Thursday, April 28, 2022

“The Conscious Woodbine”

All the other drunks were standing in the snow-flurrying gloaming on the sidewalk behind the church, chatting and smoking cigarettes, and before Addison could make his getaway one of the smokers came up to him.

“Why do you make a mockery of us?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Don’t answer a question with another question. You heard me. Why do you piss on us and the program and all we and it stand for?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea as to what you are averring,” said Addison.

“Averring! Averring! I suppose you think you’re some kind of intellectual, better than the rest of us!”

“If you’re going to abuse me, I wonder if you could spare me a cigarette.”

The fellow was young, or youngish. He wore a floppy newsboy’s cap, and his desperate eyes bulged behind thick glasses which were blurred with the wet snowflakes falling from the flat grey sky above the circumflex of the church’s roof. He looked at the cigarette in his ungloved hand and then back at Addison.

“You piss and shit on us who are only trying to live sober one day at a time, and now you want to bum a cigarette from me.”

“Only if you think you can safely spare one,” said Addison.

“Oh, all right, then,” said the guy, and he dug inside his coat and brought out a pack of Woodbines.

“English cigarettes?” said Addison, taking one. “I see I’m not the only one on this sidewalk who might be accused of pretension.”

“I am not pretentious! I merely smoke Woodbines because they are the cigarette of choice of Dylan Thomas.”

“I amend my previous statement. I see I am not the only person on this sidewalk who might reasonably be called a silly twit and an ass.”

“How dare you.”

“How about a light, chum?”

“Oh, very well, here –”

And the guy gave Addison a light with his own burning Woodbine. Addison noted that the fellow’s coat was a worn peacoat of the sort found in army & navy stores, and that under it he wore a thick bone-colored ribbed turtleneck of the Hemingwayesque type.

“Ah,” said Addison, exhaling, “not bad, although I must say not a patch on Philip Morris Commanders.”

“What do you want, it’s free isn’t it?”

“I fail to see why you are so hostile, my good man.”

“You fail to see? You fail to see? Listen, the name of this fellowship is Alcoholics Anonymous, not Lovers Anonymous. You got up there and droned on about love for half an hour and not one word about your illness.”

“What illness?”

“Your alcoholism, damn it!”

“Oh, that. Well, Smiling Jack gave me to understand that I could talk about whatever I wanted to at these meetings. And so I did.”

“But it had nothing to do with your alcoholism!”

“Ah, but there I think you may be slightly wrong, my friend. Because, you see, I met the young lady with whom I am in love in a bar, while I was, if not quite drunk, then shall we say on my way. As was she, come to think of it.”

“You’re pissing on me again. On all of us.”

“Well, tell you what, next time I get up to speak, why don’t you just leave the room?”

“How dare you.”

Suddenly Smiling Jack was there.

“Oh, Addison, I see you’ve met Milford.”

“Yes, we’ve met,” said the guy.

“Milford?” said Addison.

“Yes, Milford,” said Milford. “And I suppose you’re going to piss on my name now, too.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Addison.

“Hey, you know what?” said Milford. “Fuck you, Addison. Fuck you and all that you stand for.”

“Well, thanks for the Woodbine, anyway,” said Addison.

“Fuck you.”

“Milford,” said, Smiling Jack, “remember: anger. Misplaced anger. Who are you really angry with, chum?”

“I’m angry with this piece of shit, coming to our meeting and talking about love when we’re only trying to stay sober, that’s who I’m angry with.”

“But is Addison really who you are angry with, Milford?”

“Yes!” said Milford. “It really is him I’m angry with! I despise guys like him. They think they’re so fucking smart. Well, let me tell you something, Mr. Addison, you’re not so smart. And someday you’ll know that when you’re lying soused in some alleyway and some other bum comes in the alleyway and pisses all over you. Then you’ll know you’re not so smart.”

“I’m sure that other fellow didn’t mean to piss on you,” said Addison. “He was probably just too drunk himself to realize he was pissing on another human being and not a pile of thrown-away rags.”

“That’s not the point!” said Milford. “The point is, the point is, oh, God, I don’t know what the point is.”

“I know how you feel, Milford,” said Smiling Jack. “You want a drink now, because you’re angry. But you must fight the urge. Why not join me and Addison for a cup of coffee and some pie, and we’ll talk. Maybe we can catch another meeting tonight if you feel you need it. There’s one in the basement of the Church of the Nativity at seven –”

Milford turned away, staring through the cold wet swirling snow at a red-brick house across Mulberry Street, or in that direction, anyway.

Then he turned back to look at Smiling Jack and at Addison.

“I apologize,” he said.

“Don’t mention it,” said Addison.

“I was rude and insulting.”

“I am used to being insulted,” said Addison, which was certainly true. “But, anyway, it doesn’t matter, because I am in love.”

“Yes,” said Milford. “You’re very lucky.”

“So,” said Smiling Jack, smiling, “what say you fellows join me for some coffee and pie at Ma’s Diner?”

“Well,” said Addison, because, after the exultation of his recent peroration on love in the basement of Old St. Pat’s, what he was really in the mood for was a restorative glass or two of bock at Bob’s Bowery Bar, “thank you so much for the offer, Jack, but –”

“My treat!” said Smiling Jack.

He had said the magic words, and so Addison said sure, why not?

A healthy slice of Ma’s warm and delicious sweet potato pie, topped with whipped cream, and two or three cups of her sui generis chicory coffee (all paid for by someone else) would only make that first bold glass of Bob’s basement-brewed bock all the more welcome, yes, all the more welcome indeed…

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

Thursday, April 7, 2022

“This Must Be Love”


Yes, this was love. It must be. This magical, supernatural feeling! And like the snowflakes swirling all about him in the cold and whipping ice-colored air, the clichés crowded and swarmed and swirled in Addison’s brain. Walking on clouds, swimming through moonlight, dancing among the stars! My heart overflowing. She is my everything. I want to shout it from the rooftops. I want to tell the world…

He crossed Lafayette, ignoring a red light, ignoring also the foul imprecations of the cabby who had just barely failed to run him down. Addison was approaching his building, down at the far end of this block of Bleecker, but he realized now that he was far too full of joy to return to his lonely tiny fourth-floor walk-up, far too keyed up even to think of working on his epic novel of the old west, Sixguns to El Paso, although he was sure of one thing, and that was when he did get back to work on it, he must needs introduce the element of love – the one essential ingredient he now knew the work had lacked. He must give his hero Buck Baxter a love interest. Why hadn’t he thought of this before? Addison knew why. It was because he, Addison, until last night, had been ignorant of love, of true love. But it was not too late to introduce the love motif into his book, even if he was already several hundred typewritten pages into the story. What about the young girl, Maisie Mae, bent like Buck himself on vengeance against those who had her kinsmen slain? Or maybe that was too obvious a choice for Buck’s inamorata. What about the lady saloon-keeper at the Penultimate Chance Saloon, Maxine Delarue? What about Lola St. James, the chanteuse at the saloon? Or maybe Miss Bertha, the daughter of the town physician, old Doc Bergman?



“Addison, you’re walking along with your head in the clouds, old buddy!”

It was Smiling Jack, standing here amidst the falling snow on the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery, a leather satchel hanging from a strap across his chest, his hat and his coat dusted with white crystals.

“Oh, hi, Jack. Yes, I suppose I am a trifle distrait today. You see –”

“Where you going with your head up in those snow clouds, pal?”

“Where am I going?”

Addison had not really been aware of where he was going, although he had passed the entrance of his building and the adjoining cobbler’s shop, and his feet seemed to be leading him inexorably around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar.

“Oh, I don’t know, Jack,” he said, “maybe just over to Bob’s for a bock or two, because you see –”

“Addison, my friend! You can’t go in there! Didn’t you read my book?”

“Your book?”

“My book I gave you last night. Didn’t you read it? Here, take another one.”

Smiling Jack reached under the flap of his leather bag and brought out a pamphlet with a crude drawing of a drunk-looking chap leaning against a lamp post and holding a bottle. Above the drawing were the words



“Oh, that book,” said Addison, and he reached into the pocket of his trench coat and brought out an identical copy of the pamphlet. “Yes, you see I do in fact still have it.”

“And have you read it, friend?”

“Well, you see, Jack, I’ve had a very eventful evening and day since you gave me your ‘book’, and I’m afraid to say that I haven’t quite found the time to peruse it. But I will, I promise you, in the very near future. Good seeing you, old man.”

Addison slipped the pamphlet back into his pocket and started to turn up the Bowery.


“Yes, Jack?”

“Where are you going?”

“Well, as I said, just up to Bob’s for a bock or two. Would you care to join me?”

“No! No, Addison, you must be strong!”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re an alcoholic, my friend. Just like me. But no judgement! No judgement you understand!”

“Well, thank goodness for that, ha ha.”

“Addison, my good buddy, I have a proposition. There’s a meeting starting up down at Old St. Pat’s basement in just about, oh –” he pulled up the sleeve of his shabby old worsted coat, and glanced at his wristwatch – “just about exactly seventeen minutes. I was planning on going anyway after handing out a few more books, but, tell you what, friend, why don’t you come along, too.”

“To the meeting?”

“Yes. I think it will do you good.”

“Well, I don’t know, Jack –”

“Addison, pal, listen to me. Are you listening?”

“Sure. How can I help but listen? You’re speaking quite loudly, ha ha.”

“You’ve got a story to tell, Addison. I know you do. You got something to say, old chum. And there is a like-minded group of people who will listen to your story.”

“Do you really think so?” said Addison.

“I know so, my friend,” said Smiling Jack. “Believe me, I know it!”

It was about three-quarters of an hour and two other speakers later later that Addison finally stood up at the central table in the basement of Old St. Pat’s.

“Hello, everybody calls me Addison, and, yes, I suppose I am, not least among my qualities, an alcoholic.”

“Hello, Addison,” said a score of voices.

“But I am not here,” continued Addison, “to regale you good people with tales of drunken depravity and degradation. No, my friends, I am here to talk to you about something sweeter than any wine, more intoxicating than any whiskey, and, yes, more refreshing than that first beaded glass of cold basement-brewed bock of the day. Yes, my friends, I have come to speak of love!”

This announcement was met with silence and blank faces, but Addison didn’t care, and he continued to speak about love, until, a half hour later, Smiling Jack came over and touched him gently on the arm.

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