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…}

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