Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel in his tiny attic room in his aunts’ rambling old guest house here in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, on this humid Sunday afternoon in August of 1963. Also in attendance: Big Ben Blagwell (hero of such bold adventures as The Magic Pen Wiper and Havana Hellcats) and Arnold’s friend a talking fly...
(Go here to read our previous chapter; advanced students of abnormal psychology may click here to go back to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 67-volume memoir.)
“I’m so looking forward to hosting the Arnold Schnabel Walking tour in historic Cape May next week.” -- Harold Bloom, in conversation with Ed Hurst on WPVI’s The Steel Pier Show.
“What the fuck,” said Ben.
“Heh heh,” laughed the fly.
“Hey,” said Ben, “excuse me, but have I gone nuts or did I just hear that fly talk.”
“Ha ha,” said the fly.
“And did I just hear him laughing just now,” said Ben.
“Um,” I said, “yes?”
“Yes you mean I heard the fly talk or yes I’ve gone fuckin’ nuts.”
“Ha ha!” the fly laughed again, but really sounding like he was forcing it a bit now.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s a talking fly.”
“It?” said the fly, buzzing right up to my nose.
“He,” I said. “He’s a talking fly.”
“Fucking hell,” said Ben.
“Ha ha, oh Christ,” said the fly, now buzzing up and down merrily in front of my face.
“And now he’s talking and laughing,” said Ben.
“Yes,” I said. “I know it’s strange, but, uh, Ben, this is my friend, uh --” what did he say his name was? Oh, right -- “Francis,” I said.
“Francis,” said Ben. “Francis the fly.”
“Yeah,” I said, without enthusiasm.
The fly was now hovering again near my nose, although he was facing Ben.
“So am I supposed to shake hands?” said Ben.
“Don’t worry about it, pal,” said the fly. “And look, I’m sorry about laughing like that. But your face. The look on your face. Fucking priceless.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet it was,” said Ben.
“I was laughing with you not at you,” said the fly. “Believe me I would not want to piss off a great big piece of strapping manhood like yourself, what was your handle again?”
“Blagwell, Ben; they call me Big Ben Blagwell.”
“And big you are, pal, big you are. Like I said, big like a gorilla, and I mean no disrespect by that.”
“And you’re Francis.”
“Ah, fuck, I gotta tell ya, that’s just something I told Arnold here.”
“So you’re name really isn’t Francis.”
“No. Say, what’s that smell about you, pal -- I like it.”
“Probably the smell of rum, and strong tobacco, of exploded cordite, and sweat.”
“Somethin’ else. Old Spice?”
“No, that’s Atkinson’s eau de cologne, actually. You see, I sweat a lot, so I find a good cologne --”
“Hey, I like it, I like a lot,” said the fly. “It’s a manly kinda smell.”
“So what’s your real name?” asked Ben. He seemed anxious to change the subject.
“Ah, never mind about that.”
“Well, okay.” Ben still had his cigarette behind his ear, and now he took it out and looked at it. (It looked a little damp and limp from where I stood.) He smoothed it out with his thumb and forefinger, or at least he made the motions of doing so. “I mean,” he said, “if you don’t want us to call you anything, well -- you know --”
“All right,” said the fly, “but look, I tell you guys my real name you gotta promise not to make fun of it.”
I had errands to do. I had errands to do, and I wanted to see Elektra again sometime this century. I spoke up.
“Look,” I said, “we’re not going to make fun of your name. Besides, it can’t be much worse than Arnold.”
“Right,” said Ben. “How you think I felt growing up being called Benjamin. That was no treat, let me tell you.”
I should mention also that it was very hot and humid in my little attic room, and I was streaming sweat into my Krass Brothers Sunday suit. Ben was sweating profusely too, but it didn't seem to bother him. He was probably used to cramped cabins in smuggling ships down in the tropics.
“Come on, pal,” he said to the fly. “We just want to know your name, man.”
“Okay,” said the fly, after a brief but hot and sweaty pause. “My name is Ferdinand.”
“Ferdinand,” said Ben.
“Right,” said the fly.
“So that’s what your friends call you?”
“I’m a fly. Flies don’t have friends.”
“I thought Arnold was your friend.”
“Okay,” said the fly. “Arnold’s my friend. I like Arnold. Arnold’s good people, I don’t care what anybody says about him.”
“So anyway, we can call you Ferdinand.”
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”
“Ferdinand the fly.”
“Awright,” said the fly. “I know where this shit is going.”
He was facing Ben, but he was still hovering fairly near my nose, and I could see he was getting a little upset.
“Ferdinand the fucking fly,” said Ben. “Ha ha ha!” he laughed.
“See?” said the fly, turning to me, “What’d I tell ya.”
“Ha ha ha!” laughed Ben.
“Hey, fuck you, pal,” said the fly, Francis, I mean Ferdinand.
“Ha ha ha,” said Ben, and now he was the one forcing it I’m pretty sure. “You should see your little face,” he said to the fly, who really did have a disturbed look on his face somehow (but don’t ask me how).
“Ah, fuck you, Mighty Joe Young,” said the fly. “I shoulda just kept my trap shut. Pearls before swine tryin’ a have a intelligent friendly conversation with some people.”
“Okay, look,” said Ben. He wiped a tear from his eye, or at least pretended to. It was probably just sweat if it was anything. “I’m sorry. Let’s take it from the top. Okay? If you’re pals with Arnie here then that’s good enough for me.”
“Well --” said the fly. He buzzed around in a slow double helix a few times, and then stopped, hovering, midway between Ben and myself. “All right,” he said, “bygones be bygones.”
“Great,” said Ben. “Now, Arnie, about them matches --”
“Oh,” I said, and, crouching over as I always did in my little garret, I went over to the table next to my army cot.
“So, Ben,” said the fly (I’m sorry, I can’t get used yet to calling him Ferdinand, if that is his name), “what, you came up here just to get some matches?”
“That’s about the size of it,” said Ben.
I opened the drawer in the table, and along with some other things of no importance to anyone but me (e.g., my keys, some cocktail napkins with lines of potential poetry scrawled on them, a bottle of chlorpromazine tablets which I hadn’t opened in a couple of months) I saw a few boxes and books of matches, along with one opened and one sealed pack of Pall Malls, and my lighter.
I heard the fly buzzing somewhere behind me, slightly above the level of my head.
For a second I considered giving Ben my old Zippo lighter, but then thought better of it. I might need it before long, along with the Pall Malls and chlorpromazine. I took out an unused book of Sid’s Tavern matches and shut the drawer.
“So you still ain’t smoking,” said the fly.
“No,” I said, “trying not to.”
I took the matches over to Ben.
“Wants to live forever, Ben,” said the fly.
“That’s what I told him,” said Ben. He took the matches I was standing there (or crouching there) holding out to him. "Thanks, Arnie."
"Keep them," I said.
"I owe you," he said, and, sticking the cigarette in his mouth, he tore off a match, struck it, and, cupping his enormous hands as though he were on the deck of a small ship in a high gale on a raging sea instead of in a tiny garret into which not a breath of a breeze came through the little windows, he lit his cigarette at last.
“Nobody lives forever,” said the fly.
“Nobody,” said Ben.
Exhaling a great fragrant cloud of smoke, he waved the match out, seemingly looking around in an absent-minded and nicotine-sated way for an an ashtray to toss it into rather than onto the floor as one might have not been surprised to see him do. I held my hand out and he dropped the extinguished match into my palm.
“Hey, y’know, look at me,” said the fly. “I’m a fly. I’m only a couple weeks old and I’m lucky if I live another month. But you don't hear me whining and moaning about it."
I made my hunchbacked way over to the little table again and dropped the match into the ashtray there.
“It ain’t how long you live,” said Ben.
“It’s how you live,” said the fly.
“What I was trying to tell Arnie here earlier,” said Ben. He stowed the matches away safely in his shirt pocket, then took another, slower and deeper drag of his cigarette.
I took off my damp suit jacket, laid it on the cot, sat down and started to unlace my shoes.
“Hey, Ben, ya mind if I breathe in some of your smoke?” asked the fly.
“Not at all, my friend,” said Ben, “not at all.”
The fly was hovering near Ben’s face now, and Ben gently exhaled another great cloud of smoke in the fly’s direction.
“Nice,” said the fly. “Very nice. Whatcha smokin’ there, Raleighs?”
“Sweet Caporals,” said Ben.
“Good smoke,” said the fly. “I was a Philip Morris man myself, king-size.”
“Wait,” said Ben, “you were a man?”
“That I was, my friend, that I was. And now I’m a fly. All because I signed a contract without reading the fine print.”
I had my shoes and socks off, and now I went ahead and started to take off my Sunday trousers.
“You always want to read the fine print,” said Ben.
“Everybody says that,” says the fly. “But nobody really does.”
“I know I never have,” said Ben.
“Take my advice,” said the fly, “read the fine print.”
“I can’t understand that legal shit,” said Ben.
“So you get a lawyer to read it.”
“I don’t trust lawyers,” said Ben.
“Nobody trusts lawyers,” said the fly. “But would you rather get turned into a fly?”
“No,” said Ben. “No. I mean, no offence.”
“I’m not offended. You think I like being a fly?”
“I don’t know.”
“Eating shit? Living in constant fear of being swatted or eaten up slowly and painfully by some fucking spider? Getting turned down by stuck-up human chicks, just ‘cause you’re a insect? This sound like fun to you?”
“No,” said Ben.
“So just do it. Hire a lawyer to read the fine print.”
“Maybe I just won’t sign any contracts,” said Ben.
“Maybe that’s best,” said the fly.
I had hung up my suit and changed into my usual casual attire. Plaid bermudas, a pale blue polo shit, my Keds with no socks. I felt loads better now that I was out of that hot wet suit. I was as ready now to face the world again as I would ever be.
“Hey, I hate to break this up,” I said.
“Look at you,” said the fly. “All ready for a vigorous game of shuffleboard by the pool.”
“Ha ha,” said Ben.
“I really have to get going,” I said.
“Good, where we goin’?” said the fly.
“Yeah,” said Ben. “Where are we goin’?”
We? Both Ben and the fly stared at me through the cigarette smoke that now nearly filled the little room.
“Well, uh, I was really just going to do these, uh --”
“Yeah, I know, errands,” said Ben.
“What errands?” said the fly.
“That’s what I’m asking,” said Ben.
Somehow I saw that there was no getting around it.
“I’ll explain on the way,” I said.
“Hey, this is great," said the fly. "You know who we are?”
“Two men and a fly?” asked Ben in reply.
“No, ya big dummy,” said the fly. “The Three Musketeers, that’s who we are. What’s their names?”
“Don’t know,” said Ben. “D’Artagnan?”
“No, he was the friend of the Three Musketeers.”
“I don’t know,” said Ben. “I remember that movie, sort of -- Gene Kelly, right?”
“Aramis,” said the fly. “Aramis, and Porthos -- and --”
“What?” said Ben.
“And the other fucking guy,” said the fly.
(Continued here, because we owe it to the children of tomorrow.)
(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other officially released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Tickets still available for next week’s "Arnold Schnabel Walking Tour" in Cape May, hosted by Professor Harold Bloom. Private party afterwards in Mrs Biddle’s back yard, featuring Tommy’s Special Iced Tea, Charlie Coleman’s Special Barbecued Short-ribs, and Mrs Schnabel’s Homemade German Potato Salad; and an icy cold keg of Ortlieb’s beer courtesy of the VFW. Featuring for your entertainment the musical stylings of “The Sweet Sounds of Summer with Freddy Ayres and Ursula; special guest Magda on the Hohner Pianet”. Lemonade and regular iced tea available also at no extra charge.)