Thursday, November 26, 2020

“What Montaigne Said”

She waited until he finished talking, and then she started talking.

She went on for quite a while, twenty-five or thirty minutes, and then she just stared at him. She was breathing heavy.

Spike had nothing more to say, and he guessed Myrtle had nothing more to say, at least for the time being.

He put out his cigarette, got up, went and got his jacket and went out the door and down the four flights of stairs to the street.

The Bowery was dirty and cold, and the sky up above the Third Avenue El was the color of an old potato sack. Spike walked down the block to Bob’s Bowery Bar and went in. He didn’t have much money in his pocket, but he had enough to get his load on.

It was mid-afternoon on a November Sunday, the place was thick with smoke and drunks, but Spike saw an empty stool down near the toilets and he went for it before somebody else could.

On his left sat Fat Angie, the retired prostitute who sold flowers from a cart on the street. On his right was that guy they called Addison, although apparently that wasn’t his real name.

Bob came over, and Spike ordered his usual, a glass of the house basement-brewed bock. When Bob brought it to him, Spike said, “Wait a second, will you, Bob?” and he lifted the glass and downed it all in four gulps. “I’ll take another one, please, Bob,” he said.

While he was waiting for Bob to bring him his refill, Spike took out his cigarettes, he still had a few left, and he lighted one up.

“Hard day, Spike?” said Addison.

This was the trouble with this guy Addison. He always had to talk.

“No harder than most days,” said Spike.

“Do you know what Montaigne said?” said Addison.

“No, I don’t,” said Spike.

Addison told him what Montaigne said.

“Montaigne said that the only thing worse than being alive was not being alive.”

“How the fuck would this nitwit Montaigne know that?” said Angie, leaning into the conversation, such as it was.

“Well, I suppose it was just his opinion, based of course on a lifetime of philosophy, and his, um, experience of life, and –”

“Fuck his opinion,” said Angie.

Fortunately Bob was there with Spike’s fresh bock. He could relax and drink this one slow, or at least slower.

“What do you think, Bob?” said Addison.

“About what?”

“I was just telling Spike and dear Angie here that the great French philosopher Montaigne said that the only thing worse than being alive was not being alive.”

Bob took a puff on his Parodi.

“You know what I think?” said Bob.

“I should love to know what you think,” said Addison. Bob so rarely deigned to speak with Addison.

“I think I spent twenty years in the marine corps and another twenty-some years running this dive, and I still don’t know shit from Shinola.”

“Ha ha,” said Angie.

Bob took two dimes for Spike’s bocks and went to the register.

“Well,” said Addison.

Spike took a drink of his bock.

Maybe he shouldn’t get his load on after all.

Maybe Myrtle was right about what a bum he was.

Maybe he should just finish this bock and then go back up to the apartment and talk to her.

“Do you know what Voltaire said?” said Addison.

“What?” said Spike.

“I said do you know what Voltaire said?”

“Who’s Voltaire?”

“He was another great French philosopher. Voltaire. Do you know what he said?”

“No,” said Spike. “I don’t know what nobody said.”

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version profusely illustrated by rhoda penmarq.}

Tuesday, November 24, 2020


 THE FLY & I: VOLUME FOUR OF THE MEMOIRS OF ARNOLD SCHNABEL is now out and available on Amazon as both an old-fashioned paper "book" and a new-fangled Kindle e-book, at low, low, crazy low prices!

 Click here to buy your very own copy, kids – and remember: please enjoy responsibly!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

"The First Day"

The first week was always the hardest, but this had been the hardest first week ever. Shakes, chills, nausea, hallucinations, insomnia, hysterics, tears, laughing, etc., etc.

But a strange thing happened on the eighth day. Philip had gone to bed very early the night before, without taking any sleeping pills, and for the first time in months or years he slept deeply and soundly and long. He was sleeping so luxuriously, and with such interesting dreams, that he wanted to keep sleeping, but through the world of dreams he realized that he wasn’t dreaming that he had to urinate, that he actually real-world needed to urinate. He opened his eyes and his room was filled with light. He got out of bed and went to the bathroom.

In the mirror was his face, not looking great, but he had seen it looking much worse.

He went back to bed and fell asleep again.

When he awoke again he lay there feeling his body, and what was in it, and, yes, no denying it, he was not in pain. Amazing what something as simple as not drinking for a week could do.

After breakfast and his private session with Dr. Himmelmann, Philip took a walk around the grounds. It was a sunny cool day in early November, the week after election day. Philip hadn’t voted, and not just because he was in the sanitarium. Philip had never voted in his life. There was a grassy slope to the rear of the grounds, and Philip walked down and found a creek he hadn’t known was there, even though he had been to this sanitarium five or was it six times before.

He stood there looking at the flowing shallow water.

“Hello,” said a woman’s voice.

Philip turned around, and it was another patient, a young woman he had seen in group, what was her name?

“Hello,” he said.

“Do you mind if I join you?”

“Not at all,” said Philip.

She came down and stood next to him.

“Nature,” she said.

“Yes,” said Philip. “In the raw.”

“I’m Edna.”

“Hi, Edna. I’m Philip.”

“Do you have a cigarette?”


Philip took his cigarettes out of his cardigan pocket, and they both stood there smoking.

“I don’t know the name of a single one of these trees,” said Edna.

“Me neither,” said Philip.

“But they’re nice to look at anyway.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Have you been to this place before?”

“Oh, yes,” said Philip. “In fact, I was just thinking, this is my fifth or sixth time. Not to mention a few stays in hospitals.”

“You’re a veteran.”

“Yes, a battle-scarred veteran.”

“I’m a rookie. A raw recruit.”

“You’re young yet.”

“How old are you?”

Philip had to think for a moment.

“Thirty-five I think.”

“That’s not old. Are you married?”

“Only to the bottle.”

“Ha ha.”

“Are you?”



“Yes, I’m married. My husband put me in here. Can’t blame him.”

“Any kids?”

“No, thank God. Not yet. I can’t have kids unless I stop drinking.”

“That’s wise,” said Philip.

“But what if I have kids and then start drinking again?”

“Yes, that would be a problem.”

They stood there looking at the water flow.

“I’m getting a little cold,” said the young woman.

“You should head back then,” said Philip.

“Yeah. Do you want to come back too?”

“I think I’ll stay here a bit longer, maybe walk some more.”

“Do you want to sit together at lunch?”


“You said that funny.”

“We’re supposed to be careful about getting involved with other patients.”

“I know. But it’s only human to want to talk to people.”

“Then let’s have lunch together,” said Philip.

“I would like that,” she said.

She was attractive, even if she was a drunk. But then she was still young. 

She tossed her cigarette into the stream, it hissed and flowed away.

She turned and started up the slope.

Philip stood there finishing his cigarette.

As they said in the meetings, it was the first day of the rest of his life. Again.

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

Thursday, November 12, 2020

“Ride a Dead Horse”

The very next forenoon, scanning the Federal-Democrat’s movie listings over chicory coffee and a butter roll at Ma’s Diner, sure enough Addison found an Audie Murphy movie playing, at a theatre called the Vauxhall on 42nd Street. The film was called Ride a Dead Horse, the middle part of a triple bill bookended by Tombstone With No Name, starring Tim Holt, and Crack of the Whip with Randolph Scott.

It was a drizzly day, grey and cold, and every single person Addison saw on the street or on the Third Avenue El seemed to have a runny nose. Election Day was tomorrow, not that Addison cared about elections. He cared only for higher things: novels, movies, music, the theatre. “I confess I should have been one of those Germans blissfully unaware of Hitler’s rise to power,” he said at least once every three days, “remaining so until I was dragged off to a concentration camp as an insufficiently ardent son of der Vaterland.

Addison had never darkened the doors of the Vauxhall before, and he realized almost at once that this must be one of those theatres known as grindhouses or fleapits.

An ancient crone sat in the ticket booth, smoking a cigarette and reading the New Yorker.

“Anything good in the New Yorker?” said Addison.

“Somebody left it in the lobby. It ain’t exactly my cup of tea, but it’s something to look at.”

“What sort of magazines do you normally read?”

“Movie magazines.”

“Well, that stands to reason, you working at a movie theatre after all.”

“Yeah. You want a ticket, or are you just here to make conversation.”

“Yes, one ticket please.”

“A quarter.”

Addison gave the woman a quarter and she tore off a ticket.

“May I ask you a question?” ventured Addison.


“When does Ride a Dead Horse start?”

The woman glanced at a paper on her little desk, and then at her watch.

“You got about five minutes.”

“Have you seen it?”

“I ain’t big on cowboy pictures.”

“Oh, no? What sort of pictures do you like?”

“Joan Crawford. Barbara Stanwyck. Bette Davis.”

“Women’s pictures.”

“I’m a woman, ain’t I?”

“Yes indeed.”

“Cowboy pictures is for men. ‘Cause they all wish they was cowboys. Instead of what they are.”

“And what is that?”

The woman took a drag on her cigarette before replying.

“Bums,” she said.


“You heard me.”

“Surely not all men.”

“Not all of them. Just 99% of them.”

What else was there to say? Addison was a man, going to see a movie matinée on a Monday afternoon. He lived in a tiny fourth-floor walk-up on Bleecker, he had no job, and he lived off checks that his grandmother sent him while he supposedly worked on his book, a study of trends in Anglo-American criticism since the First World War.

“Well, thank you,” he said.

“You still got time to buy some popcorn,” said the woman, and she lowered her eyes to her New Yorker.

Addison went in and gave his ticket to a little old man.

“Just in time to catch the beginning of the Audie Murphy movie,” said the little old man, who wore a faded blue uniform with faded red and gold piping.

“Yes, I’m quite looking forward to seeing it,” said Addison. “You see, I was conversing with a friend of mine named Tommy McCarthy last night – perhaps you’ve heard of him? He’s an official with the stevedores’ union.”

“Tommy McCarthy, Tommy McCarthy. He had a brother name Jerry?”

“Yes, I believe he did.”

“Got bumped off with his wife Marie down on the Bowery.”

“Yes, quite shocking.”

“A peculiar crime,” said the little old man, “because they wasn’t robbed. But someone bashed both their skulls in with a brick.”

“Yes, that was, um, peculiar,” said Addison.

“Life is peculiar.”

“Yes,” said Addison. “As is death.”


“Death is peculiar, as is life.”

“What’s so peculiar about death?”

“Well, just the mystery of it I suppose.”

“What’s the mystery? You live, you die.”

“Yes, um, that’s true.”

“Of course it’s true. You know anybody who ever lived forever?”

“Not offhand, no.”

“Not offhand nohow. You live, you die. End of story.”

“Yes, heh heh.”

“You better hurry if you want to get some popcorn or go to the men’s room. Show’s about to start.”

“Yes, well, thank you.”



“What about Tommy McCarthy, the river boss?”

“Oh, it’s simply that Tommy was telling me last night that he’s quite the aficionado of Audie Murphy westerns.”

“No kidding.”

“No. You see, I had mentioned that I had recently seen this Cocteau film, and Tommy said –”

“He likes Audie Murphy movies.”


“So now you want to see one.”


“Tommy McCarthy told you he likes to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, you gonna jump off the Brooklyn Bridge?”

“Ha ha, well, probably not –”

“So go in, watch the movie. Make up your own mind.”

“I hope to.”

“Let me know what you think on the way out.”

“I will.”

“You better hurry up.”

Addison decided not to get popcorn, and not just because he was afraid of missing the beginning of the movie. It was more that he was afraid of the man behind the concessions counter, a thin grey moribund-looking fellow who looked more frightening even than the box-office lady or the ticket collector. He went through the swinging doors just in time to see the red brush-stroked title flashed across the screen, to the accompaniment of swelling music: Ride a Dead Horse.

But he had one more employee to deal with, a dwarfish usher with a flashlight.

“Where you want to sit, buddy?”

“Oh, I suppose about midway, as centered as possible.”

“Folla me.”

Addison followed the little man, his flashlight’s beam lighting the way through sluggish clouds of smoke. As far as Addison could see there were only about a dozen people in the auditorium, each patron indicated by the glowing red dot of a cigarette, cigar, pipe, or (if Addison’s sense of smell did not deceive him) marijuana reefer. When they got midway down the aisle, the usher stopped and flashed his light on a row of seats, revealing an enormous fat man halfway down the row, digging brutally into a large box of popcorn.

“Could I sit in another row?” whispered Addison.

“That guy ain’t gonna bother ya.”

“Perhaps, but I’ve changed my mind, and I think I’d like to sit farther down front.”

“No skin off my nose.”

Finally Addison sat himself in a seat about six rows from the front. Why was life so difficult?

A shot thundered through the auditorium, and a rider’s horse collapsed under him. The man rolled away in time to avoid a second and third shot, and crouched behind a convenient boulder. The fellow drew his six-gun, and a close-up filled the screen with the boyish face of the killer of more than two hundred men: Audie Murphy.

Several more gunshots rang out, ricocheting off the boulder.

Well, there’s that, thought Addison. At least no one is shooting at me.

Not yet, anyway.

And he settled down to watch the movie.

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