Thursday, February 7, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven,” Part Fifty-Three: Arnold in the garden of earthly delights


An August evening, 1963...

In Washington, DC , President Kennedy reviews the worsening situation in Vietnam and wonders: perhaps a surge of American troops would be a good idea?

in England a new band of moptops from Liverpool in matching collarless suits appears on the Ready, Steady, Go! television show with Cockney teen queen Helen Shapiro.

Meanwhile, back across the wide Atlantic in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, NJ, the brakeman poet Arnold Schnabel -- convalescing from a complete mental breakdown the previous winter -- attends a cook-out with his inamorata Elektra and his new friend Steve, who may or may not be Arnold’s personal lord and savior...

(Click here for our previous episode, featuring a very special guest appearance by Mr. Sammy Davis Jr.)


Elektra had taken another drag from the reefer and passed it on to Sammy.
   
“Steve,” she said, “you are too much, man.”
   
“I beg your pardon,” he said. I noticed he was holding a bottle of beer. But at least it was only beer. He didn’t seem drunk at all. Not yet. “But Alicia —”
   
“Elektra,” she said.
   
Elektra – you’re a woman, maybe you can help me.”
   
“I doubt that, Steve,” she said.
   
Sammy had taken his own series of drags off the reefer and he passed it on to me.
   
“You got woman trouble, man?” Sammy asked Steve, seeming just slightly surprised.
  
“Oh, brother, do I!” said Steve. He tugged once at my short sleeve. “Arnold, Charlotte’s mad at me. And after I brought her the calla lilies, too.”
   
“Did you — extol the virtues of Miss Evans in her presence?” I asked.
   
“Yes! How did you know?”
   
“I just guessed.” I was starting to learn a thing or two.
   
“She told me to drop dead,” said Steve. “And now she’s off talking to Joey Bishop.”
   
“Joey’s cool, brother,” said Sammy.
   
“Oh, I’m sure he’s very cool, Sammy,” Steve said, “but I happen to be very fond of Charlotte.”
   
“I dig,” said Sammy, but he still looked somewhat puzzled.
   
Right around then I realized that despite my earlier decision to abstain I was standing there smoking the reefer as blithely as if it were one of my trusty Pall Malls.
   
“Arnold, let someone else have a puff of that,” said Steve, and he took the reefer out of my hand and started taking his own distinctive series of long and short drags from it.
   
“Steve,” said Elektra, “I thought you were queer, man. What the hell are you doing fooling around with women?”
   
“I beg your pardon, Miss Missy,” said Steve, still dragging away. “Someone has obviously not studied her Kinsey Report.”
   
“What the hell are you talking about?” said Elektra.
   
“Dr. Kinsey said that most people swing both ways. Or at least they can swing both ways.” He finally let the smoke whoosh out in a great cloud. “If you had gone to a boys’ prep school like me you’d know exactly what I’m talking about.”
   
“Whatever, man,” said Elektra. “But now you’re bogarting the joint.”
   
“Oh, sorry, darling,” said Steve, and he passed it to her.
   
“No big thing,” said Sammy, and he brought another reefer out of his shirt pocket.
   
“So what should I do?” asked Steve, to one and all.
   
“Just be cool, man,” said Sammy. “She’s just putting you in your place.”
   
Sammy lit the new reefer with his lighter, which I now belatedly realized seemed to be studded with diamonds or little sparkly things that looked like diamonds. His initials were engraved on it: “S.D.Jr”. The diamonds sparkled in the light from the lamps flooding over the party-goers in the yard closer to the house.
    “
Yeah,” said Elektra. “Just be cool, Steve.”
   
“But I’ve never been able to be cool! Just look at her, chatting away with Joey Bishop, and here I am heartbroken. Women are so complex compared to men.”
   
“You got that right, brother-man,” said Sammy, nodding.
   
“You guys are so full of crap,” said Elektra.
   
“Oh, you!” said Steve.
   
“Women are no more or less complex than men,” she said.
   
“You big liar!” said Steve. “At least with men you don’t have to mind every single word you say!”
   
“Oh, give me a break, Steve,” she said.
   
Elektra was hanging onto what was left of the first reefer, and I realized that Sammy had handed me the new one, and that I was duly smoking it.
   
“Where’s that other goofy broad, anyway?” Elektra asked Steve.
   
“You mean Gertrude?” said Steve. “She was talking to Frank last I saw. Why? Don’t you like her?”
   
“I’d like her better if she kept her eyes to herself.”
   
“What ever do you mean?”
   
“I mean she has eyes for Arnold." She took a drag from the tiny butt-end of the reefer, held it in for a moment, and then exhaled the smoke in Steve's direction. "Not that I care,” she said, shrugging one shoulder.
   
“Oh yes you do, Miss Jealous," said Steve. "And that roach is about to singe your delicate little fingertips.”
   
“Oh,” she said. She let the minuscule reefer-end fall to the grass, then stepped on it with her sandaled foot.
   
I noticed that her toenails were painted red, sparkling in the flood-lamp light. Had they always been painted red? I had no idea. And my eyes traveled up from her feet to her legs, shiny pale caramel, then the silky red roses swimming in the shimmering  blackness of her dress, her glowing pale caramel arms, her small strong hands tipped with red fingernails — no, I couldn’t remember if they had been red before — her gleaming shoulders and neck, her red lips, and her dark eyes gazing at the moment at a profusion of pulsing white chrysanthemums.
   
I wanted to kiss Elektra’s lips right then and there, but of course I knew I couldn’t. But this denial of what I wanted to do made what I wanted to do so much more precious.
   
(We may thank the reefer for the above observations of course.)
   
“Ow,” said Steve, and he slapped a mosquito on his inner arm below his biceps. “Ew.” He flicked away the dead mosquito.
   
“Is any one else being eaten alive?” he queried.
   
I suddenly realized that a mosquito was sucking my own blood out of the soft flesh behind my knee. I slapped at it but the little engorged bugger got away.
   
“I am,” I said.
   
“Yeah, me too,” said Elektra, expertly swinging down and tapping dead a mosquito that had alighted on her ankle.
   
“Let’s go inside,” said Sammy. “Why don’t you slide me that muggles your digits are glued to, Arnold?”
   
“Pardon me?”
   
“The reefer, brother. Slip it on over and I’ll save it for later.”
   
“Oh, okay.”
   
I handed it to him, and he rubbed out the lit end with two callused fingertips.
   
“Groovy,” he said. “Now let’s find a quiet place where the mosquitoes ain’t biting.”
   
“Should I try to get Charlotte to come?” Steve asked Sammy.
   
“Sure, brother,” said Sammy.
   
“If she just gives me one last chance I’ll never let her down again.”
   
“And what if she doesn’t give you another chance, Steve?” asked Elektra, touching his chin with her finger.
   
“Well — there’s always Gertrude,” he said, and he lifted Elektra's finger off his chin and kissed its tip.
   
I remember thinking right then: This is going to be a long night.


(Go here for our next exciting chapter. And step lively over to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all 3,497 episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his immortal poems.)

6 comments:

Jennifer said...

(We may thank the reefer for the above observations of course.)

If only Arnold had had the restraint-unlocking reefer for his entire memoir... I'm guessing Arnold is more sane when stoned than when not.

Linda said...

Arnold's crazy like a fox.

Bald Samson said...

Arnold is crazy like a crazy fox.

kathleenmaher said...

Life was different then. So different that I wonder, is Sammy Davis Jr. cooler than Arnold? Arnold's so insouciant and Sammy's all front.
That video boggled my mind so that, not only am I unable to tell what's cool, I have to wonder what's real. And what's supposed to be real whether, in fact, it is or not.
You know what might help? One of Arnold's poems.

Dan Leo said...

Kathleen, I know what you mean about the Helen/Beatles video. I've watched it about, oh, twenty-five times now.

Hang in there for another Arnold poem. Remember what Frank told Elektra when she said she still hadn't gotten her poem: "Don't rush him, honey. You got a real poet on your hands here."

kathleenmaher said...

You watched the video 25 times? You have to tell me your diagnosis. After I saw it this morning, it haunted me all day. This evening, it entirely dominated my yoga class.