Thursday, October 27, 2022

"The Quiet Ones"

“And so you see,” said Milford, suddenly aware that he was sweating profusely, “what I am attempting to do in my poetry is to take the sense of song, of an earthly and yet ethereal rhythm – such as we find in the work of Dylan Thomas, or, perhaps, in an earlier day, Gerard Manley Hopkins – and yet to infuse it with the intelligence and social consciousness of men such as Auden, but – and this is a big but – with a uniquely American perspective –”

“Uh-huh,” said Shirley. “Me, I’m more into writing song lyrics myself, words that go with music, y’know?”

“You write songs?”

“Yeah, what do ya think half the stuff I’ve been singing tonight has been, daddy-o? That wasn’t all Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers!”

“Well, I did suspect that I hadn’t heard some of the songs before –”

“Yeah, me and Tony, that’s our piano player and combo leader, we like to make up songs together, and we discovered that after about nine o’clock the punters are mostly too drunk to know what they’re listening to, so we stick some of our own material in there. One of these days Tony says he’s gonna take the best numbers uptown to the publishers and see if we can’t get a deal.”

“Gee, that would be swell, Miss De LaSalle.”

“Call me Shirley, Rimford.”

“Well, it’s Milford, actually.”

“Milford, okay, I’ll remember that. So – Milford – do you make any money from your poems?”

“Oh, God no. I’ve never even had any of them published yet.”

“So, like, what do you do to fill your rice bowl?”

“My rice bowl?”

“Yeah, I guess what I’m getting at is do you have a job.”

“Oh, a job. No. Not exactly.”

“So, like, how do you pay your rent and eat?”

“Well, I live at home actually.”

“Oh,” said Shirley. “Around here?”

“Yes, not too far. 175 Bleecker Street. Between Sullivan and MacDougal.”

“Nice. Right near the San Remo, one of my stomping grounds. This an apartment?”

“Well, it’s a house, actually.”

“A whole house?”

“Well, yes. You see my great-grandfather built it, in 1859 I believe.”

“No kidding. And who else lives there?”

“Well, it’s just my mother and I. We have a maid who has a room in the attic. Or at least I assume she does, I’ve never seen it.”

“So – and please don’t be offended, Milford – but, are you, like, loaded?”

“Define loaded.”

“Are you rich.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m rich per se.

“But you don’t have to work.”

“My poetry is my work.”

“But you don’t have to work to earn your living?”

“Well, no, I suppose not.”

“So, let me ask you a question, Milford, if it’s not too personal.”

“Anything, Miss De LaSalle.”


“Anything, Shirley.”

“How come you dress like a dockworker? Or maybe a deckhand on one of those tugboats on the river?”

“You mean my peacoat?”

“Your peacoat. The wooly sweater. The Dead End Kids cap. The dungarees and work shoes.”

“This is my uniform.”

“Your uniform.”

“Yes, my uniform as a poet. But a poet of the people.”

“Okay, I can see that. It’s like you’ve got to dress the part.”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Just like me with the dresses I wear on stage.”


“So, if you don’t have to work, what do you do all day when you’re not writing poems?”

“Well, that’s all I do, really. I mean, I read, and I go to meetings –”

“What kind of meetings?”

“Alcoholics Anonymous, I’m afraid.”

“You mean you’re an alcy?”

“Yes. I can’t have even a single drink without getting horribly drunk.”

“Yeah? What’s that you’re drinking there then?”

Suddenly Milford realized with horror that the glass of ginger ale he had just nearly finished had been mixed with whiskey – he could feel the alcohol coursing through his entire being, and not just his physical being but also its emotional, mental and spiritual components.

“Oh, dear God,” he said. “What have I done?”

“Well, you heard Mr. Brown order you a Cream of Kentucky and ginger, right?”

“Yes, I did, Miss De LaSalle –”


“Yes, I did, Shirley, but, you see, I was distracted!”

“By what?”

Milford flushed deeply, the sweat now pouring profusely down his face and into the rolled collar of his hearty Breton fisherman’s sweater.

“I was distracted by you, Miss De LaSalle,” he said, and he cast his eyes downward to his glass. He might as well go ahead and finish it now, and he raised the glass and did so. “Okay, I should leave now.”

“What’s the rush?” said Shirley. “Don’t you want to hear my next set?”

“Yes, I do, Miss De LaSalle –”


“Yes, I do. Shirley, more than anything I want to hear you sing again, but, you see, I’ve just sent more than six months of sobriety down the drain, or rather, down my wretched gullet, and I’m afraid if I stay here I will only get disgracefully plastered, and wake up in an alleyway, suffused with misery both physical and moral. No, I’d better go.”

“Well, suit yourself, sailor,” said Shirley, “but, hey, why not just, you know, show a little self-control and try not to get plastered?”

“But you don’t understand, Miss De LaSalle, we have a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, ‘people, places, and things,’ and that means we must avoid people and places and things that will tempt us to drink. So I shouldn’t even be in a bar.”

“This isn’t a bar, it’s a hotel cocktail lounge.”

“Yes, but still –”

“You need to get a grip on yourself, Milford. You think I don’t feel like getting bombed every night? Singing for these clowns who don’t even listen? But I don’t get bombed. At least not every night I don’t. One champagne cocktail in between sets, that’s my limit. Maybe a couple after the show when me and the boys are winding down and Tony and I are working out a new number or two at the piano. The lush ain’t really my bag, on account of I got to watch my looks and my weight, you dig?”

“Yes, of course. You know, if you like, maybe you could come to a meeting with me sometime –”

“I’ve got a better idea. You smoke?”

“Of course, like a chimney,” said Milford, gesturing to his nearly empty pack of Woodbines.

“No, I mean tea, man – gage, muggles.”



“You mean marijuana?”

“You got it, daddy-o. Wait here while I get my wrap, and we’ll step out into the alleyway and fire one up. So much better than liquor, man!”

“But –”

“No buts. I got two words for you about tea, daddy: no hangover.”

“No hangover?”

“Nope. Wake up fresh as a daisy and ready to run a country mile. Wait here, I’ll be right back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

And Shirley picked up her sparkly purse and descended gracefully from her bar stool.

Milford turned and watched her go, gliding away as if on air back toward the area to the left of the stage, on which that strange little man with the puppet on his lap was still performing to the guffawing people at the tables and the bar.

Milford knew he should leave. He should never have come into this place. He should go home and recite the Serenity Prayer over and over until he fell asleep. But he stayed where he was. What could he do? He was in love.

That idiot Brown had been talking to Addison, but now he turned and noticed that the seat Shirley had been sitting in was empty.

“Say, where did Shirley go, Gifford?”

“She went to get her wrap,” said Milford. “We’re going out to the alley to smoke marijuana.”

A broad smile spread across Farmer Brown’s red face, and he clapped Milford on the shoulder.

“Well done, my boy! Well done!” He turned to Addison. “Did you hear that, Hutcherson? Gilbey is going out to the alley to smoke marijuana with Shirley!”

“Good for you, Milford,” said Addison, leaning forward over the bar to address him.

“It’s the quiet ones,” said the Farmer. “The quiet ones the girls like…”

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

Thursday, October 20, 2022

"Listen to the Young People"

“Riding around in our Pierce-Arrow Model 33 convertibles and our Willys Whippets, our Hispano-Suiza Torpedoes and Durant Speedsters and our sturdy Stutz Bearcats, in our raccoon coats with a flask of bathtub gin in one pocket and a slim Morocco-bound volume of The Waste Land in the other, roaring off into the still-virgin New Jersey countryside to arrive roaring drunk at halftime at the Princeton-Harvard game! Why, I’ve still got my old Bearcat in the basement garage of the hotel here, although I haven’t driven it in nigh on twenty years, ever since my motorist’s license got irrevocably revoked after a certain regrettable accident, but nobody got killed from it, I’m happy to say. You ever want to take a spin in the old heap, you just let me know, Harrington. The garage man keeps her all tuned up and Turtle-waxed and spit-shined, and every month or so he’ll take her out for a tour around town, just to make sure the motor’s purring good and steady. Heck, maybe I’ll even come out for a spin with you, if’n you don’t mind taking an old codger along. Tell the truth, I don’t think I’ve been more than four blocks from this hotel since the war. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve stepped outside the hotel at all since last September I think it was. I took a little stroll one evening. Just to make sure the world was still out there. And it was.”

“So you live here in the hotel?” said Addison.

“Yes, sir,” said Farmer Brown, “a permanent resident you might say. And what more could a confirmed bachelor of a certain age ask for, I ask you? Yes, this old hotel is my kingdom as it were. Oh, and what do we have here? The lovely Miss De LaSalle!”

Being a gentleman of the old school, Mr. Brown hefted his bulk off his bar stool.

“Hiya, Farmer,” said Shirley. “How’s it hanging, big fella?”

“Splendidly, Miss Shirley, splendidly! Won’t you take my seat? Got it all warmed up for you!”

“Don’t mind if I do, Farmer,” said Shirley, and she slipped her lissome self onto the vacated stool and laid her silvery spangled purse on the bar top.

“Shirley,” said the Farmer, “have you met my two young friends? This is Harrison. Harrison, the lovely Shirley De LaSalle, chanteuse extraordinaire.”

“Well, it’s Addison, actually,” said Addison.

“Isn’t that what I said?” said Farmer Brown.

“Well, no, I think you said Harrison, but, you know, it doesn’t really matter, because Addison is just a sort of nickname I’ve acquired, because supposedly I behave like the George Sanders character ‘Addison DeWitt’ in the movie All About Eve –”

“So what do I call you?” said Shirley. “Addison, or Harrison, or George Sanders?”

“Ha ha,” said Addison, “well, I suppose you may as well call me Addison, since –”

“What’s in a name, anyhow?” said the Farmer. “Am I right? Are we not all mere insignificant specks floating in the great vastness of the universe?”

“Um,” said Addison.

“Your usual, Miss De LaSalle?” said Raoul the barman.

“Yeah, thanks, Raoul. I need a little rocket fuel to get me through my next set.”

“That will be on my tab,” said Farmer Brown, “thank you, Raoul, and another round for myself and my two young friends as well. Hey, Gifford, why not break down and have a little Cream of Kentucky with your ginger ale this time?”

“Mr. Brown,” said Milford, “for the tenth time, my name is Milford, not Gifford, or Mumford, or Rutherford, it’s Milford, okay?”

“Are you sure you didn’t tell me it was Renfield?”

“Jesus Christ!” said Milford.

Raoul was still standing there, so the Farmer said, “Go ahead and make that round happen, please, Raoul, and, remember –” he elaborately blinked one eye behind his thick round glasses –”a nod’s every bit as good as a wink to a blind mule, as we used to say back in Kansas.”

“Oh, my God,” said Milford. He felt his whole world crashing around his head. All he wanted was to talk to Shirley De LaSalle, and here was this idiot dominating the conversation. Why, dear God, why was life so hard?

“How you doing?” Shirley said to him.

She spoke to him!

“I, um, uh,” said Milford. “I’m, uh, I’m, uh –”

“You seem a little nervous,” said Shirley. 

“Oh, no, not at all!” said Milford.

“He’s not nervous,” said Farmer Brown. “He’s sensitive is all. A poet. And a darned good one, too! Have you met Rimford, Shirley?”

“Yeah, we had a brief chat before my last set,” said Shirley. “You enjoying the show, Rimford?”

“Um, yes, very much so,” said Milford. “Very much!”

“Cool,” said Shirley. “I aim to please.”

“Oh,” said Milford, “I assure you, Miss De LaSalle, I was very pleased with your singing!”

“Hey, I try,” said Shirley, taking a pack of Lucky Strikes out of her purse.

Addison, Farmer Brown, and even Milford all simultaneously tried to offer Shirley a light for her cigarette, but the Farmer won out, with his monogrammed silver-plated Ronson.

“Thanks, Farmer,” said Shirley.

“My pleasure, dear Shirley,” said the Farmer.

Poor Milford was left there holding the match he had already torn from his paper matchbook. He actually had a nice Ronson lighter of his own that his mother had bought him for his last birthday, but he felt paper matches fitted his image more correctly as a poet and bohemian. But really, what did it matter? Paper matches, a nice lighter, it just didn’t matter in the end, and he dropped the unstruck match into his ashtray.

“So what kind of poems do you write, anyway, Rimford?” said Shirley, after exhaling that first great delicious lungful of Lucky Strike smoke.

“Who, me?” said Milford.

“Yeah, like what’s your poetic bag, daddy-o?”

The Farmer had been standing between Shirley and Milford, but now he stepped behind her and leaned toward Addison.

“Y’know, Hatcheson,” he said, in his version of a stage whisper, a low holler for anyone else, “I do believe Miss Shirley is actually showing some mild interest in young Melville.”

“So it might seem,” said Addison.

“There’s no telling with women, my boy,” said the Farmer. ”No telling at all! Let’s just hope young Sheffield doesn’t blow it, because, well, just between you and me and the four walls here, the lad doesn’t exactly bring a case of Dom Perignon to the party, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Addison. “He is a bit socially awkward –”

“Ah, but here’s the drinks! Thank you, noble Raoul!” said the Farmer, as Raoul laid down a Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale for Addison, another for Farmer Brown, a champagne cocktail for Shirley, and a Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale for Milford, whose lips had not touched alcohol in six months and twenty-three days.

“Let us drink, my friends,” said Mr. Brown, raising his glass, “to this merry convocation of the old and decrepit and of the young and vital, because as I always say, and I wish more of my generation would say it as well: ‘Listen to the young people!’ Yes, listen to the young people, because maybe, just maybe, mind you, they’ve got something to say!”

No one was listening to Farmer Brown, but they all raised their glasses and drank.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2022

“A Handsome Woman”

“Another thing Tommy Eliot told me, ‘Farmer,’ he said to me – ‘cause he called me Farmer, just like I asked him to, just like I called him Tommy, just two straight shootin’ midwestern lads in the big city – ‘Farmer,’ he says, ‘the plain and honest truth is that the vast majority of humanity are dullards, and the one thousandth of one percent of humanity who are not dullards are as annoying as all hell.’ I thought that rather a harsh assessment myself.”

“That’s because you are a dullard yourself,” said Milford.

“Yes, it’s true,” said Farmer Brown, apparently unfazed. “But, you see, Milberg, I have accepted my humble lot in life, and, in truth, I love humanity.” He turned to Addison. “What think you, Rafelson?”

“I’m sorry, what?” said Addison.

“Would you agree with T.S. Eliot (or Tommy as I called him) that the preponderance of humanity are dullards, and that the remaining percentage who are not dullards are annoying?”

“An intriguing question,” said Addison, “and, speaking as one who has been accused, alternately, of being boring and annoying my entire life, yes, I would be inclined to agree with Mr. Eliot. However –”

And here Addison paused, as he so rarely did while discoursing.

“Yes?” prompted Farmer Brown.

“However,” said Addison, “the exception to this rule is a beautiful woman with whom one is in love.”

“Ah, a very good point, sir,” said Farmer Brown. “And, yes, I know it may be hard to believe to look at me now, but even I was once in love!”

“Only once?” said Addison.

“Yes,” said the Farmer, “only the once, but how intensely that once! The object of my amour was a certain Miss Charlton, whom I met in this very bar some quarter of a century ago. She was young and beautiful – and rich, which didn’t hurt, I’ll tell you. Alas, I never told her of my infatuation.”

“Too bad,” said Addison.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Farmer Brown. “You see, by never pursuing my infatuation, even had I been successful, I never had to face the inevitable deterioration of my adoration, and of its object. There she is, by the way, sitting at that table over there right now.”

The Farmer pointed with his soft pudgy finger, and Addison looked and saw, halfway across the room, a thin, drawn, bejeweled and quite drunk-looking old woman sitting with a fattish and also quite drunk-looking old man at a table with a bottle of champagne in a silvery ice bucket. Even through the thick and barely stirring clouds of tobacco smoke in this place Addison could see that the faces of both creatures were so thickly powdered and painted that they looked like life-sized Punch and Judy puppets, and barely more animated.

“That’s her?” said Addison.

“Yes, it is she,” said Farmer Brown.

Addison was almost about to mutter “Good God” but he caught himself.

“A not entirely unhandsome woman still at the age of fifty, isn’t she?” said Farmer Brown.

“Yes,” said Addison, looking away from the wasted crone and her bloated companion. “A handsome woman indeed.”

Milford had been listening to none of this. He was thinking only of Shirley De LaSalle, the young and beautiful chanteuse Shirley De LaSalle. Who now emerged from a door off to the left of the stage, and who was now walking toward the bar, toward Milford, and, oh, would she talk to him? 

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

Thursday, October 6, 2022

“The Heckler”

It was that feeling you got onstage when it was all just flowing, from you to the punters down there and back to you again, and you weren’t really thinking about the next gag or the one before it or all the other gags on all the other nights over all the years that were just like one long night that never ended.

“Hey, McGee,” said Mickey Pumpernickel.

“Yeah, Mickey?” said Waldo McGee.

They were in that flow, in that groove, and Waldo had no idea what this crazy little dummy was going to say, and Waldo didn’t care.

“I got another question for ya, McGee.”

“Shoot, my friend.”

“You ever wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and just stare up at the ceiling and feel like you’re just floating in outer space?”

“Yeah, I done that, Mickey,” said Waldo, “plenty of times. Almost every damn night in fact.”

“Hey, watch the language,” yelled up some fat guy at a table down front. “Ladies present.”

“I don’t see no ladies at your table, pal,” said Mickey.

The fat guy had a fat woman at his table, and she laughed.

“Hey, wait just a goddam minute,” said the fat guy.

“You watch your goddam language, fatso,” said Mickey. “Because there might not be a lady at your table, but there must be a couple of ladies in this joint somewheres.”

The fat broad laughed at this one too, but the fat guy stood up.

“Why you little wooden punk,” he said.

“Yeah, I might be made out of wood,” said Mickey, “but at least I ain’t a big fat ignorant slob like some people I can mention.”

“Okay, pal, that’s it,” said the fat man, but the fat woman grabbed his arm.

“Henry, sit the hell down,” she said.

“I’m not gonna have that little dummy insult me.”

“He’s a wooden dummy. What are you gonna do, beat up a dummy?”

“Yeah, pick on someone your own size, fats,” said Mickey.

“Maybe I’ll just beat up the ventriloquist then,” said the fat man.

“Hey, buddy,” said Waldo, “don’t take it out on me. I didn’t say nothing.”

“But you’re the goddam ventriloquist,” said the fat man. “You’re the one’s doing all the talking.”

“Hey,” said Mickey, “leave McGee out of it. This is between you and me, chubby.”

“All right, then,” said the fat man. “How about I come up and wring your wooden little neck?”

“Henry,” said the fat lady, “you’re embarrassing me and yourself, now sit the goddam hell back down.”

“I’m gonna kill that little dummy.”

“How you gonna kill a wooden dummy?”

Suddenly Mr. Bernstein was standing there.

“Sir,” he said, “I’m going to ask you to sit down and please be quiet.”

“But that dummy was insulting me.”

“Sir, he’s a wooden dummy. He’s not insulting anyone.”

“He called me a fat slob.”

“A fat ignorant slob,” said the fat lady, and she laughed.

“Yeah, he called me a fat ignorant slob,” said the fat man.

“Sit the hell down, buddy,” said a guy at the next table. “We’re trying to enjoy the goddam show.”

“Fuck you, pal,” said the fat man.

And just like that a drunken scuffle ensued, like a thousand drunken scuffles Waldo and Mickey had seen over the years in a thousand joints, all of them different but all of them alike, with guys swinging and missing and falling down and knocking chairs over and innocent bystanders trying to get out of the way, but the staff of the Hotel St Crispian was well-trained, and before you knew it Raoul the bartender and Rex the waiter were frog-marching the fat guy out of the Prince Hal Room, and the fat woman followed them. She was still laughing.

Mr. Bernstein looked up at Waldo and Mickey and made a circular motion with his finger.

“So, where were we, Mickey?” said Waldo into the mike.

“Yeah,” said Mickey, “before we was so rudely interrupted. Oh, I remember, we were talking about waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night…”

For some reason this got a big laugh from the crowd. 

Mickey looked out at them all, looking up at him through the tobacco smoke.

“And I’m sure this crowd knows what we’re talking about,” he said.

And the punters laughed again, even louder.

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