Saturday, September 25, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 218: gwine to run

The spiteful Prince of Darkness has transformed our hero Arnold Schnabel into “Porter Walker, handsome but moody and possibly even bi-polar poet”, a character in Ye Cannot Quench (#92 on The Ladies’ Home Journal’s picks for “The Top 100 Romantic Reads of 1960”) by Gertrude Evans (author of many other fine novels, such as Throw the Empties Out the Window; The Crimson Cad; Alabaster Alice; and the banned-in-Boston Some May Call It Lust).

Let’s rejoin Arnold (or Porter) in the hallway outside the men’s room of a mysterious Greenwich Village basement bistro known as Valhalla, where we find him in conversation with a gentleman named Sam Clemens...

(Click here to read our previous episode; if you absolutely have nothing better to do you may go here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 49-volume memoir (with a two-volume appendix of explanatory notes and scholarly essays, edited by Orville Prescott). “Railroad Train to Heaven -- one-stop shopping for all your literary needs.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Cape May Pennysaver.)

“Wait,” I said.

Yes, I was having another one of my famous brainwaves, although the upshot of this particular flush of mental activity had not yet become clear.

Sam simply stared at me and waited, smoking his cigar.

“Wait,” I said again.

“Sure, kid. I’ve got all eternity after all.”

“Your name is Sam,” I said. “Sam Clemens?”

“And here I told you a whole five minutes ago. You’ve got a memory like a steel trap, my boy.”

“You’re -- you’re --”

“Keep going, Porter, you’re right on the verge. I can feel it.”

“Oh, hey, pal, I recognize him now,” whispered the fly. “The Tom Sawyer guy, you know, Huckleberry Finn, Becky Thatcher -- what’s-his-name --”

And so at last, with a little help from the fly, I got it.

“You’re Mark Twain,” I said.

I think it be no other than e’en so. The bard of Avon said that,” said Sam. “And about fucking time. I said that.”

“I’m really sorry,” I said. “I -- I just thought you were --”

“Some old homo,” whispered the fly in my ear.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” said Sam. “Although I should have thought that a fellow scribbler would have been at least vaguely aware of my offstage name.”

“Well, now that you mention it I suppose I did know that Samuel Clemens was your real name, but --”

“I know, I reckon it’s a mite surprising to see me walking around, what, forty-seven years after I kicked the bucket.”

“A little,” I said.

“Hey, buck up, you’ll get to be a literary immortal yourself someday if that little pamphlet you’re toting around is as good as gossip has it.”

“Oh, this thing,” I said, shifting my five-pound epic from one hand to another. “I’m afraid if it gets me anywhere it’ll be down in the sub-basement.”

“Yeah, but don’t forget, with an hour’s excursion into the men’s room every two-three weeks.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Chatting with the other bore-asses of the literary firmament and passing out paper towels and introducing yourself to people who’ve never heard of you and don’t care to.”

“Yeah, I’ve got that to look forward to.”

“Ha ha, I doubt it, Porter. A real bore never thinks he’s a bore.”

“Maybe I’m not boring, but my poem is.”

“Don’t be so damned modest. By the way, you know you should really get something to carry your masterpiece in. A nice leather document case, dispatch pouch --”

“Yeah, so I’ve been told.”

“I’ll bet. Okay, let’s get that drink.”

“Well, I’m with some friends, actually --”

“Oh, well, if you’d prefer just to return to your friends, I don’t want to horn in --”

“Um --”

“But perhaps I’ll just say hello.” He stuck his cigar in his mouth, took my arm, and started to lead me back to the front room. “Where y'all sitting, in one of the booths up front?”

“No, actually, we’re in the back room.”

He stopped in his tracks, let go of my arm, took his cigar out of his mouth, and looked at me.

“The back room. They put you in the back room?”


“Did you know someone?”


“Shit. Even I have trouble getting a table in the back room.”

But then I remembered Josh.

“Maybe my friend knew someone,” I said. “He got here first.”

“Oh. He another writer?”


“And James still gave him a table in the back. Is he rich this friend of yours?”

“Sort of.”

“Uh-huh. Important family? Like, you know, old money?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“That explains it then. Don’t get me wrong, I like James, but the man is a snob. You wouldn’t catch him writing about an ill-born no ’count rapscallion like Huck Finn, now would you?”

“Well, I, uh --”

“And just try to find a Negro anywhere in the man’s canon. I dare you. Go ahead.”

“Um --”

“Or look for an Indian, or even a half-breed like Injun Joe.”

“Uh --”

I of course had no idea what this Henry fellow had or had not written and how many Negroes and Indians were in his canon if any.

“Oh but tarnation,” said Sam, “why are we standing here in the corridor jawboning about that old la-de-da when we could be drinking?” He punched me lightly on the shoulder. “Come on, introduce me to your friends.”

I said okay, and we turned and headed down to the back room. Sam took my arm again, but I think that was just his old-fashioned way of being friendly, so I studiously ignored it when the fly whispered in my ear again, “Homo.”

In the other room the entertainment had come on, a small skiffle band playing and singing “Camptown Races”.

“So where are your friends, Porter?” asked Sam.

“Over there, near the stage,” I pointed to our table, around which Mr. James and Walt and Edgar and Emily were all still standing.

“My word, those girls at the table are with you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Which one’s yours, the blonde in black or the brunette in red?”

“Well, actually --

“The brunette, right?”

“Um --”

“I am thoroughly impressed, my boy. Most women that good-looking wouldn’t be caught dead in this joint. You know the ladies, they tend to go more for musicians and actors, or else prize-fighters, rugby players, ruffians like that. Hoo boy. Hey, listen, by the way, Porter,” he whispered in my ear, the one the fly wasn’t sitting in, “if anybody asks, just say we’re old friends you and me. Okay?”


We walked over to the table, Sam still holding onto my arm.

Bonjour, tout le monde!” he said.

“Oh. Samuel,” said Mr. James. He glanced down at Sam’s and my intertwined arms. “I thought you were sitting at the front bar.”

“I was,” said Sam, “but I ran into my old buddy Porter here in the head.”

“Samuel!” said Emily.

“What? What did I say?”

“You said H-E-A-D.”

“Head? I can’t say head now?”

“Not in the sense you have just employed it.”

“You’re supposed to say facility, Sam,” said Edgar.

“Much better had it been,” said Emily, “had you not made specific reference at all to the location of your encounter with Mr. Walker.”

“Yes, leave something to the imagination, Sam, heh heh,” said Walt.

“Yeah, okay,” said Sam. Ignoring these others he addressed my friends. “My name is Sam,” he said. “Friend of Porter’s.”

Josh stood up, and, reaching over Carlotta’s head, he offered his hand.

“Any friend of Porter’s,” said Josh. “Call me Josh.”

Sam finally let go of my arm, so that he could transfer his cigar from his right hand to his left, and he shook Josh’s hand.

“Very pleased to meet you, sir. And who may I ask are these lovely young ladies?”

“This is Carlotta,” said Josh, “and this is Pat.”

Sam kissed Carlotta’s and Pat’s hands in turn. I noticed that Josh’s drink was already empty, as was Pat’s. There was still a swallow left in Carlotta’s glass. Mine was untouched, getting warmer by the second.

“Mr. Walker, perhaps you would care to sit now,” said Mr. James to me, pulling out the empty chair next to Pat.

I did care to, and so I sat, Mr. James deftly sliding the chair under my descending derrière. I put my damned epic poem on the table.

Josh was still standing.

“Would you like to join us, sir?” he said to Sam.

I picked up my Manhattan.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to intrude,” said Sam.

“Nonsense,” said Josh. “Mr. -- James, right?”

“Yes, sir,” said Mr. James.

I took a taste of the Manhattan.

“Can you find a chair for our friend Sam, please,” said Josh.

“I’ll get one,” said Edgar, and off he went.

Everyone started to talk at once, and the band was now playing “Oh! Susannah”.

I took another, longer drink of my Manhattan. It tasted good. Even a lukewarm Manhattan is better than no Manhattan at all.

Edgar scurried up with a chair from somewhere, Sam sat in it, Josh sat down too finally, and the conversation and the music swirled around me and then faded into the background as I heard a disembodied voice speaking above it all, but this time it wasn’t Miss Evans speaking. It was a man’s voice, and it took me a moment to realize it was my own voice, or rather Porter’s:

“So,” I said, “at the least I seemed to have succeeded in escaping the absurd machinations of Miss Evans’s novel and had branched off into my own infinitely more absurd storyline. But I still remained trapped if not in the mechanics of her plot then in the world of her novel. And meanwhile, what was happening back in my own world? Was I still lying in bed, comatose, no more sentient than a slug? And what about my poor mother? What about Elektra? What about my appointment to meet Larry Winchester for our writing session? What about breakfast?”

“Porter,” said Carlotta. She put her hand on mine, the one that wasn’t holding my drink.

“Yes?” I said.

“The lady wants to know if you would like another drink.”

I looked down at my Manhattan. It was gone but for a tiny garnet film at the bottom of the glass, and the cherry. The fly sat on the cherry, licking it.

“Just a beer, I think,” I said.

“Fine, a beer,” said the Emily lady. She was holding a pad in one hand and a pencil in the other. “Rheingold, Falstaff, or Miller High Life?”

Normally I would have gone for the Rheingold, but considering where I was I ordered the more literary Falstaff.

(Continued here; in the words of Lyle Gorch: “Why not?”)

(Please look to the right hand side of this page to find what may on a good day be a complete listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. And be sure to pre-order the upcoming Ha Karate! DVD release of Larry Winchester’s long unavailable 1964 film adaptation of Gertrude Evans’s Ye Cannot Quench, starring Michael Parks as “Porter Walker” and featuring Hal Holbrook as “Sam”. With commentary by Larry Winchester and Gertrude Evans.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 217: the damned

In case you’ve just wandered in by accident, let it be known that the Prince of Darkness has transformed our hero Arnold Schnabel into “Porter Walker, broodingly handsome young poet”, a character in Ye Cannot Quench, a long-out-of-print Bildungsroman (#89 in Mademoiselle’s “Fabulous Beach Reads for the Summer of 1960”) by Gertrude Evans , author of numerous other works such as The Depressed Cyclops; A Suburb of Heaven; The Giraffe Laughs Last; and Full Speed For Oshkosh.

When last we saw Arnold (or, if you will, “Porter”), on this sultry night in Greenwich Village in the summer of 1957, he was at long last headed for the men’s room of a mysterious basement saloon known as “Valhalla”...

(Go here to read our previous episode, or click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 79-volume memoir. “Arnold Schnabel’s massive opus relegates all preceding American literature to the status of prelude; that which follows must perforce aspire to be no more than a dying fall.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Cape May County Herald.)

I made it out of the room and then down the hall to the men’s room door, which I savagely wrenched open, fully prepared as I was to use a sink if there wasn’t a urinal or a stall free.

In fact four dodgy-looking men stood loitering near the sinks, smoking; they had been talking, but they now fell quiet, looking at me out of the corners of their eyes; what did I care, one of the two urinals was free and I bolted over to it posthaste, unzipped, and proceeded to do what I had to do.

“First time here?” asked the man using the other urinal.

Great, I thought, another one of these guys who likes to talk at urinals.

“Uh, yes,” I said.

“So, which racket are you in, partner?”

“Pardon me?”

I hate to look at other men peeing next to me, but his question took me enough by surprise that I stole a glance. He had a wild head of curly white hair and a drooping moustache, a cigar between his teeth. He wore a rumpled white suit

“Of course you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but I see you have a manuscript under your arm is all, and judging by your raffish attire and your three-day growth of beard I take it you’re not a civilian.”

I’ve said it before, I’ll repeat it until the day I die and probably beyond: I hate urinal conversations. I hate most conversations now that I think about it, but I really hate urinal conversations.

“Okay,” the man said, taking his cigar out of his mouth with his left hand. “Forget I said anything.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “What did you want to know?”

“Your racket.”

“My racket?”

“Yeah. Your line of country. Your métier. Novels? Poetry? Philosophy? The dreaded humorous essay?”

“Oh,” I said. “Poetry, I guess.”

“Poetry,” he said, flatly. Then, after a slight sigh, “So -- lyrical? Epic? Dramatic monologue?”

“Well, I guess kind of a combination of all of that,” I said, my words oozing with vagueness.

“Uh-huh. Lyrical epic monologue then.”

“Yeah,” I said. I was almost done urinating but not quite.

“Not much of a market for that kind of stuff nowadays, is there?” he said.

“I guess not,” I said.

“Any publishers interested.”

“Well, yes, I just sold this one today in fact.”

“No kidding? That Brobdingnagian thing under your arm there.”

I didn’t know what Brobdingnagian meant but I said “Yeah” anyway.

“Oh, wait --” he said, and I waited, or rather I continued to pee as fast as I could while he blatantly stared at me. “May I ask your name, sir?” he said after half a minute.

“Walker? Porter Walker.”

“Well, I’ll be tarred and feathered. I’d shake your hand, but --”

“Yeah, that’s okay,” I said.

I continued to try to hurry the pee along, but of course that’s not possible.

The annoying thing was, one of the annoying things was, this man had long finished urinating, and yet here he was still standing there, taking his time buttoning up his fly.

“My name’s Sam,” he said.

“Hello,” I said.

“This guy is so queer,” whispered the fly in my ear. I was surprised he’d managed to keep quiet so long.

“Sam Clemens?” said the man.

“So very queer,” whispered the fly.

“Hi,” I said. If the fly was right I figured it would be best to keep the conversation as monosyllabic as possible.

“You don’t seem very impressed,” said this Sam guy.

“Homo,” whispered the fly.

“Look,” I said, “I don’t mean to be unfriendly, but --”

“I get it. The younger generation. I’m just an old misanthrope who stuck around too long, I reckon.”

“It’s not that,” I said, after all, I knew nothing about this man except that he seemed to like talking in men’s rooms. “It’s just that --”

“You don’t like being picked up by annoying old toilet traitors,” said the fly.

“He’s a kid, Sam,” called out one of the guys behind me by the sinks. “They have to go their own way.”

“Oh, is that so, Herman?” said Sam.

“It is in the nature of youth to think that youth knows all,” said another guy back there.

“Truer words, Nathaniel,” said another guy, “were never spoken, or if so then quite rarely.”

“You are exceedingly kind, Fenimore.”

“And you are excessively kind to characterize me as such.”

Finally I was finished.

“Great,” said the fly. “Now zip up and let’s get the hell outa here before they all gang up on you.”

I zipped up, flushed, and believe me I was tempted to skip washing my hands, but I just couldn’t do it.

There were two sinks in there, with these four other guys all standing near them. They made way for me, and one of them even turned the taps of one of them on for me.

“There you go, sir,” he said. He tested the stream of water with his finger. “Not too hot, not too cold.”

“Thanks,” I said. Maybe the fly was right, and I had indeed wandered into a homosexual den.

I put my hand under the wall-mounted soap dispenser and the same guy pressed the little plunger for me.

“There you are,” he said. “Why don’t you let me hold your manuscript for you while you cleanse your hands?”

“Oh, Christ,” started the fly.

“Sure,” I said, getting a little annoyed at the world in general, “here, take it.”

“My, it’s quite voluminous, isn’t it?” he said.

I set to work washing my hands. In the meantime the white-suited guy, Sam Clemens, was washing his hands in the other sink, his cigar balanced on the sink’s edge.

“My name’s Ralph, by the way,” said the guy who was holding my poem.  He had thick long sideburns. “I used to pronounce it ‘Rafe’, English-style, but everybody thought that was pretentious, so now I just go by Ralph. Call me Ralph.”

I finished washing my hands, but before I could turn off the taps one of the other guys came over, reached over and turned them off.

“I’m Nathaniel,” said this one, he had a big droopy moustache. “Or Nat, if you like.”

Another one quickly went over to the paper towel dispenser and turned the crank, ripped off a sheet, handed it to me.

“I’m James,” said this guy. “But call me Fenimore.”

The fourth one had nothing to do, but that didn’t stop him from introducing himself either.

“Herman,” he said, holding out his hand.  He had a great big beard.  “But call me Mel. All my friends call me Mel.”

“Hi,” I said. I never do this, but I ignored his proffered hand and pretended to be preoccupied with thoroughly drying my hands.

"Another homo," whispered the fly. "A whole pack of homos."

This comment made me feel guilty, and so, as Mel still had his hand hopefully extended, I took it and shook it, but briefly.

“Hey, James, pass me a towel, too,” said Sam. He had his cigar in his mouth now.

James (or Fenimore) quickly cranked out another length of paper towel, tore it off and brought it over to Sam.

The trashcan nearby had one of those swinging lids in its domelike top, and Mel (or Herman), apparently eager to do something, held the lid open for me. I crumpled up my paper towel and tossed it into it the can.

“Keep that open, will you, Herman?” said Sam.

Herman (or Mel) did so and Sam tossed his own crumpled-up towel into it.

“Two points,” he said.

“Here’s your manuscript back,” said Ralph, Rafe, whatever the hell his name was, and he handed it to me.

“Thanks,” I said.

The grey-haired man, Sam, had walked over to the door. He opened it and gestured with his head. I went over. He kept the door open for me and I went through, and he followed, letting the door swing shut behind him.

“Sorry about those fellows,” he said.

“They didn’t bother me,” I said, which was not quite true.

“You know who they were, right?”

“Not really,” I said.

“Mellville, Cooper, Hawthorne, Emerson. There were a few more in the stalls. Longfellow, Howells, Mather.”

“Don’t know them, I’m afraid.”

“You’re not missing much.”

“Do they always hang out in there?”

“Mostly they stay down in the sub-basement, but seven or eight of them get to come up and stand around in the men’s room for an hour once every week or so.”

“But -- why do they stay down in the sub-basement?”

“What do you mean? They have no choice. They have to stay down there.”

“For how long?”



“That’s right. The big one.”

“Wow. Why?”

“You ever read Moby-Dick? Last of the Mohicans? The Scarlet Letter?”

“Do the Classics Illustrated versions count?”


“Well, I’ll have to say no then.”

“Consider yourself lucky. Those fellows committed the one unforgivable sin,” said Sam. “They were boring. Come on, Porter, I’ll buy you a drink.”

(Continued here, and to beyond the pale and perhaps one step beyond that.)

(Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find a rigorously exhaustive listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, absolutely free of charge, although donations will be gratefully accepted in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Literacy Program for Disgruntled Youth.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 216: Valhalla

The Prince of Darkness has peevishly transmogrified our memoirist Arnold Schnabel into “Porter Walker, broodingly handsome young poet”, a character in Ye Cannot Quench (#97 on Reader’s Digest’s picks for “Riveting Reads of 1960”) by Gertrude Evans (that prolific author of many other fine novels such as Where the Laundry Flaps in the Summer Breeze; A Shout of Ecstasy; The Awakening of Miss McIntyre; and Passion in Cape May).

Let us rejoin Arnold on this fateful wet night in the summer of 1957 in New York City’s Greenwich Village, that mecca of beatniks and libertines, wiseguys and wisemen, cool cats, hot chicks, and charlatans and shucksters of all stripes...

(Click here to read our previous chapter, or go here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume masterpiece. “Arnold Schnabel’s massive chef d’oeuvre is a sort of literary Walmart in which one may wander for decades and still find something new and astounding down every aisle.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Hollywood Reporter.)

The room was small, a bar on the right and some booths along the left wall, a juke box and a cigarette machine in the back. The bar and the tables were filled with people, but I couldn’t see Pat or Josh anywhere. A portly bald gentleman in a three-piece suit came up to us. His shirt had an old-fashioned wing collar and he wore a wide bow tie with a diamond pin stuck in it.

“Welcome, and how do you do? My name is Mr. James. Two for dinner, or just cocktails?”

“Well, actually, we’re looking for some friends,” I said.

“Oh. And your name is?”

I almost said “Schnabel” but I was learning the game.

“Walker,” I said. “Porter Walker.”

“Ah, yes, of course, Mr. Walker, I’ve heard of you.”

“You have?”

“Oh yes indeed, word gets around in the Village you know. And is that your magnum opus?”

He referred to the typescript of my epic poem, which I was still lugging around.

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

I had forgotten I was still carrying it.

“It’s getting somewhat rumpled and foxed and ragged, isn’t it?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess.”

“You really shouldn’t carry it around loose like that.”

“I know. I didn’t plan to,” I said.

“What you need is one of those soft leather but waterproof document cases, with a stout buckle. Hartmann makes a nice one.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to get one of those,” I said.

“Or at least a paper sack from the supermarket,” said Carlotta.

“Some day a collector will pay good money for that bulky and disheveled sheath of paper,” said this Mr. James.

“I doubt that,” I said.

“It will be stored under glass in ideal atmospheric conditions: this very manuscript or I suppose one should say typescript which you now carry under your arm as casually as if it were last Sunday’s newspaper.”

Now he was making me feel guilty.

“Hey, mister,” said Carlotta, “where did you say our friends were?”

“Oh, yes, of course, your friends are in the back room.”

“Back room,” I said.

“Yes, as you can see we’re quite full out here.”


“Won’t you both please follow me?”

“Don’t do it,” whispered the fly in my ear. “I smell trouble.”

Almost as if he had heard the fly Mr. James said in a defensive way, “It’s really not as frightening as it sounds. ‘Back room’, with its connotations of vice and low dealings. It’s quite gemütlich really. Many of our clientèle prefer it to the front room.”

“Can you hear the juke box back there?” asked Carlotta.

“In the back room we feature live entertainment.”

“Lead on, James,” said Carlotta.

“Oh, Christ,” whispered the fly.

The man turned and headed toward the back, and we followed him. There was a turning to the left of the jukebox and the cigarette machine, and we went past a door marked “Private” and another one marked “Basement. No Admittance”. We turned right into a narrow hallway, past a pay phone mounted on a wall, then past a room marked “Ladies” on the right and another one for “Gentlemen” on the left. I was tempted to go straight away into the men’s room, but I didn’t want to abandon Carlotta until we had found Josh and Pat.

The hallway finally opened onto another dim room, smaller and windowless but also filled with people, with a bar off to the right and six or seven tables with checked tablecloths and candles in straw-covered wine bottles; at the far end of the room Pat and Josh sat at one of the tables near what looked like a tiny stage.

Mr. James stopped and turned to us.

“See, not so terribly dreadful.” He waved his hand at a large chipped flowered vase next to the wall, out of which the shafts and handles of several umbrellas protruded. “You may put your umbrella in this vase here, miss.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep it with me,” said Carlotta.

“Of course,” he said, with perhaps a hint of a note of disapproval.”

“Where’s the entertainment?” asked Carlotta.

“Taking ten,” said Mr. James. He took his pocket watch from his vest pocket and clicked it open. “Make it five.”

“Hey, James,” said Carlotta, “what’s this place called anyway? We didn’t see a sign outside.”

“No, we’ve never had a sign,” he said.

“Except for the Rheingold sign,” she said.

“That’s true. The sales representative offered it to us and we didn’t have the heart to say no. You don’t think it makes us look louche, do you?”

“Hell, no,” she said, “I drink Rheingold like water, myself.”

“I too find it a most refreshing beverage,” he said. “The perfect restorative after a long day.”

“And a pretty good pick-me-up after a long night, too,” she said.

“Heh heh, well, let me take you to your friends.”

“You didn’t tell us what this place is called,” said Carlotta.

“Oh,” he said, “sorry. Valhalla.”


“Yes. As in ‘literary Valhalla’.”


“Heh heh, yes.”

He smiled and led us across the room.

Josh and Pat were deep in conversation, smoking cigarettes and leaning toward each other over the table, on which stood what looked like four glimmering Manhattans, the two in front of Pat and Josh already half-empty.

“Pardon me, sir,” said Mr. James to Josh. “Your friends are here.”

“What?” said Josh, and he looked up. “Well, finally!” He stood up. He was still wearing his straw trilby hat, pushed back on his head. “We wondered what happened to you two.”

Mr. James pulled out the chair next to Josh for Carlotta, and she sat, dropping her umbrella on the floor under the table.

“I love it when I sit down and there’s already a drink on the table for me,” she said.

Mr. James then pulled out a chair next to Pat for me, but I said, “Um, I think I’ll, uh --”


“I, uh, I have to, uh --” I think I made a sort of twitching movement with my head, vaguely in the direction of the hallway back there to the rear and to my left.


“I, uh --”


This time I jerked my entire head toward my left shoulder, hoping he would get it.

“Are you quite all right, Mr. Walker?”

“What’s the matter, Porter?” said Josh, who was still standing. “I thought we were going to have a drink.”

“I -- uh --”

“You don’t have to have a Manhattan if you don’t want one. You want a beer?”

“No,” I said.

“Mister What-is-it,” said Josh, “can you bring Porter a beer?”

“Of course --”

“Listen,” I said. “Um --”

“Old Fashioned?” said Josh.

“No,” I said. “No, I --”

“He has to go to the little boy’s room,” said Pat.

“Oh,” said Josh. “Oh.”

Mr. James turned to me.

“We just passed it,” he said. “In the hallway.”

“Yes, I know,” I said.

A thin lady in a long high-collared grey dress came over. She also wore a lacy apron, of the sort my mother wore at Christmas or Easter dinner. She had a cocktail tray under one arm. She was very pale and her dark hair was pulled tightly back behind her small ears.

Josh had started to sit, but now as another lady had approached he remained standing, although he did reach down and take up his drink.

“Is there a problem, Henry?” the lady asked Mr. James.

“I don’t think so,” said Mr. James.

“May I help you, sir?” said the lady.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Why don’t you sit?”

She gestured gracefully to the empty chair, the back of which Mr. James still held, as if expectantly.

“Well, I, uh --”

Suddenly a great grey-bearded man wearing a slouch hat and a loose cravat around his neck came over from the bar and touched my arm.

“Please, you must stay,” he said.

“Oh, I intend to stay,” I said. “It’s just --”

A smaller man dressed in a black frock coat like an undertaker with dark curly hair and a thick moustache now came up next to the bearded man. He had a half-smoked cigar in one hand and a decorative ceramic beer stein in the other.

“What’s the problem, Walt?”

“I’m not quite sure,” said the bearded man.

“Don’t you like your table, sir?” said the moustached man.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I like it fine, it’s just --”

“He has to go to the gents’,” said Josh.

The lady in the long dress put her hand to her mouth, and her eyes went wide.

“Oh,” said the bearded fellow. “Is that all it is. It’s right back down the hall there,” he said to me, pointing.

“Yes,” I said, “I know.”

“You should go then,” said the moustached man.

“I intend to,” I said.

“I’m Edgar, by the way,” and he offered his hand, which, having no choice, I took. “And your name is?”

“Porter,” I said, stifling a sigh. “Porter Walker.”

“Not the Porter Walker.”

I couldn’t even say anything to this.

“I’m very honored,” said Edgar. “This is Walt.”

“Hello, Walt,” I said.

I offered my hand to the bearded man, this Walt, but instead of shaking my hand he put his arms around me in a bear hug.

“Very pleased to make your acquaintance, my lad.”

He finally stopped hugging me and gestured with his grey head toward the thin lady, who still held her hand over her mouth.

“I take it you’ve met Emily.”

She lowered her hand from her mouth.

“Not formally,” she said. “It is indeed a privilege of which I am scarcely worthy, sir.” She bowed her head.

She didn’t offer her hand, so I didn’t offer mine. I was dying to get to that men’s room.

“Is that your masterwork there?” asked Walt, referring to my damned poem.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said.

“I hope you’re not going to take it into the men’s room with you.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” I said.

“I’ll watch it for you,” he said, and he held out his hand.

“Don’t give it to him,” the fly whispered in my ear.

“Really, it’s safe with me,” said Walt.

“Don’t do it,” said the fly. “You don’t know this guy.”

I suppose that despite myself I was hesitating.

“Well, you don’t have to give it to me,” said Walt, and he looked hurt.

“Fuck him,” whispered the fly.

I don’t know why I was listening to a fly. But somehow, for some reason, I allowed myself to be influenced by him. Maybe after all I just didn’t want to have to listen to his “I-told-you-so”s if I did give the poem to Walt.

“I never let my poem out of my sight,” I said.

“Never?” said Walt.

“Well, I mean when I’m carrying it around like this.”

“I see.”

“If I’m at home it’s different.”


“I’ll stick it in a drawer maybe.”

“Quite. I do the same thing.”

“You know how it is,” I said.

“Sure, by all means, keep it with you,” he said.

“Right,” said Edgar. “Even when you’re going to the lavatory.”

“Edgar!” said Emily.


“Please. Language.”

“What? I can’t say lavatory?”

“You should say facility.”

“Okay,” he said. “Facility. Jesus.”

“Just leave it on the table, Porter,” said Carlotta. “Why the big song and dance?”

“Yeah,” said Pat, “why are you being so weird? Or weird-er I should say.

“Yeah, we’ll keep an eye on it,” said Josh, still standing there, swaying just slightly, and taking a drink of his Manhattan.

“Josh,” said Pat, “sit down.”

“Okay,” he said, and he did.

“Put your poem on the table, Porter,” Carlotta repeated.

I started to say okay, but then I realized that this could be interpreted as a slight to Walt.

“No, I’ll take it with me,” I said.

“That’s just stupid,” said Pat.

“Whatever,” said Carlotta. “Hey, James, what’s good to eat here?”

She had taken out a cigarette and Josh was right there with his lighter.

“The Beef Wellington is very popular,” said Mr. James.

“Do you have cheeseburgers?”

“Finest in town.”

“The macaroni-and-cheese is excellent too,” said Edgar.

“Go for the moules au gratin,” said Walt.

“The Chicken Kiev is very nice,” said Emily.

“Hey, pal,” whispered the fly. “Why are you still standing here?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“What?” said Mr. James.

“Nothing,” I said.

“You know where it is, right?”

“Yes,” I said, “thank you.”

“Hurry back,” said Carlotta, “your Manhattan’s getting warm.”

At last I turned and walked away, deliberately walking as slowly as I could without wetting myself.

(Continued here, and straight on to hell and to heaven and all points in between.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page for a probably complete listing of links to all other publicly available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Made possible in part through the patronage of Koch Industries™, “Yes, we’re rich, dammit, and we intend to keep it that way!”)

Friday, September 3, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 215: lush life

Our intrepid memoirist Arnold Schnabel has been transformed by the Prince of Darkness into “Porter Walker, romantic poet”, a character in a now forgotten novel called Ye Cannot Quench, by Gertrude Evans (author of Return to Hog Hollow; A Girl Called Asphodel; Love Song of a Dead Man; and Came the Dawning of the Dawn).

Let’s rejoin our hero now on a sultry night in 1957, just outside of the San Remo Café, on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal...

(Go here to read our previous episode. Curious newcomers may go here to return to the first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume memoir. “The undeniable apotheosis of post-modern American Literature.” -- Harold Bloom, in TV Guide.)

Soon the girls were upon me, kissing me on both cheeks and shrieking as though I were a long-lost brother or fiancé, or both, presumed dead in the war but actually having suffered from amnesia for five or ten years as a result of a severe war wound to the head.

After a minute or so of this nonsense Carlotta pushed herself away from me and pointed her umbrella at Josh, almost as if she were about to say "on guard".

“So what’s your friend’s name, Porter?”

“Yeah, don’t be rude, Porter,” said Pat, slapping me gently on the arm.

“Jesus,” said Josh, smiling broadly.

Here we go again I thought, and quickly said, “Josh. This is Josh. Josh is his name.”

“Oh. Right. Josh,” said Josh.

Hell-o,” said Pat, with emphasis.

Hell-o indeed,” said Carlotta with even more emphasis.

“Uh, Josh,” I said, “Josh, I’d like you to meet Pat and Carlotta.”

“Charmed I’m sure,” said Carlotta, extending her hand, palm downward.

“I am not worthy,” said Josh, taking her hand and kissing it.

“Ooh,” said Carlotta.

She removed her hand and waved it, as if she had just dipped it into too-hot water.

Josh now bowed to Pat, and she stuck out her own hand.

Oh, gimme a fuckin’ break,” the fly whispered into my ear, as Josh put his lips to Pat’s hand.

“So where’s Betsy?” Carlotta asked me, turning suddenly to me.

“She went home,” I said.

“Oh did she now.”

“Can’t win ‘em all, Porter,” said Pat, waving her kissed hand just as Carlotta had done.

“Porter and I were just about to go somewhere for a cocktail,” said Josh.

“What a coincidence,” said Pat. “So were we.”

“Too many wolves where we just were,” said Carlotta.

“A veritable den of wolves,” said Pat.

“Middle-aged drunken wolves,” said Carlotta.

“Even if they did have their own TV shows,” said Pat.

“Yeah,” said Carlotta. “There’s only so much a girl can be prepared to do for her career.”

“And then she must say no,” said Pat.

“Or else forfeit all self-respect,” said Carlotta.

“Besides it’s more profitable in the long run to keep them hanging,” said Pat.

“Always leave ‘em wanting more,” said Carlotta.

“I toldja these dames were cock teasers,” said the fly, a little too loudly, and both girls turned to see where the noise was coming from, namely my left ear, but fortunately Josh spoke up .

“Perhaps you lovely ladies would be kind enough to join Porter and myself for cocktails,” said Josh.

“Great,” said Carlotta. “We were just about to stop into the San Remo for a quick one.”

“Or two,” said Pat.

“Oh,” said Josh, glancing over at the bar’s closed door, “the San Remo.”

“Something wrong with the San Remo?” said Carlotta.

“Well,” said Josh, “heh heh, you see, in point of fact I’ve just left the San Remo. Rather precipitately.”

“Didn’t get thrown out, did you, Josh?” asked Pat.

“Well, heh heh, yes, I was, one might say, invited to leave," said Josh, smiling weakly. "You see some gentlemen and I were discussing religious matters. And in retrospect perhaps I did behave in a somewhat shall we say militaristic and possibly even dogmatic manner.”

“Oh, boy,” said Pat.

“How old are you, Josh?” said Carlotta.

“Gee, I’m not sure,” he said. “A billion years? Give or take an aeon? When was the Big Bang?”

“Ha ha,” said Carlotta, “well, at any rate you’re not eighteen years old, are you?”

“Oh lord no.”

“Then wise up,” she said. “Never discuss religion in a bar.”

“Or anywhere if you can help it,” said Pat.

“You’re not a freshman in college anymore,” said Carlotta.

“School’s out, buster,” said Pat. “Welcome to real life.”

“Well, I suppose you ladies have a point,” said Josh. “But it’s just that the subject had turned to the Albigensian Heresy, and --”

“Josh,” said Carlotta.


“What did we just tell you.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Let everybody believe their own fairy tales,” said Carlotta.
“It’s the American way.”

“Yes,” said Josh, looking chastened. “Yes, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.”

“Not that I don’t believe in God,” she said.

“Oh really?”

“What does she look like,” said Pat, “a Communist?”

“Oh, no, of course not,” said Josh.

“Just kidding, sport,” said Pat.

“Okay, where should we go then?” said Carlotta.

“We were just wondering that same thing,” said Josh, beginning to smile again.

“Where you wanta go, Porter?” said Pat.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. I really and truly had to go to the men’s room now, any men’s room. “Someplace near.”

“Okay, not Chumley’s, not the White Horse,” said Pat.

“Too many would-be Eugene O’Neills and Dylan Thomases in those joints anyway,” said Carlotta.

“Cedar Tavern?”

“Boring, too many would-be Jackson Pollocks. As if one Pollock wasn’t plenty.”

“Look,” I said, shifting from foot to foot. “There’s a bar right over there I think.”

Everyone looked. Across the street and a few doors up a red neon Rheingold Beer sign glowed feebly in a dark areaway separated from the sidewalk by a metal railing.

“What is that place?” said Pat.

“Beats me, I've never even noticed it before,” said Carlotta.

“Me neither,” said Pat.

“I wonder what it’s called,” said Carlotta.

“It doesn’t seem to have a name,” said Pat.

“Unless it’s called Rheingold Beer,” said Carlotta.

Okay,” whispered the fly, “this is driving me nuts. Step in here, pal, before I do.

“Let’s go there,” I said.

“Swell,” said Josh.

“What if it’s a dive?” said Carlotta.

“I like dives,” said Josh.

“You’re not a woman,” said Pat.

“If we go in there and it’s a dive you men have to protect us,” said Carlotta.

Like these broads need protection,” whispered the fly.

“We’ll protect you,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“Oh my, you’re so forceful all of a sudden, Porter,” said Carlotta.

Rowr,” said Pat. “Come on, let’s jaywalk.”

She put her arm in Josh’s and started pulling him across the street.

Carlotta put her arm in mine, but just then a police car came down the street and we waited for it to pass.

“So,” said Carlotta in my ear, the one the fly was not still sitting in, “what’s the story on Josh? Haven’t seen him around before. You two old friends?”

“Yes, I suppose you could say that,” I said.

“Does he always get blotto?”

“No,” I said. “Not always.”

After all, I had been with Josh on several occasions when he hadn’t had a single drink. And who was I to cast possible aspersions anyway?

The cop car had stopped at the traffic light, but now it turned left on Bleecker, and Carlotta and I started across MacDougal at an angle. Pat and Josh were already descending the steps down to the entrance of the Rheingold place.

“Married?” asked Carlotta.

“Pardon me?”

“Josh. Married. I didn’t see a ring, but that means nothing these days.”

“Is Josh married?”

“Yes, Porter. Is he married.”

“Oh. No,” I said.

“That’s good,” she said. “Girlfriend?”

“Does he have a girlfriend?”

We were on the opposite sidewalk now and Carlotta stopped and let go of my arm, staring at me.

“Does he have a girlfriend?” I temporized.

“Yes,” she said. “What am I, speaking Chinese? Girlfriend. Does he have one.”

The question gave me pause. What about Mary Magdalene? As far as I knew (and like most Catholics, I had always pretty much let the priests do my Bible reading for me) Josh’s relationship with the Magdalene had never been expatiated upon at any great length by the writers of the gospels. But perhaps Matthew and Mark and the other two were merely being understandably discreet.

“Um,” I said.

At this Carlotta batted me on the head with her umbrella.

Christ sake,” whispered the fly, “answer the crazy bitch before she kills the both of us.

And it’s true, she was raising her umbrella to strike me again.

“I, uh, I honestly don’t know if he has a girlfriend,” I said, finally. “At present,” I added, just to be on the safe side.

She lowered the umbrella.

“And he’s supposed to be your friend,” she said, seemingly more in sadness than in disdain. “You men are so weird. You don’t even talk to each other the least little bit about the things we women talk to each other about all the time.” She shook her head, then took my arm again. “What do men talk about, anyway?”


She ignored my reply, gave my arm a tug, and we resumed our way up the sidewalk.

“He looks well-off,” she said, “even if he does look like he’s been rolling around on a barroom floor, and come to think of it I guess he has been. Is he rich?”

“Well, I don’t think he has to worry about money, really,” I said.

“Family money, huh?”

“You could say that.”

“What’s their racket?”

Again I took pause.

“Their racket?”

“Yeah,” she said. “What’s the family racket?”

I couldn’t bring myself to say that their racket was being the Divine Trinity, that is to say being God the Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things. So I piled on one more white lie:

“Real estate?”

(If the entire universe could be called real estate.)

“Nice,” she said. “Landed gentry.”

“Sort of,” I said.

This last exchange had transpired as Carlotta and I stood together, still arm-in-arm, at the top of the steps that led down into the Rheingold place’s dark areaway. Pat and Josh had already gone inside.

“Well, let’s go have that cocktail, Porter, shall we?”

“Sure,” I said.

We went down the steps. There was no other signage besides the red Rheingold neon in the glass-brick window. I opened the plain heavy wooden door. The barroom inside was very dim, and a record was playing, I think it was Chris Connor. Carlotta stepped past me and I followed, letting the door close behind me.

(Continued here, relentlessly.)

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