Saturday, April 19, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 392: GOD BLESS

Let us return to a rainy night in old Greenwich Village in August of 1957, and to a certain shop which specializes in the rarest of rare books, where we rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, his companions Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the talking fly, and the proprietor of this unusual establishment, one Mr. Augustus Philpot... 

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; go here if in your madness you would like to start at the beginning of this 79-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“What better way to spend a dreary cold and rainy April day than sitting in a comfortable chair with one’s
Kindleby a roaring fire, drinking hot cocoa prepared with Fox’s U-bet© chocolate syrup, lost in the adventures of Arnold Schnabel?”  – Harold Bloom, in The Ladies’ Home Journal Literary Supplement.

Or perhaps a drink of rum would be a very bad idea.

Let’s face it, I’ve never had very much self-control with alcoholic beverages, especially when I’m in a psychologically distressed state, which state has accounted for approximately 95% of my life, including those portions of it spent sleeping or passed out.

I stood up, almost knocking my chair over.

“Easy there, fella,” said Ben. “We’ll get you a nice tot of rum in just a minute.” He took his switchblade out of his pocket and flicked it open. “Whaddaya think, Mr. Philpot, just pry open the barrel head?”

“Be my guest, Mr. Bogtell,” said Mr. Philpot.

Blagwell,” said Ben. “Ben Blagwell. Why is that name so hard to remember?”

“You try remembering names when you’re my monstrous age,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Fair enough,” said Ben, and he set to work prying open the top of the keg, which was nailed to the staves and sealed with what looked like tar.

“Get to it, big guy,” said Ferdinand, still merrily buzzing around the keg, on which were painted the words, in faded and yellowed white letters: THE QUEEN GOD BLESS HER. “I got me a powerful thirst all of a sudden.”

“Hold your horses, there, little guy,” said Ben. “Mr. Philpot, you got a couple more glasses around here? You only got two on your desk there.”

“I don’t need no glass,” said Ferdinand. “Just spill some drops on the desk there and I’m good.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be very tidy,” said Mr. Philpot. He was crouching next to Ben now, rummaging in a drawer under his desk. “Here we go.” He brought out another jelly glass. “And, for our friend the loquacious fly –” He held up a thimble.

“Aw,” said Ferdinand. “For me? That’s very thoughtful of you, Mr. Philpot.”

“Think nothing of it, my tiny friend,” said Mr. Philpot.

He held the jelly glass up to the light of the wall lamp, made a tsk-tsking sound, then laid the glass and the thimble down on the desk.  With a flourish he drew a handkerchief from inside the sleeve of his suit coat, picked up the jelly glass again and went through the motions of cleaning the dust from inside it, although to tell the truth the handkerchief looked a lot dirtier than the jelly glass.

He blew into the glass, then held it up to the light again. It looked dirtier now than before he had started wiping it. He gave it another perfunctory wipe, put it down on the desk, and then picked up the thimble.

“Uh, look, you don’t have to wipe the thimble,” said Ferdinand.

“Are you sure?” said Mr. Philpot.

He looked at Ferdinand over the top of his pince-nez glasses. (I hope I mentioned before that he wore pince-nez glasses. I’m certainly not going to rummage through all my marble copybooks trying to find the one in which I first described him. If I didn’t mention the glasses before, I apologize to the reader, if I ever have one. As I have mentioned, and as if it weren’t plainly obvious, I am not a very good writer, and this sort of oversight is bound to happen now and then. Anyway, he wore pince-nez glasses, with a black ribbon knotted to the wire frames, dangling down and fixed to one of the buttons of his wing shirt-collar.)

“I’m very sure, Mr. Philpot,” said Ferdinand.

“It’s dusty,” said Mr. Philpot, “been sitting in this drawer for who knows how long.”

“That’s cool, Mr. Philpot,” said Ferdinand. “I’m a fly after all. We are not known for our punctilious hygiene.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” said Mr. Philpot. He laid the thimble down and then stuffed the dirty handkerchief back up his sleeve. “In fact, would I be wrong in presuming that you in point of fact prefer things to be shall we say, somewhat –”

“Filthy?” said Ferdinand.

“Well, I wasn’t going to use so strong a term –”

“Quite all right, Mr. Philpot. Don’t give it another thought.”

“Very well. How are we doing there, Mr. Bogstall?”

“Blagwell,” said Ben. True to his word, Ben had almost pried up all of the barrelhead, the ancient nails sticking out from its rim. The smell of rum coming from the keg was thick and rich, and beckoning. “Almost got it, Mr. Poopot.”

“My name is Philpot by the way,” said Mr. Philpot. “Augustus Philpot.”

“Just fucking with you, old timer,” said Ben. “So what do your friends call you? Gus?”

“They call me Philpot.”

“Fabulous,” said Ben. He closed his switchblade and put the knife back in his dungarees. “Okay, here we go.” 

The barrelhead was now only attached by the ends of a few nails. Ben took it in both of his mighty hands, pulled it up and off.

“Where you want me to put this, pops?”

“Just lay it anywhere,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yeah, don’t sweat the small shit, Ben,” said Ferdinand.

“Against this wall okay?” said Ben.

“Sure, fine,” said Mr. Philpot, and Ben stood the round piece of wood with the nails sticking out of it against the wall behind the desk.

“I’m afraid I don’t have a ladle,” said Mr. Philpot. “Oh, wait.” He opened another drawer under the desk and brought out a thick cracked coffee cup.

“I believe this will serve as a ladle,” he said. “Will you do the honors, Mister, uh, Buh-, Bah-”

“Blagwell,” said Ben.

“I was going to say that,” said Mr. Philpot. “I really was.”

“Sure,” said Ben. “Hand me that cup you borrowed from the automat, Gus.”

“I really prefer ‘Mr. Philpot’,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Oh, Christ,” said Ferdinand. “You guys. Just ladle out the rum already, okay?”

The attentive reader will have noticed that I said nothing through all of the above. I had nothing to say, not that this state of being always keeps me from saying something anyway, but in this case my mind was preoccupied.

I was thinking that once again I was on the verge of letting myself be swept along by events instead of taking positive measures to determine my own destiny, once again I was taking the easiest course, the course of passivity and inaction. Once again when confronted with a difficult problem I was about to ignore the problem and have a drink instead. I wondered why the son of God had even bothered to become my friend. Was it because I was such a hopeless case and he took pity on me, or was it because he looked on me as a challenge worthy of his divine powers?

Ben was thrusting a jelly glass half full of a murky liquid at me.

I took it.

Ben also held a glass of the stuff, as did Mr. Philpot, standing to his left.

As for Ferdinand, his thimbleful of rum had been placed on the desk top near its center, and he sat on its edge gazing fondly down at the rum and rubbing his little forelegs together in anticipation.

“What shall we drink to, gentlemen?” said Mr. Philpot.

“Let’s drink to getting drunk,” said Ferdinand.

“I say we drink to good pals,” said Ben. “The kind of pals that go through the tortures of the Gestapo’s Black Leather Sadist Harlots for ya.”

“What?” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah,” said Mr. Philpot. “What are you talking about?”

“Gestapo Black Leather Sadist Harlots,” said Ben.

“That’s what I was afraid you said,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Okay, whatever,” said Ferdinand. “Let’s just drink, okay?”

Suddenly a doorbell rang. If I haven’t mentioned it before, it was one of those old-fashioned doorbells which actually was a bell.

“Oh, now who the fuck is that?” said Mr. Philpot.

Again the bell rang.

“What the fuck,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah, what the fuck,” said Ben.

The bell rang, again.

It was very loud.

“Maybe you better get it, Gus,” said Ferdinand.

“I don’t know who it could be at this time of night,” said Mr. Philpot.

Again, the bell rang.

“Fucking hell,” said Ferdinand.

“Jeeze,” said Ben.

“All right! All right!” squeaked Mr. Philpot.

He put his glass down on the desk and headed around Ben toward the door.

“I got your back, Mr. Philpot,” said Ben. “In case it’s trouble.”

“I can handle myself,” said Mr. Philpot.

“What if it’s one of them juvenile delinquent thrill-kill gangs?” said Ben.

“Oh, Christ,” said Ferdinand. “Will you give it a rest, Ben?”

“Whaddaya mean?” said Ben.

“What do I mean?” said Ferdinand. “Lace Panty Guerilla Girls of the Philippines. Gestapo Black Leather Torture Babes. Teenage Thrill Kill Gangs –”

“What’s your point?” said Ben.

The bell rang, again.

“I said hold on!” yelled Mr. Philpot.

He was at the door. He turned the bolt and opened it.

Standing outside, under the awning, folding up an umbrella, was my friend Josh.

The son of God.

(To be continued, come hell or high water and everything between the two.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a usually reasonably-current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; this week’s chapter brought to you by Fox’s U-bet™: “Made with sugar not corn syrup during Passover, so stock up now for year-round enjoyment!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author and motivational speaker.) 

Friday, April 11, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 391: book

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, alone at last, at least for the nonce, here in Philpot’s Rare Book Shop in old Greenwich Village, on a night of torrential rain and eldritch horror in August of 1957...

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; if you’ve finally completely given up all hope of living a sensible life you may then click here to return to the not-quite mythical beginnings of this 59-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“I have to say today was a good day. Not only did I not have to use my AK, but the postman delivered a brand new volume of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling and magisterial
chef-d'œuvre. Which meant that I at once canceled all my activities for the day so I could stay home and devour said volume. Call me crazy.”  – Harold Bloom, in The Guns & Ammo Literary Supplement.

I had to start somewhere, so I carefully wrote down, in capital block letters:


Then I went down a couple of spaces and tried to begin the book proper. I probably actually furrowed my brow, and then just dove right in:

He needed to get back to his own world, I wrote. He had been stuck in this insane fictional world for what seemed like at least two years, but which was probably in fact – if one could even speak of facts in this universe – only an hour or so. 

I paused.

Had it really only been an hour? I glanced at my wrist, but Porter, unlike myself (or at least unlike what I liked to think of as “myself”) didn’t wear a watch. And, anyway, even if I had a watch it still wouldn’t help me because I didn’t know what time it was when I had arrived in this particular world.

And, speaking of time, I realized I was wasting it. I should be busily writing, swiftly and concisely, instead of wasting time thinking about things that didn’t matter.

I looked at what I had written.

I wondered, should I have put it in the first person, since after all I was talking about “me”, or this particular version of me?

Perhaps so.

And besides, after all, by writing in the third person wasn’t I falling into the trap of treating my life as if it were fictional, of looking on myself as a character in a novel (and a rather shallowly-drawn character at that, in a boring novel) instead of a flesh-and-blood actual human being? Wouldn’t it be preferable right from the start to write what I hoped to write in the form of a true story – as a memoir, let us say?

I closed the cover of the book over my finger and looked at the embossed dark blue letters printed there on the green background.

The Ace of Death

a novel of despair and terror


Horace P. Sternwall

“A novel”.

Well, there you go, the thing was supposed to be a novel, it said so right on the cover. So who was I to arbitrarily change the book from fiction to non-fiction? And after all again, since what I intended to write was in fact an eventuality which had not yet occurred – i.e., my successful return to my own body and my own state of reality, such as it was – and, indeed, an eventuality which at this rate might never occur – wouldn’t it be more essentially truthful to present these words as “fiction”?

Who knew? Certainly not I. 

But, all other considerations aside, now that I thought about it I hated to start crossing words out already so early in the game, so I decided just to go ahead and keep the third-person point of view.

I opened the book up again and stared at those few words I had already written, with all that blank white space beneath them. 

I started a new paragraph.

The only way he (I wrote) – that is “Arnold Schnabel” – could think of to escape this absurd fictional world was to write his way out of it.

I stopped again.

I felt as if I were getting close to what I wanted, to what might work, but I knew I needed to get to the point. Cut out all the explanations and beating around the bush and just write out what it was that I wanted to happen. 

In other words, to put it bluntly, stop pussyfooting around.

I had always disliked novelists who wrote long boring introductory chapters, telling you more than you ever wanted to know about their characters, their backgrounds, their hometowns, sometimes even the backgrounds of the characters’ families, going back for generations. 

Why not just start right off with the good stuff?

So I started to write again:

And so, to that end, pushing aside some books and magazines to make some room on Mr. Philpot’s cluttered desk {which I had actually just done, although I forgot to mention it, because after all I’m really not a very good writer}, he opened the blank book and took the ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket.

I stopped.

I was doing it again, writing a lot of boring and unnecessary description instead of getting to the point, to the most important part, the part where I write myself out of this universe and back to my own.

So how to put it? 

He wrote
{I could write} the words: “He wrote the words which would return him to his own universe. And these words were –”
I paused again.

I had to get this right. If I worded the words wrong my whole plan might fall apart.

I looked at the page again.

“And these words were –”


Presto, I am back in my own world?

Why not? That was simple. And direct. To the point.

But I thought the presto might be a bad idea, I didn’t know why. It just sounded a little too frivolous. Maybe better to write something like:

And these words were: I am now back in my own world.

And I was just about to write these words when I remembered the state I had been in when I left my own world: 

Extreme, excruciating lower-back pain, brought on from trying to open a stuck window, pain which had even caused me to pass out, and from which unconscious state I had entered this present universe.

Did I really want to return to that state? I didn’t mind the unconsciousness so much, unconsciousness wasn’t so bad as long as one were not in the midst of a nightmare, but what about when I came to? What if I had done more than just throw my back out? Maybe I had done permanent damage to my sacroiliac, or dislocated a disc? Maybe I would be crippled, or condemned to a lifetime of chronic lower back agony.

In short, I felt cowardice suffusing my being.

A little voice in my head, I assumed it belonged to me, spoke up:

Stop this procrastinating, Arnold, and just do it! Otherwise you’re liable never to return to your so-called and vaunted “real” world!

Okay, I replied to the little voice. You’re right. What’s a little back pain? After all –

You’re stalling again, said the voice. Stop fucking around and just do it.

Now I wondered if the voice really did “belong” to me. I never said the word “fuck” in any of its permutations, although I would have to admit I thought it sometimes.

That’s because you’re a pathetic prig, said the voice. This is the inner you, the real you, the one who hasn’t been stifled by society’s artificial norms and by the brainwashing of the Roman Catholic Church.

Okay, I said.

Good, said the voice. Now get to work.

All right, I said. Here goes.

I took a breath and stared at the page, and I was just about to start writing when I heard Ben’s voice.

“Arnie,” he said. “Wake the fuck up and move some of them papers and magazines over.”

I looked up, to my left.

Ben was standing there with a big wooden cask over one of his enormous shoulders.

Mr. Philpot stood next to him.

“Put it down gently, big fella,” said Mr. Philpot. “Don’t want my old desk to collapse under its weight.”

“I’ll put it down as soon as Arnie clears some room for it,” said Ben.

“Oh, sorry,” I said, quickly closing my unfinished book. “What should I, where should I –”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” said Mr. Philpot, and he went over to the opposite side of the desk and cleared a space right in front of his chair, pushing the books and magazines away with both of his little hands. “Here,” he said. “Just lay it down right here.”

“You got it, granddad,” said Ben, and as if it were nothing he hefted this great cask off his shoulder and laid it gently down on the desk.

“At last,” said Ferdinand, who was suddenly zooming eagerly in circles around the keg. “At long fucking last. Now let’s tap this sucker and get our rum drunk on!”

I recapped my ballpoint pen and put it back in my shirt pocket. 

I suppose I could have just ignored the commotion and tried to continue with my proposed task, but I knew this course was impossible at the moment. 

My concentration, never very stable at best, had been shattered, like a delicate crystal wine glass thrown with full force against a brick wall.

Perhaps a small drink of rum wouldn’t hurt?

(To be continued, almost but not quite interminably.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for what one hopes to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; this project made possible in part through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar© at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Try our house special ‘Bob’s Egg Cream’, made with Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup with a shot of your choice of rum, vodka or whiskey, @.50¢ during Passover.”)

Friday, April 4, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 390: rum

We left our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his friends Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the talking fly here in the rather specialized book shop of a certain Mr. Philpot, on this rainy Greenwich Village night in August of 1957...

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; go here to return to the very beginning of this 76-volume Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece of spiritual literature.)

“Do I at last feel the first tentative gentle exhalations of Spring? Must I now lay down my Kindle™ loaded to the max with volume upon glorious volume of Arnold Schnabel’s massive
chef-d'œuvre, and emerge from my comfortable Victorian house, staggering and blinking, into the all-too-real light of day? Oh well, I suppose I must, but, first – one more chapter, just one!”  – Harold Bloom, in the AARP Review of Books.

“Why, yes, of course,” said Mr. Philpot. “And what about you, Mr. Walker or Schnabel or whatever you’re calling yourself at the moment – a tot of rum, young sir?”

“No thanks,” I said.

“It’s on the house.”

“No, really, I’m fine.”

“Amontillado then?”

“No, thank you, I’m good, Mr. Philpot.”

“You insult me, sir. You insult me to the very core of my being.”

“Um,” I said.

“To the very core, sir. I assure you better men than you have not refused my hospitality.”

“Uh,” I said, if one can be said to say “uh”.

“A very great man called John Greenleaf Whittier was not so snooty about accepting a free libation from me, I’ll tell you that much.”

John Greenleaf Whittier,” said Ferdinand. “You slay me, Mr. Philpot.”

“John Greenleaf Whittier was a very great man,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Arnie, look, just take a drink for Christ’s sake,” said Ben.

“I certainly don’t want to twist your arm, Mr. Walker-Schnabel,” said Mr. Philpot.

“In my experience Arnie’s arm don’t take too much twisting to get him to take a drink,” said Ferdinand.

“Come on, Arnie,” said Ben. “Live a little for once in your dull and sad little life.”

“Okay,” I said, just to try to move things along. “I’ll have a small one.”

“Rum then?” said Mr. Philpot.

“Sure,” I said.

“Well, then,” he said, “rum seems to be the order of the day! You there – large fellow,” he said to Ben.

“Aye aye, sir,” said Ben.

“What was your name again? Brick Boghall?”

“Blagwell, actually,” said Ben. “Ben Blagwell. But most people call me Big Ben on account of –”

“I get it,” said Mr. Philpot, “come with me, will you?”

“But I was in the middle of trying to tell my story. About these Filipina killer harlot guerilla babes that I fell in with after I escaped from that Jap sub and that monsoon, and –”

“Let me ask you this,” said Mr. Philpot. “If I may?”

“Sure, pops,” said Ben. “Fire away.”

“Would not your tale be more enjoyably told – and undoubtedly more enjoyably listened to – whilst all and sundry sip my century-and-a-half-old cask-aged rum? Royal Navy issue, I remind you.”

“You got a point there,” said Ben. “I ain’t gonna deny it.”

“Then come with me, please.”

“Where?” said Ben.

“Oh, afraid are you? Big strapping great fellow like you?”

“I’m not afraid,” said Ben. “I just want to know where you’re taking me, old-timer.”

“To the back of the shop with me to fetch the keg of rum out of the storeroom.”

“Oh,” said Ben. “In that case, sure, lead the way, granddad.”

“Follow me,” said Mr. Philpot, and he waddled off into one of the shadowy narrow aisles of tall bookshelves.

Ben came over to me, bent his face down to my ear and whispered.

“What do you think, Arnie? This is trap? Am I gonna get dry-gulched back there?”

“I honestly have no idea, Ben,” I said.

“Big man,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around right near us. “Afraid of a little old bookseller.”

“Hey, buddy, how I know he ain’t got an accomplice back there,” said Ben. “Maybe a whole pack of accomplices. Assassins. Armed to the teeth.”

“You want me to come with you?” said Ferdinand.

“Gee,” said Ben. “Would you?”

“You’re kidding, right?” said Ferdinand.

“No, I’m not,” said Ben. “Come on, Ferdy, keep me company, man.”

“Christ almighty –”

“Hey!” called Mr. Philpot’s voice. “What’s the hold-up? I can’t carry that keg by myself!”

“Be right there, old buddy!” yelled Ben. Then in a lower voice, to Ferdinand: “Come on, Ferdy pal. I’d do it for you.”

“I didn’t realize you were such a coward,” said Ferdinand.

“I ain’t a coward,” said Ben. “I just like have a fear of dark shadows and the unknown. You don’t know the things I’ve seen, the shit I been through. Did I ever tell you about Papua’a Pit of a Thousand Tortures?”


“Papua’s Pit of a Thousand Tortures.”

“No,” said Ferdinand. “You didn’t tell me that one.”

“You want to hear it?”

“What about the rum?

“Oh, right, the rum,” said Ben. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Look, I’m scared. I admit it. Just come with me, Ferdy, and I’ll be your buddy for life.”

“You’re pathetic,” said Ferdinand.

“Arnie,” said Ben, turning to me. “You come with me, okay?”

“Ben,” I said, “he’s just a little old man.”

I knew it was cruel to say this, but on the other hand I knew that if I went with Ben that somehow I would get sidetracked on some whole new nightmarish adventure that might last months or even years.

“I thought you were my friend,” said Ben. “I thought both you guys were my friends. I guess I thought wrong.”

“Ben,” I said. “Look –”

“No, that’s okay,” said Ben. “It’s fine. But maybe both of you so-called ‘friends’ of mine will feel just a little bit different when I get bushwhacked by a pack of fiendish sadistic cutthroats –”

“All right,” said Ferdinand. “Look, I’ll go with you, Ben. Although I don’t know what kind of help I’m gonna be if he does have a gang of assassins back there.”

“Just for like moral support,” said Ben.

“Fine, great, let’s go,” said Ferdinand.

“Thanks,” said Ben.

Hey!” yelled Mr. Philpot, from somewhere beyond that dark forest of books, his little old man’s voice screeching and breaking in an unpleasant way, much like the awful squawk emitted by a duck when my Aunt Edith would slit its throat to make her duck’s blood soup. “Let’s shake a leg!”

“Be right there!” bellowed Ben. “My, uh, shoelace came undone!”

Well, did you tie it?” squawked the voice.

“That I did, sir!”

Then get your fat ass back here and give me a hand, you huge oaf!

“I’m coming!” yelled Ben. “Jeeze, keep your shirt on!” He turned to Ferdinand. “Okay, you ready, little guy?”

“Sure. But just one thing,” said Ferdinand. “If I get really shit-faced – and I think there’s a pretty good chance I will – you gotta promise to take care of me.”

“I will, pal.”

“Just like stick me carefully in your pack of Sweet Caporals in your shirt pocket, till I sleep it off.”

“I got you covered, little buddy.” Ben turned to me. “Arnie, last chance, pal, you sure you don’t want to come with us?”

“Pretty sure,” I said.

“All right,” said Ben. “And, look, Arnie, we ain’t back in two minutes you maybe better just make a run for it. Nobody will think the less of you for it.”

What the fuck!” screeched the voice of Mr. Philpot.

“Let’s go, big fella,” said Ferdinand. “Before the old guy throws a cardiac infarction.”

“Okay,” said Ben, and with one last nervous look at me he said, “just wish I had me a good old service .45, or maybe a Smith Model 10, four-inch barrel –”

“Stop stalling, Ben,” said Ferdinand.

“All right, I’m coming,” said Ben. Then in a low voice again he said, “Least I got this.”

He took something out of his dungarees pocket, and a blade flipped out from the switchblade now in his hand.

“Stiletto,” he said. “Wop-made, sharp as an old fairy’s wit, too.”

Jesus Christ!” shrieked Mr. Philpot’s voice.

“Coming, old buddy!” Ben bellowed.

He closed the knife up and put it back into his pocket.

“Believe this guy?” said Ferdinand, hovering by my face.

“Okay, here goes nothing,” said Ben. And he finally went into that dark row of books down which Mr. Philpot had disappeared, walking sideways so that he could fit into the narrow dark space between the shelves.

“Be right back, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, and he flew off after Ben.

At last I was alone, for the first time in what felt like approximately eight months but which had probably only been an hour or so.

The inside of the shop was the same as when last I had been here, probably the same as it had been for the past fifty or a hundred years. The same thick warm smell of old books and tobacco smoke. The two front windows looking out on the street, the crashing rain against the panes rendering everything outside uncertain and vague, although I could still make out the shimmering reddish-orange neon sign of the Kettle of Fish across the street. 


The only light inside the shop came from the dusty lamp on the wall to the right, over Mr. Philpot’s cluttered desk in the corner, with the side window in back of his chair looking out onto blurry blackness. The dark paintings and etchings on the walls seemed to depict nothing but shadowy figures and shapes and more shadows.

On the near side of Mr. Philpot’s desk was the armchair I had sat in earlier that night, months ago.

The desk still had a chess board set up on it on its left side, the pieces standing in their ranks waiting to be played, and the desk top was still cluttered with books and magazines and newspapers, as well as some sort of metal beer stein with pencils and pens sticking up out of it; a jar of ink, a pipe rack, a tobacco pouch and a box of Diamond kitchen matches, a glass ashtray filled with ashes and cigarette butts, a carven wood cigarette box, two smeared empty jelly glasses, and a black wine-bottle, which I assumed was the one we had been drinking from earlier that same night so long ago.

I went over to the desk and sat down in the chair.

I was wet, soaked really, and dirty, and battered and bruised, but I was still not in any great pain, not yet – that ambrosia-laced bock I had drunk was certainly doing its job.

I put my book on the desk. It occurred to me that now was as good a time as ever to try to write myself out of this situation. I opened the book up. As previously stated, all the pages were blank. I looked at that first blank page.

Then I put my hand to my shirt pocket. The ballpoint pen I had bought from Eddie Guest was still there, and I took it out. I uncapped it, put the yellow cap onto the blue barrel of the pen.   

I could hear Ben’s and Mr. Philpot’s voices somewhere on the other side of that room filled with shadows and books, I could even hear Ferdinand’s small piping voice, but I couldn’t make out what any of them were saying.

I had my book, I had my pen, now all I had to do was to write something.

The only problem now was what exactly to write.

But I knew that this was no time to agonize over finding the exact perfect words. 


Inexact imperfect words would have to do if that was all I could come up with.

And so I put pen to paper and began to write.

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

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a probably reasonably current listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; this project made possible in part through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar©: “A place where a man can go to drink in silence and not be bothered. Try our house special hot dogs ‘n’ kraut @25¢.”)

Friday, March 28, 2014

“The Man in the Dark Grey Overcoat”

Because of some real-world shenanigans (a very welcome houseguest and a preliminary sprucing-up of the household), our next chapter of Railroad Train to Heaven will be postponed for a week. In its stead we present the following cautionary tale which originally appeared this past January in somewhat different form, and illustrated by Rhoda Penmarq, in New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.

                            “The Man in the Dark Grey Overcoat”  
                                              by Horace P. Sternwall

(Originally published in Morbid Stories, January, 1950. Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Post Post-Modern Literature, Olney Community College; editor of Pensées for a Rainy Day by Horace P. Sternwall; the Olney Community College Press.)

Jake knew you had to be careful what you said to guests. Some of these people just weren’t broad-minded, and some of them weren’t above squawking to the management or even to the cops. You had to size a guy up first before saying anything.

So take the big tall fat fellow in the dark grey overcoat and check muffler and dark brown fedora. He had a big red fat Irish mug on him, and what Jake figured, he figured he was an undertaker. And one thing Jake knew about undertakers, they always had the moolah, and plenty of it. On account of theirs was a profession that never had an off season. So as soon as they got up to his room Jake tossed the fat man’s suitcase on the bed, turned to him and said.

“I just want you to know, sir, if there’s anything like special you might need, you just let me know.”

“Special?” the fat man said.

“Yeah. Special. Like something off the menu.”

“Off the menu?”

“Yeah, you know, sir. Like say you wanted some, like, companionship.”

The fat man took off his scarf, and Jake saw the Roman collar around the man’s thick neck.

“Ah, gee, Father,” he said. “I didn’t know.”

“What didn’t you know?”

“That you was a priest.”

“Oh? And does that matter?”

The priest took off his hat and tossed it onto the dresser. He began to unbutton his overcoat.

“What’s your name, pal?”


“Are you Catholic, Jake?”

“I ain’t nothing, Father.”

“You ain’t nothing?”

“Nothing. You know what I think, Father?”

“What’s that, Jake?”

“I think we get one shot on this crazy merry-go-round. And it’s up to us we gonna be chumps or we gonna look out for number one. That’s my religion, Father. But, hey, that’s just me.”

The fat priest tossed his overcoat onto a chair and then reached into the the inner breast-pocket of his priest-jacket and brought out a pack of Old Golds.

Jake was right there with his trusty Zippo, and he gave the priest a light.

“Thanks, Jake.”

“You’re welcome, Father.”

Jake stood there. Priest or no priest, Jake still wasn’t going to leave the room before he got some kind of a tip, even if it was only two bits. It was matter of pride, really, professional pride.

“Do me a favor, Jake,” said the priest, after half a minute, “open up that suitcase on the bed there.”

“Sure thing, Father.”

Jake went over to the bed, clicked the clasps, and opened the lid.

“Lift that layer of shirts and underwear out and just lay them on the bed, will you, Jake?”

“Sure thing, Father,” said Jake, and he did as the priest asked him. Under the layer of underwear and shirts was what looked like a small black leather briefcase.

“That’s what we call the sacrament case,” said the priest.

“Oh,” said Jake. “No kidding.”

The priest looked at Jake, as if he were sizing him up for once and for all, then he reached into the outside breast pocket of his priest-suit jacket, and brought out a small key. He tossed it to Jake, and Jake caught it.

“Go ahead, open it up, Jake.”

“You want me to open up the sacrament case?”

“Yeah, go ahead. I think it will interest you to see its contents.”

Jake hesitated for a moment, then he thought, what’s the worst that could happen?

He turned, leaned down, unlocked the leather case, and then opened the lid.

“Oh my God,” he said. “Oh my God.”

He turned and looked at the priest.

“Oh my God,” he said, again.

The priest reached into his inside jacket pocket and brought out a pint flask.

“You a drinking man, Jake?”


(Illustrated by Rhoda Penmarq, for Penmarq Hi-Class Art Studios™, in association with Horace P. Sternwall Productions
™. )