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…}

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