Thursday, February 23, 2023

“The Dawn of a Fawn”

Olaf opened the door for her and Shirley looked out on cold Bedford Street.

“Jeeze, another crappy day.”

“I find these wintry days bracing, miss.”

“Yeah, I guess where you come from this is like a balmy day in May.”

“Where I come from the days of May are as pure and fresh as the winter days are cold and icy and pure.”

“You kill me, Olaf.”

“I aim to give pleasure, miss.”

“Too bad you’re not about thirty years younger.”

“You are too kind.”

“Catch you later, big man,” said Shirley, and she went down the steps and then turned left. She had a lunch date with Milford at the automat across the alley from the hotel.

She saw him through the steamy plate glass, sitting at the little table he usually tried to get by the window. The poor sap. With his newsboy’s cap and his pea coat. And his white muffler with the blue trim.

Shirley went in and he stood up as she approached the table.

“Hello, Shirley. May I get you a cup of coffee?”

“I think I’ll take a hot cocoa today, Milfie.”

“Right away! Some cheesecake?”

“Yeah, sure, thanks, buddy.”

“May I help you with your coat?”

“I’ll keep it on till I warm up.”

“Yes, of course. It’s frightfully chilly out, isn’t it?”

It was when Milford said that kind of thing that Shirley realized they might as well be living on two different planets.

“Yeah,” she said, “it’s a cold one all right.”

He was standing there with his hands on the back of the chair, preparatory to drawing it back and shoving it forward as she tried to sit down in it. This guy was like having your own private head waiter, except he usually managed to bang the chair into the back of her knees.

“I want to show you something, Shirley,” he said a few minutes later, after she had eaten half the cheesecake and he had lighted up her first cigarette for her. “It’s this.”

He had a black leather folder on the table, and he opened it, turned it around and shoved it over to Shirley’s side. Inside the folder was a sheaf of typescript.

“A poem?”

“Yes,” said Milford. “I wonder if you would like to read it?”

Oh, Christ, thought Shirley, but she lifted up the first sheet of paper and read:

The Dawn of a Fawn

(for S.D.LaS.)

Through winter snow and April shower
have I waited for this hour.

This is the true morn –
now I am finally born!

Thrust squealing from the womb
that was like unto a tomb,
now at last I am something other
than a brat clinging to his mother.

Now in fine I can say,
“Hey, pal, get out of my way!”
For, yes, now I am a full grown man,
a man with a destiny, and a plan…

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Shirley, and she looked down at the stack of papers beneath the one she had picked up. “Is this all one poem?”

“Yes, or at least the beginnings of a poem.”

“How many pages are there?”

“Thirty-seven, so far. As I say, this is just the beginning. The introductory canto of what I envisage as a work of at least two hundred pages.”


Shirley put the sheet of typescript down.

“Milford, no offense, but I just woke up. I really can’t read all this right now.”

“But I wrote it for you.”

“Yeah, I figured that.”

“Because of the dedication?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“But what did you think of what you read?”

Shirley sighed.

“Look, Milfie, I don’t know from poetry.”

“You didn’t like it?”

The poor sap.

“Listen, Milford, I have to tell you something.”

“You didn’t like my poem? I can rework it!”

“No, it’s not your poem, Milfie. It’s –”

“Shirley, before you say another word, I have something else to show you.”

Now what?

Milford reached into his pea coat’s pocket and brought out a little purple velvet box, pushed it across the table toward Shirley.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“Open it and see.”

So this was it. The guy was actually proposing to her.

She opened the box and sure enough it was a ring, with a big fat rock of a diamond sparkling in the bright electric light of the automat.

“Wow,” she said.

“I would get on my knees,” said Milford, “but I don’t want to draw undue attention to myself.”

“Yeah, don’t get on your knees, Milfie.”

“So will you marry me, Shirley?”

The poor guy. But then he did have five hundred a month. And maybe his maniac of a mother would give him some dough after all. The broad talked a good game, but when push came to shove, maybe she’d be glad to get him out of the house, and married to an actual female. Maybe Shirley wouldn’t have to worry about her future, when she didn’t have her looks to fall back on.


“Okay,” she found herself saying, and she didn’t even know what she was going to say until she said it, “here’s the thing, Milfie. You know what a lesbian is?”

“Of course. I have read The Well of Loneliness.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a novel by Radclyffe Hall, on the theme of lesbianism.”

“Oh, okay, so you know about it then.”

“Yes, I find the concept of sapphic love to be quite intriguing, simply because I could never see what women see in men.”

“Yeah, well, okay, here’s the scoop, Milfie. You’re looking at a lesbo.”


“I’m a dyke.”

“I find that hard to believe.”


“You’re so beautiful.”

“What, lesbians can’t be good-looking?”

“Well, yes, I suppose so, but, gee.”

“Anyway, there you go, Milford. I’m sorry, but I can’t accept your proposal. Because I like girls.”

“But –”

“But what?”

“But – but nothing.”

Shirley closed the velvet box and slid it back across the table. Then she closed the leather folder and slid it over to Milford’s side.

“I hope you kept the receipt for the ring, Milfie.”

“Well, I didn’t buy it, actually.”


“I found it in a drawer. I think it was my grandmother’s.”

“Oh, well, you better put it back in the drawer then.”

“Yes, my mother would have a fit.”

Milford just sat there, staring at the table, at the velvet box, at the leather folder.

“I think my poem is going to turn out much differently than I had anticipated,” he said.

“I hope you’re not too upset, Milfie.”

Now it was Milford’s time to sigh.

“I had – hoped,” he said.

“You’ll find a nice girl someday,” said Shirley.

“I did find a nice girl,” he said.

“It’s nice of you to say so, Milfie.”

“I shall use this,” he said, after a short pause.

“What’s that?” said Shirley.

“I shall use this disappointment, for my art.”

“That’s a swell idea, Milfie.”

“All the great poets have forged their art in the crucible of sorrow. And so shall I.”

“There you go.”

“But will you perhaps meet me now and then, Shirley, for a cup of coffee or cocoa?”

“Yeah, sure, Milfie.”

“A slice of cheesecake?”
“Cheesecake is good, Milfie.”

Milford took a Woodbine from the pack on the table in front of him, put the cigarette between his lips, but he didn’t light it. He just sat there, staring down at the table.

Shirley reached across the table, picked up his lighter and gave him a light. 
“Thank you,” said Milford.

Perhaps after all this was for the best. Milford had been terrified at the prospect of trying to have sexual relations with Shirley. What if he had been unable to perform? How could he even use that humiliation in a poem? How potentially devastating! But now the question of sexual proficiency was moot. He could relax, and concentrate on his art, his poetry.

Yes, he would never say so to dear Shirley, but perhaps this was for the best.

“Try not to be too disappointed, Milfie,” said Shirley.

“Yes, I shall try,” said Milford, and he sighed again, as if bravely.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2023

“Order Whatever You Like”

“Order whatever you like, dear,” said Mrs. Milford. “The Lobster Thermidor here is pretty good. So’s the Terrapène à la Maryland.”

“What’s that second one?”

“Turtle stew in common parlance.”

“I’ll take a pass on that one,” said Shirley.

“You’d probably like the Foie de veau Lyonnaise.”

“Which is?”

“Liver and onions.”

“Yeah, no, I wonder if I can get some breakfast here.”

“It’s one-thirty in the afternoon.”

“And I just got up an hour ago.”

“Point taken.”

“What about this creamed spinach with fried egg? At least that’s got an egg in it.”

“It most assuredly does and I highly recommend it.”

“Great, I’ll go for that.”

The waiter came over and Mrs. Milford ordered. 

“And for my main course I’ll have my usual, Pierre.”

The waiter wandered off, and Mrs. Milford lifted her martini.

“Raise your glass, dear.”

“You bet,” said Shirley, and she lifted her own martini.

“Ah, that was good,” said Mrs. Milford. “Now, to brass tacks. What are your intentions regarding my son.”

“Wow, that didn’t take long,” said Shirley.

“Why waste time?”

“Why not?”

“Why not? My dear, we only have so many hours on this earth.”

“Most of which we’ll waste in one way or another. Who’s kidding who? I wish I had a nickel for every minute I’ve wasted.”

“Wasting how?” said Mrs. Milford.

“Staring at the ceiling. Reading movie magazines. Going to dumb movies. Singing and dancing in clubs and shows. Sitting in bars listening to idiots talk about how great they are.”

“Sitting in nice restaurants lunching with middle-aged women?”

“You said it, Mrs. Milford, not me.”

“I like your style, young lady.”

“You’re not so bad yourself, Mrs. M.”

“What about a thousand dollars?”

“What about it?”

“One thousand, I believe you call them smackers. To stay away from my son.”

“A thousand?”

“I’ll go no higher.”

“So you’re not only weird, you’re cheap.”

“One thousand dollars is not cheap!”

“To save your only son from a low-class nightclub canary? Come on, Mrs. Milford. I know you rich people are supposed to be tight with a buck, but you can do better than a thousand.”

Little did Shirley know that Mrs. Milford had already been prepared to go as high as one thousand five hundred, and it only took until the asparagus and the oysters arrived for her to propose that figure.

“But that is my final offer. Imagine what you could do with fifteen hundred dollars.”

“That’s a lot of frowsy frocks, that’s for sure.”

“So is it, as your people would say, a deal?”

“Mrs. Milford, no offense, but you can take your fifteen hundred bucks and, as my people would say, shove them where the sun don’t shine.”

“I have never been spoken to thus in my life.”

“Does this mean I have to pay for my own lunch?”

“It does not, but you are very rude, young lady – as well as unreasonable.”

“Lookit, Mrs. Milford, if you’re as loaded as all that ice you’re wearing would lead me to believe you are, then your son must be pretty rich, too, right?”

“He has an income of five hundred a month from a family trust. Otherwise he is penniless. And as you are no doubt aware, he has no job.”

“He writes poems. That’s kind of a job.”

“No job for a real man. Especially when he hasn’t published a single one.”

“He’s young yet.”

“He lives at home, and he will get no more money until I die.”

“But then he’ll be fixed, right?”

“Yes, but I intend to live on for at least another fifty years.”

“You’d better be careful he doesn’t sneak up behind you at the top of the stairs.”

“He wouldn’t dare. Besides, he is quite devoted to me.”

“He tells me you’re a harpy.”

“That’s only his way.”

“You’re not going to buy me off, Mrs. Milford. How are those oysters?”

“Excellent. Try one?”

Shirley tried an oyster.

“Not bad. I could get used to places like this.”

“Two thousand, Miss De LaSalle. My final offer. And all I ask is that you stop seeing the boy.”

“Forget it, Mrs. Milford. I don’t want your money.”

“If you marry Milford you won’t get a cent.”

“We’d have his five hundred a month.”

“A pittance.”

“Not where I come from.”

“The teeming tenements, no doubt.”

“No doubt at all. But listen, I have some swell news for you. I’m not gonna marry your son.”

“Oh? Why not?”

“Why not? Have you met him?”

“Of course I’ve met him. He is my son.”

“Have you ever talked to him?”


“Then you know what I mean. The guy is a, well, how can I put this?”

“Nincompoop is the word that always springs to my mind.”

“Yeah, he’s a nincompoop. I mean, a nice kid at heart, and sort of amusing in his way, but, jeeze, I wouldn’t marry him for a million bucks.”

Which is just what he might have coming to him, in time, thought Mrs. Milford, and possibly much more.

“I have misjudged you, Miss De LaSalle,” said Mrs. Milford.

“How could you judge me when you didn’t even know me?”

“You are quite correct. I only assumed.”

“Because I was a dame who was actually willing to have a slice of cheesecake sometimes with your son at the automat?”

“But you are the first.”

“The first dame?”

“Yes. To my knowledge he has never shown interest in any female.”

“He’s shy.”

“I was afraid he might be homosexual.”

Shirley shrugged.

“Poor Milford,” she said.

“You call him Milford?”

“Yeah. He can’t stand to be called Marion.”

“It’s his name.”

“Funny name for a boy. What’s this?” The waiter had replaced their empty martini glasses with two full ones. “Did you order these like telepathically?”

“Pierre knows to keep them coming unless I tell him not to.”

“You’re gonna get me drunk, Mrs. M.”

“It’s good to get a little tipsy now and then.”

“I got to sing tonight,” said Shirley. “But what the hell, one more won’t kill me, and then I’ll take a nice long nap after lunch.”

“Don’t tell Marion about this lunch,” said Mrs. Milford.

“Mum’s the word,” said Shirley. “Why get the poor schmuck upset?”

“So you are at least somewhat fond of him?”

“He’s okay. Better than just about all the other men I meet.”

“How extraordinary.”

“You know something, Mrs. M., maybe, just maybe if you had named him Mike, or Jack, you know, maybe he wouldn’t have grown up to be such a nincompoop.”

“So it’s my fault. Well, if you must know, his father insisted on Marion, because the first Milford son has always been named Marion since at least the Revolutionary War.”

“Okay, so it wasn’t your fault.”

“No. It wasn’t the name I preferred.”

“What was that?”

“I wanted to call him Beverley, which was my mother’s maiden name.”


Shirley looked into Mrs. Milford’s bottomless blue eyes, and it occurred to her that the lady might not be just eccentric, but certifiably insane.

“You could have simply taken a check for two thousand dollars,” said Mrs. Milford, “since you had no intention of marrying my son anyway. All I was asking was that you stop seeing him.”

“Yeah,” said Shirley. “But maybe I just get a kick out of having cheesecake with him now and then at the automat. Or maybe I’m dumb.”

The main course arrived, the creamed spinach with a sunny-side up egg for Shirley, on rice pilaf, and Mrs. Milford’s “usual”, which turned out to be beans on toast.

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

Thursday, February 9, 2023

“The Last of the Milford Crackstone Line”

 “Where are you going, Marion?” said Mrs. Milford.

“Out,” said Milford.

“I can see you’re going out, but I asked where are you going.”

“To lunch, if you must know.”

“And where, if I dare to ask, are you lunching?”

“At the automat.”

“The one by the St Crispian?”

“No other.”

“And, again daring to ask, with whom are you lunching?”

“Who says I’m lunching with anyone?”
“Are you?”

“Yes! Yes, dash it all!”

“And is your lunching companion this mysterious female person you have so grudgingly mentioned?”

“Yes! Yes! If you must know, it is she! Now will you stop interrogating me and let me go? I don’t want to be late.”

“Don’t snap at me, young fellow.”

“I wasn’t snapping.”

“You were. Like a snapping turtle. Let me fix your muffler. It’s snowing outside and bitter cold.”

Milford sighed, and allowed his mother to remove his muffler from his neck, refold it, and then carefully replace it and knot it loosely but snugly around his neck.

“There,” she said. “Don’t forget your umbrella.”

“I shan’t. Now may I go?”

“What does this female friend of yours think of your mode of dress?”

“The subject has never come up,” said Milford, although in fact Shirley had indeed once asked him why he dressed like a stevedore.

“You have such nice clothes in your closet, I don’t know why you don’t wear them.”

“For the thousandth time, Mother, I dress as I do because I am a poet.”

“What is her name.”

“Goodbye. I may be gone some time.”

“I repeat, what is her name?”

“If I tell you, will you stop grilling me and let me leave?”




“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

“And what is her surname?”

“What do you care?”

“Is she Jewish?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so.”

“Yes, I don’t think so.”

“Is she Italian then? Irish? I could accept Irish, provisionally.”

“I don’t know what she is. She’s American, okay?”

“Well, that’s something. What’s her last name?”

“De LaSalle.”

“De LaSalle?”

“Yes, and goodbye, and I don’t know why I told you because I know I’ll regret it.”

“Shirley De LaSalle who sings in the Prince Hal Room at the Hotel St Crispian?”

“Yes, yes, and yes. Good day, Mother.”

“Hold on. You’re having lunch with a nightclub singer.”

“Is there a law against it?”

“Not officially.”

“I bid you good day.”

“She’s a very attractive young lady, isn’t she?”

“Who? Shirley?”

“Miss De LaSalle, yes, of whom else are we speaking?”

“Yes, I suppose one might say she is attractive.”

“In a slightly brassy way.”

“How dare you.”

“Just slightly common.”

“Again, how dare you.”

“Remember your name, Marion: Milford. And on my side: Crackstone.”

“Oh, how could I possibly forget?”

“You are the last of the line, Marion. The very last of the Milford and Crackstone bloodlines.”

“Thank God.”

“And now it is my turn to say how dare you.”

“Oh, and what are these two lines, Mother, but the descendants of semi-literate English farmers and peasants and shop keepers who came to this continent because they couldn’t make a good living on their own benighted island?”

“Point taken. I suppose I shouldn’t be too picky.”

“No, you shouldn’t be.”

“I should be glad that Miss De LaSalle is a female, tout court.”

“What do you mean by that.”

“I mean she is not a man.”

“Oh, dear God.”

“I should like to meet her.”

“Fat chance.”

“If you’re going to marry her I shall have to meet her someday.”

“Good lord, Mother, who is speaking of marriage?”

“Don’t you want to get married?”

“I don’t know!”

“Settle down, with a nice girl. You can still write your little poems. And then when I die – and, mind you, I don’t plan on dying one single day before I turn one hundred, if that – you will have all my money. The house. The securities. The Glen Cove cottage. Everything. The Milford and Crackstone lines will live on through you and your heirs, spawned with Miss What’s-her-name.”

“De LaSalle.”

“French, but she looks Jewish to me.”

“And what if she is?”

Mrs. Milford paused, then went to the door, and opened it. Outside thick fat snowflakes fell onto Bleecker Street. She turned to her son.

“New blood. Fresh blood. Perhaps not a bad thing. You’d better go, Marion. You don’t want to keep Miss De LaSalle waiting at the automat.”

Now Milford paused, but then he went past his mother, through the doorway and down the steps into the snow. Forgetting to take his umbrella.

Mrs. Milford closed the door.

She would have to meet this Shirley De LaSalle. She would meet her. Invite her to lunch, tête-à-tête, just two girls, and not at the automat either, someplace nice, the sort of place women are fond of, the Colony, or 21. Get a martini into this Shirley De LaSalle, a plate of creamed spinach with a fried egg, and in fifteen minutes, no, in five minutes it would be plain as day if she were on the up-and-up or just some gold digger.

Mrs. Milford wandered out of the foyer, down the hall and into the front sitting room. She looked out the window at the falling snow, then went to the table by her chair and took a cigarette from the box. She lighted it, with the heavy brass table lighter in the form of a smiling Buddha, then she went to the window.

Yes, it had taken several centuries of near-inbreeding to descend from the hearty bold adventurers who had braved the harsh ocean voyage to strike out in a strange new land to peter out into the morbid pallid weakling of a nincompoop that was Marion, the last remnant of the once-proud Milford and Crackstone lines.

But perhaps not the last of the line after all.

And perhaps some fresh blood – yes, even Jewish or Italian, hang it all – was just what was needed!

{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, February 2, 2023


The drunker they got, the more they laughed, and the more they laughed, the louder they laughed. It was always this way, working the nightclubs and lounges and the Kiwanis and Shriners conventions and the Catskills resorts and Jersey shore VFW posts, and now after all these years Waldo McGee and his wooden dummy Mickey Pumpernickel finally had a good steady gig, here in the Prince Hal Room at the Hotel St Crispian.

“Hey, McGee,” said Mickey, looking up at Waldo, “wake up, you’re dropping your cues like they’re hot potatoes!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mickey, what was you saying?”

Even this got a laugh from the people. Talk about easy crowds…

“You see what I got to deal with here?” said Mickey to the punters. “This guy. This schlimazel. You shoulda seen him a coupla hours ago, back in our trap: ‘I ain’t goin’. I ain’t goin’ in. I can’t go in there no more, Mickey. I’m through. I can’t do it.’ And ya know what I did? Ya know what I did, folks?”

“What’d ya do, Mickey?” yelled up the fat drunk guy at the table down front.

“I’ll tell ya what I did,” said Mickey, and he raised his little wooden fist. “Pow! Hard right cross!”

And Mickey punched Waldo in the jaw. The crowd burst into laughter

“Ow!” said Waldo, after the laughs had pretty much subsided. “That hurt, Mickey!”

“Ah, I pulled it, ya big baby,” said Mickey. He turned to the crowd again. “You folks shoulda seen that haymaker I gave him earlier today. Pow!” Mickey feinted another punch to Waldo’s jaw, and Waldo flinched, but the punch stopped an inch short. “I knocked him right outa the sack. Didn’t I, McGee?”

Waldo was getting that weird sensation again, like he was leaving his body, floating up above the little stage, up above all these people drinking and laughing at the tables and the bar.

“Hey, McGee,” yelled Mickey, “I said, ‘Didn’t I?’”

Mickey was way down there, six, eight feet down there, and Waldo was up here, floating up above Mickey, and floating up above his own body which was holding Mickey on his lap.

“Didn’t I, McGee? Didn’t I knock you right outa the rack and onto the floor?”

Yes, he had.

“Didn’t I, McGee?”

And the crowd down there, the people, all the drunk people...

“Hey, didn’t I, McGee? Didn’t I? Answer me, goddammit!”

“What’s that, Mickey?”

“I said, and I repeat for the twelfth time, didn’t I hit you with a Joe Louis haymaker hard right cross that knocked you right out of your cot and onto the floor?”

“Oh, yes, yes, you did, Mickey,” said Waldo.

The crowd laughed at this. Why did they laugh? It wasn’t particularly funny. It must have been Waldo’s delivery, his strange delivery on account of he was floating eight or ten feet above the stage, or maybe it was because even now when Waldo was talking in his own voice, he wasn’t moving his lips, just like when Mickey was speaking.

“Yes, you really did, Mickey,” Waldo went on. “Knocked me for a loop, sent me sprawling onto the hard wooden floor.”

“Ha ha, lookit, Mabel,” yelled the fat guy down front, “he’s not even moving his lips!”

“That’s ‘cause he’s a ventriloquist, ya fat slob!” said Mickey. “The best in the business.”

“I agree!” said the fat guy, “but ain’t he only supposed to not move his lips when you’re talking?”

Mickey just looked at the guy for a beat. Then he turned to Waldo.

“Waldo,” he said, “do this guy a favor and move your lips when you’re talking.”

“He ain’t my boss,” said Waldo, floating up there above the smoke and the people, and, sure enough, his lips didn’t move. “Fuck him.”

And the fat guy laughed and so did everybody else.

Even Mr. Bernstein, over at the bar, who literally was Waldo and Mickey’s boss, even he laughed. Sure, he would have to ask Waldo to watch the language in the future, but you had to admit the guy was an original. Him and that crazy dummy. And you know what? Even if Waldo and Mickey slipped up now and then and let a curse word out, well, you know what? If any of these people complained, let them complain. Let them take their trade somewheres else. In fact, in Waldo’s words, fuck them. 

The crowd was laughing again.

Mr. Bernstein didn’t know how Waldo and Mickey did what they did, taking it right up to the edge of outraging the audience, even going over the edge, and then, boom, it was like this, and the punters were splitting their sides. It was a mystery, but McGee and Pumpernickel were killing. They were slaughtering.

And now McGee was moving his own lips again, almost like he had just woken up from a dream.

“I’m sorry, Mickey,” he said. “What was you saying?”

And the crowd roared.

Slaying, thought Mr. Bernstein. Murdering.

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