Thursday, July 30, 2020

"First Night"

“What’s the crowd like out there, Tony?”

“Good, Waldo, real good. I ain’t seen a crowd like this on a Tuesday since the World Series when we set up the extra TV sets at the bar.”

“Damn. Where’d all these people come from?”

“Beats me, but I’m glad they’re out there. Nothin’ I hate more than playing to a half-full room.”


“Hey, don’t worry about it, Waldo. You’re gonna knock ‘em dead, Just give ‘em your twenty minutes, warm ‘em up good, then me and Shirley and the boys will do the heavy lifting till your next set.”

“I just wasn’t expecting a full house my first night,” said Waldo.

“You want a shot?”

“No, no shot, thanks though, Tony.”

“Awright, I’m gonna go out and play a few more solo numbers to lull them into submission, and then I’ll introduce you in about fifteen, so stick by the door.”

“Got it. Thanks, Tony.”

The canary Shirley De La Salle was putting on her make-up, and the bass player and the drummer and the guitar man were playing poker on a couple of beer crates set one on top of the other for a card table.

Waldo got up and cracked the door. The bar and almost all of the tables were full, and right there down front was a whole mob from Bob’s Bowery Bar. What the hell were they doing here? It was that young dame Araminta. Like a fool he had told her about his new gig, and she must have told the rest of the crowd. Didn’t they have nothing better to do on a Tuesday night? All her fellow poets were there: Hector Phillips Stone, the doomed romantic poet; Seamas McSeamas, the Irish poet; Howard Paul Studebaker, the western poet; Frank X Fagen the nature poet; Scaramanga, the leftist poet; Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III, the Negro poet. That philosophical guy, the one everybody called the Brain, he was there, sitting right next to Araminta. That witty guy who wasn’t witty, the one they called Addison the Wit, even he’d shown up. Even the retired whore, Fat Angie, she was there, sitting next to Mushmouth Joe and that old guy they just called Wine on account of all he drank was Tokay wine. There was Philip the uptown swell, looking not too drunk for once, standing over by the service bar, saying something in the ear of the maître d’. Christ, Bob’s Bowery Bar must be like a ghost town tonight, and then, to Waldo’s horror, he saw that over at the bar even big Bob himself was here, next to Janet the waitress. And all of them were smiling, laughing, drinking and smoking, nodding their heads to Tony’s piano playing.

Waldo broke out in that all-too-familiar cold sweat under his brand-new second-hand suit. He closed the door and looked at Tony’s bottle of Cream of Kentucky over there on the shelf. Tony had said take a shot, hadn’t he?

He hesitated, then he went and grabbed Mickey Pumpernickel, went over to the john door, opened it, went in, closed it, went right over to the toilet, and threw up.

“You finished now?” said Mickey, a couple of minutes later.

“Yeah, I think I’m finished.”

“Then flush the toilet and throw some cold water on your face.”

Waldo flushed the toilet, sat Mickey on the seat, turned on the cold tap and splashed water on his face.

“Now rinse your mouth out, good.”

Waldo did what the dummy told him.

“There’s Listerine there, gargle good.”

Waldo gargled the Listerine, spat it out.

“Now one more rinse with the cold water.”

Again Waldo obeyed his dummy. The dummy knew best.

“Take out your Juicy Fruit.”

Waldo unwrapped a stick of gum, popped it into his mouth.

“You can’t give a good show if your mouth tastes like a garbage can.”

Waldo stood there, chewing, looking at his face in the mirror.

“Take out your comb, wet it, run it through your hair, just so’s you don’t look like you been sleeping in an alleyway.”

Waldo wet his comb, combed his hair.

“You want a cigarette? You got time for a cigarette.”

“No,” said Waldo. “I don’t want my throat to get dry.”

“Straighten your tie.”

Again Waldo did as he was told.

“You ready now?”

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

“You feel good?”

“Good as I’m gonna feel.”

“Good, now take a deep breath, go out there and wait outside the green room door and wait for Tony’s intro.”


“It’s a good crowd out there. Feed off the energy of the crowd.”


“Now go.”

Waldo picked up Mickey and went out of the bathroom. Shirley and the bass man, the drummer and the guitarist all turned away and acted as if they hadn’t been listening.

He went to the door that looked out on the Prince Hal Room and cracked it open. He felt good.

“Hey, Waldo.”

It was the canary, Shirley De LaSalle.

“Warm ‘em up good for us, man. You and Mickey both.”

“Yeah, sure, Shirley, we’ll do that.”

And, with Mickey Pumpernickel under his arm, Waldo went out, closing the door behind him.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, July 23, 2020

“The Great Stream of Humanity”

“Waldo goddam McGee,” said Louie.

“Hi, Louie,” said Waldo. “Thanks for seeing me.”

“And the puppet, what’s his name, Rickey Rumpelwurtz?”

“Ha ha, no, it’s Mickey, Mickey Pumpernickel.”

“Mickey Pumpernickel.”


“I seem to remember telling you both never to darken my door again, Waldo.”

“That was a long time ago, Louie.”

“But I still remember it like it was yesterday.”

“Hey –”

“I get you a great gig at the Mocambo, opening for Desi Arnaz, and you throw up on the stage.”

“I had eaten some bad shrimps.”

“You were drunk as a skunk.”

Waldo said nothing. What Louie said was true, and they both knew it.

“Sit down, Waldo.”

Waldo sat down in one of the chairs across from Louie’s desk, and sat Mickey on his lap.

“All’s I want is a chance, Louie.”

Louie relighted his cigar with one of those Blue Tip kitchen matches he used, the same kind he was using the last time Waldo had been in here ten years ago.

“You been working?”

“Pretty steady. Out in the midwest mostly.”

“What kind of joints?”

“Roadhouses. VFW clubs. Some Knights of Columbus affairs, Shriners, Elks. Kids’ birthday parties.”

“And you finally decided to come back to the big city.”

“It’s the only town that matters,” said Waldo.

“What about Los Angeles?”

“I never liked L.A., Louie. Too much sunshine or something.”

He didn’t mention that mobster Jimmy “the Weasel” Fratianno telling him to leave town on the next train if he didn’t want both his legs broke; was it Waldo’s fault that the Weasel was so sensitive about Mickey making jokes about his girl friend?

Louie took a long pause, then tapped a sheet of paper on his desk.

“All right, old time’s sake, Sal’s Big and Tall Men’s Shoppe, down on Mott Street. It’s a sidewalk job. We’ll set you up on a chair outside the door and you try to get big and fat guys to come in and buy some 2-for-1 suits.”

“You want me and Mickey to be sidewalk hawkers for a Big and Fat store?”

“Ten bucks a day, don’t turn up your nose, and if it works out, maybe I’ll find you some other jobs.”

Now Waldo paused. Ten bucks a shift was a lot of beer, and it would keep him in his room down at the Parker Hotel.

“What’s the hours?”

“9 a.m. to 7 p.m., an hour for lunch, and you’re off on Sundays. This is a good deal for a gig like this, Waldo, and all you got to do is stay halfway sober and don’t throw up on nobody.”

Waldo was about to say yes, but then he felt Mickey’s little elbow dig into his ribs.

He stood up, holding Mickey under his arm.

“What,” said Louie. “You too good for this?”

“The hell with you,” said Mickey. “We are performers, not sidewalk shills for cut-rate haberdasheries for fat slobs. We have shared the stage with Wheeler & Woolsey, Ted Healy, Lillian Roth, Jerry Colonna, and dozens of other top names. We got a brand new act we been honing in joints from Toledo to Topeka to Tuscaloosa, and we are ready to take back this town by storm. So take your little sandwich-board job and shove it up your big flabby ass. You ain’t the only agent in this town, and if you were any good you wouldn’t even be handling gigs like Sal’s Big & Fat Shoppe. But if I know you, they prolly offered you a deal on a couple suits, am I right? Nix to you, buddy, and tell ya what, if I don’t see you round I’ll see you square.”

Waldo and Mickey did an about face, but before they reached the door Louie spoke up.

“Hey, wait a minute.”

Waldo and Mickey turned around.

“What?” said Mickey.

“I never even saw your lips move, Waldo. Maybe just a little, but it was more like a nervous twitch. I mean that was really good.”

“That’s because Waldo’s a pro,” said Mickey. “We are both professionals.”

Louie paused for just a moment.

“Sit your Irish ass back down, Waldo. I think I might have something for you.”

Ten minutes later, with Mickey under his arm, Waldo walked out onto the crowded sidewalk in the bright hot sunlight. He took a deep breath, and then he quickly turned left, walked around the corner of the building and back a few feet into the alleyway. He bent over and threw up, and when he was finished he straightened up, sweating.

“Jesus Christ, Mickey, you like to scare the hell out of me in there.”

“But I got us the try-out, didn’t I?” said Mickey.

“Yeah, that you did, pal, that you did. Christ, I need a drink.”

“The hell with that noise. We’re gonna go down to Ma’s Diner, get some nutritious food in your stomach, then we go back to the room for a nap. Then you’re gonna take a shower, get dressed and go over to the Hotel St Crispian and we’re gonna get that job.”

“Just one beer.”

Mickey slapped Waldo, but not hard. 

“Ow,” said Waldo.

“I’ll ow you, ya bum. Now let’s get movin’.”

And off they went out of the alleyway and into the great stream of humanity.

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

Thursday, July 16, 2020

"Wake Up, McGee"

“Wake up, McGee, ya lazy bum,” said Waldo McGee’s dummy Mickey Pumpernickel. “Rise and shine, it’s a beautiful day out.”

“Aw, man, just let me sleep another hour,” said Waldo.

“You been sleepin’ sixteen hours, now get the hell up.”

“Sixteen hours?”

Waldo looked at the old alarm clock on the night table. Seven forty-eight.

“Better’n sixteen hours, ya bum,” said Mickey. “Now get up, get dressed, get some food in your stomach.”


“You ain’t ate in like forty-eight hours. You tryin’ to starve yourself to death?”

Waldo pulled himself up into a sitting position, adjusting the pillow behind him against the tarnished brass bars of the bedstead, and lifting Mickey onto his lap.

“Has it really been forty-eight hours?”

“It’s Monday mornin’. Saturday mornin’ you had a fried egg sammitch over at that Ma’s Diner, and you ain’t had nothin’ to eat since then.”

Waldo saw he still had some cigarettes on the night table, and he shook out a Philip Morris and lighted it up with a match from a Bob’s Bowery Bar matchbook.

“I liked that Bob’s Bowery Bar,” said Waldo. “That was a nice stopping place. Maybe we should head over there for an eye-opener.”

“It was a nice place, McGee, a real nice place, and that guy Philip what bought you all them drinks was a real gentleman.”

“That he was, Mickey,” said Waldo, “that he was. They don’t make gentlemen like that no more. Yeah, let’s head over there for an eye-opener. Maybe that guy Philip will be there.”

“Waldo,” said Mickey, “can I speak honestly?”

“Sure, pal.”

“Later we can go to Bob’s Bowery Bar. Later. But first, for Christ’s sake, please get some food in your stomach. Let me ask you a question. Do you want to wind up in the hospital again?”


“’Cause I’m tellin’ ya, you wind up in the hospital again, you just might not come out of it alive. You want that?”


“Then, please, get some breakfast in ya, a nice healthy breakfast, then we’ll head over to Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“Okay, I guess you’re right, Mickey.’

“I know I’m right. Now get dressed.”

Not more than half an hour later, with Mickey Pumpernickel under his arm, Waldo McGee walked out of the Parker Hotel and into the bright warm sunlight of the Bowery. It was good to be back in the Big Apple. The sights, the smells. Down the block Waldo hesitated outside Bob’s Bowery Bar, but Mickey gave him a sharp slap in the face.


“Just an eye-opener, Waldo, just a shot of Schenley’s to cut the phlegm, and a glass of cold beer to wash it down with.”

“You walk in that bar on an empty stomach, you walk in alone, because I will be done with you, forever.”

“Hey, you ain’t got to be like that, Mickey. It was only a suggestion. It was only like a, you know –”

“Tell your story walkin’.”



“Awright, awright awready, I’m movin’. Jeeze, Mickey.”

“I’ll ‘Jeeze, Mickey’ you, you pathetic bum, now keep movin’.”

Waldo kept moving, down to the corner, then across Bleecker to Ma’s Diner.

The place was pretty full, but there was an empty stool at the counter, and Waldo took it, seating Mickey on his lap.

“I remember you,” said the Negro lady behind the counter. “The guy with the dummy.”

“Mickey Pumpernickel’s the name,” said Mickey, “and this piece of human wreckage is Waldo McGee.”

“Yeah, you told me that the last time,” said the lady.

“What’s your name, doll?” said Mickey.

“They call me Ma,” said Ma. “And I told you that last time too.”

“I beg your pardon, Ma,” said Mickey. “Sometimes Waldo here don’t remember so good.”

“Fried egg sandwich?”

“Y’know, Ma, Waldo’s feeling a mite more peckish than usual this mornin’. How’s about that Monday Morning Breakfast Special you got on the blackboard there for four bits?”

“What about it?”

“Pretty good?”

“If it wasn’t good I wouldn’t serve it.”

“Waldo’ll take that then.”

“How you want the eggs?”

“Sunny-side up, runnery.”

“Scrapple, sausage or bacon?”

“Scrapple, real crispy.”

“Home fries, grits, or hash browns.”

“Home fries.”

“Tomato juice or orange juice.”

“Neither. Too acid for Waldo’s delicate stomach.”

“You want me to sub something else?”

“Howzabout some extra toast?”


“Coffee comes with too, right?”

“Bottomless cup, within reason.”

“Waldo’ll take a cup right away then, Ma, ya don’t mind, strong and hot, just the way Waldo likes his women.”

“Ha ha.”

Ma called back the order and poured Waldo a cup of coffee.

The young lady with the notebook sitting to Waldo’s left had been watching and listening to the above exchange with great interest.

“Doesn’t the dummy eat anything?” she said.

Waldo and Mickey both turned to look at her. She was a small young woman dressed all in black, with paper pale skin and dark red lips. She wore a black beret and she was smoking a cigarette.

“Never touch the stuff,” said Mickey. “I gotta watch my girlish figure.”

“I never eat a full breakfast myself,” said the young lady. “Just a couple of pieces of cinnamon toast usually.”

“What’s that you’re writing there?” said Mickey.

“I’m writing a novel. An autobiographical novel.”

“What’s it called?”

“Promise you won’t laugh.”

“I promise,” said Mickey.

“You both have to promise,” she said.

“I promise too,” said Waldo. It was the first time he had spoken in his own voice, and for some reason it sounded more artificial than the dummy’s voice.

Virgins of Vassar,” said the young lady.

Virgins of Vassar?” said Mickey.

“Yes,” she said. “Now please don’t laugh.”

“I ain’t laughing,” said Mickey, and he turned his head away, biting his lips, but Waldo’s face remained impassive.

“I think that’s a delightful title,” said Waldo, and he took his right hand away from Mickey’s back and held it over the dummy’s mouth, just to make sure the little bastard wouldn’t laugh at the young lady.

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

Thursday, July 9, 2020

“The Ballad of Waldo McGee and Mickey Pumpernickel”

After twenty years in the marines and another twenty-some years running this joint, Bob figured he’d pretty much seen everything there was to see, but then one hot bright Sunday morning Waldo McGee came into the joint carrying his dummy Mickey Pumpernickel under his arm. He took a seat at the bar, with Mickey sitting on his lap. Mickey was just a ventriloquist’s dummy, but he looked more alive than Waldo did.

Bob came over and took the cigar out of his mouth.

“You don’t mind I brought my dummy in here, do you?” said Waldo.

“No, I don’t mind,” said Bob. “Long as he behaves himself.”

“Oh, you ain’t got to worry about Mickey,” said Waldo.

“Yeah,” said Mickey, and to be honest you could see Waldo’s lips moving just a little bit, but just a little, almost like it was just a nervous twitch. “It ain’t me you got to worry about. But this bum I ain’t so sure about. Keep an eye on this guy, mister.”

“Okay,” said Bob, “I will. Either of you want a drink?”

“Nothing for me,” said Mickey, “but this drunken bum will have a libation. How’s that basement-brewed bock you got on the blackboard there?”

“I don’t get too many complaints,” said Bob.

“Nickel a glass seems reasonable,” said the dummy.

“I like to think so,” said Bob.

“Give him a glass of that then.”

So Bob drew a glass of the bock and put it in front of Waldo, who had put a small handful of change on the counter. Bob took a nickel, went to the register and rang it up.

Just then Philip the uptown swell came in, sober, so far, and sat down next to Waldo and Mickey.

“Hi, Bob,” said Philip, taking out his cigarettes. “I think I’ll start with a Manhattan today.”

Philip always started one of his sprees with a Manhattan, but he always said it like it had just occurred to him. After he had taken his first sip, he sighed, and seemed to notice Waldo and Mickey for the first time.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hi,” said Mickey. “What’s your name, fella?”

“Philip. What’s your name?”

“Mickey Pumpernickel’s my moniker, and this drunken clown is Waldo McGee.”

The dummy extended his tiny right hand, and Philip, with only a moment’s hesitation, took it and gave it a shake.

“Pleased to meet you, Mickey. And Waldo.”

“Hi,” said Waldo. “I hope you don’t mind Mickey. He likes to talk.”

“Oh, not at all,” said Philip.

“See?” said Mickey, turning to Waldo. “This guy is a gentleman. You can tell. Unlike some people I could mention.”

Philip was willing to let it go at that. He never minded just sitting and drinking quietly, but the dummy spoke again.

“Maybe you seen us perform once or twice? We was regulars on the old Pantages circuit for years.”


“Yep. All across this land o’ liberty we worked. Also night clubs, burley-Q joints, Shriners conventions, VFWs, that kind of thing. Birthday parties, bar mitzvahs. Even got on the radio a few times. Waldo McGee and Mickey Pumpernickel?”

“No,” said Philip, “I’m afraid I don’t think I ever –”

“For better’n twenty years we worked steady, from New York to San Francisco, from Bangor, Maine, alla way down to New Orleans, and every two-bit whistle stop in between. It was not a bad life. But then this guy –”

The dummy jerked his tiny thumb at Waldo.

“Okay, Mickey,” said Waldo. “This gentleman don’t want to hear our whole life story.”

“I don’t mind,” said Philip.

“It’s a sad story, a story that’s been told a million times,” said Mickey.

“Haven’t they all?” said Philip.

“Hey, that Manhattan you’re drinking looks pretty good,” said Mickey.

“It is,” said Philip. “Would you like one?”

“I don’t drink,” said the dummy. “Never touch the stuff. But this guy,” he jerked his little thumb at Waldo, “I’m sure he wouldn’t turn one down.”

“Okay,” said Philip. “I say, Bob, would you make a Manhattan for, uh –”

“Waldo,” said Mickey.

“– for Waldo,” said Philip, “and I suppose I’ll have another too, please.”

“Thanks, mister,” said Waldo.

“Please, call me Philip.”

“Thanks, Philip.”

“See, McGee?” said Mickey. “A gentleman. The last of the dying breed.”

“Yes, I can see that,” said Waldo.

“Unlike some people I could mention,” said Mickey.

Waldo said nothing to this.

“Don’t mind him, Philip,” said Mickey. “He ain’t much of a talker. But me, I like to talk. You mind if I talk?”

“Not at all,” said Philip.

“You want me to shut up, you just say so.”


Bob laid down the fresh Manhattans, and Philip paid for them.

The bar began to fill up with the usual Sunday morning crowd, and Philip and Mickey, and, to a much lesser extent Waldo, talked through the morning and early afternoon, until Waldo’s head suddenly began to nod to his chest.

“Uh-oh,” said Mickey. “Hey, it’s been great talking to ya, Philip, and thanks a lot for all the drinks, but I think rumdum here needs to take a nap, ya know what I mean?”

Waldo lifted his head with a weak smile.

“Yes, of course,” said Philip. “Nice talking to you fellows, too.”

“Maybe we’ll catch you in here some other time,” said Mickey.

“That well might be,” said Philip.

“Awright, Waldo,” said Mickey, “let’s get you back to the hotel before you get thrown outa here.”

And Waldo got up, and, carrying Mickey under his arm, staggered out into the hot bright sunlight of the Bowery.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version illustrated by the one-and-only rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, July 2, 2020

"St. Philip"

“Bleecker and the Bowery, comin’ up, pal.”

“Ah, so soon.”

Philip had been lost in a reverie, looking out the window at the warm sunny day, looking back over his largely misspent life.

“Where ya want me to stop.”

Here he was again, and he’d regret it when it was all over and he was back at the rest home, or at Bellevue or the drunk tank, but that was the future, and this was now, and it was time.

“I said where at, buddy.”


“Where exackly ya want me to let you out.”

“Oh, just let me out at Bob’s Bowery Bar over on the right there.”

“Bob’s Bowery Bar?”


The driver pulled up at Bob’s. Someone was throwing up on the pavement, not in the gutter, but right on the sidewalk.

Philip got out his wallet, took out a ten-dollar bill and handed it over to the driver.

“Keep the change.”

“This is a ten.”

“I know. Keep it.”

“Why such a big tip?”

“Do you really want to know why?”

“That’s why I acksed.”

“Because you didn’t try to engage me in conversation.”

“Wow. Maybe I oughta learn to keep my trap shut more often.”

“Ha ha.”

“Hey, mister, before you get out, you mind I acks you anudder question?”


“Why you getting out here, at Bob’s Bowery Bar?”

“I like this place.”

“I don’t get it.”

“I don’t get a lot of things either.”

“Nicely dressed well spoken gennulman like you. I don’t get it. Ten million bars in this town. Why this one.”

The driver had adjusted his rearview mirror so that he could look at Philip, who paused and thought before answering.

“Well,” he said, not knowing what he was going to say next, but then the man who had been throwing up on the pavement was looking into the passenger window at him.

“Hey, Philip,” said the man. “Long time no see.”

It was the hopeless drunk (well, one of the hopeless drunks) they called Tom the Bomb.

“Oh, hi, Tom,” said Philip.

“Hey, Philip, can ya spare me fifty cent so’s I can get a bottle of Tokay?”

“Come on in the bar with me, I’ll buy you a drink or two.”

“I can’t, pal. Bob flagged me for the rest of the day on accounta I peed myself.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

Philip still had his wallet out. He took out a dollar and handed it to Tom the Bomb.

“Wow, a whole buck! Thanks, Philip, you’re okay in my book, I don’t care what anybody says about ya.”

“Don’t mention it, Tom.”

Tom staggered away, happily.

“Friend of yours,” said the cab driver.

“Sort of,” said Philip.

“So you’re like St. Francis.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“St. Francis of Assisi. He was the patron saint of birds and dumb animals.”


“You’re the patron saint of drunken bums.”

Philip took pause. Was that what he was?

“Wha’d he call ya – Philip?”


“St. Philip. Patron saint of drunken bums.”

“Heh heh. Well, thanks for the ride.”

“You’re welcome.”

Philip opened the door and got out of the cab, closed the door.

“Hey, buddy!” yelled the cab driver.

Philip bent down so that he could see the cab driver’s face.


“All God’s creatures are all God’s creatures.”

“Uh, yes, I suppose you’re right –”

“Even drunken bums.”

“Yes, I guess that’s true –”

“The birds. The squirrels in the park. The bums in the park.”

“Yes, uh –”

“You have a nice day.”

“I’ll try to.”

The driver put the car in gear and pulled out. Philip turned around. He started to take a step, but then he saw the puddle of liquid vomit Tom the Bomb had left on the sidewalk, and he sidestepped just in time.

St. Philip, patron saint of drunks. 

Maybe his life wasn’t entirely wasted after all.

Philip crossed the sidewalk and opened the door to the bar, and inside all was dim and smoky, but he could tell the joint was crowded, alive with laughing and shouting voices.

All God’s creatures.

Philip stepped inside, and the door closed behind him.

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