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…}

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