Wednesday, October 31, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Twenty-Nine: rainy day cup at the Cape Coffee Shoppe

In our previous episode of this memoir, “Perhaps the greatest memoir since Kirk Douglas’s The Ragman’s Son,” (Harold Bloom), our hero Arnold Schnabel, the Rhyming Brakeman, dived deeper than ever before into the mysteries of his new (and first) love interest Elektra.

Cape May, NJ. August, 1963.

I was awakened the next morning by the sound of rain. I got up and looked out through the adjustable screen in my small dormer window, the rain thrashing down and shaking the leaves of the oak tree out there and clattering on the tiles of the roof, splattering onto the window screen.

Then I lay back for a while, listening to the noise of the rain and the wind, to the quiet whirring of the electric fan.

It occurred to me that if this were a couple of weeks ago I would dress now and go off to early mass. But now I no longer went to daily mass. I had gone on Sunday, but that had been pro forma, something to keep my mother and my aunts unworried, or no more worried than they had to be, anyway.

It appeared that I had lost my faith. This despite the fact that I seemed to have had several conversations with Jesus over the past week or so.

I smelled scrapple cooking, even three stories below, so keen is my sense of smell. I got dressed and went down to breakfast.

There was the expected small talk from my mother and aunts on the subject of the northeaster we were now in the midst of. I was merely thinking of how I would spend this rainy day. It would be nice just to spend it reading, but there was the problem of young Kevin. I didn’t relish having to listen to his absurd questions for the entire day. It might be best to buy him a new batch of comics, just to keep him occupied.

“What do you say, Arnold,” said my Aunt Elizabetta.

“About what?” I said.
“About having your lady friend over for dinner.”

“He hasn’t even been listening,” said Aunt Edith.

How observant she was!

“They want you to invite Electric over for dinner,” said Kevin.

“What kind of name is Electric, anyway?” said Edith.

“It’s not Electric, Aunt Edith,” I said. “It’s Elektra.”

“That’s a funny name,” said Aunt Greta. “What is it, Greek?”

“Sie ist ein Jude,” said Edith.

“I know she’s Jewish, but the name sounds Greek.”

“Is she Greek, Arnold?” asked Edith. “Greek Orthodox is practically Catholic.”

“Invite her for dinner, Arnold,” said my mother.

It occurred to me that I was again living in a madhouse. It’s true, these women were not raving screaming lunatics such as some of my fellow patients at Byberry had been, but they were only just a few steps away. Give them just the tiniest push and they’d be howling at the moon with the best of them.

“Arnold?” said my mother, looking worried.

“Yes?” I said.

“Wouldn’t you like to invite Electric over for dinner?”

“It’s Elektra,” said Kevin.

“Don’t interrupt,” said Greta.

Everyone looked at me.

“Uh, I just met her,” I said, to one and all.

“All that matters is she’s a nice girl,” said Edith. “After all, the Blessed Mother was a Jew. And she was a lovely person. Look at how she took care of the baby Jesus in that stable. Joseph, too, he was a Jew. He seemed like a really nice man.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said.

“Ask her,” said my mother.

“Okay,” I said.

I finished my breakfast quickly, wondering what it was with people always wanting to meet other people. It was so much more pleasant usually not to meet people.

After breakfast I took Kevin through the downpour to Wally’s to buy him some comics. It was the only way I knew to make sure he’d stay out of my hair for at least a part of the day.

I gave him three quarters and left him in the dark store under the watchful hostile eye of the trollish proprietor.

I was tempted to take a walk in the rain, but it was just too stormy, and my umbrella kept threatening to explode.

Should I go to the jewelry store and visit my new friends? No, I didn’t want to make Elektra think I was coming on too strong, to have her and her friends think I had nothing else in my life, even though that was pretty much the case.

So I went to the Cape Coffee Shoppe, sat at the counter and ordered a cup, took out my notebook and Bic pen and began to make notes for the previous section of this memoir.

The shop was busy on this rainy day, what else was there to do for poor vacationers? Well, at least this was one day when they wouldn’t have to lie in the blistering heat of the beach, their flesh burning, their children wailing. They could drag themselves and their families into places like this and eat pie and ice cream.

What joy.

“Writing your memoirs?” someone said.

I looked up.

It was that Steve Smith guy. He was wearing what looked like the same pink polo shirt he’d worn the first time I had met him, except now it was wrinkled and stained. He hadn’t shaved, and his skin was somehow flushed and pale at the same time.

“May I?” he said.

Well, there was an empty stool there and I didn’t own it. He sat down. He had an umbrella, and he tried to lean it against the wall of the counter, but it fell over, and he left it there on the floor. He wore the same Madras Bermudas he had worn the other night, or a similar pair, but these, like his shirt, were wrinkled and stained.

“So what are you writing, Arthur?”

“My memoirs,” I said.

“No, seriously,” he said.

“Seriously, I’m making some notes for my memoirs.”

“Fascinating. I would like to write my memoirs. Coffee, darling,” he said to the counter girl. “How is the pie here?” he said to me.

“It’s not bad,” I said. “I had some peach pie here the other day.”

“I adore peach pie. I am so hungover. This has been the most drunken vacation I’ve ever had. Did I see you in the Mug last night?”

“Yes,” I said.

He took out cigarettes, Salems, and offered me the pack.

“No thanks,” I said. “I smoke Pall Malls.”

“You’re such a he-man,” he said, lighting himself up with a trembling hand after clicking his lighter about ten times. He coughed. “I am so intensely hungover,” he said.

The waitress had brought his coffee. He put his cigarette in the ashtray, then added a lot of sugar and some cream to the coffee. He lifted the cup and saucer with both hands, drank some coffee. He paused, then drank again. It was air-conditioned in here, but I noticed that he was sweating. He took another drink of coffee, then put the cup and saucer down again.

“Oh, dear God in Heaven,” he said. “I think I need to see a psychiatrist, Arthur. I truly do. Sometimes I think I should just jump in the ocean. Just — go out really far. Like on a fishing boat. And just leap. But knowing me I’d just get involved in some absurd conversation with the fishermen, and —” He waved his hands again, and then stopped suddenly and said, “Oh! Did you try the yodeling?”

“Well —”

“No, tell me you didn’t, you rascal!”

“I did,” I said.

“Bravo! And did she love it?”

“Well, she didn’t complain,” I said.

“Well done, old chap! And I’ll bet she showed you something then, didn’t she?”

He lifted his cup and slurped, all the while looking at me with wide mischievous eyes.

“Well, she fell asleep,” I said.

Steve sprayed coffee all over the counter top.

(Click here to find out what happens next, if anything. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain", Episode Twenty-Four: Dick and Daphne Ridpath make their way --

(Kindly click here to read our previous episode.)

Our serialization of this great American epic by Larry Winchester, (now presented uncut for the first time) continues with another abrupt shift in voice, to that of the mysterious Dick Ridpath:

And what did I know? Only that Daphne’s little transistor had started to talk to me that night in Singapore at 4 AM.

“Commander Ridpath, please leave on the 9 AM United Airlines flight for San Francisco.”

Daphne snored gently through it all. I had been lying awake, smoking and reading Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour. Unlike me she always sleeps like a rock.

I closed the book over my finger and looked at the little radio. Daphne sometimes liked to lie in bed with the radio on by her head, and I always turned it off after she fell asleep. I tried the dial, and sure enough it was off.

I’m sleeping, I thought. Or I have been sleeping.

And then the voice came on again.

“It will be very much to your benefit, Commander Ridpath. This morning, the 9 AM flight. We will talk to you further in San Francisco. Please book rooms at the Belvedere Hotel. Thank you and good night.”

Well, I’d really heard that.

I had often heard faint voices in my head -- didn’t everyone? -- and I’d gotten used to that, but this was different. This was real.

And I had no idea who or what it was. Was it one of my old supposed friends from Q Section having fun with me, trying out some new piece of equipment? It had to be someone from the old days; no one called me Commander any more. Hardly anyone had called me Commander when I was a commander. I could not place the voice at all. It was clear but somehow alien, with an accent I couldn’t place. It was like a combination of Afrikaner and Burmese, and for all I knew it was.

But, okay. What the hell. Let’s go to Frisco. Or try to go there, anyway. As good a destination as any, and God knew we had to get out of Singapore.

Against my advice Daphne had wanted to go into that hat shop in Saigon. Her mother’s boyfriend had assured her on the highest authority that the war would end that year, that Saigon would return to its pre-World War II glory, and that a high-tone millinery was “just the thing”.

Well of course the shop had been bombed the third week we were there, a time bomb set to go off at eleven AM, and the only reason we weren’t both killed was that we had been up all night playing baccarat, had slept until noon, and hadn’t even opened the shop.

Another fiasco, like the inn in Cyprus, like the safari service in the Congo, like our “American Bar” in Prague.

Like the sushi restaurant scheme in Chicago which had fallen apart when we had taken out the Japanese backers during the Democratic Convention and the cops had beaten them up.

Or like that Desert Rat Girls movie Daphne and I wrote with that Larry Winchester guy and we were just about to start filming near Gaza when the Six Day War breaks out...

But after the hat shop blew up I met a Special Forces captain named Shackleton at the Lovely Bar who connected me to someone who needed a skipper to take a 60-foot yacht from Singapore to New York by way of the Canal.

Now I knew very little about yachts of any length, but I figured my good Annapolis training would come back to me. Besides, we were practically broke and the money offered was more than generous. It all sounded too good to be true, and this turned out to be the case.

When we went down to the dock in Singapore to see the boat (twenty minutes late for our appointment because Daphne had insisted on going back to the hotel for her sun hat) we found the yacht swarming with police. Needless to say we beat a hasty retreat, and we later found out that the boat had been impounded along with fifty-nine kilos of heroin.

Two police detectives came to our hotel (the Palm Grove) the day after and asked us about the yacht. I claimed complete ignorance of the whole affair; we were merely tourists, ha ha. The detectives left and didn’t return, but afterwards I had the feeling we were being watched.

The thing to do obviously was to get the hell out of the country quick, but at this point we were down to less than a hundred bucks. We decided to stay on at the hotel and put up a brave front while we tried to raise some money.

Daphne’s mother proved to be unreachable, on assignment in Biafra. My dad was drinking when I finally got him on the phone at the Union League and would only tell me that Daphne and I should ship out on a banana boat. My dad had money, but he had never forgiven me for retiring from the navy, and he didn’t like Daphne. And she didn’t like him. And, in fact, my father and I didn’t really like each other.

Daphne always let me handle our finances, much as they were handled at all, and I hadn’t let her know exactly how dire our straits were. If she had known she would have been quite likely to set about raising funds the easy way from the wealthy businessmen who craned their necks to stare at her at the swimming pool or in the cocktail lounge. She would have led them on and maybe let them paw her a bit, and then have asked for a “loan”, or perhaps she’d just beat them with a belt for a flat fee. All of this would be against my wishes of course, but I knew when I married her that Daphne does just exactly what she wants to do and that’s all there is to it.

An agonizing week passed. The weather was absurdly hot and humid, and except for the odd swim in the pool we rarely left the air-conditioned confines of the Palm Grove. Our room, the lobby, the pool, the bar, the restaurant. The restaurant, the bar, the pool, the lobby, our room. Drinking way too many cocktails and signing bills like mad...

It would have been nice if that voice from the radio had said something about tickets waiting for us at the UA desk, but it hadn’t.

Came the morning, rarely an energetic time for either of us, and I dragged Daphne out of the hotel after first dropping our luggage from a window and down into an orchid bed. Wearing our bathing suits so as not to arouse suspicion, we sneaked into the garden, pulled on shorts and shirts we had secreted in our towels, grabbed our suitcases, dashed out to the street, hailed a cab and told him the airport and step on it.

We passed through some sort of political demonstration or riot, people pounding on the cab. I handed the driver a wad of Singaporean one-dollar bills, just about the last of our kitty, and the guy sheared through the mob like a knife through warm butter.

Maybe for once we’d get out of a country before all hell broke loose.

I tried the United Airlines desk and sure enough there were no tickets in either my or Daphne’s name. Swell. I wondered what the penalty for bolting a two-week luxury hotel bill in Singapore was. Probably a thousand lashes and life imprisonment.

We went to the cocktail lounge and ordered drinks.

At the bar I saw an American naval captain smoking a pipe and drinking a martini. It was Huey Gregg, an old classmate from Annapolis. I got up and went over. He was reading a paperback, The Rare Coin Score by Richard Stark.

I pumped his hand frantically.

“Huey, please tell me you’re taking a military flight out of this joint.”

“Sure am, Dick. Got a flight at oh-nine-thirty hours. Need a lift?”

“I fucking love you.”

“Easy there, big boy.”

“Not that it matters,” I said, “but where’s the flight headed?”

“How’s Frisco sound?”

(Click here to go to our next thrilling chapter. Check the right hand column of this page for links to other episodes of
Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain [now renewed for a second season!] as well as to appreciations of many of his classic films. And coming soon from Ha! Karate [Yokohama]: The Complete Larry Winchester, Vol. 2, a budget-priced DVD box set comprising Race to Rangoon, Hot Rod Hooligans, and The Joey Bishop Story, plus a special bonus disc of all six episodes of Larry’s 1962 TV series Heintz Factory Days. Includes voice-over commentaries from Larry, his longtime collaborator Tommy "Legs" Larkin, and the actors Carolyn Jones, Nehemiah Persoff, Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, and Richard Beymer, as well as the feature-length documentary Larry Winchester: Hollywood Renegade.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Twenty-Eight: pondering the mysteries of Arnold Schnabel

In our previous entry in this unexpurgated serialization of the memoirs of “the Rhyming Brakeman”, Arnold Schnabel, our hero took his usual long evening swim, during which he encountered a sunken concrete ship, a nun, and an abandoned World War II artillery bunker.

Cape May, NJ. August 1963.

I took my shower, went up to my attic room and changed. I decided to go visit Elektra after all, even though I had seen her just the previous night.

I went downstairs quietly and crept out the side entrance so as to avoid my aunts and mother and Kevin, but unfortunately Kevin was sitting on the porch and he saw me trying to make my escape.

“Cousin Arnold! Combat!’s coming on!”

I hesitated, tempted. Sure enough the proud theme of Combat! blared from the Philco in the living room. But I stuck to my guns.

“I’m going out for a while,” I called.

“Are you going to see Electric?”

I just kept going.

As I walked it occurred to me that I didn’t even know Elektra’s phone number, assuming she and her friends had a phone in their apartment. It also occurred to me that I didn’t even know her last name.

I went around to the back of their house, behind the shop. I hadn’t noticed it before, but there was a buzzer-button to the side of the door. I pressed it and waited. There was no response. I pressed it again. Nothing. I stepped back and looked up. Light came from the upstairs windows, but that meant nothing with this wild and wooly Bohemian crew.

I headed over to the the Ugly Mug. If they were there, fine; if not, well, beer was there and that was fine too.

Sure enough the four of them were all sitting in a booth with a pitcher of beer.

I walked over.

“Hello,” I said.

They all said hello back to me, but it was awkward, there wasn’t room for a fifth in the booth.

“Well,” I said, “I think I’ll go have a beer at the bar.”

I found an empty stool, and ordered a Schaefer. A song about some guy named Louie was on the jukebox.

Just as the bartender was putting down my mug Elektra came up next to me.

“Hello, you.”

“Hello,” I said.

She had that mass of dark hair piled up high on her head in some strange fashion.

“Did you write that poem about me yet?”

“No,” I said. “But I will. I hope.”

{Arnold did indeed write the poem the following week. — Editor.}

“Where have you been all day?”

I told her about my trip to the library, leaving out my search for solid information, and if possible pictures, concerning the female genitalia. I told her of my trip to the duck pond with Kevin, of my swim, the concrete ship, the nun. I left out the part about my writing a poem, as I didn’t want her to feel slighted because it hadn’t been about her.

“So you’ve had a pretty full day?”

Her dress was printed with red and black polka dots on a white background, and its scooped décolletage revealed the swelling of the upper part of her breasts, which, because she was standing and I was sitting on a barstool, were that much closer to the level of my eyes. I could feel the warmth of her body, and I found myself not answering her question but saying:

“Let’s go to bed.”

“Well, aren’t you romantic?”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Finish your beer,” she said.

I finished it in two more gulps. It was then that I noticed that fellow Steve, on the other side of the bar, sitting near a group of young coast guardsmen. He was waving merrily to me. I nodded and got off my stool.

Elektra went and got her purse, said a quick goodbye to her friends, and we were soon out the door.

She put her arm in mine as we walked down Washington Street. She looked up at me.

“You know, Arnold, I don’t usually behave this way.”

“That’s good,” I said.

I hurried her along. I wouldn't put it past Steve to come tripping after us.

“I don’t want you to think I’m just ready to jump into bed with you whenever you feel like it,” she said.

“No, of course not."

“But luckily for you I feel like it too.”

“Good,” I said.

I’ll skip ahead here…

“Arnold,” she said.


“What are you doing?”

“I want to try this yodeling thing,” I said.

“Yodeling? Is that what it’s called?”

“So I’ve been told,” I said.

So I blindly gave it the old college try. (Not that I ever went to college.)

After a minute she said, “Arnold, that feels good.”

“Really?” I said. I have to admit I didn’t mind doing it, although I wasn’t sure how long I could continue.

“But, baby, stop making that noise.”

“You mean the yodeling?”

“Yes, the yodeling. It was funny at first but it’s distracting already.”

“So — I’m not sure I understand. You want me to stop?”

“No, keep doing it, just stop making that noise.”

“Oh, okay. So don’t actually yodel.”

“No, wiseguy, don’t actually yodel.”

Well, you really can learn something new every day.

“But wait,” I said.


“Where exactly is this little man in the boat?”

“You really don’t know?”

“No,” I said. “I tried to, um, look it up in the library, but —”

“Okay, here.”

She touched it with her finger.

“Ah,” I said.

“Wiseguy,” she said.

[The next nine lines of Schnabel’s holograph have been completely cross-hatched out, in one of his occasional instances of apparent self-expurgation. — Editor.]

Finally she said, “Okay, stop. Stop.”

I stopped. I rested my head on her thigh. I dozed for perhaps a minute, then woke up, raring to go.

“Wait,” she said. “Let me rest a minute, okay, baby?”

“Sure,” I said.

I lay there next to her. Soon she was sound asleep, on her side.

This was a predicament. I wondered if she would mind if I just went ahead while she was sleeping, but on second thought that seemed rude.

After a while I got up and got dressed in the dark, and left quietly, gently closing her door behind me.

I walked home without incident.

I still didn’t know her last name, and I still didn’t know her phone number. But at least
I’d gotten to the bottom of this yodeling thing.

Up in my room I turned on my electric table fan and read a few more lines of this Waste Land poem. I wasn’t too impressed until I came to this line:

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

That was a line I wouldn’t mind having written. I quit while I was ahead, closed the book, and put out the light.

The leaves of the oak tree in the yard jittered and whispered outside my little casement window, as if they wanted to come in.

I imagined Elektra’s body, her smell, her smells, the sounds she made, and while doing so I went ahead and committed what is allegedly a mortal sin. Not that one more mattered at this point.

And then I too slept.

(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. Please go to the right hand column of this page to find links to other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of Arnold Schnabel’s splendid poems.)

Monday, October 22, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 23: gun room

Our serialization of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, now presented for the first time in all its uncut majesty, continues apace.

September, 1969. A town called Disdain in the state of New Mexico, also known as “The Land of Enchantment”.

The recently-discharged young soldier Harvey has returned home to say one last farewell before leaving again to find his own path through the cosmos.

However, before he can say farewell he gets in a fight with a local bully named Bull Thorndyke and shoots him dead in self-defense, using Sheriff Dooley’s own revolver.

The local rancher Big Jake Johnstone then offers Harvey an amazingly well-paying temporary gig as a guide for two mysterious and beautiful strangers, Dick Smith and his wife Daphne. (But it turns out Dick’s real last name is Ridpath.)

On the drive out to Big Jake’s ranch our principals are waylaid by a loathsome biker band called the Motorpsychos, led by a one-eyed former Oxford don called Moloch. Dick is forced to shoot dead one of the gang, although he later wonders if he would have found it necessary to shoot him if he had not been under the influence of LSD at the time.

Everyone spends the next day recovering.

The following day Dick and Daphne come down to Big Jake’s lunch table to find among the other guests two notorious international killers named Hans Grupler and Marlene, now posing as West German tourists. (Check our previous episode to get the lowdown on all that.)

When Daphne got back from her turn in the bathroom Dick was gazing at himself in the mirror, adjusting his shoulder holster under his safari jacket. He had an extra thirteen-round magazine for the Browning in the left side pocket of his jacket. He put his cigarette case and lighter in the right side pocket.

“My, aren’t we handsome?”

“We sure are. Hey, sweety, take that gun on the bed and bring it along. Just in case we run into those motorcycle guys, or whatever.”

She picked up the small but sturdy Smith & Wesson snubnose.

“Careful there, baby, it’s loaded. You got a round under the hammer there, kiddo.”

“I’ll be careful. But you know who should be careful -- any of those motorcycle guys who try to fool with us again, that’s who.”

She aimed the .38 at the mirror, and Dick really wished she would aim it somewhere else.

“Come on, biker,” she snarled. “Eat this! Pow! Pow!”

She blew imaginary smoke from the pistol’s muzzle.

“I hope those bastards try to bother us.”


They’re probably the least of our worries, thought Dick.


Daphne wanted to choose the horses, and while she did this Dick had a little tête-à-tête with Big Jake in his “gun room”.

They were there to pick out a suitable sidearm for Harvey. Glass-doored cabinets filled with weaponry from contemporary to antique, dead animal heads on wood-paneled walls, the smell of leather, tobacco, bourbon and steel -- the room was a still-life orgy of such strident masculinity that Dick wondered if Big Jake wasn’t really a pansy after all; either that or he had a pretty small cock.

“Now ya know, Dick ol’ boy, maybe we oughta fix you up with a shootin’ iron while we’re at it. I mean, that little snubby you used the other night might be fine at real close range, but --”

“I’ll be carrying this, Jake.”

Dick lifted up the left breast of his jacket.

“Oh. Automatic, huh? Whatcha got there?”

“Browning, Hi-Power.”

“Oh. Well, now, that’s a fine shootin’ weapon, yessir, fine weapon. Had it a long time?”


“Used to it, huh?”


“Sure it’s in good shape and all?”

“I take good care of it.”

“Well, if you’re happy with it --”

“Excuse me, Jake, I mean, not to rush you, but we really should pick out something for Harvey --”

“Yes sir. Right away. I know I do tend to run my old mouth on the all too infrequent occasion I get a intelligent guest like yourself here, Dick boy. Nice shoulder holster ya got there too by the way --”

“Thanks, Jake. So --”

“Handsome safari jacket ya got there, too. Abercrombie & Fitch?”

“Joseph A. Bank, Philadelphia.”

“Joseph A. Bank?”

“Yeah. Y’know, Jake, what about that service .45 there? Harvey’s probably familiar with it from the army.”

“Well, he probably is, sir, that no doubt he is, and the M1911 is a fine weapon, carried one myself back in the big one.” He opened the glass lid of the case and gently caressed the pistol. “But may I make a suggestion? Just one --”


Dick smiled politely, but he couldn’t help wanting to take one of Jake’s fine Purdey shotguns off the wall and shoving it up his fat ass.

“Now I know you wanta carry that Browning, Dick, and I don’t blame ya. That’s a fine weapon, and you’re used to it. But let me tell ya somethin’ about automatics in this country, all this dust out here, well, sir, sometime they gonna jam up, and you got a automatic jammed you got yourself a problem. And that’s why I myself carry a Colt New Service revolver I inherited from my daddy, fifty year old and never jammed one single time. Not once. But, for Harvey, now, lemme tell ya, that was one good shot he got off day before yesterday with the sheriff’s gun, heavy as that cannon is, but -- slight little fella like Harvey? You want a reliable stoppin’ gun for this country but not too heavy? Well, sir, I’m gonna recommend this piece.”

He took a Parkerized revolver out of a higher shelf of the case and held it out in both hands like a proud shopkeeper.

“Smith & Wesson M10. Chambered for the .38 Special, four-inch barrel, just a hair under two pound, government issue and don’t you even ask me how I acquired it. But -- just you feel the balance on this sucker.”

Dick took the gun and felt the balance.

“Lotta them Green Berets carry this weapon, and believe you me that baby’ll stop any damn fool you point it at.”

“Okay, sold.”

Dick restrained the urge to try out the gun’s pistol-whipping efficacy on Big Jake’s head, and Jake proceeded to show off and expatiate on various other firearms in his collection.

There was something very nervous under his good-old-boy façade, and he seemed to be working hard to hide this nervousness. Was he always this way? No way to know, but Dick was bored and agitated, and he seriously considered bracing Jake here and now and maybe getting to the bottom of this whole Grupler and Marlene and Philips and Adams nonsense.

But on second thought he decided just to let the fat bastard stew in his own vile juices a while longer.

If the time came when Dick really had to get some information out of this man then he would just ask.

And if Jake tried to hold back or prevaricate, well, a guy like this, one little tap and he’d crack like an egg.

(Breathlessly continued here. Turn to the right hand column of this page for links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, as well as to appreciations of many of his fine motion pictures.

Friday, October 19, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Twenty-Seven: Arnold encounters a nun on the beach

Congress Hall, Cape May, NJ

Previously in our saga, our hero Arnold Schnabel went with his young cousin Kevin to the Cape May Library, where he unsuccessfully attempted to find some solid information on the mysteries of the female anatomy. Later that day he took Kevin to feed the ducks out at Lily Lake on Cape May Point.

But his day was not yet done.

It was a hot August day in 1963. The US, the UK, and the USSR had recently signed an historic nuclear test ban treaty, but Arnold was not aware of this...

After digesting my supper and reading some of This Sweet Sickness — an excellent book by the way; I must say I made much quicker headway in it than I’d been making in that Waste Land poem — I went for my usual evening swim.

It’s amazing how strong I’ve gotten. This time I swam down toward the lighthouse, where I saw the last of the sun sinking down over the bay. Then, just for a laugh, I swam out to the concrete ship on the other side of the point.

This is some old ship, made out of concrete during a steel shortage in the First World War, which for some reason unknown to me had finally been run aground out here. It sits there a hundred yards or so from the shore, looking forlorn.

It was very odd to swim up to it. I felt as if I were approaching a ghost ship, even though as far as I knew no one had died on the ship. I considered trying to climb up onto it, but that seemed just too creepy.

Doggy-paddling, I put my hands against the concrete hull of the ship. I felt as if I were touching something that was not meant to be touched, and I pushed myself away.

I felt oddly frightened, even though I knew there was nothing to be afraid of, it was just some old abandoned ship made out of concrete. But I turned and swam away.

I began to feel a little tired, so I headed in toward the shore, and fetched up on the beach in front of the St. Mary’s convent.

I walked up from the surf and then sat down to catch my breath, facing the waves and the gleaming dark water where the bay opens up into the ocean, the faint glow of the lights of Delaware on the far horizon.

After the scariness of the concrete ship it was soothing just to stare out at the restless water. The lighthouse was behind me and to my left, and every five seconds or so I saw the reflection of its beam out on the waves.

Then a woman’s voice gently said hello.

I turned.

It was a nun, fairly young.

“Hello,” I said.

“Are you all right, sir?”

She seemed more curious than frightened.

“Yes,” I said. “I was swimming but I got tired, so I just came in to rest.”


Then I remembered. I got up.

“I’m sorry, sister. I forgot this was private property.”

“I figured you just didn’t know.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “I knew. I just got tired and I didn’t think.”

“You really shouldn’t be swimming all alone at night,” she said. Even though it was dark now the paleness of her face seemed to glow within its frame of white linen, with that great scoop of a white bib-thing on her chest, and the long black folds of her habit moving and breathing in the breeze.

“Oh, I’m a very good swimmer,” I said.

“But still. What if you got a cramp?”

This was an excellent point, and it occurred to me that maybe one of the reasons I had started swimming at night was that I was courting just such a cramp.

“You know, you’re right,” I said.

“You should walk home.”

“Well, I will, but I left my flip-flops and towel and stuff down the beach there a mile or so.” I pointed toward Cape May. “I can swim there easily now that I’m rested."

“Oh, please don’t swim there,” she said. “I’ll worry.”

It felt odd to be talking to a nun in her full habit while I was standing there wet in my swimming trunks.

“Please tell me you’ll walk.”

Her face seemed like any pleasant woman’s now.

“Okay,” I said.

“Promise me.”

She even spoke the way ordinary women spoke.

“I promise,” I said.

I noticed a couple of other nuns standing in the light of their porch up there. This was their vacation. What did they do all day? Did they swim, or play cards or Monopoly?

“Did the other sisters send you down to investigate?” I asked.

“I volunteered,” she said.

“You’re very brave, sister.”

“Are you Catholic?”

“Yes,” I said, although as soon as I said it I realized that I wasn’t a very good Catholic any more. I was in a state of mortal sin after all.

She had been holding her hands inside her habit, but now she did a funny thing. She brought out one hand to shake mine.

“I’m Sister Mary Elizabeth,” she said.

“I’m Arnold,” I said, shaking her hand. “Pleased to meet you, sister.”

Her hand was soft, and feminine, but what else would it be?

So odd, standing there on the dark beach in my wet trunks, shaking hands with a nun.

The lighthouse light flashed over our heads.

We said so long and I walked back down to the end of the fence that borders the nuns’ beach. I turned on some strange impulse to wave back at her, but she was walking back up the beach to the convent and to her friends on the lighted porch.

I went around the fence, the surf rushing against my calves, and I headed down the beach of the cove.

I walked past the massive bulk of the abandoned World War II bunker, and when I had gone far enough so that I was sure the nuns couldn’t see me I went back into the water, and I swam the rest of the way back to the Cape May end of the beach.

I had broken my promise to the nun, but what she didn’t know wouldn‘t hurt her.

I made it back to my spot without further incident, toweled off, put on my t-shirt and flip-flops and started back home.

It was nice to walk along the boardwalk, and to see people. And when I got to Perry Street it was good to see Congress Hall there to the left, all lit up, not dark and abandoned.

I crossed Beach Drive and headed up Perry Street. I hadn’t yet decided if I should go to see Elektra tonight. I wanted to, but I didn’t want to start boring her.

I wanted to try this yodeling thing, that is if it was okay with her.

According to that Steve guy, she would be delighted.

Well, we would see about that.

(Click here for our next installment. For a complete list of links to other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of Arnold Schnabel’s fine poems, please turn to the right hand side of this page.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 22: Grupler

Previously in our serialization of Larry Winchester’s sprawling (“Oh, but how one wishes it were twice as long!” -- Ronald Firbank) epic, now presented uncut for the first time:

Dick Ridpath (“One fairly expects his passport to list his occupation as ‘mysterious stranger’” -- John Updike) and his lovely and unflappable young wife Daphne partook of an uneasy lunch at the table of dude-rancher Big Jake Johnstone. Who should Dick have seen there but the apparently notorious Hans Grupler and his accomplice Marlene, under the guise of tourists named Feldschmitt from West Germany.

New Mexico, September 1969...

Dick went down the hall to take a pee before they went out for the day but the door was locked.

“One moment please.”

It was Grupler.

Dick stood and waited. He lit up a cigarette. A Marlboro. There had been a mahogany box of them on a little table by the staircase and he had grabbed a handful. He breathed it in. He missed his unfiltered Craven “A”s, which he had gotten used to in Saigon and Singapore. He’d have to pick up some Chesterfields in town.

A deep orgasmic groaning came from the bathroom, then finally a heavy liquid plopping accompanied by burgherish sighs of pleasure.

Dick had only seen Grupler in person once before. Marlene he knew only by photographs. However it had once been Dick’s job to know quite a bit about people like Grupler and Marlene.

They were terrible people and indeed on the one occasion when he and Grupler had come face to face the only thing that kept Dick from doing humanity a favor and shooting him down like a mad dog on the spot was the fact that they were both sitting in the crowded bar car of the Paris/Marseilles express.

Dick had needed to take a pee then, too. Grupler had made him as well, and they both had to sit there for hours, keeping a eye on one another. The seconds oozed by like beads of sweat as Dick nursed a cognac, his bladder feeling ripe to burst, but he didn’t dare go to the head. Not if he didn’t want to take a chance on getting drilled through the door while taking his piss.

His only consolation through this agonizing trip was that Grupler didn’t dare go to the WC either.

When they finally pulled into the station at Marseilles, Dick (with his hand in his jacket pocket gripping his Browning) had tried to follow Grupler but had lost him in the crowd. Being too wary to use the station’s rest room he had carried his suitcase to a nearby seedy café and there had finally voided his bladder into the reeking but quaint hole in the men’s room floor.

Shortly before Dick’s retirement from the service he had heard rumors that Grupler and Marlene’s multiple treacheries had finally been discovered by the East Germans; that they had gone underground; that they had offered their services to and been turned down by the CIA (whom they had already worked for and betrayed several times -- indeed they were suspected of the murder of at least one CIA officer, and of who knows how many other “assets”); that the Soviets had a $50,000 contract on their heads.

The last Dick had heard of Grupler and Marlene was that they had been chased out of London by the Kray gang and then had gotten themselves killed in Haiti after trying to pull a double deal on Duvalier.

But these sort of people were like cockroaches.

They would keep turning up.

Dick had almost finished his insipid Marlboro when the toilet flushed loudly and decisively.

The slapping sounds of washing up, like a thirsty horse in a water trough, as the toilet bowl slowly refilled itself, whining rustily and moaning as if it was drawing its fresh water not without pain from some dark cistern deep beneath the surface of the desert.

Then the door opened and there stood Grupler still buttoning his heavy worsted trousers as the stench wafted out of the bathroom behind him.

“Commander Ridpath,” he smiled, showing those yellowed doglike teeth, “or should I say Mr. Smith, such a pleasure to meet you again.”

“Mister whatever will do just fine, Hans. I’m retired.”

“Ah yes.” Grupler took a soft leatherbound notebook out of the inside breast pocket of his tweed hunting jacket and thumbed through it.

“Retired -- officially -- from active service 29th April 1965.”

“Actually my papers were dated 17th May.”

Hans raised his eyebrows.


He removed a pencil from a holder in the book, made an erasure on the open page, blew away the rubber dust, licked the point of the pencil, wrote something, put the pencil back, and then closed the notebook with a precise little thwap.

(To tell the truth Dick had no idea when his papers had been dated.)

“I am so happy to make the acquaintance of your charming wife the former Miss Daphne F. MacNamara of the Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”

He paused rather disgustingly with a wet little smile.

“You have done very well for yourself, Mr. Ridpath or should I say Mr. Smith. It is wonderful is it not to have someone to share one’s life through fat and thin.”

“Thick and thin,” said Dick.

“Quite. Through the thick of the thin of it.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“To the bitter end,” said Grupler.

What the fuck.

“Excuse me, Hans. I really gotta pee.”

“Yes, of course, pardon me.”

He stepped aside, bowing, and Dick walked by sideways, not taking an eye off him.

Grupler seemed almost ready to follow Dick into the bathroom, but Dick closed the door.

Inside, he stood to one side of the door and waited until he heard Grupler’s footsteps receding.

The bathroom still reeked of Grupler’s bowel movement.

Dick took one last drag of his cigarette and dropped it into the toilet.

Of course Hans had left the lid up.

And, yes, damn it to hell, there was a definite fresh smudge of shit-smear on the toilet seat.


Dick tore off some toilet paper, wet it under the faucet, then wiped off the seat. He dropped the paper into the toilet, ripped off another wad of paper, and gave the seat another good wipe with the dry paper.

He paused, wondering if Grupler had tiptoed back and was standing out there, listening.

Fuck him.

He dropped the paper into the bowl and then washed his hands thoroughly with Ivory soap.

He dried his hands and only then did he unzip and take his pee, amidst that still-lingering shit stench, mixed with -- yes -- it could only be -- the cloying tang of Hai Karate cologne.

Fucking Grupler. Him and that whore Marlene.

Dick had not felt good about killing that motorcyclist the other night, and he knew that if he hadn’t been quite so ripped on that Owsley acid he could have probably easily stopped the guy with a simple pistol barrel smacked against his nose and a kick to the balls, whatever. There were other ways to stop a big fat giant with a monkey wrench besides shooting him in the eye.

No use crying over spilt milk, but still...

He had decided a long time ago he wanted nothing more to do with killing people.


But he had to admit that right now he really wouldn’t mind at all killing Grupler and that bitch Marlene, too, in the bargain.

People like that just had no respect for human life.

He’d run into his share of that sort in his career, and they weren’t always foreigners, either.

When you came right down to it, it was that cold-blooded sort who had caused Dick to retire early from the navy.

He just couldn’t stand people like that, and if Grupler was smart he’d watch his step.

But come to think of it, Grupler was smart. After all, he had fucked over plenty of the most dangerous people in the world, and here he was, still walking around, full of beans.

Dick finished and flushed, washed and dried his hands again.

He pulled the door open and with one eye peeked down the corridor.

(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. Kindly go to the right hand side of this page for links to other thrilling episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, as well as to appreciations of many of the fine motion pictures of this great American auteur.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Twenty-Six: female anatomy, ducks, and "The Waste Land"

In our previous episode of this now-published-for-the-first-time memoir of the poet whom John Updike styled “half Rimbaud, half John Keats, half Stan Laurel” (sic), Arnold Schnabel determined to do some research on the physical mysteries of the human female.

We resume our tale on the front porch of the boarding house owned and operated by his three maiden aunts in Cape May NJ, whither Arnold has gone with his saintly mother to recover from a mental breakdown he had suffered the previous January.

A hot sunny morning in August, 1963. Arnold’s interlocutor is his young cousin Kevin.

We sat reading our comics for a while and then Kevin spoke.

“Cousin Arnold.”

“Yes,” I said.

“How would you like to take me fishing?”

“Fishing? You mean in a boat?”

“No, off the rocks.”

“Oh, well, you don’t need me for that.”

“You don’t want to go fishing with me?”

“No, not really.”

Oddly enough he didn’t pursue the matter. If he had I would have explained that I didn’t fancy sitting on a rock all day in the hot sun. But he let it go. And then came up with this a couple of minutes later:

“What about going to see the ducks?”

“The ducks?”

“At that lake on Cape May Point. We could go look at the ducks.”

“You want to go look at some ducks.”

“Yeah,” he said.

And I was the one who was supposed to be mentally ill.

“Maybe,” I said.


“I don’t know.”

“Let’s go today.”

“I have to go to the library,” I said.

“I’ll go with you.”

“All right,” I said.

I finished the comic, then went up, took my shower, and changed.

Kevin was on the porch when I came down. He had a stack of library books on his lap, and I had four or five of my own under my arm.

The library is in the basement of the city hall, a ten minute’s walk.

We turned in our books at the desk, and Kevin immediately headed for the children’s section. Normally I would have gone straight for the section with books about guys caught in a deadly whirlpool of violence and sin, but I asked the librarian where the biology books were. She told me, I found the section, the whole single shelf of it, and I set to work.

Nothing. Nothing I could use. Then I had a brainwave: the encyclopedia. Fortunately the library had a complete Britannica, only a few years old. I went right to the first volume and “Anatomy”. The human body charts with the overlapping clear plastic pages were there, but they told me nothing new. I already knew where the vagina was (but at least I was finally able to see the difference between the vagina and the uterus). I checked the “C”s but there was no mention of this thing the clitoris. Same thing with the “V”s. Not even a word about the vagina, let alone a six-page article.

And this was supposed to be the world’s greatest encyclopedia? A search for an entry under cunnilingus also proved futile.

I made my way to the table with the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, and, after looking all around to make sure there was no one spying on me, I looked up and at last I found those mysterious words, but all the dictionary gave me were definitions – no pictures, no instructions, no help.

I was on my own.

As I headed for the mysteries and thrillers I consoled myself with the thought that thousands of generations of men had been at least as ignorant as I on this subject. Perhaps the thing to do was just to ask Elektra. Presumably she knew where this alleged little man in the boat was, if he indeed existed and Steve had not been pulling my leg.
I found a book called This Sweet Sickness which looked good. Kevin came over, his arms full of books.

“Now can we go see the ducks?” he whispered, because we were in the library, and he had been well-trained.

“The what?” I whispered back.

“The ducks, at the lake. You said maybe we could go see them.”

I didn’t want to see the ducks, but the boy looked so pathetic standing there that I was visited by a feeling of pity.

“I’ll take you to see the ducks,” I said.

“For real?”

“Yes,” I said. “Now let’s get out of here.”

When we got home we put our books away, got two old bicycles out of the garage and headed out.

We biked in the hot salty sunlight along Sunset Boulevard with the lush woods on either side, and I had to slow down and stop occasionally until Kevin caught up. We turned left down Light House Avenue and there was the lake, Lily Lake I think it’s called, or maybe it’s Lake Lily.

We set our bikes down, and I sat in the shade of an oak tree while Kevin crept down and crouched at the edge of the lake to stare at some ducks that were floating quietly on the shimmering surface of the greenish water. The ducks looked bored, but then it was a hot day.

Insects buzzed, and one of the ducks emitted a half-hearted squawk. Yellow lily pads lay motionless on the water by the banks. I was as damp as a lily pad myself from the bike ride. No one else was around.

I got out my cigarettes and lighter and lit up a Pall Mall. I had always enjoyed a smoke in the fresh air. Not that I didn’t enjoy one indoors, either.

I had stuck The Waste Land in my back pocket. I opened it and resumed where I had left off the previous night, i.e., the first line.

The next five or six lines got better, but then came this line: “Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee”, which a footnote informed me was a lake south of Munich, a city I had been stationed in, and in the summer, in 1945.

Here again Eliot was losing me. Why should summer surprise anyone? What would be surprising would be if summer did not come.

I closed the book over my finger. There was Kevin, squatting staring at the bored ducks. Then he took a wadded handkerchief out of his pocket, opened it up and began to toss bread crumbs onto the water. Sure enough two or three of the ducks skimmed over, squawking, and began poking their bills down at the floating crumbs.

The ducks were no longer bored.

The quacking word got out to all the ducks on the lake, a dozen or so of them.
Kevin slowly doled out his crumbs, one by one. He seemed to be trying to be fair, making sure all the ducks got an equal share of crumbs.

Finally the crumbs were all gone, and Kevin told the ducks this. After a few minutes they seemed to understand, and they swam away about their business, already looking bored again.

Kevin stood up, shook his handkerchief out, shoved it back into his pocket, and walked back to where I sat.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m finished. We can go now.”

The funny thing was that now I felt like watching the ducks. But I could see that Kevin had had his fill. I stubbed out the butt of my cigarette into the moist earth.

“Okay,” I said. I field-stripped the butt and flicked the little pieces of what it had been into the warm thick air. “Let’s go.”

And then we got on our bikes and headed back home.

Who says my life is not exciting.

(Click here to go to the next chapter. Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find links to other thrilling episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of Arnold Schnabel’s classic poems, soon to be featured in the tribute album Planet Schnabelia, featuring musical adaptations by Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, Iggy Pop, Morrissey, Joni Mitchell, Kevin Bacon, LeAnn Rimes, Norah Jones, Macy Gray, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Vic Chesnutt, The Pet Shop Boys, and several other players to be named later.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Twenty-Five: breakfast of a champion

In our previous episode of this epic memoir, now presented in its uncut (or any) form for the first time, the poet Arnold Schnabel (“Makes Walt Whitman look like small potatoes” -- Robert Frost) had a conversation with a fellow named Steve who may or may not be the son of God. Over several Manhattans too many, Steve (who claimed to have many women friends) gave Arnold some specific advice on satisfying women.

The time is still August, 1963. The place is the pleasant seaside resort of Cape May, NJ, where Arnold has gone with his mother to recover from a mental breakdown the previous winter. He has been sleeping in an attic in the large shambling Victorian boarding house run by his three maiden aunts, Greta, Edith, and Elizabetta. Arnold’s young cousin Kevin is also staying there...

No surprise, I had a slight hangover when I awoke the next morning. But here’s yet another great thing about being on leave of absence (dear God, or dear Steve, whomever, may this leave of absence extend until I myself am absent from this world!): it really doesn’t matter if I’m a little hungover because I have absolutely nothing to do all day.
Back when I was working I was far too responsible ever to have more than a couple of beers on a night before a work day, for fear of endangering hundreds of innocent lives on the railroad the next day. I would only really get my load on if I knew I was off the next morning; but now I was off every day of my life, and the only one I had to worry about endangering was my own fool self.

So the hangover was no problem, but as I went downstairs for breakfast I suddenly remembered my mother. What would be the result of her seeing me with a woman for the first time after forty-two years of my existence?

But here again I have to interpolate yet another way in which my life is now better.
I remember one time a few years ago I almost fell out of the cab of an engine as we were crossing the overpass by the Oak Lane stop. It had been snowing, I lost my footing on the slippery top step and I was halfway out the door and flailing when the engineer grabbed my arm, he pulled me in, and I didn’t die, which I surely would have done if I had fallen.

It’s funny, but serving with the engineers from D-Day plus one till V-E day, eleven months in a theatre of war, I never came close to being even scratched. But this one time on the train I almost died.

And so afterwards I always tried to think of this incident, and to be glad that I was alive, or at least not dead.

But so often I failed to be glad, like, say, roughly speaking, about ninety-nine percent of the time. Until in due time I felt not glad roughly 99.99% of the time. And then I went insane.

But here’s the thing, after going completely insane for a week, and then only gradually regaining some modicum of mental health, I find now that things that might have seemed earthshaking problems to me in the old days seem piffling now.

I’ve already experienced about the worst I can imagine experiencing short of some really horrible physical illness or crippling accident or death. And so an awkward conversation with my mother, even the prospect of an infinite number of awkward conversations with her, is certainly nothing that would stand between me and my enjoyment of a hearty breakfast.


No matter how late I stay up the night before I have an unerring instinct for getting up and making it downstairs just as breakfast is being laid out.

My aunts serve breakfast for me and Kevin at nine, which is completely for our convenience, since, as I mentioned before, the aunts and Mom wake up very early. On this particular morning not only had they gone to seven o’clock mass and performed innumerable chores around the house but they had also gone to the butcher’s and bought some excellent fresh sausage.

“Ah, sausage,” I said.

“Yes,” said my Aunt Elizabetta, “and Charlie Coleman brought us some strawberries this morning, and four chickens from his yard.”

“Good old Charlie,” I said.

“And some good tomatoes and corn,” said Aunt Greta.

“And those peaches,” said Aunt Edith, “I’m gonna make some good pies.”

“Great,” I said. I sat back as my mother put a big plate of sausage and eggs and home-fries in front of me.

“Cousin Arnold’s gonna get fat if he eats all that,” said Kevin.

“Cousin Arnold is a grown man. He needs his food,” said Aunt Elizabetta.

“I want that much,” said Kevin.

“No, you’ll get sick,” said Elizabetta.

We sat and ate for a while, or Kevin and I ate. My aunts and mother tend never actually to eat a meal, per se. One of them will eat half a slice of toast, say, and then pass it on to one of her sisters. If it’s a big holiday meal, forget it, they won’t even sit down for more than a minute at a time. There’s no changing them. And yet they’re all rather solid, and strong, albeit very short. They’re almost like the remnants of some race of immortal and stoutly-built dwarves who have emerged from the darkest depths of the Schwarzwald to dwell for a time among men.

As Kevin and I dug in, my aunts and mother chatted about the things they chat about, including this latest batch of Charlie’s eggs, as they passed around a bread-plate with the scrambled equivalent of one egg on it, of which each of them took one small appraising forkful, using the same fork, so as not to have to waste water washing more forks.
But of course Kevin had to bring it up, even though I had asked him to (bribed him to) please refrain from talking about my personal affairs.

“Cousin Arnold’s girlfriend is pretty,” he said.

A moment’s silence fell, as if we were on TV and the sound had suddenly gone off because of technical difficulties.

Then the sound came on again.

“Do you want some more sausage, Arnold?” said Elizabetta.

“Yes, thank you,” I said.

“She smells good, too,” said Kevin.

“Of course she smells good!” said Greta.

“She smells really good,” said Kevin.

“Arnold wouldn’t go out with a girl who didn’t smell good,” said Edith. Edith is slightly dotty to tell the truth. “Arnold would only go out with a nice, clean girl.”

Elizabetta forked me out another nice big sausage.

“Some more eggs?”

“No thanks,” I said.

“Have some more toast, Arnold,” she said. 
“Okay,” I said, and I grabbed another piece of buttered toast from the toast plate.
My mother, who had been hovering about, sat down to my right and picked up her own piece of toast.

“She’s a very nice girl,” she said.

“Of course she is,” said Elizabetta, and she sat down on my left, just as Greta and Edith finally sat, on either side of Kevin.

“And it doesn’t matter that she’s Jewish,” said Greta.

“Not at all,” said Edith. “We worked with some awfully nice Jewish girls at the phone company. Remember Ginger Goldberg? She always smelled nice.”

“As long as she lets the kids grow up Catholic,” said Elizabetta.

“Are you sure she’s not Italian, Arnold?” asked my mother. She passed the toast over my plate to Elizabetta. They would do their round robin with the toast now.

“She’s Jewish, Mom.”

“Well —” she said.

“Hmm,” said Elizabetta, chewing her toast.

“That only means she’ll go to limbo” said Edith. “Unless she converts, of course."

“She’s still one of God’s children,” said Greta.

“She might convert,” said Elizabetta.

“What is a Jew anyway?” said Kevin.

“It’s another religion, Kevin,” said Edith. “Jesus used to be one before he became a Catholic.”

“Oh,” said Kevin, already bored with the subject. “Who cares what religion she is. She’s pretty and she smells nice.”

I was finished with my sausage.

“Well,” I said, “that was great. I’m going to sit outside with my coffee now and have a smoke.”

I pushed my chair back.

“I’m done too,” said Kevin.

“You leave Cousin Arnold in peace,” said Elizabetta.

“I’m not going to bother him. Cousin Arnold, can I sit with you? I’ll just read my comics, I promise.”

“Sure,” I said. Why fight the inevitable?

I stood up. My mother’s fingers grazed my arm, just barely, as if a caterpillar had fallen down on me from a tree.

“Arnold, she seems very pretty and very nice. We don’t care if she’s Jewish.”

“Swell,” I said.

“If you ever want to have her over for dinner we’d be glad to have her.”

“Okay,” I said. “But you’ll have to get your meat from the kosher butcher.”

“Really?” said my mother.


“We don’t have a kosher butcher in Cape May!” said Elizabetta.

“I think there might be one in Wildwood,” said Edith, her face compacted in mental concentration.

“I’ll ask Mrs. Fuchs,” said Greta. Mrs. Fuchs has the house next door.

“There’s a kosher butcher right down on Fifth Street back home,” said my mother. “I could take the train up, and —”

She half-rose, as if ready to run off to the train station straight away.

“Mom, I was kidding,” I said. I was already heading to the door with my cup and saucer.

“But it’s really no problem,” said my mother.

“Just kidding, Mom.”

I went out the screen door and onto the porch. It was going to be another beautiful hot August day. I sat in my usual rocker, the one Elektra had sat in the night before. Kevin came out and sat in his usual rocker, next to mine. He had a stack of comics with him.
I put my cup and saucer on the little table next to my chair and lit a cigarette. I was still wearing the smoky clothes I’d worn the night before. It seemed like I could smell Elektra on them, this sort of burnt sugar smell she has.

“Cousin Arnold, you can read this one,” said Kevin.

He handed me a very old Tales From the Crypt, its pages yellowed and autumnal, but its cover still alluring: a scantily clad young woman in danger of being trampled by an elephant. I held the cover sideways, comparing the cover girl to Elektra in my mind. Elektra was definitely better-looking. Then I remembered that Steve guy and his advice about the yodeling technique. I would have to do some research; I decided that after I had read the comic and had a shower I would head over to the library and see what books they had on hand in re the subject of human biology, and specifically the female anatomy. I could also take out some new mystery novels.

(Click here for our next installment. Kindly check the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of links to other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven -- soon to be a major 12-part series from Masterpiece Theatre, starring Ralph Fiennes as Arnold Schnabel -- as well as to many of Arnold ’s classic poems.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Twenty-One: a big luncheon at Big Jake Johnstone’s ranch

Larry Winchester, auteur extraodinaire of this first-ever unexpurgated and unrated edition of his sprawling masterwork, here deftly switches the narrative back into the voice of the mysterious Dick Ridpath.

The place is the Johnstone Ranch, several miles outside of the town of Disdain, NM. The time is September, 1969, the month after the first Moon landing, and Woodstock, and the Manson murders. “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies is soaring its way to #1...

(Click here to see our previous episode.)

Finally around one o’clock we came down these long wide curving stairs, following the lovely maid Esmeralda, and into an ornate large dining room where apparently everyone was waiting for us.

And who do we see but Hans Grupler and that evil bitch known as “Marlene”.

Talk about not being able to escape one’s sordid past.

We sat down and were introduced.

Two smooth young men (“Mr. Philips and Mr. Adams”) whom I at first took for a couple of homosexual lads on vacation, but further observation makes me think CIA, maybe FBI.

Also a rather dissipated-looking young Englishman with long hair.

Big Jake of course and this absolutely stunning but very strange creature introduced as his daughter with the somehow unlikely name of “Hope”.

Grupler and Marlene are supposedly “Mr. and Mrs. Feldschmitt...tourists from West Germany”. Uh huh.

Grupler looked tanned and fit, as did Marlene, who by the way is built like a brick shit house and was wearing this distracting blouse thing opened up way down.

Philips and Adams were “geologists” doing some “fieldwork in the area for the government”. Right. OK.

The only guest who seemed legit was the Limey, introduced as Mr. Squitters, apparently a rock and roll star (never heard of him, what do I know) here to record and study local Mescalero chants. He spoke little; he said, with a thick Cockney accent, that he was “bloody ‘ungover”, and he looked it.

Lunch was OK. “Chicken fried” ham, which Big Jake said was from Virginia. A quite good “red hot” salsa. Nice warm tortillas instead of bread. Heinz baked beans. Canned peas and carrots. The pineapples were also from a can. An unusual rutabaga salad. Mateus and Blue Nun unfortunately, but -- surprise -- a decent Beaujolais.

Everyone played their cards tight to the vest.

Jake is dumb enough not to know about Grupler and Marlene, and Philips and Adams. But who knows?

With a day already wasted sleeping I thought it best to get right to work, so I asked Jake if we could have the soldier for the day “to show us around”.

Daphne wanted to go horseback. This seemed as good a way as any to reconnoiter the neighborhood, and had the advantage of being good “cover” since we were supposed to be on vacation ourselves.

After lunch Daphne changed into riding clothes. Brought out those old jodhpurs. She asked me how she looked in them, turning around.

She looked so good in them I had to take them right off her again.

(Click here for our next exciting chapter, and kindly go to the right hand side of this page for quick links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain and to appreciations of many of Larry’s classic films.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Twenty-Four: Arnold begs to differ with Mr. T.S. Eliot

Previously in our serialization of these memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, “the Rhyming Brakeman” of Olney: Arnold has had another encounter with Jesus (now disguised as an ordinary guy) this time at the Ugly Mug, while Elektra was in the ladies’ room. As he walks Elektra to her house he sees this mundane Jesus standing in the shadows, lighting a cigarette. Elektra goes up to the man, talks to him, and comes back to tell Arnold that the man is not Jesus but some guy named Steve.

Dateline: Cape May, New Jersey, August 1963, a time when you could order two mixed drinks at a nice bar and still get some change for your five-spot.

I’ll say this for Elektra, she didn’t make a big deal out of it. She just said, “Well, come on,” and we went around to the back and then up the stairs.

Fairchild and Rocket Man and Gypsy Dave were all sitting around their little living room again, listening to an old man singing with a guitar. As usual, or as usual as it could be for me, seeing as this was only the third time I had met them, they were smoking marijuana and drinking red wine. I was still saying hello to them all when Elektra pulled me by the arm towards and into her room.

Without much further ado, we were in her bed, and soon enough I was bidding farewell to the uneasy state of grace I had enjoyed since going to confession Saturday. But then, in the midst of the sin of fornication it occurred to me that I had committed the equally un-venial sin of self-abuse several times since my confession and thus was already in a state of mortal sin. You could only be damned once after all. And so I set to it with abandon.

The afterwards part again was nice. Neither of us talked. I could hear the old man singing in the next room. I let myself look toward the windows, but there were no divine apparitions.

After a while I said I should probably go home before I got too comfortable and fell asleep. She said okay, and turned on the light, so that I could find my clothes. She lay there and watched me as I got dressed.

“I still haven’t seen any of your famous poems, Arnold.”

I forgot to mention, she pronounces my name Ahnold.

“I’ll show you some sometime,” I said. “I keep them in scrapbooks.”

I’d already told her they weren’t very good. No point in overdoing the modesty bit.

“Write a poem for me,” she said.

“Okay,” I said.

“Just like that?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ve written poems with far less provocation, believe me.”

“I look forward to it,” she said.

“It will be on your desk the first thing tomorrow morning.”

“I don’t have a desk.”

“I know.”

“I like it when you’re funny, Arnold.”

“So do I,” I said.

“Kiss me good night.”

I did, we did, then I left.

In the living room they were all still there, and the old man was still singing.

“Come have a toke,” said Gypsy Dave, holding out a smoking reefer.

“Okay,” I said.

We chatted. It turned out the old man was not an old man, but a sturdy looking bearded young fellow named Dave Van Ronk.

After a little while I said good night to them all and left this room also.

When I came around the house to the front I lit a cigarette and looked up and down the street. I was looking for Jesus, or for that Steve Smith guy. I had this light feeling, and it wasn’t entirely the marijuana I think.

I stood there. Elektra, the woman I had been with, lay in her bed in her room up there above my head. The windows of her room were dark, so I supposed she had gone to sleep, or perhaps she was lying awake. It occurred to me that she may well have been thinking of me. How very odd to think that someone other than my mother would spend any time thinking about me; I was always trying to think of anything else but me. Trying and usually failing, I’m afraid.

I headed home.

I realize now that I love walking home at night in Cape May, even when I’m somewhat or completely drunk. The fresh ocean air, the rustling foliage, so different from back home in Olney, especially since going home there meant basically going home to the Heintz plant across the street from us, with its stacks belching foul smoke even as the bars are letting out at two in the morning.

My mother was wise in making me come here. I hadn’t wanted to come. No, why should I leave my little bedroom in our little house across from the factory, the same bedroom I’d had when we first moved there when I was just a boy.

I had gotten better here. It’s true, I still had visions, but I felt better, and, amazingly, I had even found a young woman who liked me, for her own reasons.

I got to my aunts’ house. Still no Jesus. But then I didn’t feel like going up to my small attic room after all. What was the hurry? I wasn’t sleepy. In fact I was as wide awake as I had ever been. I turned back, went down Perry Street and then up Washington.

When I reached the entrance of the Ugly Mug I hesitated, and then for no particular reason I went around the corner and went into to the Pilot House.

The bar was still crowded with vacationers, and Freddy Ayres and Ursula were performing on the little stage. Freddy was singing “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”.

I saw that Steve Smith fellow at the bar. He was drinking what looked to be a Manhattan, smoking a cigarette, leaning with one elbow on the bar, smiling and nodding his head in Freddy and Ursula’s direction.

Of course the only empty stool in the joint was the one right next to him. I sighed and went over.
I ordered a Manhattan. I had a feeling I would need it.

“Hey,” said this “Steve Smith”, “didn’t I see you on the street earlier tonight, with that gorgeous dark-haired girl?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“She asked me my name, ‘cause she said you thought you knew me.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Oh, I didn’t mind. She’s some looker.”

“Yes, she is,” I said.

“Your girlfriend?”

“Well, sort of, I suppose,” I said.

He seemed to study me appraisingly. He was about thirty-three; slim, sandy hair, somewhat balding. He gave no indication that we had been talking together at the Ugly Mug earlier that same night.
The bartender put down my Manhattan and Steve patted a little pile of money he had on the bar.

“Please, let me,” he said.

“Okay,” I said, “thanks.”

The bartender took some money and I took a sip of the Manhattan. “Steve” continued to study my baleful countenance.

“Y’know,” he said, “I couldn’t help but wonder why you just didn’t come over and speak to me yourself?”

And I wondered what kind of game Jesus was playing with me now. I don’t know why, and I didn’t know then, but I played along.

“I’m shy,” I said.

“Oh,” he said. “A shy guy.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“May I be perfectly honest?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“I was sorta kinda hoping you were cruising me there on the street,” he said. “You know, getting your lady friend to do the groundwork.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Oh,” he said. “Um, what’s your name again?”

“You mean you don’t know?”

“I think she said – what’s your little lady friend’s name by the way?”


“Elektra – how exotic! Anyway, I think she said your name was – Arthur?”



“No, it’s –”


“It’s Arnold,” I said.


“Arnold,” I said.


“Yes,” I said, wondering why I had sat down here, why I hadn’t just turned around and walked out when I saw him.

“I’m Steve,” said Steve, or Jesus, whoever he was, extending his hand. “Steve Smith.”

“Hi – ‘Steve’,” I said, shaking his hand, which he kept clasped to mine for an unusually long quarter of a minute.

“Very pleased to meet you, uh –”


Arnold. So, where’s your lady friend now?”

“In bed,” I said.

“Ah ha. I’m sure you left her quite satisfied.”

See, this is why I don’t like drinking with a lot of guys. They always get crude. But on the other hand he had bought me a drink.

“I’ll bet you really swing,” he said. “Keep the ladies happy.”

“Oh, probably no more than you do, Steve,” I said.

“Oh, me, oh my goodness no, I’m hopeless with the ladies.”

I finished the rest of the drink and in an attack of madness I motioned to the bartender.

“Two more here, please,” I said, and I brandished my five dollar bill.

“Oh, thank you, Arnold, I don’t mind if I do,” said my new friend, or my old one. “So – and please don’t take this the wrong way – but may I just come right out and ask you, and slap me silly if I’m being offensive, but do you by any fantastic chance swing both ways?”

“Which ways?” I said.

“Well, you know, like AC/DC.”

“Steve,” I said, “if that’s what you would like me to call you –”

“Oh, please do!”

“Okay, look, ‘Steve’, can we stop playing this game?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” he said. “Shall we?”

“Yes,” I said. “Look, I know you were in the Ugly Mug earlier tonight. And I know you were watching us on the street.”

“And you’re very observant yourself.”

“So you can just, you know, stop the game.”

“Do you mean — you’re interested?”

He spoke very low now.

“What?” I said. “No, I’m not interested. I would like it if you would stop following me around.”

“But,” he smiled, seemingly apprehensively, “I haven’t been following you, Arthur. I did notice you at the Ugly Mug tonight, after all you two were sitting right across from me at the bar. But I left the Mug because, quite honestly I was cruising some other guy who had just left; but he didn’t give me a second glance out on the street, so I just had a cigarette, and, hey, sure, I admit I was looking at you, strolling along with the lovely Agatha, but honest to goodness my dear chap,” he was slipping into an English accent, “I have not been following you! Scout’s honor, old boy.”

The bartender had laid the fresh Manhattans down and taken his money. I picked up mine and took a drink.

“So you’re saying you didn’t talk to me earlier tonight?” I said.

“I don’t think I did,” he said. “But I’m so delighted we’re talking now.”

“Wait a minute,” I said.


“Don’t take this the wrong way,” I said, “but — are you — um —”


He had just taken a sip of his drink, and he smiled again, as if hopefully.

I was wondering if he was homosexual, but I didn’t want to offend the guy, especially if it turned out he wasn’t either homosexual or Jesus.

“Sorry, I said. “Never mind.”

“A little inebriated, are you?”

“Sort of,” I said, although I wasn’t really, not by my standards.

“So, tell me about Alexandra,” he said, slipping back into an American accent.


“Your lady friend, what is it, Anoushka? No –”


“Elektra, yes, she’s quite stunning you know. Like a young Ava Gardner. What is she, Greek?”

“Well, no –”

“I knew she must be Greek, or maybe Italian –”

“Actually, she’s –”

“I’ll bet you really do satisfy her.”


“You know what I mean, old bean.” He was speaking in an English accent again now. “Strapping fine chap like you.”

“Um,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, looking me up and down. “I daresay you satisfy the young lady ever so well, don’t you?”

“I, uh, do my best –”

“And that’s what you have to do, Arthur.” He had switched back to an American accent now. “Listen. I have many women friends, tons of them, and what they all want is a man who satisfies them.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. If he was Jesus, he sure wasn’t giving away anything. But why would he pretend to be some guy named Steve? Foolish question, if he was Jesus, his ways were perforce beyond my puny comprehension.

“In the sack,” he said.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“On the springs, Arthur. That’s where you need to satisfy them.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“They tell me things, my girlfriends. Do you want to know what they tell me?”

“Sure,” I said. “Fire away.”

So he told me what his girlfriends told him women wanted, and we drank our Manhattans and then had another round. Most of what he told me took me by surprise, especially this thing he called yodeling in the valley.

“I can’t believe you’ve never tried it,” he said. “Go ahead! Try it and she’ll be your slave.”

“Okay,” I said. “I will.”

What the hell, if he had all these girlfriends, he must know what he was talking about, even if he wasn’t Jesus.

“Promise me,” he said.

“Promise what?” I said.

“That you’ll go yodeling in the valley!”

“Oh, okay,” I said. “I promise.”

It was after last call, Freddy and Ursula had packed up their instruments and gone, the bartender had turned the lights up, everyone was drifting out of the bar, and Steve and I did too.

Outside we shook hands.

“Sure you wouldn’t like to come up to my place for a nightcap, Arthur?” he said.

“No, thanks, uh, Steve,” I said. “I’d better hit the hay.”

“I understand. Your lady friend is waiting for you I’ll bet.”

It seemed easier just to say yeah, so I said, “Yeah.”

He was still shaking my hand.

“Do it once for me, Arthur.”

“Okay, I will,” I said, although I wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about.

He let go of my hand, turned abruptly and walked off, staggering and reeling a bit.

So maybe he wasn’t Jesus after all.

I went home, drank two glasses of water with a couple of aspirin, went up to my room, and got into bed with The Waste Land.
“April is the cruelest month...”
Okay, this T.S. Eliot was losing me right there. This man had obviously never experienced a January in Philadelphia.

(Click here for our next thrilling installment. For links to other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven, kindly go to the right hand side of this page, where you will also find access to many of the classic poems of Arnold Schnabel, soon to be adapted into a major musical in the tradition of Cats and Movin’ Out, produced by the Guffman Organization.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Arnold Schnabel delves into new territory

The Olney Times had been printing a poem a week by Arnold Schnabel for twenty-five years by the time this stunning sonnet appeared in the issue for August 31, 1963, and in all that time Arnold had never before published a poem that could conceivably be called a love poem.

Better late than never.

This poem can safely be assumed to address his new (and apparently first) inamorata, the Bohemian jeweler Elektra.

(Available for download as read by the noted actor and Schnabelian, Mr. Brad Pitt; all proceeds to go to the Arnold Schnabel Society, in aid of their continued work in the collection and preservation of the Arnold Schnabel Archives.)

You Asked For It

You asked me to write you a poem; oh
Well, luckily for me you didn’t say
That it had to be a good one, and so
I’ll mention your eyes, not as bright as day
Nor dark as the night, nor deep as the sea,
But deep and dark and bright enough for me
To swim in, to dream in, and to live in;
And then your skin, and what it has given
To someone who once wished to leave his own;
And your laughter that awakened the clown
Inside a scarecrow made of flesh and bone,
So that he sits now putting these words down
On paper: a trite, embarrassing mess,
But perhaps not entirely meaningless.

(Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for links to many other classic poems by Arnold Schnabel as well as to our ongoing serialization of his sprawling memoir Railroad Train to Heaven.)