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…}

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