Thursday, June 17, 2021

“À demain, cher Gérard”

 There was nothing to be done for it, thought Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith, nothing but to finish his imperial pint of bock and leave.

Damn Addison! Look at him there, guzzling his own imperial pint. And, since Bob had given them and Gilbey this round on the house, Addison was undoubtedly hoping that Gerry would buy him another imperial, shameless moocher that he was.

All a man wanted was to work on his book of philosophical observations (was Pensées for a Rainy Day really a good title? what about Thoughts Like Falling Leaves?) and then go down to his corner bar and get half a load on, or even a full load, what the hell, it was a free country. But, oh, no, thanks to Addison, this simple desire was not to be satisfied, and all because Gerry had told Addison that he would read his bad work-in-progress novel tonight, all two hundred and forty-eight pages of it, damn him!

Gerry put down the big glass. It was empty.

“Well, I suppose I’d better be going,” he said, with exactly the same tone as a man speaking to a priest before heading down the cell block corridor to the room where they kept the electric chair.

“Yes,” said Addison, who also lowered his big glass, empty. “You’ve still got a lot of reading to do, old chum.”

“Yeah,” said Gerry.

“The Brain don’t want to read it,” said Gilbey, whose own small glass was now also empty.

“I think, Gilbey,” said Addison, “that my good friend Gerry –”

“You mean the Brain?” said Gilbey.

“Yes,” said Addison, “I think that my good friend ‘the Brain’ as you call him, is quite capable of saying for himself whether he wants to read my work-in-progress or not. Right, Gerry?”

“Um,” said Gerry.

“See?” said Gilbey. “You put him on the spot. But he don’t want to read your whaddyacallit –”


“Yeah, he don’t want to read that,” said Gilbey. “He wants to sit on that stool there and get his load on, just like he does every night. Look at him.”

Addison looked at Gerry. Gerry produced a weak, perhaps a slightly hopeful smile, the tentative half smile of the condemned man who thinks that word might yet come down from the governor granting a last-minute reprieve, or at least a stay of execution.

“Well?” said Addison.

“Yes?” said Gerry.

“Tell him,” said Addison, “tell Gilbey that you gladly agreed to read my work-in-progress tonight, as a favor, from one literary chap to another.”

Gerry sighed.

“Yes,” he said. “I agreed to read your work-uh-in-progress tonight.’

Of course Gerry had no intention of reading the damn thing tonight, or ever. At best he would skim through a few more passages, just enough to fake having read it. This method had gotten him a degree from Harvard, hadn’t it?

“And, Gerry, may I say something?” said Addison. He struck a match and lighted up a Philip Morris.

“Yes?” said Gerry, wishing he could say no.

Addison exhaled a great cloud of smoke before speaking. One of these days he would offer a Philip Morris to someone else, but it wouldn’t be today.

“I know,” he said, “that two hundred and forty-eight pages might seem a bit much for one night’s reading, but bear in mind these are double-spaced typed pages.”

“That’s true.”

“So it’s not like reading two hundred and forty-eight printed pages.”

“No –”

“And, not to blow my own horn, but I think, old man, that you’ll find that the pages will simply fly by, like, like –”

“Like the wild geese in the west?”

“Precisely, like the wild geese in the west,” said Addison. “In fact, I shouldn’t be surprised if you’ll find that before you know it you’ll have reached page two-hundred and forty-eight, and you’ll say, ‘Hey, is this all? Give me more!’”

“Yeah, maybe so,” said Gerry.

“What do you mean, ‘Maybe?’”

“I mean, yes, I’m sure,” said Gerry.

“I don’t think so,” said Gilbey.

“Gilbey, will you please stay out of it?” said Addison. “What do you know about literature? What’s the last novel you read?”

Stopover in Singapore, by Horace P. Sternwall.”

“Never heard of it.”

“It’s a good one, Addison. You could learn a lot from Horace P. Sternwall.”

“All right,” said Gerry, “I’m going.”

He got up off his stool, his comfortable bar stool.

“I eagerly await your verdict tomorrow,” said Addison.

“Yeah, sure,” said Gerry.

“Don’t forget to make a list of any errata or typographical errors.”

“Okay,” said Gerry, “I’ll do that.”

“You still have two dollars on the bar there,” said Addison.

“Yeah,” said Gerry. “Ask Bob to give you both another imperial pint, and he can keep the change.”

“Well, that’s most generous of you,” said Addison.

“Thanks, Brain,” said Gilbey. “I’m gonna really enjoy that imperial pint.”

“You’re welcome, Gilbey,” said Gerry. “See you, Addison.”

“I’ll be by first thing tomorrow to pick up my pages.”

“Well, maybe not first thing –”

“So you’re not an early riser?”

“Far from it.”

“Shall we say around noonish then?”
“Can you make it a bit later in the day?”

“How much later?”

“Well, uh –”

“Oh, how self-involved of me. I forgot that quite likely you’ll be up rather late voraciously devouring my book.”

“Uh, yeah –”

“Even though as I said I think you’ll find it is quite the page-turner.”


“But you’ll probably want to reread certain particularly felicitous sections.”


“Sometimes, as with certain pages of Proust, the author’s true meaning does not begin to emerge until one has read it at least three or four times. Or more.”

“Right,” said Gerry, screaming silently.

“Fine,” said Addison. “Let’s say then shall we that I’ll come over around four-ish. You should be well-rested by then, and perhaps we can adjourn to the bar here, to discuss the work.”

“Yeah, great, sounds good, Addison.”

“It does, doesn’t it?”

So there you had it. The man was insane, and had no idea just how boring he was, and how hopelessly untalented, and how horrible his book was. And yet, who was to say that Gerry’s own book wasn’t just as bad? How deluded was he himself? Didn’t we all need our little delusions and our major delusions just to get us out of bed each day?

The bar was full now, with the regular after-work crowd, and the crowd of regulars who didn’t work and never would work if they had any say in the matter. Over there were the poets at their usual table: Seamas and Lucius, Frank and Howard and Hector – they would never ask a friend to stay home from the bar to read one of their books, they had more consideration and class than that. How Gerry wished he could join those good fellows for a few hours or more of drunken badinage, but no, this was not to be.

“Well, see you Addison,” said Gerry.

“À demain, cher Gérard,” said Addison.

“See ya, Brain,” said Gilbey.

“Yeah, see ya, Gilbey,” said Gerry.

“I feel sorry for ya,” said Gilbey.

“What do you mean?” said Addison.

“’Cause he’s gotta read your work-in-whaddyacallit.”

Gerry didn’t stay to listen to any more of this, but headed for the door and went out into the hot late-afternoon dirty June sunlight. He turned right, and started walking down the Bowery. He needed to get out of the immediate neighborhood, out of Addison’s usual area of operations, and he kept walking until he got to Houston Street and saw the sign for a bar called Henry’s Horseplayers Bar. He had never been in the place before, but it would do. It would have to do.

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

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