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…}

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