Thursday, December 1, 2022

“The Guano and Feed King of Indiana”

 

“Is that you, Marion?”

“No, Mother,” said Milford, removing his peacoat, “it is a burglar.”

“Ha ha, very funny. Take your shoes off, I don’t want you tracking wet all over the house.”

Obediently Milford hung up his newsboy’s cap, then sat in the foyer chair, took off his wet work shoes, and pulled on his slippers. Then he stood up.

“Good night, Mother,” he called.

“Come in here first.”

“I want to go to bed.”

“Indulge your mother and come in here.”

Milford sighed, and turned left down the hall to the sitting room where his mother sat in her chair, Daniel Deronda in her lap.

“How was your lunch with your friend?”

“My what?”

“Your lunch with your friend.”

“Oh, that, yes, it was quite nice, thank you.”

“It must have been quite a long lunch as it is now –” she glanced at the grandfather clock – ”nigh on eleven o’clock.”

“I – I – yes, um, I –” 



Should he lie? Would a lie be any better than the truth? How could one know?

“If you must know I was at the Prince Hal Room,” he said, the truth just welling up out of him for some strange reason or complex of reasons.

“Oh,” said Mrs. Milford, “so you did take your friend to lunch at the Prince Hal Room. I rather expected you to be a cheapskate and take that twenty I gave you and parsimoniously give your friend lunch at the automat, keeping the difference for yourself.”

This of course was exactly what Milford had done, but why tell the harridan?

“Yes,” he said, “so anyway, we, uh –”

“So you lingered at the Prince Hal.”

“Yes, one might say that.”

“You don’t seem drunk.”

“I am not drunk.”

“Join me in a glass of sherry.”

“Mother! How many times must I tell you, I am an alcoholic and I cannot have even one drink. Are you really trying to drive me by main force back to the sanatorium?”

“It’s only sherry, for goodness’ sake, Marion.”

“Even sherry!”

“So you mean to tell me you spent all afternoon and evening in the Prince Hal Room and had not even one drink.”

Milford sighed.

“You sighed,” said Mrs. Milford. “So you did drink.”

“I had one Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale. There, are you happy?”

“Only one? How does one spend some eight or nine hours in a cocktail lounge and have only one highball?”

“One does it when some oaf buys one a highball, and one drinks it before one realizes that aforementioned oaf has bought it for one.”

“Was the oaf your friend that you treated to lunch?”

“No, it was just some guy at the bar.”

“What was his name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do.”

“Okay, it was Brown. His name was Brown, but he called himself Farmer Brown.”

“Fiftyish, heavyset, never shuts up?”

“Oh dear God, you know this man?”

“Occasionally after a rigorous day’s shopping I have had a restorative martini at the bar in the Prince Hal Room. A cocktail bar is a public setting, and people do start talking to me, I don’t know why.”

“I can’t believe you know this man.”

“Farmer Brown has been haunting the Prince Hal and the lobby of the St Crispian for over twenty years. He’s not hard to miss, dear boy.”

“My mind is reeling.”

“You’ll get over it.”

“That you actually know the man.”

“I know many men.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means exactly what it seems to mean.”

“Dear God, do you have some sort of secret life, Mother?”

“Nothing secret about it. But how odd.”

“What’s odd? That you consort with barflies?”

“Farmer Brown is no common barfly. I’m told his family owns the largest guano and feed concern in Indiana.”

“Guano? Feed?”

“Next time you see the Farmer tell him hello for me.”

“I most certainly will not.”

“Have a sherry. I want to hear about your evening with the Farmer.”

“I’ll not have a sherry, and there is nothing to tell about my evening with the Farmer, except that he bored me silly.”

“He does go on. But he means well.”

“The man is mentally retarded.”

“What else did you do?”

“Who says I did anything else?”

“You did something else. A mother can tell.”

“I – I –”

“Oh.”

“Oh what?” said Milford.

“Did you meet someone else?”

Again Milford sighed. Why try to hide anything from her?

“Okay, I met someone else,” he said.

“Who?”

“Someone.”

“An attractive someone?”

“If you must know, yes. Extremely attractive.”

“I must ask, so please don’t become exercised with indignation. Was this person a man?”

“What?”

“This attractive person you met, it was a man?”

“What?”

“I’ll find out anyway, you know.”

“No, Mother, it was not a man, it was a – a –”

“A girl?”

“Yes! It was a girl! Okay? I met a girl! And you know what else? We’re having lunch tomorrow!”

“You’re having lunch with a girl?”

“Yes, as fantastic as that possibility may seem to you, I am having lunch with a girl!”

“Sit down. Pour yourself a sherry and tell me all about it.”

“No, I’m tired, and I want to go to bed.”

“How can you be tired after sleeping till one and then spending the rest of your day in the Prince Hal Room? Not exactly a grueling shift at a steel mill, is it?”

“Good night, Mother.”

“What is that in your hand.”

“What, this?” Milford held up the rolled-up sheaf of paper, tied with a red ribbon, which he had been holding all this time.

“I see nothing else in your hand.”

“It is a collection of my poems.”

“May I read them?”

“Most certainly not.”

“Did you show them to your friend? What was his name, Hatcherson?”

“Addison. And, yes, he did read my poems.”

“Did he like them?”

“Yes.”

“He said he liked them?”

“I said yes, didn’t I?”

“Have you shown them to your new girl friend?”

“Mother, I can stand no more of this inquisition! Good night!”

“Don’t show her the poems, Marion. Don’t scare her off first thing.”

“Oh my God!”

And Milford turned and left the drawing room.

Mrs. Milford reached for the sherry decanter and refilled her glass. And all this time she had been sure the boy was homosexual. Will wonders never cease. Was a grandchild out of the question? Was her only child perhaps not the last of the family line after all? Well, one step at a time. She would prize more out of the lad on the morrow…

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

Thursday, November 24, 2022

“Anti-Aircraft”


At the entrance to the Prince Hal Room Milford said, “Wait, Miss De LaSalle –”

“Shirley.”

“Shirley, I think I had better go home.”

“Yeah? You don’t want to hear me sing again?”

“Oh, I do, very much, but, you see, I’m afraid that if I go in there I will drink, and if I drink I’ll get drunk, and if I get drunk it’s quite possible that I will black out and completely forget about our lunch date tomorrow.”

“Okay. Well, I’ll see ya tomorrow then, Milfie.”

“Yes, at noon?”

“Let’s make it more like one-ish.”

“At the automat.”

“At the automat,” she said.

“I shall be there early,” he said.

“Okay, pal, see ya then –”

She turned to go through the entrance.

“Oh, wait!” said Milford.

She turned.

“Yeah?”

“I’ll go in with you.”

“I thought you were going home.”

“Yes, but I left my umbrella at the bar.”

“Oh, okay, well, come on then.”

They went on into the Prince Hal Room, thick with smoke, the band crashing through “Take the A Train” while the Betty Baxter Dancers danced.

Milford had the strange sensation that he was floating rather than walking as he and Shirley made their way down through the lounge past all these people laughing and drinking and talking while the music crashed on. And how holy was it that he was walking beside her, she whom he had not even touched yet, how sacred was it all?

Suddenly they had reached the end of the bar, and there was his friend Addison (his only friend) sitting at the bar, and standing next to him that oaf called Farmer Brown.

“Ah!” bellowed Farmer Brown, “the young lovers!”

“Hiya, Farmer,” said Shirley.

“And did you have a good time together, Miss Shirley, smoking the wacky weed?”

“I’ve had worse,” said Shirley.

“Did I ever tell you about the time my friend Miss Charlton and her friend Lord Wolverington took me to an opium den in Chinatown?”

“No, Farmer,” said Shirley, “and I really want to hear the whole sordid story, but I gotta go backstage and peel off my wrap and get ready to go on again, so I’ll take a rain check.”

“Of course, my dear! And, in the parlance of you showbiz folk, ‘break a gam!’”

“Thanks, buddy.” She nodded at Addison. “See ya too, Amberson.”

Addison had been in the middle of swallowing a gulp of his Cream of Kentucky highball, but he forced it down, and blurted out, “Yes! I quite look forward to your next selection of chansons –”

Lastly Shirley turned to Milford.

“Later, alligator.”

“Yes, um,” burbled Milford, “later, tomorrow, uh, the automat –”

And then she turned and headed off, through the clamor of the music and the laughing and shouting people and through the smoke of dozens of cigarettes and cigars; and the three idiots, one young, one less young, one older, watched her go until she disappeared through the doorway to the left of the stage.

“Gee,” said Farmer Brown, turning back to face Milford. “What a gal. Sit down, Gifford, and tell me, what’s all this about the automat?”

“We have a date at the automat for lunch tomorrow,” said Milford.

“What?” said Farmer Brown. “What automat?”

“The one right across the alleyway from the hotel.”

“You have a luncheon date with Shirley De LaSalle?”

“Yes.”

“I say, well done, Milford!” said Addison, and he patted the young fellow’s shoulder, realizing as he did so that that he couldn’t remember ever patting anyone on the shoulder in his life before, but then how many new and wonderful things had been happening in his life lately? He also realized that he was finally past the halfway point of having his load on, so that was good, mission accomplished so far…

“Sit down, Milton,” said the Farmer to Milford, “and let’s have another libation and get to the bottom of this –”

“No,” said Milford, “I can’t sit down because I am going home now. I just came back to get my umbrella.”

“Nonsense, my boy,” said the Farmer. “The night is still young, and pregnant with promise. A moderate-to-strong Cream of Kentucky-with-White Rock ginger ale is what you need, and then I want to get the inside ‘gen’ on this supposed luncheon tryst at the automat with the divine Miss De LaSalle –”

“Mr. Brown,” said Milford, “as I have told you a dozen times, perhaps two dozen times, I am an alcoholic, and I cannot have even one drink –”

“You’ve already had one drink.”

“That was a mistake. I didn’t realize there was whiskey in it until it was too late.”

“Might as well have another one then.”

“No! This is precisely why I must go. If I stay here you’ll keep trying to get me to drink, and I don’t want to drink.”

“There’s no need to attack me, lad. I was only trying to be friendly.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but, look, I’m just going to get my umbrella and go. Where did I put it?”

The Farmer lifted a black umbrella from off a hook under the bar.

“I believe this is it?”

“Yes, thank you,” said Milford.

“You’re welcome,” said Farmer Brown. “And, my dear Grimford, I hope there are no hard feelings.”

“No hard feelings, but my name is Milford, not Grimford, or Mumford, or Gifford, or Rutherford – it’s Milford.”

“Milford?” said Farmer Brown.

“Yes. Milford.”

“Are you sure that’s what you told me before?”

“Why would I tell you anything different?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps you wished to remain incognito?”

“Okay, look, whatever, goodnight, and thanks for the, for the –”

“For the conversation and companionship?”

“Yeah, thanks for that, but I’ve got to go now.”

“I really wish you would stay and tell me about this Shirley business.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I have to go.”

“And I am sorry to see you go,” said the Farmer. “It is not often that I have the opportunity to engage with creative young people. And you know what my motto is, don’t you?”

“Listen to the young people?”

“Yes, how did you know that?”

“Because you told me so, at least twice, and now you’re telling me again.”

“And I will keep telling you, and the world, Melvin, ‘Listen to the young people! Because maybe, just maybe, they’ve got something to say!’

“Yeah, okay,” said Milford. He turned to Addison. “Good night, Addison. Thank you again for reading my poems.”

“Je vous en prie, mon ami,”
said Addison, not that he had read more than a score of lines of said poems.

“Well, it means a lot to me,” said Milford. “Good night. Maybe I’ll see you in the rooms.”

“The rooms?”

“The meetings.”

“The meetings?”

“The AA meetings. If you ever go again.”

“Oh, right, the meetings, well, you know,” said Addison, glancing with a fleeting grin at the highball in his hand, “perhaps I’ll drop in –”

“Or we could have lunch. Or coffee.”

“Lunch would be nice.”

“Not tomorrow though,” said Milford.

“Oh, right, because, uh –”

“Because Gimford has a luncheon date at the automat with the fair Shirley!” said the Farmer.

“Yeah,” said Milford. “Okay. Good night.”

And off the young poet went, in his peacoat and his newsboy’s cap, his furled umbrella in his hand.

“Crazy kid,” said Farmer Brown. “A bit eccentric. Slightly lacking in basic social skills perhaps, and the kind of feller about whom we used to say back in Indiana, ain’t quite sure whether he’s a donkey or an ass, but you can be durned sure he’s one or the other. Anyway, I like the lad, call me an old softy if you like, I won’t dispute it with you, that’s always been my number one fault, a soft heart, and I’ll take it proudly to the grave. But, Hamilton, now that we’re à deux again, tell me more about these ‘meetings’ you and Rudyard go to.”

“Meetings?”

“Yes, the AA meetings.”

“Ah,” said Addison, “the AA meetings –”

“Yes,” said Farmer Brown, “these Anti-Aircraft meetings…”

At this completely asinine and yet hilariously surrealistic utterance Addison felt his glorious mind swirling amidst the music of the band and the kicking and the twirling of the Betty Baxter Dancers, the laughter and shouting of all the other drunkards in here, the heady smoke of cigarettes and cigars, the rising surging tide of his own drunkenness (and, yes, he really must not get too smashed, even if Farmer Brown was buying) and a warm sense of love for all humanity.

“Ah, yes,” he said, to the Farmer’s open glowing face and bleary innocent eyes, “the Anti-Aircraft meetings…”   




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

Thursday, November 17, 2022

"Life's Feast"


Farmer Brown leaned closer to Addison.

“Love is what it’s all about, my lad.”

“Oh, I quite agree,” said Addison.

“You do?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

“And, if it is not too personal, may I ask if you yourself have known the glories of love?”

“Believe it or not, Mr. Brown, yes, I have, and do.”

“Ah ha! Spoken like a chap in love! I should have known by the glow emanating from your corporeal host, sir!”

“Well, that glow could be the result of Cream of Kentucky bourbon, Mr. Brown –”

“No, I speak of a spiritual glow, sir. And tell me, dear Thatcherson, what is the name of your objet d’amour?”

“Bubbles.”

“Bubbles! A delightful name. Tell me about her.”

“Well, she’s a – uh – an entertainer,” said Addison, prevaricating if not outright lying.

“Oh, splendid,” said Farmer Brown. “Nothing like a showbiz gal, is there?”

“I suppose not,” said Addison, adding, silently, “not that I would know.”

“And may I ask – and again, if it’s not getting too personal – have you made sweet love with Bubbles?”

“What?”

“Sweet, savage, sweaty love?”

“Mr. Brown!”

“Oh. I have gone too far.”

“Perhaps just a bit,” said Addison.

“I hope you will forgive me.”

“Of course,” said Addison. After all, Farmer Brown was buying, and Addison didn’t really have but half his load on yet.

“Here, let me order you another drink,” said Farmer Brown.

“Only if you insist,” said Addison.

“Raoul!” shouted the Farmer to the barman, who was way down at the other end of the bar. “Two more over here if you please!” He then shoved his silver monogrammed cigarette case toward Addison, and clicked it open. “Another Old Gold?”

“Thank you,” said Addison, although he was already smoking a cigarette, but he took one anyway, and placed it in an indentation of the ashtray he shared with Farmer Brown, a sturdy glass ashtray emblazoned in gold and red with the legend At the St Crispian Hotel our Service is Swell.

“I am aware that sometimes in the throes of quite innocent enthusiasm I overstep the bounds of civilized discourse,” said Farmer Brown. “But, you see, Thatcherson, I think it terribly important that a young man such as yourself should taste in full of the pleasures not just of the soul but of the flesh. Unless of course you are a religious fellow. You’re not by chance a Roman Catholic, are you?”

“No.”

“Thank God – I mean, nothing against any religion, even the Papist, but can any red-blooded man really be expected to refrain from the concupiscent pleasures until marriage?”

“I don’t see why he should,” said Addison.

“A kindred spirit!” said the Farmer. “Because why would the good Lord above give us the beauty of womanhood were it not to be enjoyed in full?”

“My sentiments exactly,” said Addison.

“And so you have,” said the Farmer.

“I have?”

“Enjoyed the physical pleasures of woman, qua woman.”

“Well – yes,” said Addison.

“Here, let me light that Old Gold for you,” said the Farmer, picking up his monogrammed lighter which perfectly matched his cigarette case.

“Thank you, Mr. Brown, but, as you see, I haven’t quite finished this one,” said Addison, showing the Farmer his lighted cigarette.

“Oh, yes, of course, one at a time, heh heh.”

“Yes,” said Addison.

“Ah! Our drinks!” said the Farmer, and the impassive Raoul placed the fresh Creams of Kentucky-and-ginger ales before the middle-aged and the younger man, and took away their depleted glasses.

“To l’amour!” said the Farmer, raising his glass.

“Yes, to l’amour,” said Addison, raising his own glass. Sure, the man was a crashing bore, but he was buying the drinks, and dispensing the cigarettes, and, one never knew, perhaps out of this insanity would come material for one’s novel?

“I have a confession to make, Thatcherman.”

“Pardon?” said Addison.

“A confession.”

“Oh.”

“Stop me if you don’t want to hear it. I do tend to reveal perhaps too much.”

“Oh, no –”

“I myself have never known the pleasures of the female corpus.”

“Pardon me?”

“I have never, as the bawdy Bard put it, made the beast with two backs.”

“You mean –”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

“Do you think I have missed out?”

“Well, Mr. Brown –”

“Please, Plankington, call me Farmer. As I have said, all my friends call me Farmer, and I would like to think that we have become friends.”

“Okay – ‘Farmer’ –”

“And so?”

“So?”

“Have I?”

“I’m sorry, Farmer, what was the question?”

“Have I missed out in never once in my life having committed what the aforementioned Bard termed the act of darkness?”



“I, uh, well,” said Addison, who was so rarely at a loss for words, but now nearly was, “um, that is not for me to say, Mr. Br-, I mean Farmer –”

“Yes, but I am asking you to say. Because you, sir, are an artist.”

“I am?”

“Didn’t you say you were a novelist?”

“Oh, right, yes, I suppose I am.”

“So that’s why I’m asking you. Because you are not just some average clod. You are a creative writer, sir, whose remit it is to delve deep into the mysteries of the human soul.”

“Okay, I suppose that’s true.”

“So have I missed out?”

Addison considered. What about himself? He also had never actually made the beast with two backs, done the act of darkness. But he had indisputably gotten a couple of Baltimore handshakes from Bubbles. It was true he had had to pay for them, but nonetheless, he had gotten them, and they must count for something. And, back in his wartime days at the parachute factory, what about that enormous drunken sergeant who had so brutally rubbed his private parts against Addison’s rear in that barroom men’s room? Did that count? But Farmer Brown was not asking about Addison, he was asking about himself.

“Yes, uh, Farmer,” said Addison, “I think that perhaps you have missed out. But –”

“Yes,” said Farmer Brown, “but?”

“But perhaps by missing out you have gained something else.”

“And what would that be, Harrison?”

“Perhaps you have missed out on being disappointed.”

For once Farmer Brown said nothing.

The music of the band had been playing all along, and as if on cue both Addison and Farmer Brown turned and gazed at the Betty Baxter Dancers, kicking their legs so high and twirling and leaping in unison.

After a moment Farmer Brown turned again to Addison.

“All my life I have been, in the words of the noted Irish author James Joyce, outcast from life’s feast. But I have gathered a few crumbs in my time. Yes, Thackerman, I have gathered my precious crumbs.”

The Betty Baxter dancers kicked and swirled, and across the room the love of Farmer Brown’s life, Miss Charlton, sat drinking champagne and smoking with her fattish old male companion, the both of them laughing, probably about the notorious misadventures of their younger days.

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

Thursday, November 10, 2022

“A Terrible Beauty”


Shirley exhaled, slowly, through her luscious red lips, and the smoke rose up into the harsh light of the naked electric bulb above them.

“Well, that hit the spot,” she said. “You want another hit before we go back in, Milfie?”

Milfie! She called him Milfie. Nobody had ever called him Milfie before.

“Milfie?” she said again.

“Yes, Miss De LaSalle?”

Shirley, Milfie, for the umpteenth time.”

“Shirley, yes, Shirley!”

“I said you want another hit?”

“A hit?”

“Of the muggles, daddy-o. You want another toke?”

“Toke?”

“Okay, wow, you are really high, my man.” She took another but smaller drag from the ever-diminishing reefer, and exhaled again. “Tell me something, Milfie – oh, do you mind me calling you Milfie?”

“Not at all Miss De-, I mean, Shirley, no, not at all, in fact I am honored by your calling me a, a, what is the word, a sobriquet?”

“Nickname, Milfie, it’s called a nickname.”

“I am honored that you have bestowed a nickname on me!”

“Okay, then, Milfie, so, as I was saying, is this the first time you’ve smoked the crazy weed?”

“You mean marijuana?”

“Yeah.”

“Yes! It is my first time! And to think of all the hours I wasted drinking alcoholic beverages, when instead I could have been smoking crazy weed!”

“Yeah, it’s better,” said Shirley, and she held what was left of the reefer out to him. “Here, finish it off, buddy.”

Obediently Milford took the reefer, and sucked deeply on it.

This, this was ecstasy.

Who would have thought that ecstasy would be found finally here, in the service entrance of this old hotel, with the cold rain spattering down on the cobblestones, and with those ghostly human beings behind the clouded plate glass of the automat across the alleyway, drinking their coffee, eating their apple pie, smoking their cigarettes.

Milford exhaled.

“Now,” he said, “now at last I understand.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Shirley.

“All those years, all those hours and minutes – wasted!”

“No kidding?’

“No kidding! I only drank because I wanted to be like Dylan Thomas. But I was kidding myself. Now I realize.”

“Realize what, Milfie?”

“I realize, I realize – I’m not quite sure what I realize, but now, if I may borrow a phrase from Yeats, I am changed, changed utterly.”

“Just from smoking that reefer?”

“Well, partially I suppose,” said Milford, and he took another drag from what little was left of the reefer. He exhaled, and then said, “But mostly it is because of you, Miss De La-, I mean Shirley.”

“Little old me?” said Shirley.

“Yes,” said Milford. “I have seen a terrible beauty born, and that beauty is you.”

“Wow, that’s quite a compliment.”

“Will you have lunch with me tomorrow?”

“Lunch?”

“Yes, or coffee, or dinner –”

“I gotta sing tomorrow night, and I never eat dinner before I sing.”

“Lunch then!”

“Tell ya what, Milfie. I usually get up around noon, then I head over to the automat here and have a little breakfast, so if you want I’ll meet you there tomorrow.”

“Oh, thank you!”

“Hey, you haven’t seen me when I’ve just woken up, so don’t thank me yet, pal.”

“I will meet you there at noon!”

“Make it more like half-noon, quarter of one.”

“I shall be there at quarter past noon, just to make sure we get a good table!”

“Swell, I like a window table looking out on Bedford Street. I like to watch the passing parade of humanity.”

“Me too!” said Milford, even though it had never occurred to him to watch the passing parade of humanity, but he was sure he could change.

“Just sit there and eat my corn muffin, drink my coffee, smoke a gasper, watch the people go by.”

“Yes, it’s wonderful,” said Milford.

“Maybe have some of that warm huckleberry pie they got there, and the dames behind the windows even give me a scoop of vanilla ice cream on it when I ask them.”

“They do?”

“Yeah, it’s like the brotherhood of dames,” said Shirley. “They know I’m just a working gal like them, and God knows I might be working behind those windows myself someday.”

“Never!” said Milford.

“Oh, yeah? You think I’m that good a singer, Milfie?”

“Yes, you are! And anyway, I would see to it that you would never have to work at the automat!”

“Oh, you would, huh? Would you support me, Daddy Warbucks?”

“Of course I would, Miss De LaS-, I mean, Shirley, but of course I would! I have an income of five hundred a month, and if my mother ever dies I’ll have much more than that!”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yes!” said Milford.

The stub of reefer had gone out in Milford’s fingers. Shirley opened her sparkly purse, took out a Bayer aspirin tin, clicked it open, and Milford saw that instead of aspirin it contained a half-dozen butts of reefers. Shirley took the reefer stub from Milford’s fingers and dropped it into the tin, clicked it shut, dropped the tin into her purse, and then clicked the purse shut.

“Okay, pal,” said Shirley, “I gotta go on again soon, so let’s head back in.”

“And we really can have lunch tomorrow?”

“Sure,” said Shirley.

What the hell, lunch with this madman wasn’t gonna kill her, and he was kind of amusing in his way. And he had five yards a month income. So at least she probably wouldn’t have to pick up the tab like with all the musicians and actors and out-of-work hoofers and two-bit grifters and chancers and cross-eyed ham-and-eggers she usually went out with…

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

Thursday, November 3, 2022

“Who Cares About the Atomic Bomb?”


Farmer Brown turned again to Milford.

“Do me a favor, Crawford, will you promise me one thing?”

“What?” said Milford.

“Don’t blow it. Don’t do as I did with Miss Charlton, and succumb to shyness and cowardice. If Shirley indicates even the slightest interest, and I think she already has, seize your chance, my boy, boldly!”

“Well, maybe –”

“No maybes! Gals like quiet guys, but they also like a take-charge guy!”

“Well, okay,” said Milford.


Seven minutes later Milford and Shirley stood in the shelter of the service entrance of the hotel, in the harsh grainy light of a wire-encased electric light bulb. The rain had started up again, and across the alleyway forlorn people were visible through the fogged plate-glass windows of the automat, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, eating pie and split-pea soup.

“This,” said Milford, “this is beauty!”

“What,” said Shirley, “this alleyway?”

“Yes,” said Milford. “Look at the way the light plays on the wet cobblestones! Look at those people in the automat over there! Do they even know that they are in an Edward Hopper painting?”

“Somehow I doubt it, my man,” said Shirley.

“And you, Miss De LaSalle,” said Milford, “if I may say so, the harsh light of this filthy light bulb on the white skin of your face! You are more beautiful even than any of the greatest portraits of the Quattrocento!”

“I’m gonna take that as a compliment, daddy-o.”

“Oh, it is, Miss De LaSalle!”

“Call me Shirley. And by the way, you’re bogarting that joint, my friend.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The reefer, man. Let me have a toke, pal.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon, Miss De LaSalle!”

“Shirley.”

“Shirley!”

Milford was still hanging onto the reefer, so Shirley picked it out of his fingers. Poor fella, but there was something lovable about his idiocy. And how rich was he, anyway?

“Would you like to hear one of my poems, Shirley?”

“What, right now?”

“Yes!”

“Sure, buddy.”

Milford drew the rolled-up sheaf of poems from inside his peacoat.

“What sort of poem would you like to hear?”

“A love poem,” said Shirley.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” said Milford, “but I don’t have any love poems…”

“Okay, then, your choice, Milford.”

The sheaf of expensive-looking paper was tied up with a red ribbon, which with furrowed brow Milford untied. He stuck the ribbon in the pocket of his peacoat and flipped though the pages.

“Let me see, I have lots of poems about existential despair –”

“Whatever, man,” said Shirley. “I can take it.”

“How about a social protest poem?”

“Let it rip, my dude.”

“Okay, this is a good one, I think. I call it, ‘My Friend, the Bomb’.”

“Sounds good.”

“I hope it’s good,” said Milford. He cleared his throat and began to read:
Who cares about the atomic bomb
as long as you have a nice green lawn?
Who cares about universal destruction
as long as you have your television?
Who cares about the plight of the Negroes
as long as you have your morning Cheerios?
Who gives a damn about the slums
or the Bowery bums
or the unpublished troubadour
whom you revile as a bore?
Who cares?
Not you, Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia –
not you, I’m telling ya!



Milford looked up from his poem.

“What do you think?”

“Pretty good, Milford,” said Shirley. She took a deep drag on the reefer, then exhaled slowly. “But I think I prefer love poems.”

“I will write you a love poem!” said Milford.

“No kidding?”

“Yes! The only reason I’ve never written one is that I’ve never been in love before.”

“Before?”

“Yes, before now!”

“Hold on, Charlie. We just met!”

“I don’t care,” said Milford. “I think you’re magnificent.”

“Take another toke of this reefer.”

“Oh, yes, wait –”

Clumsily Milford rolled up his poems again and shoved them back into his inside peacoat pocket, and then he took the reefer.

“You’re a funny guy,” said Shirley.

Milford drew deeply on the reefer, staring at Shirley’s angelic face in the grimy light of the electric bulb, with the cold rain falling behind her, and the fogged windows of the automat across the cobbled alleyway, the people in the automat smoking their cigarettes and drinking their coffee, eating their slices of pie and their ham-and-cheese sandwiches on rye…

Milford exhaled the smoke.

“I have just realized that all the poems I have written are as nothing,” he said. “When I get home tonight I will write my first good poem, and it will be about you, Miss De LaSalle.”

“Shirley.”

“It will be about you, Shirley.”

“That’s nice,” said Shirley. “Now pass that number one more time.”

Milford passed her the reefer. Already he was composing his new poem in his head. His first love poem. His first real poem…

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

Thursday, October 27, 2022

"The Quiet Ones"


“And so you see,” said Milford, suddenly aware that he was sweating profusely, “what I am attempting to do in my poetry is to take the sense of song, of an earthly and yet ethereal rhythm – such as we find in the work of Dylan Thomas, or, perhaps, in an earlier day, Gerard Manley Hopkins – and yet to infuse it with the intelligence and social consciousness of men such as Auden, but – and this is a big but – with a uniquely American perspective –”

“Uh-huh,” said Shirley. “Me, I’m more into writing song lyrics myself, words that go with music, y’know?”

“You write songs?”

“Yeah, what do ya think half the stuff I’ve been singing tonight has been, daddy-o? That wasn’t all Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers!”

“Well, I did suspect that I hadn’t heard some of the songs before –”

“Yeah, me and Tony, that’s our piano player and combo leader, we like to make up songs together, and we discovered that after about nine o’clock the punters are mostly too drunk to know what they’re listening to, so we stick some of our own material in there. One of these days Tony says he’s gonna take the best numbers uptown to the publishers and see if we can’t get a deal.”

“Gee, that would be swell, Miss De LaSalle.”

“Call me Shirley, Rimford.”

“Well, it’s Milford, actually.”

“Milford, okay, I’ll remember that. So – Milford – do you make any money from your poems?”

“Oh, God no. I’ve never even had any of them published yet.”

“So, like, what do you do to fill your rice bowl?”

“My rice bowl?”

“Yeah, I guess what I’m getting at is do you have a job.”

“Oh, a job. No. Not exactly.”

“So, like, how do you pay your rent and eat?”

“Well, I live at home actually.”

“Oh,” said Shirley. “Around here?”

“Yes, not too far. 175 Bleecker Street. Between Sullivan and MacDougal.”

“Nice. Right near the San Remo, one of my stomping grounds. This an apartment?”

“Well, it’s a house, actually.”

“A whole house?”

“Well, yes. You see my great-grandfather built it, in 1859 I believe.”

“No kidding. And who else lives there?”

“Well, it’s just my mother and I. We have a maid who has a room in the attic. Or at least I assume she does, I’ve never seen it.”

“So – and please don’t be offended, Milford – but, are you, like, loaded?”

“Define loaded.”

“Are you rich.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m rich per se.

“But you don’t have to work.”

“My poetry is my work.”

“But you don’t have to work to earn your living?”

“Well, no, I suppose not.”

“So, let me ask you a question, Milford, if it’s not too personal.”

“Anything, Miss De LaSalle.”

“Shirley.”

“Anything, Shirley.”

“How come you dress like a dockworker? Or maybe a deckhand on one of those tugboats on the river?”

“You mean my peacoat?”

“Your peacoat. The wooly sweater. The Dead End Kids cap. The dungarees and work shoes.”

“This is my uniform.”

“Your uniform.”

“Yes, my uniform as a poet. But a poet of the people.”

“Okay, I can see that. It’s like you’ve got to dress the part.”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Just like me with the dresses I wear on stage.”

“Precisely.”

“So, if you don’t have to work, what do you do all day when you’re not writing poems?”

“Well, that’s all I do, really. I mean, I read, and I go to meetings –”

“What kind of meetings?”

“Alcoholics Anonymous, I’m afraid.”

“You mean you’re an alcy?”

“Yes. I can’t have even a single drink without getting horribly drunk.”

“Yeah? What’s that you’re drinking there then?”

Suddenly Milford realized with horror that the glass of ginger ale he had just nearly finished had been mixed with whiskey – he could feel the alcohol coursing through his entire being, and not just his physical being but also its emotional, mental and spiritual components.

“Oh, dear God,” he said. “What have I done?”

“Well, you heard Mr. Brown order you a Cream of Kentucky and ginger, right?”

“Yes, I did, Miss De LaSalle –”

“Shirley.”

“Yes, I did, Shirley, but, you see, I was distracted!”

“By what?”

Milford flushed deeply, the sweat now pouring profusely down his face and into the rolled collar of his hearty Breton fisherman’s sweater.

“I was distracted by you, Miss De LaSalle,” he said, and he cast his eyes downward to his glass. He might as well go ahead and finish it now, and he raised the glass and did so. “Okay, I should leave now.”

“What’s the rush?” said Shirley. “Don’t you want to hear my next set?”

“Yes, I do, Miss De LaSalle –”

“Shirley.”

“Yes, I do. Shirley, more than anything I want to hear you sing again, but, you see, I’ve just sent more than six months of sobriety down the drain, or rather, down my wretched gullet, and I’m afraid if I stay here I will only get disgracefully plastered, and wake up in an alleyway, suffused with misery both physical and moral. No, I’d better go.”

“Well, suit yourself, sailor,” said Shirley, “but, hey, why not just, you know, show a little self-control and try not to get plastered?”

“But you don’t understand, Miss De LaSalle, we have a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, ‘people, places, and things,’ and that means we must avoid people and places and things that will tempt us to drink. So I shouldn’t even be in a bar.”

“This isn’t a bar, it’s a hotel cocktail lounge.”

“Yes, but still –”

“You need to get a grip on yourself, Milford. You think I don’t feel like getting bombed every night? Singing for these clowns who don’t even listen? But I don’t get bombed. At least not every night I don’t. One champagne cocktail in between sets, that’s my limit. Maybe a couple after the show when me and the boys are winding down and Tony and I are working out a new number or two at the piano. The lush ain’t really my bag, on account of I got to watch my looks and my weight, you dig?”

“Yes, of course. You know, if you like, maybe you could come to a meeting with me sometime –”

“I’ve got a better idea. You smoke?”

“Of course, like a chimney,” said Milford, gesturing to his nearly empty pack of Woodbines.

“No, I mean tea, man – gage, muggles.”

“Muggles?”

“Reefer.”

“You mean marijuana?”

“You got it, daddy-o. Wait here while I get my wrap, and we’ll step out into the alleyway and fire one up. So much better than liquor, man!”

“But –”

“No buts. I got two words for you about tea, daddy: no hangover.”

“No hangover?”

“Nope. Wake up fresh as a daisy and ready to run a country mile. Wait here, I’ll be right back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

And Shirley picked up her sparkly purse and descended gracefully from her bar stool.

Milford turned and watched her go, gliding away as if on air back toward the area to the left of the stage, on which that strange little man with the puppet on his lap was still performing to the guffawing people at the tables and the bar.

Milford knew he should leave. He should never have come into this place. He should go home and recite the Serenity Prayer over and over until he fell asleep. But he stayed where he was. What could he do? He was in love.

That idiot Brown had been talking to Addison, but now he turned and noticed that the seat Shirley had been sitting in was empty.

“Say, where did Shirley go, Gifford?”

“She went to get her wrap,” said Milford. “We’re going out to the alley to smoke marijuana.”

A broad smile spread across Farmer Brown’s red face, and he clapped Milford on the shoulder.

“Well done, my boy! Well done!” He turned to Addison. “Did you hear that, Hutcherson? Gilbey is going out to the alley to smoke marijuana with Shirley!”

“Good for you, Milford,” said Addison, leaning forward over the bar to address him.

“It’s the quiet ones,” said the Farmer. “The quiet ones the girls like…”

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

Thursday, October 20, 2022

"Listen to the Young People"


“Riding around in our Pierce-Arrow Model 33 convertibles and our Willys Whippets, our Hispano-Suiza Torpedoes and Durant Speedsters and our sturdy Stutz Bearcats, in our raccoon coats with a flask of bathtub gin in one pocket and a slim Morocco-bound volume of The Waste Land in the other, roaring off into the still-virgin New Jersey countryside to arrive roaring drunk at halftime at the Princeton-Harvard game! Why, I’ve still got my old Bearcat in the basement garage of the hotel here, although I haven’t driven it in nigh on twenty years, ever since my motorist’s license got irrevocably revoked after a certain regrettable accident, but nobody got killed from it, I’m happy to say. You ever want to take a spin in the old heap, you just let me know, Harrington. The garage man keeps her all tuned up and Turtle-waxed and spit-shined, and every month or so he’ll take her out for a tour around town, just to make sure the motor’s purring good and steady. Heck, maybe I’ll even come out for a spin with you, if’n you don’t mind taking an old codger along. Tell the truth, I don’t think I’ve been more than four blocks from this hotel since the war. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve stepped outside the hotel at all since last September I think it was. I took a little stroll one evening. Just to make sure the world was still out there. And it was.”

“So you live here in the hotel?” said Addison.

“Yes, sir,” said Farmer Brown, “a permanent resident you might say. And what more could a confirmed bachelor of a certain age ask for, I ask you? Yes, this old hotel is my kingdom as it were. Oh, and what do we have here? The lovely Miss De LaSalle!”

Being a gentleman of the old school, Mr. Brown hefted his bulk off his bar stool.

“Hiya, Farmer,” said Shirley. “How’s it hanging, big fella?”

“Splendidly, Miss Shirley, splendidly! Won’t you take my seat? Got it all warmed up for you!”

“Don’t mind if I do, Farmer,” said Shirley, and she slipped her lissome self onto the vacated stool and laid her silvery spangled purse on the bar top.

“Shirley,” said the Farmer, “have you met my two young friends? This is Harrison. Harrison, the lovely Shirley De LaSalle, chanteuse extraordinaire.”

“Well, it’s Addison, actually,” said Addison.

“Isn’t that what I said?” said Farmer Brown.

“Well, no, I think you said Harrison, but, you know, it doesn’t really matter, because Addison is just a sort of nickname I’ve acquired, because supposedly I behave like the George Sanders character ‘Addison DeWitt’ in the movie All About Eve –”

“So what do I call you?” said Shirley. “Addison, or Harrison, or George Sanders?”

“Ha ha,” said Addison, “well, I suppose you may as well call me Addison, since –”

“What’s in a name, anyhow?” said the Farmer. “Am I right? Are we not all mere insignificant specks floating in the great vastness of the universe?”

“Um,” said Addison.

“Your usual, Miss De LaSalle?” said Raoul the barman.

“Yeah, thanks, Raoul. I need a little rocket fuel to get me through my next set.”

“That will be on my tab,” said Farmer Brown, “thank you, Raoul, and another round for myself and my two young friends as well. Hey, Gifford, why not break down and have a little Cream of Kentucky with your ginger ale this time?”

“Mr. Brown,” said Milford, “for the tenth time, my name is Milford, not Gifford, or Mumford, or Rutherford, it’s Milford, okay?”

“Are you sure you didn’t tell me it was Renfield?”

“Jesus Christ!” said Milford.

Raoul was still standing there, so the Farmer said, “Go ahead and make that round happen, please, Raoul, and, remember –” he elaborately blinked one eye behind his thick round glasses –”a nod’s every bit as good as a wink to a blind mule, as we used to say back in Kansas.”

“Oh, my God,” said Milford. He felt his whole world crashing around his head. All he wanted was to talk to Shirley De LaSalle, and here was this idiot dominating the conversation. Why, dear God, why was life so hard?

“How you doing?” Shirley said to him.

She spoke to him!

“I, um, uh,” said Milford. “I’m, uh, I’m, uh –”

“You seem a little nervous,” said Shirley. 



“Oh, no, not at all!” said Milford.

“He’s not nervous,” said Farmer Brown. “He’s sensitive is all. A poet. And a darned good one, too! Have you met Rimford, Shirley?”

“Yeah, we had a brief chat before my last set,” said Shirley. “You enjoying the show, Rimford?”

“Um, yes, very much so,” said Milford. “Very much!”

“Cool,” said Shirley. “I aim to please.”

“Oh,” said Milford, “I assure you, Miss De LaSalle, I was very pleased with your singing!”

“Hey, I try,” said Shirley, taking a pack of Lucky Strikes out of her purse.

Addison, Farmer Brown, and even Milford all simultaneously tried to offer Shirley a light for her cigarette, but the Farmer won out, with his monogrammed silver-plated Ronson.

“Thanks, Farmer,” said Shirley.

“My pleasure, dear Shirley,” said the Farmer.

Poor Milford was left there holding the match he had already torn from his paper matchbook. He actually had a nice Ronson lighter of his own that his mother had bought him for his last birthday, but he felt paper matches fitted his image more correctly as a poet and bohemian. But really, what did it matter? Paper matches, a nice lighter, it just didn’t matter in the end, and he dropped the unstruck match into his ashtray.

“So what kind of poems do you write, anyway, Rimford?” said Shirley, after exhaling that first great delicious lungful of Lucky Strike smoke.

“Who, me?” said Milford.

“Yeah, like what’s your poetic bag, daddy-o?”

The Farmer had been standing between Shirley and Milford, but now he stepped behind her and leaned toward Addison.

“Y’know, Hatcheson,” he said, in his version of a stage whisper, a low holler for anyone else, “I do believe Miss Shirley is actually showing some mild interest in young Melville.”

“So it might seem,” said Addison.

“There’s no telling with women, my boy,” said the Farmer. ”No telling at all! Let’s just hope young Sheffield doesn’t blow it, because, well, just between you and me and the four walls here, the lad doesn’t exactly bring a case of Dom Perignon to the party, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Addison. “He is a bit socially awkward –”

“Ah, but here’s the drinks! Thank you, noble Raoul!” said the Farmer, as Raoul laid down a Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale for Addison, another for Farmer Brown, a champagne cocktail for Shirley, and a Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale for Milford, whose lips had not touched alcohol in six months and twenty-three days.

“Let us drink, my friends,” said Mr. Brown, raising his glass, “to this merry convocation of the old and decrepit and of the young and vital, because as I always say, and I wish more of my generation would say it as well: ‘Listen to the young people!’ Yes, listen to the young people, because maybe, just maybe, mind you, they’ve got something to say!”

No one was listening to Farmer Brown, but they all raised their glasses and drank.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2022

“A Handsome Woman”


“Another thing Tommy Eliot told me, ‘Farmer,’ he said to me – ‘cause he called me Farmer, just like I asked him to, just like I called him Tommy, just two straight shootin’ midwestern lads in the big city – ‘Farmer,’ he says, ‘the plain and honest truth is that the vast majority of humanity are dullards, and the one thousandth of one percent of humanity who are not dullards are as annoying as all hell.’ I thought that rather a harsh assessment myself.”

“That’s because you are a dullard yourself,” said Milford.

“Yes, it’s true,” said Farmer Brown, apparently unfazed. “But, you see, Milberg, I have accepted my humble lot in life, and, in truth, I love humanity.” He turned to Addison. “What think you, Rafelson?”

“I’m sorry, what?” said Addison.

“Would you agree with T.S. Eliot (or Tommy as I called him) that the preponderance of humanity are dullards, and that the remaining percentage who are not dullards are annoying?”

“An intriguing question,” said Addison, “and, speaking as one who has been accused, alternately, of being boring and annoying my entire life, yes, I would be inclined to agree with Mr. Eliot. However –”

And here Addison paused, as he so rarely did while discoursing.

“Yes?” prompted Farmer Brown.

“However,” said Addison, “the exception to this rule is a beautiful woman with whom one is in love.”

“Ah, a very good point, sir,” said Farmer Brown. “And, yes, I know it may be hard to believe to look at me now, but even I was once in love!”

“Only once?” said Addison.

“Yes,” said the Farmer, “only the once, but how intensely that once! The object of my amour was a certain Miss Charlton, whom I met in this very bar some quarter of a century ago. She was young and beautiful – and rich, which didn’t hurt, I’ll tell you. Alas, I never told her of my infatuation.”

“Too bad,” said Addison.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Farmer Brown. “You see, by never pursuing my infatuation, even had I been successful, I never had to face the inevitable deterioration of my adoration, and of its object. There she is, by the way, sitting at that table over there right now.”

The Farmer pointed with his soft pudgy finger, and Addison looked and saw, halfway across the room, a thin, drawn, bejeweled and quite drunk-looking old woman sitting with a fattish and also quite drunk-looking old man at a table with a bottle of champagne in a silvery ice bucket. Even through the thick and barely stirring clouds of tobacco smoke in this place Addison could see that the faces of both creatures were so thickly powdered and painted that they looked like life-sized Punch and Judy puppets, and barely more animated.

“That’s her?” said Addison.

“Yes, it is she,” said Farmer Brown.

Addison was almost about to mutter “Good God” but he caught himself.

“A not entirely unhandsome woman still at the age of fifty, isn’t she?” said Farmer Brown.

“Yes,” said Addison, looking away from the wasted crone and her bloated companion. “A handsome woman indeed.”

Milford had been listening to none of this. He was thinking only of Shirley De LaSalle, the young and beautiful chanteuse Shirley De LaSalle. Who now emerged from a door off to the left of the stage, and who was now walking toward the bar, toward Milford, and, oh, would she talk to him? 


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

Thursday, October 6, 2022

“The Heckler”


It was that feeling you got onstage when it was all just flowing, from you to the punters down there and back to you again, and you weren’t really thinking about the next gag or the one before it or all the other gags on all the other nights over all the years that were just like one long night that never ended.

“Hey, McGee,” said Mickey Pumpernickel.

“Yeah, Mickey?” said Waldo McGee.

They were in that flow, in that groove, and Waldo had no idea what this crazy little dummy was going to say, and Waldo didn’t care.

“I got another question for ya, McGee.”

“Shoot, my friend.”

“You ever wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and just stare up at the ceiling and feel like you’re just floating in outer space?”

“Yeah, I done that, Mickey,” said Waldo, “plenty of times. Almost every damn night in fact.”

“Hey, watch the language,” yelled up some fat guy at a table down front. “Ladies present.”

“I don’t see no ladies at your table, pal,” said Mickey.

The fat guy had a fat woman at his table, and she laughed.

“Hey, wait just a goddam minute,” said the fat guy.

“You watch your goddam language, fatso,” said Mickey. “Because there might not be a lady at your table, but there must be a couple of ladies in this joint somewheres.”

The fat broad laughed at this one too, but the fat guy stood up.

“Why you little wooden punk,” he said.

“Yeah, I might be made out of wood,” said Mickey, “but at least I ain’t a big fat ignorant slob like some people I can mention.”

“Okay, pal, that’s it,” said the fat man, but the fat woman grabbed his arm.

“Henry, sit the hell down,” she said.

“I’m not gonna have that little dummy insult me.”

“He’s a wooden dummy. What are you gonna do, beat up a dummy?”

“Yeah, pick on someone your own size, fats,” said Mickey.

“Maybe I’ll just beat up the ventriloquist then,” said the fat man.

“Hey, buddy,” said Waldo, “don’t take it out on me. I didn’t say nothing.”

“But you’re the goddam ventriloquist,” said the fat man. “You’re the one’s doing all the talking.”

“Hey,” said Mickey, “leave McGee out of it. This is between you and me, chubby.”

“All right, then,” said the fat man. “How about I come up and wring your wooden little neck?”

“Henry,” said the fat lady, “you’re embarrassing me and yourself, now sit the goddam hell back down.”

“I’m gonna kill that little dummy.”

“How you gonna kill a wooden dummy?”

Suddenly Mr. Bernstein was standing there.

“Sir,” he said, “I’m going to ask you to sit down and please be quiet.”

“But that dummy was insulting me.”

“Sir, he’s a wooden dummy. He’s not insulting anyone.”

“He called me a fat slob.”

“A fat ignorant slob,” said the fat lady, and she laughed.

“Yeah, he called me a fat ignorant slob,” said the fat man.

“Sit the hell down, buddy,” said a guy at the next table. “We’re trying to enjoy the goddam show.”

“Fuck you, pal,” said the fat man.

And just like that a drunken scuffle ensued, like a thousand drunken scuffles Waldo and Mickey had seen over the years in a thousand joints, all of them different but all of them alike, with guys swinging and missing and falling down and knocking chairs over and innocent bystanders trying to get out of the way, but the staff of the Hotel St Crispian was well-trained, and before you knew it Raoul the bartender and Rex the waiter were frog-marching the fat guy out of the Prince Hal Room, and the fat woman followed them. She was still laughing.


Mr. Bernstein looked up at Waldo and Mickey and made a circular motion with his finger.

“So, where were we, Mickey?” said Waldo into the mike.

“Yeah,” said Mickey, “before we was so rudely interrupted. Oh, I remember, we were talking about waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night…”

For some reason this got a big laugh from the crowd. 

Mickey looked out at them all, looking up at him through the tobacco smoke.

“And I’m sure this crowd knows what we’re talking about,” he said.

And the punters laughed again, even louder.

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

Friday, September 30, 2022

“Nothing in This Whole Wide World”


Waldo McGee stood with his wooden dummy Mickey Pumpernickel under his arm outside the “green room” (which doubled as a storage room), and he smoked one last Old Gold while he waited for Shirley and Tony and the band to finish their set.

“Listen, Mickey,” said Waldo, “There’s something I been wanting to say to you.”

“Spill,” said Mickey, or rather he communicated telepathically, on account of people looked at Waldo and Mickey funny when they had private conversations out loud.

“It’s this, pal,” said Waldo. “When I croak, I want you to find a new partner.”

“What do you mean, when you croak?” said Mickey.

Even though they weren’t talking out loud, Waldo’s lips moved ever so slightly when Mickey spoke telepathically, just like they did onstage in their act.

“I mean I ain’t gonna live forever,” said Waldo.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” said Mickey. “What’s with this morbid shit when we’re like two minutes away from going on?”

“Look, I’m sorry, Mickey, but it’s been like welling up in me. It’s like I got gas from eating beans on toast and I just gotta let it out, ya know?”

“I know I’m trying to get in the right frame of mind to entertain these punters out there who are paying good money to have a good time, and I don’t need you to be bringing me down, daddy-o! Now zip it.”

“How many years we been together, Mickey? Thirty?”

“Thirty-two.”

“Thirty-two years, and I ain’t getting no younger. You, you don’t age, but me, every day I get older, every day I feel more like shit, every day I get closer to that hole in the ground –”

“Oh, Jesus Christ, Waldo, tell it to the marines, will ya?”

“All’s I’m saying is I don’t want you sitting on a shelf somewheres. I want you to find a new partner, some good younger guy, to like keep the act going.”

“Don’t you worry about me, buddy. Worry about yourself. Maybe cut back on the booze and the smokes a little, you ever think about that?”

“Sure I think about it.”

“Maybe take a little exercise now and then.”

“I exercise.”

“You exercise your right arm lifting a glass to your mug.”

“That ain’t nice, Mickey.”

“I am only speaking the truth, Waldo. You try taking care of yourself you got a good twenty years left.”

“No way I got twenty years.”

“Fifteen then. Ten. Just watch the booze. And the smokes. Take a walk now and then.”

“I walk.”

“Yeah, you walk from the bar to the jakes to strangle the worm, and then back to the bar again.”

“That still counts as exercise.”

“Yeah, right, it is to laugh.”

“Just promise me.”

“What?”

“That you will find a new partner when I croak.”

“Awright, awright, if it will shut you up, yes, I will find a new partner when you croak, all right?”

“Some fresh young kid.”

“Sure.”

“You can teach him everything.”

“Okay.”

“Everything we learned these thirty-two years.”



“Okay, sure.”

“Working all them dives. All them nights. All our jokes and bits.”

“Okay, Waldo.”

“But, look, you gotta tell him to work out his own material, too.”

“Sure.”

“That is very important. That he finds his own, like, voice.”

“Okay, Waldo.”

“Promise me.”

“I promise, Waldo.”


Shirley was singing another one of her and Tony’s original numbers. The audience didn’t seem to mind, drunk and getting drunker as they always were, and Shirley and Tony and the boys would slip into one of the old warhorses every now and then just to keep the marks on their toes – “Starlight” or “Body and Soul” or “You Go to My Head” – but right now they were laying down one of their new compositions…
When I walk down this lonely street
every fella that I meet
says, "Hey, baby, trick or treat?"
but they don’t seem so reet to me
in fact they seem pretty beat to me,
so, "Scram, Sam," I says,
"and tell your story walkin’
because this jive that you’re talkin’
don’t mean nothing to me…"
She nodded over to Waldo and Mickey through the smoke. That meant she was getting ready to wind the number up.

Waldo took one last drag on the Old Gold, then stubbed it out in the sand in the standing ashtray there.

“You ready, Mickey?” he said.

“Ready as I’ll ever be, partner.”

“All right then,” said Waldo.

“Let’s kill ‘em,” said Mickey.

“Don’t mean nothing in this whole wide world to me,” sang Shirley. 

Tony tinkled out a final arpeggio and Zeke the drummer tickled the snare with the brushes. Some of the people clapped, and a couple of the drunker ones hooted approvingly.

“Thank you, ladies and gents,” said Shirley into the mike, “thank you very much. Tony and the boys and I are gonna take a little break to wet our whistles, but we’ll be back for two more sets! And now let’s hear it for Waldo McGee and Mickey Pumpernickel!”

Waldo grabbed the wooden chair at the side of the stage and carried it and Mickey up the two steps.


“Knock ‘em dead, Waldo,” said Shirley.

“Sure, doll,” said Waldo, and he set the chair down with Mickey on it while he lowered the mike stand. Then he picked Mickey up again and sat himself down in the chair, with Mickey on his lap. He looked out at the crowd.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” said Waldo into the mike, “and I use those terms of address in their loosest possible sense.”

This got a ripple of laughter, just like it usually did. It was one of Mickey’s lines, something he came up with at a Kiwanis gig in Sheboygan before the war, and for some reason it never grew old.

“My name is Waldo McGee,” said Waldo, “and this little guy here is my friend Mickey Pumpernickel.”

“And he uses the term friend in its loosest possible sense,” said Mickey, and this got an even bigger laugh…

I got this, thought Mickey. Even if McGee don’t got it, I got it, and as long as he don’t keel over dead in the middle of a joke I’m gonna keep on getting it. 



“Hey, McGee –” said Mickey.

“Yeah, Mickey,” said Waldo.

“I got a question for ya.”

“Shoot, Mickey.”

“My question is, if I’m the wooden dummy how come you’re the one puts away bourbon like you got two wooden legs?”


The punters laughed at the gag, just like they always did when they were drunk enough…


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

Thursday, September 22, 2022

“Tell Me, Murchison”


“So, tell me, Murchison,” said Farmer Brown to Addison, “what novels have you written? I should love to read one.”

“Well, in point of fact, Mr. Brown –”

“’Farmer’, my boy, please, call me ‘Farmer’. That’s what all my buddies call me, and I truly hope that we can be buddies.”

“Okay, ‘Farmer’ – well, as I was starting to say, I have not published any novels as yet, because you see I am still in the process of composing my first novel –”

“And a wonderful novel it’s going to be, I’ll wager!”

“Well, I hope so –”

“Is it perhaps an autobiographical novel about your wartime service in the parachute factory?”

“Oh, God no. I don’t think I could bear to relive those two-and-a-half long years of grinding tedium, let alone inflict them on the reading public!”

“A tale of a young writer in the big city then, struggling to complete his first novel, the subject of which is a youthful would-be author in the Big Apple, striving to compose his début novel, which is an epic of a young fellow, new to Gotham, and his bohemian adventures as he writes a sort of Bildungsroman about a young lad writing his first novel?”

“Well, no, actually it is a prose epic set in the American Old West of the 1870s.”

“Ah! Now we’re talking! A good western yarn, like Zane Grey or Owen Wister!”

“I was thinking more in terms of a psychological epic on the order of Proust or Joyce, but in the setting of the American frontier days.”

“Splendid! Now that’s something you don’t read every day, is it?”

“Well, I hope not.”

“But tell me, Murphyson, just between you and me, and I’m not asking you to give up any trade secrets, but – all that other stuff aside – Proust, Joyce, the Golden West – tell me, what is your book really about?”

“What’s it about?”

“Yes. I mean, don’t a book have to be about something? I mean on a deeper level, you get my drift? What’s its deeper meaning?”

“Gee, Farmer, that’s a tough one.”

“Take your time.”

“Okay, let me think about it for a second –”

“You do that, my friend,” said Farmer Brown, and he turned to Milford on his right. “How you doing there, Mimford?”

“What?” said Milford.

“How are you doing? I mean really?”

“I’m doing fine, Mr. Brown. I was listening to the music.”

“Ain’t she something, that Shirley De LaSalle?”

“Yes, she’s quite –”

“She’s a tomato all right,” said Farmer Brown.

Shirley was singing these words:
I’m just a lonely gal
in a lonely town.
All I want is a pal
who won’t mess me around…
“A real peach,” said Farmer Brown, and then he turned back to Addison. “So, what’s your book about, Mulligan?”

“Okay, I think what it’s really about –” said Addison, “I mean, at bottom, what it really deals with – is man’s search for some shred of purpose, some meaning, some ghost of meaning in this dream we call life, in this, this –”

“Do you know what Tommy Eliot once told me?”

“Tommy Eliot?” said Milford.

“Oh, sorry,” said Farmer Brown, “T.S. Eliot. But that one time I met him he told me to call him Tommy. This was after a few highballs you understand.”

“You met T.S. Eliot?” said Addison.

“Oh, yes,” said Farmer Brown. “You see he was in town for a publishing convention which the hotel was hosting, and he and I quaffed a few at this very bar. Really nice fellow, once he had a few under his belt.”

“What was it he told you?” said Addison.



“I had asked him what was The Waste Land all about. That poem was all the rage at the time, and I had attempted to read it. Attempted, because, well, just between you and me and the four walls here, I’m more of a Vachel Lindsay kind of guy. Or Eddie Guest – now there’s a fella who can write a poem! Anyhoo, so I asked ol’ T.S., flat out, just what that darned Waste Land poem meant. ‘C’mom, Tommy boy,’ I says to him, ‘cause by this time I was calling him ‘Tommy Boy’, heh heh, ‘tell me, Tommy boy, from one midwestern lad to another, straight from the hip, what in tarnation was that dang-blasted poem all about?’ And you know what he said?”

“No,” said Addison.

“’Farmer,’ he said, ‘one midwestern boy to another? It don’t mean shit.’ That’s what he said. ‘Don’t mean shit, Farmer.’ That’s what he told me.”

“Wow,” said Addison. “Okay.”

“’Don’t mean shit,’” said Farmer Brown. “That’s exactly what he said. But.”

“But?” said Addison.

“I ain’t saying that your book don’t mean shit,” said Farmer Brown.

“No?”

“Nope. Ain’t saying that at all. Your book might mean a lot.”

“Well, I hope so –”

“A heck of a lot,” said Farmer Brown.

Addison was rarely at a loss for words, but at this moment he found nothing within his vast mind worth saying.

Shirley De LaSalle was singing again, coming in after a piano improvisation from Tony Winston:
Yes, I’m just a lonely girl
always wearing a frown
lost in a lonely world
stuck in an unkind town…
Milford was vaguely aware of Farmer Brown and Addison talking nonsense behind his back, but he only had eyes and ears for Shirley De LaSalle. Would she allow him to talk to her on her next break? Would he think of something clever or possibly even endearing to say to her? Would her eyes glaze over in boredom? He knew only one thing: he would write a poem about her, maybe many poems. What else did he have to write poems about? How many poems could anyone write about the meaninglessness of life?



And then Shirley seemed to be looking directly at him, through the clouds of cigarette smoke, as she sang…
I’m just a lonely dame
in a city that knows no shame.
Is there somewhere a lonely guy
who would care for such as I?


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

Thursday, September 15, 2022

“A Limitless Source of Wonder”


“Raoul,” said Farmer Brown to the bartender, “if you please, sir, another Cream of Kentucky with a small bottle of White Rock ginger ale for my new friend Madison here, and, what the heck, same again for me. Oh, do you prefer ice in your highball, Madison? I prefer not, but that’s just me.”

”I assure you it’s a matter of complete indifference to me,” said Addison, “as long as the Cream of Kentucky is not stinted on.”

“Spoken like a stout fellow of my own bold stripe,” said Farmer Brown, and, turning to Milford on his right, “and what do you say, Montfort, how about just a soupçon of Cream of Kentucky to liven up that White Rock of yours?”

“No,” said Milford, “thank you, but, again – as I believe I have mentioned no more than half a dozen times in our brief acquaintance – I am an alcoholic, and as much as I would like to quaff an entire fifth of Cream of Kentucky in very short order, I choose not to.”

“But another bottle of gingy ale is okay, right?”

“Okay, fine,” said Milford, “thank you, I’ll take another ginger ale, even though I’m about to burst with the stuff.”

“So that’s also a fresh bottle of White Rock for young Malfort here,” said Farmer Brown to Raoul, “and all on my tab of course.”

“Right away,” said Raoul the bartender and he went away.

“By the way,” said Addison, inclining his head to look past Farmer Brown and address Milford, “I wonder if you could spare one of those Woodbines?”

“I probably could,” said Milford, “but for your information there’s a tobacco-and-candy stand out in the lobby of this hotel, and I know for a fact that they carry Woodbines, as well as many other brands of cigarettes, both foreign and domestic.”

“Oh, but I’m so comfortable on this bar stool,” said Addison.

“Here, have one of mine,” said Farmer Brown, clicking open his silver monogrammed cigarette case and shoving it toward Addison. “I hope you don’t mind Old Golds?”

“Love Old Golds,” said Addison; indeed he loved any cigarette, especially a free one.

Up on the little stage Shirley De LaSalle had launched into a new song:
Why do I always choose a man who
doesn’t have a job?
Why do I always pick a chap
who’d rather steal and rob,
who likes to gamble
and run around
with every two-bit
Jane in this old town?

Why do I always pick a fella
bound to make me blue
Why do I always settle on
a ham-and-egger just like you?

Oh, I got no choices left to choose –
I got them ham-and-egger blues!
Addison was happy. He had a free drink on the bar in front of him, and in his hand a free Pall Mall, which had been enthusiastically lighted by Farmer Brown with his silver monogrammed lighter that matched his cigarette case. Or was it platinum? Regardless, the oaf had the air of someone with money, and Addison thought that someday, after his novel was published and became a bestseller, this is the sort of bar he would frequent. Nothing against Bob’s Bowery Bar, you really couldn’t fault a place where you could purchase a glass of the hearty basement-brewed house bock for a dime, but he could get used to a less shall we say demotic place like this Prince Hal Room. Oh, sure, he was sitting next to a madman, with a po-faced young bad poet on the other side of the madman, but the madman was buying, Addison was in love, and all was as well as could be expected in this most imperfect of all worlds.

“So, Madison,” said Farmer Brown, “have you read young Mordant’s poems?”

He tapped the sheaf of typescript lying there on the bar.

“Oh, yes,” said Addison. “Really, uh, marvelous.”

“We were just talking about this one poem here, what’s it called –” he lowered his head and his thick eyeglasses closer to the top sheet on the pile – “’Those Who Are Dead’ –”

“Oh, yes, wonderful poem,” said Addison, despite not having read it.

“Did you realize it was about the Rosicrucians?”

“What?”

“I mean, not the Rosicrucians, I think it was the Knights of Columbus – isn’t that right, Morton?”

“My name is Milford,” said Milford, “and, no, as I told you, the poem has nothing to do with the Rosicrucians, or the Knights of Columbus, it’s about AA!”

“Right, you told me that,” said Farmer Brown, “AA, for anti-aircraft.” He turned to Addison. “My mistake, it’s about these meetings Milton goes to with his fellow veterans of the anti-aircraft battalions. He must have been so terribly young –  probably lied about his age to get in the service. I tried to enlist but they said I was too old. Did you serve, sir?”

“Alas,” said Addison, “I was declared 4-F – flat feet and knock knees – and so I did my war service in a parachute factory in Fayetteville, North Carolina.”

“And I’ll bet you made a darn good parachute, too, sir!”

“Oh, I did my best,” said Addison, not mentioning that his best was not much, and that he had been relegated to janitorial duties after his first couple of weeks, so clumsy he was with his hands, and so absent-minded when it came to even the simplest assembly-line work.

“Nothing but respect for our brave boys who fought,” said Farmer Brown. “Like young Merton here, brave lad.”

“Mr. Brown,” said Milford, “I was not even sixteen when the war ended. I was not in the military. I was in prep school.”

“Then how could you have been in the anti-aircraft batteries? Did they have one in your school?”

“Oh, Christ,” said Milford. “oh, Jesus Christ and all the saints in Heaven, please help me.”

“What is it, Mervyn?” said Farmer Brown.

“Nothing, nothing at all,” said Milford.

Farmer Brown turned to Addison, and leant his large red face closer to Addison’s thin pallid face.

“You know what I think it is?” Farmer Brown whispered.

“What’s that?” said Addison.

Shell shock. That’s what they call it. Or battle fatigue. These lads who went through the real barney while guys like you and me were safe at home, making whoopee with them Rosie the Riveters and Allotment Annies. The horrors these young fellers saw. And it comes back to them at odd moments. Just rises up from the depths, so to speak, like a bad plate of oysters. And poor Mimson can’t even drink to drown his terrible memories, on account of he thinks he’s an alcoholic. Ain’t that sad?”

“Yes, very sad,” said Addison.

Milford had turned to look at and listen to Shirley De LaSalle up there at the microphone. Damn it, he would stay here at this bar just until she went on break again, and then once more he would attempt to talk to her. He felt that he was falling in love, even though he had only spoken a few stumbling and awkward words with her. Could it be that she might care for him?

Shirley was singing another song now, a slow song rich with sadness:
I got them melancholy blues
from my head down to my shoes,
them mean old melancholy blues,
I think I’ll drown myself in booze…
“And you, Madison,” said Farmer Brown to Addison, “if I am not wrong, and I don’t think I am, are you also a poet?”

“Novelist, actually,” said Addison.

“Novelist!” said Farmer Brown. “I knew it! I only suggested poet as a gambit, as I didn’t want to seem one of those annoying people who are always pigeon-holing other people, but I just knew you were a novelist!”

“Was it my slightly threadbare brown serge suit?”

“It was that, yes, but even more so, those penetrating eyes, the hawklike eyes of a novelist – or perhaps a short-story writer? But nonetheless the keen eyes of a skilled observer of humanity and of the world.”

Farmer Brown’s eyeglasses were so thick, the eyes behind them hideously but dully magnified and looking like the eyes of a cartoon character in the Sunday funnies, that Addison wondered what if anything they did see, but all he said was, “Thank you, Mr. Brown. Yes, the world and its inhabitants are a limitless source of wonder to me.”


Tony went into his piano break, and Shirley gazed through the smoke at all the punters on the dance floor and at the tables, and there at the near end of the bar was that weird younger guy in the peacoat who had bought her a drink and tried to chat her up, stammering and sweating, and he was gazing longingly up at her now.

Yeah, another conquest.

What was his story? Dressed like a longshoreman, but he sure didn’t talk like one. Maybe he was one of these eccentric rich guys. Who knows, maybe he was her ticket out of this joint and six nights a week, four sets a night. A girl could dream, right?

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

Thursday, September 8, 2022

“Those Who Are Dead”


 “Now this poem here,” said Farmer Brown, tapping the sheet of expensive typing paper, “the one titled ‘Those Who Are Dead’. This one I think is especially – what’s the word? Moving.”

“Moving?” said Milford. “Really?”

“Yes. Moving. That’s the word.”

Farmer Brown raised the sheet closer to his thick eyeglasses and read aloud, repeating the poem’s title:
Those Who Are Dead


Those who are dead
but who have not sense enough
to fall over,
those who stumble into church basements
with their cigarettes and their bloodshot eyes,
sipping stale coffee from Dixie cups
awaiting their turn to stand up and whine
about their wasted lives –
why, oh why must I listen to them,
night after night,
screaming silently with boredom
while I await my own turn
to stand up and bore them –
is this what I have to look forward to,
for the rest of my dreary existence –
the church basements,
the cigarettes,
the Dixie cups of bad, stale coffee?
“Yes,” said Farmer Brown. “Really quite moving.”

“Well, thank you, Mr. Brown.”

“Please, call me Farmer. All my friends call me ‘the Farmer’.”

“Okay – ‘Farmer’.”

“And may I call you – what was it again? Marion?”


“I would really prefer it if you just call me Milford.”

“Milford it is then. Now, ‘Milford’, I was struck by this image of the ‘church basement’. And if it is not too inquisitive of me to ask, what did you mean by that? Was it a reference to certain subterranean sodalities of organized Christian religion – those dark secret brotherhoods kept hidden away in the nether regions of Catholicism, say, the ones that are not bruited about in popular films like Going My Way or The Bells of St. Mary’s?”

“No, it’s just a reference to the church basements where AA meetings are often held.”

“You mean Triple-A?” said Farmer Brown. “The motoring club?”

“No,” said Milford. “Just two As. AA.”

“AA – anti-aircraft?”

“No, Alcoholics Anonymous.”

“Ah! I see – and now the poem takes on an even deeper meaning. So it’s a veiled commentary on secretive societies like Alcoholics Anonymous?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it ‘veiled’ –”

“And perhaps by extension to other sub rosa organizations like the Rosicrucians or the Illuminati? Y’know, back in Indiana my father wanted me to join the Knights of Pythias, but you know what? I guess I’m just not a joiner. I’ve always been a lone wolf so to speak. Forging my own solitary path through the uncharted wilderness of life. Do you have any other poems which deal perhaps with the Kabbalah?”

“Um, no, I’m not Jewish –”

“Neither am I. But I am fascinated by these mysterious cults and cabals and confraternities. For instance the Shriners always stay here in the hotel when they have their annual galas – now those are some crazy guys, I’ll tell you!”

“The Shriners?”

“Yes. Not bad fellows once you get a drink or two in them.”

“Well, as I’ve told you, Mr. Brown, I don’t drink.”

“Not even occasionally?”

“No.”

“Not even as a shall we say social lubricant?”

“No. As I thought I made clear, I am an alcoholic.”

“But you’re so very young!”
 
“You can be young and still be an alcoholic.”

“Yes, I see your point. But tell me, to be an alcoholic, is it not necessary to imbibe shall we say over much of spiritous liquids?”

“Yes, I think that is a reasonable definition.”

“But – and I ask this in all simplicity – this would not include fermented beverages like beer or wine, is that not correct?”

“No, it is not correct. You can be an alcoholic even if you only drink beer or wine.”

“Even just beer?”

“Yes, even just beer.”

“But, surely, a glass of wine with a meal, or sitting at a café in the afternoon, and even a nice port by the fireside on a wintry wet night such as this one –”

“No, no, and no,” said Milford. “Have you never heard the term ‘wino’?”

“Ha ha, yes, of course, a delightful example of the American vernacular –”

“Well, do you think those winos sitting on the curbs on the Bowery with their bottles of Taylor port are not alcoholics?”

“Oh,” said Farmer Brown. “Point taken again! Yes, I suppose those unfortunates would fall under that general rubric, wouldn’t they?”

“They certainly would. I see them all the time at the meetings I go to.”

“And what meetings are these? The Knights of Columbus perhaps?”

“No, the AA meetings!”

“The anti-aircraft meetings? So you were in the war? You must have been awfully young. Was it very frightening shooting those machine guns up at the bombers?”

Milford sighed.

Onstage Shirley De LaSalle was singing again. He should just stop talking to this moron and listen to her, as she sang a song he had never heard before:
He’s my ding dong daddy
They say he’s not no good
He’s my big dong daddy
And he do me like he should…
“Oh, hello, Milford. Fancy meeting you here of all places.”

Milford turned. Who was it but that guy Addison.

“Oh, hi, Addison. How are you?”

“Oh, I’m very well, thank you very much. I wonder if I might join you?”

“Hi, there, fella,” said Farmer Brown. “Here, take my bar stool, I got it all warmed up for you.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t dream of taking your seat, sir,” said Addison.

“Heck, partner, I’ve been sitting all day! Now, please, take the seat.”

“Only if you insist.”

“Don’t mind standing for a spell. Tell the truth, after a few hours on a bar stool my rear end tends to get a bit tender, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, I think I do,” said Addison.

Farmer Brown heaved himself off the stool, and Addison sat himself on it. The old worn leather of the seat was indeed quite warm.

“Don’t mind standing at all,” said Farmer Brown, squeezing in between Addison and Milford, his shoulders abutting theirs, his beaming face turning from one of the younger men to the other. “So you’re a friend of Mumford’s too, sir?”

“Uh, yes,” said Addison.

“So also I,” said Farmer Brown. “We’ve only just met, but I already feel that I’ve known the lad all my life. Isn’t that right, Rumford?”

“Um, yes,” said Milford.

“Now some older fellows like me disdain the company of the younger generation,” said Farmer Brown. “But not me. You know what my motto is, sir?”

“I can’t say I do,” said Addison. “But I would like to know.”

“Listen to the young people,”
said Farmer Brown. “That’s my motto. Listen to the young people. Because maybe, just maybe, they might have something to say! Brown is my name. What’s your name, if I may be so bold?”

“Well, everyone calls me Addison.”

“Put ‘er there, Addison,” said the Farmer, extending his slightly pudgy soft hand, which Addison took in his thin soft hand.

“Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Brown.”

“Call me Farmer. That’s what they call me on account of my name is Brown. Farmer Brown my friends call me, and if you’re friends with Wilfred you’re friends with me.”

“All right then,” said Addison. “I’ll call you Farmer.”

“And I’ll call you Madison if I may.”

“Uh, well –”

“Let me buy you a beverage, Madison.”

Well, thought Addison, if this guy is buying he can call me anything he wants to…

“Thanks, ‘Farmer’,” he said.

“What are you drinking, Madison?”

“Whatever you’re drinking, Farmer.”

“Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale then,” said the Farmer.

Milford sighed again, and looked toward the stage. “He’s my boogie woogie papa,” sang Shirley De LaSalle, “and he knows how to treat me right.”
He’s my zoot suit cutie
Keeps me up all through the night…

 

{To be continued next week, et ad infinitum. Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}