Thursday, November 24, 2022


At the entrance to the Prince Hal Room Milford said, “Wait, Miss De LaSalle –”


“Shirley, I think I had better go home.”

“Yeah? You don’t want to hear me sing again?”

“Oh, I do, very much, but, you see, I’m afraid that if I go in there I will drink, and if I drink I’ll get drunk, and if I get drunk it’s quite possible that I will black out and completely forget about our lunch date tomorrow.”

“Okay. Well, I’ll see ya tomorrow then, Milfie.”

“Yes, at noon?”

“Let’s make it more like one-ish.”

“At the automat.”

“At the automat,” she said.

“I shall be there early,” he said.

“Okay, pal, see ya then –”

She turned to go through the entrance.

“Oh, wait!” said Milford.

She turned.


“I’ll go in with you.”

“I thought you were going home.”

“Yes, but I left my umbrella at the bar.”

“Oh, okay, well, come on then.”

They went on into the Prince Hal Room, thick with smoke, the band crashing through “Take the A Train” while the Betty Baxter Dancers danced.

Milford had the strange sensation that he was floating rather than walking as he and Shirley made their way down through the lounge past all these people laughing and drinking and talking while the music crashed on. And how holy was it that he was walking beside her, she whom he had not even touched yet, how sacred was it all?

Suddenly they had reached the end of the bar, and there was his friend Addison (his only friend) sitting at the bar, and standing next to him that oaf called Farmer Brown.

“Ah!” bellowed Farmer Brown, “the young lovers!”

“Hiya, Farmer,” said Shirley.

“And did you have a good time together, Miss Shirley, smoking the wacky weed?”

“I’ve had worse,” said Shirley.

“Did I ever tell you about the time my friend Miss Charlton and her friend Lord Wolverington took me to an opium den in Chinatown?”

“No, Farmer,” said Shirley, “and I really want to hear the whole sordid story, but I gotta go backstage and peel off my wrap and get ready to go on again, so I’ll take a rain check.”

“Of course, my dear! And, in the parlance of you showbiz folk, ‘break a gam!’”

“Thanks, buddy.” She nodded at Addison. “See ya too, Amberson.”

Addison had been in the middle of swallowing a gulp of his Cream of Kentucky highball, but he forced it down, and blurted out, “Yes! I quite look forward to your next selection of chansons –”

Lastly Shirley turned to Milford.

“Later, alligator.”

“Yes, um,” burbled Milford, “later, tomorrow, uh, the automat –”

And then she turned and headed off, through the clamor of the music and the laughing and shouting people and through the smoke of dozens of cigarettes and cigars; and the three idiots, one young, one less young, one older, watched her go until she disappeared through the doorway to the left of the stage.

“Gee,” said Farmer Brown, turning back to face Milford. “What a gal. Sit down, Gifford, and tell me, what’s all this about the automat?”

“We have a date at the automat for lunch tomorrow,” said Milford.

“What?” said Farmer Brown. “What automat?”

“The one right across the alleyway from the hotel.”

“You have a luncheon date with Shirley De LaSalle?”


“I say, well done, Milford!” said Addison, and he patted the young fellow’s shoulder, realizing as he did so that that he couldn’t remember ever patting anyone on the shoulder in his life before, but then how many new and wonderful things had been happening in his life lately? He also realized that he was finally past the halfway point of having his load on, so that was good, mission accomplished so far…

“Sit down, Milton,” said the Farmer to Milford, “and let’s have another libation and get to the bottom of this –”

“No,” said Milford, “I can’t sit down because I am going home now. I just came back to get my umbrella.”

“Nonsense, my boy,” said the Farmer. “The night is still young, and pregnant with promise. A moderate-to-strong Cream of Kentucky-with-White Rock ginger ale is what you need, and then I want to get the inside ‘gen’ on this supposed luncheon tryst at the automat with the divine Miss De LaSalle –”

“Mr. Brown,” said Milford, “as I have told you a dozen times, perhaps two dozen times, I am an alcoholic, and I cannot have even one drink –”

“You’ve already had one drink.”

“That was a mistake. I didn’t realize there was whiskey in it until it was too late.”

“Might as well have another one then.”

“No! This is precisely why I must go. If I stay here you’ll keep trying to get me to drink, and I don’t want to drink.”

“There’s no need to attack me, lad. I was only trying to be friendly.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but, look, I’m just going to get my umbrella and go. Where did I put it?”

The Farmer lifted a black umbrella from off a hook under the bar.

“I believe this is it?”

“Yes, thank you,” said Milford.

“You’re welcome,” said Farmer Brown. “And, my dear Grimford, I hope there are no hard feelings.”

“No hard feelings, but my name is Milford, not Grimford, or Mumford, or Gifford, or Rutherford – it’s Milford.”

“Milford?” said Farmer Brown.

“Yes. Milford.”

“Are you sure that’s what you told me before?”

“Why would I tell you anything different?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps you wished to remain incognito?”

“Okay, look, whatever, goodnight, and thanks for the, for the –”

“For the conversation and companionship?”

“Yeah, thanks for that, but I’ve got to go now.”

“I really wish you would stay and tell me about this Shirley business.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I have to go.”

“And I am sorry to see you go,” said the Farmer. “It is not often that I have the opportunity to engage with creative young people. And you know what my motto is, don’t you?”

“Listen to the young people?”

“Yes, how did you know that?”

“Because you told me so, at least twice, and now you’re telling me again.”

“And I will keep telling you, and the world, Melvin, ‘Listen to the young people! Because maybe, just maybe, they’ve got something to say!’

“Yeah, okay,” said Milford. He turned to Addison. “Good night, Addison. Thank you again for reading my poems.”

“Je vous en prie, mon ami,”
said Addison, not that he had read more than a score of lines of said poems.

“Well, it means a lot to me,” said Milford. “Good night. Maybe I’ll see you in the rooms.”

“The rooms?”

“The meetings.”

“The meetings?”

“The AA meetings. If you ever go again.”

“Oh, right, the meetings, well, you know,” said Addison, glancing with a fleeting grin at the highball in his hand, “perhaps I’ll drop in –”

“Or we could have lunch. Or coffee.”

“Lunch would be nice.”

“Not tomorrow though,” said Milford.

“Oh, right, because, uh –”

“Because Gimford has a luncheon date at the automat with the fair Shirley!” said the Farmer.

“Yeah,” said Milford. “Okay. Good night.”

And off the young poet went, in his peacoat and his newsboy’s cap, his furled umbrella in his hand.

“Crazy kid,” said Farmer Brown. “A bit eccentric. Slightly lacking in basic social skills perhaps, and the kind of feller about whom we used to say back in Indiana, ain’t quite sure whether he’s a donkey or an ass, but you can be durned sure he’s one or the other. Anyway, I like the lad, call me an old softy if you like, I won’t dispute it with you, that’s always been my number one fault, a soft heart, and I’ll take it proudly to the grave. But, Hamilton, now that we’re à deux again, tell me more about these ‘meetings’ you and Rudyard go to.”


“Yes, the AA meetings.”

“Ah,” said Addison, “the AA meetings –”

“Yes,” said Farmer Brown, “these Anti-Aircraft meetings…”

At this completely asinine and yet hilariously surrealistic utterance Addison felt his glorious mind swirling amidst the music of the band and the kicking and the twirling of the Betty Baxter Dancers, the laughter and shouting of all the other drunkards in here, the heady smoke of cigarettes and cigars, the rising surging tide of his own drunkenness (and, yes, he really must not get too smashed, even if Farmer Brown was buying) and a warm sense of love for all humanity.

“Ah, yes,” he said, to the Farmer’s open glowing face and bleary innocent eyes, “the Anti-Aircraft meetings…”   

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

Thursday, November 17, 2022

"Life's Feast"

Farmer Brown leaned closer to Addison.

“Love is what it’s all about, my lad.”

“Oh, I quite agree,” said Addison.

“You do?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

“And, if it is not too personal, may I ask if you yourself have known the glories of love?”

“Believe it or not, Mr. Brown, yes, I have, and do.”

“Ah ha! Spoken like a chap in love! I should have known by the glow emanating from your corporeal host, sir!”

“Well, that glow could be the result of Cream of Kentucky bourbon, Mr. Brown –”

“No, I speak of a spiritual glow, sir. And tell me, dear Thatcherson, what is the name of your objet d’amour?”


“Bubbles! A delightful name. Tell me about her.”

“Well, she’s a – uh – an entertainer,” said Addison, prevaricating if not outright lying.

“Oh, splendid,” said Farmer Brown. “Nothing like a showbiz gal, is there?”

“I suppose not,” said Addison, adding, silently, “not that I would know.”

“And may I ask – and again, if it’s not getting too personal – have you made sweet love with Bubbles?”


“Sweet, savage, sweaty love?”

“Mr. Brown!”

“Oh. I have gone too far.”

“Perhaps just a bit,” said Addison.

“I hope you will forgive me.”

“Of course,” said Addison. After all, Farmer Brown was buying, and Addison didn’t really have but half his load on yet.

“Here, let me order you another drink,” said Farmer Brown.

“Only if you insist,” said Addison.

“Raoul!” shouted the Farmer to the barman, who was way down at the other end of the bar. “Two more over here if you please!” He then shoved his silver monogrammed cigarette case toward Addison, and clicked it open. “Another Old Gold?”

“Thank you,” said Addison, although he was already smoking a cigarette, but he took one anyway, and placed it in an indentation of the ashtray he shared with Farmer Brown, a sturdy glass ashtray emblazoned in gold and red with the legend At the St Crispian Hotel our Service is Swell.

“I am aware that sometimes in the throes of quite innocent enthusiasm I overstep the bounds of civilized discourse,” said Farmer Brown. “But, you see, Thatcherson, I think it terribly important that a young man such as yourself should taste in full of the pleasures not just of the soul but of the flesh. Unless of course you are a religious fellow. You’re not by chance a Roman Catholic, are you?”


“Thank God – I mean, nothing against any religion, even the Papist, but can any red-blooded man really be expected to refrain from the concupiscent pleasures until marriage?”

“I don’t see why he should,” said Addison.

“A kindred spirit!” said the Farmer. “Because why would the good Lord above give us the beauty of womanhood were it not to be enjoyed in full?”

“My sentiments exactly,” said Addison.

“And so you have,” said the Farmer.

“I have?”

“Enjoyed the physical pleasures of woman, qua woman.”

“Well – yes,” said Addison.

“Here, let me light that Old Gold for you,” said the Farmer, picking up his monogrammed lighter which perfectly matched his cigarette case.

“Thank you, Mr. Brown, but, as you see, I haven’t quite finished this one,” said Addison, showing the Farmer his lighted cigarette.

“Oh, yes, of course, one at a time, heh heh.”

“Yes,” said Addison.

“Ah! Our drinks!” said the Farmer, and the impassive Raoul placed the fresh Creams of Kentucky-and-ginger ales before the middle-aged and the younger man, and took away their depleted glasses.

“To l’amour!” said the Farmer, raising his glass.

“Yes, to l’amour,” said Addison, raising his own glass. Sure, the man was a crashing bore, but he was buying the drinks, and dispensing the cigarettes, and, one never knew, perhaps out of this insanity would come material for one’s novel?

“I have a confession to make, Thatcherman.”

“Pardon?” said Addison.

“A confession.”


“Stop me if you don’t want to hear it. I do tend to reveal perhaps too much.”

“Oh, no –”

“I myself have never known the pleasures of the female corpus.”

“Pardon me?”

“I have never, as the bawdy Bard put it, made the beast with two backs.”

“You mean –”



“Do you think I have missed out?”

“Well, Mr. Brown –”

“Please, Plankington, call me Farmer. As I have said, all my friends call me Farmer, and I would like to think that we have become friends.”

“Okay – ‘Farmer’ –”

“And so?”


“Have I?”

“I’m sorry, Farmer, what was the question?”

“Have I missed out in never once in my life having committed what the aforementioned Bard termed the act of darkness?”

“I, uh, well,” said Addison, who was so rarely at a loss for words, but now nearly was, “um, that is not for me to say, Mr. Br-, I mean Farmer –”

“Yes, but I am asking you to say. Because you, sir, are an artist.”

“I am?”

“Didn’t you say you were a novelist?”

“Oh, right, yes, I suppose I am.”

“So that’s why I’m asking you. Because you are not just some average clod. You are a creative writer, sir, whose remit it is to delve deep into the mysteries of the human soul.”

“Okay, I suppose that’s true.”

“So have I missed out?”

Addison considered. What about himself? He also had never actually made the beast with two backs, done the act of darkness. But he had indisputably gotten a couple of Baltimore handshakes from Bubbles. It was true he had had to pay for them, but nonetheless, he had gotten them, and they must count for something. And, back in his wartime days at the parachute factory, what about that enormous drunken sergeant who had so brutally rubbed his private parts against Addison’s rear in that barroom men’s room? Did that count? But Farmer Brown was not asking about Addison, he was asking about himself.

“Yes, uh, Farmer,” said Addison, “I think that perhaps you have missed out. But –”

“Yes,” said Farmer Brown, “but?”

“But perhaps by missing out you have gained something else.”

“And what would that be, Harrison?”

“Perhaps you have missed out on being disappointed.”

For once Farmer Brown said nothing.

The music of the band had been playing all along, and as if on cue both Addison and Farmer Brown turned and gazed at the Betty Baxter Dancers, kicking their legs so high and twirling and leaping in unison.

After a moment Farmer Brown turned again to Addison.

“All my life I have been, in the words of the noted Irish author James Joyce, outcast from life’s feast. But I have gathered a few crumbs in my time. Yes, Thackerman, I have gathered my precious crumbs.”

The Betty Baxter dancers kicked and swirled, and across the room the love of Farmer Brown’s life, Miss Charlton, sat drinking champagne and smoking with her fattish old male companion, the both of them laughing, probably about the notorious misadventures of their younger days.

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

Thursday, November 10, 2022

“A Terrible Beauty”

Shirley exhaled, slowly, through her luscious red lips, and the smoke rose up into the harsh light of the naked electric bulb above them.

“Well, that hit the spot,” she said. “You want another hit before we go back in, Milfie?”

Milfie! She called him Milfie. Nobody had ever called him Milfie before.

“Milfie?” she said again.

“Yes, Miss De LaSalle?”

Shirley, Milfie, for the umpteenth time.”

“Shirley, yes, Shirley!”

“I said you want another hit?”

“A hit?”

“Of the muggles, daddy-o. You want another toke?”


“Okay, wow, you are really high, my man.” She took another but smaller drag from the ever-diminishing reefer, and exhaled again. “Tell me something, Milfie – oh, do you mind me calling you Milfie?”

“Not at all Miss De-, I mean, Shirley, no, not at all, in fact I am honored by your calling me a, a, what is the word, a sobriquet?”

“Nickname, Milfie, it’s called a nickname.”

“I am honored that you have bestowed a nickname on me!”

“Okay, then, Milfie, so, as I was saying, is this the first time you’ve smoked the crazy weed?”

“You mean marijuana?”


“Yes! It is my first time! And to think of all the hours I wasted drinking alcoholic beverages, when instead I could have been smoking crazy weed!”

“Yeah, it’s better,” said Shirley, and she held what was left of the reefer out to him. “Here, finish it off, buddy.”

Obediently Milford took the reefer, and sucked deeply on it.

This, this was ecstasy.

Who would have thought that ecstasy would be found finally here, in the service entrance of this old hotel, with the cold rain spattering down on the cobblestones, and with those ghostly human beings behind the clouded plate glass of the automat across the alleyway, drinking their coffee, eating their apple pie, smoking their cigarettes.

Milford exhaled.

“Now,” he said, “now at last I understand.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Shirley.

“All those years, all those hours and minutes – wasted!”

“No kidding?’

“No kidding! I only drank because I wanted to be like Dylan Thomas. But I was kidding myself. Now I realize.”

“Realize what, Milfie?”

“I realize, I realize – I’m not quite sure what I realize, but now, if I may borrow a phrase from Yeats, I am changed, changed utterly.”

“Just from smoking that reefer?”

“Well, partially I suppose,” said Milford, and he took another drag from what little was left of the reefer. He exhaled, and then said, “But mostly it is because of you, Miss De La-, I mean Shirley.”

“Little old me?” said Shirley.

“Yes,” said Milford. “I have seen a terrible beauty born, and that beauty is you.”

“Wow, that’s quite a compliment.”

“Will you have lunch with me tomorrow?”


“Yes, or coffee, or dinner –”

“I gotta sing tomorrow night, and I never eat dinner before I sing.”

“Lunch then!”

“Tell ya what, Milfie. I usually get up around noon, then I head over to the automat here and have a little breakfast, so if you want I’ll meet you there tomorrow.”

“Oh, thank you!”

“Hey, you haven’t seen me when I’ve just woken up, so don’t thank me yet, pal.”

“I will meet you there at noon!”

“Make it more like half-noon, quarter of one.”

“I shall be there at quarter past noon, just to make sure we get a good table!”

“Swell, I like a window table looking out on Bedford Street. I like to watch the passing parade of humanity.”

“Me too!” said Milford, even though it had never occurred to him to watch the passing parade of humanity, but he was sure he could change.

“Just sit there and eat my corn muffin, drink my coffee, smoke a gasper, watch the people go by.”

“Yes, it’s wonderful,” said Milford.

“Maybe have some of that warm huckleberry pie they got there, and the dames behind the windows even give me a scoop of vanilla ice cream on it when I ask them.”

“They do?”

“Yeah, it’s like the brotherhood of dames,” said Shirley. “They know I’m just a working gal like them, and God knows I might be working behind those windows myself someday.”

“Never!” said Milford.

“Oh, yeah? You think I’m that good a singer, Milfie?”

“Yes, you are! And anyway, I would see to it that you would never have to work at the automat!”

“Oh, you would, huh? Would you support me, Daddy Warbucks?”

“Of course I would, Miss De LaS-, I mean, Shirley, but of course I would! I have an income of five hundred a month, and if my mother ever dies I’ll have much more than that!”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yes!” said Milford.

The stub of reefer had gone out in Milford’s fingers. Shirley opened her sparkly purse, took out a Bayer aspirin tin, clicked it open, and Milford saw that instead of aspirin it contained a half-dozen butts of reefers. Shirley took the reefer stub from Milford’s fingers and dropped it into the tin, clicked it shut, dropped the tin into her purse, and then clicked the purse shut.

“Okay, pal,” said Shirley, “I gotta go on again soon, so let’s head back in.”

“And we really can have lunch tomorrow?”

“Sure,” said Shirley.

What the hell, lunch with this madman wasn’t gonna kill her, and he was kind of amusing in his way. And he had five yards a month income. So at least she probably wouldn’t have to pick up the tab like with all the musicians and actors and out-of-work hoofers and two-bit grifters and chancers and cross-eyed ham-and-eggers she usually went out with…

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

Thursday, November 3, 2022

“Who Cares About the Atomic Bomb?”

Farmer Brown turned again to Milford.

“Do me a favor, Crawford, will you promise me one thing?”

“What?” said Milford.

“Don’t blow it. Don’t do as I did with Miss Charlton, and succumb to shyness and cowardice. If Shirley indicates even the slightest interest, and I think she already has, seize your chance, my boy, boldly!”

“Well, maybe –”

“No maybes! Gals like quiet guys, but they also like a take-charge guy!”

“Well, okay,” said Milford.

Seven minutes later Milford and Shirley stood in the shelter of the service entrance of the hotel, in the harsh grainy light of a wire-encased electric light bulb. The rain had started up again, and across the alleyway forlorn people were visible through the fogged plate-glass windows of the automat, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, eating pie and split-pea soup.

“This,” said Milford, “this is beauty!”

“What,” said Shirley, “this alleyway?”

“Yes,” said Milford. “Look at the way the light plays on the wet cobblestones! Look at those people in the automat over there! Do they even know that they are in an Edward Hopper painting?”

“Somehow I doubt it, my man,” said Shirley.

“And you, Miss De LaSalle,” said Milford, “if I may say so, the harsh light of this filthy light bulb on the white skin of your face! You are more beautiful even than any of the greatest portraits of the Quattrocento!”

“I’m gonna take that as a compliment, daddy-o.”

“Oh, it is, Miss De LaSalle!”

“Call me Shirley. And by the way, you’re bogarting that joint, my friend.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The reefer, man. Let me have a toke, pal.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon, Miss De LaSalle!”



Milford was still hanging onto the reefer, so Shirley picked it out of his fingers. Poor fella, but there was something lovable about his idiocy. And how rich was he, anyway?

“Would you like to hear one of my poems, Shirley?”

“What, right now?”


“Sure, buddy.”

Milford drew the rolled-up sheaf of poems from inside his peacoat.

“What sort of poem would you like to hear?”

“A love poem,” said Shirley.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” said Milford, “but I don’t have any love poems…”

“Okay, then, your choice, Milford.”

The sheaf of expensive-looking paper was tied up with a red ribbon, which with furrowed brow Milford untied. He stuck the ribbon in the pocket of his peacoat and flipped though the pages.

“Let me see, I have lots of poems about existential despair –”

“Whatever, man,” said Shirley. “I can take it.”

“How about a social protest poem?”

“Let it rip, my dude.”

“Okay, this is a good one, I think. I call it, ‘My Friend, the Bomb’.”

“Sounds good.”

“I hope it’s good,” said Milford. He cleared his throat and began to read:
Who cares about the atomic bomb
as long as you have a nice green lawn?
Who cares about universal destruction
as long as you have your television?
Who cares about the plight of the Negroes
as long as you have your morning Cheerios?
Who gives a damn about the slums
or the Bowery bums
or the unpublished troubadour
whom you revile as a bore?
Who cares?
Not you, Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia –
not you, I’m telling ya!

Milford looked up from his poem.

“What do you think?”

“Pretty good, Milford,” said Shirley. She took a deep drag on the reefer, then exhaled slowly. “But I think I prefer love poems.”

“I will write you a love poem!” said Milford.

“No kidding?”

“Yes! The only reason I’ve never written one is that I’ve never been in love before.”


“Yes, before now!”

“Hold on, Charlie. We just met!”

“I don’t care,” said Milford. “I think you’re magnificent.”

“Take another toke of this reefer.”

“Oh, yes, wait –”

Clumsily Milford rolled up his poems again and shoved them back into his inside peacoat pocket, and then he took the reefer.

“You’re a funny guy,” said Shirley.

Milford drew deeply on the reefer, staring at Shirley’s angelic face in the grimy light of the electric bulb, with the cold rain falling behind her, and the fogged windows of the automat across the cobbled alleyway, the people in the automat smoking their cigarettes and drinking their coffee, eating their slices of pie and their ham-and-cheese sandwiches on rye…

Milford exhaled the smoke.

“I have just realized that all the poems I have written are as nothing,” he said. “When I get home tonight I will write my first good poem, and it will be about you, Miss De LaSalle.”


“It will be about you, Shirley.”

“That’s nice,” said Shirley. “Now pass that number one more time.”

Milford passed her the reefer. Already he was composing his new poem in his head. His first love poem. His first real poem…

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