Friday, April 17, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 436: savior

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companions here on this sultry wet night in Greenwich Village, just outside the Kettle of Fish bar on MacDougal Street...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; click here to return to the barely-remembered misty beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume autobiography.)

“There is the so-called ‘real world’, and then there is that other, that infinitely more rich world: Arnold Schnabel’s world.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Family Circle Literary Supplement.

Missy stared at me, holding the reefer smoke in her lungs, already she was becoming expert, and then, after half a minute or so, with a gentle sighing sound, she released the smoke, in my direction, and once again Ferdinand was hovering there in front of her to breathe in as much of it as he could.

Finally she spoke:

Your world,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

She held out what was left of the reefer to me. Already I forgot that I didn’t want to smoke anymore, and the fact that I had smoked just a minute before probably contributed to my forgetting, so I took it, and, again, “toked”.

“Do you mind if I ask you what that means?” she said. “I mean if I’m not prying.”

I held in the smoke before replying, trying to think of a suitable answer to her question, but before I could think of one Horace took the “roach” from my fingers, and quickly began toking from it himself.

At last I exhaled, and, sure enough there was Ferdinand, just four inches from my mouth, doing his best to make sure that as little as possible of the precious smoke went to waste.

Missy was still staring at me, as was Muriel, both of them smoking their Herbert Tareytons again; Horace still had his cigarette going, so all in all there was a lot of smoking going on.

“Take your time,” said Missy. 

She really was a very pretty girl, despite that one slight blemish on her cheek, the one that Horace hadn’t mentioned in Slaves of Sappho. Her prettiness was just one more impediment to my ability to speak sensibly.

“Oh,” I said, for starters. But then, suddenly I just didn’t feel like going into it all again. “Forget it,” I said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Weirdo,” said Muriel.

“I’ll say!” said Missy.

Now I felt bad. I hate to seem rude.

“It’s just hard to explain,” I said.

“Give it a shot,” said Muriel.

“Okay, it’s like this,” I said. “I come from the real world. This world, however –” I made a truncated waving gesture with my right hand, which felt oddly like someone else’s hand, “you see – it’s a fictional world.”

“Fictional world,” said Missy.

“Yes,” I said. “I know it seems and feels like reality, but it’s a world of – how can I put this – imagination?”

“Imagination,” said Missy.

“So – what,” said Muriel, “you’re saying all this –” and she made a little wave with the hand that held her cigarette –  
“is imaginary?”

I knew I shouldn’t even have started. It’s just not always a good idea to be truthful.

“Um,” I said.

“You’re saying we’re imaginary?”

Now I was in trouble. I glanced at Horace, as if he could help out – after all, these girls were his literary creations – but he was only smiling, tight-lipped, holding in his smoke.

Muriel was still staring at me, waiting for a reply, so was Missy. I could hear Ferdinand giggling.

“I could possibly be mistaken,” I said.

“Oh, brother,” said Muriel. “You are just so high, man!”

Horace laughed now, snorting marijuana smoke through his nostrils. Ferdinand laughed too, and also made tiny snorting and coughing sounds as he bounced around in the smoke.

It was true after all, I was, in beatnik argot, “high”. But as high as I was, I realized there was no point in continuing the present topic of conversation, and, so, smiling as little falsely as I was able, despite the fact that my face felt like a rubber mask, I said, “That’s true, ha ha.”

“In a nutshell,” said Horace, smiling, “Arnie thinks we’re all fictional characters – everybody except for him, that is!”

“Well, that’s just a teeny bit solipsistic,” said Muriel.

“We prefer to speak of Arnie as just being slightly self-absorbed,” said Ferdinand, and if a fly can smile, I think he was smiling. 
“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Sorry for being self-absorbed?” asked Ferdinand.

“Yes,” I said. “And sorry in general.”

“But, really, Arnie,” he went on, “what makes you think your world is any more real than any other world?”

“Well,” I said, and that’s all I said, because I was unable to answer his question.

“Okay, whatever,” said Horace. “Hey, nobody’s perfect. You girls want anymore of this?”  
He held out the half-inch nubbin of reefer that remained.

Missy looked like she was about to respond in the affirmative, raising her small and delicate right hand, but Muriel said, “No, we’re cool, man.”

“Save it for later then,” said Horace, and he put out the 
“roach” by tapping the cinder with his thumb and forefinger.

I confess I was a little annoyed at Horace for not backing me up. After all, if anyone knew that Muriel and Missy were fictional characters it was he. But, if he also was a fictional character, perhaps he just didn’t see anything remarkable in our present situation. He dropped the extinguished roach into his shirt pocket.

“Okay!” he said. “Let’s get some drinks.”

Here we go again, I thought, but I knew I had to be strong, or at least attempt not to be weak.

“Sorry, Horace,” I said. “but, as I said before, I really can’t go in the bar.”

He looked at me, with a sad expression on his face.

“So, like, you’re serious.” 

He really did look disappointed.

“Arnie don’t joke,” said Ferdinand, hovering lazily near my face. George Jessel he is not.”

“I mean, I told you I’m buying, Arnie,” said Horace. “I’ve got money.”

This was true, all that money he had bilked out of senile Mr. Peacock, it must have been burning a hole in his wallet.

“Look, you go, Horace,” I said. “It’s okay.”

“Well, gee, Arnie,” he said.

“Well, tell ya what, boys,” said Muriel. “Thanks for the reefer, but we’re going in.” She turned to Missy. “Ready, darlin’?” 

“Sure!” said Missy, and turning to Horace, she said, “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Steinmetz.” 

“Well, actually,” he said, “it’s –”

“And you, too, Mr. Schwabel,” she said, addressing me, and I didn’t bother even trying to correct her.

“Let’s go, doll,” said Muriel, and taking Missy by the arm, she led her away, over to the nearby entrance of the Kettle of Fish, with its big vertical neon sign in the window saying

in bright glowing yellow and red. Muriel opened the door, and  the laughter and shouting of drunken human beings escaped into the open air, the two girls went in, the door closed behind them, and with them went all but the faint babble of those drunken revelers inside.

Horace turned to me.

“Well, I hope you’re happy now, Arnold. We might have gotten somewhere with those girls.”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand.

“What do you mean, ha ha?” said Horace.

“I mean they’re a couple of lesbos, Horace,” said Ferdinand. “Get real.”

Horace sighed.

“Well, I suppose you have a point. But, still, you never know. I wrote this one book one time, well, it was one of my books published under a nom de plume, Hallie Peterson St. James I think, and anyway, in this book, Lesbian Dawn it’s called, these two girls meet a fellow in a dockside bar, and –”

“Horace,” said Ferdinand. 

“Yes?” said Horace. 

“Dream on.”

Horace shrugged.

“Still, it would have done no harm, just to have a drink or two –”

“Okay,” I said. “Look, I’m going across the street to Mr. Philpot’s shop. If you want to go in the bar, Horace, go ahead, no hard feelings. Same for you, Ferdinand.”

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes?” I said.

“Have I ever abandoned you yet?”

“No,” I said.

“Well, I’m not going to start now.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. I was saying I was sorry a lot. I was sorry a lot. “I appreciate that, Ferdinand.”

I looked at Horace.

“Well, I guess I’m in, too,” he said, but not with any apparent enthusiasm.

“Great,” I said. “Let’s go.”

We turned, finally, to cross MacDougal. A couple of cars came by, and when they had passed I made a little jump over the water in the gutter, and Horace did also. We crossed the street successfully, jumping the gutter water on the other side, and there we were, at the steps leading up to Mr. Philpot’s shop. Light came through the windows, so that was encouraging. We mounted the steps and came to the door. I pressed the button, and the chime sounded from inside.

We waited, Horace and I, and Ferdinand, who was buzzing in a lazy way around our heads.

“Press the button again, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, after a minute.

“No, I’d better not,” I said. “He got mad the last time when I rang more than once.”

“Fuck that old goat,” said Ferdinand. 
But right then the door opened, and there was little round Mr. Philpot, looking the same as the last time I had seen him: the sixty-or-seventy-year-old dark suit, the shirt with a wing collar, the stained old tie (I don’t know if I mentioned the tie before, a wide, scarf-like tie, with a color and design reminiscent of the bottom of a rusty old garbage pail that hasn’t been cleaned properly since the Civil War), the bald head and pince-nez wire-rimmed glasses with horribly magnified old-man’s eyes behind them, bloodshot, the irises the color of wet stale tobacco ash, the pupils dilated and as flat and black as drops of congealed tar. He had his pipe in his hand, the one with a gargoyle carved into the bowl.

“Fuck what old goat?” he said.

“Hello, Mr. Philpot,” I said. “It’s me.”

“You,” he said, and then, looking at Horace, “and you! I thought I had taken care of you, you cheapjack hack.”

“Same old pleasant Mr. Philpot,” said Horace.

“Hi, Mr. Philpot,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, hello,” he said. “Theodore, isn’t it?’

“Close,” said Ferdinand, “Ferdinand.”

“I beg your pardon,” he said.

“May we come in?” I said.

“I thought you went to micturate in the facilities in the rear of my shop,” he said.

“I did,” I said.

“Micturate or go to micturate?”

“Both,” I said.

“Then why are you suddenly appearing at the front door.”

“Um,” I said. “uh – hey, by the way, is my friend Josh still here?”

“Your lord and savior?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Of course he’s here. As is your other friend, the big chap.”

“Ben,” I said. “Big Ben Blagwell.”

“Mariner fellow.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Is that Arnie?” I heard Ben’s bellowing voice from inside, and I have to admit that for once I was glad to hear it.

“Yes!” said Mr. Philpot, over his shoulder. “The fly as well! And some other tramp.”

“Hey, now, wait a minute, Mr. Philpot –” said Horace.

Mr. Philpot pointed the end of his pipe at Horace. 

“You owe me money!” he said. “One hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Oh, I do, do I?” said Horace.

“Yes, you do!” said Mr. Philpot. “A hundred and fifty! Cash!”

“Okay,” said Horace. “Okay. Fine. You want some money? Here. Nobody call me a cheapjack hack.” He took his beat up old wallet out of the back pocket of his old work trousers. “Here. I’ll give you some money, jerk.” He opened the wallet and fingered through the bills in it without taking them out, all the money he had cheated Mr. Peacock out of in that other fictional universe, plus whatever he had already had on him. “Okay, here, I’ll give you seventy-five, that’s half –”

“You owe me a hundred and fifty,” said Mr. Philpot. “Not seventy-five!”

“Oh, come on, Mr. Philpot,” said Horace. “You know I’m good for it. Why do you always have to be such an asshole?”

“Call me an asshole,” said Mr. Philpot. “All right, sonny Jim, you asked for it –”

He started to reach inside his suit jacket, and I was thinking, “Oh, no, not another gun,” but thank God, which I suppose means thank himself, Josh appeared behind Mr. Philpot, towering over him. Josh was only about my height, six feet, but since Mr. Philpot only stood about five foot two, yes, Josh towered over him.

Arnold,” he said, smiling. He too looked as he had looked the last time I had seen him. The wrinkled and soiled blue suit, the loosened tie, the trilby hat, the bruises on his face, and as usual he had a lit cigarette in his hand. “Where the heck have you been? I thought you went to take a pee.”

I sighed.

“It’s a long story,” I said.

(To be continued; an army of Schnabelists would have it no other way.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand side of this page to find a listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Klick here to follow Arnold’s adventures your Kindle™ at a laughably nominal fee and never miss a single exciting episode!)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 435: hero

Once again our hero Arnold Schnabel has triumphed over his old nemesis the prince of darkness, here on this hot wet night in old Greenwich Village... 

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; curious newcomers with lots of free time on their hands may go here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume masterpiece.)

“Arnold Schnabel has been called ‘the American Proust’, ‘the workingman’s James Joyce’, ‘the less-neurotic Kafka’, even ‘the kindler, gentler Samuel Beckett’, but I think it is enough to say that he was quite simply, quite complicatedly, and quite magnificently: Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Olney Community College Literary Quarterly.

“Wow,” said Ferdinand, the first one to speak. “That was intense.”

“I’ll say,” said Horace. 

“Have I really gone mad?” said Missy.

“Well, honey,” said Muriel, “if you’ve gone cuckoo then I have too.”

“But –” said Missy, “was that man who I think he was?”

“It was him,” said Muriel. “Old Jack Scratch himself.”

“Actually,” I said, unable as most men are to resist an opportunity to show off, “Jack Scratch is one of his sort of subordinate demons. But this was –” I waved a hand at the space that Nicky had occupied on the pavement – ”the prince of darkness himself.”

“An old friend of yours?” said Muriel.

“We’ve had quite a few encounters I’m afraid,” I said, not meaning to brag, but it was only the truth.

“Wow, Arnie,” said Horace, “I’m really impressed. This is a whole new side of you.”

“I've said it before, I'll say it again," said Ferdinand. "Arnie is in no way, shape, or form a ham-and-egger.”

“Obviously not,” said Horace.

“You’re smart, you know what you should do, Horace?” said Ferdinand

“Well, I’m not very smart, heh heh,” he said. “But what should I do, Ferdy?”

“You oughta make Arnie the hero of your next book.”

“Y’know, that’s not a bad idea,” said Horace, after just a very slight hesitation. He had thrown away his latest cigarette sometime in the past several minutes, and now he reached into his side jacket pocket and produced a fresh one. I’m not sure, but I think these were Herbert Tareytons that he had stolen from the cigarette box in the parlour of the Stop-Rite Inn, in that other fictional universe we had somehow escaped from, into this one. “Maybe not a bad idea at all,” he said, tapping the cigarette on the base of his thumb. “Maybe even make him the hero of a series, like you know, John Carter of Mars. Or Doc Savage.”

“Big money in those kinds of books,” said Ferdinand.

“I could even write you in there, Ferdinand,” said Horace, with a smile. He lit his cigarette with a paper match from a Lily’s Road House book of matches. “Arnold’s faithful wisecracking sidekick.”

“Just spell my name right,” said Ferdinand.

While the above nonsense was being spoken I had noticed something strange on the sidewalk near my feet, something narrow and black and tapered, and I realized it was Nicky’s cigarette holder, still with a burning butt of a cigarette in it. I didn’t know why, and I still don’t, but I bent over to pick it up. Performing this simple act felt like I was reaching down into another universe, yet another one, but at last my fingers reached the holder and picked it up, and my torso began its slow ascent into what felt like the stratosphere, or perhaps the ionosphere, not that I know what those words mean, but suffice it to say that the upper part of my body was rising way, way, up, even though my hips and legs and feet remained anchored to the sidewalk, and as I stared down at the miles of empty space expanding between my eyes and the concrete paving below I became overcome by vertigo, which caused me to stumble forward as if I had been given a good hard kick in the backside, but Horace grabbed me by the arm to keep me from falling.

“Easy there, champ,” he said.

“I think I need to sit down,” I said, the words seeming to float up into the humid lamplit air, drifting up into the dark sky above.

“Sure, pal,” said Horace. “We’ll just get you over to the Kettle, sit you right down, get a shot and a beer inside you, you’ll be fine.” 

He tugged on my arm, but I was busy staring at Nicky’s cigarette holder, holding it between my thumb and finger in front of my face. With my other hand I picked the lit butt out of it. It was a Pall Mall, my old brand. I flicked the butt into the gutter, it hissed and died in the rainwater and then floated away.

“You gonna keep that holder?” Arnie, said Horace. I was still staring at it. It was made out of some highly polished gleaming black substance. Ebony? What was ebony, anyway? “It is a nice piece,” said Horace. “If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.”

“You would put that thing in your mouth,” said Muriel, “after the devil himself been smoking it?”

“Well,” said Horace, “now that you put it that way –”

I noticed that Muriel and Missy were now also smoking fresh cigarettes. I envied them, just as I envied all the smokers in the world. Sure, cigarettes caused cancer and emphysema, but they also gave you something relaxing to do in awkward moments like this, after the living personification of all evil has been vanquished.

“So, uh, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around near my ear, “what do you say, pal? Kettle of Fish? Whiskey and beer?”

I was holding the holder closer to my eyes, trying to get it into the light from the nearest streetlamp. I know this is sounding weird but I was fascinated by its gleaming blackness, which seemed not to reflect the streetlight, but, rather, into which the light from the streetlamp fell, into yet another universe, a universe of darkness contained in this narrow shiny tapered black cylinder.

“Arnie,” said Horace, tugging on my arm again. “What do you say, pal?”

“He’s transfixed,” said Muriel.

“By the devil’s cigarette holder,” said Missy.

The Devil’s Cigarette Holder,” said Horace. “I like that. Do you mind if I steal it for a title for a story or novel?”

“I don’t mind,” said Missy.

“Hey, Horace," said Ferdinand, "maybe you can make that the title of the first novel of your Arnold saga, The Devil’s Cigarette Holder?”

“It’s got a ring to it, that’s for sure,” said Horace.

I was barely paying attention to any of this, and I’m surprised I even remember it, I was so busy being, as Missy had said, transfixed, by this cigarette holder, and the dark universe somehow contained in it, or visible through it, I couldn’t be quite sure which at this point.

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand, right in my ear. “Let’s go, buddy. You’re being weird.”

“But it’s a whole other universe,” I said. “You can see it in the cigarette holder.”

“Great, Arnie,” he said. “Another universe. Just what we need. Now throw that thing away.”

“No, really,” I said. “Look at it, Ferdinand. Just look at this holder and tell me if you don’t see another universe in it.”

“Okay, fine,” he said. “Hold it still.”

“Okay,” I said, and I did, holding it horizontally a few inches from my eyes.

Ferdinand flew over to the holder and landed on it.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m looking. All I see is the shiny black surface of a nice cigarette lighter, bakelite probably.”

“Not ebony?” I said.

He bent his little head down, and I think he actually licked the surface of the lighter.

“Bakelite,” he said. “Good quality, but still.”

“And you don’t see another universe?”

“Arnie,” he said.

“Yes?” I said.

“You have just consumed a fair amount of laudanum. Am I right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Laudanum mixed with Old Forester? Kentucky bourbon?”

“True,” I said.

“Plus you were already drinking a lot earlier tonight.”

“I guess so,” I said.

“A fair amount,” he said. “Not that I am throwing stones, God forbid, I like to drink myself, as you well know. But you have been drinking.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“A fair amount.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Oh, and also, not so long ago, if I recall correctly you drank down a mug of bock laced with ambrosia, the fabled nectar of the gods.”

“Right,” I said, “I almost forgot about that.”
“Oh, and plus, my friend, you have been smoking reefer quite recently.”

“That’s true, too,” I said, deciding not to mention the LSD I had unwittingly taken earlier that day.

“Wait,” said Muriel, “you fellas have some reefer?”

“Arnie,” said Horace, “you still have that joint from earlier?

“Joint?” I said.

“Yes, joint, reefer,” he said. “Check your pockets.”

Suddenly it all came back to me. I shifted the devil’s cigarette holder from my right hand to my left, and then thrust my fingers into my shirt pocket. Sure enough, I brought out a half-smoked reefer, the one Horace had stolen from the glove compartment of Big Lou’s pink Cadillac earlier this evening or a couple of months ago.

“Cool!” said Horace. “Hand it over, buddy!”

I handed him the reefer.

“Fire that baby up, big guy,” said Ferdinand, flying up off the cigarette holder and buzzing merrily around.

“What do you say, ladies?” said Horace.

“What the hell,” said Muriel.

“Gee,” said Missy, “right out here on the sidewalk?”

“Ain’t no one around, honey,” said Muriel. “Like the little guy says, Horace: fire it up.”

“You first, dear lady,” said Horace, and he gallantly handed the reefer to Muriel.

Meanwhile, back in my own little world, I was still fascinated by Nicky’s cigarette holder, even if it had seemed nothing unusual to Ferdinand. I had one of my little brainwaves, and decided to look into its mouthpiece, just to see what I might see inside it, or through it. 

And so I held the holder’s thinner end up near my eye, tilted up toward the streetlight, and I peered into that tiny flared opening.

I could see the earth in it, or through it, and this didn’t surprise me at all.

I closed my one eye and squinted the other one, concentrating, and I saw the earth growing larger and larger, as if I were looking out of the front window of a space capsule falling to the earth. I saw the Atlantic ocean and deliberately tried to veer to the left, and within a matter of a half a second I saw peeking through a mass of clouds the coast of New Jersey, and I angled south, diving below a thick blanket of grey clouds, and within another half-second I was over Cape May on a rainy day and then right above Jackson Street and slowing down and gliding through an open second-floor window, and there, lying in that disordered bed in that comfortably messy room, was Elektra, lying on her side under just a white sheet, her tanned smooth shoulder bare, her dark thick hair covering most of her face, but not her mouth, which was slightly open, or her eyes, which were closed. I stayed there like that for a moment, just looking at her. It was not dark out, so she must have been taking a nap after work on this hot rainy day. It had been so long, so long in my time if not hers, since I had been with her. I could smell the warmth of her body, it reminded me of the smell inside the saltwater taffy place on the boardwalk, and I could hear the sound of the rain outside and the swishing sound the tires of a passing car made in the street, and just barely I could hear Elektra’s breathing, or I imagined I could. I wished I could be in this room with her, in this bed, but unfortunately I was in another universe, as I was reminded of definitively by Ferdinand’s voice saying:

“Arnie, snap the fuck out of it.”

And I was back in the – I was almost about to say “real world” – well, it was real enough at the moment.

Horace was holding the lit reefer out to me, and Ferdinand was hovering above it, in its little wavy plume of smoke.

I lowered the holder and dropped it into the inside pocket of my seersucker jacket, I don’t know why I did this instead of just throwing it away, but that’s what I did.

“Come on, Arnie,” said Horace. “You’re letting good weed go up in smoke.”

“Sorry,” I said.

I took the reefer, put it to my lips, and (as my beatnik friends termed it) “took a toke”, or several tokes, and as I held in the smoke I realized this was probably if not the last thing I should be doing, then at least not something I should be doing, but it was too late, the smoke was already in my lungs.

“Shotgun me, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, and after taking a few seconds to remember what he meant by this, I gently exhaled the smoke into the tiny lungs of my friend the fly, who was hovering only inches from my mouth.

“Okay,” said Horace, and he picked the reefer, now considerably smaller, out of my hand. “One more round from this baby, and we’ll head into the Kettle.”

He took a  good long “toke”, then handed the “roach” to Muriel.

“Oh, listen –” I said.

“What?” said Horace, holding in the smoke. He still held the lit Herbert Tareyton in one hand. He certainly was out for the gusto.

“Listen,” I said, “I really can’t go into the – what’s it called?”

“Kettle of Fish,” said Ferdinand, hovering in front of Horace’s face, waiting for him to exhale.

“Kettle of Fish,” I said. “I can’t go in because I have to try to get back to my, uh, world.”

“Your ‘world’?” said Muriel, also holding in her breath, and passing the truncated reefer to Missy.

“Yes,” I said.

Finally Horace exhaled the smoke in his lungs, and Ferdinand danced happily around in it.

“What world are you from?” said Missy, toking on the reefer, as Muriel exhaled her lungful of smoke, with Ferdinand quickly diving over to catch as much of it as he could.

I considered Missy’s question before answering it. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, even if they were fictional characters.

“I just like to think if it as ‘my world’,” I said.

(Continued here, boldly going where no former railroad brakeman has dared go before.)

(Please scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other published chapters of
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Friday, April 3, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 434: dissolved

Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel here on a wet sultry night in Greenwich Village, where he has once again encountered an old nemesis… 

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you have finally given up hope of ever finding gainful employment for the rest of your life and are looking for ways to fill your time as a ward of the state, then click here to go back to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume autobiography.)

“Yes, it is Passover, and also Easter weekend, but for fools such as I who profess no formal religion there is always that God of Literature called Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Journal of the American Medical Association Literary Supplement.

For a few moments, and they seemed like very long moments, no one said anything.

Nicky looked at the gun in my hand, then he looked into my eyes. He looked very surprised.

Yes, never a dull moment in my world, or whatever other world I happened to be in.

The only notable sound to be heard was that muted babbling of  drunken human beings coming from behind the closed door of the Kettle of Fish. Even Ferdinand was quiet and not even buzzing.

The pistol felt cool and heavy in my hand. It had a smooth wooden grip. I had never in my life fired or even held a revolver, although I had spent one morning in the army practicing with a service .45 on the firing range, and barely ever hitting the target. But Nicky was only a few feet away from me; it would be almost impossible even for me to miss him if I pulled the trigger. Then I wondered if this was one of those pistols you had to cock before firing; I had no idea, and so with my left hand I pulled the hammer back and it stayed in that position. Nicky actually flinched as I did this, and finally he spoke.

What?” he said.

I didn’t know what to say. I had nothing to say, really. And so I said:


Because of the laudanum I had just swilled, that and all the booze I had been drinking for much of what seemed these fifty-one months since I had last slept, not to mention the LSD and the ambrosia-infused bock I had consumed and the marijuana I had smoked– and maybe also just because I was I – I felt oddly removed from the pistol in my hand, as if it were floating in the air and I was reaching out and holding onto it, keeping it from floating away.

“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?” said Nicky, after an unsmiling pause. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing pointing a gun at me?”

I didn’t know what I was doing, but I improvised.

“I’m going to shoot you,” I said, “unless you go away.”

Me,” he said. 

“Yes,” I said.

You’re going to shoot me.”

“Right,” I said. “Unless you go away. Like, right now.”

I sounded to myself as if someone else were speaking through my mouth, Dan Duryea maybe.

“I don’t believe this,” said Nicky, after another slight pause, and he smiled, but not very convincingly. “You, threatening me.”

“I probably should just go ahead and shoot you anyway,” I said. “Since you don’t seem to know how to keep away from me.”

“Oh, don’t flatter yourself, buddy-boy,” he said. “You’re not so special. Just because you think you’re such great friends with you know who –”

“I’ll count to three,” I said.

“Oh, please!” he said. “Start counting! By all means!”

And again he forced that false-looking smile. To be frank, I had no idea if shooting him would do any good, or even if I would have the courage, or be insane enough, to shoot him, but I had nothing to lose if I pulled the trigger, everything to lose if I did nothing, so I started counting.

“One,” I said.

“Hey, Arnold,” said Horace. “Listen, I know you’re a little upset, and I understand that, I’m a little bit upset too, I mean no writer likes to be told that his life’s work is ‘trash’, but, look, maybe you should put that thing away.”

“Shut up, Horace,” spoke up Ferdinand. “Stop being such a coward.”

“That’s right, Horace,” said Muriel. “This is Mr. Schnatzel’s play.”

“Schnabel,” I said.

“Whatever,” said Muriel.

“Oh, my God,” was all that Missy said, and I saw Nicky flinch as she said it, even more so than when I had cocked the pistol, but he seemed to recover quickly.

“Okay!” he said, speaking to me. “No need to count! Just pull the trigger, tough guy. Go ahead, shoot!”

“Do it, Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, jeeze,” said Horace.

“Oh, boy,” said Muriel. “You want my advice, Mr. what was it?”

“Schnabel?” I said.

“You want my advice? You’re gonna shoot him, do it right where you’re aimin’, right at his heart. My granddaddy always says, you’re gonna shoot a man, don’t go half-measures, do it right and aim for the heart.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I extended my arm, trying to remember what that sergeant had taught me about the correct way to aim and shoot a pistol, all those years ago, when all I wanted to do was get it over with and go back to my bunk and read a cheap novel about a man caught in a deadly whirlpool of evil in peace. Something about aligning the pistol barrel with my forearm, pointing the barrel just as I would a finger at the target, in this case the breast pocket of Nicky’s shimmering grey suit, out of which a blazingly white handkerchief peeked in a perfect puff-fold.

I started to squeeze the trigger. “Slow, hard and easy,” I remember the sergeant saying, “just like you was squeezin’ your own pecker.”

“Oh my God!” yelled Missy, almost in a shriek, and once again Nicky flinched, almost violently this time.

“Stop that!” said Nicky, addressing not me, who was just about to shoot him, but Missy.

“Stop what?” she said.

“Stop saying that!”

“Stop saying what, you weirdo?” she said.

“Stop saying ‘Oh my you-know-what’!”

“You mean ‘Oh my God’?" she said.

He flinched again, even more so this time.

“Yes!” he almost shrieked himself. “Stop saying that, you silly little bitch!”

“Oh – my – God!” she said. “How’s that, you creepy man! Oh my God! Oh my God!

Each time she said the phrase Nicky flinched again. He dropped his cigarette holder and raised up both his hands as if to ward off physical blows.

“Ha ha!” said Muriel. “Hey, buddy, how’s this? Oh! My! God!

The last three words seemed to hit Nicky like three quick right hooks to the ear from Joey Giardello, and now he staggered back a step.

“Ha ha!” said Ferdinand, and diving toward Nicky’s face he yelled, “Hey, asswipe – oh my God!

Nicky staggered backwards again, stepping off the curb and into the stream of rainwater flowing in the gutter, swiping his hands in the air as Ferdinand zoomed right at his face and then at the absolute last millisecond pulled up in another of his perfectly executed Immelman turns, then looped the loop once, twice and then once again, all the while cackling and yelling “Oh my God”, loudly, several more times.

Oh my God,” said Horace, I think not trying to discomfit Nicky but just as a genuine reaction to what was happening.

And then Nicky collapsed to his knees, in the running dark water in the gutter, holding his hands over his ears, his face whiter than the perfect white of his shirt and his pocket handkerchief, his gleaming black hair falling over his eyes, which were shut tight, with tears oozing from under their purple lids, and these tears were bright red, as red as blood if not blood. His lips were pressed tight together but he emitted a high keening sound, and his entire body trembled as if an electric current were passing through it.

“Finish him, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Put one right between his eyes.”

“I don’t think I’ll need to do that,” I said.

I lowered the gun, and with my left hand again I carefully lowered the hammer, then put the pistol back in the side pocket of my seersucker jacket.

I took a few steps closer to Nicky, to where he knelt in the gutter, his hands over his ears, trembling and keening.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, very plainly and clearly.

Nicky reacted as if I had just kicked him in the face, his head snapping back, and then he fell forward, but broke his fall with both hands in the gutter water, and he stopped like that, on all fours, gasping as if he were choking, and then vomiting blood, what must have been a quart of blood, which splashed steaming into the gutter water and then flowed away.

He raised his head, and looked at me with blood oozing from his mouth and nose, those tears of blood streaming from his eyes, and in the blackness of those eyes I saw what I knew to be hell.

Fuck you,” he said, in a rasping voice, almost a whisper. “And Him!”

“Jesus Christ,” I said again.

And Nicky fell over on his side in the streaming water.

“Asshole!” he managed to say, lifting his bloody mouth out of the dirty water.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, one more time, and then, for good measure, “also God the father and the holy ghost.”

And with that he dissolved, just like that, his entire self, shimmering grey suit and all, dissolving into the flowing gutter water in a cloud of steam which quickly faded away into the night, and the dirty water flowed on, looking for a sewer, taking with it the liquefied remains of the prince of darkness.

He was gone. 

At least for now he was gone.

Somehow I knew he would be back, he always did seem to come back, and maybe next time it wouldn’t be so easy to get rid of him. But I couldn’t worry about that now.

I had things to do, and I was still a long way from home.

(Continued here, because from the moment we started it was already too late to stop.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a reasonably-often-updated listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets still available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Walking Tour of Arnold Schnabel’s Old New York, featuring a “Kielbasa ‘n’ Kraut” Dinner at Bob’s Bowery Bar© at Bleecker and the Bowery. All Profits in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s “Arnold Schnabel Appreciation Project”.)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 433: PR man

Let’s return to old Greenwich Village, on a hot wet night on MacDougal Street, as our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companions are approached by none other than the prince of darkness himself… 

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you really need another new way to fill up your precious time then you may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume memoir.)

“Among about a million other things, what the self-told saga of Arnold Schnabel is all about is one man’s battle with the Devil. Is or was this ‘prince of darkness’ real? Suffice it to say that for Arnold Schnabel the answer to that question is an unequivocal
yes.” – Harold Bloom, in the Journal of Theological Studies.

“What the fuck,” said Ferdinand, right in my ear. This fucking guy again? I thought you took care of him, Arnie.”

I realized that Ferdinand was communicating telepathically and so I thought rather than spoke, “Apparently not.”

“Like a goddam bad penny,”
said, or thought, my winged friend.

Tell me about it,” I said, thought.

Nicky was getting closer, smiling that bright smile, with those teeth that seemed to glow in the light from the streetlamp.

Horace and Missy were still holding onto my arms, and they and Muriel were all looking at Nicky, approaching, with his confident stride, his gleaming black hair, his perfectly pressed shimmering grey suit, his cigarette in its jet-black holder, and his wide glowing smile.

“Who’s the dude?” said Muriel.

“I don’t like his looks,” said Missy in a low voice.

“You know this guy, Arnie?” said Horace.

“Listen,” I said, aloud this time, “why don’t you all go into the bar, and I’ll join you in a minute.”

“You sure?” said Horace.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I don’t know,” said Horace.

“No, it’s okay,” I said.

And then Nicky was there, having floated with no apparent effort over the small river of water in the gutter, and he was standing right in front of me.

“Well, hello, old buddy,” he said, smiling, still smiling. “Having trouble standing up?”

As well-groomed as he was he nonetheless gave off a distinct odor – of sewage, of decay, of death and feces.

“Listen, Horace, Missy,” I said, choosing not to respond to Nicky’s snide question, “you can let go of me now, I won’t fall down.”

“You sure?” said Horace, again.

“Positive,” I said. I gave my shoulders a sort of shrug, and Horace and Missy took their hands away, and I didn’t fall down, even though I could barely feel my own feet thanks to all that bourbon-laced laudanum I had drunk. “Now really, Horace, why don’t you and the ladies go inside, and I’ll be there in just a minute.”

“You’re sure?” said Horace, for the third time.

“Yes, positive,” I said, again. “Oder me a beer.”

Everything was happening very slowly, or, rather, my perception of reality, of this reality, had slowed down, and I wondered in the back of my cavernous echoing mind if I’d best savor these slowed-down moments, as they might well be my last, or at least my last not spent in an eternity of hellfire.

“Just a beer?” said Horace.

“What?” I said. “Oh, yes – just a beer is fine.”

“Any kind in particular?”

“The cold kind,” I said, so I still had my sense of humor, such as it was.

“Heh heh. Maybe a little whiskey on the side?”

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll take a shot.”

“Old Forester?”

“Great,” I said. “Old Forester is fine.”

“Porter’s not picky,” said Nicky, smiling, holding his cigarette holder in an elegant sort of way that I would never be able to pull off, not that I would ever dream of using a cigarette holder, even if I did go back to smoking two or three packs of Pall Malls a day, supposing that is I survived the next few minutes. “Not picky at all, are you, Porter?”

“Hey, I thought your name was Arnold,” said Muriel. “Why’s he calling you Porter?”

“It’s a long story,” I said. “I’ll explain it all when I come inside.”

“It’s a very, very long story,” said Nicky, smiling away.

“I don’t like the looks of this fancy Dan,” said Muriel.

“Mr. Schnipfel,” said Missy, and she gave my filthy damp and wrinkled seersucker jacket a tug on its sleeve. “Why don’t you come inside with us?”

“I will,” I said. “I just want to have a word, with, uh –”

“Porter,” said Nicky, Lucky, the prince of darkness, “where are your manners, old boy? Not even introducing me to your friends.”

“Oh,” I said. And then, just to get it over with: “Muriel, Missy, Horace, this is, uh – well –”

“Nicky,” said Nicky. “Nicky Boskins. I’m Porter’s public-relations man.”

“You have a public-relations man?” said Horace to me.

“Well, yeah,” I said, probably not sounding very convincing.

“He most certainly does, Horace,” said Nicky, with that smile that wouldn’t quit, with those purple-black eyes that seemed to lead to an abyss with no bottom, no borders, no end. “But I also like to think I’m Porter’s –” he paused, and then he said, “’friend’,” but he said it like that, as if the word were in quotes, and italicized

“You don’t look like his friend,” said Muriel. “You don’t look like anybody’s friend.”

For just a moment Nicky’s smile faltered, but only for a moment.

“Perhaps I could be your friend, Muriel,” he said. “And Missy’s too.” He looked from one girl to the other as he said these words, and now he looked at Horace. “And yours as well, Horace. Horace P. Sternwall, isn’t it? The eminent author?”

“Gee, you’ve heard of me?” said Horace. “Recognized me from some of my book covers I guess? What’s your favorite of my books?”

“I thought Port of Shame was excellent,” said Nicky. “And The God’s Honest Truth was just, what’s the word? Stunning. Riveting. Also, how shall I put it? Deeply moving. But perhaps my favorite of yours was The Young and the Damned. Thought that one was just searing. Blistering even.”

“No kidding,” said Horace.

“Oh, I never kid about such matters,” said Nicky. “You know, a writer of your talent, you should have your own public relations representative.”

“Oh, heh heh,” said Horace, “thanks, that means a lot to me, but the publishers I work for, well, they don’t really have a budget for, you know –”

“I would be glad to take you on as a client, gratis, and then after your career really takes off, after say you get a book on the New York Times bestseller list, perhaps then we could draw up a contract.”

New York Times?” said Horace. “Bestseller list? But all my books are, you know, just paperback originals. They don’t really get on any sort of lists. Or reviewed. Or go into a second printing –”

“All that could change,” said Nicky. “With your talent, and with my promotional skills, I daresay all that will most certainly change.”

“Gee,” said Horace. “Then we should talk. I mean, you know, if you would like to –”

“Oh, I most assuredly would like to,” said Nicky.

“Wow, that’s just great,” said Horace. “Jeeze, thanks, Mister –”

“Nicky. Call me Nicky.”

“Thanks, Nicky. Hey, maybe you would care to stop into the Kettle with us –”

“Horace,” I said.

“Yeah, Arnie? Or do you really prefer Porter?”

“I prefer Arnold,” I said. “But, look, take the ladies inside, would you?”

“But why don’t we all go inside? I mean, Nicky too, if he would like to. I mean unless you’ve got somewhere else to go, Nicky –”

“Listen, Horace,” I said, “really, take the young ladies inside, will you? I want to talk with uh –”

“Nicky,” said Nicky.

“Yeah,” I said. “Alone for a minute. Okay?”

“Well, if you insist,” said Horace.

Hmmph,” was the sound that Muriel made right then.

“Pardon me?” said Horace.

“You heard me,” she said. “I said ‘Hmmph.’”

“I don’t understand,” said Horace.

“That’s because you’re not anything but a damn fool idiot, my friend.”

“Heh heh,” said Horace. “I, uh –”

“Can’t you see this fancy Dan is playin’ you like a fiddle?”

“Well, really, Muriel,” Horace said, “heh heh, I think you’re possibly being just a teeny bit harsh on Mister, uh –”

“Nicky,” said Nicky.

“On Nicky,” said Horace.

“Can’t you smell the evil on him?” she said. “The effluvia of pure bottled-in-bond barrel-proof evil?”

“Now really,” said Horace. “Heh heh?”

“Take a deep breath, you silly jackanapes. Get over your blind cupidity and your lust for fame and just take a sniff off him, this so-called ‘Nicky’.”

“A sniff?” said Horace.

“I can smell it,” said Missy. “It’s like sulfur, and – and - garbage, and, and – I don’t want to say it –”

“I’ll say it,” said Muriel. “Shit. He smells like shit. You smell like shit, mister,” she said, addressing Nicky of course.

Nicky had stopped smiling.

The street had gotten very quiet. The band that had been playing in the Kettle of Fish must have gone on break, because the only sound coming from the entrance of the bar was a faint babel of people’s laughing voices.

“Okay,” I said. “So, Horace, you and the ladies go in, see if you can grab a table, and I’ll –”

“He does smell like shit,” said Ferdinand, aloud this time. “And I know what shit smells like, believe me.”

“Who said that?” said Nicky, and his face, which was normally very pale, turned paler.

“Me, asshole,” said Ferdinand, and he darted toward Nicky’s face and pulling up just shy of hitting him on the nose, described a perfect Immelman turn and a double loop-de-loop and then stopped in mid-air and hovered about a foot away from Nicky’s eyes. “Yes, you smell like shit, and all the cheap cologne in the world can’t hide the stench.”

“Cheap cologne?” was the best comeback Nicky could come up with. “Why, I’ll have you know I’m wearing Floris Special No.127 eau de toilette, and it is decidedly not cheap –”

Eau de toilette is right,” said Ferdinand, “like straight out of a backed-up full-of-wino’s-shit crapper in some flophouse down on the Bowery.”

“Oh. Okay,” said Nicky. “So this is the way it is, is it? I’m going to stand here and be insulted by a fucking fly –”

“That’s the way it is, pal,” said Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand,” said Horace, “please, you’re really being quite, how shall I put it –”

“Rude?” said Ferdinand.

“Well, yes,” said Horace.

“Horace, my friend,” said Ferdinand, and he flew over to near Horace’s face. “You’re gonna tell me you don’t smell that stench comin’ offa this guy?” 

“Well,” said Horace, “I think what you’re smelling, Ferdinand, is just the sewers backing up, from the rain, I mean you can see all the rainwater in the gutters –”

“Bullshit,” said Ferdinand. “It’s this fuckin’ creep. He reeks. And you know why?”

“’Cause he’s full of shit?” said Muriel.

“Oh, my gosh, Muriel!” said Missy, putting her hand over her mouth and giggling.

“Well, it’s true,” said Muriel. “Smells worse than a hog that’s been rollin’ in hog shit.”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand. “Hog rolling in hog shit! Exactly, except like ten times worse, right?”

“Twenty times, more like it,” said Muriel.

“Okay,” said Nicky, and he seemed to be forcing himself to try to smile, and not quite succeeding. “See? This behavior right here is why everybody hates human beings.”

“What about flies, asshole?” said Ferdinand.

“And flies,” said Nicky, not smiling, “flies and human beings. They both suck dick.”

“I don’t,” said Muriel, “as a matter of fact.”

“Nor I,” said Ferdinand. “So your entire argument falls.”

“Fuck you, fly.”

“Oh, brilliant riposte,” said Ferdinand. “Just brilliant. Well, how’s this for a counter-riposte to your lame-ass riposte: fuck you.” 

“Okay,” said Nicky, and he managed to smile again now, but it looked very forced, and I could see his lower lip trembling. “You know what? I’m going to fix all of you. All of you.”

“But I didn’t do anything,” said Horace. “Or say anything. Really, why don’t we all just –”

“No,” said Nicky. “Fuck you, too, Horace P. Sternwall, and you know what? Your books are trash, simple-minded lurid trash, fit only for morons to read.”

“Wow,” said Horace.

“Yeah,” said Nicky, “wow is right, you hack. Like wow, how bad can writing possibly be? Oh, I know, how about Horace P. Sternwall bad?”

“That’s not very nice,” said Horace.

“You know what else is not very nice?” said Nicky. “How about getting cast screaming down into the flaming pits of hell?”

“That’s – really weird,” said Horace.

“Oh, it’s weird all right, my friend, really weird –”

“Nicky,” I said.

He turned and looked at me, not smiling now.


I had just suddenly remembered that I had a revolver in my jacket pocket, the snubnose that Lily had given me back at her roadhouse.

I took the pistol out and I pointed it at Nicky’s heart, or at least where his heart would have been if he had one.

(Continued here, until the last marble copybook filled with Arnold’s neat if cramped handwriting has been transcribed – and yet another cache of them has only recently been discovered in a cardboard box under a pile of The Catholic Standard & Times newspapers in a broom closet of Arnold’s great aunts’ guesthouse in Cape May, New Jersey.)

(Please scroll down the right hand column of this page to find a quite possibly up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. A few tickets are still available to the Arnold Schnabel Society’s “Easter Social” at the Raymond T. Osmond VFW Post at Chew and Lawrence, in Arnold’s old Philadelphia neighborhood of Olney, featuring your master of ceremonies Horace P. Sternwall and live musical entertainment from Gabriel and his Swinging Seraphim. Tix are $20 a head, which includes all the draft Ortlieb’s you can drink and unlimited access to our kielbasa 'n' kraut steam table and salad bar. All profits in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Youth Literacy Project©.)