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…}

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