Thursday, January 26, 2023

"The Show Must Go On"

“I just can’t do it no more,” said Waldo McGee. “I can’t do it, I tells ya. I just ain’t got it in me.”

“Ah, dry up,” said Waldo’s wooden dummy, Mickey Pumpernickel.

“That’s what I should do,” said Waldo. “Dry up. Then sweep me up and dump me in the ash can and put me out on the street for the garbage men to collect.”

“Don’t tempt me,” said Mickey.

“I toldja,” said Waldo. “Find yourself a new partner, a new straight man. ‘Cause I’m through, Mickey. Washed up.”

“Tell it to the marines.”

“You think I’m kiddin’, Mickey. I ain’t.”

Waldo was sitting back against the brass headrail of his bed, in his undershirt and boxer shorts. Mickey sat by his side, a lighted cigarette in his little painted mouth, the smoke trailing up to the ceiling in the light of the bedside lamp. Outside it was getting dark, the street lights coming on, snowflakes were falling and swirling through the girders of the elevated tracks, and you could just hear and feel the faint rumble of the Third Avenue train in the distance, coming downtown from uptown.

Mickey glanced at his wristwatch.

“I’m giving you five minutes to get out of this rack and get dressed.”

“I ain’t gettin’ dressed,” said Waldo.

“You gonna just not show up at the hotel? Miss a gig for the first time in our career?”

“I’ll go down the hall and phone Mr. Bernstein.”

“And tell him what? You got a tummy ache?”

“I’ll tell him I ain’t comin’ in. And I ain’t comin’ in at all no more.”

“You’re gonna quit. Like that. No notice.”

“I can’t go in there no more.”

Mickey took the cigarette out of his mouth and tapped its ash into the ashtray next to him on the bed. The ashtray was made out of sturdy green glass and emblazoned with the bold legend in gold:


The St Crispian Hotel  “Our Service Is Swell!”

“I wisht you wouldn’t smoke in bed, Mickey. I toldja oncet I toldja a million times.”

“Whatta you care?”

“I don’t care about me, but this bed catches fire then you’d be the first thing gets burnt to a crisp.”

“Well, thank you for your solicitude,” said Mickey. “I did not know you cared.”

Mickey put the cigarette back into his eternally grinning lips.

“Of course I care,” said Waldo. “What else I got to care about?”

“How about your self respect?” said Mickey. “You ever think about that?”

Waldo said nothing.

“Well?” said Mickey. “What about it? What about your self respect?”

“Leave me alone.”

Mickey looked at the watch on his wrist again. It was a child’s watch, with an illustration of a monkey’s head on its face. Even though it was a child’s watch, it still looked enormous on his little wooden wrist.

“That’s four minutes you got to get dressed.”

“I ain’t gettin’ dressed.”

Suddenly the elevated train was roaring by outside, and the window panes rattled. And then the last car passed and the roar faded away.

Mickey took the cigarette out of his mouth again and this time he laid it in the ashtray.

“Don’t make me get rough, Waldo. Don’t make me do that.”

“I ain’t making you do nothin’, Mickey. You do what you gotta do. I gotta do what I gotta do. Which is lie right here.”

“Hey, ya know what?” said Mickey. “I am really getting tired of your shit. Now get the fuck up before I smack you in the jaw.”

“You said I still got four minutes.”

“That was then. This is now, and I am telling you to get your scrawny ass outa this bed and get dressed.”

“Or what?” said Waldo.

“Or what?” said Mickey.

“Yeah,” said Waldo. “Or what. What’re you gonna do. You’re nothing but a wooden dummy.”

“Take out them dentures,” said Mickey.

“Why?” said Waldo.

“’Cause I’m gonna smack you in the mouth and I don’t wanta break ‘em,” said Mickey.

Mrs. Morgenstern stood outside the door.

“Mr. McGee. Mr. McGee, you all right?”

“What?” came Waldo’s voice through the door.

“I said you all right?”

“Yeah, fine, Mrs. Morgenstern, fine.”

“What was all that yellin’ and thumpin’?”

“Nothing, Mrs. Morgenstern.”

“It sounded like you was gettin’ murdered.”

“We were just rehearsing, Mrs. Morgenstern,” said Mickey’s voice.”


“Yeah,” said Mickey. “’Rehoising’ as you say. A new bit for our act.”

“It sounded like bloody murder.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Morgenstern,” said Mickey’s voice. “We got carried away. We promise it won’t happen again.”

“As long as you’re okay,” said Mrs. Morgenstern, and she realized suddenly that she was talking to a wooden ventriloquist’s dummy. “I mean, the both of ya.”

“We are both perfectly okay,” said Mickey. “Ain’t we, Waldo?”

“Yes, we’re both fine,” said Waldo McGee.

“Well, okay, then,” said Mrs. Morgenstern, and she went back to where she had left off sweeping the hallway.

Meshugge. They were both meshugge, Mr. McGee and his wooden dummy, Mickey Pumpernickel, the both of them…

Back in his room Waldo McGee picked himself up from the floor, and rubbed his jaw. Mickey was still sitting on the bed, with the butt of the cigarette in his mouth.

“You really hurt me, Mickey,” said Waldo.

“I meant to hurt you,” said Mickey.

“And now you got Mrs. Morgenstern upset. What if she kicks us out?”

“She ain’t gonna kick us out. That lady’s got a heart of gold.”

“Yeah, but still,” said Waldo. “You didn’t have to hit me that hard.”

“I will bear that in mind in the future. Now, you gonna get dressed?”

“Yeah,” said Waldo. “I’ll get dressed.”

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

Thursday, January 19, 2023

“Recipe for Happiness”

“If there were a recipe for happiness, it would be known to all men and to all women; alas, happiness is not like an apple pie, although, perhaps, happiness is an apple pie, warm from the oven…”

Not unusually, it had taken Gerry (“the Brain”) Goldsmith an entire afternoon to compose just one sentence for his “book of philosophical musings”, now more than two decades in the making, and tentatively titled Pensées for a Rainy Day, Vol. I. 

As was Gerry’s wont, he left the sheet of paper in his old Royal portable, all the better to resume work on the morrow, and he stubbed out his latest Bull Durham in the the chipped glass ashtray emblazoned with the legend THE ST CRISPIAN HOTEL – OUR SERVICE IS SWELL.

Time for a bock!

Gerry wondered, would his young friend Araminta Sauvage care to join him and go around the corner to Bob’s Bowery Bar? He hadn’t seen her for a few days, since recovering from his rather severe bout with ‘flu, which she had so kindly nursed him through. He felt he had not properly thanked her for her ministrations – the bowls of soup, the hot and cold compresses and cups of tea, the laundering of his ancient pajamas.

He had picked up his latest remittance check today at Mr. Goldstein’s office, so he was flush. Perhaps Araminta would consent to Gerry’s treating her to an early dinner?

The Third Avenue Elevated roared by outside Gerry’s window, taking people home from their jobs. Gerry had no job, had never had a job, and was this not in itself a reason, a cause for happiness? Could it be that he was happy without quite realizing it? These were matters he might take in hand at his typewriter tomorrow, if he remembered, if he cared by then.

Gerry pulled on his old camel’s hair chesterfield, draped his even older Andover rowing-team muffler dashingly around his neck, popped his twenty-eight-years-old fedora on his head and went out, leaving the door unlocked as usual, because he had lost his last key over a year ago, and was too shy to ask Mrs. Morgenstern for yet another replacement.

Down Gerry went from the sixth floor to the second-floor landing, and then down the hall to Araminta’s door.

He raised his closed right hand to knock but was stopped by a horrifying sound.

“Oh! Oh! Oh my God!”

It was Araminta’s voice! Was she in distress?

“Oh dear God in heaven!”

What could be the matter? Was she in some sort of existential crisis?

“Dear God, oh my God!”

It must be a severe crisis indeed for her to be crying out thus.

“Don’t stop! Don’t stop! Oh! Please don’t stop!”

But if it were a crisis, why would she not want it to stop?

“Oh, yes, yes, yes, give it to me!”

Why should she want God, or the universe, to give her such agony? Was it some deep-seated guilt, but if so, guilt for what? For the crime of being young, and beautiful, and sensitive?

“Give it to me!”

No, she did not deserve to flagellate herself this way! He must knock, and talk to her, and tell her she was a beautiful and innocent and wonderful person.

Gerry pulled his hand into a tight fist and drew it back, preparatory to pounding it on the door.

“Oh, Terry! Yes, yes, yes!”

And just in time Gerry opened his fist and lowered his arm, as the veil fell.

So, Araminta was back with young Terry Foley.

This was, if not exactly to be expected, then neither was it to be unexpected. Terry was an oaf, but a genial oaf, and, more important, Terry was young, as was Araminta, and youth was drawn to youth.

“Yes, Terry! Oh, yes! Give it to me!”

Gerry turned, and almost on tiptoe, walked back to the staircase.

Outside it was starting to snow again, wet cold flakes tumbling down out of a sky the color of the circus tents of Gerry’s youth, when he would sit on the wooden benches watching the elephants dancing and the acrobats flying up above.

Across the street was Ma’s Diner, looking warm and inviting, and through the steamed glass of the window he could see Ma behind the counter – warm, friendly Ma.

Perhaps it would be wise to stop in at the diner and have a bite to eat before heading over to Bob’s? Yes, that would be a good idea. A hearty plate of Ma’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes, with fresh peas glistening with butter. And a smile from dear Ma. And for the first time Gerry wondered, was there a husband in the picture for Ma? Was she even really a “Ma”, or was that only her nickname, her professional sobriquet? And what was her age? Surely she was no older than Gerry.

Yes, a good meal at Ma’s Diner was just the thing, and then he could head over to Bob’s. If not the meatloaf, perhaps Ma’s signature “Fatback ‘n’ Beans Stew”? Or – especially considering that all Gerry had eaten today was one chocolate Danish –  what about Ma’s “All Day Breakfast Special”, only a dollar for two eggs, home fries, and “your choice” of bacon, ham, or homemade sausage, washed down of course with lashings of Ma’s “bottomless” cups of strong hot chicory coffee? And then – why not? – a slice of Ma’s apple pie, the only question being with vanilla ice cream or cheddar…

Out into the heavier falling snow Gerry stepped, and, yes, it occurred to him that he was happy, or at least on the verge of happiness…

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

Thursday, January 12, 2023

“Gilbey and God and the Devil”

How long had it been since Gilbey had seen God? Two years? Three? 

Time meant little to Gilbey. The days blended together, the days and the nights, but still he knew he had seen God that one time, lying in the dark in his little room at the Sunshine Hotel. It was like this big bright light. It stayed there for like a minute that seemed like forever, and it didn’t say nothing, but it didn’t have to. And then it went away. But it was God all right.

Then a year or so later Gilbey had seen the Devil, and again it was in the middle of the night, in his room, and this time it was like a blackness in the darkness, a hole through the night that opened up and went on forever and ever into darkness and blackness. It hadn’t said it was the Devil, but Gilbey knew.

So that was it, God the one time, and the Devil another time, and Gilbey stuck here in the world between the two, with the days and the nights blending together and falling away, all of them alike, all of them a little different.

They hadn’t had any work today down at the job center and so Gilbey walked around in the cold. This was one of the days when he didn’t have a dime in his pocket, not even a nickel for an automat coffee, but that was okay, that was what the soup kitchens were for, for days like this one, and at lunch time Gilbey went in to Brother Lou’s Friendly Mission and had some potato soup and bread and a cup of joe. Then he went out onto the Bowery again to walk around some more.


It was that guy Smiling Jack, with his leather satchel of books hanging from a strap across his chest.

“Oh, hiya, Smiling Jack.”

“Whatcha doing, Gilbey?”

“Just walking around, Smiling Jack.”

“No work today?”

“No, they wasn’t hiring. Or at least they wasn’t hiring me.”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“I haven’t seen you at the meetings, Gilbey.”

“I don’t like them meetings.”

“But they’re good for you, Gilbey.”

“I get antsy at them meetings. All them guys talking.”

“Talking helps, Gilbey.”

“It don’t help me.”

“Why don’t you come with me now? I was just heading down to Old St. Pat’s for a two o’clock meeting.”

“I don’t know, Smiling Jack.”

“You just gonna walk around all day in the cold? Come on over, warm up with some nice hot coffee.”

Gilbey hesitated.

“They got doughnuts?’

“There will be doughnuts, yes.”

It was cold, bitter cold, so Gilbey said okay.

In the church basement Gilbey drank the coffee from a Dixie cup and ate a doughnut, and a guy next to him gave him a cigarette.

After a while, Smiling Jack asked Gilbey if he would like to say something. Gilbey said he would and he went up to the podium.

“My name is Gilbey,” he said. “And I don’t want to talk about being an alcoholic. What I want to talk about is this one time I seen God and this other time I seen the Devil. What I don’t understand is everything. How come I seen God but that once and the Devil but that one other time? How come I am in this body and my name is Gilbey? How come I am here today and not somewheres else? How come everybody is where they is? How come the world is here? How many more days I’m gonna walk around before I’m dead, and then will I see God or the Devil? Or nobody? That’s what I want to know, but ain’t nobody telling me. Ain’t nobody telling me nothing.”

There was silence in the smoky room, two dozen men and women smoking cigarettes and holding Dixie cups.

“Is that all, Gilbey?” said Smiling Jack, while Gilbey still stood there.

“Yeah, I guess that’s all,” said Gilbey.

“Thank you, Gilbey,” said Smiling Jack.

“Can I sit down now?”

“Yes, of course, my friend.”

Gilbey went back to his folding chair and sat down.

The young guy next to him leaned close to him and said, “That was brilliant.”

“Thanks,” said Gilbey.

“You’re lucky,” said the young guy. “At least you saw God once.”

“Yeah,” said Gilbey. “But I seen the Devil too.”


“Yeah, thanks,” said Gilbey.

The guy had a pack of cigarettes that Gilbey hadn’t ever seen before, called Woodbines, and he shook out one for Gilbey, and gave him a light with a paper match.

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

Saturday, January 7, 2023

“The Day After New Year’s Day”

It was the day after New Year’s Day, and a lawyer in his mid-thirties named Philip finished his breakfast at Ma’s Diner, on the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. It occurred to him that the recently ended past year was the first year he had completed since he was seventeen years old without having had even a single alcoholic beverage. Well, that was something. He also had a nice girlfriend now, Edna, whom he had met at the sanitarium up in the mountains, where he had still been this time a year ago. Life was not exciting, but he kept busy at his new office right up the block on the corner of Elizabeth Street, and he was not drunk, or hungover.

He paid his check, said good day to Ma and went outside onto Bleecker Street.

Standing on the corner next to a hill of dirty snow was that fellow Smiling Jack, and hanging from a strap across his chest was his worn leather satchel filled with his little alcoholism tracts.

“Good morning, Philip! How are you, today?”

“Pretty good, Jack, how are you?”

“Out here doing the good lord’s work, Philip!”

“Well, keep it up, Jack.”

“Oh, I shall indeed, I shall indeed, and, you know, Philip, we’ve been missing you at the meetings down at Old St. Pat’s!”

“Yeah, well, you know, I’ve been pretty busy –”

“Never too busy to stay sober!”

“That’s very true, Jack.”

“We’ve been missing your lady friend, too. Edith?”


“Edna, yes. I hope she’s been behaving.”

“Oh, yes. She’s working up at Bloomingdale’s. Ladies’ dresses.”

“Ladies’ dresses?”

“Yes. She, uh, sells ladies their dresses.”

“Good money in that?”

“Well, I think she does okay.”

Actually Edna got a decent alimony from her former husband, but the Bloomingdale’s job kept her busy.

“And your law office, doing pretty well there?”

“Well, as I say, Jack, keeping, uh, busy, but I suppose ‘doing well’ is a relative term.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean getting my clients to pay me is probably the hardest part of the job.”

“People are poor down here, Philip. Very poor.”


“If they weren’t poor they wouldn’t be living down here.”

“Yes, that’s true also.”

“They’d be uptown.”

“Uh –”

“If you want to make money you should have an uptown office.”

“I actually used to work in an uptown office.”

“And did you make good money?”

“I did okay.”

“You know I used to have my own business.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Had three hardware stores, Philip. Was hoping to open a new one. Smiling Jack’s Hardware. But I never opened that fourth store.”

“Yeah, I remember you talking about it at the meetings.”

“Never opened that fourth store and lost the other three, one after the other, one, two, three.”

“Yeah, that was too bad.”

“All on account of the booze, Philip.”


“But I’ll get back on my feet someday.”

“I’m sure you will, Jack.”

“I’m saving my money. Gonna get a pushcart and sharpen people’s knives for ‘em.”

“That sounds like a good idea, Jack.”

“Nobody knows how to sharpen a knife like I do, Philip. Nobody. Then after a year or two of sharpening knives I figure I’ll try to take out a loan, try to open another hardware shop. Another Smiling Jack’s Hardware Shop.”

“That’s great, Jack. I promise to buy all my hardware from you.”

“That would be swell, Philip. Ain’t nothing about hardware I don’t know. You come in my shop, tell me what you need, I’ll fix you right up, and at a fair price, too.”

“That’s swell, Jack, but, uh, look, I have to go and open my own office up.”

“Right. Don’t want to keep your clients waiting.”

“God forbid. They’re probably already lining up outside the door.”

“Tell ‘em to keep their shirts on.”

“I will.”

“I’d offer you one of my books except I know I’ve already given them to you.”

“Yes, you have, Jack.”

“You want a couple copies just to keep at your office?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to take them, Jack, I mean, they must be expensive to print up, right?”

“They ain’t cheap, but I get ‘em printed up by the hundred, by a fella that’s in the program, and he gives me a very reasonable rate. Here, take a couple three four.”

Jack reached into his satchel and brought out a handful of the little pamphlets.

“Gee, Jack –”

“Please, Philip. You got a waiting area in your office, right? Just keep a few on the table there, so’s your clients might pick one up for something to read.”

“Well, look, how about if I give you a little something for them?”

“I ain’t looking to make money from my books, Philip. I give these books away free, gratis and for nothing. And you know why?”

“Because you want to help people?”

“I want to help people help themselves, Philip. And there’s a difference. The only person can help a person is his own self. And his higher power of course. I learnt that the hard way.”

“Well –”

“Take ‘em, Philip, please. Just leave ‘em on your waiting room table, with the Readers Digests, and the Time Magazines.”

“Okay, Jack, I will.”

Philip took the offered pamphlets, made of the cheapest paper, on each cover the childish drawing of a drunk-looking man leaning against a lamp post and holding a bottle, and in large letters



He put the booklets into the pocket of his coat.

“I wish you’d let me give you something, just to cover the printing costs.”

“Well, only if you insist, Philip, but, just to cover the printing, ‘cause like I say, I ain’t in this for the money.”

“Good,” said Philip. He took out his wallet, opened it, took out a five-dollar bill. “Here ya, go, Jack.”

“A five? That’s way too much, Philip. Just give me a dollar.”

“Why not use the extra to pay for more books? Also, why not treat yourself to a nice breakfast here at Ma’s?”

“It’s true I ain’t really eaten this morning. Had a doughnut, and a couple cups of coffee, just to get me going.”

“There’s no nutrition in a doughnut, Jack. Go in there and have a good breakfast. You’ll feel like a new man.”

“What’s your favorite breakfast in there?”

“Well, the pancakes are great, and you can’t go wrong with eggs.”

“Eggs and bacon maybe.”

“Sure, eggs, bacon. Ma’s home fries are great.”

“I like home fries.”

“So take this and get a good breakfast, Jack, and any left over you can put towards your next batch of pamphlets.”

“I’ll do that, Philip.”

Smiling Jack took the five dollar bill, held it up to the grey sky above the grey buildings.

“Don’t often see one of these fivers,” he said.

“Spend it in good health, Jack,” said Philip.

“I will, Philip, I will,” said Smiling Jack.

“Well, I really gotta run,” said Philip.

“Them clients probably lined up outside your door.”

“They just might be.”

Smiling Jack had folded up the five and stuck it inside his old worn gabardine coat.

“Might just get some cigarettes, too,” he said.

“You do that, Jack,” said Philip.

“Put ‘er there, pal.”

Smiling Jack extended his hand, which was very red, and Philip took it. The hand was icy cold.

“Have a good day, Jack.”

“You too, Philip. Oh, and a happy new year!”

“Yes, of course, and a happy new year to you, too, Jack.”

At last Philip turned and headed up the street to his office. His secretary, Miss Blotnick, was waiting outside the entrance, along with a shabby little man, and an old woman, prospective clients no doubt…

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