“By, the way,” she said, “what’s the story behind that limp of yours?”
My limp, I had forgotten about it.
“I fell from a third-floor window today,” I said. “I should have been injured far more severely, or killed, but Jesus appeared and broke my fall.”
“Ha ha, very amusing.”
“No, it’s true,” I said. “That was him by the way, back in the bar. That fellow who joined us in the booth.”
“Josh, you mean.”
“You know you really are quite insane, Arnold.”
We reached Beach Drive.
“The boardwalk!” she said. “Let’s go!”
And she pulled on my arm.
“Wait for the green light, Clarissa.”
“Oh, yes, the green light. I like the automobiles,” she said. “In my day they were quite different, and not nearly so numerous. Oh, good, the light’s gone green. Let’s cross.”
We walked across, and went up the steps to the promenade. Plenty of people still walked back and forth, although of course without the small children at this hour.
“Which way shall we go?” she asked.
To the right was Frank’s Playland. I certainly didn’t want her dragging me in there. I wasn’t sure my nerves could stand it, to be quite honest.
“Oh, this way, I suppose,” I said, steering her to the left.
“So,” she said as we strolled the boards, arm in arm, “tell me about this dark wanton of yours, this Athena --”
“Elektra,” I said.
“Whatever her name is.”
“Well, she’s a jeweler,” I said, “but she also sings very well, and --”
“God, it’s good to be out and about!” She did a little skip, but kept her hold on my arm. “I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Let me tell you something, Arnold, that Jack Scratch fellow?”
“Don’t ever make a bargain with him. No matter how splendid he makes it sound.”
“I made a bargain with him and look what happened to me. Turned into an inanimate doll. What a dreadful bore. But I knew I would make my escape from that shop some day. I only had to be patient. Thank God you and that friend of yours Dick came along. Something about you, or him, or the both of you, broke the spell. And now I am free.”
“Well, I’m very glad, Clarissa.”
“Are you really?”
“Yes,” I said.
“After I called your lady friend a slut and a wanton?”
“Well, I’d prefer it if you wouldn’t say those things,” I said.
“Yes, I suppose you would.”
“Things are different nowadays,” I said.
“Oh, are they?”
“Anything goes, I suppose.”
“Well, not anything,” I said.
“I hope you’re not referring to me breaking into that shop.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
We had come to that group of shops and restaurants on the boardwalk across from the movie theatre.
“Oh!” she said. “Water ice! Take me in here and buy me a water ice, please.”
I took her into the water ice place. There was a short line, and Clarissa pulled me right over behind a big stout man in a Hawaiian shirt and what must have been his wife, who was also stout.
She immediately engaged this couple in a conversation about the best flavors of water ice. It all seemed prosaic enough and harmless. The stout couple paid for their ice and left, and Clarissa and I ordered, raspberry for me, lemon for her. I paid, and we left the shop.
“Wait a moment,” she said. “Here, hold this for me.”
She handed me her paper cone of yellow ice. It matched her dress.
She clicked open her little white purse, then put two fingers under her belt, brought out a folded wad of bank notes and dropped them into the purse.
“Clarissa,” I said, “where did you get that money?”
“From that smelly old hippo,” she said. She put her fingers under her belt on the other side of the buckle and brought out another folded wad of money. “And this was from the lady hippo.” She dropped it also into her purse and clicked it shut. “Now may I have my water ice, please.”
“Clarissa, you mean you picked their pockets?”
“I picked the male hippo’s pocket. The female one, I picked her purse.”
“Clarissa,” I said. “Give me that money. I’m returning it.”
The portly couple were not far away, starting to walk down the steps to the street.
“I will not give it to you. Look at them. They can afford it.”
“How do you know that?”
“Look how rotund they are. They must be well off if they can afford to eat like pigs.”
“Clarissa, give me the money.”
“I’ll deny everything. I’ll make a dreadful fuss. I’ll say you stole the money, Arnold. Who are the police going to believe? A well-spoken young lady like me or a known lunatic like yourself? You’ll be on the first bus back to the insane asylum.”
The overweight couple were now crossing Beach Drive.
“All right,” I said. “But this is it. No more crimes.”
She held out her hand.
“May I have my water ice now?”
I gave it to her, and she licked it.
“But I need clothes,” she said. “I need money.”
She took my arm again and we continued our walk.
“Look,” I said. “I’ll help you. But please stop robbing and stealing.”
“You’ll help me? How? Will you give me money?”
“Well, I suppose I could give you a little money. But what you should do is get a job.”
She turned her head and looked at me, but she said nothing until we came abreast of Convention Hall, complete with its sign advertising “Saturday Night Dancing with Rockin’ Harry Hirsch and His Combo”.
“Oh, is that a dance hall?” she asked.
“It is,” I said.
“You must take me!” she commanded, and she dragged me over to the entrance, at which I duly paid for our admission.
We went through the broad hall and into the vaulted dance floor.
“What is this Ubangi music?” she yelled into my ear.
“It’s called rock ‘n’ roll,” I said.
A band, presumably Rockin’ Harry and his men, played on the stage at the far end, and the dance floor was filled with people, most of them very young.
“And what is that lewd dance they’re doing?”
“It’s called the Twist,” I said.
“I want to do it! Come on!”
She pulled on my arm.
“I can’t do the Twist,” I said.
“Oh, posh, look how simple it is!”
I let her pull me onto the dance floor. She wasn’t happy until she had gotten us right near the center of this sweating mass of gyrating youth. Finally she let go of my arm and began to dance the Twist.
“Look, see?” she said. “Easy as pie. Twist, Arnold.”
And, in my way, I Twisted. I felt like a fool, but I derived some small consolation from the thought that all the other men and boys on this dance floor also looked like fools.
I’ll say one thing for the Twist, it leaves both your hands free, and so we were able to continue to lick our water ice as we danced.
The next dance I had to do was the Mashed Potato, then the Frug, and finally the Hully-Gully. By this point we had long finished our water ices and tossed the paper cones onto the dance floor which was already liberally littered with cigarette butts, candy wrappers and other sundry refuse. Once again, and for the twenty-seventh time this long day, I was soaked with sweat.
When the Hully-Gully finally ended the band switched to a slow song, I believe it was “Blue Velvet”. Clarissa opened her arms beckoningly, but I held up my hands.
“No, Clarissa, please --”
“You won’t dance with me?”
“I’m drenched with sweat. My leg hurts. And I need to rest.”
She on the other hand looked fresh as a daisy, with only a slight beading of perspiration on her porcelain forehead.
“Oh poof!” she said. “All right.”
She held out her hand palm downward and wiggled her fingers dismissively at me.
“Go rest,” she said. “I’ll meet you after a few dances near the entrance.”
She gazed around her.
“I’ll find someone to dance with me,” she said.
I headed through the throng toward the entrance, and there I took a place among a lot of thuggish-looking young men, all of them smoking cigarettes and peering threateningly from under their eyebrows. These fellows didn’t scare me particularly, but on the other hand I didn’t want to have to get drawn into an inane conversation with any of them. So I did something I learned to do a long time ago in low railroadman’s bars, I assumed a very serious and grim expression, with my hands thrust in my pockets, trying to look like a psychopathic killer instead of the mere psychopath I am. But then I realized that to complete the picture I really should have a cigarette hanging from my mouth. Fortunately there was a cigarette machine there in the lobby. I went over to the cashier and got some change, then went over and bought a pack of Pall Malls, not forgetting to pick up the free book of paper matches that slid out so satisfyingly along with the cigarettes.
I walked away from the machine slowly.
It was now around 11:30 and I had not had a cigarette since that first one of the day, the one that had produced that determinative coughing fit.
Well, I had never intended to quit cold. I deserved one now. I tapped the pack a couple of times against my palm, then stripped the cellophane and opened the foil. There they were, twenty of them, twenty long rich doses of ecstasy, the whole of it so much more than a man had any right to ask for in this life.
“Hello, Arnold,” said Clarissa. “Shall we go now?”
“That was quick,” I said.
“I got bored without you. Come. Let’s go.”
She took my arm. With my free hand I put the pack of cigarettes and the unused book of matched back into my pocket, and together we walked out onto the boardwalk again.
(Click here for our next thrilling episode. Please look to the right hand side of this page to find what may very well possibly be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. “Truly a memoir for our times, although perhaps to say as such is to damn this masterpiece with faint praise.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Bonnie Hunt Show.)