Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mary Dolores "Dolly" Leo, 1929-2010

My mother, Mary Dolores “Dolly” Leo, was born Oct. 4, 1929, right into the beginning of the Great Depression. Her mother died when she was still a child, her father was was an amiable but alcoholic bartender. She grew up very poor in North Philadelphia, with nine siblings.

I live in Philadelphia, but twice a year I would go to go visit my mother in her little cottage in Cape May Court House, New Jersey. I’d usually stay from Monday through Friday, and we wouldn’t do much. We’d sit together and read. When we felt like talking we would talk, when we didn’t feel like talking we wouldn’t. Often she would have her TV shows on. In the morning it was Regis and Kelly, The View, later it would be Oprah, at night it would be the cop shows, CSI, NCIS. I would take long walks along her road, then I’d come back, we would read, take naps, watch TV, talk when we felt like talking. She did most of the talking, which was fine by me.

She would talk about her Dickensian childhood. It sounded awful to me, it was awful, but she wasn’t looking for sympathy, to her it was just talking, remembering. She talked about meeting my father, their working-class courtship. My dad was a young World War II vet who’d lost his leg in Europe, he was at loose ends apparently, getting by on the GI bill and his disability pension, not worrying too much about a regular job. They got married when she was eighteen, and within a year they had their first child. My dad settled down. At first he worked in a shop that made artificial legs like the one he wore, then he became a tool-grinder.

The family eventually settled in the Olney section of Philadelphia, in a rowhome at 431 W. 65th Avenue. My mother moved with my younger sister from the old neighborhood to Cape May, NJ in 1981.

I live in downtown Philly, but a couple of years ago or so I started going up to the old neighborhood occasionally with a friend to eat at Kim’s Korean BBQ on 5th Street. On several occasions I took my friend on long walks through the old streets, just soaking it all up.

When I would go to visit my mom I would talk about these walks through the old hood, and we would open up the memories. Nothing special, nothing all that unusual, just the memories of a quiet working-class Philly neighborhood.

I treasure those many hours I spent alone with my mom in her cottage, just sitting, reading, watching TV, talking when we felt like talking, being quiet when we felt like being quiet.

My mother was an ordinary woman in most ways. But in the most important ways she was extraordinary. She was liberal in the very best sense: she believed in doing for others. She was the most completely unselfish person I’ve ever met. She loved children, and she loved adults until they proved themselves unlovable. She gave her entire life over to her family and to her friends, to her children, to her grandchildren, to her great-grandchildren. She was the undoubted center of the extended family, and the entire family loved her. If the world was filled with people like her then there would be no wars. There would be good food, there would be lots of cookies and pies and cakes, there would be family and friends, there would be cigarettes and drinks, there would be lots of talk. There wouldn’t be very much talk about love, but there would be a lot of love.

She died very suddenly in her beloved little cottage, and this is the way she wanted to go. We always had a long talk on the phone every week, and I got the word of her death just as I was about to call her up for our usual chat. Our last words to each other had been a mutual “I love you”.

I’ll miss her to the end of my life.

(I was trying to think of some of the odd records in our little LP library back on 65th Avenue: Hank Williams, Dinah Washington, Eddy Arnold, Marty Robbins, Babatunde Olatunji's "Drums of Passion", Mitch Miller's "Sing Along" albums...then I remembered Ruby Murray, and this song. It's called "If You're Irish Come, Into The Parlour", but with my mom it would have been more like, "If You're A Good Person, Come Into The Parlour"...)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 222: guys at a bar

The Prince of Darkness has vindictively transmogrified our hero Arnold Schnabel into “Porter Walker”, a handsome but somewhat tediously passionate bohemian poet featured in Ye Cannot Quench (Alfred A. Knopf, 1960 -- #72 on Cosmopolitan’s “Romantic Novels to Cuddle Up With on a Cold Winter’s Night”) by Gertrude Evans (author of numerous other bestsellers such as The Song of the Panda; The Refrigerator Repairman; Stopover in Sebastopol; and What a Pickle.)

Let’s rejoin Arnold (or Porter if you will) and his friend (and alleged personal savior) Josh in the back bar of a mysterious Greenwich Village boîte called “Valhalla”, on this momentous rainy night in the summer of 1957...

(Click here to read our preceding episode; go here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume memoir. “What a piece of work was Arnold Schnabel. How noble in his lack of reason? How infinite in his somewhat impaired faculties?” -- Harold Bloom, in Man’s Adventure.)

“Wow,” said Josh, “the chicks really dig you, Porter. So, are you going to meet her outside in five?”

“Somehow I don’t think I should,” I said.

“She’ll be upset if you don’t.”

“Let’s get a beer,” I said.

We went over to the bar, found a couple of empty stools. Josh pulled out a roll of twenty-dollar bills, peeled one off and laid it down.

“So, you want a shot, Porter?”

“Just a beer, Josh, thanks.”

The bartender came over and asked us what we wanted.

“Well, I think I’d like a Manhat-” Josh started to say, but I cut him off.

“Two bottles of Falstaff, please,” I said. “No glasses.”

“Oh, okay,” said Josh. “But I think I’ll also have a shot of --”

“Just the beers, please,” I said to the bartender.

“But --” said Josh, looking at me.

“Just two Falstaffs, please,” I reiterated.

The bartender looked from me to Josh and back to me again.

“Two Falstaffs?”

“Yeah, just two Falstaffs, thanks,” I said.

“Whatever you say, pal.”

Josh looked at me as the bartender went for the beers.

“Just beer?”

“Just beer, Josh. You’ve already gotten beat up once tonight.”

He paused for just a moment, but then said, “Well, okay. I suppose you’re right.”

“I know I am,” I said.

“But y’know, Porter, that -- altercation -- wasn’t entirely my fault.”

“I know,” I said. “It was nine or ten Manhattans’ fault.”

“Well, actually I only had maybe five Manhattans. But I did have several glasses of Rheingold. And a couple of shots of Old Forester.”

“I rest my case,” I said.

The bartender brought us our beers, took away Josh’s twenty. We both took swigs of beer. The band was playing “Hard Times Come Again No More” now, still at a frenetic pace. The bartender brought Josh back his change. Josh picked up a five and handed it back to the man.

“Keep ‘em comin’,” he said.

“Thank you, sir!” said the bartender, and he went away again.

“But really, it was that Hemingway guy,” said Josh.

“What?” I said. “Who?”

“Ernest Hemingway. Please don’t tell me you don’t know who Ernest Hemingway is.”

“I know who he is,” I said, somewhat defensively I suppose, since I couldn’t recall actually having read any of his books.

“He took umbrage just because I suggested that The Old Man and the Sea was not his best work. I don’t know, I just prefer the early stories, and The Sun Also Rises. You’d think a guy his age could take some constructive criticism.”

“I don’t think anyone really likes to be criticized, Josh, constructively or not, no matter how old they are.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Sad, really. You know he’s going to commit suicide in a few years.”



“Oh, right,” I said. Even I knew that. “But wait.”


“We’re in 1957, right?”

“That is correct.”

“I mean, in this fictional world we’re in it’s 1957.”


“And those people in the other place, the San Remo -- Jack Kerouac, Allen what’s-is-name --”



“And the guy in the grey suit.”

“BIll Burroughs.”

“And the curly-haired little guy --”

“Gregory Corso.”

“Yeah, and now this Hemingway guy --”

“Mean drunk, Porter. Mean.”

“Yeah, okay, but here’s the thing. Those guys are all real people. Real people who were alive in 1957.”

“Yeah -- so?”

“And also, in that Kettle of Fish place I ran into some other real people who weren’t dead.”

“Yeah? Like who?’

“Um, Edward R. Murrow, John Cameron Swayze, Ralph Edwards --”

“Who’s Ralph Edwards?”

“He’s the host on This Is Your Life?”

“Oh, him, okay, go on.”

“And there was this other guy, what was his name, Bunny, Bunny Wilson --”

“Edmund Wilson?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Kind of a bald fat guy? Bit of a name-dropper?”

“Yeah, that’s him,” I said.

“Okay, so, uh, and your point is --?”

“Well, if these guys are all real, and not dead, like Sam, and Henry James and those guys --”

“Emily too.”

“Emily? What -- you mean the girl who’s the heroine of Miss Evans’s novel?”

“No. I mean Emily the waitress. The one who just handed you a mash note. Dickinson. Lady poet? ‘Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me? The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality?’ Surely you’ve heard of her, Porter?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, not that I was familiar with her oeuvre, her not being a murder mystery authoress and all.

“I would think you two might get along pretty well. You both have somewhat shall we say -- unusual outlooks on life --”

“Yeah, maybe, but here’s the thing, Josh, I get it how these dead authors are here in this fictional universe, but how come these living writers are here? Like this Hemingway guy.”

“But he committed suicide.”

“Yeah, but not until 1960 or so, right?”

“1961 I think.”

“Right. So he’s still alive in 1957.”

“Yeah -- so?”

“So what’s he doing in Miss Evans’s universe? I mean if he’s a real living person and not a fictional character or a dead author.”

“Oh.” He took out his cigarettes, offered me the pack out of force of habit I suppose. I shook my head, and he put a cigarette between his lips, but he didn’t take out his lighter. He seemed to be thinking. I let him think.

The bartender came over with a Zippo, gave Josh a light.

“Everything satisfactory, sir?”

“Yeah, sure, fine,” said Josh. “Y’know, you look familiar. May I ask your name?”

“Thomas Wolfe, sir.”

“Oh, right. Homeward Bound --”

“Pardon me?”

“Your first book. Homeward Bound?”

“Well, actually it was Look Homeward, Angel, sir.”

“Oh. Right, right, sorry! Great book. Great -- did you read that one, Porter?”

“Um, uh --”

“You should pick it up. Really great novel.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Thomas Wolfe.

“My name’s Josh,” said Josh, offering his hand, and Thomas Wolfe, after wiping his hand on his apron, shook Josh’s hand. “And this is Porter,” said Josh. “Porter Walker. Porter’s a writer too. A poet.”

Seeing no alternative I shook Thomas Wolfe’s hand also.

“I’ve heard of you, Mr. Walker. You’re the talk of the Village literati.”

He did that thing where the other guy keeps holding onto your hand after you’ve shaken it. He was quite a big guy and it felt like my hand was stuffed inside an Easter ham.

“A twenty-five thousand advance from Smythe?” he said.

“Oh, no,” I said, “it’s --”

“A hell of a lot more than I got for Look Homeward.”

He finally released my hand, which was only slightly numb.

“But really,” I said, “it’s --”

“I’d wish you success, but I was successful after a fashion and look where it got me.”

“Well, uh --”

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter what anyone wishes, does it?”

“Um, no, I suppose not.”

“People’s wishes won’t make you write any better. Or worse.”

“No, I suppose not --”

“Success might make you write worse though.”

“Uh --”

“And so, not that it matters what I wish, I wish you a moderate success, just enough to pay the rent on a shabby Greenwich Village apartment and keep you in modest beer and grocery money. That’s the best I can do for you.”

“Well, thank you, uh --”

“Call me Tom. Or Wolfie. My friends call me Wolfie.”

“Okay, uh, Wolfie --”

Without another word he went away to wait on someone else.

Josh leaned over toward me.

Homeward Bound?” said Josh. “I’m so embarrassed. How did I get that wrong?”

“Well, at least you knew he was a writer,” I said.

“Yeah. Was. I think he was only about thirty-seven when he died, poor guy. Oh, but look, Porter, I was thinking about those living authors at the San Remo.”


“Here’s the thing. It looks to me like you’ve moved yourself into some entirely new realm.”

“I have?”

“Yeah. It’s like -- how can I put this? That bastard Lucky dumped you into Miss Evans’s novel, right?”


“But it appears you’ve been rewriting her novel from inside. You’ve pushed yourself clean out of its plot, and now you’re in this in-between world between fiction and reality.”

“Oh,” I said. “Great.”

“No, it is great, or, maybe not great, but good, better anyway. Because now you’re sort of writing your own novel, with yourself as the hero.”

“O,” I said, and then after a pause, “K.”

“So, the way I see it, maybe I can’t help you, but you can help yourself. All you’ve got to do is just write yourself back to your own world.”

I took a drink of beer.

“I wonder if I could get some paper and a pen here,” I said.

“I’m sure you could,” said Josh. “This is literary Valhalla, remember?”

He raised his hand in the direction of the bartender, this Thomas Wolfe, and the fellow was back before us in a flash. Amazing what a five-dollar tip will accomplish.

“Tom,” said Josh, “I wonder if we could get some paper and a pen.”

“Certainly, sir. Any preference? We’ve got some really nice Japanese hosho. Or maybe you’d like some genuine Jewish parchment made from the skin of kosher goats under the supervision of a certified rabbi?”

“Just regular paper,” I said.

“Of course, sir. Lined or unlined.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Some nice twenty-pound bond?”

“Uh --”

“I used to write my novels longhand in these great big business ledgers. I could run back to the office here and see if I could find you an unused one --”

“How about just a fresh cocktail napkin or two?”

“Oh. Sure. Any preference for the pen? How about a nice goose-feather quill?”

“Just a regular pen, or a pencil, it doesn’t matter.”

“Better go for a pen, Porter,” said Josh. “A little more permanent.”

“Okay, a pen,” I said.

“Fountain or ballpoint?” asked Thomas Wolfe.


“Parker, Sheaffer or Waterman?”

“Whatever’s quickest,” I said.

“Here, take my Parker.”

He took a pen from his pocket, removed the cap, stuck it back on the barrel of the pen, and handed the pen to me.

“Thank you,” I said.

“You’re quite welcome, sir.”

He reached under the bar and brought up a small stack of the beverage napkins with cartoons on them and placed them in front of me.

“Do you feel a poem coming on, sir?”

“Not exactly,” I said.

“A bit of prose then.”

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s best to strike while the iron is hot. If you’ll forgive the cliché. One never knows when inspiration may come. Or disappear. Perhaps forever.”

“Well, thanks,” I said.

“And then of course comes the day when one oneself disappears. Forever. Banished from the land of the living. To this place.”

Now I was starting to feel sorry for him. I still wanted him to shut up and go away, but I felt sorry for him.

“This place doesn’t seem so bad,” I said.

“Maybe not to you, sir. You can get up and leave whenever you want.”


“Not that I’m complaining.”

“Oh, no, of course not --”

“It could be worse. I could be down in the sub-basement with the really boring writers.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“Well -- write well, sir.”

“I’ll try to.”

“Not that it matters what I say,” he said.

“Hey, Tom, how about a drink down here,” yelled a guy a few seats down the bar.

“Keep your shirt on, Sinclair,” said Tom, Thomas Wolfe, whoever he was, maybe I’d look up one of his books if I ever made it home again. He leaned forward towards me and Josh and said in a low voice:

“Sinclair Lewis. Only writer I ever met who could drink me under the table.”

“Tom! I’m dyin’ of thirst over here!”

“All right, hold your horses,” said Tom, and he finally went away.

“You’d better start writing,” said Josh. “This place is crazy.”

“I fully intend to, this very second,” I said.

I took the first cocktail napkin off the pile. Two guys at a bar...

“Oh, hi, Porter, fancy running into you here.”

I turned around. It was that Nicky guy. The one I had thought was Lucky. He did look like Lucky. But he had said he was just Nicky, a publicist. And he had lent me twenty bucks. I guessed he couldn’t be all bad.

(Continued here, come hell or high water.)

(Please see the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other publicly-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode made possible in part by a generous grant from the Amalgamated Tea Party of America™: “Hey, all we want is for everything to be the way it was back in 1910. Are we to be despised for this?”)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 221: meet me

Bad news for our hero Arnold Schnabel: his friend and would-be personal savior Josh has just admitted to being powerless to help Arnold escape from the fictional universe in which he has been marooned by the Prince of Darkness...

(Go here to see our previous episode; click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 43-volume memoir. “I used to think Joyce and Proust were hot stuff. I used to think that Cormac McCarthy and Saul Bellow were great American writers. And then one day in Ballin’s drugstore on Lincoln Avenue I saw on a revolving rack of budget-priced paperbacks the first volume of Arnold Schnabel’s epic masterwork, and after that all was changed, changed utterly.” -- Harold Bloom, in the Family Circle.)

“Try not to be upset, Porter,” said Josh. “Or would you prefer I call you Arnold? At least when others aren’t around? Would that make you --”

“I don’t care, Josh,” I said.

I saw Emily, standing near the bar, her cocktail tray under her arm, her arms folded. She was looking at the dancers, or at least looking in their direction. The band was playing “I Dream of Jeanie” now, but at a furious pace, and Pat and Edgar and Sam and Carlotta and some other people were all dancing what looked like the rhumba to it. Edgar had his cigar in one hand and his decorative beer stein in the other. Sam danced with his cigar clenched between his teeth, his hands raised above his grey head. Walt had joined the band, accompanying them on a jew’s harp and stamping his feet.

“You’d better wave to her if you want a drink,” said Josh.

“She’s not even looking this way,” I said.

“Do you want me to go over and get her?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think she would like that.”

“But she’s a waitress,” he said. “It’s her job to get people drinks.”

“I know,” I said.

“Excuse me!” This was a guy who was sitting at the next table, behind Josh. “Excuse me.”

The guy was all the way turned around in his chair, and leaning toward our table. I hate that. I hate it when people at other tables in bars have to stick their noses in your business. And not only this guy, but the other three people at his table were also all looking at me and Josh.

“I beg your pardon,” the guy said, loudly. “I couldn’t help over-hearing.”

They always say this, too. With all this blaring music, and with me and Josh conversing in normal tones, perhaps even less than normal, this guy still couldn’t help over-hearing. Right.

Josh had turned around in his seat so he could look at the man, who was somberly dressed and had rather long hair, but nothing surprised me any more in this place.

“Yes?” said Josh.

“Don’t mean to intrude,” the man said, intruding.

“Oh, no,” said Josh, “that’s perfectly, uh, you know –”

“Couldn’t help it,” said the man.

“Oh,” said Josh.


The guy was speaking very loudly, because of the music one would suppose, but he was also speaking louder than necessary.

“About your friend’s difficulty,” he said.

Loud, as if Josh and I were in a boat on a stormy sea and this guy was in a passing boat, hailing us.

“His little difficulty,” he repeated, just in case all the people in the rest of the room hadn’t heard him.

“Oh,” said Josh. “Do you know the waitress?”


“Do you know the waitress,” said Josh. “Do you think you could get her attention without getting her upset?”

“What, Emily?”

“Yeah,” said Josh. “My friend Porter would like another beer.”

“Oh,” said the man. “Well – I know her, sure. But I don’t know about getting her attention. No, I would just wait if I were your friend. She’s bound to come by your table sooner or later.”

“Oh,” said Josh, as in Oh, well, thanks for nothing, Nosey Parker.

Josh started to turn back around towards me, but the man called, “I wasn’t talking about your friend’s difficulty in getting a beer.”

Josh turned and looked at the fellow again.


“No. I was talking about his other difficulty.”

“You heard all that?” said Josh.

“I heard enough.”

“You have awfully good hearing.”

“Well, I was turned around looking at the band, you see, and at the dancers.”

“Oh, okay,” said Josh.

“May I say something?”

Josh darted me a look, which the man couldn’t see, a look which said, “Do we have a choice?” Then he said to the man, “Sure, go ahead.”

“Oh, by the way, my name is Jonathan, Jonathan Edwards.” When Josh didn’t say anything right away the man said, “The Reverend Jonathan Edwards? Theologian?”

“Theologian,” said Josh.

“18th century? The Great Awakening? Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners?”

“Oh, that Jonathan Edwards,” said Josh. “Of course.”

Josh, so unfailingly polite, now got up from his seat so that he could shake hands with this fellow, who didn’t bother to get up.

“My name’s Josh.”

“Pleased to meet you, Josh,” said the Reverend Edwards, shaking Josh’s hand. “And this is Mistress Bradstreet.” Josh shook hands with this lady, who was sitting next to the Reverend.

“Very pleased to meet you, sir,” said the lady. Like the Reverend she was dressed almost entirely in black, with a few touches of grey or white here and there to relieve the monotony.

“And this is Dr. Franklin,” said the Reverend, gesturing to a bald fat man with long grey hair growing from the sides and back of his head, and wearing rectangular wire-rim glasses. He at least half-rose from his seat as Josh leaned awkwardly over the table to shake his hand.

“Call me Ben,” said Dr. Franklin. He was chewing, and in his left hand he held what looked like a pastrami-on-rye.

“Hi, Ben,” said Josh.

“And last but far from least, that’s Mrs. Wharton.”

This was a very distinguished-looking lady with a very big hat and a veil.

Josh leaned all the way across the table to shake her hand too.

“Call me Edie,” she said to Josh. She was smoking a cigarette in the longest holder I’d ever seen.

“Very pleased to meet you, Edie.”

“And what’s your quiet friend’s name over there?” she said.

“Oh,” said Josh, still standing. “That’s Arnold.”

“Arnold,” said Mrs. Wharton, Edie, whatever she wanted to go by.

“Arnold Schnabel,” said Josh.

“I thought I heard him called Porter.”

“Damn!” said Josh. “I mean, darn, sorry.”

“Quite all right, young man. I lived many years in France. I am no Puritan.”

“I’m a Puritan,” said Mistress Bradstreet.

“I’m really terribly sorry,” said Josh.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” said Mistress Bradstreet.

“I keep doing that,” said Josh.

“What, cursing in front of ladies?” said Reverend Edwards.

“No,” said Josh, “I mean, yeah, that too maybe. But I keep saying my friend’s name is Arnold Schnabel. And it’s not. His name is Porter. Porter Walker.”

All four of them called out variations of “Hello, ‘Porter’”.

I waved in a vague way to their table, but I didn’t get up or say anything. I had met enough weird people for one night, for one lifetime, for two lifetimes.

“But is his name really ‘Porter Walker’?” said this Mrs. Wharton.

“What? Sure it is. He’s a, uh, a poet –”

“Handsome brooding romantic poet?” she said.

“Uh, yeah, heh heh.”

“Very handsome,” said Mistress Bradstreet. “I’m a poet, too, by the way.”

“So, you’ve got yourself in a bit of a pickle, Porter,” said Reverend Edwards, smiling.

“Could be worse,” said Ben. He had finished his sandwich, and now he was eating some potato chips.

“Here’s what you need to do,” said the Reverend.

“Oh, great, here it comes,” said Ben.

“Mr. Josh,” said Mrs. Wharton, “please sit.”

“Oh, okay,” said Josh, and he sat down, but kept himself turned in his seat towards the table of intruders.

“What you need to do,” said Reverend Edwards, to me, “is to pray to your Lord and Savior.”

“Okay, here we go,” said Ben, and he picked up a great metal flagon.

“No, seriously,” said Reverend Edwards. “It really works. Prayer.”

“Right,” said Ben, and he took a drink of whatever he was drinking.

“No, don’t listen to Ben, he’s a skeptic. I’m telling you it works,” said the Reverend. “I mean, sometimes it works.”

“Right,” said Ben, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. “It works except when it doesn’t work.”

“Hey, I’m only trying to help the kid,” said the Reverend.

“Do him a favor,” said Mrs. Wharton, “don’t do him any favors.”

“I shall write a poem for him,” said Mistress Bradstreet. She reached across the table and grabbed one of Ben’s potato chips. “In my poem he shall achieve his goal.”

“Yeah, a poem will help him,” said Ben. “By the way, Mistress Bradstreet, just help yourself to my potato chips.”

“I don’t see what harm a little prayer can do,” said the Reverend Edwards.

“No harm,” said Ben, “no harm at all. It’ll waste his precious time but it probably won’t do him any harm.”

“If I may say,” said Josh, “I don’t think prayer is the answer to Porter’s problem.”

“What is his problem, anyway?” said Mrs. Wharton. “I didn’t quite catch that.”

She was drinking something brown out of a glass the shape and size of a small goldfish bowl cut in half.

“He wants to escape from this universe,” said Reverend Edwards. “Get back to his own world.”

“He’s a literary character, isn’t he?” said Mrs. Wharton. “This is his world.”

“Well --” said Josh.


“It’s a little more complicated than that.”

“Oh, do bend my ear.”

“Are you a demon, sir?” Mistress Bradstreet asked me.

“What – Porter?” said Josh. “He’s not a demon. He’s a regular human being.”

“What?” said Ben.

“I mean he’s a regular man, not a literary character. But – uh – someone – someone very bad exiled him here in the persona of a character in a popular novel. Well, a mildly popular novel –”

“Someone,” said Reverend Edwards.

“Who?” said Mistress Bradstreet.

The Fallen Angel,” said the Reverend. He picked up his glass, he and Mistress Bradstreet were drinking something red out of small stemmed glasses, and he turned to Ben. “See, Ben, I told you the Fallen Angel exists.”

Ben shrugged, ran his finger in his plate, then licked his finger.

I pushed my chair back.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“Porter, where you going?” said Josh.

“I’m going to the bar for a beer.”

“Wait for me," he tossed back the last of his Manhattan, "I’ll go with you.” He rose again, turned to the people at the other table. “Nice meeting you all,” he said.

“Hey, if you can, will you send Emily over to our table?” said Ben.

“Yeah, sure,” said Josh.

“Remember, Porter,” said Reverend Edwards. “Prayer.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Lots of prayer.”


Josh was at my side now. He touched my arm and we started for the bar, taking a roundabout route so the dancers wouldn’t plow into us.

“Sorry about that,” said Josh.

“It’s okay,” I said.

“Human beings love to poke around in other people’s business, don’t they?”

“Some of us do,” I said.

Suddenly I stopped.

“Hey,” I said.


“That Ben guy. That was Benjamin Franklin.”


“The guy who invented electricity.”

“He didn’t quite invent electricity, Porter.”

“But he signed the Declaration of Independence. Started the first post office, the first fire company.”

“Among many other accomplishments.”

“What is he doing in this fictional universe?”

“I have no idea.”

“He wasn’t a novelist or a poet, was he?”

“No – oh, wait, Poor Richard’s Almanac.”

“That counts?”

“Well, it’s got all these little two-line poems, so, yeah, it counts. Or so it seems. Plus he wrote an autobiography, and those things are always at least half fiction, so –”

“Okay, the Reverend guy, he said he was a theologian?”

“Yeah. Jonathan Edwards. American theologian, 1703 to, uh –”

“So what’s he doing in the fictional universe?”

“Porter, come on, theology is even more fictional than autobiography. In fact it’s usually even more fictional than fiction is.”

Suddenly Edgar slammed backwards into me, almost knocking me over and spilling beer on my jacket sleeve.

“Hey, watch it, Mac,” I said.

Carlotta was laughing as she continued to rhumba, holding one hand over her mouth.

“Oh, sorry!” said Edgar, and he plunged back into the dance.

“Where are you two gentlemen going?”

This was Emily.

“We’re just going to the bar for a drink,” said Josh.

“Why don’t you go back to your table and I’ll bring you your drinks? Couldn’t you wait till I came by again?”

“Oh, sure,” said Josh. “It’s just that –”

“We want to have a private talk,” I said.

“Private,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Josh, “a private chat. Oh, by the way, those people at the next table asked us to ask you to –"

“Those people were horning in on your conversation, weren’t they? That's why you're escaping to the bar.”

“Oh, no,” said Josh, “we just want to, you know –”

She put her hand on my arm. The arm that wasn't wet with Edgar's beer.

“I beg your forgiveness, sir. For their rudeness.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“I hope so.” She was surreptitiously putting something into my hand. “I’ll have a word with them.”

“Um,” I said.

She closed my hand around whatever it was she had put in my palm.

“Enjoy your drink," she said. "I’d better go check my tables.”

And off she went presumably to check on her tables.

“I think you have a fan there, Porter,” said Josh.

I opened my fist, there was a folded up piece of paper in my palm.

“What the hell is that?” said Josh.

I unfolded the paper, which was a lined sheet from a waitress’s order pad.

“What’s it say?”

I handed him the paper.

“’Meet me outside in 5. Emily.’

Josh handed the slip back to me. She had drawn a little heart under the message, right above the printed words “Thank you for your patronage and please come again.”

He looked at me, then looked over across the room to where Emily was having words with the people at the table next to ours.

(Continued here, come hell or high water.)

(Please refer to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other conceivable chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode bought to you by Depends™: “Special discounts for members of the Amalgamated Tea Party of America -- call now for details!”)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 220: world

The Prince of Darkness (having twice been outsmarted by our hero Arnold Schnabel) has attempted revenge by turning Arnold into “Porter Walker, poet and possible madman”, a character in Ye Cannot Quench, a novel of 1950s New York City by Gertrude Evans (the prolific author of many other bestsellers such as Born in an Inexpensive Trunk; Her Tears Flowed Like Beer; Preach Not to the Nightingale; Cast the First Stone; and Hello, Chanel!)

Now Arnold/Porter has finally gotten alone with his friend (and alleged personal savior) Josh in an unusual Greenwich Village basement bistro called Valhalla, on this long hot night in the summer of 1957...

(Click here to see our previous episode; go here if you must to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 71-volume memoir. “I fully intend to spend my upcoming sabbatical year ensconced in my cabin in the Vermont hills, doing nothing but drinking hot mulled cider and re-reading Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in Better Homes and Gardens.)

Great, I thought. Really great, because if the son of God says something is a problem then you can be pretty sure it really is a problem.

He stared out at the dancers again, nodding his head in time to the music, smoking his cigarette. He still had his straw trilby askew on his head. The bruise on his cheekbone had turned a darker purple, his blackened eye had almost swollen shut.

“Josh,” I said. It really was like pulling teeth with him tonight.

“Yes, Arnold.”

“Can we, uh –”


“Can we talk a bit more?”


“I mean about my, you know –”



“About my –”

“About your, uh –”


“Your problem.”


“Well, sure,” he said. “Of course we can. Of course. Okay. Here’s the thing. The thing is, the thing of it is – oh – I should have offered you a cigarette, here –”

He picked up the pack of cigarettes again, offered it to me.

“I’ve quit, Josh. Remember?”

“Oh. Even as Porter Walker you’ve quit?”


“I didn’t know that. Well, that’s admirable.”

He put the pack back down on the table. He still had his lighter in his other hand. It was one of those one-motion lighters, and he clicked it, lighting it, then raised his thumb, letting the cap close, extinguishing the flame. He clicked the lighter again, lighting it, let the cap fall again. He paused, then clicked the flame alight once more.

“Hey, can I see your lighter, Josh?”


He let the cap shut again, handed the lighter to me.

“Do you want it?”

“No thanks,” I said.

I just wanted to get it away from him. I’d never really looked at it before. It was gold, with purple enamel, a Ronson, engraved with the initials “J.C.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like it, Porter?”

“No thanks.”

“Even if you’ve given up smoking you can use it for lighting ladies’ cigarettes. Or for reefers. You haven’t given up reefers, have you?”

I put the lighter down on the checked tablecloth, which I noticed had many cigarette burns and holes in it.

“Listen, Josh,” I said. “What are we going to do to get me out of here?”

“Okay,” he said. “Right to the point. I like that about you, Arnold. Well, then.” He looked up. “Oh, look, here’s our drinks.”

Emily was there with her tray, and without a word she laid down the drink order, four Manhattans, a bottle of Falstaff.

“Thank you so much, Emily,” said Josh. “Really quick service.”

“You have to be quick in this place,” she said. “You try waiting on writers. They’re not very patient people, especially when it comes to drinks.”

“Heh heh, well, thanks a lot anyway,” said Josh.

“I hope your Manhattan is cold enough.”

“Oh, I’m sure it is, look at it, all beaded and glimmering.”

“Do you want to taste it to make sure?”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine.”

“Because I’ll bring you another one if it’s not cold enough.”

Josh quickly brought the drink to his lips and took a taste.

“Perfect,” he said.

“Splendid,” said Emily.

She started to pour my beer into the glass she had brought for it, but I said, “Oh, that’s okay, I like to drink out of the bottle.”

She looked at me. She still held the bottle in the air.

“You can’t really taste beer if you drink it out of the bottle.”

“Oh. Well –”

“The subtle aromas and phenolics of the hops and yeast can only be appreciated to the fullest when the beer is allowed to open up in all its foamy glory in a suitable glass.”

“Um –”

“Even a somewhat demotic shall we say beer like Falstaff.”

“Uh –”

“Let me pour it for you.”

I put my hand over the glass.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just a little quirk of mine. Heh heh.”

Actually, I wasn’t about to say so to Emily, but I had noticed that the glass didn’t look very clean, and that it had a lipstick smudge on it.

“Fine,” she said.

She put the bottle down with a very audible thump, then reached for my empty Manhattan glass, but I was quicker than her, I grabbed it and held it out of her reach.

“Can I please keep this glass for a bit?”

“Why in heaven’s name?”

“I want the cherry.”

The cherry that my friend the fly was still sleeping on.

“So eat the cherry and let me take the glass.”

“I want to save the cherry for later.”

“Later,” she said.

“Yes, like for dessert, heh heh.”

She stared at me for a few seconds.

“I hope you’re not one of these people who steals glassware.”

“Oh, no,” I said.

“I hope not,” she said. “Because that’s another thing writers do, besides complain about their drinks and about slow service, they steal glassware, and silverware.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that.”

“Ashtrays. Plates. Salt-and-pepper shakers.”

“Oh, I –”

“Ketchup bottles.”

“Um –”

“They even steal the facility tissue.”

“The what?”

“Entire rolls of facility tissue.”

“Facility tissue?”

“I think she means toilet paper,” said Josh.

“Please, sir,” said Emily, turning to Josh. “Language. There are plenty of low and mean Bowery taverns you can go to if you must speak thus.”

“Sorry,” he said.

She turned back to me.

“Would you believe we even had someone steal the soap-dispenser from the –”

She paused, as if reluctant to even say the euphemism.

“From the facility,” I said, just wanting to get this tedious conversation over with.

“Yes,” she said. “Thank you. The soap, the paper towels, even the Mr. Clean we keep under the sink. They would steal the tables and chairs if they thought they could get away with it.”

“I promise not to steal the glass,” I said.

“Fine,” she said.

She went back to the bar.

I picked up a beverage napkin from the table. It had a cartoon on it. Two men in a bar. One guy was saying to the other one, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink because when they get up in the morning that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” I picked the cherry out of the Manhattan glass and placed the cherry, with the sleeping fly on it, in the center of the napkin. Then I folded the napkin twice, gently, and placed it in the right side-pocket of my seersucker jacket.

“I’m not even going to ask why you’re saving that cherry,” said Josh.

“Just as well,” I said. “Now, back to my problem.”

He took another drink of his Manhattan, I took a slug of my Falstaff, out of the bottle.

“Okay, here’s the thing,” he said. “Now, you probably know from your catechism, that I, or at least my father and I, along with the, uh –”

“The Holy Ghost.”

“Spirit. He likes to be called the Holy Spirit now.”

“Right,” I said. “Sorry. The Holy Spirit.”

“So you probably know that I, or we – same thing – you know about that, too, right?”

“The Doctrine of the Trinity?”

“Right. Very good. The Trinity. I know the concept is a bit of a mind bender, but –” He shrugged. “Some things just can’t be explained.”

“I accept that,” I said.

“So,” he said, “You know that I, we, whatever, are, am, whatever – you know that we, I, am, are, the, uh, the Creator of Heaven and Earth –”

“And of all things,” I said.

“Um – yeah – well –”

“What?” I said.

“That’s where it gets sticky,” he said.


“The of all things part.”

“You’re saying you’re not the Creator of all things?”

“Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“Okay, originally we did create the whole shebang.” He gestured expansively with both hands. “The world, the universe, mankind –”

“I know,” I said. “In seven days.”

“No,” he said. “What? Seven days? Are you crazy?”

“Well, I thought that the Bible –”

“Arnold, Porter, please, trust me, it took a little longer than seven days, okay? I was there, trust me. We’re talking billions, billions, I don’t know, trillions of years. Before man even showed up.”


“You can’t take the Bible as – you know –”

“Okay,” I said. “That part always did sound funny to me.”

“Okay. So we created the universe, and then, a long time later, I mean a really, really long time later, we created man. You’re with me so far?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Great. What’s this song they’re playing now?”

The band had switched to another uptempo number.

“’My Old Kentucky Home’,” I said.

“Nice song. Okay, so we create man, I mean it’s a gradual process, you know, some fish crawls out of the ocean, a hundred million years later you’ve got a monkey, then a couple of million years after that, finally, finally you’ve got – voilà –”

“Man,” I said.

“Yes. And woman of course.”

“Adam and Eve,” I said.

“Well, again, Arnold, there never actually was an Adam and Eve, per se.”

“Oh, okay.”

“But think of it as lots and lots of different Adams and Eves. Spread out over a very, very long period of time. And the first ones really weren’t much to write home about, to tell the truth. Hairy, bow-legged. Brutal. Filthy. Pretty vile really.”

“Okay, I get it,” I said.

“All right, so a couple hundred thousand, no, maybe more, anyway, many many thousands of years later one of these cave people is sitting around the campfire, you know, eating some wooly mammoth meat –”


“– maybe drinking an early version of beer of some sort, or mead maybe –”


“Or even smoking some reefer. Because they had reefer back then.”


“Of course. I mean, they didn’t start out with reefers as such, but you know how it is, one of these cave men tosses some marijuana leaves on the fire for kindling, and, look out, next thing you know everyone’s feeling pretty happy.”


“So, one fine night they’re sitting around talking, and instead of just talking about the woolly mammoth they chased around and killed that day, one of these cave guys starts making up a story.”

“What kind of story?”

“Well, maybe a story about some really, really enormous woolly mammoth and how some people chased and killed it.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So the thing is, this first exaggeration, this story about a really really enormous woolly mammoth, that was the first short story. The first work of fiction. And the other cave people liked it. They liked it because this story was scarier and just more interesting than talking about the ordinary woolly mammoths that they killed every day. Get it?”

“I guess so.”

“This was the birth of fiction. The beginning of all stories and novels, plays and poetry.”


“So that’s what we, I, my father and the Holy Spirit and I, that’s what we didn’t create.”


“Men created these stories.”


“They created their own worlds.”


“Millions of worlds, all over the world.”

“I see,” I said.

“Millions of worlds, a different world for each storyteller.”


“Worlds made by men.”


“By men and by women.”

“Like Miss Evans,” I said.

“Yes, like Miss Evans,” he said. “And all these millions of worlds sort of make up another great big universe that’s sort of separate from this great big universe that I – well, with the help of my father and the, uh –”

“The Holy Spirit –”

“– yes, that we, I, the three of us, which is really just the one of us, that we created.”

“Another universe,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “The universe we’re in now, existing within and without and alongside the so-called real universe.”

His cigarette had burnt down almost to the end. He stubbed it out in the ashtray that was already filled with butts.

“But this other universe isn’t real,” I said.

“Porter, look around you, isn’t this all real?” He knocked on the table. “Feels real to me.”

I took a good drink of the Falstaff.

“How’s that beer taste? Real?”

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.

“Yes,” I said.

He picked up his Manhattan, took a good sip.

“Talking too much,” he said. “I’m letting my drink get warm.”

“So what are you getting at, Josh?”

“Oh. What am I getting at. Well, here’s the thing, in a nutshell. In a nutshell –”

“Josh, will you please just spit it out.”

“Okay. This –“ He gestured with his hand, the one that wasn’t holding the Manhattan. “This is not my world, Porter. This is Miss Evans’s world, which exists within this whole other bigger world, the world of fiction, of stories, of poetry, of – gee – of plays, and operas, of songs –”

“Okay. So?”

“So, like I said – I mean, sorry, as I said – I didn’t create this world. Men did, men and women –”


“So, to cut a long story short, I have no power in this world. Or very little power. Very little power.”

I took another, longer drink of beer, almost killing the bottle.

“So you’re saying you can’t help me.”

“I would if I could, Porter. Believe me I would. But even I have my limits.”

“You’re the son of God, Josh.”

“I know. I know. And you might think I would have a little more power over a situation like this. I would have thought I had a little more power here. But I don’t.”


"I'm sorry, Porter."

I took another drink from the bottle, finishing it.

I put the bottle back down and looked around.

“What are you looking for?” asked Josh.

“I’m looking for Emily,” I said. “I need another beer.”

(Continued here, and until the last cow has come limping home.)

(Please refer to the right hand column of this page for a current listing of links to all other possible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, sponsored in part by Uneeda™ Crackers: “Lost your job? Try packing some Uneeda™ Crackers in your kids’ lunch pails, for a tasty and pennywise appetite-repressant!”)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 219: let’s dance

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel remains undaunted, even after the Devil himself has transformed our hero into “Porter Walker, moody but handsome poet”, a major character in a minor novel of 1950s New York titled Ye Cannot Quench, by Gertrude Evans (author of numerous other bestsellers such as The 47 Trolley Runs Both Ways; She Gave Her All, and its sequel And Then She Gave More; Humid Nights in Paris; and The Petunias of Dawn).

Let’s rejoin Arnold (or Porter) in an obscure Greenwich Village bistro called Valhalla, where he sits with his friends Josh, Pat, Carlotta, and some old guy named Sam Clemens...

(Go here to read our previous episode; newcomers looking for Ph.D. thesis material may go here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume memoir. “What better way to spend a rainy autumn afternoon than to lie abed with one’s pipe, a snifter of fine Napoleon brandy, and a volume of Schnabel?” -- Harold Bloom, in the Woman’s Home Companion.)

“Great,” said Emily, “one Falstaff and four more Old Forester Manhattans.”

“Make sure the Manhattans are nice and cold,” said Josh.

“Were they not cold last time?” asked Emily.

“Uh, yes, of course –”

“Then I assure you your Manhattans will be as cold as human ingenuity can make them.”

“Thanks,” said Josh.

“Oh, and bring some menus, will you, please,” said Carlotta.

“We do not have bills of fare at Valhalla.”

“Then how do we know what to order?”

“You simply order what you would like. If our chef can make it he will.”

“Okay, just asking.”

“You really should try the moules au gratin,” said Walt, who was still hovering near our table, along with Mr. James and Edgar.

“Mools oh what?” said Carlotta.

“Baked mussels,” said Sam. “They’re okay.”

“I’m telling you,” said Edgar, “the macaroni-and-cheese is to die for.”

“If I may recommend just once again the Beef Wellington,” said Mr. James. “We had some visitors from France a fortnight ago, Monsieur Flaubert, Monsieur Proust, Monsieur France?”

“Monsieur France from France,” said Pat.

“Quite. And Messieurs Baudelaire and Huysmans as well, and they all raved about the Beef Wellington. Monsieur Proust said -- and I believe this is a nearly direct transcription of his spoken word – he said –”

“Look, James,” said Carlotta, “all’s I want is a burger. A cheeseburger, with Cheddar cheese. Maybe a nice thick rasher of bacon. If you’ve got some fresh Jersey tomato I’ll take a slice of that. Do you think your chef can handle that?”

“I believe that is within the capability of our Cordon Bleu-trained chef, yes.”

“Great,” she said. “I wouldn’t say no to a kosher pickle either.”

“As you wish it shall be done, miss.”

“So do you all want to order your food now?” asked Emily. “Or do you want me to bring the drinks first.”

“Better bring the drinks first,” said Josh.

“No,” said Pat, “let’s order the food before we starve to death over here. Hey, Emily, you got french fries?”

“Monsieur France,” said Mr. James, “pronounced our frites avec de la mayonnaise, in his precise words, ‘très géniales, très, très --”

“So you have fries?” said Pat.

“Indeed we do, miss.”

“Great, I’ll take a cheese-and-bacon burger too, with a pickle, and fries, lots of fries.”

“Ooh, I want fries too,” said Carlotta. “Extra crispy.”

“Are you getting all this Emily?” asked Mr. James.

“Every word,” she said, writing on her pad. “And how, dare I ask, would you ladies like your bacon-and-cheeseburgers cooked?”

“I want to see blood,” said Pat.

“Yeah, me too,” said Carlotta. “I want to practically hear that cow go moo.”

“Rare then,” said Emily. ”And Mr. Walker, will you also be dining with us tonight?”

Somehow I was ravenous again, even after my feast in the Oak Room earlier that day. I only had those few dollars on me, but I figured that Josh would pick up the bill, so I told Emily I’d have what the ladies were having.

“Samuel,” said Emily.

“Yes?” he said.

“Will you be having something to eat.”

“Oh –”

“Or not.”

“Oh, I just stopped by for a drink, really,” said Sam, “and after all I had a ship’s biscuit, oh, my, just an hour or two ago, you know, at the front bar –”

“Fine,” said Emily. “Mr. Josh?”

“Wait,” said Josh, “Sam, order something.”

“Oh, really, I’m not very hungry –”

“Come on, a ship’s biscuit is no meal. Order anything you like, it’s on me.”

“Oh no really.”

“Look, don’t insult me, Sam.”

“Well, okay, then. Maybe just a small order of the Beef Wellington?”

“Make it a regular order, Emily,” said Josh.

“Right. Regular Beef Wellington,” said Emily, writing on her pad.

“Can I get it rare?” said Sam.

“Rare it is.”

“Oh, and maybe some of those baby asparagus? With the Hollandaise?”

“Splendid,” she said.

“But could I get the Hollandaise on the side?”

She looked at him, then wrote something on her pad.

“Anything else,” she said.

“I guess I could eat a few of those fries.”

“Side of fries,” she said.

“With the homemade mayo?”

“The only kind we serve. And something for you, sir?” said Emily to Josh.

“Me?” said Josh.

“Oh, hey, Josh,” said Walt, “if you don’t like mussels you have to try to the spaghetti with house red gravy --”

“I’m telling you,” said Edgar. “The macaroni-and-cheese –”

“Nothing for me, thanks,” said Josh.

This last remark got my attention.

“Josh,” I said.

“Yes, Arnold?”

“What did you call him?” said Edgar.

“Porter,” said Josh. “Porter. Yes, Porter?”

“Order some food, Josh,” I said. He was my one best hope of getting out of this world. If he kept on drinking the way he was without eating it could be years, maybe a lifetime before I escaped.

“But –”

“No buts,” I said. “Miss Emily, bring Josh a bacon cheeseburger too, and don’t forget the pickle and fries.”

“Well --” said Josh.

“What?” I said.

“Could I try that macaroni-and-cheese?”

“Yes!” said Edgar. “Yes!

Emily gave Edgar a look.

“Don’t you and Walt have seats at the bar, Edgar?”

“Sure, Emily,” said Edgar, “we’re just socializing a little is all –”

“You are annoying these people. Why don’t you return to your own seats and mind your own business.”


“Perhaps you can extemporaneously compose a poem about a talking bird.”


“Aw, come on, Emily,” said Walt.

“And you,” said Emily, “perhaps a couple of dozen verses in praise of stout young fellows and their hearty good fellowship.”

“Hey,” said Walt.

“Heaving male bosoms and rough shouts of ecstasy in the darkness.”

“Aw, come on –”

“Emily,” said Josh, “it’s okay, really. They’re not bothering us.”

“Not too much,” said Pat.

“Hey, James,” said Carlotta, “what’s up with this band?” (The combo were now playing “Old Folks at Home”.) “Any chance of them kicking it up a bit?”

“In what sense?”

“In the sense of something we could dance to maybe?”

“Mr. Foster’s band plays many a rousing roundelay suitable for both fandangoes and square dances.”

Carlotta rose up in her seat, put her hand to the side of her mouth and yelled towards the band, “Hey, boys, bring it up a notch! We wanta dance!”

I twisted around to look at the band, and, far from being offended, the singing banjo player spoke into his microphone, “You heard the little lady, boys. Number 43, and put a little muscle into it -- a one, a two --”

And suddenly the band ripped into a rousing fast rendition of “Old Black Joe.”

“Porter!” yelled Carlotta. She knocked back the last of her drink. “Dance with me!”

“No!” I yelled back.

“Square!” she responded.

Sam stood up, almost knocking his chair to the floor, and offered Carlotta the crook of his arm.

“May I have the honor, dear lady.”

“You certainly may!”

Sam dropped his cigar in the ashtray, Carlotta popped up and grabbed his arm, and off they went.

“Come on, Josh baby,” said Pat, bouncing in her seat. “Let’s dance.”

“Oh, no,” said Josh. “I don’t dance.”

“I’ll dance with you, miss!” said Edgar.

“You’re on,” she said. “Let’s go, Eddy boy.”

In a matter of seconds Josh and I were finally alone at the table. Carlotta was dancing with Sam, Pat with Edgar, Walt was watching them and clapping his hands and stamping his feet in time to the music.

Emily shook her head, took the cocktail tray from under her arm and started collecting the empty glasses from the table. I quickly picked my own glass up and put my hand over it.

“Aren’t you finished with that?” she asked.

“Um, not quite,” I said. “Just a little sip left. Heh heh.”

She rolled her eyes, but the thing was I had noticed that the fly was still on the cherry, and it looked like he was passed out. I would have hated for the bartender to toss him into the garbage.

“You get the drinks, Emily,” said Mr. James. “I’ll put the food orders in.”

“Fine,” she said. She ripped off her dupe, handed it to Mr. James, and headed over to the bar.

Mr. James leaned toward the table.

“If you will excuse me, gentlemen.”

“Sure, Jim,” said Josh.

“It’s James, actually, sir.”

“Oh, sorry, James it is then.”

Mister James, in point of fact. My surname you see.”

“Oh, sorry. Mister James.”

“My Christian name is Henry.”

“Henry, right. Y’know, I knew that –”

“Henry James.”

“Got you. Henry James. Thanks, Henry.”

Henry James stood there for a moment, and then bowed and went off.

“He seemed odd,” said Josh.

“I think he’s disappointed that you don’t know who he is.”

“Henry James.”

“Yeah,” I said. “He’s a famous writer apparently.”

“Oh, that Henry James. Cool. Golden Bowl. What Maisie Knew.”

“You’ve read him?”

“Well, I think I told you, Arnold, I read everything. It’s sort of part of my job.”

“Oh, right, I forgot.”

“Keeping it all straight is another matter though.”

“I can imagine.”

“I mean, not only every book in every language since the dawn of literacy but every newspaper, every, every Playbill, every Racing Form, every –” He picked up the bottle of Heinz ketchup that was on the table. “Every ketchup label. It gets a little overwhelming. Even for me.”

He put down the ketchup bottle, looked up at the band.

“Good band,” he said. “I think that’s Stephen Foster on the banjo and vocals.”

“Josh,” I said.


He started slapping his hand on the table.

“Josh, we need to talk.”

Go, boys!” he yelled.


“Look at them dancing. Check out old Sam cutting a rug there.”

I got up and moved into the seat that Pat had just vacated, so that I was sitting directly across from Josh.


“Yes, Arnold. Porter. I guess I should call you Porter.”

“Sure,” I said.

“As long as you’re stuck in this universe, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s what I want to talk to you about.”

Go, boys!” he shouted again. “Go!


“Yes, Arnold. Porter.”

“Josh, pay attention.”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Stop pounding the table.”

“Oh, sorry.”

He stopped pounding the table.

“Josh, we need to talk,” I said. “About me being stuck in this universe.”

“Oh,” he said. “That.”

“Yes,” I said. “That.”

For a change he hadn’t had a lit cigarette going, but now he picked up his pack of Pall Malls, shook one up, put it in his mouth.

“Right,” he said.

He dropped the pack back on the table, picked up his lighter, clicked it, lit his cigarette.

“That,” he said, and he exhaled the smoke, looking at the dancers.

Then he looked at me.

“That is a problem,” he said.

(Continued here, as a part of my court-ordered community service.)

(Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other cybernetically-accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, available free, gratis and for nothing thanks to the continued patronage of The Arnold Schnabel Institute for the Inhumanities.)