Let us rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, who has been transported by that bastard the Prince of Darkness into a once-popular but now sadly-out-of-print novel of 1950s New York City called Ye Cannot Quench, wherein he has assumed (or been assumed by) the character of Porter Walker, romantic but socially-maladroit poet, now lunching in the stately Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel with the dashing young publisher Julian Smythe and the plucky heroine of the novel, Emily...
(Click here to read our preceding episode; the curious may go here to return to that faraway first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 33-volume* memoir.)
The next few moments were awkward. At least for me they were; Julian didn’t seem bothered, and Emily silently sipped her wine as Julian continued to talk about baseball, for real this time.
From a few of his references (Don Larsen’s perfect game, the relative merits of Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford, of Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra, etc.) my fine mind deduced that we were almost certainly in the year 1957.
1957: if memory served, the Yankees did win the American League pennant that year, while the Braves won in the National League; and, again, if my memory served properly -- and if this world in which I was trapped matched up in such matters with what I still thought of as the “real” world -- the Braves took that World Series in seven games (thanks in large part to the yeoman service of three complete outings from Lew Burdette).
I made a mental note to ask Julian for the name of a reliable bookie; if I found myself still marooned here come October I might need some extra cash to tide me over, especially if, as seemed likely, no one bought even a single copy of my epic poem, and the sliding scale of my prospective royalties remained stuck at zero.
The food arrived, and for the next several minutes I forgot I was merely a character in Miss Evans’s novel. The steak was delicious, served, at Julian’s insistence, only with freshly-ground pepper, kosher salt, and liberal dowsings of A-1 sauce. The bottle of white wine was empty by now, and Maxie the waiter poured some of the red wine into fresh glasses for Julian and myself. (To tell the truth I didn’t need it, I was getting ever so slightly drunk, but Julian would have none of my half-hearted protestations.) The wine was delicious, and I realized I hadn’t drunk any really good wine since the war, when it was sadly common for my engineers outfit to loot people’s cellars that hadn’t already been cleaned out by the infantry.
Julian ate and drank heartily and with what looked to be great enjoyment.
Emily delicately picked at her Dover sole in Hollandaise, still nursing her glass of the white wine, and gazing under her eyelids at Julian, who (having gotten business and cars and baseball out of the way) had launched into a description and critique of the new Lana Turner picture he had just seen.
“Problem was,” said Julian, “my date got all gooey-eyed on me.” I saw Emily start, as if someone had slapped her on the back. “You know when ladies get all gooey-eyed, Porter?”
“Gooey-eyed?” I stalled for time, trying to think of what Porter would say. “Right,” I finally said. “Like they have some sort of eye infection, and all this goo keeps seeping out.”
“Precisely,” said Julian, after only a slight pause.
Emily was staring straight at her plate, chewing.
“Emily,” said Porter, “you don’t get all gooey-eyed on your boyfriends, do you?”
I was working on the french fries now, with lots of ketchup. These were the good kind of fries, probably the kind that don’t come in frozen crates from a factory in Idaho.
“I -- uh, um, uh, heh heh, I -- uh --” Emily was babbling, almost as if she had just been asked a question she didn’t know the answer to on a quiz show and was on the verge of losing a free Frigidaire.
“So, Julian,” said a tall slim dark-haired man who had just come up to our table. He had a lit cigarette in a holder. “Is this the new Wunderkind?”
“Ah, Nicky,” said Julian, his mouth full of creamed onions, “pull up a chair, buddy.”
“I really can’t, old boy. Having lunch with Truman and Norman and Flannery over there.”
He gestured with his cigarette toward a table with two short men and a dark-haired woman.
“That crew,” said Julian, “they still get served here?”
“Well, you know, I put in a good word for them --”
“Good man,” said Julian. “Anyway, yes, this is Porter Walker, our new epic poet, voice of his generation and master of the subtle bon mot. Porter, meet Nicky Boskins. He’s our PR genius, he’ll be working with you.”
I half-stood, shook the man’s hand.
“Very pleased to know you, Mr. Walker. Or may I call you Porter?”
“Sure,” I said.
He continued to hold onto my hand, with a grip that was not only exceedingly steely for a slender fellow but disconcertingly warm.
“Good,” he said. “Call me Nicky.”
“Okay, Nicky,” I said, anything to get him to let go of my hand, which he finally did after one last unnerving squeeze.
I sat down and picked up my wine glass.
“And have you met Emily yet, Nicky?” asked Julian.
“No, I haven’t had the pleasure,” said Nicky. “Very pleased to meet you, Emily. I hear you’re our Porter’s fair and lovely champion.”
“Oh, my, but all I’ve done was to read his wonderful poem, and then tell Mr. Smythe --”
“It’s all her doing,” said Julian. He was holding the nearly-empty bottle of A-1 over his steak and slapping its bottom. “I would never have gotten around to reading the damn thing. I mean --” he turned to me -- “don’t get me wrong, Porter, it’s just that, you know -- poetry --” He shrugged one broad shoulder. (Well, they were both broad, but he only shrugged one of them.) “I mean --”
“I understand,” I said. “I wouldn’t have read it either.”
“Ha ha, what a card.”
“Now that is just the sort of thing you have to say when we get you on Jack Paar and Steve Allen,” said Nicky.
“Okay,” I said.
“Splendid. I think we’re going to be great friends. You look familiar by the way. Did I compete with you in lacrosse, or golf maybe? What school did you go to? Andover?”
“No. Hard Knocks,” I said.
“Heh heh, we’re going to be fabulous friends. But look, the Three Stooges over there are going to get drunk and wreck the place if I don’t rejoin them soon, so I’ll say ta-da for now to you kids.”
“Later, old man,” said Julian, sawing another huge chunk from his T-Bone.
Nicky went away. It had taken me a few moments to see through his masquerade, not only because of my usual lack of the novelist’s attention to detail, but also because he had shaved his moustache and had parted his hair differently; but this “Nicky” was in fact no other than my nemesis “Lucky”, the dark angel who had so vindictively thrust me into my present predicament.
(Continued here, and at the very least until hell freezes over.)
(Please cast an eye to the right hand column of this page to find a stringently up-to-the-minute listing of links to all other possible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. “The only book I brought with me on my recent sojourn in a remote monastery in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal.” -- Harold Bloom.)