Thursday, March 30, 2023

“The Angel in the Change Booth”

“I have written a poem for her,” said Milford.

“Pardon me?” said Addison, who was still thinking of Bubbles and her ivory-white thighs.

“I wrote a poem for her. About her.”

“A poem?”

“Yes, I wrote a poem.”


“About Polly.”


“The girl I’ve been telling you about!”

“Oh, the one at the automat?”


“The nickel-thrower.”

“Would you like to see it?”


“The poem.”


This was the problem with befriending poets. They always wanted you to read their poems. But on the other hand Milford had bought the drink Addison was now drinking, given him the cigarette he was smoking, and if he played his cards right there might well be more drinks and more cigarettes.

“You don’t have to read it,” said Milford.

“Oh, no, I should love to read it,” said Addison, with what little false enthusiasm he could muster.

“It’s just I want your opinion.”


“Your honest opinion.”

“Well, I am nothing if not honest,” lied Addison.

“And then maybe you can tell me if I should show the poem to Polly.”

“The nickel-thrower.”

“Yes, the girl I met at the automat. The one I’m meeting tonight. The one I wrote the poem for.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’ll like the poem if you wrote it for her.”

“How can you be sure.”

“Oh, I know women,” Addison lied again.

“Yes, I forgot,” said Milford. “You have a ‘lady friend’.”

“Yes, one might say that.”

“At that meeting in Old St. Patrick’s basement you went on and on about how deeply and madly in love you were.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“So you have a lady friend. With whom you are in love.”

“Yes, all this is – incontrovertible.”

“I suppose she’s nice,” said Milford.


“Is that her name?”

“Yes. Bubbles.”

“Your lady friend is named Bubbles?”


“She sounds like a chorus girl.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Is she a chorus girl?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You don’t know?”

“Well, I shouldn’t be surprised if she had been a chorus girl at one time or another in her life.”

“Well, what is she then? A dime-a-dance girl?”

“Not precisely.”

“Then what is she, precisely?”

“Do you really want to know?” asked Addison.

“Honestly?” asked Milford in return. “I couldn’t care less what she is. She’s not a prostitute, is she?”

“Define ‘prostitute’.”

“Good lord.”


“You’re in love with a prostitute?”

“Well, again, that depends on your definition of prostitute, old boy.”

“Does she accept money for sexual services.”

“Uh –”

“Dear God!”

“Milford, I had not suspected that you were so bourgeois.”

“I am not bourgeois! I despise the bourgeoisie. I also despise the upper classes. And the lower classes, come to think of it. But still – a prostitute!”

“Well, your lady fair is a nickel-thrower in the automat, and you don’t seem so judgmental about that.”

“My dear Addison, there is a world of difference between what you persist in calling a ‘nickel thrower’ and a common prostitute!”

“I never said Bubbles was common.”

Milford sighed.

“Okay, you’re right. I am behaving bourgeoisly. If that’s a word. I’m doing just the sort of thing my mother does, judging people prima facie. What do I care if your lady friend is a prostitute? She doesn’t make you pay, does she?”

“Not always –”

“Oh, God.”

“What’s the matter?”

“You say you’re in love with a woman and yet she makes you pay for sex?”

“Well, only for a Baltimore handshake now and then.”

“What in hell is a Baltimore handshake?”

“It’s when a girl grips your organ of reputed manhood, and –”

“Stop! Please, stop, I don’t want to know.”

“Well, you asked, dear boy.”

“What about regular sex, do you have to pay for that, too?”

“Define regular sex.”

“Oh, God, man, must I spell it out?”

“If it’s what I think you mean, no, I haven’t paid for that.”

“Thank God.”

“Not yet.”

“Not yet?”

“No,” said Addison, “you see, she normally charges ten dollars for what she terms a ‘throw’, and, well, that’s just a little out of my price range, so –”

“So you’ve never had proper sex with her?”

“What do you mean by ‘proper’?”

“Okay. Forget it. I’m sorry I asked.”

“Someday I hope she’ll give me a throw.”

“Without you having to pay ten dollars for it?”

“Yes, you see, unfortunately, in the fiscal sense I am entirely dependent on intermittent remittances from certain female members of my family. A five here, a ten-dollar bill there, perhaps a twenty on birthdays and major holidays –”

Suddenly Milford remembered the twenty-dollar bill his mother had insisted on giving him before he left the house, slipping it into the inside pocket of his coat. He now reached under his peacoat and brought out the folded banknote, then laid it on the bar in front of Addison.

“What’s this?” said Addison.

“It’s twenty dollars. I want you to take it.”

“Twenty dollars? You’re giving me twenty dollars?”

“Yes, please take it.”

Quickly Addison picked up the bill and shoved it into his shirt pocket, next to his heart.

“Gee, thanks, Milford.”

“I ask only one thing,” said Milford. “It’s that you take that twenty and save ten of it to buy a, what do you call it, a ‘toss’?”

“A throw.”

“A ‘throw’, yes, I want you to give it to Trixie –”

“You mean Bubbles?”

“Yes, sorry, give it to Bubbles and ask for a throw.”

“Well, I can only ask.”

“Do you mean she may refuse you?”

“She might. She can be rather – what’s the word – mercurial.”

Again Milford sighed.

“Look,” he said, “will you read my poem?”

“Sure, any time,” said Addison, thinking of all the drinks twenty dollars could buy, and, what the devil, maybe he would set aside ten of it and ask Bubbles for a throw. The worst she could say would be no. Well, no, she could probably say worse than that–

“Here,” said Milford, and he brought a rolled-up sheaf of paper from out of his peacoat.

“What’s that?” said Addison.

“It’s my poem.”

“Oh, you mean you want me to read it now.”

“Yes, now, because Polly is on her way here, and, as I said, I want you to tell me if I should show her the poem.”



“The nickel-thrower.”

“I wish you’d stop referring to her that way. She is really so much more than a cashier in an automat.”


“Yes. She’s a novelist.”


Another novelist. Addison supposed it was either that or a poetess, or sculptress, or lady painter.

“Go ahead,” said Milford. “Read it, before she gets here.”
So, thought Addison, that twenty in his pocket wasn’t entirely free, gratis, and for nothing. He would have to sing for his supper. Or at least read Milford’s poem. Or pretend to.

The sheaf of paper was tied with a red ribbon. Addison unknotted the bow, and spread the scroll out onto the bar. It was ten or a dozen pages, typed, on thick, expensive-looking paper, single-spaced, with long lines.

“So I should read the whole thing?”

“Yes, you should have time before Polly gets here.”

Addison looked at the first page, at the top of which was centered a title, dedication, and auctorial attribution:

The Angel in the Change Booth

(for P.P.)

by Marion Milford

Now it was Addison’s turn to sigh. He raised his glass, and found that it was empty except for a sad half-inch of melting lozenges of ice. He shook the glass and gazed into it, as if trying to will a fresh scotch-and-soda into existence.

“I’ll order you another drink,” said Milford, “now hurry up and start reading.”

“Thanks, Milford,” said Addison, and he realized his cigarette had burnt down to its last half-inch. Ostentatiously he stubbed it out in his ashtray.

“Here, take another Woodbine,” said Milford, and he shoved the pack toward Addison, and laid his nice monogrammed lighter on top of the pack.

Addison helped himself to a cigarette and a light, and as Milford got the bartender’s attention to order another drink, Addison picked up the top sheet and began to read, or, at the very least, to pretend to read…

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

Thursday, March 23, 2023

“Perhaps Tonight”

Milford pushed open the door and was immediately assaulted by jukebox music and the smells and sounds of people drinking and and smoking, talking and shouting, and there at the bar was that guy Addison, looking straight at him, impossible to ignore, and now waving at him.

Milford went over and Addison patted the seat of the bar stool to his right, apparently the only vacant seat in the house.

“Milford, old man, so good to see you! Sit down.”

“I’m supposed to be meeting someone.”

“And is this person here?”

“No, I don’t see her.”


“Yes, a person of the female gender.”


“What is so extraordinary about it?”

“Well, let me ask you this, if I may – by the way, won’t you sit?”

“Oh, okay, since there doesn’t seem to be any other seats available.”
Milford climbed onto the empty stool.

“Let me ask you this,” said Addison again, “this member of the female persuasion – is she a friend, qua friend?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, a platonic friend?”

“Platonic? Why do you ask me such a question?”

“Only because I was under the impression that – and I am not judging, mind you, I am nothing if not broadminded – I was laboring under the supposition that you were what is in genteel circles termed a confirmed bachelor.”

“And what is that supposed to imply?”

“I thought that you were not, shall we say, ‘interested’ in females in a concupiscent way.”

“Are you trying to say that you think I am homosexual?”

“Again, I am not judging!”

“Why does everyone think that I’m a fairy? Even my own mother!”

“Wait, you mean you’re not?”

“No! I have no interest in men in the ‘concupiscent’ sense!”

“Meaning you do have an interest in females in that sense?”

“Yes, God damn it!”

“You know, old boy, I can sympathize, because I’ve been accused of being a bit light in the loafers myself.”

“Well, I’m not! I assure you my loafers are quite –”

Milford paused, seemingly searching for the word.

“Heavy?” suggested Addison.

“Yes, my loafers are quite heavy,” said Milford.

“So where is she?” said Addison.

“I suppose she’s on her way,” said Milford. “I’m early.”

“How early?”

“We’re supposed to meet at 7:30.”

Addison glanced at the clock over the bar.

“Five past,” he said. “You’ve still got twenty-five minutes. Gives us plenty of time for a manly old chin-wag.”

“Can I help you, sir?” said the bartender to Milford.

“Just a ginger ale,” said Milford, “and listen, would you tell the waiter I would like a table for two.”

“Of course, sir. It may be a bit of a wait. As you can see, we’re pretty busy.”

“Well, just put my name down then. ‘Milford.’”


“Yes. Milford.”

“So you two are dining together?” said the bartender, glancing at Addison. “You could eat at the bar if you don’t want to wait.”

“I am not dining with this gentleman,” said Milford. “I am meeting a lady.”

“A lady?”

“Yes, a lady. I’m meeting a lady and we would like a table for two for dinner.”

“My mistake,” said the bartender. “I’ll get your ginger ale.”

“Oh, and another scotch-and-soda for me, please,” said Addison.

“Right away, sir,” said the bartender, and he went away.

“Take your peacoat off, Milford,” said Addison. “Stay a while.”

“I’ll keep it on,” said Milford.

“So tell me about this female person.”

“Why do you want to know?”

“My dear Milford, I am, as you know, a novelist, and all human relations are of interest to me.”

“Her name is Polly, and she works at the automat over on Bedford Street.”

“Is she one of those mysterious ladies who puts slices of pies into the little windows?”

“No, she gives people nickels to put into the slots.”

“Hang on, she’s not that girl there who always has her nose in a book?”

“Yes, probably.”

“Always reading George Eliot or Sand.”

“Yes, I guess.”

“She’s not bad-looking!”

“She’s okay.”

“Well done, Milford! I’m impressed!”


“Yes. I mean, she may not be a glamor girl, but still, you know –”

“She’s a girl?”

“Well, yes, and not unattractive in a, shall we say, a bookish way.”

The bartender was there, with the ginger ale and the scotch-and-soda.

“A dime for the ginger ale, fifty cent for the scotch-and-soda.”

“Oh,” said Milford, “put it on a tab for me, will you?”

“Both?” said the bartender.

“Sure, why not?” said Milford.

“Thanks, Milford,” said Addison.

“You’re welcome,” said Milford. He took out his Woodbines. “I find her attractive.”

“What?” said Addison, who was in the midst of raising his glass to his lips.

“I find Polly attractive,” repeated Milford, and he shook the pack of cigarettes, causing several of them to protrude through the opening.

“Oh, might I try one of those Woodbines?” said Addison, his glass still in mid-air.

Milford said nothing but proffered the pack. Addison took a cigarette with his free hand and paused for just a moment to appreciate it, a cigarette in one hand and a scotch in the other, both of them bought by someone else. Happiness was so simple really, if you only kept your pleasures modest. He took a sip of the scotch-and-soda, then put the glass down on the bar and the cigarette between his lips. Milford gave him a light with his nice-looking silver lighter, monogrammed MM, and then lighted one for himself.

“There is exterior beauty,” said Milford, “and then there is the other kind.”

“Interior beauty?”

“I was going to say spiritual beauty,” said Milford.

“Oh, right,” said Addison.

“This is the beauty that age does not tarnish,” said Milford.

“Absolutely,” said Addison.

“And this is the beauty I see in her.”

“In the nickel-thrower?”

“Polly, yes. You see, I’ve had it with the glamor girls.”

“You have?”

“Yes. You think they’re glamorous, but the glamor is only, only –”

“Skin deep?”

“Yes, precisely. Skin deep. I am interested in a deeper beauty. Can you understand that?”

“Of course,” said Addison, thinking of Bubbles, who was to meet him here, ‘depending’, she had said, but Addison was willing to wait, especially with someone else buying the drinks and supplying the cigarettes. She might be here by 7:30, maybe not till nine, or never – she had said she had some “business” to attend to, no doubt one of her “clients”, but she probably would show up eventually, and when she did, if she did, it would be his turn to enjoy her company, and, if she wasn’t too tired, maybe she would even let him come up to her place, and perhaps she would allow him to watch as she removed her shoes and rolled down her stockings…

“I am quite fond of spiritual beauty myself,” said Addison. “But don’t you think that spiritual beauty can be transmitted shall we say, through the senses? Through a Beethoven symphony, a painting by Van Gogh, and, yes, through the beauty of a woman?”

“Well,” said Milford, still smarting from the refusal of Shirley De LaSalle earlier that day, and from the harsh realization that she apparently bore no attraction to his own corporeal being – “maybe.”

“I suppose what I’m getting at,” said Addison, “is that beauty can be both physical and spiritual simultaneously.”

“Yes,” said Milford. “I suppose so.”

He lifted his glass of ginger ale and sipped it. Alas, it was only ginger ale. A coarse beverage, drunk just for the sake of drinking something, but at least it wouldn’t cause him to wake up half dead in an alley somewhere.

“I can only speak for myself,” said Addison, “but I have found myself touched profoundly by the sight of a woman’s naked thigh.”

Milford said nothing, but wondered what Polly’s naked thigh looked like. She was rather thin. What if her thighs were too thin?

Addison for his part was remembering, savoring the memory of the those few precious times when Bubbles had permitted him to see and to worship her own ivory-white thighs. And perhaps tonight, if she were not too tired, perhaps tonight would be one of those precious nights when she would allow him one of her “Baltimore handshakes”, and at a reasonable price, too – maybe even, as had happened two or three times, for free, gratis, and for nothing, but only just because, as she had said, she found him amusing, and not like “all those other jerks”…

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

Thursday, March 16, 2023

“Mr. Marion Is Dining Out”

 Why did she always manage to catch him just when he was trying to slip out of the house quietly?

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

“I am meeting,” said Milford, “a friend.”

“Is it that Shirley De LaSalle person?”

“If you must know, no.”

“Tell me who it is.”

“It’s just a friend.”

“What is it with you and all these ‘friends’ lately?”

“Am I not allowed to have friends?”

“Of course you are allowed to have friends. It’s just that until recently you never had any.”

“Oh, God.”

“Will you be home for supper?”

“No. I am dining out.”

“Dining out? Where? Not the automat again?”

“No, not the automat.”

“Then where?”

“What do you care?”

“What if you are murdered, or hit by a garbage truck? I need to be able to trace your footsteps if you go missing.”

Milford sighed.

“I’m only going up the street to the San Remo Café. If you must know.”

“Oh. At least it’s not far.”

“No. Goodbye. I may be some time.”

“Who is it you’re meeting? If it’s that Shirley girl you can tell me.”

“It’s not her, so you can relax.”

“What do you mean, I can relax.”

“I mean you disapproved of Shirley, from the very beginning!”

“You only told me about her a few days ago.”

“You despised her because she wasn’t on your precious Social Register.”

“Why do you speak in the past tense?”

“I must go. I don’t want to be late.”

“Answer me, Marion. Has something happened between you and Miss De LaSalle?”

“I’m going now.”

“Stop. What has happened? Has she thrown you over?”

Again Milford sighed.

“Shirley and I have, we have mutually agreed, we have come to the conclusion, that our union could – could never satisfactorily be consummated.”

“You were unable to perform?”


“Then what do you mean? Why did she throw you over?”

“She did not throw me over!”

“Did you tell her I disapproved?”

“I most certainly did not.”

“Because I have had second thoughts.”


“If you want to see her, I shall not stand in the way. After all, it’s not her fault if she is a common nightclub singer.”

“Forget it, Mother. It is over between me and Shirley.”

“So she threw you over. Did she say why?”

“I fail to see why this is any of your –”

“So she simply wasn’t attracted to you.”

Again Milford sighed. All he did was sigh when talking to his mother.

“Yes,” said, Milford, “she was not attracted to me.”

“Oh, Marion. You poor boy. What you need to do is go to the club and exercise with dumbbells and medicine balls. Build yourself up.”

“Right, sure, I’ll start tomorrow.”

“No woman likes a narrow-shouldered, shallow-chested weakling.”

“My being a weakling had nothing to do with my rupture with Shirley!”

“Then what was it?”

“She’s a lesbian, God damn it, a lesbian! A sister of Sappho!”

“A lesbian? She certainly doesn’t look like a lesbian?”

“What would you know about it?”

“You forget I went to Bryn Mawr, and before that to Shipley.”

“Well, regardless, she’s a lesbian, so there!”

“And when did you find this out?”


“She told you she was a lesbian today.”


“Why did she only tell you today?”

“Because, because –”

“Because why?”

“Because I asked her to marry me! There, have you humiliated me enough?”

“You asked her to marry you, and she told you she was a lesbian.”


“How very, very curious. You must be heartbroken.”

“I’m going now. Don’t wait up.”

“Who are you meeting?”

“No one you know.”

“What is his name?”

“It’s not a he.”

“I wouldn’t mind, you know.”

“Wouldn’t mind what?”

“If it were a man. As long as he made you happy.”

“It’s not a man!”

Milford put his hand on the doorknob.

“Hold on, buster,” said Mrs. Milford. “You mean to say you’re going to meet another girl?”



“What’s so extraordinary about it?”

“The nightclub singer just threw you over, and already you’re meeting another chippy?”

“Shirley didn’t throw me over, it was only because she is a lesbian, and, yes, I am meeting another girl already and she is not a chippy!”

“What’s her name?”

The obligatory sigh, but for some reason unknown to Milford, or for a host of reasons, he answered, “Polly. Polly Powell.”

“Polly Powell.”


“Well, at least that doesn’t sound Jewish or Italian. She’s not by chance a Negress, is she?”



“I’m sure I don’t know.”

“Find out.”

“And what if she is Irish?”

“It depends on what sort of Irish. Anglo-Irish would be all right.”

“Mother, you are driving me as insane as you are as well as keeping me from my appointment.”

“When are you supposed to meet her.”


“It’s not even seven.”

“I don’t want to be late.”

“The San Remo is just up the block.”

“I want to get a good table.”

“The San Remo has good tables?”

“I’m going now.”

“Wait. Let me adjust your muffler.”

Milford stood there while his mother refolded his muffler.

“There,” she said. “But I do wish you would wear a proper suit and coat and hat instead of this stevedore’s costume.”

“Polly doesn’t care how I dress.”

“Women always care how you dress.”

“Not Polly. She – she is an intellectual.”

“My goodness. From a nightclub chanteuse to a bluestocking, and all in one day! You know, I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but you are almost beginning to impress me, Marion. Perhaps a real man has been hiding behind that unprepossessing exterior all along. Just waiting for the ripe moment to emerge.”

“Goodbye, Mother.”

“Do you need money?”


Mrs. Milford made Milford wait while she got her purse, and she gave him a twenty-dollar bill.

At last he stepped out into the street. Evening had fallen, and  the snowfall had relapsed to flurries swirling in the street lights.

What would this evening bring? Would Polly be the one who would finally pull him fully out of his cocoon? Would he fly up into the sky like a butterfly?

Mrs. Milford wandered back into the front sitting room, and Maria the maid came in.

“Will Mr. Marion not be dining at home, Mrs. Milford?”

“No, Maria,” said Mrs. Milford. “Mr. Marion is dining out tonight.”

Maria said nothing in response, but her face spoke volumes.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2023

"Right Here, Right Now"

All the long quarter century of his sentient existence, Milford had never been able to enjoy anything (with the noted exception of the sin of Onan) while it was actually happening; and, yes, even self-abuse was not quite all it had been cracked up to be by the other lads at Andover.

Why was he always one step away from experience? Why was he always watching himself instead of being himself? This unfortunate state of affairs was why he had become an alcoholic, not so much because he actually enjoyed drinking and getting drunk, but because getting drunk allowed him to escape, albeit briefly, the cage, the dungeon of his consciousness of his own consciousness, and in turn his consciousness of this consciousness of his consciousness, and so on ad tedium et ad nauseam.

But now, now that he had met Polly Powell the literary nickel-thrower, now he felt “in the moment”. Was this at last his breakthrough, after all the books read, all the psychoanalytic and group-therapy sessions, all the AA meetings, after the sadly-thwarted non-affair with Shirley De LaSalle, was this the moment when he would actually begin to live?

He finished his cup of coffee, his ninth or was it the tenth of the day so far, and it was not even two-thirty in the afternoon.

Over there in her booth, Polly (he felt he could address her, at least in his mind, by her given name) sat reading Felix Holt, the Radical. Milford wished he had read the book, or anything by George Eliot, but he hadn’t, and so that avenue of approach was blocked.

Damn it, stop dithering! Men his own age were leading troops in combat, so what he should do is just march over there and take the direct approach!

And after two more cups of coffee, this is exactly what Milford attempted to do.

Here came that strange young man Milford again, and Polly closed her book on the “Philpot’s Rare Books” bookmark.

“Hello, again,” she said. “Use up those last five nickels already?’

“What? No, in fact I only used three of them.”

“So you need some more? For a nice bowl of pea soup, perhaps?”

“Um, no.”

“Not a pea soup aficionado?”

“Oh, no, I mean, yes, I like pea soup I suppose –”

“The 16-Bean Soup is a good choice if you’re in a quandary about which legume to consume.”

“I, um, I don’t want a soup actually.”

“And what is it that you want?”

“I, um, oh God –”

“What’s the matter?”

“I am a coward!”

“Hm,” hummed Polly. “Tell me, Milford – it is Milford, isn’t it?“


“And may I address you simply as Milford?”

“Please do,” said Milford.

“Milford,” repeated Polly, “if it’s not too personal of a question, may I ask if are you insane?”

“No,” said Milford. “And, please believe me, I have been officially tested and diagnosed by several top doctors and psychoanalysts.”

“That’s good to know.”
“Yes,” said Milford, “but, listen, Polly – and may I address you as Polly?”

“If it will move things along, yes.”

“Polly, I wanted to ask you if you would have a cup of coffee with me sometime, when you’re not working of course.”

“Yes, it would be awkward to have coffee together with me sitting in this booth, wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, so, I don’t know, if you would like to join me for a cup sometime when you are free, that is, when you are not here –”

“All right.”

“I mean, it wouldn’t have to be a ‘date’ per se – horrible expression –”

“Per se?”

“No, ‘date’. But it doesn’t have to be one of those; just, you know, a cup of coffee in a coffee shop, or a diner, or –”

“All right.”

“Nothing too formal, but –”


“Whenever it would be convenient.”

“My calendar is clear through most of the year, although I may join my parents at their shore place for a week this summer.”

“Oh, but summer is a long way off!”

“Yes, it is.”

“So, whenever then. It wouldn’t have to be today, or any day particularly, but, you know, just some afternoon when you’re free.”

“What about evenings?”

“Or evenings,” said Milford.

“When are you free?” said Polly.

“I’m always free,” said Milford.

“So you don’t have a job?”

“No. Oh, God, no.”

“Or go to school?”

“Oh, no.”

“So this is all you do, drink coffee all day?”

“Well, I write poetry.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Heh heh,” Milford said rather than laughed, mirthlessly.

“May I ask how you support yourself?” said Polly.

“I don’t,” said Milford. “Or, rather, I live at home, with my mother. But I get five hundred a month in trust, so that covers my daily expenses.”

“I get two hundred a week from my family myself.”

“And yet you work here?”

“Yes, because I like to observe the passing parade of humanity. It informs my art, you see.”

“Oh, right, the novel you’re writing.”

“I prefer the term ‘developing’, because I am still in the note-taking stage, the nascent incipient ideational stage.”

“Of course.”

“But when I am ready I shall leap right in, typing furiously.”

“That sounds like a good plan, or –”

“Or, perhaps I will find that these reams of notes I have taken are indeed the novel, in and of themselves, and I must only begin to assemble them in the proper order. Polishing them up a bit, as needs be.”

“Yes, um, well, notes, yes, notes can be quite valuable –”

“I’ll no doubt compose a note tonight about this very conversation.”

“Yes, uh, heh heh –”

“I get off at four.”

“Good, so I’ll meet you at four? Should I meet you here, or –”

“Dear God, no, I want to go home and bathe and change first.”

“Yes, of course, how importunate of me.”

“And I always like to take a short nap while listening to The News of the World.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Not at all. Do you know where the San Remo Café is?”

“Yes, I live right down the street from it in fact –”

“I’ll meet you there at seven.”

“Seven, yes, the San Remo.”

“No, make it seven-thirty.”

“Seven-thirty, yes,” said Milford.

“Perhaps we could have a bite to eat,” said Polly. “I am quite mad for the spaghetti alla marinara at the San Remo.”

“Yes, um, okay –”

“We’ll make it Dutch treat.”

“Oh, no, I quite insist –”

“Nonsense. As one person living off one’s family to another, I insist on paying my own way.”

“Well, if you insist.”

“I do.”

“Hey, I need some nickels here,” said a skinny old man.

“Seven then,” said Milford. “At the San Remo?”


“Yes, seven-thirty.”

“Come on, youse two,” said the skinny man.

“Sorry,” said Milford, and he stepped aside.

“Yes, sir,” said Polly to the skinny fellow. “How many nickels?”

Outside on Bedford Street the cold drizzly rain had changed to wet fat snowflakes, falling into Milford’s face, his face which still felt hot with excitement, and he forged ahead along the dreary sidewalk past people with glum faces, and he realized that for the past five minutes he had been living in the present, fully alive, and even now he felt alive and in the moment, and what would the future bring? More moments like this? On he paced, the thick snowflakes falling on his cheeks, and at the corner of MacDougal he neglected to look both ways and just barely missed being run over by a garbage truck.

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

Thursday, March 2, 2023

“All the Fellows in All the World”

And now Milford was alone again, sitting here with his dregs of cold coffee in the automat, looking out the steamed window at drizzly cold Bedford Street, at the piles of dirty snow, at all the defeated people trudging back to their meaningless jobs after forcing down their dyspeptic lunches.

Shirley had gone, leaving her little round crockery plate with the remains of her slice of cheesecake and the cup from which she had drunk her cocoa, the cup with the red smudge of her lipstick on its rim.

And her stubbed-out Philip Morris Commander in the ashtray with all of Milford’s Woodbine butts…

What was the use?

Of anything?

Milford had thought he was in love, in love for the first time. And in his masturbatory fantasies he had even taken to imagining Shirley as his collaborator in ecstasy.

“Yes,” she would whisper, not unlike a modern day Molly Bloom, “yes, yes, yes…” 

But, no, those fantasies were not to be realized, or even approximated. Of all the girls in all the world, why did his first love have to turn out to be a lesbian?

Shirley had said he would find a nice girl. But would he? And if he found her, would she like him? And if she liked him, would he like her? These were unanswerable questions.

He looked at the leather folder lying on the table next to his cup and saucer, the folder containing his unfinished long poem (“The Dawn of a Fawn”), a poem which had been inspired by his love for Shirley De LaSalle. But what horrible direction would the poem take now?

There also on the table was the purple velvet box with his grandmother’s (or was it his great-grandmother’s) engagement ring, which Shirley had refused. He really must remember to put it back in the drawer in the foyer credenza.

Milford picked up the purple box and shoved it without ceremony into the pocket of his peacoat. And then he sighed. Alas, he knew, he was not destined to be happy ever, no, except for those all-too-brief moments approaching and including the yet briefer instant of self-induced orgasm. Should he get a refill of his coffee? Would that bring him happiness? What about another Woodbine? The first puff always, or sometimes, gave him a moment – a half-moment – of, if not quite happiness, then at least a slight mitigation of misery and boredom…

In her cashier’s booth Polly Powell closed Felix Holt, the Radical over her finger and gazed at the strange young man in the newsboy’s cap and the pea coat and white muffler with blue trim. For years she had been observing this fellow and wondering what his story was, giving him his nickels in exchange for his quarters and dimes, but never exchanging a word beyond “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. And she had not failed to notice that for the past couple of weeks he had occasionally been joined at his table by that attractive blonde girl. And Polly had also observed today’s little drama: the proffered purple ring-box, the box which had been opened but then shoved back across the table to the young fellow in the newsboy’s cap. Yes, this was it, the sort of everyday drama she needed to put into her novel-in-progress, working title: Automat Dreams

And wouldn’t you know it, the newsboy-cap fellow approached the booth, shyly, as he always approached, and he laid a quarter on the counter.

“Five nickels, please.”

Polly took the quarter and replaced it with five nickels.

“There will be someone else,” she said.

“I’m sorry, what?” said Milford.

“Someone else. Another girl will come along.”

Milford stared at the young woman, whom he had seen pushing nickels here for years. She wasn’t bad-looking, and, anyway, even if she wasn’t the ravishing beauty that Shirley was, who was he to be critical?

“Excuse me,” he said, “but may I know your name?”

“Polly. Polly Powell.”

“My name is Milford.”

“That’s an odd name.”

“It’s actually my last name. My first name is Marion, but I prefer to be called Milford.”

“I don’t blame you, Milford.”

“I see you’re reading Felix Holt, the Radical.”

“Yes, I love George Eliot. I am in the process of developing my first novel myself.”

“Fascinating,” said Milford. “I myself am a poet.”

“I knew it,” said Polly. “I’ve often seen you writing in your notebooks, or reading a slim volume of Mallarmé or perhaps Baudelaire.”

“Hey, I’d like some nickels, if you two are done conversing,” said some big guy.

Milford scooped up his nickels.

“Thank you,” he said to Polly.

“You’re welcome,” said Polly.

Milford walked back to his table. His heart was racing, and his breath came in short quick gulps.

Should he ask Polly Powell to meet him for a cup of coffee? Would she find him annoying, unattractive? He went to his table and picked up his cup and saucer. The cup rattled on the saucer. Why was his hand trembling? Was he in love again, so soon? Or was it only too much caffeine? He went over to the coffee dispenser, breaking out in a sweat, and he fancied he could feel Polly Powell’s calm eyes on him. He laid the cup and saucer under the coffee spout and dropped a nickel into the slot, then pulled the chromium-plated arm downward to release a steaming jet of coffee into the cup. He glanced over his shoulder, at Polly Powell, shoving some nickels at a little old lady, and, yes, Polly looked up, and glanced at him, at Milford, of all the fellows in all the world…

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