(Go here to read our immediately preceding chapter; advanced students of abnormal psychology may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 73-volume autobiography.)
“Horace P. Sternwall, Larry Winchester, and Arnold Schnabel comprise the Holy Trinity of post-post-modern American Literature.” -- Harold Bloom, in Capper’s.
I took the quarter and the tin canister and put them both in my trousers pocket. Please don’t ask me why I took the tin...Oh, hold on, I know why, I took it because it was easier than not taking it. Why make an enemy of Wally? This was a small town. The last thing I needed was another enemy, another person to avoid at all costs. So I put the tin in my pocket with the quarter, said good day to Wally, and Kevin and I left the shop.
“Open my umbrella for me, Cousin Arnold. I don’t want to take a chance on dropping any of my comics.”
The rain had continued to fall, it drummed down on the awning over our heads as the wooden Indian stared at man and boy with disdain.
I gave Kevin my umbrella to hold while I took his, and, after only a minute or so, I got it open. I handed it back to him and he handed me my umbrella.
“You’d better hurry now,” he said. “You’re probably already late for mass.”
“Yes,” I said. “And you go right home.”
“Where else do I have to go?” he asked.
And without another word he hurried off, a small boy under a black umbrella in the pouring rain, holding his comics tightly under one arm.
I did my best to ignore the wooden Indian’s gaze as I unfastened and opened my own umbrella, and then I set off toward the church, crossing Decatur Street, making my way up the block.
I suddenly realized that I was approaching Mr. Arbuthnot’s Whatnot Shoppe.
I stopped dead, standing there under my umbrella in front of Dellas’s 5&10.
Unfortunately for me in order to get to the church I would have to pass directly in front of Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop.
I considered turning back, making a right on Decatur and then going the long way around on Lyle Lane to approach the church from the rear. But this laborious flanking movement would make me even later than I undoubtedly already was. Then I thought that maybe I should just jaywalk across the street and quickly walk up Washington on the other side, then cross back at the Ocean Street corner. I was about to attempt this maneuver when a police car came down the street, slowly. The car stopped. The policeman at the wheel leaned over the passenger seat and yelled though the partially closed window.
“You okay, buddy?”
“Sure, officer,” I said, leaning down toward him.
No surprise, this was the same cop who had come upon me talking to an invisible-to-him Jesus the other night.
“Why you just standing there you don’t mind my asking.”
“I, uh, I’m on my way to mass.”
We were both practically shouting through the noise of the rain and the wind.
“Okay,” said the cop. “But why are you just standing there? In the rain.”
“Oh,” I said. “I, uh, I was just wondering, if, uh, if I had, uh, remembered to bring some change for the collection?”
“Yes,” I said. I was still bending down awkwardly under my umbrella so that I could look into the car. “You know,” I said, “I usually like to give at least a quarter. Heh heh. Just so the usher won’t stand there rattling the collection basket under my nose. Heh heh. Not that I ever did that. When I was an usher.”
“You were a church usher.”
“Oh, yes, for many years.”
“Really. How many years.”
“Oh, gee, ever since I got out of the army, so that was ’45, I guess, so --”
“You were in the army.”
“I’m surprised to hear that.”
“Yeah, ‘cause I know, you know, you gotta pass them tests and all. You know.”
“Yes. I, uh, I guess I passed them --”
“So, getting back to why you were standing here.”
“Did you remember.”
“Did you remember to bring a quarter.”
“Oh,” I said. “Uh.” I moved my umbrella from my right hand to my left, and put my right hand into my trousers pocket. I brought out a quarter and the little tin canister that Wally had given me, and showed them to the officer. “Yep,” I said, “got a quarter.”
“What’s that other thing.”
“That tin thing.”
“The tin thing?”
“It’s, it’s -- medicine?”
“Yes. Headache pills --”
“Yes, I’m, uh, prone to headaches.”
This was a bald-faced lie. I never get headaches. I get hungover a lot, sure, but I don’t get headaches. Cops in the novels I read always seem to know when people are lying. I only hoped that the physical distance between this cop and me, and the pouring rain, would make my duplicity less obvious than it would have been had we been standing face to face on a fine clear day.
The policeman stared at me as these thoughts lumbered through my brain.
“You’re Arnold Schnabel, right?”
“Nephew of the Schneider sisters, over on North Street.”
Trying to look casual, I put the quarter and the tin back into my pocket.
“Spending the summer here, huh?”
“Wish I could take a whole summer off.”
I said nothing to this.
“I don’t have that luxury,” he said. “I got kids. You don’t have kids, do you?”
“No,” I said. “I’m not married.”
The cop stared at me, through the rain.
Was he finished with me?
“So -- Arnold -- what do you do with yourself all day?”
“Well, uh, I write,” I said.
“You write? Like what? Journalism?”
The floodgates were open now. I should have given him only my name, rank and serial number.
“So what do you write?”
“Poems? Like, what, Joyce Kilmer?”
“Sort of,” I said.
“And do you like get these poems published?”
I had him there.
“Yes,” I said.
Or maybe he had me.
“The Olney Times,” I said.
“It’s my neighborhood newspaper, back in Olney.”
“It’s a neighborhood, in Philadelphia.”
“And this paper publishes your poems?”
“Yes. They’ve published one of my poems every week since I was eighteen.”
“So they must be good your poems.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “Most of them are rubbish I’m afraid.”
“I don’t like poems myself.”
“Yeah, me neither really,” I said.
The cop stared at me.
“Yeah, so --” I said.
And then I said nothing, and the policeman continued to stare at me.
“Hey, listen,” I said finally, “I’m already late for mass I think, so --”
“Yeah, sure. You can go.”
“Great,” I said.
And I started to straighten up.
“Wait,” said the cop.
I bent down and forward again.
“How you doin’, anyway?” asked the cop.
“Okay,” I said.
“I mean mentally you don’t mind my asking.”
He paused. Another car had stopped behind him. The cop turned and waved to the driver to go around him and the driver did.
The policeman leaned over toward me again.
“Never better, huh?”
“Okay. You’re gonna be late for church.”
“Yes,” I said. “Good day.”
He looked at me again and then pulled out, slowly, very slowly.
I couldn’t very well jaywalk now, the cop was probably watching my every move through his rearview mirror, ready to make a screeching U-turn at the slightest sign of irregularity on my part, so I resumed my progress along the pavement, being careful not to break out into the Watusi or a spirited cakewalk or any other form of capering or leaping about which might attract unwanted attention. And it now dawned on me that I had not intended to go to mass at all, that I had meant to visit Elektra, and I also remembered that I was two hours late for my meeting with Larry Winchester. But, again, if I turned back, the cop might see me. More questions would be asked. More lies would be told. I might even be hauled in for further grilling as a dubious character seen limping and loitering with suspicious intent. I continued walking, or limping, and as I approached Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop I quickened my pace to a hobbling double-time march, all the while keeping my eyes to that sidewalk all splattered and streaming with rain...
“Where’s the fire, buddy?”
I stopped. I was directly in front of the entrance to Arbuthnot’s shop, and there in the open doorway he stood, smiling, and smoking his little Meerschaum pipe.
(Continued here, and indefinitely, in accordance with my plea-bargaining agreement.)
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