Thursday, November 30, 2023


“Hey, Lou,” yelled a man who was leaning over the jukebox next to the cigarette machine, “whaddya wanta hear, ‘Oh Ma, Oh Ma, I’m Feelin’ So Bad I Just Wanta Die’ by Big Biscuit Bob, or ‘Shake That Thang’ by the Stumptown Stompers?” 

“I assure you it’s a matter of complete indifference to me, Sam,” said the lady called Lou.

“Guess I’ll go with the Stumptown Stompers, then,” said the man, and he punched a couple of buttons. He straightened up and took a cigar out of his mouth. He wore a three-piece white suit and he looked like Mark Twain. “Who’s your new boyfriend?”

“Sam, this is Milford,” said Lou. “Milford, Sam.”

The Sam guy extended his hand and Milford took it, after transferring his pack of cigarettes and matches from his right hand to his left.

“Pleased to meet you, uh –”

“I see you are a seafaring chap,” said Sam. “Or are you rather, as I once was, and in a sense always shall be, a river boat man?”

“I am neither,” said Milford.

Sam released Milford’s hand. Fortunately for Milford he hadn’t been one of these guys who made every handshake a test of masculine manual strength, tests which Milford invariably lost.

“An apprentice stevedore then?”

“No, not that either,” said Milford.

“It did seem a little odd to me if you were,” said the man. “Because, and I hope you will pardon my candor, but you seem just a tad underdeveloped physically for even a tyro member of that hearty community.”

“Let it rest, Sam,” said Lou. “Milford is a poet.”

“Oh, so that’s why you dress like a longshoreman?”

“Yes,” admitted Milford.

“I should have known by the silky softness of the palm of your hand. Like unto a baby’s bottom.”

“Um -”

“Not that there’s anything wrong with being a poet.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Milford.

“But might I suggest a few years on the mighty Mississippi, or perhaps prospecting for gold in the Yukon, or logging in the great redwood forests of the westerly portions of this proud land of liberty? Just to give you a wider and more expansive knowledge of life?”

“Sam, leave the poor guy alone,” said Lou.

“I’m only trying to be helpful,” said Sam. “You don’t mind, do you, Mimson?”

“My name’s not Mimson,” said Milford. “It’s Milford, and, to be honest, I do mind. I’m tired of people telling me what I should do. Do you want to know what I really think I should do?”

“Yes, I do actually,” said the man called Sam.

“I think I should just do whatever I feel like doing, even if it’s foolish, like dressing like a dockworker, or smoking English cigarettes, or drinking myself senseless, and I think I should ignore all so-called good advice, and if anyone tries to give it to me I should say to them, politely as I can manage, ‘Fuck off.’”

“Wow,” said Sam.

“And so I say to you,” said Milford, “fuck off.”

“Wow again,” said Sam, and he turned to Lou. “Hey, Lou, I don’t know where you found this boy, but I like him.”

“I found him right here at the cigarette machine,” said Lou.

Milford was now pulling the little ribbon off his pack of cigarettes, and attempting to tear off the cellophane. His fingers were trembling, despite or because of the fact that they felt like uncooked breakfast sausages.

“You need some help with them cigarettes, lad?” said Sam.

“No thank you,” said Milford.

“I know, I know, you gotta do it yourself, I can ‘dig it’ as you young folk say. I see you’re smoking Husky Boys. Was that because they don’t carry English cigarettes in that machine?”

“Yes,” said Milford, “but, also, I decided tonight that I would no longer smoke English cigarettes, and in fact I might even stop dressing this way.”

“But I like the way you dress.”

“Sam,” said Lou, “just leave the guy alone, okay?”

“I don’t mean no harm,” said Sam. “I like young people. Especially foolish young people. Didn’t I write a couple of classic novels about foolish young rapscallions?”

“Way to blow your own horn, Sam.”

“Guilty as charged,” said Sam.

Milford had finally got the pack opened and a cigarette in his mouth. Quick as lightning, Sam pulled out a box of Blue Tip kitchen matches, opened it, took out a match, struck it, and lighted Milford’s Husky Boy.

“Thank you,” said Milford, inhaling deeply, and admitting to himself as he did so that these Husky Boys were a much better smoke than Woodbines.

“Yes sir, I like you, kid,” said Sam, tossing the match to the floor. “You got sand. I won’t say you remind me of me as a young feller, because you might take that as an insult or as a sort of thinly disguised braggadocio on my part. But I like you. Tell me, are you a good poet?”

“No,” said Milford, “I have never written a single decent line of poetry. But I hope to, someday.”

“And I wish you the best of luck, Bedford.”

“Milford, actually, but, thank you, I suspect I will need all the luck I can get.”

“But, really,” said Sam, “luck only comes into play when it comes to the success of a writing career. As for the quality qua ‘quality’ of writing, the only luck that matters is that which you’re born with, in other words: talent. Which you either got or you don’t. And if you don’t got it there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.”

“Thank you for the encouraging words,” said Milford.

“You are quite welcome, Merman.”

“Sam,” said Lou, “the guy told you, his name is Milford.”

“Say it again.”


“Okay, I’ll try to remember that. And I apologize. Would you two care to join me at my table for a grog or three or four?”

“Maybe later,” said Lou. “We were just going to have a quiet drink à deux.”

“Oh, okay, I get it,” said Sam. He turned to Milford. “You take good care of this lady, lad.”

“I don’t think she needs me to take care of her,” said Milford.

’A hit, a very palpable hit,’” said Sam, “if I may quote the Bawdy Bard. But seriously, be nice to her. If you don’t I’m gonna come looking for you.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” said Milford. “But in the back of my mind. Way back.”

“Ha ha,” said Sam, and he turned to Lou again. “You might have a winner here, Lou.”

“I’m not looking for a winner, Sam,” said Lou. “I’m just looking for someone who won’t bore me to tears for starters.”

“Okay, I can take a hint,” said Sam. “Nice meeting you, Efrem. Lou, you know I love you and I always shall. And, look, if you two care to join me at my table later, I should be only too delighted. Ta for now.”

And the man in the white suit turned and went away.

“Sorry about that,” said Lou. “This is the trouble with these so-called literary lions. They start believing their own legends.”

She stepped close to him, holding her cigarette out to one side so as not to burn him. Milford removed his own Husky Boy from his lips because she was standing so close to him. The tips of her bosom were now touching the double breast of his pea coat. It occurred to him that this was the closest a female human being had ever stood to him, barring members of his own family, and even those occurrences had been rare, limited to birthdays and perhaps Christmas after eggnogs and port.

Lou touched his face with her fingers.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

The matter was that Milford now realized he was possessed of an erection. It felt enormous, throbbing and pulsing against the stout material of his dungarees.

It felt enormous for him, anyway.

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

Saturday, November 25, 2023

"Husky Boy"

At last Milford came to the cigarette machine. It stood before him, squat and heavy and powerful, the oblong window at its top declaring CIGARETTES in glowing scarlet script on a gold background. Yes, ecstasy awaited and it was long overdue. But what brand should he choose? Needless to say the machine did not carry his usual preference, Woodbines, but no matter, This is the new me, thought Milford, no more English cigarettes that he could only find in better-stocked tobacco shops or at hotel counters catering to the foreigner trade, no, from now on he would smoke good sturdy American cigarettes!

Camels, Lucky Strikes, Pall Malls, Philip Morris, all the usual, but what was this? Husky Boy? He had never heard of the brand, but it looked intriguing in the little brightly lit display panel, with a painting of the smiling face of a chubby lad with a lighted cigarette in his smiling or grimacing lips. Husky Boy! This would be his new smoke of choice!

The little tag above the display picture read 25¢. A cheap price to pay for twenty sacred cylinders of satisfaction!  

Milford dug his hand into the right pocket of his dungarees, and his old Boy Scout wallet was in there, but no coins whatever. He tried his left pocket, but all that was in there was one of the monogrammed handkerchiefs his mother bought for him by the dozen at Brooks, and which came in so handy during his nightly bouts of self-abuse. He remembered the change pocket above his right pocket and stuck his thumb in there, but all he came up with was a ticket stub for a movie: Raise High the Topsail, Lads!, which he had seen at the Thalia last week when he was thinking of chucking it all and signing up for the merchant marine. He tossed the stub away. Who wanted to mop decks all day in some uncomfortable freighter, especially when the one time he had been at sea (a fishing excursion on his Uncle Bert’s Chris-Craft on Long Island Sound) he had gotten violently seasick?

He investigated his dungarees pockets again, and this time he even checked the back pockets. Then he dug his fingers into the pockets of his pea coat, the two exterior ones and the one on the inside: except for lint, and, in the right-hand side pocket, that copy of Leaves of Grass which its soi-disant author had given him, and which he had totally forgotten about, they were all empty. 

Yes, empty, like my life, thought Milford.

There was nothing for it, he would have to ask the bartender for change, and the thought of doing this filled him with a weariness approaching despair. He would have to squeeze into a space at that crowded bar, raise his hand, try to catch the bartender’s attention. The very thought made him want to cry.

And then he did begin to cry, standing there before the impassive machine. Harsh breaths escaped from his lips in gasps, and hot tears emerged from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. And no one cared. No one cared that he had not a lousy twenty-five cents in change for a pack of Husky Boys!

“Hey, buddy, you gonna buy some cigs or are you just gonna stand there and think about it.”

A woman was standing next to him, dark hair and dark eyes, an old-fashioned dress of blue trimmed in white and red.

“I, I, um, I don’t have a quarter,” sobbed Milford, “and all I want, all I want, it’s just, just a pack of cigarettes, but –”

“Gee, are you crying?” said the woman.

“Yes,” said Milford.

“You’re crying because you don’t have a quarter for a pack of cigarettes?”

Milford snuffled, pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed his face and eyes.

“It’s just, I really just wanted a pack of cigarettes.” He tried to get control of himself. “I have money, but I don’t have any small change –”

“You do realize you can ask the bartender for change, right?”

“Yes, I do realize that,” said Milford, trying not to blubber, “but the very thought of asking him, or trying to ask him, fills me with existential dread.”

“So you’re a sensitive kind of guy.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Let me guess, you’re a poet.”

“Yes.” Milford stuck the sodden handkerchief back in his dungarees. “But I am a bad poet.”

“How did you get in here anyway?”

“Walt Whitman brought me here.”

“Oh, okay, well, that explains a lot. So are you a cabin boy as well as a bad poet?”

“No, just a bad poet. I only dress this way out of affectation.”

“I see. What’s your name?”

“If I tell you my name, will you try to remember it, and not call me something else?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Milford. Not Mumford, or Redburn, or Mervyn, or Melvin, but Milford.”

“Milford. That’s a funny name.”

“It’s my surname, but I prefer it to my first name.”

“What’s that?”


“I see. Do you have a middle name, or a confirmation name?”

“My middle hame is Crackstone and my confirmation name is Aloysius.”

“Well, I see why you like to go by, what is it, Millstone?”

“It’s Milford. Milford.”



“My name’s Louisa. Louisa May Alcott.”


“Call me Lou.”

“All right.”

“Tell you what I’m gonna do, Milford. It is Milford, right?”

“Yes, and thank you.”

“Thank me for what?”

“For not calling me Melvoin, or Mumphrey, or –”

“Tell you what I’m gonna do, Murphy –”


“Just kidding. Tell you what I’m gonna do, Milford, I’m gonna spot you to a pack of smokes.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t!”

“Nonsense, what’s a quarter?”

“But it’s, it’s the principle of the thing. You don’t even know me.”

“Listen, I’m going to buy you a pack of cigarettes and that’s the end of it. Or maybe it won’t be the end of it. Maybe someday you’ll do someone a favor.” She paused, apparently taking note of the expression on Milford’s face. “What?”

“I have never done anyone a favor in my life,” said Milford.

“Well, maybe now you will.” She had taken a small embroidered purse from a pocket of her dress, and now she opened it and took out a quarter. She dropped the quarter into the slot in the machine. “What kind of cigarettes do you want?”

“I was thinking of trying the Husky Boys.”

Husky Boys. Okay –”

She pulled the handle under the Husky Boy display, and sure enough a pack of cigarettes plopped down into the rectangular mouth at the bottom, along with a book of paper matches.

“Take them, husky boy,” she said.

Milford bent over and picked up the cigarettes and matches.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Smoke them in good health, Milford.”

“And thank you for remembering my name, Miss –”

“Lou. Call me Lou.”

“Thank you, Lou. I will always remember this act of kindness.”

“And now, if I may –”

She took another quarter from her purse, put the purse back into her pocket, and then inserted the quarter into the coin slot.

She pulled a handle, and a pack of Lucky Strikes fell down into the opening, along with its accompanying book of matches.

She picked up the cigarettes and matches, rapped the pack against the side of her hand.

“Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, Milford.”

Milford’s tears had stopped by now, and he wondered if this could be the beginnings of love. Sure, she was older, but perhaps an older woman was just what he needed. Someone who could not only show him the ropes, but who would do so in a kindly and patient fashion.

“I wonder,” he said, still sniffling, but only just slightly, “if it is not too forward of me, if you would allow me to buy you a drink, Miss –”

“Lou, just call me Lou.”

“Lou, then, I mean, if you would like a drink, but only if you want one, you see, I myself don’t drink alcohol, because I am an alcoholic, although somehow I did wind up having a few drinks tonight, and I’m not quite sure how it happened, and come to think of it, I also inadvertently smoked marijuana, and hashish, and, oh, I almost forgot, I ate some mushrooms which I now realize are the intoxicating kind that certain Indian tribes eat as part of their religious ceremonies, and maybe all of the above explains why I am babbling quite uncontrollably now, I mean, in addition to the fact that I am incurably neurotic, but.”

“But what?”

“But would you like a drink?”

“Sure, Marvin,” she said, having lighted a Lucky Strike and tossed the match to the floor. “Okay, take it easy, pal, don’t start crying again. Milford, right?”

“Yes,” said Milford, holding back a tidal wave of tears, and emitting a gasp, of relief, and joy.

“Yes,” he said.

{Kindly go here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version of this, our very special fourth-annversary episode, in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious Rhoda Penmarq…}

Thursday, November 16, 2023


The door closed behind them, the place was full of people shouting and laughing at a long bar to the right and at half a dozen booths opposite, the air was thick with smoke and pulsing with loud jukebox music, and a fat bald man in an old-fashioned three-piece tweed suit came up with a cigar in his hand.

“My dear Walt, not another one of your cabin boy friends?”

“My dear Henry,” said Walt, “my young friend only looks like a cabin boy, but he is in fact a poet.”

The fat man looked at Milford.

“Indeed?” he said.

“Indeed he is, and a damn fine one he is,” said Walt, even though he hadn’t read a word of Milford’s poetry, which was perhaps just as well, thought Milford.

“Mitford,” said Walt, “meet my good friend Henry.”

“Pleased to meet you, Medford,” said Henry, but without offering his hand.

“My name isn’t Medford,” said Milford.

“It’s Midford,” said Walt.

“No, it’s not Mitford, or Midford either,” said Milford. “It’s Milford. Milford. My name is Milford, okay?” He turned to the big poet. ”I’m sorry, Mr. Whitman, but my name is Milford.”

“Say it again,” said Walt.



“Oh, my God,” said Milford.

“So your name is, what, Mildred?” said or shouted the fat man over the music and the babble. “That’s an odd name for a fellow. But then in England where I lived for many years – perhaps you can tell by my supposedly trans-Atlantic accent – one finds a multitude of chaps with names like Evelyn and Aubrey, so, hey, why not Mildred? An old family name I suppose?”

“Oh, Christ,” said Milford.

“Let me get you boys a libation,” said Henry.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Walt. “I was just telling Wilbert about the spiced hot grog here.”

“Fuck that shit,” said Henry. “That’s for the tourist trade. How about a nice single malt Speyside aged twenty years in a fifty-year-old Amontillado cask?”

“I think Milberg really wanted to try the grog though,” said Walt.

“What?” said Milford.

“Oh, I get it, because it’s so cold and snowy out,” said Henry, and he brushed some snow off of the shoulder of Milford’s pea coat. “Righto, sure, a little grog to warm you fellows up, and then maybe the Speyside. Come on over to the bar.”

He grabbed Milford’s arm and pulled him over to the end of the bar.

“So did your ship just come in?”

“What ship?” said Milford.

“The ship you’re a cabin boy on.”

“I’m not a cabin boy.”

They were standing at the end of the bar where the counter curved into the wall.

“Jack!” yelled Henry to the bartender. “Two grogs and another Speyside pour moi!”

Henry stood to Milford’s left, and Walt to his right. They had him boxed in, but he wondered if he should just try to make a run for it anyway.

“I thought about setting off to sea when I was a young fellow,” said Henry. “But that’s all I did, think about it. You see, at bottom, I am a man who enjoys my creature comforts. How do you like it, sailing the high seas, doing a man’s job, or at least a boy’s job. Do you intend to continue with the maritime life? Perhaps someday to be master of your own ship?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Milford. “I don’t even like the ocean.”

“If you don’t like the ocean why are you a cabin boy?”

“Henry!” shouted Walt.

“What?” said Henry.

“I just told you that Redburn is not a cabin boy, he’s a poet.”

“Oh, my mistake,” said Henry. “Ah, the libations! Thank you, Jack. Lift up that cup, my lad.”

“What’s in it?” said Milford.

A cup or mug made out of metal was on the bar in front of Milford, and the brown liquid in it gave off tendrils of steam.

“Our own recipe,” said the fat man. “It’ll warm you right up.”

“Go ahead, Bedford,” said Walt. “Raise your cup, lad, smell it, appreciate the nose.”

Milford lifted the cup with both hands and smelled. It did smell good, and the cup warmed his cold hands. He had forgotten to wear gloves this snowy night which seemed to have begun six or eight months ago.

“Take a sip, Merbert,” said Walt.

Milford took a sip. The liquid was hot, fragrant, sweet.

“What do you think?” said Henry.

“It’s not bad,” said Milford.

“Not bad, he says,” said Henry.

“Thank you,” said Milford, remembering how he was raised.

“Take another sip,” said Henry.

Milford took another sip.

“Can you pick up the star anise?” said Henry. “To me that’s the special ingredient. Along with the clove and cinnamon, of course, and the blackstrap molasses, the molasses is essential.”

“And the rum, ha ha,” said Walt.

“Yes, the rum,” said Henry, “but, you see, Pilford, this is not that Mr. Boston swill, oh no, it’s good dark rich and fragrant Jamaican rum, which I get special from a purveyor to the Royal Navy. Great twenty-gallon oaken kegs of the stuff.”

“Did you say rum?” said Milford.

“Yes, but splendid Jamaican rum, Royal Navy issue.”

“It’s good rum,” said Walt. “Them Limeys know their rum.”

Milford sighed, realizing that even though he had sighed more than twelve thousand times this day that this was the first time he had sighed in this particular place.

“What’s the matter?” said Henry. “You don’t like it? I can get you a Speyside if you’d prefer. Walt will finish your grog. Won’t you, Walt?”

“Sure I will,” said Walt. “But try another sip first, Mumphrey, it might have to grow on you.”

“Okay, please try to listen, Mr. Whitman,” said Milford. “I told you before, I am an alcoholic. I don’t drink.”

“You did? You don’t?”

“What did he say?” said Henry.

“He said he doesn’t drink,” said Walt.

“He just did drink,” said Henry. “Look, Mifford, try just one more sip, and if you really don’t like it you can try the Speyside.”

Milford suddenly felt as if his brain was expanding, like a balloon made of dreams, and the balloon was filling up this entire barroom and everything and everyone in it. So this was how it ended. A terminal bout of insanity with a couple of old fools in some crowded basement taproom. And as if it had a mad mind of its own, his hand lifted the cup to his lips, it poured the steaming liquid into his mouth and he swallowed, gulping, the hot spiced rum coursing down his throat and into his stomach.

Milford lowered the emptied cup to the bar top, and his brain subsided, sucking itself back inside his skull under his newsboy’s cap, and he exhaled a great hot breath into the smoky air.

“There’s a good fellow!” said Henry.

“Told you he was a poet, Henry,” said Walt.

“I should love to read your verse, sir,” said Henry.

Milford looked at the man, at his fat rubicund face, his bloodshot glazed blue eyes. He had his chubby hand on Milford’s left arm, and Milford realized that Walt’s great hand was on his right shoulder. He probably couldn’t escape even if he wanted to. And did he want to? Yes, but where to? Only to some other place he would want to escape from.

And suddenly Milford realized that his sentience was somehow returning, despite the mushrooms, the marijuana, the hashish, and now the grog – that his thusness was now at the forefront of his consciousness.

Gazing past the faces at the bar he saw the twinkling lights of the jukebox at the far wall, and next to it the sturdy impassive robot of a cigarette machine.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“Where are you going?” said Henry.

“I’m just going to get some cigarettes.”

“Come right back,” said Walt.

“Sure,” said Milford.

And he pulled his arm away from Henry’s hand, ducked his shoulder from under Walt’s hand and stepped away, turning hard around the end of the bar like a ship rounding the Horn.

“Nice kid,” said Henry.

“I like him,” said Walt. “Funny kid, but I like him.”

Milford floated through the smoky air, past the shouting and laughing people, mostly men but some women. Some of the faces looked familiar, but didn’t all human faces look familiar?

Up ahead was the cigarette machine, with its alluring modernistic electric lighting of gold and scarlet and silver, filled with a dozen or more brands of factory-sealed paper-and-tinfoil-and-cellophane packets filled each in their turn with a score of trimly packed tubes of potential ecstasy.

“My Ithaca,” he thought. “If I can buy a pack of cigarettes I will be happy.”

He was wrong of course, and he knew he was wrong, but he didn’t care.

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

Thursday, November 9, 2023

“Snowfall Over MacDougal Street”

How did it happen? How had it come to this? Did he have no agency at all over his own life?

He didn’t know. He didn’t know. And, no, apparently he had no agency over his own life.

Through the thick falling snow Milford trudged, several paces behind Walt Whitman and Polly Powell walking arm in arm, and he could hear the music of their merry chatter, Whitman’s booming song of a voice, Polly’s lilting counterpoint, and most of what they said was lost in the swirling snowfall, but Milford did make out an occasional word:

“Poetry, the godhead, the wellspring, the angels, the damned, the fierce pulsing blood, the essence…”

But then they had stopped, and Milford almost bumped into Walt Whitman, who was facing and looming over Polly.

“Thank you so much for walking me home, Walter!” trilled Polly.

“It was my pleasure, dearest Polly,” said Walt Whitman.

She opened her purse and brought out a set of keys attached to a rabbit’s foot.

“Um,” said Milford, or at any rate this was the sound that came out of his mouth.

“Oh, and Milford,” said Polly, “thank you for the delightful evening!”

“Uh,” said Milford.

“I should invite you gentlemen in for a nice cup of hot chocolate, but I am suddenly ever so sleepy!”

“Oh, uh,” said Milford.

“Don’t worry about us, Miss Polly,” said Walt. “You just change into your warm flannel nightdress and crawl into bed. But may I make a small suggestion?”

“What is that, dear Walter?”

“Two aspirins, washed down with a glass of water.”

“Two aspirins?”

“No more, no less, but don’t forget to drink a full glass of water.”

“How large a glass?”

“Let us say six ounces.”

“Two aspirin, six ounces of water.”

“You’ll thank me in the morning.”

“I shall thank you now, dear Walter. You are like the kindly uncle I never had!”

“Heh heh, I take that as the highest compliment.”

She was having trouble getting her key in the lock of the entrance door, so Walt took the set of keys from her and opened it for her.

“Thanks again, Uncle Walter!”

“Don’t mention it, Niece Polly,” said Walt, pressing the keys into her white-gloved hand. “Would you like us to accompany you to the door of your flat?”

“Oh, no, I’m certain I can make it from here. I’m only on the second floor!”

“Splendid. Sleep tight now!”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll sleep like a baby!”

“Give me a hug, child.”

“Oh, of course!”

Walt put his great arms around her and hugged her, lifting her feet slightly off the tiles of the entranceway. He lowered her down, and she turned to Milford.

“Good night, Milford. Give me a ring and we’ll do it again sometime.”

“Uh,” said Milford.

She turned and went inside, and Walt closed the door after her.

They watched her go through the inside door, stumbling just more than slightly, and then she disappeared off to the right somewhere.

“Well, she seemed nice,” said Walt.

“I don’t have her phone number,” said Milford.

“No matter, if the gods want you to see each other again, it will happen.”

“I know where she works,” said Milford. “She works at this automat in the neighborhood.”

“Swell, problem solved,” said Walt. “Go in there, get yourself a nice cup of joe, a slice of rhubarb pie, chat her up.”

“Yeah, I guess I’ll do that.”

“But make sure to get her phone number.”

“I will.”

“In my day we had no telephones. We had to rely on agreed-upon meetings and trysts. ‘Meet me at Bob’s Bowery Bar, five-ish.’ Hope the other person doesn’t forget.”

“Well, I try to stay out of bars.”

“Coffee houses are good.”


“I hope you’re not disappointed.”

“What about?”

“That you didn’t go upstairs with her.”

“Oh, that. Well, she was pretty drunk.”

“To say the least.”

“And I feel somewhat deranged.”

“It’s only the hash, don’t worry about it.”

“But it’s also those mushrooms I ate.”

“Ah, the sacred mushrooms! I wish you had some for me!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t.”

“No matter, lad. And now that we’ve gotten Miss Polly safely home, now we can have some good manly fun together.”

“I feel as if my brain is about to burst from my skull. I think I should just go home.”

“Nonsense! You can go home anytime.”

“I just want to get in my bed.”

“The night is young.”

“I’m afraid.”

“We must conquer our fears.”

“I don’t want to conquer my fears. I want to get into my comfortable bed and sleep for twelve hours.”

“One tankard of ale.”

“I don’t drink.”

“Nonsense. I said I would take you to Valhalla, and would you make a liar of me?”

“Well, no, but –”

“Come, my lad, it’s right over there.”


Walt pointed across the snowy street, to where a reddish Rheingold sign glowed dimly.



“But that just looks like a bar.”

“Yes, I know, but this is a very special bar, my boy.”

“Wait a minute, this isn’t one of those homosexual bars, is it?”

“No. I mean, not exclusively.”

“I don’t know, Walt.”

“One tankard. Or perhaps a nice steamy cup of heated grog.”


“The hot spiced grog there is to die for.”

“I don’t know. It’s my brain. I feel as if my brains are seeping out of my ears. I’m wracked with terror, and also dread. I just want to go –”

“Milford, may I just interrupt you for a moment and ask you a personal question?”


“Are you going to go through your whole life saying, I don’t know, I’m afraid, I just want to go home?”


“And perhaps you will. But not tonight, sir. Not on Walt Whitman’s watch!”

And the big man took Milford’s arm and pulled him across the snow-covered sidewalk and over a mountain range of snow in the gutter and into the street. They paused as a great plow truck came trundling by, and Milford considered yanking his arm free and running away, but the truck passed and Walt Whitman dragged him across the street. They climbed over the ridge of snow on the opposite side, and Milford saw the electric Rheingold sign in a dark sunken areaway covered by an awning and separated from the sidewalk by an iron railing filigreed with snow.

“Here it is,” said Walt. “Don’t be afraid, you’re gonna love this place.”

Milford allowed himself to be brought down the steps where there stood a stout wooden door next to the neon Rheingold sign in a glass-brick window.

Walt opened the door, letting out that familiar explosion of noise, smoke, smells and light that signified “bar” and all the word bar stood for, the drunken days and drunker nights, the shouting, the hollow laughter, the unmemorable conversations with strangers, the reeling out the door at four in the morning, the horrible awakenings in cold wet alleyways.

The big poet took his arm out of Milford’s, and, placing his strong hand on the young poet’s back, he shoved him gently but firmly inside.

Polly got under the covers with Mr. Boodles her cat, and suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to invite Milford up so that she could at long last lose her virginity. Well, there was always tomorrow, or some other day, and what about that Walter man, what would it be like with a big bearded older fellow like him? And thinking of Milford and Walter and Montgomery Clift and Farley Granger she drifted off into oblivion as the snow fell on MacDougal Street outside her window.

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

Thursday, November 2, 2023

“One With the Universe”

The big man shoved his pipe into his coat, then hooked his burly right arm under Milford’s insubstantial left arm, pulled him to the door, drew it open, and out they went into the short hallway looking out on that crowded barroom filled with drunken shouting and laughing people, thick with smoke and blaring with jukebox music.

“Ah, humanity!” cried the man who would be Walt Whitman. “Do you see these good people, Milforth?”

“My name is Milford,” said Milford.

“I said my name is Milford!” shouted Milford.

“Is that what you told me before?”

“Yes! It’s Milford! Milford! M-I-L-F-O-R-D! Milford!

“No need to shout so loud, friend. I heard you the first time.”

“But everybody keeps calling me every name in the world except my real name, and I’m tired of it!”

“And do you ever wonder why that is?”

“Why I’m tired of it?”

“No, why people always get your name wrong?”

“Because they’re stupid.”

“I hope you’re not calling me stupid, Wilford. That’s no way to begin a grand manly friendship.”

“Oh, forget it.”

“Tell me your name again.”


“Milford?” said ‘Walt Whitman’. “I could have sworn you said Redford.”

“Look,” said Milford, “it doesn’t matter, and I’m sorry I shouted. Now can we go to the bar, because I can see my lady friend is still there, thank God.”

“Boy, you really do have a bee in your bonnet about this alleged lady friend, don’t you?”

“I don’t have a bee in my bonnet about her, but she’s been waiting for me to get back from the men’s room for about a half hour now.”

“It hasn’t been a half hour.”

“Twenty minutes then.”

“More like fifteen minutes, I’ll warrant.”

“Look, Mr. Whitman, can we just go over there, before she gets tired of waiting and leaves?”

“You really do want to get in her knickers tonight, don’t you?”

“Look, Mr. Whitman –”

Walt. Please, we’re friends, so call me Walt.”

“Look, Walt, not that it’s any of your business, but, yes, I would like to – oh, forget it.”

“Oh. Wait.”

“What?” said Milford.

“I think I understand now.”

“Great, because I don’t.”

“You are a virgin, aren’t you?”

“Oh, Christ.”

“The big guy is not going to help you in this matter, Redfield, nor in any other. Sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be. Some things a man has to do himself. And dipping your wick into a young lady’s moist pink envelope for the first time is amongst the foremost of those things.”

“Okay, fine. Now can we please go over there?”

“Which one is she? That buxom babe in red? In which case, well done, my lad, well done indeed, and my old slouch hat off to you!”

“No, it’s not the one in red, it’s the one to the left of the one in red.”

“Oh. Her. Well, she looks all right, I suppose, if you like that thin mousy type. What is she, another versifier?”

“She’s a novelist I think, or at least a would-be novelist.”

“Yes, of course she is. Probably adores the Georges Eliot and Sand.”

“How did you know?”

“Hey, again, even though I may prefer the simple fellowship of good strong honest workmen, I know dames. But tell me this, why not go for the one in red?”

“Look, I’m not going to answer that, Mr. Whitman.”


“I’m not going to answer that, Walt.”

“She wouldn’t have you, I suppose.”

“Oh, God.”


“It’s happening again.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m floating above my body.”


“Yes, I’m talking to you, but my consciousness is floating several feet above my head.”

“I told you that hash was some good shit.”

“I think I might be going insane.”

“You’re not going insane. You are merely becoming one with the universe.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Embrace the wholeness of the universe.”

“I don’t want to. I just want to return to my body.”

“There are plenty of yogis in Tibet who meditate for decades trying to reach the state you have now achieved.”

“Fuck the yogis, and fuck Tibet.”

“You know what the Buddha said. He said –”

“And fuck the Buddha too.”


“Oh, wait.”

“What is it?”

“I’m back in my body now,” said Milford, and indeed he was, standing here outside the men’s room door with this Walt Whitman holding his arm in his.

“So you’re all right now?” said Walt Whitman.

“I wouldn’t say I’m all right, but I’m better,” Milford’s voice said. “Can we go over to the bar now?”


“I feel strange.”

“Oh, now you feel strange?”

“I mean strange in a different way. I just remembered those mushrooms I ate.”

“Oh, the mushrooms.”

“Yes, I think they are beginning to take effect.”

“Lucky you.”

“I have to get to my lady friend before they take effect.”

“And then what?”

“Then what I don’t know.”

“I’m starting to like you, Renfield. Let’s go.”

And off they forged, arm in arm, through the laughing and shouting drunk people, through the thick smoke and the loud jukebox music, to the bar, and to Milford’s so-called friends.

“Hi, Polly,” said Milford, forcing the words out of his mouth in her direction. “I’m back.”

Back, back, the word echoed through the hidden corridors of Milford’s brain.

Polly, who had apparently been deep in conversation with Bubbles and Addison, turned to Milford.

“What did you say?”

“I said I’m back,” oozed the words from Milford’s mouth.

“You went somewhere?”

“Ha ha,” boomed Walt Whitman, heartily. “Ha ha, I say! How divinely risible!”

Risible, risible, the word echoed through the dark courtyards behind the hidden corridors of Milford’s brain. Will my humiliations never cease? he wondered, and he knew the answer was no, no…

{Please go here to read the “adult comix version, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}