Friday, September 23, 2016

Arnold's friend Big Ben Blagwell: a retrospective



As our dedicated staff is still busily preparing Volume One of Arnold Schnabel's memoirs for publication as an actual "book" (in time for the holiday season!), and in lieu of any new episodes of  Railroad Train to Heaven for the time being,  we hope to forestall any groans of disappointment with today’s submission, a brief backward look at the exciting career of Arnold Schnabel’s friend, that hearty adventurer Big Ben Blagwell.

Ben’s first known appearance was in They Called Her Clementine, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Gold Medal paperback original published in 1949, which opens with these immortal lines:

I liked her face; it was a sweet, open face, a face that seemed to say springtime and flowers and happiness; oh, how wrong I was.

It was almost three years (during which time our hero’s hair somehow turned from “black as engine oil” to “red like dirty rust”) before Ben’s next appearance, in The Magic Pen Wiper, by Horace P. Sternwall; a Popular Library paperback original, 1952 (republished as Port of Passion, by "Hank Peter Savage", a “Perma Book Original”, 1954):

Big Ben Blagwell had whored and boozed and brawled his way through every two-bit dive in the South Seas, but he hadn’t really hit rock bottom until that day he strolled into a little place down Baguio way on the isle of Luzon, a little joint called the Magic Pen Wiper.

A scant two months later Ben showed up again, in My Friend the .45, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Behemoth Books paperback original, 1952:

He had a face that looked like it had been run over by a truck a few times; I turned away but then he spoke, the face spoke: "Hey, buddy, no disrespect, can I ask ya a question?

Ben’s next starring role was in Hell in the Amazon, by Horace P. Sternwall, an “Ace Double” paperback original, paired with Five Elegant Hit-Men, by “Henry Per Swenson” (yet another Sternwall nom de plume), 1953:

When my old navy buddy Buzz Maxwell called me up and asked me if I wanted to take a boat trip up the Amazon just for the hell of it with our other navy buddy Chip Weatherby, I said sure, it sounded like fun.
Boy, was I wrong.
Dead wrong.
Like flesh-eating piranha wrong.

We find Ben again, apparently fully-recovered from the numerous wounds incurred in his previous adventure, in Princess of the Bowery, by Horace P. Sternwall, an Ace paperback original, 1954:

She had a face that reminded me of my mother's face in the casket at the funeral home: painted, hard, and dead, with just the ghost of a smile. I decided to buy her a drink.

Again little worse for the wear, we find Ben a year later in Big Gun For a Little Lady, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Ballantine paperback original, 1955 (originally serialized in abridged form as "Little Lady With a Large Gun" in Savage Tales for Men, August and October, 1954):

“Hey, buddy,” said the dame sitting to Ben Blagwell’s right. “You wanta do me a favor?”
She was a redhead, but not with orange hair like a normal redhead. Her hair really was red, just like her dress.
She didn’t wait for Ben to say anything, but she opened up her sparkly red purse on her lap and brought out a .45 automatic, locked and cocked.
“Here,” she said. “Hold this for me a minute.”
Ben looked up and down the bar. Nobody was paying attention, and the kind of joint this was, even if somebody was paying attention they probably wouldn’t give a damn.
Ben took the gun out of her hand and held it on his thigh.
“Pretty big gun for a little lady,” he said.
“Sometimes a little lady needs a big gun,” she said. “Now put that thing away and let me buy you a drink.”

Still “a sucker for a good-looking dame, and the deadlier the better” we find Ben for the first time in sunny Los Angeles, in A Broad Named Maude, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Signet paperback original, 1956 (“Not a reprint”, but actually serialized in abridged form as “Devil’s Flight” in Torrid Tales, October-November-December, 1953, by “Harry P. St. James”):

It was a long walk back from the Santa Anita racetrack to downtown Los Angeles. Every once in a while Ben Blagwell would stick his thumb out, but nobody stopped. What the hell, Ben wouldn’t have picked himself up either if he saw himself standing on the side of the road in his cheap Robert Hall suit, a big ginger bruiser who looked like he’d kill you just as soon as look at you. It was almost midnight by the time he got back to Bunker Hill, and all the lights in the rooming house were out, which was good -- maybe he could avoid the landlady at least until morning. But someone was sitting on the porch glider up there in the dark. Ben started climbing the creaky wooden steps, hoping to hell that the someone wasn’t Mrs. McGrath, the mean old harridan. And then the someone struck a match, and lit a cigarette, and Ben stopped where he was at the head of the steps.
“Hello, big boy.”
Maude. Maude Collins. Three thousand miles he had traveled to get away from this broad, and here she was.
“You look like hell, big boy,” she said.
I look like hell, thought Ben.
And now I am in hell.

Ben apparently appeared in at least fourteen other Horace P. Sternwall novels, but we have not yet been able to track a single one of them down. If any of our faithful readers does happen to chance on any of them in a garage sale or moldering in a cardboard box in a grandparent's basement, the present writer would love to hear from you.
But in the meanwhile can any of us forget Ben’s first appearance in Arnold Schnabel’s heroic and massive memoir, Railroad Train to Heaven? Yes, it was way back in Chapter 251, when Arnold idly picks up a paperback titled Havana Hellcats (Horace P. Sternwall, publisher and date unknown):

I turned it over and looked at the back cover.
“Trapped in a tropical paradise that turns into a burning inferno of passion and betrayal, Yank soldier-of-fortune Ben Blagwell goes up against a harem of lesbian murderesses whose only motto is ‘More!’”
“By Horace P. Sternwall, author of Say It With a .38, Two Ways to Tuesday, and The Magic Pen Wiper.”
“I couldn’t put this book down, and neither will you!"-- Bennett Cerf
“Not for nothing has Sternwall been compared with Maugham and Conrad." -- Bernard DeVoto
“Sternwall’s Big Ben Blagwell deserves a place in the pantheon of the great heroes of literature, right up there with Leatherstocking, Ivanhoe, D'Artagnan, and Humphrey Clinker.” -- Lionel Trilling
I opened the book to the first page of the novel. I brought the opened book to my nose and breathed in the reassuring smell of the pulpy paper. Then I lowered the book and read the opening lines.
“Your name Ben Blagwell?”
“Who wants to know?”
“I’d like to buy you a drink if you’re Ben Blagwell.”
“I only drink with my friends,” said Big Ben Blagwell.
“And what’s a chap got to do to become your friend?”
“Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you.”
“Innkeeper!” called the fat man in the wrinkled white suit. “Another drink for my friend here. What’re you drinking, Ben?”
“Planter’s Punch, with a float of ‘151’.”
“Two Planter’s Punches,” said the fat man.
“With a float of ‘151’,” Ben reminded him.
“And a float of ‘151’,” said the fat man.
“Sit down, my friend,” said Big Ben Blagwell….
“All right, buddy,” said someone behind me, in a deep, gruff voice.
I turned. It was a big muscular, sun-bronzed guy with four or five days’ growth of a ginger beard, a crushed and dingy white yachting cap, a wrinkled Hawaiian shirt, equally wrinkled denim trousers, dirty white deck shoes. He had a tattoo of an anchor on one forearm, and there was some sort of a bird on the other. He took a drag from a cigarette...
****
(Portrait of Ben and unknown woman by Vic Prezio. Ben and Arnold Schnabel both will be back with all-new episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven as soon as Volume One is published.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

"A Guy Named Jesus"














 



Our staff is still busily preparing Volume One of the memoirs of Arnold Schnabel for publication as a book later this year, and so, in lieu of any new chapters at this time, we present again the following poem,  submitted by Arnold to "The Olney Times" in early March, 1963, just a couple of weeks before his release from the Byberry mental hospital in Philadelphia. (Republished with the kind "nihil obstat" of the Arnold Schnabel Society.)



“A Guy Named Jesus”

A guy named Jesus came to see me last night;
He opened my door and for a moment just stood there;
“Hello,” he said, then, shutting the door tight,
He came to my bed and pulled up a chair.

“My name is Jesus,” said He, and extended His hand;
I took it and shook it, His grip was warm and firm.
“So,” He said, “You’ve had some trouble, I’m led to understand.”
“Yes, it’s true,” I said, “For I am a lowly misbegotten worm.”

“Poppycock!” said He; “and by the way, may I smoke?”
“Dear Lord,” said I, “smoking’s not allowed in patients’ rooms.”
“But you forget,” said He, “’Tis I who make the rules! (Ha! a joke!)
But fear not, for there’s nothing like a butt to dissipate the glooms.”

And taking from His pouch a lighter and a pack of Pall Mall
He lit us both up and said, “I have come, you see, to set you free,
from your absurd travails, and your own self-made Hell.”
“I deserve only Hell,” I cried, “And free I deserve not to be!”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” He said with a winning grin,
“that is, of course: the Holy Ghost, My Father, and Me.
So stop this nonsense, for I want you to begin
that long journey home to Avenue Nedro and B.”

A guy named Jesus came to see me last night,
a simple Jewish carpenter smelling faintly of wood;
we talked until the first faint glimmerings of light,
and when He left I slept the sleep of the good.


(For links to other poems from Arnold Schnabel and to the serialization of his memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, go to the right hand column of this page.)

Friday, September 9, 2016

"The Hammock"

As our staff of volunteers is still busy preparing Volume One of Arnold Schnabel's memoirs for publication this year as a "book", made of actual paper, and in lieu of any new chapters of the saga at this time, we present again this much-beloved sonnet, first published in the July 27, 1963 issue of the Olney Times, and harkening back bravely to Arnold's famous poem “One Night” (which latter was composed immediately following his breakdown and commitment to Byberry).

Internal evidence suggests that this poem was written on the night of the morning described in Chapter 9 of  Arnold's memoir, Railroad Train to Heaven.

(Rebroadcast thanks to the continuing generosity of the Arnold Schnabel Society, all rights reserved to that noble organization.)

“The Hammock”

After a modest lunch of liverwurst
On pumpernickel, washed down with iced tea,
It is decidedly far from the worst
Thing in life just to rise and go nicely
Lie myself down in the hammock out back
(Hooked from an oak and the rear of house
And fashioned from an old potato sack),
Content as a dog, a cat, or a mouse,
Or even as this tree, or the great sky
Flickering through the living boughs;
I do not fear rising into that eye
Of fire, nor do I ask the whys and hows;
If the sky should want me, let it take me;
I’m as ready now as I’ll ever be.


(For links to other transcendental poems by Arnold Schnabel, as well as to his sprawling memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, step firmly over to the right hand column of this page. New, never-before-published chapters of Arnold's magnum opus will be coming within the next couple of months!)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

"Alone"


Our dedicated staff of interns and graduate assistants are still busily preparing Volume One of Arnold Schnabel 's memoirs for publication in book form later this year, and so, in lieu of any new episodes at the moment, we present the following classic sonnet by our hero, which first saw light of day in the Olney Times of July 13, 1963.



“Alone”

Alone is not so bad; I breathe the air
and it’s my air; I look at the sky
and it’s my sky; I go for a walk
and this is my world. And now I stare
at things seen clearly with my mind’s eye,
at dark thrashing trees who whisper and talk
among themselves in a gas lamp’s glare,
as the singing ocean six blocks away
asks to join the party; it will bring wine
and music, and fishes and loaves, and rare
and precious sweets, and dance an antic hay
amidst five million stars: all this is mine.
alone is not alone; I sit in this chair,
alive at long last, and ready to dare.



(For links to many other Arnold Schnabel poems, and for entrée into his previously unpublished memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, go to the right hand column of this page.)