Friday, January 29, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 184: carpe diem

The Devil has transported our hero Arnold Schnabel into the pages of a novel called Ye Cannot Quench, a now-forgotten potboiler recounting a young woman’s adventures upon moving from West Virginia to the New York City of the mid-1950s...

Let us now rejoin Arnold (in the guise of his character, “Porter Walker”, romantic bohemian poet) at lunch in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, with our heroine Emily and her boss, the handsome young publisher Julian Smythe, with whom Arnold (sorry, “Porter”) has just closed a deal for the publication of his epic bohemian poem, The Brawny Embraces...

(Go here to read our preceding chapter; click here to return to the first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)


As I dipped the shrimp into the cocktail sauce and proceeded to swallow the thing with only the most rudimentary chewing I heard another swell of orchestral music, and I suspected that we were entering one of those sections of the story in which my presence was to be dispensed with.

I could feel myself dissolving away like an image on a movie screen.

I fought back.

I bit my lower lip, I breathed in deeply through my nose, I concentrated on the here-ness and the now-ness of where and when I was, in all its black-and-white immediacy.

“Lunch was splendid,” I heard Miss Evans’s magisterial voice from above, it sounded now like the voice of the Blessed Mother in The Song of Bernadette, “and fortunately Porter behaved himself for the rest of the --”

That’s where I would foil her.

What does it mean?” I nearly shouted.

“I beg your pardon?” said Julian, holding the shell of a clam casino poised before his mouth.

“What does any of this mean?” I asked.

“What?” he said. “You mean what does lunch mean? Or just appetizers?”

“Porter,” said Emily, “don’t be a weirdo.”

“It’s all right, Emily,” said Julian. “Porter’s a poet after all.”

“What does any of this mean?” I asked. “This existence. This whole life. This planet.”

“I haven’t the faintest notion what any of it means,” said Julian. With a little cocktail fork he slid the clam and its thick hat of bacon into his mouth and chewed. “Personally I just live day to day.”

I heard Miss Evans’s heavenly voice rewrite herself in mid-sentence:

“ -- that is to say Porter behaved himself at least until after he had devoured his first shrimp.”

I was on a roll now.

“It can’t just be about shrimp,” I said. “Or clams.”

“Don’t forget the oysters,” said Julian, picking up one of those mollusks and poking it with his cocktail fork.

“Or oysters,” I said.

“Okay, then,” he said, transporting the oyster and its trappings into his mouth, “what’s it all about?”

“Porter,” said Emily, “stop talking nonsense and eat your food.”

“Oh, how are the shrimps, by the way, Porter?” asked Julian.

“Pretty good,” I said.

“Try some of these oysters and clams, old boy, they’re excellent.”

What could I do, I was still famished. I grabbed a cocktail fork, stabbed an oyster Rockefeller, and shoved it in. It was very good, and as I chewed I thought, Wait, why fight it? Why not disappear for a chapter or two? What do I care?

But the next second I felt, against all logic, that I must continue to fight for my existence, and a continuous existence at that; it might not be my real existence, but it was the only existence I had right now.

Indeed I felt, locked in my chest, that innate fear of oblivion which I have noticed in myself no matter how dull my life has been, that nagging desire to see another day no matter how poor its prospects, that fear of being nothing which has not only kept me alive through many dark nights but also awake, staring up into the oblivion which will someday claim me whether I like it or not.

I washed the oyster down with a gulp of the good beer.

But, wait, hadn’t I visited God’s house the previous day? Was that not proof of continued existence after death? A rather cold and bleak existence by all appearances, but better than nothing.

But then again what if yesterday’s visit was merely a fantasy, a dream? What if nothing existed on that far shore but nothing? If that were so then I would be nothing myself and unaware of the nothingness.

But still I was afraid.

And so it wasn’t so much the state of nothingness that I feared so much as the prospect of nothingness and the passage into nothingness.

The passage, that was the scary part, and the passage into the nothingness of not appearing on the printed page for twenty, thirty, who knew how many more pages, this awful passage was what I recoiled against now.

I wanted to live out each second of my (or Porter’s) life, and not be shuffled aside according to the artistic choice or whim of Miss Evans; yes, call it the sin of pride if you will, but I wanted not only to continue to live each moment as it came but I also wanted to live each of these moments with at least as much autonomy as I possessed in my other life, which wasn’t much, true, but better than none at all.

“You’re awfully quiet all of a sudden, Porter,” said Julian. Having eaten one shrimp, he grabbed another and immersed it in cocktail sauce.

I picked up one of the clams.

“I think I’ve figured it out,” I said.

“What? The meaning of life?”

“Yes,” I said.

I poked the clam and bacon with my fork, stuck it into my mouth.

“Well, don’t hold out on us, old boy.”

Emily, chewing in a very lady-like manner, stared at me with her head cocked slightly to one side.

I chewed also, and picked up my glass. I swallowed the clam and whatever else had been congealed to it, washed it down with the excellent cold beer. And then, and not a moment before the audience would have been streaming down the aisles in droves to the popcorn stand, I spoke:

“It’s living each second,” I said.

“Living each second,” said Julian.

“Yes,” I said.

I picked up my beer bottle, but it was empty.

Carpe diem,” said Julian.

“Seize the day,” translated Emily.

Julian gazed at me as he chewed his shrimp, and I could imagine him thinking that I had said just the sort of thing someone like me might be expected to say. I felt abashed. Even now that I was a character in a novel I kept saying idiotic things. Why couldn’t I be someone like that guy in The Fountainhead, the Gary Cooper guy, and say something a little more original than “living each second”?

“Living each second to the fullest, I suppose,” said Julian, smiling indulgently.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. I was already bored with the subject, or rather with my own inadequacy as a philosopher.

“Well, ya know, that’s where I disagree with you,” said Julian.

Well, here was a curve ball. Was Julian also kicking against the conventional constraints of Miss Evans’s novel?

Emily had put her cocktail fork down.

“Julian,” she said, “I mean, Mr. Smythe, how can you say such a thing? I mean, isn’t life meant to be lived to the fullest, are we not meant to savor each moment, and, and --”

Julian looked away from her, raising his empty-again martini glass.

Arnold Stang was right there, he must have been waiting just off camera, perhaps enjoying a quiet cigarette while he awaited his cue.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Smythe, another round?”

“No, Maxie.” (Ah ha, so at least he really wasn’t called Arnold Stang. That was something to hang onto.) “Bring us,” said Julian, “I don’t know, a good Chevalier-Montrachet maybe. Wine okay with you two?”

I shrugged. Wine, beer, as long as it had alcohol in it --

“Oh, no, I shouldn’t --” said Emily.

“Okay,” said Julian, “a bottle of Chevalier-Montrachet then, the ’49 if you have it, Maxie, and make sure it’s cold.”

“Right away, Mr. Smythe --”

“Oh, and while you’re at it, bring out -- oh -- how about a nice Pétrus, you still have any of that ’45 left?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, bring one of those babies too and let it air out a bit.”

“Right away, sir.”

Off he scurried.

“Oh, but Mr. Smythe,” said Emily, “I couldn’t possibly drink any wine. I have to go back to the office after lunch.”

“Ah, better lay off the wine, then, Emily,” said Julian, taking out his cigarette case again and clicking it open.

“Cigarette, Porter?”

“No, thanks,” I said, only because I was still shoveling down shrimps and clams and oysters as if I was afraid of never being fed again.

This time Julian neglected to offer Emily a cigarette.

“So here’s my trouble with the living each moment to the fullest gag,” he said, lighting himself up and inhaling deeply.

He certainly seemed to be living each moment to its fullest, but I let the thought remain unspoken.

“I’ve tried it,” he said, “just trying to squeeze the juice out of every damn moment, and I’ll tell ya, it gets very -- what’s the word -- tiring. Yes, tiring.

“I can see how it would get that way,” I said.

“You change your mind awfully quickly, Porter.”

“He’s mercurial,” said Emily.

“Right,” said Julian. And, tilting his head slightly away from Emily, he gave me a wink.

Was he on to me? Did he know I was only an impostor? A real-life composer of bad sonnets, trapped in the body of a composer of bad epics?

Emily now began to speak again, about how if one lived each moment to the fullest it wouldn’t matter if one got tired, that this tiredness would be a rich tiredness, and that after a good night’s sleep one would rise up bursting with a hunger for the new day.

I ate, and nodded my head.

Julian smoked, and nodded his head, almost imperceptibly.

At one point I noticed his eyes close, and his chin was beginning to descend to his broad chest when Arnold Stang, or Maxie, showed up with a tray with two bottles of wine and six wine-glasses on it.

Julian’s head jerked up at once.

“Ah, Maxie, you’re a life-saver. Let’s have some of that Montrachet first.”

Maxie set to work opening a bottle of white wine.

“Emily began to feel ever so slightly left out,” said Miss Evans from on high. “The two men -- intense young poet and devil-may-care young titan of publishing -- seemed to be about to bond with each other in a way she, a mere woman, never could. With either of them. She felt the tears well up in her grey eyes.”

Suddenly Emily pushed her chair back, grabbed her purse, and stood up.

Both Julian and I half-rose, but she waved us back down.

“I simply must powder my nose. Please, enjoy your wine, gentlemen.”

Off she went. I couldn’t be sure, but I think she may have been in a huff.

Maxie had gotten the cork out of the bottle, and now he poured a small amount into a glass he had placed in front of Julian.

“Oh, please, pour away, Maxie, and fill up my friend’s glass too.”

Maxie did this, then he put the bottle down and proceeded to open the other bottle, a red wine.

“Try your wine, Porter,” said Julian.

I tasted it, Julian watching me.

“What do you think?”

“Not bad,” I said.

Julian smiled and tasted his wine.

“Not bad at all,” he said. He leaned forward a bit towards me.

“Would you like me to decant the Pétrus, Mr. Smythe?” said Maxie.

“No, just leave it, thanks, Maxie,” said Julian.

Maxie put the bottle down and went away. Julian leaned a little closer, tapped his cigarette ash into the ashtray, some of the ash got onto the table cloth.

His lips started to move but his voice was drowned out by Miss Evans’s narration:

“In the ladies’ room Emily locked herself into a stall, sat down, took from her purse the lace handkerchief her grandmother had embroidered for her, and proceeded to burst into bitter tears.”

So, I had succeeded in continuing to exist even though the main narrative had moved elsewhere, and so had Julian. This was a triumph. Now I only had to get rid of that annoying voice from above.

“I’m sorry, Julian,” I said. “My mind wandered. What did you say?”

(Continued here, no one knows why.)

(Please look to the right hand side of this page for an often-current list of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. “A book for all seasons.” -- Harold Bloom, on Oprah.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 34: cigarettes and coffee, bourbon and beer...and Diet Coke...

Buddy Best, Hollywood hack and aging ladies’ man, has somehow managed almost to have an affair with Cordelia, the actress daughter of the “Ancient Mariner”, the ham actor who has alienated Buddy’s wife’s affections; let us rejoin Buddy as he returns to his house on North Ivar Avenue in Hollywood, California, on a warm spring evening in that faraway year of 2003...

(Click here to go to our preceding episode, or click here to return to the first chapter of Uncle Buddy’s House©. “If The National Enquirer were a novel, then this would be it.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in Family Circle.)


It was a long workday, and Buddy didn’t get home till after nine. Liz was sitting at the kitchen table with her laptop and coffee mug and a cigarette. Ming was curled up asleep on the table.

“Hey, Liz.”

“Hi, Dad.” She stubbed the cigarette out into an ashtray full of butts. “Did you eat? I could make you something.”

“No, I’m good, I went to Hoy’s with the crew, I should have called.” He came over and kissed her on the cheek. “What about you?”

“I had a tempeh sandwich. There’s some coffee that’s not too ancient if you want some.”

“No, thanks. Working on your book?”

“Sort of. Trying to get started.”

“Great. Where’s Big Phil?”

“He’s out somewhere, enjoying his bachelor life.”

“Good.”

Buddy glanced at the fridge but didn’t go to it. He sat down across from Liz. She tapped out something and then looked up.

“So how’s work?” she said.

“Good. Things are happening with this movie we’re in post
on --”

“This is like, Triggerwoman Something?”

“It was, yeah, Triggerwoman II, but now it’s -- uh -- we need a new title.”

He rubbed Ming’s head. She woke up and showed him her crotch.

“So what is it that’s happening?” said Liz.

“Well, the Sony guys saw a cut today with music, not the full-blown score because we need more money to do it the way the composer wants to do it --”

“Uh-huh --”

“And, it’s like pulling teeth with these motherfuckers, but now they’re gonna up the music budget, and also they’re open to a domestic theatrical release, instead of, you know, straight to video and cable --”

“Cool.”

“Yeah, but dig this, first we’re gonna try to go to some festivals, maybe Cannes if we can finish in time --”

“Oh my God, Cannes --”

“I know, can you believe it? I’ve never even been to a festival --”

“Oh my God, I want to see this movie.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good for the crap we do.”

Buddy took off his glasses, folded them and put them in his shirt pocket. Beer beer beer. Or whiskey whiskey whiskey. Either one. Or both --

“When is the Cannes festival?”

“May, middle of May.”

“Wow, will you be ready by then?”

“It’s gonna be tight, but we’re used to working quick. What we’re not used to is having the budget to try to do it right. I mean they’re even giving us some money to do some CGI effects on the action scenes --”

“Whoa, look at you --”

“Yeah, it’s nuts. We used to do post in a couple of weeks, now it’s turning into this big fucking deal.”

“And aren’t you guys making another movie this summer?”

“Yeah, August, supposedly --”

He touched Ming’s belly, she resented that, got up, leapt from the table and left the room.

“So, you’re just as busy as a bee,” said Liz.

“Yeah, what the hell, it keeps me out of the pool halls --”

She caught him glancing longingly at the refrigerator.

“Dad, you can have a beer, if that’s what you want. It doesn’t bother me.”

“Okay, to tell the truth I could use one.”

He started to get up but she beat him to it, waving him back down with one hand. She opened up the fridge and took out an Anchor Steam.

“Bad news. It’s the last one, Dad.”

“That’s better than none.”

She popped the cap, got out one of his big beer glasses, poured it in, and brought it over to him. She was taking this housekeeping thing seriously.

“Thanks, kiddo.”

He took a drink and damn it was good. She sat down and lit a cigarette with her Bic lighter.

“I should have stocked up more for you. But you drink different brands, right?”

“Oh, yeah, I like to mix it up. But don’t worry about that, Liz, I can buy my own beer.”

“I don’t mind. If you tell me what you want I can get it for you.”

“Yeah, but half the time I don’t know what I want till I’m in the shop. And the AA gang probably wouldn’t like you hanging out in liquor stores.”

“That’s true,” said Liz. “Um, Dad --”

“What?”

“Joan was here. With -- Stephen.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. They took Deirdre out to dinner.”

“Ah. How was Deirdre?”

“She was -- Deirdre.”

Buddy didn’t say anything right away. Somehow during the course of the day he had managed to forget all about the Deirdre situation. What an asshole he was.

“Is she, uh, moving in with them tonight?”

“I don’t know. I think that’s one of the things that they’re supposedly talking about over dinner.”

“Right.”

Buddy fell quiet again.

“It’s fucked up, isn’t?” said Liz.

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

A couple of seconds ticked past.

“I guess there’s nothing, like, you can do, right? If Joan wants to take her.”

Buddy looked at his beer and didn’t say anything.

“Dad?”

He was quiet for a few more seconds, then --

“Joan’s her mother, I’m only the stepfather,” he said. “No, forget it. It’s tough for Deirdre, but, fuck it, life is tough. And maybe it’s better she’s with her mother.”

“Give me a fucking break,” said Liz.

She sat back, smoking, and Buddy wanted one of her cigarettes, even though they were only Camel Lights.

The house phone on the wall rang and Liz popped right up to grab it.

“Hello,” she said. She listened for a few seconds, smoking her cigarette, and then said, “Oh, look, uh, Mr. Best is here right now but he prefers not to take unsolicited phone calls, so, uh, sorry. Yeah. Okay. Sorry.” She hung it up. “Fucking telemarketers,” she said. “I hate them.”

“They’re just trying to make a buck,” said Buddy.

“I still hate them.” She stood there by the phone, smoking. “How’s your beer?”

“Good.”

“You want a whiskey or something?”

“What are you trying to do, send me to AA?”

“No, I just thought, you know, long day and all.”

“I’m cool with the beer right now,” said Buddy, although come to think of it a bourbon would be nice.

“So this Stephen guy is weird, isn’t he?” said Liz, her voice going a little high.

“Oh, you met him.”

“Yeah. I’m gonna have a Diet Coke. This coffee is getting to me.” She went to the fridge, took out the jeroboam of Diet Coke. “What’s his deal, anyway?” she said. “This Stephen?”

“His deal? He’s a retard.”

“I could tell that. So that’s just it? He’s a retard?”

“Yeah, that about sums it up.”

With her cigarette between her lips she poured herself a good tall stiff one of the Diet Coke.

“Women,” she said. She put the bottle back in the fridge and slammed the door. Taking the cigarette out of her mouth she took her soda glass in both hands and took a drink. She breathed once, twice, and then drank again. “What a stupid cunt,” she said. She looked at Buddy. “Joan.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes, Joan. What’s her problem?”

“How the hell would I know?”

She started pacing around with her glass of Diet Coke.

“Women are fucked-up, man.” Pacing. “Fucked up.”

More pacing.

“Hey, Liz, sit the fuck down, you’re making me nervous.”

“Sorry.” She sat back down, drawing her legs up Indian-style. She stubbed out her cigarette thoroughly. “Well,” she said, “he’s a retard and she’s a retard. But, Dad --”

“Yeah --”

“Where are you going with this Cordelia thing?”

Whoa, snuck up on him.

“I’m not going anywhere with it.”

“Are you going to continue -- seeing her?”

“I -- I’m not really seeing her now, Liz. It -- we -- anyway, she just got a movie job, she’s going on location for about six weeks.”

“Oh. That’s good. I mean for her that’s good. When does she leave?”

“Tonight. She already left.”

“Oh. Where to?”

“Canada. Vancouver and around there.”

“Oh. That’s really great for her. Is it much of a part?”

“It’s the female lead.”

“Oh my God, that’s so great. Is it a big movie?”

“Nah, it’s like the crap we do, except there’s probably a few more mil in the budget, a vampire picture. But Christopher Lambert’s starring in it.”

“Oh I love him.” She lit up another cigarette. At this rate Liz would be dead of cancer at thirty. “That’s really great for Cordelia,” she said, exhaling. What the hell, one addiction at a time.

“Yeah, It’s a good break,” said Buddy.

She looked at her computer screen for a bit.

“Did you set it up for her, Dad?”

“I helped her get the audition.”

“Uh huh.”

She tapped something on her keyboard.

“Listen, Liz --”

She tapped something more and then she looked at him.

“Yes?”

“There’s nothing going on with her and me. It was just -- I don’t know, things got a little out of hand.”

“I’ll say.”

Buddy blinked a couple of times, defensively, and then realized he was doing it and took a drink of beer and that was the last of the beer, fuck it. Of course he did have whiskey, and there were a couple of bottles of red wine on the rack, but...

“So, do you like her?”

Buddy took a beat here.

“Yeah, I like her. I mean, what’s not to like?”

“But I mean do you really like her?”

“Liz, what did I just finish -- there’s nothing --”

“You’re in love with her.”

“What?”

“You’re in love. I saw the way you were looking at her.”

“All right, you’re really being a woman now.”

“What do you expect me to be, a man?”

“Okay, let’s just talk about something else.”

“You’re in love with her.”

“Oh, fuck you, Liz.”

“Dad, I can’t believe you said ‘fuck you’ to me.”

“Sorry.”

“You are in love.”

“Okay. Just for that I’m having a bourbon.”

“Let me!” She got up. “On the rocks?”

“Yeah, with just a little water. Thanks.”

“Are you mad at me?”

“No.”

“Good.”

Neither of them said anything while she fixed the drink. She put it in front of him.

“Thanks, Liz.”

“You’re welcome, Dad.”

She sat down again in her chair, drawing her legs up. She smoked her cigarette and looked at Buddy.

“But I still can’t believe you went to bed with Joan’s boyfriend’s daughter. That is really fucked-up, Dad.”

“Yeah, well -- anyway, we -- um -- she and I --”

“What?” said Liz.

“Never mind.”

“Don’t do that. I hate that when people do that. What?”

“We didn’t -- uh -- have -- like --”

“You didn’t fuck her?”

“No. I didn’t.”

“But that’s only because Philip barged in, right?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess.”

“What do you mean, you guess?”

Okay, he wasn’t going to go into the whole searching-for-a-condom plot twist.

“So in other words you might as well have,” said Liz.

“Might-as-well-have isn’t quite the same as doing it. At least not in my book.”

She did something on her computer and then closed the lid. She looked at Buddy.

“Well, who am I to be critical, right? Little Miss Fuck-Up. You want to watch a movie, Dad?”

“You’re not a fuck-up, Liz.”

She stubbed out the cigarette, in the ashtray with about twenty other stubs.

“Dad, by any reasonable definition I’m a fuck-up.”

“No --”

“No, Dad, but listen, that doesn’t mean I have to keep being a fuck-up all my life, right?” She looked right at him. “Right?”

“Right,” said Buddy.

“Okay then,” she said. “Now let’s watch a movie. Do you want to?”

“You know me, I always want to watch a movie. What do you want to see?”

“Let’s just rent something trashy.”

“That’s good for me,” said Buddy.


(Click here to go to our next thrilling episode.)

(Hie thee hence to the right hand column of this page to find what might be an up-to-date list of links to all other previously broadcast episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, as aired on the Dumont Radio Network, Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 8 PM, starring William Bendix as Buddy Best.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 183: bullfighter

The bad news for our memoirist Arnold Schnabel is that his nemesis the Devil (AKA “Mr. Lucky”) has transported Arnold into a now-obscure novel of 1950s New York (Ye Cannot Quench by Gertrude Evans, author of numerous other steamy potboilers such as Fear Not The Dragon; Swiftly To The Dawn; As The Curtain Falls; Two Days and Two Nights in Marrakesh; Love But The Stranger).

The good news is that Arnold (or his “character” the romantic poet Porter Walker, and with the help of the novel’s plucky heroine Emily) has just closed a deal for his new epic with the dashing young publisher Julian Smythe...

(Click here to review our previous chapter, or go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece.)

Arnold Stang came over just then with a tray and the fresh round of drinks. He laid Emily’s and Julian’s drinks down, and Julian picked up his martini.

“Porter, may I propose a toast. To your book: may it garner a swell review from Orville Prescott, and may it be chosen for the Book of The Month Club.”

Arnold Stang reached around me and filled my glass with Pilsener. He smelled of sweat, and despair.

“To Porter’s book,” said Emily, raising her Old Fashioned. “To his wonderful poem, the bra, knee and braces!”

“What?” I said.

“To your poem, the bronny 'n' braces,” said Emily, looking puzzled.

“That last part, is that some, uh, Scottish toast, or --”

“It’s the title of your poem!”

“Oh,” I said. “Right.” The Brawny Embraces. “The brawny embraces. I mean, The Brawny Embraces.”

“You’re a very strange fellow, Porter,” said Julian. “Now lift your glass.”

He didn’t have to ask me twice, and we all drank. Brawny Embraces, I repeated silently, in my echoing brain, The Brawny Embraces, I must remember that.

“Where’d you get that title anyway?” asked Julian, seeming not so much interested as trying to be polite.

“Oh,” I shot back, always one for the clever rejoinder.

The Brawny Embraces,” he said.

“Yeah, uh --”

“He got it from Walt Whitman,” said Emily. “How does it go, Porter?”

Walt Whitman, another immortal writer I hadn’t read.

“Well, uh, let’s see --” I said, stalling. One never knew, an atom bomb might fall the next second and then I’d be off the hook.

Fortunately Emily, her eyes glinting, began to recite:

’Unfolded out of the strong and arrogant woman I love,’” she said, “’only thence can appear the strong and arrogant man I love.’

She stared at Julian.

“Well, shall we order then?” said Julian.

He raised his hand and Arnold Stang was right there, pad and pencil at the ready.

After a firm interrogation of Stang (and with brief consultations with Emily and me) Julian ordered our food for us, and then as Arnold Stang hustled off I could have sworn I heard a wave of background music, like in a movie, some sweeping orchestral assault, and then I heard the unmistakable voice of Miss Evans herself, speaking as if from the heavens in her Katharine Hepburn voice.

“Emily cast stolen glances over her drink and through the redolent cigarette smoke at both Walker, strangely triumphant in his contract negotiations, and at Julian, radiating power as always but now strangely vulnerable in a way she could not quite define to herself. Was it that he, now that he was not in the offices of Smythe & Son, but in a hotel restaurant, seemed not so much the dashing son of the firm’s owner but just another perhaps too-handsome young fellow, perhaps all too aware of his possible inadequacies?”

While the above narration was being spoken Julian’s lips were moving, but I couldn’t hear a word he said.

This was a bit much.

I was prepared to deal with being a character in Miss Evans’s novel, at least for a while until I figured out a means of escape, but I was hardly prepared to listen to her prose.

I decided I must fight back. I must assert myself and fight against Miss Evans’s characterization and her plot line.

I could start by attempting to override her narration.

“May I interrupt for just a moment,” I said.

Julian seemed taken aback. So did Emily.

“Porter --” said Emily.

“No, it’s perfectly all right,” said Julian. “I suppose I was going on a bit. You’re probably not even interested in cars anyway, are you, Porter?”

“Well, frankly, no,” I said.

“I suppose you don’t even have a car.”

Somehow I doubted it.

“No,” I said.

“Ah, but soon, old man, as soon as you cash that check! Get yourself a nice used Jag XK120 or something --”

“No, I don’t think so,” I said.

“No?”

“No.”

“But wouldn’t you like to hit the road, like our friend Kerouac?”

“Not really,” I said.

“No interest in bumming around the country, the highways and byways?”

“No," I said. "Not especially, I mean."

“Porter’s already done all that!” piped Emily.

“Really?” said Julian. He clicked open his cigarette case and offered it to Emily, who had let her cigarette burn out in the ashtray. She took another.

“Yes,” said Emily. “He’s hitch-hiked all over the country, and ridden the rails.”

“Rode the rails,” said Julian. He took out a cigarette for himself. “You mean like in the movies?”

“Yes,” said Emily. “And he worked as a dishwasher, a lumberjack, a cotton-picker.”

“No kidding,” said Julian, forgetting to offer me a cigarette, but perhaps it was just as well. “That’ll make excellent jacket-copy.”

He lit Emily’s cigarette with his gold- or silver-plated lighter.

“Porter was also a bullfighter in Mexico.”

“Really?” said Julian.

“And a gaucho in Argentina.”

He lit his own cigarette.

“Those are the sort of cowboy fellows, right?”

“Yes. He also sailed all over the world in a tramp steamer.”

“Fascinating.”

I confess I was just about to reach into his still-open cigarette case and help myself to one, but Julian idly closed it up and slipped it into his jacket pocket.

“And he went up into the Himalayas and studied at the feet of a yogi,” said Emily.

“Terrific,” said Julian, gazing around at the restaurant, probably hoping to find a writer without such a romantic personal history.

“It’s all in his poem,” said Emily.

“I look forward to reading it,” said Julian. “So, Porter, what was it you were going to say?”

I drew a blank, a complete blank. I had nothing prepared, not a thing in mind.

But now I felt guilty, both for interrupting him while he was apparently happily talking about cars, and for myself having such an interesting past.

“I -- just wanted to say that I’m very happy to be published by your firm, Mr. -- uh --” I couldn’t remember his last name. Smith? No, no, it was Smy--

“Please, call me Julian, Porter.”

“Julian,” I said. “I’m very happy that you’re publishing my book.”

“Well, I’m glad, Porter. That’s nice of you to say that. Even if you do drive a hard bargain.”

“I don’t care about the money,” I said. “You don’t have to give me a -- a what do you call it --”

“Advance?”

“Yes, an advance. You can skip that.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Suddenly I remembered that I didn’t have a job.

“Well, uh, maybe just a small stipend,” I said, improvising. “Just till the book starts making money. If it makes any money.”

“You are indeed a strange fellow, Porter. Tell me, what do you think a fair stipend would be?”

“I don’t know, really,” I said.

“Well, what’s your rent?”

“My rent --”

“Fifty dollars a month,” said Emily, who knew a lot more about me than I did.

“Fifty a month,” said Julian. “Not bad for this town. All right, how about if we let you have fifty a week for, say, the next three months, just till the royalties start streaming in.”

“That should be fine,” I said.

“And this stipend will be against your royalties of course.”

“Oh, of course,” I said. “With the slide rule.”

“Sliding scale.”

“That’s what I meant to say,” I said.

“Well, all right then,” said Julian. Then, “What? You look as if something else is on your mind.”

“I wonder if I could have it in cash?” I asked. I was concerned, because it had just occurred to me that I probably didn’t have a bank account.

“Sure, Porter. Just roll by the offices every Friday after four and the cashier will take care of you.”

“Great,” I said.

“Good. Deal. Let’s shake on it before you change your mind again.”

We shook on it.

“Now you can concentrate on your writing, Porter,” said Emily.

Right, I thought. But what I really intended to concentrate on was getting out of all this. I was already missing my old life. I never knew I had it so good. And I missed Elektra. I hoped she wasn’t waiting for me, wondering where I was.

“Emily gazed through half-lowered lashes at Porter,” said Miss Evans’s voice from on high. “Such a mercurial fellow! But she wondered, would success spoil him? Would the moody passionate poet grow fat and complacent?”

Fortunately, Arnold Stang arrived with appetizers for the table just then: a shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller, and clams casino.

My mouth watered.

I grabbed a shrimp and tried not to listen to Miss Evans’s narration.

(Continued here, and, at this rate, for at least seventeen more years.)

(Kindly go to the right hand column of this page for a scrupulously current listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. “Probably the greatest memoir in the English language since Erroll Flynn’s My Wicked, Wicked Ways” -- Harold Bloom, in The Christian Science Monitor.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 33: the part


The time: the spring of 2003.

The place: Hollywood, USA.

Our hero: Buddy Best, producer, writer, director, the man responsible for such cinematic classics as Blunt Force Trauma, Song of a Dead Man, Vampire University, Kiss Me Then Kill Me, and Shadow of the Sun.

(Click here to read our previous episode, or go here to read the first chapter of Uncle Buddy’s House©, recently short-listed for the long list of the possible short-listed nominees for the J.J. Hunsecker Award for Best Novel Adapted From a Motion Picture Adapted From a Novel.)


The next morning, Friday, at around eleven o'clock he was in Harvey’s office with Harvey, Iggy, Heather, Debbie, Lenny, the whole mob, and his cellphone vibrated in his pocket. He took it out, didn’t recognize the number, but then --

He excused himself and went out into the outer office.

“Hello,” he said.

“It’s me,” she said.

“Hi.”

“I got the part. I got the lead.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“No.”

There was good old Marlene sitting there at her desk, with her eagle eye.

“Hold on,” said Buddy.

He went into his office and shut the door.

“So,” he said, “get the fuck outa here.”

“No, I have it if I want it. Well, it’s not really the lead, Christophe is the lead, but I have the lead female. But I told weirdo Joe I needed to make a phone call before saying yes.”

“A phone call?”

“To you, you big dummy.”

“Oh, right. So -- you’re still there, where, at Paramount?”

“Uh-huh. I’m at this place called Stage 18 and I’m using one of their phones.”

“Okay. So, what’s he offering you?”

She told him, and to be honest it was a hell of a lot more than Buddy would have paid her.

“Take it,” he said.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Take it. I mean, if you had an agent maybe you could get more --”

“But I don’t have an agent, and this way I’m not giving the agent a percentage.”

“That’s true. So go for it.”

“Okay then. Now I’m a movie star.”

“Yeah, you sure are. So. How’d you like Christopher, I mean Christophe?”

“Oh, he was nice.”

“Great. Did you tell him you know me?”

“No.”

“Oh, well --”

“Buddy, let’s have lunch. I mean if you’re free.”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to see each other any more.”

“It’s just lunch. I mean for-real lunch, to celebrate. And I’m buying.”

“Well, I’d love to have you buy me lunch, but unfortunately I’ve got this supposedly important business lunch I gotta go to, and after that we’re showing these people a cut of our movie -- anyway, I’m tied up all afternoon. But look, let’s have dinner, and you can buy.”

“I can’t, Buddy, I have to go to Canada tonight if I say yes.”

“Tonight?”

“Yeah. Shooting starts Monday and I’ll have to go up for costume fittings and stuff over the weekend. He wants me on a seven-twenty flight, and, you know, you’re supposed to get there early at the airport. Plus I have to go back to Stephanie’s and get my things. And I have to stop by the coffee shop and tell them I’m not working there anymore, and --”

“Well, what the hell,” said Buddy. “Where you going exactly, Vancouver?”

“Yeah, we’ll be shooting there and out in the country in different places.”

A moment’s silence.

“How long you up there for?”

“Six weeks. Well, six weeks starting Monday.”

“Wow, that’s real Hollywood. We usually shoot our shit in four weeks, tops.”

“Yeah. Well, I guess I better get off. They’re waiting for me.”

“Okay --”

“I’ll call you,” she said. “Can I call you?”

“Absolutely.”

“Okay.”

“Uh, bring some warm clothes.”

“I will.”

“Call me from there, okay?

“Of course I will, dumdum.”

“All right --”

She’d hung up.

Buddy folded up his phone.

He stood there for a minute, then he went back in to his job.


(Continued here, and until there’s not a dry eye in the house.)

(Kindly go to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™, as featured on The Schlitz Playhouse, Tuesdays at 9PM (EST) on the Dumont Television Channel. “Schlitz -- the beer that made Milwaukee famous!”)

Friday, January 15, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 182: Julian

Thanks to a couple of contretemps with the Prince of Darkness, our hero Arnold Schnabel has been transported into a now-obscure novel of 1950s New York City entitled Ye Cannot Quench -- and he is not even the central character...

(Click here to go to our previous chapter, or go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning autobiographical epic.)


I walked into a hotel lobby, not really knowing why, but then I saw Emily standing next to an old grandfather clock.

I waved, and she walked toward me faster than I walked toward her. Her hair had been sprayed into the shape of a Nazi soldier’s helmet, and she had somehow changed her clothes in the last second or two. She now wore a rather tight grey skirt with a matching jacket, and she carried a large black shiny pocket book and also a briefcase, brown or dark grey, how could I tell in this black-and-white world?

“I knew it,” she said by way of greeting.

“What’s that?” I said.

“I knew you wouldn’t wear a tie.”

I looked down. I was wearing the same clothes I was wearing what seemed to be a moment ago, the plaid shirt, the jeans, the work shoes.

“And no jacket,” she said. “Must you be such a relentless rebel? Fortunately I came prepared. Come with me before we get thrown out on our collective ear.”

She slipped her arm in mine and pulled me over to a corner with an ornate mirror, a cushioned armchair, a small table and a vase with an enormous ficus bush in it.

She stood the briefcase on the table, unbuckled it, took out a folded-up article of clothing and shook it out.

“Got it on sale at Macy’s, but I’ll have you know I want to be reimbursed just as soon as you receive your advance.”

It was a seersucker sport jacket. She held it up against my torso.

“It looks like a good fit. Try it on, Porter.”

I slipped the jacket on. It was just a little too loose, but I prefer jackets that way.

“Okay,” she said, “a trifle large, but that’s better than too small. This way you look hungry. Serious. But don’t act too serious. Or too hungry.”

Which reminded me, I still hadn’t eaten, and I was very hungry.

She was reaching into the briefcase again, and now she pulled out a necktie. She held it up against my chest.

“I deliberately got a matte dark grey so that it wouldn’t clash too severely with the your habitual lumberjack couture.”

She cocked her head, studying the effect of the ensemble, then handed me the tie.

“All right, put it on. You do know how to tie a tie, don’t you?”

She was speaking with a sort of English accent again.

I put the tie on. Anything to get us closer to some food.

But then as I tightened my knot while looking into the mirror I noticed a stubble of beard on my face, even though I had just shaved.

And then it hit me.

Since I had last seen Emily there must have been a chapter or two in Miss Evans’s book in which I had remained offstage.

And so I had jumped ahead in time. Or, perhaps more accurately put, time and existence had happened without my participation.

“By the way,” I said, trying to sound casual, “what day is today, anyway?”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

She stood back, examining me.

“Just curious,” I said.

“Tuesday, you distracted artist, you.”

She buttoned my jacket.

Tuesday; that wasn’t too bad. I was pretty sure I had woken up on a Saturday in this world, so I’d only lost two days, well, three really, since I’d only experienced the morning of the first day.

But I still hadn’t eaten, or if I had I had no memory of it.

“So, are we going to have some breakfast?” I asked. I’ve always had a good nose for food, and I smelled meat.

“Breakfast? Do you always eat breakfast at one in the afternoon, Porter?”

“Sure,” I said. It seemed like a good idea just to go with the character I was supposed to be. Why make waves?

“Well, call it what you will, it’s luncheon for me and Julian.”

“Ah, Julian. He’s the publisher guy, right? Kind of a Rock Hudson type?””

“Porter, do not try my nerves. Do you know what this could mean for your career?”

“I’m not sure,” I said, truthfully.

“It could change everything. Put you on the literary map. Or do you want to drive a hack your whole life?”

“No,” I said.

“Then behave.” She wet her fingertips with her tongue and smoothed back my hair. “There, you look bohemian but presentable. Let’s go in.”

I followed her lead, we walked across the lobby to where it opened onto a small but cozy-looking dining room. The sign near the entrance said “The Oak Room”.

A maître d’ was there at a lectern. He eyed my beard, my jeans and my unshined shoes, but before he could call the house dick over and have me dragged out Emily spoke up.

“Mr. Smythe’s table, please.”

“Oh, Mr. Smythe. Yes, of course, right this way.”

He grabbed some menus and led us across the crowded room to a little nook and a round table with a white table-cloth, a vase of hibiscus.

The man pulled out a chair for Emily, but I sat down under my own steam.

“May I offer the, uh, gentleman and the lady a cocktail?” he asked us, as he laid down three menus.

“I’ll have an Old Fashioned,” said Emily. “How about you, Porter?”

“I’ll take a beer,” I said.

“We have a fine Czech Pilsener, sir. Unless of course you would care for a domestic.”

“Sure, domestic is fine,” I said.

“Nonsense, George,” said a tall man in a dark suit who had just loomed into the picture. “Bring him the Pilsener, and make sure it’s arctically cold.”

“Of course, Mr. Smythe, and for you, sir -- comme d’habitude?”

“Right. Make it a double.”

Having been brought up right, I had pushed my chair back and stood up. The man thrust out his hand.

“Julian Smythe. And you must be Mr. Walker.”

I shook his hand. He really did look like Rock Hudson. (But then I remembered that I looked like Montgomery Clift.)

“Sit down, pal,” he said.

I sat, he sat, and while he and Emily exchanged greetings I opened my menu. The first thing I noticed was the prices, and I hoped that my wallet had somehow gained more than the four dollar bills that were in there the last time I checked.

But Julian pulled the menu out of my hands.

“Don’t look at that,” he said. “That’s for the tourists. Let me order. Do you like a good T-bone?”

“Very much so,” I said. “But maybe just a grilled cheese for me -- you see I just lost my job, and --”

“Don’t worry about it, Porter. May I call you Porter?”

“Uh, sure,” I said.

“Call me Julian; and lunch is on me, Porter. Or on the firm I should say. Which is another way of saying it’s on my old man. So, a T-bone? Or perhaps some Dover sole, but only if it’s been flown in fresh this morning.”

“T-bone’s good for me,” I said.

He took out what might have been a gold-plated cigarette case and clicked it open.

“Cigarette?”

I hesitated, pondering. Had I quit smoking in this world as well? Well, anyway, maybe just one wouldn’t hurt --

But I hesitated too long; he offered the case to Emily, she took one, he took one, he clicked the case shut and lit Emily and himself up with a lighter that might have been gold-plated also, maybe it was only silver.

“So,” he said to me, exhaling a delicious cloud of smoke, “Emily here thinks you’re the next Walt Whitman. Did you bring Porter’s poem, Emily?”

I couldn’t help but notice that Emily had been gazing wide-eyed at this Julian ever since he had joined us.

“Oh,” she said, “yes, of course, Mr. Smythe.”

She had put her briefcase on the floor. She opened it up, reached in with both hands, brought out a thick sheath of typescript, and laid it on the table.

Julian flipped through some of the pages with his thumb.

“I’ll be honest, Porter. I’m not big on poetry. However, from what I’ve read of your little epic here I’ll say that one good thing about it is that it almost reads like prose. Or let’s say that it reads like prose in the way that a bird like Faulkner reads like poetry. Which to my way of thinking is a problem with fellows like Faulkner, Joyce, Fitzgerald, that whole crew. But you probably disagree.”

“Oh, no,” I said, honestly enough, since I hadn’t read any of the authors he had mentioned.

“But my opinions don’t matter,” he said. “Me, I’ll take a good car magazine any day. Or Photoplay, Silver Screen, that’s more my speed.”

Photoplay is good,” I offered.

“What matters is we need a new author, one of the young crowd. Something the young people can ‘dig’ as you bohemians say. Ah, thank you, George.”

The maître d’ was there, personally laying down our drinks. Julian’s was a very large martini, with three or four olives skewered on a plastic spear. George poured some of my bottle of Czech Pilsener into a glass for me.

“Chin-chin,” said Julian, and we all drank. “Oh, boy, I needed that,” he said, having drunk half his double in one go.

“Tell me, Porter, do you know this guy Kerouac?”

“No,” I said.

“Jack Kerouac.”

“I’ve heard of him,” I said.

“Thought you would have. Anyway, Viking’s got a book of his in the pipeline, called -- what is it, Emily? Up The Highway? Down The Turnpike?”

“On The Road, I think,” said Emily.

“Whatever the hell it is, supposed to come out this September, and the advance word is it’s going to be a smasheroo best-seller. And let me tell ya, poetic prose? I’ve seen the galleys, and, buddy, we’re talking some serious damn poetic prose, might as well be a damned epic poem. So, what does Smythe & Son do? We beat Viking to the punch and put out our own damn poetic bohemian epic.”

I had been tasting my beer, and it really was very good, much better than the Schmidt’s or Ortlieb’s I usually swilled, and as I drank I was noticing some famous people at the other tables: Bennett Cerf, Kitty Carlisle, Steve Allen. I was pretty sure one guy was Oscar Levant --

“So what do you think?” asked Julian.

“What about?” I said

I felt a sharp toe of a shoe kick against my shin.

Julian smiled.

“I think I’m going to like you, Porter, even if you are a poet.” He took another good gulp of his martini. “We’re going to publish your poem, pal. What do you think of that?”

I thought I’d better play my cards close to the vest.

“Sounds good,” I said. “How much do I get paid?”

“Porter --” said Emily.

“No, that’s okay, Emily,” said Julian. “To answer Mr. Walker’s question, our standard advance for a first book is two hundred dollars, and a sliding scale of royalties, of course.”

“Sliding scale?” I asked, having no idea what that was.

“It’s standard, I assure you,” he said.

“Well, I don’t know about that,” I said. “Make it two thousand and we’ll call it a deal.”

“You mean two thousand up front?”


I didn’t know what that meant either, but rather than admit my ignorance, I said, “Yes.”

“You’re kidding me. Robert Frost doesn’t get two thousand up front.”

I did have some vague idea who Robert Frost was. Wasn’t he the one who wrote the poem about stopping in the snow somewhere? That wasn’t much better than the sort of stuff I wrote...

“Porter --” said Emily.

“No, that’s okay, Emily,” said Julian. He lifted up his martini, finished it off. He raised the empty glass to the level of the top of his glossy head, and suddenly a waiter was there, one I hadn’t noticed before. He looked like Arnold Stang.

“Another martini, Mr. Smythe?”

“A double,” said Julian. “And another Pilsener for my friend here. Ready for another Old Fashioned, Emily?”

“Oh, I shouldn’t, Mr. Smythe.”

“And another Old Fashioned for the lady,” said Julian.

“Right away, Mr. Smythe,” said Arnold Stang, and off he went.

Julian stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray. The words The Algonquin Hotel were painted on it.

“Two thousand,” said Julian.

I thought it over for a second. Had I gone too far? After all, two hundred wasn’t so bad. I was used to getting just a dollar apiece for my Olney Times poems. I was just about to say I’d take the two hundred when Julian spoke first.

“Okay, Porter, two thousand it is. But it’s just an advance mind you, coming out of your royalties.”

“Oh, sure,” I said.

Actually I had just meant two thousand flat, I wasn’t even thinking about royalties. It seemed hard to believe anyone would actually buy this mammoth poem, not based on what I had read of it. I knew I wouldn’t have.

“Just do me a favor,” said Julian. “Don’t tell anyone about the advance. If old Bob Frost finds out he’ll have a cow. An absolute cow.”

“Oh, I won’t tell anyone,” I said.


(Continued here; what else can we do?)

(Please go to the right hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other previously published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, soon to be a major motion picture starring Natalie Wood, Rock Hudson, and Montgomery Clift; directed by Vincente Minnelli.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 32: breathing


It started out as just another day in the life of Buddy Best, that C-List auteur, when who should come by his modest offices at Hollywood Boulevard and Las Palmas but the fair Cordelia, the talented actress daughter of “the Ancient Mariner”, the ham actor Buddy’s wife Joan has run off with. Somehow Buddy and Cordelia wind up in his bed, but before they can really get going who should burst into Buddy’s room but his 27-year-old son Philip, who has just moved Buddy’s 24-year-old daughter Elizabeth’s stuff back to the familial manse, to which Philip has also returned, because his life has come apart just as Liz’s has. And then there’s the problem of Buddy’s 15-year-old stepdaughter Deirdre, who has been informed by her mother that she must move in with her and the Mariner, when Deirdre would much prefer to stay in her “Uncle” Buddy’s house.


And then there was that awful scene when Buddy dropped off Cordelia at the Mariner’s house...

(Go here to read our previous episode, or click here to read the first chapter of this “no-holds barred exposé of the sinful shenanigans all-too prevalent among today’s cinematic 'artists'” -- (J.J. Hunsecker, in The Ladies’ Home Journal.)


He was in bed, awake, and his cellphone rang in its charger on his night table.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi.”

“Are you awake?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure? ’Cause if you were sleeping --”

“No, I was wide awake.” (In fact he’d just been lying there going over the day’s events, wanting and needing to masturbate but postponing it for as long as possible.) “I was, uh, reading.”

“Oh. What were you reading?”

“Uh --” what the fuck, it had been on his night table since Christmas, a present from Philip; he reached over and switched on the lamp -- “um, All the Pretty Horses?”

“Oh, I never heard of it. Any good?”

“Well, I’m only about ten pages into it. I saw the movie though.” Pause. “So what’s up?” he said, which sounded really stupid, so he said, “I mean, uh --” and then he ran out of words, and there was another pause. “Cordelia?”

“Wait.”

“Okay.”

He waited. Could he hear her breathing? He thought he could.

“It was awful,” she said.

She was speaking in a very low voice now.

“No, it was really awful,” she said, as if he had challenged her statement. “After you left. My father was awful.”

Yet another pause started building, so, as much as Buddy hated saying this sort of thing, he said:

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She didn’t say anything. Okay.

“Are you still there?” asked Buddy.

“I’m still here.”

“I mean, are you still at your dad’s place.”

“No. I’m at my friend Stephanie’s apartment. She picked me up in her car. I just threw some stuff in a suitcase and in my backpack and split. I had to get out of there.”

“Right.”

“I can’t live there any more.” Yeah, he could hear her breathing. “Stephanie said I can sleep on her couch till I find my own place.”

“Good,” he said. Then, “You sound funny.”

“I’m sitting in the bathroom.”

“Ah.”

“I’m holding my hand over the side of the phone, ‘cause Stephanie is sleeping.”

“Oh.”

“My father accused me of seducing you. He accused me of seducing you so that I could hurt him. And when I told him I didn’t seduce you he said that you seduced me just so you could get back at him and Joan. He said a lot of bad things about you. He said that you had always cheated on Joan, and that --”

“Wait, wait, Cordelia --”

“Yes?”

“Can I just say one thing?”

“What?”

“Fuck your father.”

“Oh.”

“I mean, sorry.”

“No, that’s okay,” she said. “Did you always cheat on her?”

“Well, the last year or so I had a dry spell.”

Another pause. Then:

“Hey,” she said, “did I leave my sunglasses in your car?”

“Yeah,” said Buddy. “I’ve got them. They’re on my dresser.”

“Oh, good,” she said. “Um, we probably shouldn’t see each other any more.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“It’s really stupid.”

More breathing.

“Maybe you’ll get that job tomorrow,” he said.

“Yeah. That would be great. I enjoyed making out with you though.”

“No kidding?” said Buddy. “I enjoyed making out with you, too.”

“I know. I liked the way you touched me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“I liked touching you.”

A few seconds passed by.

“Well, okay then,” said Buddy.

“Wait.”

“Wait?”

“Yeah.”

Buddy waited. What the hell, he had nothing better to do. Keeping the phone to his ear he reached over with his free hand and picked up the horse novel. He stood it on his stomach and the bookmark fell out and slid onto the bed. He laid the unopened book on his stomach, picked up the bookmark and flicked it onto the night table. He stood the book up on his stomach again and with his thumb he tried to find where he had left off. He came to a page which might be it, a bit of dialogue, with no quotation marks. You really knew you were reading literature when they left out the quotation marks --

“Where did you like touching me?” she said.

“What?”

“Where did you like touching me?”

He closed the book.

“Um -- your breasts?” he said.

“My breasts.”

“Yeah.”

He lay there with the phone to his ear. After half a minute he put the book back onto the night table and switched off the lamp. Another half minute went by.

“Where else?” she whispered.

“Wh-- pardon me?”

“Where else did you like touching me?”

Her voice had a lot of that moist quality to it now.

“Well, I -- I liked touching you -- uh --”

“Yeah?”

“Cordelia -- are you doing what I think you’re doing?”

“Yeah,” she said, low.

“Oh.”

“Do you mind?” she whispered.

“No,” he said. “Not at all.”

They listened to each other breathe.


(Continued here, breathlessly.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other previously-broadcast episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, available exclusively on the Dumont Television Network; a Larry Winchester Production, brought to you by Lux, “Beauty Soap of the Stars”.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 181: cracked

Our intrepid memoirist Arnold Schnabel has awoken one rainy morning to find that he has become a character in Gertrude Evans’s Ye Cannot Quench, a now sadly out-of-print novel of love and lust in the literary and bohemian milieux of 1950s New York...

(Click here to go to our previous thrilling episode, or start off the new year right and go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 32-volume masterpiece.)

She jumped up from her seat, and thrust her cigarette out at me. I took it. I noticed she wore a wide-skirted dress with a belt, the dress was white with blue cross-hatchings.

“Okay, first things first,” she said, cocking her head. “Where is your coffee?”

A percolator did sit on the stove, but I had no certain idea where the coffee was if I had coffee, but on the other hand there were a couple of cabinets on the wall above the stove and the sink, so I took a wild guess.

“Try in those cabinets over there.”

She skipped over in the direction I had indicated.

For two seconds I considered smoking the remainder of her cigarette but instead I stubbed it out (in an ashtray on which were painted the words “At the Prince George Hotel -- where the service is swell!”) and I set about trying to get more completely dressed.

I walked the six feet to the dresser, opened the top drawer and found a clean pair of sweat socks, a clean pair of boxer shorts.

“Oh, Porter?”

She sounded like a wife on television. I was tempted to say “Yes dear” but I desisted and said only “Yes?”

“You have absolutely nothing edible or potable in these cabinets -- nothing but books and papers, notebooks and such.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said.

“And a mousetrap,” she said. “Fortunately with no mouse in it.”

I was looking at a door that I hoped opened onto a bathroom, or -- since the tub was out here next to the refrigerator -- at least to a toilet and maybe a sink.

Meanwhile Emily had opened the little refrigerator and was bending over peering inside.

“And nothing in this ice box except some cans of Rheingold beer,” she observed.

Not unlike her creator at times, she had subtly assumed a slightly English-sounding accent, even if she was from West Virginia.

“I guess I’m not much of a cook,” I said, my hand on the wobbly cut-glass door knob.

“Golly, I’ll say you’re not. And how, dear man, was I supposed to make breakfast?”

“Foolish of me,” I said, hoping to sound debonair, or at least like a fellow who couldn’t be expected to pay attention to such trivialities as the contents of his larder or refrigerator.

I opened the door, and revealed a room like a coffin stood on end, but equipped with a toilet bowl, a tiny sink, and even a cracked mirror.

“Get yourself freshened up and we’ll go out to eat,” she said.

“Good idea,” I said.

I went in, pulled the string on the overhead light, closed the door, and then got another shock.

I’ve never had a clear idea of what I look like. Of course I look at myself in the mirror every day when I brush my teeth and shave, but my face has always seemed so indistinct to me that its image seems to lose any memorability it might possess as soon as it passes through my eyes and into my brain. I know I have white skin and brown hair and blue eyes, but beyond that I could tell you nothing.

But this face was different.

It was the face of a sensitive and romantically handsome young poet, or, rather, the face of a sensitive and romantically handsome young actor playing a sensitive and romantically handsome young, well, you get the idea, a poet. In fact it was very much like the face of the younger Montgomery Clift, say from around the time of A Place In The Sun.

I needed a shave, and fortunately there was a safety razor on the sink, and a tube of shaving cream.

I took off my shirt, shaved, brushed my teeth.

I urinated, as quietly as one is able to urinate, and I thanked God or Josh that I had no need to do other than urinate.

I pulled the overhead chain and the toilet flushed, with the sound of a torpedo slamming into the boiler room of a battle ship.

As the aftershocks of the flush reverberated all around me I removed my blue jeans awkwardly in that confined space and pulled on the boxer shorts and the socks, then got back into the jeans and the plaid work shirt.

I opened the door and she was standing right outside. She held a little zippered pink rubber bag, a toiletries case I suppose. She touched my face.

“I’m not so sure I like you clean-shaven, Porter. I liked your stubble. Perhaps you should grow a beard. May I use your facilities?”

“Of course,” I said, and I made to get out of her way, her hand sliding down my face, along my chest and down my arm all the way to the tips of my fingers.

“I won’t be a mo,” she said.

She went in and shut the door behind her.

I saw a pair of work shoes by the bed, sat down and put them on. I realized that the night table had a drawer, it was only partly closed, I pulled it out farther by its little metal ring.

A sprinkling of small change and a few Transit Authority tokens; a pocket knife; scraps of note-paper and paper bar-napkins scrawled with observations philosophical, observational, poetic.

I also found a battered brown wallet. Not much help there. A New York chauffeur’s license for Porter Walker, a merchant seaman’s union card, a New York Public Library card, more of the scraps of paper with scraps of poetry and insight, four dollar bills, and that was about it. Not much to start a whole new existence on. But on the other hand I looked like Montgomery Clift.

The rain had continued to fall outside. I got up and walked to the other end of the room and looked through an open window with an adjustable screen in it. Outside about two or three stories down was a city street in the rain, not too much traffic. If my memory of Miss Evans’s novel served, then this would be a Saturday, sometime in the summer, sometime in the mid-1950s, somewhere in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood I only knew about from the Johnny Staccato TV show..

I wondered if somewhere else on this planet lived a railroad brakeman named Arnold Schnabel, a quiet bachelor who ushered at his church and lived with his mother and who wrote one bad poem every week like clockwork and which his neighborhood paper duly printed each week.

I wondered what would happen if I took the train down to Philadelphia, switched at the Reading Terminal, took the local to the Fern Rock station and walked to B and Nedro and knocked on my mother’s door. What if I myself opened the door? Would I, Arnold Schnabel, recognize myself in the handsome young man on the front steps? For that matter, would I, Porter Walker, recognize Arnold Schnabel in the fellow holding open the door?

I heard the toilet flush. From out here by the window it sounded far less cacophonous than it had inside the water closet, more like the sound of a milk truck crashing end over end down a rocky hill in the near distance.

I went back to the table, with its portable typewriter and its pile of typescript. So this was my epic poem. Without sitting down I picked up the top page, turned it over and read this:

Her body moist, young, ripe as a summer’s peach,
But, unlike a peach, shaped like a woman,
A woman bucking like a small and ardent
Bronco and emitting brief high yelps of pleasure
And digging her scarlet nails into my
Pale back, her eyes closed -- what is
She thinking in this moment, nay,
Multiple moments of ecstasy?

Having read at least as far as last night in Miss Evans’s novel, I could answer that question, she was thinking about some old boyfriend back in West Virginia.

The toilet door opened and I quickly put the sheet of paper back on its stack, face down.

“Well, are we ready?” she said.

The room was so small it only took her about two seconds to be a foot away from me.

She had done something with her hair, I couldn’t say what exactly, and she had applied dark lipstick, I assume it was red but I couldn’t say for sure because everything was still in black-and-white.

(Continued here, and possibly ad infinitum.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page to find an ostensibly complete listing of links to all other previously broadcast chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©.)

“Every January I retire to my bed for a month and do nothing but read Schnabel all day and every day. On February the first I emerge from my room revivified, whistling a happy tune, swinging my walking-stick, and ready for anything and everything the world throws my way.” -- Harold Bloom, on Oprah.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 31: out of the past

Life has gotten complicated for our hero, that C-List auteur Buddy Best. Somehow he has gotten involved -- alas (or maybe not alas), not to carnal fulfillment -- with Cordelia, the actress daughter of "the Ancient Mariner", the ham actor with whom Buddy's wife Joan has absconded. And Buddy's life is about to get even more complicated...

(Go here to read our previous thrilling episode, or click here to read the first chapter of this “shameless potboiler best left safely hidden under the towels in the bathroom” -- (J.J. Hunsecker, in The Saturday Evening Post.)

Buddy got caught in a traffic jam on Venice Boulevard, but that was all right, he listened to the latest news on Iraq for a few minutes, and then he put Don Giovanni back on. The sun had gone down and he had got to within two blocks of his house before Joan rang his cellphone. He considered letting his voicemail take it, then decided he might as well just get it over with. He turned off the Don and flipped open the cell.

“Hi --”

“Okay, Buddy, just what kind of sick shit are you up to?”

Buddy gave this question some thought.

“Answer me, you sick asshole.”

“I’m trying to think of an answer.”

“Are you fucking her?”

At least this he could answer, and -- a bonus -- he could answer truthfully:

“No.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Did you try to fuck her?”

After only about three seconds of silence on Buddy’s part he said:

“Hey, how was your trip?”

“What?”

“Your trip. To Brittany. How was it.”

“How was my trip? It was nice. Except it rained all the time. And it was cold.”

“Ah. Too bad.”

Now it was she who didn’t say anything.

“What’s that noise?” said Buddy.

“It’s the ocean. I’m walking on the beach. I had to get out of that house. Stephen is very upset. And so is she, apparently. She’s in her room and won’t come out.”

Buddy had parked the car in front of his house now.

There was more ocean noise and then she said, “How’s Deirdre?”

“Deirdre’s good.”

Cordelia’s sunglasses, still on the dash. Buddy picked them up and put them in his shirt pocket.

“Philip and Liz are living with us now, too,” he said.

“What?”

“Yeah -- a lot has been going on.”

“So it seems. Well, look, I’ve thought about it and I want Deirdre to move in here and I don’t want to hear any shit about it.”

The ocean --

“Well?” she said.

“You’re her mother.”

“That’s right.”

“Okay then.”

He got out of the car.

“What are you doing, Buddy?”

“I’m getting out of the car.”

“Oh. Are you going into the house?”

“Yep.”

“Is Deirdre home?”

“She was when I left.”

“Okay. Let me talk to her.”

“Ah-ight.”

“But, Buddy, wait, first --”

“Yeah, babe.”

“Just what the fuck were you doing with that girl? That’s all I want to know.”

“It’s -- it’s a long story, Joan.”

“I’m sure it is a long story, so give me the short version.”

Buddy opened the door. “Buddy?” said Joan. Philip and Liz and Deirdre were sitting on the couch in the dark living room, watching a movie. Out of the Past. He took the phone away from his ear. “Buddy,” he could hear Joan saying again. He walked over to Deirdre and handed her the phone.

“Your mom wants to talk to you.”

“Mom? From France?”

“No. Venice. Venice, California.”

She unfolded her legs and put the phone to her head.

“Mom? What? He’s right here, who do you think handed me the phone? Well who do you want to talk to, him or me?” She looked at Buddy, making her eyes go wide, and Buddy waggled his hand from side to side, mouthing No. “Mom. Mom, wait, let me take this in my room. Mom, wait.”

Now she rolled her eyes, and got up and headed for the stairs. “Mom,” she was saying, “I haven’t talked to you in like three whole weeks, so please don’t immediately start being insane, okay?” And so on until she faded out as she went into her room and shut the door.

Liz and Philip looked at Buddy.

“I’m gonna get a beer,” he said. “Anybody want anything?”



They had finished Out of the Past and had started Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when Deirdre came down. She handed Buddy his cellphone, the phone was very warm, she stood there and looked at the TV screen for a bit and then said, “Is that Marilyn Monroe?”

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

“Who’s the other one?”

“Jane Russell.”

“Huh.”

She headed into the kitchen. Liz and Philip looked at Buddy. Buddy got up and went into the kitchen.

“Whatcha doin’?” he said.

“Getting a Diet Coke,” said Deirdre. “Do you want a beer?”

“I’ve got one working here.”

She stood holding her glass of Diet Coke, leaning back against the counter, and she sighed.

“I really hate her,” she said.

“She’s -- doing what she thinks is right,” said Buddy.

“Right for her.”

“Y’know, Deirdre, I’m -- no great prize either.”

“No one said you were.”

True.

“I mean, you know,” he went on, “your mom just -- wants to -- love, and, uh, be loved.”

“Oh, please, do you write dialogue like that for your movies?”

“I -- try not to.”

“So I guess I have to move in with them, right?” Buddy didn’t say anything. “She wants me to meet Stephen tomorrow night.” She looked at Buddy, but he couldn’t think of anything to say to this either. “And, Uncle Bud, Cordelia is his fucking daughter?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Liz told me you were in bed with her.” What could Buddy say? The I didn’t fuck her quibble was not going to work here. “That is so -- weird,” said Deirdre. “I mean, she’s nice and all, but, dude --”

And now Deirdre was at a loss for words.

“It -- wasn’t a planned-out thing,” weaseled Buddy, and then, fuck it, bring out the quibble -- “And besides, we didn’t -- we’re not --”

“What?”

No, he couldn’t say it, and it didn’t really matter because even if they hadn’t he had wanted to, and he would have if Philip and Liz hadn’t come home, or at least he would have if she had found a condom, unless she changed her mind, but --

“Is everything okay, Deirdre?”

This was Liz, in the kitchen doorway.

“Liz,” said Deirdre, “did you know that Cordelia is the Ancient Mariner’s daughter?”

“The whose daughter?”

“The Ancient Mariner. My mom’s boyfriend.”

“The --”

“It’s Uncle Buddy’s nickname for him.”

“Oh. And why is he called the Ancient Mariner?”

“Because he’s fucking gay, that’s why.”

“And -- Cordelia is his daughter?”

“Yeah. Isn’t that funny?”

Followed by a dramatic pause and then:

“Oh my fucking God,” said Liz. “Dad -- what are you doing?”

“We -- we just had dinner,” said Buddy. “She wanted to talk. About her father.”

“Is he really gay?”

“Not that I know of.”

“But -- wait -- you and Cordelia were having more than dinner, Dad.”

“Well, this was a couple of nights ago --”

“Oh, okay, a couple of nights ago. But what about today?”

Buddy finished his glass of beer and went to the refrigerator.

“This is too weird,” said Liz. “I thought I was fucked-up.”

“Oh, who cares?” said Deirdre.

Buddy took out another Anchor Steam, opened it, poured it into his glass, too quickly, and the head foamed over. He put the glass on the counter top. Fuck it.

“Oh, Dad,” said Liz, and she went to the sink for a sponge.

Philip was in the doorway. The movie was still playing behind him.

“What’s up, family meeting?”

Liz picked up Buddy’s beer glass and sponged the counter-top under it, and even gave the beer-glass a little wipe.

“Cordelia is this Ancient Mariner’s daughter,” said Liz.

“Oh,” said Philip, after a moment. “That’s strange. That’s really -- weird.”

“Here’s your beer, Dad,” said Liz.

“Thanks,” said Buddy.

Liz tore some paper towels off of the roll, dropped them onto the floor where the beer had overflowed, and with her bare foot she rubbed the towels around.

“Let’s just watch the movie,” said Deirdre.

“So you got this from Joan,” said Liz.

“Yeah,” said Deirdre, sounding bored.

“What else did Joan say?” said Liz.

Now Philip was going past her to the fridge.

“She wants me to move in with her. And the Mariner.”

“Oh. And do you want to?”

“No, of course I don’t want to. I don’t want to move down to Venice and live with some flaming gaybo I don’t even know.”

Philip got out an Anchor and popped it open.

“Well, you know Cordelia,” he said.

“Oh, yeah, great. Look, let’s just go in and watch the movie, okay? I can’t think about this now. I’m supposed to see my mom tomorrow. Maybe I can talk her out of it. Okay, whatever. I want to watch the movie. Come on, Uncle Buddy, I’m not mad at you. Let’s watch the movie.”

“Okay,” said Buddy.

So they went in. Marilyn was just starting in on “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”. They watched the movie.

(Continued here, if only because of ironclad contractual obligations.)

(Please refer to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-the-minute list of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™, currently “in development” at American International Pictures.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 180: postscript

In our previous chapter our memoirist Arnold Schnabel awoke on a rainy Sunday morning to find a naked woman sleeping in his bed, one who had not been there when he had gone to sleep...

(Click here to return to the first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning chef-d'œuvre, which the noted scholar Harold Bloom has called “the ne plus ultra of 20th century literature -- oh, hell, of any century’s literature!”.)

She slept obliviously, her hip rising up and dipping down to her slim waist, her arm crossed down across her bosom, her face hidden from the rain-dappled light by tousled dark hair.

And then I noticed some other odd things.

For starters, I was naked too, I who had never in my born days gone to bed without wearing at the very least my boxer shorts.

Also, it now dawned on me that either I had suffered a thrombosis in my sleep which had struck me colorblind, or once again I had found myself in a world of black-and-white, or, more accurately, a world composed of varying tones of grey, with highlights here and there of black or white.

The next thing I noticed was that this was not my narrow army-surplus cot but a regular medium-sized bed with cast-iron piping at the head and foot.

Then, finally, it dawned on me that this was not at all my humble attic room; it was a small room, granted, but not my room. The walls were largely covered with mostly-unframed drawings and paintings and posters. There was a cluttered old wooden chest of drawers with an oval mirror; a table with a portable typewriter on it and a straw-covered Chianti bottle with a candle stuck in it; a small refrigerator with a toaster on top of it; a stove; and just this side of the refrigerator was a claw-foot bathtub. On a wooden crate sat one of those record players that fit in their own little suitcase. In lieu of shelves were more of the wood crates stacked along the walls, the crates packed with books and records, magazines, papers, notebooks.

Next to the bed was an old scarred end-table with a tasseled lamp, a chipped glass ashtray overflowing with butts, some of them stained with red lipstick, an opened pack of Pall Malls and a Zippo lighter, a pile of paperback books, a bottle of ink, a tortoise-shell fountain pen, and a couple of marble-covered copybooks of the sort I write these memoirs in. Lying on top of one of these copybooks was a lined sheet of paper apparently torn from it or one of its fellows. I reached over the sleeping girl and picked up the paper, held it to the soft rippling light coming in from the small window:

See if you can get yourself out of this one, wiseguy!
Catch you later today, maybe.

Heh heh.

All the best,

Your pal,

Lucky

P.S. Fuck you.

(I have included that last line unexpurgated only in the interests of historical accuracy. I apologize in advance to you, dear Mother, if you have glanced into this copybook in which now I write, and, once again I respectfully ask you, for your own sake, please not to look into these writings of mine while “straightening up my room”.)

I folded up the sheet of paper, folded it again, and once more for good measure. Then, reaching over the sleeping girl, I slipped the paper into the copybook.

“Mmmpff,” said the girl, and brushing her hair from her eyes she turned onto her back and opened her eyes.

“Oh no,” she said.

“Pardon me?”

I didn’t know what else to say.

“We shouldn’t have,” she said. “I shouldn’t have.”

She reached down, grabbed the sheet, and pulled it up over her body, or at least up far enough to cover her breasts.

“You probably think I’m hideously hypocritical,” she said.

“No,” I said.

In fact I was thinking (among many other things) that she looked remarkably like the actress Natalie Wood, say around the time of Marjorie Morningstar.

“After all I practically threw myself at you,” she said.

“You did?”

“You don’t think I did?”

“Well, um, let me ask you this -- uh --”

I didn’t know her name.

“What?” she said.

I had to think quickly.

“By the way,” I said, “how do you prefer to be addressed?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I mean, do you have a nickname, or some diminutive --”

“LIke ‘Em’, or ‘Emmie’?”

“Uh, yeah --”

“No, I despise all those variations. Just call me Emily.”

“Emily.”

“Yes. Just Emily. What about you? What do you prefer to be called?”

“Me?”

“Yes, you, Porter. Mr. Porter Walker. Such a lovely name, a poet’s name.”

“Damn it.”

“What? What is it, Porter?”

Damn that Lucky. Damn him to hell. Which on second thought seemed a redundant thing to say.

“Porter, what is it?”

“Oh, never mind,” I said.

How could I tell her that she was only a character in a novel, in Miss Evans’s novel, and that I had become a character in it as well. And that the Devil himself had stuck me here.

“Porter, talk to me.”

At least she was the main character.

“You’re so mysterious, Porter, so moody.”

Holding the sheet over her bosom with one hand (and not very efficiently, either), she reached over and picked up the pack of Pall Malls from the end table. Well, at least they were my brand, in case I decided to take up smoking again, which the way things were going seemed quite possible.

“Mr. Walker! Mr. Walker!”

This was a heavily-accented woman’s voice, yelling from somewhere outside the room’s door.

“Yes?” I called somewhat tentatively. “Who is it?”

“It’s me, you meshuggenah, Mrs. Morgenstern! You’re wanted on the telephone!”

“Oh, okay,” I called. “I’ll be right there.”

So even in this world I was besieged by women.

“Who is it do you think?” asked Emily, lighting a cigarette with the Zippo, which was either the one I owned in my other life or one very much like it.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” I said, and truer words I have never spoken.

“You’d better get it. It may be important.”

I’ve not had a vast experience with the female sex, granted, but I have never understood the prompt readiness of the few women I have known to answer the telephone. I’ve never wanted to answer a telephone’s ring in my entire life. (Or in any of my lives.)

Emily, calmly smoking her cigarette, and still holding the sheet over her bosom, but less and less efficiently, obligingly pulled her legs up so that I could get out of the bed. I was so disconcerted that I barely had the presence of mind to be embarrassed by my nakedness, but still I was embarrassed. Fortunately I saw a pair of blue jeans on the floor by the bed, and I pulled them on without bothering to look for my boxer shorts. I saw a plaid workman’s shirt on the floor a few feet farther away and I put that on, too.

“Hurry back, Porter,” said Emily.

“Okay,” I said.

Where else was I going to go?

I went to the door through which Mrs. Morgenstern’s voice had passed, and into a rather dingy corridor. Not surprisingly, I didn’t see any telephone. But I heard voices down the hall, so I went toward them. I came to an open door, looked in to see a family sitting around a table, eating.

“Come in already,” said the woman who was at the table, her voice matching that of the disembodied Mrs. Morgenstern. I had imagined a middle-aged shrew for some reason, but she proved to be in her thirties. Also at the table was a man of about the same age, wearing a t-shirt, and a little boy and girl.

“Porter!” said the man. “The poet! Write any immortal poetry yet today?”

He also had a heavy accent.

“No,” I said, “not yet.”

“Ya lazy bum ya.”

“Get the phone, Porter,” said the woman.

“Where is it?” I asked.

Both the children burst into uproarious laughter.

“Don’t be funny, Mr. Wiseguy,” said Mrs. Morgenstern. “The phone is where it always is.”

Desperately I looked around the apartment, which, sadly, did not look too much bigger than mine, and I saw a black telephone on a small lace-covered table, the receiver off the hook.

I walked over, very much aware that I was barefoot, and picked up the receiver.

“Hello?” I said.

“Walker! That you?”

“I suppose so,” I said.

“I got one question. What’s your excuse?”

“My excuse?” Who was this, one of Lucky’s agents? “For what?”

“For what? For bein’ an hour late for work, asshole!”

“An hour?”

“You expect that cab to drive itself?”

“No,” I said.

“All right, tell ya what, Mr. Intellectual, don’t bother comin’ in at all, ever! You’re fired, got me? You still owe me for three gallons of gas, but tell ya what, we’ll make that your severance pay. And do not bother comin’ round askin’ for no second chance, neither.”

“Uh, okay,” I said.

“Fuck you very much, and goodbye!”

He hung up, whoever it was. I put the receiver back on its cradle.

“Everything okay, Porter?” said Mr. Morgenstern, or at least I presumed he was Mr. Morgenstern.

“Yes, fine,” I said.

“You want some kasha?”

“No thanks,” I said. “Thanks for the use of the phone.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“You want a sweet roll, Mr. Walker?” said Mrs. Morgenstern. “Cup of coffee?”

“No thanks,” I said.

I said thanks again to Mr. Morgenstern, and good morning to all, walked over to the door, went out and closed the door.

I headed back to my room.

Emily was still there, of course, but at least she had gotten dressed. She was sitting at the table reading from a sheath of typed paper, smoking a cigarette.

“Everything okay, Porter?”

“No, not really,” I said. “I got fired.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re too talented to be driving a cab. I’ve been reading your poem, you know, for my boss at Smythe’s.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes.”

She laid the sheet of paper she’d been reading face down on the stack in front of her and patted the stack’s sides to make it a nice neat cuboid.

“I think it’s the finest poem of our time.”

I said nothing.

“Would you like me to make you some breakfast, Porter?”

What could I say? I was ravenous.

“Yes, thank you,” I said.

(Continued here, an army of hungry fans demands it.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for what is allegedly an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, absolutely free of charge as per the mandate of the Arnold Schnabel Society {executors of the Arnold Schnabel estate} and their expressed wish to “share the joy”.)