Saturday, June 26, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 205: foothills

Our hero Arnold Schnabel has been exiled by the prince of darkness into the overheated pages of a novel called Ye Cannot Quench (written by Gertrude Evans, author of many other sadly-out-of-print bestsellers, such as They Called Her Tramp; The Thrush Warbles Not For Me; Speedway Girls; and The Devil’s Rest Stop), and things are getting ever so slightly out of hand in the Kettle of Fish, that mosque of licentiousness in this mecca of Bohemia known as Greenwich Village, on a steamy wet night in the summer of 1957...

(Go here to read our previous chapter; newcomers who have a lot of time on their hands may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award-winning fifty-seven-volume memoir, which Harold Bloom, in the Saturday Evening Post, gave the first fifty-seven spots in his list of “100 Books You Really Need to Read Before You Die”.


The fly suddenly appeared out of the shifting clouds of smoke and dived at Emily’s face like a tiny kamikaze fighter plane, bouncing off her nose and then quickly soaring away before she could swat it.

“Damn the flies in this place!” she said. “It’s disgusting.”

“Well, they have to live too,” I said, pretending to be philosophical.

“But must they attack me?”

“Maybe he likes you.”

“Who?”

“The fly?”

“Maybe the fly likes me? Are you insane?”

“Well, now that you mention it, I have had mental problems in the past.”

“You didn’t mention that in your proposed jacket copy.”

“Do you think I should have?”

“It might be a selling point. Many of the best poets have spent time in institutions. Robert Lowell, Ezra Pound, Artaud. You must tell me all about it.”

“Some other time. I should really get back to my friend.”

“You really are very cruel, aren’t you?”

“But she’s waiting for me.”

“Well what about me?”

“You have Julian.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot. Very well. Go to her. Go to her, Porter. I hope she makes you very happy.”

Have I mentioned I was dripping with sweat? Well, I was.

“Thank you,” I said.

“I didn’t mean it, Porter,” she said. “You’re so callous. Just to take up with another girl like that.”

My wet clothes felt almost like something living, draping itself over my flesh.

“But you’re with Julian,” I said. When I should have said simply nothing for all the good saying anything at all could possibly do with this young woman.

“That’s different,” she said.

“How is it different.”

It wasn’t just that the room was hot, it was, but what was making me sweat like a basting pig was Emily herself, standing there so determinedly close to me.

“You really don’t understand, do you?” she said, after staring at me for a few moments.

“No.”

It was like standing next to a stove standing next to her.

“And you call yourself a poet. I thought poets were meant to understand human nature.”

“I think that’s a misconception,” I said.

“You do, do you.”

“Yes. I’m a poet and I don’t understand human nature at all.”

“Very funny.”

Through that warm swirling fog of tobacco smoke I looked longingly toward Betsy, still apparently absorbed in conversation with Pat and Carlotta. Ralph Edwards smilingly tried to insinuate himself between Pat and Carlotta but they closed ranks and continued to ignore him.

“Must you stare at her like that?” said Emily. “Don’t you know how it rends my heart?”

“Sorry,” I said, and I reluctantly returned my gaze to Miss Evans’s heroine, whom I couldn’t help but notice was acting more and more like her creator every second.

“His soulful eyes met hers,” said Miss Evans’s voice from above. “Perhaps she had misjudged him. Perhaps it was he who had been hurt. And now he was seeking solace in the first Village scamp to come along. Should she just let him go and have his fun then? Get it out of his system? After all, reasoned Emily, she did have Julian, strong handsome Julian, waiting patiently for her at the bar. Should she not seek her own solace in the strapping publisher’s muscular beefy arms, if only for this one night?”

“Sure, why not?” I said.

“What?” said Emily.

“I mean, what’s the harm?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

I suddenly realized that I had been replying to Miss Evans’s indirect internal monologue.

“I, um, I thought you said something.”

“You were looking right at me. Did you see my lips move?”

“No?”

“No, they weren’t. What do you take me for, a ventriloquist?”

“Um, uh, no, I was, uh --um --”

“Perhaps he had been engaging in his own private dialogue,” said Miss Evans. “Who knew how a poet’s brain worked?”

“I -- I think I was engaging in my own private dialogue,” I quickly said. “In my, um, poet’s brain?”

“Oh, good heavens, Porter, you’re impossible.”

“I know,” I said.

“Here, hold this.”

She handed me her briefcase. Her shiny black purse had been hanging on its strap over her right shoulder, and now she took it off, opened it, fumbled in it, and took out an opened pack of Vanity Fair cigarettes, the “pastel pink” kind.

“Here, take this too,” she said, meaning the purse. Shifting the briefcase to my left hand, I took the purse in my right. She shook the pack and then without using her fingers but only her pursed red lips she drew one of the cigarettes out.

She stared at me, her small head slightly cocked, the pink cigarette poised in her mouth.

I realized that Ursula was playing her saxophone again, improvising on the tune of “Miss Otis Regrets”.

“It’s come to this,” said Emily, the white filter of the cigarette still between her lips.

“What has?” I said.

“You used to light my cigarette.”

“Oh, sorry, I -- uh --” I put the purse under my left arm and went through the doomed motions of tapping various pockets. “I -- gave up smoking -- I think -- and I don’t think I have a lighter or matches on me --”

She sighed, leaving the cigarette between her lips.

“There should be matches in my purse.”

“Oh.”

I took the purse from under my arm, and, shifting the briefcase to under the other arm, I opened the purse and looked into it, running my fingers through its contents: bobby pins, barrettes, a handkerchief, condoms, what I think were some sort of “ladies’ products”, two plastic combs and one wooden hairbrush, a tin of aspirin, some loose change and transit tokens, a few crumpled dollar bills, a dozen or so loose keys, a paperback edition of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, a compact, two or three mirrors in cases or without, several lipsticks, a jar of cold cream and a jar of Vaseline, a Benzedrine inhaler, a couple of make-up brushes, an eyeliner pencil, half a dozen or so little jars and tubes whose purposes were unknown to me, one nylon stocking, a pair of white gloves, a nail file, three emory boards, a bunch of safety pins and straight pins, a couple of spindles of thread, some needles, a box of Sucrets and half a roll of Life Savers, some Bazooka bubble gum as well as Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, a black leather blackjack, a switchblade knife, a can of Aqua Net hairspray, a red leather lady’s wallet with no money in it but a West Virginia driver’s license and a Social Security card and some snapshots of a family like Ma and Pa Kettle’s as well as studio portraits of Tyrone Power, Robert Taylor, Tony Curtis and Robert Wagner, there was also a diary, the kind that says “My Diary”, bound in shiny pink plastic and with a lock, but no matches.

“I don’t see any matches,” I said.

“Side pocket.”

It was a matter of less than a minute for me to find this side pocket, and sure enough, buried under a pile of movie ticket stubs, there was a book of matches in it, from “The Prince George Hotel -- where the service is swell!” -- but before I could give Emily a light Nicky was there clicking an engraved gold lighter.

“Oh, thank you so much, Mr. Boskins,” said Emily.

“My pleasure,” he said. “But please, dear Emily, call me Nicky. And how is your little editorial meeting going?”

“Oh, swimmingly,” she said, exhaling a cloud of smoke my way. “Can’t wait to get to work with Porter.”

I had put the book of matches back in the purse, and snapped the purse shut.

“Here’s your pocket book back,” I said.

“Thank you, Porter.”

She re-slung it over her shoulder.

“And your briefcase,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, taking it. “Don’t want to lose this. With your precious manuscript in it.”

“Okay,” I said, “I guess I’ll get back to -- uh --”

“Betty,” said Emily.

“Betsy,” I said.

“Very attractive young lady there, Porter,” said Nicky.

“Oh, do you really think so, Nicky?” said Emily.

“Well, uh, yes --”

He was smoking too, using his shiny black holder.

“You like that type, do you?” Emily asked him

“Well, uh --”

“That shall I say swarthy type.”

“Um, well, I like to think I appreciate feminine beauty of any type, heh heh --”

“Men,” said Emily.

“Heh heh,” said Nicky. “I’m not sure I quite understand, heh heh --”

It was nice to see someone else on the hook for a change, especially Nicky, I must admit.

“Okay, then --” I said.

“Okay what?” said Emily.

“Well, uh, I, uh --”

“Heh heh,” said Nicky, and his eyes darted around, as if even he wanted to escape.

“What are you laughing at?” said Emily.

“Me?” said Nicky.

“Yes, you, you, you smarmy --”

“Heh heh?” he said.

“Must you chortle so? It’s hideous.”

I started to walk away.

“You, Porter, you don’t even say goodbye?” said Emily.

“Sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt.”

“Ha,” she said. “All right, then. Go. Go to your little Gypsy tramp.”

“Well, she’s not really a Gypsy --”

“Don’t stay up too late making whoopee. We start editing your manuscript tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll come to your place.”

“All right.”

“Nine on the dot.”

“Nine it is.”

Nicky slipped away quietly away from us right around here, going back over to the TV fellows’ table. He had met his match.

“That guy’s creepy if you ask me,” said Emily.

I said nothing.

“All right, go to your dark temptress,” she said. “Just don’t be hungover tomorrow.”

“I’ll try not to be,” I said.

“Good,” she said. Suddenly her tone had softened. “Shall I bring coffee?”

“That would be nice,” I said.

“Perhaps a cinnamon bun or two.”

“That would be nice too.”

“I only hope I don’t get savagely raped and murdered in that bad neighborhood.”

“We could meet somewhere else.”

“Don’t worry about it. Tomorrow then, Porter.”

“Tomorrow.”

“Where are you going now?” she asked.

“Well, like I said, just over to Betsy there.”

“Oh. And then where.”

“Just to the bar, to get a drink.” Which I really needed by that point I might have added.

“Well, I suppose I’ll see you at the bar then.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said.

“He’s very handsome, isn’t he?” she said.

“Who? Nicky?”

“No, not Nicky -- Julian.”

“Oh. Yes, very,” I said.

“Handsome and rich.”

I started to step away.

She put her hand on my cheek.

“But you’re handsome, too, Porter,” she said.

“Yes. But I’m not rich.”

“If your book is a bestseller then you’ll be rich.”

“I somehow doubt my book will be a bestseller,” I said.

“We’ll see about that,” she said.

“And making a fist with her delicate hand she gave him a playful punch on the jaw,” said Miss Evans’s voice, which didn’t sound so much like Audrey Hepburn’s any more, “sending him on his way, back to his Levantine minx.” Her voice sounded a little older and as if wiser now. “No matter. He would come crawling back, she had no doubt.” Like Barbara Stanwyck? Dame Edith Evans? “Of this she had no doubt at all.” No, Joan Crawford, that’s who it sounded like. “In the meanwhile she still had Julian with whom to seek her womanly fulfillment. Provided of course she could keep him from getting too drunk and passing out before she could approach even the foothills of the mountains of ecstasy.”



(Continued here, if only because of certain legal obligations that we won’t go into right now.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a reasonably up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©; available free, gratis and for nothing, thanks in part to the sponsorship of Rheingold Beer. “Our beer will not make you feel sick if drunk in reasonable quantities and at a moderate pace.”)

9 comments:

Jennifer said...

Emily's purse sounds like Mary Poppins' bag.

“Maybe the fly likes me? Are you insane?”

I think Arnold has gone full circle... through insanity and back to being the sanest in the room.

Dan Leo said...

I agree, Jen -- the only possible saner person is Betsy, and we'll see how she holds up...

Dean Rohrer said...

“And you call yourself a poet. I thought poets were meant to understand human nature.”

“I think that’s a misconception,” I said.


ha ha ha--great

Dan Leo said...

Dean: that Arnold, always the life of the party!

Dean Rohrer said...

so many misconceptions, so little time

kathleenmaher said...

I wonder if Emily believes not so much that poets understand human nature but their art requires them to suffer.

Manny said...

What I wouldn't give to hear Ursula riff on "Miss Otis Regrets"

Dan Leo said...

Manny, we're still waiting for Blue Note to re-release Ursula's late-50s sides, including her classic live long-player, "Jammin' at the Kettle of Fish" recorded on the very night Arnold is currently describing.

Manny said...

I've got my turntable warmed up!