Thursday, September 24, 2020

“The Man Who Shot Johnny One Ear”

“I recommend the chicken fried steak,” said the man in the black suit.

“Okay, thanks,” said Jace.

“It’s our special today.”

“Well, that sounds good.”

“I wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t good.”

“No, of course not.”

“It’s a dollar.”

“Wow, a dollar?”

“Two four-ounce cutlets of lightly breaded tenderized cube steak, served  with our hand-cut house fried potatoes and choice of veg, what’s your problem?”

“Oh, no problem, in fact it sounds really good.”

“Jesus Christ, cowboy, I got to make a living here you know.”

“Yes, of course –”

“We serve the steak with a sauce Béarnaise, but if you don’t want Béarnaise you can get it plain or with ketchup or with our house hellfire sauce.”

“Could I get the Béarnaise on the side?”


“Could I also get the hellfire sauce on the side, you know, just to try it?”

The man in black paused for just a moment before replying.

“Sure, cowboy. Why not?”

“Much obliged.”

“You get a bottle of red eye with the meal, too.”

“A bottle of red eye is included with the steak special?”

“What did I just say?”

“I’m sorry, but, yeah, that sounds great, I mean, chicken fried steak and a bottle of red eye, that’s a pretty good deal –”

“Don’t forget the house fried potatoes and choice of veg.”

“I haven’t, yes, it all sounds –”

“What the hell else do you want?”

“Nothing, like I said, it really sounds –”


“Yes, it does –”

“Because it is.”

“Yes, I’m sure it is, so, look, I guess I’ll head over to the bar then and try to get my order in.”

“You do that.”

“See you later, Zeke.”

“Mister Zeke.”

“Sorry – Mister Zeke.”

“What did you say your name was?”

“Jace Calhoun?”


“Yes. Jace –”

“Jace Calhoun?”

“Yes. My first name is actually Jason, but –”

“Wait. Jace Calhoun who gunned down the Mason brothers over in Deadwood?”

“Okay, now that incident has been wildly misreported, Mr. Zeke –”

“Jace Calhoun who robbed the Danville train?”

“All right, hold on, I had nothing – or practically nothing – to do with that robbery –”

“Jace Calhoun who shot Johny One Ear in the back?”

“Okay, now look, that’s just not true –”

“So you’re saying you didn’t shoot Johnny One Ear.”

“Well, I’m not saying I didn’t shoot Johnny One Ear, per se, but – to just say I shot him in the back does not tell the whole story. You see, what happened was –”

“I thought you were hungry.”

“I am.”

“Then maybe you better get over to the bar and order that chicken-fried steak special before we run out of it.”

“Yes, of course –”

The man just stood there staring at him, and so Jace turned and headed for the bar.

Herbert Goldfarb pulled the page out of the typewriter and scrolled another one in. He reached for another bite of the babka and realized to his horror that all three pieces were gone. He rubbed his finger around the plate, gathered up the crumbs and licked them from his finger. He sighed. He was still hungry. Mrs. Morgenstern’s cinnamon babka was delicious, but it was hardly a nutritious lunch, especially considering that Herbert had had nothing for breakfast except a cup of black Nescafé with no sugar, and all he had had to eat for dinner last night was a hot dog with sauerkraut at Ma’s Diner.

He looked into the mug Mrs. Morgenstern had brought him, and at least there was a bit of coffee left in it – and it had cream and sugar in it, too, just the way he liked it. He drank it down, it was still almost warm, and so much better than black Nescafé with not a grain of sugar.

Okay, back to work. He really had to work a gunfight in here, or at least a saloon brawl. It was so hard to concentrate when all you could think about was food…

“So now you’re gonna feel sorry for yourself?”

Herbert turned, and it was a little old man, shabbily dressed, with wire-rimmed round glasses which magnified his eyes to twice their presumable actual size. He had a cloth cap on his head and a gnarled little cigar in his mouth.

“Who are you?” said Herbert. “How did you get in here?”

“Don’t worry about how I got in here,” said the little man. “Bert is my name. They call me Bowery Bert.”

“Y’know, now that I think about it, I’ve seen you around, at Ma’s Diner, and Bob’s Bowery Bar –”

“Oh, the keen novelist’s eye! So you do take some notice of your physical surroundings?”

“Well, to some extent. I know I’m self-absorbed, and that’s something I have been working on –”

The little man held up his little hand, like a miniature traffic cop.

“Stop. I am not here to hear your life story.”

“Oh, okay, then, well, may I ask then why –”

“I am a guardian angel.”

“A guardian angel? You’re my guardian angel?”

“I am the guardian angel for this area of the Bowery. I always have to explain this to everybody, but we do not have individual guardian angels for every single human being on the planet. We are given districts. My district is the Bowery, from Bleecker to Union Square and the adjacent blocks on either side of that storied thoroughfare you humans call the Bowery.”

“So – you’re here to help me?”

“Help is a strong word. I prefer the term ‘advise’.”

“Wow, thank you. So what do you advise me to do?”

“Cut the shit.”

“The ‘shit’?”

“Cut it, right now. You know why you’re starving and can’t pay your rent?”

“Well, the market for fiction is very competitive –”

“Bullshit. The problem is the crap you write, not the market place.”

“What’s the matter with the crap I write, I mean the stuff I write?”

“The problem is that you are writing according to formulas. You’re writing the same shit every other hack writer writes. So here’s my tip. Lose the formulas. Write from your heart, and from your brains. What’s your name again?”

“Herbert Goldfarb. But I write under various pen names. Like my detective stories are ‘Mack J. Collingsworth’, and my science fiction stories are ‘J. Phelps Bensonhurst’, but my westerns, like this one I’m writing now, are signed ‘Jake C. Higgins’ –”

“Try writing under your own name.”

“Herbert Goldfarb?”

“That’s your name, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but –”

“Look, I got to run. All day I got appointments, and trust me, some of these clowns are a hell of a sight more hopeless than even you are. Which is saying something.”


“Now get back to that story you’re writing. And remember: lose the formulas.”

“I think I at least have to get a gunfight or two in it.”

“Lose. The. Formulas.”

“Well, okay,” said Herbert.

He turned and looked at the page he had just typed. Then he turned back to the the little old man, but he was gone, all  except for the smell of his little cigar.

Herbert turned again, and looked at the blank page in his typewriter.

Jace found a place at the crowded bar. No stool, but at least he had a place to stand. He waited to get a bartender’s attention. He was determined to be patient, and determined to try to get through the day without a gunfight, or even a saloon brawl. Was that too much to ask?

{KIndly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, September 17, 2020

"The Worst Guy in the World"

 “I got a little class,” said Tom the Bomb. “Not a lot of class, but a little class.”

“Sure,” said Wine.

Tom was buying, on account of he had worked this week, down at the Fulton Fish Market, and so Wine was agreeing with everything Tom the Bomb said.

“How’s your wine, Wine?” said Tom, even though he could see that Wine’s glass was empty. “You want another Tokay?”

Wine had never turned down a drink in his life yet and he wasn’t about to start now.

“Thanks, Tom, sure, I appreciate it.”

“Yo, Bob,” yelled Tom, “another Tokay for my father here, and I’ll take another bock.”

Bob was down at the other end of the bar, talking to the Brain, but he at least looked up, even if he didn’t say anything.

“When you get time, Bob,” yelled Tom. “No hurry.”

Bob turned back to the Brain. He didn’t hurry for anybody.

“Thanks, Tom,” said Wine again.

“Don’t mention it,” said Tom. “When I’m flush my friends are flush. And that means you, ya little wino.”

“Heh heh.”

“A little class,” said Tom. “Not a lot of class, but a little class.”

“A little class is good, Tom,” said Wine.

“That’s what I say,” said Tom. “A little class. Just a little. That’s all.”

“You’re right, Tom.”

“I know I’m right. And you know why I know I’m right?”

“I don’t know, Tom.”

“You want to know why I know I’m right?”


“I’ll tell ya, buddy. I’ll tell ya how I know. It’s because I got a little class. And that’s how I know.”

Bob was there, and he refilled Wine’s glass from the gallon jug of Tokay, which, like his bock beer, he brewed down in the basement of the bar.

“Thanks, Bob,” said Wine.

“Take it out of my pile there, Bob,” said Tom, tapping his little wet pile of dollar bills and loose change. “And another bock for me, too.”

“Yeah, I heard you the first time,” said Bob.

“Heh heh,” said Tom.

Bob took Tom’s glass down to the bock tap.

“I love that guy,” said Tom to Wine, in a low voice.

“Yeah, he’s a good guy,” said Wine.

“What was I sayin’?” said Tom.

“That you got a little class. And a little class is good. And that you know that ‘cause you got a little class.”

“Yeah,” said Tom. “A little class. Not a lot of class. But a little.”

“And a little class is good, Tom.”

“Damn straight it’s good,” said Tom.

Friday, and the joint was filling up. What did Tom care? He had enough money to get his load on, and enough to get Wine loaded too. If he wasn’t too hungover tomorrow, maybe he’d show up for work at the Market, and if he didn’t feel like getting out of bed, he wouldn’t. That was tomorrow, and now was now.

Bob laid the fresh glass of bock down and took the exact change for the bock and the Tokay and went away.

“Here’s to you, pal,” said Tom to Wine.

The two drunks touched their glasses and drank.

Tom sighed.

“I ain’t the worst guy in the world,” he said.

“No,” said Wine.

“Not the worst,” said Tom.

“Not at all,” said Wine.

“I ain’t the worst guy in the world.”

Then Tom didn’t say anything for a while.

Wine didn’t mind.

{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, September 10, 2020

"Goldfarb's Holler"

Jace Calhoun had always tried to be a good feller. It weren’t his fault he kept getting into trouble. All across the wild west he had roamed, just trying to find peace, excepting every durn town he pulled into there was always somebody who wanted to throw down on him. And why? He was a nice guy, but maybe it was just because he was so nice, and also because he was a six-foot-two rangy strapping drink of cool mountain spring water with a broad flashing grin and a good word and a howdy-do for everybody he met.

Take this one feller he met when Jace pulled into this mining town in the Badlands name of Goldfarb’s Holler.

Herbert Goldfarb paused at his typewriter. Where the hell had “Goldfarb’s Holler” come from? Who the hell ever heard of a Badlands mining town called Goldfarb’s Holler? See, this is what happened when you were overworked and underslept, tired, and hungry. But his rent was over a month overdue, and Herbert really wanted to get a story written today. If he got it finished by mid-afternoon he could take the El up to the Minchkin Publications offices, shove his way in and go right to Al Schwartz’s desk, throw it down and ask for a ten-buck flat fee. But first he had to write the damn thing.

Time was short and typing paper was expensive, so Herbert decided to let Goldfarb’s Holler stay.

Where was he? Oh, yeah…

First thing Jace did after he found a stable for his horse Bosco was the first thing he did whenever he came to a new town. He hit the nearest saloon.

It was around noon and the place was packed. Didn’t nobody work in this town? And then he realized that most of the fellers in here were very dirty, and so they must be miners and they were in here on their lunch break.

What Jace really wanted was a beefsteak, some fried taters, and a bottle of whiskey. Now that was a lunch. Maybe some pie afterwards, then a nice nap.

Herbert realized he was really hungry. No breakfast today, not even toast, let alone the daily breakfast special across the street at Ma’s Diner. Damn, that beefsteak Jace wanted sounded good. What was today? Tuesday? Ma’s Diner’s Tuesday all-day special was her delicious chicken-fried steak! For seventy-five cents you got a juicy thick chicken-fried T-bone, hand-cut french fries and your choice of veg, and depending on what was available Herbert liked the succotash or the “breaded ‘n’ fried” Jersey tomato slices. Beverage included, and Herbert would always go for Ma’s house chicory coffee, with plenty of cream and sugar…

He was getting distracted again.

Back to the story.

“Hey, miss,” said Jace to a comely dark-haired waitress going by with a tray full of beers and whiskeys, “can I get a table for one?”

“What, are you nuts, cowboy? Look at this joint, you see an empty table?”

“Well, how long do you think the wait is for a table?”

“How the hell do I know?”

“Could I just put my name down? It’s Jace, Jace Cal–”

“What do you think this place is, Delmonico’s?”

“I’d just like to put my name on the waiting list. I could have a drink at the bar, and –”

“Do I look like I got a waiting list?”

“Oh, then is there a hostess I could talk to?”

Jace looked around for a hostess stand.

“Hey, Mabel, this guy bothering you?”

This was said by a fancy-looking dude in a black suit, smoking a thin cigar.

“He’s an idiot,” said the waitress. “Wants to know if we have a waiting list for tables.”

The dude looked at Jace.

“What’s your problem, pal?”

“I just want to get some lunch.”

“Then why you bothering Mabel?”

“I didn’t mean to bother her, but since she seems to work here, I thought she might be able to help me to get a table so I could eat lunch.”

“You want to hog a whole table for yourself when this place is this busy?”

“Maybe just a small table?”

“We have a few deuces, but they’re all occupied at present.”

“Oh, so you work here too?”

“I own this establishment.”

“Hey, Zeke,” said the waitress, “can I drop these drinks off now? The beer’s getting warm and flat while this moron is holding me up.”

“Yes, go on, Mabel.”

The waitress went off and the dude looked at Jace again.

“I hope you didn’t come here looking for trouble.”

“All I want is some lunch, mister. A nice beefsteak, some fried taters, a bottle of red eye. Is that too much to ask?”

“Not at all,” said the dude. “But if you’re gonna come in here looking for trouble, let me tell you something, you’re gonna find it, in spades.”

The dude drew back the skirts of his frock coat, draping their folds behind the pearl handles of twin revolvers in a black gun belt twinkling with .45 cartridges in their little leather loops.

“Oh, jeeze, mister – what is it, Zeke?”

“You can call me Mr. Zeke. You haven’t earned the right to call me Zeke. Yet.”

“Okay, Mr. Zeke – my name’s Jace, by the way, Jace Calhoun.” Zeke ignored Jace’s offered hand. Okay, thought, Jace, be that way. “Okay, fine, skip the handshake, I get it. But, look, I’ve been riding since dawn, no breakfast, and I’m tired and sore and hungry, and all I want is a beefsteak, and some potatoes, and a bottle of cheap whiskey. And then, if it’s not too much trouble, I would like a room, to sleep in. And I’d like to get a bath after I wake up from my nap. Is all that too much to ask?”

“I don’t know,” said Zeke. “Is it?”

Herbert had reached one of those points in a story where you really had to have something happen. Should he go right for a gunfight now? Maybe just a bar brawl? Or maybe a gunfight could break out in another part of the saloon? Would Jace ever get his beefsteak?

A knocking sounded on Herbert’s door.

“Mr. Goldfarb?”

It was Mrs. Morgenstern. Great.

“Mr. Goldfarb, I hear you typing, so I know you’re in there.”

“Coming, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

Herbert got up from his table and walked the six feet to the door. He opened it.

“Look, Mrs. Morgenstern, I know my rent’s overdue, but if I can finish this story I’m writing today I can give you ten dollars this evening, I mean I think I can if I can run it uptown to this publisher that takes most of my stories. What’s that?”

“I baked a cinnamon babka. I thought you might like some.”

She had a tin tray with a plate on it, with three thick slices of babka. Next to the plate was a big ceramic mug, steaming.

“A nice fresh hot mug of coffee, too. Cream and sugar, right?”

“Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

“And listen, if you sell your story, you ain’t got to give us ten tonight. Maybe a fin.”

“A fin, yes, a five, well, okay, I’ll try to at least get you five.”

“I know you work hard. All day I hear you typing in here.”

“I try. But the publishers only pay –”

“Just keep typing away. Someday you’ll write one of them best sellers, like Herman Wouk, Harold Robbins.”

“I wish.”

“Okay, I got work to do myself. See ya later, Mr. Goldfarb.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Morgenstern –”

But she was already headed down the hall.

Herbert closed the door and sighed. The coffee smelled good. The babka smelled good.

He took the tray over to his little table and set it down next to his typewriter.

He took a bite of babka. Delicious, and still warm! He took a sip of the coffee, and then looked at the page in his typewriter.

Jace sighed. He didn’t want a gunfight. He wanted a beefsteak, some potatoes, some whiskey, maybe a slice or two of pie or cake, and then a room with a bed.

“Okay,” he said, “look, Mr. Zeke, how about if I just try to find a spot at the bar, and I’ll have my lunch standing up if I have to.”

“You probably will have to.”

“Could I at least ask you for a room that I can go to after my lunch?”

“All we have is a fourth floor single looking out over the pig yard in back.”

“That would be perfect.”

“A dollar a night, in advance.”

“That seems very reasonable.”

“You can pay me now.”

Jace dug out a silver dollar from his Levi’s, and gave it to Zeke.

“I’ll send the bellboy over to get you at the bar in about an hour.”

“That would be fine,” said Jace.

Great, thought Herbert, now to get a good gunfight in here. He took another bite of the delicious babka, and a good gulp of the coffee, and he got back to work.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, with two-fisted art work by Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, September 3, 2020

“The Bottle on the Table”

Philip poured the last of the fifth of Cream of Kentucky into the glass, but it was okay, because he had a full bottle right there next to the empty one on his night table.

He was sitting and drinking here propped up against the headboard of his bed in the Parker Hotel because yesterday morning Bob down the street at Bob’s Bowery Bar had finally cut him off.

He had staggered into the place shortly after it opened at 7 a.m., the first customer of the day, he sat at his usual stool, and the first thing Bob said to him was, “You can have one shot, Philip, but just one, and then you got to go.”

Philip didn’t say anything.

Bob poured the shot, and Philip looked at it.

“I hope I didn’t misbehave last night, Bob.”

“Not at all,” said Bob. “I just don’t want you dropping dead in here.”

Philip paused before replying. But then he said, “I understand.”

He took out his wallet, not without difficulty, but Bob said, “That’s okay, Philip. On the house.”

Philip took a pause. In the later stages of a binge he took many pauses, and this had been the longest binge of them all.

“Can I at least leave something for your trouble?”

“I don’t want your money, Philip.”

Philip understood. He put the wallet away, picked up the shot glass and drank it down.

“Thanks, Bob.”

“You’re welcome, Philip.”

A trip to the liquor store, then back to the hotel, and here he was the next afternoon, still sitting up in this bed, still drinking.

The funny thing was, the thing he couldn’t figure out, was why his brother hadn’t sent Joe out to find him and take him to the drying-out place yet. Maybe his brother and the rest of the family had finally had it with him. How many times had Joe taken him to that place? Six times, seven? That must be it, the family was fed up, and who could blame them?

Well, this just might be it then. He could feel himself just barely inhabiting his body. It was like his soul was shimmering just under his skin, and any moment – maybe after just one more sip of whiskey – his soul, his consciousness, his spirit, whatever, whatever Philip was, it would shimmer out of this wreck of a body and go off to wherever souls went to.

Someone was knocking on his door. Who could that be? Oh, it must be Joe, come for him at last. Thank God, or whomever.

The knocking sounded again.

“Come in,” called Philip.

He never locked the door. Why should he?

The door opened, but it wasn’t Joe the detective. It was a little old man, a shabbily dressed little old man, in fact it was a little old man he remembered seeing at Bob’s Bowery Bar. He was about five feet tall, with thick round wire-rimmed glasses and a cloth cap, and he had an unlighted small cigar in his mouth.

“Hello,” said Philip.

“Howya doing,” said the old man, and he came over to the side of the bed. He picked up the full bottle of Cream of Kentucky, looked at the label, then put it down again. He took the cigar out of his mouth.

“I’m a busy man, so I’ll get right to the point,” he said. “They call me Bert, Bowery Bert. And I am a guardian angel.”

“You’re my guardian angel?”

“I’m gonna have to disabuse you of a common misconception about guardian angels. There is no way in heaven there’s enough guardian angels to go around for every human being on the planet, and so we are each given territories. My territory is the Bowery, from Bleecker to Union Square.”

“I see –” 

“You see nothing. You got no idea how much I got on my plate.”

“Um –”

“So, brass tacks. You see that bottle of Cream of Kentucky?”


“You open that bottle and it’ll be the last thing you’ll ever do.”


“That’s all I am gonna say, because we ain’t allowed to directly interfere in human affairs. The choice is yours, pal.”

Philip looked at the glass in his hand, which still held a few fingers of bourbon.

“Can I at least finish this glass?”

“Possibly. I ain’t making no promises, but, yeah, possibly.”

“Well, thanks. Thanks so much.”

“You’re welcome. And now I got to go. I am very busy. My schedule today you would not believe.”

“I can appreciate that.”

The little man stuck the cigar back in his mouth, turned, walked to the door, opened it, went out, closed the door.

Philip looked at his glass.

Had that really happened?

He put the glass on the night table, picked up his wallet that was lying there and opened it. He found the card, Joe the detective’s card. Would he be in his office? Well the only way to find out was to call. He shifted his legs off the bed. His shoes were down there on the floor, and he put his feet into them, but he didn’t tie the laces, because it seemed too complicated to do so.

Wearing only his trousers and his undershirt, he got up and went to the door, and went down the hall to the pay phone. He lifted the receiver from the hook, dropped a nickel in the slot, and, reading the number from Joe’s business card, he dialed.

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