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.}

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