Friday, September 30, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 270: pursued

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companion that aged rascal Mr. Jones on a brick road in a forest in a land far, far away...

(Go here to read our previous chapter; if you have absolutely nothing better to do with your time you may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume masterpiece of autobiography).

“Far from being a so-called ‘outsider artist’ along the lines of a Henry Darger or a Helen Martins, Arnold Schnabel is rather the ultimate ‘insider artist’, and it is we on the outside who have now have the privilege to enter his world.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Rosie O’Donnell Show.

The forest grew more dense and closer to the road on both sides, and the branches of the trees on either side almost touched above our heads. The road curved away and disappeared in the distance before us. I began to have misgivings.

“Mr. Jones,” I said, speaking very loudly in order to be heard over the noise of the birds.

“Say what?” he called back.

“This is starting to worry me.”

“What is?”

Gamely the old fellow was shuffling along, and I continued to limp along with him.

“It’s those birds,” I yelled (as he and I continued to yell throughout the following conversation). “Those screeching birds. And these woods. And this road.”

“Anything else?”

I looked up at the filigreed strip of sky visible above the road.

“The sky is creepy too,” I said.

“It’s the same blank grey sky as back at the house,” said Mr. Jones.

“True,” I said, “but what about those children back there?”

“What about them?”

“Well, wouldn’t it make sense that limbo would be, would be on the way to hell, or --”

Mr. Jones stopped, and pointed a finger at me.

“Look, will you stop being such a yellow-bellied poltroon? Who says limbo would be on the way to hell? Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. We don’t know, do we?”

“No,” I said.

He took out his pipe.

“We’ve come this far, let’s keep going.”

He stuck his right hand into his trousers pocket.

“But what if we really are heading to hell?” I asked.

He brought his hand, empty, out of his pocket.

“Arnold, I’m sure we’ll see some indication if we approach the gates of Hades.” He switched the pipe to his right hand, and now he stuck his newly free left hand into his other side trousers pocket. “You know, smoke and fire and whatnot. The cries of the damned.”

“But maybe these screeching birds are an indication,” I said. “It’s so weird, especially because we can’t see the birds.”

His hand came out of his pocket and in its fingers was another folded-up wad of tin foil, about two inches square and a quarter-inch thick.

Voilà,” he said.

“Wait,” I said, “What are you doing? That’s not more hop, is it?”

“No, it’s not hop,” said Mr. Jones. “It’s just Mary Jane, so relax.”

Putting his pipe between his dentures he unfolded the tinfoil to reveal a thick clump of Mary Jane.

“Found this in Arbuthnot’s couch last night. Not sure how good it is.”

“Mr. Jones, do you really think it’s a good idea to smoke that right now?”

“But it’s all I got to smoke. I gave all my cigarettes to that little Chinee kid back there.”

“Yes, but must you smoke marijuana?”

“You got something else to smoke?”

“No. But must you smoke at all?”

He began to stuff the marijuana into the bowl of his pipe.

“It’s not a question of must, my boy. It’s a question of what I feel like doing.”

“You just smoked a bowl of hop not fifteen minutes ago,” I said.

“What are you, my mother? Christ, Arnold, don’t be a bringdown.”

He was holding the tin foil right above and next to the bowl of his pipe, and with his index finger he carefully wiped every least grain of marijuana from the foil into the bowl.

“You know you gave your matches to that little boy,” I said.

Tossing away the tin foil Mr. Jones reached into his right jacket pocket and brought out another book of matches and showed them to me. Pilot House matches.

He tore one off, struck it, and put the flame to his pipe. He drew deeply, and then, holding in his breath, he offered me the pipe, stem-first.

I shook my head. The birds continued to screech. Thirty-six seconds passed, and then Mr. Jones exhaled the smoke in the direction of my face and, extending the pipe even closer to me, he said, “Come on. Be a man. Take a hit.”

“I don’t think I’d better,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I think at least one of us had better keep his wits about him.”

“Pretty fair talk from a former mental case,” said Mr. Jones.

“All right, then,” I said, and I took the pipe.

“That’s the spirit, my boy,” he said.

I drew on the pipe, and held in the smoke.

“There’s a good chap,” said Mr. Jones, taking the pipe back off me. “Hold it in good now.”

I held it in while the birds continued to screech and as Mr. Jones lit another match and put the flame to his pipe again. I looked past him at the woods. At least I couldn’t see any little children.

Finally I exhaled. By the way, please don’t ask me why I took the pipe from him and smoked, don’t ask me why I gave in so easily. Well, all right, if you insist, I suppose the reason was that my pride was hurt by his remark about my mental history. I guess I wanted to show him I could handle it. But I regretted my decision almost immediately. The screeching and cawing and cackling of those invisible birds seemed to be growing louder and more shrill with each passing second. And the seconds now suddenly were passing very slowly, which didn’t help matters at all. Amazingly though, Mr. Jones didn’t seem to be bothered as he blithely puffed away.

He offered me the pipe again.

I was terrified, I was sure that we were very near the gates of hell and that this avian cacophony was indeed the crying of the damned in their sundry eternal torments.

Mr. Jones blew a cloud of smoke in my face and then said, “Go on, you’re wasting the muggles, man.”

As terrified as I was I was still too proud to seem like a coward to this decrepit old reprobate, so I took the pipe and inhaled deeply and held it in.

“Hey, you guys!” someone yelled.

At first I thought I might be imagining the voice. There was so much noise from all those invisible birds.

But then Mr. Jones pointed past me, to the far side of the road.

Still holding in the marijuana smoke I turned, and there, standing by the other side of the road, was a naked thin bearded man who needed a haircut.

“Don’t be alarmed,” called the man.

Now I exhaled the smoke, and lapsed into a coughing fit. Mr. Jones came up behind me and clapped me on the back a few times. God knows why people do this, it really doesn’t help. He also took the pipe out of my hand. I think he didn’t want me to spill the marijuana that was still in it.

The naked man looked up and down the road, or down and up, it was all the same to me after all, and then he walked toward us.

“Pardon my nakedness, but it’s part of my punishment. But what the hell, I’m sure you guys have seen naked men before. In the showers after gym class, or in the service maybe. How are you? You got a cough there, friend?”

“No,” I said, “it was just a little smoke, went down the wrong way.”

“Oh, shit,” said Mr. Jones.

“What?” said the naked man.

“I said oh shit,” said Mr. Jones.

“Heh heh, I get it. That was just what I said when I first walked down this road, lo, many, many moons ago.”

“Looks like you were right, Arnold,” said Mr. Jones.

“Right about what?” said the naked man.

“Right that we were walking into the bowels of hell.”

“Oh, you’re not quite in hell yet,” said the man. “Just close to it. Very close to it in fact. Hey, could I have a puff of that tobacco? You don’t know how many years it’s been since my last smoke and I still think about it all the time.”

“It’s not tobacco,” said Mr. Jones. “It’s Mary Jane. Marijuana.”

“Oh,” said the man. “I’ve never tried that. Is it good?”

“Pretty good, otherwise we wouldn’t be smoking it.”

“Can I have a puff?”

“Damn, you people around here sure are a bunch of moochers, aren’t you?”

“What did you expect? Saints?”

“Ha ha, good one,” said Mr. Jones. “All right, let me just get it goin’. Now watch how I do it. Ya gotta take a good lungful and then hold it in.”

“Hold it in?” said the man.

“Yeah. If you just puff on it like regular pipe tobacco you’re not gonna feel nothing. So hold it in as long as you can. Watch.”

He lit the pipe again, and after taking a good lungful he passed it to the naked man.

“Take a good lungful and hold it in,” repeated the man.

Mr. Jones, still holding in his lungful, nodded.

The man took a good lungful, but then he started coughing, even worse than I had just done.

Quickly Mr. Jones stepped forward and took the pipe from the naked man’s hand.

Mr. Jones let the smoke he’d been holding in drift out of his mouth, and then said, “It takes some practice.”

“Oh. My,” said the man, and he coughed a few more times, but with decreasing violence.

Mr. Jones handed me the pipe. Without thinking about it, I took another lungful myself.

“Can I try it again?” said the naked man, even though he was still coughing a little bit.

“You’re just gonna waste it,” said Mr. Jones. “We only got the one bowl.”

He took the pipe from me, took another few puffs and held them in.

“Just a little bit?” said the naked man, clearing his throat.

Mr. Jones shook his head, but he handed the pipe to the man, who took a good draw and held it in, this time without coughing right away.

I finally remembered to exhale the smoke in my lungs. Mr. Jones nodded to me in an approving way, then he exhaled. Finally the naked man exhaled and immediately went into another coughing fit, a really bad one this time. Once again Mr. Jones grabbed the pipe from the fellow.

“Oh, my,” said the man. “Oh, my.”

Mr. Jones and I looked at one another. He shook his head again, then struck another match and put it to his pipe.

Finally the naked fellow’s coughing subsided.

“Whew!” he said. “So, where are you fellows headed anyway? If it’s purgatory I can take you in, show you around, get you settled. Come on.”

“No!” I said.

“No?” said the naked man. “You mean -- you’re going to the, uh, other place?”

“If by the other place you mean hell then you’re wrong again, buddy,” said Mr. Jones, exhaling smoke as he spoke. “Not yet we ain’t anyway, are we Arnie?”

“What?” I said.

“Christ, you’re stoned already,” said Mr. Jones.

“Stoned?” said the naked man. “You were stoned? That’s a horrible way to die, isn’t it?”

“Uh,” I said.

Mr. Jones tugged on my polo-shirt sleeve.

“I think we better turn back, Arnold.”

“Yeah. I agree,” I said.

“You can’t just turn back,” said the naked man. “That’s not allowed.”

“Watch us, nature boy,” said Mr. Jones.

“But you’re not allowed.”

“Do we look like we give a shit?” said Mr. Jones.

“You’re going to get in trouble.”

“Let us worry about that, pal,” said Mr. Jones.

“I’m only telling you so you don’t get in trouble.”

“Like what kind of trouble, getting condemned to live naked in the woods with no tobacco?”

“Well, yes, now that you mention it, that could happen.”

Suddenly the screeching of the birds, which had never stopped through all this, grew much louder and even more abrasive to my sensitivities.

“Uh-oh, see?” yelled the naked man. “Hear that screeching?”

“We ain’t deaf,” yelled back Mr. Jones. “What the hell is that racket?”

“That’s the screeching of the damned,” yelled the man. “And they’re getting closer. This means you’re in for it. Look, I’m getting out of here before they get here and drag me away too. If you two are smart you’ll follow me.”

“Where?” yelled Mr. Jones.

“Into the woods,” yelled the man.

“Oh no,” yelled Mr. Jones.

“It’s not so bad,” yelled the man. “You get used to it. Like anything else. It’s only purgatory after all.” The screeching swelled again, like a wave rolling down the road. “Oh, shit,” said the man, “they must be almost here. Follow me if you want to, but I’m getting out of here!”

He had been edging toward the woods as he was speaking, and now he turned and ran off into them.

Just then, coming down the road from the direction we had been headed toward, we saw a whole crowd of people, jogging toward us. The people all seemed to be naked. The screeching grew louder and now finally I could tell where the noise was coming from.

“Great,” said Mr. Jones. “Now we’re fucked.”

“We should run for it,” I said.

“Run?” said Mr. Jones. “I haven’t been able to run in over thirty years, and if you don’t mind my saying so I don’t think you’re gonna be able to sprint like Jesse Owens neither.”

“We can’t just stand here and wait for that mob. Let’s go into the woods and try to lose them.”

“Good idea. Let me just have one more hit on the old pipe.”

“Mr. Jones!”

“Oh, all right. We’ll save it for later.” He stuck his finger into the bowl to tamp its contents down, and then put the pipe in his suit-jacket pocket. “Okay, let’s cheese it. But let’s go in the other side from where that moocher went. He gave me the creeps.”

“Okay,” I said, and I hobbled and Mr. Jones shuffled off the road and into the woods.

Once we were a few yards in Mr. Jones said, “Let’s go straight in until we’re like invisible from the road, then double back toward the big house.”

“Good idea,” I said, and we plunged deeper into the dimness through the undergrowth and the trees as that infernal screeching swelled ever closer behind us.

(Continued here, and incessantly.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what one sincerely hopes is an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, now being published by Funk & Wagnall’s in an affordable series of semi-hardbound leatherette volumes available exclusively at Woolworth’s in a special display over near where they keep the pots and pans.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 30

"without a tip"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

*Ass’t Professor of Classics and Epistemology; Olney Community College; editor of Love Songs of the Damned: Previously Uncollected Poems of Horace P. Sternwall (1935-1939); Olney Community College Press; “The Sternwall Project”.

(Please click here to read the entire thrilling episode.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 269: children

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel, on a mission to bring the recently-deceased Mr. Jones back to the world of the living, has descended with that venerable gentleman to the gate at the foot of the hill on top of which sits God’s house. After trying and failing to return thence to the world of the living by closing their eyes and concentrating, Arnold and Mr. Jones are wondering what to do next when an intercom on the gate post rings. Arnold picks up the receiver to find that it is St. Peter on the wire...

(Click here to read our previous thrilling episode; the bold of heart may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award-winning 44-volume masterpiece of confessional prose).

“Shortly before his fatal accident I visited my old friend Roland Barthes in Paris, and one brisk afternoon at Les Deux Magots I showed him several of Arnold Schnabel’s then-unpublished notebooks. For an hour he sat transfixed, smoking cigars and sipping pastis, looking up only occasionally to ask me for elucidation of a particular American idiom or pop-cultural reference. When he had finished he looked at me and said, 'Enfin, la verité.'” -- Harold Bloom, on The Charlie Rose Show.

“Now,” said St. Peter’s voice, “in a clear tone -- but without shouting -- speak into the lower grill and please tell me why you two are loitering down there.”

“What a cunt this guy is,” said Mr. Jones.

“What?” said St. Peter’s voice.

“Nothing,” I said, leaning forward, speaking into the lower grill. “It was just Mr. Jones, saying --”

“What a cunt he is,” said Mr. Jones.

“What was that?” said St. Peter.

“He was just saying to tell you what our problem is,” I said.

“Yes,” said St. Peter. “Please tell me.”

“We don’t know which way to go,” I said.


“We don’t know which way to go. To get back to the world of the living.”

“Why didn’t you ask me before if you didn’t know?”

“Oh. Uh, I guess we just didn’t, uh --”

“Fuck him,” said Mr. Jones.

“What was that?” said St. Peter.

“And the horse he rode in on,” said Mr. Jones.

“What? What did he say?” said St. Peter.

“He said of course, uh, of course we should have, uh, you know, um --”

“Look,” said St. Peter. “Just go to your left.”


“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Unless you want to go to hell or purgatory, in that case go to your right.”

“No,” I said.

“Very funny,” said Mr. Jones. “Funny as a crutch in a polio ward.”

“What?” said St. Peter.

“Mr. Jones said thank you very much,” I said into the grill, “and, uh, now we’ll be heading homeward.”

“You’re welcome,” said St. Peter.

“So,” I said, “to the, uh, left then --”

But then I heard a click, and only silence.

I hung up the receiver, then closed the green metal box. I turned to Mr. Jones

“So,” I said, “we go left.”

“Left facing the road, or left facing the house?”

“Well, I assume he meant left facing the road.”

“But you were facing the house when he said that, and he said go to your left.”

“Oh, right.”

“Call him back,” said Mr. Jones.

I hesitated. I glanced at the intercom box, and then I looked up at the house. I could see St. Peter sitting in his rocking chair, undoubtedly watching us.

“Look, let’s just go,” I said.

“Fine,” said Mr. Jones. “Which way?”

I hesitated and then pointed to the left, the left facing the road.

“That way,” I said.

“I’m tellin’ ya, Arnold,” said Mr. Jones, shaking his head, “I ain’t so sure about that.”

“Oh, all right,” I said. “We’ll go the other way.”

“To the right?”

“To the right,” I said.

“Let’s go then,” he said.

There was no traffic of course so we walked out into the brick-paved road and started walking to the right -- well, to be accurate I started limping and Mr. Jones started shuffling, with Mr. Jones walking along the side of the road and me more towards the middle.

After a few paces we began to hear the sounds of birds, chirping and chattering.

“So they got birds up here,” said Mr. Jones.

“Apparently,” I said.

“Except I don’t see none.”

“They must all be in the woods,” I said.

The birds screeched and keened, we walked along, with the woods to our left and to our right a high spiked wrought-iron fence, bordering God’s property.

“I wonder if that fence is to keep people out or in,” said Mr. Jones.

I said nothing. The birds really were making a terrible racket.

Then I thought I heard a ringing noise again.

“Do you hear that, Mr. Jones?”

“Hear what? All I hear is them damn birds. Reminds me of the goddam Philippines, goddam birds making a racket all day, enough to drive you nuts. You ever been out to the Philippines?”

“Well, in a sense,” I said.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Well, I’ll tell you about it some other time.”

“Tell me about it now.”

I went back in time and I was in the Philippines.”

“No kidding? How far back in time.”

“I think it was about 1930.”

“That’s not so far back.”

“No, I guess not,” I said.

“You have a good time there?”

“No,” I said, “not really.”

“Too many goddam bugs?”

“No, it wasn’t that, it was just -- well, something very unpleasant happened.”

“Like what?”

“A -- a man died.”

“A man died? What man?”

“He was -- well, he was the husband of this lady I knew.”

“Oh, here we go again. Cherchez la femme. What is it with you and the frails, Arnold?”

I said nothing. The birds screeched and cawed, although I still couldn’t see any of them.

“You didn’t bump this guy off, did you?” asked Mr. Jones.


“This broad’s husband. You didn’t bump him, did ya?”

“No!” I said. “It was -- it was an accident.”

“Oh really? What kind of accident?”

“He -- he fell off of this second-floor veranda.”

“He fell.”


“And how did he happen to fall?”

“He was -- he was rushing at me.”

“Rushing at you.”


“You mean like attacking you?”

“Well, yes, I suppose --”

“Attacking you why?”

“Uh --”

“Because he caught you with his wife?”

“Yes,” I said. “But all we were doing was having tea.”

“Oh, sure.”

“No, really.”

“It’s always a dame.”

“But --”
“Always a dame with you young guys.”

“Look --”

“Not that I am pointing the finger, mind you. I was the same way, always some dame. Or dames. You get so excited. At the time. At the time you get excited. Thinking nothing of the fact that this beautiful young woman -- or, let’s face it, as often as not this merely acceptably attractive youngish or even no longer quite young woman -- that this at least not completely unattractive and not elderly woman would soon enough grow old and shriveled. Just as you yourself someday would. What was your question?”

“I had a question?”

“I seem to remember you asking me a question.”

“Oh,” I said. “Let me see.”

I tried to remember, but sometimes it’s as hard to remember what you’ve just said two minutes ago as it is something you said two decades ago.

“Um, I think I was asking you about, uh --”

“Hey, listen,” said Mr. Jones.



“Okay, go ahead.”

“No. I mean just listen.”

“Just listen?”

“Yeah. Shut up and listen.”

“Listen to what?”

He put his hand on my arm, and we both stopped.

“I don’t hear anything,” I said.

“That’s what I mean. Them birds stopped making that infernal racket.”

“Well, that’s nice,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Mr. Jones still had his hand on my arm.

“Wait,” he said, in a low voice. “Holy shit.”

“What?” I said.

He took his hand off my arm and pointed to the right side of the road. We had passed the grounds of the house and now there was a forest on this side as well as the other.

“What’s that?” he said.

“What’s what?”

“That. Look.”

I looked to where he was pointing, and there, within the dimness of the thick pines and cypresses and willows and undergrowth I now a dozen or more small children, standing silently, looking at us.

“Who the hell are they?” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh no,” I said.

“What? Are they demons? Hell spawn?”

“I’m not sure,” I said.

One of the little children left the others and came slowly out of the forest. He was a little Oriental boy. He came out as far as the dirt path that ran along the side of the road.

“Chocolate, misters?”

“What did he say?” said Mr. Jones.

“He asked for chocolate I think.”

“You got any?” asked Mr. Jones.

“No,” I said.

“Any bubble gum? Nothing?”

I patted my pockets.

“No,” I said. “Sorry.”

Mr. Jones shook his head, then turned to the little boy.

“No got chocolate,” he said. “You want cigareet?”

“Gimme cigareeet,” said the little boy.

“Well, come here then,” said Mr. Jones.

“Mr. Jones,” I said. “You shouldn’t give cigarettes to little kids.”

He already had a pack of Luckies out. He turned and looked at me.

“Arnold,” he said. “Where are we?”

“Oh,” I said.

“We’re in the goddam land of the dead. These brats are dead and there’s nothing bad a cigarette can do to them. Not any more.”

“Right,” I said. “I forgot.”

The little boy came over to us. He was wearing shorts, a tee shirt, brown shoes with no socks. He held out his hand.

Mr. Jones gave the pack a shake so that a few butts protruded, then he paused, and said, “Ah, hell, take the pack. But share ‘em with your friends.”

“Okay, Joe,” said the little boy.

Mr. Jones handed him the pack, and the boy immediately took one out and put it in his mouth. Mr. Jones took out his matches and gave the kid a light.

“Thanks, Joe,” said the little kid.

“Here, keep the matches, too,” said Mr. Jones, and he gave the kid the book of matches.
Then, without a word, the boy walked back into the forest to join the rest of the children.
“Ballsy little kid,” said Mr. Jones. “I like that. I wonder what they did that they gotta live in them woods like that?”

“They must be the pagan babies,” I said.

“Oh, right,” said Mr. Jones. “So that’s limbo.”

“I guess so,” I said.

“It don’t seem so bad. Let’s keep walking.”

We resumed walking, or rather shuffling, and limping. From the corner of my eye I could see the children in the dimness of the woods, the pale smoke of their cigarettes rising up into the branches and the leaves of the trees.

I didn’t realize it at first, but the sound of the birds now resumed, the screeching and the cawing, gradually becoming even louder than before.

(Continued here, and for who knows how long now, as yet another trove of Arnold Schnabel’s notebooks have been recently discovered, buried under a stack of The Catholic Standard & Times in the attic of his aunts’ house in Cape May, NJ.)

(Please refer to the right-hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other street-legal chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Tickets still available for the "Annual Arnold Schnabel Walking Tour of Cape May", followed by an “Autumn Hootenanny” at the VFW featuring “Freddy Ayres & Ursula and their Swingin’ Songs of the Seaside, with Special Guest Magda on the Hohner Clavinet”.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 29

"a certain discrimination"

by manfred skyline and horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

(Click here for the entire thrilling episode.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 28

"jake's not here"

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, September 17, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 268: pagans

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and that venerable scamp Mr. Jones on the cobblestone pathway leading down the hill from God’s house...

(Go here to read our immediately preceding chapter; curious scholars may click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award-winning 82-volume memoir).

“American literature may be neatly divided up between the pre-Arnold Schnabel and the post-Arnold Schnabel eras.” -- Harold Bloom, in True Danger magazine.

We continued on down that winding path, through the rhododendrons and chrysanthemums, the rose bushes and geraniums, the elms and the oaks, the overgrown grass. The sky was still grey. There was a smell of honeysuckle in the air. My aunts and my mother would be happy here, I thought, and they would certainly do something about the unmown grass.

We made slow progress, my legs were still hurting and Mr. Jones was still eighty-seven years old.

“So,” he said, “this is all we do, just walk out of here?”

“I hope so,” I said.

“How’d you get out last time?”

“Last time?”

“Or any time.”

“I was only here the once.”

“Then how’d you get back that time?”

“Let me see.” It had only been the day before, but so much had happened since then. I rubbed the bruise on my forehead, which hadn’t really been hurting me noticeably since I had arrived here on the grounds of God’s house, but of course after I rubbed the bruise it did hurt...

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” said Mr. Jones.

“What was it you asked again?”

“I asked how you made it back to the land of the living last time."

“Oh, right. Let me see, I was in the big house --”

“No jesting? You made it into the house?”

“Well, yes, but you see I was with, um --”



“Or what is it? Josh you call him?”

“Yes,” I said. “He seems to like to go by Josh nowadays.”

“I wonder why?”

“Well, I think he doesn’t really want everyone to know that he’s -- you know --”

“The son of God.”

“Yes,” I said.

“He’s like traveling incognito.”

“Yes. He wants to be just like a regular human being.”

“Well, I can see that,” said Mr. Jones. “It probably gets boring being the son of God, century after fucking century. Ad infinitum.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“I’ve only been me for eighty-seven years and I’m damn sick of myself.”

I had no reply to this. I had been over myself ever since the age of six at least.

“So, you’re inside the big house,” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, right, I was inside the house back there, and, I had gotten lost for a while --”

“You got lost? I thought you were with Jesus. Or Josh.”

“I was, but he went into this room to talk to his father, and I was waiting outside in this corridor.”

“And what? You got bored and decided to take a walk?”

I sighed.

“I had to go to the bathroom. I was looking for a bathroom.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”


“What are you, in kindygarten? You gotta go pee every five minutes?”

“Well, the thing is, he was in this room quite some time, and --”

“So why didn’t you just ask someone where the john was?”

“Well, there was no one around.”

“I see.”

“So I just started trying doors -- and in fact the first one I opened I found this man working in an office at a desk.”

“Oh yeah? Who was he?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t ask.”

“Must have been another saint. Or maybe an angel.”

“Yes, probably.”

“So why didn’t you ask him where the jakes was?”

“Well, you know, I did actually, and he gave me directions to the bathroom, but I was so nervous I forgot them as soon as he told me, so I went out and started wandering around, and got totally lost.”

“You’re too much, Arnold.”

“I know. Finally I opened this one door and it was the same office and the same guy again.”

“And did you ask him for directions again?”

“No, I was too embarrassed. He asked me if I had found the bathroom, but I lied and told him I had, and that I had just come in to thank him.”

“You slay me. So then what did you do?”

“I left his office and got lost again.”

“Never a dull moment with you, is there, Arnold?”

“No,” I said. “Anyway, finally --”

Now I remembered that I had almost urinated in a vase. But I couldn’t bring myself to admit this to Mr. Jones. Some things are best left unsaid. Come to think of it probably most things are best left unsaid, but some more than others --

“Finally what?” said Mr. Jones.

“Pardon me?”

Once again I had lost my train of thought, and it occurred to me that ‘train of thought’ was a poor description of what typically went on in my brain, which was more like some enormous switchyard with dozens of trains pulling in and out constantly, weaving in and around each other, occasionally hitching onto other trains --

“Look,” said Mr. Jones, “if you don’t want to tell me I won’t be offended.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. Unconsciously I touched the bruise on my forehead again, which had stopped hurting since the last time I had touched it, but which now of course resumed hurting. “Where was I?”

“You were wandering around in the big house looking for the john. And then you were saying ‘finally’ something.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “So, finally, I saw this vase.”

“Oh, no.”

Now why did I go and mention that vase, and right after deciding definitely not to. Again, I will hand this question over to the psychiatrists of the future.

“Yes,” I said.

“You pissed in the vase?”

“No, thank God,” I said. “Because right then Josh --”


“Yes,” I said. “Jesus, Josh -- anyway, he appeared.”

“You mean just like that, out of thin air?”

“No, he just came walking around the corner at the far end of this corridor.”

“Oh, okay. So you hadn’t started peeing in the vase yet.”

“Yes, I mean no, I hadn’t started, uh --”

“Did you have your johnson out?”

“Um, I’d rather not say.”

“You had it out.”

“Anyway, I quickly turned and put it away, I don’t think he noticed.”

“Good thing for you. So what happened? Jesus show you to the john?”

“No, I didn’t tell him I had to go.”

“Just held it in, huh?”


“Then what happened?”

“Well, he told me he had talked over my case with his father, and that it was decided that I didn’t have to be dead, that I was still alive in other words, and then next second I was back on earth, alive.”

“Just like that?

“Yes, it happened very suddenly, like waking up from a dream.”

“I see. And how had you wound up here anyway?”

“Hit by lightning, on the beach.”

“You should never be out at the beach in a thunderstorm.”

“Yes, I realize that now.”

“Even if you have an umbrella. Did you have an umbrella?”

“No, I had been swimming.”

“Very foolish to swim in the rain. Unless of course you want to die. Did you want to die?”

“Oh, no, I was just swimming -- you know -- just swimming --”

“You’re leaving something out.”

I seem to be, if not, like George Washington, unable to tell a lie, then unable to tell one convincingly, even if only a lie of omission.

“I was swimming with a young lady,” I said.

“Good looking?”


“So, I get it, it was a deserted beach and you two were making the beast with two backs and you didn’t notice or care when it started to rain.”


“Hey, don’t get excited, I was only like what’s the word postulating.”

“Well, okay, then,” I said.

“Postulating that you were copulating, ha ha.”

I didn’t dignify this last remark with a reply. We walked on a bit more. It was really taking us a long time to get down this hill. I was still limping of course, but Mr. Jones was walking slower and slower as we went, barely shuffling along. I’ve often wondered about old people and how slow they are. It must be an odd way to live, when just walking to the corner store and back will take up half your day --

“I’m trying to remember,” said Mr. Jones.

“Pardon me?”

“I’m trying to remember the last time I hid the salami myself, either on the beach or anywhere else.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I think it was during the war.”

“You mean World War One?” I said.

“No, you smart-ass, World War Two. Jeeze.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Give me a little credit,” said Mr. Jones. “I was still only in my sixties in them days. Not quite ready to put my stick up on the rack for good.”

“Yes,” I said, “well, there’s the gate up ahead --”

“’42 to ’45,” said Mr. Jones. “Women were desperate then with so many of the lads away overseas. So desperate that even an older gentleman like myself was not looked upon completely askance. I would frequent the taprooms near the factories, where the Rosie the Riveters would come in after their shifts. Yes, those were good days.”

“Maybe once we get outside the gate,” I said, “maybe then we’ll just somehow --”

“All those ladies with nothing to go home to but Fibber McGee and Molly on the Philco.”

Mr. Jones stopped me with his dry little hand on my arm and looked up at me.

“They were randy as goats these girls,” he said. “Especially the married ones, you understand, because they knew what they were missing. All I had to do usually was buy ‘em a glass of beer, and sometimes I’d get a handjob right there at the bar --”

“Okay,” I said. His hand on my arm felt like a crab claw. I peeled it off. “Look, Mr. Jones.”


“If you don’t mind, I prefer not to hear your reminiscences of the war years.”


“No,” I said.

“But my memories are all I have. Do you find them distasteful?”


I started limping down the path again, and Mr. Jones shuffled along beside me.

“How would you like it if I told you your memories were distasteful?”

“I wouldn’t care,” I said.

“That’s because you’re young. You’re still out there, banging babes on the beach.”


“I used to bang babes on the beach.”

“All right.”

“Or in hansom cabs. Tell the driver to take us round the park a few times. Clippety-clop, the sound of the horse’s hooves obscuring our grunts and cries of ecstasy.”


“Good times.”

“I’m sure they were.”

“And that supercilious ass St. Peter would probably have us believe those splendid assignations were mortal sins.”

“Well, technically-speaking, they were,” I said.

“Nonsense,” said Mr. Jones. “He only says that because he’s not getting any himself.”

“Okay, look, Mr. Jones, maybe you’d better change the subject, at least till we get back.”

“Oh, you may have a point there, my boy. How much farther do we have to walk anyway?”

We had come at last to the open wrought-iron gate.

“Well, here’s the gate,” I said.

“I can see that. So what do we do, just walk through?”

“Well, I don’t see what else to do,” I said.

“Let’s go then.”

We walked through the gate. I hadn’t really noticed what it was like out here before, but there was a narrow road going by the entrance, paved with worn old reddish-brown brick. On the other side of the road was a forest, mostly pine it looked like, although I could see some cypresses and even a couple of weeping willows. There was no sidewalk, although there was a dirt path on this side of the road.

“Now what?” said Mr. Jones.

“Well, I’m not sure,” I said. “As I said, last time I just came back to life sort of instantaneously.”

“But your friend was with you,” said Mr. Jones. “This ‘Josh’ fellow.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I said.

“Maybe he had something to do with it.”

“He probably did,” I said.

“But he’s not here now.”


“So now what do we do?”

“Keep walking, I suppose.”

“Okay,” said Mr. Jones. “Which way?”

This was a good question. After all, a wrong turn might take us to a very bad place indeed.

“To the right?” I said.

“You have no idea, do you?”

“No,” I said.

“What if we go right and we wind up in hell?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes what?”

“Yes we might wind up in hell.”

“So what do we do?”

“We should have asked St. Peter,” I said.

“Yeah, we should’ve, but we didn’t. Do you want to go back up and ask him?”

“No,” I said.

“Me neither,” said Mr. Jones. “I don’t trust that guy, saint or no saint.”

“Look,” I said, “Let’s just close our eyes and concentrate.”

“Close our eyes and concentrate.”

“Yes,” I said.

“What is this, a magic act?”

“Well, unless you want to just start walking.”

“I’m tired of walking.”

“Yeah,” I said, “so am I.”

“Okay, we’ll try it your way,” he said.

“You mean closing our eyes and concentrating?”


“Okay, then, let’s give it a try.”

“Fine,” he said.

I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate. I can only presume that Mr. Jones did the same.

I won’t even attempt to describe what went on in my brain for the next minute or so, but after that period of time I heard Mr. Jones’s voice.

“I don’t know about you, Arnold, but I’m still here.”

I opened my eyes.

We were both still there.

I sighed.

“What about them woods over there?” said Mr. Jones.

“What about them?” I said.

“Maybe the world of the living is on the other side of them woods.”

“It could be,” I said.

“But again we don’t know.”

“No,” I said.

“Well,” said Mr. Jones, “the way I look at it, only one of these directions probably leads to hell, so one of the other directions must lead back to the world of the living. So we got right, left, or straight ahead into the woods.”

“But then there’s purgatory,” I said. “And limbo.”

“What the hell is limbo.”

“It’s -- it’s where the pagan babies go.”

“The pagan babies?”


“Okay, fuck this shit, let’s just choose a direction and go.”

“Well --”

Suddenly we heard a ringing.

“What the hell is that?” said Mr. Jones.

“It’s some sort of ringing,” I said.

“I know it’s some sort of ringing, but what the hell is it?”

“Wait,” I said, “it’s coming from that box.”

I pointed to a green metal box that was fixed to the outside of one of the brick columns that the gate was attached to.

“Go see what it is.”

I went over. There was a little rusted metal catch on the box near the brick. I pulled on the catch and the box swung away from the post, revealing an old-fashioned intercom, with a receiver on a hook, an embedded bell, and a couple of grilled panels one above the other.

“Pick it up,” said Mr. Jones.

I picked up the receiver and put it to my ear.

The ringing stopped.

“Speak into the grill,” said a crackly voice.

“Hello?” I said.

“Not the upper grill,” said the voice. “That’s the speaker. Talk into the lower grill.

I leaned down and forward toward the lower grill.

“Hello?” I said again.

“This is Peter. Why are you two still standing around down there?”

I looked past the gate post and up the hill. I could see Peter standing in the doorway, with his hand near his head, obviously using an intercom up there.

“We don’t know which way to go,” I said.

“What? Speak into the grill.”

I leaned back down closer to the grill and spoke louder.

“We don’t know which way to go,” I repeated.

St. Peter said something but I couldn’t make out what he said.

“What did he say?” said Mr. Jones.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“What did you say?” said St. Peter’s voice.

“I said I couldn’t hear what you said,” I said, very loudly.

“You don’t have to scream,” said his voice. “Just speak clearly and into the grill.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“I’m not deaf you know.”

“Sorry,” I said, in what I hoped was a more gently modulated voice.

(To be continued, there’s no help for it.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page for a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. A few tickets are still available for the Annual Arnold Schnabel’s Birthday Beer & Beef Bash this October at the VFW on Chew Avenue; the announced MC, Marty “Gooney” McFarland, had an unfortunate accident falling down “Dead Man’s Hill” in Fisher’s Park after an evening at the Green Parrot, so there will be a special raffle that night to help pay for his broken leg, because Gooney doesn’t have health insurance ever since he lost his job at the Tastykake factory. The prize will be one of Arnold Schnabel’s original marble copybooks, filled with his dense but neat Palmer-Method handwriting; second prize: a box of butter cookies from Fink’s Bakery.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 27

"A Stranger Appears"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by konrad kraus and rhoda penmarq

*Ass’t Professor of Classics, Home Room Coordinator, Olney Community College; editor of The Final Furlough: Collected Stories Of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 2 (1942-1945); Olney Community College Press, “The Obscure Masters Project”.

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, September 10, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 267: martyr

Our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel has journeyed to the spirit world in an attempt to bring back the recently-deceased Mr. Jones, and St. Peter, guarding the door to God’s house, has finally and begrudgingly told Arnold to take the aged miscreant and go...

(Click here to read our previous episode; those who feel up to the adventure may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award-winning 39-volume masterpiece of the autobiographer’s art).

“By all accounts -- and they are, alas, few and sparse -- Arnold Schnabel was a polite but quiet fellow, giving little indication to his contemporaries of the oceanic genius that surged beneath his unassuming demeanor.” -- Harold Bloom, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

When we were several yards down the cobblestone path Mr. Jones said, “What an asshole that St. Peter is. No wonder they crucified him upside down.”

“Shhh,” was my reply.

“What? He can’t hear us from here.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” I said.

I can hear every word you two are saying,” yelled St. Peter from up there on porch behind us.

“Oh, Christ,” said Mr. Jones.

“Just keep walking,” I said in a low voice.

“I’m walking, I’m walking,” said Mr. Jones.

Down we continued along that winding path, through the rich wet geraniums and rhododendrons, past big old oak and elm trees.

“What’s with the limp, partner?” asked Mr. Jones.

“Oh, I fell last night,” I said.

“Yeah, we all had a little drop too much partaken last night -- not to mention that dynamite opiated hash of Arbuthnot’s, ha ha. So, Arnold, you seem to have a bit of pull around here.”

“Well, maybe just a little,” I said.

“I’m impressed. And here I thought you were just a, uh, well -- anyway, I got to thank you for doing this for me.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

“You seem like you’re in pain. Are you in pain?”

“Yes,” I said. “But --”

“You want some hop?”

“Some what?”

“Opium. I got some in my pocket. Also a pipe and some matches.”

“No thank you,” I said.

“It’ll kill that pain for ya.”

“No thanks anyway,” I said.

“You mind if I smoke a quick bowl?”

“What, here?”

“We’ll just duck behind one of these bushes.”

I stopped, and Mr. Jones stopped also.

“Mr. Jones,” I said.

“Yes?” said Mr. Jones.

“Um,” I said.

“Speak freely, son.”

“Okay,” I said. “Look, Mr. Jones, we’ve just barely saved you not only from death but from eternal damnation. Can’t you wait until we get back to the world of the living before you smoke your -- your ‘hop’?”

“But there’s nobody around.” He went through the motions of looking around, with little birdlike movements of his little head. “Lemme just smoke a quick bowl.”

“But what if there’s --”

I didn’t finish my sentence.

“What if there’s what?” said Mr. Jones.

“What if there’s an angel or something around?” I said.

Again Mr. Jones looked to the right and to the left, then up and down, and then at me, his head slightly cocked.

“I don’t see no angels,” he said.

It was true, there was no one around. I glanced back up to the porch. It looked as if St. Peter might still be watching us, although it was hard to tell. He might have just been staring off into the distance.

“Look, let’s just get out of here,” I said, and I continued walking down the path.

A few yards farther down the path curved around a large yellow bush, I think it was a forsythia. When Mr. Jones and I had passed behind the bush he put his hand on my arm.

“Okay, here is good,” he said. He stopped and pulled a pipe out of his jacket’s side pocket. It was a regular tobacco pipe, albeit a very small one. From his inside jacket pocket he took out a folded-up piece of tin foil.

“Mr. Jones!” I said.

“Relax, kid, nobody can see us behind this bush. Here, hold the pipe while I open this up.”

He handed me the pipe. I suppose I didn’t have to take it, but I did, I have no idea why. We must leave some questions for the psychiatrists of the future. Mr. Jones opened up the little wad of tin foil, revealing what looked like a little ball of grey clay.

“Okay, hold that pipe closer.”

Again, I didn’t have to do as he commanded, but I did. He picked up the little grey ball and dropped it into the bowl of the pipe. He licked the tin foil with his leathery-looking little grey tongue, then tossed the foil away. Then he reached into his jacket pocket again and brought out a book of matches. Sid’s Tavern matches.

“Sure you don’t want some?” he said.

“No, thanks,” I said, and I handed him the pipe. He shrugged and put the stem between his dentures, struck a match, put the light into the bowl and puffed.

I looked around nervously.

“If St. Peter’s still watching us he’s going to wonder why we’re standing behind this bush,” I said.

Fuck him,” said Mr. Jones, still puffing on his pipe. He waved the match out and tossed it into the wet grass. Then he exhaled. I had to admit the smoke was not unpleasant.

“Ah,” he said. “That hit the spot.”

“Okay, let’s go,” I said.

“Hold on, I still got some in the bowl.”

“Mr. Jones,” I said, “you’re going to get addicted.”

He looked at me through his old eyes, staring out of their little pockets of wrinkled pallid flesh.

“I’m eighty-seven years old,” he said. “And you think I’m worried about getting addicted to hop?”

“Okay,” I said. “It was a stupid thing to say.”

“Let me just finish the bowl and then we can split,” he said.

“All right,” I said.

He struck another match and put the light into the bowl.

I waited. All was silent except for the little sucking sounds Mr. Jones made as he smoked his opium. I shifted from foot to foot. My leg still hurt, well, both of them hurt, but one hurt more than the other. Also I suddenly realized that I had to go to the bathroom.

Mr. Jones exhaled again, and smiled at me, nodding his head.

“Really good stuff,” he said. “Arbuthnot gets the good shit, I’ll tell ya.”

“Okay, we’d better go now,” I said, shifting from one foot to another.

“Not finished yet. Don’t rush me.”

“Oh, Christ,” I muttered. And then, “Ow.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, it’s just my leg,” I said. I had just had another spasm, I think it was in the other leg, the one that had hurt less just a few moments before. They were taking turns.

“I’m tellin’ ya, kid,” said Mr. Jones, “you take a hit of this shit you won’t be feeling any pain.”

“I’ll be okay,” I said.

“You sure?”

“Yes,” I said. I could deal with the pain, but I really just wanted to get out of there and get to a bathroom.

“Okay,” said Mr. Jones. “Just give me another minute.”

“A minute?”

“Or two,” he said.


“You can’t hurry the hop-smoking ritual.” He lit another match, but instead of lighting his pipe again he said, “Why are you so jittery, anyway? You’re twitching like a spastic.”

“If you must know, I have to go to the bathroom.”

“Poop or pee?”

“Pee,” I said.

“Oh. Well why don’t you just go then.”

“You mean right here?”

“What the hell.”

“I’d better wait till we get back,” I said.

“Suit yourself,” he said.

He put the light in the bowl, made several tiny little puffs, held in the smoke, then let it out.

“Are you finished now?” I asked.

“No, man,” he said, smiling, his eyes half-closed. “The dope’s kinda damp. Burns slow, y’know? Gimme another minute or two.”

I said nothing, shifting my weight every second from one sore leg to the other.

“You’ll feel better if you relieve yourself behind this bush,” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, Christ,” I said.

“He’s not gonna help you now. Go ahead, go behind the bush.”

“What if someone comes by?”

“I’ll keep a lookout. Now go, go -- watching you bounce around like that is bringing me down.”

“If we could just leave --”

“After I finish my bowl.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“Again, he’s the wrong person to ask for help in this situation. Now go. I’ll watch the path.”

I looked around. No one was in sight. There weren’t even any birds or insects around.

“Okay,” I said. “But keep your eyes open.”

“I will.”

“And please finish that hop.”

“I intend to.”

“Okay, then,” I said.

I hobbled a couple of yards away from him, farther away from the path, but still keeping the forsythia between me and the house.

I unzipped and did what I had to do. It took a while. I hadn’t gone to the bathroom since right after breakfast, which seemed like seven months ago, and even as I was voiding liquid from my body I felt thirsty all of a sudden. A tall glass of cold water would be nice. I would ask Mr. Arbuthnot for one when we got back. And then, yes, a Manhattan would do well...

Oh my God,” said a familiar voice.

I looked over my shoulder. St. Peter was standing over there on the path by the other side of the forsythia. He had his smoking meerschaum in his hand.

“Uh-oh,” said Mr. Jones.

“Are you kidding me?” said St. Peter.

It was too late to stop now. I finished doing what I was doing, then zipped up.

“I’m sorry, Arnold,” said Mr. Jones. “I was looking the other way.”

“Disgraceful,” said St. Peter. “You couldn’t wait till you got back?”

“It was my fault,” said Mr. Jones. “I wanted to stop for a smoke, and Mr. Schnabel just couldn’t hold it in.”

“And you, Mr. Jones, you couldn’t wait till you got back for a smoke?”

“Hey, you’ve got a lit pipe in your hand yourself,” said Mr. Jones. “Don’t act like you’re such a puritan.”

I couldn’t believe it but Mr. Jones proceeded to light another match and put it to his pipe again.

“What is that tobacco you’re using, anyway?” said St. Peter.

“Special blend,” said Mr. Jones, puffing.

“Smells funny,” said St. Peter.

“Hey, we can’t all afford the high quality stuff you probably get up here.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” said St. Peter. He sighed, shook his head. “Well, if you are finished with what you were doing, Mr. Schnabel --”

“Yes,” I said. After wiping my hands off on my bermudas I had come over to the path side of the forsythia. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s a little late for sorry now, isn’t it? But if I were you two I would just --”

“’Stay not upon the order of your going, but go,’” said Mr. Jones.

“What?” said St. Peter.

“It’s from Macbeth,” said Mr. Jones. “Shakespeare.”

“Oh, him,” said St. Peter.

“I guess he’s up in the big house, right?” said Mr. Jones.

“Shakespeare? A theatre person? Please. He still has at least a couple of more centuries in purgatory.”

“Ha ha,” said Mr. Jones. “You slay me, Pete.”

“You may call me Peter,” said St. Peter.

“Well, we’ll be going now,” I said, and I put my hand on Mr. Jones’s arm. It felt like a dried twig covered in worn flannel. I pulled on it, but Mr. Jones wouldn’t move yet.

“So, Peter,” said Mr. Jones, “what are you up to? Taking a little walk?”

“No,” said St. Peter. “I just came down here to see what you two were up to. I’ll be getting back to the porch now.”

“Duty calls,” said Mr. Jones.

“It’s a job,” said St. Peter.

“And a very important job,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes, that’s true. Someone has to do it.”

“Someone’s gotta keep the riffraff out,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes,” said St. Peter. He took a couple of puffs on his meerschaum. “Everybody wants to go to heaven. But so many people just don’t want to give up their vices.”

“They want something for nothing,” said Mr. Jones.

“Exactly,” said St. Peter.

“It must get tiresome,” said Mr. Jones. He had struck yet another match and was lighting his pipe one more time. “Dealing with all these dead people.”

“Yes,” said St. Peter. “It can be very tiresome.”

“Maybe you could ask the big guy for a different job.”

“Oh. No.”

“Why not? There must be plenty other saints could do the job.”

“Yes, I suppose there are.”

“So ask him. What you got to lose?”

“Well, you see, it’s, uh --”


“It’s my punishment,” said St. Peter, looking away.

“Your punishment?” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes,” said St. Peter.

“I get it. For letting the bulls drag the son of God away to get tortured and crucified, to die horribly, in agony --”

“Look,” said St. Peter. “I tried to intervene, I really did. I even chopped this one fellow’s ear off --”

“Nice one,” said Mr. Jones. “But then you still let them drag him away, didn’t you.”

“He told us to back off --”

“That didn’t mean you had to back off.”

“But --”

“And then later you denied even knowing him -- not once but three times, right?

“Look,” said St. Peter, “Whatever I did or did not do that night I was forgiven for it a long time ago.”



“Then why the punishment?”

“Why? Because -- well -- oh, forget it, what’s done is done.”

He put the bit of his pipe between his teeth and drew, but the pipe had gone out.

“Oh,” I said, suddenly.

“What?” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, nothing,” I said.

“Come on.”

“I should go,” said St. Peter.

“Back to the porch,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes,” said St. Peter. “Back to the porch.”

“I still wanta know why Arnold said ‘oh’ like that.”

St. Peter looked at me.

“Maybe he’ll tell you,” he said. He shook the ashes out of his pipe. “Goodbye, gentlemen.”

“See ya,” said Mr. Jones. “In my case I’m sure sooner than later.”

“Yes, no doubt.”

“I’ll try to watch those mortal sins.”

“You would do well to do so. You should go to confession as soon as possible.”

“I will. I ain’t Catholic, but I will.”

“Good.” St. Peter blew through the stem of the pipe once, then put it into the pocket of his canvas jacket. “Well, good day to you, gentleman.”

He turned and headed back up the path toward the porch.

We watched him go. Mr. Jones put his own pipe back into his pocket.

“Okay,” he said to me, “spill.”

“He was a martyr,” I said, in a low voice. “Martyrs aren’t allowed in God’s house.”

“They’re not? Since when?”

“Since always, I guess.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Neither did I,” I said. “But I met this other martyr last night, St. Thomas Becket, and he told me that was the case.”

“So old Peter got eternity on the door because he let himself get martyred? That don’t seem fair.”

“It does seem harsh,” I said.

“On the other hand it beats an eternity in the flames of hell.”

“Yes, I’m sure it does,” I said.

“So Peter’s got nothing to complain about.”

“Yes, it could be worse,” I said.

“Imagine going through getting yourself crucified upside down though,” said Mr. Jones, “all for nothing.”

“Yes,” I said. “He must have been very disappointed.”

“What a moron,” he said. “Come on, let’s get out of here. This place is starting to give me the creeps.”

(Continued here, because God told us to.)

(Please refer to the right hand column of this page to find what one hopes is an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Order your tickets now for the Annual Arnold Schnabel’s Birthday Beer & Beef Bash this October at the Osmond VFW post on Chew Ave.; musical entertainment by "Freddy Ayres & Ursula" with special guest "Magda" on the Hohner Clavinet; Marty "Gooney" McFarland, Master of Ceremonies.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 266: reprieve

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in Mr. Arbuthnot’s rooms above his Whatnot Shoppe on this rain-drenched Sunday afternoon in August of 1963 in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey...

(Please go here to read our previous chapter; click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award-winning 76-volume masterpiece of the autobiographer’s art).

“Arnold Schnabel -- the very name itself conjures up a world so much richer than that humdrum one in which we lesser beings are condemned to live out our days.” -- Harold Bloom, in the Wall Street Journal.

I closed my eyes. I tried to ignore the pains in my forehead and in my legs. I tried to ignore myself. Somewhere in the spirit world Mr. Jones’s soul must be wandering around, probably in a drugged stupor. I tried to put myself into that world beyond our world, but the world in which I existed kept intruding itself into my brain: a Three Stooges episode I had watched with Kevin a couple of weeks before, an image of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile parked in the evening twilight in the Acme parking lot, the song “A Town Without Pity” playing on a passing car radio, my mother’s sauerbraten, a random thick glass mug freshly filled with some sort of beer, the smell of Elektra’s hair after she had been swimming, the feel of clammy sand between my toes, the sound of Ben striking a match to light a cigarette, he obviously couldn’t wait, the smell of his Sweet Caporal’s smoke, and then I realized I was in the spirit world.

I was standing outside the wrought-iron gate at the foot of the green hill on the top of which sat God’s house, that enormous old Victorian pile, all deep yellows and greens and browns, with its broad porch and ivory-colored columns, its spires, gables, and chimney pots, its widow’s walks and balconies, its slanted wine-colored roofs. And as huge as the house looked I knew that it seemed even bigger once you got inside.

They must have had a heavy rainfall here too, because the grass had gotten even more overgrown since my visit of the previous day. The sky was overcast but the grass and all the trees and bushes and flowers, all the roses and rhododendrons and geraniums, all of these living things glowed with bright color the way living things do after a good summer rain. Up the hill I saw the tiny figure of Mr. Jones, in his grey suit and his straw hat, slowly climbing up the steps to that broad columned porch. I had no time to lose. The gate was open, and I hurried through it and started jogging up that winding cobblestone path. At once my right knee started to give way, so I stopped, took a deep breath, gritted my teeth and, this time much more slowly, I resumed my way up the path. It wouldn’t do Mr. Jones any good at all if my leg gave out completely and I was immobilized down here.

For two or three rather painful minutes I ascended the path, during which I could see Mr. Jones apparently in conversation with St. Peter, one or both of them occasionally obscured by a tree or a bush as the path wound upward, Mr. Jones standing and sometimes gesticulating with his arms and hands, St. Peter sitting barely moving in his rocking chair next to his little table. I could hear their voices but couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, although of course an increasing number of words and phrases became intelligible the closer I got: “ must be kidding me...I never kid...I protest…”

I made it to the foot of the porch steps. Even though for weeks I had been swimming for miles every day I was now almost completely out of breath, and, once again, pouring with sweat. I guess there were a dozen or so steps up to the porch, and I stopped for a just a moment to rest before going up. I could now plainly hear Mr. Jones and St. Peter conversing in argumentative tones.

“Fuck you, doorman, I want to speak to your boss,” said Mr. Jones.

“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” said St. Peter. “What you will do is get your scrawny old ass down to Hades where you belong.”

“Mr. Jones!” I called. I had started up the steps. “St. Peter!”

“Who the hell is that?” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, it’s him,” said St. Peter.

“Just give me a minute,” I said. Taking one step at a time, pulling myself along with one hand on the wooden banister rail, I continued to make my halting way up,.

St. Peter still sat there in his rocking chair by his little table, and little Mr. Jones was standing in front of him, but he had turned to look at me.

“Mr. Schnabel,” he said. “Don’t tell you’ve shuffled off the mortal coil as well, and at such a tender age.”

“No,” I said. I was practically panting now as I finally got to the top of the steps, and sweating more than ever, although the weather here seemed very moderate, a perfect 65 degrees Fahrenheit if anything, with a light pleasant breeze.

“Listen,” I said, limping over to the other two, “I’ve come to take you back, Mr. Jones.”

“What, not even a hello, Mr. Schnabel,” said St. Peter. He was wearing his wire-framed reading glasses, and he bent his head slightly downward to look at me over the rims.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir,” I said. “I’m afraid I’m a little -- um --”

“Nonplussed?” said St. Peter. He had picked up his meerschaum from where it lay on the table to his right, along with the big opened ledger, the ink bottle, the chipped glass ashtray and the box of kitchen matches, and now he was filling the pipe’s bowl with tobacco from his leather pouch.

“Yes,” I said. “A little nonplussed, because I didn’t expect to have to come here.”

“Oh, didn’t you?” he said.

He had on that same old yellow canvas jacket by the way. I wondered if he always wore it.

“Well, Arnold,” said Mr. Jones, “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but you must be dead or you wouldn’t be here.”

“No,” I said, “I’m not dead. At least I hope I’m not. You see, I’m trying to bring you back.”

“To do what?” he said.

“Yeah,” said St. Peter. “To do what?”

“To bring Mr. Jones back to the world of the living,” I said.

“Oh, splendid,” said Mr. Jones.

“Now wait just a minute, Mr. Schnabel,” said St. Peter. He was lighting his pipe with one of the kitchen matches. Unlike Mr. Arbuthnot’s Meerschaum, St. Peter’s was quite big, with a bowl at least three inches deep and maybe two inches wide, the curved stem perhaps six inches long. I hadn’t quite noticed it last time but a bearded man’s head was carved into the bowl of the pipe. Could this be what God the father looked like? I thought it imprudent to ask, and I waited while he got the pipe lit. Finally he did, and after dropping the match in his ashtray and slowly exhaling a cloud of fragrant smoke, he said, “You were lucky last time, Mr. Schnabel. Very, very lucky. You seem to have a friend in God’s son. But take my advice. Don’t press your luck.”

“But I just want to bring Mr. Jones back,” I said. “He’s only been gone twenty minutes or so I think. What harm can it do?”

“Yeah, where’s the harm,” said Mr. Jones.

St. Peter drew a gold watch on a chain from the pocket of the faded brown vest he was wearing under his canvas jacket. He clicked the watch open.

“I make it thirty-three, no, thirty-four minutes now.” He shut the watch and put it away. “Corruption of the corporeal host should already be setting in.”

“Are you kidding?” said Mr. Jones. “A dried up old fart like me? I’m already half-mummified.”

“You,” said St. Peter, pointing the mouthpiece of his pipe at Mr. Jones, “had better just shut up.”

“Why?” said Mr. Jones. “You’re ready to send me down to hell and I never did nobody no harm my entire eighty-three years on earth.”

St. Peter pushed back his glasses on his nose and glanced down at the ledger.

“Eighty-seven years you mean.”

“Okay,” said Mr. Jones, “so I shaved off a few years out of vanity. Sue me.”

“Vanity,” said St. Peter. “The root of all evil.”

“I thought greed was the root of all evil,” said Mr. Jones.

St. Peter just stared at Mr. Jones for a moment. Then, turning to me, he said, “How did you get here, anyway, really?” He glanced down again at the ledger. “I have no record of you dying yet.”

“Check again,” said Mr. Jones. “Maybe somebody made a clerical error. Happens all the time on earth.”

“We’re not on earth, and we don’t make errors here.”

“Maybe you think you don’t make errors,” said Mr. Jones. “But maybe you do.”

“Hey, you know what?” said St. Peter. “Before, when you first came up here, I just might -- possibly -- I might have been persuaded to get you off with just an aeon or two in the flames of purgatory --”

“Oh, thanks a lot,” said Mr. Jones.

“If you had been just the least bit humble and penitent, I might have given you a break. But now? Forget it.”

“Why should I be humble and penitent?” said Mr. Jones. “I was a stand-up Joe.”

“Why?” said St. Peter. “Why?

“Yeah,” said Mr. Jones. “Why?

St. Peter again looked down at the great ledger, he turned back a page, running his eyes back and forth and up and down over the two densely-handwritten pages now revealed, and then he turned back several more pages, then several more. “Why?” he said again. He looked up, shaking his his whole upper body and head as if he had just suffered a chill. “I scarcely know where to begin. By my rough estimate you’ve got nine hundred thousand seven hundred-odd mortal sins on your soul. Just shy of a million. Almost a million mortal sins, just in one lifetime.”

“Well,” said Mr. Jones, “as you’ve just pointed out, I have lived a very long lifetime.”

“Yes,” said St. Peter. “But a million mortal sins?”

“Almost a million,” said Mr. Jones. “Not quite.”

“It only takes one to damn you to the everlasting agonies of hell.”

“That seems a bit harsh,” said Mr. Jones.

“I don’t make the rules,” said St. Peter. He turned to me again. “And how exactly did you get here?”

“Well,” I said, “I have this ring, see?” I held up my left little finger with the gold ring on it. “It has special powers. So I was using it to try to bring Mr. Jones back.”

“Using it how?”

“By holding my hand on his head. The hand with the ring. On his head.”

“So you’re performing miracles now.”

“Well, no,” I said, “not exactly,” although I realized as soon as I said that how foolish I sounded. “But I just thought I’d give it a try.”

“You thought you’d give it a try.”

“Yes,” I said. “I mean, you know, what was the harm in trying?”

“By using a magic ring? Don’t you realize how sacrilegious that is?”

“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t realize.”

“Now if you had prayed, that would be different. But I suppose that didn’t occur to you.”

“No,” I admitted. “I mean, you know, I had the ring, and this other old fellow, Mr. Arbuthnot, he told me --”

“Wait,” said St. Peter. “Mr. who?”

“Arbuthnot,” I said.

“What’s his first name?”

“You know,” I said, “I don’t have the faintest idea. Maybe Mr. Jones knows --?”

“Nope,” said Mr. Jones. “To me he’s always been just Arbuthnot.”

“But I thought you two were good friends.”

“We’re friends,” said Mr. Jones. “I don’t know if I’d say we’re good friends.”

St. Peter was turning the pages of his ledger once more, and now he stopped, and poked his finger on the open page.

“Here we go,” he said. “Arbuthnot. Runs a junk shop in Cape May?”

“Well, it’s more of an antique store,” I said, “although he sells some newer items, like I saw a few hula hoops in there, some Slinkys --”

“A junk shop,” said St. Peter. He was running his eyes and his finger down the page, he turned the page, read a bit more. “Jesus wept,” he said. “I can’t wait till this character shows up here. He’ll be flying back down those steps so fast he won’t know what hit him.”

“Look,” I said, “couldn’t you give Mr. Jones a break? Look at it this way, if you send him back, maybe he’ll change his ways, amend his life, you know.”

“Ha,” said St. Peter.

“Oh ye of little faith,” said Mr. Jones.

“Don’t lecture me about faith,” said St. Peter.

“Mr. High and Mighty,” said Mr. Jones. “Mr. Big Shot.”

“Keep it up, little man,” said St. Peter.

“Um, excuse me, St. Peter?” I said.

“What?” he said.

“Um, Josh wouldn’t be here right now, would he?”

“Josh? Who’s Josh?”

“You know -- the son?”

“Of God?”


“You call him Josh?”

“Well, that’s his name on earth.”

“I get it. Joshua.”

“Yes. At first he was appearing to me in the form of this other fellow I know, named Steve, but lately he’s been appearing as, uh, Josh. But Josh explained to me that he is, um -- like -- in all men, and, uh --”

St. Peter just stared at me for a moment. Then he said, “Okay, what was your question again?”

“Is Josh here I wondered.”

“No. No, he’s not here. No one’s seen him.”

“Oh,” I said. “That must mean he’s still in Miss Evans’s novel.”


“I was trapped by the devil in the world of this novel written by this lady I know, Miss Evans? And Josh entered that world to find me, and I guess he might still be there. You see, we met these girls there, and, uh, we were in this bar --”

Again St. Peter just stared at me, puffing on his pipe. He turned to his big ledger and started leafing through the pages again. He stopped, pointed at some lines with the stem of his pipe, reading.

“There’s nothing about you entering the world of some novel here.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s a fictional universe, so it may not be in there.”

“I see you did have sexual intercourse with that woman Elektra again since your last visit here.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Oh my God,” he said. “In the foyer of her building?”

“Oh. Uh,” I said.

“Ha ha. Way to go, Mr. Schnabel,” said Mr. Jones.

“So that’s a definite mortal sin you’ve got on your soul,” said St. Peter.

”Hey, cut him some slack,” said Mr. Jones. ”Since when is making whoopee with a hot tomato a mortal sin anyway?”

“How about since forever, you degenerate old fool.”

“Fuck you,” said Mr. Jones. “I may be a degenerate but at least I’m not a punk. At least I didn’t stand by and let Jesus get carried off by the bulls so he could get scourged and crucified, now did I?”

“Shut up about that. You weren’t there.”

“No, I wasn’t, but I’ll tell you this, if I had been there I wouldn’t’ve let them bastards drag my buddy away. Not without putting up a fight I wouldn’t’ve.”

“You don’t know what you would have done.”

“And neither do you,” said Mr. Jones. “Okay, so maybe I committed a million mortal sins more or less. I admit it, I done a lot of things I ain’t proud of. But I never stood by and let a pal take a pinch when there was something I could do about it. So fuck you. And if that’s gonna send me to hell, then so be it.”

“Mr. Jones,” I said. “Um --”

“No,” said Mr. Jones. “I said what I meant and I meant what I said.”

St. Peter was looking away. He took a few puffs on his pipe. Then, still looking away, he said, “All right, Mr. Schnabel, get this piece of dessicated human garbage out of here.”

“Pardon me?” I said.

“You heard me. Go on. Get him out of here before I change my mind.”

I looked at Mr. Jones. He shrugged, spreading out his little hands.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go, Mr. Jones.”

“Sure, kid.”

“Thank you, St. Peter,” I said.

“Go,” he said.

“Let’s go, Arnie,” said Mr. Jones. He touched my arm.

“Okay,” I said. We both turned and headed for the steps. We had just reached the edge of the porch when St. Peter called out.

“Mr. Schnabel.”

“Yes?” I turned.

“Don’t press your luck again. Even if you are friends with the son. With ‘Josh’ as you call him. Don’t push it.”

“I won’t,” I said.

He looked away, puffing on his pipe.

Mr. Jones touched my arm again, we glanced at each other, and went down the steps, as quickly as we could, which was not very quickly, thanks to my sore legs and Mr. Jones’s eighty-seven years.

(Continued here, we have no choice in the matter.)

(Painting by Norman Saunders. Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find what should be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, deemed “acceptable with grave reservations for adults” by the Catholic Standard & Times. Imprimatur, Msgr. William M. “Wild Bill” Fahey, SJ.)

Thanks to Jackie Jones for this clip from that forgotten classic, Convicts 4: