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…}

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