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…}

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