Thursday, February 18, 2021


People, places, things. That’s what they told you that you had to watch out for when you got back into the world.

People, places, and things – which in Philip’s case covered a lot of territory.

He had stayed at the institution for five months this time, his longest stay yet, which meant he’d had plenty of time to think about what he was going to do when he left, plenty of time to talk it over with Dr. Himmelmann and with his new friend Edna.

He could have gone back to the firm. After all, it was the family firm, his brother would probably have taken him back, just as he had done all the other times when Philip had been away on binges followed by weeks or months in hospitals and institutions. However, there was that thing, the people, places and things thing, and so Philip formally resigned from the firm, got rid of his apartment on Sutton Place, found an office down on Bleecker and Elizabeth with a one-bedroom apartment upstairs, and he hung up a sign with his name and profession printed on it. He hired the first girl who answered the advertisement, a Miss Blotnick straight out of secretarial school, and he waited for clients to walk in.

Philip could have moved out west, or gone to Paris or Mexico City, he could have gone anywhere. He had a “private income” as it was called, so he didn’t have to work to support himself, but he had to do something with his time, and he had to live somewhere, so why not live and work in this poor neighborhood? Maybe he could actually do some good?

In his first week he had taken on six cases. A divorce, a will, a guy who had beaten up his brother, a kid who had robbed a candy store with a zip gun, a wife who had hit her drunken husband in the head with a clothes iron, another kid who had robbed the poor box at the Church of the Nativity. Word apparently got around about how cheap Philip’s fees were, and Miss Blotnick had a full calendar of appointments for the coming week.

Today was Sunday, his first fully free day since coming back to town. Philip had a kitchen, but all he had in the old icebox that came with the apartment was a bottle of milk. He picked up a book, and went downstairs to Bleecker Street. A stinging, misty cold rain, blotches of dirty snow. He walked down the block to Ma’s Diner, where he had taken every meal since moving down here.

He took a seat at the counter and ordered breakfast from Ma herself. She had asked his name the second day he came in here, and ever since she had greeted him by name. She appreciated his custom, a high class gentleman, so polite and well spoken.

When Ma gave him his cup of chicory coffee, Philip lighted a cigarette and opened his book, The Naked and the Dead, a book he had been meaning to read for some years now, but he had been too busy drinking.

“Hey, Philip. Howya doin’, buddy?”

Philip turned. He knew this guy. What was his name? A shabby little old man, not much different from a lot of other shabby little old men sitting in this place.


What was the man’s name?

“Bert. You know, good old Bowery Bert.”

“Oh, hi, Bert.”

Philip still couldn’t quite place the guy, but he knew he must have been one of the hundreds or was it thousands of random guys he had exchanged wisdom with while he was drunk.

“This stool taken?”

“No, not at all, help yourself.”

The little guy climbed up on the stool to Philip’s left. He had thick round glasses, a cloth cap, an unlighted stub of a cigar in his mouth. He needed a shave.

“I ain’t seen you around, Philip.”

“Yes, I’ve been away.”

“Away on business like?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“But now you’re back.”

“Now I’m back.”

“Just a cup of joe, Ma,” said this Bowery Bert guy, to Ma.

“Are you bothering this gentleman, Bert?”

“I don’t know,” said Bert. He turned to Philip. “Am I bothering you, Philip?”

“No,” said Philip.

“Philip says I ain’t bothering him, Ma.”

“Well, see that you don’t. It ain’t many gentlemen I get in this place, and I don’t want you chasing them away.”

“I promise I’ll behave, Ma.”

Ma poured Bert a cup of her famous chicory coffee, and she topped off Philip’s cup.

“This bum bothers you, Mr. Philip, you let me know.”

“Thanks, Ma, but he’s not bothering me.”


Ma went down the counter with her coffee pot and Bowery Bert leaned in toward Philip.

“If only I was a few thousand years younger, boy, because that is one hell of a lot of woman right there, and just the way I like ‘em, strong and black, just like my java.”

Philip opened his book again, and started to read.

“You don’t remember me, do you, Philip?”

Philip looked up from his book.

“I’ll be honest – Bert is it?”

“Yeah. Bert. They call me Bowery Bert.”

“You seem familiar, Bert, but beyond that I can’t quite remember meeting you before. But please don’t be offended, because, you see, I used to drink a lot.”

“Like a lot of people around here,” said Bert.

“Like a lot of people everywhere,” said Philip.

“Ain’t that the truth?” said Bert. “People.”

“Yeah,” said Philip. “And places.”

“And places?”

“And things,” said Philip.

“People, places, and things,” said Bowery Bert. “Everywhere you go. There ain’t no escaping them.”

“That’s true,” said Philip.

“Here’s your breakfast, Mr. Philip,” said Ma, and she laid it down, fried eggs, bacon, home fries and toast.

Philip closed his book, stubbed out his cigarette.

“That breakfast sure looks good,” said Bert. “Best breakfast in the city here at Ma’s.”

Philip made sure that Ma wasn’t looking, and then he took out his wallet, and opened it on his lap. He took out a bill, and stuck it into the pocket of the old man’s overcoat.

“Hey, I wasn’t looking for no handout,” said Bert. He took the bill out of his pocket, and, keeping it under the edge of the counter, looked at it. “Wow, a fin. Thanks, buddy. How come?”

“I’m making amends,” said Philip. That was another thing they talked about in the meetings. “Why don’t you order some breakfast, Bert?”

“Y’know, pal, I think I just might do that.”

Philip had way too many people to make amends to, including himself. This old bum was as good as anyone else to start with.

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

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