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Saturday, August 26, 2017
Let’s return to Bob’s Bowery Bar and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend the trumpet-playing angel “Gabe”...
(Please go here to read our previous chapter; those who would like to begin at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume memoir may click here to purchase Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, either as a Kindle™ e-book or a six-by-nine inch softcover tangible “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)
“To read and to surrender oneself fully to Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling and magisterial chef-d'œuvre is perhaps the one sure means vouchsafed to mortal man and woman to escape the constraints of time and space.” – Harold Bloom, in the Us Weekly Literary Quarterly.
Gabe blew one last long sad note, a note that stretched and bent into a handful of other sad notes and then became the long sad note again expiring into the noise of the oblivious shouting and laughing drunkards all around us. He drew the trumpet from his lips, then took out his handkerchief from his breast pocket, wiped the horn’s mouthpiece, put the handkerchief away.
Another song came on the jukebox – I didn’t recognize it, but it was a rock-and-roll song, and it sounded like the singer was saying, “Tell your ma, tell your pa, our love is gonna last, oh wa oh wa…” I know that doesn’t sound right, but that’s what it sounded like to me.
Gabe turned to me.
“Somehow I don’t think we’ve seen the last of old Nicky,” he said.
“I think you’re right,” I said.
“The ultimate bad penny.”
“Well, at least he’s gone for now. Thank you, Gabe.”
“It wasn’t me, Arnold.”
“No? I thought it was, like, your trumpet playing –”
“It was you, Arnie.”
“Maybe it was the reefer then,” I said.
“The reefer might have helped.”
“The reefer and the music you were playing.”
“The music probably didn’t hurt. But it was you.”
“But I didn’t do anything, except give him the reefer.”
“Who said you had to do anything?”
“Oh, I get it,” I said, remembering the words of the Buddha, who was still probably sitting at the bar, with my other nemesis Emily. “Like, zen.”
“Like whatever you want to call it, my man, but I call it you.”
“Well, maybe,” I said. “But, in the past, if I wanted to get rid of him I always had to play some sort of trick on him.”
“Tricks are for kids.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. I said nothing.
“Well, look, man,” said Gabe, “I got another set to play.”
“I might not be able to stay and listen to much of it.”
“I understand, buddy. You want to get back home.”
“I’m going to try to get back home, yes.”
“To your world.”
“To what I think of as my world, yes.”
“Slide me some skin again then, brother. You remember how?”
“Yes. On the down side, right?”
“On the down side.”
I put out my right hand, palm upward, Gabe raised his right hand, brought it gracefully down to mind, touched my palm and fingers with his palm and fingers and slid them gently away, producing that pleasant tingle once again.
“Say hi to our mutual friend,” he said.
“You mean Josh.”
“I do, my man.”
“Okay, I will.”
“And, Arnold, listen –”
“Yes?” I said.
“If you don’t make it back, to, to –”
“To my so-called ‘my world’ –”
“Yes. If you don’t make it back, don’t take it too hard.”
“I’ll try not to,” I said.
“Just relax. Dig the music.”
“I’ll try to do that,” I said.
“Who knows what the morrow may bring?”
“If there is a morrow,” I said.
“Ha ha,” he said.
“Ha ha,” I said.
“All right, I really got to get back and blow my horn. I’ll see you round, my man.”
“And if I don’t see you round?”
“Then I’ll see you square.”
“Ha ha,” I said, again.
“Here, my man,” he said, and he held up what looked very much like another reefer, another big fat one.
“Oh, God, no,” I said.
“For later,” he said, and ducking his hand under my seersucker lapel he dropped the reefer into my shirt pocket.
“Okay, thanks, Gabe,” I said, not wanting to seem churlish or ungrateful.
He smiled and gently patted me on the arm, then went off into the crowd of drunken dancers.
And now it was my turn, finally, to plunge into that crowd. How long had I been standing in roughly this same spot? It seemed like a couple of months at least, but, as I had well learned, time expands or contracts depending on circumstances and one’s mental and spiritual state.
I really didn’t have far to go. I just had to head to the right a little ways, perhaps a dozen feet, a few yards, a universe or two.
I stepped into the dancing mob, and, yes, I was buffeted, and kicked, shoved and elbowed, but I stayed on my feet, even though I was pushed and drawn as if by a tide to the left, towards the other side of the room, away from the row of booths, but I kept struggling forward and to my right, trying to heave against the tide, and then just a few minutes after setting sail I could see the booth where my friends sat, about a dozen feet away, a few yards, a universe or two away, and in flashes of visibility I saw Ben, and Josh, and Mr. Philpot, and Horace – I couldn’t see Ferdinand at this distance of course, him being only a fly, but I had no doubt he was there also – and, yes, between Ben and Horace, I caught a glimpse of me. At least I assumed it was me, me in my Porter Walker persona, younger and more handsome than the actual me, or what I like to think of as the actual me, i.e. one Arnold Schnabel, erstwhile railroad brakeman and part-time poet, current madman.
What could I do? I had leapt before and I was still alive to tell the tale, and so I leapt, leaped, threw my consciousness across that crowded barroom floor, and landed in the head of the man in the seersucker jacket sitting in the booth.
“Now that’s some goddam good writing,” said Ben, and he clapped the book shut. “Way to go, Horace.”
“Thank you, Ben,” said Horace.
Just to remind the reader, I sat closest to the wall on the side of the booth nearest to the entrance. Horace was squeezed in next to me, and Ben’s enormous body took up the space to the left of Horace. Directly across from me was Mr. Philpot, and Josh sat next to him. Ferdinand the fly sat on the rim of my empty shot-glass.
“I’ve said it before, Horace,” said Ben, or I suppose I should write “boomed Ben”, or even “boomed Ben, in his gruff, masculine baritone”, but somehow I can’t bring myself to do that, maybe I’m just not cut out to be a writer, “you write like a motherfucker.”
“Perhaps that should be the blurb on the paperback edition,” said Mr. Philpot. “’Sternwall writes like a motherfucker. – Ben whatever your name is again’.”
“Blagwell, Mr. Philpot,” said Ben. “Ben Blagwell. But they call me Big Ben Blagwell, on accounta –”
“On account of your gargantuan size,” said Ferdinand. “We get it, Big Ben.”
“Yeah,” said Ben, “on accounta that word you said. It means big, right?”
“Very big,” said Ferdinand.
“Hey, Josh,” said Ben, roared Ben, over the noise of the drunks and the rock-and-roll jukebox music, it was another song now, “Be Bop A Lula” I think it was. “Josh!” he yelled again.
Josh’s head had been lowered, as if he were staring into the half-filled schooner in front of him, which he cradled in both hands, but now his head popped up.
“Yes?” he said.
“What’d ya think?” said Ben.
“Of what?” said Josh.
“Of Horace’s goddam book I was just reading from.”
“Oh,” said Josh. “It was, very, very, uh –”
“He wasn’t listening,” said Mr. Philpot. He gave Josh a nudge with his elbow. “It’s okay, your excellency. You probably like real literature. My good friend Henry James perhaps, if he isn’t too modern for your tastes. Or maybe Flaubert, in the original French, of course –”
“Well, I confess I did drift off,” said Josh. He had a cigarette stub between two of his fingers, he started to raise it to his lips, but it had gone out. He dropped it into a big green tin ashtray near the center of the table, an ashtray filled with cigarette and cigar butts, but can one say the center of a rectangular table? Having no background in geometry, I do not know. “But no reflection on your novel, Horace,” he added. “I’ve had a very long day, and I’ve drunk perhaps too much.”
“Don’t feel bad, sir,” said Horace. “I really think novels are best read in the privacy of one’s study.”
“What’d you think, Arnie?” said Ben, to me, in my current corporeal host.
“It was pretty good, Ben,” I said.
“Just pretty good?”
“Okay, no,” I said, “it was great. It was really good. I mean really great. Great.”
“Really fucking great,” said Ben.
“Gee, you guys,” said Horace, as if he had actually written the book himself, “you’re very flattering.”
“The pitcher’s empty,” said Ben, referring to the pitcher which had held the bock. “And so is my glass.”
“I’ve been remiss,” said Josh. “Let me get this round.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Mr. Philpot. “I’ll take another Old Forester, too.”
“Of course,” said Josh. “Another pitcher of bock, five old Foresters?”
“Six Old Foresters,” said Ferdinand.
“Six – sorry, Ferdinand,” said Josh.
I didn’t want a shot, or any more bock, in fact the glass of bock in front of me was almost full, but I didn’t want to seem a killjoy, so I said nothing.
I discreetly took my Everlast ballpoint pen out of my shirt pocket. I just needed something to write on. Apparently I had put the cardboard Rheingold coaster back down on the table, its blank side up, but I had put my glass of bock back onto the coaster. I lifted the glass up and the coaster came up with it, adhering to the bottom of the glass. I picked the coaster off, laid the glass down, put the coaster next to it. I took the cap off my pen, stuck it onto the barrel. I made a practice squiggle near the edge of the coaster, but the cardboard was damp and stained with the bock, and I had to press the pen hard to make any mark at all, and a smudgy mark at that. The coaster would be really hard to write on.
Then I remembered that book that the negro poet Lucius whatever his name was had given to me. Was it still in my seersucker jacket’s inside breast pocket? I reached my fingers in there, felt the book that was indeed there, and brought it out, Songs from a Negro Slum Tenement, by Lucius Pierrepont St. Clair III, with its cover painting of some impoverished negroes sitting on the stoop of what most likely was the titular tenement building..
I knew the thing to do was just to open the book right inside the back cover, hoping there would be at least one blank page and a blank inside cover, and then set immediately to writing, writing myself out of this world.
The other fellows (and one fly, but I considered him a fellow) were all ignoring me. Josh was waving a hand at the blonde waitress, who saw him and was heading our way with a trayful of beer bottles and glasses. Music was playing again, the music of live musicians, not the jukebox, the lady singer was singing a song about the cows coming home, and I recognized the sound of Gabe’s horn. Ben was telling a story about something that had happened to him and me in Singapore one time, Mr. Philpot was saying things like “Do tell”, Horace was drinking the last of his glass of bock, Ferdinand had taken flight again, buzzing drunkenly around and all over the table, Josh was lighting a cigarette with his fancy gold lighter as he watched the waitress approach.
I now suddenly recalled that my sole reason for coming back here to this particular fictional universe and to this bar was to say goodbye to my friends, and to Mr. Philpot, although he wasn’t quite a friend I suppose.
I cleared my throat, and said, “Um.”
No one paid me any mind. They were all having a good time.
It occurred to me that maybe I didn’t have to say goodbye after all, that even if I did succeed in traveling back to my own world, that this version of myself would still be here, just as I apparently had been here all the while another version of myself had been dealing with hoodlums and Wiggly Jones (the little hippie boy), a tornado, Dr. Blanche the lady psychiatrist, and, yes, none other than the Buddha himself.
At any rate I decided not to say goodbye. Maybe I just didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I don’t know. I didn’t know. I still don’t know.
I opened the book to the last page.
It was blank.
This was all I needed, blank paper and a pen.
I began to write.
(Thus concludes the tenth volume of the memoirs of Arnold Schnabel; our dedicated editorial staff shall now proceed with preparing Volume 2 for publication. We wish to thank everyone who has supported this project, and we hope you will enjoy all the succeeding volumes of Arnold Schnabel’s masterwork as they become available in book form.)
Saturday, August 19, 2017
We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the crowded and smoky Bob’s Bowery Bar in the company of “Nicky” (aka the prince of darkness and the angel “Gabe”...
(Kindly click here to read last week’s thrilling episode; if you would like to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir you may go here to purchase Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a Kindle™ e-book or as a six-by-nine inch softcover old-fashioned actual “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)
“Nowhere in the vast world of literature do we find such a vast panoply of memorable characters (including both the son of God and the prince of darkness) as in the roiling and profuse canon of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the Seventeen Magazine Literary Quarterly.
“Ha ha,” said Nicky, although he wasn’t laughing. “People. Pathetic, man. I hate them. I really fucking – fucking –”
He paused, and his body swayed forward a bit, his head drooping, but then he abruptly straightened up again. His mouth was agape, and his formerly pearly white teeth now looked as if they were coated with old and peeling yellow house paint. He licked his pale lips with a grey dry pointed tongue. He looked around as if wondering where he was, and then his gaze stopped on his fellow angel.
“So, Gabe,” he said, suddenly, “how’s it going, old buddy? It’s been like fucking millennia. Or was it yesterday, or even earlier tonight? What difference does it make. What is time?”
“Time don’t mean shit to such as you and I, my brother,” said Gabe.
“Ha ha,” said Nicky, but with little apparent mirth. “But, no, seriously, how is it going, man?”
“Going good, man,” said Gabe.
“You still blowing that horn I see.”
“Still blowing my horn,” said Gabe.
“Blowing that, blowing that – hey, like, how is it, like –” he pointed upward – “up there, man?”
“Beautiful, baby,” said Gabe, “beautiful.”
“I don’t want to hear that shit,” said Nicky.
“Then don’t ask the question, my brother.”
“I really do not need to hear that shit.”
“Hey, pal, you may be a hotshot horn player in heaven and all, but I reign in Hell, motherfucker!”
“Good for you, daddy-o.”
“It is good for me. It’s great. Everything is great with me, man. Couldn’t be better. I’m fucking great.”
“You don’t look so great, my brother.”
Nicky paused again, staring at Gabe. I’ll be honest, I was glad he was talking to Gabe, and ignoring me, and I even entertained the idea of trying to slip quietly away if an opportune moment presented itself.
“I don’t feel so great,” said Nicky. “I’ll be honest with you. I feel like shit.”
“Maybe you need some rest, man,” said Gabe.
“Rest,” said Nicky. “Rest. Sleep. Oblivion. That would be nice. Oh, but hey, you know what they say, Gabriel? No rest for the wicked! Ha ha. No rest for the you know whatever. Hey, tell me something. The big guy, does he ever talk about me?”
“Uh, well,” said Gabe, “you know, man, he don’t talk a whole lot, you know how it is.”
“So he don’t talk about me.”
Gabe didn’t say anything. He had been holding his trumpet in his left hand, and he raised it up to chest level and began pressing the keys with the fingers of his right hand, nodding his head as if listening to a tune in his brain.
“Hey, well, fuck him!” said Nicky. “I don’t give a shit.”
Suddenly he fixed his gaze on me, as if he had just remembered that I was there.
“Oh. Hey. Arnie,” he said. “I forgot. Because of that reefer you gave me. I was going to drag you down, down, down, to the everlasting, you know, whatevers –”
“Did you smoke it all?” I said.
“Yeah, smoked it all, finished it right there at the bar. The bartender didn’t even say anything.”
“He probably thought you were just smoking a hand-rolled regular cigarette,” I said. “And, hey, it’s so smoky in here, who’s going to notice a little reefer smoke?”
“Y’know, you’re absolutely right, Arnold,” said Nicky. “It’s so fucking smoky in here. I mean, not as smoky as you know, down there –”
He pointed to the floor.
“Hey, Nicky,” I said. “Look what I have.”
I took the partially smoked reefer that Gabe had given me out of my shirt pocket, and I proffered it to Nicky.
“Another reefer,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Take it.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Is it the same like wicked shit as that last one?”
“No,” I said.
“Fuck it, man,” he said. “I want some of that wicked shit!”
“This shit is even better,” I said.
“Much better. They call it Winged Stallion.”
“Yes, because it’s like a great winged stallion soaring through the canyons of your mind.”
“No shit,” I said, and Gabe chuckled.
“Gimme,” said Nicky.
He took the reefer, stuck it in his lips, began tapping his various pockets looking for his lighter, but Gabe was right on it, clicking his gold lighter alight in front of Nicky’s face.
“Oh, thank you, man,” said Nicky, taking the reefer away from his lips just long enough to say those words, and then he put it back into his mouth and let Gabe light him up.
He "toked" deeply, once, twice, thrice, then held it in, staring bug-eyed at me with those bloodshot eyes, and I saw that they were in fact rimmed with blood, or something that looked like glistening bright red blood. Then he took his bloody gaze away from me and transferred it to Gabe, who had made his lighter disappear, and now held his trumpet higher, the fingers of his right hand dancing on the keys.
The jukebox was still playing through all of this, it was Cab Calloway now, singing “Minnie the Moocher”. The crowd of drunks surged and thronged mere inches from our little group.
After what must have been a full minute Nicky exhaled the reefer smoke, another great cloud, but I must report that it had a very unpleasant odor, like burning cow dung.
He went into a coughing fit, and specks of blood sprayed from his mouth. He pulled the filthy handkerchief from his suit-coat breast pocket, wiped his lips, I could see smeared blood on the handkerchief. He shoved it back into his pocket.
“You chaps want a toke?” he said, and he held out the reefer. The unlit end was wet with blood.
“No, thanks,” I said.
“I’m good, man,” said Gabe.
“More for me,” said Nicky, and he put the reefer to his bloody lips again, and drew deeply.
As he held in his smoke he gazed at me with those blood-rimmed eyes again. I wanted to get away, but I was afraid to move. I knew how volatile he was, I had witnessed his volatility on many occasions, and I didn’t want to get him upset if I could help it, or to do anything to remind him of his stated intentions towards me, that is to drag me screaming down to the everlasting fires of hell. Could Gabe help me? He was an angel after all, wasn’t he?
But then a very strange thing happened.
“Minnie the Moocher” ended, and in the relative quiet that followed with the absence of music – although drunkards continued to laugh and shout, but now as if they were far away, or as if they were in the background in a movie – Nicky slowly exhaled another great cloud of noxious smoke, and as it did he seemed to grow thinner, as if he were expelling his own inner corporeal host transformed into this foul exhalation. He looked at me, he was coughing again, spitting blood again, and I was afraid, because somehow I knew that if he was going to take me, then this was his last chance.
“Take another ‘toke’, I said. “It’s really wicked, you know, shit.”
“’nother toke,” said Nicky, his voice now sounding far away.
“Yeah, take a good one,” I said.
He took another good one, and then another, and another, and now the reefer was only a tiny red glowing stub. He popped it into his mouth. His Adam’s apple made a gulping movement. He stared at me, holding his breath.
“Hold it in as long as you can,” I said.
He held it in.
I heard trumpet music, and I turned and it was Gabe, blowing on his horn, his cheeks billowed tightly, his brown skin shining through the smoke haze.
I turned to look at Nicky again, and now his face had turned from urinal-pale to the color of ash. He was still staring at me, or at least in my direction, but then his coal-black eyes rolled up into his head, and the whites of his eyes were now all the color of blood.
He exhaled, finally, another great cloud stinking of burning cow dung, of burning dirty underwear, of fields of rotting corpses, and through this cloud I saw Nicky fade away, into nothingness.
Gabe continued to blow his horn straight at the empty space where Nicky had stood, long, long, thick sad notes, the saddest music I had ever heard.
I guess it was what they call the blues.
(Go here to read the concluding chapter of this, the tenth volume of the memoirs of Arnold Schnabel...)
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in that fabled caravanserai Bob’s Bowery Bar, on one of the longest rainy August nights in the history of this or any other universe...
(Please go here to read our immediately preceding episode; those who are interested in beginning at the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 71-volume memoir are invited to click here to purchase Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, either as a Kindle™ e-book or a six-by-nine inch softcover tangible “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)
“An honesty surpassing even that of Pepys, a spirituality more than the equal of St. Augustine’s, a ready wit rivaling that of David Niven – Arnold Schnabel brings all of the above and more to the hearty table of the chroniclers of the self.” – Harold Bloom, in the Soap Opera Digest Literary Supplement.
“Arnold, my man,” said, shouted, a vaguely familiar voice, over and through the noise of the drunkards and the music of the jukebox, which was now playing, if memory serves, Anita O’Day singing “Kick It”.
Great, I thought, now what, and turning to my right I saw a slim Negro man, with a goatee and porkpie hat, wearing a sharkskin suit, and carrying a trumpet under his left arm.
“Gabriel,” I said.
“’Gabe’, daddy, don’t be so formal.”
“Gabe,” I said.
“Slide me some skin, man,” he said, and he held his hand up, palm forward.
I remembered seeing a gesture like this in Johnny Staccato or maybe Peter Gunn, and so I awkwardly raised my own right hand.
“No, daddy, on the down side.”
“Down side –”
“Hold your paw down, daddy, palm up.”
I did what he told me to, and he brought his own hand down gracefully to mine, palm to palm, and then slid his hand and fingers slowly off of mine, causing the skin of my palm and the insides of my fingers to tingle, but in a pleasant way.
“I saw you at the booth over there,” he said. “Sitting with Josh and your crew. How’d you like our set?”
“Our set, man. Our music. How’d you dig it?”
“Oh,” I said, the veil lifting, “that was you playing in the combo?”
“Sure was, man. How’d you dig it?”
“I, uh,” I said, hesitating, because even though I hadn’t disliked the music I hadn’t been paying much attention to it either, and I was hesitant to dissimulate to an angel, “I mean, yeah, it was really, um –”
“How’d you dig the canary?”
This term I had heard in the movies and read in the trashy novels I like to read about regular Joes trapped in a spiral of degradation and despair.
“The lady singer?” I ventured.
“Yeah, man, how’d you dig her?”
“She was really, uh, good,” I said.
“Just really ‘good’?”
“I mean, no, really great, fantastic,” I said, my scruples disappearing as they usually did when faced with the slightest resistance.
“That lady’s got more soul than a shoe store.”
“Heh heh,” I fake-chuckled, although I didn’t really actually understand his play on words at the time, in fact I’ve only just now figured it out.
“You want to smoke some muggles, man?”
“Muggles,” I said.
That had been what I suspected and feared he had meant.
“Oh, no,” I said.
“’Oh, no’? Come on, live a little, Arnie.”
“Here’s the thing, Gabriel –” I started to say.
“Here’s the thing, Gabe,” I said. “I just smoked some reefer. In fact I’ve been smoking a lot of reefers lately. Also drinking a lot. Also I had some laudanum. And I had this bock beer which was laced with the nectar of the gods. I even took some LSD earlier today.”
“All this in one day?”
“It’s been a very long day, Gabe. It’s lasted for what seems like, uh, six and a half years.”
“I’ve had days like that.”
I didn’t doubt that he had.
“So,” I said, “I think I’ll just pass on the, uh –”
“The muggles,” I said.
“Well, you won’t mind if I light up?” he said.
And just like that there was a big fat reefer in his hand, I didn’t even see him take it out of a pocket, and maybe he hadn’t. He was an angel after all, probably one of the top angels there were. He probably had lots of other tricks he could do, too. He put the reefer in his lips, and then there was a lighter in his hand, a gold lighter, what else, or at least the color of gold, and he lighted himself up.
The lighter disappeared somehow with a flick of his fingers, he took several deep “tokes” on the reefer, and then proffered it to me.
I don’t know why, but I took the reefer, and, worse still, took several deep “tokes” myself.
Gabriel nodded, smiling, and then he exhaled an enormous cloud of reefer smoke, a cloud which enveloped most of my current corporeal self. I in my turn released my own cloud of reefer smoke from my lungs, which merged with and expanded Gabriel’s cloud, so that we both stood there in our big bubble of gently roiling marijuana smoke. None of the drunken dancers seemed to notice our reefer-smoking, or to care if they did notice.
“So how’s it been goin’, daddy?” said Gabe, taking the reefer from my fingers.
“May I be frank, Gabriel?”
“’Gabe’, man, ‘Gabe’.”
“May I be frank, Gabe?”
“By all means, Arnie.” He began toking again, and speaking between tokes in a constricted toking voice, added, “By any – and all – means – my brother.”
“I don’t know if you’re aware of it,” I said, shouted, “but this world we’re in right now is a fictional world, the world of a not very good novel called Ye Cannot Quench, written by a madwoman I know named Gertrude Evans. This world also contains a myriad of other fictional worlds, and I keep wandering into and out of them, but all I really want to do is to get back to my own world.”
Gabe nodded, holding in the smoke, and handed the reefer back to me. Once again, and once again I don’t know why, but I drew heavily several times on the reefer, held it in for half-a-minute, and right after Gabriel exhaled his smoke I exhaled mine, and once again the two clouds merged and swirled together.
“’Your’ world,” said Gabe.
“You said you wanted to get back to your ‘own’ world.”
“Oh. Yes,” I said. “My world. Reality.”
“Okay,” I said, “I get it. What is reality. Who knows. Everything is reality. I know. Everything is not reality. Everything that is not reality is reality, too. But let’s just say I want to get back to what I think of as my reality.”
I took another toke.
“Okay,” said Gabe. “I dig, man. How you like that reefer?”
“’s good,” I slurred, toking again. “I think.”
“Very special and rare strain of weed, my brother. They call it Winged Stallion, on account of it’s like a winged stallion sailing through the canyons of your mind.”
“Wow,” I said. And I took another toke.
“I can’t smoke that cheap skunkweed, man. Call me a snob if you want to.”
“No, not at all,” I said, forcing down yet another toke.
“You better exhale, man, you hold it in too long you might pass out.”
I exhaled, another great cloud merging with the lingering wisps of the previous reefer cloud.
There was something I wanted to say to Gabe. What was it?
I suddenly remembered.
“I want to get back to my life in Cape May, Gabe.”
“Cape May, New Jersey?”
“Yes. Back to Cape May.”
“Well, excuse me for saying so, but, can’t you just like take a bus?”
He reached out to take the reefer from me, but too late, I was already taking a toke, and he waited until I finally took the reefer away from my lips before he grabbed it out of my fingers.
I exhaled again, and said the single word: “No.”
“No what, man,” said Gabe, toking away.
“No, you forget, Gabe, this is a fictional world I’m in, we’re in.” I gestured grandly to the drunks dancing away beyond our cloudy little two-person reefer world. “All these people. Fictional. This world. Fictional. And so you see the Cape May in this world would be a fictional Cape May.”
“If you say so, daddy,” said Gabe, after exhaling.
“Well, I do say so.”
“So how you gonna get back to this ‘real’ world?”
“I’m going to get a piece of paper or a cardboard coaster or something and write myself out of this world.”
“You think that’s crazy?”
“No, man. I mean, not necessarily.”
“You think it’s crazy.”
“Arnie,” he said, and he took another toke, and then another. He handed the reefer to me, and I took a toke, and another. Once again we both held in the smoke, and I sportingly held mine in until Josh exhaled his after a minute.
“Arnie,” he said again, taking the reefer from my fingers. “You want any more of this, by the way?”
“I think I’m good,” I said, the understatement of the century.
He nodded, and pinched the fire from the tip of the reefer with his fingertip and thumb.
“Here,” he said, “for later.”
And he held the extinguished reefer out to me. I suppose I was an addict by this point, because I took the reefer and put it into my shirt pocket.
“Arnie,” he said for the third time.
The single syllable felt as if it had floated up through my body from my toes to emerge of its own accord from my mouth.
“I am angel, man. Dig it. An angel. Very little seems crazy to me.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I –” as “stoned” as I was on the reefer I still hesitated to say the word.
“I mean you dig, right?”
“Okay,” I said, surrendering – I was a real beatnik now, like it or not, if only my fellow ushers at St. Helena’s church could see me now, “I dig.”
“Oh, like, wow,” said Gabe. “Look who the cat must have dragged in.”
He was looking past my left shoulder. I turned. Sure enough, it was my nemesis Nicky again. My first thought was that he sure hadn’t stayed away long this time, but then on second thought I realized it had probably been a good five minutes or more since I had last seen him, with me saying, lying, that I would join him shortly, so it was my own fault for standing here smoking reefer and getting “high” with Gabe.
Nicky had looked bad before, but now he looked much worse, almost as if he were about to have a stroke or a coronary. His nose was running freely and disgustingly with a thick greenish snot streaked with tiny rivers of scarlet blood. As hot as it was in here the skin of his face was perfectly dry, and the color of an ancient urine-stained urinal.
“Hey, Arnie, man,” he said, “what’s taking you so long? I drank your double boilermaker. Plus I drank the one I ordered for myself. So I ordered two more, and I drank them, and – oh. Hi, Gabriel.”
“Hiya, man,” said Gabe. “What name you going by these days?”
“Oh,” said Nicky. “My name. In this particular world. I’m going by – Nicky! Ha ha. Nicky. Ha ha. Y’know, Gabe, people look at you funny if you tell ’em your name is Lucifer.”
“I imagine they would, brother,” said Gabe.
(Continued here, if not in this world then in some other...)