Friday, December 10, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 228: gangleader

A rainy summer’s night in 1957 finds our hero Arnold Schnabel near the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery (with his friend, a talking fly) trying to escape his exile in the sadly obscure novel Ye Cannot Quench, by Gertrude Evans (author of over forty other books, including such “cult classics” as Unsteady as She Goes; The Importunate Pigeon; Hashish Wednesday; and Tales of Rich Old Women).

(Click here to read our previous episode; those looking for a new obsession may go here to return to that faraway beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume memoir. “Arnold Schnabel is more than an author, a poet, a memoirist -- he is indeed a way of life.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Saturday Evening Post.)

I felt the fly land on the porch of my ear.

“Okay,” I said.

I walked over to the curb, made a little jump to clear the water flowing in the gutter.

“Oh, but by the way, pal.”


“What about beer?”

“Oh. Well, I might have some in the ice box --”


“Well, like I said --” I felt a slight urge to insert a personal name here, but I realized that I didn’t know the fly’s name, if he even had a name -- “uh, as I said, I’m not really planning on staying long.”

“If all goes well.”


We were standing at the entrance door of the tenement now. The fly flew out of my ear and hovered in front of my face.

“Your little plan to write a new plot twist in the picaresque novel of your life.”

“Yes,” I said.

The fly was staying close to the door, protected from the rain by the concrete overhang of the entrance.

“Okay, fine,” he said. “but here’s the thing: if your plan don’t work we’re gonna want beer. We’re definitely gonna need beer. So why not go pick up some now, round the corner. Just in case, like.”

“I don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?”

“It seems -- self-defeating somehow. As if I’m expecting to fail.”

“It is not self-defeating just to cover your bases, pal. That’s just common fucking sense.”

“But -- why can’t we just go out for beer, you know --”

“After you fail.”

“Well, I was going to say ‘if I do fail’.”

“Oh. Sure, we can do that. We can definitely do that. But. And hear me out now. But -- if we take just two minutes now to pick up a couple, three quarts -- two minutes mind you, maybe less -- just right round the corner there at that Bob’s Bowery Bar -- then -- then, my friend, we got something to drink while you’re writing.”

I didn’t say anything to this. The fly kept staring at me with his ten thousand anxious little eyes.

“I thought writers liked to drink. Lubricates the creative machinery. Helps to flush up that sometimes elusive whaddyacallit, le mot juste.”

He was flying up and down, about six inches up, six inches down, up, down, but always right in front of my face, and being careful to keep out of the rain, which by the way was still falling all over me.

“I think that’s what it’s called,” he said. “Flaubert. Le mot juste? Maybe I ain’t pronouncing it right.”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” I said.

“Hey, just say the word and I never mention it again.”

Yeah, sure, I thought.

“Look,” I said. I put my hand on the door knob, turned it. “I really just want to get this over with, okay? If my plan doesn’t work, then we can go around the corner and pick up a quart or two.”

“Okay, fine. I’m only thinking about you, pal, trying to save you the extra trouble and all --”

“No trouble for me,” I said.

The door was locked of course, and all my repeated turnings of the knob weren’t going to unlock it.

“Oh. Sure,” said the fly. “No trouble for you. But let me ask you something, what about me? Sittin’ around with not a tiny drop of beer to wet my lips with while his nibs merrily scribbles away. Writing your deathless literature. I guess I don’t count.”

“Of course you count,” I said.

I was still fiddling with the door knob, don’t ask me why.

“You gotta use your key, dummy,” said the fly.

“Oh, right.”

“But then what do I know.”

I started to pat my pockets, looking for my keys.

“I’m just a fucking fly, after all,” said the fly.

“Look, don’t say that,” I said. “It’s just --”

“Just what?”

“It’s just that --

“Hey, buddy, poet boy.”

I turned around. It was that John Saxon-looking kid from that other gang, the Cardigans. He was standing there in his pale blue cardigan, holding an umbrella up against the rain, and on the sidewalk behind him and around him was the rest of the gang with their umbrellas, including the little guy in the wheelchair.

“Oh,” I said. “Hi.”

“Who was you talking to? I don’t see nobody else here.”

“Just myself,” I said.

“Talking to yourself. You drunk?”

“He’s fucking drunk,” said the wheelchair kid.

“Well, I’ve had a few drinks,” I said. “Heh heh.”

The gangleader kid had been smoking a cigarette, but now he flicked it down toward my feet.

“Goin’ home now, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“It’s still early.”

“Well, you know, gotta get up early.”

“Write your poems, huh?”

“Heh heh, yeah, you know how it is.”

“No, how is it?”

“Um, the early bird catches the, uh, the poetic worm?”


“Pardon me?”

“You’re a fucking poet,” he said. “What, you gonna get up early like some working stiff, write your poetry like it’s some goddam office job you got?”

“Well, uh, I find that if I work on a regular schedule, that, uh, this actually frees up my, um, my creative process --”

“Bullshit. To be a poet you got to experience life. Live life to the fucking fullest. Experience the depths and heights of human existence.”

“Well -- I do that too, but, still, I find that --”

“Where’s your two girl friends?”

“Oh, Pat and Carlotta?”

“Them two stuck-up bitches.”

“Oh, they decided to stay out for a while, have a bite to --”

“They ditched ya, huh?”

“Well, no, I just wanted to, you know, go home --”

“Why don’t you come have a drink with us?”

“Right now?”

“Right now.”

“Well, maybe tomorrow night --”

“Maybe tomorrow never comes.”

“That’s, uh, always a possibility I suppose --”

“You said you’d tell me about bullfighting.”

“Right,” I said. “And I will. I will. Maybe we can meet for lunch sometime --”

“Maybe we can meet now.”

“But I really do have to get up early. I’m meeting my editor to work on my book.”

“Ha,” said the fly.

“What was that,” said the kid.

“What?” I said.

“It sounded like that fly flying around your head said ha.”

“Well, I doubt that,” I said.

“Ha ha,” said the fly.

“There it goes again,” said the kid.

“Yeah, I heard it too,” said the wheelchair kid, who had rolled up right next to the gangleader kid.

“Yeah, me too,” said the kid who looked like Russ Tamblyn.

“So also I,” said the little kid with glasses, the intellectual one. I hadn’t noticed it before, probably because of the glasses, but he looked kind of like Sal Mineo.

“Ha ha ha,” said the fly.

“I heard that,” said another kid, who looked like Troy Donahue.

“It’s just a fly making noises,” I said.

“No fly makes a laughin’ noise like that,” said the boss kid. What was his name? Jerry?

“Ha ha fuckin’ ha,” said the fly.

The leader stepped back one step.

“Jesus Christ,” he said. “Dizzy, gimme the gat.”

“Sure thing, Terry,” said the crippled kid.

The little crippled guy reached under the crocheted cushion he was sitting on and brought out a revolver.

“What’re you starin’ at, poet boy?” he said.

“Well, nothing --”

“You’re thinking this must not be very comfortable, me sitting on this gat.”

“Well, I -- uh --”

“Ever occur to you maybe I got no feeling in my ass?”

“Oh, sorry --”

“Just don’t stare. Maybe someday you’ll be in a wheelchair. Like maybe someday very soon.”

He pointed the gun at me.

“Give me the goddam gat, Dizzy,” said the gangleader kid.

“Sure, Terry.”

Yes, Terry, that was the one kid’s name, not Jerry.

Terry took the pistol from the crippled kid, and, awkwardly balancing the shaft of his umbrella between his chin and his shoulder, he checked to see that the gun was loaded, spinning the cylinder.

“Um, Terry?” I said.


“You’re not going to shoot that gun, are you?”

“I’m gonna shoot that fucking fly,” he said. He was holding his umbrella in his left hand now, and wielding the pistol in his right.

“But, Terry, it’s just a fly.”

Suddenly the fly dived at Terry’s face, and he stumbled backwards, swatting in front of his face with the gun.

“Jesus Christ!” he shouted.

“Careful with the gat, Terry,” said the crippled kid, Dizzy I guess his name was.

“Motherfucker!” Terry was rubbing his eye with the back of the hand that held the gun. “Little fucker run straight in my eye.”

“Self-preservation is the first instinct of every species,” said the Sal Mineo kid.

“Shut the fuck up, Four-Eyes,” said Terry. “Fuck.”

He continued to rub his eye.

“Careful with the gat,” said the Troy Donahue kid.

“I’m gonna kill that fucking thing,” said Terry.

“That might prove rather hard to do,” said Four-Eyes.

“I think he fucking flew away, Terry,” said Dizzy.

“Hey, guys,” said the Russ Tamblyn kid.

“Where is the little bastard?” said Terry, blinking broadly. “I’ll murder him.”

“I believe he has absconded,” said Four-Eyes.

“Terry,” said the Russ Tamblyn kid.

“What?” said Terry. “What?”

“The fuzz is comin’. Down Bleecker.”

True enough, a police car was cruising down the street in our direction.

“Shit,” said Terry. “Here, Dizzy, stash the gat.”

Dizzy took the pistol and stuck it under his seat cushion.

“Let’s blow,” said Terry. He pointed finger at me. “You,” he said.


You oughta watch out what kinda flies you hang out with.”

Without another word the gang took off through the rain, marching off at double-time around the corner, beneath their umbrellas, Four-Eyes pushing Dizzy’s chair at the rear of the group and making the turn on one wheel.

I started to turn around toward the door again, but the cop car drew up and stopped. There were two policemen in it. The one in the driver’s seat rolled down his window.

“Hey, buddy, was them kids bothering you?”

“Not really,” I said.

“You were lucky. You live here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let’s go after them punks, Pat,” said the other cop.

“Okay, Mike,” said the driver. To me he said, “All right then. Good night, sir.”

“Good night.”

I turned around, put my hand in my pocket for my keys.

I heard the car take off behind me.

“You believe that kid, throwin’ down on me like that?” said the fly. He was back, buzzing in front of my face again. “Little punk.”

I checked my other side jeans pocket.

“Hey, pal, you see me fly into that punk’s eye. Ha ha. I showed him, the little --”

“Oh, shit,” I said.

“What? What’s the matter now?” said the fly.

With a sinking heart I checked the pockets of my seersucker.

“What is it?”

“My keys,” I said.

“Your keys.”

“I can’t find them. I lost my keys.”

“You lost your keys?”

“What did I just say?”

“Hey, don’t get testy, pal. I ain’t the one who lost them.”

“I know you didn’t. I lost them. Christ.”

“Oh. Wait. Pal.”


“You didn’t lose them.”

“I didn’t?”

“No -- remember, back in your flat, I said, ‘You got your keys?’. And you says, ‘Oh, they’re in the saucer on the little table next to the door.’ I remember distinctly you saying that. ‘Saucer on the little table.’ But you never grabbed them. I remember now. You just went right out past them.”

“Well why didn’t you say something?”

“Why didn’t I say something? ‘Cause I didn’t really notice it. At the time.”


“Look, buzz the lady.”

“The lady?”

“Yeah. Mrs. -- what -- the one you been schtupping apparently --”

“Mrs. Morgenstern?”

“Yeah, buzz her.”

“You think I should?”

“Oh, no, just stand out here in the rain all night. What the --”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll buzz her.”

To the right of the door there was a double row of buzzers with hand-written name-cards in metal slots, and, sure enough, one of them said “Morgenstern”.

I pressed the button.

(Continued here, despite the dictates of common sense.)

(Please turn to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Be sure to tune in to “An Arnold Schnabel Christmas” next Friday at 9 PM (EST), with your host John Cameron Swayze, starring Art Carney as Arnold Schnabel, and featuring the voice of Mickey Rooney as “the fly”; teleplay by Rod Serling; musical numbers by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; featuring the June Taylor Dancers and the Mabel Beaton Marionettes; presented by Bell of Pennsylvania for the DuMont Television Network.)


DR said...

right off the bat, inspired (porch)
"I felt the fly land on the porch of my ear."

DR said...

is it a real anatomical term?

Dan Leo said...

Dean, I don't think it's quite the "official term" -- I believe that might be "antitragus", but Arnold here is possibly unconsciously recalling the Ghost in "Hamlet":

"Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment..."

Di said...

I didn’t say anything to this. The fly kept staring at me with his ten thousand anxious little eyes.

Great image.

Arnold is living so much more fully than most, and in such a short time. (Relatively speaking. His time, not ours.)Good advice from the Cardigans.
I look forward to more of his poetry from this era - when he has time to write it.

DR said...

i knwd i shdda finitched collich

Dan Leo said...

Di, it certainly is a testament to Arnold's resourcefulness that he's managed to dash off two or three poems on such a busy day!

Dean: spoken like a true Harvard man!

Unknown said...

Arnold/Porter's fly is quite a muse and even a savior. I hope he writes the fly into the future quarter century. Josh certainly isn't helping much.
Also, not that I think Arnold/Porter should stoop so low, but I vaguely recall a movie where Geoffrey Rush, denied of writing materials in prison, resorted to recording his words using his own excrement on the prison walls.

Dan Leo said...

Kathleen -- ah, yes, "Quills"! Somehow I don't see Arnold being quite so dedicated as that to the written the fly on the other hand...

Unknown said...

Glad to see the Sal Mineo Cardigan make an appearance. I was missing him.
That poor fly is an alky, I suspect.

Dan Leo said...

Manny, a comment of yours just might have brought about the entrance of the Sal Mineo kid; yes, we take requests at this blog!

And, hey, the fly's not an alcy; he just likes his little tipple. I mean, come on, he's a fly for Christ's sake, he needs some kinda compensation...