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…}

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