Thursday, June 29, 2023

“What Am I Doing Here?”

Not for the first time in his life, and it wouldn’t be the last, Milford wondered, What am I doing here?

Sitting here almost sober at this table in the San Remo Café with six drunken, jabbering and shouting fellows, including T.S. Eliot to his right, while the one guy Lucas Z. Billingsworth declaimed his extemporaneous poem, snatches of which entered Milford’s consciousness…
“They call me the big beat daddy,
and that’s what I am for real,
zipping along in a ’32 Ford
driven by my old pal Neal

while I sing sad songs of the road
and the simple wise fellaheen
and the gals in gingham dresses
just barely turned eighteen…”
Nonetheless, it seemed that Milford had at last joined a literary movement, so there was that… 

Yes, all well and good, but what about the lovely Bubbles, still sitting over there at the bar, who had tentatively agreed to relieve him of his virginity this night, and at the very reasonable price of only ten dollars, which included the cost of a French letter? Should he excuse himself to his new comrades and rejoin her, even if she didn’t want to talk to him? And what about Polly, Polly Powell, with whom he was supposed to be having dinner, but who now seemed to be happily ensconced in conversation with that weirdo Addison? What to do? As usual, Milford did nothing while trying to decide what he should do, feeling, as usual, separate from all humanity and the universe, but then a large old man was standing looming behind him, between him and Mr. Eliot.

“Hey, Eliot, I got a bone to pick with you, buddy.”

“Oh, hello, Stevens, how are you?” said Mr. Eliot, turning around in his seat to look up at the big man.

“I’m fine,” said the man. He wore a heavy tweed topcoat and a fedora. “I’m very fine. But you, my fine friend, are about to be not so fine.”

“I do beg your pardon.”

“Don’t give me that shit. Sitting here with your young epigones. I’ll bet they’re all kissing your lily-white narrow ass.”

”Hey, just wait a minute, Stevens, no need to be so hostile.”

“Oh, no? After you called my collection, and I quote, ‘the usual impenetrable sentimental twaddle we have come to expect from Stevens’?”

“Oh, that. Well, my dear fellow –”

“Don’t give me that faux-British ‘my dear fellow’ crapola, pal. You Midwesterners are all the same. As soon as you leave the corn fields and go to Harvard you start to talk like Ronald Colman.”

“I assure you I have never been in a corn field in my life.”

“I’m gonna fuck you up, Eliot. And all your little boyfriends here are not gonna stop me.”

“Now, look, Stevens, can’t we be civilized?”

“Fuck you. I’m going over to the bar for a Rob Roy. In five minutes I want you to meet me outside on Bleecker, and we’ll settle this like men. If you’re not outside in five minutes I’m gonna come over here and drag you out to the street by your Savile Row rep necktie. Later, dipshit.”

And with that the large old man lumbered away.

No one else at the table seemed to have noticed the exchange. Lucas was still spouting his extemporaneous poem, and the other fellows were all babbling obliviously away at each other.

Mr. Eliot and Milford both watched as the large man shoved himself into a place at the crowded bar. Mr. Eliot lifted his martini and took a sip.

“Wow,” said Milford. “Who was that, Mr. Eliot?”

“Stevens. Wallace Stevens. I gave one of his books a pan in Criterion about twenty years ago, and it seems he’s still a bit cheesed off about it.”

“Gee, what are you going to do?”

Mr. Eliot put down his drink and leaned toward Milford.

“Listen, I want you to do me a favor, Melville.” Again Milford decided not to correct Mr. Eliot. What did it matter what he called him? “A small favor, but I should be ever so grateful.” 

“What is it, Mr. Eliot?”


“What is it, Tom?”

“I want you to deal with him, Melville.”

“With Wallace Stevens?”


“What do mean?”

“Go over to the bar and try to mollify him. Offer him the proverbial olive branch on my behalf. Tell him I’ll publish a belated retraction to my review.”

“Will you?”

“Of course not, but just tell him that.”

“What if he doesn’t accept the, uh, olive branch?”

“Then, you know, deal with him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Step outside with him if you have to.”


“Yes. He’s old and in bad condition, whereas you are young and vital. Give him a good thrashing. Nothing too serious, but give him the old one-two to the breadbasket, that should put him down. He’s got the reach, so what you should do is go inside and work on the midsection, and, as you saw, he’s got a lot of midsection. You can’t miss. Just put him down on the pavement, and then come back inside. He’ll behave after he gets his wind back.”

“Wait a minute, you want me to beat up Wallace Stevens?”

“You don’t have to knock him out or put him in the hospital. Just take the wind out of his sails.”

“Mr. Eliot –”


“Tom, I have never been in a fight in my life.”

“There’s a first time for everything, my boy.”

“But he’s enormous. I am not a strong person, Mr. Eliot –”


“I am not a strong or athletic person, Tom. I’ve avoided strenuous exercise my entire life, and also he has about a hundred pounds and eight inches in height on me.”

“This is all to your advantage. You are small but lithe, like a monkey, and you can duck under his wild roundhouse haymakers and plant those little fists of yours right into his fat gut.”

“But besides being small I am weak.”

“You don’t need strength or size to be a good fighter. Think of David and Goliath. Just move in quickly and try to land a shot to the solar plexus, if you can find it under those rolls of blubber on the fellow.”

“Really, Mr. Eliot –”


“Really, Tom –”

“Listen, Melville, you do realize I am an editor at a prestigious publishing firm, do you not?”

“Um, yeah, I think I heard that.”

“Deal with Stevens for me and I’ll have my firm publish you.”

“You will?”

“Yes. I mean, if your stuff is at all good. Is it good?”

“I’m not sure –”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

“I actually brought the opening section of a long poem with me tonight. It’s still sitting on the bar, because I gave it to this young lady to read –”

“Fine. Give me the poem, and if it’s any good, I’ll give you a contract. Now look, the five minutes are almost up, so before that brute comes back here and makes a scene, get up and go over there to him and try to, you know, smooth things over.”

“Well –”

“Go on, Melville. As you young fellows say, ‘Do a brother a solid.’”

“Um –”


“Well, okay.”

Milford stood up. Mr. Eliot put his hand on his arm.

“Oh, and Melville –”


“Remember, if it comes to fisticuffs, and I pray it doesn’t, take note. Go inside. Keep your head down and pummel that breadbasket, short quick jabs, left-right, left-right. I guarantee he’ll go down like a ton of bricks.”

“Well, I’m going to try to avoid fisticuffs, Mr. Eliot.”


“I’m going to try to mollify him, Tom.”

“Good,” said Mr. Eliot. “But if – and I say if, mind you – if it comes to a barney, remember, he’s got the reach, and the heighth, and the weight, and also the strength advantage, so slip inside and work that midsection.”

“Okay, but –”

“And when he goes down, just don’t let him fall on you, or else you’ll be the one going to hospital. Now go. And godspeed and good luck.”

Milford didn’t feel good about it, but the prospect of being published (and with none other than T.S. Eliot as his editor!) gave him, if not courage, then determination, and off he headed on rubbery legs toward the bar where the large old poet stood glowering, Rob Roy in hand.

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

Thursday, June 22, 2023

“The Old Order Changeth”

As young as Milford was, and as naive and obtuse as he was, one thing he had learned was that it was impossible to have anything even resembling a conversation with more than one person at a time. And yet here he was, at this round table at the San Remo Café, surrounded by jukebox music and by shouting and laughing people, sitting with six other men, all of them apparently drunk, all of them speaking at once.

Oh, why had he ever quit drinking?

He had never worried about social awkwardness when he was drunk. He had blathered with the best and the worst of them, argued as passionately and as meaninglessly as he had full-heartedly agreed, paid as little attention to what anyone else said as anyone else paid to what he said, and had forgotten it all almost as soon as it happened…

“Hey, Beowulf, I ‘dig’ your friends,” said T.S. Eliot.

“What?” said Milford.

“Your chums. Reminds me of my own young days, banging the tables with our fists at the Café de Flore, swilling vin ordinaire and marc like it was water, smoking Gauloises like chimneys, churning out manifestos on a nightly basis, ah, those were the days!”

“Oh?” said Milford.

“To be young. It’s a blessing, Halford. Someday you’ll be like me. Old and in the way. And I only hope that when that time comes you’ll be willing to step aside for the newer generation of café table-pounders.”

Mr. Eliot was holding a half-drunk martini in his hand, he had generously bought a round of drinks for the table – a pitcher of beer and various accompanying shots of liquor, and, yes, a pathetic ginger ale (with ice) for Milford. Mr. Eliot may have been a tiresome old drunk, but at least he wasn’t cheap.

“But,” said Milford, shouted actually, because of the ambient clamor, “is this all really that great? Sitting in bars and cafés, shouting and pontificating?”

“Wow, ain’t you just a little ray of sunshine?” said Mr. Eliot. His voice had assumed a cockney intonation. “Next thing you’ll be telling me that those great times we had forty years ago weren’t so great after all!”

“But –”

“Get the poker out of your arse, Elfreth!”


“I said get the poker out of your –”

“Yes, but what did you call me this time?”

“Eldridge. That’s your ‘andle, innit?”

“No, Mr. Eliot, it’s not Eldridge, or Elfreth, or Beowulf. My name is Milford. Why can’t you remember that?”

“Call me Tom.”

“Okay, ‘Tom’. My name is Milford, okay?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I know my own name!”

“Are you sure you know your own name?”


“On accounta I’m pretty sure you told me your name was Argyle.”

“Oh, my God, listen, Mr. Eliot –”


“Listen, Mr. Eliot, I mean Tom, I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but you’re drunk.”

“I know I’m drunk.”

“And you’re making no sense. I know my name and it’s Milford.”

“Lighten up, kid.”

“Well, it just gets annoying when people keep calling you some other name all the time.”

“If you had a normal name like Tom maybe they would call you by your right name.”

“Oh, Christ –”

“Don’t bring Christ into this. The big fella has plenty of other concerns without worrying about your nonexistent problems.”

“Okay, you’re right, Mister –”


“You’re right, Tom. Call me whatever you like, I don’t care.”

“So your real name is – Melville?”

“Yeah, sure, Melville.”

“Bet your parents named you after Herman, am I right?”

“You guessed it, ‘Tom’.”

“Just be glad they didn’t name you Herman.”

“I am glad.”

“So, Melville,” said the guy with glasses sitting on the other side of Milford, “you will join our movement?”


“Our movement!”

“Oh, yeah,” said Milford. “Okay, sure.”

“Attaboy,” said T.S. Eliot, clapping Milford on his narrow shoulder, the only kind of shoulder he had. “You gotta join a movement if you want to get anywhere in the literary game!”

Oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly, Mr. Eliot had slipped into a midwestern sort of American accent now.

“But, listen, Albert is it?” said Mr. Eliot to the young guy with glasses.

“Allen, actually, Tom,” said the guy with glasses.

“Listen, Allen, you gotta think up a good name for your movement. In my day we had the Modernists, and the Surrealists, and the Dadaists, and before that there was the Symbolists, the Naturalists, the Aesthetes and whatnot, so first thing you gotta do is think up a catchy name.”

“We were thinking of the Greenwich Village People,” said Allen.

“Well, that, and you should pardon my language,” said Mr. Eliot, “sucks donkey dick.”

Everybody at the table was listening for a change and now they all laughed.

“Yes,” said Allen, “I suppose it is a little lame –”

“Oh, I thought of a name,” said Milford. “The Beaten Generation.”

“Wow,” said Allen. “The Beaten Generation. I like that.”

“Yeah,” said the square-jawed guy, Jack his name was. “Beaten before we even start.”

“Beaten from the word go,” said the thin blond guy, the only one besides Mr. Eliot who was wearing a suit, Milford thought his name was Bill something.

“Beaten from the womb to the grave,” said the little curly-haired guy, Gregory was it?

“I been beaten from pillar to post,” said Lucas Z. Billingsworth, “from boxcar to breadline to hobo jungle, from Bangor, Maine to Baton Rouge to Frisco Bay, yes, sir, from Salt Chunk Mary’s stolen-goods house in Pocatello, Idaho to the rugged logging camps of Escanaba, Michigan, I been run out of towns from one end of this land o’ so-called liberty to the other! Say, I think I feel another extemporaneous poem coming on–”

“The Beaten Generation,” said Mr. Eliot, blatantly interrupting Lucas, to no one’s regret, including possibly even Lucas. “It’s good. It’s catchy. Like that name my good friend Gertie Stein gave those young fellers back in the 20s: ‘The Lost Generation’. But may I make just one small editorial suggestion?”

“Please do, Tom,” said Allen.

Pace my good friend Melville here, might I suggest losing the e-n, and just make it ‘The Beat Generation’.”

“Oh, that is better, I think,” said Allen.

“Punchier,” said Mr. Eliot.

“Catchier,” said Bill.

“Shorter,” said Gregory.

“Beat. I like it,” said Jack.

“Yep, it’s a good one,” said Lucas. “Like, boom. Beat. Boom. Bam. Beat.”

Milford had to admit it was an improvement. And so, on that historic night, with some help from one of the foremost leaders of the old guard, a new literary movement was born.

“Can I recite my new extemporaneous poem now?” asked Lucas Z. Billingsworth.

No one demurred, and Lucas launched forth, although, as was always the case when people recited extemporaneous poems in bars, no one listened beyond the first few lines, not that Lucas cared, swept up as he was in the ecstasy of creation.

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

Thursday, June 15, 2023

“Shake a Leg, Blanchard”

In the little hallway outside the men’s room door Milford stopped and looked at the fountain pen he still held in his hand, the pen that had just been given to him by none other than T.S. Eliot, the most acclaimed poet (thus far) of the 20th century. And now the pen was Milford’s – it was his, to write the works that would make him the voice of his generation!

Or, rather, would it be just one great, massive, all-encompassing work? A sprawling epic that would take years, perhaps decades to write? Yes, that was the ticket! No half-measures. Let it be a thousand, two thousand pages long, whatever it took, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes!

However, he would publish it in installments. What would be the point of laboring alone in obscurity through the long years, only to achieve his destiny when he was middle-aged or old and teetering on the edge of the grave? No, the serial route would be best. Burst onto the scene with Part One (Canto One? Chapter One? Book One? He would decide what to call it later), taking the literary world by storm, and leave the bastards clamoring for more! But let them wait, he would publish the succeeding cantos, chapters, or books on his own timetable, and let the publishers with their entreaties and blandishments be damned!

“Hey, buddy, you waiting to get in the men’s room?”

“What?” said Milford.

It was a slender man with a thin moustache, a snap-brim hat, and a worn brown leather workman’s jacket.

“I said and I repeat, you waiting to get in the men’s room?”

“What? No.”

“Just standing here looking at your pen, huh?”


“So there ain’t a line to get into the gent’s.”

“No. There’s only one person in there, and there’s two urinals, and also a toilet stall.”

“So I can go in.”

“Yes,” said Milford.

“If you’re standing here trying to turn a trick, I ain’t judgmental, Jack.”

“What do you mean, turn a trick?”

“If you got to ask, then you probably ain’t trying to turn one.”

“Well, anyway, as I say, there’s only one man in there, so you’re free to go in.”

“Can I just ask you one question before I do go in?”


“Why were you standing here staring at that pen?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“I think I know why.”


“Yes. You’re a poet, and you’re thinking of all the great poems – or, perhaps, one great epic masterwork – that you’re going to write with it.”

“How did you know?”

“Because I too am a poet.”


“And a poet always knows another poet.”


“Also, every other cat in this joint is a poet.”


“I don’t mean that in the sense of every single cat in here, but rather in the sense of every other cat, in other words, approximately half of them. The other half are a mix of experimental novelists, jazz musicians, and abstract painters.”

“Well, anyway, as I say, the rest room is free, or free enough.”

“But you say there’s one guy still in there.”


“He ain’t a fairy, is he?”

“He says he isn’t.”

“Oh, so you talked to him.”

“Well, he talked to me.”

“So he might be a fairy. Not that I mind, mind you. Fairies gotta live too, y’know.”

“Of course.”

“Slick’s my name. They call me Detroit Slick.”

“Your name is Slick?”

“That’s half my name. Full name, Detroit Slick. What’s your moniker?”


“First or last name?”

“Listen, sir, don’t you have to go to the bathroom?”

“Don’t rush me, pal. Let me tell you something, you’ll never get to be a real poet if you don’t learn to have random conversations with strangers.”

“I want to rejoin my friends.”

“But are they really your friends?”

Milford sighed, and put the pen away inside his peacoat.

“Oh,” said the guy. “I get it.”

“Get what?”

“I’ve touched a nerve.”

“You’re getting on my nerves, if that’s what you mean.”

“Oh. Okay. I can take a hint. You want to take it outside?”

“What? No, why would I want to take it outside?”

“So we can fight it out like real men. And then after I beat you to a gibbering pulp, maybe I’ll bring you back inside, and we can get drunk together, like real poets.”

“I don’t drink.”

“You what?”

“I don’t drink.”

“You sure you ain’t a fairy?”

“Yes, I’m sure I’m not a fairy.”

“You don’t sound too sure.”

“Well, it’s none of your business anyway.”

“You ever made the beast with two backs with a chick?”

“I refuse to answer that question.”

“In other words, no,” said the guy. “You’re a virgin. And possibly a fairy.”

“Okay, look,” said Milford, “excuse me, but I’m going to rejoin my friends now.”

“Your so-called friends.”

“Fine, my so-called friends.”

“I think we should be friends.”

“Why, in God’s name?”

“There is no God.”

“Okay, I agree – then, simply, why? Why should I want to be your friend?”

“You really know how to hurt a guy.”

“But you’re annoying. You know what, you should quickly go in the men’s room because the man in there is just as annoying as you are. You can have an annoying contest.”

“He’s been in there a long time. He ain’t making a number two, is he?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“He probably is a fairy then.”

“Again, he says not.”

“Okay, I guess I’ll go in then. But when I come out I’d like to buy you a drink.”

“I told you, I don’t drink.”

“Then what the hell are you doing here?”

“I came in here supposedly to have dinner with a young lady, but – oh, why am I telling you this?”

“Because I asked you. I’m gonna tell you again, Jeffrey –”


“I’m gonna tell you again, Milford, if you don’t open up yourself to all of life, with all its glories and horrors – and, yes, annoyances – you will never be a great poet.”


“You know I’m right.”

“Yes, I suppose you are.”

“No man is an island, Howard.”

“Milford. My name is Milford.”

“No man is an island, Milford. We are more like one great vast continent.”

“That makes no sense.”

“One great vast ocean?”

“Why do we have to be anything, islands or whatever? Can’t we just be what we are – people?”

“You got something against metaphor?”

“Look, I’m going to go now, nice talking to you, Mister –”

“Slick, Detroit Slick.”

“Mr. Slick.”

“Just Slick will do.”

“Okay, nice talking to you, Slick.”

“Put ‘er there, Alfred.”

Milford decided on the spot not to correct the man again. What did it matter? He extended his hand, and the man took it in his, which, like Milford’s, was uncallused and devoid of obvious strength, although it was slightly sticky.

“Two poets,” said the man. “Pledging friendship and unanimity, for life.”

Milford bit his lower lip, choosing to say nothing.

The man released Milford’s hand, and Milford immediately wiped the palm of his hand on the side of his dungarees.

“Okay,” said the guy, “I’m gonna piss myself if I don’t go in there right now. Later.”

He opened the door and T.S. Eliot was just coming out, cigarette in hand.

“’Scuse me, Pops,” said the man calling himself Detroit Slick, and he held the door to let T.S. Eliot go past. The door closed, and Mr. Eliot looked at Milford.

“You still here?” said T.S. Eliot.

“Yes, I got caught up in conversation with that guy.”

“A poofter?”


“Is he a homosexual?”

“I don’t think so. He said he was a poet.”

“Another one,” said T.S. Eliot. “This joint is seething with them. Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”

“I don’t drink.”

“Don’t fuck with me, Fordham.”

“Milford. My name is Milford.”

“Don’t fuck with me, Milford.”

“I’m not fucking with you. I don’t drink.”

“And you call yourself a poet? I should ask for my pen back.”

For one-tenth of a second, Milford was on the verge of taking the pen out and giving it back, but he didn’t. He really wanted that pen, to write his great epic with.

“Listen, Mr. Eliot,” he said, “I don’t drink because I’m an alcoholic. What I mean is, I can’t drink.”

“If you don’t want to have a drink with me, just say so.”

“Can I just have a ginger ale?”

“You can have anything you want to have, I assure you it’s a matter of complete indifference to me.”

“I’ll have a ginger ale then.”

“All right, let’s go squeeze into the bar.”

“I can’t right now.”

“May I ask why?”

“I have to rejoin some guys at a table.”

“Oh. Okay. ‘Some guys.’”

“No, really, they’re forming a new movement and they want me to join them.”

“Splendid! I’d like to meet these soi-disant ‘guys’ of yours. May I accompany you?”

“Well, I don’t know, I guess so –”

“Come on then, shake a leg, Blanchard.”

Mr. Eliot put his arm in Milford’s, and together the young poet and the old poet forged forth like two ships of war, one seasoned but battle-hardened, the other newly-commissioned but eager, through that churning sea of humanity, shouting men and laughing women, poets, experimental novelists, and abstract painters.

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

Thursday, June 8, 2023

"Tommy Boy"

There were two urinals in the rest room, one of them occupied. Milford went over to the free urinal and began to unbutton the fly of his dungarees.

“Tell me,” said the man at the adjoining urinal, “are you perhaps a mariner, albeit not ancient?”

“What?” said Milford.

“I speak of your peacoat, sir, a traditional seaman’s outer garb.”

“What, no, I am not a seaman.”

“A longshoreman then?”

How Milford hated this. This was yet another reason not to go into bars, as if he needed another reason.

“You don’t have to answer me if you don’t want to,” said the man, who had an English accent.

“Okay, look,” said Milford, “I’m not a sailor or a longshoreman, okay? And all I want to do is to micturate in peace.”

“No one’s stopping you from micturating.”

“I can’t micturate if someone is talking to me.”

“Oh. Well, excuse me for being a human being.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ, mister, will you please just let me take a pee in peace?”

“Where I come from the working-class chaps call it ‘having a slash’.”

“Great, I’ll make a note of that.”

Milford finally heard the adjoining urinal flushing. Thank God.

The man went over to the wash basin, to Milford’s right.

“Only trying to make a bit of friendly conversation,” said the man.

“Well, I’m sorry,” said Milford, still waiting for the urine to escape from his so-called virile member.

“I very much doubt you are,” said the man, and Milford sneaked a quick glance at him, a thin man, sixty or older, in a brown tweed suit, as he turned on the water tap. The sound of the running water at last freed Milford’s bladder, and Milford sighed, in tentative relief. He heard the man pumping the soap dispenser, and then singing, “Pour, Oh Pour the Pirate’s Sherry”, as he presumably began washing his hands.

In mid-line the man stopped singing, and said, “I suppose you are a poet then.”

Milford sighed, in mid-stream, but vanity bade him answer in the affirmative.

“I should have known,” said the man. “Even in my long-ago day many of the young poets affected proletarian modes of dress. My quondam friend Ezra used quite often to be taken for an automobile mechanic or an itinerant farm laborer.”

Milford said nothing to this. All he wanted was to finish peeing and get out of this john as quick as possible.

“And, yes,” continued the man, “even in my day the young poets affected a frightful rudeness.”

At last Milford finished his business, gave his member a quick shake, and then flushed.

The man was still standing at the washbasin, still washing his hands, or pretending to do so.

“I’m a poet, too,” he said. “Perhaps you recognize me.”

Milford reluctantly looked again at the man.

“No, sorry,” he said.

“How terribly humiliating,” said the man. “I’ll be finished in just a mo, by the way. I like to get my hands antiseptically clean after the act of urination. I simply cannot bear the thought of touching someone else’s flesh unless the last traces of urine and penile sweat have been scoured from my fingers.”

Again Milford sighed, and began buttoning his fly, even though he preferred to wash and dry his hands before buttoning his fly. He waited, impatiently, while the man turned off the taps, and then began to dry his hands with a paper towel from the wall-mounted dispenser.

“All yours,” he said.

“Thanks,” said Milford, and he went over to the sink.

“I’m T.S., by the way,” said the man.

“T.S.?” said Milford.

“Yes. Short for Thomas Stearns.”

“Oh,” said Milford. “Hi.”

He turned on the taps.

“You can call me Tom,” said the man.

“Hi, Tom.”

“What’s your name?”

For the third time at least since coming into this john, Milford sighed, but then his ingrained politeness forced him to say, “Milford.”

“Very pleased to meet you, Milford,” said the man. “Do you still not know who I am?”

Milford pumped some soap from the dispenser, and reluctantly looked at the man again.

“No, sorry, should I?”

“My name is Eliot. T.S. Eliot.”

“Oh. Hi,” said Milford.

“That’s all, just ‘Hi’?”

Milford began washing his hands.

“Okay,” he said, “Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Eliot.”

“Well, that’s better.” The man had crumpled up his paper towel, and now he turned and made a one-handed layup shot to the wastebasket, and it bounced in off the wall. “Two points. Boom.” He turned again to Milford. “Y’know, in my day, when I was your age, if I had met an older and much revered poet I should have been delighted, jumping up and down and panting with my tongue wagging out like a puppy.”

“Look, Mr. Eliot,” said Milford, “all I want to do is finish washing my hands and get out of this rest room and rejoin my friends, okay?”

“Oh, I suppose you find all this awkward?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I’m not some debased toilet trader, you know. I am quite heterosexual.”

“That’s great, Mr. Eliot.”

“What’s so great about it?”

His hands rinsed, Milford turned off the taps.

The man cranked a paper towel from the dispenser and handed it to Milford.

“Thanks,” said Milford.

“Don’t mention it. Have you read my poetry?”

“Yes. Some of it.”

“And what did you think?”

“It was okay, for its time, I suppose.”



“Oh, and whose poetry do you like?”

“Look, Mr. Eliot –”

“Call me Tom, Wilbur.”

“It’s Milford.”

“Call me Tom, Milford. Or Tommy Boy.”

“Okay, ‘Tom’,” said Milford. “I like some of the more current poets.”

“Oh, really, like who?”

“I don’t know. Dylan Thomas.”

“Oh, my God, not that ragamuffin!”

“He may be a ragamuffin, but I believe he is the finest poet of our time.”


“Okay, fine,” said Milford. He crumpled up the paper towel and tossed it at the waste basket, missing it by a foot.

“You missed,” said the man. “I take it you were not the captain of your high school basketball team.”

“Look, nice meeting you, Mr. Eliot,” said Milford, “but I want to get back to my friends.”

“I’m only trying to make friendly conversation.”

“But I told you, Mr. Eliot –”


“I told you, ‘Tom’, I find this very awkward –”

“Perhaps because you are a latent homosexual.”

“Oh, fuck you.”

“Fuck me?”

“Yes, fuck you.”

“May I ask why you say that?”

“Because you are incredibly annoying, and, yes, borderline obnoxious.”

“It’s because I think your hero Dylan Thomas is shite, isn’t it?’

“Oh my God, you are really unbelievable.”

“In what sense am I unbelievable?”

“In every sense.”

“Oh, right, so I just try to be a little friendly, and now all of a sudden I am ‘the bad chap’. Well, let me tell you something, my fine young bloke, mon petit pretentious poetaster, I am not the bad chap here.”

“It’s bad guy.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“The phrase is ‘bad guy’, not ‘bad chap’.”

“Don’t correct my English, you young pup, I’ve forgotten more English than you’ll ever know.”

“Oh, yes, and aren’t you from St. Louis, Missouri? What’s up with the fruity English accent?”

“Blast you for your impertinence. I have lived in England for many years, far more than I ever lived in St. Louis, and so have naturally acquired a Received or Oxbridge accent.”

“And yet Englishman live in this country for fifty years, and never lose their original accents. It’s only insecure Midwesterners like you who lose their accents after a summer college course in England.”

“Why, you nasty little – and, please, pardon my choice of word but no other applies – cunt.”


“You heard me. Cunt, and a right proper one as well.”

“Oh, my God, y’know, I thought I was a pretentious and self-absorbed ass, but compared to you I’m a goddam regular guy.”

“You mean a right proper bloke I presume.”

At this Milford heaved one more sigh.

“Okay, look, Tom, or Tommy Boy, I really don’t want to get into all this, okay? Goodbye.”

“You’re not angry at me, are you?”

“I’m not angry but I’m annoyed.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“Can we be friends?”


“Put ‘er there, old chap.”

And the man extended his thin hand, the only sort of hand he had, and, reluctantly, Milford took it in his own soft pallid hand.

“Please don’t judge me harshly,” said the man. “Someday you will be old.”

“If I live long enough.”

“Yes. Quite.”

He continued to hold onto Milford’s hand with his own bony hand.

“May I have my hand back?” said Milford.

“I’m really not homosexual. Just a trifle drunk is all. Had a rather late lunch with the chaps from my firm’s New York office, and, well, one martini led to another, heh heh.”

“I don’t care, but I would still like my hand back.”

“Yes, of course,” said the man, and at last he opened his hand, freeing Milford’s, with a soft susurrant sound like that of two lizards disembracing after the act of coitus.

“Y’know,” said the man, “I like you, kid. You don’t look like much, but, frankly, neither did I at your age.”

“Uh –”

“You got balls.”

“Okay,” said Milford. “Well –”

“Hold on. I want to give you something.”

“Um –”

The man reached inside his suit and brought out a black fountain pen, trimmed in gold.

“I want you to have this.”

“Your pen?”

“Not just ‘a’ pen. This is ‘the’ pen. The one I wrote The Waste Land and ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ with, and so many other poems now considered modern classics.”


“Go ahead, take it.”

“Well, only if you insist.”

“I do.”

Milford took the pen, unscrewed the cap, looked at the nib, then recapped it.

“Nice,” he said.

“Montblanc,” said the man. “Not cheap, but to you I give it for free, gratis, and for nothing.”


“I ask only one thing in return.”


“Yes, and that is that with that pen you write your generation’s Waste Land.”


“Consider this me passing you the baton. And just as I was the poetic voice of my generation, I want you to be the voice of yours.”

“All right,” said Milford. “I’ll try.”

“Don’t try. Just do it, man.”

“All right, I will.”

“Good boy. Now get out of here.”

“You’re not coming?”

“I will, but I want you to leave first. If we leave together people might get the wrong idea.”

“Well, all right.”

“I’ll just lay back here a minute, spark up a fag.”

“A fag?”

“A smoke. A fag is what we call a cigarette in England, you know, a gasper.”

“Oh –”

“Take care of that pen, Wilfrid.”

“I will. Thanks again.”

“Don’t mention it. Now bugger off. Go join your friends.”

“Okay,” said Milford, and at last he went to the door, opened it, and went out.

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

Thursday, June 1, 2023

“A Generation”

Now what? thought Milford. What happens now? Do I continue to stand here in this crowded noisy bar, next to this beautiful young woman smoking her cigarette and sipping her brandy and staring at the reflection of herself in the mirror behind the bar? Do I endeavor to engage further in conversation with her?

To his left Addison and Polly seemed to be happily enjoying whatever it was they were talking about, and Milford thought, Why can’t I ever happily enjoy a conversation? What is wrong with me? What is not wrong with me? No wonder I became an alcoholic! Who could blame me?

And yet there was still the prospect of losing his virginity with Bubbles, she had agreed to oblige him, out of the sacred goodness of her heart. But why must he wait?

“Excuse me, Bubbles?” he dared to say.

She turned and looked at him.


“I wonder, would it be untoward of me to ask, I was just wondering –”

“Spit it out, daddy-o.”

“I wonder if we could just leave now.”

“What, you and me?”


“Keep your shirt on, pal.”


“I need to unwind a little bit. Like I said, maybe later tonight. Then if you’re still around and I’m not too tired maybe we can head over to my trap for a few minutes.”

“Oh, gee, that would be swell.”

“For you, maybe.”

“Heh heh –”

“So relax, pal.”

“Okay, sure. I can wait.”

“You’re gonna have to.”

“Yes, of course.”

She turned her lovely face away again, but a demon forced words to emerge from Milford’s mouth.

“So, Bubbles, tell me, what authors do you like to read?”

Once again she turned and looked at him, but she said nothing.

Milford went on, fool that he was.

“Or poetry? Who are your favorite poets? What do you think of Dylan Thomas?”

She continued to stare at him.

Undaunted, or, rather, daunted, but unable to help himself, Milford said, “Or films? Have you seen that new Cocteau at the Waverly? I found it quite fascinating –”

“Listen, Rutherford.”

“Milford, actually.”

“Listen, Milford, if you’re gonna keep it up with this malarkey, you can just take that ten bucks of yours right now and shove it where the sun don’t shine.”


“There’s one thing guys like you don’t understand.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s okay just to say nothing sometimes.”


“Yeah, and you know why?”

“Uh –”

“Because if you say nothing you’re not saying something stupid. So do me a favor, and let me just sit here in peace for a while. If I feel like talking, I’ll give you the high sign. Okay?”

“Yes, sorry.”

“Talk with Scooter and Miss Sunshine there if you have to talk, but in the meantime, just let me sit here and enjoy my Christian Brothers and my Philip Morris.”

“Okay,” said Milford.

And Bubbles turned to gaze at her reflection in the mirror again.

She was magnificent!

But now what should he do? His ginger ale was all gone. Should he dare to ask the bartender for a refill? He didn’t even like ginger ale. How he wished he too could drink a brandy, several brandies! But, no, brandy wouldn’t help, and if anything it might even hinder him if Bubbles did indeed deign to attempt to relieve him of the curse of his virginity this night.

He turned to Addison to his left, Addison who was now saying to Polly:

“But, don’t you think, Polly, that the novel of today – if indeed there even is to be a novel of today – simply must cast off the shackles not only of narrative, but – yes, and please feel free to disagree with me – that of ‘meaning’ itself? For what is meaning, qua meaning, but an attempt to give some sort of, some sort of, what’s the word –”

“Meaning?” said Polly.

“Yes!” said Addison. “What is meaning but an attempt to give ‘meaning’ to a world which is so plainly and finally devoid of meaning?”

“That’s exactly what I think!” said Polly. “Why must everything always mean something?”

“Precisely!” said Addison.

Yes, thought Milford, they were right, they were both right, it was all meaningless. And then, as it so rarely did in novels or in poems, nature stepped in and called.

“Excuse me,” he said, to no one in particular, and he took a step away from the bar, brushing Addison’s shoulder as he did.

“Hey, where are you going, buddy?” said Addison.

“I, uh, I just have to –”

“Don’t leave, Milton!” said Polly.

“I’m, uh, not leaving, I just have to, uh –”

“Aren’t we going to have dinner?” said Polly.

“Oh, dinner, yes, I suppose so, I mean if you still want to, um –”

“Then don’t leave!” she cried. “I am having such a good time! Hatcheson and I were just talking about how the modern novel should cast off the shackles of meaning! Don’t you agree?”

“Oh, yes, entirely, but, you see, I just have to –”

“Oh,” said Addison. “I see.“

“You do?” said Milford.

“Yes,” said Addison. “You have to what the chaps back in the parachute factory called ‘strangle the worm!’”

“Heh heh –”

“What does strangle the worm mean?” said Polly.

“Well, my dear –” said Addison –

“Look, I’ll be right back,” said Milford.

“We’ll save your spot,” said Addison.

“Thanks,” said Milford. He glanced at Bubbles, but she was paying no attention, still seemingly absorbed in her own reflection in the mirror.

“Tell me about strangle the worm, Halford!” said Polly, whom Milford noticed was now smoking a cigarette.

“Ha ha,” said Addison.

“Yes, well, maybe later –” said Milford, and he set forth, away from the crowded bar and into the crowd of people milling between the bar and the tables, towards the back of the bar and the rest rooms, through the cigarette smoke and the jukebox music and and the laughter and shouting, and he had not gone five paces when that little man Lucas Z. Billingsworth shouted at him from a nearby table where he sat with four other fellows.

“Hey, Marvin! Come over here, some fellas I want you to meet!”

“Um, uh –”

“Come here!”

Milford didn’t know why, but he went over. Lucas was sitting at a round table with these four other guys, and they were all looking at him.

“Gentlemen,” said Lucas, “this is my new friend, Mar-”

“Milford,” said Milford. “My name is Milford.”

“Milford,” said Lucas. “And as you might gather by his peacoat and his newsboy’s cap, the dungarees, and, yes, the sturdy work shoes, not to mention the Hemingwayan ribbed sweater, he is a poet!”

The four other men all said variations of, “Hiya, Milford.”

“I was telling Merton that he needs to join a likeminded crowd of other scribes.”

“Well, the thing is,” said Milford, “I was just on my way to the men’s room –”

“You must join us after you’ve done your business, Griffin,” said a thin blond man in a brown suit. “We are just about to launch a new movement, and you might want to join us.”

“Um, well –”

“I sense a good aura about you,” said a young guy with glasses. “A holy aura.”

“Are you in the merchant marine?” said a guy with dark hair and strong jaw.

“Um, no, not exactly,” said Milford.

“We could use some fresh blood for our movement,” said a small guy with curly hair.

“Well, I really have to go to the bathroom,” said Milford.

“All right, beat it,” said Lucas. “We’ll still be here.”

“Just don’t beat it while you’re in there, kid,” said the thin blond guy.

“What?” said Milford.

“And while you’re in there,” said the square-jawed guy, “try to think of a good name for our movement.”

“A name?”

“Every movement needs a name,” said the little guy.

“Okay, I’ll, uh, –”

The group suddenly seemed to lose interest in him, and so Milford forged forth again through the bodies towards the rear of the bar and the men’s room. Beat it. Don’t beat it, kid. He finally got what the guy meant. No, he would not beat it. He was saving himself for Bubbles. Beat. Beat it. He was beaten, though. Always beaten. Beaten before he started. He got to the door marked MEN, and then he paused, as he always did before entering a public lavatory, not quite consciously afraid that some brute behind that door would beat him up, or worse. Beaten, yes, always and forever beaten, even if not physically, but mentally, psychologically, and morally! Beaten…But perhaps he should join those fellows with their new movement. It would be nice to belong to some sort of group besides dreary dull Alcoholics Anonymous. But what would they call themselves, he and his fellow ‘scribes’, they who were beaten down by a world that didn’t care a whit about higher things? What could they call themselves? They who had been so mercilessly and brutally beaten by a society that only worshipped Mammon?

And then he had it!

Boldly Milford pushed open the door.

Quickly, he must relieve himself and join his new friends, and tell them he had a name for their movement, the perfect name…

The Beaten Generation!

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