Thursday, May 25, 2023

“Saint Bubbles”


The little man droned on with his endless extemporaneous poem…

Perhaps Sartre was right, and hell was other people, and if that were so, was the deepest circle in all of hell the one reserved for poets?

On the little man droned:

I been knocked down and dragged around
and taken downtown and booked
I been slapped and attacked and tracked down
and my goose been done right cooked.

There ain’t a boxcar I ain’t jumped in,
all acrost this land of gumption,
nor a flophouse I ain’t dossed in,
a drunk tank I ain’t been tossed in.

Yes sir, I may be half dead,
but I ain’t dead yet.
Nope, I ain’t in my deathbed yet.
Nope, you betcha, son, you bet…
Milford turned away from this madness, and there on the bartop stood the glass of brandy Bubbles had ordered for him. Oh, how he longed to drink it! But if he did, he knew what would happen, all too well: awakening in an alleyway, freezing, shivering, and wet, every cell in his body crying in agony. Followed by two days of killing hangover and despair. Should he drink the brandy anyway?

There was Bubbles to his right, seemingly ignoring the bad poetry, sipping her own brandy and smoking her cigarette, ignoring the world as the jukebox music and the smoke and the chatter swirled all around her.

And to his left, Addison, very obviously drunk, leaning in toward Polly who was leaning in toward him from her stool. What are they talking about? wondered Milford. Isn’t Polly supposed to be on a date with me? Well, not a date per se, but a rendezvous? And yet she seems rather enthralled with Addison now, who is a frightful bore if there ever was one. But then Bubbles said that I am even more boring than Addison! Could it be true? Am I really just a crashing bore, and is my poetry any better than that of this idiot Lucas Z. Billingsworth droning on behind me? I should grab up that sheaf of my poetry on the bar in front of Polly before she could read any more of it! But if I did I would only draw attention to myself. And all I want to do is to be someplace else. But where? Anywhere I go I will still be here, trapped in my head. Yes, Sartre had not taken his argument far enough, for hell is not just other people, hell is that one person we can never escape, one’s own self… 

And suddenly Milford became utterly aware of his solitude in the universe, trapped in this awareness of his own existence, his own utterly meaningless existence, and with horror he wondered if at long last he was losing his mind, losing all grip on so-called physical reality; he might as well be a lonely mote of consciousness floating in the darkness of outer space, forever, except it wouldn’t be forever, he would die eventually, be snuffed out, and as horrible as existence was, the prospect of non-existence seemed more horrible still…

“Your cigarette’s burning down.”


It was Bubbles, to his right, and she pointed to his right hand with the cigarette in her left hand.

“You’re gonna burn yourself.”


Milford saw the stub of the Woodbine in his fingers, felt the heat of its burning tobacco on his delicate skin, and quickly he dropped the butt into the ashtray.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m afraid I was rather, uh –”

“In another world.”

“Yes,” he said.

Lucas Z. Billingsworth was still declaiming.

From Sault Ste. Marie to San Berdoo,
from Abilene on to Kalamazoo,
from Salt Lake City to Tallahassee,
I’ve wet my little willy
in many a willin’ lassie…
Bubbles turned to the little man.

“Okay, Lucas, that’s enough, now hit the pike.”

“But I’m not finished my poem yet,” said the man.

“Maybe you’re not, but I am. Now hop it.”

“Can I have another drink first?”

“How about I clout you on the noggin with my purse first?”

“Here,” said Milford, and he held out his glass of brandy to the little man. “Take this one.”

“Wow, I like you, Gifford,” said Lucas.

“It’s Milford, but it doesn’t matter. Now take the drink, please.”

“Only if you insist,” said the little man, and he took the glass. “I’m gonna drink this one slow, real slow. Savor it. You should learn how to savor things, Milward. You only get to ride this crazy freight train called life once, you know.”

“Okay,” said Milford. “I’ll try.”

“I see some friends of mine over there,” said Lucas. “I’ll just go join them. They’re poets too. You should come over and I’ll introduce you.”

“Maybe later.”

“It’s very important for a poet to belong to a crowd of other poets. No one just wants to be a poet sitting alone in a room.”

“Maybe not.”

“It’s great. Everybody listens to everybody else’s poems and pretends they’re not crap.”

“Um –”

“You would fit right in, Buford.”

“Uh, well, have a good time,” said Milford.

“Oh, I will. I would say the same to you, but I fear my words would be otiose. Some people, alas, are not meant for good times. See ya, Bubbles.”

“Later, Lucas,” said Bubbles.

Finally the little man shuffled off.

“He’s all right,” said Bubbles. “For about five minutes at a time.”

“You were very kind to him,” said Milford.

“Yeah, I’m a saint,” said Bubbles.

Bubbles returned to gazing at the bottles of liquors ranged on the shelves opposite. Or was she gazing into the mirror there, at her own reflection gazing into the mirror? And next to her reflection was that of Milford himself, pale and insubstantial beneath his newsboy’s cap.

“Bubbles,” said Milford, “I am a fool.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“A minute ago I thought I was about to lose my mind.”

“But you didn’t?”

“No, because you spoke to me and told me I was about to burn myself with my cigarette.”

“That’s me,” she said. “Saint Bubbles.”


Milford took out another Woodbine, put it in his lips, picked up his lighter, lighted the cigarette. At least he still had cigarettes. And, after a time, of course the cigarettes would kill him. But they helped to pass the time.

“I wonder,” he said, “if you might do me another good deed, Bubbles.”


“I carry a burden. A great burden.”

“Get to the point.”

“I carry the burden of virginity.”


“And so I wonder, I mean, I hate to be forward –”



“Yes,” she said. “Okay.”

“You will?”

“Why not?”

“Oh, thank you so much. It will be such a relief.”

“Glad to oblige.”

“We don’t have to do it right away.”

“I wasn’t planning on doing it right away.”

“But some other time. At your convenience.”

“Sure. Maybe later tonight.”

“That would be swell.”

“It’s ten bucks. That includes the cost of a French letter.”

“That seems very reasonable.”

“I know I could probably get a lot more out of you, but that’s not the way I operate.”

“I would pay anything, Bubbles. Because you’re so beautiful. I would give you a thousand.”

“That won’t be necessary,” she said.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2023



“Wait,” said Milford to Lucas Z. Billingsworth.

“What?” said the little man.

“Can you stop?”

“But I am not finished yet. I feel I still have two dozen or more stanzas waiting to emerge. Listen, my friend!”

And the little man continued to recite his poem, apparently, or allegedly, created extemporaneously in the moment:
In how many alleys have I awoken,
uncomfortably in a pool of pee?
And how many harsh dawns have broken
over my head like a fiery sea?

How many thousands of gallons
of vomit have I disgorged
into gutters and sinks and johns
in this so-called life I have forged?

For, yes, I too was once a lad
who dreamed of riding the prairie,
herding them dogies just like my dad,
and missing a gal called Mary…

“All right,” said Milford, “look, Lucas is it?”

“Yes, excellent memory, Gilford!”

“My name is Milford.”

“I meant to say that. Milford.”

“Look, Lucas, if I give you a dollar will you stop reciting your poem and leave us alone?”

“A dollar, huh?”

“Yes, I’ll give you a dollar, okay?”

“Don’t be such a cheapskate, Gilford,” said Bubbles. “Give the man a fiver.”

“All right,” said Milford, and he took out his wallet. “I’ll give you a five, okay, Lucas?”

“I’d liked it better if you said a ten.”

“Oh, all right, fine, look here, I’ll give you a ten. But you have to leave us alone.”

“So you’ll give me a ten-spot and all’s I got to do is leave you alone?”



Milford had taken a ten-dollar bill out of his wallet, but he held onto it.

“First you have to promise to leave us alone.”

“What do you mean by leave you alone?”

“I mean you have to stop reciting your poem and go sit or stand somewhere else.”

“Like where?”

“I don’t care. Somewhere.”

“I don’t have to leave the bar, do I?”

“No, you can stay in here, but just not near us.”

“Like, say, at least six feet away?”

“Yes, great, make it at least six feet.”

“Okay. Give me that ten-spot.”

Milford handed him the bill and the man held it in both hands.

“Long time since I had one of these bad boys in my hands,” said Lucas Z. Billingsworth. “Real long time. You must be rich, right?”

“I am certainly not rich.”

“If you weren’t rich you wouldn’t be giving some random schnorrer a sawbuck just to get him out of your hair.”

“Well, I’m not rich.”

“I’ll wager you’ve got a trust fund, right?”

“Ha,” said Bubbles.

“Okay,” said Milford. How did he know? “Not that it’s any of your business, but, yes, I have a very modest family income –”

“I knew it,” said the little man.

“Swell, you knew it, now take that ten dollars and go to some other part of the bar and spend it in good health.”

“I have not been in good health in at least thirty years.”

“Then spend it in bad health, I don’t care.”

“As long as I go away, right?”


“You really know how to hurt a guy, Wilbert.”


“Milford, whatever. You don’t have to be so nasty, Milford.”

“I don’t mean to be nasty.”

“You’re not succeeding very well.”

“Look, I just gave you ten dollars, and now you’re calling me nasty?”

“I just call it the way I see it, pal.”

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for being a rich asshole?”

“Now wait a minute.”

“Oh, so now you’re getting touchy.”

“But you just called me an asshole. Sorry, Bubbles, for the language.”

“Don’t sweat it, Milford,” said Bubbles.

“I’ll bet Bubbles thinks you’re acting like a rich asshole too,” said Lucas.

Bubbles said nothing.

“All right, look, I gave you the ten.” said Milford. “Can you please just leave us alone now?

“Sure, I’ll leave you alone. But first I want to finish the poem I was extemporaneously creating before you so rudely interrupted me.”

“Oh my God,” said Milford.

“Your God won’t help you now,” said Lucas. He folded up the ten-dollar bill and put it away inside his worn old gabardine coat. “Buy me another brandy, I’ll finish my poem, and then I will go.”

Milford sighed.

“How much longer is your poem going to be?”

“It’s an extemporaneous poem. I will not know when it ends until it ends.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Bubbles. “Louie!”

“Yeah, Bubbles.”

The bartender was right there.

“Give us another round of brandies, including one for Lucas here.”

“Wow, thanks, Bubbles,” said Lucas. “You’re a real lady.”

“So that’s five shots, right?” said Louie.

“Yeah, don’t forget the two sweethearts there,” said Bubbles, waving her cigarette at Addison and Polly, deep in their own little world.

“Wait,” said Milford. “Just make it four brandies, please. I’ll just have another ginger ale.”

“Give him a goddam brandy,” said Bubbles. “And this time it’s on my tab.”

“Right away, Bubbles,” said Louie the bartender, and he went to get the Christian Brothers bottle.

Bubbles turned to Lucas.

“Now go ahead and say your poem, Lucas.”

“Sure thing, Bubbles.”

And the little man cleared his throat, licked his lips once with his small pallid tongue, and began again to recite, to create his poetry. 

And where once there had been nothing, now there was something.

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

Thursday, May 11, 2023

“Would That It Were”

The bartender came over and addressed Milford.

“We got a table for two now if you still want it, pal.”

“Pardon me?”

“You said you wanted a table for two, didn’t ya?”

“Oh, yes,” said Milford.

He had forgotten, dazzled as he was by the strange regal beauty of Bubbles, forgotten that he had requested a table to have dinner with Polly, who was sitting there chattering with Addison. But if he took a table with Polly he would have to leave Bubbles here at the bar, divine Bubbles! Why was life so hard and complicated? 

“Um, you know what?” he said. “Never mind about the table.”

“So you’re not gonna eat after all?”

“Well, uh, maybe later?”

“There’s other people want that table.”

“Well, go ahead and give it to them.”

“No skin off my nose.”

“Thank you,” said Milford.

Somebody tapped Milford’s arm. He turned and a little man was standing there. He wore a wiry beard, an old derby hat, a worn gabardine coat.

“Excuse me,” said the little man, “but if I am not mistaken you are a poet.”

“How did you know?”

“The newsboy’s cap, the peacoat, the Hemingwayesque ribbed pullover, the dungarees and work boots. The universal uniform of the young poet of today!”

“I dress as I do in solidarity with the working man.”

“And yet I would deduce from your delicate and lily-white hands that you have never done a lick of physical labor in your young life.”

“This is true, but only because my labor is of the, uh, creative kind.”

“Sure, pal, sure. Hey, I’m with you! I myself have never done an honest or even dishonest day’s work in my not so young life. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lucas Z. Billingsworth, and I too am a poet.”

“Oh, hi.”

“Don’t leave me hanging, man.”

The guy had extended his right hand, which was as uncallused as Milford’s if not so lily-white. Milford took it in his own weakling’s hand.

“What’s your name, sir?” asked Lucas Z. Billingsworth, not letting go of Milford’s hand.

“Milford,” said Milford.

“Just Milford?”

“I prefer just Milford, yes.” The flesh of the man’s hand was an unsettling mélange of dry and moist, like a lizard’s, and with an effort Milford disengaged his own hand and wiped it on his dungarees.

“First or last name?” said the man.

“Pardon me?”

“Is Gilford your first or last name? Or middle perhaps?”

“It’s Milford, and it’s my last name.”

“So your first name is something you prefer not to be called by. Norbert perhaps. Or Herbert?”

“Look, I just prefer to be called Milford, okay?”

The man pointed to Milford’s silver cigarette lighter standing there on the bar, with the cursive double-M monogram.

“Two Ms. Not Michael, certainly. Martin? No. Melvin?”

“No,” said Milford. “Thank God.”

“Oh, wait, it must be Marion then, am I right?”

“Yes,” said Milford, with a sigh. Why was life so insane?

“Very well, Marion, I shall call you Milford, and I don’t blame you. It’s not your fault that your mother is a sadist.”

Milford winced.

“Ah, I see I have touched a nerve, my good friend Milford. And now to the purpose of my intrusion. I wonder if you would be so kind as to buy a fellow poet a drink?”

The gall of this fellow.

“Here,” said Milford. He picked up the glass of brandy he had not wanted, and held it out to the little man. “Take this, with my compliments.”

“I don’t want to take your drink, Milford.”

“It’s okay, I don’t want it.”

“Then why was it sitting there?”

“It’s too tedious to explain. Look, just take it, okay?”

“By which you mean,” said the man, taking the drink, “‘Take it, and now go away.’”

“I am with friends.”

“But I was hoping that we could be friends.”

“So that I would buy you more drinks?”

“You cut to the bone, sir!”

“Look, I’m an alcoholic too. I sympathize, but, as I say, I am with my friends.”

“But are they really your friends?”

“I, uh –”

“I see you’re with the radiant Bubbles. Hello there, Bubbles!”

Bubbles turned and looked at the guy.

“Hiya, Lucas,” she said.

“How’s it going, beautiful?”

“Do you care?”

“I do, Bubbles. I care deeply.”

“You care about where your next drink is coming from.”

“I am willing to pay for my drinks.”


“In my own way.”

“Take a hike, half-pint.”

“May I compose a poem ex tempore for you and Milford in exchange  for another drink?”

“I think I’d rather swallow gasoline than listen to you recite a poem,” said Bubbles.

“You have inspired me, dear lady.” 

The little man drank down the brandy in a gulp, put the empty glass back on the bar, and cleared his throat. As chance would have it, the jukebox went quiet just at that moment, and he began to declaim, in the classic boring singsong voice of the poet:

I’d rather drink gasoline, she said,
than listen to your doggerel.
I’d rather drive nails into my head
than submit to such living hell.

How can you bear to exist, old man,
as pathetic as you are?
Why don’t you go outside and
jump in front of a passing car?

Polly and Addison were paying no attention to any of this.

“And so I envision,” said Addison, “my novel to be so much more than a mere western. You see, it is my goal to utilize the framework of a western tale of revenge to explore the deepest questions of existence. Why are we here? What do we live for? What does it all mean?”

“How odd,” said Polly, drunk for the first time in her life on the three drinks she had now had, “because that’s the same way I feel about my own novel! I mean, sure, superficially it might be a Bildungsroman of a young girl who comes to the city to find herself, but it also asks those very same questions. What is the meaning, if any, of human existence? Or is it all in aid of nothing, nothing at all?”

“I knew we were kindred souls,” said Addison.

“Do you really think so?”

“Oh, yes, indeed.”

Polly realized that Milford’s thirteen-page poem was still lying on the bar in front of her, and that she had still only read the first few lines. And the poem was about her! But now Milford and Bubbles seemed to be listening to a little man who sounded like he was reciting a poem.

Yes, she thought, this, this was la vie de la bohème! But would her own life be as tragic as Puccini’s opera? Oh, would that it could be!

Another song had come on the jukebox, “Take the A Train”, and amidst the clamor of the song Addison was saying something, but Polly didn’t quite catch it, fascinated as she now was by the queenly face of Bubbles, who seemed to be examining the bottles of liquor ranged on the shelves opposite. Polly knew she simply must put this beautiful and mysterious woman in her novel, mutatis mutandis of course. Maybe she would change the color of her hair to red, or, no, auburn, and of course she would need a different name. Trixie?

“So you agree, then?” said Addison.

“Uh, yes,” said Polly, “certainly.”

“I knew it,” said Addison. “A young adventurous woman like yourself is not to be hidebound by repressive social strictures! And, quite frankly, neither am I. I believe that love is to be given, and, yes, to be received, freely – and, dare I say, joyfully!”

And he touched her knee, in a tentative way, and only momentarily, but still.

And in that moment Polly caught the glance of Bubbles, who rolled her beautiful eyes.

Hurry, hurry, hurry, take the A Train
to get to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem...

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

Thursday, May 4, 2023

“The World Is Your Oyster”

“And so you see, Bubbles,” said Milford, “the poet of today must I think passionately come to grips with the looming threat of nuclear annihilation, but – and I think this is so terribly important – he must also deal with the fracturing of the modern consciousness –”

Bubbles turned and gave Milford a look.

“The, uh,” he went on, “the modern consciousness, of, uh, um –”

She continued to stare at him.

“I think it was Ezra Pound who said,” he didn’t stop, couldn’t stop, “and, yes, this was back in the days before the First World War, the supposed ‘war to end wars’, but, uh –”

“What is it,” she said, “Melvin?”

“My name?”  

“Yeah, what is it, Merwyn?”

“Um, Milford, actually,” he said.

“Milford. Okay, Milford, I’m gonna tell you something.”

“Oh, please do.”

“I used to think your buddy Addison there was the most boring guy I ever met.”

“Heh heh.”

“But he’s not,” she said. “I think you’re the most boring guy I’ve ever met.”


“I’m gonna tell you something else.”


“Nobody gives a shit, Marvin.”


“Nobody gives a shit about your theories of modern poetry, Milford.”


“I finally got Addison trained not to bore the living shit out of me.”

“You did?”

“Yeah. Now if he starts in on his theories I just give him one look and he shuts right up.”


“That’s the look I’m giving you now, Mumford.”


“Milford, sorry. But that’s the look I’m giving you now.”

“So you want me to shut up?”

“I want you not to bore the living shit out of me. You think you can do that?”

“I don’t know.”


Milford felt something falling away inside his chest. Should he just commit suicide? But, no, he was far too much of a coward for that. He picked up his glass of ginger ale, but it was empty except for some ice at the bottom.

“May I buy you another drink, Bubbles?” he said.

“Sure,” she said.

Milford leaned forward, his hand raised, to summon the bartender. To his left Addison was chattering to Polly. They seemed happy. Why was he not happy? Why was he falling in love with Bubbles, who thought him the most boring guy she had ever met?

The bartender came over.

“Hello,” said Milford. “May I buy the lady another drink, please?”

The bartender looked at Bubbles.

“Another Christian Brothers, Bubbles?”

“Yeah, thanks, Louie,” she said.

“What about you, pal?” said the bartender, “another Christian Brothers?” and Milford belatedly realized that somehow he had drunk a shot of brandy a few minutes ago. How had that happened? Sobriety down the drain, once again.

“I think Polly and I could go for another Christian Brothers each,” piped in Addison.

“So that’s four Christian Brothers,” said Louie the bartender.

“No!” said Milford. “Just three Christian Brothers, please. I’ll take another ginger ale.”

Bubbles turned and looked at him with what might be disdain.

“I’m sorry,” said Milford, “but, you see, Bubbles, I’m an alcoholic, and I really shouldn’t have had that last shot, but I wasn’t thinking, I had become distracted, and I drank it without meaning to, and –”

“I don’t give a damn,” said Bubbles.
“Oh,” said Milford.

“So that’s three Christian Brothers,” said Louie.

“And one ginger ale,” said Milford.

“Yeah, I heard you,” said the bartender.

“I’m not supposed to drink alcohol,” said Milford.

“Good for you,” said the bartender.

“I’m going to be drunk!” cried Polly.

“But that’s the whole idea, dear Polly,” said Addison.

The bartender went away to find his Christian Brothers bottle, and Milford wondered why he was here, with this falling-away feeling in his chest. He should just leave. Go home. Go out into the cold rain or the snow or whatever it was doing out there and go home and avoid his mother and go up to his room and write a poem of despair. He was supposed to be on some sort of date with Polly, but she wouldn’t care, nor would Addison, and obviously not Bubbles. The only thing was, he was getting hungry. Would he be able to sneak into the kitchen without being accosted by his mother? What had Julia the cook make for dinner tonight? Meatloaf would be good, especially if it was still warm…

The bartender was there again. He had replaced Milford’s ginger ale, and now he was pouring out shots of Christian Brothers brandy into the empty glasses in front of Bubbles, and Addison and Polly.

“Give my father one, too, Louie,” said Bubbles, gesturing with her cigarette at the empty small glass in front of Milford.

“Oh, no,” said Milford.

“Give him one,” repeated Bubbles. “And put this round on my tab.”

“Oh! No,” said Milford. “Put it all on my tab, please, sir, I insist –”

The bartender glanced at Bubbles.

“Okay,“ she said, “put it on Diamond Jim’s tab, Louie. And give him a shot of the Christians.”

“You got it, Bubbles,” said Louie, and he poured brandy into Milford’s glass, and then went away.

“Don’t look so crestfallen, Mumford,” said Bubbles. “If you don’t want to drink it, somebody else will.”

She lifted her glass, and took a sip, sighed. Maybe after this one she would get the taste of this day out of her mouth.

Addison and Polly resumed their chattering, and Milford looked at the brandy in his glass. He would definitely have something to talk about at his next Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

“Cheer up, Marlowe,” said Bubbles.

“Pardon me?”

“Sure, you’re boring,” she said. “But at least you’re not cheap.”

Now it was Milford who sighed.

“What?” she said.

“There’s only one reason that I’m not cheap,” he said. “And that is that I have a trust fund from my late father for five hundred a month. And also I live with my mother, which means I pay no room or board.”

“So the world is your oyster?” she said.

This had never occurred to Milford before. He had been too busy being miserable to realize that he had no earthly reason to be miserable.

He looked at Bubbles, who was still looking at him.

“Bubbles,” he said. “I am falling in love with you.”

She said nothing.

“I hope you don’t mind my saying that,” he said.

“I’ve heard it before,” she said.

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