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…}

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