Saturday, August 6, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 262: Nazi bitches

Let us return to the sleepy seaport of Cape May New Jersey on a Sunday afternoon after a heavy rainfall in August of 1963, and to our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his comrades Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the talking fly, who have halted their bicycle journey in the middle of flooded Washington Street because of a severe pain in Arnold’s leg (the result of Arnold’s having crashed to the pavement the previous night after colliding into a streetlamp pole whilst flying through the air). Suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere a police car pulls up next to our hero...

(Click here to read our previous chapter; the morbidly curious may go here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award-winning 99-volume epic.)

“The other day on Facebook I got one of those ‘Ten Books You Would Take to a Desert Islands’ questionnaires; the only difficulty for me was deciding which ten volumes of Arnold Schnabel’s masterpiece I would pack up in my old kit-bag.” -- Harold Bloom in Boys’ Life.


The policeman had his window rolled down. When I say the policeman I mean of course the policeman who had questioned me earlier that day. Cape May has other policemen I suppose but this one was the only one I ever seemed to encounter. He didn’t say anything at first. He just looked at me, and at Ben, at the both of us, and then mostly at me. I don’t think he took notice of the fly, who was hovering in the air between myself and the cop.

Finally the policeman spoke.

“So, did you make it to church okay?”

“Pardon me?” I said.

“To church. Last time I saw you you said you were going to mass.”

“Oh. Yes. Yes,” I said. “Just in time, thanks.”

“Reason I ask is I didn’t see you leave with the rest of the people.”

“Oh. Really?”

“Yeah. I just happened to be stopped at the corner up there at Ocean Street. Didn’t see you come out.”

“Oh, that’s right. I stayed a little longer.”

“You stayed in the church?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“To -- pray,” I said, as if I were recalling some dim memory from the distant past, a memory I was not quite sure of, something I might not be prepared to confirm under oath in a court of law.

“Oh,” said the policeman. “To pray.”

“Yes,” I said, as if suddenly it were all coming back to me now. “I felt the need for a little bit more, a little more --”

“Prayer?”

“Yes. Prayer,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “I can see that.”

He looked at me silently for a moment, then craned his neck a bit to look past me, presumably at Ben. Then he returned his gaze to me.

“Can I ask what you’re doing, Mr. Schnabel?”

“Bicycling?” I said.

“Well, I can see that,” he said. He paused, looked past me again at Ben, and then back to me. “But why are you standing in the middle of the flooded street with your bike?”

“My leg started to hurt,” I said. “Sort of a cramp I think.”

“I see. Does it still hurt?”

“My leg?”

“Yeah.”

“Yes,” I said. “It still does, I’m afraid.”

“I see you got some bruises and scrapes on your knees.”

“Yes,” I said. “I had a little accident.”

“Fell down?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You know, it might not be such a great idea to drink so much, Mr. Schnabel.”

“I wasn’t really drunk,” I said.

“Not really?”

Not really, I thought, although come to think of it I had taken those mushrooms and smoked a lot of Josh’s marijuana. Avoiding the man’s eyes I gazed over the hood of the police car. There was the Ugly Mug up there. It would be nice to sit and drink beer in there instead of standing out here in this floodwater halfway up to my knees.

“Y’know, Mr. Schnabel,” said the cop, and he paused.

I stopped looking at the Ugly Mug and looked at the policeman.

“Yes?” I said

“A guy can get seriously hurt he drinks too much,” he said. “I see it all the time.”

“Yes,” I said.

He craned his head to look at Ben again. I glanced over at Ben, too. Ben was leaning with one hand on his handlebar, smoking his cigarette and gazing up Washington Street as if he were paying no attention to the policeman or me. I looked back at the cop, who was staring at me again.

“Maybe,” said the cop, “it’s not such a great idea for you and your friend there to be out riding bikes all over town in the flooded streets.”

“So what’s the story on the flooding, officer?” said Ben suddenly, in a rather loud and hearty voice, almost as if he were shouting over the din of the engine room of a tramp steamer.

“The, uh, flooding?” said the officer.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “What’s the gen?”

“The gen?” asked the cop.

“The gen,” said Ben. “The scuttlebutt.”

“The scuttlebutt?”

“Yeah,” said Ben. “On the flooding.”

“On the flooding?” said the officer.

He had apparently caught my annoying tic of repeating as a question what he had just plainly heard.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “The flooding.”

The fly, who had been behaving up till now, right then zoomed down and attacked the policeman’s face. The cop swatted and missed and Ferdinand flew off.

“Um, the flooding,” said the policeman. “Well, in fact I just got off the, uh, horn with the coast guard and they’re hoping it won’t get any worse. It all depends on if we get more rain. There’s a front coming in from the northeast. If it passes us by we should be okay as soon as the tide goes out.”

“If,” said Ben.

“Uh, yeah,” said the cop, “If. Uh, if, uh --”

“Reminds me one time out in the Philippines,” said Ben. I looked over at him. Leaning on his bicycle handle with one great hand he gazed out past the front of the police car in the general direction of where the ocean was.

“The, uh, Philippines?” said the officer.

“The great typhoon of December ‘51,” said Ben. “My ship pulled into Manila Harbor just ahead of the storm, and after it hit the bodies were floating through the streets like so much driftwood. Mothers were lashing their children to the crossbars of the telephone poles, and the roofs of the houses were thick with wailing natives. Me and my buddies commandeered a motor launch and steamed up Old Wack-Wack Road, picking up survivors and taking them up to the country club on the hill.”

“Oh, gee --” said the cop.

“Problem was the boat was getting too crowded, so we had to stop picking up men and just stick to women and children. Had to beat the men off with belaying pins and monkey wrenches.”

“Well,” said the policeman, “I guess in an emergency like that you have to --”

“Finally we got so packed we had to start tossing men off to make room for the women and children.”

“Oh,” said the cop. “Well --”

“We pulled this one white woman out of the drink, then it turned out she was a man in a woman’s dress and a wig.”

“Oh --”

“We threw the yellow-bellied coward back in.”

“Oh.”

“But boy we partied that night up at the country club. Them women we saved were very grateful, let me tell ya. You ever been out to the Philippines, officer?”

“Well, uh, no --”

“Good stop,” said Ben. He took a good drag of his cigarette and slowly exhaled a cloud of pale grey smoke. “Real nice stopping place.”

“So, uh, you’re a sailor, sir?”

“Sure I am, but, hey, what’s this sir crap? Do I look like a goddam officer? Ben’s the name, officer, Ben Blagwell, call me Ben.”

“Well, uh, pleased to meet you, uh, Ben.”

“What’s your name, officer, you don’t mind my asking?”

“Woznicki,” said the policeman, and he pointed to the little name plaque pinned to his shirt. “Uh, Officer Woznicki.”

“Nah, I mean your first name, pal.”

“Oh, it’s, uh, Harold.”

“Harold,” said Ben. “They call you Harry?”

“No,” said Officer Woznicki, “just Harold, usually --”

“Glad to know you, Harold,” said Ben. “Got nothing but respect for you men in blue. Spent some time on shore patrol myself. Keeping an eye on drunken swabbies and gyrenes and dogfaces out in Okinawa, Valparaiso, Panama. Many’s the time I had to unscabbard my baton and bash the hell out of four or five of these undisciplined bastards all by myself before they could disgrace their uniforms and the flag and possibly create an international incident.”

“Well, uh,” said the policeman.

“You look like a swabbie,” said Ben. “You in the navy?”

“Well, uh, no,” said the cop. “I was 4-F because I have a heart murmur.”

“Bum ticker, huh?” said Ben.

“Well, it’s not really serious,” said the officer. “But they still wouldn’t let me enlist.”

“You tried to enlist?”

“Yes, on my eighteenth birthday, I tried to enlist in the navy actually, but then when I took the physical --”

“Bum ticker,” said Ben.

“Well, a mild heart murmur,” said the cop.

“So you became a cop instead,” said Ben.

“Yeah,” said the cop, sounding sheepish.

“Y’know, something, officer,” said Ben. “you’re lucky. Count yourself lucky you got that bum ticker.”

“You think so?”

“The things I’ve seen.” Ben looked off to where the ocean presumably still was, just a few blocks beyond the Ugly Mug. “The torn and burning flesh. The screams of the wounded and dying. Some of them your best buddies. The death. The broken bodies. The shattered minds.”

“Um --” said the policeman.

Ben now transferred his stare to the officer.

“Count yourself lucky my friend,” said Ben.

“Well, uh --” said the cop.

“The rattle of a U-Boat’s machine guns as they gun down your screaming shipmates in the water.”

“Gee,” said Officer Woznicki.

“Then you found out them guys were the lucky ones, as the survivors died of hypothermia one by one in the cold waters of the Atlantic.”

“Gee,” said the cop again.

“Finally you make it to the shore, swimming in half-dead, and wouldn’t you know it you’re in occupied France and you get taken prisoner, and tortured by Nazi bitches --”

“Wow,” said the cop, “I guess that’s, uh --”

“Not that there ain’t good times also,” said Ben. “The camaraderie. The boozing. The carousing. The willing dames in every port. Ah, yes, the willing dames.”

“Heh heh,” said the cop.

“By the way,” said Ben, “I don’t want to alarm you, but if you keep idling that engine there in that water there’s a pretty good chance that car might stall on you.”

“Oh,” said the policeman.

“I speak only as one who has worked around engines and water for his entire adult life.”

“Oh,” said the officer, “well, maybe you’re right --”

“I mean I know you gotta keep cruising around town, but the thing is, if that car stalls on you then you’re gonna have a problem.”

“Um --”

“I’ve seen floods like this, plenty of them, too many of them, and one thing I’ve learned in a flood is you got to keep an eye open for looters.”

“Looters?”

“They always come out in floods. Just like the shit that rises up out of the sewers, these looters come out of the woodwork in a flood.”

“Yeah?”

“The trick is -- this is what we did in the shore patrol -- just cruise around slow and easy like, keeping your eyes open.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.”

“Slow and easy like,” said Ben. “I remember the great hurricane of ’38, I was just a kid straight out of boot camp on a destroyer in New Bedford harbor. After the storm passed they gave us Springfield rifles and Tommy guns and we cruised the flooded dockside streets in our lifeboats, shooting looters on sight. That made me grow up quick, I’ll tell ya.”

“Gee,” said Officer Woznicki.

“But seriously,” said Ben, “you better pull out before you stall that motor.”

“Right,” said the officer. He shifted the car into gear, and you could hear the engine gun as he pressed on the gas, but then there was only a strangled gurgle from the motor, and the car refused to move.

“Oh, no,” said the officer.

“See? What’d I tell ya,” said Ben.

“Oh, no,” said the cop.

Suddenly there was no noise at all from the car’s engine.

“Oh, no,” said Officer Woznicki once again.

The fly flew right through the policeman’s window and landed on his nose. Once again the cop swatted and missed, and Ferdinand zoomed out the window again, chuckling audibly.

“That’s a shame,” said Ben. “Hey, ya want us to get some help for ya?”

“No,” said Officer Woznicki. “I’ll radio for help.”

“Hope you don’t get in trouble,” said Ben.

“Yeah, me too,” said Officer Woznicki.

“Well,” said Ben, “you okay to ride now, Arnie?”

“Yes, I think so,” I said.

“Then let’s ride, buddy, before this flood water gets any higher.”

He flicked his cigarette away, it just barely missed hitting the front of Officer Woznicki’s car.

“Catch you later, Harold,” he said to the cop.

The cop didn’t say anything.

My leg did hurt less now, and I threw it over the bike’s frame. Ben had already pushed off, and I followed him up the flooded street. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Wally standing in the open doorway of his cigar store, smoking a cigar, looking at me silently. Out of habitual politeness I was on the verge of waving hello, but then I remembered the little canister of stuff he had given me, and I remembered the gold ring on my little finger that Mr. Arbuthnot had given me, and that old gentleman’s injunction that I return to Wally’s and attempt to trade the ring for another canister of stuff, and I decided to pretend that I hadn’t seen Wally, and I kept going, although I could feel his eyes following me.

When we got to Decatur Street Ben kept going, even though the light was red. I caught up with him, and we continued at our former slow velocity.

“Oh, my goddam God,” said the fly, who was back to riding in my ear. “You see the look on that bull’s face when he realized he’d stalled his car?”

“Priceless,” said Ben.

“Goddam priceless,” said Ferdinand.

“Ya see, Arnie?” said Ben.

“What?” I said.

“That’s how you handle a goddam nosy cop.”

The fly laughed merrily.

Over to the left there was Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop.


(Continued here, unless that cease-and-desist injunction comes through.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find what should be an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-legible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Coming this season on the Dumont Television Network: A Man Called Arnold, an exciting new dramatic series based on the life and works of Arnold Schnabel, starring David Janssen as Arnold Schnabel and featuring Broderick Crawford as Big Ben Blagwell, with Edd “Kookie” Byrnes as the voice of the Ferdinand the fly. A Larry Winchester Production for Desilu.)



2 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

Ben impressed me, too, with the way he handled that nosy cop. But Arnold's attitude is one that leaves him no choice but poetry.

Manny said...

"belaying pins and monkey wrenches"...a man's man uses any tool at hand