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…}

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