Thursday, May 28, 2020

"Bohemian Nights"

“No, man,” said Araminta, addressing all six of the poets at the poets’ table, “you cats don’t understand! I am not a ‘lady poet’!”

“You mean to say,” said Seamas McSeamas, the Irish poet, “you’re one of them transvesticles? Because if you are, you sure fooled me!”

“No, Seamas, I am not what you call a ‘transvesticle’ – a word by the way I have never heard before and which I strongly doubt is even in the unabridged version of The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language – I am indeed a woman – yes, a lady if you prefer such old-fashioned nomenclature, but I most definitely am not a ‘lady poet’!”

She had lost Seamas, but for once he kept his trap shut, not wanting to upset the beautiful lady poet.

“What she’s saying, Seamas,” said Hector Phillips Stone, the doomed romantic poet, “– and please correct me if I’m wrong, Miss Sauvage –”

“Oh, call me Araminta, Hector. We are all fellow poets, and I see no need to stand on formality.”

“Very well, then – Araminta,” said Hector. “So, what I believe you are saying is that you consider yourself a poet first and foremost, and only secondarily a lady.”

“Secondarily nothing,” said Araminta. “I am a woman and I am also a poet, just as I am also presumably a human being. But I refuse to be limited by the appellation ‘lady poet’!”

“Hear, hear!” said Scaramanga, the leftist poet.

“But what I am about to say to you now, my fellow poets,” said Araminta, “may cause you some consternation.”

“Uh-oh,” said Howard Paul Studebaker, the western poet from Hackensack, New Jersey.

“I was born consternated,” said Frank X Fagan, the nature poet who hadn’t been closer to nature than Washington Square Park  since 1939.

“Let the little lady speak,” said Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III, the Negro poet.

“I shall let that diminutive pass for the nonce, Lucius,” said Araminta, “but only for the nonce.”

“My apologies, dear lady,” said Lucius, banned from every bar in Harlem because of his propensity for suddenly and loudly exclaiming his verse, but always welcome down here at Bob’s Bowery Bar, famous for it lenience to exercisers of poetic license. “I know all too well how ill-considered epithets can demean a person’s dignity, and I beg your forgiveness.”

“I may be small of frame and stature,” said Araminta, “but my soul is that of a giant.”

“Hear hear!” said Scaramanga, again, who, truth be told, had gotten an early start this evening and was a few rounds ahead of the rest of the fellows.

“You said you have something consternating to say,” Hector reminded Araminta.

“Oh, right,” said Araminta, “I do, and it’s this. You fellows are all limiting yourselves!”

“We are?” said Hector, who didn’t doubt the truth of what the young lady said in the least.

“Yes,” she said. “Look at you, Hector – a ‘doomed romantic poet’. And you, Howard – a so-called ‘western’ poet.”

“Hey, now,” said Howard.

“You, Frank X –” said Araminta, “an alleged ‘nature poet’! What does that even mean?”

“Um,” said Frank X.

“Scaramanga –,” said Araminta.

“I know, I know,” said Scaramanga, “a ‘leftist’ poet, even though I’ve been drummed out of the Party, supposedly for inebriate conduct unbecoming of a comrade,  but you see, dear Araminta, I am still committed to –”

“And you, Lucius,” said Araminta, “how long are you going to get by on being a soi-disant ‘Negro poet’?”

“Wow,” said Lucius.

“And you, Seamas,” she said, pointing a finger at the Irishman, “how long have you been defined by that Barry Fitzgerald brogue of yours?”

“Uh,” said Seamas, for once lost for words.

“We must rise up,” said Araminta, pointing that same finger to the ceiling, that ancient ceiling with its scrollwork barely visible beneath its dark layers of smoke stain, “as poets we must rise up above all limitations on our art!”

“By George, I think you have something there,” said Howard. “I mean, really, why should I limit myself to poems of the prairie and the cattle drive, and of the lonesome coyote?”

Janet the waitress came by with her tray.

“Another round?”

“Same all around, please, Janet,” said Lucius, “and I believe this is my shout.”

“You want another coffee, honey?” said Janet to Araminta.

“Yes, please,” said the lady poet, who was so much more than just a lady poet.

“Have a real drink, Araminta,” said Frank X. “It won’t kill you,  and it’s on Lucius!”

“Just coffee, thanks,” said the young poet who just happened to be female. The coffee would keep her up all night, but that was okay, she preferred to sleep during the daytime anyway. And now, just a few weeks after coming down from Vassar, she had finally found a congenial place to spend her nights…

And someday, when I am old, thought Araminta, looking around at her new friends in this smoky bar smelling of beer and whiskey and cheap tobacco, as Tony Winston over at the old stand-up Steinway banged out a spirited rendition of Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”, someday I shall look back fondly on these wild bohemian nights!

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, with illustrations by my esteemed colleague rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, May 21, 2020

"Enter Araminta"

It was Monday, “open mike” night at Bob’s Bowery Bar, and as usual Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith acted as compère. Bob paid him in free basement-brewed bocks for the night, and, come to think of it, this was the closest Gerry had ever come in his life to holding an actual job, unless you counted the book of “philosophical observations” he had been working on for well over two decades (his latest title: Word Is Just a Four-Letter Word}.

“Thank you, ‘Hobo Brucie’,” Gerry spoke into the mike, “for that really stirring rendition of –” Gerry glanced at the sheet of paper in his hand, “’A Flatcar Is My Only Home’, that was really, uh, strangely moving…”

A smattering of applause from the usual Monday night mob.

“Next up we have a newcomer to our little stage, a Miss (I hope I’m pronouncing this correctly) Araminta Sauvage!”

A small young woman dressed entirely in black hopped down from a stool at the bar and walked over to the microphone, neither slowly nor quickly.

“Hi, there,” said Gerry. “Did I pronounce your name correctly?”

“I’ve heard worse,” she said.

“Here, let me just adjust the microphone for you, dear.”

Gerry was not very handy generally speaking, but after a few years of these shindigs he had gotten fairly proficient at adjusting the microphone stand, and so after only a minute or two he finally got the microphone down to the level of the young lady’s lips, which were a very dark red, offset by her paper pale skin, dark eye makeup and dark hair and a jauntily cocked black beret.

“Would you be requiring musical accompaniment?” asked Gerry, gesturing to Tony Winston, who sat at the upright piano with a cigarette in his mouth and a bock in his hand (he too was paid in bocks, for performing the duties of ‘musical director’). “If there’s a song Tony doesn’t know, he’ll fake it, right, Tony?”

“You got it, brother,” said Tony. He played with his combo (the Winstonians) at the Prince Hal Room over at the Hotel St Crispian six nights a week, and this is what he did on his seventh night. Hey, it was free beer, right?

The young woman turned to Tony.

“Can you play something dark?”

“Can I?” said Tony. “How’s this?”

With his left hand he knocked out a ripple of deep dark notes.

“How’s that?” he asked.

“Good,” said the young woman.

“Okay,” said Gerry, leaning down into the microphone, “let’s give it up, ladies and gentlemen, for Miss Araminta Sauvage!”

Another ripple of applause, a few drunken hoots, Gerry made one more slight adjustment to the mike and stepped aside with a bow.

Tony knocked out a few dark chords and another ripple of coal dark notes summoning mental visions of deserted wet city streets at night, and the young woman spoke into the microphone.
Because my soul is black
I am always on the attack.
Because my flesh is weak
my soul is hard as teak.
Because my life is unreal
my mind is made of steel.
Because my womb is a tomb
I give birth to death.
Can you dig it, daddy-o?
Let me kiss you to death.
Let me ride that big bronco
in that last big rodeo
at midnight when the bleachers
are all as empty as my heart
when all the thrice damned preachers
cry to gods who laugh at them,
yea, even Krishna and fat Buddha
and even my man the Nazz
gives them the razzmatazz.
And looky here, 
I know this don’t all rhyme,
but book it, man,
‘cause I ain’t got time
for none of that jazz!
Hey, daddy-o,
don’t cramp my free style!
Hey, mama dear,
crack a smile
for your gone, gone daughter
who won’t do what she oughta
even though she knows
someday she’ll be a weird old lady
feeding pigeons in the park,
at this moment now
in this bar so smoky and dark
reeking of piss and cheap beer
she sings this song of freedom,
even though
no one hears
and no one cares,
but she doesn’t care
no, she just don’t care,
because she dares to dare,
and that is why –
And now, whereas before she had been speaking, albeit in a sort of recitativo, she now began to sing, her words oddly matching the dark chords Tony was striking..
I sing this merry air,
because I dare to dare,
I sing,
I sing this dark air,
I just don’t care.
She stepped back from the microphone, her face expressionless, Tony struck one last discordant but purely fitting chord, for a space of half a minute there was only silence in the bar, not even a single tubercular cough, and then in a great sudden wave came a deluge of applause and cheers and shouts of bravissima. 

“Wow,” said Scaramanga, the leftist poet, “we gotta invite that girl to our table!”

“A dame at our table?” said Howard Paul Studebaker, the western poet.

“Why not a dame?” said Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III, the Negro poet. “You got something against dames, Howard?”

“We ain’t never had a dame at our table, that’s all I meant,” said Howard.

“That don’t mean we can’t never have a dame at our table,” said Frank X Fagan, the nature poet.

“Especially a good lookin’ little filly like that one,” said Seamas McSeamas, the Irish poet.

“By gum, why not?” said Howard, who even though he was from Hackensack slipped into a western accent when he was deep in his cups. “Let’s invite her over, dag nab it!”

“Maybe she won’t want to come over,” said Hector Phillips Stone, the doomed romantic poet. “Didn’t you guys hear what she was saying? She hates people. And with good reason, too, I might add.”


The poets all turned in the direction of the person who had spoken.

It was the lady poet, Araminta Sauvage, smoking a cigarette in a black holder.

“Hey,” all six of the poets said, almost in unison.

“You fellas mind if I sit with you?” said the dark young woman.

Suddenly all of the poets stood up, each of them offering her a seat.

And so, for the first time ever, a woman joined the poets’ table at Bob’s Bowery Bar, and none of their lives was ever the same again, not the poets’, not the lady poet’s, not anyone’s. 

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

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"Until They Teach Monkeys"

“The only sure way not to say something stupid,” typed Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith, revising the sentence for the sixteenth time, “is to say nothing at all.”


Only one sentence to show for a whole afternoon’s work, but it was a good one!  

As usual, Gerry left the sheet of paper in his old Royal portable, all ready for another assault on immortality on the morrow.

But now, the day’s honest toil was done, and it was time for his reward: an imperial pint of the basement-brewed bock just around the corner at Bob’s Bowery Bar.

It was early May, and cool for the time of year, but not cool enough to warrant a topcoat, and so, dressed only in his “new” Donegal tweed suit (new to Gerry, he had bought it at Goodwill when his twenty-seven-years-old Brooks Brothers Harris tweed had finally become too tight to button, either the coat or the trousers) and his trusty old fedora (once an opalescent grey, now the color of mud), he went out the door of his tiny sixth-floor “efficiency” (quite literally a converted storage closet).

On the landing between the third and fourth floors he encountered his landlady, young Mrs. Morgenstern, washing the window with its view of the underside of the “el” tracks.

“Good day, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

“Hey, Mr. Goldsmith, how’s the masterwork coming?”

“Swimmingly, Mrs. Morgenstern,” said Gerry, just as he always did. “And I am happy to say that I now have forty-three pages completed.”

“Not bad, Mr. Goldsmith,” said Mrs. Morgenstern. “That’s about forty-three more pages than I could ever write.”

Suddenly – was it the smell of ammonia combined with the propinquity of Mrs. Morgenstern’s young healthy body in the cramped space of the landing, the smooth skin of her muscular bare forearms, the tendril of dark curling hair that had escaped from under the flowered kerchief on her head, was it spring itself, the month of May, the season of rebirth, was it her deep brown eyes? – Gerry felt the urge to say something. But what? Certainly nothing “fresh” – he wouldn’t dream of it! She was, after all, a married woman, and he, Gerry, despite a lifetime of dissipation, was still a gentleman. And yet he felt this compulsion to say something more than the usual pleasantries.

In later years, when he remembered this moment, as he often did, he recalled, as he did now, that sentence which had been the sole fruit of his labors that day:

“The one sure way not to say something stupid is to say nothing at all.”

But still he felt he must say something and so he said:

“Well, we all do what we can, Mrs. Morgenstern – even if it is just washing windows.”

“Yeah,” she said, “at least until they can teach monkeys to wash windows,” and she dipped the rag she was holding into her bucket.

“Heh heh, yes,” said Gerry. “Well, see you later, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

“See ya, Mr. Goldsmith,” she said, and her strong hands wrung out the rag.

Quickly Gerry went down the stairs, before he could say something else stupid.

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

Thursday, May 7, 2020

"Nature's Way"

Frank X Fagen the nature poet had had a particularly boisterous night with his fellow poets Hector Phillips Stone (the doomed romantic poet), Seamas McSeamas (the Irish poet), Howard Paul Studebaker (the western poet), Scaramanga (the leftist poet), and Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III (the Negro poet). Hector had just sold his first book of poems (Love Songs of the Damned) to Smythe & Sons, Publishers, and he had treated his friends generously with his advance money. Normally the poets stuck with the basement-brewed bock, but on this heroic night the Cream of Kentucky bourbon whiskey had flowed like a great flooded river of inebriation, and so when Frank staggered into Bob’s Bowery Bar the next afternoon at around two o’clock all he wanted was a hair of the dog, maybe two or even three.

“A glass of the bock, Bob,” he said, by way of greeting, “and a shot of Cream of Kentucky, but don’t let me order a second shot.”

“What about a second glass of the bock?”

“You can keep the bocks coming.”

After the shot and two glasses of the bock Frank felt the malaise subside, replaced by revived drunkenness and only his usual sense of being just nominally alive. When Bob brought him his third glass he knew he could now relax and take his time. Maybe he would even eat something. The blackboard behind the bar read

ONLY ¢.35

Creamed chipped beef on toast, the perfect day-after meal! But first to drink this glass of bock, and maybe another…

“Jesus Christ, Frank, look at you.”

It was the waitress, Janet.

“My dear Janet,” said Frank, “I assure you the last thing I would want to look at is myself.”

“You were throwing up on the pavement outside last night, and now here you are again, getting your load on again.”

“What else am I supposed to do?”

“It’s a beautiful May day outside and you’re sitting here in this smelly dark bar. Ain’t you supposed to be a nature poet?”

“Well, yes –”

“Then whyn’t you go out and take a nice healthy walk in nature?”

“Go outside?”

“Yeah, go outside.”

“Gee, but –”

“No gee buts. Go outside.”


“Yeah, outside. What kind of nature poet are you when you spend every day and night sitting getting plastered in a bar?”

Janet had struck close to home.

“Y’know, Janet,” said Frank, “you’re right, you’re absolutely right.”

He lifted up his bock, drank it down in one go, and then, heaving a great belch of satisfaction, he put the thick stubby glass down with a hollow clunking sound.

“Another one, Frank?” said Bob, looking up from his Federal Democrat.

“No, thank you, Bob. I have decided, at Janet’s urging, to go for a walk.”

“You what?”

“I’m going for a walk.”

“Now I’ve seen everything,” said Bob. “And I’ve seen a lot.”

Frank left a quarter tip, almost fell off his stool, and staggered out.

“I hope he don’t walk in front of a garbage truck,” said Bob.

“He might be doing himself a favor if he did,” said Janet.

Outside the bright warm sunlight attacked Frank at once and without mercy, but he couldn’t turn back now. Janet was right, goddammit! When was the last time he had been out in nature? Five years ago? Six? Seven?

He headed right on the Bowery, and again right at the nearby corner on Bleecker. He passed Morgenstern’s cobbler shop and right there next door was the entrance to his tenement building, also owned by Mr. Morgenstern. Should he just go up to his room and take a nap? But no, he knew himself, he would only lie in his narrow bed, unable to sleep, fighting a losing war with the heebie jeebies and longing for a bock – best to keep to his plan! On he walked along Bleecker in the blazing sunlight, breathing the harsh thick smells of this poor quarter of the city. But this asphalt, the dirty concrete and stained bricks, the garbage, the leavings of dogs – was not all this part of nature?

Suddenly Frank realized he had to urinate, and so he ducked into the first alley he saw, the one between Moe’s pawn shop and Fat Chow’s chop suey joint. He unbuttoned the fly of his old tweed trousers, and with a sigh returned some of the bock and bourbon he had drunk to the world.

“Hey, buddy, whatcha doin’?”

The piece of cardboard Frank had been going on lifted up, revealing the face of no other than his friend Howard Paul Studebaker, the western poet.

“Oh, my God,” said Frank, turning his stream away, “I’m so sorry, old man, I didn’t see you there.”

“Oh, well, no hard feelings,” said Howard, sitting up and tossing the wet cardboard aside. “An honest mistake. Buy me a bock and all is forgiven.”

“But I’m taking a walk,” said Frank, buttoning his fly.

“You’re what?”

“Taking a walk.”

“Since when do you take walks?”

“Well, I was sitting at Bob’s having a hair of the dog and Janet shamed me, pointing out that I am a nature poet who spends fine spring days sitting in a bar.”

“You gonna let a woman tell you what to do?”

“But don’t you think it’s a good idea to take a walk now and then, especially on such a beautiful day?”

“What’s so beautiful about it?”

“Um, sunlight, warmth, fresh air?”

“Help me up.”

Frank helped Howard up.

“Did you not make it home last night?” asked Frank.

“What does it look like?” said Howard. “And anyway, a flophouse is not a home.”

“Yes, I suppose you could say that,” said Frank.

“Besides, this alley ain’t so bad,” said Howard. “Until somebody uses you for a urinal, that is.”

“I’m so sorry about that, Howard.”

“All is forgiven, for the price of one imperial pint of bock.”

“Well, that seems fair,” said Frank.

Together the two poets staggered their way back to Bob’s.

“Jesus Christ,” said Janet, when she saw them come through the door. “How long was that walk, Frank? Five minutes?”

“There were unforeseen circumstances,” said Frank.

“In other words you ran into this drunk and he talked you into coming back here to get your loads back on.”

“There was more to it than that, Janet,” said Howard.

“There’s always more to it with you guys,” said Janet.

Over at the poets’ usual table sat Hector, Scaramanga, Seamas, and Lucius, all of them looking ashen and chastened. Frank and Howard went over and joined them.

It was nature’s way.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}