Thursday, July 29, 2021

“The Big One”

In the immortal words of Joseph Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz: “The horror! The horror!”

Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith looked up at the clock behind the bar. Was it really only 7:32? He had been sitting here since early afternoon, bad enough in its own way perhaps, but he felt as if he had been trapped here listening to Addison drone on for a thousand boring lifetimes, and the man still showed no sign of slowing down.

“…and I think, Gerry, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel it incumbent upon the novelist of today to etch each line as if in stone, because who knows if we will not all be obliterated tomorrow by an atomic bomb?”

How could he escape? Should he just say he had to go to the john, and then slip out quietly? But, no, this was Addison, he would doubtless sit there all twisted around on his bar stool, the better to keep a weather eye on the men’s room door, ready to leap up and catch Gerry in the act and drag him back to the bar by main force…

“Don’t you agree, Gerry?”


“I said don’t you agree?”

“Um, with what, specifically?”

“With what I’ve just said. That the novelist of the present day must write with the finality of the knowledge that we could all be obliterated at any moment.”

“Uh, yeah, sure.”

“No time for frivolity, for mere cleverness.”


“No! Not when we might all be reduced to cinders without a moment’s notice!”

“You mean, like in a fire?”

“I mean like the Japs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki!”

“Oh, okay, I get it.”

“And that is why we must write, nay, limn, with the utmost, dare I say, sacred gravity each sentence, each word, nay, each comma and em dash, and, yes, even the much-reviled semicolon; because as you have mayhap noticed I am quite fond of the unfashionable semicolon; quite fond indeed.”

“Ha ha, yeah,” said Gerry, although he hadn’t noticed Addison’s fondness for the semicolon because he had only read about a hundred scattered words of Addison’s awful novel-in-progress.

“You laugh,” said Addison. “But the semicolon has its place in the writer’s quiver; an important place.”

“Right; I entirely agree,” said Gerry, because it was slightly less painful just to agree with every jackass opinion Addison spouted; or was it more painful? At any rate Gerry couldn’t be bothered not to agree.

“Choose that semicolon wisely, my friend; wisely I say! Because it may be the last semicolon you ever use, when you suddenly look up and see that blinding flash heralding the extinction of all life on earth.”

“Yeah,” said Gerry. And then the devil made him say, despite himself, and damn his policy of bland acquiescence, “That’s one way of looking at it.”

“It is the only way of looking at it!”

“But –”

“But what?”

“Oh, never mind.”

“No, please, Gerry, speak your mind. I encourage, nay, relish, hearty debate with another intellectual.”

“Okay,” said Gerry, although he knew he’d be much better off just keeping his big mouth shut, “well, if an atom bomb does get dropped, and if you die, and if the whole human race gets wiped out, who cares about a semicolon?”

“Who cares?”

“Yes. I mean, you won’t be around, and maybe no one else will be around. And your novel will never get published, because all the publishing houses will be obliterated, along with everything else.”

“As the young people say: wow,” said Addison.

“I don’t mean to sound depressing,” said Gerry.

“So you’re saying it doesn’t matter?”


“The semicolons.”

“Oh, no, I suppose they matter, sure. But on the other hand, if you’re dead, and everyone else is dead, who gives a damn?”

A very strange thing happened right then.

What happened was that Addison stopped talking.

He stopped talking, and stared into his glass of bock. A glass of bock that Gerry had bought. And why was it that Gerry wound up buying four or five rounds for every time that Addison reluctantly dug some nickels from that little change purse of his.

Gerry enjoyed the respite, and lifted his own glass of bock, and drank it down. What was this, his tenth glass? Well, it was too late to stop now.

“You still with us, Brain?” said Bob, standing there just as he always was at the exact moment you emptied your glass. He smiled that small sad ironic Bob smile, the smile of a man who had seen men killed, who had killed men, and who now for his living watched men kill themselves. He took a slow drag on his cigar. He was in no hurry. Let the damned kill themselves in their own good time, Bob granted the damned that much…

And Bob knew. Bob knew what agony it was for Gerry to have to sit here with Addison, not that anyone was holding a gun to Gerry’s head. But, what the hell, Addison couldn’t help it if he was a colossal bore. As horrible as it was to sit with Addison, how much more horrible must it be to be Addison?

“Yeah, thanks, Bob,” said Gerry. “Get Addison another one, too.”

Bob looked at Addison, and gave his head a little shake, one of those “What can you do” head-shakes, and headed down to the taps.

“Thank you, Gerry,” said Addison. “I’ll get the next round.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Gerry.

“And yet,” said Addison, “and yet –”

But he fell silent again. Gerry knew he should leave well enough alone, but despite everything he felt sorry for the man. Not as sorry as he felt for himself, but sorry anyway.

“And yet what?” said Gerry.

“And yet I still feel,” said Addison, “that the semicolon is ever so important; so important, Gerry.”

“You know something, Addison?” said Gerry. “I agree with you; entirely.”

And silence descended again between the two failures as they waited for Bob to return with their fresh basement-brewed bocks. Gerry knew the silence wouldn’t last, but he savored it.

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

Thursday, July 15, 2021

“The Only One”

It was midway in the drinking of his third glass of Bob’s excellent basement-brewed house bock that Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith realized that he was getting terrifically hungry. What was it, past two in the afternoon? Come to think of it, all he had eaten last night when he tied that load on at Henry’s Horseplayers Bar was a small bowl or two of pretzels, and if memory served he hadn’t had a proper meal since yesterday’s lunch at Ma’s Diner, the chicken-fried steak special, with cornpone and stewed greens. Yum…

Addison was talking of course. The man was always talking. Some people lived to drink, some lived to eat, some lived for their art, and then there were people like Addison, who lived to talk.

“Don’t you find that’s true, Gerry?”

What? What was true? Gerry had no idea, but he was a past master in dealing with guys like Addison, and so of course he said, “Yes, of course.”

“You really think so, Gerry?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“I’m so glad to hear that. Because, really, is there any rule that a western novel cannot deal with questions of the artistic impulse?”

Oh, okay, so Addison was back on the subject of his awful novel-in-progress, or, more likely, he had never got off the subject.

“Yeah, sure, Addison. I mean, why not?”

“Or that a western novel cannot deal with – you should pardon the expression – sexuality?”


“Yes. As in the passage when Buck remembers his introduction to the mysteries of sex in his prep school.”

“Right, right,” said Gerry, although of course he hadn’t read the passage Addison had referred to. No, a dozen or so lines in toto skimmed from the beginning, the middle and the end of that thick sheaf of drivel had been all Gerry had managed, and more than he had wanted to manage.

“You don’t think that part was too, what’s the word, explicit?”

“Not at all.”

“I tried to couch the explicitness in poetic prose.”

“Quite successfully, I think.”

“No one wants to read, say, ‘Otto shoved his pulsing penis into Buck’s anus.’”

“God forbid.”

“Which is why I settled on ‘Otto shoved his pulsing jackhammer into Buck’s cavity of defecation.”


“The thing is, I believe, and I may be wrong, but I believe that one should leave something to the reader’s imagination. Don’t you agree?”

“Oh, entirely. Hey, look, Addison, I’m having a splendid time sitting here talking about your novel, but here’s the thing: I haven’t really eaten in over twenty-four hours and I’m rather starving, so I think I might just toddle over to Ma’s and get a bite of lunch –”

“But there’s nothing to drink at Ma’s. I mean nothing with alcohol in it.”

“That’s true, but –”

“I mean, if you really want to go over to Ma’s Diner, I’ll go with you –”

Damn, thought Gerry, there was just no escaping this twit today.

“But why not just eat here?”

“Yes, I suppose I could –”

“Then you can both eat and drink. While we talk.”

Gerry sighed. If he couldn’t escape Addison, then he would have to drink, that was for sure.

“Okay,” said Gerry. “Good idea, Addison.”

Today was Tuesday, two-for-one hot dogs day, so Gerry and Addison both ordered two dogs, with sauerkraut for Gerry, and melted American cheese for Addison. Gerry wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but he wound up paying for both orders, as well as for another bock each.

Gerry ate his first hot dog in approximately three seconds, and after a good gulp of bock he picked up the second wiener.

“So, Gerry,” said Addison, chewing away, “Speaking of sexuality. Have you, in the words of my old colleagues in the parachute factory, been getting any?”

Gerry had just been about to take his first bite of the dog, but now he halted.

“Pardon me?”

“Getting any,” said Addison. “Are you getting any these days? Or nights, ha ha. Getting any. Sex, I mean.”

Gerry put the hot dog back down on his plate. And he had had such a good appetite a second ago.

“Um,” he said.

“Oh, come on, old man,” said Addison. “No need to be coy with me. I am a fellow bohemian after all!”

Gerry looked at his hot dog. Then he looked at Addison. Should he tell him that he had never gotten any, and, the way his life was going, and had been going, and would doubtless continue to go, it was extremely unlikely he ever would get any?


Gerry was a philosopher, but even he had his limits to self-abasement.

“Well, the thing is, Addison, a gentleman never tells.”

“Ah ha, I knew it!” said Addison.

“Pardon me?”

Addison had just stuck his second hot dog into his mouth, and he pushed it in, chewing and swallowing until it was quite gone before speaking.

“Ah, that was good,” he said, and he scooped up a handful of potato chips. “I said I knew it.”

“You knew it?”

“I knew you were getting some.”

“Oh?” And Gerry knew he should let it go, but the devil made him ask, “How did you know?”

“Because,” said Addison, “– by the way, don’t you want that hot dog?”

“Well, you can have it if you want it, but I thought you didn’t like sauerkraut.”

“It is very true that I prefer my hot dogs with melted American cheese, but in a pinch I’ll take one with sauerkraut.”

“Help yourself.”

Addison grabbed the hot dog from Gerry’s plate and took a good bite.

“Mmm, good,” he said.

“I’m glad,” said Gerry. He picked up a potato chip. Was there nutrition in a potato chip?

“I knew you were getting some,” said Addison, chewing. “And how, you wonder, could I tell?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“Because, dear chap, of the way that Ma spoke about you today when I told her I was buying you a coffee and a doughnut.”

“Ma? From Ma’s Diner?”

“Don’t play the choirboy, Gerry. As I say, I too am a bohemian. And who am I to judge you if you like a bit of brown sugar?”

“You mean me and Ma?”

“That’s exactly what I mean. Oh, ho.”

He had devoured Gerry’s hot dog with sauerkraut. He looked down at his plate, empty but for a few crumbs.

“Don’t you want your potato chips, Gerry?”

“Help yourself,” said Gerry, again.

Addison pushed away his empty plate, picked up Gerry’s plate and put it in front of himself.

“Salty,” he said. “Like Ma, eh, old man?”

“Um,” said Gerry.

Addison scooped up all the chips on the plate and stuffed them into his mouth. If there was one good thing about Addison eating, it was that it slowed down his talking slightly.

Addison finished swallowing the chips, lifted his glass of bock, and drank.

Gerry lifted his own glass and drank. He was still hungry. He would order two more hot dogs with sauerkraut, and maybe Addison would let him eat at least one of them.

“Someday I’m going to get some,” said Addison.

“Pardon me?” said Gerry.

“Someday,” said Addison. “After my book gets published. Then I’ll get some. Don’t you think?”

“Oh, sure,” said Gerry.

He was thinking about Ma, from over at the Diner. Her kind eyes. The way she called him “Mister Gerry”. Could it be possible? No, even if it were possible, Ma deserved better. A philosopher should know his limitations.

“You’re not going to be the only one who’s getting some, old boy,” said Addison.


“You won’t be the only one.”

“Oh, yes,” said Gerry. “That would be nice. I wouldn’t want to be the only one.”

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

Thursday, July 8, 2021

“Bon Mot”

Gerry Goldsmith (known as “the Brain” to his fellow habitués at Bob’s Bowery Bar) at last began to feel human again.

Addison had made good on his offer to buy Gerry a bock (just a stubby eight-ounce glass, God forbid not the imperial pint, but this was Addison after all, well-known for paying for his drinks with exact change), which Gerry had downed in three good gulps, and by the time the third gulp had entered his alimentary canal he could palpably feel his hangover fading into the past, along with all the ten thousand hangovers that had preceded it.

“How was that bock?” said Addison, who sat on the stool to Gerry’s left.

“As good as the first one I ever had,” said Gerry. “And now may I buy you one, Addison?”

“You don’t have to,” said Addison.

“I realize that, Addison, but please allow me.”

“But, dear Gerry, if you buy me one, then won’t it negate the moral significance of my having bought you one?”

“I don’t see why,” said Gerry.

“But I wanted to, how shall I put it, to express in a remunerative manner my appreciation for your having read my modest work-in-progress.”

Gerry sighed. Nothing was easy with Addison, but what could Gerry do? Alas, he was stuck with the fellow. It wasn’t as if Gerry could tell Addison outright that Addison was a crashing bore, and please to let him alone. The poor guy couldn’t help being a pathetic drip.

“It was my pleasure to read your novel,” lied Gerry, on at least two levels, as he had not read more than a hundred words of Addison’s novel, nor had he derived the slightest pleasure from reading them.

“You don’t know what that means to me, Gerry,” said Addison. “But, look, I still wanted to show my gratitude in some way beyond mere words –”

“Buy him a shot then, and shut up about it,” said Angie the retired whore, who was sitting on the stool on the other side of Addison.

“A shot?” said Addison.

“Yeah,” said Angie. “Get him a shot. And not that cheap shit either. Get him a Cream of Kentucky.”

“Well,” said Addison, “I suppose I could –”

“That’s okay, Addison,” said Gerry. “You don’t have to buy me a shot.”

“Get the Brain a goddam shot of Cream of Kentucky, Addison,” said Angie. “I been listening to you two, and if he really read your novel –”

“In progress, dear Angie,” said Addison. “Novel in progress. I still have much work to do on it.”

“Oh, I’m sure you do,” said Angie. “I’m sure you do.”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you think I mean?”

“I’m not quite sure.”

“Look, just buy the Brain a shot of Cream of Kentucky. He read your crappy novel, and he deserves a reward.”

“You don’t know that my novel is crappy,” said Addison.

“I know you,” said Angie, “and I know you’re the most boring guy I’ve ever met, and I’ve met some doozies in my time.”

Meanwhile Gerry caught Bob’s eye, and pointed to his empty glass.

“You’re not very nice, Angie,” said Addison, the best he could come up with after a brief pause.

“But you got to admit it’s true, Addison,” said Gilbey the Geek, who was sitting on the stool to Gerry’s right. “I ain’t too smart, but even I know you’re a boring guy.”

Bob came over, picked up Gerry’s empty glass, and headed to the taps.

“I feel as if I am being assailed from all sides,” said Addison.

“It’s okay,” said Gerry. “They’re just kidding.”

“I ain’t kidding,” said Angie.

“Yeah, me neither,” said Gilbey.

“Drink your bock, Addison,” said Gerry.

Addison had only had a few sips of his own bock, but now he lifted the glass and drank it to the dregs.

“Feel better now?” asked Gerry.

“Marginally,” said Addison.

Bob came back with Gerry’s refreshed glass of bock.

“Let me get Addison one too, Bob,” said Gerry.

“But,” said Addison.

“But nothing,” said Gerry. “Oh, and you know what, Bob?” Gerry dragged out his old wallet, a present from his grandmother upon his successful graduation with gentleman’s Cs from Harvard so many years ago, when he was young and full of illusions, some of which he still harbored. “Get Angie and Gilbey what they’re drinking, too.”

“Hey, thanks, Brain,” said Gilbey.

“Yeah, thanks, Brain,” said Angie.

Addison was silent. Maybe he should learn to be silent more often? Maybe then people would not abuse him as a bore, a twit, a drip. But still he felt the urge, that primeval urge to be witty. Perhaps after another bock he would think of an incisive bon mot

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

Thursday, July 1, 2021

“The Right Path”

“I say, Gerry!”

Knock, knock, rap, rap.

“Gerry, are you in there?”

Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith came awake. It wasn’t a dream, it wasn’t a nightmare, this was real, and someone was at the door of his tiny sixth-floor tenement flat.

“I say, Gerry!”

“What is it?” croaked Gerry.

“Oh, you’re alive,” said the voice. “It’s me – ‘Addison’, as such I am known, ha ha.”

Oh Christ.

Gerry worked his forty-eight-year-old and much-abused corporeal host to a sitting position on the side of his bed, his stockinged feet on the bare floorboards. He saw that he was still wearing his old Scotch-flannel trousers.

“May I come in, cher Gérard?”

Oh, Christ on the cross and all the gambling Roman soldiers and the wailing women.

“I mean,” said Addison’s voice. “If I may? I’ve brought coffee.”

Coffee? Addison? Who had never before brought anything to that door but his own baleful self and his awful work-in-progress?

“I’ve brought you a doughnut as well, old chap. Permission to come aboard, sir?”

“Sure,” said Gerry, and the word sounded like a strangled cough, so he said it again. “I mean, sure, just give me a second, Addison. What time is it anyway?”

“It’s nigh on to one o’clock, old man. In the afternoon!”

Oh, Christ. On his cross, looking down on all those people who were glad it was he on the cross and not they.

Five minutes later Addison sat in one of Gerry’s two chairs, the one that had arms but no cushion, and Gerry sat in the other, his writing chair, no arms but with a cushion, a well worn cushion but better than none.

“So you really got through the whole thing? All two hundred and forty-eight pages?”

“Sure did, Addison. Couldn’t stop turning the pages,” said Gerry. It occurred to him that it was very easy to lie to someone who didn’t want to hear the truth.

“I know it was a lot to ask, that you should read the entire thing in one night.”

“Oh, not at all.”

“How’s that coffee?”

“Good, Addison.”

“I didn’t know how you took it, but I told Ma it was for you, and she said you took milk and sugar.”

“Yes, just the way I like it, thanks, Addison.”

“That’s how I like it too. You know what Ma told me? Quite risible. ‘Mister Gerry likes his coffee sweet and brown, just like his women,’ she told me. Sweet and brown. Just like his women. Ha ha.”

“Ha ha.”

“So.” Addison took a sip of his own coffee. “Ah. You know, you can take those fancy coffees in the French and Italian cafés, expresso and whatnot, just give me a cup of Ma’s humble chicory coffee!”

“Yeah, it’s a lot cheaper than the stuff in those fancy cafés too,” said Gerry.

“Heh heh, yes, how was that jelly doughnut?”


“Ma told me you were partial to the jelly.”

“Yeah, it was great,” said Gerry.

“So you really liked the book?”

How late had he stayed at that Henry’s Horseplayers Bar last night? Until closing. And it had closed at four a.m.…


“Yes, Addison.”

“You really liked my book?”

“Oh. Yes, I really liked it, Addison. Very, uh, impressive.”

“So you don’t have any what our theatrical friends call ‘notes’?”


“Suggestions for improvement shall we say.”

“Oh. No.”

“Nothing at all?”

“Not really.”

“Nothing you would change?”

“No, it all looked pretty, um, you know –”

“What about the flashback?”

“The flashback?”

“The extended flashback to Buck’s childhood, which, come to think of it, extends all the way from page 42 to the end of the pages I gave you.”

“Oh, right, no, I mean yes, I thought that worked very well. Quite effective.”

“So you don’t think it was a mistake to have a two-hundred page flashback?”

“Um, no –”

“That it didn’t, you know, put a stop to the action for perhaps too long?”

“I didn’t think so. No. Not at all –”

How would Gerry know? He’d only read a handful of sentences of the whole horrible thing –

“I’m so glad to hear that,” said Addison, “because, as you saw, the flashback was still in progress on page 248, and I’m thinking it might continue for another hundred or so pages.”

“Why not?”

“Exactly my feeling, Gerry. I mean, what’s so great about ‘action’, per se. Is not all existence a form of action?”

“You’ve got a point there, Addison.”

Addison lighted up his second Philip Morris Commander since he’d been sitting there. Gerry had smoked up all his Bull Durham last night, and he certainly wouldn’t turn up his nose at one of those Philip Morris Commanders himself. But Addison had never in their three-years’ acquaintance even once offered him a cigarette, and it didn’t look as if he were about to start now –

“What about typos or errata?”

“Typos? Errata?”

“Typographical errors, or other mistakes – misspellings, calling characters by the wrong names, having a character wear a black hat in one paragraph and a white hat in the next, that sort of thing.”

“Oh. That sort of thing. Well, this might be hard to believe, but I didn’t find a single, um, erratum, Addison.”

“Not a one?”

“No, not a single one. I mean, it’s possible I might have missed one or two –”

“Do you think it’s possible? But I thought you gave it a careful reading.”

“Oh, I did.”

“Then don’t you think you should have noticed any possible mistakes?”

“Uh,” time to improvise, “here’s the thing, Addison, I was so enthralled, so caught up, that I was reading fairly quickly –”

“So it was a real page-turner you’re saying.”

“Exactly. A page-turner. So it’s possible, I mean, remotely possible that I might have missed a minor typo or two.”

“Wow, you had me worried there for a second. But, you know, I suppose my publisher will have his copy-editors go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

His publisher. Good God the man was deluded.

“So, to sum up, you think I’m on the right path?”

“The right path?”

“With the direction the book is going?”

“Oh, sure,” said Gerry.

“So I should just keep on the way I’m going?”

“Yes, by all means.”

“God, what a relief,” said Addison. “I was so worried you wouldn’t like it.”

“No,” said Gerry, baldfaced, “I loved it.”

“Would you like to read more pages as I continue?”

Okay, nip this right in the bud.

“Y’know, Addison, thanks, but I really think I’d prefer to wait until you’ve finished the whole thing. So that I can, you know –”

“Just plow through it all at once.”


“I quite understand.”

Gerry lifted his paper coffee cup, and saw that it was empty, not a drop left. He sighed.

“Are you finished your coffee?” said Addison.


“What about a drink?”

A drink!

“A drink?”

“How about we toddle down to Bob’s. I’ll buy you a bock.”

So, a red-letter day. Addison treating Gerry not only to a take-out coffee and a jelly doughnut, but a bock as well!

“Sure,” said Gerry. “Thanks, Addison. Don’t mind if I do.”

“The very least I can do,” said Addison.

And so the two failures (after dropping off Addison’s typescript at his own tiny apartment on the fourth floor) went around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar.

Gerry was in the clear now, at least until Addison gave him his completed book to read, not that Gerry would read it, but he would pretend to read it, and the great world would keep spinning obliviously.

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