“I brought a friend,” said Jesus. “Arnold, this is Peter. Peter, Arnold Schnabel.”
I went over and said, “Please, sir, don’t get up,” and extended my hand. He looked at it with a slightly befuddled-looking expression, and I wondered if I had committed a faux pas. Should I have saluted instead? Or bowed?
But he took my hand and gave it a quick shake.
“Pleased to meet you, Mister -- what was it?”
“Schnabel, Schnabel --”
He took out a pair of wire-rimmed glasses from somewhere within his coat, put them on his nose, and picked up the big ledger.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“How you spell this -- S-H-N-?”
I spelled my last name for him, and he nodded and turned through the heavy pages.
I hadn’t really registered it before, but there was an old meerschaum lying on its side on the table, a leather tobacco pouch, a box of kitchen matches and a chipped heavy glass ashtray. This of course made me think of cigarettes, and the fact that I didn’t have one
“Okay, here we are,” he said. “Arnold -- what is it, Shnaybel or Shnobble?”
This question of how to pronounce my name had been a problem my whole life, and it seemed like things weren’t going to change in the afterlife.
“I pronounce it Shnobble, sir, but other people call me Shnaybel, or even Sknaybel --”
“But you prefer Shnobble, right?”
“Yeah, but I mean, it’s no --”
“Shnobble it is then. Okay. Let me just check this over. Okay. Good. Good. Oh, sad. Mm-hmm. Okay. Good, good. Uh-huh, good, good -- uh-oh, wait, not so good -- this prostitute in Germany.”
“Well, that was just the once, sir. My buddies got me drunk. I think they suspected I was a virgin. Which I was. Anyway, they got me drunk, and --”
“All right, okay. I see here you confessed it, like, the very next day.”
“That’s good. Okay, let me just skim through this. Good, good, very good, very good. All good. Good, good, good. Not bad. Hmmm. Not -- too bad. Hmm.”
He continued to talk and to mumble to himself, reading the story of my life. Personally, I was getting bored just thinking about it all, but I suppose this was his job, and he was used to it.
I felt really awkward, standing there in my bathing trunks, without even my Keds on my feet. Also it was just a little cool out there on the porch. Oh well, I had spent much of my life standing around being bored and uncomfortable, so, again, why should my afterlife be any different?
“Whoa!” said Peter aburptly. “Mental breakdown this past year I see.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry.”
“It’s not necessarily your fault, Arnold. Lots of people have mental breakdowns.”
“Right. I’m sorry.”
“So now you’re sorry for being sorry?”
“All right.” He went back to the book. “Okay. Okay. Hmm. Sad, but okay. All right. Okay. Okay. Oh. Wait. Not okay. No, not very okay at all.”
He closed the book on his finger and looked up at me over the lenses of his glasses.
“All right, what’s up with this Elektra girl, Arnold?”
“Oh. Um -- uh --”
“Peter --” said Jesus. He was still back there, leaning against the porch rail, nursing the end of his cigarette.
“I told him it was okay.”
“You told him it was okay.”
“Yeah. The poor guy hadn’t had sex in -- what? How long, Arnold? Twenty years?”
“Well, not quite twenty,” I said. “It was like -- uh, eighteen years?”
“Eighteen years,” said Jesus.
“I don’t care if it was fifty years,” said Peter. “It’s still a mortal sin.”
“Oh. Like you were some saint, Peter.”
“I am a saint,” he said.
“Now you’re a saint,” said Jesus. “I knew you when you weren’t so saintly. So give the guy a break. Anyway, two things. One, he went to confession this morning and received absolution, from a Father, what, Kelly.”
“Reilly,” I said.
“Reilly,” said Jesus. “Check it in your little book there.”
Peter opened the book again, pursed his lips, read, and nodded.
“Okay, good,” he said. “But you said two things.”
“Yeah, the other thing is, we’re not quite so sure Arnold’s dead yet.”
Peter looked at the book again, nodding his head.
“So I think we need to talk to my old man,” said Jesus.
“Uh-huh,” said Peter, but he was still reading the book. Then he looked up at me again. “Okay, this meeting with Elektra at the jewelry shop earlier today --”
“Yeah,” I said, “I just wanted to let her know I was going swimming with, uh --”
“This -- Daphne person.”
“Right. I didn’t want Elektra to think I was doing something behind her back.”
“Noble, Arnold. Really noble. But what is not so noble is what you were thinking about while you were being so honest and forthcoming with her.”
“What I was thinking about?”
“Yes. What you were thinking about. Ahem. The soft curve of her caramel-colored neck. The space between those top two unbuttoned buttons on her shirtwaist. The way she smells like -- like butterscotch, isn't it?”
“Well, sometimes,” I said. “Other times it’s like, like this smell you get when you walk by certain bakeries really early in the morning, or --”
“Stop. You’re breaking my heart. I know what you were thinking about Arnold, and it had nothing to do with eating some butter cake fresh from the oven.’
“Oh, come on, Peter!” said Jesus, pushing away from the rail and coming over to us. “For Christ’s sake, the guy is only human --”
“The thought is as culpable as the deed.”
“Give me a break.”
“Look, I’m not saying this is necessarily a mortal sin. I am saying it’s a sin.”
Jesus reached across me to stub out his cigarette butt in Peter's ashtray.
“All right, fine. Look, you know what? We’re going in.”
The old guy was back to reading the book, running his finger along the page.
“Oh,” he says, “and this, here, when you’re lying next to this Daphne on the beach here --”
“But I --”
“Yeah. ‘But’. There’s always a ‘but’.”
“Let’s go, Arnold,” said Jesus, and he grabbed my arm.
“Should I go in just like this? I mean, in my bathing suit?”
“Don’t worry about it, you’re fine.” He pulled me over to the door, and opened it. “Come on.”
I glanced at Peter.
He shrugged, closed the book and put it back on to the table. “Go on,” he said, and he took off his glasses, put them away inside his canvas coat, and picked up his pipe and tobacco.
“Let’s go, Arnold,” said Jesus.
“Okay,” I said.
He held the door open and I went in, but not without some misgivings.
(Go here for our next soul-stirring chapter. And please turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to many other fine episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Guests of this blog stay at the charming Parker Hotel, in historic downtown Philadelphia, PA: “At the Parker Hotel, where the service is swell!”)
And here’s Manfred Mann, with singer Paul Jones being a jolly good sport with some ardent fans: