Thursday, August 4, 2022

“A Reet Guy”


“And so you see, Daisy,” said Terry, “my goal in my novel is to take what we have learned from Joyce and from Thomas Wolfe, and also from Hemingway and his epigones Mailer and Irwin Shaw, and, yes, even James Gould Cozzens, and to build on this sturdy foundation to bring the American autobiographical novel into a new realm, which will rise above the constraints of the author’s personal experience, which experience, qua experience, might perhaps not at face value present the most shall we say dramatic material –”

“Sounds interesting,” said Daisy.

“Perhaps you would like to read some of it someday?”

“What’s that?”

“The novel I’m writing. My work in progress. Young Chap, Whither Goest Thou?”

“Whither goest who?”

“That’s my working title, Young Chap, Whither Goest Thou? But I’m not married to it. I was thinking of changing it to I Don’t Want to Go Home Again, but, uh –”

“Well, I’ll tell you – Timmy is it?”




“Terry, actually.”

“I’ll tell you, Terry, the kind of novels I like to read are the ones they show in Times Square.”

“They show novels in Times Square?”

“Yeah, double features with gals like Marie Windsor and Susan Hayward and Ida Lupino.”

“Oh, you mean movies.”

“Yeah.”

“So you don’t like to read novels?”

“I like that one Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. I found it on a subway seat, and when I run out of movie magazines to read I’ll read a few pages of that. I’ve been reading it for a couple of years now, but it’s okay, it’s a pretty long book, so I’ve still got five or six hundred pages to go. You ever read that one?”

“Um, no,” said Terry, “I mean, I’ve heard of it of course.”

“They made a movie out of it with Linda Darnell, that was pretty good. Hey, speaking of subways, I got to go to work.”

“To work?”




“Yeah, work. You want to come with me?”

“To your work?”

“Why not? Maybe you’ll get some ideas for your novel.”

“But, what kind of work?”

“Working the hole.”

“The hole?”

“The subway. I work the subway and the el. You can help me.”

“Help you?”

“Yeah, you look so innocent and nice-guy, you’ll make a great stall.”

“What’s a stall?”

“It’s a guy or gal who distracts a mark so the dip can get his wallet.”

Suddenly Terry remembered what Mickey Pumpernickel had told him that Daisy did for a living.

“Daisy, I can’t help you pick people’s pockets!”

“Jeeze, don’t get so excited, Jerry.”

“Terry.”

“Don’t get so excited, Terry.”

“I can’t help you rob people.”

“So don’t. It was only a suggestion.”

“Well, I’m sorry, Daisy – call me old-fashioned, but I am not a criminal.”

“Okay, take it easy.”

“I don’t mean to be judgmental.”

“Don’t matter to me if you are.”

“It’s just – what if I got caught?”

“You wouldn’t get caught. You’d only be the stall, the decoy. It’s like, you ask a likely mark what the next station is, and then when they tell you I lift their wallet. So you’re free and clear. Anybody gets pinched, it’s me.”

“I’m sorry, Daisy, but I just can’t do that. I am an artist, a writer –”

“Okay, settle down. I like working single-o anyhow. More gelt for me.”

“Gee, Daisy, you seem like such a nice girl –”

“I am a nice girl. But I gotta make a living.”

“Isn’t there some other way?”

“What, being a nickel-pusher at the automat? Or would you rather maybe I walk the streets?”

“No!”

“So what’s the harm? It ain’t like I’m dipping poor people’s pokes. What would be the point of that? I strictly stick to the guys who are wearing Brooks Brothers suits. They can afford it, and if they weren’t so cheap they’d be taking cabs instead of the subway.”

“Well, maybe so, but –”

“I thought you were a reet guy.”

“I am a reet guy!”

“You’re a square, Kerry, a nice guy, but a total cube.”

“Terry – my name is Terry.”

“Terry. You seem like a nice guy, but you’re like a cardboard box, that’s how exciting you are.”

“Gee.”

“Anyhoo, look, thanks for the drinks, but I really got to run. It ain’t safe to ride the el or the subway late at night.”

“No, I suppose that’s true.”

“Too many bums with busy hands. You don’t even know what a girl’s got to put up with. But it’s okay, they get fresh, I give them this.”

Daisy pulled a six-inch long hat pin out of her little hat and showed it to Terry.

“Gee,” said Terry.

“A quick poke with this teaches them heels some manners.”

“Um, uh, heh heh –”

She slid the pin back into her hat and then slid off her stool.

“Don’t take any wooden nickels, pal. Maybe I’ll see you in here again.”

“Well, it was very nice meeting you, Daisy.”

“Yeah, you too. Oh, and here.” She opened her purse and brought out a man’s wallet. It was Terry’s wallet, and she handed it to him. “Because I like you, Gary. In your own square way, you’re kind of a reet guy.”

“Thank you, Daisy,” said Terry.

She took her umbrella off the hook under the lip of the bar, said goodnight to Bob the barkeep, and walked away.

Terry opened his wallet. He was pretty sure there had been two singles and a five in it, and, sure enough, they were still in there. Maybe Daisy really did like him. Maybe she really did think he was reet guy.

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

Thursday, July 28, 2022

“The Night Before the Dawn”

 

 

“You lied to me,” said Cornel Wilde.

“And you were a sap for believing me,” said Ruth Roman.

“I loved you,” said Cornel.

“You thought you loved me,” said Ruth. “But you’re like every other man. You only love yourself – or should I say your pathetic conception of yourself?”
 
“That’s very harsh, Melinda.”

“Life is harsh. Love it or leave it, chump.”

Bubbles gave Addison a nudge with her elbow.

“Okay, this is where we came in.”

“Yes, I believe you’re right,” said Addison. “Do you want to stay and watch the ending again?”

“No, we know how it ends, and it don’t end good for Ruth Roman.”

“Hey, you two,” said some guy in the row behind them. “Clam up. We’re trying to watch the movie here.”

Bubbles turned around in her seat.

“Keep your shirt on, pal. We’re leaving anyway.”

“Good,” said the guy. “Don’t let the swinging doors hit you in your asses on the way out.”

“How’d you like me to swing my pocket book right in your fat face?” said Bubbles.

“You just try it, sister,” said the guy.

“Sammy,” said the girl sitting next to the guy, “will you shut up and just let them leave?”

“She started it,” said the guy.

“Hey,” said some other guy sitting in the row behind the first guy, “will you all please just shut the hell up?”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” said Sammy. “I am a veteran.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you are,” said the new guy. “A veteran of the United States Army of Assholes.”

“Why, you, I’ll bet you were a 4-F conscientious objector,” said the first guy. “Spent the war cleaning slop pails at Bellevue!”

“And I’ll bet you spent the war peeling spuds at Fort Dix!”

Suddenly the two guys were trying to punch each other over the seat backs, and the one girl was screaming, so Bubbles grabbed Addison’s arm and said, “Come on, Atcheson, let’s split before World War Three breaks out in this place.”


Outside under the marquee on Thompson Street it was dark now beyond the lights of the movie house and the cold rain was still coming down. Bubbles took her Philip Morrises out of her purse and lighted herself up with her lighter.

“Oh, you want one, Atcheson?”

“Well, only if I may,” said Addison.

“Yeah, sure you may,” said Bubbles. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have offered you one.”

“Thank you,” said Addison. “Thank you very much, Bubbles.”

“Don’t mention it,” said Bubbles, giving him a light. “But just once I want to see you buy a pack of cigarettes. Just once.”

Addison exhaled a delicious lungful of smoke into the cold wet air.

“I promise you, dear Bubbles, that I shall buy a pack of cigarettes at the very first opportunity.”

“Can I say something?” said Bubbles.

“Oh, please do,” said Addison.

“You are the gayest straight guy I have ever met in my life,” said Bubbles.

“I try to be gay,” said Addison.

“I don’t mean that kind of gay,” said Bubbles. “I mean homo gay.”

“Oh. Perhaps I should take that as a compliment?” said Addison.

“Take it any way you like,” said Bubbles.

“So what did you think of the movies?” said Addison. 

“I liked that one with Cornel Wilde and Ruth Roman, what was it called.”

The Night Before the Dawn I believe.”

“Right, I liked that one. I’m just sorry Ruth Roman got plugged in the end by Raymond Burr. I liked her. She was my kind of dame.”

“Yes, she was a very – dynamic character.”

“She didn’t brook any nonsense.”

“Like you,” said Addison.

“Yeah,” said Bubbles, and she looked at Addison. “Like me.”

“In a sense,” said Addison, “and again like you, dear Bubbles, she was a true existential heroine, neither giving nor asking quarter of an indifferent universe.”

“Except she gets plugged in the end.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Why do the tough dames always got to get plugged in the end?”

“I’m not sure,” said Addison, “but I think it might have something to do with the Production Code.”

“Nuts to the Production Code.”

“Ha ha.”

“You know what I do when I watch these movies?”

“No,” said Addison.

“I imagine my own endings to them. Like in my ending Ruth Roman doesn’t get shot. Instead she shoots Raymond Burr, and then when Cornel Wilde tries to arrest her and bring her in, she shoots him, too.”

“Well, that would be, um –”

“A much better ending.”

“It does seem a little unfair for her to shoot Cornel Wilde, though. I mean, he was only a police detective trying to do his job.”

“Okay, so maybe she gives him a break for old time’s sake and she just makes him handcuff himself to the radiator with his own handcuffs. Then she grabs Raymond Burr’s swag from the wall safe and she hightails it out of there, heads off to the train station and goes to some other city. Starts a new life with Raymond Burr’s loot from the heist. Maybe opens up a hat shop.”

“A hat shop?”

“Whatever. Dress shop, hat shop. But she starts her own business, where she don’t have to answer to anybody. That’s how I would’ve ended the movie.”

“Would you like to open a hat shop, Bubbles?”

“I can’t spend my whole life giving Baltimore handshakes for three bucks a shot, pal. I’m saving my money, believe you me.”

“How much do you have saved?”

“None of your damn business.”

“Sorry. It’s just I’ve always admired anyone who could save money. God knows I’ve never been able to.”

“How much of that fin have you got left?”

“Well, let’s see, it was ninety cents for the movie tickets, plus another thirty cents for the large popcorn and the cokes, and, um, a nickel for the box of Raisinets, oh, and another nickel for the Milk Duds –”

“We got enough for a couple of drinks over at the San Remo, let’s go.”

“You want to have drinks with me?”

“That’s what I said, wasn’t it? Maybe we’ll get a bite to eat, too. I could go for some of that spaghetti marinara there.”

“Well, I only have –”

“Don’t sweat it. I have my own dough. Now put that umbrella up.”

“Yes, of course,” said Addison.

He had been hoping to save three dollars for a Baltimore handshake, but he figured he had best not push his luck with Bubbles. What a woman!

They forged out into the cold stinging rain under Addison’s umbrella, Bubbles holding Addison’s arm. He knew he was not worthy of such a woman, but he didn’t care, and he had never felt so alive in all his life.

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

Saturday, July 23, 2022

TWO WEEKS IN A ONE HORSE TOWN


TWO WEEKS IN A ONE HORSE TOWN: VOLUME FIVE OF THE MEMOIRS OF ARNOLD SCHNABEL is now out and available on Amazon as both an old-fashioned paper "book" made from wood pulp and as a Kindle e-book, at low, low, insanely low inroductory prices!

Please click here and be the first kid on your block to own a copy – and remember: please enjoy responsibly!

Thursday, July 21, 2022

“The Philosopher and the Fool”


Gerry (“the Brain”) Goldsmith awoke again, to the rumble and roar of the Third Avenue Elevated passing by outside his window, and now it was daytime. What day was it? How long had he been ill? He touched his face and felt a soft growth of stubble. Gerry shaved religiously every other day, so it must have been several days at least. He looked out the window and when the train had passed the sky above the tracks and the rooftops across the Bowery was a deep flat grey, like a great wet circus tent covering the world.

Gerry propped himself up on his elbows and realized he was wearing his pajamas, his one pair of pajamas, the flannel worn soft and thin and frayed at the cuffs, of a color faded from a once vibrant swirling ocean blue to that of the East River in that uncertain half hour before the night has ended and the day has begun.

He lay there for perhaps five minutes, a thousand thoughts welling up from the depths of his brain and disappearing into the universe.

It occurred to him that he was well, or, at least no longer ill, or at least not seriously ill, and he remembered in brief snatches of moving images and sounds his young friend Araminta taking care of him, giving him tea to sip, and soup to try to swallow, Araminta holding the bowl in one hand and a spoon in the other, murmuring soft words as she patiently brought the spoon to his lips.

He pushed off the two old army blankets, moved his legs off the small bed and sat there on the side of the bed for another few minutes.

How close had he come to dying? What a pity it would have been if he had died before finishing his magnum opus, more than two decades in the writing, current title Pensées for a Rainy Day. But, on the other hand, perhaps Araminta would have assembled his completed pages and found a publisher, and his death might even have been a romantic selling point for this addition to the canonical list of distinguished posthumously published unfinished masterpieces, like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”, or Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet, or Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet…  

Gerry absentmindedly rubbed his sleeve on his nose, and realized that the cloth of his pajamas actually smelled freshly laundered. And so Araminta had even made that extra effort, apparently taking the pajamas down the street to Madame Chang’s shop. He then noticed that several missing buttons on the pajama jacket had been replaced, either by Araminta or Madame Chang. He also suddenly realized, with a sort of internal gulping sensation, that Araminta must have put him into the pajamas, and so of course she had seen his naked, pale, middle-aged body, in all its absence of glory…


An hour later, Gerry had taken a bath, shaved, and dressed in one of his two suits, the Harris tweed his mother had bought him at Brooks upon his graduation, without honors, from Harvard, twenty-seven years ago, as opposed to the newer (albeit from Goodwill) Donegal tweed. The suit fit him better than it had in years, he could even button the fly all the way to the top, and so he must have lost ten or perhaps even fifteen pounds in his illness.

It was his intention to go downstairs to the second floor to Araminta’s flat, and, if she was in, to thank her, humbly and sincerely. It was all he could do.

But before he went to his door he saw his old Royal portable sitting on his little writing table. He went over to it, and in the platen of the machine was a sheet of paper at the top of which was the last pensée he had typed before falling ill:



“The only way to be sure not to say something stupid is to say nothing. Therefore I shall leave the following page of this work entirely blank, thus ensuring that at least one page of it shall not be utter nonsense.”



Gerry sat down, rolled out the sheet of paper and laid it face down on the pile of completed pages to the right of the typewriter. From the stack of fresh paper to the left of the machine he picked up one sheet and laid it on the pile to the right, and so that was the one page on which no nonsense had been written. Then he picked up another fresh sheet and rolled it into the machine. He was now free to write more nonsense.

There was a half-smoked Bull Durham lying in the ashtray next to the typewriter – how old? Three days, four? A week? No matter. He put the butt between his lips and lighted it with a match from the box of Blue Tips. Then he typed:  

“One day a philosopher and a fool met on the road, and they decided to exchange identities. No one ever noticed the difference.”

There, that would do for a day’s work, especially after coming off a serious illness, perhaps even a brush with death.

As was his wont, Gerry left the sheet of paper in the machine, all the better to resume his work next time, if he were granted a next time. He stubbed out the Bull Durham butt in the chipped ashtray (emblazoned with the legend THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL – OUR SERVICE IS SWELL), and then he got up, went to the door, opened it and went out.

He hoped Araminta would be home.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2022

“Let’s Go, McGee”


 “Let’s go, McGee,” said Mickey Pumpernickel. “We gotta get to work.”

“One more shot,” said Waldo McGee.

“Nix,” said Mickey. “You had three already, and three bocks, now let’s shake a leg.”

“Aw, but Mickey,” said Waldo. “It ain’t but seven yet.”

“I said nix. We gotta sober you up a little before the first set.”

“You ain’t no fun, Mickey.”

“You want fun? Try havin’ fun when we’re back to sleepin’ in the flops after you get fired from this gig.”

“Just a quick bock then. I’ll swallow it right down quick, I promise.”

“Hey, Bob,” said Mickey to Bob. “Tell McGee he’s cut off till he gets back from work.”

“You’re cut off, Waldo,” said Bob. “Till you get back from your work.”

“Cheesis,” said Waldo. “My own partner and my bartender gangin’ up on me.”

“Get up,” said Mickey. “I ain’t gonna tell you again. And don’t forget to leave Bob a tip.”


Bob watched Waldo leave two quarters on the bar, and then climb off his stool with Mickey under his arm.

“Umbrella,” said Mickey.

“Oh, right,” said Waldo, and he got his umbrella off the hook under the lip of the bar.

“Good night, Bob,” said Waldo. “I’ll see ya later.”

“See ya later,” said Bob. “You too, Mickey.”

“Later, big guy,” said Mickey. “Don’t take no wooden nickels while we’re gone and we’ll catch you later unless McGee drops dead on stage tonight.”

Waldo took a last look at that young fellow Terry or Jerry or whatever the hell his name was, talking with Daisy the Dip down at the end corner of the bar by the rest rooms. Maybe the kid would get lucky. Maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe it would be better for him if he didn’t get lucky. Who the hell knew?

“Let’s go, McGee,” said the dummy again, and Waldo headed for the door, weaving only slightly, carrying Mickey with him.

Outside the rain had subsided to a cold misty drizzle, and Waldo didn’t bother opening his umbrella. The tiny droplets of cold stinging water felt good on his face, but he knew Mickey didn’t like to get wet, so he stuck him in under his old raincoat.


They were still a little early when they got off the crosstown bus at Bedford and 6th Avenue, so they went into the automat across the alley from the Hotel St Crispian.

Waldo put a nickel into the slot, turned the chromium handle, and filled a cup with coffee. The place was pretty full, so he went over to a table where a young guy sat writing in a notebook.

“Hey, pal,” Mickey said to the young guy. “You mind if my partner and I sit here?”

The young man had never been addressed by a ventriloquist’s dummy before, but then he had been born and raised in Greenwich Village.

“Help yourself,” he said.

Waldo sat down with Mickey on his lap, and put his cup and saucer on the table.

“What you writing there, young fella?” said the dummy.

“Well, if you must know, I am writing a poem,” said the young man.

“I figured you was a poet,” said Mickey. “You got the look.”

The young man wore thick glasses, a floppy newsboy’s cap, a worn peacoat of the sort found in army & navy stores, and a thick bone-colored ribbed turtleneck of the Hemingwayesque type. Either he was a seaman or a longshoreman or a poet, and his delicate ink-stained fingers meant that he must be a poet.

“I feel that a poet should dress the part,” said the young man. “And not for me the conservative three-piece suit of an Eliot or a Stevens, no, I feel that I must dress as the common man does, for I believe that poetry should speak to all men, not just to the professorial class.”

“Exactly my sentiments,” said Mickey. “Don’t you agree, McGee?”

“What?” said Waldo.

“Don’t you agree that poetry should speak to the common man?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Waldo.

“Don’t mind him,” said Mickey to the young guy. And to Waldo: “Drink that java, McGee.”

“I’m drinkin’ it, I’m drinkin’ it,” said Waldo, and he picked up the cup.

“We gotta be onstage at eight,” said Mickey to the young fellow. “Waldo’s the compère over there at the Prince Hal Room in the St Crispian. You ever catch our act?”

“No, I don’t believe I have,” said the young man. “My mother and I have had dinner there on occasion, but we always go for the Early Bird Special.”

“That’s a good deal, the Early Bird,” said Mickey. “I don’t eat, myself, but I heard good things about the Prince Hal’s Early Bird.”

“The sole meunière with creamed scalloped potatoes and choice of vegetables is a very good deal for three-fifty,” said the young fellow.

“This guy?” said Mickey, pointing his little wooden thumb at Waldo. “He’s entitled to a staff meal there every night, anything but big-ticket items like the filet mignon or the lobster thermidor, but will he avail himself of it ever?”

“I don’t like to eat before a show,” said Waldo. “It upsets my stomach and gives me gas. You know that, Mickey.”

“I know you’d rather drink your dinner, that’s what I know,” said Mickey. He turned to the young guy. “Bock beer and Cream of Kentucky bourbon, washed down with another bock – that’s this guy’s idea of a three-course meal.”

“I have a drinking problem, too,” said the young man.

“So’s this guy,” said Mickey. “His problem is he can’t drink enough. Boom. Rim shot.”

“Pardon me?”

“Come see us tonight you ain’t doin’ nothing. Like I said, we go on at eight. We do a twenty-minute set, then Tony Winston & his Winstonians come on with their chanteuse Shirley De LaSalle. Vavoom, what a babe that Shirley is! Nine o’clock the Betty Baxter Dancers come on. Va va voom, the gams on them babes!”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the young guy. “I’m not supposed to go to bars or any places that serve alcohol.”

“So you drink ginger ale. Eat some pretzels. Enjoy the show. Live a little while you’re young.”

“Well – maybe.”

Milford wondered if he were losing his mind. Was he really sitting here in an automat having a conversation with a ventriloquist’s dummy? Yes, he was. He looked down at his notebook and the lines he had just written:


 
A friend? Do I at last have a friend?
Or, is this in fact my journey’s end?
Drinking coffee in a Village automat,
watching all my little dreams go splat.



He looked up from the notebook and into the blue blank eyes of the dummy, which seemed to be staring straight into his.

“What’s a matter, buddy?” said Mickey. “You afraid to have a good time?”

The dummy had a point.

“Yes,” said Milford.



“Look, kid,” said Mickey. “I know we just met, but you know what your problem is?”

“I have many problems,” said Milford.

“Ha ha, good one,” said Mickey. “But you know what your number one problem is?”

“That I was born?”

“Ha ha, boom, rim shot. No,” said Mickey. “Your problem is you got a poker up your ass. Take it from me, you pull that poker out you’re gonna feel a whole lot better.”

“Yes, you’re probably right,” said Milford.

“Awright, we gotta go. McGee’s gotta get into his makeup and go through his little pre-show ritual. Vocal exercise, one cigarette, one more cup of joe, a quick Hail Mary, and then showtime, baby.”

“Good luck,” said Milford.

“Hope to see you there, kid. What’s your name?”

“Milford.”

“My moniker’s Mickey Pumpernickel, and this drunken bum is Waldo McGee. Put ‘er there, Milford, and we hope to see you at the Prince Hal.”

“Maybe,” said Milford, and he shook the dummy’s little wooden hand.

“You got nothing to lose,” said Mickey. “Except that poker up your ass.”

The shabby little man and his dummy got up from the table and left.

Milford looked out the misted plate glass window and watched them cross the alley to the St Crispian’s service entrance. Should he go, or should he stay here in this automat, scribbling poetry that no one would ever read? 



He closed up his notebook and sighed. He would have one more Woodbine, one more cup of coffee, and then he would decide.

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

Thursday, July 7, 2022

“A Dream of a Fair Woman”


Gerry (“The Brain”) Goldsmith woke up from a dream that took place in a dream dreamed by his much younger self, who had awoken from yet another dream in which he wandered streets filled with people who pretended not to notice that he was naked, and now, staring up at the dark ceiling as the Third Avenue El roared by outside his window, he thought, “I’ve learned my lesson now.”

Yes, he had learned his lesson at long last.

But what lesson was that?




The lesson.

Was he only to learn the lesson at the moment of death?



The roaring of the train faded away, and now there was only the sound of sleet rattling against the glass of his window, and Gerry fell back, into yet another dream.


When he awoke again it was still dark, and in this latest dream he had to urinate but couldn’t find a bathroom, but now he realized he was in his own tiny flat, and all he had to do was get out of bed and walk across the room to his own bathroom.

He pushed off the covers, and saw his naked body. So at least he had managed to get undressed, despite having been so feverish. How long had he been ill? A night and a day, and then another night? Longer? But he felt okay now. Weak, and hollow, and thirsty, and, yes, he had to urinate, but he felt okay, he felt as though he wasn’t going to die. 




He got his legs off the bed and sat there for a minute, his bare feet on the cold floor, the palms of his hands on the edge of the mattress, the sound of rain spattering against the window glass.

Another dream, a dream dreamt before the one about searching for a bathroom. A dream of a beautiful woman with dark hair. The woman had touched his forehead, and he had tried to touch her, but he had been unable to lift his hand…

And something about a lesson. While he had been so feverish and ill, he had learned something, something very important, more important than anything else. But what was it? If it was really that important he could put it into his book, his work-in-progress, twenty years or more in progress, current title: Pensées for a Rainy Day. 




If he could only remember, but maybe it would come back to him when he sat down at the typewriter again, after he got some more rest and was fully recovered, or at least as fully recovered as he was ever likely to get.

Finally, after a few tries, he stood up, and he didn’t fall down. No, he wasn’t dead yet, and Gerry didn’t think he was going to die, not quite yet anyway. Maybe he would live long enough to finish his book.

He took a barefoot step on the cold wooden floor towards his bathroom, and then another step, and then near the foot of his bed, on the old oval throw-rug of faded colors, lay a person curled up under a quilt. It was a woman, with dark hair, and her head lay on a pillow, and the woman was his young friend Araminta. She lay on her side with her knees drawn up and her hands folded under her cheek. She had her black beret on her head.

Very quietly, so as not to awaken her, so that she shouldn’t see his naked middle-aged body (although she already had seen it, because now he remembered her undressing him as he lay sweating and delirious), very quietly he stepped around her and crossed to the bathroom.




There was nothing to be done but to flush the toilet when he was finished, and he only hoped she was a sound sleeper. 




Fortunately his old grey corduroy bathrobe was hanging on the bathroom door, and so he wouldn’t have to cross the room naked again.

What had he learned?

Something, he was sure of it, and maybe it would come to him again before he left this earth for good…

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

Thursday, June 30, 2022

“The Sister of Mercy”


“The only way to be sure not to say something stupid is to say nothing. Therefore I shall leave the following page of this work entirely blank, thus ensuring that at least one page of it shall not be utter nonsense.”

Gerry Goldsmith stared at the words he had just typed. Or had he just typed them? How long had he been sitting here staring at this page? How long had it been since he had come up here from Araminta’s flat down on the second floor?

He turned and looked out the window. It was twilight, and the streetlights had come on. Or, if it was morning, then the lights had already been on. Snow fell past and through the girders of the Third Avenue El, something like snow, or was it sleet, or something other than sleet or snow? What time was it? He looked at his watch, his faithful old Hamilton, thank you, Great Aunt Edna, given to him upon his graduation from Andover, lo those many years ago, when he was young and full of – what? Beans? Life? Youth? What was he full of now, if anything? Six-thirty-two said the hands of the watch, the second hand ticking round towards six-thirty-three. Yes, fine, but was it morning or evening? Why didn’t he know whether it was morning or evening? Was it the marijuana he had smoked earlier with Araminta? No, no, it wasn’t that…

Was he dying? Or was he dreaming? Was he going mad? He pushed himself up from his little writing table and stood, swaying slightly back and forth. Why did his feet feel so far away?

His body carried him the few feet to his bed, his narrow bed, and he got into it. He was still wearing his suit and tie, his shoes. It didn’t matter. It took him so long to get the sheet and blankets over him, his two old army blankets, but why was he so cold? Why was he so horribly cold?


Araminta Sauvage smoked the rest of her reefer, listening to the Beethoven quartet on the Philco, and beneath it and around it the sound of the rain outside, and then it occurred to her that she hadn’t seen Gerry Goldsmith since yesterday afternoon. What was the old boy up to? Maybe he would like to go out for a bite to eat over at Ma’s? A perfect afternoon for one of Ma’s lovely grilled cheese sandwiches, with her homemade sourdough bread, and a cup or two or three of her sui generis chicory coffee!

She made sure her beret was on her head, donned her raincoat, took her umbrella out of its vase and, leaving the radio on, she glided out the door without locking it and up the stairs to the sixth floor to Gerry’s door.

She knocked.

“Gerard, ‘tis I, Araminta!”

She knocked again.

“Gerry, old bean, are you in?”

She thought she heard a human vocal noise.

“Gerry, old man, is that you?”

A louder noise, but just slightly louder. Could it be a groan?

She tried the knob, and the door opened.

“Gerry, are you napping?”

A groan, a definite groan.

The lamp on Gerry’s writing table (his only table) was lit.

She went over to the bed. Gerry lay fully clothed under twisted dark green blankets. His normally reddish face was pale, exactly the color of sole meunière before it’s cooked. His eyes were open, and they were bloodshot. To be frank, his eyes were usually bloodshot, but now they were especially so. His chin was covered with brindled whiskers, and they glistened with sweat.

“Gerry, are you ill, old man?”

“Minta,” he said softly.

“Yes, it is I, Araminta. Gerry, why are you lying in bed with all your clothes on?”

“Clothes,” he said, softly.

She reached down and touched his shirt.

“You are absolutely drenched. Gerry, I think you’ve caught a bug!”

“Bug,” he whispered.

She laid the back of her hand against his forehead, and his brow was warm to the touch and wet.

“All right, buddy, first thing we’re going to do is get you out of these soaking things.”

“Things,” he said, apparently trying to speak above a whisper, and failing.

“Don’t try to talk. But I’m going to get you out of these soaking wet clothes. Then I am going to get you some aspirins, and I’m going to make you a nice cup of tea. Would you like some tea?”

“Tea?”

“Yes, tea. Tea is the great restorative liquid. And aspirins of course. Now let me pull you up into a sitting position so I can undress you, but don’t get the wrong idea, ha ha.”

“Idea.”

“Yes, don’t get the wrong one.”

“Wrong one…”

Poor Gerry. What if he died? No, she mustn’t let him die. Poor fellow.

With great difficulty she got all of his clothes off him, even his underwear, trying but alas not succeeding not to look at him, and then she got him back under the covers. She touched his forehead. It actually felt normal now, maybe just a trifle cool. Perhaps he would live after all.

“Now, Gerard, just you lie there, and I’m going to get you those aspirins and I’l also bring up a nice hot pot of lapsang. Wouldn’t that be nice.”

“Yes, nice.”

“Just lie here and I’ll be back in a jif.”

She got up from the side of the bed where she was sitting, and on the way out she stopped at his writing table and read what was in the platen of Gerry’s old Royal portable:



“The only way to be sure not to say something stupid is to say nothing. Therefore I shall leave the following page of this work entirely blank, thus ensuring that at least one page of it shall not be utter nonsense.”




Well, it wouldn’t be the last nonsense Gerry wrote if Araminta had any say in the matter, and she went to the door, opened it, and went out. Her grilled cheese would have to wait, but after she made some lapsang and got Gerry to drink some of it, she knew what she would do, she would run down to Ma’s and tell Ma that Gerry was under the weather and could she have a nice big bowl of Ma’s chicken noodle soup in a container to take up to the poor man. Some aspirins, some lapsang, some of Ma’s soup…


No, Mr. Gerard “Gerry” (“the Brain”) Goldsmith wasn’t going to not write another page of nonsense if Miss Araminta Sauvage had anything to do with it!

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

Thursday, June 23, 2022

“Your Own League”


“And so you see,” said Terry Foley, “I never meant any harm by making the heroine of my book have mismatched breasts, but still Araminta took it as some sort of personal attack on her –”

“And this what’s her name,” said Mickey Pumpernickel, “Annabella –”

“Araminta actually.”

“Araminta – does she in point of fact have mismatched bosoms?”

“Well, yeah,” said Terry, “I mean not drastically, but one is just slightly less uh –”

Terry made a surging motion with both hands.

“Bulbous?” suggested Mickey.

“Bulbous, yes,” said Terry, “one is just ever so slightly less bulbous than the other, but just slightly – I mean, only if you look at it from a certain angle. But here’s the thing, Mickey –” yes, Terry was conversing directly with a wooden ventriloquist’s dummy, while the ventriloquist, Waldo McGee, drank his bock and smoked a cigarette and stared off into space, his lips almost imperceptibly moving – “the thing is,” continued Terry, “I found this very slight imperfection somehow deeply moving, as if it brought her ethereal beauty into the world of reality, thus transforming the world –”

“Can I interrupt you just to ask you something, kid?” said Mickey, with his squeaky, raspy voice.

“Sure,” said Terry.

“What the goddam hell ever possessed you to put that, uh, detail in your novel?”

“Uh, well, I don’t know, really –”

“I mean, are you really that dumb?”

“Uh –”

“Waldo,” the dummy said to Waldo McGee, whose lap he was sitting on, “you ever hear anything so dumb in your life?”

“What?” said Waldo.

“I said you ever hear of anything so incredibly stupid?” said Mickey, and Terry could see Waldo’s lips definitely moving now, not much, but maybe like he was muttering to himself under his breath.

“I wasn’t paying attention,” said Waldo.

“Oh, Christ,” said Mickey, and then to Terry, “In a world of his own this guy. An alcoholic little world of his own.”

Waldo said nothing to this, but just took a drink of his bock.

“Buy me another shot of Cream of Kentucky, kid,” said Mickey, “and I will give you some very valuable advice. Some very valuable advice that will stand you in very good stead for the rest of your life.”

Terry got Bob’s attention and ordered Mickey another shot of Cream of Kentucky. Terry hadn’t actually seen the dummy drink the two previous shots, but nevertheless when Terry had gazed elsewhere for just a moment, as one does in any conversation, when he looked again the shot glass had become empty.

Bob poured Mickey a fresh shot and took a quarter from Terry’s little pile of change. Terry watched Bob take the quarter down to the cash register in that unhurried way of his, and he rang it in. And when Terry turned back to Mickey and Waldo the shot glass was empty again. Someone or something was drinking the bourbon, that was for sure.

“What’s your name again, buddy?” said Mickey.

“Terry, Terry Foley.”

“Listen, Jerry –”

“Terry.”

“Terry. Listen. Here’s my advice for you.”

“Oh, great,” said Terry, without a trace of irony.  

“Stay in your own league, kid,” said Mickey.

“Pardon me?”

“Stay in your own ballpark. I mean, you are an okay looking young feller, but this Angelina –”

“Araminta.”

“Araminta. I seen her in here with you, on more than one occasion I seen her in here with you, and I gotta say, I always wondered, what was a swell-looking frail like that with her glamorous movie star looks doing with a just okay-looking guy like you. I mean no offense.”

“Oh, no, sure,” said Terry. “In fact I agree with you, Mickey. I never really saw what she saw in me.”

“It’d be different if you was some rich guy, but you ain’t, are ya?”

“Oh, no, I’m just barely getting by on the GI Bill, and, well, my mother sends me a twenty every week or so –”

“But you ain’t rich.”

“Oh, no, far from it.”

“And this Arabella babe, well, hey, I seen a lot of good-looking hot tamales in my line of work, working clubs and and jernts all acrost this great land of liberty – chorus gals, canaries, magicians’ assistants, even hat-check babes – I seen ‘em all, believe you me, and this Agatha babe is one of the cutest little fillies I ever laid eyes on.”

“Yes, she is very beautiful.”

“So like I say, stay in your own league, Jerry. Antoinetta, a gal like that, she is major league all the way, like 1927 Yankees. And you, my friend, no offense, but you are double-A ball, at best.”

“Okay.”

“Lower your sights.”

“You think so?”

“I know so. Like little old Daisy down the bar there.”

Mickey pointed his little wooden hand past Terry, and Terry turned and saw a small dark-haired young woman sitting down at the corner of the bar.

“That girl?” said Terry.

“That girl,” said Mickey. “You know her?”

“No. She seems nice though.”

“She is nice. They call her Daisy the Dip.”

“Daisy the Dip?”

“Daisy the Dip. Send her down a drink. If she accepts it, that means she’ll talk to you. If she talks to you, you got a chance. I ain’t saying you’re in like Flynn, but you got a chance.”

“She’s not bad looking,” said Terry.

 
“Not bad looking at all,” said Mickey. “I seen better, but I seen plenty worse, I’ll tell you that much. But, most important, she is in your league, Barry. A good solid Double-A player. Maybe even triple-A on a good day, but, irregardless, she is not totally out of your league.”

“So you think I should send her a drink?”

“I do. But first order me and McGee another round.”

“Well – okay,” said Terry. “What do I have to lose, right?”

“Nothing but the price of a drink, my friend.”

So Terry got Bob’s attention again, and ordered another bock and a shot for Waldo and Mickey, and also whatever the girl down at the corner of the bar was drinking.

Daisy the Dip accepted the drink, and, after she raised her fresh glass to Terry, Mickey gave Terry a nudge in the ribs.

“Now go down and ask her if she would mind if you joined her.”

“You think I should?”

“Absolutely. But one word more of advice, keep your wallet in your pocket what’s on the other side away from her.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean she’s a pickpocket by trade, and I know for a fact she don’t normally work where she drinks, but just to be on the safe side, keep your poke where it’ll be hard for her to grab it, just so you ain’t rubbing her nose in temptation.”

“Okay,” said Terry.

“Good luck, kid.”

“Thanks, Mickey,” said Terry, and he looked at Waldo, who was still staring off into space, smoking his cigarette. “And thank you, Waldo.”

“For what?” said Waldo.

“Don’t mind him, Jerry,” said Mickey. “Like I say, he’s in his own little world…”

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

Thursday, June 16, 2022

“Better Than Nothing”


Terry Foley was a pretty nice guy, but, unfortunately for him, he was also a pretty boring guy, and so when he walked into Bob’s Bowery Bar that cold rainy late afternoon, wanting only to pour out his troubles into a sympathetic ear, there was no one who would talk to him. Or, more precisely put, there was no one who let him talk. Bob’s was hardly the Algonquin Round Table when it came to wit and to elevated repartée, but still it had its standards.

First Terry tried Angie, the retired prostitute who now sold flowers from a street cart.

“Excuse me, Angie, but have you ever had your heart broken?”

Angie turned and looked at him.

“What’s your name again?”

“Terry. Terry Foley. I’m a novelist, or at least I’m trying to be a novelist, and perhaps you’ve seen me in here with a young lady named Araminta. Well, the thing is, Araminta and I have been seeing each other for some time now, and –”

“Fuck off,” said Angie.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me, fuck off or shut the hell up. I am not your headshrinker.”

“Gee, I just thought maybe you would have some advice for me, or –”

“Yes, I do have some advice for you: fuck off or shut the hell up and let me drink my Tokay in peace.”

Well!

Angie was sitting on the stool to Terry’s left, and now he turned to his right, where that funny guy they called Gilbey the Geek was sitting, nursing a sticky-looking glass of what looked like Bob’s basement-brewed bock, which was the cheapest beer you could buy here.

“Hi, Gilbey, how are you doing today?”



“I ain’t seen God today.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“I seen God one time.”

“Oh, yes, I remember your telling me about it –”

“I ain’t seen him but just that oncet. I ain’t seen him since.”

“Well, maybe someday you’ll see him again, Gilbey.”

“I ain’t but seen him the oncet.”

“Yes, well, heh heh, I suppose that’s one more time than most people have seen him.”

“I don’t know about nobody else. But I seen him that one time.”

“Would you like another bock, Gilbey?”

“Sure.”

Terry bought Gilbey a fresh bock and then he picked up his own half-drunk glass of bock and went down the bar to another empty stool.

Hector Philips Stone, the doomed romantic poet, was sitting to Terry’s left, and he was smoking a cigarette and staring at a shot glass filled to the brim with a brown liquid.

“Hi, Hector, how’s it going?”

“How’s it going? Look at this.” Hector pointed to a his left eye, all swollen and purple and bloodshot.

“Jeeze, that’s quite a shiner,” said Terry. “How did you get that?”

“Janet gave it to me.”

“Janet the waitress?”

“Yes, Janet the waitress.”

Terry turned and saw Janet laying down a pitcher at the table where the other poets all sat: Seamas McSeamas, the Irish poet; Howard Paul Studebaker, the western poet; Frank X Fagen, the nature poet; Scaramanga, the leftist poet; and Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III, the Negro poet. Terry had never been invited to join their table, but then he made no claims to being a poet.

“Why did Janet give you a black eye, Hector?”

“Why not?” said Hector. “Because I deserved it.”

“Well, it’s funny you should mention that,” said Terry, “because, you see, I have had some women trouble myself lately, and –”

“You want my advice?”

“Yes, Hector, in fact I would, because, you see –”

“Buy yourself a football helmet, and always keep it on your head when you’re around a woman.”

“Heh heh, well, I’ll bear that in mind,” said Terry.

“Talk to you later,” said Hector. He picked up the shot glass in front of him, and drank down the brown liquid in it. Then he got up and walked, staggering just slightly, over to the poets’ table.

The ventriloquist Waldo McGee and his dummy Mickey Pumpernickel just that moment came in out of the cold rain, and made their way over to where Terry sat. Mickey pointed his little wooden hand at the seat Hector had just vacated.

“This seat taken, buddy?” said Mickey, Waldo’s lips hardly moving at all.

“Why, no, I believe it’s free,” said Terry.

Waldo climbed up on the stool and seated Mickey sideways on his lap, with Mickey looking up at Terry. Waldo wore a shabby old raincoat and rain hat, and even Mickey had on his own miniature raincoat and rain hat.

“You look like your goldfish just died, kid,” Mickey said to Terry. “Why the long puss?”

“Well,” said Terry, “to tell the truth I am a bit blue today. You see, my girlfriend just told me that, well, that she –”

“Hold on,” said Mickey. “Before you say another word, do my alcoholic friend Waldo a favor and buy him one of them glasses of the house bock. And while you’re at it, order me a shot of Cream of Kentucky. And then you can pour your little heart out to us.”

Terry got Bob’s attention and ordered the bock and the shot for Waldo and Mickey. What the heck, if a wooden dummy was the only one in here who would listen to him, then so be it. 



It was better than nothing. 


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

Thursday, June 9, 2022

“Works in Progress”


Araminta sat tapping away at her work in progress (latest title: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Decay). As usual she had simply picked up the story following the last words she had written, which in this case had been:

“Damn Kenny! Damn him and all he stood for! How dare he criticize her poetry when his own prose was so leaden and boring? And who cared about his wretched Bildungsroman, so obviously based on his own humdrum and unimaginative life? Arabella felt the need to stretch her wings. To fly. To soar! But to where?”

With that promising taking-off point, she had had no problem in filling a dozen or so pages in the space of a couple of hours.

She glanced at her desk clock. Four on the dot. Well, that was quite enough for one day’s work! She had read once in a New Yorker profile of one of her favorite novelists (Margaret St. John Maxwell, author of Sisters of Sappho, Cast Caution to the Wind, and The Girls Who Live Upstairs) that she always quit work when “she still had a little gas in the tank”, and ever since Araminta had followed this method, often ceasing her day’s labor in the middle of a sentence, or even a word.



The Philco played a Beethoven quartet, and outside Araminta’s window the rain fell. She wanted a cigarette, but she was out. Fortunately, she still had some muggles, and so she set to work rolling a reefer, which reminded her of Gerry’s Bull Durhams, which reminded her of Gerry.

Dear Gerry, it had been so kind of him to check in on her yesterday when she had been so monstrously hungover, to bring her doughnuts and hot cocoa. Such a kind man, and too bad he was in his late forties and plump.

Today she felt so much better. Amazing what a day in bed followed by a long good night’s sleep could do.

Someone knocked on her door, and then it was Terry’s voice.

“Hello? Araminta? It’s me, Terry.”

Oh, God. Terry.

“Araminta? Are you there?”

She sighed, but got up and walked to the door and opened it. Terry was standing there in his raincoat and holding his umbrella.

“Hi, there, I hadn’t heard from you so I thought maybe you would like to go down to Bob’s for a drink.”

“I am never touching alcohol again.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because the night before last I went out with Gerry Goldsmith and got horribly plastered and subsequently felt like warmed over death almost the entire next day.”

“Wait, you went out with Gerry Goldsmith? The Brain?”

“Don’t call him that.”

“What should I call him?”

“I call him Gerard.”

“So you went out with him?”

“Yes, I did. Can you blame me?”

“Why should I blame you?”

“Since you think my breasts are mismatched, what would you care?”

“I don’t think your breasts are mismatched.”

“The girl in your novel has mismatched breasts.”

“Oh. You read that part?”

“I did indeed, while you were at your creative-writing workshop.”

“Oh.” He knew he should have left that part out. “But that’s the girl in my novel,” he tried. “She’s not meant to be you.”

“Her name is Annabella and she wears black stockings and a black beret.”



“Oh, well, um –”

“My name is Araminta, and, as you can see, I am fond of wearing black stockings and a black beret.”

“Many girls wear black stockings and black berets.”

“What do you want, Terry?”

“I just wanted to see you.”

“So you can get more material for your stupid novel?”

“Do you really think it’s stupid?”

“No, stupid is perhaps too strong a word. Insipid. Derivative. Boring.”

“You told me you liked it.”

“I lied.”



“You’re very cruel.”

“You were cruel to put me in your boring novel, and you know what? I showed my breasts to Gerard and he said they were completely symmetrical.”

“You showed him your breasts?”

“Why not? You know I am a free spirit.”

“Yes, but still, there are limits, Araminta.”

“Oh, take your Irish Catholic limits and, and –” she remembered a phrase that one of her Vassar friends (Claire who was from Virginia) liked to say, ”stick them where the sun don’t shine!”

“But I love you.”

“You think you do, and for a very simple reason.”

“What is that?”

“I talked to you.”

This hit home. They both knew there was a lot of truth in what she said. Maybe not the complete truth, but a lot of it. Enough for the present moment, anyway.

“Can you forgive me?” said Terry.

“There is nothing to forgive. You cannot help being what you are.”

“And what is that?”

“A drip.”

“A drip?”

“Yes.”

“So does this mean you’re breaking up with me?”

“Define breaking up.”

“Well, does it mean that you no longer want to, uh, how shall I put it, uh –”

“If you mean do I never want to see you in your underwear again, yes, that it precisely what I mean.”

“Hey, wait a minute.”

“What?”

“You’re not actually seeing the Brain, are you?”

“Define seeing.”

“Are you, uh, you know, um –”

“Seeing him in his underwear?”

“Yes.”

“Good day, Terry.”

“So you don’t want to go for a drink?”

“I just told you I am never touching a drop of alcohol again!”

“How about a cup of coffee?”

“Terry, you’re being very tiresome, and I’m trying to write my novel.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Well, maybe I’ll stop by tomorrow, just to, you know, see how you’re doing.”

“Goodbye, Terry.”

She closed the door.

Terry went down the hall to the staircase, down the two flights to the foyer, and opened the door. The cold rain was clattering down, and the grey mountain ranges of snow seemed hardly to have melted at all since yesterday. He opened his umbrella.

He had never had a girlfriend before, and so a girl had never broken up with him before. It was sad, but on the other hand it occurred to him that he now had a good new plot point for his novel (latest title: Young Chap, Whither Goest Thou?). 



He opened his umbrella and stepped out into the lashing cold rain, and as he walked down Bleecker toward the corner of the Bowery, he composed in his brain:



“And so he opened his umbrella and stepped out into the cold lashing rain, out into the cold grey street with the cold rain lashing down on the grey mountain ranges of dirty snow. Alone. Alone again. Or had he ever not been alone?”


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

Thursday, June 2, 2022

“This Is Where We Came In”


After Addison had pressed the buzzer five more times, a crackling metallic voice came through the speaker:

“Who the hell is it?”

“It is I, Bubbles – he whom you know as Addison!”

“Madison?”

“No, Addison – you remember, from yesterday?”

“Who?”

“Sometimes you call me Amberson?”

“Oh, Amberson. You again. Scooter.”

“Yes, ha ha. Scooter if you will. May I come up?”

“You just drop by without calling first?”



“I thought I would surprise you!”

“I was taking a nap. Beat it, Scooter, and you can call me later.”

“Oh, please let me come up, Bubbles! It’s raining terribly out here.”

“So go up the corner to the San Remo and have a beer. Call me in an hour, no, two hours.”

“Please, Bubbles. I have five dollars!”

“What?”

“Five dollars. And seventy cents to be exact.”

“Five dollars and seventy cents.”

“Yes, precisely.”

Addison waited. The cold rain clattered down outside the entranceway, on the grey mountain ranges of snow piled up between the sidewalk and the street, on the grey human beings who passed by under their umbrellas. Then the door lock clicked, and quickly Addison grabbed the knob before Bubbles could change her mind.

She lived on the fourth floor, no elevator of course, and although Addison was the least athletic of men, it took him less than a minute before he was knocking on her door, and only two minutes later Bubbles opened it.

“You look like a drowned rat.”

“Yes, my umbrella has a few holes in it I’m afraid. I keep meaning to replace it, but it has a certain sentimental value for me, as my Aunt Enid bought it for me when I matriculated at Swarthmore.”

“Well, come in if you’re coming in.”

She wore her kimono, and even if she had just been awakened from her nap she looked lovely in the pale light of her little studio, with only her bedside lamp turned on.

Addison had only been here twice before, but already it seemed like home, more of a home than his own tiny flat. Bubbles closed the door, and he put his ancient umbrella in the cracked vase by the door. Before he even took his hat and coat off he brought out the five-dollar bill that Milford had given him for supposedly reading his bad poems.

“Look, Bubbles, I have five. Dollars.”

“Yeah, I see.”

“And so I wondered if perhaps, if you weren’t too busy, I might avail myself of a ‘BJ’.”

“Just like that.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“What am I, your dancing monkey?”



“No, of course not, but you see I just wanted to let you know that I, uh –”

“Diamond Jim here, with your lousy five bucks in your mitt. You know why I buzzed you in, Scooter?”

“Um, not because I said I had five dollars?”

“No, I let you in because you said you had five bucks, and so I could do this.”

She hauled off and slapped him, hard, and he staggered back a couple of steps.

“Ow,” he said.

“Count yourself lucky, Scooter.”

“Lucky?”

“Because I slapped you barehanded instead of whacking you with my sap like I should have done. I’ve had it up to here with chumps like you, thinking they can buy me whenever they want.”

“I’m so sorry, Bubbles.”

His face really hurt. He had actually never been slapped before, but there was a first time for everything.

“All right, now take a hike,” she said.

“Oh, but wait,” said Addison.

“Wait for what? You want me to get my sap out of my purse, because don’t think I won’t.”

“Would you like perhaps to go to a movie?”

“What?”

“A movie. I should be delighted to take you to a movie. And then afterwards perhaps we could get a bite somewhere, I mean, you know, someplace reasonable because I only have just the five-seventy, but –”

“You want to go see a movie?”

“There’s a new French film at the Waverly that has gotten some very interesting reviews.”

“You want to see a French movie?”

“Unless there’s something you would prefer?”

A pause fell here, the only sound being the rain rattling on the the glass of the flat’s one window. And then Bubbles spoke. 


“There’s a new movie around the corner at the Pantages, called The Night Before the Dawn, with Ruth Roman and Cornel Wilde, on a double bill with some movie with Marie Windsor and Steve Cochran called Gambling Boat Lady.”

“That sounds like a delightful double feature.”

“Did I hurt your face?”

“Not too much.”

“It would have hurt a lot more if I had used my sap.”

“I’m glad you didn’t use the sap,” said Addison.

“All right, let me get dressed.”

“Should we get a newspaper and check for the showtimes?”

“Who cares? We’ll watch the movies until we get to the part where we came in.”

“Splendid idea.”

And as it happened Addison didn’t get his BJ, but during the March of Time newsreel (about big-game hunting in the Amazon rain forest) Bubbles did give him a gentle massage through his trousers (the same trousers that comprised one half of the brown suit his Aunt Edith had bought him at Wanamaker’s for his graduation from Swarthmore), although not to the point of what he believed the French called la petite mort. He was not quite sure if he would have to pay for this massage, or if he should even ask. Just to be on the safe side (he could still feel the delicious burn of that slap!) he decided to wait and see if Bubbles brought the matter up…

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

Friday, May 27, 2022

“Darkness Be My Destiny”

 

Addison gazed around the automat, not too crowded at this grey time between the rush of lunch and the first stirrings of the dinner trade. Milford hadn’t been here when Addison arrived, and so unfortunately he’d had to buy a cup of coffee with one of his own nickels.

He sat at a small corner table where he could keep an eye on both the Bedford Street entrance and on the side door that opened onto the alley across from the Hotel St Crispian. The rain continued to lash down on the mountains of snow piled along the sidewalks and onto the huddled masses hurrying by, God only knew where they were hurrying to, or from, or why. This would have been a perfect time to smoke a leisurely Philip Morris Commander, but Addison was reluctant to dip into his remaining fund of only seventy cents to buy a pack from the machine, not when Milford might soon be here with quite possibly a full pack of Woodbines, and had not the fellow admitted that he had a trust fund of five hundred a month?

Now that Addison gave the matter a moment’s thought, it occurred to him that Milford was really being rather cheap inviting him to lunch at the automat, and after Addison had supposedly read his collection of bad poetry overnight, not that he’d actually read more than a dozen lines or so of the drivel, but still, it was the principle of the thing. Reading eighty or ninety single-spaced pages of poetry should rate more than just an automat lunch. Which was why he determined anew to try somehow to touch Milford for at least three dollars. With three dollars burning a hole in his pocket he could ring up Bubbles, and, if she was free, purchase another “Baltimore handshake”. For that matter, if he could get five from Milford he could get a “BJ” – he wasn’t entirely sure what a BJ was, but it must be something good if it cost two dollars more than the handshake. And if he flattered Milford sufficiently, perhaps the dullard would even let him have ten, so that Addison could finally get a “throw” from Bubbles, and wouldn’t that be something to write home about? Not that he could ever write home about such a thing.

Still no Milford. Addison had finished his cup, but you couldn’t get free refills here, so he waited.

It occurred to him that his chances of hitting up Milford successfully might be improved if he actually looked at a bit more of the chap’s alleged poetry, and so Addison reached into the inside pocket of his old Jacob Reed’s topcoat (bought for him by Aunt Edna upon his graduation from Episcopal lo those many years ago) and brought out that thick scroll of expensive-looking paper tied up absurdly with its red ribbon. He opened it up and, pushing his empty cup and its saucer aside, laid it on the table. The thing was to give the impression not only that he liked the poems, but that he had actually read them, and to do this successfully he might have to say something specific, so he thumbed about a third of the way through the pages and came onto the following:

 

Darkness Be My Destiny 
(for D.T., again)    

 

Darkness be my destiny,
death be my only goal.
Oblivion be my cup of tea
to soothe my wretched soul.

Why must she always torture me
with questions I cannot answer?
Why must she always pester me
with her words made out of cancer?

I wish she would just let me be,
alone in my lonely room,
but, oh, no, she cannot see
that I prefer my private gloom.

 

The poem went on, but he had read quite enough of that one. Who was “she” anyway? Who cared? This was pretty unbearable, but Milford still hadn’t shown up, so Addison flipped through a dozen more pages and stopped at:

No One Cares a Bit

(Also for D.T.)


No one cares a bit, not a tiny bit,
no one cares even a whit
that I have feelings too, you know,
very deep feelings, even if they don’t show,
but society doesn’t care, not in the least,
it only cares for Mammon, the great Beast
of the almighty sacred Dollar.
It makes me want to holler –
but who will hear? Who will heed?
Who will satisfy this burning need?
Is there no one to be a friend to me,
or, failing that, be not my enemy?

“Oh, I see you’re rereading my poems,” said a voice.

Addison looked up, and sure enough, it was Milford, dressed like some sort of stevedore in his peacoat and newsboy’s cap, and fastening up a black umbrella.

“Why, yes,” said Addison, “just looking over some of my favorites.”

“You actually have favorites?”

“Indeed I do. I especially like this one –” he glanced at the page. “’No One Cares a Bit’. Really, uh, striking.”

“Yes, I do think that’s one of my better ones. Listen, I’m starving, are you hungry?”

“Famished.”

“Then let’s get some nickels and get some food. Then we can discuss my poems at leisure.”

“Yes, splendid idea.”

Addison went for the macaroni and cheese, the baked beans on toast, the stringbean casserole au gratin, a hot cross bun with butter, and the pineapple upside down cake, while Milford chose the French onion soup, the Welsh rarebit, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, a side of creamed spinach, and the chocolate Jell-O cake. They both had coffee.

Milford ate steadfastly, without talking, which was fine by Addison, who hadn’t eaten in over twenty-four hours, and in less than five minutes their plates were empty, and Milford (yes!) took out his pack of Woodbines.

“Would you care for one?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Addison, and he began to lie and to invent and to create in earnest, Milford eating it all up as if it were chocolate Jell-O cake.

“That’s all I need to know,” said Milford at last. “To know that my words breathe – that they live, that they – how shall I put it – that they resonate.”

“Oh, they certainly resonate,” said Addison.

“You don’t know what this means to me, Addison.”

“Validation,” offered Addison.

“Yes, validation. I wish I could do something in return.”

“Oh, but you’ve bought me lunch, old man.”

“Yes, that’s true,” said Milford.

Now was the time if ever there was a time for Addison to broach the subject of a small loan, to be repaid just as soon as he got his next envelope from home. But something held him back. Pride? Did he still have pride? Yes, he supposed he did, and so alas his next meeting with Bubbles would have to be postponed. But then, after a pause during which the rain spattered against the plate glass of the automat’s windows and people’s voices murmured of whatever they were murmuring and plates clacked and clattered on table tops and trays, Milford spoke.

“I’ll tell you a secret, Addison. I told my mother I was taking a friend to lunch at the automat, and she was appalled, and gave me fifteen dollars so I could take you to the Prince Hal Room at the St Crispian, where we could get the sole meunière or the finnan haddie.”

“I do like finnan haddie,” said Addison.

“She told me to order us a bottle of Sancerre.”

“That would have been nice,” said Addison.

“Except you forget, we’re alcoholics.”

“Oh, right,” said Addison.

“I was going to just keep the money, but now I want you to have some of it, because you read my poems.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“You can take this girl of yours out somewhere.”

“Well, that would be nice.”

“I’ll give you five.”

“Gee,” said Addison.

“You don’t have to pay me back.”

“Thanks, Milford.”

“It’s my mother’s money. Thank her.”

“Will you thank her for me?”

“I most certainly will not. Would you like another cup of coffee? Another Woodbine perhaps. You don’t have to go anywhere right away, do you?”

“No, not right away,” said Addison. “I have time for another cup of coffee.”

Another cup of coffee, and then nowhere in the world he wanted  to go except to Bubbles’s little flat down the block from the San Remo, and with five dollars in his pocket. And, whatever a BJ was, he would find out soon enough…





 

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

Thursday, May 19, 2022

“Mrs. Milford and Son”



“Who was that on the telephone, dear?


“No one.”

“It was obviously not no one.”

“Can’t I get a telephone call?”

“Of course you can. But.”

“But what, Mother?”

“But for the life of me I can’t remember you ever getting a telephone call before.”

“I’ve gotten telephone calls.”

“Oh, have you, then it must have been when I was out of the house.”

“Yes, it probably was.”

“So who were you speaking with?”

“A friend. Okay?”

“Don’t use that vulgar word. Say all right instead.”

“It was a friend, all right?”

“That’s much better. And this ‘friend’, does he have a name?’

“Of course he does.”

“And may I ask what it is.”

“Addison.”

“Addison what?”

“I don’t know! Why are you grilling me? What is this, a Gestapo interrogation? Where are the rubber hoses? Where are the telephone books?”

“I’m delighted to hear you have a friend. What does he do? If anything.”

“He is – a novelist.”

“A novelist? How charmingly bohemian. Where did you meet him?”

“At a meeting.”

“Oh.”

“Where else would I meet someone?”

“Another drunkard.”

“We don’t say drunkard, Mother, we say alcoholic.”

“Another hopeless sot. Just like your father.”

“Excuse me, Mother. I must dress.”
 
“Oh dear me, and it’s only quarter to two. Are you sure you don’t need more rest, dear?”

“I am quite well rested, thank you very much.”

“Where are you going?”

“Who said I’m going anywhere?”

“You’re getting dressed, aren’t you? If you were not going somewhere you would stay in your pajamas all the livelong day and night, wouldn’t you?”

“I’m going to lunch if you must know.”

“With this, what, Atcheson?”
 
“Addison, and, yes, I am having lunch with Addison.”

“Where are you lunching.”

“At the automat on Bedford, over by the St Crispian.”

“Don’t go there. You shouldn’t eat that food. And besides, what will your friend Harrison think?”

“I think he will be perfectly delighted to lunch at the automat, especially since I shall be paying for it.”

“Don’t be such a tightwad, Marion. Take him someplace nice. Even the dining room at the St Crispian would be better than the automat.”

“You’ve eaten at that automat. I know you have because I’ve eaten there with you.”

“I have eaten a restorative slice of orange layer cake at the automat, yes, after a grueling day of taking you shopping, because I simply couldn’t stand the further ordeal of speaking to a waiter or waitress, but that’s different. If you’re giving a friend lunch, you do not take him to the automat.”

“Oh, God!”

“Here, take this ten-dollar bill, and take this fellow Murchison to the Prince Hal Room at the St Crispian. Order the sole meunière, or the finnan haddie. Be a man, for once in your wretched life!”

“Oh, all right!”

“You may keep the change, and don’t forget, a fifteen percent tip, no more, no less.”

“Thank you.”

“Here, better take another five, because you really should order a nice bottle of wine for your friend.”

“Mother, we are both alcoholics!”

“A half-bottle each of a nice Sancerre is not going to kill you, Marion.”

“I’ll take the extra five, but only so we can have a nice dessert.”

“The Baked Alaska is very good there.”

“Fine, I’ll order the Baked Alaska.”

At last Milford escaped his mother and went up to his room. What should he wear? The Hemingwayesque ribbed turtleneck again? Yes, damn it, and the newsboy’s cap as well, along with the sturdy workman’s dungarees, and his Abercrombie Wellingtons on account of the rain and snow. And the peacoat. She would no doubt have words to say about his attire, why didn’t he wear his nice grey suit. Well, too bad for her! He was a poet, damn it, and a poet should dress the part.

He looked at his face in the pier glass. He had not shaved since yesterday morning. Should he? No! Let her say what she would, the harridan. He was the man of the house, even if she did hold the purse strings.

However, just to be on the safe side, and to avoid trouble, when he got downstairs he hurried right through the hall to the foyer, without even saying goodbye to her. He was sorry, but she forced him to be rude!

He had gone halfway down the block before he realized he’d forgotten his umbrella, and so he turned and retraced his steps through the cold slashing rain and the mountains of grey snow. It was all Mother’s fault!




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

Thursday, May 12, 2022

“Alleyways of Despair”


 
Addison took that first sip of Ma’s lovely chicory coffee (light, two sugars), and, with a sigh, and wishing he had a cigarette, he unknotted the bow of the red ribbon around Milford’s sheaf of alleged poetry.

The paper looked expensive, thick, and slightly nubbly – a far cry from the cheap typing stock Addison used for his own epic novel.

At the top left of the first sheet was typed a phone number (a SPring-7 exchange) and an address, 175 Bleecker Street. Under that, and centered, was:
Alleyways of Despair

poems by Marion J. Milford
 

Marion? No wonder Milford went by Milford.  

Addison took another sip of coffee and went to the next page, where he read:

Alleyways of Despair

(for D.T.)
 

Cry, I cry, down tumbling dark streets,
sob, I sob, down avenues of doom,
scream, I scream, into my sweatèd sheets
mourn, I mourn, in my lonely wretched room.

Who will care when I die, I cry,
who will sigh when I dare to bare
the soul I share in church basements
with other bores who silently stare
into the empty Dixie cups of their lives
and await their turn to get up
and vomit their own self-pity
in their turn?

No one, that’s who, no one,
not a one, not a single one…

Addison put the sheet down. That was quite enough of that! However, he had spent all but his last eighty-five cents at Bob’s last night, and there had been no envelope from home in the morning’s post, so he got off his stool, and, taking the cover sheet with the phone number, he went back to the payphone on the rear wall, dropped in a dime, and dialed the number.

“Milford residence.”

“Oh, hello, I wonder if Milford is in?”

“Who?”

Addison glanced at the sheet.

“I mean, uh, Marion?”

“Young Mr. Milford?”

“Yes, I suppose so. Marion J. Milford?”

“Oh. One moment please. I’ll see if he’s available.”

Addison waited, for one minute, then another, staring out the rain-streaked plate-glass window at the rain falling on the piles of snow and on the cars and trucks passing by, and on the sad people shuffling along the sidewalk. Finally a whining voice spoke:



“Yes, this is Marion J. Milford.”

“Hi, Milford, it’s Addison.”

“Who?”

“Addison. From the meeting, at Old St. Pat’s? Smiling Jack’s friend?”

“Oh. You.”

“Of course Addison is not precisely my real name, but it’s the one everyone calls me, ha ha. You see, I got the sobriquet because one of the wags at my local said I was always trying to act like the character Addison DeWitt in the film All About Eve –”

“I never saw that movie.”

“Oh. Well, anyway, Milford – or should I call you Marion?”

“Just Milford will do.”

“Okay, then –”

“I detest the name Marion.”

“Well, all right then, so Milford it is!”

“Thank you.”

“Anyway, Milford, I read your collection of poems –”

“You hated them, didn’t you?”

“Not at all, old man –”

“You didn’t?”

“No, far from it. And anyway, you said yesterday that you might like to have lunch so that I could share my thoughts on your, uh, poetic efforts –”

“You want to have lunch?”

“Well, you know, just so we can, uh, talk –”

“Did you really like the poems?”

“Yes, they were, uh –”

“I was still in bed. I’m still in my pajamas.”

“At one-thirty in the afternoon? And I thought I was a late riser!”

“What’s the point of getting out of bed?”

“Well, that’s a very good question, Milford, and perhaps we could discuss it over a bite to eat.”

“I suppose you want me to buy you lunch.”

“Well, you did mention that you would treat me to lunch, and in point of fact I am a bit short today –”

“Okay, fair is fair. I’ll give you lunch.”

“That’s swell, Milford.”

“What’s it doing outside? Is it snowing again?”

“It’s raining actually.”

“Of course it’s raining. And all I want to do is lie in bed with the curtains drawn.”

“Well, if you would prefer to meet some other time –”

“No, I really want to hear your thoughts on my poems.”

“Yes, well, uh –”

“Look, I’ll meet you at the automat across from the Hotel St Crispian, on Bedford.”

“I shall leave posthaste.”

“Give me a half hour. I still need to get dressed.”

“A half hour it is, and I look forward –”

The phone on the other end clicked and the dial tone came on.

What a rude fellow, but still, a free lunch was a free lunch. And, maybe, just maybe he could touch Milford for a small loan. Three dollars perhaps, which would be good for another Baltimore handshake from Bubbles. Who knew, maybe Milford would even spring for a ten, which would pay for a throw at Bubbles’s going rate. A throw! It would be Addison’s first ever, not only with Bubbles, but in his life. And all he had to do was tell Milford what Milford wanted to hear. Addison could do that. Was he not a novelist, a creator? Was he not a spinner of tales and fabulations, of epics?

He went back to the counter, swallowed the cold coffee in his cup, and politely asked Ma for a refill.

Should he read some more of Milford’s poetry?

God no, life was too short…



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

Thursday, May 5, 2022

“What Price Pie?”


The sweet potato pie with its generous dollop of fresh whipped cream was long gone (and indeed it was all Addison could do to have refrained from licking the plate), and the third cup of chicory coffee had now been finished. It was time to go, because Smiling Jack and this fellow Milford were boring him to distraction, and all Addison wanted was a basement-brewed bock from Bob’s, as soon as possible.

“Well, gentlemen,” he said, “I have enjoyed this collation and its attendant conversation more than I could possibly begin to adumbrate, but, alas, I must go, and thanks again, Jack, for the treat.”

“Oh, please don’t go yet, Addison,” said Smiling Jack, smiling, but with sad eyes.

“Yeah, what’s the big rush,” said Milford. “Are we boring you?”

Milford stared belligerently through his thick glasses under that absurd newsboy’s cap of his.

“Not at all,” said Addison. “I find your tales of drunken degradation absolutely enthralling, dear Milford. By the way, before I go, I wonder if I might have just one more of those Woodbines of yours.”

“You know, there is a cigarette machine right over there in the corner,” said Milford.

“Ah, yes, so there is, but, you see, I’m trying to cut down on the old gaspers –” here he put his fist to his mouth and simulated a cough, “and if I buy a pack, I know I’ll probably just smoke them all up tonight, ha ha.”

“I think you’re just too cheap to buy your own cigarettes.”

“Hey, now, Milford,” said Smiling Jack, “that’s not nice. Addison is an artist, you see – a writer – and he cannot be expected to buy his own cigarettes.”

“I’m a writer, and I buy my own cigarettes.”

“Yes,” said Smiling Jack, “but didn’t you tell me that you get five hundred dollars monthly from your family trust?”

“That’s not the point! Just because I have a modest income, that doesn’t mean I’m obliged to be a free cigarette dispensary for this guy.”

“Do you really get five hundred a month?” said Addison. “Gee.”

“See?” said Milford. “No offense, Smiling Jack, but I wish you hadn’t mentioned my trust fund, in fact I wish I had never told you about it in the first place.”

“But honesty is important, Milford,” said Smiling Jack, barely smiling. “If we are to conquer our disease we must be scrupulously honest.”

“I agree,” said Addison.

“Oh, okay, here,” said Milford, and he tossed the opened pack of Woodbines to Addison’s side of the table. “Take the whole packet, and welcome to it.”

Addison nudged the open end of the pack with his finger.

“There’s only two cigarettes in here.”

“I’m sorry there’s not more of them for you to bum,” said Milford.

“As am I, heh heh,” said Addison, and he took one out of the pack. ”How about a light?”

“Here, take the matches, too,” said Milford, and he flicked the matchbook across the table. White Horse Tavern matches.

“Thanks, pal,” said Addison, and he lighted himself up. “And now, gentlemen, I must hie me hence.”

“Just what’s your big hurry, anyway,” said Milford. “I mean if we’re not boring you.”

“No hurry, but, ah, you see, I must work.”

“Work?”

“Yes, I must do my daily quota.”

“I guess you mean this novel you’re writing.”

“Yes,” said Addison. “Sixguns to El Paso.”

“I’d like to write a novel someday.”

“Well, again, good night, chaps,” said Addison.

“I write poems,” said Milford.

“Good for you, old man.”

“I wonder if you would look at them.”

“I should be glad to.”

“When?”

“Oh, at your earliest convenience.”

“What about now?”

“Now?”

“I have a sheaf of my newer poems on me.”

“Oh,” said Addison.

Milford reached inside his peacoat and brought out a rolled up scroll of what looked like fine vellum, tied up with a red ribbon. He tossed the sheaf onto the table in front of Addison.

“Please be honest,” he said.

Addison touched the thick scroll.

“Yes, of course,” he said.

“Do you want to read them now?” said Milford.

“Well, normally I would say yes, of course,” said Addison, “but, you see, I really must keep to my writing schedule.”

“Oh, okay.”

“I must keep and maintain that daily creative rhythm, you see.”

“Yeah, sure. Maybe you can read them later tonight.”

“I will definitely try to.”

“What’s so hard? Just open them up and read them. It’s only eighty-seven pages. I’m not talking about reading the Odyssey and the Iliad here.”

“Ha ha, yes, well –”

And gathering up the Woodbine pack, the White Horse Tavern matches, and the scroll of Milford’s poetry, Addison slid himself out of the booth.

Smiling Jack had apparently fallen asleep, but now his smiling face popped upward.

“Hey, where you going, buddy?”

“He has to work on his novel,” said Milford.

“Oh, his novel –” said Smiling Jack.

“He has to maintain his daily creative rhythm.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” said Smiling Jack.

“So, thanks again, Jack, for the pie and coffee,” said Addison.

“Don’t forget the Woodbines, too,” said Milford. “You bummed a total of eight of them, by my count.”

“Yes, thank you, Milford,” said Addison.

“Call me tomorrow,” said Milford.

“Tomorrow? Why?”

“So we can get together and you can tell me what you think of my poems.”

“Oh, right,” said Addison.

“My number is on the first page. Call any time.”

“What if you’re out?”

“We have a maid who always answers the phone, and she’ll take a message if I’m out.”

“You have a maid.”

“She’s not my maid. She’s my parents’ maid.”

“You live at home?”

“What is this, an inquisition? Just call me. I’ll take you to lunch.”

“You will?”

“Yes. But only if you read my poems.”

“Splendid,” said Addison, with some measure of honesty, as there were few things in life he loved more than a free lunch, even if it were one given by a crashing and obnoxious bore like Milford. “Till tomorrow then.”

“Old St. Pat’s basement, five-thirty tomorrow,” said Smiling Jack.

“What?” said Addison. 

“Next meeting,” said Smiling Jack. “I hope to see you there.”

“Oh, yes, well, maybe,” said Addison.

“Lunch tomorrow,” said Milford. “We can meet here if you like. Or maybe the automat across the alley from the Hotel St Crispian. Do you mind automats?”

“I adore automats.”

“Swell. I used to like to lunch at the White Horse Tavern, but I can’t go in there anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I go there I’ll wind up getting drunk.”

“So?”

“Damn it, man, I’m trying to stay sober! Can’t you understand that?”

“Sorry.”

“So maybe we’ll meet at the automat. Because they don’t serve alcohol there.”

“Yes, more’s the pity.”

“I hope you’re joking.”

“Oh, yes, of course, ha ha.”

“I like their pea soup there. And the corned beef special. The pies aren’t bad either.”

“Sounds delightful.”

“It’s all right.”

“Yes, well, that sounds good, Milford.”

“Call me.”

“Sure thing.”

“Leave a message if I’m out.”

“Will do.”

“And think about that meeting tomorrow at Old St. Pat’s,” said Smiling Jack. “Five-thirty!”

Finally Addison got away, and out the door. The snow had stopped, night had fallen, and the streetlights had come on. He crossed Bleecker Street, but instead of turning left past the cobbler shop and towards the entrance to his building, he looked back across the street and through the frosted and fogged window of Ma’s Diner. Neither Smiling Jack or Milford were looking out the window, and so Addison hurried quickly up the Bowery, to Bob’s Bowery Bar, and to that first glorious bock of the evening…




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