Thursday, July 28, 2022

“The Night Before the Dawn”



“You lied to me,” said Cornel Wilde.

“And you were a sap for believing me,” said Ruth Roman.

“I loved you,” said Cornel.

“You thought you loved me,” said Ruth. “But you’re like every other man. You only love yourself – or should I say your pathetic conception of yourself?”
“That’s very harsh, Melinda.”

“Life is harsh. Love it or leave it, chump.”

Bubbles gave Addison a nudge with her elbow.

“Okay, this is where we came in.”

“Yes, I believe you’re right,” said Addison. “Do you want to stay and watch the ending again?”

“No, we know how it ends, and it don’t end good for Ruth Roman.”

“Hey, you two,” said some guy in the row behind them. “Clam up. We’re trying to watch the movie here.”

Bubbles turned around in her seat.

“Keep your shirt on, pal. We’re leaving anyway.”

“Good,” said the guy. “Don’t let the swinging doors hit you in your asses on the way out.”

“How’d you like me to swing my pocket book right in your fat face?” said Bubbles.

“You just try it, sister,” said the guy.

“Sammy,” said the girl sitting next to the guy, “will you shut up and just let them leave?”

“She started it,” said the guy.

“Hey,” said some other guy sitting in the row behind the first guy, “will you all please just shut the hell up?”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” said Sammy. “I am a veteran.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you are,” said the new guy. “A veteran of the United States Army of Assholes.”

“Why, you, I’ll bet you were a 4-F conscientious objector,” said the first guy. “Spent the war cleaning slop pails at Bellevue!”

“And I’ll bet you spent the war peeling spuds at Fort Dix!”

Suddenly the two guys were trying to punch each other over the seat backs, and the one girl was screaming, so Bubbles grabbed Addison’s arm and said, “Come on, Atcheson, let’s split before World War Three breaks out in this place.”

Outside under the marquee on Thompson Street it was dark now beyond the lights of the movie house and the cold rain was still coming down. Bubbles took her Philip Morrises out of her purse and lighted herself up with her lighter.

“Oh, you want one, Atcheson?”

“Well, only if I may,” said Addison.

“Yeah, sure you may,” said Bubbles. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have offered you one.”

“Thank you,” said Addison. “Thank you very much, Bubbles.”

“Don’t mention it,” said Bubbles, giving him a light. “But just once I want to see you buy a pack of cigarettes. Just once.”

Addison exhaled a delicious lungful of smoke into the cold wet air.

“I promise you, dear Bubbles, that I shall buy a pack of cigarettes at the very first opportunity.”

“Can I say something?” said Bubbles.

“Oh, please do,” said Addison.

“You are the gayest straight guy I have ever met in my life,” said Bubbles.

“I try to be gay,” said Addison.

“I don’t mean that kind of gay,” said Bubbles. “I mean homo gay.”

“Oh. Perhaps I should take that as a compliment?” said Addison.

“Take it any way you like,” said Bubbles.

“So what did you think of the movies?” said Addison. 

“I liked that one with Cornel Wilde and Ruth Roman, what was it called.”

The Night Before the Dawn I believe.”

“Right, I liked that one. I’m just sorry Ruth Roman got plugged in the end by Raymond Burr. I liked her. She was my kind of dame.”

“Yes, she was a very – dynamic character.”

“She didn’t brook any nonsense.”

“Like you,” said Addison.

“Yeah,” said Bubbles, and she looked at Addison. “Like me.”

“In a sense,” said Addison, “and again like you, dear Bubbles, she was a true existential heroine, neither giving nor asking quarter of an indifferent universe.”

“Except she gets plugged in the end.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Why do the tough dames always got to get plugged in the end?”

“I’m not sure,” said Addison, “but I think it might have something to do with the Production Code.”

“Nuts to the Production Code.”

“Ha ha.”

“You know what I do when I watch these movies?”

“No,” said Addison.

“I imagine my own endings to them. Like in my ending Ruth Roman doesn’t get shot. Instead she shoots Raymond Burr, and then when Cornel Wilde tries to arrest her and bring her in, she shoots him, too.”

“Well, that would be, um –”

“A much better ending.”

“It does seem a little unfair for her to shoot Cornel Wilde, though. I mean, he was only a police detective trying to do his job.”

“Okay, so maybe she gives him a break for old time’s sake and she just makes him handcuff himself to the radiator with his own handcuffs. Then she grabs Raymond Burr’s swag from the wall safe and she hightails it out of there, heads off to the train station and goes to some other city. Starts a new life with Raymond Burr’s loot from the heist. Maybe opens up a hat shop.”

“A hat shop?”

“Whatever. Dress shop, hat shop. But she starts her own business, where she don’t have to answer to anybody. That’s how I would’ve ended the movie.”

“Would you like to open a hat shop, Bubbles?”

“I can’t spend my whole life giving Baltimore handshakes for three bucks a shot, pal. I’m saving my money, believe you me.”

“How much do you have saved?”

“None of your damn business.”

“Sorry. It’s just I’ve always admired anyone who could save money. God knows I’ve never been able to.”

“How much of that fin have you got left?”

“Well, let’s see, it was ninety cents for the movie tickets, plus another thirty cents for the large popcorn and the cokes, and, um, a nickel for the box of Raisinets, oh, and another nickel for the Milk Duds –”

“We got enough for a couple of drinks over at the San Remo, let’s go.”

“You want to have drinks with me?”

“That’s what I said, wasn’t it? Maybe we’ll get a bite to eat, too. I could go for some of that spaghetti marinara there.”

“Well, I only have –”

“Don’t sweat it. I have my own dough. Now put that umbrella up.”

“Yes, of course,” said Addison.

He had been hoping to save three dollars for a Baltimore handshake, but he figured he had best not push his luck with Bubbles. What a woman!

They forged out into the cold stinging rain under Addison’s umbrella, Bubbles holding Addison’s arm. He knew he was not worthy of such a woman, but he didn’t care, and he had never felt so alive in all his life.

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

Saturday, July 23, 2022


TWO WEEKS IN A ONE HORSE TOWN: VOLUME FIVE OF THE MEMOIRS OF ARNOLD SCHNABEL is now out and available on Amazon as both an old-fashioned paper "book" made from wood pulp and as a Kindle e-book, at low, low, insanely low inroductory prices!

Please click here and be the first kid on your block to own a copy – and remember: please enjoy responsibly!

Thursday, July 21, 2022

“The Philosopher and the Fool”

Gerry (“the Brain”) Goldsmith awoke again, to the rumble and roar of the Third Avenue Elevated passing by outside his window, and now it was daytime. What day was it? How long had he been ill? He touched his face and felt a soft growth of stubble. Gerry shaved religiously every other day, so it must have been several days at least. He looked out the window and when the train had passed the sky above the tracks and the rooftops across the Bowery was a deep flat grey, like a great wet circus tent covering the world.

Gerry propped himself up on his elbows and realized he was wearing his pajamas, his one pair of pajamas, the flannel worn soft and thin and frayed at the cuffs, of a color faded from a once vibrant swirling ocean blue to that of the East River in that uncertain half hour before the night has ended and the day has begun.

He lay there for perhaps five minutes, a thousand thoughts welling up from the depths of his brain and disappearing into the universe.

It occurred to him that he was well, or, at least no longer ill, or at least not seriously ill, and he remembered in brief snatches of moving images and sounds his young friend Araminta taking care of him, giving him tea to sip, and soup to try to swallow, Araminta holding the bowl in one hand and a spoon in the other, murmuring soft words as she patiently brought the spoon to his lips.

He pushed off the two old army blankets, moved his legs off the small bed and sat there on the side of the bed for another few minutes.

How close had he come to dying? What a pity it would have been if he had died before finishing his magnum opus, more than two decades in the writing, current title Pensées for a Rainy Day. But, on the other hand, perhaps Araminta would have assembled his completed pages and found a publisher, and his death might even have been a romantic selling point for this addition to the canonical list of distinguished posthumously published unfinished masterpieces, like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”, or Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet, or Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet…  

Gerry absentmindedly rubbed his sleeve on his nose, and realized that the cloth of his pajamas actually smelled freshly laundered. And so Araminta had even made that extra effort, apparently taking the pajamas down the street to Madame Chang’s shop. He then noticed that several missing buttons on the pajama jacket had been replaced, either by Araminta or Madame Chang. He also suddenly realized, with a sort of internal gulping sensation, that Araminta must have put him into the pajamas, and so of course she had seen his naked, pale, middle-aged body, in all its absence of glory…

An hour later, Gerry had taken a bath, shaved, and dressed in one of his two suits, the Harris tweed his mother had bought him at Brooks upon his graduation, without honors, from Harvard, twenty-seven years ago, as opposed to the newer (albeit from Goodwill) Donegal tweed. The suit fit him better than it had in years, he could even button the fly all the way to the top, and so he must have lost ten or perhaps even fifteen pounds in his illness.

It was his intention to go downstairs to the second floor to Araminta’s flat, and, if she was in, to thank her, humbly and sincerely. It was all he could do.

But before he went to his door he saw his old Royal portable sitting on his little writing table. He went over to it, and in the platen of the machine was a sheet of paper at the top of which was the last pensée he had typed before falling ill:

“The only way to be sure not to say something stupid is to say nothing. Therefore I shall leave the following page of this work entirely blank, thus ensuring that at least one page of it shall not be utter nonsense.”

Gerry sat down, rolled out the sheet of paper and laid it face down on the pile of completed pages to the right of the typewriter. From the stack of fresh paper to the left of the machine he picked up one sheet and laid it on the pile to the right, and so that was the one page on which no nonsense had been written. Then he picked up another fresh sheet and rolled it into the machine. He was now free to write more nonsense.

There was a half-smoked Bull Durham lying in the ashtray next to the typewriter – how old? Three days, four? A week? No matter. He put the butt between his lips and lighted it with a match from the box of Blue Tips. Then he typed:  

“One day a philosopher and a fool met on the road, and they decided to exchange identities. No one ever noticed the difference.”

There, that would do for a day’s work, especially after coming off a serious illness, perhaps even a brush with death.

As was his wont, Gerry left the sheet of paper in the machine, all the better to resume his work next time, if he were granted a next time. He stubbed out the Bull Durham butt in the chipped ashtray (emblazoned with the legend THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL – OUR SERVICE IS SWELL), and then he got up, went to the door, opened it and went out.

He hoped Araminta would be home.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2022

“Let’s Go, McGee”

 “Let’s go, McGee,” said Mickey Pumpernickel. “We gotta get to work.”

“One more shot,” said Waldo McGee.

“Nix,” said Mickey. “You had three already, and three bocks, now let’s shake a leg.”

“Aw, but Mickey,” said Waldo. “It ain’t but seven yet.”

“I said nix. We gotta sober you up a little before the first set.”

“You ain’t no fun, Mickey.”

“You want fun? Try havin’ fun when we’re back to sleepin’ in the flops after you get fired from this gig.”

“Just a quick bock then. I’ll swallow it right down quick, I promise.”

“Hey, Bob,” said Mickey to Bob. “Tell McGee he’s cut off till he gets back from work.”

“You’re cut off, Waldo,” said Bob. “Till you get back from your work.”

“Cheesis,” said Waldo. “My own partner and my bartender gangin’ up on me.”

“Get up,” said Mickey. “I ain’t gonna tell you again. And don’t forget to leave Bob a tip.”

Bob watched Waldo leave two quarters on the bar, and then climb off his stool with Mickey under his arm.

“Umbrella,” said Mickey.

“Oh, right,” said Waldo, and he got his umbrella off the hook under the lip of the bar.

“Good night, Bob,” said Waldo. “I’ll see ya later.”

“See ya later,” said Bob. “You too, Mickey.”

“Later, big guy,” said Mickey. “Don’t take no wooden nickels while we’re gone and we’ll catch you later unless McGee drops dead on stage tonight.”

Waldo took a last look at that young fellow Terry or Jerry or whatever the hell his name was, talking with Daisy the Dip down at the end corner of the bar by the rest rooms. Maybe the kid would get lucky. Maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe it would be better for him if he didn’t get lucky. Who the hell knew?

“Let’s go, McGee,” said the dummy again, and Waldo headed for the door, weaving only slightly, carrying Mickey with him.

Outside the rain had subsided to a cold misty drizzle, and Waldo didn’t bother opening his umbrella. The tiny droplets of cold stinging water felt good on his face, but he knew Mickey didn’t like to get wet, so he stuck him in under his old raincoat.

They were still a little early when they got off the crosstown bus at Bedford and 6th Avenue, so they went into the automat across the alley from the Hotel St Crispian.

Waldo put a nickel into the slot, turned the chromium handle, and filled a cup with coffee. The place was pretty full, so he went over to a table where a young guy sat writing in a notebook.

“Hey, pal,” Mickey said to the young guy. “You mind if my partner and I sit here?”

The young man had never been addressed by a ventriloquist’s dummy before, but then he had been born and raised in Greenwich Village.

“Help yourself,” he said.

Waldo sat down with Mickey on his lap, and put his cup and saucer on the table.

“What you writing there, young fella?” said the dummy.

“Well, if you must know, I am writing a poem,” said the young man.

“I figured you was a poet,” said Mickey. “You got the look.”

The young man wore thick glasses, a floppy newsboy’s cap, a worn peacoat of the sort found in army & navy stores, and a thick bone-colored ribbed turtleneck of the Hemingwayesque type. Either he was a seaman or a longshoreman or a poet, and his delicate ink-stained fingers meant that he must be a poet.

“I feel that a poet should dress the part,” said the young man. “And not for me the conservative three-piece suit of an Eliot or a Stevens, no, I feel that I must dress as the common man does, for I believe that poetry should speak to all men, not just to the professorial class.”

“Exactly my sentiments,” said Mickey. “Don’t you agree, McGee?”

“What?” said Waldo.

“Don’t you agree that poetry should speak to the common man?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Waldo.

“Don’t mind him,” said Mickey to the young guy. And to Waldo: “Drink that java, McGee.”

“I’m drinkin’ it, I’m drinkin’ it,” said Waldo, and he picked up the cup.

“We gotta be onstage at eight,” said Mickey to the young fellow. “Waldo’s the compère over there at the Prince Hal Room in the St Crispian. You ever catch our act?”

“No, I don’t believe I have,” said the young man. “My mother and I have had dinner there on occasion, but we always go for the Early Bird Special.”

“That’s a good deal, the Early Bird,” said Mickey. “I don’t eat, myself, but I heard good things about the Prince Hal’s Early Bird.”

“The sole meunière with creamed scalloped potatoes and choice of vegetables is a very good deal for three-fifty,” said the young fellow.

“This guy?” said Mickey, pointing his little wooden thumb at Waldo. “He’s entitled to a staff meal there every night, anything but big-ticket items like the filet mignon or the lobster thermidor, but will he avail himself of it ever?”

“I don’t like to eat before a show,” said Waldo. “It upsets my stomach and gives me gas. You know that, Mickey.”

“I know you’d rather drink your dinner, that’s what I know,” said Mickey. He turned to the young guy. “Bock beer and Cream of Kentucky bourbon, washed down with another bock – that’s this guy’s idea of a three-course meal.”

“I have a drinking problem, too,” said the young man.

“So’s this guy,” said Mickey. “His problem is he can’t drink enough. Boom. Rim shot.”

“Pardon me?”

“Come see us tonight you ain’t doin’ nothing. Like I said, we go on at eight. We do a twenty-minute set, then Tony Winston & his Winstonians come on with their chanteuse Shirley De LaSalle. Vavoom, what a babe that Shirley is! Nine o’clock the Betty Baxter Dancers come on. Va va voom, the gams on them babes!”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the young guy. “I’m not supposed to go to bars or any places that serve alcohol.”

“So you drink ginger ale. Eat some pretzels. Enjoy the show. Live a little while you’re young.”

“Well – maybe.”

Milford wondered if he were losing his mind. Was he really sitting here in an automat having a conversation with a ventriloquist’s dummy? Yes, he was. He looked down at his notebook and the lines he had just written:

A friend? Do I at last have a friend?
Or, is this in fact my journey’s end?
Drinking coffee in a Village automat,
watching all my little dreams go splat.

He looked up from the notebook and into the blue blank eyes of the dummy, which seemed to be staring straight into his.

“What’s a matter, buddy?” said Mickey. “You afraid to have a good time?”

The dummy had a point.

“Yes,” said Milford.

“Look, kid,” said Mickey. “I know we just met, but you know what your problem is?”

“I have many problems,” said Milford.

“Ha ha, good one,” said Mickey. “But you know what your number one problem is?”

“That I was born?”

“Ha ha, boom, rim shot. No,” said Mickey. “Your problem is you got a poker up your ass. Take it from me, you pull that poker out you’re gonna feel a whole lot better.”

“Yes, you’re probably right,” said Milford.

“Awright, we gotta go. McGee’s gotta get into his makeup and go through his little pre-show ritual. Vocal exercise, one cigarette, one more cup of joe, a quick Hail Mary, and then showtime, baby.”

“Good luck,” said Milford.

“Hope to see you there, kid. What’s your name?”


“My moniker’s Mickey Pumpernickel, and this drunken bum is Waldo McGee. Put ‘er there, Milford, and we hope to see you at the Prince Hal.”

“Maybe,” said Milford, and he shook the dummy’s little wooden hand.

“You got nothing to lose,” said Mickey. “Except that poker up your ass.”

The shabby little man and his dummy got up from the table and left.

Milford looked out the misted plate glass window and watched them cross the alley to the St Crispian’s service entrance. Should he go, or should he stay here in this automat, scribbling poetry that no one would ever read? 

He closed up his notebook and sighed. He would have one more Woodbine, one more cup of coffee, and then he would decide.

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

Thursday, July 7, 2022

“A Dream of a Fair Woman”

Gerry (“The Brain”) Goldsmith woke up from a dream that took place in a dream dreamed by his much younger self, who had awoken from yet another dream in which he wandered streets filled with people who pretended not to notice that he was naked, and now, staring up at the dark ceiling as the Third Avenue El roared by outside his window, he thought, “I’ve learned my lesson now.”

Yes, he had learned his lesson at long last.

But what lesson was that?

The lesson.

Was he only to learn the lesson at the moment of death?

The roaring of the train faded away, and now there was only the sound of sleet rattling against the glass of his window, and Gerry fell back, into yet another dream.

When he awoke again it was still dark, and in this latest dream he had to urinate but couldn’t find a bathroom, but now he realized he was in his own tiny flat, and all he had to do was get out of bed and walk across the room to his own bathroom.

He pushed off the covers, and saw his naked body. So at least he had managed to get undressed, despite having been so feverish. How long had he been ill? A night and a day, and then another night? Longer? But he felt okay now. Weak, and hollow, and thirsty, and, yes, he had to urinate, but he felt okay, he felt as though he wasn’t going to die. 

He got his legs off the bed and sat there for a minute, his bare feet on the cold floor, the palms of his hands on the edge of the mattress, the sound of rain spattering against the window glass.

Another dream, a dream dreamt before the one about searching for a bathroom. A dream of a beautiful woman with dark hair. The woman had touched his forehead, and he had tried to touch her, but he had been unable to lift his hand…

And something about a lesson. While he had been so feverish and ill, he had learned something, something very important, more important than anything else. But what was it? If it was really that important he could put it into his book, his work-in-progress, twenty years or more in progress, current title: Pensées for a Rainy Day. 

If he could only remember, but maybe it would come back to him when he sat down at the typewriter again, after he got some more rest and was fully recovered, or at least as fully recovered as he was ever likely to get.

Finally, after a few tries, he stood up, and he didn’t fall down. No, he wasn’t dead yet, and Gerry didn’t think he was going to die, not quite yet anyway. Maybe he would live long enough to finish his book.

He took a barefoot step on the cold wooden floor towards his bathroom, and then another step, and then near the foot of his bed, on the old oval throw-rug of faded colors, lay a person curled up under a quilt. It was a woman, with dark hair, and her head lay on a pillow, and the woman was his young friend Araminta. She lay on her side with her knees drawn up and her hands folded under her cheek. She had her black beret on her head.

Very quietly, so as not to awaken her, so that she shouldn’t see his naked middle-aged body (although she already had seen it, because now he remembered her undressing him as he lay sweating and delirious), very quietly he stepped around her and crossed to the bathroom.

There was nothing to be done but to flush the toilet when he was finished, and he only hoped she was a sound sleeper. 

Fortunately his old grey corduroy bathrobe was hanging on the bathroom door, and so he wouldn’t have to cross the room naked again.

What had he learned?

Something, he was sure of it, and maybe it would come to him again before he left this earth for good…

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