Thursday, January 25, 2024

“A Man Called Slacks”

 “Ain’t seen you in here before, son,” said a voice.

Was it the voice in his head again? Why must it torment him so?

“Go away!” yelped Milford.

“What?” said the voice, and suddenly Milford realized that the voice came not from within him but from without, specifically from his left, and he turned and saw a very thin man sitting on a barstool in a worn-out black frock coat and a crushed stovepipe hat.

“Oh, I’m very sorry,” said Milford. “I thought yours was a voice in my head.”

“I see,” said the man. His face was pale and unshaven and his eyes were hollow. “So may I take it that you suffer from lunacy?”

“Perhaps, but, you see I foolishly ate some mushrooms not long ago, and so now I am hearing voices.”

“Ah, mushrooms! Well, then, unbodied voices are to expected! Tell me, if it’s not too personal, have you had visual as well as auditory hallucinations?”

“Yes, when I first came in here a few minutes ago it seemed to me that all the people in here were made of vegetative matter.”

“I cured him of that,” butted in Shorty, from Milford’s right. “Got him to close his eyes and stare deeply into the abyss of existence and non-existence for a minute, and then when he opened his eyes again, he was all good, wasn’t you, Bumstead?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say I was ‘all’ good,” said Milford.

“But better,” said Shorty.

“Okay, yes, I was better,” said Milford.

“My name is Caesar Augustus McQuaid,” said the thin man, and he proffered a thin long hand to be shaken. “Put ‘er there, Bumstead.”

Milford looked at the hand. He didn’t want to shake it. It looked like one of the hands of his great-uncle Woolford Milford as he lay in his white velvet cushioned coffin, another victim of the bibulousness that ran rampant through both sides of his family. The nine-year-old Milford had reached in and curiously pressed a finger on the flesh of the white thin bony hand of his dead great uncle and it had felt cold and yet slightly spongey, and that night he experienced nightmares which had recurred regularly ever since.

“Take the man’s hand,” said Shorty. “Don’t be a asshole, Grumley.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Milford, and he took the man’s hand, and the hand squeezed his, hard. “Ow,” said Milford.

“Very pleased to meet you,” said the man, continuing to squeeze Milford’s hand in his, in what the authors of the mysteries Milford’s mother read (and which Milford himself sometimes surreptitiously read, in attempts to forget his life, albeit briefly) would call a vise-like grip.

“Ow,” said Milford again.

“Can you feel the supernal strength of my hand?” said the man.

“Ow, yes, ow,” said Milford.

“Not bad for a skinny guy, huh?”

“No, not bad, now will you let my own hand go? Ow.”

“Call me Slacks. My friends call me Slacks.”

“Okay, Slacks, now let my hand go, please, you’re hurting me.”

“Pain is good. It reminds you that you exist, even if you’re not alive in any profound sense.”

“I don’t care, now let go of my hand.”

“Say please. Don’t be rude.”

“Please let go of my hand.”

“Please let go of my hand, Slacks.”


“You have to say, ‘Please let go of my hand, Slacks.’”

“Okay, please let go of my hand, Slacks.”

“Because my friends call me Slacks, and I’d like to think we could be friends.”

“Please let go of my hand, Slacks, Jesus Christ!”

At last the man released Milford’s hand, and Milford raised his own now-paralyzed hand and stared at it, trying to will its fingers to move.

“You say your name is Rumpstead?”

“No,” said Milford, blowing on his hand, feeling the blood slowly return to its veins. “My name is Milford, actually, not that I expect you to remember it.”

“Of course I’ll remember it, Milbourne.”

“His name ain’t Milbourne, Slacks,” Shorty butted in again. “It’s Milbert.”

“Sorry,” said Slacks. “Milfort it is then. You’re probably wondering how I acquired such strength in my grip.”

“Not really,” said Milford, patting his pockets in search of cigarettes.

“What I do is I squeeze tennis a tennis ball for an hour each day. You should try it.”


“So that you can have a manly grip like mine.”

“Millstone don’t care about shit like that,” said Shorty. “He’s a poet.”

“Ah, I thought so,” said the man called Slacks. “As soon as I saw that peacoat and that newsboy’s cap, not to mention the hearty ribbed fisherman’s sweater, the dungarees, and, yes, the workman’s brogans, I said to myself, here is a poet!”

Milford found the cigarettes in his inside peacoat pocket and brought them out.

“Might I have one of those Husky Boys.”

Milford offered him the pack and the man fingered out a  cigarette.

“I’ll take one of them Husky Boys too if you can spare it, Milvern,” said Shorty.

Milford turned and offered the pack to Shorty, and Shorty’s stubby fingers pulled one out.

Milford finally took out a cigarette for himself. Maybe it would help, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. At least not yet. He was still young after all, and cancer and emphysema might be years away in the future.

“Got a light?” said Slacks.

Milford put away the pack of Husky Boys, and with only minor difficulties he found his lighter, brought it out, and after six or seven clicks he got it to produce a flame, and he ignited the cigarette in the thin lips of Slacks and the one in the more protuberant lips of Shorty, and at last the one in his own relatively normal-sized lips.

“Ah,” said Slacks, “tobacco, ale, good fellowship. For what more can one ask? Tell me about your poetry, Quilford.”

“Pardon me?”

Milford had been occupied with putting his lighter safely away in right-hand pocket of his dungarees.

“Your poetry." said the thin man. "I’m guessing you are a lyric poet.”

“I am a bad poet.”

“Ha ha. You jest.”

“No, I’m quite serious.”

“False modesty will get you nowhere, Pequod.”

“My name is Milford, and my modesty is not false. I have never written a decent line of poetry in my life.”

“Okay, fine, be like that. But I look at you, Rillford, and behind those milk-bottle glasses of yours I see the eyes of a great poet.”

“I’m afraid your own eyes deceive you,” said Milford.

“Spoken like a true poet. Finish that glass of ale and I shall buy you another.”

“I’ll take one too, Slacks,” said Shorty, “long as you’re buying.”

Milford picked up his stubby glass, put it to his lips, and poured its remaining contents into his mouth. Swallowing, he thought of the AA meeting he would go to tomorrow, if he were still alive tomorrow. What a tale he would tell to those boring fools in the basement of Old Saint Pat’s!

He laid the empty glass on the bar. He must get out of here.

“Good lad,” said the man called Slacks, and he quickly lifted the stubby glass in front of him and sucked the inch of yellow liquid in it into his own mouth. “I say, Joe!” he called to the fat bartender, putting his emptied glass on the bar top and shoving it forward. “Three more of the same over here!”

“Wait,” said Milford. “I don’t want one.”

“Why the fuck not?”

“Because I am an alcoholic, for one thing, because I am bored for another, because I am tired of no one remembering my name even one second after I’ve told them my name, which is Milford, not Rillford, or Milthorne, or Millstone, or Milfort, or Milbert, or Milbourne –”

“Jeeze,” said Slacks.

“Yeah, jeeze,” said Shorty, “lighten up, Milborg, we’re all trying just to have a civilized good time here.”

“Also,” said Milford, “I fear that if I stay here at this bar any longer I will lose my mind.”

“You got to face those kinds of fears,” said Slacks.

“Yeah, Slacks is right, Millstone,” said Shorty. “You don’t get nowhere by running away from your fears. You got to meet ‘em head on.”

“Crush them,” said Slacks.

“’Cause no matter where you go, you ain’t gonna escape yourself,” said Shorty.

“Nor yourselves, if’n you be one of them what they call schizos,” said Slacks.

“Three ales,” said the fat bartender, laying down three more of the stubby glasses. “Who’s buying.”

“That’s all right,” said Slacks, to Milford. “I insist.”

“What?” said Milford.

“You don’t have to buy this round.”

“I didn’t offer to.”

“I really insist.”

“I’m waiting,” said the bartender. “I ain’t got all night and I got other customers.”

“Just hold on a second here, Joe,” said Slacks. “Really, Quilboyne, you needn’t get this round. You can have the next shout.”

“Fifteen cent,” said the bartender.

“Take it out of there, Joe,” said Shorty, tapping the pile of bills and change in front of Milford.

The bartender picked up a dime and a nickel and went away.

“Wow, thanks, Quillman,” said Slacks. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I didn’t do anything,” said Milford. “And you know what? I’m leaving.”

“You can’t leave. You have a full glass of ale there.”

“You can have it.”

“I’ll take it,” said Shorty.

“How about if we share it,” said Slacks.

“Okay,” said Shorty. “That’s fair. But I get the first half, ‘cause I brung Milburton in here, and also so’s I don’t got to drink your backwash, no offense.”

“How do I get out of here?” said Milford.

“That’s a very good question,” said Slacks.

“Please answer it.”

“It depends on what you mean by out of here.”

“I just want to get out of this barroom.”

“Don’t we all?”

“Oh, Christ,” said Milford.

“You can go out the way we come in,” said Shorty, “through that door back there and back through that long dark corridor and back into the Pointers room and out the door there.”

“Oh, God,” said Milford. “Isn’t there a quicker way out?”

“Sure, just go down beyond the end of the bar there to the right and you’ll see a door that’s got a electric EXIT sign over it. Just go through that door.”

“Oh, thank God.”

“Don’t leave, Milliburton,” said Slacks, in a half-hearted sounding voice.

“He’s got a hot date with Lou Alcott,” said Shorty.

“That bitch?” said Slacks. “Ain’t she a dyke?”

“Apparently not,” said Shorty. “Or at least not a hunnert percent. Anyways, you know what these young bucks are like. They just want to get they ends wet and it don’t matter to them if a frail is a dyke or not.”

“Yeah,” said Slacks. “I remember them wild days of young manhood. Vaguely, but I remember. And I got my share. Maybe more than my share.”

“How many, Slacks?” said Shorty.

“Oh, I’d say at least a baker’s dozen, maybe nigh on to nineteen or twenty if you’re counting the stray dark alley gobbler or Baltimore handshake.”

“God love ya,” said Shorty.

“How many you reckon you’ve had, Shorty?” asked Slacks, politely.

“Seven hunnert and twenty-two, and that ain’t counting stray gobblers and Baltimore handshakes.”

“Holy shit.”

“What can I say, Slacks. Chicks dig me.”

“I should say so!”

“They think I’m cute. I just burrow on in there like a little puppy dog and they love it.”

“I’m sure they do, Shorty, I warrant they do. How many you had, Burgoyne?”

“What?” said Milford.

“How many babes you shared the act of darkness with?”

“I’m leaving now,” said Milford.

“So the answer is none?”

“Goodbye,” said Milford.

“Well, all I can do is wish you good luck, Quillman, and if I know Miss Louisa May Alcott, you’re going to need it.”

“Milford,” said Milford.

“Say what?”

“My name is Milford.”

“I know it is. Put ‘er there, Gilford,” said Slacks, and he offered his long thin hand again. Milford ignored it. He turned to Shorty.

“Thank you for talking me back from the abyss,” he said.

“Don’t mention it, Guilfoyle,” said Shorty. “And I hope you achieve la petite mort with Missy Lou.”

The tiny man offered his tiny pink hand hand, pink and hairless, the only kind of hand he had, and Milford hesitated for just a moment in revulsion, but then took it, gave it a brief shake, pulled his own hand away and turned and moved away from the bar, into the churning mass of shouting and laughing people. He realized as he did so that he was leaving nine dollars and change on the bar, but this was a small price to pay to get out of here, if he got out of here.

Above and through the noise of the barroom a man was still singing, to the accompaniment of a jangling banjo:
Well I went to the river
but I couldn’t get across
singing polly wolly doodle
all the day…

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

Thursday, January 18, 2024


“Go ahead, Buford, get in there,” said Shorty. “You gotta be assertive if you want to get anywhere in this or any other goddam world.”

Milford saw a six-inch space between two men at the bar, and he moved into it, sidewise, with the tiny man still seated on his shoulders.

“Hey, bozo, you’re on my stool,” said Shorty, to a shabby man with a torn hat to the right. “Get off it.”

“I didn’t see your name on it.”

“I been sitting on that stool all night until I got up to take a slash just a couple minutes ago, and now I want it back.”

“Oh, all right, I’ll get up, but only because you’re a midget.”

“Midget is not a term we little people approve of.”

“How about shrimp?”

“We prefer the appellation ‘small people’.”

“Whatever, here’s your stool back, half-pint,” said the shabby man, and he got off the stool, picked up some change off the bar and his beer glass, and walked away.

“Yeah, you better walk away,” Shorty said loudly to the man’s back. “I may be a small person but I’ll still kick your ass.”

The man continued to walk away, into the crowd of shouting and laughing people.

“Ha ha,” said Shorty. “Look at him go, the pansy. Okay, you can let me down now, Stumpford, right on that stool.”

Milford reached up with both hands, taking the tiny fellow by the waist, and lifted him off his shoulders and down to the stool.

“Thanks, buddy, now shove the stool a little closer to the bar for me, will ya?”

It was a backless stool, and obediently Milford took hold of it, and awkwardly brought it closer to the bar. The little man put his forearms on the curved edge of the bar, and his head with its leather-billed blue cap was just above the level of the counter.

“Ah,” he said, “home sweet home.” He raised one small arm. “Hey, Joe!” he yelled at a fat bartender. “Two glasses of your finest house India Pale Ales!”

He turned to Milford. 

“I’m going to let you in on a trade secret,” he said. “We small people get away with murder. Everybody’s afraid to stand up to us, because they don’t want to get the reputation of being a bully and picking on shrimps like me. Someday I’m gonna mouth off at the wrong big guy, and he’s gonna squash me like a bug. You got any money.”


“I said you got any money. Any spondulics. Cash. Bread. The do-re-mi.”

“Um, yes, I suppose I have some money.”

“Lend me a buck.”


“I know I said I’d buy you an ale, but I can’t buy you one if you don’t lend me some money. I’ll take fifty cent if you got it.”

“You mean you don’t have any money?”

“That’s exactly what I mean, but if you lend me some then I’ll have some and I will be able to buy you an ale.”

“But wouldn’t that be just me buying the ale?”

“Not if it’s a loan. Just gimme a dime then, ‘cause a glass of ale here is only a nickel, so that’s one for each of us.”

“So you dragged me all the way back here just so you could get me to buy you a drink.”

“It’s only a ale, and it only costs a nickel for Christ’s sake.”

“But it’s the principle.”

“Fuck your principle. Are you gonna be that cheap, and after I helped you get rid of your raging hard-on by getting you to think about your mother? And when you was hallucinating just now and on the very verge of losing your marbles, who talked you back from the yawning black hole of the abyss?”

It was true, everything the little fellow was saying was true.

“Okay,” said Milford. “I’ll buy you an ale.”

“And yourself one, too.”

“I don’t want one.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

“Two ales,” said the fat bartender, loudly, and putting a short stubby glass filled with foam-topped yellow liquid before each of our heroes. “Put the money on the wood and make the betting good.”

“My father has this round,” said Shorty. “Pay the man, Chumford.”

Sighing (his twelve-thousandth and twenty-first sigh since awakening an eternity ago), Milford brought out his old Boy Scout wallet and opened it. Inside were a few tens and a couple of twenties. He took out a ten and handed it to the bartender, who held it up to the light of an electric chandelier overhead, and then went away.

“You didn’t tell me you was rich,” said Shorty.

“I’m not rich,” said Milford.

“You’re walking around with sixty bucks in your poke, don’t tell me you ain’t rich.”

“Oh, all right, I have a modest family income.”

“How much?”

“I fail to see how that is any of your business.”


“Look, can we just change the subject?”

“Just tell me how much your income is.”

“Well, if you absolutely must know, I have a trust fund for five hundred a month from my late father –”

“Jesus Christ! Half a grand a month? Boy oh boy what I could do with that kind of scratch.”

The bartender was back and he laid some bills and change on the bar-top, fanning out the paper money, and sprinkling the coins on top of it.

“Nine dollars and ninety cent,” said the man.

“Take a buck for yourself, Joe,” said Shorty.

“Hey, thanks, Shorty,” said the bartender. He took a dollar bill and went away.

“Always give the barkeep a good tip first time you come in a bar,” said Shorty. “Unlike stinginess, generosity always pays off in the long run. Speaking of which, be an ace and give me a ten-spot.”


“Ten bucks.”

“I think you’re a sponger.”

“And you would be right in thinking so. Now fork it over.”

“Oh, all right, but only because you helped me with, uh –”

“Your raging hard-on, and your incipient attack of insanity.”

Milford still had the wallet in his hand, so he opened it up.

“Might as well make it a double-sawbuck,” said Shorty.

“You said ten a second ago.”

“Make it twenty, and we’ll call it a deal.”

What difference did it make?


Milford took out a twenty and the little fellow reached up and grabbed it, then folded it up and stuck it in his trousers pocket.

“By the way,” he said, “I’m sorry I didn’t let you take the stool, but you understand that someone my heighth can’t exactly belly up to the bar on his own two feet.”

“I don’t mind standing,” said Milford, and he folded up his wallet and put it away.

“Lookit, Bedford, If you like you can take the stool if I can sit on your lap.”

“No thank you.”

“Just ‘cause you let a little man sit on your lap don’t make you a fairy.”

“I’m sure it doesn’t, but I’d rather stand, thank you.”

“Don’t say I didn’t offer.”

“I won’t.”

“If you do get tired of standing, just let me know.”

“I don’t intend to stay here long enough to get tired of standing.”

“Famous last words again,” said a voice.

“What?” said Milford.

“Whaddaya mean what?” said Shorty. “I didn’t say nothing. For once.”

“Never mind,” said Milford.

Yes, he was still hearing voices. Or a voice. Was it God? Was it Satan? Was it himself?

“Or all of the above,” said the voice.

“And now,” said Shorty, “we drink. Lift your glass, son.”

Milford lifted one of the stubby glasses, and Shorty lifted the other one.

“But before we drink, my friend, we toast. Would you like to propose one?”

“No,” said Milford. “I don’t even want to be here, and, as I said before, several times, I am an alcoholic, and therefore I shouldn’t even drink this ale.”

“Okay, so I shall make a toast.” Shorty cleared his throat, and then pronounced: “To the damned.”

“Okay,” said Milford.

“I ain’t finished,” said Shorty. “To the damned I say. But also to the twice, the thrice, and the quadruple damned, in other words those wretched souls consigned to hell only to find out that beyond that hell lies an infinity of hells that make each succeeding hell look like a madcap weekend in Atlantic City.”

“Um, okay –”

“To the unloved,” said Shorty. “And, yes, to the unloving.”

“Uh -”

“To the ignorant,” Shorty said, “and, yes, to the stupid.”

Shorty paused, but Milford suspected that the tiny man had not yet finished, even though he had already covered a lot of ground.

“Don’t look away,” said Shorty. “Look at me whilst I toast.”

Milford looked down into the small man’s eyes, with reluctance, but he looked into them, bloodshot, bleary, but strangely vibrant, or at least vibrant seeming.

“To those who live but do not live,” said Shorty. “To those who will die as absurdly as they lived.”

He’s talking about me, thought Milford. “Most likely he is,” said that other voice in his head.

“But most of all,” said Shorty, “to us.”

“To us?” said Milford.

“Yes, to us,” said Shorty. “To the immortals.”

“We’re immortal?”

“For the moment we are. And that’s all that matters. Now tilt that glass into your gaping maw, because it’s up the long ladder and down the short rope, to hell with King Billy and God bless the Pope.”

“I’m not Catholic.”

“Neither am I, now drink, my lad, pour the sacred liquid down your throat, and for once in your life, if for only the oncet, be, if not a fucking man, then at least a reasonable facsimile of one.”

“In other words,” said the voice, “like they say in AA, fake it till you make it.”

And for some reason, for a thousand reasons, Milford lifted the glass to his lips and poured the ale into his mouth. He had to admit it tasted good, if only for the moment, and for the moment the moment was all he had.

He laid the glass, now half-empty, on the bar top, and now he became aware of the man singing again, accompanied by a jangling banjo:

Don’t you trust them railroad men,
they’ll drink up your blood like wine,
and don’t you go down to Deep Ellum,
them womens there’ll make you whine…

{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, January 11, 2024


Through the thick swirling smog of smoke Milford marched with the tiny man called Shorty piggyback on his shoulders, through the jostling of men and women who now all seemed to have faces made of the flesh of mushrooms, through the sound of a voice singing:

I’ll say goodbye to Colorado
where I was born and hardly raised…

And suddenly he stopped.

“Why you stopping, Rilford? We’s almost there!”

“These people,” said Milford to the little man whose face loomed down to the side of his, “they are not human.”

“You noticed that, ha ha. That’s ‘cause they’s writers – yarn-spinners, troubadours, hack authors of broadsheets and feuilletons, scribblers of dime novels, and, yes, poets just like yourself!”

“No, I don’t mean they’re writers, I mean they are not human beings. They are like some horrible hybrid of vegetable and animal matter, and I am terrified.”

“Okay, listen, Pilford, you ate some mushrooms, right?”


“Well, that’s just the mushrooms making you see these good folk that way.”

“It is? I mean, they are? I mean, the what is the who is the why?”

“Hoo boy, do you need an ale.”

“I do? But as I told you, not that you were listening or even cared if you were, but I am an alcoholic. The worst thing I could do right now is to drink an ale, and I don’t know why I’m here.”

“You are here because the universe ordained that you should be here. Now get a grip on yourself. One thing about mushrooms, you got to ride ‘em out, just like anything else in life.”

“Ride them out?”

“Yes, it ain’t no different than from when you tie a good load on. You go crazy for a time, then eventually you pass out, you wake up, you feel like shit for a day or two, maybe three days if you really went on a bender, then one day you wake up smelling like a rose, full of the joy of life, ready for a plate of bacon and eggs and home fries and a pot of coffee and then you’re all good to go and start it up all over again.”

“So you’re saying this horror will pass?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“Oh, thank God.”

“Do me a favor, Bilford, just close your eyes for one second.”


“Don’t ask, just close them, and don’t open ‘em till I tell you to.”

“But you said to just close them for one second.”

“Okay, so I misspoke, now close your fucking eyes.”

“All right.”

And Milford closed his eyes.

“Now what do you see?”

“I see flashing bolts of lightning of red and orange against a black background, like the depths of, of –”

“Of interstellar space?”


“Good. Now, look deeper and tell me, what else do you see?”

“I see flashes of my mother’s face, and of my aunts and great-aunts and grandmothers, grinning and laughing.”

“So you’ve reverted to the cradle. This is perfectly normal, and nothing to be alarmed about. Now, keeping your eyes tight shut, I want you to breathe in deeply through your nose and then slowly let it out through your mouth.”

“Okay,” said Milford, and he breathed in the thick smoky air and then slowly exhaled.

“Good,” said Shorty. “Now, still keeping your eyes shut, tell me what you see now.”

“Now I see only darkness, with tiny thin lines of scarlet zig-zagging.”

“Go on, look deeper, deeper, my son, and now tell me what you see.”

“Okay,” said Milford.

“Are you doing it?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Good, now tell me what you see.”

“Now I see only darkness, no, wait, not even darkness, but nothing, nothing at all, not even the color black, just nothingness.”

“Excellent. This is good. You have finally reverted back to the nonexistence you enjoyed before your parents so dubiously conceived you. Indeed you are looking at the nothing you were, and also at the nothing you will one day ineluctably return to.”

“Great. Just great. I don’t see how this is helping.”

Ne t’en fais pas, mon enfant. And now, still keeping your eyes tight shut, I want you to take another really, really deep breath, again through your nose.”


“Just fucking do it, okay? Eyes shut, really deep breath through your schnoz, filling your lungs. Take it in, hold it for as long as you can, then let it out really slow, but this time through your nose.”

“Well, all right.”

Keeping his eyes shut tight, seeing only nothing, Milford drew in a great breath through his nose, breathing in the smoke of cigarettes and cigars, and, yes, of marijuana and hashish, the odors of perfumes and colognes and aftershaves, of human sweat, of beer and rum and gin and whiskey, and he held it in.

“Okay, now let it out, slow, very slow, and through your nose.”

Slowly Milford exhaled, the various pungencies warming the cavities of his nostrils on their way out.

“Okay,” said the tiny man’s voice. “You can open them peepers now.”

Milford opened his eyes.

“Whatcha see now, buddy?”

Milford sighed, by his count this was his twelve-thousandth and twentieth sigh since he had awakened on the morning of this seemingly eternal day.

“I see a bunch of drunken people,” he said. “In a crowded smoky bar. And somebody is singing a song and playing a banjo.”

“But no more vegetable/animal hybrids?”

“No, just people.”

“Good, now let’s get over to that bar, because I for one am dying for a nice cool glass of ale.”

And once more, with the tiny man on his shoulders, Milford stepped forward through the mob of laughing and shouting people, and through the sound of a man singing:

Through this old world I’m bound to ramble
through ice and snow, sleet and rain…

And then they were at a crowded bar, filled with more of the laughing and shouting people.

“Just shove right in there, buddy. Don’t be shy.”

Milford hated to shove right in anywhere, and, anyway, he had never been anywhere that he didn’t want to leave as soon as he got there.

But what did he have to lose?


Only his sanity, which he had lost thousands of times before.

{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, January 4, 2024

"A Man of Constant Sorrow”

Milford continued down the corridor with the tiny man on his shoulders. The dimness gradually grew less dim as they came to a bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, and in the yellow light Milford saw that the walls were made of old-looking bare brick, apparently white-washed at some time or times in the past, but the wash had faded, revealing the brown of the brickwork and the grey of the mortar. The floor was made of soft dark wood, and the air was still and stale. Beyond lay only a deepening darkness.

Milford stopped. 

“I don’t see where this corridor is going,” he said.

“Just keep going, pal.”

“But it’s dark down there.”

“Yeah, it’s dark, but after a while you get to another door.”

“Look, sir –”

“Do I look like Sir Walter Scott? Call me Shorty.”

“Okay, look, Shorty, maybe it’s those mushrooms I ate, and also the marijuana and hashish I smoked, but I’m getting really scared, and I want to go back.”

“Don’t be a pussy, Quilford.”

“My name isn’t Quilford. It’s Milford. I know it doesn’t matter but my name is Milford.”

It seemed so odd to be talking to a midget he was carrying on his shoulders. He almost wished he could see the little man’s face, but then he was also glad that he couldn’t see his face.

The tiny man blew a cloud of smoke past Milford’s face.

“You got any more marijuana or hashish?”

“What? No.”

“What about them mushrooms? I wouldn’t mind some mushrooms.”

“No, I don’t have any more mushrooms, and you’re avoiding the subject.”

“Which was?”

“That I’m afraid and I want to go back.”

“Oh, right, you were being a pussy.”

“Oh, Christ, look – Shorty, right?”

“That’s what they call me.”

“Shorty, I’m going to lift you down, okay? And then you can go your way, and I’ll –”

“What a pussy. You must be a poet, right?”

“That’s neither here nor there. Now look, I’m going to lift you off –”

“Why are poets always such pussies? Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“I have never had a sense of adventure.”

“Pathetic. Look, just keep walking, will you?”

“How much farther is it?”

“Not far.”

Shorty tossed his stub of a cigarette to the floor. The butt was still burning, so Milford ground it out with his shoe.

“I really just want to go home,” he said.

“What about your date with Lou Alcott?”

“Oh, I forgot. Well, I’ll go back and meet her for a drink, just because I said I would, but then I just want to go home.”


“Only if you promise me it’s not far.”

“It’s not far, now walk.”

And Milford resumed walking with the child-sized man on his shoulders. Now he knew what drug addicts were talking about when they referred to monkeys on their backs.

The corridor grew dimmer and then dark as he walked farther away from that one bare bulb. They came to a corner, just a barely visible dark line against a darker darkness.

“Turn right here,” said Shorty.

There wasn’t much choice except to turn right, unless he turned back, and so Milford turned the corner, and the corridor continued on from darkness to utter and complete blackness.

Milford stopped again.

“I’m not going down there, I’m sorry. It’s totally black down there.”

“Yeah, the light bulb went out and nobody changed it yet. It’s okay, just keep walking straight ahead, but watch your step.”

“What do you mean, watch my step?”

“I mean just be careful, don’t trip over your own feet and send me crashing to the floor.”

“I don’t like walking in the dark.”

“Oh, my fucking God what a cooze. Lookit, you got a match or a lighter?”

“Oh, yes! I do!”

“Then take it out and light it for Christ’s sake, you’re gonna be such a scaredy cat.”

Milford reached into the pocket of his dungarees, and thank God, it was still there, his faithful Ronson which his Aunt Bertie had given him for his graduation from Andover. He clicked it, and after only a few tries it lit up.

“Swell,” said Shorty. “You feel better now?”

“Slightly, yes.”

“Then mush.”

Milford continued into the thick blackness, holding the lighter and its precious flame out before him. After only another minute, although it felt like an hour, the lighter’s glow revealed another door.

“Okay, this is it,” said Shorty. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“It was pretty bad,” said Milford.

“Oh, my God in heaven, plus Jesus, Mary and St. Jude. Just open the door, okay? Turn the doorknob, it ain’t locked.”

Milford turned the knob and opened the door, revealing what seemed to be an anteroom, but at least there was a light in the ceiling.

“Go ahead, go in,” said Shorty.

Milford stepped in, and the door closed behind him.

About six feet ahead was yet another door with a hand-painted sign on it.

“The Man of Constant Sorrow”

Fine Food and Drinks

Try Our House Ale

Reasonable Prices and a Friendly Atmosphere

Live Entertainment

Ask About Our Vegetarian Options

We Never Close

Milford could hear the muffled sounds of music and the babble of voices.

“This is it?” said Milford.

“Yeah. You can put away your lighter now, you’re wasting the fuel.”

“Oh, okay.”

Milford obediently clicked off the flame and put the warm lighter back in his dungarees.

“Now go ahead,” said Shorty. “Just go right in.”

“Why do they call it The Man of Constant Sorrow?”

“Look, Guilford, it’s just a name, it don’t mean nothing, now go over and open the fucking door.”

“I’m an alcoholic, I’m not even supposed to go into bars.”

“Go over and open that door, for Christ’s sake and all the saints and angels in heaven.”

“I should go back.”

“Oh, okay, and who helped you get rid of that raging boner you had by getting you to think about your mother?”

Milford sighed, for the twelve-thousandth and eighteenth time that day.

“You did,” he said.

“Damn right I did. Now do me the favor, nay, the honor, and go over and open that goddam fucking door before I lose my patience and box your ears, and don’t think I won’t.”

Milford was afraid that the tiny fellow really would box his ears, and this fear outweighed his fear of the door and what lay behind it, and so he stepped forward, put his hand on the doorknob, turned it and opened the door.

Revealing yet another barroom, smoky, dim, filled with shouting and laughing people, or what might be people, they could be demons for all Milford knew, or the damned, or living ghosts.

“Nice place, huh?” said Shorty into Milford’s ear.

“It’s okay,” said Milford. 

What could you say, it was a bar, and all bars were the same, places where people went to escape the daily and nightly horror of their lives.

“Come on, cowboy,” said Shorty. “Giddy up. Head straight on to the bar there, and I hope you like a good India Pale Ale, ‘cause that’s what you’re gonna get here.”

Milford was beyond the point of saying he didn’t drink. It didn’t matter anymore. Not tonight. He would have one ale with the midget, and then he would escape.

Or he would try to escape.

“Famous last words.”

“What?” said Milford.

“I didn’t say nothing,” said Shorty.

So, thought Milford, it had come to this. He was walking into an unknown bar with a dwarf on his shoulders, and now he was hearing voices.

“Yes, it has come to this, now get over yourself, and walk over to the bar like a man.”

Milford sighed, for the twelve-thousandth and nineteenth time that day and night, and then forged forth into the crowd of laughing and shouting people.

Someone was singing. Suitably the singer sang:

I am a man of constant sorrow
I’ve seen trouble all my days…

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