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…}

No comments: