Friday, August 27, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 214: the son

A wet hot night in the summer of 1957, and our hero Arnold Schnabel (in his current incarnation as “Porter Walker, romantic young poet), strolling along Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street with his new friend the talking fly, has just seen his old friend Josh (AKA the son of God) come stumbling involuntarily out of the San Remo Café...

(Click here to see our previous chapter. New arrivals may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning multi-volume memoir. “There are two worlds really: this so-called real world in which we toil and moil our tedious ways to the grave, and then there is that infinitely better, finer, and so much more interesting world -- I speak of course of Arnold Schnabel’s World.” -- Harold Bloom, in Better Homes and Gardens.)

“Go home and sleep it off, buddy!” yelled the voice from inside the bar.

“Sleep it off?” yelled Josh. “Sleep it off? I haven’t slept in over a thousand years!”

Well, that wasn’t strictly true, I thought. I had seen him passed out cold just the other night. But then that had been in the future, so maybe he was right after all.

“Wait,” said Josh, even though the door had already been slammed shut. “Let me think. No. Two. Two thousand years!” he yelled, at the closed door.

“Listen to this nut,” said the fly.

“Okay, look, be quiet,” I said.

Not meaning to, I had spoken aloud.

Josh looked over at me. I walked up to him.

“Arnold,” said Josh. “Or should I call you Porter?”

“Either one, I suppose,” I said.

“Did you tell me to be quiet?”

“No, I was -- uh -- talking to myself?”

“Hey, thanks a lot, pal,” said the fly, buzzing by my ear.

“Hey, wait, did you hear that?” said Josh.

“Uh, hear what?” I said.

“Like a little voice?”

“Um, no --”

“Ha ha,” said the fly.

“Wow,” said Josh, “I think I just heard --”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I said. I really don’t know why I was lying.

“Like a tiny voice --”

“No,” I said.


Okay. Lying to the son of God. But I just didn’t feel like going into the whole fly thing with him.

Josh stared at me, then his eyes closed, his head swayed on his neck, and for a moment I thought he was going to pass out. Then suddenly his eyes popped open again.

“Hey, Arnold, Porter, do you believe it, they threw me out of that place!” He turned back toward the entrance and yelled, “Hey!” but then he finally seemed to realize that the door was closed. After staring at it for thirty seconds he looked ready to yell something again anyway, but then he changed his mind and turned back to me. “So, how’s it going, Arnold?”

“Ha ha, this guy is plastered,” said the fly.

“Wait,” said Josh, “didn’t you hear something just then?”

“Uh, um --”

“Hey, what’s that?” he said, pointing to the damp floppy sheath of typescript I was still carrying around.

“Oh,” I said. “It’s my -- Porter’s -- epic poem.”

“Wow, no kidding, I’d like to read it.”

“Josh, I didn’t really write it.”

“Oh. Well, maybe it’s good anyway.”

“Ha ha, this guy slays me,” said the fly.

“What?” said Josh. “I thought I heard something again --”

He looked to the right, then to the left.

“Listen,” I thought, very firmly, as Josh continued to look all around, “listen, fly, will you please try to keep it down? I need to talk to this man.”

“Oh, all right, I’ll try,” said the fly. “If I really can’t hold it in I’ll just whisper in your ear, like.”

“Good. Great,” I said.

“What’s good?” said Josh. He was looking around on the pavement now. “What’s so great?”

“Oh, it’s just, uh, good that I’ve met up with you, Josh,” I said.

“Yeah, great. Hey, where’s my hat? I know I had a hat.”

His hat was still lying where it had landed, about five feet away on the pavement. I went over, picked it up, brushed it off, came back and handed it to him.

“Oh, thanks,” he said. “My hat.”

“You’re welcome.”

He plopped the hat on his head. As much as I hated to agree with the fly, there was no doubt that since I had seen Josh this afternoon he had gotten very drunk. His hat was on crooked, and his sandy locks were plastered to his forehead with sweat; his pale blue suit had gotten wrinkled and stained and cigarette-burned; the knot of his tie was loosened and askew, the top three buttons of his shirt were undone, and his shirttails were out. He had a big bruise on one cheekbone, and the beginning of a black eye on the other side of his face.

“So, what’s up?” he said.

“Well, I’m still stuck in this fictional universe, as you can see,” I said.

“Oh, right, of course. But outside of that, how are things?”

“Well, I guess they’re going okay,” I said.

“That’s great, really great.” He patted his pockets, then brought a crumpled pack of Pall Malls out of his side jacket pocket, and from his other pocket he brought out a lighter. “Cigarette, Arnold? Porter. Porter? Porter. Cigarette?”

“No, thanks,” I said. “I seem to have quit, even in this world.”

“Good for you, good for you.”

He shook the pack several times, staring at it. When one cigarette had emerged to what he deemed an acceptable length he popped it into his mouth, then put the pack away and began patting his pockets again. “Where’s my lighter? Think I lost my lighter. Or someone stole it.”

“Josh,” I said.


“You’re holding your lighter.”

“Oh, so I am.”

He clicked the lighter, it was a handsome one, a Ronson maybe, black enamel and gold. After four or five tries a flame ignited and stayed ignited, and he lit his cigarette.

He let out some smoke, looking contented, and said, “So, that’s really great,” he said.


“Well, you just said things were going great.”

“Well, I said they were going 'okay'. Considering.”


“Considering that I’m still trapped in the world of Miss Evans’s novel. Considering that I would like to return to my own world, to my own body. To my own life.”

“Oh. I see your point. Although some people might say you’d be better off in this world. I mean, look, you’re young, you're good-looking, you’ve got a big book contract -- I’ll tell you, all those bums in there are jealous of you. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso.”

“That was those guys I was talking to earlier?”

“Yeah, and William S. Burroughs. Author of Naked Lunch? I mean he hasn’t written it yet, but soon he will.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t really know who any of those guys are.”

“Not even Kerouac? On the Road? Jack Kerouac?”

“Well, I think I might have seen him on Steve Allen, now that you mention it,” I said.

“Yeah, that was him.”

“Okay, well, look, Josh, to be honest, I really don’t care, you know, I don’t care what they think of me.”

“Way to go, Porter. That’s how you should be.”

“And it may be stupid, but I’d still prefer to go back to my old life.”


“Yes, really.”

“Oh. Because of Elektra.”

“Well, yes, she -- that’s part of it. I’ll admit it. But I miss it all. My mother, my aunts --”

“Even Aunt Edith?”

“Yes, all of them, even my Cousin Kevin.”

“Even Miss Evans? And what about that really boring couple. The what, the Van Dorns?”

“The DeVores,” I said.

“Even them?”

“Listen, Josh, from what I’ve seen there are just as many boring and irritating people in this universe as there are in my old world. If not more.”

“Yeah, I guess they’re in every universe, huh?” he said.

“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “But, look, I really just want to --”

“Go back,” he said. “Okay, I get it.” He took a slow drag off his cigarette, looked up and down the street. “So, want to get a drink?”

“Ha, I like this guy,” said the fly.

“What,” said Josh. “Who said that? Did you hear something, Arnold, I mean Porter?”

“No, it was just the wind,” I said.

“Hee hee hee,” the fly giggled in my ear.

“So, what do you say?” said Josh. “One drink. Or two.”

“Listen, Josh, how about we talk about getting me out of here.”

“Yes. Yes, of course we’ll, uh, talk about that. But let’s have a drink while we’re talking.”



“Josh, look at you.”

“Look at me?”


He looked down at himself.

“Oh. Well, I did have a bit of a ruckus in there.”

He stuffed his shirttails into his pants, buttoned up his shirt, straightened his tie and tightened its knot.

“Better?” he asked.

“A little,” I said.

I don’t think Josh heard it, but the fly made a jocular noise in my ear, like those hissing sounds that boys make in the back rows of a classroom when one of their fellows has declared in catechism that there are three Gods.

“One beer,” said Josh. “One and done.”

“All right,” I said, not without misgiving. But I had to find a bathroom, either that or just duck in an alley somewhere, and I had a powerful thirst for beer myself.

“Okay, what’s a good bar to go to?” said Josh.

“I really don’t know,” I said.

“You don’t?”


“Oh, wait,” he said, “here come a couple girls.”


“We’ll ask them.”

Josh pointed behind me, and I turned.

“Oh, swell,” whispered the fly, in my ear. “Here come the bitches.”

It was Pat and Carlotta, walking down MacDougal toward us, Pat in her black dress, Carlotta in red, Carlotta swinging her umbrella like a drum majorette’s baton.

“Porter!” called Pat.

“Lover boy!” called Carlotta.

“Wow, you know these girls,” said Josh.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m impressed,” he said.

“Porter!” yelled Pat.

They drew closer.

“Lover boy!” yelled Carlotta.

“You have to introduce me,” said Josh.

“What an idiot,” whispered the fly.

“Quiet,” I thought. “Listen, he really is the son of God.”

“You’re fuckin’ kiddin’ me.”

“No,” I thought.


“Lover boy!”

“Sheesh,” whispered the fly. “So who knew the son of God liked to get his load on?”

(Continued here, and indefinitely as part of my court-mandated community service.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find an allegedly current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven© sponsored in part by the United States Army™. “Hey, it beats working at Mickey D’s!”)

Friday, August 20, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 213: the price

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel has been transformed by the Prince of Darkness into the intense but broodingly handsome young poet “Porter Walker”, a character in an all-but-forgotten novel called Ye Cannot Quench, by Gertrude Evans (author of Wasted Weekend; Cast Your Dreams to the Winds; She Gave Her All; and Tramp Steamer). Let’s rejoin our hero now on a sweaty night in the summer of 1957, on the sidewalk outside the Kettle of Fish, on Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, where he is in conversation with a fly...

(Click here to see our previous chapter, or, if you’ve finally finished Proust and are looking for another “project”, go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 67-volume memoir. ”With Arnold Schnabel North American literature can finally claim a genius on a level with Shakespeare, with Dante, with Homer (and I don’t mean Simpson either).” -- Harold Bloom, in The Family Circle.)

I said nothing, watching Betsy’s cab drive away up the glimmering wet street, off into her own world.

The fly was hovering near my face. Unconsciously I waved my hand at him. He flew up and away and then back, hovering again, but keeping at an arm’s-length distance.

“Yo, pal,” he said, “I asked you before, watch the swiping.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“Just be careful is all.”


“I mean you’re only like a thousand times bigger than I am.”

“I know.”

“Like pick on somebody your own size.”


“Well, no harm done,” he said. He flew a little closer. “Ya oughta put that money away.”

“Oh, right.”

I still held in my hand the money that Betsy had brought out for me, less the ten I had just given to the cabby. Four crumpled dollar bills. I shoved them into my jeans pocket.

“So, whaddaya say, pal? The night’s still young. Let’s get them drinks.”

“Yeah,” I said.

At the corner up ahead Betsy’s cab turned left, hissing though a puddle of rainwater, and then it was gone.

“What’s the matter?” said the fly. “Something’s bugging you. I can tell. I toldja, I used to be human.”

I sighed.

“I get it,” he said. “You’re in love with her, right? This Betsy frail.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said.

“Oh. Well, don’t take this the wrong way, and excuse me for saying the obvious, but you just met her, pal. I mean, I know we’re supposed to be in some broad’s goofy novel, and in novels and movies people are always falling in love at first sight, but come on, you barely even know that babe. Not that she ain’t good-looking and all, and perfectly charming, but, come on, grow the fuck up. She might turn out to be a bitch on wheels for all you know. I mean --”

“The thing is,” I said, “I do know her. In my other life. In the future, in the real world.”

“What you think of as the real world.”

“Granted,” I said.

“I see. But she don’t know that you know her. In your supposed, uh, real world. In the, um, future.”

“No,” I said.

“So -- correct me if I’m jumping to conclusions -- this guy she’s gonna meet whose life she’s gonna save, that’s you.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know it all sounds -- strange.”

“Hey, I’m a talking fly. Who am I to judge what is strange and what is not? But, look, what’re you gonna do, mope all night? Let’s get that drink.”

I really did want a drink, now that he mentioned it. The inside of my mouth tasted like shoe leather. Not that I had ever actually tasted shoe leather. But even more than wanting a drink --

“I really have to pee,” I said.

“So come on in, take a pee, and then let’s get a beer for Christ’s sake.”

I hesitated, the reason for my hesitation being that inside the Kettle of Fish were all those people who thought I really was Porter, all of them ready to clap me on the back and shout things in my ear and attempt to engage me in conversation. And Emily was still in there, undoubtedly more than willing to entangle me even more tediously in Miss Evans’s storyline. On the other hand I did want to talk to Gabriel about Josh and about getting me out of this world, but Gabe was playing his horn again, and who knew when he would take his next break?

“You’re thinking again,” said the fly. “I can smell the rubber burning. What’s the matter now?”

“The thing is,” I said, “I’m not so sure I want to go back in there.”

“Why not? They love you in that joint.”

“That’s the problem.”

I patted my pockets for cigarettes.

“You’re funny, pal.”

“I know.”

“So let’s go down the street to the San Remo.”

I remembered that I had given up cigarettes.

“Yeah, I guess we could,” I said.

“I do not see why not. Let’s bust a move, my friend.”

“Okay, then, let’s go to the San Remo,” I said.

“Now you’re talking, buddy.” We started walking down the sidewalk, or rather I walked and the fly flew. “I’m sick of them two anyway,” he said.


“Them bitches. That Pat. And that what’s her name, Carlotta.”

“I thought you liked Carlotta.”

“She’s a stuck-up bitch, just like that Pat dame.”

“I wouldn’t say she’s stuck up,” I said.

“Then she’s a lesbian. Her and Pat.”

I stopped for just a second, then started walking again.

“I very much doubt they’re lesbians,” I said.

“What do you know about it?” said the fly, zooming to just in front of my nose. “You ever met a lesbian?”

“Well, I don’t know --”

All I knew about lesbians was what I had read over the years in certain paperback novels which I would have never had the courage to buy myself but had found abandoned on or under the seats in passenger cars during my long career on the railroad. The covers of these books uniformly featured a pair of pretty young women, usually one blonde and one brunette, and if the stories didn’t take place in suburbia then it was true that the locale tended to be Greenwich Village.

“They’re a pair of lesbos,” said the fly.

“Well, maybe so,” I said.

“What?” said the fly. He buzzed even closer to my face.

“Nothing. Maybe you’re right.”

“About them being lesbos.”


“But you don’t think so.”

“I, um, really don’t know,” I said.

“You’re just trying to make me feel good.”

“Well, uh --”

“Couple o’ cock-teasers, ya ask me.”

“Look --”

I stopped walking. The fly had continued to fly along, but now he flew back and hovered in front of my face.

“What?” he said.

“Listen, I really prefer not to discuss women in this fashion.”

“Damn, you are a tight-ass. It ain’t like we’re talking right in front of them.”

“I know,” I said. “But still --”

“Oh. I get it.”


“I get it.”

“Get what?”

“Why you’re so -- what -- punctilious all of a sudden.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s ‘cause you and that Carlotta broad --”

“Okay --”

“’Cause you and that Carlotta played hide the salami once or twice, right? So now you’re being a gentleman.”

“Look, I just said I don’t want to discuss --”

“How was she, anyway?”

It was all I could do not to take another swipe at him. But he was right, I was at least a thousand times bigger than him, physically.

“Okay, look,” I said, “I’m sorry you didn’t get anywhere with Pat or Carlotta, I really am, but you have to understand, you’re a fly. Maybe you used to be a human being, but you’re a fly now.”

“That’s cold. That’s really cold, pal.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. You’re a fly. And women don’t like flies, that’s all there is to it.”

“Very cold.”

“Look, I sympathize.”

“Oh, yeah, sure. You’re a regular fount of sympathy.”

Some people came walking up the street toward us, a couple of girls, a couple of guys. I realized that I had been talking aloud to the fly.

I started walking again. The young people passed us. They were laughing, happy, a little drunk I suppose.

We approached the corner, the fly and I.

I could see the sign for Bleecker Street in the lamplight up ahead and on the corner to the left I recognized the exterior of the San Remo Café.

“Someday maybe you’ll be a fly,” said the fly.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Then you’ll know what it’s like.”


“Don’t get cocky.”

“I won’t.”

“No, wait, stop a second.”

“I have to pee.”

“I know you have to pee. Just stop a fucking second.”

I stopped.

“I mean it,” he said. “Don’t get cocky.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“Promise me.”

“I promise.”

“’Cause I got cocky.”

“Oh,” I said. “I mean, ‘Oh?’”

“Yeah, I got cocky. And look where it landed me.”

“I see.”

“I’m a fucking fly now.”


“So I’m just sayin’.”

“Don’t get cocky,” I said. “I mean me, I shouldn’t get cocky.”

“That’s right,” he said.

“So, can we, uh, move on now?”

“Sure. That’s all I wanted to say.”

I started walking again, and the fly was quiet, for the time being.

Then I heard shouting from directly ahead.

We had almost reached the corner, and I saw a fellow staggering out of the entrance, looking as if he weren’t leaving of his own volition.

Sure enough I heard someone yell, “And stay the fuck out!” and a straw trilby hat came flying out and landed on the pavement.

The man who had come stumbling out of the bar straightened up and turned to face the entrance.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve!” he yelled. “You know who you’re dealing with? The son of God, that’s who!”

It was Josh.

(Continued here, and at this rate approximately up to the year 2050.)

(Please refer to the right hand side of this page to find a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, free, gratis and for nothing, thanks in part to the continued support of Noxzema™. “We are not responsible if you leave the cap off and your dog eats our fine product.”)

Friday, August 13, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 212: the kiss

Let’s return to a rainy hot night in the summer of 1957, and to that Greenwich Village hotspot the Kettle of Fish, where our hero Arnold Schnabel has been wowing the crowd with his “jazz poetry” in his present incarnation as “Porter Walker, handsome brooding poet”, a character in Gertrude Evans's Ye Cannot Quench, a novel which was disdained by most critics upon its release in 1960, but which has since garnered a small but fervent cult following...

(Please go here to read our previous episode; click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 79-volume memoir. "I await each new installment with bated breath.” -- Harold Bloom, in Redbook.)

A beer sounded very good. My flesh still oozed with sweat from every pore, my mouth felt and tasted as if I had been gargling with sand, I was both exhausted and exhilarated, as if I had managed finally to lose that pack of bloodhounds and crawl out of the swamp to the possible escape route of a dark unpaved country road.

“All right,” said the fly, “soon as the applause settles down a bit, say something clever, take your bow and make it for the bar. Oh, don’t forget to thank the band and ask the audience to remember to tip the waitresses and bartenders, on accounta ya get more free drinks that way.”

“Okay,” I said, aloud, not meaning to speak aloud. Of course the audience thought I was addressing them and not a humanoid insect in my ear, and they took this single word as an invitation to cheer and shout even more vociferously.

“I, uh, thank you very much,” I said into the microphone.

“More! More! More!” cried my audience.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I, uh, I, um --”

“More! More! More!”

“Um,” I said.

“More! More!” they yelled. A few even yelled the old standby “Go, daddy-o!” again.

What was the matter with these people? What was so enthralling about listening to someone spout nonsense? It occurred to me that I had rarely in my life ever really wanted to listen to anyone speak, not even Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, not even Jackie Gleason or John F. Kennedy, or Jack Paar or Steve Allen, not even Oscar Levant, or --

“Come on, pal,” said the fly, “say thank you and good night and get off the goddam stage. I’m gettin’ thirsty here.”

“Uh,” I said. And followed this, after a pause, with another “Um”.

“More! More! Go, daddy! Go!”

I felt a tap on my arm. It was Freddy, leaning toward me on his stool, still playing his accordion.

“Do you want to do another number, Porter?”

I leaned down toward him.

“I’d prefer not to,” I said.

He nodded.

The crowd continued to shout and yell.

“Better let me handle it,” said Freddy.

Playing his accordion all the while, he nimbly got up off his stool, came over next to me, and, rising up on his toes, he took the microphone in one hand and angled it downward to accommodate the reality of his mouth being about eight inches closer to the ground than mine.

“Thank you so much, everyone,” he said. “We’re going to take a very short break now --”

“No! No! No!” shouted various people.

“But we’ll be back before you can say Jack Robinson!” said Freddy. “Now let’s have another big hand for the voice of his generation, Mr. Porter Walker!”

The applause and the shouting and whistling rose up like a great clamorous wave and crashed down over me.

What happened in the next several minutes was rather confusing, and I will spare the reader (in other words I will spare myself) any detailed attempt to describe what occurred during them except to say that like Marciano leaving the ring after handily KO-ing yet another opponent I was jostled and shouted at and screamed at, my shoulders and back were pounded heartily, people yelled things in my ear which I could not decipher, I was hustled and shoved and pushed, and finally I found myself in a small cramped storeroom at the back of the bar with Freddy, Ursula, Magda, Gabriel and the bongo player.

“Pull up a beer box, Porter,” said Gabriel, reaching into an inside pocket and taking out a hand-rolled cigarette. The others all had cigarettes going already.

“Yeah, take a load off, handsome,” said Ursula. She had taken a seat on a beer keg, her feet dangling a foot above the floor. Like the others, except for her pianist granddaughter Magda, she had brought her instrument into the room with her, and she was dipping her saxophone's disconnected mouthpiece into what looked like a glass of whiskey. “You look, how do you say, ‘all in’,” she said.

“Yeah, I guess I am a little,” I said, wishing I had my own glass of whiskey. And a beer. Then I remembered: “Oh, but wait -- I left my -- uh -- my friend out there --”

“Maintain, my man,” said Gabriel, lighting his cigarette with his slim gold lighter. “Charlie’s getting her.”


“The bass man.” He held the lit cigarette out toward me. “Here, have a smoke, man --”

“Oh, wait, is that --”

“It’s primo, man, go ahead.”

He slowly exhaled smoked through his nostrils.

“I really shouldn’t.”

“Why, pray tell?”

He took a much deeper draw on the reefer while awaiting the telling of my excuse.

“Because time tends to disappear when I smoke marijuana.”

“Yes,” he said, holding in the smoke. “I dig that. But why don’t you want to smoke some? I told you, man, it’s primo.”

“But,” I said, “time is all we have. If time disappears it’s as if we didn’t even exist. For a time.”

“You sound like you’re already stoned,” said the bongo player. It was the first time I’d heard him speak. He sounded familiar, and now that I thought about it he looked familiar. “Give me a toke, Gabe.”

Gabriel handed him the reefer, finally exhaling an enormous cloud of smoke as he did so.

“You weren’t so uptight the other night, handsome,” said Ursula.

“Not by a long shot,” said Magda.

So, as usual, Porter’s antics were dogging my trail.

“Maybe Porter’s still high from that night,” said Freddy. He was sitting with his legs crossed on a stack of Canada Dry ginger ale boxes.

“Never saw a man smoke so much reefer in my life,” said Ursula. “And that includes Bob Mitchum.”

“Whoa,” said the bongo man, his eyes widening.

“What’d I say?” said Gabriel. “Primo.”

The bongo guy slowly let out his own cloud of smoke, and, despite my former protestations, or perhaps because he had forgotten them already, he extended the reefer in my direction, but Magda took it. In the meantime Gabriel had produced another reefer from an inner pocket and lit it up. After taking another good draw he handed it to Ursula.

“Thank you, Gabe,” she said. “I was beginning to feel like chopped liver over here.”

Gabriel was still holding in his fresh lungful of smoke, all the while looking me in the eyes.

“I dug your poetry, man.”

“Oh, thank you,” I said.

He pursed his lips and gently emitted a series of smoke rings in my direction.

Magda reached through her own self-created fog of smoke and passed her reefer to Freddy.

“That was some heavy shit,” she said.

“I told y'all it was primo, lady,” said Gabriel.

“No, man,” said Magda. “I mean Porter’s poetry was some heavy shit.”

“Oh, dig,” said Gabriel.

“But your shit is heavy too,” she said.

“Dig that, too,” said Gabriel.

Ursula passed the reefer she had been smoking to me. Without thinking, or perhaps I should say thinking even less than the little I normally think, I took the reefer and drew deeply on it.

The door to the storeroom opened, and Betsy stood there with the enormous bass-player looming behind her with his bass fiddle.

“Go on in, little lady,” said the bass man.

Sure enough, time disappeared again, and of the next patch of experience I remember little but that small dank smoke-filled storeroom, the one electric light bulb in the brownish-yellow ceiling, the faces of the musicians, the smell of beer and tobacco and marijuana, and the touch of Betsy’s fingers on the back of my hand as we sat side by side on some cardboard beer boxes.

Then Betsy and I were leaving the storeroom by a back door and walking a few steps down a dark cobbled alley. I pushed open a wrought-iron gate and we went out to the sidewalk.

“Oh, wait,” she said. She was carrying her furled umbrella, and she put this under her arm, opened up her purse, took out some money.

“Here, I got your change you left on the bar. I gave the bartender a tip for you.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said, and I took the bills. I realized I was still toting around my ream of epic poetry. The pages were damp with sweat.

“The subway’s down this way,” said Betsy, gesturing to her left.

“No,” I said.

“What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“I mean --” What did I mean? “I mean, don’t take the subway. Let me put you in a cab at least. Look, look at all the money I have.”

“Porter, I take the subway all the time. Save your money.”

“No, please, let me --”

I wanted to do something for her.

“I live all the way up on West 72nd, so let me just take the subway. You can walk me to the stop.”

This actually sounded like a good idea. A romantic walk through Greenwich Village to the nearest subway entrance. But there was one little problem. I suddenly realized I had to go to the bathroom. What could I do?

“I insist on putting you in a cab,” I said.

“Aren’t you gallant?”

She looked so beautiful and kind, looking up into my eyes with her dark eyes. It wasn’t raining any more, although it was still warm outside. From the bar’s entrance I heard jazz music, Gabriel’s trumpet playing a solo, it sounded like, like what?

“It sounds like licorice,” I said.


“Gabriel’s trumpet. It sounds like licorice.”

She cocked her head, listening, I fell in love with her all over again.

“Licorice,” she said. “The black kind?”

“The red kind,” I said. “I haven’t had it since I was about fourteen, but I remember being very fond of it, when I had a penny to buy some. But that’s what it sounds like. Licorice, the red kind.”

“You’re so high, man.”

“That’s true,” I said.

A car horn beeped.

I turned. A yellow cab had stopped.

“Oh, wait,” I yelled, too loud, to the cab driver. I turned back to Betsy. I wanted to touch her but I still held the money in one hand and my poem in the other.

“Listen,” I said.

Her dark eyes with the gleam of the streetlamp in them were like all the comfort that the world could hold.

“I’m listening,” she said.

“I may never see you again.”

“You’re going somewhere?”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I want you to know.”

Her mouth opened slightly and I wanted more than anything to kiss her.

“What do you want me to know?” she said.

“Someday you’ll meet a man, and you will save his life. You will make him live after a lifetime of only halfway living.”

“You’re very strange, Porter.”

“I know.”

The cabby beeped his horn again.

Betsy rose up on her toes, and, putting her hands on my arms, she kissed me on the mouth, just briefly, then she looked at me.

“Good night, crazy man,” she said.

“Good night, Elektra.”


“I mean Betsy. Good night, Betsy.”

“You’re very strange.”

“I know.”

She touched my cheek.

I turned, walked over to the cab, leaned in. It was the same cab driver I had had earlier that day, which didn’t surprise me.

“Hey, the poet,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Hi. Listen, take the lady home, okay? West, uh --”

“72nd,” said Betsy.

“72nd,” I said.

I put my poem under one arm, and with my right hand I took a ten out of my left hand and gave it to the driver. He whistled.

“Anything you say, buddy.”


I turned back to Betsy.

“Good night,” I said.

“Crazy man,” she said.


I remembered to open the taxi door for her. She got in, and I closed the door.

She looked at me. I looked at her. But neither of us said anything.

The cab driver put the car in gear and drove away. With the hand that held the rest of the money I awkwardly waved, although I could tell Betsy wasn’t looking back at me.

“Very nice,” said the fly. “Really touching, pal. Now, can we get that drink?”

(Continued here, regardless of the advice of legal counsel.)

(Kindly cast an eye to the right hand side of this page to find what should be an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Sponsored in part by Barbasol™: “Nine out of ten hep-cats use Barbasol™ when shaving their heads!”)

Friday, August 6, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 211: encore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, not literally,” called Ralph Edwards.

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

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

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

“Like who?”

“You, know, Bird, Diz.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She writes like shit,” said the fly.

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

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

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

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

“Let the bitch know who’s boss, pal!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know,” I said, in my mind.

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

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

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


“So go crazy already.”

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

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

I stopped speaking.

The musicians behind me played on, played around me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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