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…}

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