Thursday, April 13, 2023

“Nothing If Not a Gentleman”


Nothing if not a gentleman, Addison climbed off his barstool.

“I am ever so pleased to meet you, Miss Powell,” he said, with a slight bow, and he took her proffered hand. “And my name is –”

“This is Addison,” said Milford, ungracefully getting off his own stool. “We just happened to run into each other here, but we – you and I that is – can get a table now if one is available.”

“Oh, but I should adore to have a drink at the bar!” said Polly, removing her delicate hand from Addison’s.

“Oh,” said Milford, “well, I guess we can do that –”

“Thanks, Milton.”


“I beg your pardon.”

“My name is Milford, actually.”

“Oh, for some reason I thought it was Milton. Perhaps because if I remember correctly you said you were a poet? And of course John Milton was a noted poet.”

“Yes, uh –”

“But your real first name is Mervyn?”

“Well, Marion –”

“Marion, yes, I knew it was something like that.”

“May I offer you my seat, Miss Powell?” said Addison.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t take your seat, Mr. Addison!”

“Oh, but I insist!”

“You can have my seat, Polly,” said Milford.

“Here, please, Miss Powell,” said Addison, “I quite insist.”

“Well, only if you insist,” said Polly, and she popped athletically up onto Addison’s vacated stool, while Addison slipped into the space she had just vacated next to Milford, who remained standing, awkwardly, as he did most things in life.

“So you two fellows are friends?” said Polly.

“Well, uh –” said Milford.

“Yes,” said Addison.

“I think it’s terribly important to have friends,” said Polly.

“So also I,” said Addison.

“What shall I drink?” she said.

“I can recommend the scotch-and-soda here,” said Addison.

“That sounds divine,” said Polly. “Usually on the rare occasions when I do imbibe I have a Pink Lady, or sometimes a Grasshopper, or perhaps a Brandy Alexander, but there’s something just so classic about a scotch-and-soda, don’t you agree?”

“Oh, I quite agree!” said Addison.

The bartender was there.

“May I help you, miss?”

“Yes, I should like one of your finest scotch-and-sodas, sir!”

“And what about you gentlemen?” said the bartender.

“Gee, I guess I could go for another s-and-s,” said Addison,

“Just another ginger ale for me, please,” said Milford.

“So what do you do, Mr. Addison?” said Polly.

“Just Addison, please,” said Addison.

“Addison it is then! Such an unusual prénom!”

“Well, actually that’s just what people call me, you see, because supposedly my manner is similar to that of the character played by George Sanders in the film All About Eve –”

“Oh, I loved that movie! What’s this?”

She picked up the sheaf of typescript lying on the bar.

“That’s Milford’s poem,” said Addison.

“You brought a poem, Milford?” said Polly, leaning forward so that she could address Milford past Addison.

“Um, yes, just a little something I dashed off this afternoon,” said Milford, still standing, awkwardly.

“May I read it?”

“Perhaps not now?” said Milford, suspecting that everything was getting out of hand, as it always did.

“Oh, but please!” said Polly. “When I first moved to the city this is just what I imagined, sitting in a Greenwich Village boîte, with artistic gentlemen, reading their poems!”

“Uh,” said Milford.

“Where does the poem begin?”
“Here, let me arrange it for you,” said Addison, and he took the pages, and began to put them in order, no simple task as Milford had not bothered to number them.

“Such a terribly long poem,” said Polly.

“Only thirteen pages,” said Milford.

“Isn’t that long?”

“Well, as I was saying to Addison here,” said Milford, with trembling hands picking up his pack of Woodbines, “this section is only by way of being a preamble of sorts, to what I envision as a much longer work –”

“Like Paradise Lost?”

“Yes, perhaps –”

“I always wonder why the epic poem has fallen into disfavor, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do in fact –”

“But don’t you think, Miss Powell –” began Addison.

“’Polly’, please!” said Polly.

“Polly it is, then!” said Addison. “Don’t you think, Polly, that the epic poem has been effectively supplanted in our time by the novel?”

“I do indeed,” said Polly, “which is why I myself am in the process of composing a novel!”

“What a coincidence,” said Addison, “as I am writing a novel myself –”

“Oh, you must let me read it!”

“Of course,” said Addison.

“Will you read mine?”

“I should be delighted.”

“It’s really in quite the inchoate form at present, merely a jumbled mass of notes, observations, disjointed sketches, aperçus –”

“But the novel of today,” said Addison, “has I think divested itself of the need for such impedimenta as ‘plot’ and the supposed ‘unities’, of burdensome lumber such as ‘theme’ and ‘character development’. I certainly don’t concern myself with such matters in my own work.”

“I so admire your confidence,” said Polly, “And dare I ask what your novel is about?”

“That’s a very difficult question to answer,” said Addison. “And I’m not terribly sure if I can answer it. Is it about anything? Or everything? And indeed, does it matter if it is ‘about’ qua ‘about’ anything?”

“Oh, but that’s exactly how I feel about my own novel! How can I know what it’s about until I write it? And, as you say, does it even matter what it’s ‘about’?”

Addison had handed the sheaf of papers back to her and she looked at the top of the first page and saw its title.

’The Angel in the Change Booth’?” said Polly. “Hey, I work in a change booth!”

“Um,” said Milford, who had put an as-yet-unlighted Woodbine into his lips, and who now removed it.

“’For P.P.’? Hey, wait a minute,” and Polly leaned forward and  turned toward Milford. “Is this poem about me?”

“Oh,” said Milford. “Well, since you ask, why, yes, I suppose the poem was inspired by you, in a sense –”

“Gee, nobody ever wrote a poem for me before,” said Polly, and she began to read, aloud:

The afternoon is dreary and cold as my soul.

Sleet patters against the windowpane
as I stare at my half-eaten jellyroll
and wonder if joy shall ever replace this pain…

She looked up from the page and at Milford.

“Did you really have a jellyroll today?”

“Actually, no,” said Milford, “I had cheesecake, but I needed a rhyme for ‘soul’.”

“Poetic license,” said Polly.

“Ah, the drinks at last!” said Addison, and the bartender laid them down.

“On your tab, sir?” said the bartender to Milford.

“Yes, please,” said Milford, and he reached for his ginger ale. How he wished he were not an alcoholic! If any time called for the sweet embrace of scotch, or bourbon, or rye, no matter, as long as it was booze, this was it…

“God, it’s like the North Pole out there,” said a young woman who was suddenly there. “Somebody order me a drink – brandy, and make it straight.”

“Ah, dear Bubbles!” said Addison.

“Hiya, Scooter,” said Bubbles. “Who’re your friends?”

What an extraordinarily attractive and vibrant woman, thought Milford, with a strange surge of respect and grudging admiration for Addison, and he raised his index finger to summon again the bartender’s attention…

{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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