Saturday, August 16, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 406: boozehounds


Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, who has found himself trapped in the world of a strangely obscure “paperback original” novel titled Rummies of the Open Road

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; if you have way too much time on your hands you may go here to return to the all-but-forgotten beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume memoir.)

“Just when you’re beginning to think that you may have some faint inkling of where Arnold Schnabel is going with his narrative he opens a door and shoves you headlong into yet another completely unexpected but infinitely fascinating universe.” – Harold Bloom, in
The Cosmopolitan Literary Supplement.


For a moment no one said anything. 

I could tell Laughing Lou was more than ready to continue to force us to nudge him along. Someone had to do it, so I plunged in.

“So you know why we’re here,” I said.

“Well, ‘why’ is a very loaded word, isn’t it?” he said. “Ha ha! But let me put it this way: I know how you got here.”



“You do?” I said.



“Oh, ho, ha ha! Yes indeed, my friend, I do indeed. Ha ha!”

“That we’ve been –”

I hesitated. It sounded so stupid just to say it all out loud.

“Go on,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“That we have been – transported into the world of a paperback novel,” I said.

“Sentence fragment,” said Horace.

“Shut up, Horace,” I said.

“Jeeze,” he said. “I was only pointing it out. I mean, you’re supposed to be a poet –”

“Poets are allowed to use sentence fragments,” said Ferdinand. “You know that, Horace.”

“Well, yes, I suppose you’re right,” he said, but he seemed to be saying it grudgingly.

“And besides,” said Laughing Lou, “not that I’m a literary fella myself like you and Arnie here – ha ha! – but if this is a fictional universe, then isn’t dialogue allowed to be ungrammatical, as a representation of the way people actually speak?”

“He’s right, Horace,” said Ferdinand, who had settled down and was sitting on the rim of his whiskey glass. “Come on, you’re a published author – own up.”

“Okay,” said Horace. “I stand corrected. But still I think the speech of a poet-character like Arnold might be a little more – shall we say – elegant than that of your average –”

“Horace,” I said. “I apologize for telling you to shut up. That was rude of me. But can we change the subject?”

“Fine. I could care less,” he said.

“Couldn’t care less,” said Ferdinand.

“Whatever,” said Horace.

“Anyway,” I said, “getting back to the subject.”

“Great, get back to the subject,” said Horace. “And I won’t even mention the sentence fragment you just uttered.”

“Okay,” I said. “Thank you, Horace.” I turned to Laughing Lou. “So you knew all along that we were – we were –“

What were we?

Exiles,” said Laughing Lou. “Castaways in the world of a trashy drugstore paperback.”

“Okay, now hold on a minute,” said Horace. “Right there. What’s this about trashy?”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “I see I have touched a nerve.”

“I’ll have you know I don’t consider my novels to be 'trashy',” said Horace. “Populist, perhaps. Demotic, maybe. Not filled with highfalutin descriptions that no one wants to read, and ten-dollar words that no one ever uses in real life – sure. Not devoid of something so old-fashioned as plot and story – yes, I plead guilty. But on the other hand, if you’re looking for good honest yarns meant for regular working men and women, and decidedly not for ivory-tower Ivy League professors, well –”

“You talk like you actually wrote this novel we’re in,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“Well, it is my novel!” said Horace. “I mean, it’s got my name on it, right under the title –”

“Ha ha! Yes, so it does!”
 
“Damn straight it does. 'Alcoholics in the Alley, by Horace P. Sternwall' –”

 
“What was that title again?” said Laughing Lou.

“Um,” said Horace, “Wait, no, that wasn’t it. Drunks in the Street. No. Boozehounds of the Great Highway?”

 
'Boozehounds of the Great Highway?” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Boozehounds of the Great Highway? Really?”

Horace looked at me.

“Arnie, help me out, I’m having a mental block.”

Rummies of the Open Road,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “Rummies of the Open Road. By Horace P. Sternwall. Me.”

“Except,” said Laughing Lou, “ha ha! – you didn’t actually write it, did you Horace?”

“Well –” said Horace.

“You paid that old man Mr. Philpot for the book, didn’t you?”

“Well, okay – so what if I did?” said Horace. “It’s still my book if I paid him for it –”

“Except,” said Laughing Lou, “ha ha! – except that you didn’t come up with all the scratch, did you? So he trapped you in the pages of the book.”

 
“Well, okay,” said Horace, “something like that, but like I told Arnie here, I was gonna pay the old bastard –”

“In fact,” said Laughing Lou, “you were suspended in the pages of the aforesaid paperback, a disembodied consciousness  surrounded by nothingness until Arnold here happened to come along, and –”

“Okay, okay –” said Horace.
 

“Until poor innocent Arnie came along,” said Laughing Lou, “and you talked him into opening the book – didn’t you? In that lavatory?”

“Yeah, yeah –” said Horace. 
 
“Talked him into opening the book,” said Laughing Lou, “which against his better judgment he did. Casting his eyes upon those printed words within. And by so doing – by the magical mystical act of reading – he transformed you into a living and breathing character in that book!”

“Okay, fine,” said Horace.

“Because what is a book without a reader?”

“I don’t know,” said Horace. “But I think you’re going to tell me.”

“Ha ha!,” said Laughing Lou, for what seemed like the millionth time. “A book without a reader, my friend, is a world – no, it is a universe – that has not yet been created!

“Oh. Really?” said Horace.

 
“Yes, really,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Because you see a book has two creators: the author; and just as important: the reader. Ha ha!”

“Very, like, profound,” said Horace.

 
He picked up his glass of whiskey and drank the couple of fingers that were still in it.

“Have some more bourbon, Horace,” said Laughing Lou. “Help yourself.”

“Thanks, I will,” said Horace.

He picked up the bottle and poured himself another four or five fingers.

“You owe this man a tremendous debt,” said Laughing Lou, and he pointed his big fat finger at me. “He it was who brought your book, and you, to life.”

“Okay,” said Horace. “Fine. Thanks, Arnold. Sincerely.”

 
He took another drink of whiskey, but a shorter one this time.

“Unfortunately for friend Arnold, though,” said Laughing Lou, “through this act of creation he too became a character in your sordid little potboiler.”

“Look, do we have to open up that whole can of worms again?” said Horace. “Arnold and I have already been through all that, and I assured him I had like no intention of trapping him in the world of my novel –”

Your novel, Horace?”

“Okay, fine,” said Horace. “The novel I paid Philpot to create.”

“But not enough,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Otherwise you wouldn’t be stuck here in it. Nor would poor Arnold. Exiled. So far from his home. In a cheap tawdry paperback.”

“All right, all right! Jeeze,” said Horace. “Lighten up a little. And anyway, what’s with all this expository dialogue, or monologue I should say? It’s boring –”

“And Ferdinand!” said Laughing Lou. “Friend fly – who innocently went looking for his friend Arnie when he took a suspiciously long time in the john, and found the previously mentioned facilities empty – empty that is except for this ‘paperback original’ novel – oh, what was its title again, Horace?”

“Um, uh,” said Horace, “uh, Winos of the Wasteland? Or –”

Rummies of the Open Road,” said Laughing Lou.

“That’s what I meant to say,” said Horace.

“And this ballsy little fly, he sees this - this book – lying open on the pisser floor, and does he hesitate?”

“I did not,” said Ferdinand.

“He flies down into that forbidding jungle of printed words and finds himself also transported, body and soul, into this world.”

“Hey, anything for a friend,” said Ferdinand.

That is a true friend,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“Okay,” said Horace. “So Arnie and Ferdinand are great guys, and I’m a jerk, because it’s all on account of me that they’re stuck in this world.”

“Nobody’s calling you a jerk, Horace,” said Laughing Lou.

“Well, it seemed like you were implying it.”

“Maybe it’s time for you to lighten up, my friend,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!” 


I took another drink of my ale, and put the bottle down. It was empty.

“Laughing Lou,” I said, “may I ask how you know all this?”

“You may indeed,” he said. “Ha ha! Yes, sir, you may indeed ask! Ha ha!”

But then he said nothing. He was going to make me ask again, now that he had given me permission to ask. And it suddenly occurred to me that if I was a character in a cheap paperback novel there was no reason at all why I had to act like the Arnold Schnabel I had always been. I could act like what I now was, a character in a cheap novel.

So I did something completely out of character for Arnold Schnabel, for myself. 

 
I made a fist with my right hand, raised it above my head and banged it down hard on the table.

The three empty beer bottles on the table all fell over, the ashtrays leapt up, the whiskey glasses also all jumped up an inch, spilling varying amounts of their contents, Ferdinand zipping up from his glass lest he should be drenched in bourbon, and the open bottle of Heaven Sent bourbon almost toppled over, but Horace quickly reached out and grabbed it.

I stood up, knocking my chair over to the floor.

“God damn it!” I yelled. “’Laughing Lou!’ Laughing Lou! What’s so goddam funny, anyway?”

“Arnie,” said Horace, “please, we’re guests here.”

“Ha ha, go Arnie!” said Ferdinand, buzzing merrily around above the table.


“Listen, ‘Laughing Lou’,” I said. “We want some answers, and we’re sick and tired of having to pry each word out of you!”

“Wow,” said Laughing Lou.

“Now answer my question,” I said. “How did you know all this about us? And quit beating around the bush.”

“Now you’re acting like a character!” said Laughing Lou. “By George! A strong, dynamic character, too! Ha ha!”

“Answer my goddam question, you big annoying fat slob,” I said.

“Ha ha!” he said.

“And will you please stop saying ‘ha ha’ all the time?” I said. “It’s – it’s –”

 
“Infuriating?” said Ferdinand, who was hovering around the center of the table.

“Yes – infuriating!” I said.

“But it’s a character trait,” said Laughing Lou. “That’s why I’m called Laughing Lou. Ha ha! Ha ha! Ha ha!

“All right, stand up,” I said.

“May I ask why?” he said.

“Because I’m going to knock you down,” I said, “you big, fat, annoying –”

“What?” he said.

“Arnie, please,” said Horace.

“I think ‘fuck’ is the word you’re looking for, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “As in big fat annoying fuck.”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “My God, you fellows are characters! Yes indeed! Oh, look,” he said.

“What?” I said.

He held up his enormous cigar, in his left hand. “My Churchill’s gone out. Let me just get the old gold-plated Ronson out and relight it before you give me a roundhouse haymaker and knock me out for the count.”

He put his right hand inside his suit jacket, and then he brought out a revolver, a snubnose, and he pointed it at me.

“Oh! Look,” he said. “It’s not my gold-plated Ronson. It’s my nickel-plated Colt. Chambered for .38 Special. Do an awful lot of damage at this range. Ha ha! Now pick up that chair.” 


I stood there.

 
“I said pick up the chair,” said Laughing Lou.



“I’ll pick it up,” said Horace, and he started to slide his own chair away from the table.

“You sit right there, Horace,” said Laughing Lou.

“Okay,” said Horace.

“Now pick up that chair, Arnie,” said Laughing Lou. “Or maybe I’ll decide to shoot Horace.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Horace.

Laughing Lou was looking at me, but now he had the gun pointed at Horace.

“Maybe I’ll just wing him,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Put one in his elbow. That’s got to hurt!”

“Arnie, please,” said Horace.

I turned around, and I set the chair upright again, standing beside it, with my right hand on the chair back.

“Good man,” said Laughing Lou. He was pointing the gun at me again now. “Now sit down, please, Arnold.” 


I stood there, with my hand on the back of the chair.

 
“Oh, I get it!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! You’re thinking of swinging that chair over the table at me, aren’t you? Thinking the sudden movement will make me flinch and fire into the air.”

To be honest, that was exactly what I had been thinking.

“Arnie, don’t do anything stupid,” said Horace.

“Oh, let him try it if he must,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Who knows, maybe it will work. That sort of thing sometimes does in this sort of novel. Ha ha!”

 
He was still pointing the gun at me, in the general direction of my chest.

 
“Arnie,” said Horace, “please, sit down. Let’s all be friends.”

 
“Right,” said Laughing Lou. “No reason we can’t be friends. Now sit the fuck down.”

“Fuck him, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, who was still hovering above the table, at the height of the top of my head. “He’s not going to shoot you.”

“Oh, am I not?” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Shall we see?”

He cocked the hammer of the pistol.

Then I saw the thin black line of Ferdinand flying like a shot right into Laughing Lou’s face, into his left eye, the eye that was closest to me, Laughing Lou flinched, his head snapping back and to the right, Ferdinand bouncing away from his face just as I swung the chair over the table at Laughing Lou’s head.


(To be continued, with grateful thanks for the continued sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Many is the morning I have staggered into Bob’s with a brutal hangover, a marble copybook and a few #2 pencils, and emerged after lunch with a new short story or a chapter or two of a novel, my creativity spurred – and my physical malaise alleviated – by Bob’s excellent ‘basement-brewed’ house bock.” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of the best-selling novel Sidewalks of Despair.)



(Illustration by James Avati. Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a quite possibly current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; all contents vetted and approved by the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA.)

Friday, August 8, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 405: way out


We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here at a roadhouse barroom in the world of an extremely rare and obscure “paperback original” novel titled Rummies of the Open Road

(Please click here to read our previous chapter; if you have positively nothing better to do with your life then you might as well go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 73-volume autobiography.)

“When one enters the universe of Arnold Schnabel one enters not just one world, but a multitude of worlds, each containing multitudes of worlds within their respective worlds.” – Harold Bloom, in
The Maxim Literary Supplement.


“So, I see you and young Trixie were getting along swimmingly,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“This guy and the dames,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around in a merry way, “the chicks love him!”

“Is that so?” said Horace.

“What, you kidding me?” said Ferdinand. “With a stick he beats them off. With a club! Right, Arnie?”

“So, Laughing Lou,” I said, blatantly changing the subject because I really just didn’t care anymore about being so boringly polite all the time, “you said you had a quiet place we could sit, and – uh –”

And what?



“And chat,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Follow me!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

He stuck his enormous cigar in his mouth, and with the enormous open hand that wasn’t holding his bottle of Tree Frog ale he gave me a mighty blow on the shoulder, but I saw it coming and was able to roll with it as I had learned to do from boxing in the army, and so I only stumbled a few feet to the left against some people at the bar instead of falling down completely.

I apologized to these people, who seemed to take the accident in good grace when they saw I was in Laughing Lou’s company. He and Horace and Ferdinand had already headed off down the length of the bar, and I followed them.

The combo was still playing, and the woman in black at the piano was still singing, another sad song I had never heard before, and again she seemed to be gazing across that crowded smoky barroom at me as she sang:


There he goes, the lonely fella,
But where he is going he knows not;
Why he goes, he couldn’t tell ya –
Out of the fire and into the pot…
And there she went again, singing about me, and in a sense I knew I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t; in fact I found it disconcerting. She sang another verse as I made my way down the bar.
There he goes, the pathetic jerk
His brain always churning and bubbling;
He’s just not cut out for any useful work

Chaps like him can be awfully troubling…
Laughing Lou made a left turn at the corner of the bar, Horace and Ferdinand followed him, and I followed them. After all, I had nowhere else to go.

The lady in black continued to sing, behind my back, singing about me:


There he goes, that lonely sad guy,
On the road to a place called nowhere; 

So say farewell to him, say goodbye,
He has no choice but to go there...
Following Laughing Lou’s lead we next turned right, went past a hallway that seemed to lead to a kitchen, and then we came to a door with a sign saying “PRIVATE”. Laughing Lou had taken that enormous cigar out of his mouth, but now he shoved it back in, put his hand into his jacket pocket, brought out a big steel ring of keys, and then turned to me.

“Hold my bottle of ale for me, will you, Arnie?”

I did as he asked, and he selected a key from his chain and unlocked the door. He pushed it open, reached in and switched on a light, then stood to the side and waved us inside.

I followed Horace and Ferdinand into this next room, and Laughing Lou was right behind me, putting the keys back into his pocket and closing the door.

I turned, and I saw him slide a barrel-bolt shut on the door, and then turn the switch on a deadbolt. The door had a security chain also, and he ran its bolt into its slide. Then he turned around and took the cigar out of his mouth.

“Gotta keep the hoi polloi out,” he said. “I leave that door unlocked every drunk out there will be stumbling in here, trying to crash our little ‘boy’s party’ – ha ha!”



He held his hand out for his bottle of ale, I handed it to him, and he waved at the brightly-lighted room behind us with his cigar.

“My sanctum sanctorum,” he said. “Ha ha!”

He pointed his cigar at the left side of the room.

“You got your fully stocked wet bar over there, with a Frigidaire filled with fine beers and ales. French champagne, too, the good stuff, not that cheap domestic bilge water, ha ha!”


Then he pointed to the right.

“You got your regulation pool table over here, in case you want to run a rack or two. Ha ha! Hi-Fi set over there the other side of the table, with shelves and shelves of the finest music ever recorded.” He turned to me, looking as if he were genuinely curious. “What do you like, Arnold? You look like you have discerning taste. Charlie Parker? Pee Wee Russell? Lady Day?”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“Name somebody. If I have it we’ll play it.”

I drew a blank.

“Someone,” he said. “Anyone?”

“Do you have any Jackie Gleason albums?” I said.



“You like Gleason?”



(I neither liked nor disliked Jackie Gleason’s music, but my mother had several of his albums she had got with green stamps from the Acme, and Gleason’s name was the first thing I thought of.)

“Yes,” I said, because it was easier to say yes, and less boring, than to tell the truth.


“People tell me I remind them of Jackie Gleason,” he said. “On account of I’m a big man, I guess.”

“Um,” I said. What else could I say? That he wasn’t big and fat?



“There’s just one little problem,” he said.

I didn’t say anything. I figured there were probably many little problems, and many big ones, too.

“You want to know what that little problem is?” he said.

I knew, even I knew, that this was a rhetorical question, and one which, if I were to respond honestly to it, would only result in more and deeper tedium than if I lied, so I said, “Sure.”

“I don’t think I actually in point of fact have any of Gleason’s records,” he said. 

He paused, waiting I suppose for some sort of response from me. I don’t know why, but I kept him waiting. 

“I hope you’re not offended,” he said at last.

“No,” I said.

“Really?” he said.

“Really,” I said.

“I have nothing against Gleason’s music you understand,” he said, “nothing at all. And as for his ability as an artiste, both comic and dramatic, I think he is nonpareil. However, for that sort of music, you know, classical type music with violins and all, I gotta tell ya, I’m just more of a Mantovani man myself. Please don’t take this as a personal attack on your taste."

“I don’t,” I said. And then, throwing him a bone, and besides, I was bored with the subject: “Anyway, I have poor taste in music.”

“Ha ha!” he said. “A self-effacing poet! I love it! So how about if I put some Mantovani on the Hi-Fi?”

“Mantovani would be great,” I said, although this was only a name to me, and, anyway, it was true, I had poor taste in music, or maybe it would be truer to say I had no taste in music.



“Well, I’m glad we got that fucking settled,” said Ferdinand. “Now how about some whiskey?”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “So Mantovani’s okay with you fellows too?”

“Oh, yes, Mantovani’s fine,” said Horace, with a somewhat serious-looking expression on his face, as if he were attempting to give the impression that he cared.

“Ferdinand?” said Laughing Lou. “Mantovani all right?”

“Sure, great Lou,” said Ferdinand, and I could tell he was getting annoyed. “Fine.”


“Then we’ll play some Mantovani!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!” He waved toward a round wooden table in the middle of the room, with four red-upholstered armchairs ranged around it. “Everybody, please, grab a chair.”

“Me too?” said Ferdinand.

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Just sit anywhere you like, my tiny friend, unless of course you prefer to buzz merrily around?”

“Oh no, I’ll sit,” said Ferdinand. “I’ll sit on the edge of a rocks glass filled with whiskey if you don’t mind.”

“Ha ha! But of course my small buddy!” said Laughing Lou. “Please, sit, fellas. Make yourselves at home.”



Horace looked at me, I looked at him, and we went over to the table and sat down with our bottles of Tree Frog ale. Horace grabbed the chair facing the door, I took the one across from him. There were four glass ashtrays on the table, and Horace reached over and moved one closer, tapped his cigar ash into it.

Ferdinand buzzed around in a circle over the table.



“Any kind of whiskey for me, Lou,” he said.

“How about some more Heaven Sent bourbon?” said Laughing Lou, who had gone over to the Hi-Fi and was looking through the shelves of record albums on the wall next to it.

“Heaven Sent bourbon would be wonderful,” said Ferdinand.

“Here’s a good one,” said Laughing Lou. He put down his bottle of ale and held up a record album in its sleeve. “Mantovani Plays Songs for Desperate Lovers.”



“That’s great, Lou,” said Ferdinand. “Now put it on and then about that whiskey.”

“Yes, of course,” said Laughing Lou. He took the album out of its sleeve and put it on the turntable. “Just a moment –”



Ferdinand flew onto the porch of my ear and whispered, but rather loudly:

“I’m gonna kill this guy he doesn’t quit horsing around and break out the whiskey.”


“What’s that?” said Laughing Lou.

“I said I sure could go for some good whiskey right around now,” said Ferdinand. “I mean, when you get a minute.”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “You scamp!”

Horace had been gulping his ale out of the bottle and now he put down the empty bottle with a sigh.


“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “I’ll bet Horace would like some more whiskey, too, wouldn’t you, old man?”

“Yes,” said Horace. “Some whiskey would be nice, thank you.”



“Jesus fucking Christ,” whispered Ferdinand in my ear. “The shit you have to go through to get a drink sometimes.”
“What’s that?” said Laughing Lou.

“Nothing,” said Ferdinand. “Please, put the record on.”



“Just a sec here,” said Laughing Lou. He flicked some switches and some music with a lot of violins came on. He picked up his bottle of ale again and turned to us. “You dig that sound?” he said. “Ha ha! Got this Hi-Fi at Sears. A Philco, top of the line –”

“Yeah, it’s great,” said Ferdinand, yelling over the music. “Now, about that bourbon?”

“Oh! Ha ha! Yes, of course!” said Laughing Lou, and he went lumbering across the room to the bar.

I suppose I should add some more description to this room we were in. The walls were of shiny pale wood paneling, and on the walls were a lot of animal heads mounted on plaques – bears, mountain lions, what I supposed were elk or deer or moose, what did I know? At the opposite side of the room from the doorway was a large broad desk, with some padded arm chairs in front of it, and one especially big chair behind it. In back of the desk were French windows with dark trees beyond, and a starry nighttime sky above the trees.

Ferdinand was still in my ear.

“Actually I hate Mantovani,” he said. “But I do like whiskey.”

“What did he say?” said Horace.

Ferdinand flew over to Horace’s ear, and I heard Ferdinand whispering something.

“Oh, you are naughty!” said Horace, in a low voice.

“What’s that?” called out Laughing Lou from the bar.



“He said where’s that whiskey!” said Ferdinand.

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Coming up! Anyone want some ice? Soda? Branch water”

“Just the bottle and some glasses, my friend,” said Ferdinand. “We are not picky, are we, boys?”

“Oh, no, indeed no,” said Horace. “Not picky at all! Just straight for me, thanks, Lou.”

“Arnold?” yelled Laughing Lou. “Ice? Soda? Water?”

“I’m good with my ale,” I said. “No whiskey for me, thank you.”

“Bring him a glass, Lou,” said Ferdinand. “I know this guy. He plays hard to get with the booze, but he can put it away with the best of them.”

“Ha ha!” yelled Laughing Lou. “A man after my own heart!”

I took a drink of my Tree Frog ale, out of the bottle. It tasted good, but then, like Horace, I wasn’t picky.



Laughing Lou finally came over to the table, carrying a chrome or chrome-like cocktail tray with a full bottle of Heaven Sent bourbon on it, four squat rectangular glasses, and his bottle of Tree Frog ale. He put the tray down on the table, opened the bottle, and filled each glass about a quarter of the way full, in other words about a quadruple shot in each. He recapped the bottle and then put one glass of bourbon each before me and Horace. He put a third glass at the empty place to my left.

“One for the little guy,” he said.

“Thanks,” said Ferdinand. “At long last. Thank you.”

And he flew down into the whiskey without another word.

Lou took the fourth glass and his bottle of ale and sat down at the empty chair to my right. He pulled an ashtray closer to his place and tapped his cigar ash into it.

“So, gentlemen,” he said. He turned his whiskey glass around on its base, turning it first one way and then the other. “Now that we’re alone, at last, and with libations to hand – shall we have a little chat? Ha ha!”

Horace had gulped down half his whiskey, and he put the glass down on the table looking much more relaxed than he had a moment ago.



“Sure, Lou,” he said. “What shall we chat about?”

Ferdinand didn’t say anything, he was busy lapping up whiskey.

I didn’t say anything either, but I did take another good gulp of my ale.



“Let’s talk about how we might be able to – help each other out,” said Laughing Lou.

I looked at Horace. Now he didn’t look so relaxed.

Ferdinand just kept lapping his whiskey, and I thought that, yes, I would probably soon have to take care of him again, something I was getting used to; but after all, he was my friend.

“You see I know what you fellows want,” said Laughing Lou, and now he wasn’t laughing.

“You mean whiskey and ale?” said Horace. “’Cause I could go for another one of these Tree Frogs if you got any back here, just to wash the whiskey burn away, ya understand.”

“I know what you want even more than whiskey and ale,” said Laughing Lou. “And, yes, ha ha, don’t say it, even more than some free or reasonably-priced tail, ha ha! No, I know what you want even more than that.”

“More than whiskey, ale, and tail?” said Horace. “You’re joking, right?”

“Oh no, I am not joking, sir, not joking at all.” Laughing Lou picked up his bottle of ale. It didn’t look as if he had drunk from it yet, but now he lifted it up and drank, gulping three or four times, and then finally laid the bottle down, empty. He sighed, and then he spoke. “Allow me if you will to ask you this.”

But then he didn’t say anything.

“What’s that, Lou?” said Horace, because obviously someone had to say something.

“Allow me to ask you this,” said Laughing Lou.

“Um, yes?” said Horace.

“My question is,” said Laughing Lou, “how would you three stout fellows like –”


Again he paused.



“Yes,” said Horace.



“How would you like,” said the annoying big fat man – and then, after another pause – “a way out?”

Another silence followed. It was obvious that Laughing Lou was in no hurry to get to his point if he had one.

“Well,” said Horace, I suppose because it was obvious that Laughing Lou had no intention of going on until he was prompted, “I guess that depends on what you mean by ‘a way out’.” He looked at me, as if I could be any help. “Right, Arnie?”

I didn’t say anything.

“Oh, I think Arnold knows what I mean when I say ‘a way out’,” said Laughing Lou. “Don’t you, Arnold? Ha ha!”



He took a drink of his whiskey. Yes, he was in no hurry, and there was nothing to do but wait, either that or get up and leave, but, as I have said, I had nowhere else to go.

He laid the glass down, and gave an exaggerated-seeming sigh. 



“Yes, I am offering you three fellows a way out –” he said, and then paused again, and I admit I had sudden urge to scream, but I kept it in.



He was being so annoying that even Ferdinand took a break from slurping his whiskey and jumped up to the edge of his glass.

“Jesus Christ, man,” he said. “Will you just fucking say it! A way out of what?”

“Ha ha!” said Lou. “I am offering you three stout chaps a way out –”

Again, a pause.



I looked at Horace. He picked up his glass again and drank, then laid the glass, empty, down on the table.

Laughing Lou continued to stretch out his pause, and I had to pull my hand away from the table to keep it from grabbing the whiskey bottle and smashing the man over the head with it.



“What?” screamed Ferdinand. 


Horace suddenly reached out and grabbed the bourbon bottle, unscrewed the cap, and poured himself another quadruple.

“Yes, help yourself, please,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”



Horace put down the bottle, tossed its cap on the table, picked up his glass, and drank. He laid the glass down, half its contents gone, and then said, “A way out of what, Lou?”

“A way out –” said Laughing Lou.

“Yes!” yelled Ferdinand, “a way out, a way out – a way out of fucking what?



Laughing Lou smiled, and then just before all hell might have broken loose, he spoke.

“A way out of this world,” he said.



He didn’t laugh.


(Continued here, thanks in part to the generous sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Beat the heat with a cold mug of Bob’s famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock, then, what the heck, have another!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author, poet, and public speaker.)



(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find what may be a reasonably-current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; nihil obstat: Bishop John J. “Big Jack” Graham. D.D.)




Friday, August 1, 2014

"
Gwendolyn and Mr. Blythe”


Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Underappreciated Literature, Olney Community College; editor of “Say Hey to All the Mob for Me”: the Prison Letters of Horace P. Sternwall; the Olney Community College Press.



(Original illustrations by rhoda penmarq  for penmarqstudios international and pangalactic productions, ltd.)




"
Gwendolyn and Mr. Blythe”
by Horace P. Sternwall



“Now you be good, darling,” said Auntie Margaret.

“I’ll be good, Auntie,” said Gwendolyn.

“Read a book, and be sure to go to bed by ten if I’m not back by then.”

“Oh, I doubt you’ll be back by ten, my dear,” said Serge.

“Not bloody likely,” said Pierre.

“Do mind your language, Pierre,” said Auntie Margaret.

“So sorry, my dear,” said Pierre.

“Would you like me to have Mortimer check on you, darling?” said Auntie Margaret.

“I don’t think that will be necessary, Auntie,” said Gwendolyn.

“If you want anything to eat, just call room service.”

“We really should dash, dear Margaret,” said Serge. “Tommy Sullivan don’t like to be kept waiting.”

“Tommy Sullivan will wait quite as long as he has to,” said Auntie Margaret.

Serge shrugged. He never argued with Auntie Margaret, and neither did Pierre. No one ever argued with Auntie Margaret, and why would they? She was the most beautiful woman Gwendolyn had ever seen, and someday Gwendolyn hoped to be just like her.

Auntie bent down and put her face next to Gwendolyn’s, and made a brief kissing movement with her luscious red lips.

Then she straightened up and turned to Serge and Pierre, who were standing there by the open door, both of them smoking cigarettes.

“All right, you mugs,” she said. “Let’s blow.”

“Soyez sage, ma petite,”
Pierre said to Gwendolyn.

“Je suis toujours ‘sage’!” said Gwendolyn.

“Indeed she is,” said Serge. “Do you want us to bring anything back for you, ma p’tite ange?”

“Nothing, thank you,” said Gwendolyn.

Ciao, darling,” said Auntie.

Ciao, Auntie Margaret,” said Gwendolyn.

The three of them filed out, Serge closed the door, and at last they were gone.

Gwendolyn waited five minutes, just to make sure they were clear of the lobby, then she took Auntie’s pink angora shawl off the dresser and Auntie’s pink leather purse and Jane Eyre and went out the door herself.


****


“Well, hello, little missy,” said Mortimer the elevator operator.

“Hi, Mortimer,” said Gwendolyn. “Lobby, please.”

“Lobby it is,” he said. He closed the grill-work doors of the elevator, pulled his great lever, and the cage began its slow and jolting descent.

They were almost to the second floor when suddenly Mortimer pulled his lever again and stopped the elevator with a jolt, but then he always stopped it with a jolt, just not usually between floors.

“Hey, wait a minute, missy,” he said. “Your Aunt Margaret just told me to keep an eye on you, and to make sure you didn’t get into any mischief.”

“I’m only going down to the lobby to read my book.” She held up the book for him to see. “See? Jane Eyre. Did you ever read it?”

“No, I gotta say I never did,” said Mortimer. “I did however see the movie with Mr. Orson Welles and Miss Joan Fontaine.”

“The book is ever so much better.”

“I don’t really have a whole lotta time for reading books,” said Mortimer.

“You should read it, Mortimer. It’s ever so good.”

“Well, maybe someday,” he said.

“Can you please start the car again now and take me down?”

“Ah, gee, missy, I told your aunt –”

“She told me I could go down to the lobby.”

“She did?”

“Yes. Girl Scout’s honor.”

“Well, okay, then. You promise you won’t run out onto the avenue or nothing?”

“Why ever would I want to run out into the avenue?”

“How do I know? I don’t know what little girls like to do.”

“I’m not a little girl. I’m twelve. Now start the car please. I’m becoming quite claustrophobic standing here.”

“Oh, all right. But just promise me you’ll stay in the lobby.”

“I promise, Mortimer.”

“Well, okay then.”

He pulled his lever once again and the car lurched and started again to descend.

Men, thought Gwendolyn. They really were just puppets to be bent to a woman’s will, just as Auntie Margaret said.


****


Once out in the lobby Gwendolyn immediately went over to where old Mr. Blythe sat in his usual place at one end of the faded old divan, next to the enormous rubber plant, which, like Mr. Blythe, seemed perpetually on the verge of death.

“Hello, Mr. Blythe,” she said.

“Hello, Gertrude,” said Mr. Blythe.

“Gwendolyn,” said Gwendolyn.

“Gwendolyn, yes,” said Mr. Blythe. “How are you, my dear?”

“Very well, thank you. How are you, Mr. Blythe?’

Mr. Blythe paused before answering. He paused so long that Gwendolyn started to wonder if he was going to reply to her polite question at all.

But finally he spoke.

“I am not in pain. And I’m still alive. At my age this is the best one can hope for.”

“Would you mind if I sat next to you and read my book?”

“Not at all, my dear.”

Gwendolyn climbed onto the divan next to Mr. Blythe, to his right. On the small table to Mr. Blythe’s left was a glass half full of Mr. Blythe’s usual sherry and a cut-glass ashtray in which sat his usual rather large Cuban cigar, one-third smoked.

“I can read aloud for you if you like, Mr. Blythe,” said Gwendolyn.

“No, that’s all right, thank you very much, Gertrude.”

He went into one of his long pauses, or maybe it wasn’t a pause, maybe he had said all he was going to say for the time being.

She had just opened her book to her place though when he did speak.

“I’ve read so many books you see, Gertrude. Thousands of books. They teem and swirl about in my brain, mixed in with all the thousands of people I’ve met, the millions of moments I’ve lived. All of it. All of it. It almost seems redundant to read at this point in my life.”

He reached over and picked up his cigar. He put it into his dry old lips and drew on it. A bit of ash fell onto his suit, but he didn’t seem to notice, or if he noticed he didn’t seem to care.

Soon, Gwendolyn knew, he would fall asleep, and that was when she would make her move.

She had lifted a five-spot the last time, and a tenner the time before. Tonight with any luck she would find a double sawbuck in his wallet, or, failing that, in his vest pocket, or one of the side pockets of his suit coat. The old fellow was always practically bristling with greenbacks, and he obviously had more of them than he knew what to do with.

Auntie Margaret always told her a girl had to look out for herself.

****

(Originally published in somewhat different form and with profuse illustrations by rhoda penmarq in "Tales of the Hotel St Crispian".)



(We will be back next week with a brand new chapter of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™!)


Friday, July 25, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 404: Trixie


Let’s rejoin our intrepid memoirist Arnold Schnabel here at the bar of a certain roadhouse existing somewhere in the world of an extremely obscure “paperback original” novel called Rummies of the Open Road

(Kindly go here to read our preceding episode; if you’ve finally gone quite hopelessly insane then you may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume autobiography.)

“Oh, what glorious joy to check the morning’s post and find that – yes! – the latest volume of Arnold Schnabel’s consummate
chef-d'œuvre has finally arrived!” – Harold Bloom, in The Sports Illustrated Literary Supplement.


“So, the disgusting little fly talks,” said Trixie. “I’m supposed to be impressed?”

“Look, sister,” said Ferdinand. “I came in here in good faith, with my two buddies, to get a load on, and maybe – just maybe – to meet a nice young lady. I did not come in here to be insulted.”

“Oh, yeah? And what are you gonna do about it, small fry?” said Trixie. 



“Don’t push me, blondie,” said Ferdinand.



“Oh, no?” she said. “Or what?”

“You don’t want to know what,” said Ferdinand.

He was still perched on the edge of my shot glass, but I could see he was quivering with anger and ready to attack at any moment.

Fortunately the big fat man, Laughing Lou, spoke up. I say fortunately because I had no idea what to do.

“Now, Trixie,” said Laughing Lou, “why don’t we just –”

“But it’s a goddam fly!” she said. “And he insulted me!”

“You started it, baby cakes,” said Ferdinand. “Calling me disgusting.”

“You are disgusting,” she said. “I don’t care if you can talk. You’re just a vile disgusting filthy little insect, and you don’t know how to talk to a lady, neither.”

“You ain’t no lady,” said Ferdinand.



“And you eat shit,” she said.

“Okay,” said Ferdinand. “You asked for it, doll face.”

I knew he was going to attack now, and the last thing I wanted was to get in a brawl here, so finally I spoke up.

“Ferdinand,” I said, realizing even before I said it how lame what I was going to say was going to be, “let’s stay calm.”

“Why should I stay calm?” he said. “I got feelings too, y’know.”


“I know,” I said. “But I’m sure Trixie didn’t mean, uh –”

“Oh, I meant every single word I said, all right,” she said. “He’s a disgusting shit-eating fly.”

“I have an idea,” said Horace, who had perhaps understandably held his peace throughout the foregoing exchange. “Why don’t we just start all over? Trixie, I’d like you – and Laughing Lou as well – to meet our tiny friend, Ferdinand.”

“So you’re friends with a goddam fly too, Horace?” she said.

“Ah, but dear Trixie, as you see, Ferdinand is not just any fly, but a miracle – a talking, sentient fly!”

“But he’s still a fly,” she said. “And flies are disgusting.”

“All right,” said Ferdinand, and he flew up off of the glass.

“Wait! Ferdinand –” I said.

“Don’t try to stop me, Arnie,” he said. “I’ve taken just about all I’m gonna take from this bitch.”

Horace stepped in front of Trixie.

“Ferdinand,” he said, holding up his hands, one of which held his cigar, and the other his shot of bourbon. “Please. We are guests here.”

“Get out of my way, Horace,” said Ferdinand.

“But –” said Horace. I could tell he was upset. The poor fellow hadn’t even drunk his shot yet, and I knew how much he had been looking forward to drinking alcohol. “But –”

“May I make a suggestion?” said Laughing Lou.

“Yes,” I said, emphatically, especially for me.

“I wonder if you two gentlemen, and our friend Ferdinand here –”

“The filthy fly,” said Trixie.

Laughing Lou shot a glance her way, but her forged on.

“I wonder if you fellows would care to join me somewhere more private, so we can all sit and have a nice quiet chat?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Sure, Laughing Lou,” said Horace.

“Yeah, great, go,” said Trixie. “Get them all away from me. Especially that fly.”

“Bitch,” said Ferdinand.

“Insect,” said Trixie. “Shit-eater.”

“Trixie,” said Laughing Lou, “that’s enough now.”

“Okay,” said Trixie. “For you I’ll clam up, Lou. For you. But for these two ham-and-eggers and their shit-eating friend? For them I don’t shut up. That fly says he’s got feelings? Well, I got feelings too, y’know. I’m a lady.”

“Whore, you mean,” said Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand,” I said. “Cool it.”

“Yes, heh heh,” said Horace. “Let’s all be civilized.”

“He comes near me I’m swatting him,” said Trixie. “I’ll poke him with my cigarette.”

She made a poking gesture with her cigarette.

“So,” I said, addressing Laughing Lou, “shall we, uh, you know –”

“Bust a move?” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Yes! But – we haven’t drunk our toast yet!”

“Shall we drink to peace and good will?” said Horace.

“Yes, ha ha!” said Lou. “Bottoms up!”

And so Horace, Laughing Lou and I all drank down our shots of Heaven Sent bourbon. I didn’t really want a shot, but I suppose I succumbed to peer pressure, and also to a desire just to move things along. I gasped, because even after all these years I still find it hard to drink down a shot of whiskey all at once. 


I leaned over and put the shot glass on the bar, which brought me very close to Trixie, and she said to me, in a quiet voice, “You just drank a shot of whiskey that a fly was drinking out of.”

 
“It’s okay,” I said.

I picked up one of the bottles of Tree Frog ale that were sitting there on the bar where the bartender had put them just a few minutes or hours or days before. 



“You don’t care about his germs?” she said.

“Well –” I said.

To tell the truth I did feel slightly disgusted, now that she had mentioned it, but I decided just to forget about it and to wash it down with a good gulp of ale, which I did.

Horace and Laughing Lou had both also put down their shot glasses and picked up their own respective bottles of Tree Frog ale.

“So, come with me, if you please, gentlemen,” said Laughing Lou. ”Ha ha!”

“Is there more booze where you’re taking us?” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, yes, there’s more booze, my friend, ha ha!” said Laughing Lou.

“Then lead on, big guy,” said Ferdinand.

“So, Trixie,” said Laughing Lou, “if you will excuse us –”

“Go,” she said. “Go. I’m fine right here.”

She raised the straw of her drink to her lips and slurped, and the rest of her multi-colored drink disappeared, except for the ice in the glass.

“Émile!” yelled Laughing Lou. “Another Pousse Café for Miss Trixie, on my tab!”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Lou!” yelled back the bartender.



Laughing Lou put his big cigar in his mouth and his arm in Horace’s arm, said, “Ha ha! This way, gents!” and pulled Horace away.

Ferdinand flew after them and I started to go but Trixie put her hand on my arm. She had put down her empty drink and she now held her cigarette in the hand that wasn’t gripping my arm.

“I thought we had something,” she said. “Between you and me. A vibration, like. A sort of electrical current. I thought maybe, just maybe, it could be love.”

I looked at her. I realized that she must be extremely drunk, and perhaps also insane, but still I felt a certain pity. After all, I had been a pathetic wretch my own self through most of my life.

“I’m really sorry,” I said. “But, you see, I have a girlfriend –”

“Of course you do,” she said. “All the decent guys have girlfriends. Or wives.”

“Well, maybe not all of them,” I said.

“You mean I still might meet a decent guy?” she said.

“Sure,” I said. “I mean, you’re a pretty girl, so, uh –”

“Pretty,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “You’re very, uh –”

“But what about my personality?”

“Oh,” I said, “well, you seem like a, uh –”

 
“What?”

“Um, I don’t know,” I said. “A nice girl?”

“No one has ever called me a nice girl,” she said. “Ever. Even when I was a little girl. Even then everybody said I was bad.”

“Well, uh –” I said.

“You gonna tell me all them people my whole life were wrong about me being bad? About me being a bitch? And some other words I won’t say on account of I’m a lady? You gonna tell me all them people were wrong?”

“It’s possible they judged you too – harshly,” I said.

“You really think so?” she said. “Don’t you find it a little hard-to-believe that all them people were wrong about me?”

She took a drag on her cigarette, staring at me as she did.

 
I paused before answering, trying to find a way not to lie.

“I’ve discovered that the most hard-to-believe things can actually be true,” I said.

“Yeah?” she said. “Like what?”

“Like that a fly can talk,” I said. “And that a man can travel not only into fictional worlds but to the world beyond death and back again, and also into the past and back.”

“You’ve done all that?” she said.

“So it would seem,” I said. “Unless I hallucinated it all.”

She paused, staring at me, and then she flicked the cigarette to the floor. I resisted the urge to step on it.



“And what about this?” she said. “Is this a hallucination?”

And before I could leap away she got up off her barstool, took me by both arms, pulled me to her, and kissed me on the lips. This lasted for several seconds, and I confess the experience was not unpleasant.

Then she drew her face away from mine and looked up into my eyes.

“That’s for what might have been,” she said. 



“Thank you?” I said.

“What might have been if you didn’t have a girlfriend. And if maybe I was a bigger goddam bitch than I am.”

“Um,” I said.

“Go,” she said.

“I mean, um,” I said.

“Go!”

She climbed back up onto her barstool.



“You heard me,” she said. “Scram.”



She turned and picked up a red plastic purse from the bar.

“Okay,” I said.

“Laughing Lou is waiting for you,” she said. She took out a compact mirror, and clicked it open. “Look at him over there.”

I turned, and it was true, Laughing Lou had stopped about ten feet away down the bar, still with his big arm in Horace’s. He took the cigar out of his mouth with the hand that held his bottle of Tree Frog ale, and he made a beckoning gesture to me.

“Well,” I said, “I’ll see you, uh –”

“Sure,” said Trixie. “Later, maybe.” She was looking at her lips in the compact mirror. She pressed her lips together, then ran her fingertip along the outside lines of her lipstick.



“Um,” I said.



“Now seriously, go,” she said. She snapped the compact shut, and dropped it back in her purse. She clicked the purse shut and then she looked at me. “I think Lou’s got a job for you.”

“A job?”

“Yeah, a job. You think he bought a couple of hard luck cases like you and Horace a round out of the kindness of his heart?”

“Well, I, uh –”

“We could have had something, Arnie,” she said. “You and me. We really could have had something. But ya know what? I think maybe this isn’t one of them kind of books. One of them books with true love. And romance. Too bad for me. And too bad for you. But who knows? Maybe, just maybe our paths will meet again. It all depends what kind of story this is. And like you said, that ain’t up to us.”



“Um,” was all I could manage, again.



“You got lipstick on your lips,” she said.

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.

Then she swiveled around on her barstool just in time to grab up the fresh multi-colored drink that the bartender had brought over.

I left her, and, taking my bottle of Tree Frog ale with me, I headed back down the bar to join Horace and Ferdinand and Laughing Lou.



There was only one way to find out what kind of story this was going to be.


(Continued here, and onward, unrelentingly.)



(Illustration by Charles Copeland. Please look to the right hand column of this page to find a  quite possibly current listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©.)