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…}

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