Thursday, August 31, 2023

“King Size”

Through the thickly falling snow Milford trudged, wondering what was now in store for him. Was his pathetic life perhaps about to blossom into something worth living? Or would he continue with his customary tedious gloom and ennui?

He came to the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker, to the entrance of the San Remo Café, and he hesitated. Should he just go home after all? What was he doing, anyway, “hanging out” in bars – breaking one of the chief tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous, the one about “people, places, and things”? Yes, what he should do is just go home, go home and maybe try to write a poem with the Montblanc fountain pen that T.S. Eliot had given him, his first good poem, his first “true” poem. But what would he write about? About how he had not lost his virginity, due to his cowardice? No, that wouldn’t do, that wouldn’t do at all…

He opened the door, and all the smoky loud chaos of the bar burst upon him. He stepped inside, took out his glasses and put them on, and, yes, thank God, in whom he did not believe, but thank whomever or whatever – mere chance, the idle whims of an uncaring universe – Bubbles was still seated at the bar, and standing to her left was Addison, and seated to his left was Polly Powell. The door closed itself behind him, and Milford took off his newsboy’s cap and brushed the snow from the shoulders and breast of his peacoat, breathing in that all-too-familiar warm bar miasma of tobacco smoke, beer and alcoholic spirits – yes, this was indeed a “place”, filled with “people” and “things”, but, may the devil take the hindmost, he would plunge in regardless! Had not Milfords (and on his mother’s side, Crackstones) fought in nearly every war since the Revolution? 4-F as he was (poor vision, flat feet, a slight heart murmur) he would never fight in an actual war, but perhaps his war would be a different one, and, in its way, a more profound one.

In a trice he was with his friends (if friends they were, and at any rate they were the closest thing to friends he had), standing awkwardly in the narrow space between Bubbles and Addison. Bubbles still stared at or in the direction of the bottles ranged glittering opposite, a cigarette in her slender but somehow strong-seeming hand. Addison was bent over toward Polly, and she to him, and they both also held cigarettes.

“Hi,” said Milford to Bubbles, “I’m back.”

After a few seconds she turned and looked at him.


“I said I’m back.”

“Oh. Where were you?”

“I, uh, went to the, uh, you know, to the, uh –”

Now Addison turned to Milford.

“Ah, the prodigal has returned,” he said.

“Uh, yes,” said Milford.

“Did you fall in?”

“What? Fall in where?”

“Into the bowl, old chap.”

“What? Oh, no. But I, uh, got to talking to some people, and, well –”

Now Polly leaned forward, her small face pointed at Milford.

“Addison has been telling me all about his novel!”

“Oh,” said Milford, “that’s, uh, swell –”

“It sounds so utterly fascinating.”


“Hey,” she said, “aren’t we going to have dinner?”


“Yes! I thought we were meant to have some spaghetti! I am absolutely famished, aren’t you?”

“Um, well, I suppose I could eat, yes.”

“Then let’s get a table!”

“I, uh –”

Dash it all, how could he lose his virginity with Bubbles if he got stuck having dinner with Polly?

“Addison,” said Polly, “would you and Miss Bubbles care to join Milford and me for some spaghetti and meatballs?”

“I should love to join you,” said Addison, that past master at dodging tabs, and connoisseur of the free things of life. “Bubbles, what say you to joining our friends for some spaghetti?”

“What?” she said.

“Would you like to dine with Milford and Polly?”

“Hell no,” said Bubbles. “I never eat after lunch.”

“Oh, but you have to join us.”

“I don’t ‘have to’ do anything, pal.”

“Heh heh,” said Addison. Unknown to Milford, Addison was also thinking of losing his virginity this night, and if Polly was insistent upon eating spaghetti with young Milford, perhaps it would behoove him to forgo the opportunity of a free meal, and take his chances on the good humor and possible beneficence of Bubbles. “Well, on second thought,” he said, “maybe I’ll pass on the spaghetti, too.”

Damn it all, and damn it again, thought Milford. Why had he given that twenty-dollar bill to Addison? This was what generosity got you.

Polly had climbed down from her stool, and she came over and put her arm in Milford’s.

“Come on, Milford, I see an empty table! Let’s grab it before someone else does!”

“Um, uh,” said Milford. He turned to Bubbles. “Um, I guess we’re going to get a table then –”


“Polly and I are going to get a table and have some spaghetti.”

“Great. Maybe I’ll see you around, Wilbur.”

“Um, uh –”

“Come on, Milford,” said Polly, and she tugged on his arm.

“Bon appétit,” said Addison. “You young people enjoy your simple but hearty meal all’italiana, and I shall attempt in my humble way to entertain the lovely Bubbles.”   

The bastard, thought Milford, ready to move right in on Bubbles, and with that twenty dollars he had given him! Oh, well. Polly was still tugging on his arm, and he allowed her to pull him away, into the throng, and soon enough they were sat at a small table by the wall. Through the crowd, Milford could see Addison, sidled up to Bubbles, with that twenty-dollar bill burning a hole in his pocket…

“I’m going to go with the spaghetti and meatballs,” said Polly, putting down the card. “What are you going to have, Milford?”

“I suppose I’ll have that too,” he said, with a sigh.

“Oh, the spaghetti and meatballs are so divine here. So authentic! Do you want some wine?”

Yes, he wanted wine, and lots of it, but he told her he would just have mineral water.

“I really shouldn’t, but I think I shall have a nice glass of Chianti,” said Polly. “I have to tell you, Milford, I think I am ever so slightly drunk, so it’s a good thing I’m going to be eating something.”

“Yes,” said Milford. He patted his pockets for cigarettes, and realized he didn’t have any. “Look, I’m going to buy a pack of cigarettes, so if the waiter comes, just go ahead and order, okay?”

“Splendid! Would you be a darling, Milford, and purchase me a packet of Chesterfields?” She was speaking in an English accent now, or at least in an American “stage” accent, reminiscent of Tallulah Bankhead or Katharine Cornell in one of those dreary “sophisticated” comedies Milford’s mother would sometimes drag him to. “I shall pay you back!”

“No need,” said Milford, and he got up, in search of a cigarette machine. If he couldn’t drink wine, if he couldn’t lose his virginity with Bubbles, at least he could smoke. He spied a machine to the rear of the bar, between the jukebox and the hallway to the rest rooms, and he set forth, once again, unto the breach between boredom and madness.

However, as he made his awkward way through the churning sea of drunkenness, it occurred to him that perhaps after all he might this night lose his virginity with Polly. She certainly seemed drunk enough that sex might be a reasonable possibility. However, would it be moral of him to have sexual relations with her while she was intoxicated, especially since she was most probably as virginal as he was? But, then, didn’t 99% of humanity lose its virginity while intoxicated? Perhaps she was getting drunk because she wanted to lose her virginity?

He halted in the crowd of laughing and shouting drinkers, turned and looked back at Polly. She saw him and waved, with what looked like enthusiasm. Yes, it was true that she lacked the round and lush womanly curves of Bubbles, that indefinable thing so regrettably called “sex appeal”, but nonetheless she might reasonably be called, “pretty”, in her bookish and earnest way, and she was indisputably female, for whatever that was worth. Who was Milford to be picky anyway?

He looked over to the bar, and now Addison was leaning in closer to Bubbles, no doubt jabbering about his novel or “the novel of today”, while Bubbles regally ignored him and smoked her cigarette.

Perhaps another night for Bubbles. Another night, when he, Milford, would actually have some experience of what Shakespeare’s Edgar had termed “the act of darkness”. Perhaps he might then have something of his own to bring to the party…

Someone bumped into him, almost knocking him over, and Milford forged on again towards the cigarette machine. 

He would buy some Philip Morrises for a change, the King Size.

{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, August 24, 2023

“The Hope of Our Nation”

Milford became aware that his cigarette had burned down to its last half-inch, and he stubbed it out in their shared tin ashtray.

“Have another one,” said Mr. Stevens, and he offered his Philip Morrises, giving the pack a shake so that exactly two cigarettes protruded.

“No thanks,” said Milford, although he did want one.

“Suit yourself,” said Mr. Stevens, and he stuck one in his pendulous lips, the only kind of lips he had, and lighted himself up with his golden lighter. “God, I love cigarettes,” he said. “Not as much as I love Scotch, but pretty damn close to it. Sure you don’t want one?”

“No, I’m okay,” said Milford.

“Just help yourself if you change your mind.”

“Okay, but, um, uh –”


“Look, Mr. Stevens, I appreciate everything, but –”

“Excuse me?”

“I said I appreciate the good, uh, advice, and, um –”

“What did you call me?”

“Oh. I meant to say Wally.”

“That’s better.”

“So, anyway, Wally, I appreciate everything, but I really should be getting back to the San Remo –”

“Oh. Okay.”

“You know, it’s just that, well –”

“I said okay. I get it, Wilford.”

“You do?”

“Of course I do. You’re young. You want to get your ashes hauled.”

“Heh heh, well, uh, it’s not just that –”

“Oh, isn’t it? Could it be that I bore you?”

“No, not at all,” lied Milford, “but, really, I was sitting with my, you know, my friends, and, uh –”

“Your friends.”


“Young people.”

“Well, yes –”

“The hope of our nation.”

“Uh –"

“Whereas I, I am old. One foot in the grave. Who gives a shit if I have written some of the most original poetry of the century?”

“It’s not that –”

“Sure, you’d just really rather be with your ‘friends’. And quite rightly so. Please, go, don’t let me keep you.”

“But –”

“I’ll just sit here and drink my Rob Roys.”

“Well –”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Okay. Um, thanks for the ginger ale.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Okay, then –”

Milford made as if to get off his bar stool, but Mr. Stevens said, “Wait.”

“Yes?” said Milford.

“I’m going to give you my card.” Mr. Stevens was digging under his topcoat, and he came out with a wallet, an old and very thick one. He opened it, riffled through it, brought out a card, and handed it to Milford. “This is my business card, so you’ll get my secretary, but just ask her to put you through. Tell her it’s Wilford, and that it’s a personal call.”

Milford looked at the card, identifying Mr. Stevens as Vice President of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.

“Okay, thanks, Mr. Stevens, I mean, Wally, but, listen, my name isn’t actually Wilford.”

“It isn’t? Then why did you tell me it was?”

“I didn’t. My name is Milford, but you must have misheard me.”

“Milford? Why did you allow me to continue calling you Wilford?”

“I tried to correct you, but I guess you kept forgetting, so, after a while I just gave up.”

“Oh. Well, I apologize, Wilford, I mean Milford.”

“It’s okay,” said Milford.

“Anyway, look,” said Mr. Stevens, “I said I’d give your book a good review, and I will, so when it comes out, just give me a buzz at the office.”

“Okay, thanks, Wally.”

“No skin off my nose. Just please don’t tell anybody you gave me this.”

He pointed to the ever-growing and glowing bright purplish bruise on his jaw.

“I won’t tell anyone,” said Milford.

“And, look, maybe next time I’m in town we can ‘hang out’ again.”


“What do you mean, ‘Oh’?”

“Nothing. I suppose I’m just a little surprised, or, uh, flattered –”

“Flattered that the great poet would want to hoist a few with a young buck like yourself?”

“Well, yes, I suppose so –”

“Do you have a telephone?”

“What, yes, I mean, my mother has a telephone.”

“Give me your number. You got something to write on?”

“I have a card actually.”

“Now I’m surprised.”

“It’s my mother. She insists on having calling cards printed up for me.”

“Old school dame, huh?”

“Yes, I suppose so. Give me a second.”

Milford put Mr. Stevens’s business card on the bar, then dug his old Boy Scout wallet out of his dungarees, opened it, took out a card, gave it to Mr. Stevens.

Mr. Stevens looked at the card.

“Marion Milford?”


“Your first name is Marion?”


“Your mother must really be a piece of work.”

“Well, Marion is an old traditional name in our family, so –”

“I don’t give a shit. It’s just a terrible thing to do to a boy.”

“Yes, I suppose it was. Anyway, I prefer just to be called Milford.”

“I don’t blame you.” He looked at the card again. “Milford. Not Wilford.”

“Yes, sir, I mean Wally.”

“I’m not sure I can get used to calling you Milford now.”

“You can call me Wilford if you like.”

“Do you mind?”

“Not really.”

“Then I’ll call you Wilford. But only if you call me Wally.”

“Okay, Wally.”

Mr. Stevens put Milford’s calling card in his wallet, closed it up, put it back into the depths of his topcoat and suit, and Milford in his turn put his Boy Scout wallet away in his dungarees.

“Slide me five,” said Mr. Stevens. “Isn’t that what you young people say?”

“Well, I suppose some of us do.”

“Then gimme some skin, daddy-o.”

Milford gave the great poet his hand, and the hand was swallowed up by the older man’s enormous hand, and squeezed, but not quite to a pulp. At last Mr. Stevens released Milford’s throbbing appendage, and the young poet climbed down from his stool.

“Don’t forget,” said Mr. Stevens, “call me. Even if you just want to get together sometime.”


“We’ll get a nice load on.”

“But, Wally, as I told you, I don’t drink.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I mean, I’d like to be able to drink, I do sort of miss it, but it’s just that I –”


“I’m an alcoholic.”


“I’m just not able to, you know –”


“So, uh, I can’t, um, each day I have to, well, walk the straight and narrow, and take it one day at a time, and –”



“What you’re talking about. All this straight and narrow stuff, all this one-day-at-a-time bullshit. This is no way to live, Wilford. No way for a man. So just call me. One beer won’t kill you. And neither will two. For Christ’s fucking sake, kid.”

“But –”

“Look, you told me you were going to stop being a cunt, didn’t you?”

“Um, yes –”

“Well, it’s no use not being a cunt if you’re just gonna turn around and be a pussy all your life.”


“So give me a ring when you’re ready to go out and behave like a man, okay?”


“Good. Now go, Wilford. I hate long goodbyes.”

“All right. Goodbye, Wally.”

“Oh, but wait.”

Mr. Stevens put his great hand on Milford’s arm.


“You do hope to get your weezer wozzled tonight, right?”

“Um, uh, if that means –”

“You know what it means.”

“Yes, sir, I mean Wally.”

“Good, very good. Well, there’s just one thing I want you to do, Wilford. One small favor.”


“It won’t cost you anything, but it would mean a lot to me. Will you do it?”

“Sure, I guess –”

“Don’t guess, just say you will.”

“All right, I will.”

“Good. Here’s what I want you to do for me. Are you listening?”


“Put it in once for me.”

Mr. Stevens’s bleary eyes looked into Milford’s eyes, through the thick lenses of the younger man’s round glasses.

“Okay,” said Milford.

“Put it in just one time for me, Wilford. Will you do that?”

“Yes, sir, I mean, Wally.”

“You promise now?’

“I promise.”

“Thank you. Now go. Go and fuck well, my lad. Fuck as if your very life depended on it. Or at least try. Now go. Go now.”

Milford was about to say something, but he could think of nothing to say, so he nodded, turned and headed for the door, through the noise of the laughing and shouting people, the thick swirling smoke, the cacophonous wailing and crashing of the jazz combo.

He opened the door and the cold night air assaulted him on thick falling curtains of snow. The headlights of an automobile approached, and then the huge car drove past, almost silently. The world was white and cold, beautiful, and alive. Across the street the neon word Rheingold glowed blurrily red and gold, beneath it in blue the words Extra Dry. Snowflakes plopped on and smeared Milford’s glasses, turning the world into a vague and cold wet living cloud. He removed the glasses, folded them and put them away in his peacoat. Snowflakes flopped against his face, and he breathed deeply, breathing in the icy air, then he shoved his hands in his peacoat pockets, and headed down MacDougal Street. 

It suddenly occurred to Milford that he had left Mr. Stevens’s business card on the bar at the Kettle of Fish, but he decided against going back for it.

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

Thursday, August 17, 2023

“A Night in Tunisia”

Mr. Stevens took a good drag on his Philip Morris and then stared down at Milford from under his fedora. The bruise on the great man’s face had grown in size and deepened in color to a rich purplish ruby, glowing somehow nobly in the dim and dappled lights of the bar. Even sitting on a barstool he towered like a great living mountain over the younger man, and Milford knew that even the old poet’s most casual nudge would probably send him sprawling to the sawdust on the floor.

“Okay,” said Mr. Stevens, “first thing you’ve got to do. Are you listening? Because this one is important.”

“Yes, sir, I mean Wally.”


“Stop trying to write like anyone else.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“You say okay, but are you going to do it?”


“There already is a Dylan fucking Thomas, and he’s bad enough. So cut it out. Same thing with Auden, with Robinson Jeffers, and especially with that prig Eliot.”


“Just stop copying other people. Nobody wants to read imitations, especially imitations of crap.”

“Okay,” said Milford, knowing now that he had to throw out every page he had ever written.

Mr. Stevens picked up his Rob Roy, took a good drink, sighed, as if appreciatively, and laid his glass back down on the bartop.

A few seconds ticked by, amidst the noise of laughing and shouting people, and the clamor of the jazz combo in the back of the bar.

“So, uh,” said Milford, “is that all?”

Quickly Mr. Stevens turned his head, glowering.

“No, that’s not fucking all. Jesus Christ, kid, can’t a man take a dramatic pause?”


“Don’t be sorry. Just keep your shirt on.”


“Where was I?” 

“You said I shouldn’t imitate anybody else.”

“Oh, right. That’s important. Second thing you gotta do. You know what that is?”

“Write like yourself.”

“Oh, okay.”

“I know, I know, you’re thinking you’re not not much, and you’re probably right, but still you’re the only self you have, so write like yourself and not like somebody you wish you were.”

“Um –”

“You think you can handle that, Wilford?”

“I don’t know.”

“May I ask why?”

“I just don’t know if I’m able, I mean, wow –”

“Look, Wilford. I know you’re a punk. A weakling. A spoiled brat. And probably by nature completely devoid of originality, without a spark of creativity anywhere in your being. In fact you are very likely mediocre to your mushy core.”

“Oh boy.”

“And one thing’s for damn sure, and that is there is no cure for a lack of talent, son.”


“And, if I may speak frankly, you don’t exactly exude an aura of genius. More a faint odor of day-old sliced white bread.”

“That’s very harsh, Mr. Stevens.”


“That’s very harsh, Wally.”

“Life is harsh. And then you grow old and die. Unless you die young.”


“I don’t make the rules, kid.”

“Okay,” said Milford. “So, what you’re really saying is there’s no hope for me to ever, you know, be a great poet?”

“There probably is no hope, kid, I’m sorry to tell you.”


“You can spend all the hours you want scribbling, go to all the writer’s retreats in the world, none of that matters.”

“It doesn’t?”


“But I thought you were going to give me advice.”

“That’s what I’m doing.”

“But advice on how to become a good poet.”

“Yes, and your point is?”

“Well, how can I become a good poet if I am mediocre, and without originality, or –”

“Or genius.”

“Yes, or genius.”

“Because nobody wants to read poetry written by some ham-and-egger, Wilford. They only want the genius stuff. Shakespeare knew that. Even in his day he knew the people in the back rows wanted genius, and that’s what he gave them, in spades.”

“Okay, so I’m probably not a genius –”


“Most likely?”

“Yeah, that’s more like it. Most likely – almost certainly – you are not a genius, or anything close to it. Pretty far fucking from it, if we’re being honest.”

“Mr. Stevens –”


“Wally, I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but I don’t see how anything you’re saying is any sort of encouragement to me –”

“I’m not here to encourage you, kid. I’m here to tell you to cut the shit.”

“You mean I should stop trying?”

“I don’t give a shit what you do. If you want to waste your life trying to write poetry that doesn’t suck donkey dick, then be my guest.”


“Go ahead. Write crap. Who cares?”


“Let me ask you a question, Wilford. Have you ever written a single line that’s any good?”

Now it was Milford who paused. But then he spoke.

“No,” he said. “I’ve never written a single good line.”

“Good,” said Mr. Stevens.

“Good? What’s good about it?”

“What’s good about it is you’re not kidding yourself anymore.”

“So I should give up?”

“That’s up to you.”

Milford felt a great depression settling over him, over the depression that he already felt, the depression that was always there. He took a drink of his ginger ale. It had grown flat.

“But don’t be depressed,” said Mr. Stevens.

“No?” said Milford. “And how do I manage that?”

“I’ll tell you how. Because there’s still a chance you might write something good.”

“There is?”

“A small chance.”


“A tiny, almost infinitesimal chance. Are you willing to take that chance?”

“Yes, sir, I mean Wally.”

“Because it is your only chance.”


“All right, then, I’m gonna tell you what you need to do.”

“Thank you.”

“Are you listening?”


“Okay, then. Listen up, and listen tight, because I’m not going to repeat myself. What I am about to tell you is the most invaluable advice you will ever receive. And it’s up to you what you do with it. Are you ready?”

“Yes, sir.”


“I mean, yes, Wally.”

“All right, then.”

Mr. Stevens picked up his Rob Roy, took another drink, sighed, laid the glass down. The combo was playing very loud now. What was the song? It was “A Night in Tunisia”. There was a saxophone player, and his long screaming notes seemed to wash through Milford’s tender brain, exploding like a succession of deafening crashing waves over Mr. Stevens’s great face, with its moving lips out of which presumably came words, and then with one last sad descending cry the saxophone subsided and the drums rattled and pounded and the cymbals shimmered and the pianist took over.

Mr. Stevens took a drag on his Philip Morris, exhaled the smoke in Milford’s face. What had he been saying? He stubbed out the cigarette.

“So that’s it,” he said. “That’s the secret. Do you understand now?”

Milford considered asking the great poet to repeat himself, because he hadn’t heard a word of what the man had said, but on second thought he decided not to.

“Yes,” said Milford. “I understand now.”

He understood nothing, and he understood that it didn’t matter.

{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, August 10, 2023

“To Walk Among the Giants”

“Just one or two pieces of wisdom I want to impart to you that might – maybe perhaps prove invaluable in your proposed career as a poet.”

“Thanks,” said Milford.

“Because,” continued Mr. Stevens, “what’s the point really of being a poet unless one cannot at least strive for immortality?”

“Yes,” said Milford.

“To walk among the giants.”


“Homer. Shakespeare. Milton. Byron. Browning.” Milford wished Mr. Stevens would get to the point if he had one, but the old man went on with his litany. “Gerard Manley Hopkins. Our own burly countryman Walt Whitman.”

“Right,” said Milford.

“Not forgetting our sterling contemporaries.”


“My good friends William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, e.e. cummings. Oh, the parties we used to have once upon a time, and I’ll tell you, Wilford, you haven’t lived till you’ve seen Marianne Moore dancing the Black Bottom at one of the jazz boîtes up on 52nd Street!”

“Um, uh –”

“And poor Hart Crane! Shame he jumped off that boat. Might have had a few more good poems in him, you never know.”


“Who else. Auden.”


“Eddie Guest.”


“Ha ha, just kidding, wanted to make sure you were paying attention.”

“Oh,” said Milford. “Heh heh.”

“Point being, the world doesn’t need another half-assed poet, Wilford, and that’s why I’m gonna give you a tip or two which I wish somebody had given me when I was your age, full of piss and vinegar but as ignorant as a rock.”

Mr. Stevens put his cocktail glass down on the bar, empty but for its twist of lemon peel. He signaled to the bartender for another.

“Sure you won’t have just one Rob Roy, Wilford?”

“No, sir, I mean Wally, I’d really better not. To tell the truth I drank a shot of brandy by mistake an hour or so ago, and now I’m going to have to start counting my days of sobriety all over again.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how does one drink a shot of brandy by mistake?”

“Well – I was distracted.”

“By what?”

“By a woman,” said Milford, after a slight pause.

“Ah ha.”

“Yes, you see, she bought me the shot, and she’s very beautiful, extremely, um, alluring, and so, without thinking about it, I drank it, thus destroying months of sobriety.”

“Cherchez la femme,” said Mr. Stevens.

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Good-looking babe, hey?”

“Yes, very much so. But even more than that, she has a certain, uh, disdainful, distant, um, regal -”

Je ne sais quoi. You should pardon my French.”

“Yes, uh –”

“So you’re not a poofter after all?”

“Yes, I suppose not.”

“She must like you if she bought you a brandy.”

“I’m not so sure of that, but –”

“But what?”

“Well, she agreed, provisionally, to have sexual relations with me later tonight.”

“No kidding! No wonder you wanted to get back to the San Remo.”

“Yes. She didn’t seem to care too much either way, but, well –”

“She just might take off before you get back.”


“Or maybe hook up with some other fella.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s a possibility.”

“With women anything is a possibility. Let me tell you something about women, Wilford.”

Milford said nothing.

“Well, don’t you want to hear it?” said Mr. Stevens.

“Oh, sorry, sir, Wally, yes.”

The bartender laid a fresh Rob Roy in front of Mr. Stevens.

“Thanks, pal. On my tab,” said the great poet. He picked up the glass and took a sip, sighed, put the glass down. “I don’t know why it is,” he said, “but the seventh one is always so much better than the first one. What was I talking about?”

“Um, women?”

“Oh, right.”

Mr. Stevens took a drag on his Philip Morris, and then stared at Milford out of his glassy and bloodshot blue eyes.

“I’ll tell you all you need to know about women, Wilford, all you need to understand.”

He stubbed out his cigarette.

God, thought Milford, will I be this tedious when I am old? Am I this tedious now? But maybe after all he will tell me something valuable, if and when he ever gets to it.

“What is that, sir, I mean Wally?”

“What is what?” said Mr. Stevens. He was shaking his pack of Philip Morris Commanders.

“What was it you were going to tell me about women, sir?”


“I mean Wally.”

“That’s better,” said Mr. Stevens. He offered the pack to Milford, and, since Mr. Stevens had crumpled up and tossed to the floor Milford’s pack of Woodbines, the young tyro poet took a Philip Morris and accepted a light from Mr. Stevens’s gold lighter. When at last both poets, one young, one old, had ignited cigarettes in progress, the older man exhaled an enormous cloud of smoke in the younger fellow’s face, and then spoke:

“The only thing you need to understand about women is that you will never understand a damn thing about women.”

Well, thought Milford, if true, then that was one less thing to worry about. And, indeed, why should he understand women when he understood nothing else about life?

“Y’know, Wally, I really should be getting back there,” said Milford. “So, uh –”

“So getting laid tonight is that important to you, is it, Wilford?”

“Well, it’s just that I was sitting there, with this young lady and a couple of other friends, and I was supposed to be just going to the men’s room, and that must have been forty-five minutes ago now –”

“God damn it to hell, boy, do you know how many aspiring poets would kill to be sitting with me here, now, and me about to spill the beans on how to be a great poet?”

“Um, quite few, I suppose –”

“Thousands, tens of thousands. And all you can think about is getting your end wet.”

“But –”

“Just hold your horses. If this chick takes off there will be loads of other ones down the pike, even for a lad as unprepossessing as you. Especially if you become a famous poet. Trust me, I know. I’ve been fighting off lust-crazed bluestockings ever since my first book came out. Beating them off with a stick. So just cool your brogans for a little while and let this dolly wait. Don’t you realize what an enormous favor I’m doing for you?”

“Okay,” said Milford. “Um, uh, but –”

“What? What is it now, lad?”

“May I ask why you are doing me this favor?” said Milford.


“Yes,” said Milford. “Why do you want to impart this wisdom to me?”

The large old poet paused.

“That’s a surprisingly good question, Wilford.”

Mr. Stevens picked up his Rob Roy. He sipped the golden liquid, sighed as if appreciatively and put the cocktail glass back down on the bar.

“Damn, that’s good. What was the question again, Wilford?”

“I asked why you want to impart your wisdom to me,” said Milford.

“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Stevens. “All right – call it altruism, or the desire to do good, by sharing this wisdom it took me many years to acquire the hard way. Or maybe it’s just because, for some unknown reason, or reasons, maybe I admire you just a little bit, despite your blandness and dull manner. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, I see a spark of life behind those thick glasses of yours. Or, maybe – perhaps – there’s another, a deeper reason, which supersedes all of the above.”

Mr. Stevens paused here, and Milford felt it incumbent upon himself to give the old poet a suitable cue.

“What is that, sir, I mean Wally?”

“What is what?”

Milford sighed, but then spoke:

“What is this reason that you’re sharing your wisdom with me, which supersedes all the other reasons –”

“Oh,” said Mr. Stevens. “Maybe, Wilford, it’s because I just like to hear myself talk.”

Or, in other words, thought Milford, you’re just a tedious old self-involved blowhard.

“Shall I continue?” said Mr. Stevens.

“Of course,” said Milford.

He would give the huge windbag five more minutes, and then it was back to the San Remo. Would Bubbles still be there? He could only hope.

“And now,” said Mr. Stevens, “if I may slightly misquote the bawdy Bard, I shall unmuzzle my wisdom.”

Great, thought, Milford, and please just be quick about it.

Mr. Stevens lifted his Rob Roy and took another sip, a large one. He appeared to be gathering his thoughts, but maybe he was just drunkenly taking his time, in that timeless world of drunkenness that Milford knew all too well.

It occurred to Milford that if Bubbles had gotten bored or sleepy and gone home, that maybe Polly Powell was still at the San Remo. Polly had her own modest charms after all, and it was not completely fantastic to imagine a turn of events in which she relieved him of the burden of his virginity (possibly hers too), and, a bonus, without even charging him money for it. And, let’s face it, the company of any reasonably attractive woman had to be preferable to that of this pompous old sot, even if he was one of the foremost living poets. Yes, perhaps he, Milford, despite his own mother’s innumerable hints and downright accusations, perhaps he really wasn’t a poofter after all. Either that or he simply had personal limits to boredom which even he – a veteran of hundreds of deadly dull AA meetings – yes, which even he would not willingly go beyond…

“So,” said Mr. Stevens, suddenly roused from his revery, or his nap, “are you ready for it, Wilford?”

“Yes,” said Milford. 

As ready as he would ever be, which wasn’t saying much, but it would have to do.

{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, August 3, 2023

“The C-Word”

And not for the first time this evening, and hardly for the first time in his life, and, he knew, not for the last time, Milford wondered, What am I doing here?

“Okay,” said Mr. Stevens, turning to Milford suddenly, “I know what you want to know.”

“You do?”

“Of course I do.” He took a pack of cigarettes out of his topcoat, Philip Morris Commanders, gave them an expert shake so that the ends of two cigarettes poked out of the opening, and proffered the pack to Milford. “Smoke?”

“Oh, no, thank you,” said Milford. “I have my own, thanks.”

“Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, kid.”

Milford obediently took out his pack of Woodbines from the inside pocket of his peacoat.

“What the fuck is that?” said Mr. Stevens.

“These?” said Milford. “Woodbines. They’re English –”


“Yes, sir.”

Wally. I’m not going to tell you again, unless you want to step outside again, and this time it just might be me who knocks you down for a ten-count.”

“I’m sorry,” said Milford. “Wally.”

Mr. Stevens lighted up a Philip Morris with his lighter, which Milford noticed was golden, at least golden in color, and then he offered his light to Milford, who quickly stuck a Woodbine in his lips to accept the flame.

“So,” said Mr. Stevens, exhaling a great cloud of smoke in Milford’s face, “if you can’t drink, at least you can still smoke, right?”

“Yes, sir, I mean, Wally,” said Milford, coughing slightly, “it is a great solace to me. To be honest, if I couldn’t smoke I’m not sure what I would do with myself.”

“Have you considered meditation?”

“Um, well, yes, in fact I have. I bought this book about Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki, and –”

“And how did that work out for you?”

“I found it impossible. Every time I tried to think of nothing I found myself thinking of everything, and getting bored, or falling asleep, or –”

“Okay, I get it, Wilford.”

“You do?”

“Of course I do. What man in his right mind wants to waste his time thinking about nothing?”

“Um, uh, I never really thought about it that way –”

“You’ll have all the time in the world to think about nothing after you bite the big one. Because when you’re dead you’ll be nothing.”

“Um –”

“So, like the colored folks say, ‘Get hip, daddy-o!’”

“Uh –”

“You only ride this crazy train once, son.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re –”

“Listen. You’ve got two choices, Wilford.”

“Only two?”

“Only two.”

Milford said nothing. It had always seemed to him that he had a multitude of choices, none of them very attractive.

“Well don’t you want to know what the choices are?” said Mr. Stevens.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Milford. “Yes, what are they, sir, I mean Wally?”

“Jesus Christ, kid, here I am offering my services as a mentor, and I’m getting the impression you don’t give a flying fuck.”

“Oh, no, I do, sir, Wally, so, uh, what are the choices?”

“I’m not so sure I want to tell you now.”

Milford didn’t really care, but he said, “No, please tell me.”

“The choice is, are you gonna be a cunt all your life, or are you going to be a real man.”

Again Milford said nothing. He tapped his cigarette ash into the tin ashtray that was there on the bar between him and Mr. Stevens. He looked up and Mr. Stevens was staring at him out of his large, bloated face, with the big pulsing bruise on his jaw and cheek.

“I guess you think I’m a, uh, c-word, then,” said Milford.

“What do you think?” said Mr. Stevens.

“Um –”

“You sit there smoking English cigarettes, dressed like a stevedore, of course you’re a cunt.”

“Wow,” said Milford.

“But here’s the thing, Wilford, you’re still young. You don’t have to be a cunt your whole life.”

“I wish you’d stop saying that.”

“What? Cunt?”


“Would you like it better if I said asshole?”

“Oh. Uh, again, just, wow –”

“Look, I’m trying to help you, Wilford.”


“So I want you to promise me. From this moment on, I want you to promise me you’ll stop being a little cunt.”

“Okay,” said Milford. “I promise.”


Suddenly Mr. Stevens grabbed Milford’s pack of Woodbines off the bar, crushed it in his enormous hand, the only kind of hand he had, and tossed it to the floor.

“Hey,” said Milford.

“From now on,” said Mr. Stevens, “you smoke American cigarettes. Got it?”

“Yes,” said Milford.

“It doesn’t matter what kind. Me, I’m a Philip Morris man, but that doesn’t mean you have to be one, too. Camels, Luckies, whatever. Find a brand you like, and stick to it.”


“Next, you have to stop dressing like a dock worker. As soon as you open your mouth anyone can tell you’ve never worked a day in your life, so just ‘cool it’ as you young people say. Wear a suit. I’m sure you’ve got a suit, right?”


“More than one, probably.”


“Where do you buy them?”

“Well, my mother buys them actually.”

“Where does she buy them?”

“She takes me to Brooks Brothers.”

“Brooks is good. I see you in a nice understated tweed for the winter time. Do you have a tweed?”


“Harris tweed?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“You think so, or you know so.”

“Yes, I have a Harris tweed.”

“Then wear that. Just so you don’t look like a cunt.”


“You might still be a cunt, but at least you won’t look like one. And once you stop looking like a cunt, who knows, maybe after a while you’ll stop being a cunt.”

“All right, I’ll wear a suit from now on.”

“Good. It’s a start. Becoming a man is like, what, like, uh –”

“Like a butterfly leaving the cocoon?”

“Yeah. I’m not saying it will be easy, Wilford.”

“I think it will be, Wally.”


“Yes,” said Milford. “Already I feel as if a great burden has been lifted from my shoulders.”

“The burden of being a cunt.”

“I wish you’d stop saying that word.”

“See, already you’re acting like you’re not a cunt.”

Milford took a drag on his Woodbine, realizing as he did so that this was his last drag on a Woodbine in his life. He stubbed it out in the ashtray.

“I hope I haven’t been too harsh,” said Mr. Stevens.

“Oh, no, Wally, not at all.”

“You realize everything I’ve said has been true.”


Milford picked up his glass of ginger ale, took a drink, put the glass down. 

“Well, I think I’m going to go now, Wally.”

“Don’t go yet.”

“But my friends –”

“Your friends can wait. Your friends will wait. And you know something, Wilford?”

“I know nothing, Wally.”

“Well, I’ll tell you something. Your friends don’t care. They’re not thinking about you.”

“I know.”

“Stay with me for five more minutes.”

“Well, okay.”

“Because now I want to tell you what I was just about to tell you before we got sidetracked by this business of you smoking English cigarettes and wearing a peacoat and just generally acting like a little cunt.”

“Oh –”

“Because I know why you’re really sitting here.”

“You do? How odd.”

“What’s odd about it?”

“Because I was just wondering myself why I’m sitting here.”

“Ha ha. Wiseguy. But I know.”

Milford said nothing. He had nothing to say. Not that having nothing to say usually stopped him from saying something, but this was an unusual night in his life, perhaps a major turning point, and, if indeed he was to stop being a cunt, perhaps not speaking nonsense was part and parcel of not being a cunt. Perhaps the next step would be to learn to speak and not speak nonsense.

“Well, don’t you want to hear what I have to say?” said Mr. Stevens.

“Oh, yes, of course,” said Milford.

And, silently, he added, “You cunt.”

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