Thursday, June 25, 2020

"Hello, Miss Abernathy"

Philip pressed the intercom button.

“Hello, Miss Abernathy?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I feel as if I might be coming down with a virus, so I think I’d better take the rest of the day off, and maybe tomorrow as well.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Just to be on the safe side, maybe you’d better cancel all my appointments for the rest of the week.”

“Of course.”

“Better to err on the side of caution.”

“Yes, certainly.”

“I’m going to leave by the back way now. Give me a five-minute head start, then you can let my brother know.”

“I will, don’t worry, and, Mr. –”

But Philip had switched off the intercom.

He got his hat, went out the back door of his office, and walked down the service corridor to the staircase. The last thing he wanted was to meet someone he knew getting into the elevator. As he went down the six flights to the ground floor, he considered the typical itinerary he had followed for his binges ever since rejoining the family firm after the war. First he would hit Joe’s down the block for a quick bracing one before the lunch crowd started coming in, then out the door, and a brisk walk west to the Hi-Low Club on the next block, from there another block west to the Ten Hut, and then a gradual descent downtown through the Irish saloons on Seventh Avenue, and after that the Village bars: Chumley’s, the White Horse, the Kettle of Fish, the San Remo, and so on and so on to the Prince Hal Room at the Hotel St Crispian, where, depending on his state, he would spend the night, before heading off to his final destination the next morning.

But this time, between the mezzanine and the ground floor, Philip had a brainwave.

Why not skip all the preliminaries for once and go right to the heart of the matter? I mean, really, who was kidding who here? What was he trying to prove? He had nothing to prove, and suddenly he felt rather like an eighteen-year-old ball player going right from high school to the majors. And, after all, if he wasn’t a major-leaguer by this point he would never be.

He went out the back of the building and down the alley to the street. It was a sunny warm day in June. Philip raised his hand and an empty cab pulled over at once, so the gods were with him.

He got in, shut the door, sat back, and sighed.

“Where to, buddy?”

“Bleecker and the Bowery, please.”


“Bleecker and the Bowery.”

“Bleecker and the Bowery?”


“Well-dressed gentleman like you? What you want to go down there for?”

“I'm afraid that would be hard to say.”

“You’re the boss, boss.”

The driver pulled out into the flow of traffic. Philip took out his cigarettes, lighted one up, and watched the city drift by the open window.

It would take a while to drive all the way down there, but he was in no hurry now.

No need to rush things. Now was the time to relax.

The buildings and the people on the crowded sidewalks passed by, like a movie, like real life, all these mobs of people going somewhere or other.

Philip knew where he was going.

And Bob’s Bowery Bar would still be there, God willing, whenever he got there.

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

Thursday, June 18, 2020


Frank X Fagan, the nature poet, had taken a lot of good-natured ribbing from his fellow poets after that one day when he tried to take a “nature walk”, and had returned to the bar only five minutes later with his friend Howard Paul Studebaker, the western poet, whom he had accidentally urinated on in an alleyway.

“Hey, ya know what?” Frank now said to his fellow poets at their usual table at Bob’s Bowery Bar. “I’m gonna take a walk today, and for real this time.”

“What?” said Scaramanga, the leftist poet. “Go out there in that bright sunlight?”

“Yeah,” said Frank X. “Bright sunlight and all, I’m going for a walk.”

“Great, go then,” said Howard.

“No need to take that tone,” said Frank X.

“I’m sorry,” said Howard. “I’m hungover.”

“We’re all hungover,” said Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III, the Negro poet. “As usual.” Then he added: “Perhaps a bit more than usual.”

The assembled poets all said nothing to this, but nodded and sighed, because this was the day after Araminta’s famous tea party, and every man jack of them was indeed even more hungover than usual, which was saying a lot for this sorry lot.

“But, dear Frank X,” said Seamas McSeamas, the Irish poet, breaking this unusual spell of silence that had just transpired, “if you take a walk in your present state you may easily stumble in front of a speeding  motorcar and get runned over.”

“Thanks for pointing that out, Seamas,” said Frank X. “But I shall try to be careful.”

Hector Philips Stone, the doomed romantic poet, was not even listening anymore, and he didn’t even notice when a half hour later Frank X finally got up, and, after visiting the men’s room, went out into the warm and shimmering June sunlight.

Almost immediately Frank X regretted his decision. It was bright, hot, and everything was ugly. He turned the corner at Bleecker, passed Morgenstern’s cobbler shop and paused for a moment next door at the entrance of the tenement building where he lived in a small room on the fifth floor. It would be nice just to go up and take a three-hour nap, but Frank X knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep, he would only lie on his narrow army cot, staring at the stained ceiling, hating existence, longing to return to Bob’s and to his friends and to a nice cold bock. No, he would forge on.

At the next corner some teenagers wearing T-shirts and jeans stood in his way. The boys all looked malnourished and weak.

“Where you going, man?” said the one kid.

“I’m taking a walk,” said Frank X.

“A walk he’s taking,” said another kid.

“Give us a quarter, daddy-o,” said another kid.

“The hell with you guys,” said Frank X. “I got no quarters to spare for thugs like you.”

“You don’t give us a quarter, we give you no quarter,” said the first kid.

“That’s actually kind of poetic,” said Frank X. “But I’m still not giving you a quarter.”

“You give us no choice but to roll you, buddy,” said this first kid.

“You would roll me?” said Frank X. “A shabby poor poet who barely has a pot to piss in?”

“You’re a poet?”

“Yes, I am, and I am not ashamed to admit it.”

“Tell us a poem.”

“If I tell you a poem will you let me pass?”

“If it’s a good one, yes. If it sucks, we roll you.”

“Very well,” said Frank X. “Let’s see. All right, here we go. I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as my pee. I love to watch it splash into a toilet or into a barroom urinal. This makes me happy, like bock beer washing down a Tuinal.”

“Is that it?” said the first kid.

“Yes,” said Frank X. “If you want a second verse, then you have to give me a quarter.”

For a moment no one said anything, and then the first kid said, “Okay, Mr. Poet Man. You can pass. This time. But if you go by this corner again you got to give us a quarter.”

“How about if I just tell you another poem?”

The kid paused before speaking.

“Maybe,” he said. “If it’s a good poem, maybe we let you pass. Maybe. Otherwise we roll you for everything you got in your pockets.”

“That ain’t much,” said Frank X.

“We’ll be the judge of that,” said the kid. “Now scram.”

Frank X crossed the street. Jesus Christ, he wanted to be back in the bar, but he figured he’d better go at least as far as the next corner, then he could take a right, then another right at the end of that block, back down Bond Street to the Bowery, another right, and then down the block was Bob’s Bowery Bar, his own private Ithaca.

If he walked slow he could at least say he had taken a fifteen-minute walk. Maybe next time he could stretch it out to a half hour, or, say, twenty-five minutes, or twenty…

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

Thursday, June 11, 2020

"Araminta's Good Deed"

It took Araminta all morning and into the early afternoon to clean up her new flat after her big tea party, but it had been worth it, and with all the windows open and the electric fans blowing the smells were all gone, pretty much, or at least should be gone by the next day.

But she still had about a half-dozen assorted small sandwiches left over, and some of the rhubarb pie. Perhaps it would be a nice gesture to make up a little lunch plate for Hector Philips Stone, the doomed romantic poet, who lived on the sixth floor?

The poor chap, so pale and wan, he certainly looked as if he could use a nice lunch. He had said that he rarely went out in the daytime, preferring to stay in and work on his poems, or, if he were drawing a blank that day, to read, or lie in bed and meditate. When Araminta had suggested it might do him some good to get out and take a walk in the fresh air, he had simply replied that he was not fond of sunlight, and if he did take a walk he preferred to walk at night, along dark tenement streets or down by the dock yards. Well, thought Araminta, not for nothing was he a doomed romantic poet! But still, a sandwich or two, a slice of pie, a cup of tea, none of these could hurt, could they?

Araminta made a fresh pot of lapsang souchong, and prepared a nice plate with a double-sized wedge of the rhubarb pie, and three neatly arranged sandwiches: gorgonzola on pumpernickel, liverwurst on rye, ham salad on white bread. She poured a big mug of tea, with lots of milk and sugar (she remembered how he liked it), put the plate and the mug on a tray, and a saucer on top of the mug to keep it warm, unfolded the one clean napkin she could find and laid it over the sandwiches. She paused, wondering if she should add that cunning little vase she had picked up at Mo’s pawnshop, perhaps with one red rose in it, but then thought, no, just a tad de trop

Carrying the tray, Araminta headed up the stairs from her apartment on the second floor. When she reached the sixth floor she realized that she didn’t know what Hector’s apartment number was. Well, there was nothing for it but to knock at each door until she found the right one! She started at the first door to the right of the stairs.

“I say, hello!” she called, after knocking. “Hello, is anyone

No one answered. She knocked again, and was just about to call hello again when the door opened inward.

Oh dear, the door had not only been left unlocked, but not even closed all the way!

“Hello,” she called again, “is anyone here?” And straight away she realized how absurd the question was, as the entire tiny apartment was visible at a glance.

Just one room with a Murphy bed closed up against the wall, a lot of books everywhere, a little desk with a typewriter on it, a bathroom with its door open, revealing a toilet and sink and a shower.

This must be Hector’s apartment! He must have gone outside during the day after all – perhaps around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar for a “hair of the dog”; he had after all gotten pretty drunk at the party, as indeed had everyone else except for Araminta.

Well, she would just leave the tray for him, with a little note. That wouldn’t be too presumptuous, would it?

Leaving the door open, she went over to the desk, and shoving some papers aside, laid the tray down.

So this was where the magic happened, where Hector wrote his poems!

There was a sheet of paper in the typewriter (an old Royal portable), and she knew she was being nosy, but she just couldn’t help herself, so she read the two sentences that had been typed on it.

The only way to be sure not to say something stupid is to say nothing at all.

The previous sentence might well be an example of just what I am talking about.

How clever!

But then the sentences didn’t really seem like poetry, let alone doomed or romantic. Was Hector branching out into the realms of philosophy?

There was a small stack of typing paper to the right of the typewriter, and Araminta couldn’t help but pick it up. She turned it over, and on the first page was typed:


a book of philosophical observations

by Gerard Goldsmith

Gerard Goldsmith…

Gerry! Alias “the Brain”! Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith, that chubby nice middle-aged fellow! Darn it, now she remembered that he too had said he lived on the sixth floor. What a boner she had pulled. But understandable, of course. And now she felt guilty, because she had thought to bring some lunch to Hector – young and handsome Hector, but had not spared a thought for poor old dumpy Gerry the Brain.

Perhaps she should just leave the tray for Gerry then? Or she could compromise, and leave a sandwich for Gerry, and take the remainder over to Hector? She could leave the sandwich here on the table, wrapped up nicely in the napkin.

But a note would be appropriate. She didn’t want to use up any of Gerry’s typing paper, so she opened a drawer in the desk to look for a notepad. Shuffling through various papers and envelopes she found what looked like a greeting-card box, so she pulled that out. The box looked old and worn, a greyish pinkish color, and printed on its cover in fancy filigree were the words

Plaisirs de Paris

Ah, Gerry had mentioned to her that he had spent a couple of youthful years in the City of Light, back in the late Twenties. He must have kept a box of postcards as a memento of that happy time.

Araminta lifted off the cover of the box, and gasped.

Oh, my!

With trembling hands she lifted out and examined every single post card, all twenty of them, one for each arrondissement of Paris. How many positions! And in Araminta’s naïveté she had thought there were only two, perhaps three or four at most, and this was even after taking the sex ed course at Vassar.

Araminta was brought to from her reveries by the unmistakeable sounds of footsteps on the stairs. Quickly she put all the postcards back into the box, closed it up, put the box back deep into the drawer, shut the drawer, picked up her tray and headed to the door.

Not two seconds after she had closed the door behind her she saw Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith’s head appear on the stairs.

“Oh, hello, Mr. Goldsmith!”

“Miss Sauvage!” panted Gerry; he was always a bit out of breath after climbing the stairs.

In a matter of only half a minute he made it up the last few steps.

“Well,” he said, “whew! By the way, those stairs aren’t getting any easier! So, what brings you up here to the top of Mount Olympus, Miss Sauvage?”

“Here,” said Araminta, stepping forward and holding out the tray, “I brought you some leftover sandwiches and pie, and a mug of tea, too, so drink it right away before it gets cool.”

“For me?”

“Yes, take it, please, it’s nothing.”

Gerry took the tray.

“Miss Sauvage,” he said, “I am touched –”

“Call me Araminta, and it’s nothing, you’re very welcome, and now I simply must run, you see I have an appointment –”

“An appointment?”

“Yes, doctor’s appointment.”

“Nothing serious I hope!”

“Routine, strictly routine. See you, Mr. Goldsmith!”

And she brushed by him and dashed down the stairs.

“Call me Gerry!” called Gerry, but she was no longer visible, although he could hear her fading footsteps.

Gerry looked down at the tray in his hands.

This was literally the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home with illustratons by the brilliant rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, June 4, 2020

"Araminta's Tea Party"

At last Araminta had gotten all settled in at her new apartment, so she decided to throw a tea party for the new friends she had made at Bob’s Bowery Bar, so conveniently located just around the corner. After a month at the Jeanne D’Arc women’s residence over on West 24th Street (no guests allowed), it was such a thrill to be able to entertain!

On moving day Araminta had made friends with two very cool and absolutely divine young dancers and actresses who lived in the apartment next door, Pat and Carlotta, and so of course she invited them. She also invited Hector Phillips Stone (the doomed romantic poet who lived in this very same building, but up on the sixth floor), Seamas McSeamas (the Irish poet), Howard Paul Studebaker (the western poet), Frank X Fagen (the nature poet), Scaramanga (the leftist poet), and Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III (the Negro poet). She had run into that genial fellow they all called “the Brain” but whose real name was Gerry Goldsmith on the stairs, and it turned out he also lived up on the sixth floor, and so she invited him as well. She decided boldly to cross class lines and invited that cute waitress from Bob’s, Janet, who seemed genuinely surprised at the invitation, but she said she would come, which was nice, and her presence would help to keep the party from being a teensy too male-dominated.

Pat and Carlotta gave Araminta all the “gen” (as they called it) on the best grocery shops and bakeries and delicatessens in the neighborhood, and, most divine of all, steered her to Mo’s Pawn Shop, where she was able to pick up an enormous ancient Russian samovar for only five dollars, as well as a chipped but serviceable gallon-sized teapot and loads of mismatched china and cutlery.

Pat and Carlotta came over to help Araminta set things up. She had three kinds of cake (chocolate fudge, Jewish apple, German marble) three pies (Boston cream, rhubarb, apple), and a platter of assorted sandwiches on white, rye, and pumpernickel, and to wash it all down there was a pound of lapsang souchong from a little Chinese shop over on Mott Street.

The party was due to start at four, but Janet showed up twenty minutes early, and even brought what she called her specialty, an Oreo ice box cake.

“Oh, Janet, you shouldn’t have!”

“Hey, Araminta, you know how many tea parties I been invited to in my life?”

“I should think scads!”

“Nope,” said Janet. “This is my first.”

The boys started rolling in right on the dot at four, and soon enough the lads were making beer runs around the corner to Bob’s. Araminta had a guitar and she played along by ear as Seamas sang several Irish revolutionary songs, Scaramanga sang international revolutionary songs in English, French, Russian, Italian and Spanish, Lucius sang “St. James Infirmary” and “Ol’ Man River”, Howard sang some cowboy songs, Frank X sang “Nature Boy”, Pat and Carlotta sang show tunes, and even Hector ran upstairs for his banjo and came back down and sang a medley of Stephen Foster songs. Finally everyone urged Araminta to sing something.

“Very well,” she said. “If you don’t mind, I should like to improvise something. You see, I am a great believer in the concept of ‘jazz poetry’, and –”

“Shake it, baby!” yelled Scaramanga, who as usual had got a head start on everybody else.

“I beg your pardon,” said Araminta.

“I said shake it, don’t break it, baby!”

“Scaramanga,” said Lucius, “cool it, dude.”

“Wha’d I say?” said Scaramanga.

“Just be cool, man, and let Araminta sing.”

“Sorry, Lucius,” said Scaramanga. “Sorry, Araminta. I get carried away sometimes. Y’see, this is why they drummed me out of the party–”

“Well,” said Frank X, “you’re gonna get drummed out of Araminta’s tea party if you don’t behave.”

“Okay, I’ll shut up. Carry on, Araminta!”

And Scaramanga plopped down in a thrift-shop armchair, his chin dropping to his chest, his eyes closing.

“As I was saying,” said Araminta, “I am a great believer in the concept of shall we say extemporaneous poetry, and so I have been trying to develop a fusion of vocal jazz and poetry, and to that end, I should like to sing a song I shall compose on the spot.”

A chorus of affirmation ensued, and everyone gathered around where Araminta sat on a big cushion on the floor.

She waited until everyone had settled down, then struck a loud and ringing E-minorchord, and began to sing:

Friends, my good friends, 
yes, these are my friends
to the bitter ends
of time and tide,
until we take that final ride
in that long black hearse
or, perhaps worse,
are unceremoniously
piled in a lorry
and dumped in an unmarked
grave in Potter’s Field,
with no one there to say
“So long, friend,
it’s been real.”.
Yes, these are my friends;
some call them losers,
some call them boozers,
but these are my friends,
the lost and never found
rolling in the gutter
like trash in the breeze,
hear them lowly mutter,
these my good buddies,
“Ah, gee, ma, why me?
All I ever wanted
was to be free.”
But these, yes, these
are my friends, compadres,
these are my friends, mes amis,
these are my friends,
my friends, you, my pals,
all you chaps, and, yes, you gals,
my friends, my friends
to the ends of the ends
of time’s last ends,
my friends, my friends,
my lovely bohemian friends…

Araminta struck one final ringing E-minor chord, and its reverberations subsided over the hushed room.

When it became likely that the song was indeed over it was Lucius who spoke first, saying simply:


Then the room erupted in cries of brava and bravissima.

Araminta looked up at all her friends through misted eyes.

Scaramanga now awakened, and rising to his feet he stretched up his right arm with clenched fist and shouted:

“Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!”

He then sat back down and passed out again, but, no matter, the party was just getting started.

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