Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: "Buddha"


After a lengthy break during which we published Railroad Train to Heaven, Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel™ (available here), let us now rejoin our hero here in the “pad” of his new friend “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, where Wiggly’s Buddha-shaped cigarette lighter has now begun to speak...



(Please click here to read our immediately preceding episode.)

“Surely the proposed publication of the entirety of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling
chef-d'œuvre must be considered the literary ‘event’ of the 21st century.” – Harold Bloom, in The Cape May Pennysaver Literary Supplement.





“Nothing,” repeated the Buddha. “What are you, trying to get all zen with me?”

 
That word, zen, again.

“Um,” I said.


“Um?” said the Buddha. “Do you mean ‘om’?”

“No,” I said. “Just ‘um’.”

“Heh heh,” said Wiggly.

’Um’,” said the Buddha.

“Hey, man, sir,” said Wiggly, and the Buddha turned to face him.



“Yes?”


“It’s like,” said Wiggly, “’um’ is just something we humans say like when we can’t think of something to say. Like.”

“’Um’,” said the Buddha.

“Yeah,” said Wiggly. “Um.”

“Um not om,” said the Buddha.

“Yeah,” said Wiggly. “Um.”

The Buddha turned back to me.

“I’ll repeat my question. Were you trying to be zen?”

“I doubt it,” I said. “I don’t even know what that is.”


“You don’t know what zen is?”


“No,” I said, “although I think Wiggly said something about it –”

“I did, man,” said Wiggly, “I think.”


The Buddha glanced briefly at Wiggly, and then turned to me again.

“And it didn’t occur to you to ask Wiggly what the word meant?”

“I don’t know what many words mean,” I said.

“Yes,” said the Buddha, “and your point is?”

“If I stopped the conversation every time someone brought up a word that was new to me, then the conversations would become even more convoluted than, than – um –”

“Heh heh,” said Wiggly, again.

The Buddha shot another glance at Wiggly, and Wiggly said, “Sorry, man, sir, heh heh.”

He put the enormous reefer into his mouth and sucked on it, but it had gone out.

The Buddha turned back to me.

“What’s your name again? Egbert?”

“Arnold,” I said.

“Arnold. So I gather, Arnold, that your conversations tend to be, shall we say, convoluted.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, like this conversation, I thought, but didn’t say.

“Would you like to know what zen means?” said the little Buddha.

“Well, I suppose I wouldn’t mind,” I said.

“You suppose,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Um –”

“You wouldn’t mind.

“Um,” I said, again, not meaning to, it just came out.

“I know what zen is!” said Wiggly, who was shuffling through the magazines and papers and books on the table top with one hand, while with the other he held that enormous reefer aloft.

“I’m not talking to you, hippie boy,” said the Buddha, and he turned to give Wiggly another look.

“Sorry, Bodhisattva,” said Wiggly. “I was just saying.”

“You know what zen masters do when young punks like you try to show off their knowledge?”

“Um, they slap them?”

“Yes,” said the Buddha. “So unless you want to get slapped then keep your mouth shut until you’re spoken to.”

“Sure, man, be cool,” said Wiggly.

“Don’t tell me to be cool. I invented being cool.”

“Right, cool, man,” said Wiggly. “I mean, yeah, I’ll shut up.”

“And what are you doing?” said the Buddha.

“I’m looking for some matches,” said Wiggly.

“What am I, chopped liver as you Americans say?”

“You mean you want me to use you to light my joint, sir?”

“I am a lighter, am I not?”

“That you are, sir.”

“Then stop fussing around with that rubbish and light up.”

“Okay, man,” said Wiggly, and he picked the Buddha up, clicked the little lever on the lighter mechanism on the Buddha’s lap, and lit his reefer.

“Now put me down,” said the Buddha.
 
“Yes, sir, man,” said Wiggly, holding in the marijuana smoke, and he laid the Buddha back down on the coffee table.

The Buddha turned back to me.

“So – Arnold was it?”

“Yes,” I said. At last someone who could remember my name, even if he was just a talking table lighter.

“I’m going to tell you what zen is.”

“Great,” I said. “Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, Arnold. This is what I do. I am the Buddha.”



“Right,” I said.



Retroactively I became aware that Wiggly had finally exhaled another great cloud of marijuana smoke, and that his arm now extended through this swirling thick cloud and the hand at the end of his arm held that big fat reefer just a few inches from my face. I took the reefer and I put the unlit end in my mouth and drew deeply upon it.

“Don’t let me stop you,” said the Buddha.

I didn’t, and I drew deeply on that enormous reefer and held the smoke in. I was becoming an adept.



“Good now?” said the Buddha.

I nodded.



“Splendid. Now, have you at least heard of me, the Buddha? Or of the eponymous religion known as Buddhism?”

Had I? I must have, or else how would I even know that he was the Buddha, and not just some little fat oriental fellow.

“You haven’t, have you?”



Buddha, Buddhism.

“Take your time,” he said. “I have all eternity.”

Eternity. The Buddha. Buddhism.

I became aware that I was still holding in the reefer smoke, and so I let it out, another great swirling roiling cloud, and in this cloud I saw the cool smoke-filled back room of my friends’ jewelry shop on a certain blazing hot afternoon just a week or two or nine or ten years ago.

“No, wait,” I said. “I have heard of you. And Buddhism.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” I said, “I do know a little about Buddhism. This guy I know named Gypsy Dave told me all about it –”



“Gypsy Dave.”

“Yeah. I don’t think that’s his real name, heh heh.”

“I should think not.”

I took another big drag of the reefer, but, again, don’t ask me why.

Wiggly held out his hand. Why was he holding out his hand to me. Did he want me to shake it? But why? I didn’t want to seem rude, and so, since I was holding the reefer in my right hand, I transferred it to my left, and took Wiggly’s hand in my right hand and gave it a modest shake.

“Hey, man,” said Wiggly, “I like appreciate the sentiment, but how about passing the doobie?”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, and I did as he asked.

“So,” said the Buddha, addressing me.

“Yes?”



“Pray tell, what did this Gypsy Dave tell you?”

“About you, and Buddhism?”


He paused before answering.

“Yes,” he said, and I could tell he was really getting annoyed with me, even if he was the Buddha, so I dove right in.

“Well,” I said, “let’s see – didn’t you sit under this tree, the like Buddha Tree –”

Bodhi Tree,” said the Buddha.

“Right, sorry, the Bodhi Tree, didn’t you sit under it for a long time, seeking enlightenment and whatnot?”

“And whatnot?”

“Okay,” I said. “Enlightenment, then.”

“To answer your question, yes, I did sit under the so-called ‘Bodhi tree’ for quite some time. Forty-nine days to be precise, give or take an hour. I wonder if you would be prepared to do the same.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“So you don’t care if you become enlightened or not.”

“May I be honest?”

“Let’s put it this way, my friend, if you’re not honest I’ll be able to tell, and I’ll fly up from this coffee table and slap you so hard your head will spin. So for your own sake I would say, yes, please be honest.”

“Okay,” I said, “well, to answer your question, yes, I would like to become enlightened, but probably not if I had to sit under a tree for a long time.”

“And what, may I ask, would you consider to be a long time?”

“Well,” I said, “that depends –”

“On what?”

“Could I have some books, or, you know, magazines to read?”

“Absolutely not. You’re supposed to be meditating, not reading some trashy novel or magazine.”



“Well,” I said, “in that case I think I would start to get really antsy after an hour or so.”

“An hour.”

“Maybe an hour-and-a-half,” I said.

By this time Wiggly had taken a few more ‘tokes’ of the big reefer, and he now handed it back to me. I ‘toked’ again. What did I have to lose? I was conversing with a table lighter. How could a little more reefer smoke make any difference at this point? Of course I realize now that a little more reefer smoke might very well have made quite a big difference, but I wasn’t thinking straight, to say the least, and I was thinking less straight with each deep drag I took off that huge reefer of Wiggly’s.

I exhaled another great cloud of smoke, and once more proffered the reefer to Wiggly, but he held up his hand, like an Indian saying “How”.

“I’m cool man,” he said.

I figured I also had had enough, for the time being, so I gently stubbed the reefer out in that ashtray almost filled with the stubs of previous reefers.

“An hour and a half,” said the Buddha.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“A hour and a half is all you could take of sitting meditating under the Bodhi Tree.”

I thought about it.

“Okay,” I said, “maybe two hours.”


The Buddha paused before speaking again. It was an awkward pause, but then aren’t they all?

“You remember what I said, Arnold,” he said, after what was probably only half a minute, but it felt longer. “I can tell if you’re lying.”

Maybe he could tell if I was lying, but I wasn’t so sure that I could. I decided to play it safe.

“Let’s make it an hour and a half,” I said.

“And hour and a half is all you could spare to meditate even if the result of this meditation was complete spiritual enlightenment."

“Yes,” I said. “Or –”

“Or what,” he said,

“Maybe just an hour,” I said, in all truthfulness, or as much truthfulness as I could muster at the moment.


(Illustration by Paul Rader.)


(To be continued until every last one of those dime store black-and-white marble copybooks filled with Arnold’s Palmer Method handwriting has been transcribed, with only the most egregious misspellings silently corrected.)



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Shirley from Sheboygan"





















Shirley came out onto Eighth Avenue, put her old Gladstone bag down on the pavement, and lit up a cigarette. It had been a short bus ride from Philadelphia, a town that hadn’t worked out well for her. Neither had Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, or especially her hometown of Sheboygan. But she was still young, still blond, and still beautiful, if perhaps not unspoiled.

“Hey, doll,” said a weedy looking man. He wore a shiny grey suit and a grey hat and he was somewhere in age between twenty-five and forty. His skin was grey and his eyes were blue. He had a toothpick in his mouth and he was either smiling or grimacing in pain. “You look like you could use a drink. How about you and I adjourn to a nearby watering hole and have a cocktail or three? I am buying.”

Shirley was a little low on cash and so she went across the street with the weedy guy into a bar that was just filling up with the after-work crowd. When the guy went off to the men’s room after his fourth glass of Rheingold she picked up her Gladstone, walked out, went up the street, took a right on 41st and went into another bar. She took a stool, ordered a ginger ale, opened up her purse on her lap, and took out the weedy guy’s wallet. Some useless cards, sixteen bucks, a French letter, and what looked like a marijuana cigarette. She took out a dollar bill to pay for her ginger ale and put the wallet back in her purse, along with her own lucky Girl Scout wallet, her lipstick and compact, her cigarettes and lighter, an opened roll of Wint-O-Green Life Savers, a handkerchief, and her Colt .32 automatic.


Shirley From Sheboygan, by Hannah Peterson Stone (Horace P. Sternwall), a Monarch paperback original; 1955. Cover painting by Robert Maguire. 


(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of many other strangely out-of-print classics from the battered Royal portable of Horace P. Sternwall. “To be quite honest these obscure noir novels of Sternwall’s make those of his contemporaries Jim Thompson and David Goodis look positively soft-boiled.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Cape May Herald.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"Molloy's Last Chance"



“This is your last warning, Molloy.”

“That’s what you said the last time, Captain.”

“Don’t crack wise with me, Molloy. I mean it this time.”

“Which is just what you said the last time, Captain. Right before I brought down the Kid Bosco mob.”

“Don’t try my patience, Molloy.”

“I seem to remember you also said that the last time --”

“Get out of my office. One more word out of you and you’re back pounding a beat on Skid Row.”

“One word?”

“One word.”

“So two words are okay then.”

The captain stood up. His face was the color of a freshly boiled hot dog.

“Well, I’ll see ya later, Captain,” said Molloy.

The Captain said nothing, but his face had changed color again, it was now the color of a hotdog slathered with yellow mustard.

Molloy turned and went to the door, opened it, and went out into the corridor. He left the door ajar. The Captain hated it when people didn’t close his office door behind them.

Molloy went down the stairs and through the hall and out through the big swinging doors. Night was falling on the city. He stopped and breathed in the dirty August air, then he took out his cigarettes and lit one up. He tossed the match down the steps to the filthy pavement. He had a case to crack. He had put up a tough front for Captain James, that arrogant fat know-it-all toad, but Molloy knew this was his last chance or he really would be pounding a beat down on the Row.

The Row.

Back where he had come from.

Back where he never wanted to go again.

Okay, so he had a case to crack, and probably a few heads to crack with it.

He went down the block to his car, got in it, started it up, and then headed down deeper into the Village, down to Madame Rue’s joint.


Molloy’s Last Chance, by Horace P. Sternwall, an Avon paperback original; 1952. Republished as An Ultimatum For Molloy, by “Hector Peter Stevenson”; a Faber & Faber Demotic Library paperback “original" (UK); 1954.


(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of many other lost classics from Horace P. Sternwall. "Proust. Joyce. Arnold Schnabel. Larry Winchester. Horace P. Sternwall. That pretty much wraps it up for 20th Century Classic Lit." – Harold Bloom, in Criterion.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

"They Call Him Cad"
























“So, Babs,” said Myrtle, after they had both taken their first appreciative sips of their bone-dry martinis, “how are things out on Sunnyville Manor Road?”

“Oh, fine,” said Babs, lighting up another cigarette. Fine, she thought. My husband is addicted to Dexedrine, my eight-year-old daughter insists on wearing a Davy Crockett costume everywhere, and my ten-year-old son wears a beret and affects an English accent. “Everything’s just dandy, Myrt.”

“Yeah, I’m sure, but don’t you ever just miss the old days, Babs, in the WAVES?”

“Well, sometimes, I suppose,” said Babs. Right, she thought, sleeping in a barracks with a pack of gossiping man-crazy girls, typing up orders and memoranda all day while the fellows got to sail the seven seas and fight the Japs and Germans, sure, what jolly fun.

“Tell me, what do you miss about those days the most, Babsy?”

Never a good sign when Myrtle started calling her Babsy, but Babs considered the question for a few seconds and could honestly think of only one thing:

“I miss the uniforms,” she said. “It was nice not having to choose a new outfit every day.”

“Oh, Babsy, you’re such an absolute scream, but listen, doll, don’t turn around and don’t you dare look but there’s a fat fellow in a grey suit at the far end of the bar over there and he looks oddly familiar to me and I can’t quite place him but he’s looking quite blatantly at you, my dear.”

“What?”

Babs turned around and looked.

“Babs!” said Myrtle, “I told you not to look!”

“Oh, do shut up, Myrt,” said Babs.

It took her a moment and then it all came back. He was older of course, and he had grown quite fat, and his hair had gone grey. But it could only be him. He raised his glass to her.

“Oh, dear,” said Babs.

“What?” whispered Myrtle. “What? Who is he?”

“Oh my,” said Babs.

He had gotten up off his barstool, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and now he was lumbering towards their table, smiling broadly.

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Myrtle, “that’s not --”

“Uh-huh.”

“Cad the Cad!” said Myrtle.

“Yeah, it’s Cad all right,” said Babs.

Tom “Cad” Cadwallader.

The man who had taken her virginity fourteen years ago one hot humid night at the Norfolk Naval Station.

Cad the Cad.

Her first love.

The bastard.

They Call Him Cad, by "Harriet P. Saint-Clair" (Horace P. Sternwall); a Popular Library paperback original, 1959.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)