Friday, January 23, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 426: twilight life


Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel’s friend the prolific author Horace P. Sternwall
(A Desperate Man; The God’s Honest Truth; etc.) has been reading aloud from his sadly out-of-print classic Slaves of Sappho

(Please go here to read our immediately previous chapter; click here to go back to the first chapter of Slaves of Sappho. Newcomers may click here to return to the beginning of Arnold Schnabel’s Gold View Award™-winning memoir Railroad Train to Heaven.)

“There are certain lengthy sections in Arnold Schnabel’s massive
chef-d'œuvre when his voice suddenly merges with that of his friend Horace P. Sternwall, and then one can only ask: is it Arnold’s voice, or Horace’s, or perhaps a third voice, a shall we say ‘universal’ voice, a voice somehow beyond what we think of as belonging to ‘one’ person?” – Harold Bloom, in the Parade Magazine Literary Supplement. 


“So,” said Muriel. She placed the little red plastic arrow with its slice of orange on her beverage napkin, and then she looked at Missy. “First off, I suggest you take a good long drink of that Tom Collins there.”



“But why?” said Missy.

“You’ll know why in just one second. Now go on, honey, just sip it through that straw there and make pretend it’s nothin’ more than a nice cool glass of lemonade.”

“Will it make me drunk?” said Missy.

She had an uncle who got drunk, Uncle Maurice, and he became most unpleasant when he did. Missy didn’t want to get like that.

“One little old Tom Collins is not going to make you drunk, child,” said Muriel, narrowing her eyes under the brim of her Panama hat. ”But what it will do is help soften the blow.”

“The blow? What blow? Oh, please, Muriel, will you just tell me?”

“Not until I see at least three inches of that cocktail go through that straw and down your gullet.”

“Oh, all right.”

Missy lowered her lips to the straw, putting both her hands on the glass, and she drew in some of the cold sweet liquid, swallowed it, and then looked up at Muriel.

“Good,” said Muriel. “Very good. But that’s only one inch. Now take a breath, put your mouth on that straw again and let’s see you send two more inches down the hatch.”

Missy sighed, but did as her new friend (if that was indeed what she was, and not just some random madwoman she had allowed herself to be taken captive by) had bade her do.

When she had drunk the required two inches she took her lips away from the straw. The funny thing was, the drink actually had tasted like a lemonade, but better than lemonade, because with its coolness and sweetness it brought a warmth and a glow, a glowing warmth, a warming glow, which seemed to start from somewhere in her stomach and then had spread upwards almost immediately to her brain.

“What do you think?” said Muriel, taking a drag on her Herbert Tareyton.

“It’s very good!” said Missy, and she took a drag on her own Herbert Tareyton, and this time she hardly coughed at all.

“See, I didn’t steer you wrong, now did I?”



“Not at all! Now what was it you wanted to tell me, Muriel?”

“Wait, hold on just a sec, while I catch up,” said Muriel, and, putting those red lips on her straw, she drew three inches of her own Tom Collins through it. She then licked her lips, and, looking Missy square in the eye, she said the most horrifying words Missy had ever heard spoken to her in her lifetime.



“Your boyfriend Chadwick is a homosexual.”



“A what?” said Missy, although she had heard every word as clearly as the chiming of a bell.

“A homosexual,” said Muriel, carefully enunciating each syllable. “A fairy. A poofter. A queer. A little old pansy through and through, from his pomaded hairdo right on down to his shiny patent-leather dancing pumps.”



Missy put her hand to her mouth.

“How did you – how did –”

“How did I what, honey?”

“How did you – know about the dancing pumps?”

To this Muriel said nothing, but merely rolled her eyes, and then shook her head, as if sadly, and then she lowered her red lips to her Tom Collins’s straw again, and relieved the tall glass of two more inches of its contents. She then raised her head and looked at Missy with an expression that seemed at least sympathetic.

For a moment, for several moments, Missy stared into those deep dark eyes. Her hand was still over her mouth, but now she slowly lowered it. She felt a falling sensation deep inside her, and she wondered if she were about to topple off her stool. But then something happened in her mind, a sort of kaleidoscopic explosion of living images, all of them of Chad:



Chad holding a red satin dress up to his chest and looking at himself and the dress in the full-length mirror that time he took her shopping at Saks…



Chad taking off his hat and gently patting his gleaming hair, that hair which was always so immaculately trimmed and combed and, yes, pomaded…

Chad’s half-closed eyes following the swirling movements of a slim young man on the ice-skating rink, round and round…

And Chad producing his own nail file – a good French one – from his breast pocket, that time she broke her nail getting into her seat when they went to see that revival of
The Women at the Thalia…

“Oh my God,” she said, at last.

“Sorry, honey,” said Muriel.

“How could I be so blind – such a fool?”

“Well, I’m sure he’s very good-looking and all,” said Muriel, taking a drag of her Herbert Tareyton. “Very well-groomed I bet.”

“Extremely well-groomed,” said Muriel.

“Good dresser.”

“A very good dresser!” said Missy. “Oh, but why? Why did he lead me on?”

Muriel made the facial equivalent of a shrug, a slight brief movement of her lower jaw to one side.

“Y’know, Missy, back there in the automat I told you I didn’t think Chadwick ever was gonna marry you, because he kept putting off making a wedding-date and all, but you know what? Now I think he probably did intend to tie the knot eventually.”

“But why?”

“You say he’s a lawyer?”

“Yes –”

“Well, everybody knows that to really get ahead in the law a man needs to be a family man. So, sure, he would have married you, and maybe even have thought of England and gone ahead and given you a squallin’ brat or two.”

“Thought of England?”

“Just a phrase, honey. Point is, he would’ve gone through the motions. But all the time he would be living what they call – the twilight life.”


“The twilight life?”



“Yes,” said Muriel, and without moving her face at all, she looked away, as if into some sad past. “A life lived in the shadows.” Her dark eyes then swiveled back to meet Missy’s. “A parallel life if you will that he would lead in certain bars and Turkish bathhouses right here in the Village, on evenings when he told you he had to work late at the office.” She took another drag of her Herbert Tareyton. “A secret life partaken of also in certain particular men’s rooms in the train stations and bus stations –”

“Oh, no –”

Suddenly Missy remembered several occasions when they were out somewhere and Chad had excused himself, to go to the men’s room, occasions when he had been gone twenty or even twenty-five minutes – and when he finally came back, seeming strangely relaxed, he would smile and say there had been a long line –


“Oh, yes, honey,” said Muriel. “Pansies just love their men’s rooms. ‘Toilet traders’ they call these boys –”



“How – horrible!”

Muriel shrugged, using just one bare shoulder, and tilting her face briefly to one side.

“The thing about men, Missy, bent or straight – and it’s high time you learned this – they’re just not like us women. They don’t care too much how or where they get it or who they get it from, just as long as they get it. It’s just their essentially brutish nature. Why, some of these fellas will camp out in one of those men’s rooms for hours on end, takin’ all comers, just sort of makin’ a day of it so to speak –”


“Oh, stop, Muriel! Please! I can’t stand to hear any more! It’s just all so – so sordid!”



“Well, the hard part is over now, honey,” said Muriel. She touched Missy’s cheek with those long slender fingers, with their long red nails. “Look at you, you’re about to cry.”

“I want to cry.”

“Well, heck, child, let it out.”

“I don’t want to make a spectacle.”

“Then I suggest you put your lips to that straw and just drink the rest of that Tom Collins down in one go.”

“Do you think that will help?”

“It’s not going to hurt. It only hurts after you’ve had seven or eight of them, and even then it doesn’t hurt till the next day. Now go on and drink.”

Once again Missy did as her new friend told her to, and Muriel did the same with her drink.

When they had finished Muriel looked at Missy and cocked that one thin eyebrow again.



“Feel better, honey?”

“I guess so,” said Missy. “I feel a little woozy.”

“Worse things than feelin’ woozy,” said Muriel, and, raising her hand like a child at school she turned and called down the bar to the bartender: “Yoo-hoo! Raoul? Two more of the same if you please.”

“Right away, Miss Armitage,” called back Raoul, again with that smile that was only a hint of a smile.

Muriel turned back to Missy.

“How you like the band, darlin’?”

“The – the band?” said Missy.

Muriel cocked her thumb over her shoulder.

“Tony Winston and his Winstonians, featurin’ the lovely Miss Lily LaRue.”

“Oh!” said Missy. She hadn’t been paying attention to the band at all ever since they came in here. The music had just been part of the background noise, and this again was like a movie. She recognized the song that Lily LaRue was singing, “Love for Sale”. “They’re fine,” she said.

“Believe it or not those boys can play some hot licks when they’re not playin’ to a square room like this one. And you should hear that Lily LaRue belt it out when she’s havin’ fun after hours.”

“I’m sure she’s swell,” said Missy.

“Oh, she’s a swell gal all right, that Lily,” said Missy. “Really swell gal, and a personal friend of mine, as are Tony and all the boys in his band.”

“Gee, it must be exciting, to know musicians.’

“I like artistic people,” said Muriel. “You might say bohemian people.”

“Chad used to be friendly with artistic people. Dancers mostly – and –”



“And what?”

Window dressers,” said Missy, and she felt her shoulders slump.

“You’ve got to forget about Chad, darlin’.” Muriel put her hand on Missy’s face again. “You’ve got to make your own life, your own friends.”

“But all I know are the stupid girls at Macy’s, and my stupid flatmates –”



Muriel slowly drew her hand away, those slim long fingers sliding down Missy’s cheek.

“But you must have had some – girlfriends at Barnard?”

“Oh, I did, I did!” said Missy, “but, somehow, after graduation, we all just drifted apart –”

“Sad, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Real friends should stick together, that’s what I say.”

“That’s what I think, too, Muriel! But girls can be so – so fickle – and - and –”



“Don’t I know it, honey! Oh, but look who’s here!”



Raoul was there again, and as if with magical hands he removed their empty glasses and replaced them with new ones.

“Thank you very much, Raoul,” said Muriel.

“You’re very welcome, Miss Armitage,” he said, again with that smile which seemed more like a memory of a smile than an actual smile, then he drifted away again.



“Well, Missy,” said Muriel, “now that the hard part is over, the good part begins.”

“It does?”

“It sure does, sweetheart. Let’s touch glasses.”

This was another thing Missy had never done before, but she had seen it in movies. She raised her glass, Muriel raised hers, and then tapped its rim against Missy’s glass.

“To your new life, Missy, uh –”

“Hallebrand,” said Missy.

“To your new life, Missy Hallebrand. Which starts now.”

Muriel put the straw of her drink in between those red lips, and Missy followed suit, sucking in that cold sweet liquid that became so warm and soothing once it was inside her lonely little body. She looked into the dark eyes of Muriel.

“Feel better, darlin’?” said Muriel.

“Yes,” said Missy. “Very much so! Thank you, Muriel – for, for everything!”

And suddenly she became aware of the music, and of Lily LaRue singing:


Sit there and count your fingers
What can you do, little girl you're through
Sit there, count your little fingers
Unhappy little girl blue...
And now Missy began to cry.

Muriel reached across the bar top to a stack of paper beverage napkins, picked up a few of them, and put them in Missy’s hand.

“Go ahead, darlin’,” she said. “You just let it all out now.”




(To be continued, relentlessly.)



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Friday, January 16, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 425: confused


Our hero Arnold Schnabel’s friend that unaccountably obscure author Horace P. Sternwall (The Burglar and the Babe; Talk to the Six-Gun; etc.) continues to read aloud from his modern classic Slaves of Sappho… 


(Kindly click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here to return to the very first chapter of this 59-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“At a certain point in Arnold Schnabel’s massive
chef-d'œuvre one becomes aware of the ineluctable fact that one’s mind has become bent in such a way that it will never come unbent again.” – Harold Bloom, in a speech at the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Beef ‘n’ Beer Gala. 


Outside on Bedford Street night had finally arrived, and the air was not quite so oppressive as when Missy had gone into the automat, which wasn’t saying much, as this was still August in New York City, and immediately she felt perspiration breaking out under her dress, one of her three “work outfits”, this one a prim black-and-white checked square-necked Chanel which had cost her a month’s wages even with her staff discount.

Muriel had stopped on the sidewalk, facing Bedford Street, and after taking one last drag on her Herbert Tareyton, she flicked it into the gutter.

“Where to go,” she said. “So many bars in this town. So little time, ha ha.”

Missy had nothing to say to this. She had never been to a bar in her life. But she decided to ape Muriel’s nonchalance, and so she flicked – or rather, awkwardly tossed, as if she were throwing a dart – her own Herbert Tareyton into the street. Unfortunately the cigarette flew into the open rear window of a passing taxi cab, hitting a fat man on the side of his jowls, and causing him to let out a piercing yelp. As the cab drove on up the street the man turned and screamed out of his window, using some words Missy had never heard before.

Oh, I’m sorry!” called Missy.

“Ha ha!” laughed Muriel.

The cab continued on up Bedford Street, but then pulled up to the curb at the corner.

“Oh, no,” said Missy. “I think he’s getting out!”

“Ha ha,” said Muriel. “Let him, the fat slob.”

“Oh, but Muriel, what if he attacks me?”

“Then I’ll hit him with my bag,” said Muriel.

Sure enough, the fat man had gotten out of the cab, and was apparently giving money to the driver through the front passenger window.

“Muriel,” said Missy, “we have to run. What if he gets a policeman and has me arrested? I can’t go to jail!”

“Good point,” said Muriel, and she grabbed Missy’s wrist and hustled her up the steps of the Hotel St Crispian, which stood conveniently quite near to where they had been standing.

An old but very tall and robust-looking doorman opened the door for them.

“Good evening, Miss Armitage,” he said, and bowing slightly to Missy, “and to you, miss. Welcome to the Hotel St Crispian.”

“Hi there, Olaf,” said Muriel. “This is my friend Miss –”

She glanced at Missy, raising one thin eyebrow in what Missy guessed was an interrogative way.

“Oh!” she said. “Hallebrand! Missy Hallebrand!”

“Very pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Hallebrand,” said the old man, in an accent that reminded Missy of Boris Karloff, and this time he actually clicked his heels, something Missy had only ever seen done before in movies. 

“Say, Olaf,” said Muriel, “you see that fat old boy huffing and puffing his way down the sidewalk towards us?”

“I do indeed, miss.”

“He’s been following my friend Missy here, trying to pick her up, and making mean and hateful remarks, and he’s just an awful nuisance. Do you think you could make him go away?”

“Of course, miss.”

“I’ll make it worth your while.”

“That won’t be necessary, miss. I consider such tasks to be well within the purview of my occupation.”

“You’re a doll, Olaf. Missy and I are just gonna quick duck into the Prince Hal Room.”

“Enjoy yourself, ladies, and don’t worry about that fellow. I know how to handle his kind.”

Missy glanced over her shoulder; the fat man was still slowly but surely waddling down the sidewalk toward the hotel.

Olaf closed the door behind Muriel and Missy, and they saw him squaring his shoulders, facing in the direction the fat man was coming from.

“Sometimes it really pays to be a woman,” said Muriel. “Come on, honey, let’s get ourselves outside a couple of nice cold Tom Collinses.”

She took Missy’s arm and together they started across the very old-fashioned lobby in the direction of a pair of double doors off to the far right, with a sign above them that read “The Prince Hal Room”.

“How did you come to know that doorman?” said Missy, speaking almost in a whisper, although she didn’t know why.


“Oh, but I live here, darlin’,” said Muriel.

“You live in this hotel?” said Missy, in a slightly less whispery voice. She had never known of anyone actually living in a hotel, except maybe in the movies.

“Sure do,” said Muriel. “I find it more convenable than keeping my own apartment. Never could stand to do housework and such. Oh, hiya, Mr. Nolan!”

She was now addressing another very large older man – although not quite so old as Olaf the doorman – sitting in a very comfortable-looking stuffed chair next to a large rubber plant. He was smoking a cigar, and he didn’t look happy, but maybe that was just the way he always looked, or maybe he was just annoyed because he had been interrupted from reading the Federal-Democrat he had open on his lap.

“Hello, Miss Armitage,” he said.

“And how’s the family?” said Muriel. “The wife and that passel of girls you’ve got at home?”

“Presumably clucking happily away at one another, and probably at the present moment stuffing a freeloading priest or two with scones and cakes.”

“Ha ha,” said Muriel. “Hey, listen, Mr. Nolan, just want to let you know – some very mean and very hateful strange fat man was trying to bother my friend Miss, uh –”

“Hallebrand,” piped in Missy.

“Miss Hallebrand,” continued Muriel, “saying the rudest possible things to her, and following the both of us down the street, and I asked Olaf to get rid of him if he tries to enter the hotel, but –”

Mr. Nolan did nothing to hide the great sigh he now heaved. He held up one enormous hand, the enormous hand which was not holding his cigar.

“This mean and hateful fellow,” said Mr. Nolan – and Missy noticed that he too spoke like someone in the movies, with a slight Irish accent, like Victor McLaglen maybe – “besides being fat, is he a big man?”

“Sort of big,” said Muriel. “But more like enormously fat like a big old hippo in the zoo.”

“Well, I’m sure Olaf can handle him then,” said Mr. Nolan. “But I’ll tell you what, I’ll keep a weather eye on the door, and if Olaf seems to need my assistance I will dash to his aid like a shot, with my faithful blackjack in hand.”

“You’re a doll, Mr. Nolan,” said Muriel.

Mr. Nolan said nothing to this, but picked up his Federal-Democrat and presumably resumed reading it.

Muriel gave Missy’s arm a tug and they continued their progress across the lobby.

“That was Mr. Nolan, the house detective,” said Muriel. “He’s a little gruff, but he’s a sweetheart. Reminds me of my Grampa, even if he is Irish, and a Yankee to boot. It’s weird.”

“What is?”

“Everything. All these people up here, all of ‘em Yankees. No offense.”

“Oh, uh –”

“You can’t help it. But I do feel somewhat a stranger. Like Alice down that ol’ rabbit hole.”

Missy was thinking that it had never occurred to her before that she was a Yankee. Muriel was making her think so many things for the first time, and it was all so very confusing. And it was almost like walking with Chad, walking this way with her arm in Muriel’s, and Muriel being much taller than her, and wearing trousers, it was confusing – but, yes, exciting

There was a glass-encased sign next to the double doors of the Prince Hal Room, advertising something called Tony Winston and his Winstonians, featuring the vocal stylings of the lovely Lily LaRue, with twelve-by-five black-and white photographs of Tony Winston and Lily LaRue, and then they were through the swinging doors into some sort of night club or lounge, Muriel waved away a man who must have been the maître d'hôtel, another man who seemed as if he were from a movie, named René apparently, and they were walking past a lot of tables with people sitting at them, with a band playing at the other end of the room, a girl singing with the band (“Teach Me to Love”), and they came to a long bar on the left, with exactly two seats open near the middle and now they were sitting at the bar on old but comfortable cushioned stools.

“At last!” said Muriel, and she brought her big map case of a bag onto her lap, opened it and began fishing around in it.

Muriel placed her own modestly-sized black plastic purse on top of the bar, and felt awkward, never having sat at a bar before. What did you do with your hands? This problem was solved almost immediately by Muriel bringing out her somewhat crumpled pack of Herbert Tareytons and offering the pack to Missy.

“Go ahead, honey. If you’re gonna drink, you might as well smoke. Oh, hello, Raoul, how’s it shakin’ ol’ boy?”

This last sentence was spoken to the slim and dignified-looking man in the red vest who had suddenly appeared on the other side of the bar, with a lighter in his hand.

“Shaking very well, Miss Armitage,” he said, and he lit the cigarette which Muriel had just put between her red lips. He then gazed in a somewhat expectant-looking way at Missy, with just the slightest hint of a smile on his dignified face.

Missy felt a surge of panic, as if something were expected of her, something she could only guess at – and then it hit her, causing her to flinch as if she had been poked with a pin between her shoulder blades – the man was waiting for her to put the Herbert Tareyton she was holding in between her lips so that he could light it! Quickly she did so, and the man unflappably clicked the lighter and applied its flame to the cigarette. She coughed, but not too much, and fortunately Muriel spoke again:



“How are your Tom Collinses this evening, Raoul?”

“I trust they are no worse than usual, Miss Armitage,” said Raoul.

“Then we’ll take two of ‘em. Oh, by the way, Raoul, this is my friend Miss, uh –”

“Hallebrand,” said Missy, holding one small fist near her mouth, as she was still coughing just a bit.

“Miss Missy Hallebrand,” said Muriel. “And Missy, this is Raoul, if not the best bartender in town then the best one in this ol’ flea trap.”

“You exaggerate, Miss Armitage,” said Raoul, with that same barely existent smile.

“Well, exaggerate us two of those excellent Tom Collinses, Raoul, if you please!”

“Right away, Miss Armitage. And very pleased to meet you, Miss Hallebrand.”

“Um,” said Missy, and Raoul went away somewhere behind the bar.



Muriel turned to Missy.

“Okay, this place is corny, but what can I say? It’s home. Sort of.”

“I like it,” said Missy.

“You do?”

“Yes, it’s sort of like, I don’t know, a movie.”

“That’s just it,” said Muriel. “You have hit on the exactly correct simile. This whole hotel is like a movie, ‘cept one that came out twenty-five years ago. We’re not careful Warren William and William Powell are gonna walk right up and ask us to dance.”

“Who are Warren William and William Powell?”

“Never mind. But listen, whole reason I’m about to get you outside a drink is what I got to tell you. You want to wait until you drink it, or should I just spit it out and get it over with?”

“Is it really horrible?”

’Is it really horrible’,” said Muriel. “Well. That all depends on how you look at it.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Don’t be afraid. Once you get over the initial shock you’ll be fine.”

“I will?”



“Let me put it this way, honey, you’ll be more fine than you would wind up bein’ if I never told you what I’m fixin’ to tell ya.”

Missy looked into Muriel’s dark eyes, and then she looked away, at the bottles on the other side of the bartender’s area, and at the mirror, in which she could see her own face, looking confused, and next to her – Muriel, looking at Missy, her face in profile under that Panama hat, and looking not confused at all. What am I doing here? thought Missy. How had all this happened, and why did she feel that her life, her sad little life, was about to come crashing down all around her, and her with it.

She sighed, and then turned and looked at Muriel again, who was still looking calmly at her.

“All right,” said Missy. “Go ahead and say it, please.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m not sure of anything, but I can’t stand the suspense.”

“Okay, then,” said Muriel, “here it is.”

She took a drag of her Herbert Tareyton, and exhaled the smoke, slowly, before continuing. And then she said:


“Your boyfriend – Chadwick?”

“Chad, yes,” said Missy.

“Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to call him Chad. Do you mind if I refer to him as Chadwick? I mean that is his real Christian name, is it not?”

“Yes, but he prefers to be called Chad I think.”

“Here’s the thing about Chadwick,” said Muriel. “He’s gay.”

“Gay?”

“As the day is long.”

“But –” Missy felt a great, a palpable feeling of relief suffusing her whole being – “I already knew that, Muriel, I mean, gee.”

“You knew he was gay.”

“Of course!”

The man Raoul was suddenly there, putting down two tall beaded golden-colored drinks, each one with a multi-colored straw sticking out of it, and a slice of orange and a cherry impaled on a little red plastic arrow fixed to the rim of the glass.

“Thank you, Raoul!” said Muriel. “Put ‘em on my tab.”

“Of course, Miss Armitage,” said Raoul, with that barely noticeable smile, and he went away.



“So,” said Muriel, turning again to Missy. “You know. About him bein’ gay and all.”

“Of course I do, Muriel!” said Missy, trying to hold her cigarette at the elegant angle that Muriel held hers. “Everyone knows what a gay fellow Chad is! Always so – so jolly, and ready to sing show tunes around a piano at the drop of a hat, or to go ballroom dancing, and in the winter he loves to go ice-skating, and, and –”

Muriel held up her hand.

“All right, honey, I get it. Now you just listen to me for a little while. Okay?”

“Okay,” said Missy. 

Muriel picked up her little plastic arrow and ate the cherry before continuing.

 
(Continued here, and ever onward into worlds beyond the unknown.)



(Please look down the right hand column of this page to find a possibly reasonably-current listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
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Saturday, January 10, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 424: Chadwick


Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel’s friend Horace P. Sternwall (author of such unjustly-obscure classics as They Call Him Cad and Female Residence) has been reading aloud from his “paperback original” novel Slaves of Sappho. Our scene: two young women – the tall and dark Muriel and the small and blonde Missy – have just made each other’s acquaintance in an automat in Greenwich Village... 


(Please go here to read our preceding chapter; click here to return to the very beginning of this 75-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“It is high time that Arnold Schnabel and Horace P. Sternwall are recognized as the two preëminent American authors of the 20th century, Schnabel in the field of autobiography and Sternwall in that of fiction, although I must admit that terms like ‘autobiography’ and ‘fiction’ must be applied with caution to the works of both of these masters.” – Harold Bloom, in the
S&H Green Stamp Catalogue Literary Supplement.






Muriel took a Herbert Tareyton for herself and then, after fishing around in her big leather bag for only a minute, but an excruciating minute (excruciating for Missy, anyway – Muriel’s face was calm, impassive, and – Missy realized it fully only now – strangely beautiful) she produced a lighter, not one of the slim and delicate lighters women normally used, but a sturdy rectangular one, of polished chrome, engraved with the cursive capital initials M and A.

She lit Missy’s cigarette and then her own, and then she sat back in her chair, gazing at Missy from under the brim of her Panama.

“On second thought maybe I should just keep my big nose out of other people’s business,” she said, at last.

“Your nose isn’t big,” said Missy, realizing at once that although what she had said was true it was a very stupid thing to say.

“I was speaking figuratively,” said Muriel, in that slow southern drawl, dragging out the last word, with the accent on the third syllable and pronouncing the “a” long, as in “face”. Or “disgrace”.



“I really don’t mind,” said Missy, coughing slightly; she really hardly ever smoked, and had never much liked it, but she rather liked it now.



“Okay, then, honey,” said Muriel, “you asked for it.” 



And now she leaned forward, putting her forearms on the table.

“This Brad of yours –”

“Brad?”

“Brad, your not-quite fiancé –”

“Oh – it’s Chad, actually,” said Missy.

“Brad, Chad, Thad – like they say back home in Georgia, it don’t make no never mind.”

“Okay,” said Missy.

“This Chad does not love you, honey.”

“He doesn’t?”

“He does not.”

“But how can you know that?” said Missy. “You’ve never even met him. And you’ve only just met me.”

“I know it by just what you’re after telling me, darlin', that’s how I know it.”

“But, but –”

“But what, Missy?”

“But?”



“You know what a ‘but’ is, sweetheart?”

“No,” said Missy. “I mean, yes, I guess I know – it’s a conjunction –”

“Conjunction, shmunction,” said Muriel. “You see this Herbert Tareyton?”

She held out her cigarette between two of those long and slender fingers.



“Yes,” said Missy. “I see it.”

“A butt is what this cigarette will be when I finish smoking it and stub it out in that there ashtray on the table.”

“I don’t get it,” said Missy.



“Nothing much to get,” said Muriel, “except that this Tad –”

“Chad.”

“Sorry, except that this Chad fella is never going to marry you.”

“But how can you know that?”

Missy was embarrassed to realize that tears were coming to her eyes, and she held her eyes wide open, as if by doing so she could force the tears back into their ducts.

Muriel sat back in her chair again and took a slow drag on her Herbert Tareyton before replying, looking out the window at that dirty old brick wall of the Hotel St Crispian across the alleyway. Then she looked again at Missy.

“I’m older than you, honey. I can tell.”

“How old are you?” asked Missy.

“Twenty-three.”

“But that’s only a year older than me!”

“Twenty-four come October.”

“But still, Muriel, you’re not that much older –”

“It’s not just age, honey,” said Muriel. “It’s experience. Some people can live to be ninety-nine and they still don’t know a mule from a donkey.”

“A mule from a – donkey?”

“I’ll be straight with you, Missy. If I may.”

“Please do.”

“A man wants to marry you, he does not pussyfoot around like a hound dog trying to figure out how to get across the creek without getting his paw pads wet.”

“Paw pads?”

“If this boy really wanted to marry you you would have a ring on that finger this very moment.”

Missy covered the fingers of her left hand with those of her right.

Now she really felt as if she were going to cry. She bit her lip and stared into her coffee cup. Then she picked up the cup and took a sip. The coffee was cold.

“Of course I could be wrong,” said Muriel.

“Do you think so?” said Missy.

“I don’t say I think so,” said Missy. “I’m just sayin’ I could be wrong. And could don’t mean am. Can I ask you a question.”

“I guess so,” said Missy.

“It’s gonna be a personal question, so you just jump right in if I overstep.”

“Okay.”

“How is this – I’m sorry, I want to say Chuck, but I know that’s not right –”



“You mean Chad?”

“Right, Chad. How is he on the springs – just between us girls, so you can be honest now.”

“On the springs?”

“In bed, darlin’.”

“Oh. In bed.”

“In bed. Back seat of his Model T. Behind the football stands.”

“Well –”

“And, again, you don’t want to answer, that’s your privilege.”

“Um –”

“I don’t mean to be indelicate, but after all this is the 1950s, not the 1890s, although truth be told I wonder if things were any different back then.”

“Well –”

“Go on, child. These things need to be spoken about. If there’s one thing I learned on the couch it’s bottlin’ stuff up is only gonna give you psychic dyspepsia.”

“I’m sorry,” said Missy. “The couch?”

“Psychoanalyst’s couch.”

“Oh!”

“You ever try it?”

“Oh, no.”

“Never felt the need?”

“Well, maybe – but you see, I don’t make very much money, and –”

“Your parents can’t help you out?”

“No. My father is only a high-school teacher, and my mother is a housewife, taking care of my little brothers and sisters, so –”

“But you still haven’t answered my question.”

“Oh.”

“That is if you want to.”

“Well –”

“Go on, shyness will get you nowhere in this life, honey. How is he, uh –”

“Chad.”

“Yes. In the boudoir.”

“Well, to be honest, we’ve never actually, uh –”

“Hold on.”

“Yes?”

“You’re tellin’ me that soldier boy and you have never –”

“No.”

“And you never even –”

“What?”

“Well, let’s say you never even manually or shall we say orally relieved him of his pent-up seed?”

“Oh, no. You see, Chad would never respect me if I did anything like that. He’s very old-fashioned. And proper. And –”

“Oh, my.”

“What?”

“You’re in bigger trouble than I thought you were.”

“What do you mean?”

“You say he’s a lawyer?”

“Well, he got his law degree, yes, but he was drafted before he  –”

“So he’s not a window-dresser, or a hairdresser, or any kind of dresser?””

“No –” 



“I’m going to ask you a few hard questions now, Missy.”



Suddenly Missy felt an overwhelming urge to get up and run, to run as fast as she could, maybe even run into the middle of the street in front of the first fast-moving truck she saw.

“I think maybe I’d better go,” she said.

“You got someplace to go to?”

“No. But I feel – uncomfortable.”

“Just settle down. Another thing I learned on that psychoanalyst’s couch, you run from your problems and they’re gonna follow you around wherever you go, just like a pack of annoyin’ little puppy hounds snappin’ at your heels.”

Missy sighed.

And then Muriel did a strange thing – or at least it seemed strange to Missy – she reached over the table and touched Missy’s cheek with those long slender red-nailed fingers, and Missy felt something she had never felt before. She couldn’t put it into words, and anyway Muriel didn’t give her time to.

“Smoke your Herbert Tareyton, darlin’,” she said, letting her fingers slide down Missy’s cheek and then drawing that slender white hand back to her own side of the table. “It’s cork-tipped.”

Missy did as Muriel suggested, breathing in the smoke carefully so that she wouldn’t cough, and she had to admit that this act of smoking did relax her, somewhat. Maybe she should start smoking on a regular basis?



“Feel better?” said Muriel.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Take a drink out of that glass of water there.”

Wordlessly Muriel obeyed, and the water also made her feel better, not great, but better than the state of panic she had felt herself approaching just a minute before.

“Now,” said Muriel, “getting back to – Chad, right?”

“Yes,” said Missy. “You’ve got it right this time.”

“Does he by any chance like opera?”

“What? How did you know?”

“What about Broadway musicals?”

“That’s amazing,” said Missy. “Yes!”

“Okay, now here’s the clincher,” said Muriel, and she took a drag of her Herbert Tareyton before continuing. “Is ‘Chad’ – in any way, shape or form – an enthusiast of the ballet?”

“How did you know all this?” blurted Missy. “Are you a mind-reader?”

“Not a mind-reader, honey. I’m a people-reader. Just a couple more questions now, and then we’ll be through with the hard part. Did Brad ever –”

“Chad!”

“Did Chad ever take you shopping? Help you pick out clothes?”

“Well, yes – but that was only because he knew I didn’t have much money, and –”

“Oh, boy.”

“What do you mean?”

“And I do mean oh boy.”

“What, Muriel?”

“Okay, where’d you meet Mr. Chadwick, anyway?”

“How did you know his real name was Chadwick?”

“Just guessing. Where’d you meet him – a pottery class?”

“Now there you’re wrong, Muriel,” said Missy, with a feeling that at last she was showing a little spunk right here. “I’ve never even taken a pottery class.”

“Where did you meet him then? I’ll bet it wasn’t any football game.”

“No, in fact I met him at my job.”

“At your job.”

“Yes, you see I was already working at Macy’s when I was at Barnard –”

“Barnard, well done!”

“Thank you. I was a scholarship student, but I still needed to work part-time because my parents –”

“I know, the impoverished parents, do go on –”

“And so, one day I was at the cosmetics counter and this nice young man came up, looking for foundation cream –”

“And this was Chadwick.”

“Yes, you see he wanted some foundation cream for his mother you see, and –”

“Okay.”

“What?”

“I think I’ve heard enough. You want a drink, Missy?”

“A drink?”

“Yes, as in a cocktail.”

“Gee, I don’t know, I’m not much of a drinker really.”

“Never too late to start, honey. Let’s go.”

“Right now?”

“’Less you got somewheres else to be?”

“No.”

“Good,” said Muriel. She opened up her big leather bag and dropped the lighter and the pack of Herbert Tareytons unceremoniously back into it, then shoved her chair back and stood up. “Let’s go, honey. I’m buyin’, and we got some serious talkin’ to do.”

Missy bit her lip for approximately two seconds, and then she heaved a sigh, a long and deep sigh. 



She really had nowhere else to go, nowhere at all.

“All right,” she said. “Maybe just one.”
 


(Continued here, bashing on regardless.)



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Friday, January 2, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 423: slaves


We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the cozy parlor of the Stop-Rite Inn, just as his friend the noted author Horace P. Sternwall has begun to read aloud to the assembled company from his unaccountably obscure “paperback original” novel
Slaves of Sappho...


(Kindly click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here to return to the very first chapter of this 69-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“If there is one author who might possibly challenge the primacy of Arnold Schnabel in the American literary pantheon then that author would be no other than Arnold’s friend Horace P. Sternwall, author of such disgracefully out-of-print classics as
An Easy Ten Grand and Hell in the Amazon.” – Harold Bloom, in the Catholic Standard & Times Literary Supplement.




Of course I should have known better. I should have known better than to sit there and listen as Horace started reading Slaves of Sappho aloud. But I was tired, I had just woken up from a very disturbing nightmare, I was very hungry, and, yes, I was also somewhat drunk, and so I wasn’t thinking clearly, not that I normally even need that many excuses not to think clearly, or at all. 

But it was too late now…


It had been another grey and lonely day in New York City, a hot and sticky August day {Horace read}. And now night would soon be falling, another hot and sticky lonely night.



Missy Hallebrand walked up Bedford Street in the direction of the apartment she shared with three other girls on Jane Street, but she couldn’t bear to go home yet, not yet, to that un-airconditioned and squalid shotgun flat festooned with drying stockings and underthings and filled with the cigarette smoke and the mindless unceasing chatter of those three twits Maddy, Teri, and Gerrie. And besides, she knew that as usual there would be nothing there to eat except maybe the dregs of a jar of peanut butter and a smear of strawberry jelly if she was lucky, and doubtless not even a single moldy Uneeda cracker to spread the stuff on.

She decided to go into the automat by the Hotel St Crispian, which was where she took most of her evening meals, meager as they were. She could nurse a cup of coffee there and read her library book, and when she got hungry enough she could treat herself to some split-pea soup and a roll. 



She would linger there as long as possible, switching from coffee to water so as not to toss and turn all night in bed anymore than she would normally do, which was a lot, and then finally she would head back to the wretched sweltering apartment on Jane street, to the blaring radio and the mindless chatter of her flatmates, to the stench of cigarette smoke and cheap perfume and unwashed linens…

The automat was crowded, as it usually was at this time, 7:30 in the evening. She got her cup of coffee and found a small table by the window which looked across the alleyway to the dirty brown brick walls of the Hotel St Crispian.



Missy Hallebrand was a petite pretty blonde-haired girl of twenty-two, like thousands of other girls in this swarming madhouse of a city, except she was not a happy girl.



She wasn’t one of these laughing chattering idiots like the girls she worked with at Macy’s, or like Maddy, Teri, and Gerrie.



She was a sad girl.



She opened her purse (black, plastic, cheap, all she could afford even with her employee’s discount at the department store) and took out her book.



Thank God for the library and thank God for books. 



Not that she believed in God.



“Excuse me, ahem, miss?” 

These words were spoken by a tall young woman with short dark hair and a panama hat with a wide red band, wearing a sleeveless and scoop-necked black pullover of what looked like real silk and pearl-colored pongee slacks. She had a large brown-leather bag on her shoulder, like something an army officer would carry maps in, and she had a tray in her hands.



“Is this seat taken?” said the tall girl.

“No,” said Missy. “It’s free.”

“Do you mind terribly if I sit? The only other empty places are at tables with men. I hate to sit at tables with men. They disgust me so.” She had some sort of southern accent, which seemed to Missy even more pronounced with the next thing she said, which was, after a short pause: “They’re so mean, so mean and hateful.”

“Please, sit,” said Missy.

“Thanks, doll.”

The girl sat down and put her tray on the table. The tray held a cup of coffee and a slice of what looked like the pineapple upside-down cake.

“Would you mind passing the cream?” she said.

The cream pitcher was no closer to Missy than it was to the other girl, but Missy had been brought up right, so she picked up the creamer and moved it three inches closer to the girl.

“Thanks,” the girl said, and she poured a couple of ounces of cream into her cup. She glanced in a meaningful-looking way at the sugar dispenser, but before she could say anything Missy slid it towards her. The girl picked it up, poured about four teaspoons worth of sugar into her cup, then picked up her spoon and stirred the mixture thoroughly.

Missy returned her gaze to her book, but before she could find her place the girl with the Panama hat spoke again. 



“I wouldn’t mind it if the men were nice at all, but they are invariably so rude, and they all think they are God’s gifts to women. Don’t you find that to be true.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Missy.

“Don’t you find that men are always trying to pick you up when you sit alone in places like this?”

“Well, sometimes –”

“And what do you do about it? Do you let them pick you up?” The girl was eating her cake as she spoke now, along with taking little sips of her coffee, but, unlike Missy’s flatmates, she managed to perform all three actions in a manner that was not revolting, neither leaving crumbs on her lips nor making vile slurping noises. “Or do you tell them to take a hike?”



“I just tell them I have a boyfriend,” said Missy, “and then they usually leave me alone.”

“Oh,” said the girl. She put down her fork, picked up her paper napkin, and dabbed her lips, which were painted very red, and seemed especially red as her face was as pale as the paper napkin which she laid very neatly back onto her tray. She took another sip of her coffee, and Missy had just lifted her book to try to read again when the girl spoke, again: “And do you really have a boyfriend?”

Missy was beginning to be annoyed, but there was something about this girl – her pale skin, her red lips, her forthright manner, combined with the soft southern accent – that overcame, if only barely, Missy’s incipient annoyance.

“I suppose I do,” she said.

“You suppose you do?” said the girl, and one of her eyebrows arched upwards a full inch. Her eyebrows were thin and dark, but they didn’t seem to be trimmed or shaven at all, and they were free of that awful tarlike paste most women smeared on theirs.

“Well,” said Missy, “the thing is, he’s away in the army.”

“Oh,” said the girl. “He’s in the army. Overseas?”

“Yes,” said Missy. “He was drafted, right out of law school, and he’s in Germany now.”

Germany,” said the girl, with an emphasis that made it sound like the name of a place much farther away, like the South Pole, or perhaps a space station orbiting Alpha Centauri. She took up her fork and set to work on her pineapple upside-down cake again.

Missy returned her eyes to her book, but not with much hope of even beginning to read a sentence, and sure enough the girl spoke once more.

“How much longer is his hitch for? The boyfriend.”

“Oh,” said Missy. “At least another year I think.”

“Another year,” said the girl. “That’s a long time.”

“Yes,” said Missy.

“Oh, my name is Muriel by the way. Muriel Armitage.” She put down her fork and held out her hand. The fingers were long, slender and white, the nails were long and painted the same color as her lips. Missy took the hand, and the girl squeezed Missy’s hand with a rather strong grip for a woman.

“I’m Missy. Missy Hallebrand.”

 
The girl called Muriel gave Missy’s hand one more good squeeze, and then set it free.

“But I’ve been talking your ear off, and you’re trying to read your book.”

“I don’t mind.”

“I can’t help but notice it seems to be in French. What’s it about?”

“Well,” said Missy, “it’s about this man, a novelist who is a confirmed bachelor, and, in a moment of weakness, he proposes to this girl, and it seems as if he’s spending the rest of the book trying to get out of the engagement.”

“Oh, marvelous. Sounds like my kind of book. And what is his fiancée like?”

“Well, she’s sort of a drip, actually.”

“Ha ha, a drip. There certainly are plenty of them around. Drippy girls I mean.”

“I know.”



“Almost as many as there are drippy men.”



“Maybe even more,” said Missy.

“Ha ha,” said Muriel. “That is quite possible. What do you do.”

“You mean, what do I do for a living?”

“Yes.”

“I sell cosmetics at Macy’s.”

“How dreadful for you.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“It sounds bad.”

“Yes,” said Missy. “It’s pretty bad. But unfortunately there’s not many jobs for girls with degrees in French literature.”

“I daresay not.”

Muriel lifted her cup, this time using both of her long and slender scarlet-tipped hands, and as she sipped her coffee she looked at Missy. Her eyes beneath the brim of that Panama hat were brown, and deep. She used just a little eyeliner and mascara, although to be quite honest Missy thought she could give her a couple of simple pointers on their more correct application.

“What else do you do, Missy.”

“What else?”

“Yes. With your life. While you’re waiting for soldier boy to return from Germany.”

No one had ever asked Missy such a question before, and she was just a little taken aback.

What did she do with her life?



“I hope you don’t think I’m a Nosey Parker,” said Muriel. “I was only curious.”

Missy looked out the window at the dirty brown brick walls of the Hotel St Crispian.

This is it,” she said. “I work at the cosmetics counter at Macy’s. I can’t stand to go home to my smelly hot apartment and my idiotic roommates, so I sit here in the automat and read a library book. If there’s anything good playing I may go to a movie. I take walks. I – I –”

“You what, honey?”

“I wait.”



“You wait.”

“Yes. I know it’s pathetic, but I wait –”

“Wait for what.”



“I wait for my – my boyfriend to get out of the army.”



“Oh.”


“You see, we’ve talked about – you know –”

“Getting married?”



“Yes.”

“So you’re engaged.”

No,” said Missy, after a pause that lasted longer than she wished it had. “We’ve only talked about it. Chad says –”

“Chad?”

“Yes, that’s my boyfriend.”

“’Chad.’”

“Yes. He says, he said, he says, we should wait, until he gets out of the service, before deciding, and, and –”

“And what, dear?”

“And maybe wait, some more, until he gets established, in his law career, before, before –”

“Oh, honey.”

“What?”

“Nothing,” said Muriel.

She had finished her pineapple upside down cake. She picked up her map case or whatever it was, opened it, fished around in it, and came up with an opened pack of Herbert Tareyton cigarettes.

“You smoke, honey?”

“No, not really,” said Missy.

“Take a Herbert Tareyton.”

“Why?”

“’Cause, honey, you’re gonna need one with what I am about to tell you.”



Missy hesitated for a moment, but then she took a cigarette after all, she had no idea why.


(Continued here, and well into the new year and no one knows how many new years beyond.)



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