Friday, August 6, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 211: encore

Our hero Arnold Schnabel has been transformed by the Evil Trickster into “Porter Walker, moodily handsome Bohemian poet”, one of the love interests of “Emily”, the heroine of Gertrude Evans’s Ye Cannot Quench, a robustly thick novel of a plucky young woman’s coming of age in 1950s New York City. {Editor's note: This classic novel will finally become available again with the Library of America’s upcoming publication of Evans: Four Early Novels: Ye Cannot Quench; Carnival of Desire; Beat the Bongos Boldly; and The Madman in the Attic.}

(Click here to read our previous chapter; newcomers looking for a new addiction may go here to return to the very first episode of this Gold View Award™-winning 83-volume memoir. ”I used to think guys like Proust and Joyce and Thomas Mann were hot stuff. Then I discovered Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in Woman’s Day.)

The fly had asked an apt question. In the space of a couple of minutes I had brought my audience from the heights of Dionysian ecstasy to the depths of what might kindly be called Apollonian despair. What I really wanted to do was say thank you and good night and walk off, but it didn’t seem fair to leave my audience in their present sad state.

I could recite another one of my own poems, God knows I had enough of them to choose from, but what if this recitation drove my audience even deeper into their respective dark nights of the soul? What if, God forbid, they decided to murder me and also the innocent musicians, then perhaps to commit mass suicide, although, being murdered, I would have no way of knowing if they did commit suicide or not.

The band continued to play, their music was like a blue river of sadness. I stared out at my weeping audience with what I hoped was an expression that might be construed as soulful.

I wondered, if these people did kill me, would I then be permitted to enter God the father’s house? It appeared that I, or Porter, had at the least committed sins of concupiscence in this world, sins that were by any strict ecclesiastical definition mortal. But did these sins count if they were committed in a fictional universe? For that matter, if these people did turn on me and beat me to death, would I really die, or only die in Miss Evans’s novel? There was only one way to find out, and, reader, trust me, I am now and was then far too cowardly to try to find out.

(An irony presents itself here, to wit, that although I have in my life considered taking my own life, and have come close to trying it on a few occasions, nevertheless the thought of anyone else but me killing me fills me with a gibbering dread. I’m not sure if irony is the correct word. Perhaps idiocy will suffice.)

I continued to stare out at the crowd. For all they knew I was just taking a long dramatic pause.

“Look, pal, don’t freeze up, just read ‘em some more of your epic poem,” said the fly in my ear. “They loved that shit.”

The fly had a good point. My eyes had cleared up quite a bit by now. I would read a page or so of Porter’s book; that would probably make everyone happy, and then maybe I could leave the stage on an upbeat note. (I use the word “stage” figuratively, because as I’ve mentioned there was no stage, the musicians and I were simply crowded into a corner back by the rest rooms.)

I lifted the heavy typescript up again. I had ceased my previous reading from the poem at the bottom of the top page. I removed this page and shifted it to the bottom of the stack.

The musicians continued to play, sad and low. I felt that they were waiting to take their cue from me. Frenzied bebop? Or a funeral march.

“Okay, then,” I said into the microphone, my voice again booming through the room. “Let me just read a bit more from my epic poem here --”

“No, man, no!” shouted John Cameron Swayze. “Improvise, daddy! Like your poem said, improvise!”

“Throw away the damn script!” yelled Edward R. Murrow.

“Well, not literally,” called Ralph Edwards.

“Jazz poetry!” yelled Carlotta, and “Yeah, jazz poetry!” yelled Pat. They were still wiping their faces with handkerchiefs, but they did seem to be cheering up.

“Jazz poetry!” shrieked Emily, as if she were the first one to think of it.

“Yeah, g’ahead,” said Maxie. He had put his sunglasses and cap back on, although his cheeks were still moist with weeping. “Let it rip, Mr. Walker. Like Bird, or Diz.”

“Like who?”

“You, know, Bird, Diz.”

“He’s talking about jazz musicians, pal,” said the fly in my ear.

“Oh, right,” I said. “Bird and Diz. Sure.”

“Jazz poetry!” a lot of people were chanting now. “Jazz poetry! Jazz poetry!”

“Well, you’re screwed now, pal,” said the fly.

“What?” I said, but not aloud. “You think I can’t improvise?”

“I don’t know,” said the fly. “Can you?”

My audience continued to chant: “Jazz poetry!” and the band had picked up the tempo of the chant.

“Porter’s cobalt blue eyes pierced like atomic ray guns through the almost viscous smoke, and the people felt quivering in the very fiber of their bones the approach of a raging tornado of genius,” said Miss Evans’s voice, drowning out both the music of the band and the chanting of the crowd.

“Who the hell was that?” said the fly.

“Gertrude Evans,” I said, without moving my lips, or at least I hope without moving my lips. “She’s the crazy woman who wrote the novel we’re in, and that’s her narration.”

“She writes like shit,” said the fly.

“Jazz poetry! Jazz poetry!” chanted the crowd.

“Porter lowered his poem to his side. He took the microphone in his strong right hand,” said Miss Evans, and I found myself putting her words into deeds.

“So what’re you, like her puppet?” said the fly.

“No!” I said, silently, but loudly, if one can say such a thing.

“Let the bitch know who’s boss, pal!”

“Okay,” I said, and I realized I had spoken aloud.

The crowd stopped chanting, and they stared at me. The musicians played on, and their rhythm carried me along as if I were floating while standing still. I spoke:
I am not the man you think I am,
I’m not the man who stands before you;
I am not of your world or of your kind,
But I’ll do my best not to bore you.

I come from a very faraway land,
In fact it’s several galaxies away;
It’s a little world that I call my mind,
And I’d really like to go back there some day.

You see I had a slight run-in or two
With a man some call Lucifer, others Azazel,
Some Beelzebub, some Leviathan;
It doesn’t matter, he came from Hell;

And twice he did his best to drag me to
That fiery place, don’t even ask me why,
But fortunately I was smarter than
He, and both times I out-tricked the wise guy...

“That poem stinks!” yelled someone. I was disappointed to realize that it was John Cameron Swayze. “It sounds like something a simpleton would write!”

“Yeah, it is kind of square,” said one of the many young men there who sported a goatee and a beret.

“What do you bums know about poetry?” yelled Carlotta.

“Yeah, shut your traps before we shut them for you!” yelled Pat.

“I want to know where this poem is going,” said Emily.

“Right down the toilet if you ask me,” quipped Mr. Swayze.

“I’ll flush you down the toilet,” said Emily, “you and your Timex watch!”

You could tell that she wanted to attack Mr. Swayze with her purse, but Julian held her firmly by both arms. She struggled, but fortunately he was much bigger and stronger than her. (Than she? I’ve never been quite sure about this construction. I’m also not sure that it matters. No, strike that, I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t matter.)

“G’ahead, Mr. Walker,” said Maxie. “Ya can’t please everybody.”

“Yeah, go ahead, pal,” said the fly in my ear. “It’s too late to turn back now anyway.”

“I don’t know,” I said, in my mind.

“Don’t sweat it,” said the fly. “Things get ugly, don’t worry, I got your back.”

“Oh, great, I feel better now,” I thought.

“Yeah, you and me, pal. Anybody fucks with you they fuck with me.”


“So go crazy already.”

“Well, okay,” I said. I cleared my throat, paused for just a moment, and then spoke into the microphone.

To cut a long story mercifully
Short, this chap I knew as Mr. Lucky
Took his revenge on me in my slumber
And I awakened one rainy morning
Transformed into a foolish character
In a novel I didn’t even like
But which I had been painfully reading
In an absurd attempt to be polite;
So, yes, I admit, I’m an impostor;
But now, standing here, I have to wonder:
Are you, my audience, mere creations
Of overheated imagination,
Or have you all been exiled here as well?
Is this life, or an anteroom of Hell?

I stopped speaking.

The musicians behind me played on, played around me.

I looked out over the crowd. As far as I could tell most of the people had stopped crying, so that was good, but what wasn’t so good was the way everyone just stood there staring at me, as if stunned. And not stunned in a good way.

Well, this was it, I thought. I had gone just a little too far. My only hope was that if they were going to descend upon me en masse and do me to death with fists and beer bottles that they would be quick and efficient about it, and that they would spare the musicians.

I wondered how St. Peter would feel about me showing up on his porch twice in two days. Not too kindly I imagined.

But then Pat put her two fingers in her mouth again and let loose with another piercing shrill whistle, and “Por-ter!” cried Carlotta, pumping a fist in the air, and then waving the wet handkerchief she held in it. “Woo-hoo!” she cried, as Pat let out another ear-drilling whistle.

The ice broken, the crowd once again burst into shouts and cries and screams of approbation.

“See, what’d I tell ya, pal?” said the fly. “Ya knocked ‘em dead.”

“Great,” I thought. “And now I think I’d better quit while I still can.”

“Right,” said the fly. “Always leave ‘em wantin’ more. Let’s get a beer, buddy. You’ve earned it.”

(Continued here, and indefinitely, as legally mandated by my probation agreement.)

(Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find a quite often current listing of links to all other cybernetically available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Made possible in part by a generous grant from the good people of Turtle Wax™. “Hey hep-cats, try rubbing Turtle Wax™ on your shaven skull. The gals will love that shiny glow!”)


Unknown said...

Bravura performance, Arnold.
Although, nothing wrong with leaving 'em crying, if you can. It's telling the truth that's truly asking for martyrdom. Luckily, Arnold/Porter's women recognize the beauty in what's real.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Kathleen. I sometimes feel that you understand Arnold's memoirs better than I do!

Henning Pfeifer said...

maybe Chomolungmas Kleid should produce a song about Arnold Schnabels Adventures...

Dan Leo said...

We can only hope, Jen -- sorry, I mean Henning!

Unknown said...

Brilliant episode.
Some museum (I think in Washington) is showing an exhibit of Alan Ginsburg's old photos. Maybe Porter is in some of them.

Dan Leo said...

Oh, I'm sure he is, Manny. Porter seems to be the Zelig of the 1950s literary scene...

Jennifer said...

Ha! I love that the fly can hear Gertrude... and that he's got an appropriate appreciation for her writing.

And no, I'm not Henning. :)

Dan Leo said...

No flies on the fly, Jen!

(And, as Larry Sanders would say, "I don't even know what that means.")