(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

James Purdy’s concerns about the vanquished in American society reach full cry in this monologue by a veteran of the Korean War. Speaking from a phone booth, apparently in the hallway of the rat-infested tenement in which he lives, Benny addresses someone who appears to be waiting to use the phone. He asks the person to be patient a little bit longer because he is attempting to get the operator to reconnect him with a woman with whom he has been talking. From his position in the phone booth, he also can see into his flat, the door of which has been left open.

The reader is in the position of the person waiting to use the phone: He or she must listen to Benny’s litany, must hear about Benny’s wife, who has given up trying to cope with life on the ragged edge of poverty and who has taken herself and their son out of the city. Economic hardships are a commonplace of Benny’s existence, and he now works for little pay in a company that makes mittens. So hard-pressed has he been that his only food is a bowl of Cream of Wheat leavened with some brown sugar. In fact, he is about to be displaced in his linoleum-floored apartment by a mama rat and her baby, which emerge periodically from the holes in the floor.

Before his wife left him, she had gotten in the habit of calling someone named Daddy Wolf at a number described as the Trouble Phone number. She would talk to Daddy Wolf about her problems, and he would unfailingly offer the same...

(The entire section is 453 words.)