Tuesday, March 31, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 132: falling

Our previous episode of this Kresge’s 5 & 10 Award-nominated memoir left our hero Arnold Schnabel walking hand in hand with the disturbingly animated Victorian doll Clarissa, on this eventful August evening in 1963, on quiet and leafy Lyle Lane, in the slightly decrepit seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey...


Her hand was soft and warm but she had a strong grip. Every few steps or so she would lift her feet off the pavement and let me carry her along.

“Just like flying!” she said, holding up her free arm. “I’m not too heavy, am I?”

“No,” I said.

She added her right hand to the left one that was already holding my right hand, and she did a chin-up, turning to look up at me.

“You seem awfully calm about my antics, Arnold. Most men would toss me into the nearest bush and run screaming. Why are you so nonchalant?”

“It’s all in a day’s work for me,” I said.

“I knew it! You’re special!”

“That’s one way of putting it,” I said.

“Can you lift me higher?”

I lifted her up a bit more, so that her face was almost at a level with mine.

“Lift me higher, Arnold!”

I stretched my arm all the way up.

She swung back and forth, kicking her legs.

“Higher!” she said.

“That’s as high as I can go,” I said.

“Oh, we can go much higher!” Keeping a grip on my hand with her left hand, she let go with her other hand and stretched her arm up into the air. “Hold tight now!”

And all at once it was not me lifting her but she lifting me, pulling me up off the pavement, swerving out over the street and up past the thick leaves of an old elm tree, beyond the dappled pools of light from the street lamps and up perhaps a hundred feet or so.

“Which direction shall we go in, Arnold?”

“Your choice,” I said. (Perhaps I should mention here that I still held her grey cardboard box under my left arm.) “But let’s make it quick. I really have to get back to my friends.”

“To the ocean then?”

“Okay, a quick run to the ocean, then right back.”

“Splendid!”

We flew over the rooftops, past Washington Street, Carpenter’s Lane, Hughes Street, no one looked up, and so no one noticed man and small child flying above their heads, and on we sailed past Columbia Avenue and Beach Avenue and over the promenade flowing with strolling people, over the slivery beach and the ebbing and flowing surf and on about a hundred yards or so out over the gently undulating dark and gleaming ocean.

Clarissa then zoomed straight up for a couple of minutes until we were perhaps three or four hundred yards above the sea. Her dark curls floated around her head as if she were underwater. She continued to hold me up by my right arm, gripping my hand in her small but powerful fist.

“Right, now kick your feet, Arnold,” she said, “as if you were treading water. Like this.”

By the thrashing of the folds of her dress I could see she was rhythmically working her small legs, almost as if she were riding a tricycle. I did the same, and now we were holding our height at a steady level, looking down at the glowing and sparkling town.

“It looks very beautiful from up here, doesn’t it, Arnold?”

“Yes, it does,” I admitted. The air was cool and fresh up here, smelling faintly of the ocean. “Can we go back now?”

“In a minute. I want you to try letting go of my hand. Don’t worry, I’ll catch you if you fall.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been afraid. Hadn’t I just flown into outer space an hour or so ago? Or had that only been a dream?

Perhaps this was a dream also.

If this were indeed a fantasy, then I had no reason to fear falling.

On the other hand, if this were real, then why not let go of her hand? What was the worse that could happen?

“All right,” I said. “I’ll give it a try.”

“Oh good, now, when I let go, just sort of wave your arms up and down, just as if you were doggy-paddling in the ocean, like so.” She demonstrated with her free right arm.”

“You forget I’m holding this box.”

“Just wave with your one arm then. It’s only to keep you steady in one place.”

“Okay.”

“And keep kicking your legs. That’s key.”

“Okay.”

“Legs up and down, and sort of steady yourself with your right arm, in a paddling motion.”

“Got it,” I said.

“All right. Leave go now.”

I let go of her hand, she let go of my hand, I continued to kick my feet, I started to wave my arms downwards, and I dropped like a stone, straight down toward the ocean like a sack of potatoes.

In the next few seconds as I plummeted I experienced that which I hadn’t had time to experience in my two earlier near-death experiences that day* (or was it three?**), namely a vision of my entire absurd life from my earliest memories to the present moment, all of it, the grey childhood, the boring and sometimes dangerous (but somehow boringly dangerous) work on the railroad, the tedium and ennui of the army, the return to home and work, all the hours wasted in church, the innumerable evenings spent quietly obliviating myself in taverns, the hundreds of hours of dull conversations with my fellow humans, not forgetting the private world of my poems, my poems so dogged in their endless mediocrity, and then my insanity, and my alleged partial recovery, my grudging hejira to Cape May and my meeting Elektra and finally starting to live at the age of forty-two, my new friends, Jesus, my travels into other times and other lives, all of it now about to end thanks to this dubious doll and my own naivetĂ©.

All in all at least I was able to say to myself now what I could not truly have said before this summer, to wit, it was worth it, my life that is, and I was sad to be leaving it, which was another thing I could not truly have said before this summer.

For some reason I still held onto that cardboard box, don’t ask me why.

But then just as I was about to crash into the water back-first the doll Clarissa swooped me up in her arms and carried me skimming along the crests of the waves and then up high into the dark air again. I couldn’t believe her strength, but there it was.

“Well, Arnold, I suppose you’re not so special after all,” she said into my ear.

And I supposed she was right.


****

*See Episodes 82 and 83.

** See Episode 126.


(Continued here. Please refer to the right hand side of this page to find a purportedly up-to-date index of links to all other recovered chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™; imprimi potest, Msgr. Francis X. “Frank” Fahey, S.J., Censor Librorum.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 126: wasted

Our previous episode of this critically-acclaimed* epic found our heroes (plus Brad, who may be a hero in his own way) successfully escaped from the flying saucer just before it sank forever into the atomic sink hole, only to confront, emerging from the swirling dust, the bloodied but unbowed Moloch, armed with a sub-machine gun, on this fateful night in September of 1969, in the wasted desert some several miles beyond the outskirts of a town called Disdain...

*”Larry Winchester is the Homer of our age, and A Town Called Disdain is both our Iliad and our Odyssey.” -- Harold Bloom


“You,” said Moloch, and, Sten gun pointed at Dick, he limped closer, his broken leg making a revolting crunching sound with each step.

“Now, let’s not go off half-cocked here, pal,” said Dick. He tossed away his cigarette.

“You,” said Moloch again.

Repetitive motherfucker, thought Dick.

“You.”

Daphne grabbed Dick’s right biceps with both hands. He really wished she wouldn’t do that. He was armed to the teeth of course, revolvers in both jacket side pockets, his Browning stuck in his belt, but the problem was getting one of these out and shooting this idiot before getting shot oneself.

Moloch stopped about ten feet away from their little group. The Sten remained pointed at Dick.

“Fucking hell,” said Brad.

“Shit,” said Harvey.

“Who’s this joker?” said Buddy.

“Zip it, Buddy,” said Mac.

“Yes,” said Moloch. “Zip it, Buddy.”

“So consider me zipped,” said Buddy.

“You,” said Moloch to Dick. “Do you remember -- Songjin? a certain joint British/American commando raid?”*

“Songjin?” said Dick. “Um, sure. Sure I do.”

“And do you remember a certain thin, perhaps to your American perceptions slightly effeminate, British marine subaltern?”

The shock of recognition, through the chaos of more than sixteen years, of the clean-cut earnest young officer in Korea and this bearded, one-eyed, bloody-faced, shambling leather-clad evil wreck before him now.

“No,” said Dick.

“Yes,” said Moloch. His normally euphonious if raspy voice was now rather nasal because of his broken nose, which still sputtered and bubbled fitfully with thick blood. “Oh yes,” he repeated.

“Jesus fuck,” said Dick. “What’s your name again?”

“I am called Moloch.”

“No,” said Dick. “Your real name. Nigel? Ian? Vyvyan?”

“Moloch will do, thank you very much.”

“So,” said Dick, “we’re like -- comrades-in-arms and all.”

“Oh please.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I despise you.”

“What?” said Dick. “’Cause I shot your friend the other day? Come on, pal, as I recall it he was coming at me with a goddam blackjack.”**

“I don’t care a fuck about him. I don’t even care that you and your associates have just smeared my gang into the dust with what appears to be a flying saucer.”

“Well, uh, Moloch, I assure you that that was not intentional. You see, we lost control of the ship and --”

“I just told you I don’t give a fuck about that.”

“Oh. Good.”

“What I care about is you. You. You fucking hero,” said Moloch. “You know, Songjin was my first combat mission. And my last real one, actually. My one chance to prove myself. And I never even got to fire a shot. Whereas you got to be the big Yank hero.”

“What a lot of horse shit,” said Dick.

“And then,” continued Moloch, “just to add insult to injury, you -- you turn up years later, and -- and --”

“And what?”

“And embarrass me in front of my men.”

Dick paused a moment.

“What an incredible load of horse shit,” he said.

“I’ll show you what horse shit is,” said Moloch.

“Now wait a minute, fella.”

“No. I won’t.”

“Look,” said Dick. He was trying unsuccessfully to pry Daphne’s fingers off of his arm. “Moloch, a couple of months of therapy with a good shrink, you’ll be over the whole deal.”

“I have a better idea. I’m going to kill you. Now. And then I’ll kill your friends. I think that would be jolly good therapy. I think that would be jolly good therapy indeed.”

As Moloch spoke Dick was deciding to dive sharply forward and to the left, and, hoping that Daphne would let go of his arm, to pull out the Browning with his right hand, and, provided he was still alive, to squeeze off a few as soon as he hit the ground, all the time knowing that he had a snowball's chance in hell unless of course Moloch’s Sten should jam -- when the oddest thing happened.

A baseball came out of the sky and struck Moloch in the head, ripping a great gash in his skull above his right ear and down he dropped like a sack of shit as the ball rolled along the ground, teetered on the edge of the sink hole, then dropped in and disappeared.***

Well, so much for that,
Moloch was able to think. He thought he had been shot, who knew by whom. It didn’t matter now. Some fucker. He looked up at the stars and noticed they were beautiful. So what.

And now I’ll be extinct,
he thought. And about fucking time.

And so as flights of demons sang him to his rest he felt his chi hissing out of the hole in his head like air from a punctured tire and then the voices faded out and he felt himself fading out.

All right then, fuck you,
he thought.

Fuck

you


Jack


I’m


all


right.


****

* See Episode 34.

**See Episode 13.

*** See Episode 78.


(Continued here and until the last loose plot strand is sorted. Meanwhile, please feel free to look to the right hand side of this page for a possibly up-to-date listing of all other published episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, available absolutely free for a limited time only (offer void where prohibited).)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 131: Mrs. Davenport...and little Clarissa

Let us rejoin Arnold Schnabel (“...that Walt Whitman of the age of anxiety” -- Harold Bloom), in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, on a warm night in August of 1963...

(Go here to see our previous chapter, or here for the first chapter of this third-place prize-winner of the Catholic Standard & Times Award for Confessional Literature.)

“Mr. Jones?” said a woman, and Mr. Jones’s shoulders flinched again.

His interlocutor was a lady behind the screen door of the entranceway. Mr. Jones swiveled deftly about to face her, almost falling down as he did so. I reached forward with my left hand and grabbed his upper left arm.

The woman pushed the door open.

“Ah, Mrs. Davenport,” he said, “Looking lovelier than ever.”

She stood there with her shoulder holding the door open, her arms folded, and she looked from Mr. Jones to me. She was about forty or so, slender, wearing shorts and a flowered sleeveless top. Her hair was red, and wavy, almost curly.

“Who’s your friend, Mr. Jones?” she asked.

“Arnold,” said Mr. Jones. “He was nice enough to walk me home. Chivalry is not quite dead.”

It seemed to me that Mrs. Davenport was looking at me suspiciously, or at least warily.

Then Mr. Jones collapsed, again, falling back against me. I still had the doll box under my right arm, so I continued to hold him up awkwardly with my left hand gripping his upper left arm.

“Oh no,” said Mrs. Davenport, and she came down the two or three steps to us, the screen door closing behind her.

“Can you take this box?” I said.

“All right.”

She took the box, and I was now able to get my right arm around Mr. Jones.

“Sorry,” I said. “I just met him on the street, and I thought I’d better get him home.”

“That was nice of you,” she said. “Do you mind helping me get him to his room?”


“Not at all,” I said.

She went ahead up the steps and held the door open. I lugged him up through the doorway.

“He’s on the third floor?” I asked.

“He told you that?”

“Yes.”

“No, he’s no longer on the third floor. I couldn’t have him climbing those stairs drunk every night. He’s got the first room on the left in here.”

I dragged him into the hall, I was holding him up with both arms around his chest. His straw hat fell off.

“I’ll get his hat,” said Mrs. Davenport, and she did so. “Here, let me get the door.”

The door was unlocked, she opened it, flicked on an overhead light.

“Bring him in.”

It was a small neat room, with a small brass bed. I laid Mr. Jones down on it.

Mrs. Davenport put the hat on the bedpost. She handed me back the doll box, then she slipped off Mr. Jones's shoes, cordovan loafers, and laid them side by side on the rug next to the bed. Then she came up and removed Mr. Jones’s glasses, folded them and placed them on the night table. She bent over to loosen his tie and unbutton his shirt collar, then she stood up straight and looked at me.

“I refuse to undress him,” she said.

“I don’t blame you,” I said.

He lay there on his back in his grey suit, his mouth slightly open, his arms at his side.

“I’ll put the window fan on,” she said. There were two windows, and a fan was installed in the one closest to the head of the bed. She went over and turned it on.

“All right, he’ll be okay now,” she said.

I went back out into the hall and the lady followed me, putting out the light and closing the door. She turned and looked at me, and then at the box.

“What’s in the box, anyway?”

“An antique doll,” I said.

“Ah. For your daughter?”

“Well, no, I’m actually holding it for a friend of mine, who’s going to give it to his girlfriend, I think.”

“I see. What was your name again?”

“Arnold,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel.”

“I’ve seen you around town. I’m Myrna. Davenport.”

She offered her hand. I transferred the box from my right arm to my left, and I took her hand.

“Well, I have to get back to the end of my movie. I only got up because a commercial came on. They’re showing Sayonara.”

I could hear Marlon Brando’s voice from down the hall.

“Good night,” I said. I was about to turn and go but she said:

“Are you staying here all summer?”

“I -- yes, I suppose so,” I said.

“With your family?”

“With my mother. And my aunts.”

“Oh. You’re not married?”

“No.”

“Never been married?”

“No.”

“I’m a widow. My husband died of a heart attack a couple of years ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

She shrugged.

“He was fourteen years older than me,” she said. “He left us a nice nest egg.”

“Well --”

“I have two teenagers, a boy and a girl. One is at band camp, the other one is a counselor at another summer camp.”

Marlon was still talking, in the background, but Mrs. Davenport didn’t seem concerned.

“I enjoy running my little house,” she said. “I teach school here in the winter. So what do you do that you can take the whole summer off?”

Finally someone in this town who didn’t know my whole sad history.

“I’m on a disability leave from my job with the railroad,” I said.

“You don’t look ill.”

“I’m recovering.”

Amazingly she didn’t ask what my illness was.

“Well, good night, then, Mr. --”

“Schnabel,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel.”

“Good night, Arnold. Thank you for bringing Mr. Jones home safely.”

“Good night, Mrs. Davenport.”

“Myrna.”

“Good night, Myrna.”

I turned and opened the screen door, went down the steps and around the house and to the front path.

“Very much the ladies’ man, aren’t you, Arnold?” said the doll.

“Not really,” I said, going through the gate and turning right.

“Could she have been any more obvious?”

“She was only being friendly,” I said.

“Desperately friendly. Open the box.”

I stopped and took the lid off. She sat up in the box. She touched my face. Her touch was warm and soft.

“I think I’d like to walk a while,” she said, and, she leaned forward and put her little arms around my neck. “Let me down now.”

I bent forward till her feet were about a foot from the pavement, and she let go and landed gracefully, her long dress billowing up a bit as she did and then slowly deflating.

“Been rather a long time since I’ve been out of that dusty shop,” she said. She smoothed out her dress with her tiny hands. “Now take my hand and let’s stroll.”
She held up her hand.

“I can’t walk you into the Ugly Mug like this,” I said.

“We’ll just walk till we get to the corner of Decatur Street, then I’ll pop back into my box. Until we get to the bar of course. I so want to meet your friends.”

She wiggled the fingers of her upraised hand.

“But you’ll promise to be still and not talk?” I said.

“Of course."
“Well, all right."

I put the lid back on the box, put the box back under my arm, and took her hand. She had to hold her arm all the way up in order to put her hand in mine. We strolled along the pavement, the trees making their wishes above the streetlamps.

A young couple came walking along in our direction and when they came near us the woman said:

“Oh, what a darling little girl!”

She had a southern accent. She was a pretty blond young woman in a puffy dress, her hair sprayed into the shape of a mushroom, or a rutabaga.

The woman stopped and bent forward in front of the doll, which of course forced us to stop as well.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Clarissa,” said the doll.

“Clarissa, what a darling name! And how old are you, Clarissa?”

“I’ll be seventy-three years young next October.”

“Seventy-three?”

“Next October.”

The woman touched Clarissa’s dark curly head.

“Aren’t you just darling?”

She straightened up and addressed me.

“You are very lucky, mister.”

“Yes,” I said. “I know.”

“Now, let’s go, honey,” said the young man, smiling. He had a southern accent too, and he wore a light-grey shiny suit with a thin tie.

“Goodbye, Clarissa!” said the woman, waving her hand.

“Goodbye,” said Clarissa.

The young couple walked past us, and Clarissa and I continued on, hand in hand.

“I have that effect on the female of the species,” said Clarissa.


(Continued here. Kindly go to the right hand column of this page to find an allegedly current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™; Nihil Obstat, Bishop John J. “Smiling Jack” Graham.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 125: pointed


Relax, literature-buffs, Larry Winchester hasn’t forgotten about that Shakespeare-quoting motorcycle bandit leader you all hate to love (but you love him anyway anyway): Moloch. Not to mention the glamorous Dick and Daphne, as we return to this fateful September night in 1969, and to the desert somewhere beyond the darkness on the edge of a town called Disdain...

(Click here for our previous chapter, or here to go to the beginning of this novel, of which former president G.W. Bush has said, “I like to read it right before I go to sleep, ‘cause it makes me have cool dreams.”)


Moloch was still conscious and he was not in pain, not yet.

He had tumbled along like a fucking tumbleweed in the saucer’s wake, sucked along by that hideous hot metallic wind. Then the thing had finally skidded to a stop over the edge of that depression beneath that butte-thing, and the sucking wind had abated, leaving Moloch sprawled in the dirt a hundred feet away.

Rising up on his left knee, as an enormous cloud of dust descended gently about him in this starlit desert gloaming, Moloch turned and looked back whence he had just rolled and saw, stretching back, a faintly iridescent swath of broken and dismembered motorcycle and human parts, of gleaming blood and petrol and oil.

So much for the Motorpsychos.

They were a boring lot anyway.

Moloch tried to stand up and he fell.

He looked at his right leg and saw that the foot was twisted one hundred and eighty degrees the wrong way and that a bloody and jagged shard of calf bone stuck out three inches through a tear in his leather trousers.

He looked down at his right arm and saw by its odd angle that it too was broken in at least two places, at the elbow and the wrist, possibly the forearm as well.

With his left hand he reached into a jacket pocket and took out a handful of pills: Dilaudids, Black Beauties, Pink Footballs and the Devil knew what else.

The Dilaudids would kill the oncoming pain while the speed would keep him alert and maleficent. As he swallowed them down he gazed through the dust at the saucer, which still glowed quite green.

He looked around for his Sten gun, and was pleasantly surprised to see it about ten feet away. He dragged himself over to it on his one good knee and with his one good arm. He picked up the gun and looked it over. It seemed in workable condition. He wiped the weapon on his leg, then blew as much dust from it as he could. The gun was cocked, set to full automatic, and it held an almost full 32-round magazine. It would be difficult to fire with one hand but not impossible. He would dare say he could still do some damage with it, provided the fucking British-made thing didn’t jam.

He forced himself to stand up.

The drugs were already working.

He felt no pain, he felt comfortably cushioned from the universe within his self, he almost felt detached from his body, as if his brain and his one good eye were floating by themselves six feet above the ground. But though he could barely feel his body he could feel his life force, what the Chinese called chi, roiling and pulsing from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. He concentrated his energy on feeling the steel of the gun in his left hand. At first it seemed so distant, as if it were not the reality but the memory of holding a gun, but then he felt it, heavy, hard and cold, and he willed his energy into it. He felt his hand grow warm on the gun, felt the steel of the gun grow warm. He caressed the trigger and felt an electric shock from it up his hand and along his arm into his chest and down his torso to the tip of his penis. Oh yes. Oh fucking yes indeed.

So, outer space creatures. Yet another vile race polluting the universe. Well then perhaps it would behoove him to give them a cozy warm earthling welcome in the form of a few well-aimed bursts of hot lead.


****


“So we’re all climbing out and running like mad over the top of the saucer which all the time is sliding, um, inexorably into the sink hole --”

“A mad dash, and believe you me, I was in the lead.”

“But we made it.”

“And you were the last to jump, darling.”

“Well, maybe --”

“You were.”

“So, anyway, I jump off just in time and this great big flying saucer just goes sliding down into the quicksand, and then -- nothing. It was gone.”

“Not a trace.”

“So, we’re all -- Daphne, Harvey, Mac, Buddy --”

“Brad --”

“Brad, yes, and myself, we’re all just sort of standing around lighting up cigarettes, wondering what happens next, when we hear this kind of crunchy-shuffling sound and we peer out into the desert which was very dust-cloudy from the space ship crash-landing, and who should we see come shambling up but this motorcycle guy, this Moloch character -- nose all smashed in, one eye out, one leg and one arm broken, and one Sten gun pointed right at me.”


(Oh dear. Go here to see what happens next. Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for an allegedly up-to-date listing of all other available episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, soon to be a major motion picture from the Rank Organization, featuring Lawrence Harvey as Moloch and Rock Hudson and Audrey Hepburn as Daphne and Dick.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 130: “Something’s happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”

Return with us now to a warm night in August of that forgotten year of 1963 and to the slightly shabby seaport and resort of Cape May, New Jersey, where our saintly memoirist Arnold Schnabel has walked his new acquaintance Mr. Jones to the side entrance of that inebriated old gentleman’s boarding house...

(Go here to review our previous chapter; newcomers may go here to see the first chapter of this memoir which President Obama has called “a masterpiece we can believe in”.)


“What was that?” said Mr. Jones.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“I heard a voice. Like a girl’s.”

He spoke more quickly now, with fewer and shorter pauses.

“A slightly muffled voice,” he said, “but still --”

“Just the breeze,” I said. “In the trees.”

He looked up, around, then down.

“Can it be I’m finally losing my mind?” he asked. “At the age of eighty-three?”

There was a light on in a yellow fixture above the doorway, and I could see the consternation in the old man’s eyes behind their glasses. (I have neglected to mention he wore glasses, as do most people who reach the age of eighty-three, at least those who still want to see anything.)

Above our heads the branches and leaves of a tree made a hushing sound. The crickets continued to snicker, and from inside the house came the sound of a television set, Saturday Night at the Movies I think, they were showing Sayonara tonight. Various gnats, mosquitoes, and other insects added their respective parts to the evening’s symphony. But none of these sounds could remotely be mistaken for the small voice we had both just so clearly heard.

“Well, let’s get you up to your room, Mr. Jones,” I said, with attempted bonhomie.

“You went insane, didn’t you, Arnold?” he asked, not budging.

“Well, I did have a slight nervous breakdown last winter,” I said, shifting my weight around on my Keds. “But I’m much --”

“I heard you were hospitalized for three months.”

“Not quite three months,” I said.

“And you weren’t able to go back to work on the railroad.”

“Well, I did go back --”

“And they sent you home again, didn’t they?”

“Well, yes.”

“So did you hear voices?”

He was swaying again now, facing me, swaying back and forth on his heels, holding his cigarette at shoulder height.

“Yes,” I said. “I heard voices.”

“So I’m going mad.”

“Not necessarily,” I said.

“No?”

“No,” I said, trying to put at least an ounce of conviction in my voice.

He paused, taking a drag of his Old Gold, staring off into the darkness with his filmy old eyes behind their glasses, his body swaying gently, forward and back.

“Good night’s sleep you’ll be fine,” I posited.

“I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in ten years,” he said. “Fifteen years.”

I had no response to this. Now he looked straight at me, into my eyes.

“So this is how it ends,” he said. “Dementia.”

I stood there, holding the doll box. At least she was keeping quiet through this, for the time being, I thought.

But then:

“Try not getting absolutely drunk every single night of your life,” she said. “Then perhaps you won’t hear any strange disembodied voices.”

“What?” he said.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“You didn’t hear that?”

“Um --”

I struggled with a moral quandary. I could admit that I had heard the voice also, which would be admitting that I was insane, or I could deny having heard it, which would be tantamount to telling Mr. Jones that he was insane.

But then I remembered that he was drunk; chances are he would remember none of this.

“I didn’t hear anything,” I said.

“A voice just suggested I stop getting drunk every night. Or at least not absolutely drunk.”

“Oh. Well -- maybe it was, uh, just -- uh --”

“What?” he demanded.

“The voice of reason?” I offered.

He stopped swaying. He looked at his cigarette. He opened his fingers and let it drop to the old flagstone at our feet. The cigarette bounced, shooting up tiny sparks, and rolled off the slate into the grass, still lit and smoking. I stepped over, ground it out with the sole of my sneaker.

“What am I supposed to do if I don’t drink?” asked Mr. Jones, opening his arms as in supplication.

This was a question I’d asked myself often enough.

“You could read,” I suggested.

He stared at me.

“You know -- books, Mr. Jones,” said the doll.

He flinched ever so slightly.

“Yes, books,” he said, after a pause. “I used to like to read. Jack London. H.G. Wells. O. Henry. Even some of these newer authors -- Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, James Branch Cabell -- although I must say my favorites among the younger boys were Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs.”

“You can still find their books,” I said.

“Yes. Yes, I suppose I could.”

“You could even take them out from the library. Wouldn’t cost you a dime.”

“Yes, true, true. But --”

He took one of his long pauses here.

“Get to the point!” said the doll.

“Well,” said Mr. Jones, “isn’t it a bit pathetic to spend one’s last days reading? Reading instead of living?”

“Is it any less pathetic just to get drunk every night?” (This was me, not the doll.)

Mr. Jones paused again.

I realized that a mosquito was feasting itself on the tender flesh on the reverse side of my left knee. I refrained from swatting him. I didn’t want to spoil the mood, and after all the mosquito was only doing what it had to do.

“You have a point,” said Mr. Jones.

"I do?" I asked.

“Getting plastered every night is no great accomplishment,” he said.

He then resumed his gentle swaying, back and forth, staring off into God knows what.

The mosquito continued to draw my blood.

Both the doll and I remained silent.


(Continued here. Please refer to the right hand column of this page to find a supposedly up-to-date list of links to all other recovered chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, absolutely free of charge for a limited time only.)

Skeeter Davis and Bobby Bare: let it be me --

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 124: “Some experiences just ain’t meant to be took straight.”

Larry Winchester, acceding to an onslaught of cards and letters from his fans, returns again to two of his more beloved characters, Captain Alexis Pym (USN) and Big Jake Johnstone, on this historic night in September of 1969, in the wasted New Mexico desert some several miles outside of a town called Disdain…

(Go here for our previous chapter, or here to go to the beginning of this novel, which Harold Bloom has called, “perhaps the greatest novel of our time, or, fuck it, any time”.)


Pym had a few seconds to think as the great warm body of the spaceship pressed him down into the sand.

He thought, fondly, Dick tried to save me.

Then, embarrassed, he remembered saying “I love you” to Dick. If only it had been something like “Thanks for trying, fella!” or “Thanks anyway, Dick, see ya around!”, or even better, “Au revoir, tout le monde!

Well, too late now.

If only Dick had saved him. Perhaps they could have become real friends. Perhaps he and Daphne (whom Pym had never had the privilege to meet, but he was sure she was charming, delightful), perhaps Dick and Daphne might even have come for a visit to Pym’s split-level in Virginia. Dick and he could watch football while their wives baked pies, and, perhaps their knees would have lightly touched as they leaned forward to watch some particularly interesting play, that would have been enough, perhaps, maybe, but no, no, that wouldn’t have happened…

Then Pym began to asphyxiate in earnest, and unfortunately he spent his next few moments in panicked pain, which at last subsided as he slid down into unconsciousness and death, all this final little time longing for life, and, oh, forget about the pork chops and the call girls and the friendship with Dick that could never happen, yes, give him back even the wretched life he had lived, send him back to the warren, to those happy intense hours rooting and grubbing in Ridpath’s desk, oh if only...

****


I guess there is a good Lord up in Heaven and I reckon he did answer my prayer, ‘cause that flyin’ saucer just bounced right over my vehicle, I could feel it brushin’ the top of my hat, and it went right on skiddin’ and bouncin’ across the desert toward Dead Horse Mesa, and there was some weird kinda suction thing goin’ on, tryin’ to drag my Caddy and me right after that damn thing, but I just pressed that pedal to the metal and pulled that steerin’ wheel hard to the left with all my might, damn near turned that automobile over, too, but finally I got all four tires back down on the dirt, that engine squealin’ like a gut-shot elephant, and I roared on outa there and gradually I felt the pull of that infernal suction slackin’ off, and I just kept on goin’.

Kept on goin’ and I didn’t stop till I was maybe a mile away. And then when I looked back across that dark starlit desert that big ol’ flyin’ saucer was gone, and I reckoned that it had just slid into the sink hole there and disappeared forever beneath the sand.

So I took out a cigar with a tremblin’ hand and bit off the end and lit it up to steady my nerves and then I had a couple or three good hits of Jack Daniel. Then I had me another one.

If I had had some of the Doc’s medicine I woulda took a couple three good swigs of that, too, believe you me.

Some experiences just ain’t meant to be took straight.


(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And please go to the right hand column of this page for what purports to be an up-to-date listing of all other extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, currently being serialized on the Comet Cleanser Dramatic Showcase, on the DuMont Television Network (where available), featuring Farley Granger as Pym and Burl Ives as Big Jake.)



Saturday, March 14, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 129: Mr. Jones

Previously in this lauded memoir* our hero Arnold Schnabel found himself addressed in familiar terms by a Victorian doll in a grey cardboard box, just as he was about to enter that perennial Cape May fun-spot the Ugly Mug, on a warm night in August, 1963…

*Number 78 on the Olney Times’ year-end round-up of “Books to Watch Out For in the Discount Bins”.

After my customary sigh I was about to reach for the door handle again when I had a cautionary thought.

I raised the box up with the palm of one hand, and with the thumb and forefinger of my other hand I lifted the lid just enough to peek in.

“Do me a favor,” I said. “And just be quiet in front of my friends.”

“Certainly. And you will do me the favor of taking me out of this box when we get inside. I’m sure your friends would be delighted to bask in my beauty.”

“Well, okay,” I said, just as two coast guardsmen came out of the door amidst a wave of music and badinage and laughter from within.

I made a coughing sound, fumbling the lid closed and shifting the box back under my arm, all in an absurd attempt to disguise the fact that I had just been conversing with a child’s doll, but luckily the coast guard boys were paying no attention to me, or, even if they had noticed my insane behavior, they just didn’t care. At any rate they ignored me and walked off.

“Close call!” she said, from within the box.

I grabbed the handle of the door before it could close, but I wasn’t going to get into the Ugly Mug that easily, because just then an old man pushed or fell against the door from inside, stumbled right into me and at once began to slide down my body towards the pavement while his hands scrabbled weakly at my arms.

Was I never to be set free from little old men this night?

Keeping the doll box under my right arm, I bent down and raised him up by grabbing him under his upper right arm with my left hand.

“Woops,” he said.

I knew him by name, or at least by his last name -- Mr. Jones. I had seen him often around town, usually in some bar or other, always neatly dressed in a grey suit and a little straw fedora with a feather in it.

“Thank you, neighbor,” he said. And then, after a pause: “Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

The door of the bar closed behind him on its hydraulic closing mechanism, shutting away the sounds of merriment.

“I’ve seen you around,” he said. “You’re the Schneider sisters’ nephew, right? Arnold, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

I tentatively let go of his arm, and he didn’t fall down.

“It has been suggested that I go home, Arnold.”

“Oh. Well, good night then.”

“I’m eighty-three years old.”

“Oh, well, that’s great,” I said, in all my insipidity.

“Eighty-three years old.”

“That’s uh, really great,” I lied through my teeth.

“Eighty-three years of age.”

“That’s, um --”

He smelled like whiskey, and tobacco, like an old National Geographic.

“Eighty-three,” he said. “But I’m finally starting to learn my limit.”

He stared at me for a few moments, swaying just slightly, then he shifted his gaze to the box under my arm.

He tapped the lid.

“What’s in the box?”

“It’s -- um --”

“Nothing!” piped the doll, slightly muffled by the box.

“What?” said Mr. Jones.

“What?” I said.

“Did you hear something?”

“No. No, I didn’t hear anything,” I said, “in particular.”

“Odd,” he said.

Suddenly he began to wobble, like a marionette whose puppeteer has begun to doze off.

I stuck my free arm under his right arm, again, and yanked him up against my side.

“Mr. Jones.”

“You know my name.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Take me home, Arnold. I seem to have a drop too much partaken this evening.”

My heart sank. It was true, I would never make it back into the bar tonight. Elektra would think me insane. And she wouldn’t be wrong.

“Where do you live, Mr. Jones?”

“Just up the way there,” he said, pointing vaguely up Decatur Street in the direction away from the beach. “Not far. Not very far.”

“Okay,” I said. “But look, I just have to check in with my friends in the bar here, okay?”

“Yes.”

I let go of his arm.

“I’ll just be a minute,” I said.

“Of course.”

“So just stand here.”


“Certainly,” he said, but then he began swaying again, in a circular motion, so that the only question was not whether he would fall but in which direction.

I grabbed his arm and steadied him.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s just go.”

“Right. Let’s go,” he said, and off we went, with Mr. Jones hanging onto my left arm.

We crossed Washington Street; it seemed as if I had already crossed at this intersection dozens of times this evening.

We walked slowly, and he only stumbled and began to fall perhaps every third step or so.

He began to speak, coherently, but slowly, pausing between each phrase, each sentence. Sometimes he would pause between words within a phrase, or even between two syllables of the same word. Sometimes a pause would last so long that I thought he might have abandoned his train of conversation entirely, but then suddenly another phrase or word or syllable would emerge from his papery old mouth, to be followed by yet another pause.

“This is what I do,” he said. “I drink. And talk to random strangers. In the mornings I suffer. I take a bath and smoke cigarettes with a wet rag over my eyes, and then I go to a coffee shop and eat bacon and eggs and drink copious cups of coffee while reading the previous day’s Philadelphia Bulletin in its entirety. If my name is not listed in the obituaries I go to my room and rest and dream of my life such as it was and is. Then I get up, get dressed and go out and get drunk again. Turn down Lyle Lane here.”

Slowly we went down the lane, which, although it was only a block from Washington Street, was dark and quiet, covered over with the gently stirring leaves of old trees.

“I see you’re limping, Arnold. How did you hurt your leg?”

I had forgotten about my leg, but now that he mentioned it I was indeed limping, and my leg hurt. How had I managed to do all that running and carrying with Mr. Arbuthnot? Pure adrenaline I suppose.

“You don’t have to tell me,” he said. “It’s none of my business.”

“It was an embarrassing accident,” I said.

“Say no more.”

He stopped suddenly.

“Is this where you live?” I asked.

“No. I want a cigarette.”

He disengaged his arm from mine and slowly brought a pack of Old Golds out of his side jacket pocket. He poked into it with his old fingers and began to extricate a cigarette, and as he did he teetered gently back and forth. I stood ready to catch him if need be. Finally he got a cigarette out and into his lips. He re-pocketed the package of cigarettes and began patting his pockets.

“Do you have a light?” he asked me.

“No,” I said. “I’m quitting smoking.”

“Very sensible.”

He continued to pat and to search his pockets.

I became aware of the sound of crickets snickering in the darkness, and of lightning bugs flicking on their little greenish lights and diving up and down like tiny roller coaster cars.

Finally Mr. Jones found a book of matches. To speed things along I took the book from his fingers and gave him a light. They were Sid’s Tavern matches.

“Thank you,” he said, and then coughed.

I handed him back the matches, and he dropped them into a jacket pocket.

He put his arm in mine and we resumed walking. After about five or six more feet he gestured to the left with his cigarette and said:

“There’s my boarding house, here.”

It was a large dark old Victorian house, like hundreds of others in town, maybe a little more run-down than average. The front gate of the picket fence was open.

“I can make it from here,” he said. “Thank you, Arnold.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Jones.”

He stumbled backward, almost fell against the gate post, but I grabbed him by the arm again.

“Woops. Thanks,” he said. “I’m okay now. Good night, sir.”

“Mr. Jones, may I ask on what floor you live?”

“Third floor, but I’ll be fine.”

“Come on,” I said, and keeping my hand on his arm, I led him up the cracked slate path.

“Take me around to the side entrance,” he said.

We passed under an enormous weeping willow. Its tendrils slithered against my face.

“So, the box,” he said.

“Yes.”

“What’s in it?”

“It’s a doll,” I said.

“Ah.”

We went around to the side of the house. The warm air smelled of honeysuckle and of moss on old bricks.

We came to the side entrance.

“Just right in here,” he said.

“I wouldn’t go in there,” said the little voice in the box.


(Click here for our next spine-tingling chapter. Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find a complete complete list of links to all other published episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, which Harold Bloom has called “...the Bible of our times, not to damn this masterpiece with faint praise.”)

The Small Faces:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 123: “Into the jaws of Death, 
Into the mouth of Hell…”

Larry Winchester, delver into worlds that normal writers would run like cowardly dogs from, dives once again into the foul mind of Moloch, leader of the loutish Motorpsycho outlaw biker gang, out here in the desert beyond a town called Disdain, on a fateful night in September, 1969...

(Midterms are approaching. Go here to review our previous episode, or here to go to the beginning of this sprawling but “oddly untedious epic".* )

*Harold Bloom, on The Joey Bishop Show


First came that idiotic swine Johnstone in his Cadillac, brutally cleaving into their ranks and shouting like a maniac. Glancing back over his shoulder Moloch saw a couple of the men and their bikes flying like toys in the air in the Cadillac’s wake as it wheeled viciously off to the left.

Then came the saucer.

Moloch had indeed seen the glowing green fucking thing descending from the sky, swooping down and then swerving madly all about, but he had kept his bike heading straight on anyway. He could be a very single-minded fellow at times. The others had kept on also, not so much out of courage, Moloch knew, but out of stupidity, and blind obedience, and fear of the contempt of their fellows, and of the wrath of Moloch. Like the bloody fucking Light Brigade they were. And now they would meet the same fucking fate as the Light Brigade as well.

Moloch was about twenty yards to the front of the pack and as the saucer came at him he leaned radically to his right and felt the hot whoosh of the thing passing over his head and then he skidded and his bike flew out from under him and his body hit the dirt hard, he rolled over three times, struggled up to one knee and turned and saw the thing smashing down into his screaming men, squashing them all like so many bugs.

Well, they were like bugs, really.

And then Moloch was lifted up from the earth by a warm thick wind that smelled like burning vacuum cleaners, and he was sucked along head over heels in the dusty tail of the skidding and bouncing saucer, which, come to think of it, was making a sound like a gargantuan vacuum cleaner with something living trapped in its snout.

****


“In a way I’d like to be able to say we ran down those motorcycle guys on purpose, but, to tell the truth, at that juncture all of us -- including Brad, who was supposed to be piloting -- we were all bouncing around that cabin, like, um, like --”

“Mexican jumping beans.”

“Exactly. I mean, no one had their seatbelts on. So when the thing finally did lurch to a halt, we were pretty well banged up. The TV screens had all gone blank so we didn’t really know where we were, but I’ll tell you one thing, we were ready to get the hell out of there.”

“Papa woke up.”

“Right, Old Mac sits up and says, ‘What the fuck is going on here?’”

“And darling Buddy is sitting up now too, and he goes, ‘Well, I think we’ve landed, Major.’”

“Then this awful green smoke started pouring out from somewhere.”

“And this time it wasn’t because I’d peed in the works.”

“So, Mac takes charge, says follow him, and we all go.”

“Don’t forget the briefcase.”

“Oh, right, how could I? First Mac grabs this old leather briefcase that’s on the floor there, and then he says to follow him --”

“Right.”

“Which of course we do, through these corridors back to --”

“Labyrinthine.”

“Through these labyrinthine corridors back to where we’d first come in. He presses a button and the door slides into the bulkhead, and, God, fresh air never smelled so good.”

“Relatively fresh.”

“Right. It was a little stinky out there but it was still better than being in that saucer.”

“I’ll say. I don’t care if I never go into outer space again. But anyway, I’m first in line to get out of course, and I look out and, oh, no, you’ll never believe it, but we were sort of teetering over that atomic sink hole that that horrible primeval family had perished in. We weren’t quite in it, but the saucer, which was giving off this weird green Technicolor glow, was extended over the edge of the depression and its bottom was only about a foot or so off the surface of the quicksand. Am I getting this more or less right, Dick?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“Then -- I look down -- and -- there’s this head in the sand!”

“Pym.”

“Some old navy buddy of Dick’s”

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call Al Pym my buddy. Al -- Al didn’t really have buddies.”

“Well, buddy or not, Dick decides to rescue him.”

“We couldn’t just leave him there. I mean, you know, there he was, just his head sticking out of the sand, looking up at us with this resigned expression. He was -- well, never mind. So I reached down out of this opening while Harvey and the other guys held onto my belt, and I told him to reach his hand up, and after a while he manages to pull one arm up out of the sand and reach it up, and I grab hold of his hand, and pull, and the other guys are pulling me, and we’re actually making some headway, he’s coming up, first his shoulders, and then he’s out up to his chest, when --”

“Uh-oh!”

“Yeah.”

“The saucer starts sliding into this pit.”

“Yeah, sadly for Pym. Just went right over him. I tried to pull him up, but --”

“You did your damned best. He almost dragged you under.”

“Yeah, he did almost, actually.”

“And he said the queerest thing. I mean literally.”

“Well, we don’t have to repeat that.”

“As he was going under he said, ‘Dick I love you!’”

Mr. Ridpath shrugged.

(Go here for our next thrilling chapter. Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page for a possibly up-to-date listing of all other recovered episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, soon to be serialized on Westinghouse Studio One, starring Richard Burton as Moloch, and John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine as Dick and Daphne.)


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 128: Dick in love

Arnold Schnabel: as expansive as Whitman, as mad as Rimbaud, as attuned to the multifarious meaning of each moment of existence as Proust, and as American as Mom’s apple pie, warm from the oven.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Bonnie Hunt Show.


Our previous episode of this Old Spice Award-nominated memoir culminated in Arnold and his friend Dick Ridpath clasping hands outside the entrance to the Ugly Mug, that popular watering-hole in the port of Cape May, New Jersey, at approximately 10:22 PM on the 10th of August, 1963…


He seemed reluctant to let go of my hand.

“Arnold,” he said.

“Yes?”

“Can I talk to you about -- about something?”


Okay, I thought. He’s going to talk about the Mr. Arbuthnot business. About stepping through a spinning globe of the earth and into a world where we were as invisible as ghosts. About dropping into a single frozen moment through the Book of Time, and, once there, to bear witness to the near-destruction of the world by Mr. Arbuthnot’s cat, Shnoopy.

In other words: proof that I was not mad?

“Sure, Dick,” I said. “Anything. Anything at all.”

“I can’t stop thinking about what you told me last night,” he said.

Last night seemed like a year ago.

“What was that, Dick?” I asked.

“About Daphne,” he said.

“Ah.”

“About her being in love with me.”

“Oh, right.”

He was still gripping my hand, and his grip was quite strong.

“Dick,” I dared say. “My hand.”

“Oh my God, I’m sorry.”

He let go of my hand. Some people came out of the bar just then, and Dick gently put his hand on my arm, guiding me out of their way.

“Arnold.”

“Yes, Dick?”

“I’m thirty-three years old. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve been to war. I’ve -- seen a lot of things --”

He paused.

“Take this a minute, will you?”

He handed me the box with the doll in it, then he took out his cigarette case and his lighter.

“I’m smoking entirely too much,” he said, taking out a cigarette, closing the case, tapping the cigarette on the lid of the case.

He stared up the street, in the direction of Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop, the church, and beyond that the Acme parking lot, across which diagonally was Pete’s Tavern. He pocketed the cigarette case, lit his cigarette, glanced at me shyly and briefly.

“Did she talk about me today?”

“Daphne?”

“Yes.”

“A little,” I said.

He looked at me full on.

“It’s okay, Dick,” I said. “She’ll wait for you. Until you’re ready. And until she’s ready.”

“Right,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

Not that I knew I was right, or even had any idea what right was.

“I’m acting like an idiot,” he said. “What’s so special about her? She’s just a girl, like a million others.”

“No,” I said, after honestly thinking about it a moment.

“No?”

“No.”

“No,” he said. “No, she’s not, is she?”

“No,” I said.

“So I’m not insane to be so madly in love with her?”

“You might be insane,” I said. “Not that I’m any person to judge. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing for you to be madly in love with her. Even if you are insane.”

He looked at me.

“Okay, I’m going now,” he said.

But he stood there, holding his cigarette.

“Have a good night, Dick.”

“I have to go back to the, uh, to the base, day after tomorrow,” he said. “But I don’t want to. I want to resign my commission. I want to take her -- Daphne -- take her away, find some island, live on the beach.”

I said nothing.

“But somehow I know that wouldn’t be the thing to do,” he said.

“No,” I said.

“I don’t think we’re meant to live idyllic lives. What do you think, Arnold?”

“I’m not so sure we’re meant to do anything,” I said.

“I should go,” he said, after staring at me for three seconds. “I’m boring you.”

“You should go so that you can be with Daphne,” I said.

He stared at me again.

Then he turned and walked away, crossing the street, walking quickly, tossing his cigarette into the gutter.

I stood there and watched him go, merging into all the other people walking on the sidewalk, all of them trying to enjoy their lives, I stood there and watched, I don't know why, and then I saw Dick cross Washington Street at the end of the block.

Then I realized that I was still holding the grey cardboard box with the doll in it.

But by this time Dick had already disappeared beyond the corner of the church, he would be jaywalking across Ocean Street, going diagonally across the Acme parking lot, past the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and across Jefferson Street to Pete’s, to the girl he loved.

Should I run after him?

But then by what law had I to run, rather than walk?

But if I walked rather than ran then I’d have to go into Pete’s again to give Dick the doll. Who knows what else would happen there, or even on the way there? I might never make it back to the Ugly Mug this night. And after all Elektra was still waiting for me, presumably.

No. Enough madness for one night.

I would keep the doll for Dick, give it to him tomorrow at Mrs. Biddle’s. That was the sensible thing to do.

Then the top of the box pushed open.

The little dark-haired, dark-eyed doll in the Victorian costume had pushed the lid off. I held the lid in my free hand to keep it from falling to the pavement.

“That’s right, Arnold,” she said. “You can give me to Dick tomorrow. Now let’s go inside. I’m interested to meet these friends of yours. All right, now close the lid. Let’s get a move on.”

I put the lid back on the box.


(Go here for our next spine-tingling chapter. Please see the right hand column of this page to find an allegedly complete list of links to all other published episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, soon to be a major motion picture from Metro Goldwyn Mayer, starring Tyrone Power as Arnold Schnabel and Robert Walker as Dick.)


Saturday, March 7, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 122: “...over and under and sideways...and down…”

Larry Winchester, that “literary Frank Gorshin”* here switches effortlessly from the folksy drawl of the pusillanimous rancher Big Jake Johnstone to the urbane badinage of those adventurers-without-portfolio Dick and Daphne Ridpath, and then dizzyingly back to Jake again...

(Go here to review our previous chapter, or here to see where the whole tragic tale began.)

*Harold Bloom, on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.


Well, lemme tell ya now, if you got a spaceship comin’ at ya hell bent for leather from one direction and a pack of drug-addled bloodthirsty machine-gun-totin’ motorcycle banditos comin’ at ya from the other direction, well, t’ain’t but common fuckin’ sense to skedaddle sidewise but pronto.

So that’s what I did, sir, I just wheeled that Cadillac right and peeled outa there mucho pronto, Tonto.

Trouble was that ol’ flyin’ saucer just kept headin’ right after me! I could see it plain as day in the rearview mirror. Comin’ right after me it was. I didn’t know why it wanted me. I never done it no harm. Never done no man no harm. Nor no outer space man, neither.

****

“I had no idea what I was doing. No idea. Out of one eye I could see on one TV screen Enid and Hope trying to get the English fellow out of the station wagon, while on another screen I’m getting the bigger picture -- motorcycle gang approaching, Big Jake hightailing it out of there in his Cadillac -- and that’s when it really got crazy. I grasp the general situation and figure, okay, I guess I’ll try to land in between Hope and Enid and the motorcycle gang. I figure this has got to scare them away -- but the problem being as I say I don’t really know how to land the damn thing and I’m none too adept at steering it, either. I mean we’re swerving all over the place, up, down, sideways.”

“That’s when Brad got into the act again,” said Mrs. Ridpath.

“Right. I’d been so preoccupied I had almost forgotten about friend Brad, who’d been duly administering to Mac and Buddy, but suddenly I guess he realized what a botch I was making of things.”

“You were not.”

“Well, I was, really.”

“Oh, as if Brad --”

“Well, let me tell it.”

“Sorry.”

“So, Brad jumps up, yells, ‘What the fuck ya doin’, you’ll kill is all!’

“Oh, that’s him. To a T.”

“So I say, well, Christ, Brad, you land it! And that’s where --”

“All hell breaks loose.”

“Yeah. I’m getting up to let Brad sit, and Brad’s sitting down, and in that transition we somehow lost control...”

****

I seen he was after me all right. I never done nothin’ to him but he was after me like a coyote after a desert rat.

What could I do? Skedaddlin’ to the right didn’t work so I wheeled around one-eighty again, and wouldn’tcha know that bastard was still on my tail, so I figured, fuck it, wheeled left and realized right away I was headin’ straight for that pack of motorcycle scum.

This point I just didn’t fuckin’ care.

Zoomed right by the station wagon, seen they’d got that English punk outa the car, but I didn’t care about that neither, and them motorcycle fellas was headin’ straight on hellbent for leather even though that goddam’ saucer was still hot on my trail -- hell, I guess them biker guys was just too high on drugs to know any better -- and about one second later I’m drivin’ right into their midst, and I’m screamin’ and yellin’, ‘Outa my way, you sons o’ bitches, ‘cause this is one heap of American-made vehiculation that ain’t stoppin’ for nobody or nothin’!

And I wanta tell ya, them boys an’ their bikes just parted like the Red Sea parted for God’s Chosen People. Oh, you better believe I bumped a couple or three of ‘em, and they went flyin’, cartwheelin’ an’ screamin’ behind me, but I didn’t give a flyin’ fuck in the wind, no sir. Hell, they shoulda just got out of my way!

Fuckin’ douchebags.

Pardon my French.


(Continued here. In the meantime feel free to look to the right hand side of this page for what purports to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other recovered chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, third-place prize-winner of Good Housekeeping’s Sprawling Epic Award.)

Ray Charles: hit the road, Jack!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 127: brothers

Arnold Schnabel...a man who set out to write his memoirs as a form of therapy, or perhaps even out of boredom, and in the process wrote the pre-eminent masterpiece of American prose.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Charlie Rose Show.

Having narrowly averted the destruction of the universe as we know it, Arnold and his friend Dick Ridpath are now safely back in the apartment of Mr. Arbuthnot, in the quaint seaside resort and fishing port of Cape May, New Jersey, on a warm August night in 1963…

(Go here for our previous, cataclysmic episode, or here to see where the whole damn thing began.)


Dick and I again exchanged glances. Of course we both needed a drink, but on the other hand I think we had both had had more than enough of Mr. Arbuthnot for one evening.

“I really should be going, Mr. Arbuthnot,” I said, or panted. I was still quite out of breath from our adventure, and the sweat continued to stream from my every pore.

“I hope you gentlemen will not hold this, uh, incident against me,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Oh, no, not at all,” said Dick. His floral-print shirt was drenched, and he was pinching a bit of material in and out at his waist, trying to fan some air onto his torso.

“Please accept my apology,” said the old fellow.

“No apology needed,” said Dick. “It wasn’t your fault -- uh -- that --”

“That my cat Shnooby almost destroyed the universe?”

“Well -- come to think of it, maybe next time you should lock him in another room,” suggested Dick.

“A superb idea,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “And, gentlemen, please come see me again. I have many other wonderful things I can show you.”

“Sure,” said Dick.

Mr. Arbuthnot took his Meerschaum out of one jacket pocket, and his tobacco pouch out of the other. I noticed that unlike Dick and me he wasn’t sweating at all.

“But I must ask you again,” he said, “please do not speak to anyone, not even to each other, of what you have seen here tonight.”

“Okay, sure,” said Dick.

“Mr. Schnabel?”

“Yes?”

“Mum’s the word?”

“Oh. Sure,” I said.

He filled his pipe.

“We don’t want to -- open a can of worms, do we?” he said.

“No,” I said. “Who would believe us, anyway?”

“A very good point. You wouldn’t want people to question your sanity again, would you?”

“I don’t think they’ve ever stopped questioning my sanity.”

“Heh heh. Yes. Quite."

Dick and I watched as he put away his tobacco, took out his box of matches, lit his pipe.

“Well --” said Dick.

“Oh. Allow me to show you out,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

We followed him to the stairs, and down, into the dark shop. This time he flicked on a light switch, and an overhead electric chandelier came on, casting light on all the various goods in his store.

“Gentlemen, he said, turning to us as we came from the stairs, “I want each of you to choose one item from my shop, as a present from me.”

“Oh, really, we couldn’t,” said Dick.

“Were it not for you two and your strong legs and backs, and might I say your admirable nerve, the world would be in flames right now. The least I can do is give you both some humble item from this hodgepodge.”

“Well --” said Dick.

“I quite insist.’

I just wanted to get out of there, so I didn’t argue. I looked into one of the glass cases. I saw a wide flat box of fountain pens.

“I’ll take a pen, then,” I said.

“Excellent!”

He hustled around the counter, but instead of taking a pen from one of the ones on display he reached lower down, opened a drawer, and brought out a small reddish-purple leather case. Putting the stem of his little pipe between his teeth, he clicked open the case, and brought out from it a tortoise-shell pen.

“How about this one?”

“Great,” I said. To tell the truth I’d never had a really nice pen.

“Let me show you how to fill it.”

I sighed. Sometimes you wonder if you’re ever going to be allowed to leave a place. And the thing is, once you do finally get to leave, how often do you wind up just going to someplace else you want to leave?

Anyway, he produced a little unlabeled jar of ink from somewhere, unscrewed the lid, and filled the pen. It had one of those little metal levers that pull out from the pen. I thought I could handle it.

“This is a very special ink,” he said, wiping the nib of the pen on some old rag from somewhere. He replaced the cap of the pen, put it back in its case, shut the case and finally handed it over.

“May you write many classic poems with this instrument.”

He puffed away smiling on his pipe.

“I’ll do my best, sir.”

“Here, take the ink as well.”

He put the bottle of ink into a little black cardboard box, put a lid on the box, and the box into a small black velvet bag with a gold-colored drawstring, which he fastened and tied in what I believe was a sailor’s knot. Thank God, he did not put the bag into something else, but handed it over. I put the pen case in one pocket of my Bermudas and the bag with the ink into another.

“And Mr. Ridpath?”

Dick was gazing at a shelf of old dolls.

“A nice antique doll for your girlfriend? Phoebe?”

“Uh, Daphne, actually. And she’s not really my girlfriend. And she’s a little old for dolls, really.”

Quickly and silently Mr. Arbuthnot scurried from behind the counter and over to Dick, nudging him aside. Putting his pipe between his teeth again, he reached up from his toes and brought down a doll in Victorian dress, with black ringlets and wide dark staring eyes.

“This one is lovely. Take it.”

“Really, Mr. Arbuthnot --”

“Look at this craftsmanship. Almost like real. Better than real. Believe me, your friend Dagmar will be overjoyed. And she can pass it on to your children.”

“Well --”

“I’ll wrap it up for you.”

Dick and I stood there among all of Mr. Arbuthnot’s wares, many of which now seemed to be stirring gently, or restlessly, as Mr. Arbuthnot took the doll behind his counter, rummaged around, found a grey cardboard box for it, stuck it into the box, and brought the box back over to Dick. Dick didn’t get a bag for his present.

“Okay, thanks a lot,” said Dick.

“Remember, not a word.”

“Mum’s the word,” said Dick.

“Splendid. As an officer and a gentleman I’m sure your word is your bond. And Mr. Schnabel --”

“I give you my railroad man’s word,” I said.

“And I shall accept it without further remark.”

Finally Dick and I made it out the door.

Mr. Arbuthnot held the door open for a moment, looking up and down the street.

“Looks like the coast is clear! Good night, gentlemen. I look forward to seeing you both again, soon.”

And with that he shut the door and locked it. We saw him walk to the back of the store and switch off the light.

Dick and I looked at each other.

I wondered, should I bring up all that had just happened? It was true I had given my word to Mr. Arbuthnot that I wouldn’t, my railroad man’s word. But I was no longer a railroad man really. I was a lunatic, my word meant nothing. I decided on the spot that (as with our time-travel trip the previous night) if Dick broached the subject first, well, okay then, all bets were off. But if he chose to honor his promise to Mr. Arbuthnot, then so too would I.

“Well, that was a little weird, wasn’t it?” said Dick.

“Yeah, a little,” I said.

“So, back to the Mug for you, Arnold?”

“I suppose so,” I said.

“I’ll walk you over,” he said, and we started off down the block, Dick carrying that somewhat coffin-like cardboard box beneath his arm.

“Why don’t you join us, Dick?” I asked. Although as soon as I said this I remembered that our booth was already full with Larry and Steve and Miss Rathbone as well as Elektra, not to mention St. Thomas Becket and his friend Jack Scratch looming over it.

“Well, actually,” said Dick, “I was hoping to catch up with Daphne tonight. Mrs. Biddle told me you were out with her and Tommy and some other girl earlier?”

“Yes. Sister Mary Elizabeth.”

“Sister?”

“Yes. We met a nun earlier today.”

“You and Daphne met a nun?”

“Yes. Daphne and I went swimming together. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. You met a nun when you went swimming?”

“Yes. At the convent, out on the point.”

“You and Daphne were at the convent?”

“Just the beach in back of the convent. And its back porch."

We were outside the Ugly Mug now. All sorts of people were coming and going along the sidewalks and driving their cars up and down the street. Everything looked normal, or as normal as it was ever likely to look.

I think Dick’s politeness kept him from asking more questions at this point. Which was fine for me. I put my hand on the front door handle of the bar. But then I remembered something.

“Oh, by the way, Dick, I think you might be able to find Daphne at Pete’s Tavern.”

His face lit up.

“Seriously?” he asked.

“Yes. I left her there with Tommy and the sister.”

“Pete’s Tavern -- isn’t that a Negro bar?”

“Yes.”

“So you think I should I go there?”

“Why not? You can give her the doll.”

“Yes. The doll.” He glanced down at the box under his arm. “Well, I guess I’d better get over there then. You’re sure she won’t think me intrusive.”

“I doubt that.”

“Well, thanks, brother.”

Dick offered his hand, and I took it.


(Go here for our next thrill-packed episode. Kindly refer to the right hand side of this page to find what one hopes is an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, third-place prize-winner of the AIG Award for Confessional Literature.)

Chris Farlowe: treat her good --