Friday, May 22, 2015

“Little Princess”



Originally published in “Thrilling Crime Monthly”, November, 1950; reprinted for the first time in book form in “Auntie Margaret Says”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 5, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Sternwall Studies, Olney Community College.

Original illustrations by rhoda penmarq.



(Click here for our previous Gwendolyn story; go here for the first one.)





Dearest Pippa,

I hope this missive finds you well as we approach the Christmas season of holiday cheer. It is indeed unfortunate that you must spend it in the grim confines of the Rozenzweig Home for Girls, but alas since your mother has been pinched and from what our attorney Mr. Z-------g says despite his Herculean efforts is facing a 1 to 3 year jolt minimum probably at the Bedford Penitentiary for Ladies and with your father already in Sing Sing in the middle of a 3 to 5 stretch I daresay you wouldn’t have much of a Christmas even if you were home. Sad to say.

I will be honest with you Pippa I tried to talk to your mother after you were collared pleading with her to lay low for a while or at least find another speciality besides pocket-picking on the subway as Mr. Z-------g assured me there wasn’t a cop in New York City who didn’t know her and even greeted her cheerily by her nickname “Dolly the Dipper” whenever they saw and so maybe it might be high time for her to go into a new racket. But I guess she just found it hard to change her habits. Not to mention her pantopon habit which I know was frightfully expensive. Too bad, but rest assured we are already pulling strings to make sure her stay at Bedford is as comfortable as possible with maybe a cushy job in the library. You told me she likes to read even if it is mostly movie magazines, well at least she will have plenty of leisure time to read where she is going, and at least now she will be off the pantopon. Or so one hopes.

Did you get the fruitcake that I sent you? My Auntie Margaret’s friend Serge baked it himself using his grandmother’s old Russian recipe and I trust you will find it quite delicious but be careful because at the bottom of the cake you will find some $$$ wrapped in wax paper. Use this at your discretion as it came from your share of the last couple of capers the gang and I have successfully pulled. It is only a hundred dollars but I figured you could use some extra cash for the holidays in case you wanted to buy a little something for a treat or slip a little extra to the screws so they will continue to look out for you. The rest of your share I have turned over to Tommy S------n according to your wishes as usual to be put “out on the street”.
You will be happy to know that your earnings were 23% for the month of November, and as as per your wishes I have instructed Tommy to “turn it over” so that you should have a tidy nest egg by the time your year is up.

Which brings us to the awkward question of where you would go once you are outside those cold grey walls.

I know you have said you would rather run away and become a circus clown or a carney barker before moving in with your drunken grandmother in the Bronx and so I have a proposition.
I have talked it over with my Auntie Margaret and after I assured her you were a stand-up gal who knows how to keep her lips zipped she has agreed to take you on as her ward with the help of Pierre and Serge, at least until your mother gets out of the slammer and even after that if you prefer. Because let’s face it that cold water flat above Bob’s Bowery Bar was not the healthiest environment for a girl of a tender eleven years of age no matter how tough you are. And the less said about some of Dolly’s so-called friends the better. I am as open-minded as the next person but these characters are not to be trusted. As my Auntie M------t likes to say they are the type of ham and eggers who would steal the pennies off a dead man’s eyes and then steal the eyeballs for good measure.

So let me know, you still have some months to think it over but don’t wait too long because we shall have to have Mr. Z------g draw up the necessary papers and perhaps Pierre who is a dab hand at this sort of thing will shall we say “manufacture” whatever other papers we might possibly need to make it all legit or as least as legit as it has to be.

The best course of action seems to be to claim that you are the long-lost natural child of my late Uncle Mike from St. Louis who so sadly passed away recently as you know.



Which would make my Auntie M------t your Auntie as well. Which will make us cousins. Which means my Auntie Margaret’s friends Pierre and Serge will be by way of being your uncles if you will.

You will very much enjoy living here at the Hotel St Crispian it’s so much fun and everyone treats me like a princess even that hotel dick Mr. Nolan ever since one evening we were dining in the Prince Hal Room and these four drunken marines at the bar became quite obstreperously militaristic and when Mr. Nolan and the barman Raoul tried to get them to leave they began to beat them about the head with beer bottles and fists.



“Oh for goodness’ sake,” said Auntie Margaret. “Pierre, Serge – deal with those louts.”

Silently and quickly and without further ado Pierre and Serge put down their knives and forks and glided over to the bar, Pierre slipping on the brass knuckles he is never without, and Serge taking his handmade leather-wrapped sap from his pocket and in a matter of seconds all four of those loutish marines were out cold on the floor.

Well let me tell you I don’t mind saying that previous to this Mr. Nolan had always it seemed to me looked somewhat askance at my Auntie M------t and P----e and S----e probably because none of them have as they say any visible means of support but after this incident he is akin to the best of friends of our whole little ménage. So you don’t have to worry about Mr. Nolan.

Sometimes I wonder, did my Auntie send Pierre and Serge over to help out Mr. Nolan just so we could get the house dick on our side?

Perhaps this was in the back of her mind, maybe even in the front of her mind. Maybe she simply wanted some peace and quiet in which to enjoy her lobster thermidor. Who knows. All I know is every time I see Mr. Nolan now it’s “Well, hello, how is my little princess today?” Which as they say is better than a sock on the jaw. 

I must fly now as Pierre and Serge are both tapping the faces of their watches with their overcoats on and their hats and scarves as they are taking me shopping up on Fifth Avenue to buy some Christmas presents.

Again may I wish you a merry Christmas despite your incarceration, but I hope the fruitcake and the enclosed gelt will make things slightly less like a Charles Dickens novel I am reading now for school Oliver Twist what a yell of laughter that book is.

I remain,

as ever,

your pal,

G-------n

PS Don’t forget, be careful cutting the fruitcake so you don’t cut up the gelt wrapped in the wax paper.

****


(This story originally appeared in somewhat different form, with artwork by rhoda penmarq, i
n New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.)



(Your editor took a week off to work on the editing of the first volume of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, with a view to its publication later this year as an e-book, and every month or so I expect to take another week off to work on it until it is ready for the virtual presses. In the meantime expect a brand new thrilling chapter of Arnold’s masterpiece next Friday!)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 440: mistakes


Let us return to a version of the year 1957 on a rainy August night in Greenwich Village, and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friends in a speeding red Jaguar Mark VII driven by the ancient Mr. Philpot...


(Please go here to read our most recently previous chapter; if you are recovering from a complete nervous breakdown and would like something restfully endless to read then click here to return to the barely-remembered misty beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 68-volume autobiography.)

“Not since Charles Dickens has an author given us such a rich panoply of characters – 'Big Ben' Blagwell, Horace P. Sternwall, Ferdinand the fly, Mr. Philpot, and, yes, among dozens of others: the son of God himself, Arnold’s good friend 'Josh'.” – Harold Bloom, in the
High Times Literary Supplement.




I just realized now that I have forgotten to mention that while the immediately preceding events were transpiring – my brief chat with Josh, my going into the shop and bringing everyone out again, our getting into the Jaguar and taking off – while all this was happening I continued to suffer – along with an intense hunger for food, hot food and lots of it – multifarious and mounting physical pains. If I were a professional writer I suppose I would perforce go back and add the occasional sentence or phrase such as, “I winced, being still in pain, pain which was increasing each second, emanating from my various injuries to both my legs – primarily my knees – as well as from my head and hands and arms,” but since I am not a professional writer and, in a practical sense, also because I am writing these memoirs in marble copybooks in ballpoint, making revisions awkward and as likely as not illegible, I will merely remind the reader now and have done with it: I continued to be in pain from my various falls, and as the laudanum I had drunk wore off these various and manifold pains grew greater each passing second. 



And now on top of everything else I realized that I needed to urinate. Well, we were going to a bar, bars always had men’s rooms, and the way Mr. Philpot was speeding and, yes, now blatantly running red lights, we should be there soon if we arrived at all.



No one seemed to mind how fast Mr. Philpot was going, and he was going faster each passing second, and, far from admonishing him for ignoring red lights, Ben and Ferdinand and even Horace whooped in encouragement – yes, even Horace, an avowed coward, but then he had probably drunk at least one jelly-glassful of 150-year-old British navy rum at Mr. Philpot’s, and that was on top of everything else he had put away this evening, not to mention marijuana and laudanum. Josh needless to say looked unperturbed. He may have wanted to be human, but he wasn’t entirely there yet; I think he knew he was still at heart divine, and, ergo, immune to death; and even if he did die in his current corporeal form he would only be returning to his father’s house.

As for myself, yes, I was afraid, if only by force of habit, even if I was in the company of the son of God, whom I might reasonably hope would protect me, or, failing that, at least take me up to his father’s house with him and perhaps give me a comfortable small room of my own; I was afraid also in spite of the fact that I currently existed in a fictional corporeal host, in a fictional world; I may well have been a character in a cheap novel, but I felt real enough to me. It may have been a preposterous self in which I was encased, but it was no more so than the self I still thought of as “me”, and, anyway, it was the only self I had at the moment.  

Yes, I was afraid, but not gibberingly so, not to the point of screaming at Mr. Philpot to slow the fuck down for God’s sake, nor even of saying anything to him at all, and I can only suppose this silence, this absence of abject panic was the result of my knowing ahead of time that nothing I said or screamed would make a bit of difference to the ancient madman at the wheel, and because I was too preoccupied with my more immediate physical sensations: my aforementioned intense hunger, pain, and the need to urinate. 


But then something occurred to me.

“Mr. Philpot,” I said, speaking loudly, because Ferdinand, Ben and Horace were all talking about cars, how the Jaguar we were in stacked up to other makes of cars, the sort of conversation which has never interested me, “you do know where we’re going, right?” 

He looked at me in the rearview mirror.

“Bob’s Bowery Bar, right?” 


“Yes, and you know where it is?”

“Of course I do,” he said

“Bleecker and the Bowery?” I said.

“Same place it’s always been,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Just, you know –”

“Jesus Christ, Arnie, relax,” said Ben, twisting around to look at me dubiously from under the visor of his old yachting cap. “Mr. Philpot knows this town, don’t you, Mr. Philpot.”

“Like the back of my hand,” cackled Mr. Philpot. “Why, I remember when you took your life in your hands walking these very streets!”

“The good old days, hey, Mr. Philpot?” said Ferdinand, still buzzing merrily around in the front-seat area.



“We’ll not see their like again!” said Mr. Philpot, turning to address Ferdinand, who had now come to rest convivially on Ben’s mountainous shoulder. “We had real gangs in those days! The Ball Busters! The Piccadilly Pips! The Purple Gentlemen! The Gay Trotters! The Bronze Nightcaps! The Highwaymen of Doom!

“The Highwaymen of Doom?” said Ferdinand.

“A strange name, I grant you,” said Mr. Philpot, “as they mostly operated in dark alleyways, and dank subterranean dens of iniquity.”

“I have to say I’ve never heard of any of those gangs,” said Horace.

“That’s because you’re just like everyone else in your generation,” said Mr. Philpot, turning almost entirely around in his seat and glaring over it at Horace. “An ignoramus!” 


Suddenly the car swerved, and I knew I was going to die, but fortunately Ben grabbed the steering wheel and an accident was averted, while Ben, myself, Horace and Ferdinand all shouted various permutations of the words shit and fuck. 


My arrant cowardice got the best of me.

“Please, Mr. Philpot!” I yelled. “Keep your eyes on the road!”

“Sorry ‘bout that,” said the dotard. “I got the wheel, Mr. Blankwell, you can let go of it now.”

“Blagwell,” said Ben, letting go of the wheel.

“Whatever,” said the old man, and he ran another red light.

Horace was holding onto my arm, tightly, as if that would do him any good. Josh was oblivious. I mean that literally, he was asleep, his head on my shoulder, a lit cigarette in his hand, the hand resting on his leg. I took the cigarette from his fingers so that he wouldn’t burn himself. I thought of taking a drag, but didn’t. I wondered if Josh could prevent an accident if he were sleeping, and I doubted he could, but then, as Mr. Philpot zoomed through yet another red light, I saw a familiar corner zip by to the left in that pouring rain – I knew that corner! It was “my” old corner, Bleecker and the Bowery –



“Stop!” I screamed.

“Why?” yelled Mr. Philpot right back. “You don’t trust my driving? I was driving automobiles before you were born, you young whippersnapper! And before that I was jockeying four-in-hands and barouches with the best of them!”

“But we just went past Bleecker and the Bowery!” I whined.

“Then why didn’t you just say so?” he screeched, and then he made the tires of that beautiful car screech like the damned in hell as he yanked the wheel clockwise, turning the car in a vicious U-turn.

Josh woke up, almost falling onto my lap as the car wheeled around.

“What’s going on?” he said.

“Just ‘popping a yooby’ as the young folk say,” said Mr. Philpot.

While this yooby was being popped Ferdinand, Ben, Horace and myself again emitted various imprecations, but then, proving that miracles do happen, the big car suddenly came to a jolting stop without crashing into anything, and, looking past Horace out the passenger window streaming with rain I saw a red neon sign, and the sign said BOB’S BOWERY BAR.

“Oh, thank God,” I muttered.

“What?” said Josh.

“Thank you,” I said to him.

“For what?”

“For getting us here safely.”

“Oh, we’re here already?”

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

“Why thank me? I had nothing to do with it.”

“Thank your father?” I said.

“Arnold, old boy, sometimes things just work out. My father can’t be bothering with every little thing on earth. Why are you smoking a cigarette? I thought you quit.”


“It’s yours,” I said. “You fell asleep. I didn’t want you to burn yourself.”

“How thoughtful. Do you want it?”

“Not really,” I said.

“May I have it back then?”

“Of course,” I said, and I handed him the cigarette.

Mr. Philpot had turned off the engine, and he was unbuttoning his umbrella.

“Enough palaver,” he said. “Let’s get some grub! And some grog! The last time I was here I had a splendid grog! You chaps in the back, depress the lock buttons! This neighborhood is rife with criminals!”

I really couldn’t believe it. Not only was I alive, but soon I would be able to urinate, and then, perhaps, to eat. True, I would still be in pain, but I could mollify that problem with liquor and beer, which would mean I would awaken the next morning with the same bruises and pains, but with a hangover on top of them, but that was tomorrow, and this was now.

We tumbled out of the car, into that crashing rain, Mr. Philpot running into the bar under his umbrella after locking up his door, Horace and Ben rushing across the sidewalk holding onto their hat and cap respectively, Josh and Ferdinand and I sharing Josh’s umbrella, with me holding my precious book safely under my jacket.

The door of the bar was open in its recessed entranceway, and inside was the harsh shouting and bitter laughter of many drunken people barely visible through tobacco smoke, the thick hot odors of beer and whiskey and human beings, the sound of I believe it was Peggy Lee singing “Blues in the Night”. 


Horace, Mr. Philpot, Ben, and Ferdinand went on in without a moment’s hesitation. 

 
I waited while Josh clumsily closed and reopened his umbrella halfway a few times to get some of the rainwater off it. Then he closed it all the way and started to try to button it, but he was having difficulty doing this, swaying slightly, his cigarette dangling from his lips.

“You want me to help you with that, Josh?” I ventured to ask.

“No, I’ve got it,” he said, and he fumbled with the little flap that was meant to be affixed to a button, but he still couldn’t get it.

“Here, let me give it a shot,” I said.

“No, I’m, uh, you know –” he said.

But he still could not quite get the button through the little slit.

I was hungry, I had to pee, my legs hurt me more now that I was standing.

“Josh,” I said. “Really. Let me do it.”

“No, wait,” he said. “Here we go!” He had finally gotten it buttoned, and now he brandished the furled umbrella like a club. “Got you, you bastard!”  


“Thank God,” I said.

“For what?” he said.

“Never mind,” I said. “Let’s go in, okay?”

He took the cigarette out of his mouth and smiled, shaking his head. 

“Relax, Arnold, we’ll get you some food.”

“I know,” I said. “But now I really have to pee.”

Again?”

“Well, yes,” I said.

“It seems like you have to pee an awful lot.”

“Josh,” I said. “I’m human. I’ve been drinking. When we humans drink we must pee.”

“Doesn’t that get a little – tiresome?”

“Of course it does,” I said. “Life is tiresome. But look, let’s go in, because not only do I really have to pee, but standing here like this makes my legs hurt.” 


“Your legs are hurting again?”

“Yes,” I said. “Actually, my head hurts too, and my arms and hands. I’ve had a lot of accidents tonight. But I’ll be okay if I can just pee and then sit down and eat something, so let’s go in.”

He stared at me.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s not your fault,” I said.

“Oh, but it is,” he said. “You see, when I – we – that is my father, the holy ghost and I, you know – the divine trinity?”

“Sure,” I said.

“When we created all this –” he made a little gesture with his hand that held the cigarette – “not just this bar, but, you know –”

“The universe,” I said, trying to move things along, because now that I was so close to a men’s room I was just about ready to wet myself.

 
“Right,” he said, in a thoughtful-seeming way, and obviously in no hurry. “When we created all this we didn’t quite think through all the – the ramifications. Like, you know –”

“People having to urinate,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “And suffering pain. And hunger.”

He continued to stare into my eyes. Then he turned and looked out at that crashing and clattering rain, exploding all over the sidewalk and Mr. Philpot's red Jaguar and the street.

I forced myself not to say anything. He was, after all, the son of God, and I still felt the need to show him some respect.

He took a drag on his cigarette, exhaled, looked at the burning end of the Pall Mall, tapped its ash off.

He sighed. He was definitely becoming more human that way, learning how to sigh.

He turned again and looked at me with a slight half-smile, a slight half-shrug.

“Mistakes were made,” he said.



(To be continued; Arnold still has a long way to go.)

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 439: Mark VII


On this rainy August night in old Greenwich Village our memoirist Arnold Schnabel has finally met up again with his friend “Josh”, otherwise known as the only son of God, who has just suggested that they go to a place called Bob’s Bowery Bar for a late-night meal and a chat... 


(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; if you just broke your leg falling off the elliptical machine at the gym and are looking for something to read while you’re laid up then go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume masterwork.)

“Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre stands not only as a towering work of literature, but, in a very real sense, as one of the greatest of religious works, on a par with the Bible (both old and new testaments), the Bhagavad-Gita, the Tao-te-Ching, and the Scientology Handbook.” – Harold Bloom, in the Cape May Pennysaver Literary Supplement.





“Okay, then, sounds good,” I said, and as soon as I said that I began to have my doubts, but I was so hungry I just didn’t care. 

“I wonder if I can make a cab materialize,” he said. “One would think I still had that much divine power –”

“Well, let’s hope so,” I said. “Look, Josh, you try to do that –”

“Make a cab appear?”

“Yes,” I said. “You work on that, and I’m just going to tell the guys in there where we’re going.”

“That’s very polite and thoughtful of you.”

“Well, it’s only common courtesy,” I said. “And, after all, Ferdinand and Ben are my friends.”

“What about the other chap, Hogarth?”

“Horace,” I said. 


“Oh, right,” he said. “Horace. Please forgive me, but – you know how it is, so many millions of people, all of them with names –”

“I understand,” I said. “Anyway, yes, Horace is sort of my friend too, I suppose, in a way.”

“But not Mr. Philpot.”

“No,” I said. “Not Mr. Philpot really.”

“You see,” said Josh, and after one last drag he flicked the butt of his cigarette sailing out streetward into the pouring rain, “I have to learn these sorts of things if I’m really going to be a human being.”

“Right,” I said.

“Common courtesy,” he said. “The mysteries of friendship.”

“Uh, sure,” I said.

He took out a beautiful cigarette case, gold or gold-plated of course, or maybe platinum. I couldn’t remember if I had seen it before. It was monogrammed with the letters – and I’m not making this up, it’s all true – “J.C.” He clicked it open and offered its contents to me. They were Pall Malls of course, my old brand.

I started to take one, and then remembered again that I had given up smoking a couple of days ago, even if it felt like seven years ago. I wanted one, but even more I wanted to eat. If I lit up a cigarette I wouldn’t enjoy it anyway, because we would then undoubtedly stand here smoking and talking more nonsense instead of taking care of the business of getting me fed. So I pulled my hand away.

“No, thanks, Josh,” I said. “I’ve quit.”

“Yes, of course,” he said. “I should have remembered, you’ve quit. But, you know, Arnold, if I may say so, and I don’t want to make any promises, but I could possibly arrange it that you could chain-smoke for the rest of your life and still live to be a hundred. In fact if I put some effort into it I could maybe – possibly, mind you – arrange to make you immortal. I mean if that’s what you would like. I mean I’m just saying. Making the offer. Before I become completely human. Because when that happens I won’t be able to help you, as much as I might like to. I say this because I consider you my friend.”

“All I want is some food, Josh,” I said.



He made a little shrug and took out a cigarette for himself. He snapped the case shut and tapped the cigarette on its lid.



“That’s another thing I’ll have to learn, or relearn.”

“What’s that?” I said.

He put the Pall Mall in his lips.

“This whole food obsession with you mortals.”

“It’s not really an obsession,” I said.



“Not until you start getting hungry,” he said.

“Okay, I see your point,” I said.

He had slipped the cigarette case back into his jacket pocket and now he was tapping his various pockets with his fingers.

“Where’s my lighter?” he said.

I said what everybody says in these cases.

“Check all your pockets.”

“I am checking them,” he said. “Do you have a light?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, and now I began the same ritual of patting all my own pockets, even though I had given up smoking and thus presumably also given up equipping myself with a lighter or matches.

“This is really weird,” he said. “Where could I have put it?”

“Y’know, it’s probably in Mr. Philpot’s shop,” I said. “I mean, you had a lit cigarette just now. Did you remember lighting it with your lighter in there?”

“Yes, actually, I do remember that!” he said. “I must have put it down on his table.”

“There you go,” I said, and I must have sighed again, because Josh said:

“What?”

“Pardon me?”

“You sighed again. Why did you sigh?”

At first I didn’t know why, but then I did. I sighed again.

“There, you did it again!” he said. “What is it?”

“Do you promise not to get upset?”

“Arnold, I never get upset.”

“Sorry, okay. I sighed because I can’t believe I’m having such a mundane conversation with the son of God.”

He looked at me, and now once again I caught glimmerings of all the universe and all possible universes and all of time in his blue eyes.

“Oh, wait a minute,” I said.

“I’ve got nothing but time,” he said. “But I would still like a smoke while I’m waiting.”

“You took your wallet out earlier,” I said. “What pocket did you put it back in?”

He touched both his rear trousers pockets, and then the front ones. He tapped the right front one again.

“Oh, it’s in this pocket.”

“Check under the wallet.”

“Under it?”

“I mean in between the wallet and the inside of your pocket.”

He reached into the pocket and then, smiling, brought out his nice slim black enamel and gold Ronson.

“Wow, I’m really impressed, Arnold. How did you know?”  

 
“I’ve spent a lot of time being drunk in my life, Josh,” I said. “You learn these things.”

“I have so much to learn,” he said.

“Okay, well, look,” I said, “I have to go in and tell those guys where we’re going.”

He lit his cigarette.

“Go,” he said. “And I’ll try to summon that cab.”

“Good,” I said.

I turned, and opened the door. Luckily it had not locked automatically when Josh had shut it. If I had had to ring that bell again I might have gone insane, or more insane than I already was, which would be saying something... 

I think I will spare the reader my usual blow-by-blow method of narration for the next few minutes of our story, for the good reason that it would be beyond my capabilities to tell it in that fashion, perhaps beyond the capabilities even of a real writer. Words must be written and read one word after the other, but what transpired after I opened the door was all too confusing to be described in words one after the other, with what seemed like at least three people (or I should say three “creatures” I suppose, since Ferdinand was a fly, albeit one with human qualities) talking at once at any given moment. It was one of those instances where motion pictures are potentially superior to the written word, and since I do not have the power to insert a movie scene here I will simply say that after perhaps three or four minutes I was heading out the door again, and Ben, Horace, and Ferdinand were all with me, with Mr. Philpot bringing up the rear. I had my book, my blank unwritten book, The Ace of Death, I had remembered to grab that, and I had even remembered my blue-and-yellow Eversharp ballpoint pen, and Josh’s umbrella, too.

“What’s all this?” said Josh, as I handed him the umbrella.

“Mr. Philpot’s gonna drive us to this bar you want to go to,” said Ben.



“I thought we were going to take a cab,” said Josh.

“Good luck finding a hansom in this torrent!” said Mr. Philpot, who was locking the door with a big black mortice key. He had put on an dull-black bowler hat, he had his pipe in his dentures, and, hooked over an arm, a very large and worn black umbrella.



“But,” said Josh, “you see, Arnold and I –”

“Who’s Arnold?” said Mr. Philpot.

He had successfully locked the door and now he was unbuttoning his umbrella.

“I’m Arnold,” I said.

“Arnold, Porter, Walker –” he opened the umbrella with a rusty thwapping sound – “how many names do you have, anyway?”

I didn’t answer him. I wasn’t sure what the answer to his question was.


“So’s that your Jag. Mr. Philpot?” said Ben, gesturing with his cigarette at the red Mark VII parked almost in front of the shop.

“It is indeed,” said Mr. Philpot. “Just acquired it tonight. A beauty isn’t it?”

“Very nice wheels,” said Ferdinand, sounding drunker than when I had last seen him just minutes ago, as did everyone except me and Josh.

“I never rode in one of those babies,” said Horace. “What can you do in that, a hundred?”

“We’ll soon find out,” said Mr. Philpot.

“I got shotgun,” said Ben.

Mr. Philpot dashed nimbly down the steps into the downpour under his umbrella, and Ben and Horace followed him. Ferdinand was hovering near my head, and he said, “Let’s go, Arnie.”

“In a second, Ferdinand,” I said; and, addressing Josh, who was standing there looking at me, “I’m sorry, Josh. They insisted. They all said they wanted something to eat, too, and, well, at least we’re getting a ride –”

“Don’t be mad at Arnold, Josh,” said Ferdinand. “He has a hard time saying no to people.”

“Well, I hope we can still have our little talk, Arnold,” said Josh.

“That’s all arranged,” said Ferdinand. “We’re gonna leave you guys alone, let you have your little chat. We won’t bother you.”

“Well,” said Josh, “okay then.”

He put his cigarette in his mouth and opened his umbrella.

“I hope you’re not mad at me, Josh,” I said.

“I don’t get mad, Arnold,” he said.



“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand.

“What?” said Josh.

“You 'don’t get mad'!”

“Well, I don’t,” he said.

“What about Sodom and Gomorrah?”

“Oh,” he said. “Yes. Well, that wasn’t me. That was, you know, my father.”

“You don’t want to fuck with the big guy, right, Josh?”

Yes, Ferdinand was definitely drunker.

“No,” said Josh. “You’re right. You really don’t want to fuck as you say with the big guy.”

Horace, Ben, and Mr. Philpot had gotten into the Jaguar. Ben was in the front passenger seat, with the door partway open, and he yelled up at us through that clattering and crashing rain.

“What’s the hold up? Let’s roll!”

Josh looked at me.

“Well, shall we?”

“Okay,” I said.

“Get under my umbrella.”

Ferdinand flew into the safety of the porch of my ear, I tucked my book under my seersucker jacket, and Josh and I dashed down the steps, Josh holding the umbrella over both our heads.

Horace was in the back seat, and he’d left the door open. Josh waved for me to go in first while he held the umbrella, and I did. He followed me in, closing the umbrella and then the door. Horace had just lit a fresh cigarette and he tossed the match down at the floor, but I suppose that was okay, as the foot space was already littered with empty beer bottles and other trash.

Mr. Philpot had already started the engine and turned the windshield wipers and the headlights on. He was so short his bowler hat barely reached above the back of the seat.

Ben turned around, with his enormous wet arm over the seat back, his dirty old yachting cap dripping rainwater, a fresh cigarette in his mouth.

“All in? Okay, let’s weigh anchor, Mr. Philpot!" 
Mr. Philpot put the car in gear and pulled out into the street and the rain.

The inside of the car was hot and filling up with smoke. Everyone was smoking except for me and Ferdinand, who was only not smoking because he was a fly. The rain beat down on the roof of the car and streamed down the glass of the windows and the windshield. Mr. Philpot hung a hard left at the corner, zooming through a yellow light, and causing Josh to lean into me, and me into Horace.



“What’s that book you got there, Arnold?” said Horace. 

I held the book up, angling it to catch the light of the passing streetlamps:


The Ace of Death
a novel of despair and terror by
Horace P. Sternwall



“Oh, one of mine!” said Horace. “Get it from Mr. Philpot?” 


“Yes,” I said.

“Any good?”


“All the pages are blank,” I said.



“Ah ha! Like a life that hasn’t been lived yet!” he said.

“Sort of,” I said.



“A world waiting to be created, and explored, to have adventures in! To live in and die in!”



“Um,” I said, and Ben made a great whooping sound as Mr. Philpot tore through another yellow light, while Ferdinand yelled “Go, Mr. Philpot!” and buzzed around in a happy way amidst the thick warm smoke and the smell of drunken men.




(Continued here, onward into dimensions and universes yet undreamed of.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find frequently correct listing of links to all other publicly-available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets now available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Walking Tour of Olney, Arnold’s old neighborhood, which includes a Beef ‘n’ Beer Buffet at the Raymond T. Osmond VFW Post at Chew and Lawrence. E-mail the editor of this blog for details.)

Friday, May 1, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 438: help


Let’s return to old Greenwich Village and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his divine friend “Josh”, just outside the entrance of Philpot’s Rare Book Shop on MacDougal Street, on this hot wet night in August of 1957...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you’ve got absolutely nothing better to do with your precious time on this earth you many click here to return to the only dimly-remembered beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume memoir.)

“Only a writer with the unique genius of Arnold Schnabel could do what no author before him has done: to render truly ‘human’ the only son of God. – Harold Bloom, in the Catholic Standard & Times Literary Supplement.

He looked at me.

He looked at me but said nothing.

I wish I could explain what it’s like to have the son of God standing right there in front of you, somewhat drunk, the son of God that is – although now that I mention it I was drunk too, so let me rephrase that as: I wish I could explain how it felt to be drunk (and drugged, now that I think of it) and to have the even drunker (but presumably not drugged) son of God standing right there in front of you staring into your eyes. 
I suppose there is no way to describe it, or at least there’s no way for me to describe it, so I won’t.

I waited.

Josh didn’t seem to mind these long pauses. What was a long pause to him who had always existed, and who, presumably, always would exist? I however was a mere mortal, and so after a very long minute I spoke up. 
“I mean, like, what is it I can – or – um –?” I said. 
“I need your help,” he said, again. 
So he was like a human being in that when he was drunk he repeated himself, in an annoying way. 
“Yes,” I said, just trying to move it along, “so – like, uh, just tell me how I can, um, you know –” 
“It’s a little awkward,” he said, abruptly putting a halt to my dithering, staring into my eyes, and now I remember what it was like, looking into his eyes. It was like when I looked through Nicky’s cigarette holder and I could see the whole world through it, except looking into Josh’s eyes was like looking at the whole universe, and at all of time, past and future and present, the lives and deaths of all creatures, the lives and deaths of whole galaxies and myriad dimensions.

I had to look away, out at MacDougal Street. 
I took a breath. Josh was in the midst of another pause, so I took it upon myself to speak up again. 
“Well, might as well just come out with it, Josh,” I said. “I mean –” 
I stopped my sentence there, because I didn’t know what I meant, if anything.

Josh was taking a drag on his cigarette, and he slowly exhaled the smoke into the night air before speaking. 
“What?” he said. 
“Pardon me?” I said. 
“You said, ‘I mean –’” he said. “What do you mean?” 
“I have no idea,” I said. “It’s just the way we humans talk. We say things that mean nothing all the time.” 
“Y’know,” he said, “I’ve noticed that.” 
It started to rain. Again.  
“Shit,” I said, and I stepped back closer to the door of Mr. Philpot’s shop, so that I would be sheltered by the short canvas awning above it. 
“What’s the matter?” said Josh. 
“This rain,” I said. “I can’t believe it’s starting to rain again.” 
“Why?” he said. 
He was serious. 
“Never mind,” I said. “So, Josh, what is it? You can tell me.” 
I really did want to know what he was talking about, but on another and maybe even more meaningful level, I was really getting bored, although I certainly wouldn’t tell Josh that. 
“It’s about Carlotta,” he said, finally. 
“Oh,” I said.

I should have known. 
“What?” he said. 
“Nothing,” I said. “Just, ‘Oh.’” 
“But you said it with a certain, how shall I put it,  significance.” 
“Well,” I said, trying actually to tell the truth for a change,
“I guess it’s just that the last time we talked you were talking about maybe marrying Carlotta, and I know you’ve spent some, uh, time with her tonight and all, so, you know, I guess I’m just not surprised that it’s Carlotta you want to talk about. Or –” 
“Okay,” he said. 
“You know,” I said. 
“Right,” he said. “But you know what’s weird?” 
“Everything?” I said. 
“Ha ha, good one, but you know what’s particularly weird right now?” 
“I can think of a lot of things, Josh,” I said. “So why don’t you just tell me.” 
“What’s weird is that I had to ask you what you meant. I should have been able to read your mind.” 
“Oh.” 
That’s what’s weird.” 
“Uh-huh.” 
“I really am becoming more human by the minute.” 
I didn’t know what to say to this. I chose to say nothing. 
Another awkward silence ensued. 
He stood there smoking, not staring at me – thank God, or him, since he was after all the son of God and according to Church doctrine indivisible from God the father, not to mention from the holy ghost – but looking out at the crashing rain and the street. 
The rain was noisy, especially the clatter it made on the awning right above our heads, but nevertheless I could hear Ben’s booming voice from within the shop, shouting in what sounded like a happy way, or at least in a way intended to sound happy. 
A car sluiced down the rainy street. I couldn’t tell what kind of car it was, the falling rain was so thick and blurry. And of course it doesn’t matter what kind of car it was. 
The yellowish-orangish-reddish neon BAR sign of the Kettle of Fish across the street glowed vaguely through that living crashing torrent, and very faintly I could hear jazz music emanating from the place. 
A couple of minutes passed like this, and finally I couldn’t take the silence anymore, so, just to say something I said: 
“Well, you wanted to be human, right?” 
Now he looked at me, and after another but shorter pause, he said: 
“Yes, that’s what I wanted. Or what I thought I wanted.” 
He took a drag on his Pall Mall, looking at me with those blue eyes of his, but now, instead of containing universes of universes, they almost looked like a normal man’s eyes, the eyes of just another man alone in the universe. 
I sighed, for the one-thousandth time since last I had slept. 
The rain clattered down like millions of marbles on the awning over our heads, it crashed to the steps leading down to the pavement, it splattered and exploded all over the sidewalk and the street. 
The laudanum I had drunk was evidently already starting to wear off, and my various pains – in both my legs, my arms, my head – were starting to make themselves felt again, and along with them came the return of my hunger for some sort of food, preferably hot and lots of it. Had I really not eaten since breakfast? 
“What?” said Josh, suddenly. 
“Pardon me?” I said. 
“You’re thinking something. It’s true I can no longer read your mind, but I can tell you have something on your mind.” 
He was correct there. I had hamburgers and french fries on my mind. But for some reason I didn’t admit this. 
“Um,” I said. 
“Okay,” said Josh. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I think I know what you’re thinking.” 
“Yes?” I said. 
“You’re thinking it’s a bad idea.” 
“What is?” I said. 
“Me and Carlotta,” he said. 
“Yes?” I said. 
“Or am I wrong?” 
“About what I’m thinking?” 
“Yes.” 
“Well, yes,” I said. 
“Yes I’m wrong or yes I’m correct.” 
“I’m not sure,” I said, because now all I could think about was meatloaf, and mashed potatoes, all of it smothered with gravy. 
“Earlier tonight you didn’t seem so unsure.” 
“About what?” I said. 
“Me and Carlotta. What did you think I was talking about?” 
“Sorry,” I said. 
“Or have you changed your mind?” 
“About you and Carlotta?” I said. 
Now it was his turn to sigh, he was becoming more human in that regard also. 
“Yes, Arnold,” he said. “About me not knowing her long enough to ask her to marry me. About not making rash decisions when I’ve been drinking.” 
“Well,” I said, trying to fight off visions of spaghetti and meatballs, “how long have you known her?” 
He glanced at his wristwatch, which I hadn’t noticed before, all this time I had known him. Needless to say, it looked like a really nice watch, with a gold, or at least gold-colored band. Or maybe it was platinum, what did I know?  
“Well,” he said, “It looks like I’ve known her for approximately two hours and fifty-eight minutes. So let’s round it out and say three hours.” 
“That’s not a really long time,” I said. 
“Well, for you it’s not, Arnold. For me it can either be like an eternity or like three seconds.” 
“I know what you mean,” I said. 
“You do?” 
“Yes,” I said. After all it felt like four years and three months at least since I had had breakfast. 
“On the other hand, yes,” he said, “I have been drinking quite a bit. Lots and lots all day, and now I just had a couple of jelly-glasses full of Mr. Philpot’s Royal Navy rum. Oh, by the way, where were you just now?” 
“You mean before I got where I am right now?” 
“Yes. You said you were just going to urinate.” 
“Right,” I said. 
“And after a few minutes you didn’t return, and so Ferdinand went to check up on you.” 
“Right,” I said. 
“And then he didn’t return, and we were starting to wonder what happened to the both of you, when all of a sudden you ring the doorbell and here you both are, and with that Sternhagen fellow.” 
“Sternwall,” I said. 
“Sorry, Sternwall. Harry T. Sternwall,” he said. 
I decided to let it go, I didn’t want to be correcting the son of God all night. 
“I slipped into another dimension,” I said.

Again?” he said. 
“Yes, again.” 
“Okay, I’ll bite. And what dimension was this?” 
“It was the dimension of, um, the world of a cheap paperback novel by Horace called Rummies of the Open Road.” 
“Horace? Who’s Horace?” 
“The guy we were just talking about,” I said. “The guy I came here with.” 
“So his name is not Harry?” 
“No,” I said. “It’s Horace actually. Horace P. Sternwall.” 
“You should have corrected me.” 
“Sorry,” I said. “Anyway, I slipped into that other world, we had all sorts of crazy adventures, but somehow we all made it back here.” 
“You were only gone about seven minutes.” 
“It seemed a lot longer,” I said. 
“Like what we were talking about,” he said. 
“Yeah.” 
“Time is relative.” 
“I’m learning that,” I said. 
“But we’re getting away from the subject.” 
My stomach growled. You could hear it even over that crashing downpour of rain. 
“What was that?” said Josh. 
“My stomach,” I said. 
“Are you sick? You don’t have a demon in there, do you?” 
“No, Josh,” I said.

“You’re sure? Because that can happen, you know.” 
“I’m just hungry,” I said.  
“Hungry? For food?” 
“Yes,” I said. “I’m starving.” 
“I hope you don’t mean that literally.” 
“No,” I said. “But I really am hungry. I mean really hungry.” 
“Then you should eat.” 
“I would like to,” I said. 
“Then we’ll get you some food,” he said. “You can eat, and we’ll talk while you eat. Because I really do need to talk to you, because I really do need your help.” 
“Okay,” I said. 
“What would you like to eat?” 
“Anything,” I said. 
“That can be arranged,” he said, and I realized he meant that literally. 
“Just something hot,” I said. “Simple and hearty.” 
“Great,” he said. “Where shall we go? Oh, wait, they serve food in that bar downstairs, that Valhalla place –” 
“No,” I said. “Let’s not go there.” 
“Okay, so what about the Kettle of Fish?” 
“No,” I said. 
“I’d say let’s try the San Remo but I don’t think they’ll let me in there –” 
“No, I don’t want to go to either of those places,” I said. 
“You’re being picky, Arnold. I thought you were hungry.” 
“I am,” I said. “But I’ve had bad luck in all those places, Josh. I don’t want to push it.” 
“There is this other place,” he said. 
“Great, any place is fine except those three you mentioned.” 
“It’s called Bob’s Bowery Bar.” 
“Oh,” I said.  
“Do you know it?” 
“Isn’t that the bar below where I, or Porter, live, or lived?” 
“Corner of Bleecker and the Bowery.” 
“Right,” I said. 
“Yes, uh, Carlotta and I, uh, stopped in there.” 
“Oh.” 
“There you go again, with that ‘significance’ in your voice.” 
I sighed, again. 
“You really sigh a lot,” he said. 
All I could respond with was another sigh. 
“So do you want to go there?” he asked. 
“Sure,” I said. “If they’re still serving food.” 
“This is New York,” he said. “They’re probably still serving.” 
“What time is it, anyway?”  
(I said this because unlike myself – that is, the self who called himself Arnold Schnabel – the self who was me in this universe, “Porter Walker” – didn’t seem to wear a watch.) 
Josh glanced at that nice watch of his again. 
“It’s not even midnight yet,” he said. 
“That’s impossible,” I said, forgetting myself. 
“This is a Rolex, Arnold. It keeps very good time.” 
“Maybe it broke when you got thrown out onto the pavement from the San Remo,” I said. 
“I don’t think so,” he said. “You’re forgetting the relativity of time.” 
“Yes, I suppose so.” 
“Anyway, let’s go there then.” 
“Okay,” I said. 
“I liked it there.” 
“Fine with me,” I said. I didn’t care, just as long as they had food of some sort. 
“It was very –” he paused, again, 
Now that food was in sight I didn’t want to waste any more time on long silences, so I spoke up. 
“It was very what, Josh?”  
“It was very –” 
“What?” 
“It was very down to earth,” he said. 

(Continued here, as we follow Arnold on a whole new volume of his adventures...)

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