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…}

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