Neither of them said anything for another minute, and then the kid said, “Don’t worry, Dad, I ain’t gonna ask you for nothing, and I can get a room myself till I go in the navy.”

“I guess you made some good money making them hubcaps, huh?”

“Not so great, Dad, but after six years I got enough to hold me for a month or so maybe.”

“That’s great, kid. Really great.”

This was turning out to be not so bad for Bill after all.

The kid finished his ginger ale.

“Well, I guess I’ll be shoving off now, Dad.”

“Great seeing ya, kid. Drop me a postcard from one of them foreign ports once in a while.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You can always address it to Bob’s Bowery Bar and I’ll get it.”


The kid got off his stool.

“One last word of advice,” said Buffalo Bill.

“What’s that, Dad?”

“Never do nothing you don’t got to do.”

“Never do nothing I don’t got to do.”

“That’s right. I been doing nothing forty-eight years and you know how many regrets I got?”


“That’s right, Jimmy boy. None. It’s doing stuff that gets you in trouble, every time. Just don’t do nothing unless you really got to do it.”

“Okay. I’ll remember that.”

“And good luck with the navy, kid. Twenty years, even better thirty years, you can retire with a good pension. You’ll be my age, sitting pretty, all the dough you need. Thirty years.”

The kid said nothing, nodded, then picked up his duffel bag, slung it over his shoulder and walked out.

It was starting to drizzle. The way he looked at it, he had two choices, find a car and boost it and go for a joy ride, or else just take the A train down to the navy recruiting office on Chambers Street. He decided to make up his mind on the way to the subway, depending on if he saw a likely car with the keys in it.

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

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