Wednesday, July 30, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 85: Swampoodle

Larry Winchester (author of this second-place prize-winner of the David Goodis Award for Most Unjustly Obscure American Novel) now leaves us in suspense as to the fate of Enid and Hope, and switches scene again to the swingin’ Samba Room, where Dick, Daphne and Harvey have found themselves hosted by Frank and the Rat Pack:

The room had gotten smokier, more crowded, more drunken. Tony Anthony had been replaced by a stripper (“Helen Bedd”, a blond Russ Meyer type), backed up by a jazz combo, four seen-it-all-done-it-all pros in smokestained old tuxedos.

The waiters had cleared away the dinner plates and brought on a fresh round of cocktails.

“Okay,” said Frank, “I’m sure our new friends are wondering, just what the hell is the deal here? Am I right?”

He turned to Dick.

“Well,” said Dick, “I was rather wondering just where the hell we are.”

“An enormous space station,” said Frank, “slowly circling through space between your very lovely green and thriving planet and your almost equally lovely albeit barren and lifeless moon. But, I might add, quite invisible to the human eye, and in fact, immaterial according to your own quaint concept of what is and what is not material.”

“Oh,” said Dick. “Immaterial.”

He didn’t look entirely convinced.

“Ya, see, Mr. Ridpath,” said Frank, “we are in a whatcha might call a different state of reality, a, uh --”

“Another dimension?” said Harvey. He was the only one drinking beer, a Falstaff.

“Right!” said Frank. “Another dimension. It’s kinda like your whatchamacallit dream-state, a universe that co-exists with your universe but cannot be seen from your universe -- although, oddly enough, one can in fact see your dimension from this dimension.”

“So we’re kinda like ghosts up in here,” said Harvey.

“Uh --” Frank hesitated.

“Or angels,” said Daphne.

“Well, yyyeah --” said Frank, seeming to concede some faint but dubious value to the above suppositions.

“And the only way you can get into this, uh, dimension,” said Dick, “is in one of those, those --”

“Flying saucers,” said Frank, “right.”

He clicked open his gold cigarette case, took out a cigarette, tapped its end on the table.

“So,” said Dick, “you -- people -- are from -- this, this other dimension?”

“Oh, no,” said Frank, lighting his cigarette with his thin gold lighter, “we’re from a planet much like yours, ‘cept it’s like a billion trillion whatever light-years away.”

“I knew it!” said Daphne. “What’s the name of your planet?”

“Well --” said Frank, “you won’t laugh, right? Humans always laugh.”

“I won’t laugh,” said Daphne.

“You promise,” said Frank.

“Scout’s honor,” said Daphne, raising her right hand in the Girl Scout salute.

“Swampoodle,” said Frank.

“Swampoodle?” said Daphne.

“Swampoodle,” Frank said again.

Daphne laughed, but put her hand over her mouth.

“See?” said Frank, addressing the rest of the Pack, “they always laugh.”

Dean, Sammy, Joey, Peter, and Richard Conte all murmured in assent, or nodded, or both.

“Sorry,” said Daphne, and then immediately put her knuckle against her lovely lips again.

“So --” said Dick, to the rescue as usual, “uh, if you’re from -- Swampoodle?” Daphne tried but could not suppress another peal of laughter. “Um, why -- “ Dick hesitated, trying to think it out, “why this, this other dimension?”

“Well, ya see,” said Frank, “back on Swamp--” Again Daphne couldn’t hold it in, and now she held both hands over her mouth. Frank sighed and went on: “back on our ‘home planet’ -- about a million years ago, we invented a device which enables us to travel the vast reaches of interstellar space in quite reasonable amounts of time. Now this device, which we call the Reality Woofer --”

“The what?” asked Daphne.

“The Reality Woofer.”

Daphne snorted.

“Oh, my God, Frank, I’m sorry,” she said, speaking through her fingers, her shoulders hunched.

Dick and Harvey just managed to control the urge to laugh, while all the Rat Pack remained stonily impassive, most notably Frank:

“Perhaps I should continue some other time,” he said.

“Oh, no, Frank,” said Daphne, “please. Do go on. I promise I’ll behave.”

“Okay,” said Frank, taking a sip of his Four Roses Manhattan, “so -- we invented this, uh, this ‘device’, which, when installed into one of our flying saucers, enables us to travel through the uh -- the --” Daphne still chuckled from behind her hand, but Frank sighed and went on -- “the, uh, whaddyacallit, the --”

“Vast reaches of space?” suggested Dick.

“Right,” said Frank, “the vast reaches of whatever, by enabling us to enter into this different, uh, dimension in which we can travel these, uh, these --”

“Vast reaches,” said Dick.

“Right,” said Frank. “At the speed of thought. On accounta the normal rules of physics don’t apply here.”

“Like in dreams,” offered Daphne, getting a grip.

“Kinda --” said Frank, as in, Well, no, not really.

“And how quick exactly is the speed of thought?” asked Dick.

“Oh, it’s very quick,” said Frank. “All you gotta do is get out on the road so to speak, build up a little speed, engage the, uh --”

“The Woofer!” cried Daphne. “The Reality Woofer!”

“Right,” said Frank, frowning but going on. “Then you burst through the wall between dimensions and, like, boom -- you’re on your way. One of our top of the line Reality Woofer ships can make it from here to Swamp -- to our world in like two hours, two hours and change. And we’re talking about sixty-nine trillion billion miles, light-years, whatever.”

“Far,” said Joey.

“Right,” said Frank. “Far.”

“So,” said Dick, “it’s like: you use this Woofer thing to go from your world into this other dimension to get to here, and then I guess when you want to go to the earth you have to use the Woofer thing again to get out of this, uh --”

“Twilight zone,” said Harvey.

“Well, we don’t call this dimension the Twilight Zone, Harvey,” said Frank. “It’s called Fishtown.” He turned to Daphne. “You can laugh now, Mrs. Ridpath.”

“I’m not laughing,” she said.

She took a cigarette from the platinum case which had been supplied to her. Sammy reached all the way across the table to give her a light with his lighter which was identical to Frank’s.

“Thank you,” she said.

She exhaled a great cloud of smoke and then burst into uncontrollable laughter.

(Click here for our next swingin' chapter. And please turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-available episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, soon to be a 37-part mini-series from The Pennzoil Hall of Fame, starring Dane Clark, Martha Vickers, Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, Thomas Gomez, Priscilla Lane, and Akim Tamiroff; written and directed by Larry Winchester.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 90: the completely unsinkable Miss Gertrude Evans

Arnold Schnabel (the author of this Pall Mall Award-winning memoir) seems to have a knack for finding himself in compromising situations. But is it any fault of his that at the end of our previous chapter he awoke from a nap to find a hot-blooded female novelist gently touching his face?

“Arnold,” she said, “you were talking in your sleep. I could hear you all the way down in the hall as I was coming out of the bathroom.”

She was sitting on the side of my narrow bed.

For a moment I wondered if this was really happening. But her fingers, which were now stroking the hair on my head, felt all too real, as did the quiverings of a nascent and quite involuntary erection.

“Your door was ajar,” she said.

How foolish of me not to have shut the door and bolted it. I would try not to make that mistake again.

Let’s just be clear on the fact that, yes, I was completely naked, and because of the afternoon heat I had lain down without even a sheet over me. I now tried to reach past Miss Evans’s hip to grab the jumbled-up sheet and cover myself, but she was sitting on it.

“I was worried about you,” she said, seemingly oblivious to my tuggings on the sheet.

“Why?” I managed to say.

“I thought perhaps you were talking to God.”

“No,” I said. “Not God. Miss Evans, do you mind getting off my bed?”

“Call me Gertrude, Arnold.”

She was still stroking my head.

“Okay, Gertrude,” I said.

She didn’t get up. I tugged at the sheet again.

“Oh,” she said. “You want to cover yourself.”


In an attempt at modesty I drew my right leg up, and put my left hand over my mindlessly stirring organ of putative virility.

“You needn’t be ashamed of your nakedness.” She cast her eye along my body. “Don’t be ashamed. You have a beautiful body. A strong, honest, workman’s body.”

“I’d like to cover myself, please.”

“Would it make you feel more comfortable if I removed my dress?”

She was wearing one of these sundress things I suppose they’re called. Some light material with coiling green ivy printed over a pale yellow background. The way she was leaning over me I could see a good deal of her breasts anyway, but now with the hand that wasn’t stroking my head she started to lift off one of its straps while shrugging that shoulder.

“No,” I said. “Please don’t.”

“No one has to know.”

“God will know,” I said, in my desperation.

Fortunately this stopped her before she got the strap off, although she left it dangling halfway down her arm.

“Yes,” she said. “That’s true. I suppose he knows all.”

“Yes,” I said. “Everything.”

With a sigh she got up, and she took the tangled sheet, gave it a little flap, and covered me, at last. Then she quickly sat down again on the side of the bed, effectively trapping me there. She did however lift the strap of her dress up over her shoulder again.
I could still hear the opera music from downstairs. Some woman singing in Italian in a very high voice, God knows about what.

“Arnold,” said Miss Evans, “I know.”

“Know what?”

“That you are a saint.”


“Where are your cigarettes?”

“In the little table there, the drawer,” I said.

“May I have one?”

“Miss Evans —”


She opened the drawer, took out my open pack of my Pall Malls. She shook one up and drew it out with her lips, like a bird drawing a worm out of a hole in the ground. She lit it with my lighter, which she’d also found in my drawer.

“Oh. Would you like one, Arnold?”

She offered me the pack.

In fact I wanted a cigarette then more than I’ve ever wanted one in my life, but even more I wanted her out of there, or me out of there, whichever came first, and sitting together smoking cigarettes probably wasn’t going to hasten either of those eventualities, so I said no thanks.

“I knew there was something special about you,” she said, exhaling smoke toward my little window.

“Miss Evans, I mean Gertrude, I’d like to get up now.”

“Don’t let me stop you, Arnold. Do you have some place to go?”

I looked at my little alarm clock. It was 3:48. I had napped for over an hour.

“Yes,” I said.

“Where? To meet your sultry dark bohemian girl?”

“No. I have to meet Mrs. Biddle.”

“Mrs. Biddle? Why?”

“To have tea with her.”


“Yes. Please, let me get dressed.”

“Okay. If you insist.”

She stood up. Unlike me she was short enough to stand up straight under the inverted V of my attic ceiling.

“Could you turn around, please?” I said.

“I’ve seen naked men before, Arnold. In fact I’ve seen you naked just now.”


“Oh, all right,” she said, turning, but not moving more than a foot from my bed.

“Gertrude,” I said, “could you please move farther away. I have to get my clothes from the dresser.”

“Oh, let me,” she said. “I love looking through men’s dressers.”

She stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray on my night table and went over to the little-boy’s dresser which is the only sort of dresser that could fit into this small room, and she began to open and rifle through its drawers.

I sat up, keeping my now somewhat quiescent middle parts covered with the sheet.

“Boxer shorts,” she said. “I’m so glad, I detest those other kind. And ironed! Does your mother iron them for you?”

“Yes. Please toss them over.”

She did, side-armed, turning only slightly, and almost reaching the bed with them. I reached down and got them off the floor.

“Polo shirt?” she asked. “Or is this a formal tea? Suit and tie?”

I hadn’t even thought about it, but I wanted to get this over with quick so I said that a polo shirt and Bermudas would be fine.

“No,” she said. “Better wear a suit for such a formidable grande dame as Mrs. Biddle. You do have a suit?”

At this she glanced over her shoulder at me but by this time I at least had my Fruit-of-the-Looms on.

I told her I did have a suit, and that it was hanging on a peg on the wall over there.

“Good,” she said. She took both of my maternally-folded dress shirts out of the drawer, shook them out and held them up to me. “Which one?”

One is short-sleeved, the other is not. Other than that they’re pretty much identical as far as I can tell.

“The short sleeve,” I said.

“No,” she said, “I think the long.” She looked at the label. “Robert Hall.” She tossed it to me, and this time I managed to reach out and catch it before it hit the floor. “You should let me buy you a couple of good shirts,” she said.

“No thanks,” I said.

“You deserve better than Robert Hall.”

“Robert Hall’s fine for me,” I said, putting the shirt on.

She had now gone over to my suit, my dark grey summer Sunday suit, one of the two suits I own, the other one being an even darker grey winter suit now in my closet back in Philadelphia. She looked at the label inside the jacket.

“Who or what is Krass Brothers, Arnold?”

“It’s just a men’s store,” I said. “In Philadelphia.”

She tossed me the trousers.

“Brooks Brothers, Arnold. Not Krass Brothers.”

“Krass Brothers are fine with me,” I said, pulling the trousers on.

“No,” she said, coming over to the bed, holding the jacket, feeling its material and frowning. “Let me take you to Today’s Squire at least. They seem to have some nice things.”

Today’s Squire is the fancy men’s shop on Washington Street, which I’ve never actually been in.

“No thanks,” I said. I stood up, too quickly, and hit my head on the raked ceiling. “Ow,” I said.

“Sit down before you kill yourself. You need socks.”

I sat down. She handed me the jacket and she went back to my ransacked dresser. I shrugged myself into the jacket.

“All your socks are either black or white,” she said.

I did not deny this.

She tossed a rolled-up pair of the black ones in my general direction, and I nabbed them one-handed, my arm outstretched like Willie Mays catching a hard line drive.

“Someday your mother will be gone, Arnold. What will you do?”

“I’ll learn to roll my own socks,” I said, pulling them on.

“I’ve never known a man who needs a woman more than you do.”

Who was I to deny this?

“What is this?” she said, holding up my one and only necktie, with its little embroidered badge.

“It’s my Knights of Columbus tie,” I said.

“So you’re a knight?”

“Only of Columbus.”

“Yes but still. A knight.”

“Give it to me, will you?”

She brought it over, handed it to me.

“A sainted knight” she said. “Or should I say a knighted saint?”

I didn’t answer. I quickly wrapped the tie around my neck and tied it. I stood up, or at least I stood up as much as I was able to.

“Wait,” she said, coming close to me. She straightened my tie, or at least made motions as of straightening my tie. “There,” she said. “I owe you so much.”

I suppose I stared at her bug-eyed, if not agog.

“For what?” she asked. “For showing me a miracle. Don’t make that face. You were in that bathroom. I know you were. And I waited. And when you didn’t come out after my repeated knockings and halloos I was afraid perhaps you had had a heart attack, and I turned the knob and the door wasn’t locked, and I opened it and you were not in there, Arnold.”


“You had transported yourself.”

“Um —”

“You had transported yourself through space.”

“Well —”

“A miracle.”

“Um —”

“But why? To teach me? To show me? I’m ready, Arnold. I’m ready to be taught. To be shown. Teach me. Show me.”

“I have to go to Mrs. Biddle’s now.”

“I didn’t mean right now.”


My wallet was lying on my little bedside table, where I had left it; I picked it up and put it in my pocket. I turned and started to go.



“You’re not wearing shoes.”


I went over to the corner where my Sunday shoes were, by the wall next to the little chair by my little writing table with my little Remington portable where I type up my little poems. I sat at the chair and began to put on my shoes.

“Listen, Gertrude,” I said. “I’m really not a saint. I didn’t transport myself by a miracle. I climbed out the window.”

“Very funny, Arnold.”

She picked up her book, Ye Cannot Quench, from the night table, looked to see where my book-marker was.

“You haven’t gotten very far in my novel, Arnold.”

“I’m savoring it.”

“So you’re enjoying it?”

“Very much.”

“What do you like about it?”


All these lies would have to be confessed to Father Reilly next Saturday.

“My next one will be better,” she said.

She closed the book, and put it back onto the night table.

I stood up.

She came over to me again.

She licked her finger and touched up my hair with it.

“Oh, I should comb it,” I said.

“No,” she said. “The tousled look is good for you. The poet, the knight, the saint.”

The Italian lady was still singing downstairs.

(Click here for our next pulse-pounding chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a complete listing of links to all other published episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, soon to be a major motion picture starring John Garfield as Arnold and Gene Tierney as Miss Evans, directed by Anatole Litvak.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 84: stand-off!

Larry Winchester (“like Melville, if Melville were not boring” -- Harold Bloom) now returns to our own own humble planet, if only briefly, in this, our uncut serialization of his sprawling (“makes Stephen King look like Raymond Carver” -- Harold Bloom) masterwork:

Down we fly through the stratosphere, zeroing in on the Western Hemisphere and the night-shrouded continent of North America, zooming down to the state of New Mexico and to small bright light in the desert, a light which grows into a circle of lights with another light in its center, and then as the circle of lights grows larger we see the light at its center split into the two headlights of Enid’s truck, surrounded by twenty-five or thirty Motorpsychos with their own headlights blazing, and directly in front of the truck’s headlights lies Hope’s dead pony Whisper with Hope standing next to it, and next to Hope stands Enid, holding her father’s big old .45 out at arm’s length cocked and pointed straight at Moloch’s forehead.

The night breeze gently stirs Enid’s dark hair as she stares down the barrel of the pistol, which she holds one-handed, in her strong sculptress’s hand, and her left hand rests lightly on Hope’s abdomen, as if holding the girl back, and indeed Hope leans slightly forward, as if ready to leap onto Moloch to tear his one good eye out of its socket with her bare fingers.

Moloch’s face is motionless except for a dribble of greenish spit oozing maddeningly slowly from one corner of his scarified mouth and down into his spiky grease-glistening whiskers. In one lens of his mirrored aviator sunglasses gapes the black muzzle of the .45 and far behind it Enid’s steadfast eyes. In the other lens floats the foreshortened pale face of Hope and her dark eyes.

The three of them stand lit as brightly as actors on a movie set by the headlights of the motorcycles and the truck.

The desert air reeks of motorcycle exhaust, of rancid male sweat, of foul denims and leathers.

Smiling slightly, Moloch makes a gentle, almost courtly gesture with his hand, and at once all the Motorpsychos pull out their weapons and the silence breaks metallically with the manifold snicking of racking slides and cocking hammers.

Without moving her head or her gun Enid moves her eyes slowly from side to side and sees various sawed-off shotguns, submachine guns and pistols pointed straight at her.

She takes one firm step forward and now the muzzle of her gun presses solidly into the middle of Moloch’s forehead.

A fresh gobbet of greenish drool oozes out from the corner of Moloch’s mouth.


(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, third-place runner-up for the Carling Black Label Award for Inspirational Fiction.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 89: battle tales

In our previous episode of this Dutch Master’s Award-nominated memoir by the man Harold Bloom has called “that saintly Scaramouche”, Arnold Schnabel encountered Mrs. Rathbone in the back yard of his aunts’ Cape May boarding house, and he was last seen escorting this lady to the front entrance of the house, that she might visit with Arnold’s aunts and mother. It’s non-stop action as usual for our Arnold...

As we turned around the corner to the porch I remembered my escapade with Miss Evans earlier that afternoon. What had I been thinking? And perhaps more to the point, what had I not been thinking? She had undoubtedly turned the whole house upside down when I had not replied to her inevitable knockings on the bathroom door, nor to her salutations and queries and quite possibly screams when she finally opened the unlocked door and found no one there, least of all me.

But as so often in life, as so often period because it’s probably the same in death, there is nothing to be done but to face the music, or, as the case may be, the cacophony.

Kevin was sitting quietly enough on the porch in his usual rocking chair, reading a Sgt. Rock comic, but he folded it over his finger as we came to the porch steps.

“Hello, Kevin,” said Mrs. Rathbone, holding my arm as we hobbled together up the steps.

“Hi,” said Kevin. “You’re in trouble, Cousin Arnold.”

“What did Arnold do?” asked Mrs. Rathbone.

“He disappeared from the bathroom.”

“He what?”

Once again I’ll do a kindness for that ideal reader who is no other than myself and I shall not recount word by word the next couple of minutes of conversation, to which I listened but did not take a vocal part in, with Mrs. Rathbone all the while hanging as tightly to my forearm as if we stood on the deck of a small ship in a raging sea.

But I suppose I got bored just standing there, so I went over to my usual rocker and sat down. Kevin’s usual pile of comic books lay on the little table to my right, and I was just about to look through them to see if there were any I hadn’t read yet when I couldn’t help but notice that my own corporeal host was still standing there next to Mrs. Rathbone, with an only slightly resigned look on my face.

I wondered what would happen if I got up from the rocker, walked around myself and Mrs. Rathbone, went down the steps and started wandering invisibly around town. But the thing was I really wanted a nap, so I heaved myself up from the chair, walked back to my body and slipped back into it just as Mrs. Rathbone was saying:

“And where is Miss Evans now?”

“I think she’s still laying down.”

“Lying down,” said Mrs. Rathbone.

“Yeah,” said Kevin. “That’s what I just said.”

“She’s lying down, Kevin, not laying down.”

Kevin gave her one of those looks he so often gives me, the “you really are insane” look.

I could see through the screen door the ghostly figures of my mother and all three of my aunts, standing listening and watching.

“Shall we go inside, Mrs. Rathbone?” I said, as suavely as if she and Kevin had been discussing the weather and not my latest madman’s caper.

She stared up at me.

“Arnold, how did you get out of that bathroom?”

“I climbed out the window and down the drainpipe.” I spoke clearly and distinctly so that my mother and aunts could hear and I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.

“Wow,” said Kevin. “Did you, Cousin Arnold?”

“Yes,” I said.

“But why?” asked Mrs. Rathbone.

“I was trying to escape from Miss Evans.”

“So you climbed out a third-floor window?”

My gentle mother now came out onto the porch.

“Arnold,” she said, “you didn’t really, did you?”

In a flash it occurred to me that this sort of admission might well lead to another and perhaps even longer and more tedious stay at Byberry, so I backtracked, and let the jesuitisms flow:

“That depends on how you looked at it, Mom.”

After all, if one hadn’t been looking at that side of the house one couldn’t know for sure that I had climbed out of the window.

“Then how did you get out of that bathroom?”

“I — just left.”

This in its literal sense was not a lie.

“But Miss Evans said she never saw you leave.”

I shrugged. This also is not a lie, merely to shrug.

“Oh, Mom,” I said, “look, Mrs. Rathbone has come for a visit.”

I lifted Mrs. Rathbone’s hand from my arm.

“Hello, Mrs. Rathbone,” said my mother.

“Hello, Mrs. Schnabel,” said Mrs. Rathbone.

One trick with women I’ve learned in my humble experience is to get them to talk among themselves, and then in the ensuing confusion you can make your getaway.

“Mrs. Rathbone was telling me that my friend Steve wants to marry Miss Rathbone.”

“Is Steve that man who was talking to Miss Rathbone in the back yard all yesterday afternoon?”

Now my Aunt Edith came out through the screen door.

“The one who took her out last night,” said Edith.

“That’s the one,” said Mrs. Rathbone.

“He really upset that DeVore couple, I’ll tell you that much,” said my Aunt Greta, holding open the screen door.

“Mrs. Rathbone,” said my mother, “wouldn’t you like to come in and have some refreshment?”

“I wouldn’t say no to a glass of wine,” said Mrs. Rathbone.

“We still have leftover wine,” called out my Aunt Elizabetta, from just inside the doorway.

“From Arnold’s girl,” said Edith.

Soon enough our little assemblage was moving itself into the living room amidst a whirlpool of feminine verbiage, everyone except for Kevin that is, who stayed on the porch with Sgt. Rock, and who could blame him?

“Good day, Mrs. Rathbone,” I interpolated, and headed for the hall.

“Where are you going, Arnold?” asked my mother.

“Taking a nap,” I said.

“Oh —”

Her little “oh” tumbled beneath the waves of the other ladies’ chatter, and I turned up the stairs.

So far so good. Now I only had to make it past Miss Evans’s room and I was home free.

At the third floor stairhead I could hear opera music coming from her room.

I was glad that I was wearing flip-flops. If I had been wearing shoes I’m sure I would have removed them before tiptoeing past her door.

I made it safely to the doorway and the short flight of steps leading to my attic room, and soon I was lying in my little bed, naked to the soft warm breeze wafting in from the window.

I fell asleep and at once I was back in God’s house.

I came to the door that opened into that office with the man who had given me directions to the bathroom.

“Ah. You again,” he said, looking up from some papers.

“Yes,” I said. “Arnold. Arnold Schnabel.”

He looked at me impassively, his finger holding his place on the paper he’d been reading.

“May I ask, sir,” I said, “what is your name?”

He said something but it made no sense to me, it was a combination of sounds that wouldn’t stay in my brain. I didn’t want to be a pest though, so I didn’t ask him to say it again.

“May I help you in some way?” he asked.

“I want to go home,” I said.

“Don’t we all,” he said. He sighed, and shuffled through a stack of papers off to one side of his desk. With a fountain pen he scrawled something on a few of them and then said,

“Here, take these.”

He held up a sheath of about ten or twelve official-looking documents.

I came over and took them from him, and it was then that I realized that I was as naked as I had been lying in bed.

“Oh,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, capping his fountain pen. He seemed pre-occupied, and maybe a little bored. He picked up a pipe from a holder on his desk, and began to fill it with tobacco from a zippered leather pouch.

I glanced at the papers. It was all some sort of incomprehensible legal mumbo jumbo.

“Take those to the front, show them to Peter, you should be fine.”

“Um,” I said.

“Yes?” He tamped down the tobacco with his index finger

“Well — can I get some clothes?”

He didn’t answer right away, because he was lighting his pipe with a wooden match. I waited, while he drew and puffed, getting it going. At last he said, “What was that?”

“Can I get some clothes?”

He sighed, more deeply this time. He opened a couple of drawers, fingered through whatever was in them, then brought out another document. He uncapped his fountain pen again, filled in a couple of blanks on the form, and then scrawled what I presumed was his signature.

He handed me the paper with an air of finality.

“Down the hall, to the right this time. Then turn to the left, go three doors down and on the right hand side knock and give the lady this form. She’ll give you some clothes.”



Puffing on his pipe, he picked up another batch of papers. He wrote something on one of them.

I stood there.

He looked up. Did I mention he was wearing glasses, horn-rim glasses? He sort of peered over the tops of the glasses.

“Anything else?” he said.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Good day, then.”

“Good day,” I said. “Thank you.”

He was already back to reading his papers, but he gave a little wave with his pipe.
I left the office, closing the door quietly behind me.

I stood in the hall. Let’s see, go right? I went right. Then left? I went left. Three doors down? One, two, three. The door on the right. So far so good, but I wondered if I was going to have to go through all this rigamarole of wandering around God’s house every time I fell asleep or passed out, for the rest of my life. One thing for sure, if this was heaven then it was overrated.

I knocked on the door.

“Arnold?” said a woman’s voice.

“Yes,” I said, wearily. I was not looking forward to facing some strange woman while I was stark naked, but unless I wanted to spend eternity walking these halls in my birthday suit I supposed I had to go through with a little embarrassment. “I’m here for my, to get my, to get some, uh —”

“Arnold,” she said again, louder and closer to the door, and I woke up to see Miss Evans’s face leaning over mine.

From downstairs I could hear the opera music.

Miss Evans put her hand on my face.

(Click here for Arnold's next thrill-packed adventure. Please turn to the right hand side of this page for an exhaustive listing of all other possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Val Lewton Production.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 83: Samba Room

Larry Winchester now cuts away from Hope and Enid and the vile Motorpsychos (back here) and returns us to Dick, Daphne and Harvey, and to a place that seems somehow close and yet so very far away...

The interior of the Samba Room was all soft blurry greens, blues, and oranges, and at the tables and along the two bars that curved away from the stage sat prosperous-looking middle-aged couples as well as fat middle-aged men with young women and sullen thin sharply-dressed young men with just slightly less glamorous young women than were with the older men. Every one of these customers had a rich and impossibly smooth suntan. Down front over by stage left was a big round table of very drunk Japanese businessmen and almost equally drunk call-girls. Cocktail waitresses in black polyester French maid outfits and cigarette girls in shiny red French maid outfits glided in and out of the swirling clouds of tobacco smoke like tawdry angels.

Painted lips sipped martinis, hairy Rolex-wristed hands clicked jeweled gold cigarette lighters, and jewels and gold glittered and shone on tanned plump décolletages.

Mouths chewed red dripping hunks of filet mignon and butter-drenched gobbets of lobster, washed down with Dom Perignon, Canadian Club and Four Roses.

Up in the spotlight a middle-aged comic named Tony Anthony performed into a microphone, a cigar in one hand. He sported a burnt-umber toupée and a red velvet bell-bottomed tuxedo, an untied purple satin bowtie and a ruffled pink shirt opened at the neck to reveal a glistening suntan and several gold chains and religious medals.

“So I says to the guy, I says to him, I says I says -- listen I says -- I mean I says to him -- hey --”

“Shaddap and bring on the broads!” yelled Joey, standing halfway up with his hand saluted to the side of his mouth. Joe wore a white Krass Brothers sportcoat over a fresh yellow Banlon shirt (no tie, but with the shirt buttoned up to the collar).

“What’re you gripin’ about, pal?” replied Tony Anthony. “You ever saw a cunt you’d probly but a Band-Aid on it.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” said Joey, now standing straight, and turning back and forth to the others at the table. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” he yelled up at Tony. “What are ya, meshugginah?”

“It means you know as much about the female anatomy as you do about fuckin' ontology,” quipped Tony.

“Oh yeah?”

Joey stuck his right hand into his jacket under his left arm, but right then Frank pointed at him and said:

“Joey, sit down and shut the fuck up. And I ever see you pull a gat in this room I’m gonna personally shove it up your ass and pull the trigger."

“But this ham-and-egger’s tellin’ jokes that were old when my old man was in the first grade!”

“Your old man never went to first grade,” said Frank. “Now let the fucker finish his act.”

“Which reminds me,” Tony Anthony reverberated through the microphone, “What’d the Jewish fella say to the spacemen after they abducted him?”

“Somebody mention my tribe?” said Sammy Davis Jr, striding up to the table. Sammy wore an unbuttoned silk print D’Avenza Roma jacket with a Mao collar, and a ruffled blue shirt open to the waist. Nine gold chains lay over his thin but muscular mahogany chest.

“Sammy, come sta?” said Frank, talking over Tony’s monologue, and rising from his chair as Sammy came right over and then gave him a big hug. Frank was wearing a navy blazer, also by D’Avenza Roma, and a gold chain with a gold Sagittarian pendant over a cream acetate turtleneck from Oleg Cassini.

Molto bene, daddy-o,” said Sammy, and then, still holding Frank's shoulders, he turned his thousand-watt smile on Daphne, who was sitting to Frank’s right at the big round table:

“Mrs. Ridpath, looking lovelier than ever!”

Frank sat down and Sammy went over and took Daphne’s hand, even though she hadn’t quite offered it to him.

“Charmed, I’m sure,” said Sammy, kissing Daphne’s knuckles.

“Good to see you, Sammy,” said Daphne, with all due politeness. She had changed into a long lowcut purple satin dress from Dior, with spaghetti straps and slit to the upper left thigh. A small gold lamé purse with a thin spun-gold strap lay on the table in front of her.

“And Mr. Ridpath,” said Sammy to Dick, who sat to Frank’s left. “How are you, sir?”

“Not bad, Sammy,” said Dick, standing up with his incurable politeness. Sammy came over and clasped his hand, putting his left over the handshake for good measure. Dick wore a burnt-orange double-breasted sailcloth Bill Blass suit over a pale blue shirt and an Indian silk tie.

Frank lifted his highball and gestured toward Harvey.

“Sammy -- Harvey,” he said. He sipped his drink, Jack Daniel’s, lots of ice, just a splash of Schweppes club soda. “Harvey -- Sammy.”

Sammy came around to Harvey, who sat next to Daphne. To Harvey’s right sat Peter, then, closest to the stage came Joey, then Richard Conte, and then to the left of Dick sat Dean.

Harvey rose awkwardly, and Sammy gave him the power handshake.

“What’s happenin’, my man?” said Sammy.

“Hanging cool, brother,” said Harvey, who’d served with a lot of black dudes in the military.

“Keep it light, brother man,” said Sammy.

“Light as I can, brother,” said Harvey, who wore a tasteful light brown suit from Botany 500, with a more dubious shiny dark brown shirt, and a wide green-and-white diagonal-striped tie, both from the Johnny Carson Collection.

“As soon as you boys finish your love fest-perhaps you will sit your narrow butts down,” said Frank. “We got business to discuss.”

“Right on, bwana,” said Sammy. He patted Harvey’s shoulder, Harvey sat down, and Sammy went round the rest of the table, slapping skin with everyone and finally taking an empty chair between Joey and Richard Conte.

Across the room by the entrance a white telephone rang.

The maitre d’, Brad Dexter, a big beefy man in a black and pink tuxedo, stood at a white plastic podium. He picked up the telephone receiver. In the background Tony Anthony cracked a joke and the audience guffawed.

“Yeah,” said Brad. “Yeah. They’re all here. Yeah. Sammy was gettin’ laid -- this high yella gal from the Sands show -- what?” He paused. “Shit,” he said, then paused again. Sweat broke out on his broad forehead. “No shit. Fuck. Inneresting fucking plot development. Huh? Oh. Well, I wouldn’t know nothin’ about that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I know it ain’t your responsibility, but Frank says he don’t want to be disturbed.”

Brad looked around, saw Henry Silva, the purple-tuxedoed head waiter, and waved him over.

“No,” said Brad into the phone,”I am not fucking saying that. Hey, look, just calm the fuck down. I will be there in two minutes. If I think Frank should be disturbed then I will fucking disturb him, all right? But look, while you’re yappin’ I could be on my way, am I right? Goodbye; two minutes. Yeah, and fuck you too.”

Brad hung up the phone. Henry Silva now stood silently by the podium, his hands joined loosely below the waist in the traditional bouncer’s attitude.

“Fuckin’ douchebag,” said Brad to Henry, but not referring to Henry.

Brad took his pink silk display handkerchief out and mopped his great forehead.

“Take over, Henry. And try not to let all fucking hell loose.”

Shoving the handkerchief back into his breast pocket Brad strode out through the large swinging quilted-leather orange doors.

He came out into a pale blue corridor not unlike the one Dick and Daphne and Harvey had entered outside of Frank’s suite. He took out his hard leather cigar case and walked down the corridor. He picked out a fat long cigar and stopped at a round porthole. He put the case away, brought out a stainless steel cutter, and snipped off the end of the cigar, letting the plug fall to the wall-to-wall carpeting, which was of a darker blue than the walls and ceiling.

“Fuckin’ candyasses,” he said. “Supposed to be runnin’ a fuckin’ club, instead I wind up babysittin’ every prima donna in the galaxy.”

Outside the porthole the vast dark reaches of space and its millions of stars streamed slowly past. Then the bright little multicolored ball of the earth passed slowly into view.

Brad lit his cigar with a gold Ronson and let out a cloud of smoke.

“Same fuckin’ shit everywhere in the fuckin’ universe. Cover your own ass. Don’t take no fuckin’ responsibility.”

Outside we can see Brad looking through the glass of the porthole, puffing on his cigar. The reflection of the earth shimmers in the glass of the porthole.

Pulling back we see that the porthole is but one of many running around the rim of a huge flying saucer of perhaps a mile in diameter.

Smoke from the Samba Room rises up from a chimney, and off to the right the enormous bright Moon hangs silently in the darkness.

Turning away from the saucer and the Moon we see way down below that colorful teeming basketball called the Earth. Let us fly down there, faster, faster -- look at it, growing larger and larger...

(Click here to go to our next fabulous chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of all extant epsiodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™ (“our great patriotic epic” -- Harold Bloom).

And now, Mr. Ennio Morricone:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hey, don't rush me!

It's never a dull moment here at Casa Leo, but somehow in between the parties and gala premières we have been managing to whip together a new chapter of Larry Winchester's A Town Called Disdain, and we hope it will be ready for publication tomorrow. In the meantime please welcome two very special guest artistes, Mr. Lee Hazelwood and Miss Nancy Sinatra:

Moral? Don't even mess with Nancy!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Keep yer shirts on...

We have had lovely visitors to Casa Leo over the past week (hello, Erin and Irene and Theresa) and so our usual breakneck production of bloggisms has slowed down a bit, but hang in there and we promise some new literary delights in the very near future.

In the mean time, dig some Syndicats:

And if that wasn't weird enough for you, here's one from John Leyton, via the mad console of Joe Meek:

And just because I can't control myself, The Troggs:

Friday, July 11, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 88: further adventures of Arnold in the land of women

Return now with Arnold Schnabel -- in this, his Genessee Cream Ale Award-winning memoir -- to a grey day in August, 1963, where our hero stands amid the lapping waves off the beach of the quaint seaside resort of Cape May NJ...

(Go here to see our previous episode.)
Facing away from the beach I pulled down the front of my bathing trunks, and soon part of what had once been me, if only for a brief time — this distillation of my morning Chock Full o’ Nuts, and of opiated iced tea, of Schmidt’s beer and Old Crow whiskey — oh so pleasurably became part of the great ocean, forever, more or less, or at least until the death of the planet.

I waded back in, and Daphne and I gathered up our sodden things and walked, or rather I limped and she walked, back through the misty drizzle into town.

“What was it like, by the way,” she asked, “being struck by lightning?”

“Well, I wasn’t really aware of it except I saw this bright light, and then it was like I was falling, and I was, uh, passed out.”

“What was it like when you were passed out?”

Here it occurred to me that women ask a lot of questions. But now I wonder: is that true?

I shall force myself to ponder this question for approximately one minute...

The minute is up and I think the answer is yes, women do ask a lot of questions, especially if they find their interlocutor interesting, or possibly interesting. Men on the other hand seem happy to go through life not asking questions. I know I myself rarely ask a question. In fact it’s more than I can do even to bring myself to ask myself why I don’t ask questions. Just the thought of it makes me sleepy.

“Well?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” I stalled, because she was forcing me to ask myself (yet again) what to tell someone who has asked me, knowingly or unknowingly, about one of my psychotic episodes. I decided to tell her about what transpired during my black-out, but to tell it as a dream, which after all it most likely had been. I proceeded thus to give her a digest account of my heavenly escapade, leaving out none of the salient plot turnings, no matter how embarrassing. Because, after all, we can’t be blamed for our dreams, can we?
However, the first thing Daphne said after I finished, just as we approached the gate to her grandmother’s house, was:

“How do you know it was all a dream?”

Of course I didn’t know.

“But who ever heard of such a heaven?” was the idiotic response I came up with.

“Who ever heard of any sort of heaven? I mean, who really knows?” she asked. “What did you expect? Billowy clouds and angels with wings, wearing white robes and playing golden harps?”

“I guess so,” I said.

She was standing so close to me in her shiny green bathing suit that she almost bumped me off the curb.

“I’d like to know who started up all this wings and harps business,” she said. “I doubt very much that it was anyone who’d ever actually been anywhere remotely near heaven.”

“You told Sister Mary Elizabeth you don’t believe in any of it,” I said, with one foot in the gutter.

“I don’t.”

“Then it couldn’t be true that I was in heaven, could it?”

“Why not? What do I know?” she asked. “Why are you standing in the street?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Come up on the sidewalk, you weirdo.”

I did.

“Oh,” she said, “don’t forget your tea date with my grandmother.”

“I won’t,” I said.

The rain had stopped completely by now, the sky was grey, the air thick and rich with the wet colors and the scents of the geraniums and box-elder hedges running along the front of Mrs. Biddle’s property, and Daphne looked more beautiful in this shadowless light than I had ever seen her before in our acquaintance, which although brief in countable minutes already felt long. And I remember thinking — well, never mind what I was thinking, but I was glad I wasn’t dead.

Daphne had put her hand on the white-painted gate.

“See you, then,” she said.

“See you,” I said.

But she suddenly came closer and kissed me, on the lips but briefly. She paused for a moment, looking at me, then turned, opened the gate, and tripped up the slate path to the house.

I limped home.

I went around to the back of the house, near which my aunts have a little wooden shower shack, its boards covered with a rippled sun-bleached green paint that almost seems and feels and smells like something living, like moss or the skin of some strange fruit.

I put my damp wallet on a ledge and showered myself off, keeping my swimming trunks on, and I rinsed off my sandy flip-flops under the shower head.

I got my wallet and walked dripping wet to a clothesline and hung up my sodden and sandy towel. My aunts or mother would perform their magic, and sometime tomorrow this towel, or one much like it, would appear, neatly folded, in my drawer.

Across the yard old Mrs. Rathbone opened the door of her cottage and started hobbling my way, this time without her cane, but moving quickly like a slightly damaged but determined little ship of war. It was too late to escape, so I waited; then, realizing it was rude just to stand there and let this old woman limp to me, I limped toward her, and we met near the middle of the yard.

“Hello, Mrs. Rath-”

“Gone swimming?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“In the rain?”

“Um,” I said.

“What do you think of this Steve?”

“Oh, Steve, he, uh, seems nice.”

“I thought he was your friend?”

“He is,” I said, “but I only recently met him.”

What had he done now?

“He wants to marry Charlotte,” she said.

“Oh,” I said.

“If I tell you something will you promise not to blab it all over town?”


“Charlotte spent the night with him last night. At his hotel.”


“I’m no prude, Arnold. And Charlotte’s a grown woman. But the thing is that this is the first time she has ever done anything like this.”

“I see.”

“At least that I know about. She was in the WACs during the war after all. I have no idea what shenanigans she was getting up to in those WACs, especially overseas. Come to think of it she has always spoken fondly of her time in the service. Perhaps that’s why. The shenanigans. Would you care for some wine?”

“No thank you. I need a nap.”

“A nap? What are you? A child? An old man?”

“I combine the most boring qualities of both,” I said.

“She’s with him now. Having lunch allegedly. At the Merion Inn. I hope he’s not after her money.”

“Steve has a good job, I think.”

“Yes. So he says,” she said. Of course for all I knew he was an international confidence man or a jewel thief. “One more question,” she went on. “He invited me to go to lunch with them. Don’t you find that odd?”

“He wants to win your favor,” I said.

“He doesn’t need my favor.”

“He’s being a gentleman.”

“He’s being very strange. I know I practically threw them together, but it all seems to be happening so quickly. And answer me this. Don’t you find him shall we say a bit light in the slippers?”

“Um —”

“A little as if sprinkled with fairy dust?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I dissembled.

“Well, what does it matter, really? Let me tell you something. You wouldn’t know, you’re a confirmed bachelor, but believe me, physical relations are by far the least important element in a successful marriage. By far. Which is okay. Get a kid or two out of the way and be done with it, I say. Believe me, after my husband and I had been married five years the last thing either of us wanted to do was — at least with each other — oh, but perhaps I speak too much.”

“Oh. No.”

“You’re dying to take your nap. I think I’ll visit with your aunts and mother. Take my arm.”

I did as I was told, and together we walked, or I should say limped, around to the side of the house.

(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And please refer to the right hand side of this page for an allegedly complete listing of links to all other extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, soon to be an American International picture starring John Cassavetes and Anjanette Comer, directed by Larry Winchester. A Roger Corman Production.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 82: loaded

Larry Winchester (“...makes Cormac McCarthy seem effete.” -- Harold Bloom) now turns the Panavision lens of his prose to Enid, tooling down a desert road in her truck some several miles outside of a town called Disdain...

Enid came to the top of the rise and down there on the road about a mile away she saw the lights of the Motorpsychos, circling in a silvery cloud of dust like a pack of cocaine-crazed lightning bugs.

Fabulous, just what she needed to run into on her way home, and blasted out of her skull on peyote to boot.

She stopped the truck, put it in neutral and cut her lights.
She popped open her glove compartment and took out a pair of binoculars that she used for scouting the desert for interesting boulders for her sculptures. She focused in to the center of the circling motorcyclists and there she saw Hope Johnstone, sitting on her black pony Whisper.

Great, just great.

She shoved the binoculars back into the glove compartment and took out her father’s heavy old army .45. She checked the magazine, it was full, she shoved it back in and jacked a round into the breech. Unfortunately the gun only held seven rounds, and there were about twenty-five Motorpsychos down there. Well, what the hell.She stuck the gun into the waistband of her jeans, and, keeping the lights off, she put the truck in gear.


Moloch stood in the center of his circling men with one hand on the reins of Hope’s pony. With his other hand he stroked the animal’s mane. Through his mirrored shades his one good eye looked up into Hope’s eyes. She was beautiful. She looked young and good and innocent and intelligent, and so, reflexively, he wished to defile her. He also now wished that he had not wanked off back there in the cave. He might not be able to achieve an erection right away, or possibly at all. He supposed he’d have to let the other fellows go first whilst his wretched seed regenerated itself. But perhaps it would be better that way.

“Do you know who my father is?” asked Hope.

“No,” said Moloch. “Richard Nixon?”

Hope rolled her eyes.

“No, asswipe. He’s Big Jake Johnstone.”

“Oh. Really?”

Moloch had met Big Jake on various occasions and had often done drug business with him. But he couldn’t say he liked the fellow. But of course Moloch didn’t like anyone.

“If you hurt me,” said Hope, “he’ll have you killed.”

“Oh, no doubt, no doubt. And you must be,” said Moloch, brightly, “oh dear, what is it? Faith? Charity?”

“Hope,” she said. “Well, originally it was Esperanza, but Papa calls me Hope.”

“No matter. But tell me, how are those new guests at the hacienda? That Ridpath couple,” he added, as if casually.

“How did you know their real names?”

“Are they at home now?”

“I’ll never tell you where they are. You can pull my toenails out.”

“Don’t give me ideas.”

“And even if I did tell you and you found them, Dick would kill you.”

“Oh would he now?”

Moloch quickly took out his knife and in one swift motion drove it into the pony’s neck up to the hilt.

Hope felt the horse collapsing under her and she leapt out of the saddle and stood and watched as Whisper slumped down and then turned over on his side, dead.

The Motorpsychos all stopped their machines, and the belching and farting engines grew silent, as silent as the men themselves.

“You’re a dead man,” said Hope to Moloch. She turned full around, addressing the rest of the Motorpsychos: “You’re all dead. Every one of you.” Now she faced Moloch again: “You’re dead.”

“Oh,” said Moloch. He wiped both sides of his blade on his leather trousers, then slipped the knife back into its sheath. “Are we now?”

Then came the sound of a heavy motor roaring down the road and everyone turned and saw the dark hulk of Enid’s truck barreling straight toward them.


(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And kindly go to the right hand side of this page for a complete and up-to-date listing of links to all known episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, a Serge Gainsbourg Production.)

By popular demand, Miss Anna Karina:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 87: “And love is a stranger who will beckon you on...”

In the preceding episode of this second-place prize winner of the Bishop Sheen Award for Young Adult Literature, our hero Arnold Schnabel, having been cast heavenward by a bolt of lightning, receives a reprieve and wakes up on the beach in front of the St. Joseph’s by the Sea convent in Cape May Point, NJ.

The good sisters, with the aid of Arnold’s beautiful young friend Daphne, help him to a rocker on the porch...

Pretty soon the nuns brought us iced water, along with towels to dry ourselves with. (I want to go on record as saying that these towels were the coarsest I have ever encountered since I got out of the army. I wondered if indeed they were army towels.)

Daphne was less shy than I, and she asked the nuns if she could use their bathroom. One of the sisters took her inside, which left me alone in my wet bathing suit, sitting in a rocker and sipping my water, the rain still coming down, with five or six nuns standing there looking at me.

“It’s Arnold, isn’t it?” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Yes. And you’re Sister Mary,” I said with I think more urbanity than I normally pull off.

“Sister Mary Elizabeth,” she said.

“Yes, right,” I agreed.

“In our order if you just call someone Sister Mary you’ll get nowhere. I think we have a couple of dozen versions of Sister Mary Something-or-Other staying here right now. Did you keep your promise?”

“Pardon me?”

“The other night I asked you to promise not to swim alone at night any more.”

“Ah.” I had indeed broken my word to her, and on that very night, by swimming the whole length of the cove beach on my way back from the Point. But, on the other hand, yesterday I had also promised Elektra I wouldn’t swim at night, and, so far at least, I had kept that promise. So I chose the Jesuitical route: “Don’t worry, I’m not swimming at night any more.”

“Good. Is that your girlfriend? That girl.”

“Oh, no,” I said.

“She’s very young.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Just a friend,” she posited.


“Friend of the family?”

“Well, no —”

“Not that it’s any of my business,” she said, although she didn’t seem convinced of that.

The five or six other nuns hung silently on every word of this inquisition, their hands buried in their black habits, their faces bent forward.

“Are you married, Arnold?” asked Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Um, no,” I said.

“That’s good. I don’t think your wife would be too happy about you taking long swims with that pretty young thing.”

“Well, I’m not married.”

“Why not? Good-looking Catholic man like you?”

“I don’t know,” I said (although I could have come up with at least hundred possible reasons right off the top of my head).

“Stop grilling the man, Sister Mary E.,” said one of the other nuns, an older, stout nun.

“I’m only having a conversation, Sister Mary M.,” said Sister Mary E. “Would you like some more water, Arnold.”

“No thanks,” I said. “We should go, really. You’ve all been very nice.”

“But it’s raining.”

“We don’t mind. We were wet anyway.”

“You’ll get struck by lightning again.”

What were the odds of that happening twice? Whatever they were I was willing to risk them.

“I think the lightning’s stopped,” I said.

“You should rest here. You’ve just had a dreadful shock. Quite literally.”

“I feel fine,” I said, but in fact I still felt slightly dazed. On the other hand I quite often feel slightly dazed even without being struck by lightning, so what was the big deal?

“You can’t go swimming in that rain,” said Sister Mary E;izabeth.

“We’ll walk,” I said. “Just down the beach. To get our things.”

“Let us drive you.”

“You have a car?”

“A station wagon. It’s the order’s.”


“I’ll drive you.”

“Well —”

“I insist.”

“Okay.” I knew it was hopeless to argue. “If you insist.”

Daphne finally came out of the house, accompanied by her guard.

“Your friend Arnold wants to abandon our hospitality,” said Sister Mary E.

“Well, I’m ready if he is,” said Daphne.

We went around to the side of the house to where, sure enough, an old yellow station wagon was parked. I think it was a Crosley, from around 1948.

A couple of nuns held umbrellas over my and Daphne’s heads as we went down to the car.

We got into the front seat with Sister Mary E., with me somehow sitting next to her.
The key was already in the ignition. The sister started up the car, put in in gear, and turned us expertly out onto the road.

“Okay, where to?” she asked.

“Just head down Sunset and we can get off when we get near Cape May.”

“Where'd you leave your things? Your — towels and such.”

“Our towels?”

“Yes. Where’d you leave them?”

“On the beach, near the end of the promenade.”

“Good, I’ll leave you off there.”

“Okay,” I said. I could tell she was going to do just what she wanted to do anyway.

She took her eyes solidly off the road to look smilingly at Daphne.

“What’s your name, dear?"

Daphne gave her correct name, but before Sister Mary E. could give her the Spanish Inquisition treatment Daphne struck first and asked her how long she had been a nun.

“I went in right after high school,” said Sister Mary E.

“Wow,” said Daphne. I glanced at her. She had turned slightly against me, looking down and picking at the damp green elastic cloth of the seat of her bathing suit. I looked away.

“Do you think I should have waited?” asked Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Frankly?” asked Daphne.

“Oh. You do think so.”

Daphne let the seam of the bottom of her bathing suit snap back against her flesh with an almost but not quite inaudible thwapping sound.

“Yes, frankly," she said. "I mean, I’ve decided to wait to get married.”

“Why? Do you have a boy you’d like to marry?”

“He’s no boy, sister.”

“Oh my. And it’s not Arnold here?”

“Oh, Arnold only wishes.”

“I’m sure he does.”

I wanted to put my foot over the good sister’s on the gas pedal and press down hard to hasten our trip along, but I resisted the urge.

“Are you allowed to visit people, sister?” Daphne asked.

“What do you mean?” asked Sister Mary E.

“I mean, can you come out from the convent and visit a friend. Like a friend in town?”

“I don’t have any friends in town.”

“You know me,” said Daphne. “And Arnold.”

“Oh dear. I don’t think we’re supposed to do things like that.”

“Priests do. Priests visit people all the time. Especially around dinner time. Or the cocktail hour.”

“Oh, you’re very naughty, Daphne.”

“Well, it’s true! Priests are always visiting my grandmother.”


“I swear.”

“So you’re Catholic?”

“Well, I was brought up one.”

“Oh. So, you, uh, don’t —”

“Oh, please don’t be offended, sister, but, no. Not really. I don’t believe any of it.”

“But — don’t you believe in God?”

“Oh, I doubt very much that there’s a God.”


Sister Mary E. took her eyes off the road again to look across me at Daphne, who said:

“Of course I could be wrong.”

Sister Mary E. continued staring at Daphne, and it was all I could do not to grab the wheel.

“Sister?” I said.


“The road.”

I pointed at it, and, at last, she looked at it.

“Oh,” she said, turning the wheel just before we would have leapt off the asphalt and gone bumping over the dunes and down to the beach.

“How old are you, sister?” asked Daphne.

“Me? I’m twenty-four.”


“Why?” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“You’re still in your prime,” said Daphne.

“My prime?”

“Yes. And you’re quite pretty. Such nice skin and beautiful eyes. You could have any man.”

“I’ve given myself to Jesus.”

“True,” said Daphne. And she gazed out at the passing scenery. We were approaching
Cape May now, thank God, and Sister Mary E. was turning in toward the beach. The rain was stopping.

“Come visit me at my grandmother’s,” said Daphne. “If you can get away. Do you know where Windsor Avenue meets North Street?”

“I suppose so.”

“It’s the really big house on the corner on the side away from the beach. 200 Windsor.”

“I don’t think I could.”

“No one has to know. Come by any time.”

“Well —”

“Okay, this is good,” I said. “We can get out here.”

“Do you want me to wait,” asked the sister, “and drive you home?”

“Oh, no, don’t bother,” I said, pushing against Daphne with my elbow. “The rain’s stopped.’

“Not entirely,” said Sister Mary E.

I elbowed Daphne again, and she elbowed me back.

“It’s just a light drizzle,” I said. “It’s stopping, I think.”

“Well, if you say so,” said the sister. “Goodbye. Nice meeting you, Daphne.”

“You too,” said Daphne.

Finally she opened her door and started to get out of the car.

“Thanks, again, sister,” I said.

“You’re most very welcome. What’s your last name, by the way?”

“Schnabel. Arnold Schnabel.”

“Arnold Schnabel. I hope to see you again, Mr. Schnabel.”

“Sure. ‘Bye.”

I got out of the car behind Daphne. I closed the door and went up the steps to the promenade, but Daphne went back around and leaned over by the driver’s side and spoke to Sister Mary Elizabeth some more. Standing by the rail and looking over the roof of the car, all I could see of Daphne was the top of her sleek dark head and the perfect sweep of her back. Then I felt guilty about looking at her, and I turned toward the beach, which was now grey and empty in the diminishing drizzle.

I heard the Crosley pull out and drive away. Daphne came up the wooden steps.

“I think she likes you,” she said.

“Come on, let’s get our stuff,” I said.

We walked over to the end of the boardwalk, and down to the cove beach. I was still limping, but the pain was bearable.

Our stuff was still there in the sand, in a wet pile. My towel was soaked, but my old wallet wrapped deep inside it was only a little damp.

Daphne reached into her sopping straw bag and pulled out a gold-plated cigarette case, and then a Zippo lighter.

“Care for a cigarette?” she asked.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“You look nervous.”

“I really have to go to the bathroom.”

“Just go in the ocean,” she said. “I do it all the time. Don’t you?”

“Well, I guess so.”

“Go,” she said. “Go.”

She waved a dismissing hand at me.

So I turned around and limped back into the surf.

I waited until I was in up to my waist.

(Click here for our next exciting chapter. And kindly turn to the right side of this page for an up-to-date listing of many more heart-warming episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, soon to be serialized on the 20 Mule Team Borax Showcase, directed by Larry Winchester and starring Howard Duff as Arnold and Ida Lupino as Daphne.)

And now a word from the very fabulous Miss Nancy Sinatra:

Friday, July 4, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 81: the Pack

Previously in this cosmic comic cavalcade of catastrophes, our author Larry Winchester (“One part Homer, one part Rabelais, two parts The Three Stooges” -- Harold Bloom) introduced a character who has already made a brief appearance in our other award-winning serial (Railroad Train to Heaven), none other than South Philadelphia’s own Mr. Joey Bishop:

Dick, Daphne and Harvey entered a large pink and chartreuse room with yellow shag carpeting, “1950’s Modern” furniture in various pastels, an oval stainless steel cocktail bar, and large paintings of sad but stylish young women with enormous eyes.

Matt Munro’s version of "Born Free" played over invisible speakers.

Joey Bishop, wearing a short-sleeved yellow Banlon shirt, now stood behind the bar preparing some drinks.

Richard Conte, in a shiny grey sharkskin suit and a skinny black tie, came over with cigarette in hand to greet the newcomers.

“The boss’ll be out in a minute. Christ, you people look like you’ve been through a war. You wanta shower? Change? Mr. Ridpath, you look like you could fit into one of my suits. You like sharkskin?”

Joey, shaking a silver cocktail shaker, said, “Does he look like a dago?”

“Shaddap, borscht-brain,” said Richard. “Harvey, you look about Joey’s size. You like yellow Banlon shirts? He’s got a million of ‘em.”

“What the fuck’s wrong with yellow Banlon shirts?” said Joey.

“Fuckin’ guy’s brother-in-law heists a Mack-truckload of yellow Banlon shirts back in ‘58, and now it’s all he ever wears,” said Richard.

“Hey, fuck you,” said Joey. “I wear ‘em once and throw ‘em away. I still got six boxes of ‘em.”

Dean Martin -- wearing a “western” jacket, a white ten-gallon Stetson and hand-tooled cowboy boots -- came in from another room, lighting a cigarette with a shiny gold lighter.

“Where’s the boss man?” he said.

“Takin’ a crap,” said Joey.

Dean turned back to the room he had just exited and drawled, “Come on in, Pete. They’re here. Where’s Sammy, anyway?”

Peter Lawford entered smiling, holding a cigarette in a tortoise-shell holder and wearing a burnt-orange six-button double-breasted suit with a red silk print tie and a gold chain with a gold peace-symbol pendant.

“Sammy,” said Peter, “is uh otherwise engaged at the moment.”

“Hey hey hey,” said Dean. “That cute high yella gal from the Copa show?”

Peter, chuckling, said, “I think it be no other than e’en so.” And to the newcomers: “Dear god, you people are a mess. Would you care to change into something more comfortable?”

“Yes,” said Daphne, “I would, thank you very much.”

She looked down, with widespread hands, at her blood-spattered clothing.

“I think that could be arranged, ma’am,” said Dean. “Richard, go see if Cyd’s got something to lend the lady.”

“Sid?” said Daphne. “Do I look that dykish?”

“Cyd is a lady, lady,” said Dean.

“And a very classy broad she is, too,” said Joey.


“Cyd Charisse,” said Peter. “The celebrated danseuse.”

“She’s headlinin’ the T&A show ‘cross the street at Caesar’s,” said Joey.


A toilet flushed loudly somewhere, and everyone fell silent for a few moments.

Joey, a shaker in each hand, poured out martinis into a row of cocktail glasses.

Another door opened and Frank Sinatra came out, a cigarette dangling from his lips, and wearing a white turtleneck shirt, white slacks, and white duck loafers. He finished buckling his white belt.

“Greetings and salutations. How’d all these people get in my room?”

“Cocktails are ready, Frank,” said Joey.

Frank went to the bar, picked up a martini, sipped it, licked his lips, and then paused for an appraising moment.


The mood somehow relaxed then, and Frank nodded, smiling at Dick and Daphne and Harvey.

“You people look like shit. You also look like you could use a drink. Come on over and help yourselves and then we’ll get you cleaned up.”

“I”m gonna run over to Caesar’s,” said Richard, “see if Cyd’s got an outfit for the lady. You know, a nice trouser-suit or --”

“Fuck that noise,” said Frank. “What are we, pikers? Run down to Saks and get the lady a nice evening dress. And some shoes -- with heels. Then stop in at Brooks and get the fellas a couple of suits. And shoes. Black shoes.”

Frank put down his drink, reached into his front pocket and took out an enormous wad of money in a gold clip. He peeled off a sheath of crisp new hundred-dollar bills.

“Yo, boss,” said Richard, “what the hell do I know about buyin’ ladies’ evening dresses?”

“You’re gonna learn,” said Frank.

Richard came over and Frank handed him the money and then said, “Come on, folks, the cocktail hour has arrived, and not a moment too soon.”

Dick, Daphne and Harvey came over to the bar.

“Tell him your size, sweetheart,” said Frank to Daphne.

“My size? Gosh, I’m not sure.”

Richard, Dean and Peter all came over to the bar and took drinks.

“Leave it to me,” says Joey.

He pulled a tape measure out from under the bar, grabbed a pencil and a notepad, came around and started measuring Daphne.

“Joey learned a valuable trade doin’ three-to-five at Joliet,” said Frank.

Joey wrote something on the pad, then visually appraised Dick and Harvey. To Dick he said:

“I’m thinkin’ a 42 long. 32 waist? 34 inseam.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Dick.

Joey scribbled on his pad again, then squinted at Harvey.

“38,” said Joey. “No, 36, regular. And 28-28.”

Harvey shrugged.

Joey wrote something on the pad, ripped off the sheet and handed it to Richard. Then he turned to Harvey again.

“Sure I can’t interest ya in a yellow Banlon?”

Richard picked up a shaker and poured himself a refill.

“Hey,” said Frank. “I said go shop, not go drink. Now blow.”

Richard swallowed his martini in a gulp and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I’m blowing, I’m blowing,” he said, and he headed for the door.

Frank shook his head.

“So hard to get good help these days. But please, speaking of help -- help yourselves.”

Dick and Daphne and Harvey each picked up a martini.

Harvey would have preferred a beer. He’d never actually had a martini before.

Frank raised his glass.

Cent’ ann’. Welcome to Jilly’s West.”

Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” came on in the background.


(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of links to this, the only authorized serialization of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, third place prize-winner of the Herman Melville Sprawling Epic Award.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 86: Sister Mary

When last we saw Arnold Schnabel, that hero of the picaresque epic of his own life, he was wandering the mysterious halls of the house of the father of his own personal lord and savior, searching for the bathroom...

I won’t bore my dear ideal reader (i.e., myself), with a detailed chronicling of the next twenty minutes or so, if that’s how long it was. Maybe it was an hour. It sure felt like an hour, or more. But I did go down the hall and make a right and then a left (or maybe the opposite), and I did try the second door I came to, but it was locked. I tried to backtrack, but I’m pretty sure I took a left when I should have taken a right (or vice versa).

Five minutes later, an hour later, who knows, I tried my twenty-fifth or thirtieth door, and this one opened. And it was that guy behind the desk again. He was still going over some papers, but he didn’t seem upset at this, my second interruption of his work.

“Hello. You found the restroom okay?”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth, that I had been wandering quite lost all over this enormous house for the past hour or two.

“Yes, I did,” I lied. “I — just wanted to thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome. Do you know how to get to where you want to go now?”

“Oh, sure.”

“Well, okay, then.”

“Okay,” I said. “’Bye.”

He waved his pen at me and looked down again at his papers.

I closed the door, and set off again down the hall in what I believed to be the opposite direction from that I had taken the last time I left the man’s office.

I went down innumerable corridors, up and down stairways, through several more great rooms. I found many locked doors and a few doors which opened onto other halls and rooms, but no bathrooms. No kitchens, either. And needless to say I didn’t see anyone else.

I really wanted just to go outside and pee behind a bush, but I couldn’t find an outside door.

I would have climbed through a window, but all the windowsills appeared to be at least ten feet off the floor. I considered climbing up onto a table and trying to jump up, but my leg was killing me at this point. I think I must have aggravated the sprain when I tried to run up that beach during the rainstorm.

Then I saw this big oriental (or oriental-style) vase. It was about three feet high, just the right height, and it appeared to be empty.

I just couldn’t hold it in any longer, so I lifted my alleged instrument of manhood out of my swimming trunks and held it over the mouth of the vase, when suddenly I heard footsteps, the distant sound of a man’s sandals on hard parquet floor.

I turned away from the sound, quickly stowing away the damned thing, and, looking over my shoulder I saw Jesus rounding the corner into the hallway in which I stood. We were about fifty feet apart.

“Arnold!” he called, almost sliding to a stop on the floor. “I’ve been looking all over for you! What are you doing?”

“Oh, just, um, admiring this vase.”

I patted the gilded edge of its mouth.

“Yeah,” he said, walking toward me down this long corridor. He must have found cigarettes in his father’s office, or somewhere. Anyway, he was smoking. “It’s a nice piece,” he said. “Ming Dynasty, I believe. But why didn’t you wait?”

“Um, I had to go to the bathroom.”

“Oh! I’m sorry, I really didn’t think it was going to take so long. So you found the bathroom okay?”

“Oh, sure.”

“But what are you doing way over here in the north-east wing?”

“I got a little lost,” I said.

“Oh, I am sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “So, do I go to see, uh, him now?”

“That’s the thing,” said Jesus. He had finally reached me. He gave me a pat on the arm.

“We talked it over. I know, we talked a little too long. But he’s decided it’s okay for you to go back.”

“You mean I’m not dead.”


“So — I don’t talk to him?”

“Not necessary.”

“Oh. Uh –”

“What?” he said, I guess he could tell I was holding something back, he was the son of God after all. “Spill it.”

“Well,” I said, “I guess I was just a little curious to — see what he’s like.”

“You’ll find that out someday, Arnold, when you really die. But look, you’re going to live! Be happy!”

“Right,” I said, and, anyway, what I wanted most at that moment was just to pee.

And then I was lying on the beach in the pouring rain and that nice young nun I had met the other night was leaning over me and kissing me. She drew her lips away. What was her name?

“Ah, he’s breathing,” she said.

Kneeling on the other side of me was Daphne, looking down at me, holding her wet hair back away from her face.

“Hello, Arnold,” she said.

“Hello,” I said, the rain splattering down into my face like drops of life.

“You were struck by lightning,” said Daphne.

“Actually I don’t think the lightning struck him directly,” said the nun.

“Near enough!” said Daphne.

“Yes, quite near enough,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, that was her name. She looked down at me. She had one of her hands under my head. “You don’t appear to be burnt at all,” she said. “Do you think you can get up?”

“Yes, I do,” I said.

Daphne and the sister helped me to my feet, and I became aware that a half-dozen or so other nuns were standing around us in the rain, the whole lot of us getting sopping wet.
I found that I was able to walk, even without assistance, although my leg did hurt, but Daphne and Sister Mary insisted on each taking an arm.

Soon everyone was up on the back porch of the convent, and I was sitting in a plain white-painted rocking chair.

“You just rest,” said Sister Mary. “We’ll get you some water. Would you like something,
miss?” she said to Daphne.

“Oh, I suppose a glass of water wouldn’t hurt,” said Daphne, pressing the water out of her hair with one hand.

Meanwhile, I still had to pee.

(Click here for our next fabulous episode, with very special guest star, Miss Nancy Sinatra. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an exhaustive, if not exhausting, list of links to all other possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, Fifth Place Runner-Up for the G.K. Chesterton Catholic Memoir Award.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 80: Joey?

In our previous episode of what Harold Bloom has called “the great patriotic American epic”, our three adventurers Harvey, Dick and Daphne have landed in their flying saucer.

But where have they landed? To begin to answer that question our author Larry Winchester turns the microphone over to that international charmer Dick Ridpath:

Okay, so Daphne pulls us out of this port, green foul smoke churning all around us, no idea where we are, we all tumble down this ramp, and then well, here’s where it starts to get weird -- or weirder I should say.

We’re in this sort of institutional short grey hallway, lit with fluorescent light, and now this hallway is filling up with this horrible smoke pouring out of the port behind us, so we rush forward and there’s what looks like an elevator, I mean a closed elevator door, with a button there, a single button, so I put my thumb on it, and the doors slide open, we all pile in amidst this churning fog of vile smoke, and there’s only one button on the inside elevator wall, so I press that, the doors close, we feel the elevator going down, we’re all hacking and coughing, and after a minute the elevator stops, the doors open again, and outside is this pale blue hotel corridor.

We step out into the corridor, a small cloud of the green smoke billowing out with us.

The elevator doors close behind us.

Wisps of smoke being sucked quietly into ventilation grills.

The little electric sign above the elevator says we’re on the forty-third floor. Okay.


All right.

Daphne and Harvey are looking at me. As if I know what’s going on.

“It’s my fault,” says Daphne.

“No it isn’t, sweety,” I say.

“Yes it is,” she says. “I had to pee. I couldn’t find a ladies’ room. So I peed in this grill. And that’s when all that vile smoke started coming out.” She turned and looked at the elevator. “I completely ruined that flying saucer.”

“Well, you didn’t know,” I said. “About the grill, I mean.”

Harvey took out a pack of Tareytons.

“When ya gotta go,” he said.

He looked awful, covered all over with blood. And then I looked down at myself and saw that I looked just as bad if not worse. My blood, Hans’s blood, plus I had little bits of Hans’s brains all over me. Daphne was somewhat less liberally splattered with my blood and the little spaceman’s phosphorescent green blood.

Harvey lit a cigarette.

“How you feeling, Harve?” I asked.

“Well, ‘ceptin’ I feel a little like I been mule-kicked in the gut, I feel fine, sir.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said.

“We look a fright,” said Daphne. “And by the way, doesn’t it look weird somehow in here?”

She was right, it did look weird. It was the color of everything. Not just the pale blue of the walls but the quality of the color of everything, including our own gory selves. It all looked somehow like a movie, like Technicolor.

Then a door opens down the hall, and Joey Bishop peeks out. Or at least someone who looked a hell of a lot like the Joey Bishop of, say, Ocean’s 11. And he turns back into the room and says, “Tell the boss they’re here.”

He gave us a “come on over” wave of his hand and said, “Come on in. The boss is waiting.”

And he goes back into the room, leaving the door open.

Harvey turns and stares at me.

Daphne turns and stares at me.

“Okay, let’s go,” I said.

They’re both just standing there looking at me.

As if I had even the slightest idea.


(Click here for our next exciting episode. And, please, feel free to refer to the right hand side of this page for a complete and up-to-date listing of links to dozens of other fabulous episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, an Andrew Loog Oldham Production.)