Saturday, June 28, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven’ Part Eighty-Five: “That’s what Saint Augustine of Hippo said...”

In our previous episode, Arnold Schnabel (“that mystic, that madman, that mooncalf, that majestical magic master of the modern memoir" -- Harold Bloom), having passed through a begrudging vetting from Peter the doorman, has been led by his personal lord and savior into the house of the latter’s father...

Jesus closed the door, then turned to me, shaking his head.

“That guy is too much,” he said. “Sometimes I think he’s looking for reasons to keep people out of here. I don’t know, almost two thousand years on the job. Just between you and me, I think he’s just a little burnt out.”

He shrugged, and gave me a little tap on the shoulder.

“Come on. Let’s go find my father.”

We were in a hallway or large foyer, with faded floral wallpaper, a few small tables, a couple of umbrella stands, a few hat racks and coat stands. But no umbrellas, no hats, no coats.

We came out into a large Victorian living room, floored with a dull parquet, worn Persian rugs (or Persian-style, what did I know?), lots of brocaded armchairs and sofas dressed with antimacassars and multicolored pillows, tasseled table lamps, a large chandelier overhead, and a grandfather clock, stopped.

None of the lights were on, but a rippled soft light came through tall stained-glass windows.

“Oh, wait,” he said, “you wanted a cigarette.”

He went over to a low coffee table by the largest sofa, and picked up an ormolu cigarette box and opened it.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. He showed the black inside of the box. “Empty.”

“That’s okay,” I said.

“This box is supposed to be kept filled at all times.”

“No, really, it’s all right,” I said.

“Okay. My old man will have some smokes in his office.”

“Really, it’s okay,” I said, for what felt like the eleventh time.

“All right," he said. And then, "Boy, there’s like no one around. But he’ll be in. He’s always in. Come on.”

He led me across the room to a hallway, a long and wide hallway, down which we went.

Dozens of paintings hung on the walls. I don’t know almost nothing about art, but most of the paintings seemed old, meaning about a hundred years old to extremely old, meaning very primitive-looking rough wooden icons that must have dated from the middle ages, perhaps even the dark ages. Unsurprisingly, most of the paintings seemed to have religious themes.

“Maybe someday your picture will be on this wall,” said Jesus.

“I doubt that,” I said.

“That’s what Saint Augustine of Hippo said,” he said, nodding toward a portrait presumably of that doctor of the church. “Oh, hey.”

He stopped at a small table that had a carved ivory cigarette box sitting on it. He opened the box.

“Damn,” he said. “Empty again. Oh well.”

We walked down the long hall for several minutes, then came to another large room, even larger than the first room, but more sparsely furnished and considerably darker.

“Okay, across here,” he said.

We walked across the enormous room. My leg was bothering me, especially what with walking barefoot on these hard parquet floors.

Jesus glanced over at me.

“I’m sorry, this place is just too big.”

On the other side of the room was a wide, winding, carpeted staircase, and up we went.

On the second floor we went down another hall, this one with no paintings but lots of statues, of saints and the holy family and the various members of the holy trinity.
Which reminded me.

“Hey, can I ask a question?”

“Sure, Arnold.”

“Is the Holy Ghost here?”

He stopped for a moment and looked at me.

“I have no idea,” he said. “Why?”

“Oh, no reason. I was just, you know – curious –”

“Okay, well, don’t worry about him. Come on.”

We turned into yet another hallway, this one with only an occasional painting, along with a few small tables with vases on them, but no flowers, and at last we came to a large and sturdy-looking door.

“Okay," he said, "you ready?”

“Not really,” I said.

“Oh. Well, just be yourself, Arnold.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“About going in?”

“No, about being myself.”

He looked at me, nodding his head very slightly.

“Okay. Look, let me just go in and let him know you’re here first. Do you mind waiting just a minute?”

I wondered if I had a choice about this either, but I said, “No, not at all.”

“All right. I’ll be right out.”

He turned the doorknob, and, without knocking, he opened the door and went in. I didn’t want to seem nosy, and so I looked away as he did so. I heard the door close behind him, and I stood there, waiting.

My leg was hurting. There was a chair way down the hall, but it seemed prohibitively far. And after all, he had said he’d only be a minute.

Five minutes passed. And nothing.

I put my ear against the door, it was a big old carved wooden door. I couldn’t hear a thing.

I waited a few more minutes, and now I had to go to the bathroom.

A couple more minutes. I really had to go now.

I went off down the hall. I came to a door, and I tried the knob. It was unlocked. I opened it.

It was a large office and a man sat behind a desk. He looked up from some papers.

“Yes?”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Can I help you?”

“I was just looking for the, uh, for a — um —”

“A bathroom?”

“Yes.”

“Down the hall, then left, make the first right, you’ll see one two doors down. On the right. Okay?”

“Okay.”

I quickly started to back myself out. Despite whatever Jesus had said, I felt very self-conscious standing there in my swimming trunks, barefoot.

“Down the hall, left, then right, two doors down.”

“Thanks, got it,” I said.

I went out.

Down the hall.

But which way down the hall?

I kind of hated to do it, but I decided to go left, farther away from where I had come.


(Continued here. Be so kind as to look to the right side of this page for a complete and up-to-date listing of links to Arnold Schnabel's Railroad Train to Heaven. A Mickey Most Production.)

The Mindbenders do it in one minute and fifty-five seconds:

Friday, June 27, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 79: set me free

Previously in our serialization of this critically praised (“two thumbs decidedly up” -- Karen & Marcia, The Olney Times) epic, our heroine Daphne Ridpath found herself soaring off into space in a runaway flying saucer...what a pickle!

So, there I am, the absolute verge of panic. I mean the verge. This quite acrid green smoke just billowing all around me, but even so I could see on the big screen the earth just getting farther and farther away, and so I knew I simply had to go get Dick. I mean Dick is really a marvelous driver, and having been in the navy he knows all about steering boats and things, so I thought, if he was feeling up to it he must be able to do better than I’d been doing and maybe find some way to land this thing without killing us all.

So up I jumped to go get him.

But then as I’m wandering back through these mysterious winding purple-lit corridors all of a sudden I start to float, I mean literally, float.

Freefall.

Oh, hooray, and there am I, desperately trying to swim my way through the air when all of a sudden we went through this weird thing.

I later found out that we had in fact passed through into another dimension of all things.

Quite an odd feeling, believe me.

But fortunately I’d taken enough psychedelics in my time that I was not entirely unused to weird states of being. Not that normal life isn’t weird. But this very nearly was the limit, even for me.

For a minute there I sort of was the universe, which of course includes so much more than the mere physical universe, which I’d always known anyway. Just as I’d always really known deep down that people like the Maharishi and the Pope and whatnot haven’t really got the ghost of a clue. I mean they try so hard. They really do. For these exalted states. But I’ve always known ever since I was a little girl that anything you really have to try, try, try to do just cannot be worth it. Because trying is essentially boring. My philosophy is if it doesn’t come naturally to you then the hell with it. And personally I’ve always thought Heaven or Nirvana or Satori sounded like such a bore. And more than a little creepy, too. It’s so much more fun just being alive and, you know, all the little things, of being alive, those little things. So I suppose I did heave a rather audible sigh of relief when I came out of this little mini-Satori, lying flat on my back on the floor, no more freefall now.

And so I got back up onto my own two feet again, a little wobbly, but no worse really for the wear.

But never a moment’s rest. Because now that awful uriney green smoke has caught up with me, rolling down the corridor like an enormous evil cloud, and I am so over this whole mess. So I ran and ran, really getting a little upset now, and after what seemed like ages running up and down these purple corridors in these two-inch pumps not made for running, green smoke now billowing from vents in all the walls and ceilings, I finally get to the first room and there among all those dead spacemen and humans are Dick and Harvey, sitting up and rubbing their eyes and wondering what the hell the deal was, and who could blame them?

“What’s that smell?” says Dick. “Is something burning?”

Well, I didn’t really want to tell him I’d peed into the works, so I said I didn’t know.

Then there was a great big thump and we all bounced up about a foot into the air, and we just knew we had landed somewhere. Or at least I knew. (I don’t think the boys knew we had been flying in the first place.)

But just then this absolute tidal wave of this foul green malignant smoke comes rushing into the room, and we’re all suffocating and coughing like crazy.

And that’s when I remembered the button panel by the doorway. Now, which ones had that second spaceman guy told me to press? And in what order? I couldn’t remember for sure, but what did I have to lose? Because to stay in that spaceship was simply to die a horrible and painful death from asphyxiation.

So I pressed, what, second button once, first button twice? Whatever, the important thing was (oh, hooray for real this time!) the door began to slide open!

****


(Click here for our next exciting chapter. Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for a complete listing of links to all extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s a Town Called Disdain™, a Shel Talmy Production.)

Yeah, the Kinks:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 84: St. Peter

In our previous installment of this third-place prize-winner of the Frank McCourt Heart-Warming Memoir Award, our hero Arnold Schnabel, having apparently been struck by lightning, met up once again with his raffish personal lord and savior, who takes him up to the porch of his father’s large Victorian house on a hill. Sitting in a rocker is a man named Peter...

“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, sir.”

“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.

“Arnold, right?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“How do you spell this surname — S-H-N-?”

I spelled my last name for him, and he nodded and turned through the heavy pages.

An old Meerschaum pipe lay on its side on the table, a leather tobacco pouch, a box of Ohio Blue Tip kitchen matches, a chipped heavy glass ashtray, all of which made me think of cigarettes, and the fact that I didn’t have one

“Okay, here we are,” he said. “Schnabel, Arnold. What are you, Jewish?”

“Well, uh, Catholic actually –”

“Not that it matters,” he said.

“I mean I was, you know, raised Catholic, and, uh –”

“I just said it doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said.

“The time for being sorry is over, pal.”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m –”

I was just about to say I was sorry again, but I checked myself.

“You’re what?” he said.

“Nothing?” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “Fine. Now, just let me just check this over.” He ran his finger back and forth down the page, the way I had seen speed-readers do on TV. “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.”

“Yes, sir.”

“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 very awkward, standing there in my bathing trunks, without even my flip-flops 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, why should my afterlife be any different?

“Whoa!” said Peter abruptly. “Mental breakdown this past year I see.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry.”

“What did I just tell you about ‘sorry’.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right. Uh –”

“Anyway, it’s not necessarily your fault, Arnold. Lots of people have mental breakdowns.”

“Right. I’m sorry. I mean –”

“So now you’re sorry for being sorry?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Are you fucking with me?”

“Not intentionally, sir.”

I heard Jesus chuckling.

“I fail to see the humor,” said the old guy.

“Sorry, Peter,” said Jesus.

“Don’t you start,” said Peter.

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 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 leaning against the porch rail, nursing the end of his cigarette.

“What?” said Peter.

“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, Hogan –”

“Reilly,” I said.

“Reilly,” said Jesus. “Check it in your little book there.”

Peter looked at the book again, running his finger along the words, his lips pursed, reading, and then he nodded.

“Okay, good,” he said. He looked at Jesus. “But you said two things.”

“Yeah, the other thing is, we’re not quite so sure Arnold’s dead yet.”

“What?”

“Go ahead and check, skip ahead a little there –”

Peter turned to the book again, running his finger down the page, and then he nodded his head.

“Okay,” he said. “Right.”

“So I think we need to talk to my old man,” said Jesus.

“Uh-huh,” said Peter, but he was still looking at the book. Then he looked up at me again. “Okay, backing up a little bit – this meeting with ‘Elektra’ at the jewelry shop earlier today —”

“Yeah,” I said, “well, you see, 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 swelling of her breasts under the thin material of her blue dress. 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 said, “and this, here, when you’re lying next to this Daphne on the beach here —”

“But I —”

“Yeah. ‘But’. There’s always a ‘but’.”

“But —”

“Let’s go, Arnold,” said Jesus, and he grabbed my arm.

“But —”

“What?”

“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. “Go on,” he said. “Whatever.” 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!”)


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 78: long ball

Previously in our serialization of this “sprawling, dare I say rollicking” (Harold Bloom) epic, our plucky heroine Daphne Ridpath pressed a certain button on the command console of a certain flying saucer...

Oh, but what about Lefty Schiessen, in the midst of an extraordinary contest over at the Ira Hayes Memorial Athletic Field, in a small and depressed New Mexican town called Disdain?


It was the twenty-third inning and Lefty was at bat. He still had his perfect game going. And he still felt in the zone, but the other guys on the team were getting sloppier out there in the field. Guys were passing joints on the bench, and everybody was drinking Big Jake’s beer; Lefty had drunk a can of Tree Frog himself while waiting for his at-bat.

So: two outs, nobody on.

Lefty was going to look for his pitch and try to pull one out and get this motherfucker over with.

The guy pitching was the sixth Twins pitcher. Their manager had taken the starter out after the ninth despite his shut-out, not wanting to endanger the kid’s arm in what was after all a meaningless game.

Lefty would wait on something low and away, something he could pull into the right field stands.

First pitch was a piece of crap that bounced off the plate. Ball one.

Next pitch came right down the pike, high and hard. Lefty twitched and raised his right foot, but then took the strike. One and one.

Next, a curve ball inside. Two balls, one strike.

Then another curve, damn nice pitch on the low inside, and Lefty followed it in and could have knocked it hard for a single to left, but he let it go by. Two balls, two strikes.

Next pitch should have been another curve, or a slider, but Lefty figured the guy would try to fool him with a fastball, and he saw this one all the way like it was slow-motion, hard and coming in low just where he wanted it, and he swung smooth and met it hard but he knew as soon as he hit it he was just a fraction too high on the ball and he could tell it was going to land in right center, oh well, maybe it would fall in for a double, but just as he finished his swing this great big glowing green thing swooped over his head and out toward center, and the ball suddenly swerved away from the right and followed the green thing, up and over the center field bleachers, and off and up into the sky, and then all the lights in the stadium went out as if some giant had blown out the candles of a giant birthday cake.

Everyone looked up and watched the baseball disappear, and you could see this green thing zooming up and away and getting smaller and smaller, and then it seemed like a section of the starry sky just got blacked out, and the green thing zoomed into the black space and vanished.

Then the black space vanished, and all you could see was the night sky, the stars, some wispy grey clouds.

The only lights in the ballpark were the tiny red pinpoints of the cigarettes and cigars and reefers of the people in the stands and the players and coaches in the dugouts.

Lefty dropped his bat and trotted down through the darkness toward first base.

He had his perfect game now, and the sound of his spikes hitting the dirt resounded throughout the otherwise silent ballpark.

****


Just terrific. Because whereas before we were flying all over the place but still staying rather close to the earth, well, now we seem to be just zipping off at a slight angle but basically right up into space at this absolutely dizzying speed, I mean just shooting along, and there on the big screen in front of me I see the earth getting smaller and smaller by the second.

Fabulous, I know.

But just when I thought this was the absolute limit I notice this funny smell, and I turn around and now there’s this awful sort of green steamy smoke coming out of the grill I had just peed into...

I mean it’s just one thing after another!

****


(Go here for our next exciting chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, a Max Fleischer Production.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Eighty-Three: great big old house up on the hill

When last we saw the saintly poet Arnold Schnabel, author of these Merck Award-nominated memoirs, he was on his way to the beach, walking arm in arm with the lovely young Daphne MacNamara, on a hot August day in Cape May, New Jersey, in that faraway world known as 1963...

When we got to Washington Street I said, “Do you mind turning down here?”

“No,” she said, and as we strolled along the pavement past the shops, I noticed people looking at us. Then I realized they were looking first at Daphne, and then at me. She was still holding my arm. So this is what it was like to walk with a beautiful woman. And I retroactively realized that the same thing had happened on the few occasions when I had walked somewhere with Elektra.

I don’t remember people looking at me much back when I walked everywhere alone (or with my mother). What was there to look at? But walk with a beautiful woman and you leave the anonymous horde and join the aristocracy of the race.

When we got to Jackson we turned right, and when we reached Elektra’s shop I asked Daphne to wait while I went inside.

Elektra was behind the counter, with Rocket Man, and they were both talking to prospective customers.

Elektra was wearing a loose dress I hadn’t seen before, pale blue, with a cloth belt, her arms and throat bare. She had most of her hair tied back somehow and she was showing some rings to two ladies. She smiled at me and gave me a nod, and I waited, looking at the jewelry in the display cases.

After a minute she left the ladies to discuss the rings between themselves and she came over to where I stood.

“Hello, lover. What brings you in here?” she said softly.

“You,” I said.

“Let me come around, big boy.”

She came out from around the counter, took my arm and led me over to the corner of the shop, by some cases that held necklaces and bracelets made with Cape May diamonds.

“What’s up, Arnold baby?”

“I just wanted you to know that I’m going swimming with Daphne. From the party last night. The badminton girl.”

“You are?”

“Yeah, she’s right outside.”

Elektra looked out the window, and there was Daphne, smoking a cigarette, and blatantly looking at us. Daphne waved, and Elektra gave her a little wave back.

“Lucky you,” said Elektra.

“I didn’t want you to think I was doing something behind your back,” I said. “But she asked me to go swimming with her.”

“Oh, Arnold. It’s okay. You are going to try not to have sex with her though, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I was joking.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Although I wouldn’t blame you. She’s a doll.”

“Don’t worry,” I said.

“How’s your chin?” She put her hand on the spot where the coast-guardsman had socked me.

“It’s okay,” I said.

“Did you hurt your leg last night? I notice you seem to be limping a bit.”

“I —” I had decided to try to be totally honest with Elektra, but in this case I just couldn’t do it. So I gave her the short version. “I took a slight fall,” I said. “But I’m okay.”

“Okay, good. Look I gotta get back to my ladies over there. Do you want to do something tonight?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Good, drop by around eight, we’ll go get a beer. Now, go swim with Daphne.”

She gave me a pat on the arm and went back around the counter to deal with the ladies again. I went back out to Daphne.

We walked on up Jackson to the beach, and the nice thing about her, she didn’t ask me any nosy questions about Elektra, just as she hadn’t questioned me about why I wanted to turn onto Washington Street instead of heading straight up Perry to the beach.

She did ask me if I was reading anything interesting, and I mentioned The Waste Land, and Miss Evans’s novel.

“But I’m really more interested in this book This Sweet Sickness,” I said.

She asked me what it was about, and I told her.

“That does sound good,” she said. “I”m reading this new Salinger book, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters?

“Never heard of it,” I said.

“Have you read any Salinger?”

“I don’t think so. But he sounds familiar. Does he write detective novels?”

“No, I don’t think so. This book’s made up of two long stories. The first one’s about this guy during World War II who gets a pass from the army to go to his brother’s wedding, except the brother doesn’t show up. At the wedding.”

“Mm-hm. Why?”

“Beats me. Cold feet I guess. But I’m only about halfway through it, so who the hell knows?”

“He wasn’t murdered?”

“No, I don’t think so. And then there’s another story in the same book, called 'Seymour: An Introduction'. Seymour is the missing brother, I believe.”

“Ah. Maybe that one explains why he didn’t show up at the wedding.”

“Maybe. But I’m afraid even less will happen in that one than in the first one. I kind of wish I were reading your book. Call me old-fashioned, but I like books where people get murdered.”

“Me too,” I said.

So much for literary dialogue.

She asked me if I had a beach I liked to go to, and I told her about my near-deserted beach in that long cove sweeping down toward the Point. She said that sounded swell.
By the time we got down there I had well digested my lunch, and although I was still limping from my fall I felt ready for a good swim. The sky had grown overcast, and the air was hot and heavy. We stuck our towels and stuff behind some scrub, and then we splashed out onto the pebbly sand into the surf, and after we’d strode in to waist-deep we both dove in simultaneously, just as if someone had fired off a starter’s pistol.

She wasn’t kidding about swimming like a seal. I’ve gotten pretty good, but she kept up with me all the way as I headed straight out for a couple of hundred yards or so. I stopped and turned, and she was bobbing right there beside me, barely out of breath, the water streaming down her face, her dark hair shining like the coat of a seal.
She spat a stream of water in my face.

“Which way now, Aquaman?”

“I like to swim down toward the Point.”

Without a word she flipped around and swam away, with great smooth strokes, her shiny green suit coursing through the darker green water. I took off after her.

We swam all the way without a stop to past the old beach-defense bunker, and as we came parallel to the convent with its long white walls and its burnt-umber roof, Daphne at last turned on her back and gasped, “Oh, my God, you’re relentless! Look, I have to rest, let’s go in here.”

And before I could say anything she was shooting like a torpedo in to the nuns’ beach.
I followed her in.

She staggered up out of the surf, shaking her hair, went up past the pebbly shingle and onto the sandy part of the beach, fell to her knees and then dropped onto her back just above the reach of the tide. I walked up and sat beside her.

“Look at me,” she said.

I did.

“Look at my chest absolutely heaving.”

I did, and then tried to make myself look past her, at the dark green water, at the steely sky.

Her hand reached up and picked a bit of seaweed off my knee. She sighed deeply. I looked at her again, and she turned towards me on her hip, the side of her face in her hand and her elbow in the sand.

“What would you do if I made a pass at you?” she said.

“I would run back into the ocean,” I said.

“Good. Because I’m not going to. Because you’re Dick’s friend. And because you have a perfectly nice girlfriend with Elektra.”

“Right,” I said.

The air seemed suddenly still, and even heavier than before, almost palpable.

“I’m going to close my eyes for just a bit,” she said. “But don’t let me sleep for more than five minutes.”

“Okay.”

She lay back with her arm over her eyes.

I sat and looked out at the dark green water, here where the great bay met the ocean. A heavy mass of purplish cloud was coming up from the right, from the continent. I lay back in the sand, with my hands behind my head, and closed my eyes.

I felt something on my chest, and opened my eyes again. Daphne, sound asleep, had thrown her right arm over me, and her head, partially covered by her left arm, had snuggled next to chest.

Oh well. I closed my eyes. And fell asleep.

I dreamt I was being rained on, lying in our tiny back yard back home in Olney, but the raindrops were black from the smoke of the nearby Heintz factory. I woke up and realized I was being rained on in real life.

I threw Daphne’s arm off me, and shook her shoulder, woke her up.

“Oh, my God, it’s pouring,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Come on, let’s go up to that big house and sit under the porch.”

“Can’t we just go back into the ocean?”

“What, and be struck by lightning? Come on.”

“But that’s a convent.”

“So what?”

And she was up and off, padding quickly up the beach through the rain to the rear porch of the convent. I got up and followed her.

A great crack of thunder shook the earth, and so I broke into a trot, when suddenly all the world lit up all around me with bright white light and the earth flew away from my feet and the world went black.

I opened my eyes and Jesus was standing there. He had that eternal cigarette in his fingers. The rain had stopped, although the sky was still overcast.

“You okay, buddy?”

“Yes, I think so,” I said.

He was still in his casual seashore attire, except now he had an old denim jacket on over his faded blue t-shirt.

“Here, grab a hand,” he said.

I took his hand and he yanked me to my feet.

I looked around.

We weren’t on the beach any more.

We were at the foot of a green hill, with lots of shrubs and trees, scattered rosebushes here and there, some geraniums and rhododendrons seemingly planted at random, blotches of pink and red and pale blue against the green.

The rich dark grass was slightly overgrown.

We stood by a wrought-iron gate, beyond which a cobblestone path wound up to a very large Victorian house, dark yellow and green and brown, with a broad columned porch, and spires, gables, chimney pots, balconies, a slated roof the color of dull garnet.
I was still wearing my bathing trunks, but they were dry, and I was dry.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“That’s my father’s house,” he said.

“Am I dead?”

"That is a very good question, Arnold.”

“You don’t know?”

“If I knew for sure I’d tell you. Between you and me it doesn’t look too good, but, look, we’d better go talk to Peter and my old man. You want a cigarette?"

"I might as well have one," I said.

He patted the pockets of his wrinkled trousers and his jacket.

"Damn. I'm out." He held out the cigarette he was smoking. "Do you want to finish this one?"

"No thanks," I said.

"There should be smokes up at the house."

He opened the iron gate.

“Come on,” he said. “Sooner we go up there, sooner we know what’s up."

I went through, he shut the gate behind me. We started walking up the winding path to the house.

“By the way, Arnold, I am so sorry about that lightning bolt. Believe me, I had nothing to do with that.”

“That’s okay. I guess we all gotta go sometime.”

I didn’t want him to feel bad.

“Believe me, I wouldn’t have saved you from falling out that window if I knew that an hour later —”

“Really, it’s okay,” I said.

“Well, okay then. I must say I’m a little surprised you’re taking this so well.”

“Well, it could be worse,” I said.

“How could it be worse, Arnold? You’re probably dead.”

“True, but the thing is, it did happen pretty soon after I went to confession. So, I guess

I’m still in a state of grace, because — well —”

“Because you didn’t have time to have sex with Elektra again.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “Good. So you’ve got that going for you.”

We came to the porch steps. A grey-bearded older guy wearing a plaid hunter’s cap and a worn yellow canvas jacket or short coat was apparently napping in a rocking chair by the front door. There was a small wooden table in front of him, with what looked like a big thick leather-bound ledger of some sort, a jar of ink, a black fountain pen.

“That’s Peter,” said Jesus.

We went up the steps.

“Peter!” he called. “Wake up. Company.”

The old guy opened his eyes, blinking.

(Go here for our next Chestertonian adventure. Please turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of all available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Rank Production.)

And now, a fab clip from the classic It’s Trad, Dad! (which seems like it should have been a Larry Winchester movie, but was in fact directed by that other Philadelphian, Richard Lester) featuring the vocal and dancing stylings of Craig Douglas and the ever-charming Miss Helen Shapiro:

Friday, June 20, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 77: up and away

Before getting back to the lovely Daphne in that runaway flying saucer, Larry Winchester returns his Technicolor gaze to Enid, sculptress and proprietor of a little café in a town called Disdain...

Enid stood and watched the glowing green thing go up, up, up, getting smaller and smaller and smaller against the starry night sky, and then it started to come down again, swerving and twirling, getting bigger and brighter.

Sometimes it would dip out of sight behind a hill or rise, but then it would swoop up and all around again.

Then it pulled a K-turn and headed in a curvy line over to the west toward the mountains, flying low, ducking in between the foothills like a football player with the ball, and then it disappeared.

Enid stood there looking out toward the dark mass of the mountains, waiting to see the green disc shoot up, but there was nothing.

Then all of a sudden it just seemed to come out of nowhere from up above, diving right toward her, and she tensed up, frozen, it came closer, getting bigger and bigger, and it whooshed right by a few feet over her head in a wave of electric heat that made her scalp tingle, and she turned and saw it veer up and over the neighboring hill and then disappear again off in the direction of the Johnstone spread.

She stood there a minute, looking up, turning all around, feeling slightly dizzy, her neck aching, her hair feeling like a cheap wig on her head.

The thing was gone and it didn’t come back. Had it crashed somewhere out there?

A big dark cloud passed overhead, blocking out the stars, and she sensed something behind her. She turned and saw a big circle in the dirt where the saucer had been. Everything on the ground within the circle was green, and glowing. Then the cloud passed by, the stars came out, the circle lost its color as if someone had thrown a switch.

She headed over to her truck, digging her keys out of her jeans pocket.

She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, and the hair felt funny. She held the strand out and looked at it. It was frizzy as all hell.


****


So the new spaceman on the TV gives me these instructions and I duly start punching buttons again and twirling knobs and dials but I’m so nervous and I have to pee so badly that I guess I screwed it up again because now his screen goes blank. Nothing. Blank. And not a sound. You see this ship was really very quiet, just a faint deep humming noise, but I can see on the big wraparound TV that we are still flying madly all over the place.

Okay, Daphne, I say to myself. Just get a hold of yourself. First off, you simply must pee.

So, I look around. And I see this metal grill on the floor over there. I go over to it, pull my pants and drawers down, squat down and let loose. I let it loose and I take out my cigarettes and light one up. And I can feel myself getting a grip on myself finally. I mean, what a relief. Sometimes it’s so simple, isn’t it? Just to take a good quiet pee when you really have to, and then if you have a cigarette also -- I don’t know, you just feel as if you can face the world and its travails with renewed vigor.

So, finally, I pull my pants back up and go over to this console thing. Now I see by the big TV screen that we seem to be roller-coastering down toward this town, and no, we seem to be heading for this baseball park just outside the town, a game in progress, and I’m thinking, Oh, great, crash right into the grandstands, Daphne, that’ll give everyone a great big thrill.

So, what the hell, I press this really big button that I didn’t recall having pushed yet.

Zoom.

****


(Zoom over here for our next exciting chapter. And please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to many other fine episodes of Larry Winchester’s Pabst Blue Ribbon-winner A Town Called Disdain™.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven", Part Eighty-Two: Arnold Schnabel's great escape

August, 1963. Cape May, New Jersey.

Once again (go here to review our previous episode) our hero Arnold Schnabel finds himself in a potentially compromising situation with the attractive novelist Gertrude Evans, author of the classic melodrama of “beat” “hipster” Greenwich Village, Ye Cannot Quench (later made into a feature film directed by Larry Winchester, starring Sandy Dennis, Michael Parks and John Philip Law)...

At last Miss Evans seemed to have all her stuff collected and she walked up to me and said, “Do you think I’m frivolous?”

Even I know that if someone asks you if you think they’re anything less than perfect that the absolute last thing they want to hear is the truth.

So I said, “Oh, no, not at all.”

“You’re so kind,” she said, taking a step closer.

I backed up and hit the edge of the open door.

“Shall we go then?” she asked.

“Um, I think I’d better use the bathroom first,” I said.

It’s true to say that I had just then realized that I needed to urinate, but, more pressingly, I felt the need to escape from this woman, even if it was only for a couple of minutes.

I staggered backwards out the door, turned and quick-marched to the bathroom down the hall.

Inside I turned the bolt and stood for a moment with my back to the door. I was sweating again, and now I needed a cigarette more than I had all day, or all my life. I felt like I was about to be led to a firing squad. Didn’t they give the condemned man a cigarette with his blindfold?

I went to the bowl and proceeded to do what I had supposedly come in here for. This was the first time I had emptied my bladder since leaving the house that morning, and what with all the iced tea I’d drunk, special and otherwise, plus that one strong highball and one beer, it took a while, and as I stood there I had the strongest feeling that Miss Evans was standing right outside the bathroom door, waiting, listening. It was most disconcerting. I swear, if it weren’t for Elektra I would have decided just to let Miss Evans have her way with me and be done with it. After all, she was very attractive, physically anyway, and at least then I wouldn’t have to deal with the continual anxiety of running into her in the hallway. And here she was, waiting out there, listening to me peeing; waiting, for me.

What would she say, or do, when she saw that it was Daphne downstairs with whom I was going to the beach? What if she pulled a switchblade from that big beach bag and attacked Daphne, or me?

I finished my business, flushed the toilet, and, as it performed its usual symphony of a truckload of pots and pans being dumped down the side of a rocky slope, I washed and dried my hands.

I went to the door, but then I stopped. Was Miss Evans out there? I leaned the side of my head forward, listening, but I couldn’t hear anything.

I turned the bolt on the lock, as quietly as I could, then put my hand on the doorknob, but then I paused and put my ear even closer to the door.

Not a sound.

But that didn’t mean she wasn’t standing right out there, holding her breath.
I took my hand off the doorknob and went to the bathroom window. It was a casement window, open, with an adjustable screen in it. I took out the screen and stood it on the floor against the wall. I stuck my head out the window.

Running down the side of the house, just to the right of the window, was a drain pipe, fastened to the house by rounded brackets every four feet or so, both pipe and brackets painted many times over through the hundred and four years of this house’s history.

Directly below the window on the ground down there was a purplish-pink cloud of rhododendrons in full bloom.

I have experienced much insanity over the past seven months or so, but I must say that usually the insanity felt like something that was happening to me, that had descended upon me, rather than something I myself willingly chose to embrace. What happened next I’m afraid fell in the latter category.

I threw my towel through the window, and, without letting myself think about it too much, I climbed out after it. Halfway through it occurred to me that it might have been better to force myself out feet-first, but I didn’t feel like hesitating, so I continued to wriggle through the little window, while simultaneously reaching to my right with my left hand to grab ahold of the pipe.

With one last heave my legs came out and seemed to drop past me while I swung my right hand over to join the left on the pipe. Unfortunately the weight of my body and the force of gravity and the fact that I was neither Batman nor Spider-Man resulted in my hands bursting away from the pipe and my body falling backwards away from the house, and I saw the blue sky spinning above me and I caught what I presumed was my last glimpse of life, the upside-down fleeting image of the yellow-shingled, green-shuttered house across the way as I plummeted head-first, when suddenly I stopped just above the first floor windows.

Floating right before me, right-side up, meaning upside-down to my way of looking, was Jesus, in his khakis and old t-shirt, with his usual lit cigarette in his hand.

“Oh Arnold,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

“Is this any way to die? Jumping out of a third-storey window just to avoid walking to the beach with some goofy woman?”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I said.

He shook his head, I guess in bewilderment, put his cigarette in his mouth, reached out, grabbed me, and twirled me around so that I was now right-side up.

“All right,” he said. “Try to bend your knees and roll when you hit those rhododendrons.”

“I will,” I said, sheepishly, and I dropped without further ceremony into the shrubs and tumbled out onto the stone pathway.

I lay there on my back for a few moments. Above me I saw only that pristine blue sky.
I seemed to be okay. I pushed myself to a sitting position. I had a bruise along my right calf, and my swimming trunks were stained from the flowers I had just crushed.

I reached over, grabbed my towel, and got to my feet.

I tried to fluff up the rhododendrons, and I kicked some of the destroyed flowers under the bush.

Then I hobbled around to the front of the house, and went up the steps. I tapped on one of the cross-slats of the screen door.

“Daphne,” I said.

She was sitting in there, chatting with my mother and aunt, and Kevin was sitting next to her on the couch.

“Arnold,” she called, “how did you get out there?”

“I, uh, went out the side way,” I said.

“Oh.”

Neither Daphne nor my kin questioned why I would come out the side way and all the way around to the front porch instead of just coming through the house from the starirway like a normal person. But then of course no one there thought me a normal person, and quite justifiably so.

I held the screen door open, Daphne got up, said goodbye to my mother and aunt and Kevin, and came out through the door past me.

“See ya,” I said to my family members, and I let the door close.

We went down the steps.

“You’re limping,” said Daphne.

“Yeah, I fell.”

“Are you okay to go swimming?”

“Sure, let’s go.”

I started to limp even faster. I was afraid that Miss Evans would come running out the door after us.

Daphne took my arm and we headed up Perry Street in that thick August sunlight.

I wondered how long Miss Evans would wait outside that bathroom door. But I couldn’t worry about that now.

(Go here for our next thrilling chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an exhaustive listing of links to all possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Joe Boyd Production.)


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 76: epiphanies

Larry Winchester, never one to leave a plot thread untended for more than three or four months, now returns to the ongoing strange sagas of Lefty Schiessen -- living-legend minor-league fastballer and acid-head, still pitching a perfect game as it extends into the high double-digit innings -- and Doc Goldwasser, the sole general practitioner in a town called Disdain...


The word of Lefty’s game had spread throughout the district, and the sunbleached sagging stands were almost full with drunken shouting people.

Doc Goldwasser had seen the lights of the Pat Garrett Athletic Field glowing unusually late against the nighttime sky as he drove back into town, and he also had stopped by to watch the game.

He sat in the dugout next to the Skipper. The Doc knew all the Browns well. If he wasn’t stitching up somebody’s calf after a spiking, or pumping liquor and drugs out of another one’s stomach after an OD, then he was writing someone a prescription for delaudid or pantopon or demerol or eukuodal or some other addictive drug. Half the guys on this club were hooked on dope, and the Doc didn’t have the heart to turn them down. Besides, the way the Doc figured it, if they didn’t get their drugs through him then they would get it from the Motorpsychos, who were notorious for cutting their product with formaldehyde, bleach, rat poison, Drano, and even Agent Orange.


The Doc had to admit he was almost enjoying watching the game. In his younger days he had loved to go to sporting events, but, after the war, sport became just one more of the many things -- like sex, like food, like wine, like any sort of physical exercise -- that he just didn’t give a fuck about any more. But now, at least during the moments when Lefty was on the mound, he could feel a faint echo of a certain joy he had felt long ago, sitting high in the bleachers at Shibe Park or Baker Bowl with some other Penn Med students, eating hot dogs and soft pretzels and drinking warm Ortlieb’s beer out of paper cups amidst the smells of sweat and cheap perfume and cigars and cigarettes, with the car exhaust and the smoke from the factories drifting up over the cool damp brick walls of the stadium from the dirty brown city outside; and down below, like a glimpse into another and better world, the bright sundrenched vivid green of the field.

Another epiphanous moment in a day that had already had two or three of them, which was two or three more than his days usually held -- Enid’s moist breasts in the coffee shop, the tinkling of her bracelets as she stirred his coffee, and her kind eyes; and Hope’s eyes, her disturbingly knowing dark eyes; and something else, a feeling that seemed somehow retroactively to have run through this whole day, something he couldn’t name. But so what. In the Doc’s admittedly sparse personal experience with epiphanies, they came and then they went and they left you hanging there the same pathetic son of a bitch you were before, if not worse. Like sex, like opium, the spiritual epiphany, like the human body, like life, was not built to last. He had learned this simple fact a long time ago at Omaha Beach, after those few blissful moments of discorporation, floating serenely above the carnage, when he had somehow been dumped back into his body and into the shit again.

There was only one epiphany you could count on, and that was junk, that brief but reliable dose of sweet nothingness.


And here came Big Jake, that epiphany of the non-epiphany, walking along inside the third base line with two sixpacks of Tree Frog beer under each arm and a stogie in his mouth. He came on over, heaved himself down into the dugout, shambled past the indifferent players and squeezed his fat ass in between the Doc and the Skipper before the Doc could work up the energy to get up and escape.

****


(Click here for our next exciting chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to many other fine episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, now certified by the Commissariat of Homeland Insecurity as an Approved Patriotic Historical Epic.)


Gimme that burger with some green onions, baby:

Saturday, June 14, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Eighty-One: “Okay, I’m ready, let’s go...”

Once upon a time there was a man called Arnold Schnabel. Born in 1921 of humble German immigrant parents in the Swampoodle section of North Philadelphia, he was raised in the strange neighborhood known as Olney. Arnold’s father died when the lad was only 13, and young Arnold quit school to go to work and help support his mother and three younger siblings. At the age of 17, with the help of an uncle, Arnold obtained employment with the Reading Railroad, for which he worked as a brakeman for many years, interrupted only by three years’ service with the army engineers in World War II.

Starting in 1938, Arnold began creating the poems for which he has become justly if posthumously famous, publishing one of these small masterpieces each week and every week in his local newspaper, the estimable Olney Times.

In January of 1963, Arnold, who had never married and had always lived with his loving mother in their Olney rowhome, suffered a severe mental breakdown, resulting in his hospitilization for over two months at the Byberry state mental hospital in Northeast Philadelphia. As grave as Arnold’s collapse was he nevertheless continued to keep to his schedule of one finely-chiseled poem a week, and indeed many scholars consider the poems he wrote from this point on to be his “golden period”.

After his release from the hospital he attempted to go back to work on the railroad, but was soon put on an indefinite leave of absence at half-pay.

That summer his mother took him to stay with her three maiden sisters at their boarding house in the quaint Victorian resort of Cape May, New Jersey.

Sometime in June of that summer Arnold began to compose the present sprawling memoir, in small copybooks which he bought at the local Kresge’s 5&10. Unpublished until now, these memoirs have become recognized as one of the great classics of world literature.

****

In the course of this summer Arnold finally begins to come out of himself. Despite occasional visitations from Jesus, episodes of levitation, and travel both astral and temporal, he acquires his first-ever girlfriend, the lovely bohemian jeweler Elektra (née Betsy Ross), and several other new friends, including the noted film-maker and novelist Larry Winchester, with whom Arnold has begun work on a screenplay.

We resume Arnold’s memoir as he sits in the kitchen of the imposing Mrs. Biddle. It should be mentioned that he has just that morning decided to try to quit smoking...


After a while it occurred to me to wash up our lunch plates and glasses, and I did so.

Then I sat down again and stared at that cigarette box. There it was, just sitting there. There was an ashtray on the table too, with some of the ash from Daphne’s cigarette in it.

I picked up the ashtray, took it over to the sink, washed and dried it, put it back on the table, sat down again.

I stared at the box.

My head began to throb, and my throat went dry. Here we go again. I grabbed the box and opened it. There they were, serried in all their lung-destroying wonderfulness. Filterless, just the way I liked them. I picked one up. Chesterfield Kings. Not my brand, but a good brand, an admirable brand. I looked around for a light. A box of wooden kitchen matches sat invitingly on a shelf by the stove, not six feet away. Six feet to ecstasy. Six feet to glory. Did I want to live forever? What was so bad about cancer after all? And was it worth it, another five or ten or twenty years of life if I couldn’t even enjoy a cigarette now and then? But then I recalled that awful coughing fit this morning.

I gnawed my dry lower lip and stared at the cigarette.

Where was Jesus now?

Nowhere. It was just me, me and this Chesterfield King.

What the heck, one wouldn’t kill me.

But then I heard a sound like an approaching small cantering pony. I dropped the cigarette back into the box and closed the lid just as Daphne burst into the kitchen, wearing a one-piece shiny green bathing suit, an unbuttoned flowered shirt, sandals and a sort of sombrero, and carrying a large straw bag with shoulder straps.

“Okay, I’m ready, let’s go,” she said.

I got up and followed her out of the kitchen.

I don’t think I’ve described Daphne yet, except to say that she is beautiful. She is tall, and slim, with dark hair, not very long dark hair, with bangs. Unlike most women’s hair these days her hair seems not to have been shaped into a simulacrum of a spaceman’s helmet with sprays and glues; it’s soft, like a child's, and she keeps it out of her face with barrettes or clips. She also seems to eschew make-up except for a rather deep and red lipstick.

She exudes an aura of physical strength, and her walk reminds me strikingly of the stride of the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.

“We’re going swimming, Grandmom,” she said to Mrs. Biddle when we reached the living room.

“Oh are you? So you’re a swimmer, too, Mr. Schnabel?”

“He loves to swim,” said Daphne, coming around to look at Mrs. Biddle’s hand of cards.

“I used to swim,” said Tommy, “for miles. In the Philippines. One time I was attacked by a shark.”

“Did he bite you?” asked Daphne.

“No. I punched him in the nose and he swam away. After that I stopped swimming though.”

Daphne came around and peeked at Tommy’s cards.

“Who’s winning?” she asked.

There was a notepad on the table and a pencil. Tommy glanced at the pad.

“Mrs. Biddle is up by forty-seven cents.”

“Okay, ‘bye,” said Daphne.

“Mr. Schnabel,” said Mrs. Biddle.

“Yes?”

“I’ll see you at four.”

“Four o’clock, right.”

We went out, and as we were going down the steps into the bright heat of the day Daphne said, “My grandmother likes you. And like Dick she doesn’t like a lot of people.”

“Older women always like me,” I said.

“Yes, you’re very polite. Old ladies like that.”

She strode along beside me, and I fought the urge to stare at her sideways. I didn’t entirely succeed, and as we made the turn left onto North Street I almost fell off the curb, but Daphne didn’t seem to notice.

“I dislike nearly everyone also,” she said. “My mother and father however like all sorts of people, so perhaps misanthropy skips a generation. How do you like Tommy?”

“He seems nice,” I said.

“He’s very nice. Completely addicted to his laudanum, but he wears it well. When he gets too addicted to get out of bed my grandmother sends him to a drying-out place. Then he starts right up again a week or two after he gets out.”

“I hope your grandmother isn’t —”

“Oh no. She’ll have a glass of his special iced tea in the morning, especially if she’s hungover, but she has an iron will. Like me. I’m very iron-willed.”
In no time at all we were at my aunts’ house. My young cousin Kevin was sitting on the porch, reading or re-reading his Tom Swift book.

“Oh, boy,” he said, when he saw Daphne.

“And what is your name?” said Daphne when we came up the steps.

“Kevin Armstrong,” he said, his mouth agape and all but drooling. Don’t ask me how this kid will handle it when he reaches the age of puberty. He’ll probably have to be kept on a leash.

“Okay, I’ll be right down,” I said.

I went in through the screen door, and it could have been worse, this time it was only my mother and my Aunt Edith who were in the living room, standing and staring out the window at Daphne.

“Did you have lunch, Arnold?” asked my mom.

“Yep, I had lunch at Mrs. Biddle’s.”

“That lady on Windsor Avenue?”

“Yeah.”

“What were you doing there again?”

“I’m working on a screenplay with a fellow I met.”

“What’s a screenplay?”

“It’s a movie.”

“You’re writing a movie?”

“I guess I am.”

“Who’s the chickadee?” asked Aunt Edith, loud enough for Daphne to hear her out on the porch.

“She’s Mrs. Biddle’s granddaughter. We’re going swimming.”

“How many girlfriends do you have, Arnold?” asked Aunt Edith.

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“She’s a little young for you, isn’t she?”

“Okay, I’m gonna go up and get into my bathing suit.”

“Aren’t you going to invite her in?” asked my mother.

“Oh. Okay.”

I went back to the screen door.

Daphne was reading Kevin’s book over his shoulder, with her hand on his shoulder. He looked as if he were melting.

“Excuse me, Daphne? Would you like to meet my mother and aunt?”

“Oh, I’d love to.”

I opened the screen and she came in, with Kevin right on her heels.

I introduced her, and then headed out of there and upstairs.

On the third floor I knew I had to be very careful. It seemed to be impossible these days, or these nights as well, to go by Miss Evans’s door and not have her pop out, so I went by on tiptoes.

I made it without incident up to my little attic room. I changed into my swimming trunks, put on a clean t-shirt, slipped on my flip-flops and grabbed a towel.

I opened the drawer under my night table. Sure enough, there was a pack and a half of Pall Malls in there. I picked up the opened pack. Then I put it back and shut the drawer.

I went down the steps and once again tiptoed down the hall toward the stairs.

This time I didn’t make it.

She opened her door just as I came abreast of it.

“I thought I heard your step, Arnold. You have the lightest footstep of any man I’ve ever known. Like a dancer. Oh, you’re going swimming. So also was I going to go.”

True enough, she was wearing a bathing suit. A two-piece this time. Red and black polka dots on a white background.

“But I suppose you’re not going alone, are you?” she asked.

“Uh, no,” I said.

“No, of course not. But wait. I’ll walk to the beach with you. Come in.”

What could I do?

I came in, leaving the door open behind me.

She busied herself gathering towels, suntan oil, a book, a notebook, pens, God knows what else, all the time chattering about how nice the party was last night. She seemed to be bending over quite a bit while doing this, and I tried to look away and think about baseball.

“Oh!” she said suddenly. “I took your advice and went to that nice Father Reilly. Look what he gave me when I told him I wasn’t Catholic.”

She picked up a paperback copy of the Baltimore Catechism and showed it to me.

“And this too.”

Next up was a paperback of The Lives of The Saints.

“And this.”

She held up a nice set of shiny black rosary beads.

“He gave you all that?”

“Yes, he was so nice.”

“He had all that stuff in the confessional?”

“No, silly. He invited me to chat with him, and we met for lunch at the Cape Coffee Shoppe.”

“Oh, great,” I said.

Possibly great for me, anyway, although I wasn’t so sure how great it was for Father Reilly.


(Go here for our next exciting chapter. And please turn to the right-hand side of this page for a listing of links to all other extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, second-place prize-winner of the Chesterfield King-Size Award for Autobiography or Memoir.)

A great big tip of the Leo lid to Dean for sending us this one: Dusty and Martha and the Vandellas. It doesn’t get much better than this:

Friday, June 13, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 75: "For he today that sheds his blood with me..."

Having recently had our literary license renewed for yet another year by the Commissariat of Homeland Insecurity, we continue our serialization of this first-ever publication of the complete “director’s cut” of Larry Winchester’s long-out of print masterpiece:

The time: a night in September in the alleged year of our Lord 1969.

The place: a foul cave in the wasted hills a dozen or so miles across the desert from a town called Disdain.

Moloch, the erudite leader of the outlaw Motorpsychos gang, has loaded five bullets into a six-shot Webley revolver, spun the cylinder twice, closed his one good eye, shoved the muzzle of the pistol voluptuously into his mouth, and pulled the trigger...

Pock.

Well fuck my bleeding arse.

Still alive. Still sodding bloody alive.

Oh well.


He slipped the muzzle gently out of his mouth, the knife-edged sight once again running teasingly along his acarified palate, and he opened his eye.

The world was still there and so was he, the both of them as vile as ever.


Moloch had got through a year in Korea without shooting this pistol or any other weapon at anyone. A year of war, and he never fired a shot. Never hurt a fly. What a waste of time. Why join the Royal Marines if you weren’t going to kill anyone?

Moloch had reviled all the peace-and-love nonsense of the last couple of years, but what really had any of that nonsense meant? People were still massacring one another wantonly, in Vietnam, in Biafra, in the houses of the rich and beautiful in the Hollywood hills, the letting of blood would never end, not until the last Cain killed the final Abel, and good riddance to bad rubbish.

Moloch had always wanted to go on a real rampage, and now, tonight, he and his worthless crew of scum would ride, and they would kill. And any of those wretches in his band who refused to kill he would shoot out of hand; but he sincerely hoped this would not prove necessary, at least not until he found Ridpath.

Ridpath must be the first.
And then, and then -- Moloch fully intended to make Attila the Hun look like a prancing wog poofter.

He broke the pistol open again and loaded the empty chamber.


“Men,” said Moloch, after he had kicked the motorcyclists awake and assembled them before him, the lot of them ugly, cross and fearful in the faltering half-light of the half-dead fires, “tonight we ride out to avenge the death of our dear departed comrade Crackle.”

A few halfhearted huzzahs croaked forth from the rabble. (Moloch’s actual thought was, To hell with bloody Crackle. Ridpath had shot him courageously in self-defense, and moreover Crackle had been monumentally boring and he stank like a sewer; when they had immolated him with gasoline the other night the stench had been so nauseating that even the most unhygienic of the band had shifted upwind.)

Moloch proceeded to extemporize a half-hour dithyramb, liberally sprinkled with quotations from Shakespeare, Milton, and Crabbe.

He closed with:

“Eventually no doubt we shall all be killed. But until that final moment we will live as men were meant to live. Riding and killing, taking, raping, destroying, devouring -- and wanking off into the face of eternity.

“Eventually, yes, death, as it must, will take us too into its stinking maw -- but not without a damned good cracking battle first!

“Gentlemen --” he swept a hand in the direction of the open sea chest full of firearms -- ”there are your weapons. Take them. Clean them well and then load them. Pack yourselves plenty of ammunition, and in the words of the immortal bard --

Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war.

“For tonight -- we few, we happy few, we band of brothers -- tonight we ride. Tonight we kill.”

The men were silent. Most of what Moloch had said had gone past most of them, some of them had even dozed off occasionally, but the general purport of his speech, that they were now officially at war with the rest of humanity, had by now penetrated into even the thickest of their skulls.

Moloch held the Webley across his chest, caressing the barrel with the gnarled fingers of his left hand.

“Huzzah,” croaked Testicle, his voice quiet and hollow in the shadowed cave, a thick tear like a drop of axle grease coursing slowly down his pitted cheek and into his beard.

Another stout fellow cleared his throat and then repeated the cry:

Huzzah.

And another man, louder now:

“Huzzah!”

And yet another yet louder still:

Huzzah!

And then a coarse ragged chorus:

Huzzah! Huzzah!

Moloch raised his weapon high like a sceptre and held it there.

“Gentlemen!” he cried. “To death!”

“To death!” his men cried as one.

Truth to tell, Moloch knew that if he had cried “To beer!” or even “To life!” these fools would have echoed him with the same enthusiasm. Like the vast majority of humanity they were born followers, and so they would die. To hell with them. Let them serve their purpose and then to bloody hell with the lot of them.

The narrow ends of Moloch’s scarred lips stretched briefly for a millimeter in each direction.

Tonight would be a good night.

*****


(Kindly go here for our next exciting adventure. And please turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, Second Place Prize-Winner of the Turtle Wax Award for Excellence in Epic or Picaresque Literature.)

This one goes out to Manny:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Eighty: woo boy

 Previously in our serialization of this Third-Place Prize-Winner of the Walmart Award for Excellence in Confessional Literature, our hero Arnold Schnabel spent the morning hammering out a first act for the film Sidewalks of Blood with the noted auteur Larry Winchester. Retiring to the kitchen of Mrs. Biddle’s house for a modest lunch of ham, cheese, and beer, Arnold and Larry are joined by the dangerously lovely Daphne MacNamara...

Daphne sat down and took a good long gulp of the iced tea. She put the glass on the table, still holding it, staring pensively off at nothing in particular and probably gauging the tea’s effect. Her lips opened, she sighed.

“Well,” she said, “that’s an improvement. Now, Arnold, what did Dick say about me?”

“Um, uh —”

“Larry,” she said, commandingly.

“At your service, miss.”

“Will you be a darling and go get me some cigarettes. There should be a box on the big coffee table in the living room. I should have grabbed one myself but I forgot.”

“Of course.”

Larry got up and left and she watched him go.

She leaned across the table towards me. She smelled like a garden.

“Quickly now. What did Dick say?”

“He wants to marry you. He asked my advice.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I suggested he wait a few years.”

“So you think that’s best?”

“What’s the rush?” I said.

“Good question. I’m only nineteen after all. Did he go for your advice?”

“I think so.”

“Well, that’s a load off. Now I can relax.” She rattled the ice in her glass and took another but smaller drink. “What’s the deal with you and this Calliope person?”

“Elektra,” I said.

“Elektra,” she said. “Well?”

“Um, she, uh — she and I —”

“She is very pretty, isn’t she?”

“Uh, yes.”

“Intelligent, too.”

“Yes. More intelligent than I am.”

“Poof.”

“Poof?”

“You’re sleeping with her, right?”

“Well —” I realized that I was breaking out in a sweat again, for about the twelfth time that day — ”we haven’t exactly slept together –”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yes,” I said, my sweat immediately turning cold.

“Does she like it?” she asked. Then, “Wow, you’re blushing.”

Her mouth blossomed into a great smile, her eyes flashed, the hot sweat streamed like a river down my back.

(And where was Larry? How long did it take to go to the living room and back?)

“Okay,” she said. “You don’t have to answer that. But I was watching how she looked at you. I think she likes it. I think she likes it very much. So, are you two going to get married?”

“I don’t — think so,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Wouldn’t a better question be ‘Why’?”

“Fair enough.” She rattled her ice cubes in the glass again. “Do you like to swim?”

“Very much,” I said. “I go for a long swim every day.”

“Come for a swim with me. I warn you I swim like a absolute seal.”

I wasn’t sure about this.

“I just had lunch,” I said.

“So go home and change into your bathing suit and we’ll take a little stroll or sit on the beach while you digest your lunch, and then we’ll take a nice long swim.”

My problem — or I should say one of my problems — is I don’t know how to say no to people.

“Okay,” I said.

“Good. Oh, here’s Larry.”

Larry came in with a carved wooden box; he opened it and held it out to Daphne, who picked out a cigarette and waited for Larry to put the box on the table and then take out his matches and give her a light.

“Thanks,” she said. “Arnold and I are going for a swim, Larry.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. Want to come?”

“No. I think I’ll take a nap.”

She picked up her glass, rattled her ice one last time and then polished off the rest of her iced tea.

“Okay,” she said. “I’m just going up to get into my suit. I’ll be right down.”

And she flew gracefully out of the room, leaving behind only the trail of her cigarette smoke and the flowery scent of herself.

I had stood up as she left the table, and Larry had never sat down again.
He looked at me.

“Woo boy,” he said. “What did I tell you about women and maniacs?”

I looked at the box of cigarettes on the table. On the one hand I wanted to smoke two or three of them simultaneously while stuffing the rest of them in my various pockets. On the other hand I figured I had gone this long, why not keep moving and see if I could hold out till after my swim?

“All right, Arnie,” said Larry, and he grabbed my shoulder. “I’m gonna hit the hay. Good luck.”

“We’re only going for a swim.”

“Sure. Good luck anyway.” He pinched up the sodden material of my shirt from my shoulder. “You’re drenched with sweat.”

It was one of those statements to which no reply seemed necessary, or wise.

“Same time tomorrow?” said Larry. “We’ll dive into that second act.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Do what I do and try not to think about it till then.”

“Okay,” I said.

That would be easy for me. I barely think about my writing even when I'm doing it, let alone when I'm not doing it.

He patted my shoulder one last time.

“Enjoy your, uh, swim, Arnie,” he said.

“It’s just a swim, Larry,” I said.

“Sure, pal. See you tomorrow.”

He straightened out my shirt collar for me and then walked out of the kitchen. I sat down again and stared at the open cigarette box.

I reached over and closed the lid.

(Go here for our next thrilling chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, all rights reserved by the Arnold Schnabel Society; donations accepted.)

Swing it, Ronettes:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Olney's famous homegrown “Avant-Gardistes”: Patty O’Donnel and Rachel Anne Greenberg

As a very special miserably-hot-day special edition of the Dan Leo Chesterfield King-Size Award Theatre, we proudly present, by popular demand, a rebroadcast of the following episode, originally presented May 24, 2007...


The year was 1965, and for some time the young Simon Gratz High grads Patty and Rachel, sales assistants and apprentice bakers at Fink’s Bakery on Spencer Street, had been experimenting with what they called “weed art”. They would wander through the abandoned lots and woods and construction sites of Olney with an Acme shopping cart and collect weeds and twigs and other odd bits of trash and detritus, and in the basement of the O’Donnel house on Sparks Street they began to create the masterpieces which would soon bring them fame and a certain amount of fortune.

After working in obscurity for a few months the girls decided to enter one of their favorite creations, “The Sticky Twig Man” (pictured above), at the annual Autumn Art Show at Sturgis Playground over at 65th and Second. Much to their delight they won third prize (a $50 gift certificate at the Mitzi Shoppe on 5th Street), and to their even greater surprise the very photo reproduced here was printed in the “Neighborhood Fun” section of the Evening Bulletin.

As it so happens the famed artist Andy Warhol and his entourage were in town that day for Andy’s first American museum exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania.

Andy saw the newspaper photo of the girls and the “Sticky Twig Man” and pronounced it “really neat”. The “Factory” stalwart and Warhol right-hand man Gerard Malanga got on the case and tracked Patty and Rachel down. The girls agreed to meet Warhol at their favorite local stopping place The Three Babes diner on Fifth. Yes, it was a wild night at the Three Babes when Andy arrived with superstars Baby Jane Holzer, Edie Sedgwick, Candy Darling and the ubiquitous Malanga, along with the writers Terry Southern and George Plimpton, the actor Dennis Hopper and, not least of all, the gallery owner Janet Fleisher. Andy loved Patty and Rachel and immediately offered them parts in his next movie, but the girls declined as they didn’t think they would be able to get their shifts covered at the bakery. They passed around snapshots of their work and everyone seemed to be impressed, not least of all Miss Fleisher, who made them an offer on the spot to show their work at her world-famous gallery downtown on 17th Street.

Well, we all know what happened next. Helped out immeasurably by the imprimatur of Mr. Warhol, the Misses O’Donnel and Greenberg sold out their entire maiden show that December at the Fleisher, fetching as much as $5,000 a piece. Not bad at all for a couple of Olney gals who were still living at home and working at the bakery!

But this famous first show proved also to be their last. Patty and Rachel, in an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, said that they felt that they had gone as far as they could with weeds and twigs, and that they wanted to quit while they were ahead.

Rachel took her money and put it down on a semi-detached on Acker Street, and shortly afterwards moved in with her new husband Dave, a mechanic at the Atlantic station down at Fifth and Somerville. Patty for her part bought a brand-new Thunderbird. Rachel continued to work at Fink’s until she and Dave had their first baby. Patty went to nursing school and worked for many years at Einstein Hospital on Old York Road.

Their most famous work, “The Sticky Twig Man”, was recently auctioned at Christie’s for $750,000.


(Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of other "Tales From the O-Zone", made possible by a grant from the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA.)

And now, a word from the Shangri-Las:



Saturday, June 7, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 74: walk alone

Our previous installment of Larry Winchester’s Pennzoil Award-nominated masterpiece left our adventurers Harvey, Dick and Daphne soaring wildly through the atmosphere in a runaway flying saucer...

But meanwhile, back on the ground, let’s see what’s going on with young Hope, the beautiful but scary daughter of rancher Big Jake Johnstone...

Oh, and what about good old Moloch, the even scarier leader of the local motorcycle gang, the Motorpsychos?

Return with us now if you will to a September night in that faraway year of 1969, to that land of enchantment called New Mexico, and to a town called Disdain...


Hope had felt left out when Dick and Daphne and Harvey and Enid and that English guy Eric or Derek had all piled into Enid’s truck and headed off for Paco’s. They hadn’t asked her to come, and she really couldn’t blame them. Her father would have had an absolute fit.

Not that she wanted to take peyote particularly; Hope had no need of drugs in order to alter her mind; her mind altered easily enough on its own, and often did, sometimes dozens of times a day. No, she simply wanted to be with Dick and Daphne.

She read some Lautréamont by candlelight and then she wrote in her journal in the private language she had invented at the age of four, and finally she decided to sneak out.

She changed into jeans and a t-shirt and her brother’s motorcycle jacket, pulled on a pair of boots and then tiptoed downstairs and went out to the stables.

She saddled up her black pony Whisper and then set off at a trot down the road to the Indian reservation.

****


Moloch felt as though his head were like to burst. It was a good feeling.

Moloch’s blood was aroar. He felt alive, gloriously so.

All around him in the cave his men snored and grunted in their swinish sleep.

He lurched up from where he had been sitting for hours by his fire and he stumbled over to an enormous stamped-iron sea chest. He knelt down, selected a key from a heavy chain attached to his belt, unlocked the padlock and lifted the lid. He parted the waterproof motorcycle cover which protected the contents and his heart swelled as he breathed in deeply that sacred odor of petrolatum and steel. For piled into the chest were all the weapons (and ammunition of course) that even the Motorpsychos durst not carry on their runs. These were for special occasions and emergencies only. Moloch had decided that tonight would be a special occasion.

Like a greedy housewife who has been let into a basement sale an hour before opening time he commenced lovingly to handle and fondle the grease-smeared weapons. Stout sturdy revolvers, lovely automatics, sawed-off shotguns and sub-machine guns. Lovely. There were even some grenades (both fragmentation and phosphorous).

And, swaddled safely in his old college rugby shirt, Moloch’s trusty and stolid Webley (Mark IV) service revolver.

He sat crosslegged on the ground, removed the gun from the shirt and laid the shirt out before him. He held the heavy weapon first in one hand and then the other, caressing it with his scarred and callused fingers. He stuck out his leathery tongue and slowly licked the length of the barrel (savoring that sui generis flavor of Cosmolined blue steel) and then he caressed his whiskered cheeks with it, feeling its divine metal hardness.

His breath quickening, his fingers trembling slightly, he set smartly to field stripping the pistol, laying its parts out onto the shirt. He then took from the chest a rag and a tin of kerosene and a cherrywood box of cleaning materials. He doused the rag and -- taking an occasional calming huff himself -- wiped the grease from the pistol’s components. He opened the wooden box, and with cleaning rod, patch, brush and swab he thoroughly cleaned each of the gun’s pieces and then re-lubricated each moving part.

At last he reassembled the pistol and snapped it smartly shut. He held it out at arm’s length, cocked it, squeezed the trigger: the hammer shot down with a satisfying pock. Splendid. Like bloody clockwork. Leaving the hammer down he squeezed the trigger again, and -- pock. Oh yes just fucking splendid.

He thumbed the barrel catch forward and broke the pistol open: the six clean empty chambers yawned hungrily at him.

He found a box of .380 cartridges, scrabbled it open and took one out. He paused for a moment, rolling the bullet between his thumb and finger, exulting in the death that pulsed quietly within this cold little drop of metal, and then manfully shoved it into the cylinder. He paused another long moment, then quickly loaded four more bullets. Five chambers filled. One -- the chamber of life, if you could call this fucking chaos life -- empty. He closed his one good eye and spun the cylinder twice, then snapped the weapon shut.

Keeping his eye closed tight, gape-mouthed demons screaming distantly at him from his own private hell, he pulled back the hammer to full cock and slid the muzzle into his mouth, the barrel sight running deliciously along the roof of his mouth.

His boyhood, his life, Eton, his military service, his years at Oxford, all the thousands of meaningless books he’d read, his marriage, his son (now also at buggery Eton the last he’d heard), his monographs on Rémy de Gourmont and Huysmans and James Branch Cabell and other wankers no one gave a flying toss about, his year teaching at Berkeley and his attendant decline and fall, it all meant nothing, nothing meant anything, all was only this horrible vile awareness of self, thrashing and pounding against the walls of one’s skull like a condemned prisoner in his cell.

Oh fuck it.

He squeezed the trigger, the blackness yawned and howled, he knew a moment of ultimate falling pleasure.

****


(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And please turn to the right hand side of this page for an exhaustive listing of links to all other extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Sheldon Leonard Joint.)

Ladies and gentlemen: Gerry and the Pacemakers: