Thursday, February 29, 2024

"This Living Hand"


"Miss Alcott?" said Milford.

She turned around on her barstool, a cigarette in her hand. Somewhere a jukebox was playing a gentle song.

"Oh, hello, Milford," she said.

"Thank you," he said.

"For what?"

"For remembering my name."

"Don't people normally remember your name?"

"No, they don't. They always call me Mugsford, or Billford, or Billfold, or –"

"And why do you think that is?"

"I suspect it has something to do with the amorphous nature of my personality."

"I saved you a seat."

She pointed with her cigarette at the unoccupied barstool on her right.

"Oh, thank you very much."

"Why don't you sit in it?"

"Oh, yes, of course."

And Milford managed to seat himself on the stool.

"I want to apologize for taking so long."

"And do you in fact apologize, or do you merely want to?"

"I do apologize. For, uh, taking so long."

"You weren't gone that long."

"I wasn't?"

"Five minutes perhaps."

"It felt like at least a half hour. No, it felt like a week. No, it felt like –"

"Well, Milford," said Miss Alcott, "I am far from being an expert in these matters, but perhaps the alcohol and marijuana and hashish and the Native Americans’ sacred mushrooms you have consumed this evening have affected your perceptions of time and that which we call, for want of a better word, reality."

"Oh," said Milford, "yes, I suppose that's possible, but, you see, I swear I had all these – these adventures just now."

"Pray expand."

"They all started with that men's room I went into –"

"The 'Pointers'?"

"Yes, exactly –"

"Which you entered so suddenly."

"Um, uh –"

"Because of, dare I venture, the protuberance in your inguinal area –" she glanced down at that sector of Milford's corporeal host –"a protuberance which I now see has subsided – or, should I rather say, because of your sense of discomfiture at the persistence of said protuberance?"

"Yes, I fully admit that the latter was the case."

"I suspected so. And upon further consideration I suspect that you went into the "Pointers" to relieve yourself of your shall we say engorgement?"

Milford sighed, sighing for the twelve-thousandth and twenty-second time since he had awoken, sighing, that morning in his bed, some fourteen hours previously, although it felt like fourteen months.

"I probably had that intention somewhere on my mind, yes," he admitted, "or in the muddled depths of my mind, although, actually –"

Milford paused. How much more humiliation could he stand? And a familiar voice in his head, said, "More, much more, infinitely more."

"Actually what," said Miss Alcott.

"Actually, I had nothing on my mind or in my mind at all, except for the insuperable desire to escape at once the embarrassment of hobbling miserably along beside you, with that, that –"

"Erection I believe is the least impolite term."

"Yes, it was just too, too –" humiliating prompted the voice in his skull, and so Milford said, "it was just too humiliating for me."

"I find that somehow touching," said Miss Alcott.

And she lifted her hand and touched his face.

"Please," said Milford, "I must ask you not to do that."

"Don't you like your face to be touched?"

"I like it very much, but, you see, it was your touching my face earlier that caused me to suffer that, that –"


"Yes, and I'm afraid that if you continue to do so then the erection – pardon me – will return."

"Oh, very well, I'll stop then," she said, and she drew her hand away."

"Thank you," said Milford.

She had withdrawn her delicate hand none too soon, because he felt the blood beginning to course into his organ of supposed masculinity, and if it became engorged again he didn't know what he would do.

There was a small stemmed glass on the bar in front of Miss Alcott, with a topaz liquid in it, and she lifted the glass and took a sip. Putting the glass down again on the bar, she turned to Milford and said:

"But has it occurred to you, dear boy, that I wouldn't mind if you suffered an erection again, and, indeed, that I might forsooth be quite pleased if you did."

"Okay, buddy," said the voice in Milford's head, "don't blow it now. For once in your pathetic life, don't fuck things up now."

"I don't want to fuck things up," said Milford.

"I beg your pardon," said Miss Alcott.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," said Milford. "I wasn't talking to you."

"Who were you talking to then?"

"A voice in my head."

"A voice in your head."

"Yes, it's my sort of doppelgänger – it's myself if I were not myself, but someone confident and bold and fearless. He calls himself Stoney."


"Yes. I'm sorry, I didn't make it up. It's – it's not a name I would have chosen myself."

"I think you need a drink, Milford. Look." She pointed to another little stemmed glass there on the bartop before him. "I ordered you an Amontillado.

The liquid was topaz, or was it gold, burnt gold, the gold of the gods, of the glistening beckoning golden apples of the sun…

"Oh," said Milford. "I don't drink. Or I shouldn't drink. You see –"

"I should think, Milford," said Miss Alcott, "that after the marijuana and hashish, the sacred mushrooms, and not to mention the drinks you've already consumed this evening, that one small glass of Amontillado will not send you howling to perdition. And it might even help you to relax a little bit."

"Yes," said Milford, after a moment, "you're probably right."

"You know she's right," said the voice in his head.

"Tell me of these so-called 'adventures' you had," said Miss Alcott.

"Oh, the adventures," said Milford. 

"Yes," said Miss Alcott. "The adventures you had during those five minutes we were separated."

The strange and aggressively annoying men in the Pointers room. The fellow who had given him an epic novel consisting of a blank page with only a handwritten inscription. The midget at the urinals, aptly named Shorty, who had brilliantly suggested that Milford think of his mother the awful Mrs. Milford in order to deflate his erection. The endless journey down a dim corridor with the midget piggyback on his shoulders. The emerging into yet another barroom called The Man of Constant Sorrow, filled with people who looked like vegetables, the encounter with that other annoying man called Slacks, and yet another horrible journey down a dim corridor, and then that other bar filled with sad clowns, then still another long walk down dim corridors, and his meeting with his aforementioned doppelgänger, "Stoney"…

"Don't blow it," said the voice, the voice of Stoney. "Say something, before she thinks you're a total lunatic…" 

"Oh, never mind," said Milford. 

"Good lad," said the voice. "Women dig men who are a little wild, but not certifiably insane."

"Drink your Amontillado," said Miss Alcott, pointing to the small stemmed glass in front of Milford. 

Oh, well, this wouldn't be his first slip of the evening, and at the rate he was going, it might not be the last. 

He picked up the glass and downed it in one go.

"You're meant to sip a fine sherry like that," said Miss Alcott.

"I'm meant to do many things," said Milford, taking direct dictation from the double in his brain. "And I haven't done one of them yet."

Miss Alcott smiled.

Milford felt something on his leg, and he looked down to see what it was.

It was Miss Alcott's hand, her delicate hand, squeezing his thigh, with surprising strength.

"This is it, boy," said the voice in Milford's head, the voice of Stoney.

"This is my chance," thought Milford. 

"You're right," said Stoney, "it is your chance, and quite possibly your last one. Now do something." 

"What should I do?"

"Put your hand on hers, idiot," said the voice of Stoney.

Obediently, Milford put his hand – in the immortal words of the mortal Keats, "this living hand, now warm and capable of earnest grasping" – on Miss Alcott's hand.

"Forget the Keats and now give her hand a gentle squeeze," said Stoney's voice, or was it Milford's own voice?

He gave Miss Alcott's hand a gentle squeeze, and then looked shyly into her eyes. 

She did not seem displeased.  

A new song came on the jukebox.

Once he dressed in tweeds and drapes,

owned a Rolls Royce car;

now he seems quite out of place,

like a fallen star…

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

Thursday, February 22, 2024

"The Finest Young Novelist of His Generation"

It was midnight in the bar called the Kettle of Fish, and the place was filled with smoke and the damned and the lost and the never to be found. 

A small jazz combo played against the back wall, and a knot of people shouted, "Go, man, go!" 

Outside on MacDougal street the snow still fell as it had been falling without surcease all day, covering the Village in pillowy and dreamlike whiteness and silence, but here inside everyone was drunk, not just the customers but also the musicians and waiters and bartenders, but especially the customers.

At the bar the famous poet Wallace Stevens stared into his Manhattan, and just to his right sat our friends Addison and Bubbles.  

"D'ya know, Bubbles," said Addison, in the 'thoughtful'

tone of voice he reserved for his deepest pronouncements, "do you want to know what my most intense desire in life is?"

"To get drunk every day?"

"Well, that, yes – I suppose it goes without saying – but, putting that noble desire aside, do you know what my real ambition is, I mean at bottom and in fine and ultimately?"

"To put people to sleep? You ought to market yourself, Haberman," said Bubbles. "You could be the new Seconal. Make people pay the big bucks to let you put them to sleep."

"Ha ha, no, but what I should most like in life is to be generally considered – and not just by the best critics, but by hoi polloi –"

"Hoy who?'

"It's Greek for, well, 'the many', that is to say the great churning mass of men."

"And dames too?"

"Yes, dames as well, of course. Where was I?"

"I'm sure I have no idea."

"Oh, I know, I was about to say that what I really and truly want more than anything is to be recognized not just by the literary and academic establishment, but by the common man –"

"And dame."

"Yes, by the common man and dame – recognized as the finest young novelist of my generation."


"I ask you, is that too extravagant of a wish?"

"You don't look that young to me, Dennison."

"Oh, very well, let's say the finest youngish novelist of his generation."

"Depends on what you mean by youngish."

"Let's say finest young novelist under the age of forty."

"I could believe you're forty, even forty-two, maybe."

"Well, I'm not actually, in fact I am only –"

"Hey," said Bubbles, and she put her finger with its red-painted nail against Addison's lips. "I'm fucking with you, boss."

She swiped the finger downward and off of his stubbled chin (shaved only every other day or so, in aid of the thrifty conservation of razor blades).

"Oh. Ha ha," said Addison. "This is why I adore you, Bubbles. Such a devilish sense of humor."

"And you're a boring windbag, Hackerman."

"Yes, so I've been told before, many times, more times than I could possibly count."

"And yet you keep it up, spewing nonsense like a fountain in the park spews water, nonstop, at least until some park ranger guy turns it off after midnight."

"What a splendidly striking and, yes, apt image!"

"See, there you go. "

"Yes, there I went."

"You just don't care, do you?"

"Y'know, Bubbles, I don't think I ever thought about it before, but, yes, hang it all, I suppose I really don't care. I mean, you know, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, you may fire when ready, Gridley, because, nuts, and, surrender, hell, I have not yet begun to fight. That sort of thing."

"Finish that bourbon and coke."

Obediently Addison picked up his glass and drank the last of it.

"Ah, delicious. Shall we have another round?"

"No. Take me home now."

"Oh, yes, of course."

"I know my limit, and I passed it over an hour ago."

"I wish I could say the same."

"That you've passed your limit?"

"That I could ever know my limit. You see, for me my limit has always only ever been reached when I run out of money."

"You kill me, Patcherson."

"I hope in a pleasant way."

"Let's go."

"Of course."

"But listen."


"Don't get your hopes up."

"My hopes are hopelessly up, always, dear Bubbles."

Bubbles climbed down from her stool without falling. 

Addison looked at his money on the bar top, scooped up the bills, but left the coins for the bartender. No matter how impoverished he might be, it was his policy always to leave at minimum a modest token of good will wherever he drank.

He got off his stool, and he swayed briefly but did not fall.

"I must be crazy," said Bubbles. "Even to spend time with an idiot like you."

"Yes, in a sense, I think you must be," said Addison.

At this moment they both turned and gazed across the room at the plate glass window looking out on the lamplit snow still falling thickly outside, and they experienced roughly the same second thoughts, which were that Bubbles lived only a couple of blocks away, but it was snowing, the snow was a foot deep or more on the sidewalks, and they would probably not find a cab, and in here it was warm and dry and cozy, and from deep in the memories of Addison's boyhood reading rose up those poignant last words of Captain Oates during the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole: "I am just going outside and may be some time…" 

"Hey, buddy," said the big older man who had been sitting to the other side of Addison, and he put his hand on Addison's arm.

"Yes, sir," said Addison. 

The man looked familiar, but like whom?

"You take care of this lady," said the big man.

"Um," said Addison.

"She's too good for you."

"I know," said Addison.

"See here, chum, if it's not too presumptuous of me, and if you don't mind staying, I should consider it an honor to buy you both a drink."

"Oh," said Addison, who had never refused a drink in his life, and he wasn't about to start now. He turned to Bubbles. "Darling, this kind gentleman would like to buy us a drink."

Bubbles paused for a moment. 

The combo crashed and wailed, and someone yelled, "Go, daddy, go!" 

Voices laughed and shouted. 

"What the hell," said Bubbles. "I got the rest of my life to sleep."

She climbed back up on her stool.

"I'll take a Hennessy, pops," she said. "VSOP."

"Splendid," said the big man. 

Was it Wallace Stevens? thought Addison. He didn't think much of the man's poetry, but, boy oh boy, what a contact!

He climbed back up on his own stool, beaming with joy.

"What'll it be, pal?" said Wallace Stevens. "You want a Hennessy too?"

It had been at best half a decade since Addison had tasted a brandy other than Christian Brothers or E&J. 

"Why, yes, sir," he said, feeling his sails swell with a fresh full wind, the ship of his self bound boldly now for unknown shores, "I should think a Hennessy would make a delightful nightcap, thank you very much."

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