Arnold Schnabel, the author of these critically-praised (“America’s Proust; or should one say instead that Proust was France’s Schnabel?” -- Harold Bloom) memoirs, has sat down in Mrs. Biddle’s backyard to collaborate on a screenplay with that living legend Larry Winchester...
“Fade in,” said Larry, typing away. “Exterior. Paris. Day. Oh, wait. The title. What’re we calling this?”
“What was it called before?”
“Sidewalks of Blood,” he said.
“Sidewalks of Blood?”
“Sidewalks of Blood.”
“I like that, Larry,” I said.
“Yeah, me too, actually. I like the French version even better, Les Trottoirs du Sang.”
He backed up the paper and typed in the title.
“All right,” he said. “Back to the first shot...”
I’ll spare the reader (i.e. myself) my usual second-by-tortuous- second blow-by-mind-numbing blow account of the next couple of hours. Let it only be said that as we sat there on that hot forenoon composing the opening scenes of our story I effected that escape from the prison of myself which normally I accomplish most profoundly -- not in sleep, nor in drunkenness -- but oddly enough only when I am all by myself alone in a room composing this chronicle of my body-entrapped life or making my little bad poems. But now I was achieving this not alone but with someone else, traveling with another person into that freedom I’ve only ever found in the deeper regions of my own self.
Finally Larry said something like, “Damn! This is good, brother! We got almost the whole first act out of the way here!”
I didn’t even know the movie had a first act, but I kept my ignorance to myself.
“So what about lunch, Arnie? Then you can finally smoke that cancer stick you got in your ear.”
Amazingly I hadn’t even thought about that cigarette since we had started our work.
I took it out of my ear and looked at it. The day had gotten increasingly hot as we were sitting there, and now the cigarette was completely sodden with sweat. I crumpled it up in Larry’s ashtray, and we headed into the house, going around it and coming in from the front porch.
Mrs. Biddle and Tommy were playing cards at a small table covered with some sort of Oriental-looking cloth.
They were both smoking cigarettes and they had a pitcher of what looked like Tommy’s special iced tea on the table, with accompanying glasses.
“Ah, the scribblers,” said Mrs. Biddle. She was dressed like a lady in a 1930s movie about people on a safari. Come to think of it, Tommy in his cream-colored suit was like someone in the same movie, but the guy who stayed at the plantation and couldn’t be bothered to go on a safari. “Or should I say the typists,” she added.
“We deal in the magic of sound and vision, Mrs. Biddle,” said Larry. “In dreams. We deal in mystical journeys through space and time. In other words we give the poor yokels what they want: two hours of escape from their miserable little lives.”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Tommy.
“Yeah, speaking of which --”
“Help yourselves, boys,” said Mrs. Biddle, gesturing towards a drinks cabinet. “Ice and beer in the kitchen.”
“Oh, allow me,” said Tommy, rising.
“Sit the hell, down, Tommy," said Mrs. Biddle. "These are two grown men and they are more than capable of making their own drinks.”
“Yeah, take it easy, Tommy,” said Larry, heading over to the drinks. “What are you drinking, Arnie?”
(Larry had started to call me Arnie over the morning. This was the first time in my life anyone had ever called me this. But who was I to tell him to call me Arnold? And what difference did it make anyway?)
“Whatever you’re having,” I said.
“Bourbon and soda it is then.”
Larry made us a couple of tall strong drinks, using one of those old-fashioned soda siphons. He didn’t bother going into the kitchen for ice.
We chatted a bit with Tommy and Mrs. Biddle. Tommy wanted to know what the picture was about, and Larry told him what we had so far.
“I’m enthralled,” said Tommy. “Then what happens?”
“We have no idea,” said Larry. “But we’ll think of something.”
“Write me in a part,” said Tommy. “I could be an undertaker or something.”
“We’ll think about it,” said Larry.
“You’re not going to forget our tea date, are you, Mr. Schnabel?” said Mrs. Biddle.
“Absolutely not,” I said.
“We’re gonna grab some chow,” said Larry.
“Help yourselves. You know your way around that kitchen.”
Larry and I went in to the kitchen, and Larry made us a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches, and we each had a beer, sitting there at the kitchen table.
Larry said we should break for the day and pick it up again tomorrow. That was fine with me.
Larry asked me some questions about myself. We talked a little about the war. Unlike myself Larry had actually seen combat, serving with the First Infantry Division from D-Day all the way through to V-E Day. We had been through many of the same places. He was just twenty when the war ended. After his discharge he moved out to California to try to get in the movie business. He boxed and worked as a stuntman and bit-actor and at various movie production jobs while he wrote scripts. Finally he sold one, and he told me he sold six more in the next year. He directed his first movie in 1948, a low-budget picture called Ask Not the Hangman, which he said he shot in five days, edited in one day, and saw at a double-feature in Hollywood one week later.
Since then he had written and directed and produced (I’m not sure what a producer does, but whatever it is, Larry’s apparently done it) dozens of movies and TV shows. He had also run a jazz club and a stage theatre. He said he had gotten in trouble the previous year for beating up a studio executive in a restaurant called Chasen’s. He managed to escape criminal charges because the executive had thrown the first punch, but Larry's real punishment was that he was blacklisted from Hollywood. And so he had moved to Europe, where he had already made three movies.
“And now with this baby it’ll be four pictures done in less than a year,” he said. “But this one’s gonna be different, Arnie, I can feel it. This isn’t gonna be the usual crap. We’re gonna make a good picture, you and me.”
Somehow it had been tacitly gotten across to me that we were indeed going to write this screenplay together. Larry hadn’t mentioned money again, but frankly I didn’t care. When you’ve written nonsense for nothing but your own idle amusement your whole life you get used to it. What else would I be doing with my time? Staring into space? Watching re-runs of M Squad and Johnny Staccato? Watching the hairs on my arm grow?
Daphne came into the kitchen.
“Oh my God,” she said. “I am so hungover.”
She sat at the table with us. Hungover or not she was stunningly beautiful. She wore a dress with little red and blue flowers all over it, on a white background. I think the flowers were zinnia.
“Have a beer,” said Larry.
“Oh, shut up,” she said. “I never want to drink again!”
“I told you not to try to keep up with Frank and those guys.”
“Never again! They’re not human! They never even went to bed. They just drove off this morning for Atlantic City, something about a dice game, and then they’re all performing at the 500 Club tonight. Do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” said Larry. “It seems like a lot of work, driving all the way up to A.C. just to see those guys. I mean I heard them all sing all last night, and I didn’t even have to move.”
“You have a point. Do you think Tommy has any of that special iced tea he makes?”
“Yeah, I think he and Mrs. Biddle are having some now in the living room.”
“Oh, good, let me get a glass.”
She jumped up, got a glass out of a cupboard, put some ice in it from the freezer, and left the kitchen.
“Nice kid,” said Larry. “But don’t mess with her, Arnie. Dick Ridpath’s in love with her.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t --” I started.
“I saw the way she looked at you. It’s just if she gets you alone you might justifiably be tempted.”
“Larry, really --”
“Women dig madmen, Arnie. Don’t ask me why. But nobody gets more action than a maniac. Not even movie stars. Although it occurs to me that those two métiers are not mutually exclusive. But really, it would kill Dick if he found out. ‘Cause he really likes you, too.”
“You don’t have to worry, Larry.”
“Come to think of it though, it’s the same deal for women. It’s always the nutty dames that drive guys nuts. I know this has always been the case with me. Normal chicks, you know, nice everyday gals, I don’t know, they just leave me cold. I like them as human beings and all, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t want to, um, you know -- hey, that girl of yours -- Clytemnestra?”
“Boy, that chick, Arnie, I’ll tell ya --”
“What chick?” said Daphne, coming back into the kitchen with her glass full of dark special iced tea now.
“You, baby,” said Larry.
(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And please see the right hand of this page for an exhaustive listing of all possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Johnson & Johnson Award-winning Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Four Artists Production.)
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