Thursday, September 21, 2023

“The Great Leap”

“Pleased to meet you by the way, Mr. Slick,” said Mr. Eliot. “Put ‘er there, pal.”

The two thin men shook hands.

“Just make it ‘Slick’, daddy,” said Detroit Slick. “And what’s your moniker?”

“Eliot’s the name, T.S. Eliot, perhaps you’ve heard of me.”

“Heard of you? Why, buddy, I wrote a term paper when I was at Michigan on Murder in the Cathedral!”

“Oh, that old thing –”

“No, my man, it’s a banger, and I don’t care what nobody says!”

“Ah, you are too kind, Slick.”

“Still, I gotta say,” said Detroit Slick, “The Waste Land? That poem is the bomb, man. First time I read that I says to myself, fucking hell, I don’t know what this poem is about, but I dig it!”

“Why, thank you, buddy,” said Mr. Eliot.

Milford was standing there, or, rather, floating there, gently rising and falling between a height of approximately two feet  and eighteen inches above the snow-covered pavement of the entrance area, and he still held in his fingers the inch that was left of the reefer.

Mr. Eliot and Detroit Slick were saying words on the white puffs of breath that escaped from their mouths, the puffs that turned pink in the neon light of the San Remo Café sign and then disappeared, and now Detroit Slick held his lighter up to Milford, clicking a blue and orange flame from it, and Milford realized he was expected to put the stub of the reefer in his lips, and he did so, and as the fire ignited the weed and he breathed in the sacred smoke he suddenly remembered Polly Powell sitting in there in the San Remo, at the little table, waiting for him to return with cigarettes.

By force of new habit he drew upon the truncated reefer deeply, once, twice, three times, and held the smoke in as his consciousness now floated out and away from the entrance area, into that heavily falling snow which somehow fell all around him but not onto him and he was one with all and all was one with him.

“The hollow men,” said Detroit Slick, “J. Alfred Prufrock, the goddam four quartets,” and other words followed, drifting away into the snow falling in the neon light.

I am free at last, thought Milford, free of my pathetic corporeal host, and now I will exist beyond time and place, floating through the falling snowflakes through the universe as the universe flows through me, but then Mr. Eliot was taking the stub of a reefer from his hand and Milford felt his feet in their sturdy work shoes standing on the surface of the earth again, in the glowing pinkish snow drifted into the entrance area of the San Remo.

“I have to go inside now,” his voice said, echoing through the obscure back alleys of his brain, “Now, now, now…”

“Yeah, I’m starting to get cold,” said Mr. Eliot, sticking the the butt of reefer into the side pocket of his tweed suit coat.

“You got any more muggles?” said Detroit Slick.

“No,” said Mr. Eliot, “but I think I know where we can get some.”

“I could go for a nickel bag,” said Detroit Slick.

“Bag that nickel bag shit, my chums will hook us up.”

“Swell, daddy-o,” said Detroit Slick.

“Come on back inside with us, buddy.”

“I was gonna hit another bar,” said Detroit Slick, “but sure. I am like a leaf, man, tumbling down the dark city streets, from gutter to gutter. Where the wind blows me, I go, and if it don’t blow me, that’s where I stay, just digging everything.”

“Spoken like a true poet, my man,” said Mr. Eliot, and he went to the door and opened it, waving to Detroit Slick to go on in, which he did, and Mr. Eliot turned to Milford.

“You coming, Melvoin?”

“Ommm,” said Milford.

“Is that a yes?”


A slender bony hand reached out and grabbed Milford’s arm, and he found his corporeal host, with him in it, pulled through the doorway.

The music, the smoke, the noise, the shouting and laughing people, the rich smells of burning tobacco and of whiskey and beer and wine, the warmth of human bodies, and Mr. Eliot and Detroit Slick forging away through the crowd. To the right at the bar sat the lovely Bubbles, with Addison leaning in close to her, his lips moving, like an actor in a silent movie. And turning to the left Milford saw Polly Powell sitting at the little table, facing toward the rear, and he sighed and made his way to her. On the table were two bowls of spaghetti and meatballs, a carafe of something red, two water glasses with something red in them.

“Hello,” he said.

“Milford!” said Polly, looking up, slurping strands of spaghetti into her lips. 

At last someone who knew his name.

“Sit down,” she said. “I do hope you don’t mind, but I started without you because I was so absolutely starving.”

Milford floated down into his seat.

“Did you get the cigarettes?” said Polly.

“Oh no,” said Milford.

“You didn’t?” said Polly.

“I forgot. You see, I ran into T.S. Eliot.”

“The poet?”


“That’s that old man I saw you with?”


“You’re friends with T.S. Eliot?”

“Well –”

“That’s so exciting! I don’t know anybody famous, although sometimes I see famous people come into the automat. Do you know the actress Hyacinth Wilde?”

“Um, well, I’ve seen her –”

“Did you see her in the The Speckled Honeybee?”

“Yes, my mother took me to that one –”

“What about The Travails of Harold and Sylvia?”

“Yes, my mother took me to a matinée of that one.”

“I think my favorite was The Songbird Does Not Sing, did you see that one?”

“Yes, my mother takes me to all the shows.”

“She’s so beautiful.”

“My mother?”

“No, Hyacinth Wilde. She comes into the automat all the time. She always gets the lemon meringue.”

”Uh –”

“Eat your spaghetti, Milford!”

“Oh, yes, of course,” and Milford soon found himself shoveling spaghetti and meatballs into his mouth. He had never in his life before been so hungry. Polly was shoveling, too, breaking pieces of bread from a wicker basket and dabbing it into the sauce, and at intervals picking up her glass and drinking the red liquid in it. And all the while she was talking about plays she had seen, about how Hyacinth Wilde was even more beautiful in person than on stage, and as he ate Milford suddenly remembered he was an alcoholic when he realized he had just drunk a small tumblerful of red wine.

Oh well.

Tonight was the first night of the rest of his life, and even though he felt quite deranged at the moment, tomorrow he could resume his sobriety, start counting the days once again. He would go to a meeting first thing, he would confess his slip…

Polly refilled his glass.

“Oh, no,” he said. “No more for me.”

“But you’ve only had one glass!” cried Polly. “Listen, Milford, may I ask you a personal question?”


“Have you ever had sexual intercourse?”

Fortunately Milford’s mouth was full of spaghetti and meatballs, and so he had an excuse not to say anything straight away. He chewed, thoroughly, more thoroughly than necessary if truth be told, and then at last swallowed the mouthful, with his pride, and said: 


“I knew it!” said Polly. “And guess what? Neither have I!”

“Um, uh,” said Milford.

“What do you say?” said Polly. “I mean, if I’m not being terribly forward, but, do you know, I consider myself a modern woman, unconstrained by outmoded social mores.”

“Oh, uh,” Milford gripped his fork and his spaghetti-twirling soup spoon tightly, as if they were weapons he might need quite soon.

“So, how about it, Milford, shall we? Shall we take a great Kierkegaardian leap into the vast unknown together?”

She seemed quite sincere. Milford picked up his wine glass and drank half its contents, forgetting again for the moment his alcoholism.

“Um,” he said.

“It’s okay if you say no,” said Polly.

“No,” said Milford, after gulping and swallowing nothing, “I mean, yes. Yes I mean. I mean yes. Yes.”

“Oh, good,” said Polly.

She resumed eating her spaghetti and meatballs, and, after a moment, so did Milford.

{Kindly go here to read the unexpurgated "adult comix" version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq...}

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