Thursday, December 28, 2023

"Never Mind"

At last Milford got his fly buttoned up, and the tiny man called Shorty reached up and tugged on his peacoat’s sleeve.

“Great, now let’s get them ales, pal.”

“Yo, youse two,” said the big guy who had been waiting behind them. He was an enormous bearded fellow with a pipe in his mouth and a hunting cap on his head, wearing a checked flannel shirt and blue jeans with suspenders. “Ain’t yez forgetting something?”

“What would that be, Paul Bunyan?” said Shorty. He still had his thick cigarette in his mouth, and he spoke without removing it.

“You take up both urinals for like fifteen minutes, and now you don’t even flush?”

“Okay, two things, Two Ton Tony,” said the tiny man. “One, my friend here didn’t even pee, so why should he flush?”

“Okay, so he’s off the hook, but what about you, short-change? God knows you pissed a gallon if you pissed a quart.”

“It is true, I did not flush the terlet,” said Shorty, “but that is because who knows what kinda germs is on that handle?”

“So just because the handle’s got germs on it you don’t flush it? That’s why you wash your fucking hands, shrimp. And anyways, there’s a technique. What you do is you depress the handle with the side of your hand with a hammer motion –” the man demonstrated the motion, “and then you only get the cooties on the side, which you then forthwith wash with soap and water.”

“Ah, but you forget, dear Gargantua,” said Shorty, “I am only three feet six inches in heighth, and so the only way I could depress the handle with the side of my hand with a hammering motion would be to leap up and try to hit it on my way down.”

“So why didn’t you do just that?”

“Why did I not do that, you ask?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m asking. Why didn’t you leap up and flush the terlet with the side of your hand in a hammering or chopping motion on your descent.”

“I’ll tell you why I didn’t do it.”

“Go ahead. Why?”

“I didn’t do it because I didn’t feel like jumping up like a idiot and rabbit-punching a terlet handle, that’s why.”

“It’s people like you that make the world a very unpleasant place,” said the big man, after a pause.

“Oh, fuck off, ya big bum. You were in such a hurry to use the pisser, why are you standing here jabbering?”

“Y’know, something, half-pint, you are lucky you are only three foot six.”

“Oh, yeah, why? ‘Cause if I was taller you would take a swing at me? Well, go ahead, tough guy, give it a try. I dare you.”

“Wait a minute,” said Milford at last, pushing the words out of his mouth as if they were made of great wads of soggy cotton. “Look, here.”

He reached over Shorty’s head and depressed the handle of the urinal the little fellow had used. A thin trickle of grey water came from a small black hole in the stained and cracked porcelain and weakly coursed down toward the swampy puddle at the base of the urinal, with its detritus of cigarette-and-cigar butts and wads of chewing gum.

“There,” said Milford. “I flushed it.”

“Okay, then,” said the big man. “That’s all I asked. At least you are a gentleman, sir.”

“Thank you,” said Milford.

“Unlike some people I could mention,” said the big man.

“Keep it up, pal,” said the little guy. “Just keep it up. ‘Cause you are just about one cooze-hair away from getting my fist up your fat ass.”

“Look, just get out of my way,” said the big man. “I’m about to piss myself.”

“Bet it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Hey, sir,” said Milford to Shorty, touching his shoulder, “can we just go now?”

“Okay,” said the little man. “But only ‘cause you asked me. But you, King Kong,” he pointed his tiny index finger up at the big man, “you watch your step around me. ‘Cause you don’t know how close you just came to getting your balls bit off and spat back in your stupid face.”

“Aw, scram, willya, and let me take a slash.”

“Sure, I’ll scram, but only because my friend here ast me to.” He reached up again and grabbed Milford’s wrist. “Come on, pal, it stinks around here. Pull me up onto your shoulders, we’ll make better time.”


“Just swing me up onto your shoulders, I don’t weigh much.”

“I feel weird doing that.”

“I feel weird every second of my life, now pull me up.”

“Oh, all right,” said Milford, and with surprising lack of difficulty he lifted his wrist up, the little fellow deftly swung his childlike legs on either side of Milford’s neck, and then placed his hands firmly on Milford’s collarbone.

“Okay, let’s go,” said the little man, and Milford began to forge through the monstrous milling mob toward the door he had come in through.

“No, not that way,” said the little guy. “Bear to the left.”

“But I want to get out of here,” said Milford.

“We’ll get out of here. Now bear to the left.” He guided Milford with his legs, as if he were a horse. “Outa our way, you rumdums,” he yelled at the thronging men, “comin’ through!”

“Where are we going?” said Milford.

“To get them ales,” said the tiny man on Milford’s shoulders. “Now go through this door here.”

Sure enough there was a door there, to the right of the toilet stalls.

“This door?” said Milford.

“That door. Open it up.”

“Wait. We forgot to wash our hands.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, do you really want to go back and wash your hands? Do you know how long that could take?”

“Possibly a long time?”

“Possibly a very long time. Like if this was a novel it might take us three more chapters just to make it back to this door is how long it might take, even longer, I don’t know. Maybe never. You really want to take that chance, just to wash your hands?”

“It just seems so unsanitary.”

“Sanitariness is overrated. You think the cavemen were sanitary? You think they washed their hands every time they pissed?”

“I don’t know.”

“I got news for you, they didn’t. Now open the fucking door.”


Milford opened the door and saw a dimly lit narrow corridor, extending into darkness.

“Oh, no,” he said.

“Now what?”

“I’m afraid,” said Milford. “I just want to go back out the way I came in.”

“You’re hurting my feelings, buddy,” said the little man. “Because at least where I come from, way I was raised, a man offers to buy you a glass of ale and you refuse it that is the gravest insult. Possibly even more so than impugning the honor of one’s mother, or God forbid, your sister. What did you say your name was?”

“I don’t think I said, but my name is Milford.”

“Like your mother.”

“Yes, she’s Mrs. Milford, but I just go by Milford.”

“So your name is Milford Milford?”

“No,” said Milford, after a great sigh that almost dislodged the little fellow from his shoulders. “My name is Marion Milford. But I prefer to be called just Milford.”

“And I don’t blame you one bit. You remember my sobriquet?”

“Um, Short Stuff?”

“Close. Shorty. Which ain’t my real name either but it’s what I go by. So just call me Shorty because I don’t like my real name either, which is never mind.”


“You ain’t gonna ask what my real name is?”

“I wasn’t planning to.”

“Go ahead, ask.”

“Okay, what’s your real name?”

“My name is Never Mind.”

“Your name is Never Mind?”


“That’s very strange.”

“I’m fucking with you.”


“My name is Odo.”


“Odo Guggenheim.”


“Now do you know why I don’t mind going by Shorty?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“We all got our crosses to bear, my friend. Like you’re bearing me right now. Now you gonna go down that corridor like a man, Tilford? If not you can just set me down right here and I’ll go all by myself. It’s your choice. And to tell the truth at this point I don’t even give a fuck if you’re gonna be such a pussy about it. Jesus Christ.”

“But, look, I just remembered I’m supposed to be having a drink with Louisa May Alcott.”

“One glass of ale,” said the tiny man into Milford’s right ear. “One quick one, and then you can go off to have your drink with Lou Alcott. Believe me, she’s not going to miss you for the time it takes you to down one lousy short ale.”

“Well –”

The tiny man dug his little heels into Milford’s ribs.

“Great, then let’s go,” he said. 

And Milford headed into the narrow dim corridor, with the tiny man on his shoulders.

Milford heard the door close behind him, and the babble of the monstrous men in the POINTERS room became muffled and distant, and the corridor grew darker.

“Just go straight down this hallway,” said Shorty, his cigarette dropping its ash down the front of Milford’s peacoat. “Nothing to be afraid of, buddy. Nothing at all.”

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

Thursday, December 21, 2023



Milford set to unfastening the sturdy stamped-brass buttons of the fly of his dungarees (he preferred the “authenticity” of button flies to zippers), but unfortunately his fingers still felt like living uncooked sausages, as his alleged organ of masculinity continued to pulse and throb unremittingly.

“Oh, damn,” he said. “Oh, damn, and damn again.”

And continuing silently as he still struggled with the top button below his belt, Yes, I am damned, damned not once or even just twice, or thrice, but no, each second of my absurd existence, and if I ever manage to get out of this place the first thing I will do is to try to hail a cab, and I shall ask the driver to take me up to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. I will tip him handsomely, explaining that I only wish to take a nice brisk midnight stroll in the snowstorm on the bridge, looking out at the vague twinkling lights of the mighty city, and he will say, “Thanks, buddy, have a nice walk,” knowing full well what I intend to do and not giving a shit which is to climb over the rail and throw myself into the cold river clogged with ice floes and thus put an end to this nightmare of an existence once and for all…

“Hey, pal, you need some help with them buttons?”

This was a tiny man standing at the urinal to Milford’s right. He wore a leather-billed cap of faded blue and in his mouth was a thick cigarette.

“What?” said Milford.

“I said you need any help with them buttons, ‘cause I see ya strugglin’ there.”

“What? No. I don’t need any help.”

“You look like you need help.”

The top of the little man’s cap only came up as high as Milford’s hip, and Milford himself was not even quite medium height.

“I don’t need help.”

“Look, on account of my deprivation in the heighth department I could not help but notice your difficulty. I meant no disrespect.”

“I don’t need or want help, but thank you for offering.”

“Suit yourself, pal.”

The man had been urinating through all this, Milford could tell because of the hissing and splashing sound, even if he kept his eyes steadfastly away from looking at the source of the sound.

At last he got one button free, and now he set to work on the next one. Damn his uncoöperative fingers! And damn these buttons. If he ever made it home alive he would donate all his trousers to Goodwill and specifically ask his mother to take him shopping for pants with zippers!

“Ah, shit,” said the little man. “Ah shit. Ain’t nothin’ like a good whiz, is there?”

Milford got the second button undone. One more should do the trick.

“I got a bad habit,” the little man went on. “I like to sit at the bar and drink ale, but what I don’t like is to get up and go to the gents, on accounta that takes away from the time I could be drinkin’ ale, so what I always do, I wait until I’ve had like a baker’s dozen glasses, until my bladder is like to burst right there at the bar and I uncontrollably piss meself, but just before that can happen, and only just right before, I finally reluctantly climb down from my stool and head for the jakes, and then when I get here it’s like this, and I’m peein’ for a good ten minutes straight like a draft horse. By the way, wow. I said wow, buddy. Didn’t you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you,” said Milford, who had finally unbuttoned that third button and freed what might be called his manhood, were he a man and not what he was, which was what? What his mother called him, a pathetic excuse for a specimen of a man and a disgrace to both proud family lines.

“I mean, Jesus, pal, did you just eat an ounce of Spanish fly, or what? ‘Cause that is some boner you got goin’ on there.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but, no, I did not eat an ounce of Spanish fly, but I did eat a handful of strange mushrooms and I think that they are the cause of this, um, this –”

“So it ain’t just your way of saying you wanta be friendly.”

“No! It was these mushrooms, and then I met this woman here –”

“Who? Maybe I know her.”

“She said she was Louisa May Alcott.”

“Oh, Lou. Well, she is a hot tamale, that Lou. You gonna give her the old you-know-what?”

“Listen, sir, I wish you would leave me alone. All I want to do is to, to make this go away.”

“So you gonna burp the worm or should I say boa constrictor right here, standing at the pisser?”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. We were walking down the corridor –”

“You and Lou?”

“Yes, Miss Alcott and I, and I was having the utmost difficulty walking –”

“I can see why.”

“– and I saw the “POINTERS” sign and on impulse I told her I had to come in here, and now I’m beginning to regret doing so.”

“Y’know the Bible says it’s a sin to spill your seed on the ground. Or in a urinal.”

“I don’t care about the Bible, but now I feel so self-conscious I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Did you try thinking about baseball?”

“No. I don’t care about baseball.”

“Try to think about your mother.”

“Oh, God, no, I can’t bear to think about my mother.”


“But I can’t stand my mother.”

“All the better. Think about her. What’s her name?”

“Mrs. Milford.”

“Is that what you call her? Mrs. Milford?”

“No, I call her Mother.”

“Tell me about her.”

“She is a harridan, a harpy, a soul destroyer, and all she does is criticize me. And all I want is for her to hurry up and have a fatal heart attack so I can have all her money and the house, but knowing her she will outlive me just to spite me.”

“Hey, buddy, guess what?”


At last the little man had stopped urinating, and now he was buttoning up his own fly.

“Take a look at your johnson.”

Milford looked down, and at last his erection had subsided.

“Oh,” he said. “Thank God!”

“Don’t thank God,” said the little man. “Thank your mother. Go on, put that thing away unless you got to pee.”

“No, I don’t think I have to pee, actually.”

“Then pack it away and button it up.”

“I have to thank you, sir.”

“They call me Shorty,” said the man. “On accounta my heighth. Or lack thereof.”

“Thank you, Shorty.”

“Hey, you two,” said a voice behind them, “Mutt and Jeff, whyn’tcha stop your yapping and get a room if you’re done with them urinals.”

“Ah, wait your turn, ya big bum,” said Shorty over his shoulder. And he turned to Milford. “Come on, fella, I’ll buy you a glass of ale.”

Milford was on the verge of saying he didn’t drink, but he let it go. What did it matter? What did anything matter? First he must get out of this men’s room, and then let the Devil or God himself take the hindmost.

Shorty waited, seemingly patiently, smoking his fat cigarette and watching as Milford struggled again with the sturdy stamped-brass buttons of his fly.

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

Thursday, December 14, 2023



Inside the “POINTERS” room was a mass of milling men who looked like monsters or perhaps they were monsters who looked like men, all of them smoking, chatting and laughing, and as the door closed itself behind Milford they all turned as one to stare at him, and a great silence fell.

One of them came up to him through the miasma of burnt tobacco and marijuana, of urine and fecal gases, a small man with a big cigar and a big beard and a string necktie and cowboy hat.

“Ain’t seen you in here before, buddy. What’s your moniker?”

“Milford,” said Milford.

“That’s quite a hog’s leg you got sprouting under your peacoat there, Gilbert.”

“My name is Milford, not Gilbert.”

“Don’t change the subject. What’s up with that throbbing bulge? You looking for action?”

Milford gripped the hems of his peacoat with both hands, pulling them down, and leaning forward as he did so, trying in vain to hide the thing that seemed likely to burst from his dungarees.

“Well, you should be glad to know that we are not puritans hereabouts,” said the little man. “I’m sure there are a few fellas in here that could help you out, free, gratis and for nothing.”

“What’s his name?” said another man who loomed up out of the mob. He was big and fat, and like the little man he wore an old-fashioned suit, but with a foulard tie and a top hat, and with a cigarette in a black holder sticking out of his teeth.

“Says his name’s Bilford, and he’s looking for some easy action.”

“Hey, Bilford,” said the big fat guy, “you can pull that peacoat down all you want, but you still ain’t hiding what you got down there. And why hide it? Be proud, boy!”

“Look,” said Milford, “I’m only going to say this once, or rather, once more. My name is Milford.”

“Christ, pal, take it easy,” said the fat man.

“Yeah, jeeze,” said the little man. “We’re only trying to be friendly here, guy.”

“I’m just tired of everybody not getting my name right,” said Milford.

Another man emerged, this one more of medium height, but a little fat, with a pipe in his hand and a derby cocked back on his head.

“You know, fella,” said this new guy, “just my two cents, but what you said right there, that might just say more about you than about your interlocutors.”

“Oh, fuck off,” said Milford. “Look, all I want is to go to the bathroom.”

“Oh, go to the bathroom,” said the little man. “Is that what they’re calling it now?”

“That ain’t what they called it in my day,” said the big man.

“Nor in mine,” said the medium fat guy. “We used to call it terlet trottin’!”

“Outhouse parties is what we called ‘em back in Nebrasky,” said the little guy.

“Gentlemen’s room jollies back when I was a lad,” said the big fat guy.

The three men all guffawed, and the rest of the men in the room had resumed their laughing and shouting.

“Look,” said Milford, “please don’t take this personally, but I wish you would all just get out of my way.”

“Wow,” said the little man.

“Yeah, wow,” said the big guy.

“Wow indeed,” said the medium guy. “Excuse us for breathing.”

“I need to use one of the stalls,” said Milford.

“Well, I’m sorry,” said the little guy. “Pilford, or whatever your name is. But both stalls are occupied. One by Mr. Hawthorne and one by Mr. Cooper, and if I know them guys you’re gonna have to wait a while.”

“Yeah,” said the medium guy. “I seen Hawthorne bring his copy of The Faerie Queene in there with him, and Cooper had the whole of last Sunday’s Federal-Democrat with him, and I know for a fact he likes to do the crossword puzzle in there.”

“The Times puzzle is a lot more challenging,” said the little man.

“He don’t like the Times,” said the medium guy. “On accounta the Times don’t got funnies.”

“He likes the funnies,” said the big fat guy. “Says they’re the great new modern art form.”

“All right,” said Milford, “look, I’ll just use a urinal then, okay? Is that all right?”

“Of course it’s all right,” said the little man. “’Ceptin’ –” he glanced over his shoulder, “they’s both occupied as well at present.”

For the second time that night, but he felt it wouldn’t be the last, Milford began to sob, starting slowly with steady shallow gasps which quickly became more frequent and heavy, and then he was shaking, tears streaming from his eyes, still gripping the hems of his peacoat in both hands, his so-called organ of masculinity still obliviously engorged.

“Jeeze, fella,” said the little man.

“Yeah, jeeze,” said the medium man.

“Fuckin' hell,” said the big fat man. “Get a grip on yourself, kid.”

“Yeah,” said the little guy, “and if he don’t get a grip on hisself they’s plenty others in here will, ha ha.”

“Aw, leave the lad alone,” said the medium guy. “C’mere, Hereford, I’ll help ya out.”

The medium fat guy grabbed Milford’s arm and pulled him past the other two and through the throng of other monstrous men to where there were two urinals against a smoke-stained tile wall, both of them occupied, but at least there didn’t seem to be a queue.

“Now you just wait right here, young fella,” said the medium fat guy. “My name’s Birkenstock. Lucullus P. Birkenstock. Don’t suppose that name means nothing to you.”

“No,” gasped Milford, trying to hold back his tears and his gasping sobs. “I’m sorry. Should I know who you are?”

“Don’t know why you should, young fella. Don’t blame you, neither. Yes, I have accepted my lot of eternal obscurity. But, among those who know, I mean, the true cognoscenti, I am recognized as one of the top ten authors in American literature. Maybe top twenty, whatever.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not as well read as I should be.”

“You’re excused, my boy, because after all my masterwork received only a modest printing, and only the one printing, of twenty-five copies, but each one was signed personally by yours truly.”

“So it was a limited edition.”

“Yes, you might say that. Would you like to see a copy?”


The man reached into his old-fashioned suit and brought out a small leather-bound book.

“Here ya go, pal. Take a dekko.”

Milford at last let go of the hems of his peacoat, and took the little book. The cover was blank. He opened it, and inside was only one blank page, at the top of which was handwritten, Best regards, Lucullus P. Birkenstock. Milford turned the page and the reverse side was completely blank.

“This is it?” said Milford. “One page, blank?”

“Technically two pages,” said the man, “and not completely blank. You see my inscription there.”


“What do you think?”

“I think you’re insane.”

“And you’re not the first to think that, Milborn. But what you see is the distillation of what was once a twelve-hundred page three-volume novel, a great sprawling but finely-etched epic of American life, limned in prose at once muscular and poetic, but I kept boiling it down, boiling it down, to the absolute essential, not a wasted word, yes sir, it took me nigh on to fifteen years of hard labor and midnight lucubrations, all the while I was working as a scribe in a dockside counting house, but at last I got it down to its pure refined core of beauty, and that’s what you hold in your meat hooks right there.”

“Okay,” said Milford. “That’s great, Mister, uh –”

“Lucullus P. Birkenstock, just like it says there on the first page, which also serves as the frontispiece you might say. But call me Lucullus.”

“Well, this is great, Lucullus,” said Milford. “Here.” And he closed the book and proffered it to Lucullus P. Birkenstock.

“You can keep it,” said the man.

“I couldn’t,” said Milford. “Not if there were only twenty-five copies printed.”

“I still got a few other author’s copies. Go ahead, keep it.”

“But it must be very valuable.”

“What’s money? You gonna take all your money with you when you croak? The answer to that is no, you ain’t going to.”

“Well, only if you insist.”

“I insist.”

“Okay,” said Milford, “thank you, Mister –”


“Thanks, Lucullus.”

“Keep it safe now. Stick it in the pocket of your peacoat.”

“Okay, I will,” said Milford, and he shoved the little book into the left-hand pocket of his coat.

“All right, looks like you got a pisser free there, lad, better grab it before one of these other guys do.”

True enough a burly fellow had just depressed the flush handle of one of the two urinals.

“Well, thanks, again, Lucullus,” said Milford.

“Don’t mention it, and look, after you’ve had time to read my book, I’d love to hear your thoughts.”


“I mean, no pressure, but when you get time.”


“It shouldn’t take you long. Most people say they can read it in one sitting.”


“Now go,” said Lucullus P. Birkenstock. “Do what you got to do.”

“All right,” said Milford, and he stepped forward to the urinal. 

Now came the hard part.

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

Thursday, December 7, 2023


“Your cheek feels so warm,” said Lou, “and rather moist as well. I hope you’re not feeling ill.”

“Um, uh,” said Milford, realizing that his erection was growing exponentially with each passing moment, not that he knew what exponentially meant.

“Perhaps it is all the alcohol and marijuana and hashish and the Indians’ sacred mushrooms you said you consumed this evening?”

“Um, uh,” repeated Milford.

“You boys, always trying to experience so much.”

Milford wished she would take her hand away from his cheek, and he also wished she wouldn’t.

“I, uh, I –”

“Well, no matter, shall we go and have that little drink now?”

“Okay,” Milford managed to say.

“Come then.” At last she took her hand away from his cheek, flicking away a bead of his sweat, and she stepped to his side and put her arm in his. “Shall we go to the back room? It’s slightly more intime there, and also they have a swell little combo you might like, or is ‘dig’ the au courant term?”

She tugged on his arm.

“Wait,” said Milford.

“What ever for?”

“Listen, Miss –”

“Oh do call me Lou.”

“Listen, Lou, this is very difficult for me to say –”

He took a drag of his Husky Boy but now it tasted of burnt toast and ashes, and he let the cigarette fall to the floor.

“Oh, dear,” said Lou. “I think I know what you’re going to say.”

“You do?”

“Yes, I should have known, when you said that Walt brought you in here.”

“Known what?”

“That you are a catamite. But, look, Milford, no judgment on my part, I assure you.”

“But I am not a catamite.”

“There’s no shame in it, dear boy. You can’t help it.”

“But I am not ashamed.”

“As well you shouldn’t be. Many of our finest poets have been aficionados of homosexual lust.”

“But I am not homosexual.”

“Then what is the problem?”

“There’s no problem,” lied Milford.

“Great, let’s shake a leg then.”

“Shake a leg?”

“Yes, let’s go grab a small table and have a nice little chinwag. I want to hear all about your hopes and dreams.”

“Okay, there is one little problem.”

“You were wounded in the war?”

“What? No, I’ve never been in a war. Except the internal kind.”

“Perhaps like Mr. James you had a bicycle accident.”

“No, it’s not that either.”

“Then let’s go, buddy.”

She tugged on his arm again.

“Wait, please, Miss –”

“Lou. Just Lou, tout simplement, it’s what all my chums call me.”

“Listen, Lou, I’m not sure if I can walk.”

“What? An attack of hysterical paralysis?”

“No, it’s just –”

Without meaning to, Milford glanced down the front of his torso, just to see if the thing still growing between his legs was pushing up visibly against the hems of his peacoat, and, yes, he was sure that it was, and so he bent forward in an involuntary attempt to disguise the protuberance.

“Now what’s the matter?” said Louisa May Alcott. “Do you have a stomach cramp?”


“An attack of colitis?”


“Oh, dear, do you know what I think it is? You’re simply suffering heatstroke wearing that heavy peacoat in this crowded stuffy place. Here, let me help you.”

She came around to the front of Milford, and, putting her Lucky Strike between her lips, she began to unbutton Milford’s coat.

“Oh, no,” he said.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Don’t be foolish. Believe me, I as a woman know that sometimes we needs must sacrifice fashion for comfort. Here we go, just one more button, and there we are.” She took the cigarette from her mouth, and then said, “Oh. Oh my. Oh my indeed.”

“I’m sorry,” said Milford. “I am so embarrassed.”

“Is that for me?”
“I, uh, well –”

“Or is it rather a policeman’s nightstick you keep down your trousers in case you are accosted by thugs on the street.”

“Um, no –”

“I suppose I should be flattered.”

“I will go now.”

“You will not.”

“I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“Oh, I’m sure you didn’t.”

“This has never happened to me before.”

“I somehow doubt that. I think I should rebutton your coat.”

“Let me do it.”

“No, I quite insist. After all, it was my fault, I suppose, for standing so close to you, and for caressing your boyish cheek.”

She put her Lucky Strike back in her lips and began to button up his coat, starting from the top. When she had buttoned the last button she removed her cigarette and cocked her head, examining.

“Only just barely apparent now I should say, unless you’re looking for it. Do you think you can walk?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, we can’t just stand here all night.”

“I don’t mind,” said Milford.

“Well, I do. Look, it might be best if you do bend forward just a teeny bit.”


Milford bent forward.

“Not too much. You look like Quasimodo all doubled over like that, and you’ll only draw more attention to yourself.”

Milford straightened up slightly.

“Right,” she said. “That will have to do. Now take my arm.”

She came around to his side, and as Milford made no move to take her arm, she took his.

“Are you ready?” she said.

“I suppose I’m as ready as I’m likely to be in the near future.”

“Very well,” she said. “Do you think you can take a step.”

“A small step maybe.”

“All right. I shall guide you.”

She tugged on his arm, and awkwardly they moved away from the cigarette machine, and past the jukebox, shuffling slowly.

“Can’t you walk any faster than that?” she whispered into his ear.

“Possibly,” said Milford.

“Because you’ll only invite more scrutiny by dragging along like a hundred-year-old man on the verge of death.”

“I’m trying.”

“Do try harder, dear Milford.”

He tried harder, but the very word harder made him feel harder down there.

Why must life always be so hard? he thought, as he limped along, Lou’s arm in his, as she led him toward a narrow hallway at the rear of the barroom. And then he thought, I must not think the word hard. I must think of something else. But of what? There was nothing else, only this monstrous appendage pulsing and seemingly still growing in his dungarees. Perhaps it would stop growing if she would let go of his arm, but if she did let go, he felt as if he would fall backwards onto the sawdust-and-cigarette-strewn floorboards, immobilized like a turtle on its back, and then horrifyingly he felt as if his entire being was now this growing pulsating thing.

“Are you quite all right?” asked Lou’s kind voice.

“Yes,” Milford’s voice said. “I’ll be all right.”

But he was not all right.

He had become a gigantic male organ of procreation and micturition. Yes, Gregor Samsa had nothing on him. And the horror of it all was that he seemed yet to be growing, pulsing and throbbing, and he knew the next stage would be the explosion of his head, and all the pent-up frustration of his life would be released and with it his self, soon to be splattered up into the vast reaches of interstellar space.

He saw a door to his left and on it was a sign with a picture of a dog and the word POINTERS.

“Excuse me,” said Milford, “but I have to go in here.”

“Oh,” said Lou. “I see. Well, when you’re finished just come on back to the back room and find me. We have ever so much to talk about.”


“Shall I order you a drink?”


“What would you like?”

“I don’t care. Whatever you’re having.”

“Splendid. Sherry it is then!”

Without another word Milford pushed open the door and went in before he could erupt like a human Mount Vesuvius.

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