Thursday, June 3, 2021

“The Devil Came to the Lower East Side”

Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith stood inside his door and listened to Addison’s footsteps recede down the hallway and fade away down the stairs.

Damn Addison!

There, he had said it, or, if not exactly said it, then thought it, and quite loudly and forcefully too, if one could be said to think loudly and forcefully.

Damn him!

Gerry was by nature the mildest of men, but all he could think was: Damn Addison, damn that tedious, pretentious, pathetic, completely humorless and self-absorbed son-of-a-bitch bastard.

Damn Addison, damn his eyes, and damn all he stood for!

And with that last silent imprecation, Gerry felt slightly better. He was a philosopher after all, and one did have to make an attempt to rise up above life’s minor annoyances. Life’s major annoyances were another matter, but, really, how bad was it after all that Addison had asked him to read the two-hundred and forty-eight pages of the “overture” of his novel-in-progress, in one night, when all Gerry wanted out of life at the moment was to go down to the bar like a gentleman and get his nightly half-a-load on?

Gerry went over to his writing table and looked down at that thick stack of typescript lying there next to the much less thick sheaf of his own work-in-progress.

He picked up the first page.


A Novel of the Old West

So that was Addison’s real name? Funny, Addison must have told Gerry his actual name a couple of years ago, when they first met at Bob’s Bowery Bar, but that was right around the time when that movie All About Eve was popular, and so everyone started to call the fellow Addison the Wit, after “Addison DeWitt”, the character played so memorably in that film by George Sanders, and not because the guy was witty like Addison DeWitt, but because he was constantly trying to be witty, and constantly failing, abysmally. So, okay, the ass had a real name, but to Gerry and to everyone else in the crowd he was and always would be “Addison the Wit”, the witless wit, the crown prince of bores.

Oh, well, how horrible could this thing be?

Gerry looked at the first sentence. It was partially obscured by a coffee stain, but still legible.

“’There it is, yonder,’ he said to his horse, Pancho. ‘Down in that there town lies our destiny, old friend.’

“The horse, who was the color of a muddy stream in November, whinnied in response…”

Oh, God, no.

Two hundred and what? Two-hundred and forty-eight pages of this drivel?

No. Just no.


He put the page down, flipped the stack of pages over at roughly the halfway point, and picked up another sheet of typescript.

“…the tumbling chaotic dreams of childhood, the memories of those harsh schoolmasters with their pointers used more for the reddening of tender boyish bottoms than for their supposed purpose of pointing to Latin declensions on the blackboard…”

Okay, so that was enough of that, and kudos to Addison for putting a childhood flashback into his western epic.

Gerry put the page back, turned the second half of the stack over onto the first half and picked up the final page.

“…had he learnt, in the burning churning of his soul, in the dark watches of his schoolboy nights, in the throbbing of his seed-heavy young appendage? That one day he would travel West, away from these cruel and oppressive schoolmasters and their thrashing sticks and probing ink-stained fingers…”

Good God, two-hundred and forty-eight pages in, and he was still in the schoolboy flashback? Addison was not only a bore and completely untalented, no, he was also quite mad.

Well, Gerry had had quite enough. He’d read bits of the beginning, the middle, and the end, which of course was not the end, because knowing Addison this book would probably clock in at no less than two thousand pages, which was probably only the first installment of a ten-volume roman fleuve…

He put the sheet down, grabbed his suit coat and his hat, and went out the door.

A few minutes later Gerry was pushing open the door of Bob’s Bowery Bar. It was not quite four-thirty, and so there were still a few bar seats open, and he went over and took one, over on the right near the men’s room.

“The usual, Brain?”

“Make it an imperial pint, Bob. I’ve got a thirst today.”

Bob went to draw the imperial, and someone touched Gerry’s left arm. It was that retarded guy, or maybe he wasn’t retarded, the one they called Gilbey the Geek.

“Hey, Brain, I seen the Devil.”


“I seen the Devil. I seen God the other week, but last night I seen the Devil.”

“No kidding, Gilbey? Where’d you see him?”

“In my room, just like how I seen God. Except God was like this shimmering light, but the Devil was like this black hole.”

“A black hole?”

“Yeah, he was like this black hole in the ceiling.”

“Wow. That must have been scary.”

“It was. I felt like I was gonna fall into it, even though I know you can’t fall upwards, but that’s what it felt like.”

“So what did you do?”

“I just laid there and tried to press my body against my mattress so I wouldn’t float up into the black hole, and after a while the hole closed up again.”

“Thank God for that, Gilbey. Thank you, Bob.” Bob had laid down Gerry’s imperial pint. Gerry tapped the dollar he had put on the bar. “And get Gilbey whatever he’s drinking too.”

“I’ll just take a glass of bock,” said Gilbey.

“Coming up,” said Bob.

“Thanks, Brain,” said Gilbey.

“You’re welcome, Gilbey,” said Gerry, and then he said, “Oh, no.”

“What’s the matter, Brain?”

“Oh, Christ.”

“What is it, Brain? Now you look like you seen the Devil.”

“No, not the Devil, Gilbey.”

It was Addison, and he was approaching from the other end of the bar, and with a very serious expression on his face.

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

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