Let’s return to the crowded and jumping Bob’s Bowery Bar on this rainy hot night in 1957 and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, at long last reunited with his deific friend “Josh”…
(Please click here to read our previous chapter; housebound agoraphobics looking for a new means of amusement may go here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 71-volume masterpiece.)
“I foresee a day when Arnold Schnabel’s towering chef-d’œuvre will achieve if not surpass the popularity of the sagas of Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen.” – Harold Bloom, in The Philadelphia Daily News Literary Supplement.
There we were, the son of God and I, surrounded by this mob of dancing, thrashing drunks. I could tell that Josh was drunk too of course, just as when I’d left him, if not more so, but his black eye and facial bruises had disappeared, and his nice blue suit which had been wet and wrinkled and dirty the last time I had seen him this evening now looked as if it had just come back from the cleaners. His darker-blue tie was neatly knotted and his straw trilby hat sat at only a slightly rakish angle on his head. With his perfectly clean fingers he smoothed down the sleeves and the front of my own filthy seersucker jacket, all filthy, wrinkled and wet as it was even though Emily had given it to me only that afternoon, or at least that afternoon in this universe, an afternoon which felt to me like six years ago.
“So what happened to the asshole?” he said, as he adjusted the knot of my necktie.
“I managed to get rid of him,” I said.
“No kidding?” He took the cigarette out of his mouth and exhaled a gentle cloud of smoke that smelled like roses in early summer. “And how’d you manage that?”
“Well, I had his cigarette holder, you see, and –”
“His cigarette holder.”
(I was practically yelling to be heard over the music and the all the yelling and laughter all around us, but Josh on the other hand was speaking in a normal tone of voice that was nonetheless perfectly audible.)
“And, excuse me,” he said, smiling, “but how did you happen to have his cigarette holder in your, uh, possession?”
“I picked it up off the pavement after the last time I got rid of him.”
“The last time –”
“It was outside Mr. Philpot’s shop earlier. I got rid of him by saying your name, and the name of your father, and of the holy ghost.”
“Oh, he hates that!”
“Yeah, I know. But I couldn’t do that this time because of his ears being stopped up.”
“With the essence of two million – what did you say – bitter men’s souls?”
“So you were paying attention earlier.”
“Arnold, I always try to pay attention. But it’s not always easy you know, when you’ve got a whole universe crying for your attention.”
“I know,” I said, although of course I didn’t know.
“Plus universes within universes, and universes within those universes, and –”
“I know,” I said.
“I do try.”
“I’m sure,” I said.
“Although, gee, if I succeed in becoming human, I guess I won’t be even attempting to try anymore.”
“I guess not,” I said.
“You’re human, do you find it hard to pay attention to every little thing?”
“I pay attention to very little beyond what’s right in front of my nose, that and the usual chaos of random thoughts and images swirling in the great echoing cavern of my brain.”
“Heh heh – so, you were saying something about the jerk’s cigarette holder –”
“Oh, right, well, on impulse I took it out of my pocket and looked through it at him, and his face at the other end was the face of a big crying baby.”
“Which is what he is, really.”
“Then, and again I don’t know why, but I put the mouthpiece into my lips and blew, and it was like some great wind just blowing him away, and he disappeared into the crowd.”
“Amazing,” said Josh. “Well done.”
“How did you know to blow through the cigarette holder?”
“I didn’t. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Well, it worked, so, you know, remember that for next time.”
“I’m afraid I lost it,” I said.
“The cigarette holder. Someone bumped into me and I dropped it.”
“Well, that’s unfortunate.”
“You think so?”
“Yes, because what will you do if he reappears again? And he probably will.”
“Yes,” I said. “He probably will, and I don’t know what I’ll do next time.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
“I hope so.”
“Or if I’m around I’ll help you.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“I mean I’ll help you as best I can.”
“I appreciate that,” I said.
“Oh, but, hey,” he said, “what happened by the way with this girl what’s her name –”
“Yes, Emma, what happened with her?”
“My guardian angel dragged her off, through the crowd –”
“Wait. Back up,” he said. “Guardian angel?”
“Yes, I’ve apparently been assigned a guardian angel.”
“No one told me that.”
“Oh,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
He took a drag on his cigarette, and gazed out at that mob of dancing drunks who surrounded us. I noticed that he didn’t seem to be sweating at all. As for me, I was pouring with sweat, for the one-hundredth time that day. He turned back to me.
“You see, normally these sort of things are group decisions. You know – me, my father and the, uh, other guy.”
“The holy ghost,” I said.
“H.G., yes. You see, contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, we are equal, you know.”
“Sure,” I said.
“And indivisible. So, you see, my father and H.G. assigning you a guardian angel without even consulting me – well, it’s as if they’ve already written me off, isn’t it? Or maybe – just maybe they’re warning me – you know, like, ‘Hey, you wanted to be human. Deal with it.'”
I was trying to listen and to be sympathetic, but on the other hand I suddenly once again felt the need to urinate, and soon. It was all those beers I had chugged at that crazy woman Nadine’s house and at that Bill’s Bar with that pathetic guy Slick.
“Listen, Josh – “ I said.
“Some guardian angel,” he said.
“If he’s supposed to be your guardian angel then why isn’t he here, you know, guarding you?”
“We got separated in this mob.”
“If he was doing his job properly he wouldn’t have allowed you two to get separated. Did he tell you his name?”
“I don’t want to get him in trouble.”
“Oh, wait, is it Bowery Bert?”
“It is him, isn’t it?”
“Bowery Bert,” said Josh. “He’s getting old, you know.”
“I didn’t realize angels got old,” I said.
“Well, they do,” he said.
“I really do think he was trying his best,” I said.
“There’s a reason he’s working down here in the Bowery, you know, Arnold.”
“You know what that reason is?”
“I guess there’s a lot of people around here who need a guardian angel,” I ventured.
“People everywhere need guardian angels,” he said. “But Bert works on the Bowery because this is where all the hopeless cases are. They can’t be helped anyway, so we give them Bowery Bert, who can barely help himself.”
“He really did try to help me,” I said. “And right now he’s probably trying to get Emily back to Julian –”
“Back to who?”
“Julian Smythe. He’s my publisher, or at least he’s my publisher in this universe, and anyway he came here with Emily, and so Bert and I thought we would try to sort of –”
“Get him to take care of her.”
“Well, yeah, and –”
“Whatever. Bert still shouldn’t have let you get separated like this.”
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t want to argue with him. And, besides, now I really had to go to the men’s room. “But, look, Josh, I – uh – um –”
“I really need to, you know –”
“Oh, that’s right! You wanted to get some food! Well, we’ll get you some! Where’s that waitress? I’ll bet they have really good food here –”
“Wait, Josh,” I said.
“Probably the burgers are good –”
“Josh, I’m not hungry.”
“I thought you were starving.”
“I was,” I said, “but I ate at that woman’s house –”
“What was her name – Maureen?”
“So she fed you. Anything good?”
"It was okay, but, uh –"
“Well, good! Now we can have our little tête-à-tête talk finally.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, “but –”
“I need your help, Arnold.”
He looked at me with those blue eyes that contained all the universe, and all the universes in the universe, and all the universes within those universes. I could even see stars and whole galaxies twinkling in them.
“Um,” I said. “Uh –”
“Here’s the thing –”
“Go on. You know you can tell me anything.”
“I have to pee, Josh,” I said.
“What, not again?”
“It seems like you always have to pee.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s pretty boring, really.”
“You know, I still haven’t tried it. Peeing that is. Is it really that boring?”
“Well, it gets boring having to go all the time, but when you’re actually doing it it’s pretty enjoyable really.”
“You’ve convinced me then. I’m going to try it. Shall we go to the men’s room together?”
“All right,” I said. “But –”
“I have to warn you, Josh, that things tend to happen to me when I go to the men’s room.”
“Things happen to you no matter where you go, Arnold.”
“Right,” I said. “I forgot.”
“So buck up and let’s go take a pee.”
“Okay,” I said,
“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
I chose not to hazard an answer to that question.
(To be continued next Saturday, and onward, until Arnold’s last marble copybook has been transcribed.)
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