Saturday, March 28, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 433: PR man


Let’s return to old Greenwich Village, on a hot wet night on MacDougal Street, as our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companions are approached by none other than the prince of darkness himself… 


(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you really need another new way to fill up your precious time then you may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume memoir.)

“Among about a million other things, what the self-told saga of Arnold Schnabel is all about is one man’s battle with the Devil. Is or was this ‘prince of darkness’ real? Suffice it to say that for Arnold Schnabel the answer to that question is an unequivocal
yes.” – Harold Bloom, in the Journal of Theological Studies.





“What the fuck,” said Ferdinand, right in my ear. This fucking guy again? I thought you took care of him, Arnie.”



I realized that Ferdinand was communicating telepathically and so I thought rather than spoke, “Apparently not.”

“Like a goddam bad penny,”
said, or thought, my winged friend.

Tell me about it,” I said, thought.

Nicky was getting closer, smiling that bright smile, with those teeth that seemed to glow in the light from the streetlamp.

Horace and Missy were still holding onto my arms, and they and Muriel were all looking at Nicky, approaching, with his confident stride, his gleaming black hair, his perfectly pressed shimmering grey suit, his cigarette in its jet-black holder, and his wide glowing smile.

“Who’s the dude?” said Muriel.

“I don’t like his looks,” said Missy in a low voice.

“You know this guy, Arnie?” said Horace.

“Listen,” I said, aloud this time, “why don’t you all go into the bar, and I’ll join you in a minute.”

“You sure?” said Horace.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I don’t know,” said Horace.

“No, it’s okay,” I said.

And then Nicky was there, having floated with no apparent effort over the small river of water in the gutter, and he was standing right in front of me.

“Well, hello, old buddy,” he said, smiling, still smiling. “Having trouble standing up?”

As well-groomed as he was he nonetheless gave off a distinct odor – of sewage, of decay, of death and feces.

“Listen, Horace, Missy,” I said, choosing not to respond to Nicky’s snide question, “you can let go of me now, I won’t fall down.”

“You sure?” said Horace, again.

“Positive,” I said. I gave my shoulders a sort of shrug, and Horace and Missy took their hands away, and I didn’t fall down, even though I could barely feel my own feet thanks to all that bourbon-laced laudanum I had drunk. “Now really, Horace, why don’t you and the ladies go inside, and I’ll be there in just a minute.”

“You’re sure?” said Horace, for the third time.

“Yes, positive,” I said. “In fact, order me a beer.”



Everything was happening very slowly, or, rather, my perception of reality, of this reality, had slowed down, and I wondered in the back of my cavernous echoing mind if I’d best savor these slowed-down moments, as they might well be my last, or at least my last not spent in an eternity of hellfire.

“Just a beer?” said Horace.

“What?” I said. “Oh, yes – just a beer is fine.”

“Any kind in particular?”



“The cold kind,” I said, so I still had my sense of humor, such as it was.

“Heh heh. Maybe a little whiskey on the side?”

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll take a shot.”

“Old Forester?”

“Great,” I said. “Old Forester is fine.”

“Porter’s not picky,” said Nicky, smiling, holding his cigarette holder in an elegant sort of way that I would never be able to pull off, not that I would ever dream of using a cigarette holder, even if I did go back to smoking two or three packs of Pall Malls a day, supposing that is I survived the next few minutes. “Not picky at all, are you, Porter?”

“Hey, I thought your name was Arnold,” said Muriel. “Why’s he calling you Porter?”

“It’s a long story,” I said. “I’ll explain it all when I come inside.”

“It’s a very, very long story,” said Nicky, smiling away.

“I don’t like the looks of this fancy Dan,” said Muriel.



“Mr. Schnipfel,” said Missy, and she gave my filthy damp and wrinkled seersucker jacket a tug on its sleeve. “Why don’t you come inside with us?”

“I will,” I said. “I just want to have a word, with, uh –”



“Porter,” said Nicky, Lucky, the prince of darkness, “where are your manners, old boy? Not even introducing me to your friends.”

“Oh,” I said. And then, just to get it over with: “Muriel, Missy, Horace, this is, uh – well –”

“Nicky,” said Nicky. “Nicky Boskins. I’m Porter’s public-relations man.”

“You have a public-relations man?” said Horace to me.

“Well, yeah,” I said, probably not sounding very convincing.

“He most certainly does, Horace,” said Nicky, with that smile that wouldn’t quit, with those purple-black eyes that seemed to lead to an abyss with no bottom, no borders, no end. “But I also like to think I’m Porter’s –” he paused, and then he said, “’friend’,” but he said it like that, as if the word were in quotes, and italicized

“You don’t look like his friend,” said Muriel. “You don’t look like anybody’s friend.”

For just a moment Nicky’s smile faltered, but only for a moment.

“Perhaps I could be your friend, Muriel,” he said. “And Missy’s too.” He looked from one girl to the other as he said these words, and now he looked at Horace. “And yours as well, Horace. Horace P. Sternwall, isn’t it? The eminent author?”

“Gee, you’ve heard of me?” said Horace. “Recognized me from some of my book covers I guess? What’s your favorite of my books?”

“I thought Port of Shame was excellent,” said Nicky. “And The God’s Honest Truth was just, what’s the word? Stunning. Riveting. Also, how shall I put it? Deeply moving. But perhaps my favorite of yours was The Young and the Damned. Thought that one was just searing. Blistering even.”

“No kidding,” said Horace.

“Oh, I never kid about such matters,” said Nicky. “You know, a writer of your talent, you should have your own public relations representative.”

“Oh, heh heh,” said Horace, “thanks, that means a lot to me, but the publishers I work for, well, they don’t really have a budget for, you know –”

“I would be glad to take you on as a client, gratis, and then after your career really takes off, after say you get a book on the New York Times bestseller list, perhaps then we could draw up a contract.”

New York Times?” said Horace. “Bestseller list? But all my books are, you know, just paperback originals. They don’t really get on any sort of lists. Or reviewed. Or go into a second printing –”

“All that could change,” said Nicky. “With your talent, and with my promotional skills, I daresay all that will most certainly change.”

“Gee,” said Horace. “Then we should talk. I mean, you know, if you would like to –”

“Oh, I most assuredly would like to,” said Nicky.

“Wow, that’s just great,” said Horace. “Jeeze, thanks, Mister –”



“Nicky. Call me Nicky.”

“Thanks, Nicky. Hey, maybe you would care to stop into the Kettle with us –”

“Horace,” I said.

“Yeah, Arnie? Or do you really prefer Porter?”

“I prefer Arnold,” I said. “But, look, take the ladies inside, would you?”

“But why don’t we all go inside? I mean, Nicky too, if he would like to. I mean unless you’ve got somewhere else to go, Nicky –”

“Listen, Horace,” I said, “really, take the young ladies inside, will you? I want to talk with uh –”



“Nicky,” said Nicky.

“Yeah,” I said. “Alone for a minute. Okay?”



“Well, if you insist,” said Horace.

Hmmph,” was the sound that Muriel made right then.



“Pardon me?” said Horace.

“You heard me,” she said. “I said ‘Hmmph.’”

“I don’t understand,” said Horace.

“That’s because you’re not anything but a damn fool idiot, my friend.”

“Heh heh,” said Horace. “I, uh –”

“Can’t you see this fancy Dan is playin’ you like a fiddle?”

“Well, really, Muriel,” Horace said, “heh heh, I think you’re possibly being just a teeny bit harsh on Mister, uh –”

“Nicky,” said Nicky.

“On Nicky,” said Horace.

“Can’t you smell the evil on him?” she said. “The effluvia of pure bottled-in-bond barrel-proof evil?”

“Now really,” said Horace. “Heh heh?”

“Take a deep breath, you silly jackanapes. Get over your blind cupidity and your lust for fame and just take a sniff off him, this so-called ‘Nicky’.”

“A sniff?” said Horace.

“I can smell it,” said Missy. “It’s like sulfur, and – and - garbage, and, and – I don’t want to say it –”

“I’ll say it,” said Muriel. “Shit. He smells like shit. You smell like shit, mister,” she said, addressing Nicky of course.

Nicky had stopped smiling.

The street had gotten very quiet. The band that had been playing in the Kettle of Fish must have gone on break, because the only sound coming from the entrance of the bar was a faint babel of people’s laughing voices.



“Okay,” I said. “So, Horace, you and the ladies go in, see if you can grab a table, and I’ll –”

“He does smell like shit,” said Ferdinand, aloud this time. “And I know what shit smells like, believe me.”

“Who said that?” said Nicky, and his face, which was normally very pale, turned paler.

“Me, asshole,” said Ferdinand, and he darted toward Nicky’s face and pulling up just shy of hitting him on the nose, described a perfect Immelman turn and a double loop-de-loop and then stopped in mid-air and hovered about a foot away from Nicky’s eyes. “Yes, you smell like shit, and all the cheap cologne in the world can’t hide the stench.”

“Cheap cologne?” was the best comeback Nicky could come up with. “Why, I’ll have you know I’m wearing Floris Special No.127 eau de toilette, and it is decidedly not cheap –”

Eau de toilette is right,” said Ferdinand, “like straight out of a backed-up full-of-wino’s-shit crapper in some flophouse down on the Bowery.”

 
“Oh. Okay,” said Nicky. “So this is the way it is, is it? I’m going to stand here and be insulted by a fucking fly –”

“That’s the way it is, pal,” said Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand,” said Horace, “please, you’re really being quite, how shall I put it –”

“Rude?” said Ferdinand.

“Well, yes,” said Horace.

“Horace, my friend,” said Ferdinand, and he flew over to near Horace’s face. “You’re gonna tell me you don’t smell that stench comin’ offa this guy?” 



“Well,” said Horace, “I think what you’re smelling, Ferdinand, is just the sewers backing up, from the rain, I mean you can see all the rainwater in the gutters –”



“Bullshit,” said Ferdinand. “It’s this fuckin’ creep. He reeks. And you know why?”

“’Cause he’s full of shit?” said Muriel.

“Oh, my gosh, Muriel!” said Missy, putting her hand over her mouth and giggling.



“Well, it’s true,” said Muriel. “Smells worse than a hog that’s been rollin’ in hog shit.”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand. “Hog rolling in hog shit! Exactly, except like ten times worse, right?”

“Twenty times, more like it,” said Muriel.

“Okay,” said Nicky, and he seemed to be forcing himself to try to smile, and not quite succeeding. “See? This behavior right here is why everybody hates human beings.”

“What about flies, asshole?” said Ferdinand.

“And flies,” said Nicky, not smiling, “flies and human beings. They both suck dick.”

“I don’t,” said Muriel, “as a matter of fact.”

“Nor I,” said Ferdinand. “So your entire argument falls.”

“Fuck you, fly.”

“Oh, brilliant riposte,” said Ferdinand. “Just brilliant. Well, how’s this for a counter-riposte to your lame-ass riposte: fuck you.” 


“Okay,” said Nicky, and he managed to smile again now, but it looked very forced, and I could see his lower lip trembling. “You know what? I’m going to fix all of you. All of you.”

“But I didn’t do anything,” said Horace. “Or say anything. Really, why don’t we all just –”

“No,” said Nicky. “Fuck you, too, Horace P. Sternwall, and you know what? Your books are trash, simple-minded lurid trash, fit only for morons to read.”

“Wow,” said Horace.

“Yeah,” said Nicky, “wow is right, you hack. Like wow, how bad can writing possibly be? Oh, I know, how about Horace P. Sternwall bad?”

“That’s not very nice,” said Horace.

“You know what else is not very nice?” said Nicky. “How about getting cast screaming down into the flaming pits of hell?”

“That’s – really weird,” said Horace.

“Oh, it’s weird all right, my friend, really weird –”

“Nicky,” I said.

He turned and looked at me, not smiling now.

“What?”



I had just suddenly remembered that I had a revolver in my jacket pocket, the snubnose that Lily had given me back at her roadhouse.



I took the pistol out and I pointed it at Nicky’s heart, or at least where his heart would have been if he had one.


(To be continued, until the last marble copybook filled with Arnold’s neat if cramped handwriting has been transcribed – and yet another cache of them has only recently been discovered in a cardboard box under a pile of The Catholic Standard & Times newspapers in a broom closet of Arnold’s great aunts’ guesthouse in Cape May, New Jersey.)

(Please scroll down the right hand column of this page to find a quite possibly up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. A few tickets are still available to the Arnold Schnabel Society’s “Easter Social” at the Raymond T. Osmond VFW Post at Chew and Lawrence, in Arnold’s old Philadelphia neighborhood of Olney, featuring your master of ceremonies Horace P. Sternwall and live musical entertainment from Gabriel and his Swinging Seraphim. Tix are $20 a head, which includes all the draft Ortlieb’s you can drink and unlimited access to our kielbasa 'n' kraut steam table and salad bar. All profits in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Youth Literacy Project©.)    


Saturday, March 21, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 432: hopheads


Once again, as has happened so many times before, our hero Arnold Schnabel has found himself collapsing to the pavement, in this case on a hot and wet August night on MacDougal Street, in that Mecca of Bohemia known as Greenwich Village… 


(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode. Newcomers to the fold may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume masterpiece of the autobiographer’s art.)

“Yes, the first hopeful signs of spring have finally begun to appear, and soon it will be time to take one’s Kindle™ to the park to read one’s daily requirement of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Family Circle Literary Supplement.

It’s hard to describe pain. 



After a while you run out of different ways to say throbbing or burning or excruciating or unbearable or horrific, and so I think that in the present instance I won’t even try. Suffice it to say that I collapsed to both knees on the sidewalk, notably the right one, that is to say the one that was already the source of burning, excruciating, unbearable and horrific pain,  and then the upper part of my body fell forward, but I was able to break this part of my fall with my forearms and hands, which was good for my face but bad for my forearms and hands.

I lay there in my exclusive little world of agony, hearing voices above me, but making no sense of the words spoken. Beyond the voices I heard music, which, I now realized through my pain, I had been hearing ever since entering this mode of reality, or irreality: it was the sound of a trumpet, playing what I had learned by now was jazz music, if only because I could discern no actually melody, although the notes played were not unpleasant.

I turned my head to one side and allowed my cheek to rest on the wet pavement, which felt hard and granular of course but pleasantly cool, one tiny small area of unpainful coolness in the midst of the many and various pains that comprised my sensory world, the greatest of which emanated from my now freshly-ravaged right knee, a pain so intense that if someone had handed me a hatchet at that point I would have gladly (no, not gladly, but desperately and without hesitation) hacked off that leg at the thigh. I tried to concentrate all my attention on this tiny island of non-pain in my cheek, tried and failed. I only wanted oblivion, but oblivion would not come, and so I availed myself of the human being’s time-honored response to extreme pain: I groaned, yelled, screamed, and sobbed.



“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” I heard a woman’s voice say, and then that voice was lost in a babble of other voices. 



I groaned, howled, yelled, grunted words which I have rarely said in my life spent mostly as a devout and more than slightly priggish Catholic bachelor.

And then someone was pushing my shoulder, pushing me over onto my back, and I allowed myself to be pushed, despite the fresh cacophony of agonies this pushing caused, and then I noticed through my copious tears that the person doing the pushing was Muriel, the tall beautiful girl in the black blouse and the Panama hat.

She was squatting on her haunches beside me, and she put her hand under the back of my head and pulled it forward, off the pavement, and with her other hand she held a pint-sized flask to my lips. It had a cap attached to the short neck of the flask with a hinge, and the cap was unscrewed.



“Now listen, buddy,” said her voice from somewhere near and far at once. “You just take a good long pull of this stuff, it’ll be good for what ails you.”

“Ehhh,” I groaned. 


“What’s that you say?” she said.

“Ahhhh. Ihhhhh. Uh!” I said.

“Can’t understand a word you’re saying, son,” she said.

“Ahhh, uhhh, ahhh,” I replied.

“What in hell?” she said.

“He’s asking what is it?” said the voice of my old friend Ferdinand, the talking fly, and I now could see him, buzzing around just above my face.

“Oh, for Pete’s, goodness’, Christ’s and every other kind of sake,” said Muriel. “It’s just bourbon, you big baby, good old-fashioned Old Forester Kentucky bourbon, so stop your goddam whining and drink it down.”



She stuck the mouth of the flask between my teeth, and I drank. It tasted very bitter, and unlike any bourbon I had ever drunk (and I had drunk a lot of bourbons in my time, albeit only cheap ones) but I figured this was only the result of my taste buds being so affected by my miseries that they too had gone to hell.

“Again,” she said, after allowing me to cough and gasp a few times.


She held the flask to my mouth, and I drank again.

“Once more,” she said, after my noises had subsided.

I drank once more, and now, amazingly and almost at once, the universe of pain that was myself transformed itself into one of intense pleasure, as if I were experiencing an orgasm in slow motion.



“Feel better?” she said.

“Yes,” I said, in English this time.

She was still holding my head up, leaning over me. I could feel the warmth of her body, and she smelled pleasantly of gin and roses, of ripe lemons and cotton candy.

“Wasn’t too bitter?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“‘Cause – guess what – what you just drank wasn’t anything but pure laudanum mixed half-and-half with Old Forester bourbon. I find the Old Forester lessens the natural bitter quality of the laudanum and makes it go down easier, don’t you think?”

“Yes?” was all I could say.



“I use it as a palliative for my lady cramps. Got a little old Jewish pharmacist over on Hester Street hooks me up. You want another shot?”

“Yes, please,” I blatantly said.

“Just a little swallow now,” she said.

“Okay,” I said.

Again she put the flask to my lips, and I drank greedily, I would have finished the whole flask had she not pulled it away.

“I said just a little bit, hogatha!” she said.

“Sorry,” I said, forming this single word as if I were pushing a tennis ball out of my mouth.

“Hey, sister," said Ferdinand. “ya know somethin’? You’re all right. I thought you were a real bitch at first, but now I think I might have been mistaken.”

“I have my moments,” she said.

“By the way, mind if I have a little of that stuff?” said Ferdinand.


At this point I finally did pass out.



I dreamt I was back in my old neighborhood, back in Olney, I was walking up Fifth Street toward St. Helena’s church on a bright day, but there was no one else around. I walked past the school and the convent, and then I came to the steps of the church and started climbing them, but my legs were moving very slowly, hardly at all, and I couldn’t get past the second step. Then I wondered why I even wanted to go into the church. Was I supposed to usher at mass? What would happen if I was late, or, even worse, if I failed to show up at all? Would I be punished in some way? I had never in my life failed to show up at a mass I was scheduled to usher, nor even been late by so much as a minute, that’s how much of a goody two shoes I was, or had been. This would definitely be a black mark on my name. I would perhaps even be drummed out of the ushers’ corps, as had indeed happened several times in my experience to fellows who had showed up for mass drunk, or too hungover to properly perform their duties, one chap even throwing up ignominiously during the Consecration right in the holy water font.



I didn’t know what to do, because my legs just wouldn’t move. Fortunately I suppose I was suddenly across the street, right at the parking-lot entrance of the Acme. I successfully went inside. There was no one there. I walked up and down the brightly lit aisles. I couldn’t remember what it was I wanted to buy. I came to the butcher section and, looking into the open refrigerators I saw the bodies of people killed or starved to death in the war. Then the dead bodies came alive, started to squirm and groan, so I turned and flew up the aisle, flying about six feet off the ground. I came to the glass exit door and put my arms in front of my face but luckily for me the door opened automatically and I flew out into the parking lot and out over Fifth Street and continued to fly, southward, and almost instantaneously I was at Fisher Park, so I flew into the park and down along the curved concrete walk, down the hill and then up the other side, past the playground and down the wooded hill beyond it, and I flew along through a thick forest, gliding effortlessly in between the trees, always about six feet off the ground, and I was happy to be flying, but then I came to a steep wooded hill and I flew up its side and finally came out to a railroad track, a railroad track leading to infinity both ways, a curving long track through green countryside, green rolling hills, and I flew to the left along the track until I came to a tunnel in a green mountain, and I flew into the tunnel, which was pitch black, and I kept flying and then I saw a light ahead of me, the light of an approaching locomotive, and I flew toward it, knowing that this would be my end.

But of course it wasn’t my end, or I wouldn’t be writing this. 

 
I awoke from the dream, and entered reality once again, if a fictional world can be called reality, and even if it cannot, it was the one I found myself in, again, and as annoying and frustrating as it was, it still beat flying headlong into a speeding locomotive. 


I was sitting up now, my back leaning against something cool and hard, and I saw Horace and Muriel and Missy standing in front of me, but they were ignoring me, talking to one another, smoking cigarettes, and passing Muriel’s flask around.

“Muriel,” I heard Ferdinand’s voice, “how about just another drop? Just another tiny drop on your hand there and I’ll lap it right up.”

“My, aren’t you the little hophead?” said Muriel.

“Ha ha, Ferdinand’s a fly after my own heart!” said Horace.

“Hey, Muriel,” said Missy, “I wouldn’t mind another sip either, just a little one.”

As they went on in this vein I gradually realized where I was. I was sitting up against the glass front door of the tailor shop, and Horace and the two girls and Ferdinand were standing just inside the entrance area, well, Ferdinand of course wasn’t standing, but buzzing happily around the others.



I thought that I should try to get up. I sent a message to my legs and to my  arms and the rest of my body to that effect, but all my body did was shift about a bit, as if I were sitting in a great mass of foam rubber.



“Excuse me!” I called, cutting into the chatter.

They all fell silent, and looked at me.

“Yes?” said Muriel.

“I, um, uh,” I said.

“How you doing there, champ?” said Horace.

“Much better, thank you,” I said, making the words leave my mouth. “But I can’t seem to be able to get up.”

“Is he paralyzed?” asked Missy.

“Nah, not Arnie!” said Horace. “Right, buddy?”

“I hope not,” I said.

Horace was holding the flask now. He took a quick drink, wiped off its mouth with his hand, and handed it to Muriel.

“Thank you very much, Muriel,” he said. “That really hit the spot. One of you girls want to help me get Arnie up?”

“I’ll help,” said Missy.

Horace and Missy came over to me, one on each side, and Horace pulled one arm while Missy pulled on the other until I was on my feet. I couldn’t feel my feet, but I could see them down there below me on the pavement.


“How are you, Mr. Schnitzel?” said Missy, still holding onto my arm.

 
For only a moment I was about to correct her about my name, but then it didn’t seem worth the effort, and instead I answered her question as truthfully as I was able.



“I feel drugged,” I said.

“Well, that makes sense, Arnie,” said Horace, a cigarette wobbling from between his lips, “since that’s exactly what you are.” He was still holding onto my other arm, and with his free hand he gave me a pat on the back. “Come on, buddy, we’re heading over to the Kettle of Fish for a cocktail with these nice young ladies.”

“No, Horace,” I managed to say, “please. I can’t go in there –”

“I know, I know,” he said, nodding his head with a big smile. “Something always happens when you go into a bar. But don’t you see, that’s the beauty of it! You never know what’ll happen! You’ve got to embrace life, pal.”

“That’s what I always say,” said Muriel. “Get it while you can, ‘cause who knows what the morrow may bring.”

“Amen, sister,” said Ferdinand. “Hey, how about just one more drop out of that flask before we roll?”

“Sure, little fella,” she said, and she held the flask over the side of one hand, tilting the flask carefully so as to let just a drop ooze out onto the pale white flesh between the base of her thumb and her first thin finger-knuckle.

“Y’know, Mr. Schwartzman,” said Missy, giving my arm a gentle squeeze, “I think they’re right. I used to be like you, afraid of life. But not any more.”

She was standing very close to me, looking up at me because she was rather shorter than me, and I was tempted to say yes, let’s go to the Kettle of Fish, let’s sit and listen to the sad trumpet and drink whiskey and laudanum, maybe wash it down with some draft Rhinegold.

But then I remembered.

Mr. Philpot’s shop was right across the street and up the block a few doors. 



With any luck, Josh, my friend, the son of God, would still be there – provided of course this was the same night – or even the same world for that matter – as the previous time I had been in Philpot’s shop. Maybe Josh could help me after all, even if he had failed the last time. He was the son of God, wasn’t he? He was entitled to fail now and then, but that didn’t mean he was always going to fail, did it? And, besides, there was still my book in there, my blank book, the one I had bought so long ago from Mr. Philpot. Maybe if I could just concentrate for a minute I could write my own way out of this universe. 


I had to go there, to Philpot’s shop. 
It was really my only hope, and I had to give it a try.

By this time Missy and Horace had frog-marched me out of the entranceway of the tailor shop and we were heading up the block.

“No, wait!” I said, and I dragged my heels, forcing Missy and Horace to come to a stop.

“Oh, now what the hell,” said Muriel. 

“Yeah, what gives, Arnie?” said Ferdinand.

“I have to go to Mr. Philpot’s shop,” I said.

“Bullshit on that place, Arnie,” said Horace, and then he turned to the girls. “Pardon my French, ladies, but, really –”

“Horace,” I said, “I have to go there!”

“Sure,” he said. “After we have a few cocktails. Then we’ll go over there and you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna give that old bastard Philpot a piece of my mind, that’s what!”

Other words were said, by me and the others, but somehow we continued up the street, toward the Kettle of Fish, and it began to be clear to me that I didn’t have the willpower to prevent myself from going in there, yet again, and to be honest, part of me (a very big part of me) really did feel like having a tall cold beer, and maybe a surreptitious slug or two more of what was in Muriel’s flask. Maybe I really did have a problem with alcohol and drugs.

But as it turned out I didn’t need to have the willpower to stop myself from going into the Kettle of Fish, because something else stopped me.

It was a man’s voice, a deep, cultured-sounding, commanding voice.

“Hey, Porter!” called the voice. “Porter Walker!”


Porter Walker.

That sounded familiar.



“I say, Porter old man!”



And then I remembered – Porter Walker was my name, or at least one of my names, albeit a fictional one.



I turned my head and looked across MacDougal Street.

A man stood on the sidewalk outside the Valhalla bar, right near the steps that led up to Mr. Philpot’s shop.

It was a handsome dark man in an iridescent grey suit.

It was Nicky Boskins, also known as Lucky, also known by many other names, none of them good.

“Porter baby!” he called. “Wait up, man!”

And the prince of darkness leapt gracefully over the streaming rainwater in the gutter and came striding across MacDougal Street, smiling, holding a cigarette in a holder, and not even bothering to look both ways.



(Continued here, damning the torpedoes and full speed ahead.)

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Friday, March 13, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 431: bohemians


We left our hero Arnold Schnabel on a wet hot night in Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, with his friends Horace P. Sternwall and Ferdinand the talking fly, as well as two attractive young women: Missy and Muriel, the latter of whom has just produced a pistol… 


(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter. If you think you’re ready for the long haul then go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir.)

“When the final roll is called of the giants of 20th century American literature surely one name will take pride of place: Arnold Schnabel – and with his good friend Horace P. Sternwall standing right up there with him.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Wall Street Journal Literary Supplement.


At the risk of boring any hypothetical reader I might improbably have, not to mention myself, I feel I must here interpolate the fact that now that we had entered (or re-entered as the case might be) this current reality, not only was I very hungry, and half drunk, but also all the injuries, aches, scrapes and bruises I had incurred since so long ago passing once again into the realm of bad fiction now made themselves felt, at first gradually, but then, as of a few moments ago, all at once: my head hurt in two places, as did my forearms and elbows, and my knees, particularly my right knee, and also both shins. And so I didn’t walk over to Muriel and her gun so much as to say I limped and shambled. 

And as if it wasn’t disturbing enough to have a pistol pointed at me (and this was at least the third or fourth time this evening I had had someone point a gun at me; in a way I felt like I was getting used to it, almost), as I drew closer to Muriel I realized that her face looked nightmarishly as if she had been devouring fresh raw meat, and, as Missy now lowered her hands from her face I saw that she too seemed to have been sharing the same savage meal. But then I quickly realized that these sanguinary blotches were only the result of the young ladies’ passionate kisses smearing their lipstick.


“What the hell is your problem, seersucker,” said Muriel, “shufflin’ and jivin’ like that?”

“Sorry,” I said, genuinely gritting my teeth, “but I had a few little, uh, accidents tonight, falling down and whatnot, and so –”

“Maybe if you didn’t get so damn drunk you wouldn’t have to fall down,” she said. “You ever think of that?”



“Well, that’s a good point,” I said, wanting to keep her happy especially as long as she had a gun pointed at me. “But, uh, actually, it was all a little more complicated than just being drunk, heh heh –”



“You just stop right there, mister, because I am not getting paid to listen to your damn fool excuses,” she said.

“What a bitch,” said Ferdinand, but I realized he was being sensible and communicating only in the telepathic realm.

Muriel took a drag on her Herbert Tareyton, while moving the aim of her pistol back and forth from Horace’s midsection to my own. “Now, one of you, talk. How do you know our names?”

“You wouldn’t believe it if we told you,” said Ferdinand speaking aloud now, and buzzing around just above mine and Horace’s head in a blasé-seeming way.

“If I don’t believe it,” said Muriel, “somebody gets a bullet, and maybe you’ll be the first one, Mr. Fly.”

“Dyke,” said Ferdinand.

“What?” said Muriel.

“You heard me,” said Ferdinand.

“Don’t think I can’t plug you with this pistol,” she said. “Minuscule as you are.”

“Go ahead and try it, Annie Oakley.”

“All right,” she said, and she raised that little automatic.

“Wait!” said Horace. He had still been holding his hands out, palms forward, but now he raised them higher. “Please, Muriel, we can explain everything!”

“Sure,” she said. “After I shoot this here fly.”

“Go ahead, Lizzie,” said Ferdinand. “Ten to one you miss.”

“Maybe you’re right, pipsqueak,” she said. “Maybe I oughta just shoot your two buddies then.”

She now pointed the pistol directly at me, and so I was moved to speak, and quickly.

“Please, miss,” I said, trying not to gasp in pain. “Muriel? May I call you Muriel?”



“Knock yourself out, seersucker,” she said.



“Muriel,” I said, “I want to apologize for Ferdinand.”

“Don’t apologize for me, pal,” said Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand,” I said, “you’re not helping. Now will you please not interrupt me?”

“Fine,” he said. “Go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Apologize to a dyke,” he said, but fortunately I realized he was communicating not out loud but telepathically again, so I continued.

“I’m waiting, seersucker,” said Muriel.

“Yes,” I said, trying desperately to gather my mental forces, which, as the attentive reader (supposing against all odds I finally have one) might have noticed, is not something I do easily under the best of circumstances, not to mention ones like those I now found myself in, or under, or surrounded by; and so I got distracted – “by the way, before I begin –”



“What?”

“You, uh –” I touched my lips with my finger. “You, both of you, your lipstick, uh –”

“Oh! Hold still,” she said. “And don’t try anything, or I swear I’ll plug you. This may be only a little ol’ .32 but it’ll kill you just as dead as a .45 at this range.”



“I’m sure it will,” I said, just trying to be agreeable.

“Hush up just a minute, seersucker.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry, just keep your trap shut for one minute if you think you can manage that, and that goes for you too, Howard P. Stumpernickel and especially you Felix the Fly.”

“Actually my name is –” started Horace, and simultaneously Ferdinand said, “My name ain’t Felix, Gertrude Stein –” but Muriel cut them both short.

“I said clam up! Don’t say another word, none of you! Not one word!”

Amazingly all three of us kept silent, something which had rarely happened in the course of our comradeship.

Keeping me and Horace covered (and Ferdinand too, I suppose) Muriel now glanced at Missy. 

“He’s right, isn’t he?” she said to the blonde girl. “About our lipstick?”

“Yes,” said Missy. “I’m afraid we both must look a fright! Here, let me –”

She opened her black plastic purse and took out a handkerchief, one of those ladies’ handkerchiefs with lace edging, and after giving it a lick with her tongue she wiped at the lipstick around Muriel’s mouth, while Muriel continued to keep an eye on me and Horace and Ferdinand.

While this was going on, and despite the rich and manifold physical pain I was in, I noticed things about Muriel and Missy that Horace hadn’t mentioned in Slaves of Sappho: a thin gold chain – I say gold, but what did and do I know? – at any rate a liquid-thin gold-colored necklace around her neck – a chain so thin it almost looked as if it were painted on her white flesh with an artist’s brush – as well as small diamond and gold earrings (again, for all I know they were from Woolworth’s) on her ears, a small watch with a gold or goldlike band on one wrist, a possibly gold thin linked bracelet on the other, and on her fingers a couple of rings which I choose not to attempt to describe except to say they looked expensive to my untrained eye. Missy also wore jewelry – earrings, a necklace, bracelets, a ring – and I suppose we can assume these were most likely of the more inexpensive Macy’s variety. I also noticed in the streetlamp light a small scar, somehow not ugly, on Muriel’s jaw, and a slight skin blemish on Missy’s cheek, showing through a dab of makeup. I don’t know why Horace didn’t include any of these details in his novel; perhaps he thought it best to leave some things to the reader’s imagination, or perhaps he chose not to bring the narrative to a crashing halt, just as I have now done.

“There, that’s much better!” said Missy, admiring her handiwork with a cocked head.

“Thanks, doll,” said Muriel.

Missy now took a compact out of her purse, clicked it open, and, peering with raised eyebrows into its mirror, set to dabbing her own face.

Horace glanced at me and made a face, and I think the face was saying, I know this is absurd, but I find this all terribly arousing!

“Okay!” said Muriel. “Now that we have that out of the way – Mr. Seersucker, I believe you were about to do some explaining?”

“Oh, right,” I said, trying to concentrate, and to ignore the various physical pains which dominated my sense of self at that juncture. “Okay. Now – this is maybe going to sound hard to believe –”

“Harder to believe than a talking smart-mouth fly?”

“Well, no, now that you mention it –” I said.

“Muriel,” said Missy – clicking her compact shut and dropping it and her handkerchief back into her purse – “let’s just go, can’t we?”

“No, baby,” said Muriel. “Not till we get to the bottom of this little mystery right here.”

“Excuse me – may I say something?” said Horace.

“By all means,” said Muriel.

“I just want to suggest that perhaps – perhaps I say – we really would be so much more comfortable talking it all over while sitting down and having a nice cocktail or two?”

“Now you’re talking, Horace,” said Ferdinand.

“And I insist on it being my treat,” said Horace. “You ladies were heading, were you not, to the Kettle of Fish? One of my favorite stops, if I do say so.”

He lowered his hands in a tentative sort of way.

“What do you say, gals?”

 
Muriel actually seemed to be hesitating for a moment before finally saying no when I saw a green-black-and-white police car coming down MacDougal. Muriel saw my eyes, then saw the police car, and quickly slipped the pistol into her bag.

The police car drew to a stop abreast of our little band. There were two policemen in it, and the closest one, the one at the wheel, addressed us.

“Everything okay here?”

“Sure, everything’s fine, officer,” said Horace.

The cop looked a lot like Broderick Crawford, which I suppose made sense if we were still in a Horace P. Sternwall novel. I couldn’t get a good look at his partner, but from what I could see he looked like the actor Steve Brodie.


The cop looked at Horace, and at me, at our wrinkled, worn and dirty clothes, and then he addressed the two girls.

“These guys bothering you ladies?”

I turned and looked at Muriel, at Missy, as did Horace, as probably did Ferdinand. Our fates, as the mythical “they” say, were in their hands.

Muriel glanced at Missy, some secret communication seemed to transpire, and then Muriel spoke.

“Not at all, officer,” she said.

“You’re sure?” said the cop.

“Yes, everything is quite all right,” said Muriel.

“Reason I ask is these two look like a couple of hoboes.”



“They are merely writers,” said Muriel. “Bohemians so to speak.”

“Oh, I get it,” said the policeman. “Well, this is Greenwich Village, ain’t it?”

“It is indeed, officer,” said Muriel.

“What about you, miss?” said the cop, addressing Missy. “You’re awfully quiet.”

“I’m the quiet type,” said Missy.

“Well, okay, then,” said the cop. He turned to his companion for a moment, then put the car in gear and pulled out down the street.

Horace immediately turned to Muriel and to Missy.

“May I just say, ‘Thank you?’”



“For what?” said Muriel.

“For not, well, telling those policemen that we were – shall we say, bothering you ladies in any way –”

“And have you turn me in for carrying a concealed weapon?” She took a drag of her Herbert Tareyton. “But, after all, it wasn’t like y’all were exactly breaking any laws.”

“Precisely!” said Horace.

“Well, now that we have averted that crisis,” said Ferdinand, “how about those cocktails Horace mentioned?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, shorty,” said Muriel. “I still want to know how you boys know our names.”

Suddenly I let out a yelp of pain.

“What’s the matter with you now, seersucker?” said Muriel.

“It’s my knee,” I said, truthfully, squeezing the words through my teeth. “I really hurt it earlier tonight, and now I’m getting these awful shooting pains –”

“Well, maybe now you’ll think twice before getting so sloppy stupid drunk!” said Muriel.

“Ahhh,” was all I could say in reply.

“Do you want to hold onto my arm, Arnie?” said Horace.

“Yes, please,” I managed to gasp out, and I hooked my arm in his and lifted my right foot off the pavement.

“Look,” said Horace, “why don’t we all just get Arnold over to the bar where he can sit down and take a load off that leg?”



“No, Horace!” I said, through the pain and my gritted teeth.

“Why the hell not, Arnie?” he said. “Look at you, you look like you’re ready to pass out, for Christ’s sake –”

“We can’t – go – into – a bar!” I managed to say.

“Why the hell not?” he said.

“Because – every – time – I go into – a bar –”

I was in so much pain that I couldn’t get the words out.

“What, buddy?” said Horace.

“Something crazy happens!” I shouted.



“Look, don’t be stupid, Arnie,” he said, and he pulled on my arm. “Let’s just get you over to the Kettle –”

“No!” I yelled. I pulled my arm free, but now that I didn’t have Horace to support me I started to fall, and so I reflexively lowered my right foot, and as soon as it touched the pavement a bolt of pain immediately shot up from my knee again, like a bullet of molten lead. 

I shouted, ignominiously, a hoarse black bark from the depths of my inner beast, and then I pitched headlong to the pavement, wishing as I fell that I could just pass out now.

But I wasn’t that lucky.

(To be continued, of course!)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a rigorously updated listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
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Friday, March 6, 2015

"The New Gang"



                                                         “The New Gang”

                                                    by Horace P. Sternwall





Originally published in “Today’s Crime Stories”, November, 1950, and included in “Nice Girls Finish Last”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 4, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Demotic American Literature, Olney Community College.


Original illustrations by rhoda penmarq.

(Click here for our previous Gwendolyn story; go here for the first one.)




Dearest Pippi,

I hope you are enjoying your stay at Rozenzweig’s Home For Girls up in the fresh bracing air of the Catskills. I do apologize for not corresponding with greater frequency but things have been so hectic here in the city you wouldn’t believe. Never a dull moment that’s for sure.

First off I just want to assure you that I am keeping an eye on the “gelt” which you asked me to ask this business acquaintance of My Auntie M-------’s, this Tommy S-------n to put as they say “out of the street” for you. It’s what they call a “Shylock Operation” and if you don’t know what that is then just ask one of the older girls at the Home there I’m sure one of them can explain it all to you.



Well my dear I want you to know that your investment has thus far returned a 22% interest! Please let me know if you want me to put these earnings “out on the street” for you as well or do you want me to keep them separate, which I can do in that little strongbox I keep in one of my Auntie’s hatboxes at the bottom of her closet where no one will ever find it she has so much stuff piled in there.

I meet with this guy Tommy one afternoon a week at the old automat where I demand a strict accounting of your gelt believe you me. He seems like what they call a “jake guy” but trust me I am watching him like a hawk.



After prudently laying low for a week or so just to make sure the bulls weren’t sniffing around me I think you will be pleased to know I have been working on forming a new gang.

I finally decided on just two of the girls from Miss C------’s, because most of the girls in that school as I told you are drips and a lot of them are filthy rich and they just don’t care about making good money. The h--- with them I say.

I will tell you about these two girls.

One is Elizabeth M--------, this English girl. I noticed with my eagle eye that she was always stealing other girls’ pencils and candy and anything else that wasn’t nailed down, and I thought: this girl has potential. Also she speaks very “poshly” like one of those English ladies in the movies, so everybody naturally thinks butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth when obviously to anyone with two eyes in their head she’s a born thief. Even though she is English she is not a snob or stuck up at all. Like me she hates all the snobby stuck up little b-----s at Miss C---------’s and the teachers too I think you’ll like her and I am sure she will adore you.



The other girl is a Negro girl from Africa, Ruth N’Z-------- she’s here because her father is some big deal at the U.N. But one day this nasty girl I won’t dignify her by her name by writing it, called Ruth a dirty n----r and Ruth pushed her against the wall and told her to take it back or she would scratch her eyes out. The girl was so terrified of course she immediately took it back, and right away I thought this is a girl we could use in my new gang. So I talked with her, and she said yes because she believes in the redistribution of wealth.



So this was a good start. But I knew I needed something else in the gang, because even though I think I and Elizabeth and Ruth can handle ourselves the fact remains that we are all twelve year-old girls of rather slender frames and meager height.

What we needed was some “muscle”.



And fortunately one day I was sitting reading in Washington Square Park when I saw three Italian boys try to steal a brand new vanilla ice cream cone from this very small kid with an almost shaved head. I couldn’t believe it, but in a blur of punches and kicks and at least one head-butt this little fellow with the almost bald head had laid all three of these ruffians on the pavement, crying and begging for mercy, all the while with one hand holding his ice cream cone safely out of harm’s way. Ignoring their sobs the small bald lad as calm as day just walked away licking his ice cream cone.

Quickly I closed my book, it’s this French volume I think you might enjoy if only you could read French, the letters of this old time French lady called Madame de Sévigné, which were recommended to me by my Auntie M-------t’s friend P----e, quite fascinating, and I ran after the little bald boy and offered to buy him another ice cream cone if he would hear my proposition.

I bought him one and one for myself, both vanilla, with red sprinkles, and he told me his sad tale of life in the slums.

I in turn told him I liked his gumption and the cut of his jib, and I asked him to join the new gang I was forming. He agreed without a moment’s hesitation and now at last our gang had its needed “muscle”. I will not of course write his last name out, but we call him “Sluggo”, because of his remarkable resemblance to the comic strip character of that name. He is only eleven and as I have said quite small but believe you me this boy packs a wallop.



This brings us to the last member of our new gang, whom we call “the Monkey”.

Oh dear there is the bell heralding the end of recess. I shall quickly dash across the street and post this as I have a busy day and night ahead of me, and let’s hope a profitable one.

More on “The Monkey” later, but all I will tell you for now is you never saw anyone climb up a drainpipe like this kid.



I remain,
as ever,
your pal,
G-------n



PS I have decided to cut you in on an equal share of everything the new gang takes in on account of you were such a stand-up gal and kept your lips buttoned. Hold fast, my dear, this year in the mountains will pass with celerity and I am sure you will return bronzed and fit and ready as ever for action.

PPS Don’t forget let me know if you want me to get Tommy S-------  to put this extra gelt from your interest “out on the street”. If not I will keep it for you in the strongbox in the hatbox in my Auntie’s closet I told you about but it seems a shame to me let the gelt just sit there when it could be earning you more gelt but that’s just me.



****


This story originally appeared in an earlier version, and splendidly illustrated by rhoda penmarq, in
New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.


(Because of an attack of stomach virus, your editor has not yet quite finished transcribing the latest chapter of Arnold Schnabel’s Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece Railroad Train to Heaven©, but rest assured Arnold will be back next week with an all-new thrilling episode!)