Thursday, December 2, 2021

"The Second of the Day"

They each picked up their fresh drinks, another house red wine for Araminta and another bottle of Rheingold for Gerry (no glass, because one could never be sure of the hygienic rigor of unknown bartenders), and they drank, a sip for Araminta, but a gulp for Gerry, who then sighed deeply as the jukebox music and the chatter and laughter of men and women swelled and eddied all about them.

“Y’know,” said Gerry, completely forgetting that he and Araminta had that afternoon polished off a nearly full bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, “the time-honored cliché is that the first drink of the day is the best, but a lifetime of dedicated bibulation has convinced me that the second drink is the superior.”

“Do tell?” said Araminta, not that she really cared, but because she enjoyed listening to Gerry’s blather.

“You see, at least for me,” elaborated Gerry, “the first drink of the day is one that must be steadfastly - dare I say dutifully - got through as the ‘first drink’ qua ‘first drink’, a necessary step but one whose very exigency makes it hard for the serious drinker to relax and appreciate it.”

“You slay me, Gerry.”

“Yes, it’s only when we move on to the second drink that we can slow down and savor the glories of the quaff of our choice, without the hurry and the anxiety of getting outside of that ‘first one of the day’.”

“This sort of well-articulated and profound insight,” said Araminta, “is why you are familiarly known as ‘the Brain’ among our fellow habitués over at Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“Ah, thank you, Araminta, but still, as much as I love Bob’s, we must bear in mind that it’s no great feat to appear intelligent there.”

“You, as usual, have a point, mon cher Gérard.”

“I suspect that were I to find myself among a convocation of genuinely intelligent and deeply-read scholars I should be quite content to keep my little aperçus well to myself.”

“Ha ha.”

“Oh, no.”

“What’s the matter?”

Gerry put his hand over the right side of his face.

“Don’t turn, but you’ll never believe who just came in the door.”

Of course Araminta turned her beautiful head to look down the crowded bar and toward the entrance, and there, shaking out an umbrella, was none other than Addison, “Addison the Wit”, whose name was not really Addison and who was not a wit.

“Don’t look!” blurted Gerry.

Araminta turned to face Gerry.

“I already have looked,” she said. “What’s that ass Addison doing here?”

“How should I know? Remember, I’m only called ‘the Brain’, and that doesn’t mean I am The Brain. What should we do?”

“What can we do? He’s bound to see us.”

“Perhaps if we both went to the lavatories?”

“We can’t hide in the WCs all evening, Gerry.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. But, look, here’s the plan. We each go to our respective gender’s rest room, and we wait exactly five minutes just so Addison can get settled and order a drink and start boring some poor stranger to death, and then, after the five minutes have elapsed, we both quickly come out and head straight for the exit and meet up outside and go somewhere else. Let’s synchronize our watches.”

“You’re mad.”

“But you don’t understand, the other night I had to spend hours with him, pretending I’d read and admired his awful epic western novel-in-progress –”

“Ha ha, western epic?”

“Yes, I only read a few scattered sentences, but it was as if Virginia Woolf and Zane Grey had given birth to a retarded child and the child decided to write the worst novel ever written.”

“Oh, I love it!”

“He latched onto me for an entire afternoon and evening, only picking up one round out of four, pumping me for praise as I wept invisible tears of blood, silently screaming with ennui, and the experience was so excruciating that I got as drunk as I’ve ever gotten in my life, and, believe me, Araminta, that’s saying something.”

“You are so droll, Gerry.”

“I may be droll, but I am quite serious, you don’t know how unbelievably tedious that man is, how completely lacking in self-knowledge and even the slightest trace of a sense of humor, how unbearable in every way –”

“Ha ha.”

“And do you want to know the most pathetic thing?”

“Of course I do.”

“The most appalling thing?”


“It’s that he considers me his best friend, and indeed I suspect that I am his only friend.”

“Oh, dear, that is pathetic,” said Araminta. “What a drip!”

“Drip is not the word,” said Gerry. “How about the most insufferable, most deluded, most pompous, most arrogant and yet self-pitying –”

“I say, Gerry!” said the all-too-familiar voice. “And the lovely Araminta!”

They both turned, and there was Addison, wet, bedraggled, but obviously ready for action.

“Oh, hi, Addison,” said Gerry.

“And what, may I ask, are you two doing way over here in the faux-bohemian depths of the Village?”

“We might ask the same of you, Addison,” said Araminta.

“Yes, well you might, and for the price of a drink I will tell you.”

“I don’t have any money on me right now,” said Araminta.

“What do you say, Gerry?” said Addison. “I promise I’ll get the next round, because I just cashed a check from my grandmother.”

“Well, Addison,” said Gerry, “I’ll buy you a drink, gladly, but in fact Araminta and I were just about to leave as soon as we finish these drinks.”

“About to leave? Where to?”

“We were going to a movie,” said Araminta.

“What movie?”

“What was it called again?”

“That’s what I’m asking you.”

“Gerry,” said Araminta, “what was that film you wanted to see?”

“Oh, the film,” said Gerry, “yes, and, oh, my –” Gerry glanced at his old Hamilton wristwatch, his Great Aunt Edna’s Andover graduation present, currently stopped from not being wound, but Addison didn’t have to know that – “speaking of which, we’d better get a move on.”

“Yes,” said Addison, “but what is the film?”

“It’s, uh, you know –” said Gerry, “um, what’s it called –”

“Where’s it playing?” persisted Addison.

“The Waverly!” cried Araminta. She had gone to films there, and it was in the Village.

“Oh, the Waverly,” said Addison. “You must mean that dreary Somerset Maugham movie.”

“Yes, that’s the one,” said Gerry.

“I’ve seen it, and and it’s not all that good actually.”

“Oh?” said Gerry.

“Yes, I find Maugham so – I hate to use the term – middlebrow.”

“But I so was in the mood for a movie,” said Araminta.

“If you want to see a movie, you know what you should see? You should see this Audie Murphy movie called Ride a Dead Horse. I thought it was simply marvelous. Buy me that libation, Gerry, and I’ll tell you all about it, and I’ll also explain why I am in here and not at our humble but much revered ‘local’, Bob’s eponymous Bowery Bar.”

“But I really wanted to see that movie,” said Araminta.

“Dreary English people sipping tea and eating crumpets and hiding their true feelings? My dear, that is not cinema. It is simply slightly animated glossy women’s magazine prose. No, if you want true cinema you must turn to the American western, but most assuredly not the overrated oeuvres of Ford or Hawks or God forbid Zinneman, but those forged by auteurs whose names none but the true aficionado knows, like William Witney, Wallace Grissell, Lesley Selander, George Archainbaud, or, my personal favorite, Larry Winchester. As a simple rule of thumb I should suggest any film starring Audie Murphy or Tim Holt, although Rod Cameron is not bad. Ah, yes, bartender, I would like what my friend Gerry here is drinking, a Rheingold, and, say, is anyone else in the mood for something a bit stiffer just to cut the damp? I for one would adore a Cream of Kentucky bourbon.”

Gerry felt a hand grasping his thigh, and, looking down, saw it was Araminta’s, its grip surprisingly strong for an appendage so seemingly delicate. This was the first time that Araminta had ever touched him more than glancingly, and her doing so did wonders to ameliorate the dreadfulness of the situation. The universe gave, and it took away, and sometimes it gave again in these few brief hours before it took it all away forever.


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

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