Thursday, August 19, 2021



Suddenly, as if he were bursting to the surface of a dark and turbulent ocean, Addison came awake.

God! He was drunk. Had he ever been so drunk? Yes, of course he had been, but all those other times were then, and this was now, and he was deeply, abominably drunk, and, yes, tomorrow he would pay.

He was in his bed, his narrow little bed, and outside his lone window he heard the screeching of the Third Avenue Elevated hurtling down toward the Houston Street stop.

A faint glow of streetlight came through the window into his tiny shadowed flat.

He lay there, the roaring in his head now louder than the fading roaring of the train, and the stained old ceiling seemed to be breathing, pulsing.

Good God, when would he learn?

On a heroic impulse he threw his legs off the bed and sat up, the palms of his hands on the edge of the bed. This was a good position, in case he felt he had to throw up, and then he could launch himself the six feet to the bathroom, and maybe he would even make it.

He looked down at his feet. He was wearing his shoes, his scuffed, worn brogues, and he was also wearing his trousers, and then he also realized he still wore his suit jacket, his shirt and tie. He wasn’t wearing his hat. His hat was by his feet on the floor. His body oozed with sweat, and he could smell himself, and his unlaundered, damp clothing.

How had he got here?


Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith, his one friend, had dragged him up here and put him to bed. Stout fellow! A true friend. His only real friend. His only friend of any description.

His only friend.

They had been sitting on the stoop downstairs, and he must have passed out.

But there had been something else.

Something else before he had fallen into oblivion.

The little man.

The little man, with the cloth cap and the dead cigar, that shabby little man, trying to bum a nickel.

The little man.

He knew that little man.

He knew him.

But from where?

And then with a chill Addison remembered. 

Last January, that bitter cold horribly bright day when he stood on the Brooklyn Bridge, looking down at the grey cold river, trying to muster the courage to throw himself off –

And the little man!

That same little man had appeared, and had spoken to him. What had he said? Some nonsense about being an angel. Ha ha! An angel. And what else? Something about how it was true that Addison would never be successful, and that he would die alone and unloved, but nonetheless think of all the little things that made life worthwhile, like a doughnut, a cup of coffee…

A doughnut and a cup of coffee, not much to live for, and yet Addison had not jumped. For a moment there it felt as if he had fallen, and but instead of dropping down into the cold river he had flown above it, he had sailed through the air like an eagle, flying upriver, and the moment had stretched into a moment that lasted five, ten minutes, sailing along through the cold clear air up over the river all the way to what must have been the Long Island Sound, and then he had made a great curving turn and sailed back downriver, back to his place on the bridge, and then he had walked back to Manhattan and walked and walked all day and night in the freezing cold until it started to snow and then he had walked home, to his building, and he sat down on the top step of the landing between his floor and the one below, and then he broke down into tears, with great heaving sobs as he had never sobbed in his life.

And then Gerry had appeared, and sat with him, and rolled him a cigarette.

Gerry had lighted the cigarette for Addison, with one of those wooden kitchen matches he used. It wasn’t much maybe, just a cigarette, a little thing, but it had meant the world to Addison at the time. And then, that time too, Gerry had dragged Addison up to his tiny apartment and put him to bed.

What a pal. What a friend. Addison’s only friend.

But what about the little man? What had he said his name was? Bowery Ben? Bowery Bill?

That little man. Bowery Something-or-other, and when he’d asked for a nickel just now, what had Addison said? He’d told him to fuck off. But what had Gerry done? He gave the guy a quarter, probably his last quarter.

Addison thrust himself to his feet, and he swayed, the whole room swayed, but he managed not to fall.

He stuck his hand in his pocket, took out his old Boy Scout wallet. He had a single one-dollar bill left in it. It had always been an article of faith with Addison not to spend his last dollar until he had gotten his next remittance from home. Better to cadge some coins from the other bums at Bob’s Bowery Bar, or to go without cigarettes or even food for a day or two than to face the stark reality of complete pennilessness.

He lurched to the door, and went out, not bothering to lock it behind him, and then he went down the hall to the landing and started down the stairs.

The little man had headed across Bleecker with Gerry’s quarter toward Ma’s Diner, to order biscuits and gravy, a jelly doughnut and coffee. With any luck the fellow would still be there. Addison could take the stool next to him, apologize for being drunk and rude earlier, offer to buy him something, a piece of Ma’s apple pie maybe, something, maybe even a hamburger, and maybe if he had enough left over Addison would have a cup of coffee, maybe a doughnut as well…

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

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