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…}

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