In the previous episode of our Walmart Award shortlisted serialization of the memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, we left our hero sitting on the porch of his aunts’ ramshackle Victorian guest-house in Cape May NJ.
Also on or in front of the porch are:
Steve Jones: Arnold’s friend; sometimes appears in the form of Jesus.
Charlotte Rathbone: Steve’s date for the big cook-out they’re all going to tonight; spinster art teacher; lives with her mother, smokes pink Vanity Fair cigarettes.
Gertrude Evans: attractive novelist; Ayn Rand and Rock Hudson aficionada; like Miss Rathbone a tenant of the guest-house.
Mr. and Mrs. DeVore: young annoying boring couple; also guests at the house.
And crossing the street on this warm August evening in 1963: Elektra, Arnold’s bohemian inamorata...
“Well, look at you!” called Steve. “Don’t you look gorgeous!”
Elektra raised her arms and did a twirl, her red and black dress flying around her and then settling on her figure as she strode toward us.
“Oh my goodness, Miss Elektra, I’ve never seen you quite this dolled up before!” yelled Steve. He had disengaged his arm from Miss Rathbone’s, and he clapped the fingertips of his hands together.
I noticed that Miss Rathbone rolled her eyes, while Miss Evans stared at Steve with her head slightly cocked.
Mr. And Mrs. DeVore stared quite blatantly from Steve to Elektra and back again.
I stood up.
“Excuse me, Miss Evans,” I said, and went over to the steps and started down them, Steve still yelling compliments to Elektra, but just then I heard my small cousin behind me, saying:
I turned on the second step.
“Yes, Kevin?” I said.
He was standing in the doorway, holding the screen door open. Behind him I could see my Aunt Greta and my mother leaning forward on the couch and staring out the door.
“I want to say hello to Electric!”
“Oh,” I said.
This kid was getting a little obsessed. Not that I could blame him.
I went down the steps, Elektra came through the wooden gate, we met on the stone path, and there, for the first time in my life in front of witnesses I was kissed on the cheek by a woman whom I was not related to.
The next few minutes were very confusing, complicated, and somewhat boring, involving Elektra and myself going back onto the porch and Elektra being introduced to everyone she hadn’t been introduced to, and re-introduced to everyone else, and Kevin babbling up at her as she leaned forward to listen to him, one hand holding back a mass of her shining black hair, and giving him a look at her breasts that will probably give the boy material for self-abuse for untold years ahead.
The one good thing about this scene was the fact that after a minute Elektra put one of her hands on my arm, and kept it there.
Steve was right, she did look swell. Now that she was close to me I saw that the red and the black print of her dress was made up of large red roses on a black background. She wore red lipstick, and had make-up on her eyes that made them seem even darker and larger than their normal dark largeness. Around her neck she wore a necklace of varicolored Cape May diamonds. Her dress was low-cut and molded around her breasts and I confess that, just as Kevin stared at her bosom shamelessly as she leaned over to chat with him, so also and maybe just sightly less shamelessly did I.
Finally Steve seemed to get bored with it all.
“Okay! Let’s go while the night is young! Gertrude, you are accompanying us, aren’t you?”
She also had come down to the foot of the steps.
“I feel like a fifth wheel,” she said.
“Every car needs a spare, honey. Come on! Frank Sinatra!”
So, soon enough we were all filing down the path to the sidewalk in awkward disorder.
Kevin suddenly ran down off the porch and grabbed Elektra’s arm.
“Electric! Take me with you!”
“Sorry, Kevin,” I said. “This is a grown-up party. Go back and watch TV.”
Reluctantly he let go of her, and Elektra and I followed the others out through the gate, and as I closed it I saw Mr. And Mrs. DeVore staring outcast at our little band, left with no one to bore but themselves and possibly Kevin; but no, not even him. He turned and quickly scrambled up the steps and back into the house, anxious no doubt not to miss any more of Route 66.
Steve led the way, with Miss Evans on his right arm and Miss Rathbone on his left.
I deliberately let some space open up between our two groups as we walked, and I stopped Elektra with my hand.
“Hello,” I said.
I realized then that she was the nicest thing that had ever happened to me.
“You don’t really want to go to this, do you?” she asked.
“Not particularly,” I said.
“Let’s just go for a little while. I know it’s stupid, but I want to see what Frank Sinatra looks like. Then you and I can split.”
“Okay,” I said.
So our little band walked along, past Congress to Windsor.
The house was a great turreted three-story affair with the front entrance around the corner, with screened porches on both the first and second floors, gardens and lawns filling the space between the house and the sidewalk. Down past the sides of the house we could see lights and people in the back.
Steve led the way through the gate and up a flagstone walkway that went through the gardens and then around either side of the house. We went to the left, and then at last came to the back yard where the party was. Colored paper lanterns with electric lights in them were strung around the yard. Women wore dresses that looked like tissue paper, and the men mostly wore short-sleeved shirts and light-colored trousers. A couple of young maids in black uniforms walked around with a tray.
Dick Ridpath excused himself from a conversation with an older woman and came over and greeted us warmly. Steve introduced Miss Evans, and Dick not only was gracious to this uninvited guest but knew of her work and said he was looking forward to her next novel.
With Dick’s able help, soon we had drinks in our hands and were mingling with the pleasant men and women there.
I was mildly surprised that one by one Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis, Jr. — and, finally, even Frank Sinatra — came up and introduced themselves to me and Elektra.
And then, while Frank Sinatra was chatting with Elektra, asking about her jewelry store, it finally dawned on me: it was she who was attracting these stars of stage, screen, and television, and not the odd fellow she was with. I’ll say this for Frank Sinatra though, he was a gentleman; because after chatting with Elektra for about five minutes (during which time she kept her arm in mind, while I stared off into space and occasionally at Mr. Sinatra’s hairpiece) he said to me, “And what do you do — Arnold is it?”
“Yes,” I said. “Well, I write poems, Mr. Sinatra.”
“No kidding. Do they rhyme?”
“Oh, always,” I said.
“Did you ever think of writing song lyrics?”
“No,” I said.
“If you ever want to give it a try, I’m always looking for new material. I could give the lyrics to Jimmy Van Heusen, say, see if he could turn them into a good song for me.”
“Well, I doubt I could do that, Mr. Sinatra,” I said.
“Call me Frank. Why not, Arnold?”
“Well — Frank — it’s the things I write about.”
“Like – I don’t know. Worms on the pavement on a rainy day. The scariness of an amusement arcade. Having a conversation with Jesus, or with an hallucination of Jesus. Fighting off demons while you’re trying to watch TV. That sort of thing.”
“You don’t think you could just write me a love song?”
“I’ve asked him to write me a poem,” said Elektra, “and he still hasn’t done it.”
“But I’m determined to do it,” I said.
“Don’t rush him, honey,” said Frank. “You got a real poet on your hands here. Most bums would jump at the chance to work for me. I’d like to read your poems, Arnold. You got any books out?”
“No,” I said. “Just a lot of clippings from the papers the poems have appeared in.”
“Yeah, how many?”
“Oh, a lot,” I said. Like thirteen hundred, but I didn’t want to boast.
Frank reached into his back pocket and took out a thick worn old wallet. He was not a big man at all. Like me he was dressed in Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt, except he wore white shoes with no socks, whereas I wore white Keds with white socks. For a second I thought he was going to give me some money. But instead he pulled out a visiting card with gold edging. He handed it to me. All it had on it was a phone number, embossed in gold and black.
“This is my number, kid. You ever think you’ve got some good material for me, give me a call. Collect.”
“Thanks, Mr. Sinatra.”
“Thanks, Frank.” I looked at the card, wondering if that was real gold on it. “I doubt I’ll come up with anything suitable though.”
“You let me be the judge of that,” he said. “Something about love is always good.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Or like loneliness. Loss. Late at night with the deep-blue blues. Maybe that’s more your style.”
“You’re probably right,” I said.
“Just nothing about worms,” he said. “Or Jesus. Or demons.”
Steve was working his way toward us, with Miss Rathbone and Miss Evans.
Frank pointed to the card that I was still holding up between thumb and forefinger, as if I were about to hand a movie ticket to an usher.
“Put the card in your wallet, Arnold. I don’t want you to lose it.”
I took out my wallet and did as he advised.
I didn’t think I’d ever call him, but I didn’t want to make the guy feel bad.
(Go here for our next action-packed chapter. And turn if you will to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, and to many of his fine poems. All rights reserved by the Arnold Schnabel Society. Imprimatur, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.)