Thursday, October 29, 2020

"Audie Murphy"

“Jesus Christ almighty,” said Fat Angie, the retired whore, “will you just shut the hell up, Addison?”

“But –”

“Listen, wiseguy, nobody wants to hear your attempted witticisms. Don’t you know how boring you are? Why can’t you just keep your mealy mouth shut now and then instead of trying to be so goddam clever all the time? Ain’t life boring enough without having to hear your crap?”

“Oh my.”

“I’ll oh my you. I’ll oh my you right off that bar stool if you say one more word to me, and don’t think I won’t.”

High among Addison’s inalienable attributes was cowardice, so he resisted the urge to try to come up with a withering riposte. He stared into the dregs of his bock. This was what his life had come to, to be lambasted by an overweight (but still powerful looking) retired prostitute in a Bowery bar.

Angie was sitting to Addison’s left, and so he turned to his right, where the big river boss Tommy McCarthy sat. If there was anyone in this joint more frightening than Angie, it was Tommy McCarthy. The big man had never said one word to Addison, nor even acknowledged his existence in any way. However, just as nature abhors a vacuum, Addison abhorred keeping silent, and so now, with an almost suicidal lack of common sense, he decided to try to engage Tommy McCarthy in conversation.

“So, Tommy, have you seen any good films lately?”

Tommy had been staring into his own half-drunk glass of bock, but now he turned and glared at Addison.


This was something. Tommy had actually said a word to Addison!

“I asked if you’ve seen any good films lately.”

“What do you care?”

“Well, I was simply curious. For instance I recently saw this marvelous new Cocteau film at the Thalia, and –”

Something about Tommy’s glare caused Addison to run out of words. A silence that could only be called awkward ensued. Addison knew he should just shut up, but his guardian demon forced him to speak again.

“I find that the films from France tend to be so much more substantial than those that come from Hollywood. It seems that the French approach the art of cinema as an art, and not merely as a mode of mass entertainment –”

“I like that Audie Murphy,” said Tommy.

“Audie Murphy?”

“Yeah, Audie Murphy. He’s a little guy, but he sure killed a lot of Krauts in the war. Just ‘cause a guy’s little don’t mean he can’t be a killer. I like them Audie Murphy westerns.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, although I did rather enjoy Murphy’s perhaps naive performance in Huston’s adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage.”

“Yeah, that one wasn’t so bad, but I prefer the westerns.”

“I’ll have to see one sometime. You know, there is a school of thought that the western is one of the few truly American genres –”

“You know why I like westerns?”

“Is it because of the stark way that good is presented as the antithesis of evil, and the way that the struggle of good versus evil is presented in –”

“I like westerns because the bad guy always gets shot by the good guy in the end.”


Addison realized that he was sweating. He was actually conversing with Tommy McCarthy!

“Unlike real life,” said Tommy.

“I beg your pardon.”

“Unlike real life, where the bad guys don’t always get shot in the end.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true.”

“Real life don’t work that way.”

“Yes, I think you have a point there –”

“What’s your name?”

“Well, they all call me Addison here, heh heh, because supposedly I try to act like the George Sanders character Addison DeWitt in the film All About Eve, ha ha, but actually my name is –”

“Listen, Addison, good guys don’t always get to shoot the bad guys in the end.”


“Sometimes the good guys get shot in the end.”

“Yes, well, uh –”

“Life ain’t a Audie Murphy movie, pal.”

“Y’know, you’re probably right –”

“I know I’m right. And this is why I like Audie Murphy movies. They ain’t like life. They’re like the way life should be.”

“Yes, well, as I say, I’m not very familiar with Mr. Murphy’s filmography –”

“What was that movie you were talking about?”

“The Cocteau film?”

“Whatever it was.”

“Well, it’s this French film, directed by Jean Cocteau –”



“I like westerns. Audie Murphy. Randolph Scott. Tim Holt.”

“Well, you know, Tommy, there’s an argument, and in fact it’s been promulgated by the French critics, that John Ford’s westerns have elevated the western to the level of an American mythopoeia –”

“The good guy shoots the bad guy in the end.”

“Um –”

“Unlike real life.”


Addison considered saying more, but for once he kept his demon under control. He must learn not to push things.

“One other thing,” said Tommy.

“Yes?” said Addison.

“In real life the bad guys don’t always wear black hats. Sometimes the bad guys wear white hats. And sometimes the good guys wear black hats.”

Addison fought that all-too-familiar compulsion to say something, anything, so long as it was clever. But he couldn’t help himself.

“Sometimes,” he said, “good guys wear grey hats.”

Tommy stared at him with those icy cold blue eyes.

Had Addison gone too far? Would one of those massive fists smash him in the face? Should he back-pedal? Should he simply jump off of his stool and run out of here, never to come back? Should he –

“Grey hats,” said Tommy, at last, “black hats, white hats. Brown hats. It don’t matter. Any bum can buy a hat, it don’t matter what color. You think Audie Murphy cares what color his hat is?”

“I shouldn’t think so.”

“Damn straight,” said Tommy.

He continued to stare at Addison for another half a minute, and then he returned his gaze to his bock.

The danger had passed, and Addison decided not to press his luck further. Tomorrow he would scan the newspaper listings, and see if any Audie Murphy films were playing. If so he could catch a matinée, and then the next time he sat next to Tommy McCarthy he would really have something to talk about.

{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, October 22, 2020

“A Gunslinger’s Dream”

 “Welp, here’s your room,” said the little fellow. “Sorry about the pigs outside in the yard down there, but this’n’s the only free room we got.”

“It’ll do,” said Jace Calhoun.

“You want me to close the window?”

“Yeah, sure, and draw them curtains shut while you’re at it.”

The little fellow went over to the window and Jace went over and sat down on the bed. He was tired, he was sleepy, and he was half-drunk. He drew his Peacemaker from its holster and slid the pistol under the pillow. He unbuckled his gun belt and draped it over the brass bedpost at the head of the bed, and then he started pulling his spurs and boots off.

The little guy came over after shutting the window and drawing the curtains.

“Okay,” he said. “You got your chamber pot by the bed there, all nice and clean. You got a pitcher of drinkin’ water and a clean glass on the night table. Feel free to smoke, and there’s a clean ashtray, although management asks that you be extra careful about smokin’ in bed.”

“All I want to do is take a nap,” said Jace.

“You want to get woke up any particular time?”

“No thanks.”

“I’ll put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door then.”


“You want me to fetch your traps from the livery stable?”

“I don’t care. I mean, yeah, sure, thanks.”

“I’ll fetch ‘em for ya. Don’t want to disturb your nap, so tell ya what, I’ll keep ‘em in the linen closet down the hall under lock and key, and then when you wake up you just tell me and I’ll get ‘em for ya.”

Jace was down to his union suit. The little guy picked Jace’s clothes up off the bed and draped them over a chair.

“You want a bath after your nap?”

“Yeah, great.”

“I’ll bring the tub in after you wake up and fill it up with hot water for ya, get you a nice clean bar of carbolic soap, clean towel.”

“That’ll be swell, but after my nap.”

“Wash off some of that trail dust.”

“Yeah, right.”

“And then we got a nice table d’hôte supper down at the saloon – roast pig tonight, with all the fixin’s. One dollar.”

“Sounds good.”

“Your choice of veg, with fried taters, baked beans, and hot cross buns.”

“Okay, I’ll probably take advantage of that.”

“Complimentary carafe of house red eye.”

“Sounds great.”

“Three kinds of pie, we got thistleberry, we got shoo-fly, I think we got Boston cream–”

“Good, whatever.”

“You want a lady, we can provide one of them, too.”

“We’ll see, right now I just want to take a nap.”

“Naps is good. Best thing for ya, especially if’n ya been ridin’ these mountain trails all the way from Deadwood.”

“Okay, I’m gonna take my nap now.”

“Sure you got everything you need?”

Suddenly Jace realized what the little fellow wanted.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“Jake. You need anything around here, you just ask old Jake.”

“Jake, pass me my Levi’s will you?”

Jake went over to the chair, picked up Jace’s crusty and dusty jeans and brought them to Jace. Jace stuck his fingers into the change pocket and brought out a silver dollar, flicked it to Jake, who caught it one-handed.

“Much obliged, Mr. Calhoun.”

“You’re welcome,” said Jace. 

He handed the jeans back to Jake, and the little man draped them over the chair again.

“Well, I reckon you’re all set then,” said Jake.

“I reckon so,” said Jace.

“Don’t you worry about that feller Claire St. Claire.”


“That little feller wanted to call you out.”

“Oh, him. I ain’t worried about him.”

“I don’t know what his problem is. It’s like he just wants somebody to shoot him.”

“Someday somebody will.”

“That’s true,” said Jake. “That’s very true. You keep challengin’ folks to gunfights, someday somebody’s gonna take you up on it.”

“Probably. Okay, look, Jake, I’m gonna take my nap now.”

Jace pulled back the covers, lay down, and pulled the covers up.

“I’ll make sure nobody disturbs you, Mr. Calhoun.”

But Jace was already asleep.

A thin young man was standing by his bed, he looked like a dude from back east, wearing glasses.

“Don’t mean to bother you, Mr. Calhoun, but my name is Herbert Goldfarb.”

“Goldfarb? Ain’t this town called Goldfarb’s Holler?”

“Yes, it is, actually.”

“So the town’s named after you?”

“Yes, I guess so. You see, I’m a writer, I write stories.”

“Like them dime novels?”

“Sort of, yes. And, well, I write stories about you.”

“Much obliged.”

“It’s a living. Only thing is, I’m having an artistic crisis. I feel as if I’m falling into the trap of writing formulaic, disposable trash.”

“That’s not good. Unless it pays well, I reckon.”

“That’s the thing, Jace, it doesn’t even really pay well. Like this story you’re in now, I’ll be lucky to make ten bucks from it.”

“Ten bucks ain’t bad.”

“Maybe so, but a guardian angel came to me and said I should try to write from the heart.”

“Sounds like a good idea.”

“So, the thing is, I might have to skip the inevitable gunfight with that little guy Claire St. Claire.”

“Fine by me.”


“Sure. You think I like having to shoot nitwits in every town I ride into?”

“I guess not, right?”

“No. It’s very –”


“Yes, disturbing.”

“So it’s okay with you if there’s no gunfight.”

“Look, all I want to do is take my nap, then get a nice hot bath, eat some roast pig, maybe have some fun with a nice little lady if there’s one that don’t look all diseased and sad.”

“I might be able to arrange that.”

“Then I would be very much obliged, Mr. Goldfarb.”

“Call me Herbert, or Herb.”

“Much obliged, Herb.”

Herbert woke up. It was still light out, and another El train roared by outside his window on its screeching way to Houston Street. He decided to sleep just a little bit longer. His story would still be there when he woke up.

{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, October 15, 2020

“Naptime for a Gunman”

The flapjacks were good, even with the blackstrap molasses instead of maple syrup. The little old guy – what was his name, Old Joe? – was still eating his own tall stack, which was nice, because that meant he wasn’t talking. Jace lifted his glass and finished the red eye that was in it. The saloon roared all around him, and someone was pounding on a piano.

“You finished them flapjacks now, Calhoun?”

Oh, Christ, this guy. He was still there, apparently, standing behind Jace.

“I say you finished them flapjacks, Calhoun?”

Jace sighed, then turned around to look down at the weaselly fellow, what was his name? A girl’s name? Carroll? Vivien? 

“I said, I say you finished them flapjacks, Calhoun?”

“I haven’t licked the plate, but, yes, as you can see, I’ve finished the flapjacks.”

“Then I think it’s time you and me stepped outside.”

Jace wanted a cigarette, but he didn’t feel like rolling another one. What he really wanted was a nap. A good, long, deep nap.

“Look, feller,” he said, “if we go outside and I shoot you, will that make you feel better?”

“I feel all right,” said the weaselly guy with a girl’s name. “Don’t you worry none about how I feel. You just worry about how you gonna feel after I shoot you dead.”

“If you shoot me dead I don’t think I’ll feel anything.”

“Well, mebbe so, mebbe not. But just don’t you worry about how I feel.”

“Let me ask you something – what was your name, Ashley?”

“Claire. Claire St. Claire, and if’n you make fun of my name I’ll shoot you right where you stand, never you mind about stepping outside first.”

“Claire St. Claire.”

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”

“Have you ever shot anyone, Claire?”

“Don’t you worry none about if I ever shot anyone. Mebbe I did, and mebbe I ain’t. But I’ll tell one one thing, cowboy, after I shoot you, you won’t be asking that question.”

“I won’t be asking any questions if you shoot me dead.”

“Well, that’s true. That’s definitely true. Dead men don’t ask no questions.”

“Or answer them.”

“That also is true. Dead men don’t ask no questions, nor do they answer them. That’s true.”

“Listen, Claire –”

“Mister St. Claire to you.”

“Mister St. Claire. I wonder if I can do you a favor.”

“What kind of favor.”

“The favor of not shooting you.”

“Don’t do me no favors.”

“The thing is, Claire, I’m really tired and extremely sleepy, and also more than a little drunk. Normally I would just draw my gun lightning quick right about now and crack you upside your tiny head with it, just so I wouldn’t have to go outside with you and shoot you. But because I’m so tired and sleepy and drunk I’d just as soon forget about it and go take a nap.”

The little weaselly fellow paused a moment.

“Ain’t no guarantee ‘twouldn’t be me what’d shoot you.”

“Of course not. But, as I say, instead of going through the tedium and bother of going out into the street with you, instead I would just draw my gun and clap you upside your small simian skull with it.”

“Mebbe you ain’t that quick. Mebbe I’m quicker.”

The weaselly fellow was holding his nervous hand just an inch above his holstered pistol. Jace was just a hair away from drawing his own Colt and braining the dolt when another little guy came up to him.

“Mister Calhoun? Mister Zeke sent me over to take you up to your room if’n you’re finished eatin’.”

“Oh, great,” said Jace. “Let’s go.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Claire St. Claire.

“You got any luggage?” said the little guy.

“Nope, I left my traps at the stable,” said Jace.

“Got a nice clean room for ya.”

“Great,” said Jace. “Let’s go.”

He turned to the old guy, who was licking his plate.

“Hey – Old Caleb?”

“Old Mose,” said the old fellow, looking up from the plate.

“Old Mose,” said Jace, “I’m going up to my room now and have a good long nap. You can finish off the bottle of red eye.”

“Much obliged, pardner! And thanks again for the flapjacks, too.”

“Hey,” said Claire St. Claire. “You can’t just go take a nap. We got bidness.”

Jace looked at him, and suddenly was overcome with an enormous yawn.

“Oh, excuse me,” he said, when the yawn subsided. He turned to the new little fellow. “Okay, let’s see that room.”

Herbert Goldfarb yawned mightily.

He couldn’t type another word. It was those flapjacks at Ma’s Diner. Even with three cups of Ma's chicory coffee, he just had to take a nap now.

He left the paper in the typewriter, got up from his little table, and walked the six feet to his bed. He undressed down to his boxer shorts, leaving his clothes on the footboard of the bed, and got under the covers. Would Jace Calhoun ever have a gunfight with Claire St. Claire? He had no idea. All he knew was that both he and Jace needed a good long nap right now, and then after the nap they would both find out if there was any shooting to be done.

Outside his window the elevated train roared and rumbled by on its way down to the Houston Street stop, and before the last car had passed Herbert was sound asleep.

{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, October 8, 2020

“The Man Who Shot Bluto Baggins”

 Jace refilled both their glasses with the red eye.

“Y’know,” said the old fellow, “you’re all right, pardner.”

“Thanks,” said Jace.

“And I ain’t just sayin’ that ‘cause you’re givin’ me red eye.”

Now that Jace had three glasses of the red eye in him he felt relaxed enough to start rolling a cigarette, and he got out his pouch of Bull Durham and his papers.

“I been all over this land o’ liberty,” said the old man. “From sea to shining sea, I seen all kinds of things and all kinds of people, and if there’s a one thing I learnt it’s how to tell shit from Shinola, and how to tell a good egg from a rotten egg. And I can tell you’re a good egg. I says I can tell you’re a good egg, buddy.”

Jace licked the perfectly rolled cigarette and got out his box of matches.

“Say, feller,” said the old man, “Mace, was it?”

“Pardon me?” said Jace.

“You said your name was Mace? Like maybe short for Mason?”

“No, it’s Jace, actually, Jace Calhoun.”

“Jace, that’s right! Short for Jason, I’ll warrant.”


Jace struck a match on the side of his chaps.

“Say, Jace, I wonder if you could spare some of that there tobaccy?”

Jace sighed, took the cigarette out of his mouth, placed it between the old-timer’s chapped lips, and gave him a light.

“Much obliged, Jace. Very much obliged. You’re a true Christian, you are.”

Jace said nothing, but tossed away the match and started rolling another cigarette.

The old fellow drew deeply on his sponged cigarette, and sighed, exhaling an enormous cloud of smoke.

“Yessiree Bob, Jace, this here’s what it’s all about. A good cigareet, a glass of red eye, some good companionship.”

The old fellow drank down his glass of red eye.

“Say, Jace, you mind I have another sup of that there red eye?”

Jace stifled a sigh, then nudged the bottle of red eye closer to the old man.

“Tell ya what, old timer – what was your name? Old Jacob?”

“Old Mose, actually.”

“Old Mose? Tell ya what, Mose, just help yourself to the red eye, as much as you like, and if we finish the bottle I’ll get another one. Also, I’ll leave the tobacco and the papers and the matches right on the bar here, and if you want to roll another one, or two, or as many as you want, you just go right ahead.”

“Dag nab it,” said Old Mose. “See, I’m never wrong about a fella. I can always spot a good man, from a mile away.”

Jace had a fresh cigarette rolled, and once again he struck a match on his rawhide chaps, and he lighted himself up.

“You Jace Calhoun?” said someone behind Jace.

Jace turned, and there was a little weaselly fellow there.

“Yes, my name is Jace Calhoun.”

“Jace Calhoun what gunned down Bluto Baggins?”

“Okay, listen, mister,” said Jace. “It’s true I shot Bluto Baggins, but it was a fair fight.”

“Bluto Baggins was a friend of a friend of mine’s friend.”

“A friend of a friend of yours?”

“A friend of a friend of mine was a friend of Bluto Baggins.”

“Okay, listen – what’s your name, by the way?”

“How come you want to know my name?”

“So that I can know how to address you.”

“You best not make fun of my name.”

“I won’t.”

“My name is Claire St. Claire.”

“Claire St. Claire?”

“I ain’t gonna say it agin.”

“Okay, listen, Claire –”

“Mister St. Claire to you.”

“Mister St. Claire. All I’m trying to do is smoke a cigarette, drink some red eye, and I hope to get some flapjacks soon. I’m sorry if I shot a friend of a friend of a friend of yours, but it was him or me.”

“That ain’t the way I heard it.”

“Well, that’s the way it was, I’m sorry.”

“I heard you dry-gulched him.”

“And who did you hear this from?”

“I heard it from this friend of my friend’s friend who was a friend of Bluto Baggins’s.”


“Damn right, okay.”

“Here’s what really happened, Claire. I shot Bluto Baggins in a crowded saloon with at least twenty or thirty witnesses who saw him challenge me to a gunfight and draw first. Fortunately for me he was not a very good shot, and after he fired I drew my Colt, took aim, and shot him just as he was about to fire again. The sheriff of the town was right there, and I was cleared of any culpability.”

“So you say.”

“It’s a matter of public record.”

“I’m a-challenging you to a draw, right now.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m waiting for my flapjacks.”

“You backing down?”

“Yes, I’m backing down, because all I want to do is relax, smoke my cigarette, drink some red eye, eat some flapjacks and then go take a nap.”

“You’re gonna take a real long nap real soon. A dirt nap.”

“Here’s your flapjacks, cowboy,” said a voice behind Jace. He turned, and it was the bartender, laying down a big plate of flapjacks. The barman put a rolled napkin down next to the plate, then reached under the bar and brought up an earthenware jug with a cork in it. “Blackstrap molasses,” he said. “We ain’t got no maple syrup.”

“Blackstrap molasses is fine,” said Jace.

“Butter on the side of the plate,” said the bartender. “Freshly churned.”

“Great,” said Jace. He unrolled the napkin and took out the knife and fork that had been in it. He uncorked the jug and poured molasses all over the flapjacks, took up the knife and slathered butter on top of the stack.

He took one more good draw from his cigarette before tucking in, savoring the anticipation.

“Them flapjacks sure look good,” said Old Mose.

“Hey, Calhoun,” said the weaselly guy, Claire St. Claire, “don’t you turn your back on me.”

The bartender was still standing there.

“Everything all right?” he said.

“Looks good to me,” said Jace.

“Them flapjacks really look good,” said Old Mose.

“Well, let me know if you need anything else,” said the bartender.

“As a matter of fact,” said Jace, “do you have an ashtray?”

“What? Yes, of course.” He reached under the bar and brought out an ashtray. It wasn’t clean, but it was an ashtray.

“Thanks,” said Jace. He put his cigarette in one of the indentations on the ashtray. “One other thing. Could I order another plate of flapjacks for my friend Old Mose here?”

He dug into his jeans and tossed a silver dollar on the bar top.

“Aw, gee, Mace,” said Old Mose. “I wasn’t anglin’ for no free flapjacks, I was just sayin’ they sure look good is all –”

“Tall stack?” said the bartender.

“Make it a tall stack,” said Jace.

“Aw, gee, thanks, Jake,” said Old Mose.

“I said turn around, Calhoun,” said Claire St. Claire.

Jace ignored the little weasel. Maybe the weasel would shoot him in the back, maybe he wouldn’t, but if he did shoot Jace, at least Jace would die eating flapjacks, and he tucked the napkin into the collar of his shirt and picked up his fork.

Herbert Goldfarb pulled the sheet of paper out of his typewriter.

What the hell was he writing?

No magazine in the world would accept this story. He was losing his mind. And then he realized: no, he wasn’t losing his mind, he was just hungry.

He shoved back his chair, stood up.

He got his jacket off the back of the chair, went the six feet to his door, went out without locking the door and went down the four flights of stairs and across Bleecker Street to Ma’s Diner, and took a seat at the counter.

“How’s it goin’, sugar?” said Ma.

“Great, Ma. Listen, I know it’s past breakfast time, but can I still get flapjacks?”

“Sure, honey. You want a short or a tall stack?”

“Tall. And I have an odd request.”

“Name it, sweetheart.”

“Could I have blackstrap molasses instead of maple syrup?”

{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, October 1, 2020

“There’s a Reason Why They Call It the Badlands”

After a couple of minutes, during which Jace Calhoun fought back the urge to shout for service, one of the bartenders came over to him.

“Whaddaya want, cowboy?”

“I’d like some lunch, please.”

“So would I.”

“Do you have a menu?”

The bartender pointed with his thumb to a blackboard mounted on the wall behind him.

“You blind?”

“Yes, I saw that, but I thought you might also have a printed menu.”

“What’s the matter with the blackboard menu?”

“Nothing at all. I just thought that the blackboard menu might just be specials, and that you might also have a printed menu.”


“So the blackboard menu is your only menu?”

“Yes, and look, as you can see we’re really goddam busy in here, so if you’re not ready to order I’ll check back with you in five, ten minutes.”

“No! Look, your boss, Zeke –”

“Mister Zeke to you.”

“Okay, your boss, Mister Zeke, he recommended the chicken fried steak, but I see you also have a T-bone up there.”

“So you can read.”

“Heh heh, yes, so how’s the T-bone?”

“I get few complaints.”

“A buck-fifty, right?”

“That’s what it says, don’t it?”

“Yes. But what about that ten-alarm chili for a quarter, how’s that?”

“What do you want for a quarter?”

“Okay, well, does it come with bread?”

“The chili?”

“Yes, the chili, does it come with bread?”


“Okay, hardtack. And is the chili really hot? I mean spicy hot?”

“Why do you think we call it ten-alarm?”

“All right. Now Mister Zeke told me that you get a bottle of red eye with the chicken fried steak. Do you get a bottle of red eye with the chili?”

“No, but you get an imperial pint of our house bock.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad –”

“What more do you want for a lousy two bits?”

“Excuse me, cowboy,” said a small old man sitting on the stool to the right of where Jace stood. “Are you a vegetarian?”

“A vegetarian?” said Jace. “No, why?”

“Because the ten-alarm chili is a vegetarian chili.”

“It is?”

“Most assuredly. I’m a vegetarian, and I eat it every day.”

“I didn’t realize it was a vegetarian dish.”

“What do you expect for a quarter?” said the bartender.

“Well, it did seem pretty inexpensive,” said Jace.

“This is the 19th century,” said the bartender. “You need at least one or two vegetarian items on the menu.”

“I can see that,” said Jace. “Well, look, I think maybe I’ll just try the T-bone.”

“We’re out of the T-bone.”

“Okay, well, I’ll go for the chicken fried steak then.”

“Just sold my last order.”

Jace sighed.

“I’ll come back,” said the bartender.

“No!” said Jace. “Look, how about the ham and eggs for fifty cents?”

“All gone.”

“Go for the chili,” said the little old man. “It’s to die for.”

“I’m sure it is,” said Jace. “It’s just I’m not very good with hot spices, especially for my first meal of the day –”

“Then don’t order it,” said the old-timer. “No skin off my nose.”

“Okay,” said Jace, and he addressed the bartender again. “What do you have on the menu that you’re not out of yet?”

The bartender turned and looked at the menu for a moment, then turned to face Jace again.


“Flapjacks, great, I’ll take those.”

“Tall or short stack.”


“That’s another good vegetarian option,” said the little old man.

“Yes,” said Jace. “I’m sure it is.” Turning to the bartender again he said, “Do I get some red eye or beer with that?”

“Not included. You do get a bottomless cup of our house fresh-ground chicory coffee though.”

“Well, I was really hoping for a nap after lunch, and so I’d better not have coffee.”

“So don’t have it.”

“Can I substitute some red eye or at least beer for the coffee?”

“You looking for trouble, pal?”

“No, not at all, it’s just –”

“Look, it’s two bits for the flapjacks, pal. You don’t want coffee, fine, that’s on you. Order some red eye then, but I’m gonna charge you for it.”

“Okay,” said Jace, “look, I’ll take a tall stack of the flapjacks and I’ll also have a bottle of red eye.”

“It’ll be a quarter for the red eye.”

“Great, that sounds very reasonable. Could I have the bottle of red eye now while I’m waiting for my flapjacks?”

“Of course.”

The bartender reached under the bar, pulled out an unlabeled bottle and a whiskey glass and put it on the bar in front of Jace.

“Fifty cent,” he said. “For the red eye and the flapjacks. Pay in advance.”

Jace had his money all ready and he put down a silver dollar.

“Keep the change.”

“Thanks, big spender,” said the bartender.

Jace pulled the cork out of the bottle with his teeth, spat it onto the floor, filled his glass with the red eye, and drank it down in one go.

“I think you’ll like the flapjacks,” said the old timer. “I eat them every day.”

“At this point I don’t much care,” said Jace. “As long as it’s food.”

“You should really consider adopting a vegetarian diet.”

“Okay, I will,” said Jace, and he refilled his glass. It wasn’t the worst red eye he’d ever tasted. He drank this second glass down and felt a little better.

“Hey, old-timer,” he said, “can I ask you a question?”

“Fire away, sonny.”

“Why is everybody in this town so unpleasant?”

“I don’t think I’m unpleasant.”

“Okay, I generalized, I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted.”

Jace refilled his glass again.

“I wouldn’t mind some of that red eye,” said the old man.

“Sure,” said Jace. 

There was an empty glass in front of the old fellow, and Jace filled it up with red eye.

“To your very good health, sir,” said the old man, and they both emptied their glasses.

“They call me Old Mose,” said the old man.

“Jace,” said Jace, “Jace Calhoun.”

They shook hands. The old fellow’s hand was filthy, but Jace’s hand was not so clean either.

“There’s a reason why they call it the Badlands,” said Old Mose, and he shoved his empty glass toward Jace for a refill.

Herbert Goldfarb paused with his fingers over the typewriter keys. Was he losing his mind? No one would buy this story. He’d typed five or six pages, and not a gunfight or saloon brawl in sight. He needed to eat, that was the problem. But he was stone broke, all he had was one subway token to his name. At this rate he would never get this story in shape in time to take the el up to the Minchkin Publications offices and try to get Schwartz to take it for a sawbuck. He was doomed. He turned and looked out his one window at the steel girders and columns of the elevated train in the bright but dirty sunshine. Then he hung his head, in despair, and there, on the bare floorboards, was a ten-dollar bill. He bent down and picked it up, held it to the light. It was crumpled, and dirty, but it was real.

A ten-dollar bill.

Had his guardian angel left it here? Or had he himself somehow dropped it on the floor when he was flush, possibly when he had had one too many bocks at Bob’s Bowery Bar? He wouldn’t put it past himself. He only swept up once every couple of weeks or so, and the floor was littered with crumpled typewriter paper, gum wrappers, crushed Philip Morris packets, and dust bunnies.

Ten dollars. He could eat today, and he could even give Mrs. Morgenstern five bucks toward his overdue rent.

He pocketed the ten, and turned back to the sheet of paper in his typewriter.

He began to type again.

{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…}