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…}

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