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…}

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