Saturday, June 19, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 204: awkward

It seems that our hero Arnold Schnabel has crossed the prince of darkness just one time too many, and that wily fallen angel has taken his revenge by exiling our hero in the pages of Gertrude Evans’s novel Ye Cannot Quench (Simon & Schuster, 1959; reprinted in paperback as The Rag Woman’s Prophecy; Permabooks, 1960) which Arnold had been painfully forcing himself to read, if only because its author had given him an inscribed copy, and, since she was staying downstairs from him in his aunts’ boarding house it would have been awkward for him not to read it, or at least not to try to read it, but that’s another story or another strand of the same seemingly endless story.

Let’s rejoin Arnold now in his current guise as “Porter Walker, handsome romantic young poet” in that bohemian Greenwich Village hot-spot the Kettle of Fish, where, once again, he has found himself in a rather awkward situation…

(Click here to review our previous episode; go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 56-volume memoir, which Harold Bloom (in Boy’s Life) has deemed “just the thing to have around the house in case the electrical grid totally and permanently breaks down one day, God forbid.”


“Emily’s eyes flashed,” said Miss Evans’s voice. I looked at Emily, and her eyes weren’t exactly flashing, but then whose eyes do flash? “But did she have any right to be jealous of Porter? She who had just left Julian’s enormous and exceedingly comfortable bed in his Sutton Place luxury flat?”

“Okay,” I said to Betsy. “Do you want to go to the bar?”

“Yes, please,” she said.

I felt a hand on my arm. It seemed someone was always grabbing my arm. This time it was Emily.

“Wait, Porter, before you go --”

“Hey, Porter, introduce us to your girlfriend,” yelled John Cameron Swayze.

“Rude bastard,” said Edward R. Murrow, referring to me I was pretty sure.

“Yeah, we wanta buy her a drink, remember?” said John Cameron Swayze.

“Now, fellas,” said Ralph Edwards.

“Hey, ya know what your problem is, Ralph?” said Mr. Swayze (I’m sorry, I’m getting tired of writing out these names in their entirety every single time). “You’re too goddam nice all the time.”

Ralph smiled. Well, no, actually he had never stopped smiling, but now the smile seemed perhaps slightly strained.

“But, Cam,” he said, “how can one be too nice? And, really, I’ve asked you before please to remember that there are ladies present, so if you could just watch your language a little --”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” said Mr. Swayze.

“Ha,” said Mr. Murrow.

“Come on, Porter,” said Betsy. She grabbed my arm, the one that Emily wasn’t still grabbing.

“No, wait,” said Emily, gripping my arm all the tighter, and she had a pretty strong grip for a girl, something she had in common with her creator, Miss Evans.

“Look at them, fighting over the boy,” said Mr. Swayze. It’s funny, he always seemed so sober and genial on TV, but I guess we all have to blow off some steam sometime.

“Porter,” said Ralph Edwards, “y’know, John Cameron has a point, you actually never did introduce us to the lovely Betsy.” He leaned toward Betsy, smiling, and here I had thought he was on my side.

“Sorry,” I said. “Betsy, meet Mr. Edwards, Mr. Swayze, and Mr. Morrow --”

“Murrow!” said Murrow. “Don’t you watch TV? Murrow! Edward fucking R. Murrow!”

“Now Ed --” said Ralph Edwards.

“Well at least get my name right,” said Murrow, there, I got it right that time.

“Nice meeting you, gentlemen,” said Betsy, “but now Porter and I must leave you.”

She tugged on my arm, but Emily still held onto my other arm with what Miss Evans would probably call a death grip, or at least a vise-like grip.

“Oh, please, Betsy, have one drink with us,” said Nicky.

I had almost forgotten he was there. He put his hand on my shoulder, that weirdly strong and warm hand. So now I had his hand on my shoulder, my right shoulder, Betsy’s hand on my left arm, and Emily’s steely grip on my right arm. It felt as if I were being arrested.

“Yes, Betsy, have a drink with these nice gentlemen,” said Emily. “While I just take Porter aside and have one tiny little word with him.” She was smiling, showing her teeth. “I absolutely promise I’ll give him back to you in a moment. You see I am his editor.”

“Oh,” said Betsy.

“Yes,” said Emily. “What do you do, dear?”

“I’m a student.”

“So young. So terribly young.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-two.”

“That’s not exactly ancient, is it?”

“Ha ha,” said Emily. “Really, just a quick word with dear Porter. It has to do with his book you see...”

I heard a woman singing a song in a foreign accent, I turned my head and looked back through the crowd, it was Magda, singing at the piano, “Miss Otis Regrets”, and then one of those odd things happened, I rose up out of the top of my head, not too far, just a few feet, and I was looking down on myself, on Porter rather, on Nicky and Betsy and Emily and the three television gentlemen. It was just like old times. Swayze and Mr. Murrow were speaking to each other, Emily had never stopped speaking to Betsy, Ralph Edwards said something to Nicky, Nicky said something back to him, but all I heard was the music, Magda’s voice and her piano, and under her the gentle wheezing of Freddy’s accordion, the thrumming of the bass fiddle and the frenetic tapping of the bongoist. Now Nicky was saying something to Betsy. He still had his hand on my shoulder. Ralph Edwards stood there, beaming alternately at Betsy and Emily. The waitress came by the table again, John Cameron Swayze said something to her, Edward R. Murrow spoke to her as well.

Betsy looked at me, at Porter, she said something, then let go of my arm, of Porter’s arm.

The fly flew up to me, to where I was hovering a few feet above myself.

“You let her go now then that’s it, pal. You’ve blown it. Don’t let this little Emily bitch push you around.”

“You know,” I said, “I think you’re right.”

“I know I’m right. Now get back in there.”

As quickly as I could I forced myself down into my body, or Porter’s body.

“Wait, Betsy,” I said.

She had been turning to head away, but now she stopped, looking at me.

Suddenly Pat and Carlotta were there, brushing past Ralph Edwards. Each of them held a mug of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

“Hello, Porter,” said Carlotta.

“Which one’s your mystery date?” said Pat.

“Unbelievable,” said John Cameron Swayze.

“Never seen anything like it,” said Edward R. Murrow.

“Hello, ladies,” said Ralph Edwards, but the girls either didn’t hear him or they ignored him.

“And who were these two painted jezebels?” asked Miss Evans’s voice. “Two typical distaff denizens of the bohemian cellar clubs and all-night ‘jam sessions’, subsisting on a diet of Dexedrine and espresso, sticks of ‘tea’, Gauloises, and Rheingold beer, none of which they ever paid for themselves, and hopping nightly like rabbits into bed with whomever the latest ‘cool’ poets or ‘hot’ jazz musicians might be.”

“Porter, aren’t you going to introduce us?” said Carlotta.

“Yeah, we’re dying of curiosity,” said Pat.

“I’ve seen you around,” said Carlotta to Betsy. “Are you the girl we’ve heard so much about?”

“No, that must be me,” said Emily.

“You’re Porter’s date?” said Pat.

“Well, uh, I -- uh, no, not exactly, I’m with his publisher --”

“Oh, you’re the Emma girl,” said Carlotta.

“Emily.”

“Oh. So you,” said Carlotta to Betsy, “you must be the uh, oh dear, I hope Pat and I haven’t committed a faux pas.”

“Incredible,” said Mr. Murrow.

“I’m Ralph Edwards,” said Mr. Edwards, “This Is Your Life?” But again the girls didn’t seem to notice him.

“Hey, Porter,” said Mr. Swayze, “can we have your leftovers?”

“Betsy,” I said, “this is Carlotta and Pat. They’re my neighbors. And now if you’ll excuse us, everyone, Betsy and I are going over to the bar for a drink.”

“Oh, but really I just need one minute, Porter,” said Emily, smiling so broadly her face looked as if it were ready to break in two.

The fly zoomed down like a minuscule dive bomber right at her face, she swiped at him, but he zoomed up again.

“Porter,” said Betsy, “give her a minute, I’ll wait.”

“Yes, just a minute,” said Emily. “A teensy minute.”

Before I knew it she had pulled Nicky’s hand off my shoulder with one hand, and with the other, which had never stopped gripping my left arm, she pulled me a few feet away from the table and then turned me completely around so that my back was to it and she was standing directly in front of me.

“It didn’t take you long, did it?” she said.

“Long for what?” I said. I suddenly realized that my voice sounded like someone else’s. Then I remembered that it was someone else’s.

“To find some new doxie,” she said. “That Betty girl.”

“Betsy,” I said.

“How can you be so cruel.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I thought we had an understanding.”

“Maybe I misunderstood,” I said, which was putting it mildly. “Our understanding.”

“You just assumed I went off with Julian, didn’t you?”

“No,” I said.

“Yes, you did.” A tear came to her eye, appeared on the edge of one eyelid. “And, all right, maybe I did.”

“Well, then --” I said. It seemed to me that I was off the hook then, but how little I knew about women. How little I still know.

“But look at him over there,” she said.

I tried to do as she said, to pick him out at the crowded bar, but she put her hand on my face and turned it back toward her.

“Don’t look at him,” she said.

“Okay,” I said.

“But those broad shoulders, that easy savoir-faire. That shining black hair. Those deep brown eyes, those, those muscular thighs...”

“Hey, that rhymes,” I said.

“Stop joking for once, you idiot.”

“All right,” I said, although I hadn’t been joking, only making an observation.

“I admit it,” she said. “I was weak. I said stop looking at him.”

Actually I was looking at Betsy, hoping she wouldn’t just up and leave me here, not that I would blame her in the least, but in fact she seemed to be deep in conversation with Pat and Carlotta.

“Okay, sorry,” I said. “What was it you wanted to talk about anyway, about my book?”

“Oh, bother your book. I want you to forgive me, Porter.”

“Okay,” I said.

“So you do, you do forgive me?”

“Sure.”

That single tear was still perched on her lower eyelid, and now she brushed it away.

“I have to tell you something,” she said. “Perhaps I shouldn’t.”

“It’s okay if you don’t want to,” I said.

“But I do want to.”

“You were my first, Porter.”

“Really?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Wasn’t there a guy back in West Virginia?”

“Oh, did I tell you about him?”

Now that she mentioned it, she hadn’t told me about him. I had read about him in Miss Evans’s novel.

“Um,” I said, “uh --”

“Anyway, that was the past. This is now. You were my first in New York anyway. My -- my first, and -- and -- oh no, I can’t say it. I can’t!”

“That’s okay,” I said.

“All right, if you insist, I’ll tell you. Yes, I went with Julian this afternoon. I -- I was weak. But -- but -- no! I can’t say it!”

“Really, it’s okay then,” I said. “You don’t have to say it.”

“All right, I’ll tell you. I went up to his place with him. But -- but -- I can’t tell you!”

“You don’t have to tell me.”

“All right, I’ll tell you. I -- I went to bed with him,” she said. “But.”

“But?”

“But --”

“He -- he -- oh, it’s so embarrassing.”

“Maybe it’s best you don’t tell me.”

“Oh but I want to.”

“Okay.”

“He fell asleep.”

“Oh.”

“Before we could do anything.”

“Oh.”

“Can you forgive me.”

“Yes.”

“You’re so good, Porter.”

I was hoping we could wrap it up now but she wasn’t through yet.

“I’m so ashamed.”

“Well, don’t feel bad,” I said.

“He fell asleep, and after a while I slept, too.”

“Well, naps are good,” I said.

“When I awakened, he was coming in from the shower, in his robe, toweling that thick black hair of his.”

“He does have a nice head of hair,” I said.

“And do you know what he said?”

“No.”

“He said -- oh, I can’t say it.”

“You probably shouldn’t say it then,” I said.

“He said, 'Well, how was it for you, baby?’”

“How was what?”

“You know what.”

“But I thought you said you didn’t do anything.”

“We didn’t.”

“Oh.”

“He didn’t remember, Porter. He didn’t even remember!

“Well --”

I had no idea what to say. But that teardrop had reappeared on her lower eyelid, well, I suppose it was a different teardrop.

“I’m so mortified,” she said.

Then I thought of something.

“It could have been worse,” I said.

“How could it possibly have been worse?”

“Well, what if you -- if you had done something.”

“Yes?”

“What if you had done something and he didn’t remember.”

“Yes,” she said. She wiped the teardrop away. “I suppose that would have been worse. But still. It’s all so -- so very -- oh, what’s the word?”

“Awkward?”

“Yes. Awkward,” she said.


(Continued here, because we have no choice.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a purportedly up-to-date listing of links to all other publicly available chapters of Railroad Train To Heaven©; a Danny Thomas Production.)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

All Very Awkward indeed.

I just can't say how awkward it all is.

I do hope Betsy waits for him. And what is she talking about with Pat and Carlotta?

Anonymous said...

ooops that's me above

Dan Leo said...

God, I would love to know what Betsy's talking about with Pat and Carlotta!

Where's that fly on the wall when we need him?

Dean Rohrer said...

dgreat installment!
i can't tell you how grateful i am to have the laptop down here in the obx where i'm marooned in a kind of hell for the week with my dear wife's extended family--excruciating..
but i was able to escape the din of the communal dining room just now into arnold's world..what heavenly refuge...thank you

Dan Leo said...

You're most welcome, Dean! I think Arnold would be glad to know that his consternation brings others pleasure.

But what is "obx"?

Dean Rohrer said...

dit's the yuppie abbreviation for "outer banks"...
it's funny, my father-in-law roger worked at the hotel lafayette in the summer in the 50's before it was redone as the "marquis de.."--he was 15 and used to drink at the black bar in arnold's story...and he stayed at his family's house on the 200 block of perry street!!

Dan Leo said...

Wow, Dean, that's pretty hardcore about your stepdad -- just think, he was neighbors with Arnold!

By the way, I had a drink or two at Pete's (the black bar) but not when I was 15...

kathleenmaher said...

Lost my comment in the sign-in process. Here's how I think I responded: So much going on here it has me spinning in space. And, I wish I'd thought of that "my first in New York" years ago when it might have mattered.

Dan Leo said...

Arnold could always say, "Yeah, well, you were my first in this universe."