Wednesday, April 29, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 137: Catholic boy

Let us rejoin Arnold Schnabel (”Poet? Madman? Saint? All of the above?” -- Harold Bloom, on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon) and his friends (including that impish doll Clarissa) in the Ugly Mug, that cynosure of nightlife in the quaint old seaport of Cape May, NJ, on this strange warm night in August of 1963…

(Go here for our previous chapter or here for the beginning of this Gold View Award-winning memoir.)


The waitress came to our table, and, on Larry’s request, she went to bring “Josh” a beer mug, and, while she was at it, a fresh pitcher of beer and two more Manhattans for Steve and Miss Rathbone.

Josh proved himself to be a charming companion, by the simple expedient of asking the various people at the table about themselves. Having already flattered Larry he at once turned to Steve and asked him how long he and Miss Rathbone had been engaged, and he betrayed not the slightest impulse to burst out into peals of laughter when Steve told him that not only had they just gotten engaged that very day but that they had indeed only met the previous afternoon.

It went on like this, with Josh (I suppose I may as well call him that, if only to avoid possible confusion for scholars of the future who may be working their way through this drivel for a study of trends of mental illness in the mid-20th century) asking Steve and Miss Rathbone where they were from, what they did for a living, and so on.

The fresh pitcher came, we drank, and once again I felt myself doing that thing I frequently do, drawing into myself so that the conversation at the table was almost as a distant buzzing of bees on a summer’s day.

Josh was talking to Elektra, asking her questions. It occurred to me that I had never really asked her questions about herself. Was this a bad thing? Did it matter?

I looked down at Clarissa sitting there on my lap. She had fallen asleep, her face against my side, her eyes closed, one hand on my stomach. Well, that was good. Let her sleep.

And pretty soon I found myself getting sleepy as well. It’s true that I had had a nap that afternoon, and a deep one, but nevertheless it had been a taxing day to say the least. So I found myself nodding, and finally Elektra put her hand on my arm.

“Arnold, do you want to go home?”

“Well --”

“Come on, darling, you’re falling asleep.”

Some other things were said and done, of which I was only vaguely aware. I tried to put some money on the table but Larry kept giving it back to me, so finally I gave up.

Then I was standing by the table with Elektra. I had Clarissa in her box under my left arm, I was shaking hands with people.

Josh held onto my hand.

“Get a good night’s sleep, buddy,” he said.

“I think I will,” I heard myself saying, as if from across the room.

“Ten a.m. tomorrow morning!” said Larry. “Mrs. Biddle’s back yard! Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! We’ll dive into that second act!”

“Yes, sir,” I said, as if from underwater; I remember the song "Only Love Can Break A Heart" was playing on the juke box.

And finally Elektra and I were working our way arm in arm through the bar and out through the side entrance.

The warm and humid air of the sidewalk felt like the breath of life after the smoky bar, and I immediately felt not nearly so sleepy.

“You know, we don’t have to go home,” I said to Elektra. “If you wanted another drink, or --”

“I’d just as soon go home, Arnold,” she said. “It’s been a long day. Walk me home.”

We went down Decatur, into the soft breeze of the sleeping ocean. She held my hand.

“We’re going to be going to Paris together, Arnold,” she said.

“So it seems,” I said.

She turned her head and looked up at me.

“You didn’t put Larry up to this, did you?”

“No.”

We walked past the Pilot House, she walked, I limped, we turned down Carpenters Lane.

“Okay,” she said. “But I want a separate hotel room.”

“Oh, of course,” I said.

“You’re such a gentleman.”

We crossed Jackson, and then Carpenters. Once again we went down the slate path at the side of her house, through the smell of damp roses and ivy, and then we were at the screen door in the rear. She put her arms around my shoulders.

I won’t go into all that transpired next except to say that while it did I was still holding Clarissa in her box under my left arm, and that while doing what I was doing one part of my mind was still in charge of holding the box as still as I possibly could so that Clarissa would not wake up.

Elektra opened the screen door from behind her, we stumbled into the dark foyer, and then against the wall in there.

What happened now seemed as inevitable as swimming after one has dived into the ocean.

And then we stood there, drenched, gasping into each other’s warm wet necks, Elektra’s arms still around my shoulders, Clarissa still in her box under my left arm.

Elektra drew her head back and looked into my eyes in the darkness.

She smelled like warm salt water taffy.

“What are you thinking, lover?”

Actually I was thinking, among dozens of other things, that I had only managed to remain in a state of grace for less than an hour since my second absolution of the day from Father Reilly; but I didn’t say that.

“I’m thinking that we didn’t use a, um, you know --”

I don’t think I’ve ever actually said the word condom.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m on the pill.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Is that okay? Catholic boy?”

“Oh, sure,” I said.

Like many non-Catholics I suppose she was not up on our curious ruling on the subject of sin, which was that one mortal sin was going to damn you to hell forever just as well as a thousand. So in other words I wasn’t about to quibble about variations on the sin of contraception if I was already condemned to everlasting agony for the act of fornication.

Suddenly I felt a movement in the box. I drew back from Elektra, and she let her hands slide down over my arms.

“Well, I suppose it’s bed time,” she said. “I’ll sleep like a log now.”

“Do you want me to walk you up?” I asked, hoping she would say no, and luckily she did, because I felt more movement in the box.

Elektra kissed me once more, bade me good night, and then went up the stairs. I quickly went out the door and started around the path to the side of the house.

“What a slut!” said Clarissa, from within her box.

“Quiet,” I whispered.

“I will not be quiet!”

“Just till we get past the house, please.”

She pushed against the lid, and I saw her pale face peeking out.

“Let me out and I’ll be quiet.”

I stopped and took the lid off. She got up, jumped onto my arm and then clambered down to the ground. She smoothed out the skirt of her dress and looked up at me, all innocence.

“I feel so refreshed after my nap,” she whispered.

“Well, come on,” I whispered back, and, replacing the lid on the box, I continued along the path.

“Where are we going?”

“We’re going home.”

We came out onto the sidewalk and she took my hand.

“Take me to the boardwalk!”

“No, Clarissa, it’s too late.” I took my hand away from hers to look at my watch in the lamp light. “Past eleven. You should be in bed by now.”

“I’m not a child you know.”

“Listen, Clarissa -- “ I turned to look down at her, and then found my glance rising up, for she had become a full-grown young woman, of perhaps five foot six or so.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Don’t be so surprised, you silly man. If I can talk and fly I should also be capable of assuming my full height. Now take my arm and walk me down to the boardwalk like a gentleman.”


(Continued here. Please look to the right hand column of this page to find what could be an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. "A tome which deserves to enjoy pride of place in every well-stocked beach bag this summer." -- Mrs. F.X. Slattery, The Catholic Standard & Times.)

The Caravelles: you are here --

10 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

Does anyone else think Arnold is mentally ill? Many of his supernatural experiences are shared with Dick or Steve or even Larry.
He's always perfectly lucid, blending his feelings and thoughts within a totally realistic social setting.
So he ended up with that doll after eating psychedelic mushrooms. Dick was offered the box first.

She smelled like warm salt water taffy.Love that.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful and unexpected turn of events.

PS, I want to listen to that Caravelles song looped forever

Jennifer said...

And here I thought the day was finally about to end, but no... Clarissa will make sure it lasts an eternity.

She smelled like warm salt water taffy.

Loved that, too.

I bet Clarissa smells of brimstone...

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to imagine which taffy it would be. Lemon?
root beer? molasses? licorice? banana? Maybe all mixed.

Dan Leo said...

I see we have some salt water taffy fans in the house!

Damn, I can't remember when I had it last...this might necessitate a field research expedition to Cape May; I believe they still have the taffy store on the boardwalk there, with that enormous taffy-pulling machine, designed to make a child's eyes glaze over with longing.

That last question is a good one. I'm gonna say all those flavors in a mélange, but with lemon predominating, but that's only my humble guess.

By the way, Jennifer, I checked back and Arnold's current day started way back last May 14, with Chapter 74. Arnold really knew how to live.

Anonymous said...

Ah the smells of youth, romance, summer. Taffy, suntan lotion, Heaven Scent, Juicy Fruit, newly printed comic book ink, Binaca. Sigh.

Manny said...

Next time I'm in a social bind, I'm going to think to myself: What would Josh do?

Dan Leo said...

"Newly printed comic book". Nice.

Ah, Manny, if only the world had more personal lords and saviors like our Josh...

dianne said...

I want to read the entry where Arnold first chatted to Josh/Jesus - can you tell me which one it is please?

I think Arnold is, if not mentally ill, extremely odd. It seems to me he is more like a really nice dog in his preoccupations. I mean that in a nice way. But even the wonderful Electra will surely want him to take more notice of her as a person with a history and interests different to his?

I like this story very much.

We will know whether Brad Pitt/Josh/Jesus is truly the Son of God when he takes off his loafers. Could sockless enclosed shoes in balmy late summer could produce the odour of sanctity?

Dan Leo said...

Good to hear from you again, Dianne!

Jesus/Josh first talked to Arnold in the poem "A Guy Named Jesus".

He first shows up in Arnold’s memoir way back in Chapter 15.

So glad you're enjoying Arnold's adventures, and I'm sure that more will be revealed about our friend Josh in future episodes.