Saturday, October 11, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 104: Pete’s

Our preceding episode ended with our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his friends outside the side entrance of Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, NJ, on an early evening in August of 1963, that last year of the skinny tie and of shirtwaist dresses, of brown shoes, crewcuts and beehive hairdos. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were all still alive, and the number one record was “So Much in Love” by the Tymes. Trouble was brewing in an obscure country called South Vietnam, but Arnold has his own problems, the most pressing of which is to escape the aggressively boring Mr. and Mrs. DeVore…

With me leading the way we boldly jay-walked across Ocean Street. On the other side -- all of our little band having made it across unharmed -- I decided it best that we cut across the Acme parking lot. Unfortunately, in my haste, and perhaps because I was favoring my sore leg, I tripped over the little strip of concrete bordering the parking lot and came a-cropper in a full bellyflop onto the warm tarmac.

Everyone came over, and Daphne and Sister Mary Elizabeth pulled on my arms and helped to get me to into a sitting position.

“Are you okay, Arnold?” asked Daphne.

My knees were reddened, as was my right forearm and the heel of my left hand. Nevertheless the pain in my right leg seemed no worse than before.

“Yes, I think so,” I said.

Now that we had come to a halt Tommy was finally lighting the cigarette he had first taken out at the beginning of our chase.

“Here,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, and she came around behind me and put a hand under the upper part of both my arms. “Alley oop,” she said.

She might be a small woman, but she is strong, and very soon I was in a standing position.

“Okay?” she asked, patting my arm.

“Yeah,” I said, doing my best to act as if I still retained a shred of dignity. If I had been wearing a tie I would have tightened its knot. “We’d better get moving,” I said.

I took a step and a sharp agonizing pain jolted up my bad leg.

“Ow,” I said. “Ow.” I stopped. I put my hand on the trunk of a purple Pontiac Tempest. “Um --”

“Wow,” said Sister Mary E., coming over and putting her hand on my arm. “You really hurt your leg.”

“Just a little,” I said. In fact now that I had stopped trying to walk it didn’t hurt too much. But why oh why had I had to climb out of that second-floor window earlier today? The simple answer was that then, as now, it had seemed all-important to me to escape from one or more of my fellow human beings.

“Listen,” I said, suddenly feeling noble, I don’t know why. “You people go on ahead. I’ll catch up.”

“Arnold,” said Sister Mary E., “this isn’t some war movie where the Nazis are after us. It’s only a couple of boring people. And we’re not going to leave you here.”

She had a good point, and I suddenly realized just how absurd this whole business was. Why were we going to all this frenetic effort just to avoid two tedious morons? Once again I was behaving insanely. But then my new friends had gone along with me. Were they insane too? Had I infected them with my madness?

“Okay,” I said to the sister, anyway. “I may need to hold onto an arm.”

She gave me hers, and we started across the parking lot, myself limping but not in unbearable pain.

“Well,” said Tommy, who walked along joining his arm with Daphne’s, “I don’t know about you young people, but I’m having an absolute ball.”

“Me too,” said Daphne.

We continued toward the Jefferson Street side of the parking lot, by which was parked the enormous metallic frankfurter of an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

“Oh,” said Daphne, “look at the sun.”

Off to our left the sun blazed its final scarlet burst from beyond the flashing tiled roof of the parish hall, scattering a million sparks of gold and red all over the glass and mirrors and chrome of the scores of parked cars serried all around us.

We all stopped for a moment, saying nothing. Then the sun flickered like a silent faraway explosion behind the roofs and trees and was gone except for some great streaks the colors of gold and blood splashed up onto the yellow ceiling of the sky and then lost in an ocean of pink and blue clouds.

I looked down and around at the suddenly softened mob of automobiles, at the air that had already taken on a suggestion of a hazy blue, over at the purplish grey bricks of the church, from the side entrance of which I saw the DeVores emerge.

“Duck!” I said “It’s them!”

We all ducked down behind a red Thunderbird hardtop.

“Did they see us?” asked Sister Mary E.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“We should keep moving,” said Daphne. “We’re almost there. But stay low.”

“Head for the Oscar Mayer truck,” I said.

Crouched down, we scurried in between the Dodges and Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles and Packards and made it to the far side of the Wienermobile, which was parked parallel to Ocean Street.

“All right,” I said, gritting my teeth heroically against the pain in my leg. “Keep the Wienermobile behind you, and head right across the street and into the bar.”

We didn’t even wait for the light to change and traffic to slow down. Keeping low, we shot across the street, and once again none of us was run over or even grazed by a passing car.

Daphne got to the door of Pete’s Tavern first, and she turned and looked back.

“I don’t see them,” she said. “Hurry up.”

She opened the door, Sister Mary Elizabeth and Tommy hurried into the shadowed entrance, and finally I hobbled up. The inside smelled strongly of beer and whiskey, of tobacco, of old leather and plastic, and welcoming dim lights swum in the darkness.

“Get on in there, soldier,” said Daphne, waving her hand, and I went on in. She came right behind me, letting the door wheeze inward on its pneumatic closer.

A rhythm-and-blues song played loudly on the jukebox and a whole bar full of Negroes turned to look at us through the cigarette and cigar smoke, not to mention what certainly seemed to me to be marijuana smoke.

Daphne put her arm in mind.

“You will protect me, won’t you, Arnold?”

Before I could answer with a reassuring lie I heard an old man’s voice shouting.

I had no idea what the voice was saying, and my first reaction was that this was a bad idea and that we should beat a hasty retreat, that even being captured by the DeVores might be better than being caught in the middle of a race riot.

But then an old Negro man came down the long bar and past the row of booths to our right.

It was Charlie Coleman, my aunts’ part-time factum factotum and purveyor of eggs, poultry, fruits and vegetables.*

“Hello, Charlie,” I said, and I took his proffered hand, which he proceeded to shake with both of his as if we were long lost brothers.

I only understood about one in every five of the words he proceeded to speak, but this didn’t seem to bother Charlie at all, and in short order he had cleared away four consecutive stools at the bar for us and bought all four of us glasses of Ortlieb’s and shots of Schenley’s whiskey.

A man on the jukebox sang, “Please, please, please.”

*Click here to see Charlie's previous appearance in Arnold's memoirs.

(Tuned in here for our next thrilling episode. In the meantime please feel free to visit the right side of this page, where you will find an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, a Joe Sixpack Production.)

Uh-oh: James Brown, Tina Turner, and Booker T & the MGs...


Unknown said...

Short of rambling on in an inept attempt at hagiography here, all I can say is: key cultural contributions all over the place, Arnold!

Unknown said...

Glad you guys could make it!
What a great post, with all my favorite things in it: Shindig, the Weinermobile, and a psychedelic sunset.
(I wonder if Arnold might have a touch of sciatica? A chiropractor might help.)

Jennifer said...

I want to see this one on film. There are too many things here that would just be a joy to watch... add Mr. James Brown to the soundtrack and you've got perfection.

Dan Leo said...

Unfortunately, Jennifer, Larry Winchester's long-awaited film production of Arnold's saga remains "in development"; feel free to send in suggestions for casting.