Monday, August 31, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 11: cup of joe

Buddy Best, that B-movie auteur, has just had his wife leave him for a bad actor, and Buddy’s son has moved back home following the failure of his own marriage. In our previous episode Buddy just barely survived the dreaded parental duty of an interview with the mother superior of his stepdaughter Deirdre’s school, concerning a certain infraction of a concupiscent kind. But our hero’s travails are far from over...

(Click here to go our first chapter, and go to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy's House. “Makes Jackie Collins seem like Proust.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, syndicated columnist.)

He woke up, and there was Deirdre with a mug of coffee. The clock said five-fifty-eight.

“Well, thanks, Deirdre, how was school today?”

She sat down on the side of the bed.

“I didn’t go, Uncle Buddy. I got suspended, remember?”

“Oh, right -- so, what did you do all day?”

“I slept late and then I read and then I practiced my violin and now I just got back from ballet class.”

“Great. Wow, good coffee.”

Buddy felt a little uncomfortable because he was naked under the covers and because there was some semen-sogged Kleenex on the floor on the other side of the bed. But the coffee was good.

“So did you talk to Mother Mathilde?” she asked.

Mathilde, right, not Hermione. Hermione?

“Uncle Bud?”

“Right. Yeah, we had a good talk.”

“And am I expelled, or what?”

“No, no, not at all, just, you know, one-day suspension. You’re back tomorrow. And try to keep your nose clean.”

Poor choice of words, but she didn’t seem to notice. Ming had followed her into the room. Deirdre picked the cat up and stroked her back.

“So am I grounded or whatever?”

“No, fuck no, I mean, sorry, no, just, you know, be cool. At school.”

“Be cool at school.”

“Right. Damn good coffee.”

“But I can lesbo-out outside of school?”

“Well, you’re probably gonna do whatever the hell you want no matter what I say, right?”

She looked away.

“Do you think I’m a lesbian?”

“What? I don’t know. Are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, if you don’t know, how am I supposed to know? I mean, you don’t seem like a hardcore bull dyke --”

“I’m not a hardcore bull dyke. God.”

“Well, okay, then.”

She sat there with the cat on her lap. Buddy rubbed the cat’s head.

“I’m kind of attracted to boys,” said Deirdre. “But I don’t really like them.”

“Yeah, well --”


“I don’t know, teenage boys --”

“Yeah, they’re pretty gross,” said Deirdre.

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

“Do you know, I’m a virgin.”

“Whoa, okay, lookit, baby, tell ya what, save this shit for your mother.”

“I don’t like my fucking mother. And anyway my mother’s in fucking France. With her fucking boyfriend. And besides which she’s a fucking idiot and a shallow stupid bitch you should’ve never married in the first place. God, what did you ever see in her?”

Buddy took a moment or two, and then said:

“Okay, so, hey, tell ya what, why don’t you get outa here, let me get dressed and I’ll come down and have some more of this joe.”

She didn’t get up. The cat had gotten off her lap and sat on the bed looking at Buddy.

“Uncle Buddy, it’s not going to kill you to talk to me, dude.”

“That’s what you think.”

“Ha. Ha. Ha ha ha. Jerk.”

“All right --”

“I’ll bet you never talked to Liz about this stuff either, did you?”

“You’re damn right I didn’t.”

“Maybe if you had talked to her she wouldn’t’ve been so --”

“Ah, come on --"


“Get out of here.”

She sat there. She put her hand on Ming’s head and stroked the cat down to its tail.

“All right,” said Buddy. “What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t know.”

She continued stroking Ming.

“Okay,” he said. “Look, you want my advice? Stay a virgin. For as long as you possibly can.”

“Oh. Wow. That’s helpful.”

“Well, what the fuck, it’s the best I can do --”

“And what about girls?”

“Ah, Christ, get the fuck out of here.”

“Are you naked under that sheet?”

“Come on, fuck off.”


She got off the bed, slowly.

“Hey, look,” said Buddy, “thanks for the coffee.”

“You’re welcome.”

She still didn’t leave though.

“What?” said Buddy. “Look, I’m sorry I told you to fuck off.”

“I don’t care about that. I was being a bitch.”


“Mom’s gonna make me leave here, isn’t she?”

“I don’t know, baby. Probably.”

She looked away for a bit.

“All right. See ya later, dude.”

“See ya,” said Buddy.

She left. She didn’t shut the door all the way. The cat jumped off the bed and followed her.

Buddy was sweating again. He heard voices downstairs, Philip’s and some other guy’s, and Deirdre’s. He got out of the sack.

Buddy came down in his bathing trunks and robe. Philip and some shaven-headed and goateed kid whom Buddy had met but whose name he couldn’t remember -- Chad or Jeremy or Peter or Gordon -- were carrying boxes into the house. Philip was moving back in. Deirdre sat curled up on the sofa with her Discman on, reading a book. The Bell Jar.

“Hey, just in time to help us, Dad,” said Philip.

“Fuck that, I’m taking a swim.”

“Yo, Dad. You swim for exercise, right? So help me and Jeremy carry shit, that’s exercise.”

“Yeah, which you need, now don’t work too hard,” and Buddy went out to do some laps.

(Will Buddy finally grow up and accept some parental responsibility? Who knows? Go here for our next thrilling episode of Uncle Buddy’s House. A Selmur Production, starring Wallace Beery, with Linda Darnell as "Deirdre"; screenplay by Ben Hecht and Anita Loos; produced and directed by Larry Winchester.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ellie Greenwich, immortal...

It’s odd the way the deaths of public figures affect us. I was not deeply affected by Michael Jackson’s death, and Ted Kennedy’s passing is sad, but it came as no surprise.

But Ellie Greenwich’s death did affect me. I stayed up for hours last night listening to her music, downloading songs I didn’t have, reading about her, posting up videos on Facebook, sipping bourbon, and crying.

The songs she wrote became part of our culture, our life, just as much as the songs of the Beatles did, or Irving Berlin, or Cole Porter, or those of one of her greatest fans, Brian Wilson.

Chapel of Love

And Then He Kissed Me

Goodnight Baby

I Can Hear Music

Do Wah Diddy Diddy

Da Do Ron Ron

Hanky Panky

Leader Of The Pack

Out In The Streets

River Deep, Mountain High

Today I Met The Boy I’m Gonna Marry

Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts?

Not Too Young To Get Married

And dozens more. She was blessed with amazing collaborators like Jeff Barry and Phil Spector, and doubly blessed with amazing interpreters of her songs like the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las and Lesley Gore. She was a soulful and completely honest singer in her own right and a great producer. She answered her fan mail.

Ellie was irreplaceable, and she will live forever.

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 160: tin can

Our previous episode concluded with Arnold’s friend “Josh” nodding off at the red kitchen table of an oddly spacious apartment upstairs from the Pilot House (“Featuring the Musical Stylings of Freddy Ayres and Ursula™, as Seen on 'The Chief Halftown Show' on WFIL TV!”), on this historic night in August of 1963, in the quaint seaport of Cape May, NJ.

(Click here to go to the beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning memoir, soon to be presented as a 37-part series on The Philco Television Playhouse, hosted by Edward Everett Horton, featuring Laurence Harvey as Arnold and Michael Parks as Josh; special guest star Monica Vitti as Magda; musical interludes by the Jackie Gleason Orchestra with the June Taylor Dancers.)

“Josh,” I said. “Josh?”

His head came up, his eyes opened.

“Yeah, sure, what?” he said.

“Time to go, Josh.”

“What? To the Sanhedrin?”

“No, home,” I said.

“What did he say?” said Magda.

“Oh, nothing. Right, Josh?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.”

“So what do you say, pal? Want to go?”

“To the Sanhedrin?”

“No,” I said. “Home.”

“Oh. Right. Home.”

“Good. Let’s go then."

“Oh, okay,” he said.

But then he folded his forearms on the table, parallel to his chest, and he laid his head face-down on his wrists.

“What is this Sanhedrin he’s talking about?” said Magda.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I lied.

“You should let him stay here,” she said.

She had been holding the empty water glass through all this. She put it down on the table now, and then ran her fingers over Josh’s long sun-bleached hair.

I wondered: what was the worst that could happen if I let him stay here?

“We have a spare bedroom,” she said. “He’ll be quite comfortable. Then he can go home in the morning. If he wishes to. I will take good care of him.”

Something in her tone of voice told me to give it one more try. I had already just barely avoided the destruction of the known universe once today.

I went around the table and put my hand on Josh’s shoulder.

“Josh,” I said, shaking him. “Wake up.”

“Come,” said Magda. “We’ll put him to bed. Pick him up.”

I shook his shoulder again.

“Josh, wake up.”

Suddenly he sat up straight. He turned and looked at me, and then at Magda.

“I had the strangest dream,” he said.

“What was it?” said Magda.

“I dreamt I was -- a human being.”

“Ha ha,” she said. “Quite risible.”

“Josh, come on, we’re taking you home,” I said.

“Oh, okay.”

He pushed his chair back and stood up, almost knocking the chair over, but I grabbed it in time.

Magda put her hand on his arm.

“Hello,” he said to her.

“Hello,” she said.

She removed her hand and touched her fingertips to that sparkling string of pearls on her bare chest.

From the other room the drums and the chanting continued, and under them, faintly, crackled the laughter and dry shouting of degenerate old people.

“Are we in Africa?” Josh asked.

“Ha ha,” said Magda. “No you silly man. We are in Cape May, New Jersey.”

“Oh,” said Josh. He patted his trouser pockets, then his shirt pocket, and brought out his crumpled pack of Pall Malls. “Cape May,” he said, and he shook the pack, put a cigarette in his lips.

“Might I have one of those,” she said.

“Oh, of course, how rude of me.”

She peered into the proffered pack, poking the cigarettes around with her red fingernail, found one that was acceptable, and took it out.

“Thank you,” she said.

Josh shoved the pack back into his shirt pocket.

I wondered how I would survive -- if I could survive -- the rest of my life without these little smoking rituals to give it at least momentary meaning and purpose.

“You look familiar,” Josh said to her.

“Yes, we met about one minute ago,” she said. “I am Magda.”

“Magda,” said Josh, swaying just slightly in a circular motion. “Pleased to meet you. Jesus.”

“Jesus what?”

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

“What ever is the matter, my dear fellow?”

Josh is just saying,” I said, trying to save the day, or the night, or the universe, “Jesus Christ, he drank too much. Right, Josh?”

I patted his back, in an imitation of masculine conviviality.

“Oh. Right,” said Josh. “Josh. I’m Josh.”

“You certainly are plastered,” she said. “Now how about a light?”

“Oh, sorry.”

Josh patted his trousers pockets again, brought out his Ronson, and Magda and I watched as he flicked it open, thumbed it alight, lit her cigarette and then his own.

“I was telling your friend Arnold,” she said, exhaling smoke slowly from the side of her mouth “that you should stay here. In our spare bedroom.”

“And where am I?” he asked, in all innocence, exhaling a great cloud of Pall Mall smoke and coughing.

“You’re in Freddy and Ursula’s flat. Above the Pilot House. Ursula is my grandmother.”

“I see,” he said, obviously trying to act at least somewhat sober. “Staying here for the summer, are you?”


“And are you enjoying your stay?”

“I always enjoy myself.”

”An admirable quality. What is your secret?”

“I don’t work.”

“Ah. You neither sow nor reap.”

“Not if I can help it,” she said.

“And God feedeth you?”

“No, but Freddy and Ursula do.”

“How good of them.”

“I am their pride and joy. Their vision of youth and beauty.” She put her hand on Josh’s arm. “Come,” she said. “I will take you to the bedroom.”

“The bedroom?”

“To sleep.”

“Oh,” he said.

“Or I could walk you home, Josh,” I said, ignoring the invisible daggers shooting my way from Magda’s flashing blue eyes.

“Oh, would you, Arnold?” he said. “I think a breath of fresh air would do me good, actually.”

“I could open your bedroom windows wide,” said Magda.

“Well, thank you very much, Magdalene --”


“Magda,” said Josh. “But I really should be getting home I think.”

“Very well,” she said. “Will you call on me?”

“Call on you -- uh --”


“Uh -- sure, be delighted.”

“Say tomorrow downstairs at noon. Unless you’ll be at church of course.”

“Oh, no,” said Josh. “I very rarely go to church.”

“Smart man. We’ll have a hair of the dog and then I’ll bring you up here again -- if that’s okay with Arnold --”

“Oh --” I said.

“And I will make you breakfast. How does eggs Benedict sound?”

“Great,” said Josh.

“Some pickled herring.”


“Some borscht, and vodka.”

“Well, I don’t know if I --”

“Come,” she said. “I’ll walk you to the stairs. I know your friend Arnold is just dying to split this joint.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “It’s just that it’s late, and --”

She waved her cigarette dismissively.

“Put the excuses in a tin can,” she said. “Save them for a rainy day. Let’s go. I need my beauty sleep.”

(Continued here, because we must. Kindly go to the right hand column of this page to find what may very well be an up-to-date listing of links to all other possible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. “One of the great Catholic confessionals, perhaps the greatest since Augustine.” -- Bishop Frank X. Fogerty, SJ, in “L’Osservatore Romano”.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 10: girls’ school

Buddy Best, that B-movie auteur, has just had his wife leave him for a ham actor, and Buddy’s son has moved back home following the failure of his own youthful marriage. But Buddy’s travails are far from over, thanks to an indiscretion on the part of his teenage stepdaughter, Deirdre...

(Click here to go our previous episode or here to go to the first chapter of this sordid Hollywood melodrama. “Makes Jackie Collins seem like Proust.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, syndicated columnist.)

So, that was the sad and sordid backstory. But life goes on, and the day after Philip showed up Buddy had to deal with this lesbian make-out session problem with Deirdre. He had to deal with it, not Joan, because Joan and the Mariner had taken off for a romantic interlude in Brittany.

Bud was more than a little hungover that morning; he and Philip had definitely overdone their little father-son bonding thing. That shit would have to stop. It was time to pull himself together. Joan wasn’t worth it. It was true, he sort of missed her for some insane reason or reasons, but no woman who would go off with a turd like the Mariner could be worth a single hangover. No. So, he’d already decided to take the day off from work, but before he called the Mother Superior he thought it over -- what was the best time? Before lunch, so he could reward himself afterwards? Or after lunch, so he could fortify himself first? He decided finally just to get it the fuck over with; he called her up, it took a while to get her on the horn, but after pulling his “I’m a busy man” routine he got her to agree to a noon meeting. So: charm the Mother to death, then go have lunch, a little hair of the dog, a nap, wake up feeling like a king.

Buddy had never been to see the Mother before. After wandering around the school for a while he ran into a young Irish nun who guided him to the Mother’s office, or to the anteroom of the Mother’s office. She asked him to sit while she went in to tell the Mother he was there. It was all very old-school for L.A.: dark wood paneling, frosted glass on the doors, a statuette of the Infant of Prague, portraits of the Pope and the grown-up Jesus and of good old St. Vladimir. The sister came out and showed him through, and there was the old Mother, sitting behind her desk.

She looked like a mother superior, which Buddy dug. None of this newfangled shit for these nuns, no prim business suits, they had the full regalia, the long black habits and those big stiff white bibs under their chins. She had a foreign accent of some sort but not Irish. Buddy couldn’t remember her name. Hermione?

“Please sit down, Mr. Best.”

“Thanks, mother.”

Her office laid it on even thicker with the Going My Way set design. More of the old dark wood; a big full-color crucifix; a three-foot statue of the Blessed Virgin standing on a snake and pointing to a gash in her chest with a bloody heart crowned with thorns in it; a gilt-framed headshot of a dead pope, maybe Pope Pius XII; tall bookshelves filled no doubt with the works of Aquinas and Augustine and Newman and Spillane; and broad high windows looking out over a playing field where -- perfect -- some girls were playing field hockey. And even more perfect, there was Griffith Park up there in the distance, and the Hollywood sign. Now if he only didn’t feel like a pile of warmed-over dogshit --

“So, Mr. Best, Deirdre’s mother is unable to be here?”

“Uh, no, she’s out of the country in fact.”


“No, I’m making it up,” crossed his mind but what he said was, “Uh, yeah.”

“And you are Deirdre’s stepfather.”

“That’s right. Thus the difference in last names.”

Which went over like a lead balloon.

“And you are a -- film producer?”

“Right. I also write them and sometimes I direct them.”

“Oh, how interesting.”

“Sometimes I sweep up after a day’s shoot.”

“What movies have you -- written and directed, and produced?”

Okay, chances were good she hadn’t caught Triggerwoman or Return to Death Island (Parts I or II), or Lock and Load or Plausible Deniability or Smith & Wesson & Me --

“Oh, you know ,” said Buddy, “just -- action movies -- low budget stuff --”

They both played dodgeball with each other’s eyes, and she changed the subject:

“And Deirdre’s natural father -- he is -- deceased?”

“Not that I know of.”


“Deirdre was the product of a -- youthful indiscretion. I don’t think she ever even met the, uh, gentleman. If that’s what he was. Which he probably wasn’t.”

Buddy smiled, weakly

“I see,” she said, smiling even more weakly, and blushing slightly. Well, too bad, Buddy was developing a headache and it was time to move things along a bit here.

“So, anyway, sister, mother I mean, I am the legal guardian so let’s get down to business, shall we? Deirdre’s suspended, I can appreciate that. How long do you want to keep her out?”

“Well, we should discuss the reason for her suspension. Did she tell you --”

“I know all about it, mother. She got caught making out with this other girl, right?”

“Well, yes --”

“Where the hell were they doing it anyway?”

“In the, uh, cloakroom of their homeroom.”

“Cloakroom. Now there’s a word you don’t hear any more. I love that.”

She actually cracked something approaching a smile.

“Cloakroom,” said Buddy. “Okay, well, she got caught; what do ya think, three days’ suspension? I mean, more than that she might fall behind. Personally I’ve always thought it a little dubious to punish kids with suspension. I mean isn’t that a little more like a reward? If I was the principal I’d make them come to school even more often. You know, make ‘em take night classes. Make ‘em take an extra geometry course or something. A Greek course. No, maybe not Greek --”

“Mr. Best --”

“Call me Buddy. My friends call me Buddy. My enemies too --”

“Buddy --”

“That’s better.”

“We need to talk about the nature of Deirdre’s -- infraction.”

“It’s nature? Sister, mother, she’s what? Fifteen, sixteen? She’s got what? Hormones, like any teenage kid. The hormones get in an uproar. They need an outlet. So, next thing you know it’s smooching in the cloakroom.”

Oh, Christ, Buddy had seen this face before -- and he flashed back on getting his wise ass whacked red in an office just like this one.

“Mr. Best, you are a Catholic?”

“I was -- brought up Catholic, yes, but --” Buddy was halted by a sudden upsurge of nausea, and he put his fist over his mouth. He swallowed, breathed deeply, then said, “Sorry. Touch of gas. But. Yeah. Brought up. Catholic.”

“So you do have some knowledge of Catholic doctrine.”

“Yeah.” He took another deep, sighing breath of Catholic school air. “Drummed into me. Eight years of parochial school. Four years of Catholic high school. Yeah.”

“Well, Mr. Best --”

“Mother, look, call me ’Buddy’, please --”

“Okay, Buddy -- what I want to say is, there is the concept of sin --”

Oh, fuck this --

“Whoa, hold it right there, mother. Hold on. Just put the brakes on here.” Buddy put his fist over his mouth again. Breathed. Then went on. “Now Deirdre is a good kid. She’s a little sullen and she’s got a mouth on her, but she brings home A’s, am I right?”

“Yes,” said the bag, grudgingly.

“All A’s, or damn near, pardon me, darn near all A’s. She takes violin and ballet.” Buddy gestured out to the girls on the playing field. “She plays field hockey. As far as I know she doesn’t do drugs. Oh, she’s probably smoked some pot (As Buddy damn well knew she did. But then who was he to be critical, having just now polished off a roach out in the parking lot, which on second thought maybe hadn’t been such a great idea.), but what kid doesn’t? So, what I’m saying is, what? She’s a good kid, but, okay, she got caught making out with another girl -- hey, she needs some outlet, right?”

“No! No, that’s where you’re wrong, Mr. Best, she does not need that sort of outlet --”

“But -- but --”

“She does not need that sort of outlet.”

What a bitch. He was tempted to bring up the subject of all these pervert priests the damn Church was overrun with, but he let that slide --

“Okay. Okay. I agree, a time and a place. She should not be making out with this Trish girl in the cloakroom, and believe me, I will tell her that in no uncertain terms. But, Mother, be reasonable, you’ve seen this Alvarez girl, right?”

“Alvarado,” she corrected.

“Alvarado. She’s this little, this little -- I mean, she’s very attractive. Is what I mean.”

Buddy felt a little lightheaded. Blood sugar -- food is what he needed --

“You don’t seem to understand, Mr. Best --” food and a drink -- “that Deirdre --”


“Pardon me?”

“Wait, mother. Be honest with me here. I know you have the vow of celibacy and all, but look, you’re gonna sit there and tell me that you yourself have never, um, you know, well, maybe not -- but -- okay, while we’re on the subject, what’s up with this whole vow of celibacy thing in the church -- with the priests and the nuns -- I mean --”

“What are you saying?”

“What am I saying? I’m saying we all have desires, urges -- it’s natural -- I mean, personally -- well, okay, look -- again, a time and a place, she shouldn’t be making out with anyone in school, at school I mean, but still, it’s only natural -- I mean, really, haven’t you ever --”

“We’re not talking about me.”

“I realize that, but I’m only saying -- I mean --”

“She was kissing another student.”

“But is that really so bad? I mean, if they had been, you know --”

She stared at him, wide-eyed.

Buddy wanted a drink. He wanted two aspirins and then a drink. Two drinks --

“Look,” he said, “I just don’t see it as some big fuckin’ --”

The mother looked down at her desktop. She was probably hating her job right now. He’d fucked up. He should have just kept his fucking trap shut, let her have her say and then got the fuck out of there, but oh no --

“Sorry,” said Buddy.

She still didn’t say anything. Now Buddy was in fact feeling sorry for her.

“Tell you what, sister. Mother. Leave it to me. I’m going to ground her for a week. No movies, no going out, I won’t let her rent any DVD’s either. So why don’t we just call it a one-day suspension, let her come back tomorrow, and just forget the whole thing. ‘Cause she likes this school. At least I’m pretty sure she does. And you know what, I think it’s great she’s going here, an all-girls school. A good -- good Catholic school. Discipline. It was my wife’s idea. Joan. My wife. She wanted, she wanted, Deirdre to have, like a -- I mean, me, I would’ve probably just saved some money and sent her to Hollywood High, y’know? Which is where I sent my other two kids, and. Which would’ve meant she’d’ve been exposed to a lot more than Trish Alvarado in the cloakroom. I mean, drugs, boys. Boys, I mean, one thing about this thing with the Alvarado girl at least they’re not gonna knock each other up, right?”

The Mother was still just staring at her desk.

Buddy felt like all kinds of shit.

“So, uh, I’ll send her back to school tomorrow bright and early then?”

He stood up. He had an urge to give her some money, but (A), that would have been incredibly crass, even for him, and (B), he didn’t have his checkbook on him anyway.

“And, uh, I wish you a very good day, mother, and I thank you for taking this time with me. ‘Bye now.”

Finally she looked up at him.

Buddy was drenched with sweat when he left that office. Christ, it was like he was the one who’d been caught making out in the cloakroom.

He drove to Carlos ‘n’ Charlie’s, had a tuna melt with fries and a couple of therapeutic Anderson Valley IPAs, shmoozed a little bit with some industry people -- Julie Strain and her husband or her boyfriend; Christopher Lambert and his agent and Joe Morrow -- and then he went home, masturbated, and had a very nice nap.

(Gotta say it was a good day, Buddy -- you didn’t even have to use your AK. Continued here. Please look to the right hand column of this page to find perhaps an up-to-date listing of all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House. An American International Production, produced and directed by Larry Winchester.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 159: resurrection

Previously in this epic memoir our hero Arnold Schnabel found himself conversing with the mysteriously blond Magda, in the kitchen of a vast apartment upstairs from the Pilot House (“Come On In And Join The Swingin’ Set, Digging the ‘Sweet Summer Sounds of Freddy Ayres and Ursula™’!”), in Cape May, NJ, on this warm night in August of 1963...

(Newcomers may go here to read the first chapter of this Gold View Award-winning masterpiece, which the noted critic Harold Bloom has called “perhaps the finest memoir available to humanity”.)

The drums pounded on from the living room, accompanied now by chanting in what I assume was some African language.

She sat there, her hands on the red table top, looking at me. Her eyes were a faceted and disquieting dark blue.

I find it disturbing when a person sits at a table neither smoking nor eating. My aunts and mother do this, and I’ve never gotten used to it.

I drank some more beer.

I decided that I would finish the bottle, neither rushing it nor pacing myself, and then I would go back into the living room, and if Josh wasn’t awake yet and could not be awakened, I would leave. I hated to abandon him, but I felt that I would regret it if I remained here much longer. And after all, he was who he was, wasn’t he? Did he need my protection?

“I hope your friend is not an alcoholic,” Magda finally said.

“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” I said, glad to be conversing again instead of just sitting there with her staring at me sitting there making resolutions I probably wouldn’t keep.

“So this is not an habitual routine with him, drinking till he passes out?”

“No, I really don’t think so,” I said. “I think he’s really not much of a drinker.”

“You think so? And just how well do you know this Josh?”

“Oh, not really well,” I said. “Not -- um --”

“But you have met him before tonight?”

“I first met him, uh, this past winter,” I said.

“This past winter. Here, in Cape May?”

“No, this was in Philadelphia.”

In the Philadelphia State Mental Hospital at Byberry, to be exact.

“And then you met him again here in Cape May?”

“Yes,” I said.

She stared at me, as if to say, “We have ways of loosening your tongue, you know. We can do this the easy way or we can do it the the hard way. It is entirely up to you.”

The drums pounded, the Africans chanted.

“There’s something you are not telling me,” she said.

“There’s always something,” I said.

“Something you are deliberately not telling me. About Josh.”

“Well --”

“Tell me. I promise I will not blab.”

“Well, I don’t know if it’s my place,” I said, which might have been honest of me to say, but which definitely was foolish, admitting as it was that there definitely was something I was withholding.

She reached all the way across the table and put her hand on mine. She squeezed. Bent forward like that she stared up into my eyes beneath her darkened lashes.

“The beans,” she said. “Spill them.”

But how could I tell her that Josh was the son of God? Well, by simply telling her. But no, I just couldn’t. And besides, if Josh wanted everyone to know who he was, then he would probably just tell them himself. Wouldn’t he?

She squeezed my hand harder.

“Am I interrupting something?”

We both turned to the entranceway, and Magda released my hand.

It was Josh, pale and rumpled, but looking slightly better than he had a little while ago. He had a lit cigarette in one hand.

“Not interrupting at all,” said Magda. “Come join us.”

“I just wanted to get a glass of water, really,” he said, coming into the kitchen.

“I will get it for you,” said Magda, pushing her chair back.

“No, please,” said Josh, “don’t get up.”

“Nonsense.” She stood up. “I can’t believe my grandmother and Freddy are allowing you to serve yourself.”

“Oh, they’re otherwise engaged right now,” said Josh.

“Getting high, you mean.”

“Well, yes. I woke up and they were smoking away, it’s true.”

“Sit down. Here, sit across from Arnold,” she said, indicating the chair she had just vacated.

“Well, all right,” said Josh. “Miss --”

“Magda. Just call me Magda.”

“All right, Magda. I’m Josh, by the way.”

“Yes. I know.”

She put out her hand, palm downward, and Josh took it. Unlike me he did this suavely, even in his present state, bowing his head and just barely touching her fingers with his lips, then gently releasing her hand.

“Charmed I am sure,” said Magda.

He sat, and Magda moved the chair in for him, the way a waiter might.

“Perhaps you would like a nice cold beer, Mr. Josh,” said Magda, standing by his side and touching his shoulder lightly with one finger, in a way no waiter would.

“Oh, no, please,” he said. “Just water.”

“What were you drinking, you poor man?”

“Well, beer, but I think it was the bourbon that did me in. I’m not really used to it.”

“Arnold said you weren’t much of a drinker.”

Josh glanced at me.

“Well, yes, that’s true I suppose,” he said.

“Any damn fool can be a drunk,” she said. “This is no great accomplishment.”

“That’s true too,” said Josh, tapping his cigarette ash into the purple glass ashtray.

“But I am blathering on and forgetting your glass of water.”

“Oh, no rush,” said Josh.

“Perhaps you would like a bowl of my grandmother’s borscht?”

“Borscht?” said Josh, turning somewhat awkwardly in his chair to face her. She had seemed about to move toward the refrigerator, but then had remained where she was standing next to him.

“Yes,” she said. “Borscht. Quite nutritious. We like to drink it cold, with a shot of vodka on the side.”

“No, thank you,” said Josh. He suddenly seemed paler. “Just some water I think.”

“Water it is then,” she said, and she went over to the sink, a large double sink of stainless steel.

This talk of borscht reminded me that I was hungry, and I remembered the sandwich she had mentioned making for me. That didn’t look like it was going to happen now, and perhaps it was just as well.

“Sorry for passing out on you, Arnold,” said Josh, quietly.

“It’s okay,” I said.

“I don’t know what came over me,” he said.

“Don’t feel bad. It comes over me all the time.”

The yearning for oblivion,” said Magda, from the sink, where she had just filled a glass with water from the tap.

She brought the glass over to the table, and putting one hand on Josh’s shoulder again, she offered the water to him with her other hand.

“Perhaps you would like ice?”

“No, this is fine,” said Josh. “Thank you.”

He took the glass, it was decorated in red and gold paint, granular-looking leaves and flowers, and he drank, with great long gulps.

He finished the glass and she took it from his hand. Her one hand was now lightly touching the back of his shirt collar. For the first time I noticed consciously that her fingernails were painted red, bright red.

“Would you like some more water,” she said, her voice sounding like water, cool water rippling over smooth stones.

“No, thank you,” said Josh. “I think I should go, really.”

“Why must you rush off?”

“I’m a bit under the weather,” said Josh.

The Africans sang, and pounded on their drums, it sounded like a thunderstorm in human form.

“So, Josh,” I said. I pushed my chair back and stood up. “Let’s get you home, buddy.”

“Yeah, home,” he said.

“You didn’t finish your beer, Mr. Schnabel,” said Magda.

“Oh,” I said. I picked up the bottle and expertly polished it off. “Thank you very much, Magda." I put the empty bottle back down on the table, then said, “Well, Josh --”
His head sank down to his chest. His eyes were closed.

Magda took the lit cigarette from his fingers and stubbed it out in the purple glass ashtray.

“Not exactly the life of the party, is he?” she said.

(Continued here, and until every last one of those marble notebooks that fill Arnold’s old army footlocker has been faithfully transcribed. Please go to the right hand side of this page to find what might possibly be an up-to-date listing of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Be sure to buy your tickets now for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Summer Ball at the VFW on Chew Street. Music provided by Rockin’ Harry Hirsch and His Combo.)

Monday, August 17, 2009


I'll be offline till the end of the week, visiting family, but never fear, we'll have some brand new Arnold and Buddy adventures for you when I get back.

Stay cool!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 9: the scene

In our previous chapter our hero Buddy Best found himself forced to deal with the on-set shenanigans of the Ancient Mariner, after Buddy’s wife Joan talked him into giving the Mariner a featured role in Buddy’s epic Triggerwoman II...

(Click here to go the first chapter of what the popular syndicated columnist J.J. Hunsecker has called a “scathing indictment of the shabby mores that reign in Tinseltown”.)

Well, the movie got made, there were no more tantrums from the Mariner, and even Buddy had to admit the man wasn’t that bad in the part. Not to say he was good, let’s not get carried away, but he wasn’t as bad as Buddy had been afraid he would be. In fact he was bad in a way that occasionally approached almost good. For one thing he came across as so fucking unlikable that it was a real moment when Sally finally blew him away with a full clip from her trusty Walther PPK.

Then came the scene with Joan where she told Buddy about her affair with the Mariner.

“I wanted to wait till the shoot was over,” she said, “because I didn’t want to make it hard for you.”

“Make it hard for me?”

They were having dinner at Café des Imbéciles. It was the day after the wrap which meant the day after the wrap party, which meant Buddy had spent most of the day in bed and the rest of it reading a Richard Stark thriller by the pool. But he had brought a good appetite to dinner, and leave it to Joan to make her big announcement just as he was about to dig into his twenty-nine dollar crabcakes --

“Make it hard for you with your work,” said Joan.

“Oh, right. Well, thanks.”

“Don’t be sarcastic.”

He’d taken a bite of crabcake --


It wasn’t bad --

“And don’t be passive-aggressive.”


Not worth twenty-nine bucks though --

“And don’t be like that.”

Okay, forget about the crabcakes but thank God for wine. He took a drink of his Sancerre.

“Well, babe, how would you like me to be?”

She had been holding her knife and fork through all this, and now she put them on her plate and daintily pushed it forward a couple of inches. The plate with her untouched thirty-five dollar steak on it.

“What I would like, what I would like --”

Oh fuck her --

“Okay,” Buddy interrupted, “first off, it’s bullshit that you didn’t want to make it hard for me, or at least not make it hard for me till the shoot was over. It was more like you didn’t want to make things hard for you and the Mariner.”

“What did you call him?”

“The Mariner. The Ancient Mariner. We all call him that. You didn’t know?”


“Oh, well, I call him that.”

“Very funny.”

“The Ancient Mariner.”

“His name is Stephen.”

“But you know what, Joan, you were right in keeping quiet about it. It would’ve made things, uh, awkward for the Mariner, and for you. And it probably would have made his performance even lousier than it was.”

Joan looked away. Then -- fuck California and fuck its laws -- she opened up her purse and took out her Camel Ultra Lights and her lighter and she lit up a cigarette.

Buddy saw a waiter looking at Joan; he took a step toward their table, hesitated, then walked away. He’d seen the look on her face.

Buddy took another sip of wine, waiting for it. And when it came it was surprisingly quiet and well-modulated.

“It’s not like you even give a shit about me, Buddy.”

Some joyless-looking woman came up to their table.

“Do you know you’re breaking the law?” the woman said.

“Do you know I’ll fucking break your face if you say another word?” Joan said, not quietly.

That shut the broad up, and she went back to her table.

“Cunt,” said Joan, glaring at the stupid meddling bitch.

Buddy felt a surge of affection for Joan now.

She turned to him.

“Don’t you want to know how long it’s been going on?”

“Not really.”


“Okay, let me guess. It’s been going on ever since you supposedly hurt your pelvis doing hot yoga last fall.”


“See, I knew it.”

“I’m not like you, Buddy. I can’t be fucking more than one person at the same time.”

Okay, here was the thing, he actually hadn’t fucked anyone else in about a year.

“Look, Joan, I haven’t fucked around in like, uh, three years --”


“Okay, two years.”

“And you know why?”

“Um --”

Because it had gotten to be too much like work?

“Because,” she said, “you’re getting old. The chicks don’t want to fuck you. God! I can’t believe I put up with you all those years!”

Okay, he wasn’t perfect.

“All right, I’m not perfect. But, Joan, the Mariner? Come on, are you fucking nuts? And besides, old? He’s older than me. Isn’t he?”

“Maybe he is, but he’s still not as old as you, he’s engaged with life, he lives life -- he loves to dance -- what?”


“No, that look.”

“Okay. ‘He loves to dance’?”

“Yes. Is there something wrong with that?”

“No. Not at all. Not if you’re Zorba the fucking Greek.”


“Zorba. The Greek.”

“What’s some fucking Greek got to do with it? Stephen’s not Greek.”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “He’s not Greek. But I’ll tell you what he is. How about boring, pompous, overbearing --”

“You don’t know him. That’s just his public face. In private he’s very -- vulnerable.”

“Damn right he’s vulnerable. He’s vulnerable because he’s a pompous, overbearing, bore-assing, beret-wearing --”

“Stop it.”

Buddy stopped.

“I love him,” she said.

Buddy looked down at his crabcakes. One thing he knew damn well and that was if a woman decided she was in love with somebody there wasn’t a holy hell fuckload of a lot you could do about it. But he couldn’t help himself and he said what he was thinking:

“You’ll get over it.”

“Fuck you.”

Okay. Buddy took a drink of his wine. He’d seen variations of this scene in a thousand movies. It was a boring scene, but it had to be played out.

“Okay,” he said. “What’s next?”

“That’s all?”

It was all very depressing and he took another drink of wine.

“Is that all you have to say?” she said.

She ground out her cigarette in her bread plate.

“I’m really close to slapping you, Buddy. I’m really close to slapping you, and throwing this wine in your face, and turning this table over on you, and don’t you dare say you love me, sure, you used to love me, I really believe that, and I loved you, Buddy, you know I did, I worshipped you, but you got tired of me, Buddy, yes, you did, but instead of just facing up to it like a real man you lied to me, all the nights and mornings you slinked home with the smell of some other bitch’s cunt on you, and, oh, you’re always so snide and so superior, you, you don’t like my friends, or my family, you don’t like anyone or anything, and even though you think you love Deirdre and your kids, you know what? You’re a fucking indifferent father, you don’t chauffeur Deirdre all over the city to her lessons and to her friends’ houses, you don’t go to parent-teacher’s meetings, you don’t take her to the dentist -- and, I know --” she dropped into her imitation-Buddy voice -- ”I work, Joan, I work a lot and I work hard. I’m sorry, but you work maybe four months out of the year --” back to her own voice -- “Ha! well, listen, Buddy, other fathers -- even stepfathers -- find time, but oh no, you wouldn’t even take Deirdre to Disney-fucking-land --” back to the Buddy-voice --”Deirdre didn’t want to go to Disneyland. You were the one who wanted to go to Disneyland.” Her voice: “And that’s because she takes after you, with all your fucking negativityness.”

Buddy let that one go by. She caught her breath. Then:

“You let Elizabeth practically kill herself with drugs before you did anything about it. You let Philip marry that little whore who stuck her tongue down your throat at their wedding reception -- oh, yes, I know about that.”

For some reason she stopped here, sawed off a piece of steak, and stuck it in her mouth. Buddy’s heart wasn’t in it, but he felt like he should contribute something:

“Those kids love me, Joan.”

“Ha,” she said, chewing.

“Well, they sort of love me.”


She swallowed, and dabbed her lips with her napkin.

“Pop quiz, Buddy. What grade is Deirdre in?”

“Um --” Okay, he was pretty sure she wasn’t a freshman anymore, so she had to be like a sophomore -- unless she was a junior already?

“I’d like to stab you with this steak knife."

She picked it up but then she put it down, thank God.

“I’m leaving you, Buddy.”

The last time Buddy had gone through this had been a dozen years before, with Madge, her telling him she was leaving him because she had found out he was boning Joan.

Joan stood up.

“Can I take the car?”

Of course it had turned out that Madge had been seeing someone else at the time also. Om, the non-celibate Buddhist monk.

“Buddy can I take the fucking car.”

“Yeah, sure, sorry.”

He fumbled out the valet tag, she took it, and Buddy watched her walk away. He drank the last little bit of Sancerre that was left in his glass. Joan hadn’t even touched her glass of St. Émilion, and he reached over and helped himself to that.

(Yes, Buddy, it’s a shame to let a good glass of St. Émilion go to waste. Continued here. Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find an up-todate listing of all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House. A Howard Hawks Production.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 158: huge

In our previous chapter our hero Arnold Schnabel made the acquaintance of the blond and mysterious Magda, in this capacious apartment upstairs from Cape May’s Pilot House (“Featuring ‘A Stroll Along the Great White Way with Freddy Ayres and Ursula’©!”) on a very special night in August of 1963…

(Newcomers may go here to read the first chapter of this Gold View Award-winning masterpiece, which the noted critic Harold Bloom has called “perhaps the finest memoir available to humanity”.)

She dropped the album cover back on the pile and, putting her cigarette between her lips, which were painted rose red, she put the record on the turntable, turned the machine on, lifted the needle and dropped it onto the record. Soon a pounding African rhythm pulsed through the apartment. She nodded her head and began to shake her shoulders and hands, almost as if she were playing a bongo drum herself.

She turned to me.

“Would you like to dance?”

“No, thank you,” I said.

She took the cigarette from her mouth.

“Is this too intense for you? I could play something quieter. Perhaps a bossa nova.”

“This is fine,” I said.

“But you don’t want to dance.”

“Not especially,” I said. “But if you insist.”

“No. Dancing should come from the heart. Don’t you agree?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said.

“So have you never danced?”

“Occasionally I have danced with my mother. And tonight for the first time I danced the Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Frug and the Hully-Gully.”

“I am impressed. Would you like that beer now?”

I glanced back at Josh, lying on the zebra-skin couch among those debauching senior citizens. He still appeared to be out cold.

“Sure,” I said.

“Come with me.”

She set off again across this huge room, and I walked with her. Finally we came to a kitchen off to the left. It was large also, even bigger than Mrs. Biddle’s.

“Sit down at the table."

This was a big rectangular red laminated table with steel-tube legs, six steel padded chairs with shiny red plastic upholstery.

I pulled up a chair and sat.

The African music was somewhat muted in here, but only somewhat. It was all I could do to prevent myself from modestly playing my own imaginary bongo.

Through tall windows along one side of the kitchen I could see the roofs and chimneys of houses and hotels, the dark ocean, the starry sky.

Magda went to a large white refrigerator with double doors, opened it. I noticed that her dress was slit rather far up one thigh, and I tried not to stare.

“Tell me about this comatose friend of yours,” she said, taking out a pint bottle of Schmidt’s. (I confess that, given the luxuriousness of this enormous apartment, I had been expecting, and hoping for, something more exalted. A Tuborg maybe.)

She closed the refrigerator, then popped the bottle open on an opener built into one of the doors. She brought the bottle over.

“Well?” she said.

It took me a mere second or two to recall what she had asked me about.

“His name is Je-” I corrected myself, “Josh.”

“Gee Josh?”

“No, just Josh,” I said.

She laid the bottle in front of me.

“Want a glass?”

“No thank you,” I said, although I did. But I didn’t want to put her out too much. I sensed somehow that I was already on thin ice with her.

She sat down across from me. She reached over, pulled a purple glass ashtray closer, tapped her cigarette ash into it.

“And what does this Josh do for a living?”

“He -- um --” I took a quick drink of beer. Very cold, and good, if not exalted.

“Is he on a leave of absence as well?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “He, uh, doesn’t have a job really. His father is, um, uh, very wealthy.”

“Oh really.” She drew her chair in closer to the table. “Now I am intrigued. I must admit I find you intriguing as well. However, a railway brakeman -- on a mental leave of absence yet -- you know -- a girl should be choosy in her choice of men. Don’t you agree?”

“Oh, yes.”

“I can’t live off the benevolence of Freddy and Ursula all my life. It’s time I found a man to take care of me. A rich man. Am I to be despised for thinking thus?”

“Oh, no,” I said, and I took another, deeper swallow.

She stubbed out her cigarette.

“Perhaps you are thinking I should get a job?”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Although you play the piano very well. Maybe you could get a job like Freddy and Ursula --”

“Playing sentimental crap for the yokels, four sets a night, seven nights a week, matinées on Saturdays and Sundays?”

“Well, uh --”

“I should rather die,” she said. “No, some women are not meant to work. This Josh fellow, nice guy?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Really. Girlfriend? Married?”

“I don’t think he’s married,” I said. “And as far as I know he doesn’t have a girlfriend.”


“Pardon me?”

“Does he like men?”

“Well, sure --”

“I mean does he like to have sexual relations with men?”

“Oh, no,” I said. “I mean, not that I know of.”

“That’s good enough for me. I hope you don’t think me mercenary.”

“Oh no.”

“Some women are meant to be wives.”

“Sure,” I said. I took another swig of Schmidt’s. “Wives, mothers, these are important, uh, roles. In the, uh, social --”

“I said nothing about being a mother.”


“I find children to be quite annoying. If not vile. However, I suppose that spawning is part and parcel of the job, and so I’ll have to have one or two babies at least. I assure you they will have the finest nurses and governesses I can afford. I can do no more.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s very, uh, generous of you --”

“Only doing what’s right,” she said.

(Continued here, and until every last one of those marble notebooks that fill Arnold’s old army footlocker has been faithfully transcribed. Please go to the right hand side of this page to find what might possibly be an up-to-date listing of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Be sure to buy your tickets now for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Summer Solstice Ball at the VFW on Chew Street. Music provided by Rockin’ Harry Hirsch and His Orchestra.)

Now go back and read the chapter above while listening to this:

Monday, August 10, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 8: actor trouble

Previously in our story, our raffish hero Buddy Best, under marital duress, allowed the loathed Ancient Mariner to audition for a featured role in Buddy’s new film, Triggerwoman II

(Go here for Chapter One of this “no-holds-barred epic of today’s Tinseltown in all its tawdry glory” -- Bennett Cerf.)

Yeah, they all had a good laugh about it, but the Ancient Mariner got the last laugh. Bob Forster couldn’t do it after all, and neither could Michael Parks; Mike Ironside passed and Lance Hendrickson was on vacation, so they got another old guy who didn’t have much of a name but he was a good actor and they’d worked with him before, but he had a heart attack and died three days before the start of principal photography. Joan got into the act again, and not only did Buddy have to deal with her because she was his wife, but she was also acting in the show, there was that to deal with, and so, finally, after making a few phone calls and getting nowhere, he talked it over with Harvey and Iggy, and the Mariner got the job.

Three days into the shoot Buddy got a call from Iggy.

“Houston, we got a fuckin’ problem.”


Normally Buddy was on set all day during a shoot but right now he was driving around the city trying to buy a ‘67 Dodge Charger to match the one that Sally drove in the movie, so they could blow it up. (They’d already blown up one ‘67 Dodge Charger but it had been about the most pissant car-explosion in history, so they’d decided to try it again.)

“It’s the Mariner.” This was the Mariner’s first day of work. “He won’t come out of his trailer.”

“Why the fuck not?”

“Uh, because he’s a fuckin’ retard?”

“Okay.” Buddy was already turning his car back in the direction of the studio. “Just tell me what happened, Ig.”

“All right,” said Iggy, “first set-up, we do the master of the interview scene with him and Sally.”

“Yeah? So?”

“So, Sally’s fine, but he keeps fucking up. Keeps stepping on her lines, forgetting his own lines, but, you know, finally I get a usable take after about twelve tries.”


“So, we move everything around to shoot over Sally’s shoulder, and that’s when he decides to camp out in his trailer. Says he wants to talk to either you or Harvey. Harvey’s downtown with the second unit so I guess that leaves you.”

“Fuckin’ hell.”

“I’d fire him but I know it’d fuck up our budget and shit.”

“Yeah, right.”

“What we could do is move everything around to the other side and shoot Sally’s close-ups, maybe he’ll cool out in the meantime, but that’s gonna take us at least another --”

“No, fuck that. Look, I can be there in about twenty, twenty-five minutes. Leave the set-up as it is, I’m on my way.”

They were shooting police station interiors on a standing set in the old Columbia lot. On the way in Buddy passed most of the cast and crew gathered around the craft services table. Joan, in her costume as the tough female detective, saw him come in but turned away to talk to the wardrobe mistress. But Debbie Greenberg marched right up to Buddy and said:

“Why the fuck’d you let yourself be pussy-whipped into hiring this schmuck?”

Buddy stopped and looked at her. Debbie was actually pretty damned attractive in this mode. Also she was wearing a fairly low-cut top. He opened his mouth as if he were going to reply verbally, but instead he shook his head and walked on.

On the almost deserted set Sally Fenster sat in her place at the interrogation table, reading a Ruth Rendell paperback. Heather and Iggy were sitting by the camera consulting Heather’s shooting-script. Buddy waved to Sally and went over to Heather and Iggy.

“Still in the trailer?”

“Still in his trailer,” said Iggy.

“All right, look,” said Buddy, “give me five. In the meantime, coffee break’s over. Get everybody back on set and ready to shoot.”

Of course the Ancient Mariner didn’t have his own trailer, but he did share one with Milt Dickens. Buddy thought of knocking but then he thought, Fuck it, I’m paying for this fucking trailer. He opened the door and there the asshole was sitting on a chair looking at himself in the mirror.

“Oh, hello, Buddy.”

He had his police detective suit on but he hadn’t cut off his ponytail or shaved his goatee. That was two strikes. Also he wasn’t on the set doing his job. That was three strikes.

Buddy had been prepared to do a little mollifying, a little stroking; sometimes you’d get these actors, they’d strangle their own mother for a part and then when they got it they wouldn’t play it. Buddy had had to do this kind of thing before. But the ponytail, the beard -- he even still had that annoying stud in his ear --

“Okay, Stephen, I want you on the floor in five minutes or you’re fired.”

“Don’t you want to hear my complaint?”

“All right, but you’re still fired if you’re not on set in five minutes, so make it quick.”

Buddy sat down on the cot and looked at his watch and wished he still smoked cigarettes.

“That bitch, that, that little tart--”

“What,” said Buddy, “who -- Heather?”

“No, the other one, the alleged actress --”


“Whatever her name is.”

“Sally. What about her.”

“I cannot work with her.”


“She does not treat me with respect. I say my lines and she rolls her eyes.”

Oh Christ.

“Stephen, the girl is acting. She is rolling her eyes at what your character is saying.”

“She sneers at me when I am speaking.”

“It’s called acting, Stephen. Her character does not like your character.”

A marked-up script lay on the make-up table. Buddy reached over and picked it up. He took off his driving-and-TV glasses and saw that the script was open at the scene they were supposed to be shooting now. He read aloud:

“’You’re an asshole, Broadridge. You’ve always been an asshole. And you’ll die an asshole.’”

He laid the script down, and put his glasses back on. At this distance the glasses made the Mariner more vague, which was a good thing.

“Do you see the subtext here, Stephen?”


“She doesn’t like the guy.”

“But she’s acting like she doesn’t like me.”

“You said it, Stephen. She’s acting. She is an actor. An artist. Now stop being an asshole and get in there with your fellow artist and do your work.”

The Mariner gave a great dramatic pause.

“I don’t think you need to call me an asshole. I am a professional. I studied with Bill Hickey, with Jeff Corey. I have shared the stage with Meryl Streep.”

“I saw it on your résumé. That was in 1975, Stephen. The fact is this is the biggest break you’ve gotten in about twenty years, so stop acting like an asshole and get the fuck in there.”

“Not if you’re going to call me an asshole.”

“If you get your ass in there then you won’t be acting like an asshole and so I’ll have no right to call you an asshole.”

“But the fact is you are calling me an asshole.”

“That’s because you’re still sitting here on your asshole. As soon as you’re on that stage I retract all asshole nomenclature.”

“So take it back.”

“Yes,” you asshole, “as soon as you’re on the set I take it back.”

Another dramatic pause, which was costing Buddy money.

“Very well,” murmured the Mariner, looking at his horrible over-made-up face in the mirror.

Buddy really wanted to tell him to take an extra ten and cut off his damn ponytail, shave that facial pubic hair and pull that fucking stud out, but then they would have to re-shoot any footage they’d already done with him, so he let it go.

“Good. You got two minutes.”

Back on the now-bustling set Buddy took Iggy aside.

“Okay, Ig, if he fucks up again, you don’t have to ask me or Harvey first, just fire the goofball.”


“Cool. Can I have a quick word with Sally?”

She was still in her chair at the interrogation table, smoking a cigarette and tapping the ash into a paper cup while the hair and make-up girls touched her up. Buddy went over to her.

“Hey, girls, give me a minute with Sally, please.”

They walked away, and Buddy leaned over and whispered:

“The Ancient Mariner thinks you don’t like him.”

“I don’t. He’s gross.”

“Well, do me a favor, pretend to like him.”

“Fuck him. He’s so unprofessional. And it’s not like he’s any good. The real reason he’s sulking is because he was so fucking bad during that last set-up. He’s got stage-fright, pure and simple.”

“You’re probably right.”

“I know I’m right. The skeezy old hack. Why’d you hire him, Buddy?”

Buddy saw the Mariner step tentatively onto the edge of the set. All the crew and cast were pointedly ignoring the man.

“Okay, look, Sally, we made a mistake, but we’re stuck with the guy. You’re a trained actress. In between takes, just act like you don’t hold him in complete and, you know, utter contempt.”

“That’ll be my most challenging motherfucking role ever.”

The Mariner was still hanging back. Joan came over to him, touched his arm and whispered something.

It was a pet theory of Buddy’s that bad taste was the only reason the human race still existed.

(Now, Buddy, be nice! Continued here. Please look to the right hand column of this page for a listing of all other published episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House. A Danny Thomas Production.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 157: Magda

Previously in this Gold View Award™-winning memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel (“that most uncommon common man” -- Harold Bloom) found himself thrust into the position of the savior of the Savior, as his friend Josh collapses into Arnold’s arms in the convivial Pilot House (“Swing nightly to the ‘Sweet Sounds of Summer with “Freddy Ayres and Ursula”©’ -- a Cape May tradition since 1946!”), on this eternal Saturday night in August of 1963...

“Whoah,” said Ursula, and, stating the obvious: “he’s passed out.”

Josh’s head lolled on my shoulder, I kept my arms around his lower back.

I gave him a little shake.



“He’s out cold,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Oblivious,” said Freddy.

“Throw him over your shoulder, Arnold,” said Ursula. “We’ll take him upstairs.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I should probably take him home.”

“You’re going to carry him home in that state?”

She had a point. Another good point, which I didn’t mention, was that I had no idea where home was for Josh, if indeed he had a home on this earth.

“Well, okay,” I said.

“You should be able to carry him,” said Ursula. “Big strong boy like you.”

Saying this she put her hand on my biceps and gave it a squeeze. It felt like a sparrow was nibbling at my flesh.

Anyway, by leaning forward and hoisting Josh’s torso with both my arms I managed -- with some little help, very little help in fact, from Freddy and Ursula and Mr. Arbuthnot -- to get Josh awkwardly over my right shoulder.

“What the hell’s going on?” said Mr. Jones, arriving on the scene with two Manhattans.

“Arnold’s friend passed out,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, taking one of the Manhattans. “Where’s Arnold’s Manhattan?”

“I drank it. Three were too many to carry.”

“Well, I suppose I should have done the same in your shoes,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Let’s go,” said Freddy, and he went through the doorway and started up the winding staircase.

Ursula waved me forward, saying, “Go ahead, big boy. We’ll catch you if you fall.”

I started up the stairs, straining with the weight of Josh over my shoulder.

“A little heavier than me, isn’t he, Mr. Schnabel?” said Mr. Jones, following me.

“He carried me, also, didn’t you, Arnold?” said Mr. Arbuthnot, farther down. “Tossed me around like a rugby ball.”

“Arnold is a strong and strapping boy,” said Ursula, closing the door down below. “Unlike you two fogies with your withered carcasses.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Yeah, so also I,” said Mr. Jones.

“Fogies,” said Ursula. “Not enough sense to keel over when you’re dead. You should both be beaten into your graves with sticks.”

I came to the head of the staircase and looked out on an enormous apartment with vaulted ceilings and broad windows, gauzy white curtains stirring in the breeze, and I stepped into a living room the size of a modest ballroom, filled with various couches and divans and comfortable-looking arm-chairs, tables small and large, some of them covered with lace, some uncovered and of brilliantly shining wood, and a grand piano at which sat a young blond-haired lady playing a waltz and smoking a cigarette.

Like Ursula, she wore a white dress of the sort that ladies wear in movies about ancient Rome. A string of pearls sparkled on her mostly bare chest.

“Magda,” called Freddy, “we’ve brought some friends up.”

The young lady stopped playing and took the cigarette out of her mouth.

“Who is the dead guy?” she said.

“Oh, he’s not dead,” said Freddy. “Merely a drop too much partaken.”

The young lady stood up, pushing back the stool with the back of her calf.

“And who are you, muscle man?” she said to me.

She had an even stronger accent than Ursula’s, although, like Ursula’s, I couldn’t place it.

“This is our new friend Mr. Schnabel, dear,” said Freddy.

By now Jones, Arbuthnot and Ursula had also come up from the staircase.

Ursula closed the door to the staircase behind her, effectively eliminating the noise and the music from the bar downstairs.

“Just throw him on that couch there, big boy,” said Ursula, indicating a large zebra-striped one nearby.

I laid Josh down on his back, and Ursula came over and adjusted a pillow, also zebra-striped, under his head.

“There, that’s done,” she said.

“Cocktails, anyone?” said Freddy.

Arbuthnot and Jones polished off their Manhattans at a gulp.

“I wouldn’t mind a small one,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes, perhaps a small glass of sherry if you have it,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, putting down his glass on an end-table and then reaching into his jacket.

“Would some absinthe do?” said Freddy.

“Absinthe’s fine,” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, yes, a splash of absinthe would be delightful,” said Mr. Abuthnot, taking out a small enamel pill box. “Do you have something to smoke this with, or do we use my Meerschaum?”

“Oh, we have an excellent hash pipe,” said Freddy. “I think it’s in the large credenza, isn’t it, dear?”

“Top drawer,” said Ursula. “Sit down, everyone.”

With a wave of her hand she indicated the zebra couch that Josh lay on and several matching arm-chairs and a couple of hassocks that were placed in a casual semi-circle facing it. A long glass-and-chromium coffee table sat in front the couch, and smaller tables of a matching design were placed near the chairs.

A forbidding-looking bottle of absinthe already stood on a tray on the coffee table, along with a pitcher of water, some ornate leaded glasses, a smaller tray of little slotted spoons and a bowl of brown sugar cubes.

Mr. Arbuthnot and Jones sat down next to each other on the couch, their small feet not quite reaching the floor, which I noticed was of a highly polished parquet. The couch was a long one, so there was still plenty of room for them even with Josh sprawled out on it.

Mr. Arbuthnot leaned forward and put the pillbox on the coffee table, opened it.

“Mr. Schnabel,” said Ursula, “why don’t you bring out that reefer you were talking about?”

“Oh, sure,” I said, reaching into my bermudas pocket, and taking the thing out. “Here, I really don’t want any.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, and she took it and smelled it, holding her cigarette in its holder away from her face. “Smells good. Match me, big boy.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have a light.”

“Use that lighter on the table there.”

It was a large lighter in the shape of the Statue of Liberty. I picked it up.

“Just click the lady’s head back,” said Ursula.

I did so, after only a few tries I achieved a flame, and I gave Ursula a light.

“Hmmm.” She made this noise while holding in the smoke. She still held her holder with its lit cigarette in one hand.

“I’ve got the pipe,” said Freddy, re-joining our group, and brandishing a small long-stemmed pipe up high. “How’s that weed, darling?”

Ursula exhaled, letting the smoke billow up toward my face.

“Not bad,” she said, not coughing.

Someone touched my bare arm and I jumped.


It was the young lady, Magda, who had come up behind me.

“Oh. No,” I said.

“And what is your pre-name, Mr. Schnabel?”

For some reason I understood her.

“Arnold,” I said.

“Pleased to meet you, Arnold.”

She raised her right hand slowly to the level of her shoulder. I placed my fingers on hers, but I drew the line at kissing them.

She drew her fingers slowly away from mine as if she were slipping her hand out of a glove.

“Charmed I’m sure,” she said. “And what are you doing with this gang of senile degenerates?”

This was not an easy question to answer, and I hesitated for a moment.

“Never mind,” she said. She now ran the fingers of her hand up along my arm. “You do not seem like the usual riff-raff that Freddy and my mother invite up here. What is your occupation?”

“I was a brakeman,” I said. “For the Reading Railroad. But now I’m --” for a moment I was lost. What was I? “I’m on a leave of absence,” I said.


“I -- I had a sort of breakdown,” I said, putting it mildly.

She drew on her cigarette, and slowly exhaled, looking at me through the smoke.

“You don’t look so insane to me,” she said.

“That’s good to hear,” I said.

“You kids are missing all the fun!” called Freddy. “Would you care for some absinthe, Mr. Schnabel?” He and Ursula now sat in chairs near the coffee table, and Freddy was pouring water from the pitcher over a sugar cube laid on a slotted spoon over a glass of absinthe.

“No thank you,” I said. I figured that absinthe was the last thing I needed at this stage of the game.

“Vile stuff,” said Magda. “Would you like a nice cold beer, Mr. Schnabel.”

What I really wanted was to go home. But since I couldn’t go home yet I figured there was no way I could get through this without drinking something with alcohol in it, so I said, “Okay, thank you.”

“Perhaps a sandwich?”

“Well --”

“Come. Put down that cigarette lighter. You look like you’re going to strike someone with it.”

“Oh --”

She took it from my hand and put it on the table. The old people were all passing the reefer and the little hashish pipe around.

She put her hand on my arm.

“Come with me,” she said, and she started leading me across the room.

“Oh,” she said. “Perhaps I should put something on the gramophone first.” And now she pulled me toward a large hi-fi set. “What do you like to hear?” she asked.

“Oh, anything,” I said.

There was a pile of LPs there, she shuffled through them.

“Something lively, I suppose. How about Drums of Passion?”

She held up an album which showed an African man, playing a drum.

“Sounds good,” I said.

“Drums of Passion it is then,” she said, and she took the album out of its sleeve.

(Continued here and for at least thirty-seven thousand more episodes. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for a sometimes current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets available now for the East Oak Lane Art Players’ open-air production of Arnold!, a new musical based on the life of Arnold Schnabel, at the Sturgis Playground softball field, at 2nd Street and 65th Avenue. Beer provided by the Green Parrot Tavern.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 7: audition

In our previous chapter, our hero Buddy Best, that poor man’s Spielberg, finally had the dubious pleasure of making the acquaintance of his wife Joan’s acting teacher, a man Buddy can bear to refer to only as “the Ancient Mariner”...

(Go here to see the first chapter of this novel, soon to be a major mini-series event on the Dumont Television Network, starring Jack Carson as "Buddy", Gloria Grahame as "Joan", and Walter Pidgeon as the "Ancient Mariner".)

Next day Joan started in.

“Y’know, Bud,” she said, “Stephen would be good for the part of the detective lieutenant.”

Buddy was in pre-production on Triggerwoman II. They had signed Sally Fenster and Milt Dickens for the leads, but they hadn’t cast this one part yet.

“Stephen who?” said Buddy, even though he knew damn well Stephen Who.

“You know who. Stephen. My teacher.”

“Oh. Well, a police lieutenant with a ponytail? I dunno, Joan.”

“What about Steven Seagall? He’s played cops with his ponytail.”

“Yeah, but he’s always like the undercover special agent crapola cop; this guy’s supposed to be like the regular detective boss-type cop, not --”

“But --”

“You know, not the bullshit zen hero fuckin’ samurai ninja Steven Seagall caftan-wearing --”

“He could cut it. I’m sure he would cut his ponytail.”

Oh I’ll bet he would...

“Bud, you could at least give him a reading.”


“As a favor to me.”

“Hey, listen, babe, we got a very good chance to get Bob Forster for this part. We can’t get him I think we can get Mike Parks. These guys owe me back from when they couldn’t get arrested. But I am not gonna cast --” now, now, don’t be nasty -- “your acting teacher. He would sink the movie.”

“He would not.”

“Forget it.”


So of course, the way these things go, a couple of days later the Ancient Mariner came in to read for the part.

Buddy and his partner Harvey had a ground-floor suite of offices at Hollywood Boulevard and Las Palmas, and besides Buddy and Harvey that day there was Iggy Cochran, who was directing the show, and Harvey’s daughter Heather, who was their regular line-producer. The way their outfit usually worked, Harvey came up with the stories, Buddy turned them into scripts, and they both produced, laying as much of the boring work as they could on their production manager, a girl named Debbie Greenberg who never bothered with crap like auditions.

Buddy had warned the crew about the Mariner, and they had deliberately scheduled him for 3:00 p.m. so they could all have a nice long lunch beforehand down the street at Musso’s, during which, and over his fair share of wine, Buddy had them all laughing in their sauerbraten with his story of the night at the little theatre and the after-show party at the Mariner’s. So they were all prepared, and they even shared a joint out back before heading in to Harvey’s office.

It was a rainy day, and the Mariner made his entrance in an enormous navy-blue 19th Century frock coat and this great dripping slouch hat. He looked like a cowardly Union general who’d just suffered a disastrous defeat and was looking to shift the blame. Marlene -- Harvey and Bud’s office manager -- just rolled her eyes and shut the door behind him.

“Not a fit day for man or beast,” said the Mariner, shaking the great folds of coat.

“Here, Stephen,” said Buddy, “let me take your coat.”

“Thank you, Buddy,” intoned the Mariner.

“Looks like this chumpy really keeps the wet out,” said Buddy. The fucking thing weighed about twenty pounds.

“Yes, it’s a Breton sea-captain’s coat actually.”

The Mariner swept off his hat and shot a spray of rainwater across the room.

“Really,” said Buddy, “a friend of yours?”

The Mariner lowered his big balding but ponytailed head and gazed at Buddy over his yellow-lensed wire-rim glasses.

“No. Not one particular captain’s. Just a captain’s.”

“Oh, I gotcha.” Buddy tried to hang the thing up on the coat stand but it was so heavy the stand started to keel over so he just draped it over a chair. “Bet you there’s a story behind that hat, too.”

“There is actually --”

The Mariner passed the hat with what seemed like reluctance to Buddy’s outstretched hand. Buddy tossed it unceremoniously onto the chair and said, “So, let’s get to work.”

“Oh; yes --” said the Mariner.

Buddy introduced everyone and the Mariner looked with guarded obsequiousness on Harvey, with naked lust on Heather, and with provisional disdain on Iggy.

(Iggy was only thirty or so but he was good, they’d hired him right out of film school as an AD and he’d already directed three pictures for Bud and Harvey, Probable Cause with Mike Madsen and Valerie Bertinelli, Browning Hi-Power III with Cynthia Rothrock and Eric Roberts, and the first Triggerwoman, with Selma Blair and Billy Zane.)

“So,” said the Mariner. “This is the team.”

“Yeah,” said Buddy. “The Royal Shakespeare Company West.”

“And Joan tells me you have need of un homme d’un certain âge.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“I am so thrilled that you are giving me this opportunity, Buddy.”

“Cool, but, Steve --”


“I’m sorry. Stephen.”

“Thank you. I have never -- felt like a Steve.”

“Right. But -- what was I saying -- oh, yeah, it’s just, you know, we are considering some other good actors for this part --”

“Certainly. Certainly. I quite understand. I have been in this business for a very long time, and I must say that as a director myself -- albeit in the theatre -- I have done a fair bit of casting myself. That is, not casting myself, necessarily, although that has often been the case, faute de mieux, but casting others. And so I know how -- how excruciating it can be.”

“Right,” said Buddy. And, trying to cover his ass a little on the Joan front, “But also, Stephen, I got to say we at this company believe the director runs the show, so the final decision on casting is Iggy’s.”

Iggy made a face like What? Since fucking when? but the Mariner said:

“Yes, of course. And as it should be,” and he darted a glance at Iggy full of the reverence that had formerly been concentrated on Harvey and Buddy.

“Okay, where’s the goddam sides?” said Harvey.

“Here ya go, Dad,” said Heather.

“I did prepare a monologue --” said the Mariner.

“Ah, that’s okay,” said Buddy, and he took the sides from Harvey and passed them to the Mariner.

“Well, if you say so.”

The Mariner removed his tinted granny glasses, put them away somewhere under his elbow-patched tweed jacket and took out another pair with identical frames but with clear lenses.

“You wanta glance through that for a minute, Stephen?”

“Yes, if I may.”

“You’re Lieutenant Broadridge.”

“I see. A police captain, Joan said.”

“Well, lieutenant actually.”

“Ah. Lieutenant.”

“That’s right. Grizzled old --” Buddy wanted to say fart -- “uh, tough old veteran.”

“Hmmm. Hmmmm,” said the Mariner. “Hmmm,” and so on. “Hmmm.” Finally, “May I ask a question?”

“Sure,” said Buddy.

“Where is the man from?”

“Where’s he from? I have no idea. I mean we’re shooting here in L.A. He’s from L.A. I guess.”

“Yes, but so many of us Angelenos are from elsewhere, aren’t we? Especially those no longer quite in the first blush of youth.”

“Okay, so --”

“Perhaps a bit o’ the Irish brogue? Just a wee lilt mind you.”

“Well, maybe, but Broadridge, that’s more like an English name, isn’t it?”

“Oh. Perhaps a touch o’ the Cockney then.”

“Just do it in a regular American voice,” said Harvey.

The Mariner seemed stricken.

“I mean just for starters,” said Harvey.

“Very well,” said the Mariner. “But --”

“Yeah, Stephen,” said Buddy.

“Just one more question.”


Iggy took out his cigarettes and offered them to Harvey and Heather, who each took one.

“I can see there is a certain -- animus -- between Broadridge and, uh,” the Mariner glanced at the page, “Palmer.”

“Animus,” said Buddy.

“Yes, a certain --”

“Yeah,” said Buddy, not saying I know what fucking animus means, you turd, “you see, he suspects this Nikki Palmer, this female private eye, is really a hitwoman. He’s grilling her. At the police station. Like it says in the script. In the interrogation room. He supposedly thinks she’s just killed two of his detectives. You know, that’s why he says --” Bud glanced over at the set of sides that Heather held -- “uh, that’s why he says, ‘You killed them. I know you did. Those boys were like sons to me and you shot them down like mad dogs. You bitch.’”

“Ah, I see. So we want -- hostility --”

“Uh, right,” said Buddy.

“But also -- and this is my question -- do I sense a subtext here of -- well, of sexual attraction?”


“A certain sexual undercurrent.”

“What -- like Broadridge wants to -- to --”

“Oh, not just him. You see, I think it’s reciprocal.”

“You mean she wants to fuck him?”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it as such in mixed company --”

“Where -- how -- what?”

“You see, here, right here, where, oh, yes, here, she says, ‘You’re a hard man, Broadridge. A very hard man.’”

“Oh,” said Buddy.

“So you see,” said the Mariner, “she’s saying --”

“He’s a hard man.”

“Yes. Quite. And she likes that. A hard man.”

“So,” said Harvey, after thirty seconds of silence, “let’s do it. Heather here will read Palmer. Ig, you wanta man the camera?”

They had a video camera already set up on a tripod.

“Oh, right,” Iggy got up and went over to the camera, and Heather stood a little to his side. Iggy pressed a button. “Ready to roll,” he said. He and Heather both had cigarettes hanging out of their lips.

“Where should I stand?” asked the Mariner.

“Come a little closer to me,” said Iggy. “Okay, stop.”


“That’s good.”

“Okay,” said Buddy, “You ready, Iggy?”

“Rolling, dude.”

“Right. Stephen McGurk, reading Lieutenant Broadridge. Any time, Stephen.”

“Um, should I look into the camera?”

“Just look at Heather,” said Buddy. “Whatever feels right.”

“Okay, but -- just so we’re on the same page here --”


“What I mean to say is, I should play this by way of being shall we say a love scene.”

Another silence fell over the office, broken only by the sound of rain pattering against the windows.

(Continued here, unless the network pulls the plug. Please refer to the right hand column of this page for a listing of all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House. A Selmur Production.)