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…}

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