Thursday, January 22, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 120: "It’s always something, isn’t it?," he said...

In our previous episode of this critically-acclaimed* memoir , our hero Arnold Schnabel, enjoying the company of his friends in a booth of Cape May’s convivial Ugly Mug, suddenly spied, entering from the side hallway, his nemeses: the lethally boring Mr. and Mrs. DeVore...

*“Truly a purpose-driven book in a purposeless world.” -- Pastor Laureate Dr. Rick Warren

“In fact,” continued Steve, “why don’t we get married in Europe, darling?”

“Ah,” said Miss Rathbone, not to Steve but to the waitress, who had arrived with our round of Manhattans, and who now, squeezing in between St. Thomas Becket and Jack Scratch, started to dispense the cocktails from her tray.

Miss Rathbone took her Manhattan before the waitress could lay it down, but just as she was about to taste her drink she stopped and said to me, “Why are you hunching down, Arnold? Are you all right?”

“Um --”

“You look like you’re hiding from something,” said Steve.

I was aware of all of them staring at me, as indeed I continued to hunch down and bend inward like a turtle trying to hide in a shell that wasn’t there.

“Arnold?” said Elektra, her head cocked slightly.

The waitress put a Manhattan down in front of me. My head was so close to the table that my nose almost touched the rim of that beaded lovely drink which I now wished I could just dispatch with a gulp, not easy to do at this awkward angle.

“Sweetheart,” said Jack Scratch to the waitress, “please bring a bottle of your best champagne to this table with five glasses, and I’ll pay for it.”

“Sure,” she said, and went off.

I crouched lower over the table. Maybe, just maybe, if the DeVores didn’t see me they would leave.

“Arnold is hiding from something!” said Steve, rising up in his seat and looking around, with one hand on Miss Rathbone’s bare shoulder. “Something or someone.”

Then he quickly sank back in his seat.

“It’s them!” he said.

“Who?” said St. Thomas Becket, glancing over his left shoulder as little Jack Scratch looked the opposite way.

“It’s those awful people!” said Steve.

“Who?” asked Larry.

Miss Rathbone and Elektra said nothing, but took quick deep drinks from their Manhattans.

Now Steve was slinking down farther into his seat.

“It’s this awful couple who are staying at Arnold’s aunts’ house. It is them you’re hiding from, isn’t it, Arnold?”

I nodded, my chin almost striking the table.

“Who cares, Arnie?” said Larry. “What’s the worst they can do to you?”

Suddenly Steve sat up straight.

“That’s right, Larry! We’ll just tell them to buzz off if they try to bore us.”

“We two could set up a line of defense,” said little Jack Scratch, meaning him and his friend St. Thomas Becket.

“Would you?” asked Steve. “Would you do that?”

“Of course we could,” said St. Thomas Becket. “We’ll loom over you and refuse to give them access.”

“It’s no use,” I said, still crouched over. “I appreciate your offer, but your looming over us would not stop them. No. It won’t stop them.”

“So we’ll tell them to buzz off,” said Larry.

“Arnold,” said Elektra, and she put her hand on mine. “It’s okay.”

I lifted my drink to my lips, and, in that awkward position, I drank about half of it.

“Listen,” I said, to Elektra mostly, but to everyone else as well. “I’m just going to sneak out for a minute. Just a minute. They’ll recognize you, Elektra, and Steve and Miss Rathbone, and they’ll ask you where I am. Tell them you haven’t seen me, and they might just possibly go. I’ll hide in the alley across the street, and when I see them leave I’ll come back.”

“Arnold,” said Elektra, “that’s insane.”

“No,” I said. “Insane is what I’ll be if they try to talk to me in my present state.”

“Oh," she said. "The, uh --"

“Yes,” I said -- Larry's mushrooms -- although to be honest I’m not so sure how much the mushrooms had to do with it. “Okay,” I said.

Arnold,” said Elektra.

“No, dear, let him go!” said Steve. “Sometimes discretion is the better part of whatever. Go, Arnold! Like the wind!”

I squeezed Elektra’s hand once and slid out of the booth, St. Thomas Becket politely stepping aside.

Staying bent over I hustled my way down the length of that crowded bar without looking back.

I turned right at the end, keeping low, but then, just coming in the front door I saw none other than Miss Evans in her flashing silvery dress.

So, a two-pronged attack, I should have expected as much. Had she joined forces with the DeVores, in an infernal alliance of tedium and madness?

I froze in my hunched and crabbed position. Two or three people on barstools were staring at me, but what did I care?

But then I saw Miss Evans’s eyes grow suddenly wide, and she launched off down the other side of the bar. And, like Quasimodo pursued by the Parisian rabble, I darted around the curve of the bar and to the doorway. Glancing to my right I saw Miss Evans in consultation with the DeVores, and then I was out the door.

I jogged across Washington Street against the light, just avoiding being hit by a large Plymouth Savoy Fleet Car.

My quickly formed plan was to go to the mouth of that alleyway behind Dellas’s 5&10, and to lurk in the shadows there where I could see both entrances to the Ugly Mug.

Quickly I crossed Decatur Street, just as the light was changing again, this time barely escaping the white-walled wheels of an enormous Oldsmobile Super 88.

Soon I was at the alleyway, that same alley through which I had skulked an hour or so ago, trying to avoid these same three people.

I stood there in the shadow, trying not to seem sinister, but after all it’s impossible I think to stand motionless just within the entrance to a dark alleyway and not seem sinister.

Resolutions be damned, what I wouldn’t have given for a cigarette just then.

People walked by, normal people, presumably normal people, well, I think it safe to presume they were more normal than myself.

I saw a police car coming up the street on Decatur. I couldn’t just stand there like Jack the Ripper. It was either go out onto the sidewalk and walk in some random direction like a regular person or duck deeper into the alley.

I ducked deeper into the alley, and once I started I thought it best just to keep going. I would come out at the other end and then head carefully back down Washington.

Soon I was at that leafy pathway leading back to the entrance to the rectory.

There was the rectory, and there the church. Was Father Reilly still in his office, still gnashing at his own soul in his dark night? Perhaps, but I had my own problems.

I made a right and got back onto Washington. This was all getting very tiring, and I was tempted just to go home and go to bed. But I had told Elektra I would come back. I stood there, looking down the block, hoping to see my pursuers simply leave the bar and turn back to my aunts’ house, so that I could return to my friends and a hamburger and fries.

I walked back toward Decatur, staying on the opposite side of Washington Street from that occupied by the Ugly Mug, trying to walk as if casually among the vacationers while keeping my eye on the front entrance of the Mug. I suppose my new plan was to go just far enough down the block that I would be able to see both entrances of the bar, and then to pretend I was looking into a shop window...

“Arnold!”

I leaped, hunching my shoulders, probably looking as if I had just been shot in the lower back with a small-calibre pistol.

“Arnold?”

I turned, crouching, as if expecting a final shot to the head, but it was only Dick Ridpath.

“Did I startle you?” he asked.

“Oh, a little,” I said.

I straightened up. Dick wore khaki trousers and a loose floral-print shirt. He carried a cigarette in one hand and his skin was much more tanned than it had been the last time I saw him, last night.

“What’re you up to, buddy?” he asked, extending his hand, which I shook. “Taking a walk?”

“In a manner of speaking,” I said.

He smiled.

“In what manner of speaking?”

Once again, as so often lately, the truth seemed the easiest bet.

“I’m trying to keep an eye on the entrances to the Ugly Mug, to see if Miss Evans -- you met her last night -- and also this couple named DeVore -- all of whom I’m trying to avoid -- leave, so I can go back inside and rejoin my friends.”

“These people chased you out?”

“In a manner of -- yes,” I said. “Oh, and also, I’m under the influence of these mushrooms Larry gave me.”

“Larry gave you the mushrooms?”

“I’m afraid so.”

He took a drag of his cigarette, gazing down and across the street in the direction of the Ugly Mug.

“Always something, isn’t it?” he said.

(Continued here. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find a possibly complete listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, as serialized on "Andy Devine Presents the Ovaltine Playhouse" for the next thirty-seven Tuesdays, at 10:30 PM (EST) on the DuMont Television Network (where available) starring Ben Gazzara as Arnold Schnabel and Anthony Franciosa as Dick Ridpath.)

Dusty: if you go away…

7 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

A few months ago I might have argued. But now I gotta say, Ain't it the truth? Certain "normal" people torment me far more than any demonic figment and/or his implausible, ruffly collared counterpart ever could.

Jennifer said...

And the day was young and the night was long, indeed!

I half expected Jack Scratch to be waiting for Arnold in the alley... but as Kathleen mentioned, I'm guessing Arnold would have been more terrified had it been the DeVore's!

Who's on tap to play them, Dan??

Dan Leo said...

Kathleen: word up, as the young people say, although they're probably saying something else by now.

Jen: hmm, I hadn't thought about casting for the DeVores. My first thought is the couple who played Paul Newman's boring brother and sister-in-law in the movie of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof": Jack Carson and Madeleine Sherwood. You would need first-rate actors to pull off the demonically tedious.

Jennifer said...

I keep imagining them in vicious close-ups as well, with large, looming nostrils... and no respect for personal space... laughing maniacally at things they've said that aren't funny.

Madeleine Sherwood would definitely work.

Manny said...

Hilarious!
I didn't know Ben Gazzara played Arnold in the television adaptation...When is the remake going to get done?

Dan Leo said...

Manny -- I think you still might be able to find some Japanese import DVDs of the Gazzara adaptation on eBay.

Larry Winchester is working on a deal for a new "mini-series event" now, and supposedly the major stars vying for the lead include Ralph Fiennes, Brad Pitt, and Will Ferrell.

Manny said...

Great news on the Winchester mini-series... I was thinking Hank Azaria for the role. I'll mention it to my agent.
Kathleen pipes in that beyond the obvious call to George Clooney, a global casting call is in order.