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…}

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