The place: the screened second-storey porch of the Biddle residence, a large Victorian house (built by Frank Furness) in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, NJ.
Arnold Schnabel, the author of these K-Mart Award-shortlisted memoirs -- that brakeman, madman and poet -- sits at one end of the porch glider, with his inamorata Elektra on his lap. Squeezed in to Arnold's right is the novelist Gertrude Evans; next to her sits Arnold's friend Steve; and by Steve's side sits his date, the artist Charlotte Rathbone.
Arnold has just had (unbeknownst to the other guests at the party) yet another of his occasional conversations with his very personal lord and saviour...
Now however I had a new problem, viz., my right leg had fallen asleep and the other one was heading there. And as much as I marvelled at the impossibility made real of a young and beautiful woman actually sitting in my lap, the bald fact was that Elektra, although a small woman, was still nonetheless cutting off the circulation in both my legs.
Elektra and Larry had started talking about another one of these Godard’s movies, I didn’t catch the title.
I wanted just to lift her gently up off my lap, but of course I was too shy to do so, or to say anything. I might mention here that perhaps one cause of my paralysis of will was the fact that Larry had taken out a small porcelain pipe and filled it with hashish, and that I had partaken of it.
(I know, the doctors back at Byberry would kill me if they could read this.)
Elektra handed me the pipe again and I duly dragged away, wondering if it were possible to get gangrene from having a girl sit on your lap too long.
What would it be like if I had to have my legs amputated?
On the plus side I wouldn’t have to go anywhere.
On the negative side I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere, except in a wheel chair.
All in all therefore it seemed like a good idea to lift Elektra up, and I was gearing myself up to do this when I felt something on the side of my leg. At first I thought it was a bug, but looking down I saw that the fingers of Miss Evans’s hand were caressing my thigh. I looked up at her face, but she was looking right past me, at Larry, apparently following the conversation he was having with Elektra. Looking past her I saw with some relief that Jesus had now transmogrified back into good old Steve, who suddenly said to me, “I don’t like foreign movies! Do you, Arnold?”
“I never really thought about it,” I said. And, really, why would I have, since except for the odd Godzilla or Gorgo movie and some Hercules movies with Steve Reeves, I’m sure I’ve never seen any foreign movies at all.
“You’re such a philistine, Steve” said Miss Evans.
“I am not!” said Steve. “I just don’t like to read while I’m watching a movie. Is that so horrible?”
“You have no culture,” said Miss Evans, now blatantly caressing the underside of my thigh with at least four of her red-tipped fingers. The funny thing was that I could barely feel her fingers because my thigh was asleep. “What about Bergman?” she said. “He’s one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century.”
“Oh my God I saw one of his movies once. It was the dreariest thing I’d ever seen. I wanted to kill myself after it. Instead I just had a cocktail and then I was fine.”
“You’re an idiot, Steve,” said Miss Evans.
“You’re mean,” he said. “Charlotte,” he turned to Miss Rathbone, who was vaguely staring at Sammy, who was singing a song about a new dawn and a new day. “Did you hear what she said?”
“What?” said Miss Rathbone.
“Gertrude says I have no class.”
“I never said that,” said Miss Evans. I could see that she was fully gripping my leg below the knee now, but my leg was so numb it was like looking at someone else’s leg.
Larry and Elektra were still holding their own conversation through all this, still talking about French movies.
“At least I’m not a pseudo-intellectual,” said Steve.
“Steve,” said Miss Rathbone, “you’re not any sort of intellectual.”
“Well, that’s true,” said Steve. “And look at your hand, missy,” he said to Miss Evans, “all over or should I say under Arnold’s leg.”
“What?” she said. She looked down and saw her hand attached to my leg like a starving leech. “Oh.” She let go. “Sorry," she said to me, "I was not aware.”
Elektra twisted on my lap.
“What’s going on?” she said.
“Gertrude was caressing Arnold’s leg,” said Steve.
“I was not,” said Miss Evans.
“Liar,” he said.
Elektra simply took the hashish pipe from me, turned back to Larry and continued her interrupted conversation as Larry lighted her up with his silver butane lighter.
Sammy sang his song.
“I love this song!” said Steve. “Sing it, Sammy!”
I listened to Sammy sing.And this old world
is a new world
and a bold world for me
Both my legs were more or less completely numb now, my brain a little less so.
(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. Accompanying photo by the great Leo Fuchs. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to other exciting episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, soon to be a major television event in fourteen episodes, brought to you by Masterpiece Theatre in association with The National Endowment for the Arts, Pep Boys, and Pall Mall Cigarettes.)
And now, from Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa vie: