Saturday, April 23, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 247: quite mad


Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and that hot-blooded novelist Gertrude Evans outside the convivial Pilot House in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, on this rainy Sunday afternoon in August, 1963...

(Click here to read our previous chapter; latecomers to the festivities may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 52-volume memoir.)

“Never mind Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Cormac McCarthy. Horace P. Sternwall, Larry Winchester, and, above all, Arnold Schnabel: these are the true giants of modern American literature.” -- Harold Bloom in TV Guide.


She stood at the top of the steps, facing the street. She held her furled umbrella and the strap of her purse in her right hand, her cigarette in her left hand. She turned partway to look at me and smoke came from her mouth.

“This damned rain,” she said. “What is it with this rain?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“It was a rhetorical question. The rain has its good points. There’s something very romantic about the rain, don’t you think? But what do we mean by the word romantic. What do we mean indeed.”

“Is that a rhetorical question also?”

“And you ask that in all innocence no doubt. But no worries old chap. I’ll answer my own question. Romantic is a word we women use to denote all that has to do in a good way with -- oh, how shall I put it -- with erotic feelings.”

The English accent had returned.

“Oh,” I said.

“Romance is something we’re exceedingly fond of. By we I mean women of course. I believe it holds the same place in our system of values that sport holds for men.” She stepped closer to me. “Are you fond of sports, Arnold?”

“I used to be.”

“But no longer?”

“No. I just can’t seem to summon the interest.”

“And what about romance?”

“I’m beginning to appreciate it,” I said.

“She doesn’t have to know,” she said.

“Who doesn’t have to know?” I said.

“Your Persian vixen.”

“She’s not --”

She took another step towards me, holding up the hand that held the cigarette, palm outward.

“Not another word,” she said.

“But --”

“Ssshh.”

She tossed away the cigarette and put her fingers on my cheek.

Inside the Pilot House the little band had started another number. I think it was “A Night in Tunisia”. I could hear Magda’s piano under Freddy’s accordion and Ursula’s saxophone. The crowd chattered away heedlessly.

“Do you mind if I share your umbrella, Arnold?” said Miss Evans. “There’s something so very awkward about two people walking together, each under a separate umbrella, like two -- two what? Two ships on the ocean? Like two automobiles in a road? Like two planets in a solar system? Part of the same universe but nonetheless separated. Awkward.”

“Any more awkward than two people sharing one umbrella?” is what I thought, “Especially if those two people are you and me.”

But what I said was: “Yes.”

“Yes it’s awkward or yes I can share your umbrella.”

“Yes on both counts,” I said.

She had taken her hand away from my face but now she was playing with my necktie.

“Where are we going, anyway?” she said.

“Well, I thought it might be a good idea to take you home.”

“Oh, you’re very cheeky, aren’t you.”

She gave my tie a tug.

“Well, I just think --”

“Yes, darling.”

“I just think we should get you home.”

“Get me home.”

“Yeah.”

“What do you mean by that exactly? No beating about the bush now.”

She smoothed the lapels of my jacket, or at least made smoothing movements with her fingers.

“Well, uh, to tell the truth,” I said, “I think maybe you could use a nap, Miss Evans.”

“Gertrude.”

“Gertrude.”

“That’s better. So much better. Say it again.”

“Gertrude?”

“Yes, say it again.”

“Gertrude,” I said.

“Good. Now, what did you just say?”

“Gertrude?”

“No, before you said Gertrude.”

“Miss Evans.”

“No, what was it you said when you called me by that appellation.”

“I don’t even remember now.”

“Try.”

“Oh. I think I said I think you could use a nap.”

“A nap. Yes. And why should I want a nap?”

“Well, you know --”

“What?”

“Well, I just think that, uh, you know, you seem to have had a full lunch and all, and --”

“Oh,” she said. “I get it. You think I’m drunk.”

“Maybe just a little,” I said.

She stared at me, and then she drew back her open hand.

“Please don’t slap me,” I said.

“What?”

She stared at the hand, which she had raised further and drawn back. She lowered it now.

“I have only your best interests in mind,” I said.

“You do? Have only my best interests --”

“Yes.”

“A nap,” she said, in a way that at least sounded thoughtful.

“Naps are good,” I said.

“Especially on rainy days.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Very well, then, a nap it is. But, Arnold, will you take a nap with me?”

“Um --”

“Oh! How frightfully forward of me!”

She put her hand in front of her mouth. Then she lowered it. The hand that is.

“The things you make me say,” she said. “But come, not another word. Open your umbrella.”

I did as she enjoined me, she took my arm, and we went down the steps, turning left and going back towards Washington Street.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lucky, still standing by his table, smoking a cigarette and gazing through the rain-wet window.

Our eyes met.

With the speed of a professional gunfighter he lifted his right hand and gave me “the finger”.

He smiled.

It was amazing how childishly vindictive and small-minded he was, but then what else would one expect, considering who he was.

Miss Evans and I walked on in the rain. I was still limping, but she didn't seem to take any notice of it.

It was obvious to me now that I wouldn’t be able to visit Elektra right away. I was well over three hours late for my meeting with Larry Winchester, and I still had to go out to the docks on a fish run for Mr. Arbuthnot’s cat Shnooby. Not to mention I had told Mr. Arbuthnot that I would try to get him some of that stuff from Wally, in exchange for the gold ring on my little finger.

With these thoughts in my head and God knows what thoughts if any in Miss Evans’s we were silent as we walked arm in arm down the sidewalk to the corner and then turned left.

The noise and laughter and music from the open front door of the Ugly Mug made Miss Evans stop as suddenly as if she had walked into a wall.

“Oh,” she said, and her face turned toward the open doorway of the Mug.

“No,” I said.

“The laughter,” she said. “The music.”

“The nap,” I said.

“The what?”

Her eyes looked up at me, as if I had said something in Chinese.

“The nap,” I repeated.

“Oh, this nap you keep going on about.”

“Yes.”

She stroked my face again.

“The nap can wait, darling. We’ve waited this long. Can’t you wait another half hour or so?”

“Uh --”

“Or an hour?”

“Um --”

The rain rattled down on the umbrella and poured down all around our little hot and sweaty universe.

“Arnold, darling, don’t you want to be where the people are gay and music is playing?”

“Well --”

She hooked her arm around mine and moved closer to me, causing me to back up a step.

“Are you really that ardent, Arnold, that you can’t hold out for another half hour while we have a civilized cocktail?”

“Uh, listen, Gertrude, you seem to have misunderstood me. I’m not going to take a, uh, nap with you.”

“Oh ho, you bold creature. That’s perfectly okay. But please don’t hold it against me if I fall into a contented doze after our first furious bout of lovemaking.”

She kept moving closer to me and I continued to back up. Unfortunately she was backing me up towards the entrance of the Ugly Mug, and we were now almost inside the bar. Keeping my umbrella up with one hand, I put my other hand on the doorframe so that I would have something to hang on to if she tried to shove me all the way inside.

“Okay, look,” I said. “Try to pay attention, Miss Evans.”

“Don’t start that Miss Evans crap again.”

“I’m sorry. Gertrude --”

“Yes, darling.”

She drew still closer to me. In fact she was pressing the whole front part of her body against the front of my own corporeal host. I held onto the door jamb, but as I had noticed before, she was surprisingly strong, and it was all I could do not to fall backwards into the Ugly Mug with her on top of me.

“Listen,” I said, “I can’t -- you know -- I can’t --”

“You can’t wait? But darling we have all the time, all the time in the world.”

Suddenly she had my arm in an elbow lock while simultaneously she pressed the handle of her umbrella against my solar plexus and shoved her leg between mine. I felt my grip on the doorframe loosening.

“Have you ever done it in a crowded place, Arnold?”

“What?”

“Made love in a crowded place. Like a bar.”

“No,” I said, gritting my teeth as she put more pressure on my elbow, my inguinal area, and the pit of my stomach. “I’ve barely ever done it in an uncrowded place.”

“Ha ha,” she said. “I want to bite your ear.”

“Hey, Arnold,” said a familiar voice. “And Gertrude. What are you two doing standing out here in the doorway? Come in and join the party.”

Miss Evans relaxed her three-pronged assault on my person, and I was able to turn to see who had spoken.

It was that man DeVore, I couldn’t remember his first name. Standing behind him, looking very pale but smiling bravely, was his wife, whatever her name was. He wore a yellow tennis shirt and plaid bermudas. She wore a pale blue dress that ballooned out at her waist like a bell.

“Oh,” said Miss Evans. “It’s you two.”

“Yeah, so come on in. This band is really swinging.” It was the same jazz combo who had been here the night before, they were even playing “Caravan” again, just as they had that previous night which felt somehow as if it had happened two years ago. “Hear those cats swing, Arnold?”

“Yeah, they’re swinging,” I said.

“Arnold has been trying to talk me into going in,” said Miss Evans. She stroked my arm. “But I have my heart set on taking a nap.”

“Ah, gee, Gertrude,” said DeVore, “you’ve got the rest of your life to take naps. Come on in, you two, ‘cause we’re buying. Right, honey?”

“I’m only having ginger ale,” said Mrs. DeVore. She did look unwell.

“Sure, whatever, honey,” said DeVore, without looking at her. His face was bright red, his eyes were glossy. “Come on,” he said. “Please have a drink with us. Please.”

“Some other time,” said Miss Evans.

“Aww,” said DeVore.

Suddenly I had a brainwave.

“Well, maybe just one,” I said, and I put a hand on Miss Evans’s back and guided her all the way through the doorway.

“Aw, swell,” said DeVore.

Miss Evans turned and glared at me, but I ignored her, stepping across the threshold, closing up my umbrella and batting my eyes in an impersonation of wide-eyed innocence.

“Where are you sitting?” I asked DeVore.

“We’ve got a booth right down the side there,” he said, pointing to the left of the bar, which has a paper-clip shape and runs down the middle of the place.

“Great, let’s go,” I said.

“Aw, gee,” said DeVore, “we’re gonna have fun! Right, honey?”

“Sure, but I’m only drinking ginger ale,” said Mrs. DeVore.

“Whatever,” said DeVore, smiling and shaking his head as if in wonderment at his amazing good fortune.

“Oh, well, lead the way then,” said Miss Evans.

“Sure, follow us,” said DeVore, and he grabbed Mrs. DeVore and headed down the crowded barroom. I made to follow them but Miss Evans stopped me cold with her strong hot hand on my arm.

“Have you gone quite mad, Arnold?”

“Oh, just one drink,” I said.

“But those two are absolutely the most boring people I have ever met in my entire life.”

“But we would hurt their feelings if we refused.”

“Who gives a damn?”
She was speaking in more of an American accent now.
“We’ll just have one,” I said.

“Well, I suppose we’ll have to, now,” she said.

“One and done,” I said.


(Continued here, and until the Tea Party assumes power.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other legally-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, brought to you in part by Juicy Fruit©, the official chewing gum of the Arnold Schnabel Society© of Philadelphia.)

2 comments:

Dean Rohrer said...

really funny epiode!

Dan Leo said...

We aim to please, Dean!