Thursday, August 25, 2022

“Farmer Brown”

“Excuse me, young fellow, but may I ask you a question?”

It was a middle-aged guy, pleasant-looking and plump, with a smiling flushed face and thick eyeglasses.

“What?” said Milford.

“Now when you say ’What?’, is that in the sense of ‘What is your question?’, or, rather, simply, in the sense of ‘What did you say?’”

“’What?’ in the sense of ‘What did you say,’” said Milford.

“I said, and say again, begging your indulgence, ‘May I ask you a question?’”

“Yeah, sure,” said Milford.

“Are you a seafaring gent?”

“A what?”

“A sailor. Perhaps a merchant seaman? Or a bargeman? Or a tugboat man?”

“No, I am none of those.”

“I see,” said the man. “I ask because of the peacoat you are wearing, and, also, to an extent, because of the thick ribbed woolen sweater you wear beneath it.”

“I am not a sailor.”

“Very interesting. And, if it is not too intrusive of me to ask, may I inquire of your occupation?”

“Yes, you may.”

“And that is?”

“I am a poet.”

“I knew it! By the sensitive cut of your jib – if I may speak in nautical terms – I just knew you were a scribe of some sort, perhaps an autobiographical novelist or a literary essayist, but most likely a poet, a modern troubadour!”

“If you knew I was a poet, then why did you ask if I was a sailor?”

“Only because if by chance you were a sailor, then you might have been offended if I assumed you were a poet.”

“Oh, okay. But since I am a poet, I shouldn’t be offended if you were to assume I was a sailor?”

“Precisely. If anything, in my experience, poets are flattered to be taken for anything but a poet. I once met T.S. Eliot, and he told me that he was always pleased when people took him for a bank manager or an accountant. May I buy you a libation, sir?”

“I don’t drink. This is ginger ale I’m drinking.”

“Excuse me, do you mean to say that you do not partake of alcoholic beverages?”

“That is correct. I am an alcoholic, and if I have even a taste of alcohol, then next thing I know I’m waking up in an alleyway.”

“A pity. And so young!”

“Yes. It’s a struggle. But life is a struggle. And then we die.”

“How true! But – and again, please stop me if I am being overly inquisitive – why are you sitting at a bar?”

“You know, sir, I have been asking myself that very question ever since I came in here an hour ago. Why? Why am I here?”

“On this planet? In this life?”

“Well, that, too, but more particularly, why am I in this bar? And the most obvious answer is that I was sitting all alone in that automat across the alley from this hotel, and that ventriloquist and his dummy up there came in, and they suggested I come over and see the show.”

“Waldo McGee and Mickey Pumpernickel?”

“Yeah. The dummy said I was missing out on life sitting in the automat by myself and smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.”

“The dummy said this?”

“Yeah, the dummy did all the talking. Although I guess it was really the ventriloquist guy talking.”

“Yes, I suppose it must have been. And are you glad you came over?”

“In a sense, yes. Because the dummy introduced me to the singer.”

“Shirley De LaSalle?”

“Yeah, he introduced me. And, even though I don’t drink, I bought her a champagne cocktail, and she said thanks. But then she had to go back onstage and sing.”

Shirley was at that moment singing, and her song went:
“Dark are the alleys I stumble down.
Steep are the stairs I tumble down.
What is that sound that’s comin’ round?
Is it the siren of that train hellbound?”
“She’s quite the little songstress, isn’t she?” said the man.

“Yes,” said Milford. “I’m reluctant to say it, because I’m so used to not wanting to be wherever I am, but I have to say I’m almost glad I came in here now.”

“Ah, to be young!” said the man.

“Being young is wasted on me,” said Milford.

“You might feel differently when you are no longer young, my friend.”

“Oh, I’m sure that if I live long enough to be no longer young, that I shall be suffused with regret for wasting my youth.”

“It is not too late!”

“Do you think so?”

“Look at me,” said the man. “Three decades ago, at the dawn of the so-called Roaring Twenties, I came to this great city from my hometown in Indiana, bright-eyed I was and full of dreams.”

“And did you fulfill your dreams?”

The man paused.

“In a sense, yes.”

“In what sense?”

“In the sense that my whole life has passed like a dream, a dream full of dreams, which were themselves composed of dreams, dreams within dreams within the great dream of life.”

For an awful moment Milford saw himself in the man. Would he, Milford, still be sitting at this bar, thirty years hence, boring some other young fellow in a peacoat?

Shirley sang, and the words of her song went:
“Down dark alleys I creep.
Into dark windows I peek.
Words like night winds I speak.
And the universe makes not a peep…”
“Brown is the name,” said the man, and he was extending a hand.

Milford gave the man his own hand, and their two soft and uncallused hands, one young, one older, embraced briefly.

“Call me Farmer,” said the man. “That’s what all my friends call me: ‘Farmer Brown’. Phineas is my actual Christian name, although I like to joke that it was most un-Christian of my parents to give it to me. Ha ha. ‘Farmer Brown’ they call me, on account of I’m originally from Indiana. Not that I’ve ever been on a farm. May I know your name?”

“Call me Milford.”

“Milford? An unusual name.”

“It’s my surname actually.”

“I see. So you prefer not to be called by your, uh, given name?”

“Yes, I prefer it.”

“May I ask what that name is?”

Milford sighed. This was another reason why he shouldn’t go to bars.

“My allegedly Christian name is Marion.”



“And I thought Phineas was bad. So your friends call you Milford?”

“Yes,” said Milford, not getting into the question of whether he even had any friends.

“We all have our little crosses to bear,” said Farmer Brown.

“Why do I even bother to live,” sang Shirley De LaSalle, on the little stage, “when I ain’t got nothing left to give?”
“Why do I get up in the morning?
Why do I go to bed at night?
I’ve got no man to love me,
to kiss and hold me tight.”
Milford gazed at the bottles of liquor ranged sparkling on the shelves of the bar. He wondered if he would be stuck with this Farmer Brown character all night.

“Y’know, Milford,” said the Farmer Brown guy, “I should really like to read some of your poetry.”


“I said I’d love to read your poetry, I mean if you wouldn’t mind.”

This was the first time, the absolute first time that anyone had ever asked to read Milford’s poetry. Would it be the last?

Milford told Farmer Brown that, yes, he would show him some of his poems, and in fact he just happened to have a sheaf of them rolled up inside his peacoat.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2022

"An American Epic"

“And so you see, Bubbles,” said Addison, “what I am attempting to do in my novel is to do something akin to what Tolstoy did in War and Peace, but to create an essentially American epic, which, yes, might fall within the delineaments of what we call ‘a western’ qua ‘western’, but which will also encompass all the themes of all great literature, from the time of Homer down to our own sadly decadent day –”

“Hey, Atcheson,” said Bubbles, “I hate to interrupt you, but can I just say one thing?”

“Of course, Bubbles, say not only one thing, but a dozen, a thousand things –”

“That one thing I want to say is I don’t care.”

“You don’t care. In what sense, dear Bubbles?”

“In the sense that I don’t care about your ideas for your novel. I mean, if you want to ramble on, knock yourself out, but just don’t expect me to pay attention.”

“Oh. So I was boring you.”

“You would have been boring me if I was paying attention, but luckily for me I wasn’t.”

“Ha ha.”

“No offense.”

“Oh, no offense taken. May I tell you a little secret, Bubbles?”

“Fire away. I love secrets.”

“My little secret is that my entire life people have been telling me I’m boring.”

“But it hasn’t stopped you yet, has it?”

“No, I seem to be quite irrepressible that way. But what ever shall we talk about?”

“Nothing’s always good for me.”

“You mean you like to talk about nothing?”

“I mean I like not talking about anything.”

“Just sitting here, saying nothing?”

“It’s not so bad. It beats hearing about Homer and Tolstoy and your western.”
“A prose epic in the guise of a western –”

“Yeah, not talking about anything is better than hearing about your whatever in the guise of a western.”

“So I should just write it and not talk about it.”

“It doesn’t matter to me if you write it or not, just don’t talk about it to me and expect me to listen.”

Addison paused for a moment, his senses full with Chianti and baked ziti and cheesecake, with the jukebox jazz music and the warmth of human bodies, the rich odors of cigarette smoke, the chatter and laughter of the voices of men and women, and above all the calm beauty of Bubbles. At last he spoke again, as he was innately incapable of not speaking for more than a minute at a time.

“May I say it again, Bubbles?”

“What’s that?”

“That you are a true existential heroine?”

“Yeah, you can say that again. I don’t know what it means, but I like being called some kind of heroine.”

“You truly are.”

“Hey, let’s get the check.”

“Oh, I am boring you.”

“Just a little maybe, but mostly I’m getting a little sleepy, and like I told you, I don’t get my good ten hours beauty sleep I’m just a wreck the whole next day.”

“Speaking of the check, I’m afraid I only have two dollars and some small change left.”

“I told you dinner was on me.”

“Thank you very much, Bubbles.”

“You’re welcome. Y’know, Addison, even though you’re kind of a boring guy, I like you for some reason.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. I’m not sure why. I mean, you look like Dan Duryea on a bad day, you never have any money and you never buy your own cigarettes, but, I don’t know, I kind of like you.”

“Bubbles, you don’t know what it means to me to hear you say that.”

“Don’t get carried away, pal. I didn’t say I was in love with you.”

“No, of course not! I mean, why would you?”

“Exactly. Why would I? Now flag that waiter down.”

Outside the San Remo the sleety rain had all but stopped, and the neon sign of the bar cast its blood-orange glow over the wet pavement and the piles of dirty snow.

“May I at least walk you to your door?” said Addison.

“You’d better,” said Bubbles. “All the creeps in this town?”

A half block down Bleecker and they were at the steps of her building.

“Good night, Atcheson.”

“Good night, Bubbles. But.”

“But what?”

“I hate to overstep my bounds.”

“Go ahead and overstep.”

“I wonder if I might kiss you.”

She looked at him.

“Only if you wanted to,” added Addison.

She continued to look at him.

“I could give you that two dollars I still have,” said Addison.

“Your last two bucks?”

“Well, I still have some loose change also.”

“So you’d still have enough for some coffee and a roll or two for breakfast.”

“Oh, yes, the diner I always go to, Ma’s Diner, it’s quite reasonable, and Ma bakes the most excellent breakfast rolls and cinnamon buns –”

“Keep your two bucks, Addison.”


“Keep your two bucks, and get yourself a nice nutritious breakfast tomorrow.”

“Well, if you insist.”

“I insist,” said Bubbles. “And, yeah, you can kiss me.”

“I can?”

“That’s what I said, wasn’t it?”

“And I don’t have to pay?”

“Shut up and pucker up before I change my mind,” said Bubbles.

It was never easy for Addison to shut up, but now he did, and then he puckered up.

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

Thursday, August 11, 2022

“Like Oranges in the Sun”

After Waldo McGee and Mickey Pumpernickel had introduced the Betty Baxter Dancers, Waldo carried Mickey over to the bar where Milford was sitting by himself.

“So you came, kid,” said Mickey the dummy.

“Yes, as you see,” said Milford.

“You mind if McGee and I take this stool?”

“No, help yourself,” said Milford, and Waldo climbed up onto the stool. He settled Mickey on his lap facing Milford, and the dummy continued to do the talking, with Waldo’s lips only barely moving.

“So what do you think of the show so far?”

“Quite entertaining,” said Milford.

“Don’t this beat sitting alone in the automat, drinking coffee, all by yourself, smoking cigarettes, staring out the window at the cold pelting rain like you got the weight of the world on your narrow shoulders?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Look at the gams on them babes!”

Milford looked at the dancers, doing their dance.

“Yes, they are quite, um –”

“And what about that Shirley, the canary?”

“The what?”

“Shirley De LaSalle, the singer with the band.”

“Oh –”

“Ain’t she a living doll?”

“Yes, she’s very, uh –”

“This is life, kid. This.” The little dummy waved his little wooden arm in its bright yellow suit sleeve. “This is life’s feast.”

“Well, perhaps,” said Milford.

The bartender came over.

“Ginger ale, Waldo?”

“Yes, thank you, Raoul,” said Waldo, the first time he had spoken with his own voice since taking his seat. His voice was deeper than Mickey’s, thicker, sadder.

The band played and the dancers danced as the bartender brought Waldo a glass of ice and a bottle of White Rock ginger ale. Waldo poured some of the soda into the glass and watched it fizz, but Mickey Pumpernickel continued to look at Milford.

“What was your name again, kid?” said Mickey.

“Milford, just call me Milford.”

“I see you’re drinking ginger ale, too, Milford.”


“No booze, huh?”


“On accounta you have a, quote, drinking problem, unquote.”


“I wonder if you would mind doing McGee a favor, Milford.”

“What’s that?”

“When Raoul comes back this way again, ask him for a shot of Cream of Kentucky bourbon.”

“But I told you in the automat, I have a drinking problem, I’m an alcoholic, I probably shouldn’t even be in a place that serves alcohol –”

“Slow down, Wilfred. The shot ain’t for you. It’s for McGee, but pretend the shot’s for you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“McGee ain’t supposed to drink while he’s working, but he could really use a shot, so be a pal.”

“I don’t know, it doesn’t seem right –”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because I suspect he has a drinking problem too, and –”

“We’ll introduce you to Shirley.”


“We’ll introduce you to Shirley, the warbler.”

“The singer?”

“Yeah, just order a shot, and pretend like it’s for you, and then we’ll introduce you to Shirley.”

“You will?”

“Yeah. You scratch Waldo’s back, he scratches yours.”

“He will?”

“We both will.”

“She wouldn’t talk to me.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, kid. Look, here comes Raoul, now order a shot. Cream of Kentucky, but like it’s for you.”

The singer, Shirley De LaSalle, was sitting down at the end of the bar, smoking a cigarette, watching the dancers, or at least looking in their direction. Her legs were crossed, her hair was the color of oranges in the sun and her dress was the color of moonlight.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Milford to the bartender. “I wonder if I might have a shot of Cream of Kentucky bourbon.”

“Certainly, sir.”

The bartender poured the shot of bourbon, and took Milford’s money. As he was going to the cash register Waldo quickly lifted the shot glass and drank it down.

“Thanks, Alfred,” said Mickey. “Waldo needed that.”

“You’re welcome,” said Milford.

The bartender brought back Milford’s change.

“All right, Mumford,” said Mickey. “You kept up your end of the deal. Now grab your ginger ale and we’ll introduce you to Shirley.”


“Do we look like welchers to you?”

“Do you really think she’ll talk to me?”

“She’ll say hello. Beyond that it’s up to you, kid.”

“I don’t know. She’s very beautiful.”

“Of course she is.”

“What if she thinks I’m a bum?”

“She won’t think you’re a bum if you buy her a champagne cocktail.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Can you do that?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Then come on. She goes back on again after the dancers go off, so you got about five minutes to chat her up.”

“I’m afraid.”

“We’re all afraid, kid. We’re born afraid, we live afraid, we die afraid. And you can be a coward all your life or you can be a man. So what’s it gonna be?”

“Okay,” said Milford, after a pause. “I’ll do it.”

“That’s a boy. And, look, when we get over to Shirley, offer to buy her a champagne cocktail, and also order another shot of Cream of Kentucky.”

“But I don’t want a shot of Cream of Kentucky, I don’t drink, I told you –”

“The Cream of Kentucky ain’t for you, Rutherford.”

“Oh,” said Milford. “I get it.”

“Now come on. Times a-wasting. Shirley’s gotta go back on soon, and me and McGee gotta introduce her.”

“All right,” said Milford. He got off his stool, took his change from the bar, leaving a fifty-cent tip as a token of good faith, and, picking up his glass of ginger ale, he followed the little man and the dummy down toward the end of the bar, toward the beautiful young woman with orange hair.

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

Thursday, August 4, 2022

“A Reet Guy”

“And so you see, Daisy,” said Terry, “my goal in my novel is to take what we have learned from Joyce and from Thomas Wolfe, and also from Hemingway and his epigones Mailer and Irwin Shaw, and, yes, even James Gould Cozzens, and to build on this sturdy foundation to bring the American autobiographical novel into a new realm, which will rise above the constraints of the author’s personal experience, which experience, qua experience, might perhaps not at face value present the most shall we say dramatic material –”

“Sounds interesting,” said Daisy.

“Perhaps you would like to read some of it someday?”

“What’s that?”

“The novel I’m writing. My work in progress. Young Chap, Whither Goest Thou?”

“Whither goest who?”

“That’s my working title, Young Chap, Whither Goest Thou? But I’m not married to it. I was thinking of changing it to I Don’t Want to Go Home Again, but, uh –”

“Well, I’ll tell you – Timmy is it?”

“Terry, actually.”

“I’ll tell you, Terry, the kind of novels I like to read are the ones they show in Times Square.”

“They show novels in Times Square?”

“Yeah, double features with gals like Marie Windsor and Susan Hayward and Ida Lupino.”

“Oh, you mean movies.”


“So you don’t like to read novels?”

“I like that one Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. I found it on a subway seat, and when I run out of movie magazines to read I’ll read a few pages of that. I’ve been reading it for a couple of years now, but it’s okay, it’s a pretty long book, so I’ve still got five or six hundred pages to go. You ever read that one?”

“Um, no,” said Terry, “I mean, I’ve heard of it of course.”

“They made a movie out of it with Linda Darnell, that was pretty good. Hey, speaking of subways, I got to go to work.”

“To work?”

“Yeah, work. You want to come with me?”

“To your work?”

“Why not? Maybe you’ll get some ideas for your novel.”

“But, what kind of work?”

“Working the hole.”

“The hole?”

“The subway. I work the subway and the el. You can help me.”

“Help you?”

“Yeah, you look so innocent and nice-guy, you’ll make a great stall.”

“What’s a stall?”

“It’s a guy or gal who distracts a mark so the dip can get his wallet.”

Suddenly Terry remembered what Mickey Pumpernickel had told him that Daisy did for a living.

“Daisy, I can’t help you pick people’s pockets!”

“Jeeze, don’t get so excited, Jerry.”


“Don’t get so excited, Terry.”

“I can’t help you rob people.”

“So don’t. It was only a suggestion.”

“Well, I’m sorry, Daisy – call me old-fashioned, but I am not a criminal.”

“Okay, take it easy.”

“I don’t mean to be judgmental.”

“Don’t matter to me if you are.”

“It’s just – what if I got caught?”

“You wouldn’t get caught. You’d only be the stall, the decoy. It’s like, you ask a likely mark what the next station is, and then when they tell you I lift their wallet. So you’re free and clear. Anybody gets pinched, it’s me.”

“I’m sorry, Daisy, but I just can’t do that. I am an artist, a writer –”

“Okay, settle down. I like working single-o anyhow. More gelt for me.”

“Gee, Daisy, you seem like such a nice girl –”

“I am a nice girl. But I gotta make a living.”

“Isn’t there some other way?”

“What, being a nickel-pusher at the automat? Or would you rather maybe I walk the streets?”


“So what’s the harm? It ain’t like I’m dipping poor people’s pokes. What would be the point of that? I strictly stick to the guys who are wearing Brooks Brothers suits. They can afford it, and if they weren’t so cheap they’d be taking cabs instead of the subway.”

“Well, maybe so, but –”

“I thought you were a reet guy.”

“I am a reet guy!”

“You’re a square, Kerry, a nice guy, but a total cube.”

“Terry – my name is Terry.”

“Terry. You seem like a nice guy, but you’re like a cardboard box, that’s how exciting you are.”


“Anyhoo, look, thanks for the drinks, but I really got to run. It ain’t safe to ride the el or the subway late at night.”

“No, I suppose that’s true.”

“Too many bums with busy hands. You don’t even know what a girl’s got to put up with. But it’s okay, they get fresh, I give them this.”

Daisy pulled a six-inch long hat pin out of her little hat and showed it to Terry.

“Gee,” said Terry.

“A quick poke with this teaches them heels some manners.”

“Um, uh, heh heh –”

She slid the pin back into her hat and then slid off her stool.

“Don’t take any wooden nickels, pal. Maybe I’ll see you in here again.”

“Well, it was very nice meeting you, Daisy.”

“Yeah, you too. Oh, and here.” She opened her purse and brought out a man’s wallet. It was Terry’s wallet, and she handed it to him. “Because I like you, Gary. In your own square way, you’re kind of a reet guy.”

“Thank you, Daisy,” said Terry.

She took her umbrella off the hook under the lip of the bar, said goodnight to Bob the barkeep, and walked away.

Terry opened his wallet. He was pretty sure there had been two singles and a five in it, and, sure enough, they were still in there. Maybe Daisy really did like him. Maybe she really did think he was reet guy.

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