Thursday, December 30, 2021

“New Year’s Eve, 1944, Fayetteville, North Carolina”


 Gerry decided to resign himself to Addison’s intrusion on his tête-à-tête with Araminta.

The sad fact was that Addison was simply impregnable to hints, and he had solidified his position by shoving himself up against the bar in the very narrow space between where Gerry and Araminta sat on their bar stools.

“My friends,” said Addison, “I truly feel that this coming year will be the year of great change – yes, momentous change – at least for myself. My novel proceeds apace, thank you very much, and, as soon as it is published, then, at last, at long last, I shall take my place at the table of the great feast of life.”

“So you think your book’s going to be a big success?” said Araminta, quite deadpan.

“Yes, Araminta,” said Addison, “I do. Oh, perhaps not a top bestseller, but most certainly a succès d’estime.

“A critics’ choice,” posited Araminta.

“Precisely,” said Addison. “I should not be surprised if next year Sixguns to El Paso makes all the most respected end-of-the-year top-ten lists. But.”

“But?” said Araminta, while Gerry said nothing, for the very good reason that he was paying not the least bit of attention to a word Addison said.

“But – I don’t want either of you to think that I shall forget my old friends,” said Addison.

“I would never think that,” said Araminta.

“And, perhaps,” said Addison, “perhaps I say, I just might find an opportunity to drop a word or two to my publisher regarding the both of you.”

“You have a publisher?” asked Araminta.

“Oh, no, not as yet; after all, I’ve only finished two hundred and eighty-four pages of what I envision as a work of possibly two or even three thousand typed pages. But as soon as I finish it I’ll drop it off at a suitable house – I have my eye on Smythe & Son – and I’m sure it will be accepted at once.”

“I have no doubt,” said Araminta.

“Yes, and so I just might be able to put in a good word for your novel, Araminta, and also, possibly, even for your little volume of philosophical observations, Gerry. Gerry?”

“Yes?”

“I said I might put in a good word for your book with my publisher.”

“You have a publisher?”

“No, as I was just saying to Araminta, I don’t have a publisher quite as yet per se, but when I do I’ll see if I can get them to consider your and Araminta’s books.”

“Oh, thanks,” said Gerry. “I don’t know about Araminta’s novel, but I’m sure my book will need all the help it can get.”

“Yes,” said Addison, “sadly the market for books of philosophy is not quite bullish shall we say. But, rest assured, if I can crack open a door for you, and for dear Araminta, I shall.”

“Another round here?” said the bartender, and indeed all of our friends’ glasses were empty.

“Yes, please,” said Gerry, and he somehow wound up paying for another round, Rheingolds and Creams of Kentucky for the two gentlemen, a house red wine and a grappa for Araminta.

“To the encroaching new year,” said Addison, raising his fresh shot. “May this one not be like all its predecessors, fraught with failure, with poverty and humiliation, no, but resounding with triumph both artistic, and, to an acceptable extent, commercial.”

They drank.

Addison sighed.

“And now I must tell you, my friends, something else which I have never told anyone, not even my shrink. This talk of the looming year has dislodged a certain memory from the dark vault where it has lain hidden away for some half-dozen grey and lost years. It is a memory that serves as a coda to the incident I told you of earlier, in the men’s room of that low tavern the Sow’s Belly, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when I was doing my grim wartime service in the parachute factory.” Addison wet his whistle with a slug of Rheingold, and then continued. “It was New Year’s Eve, and of course I was at the bar and well into my cups, attempting and failing quite miserably to drown my sorrows, when who should shove in next to me but that huge sergeant I told you about.”

“The one who buggered you in the men’s room?” said Araminta.

“Well, I suppose ‘dry buggered’ might be the apt phrase, but, yes, the same. And this chap clapped me on the shoulder and I was terrified that he was going to drag me into the lavatory by main force for a vigorous repeat performance. But instead he just said, ‘Happy New Year, pal,’ and he insisted on buying me a drink. ‘Happy New Year.’ He didn’t recognize me, you see. Had no idea it was I whom he had heaved and ground his sodden corporeal host against as I was standing mid-micturition at the urinal only the previous weekend.”

“Did you accept the drink?” asked Araminta.

“Of course I did,” said Addison.  

Araminta had nothing to say to this, or nothing that she chose to say. Gerry also said nothing, but then he had stopped listening again.

The bar around them roared with laughter, shouting and chatter, the jukebox music played, an old tune from the war years, “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B”.

“I recall that we had a pleasant conversation, of sorts,” said Addison. “And then he wished me a Happy New Year once more and staggered off into the drunken crowd. After that I saw him a few more times at the Sow’s Belly, but we never spoke again. And then I stopped seeing him. I suppose his unit shipped out. Oh, how these memories well up in Proustian profusion! But, you see, here’s the thing.”

“What’s the thing?” said Araminta, who was still listening, if not raptly.

“The thing was that for those few minutes of inebriate conversation that the sergeant and I shared that New Year’s Eve –”

“What was his name, this sergeant?” asked Araminta.

“No idea. He never said,” said Addison.

“Okay, go on,” said Araminta.

“For those few brief minutes of drunken fellowship I thought that perhaps I had made a friend.”

“A friend,” said Araminta. “With the man who tried to bugger you while you were urinating.”

“But he was drunk, my dear Araminta. A drunken soldier, far from his home, soon perhaps to be sent to war. We must not be too judgmental.”

“Okay,” said Araminta.

Another old song had come on the jukebox, it was Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey, “Fools Rush In”…

“Perhaps,” said Addison, after a pause, “next year, in the new New Year, that sergeant, now a civilian, a bit paunchy now, his hairline receding, perhaps he will idly pick up Sixguns to El Paso in his local bookshop, and, turning it over and seeing the author’s photograph, he will recognize that lonely young fellow he spoke with at the bar of the Sow’s Belly, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, that New Year’s Eve of 1944, yes, he will recognize him, and say, ‘Hey, I once spoke with that guy. And, gee, now he’s a famous author. I wonder if he remembers me?’”

Araminta thought this scenario highly unlikely, but she said nothing.



Gerry still wasn’t paying even an iota of attention and so he also said nothing.

And, for a minute at least, even Addison said nothing, dreaming of new years past and to come, as fools rushed in, where wise men never go…

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

Thursday, December 23, 2021

“Smiling Jack’s Christmas Miracle”


 The cold rain had turned to sleet and then the sleet had changed to snow, thick fat snowflakes swirling through the street lamp’s light and whitening the sidewalks and the street, and still Smiling Jack stood under his old umbrella with his satchel of pamphlets. Another hour, and then he could head down to Old St. Pat’s basement and the meeting.

A familiar-looking fellow came walking up Bleecker street.

“Can I offer you a book, buddy?” said Smiling Jack as the man came near.

“What?”

“A book, my friend, free, gratis and for nothing. Oh, but, wait, don’t you know me?”

“Who are you?”

“They call me Smiling Jack. And you’re Hector, right?”

“That’s right,” said the fellow, a pale young guy wearing a thin topcoat and a fedora.

“You’re a poet.”

“So they say,” said Hector Philips Stone, the doomed romantic poet.

“We had a few conversations at Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“I think I remember you now,” said Hector.

“We once had a very interesting discussion on the meaninglessness of life.”

“Well, that sounds like me.”

“Maybe you’ve wondered where I’ve been.”

“Uh –”

“I’ve been many places, Hector. I’ve been in jail. I’ve been in Bellevue. I’ve been in the gutter. I’ve been standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, buddy, seriously contemplating jumping off and ending it all.”

“Okay,” said Hector. “Well, uh –”

“But I am in a much better place now, Hector.”

“That’s great, uh, Jack is it?”

“Smiling Jack, that’s me,” said Smiling Jack, smiling.

“Well, look, you take it easy, Smiling Jack,” said Hector.

“I shall indeed, Hector, but before you go, please let me gift you with a book.”

Smiling Jack held out the cheap-looking stapled pamphlet.

“A book,” said Hector.

“A book I’ve written. Oh, I’m sure it’s not as well written as one of your books, Hector, but it comes from the heart. Go on, take it, buddy. For free. Absolutely free, as are all the best things in life.”

“Okay,” said Hector. He took the little booklet and looked at its cover, with its childish drawing of a drunk-looking man leaning against a lamp post and holding a bottle, and in large letters

ARE YOU A DRUNKARD?

BY
 
“SMILING JACK”


“I hope you enjoy it,” said Smiling Jack. “And, perhaps, profit from it.”

“Yeah, well, thanks, Smiling Jack,” said Hector.

“Would you like to go get a cup of coffee, Hector?” said Smiling Jack.

“What, now?”

“Sure, why not? We could just go across the street to Ma’s Diner, have a nice cup of joe, a slice of Ma’s delicious warm sweet potato pie –”

“Maybe some other time, Jack.”

“Got to go somewhere?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, then, Hector, maybe some other time.”

“Sure,” said Hector. “Thanks again for the book.”

And Hector turned and walked away through the falling snow. Smiling Jack watched as Hector stopped in the glow of the neon sign of Bob’s Bowery Bar. Hector stood there for a moment, thumbing through the pamphlet Jack had given him, and then he casually tossed the little book book away, and it fluttered down into the gutter of the Bowery. Hector opened the door of Bob’s and went inside.

Smiling Jack sighed, and wondered if he should walk over and pick his pamphlet up out of the gutter before it got too wet. But, no, if he walked over there he would be right in front of Bob’s, and he didn’t want to go that close to its entrance, not now.

He stood there and wondered why he bothered. Why did he bother with anything? Why had he written this stupid book and spent all his money getting it printed up? No one cared. No one would read it. No one would be saved. What was the point of anything? Why stay sober? Why even stay alive? Why not just follow Hector into Bob’s, get roaring drunk, and then stumble down to the Brooklyn Bridge and do the job right this time…

“Mr. Jack?”

Smiling Jack turned, and it was Ma, from Ma’s Diner. She had a shawl over her head and she held a large-size Dixie cup.

“Oh, hello, Ma,” said Smiling Jack, just barely managing a smile.

“I been watching you stand out here in the cold rain and now the snow all evening, so I brought you some nice hot cocoa.”

She held out the paper cup, and Smiling Jack took it. The cocoa was topped with whipped cream, and there were even slivers of shaved chocolate laid on top of the cream.

“Why, thank you, Ma.”

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Jack.”

“I – um – I –”

“Don’t stand out here all night. You’ll catch your death,” said Ma, and she turned and crossed Bleecker in the falling swirling  snow, and Smiling Jack watched as she opened the door to her diner with its misted windows and its Christmas decorations and lights.

He didn’t own a pair of gloves, and the cup was warm in his hand. Smiling Jack heaved another sigh, a great sigh, and then he took a sip of the hot cocoa.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated with Christmas cheer by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, December 16, 2021

“Are You a Drunkard?”


Quickly, like unto the hot wind that blows up through the thirsty canyons of the badlands in August, Buck ducked behind the corner of the Penultimate Chance Saloon as the storm of hot lead buzzed past like a cloud of enraged hornets, and, drawing both his Colts with lightning-speed celerity, he

The little alarm clock to Addison’s right rang and rattled, and he depressed its button, sighing with satisfaction at another day’s good work done.

When Addison had first started his western epic (Sixguns to El Paso) a month or so ago he had worked to no particular schedule or quota, sometimes producing as much as fifty pages in a day, sometimes only a few words, sometimes laboring for several hours, sometimes giving up after a few minutes, but a couple of weeks ago he had hit on the idea of setting his alarm for one hour’s time, and he would cease work on the dot of sixty minutes even if, as today, he were in the midst of a sentence. He left the sheet of paper in his trusty old Olivetti portable (the same machine his grandmother had given him when he went off to his freshman year at Swarthmore), all the better to resume work on the morrow. As usual he had no idea what would happen next in his novel, but he trusted as always to his native genius. Something would come to him, just as something had come to him for the past two hundred and sixty-eight pages.

Addison stubbed out his latest Herbert Tareyton. Now for his reward! A nice cold glass of bock around the corner at Bob’s. His good friend Gerry (“the Brain”) Goldsmith would no doubt be there, and would be glad to hear that Addison continued to make good progress on the book. Maybe Gerry would even buy him a shot of Cream of Kentucky.

The roar of the Third Avenue Elevated resounded through Addison’s tiny apartment, and he looked out the window. Evening was falling, the street lights had come on, and falling rain sparkled through the air of the Bowery.

In a matter of moments Addison had donned his old Burberry trench coat (thanks again to Grandmother, his Swarthmore graduation present, and it still fit him, thanks in large part to his mostly liquid diet), put his hat on his narrow head, grabbed his umbrella, and was out the door and tripping lightly down the four flights to Bleecker Street.

Addison turned left at the entrance of his tenement (oh, how he longed to leave this neighborhood, and he had his eye on Sutton Place just as soon as he got his advance on his novel) and headed briskly through the rain to the nearby corner of the Bowery, when who should he see standing there but that fellow Smiling Jack, standing there smiling under his own dripping umbrella.

“Hello, Addison! Fancy meeting you here!”

“Smiling Jack, what are you doing standing here on the corner in this pissing rain?”

“I’m handing out pamphlets, buddy.”

“Pamphlets? What sort of pamphlets?”

“Oh, just a little something I wrote.”

Smiling Jack had a leather satchel hanging from a strap across his chest, and he reached under its flap with his free hand and bought out a slim little stapled booklet.

“Here, buddy, got one just for you, entirely free, gratis and for nothing.”

Addison took the little book of pulp paper, and tilting his umbrella to let in some of the corner street lamp’s light, he read the title on the cover:


 

ARE YOU A DRUNKARD?

BY
 
“SMILING JACK”


Under the title and byline was a crude drawing of a man leaning sloppily against a lamp post and holding a bottle.

“Go ahead,” said Smiling Jack, smiling, “open it up, buddy!”

Addison opened the booklet and read:


HOW TO TELL IF YOU ARE A DRUNK


Do you wake up hungover every day?

Do you commonly drink till you vomit, and then just keep drinking?

Do you wake up in the drunk tank at least once a month?

Does everyone hate you unless they are drunks too?

Do you hate yourself and your whole miserable life?

Do you wish you were dead, and often entertain thoughts of suicide?

And then do you just take another drink?

Well, friend, guess what, you are a drunk!

 
However, there is hope for you…  


Addison looked up.

“You wrote this, Jack?”

“Yeah, what do you think? Is my grammar okay? You’re a writer, so please be honest.”

“Uh, yes, I’ve only read the first several sentences, but so far I should say your grammar is unimpeachable, Jack.”

“Keep reading!”

“Well, tell you what, Jack, since it’s raining, and cold, let me save this, and I shall read it just as soon as I get indoors.”

“Oh, okay,” said Smiling Jack. “Where are you headed?”

“Well, I was just popping over to Bob’s, actually.”

“Bob’s Bowery Bar?”

“Yes.”

“To drink?”

“Well, yes, you see I just finished my day’s work, and –”

“Addison, you can’t go in there.”

“Why not?”

“Weren’t you listening at the meeting, Addison? People, places, things! Places. Places like bars. Where they serve alcohol.”

“Yes, well, that’s what bars do, isn’t it?”

“But, Addison, you must be strong! Come with me, we’ll have a cup of coffee in Ma’s Diner, and then we’ll head over to Old St. Pat’s basement for a meeting.”

“But I want a bock.”

“You can’t have a bock, Addison.”

“What, not even one?”

“No, not even one, Addison! It’s a slippery slope.”

“But –”

“Addison, you must fight the urge!”

“But I might not have any more than a couple, maybe three, or –”

“No, no, my friend! Come with me for some coffee and pie, and then we’ll head down to the meeting.”

“I’m really not in the mood for a coffee right now.”

“We’ll have some pie.”

“I’m afraid I don’t much care for pie unless I’m having coffee.”

“We’ll take a walk then.”

“In the rain?”

“Why not? New York is beautiful in the rain!”

“But what about your pamphlets?”

“We can distribute them as we walk. You can help me.”

Damn Smiling Jack! There was Bob’s just a scant dozen paces away, and yet it might as well be across the Atlantic Ocean.

“Tell you what, Jack,” said Addison, “you’re right. I don’t really need a bock.”

“It’s the last thing you need, buddy. Take it from one what knows. One what destroyed his life.”

“Yeah, okay,” said Addison. “Y’know, I think I’ll just take a walk instead.”

“Let me walk with you, buddy.”

“No, if you don’t mind, Jack, I think I need to be alone for a while.”

“To think.”

“Yes,” said Addison.

“To examine yourself and your conscience. To take stock and moral inventory.”

“Precisely.”

“You do that, Addison. And take my advice: eight o’clock tonight, Old St. Pat’s basement. A meeting. I’ll be there, and I hope you will too.”

“I’ll try to make it.”

“Please try.”

“I will. Try that is. But I might just take a really long walk.”

“In the rain.”

“Yes.”

“It’s cold though. You might want to head to Old St. Pat’s after a while just to get in out of the cold and wet.”

“I well might, Jack. Good luck with your pamphlets.”

“Thank you. And I hope you’ll read your pamphlet.”

“I will, Jack. I look forward to it.”

“Let me know if the grammar and the spelling are okay.”

“Absolutely. See you later, Jack.”

“See you, Addison. Eight o’clock. Old St. Patrick’s basement.”

“Right,” said Addison.

He turned and headed back down Bleecker, slipping the pamphlet into the pocket of his trench coat. He didn’t dare to turn until he reached the corner of Lafayette, and when he did he saw the dark squat figure of Smiling Jack, still standing under his umbrella down there on the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. Addison kept walking for another half-dozen blocks or so until he reached a sign heralding the “San Remo Café”. He had never been in the place before, he never went anywhere except for Bob’s Bowery Bar, but presumably they served alcoholic beverages here, even if they wouldn’t be the delicious basement-brewed bocks over at Bob’s, so Addison closed up his umbrella and went in through the open door to the smoky crowded room full of happy drinking revelers…

“And that,” said Addison, glancing from Araminta to Gerry, “is how I came to be here. And who should I find but you two lovely people?”


Back at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery, Smiling Jack still stood in the rain under his dripping old umbrella, a booklet in his hand.

A small scruffy fellow carrying an even more ancient and tattered umbrella came across Bleecker Street. He wore an old grey overcoat, with a cloth cap and thick eyeglasses, and he had a cigar in his mouth.

“Care to take a pamphlet, friend?” said Smiling Jack, smiling. “It just might save your life.”

“Sure, buddy,” said the little man. “Thanks.”

He took the pamphlet, shoved it in the pocket of his coat, and headed on to the neon-lit entrance of Bob’s Bowery Bar.

{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, December 9, 2021

“That Much Maligned Word”


 “Well?” said Addison.

“Okay,” said Gerry, giving in, giving up, “I’ll have a Cream of Kentucky too, I suppose.”

“Splendid,” said Addison. “What about you, lovely Araminta?”

Araminta addressed the bartender.

“Do you have grappa, sir?”

“Sure,” said the bartender.

“I’ll have one of those then.”

Very occasionally the real world did obtrude upon Addison’s consciousness, and as he was looking down to see if there was a convenient hook on the side of the bar to hang his umbrella, he noticed Araminta’s hand on Gerry’s thigh.

“Oh,” he said. “Oh.”

Gerry and Araminta had turned away, and so they could not see the expression of astonishment on Addison’s face.

“Oh, dear,” he said. “Gerry. Araminta.”

Addison was still standing just slightly in back of and between where Gerry and Araminta sat on their bar stools, and now they both turned to look at him again.

“I did not know,” said Addison.

“What didn’t you know?” said Araminta. She kept her hand on Gerry’s thigh, and even made a kneading movement with her fingers, like a cat.

“I did not know that you two, how shall I put it, that you had become –”

Innamorati?”

“Yes,” said Addison.

“Well, now you know,” she said.

“Gerard,” said Addison, “may I proffer my heartiest congratulations?”

Gerry hated to lie or to dissimulate either by commission or omission, even though just a couple of nights before he had spent a dozen increasingly drunken hours not telling Addison how supremely untalented and unbearably boring the man was, and now he reached down and removed Araminta’s hand from his thigh, which was not easy, she really was amazingly strong, whereas Gerry’s upper-body strength had deteriorated drastically since his days on the Harvard rowing team well over two decades ago. Her delicate red-nailed fingers continued to make grasping motions even as he lifted them away.

“Okay, listen, Addison,” said Gerry, trying to force Araminta’s resisting hand onto her own lap, “Araminta and I are merely friends.”

“Oh, ho,” said Addison. “’Friends.’ Yes. Friends indeed. May I only say, dear Gerry, ‘Well done, sir!’ And to you, my dear Araminta, may I congratulate you on your discerning, and dare I say unusual taste?”

“You may,” said Araminta.

“I am sure that one so young and beautiful as yourself could have your pick of callow young muscular bucks, and yet you have chosen to bestow your affections on an obscure middle-aged littérateur, fond of his tipple, and, yes, much like myself, a remittance man of the old school.”

“Hey, that’s just the kind of gal I am,” said Araminta.

“Okay, look,” said Gerry, “for the last time –”

“Oh ho, Gerry old friend,” said Addison, “I fear your protestations are all to naught, but I admire your gentlemanly discretion. Ah! Our drinks. You did have this shout didn’t you, pal?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Gerry, and for the bartender’s benefit he tapped the little pile of dollar bills and coins in front of him on the bar. “Out of here, sir.”

The man took a couple of singles and a quarter, and Addison reached down and picked up one of the Cream of Kentucky shots the barman had laid down.

“Let us drink, my friends,” he said. “Go on, raise your glasses, you two lovebirds.”

Obediently Gerry lifted the other shot glass of bourbon, and Araminta raised her thin little glass of grappa.

“I should like us,” said Addison, “to drink to – yes, you will pardon the word I hope – to that much maligned and absurdly overused word. To love.”

Gerry and Araminta brought their glasses to their lips, but Addison raised his left hand in which he held the hooked handle of his inverted furled umbrella.

“No, not yet, friends, I’m not quite finished. Let us drink as I say, to ‘love’, but – as artists and intellectuals, and as philosophers – let us drink also to those who have always been denied love. I won’t mention names, although perhaps one such is among us now. But perhaps even he someday will find what you two lucky people have found. And so let us drink not only to love present but to love in the future tense.”

“Can we drink our drinks now?” said Araminta.

“Ha ha,” said Addison, “yes, let us drink.”

They drank, Addison and Gerry downing their shots in one go, Araminta taking a modest sip of her grappa.

“Someday,” said Addison, laying down his shot glass, “someday I too hope to know the joys of romantic love, or, failing that, at least those more physical joys which human beings can bestow upon one another through the frottage of their corporeal selves, the insertion and receiving of bodily organs one into another.”

He lifted his bottle of Rheingold.

“Are you saying that you are a virgin, Addison?” said Araminta.

Addison paused the lifting of his bottle in mid air.

“Define ‘virgin’.”

“Have you ever put what the Irish writer Samuel Beckett termed your ‘so-called virile member’ into the private parts of a lady.”

“A lady.”

“Yes.”

“In that narrow sense, then no.”

“What about less narrow senses?”

Addison seemed suddenly to realize that he still held his umbrella in his left hand, and he now secured its handle to the  cunning cast-iron hook he had noticed on the side paneling of the bar. He then looked at Araminta, and then at Gerry.

“I am going to tell you two something I have never told anyone, except for a certain so-called ‘analyst’, who was an unhelpful idiot.” He paused, gazing at the label of his bottle of Rheingold, and then continued. “Once, this was during the war, when I was working in the parachute factory –”

“You worked in a parachute factory?” asked Araminta.

“Yes, you see I really wanted to join the OSS, but unfortunately I have flat feet and knock knees and was also diagnosed with a spurious case of psychological deficiency.”

“Psychological deficiency in what sense, Addison?”

“Well, if you must know, the army shrink considered me a latent homosexual.”

“May I ask why?”

“He asked me if I had any interests, and I said I was very much obsessed at the time with French Symbolist poetry.”

“Okay.”

“This doctor was another hopeless philistine. But at any rate, I was rejected, and so my ‘war service’ was spent in this dreadful parachute factory in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Anyway, the other fellows at the plant commonly went to a certain inexpensive bawdy house on payday night, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go. The thought of spilling my seed into a French letter inserted into the vaginal orifice of some illiterate country bumpkin of a girl who had serviced hundreds of other factory workers and soldiers gave me the horrors. And so instead I would spend the bulk of my pay at an utterly Hobarthian low tavern called, not ironically, the Sow’s Belly. And it was there one typically inebriate night that a huge drunken sergeant came up behind me while I stood at the urinal, and he, well, let’s just say he forced himself against me while I was in mid-micturition, and –”

“Oh, my God,” said Araminta. “You mean you were raped?”

“Well, not perhaps precisely so. You see, penetration was not achieved, but I did accrue a most disgusting stain on the back leg of my work dungarees.”

“You poor thing!”

“Yes, it was quite – disturbing. But so you see, the question of whether I am a virgin or not is perhaps moot.”

“Perhaps.”

Addison had been so lost in his recounting of this incident that he had forgotten his beer, and now he took a good long gulp.

“But do you want to know what the most humiliating part of the whole experience was?” he said.

“The stain on your dungarees?”

“No, the most humiliating part was what this army sergeant said after his brief moment of passion had spent itself.”

“What was that?”

“’Thanks, buddy,’ he said. ‘Thanks. I needed that.’ That was the most humiliating part of it.”

“’Thanks,’” said Addison. “Oh, well, at least I can say that I have, if not known love qua love, that I have indeed afforded some comfort to one of our brave fighting men. This I think is not nothing.”

“No,” said Araminta. “It’s not nothing.”

Gerry for his part said nothing.

What was there to say?

Everything and nothing.

But, for the moment, he chose nothing.



{Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, December 2, 2021

"The Second of the Day"


They each picked up their fresh drinks, another house red wine for Araminta and another bottle of Rheingold for Gerry (no glass, because one could never be sure of the hygienic rigor of unknown bartenders), and they drank, a sip for Araminta, but a gulp for Gerry, who then sighed deeply as the jukebox music and the chatter and laughter of men and women swelled and eddied all about them.

“Y’know,” said Gerry, completely forgetting that he and Araminta had that afternoon polished off a nearly full bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, “the time-honored cliché is that the first drink of the day is the best, but a lifetime of dedicated bibulation has convinced me that the second drink is the superior.”

“Do tell?” said Araminta, not that she really cared, but because she enjoyed listening to Gerry’s blather.

“You see, at least for me,” elaborated Gerry, “the first drink of the day is one that must be steadfastly - dare I say dutifully - got through as the ‘first drink’ qua ‘first drink’, a necessary step but one whose very exigency makes it hard for the serious drinker to relax and appreciate it.”

“You slay me, Gerry.”

“Yes, it’s only when we move on to the second drink that we can slow down and savor the glories of the quaff of our choice, without the hurry and the anxiety of getting outside of that ‘first one of the day’.”

“This sort of well-articulated and profound insight,” said Araminta, “is why you are familiarly known as ‘the Brain’ among our fellow habitués over at Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“Ah, thank you, Araminta, but still, as much as I love Bob’s, we must bear in mind that it’s no great feat to appear intelligent there.”

“You, as usual, have a point, mon cher Gérard.”

“I suspect that were I to find myself among a convocation of genuinely intelligent and deeply-read scholars I should be quite content to keep my little aperçus well to myself.”

“Ha ha.”

“Oh, no.”

“What’s the matter?”

Gerry put his hand over the right side of his face.

“Don’t turn, but you’ll never believe who just came in the door.”

Of course Araminta turned her beautiful head to look down the crowded bar and toward the entrance, and there, shaking out an umbrella, was none other than Addison, “Addison the Wit”, whose name was not really Addison and who was not a wit.

“Don’t look!” blurted Gerry.

Araminta turned to face Gerry.

“I already have looked,” she said. “What’s that ass Addison doing here?”

“How should I know? Remember, I’m only called ‘the Brain’, and that doesn’t mean I am The Brain. What should we do?”

“What can we do? He’s bound to see us.”

“Perhaps if we both went to the lavatories?”

“We can’t hide in the WCs all evening, Gerry.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. But, look, here’s the plan. We each go to our respective gender’s rest room, and we wait exactly five minutes just so Addison can get settled and order a drink and start boring some poor stranger to death, and then, after the five minutes have elapsed, we both quickly come out and head straight for the exit and meet up outside and go somewhere else. Let’s synchronize our watches.”

“You’re mad.”

“But you don’t understand, the other night I had to spend hours with him, pretending I’d read and admired his awful epic western novel-in-progress –”

“Ha ha, western epic?”

“Yes, I only read a few scattered sentences, but it was as if Virginia Woolf and Zane Grey had given birth to a retarded child and the child decided to write the worst novel ever written.”

“Oh, I love it!”

“He latched onto me for an entire afternoon and evening, only picking up one round out of four, pumping me for praise as I wept invisible tears of blood, silently screaming with ennui, and the experience was so excruciating that I got as drunk as I’ve ever gotten in my life, and, believe me, Araminta, that’s saying something.”

“You are so droll, Gerry.”

“I may be droll, but I am quite serious, you don’t know how unbelievably tedious that man is, how completely lacking in self-knowledge and even the slightest trace of a sense of humor, how unbearable in every way –”

“Ha ha.”

“And do you want to know the most pathetic thing?”

“Of course I do.”

“The most appalling thing?”

“Please!”

“It’s that he considers me his best friend, and indeed I suspect that I am his only friend.”

“Oh, dear, that is pathetic,” said Araminta. “What a drip!”

“Drip is not the word,” said Gerry. “How about the most insufferable, most deluded, most pompous, most arrogant and yet self-pitying –”

“I say, Gerry!” said the all-too-familiar voice. “And the lovely Araminta!”

They both turned, and there was Addison, wet, bedraggled, but obviously ready for action.

“Oh, hi, Addison,” said Gerry.

“And what, may I ask, are you two doing way over here in the faux-bohemian depths of the Village?”

“We might ask the same of you, Addison,” said Araminta.

“Yes, well you might, and for the price of a drink I will tell you.”

“I don’t have any money on me right now,” said Araminta.

“What do you say, Gerry?” said Addison. “I promise I’ll get the next round, because I just cashed a check from my grandmother.”

“Well, Addison,” said Gerry, “I’ll buy you a drink, gladly, but in fact Araminta and I were just about to leave as soon as we finish these drinks.”

“About to leave? Where to?”

“We were going to a movie,” said Araminta.

“What movie?”

“What was it called again?”

“That’s what I’m asking you.”

“Gerry,” said Araminta, “what was that film you wanted to see?”

“Oh, the film,” said Gerry, “yes, and, oh, my –” Gerry glanced at his old Hamilton wristwatch, his Great Aunt Edna’s Andover graduation present, currently stopped from not being wound, but Addison didn’t have to know that – “speaking of which, we’d better get a move on.”

“Yes,” said Addison, “but what is the film?”

“It’s, uh, you know –” said Gerry, “um, what’s it called –”

“Where’s it playing?” persisted Addison.

“The Waverly!” cried Araminta. She had gone to films there, and it was in the Village.

“Oh, the Waverly,” said Addison. “You must mean that dreary Somerset Maugham movie.”

“Yes, that’s the one,” said Gerry.

“I’ve seen it, and and it’s not all that good actually.”

“Oh?” said Gerry.


“Yes, I find Maugham so – I hate to use the term – middlebrow.”

“But I so was in the mood for a movie,” said Araminta.

“If you want to see a movie, you know what you should see? You should see this Audie Murphy movie called Ride a Dead Horse. I thought it was simply marvelous. Buy me that libation, Gerry, and I’ll tell you all about it, and I’ll also explain why I am in here and not at our humble but much revered ‘local’, Bob’s eponymous Bowery Bar.”

“But I really wanted to see that movie,” said Araminta.

“Dreary English people sipping tea and eating crumpets and hiding their true feelings? My dear, that is not cinema. It is simply slightly animated glossy women’s magazine prose. No, if you want true cinema you must turn to the American western, but most assuredly not the overrated oeuvres of Ford or Hawks or God forbid Zinneman, but those forged by auteurs whose names none but the true aficionado knows, like William Witney, Wallace Grissell, Lesley Selander, George Archainbaud, or, my personal favorite, Larry Winchester. As a simple rule of thumb I should suggest any film starring Audie Murphy or Tim Holt, although Rod Cameron is not bad. Ah, yes, bartender, I would like what my friend Gerry here is drinking, a Rheingold, and, say, is anyone else in the mood for something a bit stiffer just to cut the damp? I for one would adore a Cream of Kentucky bourbon.”

Gerry felt a hand grasping his thigh, and, looking down, saw it was Araminta’s, its grip surprisingly strong for an appendage so seemingly delicate. This was the first time that Araminta had ever touched him more than glancingly, and her doing so did wonders to ameliorate the dreadfulness of the situation. The universe gave, and it took away, and sometimes it gave again in these few brief hours before it took it all away forever.


 

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, expertly illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, November 25, 2021

“The Divine Afflatus”


“So, are you still feeling it, Gerry?”

“What’s that, Araminta?”

“You know –”

“The divine afflatus?”

“What?”

“Divine afflatus.”

“That sounds like a fart.”

“Ha ha, no, divine afflatus is the, you know, the divine, uh, how shall I put it –”

“I meant are you still feeling the muggles.”

“The muggles?”

“The weed we smoked back in my pad.”

Suddenly it all came back to him. It had only been, what, less than an hour ago? And yet it seemed so long ago…

“I think you’re still feeling it,” said Araminta.

“Yes, to some extent,” said Gerry.

“Excuse me,” said a man’s voice, yet another man’s voice. This was somebody standing just behind and between Gerry and Araminta, and they both turned to look at the speaker, who was a smiling, curly-haired young fellow wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a lumberjack’s shirt. “I don’t mean to intrude, but my friends and I are fascinated.”

“By what?” said Araminta.



“By you two,” said the fellow.

“And why is that?” asked Araminta.

“Because you both emanate a strange – I want to say numinous – aura. My name is Allen, by the way. I’m a poet. Those are my friends over there.” He pointed to a table near the entrance where three other fellows sat, and the three guys each gave a little wave of the hand. “They’re all writers and poets also. And something tells me that you two are also members of our sacred sodality.”

“You pegged us, pal,” said Gerry. “Was it my shabby tweed suit and the lady’s beret?”

“In part, yes,” said the young man, “but I think mostly it was the aura.”

“Excuse me, Allen is it?” said Araminta. “Now please don’t take this the wrong way, but you wouldn’t be insane, would you?”

“Well, I have to admit you bring up a delicate topic. Oh, by the way, may I know your names?”

“Araminta,” said Araminta, “and this distinguished hunk of manhood is called Gerry.”

“Very pleased to meet you,” said the guy called Allen. “Hey, would you two like to join our table?”

“But you still haven’t answered my question as to whether you are insane,” said Araminta.

“Well, it’s true I’ve done some time at a psychiatric institute –”

“Which one?” said Araminta.

“Columbia Presbyterian Hospital?”

“Oh, okay, go on.”

“You’ve heard of it?”

“Yes, I hear it’s top-notch.”

“Well, anyway, it’s true I spent seven months there, but to answer your question, I don’t think I’m insane at present.”

“But,” said Araminta, “if you were insane you might not know it.”

“This is true,” said the young man named Allen. “But still, my friends and I would so like you to join us. The both of you.”

With the last sentence he smiled at Gerry.

“But, Allen,” said Araminta, “Gerry and I are having a tête-à-tête.”

“Yes, of course,” said Allen. “I see.”

“So please don’t be offended.”

“Oh, of course not.”

“Maybe later,” said Araminta.

“Oh, that would be swell.”

“What are your friends’ names?”

“Well, the guy wearing the denim work shirt is Jack, the thin fellow in the grey suit with the glasses is Bill, and the smaller guy in the sweatshirt is Gregory.”

“You’ve got a regular little crew there,” said Araminta.

“Yes, that we are. We’ve been through thick and thin together. Weed busts, cross-country automobile trips, even a foray or two into ancient Mexico. You see, we like to think of each other as a like-minded band of angelheaded hipsters, digging the whole mad universe and trying our best to lay it all down in words that sing to the swinging stars just the way Bird or Diz do with their respective axes.”

“So you’ve got your own little movement going on there!” said Araminta.

“Yes, we like to think so.”

“Do you have a name for it?”

“You know, Araminta, we were just discussing that. Bill suggested we call ourselves the Moot Maharajahs.”

“Ha ha.”

“Jack thought maybe we should call ourselves the Pooh Bear Boys.”

“Not bad.”

“Gregory proposed the Katzenjammer Daddies.”

“And what do you propose, Allen?”

“I was thinking the Beatific Generation.”

“Okay.”

“You don’t like it?”

“I’ll give you a name,” said Araminta.

“Oh, please do.”

Araminta looked at Allen, and then over to the table of his friends. All three of the fellows were looking over at Araminta and Gerry and Allen, as if expectantly.

“I dub you the Beat Generation,” said Araminta.

“Wow,” said Allen. “The Beat Generation.”

“Do you like it?”

“I love it. The Beat Generation. I’m gonna go tell the guys right now. Wow. Thank you so much, Araminta.”

“You’re welcome, Allen.”

“Very pleased to have met you. And, seriously, if you and Gerry would like to come over and join us we would love it.”

“We’ll see.”

“We’ve got some weed by the way, and we could take turns going outside and sharing reefers under umbrellas in the mystic streetlight rain on the corner.”

“Well, that’s certainly a selling point,” said Araminta.

Allen shook hands with both Araminta and Gerry and went back to his friends.

“That was weird,” said Araminta.

“I liked him,” said Gerry, but still he was glad to have Araminta to himself for the time being, in their own little world within the world of this bar, within that greater world outside and all the other infinite worlds beyond that one.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, November 18, 2021

“How High the Moon”


 “That poor pathetic ass,” said Araminta.

“Yes,” said Gerry, “I know. But perhaps he’s happy.”

“Who’s happy?”

“That’s a good question. I think people are intermittently happy, when they’re doing things they enjoy.”

“Or sleeping,” said Araminta.

“Yes, unless of course they have horrible nightmares.”

“There’s that,” she said.

“Or unless they have insomnia.”

“That too,” said Araminta.

“Or unless they’re suffering from some sort of chronic painful ailment,” said Gerry.

Mon dieu, Gerry!”

“But it’s true,” he said. ”Just wait until you get older and your lumbago starts acting up. It’s all you’ll be able to think about.”

“Do you have lumbago, Gerry?”

“No, but I only used that as an example. You see I find it very tiresome when people bring every subject back to themselves, as they nearly always do, and so I attempt not to do so myself.”

“Don’t want to bore yourself?”

“Try not to,” said Gerry.

A new song had come onto the jukebox, “How High the Moon”, Gerry recognized the song but not the singer, a girl singer –


 
Somewhere there's heaven
It’s where you are
Somewhere there’s music
How near, how far


The darkest night would shine
If you would come to me soon
Until you will, how still my heart
How high the moon…


“I’ve realized,” said Araminta, “that perhaps these are the best days of my life.”

“Well, you’re young,” said Gerry, “so I should suggest you enjoy your youth while you have it.”

“And did you enjoy your youth, Gerry? That man Dickie Throckmorton certainly seems to think you fellows had fun.”

“I think we had fun in our youthful and asinine way.”

“You must have had loads of fun in your time in Paris.”




How high the moon
Does it touch the stars
How high the moon
Does it reach out to Mars...


“Araminta,” said Gerry, “I feel I must disabuse you of any romantic notions of my two post-graduate years in Paris.”

“Do go on, mon cher Gérard.”
 
“I spent most of that time alone, sitting in cafés, drinking beer, reading, staring off into space, taking walks, going to movies, talking to no one. Occasionally I would jot down a line of juvenilia in a notebook. I had no affairs, because I was very bashful. If I were approached by prostitutes I would pretend I couldn’t understand what they wanted. In short, I shouldn’t say I had a bad time, but let’s just say it was not all that, what’s the word, novelistic.”

“Not a single affair?”

“Not one.”

“I don’t mean to pry.”

“Oh, pry away.”

“Surely you must have had some affairs, Gerry? If not in your Paris years, then later.”

Gerry sighed. Should he be honest? Why not?



“No,” he said.

“Not one.”

“No, not even one,” he said.

“Wait, not even a, you should pardon the expression, a one-nighter, with some drunken floozy at Bob’s Bowery Bar?”

“Araminta, you’ve seen the drunken floozies at Bob’s. I’ll admit that possibly, on a very few rare occasions, I might have been able to, uh, attempt an act of concupiscence with a very softhearted and magnanimous drunken floozy, but, as drunk as I was, as drunk as I ever was, I was never quite that drunk.”

“I take your point, Gerry. You had what we call standards.”

“I suppose so.”

“And do you miss it, not having had affairs, or, dare I say, marriage, children?”

“I know this may sound odd, but I don’t think about those things too often.”

“You are like a zen monk,” said Araminta.

“I’m so glad you noticed that.”

“Ha ha.”

“The thing is, in my small way I do think of myself as a philosopher, and so even though I know I’ve missed out on much of what life offers, I suspect that there are chaps who’ve had lots of affairs, as well as marriages and children, who might envy the simple life that I lead.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt it.”

The song on the jukebox had ended, and the only sounds were people’s voices, laughing and chattering.

“And anyway,” said Gerry, “in a very strange way, I feel that this right here right now is the best of life.”

“Sitting here in the San Remo?”

“Yes, it’s all been building up to this.”

“How thrilling, and I speak with a complete lack of irony. I’ve been having a pretty damn good time myself. Why couldn’t you be twenty years younger, Gerry? Or fifteen.”

“The universe did not ordain it thus.”

“Ha ha. My wine glass is empty.”

“So’s my beer.”

“Should we have another round?”

“Sure, why not?”

Gerry caught the bartender’s attention, and gave him the two-fingered “two more, please” gesture. He looked at Araminta, who was gazing in the direction of the colorful rows of liquor bottles on the shelves, and then he looked past her, out at the open doorway of the café. The streetlights had come on while they were sitting here, and the rain was still falling down sparkling on Bleecker Street as cars whooshed by and people walked or stumbled along under their umbrellas.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, brilliantly illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, November 11, 2021

“The Ballad of Dickie Throckmorton”


 “It's autumn in New York that brings the promise of new love,” sang the woman on the jukebox…

“And another trick, Araminta, is knowing what not to write,” said Gerry, abruptly returning the conversation back to a previous thread, and, anyway, he would much rather talk about writing than about love and romance. After all, as little as he knew about writing, it was still a hell of a lot more than the absolutely nothing he knew of the carnal and emotional relations between men and women. “That is to say, if you don’t write all the words that you shouldn’t write then you just might be left with a few words that are perhaps at least somewhat worthwhile, or –”

“Gerry,” said someone behind Gerry. “Gerry Goldsmith?”

Now who could it be? Gerry turned to see.

It was a big fat man, with a salt-and-pepper beard, another one, that is to say another big man with a beard, and this one was wearing one of those striped Breton fisherman’s jerseys, and he had the beret to go with it. Like Gerry he was holding a bottle of Rheingold in one hand, and in the other hand he had a corncob pipe.

“Hello?” said Gerry. 

“Don’t you know me, Gerry?”

“Um, uh –”

“Oh, sure I’ve put on a couple of pounds, or maybe it’s the beard? But it’s me, Gerry, don’t you remember me?”

“Uh,” said Gerry.

“It’s me, Dickie Throckmorton!”

Oh no, of all people…

“Dickie Throckmorton!” repeated fat, middle-aged, bearded Dickie Throckmorton. He turned and leered at Araminta.

“And this must be your charming daughter?”

“You’re the second person who’s made that supposition since we’ve been sitting here,” said Araminta, “and, no – Mr. Throckmorton is it?”

“Yes, but please call me Dickie.”

“No, ‘Dickie’,” said Araminta, “Gerard and I are not father and daughter. We are, in fact, what the Italians call innamorati.”

“Hey, does that mean what I think it means?”

“Actually,” said Gerry, “Miss Sauvage and I are merely, or should I say not merely, but –”

“Hey, say no more, fella, and God bless you both. I’m so very pleased to meet, you – Miss Savage is it?”

“Sauvage, but since you seem to be old buddies with Gerard, you may call me Araminta, Dicky.”

“Araminda, so very pleased to meet you. D’ya know, Gerry and I were on the Harvard rowing team together, and, get this, the tennis team too, and the golf team!”

“Gee, you fellows were awfully athletic, weren’t you?”

“Sport is all we cared about, and of course drinking, ha ha, right, Gerry?”

“Yes,” said Gerry.

“Play all day and drink all night, that was our motto. Right, Gerry?”

“Heh heh,” said Gerry.

“God, the times we had!”

He addressed Araminta again.

“The only thing was, Gerry was a reader. Always reading! Smart guy.” He turned his gaze back to Gerry. “What you doing these days, Gerry?”

“Well, I’m working on a volume of philosophical observations –”

“Me, I chucked it all, pal. Sold my interest in the company to my brothers, moved to the Village and took up abstract painting!”

“Well, that’s great, uh, Dickie –”

“Best decision I ever made! Say, would you like to come over to my studio and see my work? I’m right down the street on MacDougal.”

“Well, uh –”

“Okay, maybe not right now, on account of I can see you two are having a ‘tête-à-tête’, heh heh –”

“Trying to,” interposed Araminta.

“– but maybe some other time,” barreled on Dickie. “Any time! So, Annabella, what do you do? I mean, like, besides being beautiful. I mean, what do you do. If anything.”

“I am a poet,” said Araminta, “and I am also writing a novel –”

“No kidding, what’s your novel about?”

“A young woman’s coming of age in the big city.”

“Sounds great,” said Dickie. “You got a title yet?”

“My new working title is The Boogie Woogie Man Will Get You If You Don’t Watch Out.”

“Ha ha, love it. Here, hold my beer, Gerry.”

Dickie handed Gerry his bottle of Rheingold, stuck his corncob pipe in his teeth, and took out his wallet. Despite Dickie’s bohemian attire, Gerry noticed that the wallet was a good-looking one, probably a Mark Cross if he knew Dickie Throckmorton, one of the richest guys in the old Harvard crowd, as well as the most boring.

Dickie took out a couple of calling cards and gave one each to Gerry and Araminta.

“My phone number’s on there, but if I’m not at home, I’ll probably be here, and if I’m not here I’m probably up the block at the Kettle of Fish. Or maybe at Chumley’s or the White Horse. Or the Minetta. Or if I’m not in one of those places you can probably find me at the Cedar.”

He put the wallet away and took his beer back from Gerry.

Gerry Goldsmith,” he said. He looked at Araminta. “Wow. Really nice meeting you, Angelina. But look, and I mean this for both of you, come by and see my paintings. Any time.”

“Sure, Dickie,” said Gerry.

“And Arabella. Wow. Beautiful. Okay. Great talking to you two.” But he didn’t go quite yet. “The times we had, Gerry,” he said. “Can’t wait to talk them all over with you.”

And then he staggered off.

“Jesus Christ,” said Araminta.

“I know,” said Gerry. He was looking at the calling card Dickie had given him.

“Give me that card, Gerry.”

Gerry handed her the card, and Araminta ripped both cards up into tiny pieces, dropping them fluttering down into the spit gutter below their feet.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, November 4, 2021

“The Sound of Rain”


 “I think,” said Gerry, “we were talking about being boring.”

“Ah, yes,” said Araminta, “and being aware of whether one is boring or not.”

“Yes, knowing when you’re starting to put your audience to sleep.”

“Or being aware that they’ve already fallen asleep.”

“Now I’m going to be afraid to say a word.”

“Oh, please don’t be, Gerry,” said Araminta. “I’ll tell you what. Because I consider us to be friends, I shall make a deal with you. If you ever start to get boring, I will tell you.”

“Thank you, Araminta,” said Gerry. “I would appreciate that.”

“And you, too, Gerry, you must stop me if I run on too tediously.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Oh, but that’s not fair.”

“But you see, Araminta, that even if – and please note my use of that all-important conjunction ‘if’ –”

“Is ‘if’ a conjunction?”

“I have no idea.”

“Me neither, but do go on, Gerry.”

“What was I saying?”

“’If’ something.”

“If, if – I’ve completely lost my thread now. I wonder if it was an interesting one?”

“Oh, I’m sure it was.”

“If. Oh, now I remember. Even if I felt myself slightly bored by something you were saying, the thing is I wouldn’t mind.”

“You wouldn’t mind being bored?”

“No, because I enjoy being in your company, and hearing you talk.”

“Even if I’m talking nonsense?”

“Yes. How can I explain?”

“Please try.”

“It’s like the sound of rain. It’s very pleasant, isn’t it?”

“I love the sound of rain.”

“Me too. Sometimes I sit in my humble digs at my writing table for an hour or more, doing nothing but staring at a blank page and listening to the rain.”

“And then after an hour do you write something?”

“Sometimes. But if I don’t it doesn’t bother me. I think that one of the great tricks of writing is knowing when not to write. Which, in my case, is probably about twenty-three hours and thirty-seven minutes of an average day.”

“Ha ha. And so you’re saying my babbling is like the sound of rain?”

Gerry paused, but only briefly to take a sip of his Rheingold, which he had surprisingly been forgetting to drink.

“Yes,” he said, “To me your voice is like the sound of the rain.”

“That’s so nice.”

Now both Gerry and Araminta fell silent, although all around them people laughed and chattered, and a woman sang on the jukebox, “Autumn in New York…”

“The angel passed again,” said Araminta.

“Yes, briefly,” said Gerry.

“If you were twenty years younger,” said Araminta, “or, dash it all, even fifteen years younger.”

“Alas, I am not,” said Gerry.

“Or maybe not alas,” said Araminta.

“Yes, maybe not,” said Gerry, who was, after all, a philosopher.




{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq, who informs me that this is our 100th story in this series! Thanks to all who have read them…}

Thursday, October 28, 2021

"Papa"


 “And so you see, Araminta, my goal in my writing is to make each sentence the equivalent of an entire thick book, to make it so, shall we say, reverberant, that the reader will…”

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Araminta, putting her hand on Gerry’s arm.

“Oh, dear, I’m boring you.”

“Oh, not at all! And anyway, if someone starts to bore me, I just pretend to listen and think about other things, or nothing at all. In fact I have spent some of my happiest hours thinking of other things or nothing at all while other people spoke. How ever do you think I got through all those dreary lectures at Vassar?”

“Heh heh, I confess, my dear girl, that I too have done the same through countless barroom so-called conversations.”

“Ha ha, but what I wanted to say is look at that street sign.”

They were stopped at a corner, and Gerry tilted his umbrella back and looked at the sign.

“It says MacDougal,” said Gerry.

“Precisely,” said Araminta. “We’ve just walked a dozen blocks out of our way.”

“I suppose,” said Gerry, “in the back of my mind, I was wondering why it was taking so long just to go around the corner to Bob’s. Should we head back?”

“Dash it all,” said Araminta, “the fates have led us here, and also the rain continues unabated; I say we go into this place.”

She pointed with her red-tipped finger at the café that was right there on the corner.

“The San Remo?”

“Yes. Have you ever gone here?”

“I never go anywhere except Bob’s.”

“Me neither. But let’s go in.”

“Why not?”

“There is no reason why not, Gerry, not a damn reason in the world!”

And so they went in through the open door, and it was indeed a café, a small restaurant and bar, like a million other bars and cafés in the world, except this one was at Bleecker and MacDougal, in the beating bohemian heart of Greenwich Village.

It was not quite five p.m., but the place was already almost full with men and women, many of them, like Araminta, wearing berets. A good third of the men were bearded, and a few of the women wore turbans. Several fellows wore Greek fisherman’s caps, some of them were in shirtsleeves of rustic flannel, or else in striped Breton pullovers, and a  quick survey through the swirling fog of tobacco smoke revealed that Araminta was far from the only woman wearing black stockings. For his part Gerry was relieved to see that he was not quite the only traditionalist dressed in a rumpled old tweed suit and a well-worn fedora.

“The bar?” said Gerry.

“Of course,” said Araminta. “I always prefer the bar when I am à deux.”

They found two empty stools, and in short order they had drinks in front of them, alas not the basement-brewed bocks they would have had at Bob’s Bowery Bar, but a bottle of Rheingold for Gerry and a house red wine for Araminta. There was a jukebox near the entrance and a song played which Gerry identified as probably jazz, although whatever glancing familiarity he had once had with that musical genre had faded away around the time of Bix Beiderbecke’s untimely demise.

“What were we talking about?” said Araminta.

“I believe I was droning on about my book,” said Gerry.

“Oh, please, continue to drone.”

“I feel I’ve lost the enthusiasm for talking about it at the moment.”

“Because you don’t think I was paying attention?”

“Oh, no, I’m used to people not paying attention to me, and I’ve never let that stand in the way of my expostulations when I’m in the mood, but, you see, every once in a while, I’ll be up on the crest of a tidal wave of grandiloquence when quite suddenly I’ll realize that I’m boring myself.”

“And this, Gerry, is why you’re not a true bore. Because occasionally you realize you’re being boring.”

“That’s very nice of you to say so, Araminta.”

“I never know when I’m boring. I just go on and on, and then suddenly I’ll realize my interlocutor had fallen asleep, or has idly picked up a book or a magazine and started leafing through it…”

“Excuse me,” said a man’s voice. Gerry and Araminta turned and looked over their shoulders and saw that the voice belonged to a big bearded man standing hovering there and holding an enormous pewter mug. He appeared to be in his fifties, and he wore a yellowed white billed cap and a thick grey turtleneck sweater. The flesh of his face was pink above his white whiskers. He almost seemed like an off-duty Santa Claus. He looked with furrowed brow at Gerry. “Don’t I know you from Paris?”

“From Paris?” said Gerry. “I haven’t been in Paris since, oh my, 1929.”

“Did you ever go to the Dôme?”

“Yes,” said Gerry, “among many other places, heh heh.”

“I knew I knew you. My name is Ernest.”

The big fellow transferred the pewter mug from his right hand to his left, and extended the right hand to Gerry.

“Pleased to meet you, Ernest. My name is Gerry –”

The man gave Gerry’s hand a powerful but brief grasp and shake, and then turned his gaze on Araminta.

“And this is your charming daughter?”

“Well –”

“Oh, I am far from being Gerry’s daughter,” said Araminta. “Gerry and I are amoureux!”

“Oh, I do beg your pardon,” said the man. “Please forgive my presumption.

“And do we call you Ernest or Ernie?” said Araminta.

“My friends call me Papa,” said the big guy.

“Then we shall call you Papa too,” said Araminta.

“It must have been the Dôme,” said the man, to Gerry, “back in the late 20s. Didn’t we meet and have a conversation one day? While it was snowing outside on the Boul’? I remember it so vividly. You were talking about Kant. You said you wanted to write a book of philosophical observations, and you were going to call it Kant Is Just a Four Letter Word.

“That sounds like me,” said Gerry, “but, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t remember meeting you.”

“Well,” said Papa, “you were quite drunk, you see. You had been drinking bière blonde, and I insisted you try absinthe, and, well, I suppose we both got a little tight. But I’ve never forgotten that snowy afternoon in the Dôme. I don’t know why. Did you ever write your book?”

“I’m still writing it.”

“And is it still called Kant Is Just a Four Letter Word?”

“Well, my current working title is Pensées for a Rainy Day. But I could change it back.”

For a few moments the conversation ceased, but all around people chattered and laughed, and the jukebox music played.

At last the big man spoke again.

“That’s what the French call an angel passing. Well, I don’t want to disturb you two lovebirds anymore. I’m sitting over there at a table with my friend Bill, who’s up visiting from Mississippi. Really great seeing you again, Gerry, and good luck with your book.”

“Thanks, Ernest,” said Gerry.

“Papa.”

“Papa,” said Gerry.

“And it was lovely to meet you, Miss –”

“Araminta,” said Araminta.

“Araminta,” said Papa. “Lovely. You’re a lucky man, Gerry.”

The man called Papa went off, back to a table where a little fellow with a moustache sat.

“Wow,” said Araminta. “Who was that guy?”

“I have no idea,” said Gerry. “Papa something?”

“The very idea,” said Araminta. “What were we talking about?”

(Please click here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, October 21, 2021

“Les jeunes filles de Paris”


 The reefer had gotten smoked down to its last quarter of an inch, tinged red with Araminta’s lipstick.

“Go ahead,” she said. “Finish it off.”

“Well, that might prove to be rather difficult, actually,” said Gerry, “as its size has become so diminished.”

“You talk funny, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“Yes, I suppose I do. I think that’s because I think funny.”

“Yes, precisely, you think funny, ergo, you talk funny.”

Araminta proceeded to take the tiny butt of reefer from Gerry’s awkward fingers and then to stick it between the prongs of a bobby pin she had removed from her hair.

“Here’s how you do it,” she said. “Give me another light.”

Using the bobby pin as a holder, she held the stub of muggles between her red lips, and Gerry obediently struck a match and put the flame to the stub.

“Ingenious,” he said.

She said nothing, holding her breath, and then, after what seemed like several minutes, she exhaled a cloud of smoke through those red lips.

She held the bobby-pinned stub out to Gerry.

“Your turn, old chap.”



Gerry imitated Araminta’s procedure, Araminta providing the light.

“Now I think we’ve finally gotten all we’re going to get out of that little bugger,” said Araminta.

Gerry sat there holding the bobby pin and its smoldering cinder of marijuana and paper, searching the caverns of his brain for a response, and in less than a minute he came up with, “Yes, I suppose we have.”

“You can put it into the ashtray now, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“Ah, yes, of course,” said Gerry.

There on the coffee table was the ashtray in question, filled with ashes and cigarette butts. The ashtray was made of beveled glass, and in gold print on its upper edge was the legend

THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL OUR SERVICE IS SWELL

“Go ahead, put the bobby pin down, Mr. Goldsmith,” said a voice that was familiar to Gerry.

“What?” he said, but to whom?

“Here, give it to me,” said the voice. Was it his mother’s?

“What?” said a voice Gerry recognized as his own, or very much like his own.

“Oh, dear,” said Araminta, and she took the bobby pin and its blackened nubbin of reefer from Gerry’s fingers and dropped it into the ashtray. “You, sir, are high as a kite!”

“So this,” said Gerry, after another echoing pause, whether of a second of or several minutes it was hard to say, “is what it’s like.”

“Yes,” said Araminta. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

Outside the windows of Araminta’s flat the afternoon rain fell and pattered gently, and automotive vehicles made whooshing noises in the street below.

“Miss Sauvage,” said Gerry, the words suddenly pouring from his brain into his mouth and out of it, “may I speak freely?”

“Oh, please do, Mr. Goldsmith,” said Araminta. She was sitting crosslegged on the divan, but her grey skirt hid most if hardly not all of her black-stockinged legs.  

“I think this is the most splendid time I’ve had in my entire life,” said Gerry.

“Me too,” she said.

There was a run in one of Araminta’s stockings at the side of the knee, and Gerry did his best not to stare at it.

“I shouldn’t want you to take what I say the wrong way,” were the words that tumbled out of his mouth at this point.

“Oh, I shan’t, I assure you, Mr. Goldsmith,” said Araminta.

“I realize all too well that I am middle-aged, my best days behind me, and, to be quite honest, even my best days were nothing to write home about.”

“Oh, I find that hard to believe, Mr. Goldsmith. Didn’t you spend a couple of years in Paris in your bounding youth?”

“Well, I don’t know how bounding it was.”

“But Paris in the twenties! It must have been marvelous. Tell me, did you know Gertrude Stein?”

“Well, I think I saw her a few times, you know, doing her shopping and whatnot.”

“How merveilleux! What did she buy?”

“Oh, you know, the usual: bread, wine.”

“Wine and bread!” said Araminta. “And cheese, I should imagine.”

“Yes, most likely there was cheese involved,” said Gerry.

“Oh, how les jeunes filles must have loved you, Mr. Goldsmith!”

“Oh, no,” said Gerry.

“Oh, but I’m sure they did. Dites-moi, did you break many hearts?”

“Oh, far from it. You see, I was a very shy young fellow.”

“Oh, nonsense, you’re being modest!”

“I’m afraid not, Miss Sauvage.”

“Dash it all, call me Araminta.”

“Of course. Araminta.”

“And may I call you by your given name?”

“I should be most pleased.”

“Gerry?”

“Yes,” said Gerry.

“Short for Gerald?”

“Gerard actually.”

“I shall call you Gerard.”

“No one has ever called me Gerard in my entire life.”

“I’m calling you Gerard.”

“So be it.”

“Should we go out now?”

“Okay.”

“Let’s go at once. All of life is waiting out there.”

A mere twenty-five minutes later they successfully emerged from the building. It was still raining, and the afternoon was fading. The plan was to go around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar, but they absent-mindedly turned the wrong way, walking together under Gerry’s old black umbrella, and they had gone as far as MacDougal Street before realizing their error.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, October 14, 2021

“Rainfall Over the Bowery”


 “What do you think?” said Araminta.

“I, uh –”

“Be honest now, Mr. Goldsmith. Brutally honest!”

“I think they are beautiful,” said Gerry.

“Yes, fine, but is one bigger than the other?”

“What?”

Quite understandably Gerry was finding it hard to think straight.

“I asked you,” she said, “is one breast bigger than the other?” 
 
“What? No, I mean, not that I can tell.”

“Not that you can tell? You’re not blind, are you?”

“Oh, no.”

“So they’re really the same size?”

“Yes, I think so.”

At last she lowered her sweater. Or was it a chemise? At any rate it was some sort of white silky material, and now her breasts were covered by it.

Gerry sighed, whether with relief or something else he had no idea. Outside the rain still fell, and inside here on Araminta’s divan he was sweating profusely.

“Damn him,” said Araminta.

“Pardon me?”

“Damn Terry for saying the girl in his stupid novel had mismatched breasts!”

“But –”

“But what?”

“But a novel is a work of fiction, by definition, that is, it has no intrinsic or artistic need to reflect any actual shall we say ‘reality’, qua reality –”

“Oh, pish, the girl in it is obviously based on me.”

“Well, you say that, and yet, the girl in the book apparently has, um –”

“One breast bigger than the other?”

“Precisely. And so, perforce, or perhaps ‘ipso facto’, or should I simply say ‘obviously’, she is not based entirely upon you, or –”

“Oh. I get it. You mean he’s being ‘creative’.”

“For lack of a better word, yes.”

“Also, he made the girl Italian, and I am not Italian.”

“Well, there you go, see? Creative.”

“So you’re saying she’s not based one hundred percent on me.”

“Well, I haven’t read a word of Terry’s novel, but I should hazard the opinion that, yes, perhaps the character is not entirely based on you.”

“You know who would make a good character in a novel?” said Araminta, changing the subject abruptly.

“Pardon me?” said Gerry.

“You, Mr. Goldsmith.”

“What?”

“You would make a good character in a novel. Would you mind if I put you in my novel?”

“You’re writing a novel?”

“Yes. Do you want to know what it’s about?”

“Uh –”

“It’s about this girl named Arabella from New Jersey who goes from a private Catholic girls’ school to Vassar, and then she graduates and comes to the city to pursue a career as a jazz poet, and she moves from this dreary women’s hotel to a tenement at Bleecker and the Bowery, and she begins to write a novel based on her awakening into womanhood.”

“Oh. Uh, well, that sounds –”

“But then she meets this guy in a diner, who’s also writing a novel.”

“Terry?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, the fellow in your novel, is he based on Terry?”

“The guy in my novel is named Kenny.”

“I see.”

“And he’s quite tall. Terry is not very tall.”

“No, of course –”

“Also, the chap in my novel is a lot smarter than Terry is.”

“I see.”

“Okay, maybe there’s some Terry in the character.”

“Um, uh –”

She picked up the Harvey’s Bristol Cream bottle, and upended it over her jelly glass.

“Damn,” she said, “we’re out.”

“Yes, well, maybe we should go down to Bob’s –”

“I don’t get my allowance until tomorrow.”

“I’ll buy.”

“Okay, but first let’s blow some gage, daddy-o.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Some weed. Reefer. Mary Jane. Muggles.”

“You mean marijuana?”

“That’s precisely what I mean.”

There was a carved wooden cigarette box on the coffee table, and Araminta leaned over, opened it, and picked out a crudely hand-rolled cigarette from among some factory-rolled ones.

“Isn’t it addictive?” said Gerry.

“Only psychologically. Light me up, man.”

With trembling fingers Gerry scrabbled a match out of his matchbox and scraped it against the striking surface of the box, igniting the match at last on his fourth try.

With two slender fingers holding the muggles in her pursed red lips, Gerry gave Araminta a light as the rain continued to fall outside on the Bowery.



{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, October 7, 2021

“What Is Art?”


 "Art is something made by someone that makes somebody else glad to be someone."

Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith gazed at the sentence which had been the sole bounty of his afternoon’s work.

Was it nonsense?

For that matter, was it any more or less nonsensical than any other sentence in his work-in-progress, his “volume of philosophical observations” with the current working title of Pensées for a Rainy Day?

And indeed it had begun to rain outside.

He turned from his old Royal portable and gazed out his window at the El tracks in the rain. He heard that familiar whirring and rumbling in the distance as the Third Avenue train approached, its noise growing louder and louder until it passed by on its way down to the Houston Street stop.

Inside the windows of the train were the faces of people heading homeward from their jobs.

The last car of the train passed, and now as its roaring receded Gerry heaved a sigh.

He very rarely composed more than one sentence in a day, but, seized by an inspiration, he turned to his typewriter again and quickly typed the following:

“For the philosopher the only truly noble work is the avoidance of work.”

Brilliant.

And say what you would about Gerry Goldsmith, if he had accomplished nothing else in his forty-eight years on the planet he had managed never to have a job.

But who could accuse him of laziness when he had written not one but two sentences in one afternoon?

Well, he deserved his reward for a good day’s work, and soon, umbrella in hand, he was working his way down the six flights to the street.

However, on the landing of the second floor he heard a woman crying, sobbing, and, yes, keening.

As much as Gerry wanted only that first delicious mouthful of bock, he was still a good man, a gentleman as well as a philosopher, and so he turned into the hallway of the second floor. The crying voice sounded familiar, and as he walked towards the sound of the sobbing he suddenly knew who it belonged to, because he was standing outside the door of young Araminta Sauvage.

He knocked on the door.

“Hello, Araminta?”

“Go away!”

“It’s me, Gerry.”

“Who?”

“Gerry Goldsmith, from up on the sixth floor?”

“Oh, that Gerry. What do you want?”

“I heard you crying.”

“I was that loud?”

“Well, yes.”

“Oh, dear, I’m so sorry.”

“Please don’t apologize. Are you all right?”

“Would I be crying if I were all right?”

“Oh. Good point. Well, if you’re all right, I guess I’ll be going along then.”

“I just said I’m not all right! You’re such a typical man, you never listen!”

“Now it is I who must apologize.”

“Wait a minute.”

Gerry waited. What had he got himself into now? All he wanted was a bock. All he wanted was to go out into the rain and around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar and order a bock. And then to drink it. And then to order another one and drink it, and so on…

Not a minute later, but more like four minutes (possibly five), Araminta’s door opened, and there she stood. Gerry was no expert in these matters, but he guessed that she had washed her face and re-applied eye makeup and lipstick. It would take a far more observant man than Gerry to tell that she had just been sobbing.

“Won’t you come in, Mr. Goldsmith?”

“Well, I –”

“Please, come in.”

“All right, thank you, Miss Sauvage.”

He took off his hat and entered, and Araminta closed the door behind him. Gerry had only been in here once before, the summer before last, when Araminta had thrown her housewarming tea party, at which he had gotten so drunk that the whole evening was like a dim memory of a memory in a dream, but a pleasant dream.

Araminta took his hat and his umbrella, put the umbrella in a large vase near the door, and hung the hat on a clothes tree.

“Please sit on the divan, Mr. Goldsmith. It’s really quite comfortable.”

Gerry sat down on the divan, which was covered with gaily colored scarves. In fact nearly everything in the flat was draped in gay dramatic scarves and shawls.

“Would you like some tea, Mr. Goldsmith?”

“Well, I was just heading out for a bock, actually.”

“Oh, you men and your precious bocks!”

“Okay, I’ll have tea, thank you, Miss Sauvage.”

“Bother tea! What is it with women and their precious endless cups of tea?”

“I, uh –”

“What about sherry?”

“Sherry is good,” said Gerry.

“You sit right there while I get the bottle and glasses.”

Gerry sat right there, and within a minute Araminta was sitting with her legs folded under her next to him on the divan, and they each held a jelly glass filled almost to the brim with Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

“You’re probably wondering why I was weeping uncontrollably.”

“Well, I admit I was, how shall I put it, concerned –”

“You may smoke if you’d like.”

What a question, Gerry nearly always liked to smoke, and so he took out his pouch of Bull Durham and his packet of Top papers.

“Oh, do please roll me one of those,” said Araminta, and Gerry duly did.

A half hour went by, and Gerry learned that Araminta had looked at her boyfriend Terry Foley’s novel-in-progress while he was out of his apartment, and there was a girl in the book named Annabella who was a poetess and who wore a beret and black stockings. Araminta wore black stockings even now, and she didn’t have her black beret on her head, but Gerry could see it hanging on the coat stand, right next to his own fedora.

“How dare he?” she now said. “How dare he put me in his stupid novel?”

“Well –”

“Well what? And don’t defend him!”

“Well, I was only going to say that writers, artists, they must get their material from where they will –”

“Yes, but he makes me look like an idiot, a pretentious little fool!”

“Yes, but, perhaps –”

“Perhaps what?”

“Perhaps he doesn’t see it that way.”

“Oh,” she said, and she paused. She stubbed out her current cigarette. “You know, you may be right, Mr. Goldsmith. You see, just between you and me, Terry is not as bright as he thinks he is. It’s quite possible that he thinks the girl in his novel is the cat’s meow.”

“I should think,” said Gerry, “that it might be flattering to be the inspiration for a character in a novel.”

“Here, have some more sherry.”

She emptied what was left of the bottle into Gerry’s jelly glass.

How long had it been since Gerry had sat in a woman’s domicile, alone with her, not to mention an attractive young woman, with the rain falling gently outside? 

Or was this the first time?

“Would you do something for me, Mr. Goldsmith?” said Araminta.

“Of course.”

“If I show you my breasts, will you tell me if you think one is markedly larger than the other?”

And here Gerry’s little world began to crash around his ears.

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}

Thursday, September 30, 2021

“One More Lucky for the Road”


 They came out of Ma’s Diner and stood there on the sidewalk.

“One more Lucky for the road, Addison?”

“Sure, thank you, Jack.”

Smiling Jack lighted them up with his Zippo.

“You said you live right across the street?”

“Yes, right in that building there,” said Addison, gesturing with his cigarette at the tenement building next to the shop with the sign reading

MORGENSTERNS  
SHOES RE SOULED WHILE U WAIT

“Looks like a nice place.”

“It’s okay,” said Addison. “I expect I’ll be moving just as soon as I get an advance on my novel.”

“An advance? Is that what publishers do, give you an advance?”

“Yes, I believe that is the custom.”

“And do you have a publisher?”

“No, not at present, but then I haven’t submitted it anywhere as yet. You see, I still have quite a bit of work left to do on the book. I have I think two-hundred and seventy-nine pages in first draft, but in fact I envision the completed work to be a volume of roughly a thousand printed pages, perhaps more.”

“A thousand pages! Gee, I would have trouble writing one page.”

“Yes, but you must understand, Jack, it’s not the quantity of pages that matters, but the quality.”

“Yes, of course –”


“At present I am still toiling in the white hot fire of initial creation. Once I have a completed first draft, which might very possibly run to fifteen hundred or even two thousand pages, then I’ll submit it to a good house and see what sort of offer they make me.”

“Well, I don’t know much about it, but that sounds like a good plan.”

“In the meantime, in order to attract some attention in the literary world, I might also send an excerpt off to the New Yorker, as soon as I can isolate a passage which can function as a self-contained piece in and of itself.”

“The New Yorker? That’s a pretty good magazine, isn’t it?”

“It’s all right. Not as good as its reputation, in my not-so-humble opinion.”

“What about the Saturday Evening Post?”

“I’m not absolutely certain if my work would be suitable for the Saturday Evening Post.”

“Well, you would know more about these things than I would, Addison.”

“The thing is, Jack, that my book is quite modernist, even post-modernist, In fact, I shouldn’t be surprised if the critics call it post-post-modernist.”

“Post-post?”

“Yes, post-post-modernist. What comes after post-modernism? And for that matter, what comes after what comes after post-modernism? It is in this yet-uncharted realm that my work will be found, I think.”

“Gee, so, it really is more than just another western?”

“I should like to think so.”

They stood there smoking.

“Well, I suppose I should be toddling along now,” said Smiling Jack.

“Yes, and thank you so much for the meal, Jack.”

“Oh, my pleasure, Addison. It was sure good, wasn’t it?”

“Oh, excellent.”

“And I didn’t steer you wrong about Ma’s sweet potato pie, did I?”

“Far from it.”

“It’s that fresh-made whipped cream that really makes it great.”

“Oh, I completely agree.”

Yes, Addison had to admit that it had been the best meal he had had in a long time. The best since he had gone home last year for Christmas. But that meal had been paid for out of his soul by having to put up with his family and their endless questions about what he was doing with his life. Also, his mother had overcooked the turkey as usual, and his father had made a blatant point of locking the liquor cabinet after the cocktail hour. Yes, tonight’s meal had been better in every regard.

“So, Addison, will I see you at the meeting tomorrow evening?”

“The meeting?”

“Yes, at Old St. Pat’s basement. Same time.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it.”

“It would be good for you, pal. These early days are the hardest, and, well, the more meetings you can go to, the better.”

“I suppose I might drop by.”

“You could speak again, if you wanted to.”

“You know, I did feel that I had a lot more to say.”

“I’m sure you did, pal. I’m sure you did. But just remember, try to keep it to under twenty minutes, and try to stay on the topic of your illness.”

“My illness?”

“Your alcoholism, pal.”

“Oh, right, yes, of course.”

“It’ll help, buddy. It really will.”

Addison said nothing. Jack was a nice guy, but he could really be a broken record sometimes. And why did he continue to stand here after he said he was going to toddle off?

“Well, good night, Jack.”

“Put ‘er there, pal.”

Jack extended his pudgy hand, and Addison shook it, briefly.

“So,” said Smiling Jack, “tomorrow at Old St. Pat’s then?”

“Maybe,” said Addison. “I’ll have to see how my writing goes.”

“Oh, yes, of course, your writing.”

“If I finish up in time, maybe I’ll come down.”

“I’d love to see you there.” Jack hesitated. Why didn’t he move along? “Well, I guess I’ll be going, then.”

Finally! But, no, still the man didn’t budge.

“You want another Lucky for later, pal?”

At this point anything to get rid of him.

“Sure, Jack. Thanks.”

Addison accepted another Lucky Strike and put it in his shirt pocket. And yet still Smiling Jack made no move to go. He pointed to the building across the street.

“Pretty nice building, huh?”

Addison couldn’t bring himself to answer the question. It was a tenement building in a slum. But it was clean, and it was cheap. Why didn’t Smiling Jack move along? How lonely was this fellow?

“I’m up the Bowery there a block,” said Smiling Jack. “Sunshine Hotel. I used to have a nice apartment, but I lost it, lost it all, lost everything, all because of the booze.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I’ll get it back, pal. One day at a time.”

“Of course. Shall we cross the street?”

“Oh, okay,” said Smiling Jack. “Can’t stand here jabbering all night.”

They went to the corner, and crossed Bleecker Street.

“Well, I head up this way,” said Jack, pointing uptown.

“And I’m this way,” said Addison, pointing to the left.

“Maybe tomorrow?” said Jack.

“If I can,” said Addison.

“One day at a time,” said Smiling Jack, with a big smile.

“Right,” said Addison.

And off Smiling Jack went, up the Bowery.

Addison went left on Bleecker, and he stopped at the cobbler’s shop next to his building. He smoked the last of his cigarette, and tossed the butt into the gutter. Then he retraced his steps back to the corner and poked his head around. Up ahead he could see Jack crossing Bond street, and then entering the Sunshine Hotel.

At last.

Addison turned the corner and walked quickly to the nearby entrance of Bob’s Bowery Bar.

Just one or two bocks, maybe three, and then an early night.

Tomorrow it would be back to work on his book…

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq...}