Thursday, October 19, 2023

“Haul Away Joe”

Through the crowd of drinkers Milford stepped, and before he knew it he felt himself rising above it all. Yes, once again his inner being had separated from its corporeal host, and he looked down on the awkward dolt in the pea coat and newsboy’s cap, jostled and elbowed by careless bohemians.

Is this it? he wondered. Have I at last lost my mind? But I am still in my mind, so how can I be lost? What difference does it make if I am floating up here beneath this flaking tin ceiling embossed with its patterns of dead flowers and vines instead of being trapped inside my skull? Better by far to drift over to the door and wait for someone to open it so that I may float outside into the falling snow and up into the vast interstellar reaches of outer space…

But then he was back inside of his egg-like skull, standing by the bar as Polly chattered away to Addison and Bubbles.

What was she saying? Words were coming from her mouth but all poor Milford could hear was the jukebox music, a song of love unrequited.

Polly turned to him.

“Don’t you think so, Milford?”

“Yes,” his voice said, and then he realized he needed to urinate, and urgently. All those ginger ales, and then the forbidden wine. Sometimes it seemed that his whole life was bounded by trips to and from toilets.

“Are you quite all right, dear boy?” said Polly, still speaking in her Katharine Cornell voice. Or was it Katharine Hepburn? “You seem somehow distrait.”

“I wonder if you’ll excuse me for just a minute,” he said.

“Oh but why.”

“I just have to, uh –”


“I need to, I have to, I’ll just be a minute, I promise –”

“Why so mysterious?”

“Oh, it’s not mysterious, it’s just that I have to, you know –”

“He has to visit the gents’,” said Addison.

“Oh,” said Polly.

“Even poets got to strangle the worm sometimes,” said Bubbles.

“But whatever does that mean, to ‘strangle the worm’?” asked Polly.

“He has to make pee pee,” said Bubbles.

“Oh,” said Polly. “Oh!” She turned to Milford again. “I live quite close by if you can hold it in.”

“I prefer not to,” said Milford.

“So it’s quite urgent.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Go ahead, Milford, old boy,” said Addison. “Bubbles and I shall keep the lovely Polly amused.”

“Oh but do hurry,” said Polly. And she leaned in close to him and whispered: “I am ever so eager.”

Eager? To make love? With him? How extraordinary.

“Yes, I’ll hurry,” he said.

He caught Bubbles’ eye, and she was shaking her head, and there was Addison, grinning, and Polly, smiling.

“Go then!” said Polly. “And godspeed.”

He turned and set forth once more, toward the rear of the barroom, his consciousness roiling inside his head, and he hadn’t gone five steps when Mr. Eliot called from the round table he sat at with those other fellows from earlier tonight, which seemed like a year ago.

“Grimford! Get your ass over here!”

Milford obediently made his way over to the table.

There sat Mr. Eliot, with that guy Detroit Slick, and that other guy Lucas Z. Billingsworth, and the other four, what were their names?

“Pull up a chair, my lad,” said Mr. Eliot. “We can always squeeze one more in.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t, I have to, uh, use the rest room.”

“What is it with you and rest rooms?”

“I have to relieve myself.”

“Yes, of course, but first you must partake of the sacrament with us.”

“The what?”

The one guy with glasses and dark hair held out a crumpled paper bag.

“Mushrooms,” he said. Was Allen his name? “Go ahead, take one.”

“A mushroom?”

“Yeah, it’s our sacrament. We’re all taking it to celebrate the birth of our new literary movement.”

“The Beat Movement,” said the handsome dark-haired guy. Was it Jack?

Milford took the bag, looked into it. It looked like a bunch of dried mushrooms all right.

“Don’t hesitate,” said the thin blond guy in the suit. Bill was it? “You hesitate, you’re fucked.”

“Go ahead,” said the little curly-haired guy. Gregory? “We all took some, and now you got to.”

“Live dangerously,” said Lucas Z. Billingsworth.

“Don’t be a chump,” said Detroit Slick.

“Go on, Bumford,” said Mr. Eliot. “Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” said Milford. “It’s just I really have to urinate.”

“Then pop one of those bad boys and then go urinate,” said Mr. Eliot.

“I just had dinner.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Gumford,” said Mr. Eliot. “Give me that fucking bag.”

He took the bag from Milford’s hand. “Now hold out your hand.”

Milford held out his hand and Mr. Eliot shook some of the contents of the bag into the young poet’s palm. They did seem to be dried mushrooms of some sort.

“Now stick those in your gob, chew them up thoroughly, and swallow ‘em down.”

“If I do that, can I go to the men’s room?”

“Yes, and with my blessing.”

“All right, then,” said Milford, and he stuffed the mushrooms into his mouth, and began to chew. They didn’t taste good, but they didn’t taste really bad. They just tasted like something you would spit out if you had any good sense at all, which Milford knew he didn’t have.

“Good boy,” said Mr. Eliot. “Now you are officially one of us. The Beat Generation, daddy-o!”

The other fellows at the table all laughed.

“All right,” said Mr. Eliot, “I know you’re anxious to take a slash, so go. Come back and join us when you’re done.”

“I can’t.”

“Why the fuck not?”

“I’m with this young lady.”

“Then bring her over too.”

“But we were just on our way out.”

“Oh, okay. I get it. You want to get your end in.”

“Um –”

“No, it’s okay, Bumstead. I get it. I was young once too, believe it or not. So go. Split. Get your rocks off, and God bless. Oh, but don’t forget our lunch date tomorrow.”


“You forgot already. The Prince Hal Room at the St Crispian. One o’clock. No, make it two.”


“Unless you got somewhere else to be.”

“I have nowhere else to be, ever.”

“See ya then, kid.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Eliot.”


“Goodnight, Tom.”

“Go on, go.”


Mr. Eliot turned back to face the rest of the newly-born Beat Generation, and Milford turned and launched off again into the alcoholic throng, still chewing the mushrooms, and by the time he made his way to the men’s room he had just about swallowed the last of them.

Inside a big bearded fellow stood smoking a pipe between the sink and the paper-towel dispenser. The smoke smelled odd, a little like the marijuana Milford had smoked not long ago, but thicker and deeper.

“Hi,” said the man.

“Hello,” said Milford.

He went over to one of the two urinals.

“Don’t mind me,” said the bearded man. “I’m just enjoying a quiet bowl before I head out there again.”

“Okay,” said Milford.

“Once more unto the breach, ha ha.”

Milford said nothing, but unbuttoned the fly of his dungarees, and fumbled out of his boxer shorts his alleged organ of masculinity.

“I hope I don’t make you feel awkward,” said the guy. “Standing here. Please feel free to ask me to leave if you’re pee shy, or just if I, you know, make you feel at all uneasy or awkward in any way, shape or form.”

Milford felt awkward, but it occurred to him that he nearly always felt awkward every moment of his life, and what did one more awkward situation matter?

The bearded man began to hum, and then to sing, “’Way haul away, we’ll haul away Joe…”

And, despite the presence of the singing and humming bearded man with the pipe, after only half a minute Milford’s urine flowed of its own volition through his appendage and out into the stained porcelain.

“Ah, the joy of a good pee,” said the bearded man, interrupting his song. “We drink the wine, the rich red wine, and the beer, the yellow or brown beer, or the cider, or grog, and then, yes, as enjoyable as it was coming in, perhaps even more enjoyable it is when it comes out!”

Milford made no comment to this, but concentrated on emptying his bladder, and when at last he had finished, he buttoned up his fly, and headed to the sink.

“Good to see you wash your hands,” said the bearded man. “I don’t approve of these chaps who just take a piss and don’t bother to wash their hands. Kind of gross, you ask me.”

Again Milford said nothing, but pumped some liquid soap from the dispenser and began to wash his hands. He must get out of here and rejoin Polly at the bar. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad with her. He was only glad he had urinated here rather than waiting and going at her place. What if she lived in a small apartment, and would be able to hear his urine splashing into the bowl?

He finished rinsing his hands and when he turned toward the paper-towel dispenser the bearded guy beat him to it, cranked out a length of coarse brown paper, tore it off and handed it to him.

“There you go, fellow.”

“Thanks,” said Milford.

“What’s your name?”


He perfunctorily dried his hands and crumpled the paper. The man stood between him and the wire trash basket by the wall. He stepped aside. Milford went past him and dropped the paper into the basket, and as he turned away from it the man was standing there with his hand outstretched.

“Whitman’s the name. Walt Whitman. Put ‘er there, pal.”

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


Anonymous said...

What a amazing story! To be transported back in time and be able to see in my mind's eye every character brought to life. The beginning of the beatnik generation.
It is amazing how in such a short amount of time you brought each and every character to life! I'm actually dying to know more did he finally realize that those were magic mushrooms and not something you put on top of your pizza? Did he go home with her? And then at the end the gentleman in the bathroom to actually meet Walt Whitman. How in the world are you going to leave this a short story I'm dying to know more about each character. Absolutely brilliant

Anonymous said...

I don't know why that came up as anonymous. But I will scream it from the rooftops my name is Shirley Grundy Gimbel

Violet said...

Absolutely riveting! This simple short story makes you want more, it made me actually feel like I was transported to south Philly back in the day. Leaving my mind wondering of where this adventure will take the protagonist next!

Dan Leo said...

All questions will be answered in future episodes! Maybe, ha ha...

Thanks for reading and commenting!