Thursday, January 28, 2021

“The River and the City”


 It was the worst possible kind of day, and what better sort of day to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and end his pathetic life once and for all?

Addison (not his real name, but that’s what everyone called him, so let’s call him that) stood looking down at the East River flowing toward the Atlantic Ocean beneath the cold dirty steel of the bridge. The sky was bright blue, not a wisp of a cloud in it, but the wind was high and freezing. He stood there with his right arm holding onto a girder. He had always been afraid of heights, and yet, here he was, way up here, about to end it all.

What did he have to live for? No one liked him, let alone love, no, love was out of the question, even his own mother didn’t really love him, nor his grandmothers or his aunts and great-aunts. They might send him checks, but that didn’t mean they loved him.

All he had to do was jump.

But.

But on the other hand he was a coward, and always had been. So then the question was, what was he more afraid of: jumping and ending it all, or continuing to live the miserable pathetic life he had always lived?

“May I intrude?”

Addison was so shocked that he almost jumped off the bridge by accident.

A little old man was standing to his left, wearing a cloth cap, thick glasses, a ragged overcoat and scarf. He had a smoking stub of a cigar in his mouth.

“Jesus Christ!” said Addison.

“Oh, I wish!” said the old man.

He seemed vaguely familiar, like someone Addison had seen in Bob’s Bowery Bar.

“Do I know you?”

“We have not been formally introduced, but I have been keeping my eye on you. They call me Bert, Bowery Bert.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I am here because you are here, Addison.”

“How do you know my name, not that Addison really is my name.”

“Nonetheless it is the name that everyone calls you.”

“I know, I know –”

“All because you’re always trying to be witty and acerbic like Addison DeWitt in All About Eve.”

“I know, I know, you don’t have to tell me.”

“It could be worse, maybe they could call you Waldo, after Waldo Lydecker in Laura, ha ha. How’d you like it if everybody called you Waldo?”

“I wouldn’t.”

“So Addison’s not so bad, is it, Addison?”

“Wait, just who the hell are you, and what are you doing here?”

“You saw that movie It’s a Wonderful Life, didn’t you?”

“Yes. And I thought it was sentimental tripe.”

“Well, irregardless, you remember that scene where Jimmy Stewart was gonna end it all, and suddenly a lovable little angel shows up?”

“Yes, what nonsense.”

“Well, I’m an angel, sorta like in that movie. A guardian angel.”

“You’re my guardian angel?”

“Not exactly. I always have to explain this to you stupid humans, so here I go again. We ain’t got enough angels to give everybody on earth their own guardian angel, and so instead we angels are each given districts to take care of. Me, I got the Bowery, or at least a big chunk of it. Which is why they call me Bowery Bert.”

“So, what, you’re here to talk me out of jumping off the bridge?”

“I ain’t here to talk you out of nothing. I’m here only to get you to think about your life for just one minute, but from like maybe a different angle.”

“Oh, like, look how great my life could be, if only I, if only I –”

“May I be honest, Addison?”

“Of course.”

“Your life will never be great, my friend.”

“Wow.”

“You will continue to be shallow and pathetic and untalented. You will never amount to nothing, you will get older, you will continue to drink and smoke too much, your body will deteriorate, and then you will die, friendless and alone, quite possibly after a painful disease.”

“Gee, thanks a lot. I guess I’ll just go ahead and jump now then, if it’s okay with you.”

“Be my guest. But first, consider this: if you decide not to jump, and just walk back to land, think of all the fun things you can do.”

“Fun?”

“Going to see Audie Murphy movies. Reading a good book, even if it’s only a Nero Wolfe mystery. Dunking a doughnut into a cup o’ hot chicory joe at Ma’s Diner –”

“Yes, okay, I get it, the little things, sure. But, don’t you see, I’ll still be me.”

“Yeah, that’s the hard part, ain’t it?”

Addison stared at the little old man, and waited. Waited for what? A word of wisdom? But all the little old man did was stare right back at Addison through those thick glasses of his.

Addison turned away and looked down at the river. For some reason he had chosen the northern side of the bridge to jump off of, and so he was looking upriver at Manhattan on the left and Brooklyn on the right, all these thousands of buildings filled with millions of people.

The air and the wind were bitter cold. Like – like what? Like frozen daggers? No, what horrible triteness. Can’t you just say cold, fucking cold, and leave it at that? Must you always try to be clever, even when you’re getting ready to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge?

Addison turned to his left, but now the little man was gone.

So that was it?

That was all?

The little jerk had had nothing more to say?

But, wait, what if the little man had been a hallucination?

What if all there was was this? Just me, inside my head,  looking down and out at all that, at the whole incomprehensible world?

Suddenly Addison felt vertiginous, as if his body might take flight of its own accord and go sailing out over the river, and then that’s what happened, he sailed off the bridge, his arms at his side, headfirst, sailing down and down toward the cold grey river, but then, so strangely, just before he was about to crash into the water, he swooped upward, upward, high into the bright cold blue sky, higher and higher, and after a minute he leveled off, and sailed along, looking down at the islands full of people far below him, and way off to the left he could even see the stretches of New Jersey. 


Addison sailed along for a few minutes, and then, somewhere over Long Island Sound, he made a great graceful curve and began sailing back, back to the river and the city.



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


Friday, January 22, 2021

"Galoshes"


Terry and Araminta had been friends now for more than five months, and they met nearly every afternoon at Ma’s Diner to drink untold cups of coffee and peruse the pages each had produced that morning. They were very kind in their comments, despite the fact that neither could make head or tail of what the other was on about in their respective novels-in-progress.

Today, this snowy cold day in January, Araminta sipped her chicory coffee and read the following from Terry’s book, still titled (she hoped provisionally) Say There, Young Fellow!:
Another day awakening to the symphony of the great city! The fartings of the garbage trucks, the belchings of the El train, the wailing of the little guttersnipes in their slum dwellings, the vomiting of the drunkards on the sidewalk, the random shouts of violent young thugs! Jerry Hooley ripped another page from his trusty Olivetti portable and added it to the foot-high pile next to the machine. He inserted another blank sheet into the roller and typed the page number in at the top: 1,000. Not bad, not bad at all. He still hadn’t quite found the plot of the novel, but plots were overrated anyway. He scrolled down an inch and typed


CHAPTER 303


The city’s daily concerto called to Mickey Mooney. Enough of creation for one day, time to go out and experience life! Time to shake off the

That was where Terry had left off. He always stopped writing at noon on the dot, even if he was in the middle of a sentence, or, for that matter at the beginning or ending of one.

“So, what do you think, Araminta?”

“I think it’s marvelous,” said Araminta, as usual. After all, what did she know about what she called boy novels? “Simply marvelous. Is anything going to happen with Annabella?”

Annabella was the presumable “love interest” in Terry’s novel, a bohemian lass who lived in the same building as Terry’s hero Jerry Hooley and who was writing a cycle of poems called Sappho, My Sappho.

“I honestly have no idea,” said Terry. “You know me, I have to go where my characters take me. However, I suspect that there might be something dramatic in store with Melpomene.”



Melpomene, a girl playwright, was the love interest of Mickey Mooney, the hero of the novel (Moon Over the Bowery) that Jerry Hooley (and, actually, Terry) was writing.

“Perhaps,” said Araminta, “and only perhaps, mind you, the development of Mickey and Melpomene’s relationship could mirror the same in Jerry and Annabella’s.”

Terry paused before answering. He lighted up another Camel.

“Wow,” he said, finally. “That could really be a swell idea!”

“It’s a thousand pages you’ve got there so far,” said Araminta. “I know you must follow your own artistic impulses, but maybe it’s time for a little, you know, I hate to use the word.”

“What?” said Terry.

“But I hate to use the word. It’s so crude.”

“What word?”

“I just told you I hate to use it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. But could you give me maybe a synonym? Or what do you call it when you use a nicer word for a harsh word or phrase?”

“Euphemism?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“Oh, hang it all, Terence, the word I mean is sex. There, I’ve said it, full speed ahead and darn the torpedoes. Sex.”

“Sex?”

“Yes. Now please don’t say it again.”

“I promise not to.”

Sex.

Yes, perhaps Araminta was right. Maybe a thousand pages was a little too long to go without, well, Terry didn’t even want to think the word, so careful was he not to offend Araminta by even thinking of a word she found offensive.

“But I could be wrong,” said Araminta, and she took out one of her Viceroys. She waited while Terry scrabbled up his matches and gave her a light. “And after all, look at my own novel.” She brushed her long red-painted fingernails over the cover of the large leather-bound notebook that contained the latest pages of her own work in progress (provisional title: The Womb of the City). “I’ve been working on this thing for almost a year, and Azalea {the heroine of Araminta’s novel} hasn’t even been kissed by a man yet!”

“But,” said Terry.

“Yes?”

“But –”

“Go on.”

“Well, please don’t be offended.”

“Damn it, Terence, stop beating about the bush. Out with it.”

“I thought Azalea was a, you know, I hope you won’t be offended if I say the word.”

“How can I know if I’ll be offended if you don’t say it.”

“You promise not to be?”

“I make no such promise. Now say it.”

“Lesbian.”

“What?”

“I thought Azalea was a lesbian.”

“You thought Azalea was a dyke?”

“Well, not definitely, but, you know, she went to a women’s college, and –”

“Well, Terence, I went to Vassar and I assure you that, despite everything you may have heard, the sisters of Lesbos were a distinct albeit noticeable minority there. Gee, whillikers, you never saw such a mob of boy-crazed sluts as in that school!”

“I’m sorry.”

Now Araminta took pause.

So.

So now she knew why she and Terry had been having coffee together nearly every single day for five months, reading and critiquing one another’s work, and he had never once made a pass at her.

Or.

Or could it be?

Could it be that Terry himself was the one who was a little light in the loafers?

Well, there was only one way to find out.

“Say,” she said, “do you want to get out of here? Take a walk? Or something.”

“But it’s snowing.”

“I love to walk in the snow.”

“Well, okay,” said Terry, who remembered without fondness long hikes with a full pack in the snowy wastelands surrounding Fort Dix.

“I just need to get my galoshes,” said Araminta.

“Sure,” said Terry. They both lived in the same building, just across Bleecker Street and catercorner to Ma’s. “Do you want me to wait here?”

“No,” said Araminta. “Why don’t you come up with me.”

“To your apartment?”

Terry lived on the fourth floor, Araminta on the second, but he had never once been in her apartment.

“Yes, to my apartment,” said Araminta. “So I can get my galoshes.”

Terry really couldn’t see why he had to go up to Araminta’s flat if she was just going to get her galoshes, but he didn’t pretend to understand the first thing about women, so he said okay.





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

Saturday, January 16, 2021

"Shakespeare"


 "That William Shakespeare, he was some kinda content creator.”

“He killed. Absolutely killed.”

“And what a brand.”

“He was the brand, man.”

“He made himself the brand, dude.”

“You think Shakespeare, you think quality.”

“Class.”

“Class is right.”

“No bullshit.”

“The real deal.”

“But you know what, I prefer his early shit.”

“That early shit rocked.”

“Then, I don’t know, the later shit got a little too self-indulgent for me.”

“I’m glad you said that because I feel the same way.”

Hamlet? Four fucking hours to make up your mind to kill your step dad?”

“Like, move it along, dude.”

“For realz.”

“This always happens. People get a little bit of success and then they think everything they shit out is gold.”

“But it’s not.”

“Most definitely not.”

“But I still dig his early stuff.”

“Yeah, that stuff killed, man.”

Thursday, January 14, 2021

“Bless Me, Father”


“Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It’s been four or five weeks since my last confession, I ain’t sure, exactly. Maybe six weeks.”

“Go on, my child.”

“I lost my temper with my little brother and little sister a few times. You see, our parents are dead, so I gotta work to put a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, and sometimes I lose my patience.”

“I understand.”

“I cursed a whole bunch of times. I work in a bar, and sometimes I just get so mad at them drunks, and so I tell ‘em off.”

“Well, that’s understandable too.”

“I got drunk one night.”

“How drunk?”

“Pretty drunk. And I did something I shouldna done.”

“What was that?”

“I committed the act of darkness with this guy I know.”

The priest paused for a moment. Then he said, “Did this fellow force you to commit the act?”

“No, he was even drunker than I was. I’m not even sure he knew we committed it.”

“I see.”

“He’s a poet.”

“A poet? What kind of poet?”

“They call him a doomed romantic poet.”

“I see. So it was just the one time?”

“Yeah, just the oncet.”

“Well, then God forgives you, but you must not let it happen again.”

“I’ll try not to, that’s for sure.” It hadn’t been anything to write home about anyway. Hector wasn’t bad looking, but his body had been thin, bony and pale, he wasn’t any Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas in the Greek god department, and his breath had smelled of all the whiskey he’d drunk and all the Philip Morrises he’d smoked, plus his bad thing was weird looking, not like the harmless little willie Janet’s brother Bub had. “But that ain’t all, father, on accounta I did something worse.”

“What was that?”

“You ain’t gonna get mad at me, are you?”

“My child, I’ve been a priest for almost forty years, I assure you there’s very little I haven’t heard in the confessional.”

“Okay. I got in trouble just from that one night, and I knew I couldn’t bring up no baby while I’m the sole support for my kid brother and baby sister, so I went to this lady in the neighborhood and she took care of it for me.”

“You mean, she –”

“Yeah.”

The priest was quiet.

“Anyway,” said Janet, “I just wanted to confess that.”

“It’s a very serious sin, my child.”

“You think I don’t know that? Why do you think I’m here?”

“You must never ever do such a thing again.”

“I don’t plan to, father. It’s just I couldn’t see no other solution. At the time, I mean.”

“This man, this, uh, poet –”

“Hector.”

“I don’t need to know his name. Did he talk you into getting rid of the baby?”

“Him? He didn’t even know I was in trouble.”

“You never told him?”

“Why would I tell him?”

“It was his child, wasn’t it?”

“He wasn’t the one with it in his belly.”

Again the priest fell silent.

“So do I get absolution?” said Janet.

“Yes,” said the priest. “Do you have anything else to confess?”

“Ain’t that enough for one day?”

“Yes,” said the priest. “Yes, I suppose it is. For your penance I want you to say the rosary six times.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all. And try not to drink too much in future.”

“I hardly ever drink. It was just that one time. I just had bad luck, y’know?”

“Yes, yes it was bad luck.”

“Hey, father.”

“Yes?”

“Do I got to say all them rosaries all at once, or can I spread them out?”

“You can spread them out.”

“Thanks. I think I want to save them for later, because right now I just want to get out of this church.”

“I understand. I understand you’re upset. But you must not let yourself be racked with guilt.”

“I’ll try not to.”

“Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat,” said the priest, reciting the words that washed away the sin; “et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”


Outside on Sixth Avenue it was cold and the sky up above the rooftops was the color of a wet gunnysack. Janet’s parish church was Nativity down on Second Avenue, but she had come over here to St. Joe’s for confession because none of the priests here knew her. She went to the corner, crossed the avenue, and headed toward the park. She didn’t want to take a bus, and she had plenty of time to walk to work. And if any bum said a single word to her on the sidewalk she swore she would smash him in the face with the brass knuckles she always kept in the pocket of her coat. Just let some bum say one little word to her, she swore she would make him rue the day he was born.

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

Saturday, January 9, 2021

“Admiration of the Nation”


 It was a snowy and bitter cold Wednesday afternoon in January, a few days into the new year, and the door opened and there in the doorway stood somebody all covered in snow.

“Yo, buddy,” called Bob. “Close the fucking door, you’re letting all the hot air out.”

“Gunny?”

Gunny? Nobody had called Bob “Gunny” since he retired from the Corps way back in 1930.

“Close the fucking door.”

The guy closed the door and shuffled up to the bar. The joint was pretty full with all the usual regulars, and everybody had gotten quiet and was watching.

“Gunny,” said the guy. “Doncha know me?”

All Bob saw was a decrepit bearded bum, dressed in rags and covered with snow.

“If you’re looking for a handout, beat it.”

“Gunny, I just breezed into town, and I heard you had your own place, and it’s true. Bob’s Bowery Bar they told me. Nice place, too.” He looked around, or pretended to look around. “Real nice place.”

“Who the fuck are you?”

“It’s me, Gunny. Brickie Bergin. You remember old Brickie, doncha?”

Oh Christ. Danny Bergin, alias “Brickie”, diminutive of “Goldbrick”, because this guy was the biggest goldbrick in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps.

“Oh, hi, Brickie,” said Bob. “Long time no see.”

“Musta been Shanghai, 1929, 1930.”

“Yeah, musta been,” said Bob.

Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith was sitting there at the bar, next to Addison, and Brickie addressed the two of them.

“We was in the marines together, me and the Gunny. Finest, toughest marine ya’d ever wanta meet.”

“You don’t say,” said the Brain.

“I’m not surprised to hear that,” said Addison.

“Salt of the earth,” said Brickie. “Tough as nails, but a real straight shooter. And he played it right. Got his twenty years in, retired, and opens a swell joint like this. I shoulda done that. I had any sense that’s what I shoulda done. Got my twenty years in. But, you know, shit happens.”

“Like what?” said the Brain. He was genuinely curious.

“Oh, just shit,” said Brickie. “Let’s just say I didn’t get my twenty years in.”

“Okay,” said the Brain.

Brickie turned back to Bob again, then looked to his left and his right, nodding his head, then back at Bob.

“Real nice place, Gunny. They told me you opened up your own joint, and I gotta say, this is a real nice joint, real nice. Hey, listen, Gunny, I’m a little short right now, but, hey, how’s about one on the arm for a fellow old leatherneck?”

Bob knew what that meant, and he wasn’t having it. You let a guy like Brickie get a toehold and you’d need a goddam crowbar to pry him loose. Bob went over to the cash register, banged it open, shut it again, came back and laid a twenty-dollar bill down on the bar in front of Brickie.

“Take that, Brickie, and take a hike.”

Brickie quickly picked up the twenty.

“How about just a quick shot for the road, Gunny?”

“Beat it, Brickie.”

“Can I come back some other time?”

Bob stared at him, and took a drag on his Parodi.

“It’s January,” he said, finally. “You can come back in next January if you’re still alive.”

“Next January,” said Brickie. “It’s a deal, Gunny.”

He shoved the twenty into his coat pocket, and then he turned again to the Brain and Addison.

“And you two bums, take care of Gunny for me, will yez?”

“Sure,” said the Brain.

“By all means,” said Addison.

Brickie turned to Bob again.

“Happy new year, Gunny. I’ll see ya next year. If I’m alive.”

He turned and shuffled to the door, opened it, some snow whirled in, and he went out into it, shutting the door behind him.

Outside on the sidewalk, in the falling snow, Brickie took out the twenty-dollar bill and looked at it, holding it with both hands.

A double sawbuck! Better than he would ever have imagined. Gunny was all right. A real marine.

Brickie put the twenty back in his pocket. It didn’t matter which way he went, this was the Bowery, and he wouldn’t have to go too far to find a bar to start spending that twenty in. Uptown was as good a direction as any, and that’s the way he went.

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