Saturday, November 21, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 465: help

Let’s return to this hot rainy night in old New York City and rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel, sitting here on the pavement in the entrance area of Bob’s Bowery Bar, and attended to by his new guardian angel, “Bowery Bert”...

(Kindly click here to read our immediately previous chapter; those wishing to return to the very beginning of this 58-volume Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece may go here.)

“Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre, comprising as it does already dozens of volumes – and, as caches of Schnabel’s neatly-handwritten copybooks continue to be discovered, no one knows how many more volumes are still to come – must still be considered ‘one’ work, just as the universe, with all its countless trillions of worlds, must still be considered ‘one universe’.” – Harold Bloom, in the Ladies’ Home Journal Literary Quarterly.

My guardian angel took his little cigar out of his mouth and exhaled De Nobili smoke into my face.

“So, you enjoying that Windsor Canadian?”

“Yes,” I said, after I had swallowed that second gulp down.

“Take another shot.”

I didn’t want to annoy him again, and so I raised the flask to my lips.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” he said, quietly.

I had no idea why he said those names. But considering that he was an angel it seemed appropriate that he would make reference to the Holy Family, even if for reasons unknown to me, a mere human after all.

So I took another swig, but not such a big one this time.

“Pretty good, huh?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, after exhaling a great warm breath the way one does after quickly downing three shots of whiskey.

“Don’t let me stop you if you’d like another one,” he said.

“Well, I’m probably good for now,” I said.

“You’re sure?”

“Pretty sure,” I said, and I started screwing the cap back onto the flask.

“What are you doing?” he said.

“Just putting the cap back on.”

“So I don’t get a swig?”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, “I didn’t, uh –”

“You didn’t think,” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Well, maybe you should start thinking.”

“I’ll try,” I said.

“Now give me that flask.”

I gave it to him, and, after giving the mouth of the flask a cursory wipe on his jacket sleeve, he took what looked like a healthy swig. He then lowered the flask, heaving another sigh, a long one, this one sounding like the sound a baseball card makes when a boy attaches it with a clothespin to the wheel-frame of his bicycle for the purpose of making a strange flapping noise on the spokes as he rides aimlessly about.

The ancient angel stared at me through those thick round glasses. He was still crouching by my side, with his umbrella hooked in the crook of his arm. Right outside the shelter of this entrance area the downpour continued unabated.

“I have a feeling,” he said, “that I got my job cut out with you, buddy.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“You probably want another shot,” he said. “Right?”

I hesitated. I didn’t really want one, but I also didn’t want to offend him.

“Um,” I said. “Maybe?”


“Well, uh –”

“Arnold,” he said, “may I talk frankly?”


“I think you need some help, my friend.”

“I think so, too,” I said.

“You do?” he said.

“Oh, definitely,” I said.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that, Arnold. And I’m sure you are aware that there are – places – where you can go, where you can get the, shall we say, the professional help you need. And, as your guardian angel, I shall try to help you as well. You see I have no little experience in these matters, working as I have for these many years on the Bowery. I have helped lots of guys who were even farther gone than yourself. So, lookit, why don’t we get you on your feet, and we’ll take you straight away over to Bellevue, get you admitted, get you dried out –”

“Hey, wait a minute,” I said.

“What? I hope you’re not going to fight me on this.”

“But when I said I needed help I didn’t mean that kind of help,” I said.

“You didn’t.”


“So – you’re saying – and, please, correct me if I’m wrong – you’re telling me that you don’t think you have a problem with drugs and alcohol?”

“No,” I said. “I  mean, not too much, or –”

“Not too much.”

“Well, uh –”

“You say this despite the fact that you were just on the very verge of taking your fourth shot of Windsor Canadian in the space of, what, a minute?”

“But that was only because I thought maybe you wanted me to have a, uh, fourth, um –”

“Gulp. Snort. Belt.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Can I ask you a personal question.”

“I guess so,” I said.

“How many drinks have you had today?”

“Uh –”

“And, please, be honest, Arnold. I can’t help you if you’re not honest with me.”

“How many ‘drinks’ have I had?”

“Just today, yes, how many.”

“Uh –”



“Yeah. Like round it out if it’ll make it easier. Ten? Twenty? Thirty?”

“Well, it’s been a very long day,” I said. “I mean, you don’t know –”

“How many drugs have you taken?”

“You mean today –”

“Yes, just today.”

“Not too many,” I said.

“Besides the hashish brownies,” he said.

“Um, just a little laudanum,” I said. “But that was for the pain.”

“The pain.”

“Like, in my knees?”

“In your knees.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay, just a little laudanum,” he said.


“For your knees.”


“And that’s all the drugs you took today?”

“Well –”

“Well what.”

“Well, almost.”


“Yes,” I said. “You see, way earlier today, I almost forgot, but someone gave me some LSD –”


“Yes, but –”


“Yeah, but, you see, like with the hashish brownies, I didn’t know it was LSD –”


“Honest. It was just, you know, I thought it was like an aspirin or something –”

“For this knee problem you have.”


“I wonder, Arnold, if it has occurred to you that you might not have sore knees if you did not consume so many drugs and alcoholic beverages –”

“Uh –”

“You fall over a lot, don’t you?”

“Well, I suppose I do, perhaps, more than the average person –”

He held out the flask to me. I don’t know why, but I took it.

“Go ahead,” he said. “What’s another slug or two of Windsor Canadian after all you’ve probably drunk today –”

“But –”

“Plus the hashish brownies. The Laudanum. The LSD. And God knows what else.”

I guess he noticed that I glanced guiltily away.

“What?” he said. “What else? Cocaine? Bennies? Ayahuasca?”

“No,” I said.

“Then what?”

“Bock beer infused with nectar of the gods.”

“You mean ambrosia?”

“Yes, I think that’s what it’s called.”

“Wow, you don’t fool around, do you?”

“Well, you see, sir –”

“'Bert.' The queen of England hasn’t knighted me yet, so, please, address me as ‘Bert’.”

“Okay, ‘Bert’,” I said. “But here’s the thing, I thought it was just an ordinary bock I was drinking. I didn’t know it had ambrosia in it.”

“People just keep fooling you, don’t they, Arnold?”

“Uh –”

“Taking advantage.”

“Um –”

“Are you going to take another swig of that Windsor Canadian or not?”

I looked at the flask.

“I think if it’s okay with you I’ll pass,” I said.

He paused, taking a few puffs on his Parodi or De Nobili, maybe eventually I would find out what kind of cigar it was, not that it mattered at all. As usual, and it was usual by now, he exhaled the smoke in my face.

“Give me the flask then,” he said, and I gave it to him. He took another swig, it looked like another pretty good one, too.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he said. “I am an angel. I can handle a little Windsor Canadian. Unlike some people I could mention.”

I held my tongue.

He screwed the cap back on, put the flask back inside his suit coat.

“So,” he said, “you gonna sit here all night?”

“No,” I said. I”m getting up.”

He had remained crouching beside me all this while, and now he rose to his full height of five-foot-two, if that, and with none of the creakiness and groaning one might expect from a little old man of eighty or more. But then after all, as he had just reminded me, he was not really a little old man, but an angel. He put his cigar back in his mouth, transferred his umbrella from the crook of his right arm to his left, then extended his small right hand to me. I took it, and with his help – and he had the strength of arm of, if not ten men, then at least that of one man who was not eighty years old and five-foot-two – I rose to my feet. I kept expecting pain to explode from my knees, but still there was only a pleasant numbness where previously had been two epicenters of pulsing agony. 

“So now what?” he said, as he disengaged his hand from mine, and then wiped the palm of it on the side of his trouser-leg.

“Well, I was hoping to go in here and find my friends.”

“Into Bob’s Bowery Bar.”


“To find your ‘friends’.”


“I thought you wanted to get back to this so-called ‘real world’ of yours.”

“I do,” I said. “But, you see, I guess you didn’t know, but I have some friends in there, at least I hope they’re still there –”


“Yes. And, the thing is, one of them is – well, I know this is going to be hard to believe –”

“I’m an angel. Try me.”

“One of them is the son of God.”

“The son of God?”


“Jesus Christ.”

“Yes. Except I know him as ‘Josh’.”


“That’s the name he’s going by. You see he’s sort of returned to human form. And that’s his human name now. Josh.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“They didn’t tell you, I guess.”

They. Here you go with that ‘they’ again.”

“Whoever gives you the assignments.”

“Uh-huh. Okay,” he said. “Hey, you know how I get my assignments as you call them?”

“Well, no, actually – I mean, does God just call you in and –”

“No one gets called in. Try again.”

“Um – do you get a letter? Or a phone call?”

“No, and no, and neither does a Western Union boy show up with a telegram.”

“Uh –”

“You want me to tell you how I get my assignments?”

I didn’t care, but I said yes.

“A little voice,” he said. “Here.” He tapped the side of his head, near his ear. “A little voice speaks to me. And this particular time this little voice said, ‘Go pick up this Arnold Schnabel character. He should be getting out of a cab at Bob’s Bowery Bar.’

“And that’s all they told you?”

’They’ again. Again with the ‘they’.”

“So there’s no they.”

“No they. Just a voice. A little voice. In my head. Here.”

He tapped his head again.

“So it’s God’s voice?”

“Maybe,” he said.


“Maybe. How do I know? No one tells me anything. I get an assignment, I do it. I do it till the little voice tells me I can stop doing it. Or –”


“Until my, uh, assignee passes into his next plane of existence.”

“I see.”

“Heaven, hell, purgatory, maybe someplace else. That’s not up to me. You understand that.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, I’m glad you understand. So, back to the matter at hand. You say the son of God is in there.”

“He was,” I said. “I hope he still is.”

“So do I,” he said. “What’s he like?”

“You’ve never met him?”

“No. I’ve never met him. But needless to say I am a great admirer.”


“So what’s he like? Good guy?”

“Yes,” I said.

I guess there was something about the way I said that.

“Yes, but what?” he said. “I sensed a ‘but’ there.”

“Now I must ask you if I may speak frankly,” I said.

“By all means.”

“He likes to drink,” I said.

“Jesus likes to drink.”

“I’m afraid so,” I said.

“Well, can you blame him?”

“No,” I said. “Not at all.”

(To be continued in two weeks, after our editorial staff return from their restorative Thanksgiving break.)

(Please look to the right-hand column of this page to find what should be a rigorously updated listing of links to all other cybernetically-available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. We recommend that all of Arnold’s fans click here to order a copy of the paperback edition of our friend Kathleen Maher’s splendid novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 464: stumblebum

On this rainy hot night in old New York City our hero Arnold Schnabel has just passed out (from pain be it known, not from drunkenness!) in the entranceway to Bob’s Bowery Bar, but fortunately his new guardian angel is in attendance...

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; if you have arrived late to the party you may click here to start this 67-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir from the very beginning.)

“Oh, sure, Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre is inarguably ‘long’, and, as it is still in the process of being transcribed and published, indeed it gets longer all the time; but, however long Railroad Train to Heaven winds up being – who, I ask you, who among its millions of ardent fans would wish it to be even one sentence – nay, even one word – shorter?” – Harold Bloom, in his “Address” to the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Jamboree at Olney Community College.

Original art by rhoda penmarq.

For once I will spare the hypothetical reader a detailed recounting of the dreams I experienced during this latest bout of unconsciousness. Rest assured though that bottomless pitch-dark wells were fallen into, black tunnels were blindly and endlessly stumbled through, numerous public appearances (in church during a high mass, on a crowded beach, in a subway car, in a courtroom, on an army parade ground) were made in the nude, and brightly-lit but unfamiliar roads were tramped along in search of a home that was never found, but finally I was slapped awake.

I was sitting on something hard and damp with my legs stretched out in front of me, and a little old man with thick round wire-rimmed glasses and a grey cloth cap on his head was doing the slapping.

“Go away!” I said, the syllables emerging from my mouth like great gobs of cotton candy. “Who are you?”

“It’s me, Arnold – Bert! Bowery Bert!”

He slapped me again, and suddenly I remembered who he was, who I was, at least for the present, and where I was – sitting on the wet pavement with my back against the wall in the recessed entrance area of Bob’s Bowery Bar, while out there to my left the unceasing downpour continued to bombard the sidewalk and street.

And I also remembered why I had passed out: because of the pain that was still pulsing from both my knees and excluding every other topic from the sodden and hashish-ridden sponge that was my brain.

“Ah, ah, ah,” I said, although to tell the truth I was putting it on just a little bit, because the pain, albeit still intense, was much less so now that I was sitting and had taken the load off my ravaged knees.

“Here,” said Bert, “I got just the thing for you.” He was crouching beside me, with his umbrella still crooked on one forearm, and extended at an angle behind him, so that the bottom half of the umbrella was protruding out of the shelter of the entranceway and was being pelted by the rain – funny the inconsequential things like that which you notice and remember, funnier still that I would waste good Bic-pen ink writing them down.

What I did not notice was where the little tarnished-metal engraved pillbox came from that this “Bowery Bert” was now holding in front of my face. He clicked it open, and I saw numerous pills in it of all shapes, sizes, and colors, each pill apparently different from all the others. The pillbox was small, but somehow there seemed to be hundreds of pills in it.

The old fellow picked out one of the pills, a little red one.

“Open up,” he said. He had that little cigar in his mouth now, and as he spoke some ash fell off of it, and onto my lap, not that I cared. “Come on,” he said. “Open wide like a good boy.”

He held the pill between his thumb and forefinger. His fingernails didn’t look very clean, but germs were not what I was afraid of.

“What is it?” I said.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Now open up.”

“It’s not LSD, is it?”

“No, it’s not LSD. Why – would you like some LSD?”


“Then open up.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Look, you want the pain in your knees to go away, don’t you?”


“Then open up.”

“You mean the pill will make my pain go away?”

“Angels, my dear fellow, unlike your own benighted race, are not in the habit of dissimulation.”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said, after a few moments, speaking not quite truthfully, because in fact I had no idea what he meant at all.

“I mean,” he said, “yes, this pill will obviate your pain.”

“Does that mean it will make the pain stop?”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, yes! The pill will kill it!”

“It will? The pill?”

“It will.”



“The pain?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, will you just shut up and swallow the pill?”

“Shut up?”


I closed my lips tight, because I could tell he was getting angry.

“What are you doing?” he said, and now he was almost yelling.

I opened my lips to speak.

“You told me to shut up,” I pointed out, in my defense.

“And now I’m telling you to open your mouth and swallow this fucking pill!”

I opened up, and without further ado he popped the pill into my gaping mouth.

“Now swallow it.”

I swallowed it.

And then, where previously there had been throbbing pain in both my knees was now only a not unpleasant numbness.

“Wow,” I said.

He clicked the pillbox shut, and stuck it inside his old suit coat somewhere.

“Good, huh?”

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you! How long will it last?”

He took the Parodi out of his mouth and gave his head a weary-looking shake.

“Christ, Arnold, can’t you just accept the moment for what it is without going into the ‘what-will-be’s? I swear you fucking humans kill me sometimes. Pardon my French. But, Jesus –”

“Sorry,” I said. “But, really, how long will the pain go away for?”

“Who do I look like?” he said. “The Mayo Brothers? Albert Schweitzer? How the hell do I know how long the pain will go away for?”

“Well, I just thought because you’re an angel and all –”

“Yes, an angel. A guardian angel. And let me tell you from the jump I am not going to be doling out pills right and left to you, so get that simple fact through your thick skull.”

“No more pills?”

“Arnold, again – what is my job-title?”

“Guardian angel?”

“Right. Not ‘dope pusher’.”

“But – what if my knees start hurting again?”

“What about it?”

“Can I get another pill then?”

“Okay, Arnold, I can see we are going to have to set some rules here –”

“But it seemed like you had a fair number of pills in that pillbox,” I said. 

“Yes, I did, and do –”

“So maybe just one every now and then for when the pain gets too intense –”

“Okay, now this is how drug addiction starts. Right here, like this.”

“I promise not to get addicted.”

“Heard that one before.”

I looked out at the rain, still crashing down. It looked different from this angle, sitting on the pavement in this recessed entranceway. It looked nicer somehow. 

“Look at the rain,” I said.

He turned his head and gave it a look.

“Yeah, still coming down.”

“It looks strangely beautiful.”

“It’s the Bowery, Arnold. A rainy night in the Bowery. Now are you going to sit there all night? Just like some typical Bowery bum?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “It is a little wet and uncomfortable. And also, I’ll be in the way if anyone tries to get in and out of the bar, so –”

“Oh, I’m sure the habitués of Bob’s Bowery Bar are used to stepping over people on the pavement to get in and out of the joint.”

“You know,” I said. “You’re probably right. So maybe if I could just sit here for a while, watching the rain explode multifariously on the sidewalk and in the street, sparkling in the silvery light of the streetlamps and crashing, clattering  –”

“All right,” he said. “I really shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to give you another pill.”

He stuck the cigar in his mouth again, then reached into the inside of his suit coat and brought out that little engraved pillbox.

“Wow,” I said. Again. “Thanks!”

He clicked the little pillbox open, stirred its contents about for a bit with his finger, then picked out another pill, a bigger blue lozenge-shaped one that seemed to give off a slight bluish glow.

“This is a different kind of pill,” he said.

“Well, if it’s anything like that last one –”

“It’s not. That other one was one of the all-purpose painkiller pills that we guardian angels keep for emergencies only.”

“It worked really well, too,” I said.

“Of course it did. That’s why it’s called an ‘all-purpose painkiller pill’. This one’s different.”

I opened my mouth, wide.

“Don’t you even want to know what it is?”

I closed my mouth so that I could open it afresh and speak.

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t want to seem – uh – presumptuous?”

“It’s an anti-high pill.”

“A what?”

“An anti-high pill. For when someone’s consumed something – like say, half-a-dozen hashish brownies – and they’re just a little too goddam high. Swallow this and maybe you’ll stop being so annoying.”


“Because there is nothing more annoying than a ‘high’ human being.” 

“So I’ll be low?”

“You’ll be neither high nor low. You will be normal.”

I could barely remember what normal felt like, if I had ever felt it. But it seemed worth a try. So I opened my mouth wide again, and he flicked the blue pill into it.

The pill really was rather big, and I toyed with it with my tongue.

“I wish I had something to wash it down with,” I said, probably sounding more mush-mouthed than I had already been sounding, speaking as I was around this pill which sat on my tongue like a great stone.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Bert.

He reached into his suit coat again, and now he brought out a leather-encased flask. He unscrewed its cap on its hinge and held it out in front of my face.

“And before you ask, all this is is plain ordinary Windsor Canadian, so shut up and drink it and swallow that pill.”

“Shut up?” I said.

“You want me to leave you right here? Because goddammit I will. There’s plenty other stumblebums around here could use a guardian angel, pal. Plenty of them. So don’t push your luck.”

He sounded serious, so I took the flask, took a good swig into my mouth, and, yes, it tasted like Windsor Canadian all right, either that or some other cheap whiskey of the sort I usually drank, and I swallowed the gulp down with the pill.

And then, sure enough, the dank thick essence of hashish which had suffused my entire being seemed to waft out of all my pores at once and dissolve into the damp warm air.

“Wow,” I said.

“Feels good, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Sobriety is a much underrated state,” he said.

“You’re right,” I said.

Without thinking about it I took another, even bigger swig of the Windsor Canadian.

(Continued here; Arnold is only just getting warmed up.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what our editorial staff at least intend to be a listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Don’t forget to click here to order a copy of the new paperback edition of our good friend Kathleen Maher’s splendid novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 463: oh

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel on this rainy night in old New York City, as he stands outside the entrance to Bob’s Bowery Bar with his new guardian angel, “Bowery Bert”...

(Kindly click here to read our immediately previous chapter; if you are wondering what all the hullabaloo is about you may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 66-volume autobiography.)

“It is no exaggeration to say that the history of American literature passed through a sea-change with the discovery of that first cache of Arnold Schnabel’s neatly handwritten marble composition books: henceforth this history would be divided into ‘Pre-Arnold Schnabel’ and ‘Post-Arnold Schnabel’.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Family Circle Literary Supplement.

My new guardian angel heaved a sigh, which sounded like the rustling of dead leaves in a gutter. He raised his umbrella up so that its ferrule was parallel to his cap, and for a horrible moment I thought he was going to thrash me with it, but after giving it a couple of shakes he lowered it again.

“Well,” he said, “Arnold – by the way, may I call you Arnold?”

“Sure,” I said.

“You don’t prefer ‘Arnie’?”

“Not especially,” I said.

’Mister Schnabel’?”

“Oh, no,” I hastened to say, as much as I could hasten to say anything, as steeped as my consciousness was in the warm maple syrup of hashish-brownie intoxication.

“No preferred nickname of some sort?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a nickname,” I said, someone said, the words came out of my mouth in a comic-strip balloon that fairly soon dissolved like the smoke trailing up from the ancient angel’s little cigar.

“No ‘Big A’?” he said, with a hint of a smile. “No ‘the Schnab’?”

“If so then only behind my back,” I said.

“’Arnold’ it is then. And, please, do call me Bert.”

“Okay – Bert,” I said, the last syllable sounding to me like a belch. 

“So,” he continued, “Arnold –”

“Oh, wait,” I said, unable to control myself. “Before you go on, ‘Bert’, may I ask you something?”

“Oh, please do,” he said, again with a suggestion of a smile, but the suggestion did seem strained to me, not that this consideration muted my idiocy.

“Do you have a last name?” I said, don’t ask me why, because I doubt I really cared.

“A ‘last name’,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Like, a, uh –”

“A surname if you will.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I was just wondering –”



“I am as you know an angel.”

“Yes –”

He wasn’t smiling at all now.

“Angels, my dear fellow, do not have last names.”

“Oh, okay.”

“You did not know that?” he said.

“Well, I sort of knew it,” I said.

“'Sort of knew it.'”

“Yeah. But I was just, you know, wondering.”



“Okay,” he said. “Well, now you can stop wondering.”

“That’s right,” I said, attempting to force a note of enthusiasm into my voice.

“No harm done,” he said, but he didn’t sound so sure of it.

“I didn’t mean,” I said, “to be, uh –”

What? A moron?

“We angels can of course have nicknames,” he said; “epithets if you will; thus mine: ‘Bowery Bert’.”

“Okay,” I said. “I get it now. Bowery Bert!”

“But lookit,” he said, “just call me ‘Bert’. ‘Bowery Bert’ would be slightly cumbersome I think in conversation, don’t you agree?”

“Yeah, I guess it would,” I said. 

“All right then –”

“Can I ask you one more question.”

I just couldn’t help myself. 

He took a drag on his cigar and looked to his right and over his shoulder, out at the rain that had not ceased crashing down, then he turned back and looked up at me, with those enormously magnified grey eyes of his.

“Sure,” he said, finally. “Fire away.”

I could tell I was getting on his nerves, so I made it quick.

“Is ‘Bert’ short for something? Like, you know, Bertrand, or, or –”

“It’s short for Bertolt.”


“That’s what I said.”

“But you prefer to be called Bert.”

“I think I indicated that already.”

“Okay, sorry,” I said. “It’s just, the, uh, hashish brownies, they’re making me a little –”


“Crazier,” I said.

“Ha ha,” he said. But he wasn’t really laughing. “May I go on now?”


“I was about to respond to your statement that you think your main problem might be that you are a human being.”

“Oh!” I said, the exclamation being appropriate because I had already forgotten saying this; not that my forgetting having said it made it any less reasonable, to me, anyway.

“And my response, to you, Arnold,” he said, “is that this is one problem I can’t help you with.”


“You’re a human being. Get used to it.”


“Nobody ever said it was easy being a human being.”

“No,” I said.

“In many ways it is – what’s the term the young people use – ‘for the birds’?”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“'Strictly from hunger' is a phrase I’ve heard used in this context.”

“Right,” I said.

“In short it stinks to be a human.”

“Well, not always,” I said.

“You’re born, you suffer, you die.”

“Well, yeah, there is that aspect,” I said.

“Some suffer more than others.”

“True,” I said.

“And it all seems very random, I know.”

“I guess that’s true,” I said.

“Like, what was God thinking?”

“Well, ya know,” I said, “it’s not up to us, to, uh –”

“Comparatively, I know, we angels have it made.”

“You think so?”

“Oh, I know so.”

“Well, uh –”

“But, you see, Arnold, I didn’t ask to be born an angel.”

“I guess not,” I said.

“Just as you did not ask to be born a human being.”

“No, that’s true,” I said. “I mean, rather, yes, I didn’t, uh –”

“So, sorry, no, can’t help you on the being-a-human-being question.”

“Well, I didn’t really mean to suggest that, uh, you know –”

“Can we move on now?”

“Sure,” I said. “Um, what would you like to, uh –”

“Arnold,” he said.


“It’s not about what I would like.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Not about what I want.”


“Not remotely.”

“Um –”

“I’m the guardian angel here, Arnold. You’re the human being.”


“I’m beyond wanting anything, thank God.”

“It must be nice,” I said.

“It is,” he said.

He nodded, and took another drag of his little cigar, looked again to his right, out at the street and that unabated downpour. The smoke trailed out of his dry old mouth and disappeared into the universe. After a few moments during which I forced myself to hold my peace, despite the fact that my skull was teeming with stupid questions and observations, he turned his little head back to face me.

“You said you wanted to go home,” he said.

“Oh, right,” I said.

“Do I take it then that this is your primary wish? I mean, putting aside the desire not to be a human being, and all the heartache and tediousness that entails?”

“What was the question again?”

He sighed, again, understandably. He rapped his umbrella on the pavement a couple of times, as if to make sure that all the rainwater was off it, but I knew that wasn’t the reason. Then he suddenly spoke.

“You said,” he said, “that what you wanted was to go home.”

“Oh, right,” I said

“And is this still shall we say your primary desire?”

“Um, maybe?”

“Yes or no.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Fine,” he said. 

He tapped his De Nobili with the forefinger of the hand that held it, and once again the ash tumbled down onto my shoe, the right one. What did I care, my shoes were filthy already, and wet. 

“So, to brass tacks,” he said.

“Great,” I said.

“Where do you live?”

“Oh,” I said.

“’Oh’? ‘Oh’? I don’t know a place called ‘Oh’. Is that the young people’s new patois-word for ‘Ohio’?”

“No,” I said. “At least not as far as I know –”

“Then, please, if you, will, to elucidate.”

“What I meant was,” I said, straining every cell in my brain, “‘Oh’, as in ‘Oh, that’s where it gets difficult.’

He sighed again. He tapped the tip of his umbrella on the pavement again, once, twice, three times.

“Just tell me where you live, please, Arnold,” he said, when he had finished tapping. “An exact address would be appreciated.”

“I live in another dimension,” I said. 

“Another dimension.” 

“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Another dimension.

“Yes,” I said. “Sort of.”

“Great,” he said, after what at least seemed to me like a long pause. “And where exactly if I may ask is this other dimension?”

“It’s not so much where it is as what it is,” I said. I knew I was really getting on his nerves now, so I hurried it along. “You see, I am from this dimension known as ‘reality’, and the dimension I am in now is a fictional reality.”


“Yeah,” I said. “Like, it’s the world of this book this woman I know wrote. But I keep wandering into other fictional universes within this fictional universe. And the thing is these other fictional universes are even more fictional, because they’re the worlds of books that have never even been written, at least not in the real world.”

He took another long pause here, and who could blame him? He turned and looked out at the Bowery, at the rain, at I don’t know what. Finally he turned back to me.

“All right,” he said. “So now we’re getting somewhere.”

“We are?” I said.

“Possibly,” he said.

“Ow ow ow ow,” I said.

“Oh, Christ, now what is it?” he said.

“Oh, it’s my knee,” I said, which it was, the right one. “Ow. Ow. Ow.

I was standing on my left leg now, leaning against the brickwork of the entranceway with one hand, but then of course my left knee started to hurt.

"Yow," I said. "Yow."

“Jesus,” said Bert, “you’re fucked up in more ways than one, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. “Look,” I went on, through gritted teeth, “I’ve been standing here too long I’m afraid. I injured both my knees tonight, a night which seems as if it’s been going on for three years and eight months now, and I’m afraid if I don’t sit down soon I am going to collapse.”

“Well, we don’t want that to happen, do we?”


“Oh no indeed.”

“Can we just go in this bar?” I said, gasped, whined.

Again he paused, again he sighed.

“Why am I getting the feeling that that’s all you really wanted to do all along?” he said.

It was just at that moment that the pain in both my knees finally got the best of me, and I did begin to collapse, sideways, sliding down the wall to my left like some great slug, but the little fellow quickly stuck his cigar in his mouth and, hooking the handle of his umbrella on one of his forearms, he caught me in both his thin small arms, holding me up and preventing me from falling to the pavement with a strength that seemed at first surprising until I remembered that he was not a mere tiny old man but an angel, and thus possessed of superhuman strength.

Then, and not for the first time that night, I passed out.

(Continued here, and onward, at the same stately and measured pace.)

(Photograph by Arthur Leipzig. Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a purportedly up-to-date listing of links to all other cybernetically-available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. And click here to order a copy of the new paperback edition of our friend Kathleen Maher’s most excellent novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 462: Bowery Bert

On this rainy hot night in old New York City our hero Arnold Schnabel has finally escaped from an importunately poetic cab driver to find himself here on the sidewalk in front of Bob’s Bowery Bar...

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; if you are looking for the literary equivalent of
The Guiding Light or As The World Turns then by all means click here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 77-volume epic.)

“How curious that one of the greatest works of literature of the 20th century – a work worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with the
chefs-d'œuvre of Proust, Joyce, Mann, and Sternwall – should be produced by a humble former railroad brakeman named Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom; from the Introduction to his “It's Easy to Say Too Much”: The Wit and Wisdom of Arnold Schnabel, Vol. 1.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq.

Had that mad taxi driver deliberately dropped me off, at long last, at my desired destination? Or had we only accidentally wound up here just at the moment he decided to order me from his cab? Or what if he had merely been circling the block this entire time?

Well, no matter, I was getting drenched, and so I sent a curt message from the command center of my brain down through the complex system of pneumatic tubes that was my nervous system to my legs with an urgent request to carry this amorphous blob that was me across that rain-bombarded sidewalk to the entrance of the bar, and after only a minute or so my legs received the communiqué, and, after the appropriate processing, lifted their attached feet and sent them, one after the other, in the desired direction, and, sure enough, after a few seconds that seemed like five minutes I managed to make it to the entranceway without falling.

The door of the bar was open, as it had been earlier that evening, opening outward, and inside was that same mass of drunken humanity, or a similar one, the same or similar churning clouds of tobacco smoke, and, yes, also what I had learned to recognize as marijuana smoke, all mixed in with the smells of sweaty human beings, of perfume and whiskey and beer as well as the sickly sweet smell of something I could only describe as despair.

People laughed, yelled, shouted and cried, and a jukebox played something that I supposed was jazz. 

This area right in front of the doorway was sheltered under a few feet of overhang, and so at least I was out of the downpour here. But I was however in the full grip of those hashish brownies now, and even a normally routine and mundane action like walking into the bar seemed to call for careful planning – but after all, how hard could it be just to walk inside? It wasn’t as if I even had to do anything so complicated as opening the door. And I was just about to shoot another dispatch down to my legs to the effect of “Go inside, bear to the right, take me over to that booth where I last saw Josh, and Ferdinand, and Ben and Horace, and Mr. Philpot,” when a gust of wind blew the door against my left elbow.

“Excuse me,” I said, to the door, and I stepped aside.

Another gust promptly came along and blew the door completely shut, thus muffling the sounds of music and drunkenness within, and somehow increasing the volume of the crashing of the rain.

There was no getting around it now. I would have to open the door. Either that or wait for someone else to open it. But the latter course seemed silly; how difficult could it be to open a presumably unlocked door?

I certainly didn’t want to overthink the situation, but on the other hand I thought I should at the very least take stock of it before doing anything rash. The door was one of those doors with a curved tarnished brass handle and a lever for the thumb to depress: okay, it wasn’t as if I was trying to break into Fort Knox here. Just put my hand on the handle, press the lever thing down with my thumb, and then pull the door toward me. Try not to pull the door into my face and knock myself out. Pull the door open and then step inside. It really wasn’t all that difficult, hard, or complicated.

But which hand should I use? I was right-handed, I still am in fact, but if I used my right hand would that mean I would have to take some steps backward as I opened the door? What if I lost my balance and stumbled and fell? What if I hit my head on the pavement? I could kill myself, or become paralyzed, lying there on my back with the rain beating down on my face.

So maybe the left hand was better. Pull the door open, and then make a subtle sidling move around it as I did so. This maneuver would call for the utmost coöperation of my mental powers and the aforementioned pneumatic system of tubes that served as my nervous system, and of my entire body in fact, which unfortunately felt like it was made of Pillsbury dinner-roll dough.

I took a breath, and raised my left hand, preparing myself.

“Really pathetic,” said a voice from somewhere behind me and to my right, seemingly at about the height of my elbow.

I turned and saw a little old man. 

Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe, or maybe by this point it’s not hard to believe at all, but it was another one all right, another tiny dried up old man. 

This one was about five foot one, wearing a cloth cap and a baggy suit. Both the cap and the suit were the color of ashes in a tin ashtray that hasn’t been properly cleaned in years. He had an umbrella, which he was shaking the rain off of, opening and closing it partway, splashing rainwater on me, not that it mattered at all, I was already so soaked. The umbrella also had an ashy color, although it had probably been black forty years ago. The man was about eighty, at least he looked like he was eighty, and the flesh of his face was another, lighter shade of ash. He had a little cigar in it, it looked like one of those hard Italian-style cigars. He wore thick round wire-rimmed glasses that made his dark grey eyes seem as big as half-dollar coins.

He finished shaking out the umbrella and then furled it and buttoned it. His fingers were small and wizened but they seemed very deft. All I could think was, “I’ll bet he’ll have no problem opening the door.”

He took the cigar out of his mouth and blew some smoke up at me. Then he spoke.

“My name is Bert,” he said.

“Hi, Bert,” I said, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to do so, unless I had only imagined it. So I thought I’d add more, just to be polite. “My name is Arnold –”

“I know who you are,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “You do?”

“No, I’m lying.”

“Ah,” I said. “Ha ha. You’re lying?”

“No, you fool, I’m not lying. I was kidding. Jeeze.”

I tried to grasp some meaning from the words that had escaped his mouth, I tried and failed.

“You were – kidding,” I said, my own words echoing through the vast dark reaches of the universe, “ – when you said you knew my name was Arnold?” 

“No, I was kidding when I said I was lying when I said I knew who you were. And presumably still are. You see I’ve been sent here. I am your guardian angel.”

“Wow,” I said.

“That is your reaction? ‘Wow’?”

“Yes, well, I didn’t even know I had a guardian angel.”

“You didn’t have one, until now.”


“Think about it, Arnold: would it make sense for every human being to have their own guardian angel?”

“Well –” I paused, taking his advice and thinking it over. “I guess that would mean an awful lot of angels.”

“As many as there are human beings. Can you imagine all the angelpower that would require? Shuffling down a fresh guardian angel each time a new human is born?”

“Well,” I said, “on the other hand people are dying all the time too, right?”

“That’s very true, and guardian angels are indeed reassigned when their current human has passed on, be it to heaven, hell, purgatory or limbo, but even an angel needs some rest between cases – would you deny them that?”


“And, irregardless, there still aren’t enough angels to go around for every single human being on the planet, not nearly enough.”


“No way.”

“How many are there?” I asked.

“Guardian angels?”


“You’re not going to get all weird if I tell you, are you?”

“No,” I said. I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t get weird, but I wanted to move the conversation along.

“Six hundred and sixty-six,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “That’s not a lot.”

“No, it isn’t,” he said. “But don’t you get it? Six hundred and sixty-six. Six six six.”


“The number of the beast,” he said.

“Ah,” I said.

“From the Book of Revelation? In the Bible?”

“Oh, okay,” I said. “The number of the, uh –”

“Beast,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “I think I’ve heard of that, uh.”

“Not much of a Bible reader, are you?”

“I’m a Catholic,” I said.

“Well, that explains it,” he said. “Okay, moving on, we’ve got six hundred and sixty-six guardian angels, so, needless to say, not everybody gets one.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

“God doesn’t do bad things,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to point the finger,” I said.

“You shouldn’t question his infinite wisdom.”

“I try not to,” I said.

The little guy took a puff on his De Nobili or whatever it was, and blew the smoke up into my face again.

“I hope you realize how lucky you are.”

“Um, well, I hadn’t really thought about it –”

“Maybe you should think about it,” he said. “Millions of people on the planet – millions – and only six hundred and sixty-six guardian angels. And you get one of them.”

“Wow," I said. “I mean, rather, 'gee', I mean when you put it like that –”

“And I do.”

“Well, thanks,” I said.

“Don’t thank me. I go where he tells me to go,” he said, glancing upward.

“Well, uh, thank God, then,” I said.

“Don’t be a wiseass,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to be,” I said.

“Okay,” he said then. “To business. What’s the sit-rep here?”

“The what?”

“What’s going on? I assume there’s some sort of problem or I wouldn’t have been assigned to you.”

“They didn’t tell you?”

“Who is ‘they’?”

“The, uh, bosses of the guardian angels?”

He shook his head, in a resigned-looking sort of way, maybe a disgusted way.

“Look, Arnold, all I know is I’m supposed to be your guardian angel. But from what I can see you are at the present rather shall we say three sheets to the wind? Or is it four?”

“You mean I’m drunk?”

“That’s exactly what I mean. Either drunk or mentally retarded. So which is it.”

“Um,” I said, “– Bert?”

“Bert, yes, ‘Bowery Bert’ as I’m known in these parts.”

“Well, uh, pleased to, uh, meet you, uh, Bert.”

I extended a hand, my right one, but he ignored it, so I pretended I had a cramp in it and stretched out and retracted my fingers a few times.

“Bert,” I continued, after completing my little dumb-show with the hand, “I may be a little drunk, and it’s true I may even be somewhat mentally retarded, but I think that the reason I might appear to be completely drunk or retarded is that I ate some hashish brownies a little while ago, and –”

“Hashish brownies.”


“How many.”


“You ate five hash brownies.”


“I see. So may I assume then that you are a drug addict?”

“No,” I said, after a pause. “I honestly wouldn’t say that.”

“Arnold,” said my new guardian angel with a sigh, “you know what ‘denial’ is?”

“Um, uh –”

“I’ll tell you what denial is not.”

“Okay,” I said.

“It is not just a river in Egypt.”

“Uh-huh. Okay.”

“Accepting you have a problem is the first step in solving that problem. Now I want you to repeat after me: ‘My name is Arnold, and I am a drug addict.’”

“But, honest, I’m not a drug addict.”

“Really? Mr. Hashish Brownie?”

“But that was a mistake,” I said. 

“A mistake.”

“Yes,” I said. “You see, I thought they were regular brownies.”

“Uh-huh. Okay. You just happened to eat five hash brownies by mistake.”

“I know it sounds –”



“It does. It also leads me to suspect that possibly your real problem is that you are a moron. But let’s move on.”

“To where?”

“Where do you want to go?”

“Well – I’d like to go home,” I said.

“Wouldn’t we all. And if you want to go home why are you standing at the door of Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“That’s a very long story,” I said.

“Can you sum it up in twenty-five words or less?”

“Possibly,” I said. “But the problem with that is finding the right twenty-five words, and putting them in the most effective, uh –”


“Yeah,” I said, “sequence, and then sending them through this complex system of pneumatic tubes inside me down to my mouth and my tongue.”

“In other words the immediate problem is the hashish brownies.”

“I think so,” I said. “Yes.”

“Fine. This I can work with. ‘We’ can work with, because it’s got to be a team effort, Arnold. I’m just your guardian angel. You’ve got to do some of the heavy lifting yourself.”


“So.” He tapped his De Nobili or Parodi with his finger, and the ash tumbled down to land on the instep of my left work shoe. “We deal with the hashish brownie problem and then we deal with whatever the main problem is. Which is getting you home?”


“What. You sound doubtful.”

“It’s just that now that I think about it I don’t know if that’s my real main problem.”

He paused before speaking again, as if he were counting to ten. I think I may have been trying his patience.

“And what would that be,” he said. “Your so-called main problem.”

“Being a human being?” I said.

(Continued here, for the sake not only of the present generation, but of all the generations yet unborn.)

(Kindly cast an eye down the right-hand column of this page to find a perhaps reasonably accurate listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Click here to order a copy of our friend Kathleen Maher’s excellent début full-length novel Diary of a Heretic!)