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The Pilot House is one of those places you walk into and it’s a big room with tables, and the bar is over on the far side. Up on the little stage over to the right of the bar sat Freddy Ayres, as usual, playing his accordion and singing. His wife was sitting out this bit, sitting at a small table near the stage with her saxophone on the table, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee.
“Let’s go to the bar,” said Josh.
We went through the tables. The place was packed, all the tables full, the bar full.
Josh stopped right before we got to the bar and did that little waving thing with his hand. Sure enough two guys near the middle of the bar started shuffling their stools away from each other, and soon there was plenty of standing space for me and Josh between them.
The bartender came right up to us and asked Josh what he would like.
“Do you have Old Forester?” Josh asked.
“No, but I have Heaven Hill.”
“That sounds great. I’ll have a double. Arnold, shot?”
“No, thanks,” I said. “Just a beer.”
“Great,” said Josh. And, to the bartender, “Two beers, also, please.”
“What kind, sir?”
“The cold kind.”
“Right away, sir.”
And off the bartender went.
Josh took out his cigarettes and leaned his side against the bar, facing me. Behind me Freddy sang, “On the way to Cape May…”
Josh lit up a Pall Mall and dropped his lighter and cigarettes on the bar top.
“I’m really stoned from that pot,” he said. “Another thing I’m not really used to. Oh, thanks.”
I couldn’t believe it but the bartender was already there with our two mugs of beer. He immediately placed a big round glass on the bar and began filling it with Heaven Hill bourbon.
I asked myself why it was that Josh got such great service from bartenders. I was so used to having to do everything short of pounding my shoe on the bar to get a bartender’s attentions, and here was Josh, easily the scruffiest looking guy in here, and the bartender treated him as if he were the son of God. Oh. Well, I suppose I’ve answered my own question, then.
“Cheers,” said Josh, raising his whiskey glass, which held at the very least a quadruple of bourbon.
I raised my beer mug.
“To our friendship, Arnold.”
We touched glasses, I took a drink of beer, Josh drank down half his whiskey in one go.
“Wow, do you believe this guy,” he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve, “Whatsisname, Freddy.”
I turned and looked at Freddy, up there playing his accordion, slightly hunched over on his stool, singing into the microphone.
“I was taken by your smile,” he sang, “as we drifted by Sea Isle, and my heart was real gone when we reached Avalon.”
Freddy must be seventy-five years old if he’s a day, with a maroon toupée and a gold tuxedo jacket.
His wife Ursula is a bit younger I think, maybe only sixty-eight or so. Her hair is a bright iridescent yellow, and shaped like a large light bulb, the old-fashioned kind that tend to explode now and then. She wore a gown like the ones ladies wear in movies about ancient Rome. She smoked her cigarette with a long black holder. Suddenly she put it down in her ashtray, stood up, grabbed her saxophone, tossed its strap over her shoulder, walked the couple of feet over to the stage, went up its two steps, turned, and began playing. She didn’t need a microphone.
“What do you think, Arnold?” said Josh, nodding toward Freddy and Ursula.
“They’re okay,” I said.
And it was true, I didn’t hate them. I’d been listening to them for years. What did I care? They were something to fill those vast empty spaces of dread peculiar to all bars. Their music may well have been frightening, but at least it tended to keep the demons outside.
“I’ll tell you what they’re not like,” said Josh.
“They’re not like sitting in the same room with Mr. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the clavichord knocking out a concerto or two. That’s what they’re not like.”
“Well, they’re doing their best I suppose,” I opined.
Josh just looked at me, blinking, but he let that piece of boredom slip by unchallenged.
“Tell me something, how’s it going with Elektra? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“It’s going okay,” I said.
“Yes,” I said. I think I knew what he meant.
“It’s okay she’s Jewish?”
Ursula finished her solo and Freddy started playing a solo on his accordion.
“So, Arnold,” said Josh, “you’ve probably been wondering, about me appearing to you.”
“Well, yes,” I admitted.
“The thing is, we’ve -- my father and I, and the, uh, the --”
“The Holy Ghost?”
“Spirit, yeah -- anyway, we’ve decided to help you. After your breakdown and all.”
“Yes, help you,” he said. I must have made some slight change in my usual dispassionate demeanor, because he then said, “What?”
“Spit it out, Arnold. We’re buddies.”
“You know, I appreciate it,” I said. “Your help. And I don’t want you to take what I’m going to say personally --”
“No, of course not --”
“But,” I said, “I’m really not so sure how great it is for my mental recovery for me to be speaking with the son of God on a regular basis.”
“Oh,” said Josh. “I never looked at it that way.”
“I’m only saying,” I said.
“Would you rather I go away? And not come back?”
I thought about this for a second, as Ursula and Freddy traded some hot licks.
“No, Josh,” I said. “I don’t want you to go away. The thing is, I prefer my life this way. I suppose I am insane.”
“Oh, but you’re not insane, Arnold.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” I said.
“Oh, my God, those two are killing me,” he said, meaning Freddy and Ursula. “Okay, look, I need to go to the men’s room.”
“Oh yeah. Just have to pee. Which way is it?”
“Go over toward the stage, then make a left.”
He set off around the bar. He was definitely staggering now.
Freddy had a tip jar set up on a little table next to his stool. There was also what looked like a glass of water on the table, and an ashtray.
Josh stopped in front of the stage, stuck his hand in his khakis pocket, brought out what looked like a twenty, and stuck it in the tip jar.
Freddy nodded to him as he played his accordion, smiling, but then Freddy is always smiling.
Josh went around the corner toward the rest rooms.
Freddy was singing a new song now:
“Life is a book that we study. Some of its leaves bring a sigh.”
(Continued here, and for approximately 14,789 more installments. Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page to find what is quite often an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, all of it absolutely free, gratis and for nothing, although donations will be accepted in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Schnabel Festival, details forthcoming.)