Friday, December 16, 2022

“The Immutable Laws of the Universe”


It was one of the immutable laws of the universe that it was very easy to walk into a bar as long as you had the price of a drink in your pocket, but it was very hard to walk out of a bar when somebody else was buying. It had been twenty minutes (thirty?) since Addison had said he really must leave, but somehow (he knew how) a fresh Cream of Kentucky and ginger ale had appeared before him and had duly been drunk, another one of Farmer Brown’s Old Golds smoked, Shirley De La Salle had finished her set and the Betty Baxter Dancers had come on again, stomping their way now through “A Night in Tunisia”, but finally our hero was actually off his stool, his hat and raincoat on, his umbrella in his hand.

“Well, thanks for everything, Mr. Brown,” he said, not so much speaking the words as willing them out of his mouth.

“’Farmer’, my lad, Farmer!”

“Oh, right, ‘Farmer’ –” said Addison, “thanks, Farmer, uh –”

Uh what? Uh nothing -

“I do wish you would stay for another,” said Farmer Brown, “but I understand!”

“Yeah, great,” said Addison. “So, uh –”

Farmer Brown thrust out his hand, and Addison looked at it. It was pink, almost hairless, pudgy, with a Harvard class ring on its ring finger. To think this man graduated from Harvard –

“Don’t leave me hanging, my boy!” said the Farmer, making short chopping motions with the hand.

“Oh, sorry, Farmer,” said Addison, and he put his hand in the Farmer’s, which was soft and moist, like that of a giant baby’s. He felt his own hand being shook, up and down, up and down, down and up, down and up, would the Farmer never let him leave?

“Hey, Addison,” said a constricted little voice, and standing next to him was that shabby little ventriloquist, Waldo McGee, holding his wooden dummy, Mickey Pumpernickel, who was the one who had spoken. “You leavin’ already?”

“Um, yes,” said Addison, not quite sure whether he should address the little human man or the wooden one, “I, uh, you know –”

“He has to go home so he can get a good night’s sleep so he can work on his epic novel of the American West tomorrow,” said the Farmer, blatantly addressing the dummy and not the man.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right, you’re a writer,” said Mickey.

“Yes, well, you know, trying to be –” said Addison.

“Me and McGee write all our own material,” said Mickey.

“Oh, really?” said Addison, and he managed to extricate his hand from the Farmer’s.

“Yeah, we always done it,” said Mickey. “Every line. To us that’s the mark of a real artiste, y’know? Personal expression.”

“Yes, uh –” said Addison.

“Although we don’t really write it so much as make it up,” said Mickey.

“Really?” said Addison, with a glance at Waldo’s face, whose lips were only moving slightly.

“You write shit down,” said Mickey, “it don’t got that feel, y’know? It’s gotta have that feel, like real people talking.”

“Yes, of course,” said Addison.

“Not like something wrote by some asshole sat in a room with a typewriter. Something real.”

“Um,” said Addison. “Uh –”

“And sometimes when we’re up there, tell the truth, we’re just winging it. Vamping they call it. You go out on a limb and you jump off and sometimes you land on your face, sure, but sometimes you fly, and when you fly there ain’t no other feeling like it.”

“Yes, well -”

“It ain’t like you writer johnnies, sitting in your room at your typewriter.”

“No, um, uh –”

“But it’s what we do. Me and McGee.”

“And you do it well, Mickey!” said the Farmer.

“Thanks, Farmer,” said Mickey. “We appreciate it.”

“Not at all!” said the Farmer.

“Anyways,” said Mickey, addressing Addison again, “we seen you sitting at the bar here, and we just wanted to thank you for stopping in.”

“Oh, my pleasure!”

“None of them other bums from Bob’s ever come in to see us.”

“Oh. Yes, well, you know –”

“I know, we’re a long ways from the Bowery here. Not like geographically speaking. But in every other way. And ya know somethin’, Addison?”

“What’s that, Mickey?”

“If McGee and I didn’t have this gig, we wouldn’t come in here either.”

“Oh, well, uh –”

“Anyway, thanks, pal, and I hope you enjoyed the show.”

“Oh, yes, very much,” said Addison.

“It means a lot, you comin’ in to see us.”

Of course Addison hadn’t actually come in here just to see Waldo and Mickey, no, it was more that after his “date” (could he call it that?) with the lovely Bubbles, he’d been walking aimlessly around on this cold rainy night, in love, and he hadn’t wanted to go home to his lonely room yet, and there across the alleyway from the automat was the Hotel St Crispian with that glass-encased poster by the entrance...
The Prince Hal Room

Entertainment Tonight!

Featuring the “swinging” sounds of

Tony Winston & his Winstonians

with the stunning chanteuse Shirley De LaSalle

(fresh from her nation-wide tour in Fifty Million Frenchmen)

Also, the Betty Baxter Dancers!

(as featured on the Schaefer Beer Variety Hour)

No cover charge. One-drink minimum.

With your compères Waldo McGee and Mickey Pumpernickel!

...and he still had a couple of bucks and change in his pocket, so he had gone in, but there was no reason to mention all that, no reason at all…

“Well, okay, then –” said Addison.

“Put ‘er there, pal,” said Mickey, and the little wooden dummy extended his hand. Addison took the tiny hand and gave it a shake. He had never shaken hands with a wooden dummy before.

“Okay, then,” said Addison.

“See ya later, pal,” said Mickey. “And if we don’t see ya round, we’ll see ya square.”

“Ha ha!” laughed Farmer Brown.

“Okay, good night,” said Addison.

“Write well, Thackerman!” said Farmer Brown.

“I’ll try,” said Addison.

“And don’t forget to put me in your novel!”

“I won’t forget,” said Addison.

“Wait, he’s putting you in his novel?” said Mickey Pumpernickel.

“He most certainly is,” said Farmer Brown.

“What about me and McGee?” said Mickey to Addison. “What are we, day-old chopped liver on melba toast?”

“Uh –”

“Can’t we be in your novel too?’

“Oh,” said Addison, “yes, of course! I mean, why not?”

“Good,” said Mickey. “Look at it this way, it’s two less characters you got to make up.”

“That’s a very good point,” said Addison.

“Just don’t make us out to be too pathetic,” said Mickey.

“Oh, no, of course not,” said Addison.

“Make us, like, you know, heroic.”

“Of course.”

“Admirable like. Noble.”

“Yes, certainly.”

“Addison,” said the tiny wooden man.

“Yes?” said Addison.

“We’re fucking with you.”


“You don’t got to put us in your novel.”

“Oh, but I will!”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Right, well, good night again,” said Addison.

“Good night, Hemingway,” said Mickey.

“Heh heh,” said Addison.

“Did I ever tell you fellows my Hemingway story?” said Farmer Brown.

“Tell us,” said Mickey.

“Listen to this, Hatcherman,” said Farmer Brown, “you’ll really like this story.”

“Can I hear it some other time?” said Addison.

“Oh,” said the Farmer. “Okay.”

“Wow,” said Mickey.

“No, sorry,” said Addison “it’s just that, you know, I’m really trying to get out of here –

“Okay,” said Farmer Brown.

“You understand. I’ll take a, uh –”

“A rain check,” said Mickey Pumpernickel.

“A rain check, yes,” said Addison.

“It’s a good story,” said Farmer Brown.

“I’m sure it is, Mr. Brown, but –”


“I’m sure it is, Farmer, but it’s just –”

“I know, I know, you have to go home and get a good night’s sleep so you can work on your novel tomorrow.”

“Yes, I mean, otherwise –”

“Otherwise he’d stay and listen to your Hemingway story,” said Mickey.

“Yes, of course,” said the Farmer. “I understand. You’re a writer. You can’t sit at a bar all night and listen to my drivel.”

“Well, um –”

“You’re an artist.”

“Uh –”

“But you know, Hackerman, maybe, just maybe, this is my art form, sitting here, expatiating in a hotel cocktail lounge – maybe, just maybe mind you, maybe in my own way I am an artist.”

“Um –”

“He’s got a point, Addison,” said Mickey. “Not everybody can do what the Farmer does.”

“No, of course not,” said Addison.

“What would the world be without guys like the Farmer shooting the crap in bars every night?”

“I, uh –”

“But go on, get out of here,” said Mickey.

“Okay, good night again,” said Addison.

“I can’t twist your arm, Amperson?” said Farmer Brown.

“No, yes, I mean, no, sorry –” said Addison.

“He’ll take a rain check,” said the dummy.

“Right,” said Addison, “a rain check –”

“I’m going to hold you to that,” said the Farmer.

Suddenly Addison realized that if he didn’t shove off now he might never shove off, and he would be here for the rest of his life talking nonsense with a wooden dummy and an insane midwestern remittance man, and so he said good night one more time to Farmer Brown, one more time to Mickey Pumpernickel, and then, as an afterthought, he said good night to Waldo McGee, who had not said a word for himself or as himself through the entire exchange, and off Addison shoved at long last, away from the bar, at last, through the smoky crowded room and the laughing and shouting of drunken people and the crashing of the band and the stomping of the Betty Baxter Dancers on the dance floor.

{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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