Saturday, July 19, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 403: Lou

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel in a crowded roadhouse somewhere in the world of a “paperback original” novel titled Rummies of the Open Road

(Please click here to read our previous chapter; if you’ve finally lost all your marbles then you might want to go here to return to the only dimly-remembered beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 73-volume memoir.)

“What better way to spend a summer afternoon than to fire up a big fat spliff and lie in the backyard hammock in the shade of the old elm tree and lose oneself in the infinitely fascinating universe of Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom, in
The High Times Literary Quarterly.

Finally we got to the bar.

“Jeeze, you guys,” said the blonde. “What were you doing out there? Ratifying a new inter-galactic constitution?”

“What?” said Horace.

“Or maybe you were planning a pirate raid on that new shipment of Centaurian Dragon Diamonds that the starfleet is rumored to be bringing in to the spaceport this week?”

“Okay,” said Horace. “Baby, may I say something?”

“Sing it,” said the blonde. “Sing it like one of the giant three-eyed mockingbirds of Mars."

“The what?”

“You know, Horace," she said, "the giant singing three-eyed mockingbirds of the Kornbluth Mountains of Mars.”

“All right,” said Horace, after a slight pause. “Listen, Trixie, this is not a science fiction novel we’re in. It’s not that kind of book at all.”

“Oh no?” she said. “So what is it? One of them tales of a man caught in a deadly whirlpool of passion and violence?”

“Well – not really,” said Horace. “Although perhaps that’s what friend Arnold here would prefer –”

She looked at me, with her head cocked to one side.

She took a sip of her drink through the straw, finishing it. Then she said:

“Is that the kind of book you would like to be in, Arnold?”

“No,” I said. “But I don’t think that’s up to me.”

“Funny guy,” she said, but she wasn’t smiling. “You know what kind of novel I see you in, Arnie?”

“A bad novel?” I asked.

Funny guy,” she said. “And just what do you mean by a ‘bad’ novel?”

“Formulaic trash?” I said. “Written quickly to order by desperate men squandering what little talent they might possess?”

“Oh,” she said. “So I guess you like to read these high tone authors you got to have a Harvard degree to understand? Herman Wouk, Harold Robbins, Annie Rand?”

“Actually,” I said, “I prefer novels about guys who get caught in a deadly whirlpool of passion and violence.”

“And what about novels about girls who get caught up in a deadly whirlpool of passion and violence?”

“Those are okay, I guess,” I said.

“Reason I ask is,” she said, “and please don’t take this the wrong way, Arnie, but I don’t see you so much as the hero of a book. Uh-uh. What I see you as is one of these guys who meets up with the heroine of the book, in one of these books where a girl is the main character, and this girl, she thinks you’re kind of cute even though she knows you’re trouble with a capital T. And finally she has to dump you because she realizes she’s better off with a nice guy named Howard who has a good steady job, as a lawyer, or maybe he’s a young intern in a hospital. But this guy that you are, you don’t get the message, see? You start stalking her, and bothering her boyfriend, the nice guy, the doctor or young lawyer. Until one night you break into her house and try to force yourself on her. But she has a comb by her bed with a long pointed handle like an icepick. And she stabs you in the jugular. And right before you croak, lying there getting blood all over her bedroom rug, you say, ‘I love you, Trixie.’ Then you croak. End of story. That’s the kind of book I see you in, Arnie.”

I really had nothing to say to this, and for once I said nothing when I had nothing to say.

“Well –” said Horace.

“Maybe this is that kind of book,” said Trixie. “You never know until you’ve read a couple chapters.”

“No –” said Horace.

“No what?” said Trixie.

“Well, you see, my dear Trixie,” said Horace, “this is more of a picaresque adventure, about –” 

“Picturesque?” she said.

“No, dear – picaresque, it means –” 

“Hey, Horace,” said the blonde, “my drinkie’s empty.”

She showed him her cocktail glass, empty except for some mostly-melted ice cubes. She shook the glass and the ice.

“See?” she said. “Empty.”

“Yes,” said Horace, “so it is. Oh, well –”

He reached in his back pocket and brought out his cracked brown leather wallet, but before he opened it he glanced at the bar.

“Oh, by the way,” he said. “Did you order me and Arnie those two bottles of Tree Frog Ale and two shots of Heaven Sent bourbon?”

“Sure did, Horace baby,” said Trixie.

“Um, may I ask where they are?” said Horace.

“Their contents are in my tummy. The vessels they came in have been taken away by the bartender.”

“You drank our beer and whiskey?” said Horace.

“Hey,” said Trixie, “you were out there with your boyfriend at least a half hour. How did I know if you were coming back?”

“Oh, man, Arnie, I like this girl!” said Ferdinand, who had flown into my ear again.

“Am I supposed to sit here with nothing to drink?” said Trixie.

“Well, you could always have bought yourself another one with those two five-dollar bills I gave you,” said Horace.

“That first fiver was for me,” she said. She reached inside the bodice of her blouse and into her brassiere and brought out a folded-up five-dollar bill. She showed it to Horace. “For my hope chest. You don’t want me to have a hope chest?”

“Well, I, uh –” said Horace.

She stuck the bill back inside her brassiere.

“You don’t give a tinker’s dam about my hope chest. And you begrudge me a couple of Tree Frog Ales,” she said. “And a brace of shots of Heaven Sent bourbon.”

“I don’t begrudge you them,” said Horace.

“And you begrudge my hope chest.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that,” said Horace.

“You think I want to spend the rest of my life in this dive, cadging drinks and rolling drunks?”

“Why,” said Horace, “no, of course not. Did you say rolling drunks?”

“Y’know, Horace,” said Trixie, “I should’ve known better with you. Look at your clothes. Look at that unshaven mug. Look at your goddam fingernails.”

Horace did in fact raise his right hand to his face and look at his fingernails. It was true, they were dirty.

“And this guy,” she said, tossing a glance my way. “He don’t look a hell of a lot better. What’ve you been doing, Arnie, taking a swim in the sewer?”

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand, in my ear, “I really, really love this girl!"

“A couple of bums,” said Trixie. “Stealing chickens from the barnyard and pies off of kitchen windowsills. Tramps.”

“Okay, what you obviously fail to realize, Trixie,” said Horace, “is that Arnold and I both are free-spirited jolly bohemians, not bound by the superficial strictures of society.”

“In other words a couple of bums is what you mean,” said Trixie.

“You say the word ‘bums’ as though it were a pejorative term,” said Horace.

“Your big words don’t impress me,” said Trixie. “Now buy me another Pousse Café, hotshot.”

“Oh, very well,” said Horace. He opened his wallet and looked into it. He looked very sad, and I suspected he knew now that he might not be able to afford to get drunk tonight, and also that he probably would not after all be able to play what he called “hide the salami” with Trixie.

“Put your wallet away, pal,” said a big tall fat man who had suddenly appeared. He wore a three-piece navy blue suit, and a matching derby. “Ha ha!” he said.

Horace looked at the man. He had a big cigar in one hand, a much bigger cigar than the one Horace was still working on.

“But I still have some money,” Horace said. He showed the open wallet and the few bills in it to the big man. “See, I can pay.”

“Yes, I can see you have some money there,” said the big man. “Now put it away. Ha ha!”

“Why are we being thrown out?” said Horace, his voice breaking. “We’ve been well-behaved.”

“Bums,” said Trixie. “The both of them a couple of no-account vagabonds off the highway. A couple of two-bit drifters. And this one –” she pointed her finger at Horace – ”begrudging me a couple of Tree Frog Ales and a brace of Heaven Sent shots. Where was this guy when they were handing out the class? Sleeping late under a railroad bridge or in ditch at the side of the road?”

“Ha ha,” said the big man, “Trixie, you crack me up.”

“I mean seriously, Lou,” said Trixie. “Honestly. Ya know?”

“Ha ha,” said the big man, saying the “ha ha” more than laughing it, “I know, dear, I know, things are tough all over!”

“There ain’t no gentlemen left no more,” she said. “Except for you, Lou.”

“Ha ha,” said the big man. “Flattery will get you everywhere!”

He put his big fat fingers into his vest pocket and brought out a currency note folded up in quarters. He gave it a flick and the bill unfolded and became a one-hundred dollar bill. He raised it up in the air and Trixie’s eyes followed it. Then, using only the fingers of that one fat hand, he folded the bill up into quarters again and then reached over and slid it into the top of Trixie’s brassiere. 

“For your hope chest, Trixie,” he said.

“Aw, gee, Lou,” she said. “You’re a real gentleman you are. Class is what you got, in spades.”

“Ha ha! You are too kind, my dear,” said this fat man who was apparently named Lou. Then he looked past Trixie to the bar. “Hey, Émile!” he bellowed.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was now a bartender nearby on the other side of the bar.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Lou,” he said.

“A drink for the lady,” he said, in a voice that sounded like what writers probably mean when they say a voice sounds commanding. “On my tab. And for these two gentlemen, whatever they’re having.”

“Two Tree Frog Ales,” said Horace without a moment’s hesitation, “and two shots of Heaven Sent bourbon.”

“And a Pousse Café pour moi,” said Trixie.

“Make that a Pousse Café and three Tree Frog ales, Émile,” said the big man, “and three shots of Heaven Sent.” He turned to Horace. “I said put your wallet away, friend.”

“Oh, sure,” said Horace, and he quickly folded up the old wallet and stuck it back into his pocket.

“Lou’s my name,” said the man. “Lou Abernathy. But everybody calls me Laughing Lou. Ha ha! Because I like to laugh. Put ‘er there, sir.”

He held out his great fat hand and Horace took it in his own large but not so large hand.

“Sternwall’s my name,” said Horace. “Horace P. Sternwall. But please call me –”

“Wait,” said the big man. “Not the Horace P. Sternwall? The writer fellow?”

“Well,” said Horace, “unless there’s another Horace P. Sternwall who labors modestly with his pen –”

The Burglar and the Babe?” said the big man. He had now put his cigar in his mouth so that he could wrap his other enormous hand around Horace’s, so that Horace’s hand was now completely encased in the great mass of flesh and bones that was this man’s two hands. “Female Residence?” said the fat man. “They Call Him Cad?”

“Yes, I must admit I wrote those epics, heh heh,” said Horace. His face was turning a little red, probably from the pain of the big man squeezing his hand.

“Ha ha!” said the big fat man. “You know what you write like?”

“No. What do I write like?” said Horace. Beads of sweat had popped up on his forehead.

“I’ll tell you what you write like,” said the big man. “You write like a goddam son-of-a-bitch! Ha ha!”

“Heh heh,” said Horace, and now his face had grown pale, and I wondered if he was going to pass out.

Suddenly the big guy let go of Horace’s hand and, taking that enormous cigar out of his mouth, he turned to Trixie.

“Pardon my French, Trixie,” he said. “But this gentleman here is one of my absolute favorite authors! Ha ha!”

Trixie had put a cigarette in her mouth and I suppose she was waiting for someone to light it.

“He still looks like a two-bit vagrant to me,” she said, talking around the unlit cigarette.

“That’s because he is an artist,” said the big man. “Artists, writers, creative people – they often look like vagrants, don’t they, Horace?”

“Well, in truth,” said Horace, who was rubbing his right hand with his left, trying to restore his circulation, “yes, I suppose –”

“Ha ha!” said the big fat man.

Suddenly he pulled a lighter out of his jacket pocket, flicked it, and held it to Trixie’s cigarette. It was an expensive-looking butane lighter, mother-of-pearl I think.

“Thanks, Lou,” she said.

“You’re welcome, Trixie,” said the big fat man. 

He slipped the lighter back into his jacket and then suddenly turned to me.

“You must be an artist, too, then, sir. A painter? Or a poet perhaps? You have that certain sensitive look of the poet about you.”

“Well –” I felt very uncomfortable. I always feel uncomfortable telling people I write poetry.

“You are a poet!” said the fat man. “Ha ha! I knew it! Tell me, do you write narrative poems? Epic? Lyric perhaps.”

“Um,” I said.

The bartender was back now. He laid down a tray with three bottles of Tree Frog ale, three filled shot glasses, and one of those big multi-colored drinks that Trixie was drinking, and he began transferring the drinks from the tray to the bar top.

“Here’s your drinks, Mr. Lou,” yelled the bartender. In fact Lou had been yelling, too, all along, and I thought how unfair it was that the lady singer in the combo, who was still singing and playing, hadn’t scolded him for speaking loudly. But then I didn’t walk around handing out hundred-dollar bills, either.

“Thank you, Émile,” said the big guy, whom I was now thinking of as Lou. “Oh, and for your trouble.”

He stuck his big fingers into his vest pocket again, did something with his fingers to unfold it, revealing it to be a twenty-dollar bill, and then tossed it onto the tray.

The bartender quickly snatched up the twenty.

“Gee, thanks, Mr. Lou,” he said.

“Don’t mention it,” said Lou. Putting the big cigar in his mouth he picked up two of the shots of bourbon and handed one each to me and Horace. “I propose a toast,” he said. “Didn’t catch your name, though,” he said, looking at me.

“Oh, sorry,” I said. “I guess it’s Arnold.”

“Ha ha!” he said. “You guess it’s Arnold! Ha ha! Well, as I said, my name is Laughing Lou Abernathy, and I’m glad to know you.”

I made a point of keeping the shot glass in my right hand so that he wouldn’t try to shake it. The big guy picked up the third shot glass and then turned to me again.

“Raise your glass, Arnold,” he said.

Suddenly Ferdinand, who had been unusually reticent throughout all this, flew out of my ear and buzzed around my shot glass, landing on the rim.

“Wow – Arnold,” said Laughing Lou, “that is one bold fly right there.”

“Um,” I said.

Ferdinand was now actively drinking my bourbon.

“Jeeze, thirsty little fella, ain’t he?” said Lou.

“It’s okay,” I said. “He’s my friend.”

Trixie had already been drinking her Pousse Café, sipping it through its straw, but now she stopped.

“That fly is your friend?” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s just disgusting,” she said.

Ferdinand stopped drinking, straightened up and looked right at her.

“Pretty strong words from a common roadhouse trollop,” he said.

“Why you filthy little insect,” she said.

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou, but he wasn’t really laughing.

(To be continued, thanks in part to the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Bob’s Bowery Bar™ has been my home away from home  – and sometimes my home – for, lo, these many years now.” – Horace P. Sternwall, author and motivational speaker.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for what quite often is to a current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; also appearing with worse formatting in the Collingswood Patch™: “It’s South Jersey. What can we do?”)

Friday, July 11, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 402: lost soul

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel in the graveled lot outside a roadhouse existing in the world of a paperback novel titled Rummies of the Open Road

(Kindly go here to read our preceding episode; if you think you might be ready for the commitment you may click here to return to the all-but-forgotten beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 77-volume autobiography.)

“A well-meaning neighbor in Cape May invited me to go fishing in his boat, and, wishing not to seem rude, I went out with him, but all the time I sat there holding my rod (and catching not a nibble all day I might add) I wished I could be back at the house, or more precisely in the hammock behind our house, losing myself in the infinitely rich and manifold universe (or should I say “universes”) of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in
The Field & Stream Literary Supplement.

Horace got to the door and opened it. He turned and with a smile waved for me to go through, for me and Ferdinand to go through, and we did, Ferdinand buzzing in a broad halo around my head. 

“Nice place!” said Ferdinand. “My kind of place!”

I hadn’t really looked at it before, but now I did.

It was just a big smoky barroom like a million other barrooms, maybe bigger than most, filled with laughing and talking people. Jukebox music had been playing before, but now a small combo was playing, off to the right side, on a platform only a foot or so off the floor. It was a slender woman of about thirty playing a greyish piano, along with a man in a grey suit playing a double bass and another guy in a grey suit playing drums. The woman wore a sparkly black dress and she started to sing a song into a microphone that was angled over the piano.

I didn’t know the song, but the words she sang rang clearly in my head, and it seemed to me the woman was staring right into my eyes as she sang these words:

“You’re just a lost soul, a lost and lonely lost soul,
wand’ring in a world that has no meaning and no rhyme.
You’re just a lost soul, a terribly wretched lost soul
I wonder if you’ll find your way back home this time?”

Horace put his hand on my arm.

“Hey, Arnie, baby, I know she’s hot stuff,” he said, “but our drinks are waiting.”

“But that woman is singing about me,” I said. “Listen.”

“Oh, boy,” said Ferdinand, “here we go.”
“You’re just a lost boy,” the woman sang, looking right at me, “a little fearful lost boy, wond’ring where your mommy and your daddy have gone. You’re just a lost boy, a so bewildered lost boy. You don't even know what planet this is that you are on.”

“See,” I said, addressing both Ferdinand and Horace. “She’s singing about me. That’s me. In the song.”
“Arnie –” said Horace.

“It’s a song about me,” I said. “And she doesn’t even know me.”

“Right,” said Horace. “Okay. Sure.”

“What?” I said.

“Oh, nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all.”

“It didn’t sound like you meant nothing at all,” I said.

“Well –” said Horace.

But he didn’t say anything. He just put his cigar in his mouth and looked away toward the bar. 

The woman was still singing.

“You’re so desperate,” she sang, still looking right across the room and into my eyes, “and so terribly desolate too –”

Ferdinand said something but I didn’t really hear him because I was trying to listen to the song. I’d never had a song written about me before. Not that I knew of.

Well, Arnie?” said Ferdinand, in a louder voice, right into my ear. “May I?

“May you what?” I said.

“I said may I say something,” said Ferdinand. “May I?” 

“What?” I said.

“May I say something?” he said, enunciating the words emphatically into my ear.

“Oh,” I said. “Sure.”

“And I don’t mean any disrespect,” he said.

“What?” I said. I was getting just slightly annoyed because I couldn’t hear the words of the song while we were talking like this.

“What I want to say," said Ferdinand, "is that everything is not always all about you, Arnie.”

“Oh,” I said. 

“Not everything in the world."

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Not every goddam thing,” he said.

“You know, Arnie,” said Horace, “if I may interpose – maybe you should listen to your friend.”

“You think so, Horace?” said Ferdinand.

“I do,” said Horace. “I really do.”

“You see?” said Ferdinand, hovering right in front of my face now. “I mean, look, Arnie, don’t get me wrong, I like you. You’re my friend. But you do have a tendency just to be a little, how shall I put it –”

“Self-absorbed?” said Horace.

“Self-absorbed,” said Ferdinand. “Maybe even shall we say – self-obsessed?”

“Narcissistic?” said Horace.

“Well, I don’t know if I’d call Arnie narcissistic, exactly –” said Ferdinand.

“Solipsistic?” said Horace.

“Not exactly solipsistic even,” said Ferdinand. “Just very, very –”

“Self-absorbed,” said Horace.

“Very, very,” said Ferdinand “very –”

“Self-obsessed?” said Horace.

Possibly,” said Ferdinand.

“Just a little,” said Horace.

“A little self-obsessed,” said Ferdinand.

“Self-absorbed, anyway,” said Horace.

“I mean no offense, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Horace, what do you think?”

“To be honest?” said Horace.

“Of course,” said Ferdinand.

 “To be honest,” said Horace, “I’ve noticed what Ferdinand is talking about too, Arnie.” 

“You have?” said Ferdinand.

“Oh yes,” said Horace.

“Not that this shall we say self-absorption automatically makes Arnie a bad person,” said Ferdinand.

“No, not necessarily,” said Horace.

“Not a bad person,” said Ferdinand.

“But, still,” said Horace, “I think you’ll agree, Ferdy, that it’s something Arnold might want to work on –”

Okay!” I yelled. “I get it! Okay? I know I’m self-absorbed! Maybe I’m self-obsessed! Maybe you two guys would be self-absorbed or self-obsessed if you had spent what seems like years and years wandering through fictional universes, having one absurd adventure after another, meeting all sorts of crazy people – meeting the devil! You both do know the devil is after me, right?”

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand, “calm down.”

“The devil!” I said. “I don’t know why he wants me but he does! I’ve always tried to be a good man –”

“Hey, Arnie,” said Horace.

“And that woman is singing about me!” I yelled.

Suddenly I realized that the music and the singing had stopped, and with it the sound of all the laughing and talking people in the place, and then I heard an amplified woman’s voice echoing through the barroom, which had otherwise grown quiet.

“Hey, buddy,”
said the woman’s echoing and reverberant voice. “We’re trying to play up here. Do I come to your job and fuck up your work?”

I looked at the stage. Yes, of course it was the woman in the black dress, speaking into the microphone, at me.

“How about clamming up?” she said. “Or do we have to throw you out of here?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice cracking through the quiet bar like a snapping branch in a dark forest.

“What?” she said.

“I’m sorry!” I yelled, a bit louder. “I got – I got –”

“You got excited?” she said.

Laughter suddenly broke through the bar like a merry wave.

“Yes,” I said, as the laughter subsided, in a voice that must have been hardly audible by anyone more than three feet away from me.

“What?” said the woman, in that loud echoing amplified voice.

“I said I’m sorry,” I said, a little louder.

“Okay,” she said. “Well, just keep it down while we’re playing, okay, pal?”

“Yes!” I said. “I’m sorry! I –”

Horace grabbed my arm again and gave me a pull.

“You apologized, Arnie,” he said. “Don’t push it.”

“Yeah, what about them drinks?” said Ferdinand.

Horace pulled my arm again, and we headed toward the bar. I could see Trixie sitting on a barstool there, holding a drink, looking our way.

The combo was playing again, the woman in black singing:

“You’re a lost guy, a crazy wild lost guy
Don’t know just what you should do, do you?
Yeah, a lost guy, a completely bewildered lost guy
No idea where you are or where you’re going to…”

I didn’t care what anyone said, I was convinced she was singing about me. But I kept quiet about it.

We were almost at the bar. The blonde girl Trixie was still sitting there, looking at me.

“Hey,” said Ferdinand, “Horace, is that the girl you were talking about?”

“Indeed she is, little buddy,” said Horace.

“Hubba hubba,” said Ferdinand. “You think she’s got a friend?”

“Oh, I’m sure she does,” said Horace. He stopped, looking at Ferdinand. “You mean for Arnie, right?”

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand. “For Arnie. But, like, for me, too.”

“For you? Like,” said Horace, “a human girl?”

“Yes, Horace,” said Ferdinand. “A human girl.”

“Well, sure,” said Horace. “I’m sure Trixie has more than one friend, but –”

“But what? But I’m a fly?”

“Well, frankly, yes,” said Horace.

“How little you know about women, my friend,” said Ferdinand, after a short pause. “And about flies. How very, very little.”

“Well, I don’t claim to be an expert –” said Horace.

“You are an author,” said Ferdinand. “And a damn good one I might add.”

“Thank you.”

“However, if you want to ascend to the top of Olympus, to the very top, then you must learn to plumb the depths of a woman’s soul. And also that of a fly.”

“Well, you’re probably right,” said Horace.

“I know I’m right,” said Ferdinand. “Now let’s cut the palaver, get over there, and see about Trixie fixing me and Arnie up with a couple of her friends.”

“Splendid idea,” said Horace.

“And also let’s get drunk,” said Ferdinand.

“I’m with you a hundred percent on that, my good friend!” said Horace.

So we started toward the bar again, over toward Trixie, who was still sitting, sipping her multi-colored drink through a straw, and staring at me. 

Ferdinand flew into my ear.

“He don’t know, does he, Arnie,” he said. “A smart guy, a talented writer, but he don’t know.”

“No,” I said, communicating telepathically, “I suppose he doesn’t.”

"We know, though, don’t we, pal?” said that small but loud voice in my ear.

“Yes,” I said, or thought. “I suppose we do.”

We know,” he said.

You‘re just a lost soul,” sang the woman in black, her voice reverberating inside my head, “just a lost and lonely lost soul.” 

(Continued here, and onward, as a service to all sentient creatures everywhere.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page for what is meant to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; also appearing in the Collingswood Patch™: “The lone voice of literacy and beauty in the cultural wasteland that is South Jersey.”)

Friday, July 4, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 401: reunion

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel in the world of a paperback novel called Rummies of the Open Road, in the company of that book’s nominal author, one Horace P. Sternwall…

(Please click here to read our previous chapter; if you have entirely too much time on your hands then feel free to go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 67-volume memoir.)

“I know of no better way to deal with an oppressive heatwave than to retire to my study, crank up the A/C, and lose myself in the wondrous universe of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in
The Mechanics Illustrated Literary Supplement.

I didn’t know how to begin to answer his question.

Everything could go wrong.

But then everything could always go wrong. 

Horace P. Sternwall tugged on my arm again with that big soft but oddly strong hand of his.

“Arnie, our beers are gonna get warm, and flat. And I hate warm flat beer. I mean, I’ll drink it, sure, but I am a proud American not a Limey, and I prefer my beer to be cold, and bubbly. And not only that, but I hate to tell ya, my blonde friend Trixie isn’t gonna wait all night for us. She’s not that kind of gal, I can tell. And ya know, what? I don’t blame her. So do me a favor, stop standing there looking like I just suggested we take a swan dive off the top of the Empire State Building, and let’s go.”

“I don’t know, Horace,” I said at last.

“What don’t you know, buddy? Explain it to me. Concisely if you will.”

“I just don’t know if it’s a good idea for me to go back in there.”

“In the name of all that’s holy, Arnie,” he said, “why the hell not?”

This I had a ready answer to.

“Because,” I said, “lately every time I go into a bar something crazy happens.”

“You got something against crazy?” he said, after only a slight pause.

“I’m tired of crazy,” I said. “I want sanity for a change.”

“You want sanity,” he said. He took his hand away from my arm, and he took another drag of his cigar. He let the smoke drift up into the light of the street lamp and stared at me for a few moments before speaking. Then:

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay?” I said.

“You want ‘sanity’,” he said. “Okay. Fine! So don’t come in the bar.”

He raised his left arm from his side, the arm with the big soft hand that wasn’t holding a cigar, and with his forefinger he pointed, out to that dark road.

“There,” he said, “is the open road. Go, my friend. Go out onto that open road and start tramping. But to the right or to the left? That I am afraid is a decision you must make yourself. But go. Go off down that dark highway. I would say God speed, but why bother? If there is a God, and he chooses to speed you on your journey to wherever the hell you think you’re going, I doubt very much he would be swayed one way or the other by anything I might say. So, go – and I wish you the best of luck, my friend, not that anything I might wish will affect your luck one way or the other, but – go.” He lowered his arm, took a dramatic sort of pause, and then continued: “And as for me, well, as for me I am going in that roadhouse and I intend to get righteously drunk, and then I may only hope that I shall succeed in playing a vigorous game of hide-the-salami with little Trixie before I pass out. And so farewell. If I don’t see you round, perhaps I’ll see you square.”

He put his cigar in his mouth, snapped off an army salute, and turned toward the roadhouse.

“Wait,” I said. “Horace.”

He turned to face me, and he took the cigar out of his mouth.

“Yes?” he said.

“I’m afraid of the road,” I said.

“What?” he said. “Afraid of that dark road in the middle of nowhere? Perhaps leading to nowhere? Or to horrors untold?”

“Yes,” I said.

“More afraid than of going back into the bar?”

“Frankly, yes,” I said. I paused. “As I said before, I am a coward.”

“As am I, old buddy,” he said. “As am I. If I may call you ‘old buddy’? Despite our brief acquaintance?”

“Somehow it doesn’t feel brief,” I said. “And, yes, you can call me old buddy. I don’t care.”

“Great,” said Horace. “Now let’s get back in there and –”

“Same old Arnie,” said a voice. A familiar voice.

“What?” said Horace. “Did you hear that, Arnie?”

“He heard it all right,” said the voice, and I saw the fly hovering just above our heads, and between us.

“Okay, this is weird,” said Horace. “I didn’t realize my character was going to hear voices.”

“Don’t worry, pal,” said the fly. “Arnie hears me, too, loud and clear, don’t you, Arnie?"

“Yes,” I said. “Don’t be alarmed, Horace. This is my, um, friend.”

I pointed at the fly.

“That fly is your friend?” said Horace.

“Hiya, Horace,” said Ferdinand.

“A talking fly?” said Horace.

“At your service, sir,” said Ferdinand.

“But –” said Horace. “I’m confused, if only because I was under the impression that we were in a more or less realistic novel, not some sort of science-fiction, or, how shall I put it, broad fantasy or fable –”

“It appears,” said Ferdinand, “that some changes have been made.”

“But,” said Horace, “but –”

“So, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, turning his tiny little body toward me, “another fine mess, hey?”

“Yes,” I said. “But I have to say, Ferdinand, I’m happy to see you.”

“The fly’s name is Ferdinand?” said Horace.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m being rude. Horace, this is my friend, Ferdinand. Ferdinand – Horace.”

“Not Horace P. Sternwall?” said Ferdinand.

“Why – yes,” said Horace. “You’ve heard of me?”

“I am a big fan of your work, sir,” said Ferdinand. “The Penultimate Hit? Trouble on Exxon-B? The Magic Pen Wiper?”

“That was a good one, wasn’t it?” said Horace.

The God’s Honest Truth? A Desperate Man? Talk to the Six-Gun?”

“You even liked Talk to the Six-Gun?”

“You kidding me? You should write more westerns!”

“Well, maybe I will, my friend,” said Horace. “Maybe I will!”

“So,” said Ferdinand, “I believe there was some talk of entering yon inviting caravanserai?”

“Why, yes, there was,” said Horace. “Would you care to join us, sir?”

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand, “would you in your turn care to answer the question Mr. Sternwall has just put to me?”

“I think Ferdinand would probably go for a drink, Horace,” I said.

“A ha!” said Ferdinand. “You see, Mr. Sternwall, our friend Arnold knows me only all to well!”

“So you will join us for a libation?” said Horace.

“Certainly I will,” said Ferdinand, “and with pleasure! And I believe I also heard some talk of ‘hiding the salami’?”

“Ha ha! Well, my little friend,” said Horace, “as the poet, said, ‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast’!”

“And so also in the insectoid breast,” said Ferdinand. “Lead on, good Mr. Sternwall, lead on!”

“Oh, but you must call me Horace, sir!” said Horace.

“And you in turn must call me Ferdinand,” said Ferdinand. “Or Ferdy if you will!”

“Ferdinand or Ferdy it is, then!” said Horace. “Arnold, shall we hie us hence?”

“Pardon me?” I said.

“He means let’s get a move on, Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, yeah, sure,” I said.

“Great,” said Horace, and putting his arm in mine he started back to the roadhouse, pulling me with him, with Ferdinand buzzing merrily in circles above our heads.

I didn’t mind going back to the roadhouse now. 

Now that Ferdinand was here I didn’t feel so lost and alone. 

He may only have been a fly, and a fly with a drinking problem on top of it, but, nevertheless, he was my friend. In fact, going into it a bit deeper, he may well have been a fictional fly with a drinking problem, but, still, I didn’t care.

He was my friend.

(Continued here, thanks in part to the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “A cool dark haven of solace amidst the hurly-burly of the modern world. Try Bob’s own ‘basement-brewed’ house bock – goes delightfully well with the house-cured tongue sandwich!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author, poet, and motivational speaker.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find what should be a current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; Arnold’s adventures also appear in the Collingswood Patch™: “More local crime news than you could possibly want to read, plus Railroad Train to Heaven™.”)

Friday, June 27, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 400: roadhouse

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, who has found himself transported into the world of a paperback novel called Rummies of the Open Road, written by none other than perhaps the world’s greatest unknown author (besides Arnold): Horace P. Sternwall

(Kindly go here to read our preceding episode; in case you’ve somehow missed the previous 399 chapters you may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 79-volume masterpiece.)

“Has it really been only 400 chapters so far of this towering
chef-d'œuvre? Somehow it seem like a hell of a lot more than that, but then, after all, who packs more pounds per literary punch than Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom, in The Boxing Illustrated Literary Quarterly.

“What do you mean?” I said, although I knew what he meant. I only said what I said for something to say, to say something against this awful feeling that I was trapped and trapped for good this time.

“I mean,” he said, and for some reason he seemed to be enjoying himself, despite the serious-looking expression he was making with his face (which I suppose I should mention had not been shaved in two or three days, I would have mentioned this detail earlier if I were a real writer), “what if all this –”

He made another great, outward wave with his arm, the one that ended in that big soft hand whose fingers held the cigar, a great sweeping wave indicating the dark road beyond this graveled lot, and the universe beyond that road.

“What if all of this is already written?”

“Yes,” I said. “You said that.”

“In the pages of a paperback novel,” he said. “All down on the printed page in black-and-white.”

“Even this?” I said, and I made the smallest wave possible with my own hand. “Me being here. Talking to you about being here.”

“Precisely,” he said. “Already written.”

“And me listening to you say that this is already written: this too is all already written.”

“Right,” he said. “And the very words that you have just spoken: already written.”

“And the words you’ve spoken just now,” I said.

“Written,” he said.

“What about the words we haven’t spoken yet,” I said.

“Also written,” he said.

“What about what I don’t speak,” I said. ”What about what I’m thinking right now.”

“That’s all written too,” he said, and he tapped his cigar ash off again, even though there wasn’t much ash to tap. But I guess he wanted to make a suitable gesture underlying the profundity of his thought. “Interior monologue,” he went on. “I do that kinda stuff all the time in my novels and stories. It’s even what you might call a sort of a recurrent motif in my work. Wait. Maybe motif isn’t the right word; let’s say a recurring narrative device or mode –”

“So,” I said.

“Yes?” he said. “I daresay your line is next.”

“So you’re saying,” I said, “that you are the one who has written all this.”

“Well, not to blow my own horn, but my name was on the book, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. “Your name was.”

My name,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Your name was on the cover.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” he said, but with what I felt was a cowardly taint in his intonation.

I just looked at him for a moment.

Then I decided to spell it out for him, even if what I had to say already was written, if not by him then by somebody or something.

“Look, Horace,” I said. “I know Mr. Philpot, and I know what sort of trade he specializes in. He sells people books that haven’t been written yet.”

“Not until we buy them,” he said. “And pay a good price for them, too!”

“Yes,” I said. “I saw him transact just such a deal with another writer, so that he could put his name on the book and say it was his.”

“Who was it?”

I had to think for a second.

“Oh, I remember,” I said. “His name is Thurgood.”

“Thurgood! That hack! No, he’s worse than a hack, he’s a so-called ‘serious’ writer who writes these oh-so-serious literary novels, but they stink! No one wants to read those kinds of books!”

“Well, you’re probably right about that,” I said.

“I know I’m right! People like to read books about guys caught in a dangerous web of passion and betrayal!”

“I know,” I said.

“Books where at least somebody gets bumped off!”

“That’s true,” I said.

“Or, like, books about rocket ships in outer space. And monsters!”

“True,” I said.

“Books about pirates.”

“I know,” I said.

“And cowboys. Everybody likes a good cowboy yarn. Blazing six guns!”

“That’s true,” I said.

“But no matter what the genre, there’s just one thing you need to make a good book even better.”

“What’s that, Horace?” I said, because I knew he was going to say it anyway, so why not get it over with.

“Lots of scenes of passionate love-making, preferably illicit.”

This time I said nothing.

“Oh,” he said. “What? You don’t go for passionate illicit sex? You’re not a homo, are you?”

I said nothing again, if one can be said to say nothing, again.

“But wait,” he said, “homos dig passionate love-making too. They just like homo passionate love-making. So, what is it, you’re just a tight-ass? A prude?”

A few seconds ticked by, the seconds of this particular universe I was in.

“You know something, Horace,” I finally said.

“What? Is this the moment when you secretly announce to me that you had your balls blown off in the war by a land mine? So now I’ll have to feel all guilty and shit, just because I never saw action and stayed well behind the lines writing for the Stars and Stripes?”

Again I had to pause, just to take all that in.

“I wanted to serve,” said Horace. “I wanted to fight for my country. Was it my fault I had a high school diploma and a couple of semesters’ worth of City College courses under my belt, and could type a hundred words a minute? My fault that it took me six months to get through basic training and that I barely qualified with the M-1? My fault they kept me stuck in an office typing up press releases instead of losing my balls on the battlefield like brave Joes like you? You think this shame hasn’t eaten away at my guts all these years? Eaten away, eaten away like a goddam cancer? Like a goddam starving rabid weasel in my gut?”

He was actually crying now, and he took a dirty-looking red-and-white checked handkerchief out of his work trousers and dabbed his face with it.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry for what I said, and I’m sorry about you losing your balls. I’m sorry about the whole damn thing.”

He let out a few gasping sobs. They seemed almost as if they might be authentic.

“It’s okay, Horace,” I said. “I didn’t lose my balls.”

He snuffled, and looked at me, his head cocked to one side.

“You didn’t?”

“No,” I said. “And it’s true I was in the army, but I never saw combat either.”


“Not only that,” I said. “But I was glad not to see combat. I was a coward.”

“You – you were?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Like me,” he said.

“Maybe,” I said. “Were you really a coward?”

“Oh, absolutely!” he said.

“There you go,” I said. “So we were both cowards.”

He finished wiping his face, and he stuffed that dirty handkerchief – it looked like a restaurant napkin actually – back into his pocket.

“So then,” he said, “this means our narrative will take a different trajectory. It will be not just one, but two cowards – each trying separately and together to attain some sort of, oh, how shall I put it – redemption. But which one of us, if either, shall attain it? You, or I? Or both? Unfortunately, usually in this sort of tale you see one character has to die; but perhaps the dead man will reach that moment of redemption just before, or just at, the moment of death. I hate to say it, my friend, but all the signals point to you being the doomed character. But please be strong, for who knows how long this novel may be?”

“It only looked like about a hundred-and-seventy-five pages,” I said.

“Yes, but still you can pack a lot into a hundred-and-seventy-five pages. Years, decades, whole lifetimes if you want –”

“Listen, Horace,” I said.


“I’m not worried about any of that.”

“What? You’re not worried about dying?”

“Well –”

“You should be worried about dying since it’s already been written, pal.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” I said.

“Oh, and why?”

“Because I can’t believe that anything so stupid as the conversation we’ve just had could possibly have been written ahead of time.”

Now it was Horace’s turn to pause.

He took a drag of his cigar before speaking again.

“So you think all this has been stupid?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I do. And I have read a lot of stupid novels in my time. But none of them has ever been as stupid as everything we’ve been doing and saying since we met.”

He stared at me for a long moment before he spoke. 

And then he said:

“That’s really cold, Arnold.”

“It’s the truth,” I said.

“You do realize I’m the author of this book,” he said.

“No, Horace,” I said. “You’re not the author. At first I thought you were, possibly, in some way, but now I think differently.”

“Oh, you do, do you? Smart guy –”

“You see, Horace,” I said, interrupting his interruption, “you paid Mr. Philpot for a book that you could put your name on, but that’s not the same as actually writing the book.”

“But I told him what sort of book I wanted it to be – a bold new direction for me, something with a little less savage violence and a whole lot more boozing and passionate, savage sex – in fact I distinctly remember telling him to make it a picaresque tale of two rascally gentlemen of the road –”

“Horace,” I said.


“Coming up with an idea for a book is not the same as writing it.”

“But I even came up with the title!” he yelled.

“Well, that’s something,” I said. “But making up a title is still a long way away from sitting down and really writing the book.”

He looked at me. He raised his cigar as if to take another drag, but then he stopped and pointed the lit end of the cigar at me.

“You are really a hard ass, aren’t you?” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said, although I wasn’t.

He paused again, then took a drag on his cigar. He was pretty good at using that cigar as punctuation, I had to hand him that much.

“Okay, fine,” he said. “I’m not saying I agree with you, but let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re right and I’m not the author. So who is the author then? Huh? Smart guy? You, I suppose?”

I thought it over for no more than two seconds. Then:

“No,” I said.

So who is the goddam author?” said Horace.

This was a fair question. I looked at him. And then I looked around, at the place we had just left, a plain rectangular stuccoed building with a neon sign reading simply ROADHOUSE, along with a few other electric beer signs in the brick-glass windows, and I looked out beyond the graveled lot to the dark trees, and beyond the lot to the dark road and the dark woods beyond the road, and up above to the purple nighttime sky dusted with a million stars.

“There is no author,” I said.

“No author?” he said. “How can a book not have an author? You’re weirding me out, man.”

“It’s like life,” I said. “There is no author.”

“So you’re saying shit just happens. Randomly.”

“Yes,” I said. “Shit happens.”

“That’s depressing,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “But on the other hand –”

I paused. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to say, if anything. But then again, perhaps what I was going to say really was already written.

“What?” said Horace. “Out with it, man, because you’re really giving me the heebie-jeebies.”

“I think we have the power to make choices,” I said.

“We do?”

“Yes,” I said.

“What kind of choices?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “We’re making choices right now.”

“We are? What choices?”

I paused, but only for one second this time.

“We’re choosing to speak nonsense,” I said.

“That’s true, isn’t it?” said Horace, after a slight pause of his own. “And if what you say is true then it is in our power to make another and I think a much more important choice.”

“What’s that, Horace?” I said, although I knew what he was going to say, just as surely as if I were reading it in a book.

“We can,” he said, “choose to go back in that barroom and get a rip-roaring load on – that’s what we can damn well choose!”

He stared at me. I could tell he thought he’d said something very clever.

I looked away from him, out at the road. The road was dark and so were the woods beyond it.

I looked back at Horace.

“Come on, Arnold,” he said. He put his hand on my arm. He gave it a squeeze. Even though it was a soft hand, it felt strong. “Live a little,” he said. “What could go wrong?”

(Continued here, thanks in large part to the generous sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at the northwest corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Leave your worries at the door when you come in here. No one wants to hear them anyway. Try Bob’s ‘basement-brewed’ house bock, two bits a mug.”)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page to find what on a good week is an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, presented free, gratis and for nothing as a public service; also published in the Collingswood Patch™: “All the tedious local news, plus Railroad Train to Heaven™.”)