Thursday, December 9, 2021

“That Much Maligned Word”

 “Well?” said Addison.

“Okay,” said Gerry, giving in, giving up, “I’ll have a Cream of Kentucky too, I suppose.”

“Splendid,” said Addison. “What about you, lovely Araminta?”

Araminta addressed the bartender.

“Do you have grappa, sir?”

“Sure,” said the bartender.

“I’ll have one of those then.”

Very occasionally the real world did obtrude upon Addison’s consciousness, and as he was looking down to see if there was a convenient hook on the side of the bar to hang his umbrella, he noticed Araminta’s hand on Gerry’s thigh.

“Oh,” he said. “Oh.”

Gerry and Araminta had turned away, and so they could not see the expression of astonishment on Addison’s face.

“Oh, dear,” he said. “Gerry. Araminta.”

Addison was still standing just slightly in back of and between where Gerry and Araminta sat on their bar stools, and now they both turned to look at him again.

“I did not know,” said Addison.

“What didn’t you know?” said Araminta. She kept her hand on Gerry’s thigh, and even made a kneading movement with her fingers, like a cat.

“I did not know that you two, how shall I put it, that you had become –”


“Yes,” said Addison.

“Well, now you know,” she said.

“Gerard,” said Addison, “may I proffer my heartiest congratulations?”

Gerry hated to lie or to dissimulate either by commission or omission, even though just a couple of nights before he had spent a dozen increasingly drunken hours not telling Addison how supremely untalented and unbearably boring the man was, and now he reached down and removed Araminta’s hand from his thigh, which was not easy, she really was amazingly strong, whereas Gerry’s upper-body strength had deteriorated drastically since his days on the Harvard rowing team well over two decades ago. Her delicate red-nailed fingers continued to make grasping motions even as he lifted them away.

“Okay, listen, Addison,” said Gerry, trying to force Araminta’s resisting hand onto her own lap, “Araminta and I are merely friends.”

“Oh, ho,” said Addison. “’Friends.’ Yes. Friends indeed. May I only say, dear Gerry, ‘Well done, sir!’ And to you, my dear Araminta, may I congratulate you on your discerning, and dare I say unusual taste?”

“You may,” said Araminta.

“I am sure that one so young and beautiful as yourself could have your pick of callow young muscular bucks, and yet you have chosen to bestow your affections on an obscure middle-aged littérateur, fond of his tipple, and, yes, much like myself, a remittance man of the old school.”

“Hey, that’s just the kind of gal I am,” said Araminta.

“Okay, look,” said Gerry, “for the last time –”

“Oh ho, Gerry old friend,” said Addison, “I fear your protestations are all to naught, but I admire your gentlemanly discretion. Ah! Our drinks. You did have this shout didn’t you, pal?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Gerry, and for the bartender’s benefit he tapped the little pile of dollar bills and coins in front of him on the bar. “Out of here, sir.”

The man took a couple of singles and a quarter, and Addison reached down and picked up one of the Cream of Kentucky shots the barman had laid down.

“Let us drink, my friends,” he said. “Go on, raise your glasses, you two lovebirds.”

Obediently Gerry lifted the other shot glass of bourbon, and Araminta raised her thin little glass of grappa.

“I should like us,” said Addison, “to drink to – yes, you will pardon the word I hope – to that much maligned and absurdly overused word. To love.”

Gerry and Araminta brought their glasses to their lips, but Addison raised his left hand in which he held the hooked handle of his inverted furled umbrella.

“No, not yet, friends, I’m not quite finished. Let us drink as I say, to ‘love’, but – as artists and intellectuals, and as philosophers – let us drink also to those who have always been denied love. I won’t mention names, although perhaps one such is among us now. But perhaps even he someday will find what you two lucky people have found. And so let us drink not only to love present but to love in the future tense.”

“Can we drink our drinks now?” said Araminta.

“Ha ha,” said Addison, “yes, let us drink.”

They drank, Addison and Gerry downing their shots in one go, Araminta taking a modest sip of her grappa.

“Someday,” said Addison, laying down his shot glass, “someday I too hope to know the joys of romantic love, or, failing that, at least those more physical joys which human beings can bestow upon one another through the frottage of their corporeal selves, the insertion and receiving of bodily organs one into another.”

He lifted his bottle of Rheingold.

“Are you saying that you are a virgin, Addison?” said Araminta.

Addison paused the lifting of his bottle in mid air.

“Define ‘virgin’.”

“Have you ever put what the Irish writer Samuel Beckett termed your ‘so-called virile member’ into the private parts of a lady.”

“A lady.”


“In that narrow sense, then no.”

“What about less narrow senses?”

Addison seemed suddenly to realize that he still held his umbrella in his left hand, and he now secured its handle to the  cunning cast-iron hook he had noticed on the side paneling of the bar. He then looked at Araminta, and then at Gerry.

“I am going to tell you two something I have never told anyone, except for a certain so-called ‘analyst’, who was an unhelpful idiot.” He paused, gazing at the label of his bottle of Rheingold, and then continued. “Once, this was during the war, when I was working in the parachute factory –”

“You worked in a parachute factory?” asked Araminta.

“Yes, you see I really wanted to join the OSS, but unfortunately I have flat feet and knock knees and was also diagnosed with a spurious case of psychological deficiency.”

“Psychological deficiency in what sense, Addison?”

“Well, if you must know, the army shrink considered me a latent homosexual.”

“May I ask why?”

“He asked me if I had any interests, and I said I was very much obsessed at the time with French Symbolist poetry.”


“This doctor was another hopeless philistine. But at any rate, I was rejected, and so my ‘war service’ was spent in this dreadful parachute factory in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Anyway, the other fellows at the plant commonly went to a certain inexpensive bawdy house on payday night, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go. The thought of spilling my seed into a French letter inserted into the vaginal orifice of some illiterate country bumpkin of a girl who had serviced hundreds of other factory workers and soldiers gave me the horrors. And so instead I would spend the bulk of my pay at an utterly Hobarthian low tavern called, not ironically, the Sow’s Belly. And it was there one typically inebriate night that a huge drunken sergeant came up behind me while I stood at the urinal, and he, well, let’s just say he forced himself against me while I was in mid-micturition, and –”

“Oh, my God,” said Araminta. “You mean you were raped?”

“Well, not perhaps precisely so. You see, penetration was not achieved, but I did accrue a most disgusting stain on the back leg of my work dungarees.”

“You poor thing!”

“Yes, it was quite – disturbing. But so you see, the question of whether I am a virgin or not is perhaps moot.”


Addison had been so lost in his recounting of this incident that he had forgotten his beer, and now he took a good long gulp.

“But do you want to know what the most humiliating part of the whole experience was?” he said.

“The stain on your dungarees?”

“No, the most humiliating part was what this army sergeant said after his brief moment of passion had spent itself.”

“What was that?”

“’Thanks, buddy,’ he said. ‘Thanks. I needed that.’ That was the most humiliating part of it.”

“’Thanks,’” said Addison. “Oh, well, at least I can say that I have, if not known love qua love, that I have indeed afforded some comfort to one of our brave fighting men. This I think is not nothing.”

“No,” said Araminta. “It’s not nothing.”

Gerry for his part said nothing.

What was there to say?

Everything and nothing.

But, for the moment, he chose nothing.

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

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