Saturday, April 23, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 482: Bert again

Let’s return to a certain rainy August night in 1957 and to the entrance area just outside of Bob’s Bowery Bar, where we find our memoirist Arnold Schnabel with his friends Josh (also known as the son of God), Big Ben Blagwell (that rollicking brawling but eminently good-hearted adventurer), and Ferdinand (the loquacious fly)…

(Please click here to read last week’s thrilling episode; anyone looking for years of harmless amusement may go here to return to the faraway misty beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume autobiography.)

“Arnold Schnabel’s towering and sprawling
chef-d'œuvre must surely be counted among the great masterpieces of confessional literature, the equal of those of Rousseau, St. Augustine, Casanova, and David Niven.” – Harold Bloom, in The Psychology Today Literary Supplement.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq.

“Y’know, I still kind of wish I could go over to Carlotta’s place,” said Josh.

“Goddammit, Josh,” said Ben, “and again, I apologize for swearing, but you gotta get your mind off that dame.”

“But it’s so hard to do that,” said Josh.

“Which is why we’re gonna A, get you loaded, and, B, get you laid.”

“But not too loaded,” said Ferdinand, looping around in a lazy way among the three more humanoid members of our little group.

“Right,” said Ben, “loaded but not too loaded. You don’t want the old belaying pin turning soft on you at the critical moment.”

“I’m sorry,” said Josh, “but – ‘belaying pin’?”

“He means your pecker,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Your aforementioned johnson, buddy.”

“Oh, yes,” said Josh. “My, uh, ‘johnson’, heh heh –”

“Yeah,” said Ben. “There’s a certain art if I may say so myself in getting three sheets to the wind but not so much so that at the critical moment you are unable to get the old johnson up and keep it up.”

“Yes,” said Josh, “now that you mention it, I remember the apostles talking about that sort of thing, about how too much wine affects a man’s ability to achieve and maintain and ultimately to perform to completion the copulative act –”

“Okay, hold it right there, Josh,” said Ferdinand. “You’re telling us the apostles used to talk about this kind of stuff?”

“Well, yes, I mean, sometimes,” said Josh.

“So they were just like regular joes,” said Ben, “them apostles.”

“Yes, regular joes,” said Josh. “Very religious chaps of course, and dedicated for the most part, but still able to enjoy a goblet of Galileean wine and some carefree badinage at the end of a long day of tramping the dusty roads of Israel and spreading the good word. Why, I remember at the marriage feast of Cana –”

“Okay, whatever,” said Ben. He lifted his schooner and downed the last of the black liquid it had held. “Let’s go. I need a refill. And you, Arnie,” he said, pointing his great forefinger at me, “don’t think that our business with Josh is gonna interfere with you and me getting our load on, buddy.”

“Or me,” said Ferdinand, buzzing eagerly around in and amongst us.

“That’s right,” said Ben. “Or Ferdy.”

“Okay,” I said. “Sure.”

“Great,” said Ben. “Let’s go in there and get shit-faced, get Josh laid, and then get really shit-faced, and, sure, tomorrow we’ll wake up, possibly in some dank cobblestone alleyway, feeling like the whole world has been created only for the purpose of causing us unbearable misery, but remember this, my friend: that agony which will seem unbearable and unending at the time will gradually subside, but one thing that will never subside will be the fellowship of shipmates we will have shared on this rusty old tramp steamer we call life. This fellowship will last until we die.”

“Great,” I said. “Let’s do it. Oh, by the way, Josh?”

“Yes, Arnold?”

He had tossed away the latest Pall Mall he’d smoked down to a stub as usual, and, also as usual, he was lighting up a fresh one right away with his handsome monogrammed lighter. 

“I was wondering,” I said, trying not to sound calculating, “do you remember that book I had, I think I gave it to you for safe-keeping when I went to the men’s room?”

“Yes, of course,” he said. “The Ace of Death, by Horace P. Sternwall. Except all the pages were blank.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Quite risible of Mr. Philpot to sell you a blank book.”

“Right,” I said. “Where is it by the way?”

“Still lying on the table we were sitting at in the bar, as far as I know. Why?”

“Oh, just wondering,” I said.

“Look, worry about the damn blank book later,” said Ben. “Let’s bust a move.”

And at last, after what seemed like two months at least, we went back into the bar, Ben going through the door first, with Ferdinand buzzing merrily around just behind him, then Josh, and me bringing up the rear. 

Over the last few minutes I had developed a new plan, and it did not involve getting, as Ben put it, shit-faced and waking up the next day in some alleyway. What it involved was me getting my hands on that blank book I had bought from Mr. Philpot so long ago, taking out the Eversharp ballpoint pen in my shirt pocket, and proceeding to write my way out of this world and back into my own. The faithful reader of these notes might recall that I had attempted to do this once before, earlier that evening, when I had had a brief period of solitude in Mr. Philpot’s shop, but I had dilly-dallied and equivocated over the wording, and next thing I knew Ben came back with a keg of rum, my writing was interrupted, many adventures ensued, and here I was still exiled in this fictional universe.

This time I had to concentrate, just open the book and start writing and refuse to stop writing until I was back in Cape May in what I persisted in thinking of as “the real world”. It wouldn’t be easy even to open the book with Ben insisting I get drunk with him, but I would just have to find a way. What that way would be I didn’t know, but the first thing I had to do was to get my hands on the book. 

I should probably admit here that my thinking was entirely selfish. If I had been a better man, like Ben, or like Ferdinand, even though he was a fly and not a man, I would have been concerned with Josh’s dilemma, I would be trying to do something about it just as Ben and Ferdinand at least said they intended to do. But I was not a better man, I was only me, and although I sympathized with Josh, I felt far more sympathy for myself.

And so we plunged into that drunken dancing and thrashing crowd again, the band still playing, the singer singing, and for some reason I remember these lyrics quite clearly:

I’m a just a mean old nasty mama
from Tuscaloosa Alabama

I’m ready for a little drama
so won’t you bang me with your hamma
Ben forged ahead, parting the way with his enormous body and his scarred elbows held out from his torso, Ferdinand buzzing in circles above his head, Josh right behind him and me behind Josh, but we hadn’t gone two yards before Ben stopped suddenly, with Josh bumping into his back and me stumbling against Josh.

I ducked my head around to see what the hold-up was, and to be honest I was not surprised to see that it was Bowery Bert, my guardian angel, brandishing his umbrella in his left hand and his hard little cigar in his right and shouting up at Ben:

“Watch where you’re going, you great lout! Just because you’re big doesn’t mean I won’t thrash you with this umbrella or poke your eye out with its ferrule!”

“Ha ha!” said Ferdinand. “Look at the size of this little shriveled up old shrimp gonna thrash Big Ben!”

“Who said that?” said Bert. “Whoever it was, prepare to be thrashed yourself!”

“Hey, cool down, pops, I apologize,” said Ben. 

“Fuck your apology,” said Bert, and then he saw me lurking behind Ben. “You! Where have you been?”

I stepped a little to the right side of Ben. 

“I’m sorry, Bert,” I said, yelled actually, now that I was back in this noisy bar full of shouting and laughing drunk people. “I just stepped outside for a minute.”

“Leaving me to take care of that drunken floozy,” said Bert.

“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that, Bert,” I said.

“Well, you’ll be happy to know I palmed her off on your publisher, Jules whatever –"

“Julian, actually,” I said.

“I don’t give a fuck what his name is.”

“Ha ha, I like this little guy,” said Ben.

“Me too,” said Ferdinand. “I wanta be like him when I’m an old fart.”

“Is that a fly speaking?” said Bert.

“At your service, sir,” said Ferdinand, descending to the level of Bert’s nose and hovering there. “Ferdinand is my name, and I am pleased to make your acquaintance, old timer.”

“Are these friends of yours?” said Bert, addressing me. “A clumsy lumbering giant and a talking fly?”

“Yes,” I admitted. “Fellows, this is Bert.”

“’Bowery’ Bert,” said Bowery Bert.

“’Bowery Bert’, sorry,” I said.

“So you know this feisty old codger?” said Ferdinand.

“Uh, yes,” I said.

“Of course he knows me,” said Bert. “I am his guardian angel.”

“Guardian angel?” said Ben. “No kidding?”

“Do I look like a kidder, oaf?”

“Uh, no –” said Ben.

“I really love this guy,” said Ferdinand.

“By the way, Ben’s the name, old timer,” said Ben, bending down and extending his enormous right hand, but then the only kind of right hand he had was the enormous kind, “Ben Blagwell, but everybody calls me ‘Big Ben’ Blagwell, on account of how big I am.”

“You say that as if I’m supposed to give a shit,” said Bert, ignoring that enormous hand. “And who’s that other chap cowering back there?”

At this Josh stepped around to Ben’s left, and politely extended his own normal-sized hand. 

“Josh is my name,” he said. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.”

“Holy shit,” said Bert. “It’s you, isn’t it?”

“Well,” said Josh.

“The son of God his own self,” said Bert. Transferring his cigar from his right hand to the hand that held his umbrella, he took Josh’s hand in his own gnarled little old hand with its cracked and stained fingernails with a black crescent of grime under their tips. “You don’t know how many eons, sir, I have dreamed of this moment, to shake your hand. I should fall to my knees I know, but you see I have tendonitis and bursitis and the arthritis and if I get down on my knees I might not be able to get up again.”

“That’s quite all right,” said Josh. “A simple handshake will do.”

“If the big fellow here would be willing to pick me up after a suitable time I should be glad to kneel before you, sir, nay, even to prostrate my old bag of bones.”

“No, honestly,” said Josh. “A handshake will suffice, I assure you.”

“May I perhaps kiss the divine hand?” said Bert. “That is if the thought of my desiccated old lips touching your sacred flesh does not make that selfsame godly flesh crawl.”

“I would prefer that you didn’t,” said Josh.

“But of course!” said Bert. “How presumptuous of a mere lower-grade angel like myself.”

“Not presumptuous at all,” said Josh. “And by the way, may I have my hand back?”

“Most certainly, divinity!” said Bert, at last freeing Josh’s hand from his. “It’s just that I’m so excited.”

“No need to be,” said Josh. “You see, I’ve become a human being.”

“Well, sure,” said Bert. “You’re once again walking the unworthy earth in the corporeal host of a man, but, hey, you’re still the son of the big guy upstairs.”

“But that’s the thing, Bert, you see I’ve relinquished my status as the son of God. I’m just a man now.”

“Please, dear lord, don’t mess with my mind, I’m just a poor old guardian angel –”

“But it’s the truth, sir, I’m no longer divine. I’m just a human now.”

“There you go, messing with my mind, but that’s all right, you’re the son of God, which makes you more or less God yourself, so you can do whatever you want to do. Because you’re God. Or one-third of God, anyway.”

“Not anymore I’m not.”

“Wow, are you serious?”

“Quite serious.”

“Holy shit.”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand.

“Heh heh,” said Ben.

I didn’t say anything.

“You’re fucking kidding me,” said Bert, to Josh.

“No,” said Josh, and I detected what might have been a note of impatience in his tone.

“You’re telling me,” said Bert, “that I been waiting untold millennia for a chance actually to meet at least one of the blessed trinity, and now when I finally do you’re not even divine anymore, you’re just a man.”

“I’m afraid that’s about the size of it,” said Josh.

“Well, then, pardon my French,” said Bert, “but fuck me. And you know what?”

“What?” said Josh.

“Fuck you,” said Bert. “And fuck you, gorilla,” he said to Ben. “And fuck you, fly,” he said to Ferdinand. Then he pointed his umbrella at me. “And fuck you, asshole. Get yourself another guardian angel.”

For a second I thought he was going to poke me in the eye with the umbrella, but instead he lowered the umbrella and shoved on past me, heading for the front door. I turned and watched him go.

At the open doorway he turned and raised his umbrella one more time and shouted:

“Fuck all y’all!”

And then he turned, opened the umbrella, and went out into that crashing downpour.

(To be continued, inexorably.)

(Please scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find what is a purportedly up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Please buy our friend rhoda penmarq’s new book “the little cheeseburger girl, and other stories” here – you won’t regret it, and you will help to keep rhoda supplied with vegan cheeseburgers!)

Friday, April 15, 2016

“The New Mob”

“The New Mob”

by Horace P. Sternwall

Originally published in “Today’s Crime Stories”, December, 1950; reprinted for the first time ever in book form in “You Know What My Auntie Margaret Always Says”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 9, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Populist American Literature, Olney Community College.

Original illustrations by rhoda penmarq for penmarqonomiqal™  productions, ltd.

(Click here to read the previous Gwendolyn story; go here to return to the very beginning of the saga.)

“So what did you find out?” said Big Bart.

“Niente, boss. Zilch. Nada.”

“Speak American, goddammit.”

“Nuttin’, boss.”

“Nothing,” said Bartolomeo “Big Bart” Baccini.

“Yep, nuttin’,” said Luigi.

“Not nuttin’,” said Big Bart. “Nothing.”

“That’s what I said, boss. Nuttin’.”

Big Bart sighed.

“Repeat after me, Luigi: ‘nuh’.”

“Nuh,” said Luigi.

“Now say ‘thing’.”

“Thing,” said Luigi.

“Okay, now put ‘em together and say ‘nothing’.”

“You want me to say nuttin’?”

“No, I don’t want you to say ‘nuttin’’. I want you to say ‘nothing’.”

“I don’t get it, boss. You want me to clam up, I’ll clam up.”

Big Bart sighed.

“Okay, forget it. Just tell me anything you found out about this new mob, anything at all.”

“Nuttin’,” said Luigi.

“Nuttin’?” said Big Bart. “I mean nothing at all?”

“Just what we already knew, boss. Just that they firebombed Jimmy Mazzaro and his boys, and as best we can like specalate, probly on account of Jimmy rubbin’ out Tommy Sullivan.”

“But it wasn’t any of Tommy’s friends who did it?”

“Nobody knows, boss. If it was any of Tommy’s pals they ain’t braggin’ about it.”

“And it ain’t like one of them micks to take out five dago wiseguys and not brag about it.”

“Micks like to brag, that’s true, boss.”

“And no connection to Jackie O’Hara’s mob, or Maxie Goldenberg, the Five Points boys, the Yancy Street Gang?”

“Like I said, boss: nuttin’.”

“Then who are they?” said Big Bart. “And who’s this ‘Mrs. Big’?”

“Some dame.”

“Yes, I know it’s some dame, but who is she, who’s she workin’ for?”

“Maybe she ain’t workin’ for nobody,” said Luigi.

“What, a dame runnin’ her own mob? There ain’t never been a dame runnin’ her own mob.”

“Well, I don’t know, boss,” said Luigi.

“What don’t you know, Luigi?”

“Well – what about Queen Elizabeth?”

“What? Who?”

“Queen Elizabeth. The Queen of England that Bette Davis was in that movie. With Erroll Flynn.”

“Queen Elizabeth,” said Big Bart.

“Yeah,” said Luigi. “She was like the boss of her own mob, right? Except her mob was a whole country. England.”

Big Bart didn’t say anything.

“I’m just sayin’,” said Luigi.

Still Big Bart said nothing.

“You want me to go now, boss?” said Luigi.

Big Bart said nothing. He just smoked his cigar and stared out the window.

“Okay, I’ll go now, boss,” said Luigi. “I hear anything else about this new mob I’ll let you know, right away.”

Luigi backed out the door of the office and closed the door, gently.


From her bedroom window in her Auntie Margaret’s suite in the venerable Hotel St Crispian a twelve-year-old girl named Gwendolyn gazed out at the twinkling nighttime skyline of New York City.

“Greenwich Village and the Bowery are now ours, Marie-France,” she said. “Or at any rate the marijuana trade in those two districts are now ours. It’s true, we shall have to find replacements for those two idiotic grown-ups, ‘Sniffy’ and ‘Rooster’. After the beating they received from Jimmy Mazzaro’s goons they lost their nerve. But do you know what? Good riddance I say. From now on the people I recruit for our gang will be made of sterner stuff. And I will find them, you mark my words. 

“But this – all this is only the beginning. Look at that great city, Marie-France! A city ripe for the taking. And do you know what? If all goes well I shall retire by my eighteenth birthday, perhaps just around the time I graduate from Miss Churchill’s. And then I shall buy a house in the country, a great big house with land and horses, and I will move Auntie Margaret and her friends Pierre and Serge in there, perhaps also my little friend Pippi, and, of course – fear not – you as well,  chère Marie-France. And we shall live as country squires and ladies.

“What’s that, ma chérie? Won’t I find country life a bit shall we say ennuyeuse? Perhaps, my dear, perhaps. On se sait jamais ce que demain peut t’apporter. But we shall worry about that when the time comes, if it comes. For now, it’s time for bed. We have a big day tomorrow. I give my presentation for Miss Barlowe’s Civics class on the ancient city-state of Sparta, and then after school I interview a new candidate for the gang, this older boy from the Falworthy School, a likely lad I’ve had my eye on. Tall enough to pass for a grown-up, quite well-spoken, and he has just gotten his driver’s license.”

Marie-France, being a doll, albeit a very life-like doll, of course said nothing to this, at least nothing anyone but Gwendolyn could hear.  

Gwendolyn turned out the light, got in bed, kissed Marie-France on the cheek, and, soon, she was fast asleep. 


(This is a slightly revised version of a story that originally appeared, with artwork by the amazing rhoda penmarq, in New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.)

(Our editorial staff has taken another week off to work on the editing of the first volume of Arnold Schnabel’s
Railroad Train to Heaven™, which we hope to bring out this year as an e-book and maybe even a book made out of paper. An all-new thrilling episode of Arnold’s epic will appear here next Saturday!)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 481: virgin

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friends Josh (the son of God), Big Ben Blagwell (that nautical adventurer) and Ferdinand (the loquacious fly) here in the entrance area outside Bob’s Bowery Bar, on this fateful rainy night in August of 1957…

(Kindly go here to read our immediately previous episode; click here to return to the barely remembered very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 53-volume autobiography.)

“Little did Arnold Schnabel know, as he filled up those hundreds of marble composition books with his small but neat Palmer Method handwriting (with his instrument of choice, a common cheap Bic ballpoint pen), that he was creating the single greatest masterpiece in the American literary canon.” – Harold Bloom, in
The Cape May Star & Wave Literary Supplement.

“I’m not prejudiced,” said Josh, after another pause. “I mean I know these unfortunate women are just trying to earn a living –”

“What do you mean, ‘unfortunate’,” said Ben.

“Well, surely, Ben,” said Josh, “you don’t think that prostitution is a, how shall I put this, a, a –”

“A what?” said Ben.

“Yeah, what’re you trying to get at, Josh?” said Ferdinand. He had flown off the rim of Ben’s schooner and now hovered in the curling pale ribbon of smoke drifting up from Ben’s Sweet Caporal.

“Well," said Josh, "it’s just that I think that most women would prefer not to be prostitutes if there were some other way that they could, you know, earn a living –”

“Like what, slinging hash in some greasy spoon?” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah, or sweating over a sewing machine in one of them sweatshops,” said Ben. “My mom had to work in a sweatshop after she got too old to be a prostitute, and she hated it.”

“Well, it’s true,” said Josh, “I suppose a lot of women’s work is hard, and unpleasant –”

“Or how’d you like to be a housewife in one of these stinking tenements around here?” said Ferdinand, “with a pack of screaming kids and a slob of a husband who comes home drunk and beats the living shit out of you?”

“Yes, that would be unfortunate,” said Josh.

“So let’s give the whores a break,” said Ben. “They’re just doing their best, like everybody else. And I ain’t just saying that because my own mom God rest her soul was a whore before she got too old and had to go to work in the sweatshop.”

“You’re right,” said Josh. “I shouldn’t be judgmental. But still, I just don’t know if I could, you know –”

“What?” said Ben.

“Yeah, spit it out, Josh,” said Ferdinand. “You’re among friends here.”

“I just don’t know if I could go with a prostitute,” said Josh. “Especially, for my, you know – my first time.”

“Your what?” said Ben.

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand. “Your what time?”

“My first time,” said Josh. 

“First time what?” said Ben.

“My first time with a woman,” said Josh.

“Oh, shit,” said Ferdinand.

“You’re saying you never laid a woman,” said Ben.

“No,” said Josh. “I mean, yes, I never, uh –”

“What about a girl?” said Ben.

“No,” said Josh. “Never with a woman or a girl, I’m afraid.”

“What about,” said Ben, “and, please, bear in mind, I myself am far from judgmental in these matters, but what about with a geezer?”

“Geezer?” said Josh.

“What about a man, he means,” said Ferdinand. “He wants to know if you ever had sexual relations with a man.”

“Or a boy,” said Ben. “Again, Josh, we are not judgmental, and you can be honest with us.”

“Who are we to be judgmental,” said Ferdinand.

“Well, the answer is no,” said Josh.

“Okay, so let me get this straight,” said Ben. He took another drink from his schooner of black liquid before continuing. “You’re telling us you never had a roll in the rack with a woman or a girl or a man or a boy.”

“That is correct,” said Josh.

“Okay,” said Ben. “Now, again, please believe me when I say I am not judging, and I believe Ferdy here ain’t judging either, are you, Ferdy?”

“Judging is the last thing I am,” said Ferdinand.

“Or Arnold, neither,” said Ben. “Right, Arnie?”

As usual I was only barely paying attention to a conversation that did not directly involve me, and so I said, “Pardon me?”

“I’m asking if you’re judging,” said Ben. 

“Oh, God, no,” I hastened to say. And then remembering who Josh was or at least used to be I added, “Excuse me, Josh.”

“Quite all right,” he said.

“So, Josh,” said Ben, ”I’m only gonna ask you this once, and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but what about animals.”

“You’re asking me if I’ve had sexual relations with animals?”

“No one’s judging you if you have,” said Ben.

“Well, don’t worry, because I haven’t,” said Josh. 

“Not at all?” said Ben.

“No, not even a little,” said Josh.

“’Cause, you know, like we said,” said Ben, “nobody’s judging you.”

“Ben,” said Ferdinand, “give the guy a break, he just said he’s never made the beast with two backs with neither man nor woman nor beast, so let it go, Christ’s sake. Oh, ‘scuse me, Josh, for saying Christ’s sake I mean –”

“Really, it’s quite all right, Ferdinand,” said Josh.

“Cool, buddy,” said Ferdinand.

Ben raised his schooner and took another drink of his dark beer, I assumed it was dark beer, for all I knew it was some other sort of concoction, fermented squid ink or betel nuts, the only thing I was pretty sure of was that it contained alcohol. He sighed and took a drag of his Sweet Caporal, and Ferdinand drifted down into the schooner to have a drink himself.

Ben gazed out at the rain, and it was almost as if I could hear the wheels turning in his brain, as if he were a very lifelike robot presented with a puzzling proposition. He turned to look at Josh again.

“You’re telling me you’re a virgin,” he said.

“Yes,” said Josh.

Another pause fell over the conversation, and the only sounds to be heard were that of the crashing rain and the much softer and gentle sound of Ferdinand lapping up that inky beverage.

“Wow,” said Ben, finally. “Just like, I don’t know. Wow.”

“Well, you understand,” said Josh, “that this is all pretty new to me, you know, being human.”

Ferdinand flew up to sit on the rim of Ben’s schooner again.

“What about the last time?” he said. 

“Pardon me?” said Josh.

“Your last time around in this crazy rodeo we call the world.”

“The last time I walked the earth as a man?”

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand. “I mean, you know, you must have gotten some action back then, right?”

“Well, no,” said Josh. “As I was just saying to Arnold, all this talk you hear about Mary Magdalene, or even John the Apostle, well –”

“So you’re trying to tell us you never been laid,” said Ferdinand. “Like ever.”

“No,” said Josh.

“In all eternity.”


“Well, again,” interposed Ben, “just, wow.”

“Yeah. Wow,” said Ferdinand.

“Arnie,” said Ben. “You knew this?”

“Uh, yes,” I said. “Josh had already told me –”

“Well, then, you agree we got to do something, right?” said Ben.

“What do you mean?” I said, although I knew what he meant.

“I mean we got to get Josh laid.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, I think that’s Josh’s business, really –”

“Wow,” said Ben.

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand. “Wow.”

“I thought you were Josh’s friend,” said Ben.

“Yeah, me too,” said Ferdinand. “Maybe I was wrong.”

“But Arnold is my friend,” said Josh. “At least I think he is.”

“Then maybe he ought to start acting like a friend,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “That’s all we’re saying.”

“But,” I said.

Josh turned to me.

“Do you think they’re right, Arnold? Do I need to, in their parlance, get laid?”

“I don’t know if you ‘need’ to,” I said.

“It ain’t a question of ‘need to’,” said Ben.

“That’s true,” said Ferdinand.

“It’s a question of what he should do,” said Ben. “Should.”

“If he wants to call himself a man,” said Ferdinand.

“A man’s got a johnson for a reason,” said Ben. 

“Two reasons,” said Ferdinand.

“Two,” said Ben. “One reason is for pissing.”

“Which you just now so admirably did, Josh,” said Ferdinand.

“Pissing out in the open in the rain,” said Ben. “Like a man.”

“It was indeed quite enjoyable,” said Josh.

“You think pissing was enjoyable,” said Ben. “You just wait till you try fucking. Pardon my language.”

“Oh, of course –” said Josh.

“So here’s what we’re gonna do,” said Ben. “We’re gonna go back in that bar, we’re gonna get loaded, and we’re gonna get Josh laid. I mean, if that’s okay with you, Josh.”

“Well,” said Josh, “the thing is, I really just don’t feel comfortable with going with a prostitute.” 

Ben sighed, looked out at the rain. 

He turned to look at Josh again.

“All right, tough guy. Have it your way. Luckily for you you’re a good looking fella, well dressed, clean, well spoken. So maybe we can fix you up so’s you won’t have to pay for it.”

“Well,” said Josh, “if you really think I should –”

“But listen, Josh,” said Ben, “if we do hook you up with a nice girl, and if she does let you make whoopee with her, let me just say one thing.”

“Sure,” said Josh.

“If she seems like she wants a few bucks afterward, you know, hinting around like, clearing her throat and lingering after she’s gotten dressed, running the toe of her shoe side to side on the floor – lookit, just give her a little something, okay?”

“Well,” said Josh, “if you think I should –”

“But you gotta be careful how you do it,” said Ferdinand.

“Right,” said Ben. “You don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

“Just say, like, ‘Oh, here’s a little something for cab fare,’” said Ferdinand.

“Okay,” said Josh. “Cab fare. And how much should I –”

“Slip her a fin,” said Ben. “A sawbuck maybe. Just for her time. It’s not going to kill you.”

“All right,” said Josh.

“That’s all I’m saying,” said Ben.

“I understand,” said Josh.

“I ain’t saying that’s what you should do.”


“But it’s what I would do.”

“Me too,” said Ferdinand.

“I see,” said Josh.

“A fin,” said Ben. “A sawbuck. If the gal was really nice, make it a double sawbuck.”

“I will.”

Ben had smoked his Sweet Caporal down to a nub of glowing redness. He gazed at the butt, as if fondly and sadly, then without further ceremony he flicked it out into that crashing rain.

“All right, let’s go back inside now,” he said. “We got work to do.”

(Continued here, and for only Josh knows how long at this point.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find what one hopes is an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Coming later this year: Volume One of Arnold’s memoirs in e-book {and maybe paper-book} form!)

Saturday, April 2, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 480: a living

Let’s go back to a rainy August night in 1957 and to the small entrance area outside of Bob’s Bowery Bar, where we find our hero Arnold Schnabel with his friends,
viz.: the deific “Josh”, that nautical adventurer Big Ben Blagwell, and Ferdinand the talking fly…

(Please click here to read last week’s thrilling episode; the idly curious may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir.)

“Once one has discovered and surrendered to the charms of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling and masterful
chef-d'œuvre it becomes increasingly hard to take an interest in the vast majority of what passes for contemporary Qual. Lit.” – Harold Bloom, in The TV Guide Literary Supplement.

“Y’know, Josh,” said Ben, “and, lookit, you just tell me if I’m talking out of turn here, but I would think you would already know this kind of stuff. I mean what with you being the son of the man upstairs and all.”

“Oh,” said Josh, “well –”

“I mean, I am not an expert in these matters, but it was my understanding that you in your capacity as one-third of the holy trinity were what they call omniscient.”

“Well –” said Josh, “heh heh, actually, Ben –”

“’Scuse me, Josh,” said Ferdinand, he was still hovering in the smoke curling up from Ben’s cigarette, “but I just gotta ask Ben something – to wit, Ben, big buddy, where the fuck did you ever learn a word like omniscient?”

“Hey,” said Ben, “I may look dumb, and, okay, maybe sometimes I act dumb, too, but let me tell you something, pal: I read. I read books. On them long sea voyages, out on the high seas, you know, sometimes you get tired of playing poker and arm-rassling and spinning yarns, and so you crack open a book. So, yeah, I read. I read a lot of books, and when I don’t know a word I look it up in the Webster’s. So that’s how come I know words like omniscient. And that don’t make me a faggot, neither.”

“No one’s calling you a faggot,” said Ferdinand, “which makes one wonder why you would even mention it.”

“Like what, like you’re saying I am a faggot?”

“I said no such thing, but I wonder why you keep harping on the subject.”

“I ain’t harping on it. I only mentioned the fact that just because a guy reads a book now and then on one of them long sea voyages, and takes the trouble to look up the big words he don’t know in the fucking Webster’s, that don’t necessarily mean he’s light in the deck shoes. That’s all I’m saying. And that’s how come I’ve picked up some of these ten-cent words like omniscient.”

“It’s funny,” said Ferdinand, “but I didn’t know that comic books even had words like ‘omniscient’.

“They don’t, by and large,” said Ben. “But I don’t just read comic books. I read regular books, too, the kind that don’t have pictures. Did you ever read Lonnie the Laughing Cabin Boy, by Harry Pete Steelwater?”

“Uh, no, I think I missed that one,” said Ferdinand.

“What about Molly the Jolly Barmaid by Howard Pelham St. Clair?”

“Any good?”

“You kidding me? Good? That Howard Pelham St. Clair writes like a motherfucker – oh, sorry, Josh, I mean, your excellency or whatever.”

“That’s quite all right, Ben,” said Josh, who I suspect was beginning to get as bored as I already was. “You see, in point of fact –”

“Another good one by Howard Pelham St. Clair was Ruby the Pirate Princess of Port Moresby, you ever read that one, Josh?”

“Uh,” said Josh, “I’m not quite, um, sure, if –”

“So, yeah, I read,” said Ben. “And not just comic books. And that’s how come I know words like omniscient, and I repeat, that don’t make me a faggot.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Ferdinand, “talk about overcompensation –”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Ben. “I know a lot of ten-cent words but I never said I knew all of them. What’s this overcompensation shit. I thought that was like when the ships’s purser makes a happy mistake in your wages –”

“It means you’ve probably been hiding the salami with some of your shipmates on those long sea voyages,” said Ferdinand.

“Hey,” said Ben. “Look, letting some nice young cabin boy give you a blowjob now and then for five bucks don’t make a man a faggot.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Ferdinand.

“What?” said Ben. “Hey, Josh, help me out here. You’re the son of the big guy, what’s the official ruling on that kind of thing?”

“Pardon me?” said Josh, he had been gazing out at the street and that crashing and clattering thick rain again.

“What I mean is,” said Ben, “as long as you don’t give a blowjob but only get one, that means you’re not a faggot, am I right?”

“Well, I don’t know –”

“Come on, buddy, if the son of God don’t know, who does?”

“But that’s what I’ve been trying to say,” said Josh.

“You were trying to say something?”

“Well, I was trying to get in edgewise that I am no longer one-third of the holy trinity. I have now successfully made the transformation into being a mere mortal man.”

“You have?” said Ben. “What’d you want to go and do that for?”

“Well, I suppose I just, you know –”

“Oh,” said Ben. “Wait. I get it. Not enough action up there in heaven, am I right?”

“Well, uh –”

“Y’know, I gotta say, Josh,” said Ben, “I mean, maybe it’s just me, but to me heaven always sounded pretty fucking dull. Maybe even, and please do not take offense, maybe just a little faggoty. Wearing them long white robes. Just sitting around listening to angels play harps all day.”

“Well, it’s not exactly like that, really,” said Josh.

“What’s it like then?”

“Well, everyone just sort of basks in the divine presence.”

“Which is, or was, what, you I guess.”

“Well, yes, me, my father, and the, you know, the other fellow –”

“The holy ghost.”


I noticed that Ferdinand had flown down into Ben’s schooner to rest on the surface of the dark beer, and was actively lapping it up, and I couldn’t blame him, I wished I had something to drink too.

“So,” said Ben, after a pause during which he had taken a deep drag of his Sweet Caporal, the kind the writers in the novels I like to read call contemplative, “this is all you do all day up there, just, like, bask?”

“Yes,” said Josh, “for want of a better word –”

“I can see why you wanted a change.”

"Yes, well, let’s just say I longed for something – uh – how shall I put it – physical –”

“You mean, like, fucking, right?”

“Well, heh heh, I suppose that’s part of it –”

“Blowjobs, then. And fucking.”

“Heh heh,” said Josh, again, in a nervous-sounding way, and I had never heard him sounding nervous before.

“Because really, what else is there?” continued Ben. “I mean, okay, there’s drinking –” he held up his schooner of dark liquid, with Ferdinand still floating in it, lapping away – “and smoking –” he held up his cigarette in his other hand – “and what else?”

“Well, I’m not sure –” said Josh, still sounding a bit nervous.

“Eating,” said Ben. “Eating’s pretty good. And pissing. And, yes, pooping. Also sleeping. Plus, just like what we’re doing now, the fellowship of good buddies. And if that makes me a faggot, so be it.”

“Here we go with the faggot stuff again,” said Ferdinand, taking a break from his swilling.

“Well, whatever,” said Ben. “The point is you gotta take life by the balls.”

“Yes,” said Josh, “I suppose, uh –”

“Get it while you can,” said Ben. “And then, when you’re lying dying a horrible lonely death in your rack in some flophouse coughing up your lungs and spluttering out your last breath you can at least say, ‘I lived life. I grabbed life by the fucking balls.’

“Grab life by the balls,” repeated Josh.

“It’s the only way,” said Ben. “Live it up.”

“Yes, you’re probably, uh –”

“Every goddam second.”

“You think so?”

“I know so. Do it now. Because maybe the next second your ship gets torpedoed and you die screaming in a great ball of flame.”

“I see.”

“Or maybe you jump overboard but a shark eats you.”

“And when that shark is eating you you don’t want to have any regrets. Like a beer or a Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’ that you didn’t drink. Like a Sweet Caporal you didn’t smoke. Like a dame you didn’t make the beast with two backs with.”

“So, okay, on that note then,” said Josh, “maybe I really should just dash over and see if Carlotta will let me come up –”

“Jesus,” said Ben, “I mean, oh, sorry, I didn’t want to take your name in vain or nothing –”

“That’s okay,” said Josh, “and anyway, I do prefer to go by Josh now.”

“Cool,” said Ben. “So it’s all right if I just say Jesus like a whaddyacallit –”

“An exclamation like,” said Ferdinand, who had flown up to sit on the rim of the schooner.

“Right,” said Ben. “An exclamation.”

“Yes,” said Josh. “Jesus as an exclamation is perfectly fine with me.”

“So my question is,” said Ben, “I mean, Jesus, what is it with you and this what’s her name – Charlene?”

“Carlotta actually,” said Josh.

“Yeah, what’s up with you and this chick?”

“Well, to be honest, Ben, you see I think I’m, well, in love with her –”

“Oh, fucking Christ,” said Ben. “Oh, sorry –”

“No, it’s okay,” said Josh.

“I mean, Jesus Christ, Josh, okay, let me get this straight – you already been up in her pad tonight right?”

“Yes, uh, and her place is just around the corner, so –”

“And am I to understand that you did not get any action?”

“Action?” said Josh.

“Did you get your end wet?”

“Pardon me?”

“He’s asking if you had sexual relations with her, Josh,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, no,” said Josh. “You see, as I was just saying to Arnold here –" yes, I was still there, “we sort of started to make out, but then she started crying – sobbing –”

“Oh, shit,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh shit is right,” said Ben.

“And, well,” said Josh, “when I asked her what the matter was she said she was in love with Arnold.”

“Wow,” said Ferdinand. “Okay.”

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Wow. Way to go, Arnie.”

“Fucking Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “No flies on him, right, Arnie?”

“Uh,” I said, finally contributing something to the dialogue.

“Okay, Josh,” said Ben. “Can I tell you something? I mean now that you’re officially a human being and all?”

“Of course,” said Josh.

“Here’s the thing, buddy,” said Ben, “there are plenty other dames out there.”

“If I may interpose,” said Ferdinand, “I agree with the big guy. There are plenty dames out there.”

“But I’m in love with Carlotta,” said Josh.

“And that’s all well and good,” said Ben. “But.”


“But she ain’t in love with you.”

“Oh,” said Josh.

“She’s in love with Arnie,” said Ben.

“Yes,” said Josh.

“So you want my advice?” said Ben.

“Well, I suppose so,” said Josh, “I mean, sure –”

“Come back in the bar,” said Ben.

“Right,” said Ferdinand.

“Get a load on,” said Ben.

“Now we’re talking,” said Ferdinand.

“And then we’re gonna get you laid,” said Ben.

“Really?” said Josh.

“Really,” said Ben. “Leave it to me.”

“And to me,” said Ferdinand. “I got a good eye for dames.”

“Me too,” said Ben. “We’ll find you a dame. You still got that wad in your wallet, right?”


“That thick stack of C-notes.”


“Hundred-dollar bills,” said Ferdinand.

“Why, yes,” said Josh, “I still have them –”

“Good,” said Ben. “Not that we’ll need even a whole C-note, not in this kind of joint. But maybe a sawbuck, maybe a double sawbuck for some real talent, so we’ll get you some change from the waitress with the next round.”

“You’re saying I should hire a prostitute?”

“What’re you,” said Ben, “prejudiced against a dame making an honest living?”

(Continued here, and onward, until the last marble copybook filled with Arnold’s small but neat Palmer Method Bic Pen handwriting has been transcribed, with every misspelling and grammatical error intact.)

(Please look to the right-hand column of this page to find a  rigorously updated listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Coming sometime this year, at long last and by overwhelming popular demand: Volume One of Arnold’s autobiography in e-book and maybe even pulp-paper form!)