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…}

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