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…}

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