Thursday, July 27, 2023

“Passing the Torch”

“Take my arm, son.”

“Um –”

“Come on, take it, nobody’s going to think you’re a poofter.”

Milford obediently put his right arm under the old poet’s left arm.

“All right,” said Mr. Stevens, giving Milford a tug, “let’s hit another joint.”

“But, sir, can’t we just go back in here?”

With his free hand Milford pointed to the door of the San Remo.

“What,” said the old poet, “with this enormous bruise on my face?”

“It’s not that bad, sir.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Wilford. I’m not going back in there so everyone can see you beat the crap out of me.”

“But, sir –”

“Maybe you want to show off how you knocked out the Bard of Hartford, but I’ve got a reputation to keep up. How’s it going to look for me if it gets around that I let a scrawny little punk like you put me down? Now come on, one thing about this neighborhood, there’s no shortage of bars.”

“But, sir, I have friends inside.”

“And enough of this ‘sir’ shit. Call me Wally. You’ve earned the right.”

“Okay, ‘Wally’, but, as I said, I have friends inside.”

“What friends? Eliot and his teenage catamite fan club of would-be bohemians?”

“No, they’re some other friends of mine who are sitting at the bar.”

“You are really something, Wilford. You have a chance to have a gentlemanly drink with America’s foremost living poet, and instead you prefer to ‘hang out’ (I believe the term is) with your so-called friends.”

“But –”

“Come on, damn it, we’ll have one lousy drink, and then you can go back to your little ‘friends’.”

“Um –”

“Look, didn’t I say I’d write you a good review?”


“Then don’t be such a hard-ass and make me drink alone. Now come the fuck on, boy, for Christ’s sake, try to live a little dangerously, for once in your miserable, pathetic, and meaningless life.”

“Well, all right, but just one drink, sir.”


“Just one drink, Wally, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Mr. Stevens, and next thing Milford knew they were walking up MacDougal Street arm in arm in the thick falling snow.

“This is what it’s all about,” said Mr. Stevens, in his loud, commanding voice. “Adventure! There’s one thing I have never regretted, Wilford, in a life nevertheless filled to overflowing with regrets, and that is walking half-bombed with a pal on a snowy New York City street at night. And you know what I like about it?”

“What’s that, sir, I mean Wally?”

“It’s that we won’t remember 99% of it! It’s the moment, God damn it, the moment! The fleeting, glorious moment!”

Mr. Stevens was veritably shouting, and Milford had to admit to himself that he almost wished he were half-bombed himself.

In a matter seemingly of seconds they came to a large vertical neon sign glowing red and yellow through the falling snowflakes with letters saying simply 




“This will do,” said Mr. Stevens. “Come on, kiddo. Once more unto the breach!”

A minute later they were sitting at a bar, another crowded and smoky bar, a small but loud jazz combo was playing in the back, people were shouting and laughing all around them, and almost before Milford knew it there was a drink in front of him, a Haig & Haig Rob Roy, dry, with a twist of lemon peel.

Mr. Stevens raised his glass. 

“Heft it up, Wilford,” he said, “let’s toast.”

“Wait, sir –”


“Okay, Wally, here’s the thing. I don’t drink.”

“Then why in heaven’s name did you let me order you a Rob Roy?”

“I don’t know, sir. I guess I’m not very assertive.”

“Okay, Wilford, I promise I’ll only ask you this once, so please bear with me. Okay?”


“Were you a pussy all your life, or did you just become one gradually?”





“Why can’t you simply accept it that I don’t drink without insulting me?”

“I wasn’t insulting you. I was simply curious. Have you always been a pussy?”

“Sir, I mean Wally, look, I am not a pussy, it’s just that I’m an alcoholic, and that’s why I can’t drink.”

“Oh. Well, why didn’t you say so?”

“I don’t know. In case you haven’t noticed, sir, I am not very socially adept.”

“I have noticed that, and I apologize for implying that you are a pussy. You’re sure you can’t have just one drink?”

“Sir, I mean, Wally, I know what will happen if I have ‘one drink’. I will wake up in an alleyway, freezing and miserable.”

“So you can’t handle the booze, huh?”

“No, not at all. I have one drink and then I can’t stop until I black out.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound like fun.”

“It isn’t, sir.”

“And you’re so young, too.”

“I know, but you can be young and still be an alcoholic.”

“Okay. Can I have your drink then?”

“Yes, please, take it.”

Milford picked up the Rob Roy and put it in front of Mr. Stevens.

“Would you like something else?” said Mr. Stevens.

“Okay, I’ll take a ginger ale, with ice,” said Milford. “Thanks.”

“Fine,” said Mr. Stevens.

He raised his meaty hand and signaled the bartender, and in less than a minute there was a bottle of White Rock ginger ale and a glass with ice in it in front of Milford.

“Happy now?” said Mr. Stevens.

“Yes, thank you, Wally.”

“Good, now let’s toast.”

Milford poured some ginger ale into his glass and raised it.

Mr. Stevens held up his Rob Roy, glistening gold in the bar light.

“To the younger generation,” he said. “We, the old guard, have had our day, and now we must pass the torch. To the young. To guys like you, Wilford. Long may you reign. Until that day comes when you, too, must pass the torch to the younger bloods.”

He touched his cocktail glass to Milford’s tumbler, and then took a good drink of his Rob Roy. Milford took a sip of his ginger ale, and then put the glass back down on the bar. He suddenly remembered the fountain pen in his pocket, the pen Mr. Eliot had given to him not a half hour ago – the very pen he had written The Waste Land and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” with – saying, “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.” What was it with these old guys and this passing the torch and baton stuff? Why couldn’t they just slip off into obscurity without making such a big deal out of it? Would he, Milford, be such a pretentious ass when he was old? Yes, he probably would be…

The noise in here was loud, what with the jazz combo, and the people laughing and shouting, and Milford only barely heard the one word that Mr. Stevens now muttered as he put his own glass back down on the bar:


{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, July 20, 2023

“Make It Easy on Yourself, Kid”


The snow continued to fall, whitening the great unmoving body of the old poet lying there next to the entrance column.

“Mr. Stevens?” said Milford.

No reply, no movement.

Milford took a step closer. He took his glasses out from his peacoat, put them on.

The old man was not lying completely prone in the snow after all. His face was partially visible, Milford could see the corner of the man’s mouth, slightly open, and at least one side of his nose, the big balding white head at a slight angle. Was his neck broken? 

Milford took another step closer, and bent over. Was the man breathing?

And then Milford saw the thin steam of breath issuing from the open mouth. Yes! So he was not dead after all! 

But what if he was paralyzed, and, or, if not dead, then dying?

He, Milford, would be held responsible!

Who would believe that he had not even touched the famous old poet?

“No, officer, you see, he threw a punch at me, and all I did was involuntarily pull my head back, and then, well, I guess with the force of the thrown punch, he stumbled forward, and that’s when he crashed into that post.”

“The post in front of the San Remo Café.”

“Yes, sir, it’s a sort of rectangular column, with the name of the café painted on it –”

“I know the column you’re talking about. The column you threw Mr. Stevens against.”

“I did not throw him against it! He fell against it.”

“Oh, he fell against it?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Not so much fell, but, you know, stumbled –”



“Not brutally thrown against the column by you.”


“This elderly man whom you admit you stepped outside the bar to have a fight with.”

“Well, yes, but only because he insisted.”

“So you admit you fought with him, this man who was forty-five years your senior?”

“I didn’t want to fight him!”

“And yet you did.”

“No, I didn’t fight him, I just stood there!”

“You just stood there.”


“You stood there and let him throw a punch at you.”

“Yes! You have to believe me!”

“I don’t have to do anything except try to get at the truth. So let me ask you this, Milford. Why? Why did you kill Mr. Stevens?”

“I didn’t kill him! I’m innocent I tell you!”

“Listen, kid, there’s only one way you can avoid sitting down in that hot seat up at Sing Sing, and that’s to come clean, right here, right now. With luck, and with a good lawyer, you just might plead it down to involuntary manslaughter. With luck, and with a lenient judge, maybe you get off with just a few years.”

“A few years?”

“Maybe five. You’re young, in five years, six even, you’ll still be a young man, almost. Come clean, Milford. You’ll feel better.”

“I can’t do six years in prison!”

“And yet you could kill a man. A great poet. In cold blood. You might be surprised at what you can do, Milford.”

“But I didn’t kill him!”

“Make it easy on yourself, kid…”

There was only one thing to do. 

Run away. Right now, before anyone came by, or someone came out of the bar. He only lived right down the block. He could run away, go upstairs to his room, get into his pajamas, and go to bed. But would he be able to sleep, waiting for the police to ring the doorbell?

Everyone had seen him leaving the bar with Mr. Stevens, that whole bar full of people had seen him! Dozens of witnesses. It wouldn’t take the police long to find out who he was, where he lived.

Oh, what to do?

How could he survive six years (or more) in Sing Sing, and that was even if he somehow managed to avoid the death penalty? Those convicts would make mincemeat of him! They would rape him, on a daily basis. And before he had ever even had a chance to have normal sexual relations with an actual woman.

Why, oh why, had he agreed to “step outside” with Mr. Stevens?

He knew why.

It was all because Mr. Eliot had promised (sort of promised) to publish him if he “dealt with” Mr. Stevens. It was all Eliot’s fault! But no, why blame Mr. Eliot, it was his own fault for agreeing to do him the favor. His own fault, the fault of his own stupid pride and ambition. And now his whole life was ruined, all because of his abominable weakness!

Should he kill himself?

What the hell, if he could inadvertently cause the death of one of America’s greatest poets, why couldn’t he cause his own death?

But how? Walk in front of a truck? But the cars and the trucks were all driving slowly, on account of the thickly falling snow. What if the driver saw him stepping in front of the truck and swerved aside? Maybe he would only be severely injured, perhaps crippled for life? Maybe instead he should go to the nearest subway station and throw himself in front of a train? But he had always been afraid to go down into subway stations at night…

Milford looked up, at the night sky, at the millions of snowflakes falling from out of it.

“Oh, God, please spare me, spare me somehow!”

“Why should I spare you, Milford, you who have denied my very existence?”

“I’m sorry about that, God, I am so sorry! But I will never deny you again! Please, spare me, and I will worship you!”

“Yes, now you say that, when you are in despair, and you need my help.”

“I know, I know, I am unworthy of your mercy, O Lord, but I promise, if you do me this one favor, I will be your devoted servant for the rest of my days!”

“How many times over the centuries have I heard that line? Y’know something, sometimes you humans really disgust me, and I wonder what the hell I was thinking when I created you in the first place.”

“But, but –”

“Yes, it’s always ‘but, but’ with you people, isn’t it?”

“Please, dear God, please, just do me this one favor, and I promise I will be, uh, you know –”


“What?” said Milford, aloud.


Milford looked down, and Mr. Stevens was up on one elbow, looking up at him through the falling snow.

“Mr. Stevens!”

“Yes, now help me up, damn you!”

“Oh, my God, sir, I was afraid you were dying!”

“Nonsense! Knocked down for an eight-count maybe, but not out for good – now help me up!”

Milford bent over, grabbed the old poet’s arm in both his hands, and after only a minute of mutual struggling, at last the enormous old poet was on his feet.

“Get me my chapeau,” he said.

“Yes, sir, of course,” said Milford, and he bent over, picked up Mr. Stevens’s fedora, brushed it off, and handed it to the poet.

“Thanks,” said Mr. Stevens.

“You’re welcome, sir.”

Mr. Stevens put the hat back on his head, and then rubbed the side of his face.

“Ow,” he said. “I’m gonna have one hell of a bruise right here, probably a terrific black eye, too.”

Indeed Milford could see a large red lump on the poet’s cheekbone, seeming to glow and pulse like a beacon in the snowy night air.

“I’m very sorry, sir.”

“What was it you caught me with? Right hook?”

“Um –”

“I wouldn’t have thought you had that kind of power in your fists, but it just goes to show, even you little guys can get lucky.”

“But –”

“How humiliating. It’s one thing to get knocked down by Ernie Hemingway, he’s a big strapping athletic guy. But you? It’s like getting knocked out by Bette Davis. I’ll never live this down if word gets out.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” said Milford.

“Do you promise?”

“I promise, sir.”

“Look, Wilford, if you keep this little set-to on the QT, I promise I’ll give your first book of poems a rave review.”

“You will?”

“You bet. And not in some little rag no one reads either. The New York Times, or the New Yorker maybe.”

“Oh, wow. Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t mention it. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. This is how the literary game works, kid. You want to make it to the top like me, you got to play the game. All the great masters know this.”

“I appreciate the advice, sir.”

“Writing is just half the game, and just between you and me, kiddo, it’s the easier half.”

“I will bear that in mind, sir.”

“Swell, and now I think a couple of Haig & Haig Rob Roys are in order.”

Milford was right on the verge of reminding Mr. Stevens that he didn’t drink, but he heard the voice of God telling him not to press his luck, and so he bit his tongue.

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

Thursday, July 13, 2023

“Thin Men of Haddam”

As Milford worked his way through the crowd in the wake of Mr. Stevens, he saw his friends (if friends they were) still sitting at the bar: Polly Powell apparently still deep in conversation with Addison, the lovely Bubbles staring regally in the direction of the sparkling rows of bottles arrayed on the shelf opposite, or was she staring at her reflection in the mirror, or at nothing at all? It had been almost a half hour since he had excused himself to go to the men’s room; had they missed him? No, they were in their own worlds, and he was in his. 

Up ahead he saw Mr. Stevens open the door and go out, and half a minute later Milford reached the door, opened it, went out.

It was snowing still, and the enormous Mr. Stevens stood in the swirling light of a streetlamp, lighting a cigarette, cupping his lighter’s flame in his large hands, the only sort of hands he had.

Shyly Milford walked up to the old poet.

“Cigarette?” said Mr. Stevens, speaking loudly through the falling snow.

“No, thank you, sir.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t smoke. Bad enough that you don’t drink.”

“Oh, I smoke, sir, profusely, but I’d just as soon get this over with as quickly as possible.”

“Well, you’re just going to have to wait. Nothing like a cigarette in the cold snowy air. Something about that warm carcinogenic smoke filling one’s lungs while the snowflakes fall all about, bedizening one’s topcoat and fedora with their crystalline beauty. If you were half a poet you would write a poem about it.”

“To be honest I am not so sure I am even half a poet, sir.”

“You’re still young, lad. I didn’t start turning out good stuff till I was past forty. And you know what was my great turning point?”

How could I possibly know? thought Milford. I am not your biographer, or even a serious student of your work, but he said, “What was that, Mr. Stevens?”

“It was the day I realized that I might as well just write whatever the hell nonsense I wanted to write, and let the devil take the hindmost. I had a good job in the insurance racket, what did it matter if I wrote about emperors of ice cream, or blackbirds, or made references to ‘thin men of Haddam’? No one gave a shit, and once I realized this, I started writing original shit. Was it any good? Who the hell knows, but at least it was different from the shit everyone else was writing.”

Milford said nothing. Was the shit he himself wrote original? He doubted it, but, as Mr. Stevens had said, he was still young.

Mr. Stevens took a good drag on his cigarette, and then flicked it into the street, its redness flying like a tiny rocket through the falling snow. No, thought Milford, it was not like a tiny rocket, it was just a lighted cigarette, flying through the falling snow.

“I should have liked to have finished that cigarette,” said Mr. Stevens, “but I can see you really are anxious to get this over with, aren’t you?”

“I would prefer to just skip it entirely,” said Milford.

“I’ll ignore that split infinitive, if not forgive it, but look at it this way, my lad: if nothing else of note ever happens in your life, you can always say you stood toe-to-toe with the great Wallace Stevens in an old-fashioned street fight, and so, in a small way, you will have already earned a footnote in literary history.”

“Yes, there’s that.”

“Who would now remember the minor novelist and soi-disant critic Jean Lorrain had he not fought a duel with the great Marcel Proust?”

“Probably no one,” said Milford.

“Who today would know the name of Georges Charles d’Anthès had not that rascally Frenchman fatally shot Pushkin by the banks of the Black River?”

“Um, uh –”

“That one was over a woman,” said Mr. Stevens. “Those were the good old days.”

“Uh, yes, I suppose –”

“It’s a pity that writer chaps no longer fight duels, but, sadly, we must now resign ourselves to the occasional bout of fisticuffs. Well, are you ready?”

“Not really, sir, but I suppose I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Might I suggest you remove your glasses? I should hate to have you lose an eye, all for defending the dubious honor of a pissant prig like Eliot.”

“Okay,” said Milford, and he took off his glasses, folded them, and put them in the inside pocket of his peacoat.

Milford had very poor eyesight, and now Mr. Stevens was only an amorphous huge brownish blob in the swirling snow, in the yellow light of the streetlamp, a blob topped by the smaller pinkish blob of his face under his fedora.

“Put up your dukes, son. I’m not going to wallop a man who won’t defend himself.”

Milford now saw a possible way out of his predicament, and he left his arms hanging limply at his side.

“You heard me,” said Mr. Stevens. “Put up your fists, boy!”

“No, sir.”

“What do you mean, ‘No, sir?’”

“I prefer not to.”

“Don’t give me this Bartleby the Scrivener shit. Defend yourself.”

“Just go ahead and hit me if you must, Mr. Stevens. I won’t stop you.”

“As if you could stop me.”

“Well, I won’t try to stop you.”

“I see, so this is your version of a duelist refusing to fire his pistol, or sending his ball deliberately into the air.”

“If you will.”

“Or, alternatively, are you the fellow who lets the other man fire first, hoping he will miss, or perhaps only graze you, so that you can then take careful aim and fire your shot straight between his eyes?”

“No, I will not strike back, sir.”

“As if you would be able to, after I land one of my famous corkscrew haymakers to your jaw.”

“Be that as it may, I shall not throw, or attempt to throw a punch.”

“So you’re willing to just stand there and take it.”


“You must really want Eliot to publish your book of poems.”

“Um, uh –”

“Very well, then. I have to say I admire your sand, if not your good sense. But, y’know, there’s always a chance that even an ill-favored, small fellow such as yourself might land a lucky punch.”

“I doubt that, sir. And even my luckiest punch would probably have no more effect than that of an adolescent girl’s.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Well, I kind of hate to do this, but here goes. Would you prefer I land one on the side of your jaw or your nose?”

“The jaw I think.”

“A broken nose might actually add some character to the inherent blandness of your physiognomy.”

“Yes, but I think it might hurt more.”

“Good point. I’ll go for the jaw then, but towards the ear, so that if I knock a tooth out it won’t be a front one.”

“Thank you.”

“I might suggest tightening your jaw.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Do you want to close your eyes?”

“I think so, yes,” and Milford did so. He thought of Sydney Carlton at the end of his childhood favorite, A Tale of Two Cities, as he was trundled toward the guillotine. Was this a far, far better thing than he had ever done? Well, no, perhaps a far, far more foolish thing, in a life so far filled with foolish acts and foolish non-actions. But perhaps he would get a book deal out of it…

He heard a grunting sound, like that of an angry hippo, and despite himself he opened his eyes to see Mr. Stevens hurling a great roundhouse right cross in the general direction of his jaw. Despite his stated intention to take the punch Milford found himself stepping backwards, and the big fist missed his face by an inch, Mr. Stevens’s great hulk of a body following the fist, and stumbling, and then crashing headlong into the parallelpiped entrance column that stood there emblazoned with the white painted words SAN REMO CAFE. Another deep groan, now that of a hippo felled by the great white hunter’s gun, and the enormous old poet slumped down in a heap to the snow-covered pavement.

His fedora had fallen off, and he lay there facedown, not moving, his white-haired balding head exposed to the falling snowflakes. 

Good God, had Milford inadvertently caused to be killed one of the greatest poets of the 20th century?

No, this was not the sort of literary fame Milford wanted, not at all, and he wondered if he should run away home.

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

Thursday, July 6, 2023

“The Roller of Big Cigars”


“Excuse me,” said Milford, “Mr. Stevens?”


The enormous old poet gazed down at the small young poet.

“I wonder, that is, if you don’t mind, I wonder if I might –”

“Stop dithering, boy. What is it? Do you want an autograph? I don’t do autographs.”

“No, sir, I didn’t want your autograph –”

“Good, because you’re not going to get one. If you had one of my books on you, I would sign it, maybe, but you don’t have one of my books on you, do you?”

“Well, no, sir, I don’t –”

“But I assume you have read at least some of my books.”

“Well, I, uh, have read some of your poems, yes –”

“Some of them?”

“Uh, yes, you know, in anthologies –”

“Oh, anthologies. But you couldn’t be bestirred to cough up a few bucks actually to buy one of my books. You dilettantes disgust me.”

“Um, uh –”

“Next thing I suppose you’ll be telling me ‘The Emperor of Ice Cream’ is your favorite poem.”

“Well, that is, certainly, one of, uh –”

“Or ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at Blackbird’.”

“Um, that one, too, is surely –”

“Okay, tell me something, kid – what’s your name by the way?”


“Mildred? What kind of name is that for a man?”

“I’m sorry – it’s so noisy in here – but my name is Milford.”

“Speak up. It’s so goddam noisy in this joint with this Negro jukebox music and all the shouting idiots.”

“Milford, sir!” shouted Milford.


“No, sir,” Milford shouted again. “Milford! Milford!”

“Don’t shout at me. I’m not deaf.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Stevens.”

“Okay, then. Wilford, right?”

“Yes,” said Milford, “sure, it’s Wilford.”

“Okay, now tell me something, ‘Wilford’. In your honest opinion, what is ‘The Emperor of Ice Cream” all about?”

“Um, well, that’s difficult to say, briefly, but, uh, I suppose –”

“Okay, you don’t know. What about that old much-anthologized fan-favorite ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’?”

“Oh. ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.’ Well, in my opinion – and this is only my interpretation of course – it is a sort of distillation of moments of pure clarityepiphanies as it were –”



“I was drunk when I wrote those poems. They don’t mean shit. As you young people say, ‘Can you dig it, daddy-o?’”

“Um, heh heh –”

“Wait a minute. I know you. You’re one of those sycophants sitting over there with Eliot.”

“Uh, yes.”

“Another one of his dick riders I suppose.”

“Pardon me?”

“You heard me. Dick rider. Or should I say ass kisser?”

“Really, Mr. Stevens –”

“Did he send you over here?”

“Um, well, yes, but only in a matter of speaking –”

“He sent you over here.”



“Um, he asked me to extend an olive branch.”

“An olive branch.”

“Yes, sir, an olive branch. He asked me to, uh, tell you that he apologized for the perhaps too harsh review he wrote about your book –”

“Fuck his apologies.”

“He said he would print a retraction.”

“Twenty years too late, and a dollar short.”

“Um, he’s really sorry.”

“Sorry my ass. For twenty years that review has been gnawing at my soul, keeping me up at night, destroying on a diurnal and nocturnal basis any slight chance I might once have had for a modicum of, if not happiness, then at least the absence of misery. If one might speak of a modicum of the absence of misery.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that, sir.”

“Are you yourself a poet? By your garb – the newsboy’s cap, the peacoat, the Hemingwayesque heavy ribbed rolled-collar fisherman’s sweater, the dungarees and the work shoes – I assume by your uniform that you are a member of the confraternity of troubadours.”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“Have you published any books yet?”

“Not yet, but I hope to,” said Milford, not mentioning that he hoped Mr. Eliot’s firm would publish his début collection, which he was now thinking of calling Love Songs of the Unloved, Vol. I.

“How do you think you would feel if you poured your heart and soul into a book of poems and some asshole wrote a review describing it as, and I quote, a ‘hotchpotch of meaningless claptrap’?”

“I, uh, I don’t think I would be too happy –”

“Damn straight you wouldn’t be ‘too happy’. So, tell you what, you go back over there to Eliot and tell him to take that olive branch of his and shove it right up his tight anglo-catholic keister. And tell him also I’ve decided to have just one more Rob Roy, and then I want him to meet me outside in exactly five minutes so I can repeatedly bitch-slap him like the pretentious nasty bitch he is.”

“Well, here’s the thing, Mr. Stevens, uh, and this is difficult for me to say –”

“What? Spit it out, man.”

“Mr. Eliot asked me, if it came to that, that is, he asked me if I would step outside with you in his stead.”



“You want to step outside with me?”

“Well, I don’t want to, but Mr. Eliot –”

“If ‘Mr. Eliot’ asked you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do that?”

“Uh, well, no, of course not –”

“Because I’ll kick your ass kid. I may be old and fat, but I’ll still kick your ass, from here to next Tuesday.”

“Yes, I’m sure you will, sir.”

“I once went a few vigorous rounds with Ernie Hemingway down in Key West, and even though he was twenty years younger than me I would’ve put him on his ass except he caught me with a lucky left hook and I slipped and fell in a mud puddle.”

“I don’t want to fight you, Mr. Stevens.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I just want, I want, I want –”

“God damn it, stop beating around the bush, boy!”

“Mr. Eliot said that if I stepped outside with you he might publish a book of my poems with his firm.”

“Oh. Okay. Now that explains it.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“In your shoes, at your age, I should probably have behaved in just such a dubious fashion.”

“It’s just that I would really like to see my poems published.”

“Yes, of course you would.”

“So you understand?”

“Sure I do. What is it, ‘Wilford’?”

“Well, actually –”

“Let’s go, Wilford. I’ll hold off on that next Rob Roy till I get back.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean let’s step outside.”

“You really want to?”

“Since you have offered yourself as Eliot’s proxy, you regrettably leave me no choice. Let the blame and the guilt and the shame lie on his narrow and bony shoulders. Come on, kid.”

“Um –”

“Lookit, I admire your gumption, so don’t punk out now, boy. And I promise to make it quick. One good right cross to the jaw should do the trick. And, listen, when I put you down, stay down. No need to play the hero. You shall have made your point. But mark me, I shall not pull my punches. Or punch, singular, most likely. Would you like a shot of Dewar’s before we go out? A spot of Scotch courage?”

“No thanks. I don’t drink.”

“More’s the pity. You might change your mind about that after I wallop you a good one. Alcohol makes a very splendid general anesthetic, albeit temporary.”

“Uh –”

Mr. Stevens raised his glass and emptied the last of its contents, then put the glass down on the bar.

“Let’s go and get this over with. I’ll buy you that shot when we come back inside.”

And the enormous old poet turned and heaved off toward the entrance, through the laughing and shouting crowd, through the thick swirling clouds of tobacco smoke and the clangorous jukebox music, and the young small poet followed in his wake.

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