Saturday, November 28, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 26: busted

In our previous episode our hero Buddy Best was about to join the enigmatic Cordelia for lunch at Hollywood’s storied Musso and Frank Grill when she makes a startling suggestion...

(Click here to return to the first chapter of this “rollicking and ribald romp through the lower depths of today’s Tinsletown” -- (J.J. Hunsecker, in the Cape May Star and Times.)


It seemed like he had almost forgotten how nice it could be.

But then come to think of it maybe it never had been this nice.

“Um,” he said, “I guess we’re supposed to use a condom, right?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“Uh, do you have any?”

“No,” she said. “Don’t you?”

Okay, he had gone through tons of condoms in his life up until his dry spell of the past year, but like any good philandering husband he had always bought them on an ad hoc basis. And so, not being entirely forthcoming:

“No, I don’t. Joan was on the pill. Not that she needed to take the pill as far as I was concerned, since we didn’t -- or at least we hadn’t in a long time, but -- are you on the pill?”

“No,” she said.

She turned her head and looked away, biting her lip. She had let her hair down and her curls were exploded all over the pillow. Okay --

No. He owed it to her not even to suggest, not even to --

“Y’know, I could -- just put it in for a little while, and then -- you know --”

She quickly turned her face to his, her eyes wide open.

“Oh my God, I’ve never done that.”

“Oh. Well, it’s not that much fun, really.”

“I mean, I’ve never -- I’ve never had sex without a condom.”

“Oh,” said Buddy. “That --”

“Sucks. I know.”

She looked up at him. He looked down at her.

“Um --”

“Yeah?” she said.

“Uh -- there’s other ways we can enjoy ourselves,” said Buddy.

“Oh really?”

“Possibly.”

“You’re such an old pro, huh?”

“That’s me.”

A minute later, “Oh, no,” she said. “Oh no. Oh no.” Buddy stopped doing what he was doing. “Why’d you stop?” she said.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, and he went back to it.

Then:

“What’s that?” she said.

Buddy stopped again.

“What’s what?”

“That buzzing sound.”

Buddy listened.

“Oh, it’s my cellphone.” Which was in his pants, which were on the floor. “It’s on Manner Mode. It buzzes and vibrates instead of ringing, for like when you’re in a restaurant.”

“Like we are now?”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t need to answer it?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

The buzzing stopped.

“Okay,” said Buddy.

“Wait!” said Cordelia.

“What?”

“Wait, I think I might have a condom.”

“Oh. Great.”

She swung her leg over his head, and got out of the bed.

“Don’t look at me,” she said.

He looked at her. Okay, body nowhere nearly as toned or as muscular as Joan’s, hips and backside fuller and softer, breasts a bit smaller but much more -- realistic, because they were real. She looked human.

She picked up her red backpack, which she had dropped to the floor halfway from the door when they came in. She brought it over to the bed and sat down with it on her lap.

“There might be one in here somewhere. I was seeing this dude for about two minutes back in New York, and I think -- but then we’d better check the expiration date, but, wait -- no --”

Buddy put his hand on her hip and watched her as she rummaged through the pack.

“I said don’t look at me,” she said.

“Okay,” said Buddy.

He sat up behind her, and put his hand on her breast. With his other hand he moved her hair away from her neck and then he kissed her neck. She moved her head up and around in a circle.

He leaned down around her shoulder and kissed her Saturn tattoo. She put her hand on his hand which was on her breast. She smelled like -- what -- warm honey, warm honey and --

Then Buddy heard Philip yelling downstairs and, more faintly, Liz yelling from out front.

Cordelia turned her face to his.

“Who’s that?”

“My kids,” whispered Buddy.

“Your kids,” she whispered back.

“My two grown kids. By my other marriage.”

“Oh. Why are they here?”

“Philip moved back in a couple of weeks ago. Now Liz is moving back too and Philip is helping her.”

“Oh. Philip and Liz.”

“Yeah. They were in Milwaukee. I didn’t know they’d be getting here today.”

“I see. What should we do?”

“Well, we could hide in here.”

They could still hear Philip yelling downstairs, and now they could hear Liz’s voice indoors too.

“The door’s open,” Cordelia said.

His bedroom door. They hadn’t been very discreet as they tumbled in from the hallway.

“Should I close it?” she said.

“Yeah, why don’t you close it while we -- whatever.”

She put the backpack on the floor and got up and tiptoed over to the doorway. (And Buddy memorized her doing this.) She gently closed the door and tiptoed back to the bed. She had one knee up on it and Buddy had his hand on her thigh when he said:

“Oh, wait, you didn’t put the bolt on.”

“The bolt -- oh --”

She got off the bed again and took a step, but there was a thump, thump, rapid thumping on the stairs, and she froze -- thump, thump, thump -- then she tiptoed forward but right before she reached the door it opened and Philip was there, saying:

“Yo! Dad! You here? Oh -- oh -- oh -- wow --”

Cordelia stood there on her toes, her hands half raised.

“Shut the door, Philip,” said Buddy.

“Ah, shit, Dad, I’m sorry. Hello,” he said to Cordelia.

“Hello,” she said.

“Phil --” said Buddy.

“Oh, sorry --”

And Philip started to close the door, but as it was almost closed he said:

“Dad, you want us, I mean me and Liz, you want us to like, you know, disappear for a while, or --”

“I don’t care, Philip.”

“I just had to use the head, Dad, and I figured you were home ‘cause I saw your car, and your door was open, and, I don’t
know --”

“It’s okay, Phil, just close the door, okay, let us get dressed.”

“Okay,” he said, through the crack.

“Sorry, miss.”

“That’s okay, Philip,” said Cordelia. “You didn’t know.”

“I know. I just had to take a pee.”

“It’s okay,” she said.

“Well, I’ll see you guys,” said Philip.

For some reason the maniac hadn’t shut the door yet. Was he high?

“I’m really sorry,” he said. He was high. “Really --”

“Philip, it’s okay,” said Buddy. “Just shut the fucking door.”

“Okay. Nice meeting you, miss. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” said Cordelia.

And, finally, he shut the fucking door.


(Continued here, despite the cries of the nay-sayers.)

(Please see the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™, recently awarded the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 175: jealous

Let us return to that fateful long night in August of 1963, and to our hero, Mr. Arnold Schnabel – bruised, battered, bloodied and only slightly bowed, wending his way homeward (or at least to the boarding house of his three maiden aunts, to which he and his mother have resorted for the summer) through the streets of that ancient seaport of Cape May, New Jersey...

(Go here to read our previous episode, or here to go to the first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning epic, styled by the noted scholar Harold Bloom as “a book for all seasons, but particularly appropriate for gift-giving during the pagan winter-solstice festivities”.)


I made the left turn at Carpenter’s Lane. As empty as the streets were, it still seemed prudent to avoid the main drag of Washington Street, along or near which so many of tonight’s shenanigans had transpired. But when I got to the crossing of Jackson Street I couldn’t help but look to my left and up to that second floor above the jewelry shop: the windows of Elektra’s room were dark, but I saw lights in the apartment’s other windows along the side of the house.

I walked over and around to the side pathway and into that dark nighttime smell of ivy and of sleeping roses. I paused beneath a window and heard music, jazz music, a saxophone playing a sad song that seemed like it had started years ago and still had a long way to go.

And then I thought, no.

Enough was enough. And, besides, just look at me. God knew I knew next to nothing about women, but if I knew anything at all about them then Elektra would not leave unmentioned these scrapes on my every possible hand and arm and knee, not to mention a pronounced limp. It would be bad enough dealing with my mother and aunts in the morning.

But then I hesitated, because it occurred to me that of course Elektra would only see the scrapes tomorrow.

(Unless – unless I went over to Buddy Kelly’s again, and asked him for another swabbing with that scarlet medicine…)

What to do.

I turned and walked back to the sidewalk. But then I stopped again, looking obliquely up at those inviting second-floor windows, hearing that soft music.

Would it be so terrible after all to let Elektra fuss over me a little bit?

And then I saw the lights go out in those windows, and retroactively I became aware that the music had ceased also a few moments before. So even my bohemian friends were finally calling it a day, unless one or more of them should still be sitting up, staring into the darkness and silence, something I had done often enough in my life but hadn’t done lately.

So I continued my way homeward, turning down Carpenter’s Lane again. Up ahead was Perry Street, and when I reached it I would be in the home stretch, just a couple of blocks from my bed.

However, as I reached Perry I saw out of the corner of my eye three people all the way down near Beach Drive.

It couldn’t be, could it?

I quickly turned right, hunching my shoulders and lowering my head, but then I heard it: three voices, one male, two female, all of them shouting my name at the top of their lungs.

My impulse was to run, just to break into a run and not stop running until I was back in my aunts’ house, but unfortunately with my banged-up knees running was out of the question; it was all I could do to shamble, and painfully at that.

I stopped, and turned, and waited, and soon I was joined by Miss Evans and Mr. and Mrs. DeVore, all of them out of breath and panting after stampeding up the street.

“I knew I would find you,” said Miss Evans.

“Arnold, old buddy, what the hell happened to you?” yelled Mr. DeVore.

“He’s been beaten up,” gasped Mrs. DeVore. “Or were you hit by a car?”

“Neither,” I said, responding directly to Mrs. DeVore. “I fell.”

More nonsense was spoken, by all concerned, I won’t bore the reader or myself by trying to dredge it up and transcribe it, living through it once was bad enough. But pretty soon we got moving, myself and Miss Evans leading the way, Miss Evans hanging tightly onto my arm and the DeVores yapping away right on our heels.

“I knew I would find you, Arnold,” said Miss Evans, for about the ninth time. She was now speaking in an almost-English accent, sort of like the way Katharine Hepburn talks.

“It was meant to be,” she said. “I can’t wait to get you home. Oh, wait.”

She stopped, pulling me to a stop. The Devores almost ran into us.

“Stand back, you two,” said Miss Evans.

They both said sorry and stepped back a yard or so.

“Where did you go, with that Joshua fellow?”

She still held her arm tightly in mine.

“That’s a long story,” I said.

“You two,” said Miss Evans to the DeVores, “step back farther!”

This they did, a few more steps.

“It was them, wasn’t it?” she said, not quite whispering. “They were boring you silly, so you and Joshua ditched the lot of us.”

“Well –”

“Say no more. You poor man. Come on.”

She gave my arm a yank, and we resumed our progress.

The DeVores continued to follow us, keeping to a respectful few feet behind us.

“By the way, old bean, what’s up with those other friends of yours, that Mr. Arbuthnot and that Jack fellow?”

“Just some guys I barely know,” I said.

“What about this other chap, friend of this Jack blighter – 'Lucky'. Do you know him?”

“I’m afraid I do,” I said.

“What do you mean, you don’t like him?”

“No, I can’t say I do,” I said.

“So you don’t think I should sign with him?”

“Sign with him?”

“His management company. He and that Jack bloke say they can get all my books made into movies. Do you think they’re full of ordure?”

“Of what?”

“Caca. Feces. Of the bovine sort.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes. I do in fact.”

Now it was I who stopped us. I held out a warning arm to the DeVores, and without a word they stopped and withdrew to the same distance they had held to during my immediately previous tête-à-tête with Miss Evans.

“Arnold, what’s come over you.”

“Miss Evans, you didn’t sign anything, did you?”

“What? What do you mean. Ha ha. Would I sign a contract with someone I had just met in a bar somewhere? Ha ha.”

“Did you?”

I peeled her arm from its steely grasp on mine.

“You’re being very rude, Arnold.”

“Listen, Gertrude –”

“Oh.”

“What?”

“You called me by my Christian name. You’ve never done that before without my prompting.”

“Miss Evans –”

“I do believe you’re jealous, Arnold.”

With one red-nailed finger she touched the open neck of my polo shirt.

I pulled her hand away.

“Oh, my, so forceful. I love you this way, Arnold. You beast.”

“Miss Evans, did you sign a contract?”

“No, you silly man, I didn’t sign a contract. Oh, they wanted me to but I played hard to get. That Lucky fellow said he’d take me to luncheon tomorrow and try to, as he put it, ‘ply me with champagne and oysters’.”

“She’s telling the truth, Arnold,” called DeVore.

“Yeah. Truth,” said Mrs. DeVore.

“We heard it all.”

“Heard all.”

“Now may we go home?” said Miss Evans.

She slid her arm back into mine, gave me a tug, and off we went.

“Oh, yes, I do believe you’re jealous,” said Miss Evans.

She continued to speak nonsense the rest of the way back.


(Continued here, because that nice new doctor says it’s harmless to do so and possibly even good therapy.)

(Feel free to cast your gaze to the right hand column of this page where you should find an allegedly current list of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, the first six volumes of which will soon be available in handy pocket-sized editions from the The Big K Press, exclusively at K-Marts everywhere at the special low, low holiday price of $1.99 {US} apiece; quantities limited.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 25: call-back

In our previous episode our raffish hero Buddy Best found himself in an odd but strangely enjoyable compromised situation with the lovely and strange Cordelia, daughter of the bad actor who has absconded with Buddy’s wife...

(Go here to read the first chapter of this “sweaty submersion in a sultry sea of sin and snideness” -- (J.J. Hunsecker, in the Hollywood Reporter.)

Two days later Buddy was going over a revised music budget with Harvey and Debbie in Harvey’s office when Marlene came in and shut the door behind her.

“Buddy, there’s some girl here for you.”

“Some girl?”

“She says her name’s Cordelia. She didn’t give me her last name. She says you know her.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Do you want to see her?”

Marlene and Debbie both were all over him. Harvey just looked amused.

“Uh, okay,” said Buddy, “ask her if she can wait fifteen --”

“Buddy,” said Debbie, “you can go talk to her for a minute. Don’t be a jerk all your life.”

So Buddy went out into Marlene’s office. Cordelia was standing there, staring at one of their trashy promo posters. She had a red backpack on. She turned.

“Hi there,” he said.

“Hi,” she said. Her hair was pulled up on top of her head, most of it was, some of it curled down. “I was kinda sorta in the neighborhood so I thought I’d drop by. But you’re busy, right?”

“A little --”

A dress -- a sun dress? Red-and-white checks --

“So, do you want me to come by later? Or --”

Marlene was looking at them over her computer screen. Harvey and Debbie were looking at them through the open door.

“No, let’s go in here,” said Buddy.

And he opened the door to what was nominally his office, but which he hardly ever used. Cordelia stepped in and Buddy followed her, closing the door behind him.

Sunlight blazed in through the windows from the parking lot outside, and he looked at Cordelia in daylight for the first time.

“So,” he said.

Red lipstick, a little make-up --

“So,” she said.

“So, what’s up?” said Buddy.

He might have offered her a seat but the three chairs in the room were piled with videocassettes, DVD’s, CD’s, books, scripts, trade papers...

“I wanted to see you in person.”

She seemed so serious all of a sudden that he wondered if her father had come back and done something weird or hateful or both.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, in fact I’ve just come from an audition, and I have a call-back tomorrow.”

Oh --

“Oh, that’s great,” he said.

“Yeah, out of nowhere I get this call this morning, can I come to the Paramount lot and read for this movie.”

“Great,” said Buddy. “Super. Cool.”

“I thought it was a joke,” she said.

“So it went okay.”

“Yeah. It’s for this Northwest Mountie movie with this guy Christopher Lambert. Do you know him?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve worked with Chris.”

“Really?”

“Oh, sure. Five, six years ago, picture called Dead Vengeance? No it wasn’t, it was Dead Betrayal. Dead Vengeance was -- who -- oh, Eric Roberts, right, Eric --”

“Ah. Is he nice?”

“Eric Roberts?”

“No, this Christopher Lambert.”

“Oh -- very nice. He wasn’t there?”

“No. Just the director, this weirdo Joe guy --”

“Uh-huh. So -- Northwest Mountie --”

“Actually it’s a Northwest Mountie vampire movie. At first they had me read for this saloon girl who gets killed by a vampire, but then they didn’t seem to really care about that part so they read me for a featured role.”

“No kidding.”

“Yeah, this lady doctor on an Indian reservation. She hooks up with this Northwest Mountie guy who’s investigating these murders.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Vampire murders.”

“Well, y’know, that doesn’t sound like just a featured role, that sounds like the female lead --”

“Buddy, did you set this up?”

“No --”

“Okay, I know you did, I can tell. Can I smoke in here?”

“Sure. Give me one.”

Getting the cigarettes meant she had to take off the red backpack and open it and root around in it.

“Okay,” said Buddy, “before I went to sleep the other night I watched your movie, or some of it.”

“I know, it’s bad.”

“That’s true, but there’s good stuff in it, and you were excellent.”

“Really?”

“Really. By the way, the credits --”

“I know, the credits sucked.”

“No, I mean, your name -- you just go by ‘Cordelia’?”

“Yeah. Do you think that’s pretentious?”

“No. I think it’s cool. Like a French actress...”

She had finally come up with the box of cigarettes, maybe the same one from the other night, but she didn’t open it.

“So, anyway,” he said, “next morning I had the tape copied and sent the copy over to, uh, weirdo Joe. I knew he was looking for a new female lead for this Christopher Lambert picture they’re doing because the girl they had fell off a horse and broke her leg.”

“Oh my God, that’s terrible.”

“Well, it’s only a broken leg.”

“Yeah, but still --”

“Well, anyway, so I phoned him and asked him to look at the tape. I told him you’d been on One Life To Live, I said you were a nice person, and if he liked the tape, maybe he could give you a call. Don’t you want your cigarette?”

“Oh. Yeah.” She dropped the backpack to the floor with a thud, and opened the cigarette box. “You didn’t tell him to give me a part?”

“What do I look like, Sam Goldwyn?”

She took a pause here. Buddy suspected she hadn’t gotten the reference. Then she said:

“I told you I wasn’t looking for any favors from you.”

“I didn’t think you were.”

“But you did me a favor.”

“Why not?”

She looked very seriously into the cigarette box. She looked up.

“I hope you didn’t think I would go to bed with you because of it.”

“Never crossed my mind.”

“Right.”

“In a million years,” said Buddy. “On the other hand, this guy Joe, Joe Morrow --”

“I know.”

“You do? Already?”

“I could tell. He’s a lecho. A lecho-weirdo.”

“I mean, he’s legit, decent director, but --”

“Right.”

“Just --”

“Don’t worry. I can handle him.” She gnawed her upper lip for a second. “Tomorrow I read with this Lambert guy.”

“Chris you’ll like. He’s French actually. Christophe -- Lom-bair.”

“Oh no.”

“No, he’s cool.”

“He’s not weird?”

“No. And he’s a good actor.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything.”

“He’s in those, uh, Highlander movies?”

“Never heard of them. But what do I know. I just watch old movies. Bette Davis. Barbara Stanwyck. Deanna Durbin. Have you had lunch yet?”

“No.”

“Do you want to -- I mean, some place cheap this time -- and you have to let me pay --”

“Okay -- look, give me like fifteen or twenty minutes --”

“All right. I’ll just walk around --”

“No, don’t walk around around here -- look, go outside, go left and walk down to the corner, you’ll see this joint called the Musso and Frank Grill.”

“Buddy, I grew up in L.A., I’ve heard of Musso and Frank’s.”

“Oh, okay, sorry.”

“I mean, I’ve never actually been there --”

“Oh. Well, would you like to try it?”

“I’d love to.”

“Okay. Go around the back and go in and tell the guy you’re waiting for me. Tell him I said I’d like a booth. Then order a martini.”

“Well --”

She had that furrowed brow look again, even though her brow wasn’t really furrowed.

“What?”

“I’ll have an iced tea maybe.”

“Okay, iced tea’s cool. Don’t you want your cigarette?”

“No.” She closed the box. “I’ll save it for after. I mean after lunch. Do you still want one?”

“No, maybe later.”

****

“So, who’s your little friend?” said Debbie.

“She’s not my little -- she’s -- the Ancient Mariner’s daughter.”

“Oh my God.”

“Yeah.”

“What did she want?”

Harvey sat there, taking it all in.

“She, uh, it has to do with her old man.”

“And Joan?”

“Uh, yeah. It’s -- it’s personal stuff, Deb.”

“Sounds odd to me. Why is she coming to you?”

“I don’t know. She’s got a maniac for a father. My wife ran off with the maniac. We’re related in an weird way.”

“A very weird way.”

“Okay, look, let’s wrap this shit up, guys,” said Harvey. “We got the dude from HBO --”

“Showtime,” said Debbie.

“Thank you. The idiot from Showtime at what?”

“2:30.”

“So let’s grab some lunch. What’s the special at Musso’s today? Is today corned beef day?”

“Uh, look, not Musso’s,” said Buddy.

“Why not?”

“Because I’m having lunch with the Mariner’s daughter at Musso’s.”

“Oh, my God,” said Debbie. “You are busted. You are so busted.”

“What?” said Buddy. “We’re having lunch.”

****


She was standing on the sidewalk outside of Musso’s. On Gene Autry’s star. She had sunglasses on.

“Why didn’t you go in?”

“I felt funny.”

“Oh. Okay, well --”

“Buddy.”

“Yeah.”

“You live near here, don’t you?”

“Yeah, pretty close, up on Ivar. Why?”

“Is there anybody home right now?”

“At my house? No, not that I know of --”

“Let’s go to your house.”

It was hot on the sidewalk. Tiny beads of moisture glistened on her upper lip.

“Okay,” he said.


(Continued here, because the literary world demands it.)

(Please refer to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™, recently shortlisted for the Maury Povich Book Club.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 174: just a man

In our previous episode our hero Arnold Schnabel was nice enough to walk the inebriated and battered Buddy Kelly home to Buddy’s apartment; Buddy repaid Arnold by healing Arnold’s scrapes with a mysterious and foul smelling scarlet liquid…

(Go here to return to that long-ago first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning multi-volume masterpiece, which the noted critic Harold Bloom has called, “by way of being not so much a memoir, nay, but rather a way of life”.)


“Here,” he said, offering me the brown bottle. “Take this with ya. I got more.”

My immediate thought was how would I ever explain this bottle and its contents to my mother, who was unfailingly aware of every single thing I might bring home.

“Oh, no, that’s okay, Buddy, thanks.”

“Ya never know when ya might need it.”

“I’ll just try to be more careful in the future.”

“You’re a funny guy, Arnold.”

“A barrel of laughs,” I said.

“I mean here ya go turning down this shit for free, gratis and for nothing that could go for a thousand bucks an ounce if I ever put it on the market.”

“Maybe you should,” I said, wondering if it would be untoward of me to ask for one of his Dutch Masters Panetellas instead.

“Nah, the time ain’t right,” he said. “Mankind ain’t ready. And just between you and me and the wall I don’t know if it’ll ever be ready.”

“Well, I really should be pushing off now,” I said.

“Mass in the mornin’, huh?”

I had completely forgotten about mass, which certainly was an issue.

“The nine, right?” asked Buddy.

“Well, I don’t know if I’ll make the nine,” I said.

“Yeah, me neither,” said Buddy. “Unless I decide just to pull an all-nighter.”

He turned his head and gazed as if longingly at the TV screens.

“Okay, then,” I said. It didn’t look as if he was going to offer me a cigar. I turned and opened the screen door. “Good night, Buddy.”

“Good night, ya bum.”

I went out onto the landing, then safely down the steps. At their foot I paused, my hand on the rail. Up in Buddy’s apartment a pale glow flickered from the windows and from the doorway, accompanied by that multitudinous humming, as if all the universe with all its living and its dead and its still to be born were contained in that one room.

I went around the side of the house and back through the front gate, and set off again down Hughes Street.

Although my scrapes and their pain had been healed I was very tired, almost as tired as after one of my brakeman trips from Philadelphia to Binghamton, New York, and back again on the old Interstate Express in bad winter weather. I wished I could just fly home.

I came to the spot where Buddy and I had fought Mr. Lucky. There was no sign of the battle, not even a trace of his smell of corruption and death.

Impatiently I quickened my pace, broadening my strides. This was how my ancient ancestors survived and thrived I thought, hairy barbarians jogging relentlessly though hill and dale, through swamps and forests, chasing the mighty wooly mammoth. I’ll bet those fellows got tired too after twenty miles or so and before the invention of proper footwear. They too wished they could fly. And so imagine my surprise then when I actually did start to fly.

At first it was just a few feet or so, and I only rose up a couple of feet at that. But on touching down to the pavement I pushed off on one foot with greater vigor and now I rose up several feet and described an arc through the air extending perhaps ten or twelve feet. I was getting the hang of it now, and when I landed this time I kicked off from the sidewalk as forcefully as I could, and now I sailed up to the height of six feet, straightened my body out parallel to the sidewalk, and with my arms slightly open at my sides I flew steadily along at what I would estimate to be a healthy speed for a ten-year-old bicyclist.

Not as impressive as what Clarissa could pull off, but not bad at all for a beginner, I thought.

This was a restful and soothing way to travel, but I could see how unwise it would be to employ it in the daytime, especially for one such as I who has always preferred to blend into the scenery. No one was about now, though, the streets were quiet and empty, the only movement besides myself being that ocean breeze through the little leaves of the bushes glinting in the streetlight and sliding away beneath me like millions of stars.

At the corner of Ocean Street I touched down again and, turning inland, immediately sprung off deftly and smoothly to my previous altitude and speed. At this rate I would be back in my narrow army cot in no time.

My narrow cot.

The thought of it made me think of Elektra’s bed, that large comfortable bed smelling of flowers and of her, and I thought of her in that bed, sleeping soundly. Would she mind if I were to fly up to her window and drop quietly in? How nice it would be to sleep next to her warm body. All I had to do was make a left turn up at Carpenter’s Lane, and sail down to Jackson Street…

I briefly closed my eyes, thinking of Elektra, of her soft skin and her smell like warm peach pie when suddenly I felt a terrific jolt as my shoulder banged against the unsympathetic iron of a streetlamp pole and I crashed down to the pavement.

I lay there for a few moments, painfully aware of brand-new scrapes on the heels of my hands and my elbows and knees, of a wholly-new throbbing in my left shoulder, and of a painfully-enforced fresh sense of humility.

It occurred to me that perhaps just because I was able to do something did not mean that I should do it.

I turned over and lay there, breathing deeply, letting the new pains settle in, staring up through the barely stirring leaves of an oak tree.

But then again, how should I know what I should or shouldn’t do, except by trying?

I felt the earth turning beneath me, with me on it, and blinking among the oak leaves above I saw stars in their millions.

Despite my new array of pains it was almost restful lying there on the hard pavement.

I closed my eyes again.

But no.

This wouldn’t do.

If a cop should come along I would not be a personal friend of the savior and a conqueror of the devil but just another drunk lying on the pavement.

I pulled myself up by easy stages to a standing position.

Nothing seemed to be broken.

I took a step, did not fall down, although I winced and grunted.

I took a breath, and then another step.

I would walk home.

Like any normal man at the end of a long Saturday night, I would walk home.

Or at any rate I would limp home.

Not like a normal man, perhaps, but like a man.


(Continued here, because not to do so would constitute a crime against civilization.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for what may very well be a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, #99 {preceded by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and followed by The Plague by Albert Camus} on The Ladies’ Home Journal’s “One Hundred Inspiring Books for the Holidays”.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 24: going there

In our previous chapter our hero Buddy Best found himself having dinner with none other than Cordelia, daughter of the Ancient Mariner, that ham actor who is now enjoying a holiday in Brittany with Buddy’s wife...

(Click here to return to the beginning of this “lewd and lubricious saga of love and lust in La La Land” -- (J.J. Hunsecker, in The Catholic Standard & Times.)


Of course she offered to take the bus home and of course Buddy insisted on driving her. Because he had been drinking he drove carefully through quiet streets. Neither of them said anything for a while and then she said, “I like driving through the streets. The freeways suck. What’s the big hurry anyway?”

“Dig it,” said Buddy.

Blocks and blocks of silence. Which was okay, in fact it was more than okay, it was kind of nice, but then Buddy said, “So, you gonna tell the Mariner we had dinner?”

“The who?”

“Oh. The Mariner. Short for the Ancient Mariner.”

“Is that what you call him?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh my God, that’s so perfect. Did everybody --?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Oh my God. Did he know you called him that?”

“I doubt it.”

“That’s just so perfect. Anyway,” she said, “no, I’m not going to tell him you and I had dinner. He would be -- weird about it.” She paused. “And I guess it is weird, but --”

She sighed.

A long moment passed and then she began to talk, in a dreamy warm voice, about not belonging in L.A., about her love for the world of the stage, her plans to move back to New York...and after a while Buddy only half-listened, minding his driving, enjoying being with her and the strangeness of the evening.

“Don’t you think?” she asked.

Uh-oh.

“Yeah,” he ventured.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“So I’m not just -- some fruitcake.”

“No, not at all.”

“Thanks. That means something to me coming from you.”

“Oh, well, you know --”

What the hell was she talking about?

“Yeah,” she said.

She didn’t say a word the rest of the ride back until he stopped the car in front of her house -- well, the Mariner’s house.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay,” said Buddy.

“Thanks. For the dinner.”

“You’re welcome.”

“It was -- I think that was the best meal I’ve ever had.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

She looked away. He couldn’t tell for sure but he suspected she was gnawing on her upper lip. She turned back to him.

“Hey,” she said, “do you want to come in for a bit?”

“Well, to tell the truth I have to pee like crazy.”

“Oh, my God, so do I.”

So they went in, and she clicked on an overhead light.

“You go first, Buddy.”

“No, please --”

“No, you’re a man, men pee quick.”

“Okay.”

Unlike the last time Buddy was here he used the bathroom.

He came out and she went in, and he stood there in the big living room, surrounded by all the Mariner’s antiques and curios.

He heard the toilet flush, but she didn’t come out.

He just stood there. The big fat black cat appeared, came over and rubbed himself against Buddy’s leg and then walked away. Still no Cordelia, so Buddy went over to a tall bookcase made out of ostentatiously rough-hewn planks and old red bricks. He took off his driving glasses and put them away. Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Faulkner. Raymond Carver, Tom Wolfe, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon. In the middle of one shelf were a bunch of framed photographs, most of them of the Mariner, at various stages of his career, in some of them he was in costume and make-up. In one picture a younger Mariner was standing with a very young version of Cordelia, aged twelve or so, on a pebbly beach on a grey day. The Mariner wore Speedos and rope sandals and a beret. Cordelia wore a plain light-colored dress and she was looking away from the camera, one hand brushing her dark hair away from her face. There was another one of a much younger Mariner, wearing hiking shorts and a straw hat and a peasant smock, posing by a thatched cottage with a dark haired, somber-looking young woman wearing a black turtleneck and jeans. Cordelia’s mother? The dead wife.

Buddy looked away, he could hear Cordelia’s footsteps finally coming back down the hall from where the bathroom was. For some reason he put his hand on the spine of a book, as if he had been checking the title, which in this case happened to be The Fountainhead.

“Sorry,” she said.

“Hey, no problem.”

“Are you looking for a book to steal?”

“Should I?”

“No, you’d better not. He would notice and then I’d catch hell.”

“Yeah, well,” said Buddy.

He looked at the books, or at least in the direction of the books.

“Well,” she said.

Buddy turned and looked at her.

“Well, I guess I better get rolling.”

She paused for an oddly long moment and then, very suddenly:

“Oh, Buddy, come around the back first, I have to show you something.”

Now what?

“Well, okay,” he said.

They went through the house, through the kitchen, and out the screen door in the back and onto the deck. The beach was moonlit, cool and windy.

“Do you see that forbidding mass over there?”

“Yeah,” said Buddy, thinking, Oh, right, the thing I didn’t bother pissing behind last time I was here.

“Come on, you have to see this.”

She took off her shoes and left them on the deck, and Buddy followed her down the steps. They walked together over the scurfy sand to the mass, which, instead of being a dead baby whale appeared to be a boat covered by a big rotting canvas tarpaulin. Cordelia set to work yanking and pulling off the canvas and revealed what was in fact an old wooden boat reeking of mold and tar.

“Do you know what this is?”

“A boat?”

“But what kind of boat.”

“A wooden boat.”

“But what kind of wooden boat.”

“A stupid wooden boat.”

“No. It’s a stupid Breton fishing boat. From Brittany. Bretagne.”

“Your father’s insane, baby.”

“I know. He inherited some money and so he had this thing shipped all across the Atlantic and all the way across the country, but that's not the best part."

“No?”

“No, because he took it down to the marina and tried to sail it and it immediately started to sink.”

“Fuckin’ hell.”

“Absolutely. And I was in the boat. But It was just as well it started to sink because he doesn’t really know how to sail a boat. So he had it hauled back here and it’s been here ever since, for like seven or eight years. He’s always supposed to be fixing it up and patching it up or whatever, but he always makes some excuse, and so here it sits, because he’s secretly afraid to ever take it out again.” She stood quite close to Buddy now and he could tell she had just brushed her teeth. “So you see, he really is the Ancient Mariner.”

She leaned back against the boat. She had buttoned the top button of her cardigan. But only the top button.

Next thing Buddy knew he was kissing her. They kissed for a full minute, then paused and looked at each other in the moonlight, she didn’t say anything, he didn’t say anything, then more kissing, here in the cool ocean air, pressing against and kissing this warm voluptuous girl with amazingly soft lips and this nice smell she had, like, like --

“Ow,” she said.

Buddy drew back.

“What?”

“You were pressing my back against the boat.”

“Oh, sorry.”

She had her hands on his waist.

“You’re not in bad shape for an old guy.”

“Thanks.”

The top button of her sweater had come undone. (In fact Buddy had undone it.) Her lipstick was blurry. She looked at him with those eyes, oh Christ --

“Do you have a Kleenex?” she said. “You’ve got my lipstick on.”

Buddy found several Kleenex in his jacket pocket, including at least one that seemed fairly clean. She took it and licked it, then wiped his lips.

“There, good,” she said. “How do I look?”

“Give me,” said Buddy.

He took the tissue and wiped Cordelia’s lips. And this got him so aroused that all he could do was let the Kleenex flutter away on the ocean wind like the sweet bird of youth while he put his arms around her and brought her around so that his back was against the boat, and kiss her again. He put his hand on her backside which was larger and softer and nicer than Joan’s, and she pressed against that part of him that had gotten him married to Joan and before that to Madge, but forget them, they were in the past along with all the other ones, and this was now, of course it was always now, but this was really now.

After a while she whispered, “Let’s go inside.”

Buddy thought, Um, no, I’d better not, but what he said was, “I can’t stay long. Deirdre, my daughter -- my stepdaughter, is home alone. Well, she has a girlfriend with her, but still --”

“How old is she, your stepdaughter?”

“She’s -- uh -- what, fifteen?” -- he was pretty sure --“fifteen going on sixteen?”

“That’s a dangerous age.”

“Yeah.”

“So should you go home now, or --?”

Buddy hesitated, then took out his cellphone, speed-dialed. (Philip had recently put in all his speed-dials for him.) Deirdre picked up.

“Hi, baby, how ya doin’? Uh, look, are you cool if I’m another uh hour let’s say?” With his free hand he caressed Cordelia’s hip. “No, I’m not. It’s a business dinner. I’m schmoozing, networking. Yeah. Okay, don’t burn the place down, I’ll be back by midnight. Behave. Call my cell if anything --”

He closed up the phone and dropped it into his jacket pocket.

“She’s okay,” he said. “She and her friend are watching --”

“Let’s go inside.”

“Okay -- wait -- let’s kiss some more.”

They did that.

After a while he said, “Wait, wait.”

She stopped and looked at him.

“Wait,” he said.

“Okay.”

She put her forehead against his shoulder, and something about this gesture was almost more than he could take. But --

“Look, Cordelia, I can’t go in there with you. It’s -- I just don’t know if it would be a good idea.” Right, no kidding.

She raised her face and looked at him.

“We wouldn’t have to have sex. I didn’t necessarily mean to have sex.”

“I know. I mean, no, I didn’t know, necessarily, but still, I don’t know --”

She took a long beat. Then --

“Well -- I guess you’re right,” she said.

“I mean, it’s -- I don’t want to--”

“No, I understand. You’re nice.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

She gave him a kiss, on the lips, but a quick one this time.

“Hey, can I give you something?” she said.

“Uh, sure,” he said.

“Okay, come on.”

She took his hand and led him toward the back of the house. He had trouble walking, for biological reasons. He followed her up the steps, and on the deck she reached down and got her shoes. She went over to the screen door, opened it, and turned toward him.

“Hey, Cordelia, I’m not going in there.”

“Scaredy cat.”

She went in. He waited and a couple of minutes later (and three decisions to go ahead and have sex with her anyway and three decisions not to think with his dick for once in his life) she came out.

“Sorry,” she said. “I forgot where I put it.”

She handed him a videocassette in a cardboard case.

“It’s this stupid movie I was in.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“It’s not good. And it’s got a nude scene but it’s from when I was thin.”

“Okay, I’ll bear that in mind.”

“It’s this arty low-budget black-and-white thing --”

“Good, I’ll take a look at it.”

“It was in a couple of film festivals, but -- oh my God!” She put her hand to her mouth. “You think I’m like my dad. You think I’m giving this to you to try and get a job.”

“No --”

Actually the thought had flickered into the back of his mind.

“Give it back to me.”

“No.”

“No, Buddy, give it back. I don’t want you to think that.”

“I don’t think that.”

“Give it back.”

“Uh-uh.”

She tried to grab it and Buddy held it behind his back.

“Buddy --”

“What?”

“I just, I just wanted you to see something I did. I mean I know you saw me that one time on stage --”

“And you were great.”

“But -- I just -- I don’t know -- the movie’s not real good but some of my scenes are okay, I mean I could’ve done better.”

“Look, I really want to see this movie.”

“Well, okay.”

“I mean, hey, just for the nude scene alone --”

“Yeah.” She looked away, toward the ocean. “Whoopee,” she murmured.

And Buddy looked at her.

A few seconds passed by, the surf gently crashing.

“All right,” said Buddy. “Look -- I’ll --” what? “I’ll call you.”

This time she actually furrowed her brow. She turned to Buddy.

“No, don’t call me. That’s too -- bizarre.”

“Okay.”

“I don’t know when my dad’s getting back, and --”

“Yeah.”

“But I could call you --”

“Uh, sure --”

“Maybe.”

They looked at each other.

“This is weird,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said.

“I can’t wait till I save up enough to move out of this house --”

She was feeling the material of the seam of his shirt with her fingers.

“Look, Cordelia --”

“Yeah?”

His fingers were touching her hip.

“Look -- even if you weren’t who you are, I’m not -- I’m not looking for a -- a girlfriend. And -- even if I was looking for a girlfriend -- but I’m not. I’m just not -- uh, what am I trying to say -- just --”

“Buddy.”

She gave a little pull on his shirt.

“What?”

“It’s okay. I’m not looking for a boyfriend. And even if I was looking for a boyfriend it definitely wouldn’t be some much older old fart boyfriend.”

“Oh. I’m an asshole.”

“I’m not looking for any kind of boyfriend.”

“I’m a jerk.”

“No. You’re a dork.”

“Yeah. I knew that.”

She looked at him. Then she licked her fingertip and began wiping around his lips with it.

“You still had a bit of lipstick on,” she said.

“Thanks.”

She smoothed his hair back.

“I look okay now?” said Buddy.

“Yeah,” she said. “So, I’ll call you --”

“Yeah, sure,” said Buddy. “Oh, wait.”

He took out his wallet, opened it, and found a business card. Then, feeling like this was taking way too long, he got out his pen and wrote his cellphone number on the card.

“Here, this has my work number, but I wrote down my cellphone number. It’s probably better if --”

“Okay.”

She took the card and then started to give him a quick kiss, and then it got not so quick and then she stopped.

“Okay,” said Buddy.

She looked at him, then she went into the house and closed the door. Buddy stood there alone on the deck for a moment, then turned and went down the stairs, stepping slowly to favor his erection.


When he got home Deirdre and Trish were sitting on the couch with Ming, watching a movie in the dark. The movie was The Wages of Fear.

“Hey, Uncle Bud, you have a good time?”

“Yeah.”

“You were on a date, weren’t you?”

“No. Hey, Trish, shouldn’t you be getting home?”

“Uncle Bud, for the millionth time, Trish is staying over. Her mom gave permission.”

“Oh, right, okay, well, look, uh, hit the hay when the movie’s over, okay?”

“No, we’re gonna stay up all night.”

“Okay, I’m going up now.”

“Oh, Uncle Bud, Shakira called. She wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Good night, Mr. Best.”

“Good night, Trish.”

Buddy went upstairs.


He had almost reached relief when the phone rang, and he picked it right up before Deirdre could get it just in case it was Cordelia, even though he had asked her to use his cellphone number, but no, it was Madge, Shakira, wanting to talk about Liz, and he let her talk, filling in his own occasional lines on cue, lying in bed naked under the covers in the dark, not listening very closely, which he was used to doing with Madge. She was calling from that gas station phone booth again, and after a while he had to call her back because she said she was out of change. It occurred to him that it was pretty late for her even to be up, let alone calling him from a public phone a couple miles of dark mountain road from the ashram, and he thought about mentioning this but didn’t manage to. He began touching himself again, not thinking very much at all about Madge or his daughter.


(Continued here, because it’s too late to turn back now.)

(Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™, absolutely free of charge for a limited time only. All contents vetted and approved by the Commissariat of Patriotic Epics.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 173: subjunctive

Once again our hero Arnold Schnabel has done battle with and conquered the Dark Lord, AKA “Mr. Lucky”, on this historic night in August of 1963, in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey...

(Go here to go to read our previous chapter, or click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning memoir, which Harold Bloom has called “immensely long; would only that it were longer”.)

Well, Mr. Arbuthnot had said the ink was special.

I removed the cap from the barrel of the pen, replaced it onto the front section, put the pen back into my trouser pocket.

The back of my head hurt, my arms and chest ached from where Mr. Lucky had been respectively squeezing and shoving, my re-scraped knees throbbed, but I was breathing and alive, the soles of my Keds solidly upon the homely concrete of Cape May as opposed to the eternally burning coals of hell.

I heard Buddy groaning. Which was good. Dead men don’t groan.

He was lying on his stomach, on the pavement, his body moving slightly.

I went over to where he lay, and leaned over.

“Buddy?”

I reached down and tugged at his shoulder.

“What is it?” he said.

“Buddy, you okay?”

He pushed himself away from the concrete, and I helped to pull his body up into a sitting position.

He rubbed his crewcut head. He didn’t look so bad, considering. He probably looked a lot better than I did, I’ll tell you that much.

“What hit me? I feel like a f***ing bus run over me.”

“You were in a fight,” I said.

“Where’s the other guy?”

“He, uh, took off.”

“Did you kick his ass, I hope?”

“Well, let’s just say I got rid of him.”

“Good man, Arnold. Help me up.”

I did this, and he stayed on his feet.

“So you sent him packin’, huh?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“Well, see ya later, Arnie.”

“Where do you live, Buddy?”

“Just right down the block here.”

“I’ll walk you.”

“All right, pal.”

By now I was more or less resigned never to get home, or at least not this night, which seemed more and more likely never to end.

At first Buddy staggered wildly as he walked, but pretty soon he settled down and only occasionally bumped into me.

We turned in through the front gate of one of the big old gabled houses on Hughes, and Buddy led me around to the back.

At the side rear of the house a set of wooden stairs led up to the second floor.

“I’m just right up there,” said Buddy.

“Well, good night then,” I said.

He put out his hand, I took it, he squeezed it with a grip only slightly less steely than Mr. Lucky’s.

He started up the stairs. He missed his footing on about the third step and almost fell, so I went up, took his arm, and helped him up the stairs.

We went in through a screen door, and, amazingly, nothing too weird happened, at least not right away. It’s true that Buddy’s one-room apartment was lined with instrument panels and television screens, the televisions showing various scenes, in black-and-white, from around the earth and even from what appeared to be other planets, a speaker next to each screen emitting its own separate sounds, the sum of which sounded like the humming of a great beehive, or that sound a crowd of people makes when leaving a sports stadium after the home team has been humiliatingly defeated.

“Okay, Buddy,” I said, “I guess I’ll be heading home now.”

“Look at them scrapes you got there,” he said. “They’re gonna get all infected and shit.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” I said, my hand on the handle of the screen door. “A little bit of iodine --”

“Iodine? What are we, in the 20th century?”

“Well, actually --”

“Stay right there. I got somethin'.”

I sighed, but I stayed, while Buddy went off into what appeared to be a bathroom.

I looked at the various TV screens. On one of them I saw my own bloodied and baleful self, standing by Buddy’s screen door. I looked around but I couldn’t see a TV camera. Well, no matter.

Through the open bathroom door I heard through the ambient hum the unmistakable sound of someone urinating, and then I heard Buddy singing: “Lady of Spain”.

Slightly bored, I looked at myself on the TV screen again.

Looking a little more carefully I saw beyond myself the image of myself on a smaller TV screen, looking in turn at the image of myself on a yet tinier screen, and so on.

Finally I heard the toilet flush. I heard no sounds of Buddy washing his hands however, and he came right out, still humming “Lady of Spain” and carrying a squat brown corked bottle and a hand towel.

“All right, Arnie,” he said, “Sit down and I’ll take care of ya.”

“Y’know, really, Buddy --”

“Sit down.”

There was an arm chair there, another wicker one, with a Racing Form on the seat. I picked up the paper and sat down. There was a small table with a lamp next to the chair, but it was cluttered with an overflowing ashtray, an opened half-full box of Dutch Masters Panetellas and five or six presumably empty pint cans of Schmidt’s beer.

“Just throw the paper on the floor, Arnie,” said Buddy.

I did as he said, dropping it onto a great pile of Racing Forms and Argosy and True and other more lewd and lurid men’s magazines of the sort I had always wanted to purchase but in my cowardice posing as virtue had not.

“All right,” he said, pulling the cork out of the bottle with his teeth, “let’s get to work.”

Laying the cork on the table, he upended the bottle onto the towel, which I could plainly see was not 100% clean to begin with. Nor even 50%.

“Buddy,” I said, “shouldn’t we maybe get a cleaner towel.”

“Nah, it don’t matter. This s**t will disinfect anything it touches.” The towel was turning blood red in his hand. “Besides, I ain’t got a clean towel. Lemme see them scrapes on your arms and hands.”

I held up my arms and he leaned closer.

“Christ, they already look like they’re infected. What did you do, roll around in a pile of dogs**t?”

“No,” I said. But then I remembered wiping my wounds with the water from that gladiolus vase in the Chalfonte’s Magnolia Room just as, simultaneously, I vaguely recalled something I had read in “Hints From Heloise” about the potential toxicity of such water.

“All right,” said Buddy, “let’s get to work,” and he started on the big scrape running from my right elbow down to my hand.

As he swabbed my wounds I gritted my teeth and looked away at those ubiquitous TV screens, including the one containing me gritting my teeth and looking at myself in the tinier screen and so on, and I listened, or pretended to listen, while Buddy babbled on about creatures from some other dimension and flying saucers and whatnot. I was in rather a lot of pain, and so I was paying even less attention than I normally do when someone else is talking. Also, that stuff he was swabbing my wounds with further distracted me by its intense odor, reminiscent of the smell of a recently bombed building in the rain.

“Needless to say, Arnie,” I became aware of Buddy saying to me, “alla shit I’m tellin’ ya is on the Q.T., strictly.”

“Oh, sure, Buddy,” I said.

He was squatting in front of me, holding the wadded up towel against my right knee. I had to admit that the pain had already lessened considerably in my arms and hands.

“So,” I said, just to bring the conversation back down to earth a bit, “where are your wife and kids, Buddy?”

I had often seen him and his family at mass, four or five apparently mentally-disturbed young scamps of both genders and a beleaguered-looking thin woman.

“Oh, they live in the house over on Broadway,” said Buddy. “But I usually sack out here. More privacy, ya know? My wife prefers it this way, too. Hey, get me out one of them Dutch Masters, will ya?”

I unwrapped one of the cigars, gave it to Buddy. There was a box of Sid’s Tavern matches on the table also, and I gave him a light as he continued to hold the towel against my knee.

“These screens are all set to present time of course,” he said. “If you like I can switch ‘em to the past. Anything you want to see? Anything ya want, Battle of Gettysburg, Columbus discovering America -- or maybe you want to see some episode in your past life?”

“No thanks,” I said. I'd had enough of this sort of thing for one day.

“The only thing they can’t do is show the future. We just ain’t got the technology yet. But I’m workin’ on it, believe you me.”

I was tempted to ask him for one of the cigars; his smelled pretty good.

“On the other hand --” He was working on my other knee now. “I could change the channel and show ya what might have been. Like, say one day in your past life you just decided to hop a freighter for Timbuktu instead of working on the railroad your whole life.”

Why was it that everyone in this town knew all about me? And I knew so little about them.

“Your whole life might have been different,” he said.

“That’s true,” I said.

“Not to say it would have been any better.”

“No, I suppose not --”

“What if your ship sunk. Or what if when you got to Timbuktu you got trampled by an elephant?”

“Yeah --”

“Ya want me to change the channel?”

“No, that's okay, Buddy, thanks,” I said.

He went back to humming, smoking all the while and occasionally singing a phrase of “Lady of Spain”, holding the scarlet towel against my knee.

Finally he stood up. He tossed the towel onto the floor, took the cork from the table top, and stoppered the bottle.

“Take a look,” he said.

I looked at my arms and hands, at my knees and shins. The affected areas were slightly pink, but the scrapes and cuts were gone, as was the pain. All that remained were slight tingling sensations as if those areas of my epidermis had been doused with witch hazel.

“Not bad, huh?” he said.

It certainly wasn’t bad. But I immediately wondered what I would tell Josh tomorrow. How would he feel knowing that an inebriated and apparently insane automobile mechanic was able to do what he could not? It must be quite disconcerting realizing that your own creations were more powerful than yourself.

I hauled myself up

“Well, thanks a lot, Buddy,” I said.

“Don’t mention it, pal.”

“I guess I really should be going.”

“Okay. You ever wanta stop by and watch the TVs, just come on by.”

“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe.”

“Not your cup of tea?”

“Well, I prefer other types of shows. You know --”

“Oh, like intellectual shows probably, huh?”

“Oh, no, just, you know, M Squad, Johnny Staccato. Naked City.”

“Yeah, intellectual type shows.”

“Well -- uh --”

“Stop by anyway. I don’t usually meet bums who got a brain. You know. A bum I can talk to.”

“Okay, Buddy.”

That seemed noncommittal enough.

Buddy was a nice guy and all, but I wasn’t so sure about his room full of televisions.


(Continued here; and don't worry, we still have 1,987 of Arnold’s notebooks to transcribe.)

(Please go to the right hand column of this page for what on many days is an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, absolutely free of charge, although donations will be accepted in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Literacy Project.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 23: revelations

Our hero Buddy Best, that self-described “middle-aged Hollywood hack”, finds himself in the strange position of having dinner with the lovely Cordelia, daughter of the Ancient Mariner...

(Go here to see our previous thrilling chapter, or click here to return to the beginning of this “blatant and unashamed pot-boiler” -- (J.J. Hunsecker, in Daily Variety.)

So they started with what turned out to be very good artichoke croquettes and something that Buddy thought was going to be a shrimp paté but which turned out to be more like shrimp paté turnovers, but they were good too. The croquettes had truffles in them somewhere, which meant they were probably absurdly expensive, and they came with a bowl of some white sauce that was delicious and probably ninety percent butter, and so Buddy would probably die of a heart attack that night; on the other hand the turnover stuffing was only about fifty percent butter.

They had been talking in a free-associative way, about the Los Angeles public transport system and L.A.’s racial stratification, about SARS, about the war in Iraq, and terrorism, and the Palestinian question, and neither of them had said anything interesting. There was a pause in the conversation. Buddy was a little bored, and he could tell she was too. Of course from Buddy’s point of view all this blather was bearable because she was a good-looking girl with a rocking body; he had put up with hundreds of far more excruciating conversations in the past as part of the price he had to pay to have sex with bimbos -- and, hey, come to think of it -- oh, but wait, this chick with the body was the daughter of the asshole his wife had run away with, so just fucking forget about it.

She looked at the appetizer plates, which were both empty. A waiter came and took them away. Buddy took a sip of wine. Cordelia looked at him and cocked her head.

“So -- how are you holding up, anyway?” she asked. “I mean really.”

“Holding up?”

“Yeah.”

“You mean with Joan leaving me?”

“Uh-huh.”

“The million dollar question.”

“Oh. You don’t have to answer,” she said.

“I don’t mind.”

“Really?”

“Really,” he said, although he did mind a little.

“Okay,” she said. “So --”

“I’m holding up okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t -- miss her?”

Buddy paused here. He was thinking about his answer but he was also thinking about the way her question had dissolved into a watery growl. His first impulse had been to be glib, but --

“Do I miss Joan. At first I did. Which is kind of weird really, because Joan -- I don’t know how well you know her, but -- Joan is -- kind of a -- a --”

“A bitch?”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say that --”

“Sorry. What were you going to say?”

“I was going to say ‘piece of work’.”

“’Piece of work.’”

“Right.”

“But you missed her anyway.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah what?” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“You said yeah in a funny way.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Funny how?”

“Funny like you weren’t so sure.”

“That I missed her?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay,” said Buddy.

“What?”

“Well -- I wonder now if -- oh, forget it, who gives a shit.”

“I do,” she said. “Tell me.”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “I wonder now if maybe the biggest thing that bothered me about her leaving was that, was that, was that it was with, uh --”

“My father,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

Her face relaxed into a picture of complete understanding, her head nodding.

“I mean, it’s tough enough playing the cuckold,” said Buddy.

“Mm-hmm.”

“But when the one who’s cuckolding you is --”

“Someone like my father.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“That must have been really tough,” she said.

“Well --”

“So what about now?”

“What about about now?”

“How do you feel about it now?”

“Well --” Buddy was the sort of guy who didn’t like to talk about how he felt. But now for some reason he didn’t mind. Too much. “I guess the main thing that bothers me now is my stepdaughter. Deirdre.”

“Why does she bother you?”

“She doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that Joan is no doubt going to take her. That bothers me.”

“So you’re -- fond of Deirdre?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.”

“That’s nice,” she said.

“Yeah, well.”

“So,” she said.

“So,” said Buddy.

“You’re probably wondering.”

“Am I?”

“Yes!”

“About what?”

“About why I needed to talk to you. Or wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh, right,” said Buddy. “I forgot. So, what’s up?”

She looked down at her wine.

All in good time, thought Buddy.

She looked up at him, then brought her face closer over the table.

“It’s about my father.”

“Yeah?”

Another pause. She was breathing deeply, and the way she leaned across the table Buddy couldn’t help but notice again the beauty of her breasts, that tiny dime-sized tattoo of Saturn that didn’t really look like Saturn --

“My father and Joan --” she stage-whispered.

“Yes?” Buddy tried to keep his eyes on her face.

“Well --”

She sat upright. The waiter was there with their main course, skinny spaghetti with vegetables for Buddy, fatter spaghetti with little meatballs for her.

“Oh, wow,” she said, “This looks great.”

And she dug in.

The meatballs did look good. But a year before Buddy had decided to cut out red meat, and he mostly had done this. Like an asshole, he thought, because now he really wanted some of those meatballs. He tasted his pasta. Surprisingly it was okay, they’d done something good with the sauce. Usually pasta with vegetables was incredibly boring, just something the chef tossed out to keep the veges happy and the women of course and pathetic middle-aged men who wanted not to be middle-aged. What was it about the sauce? Oh, right, butter. And garlic and pine nuts and whatnot. But butter, and lots of it. So he was definitely giving himself a heart attack anyway. He should’ve just lived it up and gone for the meatballs.

“What was I saying?” she asked after eating about a quarter of her dish.

Damned if Buddy could remember. He’d been thrown off by those meatballs. He could smell them across the table and they smelled damn good. But you couldn’t just tell someone you couldn’t remember what they were talking about just a few minutes ago. The thing to do was to stall.

“Well, let’s see, you were talking about, uh -- hey, how’s your food? Okay?“

“Oh my God, it’s great. Hey, you want some?”

Normally Buddy despised the American custom of everyone offering everyone else at the table a taste of every fucking dish -- it drove him crazy in fact, but he was a man full of contradictions among other things and so he said, “Uh, I wouldn’t mind trying one of those meatballs.”

“Help yourself,” and she held out her bowl, and he did. And --

“Wow, these are good,” he said.

She took a good drink of wine and smiled at him.

“You can’t remember what I was saying, can you?” she asked.

Fortunately the meatball had cleared his brain.

“Um, something about your dad?”

“Right, well --” She had popped a meatball into her own mouth, and was chewing. “God, these meatballs are good.”

“Yeah, they are.”

“Do you want another one?”

He did, but he said he didn’t.

She finished chewing and swallowing and then took a healthy drink of wine.

“My dad didn’t want Joan to leave you for him.”

“What?”

She leaned her face forward.

“He didn’t want her to leave you. That’s what I wanted to tell you over the phone. Why I asked you to meet with me.” She leaned back again, and said, ”He didn’t want her to move in because he was hoping he’d get more parts in your movies.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Nope.”

She went back to work on her pasta. Buddy had laid his fork down.

“He actually thought I would hire him again?”

“Well, obviously not after you found out about him and Joan. That’s why he didn’t want you to find out, why he didn’t want Joan to leave you.”

“Okay. Y’know, no offense, Cordelia, but I would’ve never hired his sorry ass again in a million years, not even as a fucking extra.”

“I love hearing that.”

“So your dad got more than he bargained for.”

“He sure did. You should have heard him the night Joan came over and told him she’d told you about them and that she’d left you. And then you should have heard her.”

“So -- you heard all this?”

“I was hiding in my room, my head under the covers.”

“Uh-huh.”

“He tried to tell her what he tells all his girlfriends, which is that he’s never gotten over my mother dying, which is bullshit, but women are such idiots they usually swallow it.”

“But not Joan.”

“No, she just told him that it was high time he fucking got over my mother and stopped acting like a little faggot pussy and made a commitment to a real living woman.”

Good old Joan. Even after fifteen years in California she was still a hard-nosed Nebraska girl when you got right down to it.

Buddy noticed his wineglass, with wine in it. He took a drink.

“So that’s what you wanted to tell me?”

“Yeah,” she said. “What?”

“Uh --”

“What?” she said.

“Well, I was just wondering -- why you wanted to tell me all this?”

“Why?” she said.

“Yeah.”

“Well, um, because, like -- I don’t know -- maybe you would want to get back with her? And -- if you knew, like, that my father never really wanted her to leave you and move in with him, then, uh --”

“Oh, I see. But I don’t want to get back with her.”

“Oh.”

“He can have her.”

“Oh.”

“But, hey, thanks for the thought, Cordelia.”

“You’re welcome.”

She had stopped eating. She glanced at him and then looked down at her plate. She started to gnaw the lower right quadrant of her upper lip.

“Hey, eat your spaghetti,” said Buddy.

She picked up her fork and started eating again.

She seemed upset, and Buddy wanted to cheer her up. Flattery worked with women about a hundred percent of the time, so he said, “Y’know, Cordelia, at the risk of sounding like our mafia friend, you know you really are an unusually beautiful --”

“Oh, stop it,” she said, chewing.

“No, really, you really are a very, uh --”

“Please, stop.”

“Well, okay.”

“I mean,” still chewing, “thanks for the compliment. But I know what I look like.” She swallowed her food and took a drink of wine. “Men,” she said.

“Men what?”

“You know men what.”

“You mean we -- like women?”

“Women’s bodies.”

“Well -- sure.”

So, was she going to get all feminist on his ass now, and wearing that dress, with that fantastic décolletage, that little tattoo Saturn that really didn’t look like Saturn --

“See? Right now you’re looking at my boobs.”

Buddy looked up.

“No, I was -- just thinking,” he lied.

“Oh, I’ll bet. Is this thing too low-cut? I bought it when I was skinnier, but now I’m so fat the only way I could get it on was by lowering the straps --”

And she buttoned the top two buttons of her cardigan, damn her, and went back to work on what was left of her spaghetti-and-meatballs.

Buddy took a drink of the wine. It was good. But even better was the buzz.

“Y’know,” he said, “if I can say so -- and please don’t take this the wrong way --”

“What?”

“You -- you looked -- very -- different that night of your father’s party.”

She got that stricken look again.

“In what way? You mean I looked skinnier?”

“No --”

She looked conditionally relieved.

“So I was fatter then?”

“No!” And he very quickly added, “I mean, it had nothing to do with how fat or skinny you looked --”

“Well -- do you think I’m fatter now --?”

“Cordelia, I was talking about how you -- looked that night -- and it had nothing to do with your --”

“You mean I looked ugly.”

“No!”

“Plain?”

“No, not at all --” although she actually had looked kind of plain now that she mentioned it --

“Oh my God it really showed, didn’t it?”

“What?”

“I was miserable. I’d had this awful thing with my father. He accused me of fucking up his precious food somehow, of not following his precious recipes to the letter, God, I was in tears, I really didn’t want to be there. And the thing was I did follow his recipes.”

“Did you?”

“To the letter!”

“Well, you shouldn’t have. The food sucked.”

She smiled.

“I’m so glad you said that.”

She’d finished all her spaghetti and meatballs and now she broke off some bread and swished it around in the sauce.

“So,” said Buddy -- he felt the need somehow for a major subject-change -- “what do you do?” He got a fairly blank stare so he elaborated: “I mean, for a living, you know. Unless you’re still in school, or --”

“Oh, no, I’ve finished school. I mean I still take classes, but -- well, anyway, right now I’m working part-time in a coffee shop.”

“Ah.”

“And in the meantime I’ve been trying for a lot of jobs, but, well, you know what it’s like.”

She took a bite of the bread.

“Yeah,” said Buddy, ready to be bored again, but what the hell. “What kind of jobs?”

“Anything. I’ve even been going for industrials, radio voice-overs --”

Buddy felt his mind lurching toward some great revelation. And his expression must have showed this, because Cordelia said, seeming slightly alarmed:

“What?”

“You -- you’re an actress.”

“Well -- yeah --”

“Would -- you have been in anything I’ve -- anything I would have -- seen?”

He had a falling sensation.

“You’re kidding, right?” she said.

“I -- I don’t think so --”

“Mr. Best --”

“Buddy --” he said, weakly.

“Buddy, you’ve seen me act. You saw me in the showcase. In La Voix Humaine. God, was I that forgettable?”

“Oh Christ.”

“What?”

“Cordelia, don’t take this the wrong way --”

“What?”

“That was you?”

“Of course it was me. Who did you think it was?”

“I -- I -- shit.”

“Oh my God you didn’t recognize me.”

“Well, you had blond hair, and all that make-up, streaked down your face. And you were speaking French.”

“You are weird.”

“I didn’t know that was you.”

She looked at him.

“I’m going to take that as a compliment.”

“It is a compliment. I thought you were great. I thought you were French, and blond, and -- and -- and really sexy for one thing --”

“Really? Even in that slip? I was so worried about that slip.”

“Why?”

“Why? Because of my fat ass and fat thighs of course.”

“You didn’t have a fat ass and fat thighs. You looked great. And you were great in the piece. You were -- you were very authentic.”

“Really? I thought I overdid it a bit that night.”

“No, you were great.”

“Well, thank you.”

“Have you -- have you done much other work?”

“Mostly stage stuff. I went to school in New York and I did some Off-off Broadway and one Off, and I did one musical tour. The stage is what I really truly love, but I did have a pretty good part in this one low-budget movie that never went anywhere as far as I know, and then I had a recurring under-five on One Life to Live for a couple of months until my character got murdered, but then I had to move out of my apartment because my roommate got married, and I was offered a part on a sitcom here in L.A., so against my better judgment just to make money for a new apartment in New York I came back and moved back in with Papa, and then the sitcom got canceled after two weeks. That was last fall, and all I’ve done since is collect unemployment and work in the coffee shop and -- oh!”

“What?”

“Oh my God please don’t think I asked to have dinner with you just so I could ask you for a job!”

“I didn’t think that.”

“Oh my God!”

“Hey, Cordelia, it’s okay. I mean, I wouldn’t have minded anyway.”

“Really?”

“No. I mean, it’s hard to get acting jobs. Schmoozing is all part of the game. I do it all the time.”

“Really?”

“I’m fucking shameless.”

“But that wasn’t the reason I wanted to talk to you.”

“I didn’t think it was.”

She looked at her plate. It was empty and clean and the bread basket was empty. Then she looked at Buddy with a very serious expression.

“How was your pasta by the way?” she asked.

“Pretty good. I can’t eat any more if you want some.”

“Well -- maybe just a bite.”

Buddy picked up her spic-and-span plate and replaced it with his own one-third-full plate. And she dug in again. And he sat back and sipped his wine.

“But there was another reason,” she said after a minute.

“A reason? For what?”

“For why I asked you to meet with me.”

Twirling that spaghetti.

“Oh. I mean, ‘Oh’?”

And forking it in.

“It’s because when we met at that stupid party, you just -- impressed me.”

“Oh really?”

God this girl could eat.

“I thought you were really -- cool.”

“Thanks. I thought you were -- cool, too.”

“No you didn’t. You already said I was weird.”

“Well, I didn’t --”

“I wasn’t cool. I’m not a cool person.”

She’d cleaned the plate. She demurely patted her mouth with her napkin, and -- Buddy thanked his three drunken personal gods -- she absentmindedly unbuttoned those two top buttons of her cardigan and sat back. She looked around the restaurant with a satisfied air.

“I think you’re cool now,” said Buddy, making sure to look at her eyes and not at her breasts.

She met his gaze. Then she put her hand over her mouth and let out a little belch.

“Oh! Excuse me! That’s how cool I am.”

“That’s okay. In Arab countries belching is considered a compliment to the host.”

“Really?”

“Beats me, I heard it in some movie. Hey -- would you like some dessert --?”

There was a space in the last sentence because for an awful moment he forgot her name again. She picked up on this space but luckily for Buddy she misinterpreted it. A look of despair came over her face.

“Oh my God, you’re thinking, ‘How could she ever eat another morsel in her lifetime.’”

“No, not at all, I just thought maybe you would like
some --“

“No. I’m stuffed and I’m too fat.”

Fat, sprat, Jack, lean, David Lean, Lawrence, Arabia, labia, Lydia, la, la --

“Cordelia,” he said, triumphantly.

“Yes?”

And now having said her name he actually had to say something.

“Have some dessert.”

“No. I’m way too fat.”

“You’re not fat.”

“I shouldn’t have ordered those meatballs.”

“They were --”

“I could barely squeeze into this dress. I do look fat in it, don’t I?”

“No, you --”

“Okay, let me ask you a question. Mr. Best --”

“Please, Cordelia --” Ha, he’d remember that fucking name now if it killed him -- “call me Buddy. Buddy Buddy Buddy. Or Bud.”

“Okay, Bud -- but you have to promise to be absolutely honest with me.”

“Right.”

“I mean it.”

“Sure.”

“Okay, here’s my question. Buddy, if you saw me walking down the street -- and you didn’t know me -- would you say, ‘Hmm, she’s a little pudgy’?”

“Uh --”

“Or would you say, ‘She looks okay, but she’d look a lot better if she lost fifteen --”

“Cordelia?”

“Yes?”

“Uh --”

“Or -- would you say, ‘Okay, she’s all right, I mean she’s not absolutely hideous, but -- she could lose oh, say, ten --”

“Wait.”

“What?”

“Cordelia.”

“What?”

“Can we stop this?”

And suddenly she snapped out of it.

“Oh my God, I’m sorry -- I have these body-image --”

“Sure.”

“Issues.”

“Right. But look. You’re not fat and you do want dessert. Women always want dessert.”

“Do you know women all that well?”

“I know that they always want dessert. Other than that, well --”

“Go on.”

“They all think they’re too fat.”

“True. What else?”

“Well, I think that about sums it up, really.”

“That’s all you know about women? Or is that all there is to know about women?”

“Well, let me see --”

“Okay,” she said. “I think I’d like something chocolate.”


(Continued here, on the chance that something will actually happen.)

(Please go to the right hand column of this site for a listing of links to all other possible episodes of
Uncle Buddy’s House™, serialized Monday through Friday at six PM {Eastern Standard Time} on the DuMont Radio Network, starring William Bendix as Buddy.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 172: altercation

It’s the weary butt-end of a strangely long and just plain strange Saturday night in August of 1963, and a man called Arnold Schnabel -- poet, brakeman and possible saint-- is finally wending his way home through the streets of the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, NJ, when he runs into the local inebriate Buddy Kelly, who, suddenly pointing past Arnold, indicates the approach of none other than the Dark Lord, also known as “Mr. Lucky”...

(Click here to go to our previous episode, or go here to return to the first chapter of this Gold View Award©-winning masterwork, which Harold Bloom has called “the closest thing we shall ever find to perfection in this hopelessly imperfect world".)


“Oh, no,” I groaned.

“Whatsa matter,” said Buddy. “You know that nut?”

“I’m afraid so,” I said.

“Schnabel!” yelled Mr. Lucky, shaking his fist, forging, limping steadily closer.

“Why’s he yellin’ at ya, Arnold?”

I couldn’t very well tell Buddy that I had marooned Mr. Lucky two days in the past.

“He’s mad at me,” I said.

Mr. Lucky, attempting to charge I suppose, tripped on his dragging leg and fell forward, cursing like a sailor -- no, to say that does an injustice to the maritime profession now that I think about it. I had never heard anyone curse the way Mr. Lucky now curse as he struggled to get up, not even my old army drill sergeant when I would intractably start daydreaming during close-order drill and poke some other poor recruit in the face with the barrel of my rifle.

“Guy’s got a mouth on him,” said Buddy. “He a friend of yours?”

“No,” I said. “We only met tonight.”

He was back on his feet now, and he continued hobbling forward, cursing and calling my name, that steam or smoke still drifting up from his body and from his head, as if he had just been dipped in acid.

“What’s his *****ng problem?” asked Buddy.

This question was more than I could answer, then, now, or ever.

“It’s hard to explain, Buddy,” I said. “You should go home. I’ll deal with him. He’s just had too much to drink.”

“He looks like a ****in’ nut to me. And what’s that smoke or whatever it is comin’ off him?”

“Well, I don’t really know,” I said. “There must be some, uh, rational explanation.”

You are doomed!” yelled Mr. Lucky, who was now about twenty feet away.

“What the ****,” said Buddy. “Now he’s scaring me.”

“So, really, you head on home,” I said.

“F*** that noise. This guy is a f**king lunatic.”

“No, stay out of it, Buddy,” I said.

“F*ck that. You’re my pal, Arnold.” That was news to me. “Anybody fucks with you they fuck with me.”

(Sorry, Mother, I just got tired of all those asterisks. Forgive me if you’re reading this.)

“Let me take care of him,” said Buddy, and, tossing away his cigar stub, he strode forward like a small human tank, and I’m afraid I let him do so, not out of cowardice but because I had been thinking about asterisks and ignoring the problem at hand.

Although I am by nature a peace-loving man the vicissitudes of my part-time avocation of bar-fly have put me in the presence of many fights and brawls, and I will state that the one thing every one of these altercations has had in common is their resistance to verbal description. What happened next was no exception.

Buddy and Mr. Lucky collided with much shouting and cursing on both their parts, Mr. Lucky performing gestures that seemed at least reminiscent of those judo moves I had seen in the movies, whereas Buddy simply plowed right in head-down like a pint-sized Marciano with the old piston-like one-two, one-two.

Despite my boxing experience in the army, I lack the killer instinct, and so I’ve never been a good man in a real fight. Nevertheless, I stepped forward. The multifarious double-beast that was Mr. Lucky and Buddy bashed into me, I fell over into the gutter, re-scraping my scraped knees. I got up again, and attempted to grab Mr. Lucky’s arm, but he threw me off with the strength of ten men and this time I staggered back into a wooden telephone pole, striking the back of my head against it, I saw a flash like a flash bulb popping in my face, I lost consciousness.

It seemed like only a second or two later, maybe it was, and someone was lifting me to my feet by my armpits and shoving me back again against the pole. It was Mr. Lucky.

“Thought you could fool me,” he said.

Ink-black blood oozed and bubbled from his nostrils and mouth. His breath smelled of feces, his eyes were black as tar, as empty as the night. The smoke or mist rose up from his shoulders, from out of his ears, from his bloodied nostrils and mouth.

Behind him Buddy’s body lay crumpled on the pavement.

I tried to pull away but Mr. Lucky grabbed the upper parts of my arms in his hands and pushed me back, harder, against the pole.

“You humans,” he said, “You’ll never learn.”

“Well, uh, maybe we could sign one of those contracts now,” I said.

“Oh, you would like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, sure,” I said. (And believe me, I was willing. Damnation seven years from now seemed a far better alternative than damnation in seven seconds.) “No hard feelings --”

“Perhaps not on your part.” He squeezed my arms tighter. Vice-like would not be inaccurate in describing his grip, cliché or not. “But do you know how I’ve spent the last half hour of your earthling time?”

“No,” I said, quite frankly.

“Crawling and scrabbling my way through the uncountable dimensions of time, through the lives and deaths of galaxies, through unending black holes, through exploding supernovas, through the chill silent endless reaches of universes not born and never to be born.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“But now I’m back, and I am taking you, Arnold, taking you down to the deepest and most foul burning pit of hell.”

“So we can’t make a bargain?”

“You’re joking, surely.”

“I could become one of your, uh, servants.”

“You coward.”

“I could do better than Jack Scratch,” I said.

“You probably could at that.”

“And I do have an inside track with Josh.”

“You mean Je-”

“He likes to be called Josh down here. Just like you like to be called Mr. Lucky.”

“Simply Lucky will do.”

“Why don’t we try a seven-year contract,” I said. “Then we’ll see how it works out. Maybe you could give me an extension if --”

“Don’t try to trick me, Arnold.”

“I won’t. I just don’t want to be dragged to hell.”

“Not yet, you mean.”

“Right. Not yet. Do you have any of those contracts on you?”

“I suppose I might.”

“Go ahead, bring one out. I’ll sign it.”


Keeping one hand firmly on my chest he reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out a scroll. It looked just like the other ones that he and Jack Scratch had tried to get me to sign. I suppose they all came from the same factory or workshop.

“All right. Seven years,” he said. “But I expect you to work for me.”

“Sure. But I get good luck during those seven years, don’t I?”

“You never give up, do you?”

“Well, I’m only human,” I said.

“This is our standard contract. You’ll get your seven years good luck, but only if you recruit me at least one victim a month during that time.”

“I can do that,” I said.

“You know," he said, “I think you can.”

Finally he took that hand of steel off my chest, and I was able to breathe a bit more freely.

He patted his pockets.

“Damn, I’ve lost my quill. Probably lost it when I was escaping the fire demons of Alpha Centauri.”

“Who?”

“Don’t ask,” he said. “Don’t even ask.”

“I have a pen,” I said.

“Get it out, then.”

I reached into my pocket and took out the fountain pen that Mr. Arbuthnot had given me.*

“You’ll need to draw some of your blood with that,” he said.

“Oh, sure,” I said, taking the cap off the pen. Its silvery nib sparkled in the streetlamp light.

“And no funny business.”

“No funny business,” I said, putting the cap back onto the shank of the pen.

He gave the scroll a flick, and it unfurled, revealing that now-familiar incomprehensible handwriting.

“Did you want to add that codicil about me bringing in one recruit a month?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about that. Just sign the damned thing.”

“Okay. Could you turn around?”

“I’m serious, Arnold, none of your tricks this time.”

“Of course not. Just turn around so I --”

“I will not turn around. Use the goddam telephone pole.”

“It’s awfully rough.”

“I don’t give a damn. Use it, before I change my mind.”

“Well, okay, give me the contract.”

“Here.”

He gave it to me. Again, it had that feel and even the dry warmth of an old person’s skin.

I turned and put the parchment against the coarse wood of the pole.

“Hurry it up,” said Mr. Lucky, over my shoulder. “Poke your wrist there and get some blood in the pen.”

“Right,” I said, but instead of poking my skin I quickly turned the paper around to its blank side and scrawled the words:

Go to hell.

“No, damn you!” howled Mr. Lucky as just as quickly I signed my name.

I turned.

He was gone, leaving only a whiff of foul smoke, the faint stench of burning compost, of backed-up sewers, of death.

He wasn’t so smart.

I tossed the parchment up into the air, it burst into flame, and its ashes and its sparks drifted away on the soft ocean breeze.


* See Chapter 127.

(Continued here, because it’s not up to us.)

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