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…}

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