Thursday, February 25, 2021


 Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith arose, not unusually, at 1:16 in the afternoon, with no more than his usual Sunday hangover. Not that his Sunday hangovers were all that much different from those of the rest of the week, of the month, of the year, of the past three decades.

After a pensive hand-rolled Bull Durham in bed, Gerry climbed out and padded in his wool-stockinged feet to his closet, where he kept his two suits, one Donegal tweed, one Scotch flannel. Today would be flannel day. Gerry was quite severe about never wearing the same suit two days in a row.

But this afternoon he did a strange thing, something he did so rarely that he couldn’t remember the last time he had done it. He looked at himself in the four-foot mirror hanging inside the closet door.

Good God, did he really look like this? At – what was he? Forty-eight? The protuberant belly, the puffy unshaven face, the balding and greying head.  

Where was the beamish one-hundred-and-forty-pound young fellow who had once strolled merrily along the narrow cobblestone streets of the Latin Quarter?

Where was the bounding lad who had played (albeit second-string) on the Harvard tennis squad?

There in the corner of the closet was his old Bill Tilden racket, covered with dust. When had he last even taken it out of its press? And in the corner, a single lonely putter, all the rest of his MacGregor clubs and their bag long gone in pawn.

Thank God his life was not all in vain.

At least he had his work, his book (current working title: Pensées for a Rainy Day), a collection of “philosophical observations” he had been working on for this past quarter century or more. Indeed, had he not been working on it his entire life, by living his life?

Gerry sucked in his stomach, which act produced only a barely noticeable change in the reflection in the mirror. Slowly he exhaled, coughing his smoker’s cough. He must not let himself go completely to the dogs. He owed it not just to himself, but to his work. What if he were to drop dead of a massive coronary before finishing his book? Then his life really would have been in vain.

Quickly, or as quickly as he did anything, which was not very quickly, Gerry took out his old flannel suit and got dressed. Today would be the start of his new health régime. No longer would he start each day with an eye-opener collation at Bob’s Bowery Bar – a restorative shot of Cream of Kentucky, washed down with a soothing rich glass of Bob’s proprietary basement-brewed house bock – followed by a good nap, and then a leisurely breakfast at Ma’s Diner. No, he would launch each day instead with a brisk bracing walk, say a half-hour at first, and then maybe he would gradually build it up to an hour. And after his walk he would go to Ma’s Diner and have a nutritious brunch, washed down with copious cups of her chicory coffee. And even then he wouldn’t go to Bob’s, no, he would return to his digs and work on his book until, let’s say, five, or four at the earliest, and then and only then would he allow himself to go to Bob’s for happy hour.

And just watch those unwanted pounds melt away!

Gerry made his way down the six flights of his tenement building and out the door, where he stopped in the shelter of the entranceway.

Oh, dear.

It was snowing, again. But not one of those scenic poetic  snowfalls like in the movies, this was one of those wet driving stinging snows, not laying so much but coating the sidewalk with an icy dandruff. The last few snowfalls still left their evidence in the soot-covered ridges along the curb, and the people who passed by were hunched over, looking like stragglers in Napoleon’s army on their doomed retreat from Moscow.

Gerry adjusted his old Andover rowing-team muffler so that it covered more of his chubby neck, raised the velvet collar of his old camel’s hair Chesterfield. He pulled his fedora down as far as it would go on his head, but how much protection from the cold and wet did a fedora afford? And, alas, he had no gloves. Gerry had always had a hard time holding onto gloves, they were like umbrellas in that regard. He shoved his hands into his coat pockets. Okay, it was snowing, or, no, actually it was more like sleet now, but so what? It wasn’t as if this were an absolute blizzard. Now the question was: which way? It occurred to him that in the twenty-some years he had lived in this building he had never walked farther than to the Houston Street stop of the Third Avenue El. He had only vague and fanciful notions of what lay beyond a two-block radius or so of his building in any direction. Presumably the East River was off to the left somewhere. To the right was the Village. South was downtown, north was uptown, where his lawyer’s offices were, almost the only place besides Bob’s bar and Ma’s Diner that he ever went to, a once-a-month hejira via elevated train and bus to pick up his remittance check.

Which way? Wasn’t Washington Square Park somewhere off in the Village direction? That might be a nice walk. Or he could walk down to the river. That might be picturesque. How many times had he reeled drunk along the quais and across the genuinely picturesque bridges of the Seine? Those were the days, and nights. A pity that he had been so shy as a young man. All those chic shop girls strolling on the trottoirs and sitting at the cafés of the boulevards. Maybe if he headed Villageward he would see some Bohemian lasses, with black stockings and berets. He’d bet they wouldn’t mind hearing about his post-collegiate days in Paris. It’s true he had never met Hemingway, or Picasso, or Gertrude Stein, but there was no denying that he had been in the city of light at the same time as those giants, and once he had even seen Picasso, or someone who looked an awful lot like him, sitting inside the Dôme.

Gerry took out his sack of Bull Durham and his Top papers. Right, left, uptown, downtown? Let’s have a smoke and think it over. Expertly he rolled one up and lighted it with one of the Blue Tip kitchen matches he always had with him.

“Hey, Brain.”

Gerry turned. It was Seamas, the Irish poet, who lived in a room on the fourth floor, even smaller than Gerry’s.

“Oh, hello, Seamas. Up bright and early, I see.”

“As are you, Brain. I say, Brain, remember that last round I bought ya?”

“Not precisely, Seamas.”

“Well, neither do I, but I wonder if you would be willing to stand me a shout or two, or three, or four, as I’ve got a powerful thirst on me, and you know when I get me next dole check I’ll make it up to you.”

“I was going to take a walk, actually, Seamas.”


“I was going to take a walk.”

“Why, in Christ’s holy name?”

“For my health.”

“Have you gone mad, man?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Do you not feel how ball biting cold it is out here? Do you not see that gelid shite pissing down? Look at you, your nose is already as red as a ripe raspberry, and dripping with rapidly freezing snot as we speak. How about a gasper.”

“Here, take this one, Seamas.”

“You’re all right, Brain, and I don’t care what anyone says about you. Ah, nothing like a good hand-rolled cancer stick, is there?”

Especially if it’s a free one, thought Gerry, but he was a good fellow, and he didn’t say it, but took out his pouch and his papers and set to rolling a fresh one.

“There’s a good lad,” said Seamas. “Soon as you fire that one up, let’s head on over to Bob’s.”

“But, Seamas, I really did want to take a walk.”

Seamas took a good drag of his smoke, looking up and down the street, then he turned again to Gerry.

“If you’ve not got the money to stand me a drink, you can just say so, Brain.”

“But it’s not that, Seamas.”

“So you do have some of the green on you.”


“Then what’s the problem. You can level with me, pal.”

Gerry lighted his fresh cigarette.

“I looked at myself in the mirror just a little while ago, and I saw a fat dissipated middle-aged man, balding and ill-favored.”

“And you think a walk in this freezing hell is going to fix that?”

“Well, it might not make it worse.”

“Did you ever hear the phrase catch your death of cold, Brain, or more accurately put, catch your death of the cold and freezing wet?”


“Do you want to die? Is that it?”


“Then come to your senses, man. It’s like fucking Antarctica out here. Do you want to go the way Shackleton went, and his brave but foolhardy men?”


“Then stop this nonsense and come with me to Bob’s.”

“I was going to take a walk and then get a good breakfast at Ma’s, and then work on my book.”

“Forget the walk, forget that insanity, man. Let’s go to Bob’s, we’ll have a shot and a bock apiece, and we’ll talk it over. Just one shot and a bock apiece, maybe another Bull Durham or two. And then, if, and please note I say if, dear Brain, if you think you could stand me a meal, I confess that I myself have not taken solid nourishment since roughly this time yesterday, and perhaps I could join you for a light lunch or a heavy breakfast at Ma’s. Please note my usage of the conjunction if. I am only speculating you understand, postulating if you will.”

Gerry just then felt an ooze of snot descend from his right nostril to his upper lip, and he wiped it way with his coat sleeve.

Maybe Seamas was right. It was cold, and wet, in fact the sleet was now more like rain than snow, and Bob’s would be warm, and smoky, and dim, and filled with drunken chatter and laughter.

“Don’t be a cunt, Brain.” said Seamas. “You’ve always been a good fellow. Don’t stop now.”

The man had a point. Gerry could always start his daily walk tomorrow, if it wasn’t too cold, if it wasn’t snowing, or sleeting, or raining.

The two friends set off through the cold stinging rain for Bob’s Bowery Bar, which fortunately for them was just around the corner.

{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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