he figured that three things had brought him to his sad pass - poetry, booze and women - and that it might be a good idea to give up at least one of them.
why give up poetry? it didn't cost anything. he could always find a pencil and some sort of paper, and even if he couldn't, he could compose deathless verses in his head.
it wasn't that hard to cadge a drink. especially after he had been out of commission for eleven months, all his old pals would surely be so happy to see him, they would be begging him to accept drinks.
seamas decided to give up women - at least for now.
with that settled, he headed for bob's bowery bar. he would let his old pals buy him two or three drinks - maybe four - then head to mrs mcgrady's over on houston street. his old room would have been let to someone else, but mrs mcgrady, good old soul that she was, must surely have kept his things - including his precious manuscripts which would bring him eternal fame - in storage. and maybe she would have another room for him, or his old room might even be available again.
all that could wait. right now he needed a drink.
seamas pushed through the door of bob's.
it was just as he remembered it. how could it be anything else?
after his eyes adjusted to the gloom - it was bright and sunshiny outside, though cold - he realized that it was empty, except for bob himself behind the bar.
seamas looked over at the clock. it was only a little after nine. surely the place would fill up quickly, with people elbowing each other aside in their eagerness to stand him a round.
he approached the bar. bob was staring into space, with that mean look he had. most people's expressions sort of softened when they stared into space, but bob always looked even meaner than usual.
"remember me?" seamas asked with his biggest smile.
"sort of. maybe." bob's lips hardly moved when he spoke.
"seamas mcseamas. one of the celebrated poets - chief among them, if i may say so, ha ha, - who regularly gathered in this revered estabishment."
seamas felt a moment of panic. "you mean - you don't mean they are no longer welcome?"
the toothpick in bob's mouth shifted from left to right. "they can come in before five o'clock, as long as at least one of them buys something. i don't want them in here at night. they were annoying people, and just taking up space."
"heh heh. i always thought of bob's as a welcoming place - a home away from home for the most desperate and downtrodden - a safe haven from the bluster and turmoil of the grasping material world."
"it still is - if you can pay."
"i - uh - was sort of hoping for a free drink myself - to celebrate this beautiful morning."
bob just stared at seamas.
"to celebrate that i just got out of the tombs - after eleven months."
bob's expression softened ever so slightly. "oh yeah, i remember now. that's all those clowns talked about for months." bob straightened up. "yeah, i'll give you a drink. one small rheingold draft."
bob looked over his shoulder toward the kitchen. "a guy came in about half an hour ago and ordered a breakfast special. then he left before he got it. you want it? it'll be kind of cold."
a tear almost formed in seamas's eye . this was getting better and better - like an o henry story. "um - can you heat it up?"
the cold look came back in bob's eyes. "some people will complain if you hang them with a brand new rope."
"ha ha. i'll take it," seamas assured him. seamas was not particularly hungry - he had not been too proud or in too much of a hurry after eleven months to pass up a last breakfast in jail before being let out - but he figured he might as well fill up as he didn't know where his next feed might come from.
bob went back in the kitchen and came back with the special - a cheddar cheese omelette with scrapple and whole wheat toast and with only the slightest trace of grease forming on it - and seamas accepted it and the draft beer gratefully.
he started to take the special and the beer over to a booth but stopped. "could you spare one more thing,mate?"
"something - anything - to write on."
"sure. how's this?" bob reached down and produced a slightly torn paper bag.
bob nodded. a customer - a surprisingly well dressed man with a rolled umbrella and wearing a homburg - came in and bob turned away from seamas to serve him..
safely ensconced in a booth away from bob's sight, seamas took a sip of the rheingold, the first "real" booze he had in almost a year, although he had tasted horrible "hooch" in the tombs. it brought a real tear to his eye.
he finished the breakfast, but still nobody showed up that he might cadge another drink from.
suddenly he felt sleepy... with a deep peaceful tiredness... he head fell forward on to the counter, barely missing the greasy plate...
he was back in his cell, but through the bars of the cell he could see green rolling hills....
there suddenly appeared before him his old mentor and tormentor st columba, the patron saint of poets... with his blue eyes and long red beard more blazing than ever...
"mcseamas,!" cried the saint, "you fraud! are you back among decent folk now, ready to pollute the earth with your wretched doggerel and your pitiful posturing! oh, for shame, for shame!"
seamas was walking through the green hills, but the saint's voice could still be heard - "and your poor old mother, your poor old mother who wanted you to be a priest or at least a respectable citizen or at least a half decent poet who wasn't a complete fake and a drunken jailbird ... you embarrass the whole irish race and the whole human race with your unspeakable tripe..."
the green hills had turned into a steady rain of green tigers and red and orange crows ... mother macree and finn mccool ... and the cremation of sam mcgee and they're hanging danny deever in the morning... hailed as the greatest poet since tom moore... the irish answer to that british bastard kipling... the saint's voice had turned into a featureless roaring rain...
seamas woke up. he could still hear the roaring... it was the toilet flushing behind his head in the men's room of bob's bowery bar.
the paper bag bob had given him to write on was looking up at him from the table, beside the plate with the scant remains of the breakfast special.
seamas took the pencil he still had from the jail out of his pocket. the dream had properly inspired him. he was determined to start over, and write a really good poem that st columba and st patrick and his mother could be proud of.
let me sing you a song of a hero true
who knew what a hero had to do
who braved the wrath of gods and men
whose strength was the strength of a hundred and ten
they tried to break his spirit bold
and threw him out in the wind and cold
those perfumed kings and smooth cheeked priests
with the hearts of worms and the fangs of beasts
but their evil plans were too little too late
he had a weapon they could not confiscate
a weapon that flashed from shore to sea -
the golden sword - of poetry!
yes, the poet will go where the warrior fears
and shed his light in this dark world of tears
no slavering monsters, no serpents cruel
shall walk and slither when poets rule
when darkness is chased and the sun comes round
a glorious sight will the demons confound
and clouds will part above the waves
that break on a world of angels - not slaves!
seamas put his pencil down, satisfied. that was the real stuff, the best thing he had ever done.
now if fagen or howard philips stone or rooster or one of his other pals would show up and buy him a drink, life would be very heaven.
on a lazy afternoon, roselle has attempted to take slumming to a new level by enticing the drifter "humphey p strawfeather" to murder jerry.
jerry had had a hard life.
one of his first memories was of his uncle walter, sitting on the porch of the family home in the midi with a drink in his hand, or maybe it was in newport or the rockies, and walter saying:
"i've had a hard life. every son of a bitch i ever trusted did me wrong in the end."
jerry was reminded of uncle walter's words often - but jerry had it even harder than uncle walter had.
because for the sons of bitches to do him wrong and betray him, uncle walter must have trusted them in the first place.
whereas jerry had never found anybody to trust at all.
not a single solitary soul.
lying on the bed after his afternoon getting plastered in the dark bar on broadway and blacking out and being carried upstairs by the doorman morris, jerry dreamed, as he often did, of uncle walter.
in the dreams walter was mixed up, as usual, with his old dog rufus, and with the first bottle of whiskey he had ever drunk - drunk it straight down, on a dare, from that slimy giggling skunk wilsonby forster iii, at the "exclusive" military academy in the maine woods he had been banished to as a young lad...
uncle walter was mixed up in the dreams with other things, too, like frogs, and mashed potatoes with chicken gravy , and camp richard taylor in louisiana...
jerry had learned a lot from uncle walter.
the first thing he learned was that the worst thing in the world was to be rich.
because no matter what you did, no matter what you were, no one would ever give you credit for anything. you would always be "rich" and have "everything done for you."
uncle walter told jerry stories of his experiences in the first world war. he had enlisted as a private, but the fellows never accepted him, and gave him nicknames like "percy van snoot". according to walter, when they had got to france, walter had risked his life to save a couple of fellows, and they had thanked him, but even so kept on calling him "percy"!
then, after the war, walter had tried to go "on the bum" and make his own way and be a "regular fellow" and a "good guy", but all for naught. the real born and bred "regular fellows" spotted him a mile away. he was beaten up and robbed several times when his pockets were empty because the other bums "could just tell" he had money on him.
the end came for walter when he tried to take a pie off the windowsill of a "widow brown" who was known to leave them out for passing boes. the widow appeared in the window took one look at walter and called him a fancy pants college boy and chased him away with a rolling pin and he didn't stop running until he was back in newport.
walter settled down to what he was born to do - drink.
he was a natural. water told jerry there was a surefire way to tell if a fellow was a natural born drunk. he said most fellows when they got drunk the first time, would wake up and say "oh my god, i will never do that again!" but the natural, even the first time, will wake up, and even with a hangover, will say "hey, that was great, i can't wait for some more."
jerry had found all uncle walter's wisdom borne out in his own life, and then some.
he was a natural drunk, no doubt about that. and no matter what he did - and in his few somewhat sober moments, jerry had to admit that, unlike walter, he didn't really try all that hard - nobody would give him a chance to be or do much of anything else.
like those old timers and secretaries at the firm. the firm! - how jerry hated the firm and in his stupor resolved once again to never go back there, to hell with grandfather parler - those wrinkle faced old butler types and those secretaries with their beehive hairdos and their fat backsides stuffed like salted hams into the girdles they probably bought at woolworth's -
looking at him like he was dirt just because he was worth - worth - whatever he was worth - i mean why make such a big deal out of it ...
jerry drifted back into his dream - he was back in camp richard foster in the middle of a swamp in louisiana - where he had spent the war except for the last few months when he had been transferred to san diego in preparation for the invasion of japan that never came - and he was walking on the swampy river with frogs in his pockets for the voodoo queen who was sitting in her canoe... on the shore another voodoo queen who was also one of the beehived secretaries in grandfather parler's office was typing something with grasshoppers...
and uncle walter who was also a teddy bear with an olive and a dash of vermouth was sitting in a cypress tree on the other side of the river and trying to get his attention but jerry had to get the frogs out of his pocket and give them to the first voodoo queen who was also roselle...
back at the house in the rockies jerry and walter had had a conversation about who could be trusted more, dogs or horses... and jerry had asked "what about women?" and uncle walter had burst out laughing, the only time uncle walter had ever laughed at jerry to his face ... good old walter...
and later when jerry met roselle and he told walter he could trust her because she had even more money than he did, and walter didn't laugh out loud but just said son, there's no woman has so much money she won't try to steal more or marry more if she gets the chance ...
"but walter, i have so much money i don't want to steal any more, and neither do you... "
"yes, some men are like that - but not all - in fact not most - look at old jonah parler! - but no woman, no woman that was ever born..."
jerry kept walking on the river with even more frogs in his pocket and a rolls royce and a blueberry pie ... and the voodoo queen was roselle and eleanor roosevelt and sergeant -major johnson who was saying, i'm sorry sir but these frogs are useless, completely useless and the first voodoo queen started to laugh and her big hairdo started shaking like a bunch of bananas with raisins and cornflakes...
jerry smelled smoke. he tried to wake up.... roselle had been fun at first, teaching him her evil ways of laughing at people and spying and making up stories about people... but lately he could tell she was getting sick of him... as he was of her...
he woke up. the room was dark but roselle was standing at the end of the bed smoking a cigarette and looking at him with her evil eyes...
and suddenly jerry knew what he had been suspecting for months ...
roselle was going to kill him. she was going to kill him...
he was no match for her.
who could he turn to? not walter, because walter had bellied up to the big bar in the sky during the war...
on a lazy afternoon, roselle has attempted to take slumming to a new level by enticing the drifter "humphey p strawfeather" to murder jerry.
the man who had called himself "humphrey p strawfeather" stared at the woman who had just treated him to the best meal he had had in a week, and then told him she wanted him to murder her husband.
"i don't believe you, " he told her.
"no? why not?"
"it don't make no sense. you don't even know me."
"and you don't know me. that's the point. the less you know about me, the less you can tell the police. and if i tried to ask one of my friends to help me - well. i ask you, would that be any way to treat a friend? to ask them to maybe get into trouble for me? do i look like that sort of person?"
humphrey stated at her. "you know, lady, even though you got all sorts of dough, i bet you don't really have a lot of friends."
"ha, ha! you may be right. i don't have any friends who would run through the proverbial brick wall for me if that is what you mean." she took a pack of herbert tareyton cigarettes and a ronson cigarette lighter out of her purse. "but's that not really here or there, is it? "
"what's here or there is whether you're serious. and if you are serious, why you picked me."
"well, what would you have me do? go to the better business bureau and ask them to recommend someone?" she lit her cigarette, and blew a smoke ring.
"yeah, but why me?"
"why not you? i like your looks."
humphrey laughed. "yeah, sure you do."
"ha, ha! i mean, i like your looks for what i am proposing. would you like one of my cigarettes? i see you looking at the pack like a hungry wolf."
"yeah, thanks. i'm out myself." he took a cigarette and she lit it for him with the ronson.
"you see, humphrey, as soon as i saw you, i thought, that's the man for what i have in mind. you have killed people, humphrey, haven't you?"
humphrey was a bit startled. "well, uh, a lot of guys have killed people. in the war and all."
"that's not what i meant and you know it. you see, i'm a pretty good judge of people. and do you know why i'm a pretty good judge of people."
"no, why?" humphrey looked down into his empty coffee cup.
"because i practice. people interest me , and i watch them all the time. some people might think just because i'm a nasty person other people don't interest me, but i assure you that the opposite is true. i think the most fun in the world is watching other people, trying to figure out what they do. you see a little woman with a kerchief around her head carrying a bag of groceries, does she beat her husband with a frying pan every night?
maybe she has poisoned three husbands already, and was a guard in a concentration camp during the war. or you see a priest in black or a rabbi, do they cry themselves to sleep every night, dreaming of some woman in their congregation with nine kids and a backside the size of grant's tomb? "
"uh - i want another cup of coffee."
"let me finish, please. like i say, it's ever so much more interesting than the cin-e-ma or the the- a - ter , which are so predictable."
"yeah, where the bad guy always gets caught."
"exactly. now see here, humphrey, if you want to see how serious i am, i have just the thing here. we could sit here and palaver, and talk about going to the police, but we both know neither of us is going to do any such thing." she reached into her purse again. she took out a greenback and shoved it across the table. "are you familiar with these?"
it was a one hundred dollar bill.
"yeah, i seen these before. i used to see them all the time, at the track, and in casinos out on the water, back when i was on top."
"how nice for you. go ahead, take it. no strings attached."
humphrey hesitated, but only for a second. he folded the bill and put it in his shirt pocket.
"no strings attached. just a token of my sincere intentions. think my offer over. if you are interested, meet me here on wednesday, at five o'clock. " she zipped up her purse, and looked over her shoulder. the woman who had served them was back behind the counter, staring into space. she was not nearly close enough to have heard them, talking in their low tones.
"i am going to leave now. i will pay enough for you to have some dessert and more coffee, and your little friend too, if he decides to come back and not go to south america with my dollar. "
"i don't know nothing about him. what about the smokes he was buying you?"
"i am sure you can divide them most agreeably between you." she stood up.
"so long." humphrey didn't look up at her.
"ta ta. till wednesday. "
roselle spent the rest of the afternoon walking around uptown and, true to her stated inclinations, looking at people.
she stopped in at the west end bar for about half an hour but the marijuana seller she sometimes encountered there did not show up.
as dusk settled in, she got a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich and a cup of coffee at a little diner on columbus avenue. then she got a cab back to the apartment on east 82nd st.
morris the doorman was waiting for her with a familiar expression, one combining greed and obsequiousness with just a pinch of moral disapproval.
he bowed slightly to roselle. "mister winfield arrived a little while ago, ma'am."
"did he? and did he require assistance?"
"he did indeed, ma'am. considerable assistance, if i may say so."
"i am sure you responded to the situation with your usual efficiency, morris." she slipped him a fifty dollar bill.
"thank you, ma'am." he touched his cap and opened the door for her.
jerry was sprawled across his bed. morris had gotten his jacket and his shoes off and loosened his tie. he did not look as if he would wake up any time soon.
what a slob he's getting to be, thought roselle. she lit a cigarette, then went over and opened a window, but the breeze blowing in was too cold, so she closed it again.
she made up her mind to go through with her plan with humphrey - or some one else, if humphrey didn't come through.
pursuing humphrey as she had had been a spur of the moment thing, though she had had doing something like it in her mind for a while. and she had at first thought she might just have a little fun with humphrey, and let jerry in on the fun.
but now she changed her mind. she would do it for real. she felt humphrey was dangerous, but she had complete confidence in her ability to handle any human male.
maybe she could even make something out of humphrey after jerry was out of the way and she had his money. not marry him of course - ha ha! she had believed humphrey when he said he had been "on top" - though his idea of "on top" and roselle's would not be quite the same. but maybe he wasn't completely raw and she could touch him up a little.
new york was getting to be a bore. people were interesting in some ways, but in other ways they were boring and never wanted to have any fun.
maybe she could take humphrey - or somebody else like him, a little better looking - to some place like tangier or hong kong or a plantation in bolivia.
and they could have some real fun.
night had fallen. humphrey walked down broadway, lost in thought, hardly noticing where he was going.
he had ditched buddy, after taking one of the packs of cigarettes from him , and, in a fit of generosity, letting him keep all roselle's change.
the hundred dollar bill was burning a hole in his pocket. it had been a while since he had so much money at one time.
too long. and that just wasn't right.
he decided to meet roselle on wednesday, back at the little diner.
he would make something out of all this, he wasn't sure what.