“And so you see, Araminta, my goal in my writing is to make each sentence the equivalent of an entire thick book, to make it so, shall we say, reverberant, that the reader will…”
“Hey, wait a minute,” said Araminta, putting her hand on Gerry’s arm.
“Oh, dear, I’m boring you.”
“Oh, not at all! And anyway, if someone starts to bore me, I just pretend to listen and think about other things, or nothing at all. In fact I have spent some of my happiest hours thinking of other things or nothing at all while other people spoke. How ever do you think I got through all those dreary lectures at Vassar?”
“Heh heh, I confess, my dear girl, that I too have done the same through countless barroom so-called conversations.”
“Ha ha, but what I wanted to say is look at that street sign.”
They were stopped at a corner, and Gerry tilted his umbrella back and looked at the sign.
“It says MacDougal,” said Gerry.
“Precisely,” said Araminta. “We’ve just walked a dozen blocks out of our way.”
“I suppose,” said Gerry, “in the back of my mind, I was wondering why it was taking so long just to go around the corner to Bob’s. Should we head back?”
“Dash it all,” said Araminta, “the fates have led us here, and also the rain continues unabated; I say we go into this place.”
She pointed with her red-tipped finger at the café that was right there on the corner.
“The San Remo?”
“Yes. Have you ever gone here?”
“I never go anywhere except Bob’s.”
“Me neither. But let’s go in.”
“There is no reason why not, Gerry, not a damn reason in the world!”
And so they went in through the open door, and it was indeed a café, a small restaurant and bar, like a million other bars and cafés in the world, except this one was at Bleecker and MacDougal, in the beating bohemian heart of Greenwich Village.
It was not quite five p.m., but the place was already almost full with men and women, many of them, like Araminta, wearing berets. A good third of the men were bearded, and a few of the women wore turbans. Several fellows wore Greek fisherman’s caps, some of them were in shirtsleeves of rustic flannel, or else in striped Breton pullovers, and a quick survey through the swirling fog of tobacco smoke revealed that Araminta was far from the only woman wearing black stockings. For his part Gerry was relieved to see that he was not quite the only traditionalist dressed in a rumpled old tweed suit and a well-worn fedora.
“The bar?” said Gerry.
“Of course,” said Araminta. “I always prefer the bar when I am à deux.”
They found two empty stools, and in short order they had drinks in front of them, alas not the basement-brewed bocks they would have had at Bob’s Bowery Bar, but a bottle of Rheingold for Gerry and a house red wine for Araminta. There was a jukebox near the entrance and a song played which Gerry identified as probably jazz, although whatever glancing familiarity he had once had with that musical genre had faded away around the time of Bix Beiderbecke’s untimely demise.
“What were we talking about?” said Araminta.
“I believe I was droning on about my book,” said Gerry.
“Oh, please, continue to drone.”
“I feel I’ve lost the enthusiasm for talking about it at the moment.”
“Because you don’t think I was paying attention?”
“Oh, no, I’m used to people not paying attention to me, and I’ve never let that stand in the way of my expostulations when I’m in the mood, but, you see, every once in a while, I’ll be up on the crest of a tidal wave of grandiloquence when quite suddenly I’ll realize that I’m boring myself.”
“And this, Gerry, is why you’re not a true bore. Because occasionally you realize you’re being boring.”
“That’s very nice of you to say so, Araminta.”
“I never know when I’m boring. I just go on and on, and then suddenly I’ll realize my interlocutor had fallen asleep, or has idly picked up a book or a magazine and started leafing through it…”
“Excuse me,” said a man’s voice. Gerry and Araminta turned and looked over their shoulders and saw that the voice belonged to a big bearded man standing hovering there and holding an enormous pewter mug. He appeared to be in his fifties, and he wore a yellowed white billed cap and a thick grey turtleneck sweater. The flesh of his face was pink above his white whiskers. He almost seemed like an off-duty Santa Claus. He looked with furrowed brow at Gerry. “Don’t I know you from Paris?”
“From Paris?” said Gerry. “I haven’t been in Paris since, oh my, 1929.”
“Did you ever go to the Dôme?”
“Yes,” said Gerry, “among many other places, heh heh.”
“I knew I knew you. My name is Ernest.”
The big fellow transferred the pewter mug from his right hand to his left, and extended the right hand to Gerry.
“Pleased to meet you, Ernest. My name is Gerry –”
The man gave Gerry’s hand a powerful but brief grasp and shake, and then turned his gaze on Araminta.
“And this is your charming daughter?”
“Oh, I am far from being Gerry’s daughter,” said Araminta. “Gerry and I are amoureux!”
“Oh, I do beg your pardon,” said the man. “Please forgive my presumption.
“And do we call you Ernest or Ernie?” said Araminta.
“My friends call me Papa,” said the big guy.
“Then we shall call you Papa too,” said Araminta.
“It must have been the Dôme,” said the man, to Gerry, “back in the late 20s. Didn’t we meet and have a conversation one day? While it was snowing outside on the Boul’? I remember it so vividly. You were talking about Kant. You said you wanted to write a book of philosophical observations, and you were going to call it Kant Is Just a Four Letter Word.”
“That sounds like me,” said Gerry, “but, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t remember meeting you.”
“Well,” said Papa, “you were quite drunk, you see. You had been drinking bière blonde, and I insisted you try absinthe, and, well, I suppose we both got a little tight. But I’ve never forgotten that snowy afternoon in the Dôme. I don’t know why. Did you ever write your book?”
“I’m still writing it.”
“And is it still called Kant Is Just a Four Letter Word?”
“Well, my current working title is Pensées for a Rainy Day. But I could change it back.”
For a few moments the conversation ceased, but all around people chattered and laughed, and the jukebox music played.
At last the big man spoke again.
“That’s what the French call an angel passing. Well, I don’t want to disturb you two lovebirds anymore. I’m sitting over there at a table with my friend Bill, who’s up visiting from Mississippi. Really great seeing you again, Gerry, and good luck with your book.”
“Thanks, Ernest,” said Gerry.
“Papa,” said Gerry.
“And it was lovely to meet you, Miss –”
“Araminta,” said Araminta.
“Araminta,” said Papa. “Lovely. You’re a lucky man, Gerry.”
The man called Papa went off, back to a table where a little fellow with a moustache sat.
“Wow,” said Araminta. “Who was that guy?”
“I have no idea,” said Gerry. “Papa something?”
“The very idea,” said Araminta. “What were we talking about?”
(Please click here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by rhoda penmarq…}