In our previous episode our memoirist Arnold Schnabel finally succeeded in ushering his inebriated friend and personal savior “Josh” out the door of the Pilot House (“Featuring ‘Songs That Make You Smile’ with ‘Freddy Ayres and Ursula’©, as seen on Ed Hurst’s Steel Pier Show, WPVI-TV!”), in the seaside resort of Cape May, NJ, on a very long Saturday night in August of 1963…
(Latecomers may go here to see the very first chapter of what the noted critic Harold Bloom has called “not only the finest book available to humanity, but quite possibly the longest”.)
“Josh,” I said. I tentatively let go of his arm.
Unfortunately he started to sway again, but just the upper part of his body, in a circular motion, while his widespread legs stood firm.
Once again I made to put my hand on his arm, but he pulled it away, and with this movement he staggered backwards a few steps and stumbled off the sidewalk into the gutter and directly into the path of an enormous red Cadillac roaring up Decatur Street from the direction of the beach.
What could I do? I threw myself bodily at Josh, tackling him in a manner that would probably have gotten me called for unnecessary roughness if this had been a football game, and we tumbled together across the street, winding up all the way over in the opposite gutter, with me on top of Josh.
“I didn’t know you cared, Arnold,” he said.
I pushed myself up off him and managed to sit down on the curb. Josh sat up right there in the street, but at least there were no cars roaring down on him now.
The red Cadillac and whoever was in it had just kept going. Maybe they were drunk too. What am I saying? It was past two in the morning on a Saturday night in Cape May, of course they were drunk, probably searching for some other drunks to run down or another car full of drunks to crash into. The Romans had their gladiatorial games, well, this was how we amused ourselves nowadays.
Sitting there on the asphalt Josh took a drag off his cigarette, which he had somehow held onto through all this.
“Are you okay, Josh?” I asked.
“Oh, sure,” he said. “How about you?”
Both my knees were scraped and bloody. There was another long scrape from my right elbow down to the wrist, and the heel of my left hand was scraped. But none of my bones seemed to be broken.
“I’ll live,” I said.
His face assumed a serious expression.
“I’m not doing a very good job of being a human,” he said.
“Well, no one ever said it was easy, Josh,” I said. “Now let’s just get you home before something else happens.”
I worked myself up to my feet. My entire body ached, and stung, and throbbed unpleasantly. Well, okay, not my entire body, but enough of it that the places where it didn’t ache or sting or throb didn’t seem to matter very much.
“Give me your hand, Josh,” I said.
He did as I asked and I pulled him to his feet. His khakis and shirt had gotten scuffed but he seemed not too much worse for wear.
Before a Mack truck or an oil tanker could come racing down the street I pulled him over and onto the sidewalk.
“So, Josh,” I said, “seriously, you need to go home. So, whatever it is you do to go to your father’s place, I really think you should do it.”
“Like click my heels together three times?”
“Whatever it takes.”
“Well, here’s the thing, Arnold,” he said. “I’m not going back to my father’s house.”
“No. I’m not going back. You’ve been there. Would you want to live there?”
“Well, uh, um --”
Now that he mentioned it, no, I wouldn’t, especially.
“See?” he said. “You don’t want to go there, not really, now that you know what it’s like.”
“Well, I assume it’s better than the other place,” I said.
“True, but that’s not saying much,” he said. He looked around. At the buildings and houses, the trees, the nighttime world. “I’m sick of my father’s house, Arnold. Sick of it. I want to stay here, on the earth, among men. And women, too, of course.”
As if on cue four girls came walking up the sidewalk, laughing and chattering.
“Hello, ladies,” said Josh.
They looked at him as if he looked exactly as he did, that is, a good-looking young man who needed a haircut and a shave and who had apparently been rolling around in the street, standing next to a not quite so young man wearing bermuda shorts with bloody scrapes all over his various limbs.
The young ladies put their hands over their mouths, giggling and whispering, and they kept on walking past us. To tell the truth they were staggering and wobbling a bit, hanging onto each other’s arms. Drunkenness was rampant this Saturday night in Cape May.
Josh watched them tottering away, and then he turned back to me.
“I’ve talked it all over with my father and with the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“And what did they say?” I asked.
“To tell the truth I think it’s a matter of complete indifference to them.”
I had nothing to say to this. Or, rather, there were many things I might have said and asked, but now just didn’t seem to be the time.
“But don’t worry, Arnold,” said Josh. “I do have a place to stay.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” I said.
“I’ve taken rooms at this Chalfonte place. Do you know it?”
“Yes,” I said. “Steve’s staying there.”
“Yeah, I know. He recommended it to me.”
I had forgotten that they had met. Not to mention that he had on several occasions appeared to me under the guise of Steve.
“Well, let’s get going then,” I said. “It’s not far.”
“Right,” he said, and off we went down Decatur.
I was limping again, but Josh was strolling along as if he had just arisen from a refreshing nap.
(Continued here, and, at this rate, for approximately thirty-two more years. Kindly cast an eye to the right hand column of this page to find what is fairly often an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, available absolutely free, gratis, and for nothing, although donations will be accepted in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s proposed Schnabel Museum on the site of the old Heintz factory at B and Nedro.)