(Click here to see our preceding chapter; go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning fifty-nine volume memoir. "I passed my last trans-Atlantic cruise for the most part quite contentedly sitting in a deck chair with a blanket over my lap, re-reading Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in the National Geographic.)
Bunny was leaning his great bulk toward Betsy, so much so that he seemed liable to fall off his bar stool, and incidentally taking up all the narrow space I had just been standing in. He was talking loudly and waving one hand, while Betsy leaned away from him, nodding her head and smiling the way one smiles when undergoing a vaccination.
I stood behind Bunny, and made a coughing noise.
He didn’t hear me, or if he did he made no indication thereof.
“Excuse me, Bunny?” I said.
Bunny kept talking. I heard the words “dialectical materialism”, “Wittgenstein”, “Kafka”, “crisis”, “being and nothingness”, “ontological” and “eschatological”.
I stood there. Gabriel was playing a solo again on his trumpet, and only now did I realize he had been “blowing” for several minutes at least.
“Hey,” I said. “Bunny.”
Again he didn’t hear me or at least he didn’t seem to hear me. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. He was not young after all. Perhaps his hearing was impaired from too many nights spent listening to bebop.
Apparently Betsy hadn’t heard me either over Bunny’s monologue, nor could she see me see me the way she sat at an obtuse angle from him with her face lowered towards her martini.
“Kafka,” said Bunny, “Knut Hamsun. Goddam Huysmans!”
“I just want you to know I’m thinking about forgiving you,” said the fly, who was buzzing by my right ear again.
I put my hand over my mouth and muttered, “Jesus, will you leave me alone?”
“Oh, now you’re the aggrieved one?” he said. “By the way, you don’t have to mutter into your hand like that. I can hear your thoughts.”
“Really?” I thought.
“Yeah, sure, but only if I’m right near your brain like this, ‘specially in a noisy joint like this place.”
“Well, that’s great.’
“No need to be sarcastic. Just don’t be grabbing me in your fist like you just did. How you think that makes me feel?”
“So okay, tell me, do you not want to get in this Betsy babe’s pants or what?”
“No. I mean I do, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I mean, it’s just --”
“Oh, please, pal, spare me the ratiocinations. If you want to sit outside in the corridor while everyone else is having a ball at life’s great feast then be my guest.”
“Right, I gotta question for ya.”
“Whaddaya think of this Pat babe?”
“Pat? I don’t know.”
“You don’t find her attractive?”
“No, sure she’s attractive --”
“You think she’s stuck up at all?”
“I don’t know. I hardly know her.”
“But Carlotta’s cool, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Whaddaya mean, you 'guess', from what I gather you and her --”
“All right, change the subject.”
“Sheesh, you are a square at heart, ain’t ya?”
“Yes, I’m a square.”
“So anyway I’m thinking of making a move on her.”
“Yes,” said the fly. “I mean if that’s okay with you.”
“Sure,” I said to myself.
“’Cause I think that Pat babe’s kinda stuck up. She kept swatting at me. Swatting every time I try to land on her.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
“So it’s okay with you I make a move on Carlotta.”
“I don’t care.”
“Love ‘em and leave for you, huh, pal?”
I tried not to dignify this question with even a nonverbal remark.
“Okay, good then,” said the fly. “I’m off to make my move.”
“Yeah. I’m gonna fly over and see if I can land on her bosom for a while. She ain’t as stacked as Pat but I think she’s got a nicer personality.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” I thought.
He flew away, over toward the TV guys’ table, where Pat and Carlotta were still sitting. In fact Pat was sitting on Ralph Edwards’s lap, and Carlotta was on Edward R. Murrows’s knee, but John Cameron Swayze was trying to shift her over onto his lap. It looked like the fly had his work cut out for him.
Suddenly the band came to a halt in their song, and applause and shouting broke out.
“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen,” said the amplified voice of Freddy through his microphone, “thank you very much, you’re very kind, very kind indeed.”
Same old Freddy, even if this was a fictional universe. He loved to butter up the audience.
“We’re going to do one more number before we take a little break,” continued Freddy, “but before we do, I see we have a certain gentleman here tonight who made such a wonderful impression during last week’s Tuesday night jam session.”
Bunny was still talking loudly and nonstop, still leaning way over toward Betsy and taking up the space I had been standing in.
I gave it another try.
“Hey! Bunny!” I said.
Unfortunately Bunny had reached such an excited plateau of his monologue that he was almost shouting at Betsy. I heard the phrase “existential imperative”, the names “Kant”, “Schopenhauer”, and “Kierkegaard”, the words “sex” and “death” and “blood”.
There was nothing for it, I would have to tap him on the shoulder, and I hate to tap people on the shoulder.
“So what do you say, Porter?” said the disembodied voice of Freddy.
It seemed that everyone in the place was staring at me. Well, no, that’s an exaggeration, it was mostly the people who were standing in front of the band who had turned to stare at me. Most of the people in the bar probably went on doing whatever they were already doing, including Bunny who continued shouting more names and words, “Lawrence”, “Joyce”, “Pound”, “internal monologue”, “free indirect discourse”...
“Come on, Porter,” said Freddy. “Recite one of your very fabulous poems for us!”
Several of the people near the stage yelled, “Go, daddy-o! Go! Go!”
Someone grabbed my arm.
“Go ahead, Mr. Walker! Knock ‘em dead!”
It was a little guy with sunglasses. Like Bunny he wore jeans and a t-shirt and a billed cap.
“Pardon me?” I said.
“It’s me, Mr. Walker, Maxie.”
He took off his sunglasses.
“Your waiter at the Oak Room. I guess you don’t recognize me ‘cause I ain’t got my monkey suit on.”
“Oh, hi,” I said.
“Come on.” He put his sunglasses back on and pulled my arm. “Your fans wanna hear you recite.”
“Go, daddy! Go! Go!” cried my apparent fans, and Freddy spoke gently but insistently into his microphone: “Don’t be shy, Porter. Come on, now.”
Behind me I could still hear Bunny’s booming voice: “pathetic fallacy”, “negative capability”, “dark night of the soul”.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Freddy into his microphone, “let’s hear it for the voice of his generation, the very talented young poet, Mr. Porter Walker!”
Maxie was pulling me closer to the band area, which wasn’t that far away to begin with, and people were stepping aside to let us through. Several fellows clapped me on the shoulder, and people continued to shout, “Go! Go, daddy-o, Go!”
I pulled up short several feet from what would have been the stage, if there had been a stage.
“I can’t recite,” I said, to everyone, but primarily to Freddy, who had gotten off his stool and was twisting the clutch of his microphone stand, raising the microphone to the height of a six-foot man’s chin.
“Nonsense, dear boy,” said Freddy, sliding the stand a couple of feet to his left.
“Yeah, get up here, poet man,” commanded Ursula, lighting a cigarette in her black holder.
“Don’t play so hard to get,” said Magda, sitting with her legs crossed on her piano bench. Gabriel had just given her a light with his lighter, and he lighted a cigarette for himself.
“Come on, Porter,” said Gabriel. “Tell it like it is, man.”
The giant bassist thumbed one deep reverberant note, it seemed to enter through my penis and travel up my spine to my brain where it banged around on the inner walls of my skull.
The bongoist stared at me and then attacked his drums briefly but loudly, producing a sound like a firing squad ending some poor coward’s life.
“Let’s go, Mr. Walker,” said Maxie, as people all around me continued to shout “Go! Go!”
“Give the people what they want,” said Maxie. “A brief glimpse of eternity and sublimity, like.”
“But I don’t have any poems on me,” I said.
“Wait! Porter! Wait!”
I turned. It was Emily, rushing toward me, shoving people out of her way, almost stumbling on her high heels but recovering her balance and sliding to a stop right in front of me, opening her briefcase.
“Here, Porter,” she said. “I have your poem.”
She pulled out a great sheath of typescript.
“I finished retyping your latest revisions last night. I made only a few minor corrections in the case of obvious misspellings and unintentional solecisms. For instance you consistently say ‘infer’ when you mean ‘imply’ and say ‘her and I’ when you mean ‘her and me’. Here.”
Putting the briefcase on the floor she riffled though the manuscript, found a certain page, then separated the sheath so that this page was on the top of its own pile. She then put this pile on top of the other, making it one big pile again.
“Look, here’s a lovely passage, Porter.”
She handed me the manuscript, which I should say was approximately the size of a large city’s telephone directory.
She tapped the top page with her fingertip.
“It’s where you express your artistic credo.”
“Oh, right,” I said.
“Go, go, go!” yelled the people.
Emily stepped closer to me, and put her face near mine.
“Oh, Porter,” she whispered, “darling Porter --”
Maxie, who was still holding my arm, leaned in closer also, not wanting to miss a thing.
“Hey, give us some room to breathe, half-pint,” said Emily, and
putting her hand on his chest she gave him a shove. He staggered backwards, his arms flailing, but a couple of fellows caught him before he could fall.
Emily looked up into my face. It occurred to me that she had probably just bolted two or possibly even three quick Old Fashioneds.
“Go, my darling Porter,” said Emily. “Read, read like the wind!”
“The wind --?”
“Like a divine wind, a divine afflatus rising up from the pit of your soul and out of your mouth.”
“I dunno --”
“Your lovely mouth.”
I looked past her, back towards the bar. Bunny had finally stopped speaking, and both he and Betsy were turned in their stools, looking towards me.
“I can’t do this,” I muttered, to no one in particular.
Another, new hand was on my shoulder.
This time it was Gabriel. A cigarette dangled from his lips, and from under his porkpie hat his dark eyes looked into my eyes.
“It’s cool, man,” he said.
I couldn’t be absolutely certain, but I was sure that he knew me, that is that he knew I was Arnold Schnabel, the same Arnold Schnabel who had smoked that extremely powerful marijuana with him last night, seven years in the future, in Josh’s suite at the Chalfonte.
“Gabriel,” I said.
“Call me Gabe, man.”
“Gabe, have you seen Josh?”
He took his hand off my shoulder, took the cigarette out of his mouth.
“Sure, man, he’s around.”
“Heh heh,” he said. “You mean ‘thank Josh’?”
“Who’s this ‘Josh’?” said Emily.
“Just a cat we know, pretty lady,” said Gabriel.
Everyone (well, a half dozen people maybe, but it felt to me like everyone) was still yelling, “Go! Go! Go, Daddy, go!”
Magda produced with the fingers of her left hand a ripple of dark-sounding notes from the piano, a ripple answered by another deep rumbling boom from the bassist and a machine-gun burst of taps from the bongo man.
“So go on, man,” said Gabe. “Get up and testify, then we’ll have a rap later.”
I didn’t know what a “rap” was.
“Plus I got some righteous tea I want you to try.”
“He doesn’t drink tea,” said Emily. “He drinks coffee, black.”
I glanced back at the bar. Through the smoke my eyes met Betsy’s.
She put her open hand to the side of her mouth and called, “Go, Porter! Go!”
“Grab the mike, man,” said Gabriel. “Do it to it. Shake it but don’t break it.”
“Read your poem, man.”
“Go, daddy!” yelled the people. Well, a few of the people. Some looked like they were losing interest.
“Well, maybe just a page,” I said.
“Sure, man,” said Gabe.
“Like the wind, Porter!” said Emily. “A divine wind! A wind of words that will change the world!”
“Well, I don’t know about that --”
“Shake a leg, Lermontov,” called Ursula.
“Okay, sorry,” I said, and I walked over to the microphone stand.
(Continued here, if only because of certain legal obligations incurred as a result of imbibing too much absinthe.)
(Please turn to the right hand side of this page to find what one hopes is an up-to-date listing of links to all other publicly available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©; this project made possible in part by Vaseline™: ”The lubricant that also serves as an admirable bald head wax.”)