Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “the blues”

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the crowded and smoky Bob’s Bowery Bar in the company of “Nicky” (aka the prince of darkness and the angel “Gabe”...

(Kindly click here to read last week’s thrilling episode; if you would like to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir you may go here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a Kindle™ e-book or as a six-by-nine inch softcover old-fashioned actual “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“Nowhere in the vast world of literature do we find such a vast panoply of memorable characters (including both the son of God and the prince of darkness) as in the roiling and profuse canon of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Seventeen Magazine Literary Quarterly.

“Ha ha,” said Nicky, although he wasn’t laughing. “People. Pathetic, man. I hate them. I really fucking – fucking –”

He paused, and his body swayed forward a bit, his head drooping, but then he abruptly straightened up again. His mouth was agape, and his formerly pearly white teeth now looked as if they were coated with old and peeling yellow house paint. He licked his pale lips with a grey dry pointed tongue. He looked around as if wondering where he was, and then his gaze stopped on his fellow angel.

“So, Gabe,” he said, suddenly, “how’s it going, old buddy? It’s been like fucking millennia. Or was it yesterday, or even earlier tonight? What difference does it make. What is time?”

“Time don’t mean shit to such as you and I, my brother,” said Gabe.

“Ha ha,” said Nicky, but with little apparent mirth. “But, no, seriously, how is it going, man?”

“Going good, man,” said Gabe.

“You still blowing that horn I see.”

“Still blowing my horn,” said Gabe.

“Blowing that, blowing that – hey, like, how is it, like –” he pointed upward – “up there, man?”

“Beautiful, baby,” said Gabe, “beautiful.”

“I don’t want to hear that shit,” said Nicky.

“Then don’t ask the question, my brother.”

“I really do not need to hear that shit.”

“Sorry, dude.”

“Hey, pal, you may be a hotshot horn player in heaven and all, but I reign in Hell, motherfucker!”

“Good for you, daddy-o.”

“It is good for me. It’s great. Everything is great with me, man. Couldn’t be better. I’m fucking great.”

“You don’t look so great, my brother.”

Nicky paused again, staring at Gabe. I’ll be honest, I was glad he was talking to Gabe, and ignoring me, and I even entertained the idea of trying to slip quietly away if an opportune moment presented itself.

“I don’t feel so great,” said Nicky. “I’ll be honest with you. I feel like shit.”

“Maybe you need some rest, man,” said Gabe.

“Rest,” said Nicky. “Rest. Sleep. Oblivion. That would be nice. Oh, but hey, you know what they say, Gabriel? No rest for the wicked! Ha ha. No rest for the you know whatever. Hey, tell me something. The big guy, does he ever talk about me?”

“Uh, well,” said Gabe, “you know, man, he don’t talk a whole lot, you know how it is.”

“So he don’t talk about me.”

Gabe didn’t say anything. He had been holding his trumpet in his left hand, and he raised it up to chest level and began pressing the keys with the fingers of his right hand, nodding his head as if listening to a tune in his brain.

“Hey, well, fuck him!” said Nicky. “I don’t give a shit.” 

Suddenly he fixed his gaze on me, as if he had just remembered that I was there.

“Oh. Hey. Arnie,” he said. “I forgot. Because of that reefer you gave me. I was going to drag you down, down, down, to the everlasting, you know, whatevers –”

“Did you smoke it all?” I said.

“Yeah, smoked it all, finished it right there at the bar. The bartender didn’t even say anything.”

“He probably thought you were just smoking a hand-rolled regular cigarette,” I said. “And, hey, it’s so smoky in here, who’s going to notice a little reefer smoke?”

“Y’know, you’re absolutely right, Arnold,” said Nicky. “It’s so fucking smoky in here. I mean, not as smoky as you know, down there –”

He pointed to the floor.

“Hey, Nicky,” I said. “Look what I have.”

I took the partially smoked reefer that Gabe had given me out of my shirt pocket, and I proffered it to Nicky.

“Another reefer,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Take it.”

“For free?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Is it the same like wicked shit as that last one?”

“No,” I said. 

“Fuck it, man,” he said. “I want some of that wicked shit!”

“This shit is even better,” I said.

“Even better?”

“Much better. They call it Winged Stallion.”

“Winged Stallion?”

“Yes, because it’s like a great winged stallion soaring through the canyons of your mind.”

“No shit.”

“No shit,” I said, and Gabe chuckled.

“Gimme,” said Nicky.

He took the reefer, stuck it in his lips, began tapping his various pockets looking for his lighter, but Gabe was right on it, clicking his gold lighter alight in front of Nicky’s face.

“Oh, thank you, man,” said Nicky, taking the reefer away from his lips just long enough to say those words, and then he put it back into his mouth and let Gabe light him up. 

He "toked" deeply, once, twice, thrice, then held it in, staring bug-eyed at me with those bloodshot eyes, and I saw that they were in fact rimmed with blood, or something that looked like glistening bright red blood. Then he took his bloody gaze away from me and transferred it to Gabe, who had made his lighter disappear, and now held his trumpet higher, the fingers of his right hand dancing on the keys.

The jukebox was still playing through all of this, it was Cab Calloway now, singing “Minnie the Moocher”. The crowd of drunks surged and thronged mere inches from our little group.

After what must have been a full minute Nicky exhaled the reefer smoke, another great cloud, but I must report that it had a very unpleasant odor, like burning cow dung.

He went into a coughing fit, and specks of blood sprayed from his mouth. He pulled the filthy handkerchief from his suit-coat breast pocket, wiped his lips, I could see smeared blood on the handkerchief. He shoved it back into his pocket.

“You chaps want a toke?” he said, and he held out the reefer. The unlit end was wet with blood.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“I’m good, man,” said Gabe.

“More for me,” said Nicky, and he put the reefer to his bloody lips again, and drew deeply.

As he held in his smoke he gazed at me with those blood-rimmed eyes again. I wanted to get away, but I was afraid to move. I knew how volatile he was, I had witnessed his volatility on many occasions, and I didn’t want to get him upset if I could help it, or to do anything to remind him of his stated intentions towards me, that is to drag me screaming down to the everlasting fires of hell. Could Gabe help me? He was an angel after all, wasn’t he?

But then a very strange thing happened.

“Minnie the Moocher” ended, and in the relative quiet that followed with the absence of music – although drunkards continued to laugh and shout, but now as if they were far away, or as if they were in the background in a movie – Nicky slowly exhaled another great cloud of noxious smoke, and as it did he seemed to grow thinner, as if he were expelling his own inner corporeal host transformed into this foul exhalation. 

He looked at me, he was coughing again, spitting blood again, and I was afraid, because somehow I knew that if he was going to take me, then this was his last chance.

“Take another ‘toke’, I said. “It’s really wicked, you know, shit.”

“’nother toke,” said Nicky, his voice now sounding far away.

“Yeah, take a good one,” I said.

He took another good one, and then another, and another, and now the reefer was only a tiny red glowing stub. He popped it into his mouth. His Adam’s apple made a gulping movement. He stared at me, holding his breath.

“Hold it in as long as you can,” I said.

He held it in. 

I heard trumpet music, and I turned and it was Gabe, blowing on his horn, his cheeks billowed tightly, his brown skin shining through the smoke haze. 

I turned to look at Nicky again, and now his face had turned from urinal-pale to the color of ash. He was still staring at me, or at least in my direction, but then his coal-black eyes rolled up into his head, and the whites of his eyes were now all the color of blood. 

He exhaled, finally, another great cloud stinking of burning cow dung, of burning dirty underwear, of fields of rotting corpses, and through this cloud I saw Nicky fade away, into nothingness.

Gabe continued to blow his horn straight at the empty space where Nicky had stood, long, long, thick sad notes, the saddest music I had ever heard.

I guess it was what they call the blues.

(To be continued next week, unless there is no next week...)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “brother”

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in that fabled caravanserai Bob’s Bowery Bar, on one of the longest rainy August nights in the history of this or any other universe... 

(Please go here to read our immediately preceding episode; those who are interested in beginning at the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 71-volume memoir are invited to click here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, either as a Kindle™ e-book or a six-by-nine inch softcover tangible “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“An honesty surpassing even that of Pepys, a spirituality more than the equal of St. Augustine’s, a ready wit rivaling that of David Niven – Arnold Schnabel brings all of the above and more to the hearty table of the chroniclers of the self.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Soap Opera Digest Literary Supplement.

“Arnold, my man,” said, shouted, a vaguely familiar voice, over and through the noise of the drunkards and the music of the jukebox, which was now playing, if memory serves, Anita O’Day singing “Kick It”.

Great, I thought, now what, and turning to my right I saw a slim Negro man, with a goatee and porkpie hat, wearing a sharkskin suit, and carrying a trumpet under his left arm. 

Gabriel,” I said.

“’Gabe’, daddy, don’t be so formal.”

“Gabe,” I said.

“Slide me some skin, man,” he said, and he held his hand up, palm forward.

I remembered seeing a gesture like this in Johnny Staccato or maybe Peter Gunn, and so I awkwardly raised my own right hand.

“No, daddy, on the down side.”

“Down side –”

“Hold your paw down, daddy, palm up.”

I did what he told me to, and he brought his own hand down gracefully to mine, palm to palm, and then slid his hand and fingers slowly off of mine, causing the skin of my palm and the insides of my fingers to tingle, but in a pleasant way.

“I saw you at the booth over there,” he said. “Sitting with Josh and your crew. How’d you like our set?”

“Your ‘set’?”

“Our set, man. Our music. How’d you dig it?”

“Oh,” I said, the veil lifting, “that was you playing in the combo?”

“Sure was, man. How’d you dig it?”

“I, uh,” I said, hesitating, because even though I hadn’t disliked the music I hadn’t been paying much attention to it either, and I was hesitant to dissimulate to an angel, “I mean, yeah, it was really, um –”

“How’d you dig the canary?”

This term I had heard in the movies and read in the trashy novels I like to read about regular Joes trapped in a spiral of degradation and despair.

“The lady singer?” I ventured.

“Yeah, man, how’d you dig her?”

“She was really, uh, good,” I said.

“Just really ‘good’?”

“I mean, no, really great, fantastic,” I said, my scruples disappearing as they usually did when faced with the slightest resistance.

“That lady’s got more soul than a shoe store.”

“Heh heh,” I fake-chuckled, although I didn’t really actually understand his play on words at the time, in fact I’ve only just now figured it out.

“You want to smoke some muggles, man?”

“Muggles,” I said.

“Reefer, man.”

That had been what I suspected and feared he had meant.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“’Oh, no’? Come on, live a little, Arnie.”

“Here’s the thing, Gabriel –” I started to say.


“Here’s the thing, Gabe,” I said. “I just smoked some reefer. In fact I’ve been smoking a lot of reefers lately. Also drinking a lot. Also I had some laudanum. And I had this bock beer which was laced with the nectar of the gods. I even took some LSD earlier today.”

“All this in one day?”

“It’s been a very long day, Gabe. It’s lasted for what seems like, uh, six and a half years.”

“I’ve had days like that.”

I didn’t doubt that he had.

“So,” I said, “I think I’ll just pass on the, uh –”

“The muggles.”

“The muggles,” I said.

“Well, you won’t mind if I light up?” he said.

And just like that there was a big fat reefer in his hand, I didn’t even see him take it out of a pocket, and maybe he hadn’t. He was an angel after all, probably one of the top angels there were. He probably had lots of other tricks he could do, too. He put the reefer in his lips, and then there was a lighter in his hand, a gold lighter, what else, or at least the color of gold, and he lighted himself up.

The lighter disappeared somehow with a flick of his fingers, he took several deep “tokes” on the reefer, and then proffered it to me.

I don’t know why, but I took the reefer, and, worse still, took several deep “tokes” myself.

Gabriel nodded, smiling, and then he exhaled an enormous cloud of reefer smoke, a cloud which enveloped most of my current corporeal self. I in my turn released my own cloud of reefer smoke from my lungs, which merged with and expanded Gabriel’s cloud, so that we both stood there in our big bubble of gently roiling marijuana smoke. None of the drunken dancers seemed to notice our reefer-smoking, or to care if they did notice.

“So how’s it been goin’, daddy?” said Gabe, taking the reefer from my fingers.

“May I be frank, Gabriel?”

“’Gabe’, man, ‘Gabe’.”

“May I be frank, Gabe?”

“By all means, Arnie.” He began toking again, and speaking between tokes in a constricted toking voice, added, “By any – and all – means – my brother.”

“I don’t know if you’re aware of it,” I said, shouted, “but this world we’re in right now is a fictional world, the world of a not very good novel called Ye Cannot Quench, written by a madwoman I know named Gertrude Evans. This world also contains a myriad of other fictional worlds, and I keep wandering into and out of them, but all I really want to do is to get back to my own world.”

Gabe nodded, holding in the smoke, and handed the reefer back to me. Once again, and once again I don’t know why, but I drew heavily several times on the reefer, held it in for half-a-minute, and right after Gabriel exhaled his smoke I exhaled mine, and once again the two clouds merged and swirled together.

“’Your’ world,” said Gabe.

“Pardon me?”

“You said you wanted to get back to your ‘own’ world.”

“Oh. Yes,” I said. “My world. Reality.”

“Heh heh.”

“Okay,” I said, “I get it. What is reality. Who knows. Everything is reality. I know. Everything is not reality. Everything that is not reality is reality, too. But let’s just say I want to get back to what I think of as my reality.”

I took another toke.

“Okay,” said Gabe. “I dig, man. How you like that reefer?”

“’s good,” I slurred, toking again. “I think.”

“Very special and rare strain of weed, my brother. They call it Winged Stallion, on account of it’s like a winged stallion sailing through the canyons of your mind.”

“Wow,” I said. And I took another toke.

“I can’t smoke that cheap skunkweed, man. Call me a snob if you want to.”

“No, not at all,” I said, forcing down yet another toke.

“You better exhale, man, you hold it in too long you might pass out.”

I exhaled, another great cloud merging with the lingering wisps of the previous reefer cloud.

There was something I wanted to say to Gabe. What was it?

I suddenly remembered.

“I want to get back to my life in Cape May, Gabe.”

“Cape May, New Jersey?”

“Yes. Back to Cape May.”

“Well, excuse me for saying so, but, can’t you just like take a bus?”

He reached out to take the reefer from me, but too late, I was already taking a toke, and he waited until I finally took the reefer away from my lips before he grabbed it out of my fingers.

I exhaled again, and said the single word: “No.”

“No what, man,” said Gabe, toking away.

“No, you forget, Gabe, this is a fictional world I’m in, we’re in.” I gestured grandly to the drunks dancing away beyond our cloudy little two-person reefer world. “All these people. Fictional. This world. Fictional. And so you see the Cape May in this world would be a fictional Cape May.”

“If you say so, daddy,” said Gabe, after exhaling.

“Well, I do say so.”

“So how you gonna get back to this ‘real’ world?”

“I’m going to get a piece of paper or a cardboard coaster or something and write myself out of this world.”


“You think that’s crazy?”

“No, man. I mean, not necessarily.”

“You think it’s crazy.”

“Arnie,” he said, and he took another toke, and then another. He handed the reefer to me, and I took a toke, and another. Once again we both held in the smoke, and I sportingly held mine in until Josh exhaled his after a minute.

“Arnie,” he said again, taking the reefer from my fingers. “You want any more of this, by the way?”

“I think I’m good,” I said, the understatement of the century.

He nodded, and pinched the fire from the tip of the reefer with his fingertip and thumb.

“Here,” he said, “for later.”

And he held the extinguished reefer out to me. I suppose I was an addict by this point, because I took the reefer and put it into my shirt pocket.

“Arnie,” he said for the third time.


The single syllable felt as if it had floated up through my body from my toes to emerge of its own accord from my mouth.

“I am angel, man. Dig it. An angel. Very little seems crazy to me.”

“Okay,” I said. 

“You dig?”

“I –” as “stoned” as I was on the reefer I still hesitated to say the word.

“I mean you dig, right?”

“Okay,” I said, surrendering – I was a real beatnik now, like it or not, if only my fellow ushers at St. Helena’s church could see me now, “I dig.”

“Oh, like, wow,” said Gabe. “Look who the cat must have dragged in.”

He was looking past my left shoulder. I turned. Sure enough, it was my nemesis Nicky again. My first thought was that he sure hadn’t stayed away long this time, but then on second thought I realized it had probably been a good five minutes or more since I had last seen him, with me saying, lying, that I would join him shortly, so it was my own fault for standing here smoking reefer and getting “high” with Gabe.

Nicky had looked bad before, but now he looked much worse, almost as if he were about to have a stroke or a coronary. His nose was running freely and disgustingly with a thick greenish snot streaked with tiny rivers of scarlet blood. As hot as it was in here the skin of his face was perfectly dry, and the color of an ancient urine-stained urinal.

“Hey, Arnie, man,” he said, “what’s taking you so long? I drank your double boilermaker. Plus I drank the one I ordered for myself. So I ordered two more, and I drank them, and – oh. Hi, Gabriel.”

“Hiya, man,” said Gabe. “What name you going by these days?”

“Oh,” said Nicky. “My name. In this particular world. I’m going by – Nicky! Ha ha. Nicky. Ha ha. Y’know, Gabe, people look at you funny if you tell ’em your name is Lucifer.”

“I imagine they would, brother,” said Gabe.

(Continued here, if not in this world then in some other...)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “boilermaker”

We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the crowded and smoky Bob’s Bowery Bar, on this long rainy summer’s night in a fictional world – or is it the so-called real world?

(Kindly click here to read last week’s thrilling chapter; if you  would like to begin at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir you may go here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a Kindle™ e-book or a six-by-nine inch softcover “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“What more delightful way to pass one’s summer holidays than reading (or, in my case re-re-reading) Arnold Schnabel’s massive, towering – and dare I say inspirational –
chef-d'œuvre?” – Harold Bloom, in the Racing Form Literary Supplement.

Now that Emily and Sid were gone I became aware again that I was in pain, physical pain that is, not the other sort of pain that being around Emily gave me, which had been enough to distract me from my physical ones, in both knees, on my face, in the back of my head, in my elbows and forearms and the heels of my hands, in fact it seemed easier to name the parts of my body that didn’t hurt rather than the other way round. No matter, they weren’t going to go away soon, not unless someone performed a miracle or gave me some drugs, so I would just have to soldier on.

I was really hungry, too, but I couldn’t let myself get distracted by the lust for food. The important thing was to get back to my own world, and if I was in pain and starving in that world I would deal with those problems there, or not deal with them, I hardly cared. I just wanted to get back.

At least the nascent erection that Emily’s propinquity had instigated had disappeared, that was a good thing, because it’s hard enough trying to shove your way through a mob of dancing drunks without having an erection to worry about. Perhaps I have said too much.

And anyway, why was I standing here? My friends were presumably still in that booth not far away, and all I had to do was shove my way through the mob of dancers (now jitterbugging, or attempting to, furiously, to another upbeat song, “Take the A Train” it was) to the booth, sit down, say my farewells to my companions, then grab something to write on, get my Eversharp ballpoint pen out and write myself out of this madness. 

“Arnie, Arnie, Arnie,” said an old familiar voice, shouted really, over the noise of the jukebox and the shouting and laughter of the drunken dancers.

And there he was again, suddenly emergent from the crowd, right in front of me – Nicky, Lucky, whatever name he was going by, my old enemy the prince of darkness himself.

He looked worse than I had ever seen him before. His iridescent grey suit was wrinkled, and looked as if it had been dipped in dirty motor oil. The knot of his tie was loosened and crooked, and the first few buttons of his shirt were undone. His face was the color of an old urine-stained sheet. His dark hair was mussed, and stray locks of it hung down over his forehead and down his cheekbones like streaks of black ink. His dark eyes were bloodshot. He gave off a distinct odor of feces, urine, and sulphur.

“Surprised to see me again?” he shouted, really loud. He was standing really close to me now and his breath was foul, as if he had been eating the raw intestines of a cancer-stricken pig. “Bet you’re surprised!”

“No, not really,” I said, trying to breathe through my mouth.

“What?” he said.

I shouted this time.

“No! I’m not surprised!”

“I have something in my eyes?”

I realized his ears must still be stopped up, with the boiled-down essence of a million bitter men’s souls, and now that I looked for it, I could see the yellow substance plugging up and oozing out of the porches of his ears.

“Forget it!” I yelled.

“Pathetic?” he yelled. “You’re the one who’s fucking pathetic, my man!”

“Fuck you,” I mumbled, and I do believe that this was the first time I had ever said this phrase, out loud, anyway.

“Thank me?” he said. “What are you thanking me for? I’m going to drag you down to hell now, at long last! As you see –” with the index finger of each hand he pointed to his ears, and I couldn’t help but notice that his fingernails were dirty, yellow and jagged – ”I still got my ears plugged up with the boiled down essence of a billion bitter men’s souls –”

“I thought it was only a million,” I said.

“You want to go to a cotillion? What, are you insane? Oh, wait, ha ha, what a question, of course you’re insane. Anyway, I still got my ears plugged up with the boiled down essence of a trillion bitter men’s souls, so don’t even try taking the you-know-who’s name in vain to get rid of me, pal, it ain’t gonna work!”

“Jesus Christ?” I said, thinking it couldn’t hurt to try. “The son of God?”

“Odd? I’m odd? You’re the one who’s odd, pal, like odd man out, down and out, all the way to hell, baby!”

“I guess it wouldn’t help if I mentioned God the father and the holy ghost?”

“What? You’re saying that you really dig me the most? Well, let me tell you, pal, flattery will get you nowhere, except down to the aforementioned eternal fires of hell! Oh, and guess what? Wait a minute –” He patted his jacket’s side pockets, the breast pocket, then he reached into his jacket and brought out that cigarette holder of his, except whereas before it had been shiny and black, now it was still black, but it looked slimy and filthy, as if it had been fished it out of a garbage pail. “See? I got my magic cigarette holder back, so you’re not going to get rid of me with this, either!”

“That’s great, Nicky, or Lucky, or whatever your name is.”

“You want me to go swallow some elephant jiz? That’s weird. How did you know I like to swallow elephant jiz? That’s really weird. Did you-know-who tell you that? You know, the son of the other you-know-who?”

I knew I should have been terrified, but I was tired, I was in pain, I was hot, and now I was very thirsty also – and hungry, too, despite all that was going on, my stomach was growling, and I was bored.

“Okay,” he said, “don’t tell me. I couldn’t care less.”

He put the cigarette holder back in his inside jacket pocket.

“It’s time now,” he said, shouted. “Time to die, and go to hell. Damn I’m going to enjoy this. I almost wish it wasn’t happening right now, just so I could enjoy the anticipation for a bit more –”

“Your nose is running,” I said, for no other reason than the fact that his nose had begun to run.


“Your nose. It’s running.”

“My clothes? Are cunning? What are you, a queer?”

“Your nose!” I shouted, and I pointed at his nostrils and the greyish green snot oozing from them. “It’s running, and it’s disgusting!”

“What? You want to go busking?”

Just about then two big blogs of oleaginous devil’s mucus ran over his upper lip and into his gaping mouth.

“Ew,” he said.

He took out a dirty handkerchief from his trousers pocket and began blowing his nose.

What could I do? For once I couldn’t think of any tricks to foil him. I could try to beat him up, but, even as bad as he looked, to be honest with myself, I had to admit that I probably looked just as bad. And after all, I was still just a man, and he was the prince of darkness, a former angel. I didn’t even have Miss Lily’s pistol anymore, even though I probably wouldn’t have been able to shoot Nicky, even if he was the prince of darkness. No, there seemed to be nothing I could do, nothing –

But, wait a second.



Wasn’t doing nothing the general method that Sid – the Buddha himself – advised? Maybe I had been doing things the wrong way all my life by trying to do things, or even trying not to do things, when the best course of action was no action, not even action in aid of inaction. The thing was to simply do nothing.

So that’s what I decided to do.


Nicky finally finished blowing his nose, and very revoltingly attempting to clean out his nostrils with that dirty slimy handkerchief, and he finally shoved it away, but instead of putting it back in his trousers pocket he shoved it any old way into the outside breast pocket of his jacket, a horrible parody of a display handkerchief.

“All right, let’s go,” he said. “I’m getting bored. Are you bored?”

I said nothing.

“It’s boring being the prince of darkness,” he said. He started patting his pockets again, and he brought out his silver cigarette case, clicked it open. I could see it was empty, but he thrust it closer to me anyway, and said, “Empty. Empty! This thing is never supposed to be empty! Fuck this shit! Hey, Arnie, I know this may sound presumptuous of me, but you wouldn’t have a smoke on you, would you? If you can give me a smoke I’ll delay dragging you down to the everlasting fires of hell for a minute or so.”

I was just about to tell him that I had given up smoking, not without mentioning that I was surprised he didn’t already know that, but then I remembered the partly-smoked reefer that Sid had given me. I didn’t bother saying anything, or trying to say anything, since Nicky couldn’t hear me anyway, but I just reached into my shirt pocket and brought out the reefer and proffered it to him.

“What’s this?” he said. “You rolling your own now, you cheap motherfucker?”

“It’s a reefer!” I shouted. “Marijuana!”

“You don’t wanta? You don’t wanta give me a lousy hand-rolled cigarette?”

This was too boring for me, so I just went ahead and stuck the unburnt end of the reefer in Nicky’s lips. He took it out and looked at it, then put it under his nose, which was dripping again.

“Smells funny,” he said. “You gotta stop buying this cheap tobacco, man. It’s not worth it. It’s probably got all kinds of cheap additives and fillers in it. But, what the hell, any port in a storm.”

He patted his pockets again, and finally came out with his fancy gold lighter, but even this looked bad now, as if he had dropped it into a big pile of fresh horse feces and then picked it out and stuck it back in his pocket without cleaning it off. Nicky didn’t seem to mind though, and he stuck the reefer back in his mouth and proceeded to click the lighter nine or ten or fifteen times until finally a flame was struck, and he lighted up the reefer and took a good long drag.

“Wow,” he said, after exhaling the rather foul smoke into my face, “this shit tastes weird.”

Nevertheless he took another big drag, and then slowly let the smoke out again.

“Kinda growing on me though,” he said this time. “Sort of relaxing. You must give me the name of your tobacconist.”

He took another drag, or, as my beatnik friends would say, a “toke”, and this time, I suppose involuntarily, he held the smoke in for at least a minute before exhaling.

“Wow,” he said, again. And then he took another drag, and this time he held the smoke in for about two minutes before letting it out.

Then he stared at me.

“What were we talking about?” he said.

“You said you were going to give up on this absurd vendetta you have against me,” I said.

“What? I can’t hear you. Oh.”

He had taken the reefer out of his mouth, but now he put it back in his lips, and with the index fingers of both hands he started digging the congealed boiled-down essence of bitter men’s souls out of his ear cavities, flicking the horrible substance down to the floor with all the other horrible substances down there.

“How’d all that crap get in my ears?” he said.

“Must be ear wax,” I said. “I get that sometimes.”

He took another drag of the reefer.

“Hey, you want to get a drink, man?” he said. “Suddenly I’m like dying of thirst. Let’s get a drink. I’m buying.”

“You go ahead,” I said. “I’ll join you in a minute.”

“Aw, no, man, come on, let’s get wasted.”

“I’ll be right there. I just have to take a quick pee.”

“Oh, okay. Why didn’t you say so? When you gotta go you gotta like, you know –”

“Right,” I said. “So head on over and save me a space.”

“Yeah, sure, man,” he said. And he took another drag on the reefer. Thank God or the Buddha, it was a big fat long-lasting reefer. He held it in, and I waited, I knew I had to play this right and not make any premature moves. Finally after a minute he exhaled a cloud of reefer smoke in my face, and said, “I’ll be like, uh, over there –”

And he gestured vaguely in the direction of the bar.

“At the bar,” I said.

“Yeah, man, I’ll be like, over there, so like, uh –” 
“You’ll be there,” I said. 
“Right,” he said. “I’ll be, like, uh –”

“I think I can see two empty stools,” I said, performing the dumbshow of lifting my head and casting my eyes toward the bar.


“Yeah, just turn around and head right to the bar, you’ll see them. Better go grab one and save the other one for me, okay?”

“Great,” he said, and he turned as if to go, but then stopped. “Hey, Arnie.”


“You want me to order you something? How about a boilermaker? Shot and a beer.”

“Sure,” I said. “If I’m not there in a couple of minutes then you can drink my boilermaker.”

“Yeah, great,” he said.

“You go ahead,” I said.


He took another drag, but made no move to leave.

“Hey, you better head over there,” I said. “Before somebody grabs those barstools.”

“Right,” he said. “And order two – what?”

“Boilermakers,” I said.

“Boilermakers. Like a draft beer and a shot of whiskey, right?”

“Yeah. Better make them double whiskeys,” I said.

“Right, doubles,” he said. “Wait. What kind of whiskey?”

“The cheap kind,” I said.

“Ha ha. Cheap kind. See ya, man. I’ll be at the, uh what do you call it –”

“Bar,” I said.

“Bar. And if I drink your beer and double whiskey I’ll buy you another one.”

“Thanks. You’d better hurry,” I said.

And with that he turned and headed off into the mob of dancers.

The zen method had worked after all.

(Illustration by Paul Stahr.)

(Continued here, barring the apocalypse...)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “mellow”

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the crowded and lively Bob’s Bowery Bar on a rainy summer’s night long ago in a universe far, far away. Joining Arnold on this occasion are his new friend “Sid” (better known as Siddhārtha Gautama, aka the Buddha) and the heroine of the fictional universe Arnold is marooned in, Emily..

(Please go here to read last week’s enthralling episode; those who would like to begin at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume autobiography may click here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, either as a Kindle™ e-book or a deluxe large-format softcover actual “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“In the work of Arnold Schnabel we find (perhaps amazingly in such an enormous and such an honest
oeuvre) no hatred whatever on the part of the author: exasperation, frustration, annoyance, even occasionally a very brief appearance of a mild and transitory form of anger – but no hatred, not even for the Prince of Darkness himself; what we do find are many and deep explorations of the manifold varieties of love.” – Harold Bloom, in the Ladies’ Home Journal’s Summer Books Supplement.

Sid for once seemed slightly taken aback. He looked at his cigarette, which, once again, he had smoked down to a glowing red nubbin. He let it drop to the floor where it joined all the other cigarette and cigar butts that almost completely hid the floorboards.

“What kind of girl do I take you for?” he said, looking up in a worshipful-looking way at Emily. “Why, a very beautiful girl for one thing, and I speak not just of physical beauty, but of a very deep and profound spiritual beauty. I sense an inner mystical glow, emanating from each of your seven chakras in unison. I wonder if you perhaps have studied the ancient oriental dharma or in your lingo ‘religion’ of Buddhism?”

“Listen, shorty,” said Emily, after a brief pause in which her eyes closed and her head nodded as if she might have fallen asleep, from drunkenness or boredom, “you can try to impress me all you want with your mystical hoodoo, but I’m still not the kind of gal to go in for threeways at a moment’s notice, especially when one of the three is a little four-eyed half-pint Chinaman. Not that I’m prejudiced, but I do have some standards, see?”

I’ll say this for Sid, he was relentless, and apparently not easily offended.

“May I ask, Miss Emily, if you are familiar with the mysteries of tantric sex?”

“Tantric what?”

“Sex. Tantric sex. The ancient oriental art of conjoining one’s corporeal host with that of another.”

“The ancient oriental art of what?”

“To use the delightful English euphemism: ‘making love’. The ancient oriental art thereof.”

“Holy cow,” said Emily, and she turned to me. “Porter, maybe you better tell your pal he’s cruising for a bruising.”

“Um, uh, Sid,” I said, and I had to admit that I did not deny the thought that emerged ingloriously from the more selfish regions of my brain, the base thought that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for Emily to beat up Sid if it would distract her from me, and furthermore I added, “uh.”

“Yes, Ernest?” said Sid.

“I think Emily is offended by what you’re saying,” I said, with some reluctance.

“She is?” He turned to Emily. “You are?”

“Yes, Mr. Oriental Mystery,” she said. “How dare you talk to me about whatever kind of sex.”

“Tantric sex,” said Sid.

“Tantric schmantric.”

“I beg your –”



Frantic sex!”

“Tantric, dear miss, not frantic, although sometimes, yes, tantric sex can indeed get frantic.”



“Whatever the hell kinda sex it is.”

“It is the ancient mystic oriental art of making love not only in the deepest physical sense but in the spiritual as well.”

“Sounds like a load of baloney to me.”

“Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

“How dare you. I mean I don’t even know you.”

“But Ernest knows me, and I’m sure he’ll vouch for me.”

She turned to me.

“Do you vouch for this impudent imp, Ernest, I mean Porter?”

“Yes,” I said. “You see, Sid is a foreigner, and so he doesn’t understand our ways.”

“Yes,” said Sid. “I am a stranger to your land and to your ways. But I mean no harm. I wonder, Miss Emily, if by way of a gesture of rapprochement I might offer you what you Americans call ‘a reefer’?”

“A reefer? You mean marijuana?”

“Yes, or as we call it in my faraway land – loosely translated into your dialect: ‘the sacred weed’.”

“Damn, is everything sacred with you people?”

“Yes, all of life is sacred. And all that is not life. And all that is neither life nor not life.”

“So that covers pretty much everything.”

“Yes, pretty much. It’s all sacred.”



“What about this hot smelly Bowery dive we’re in.”


“What about those cigarette and cigar butts all over the floor.”


“What about doggy doodoo?”

“Is that what I think it is?”

“The brown stuff that comes out of a dog’s hind end.”

“Oh, yes, that. Sacred.”

“What about them gross little maggots that crawl out of the doggy doodoo.”


“I have never heard such hogwash in all my born days,” she said. I noticed that Emily was reverting back to what I assumed was her native West Virginian accent. “You really got some reefer?”

“Oh, yes, indeed, miss.”

Sid didn’t miss a beat, and in a flash he had taken out his Player’s Navy Cut Tin and clicked it open, revealing the dozen or so fat reefers in it.

“How do you like, as you Americans say, them apples, Miss Emily?”

“Wow,” she said. “Real reefers.”

“Have you ever tried one?”

“Hey, pal, I only got in from West Virginia a couple-three weeks ago. There’s still a few big city vices I haven’t tried yet.”

“Oh, you must try it.”

“Isn’t it addictive?”

“No, no at all. I mean, not physically addictive.”

“What’s it like?”

“That’s not easy to explain. I think the English word is ‘mellow’.” He turned to me. “Would you say mellow is the word, Ernest?”

“Sure,” I said, “among others.”

“So you’ve smoked reefer, Ernest?” said Emily, meaning me of course, how quickly she had forgotten my name in this world.

“Yes,” I admitted.

“But of course you have. You’re a bohemian romantic poet. And me just a small town girl from the hollers of West Virginia. How come you never told me you were a hop head?”

“Uh –”

“I wouldn’t mind getting mellow,” said Emily, and her accent was slipping so heavily now that she pronounced the word as ‘mella’. “Let’s go somewheres and fire up one of them bad boys.”

“Hey, listen,” I said, “why don’t you two go and fire up the reefer somewheres, like, outside the bar preferably, because I wanted to say hi to some friends of mine, and –”

“Oh, no you don’t, Ernie, or whatever your name is,” said Emily. “You’re not escaping me that easy.”

“But I’m just going to go over to this booth over there, and –”

“Uh-uh, Charlie. You and me have got a date. First we’ll fire up the reefer with the Yellow Peril here, then we’re heading up to your place.”

“Perhaps I could give you two nice young people some tips,” said Sid. He had taken out one of the reefers and put it in his mouth.

“What kind of tips?” said Emily.

Sid clicked the Players tin shut and slipped it back inside his inside breast pocket.

“On tantric sex,” he said. 

“What,” said Emily, “right there in the room with us?”

“I think that would be the most efficacious method, yes.”

He took the box of Tiger brand matches from his side jacket pocket, opened it and took out a match.

“Wow,” she said, “you gonna light that thing up right here in this bar amongst all these people?”

“But, Miss Emily,” he said, “look around you.”

Emily obeyed his suggestion, as did I. The barroom floor had filled up again with drunken dancers. A new song was on the jukebox, a slow number, and the dancers hung all over each other stumbling from one foot to the other. It seemed that every dancer had a cigarette or cigar dangling from their lips, and some of the men were even smoking pipes. The air such as it was was thicker than ever with tobacco smoke and its multifarious  odors, as well as those of human sweat, of the aforementioned no doubt budget-perfumes, of urine and beer, whiskey and gin. 

“Do you think,” said Sid, with a wave of his little hand, “that any of these good people will even notice what we’re about to as you say ‘fire up’?”

“Yeah, gee, but, I don’t know,” said Emily.

“Ah, but I do,” said Sid, and he struck his match and lighted the reefer. He drew in a good lungful and then proffered the reefer to Emily. She took it and stared at it.

“So, look,” I said, “I’m just going to go say hello to my friends over there, so why don’t you two just enjoy your reefer, and –”

Emily grabbed hold of my arm.

“Oh, no you don’t buster.” She took a good drag on the reefer and coughed. “Ooh,” she said. “It tastes weirdo.”

“You’ll get used to it,” said Sid, after exhaling his lungful of smoke up into her face. “Try again, slow and easy, just draw it very slowly and luxuriously into your mouth and down your windpipe into your lungs.”

“Okay,” she said, and she took a good slow drag, not forgetting to keep a strong hold on my arm.

“Now hold it in,” said Sid, “for as long as you can, and then let it out oh so very slowly.”

“I promise I’ll just be a minute,” I said, and I tugged on my arm, but Emily’s grip stayed firm.

She turned to me and slowly let the smoke out of her mouth, blowing it up into my face.

“Wow, that stuff’s not so bad,” she said.

“What did I tell you?” said Sid. “It is, in your beatnik argot, and you should pardon the expression, ‘good shit’, yes?”

“Yeah, not bad,” she said, and she took another big drag.

“Listen, Emily,” I said, “I have to tell you, I have a girlfriend back in the world I come from.”

Once again she exhaled the smoke into my face.

“Who cares,” she said.

“But I want to be faithful to her,” I said.

“Maybe you should have thought of that when you rogered me roundly last night.”

“I did?”

“Very funny,” she said.

“Well, if I did, that was the fictional character Porter Walker who did, not me, because I’m really Arnold Schnabel, a forty-two-year-old railroad brakeman recovering from a mental collapse.”

Emily simply ignored me and turned to Sid.

“What’s your name again, short stuff?”

“Call me Sid.”

“Sid, tell me more about this whatever kind of mystical oriental sex stuff.”

“Tantric sex.”


“Perhaps we should go someplace more private to discuss it.”

“Let’s head back to the bar.”

“I should be delighted,” said Sid.

“We’ll let my boss Julian buy us some boilermakers, and I’m sure he’d love to hear all about these exotic Asian sex mysteries too.”

“I could really go for a nice boilermaker,” said Sid.

“Come on, Ernie or Arnold or Porter,” said Emily, yanking on my arm, “you’re not getting out of this.”

“Maybe you should take another drag of the reefer first,” I said. “To make you more, uh, mellow.”

“Excellent idea,” said Sid.

“Okay,” said Emily, and she took another good drag, and then, may the universe forgive me, she let go of my arm.

“Wow,” she said, exhaling again, again in my face. “I feel really mellow.”

“Let’s head over to the bar,” I said.

“Yeah, okay,” she said. “Bar.”

“Sid,” I said, “take Emily over to the bar, okay? I’m just going to say a quick hello to my friends.”

“Oh, yes, including your good friend Jesus – you know, I really did want to meet him, but that was before you introduced me to the lovely Miss Emily.”

“Aw, Sidney,” said Emily, who had taken another good drag in the meanwhile, “you’re such a little flatterer, you cute little Chinaman.”

“Let me take your arm, milady,” said Sid, and he put his left arm in her right.

And just like that they went off into the crowd of dancers, Sid holding up his umbrella high like a sword, just in case he needed to use it to beat his way through.

Well, that was easier than I thought it was going to be. 

I knew something had to go wrong now.

And I was not mistaken.

(Continued here, of course...)