Thursday, April 30, 2020

"Little Ray in Heaven"

Many readers have written letters and postcards asking and wondering, “What ever became of Little Ray the chronic complainer? Did he ever stop complaining?” Well, our motto has always been “Give the People What They Want”, and so, dear reader, read on…

The days and the nights and the years passed, slowly, and yet, in retrospect, all too quickly, and the lugubrious fellow they called Little Ray continued to work at his despised job as a shipping clerk at a fabric factory on Seventh Avenue, and every evening after work he went to Bob’s Bowery Bar and ate whatever the special was and drank Bob’s basement-brewed house bock and complained about his life to anyone he could get to listen to him.

Let’s face it, Little Ray (who wasn’t little, and whose real name wasn’t Ray) didn’t bring much to the great party of life, and nobody knew why Bob didn’t just flag him. Did Bob feel sorry for him? No one knew, but Bob tolerated Little Ray’s baleful presence, and Little Ray knew well enough not to try to complain to Bob himself.

Yes, the days and the nights and the years passed, slowly and quickly, and suddenly it was the future, and flying cars flew down the boulevards and streets, and people in jet packs zoomed up to their offices in the skyscrapers that reached miles into the sky, but still Little Ray worked at the fabric factory (which now manufactured material for space suits) and went to Bob’s Bowery Bar each evening to drink his bock beer and complain to anyone who would listen…

One wet Tuesday evening in April, a tiny old man tapped Little Ray on the shoulder as he sat at the bar hoping that someone would sit next to him so that he would have someone to complain to, and the tiny old man said, “It’s time, Little Ray. Come with me.”

“Can I at least finish my beer?” said Little Ray.

“I am afraid not,” said the little man, “because you’re already dead.”

And Little Ray looked down and saw himself slumped forward over the bar, a victim of a massive fatal thrombosis.

“This ain’t fair,” complained Little Ray.

“Life is not fair,” said the tiny old man, who was an angel named Bowery Bert, “and neither is death. Let’s go, Little Ray.”

“But I’ve never even gone up in one of them flying cars, or flown around in one of them jet packs. I’d like to take one of them excursions to the Moon Colony too. I been saving my money to do that after I retire.”

“Too late now,” said the little man, and suddenly they were both standing at the base of a hill at the top of which was God’s enormous turreted and gabled house.

“Just walk right up there,” said Bowery Bert.

“Do I gotta? I don’t really wanta. What if they send me to hell?”

“Yes, you got to, whether you want to or not. Now be a man and get up there.”

Reluctantly Little Ray walked up the winding stone path through the gardens and shrubbery and went up the steps of the porch to where St. Peter sat at a little table with a big leather book.

St. Peter, a grey-bearded man in a plaid hunter’s cap and a faded yellow canvas work coat, took his pipe from his mouth and said, simply:


“Well, for years they been calling me Little Ray, but –”

“Why ‘Little’ Ray? You look pretty big and fat to me.”

“Um, it’s a shortened version of Little Ray of Sunshine, actually, but my real name is –”

“And why did everybody call you a shortened version of ‘Little Ray of Sunshine?”

“Do we really gotta go into all this?”

“I’ll ask the questions, you answer them. So answer me.”

“Awright, awright, they called me Little Ray short for Little Ray of Sunshine on accounta they thought I complained all the time.”

“And did you?”

“Complain all the time?”

“Yes. Did you complain all the time?”

“Not all the time.”

St. Peter had been turning the pages of his great book, and now he stopped, and put the stem of his pipe on the page.

“Here we go,” he said. “'Little Ray.'”

“They got me listed in there as Little Ray?”

“That’s what everybody called you, wasn’t it?”

“Well, yeah, but –”

“So that’s what you’re listed as.”

“That don’t seem fair to me. That don’t seem very fair at all,” complained Little Ray.

“Quiet,” said St. Peter. “I’m reading. You can complain about how unfair it all is when I’m finished.”

“I wasn’t complaining, I was just saying, I was just making a like observation –”

“I said quiet.”


It really wasn’t fair, thought Little Ray. Even in the afterlife he had to be stuck with that awful nickname. Was it his fault that life had been so hard on him? But he kept his trap shut, while St. Peter read the great book, mumbling under his breath and taking occasional puffs on his pipe.

Finally St. Peter closed the big book.

“Jesus Christ,” he said. “You lived sixty-three years and all you did was bitch and moan and complain.”

“It wasn’t all I did. It ain’t fair to say that was all I did.”

“What, because you also slept sometimes? Because the only reason you weren’t complaining every waking hour was because you couldn’t find somebody masochistic enough to listen to your whining?”

“I had a tough life.”

“What about the starving children in China and Africa. You think their lives are easy?”

“I guess not. But still –”

“Never mind. It kills me to do this, but here –” St. Peter scribbled something on a notepad, then tore the note off, folded it once, and held it out to Little Ray. “Take this, go through that door behind you, give it to the person inside.”

“Am I going to hell? Because if I am, I really don’t think it’s fair –”

“Take the paper, go through the door, hand the paper over. Now get out of my sight before I change my mind.”

Little Ray took the folded paper, turned and went through the door, handed it over, and he was led through many vaulted rooms and long corridors until finally the docent brought him to the entrance of what looked like a crowded bar much like Bob’s Bowery Bar.

“Take a seat anywhere, table or bar, and a server will be right with you.”

Little Ray always preferred to sit at the bar, because who could you talk to if you were all alone at a table? Just the waitress, and waitresses never wanted to talk to him.

He made his way through the crowd, and there at the bar he saw many of the old Bob’s Bowery Bar crew who had pre-deceased him: Fat Angie the retired whore, Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith, Philip the uptown swell, Willie the Weeper, Mushmouth Joe, George the Gimp, Gilbey the Geek, the old guy they called Wine, Tom the Bomb, and a bunch of the poets who never let him sit with them. There was an empty stool between Angie and the Brain and so Little Ray went over and sat on it.

“Oh, my God,” said Angie. “I thought this was heaven, but now look who they let in.”

Little Ray chose to ignore this remark, and the bartender was right there. It was Paddy, the philosophical Irish bartender from Bob’s who had died right around the time when they sent up the first expedition to explore Mars.

“What’ll it be, Little Ray?”

“Can I drink anything I want?”

“Anything you want, as long as we carry it.”

“You got Cream of Kentucky bourbon?”

“No, sorry, that we don’t carry.”

“What about Cyrus Noble?”


“What do you got?”

“Heaven Hill?”

“Okay. Give me a Heaven Hill, although I’m not a fan. Can I get a glass of the basement-brewed bock, too?”

“We don’t got a basement-brewed, but we carry a good genuine German bock.”

“I’d prefer Bob’s old basement-brewed bock.”

“Well, we ain’t got that. And anyways, didn’t you drink enough of that stuff back on earth?”

“I liked it.”

“You liked it ‘cause it was cheap. Drink the German bock, Little Ray, and stop your complaining, you just got here.”

“I ain’t complaining, Paddy, I was just saying, just making a observation.”

“Heaven Hill and a German bock,” said Paddy, and he went to fetch Little Ray’s collation.

Angie had turned away from him, so Little Ray turned to the Brain, on his right, who was also turned away, pretending he hadn’t seen Little Ray.

“Hi, Brain,” said Little Ray, loudly.

The Brain turned to face Little Ray, feigning surprise.

“Oh, Little Ray, didn’t see you there, what a pleasant surprise.”

“What,” said Little Ray. “Like you’re surprised they let me in? Let me tell you something, Brain. I wasn’t a bad guy.”

“No one said you were, Little Ray,” said the Brain, already planning to pretend to go to the men’s room and not come back to this seat.

“I wasn’t the worst guy in the world, Brain,” said Little Ray.

“Oh, far from it, I’m sure,” said the Brain.

Little Ray paused for a moment, looking around at the crowded, smoky and noisy barroom filled with chattering and laughing people.

“And you know what else?” said Little Ray.

“Uh, no, what, Ray?”

“This place ain’t so great.”


“No. Now don’t get me wrong, Brain, I ain’t complaining.”

“No, of course not.”

“I ain’t complaining, but this joint don’t look that great to me. Again, I ain’t complaining. But I woulda expected something just a little bit more classy, y’know?. But hey, that’s just me. I ain’t complaining. But.”


“I’m just saying, just making a, you know, a observation.”

“I see, yes,” said the Brain. “Hey, listen, will you excuse me, Little Ray? I just have to go to the men’s room.”

The Brain had a nearly full glass of what looked like Bob’s old basement-brewed bock, and he lifted the glass, polished it off in three gulps, got off his stool and hurried away.

Meanwhile Little Ray was still waiting for his Heaven Hill and German bock. What, did Paddy have to go all the way to Kentucky for the Heaven Hill and to Germany for the bock? It was busy in here, but it wasn’t that busy, and if Paddy couldn’t handle the crowd they should have another bartender on back there.

Little Ray didn’t want to complain, but still. 

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

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