Thursday, February 3, 2022

“Bubbles the Existentialist”

“And so you see,” said Addison, “my goal with this book, all the while, you understand, working within the formal structures – and, yes, strictures – of the so-called western novel, is to explore the deepest questions of identity, of memory, of the fluidity of consciousness –”

“Addison,” said Bubbles, and she wiped up the last traces of sauce in her plate with her bread, “can I tell you something?”

“Oh, by all means, Bubbles.”

“I don’t have the faintest idea what the hell you’re talking about.”

“Heh heh.”

“So you’re writing a cowboy book, right?”

“Well, as I say, the novel exists within the broad framework of what is known as the ‘western novel’ qua Western Novel, and, also, yes, more broadly speaking, within the traditions of the epic heroic quest –”

“But it’s a western book. With cowboys in it.”

“Well, yes, as I say –”

“So, tell you what, you write your cowboy novel, and when it comes out, if you give me a copy, I’ll read it.”

“Oh, of course, I should love to give you a copy –”

“Or I’ll try to read it.”

“Heh heh?”

“Because cowboy novels are not my usual bag, you know, daddy-o?”

“Ha ha, yes, I suppose, being a woman, the western novel is not your usual literary bill-of-fare –”

“You got that right.”

“But as I say, I think that my novel is only ostensibly within the guidelines as it were of the soi-disant ‘Western’, and what I am really attempting –”

“Addison,” said Bubbles, and, her plate now clean and empty, she picked up her pack of Philip Morris Commanders, “listen, and I’m gonna put this as gently as I can, because you seem like a nice enough guy. You can talk about your cowboy novel if you want, but don’t expect me to listen, okay? Because like I already said, you might as well be speaking Chinese, and you know something? I don’t speak Chinese.”

She sat there holding her cigarette, and finally Addison remembered his manners, scrabbled his matchbook off the table and gave her a light.

“Thanks,” she said. “Oh, you want another one?”

She tapped the pack with her red fingernail. Addison had already smoked three or four of her Philip Morrises, but what the hell, the sap was paying for the meal.

“Why, yes, I don’t mind if I do,” said Addison.

“Help yourself, champ,” she said.

Addison helped himself.

“So what would you like to talk about, Bubbles?” he said, waving out his match and trying to toss it nonchalantly into the ashtray, but missing.

“What would I like to talk about?” said Bubbles.

“Yes,” said Addison. He picked the spent match off the tablecloth and dropped it into the astray.

“You want to know what I’d like to talk about?” said Bubbles.

“Yes,” said Addison.

“Since when did any man ever give a damn about what any dame wanted to talk about? Since when did any man ever want to do anything but talk a lot of baloney just to hear himself talk whether a dame wanted to hear what he had to say or not?”

“I should love to hear what you would like to talk about, Bubbles.”

“You would, huh?”

“Yes, very much so.”

“You really want to know what I’d like to talk about?”

“Yes. I mean, I think I do –”

“How about nothing? Is nothing good for you?”

Addison rarely paused in conversation, but now he paused. He tapped the ash off his cigarette, and some of the ash fell onto the table cloth. He considered trying to pick up the ash, but decided he’d better not. He looked at Bubbles, who was looking into her glass of house red wine.

“Gee,” he said, at last, “you’re quite the existentialist, aren’t you, Bubbles?”

“If I knew what that was, maybe I’d tell you,” she said.

“Well,” said Addison, “existentialism, you see, is a philosophical movement, originating in France I believe, and its most basic tenet is that this existence, this world we live in, is all that we can know for sure, that –”

“And it took some Frenchmen to figure that one out?”

“Heh heh. Why, yes, I suppose it did.”

“This is it,” she said, with a small wave of her cigarette. 

She sat back in her chair. 
The music on the jukebox played, a woman singing, “I’m ‘bout to lose my mind…” 

Drunken voices chattered and babbled and laughed and shouted all around the little world in which Addison and Bubbles sat, and the smoke from their cigarettes rose up and mingled with the smoke of dozens of other cigarettes.

“Do you really think so?” said Addison.

“Think what?”

“That this is all there is?”

She let a plume of smoke slowly escape from between her red lips before replying.

“And why wouldn’t I think that?”

“Gee,” said Addison.

“Yeah,” she said. “Gee.”

“I’ve never met a woman like you before, Bubbles.”

“I don’t think you’ve met too many women, my friend.”

“Well, I suppose that’s true. May I ask you a question?”

“Sure, you can ask.”

“What is your raison d’être?”

“My what?”

“Your reason for living.”

“Who says I have one?”


“You say gee a lot.”

“But you must have some purpose, some goals, some –”

“What do you care?”

“Well, I care because I am – yes, hang it all, I’ll say it – I find myself fascinated by you, Bubbles.”

“If you walked around for a day in my high heels you wouldn’t be so fascinated.”

“But you really are a true existentialist. An avatar, a secular goddess of the culmination of all modern philosophies –”

“And you’re an ass. You know that, don’t you?”

Addison paused yet again.

“Yes,” he said, “I do know that, Bubbles. And you are far from the first person to tell me that.”

“Let’s have some cheesecake, ‘cause it’s really good here. Then maybe we’ll move over to the bar and have another cocktail or two.”

“Well, okay, but, I have to say, that if we have cheesecake, and more cocktails, then I might not have very much money left over to, uh, give you –”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry about it?”

“Don’t worry about if you run out of money. I’ve got money.”

“You mean – you would buy me cocktails?”

“I might. If you don’t get too much more boring.”

“Gee, thanks, Bubbles.”

“Don’t mention it. Now flag that waiter down and tell him we want some cheesecake.”

Another song was playing on the jukebox, a lady singing, “I got it bad and that ain’t good…”

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

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