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? 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…}

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