Friday, May 27, 2022

“Darkness Be My Destiny”


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

No One Cares a Bit

(Also for D.T.)

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

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

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

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

“You actually have favorites?”

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

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


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

“Yes, splendid idea.”

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

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

“Would you care for one?”

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

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

“Oh, they certainly resonate,” said Addison.

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

“Validation,” offered Addison.

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

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

“Yes, that’s true,” said Milford.

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

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

“I do like finnan haddie,” said Addison.

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

“That would have been nice,” said Addison.

“Except you forget, we’re alcoholics.”

“Oh, right,” said Addison.

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

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it.”

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

“Well, that would be nice.”

“I’ll give you five.”

“Gee,” said Addison.

“You don’t have to pay me back.”

“Thanks, Milford.”

“It’s my mother’s money. Thank her.”

“Will you thank her for me?”

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

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

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


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

Thursday, May 19, 2022

“Mrs. Milford and Son”

“Who was that on the telephone, dear?

“No one.”

“It was obviously not no one.”

“Can’t I get a telephone call?”

“Of course you can. But.”

“But what, Mother?”

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

“I’ve gotten telephone calls.”

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

“Yes, it probably was.”

“So who were you speaking with?”

“A friend. Okay?”

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

“It was a friend, all right?”

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

“Of course he does.”

“And may I ask what it is.”


“Addison what?”

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

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

“He is – a novelist.”

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

“At a meeting.”


“Where else would I meet someone?”

“Another drunkard.”

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

“Another hopeless sot. Just like your father.”

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

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

“Where are you going?”

“Who said I’m going anywhere?”

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

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

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

“Where are you lunching.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, God!”

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

“Oh, all right!”

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

“Thank you.”

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

“Mother, we are both alcoholics!”

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

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

“The Baked Alaska is very good there.”

“Fine, I’ll order the Baked Alaska.”

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 12, 2022

“Alleyways of Despair”

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

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

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

poems by Marion J. Milford

Marion? No wonder Milford went by Milford.  

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

Alleyways of Despair

(for D.T.)

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

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

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

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

“Milford residence.”

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


Addison glanced at the sheet.

“I mean, uh, Marion?”

“Young Mr. Milford?”

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

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

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

“Yes, this is Marion J. Milford.”

“Hi, Milford, it’s Addison.”


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

“Oh. You.”

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

“I never saw that movie.”

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

“Just Milford will do.”

“Okay, then –”

“I detest the name Marion.”

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

“Thank you.”

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

“You hated them, didn’t you?”

“Not at all, old man –”

“You didn’t?”

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

“You want to have lunch?”

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

“Did you really like the poems?”

“Yes, they were, uh –”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s swell, Milford.”

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

“It’s raining actually.”

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

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

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

“Yes, well, uh –”

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

“I shall leave posthaste.”

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

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

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

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

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

Should he read some more of Milford’s poetry?

God no, life was too short…

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

Thursday, May 5, 2022

“What Price Pie?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I agree,” said Addison.

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

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

“There’s only two cigarettes in here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Yes, I must do my daily quota.”

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

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

“I’d like to write a novel someday.”

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

“I write poems,” said Milford.

“Good for you, old man.”

“I wonder if you would look at them.”

“I should be glad to.”


“Oh, at your earliest convenience.”

“What about now?”


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

“Oh,” said Addison.

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

“Please be honest,” he said.

Addison touched the thick scroll.

“Yes, of course,” he said.

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

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

“Oh, okay.”

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

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

“I will definitely try to.”

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

“Ha ha, yes, well –”

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

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

“Hey, where you going, buddy?”

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

“Oh, his novel –” said Smiling Jack.

“He has to maintain his daily creative rhythm.”

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

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

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

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

“Call me tomorrow,” said Milford.

“Tomorrow? Why?”

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

“Oh, right,” said Addison.

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

“What if you’re out?”

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

“You have a maid.”

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

“You live at home?”

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

“You will?”

“Yes. But only if you read my poems.”

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

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

“What?” said Addison. 

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

“Oh, yes, well, maybe,” said Addison.

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

“I adore automats.”

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

“Why not?”

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


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


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

“Yes, more’s the pity.”

“I hope you’re joking.”

“Oh, yes, of course, ha ha.”

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

“Sounds delightful.”

“It’s all right.”

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

“Call me.”

“Sure thing.”

“Leave a message if I’m out.”

“Will do.”

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

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

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