Thursday, August 12, 2021

“The Little Man”

 “No, seriously, old chap,” said Addison. “I mean seriously. Old man. Old fellow. Stout fellow.”

As Addison had gotten drunker and drunker his accent had lost nearly all of his native nasal Pennsylvania twang and had become vaguely similar to that of George Sanders or perhaps Ronald Colman.

“Well, maybe we should head up now, Addison,” said Gerry “the Brain” Goldsmith.

They were sitting on the stoop of the Bleecker Street tenement building in which they both resided in tiny one-room flats. It was sometime past four in the morning. Bob had finally ushered them out of his eponymous Bowery bar around the corner, but Addison had insisted on one last cigarette before they called it quits for the night. When Gerry tried to demur, Addison, for the first time ever, had offered Gerry one of his Philip Morris Commanders.

“You just don’t know what it means to me,” said Addison.

Well, you’ve already told me about a hundred times, thought Gerry, but, being the kindly philosopher he was, he said, “That’s quite all right, Addison.”

“You don’t know,” said Addison. “You can’t know. You’ll never know.”

Gerry thought, No, I do know, sadly enough, but he said nothing, because he also knew that only an idiot argued with an idiot. He would finish his cigarette, and, knowing Addison, the man would be too cheap to offer him another one. And then, at long last, Gerry could finally climb those six flights of stairs to his narrow little bed.

Suddenly a shabby little man lurched up to them out of the shadows. Another bum in a neighborhood teeming with bums. He was a very small man, roughly between the ages of fifty and eighty, maybe eighty-five. He had thick round glasses, a cloth cap, and an unlighted stub of a cigar in his mouth. He needed a shave.

“Spare a nickel for a cup of coffee, buddies.”

“Fuck off,” said Addison.

“Maybe a dime so’s I can get a cup of coffee and also one of them nice jelly doughnuts acrost the street at Ma’s.”

“You heard me. Take a hike,” said Addison. “Can’t you see my good friend and I are attempting to have a conversation?”

“Well excuse me for breathing,” said the little man. “Asshole. Maybe someday you’ll be hard up, pal. Maybe someday you will be reduced to cadging nickels and dimes.”

“Scram,” said Addison.

“I’m going,” said the little man. “I wouldn’t take a plug nickel from the mean likes of you, nor would I piss on you even if you was burning in the everlasting fires of hell, which someday you probably will be. See ya later, asswipe, but not if I see you first.”

The little guy spat on the pavement and turned as if to go.

“Wait, buddy,” said Gerry. He reached into his trousers pocket and came out with a quarter, his last quarter. “Here, ya go, pal. It’s all I have.”

“Wow,” said the little man, and he took the offered coin. “A whole quarter. Now I can get a couple of them nice biscuits smothered with gravy at Ma’s.”

“Yes, her biscuits are very good,” said Gerry.

“And I’ll still have enough for a cup o’ joe and a nice jelly doughnut for dessert, and a nickel tip, too, ‘cause I ain’t no piker like some guys I could name.”

“Well, enjoy,” said Gerry.

“You’re all right, pal,” said the little man. “I ain’t so sure about your friend though. See ya round. The both of yez. And if I don’t see you round I’ll see you square.”

And the little guy jaywalked across Bleecker and went into Ma’s Diner.

“This neighborhood,” said Addison.

“I kind of like it,” said Gerry.

“Once my novel gets published I’m out of here,” said Addison. “Sutton Place for me. Maybe a summer cottage in the Hamptons. And you can come and visit whenever you like, Gerald.”

“Yes, that would be nice,” said Gerry, whose actual Christian name was Gerard.

Addison’s still-burning cigarette butt fell from his fingers to the step below the step his worn-out brogues were on, and rolled off that one to the step below it.

“I suddenly feel very sleepy,” he said. “I think maybe I’ll just doze here for a while.”

Gerry tossed away his own butt, got to his feet, and then reached down and grabbed Addison by the arm.

“Lemme sleep,” mumbled Addison.

“Addison,” said Gerry, “you can’t sleep here on this stoop.”

“This is the Bowery. Lots of guys sleep on stoops.”

“Get up,” said Gerry, pulling on Addison’s arm.

Five minutes later he managed to get Addison into his flat on the fourth floor, and into his bed, fully clothed, because even Gerry, as kind as he was, drew the line at undressing Addison.

He closed the door behind him and made his way up to the sixth floor, to his own little apartment. He undressed, tossing his clothes onto his one chair, and got into his bed.

He felt he had learned something on this long boring day and drunken night, but what that was he was not so sure of. And then, as the room rocked gently back and forth, he fell into oblivion.

{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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