Saturday, July 30, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 261: killer babes

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his two boon companions Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the fly have finally embarked upon their quest on this hot and humid Sunday afternoon in August of 1963, in the quaint and slightly flooded seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey...

(Go here to read our previous episode; click here to go to the very beginning of this Gold View Award-winning 73-volume epic, now available on the installment plan from Sears & Roebucks in a lovely uniform edition with “Moroccan leatherette” covers and full-color illustrations by Conrad Kraus.)

“The other night I awoke from a dream and for a moment I thought I was in Arnold Schnabel’s world; alas, I soon realized I was, as usual, only in the so-called real world.” -- Harold Bloom in Holiday.

Ben started with a good burst and you could see his legs were as muscular as tree trunks -- no, wait, tree trunks aren’t muscular, okay, start again --

Ben twisted his head around a bit and yelled, “Hey, Arnie, this is your street up here, ain’t it? Do I turn here or what?”

“No,” I called, “go straight another block till we get to Lafayette, then hang a left.”

“Got it.”

Ben sheered across North Street, the water now stretched from curb to curb, and I followed. It would have made just as much sense geographically to turn here as on Lafayette, but I didn’t want to take the chance of going by my aunts’ house and have something insane or annoying happen. I realized that there was always a chance of something insane or annoying happening even despite my avoiding passing by the family house, but at this point I preferred the possible insanity of the unknown to the possible insanity of the known.

Ben sped on ahead, the water in the street spraying up and away from his bike’s wheels, his legs pumping like -- like what? His legs, as thick and muscular as, as -- who had muscular legs? Wrestlers? Yes. So one might say that his legs were as muscular or more so than, say, Haystacks Calhoun’s, or Killer Kowalski’s, or --

“Arnie,” the fly whispered in my ear, in which he was sitting again.

“Yes?” I said.

“Will you cool it with the mental descriptions? Nobody cares.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said. “It wasn’t voluntary. And I forgot that you can hear my thoughts.”

“Yes,” he said. “I can. And I’m starting to wish I couldn’t. Can’t you just enjoy the bike ride without mentally trying to describe every damn thing you see?”

“You’re right,” I said.

“Buy a Brownie camera and take a goddam picture if you want to know what something looks like.”

“Okay,” I said.

“No one wants to hear your descriptions.”

“But the thing is,” I said, “I can’t remember if I told you this, but I’m writing my memoirs, and -- you know, I hate to write descriptions really, but sometimes you sort of have to, and --”

“So worry about it then, when you’re actually writing. Not now. Christ, you intellectuals kill me!”

“No one’s ever called me an intellectual before,” I said.

“Well I’m calling you one now and it’s not necessarily a compliment. Try this for a change: just try living life while it’s happening instead of thinking about bullshit all the time.”

“Well, okay,” I said. “But let me just ask you this.”

“Shoot,” said Ferdinand. “I am an open book.”

Ben was a few bicycle lengths ahead of me, but I spoke quietly to be sure he wouldn’t hear me.

“Okay,” I said, “how would you describe how Ben’s legs look?”

“How do his legs look?”

“Yeah, I mean, riding his bike like that.”

“How do his legs look riding his bike.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I will answer that question with another question if I may,” said Ferdinand.

“Well, okay,” I said, grudgingly.

“Do I look like a faggot to you?”

“Okay,” I said. “You know I didn’t mean it that way. I just mean, say you had to describe Ben’s legs right now, and, uh --”

“His thighs were like those of some enraged fighting bull’s, pumping furiously as the great beast chases some terrified matador across the ring to gore him in the buttocks and then with one great shake of his head to send the hapless fellow flying over the barrera as the crowd boos and guffaws.”

“Well, that’s not bad,” I said.

“Use it,” he said. “It’s yours.”


Ben had slowed down and I was now abreast of him, to his right.

“What’re you guys talking about?” he said. Once again he was panting, the sweat pouring from his face, so I slowed down.

“Well, uh,” I said, “oh, turn here, Ben.” We were approaching the corner of Lafayette.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. He made the turn and I turned with him, with Ben on the inside. The flood water was higher here, six inches or so even in the middle of the street, and no cars were out, no people walking on the flooded sidewalks. Ben was cycling very slowly through the water now, just barely faster than a walking pace, but I didn’t mind, as a jolt of pain ran up my legs with my every pump of a pedal. “So what were you guys talking about?” Ben asked.

“Um,” I said. I hated to lie, but this could get awkward if I told the truth. Ben seemed somehow both proud and yet sensitive about his enormous size.

“I was telling Arnie he needs to stop thinking so much and just enjoy life,” said the fly, thus getting me off the hook to a certain extent.

“Yeah,” said Ben. He had taken the cigarette out of his mouth, although he hadn’t thrown it away, and he was really panting again now; he really should have paced himself. “The time to think about life is late at night.” More panting. Then: “Lying in your bunk, staring up into the black hole of existence, one man, one man alone.” He huffed and puffed some more. “Staring up into that black hole. That black hole into which someday we all will disappear, every God damned God forsaken one of us, into that vast empty black hole --”

“Jesus Christ!” said the fly. “This is what you think about? The black hole of existence?”

Ben panted a bit before speaking.

“Not all the time,” he said.

“I should fucking hope not,” said the fly. We had reached Congress Street. We stopped and looked both ways, but there was no traffic. We shoved off again. “Jeeze,” said Ferdinand, “I can see why you two sunny Jims are friends.”
“Well, you know,” said Ben. “The existential like dilemma of life and all --”

“What’d you, read about it in an article in Life magazine?” asked Ferdinand.

“Well,” said Ben, slowly, in between his heavy breaths, “I did read that story in Life about the old guy and the fish, the one that guy Hemingway wrote?”

The Old Man and the Sea,” said Ferdinand. “You read that?”

“Yeah,” said Ben. (I’m getting tired of indicating his panting and huffing and puffing through all this, so I’ll just put it in here that he kept panting and huffing and puffing, and it got worse not better.)

“You do not strike me as the literary type,” said Ferdinand.

“I read,” said Ben.

He took a quick drag of his cigarette, coughed, and then finally tossed it away only half-smoked. It hissed into the water and drifted away behind us.

We had got to Perry Street.

“This way, Ben,” I said, pointing to the right, and we turned up the middle of the empty street.

The water was already almost a foot deep here, there were even little waves in it, coming from the direction of the ocean just a couple of blocks down the street. The air smelled slightly of sewage and dead fish, but it also smelled strongly of the clean air of the ocean, almost as if we were out on a boat a mile offshore.

“Okay, Ben,” said Ferdinand, “how does that story end then?”

“What story?” said Ben.

The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of man’s endurance in the face of an indifferent universe.”

“What about it?” said Ben.

“How does it end?”

“Hey, what is this, a test?”

“How’s the story end?”

“Um -- it just, uh, he catches this big fish, y’know? It was, a  – uh – a swordfish I think.”

“A marlin I think,” said the fly.

“Right, a marlin,” said Ben, “and, anyways, the old guy catches him, and, uh –”

We were coming up to Washington Street. (I had completely forgotten my plan to take the Lafayette Street route.) The sky was still a pale glowing grey, the water in the street was dark grey, and the strip of ocean you could see down at the far end of Perry Street was an even deeper grey.

“Hang a left here, Ben,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, and we made the turn onto Washington Street, which was also deserted, also flooded.

“So go on, Ben,” said Ferdinand. He was still hitching a free ride in my ear by the way. “What happens next in the book?” he said.

“Well,” said Ben, “some other stuff happens --”

“Yeah, like what?”

“You know. Shit.”

“Shit,” said the fly.

“Yeah,” said Ben.

“Shit happens,” said Ferdinand.

“Right,” said Ben.

“What shit?” said Ferdinand. “What shit in particular happens?”

“I dunno –”

“Name one thing that happens after he catches the fish.”

“Oh, all right,” said Ben, “so I never finished it, okay? I mean, hey, I like to deep-sea fish as much as the next guy, but – you know, just reading about some old spic –”

“Hey, excuse me,” said Ferdinand.

“What?” said Ben.

“Watch the derogatory nomenclature.”

“Oh. You mean spic?” said Ben.

“There you go again.”

“Wait,” said Ben. “You ain’t Spanish, are ya? Or Porto Rican?”

“That should not be the issue, you meathead.”

“Oh, see, but it’s okay for you to call me a meathead.”

“Okay, let’s move on,” said Ferdinand. “Finish what you were saying.”

“What was I saying?”

“Something about the old Spanish fisherman gentleman.”

“Oh, right, well, it’s just, like, I don’t mind going deep sea fishing myself, you know, out there on the high seas, fighting mano a mano with the big fishes and the elements and all, but, well –”

We had reached Jackson Street, and the light was red, so we stopped, even though were no cars on the street and no people on the sidewalks.

Ben seemed glad of the opportunity to stop and rest for a while, and we sat there on our bikes in the middle of the street, each with a foot on the the submerged tarmac, the water halfway up to our knees. My legs still hurt.

“So go on, Ben,” said the fly.

“I like doin’ all that shit,” said Ben, “But it’s just kinda boring reading about somebody else doin’ it.”

“I see,” said the fly.

“Now,” said Ben, “if this Hemingway guy had put a Russian nuclear submarine in there, with some Russian killer girls on it, and if they had captured this fisherman guy, and if he was a young guy instead of an old guy, and they took him prisoner and tortured him –”

“Wait,” said the fly. “Why would they kidnap and torture this fisherman guy.”

“Um,” said Ben, “because it turns out he wasn’t really a fisherman, but a, uh, this international adventurer who’s been recruited by the CIA to be a spy, yeah, a spy pretending to be a fisherman –”

“This is the book you wished Hemingway had written,” said the fly.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “So they capture this guy, and these killer Russian babes –”

“Wait,” said Ferdinand. “Why exactly are there killer babes on this submarine?”

The light had turned green, but Ben still sat there on his bike.

“Why are they there?” he said. “They’re there because they’re spies, too, no, because they’re assassins, yeah, that’s right, assassins. And the sub is gonna land them on the coast of Florida, down by Key West, where they’ll pretend to be regular babes, ‘cause they all speak perfect English, but actually they’re highly trained assassin babes sent out by the Russkis to bump off the president.”

“I see,” said the fly.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “And like they’re all gonna pose as strippers.”

“Strippers,” said Ferdinand.

“Strippers, yeah. There’s this strip club in New Orleans that’s secretly run by the commies.”

“I thought they were going to Key West.”

“Turns out they’re really going to New Orleans, ‘cause that’s a more wide-open town.”

“Hey, Ben,” I said. “The light’s green.”

“Oh, okay, let me just light a smoke first.”

And once again he went through his cigarette lighting ritual, the shaking of the pack, the lighting of the cigarette with bent head and cupped hands as if he were out on deck rounding the Cape in inclement weather conditions.

The light was red again. Ben tossed his match into Jackson Street and it floated away along with some other detritus – an inflated swimming tube, a child’s rubber duck, a crumpled Hershey bar wrapper.

“Okay, Ben,” said the fly. “Go on. Don’t stop now.”

“So it’s up to me,” said Ben, exhaling smoke and watching it drift away.

“What’s up to you?” said Ferdinand.

“It’s up to me to escape and stop these killer babes.”

“The killer strippers.”


“You say it’s up to you?” said Ferdinand.

“I mean it’s up to the guy,” said Ben.

“The fisherman,” said the fly.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Except he’s really a spy. For the CIA.”

“Okay,” said Ferdinand. “So they’re torturing him, these killer babes, and I assume he’s what? Tied up, or –”

“Yeah,” said Ben. “He’s all chained up.”

“So how is he going to escape and stop the killer babes?”

“Well, one of the killer babes, she kind of likes this guy.”

“She likes him.”

“I mean in the physical sense.”

“Okay. Go on.”

The light was still red but Ben pushed off on his bike anyway. There wasn’t anyone around so I did too.

“Yeah,” he said, as he cycled slowly through the flood, “she gets all hot and bothered while her and the other babes are torturing the guy. So after a while she says to the other babes, ‘He’s had enough. For now. We don’t want to kill him before he talks. So you other ladies, go take a break.’”

“’Powder your noses,’” said the fly.

“Right,” said Ben. “They’re all hot and sweaty, ‘Go take a cold shower, we’ll finish torturing the guy later.’”


“So the other girls split the torture chamber, and this one babe, she –”

“Ben,” said the fly.

“Yes,” said Ben.

“Let me ask you a question.”

“Sure, buddy.”

“Were you always a moron or did you have to work at it?”

“Whuddaya mean?”

“What do I mean? I mean that’s the most idiotic plot I’ve ever heard.”

“What’s idiotic about it?” said Ben. “You know what’s idiotic? Writing a whole goddam book about some old ‘Spanish fisherman gentleman’ catching a goddam fish, that’s what’s idiotic. What do you think, Arnie?”

“Well, I didn’t read that book,” I said. “I mean, we had that Life magazine, but, uh, I never quite --”

“I mean what did you think about my story?”

“Oh, I thought it sounded pretty good,” I said. And in fact I had read and enjoyed dozens of more implausible novels in my time.

“See, Ferdy?” said Ben.

“Ow, ow, ow,” I said.

“What, what, what?” said the fly.

“My leg is seizing up again,” I said.

“So stop already.”

We were past midway between Jackson and Decatur, there was Wally’s cigar shop on the left and the Ugly Mug up there on the right. I stopped my bike right in the middle of the street. I threw my seizing-up right leg over the frame of the bike and stood there in the water, holding the bike.

“Ow,” I said. “Ow.”

A car came up from behind us and stopped next to me.

It was the police car, with the policeman in it.

(Continued here, in accordance with my public service sentence.)

(Painting by James Avati. Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find what is fairly often an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©; This week’s episode sponsored in part by Schmidt’s Beer: “The regular beer for regular guys”.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Scottish Play; or, Stand Not Upon the Order of Your Going, But Go at Once

Mr. Y’s entire life was a piece of
underground performance art
and so it was no great leap really when
he became an actor...

(Click here to read the rest of this sterling poem, with lovely illustrations by rhoda penmarq.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 20


by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo *

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

*Ass’t Professor of Classics and Elocution, Olney Community College; editor of No Place Like Nowhere: Selected Early Poems of Horace P. Sternwall (1936-1941); Olney Community College Press.

Contrary to what nearly everyone thought, Lord Wolverington was in fact legally entitled to the term of address “Lord”, being the 25th (and last) Baron Wolverington, but he could never go back to England, no, not after being cashiered from the 5th Royal Horse Guards for conduct unbefitting an officer in 1914 (something involving a French farm lad and a bottle of absinthe on the eve of the first Battle of the Marne), not after selling off the family lands acre by acre to pay his gambling and legal debts, not after finally losing the familial manse itself in a game of whist in 1922 (his old school friend “Poof” Smith-Jones had written him recently to inform him that the present owners had turned the old pile into a “country inn”; the ground floor front was now a pub, complete with jukebox and pinball machines, whereas the big hall had been turned into a dance hall, complete with a traditional jazz band), not after that terrible scene at Pratt’s in 1927 when Wolverington’s special chum Lord Messingham fell or jumped or perhaps even was pushed out of the window of the steward’s quarters to his untimely death impaled on the spiked railing below on the pavement of Park Place.

(Go here to read the rest of this thrilling episode.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mr. Y at the Beach

Mr. Y was a slight little chap.
He always dressed in black or dark clothes,
years before it was fashionable to do so,
the only other person who dressed in black
at that time was Johnny Cash....

(Click here to experience the rest of this masterpiece.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 260: flood tide

Our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companions Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the fly have only barely begun their great quest when they stop to chat with the lovely young ladies Daphne and Sister Mary Elizabeth in front of Mrs. Biddle’s (i.e., Daphne’s grandmother’s) turreted and spired house here in the lovely seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, on this hot and fateful Sunday afternoon in August of 1963...

(Click here to read our previous chapter; scholars of abnormal psychology may go here to start this Gold View Award-winning 59-volume epic from the beginning.)

“This summer I shall be taking absolutely nothing to read on my vacation in Cape May except for for the complete published works of Arnold Schnabel on my new Kindle™.” -- Harold Bloom in the Hollywood Reporter.

Right then Ferdinand buzzed a little too close to Sister Mary Elizabeth and she swatted at him, but he deftly swerved and zoomed away, still laughing.

“Arnold,” said Daphne, pointing to my left foot with her hand that held the cigarette.

I looked down. My right foot was elevated, resting on my bicycle pedal, but my left foot was submerged in streaming water.

“Oh,” I said.

“Shit,” said Ben, and he backed his bike farther into the street and out of this small but growing river. His latest laughing and coughing fit had subsided and now he was merely panting as if he’d just run a mile. Although I doubt he was capable of running a mile, or even a city block, not without collapsing to the pavement like some beached sea lion.

“It’s flooding,” said Daphne. “It must be high tide, and after the rain and all. Aren’t you going to pull your foot out of the water, Arnold?”

“Oh, yes,” I said, and I backed my bike away as well.

The stream was widening and quickening with each passing moment.

“I hope the floods don’t prevent you from performing your errands,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“We should be okay,” I said.

“Stay in the middle of the street,” she said.

“I think you’re both crazy,” said Daphne. “Going to all this trouble for some old man’s picky cat.”

“But it’s a good deed,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth. “They can offer it up for the souls in purgatory.”

“Oh, that’s a lot of hogwash.”

“Do you really think so?” asked the sister. She seemed genuinely curious.

“Yes,” said Daphne. “Anyway, I don’t believe in purgatory.”


“Hogwash,” said Daphne.

“What do you think, Arnold?” said the sister.

I had pulled off the Ked from my left foot and was trying to shake some of the water out of it.

“Pardon me?” I said. I don’t know why I said that. I had heard her perfectly well.

“Do you believe in purgatory?”

“Well, I’m not sure,” I said. Now I not only had two sore legs but one completely soaked sneaker. Prodded into philosophy by my own petty discomforts I added, “I do think there’s a lot of purgatory on earth, though,”


“Stoking the furnace in the engine room of a tramp steamer,” said Ben. He took his cigarettes out of his shirt pocket. “In the South China Seas.” He gave the pack an expert shake and exactly one cigarette popped up from the pack. “In August.” He snapped the cigarette into his lips and then stared off down this pleasant tree-lined street with its large comfortable houses and profuse and colorful gardens. “Now there’s purgatory for ya,” he said.

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth. “I’ve often wondered why the good Lord allows so many people to live in abject misery all their lives.”

“That’s easy,” said Ben.

Having put away the pack and taken out his Sid’s Tavern matches, he lit his Sweet Caporal, cupping the light and dipping his head as usual, as if he were on the deck of a junk in the middle of a raging typhoon. Lifting his head he exhaled a great pale grey cumulus cloud of smoke, then gazed at the still-burning paper match.

“It’s because the good Lord doesn’t give a shit,” he said.

“Mr. Bangwell,” said the sister, “I can tolerate your blasphemous remarks but I will not tolerate such gutter-trash terminology.”

“Sorry,” said Ben. He waved the match out with a slow meditative series of movements, then sighed. “I am used to the rough ways and uses of seafaring men.”

“St. Peter was a seafaring man and I’m sure he got on fine without using such language.”

“You’ve got a point, sister.” He flicked his paper match into the stream and it quickly floated away.

“What you say in your engine rooms and low dockside taverns is of no concern to me,” said the sister, “but you should show respect in the presence of ladies and children and civilized people.”

“Please accept my apologies.”

“If they are sincere then I shall.”

“I assure you they’re sincere. Hey, speaking of low dockside bars, why don’t you two ladies join me and Arnie for a drink somewheres?”

“Ben,” I said --”

“What?” said Ben.

“The errands.”

“Oh, shit,” he said. “I mean, sorry,” he glanced guiltily at Sister Mary Elizabeth, “oh, darn, I mean, the errands. Well, okay, how long you think these errands are going to take, Arnie?”

I had put my sodden left Ked back on. My legs felt like they were stiffening up. I was ready to go.

“If we get a move on now,” I said, “it shouldn’t take more than an hour. Maybe less.”

Of course as soon as I said the preceding sentence I realized how absurdly optimistic this estimate was. If I had said a year or two I would probably have been much more securely within the realms of probability.

I hadn’t noticed but apparently Ferdinand had returned for another closer look down the front of Sister Mary Elizabeth’s dress. She swatted her chest, but once again the little fellow just barely made it away in time, and I distinctly heard him chuckling again.

“Let’s go back inside,” the sister said to Daphne. “Too many bugs out here.”

“Good idea,” said Daphne. “I want to play some more canasta, anyway.”

“Hey, wait,” said Ben, “how about a little libation later then, after me and Arnold run our errands?”

“You mean Arnold and I,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Well, uh, I was hoping like maybe all of us, you know --”

“No, I mean you should say ‘Arnold and I’, not ‘me and Arnold’.”

“Oh, okay, sorry, I mean would you two ladies like to join Arnold and I for --”

“Wrong again. In that instance you should say ‘Arnold and me’.”

“Ah, jeeze,” said Ben, “all I mean is would you two ladies like to join us for a drink somewheres.”

“’Somewhere’,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Somewheres.”

“’Somewhere’,” said the sister.

“Yeah,” said Ben.

Sister Mary Elizabeth looked at Daphne. Despite the fact that I felt as if I were losing my mind again I was struck by the beauty of these two girls.

“Well, maybe later I suppose I wouldn’t mind going out for one,” said Daphne. “After Dick leaves to catch his ferry.”

“Who’s Dick,” said Ben. “Your brother, maybe?” He sounded hopeful.

“He’s her boy friend,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“He is not,” said Daphne. “He’s a friend of the family, of my father’s actually.”

“He doesn’t look at you like a friend of the family,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” said Daphne.

Standing there on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Biddle’s gardens and lawns, with the leaves of a big old elm tree just barely stirring a few feet above their heads, with the big old house looming off there behind them, with the sky behind it all seeming very low and the color of the inner shell of a clam right after you open it, the girls seemed like creatures who had always lived here and who would never grow old.

“This guy on the level?” said Ben. “You sure he’s not a cad, a fancy man?”

“He’s a very nice gentleman,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Cads and fancy men always seem nice,” said Ben. “At first. And then when they get a beautiful nice innocent trusting young dame trapped in a web of deceit and danger it’s always up to guys like me to get them out of it. The young dames that is. Believe me, I know. One time out in Singapore --”

“He’s a very nice fellow,” said Daphne. “And he’s neither a cad nor a fancy man. He’s a decorated naval officer.”

“Oh, a swabbie? Why didn’t you say so?” said Ben.

“A what?” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“A swabbie, a nautical chap, a sailor.”

“Oh,” both Daphne and Sister Mary Elizabeth said, almost simultaneously, Daphne with a rising inflection, the sister with a falling one.

“So he’s probably okay, then,” said Ben, “even if he is an officer, and I hate officers.”

“Can we go to the Negro bar again?” asked Mary Elizabeth, addressing Daphne.

“I’d love to go to the Negro bar again,” said Daphne.

“Let’s go there,” said Mary Elizabeth. “Oh, except I don’t have any money.”

“Neither do I,” said Daphne.

“Hey, ladies,” said Ben, “who do you think you’re dealin’ with here, a pair of ham-and-eggers?”

“I have no idea what you’re saying,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth. She turned to Daphne. “What does he mean?”

Daphne had been taking a drag on the last of her cigarette. She exhaled smoke and then tossed the butt into the river in the street, where it hissed itself out and floated away.

“He means,” she said, “that he and Arnold are gentlemen and will buy us drinks.”

“Damn straight we will!” said Ben. “Um, wait a minute --” He reached into his back pocket, pulled out a cracked and faded and stained old brown leather wallet, looked in it.

“Hey, all I got is Cuban pesos.” He turned to me. “You got some scratch on you, right, brother?”

“Uh, yes,” I said, “but --”

He closed up his wallet and shoved it back in his pocket.

“It’s a date then, ladies, say an hour from now?”

“No,” said Daphne, slowly, and then, more quickly, “Dick’s leaving around five-thirty to catch his ferry, so let’s say six-ish.”

“Six-ish it is then,” said Ben. “Arnie and me’ll get a head start on ya, ha ha. Right, Arnie?”

“Well --”

“What’s this joint called?” said Ben, ignoring me.

“Pete’s Tavern,” said Daphne.

“Spade bar, huh? I love spade joints, cheaper drinks, better juke boxes, and quite often a more stand-up class of clientèle. Why, I remember one time down in Port-au-Prince I was drinking in this dive called Madame Rosette’s and all of a sudden these two big black bastards come in wavin’ a couple of Browning Hi-Powers at me. Tonton Macoutes. Y’see, as it happens I had just run a load of M-1s and Tommy guns in to some rebels, and --”

“Ben,” I said, “we’d really better hit the road --”

“Oh, sorry, Arnie, sure.” He addressed the ladies again. “I’ll finish my story later. It was all part of a little adventure I like to call Voodoo Fever, a tale of lust and violence set on the sultry island of Haiti, where the women are as deadly as they are wanton!

“Yeah, sure,’ said Daphne. “We’d love to hear it.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“We can still play the jukebox,” said Daphne.

“Oh, that would be lovely,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“That fly is sitting upon your chest,” said Daphne.


True enough, Ferdinand in his boldness was sitting on a portion of Sister Mary Elizabeth’s pale flesh precisely at the place where it began to swell beneath the curved neckline of her blue dress. She swatted herself with her hand but once again he escaped just in time, zooming up and away and chuckling in what sounded an almost hysterical way.

“Well, that’s it,” said the sister. She had smoked her cigarette down to its filter. She made a face and tossed it into the river. “I’m going in.”

“Good idea,” said Daphne. “Ta for now,” she said, to Ben and me.

“Ta, ladies,” said Ben. “Pete’s Tavern at six.”

“Six-ish,” said Daphne, over her shoulder. She and the sister were already walking through the gate.

“Okay, Ben,” I said.

No, wait, Arnie,” he said, in a hoarse whisper.

Now what?

He sat there straddling his bicycle, watching as Daphne and Sister Mary Elizabeth walked back up the stone pathway through the gardens and patches of deep green lawn.

“What is it, Ben?” I said.

He sat there on his bike, smoking his cigarette, staring after the girls, who were making their way back to the house as languidly as they had come down from it.

“Ben,” I said. “Is something the matter?”

He said nothing.

The fly had reappeared and he now hovered in the air midway between me and Ben.

Some birds chirped in the big old elm tree.

“Ben,” I said, again.

He said nothing, and neither did the fly.

I wondered if Ben was perhaps having a psychotic episode or fugue of some sort. How ironic would it be if it fell my lot -- if it fell to me, of all people -- to have to take care of a madman.

“Ben, what’s wrong?” I said.

“Nothing’s wrong,” said the fly.

“Then what is it?” I said. “Let’s go.”

Neither Ben nor the fly said anything for another half a minute. The only sound was that of the birds in the elm tree, I think they were blackbirds, and also maybe the faint hushing sound of the ocean a few blocks away at the end of Windsor Avenue.

Then finally Ben spoke.

“Okay,” he said. “We can go now.”

“What was it?” I said. Was it some war memory perhaps? The carnage and screaming and the gunfire on those beaches in the Pacific?

“What do you think it was?” said the fly.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“It was that,” said the fly. He pointed with one of his little legs toward Mrs. Biddle’s house. Daphne and Sister Mary Elizabeth were almost at the porch steps, Daphne in her pink shirt and white shorts, the sister in her blue dress.

“What?” I said.

“Just wanted to watch ‘em walk away,” said Ben, quietly.

“Ha ha ha,” said the fly, and he did one of his little loop-the loops.
The girls disappeared into the house. The screen door closed silently behind them.
“Okay, buddies,” said Ben, and he stuck his cigarette between his teeth, “we’re wasting time here. Let’s shove off.”

And shove off he did, pedaling his bike off sluicing through the flowing stream which now had reached almost the center line of Windsor Avenue.

(Continued here, because someone’s got to do it.)

(Painting by Robert Maguire.)

(Please refer to the right hand side of this page for a rigorously up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, soon to be a 97-part miniseries on the Oprah Winfrey Network, starring Ronald Colman as Arnold Schnabel, Wallace Beery as Big Ben Blagwell, and Mickey Rooney as Ferdinand the fly.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 19

"gramercy 7 - 5316"

by manfred skyline

illustrated by rhoda penmarq
and roy dismas

"collinson residence."

"mister collinson, please."

"which mister collinson would you like to speak to, sir?"

"uh - the mister collinson that got arrested the other night, on various and sundry charges the primary of which was white slavery. that mister collinson."

(click here to read the rest of this chapter...)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Most Boring Person

We had a friend in the crowd
I’ll call him Mr. X.
God only knows how he got in the crowd,
but we weren’t that exclusive,
and it wasn’t as if anyone was knocking down
doors trying to get in our crowd anyway.

(Click here to see the rest of this masterpiece.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 18

"galapagos sunset"

by manfred skyline

illustrated by roy dismas
and rhoda penmarq

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, July 16, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 259: Q&A

On this sticky Sunday afternoon in August of 1963 in the old and slightly shabby seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, the bold Arnold Schnabel and his two boon companions Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the fly have at last set off on their quest...

(Please go here to see our immediately preceding episode; if you’ve finally finished Proust and all the major works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, click here to go to to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award©-winning 72-volume masterpiece.)

“Imagine my moment of panic when, on a recent trans-Atlantic flight, I thought I had forgotten to bring a volume of Arnold Schnabel’s masterwork with me. Fortunately I found it at the bottom of my carry-on bag -- one of those great old Del Rey paperbacks with the endearingly misleading Emshwiller cover paintings -- and my journey passed quite pleasantly indeed.” -- Harold Bloom in his ‘Not Just Chicks Read Books’ column in Maxim.

“Arnie,” said the fly in my ear, “I think you better slow down a little, pal. Big Ben’s really huffing and puffing back there.”

I twisted around and glanced back. Ben was indeed falling behind again.

I coasted until Ben caught up with us. His face glowed as red as a stoplight and a wake of sweat glistened behind him on the tarmac of the road. He was gasping more than breathing. Not that he would spit out the cigarette he still held between his teeth.

“Jesus Christ, Ben,” said the fly, he was flying along between us now, “you ever think of maybe cutting down just to three or four packs of them Sweet Caporals a day maybe?”

“Whaddaya -- mean?” said Ben, with a great gap before the last word of that short sentence, as he struggled to breathe in enough air to speak it.

“I mean it looks like you’re gonna throw a goddam thrombosis any second.”

“Oh,” croaked Ben. “I guess I am a little short on wind, heh heh --”

“A little?” said the fly. “Hey, I like a good smoke as much as the next guy, but -- come on --”

“I can’t help it,” said Ben, he was breathing a little easier now that we were both pedaling at only slightly faster than an old man’s walking pace. “That’s just me. I just gotta grab everything in life with both hands -- booze, broads, beer, bacon cheeseburgers --”

“All of which are good things,” said the fly, in a reasonable-sounding tone.

“And cigarettes,” said Ben.

“Cigarettes are great too,” said Ferdinand. “But we gotta observe some limits.”


“Why?” said the fly. “Because Arnie and I don’t feel like having to call for an ambulance when you keel over and make a goddam crater in the road, that’s why.”

“I ain’t gonna keel over,” said Ben, but I thought I detected a note of uncertainty in his voice for the first time in our short acquaintance.

“Y'know, Ben,” said the fly, “what you got is what the head-doctors call an impulsive personality. Nothing a few years with a good analyst couldn’t straighten out.”

“A good what?”

“Arnold!” called a girl’s voice.

I turned. It was Daphne, sitting over there on Mrs. Biddle’s porch, which we were now opposite.

I braked to a halt, and Ben did also.

Sitting beside Daphne on a porch glider was Sister Mary Elizabeth. They were both waving a hand, in a languorous way, almost as if in slow-motion, or as if they were underwater.

“Hey, who are the young broads?” asked the fly.

“Just what I was wondering,” said Ben.

Daphne and Sister Mary Elizabeth both got up from the glider and came down the porch steps. Sister Mary Elizabeth still wore her loose-fitting blue dress, and Daphne was still in her white shorts and pink polo shirt. They began leisurely to walk down the flagstone path that led from the house to the sidewalk through the springing growth and colors of gardens that were like miniature tropical islands on a sea the color of wet green grass. Each girl had a lit cigarette in one hand and a tall glass in the other. They were barefoot.

“You never cease to amaze me, pal,” said the fly.

“So the chicks really dig Arnold, huh, Ferdinand?” said Ben.

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” said the fly.

“Go figure,” said Ben.

It felt odd just to be stopping there in the middle of the street, even if there wasn’t any traffic, so I walked my bike over nearer to the curb, and parallel to it, but not too close because there was a yard-wide moat of still water running along the gutter.

“Arnold,” called Daphne. “I thought you said you had to run some errands.” She and the sister were still pretty far away at this point. It’s about fifty yards from the sidewalk to Mrs. Biddle’s front steps, and the girls were walking slowly, as if they didn’t feel in the mood to get sweaty, or sweatier than they already were on this hot and humid afternoon.

“I, uh --” I mumbled, but I don’t think she even heard me, not that there was anything to hear.

“Instead,” called Daphne, “you’re riding around on bicycles with some enormous seafaring gentleman.”

“Ha ha ha,” laughed the fly. “Hey, Arnie, either one of these girls that girlfriend you were talking about?”

“Uh, no,” I whispered.

“Cool,” he said. “Hey, Ben, which one you want, the tall one or the little one?”

“I think I’ll take that tall little filly,” said Ben. He had pulled his bike up near to mine, and he was only panting mildly now.

“She’s all yours, pal,” said the fly. “I like ‘em a little rounder, myself, ya know what I mean? Gina Lollobrigida, Mamie Van Doren.”

“Diana Dors?” said Ben.

“Yeah, like that,” said Ferdinand. “You can keep them tall skinny model-types.”

“Well, the tall one is more slender,” said Ben. “I’ll give you that. But she’s got a nice --”

“All right, guys,” I said. “Cool it. These are nice girls.”

“What?” called Daphne.

“I didn’t say anything,” I called, half-heartedly.

She and Sister Mary Elizabeth certainly weren’t in any great hurry. They seemed to expect that we would wait patiently for them to reach us. And of course they were right in thinking so.

“Y’know,” said the fly, but he was speaking in a quieter voice now, “as much as these girls look good from the front I wouldn’t mind seeing what they look like from the rear, neither.”

Ben made the hissing noise that was apparently part of his repertoire of sounds that might fall under the general rubric of "laughter", and once again the hissing metamorphosed into a series of coughs.

I suddenly remembered that I was able to communicate telepathically with my two companions, so I thought as firmly as I could, “Listen, you guys, please behave, and don’t embarrass me.”

“Christ, Arnie,” thought the fly, “you act like they’re a couple of nuns.”

“As a matter of fact, one of them was a nun up until yesterday,” I thought.

“You’re shitting me,” thought the fly. “Which one?”

“The smaller one.”

“Oh, boy, now I’m really excited,” thought Ferdinand.

Ben began hissing again, and coughing, and hissing.

The girls came to the open front gate, came through, and stood there, drinking their drinks through plastic bendable straws and smoking their cigarettes and looking at us.

“So are you finished with your errands or what?” said Daphne.

“I haven’t started them yet,” I said. “Or, rather, I’ve only just started them.”

“Arnold,” said Ben, who had gotten over his latest hissing fit, “you gonna introduce me to these lovely ladies or you gonna keep me hangin’.”

He took off his sopping wet yachting cap and smiled, with his soggy-looking cigarette still hanging from the side of his mouth.

“Sorry,” I said. “Daphne and Sister Mary Elizabeth --”

“Just Mary Elizabeth,” said the sister.

“Daphne and Mary Elizabeth, this is Ben Blagwell.”

“Darn you’re big,” said Daphne.

“Six foot four,” said Ben, “and two hundred and fifty pounds.”

“Is that all?” said Daphne.

“Two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle and gristle and an unquenchable lust for adventure,” said Ben. “At your service, miss.”

“I don’t get you,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, ignoring Ben and looking at me. She took a drag of her cigarette and exhaled the smoke out of the side of her mouth. “First you’re meant to have some sort of writing session with Larry Winchester, and that didn't happen, then you sneak off without saying goodbye to anyone, ostensibly to run errands, and here you are bicycling past Mrs. Biddle’s house with a giant sailor man.”

“Oh,” I said, “well, I can explain all that,” although I wasn’t at all sure I could.

Ben began to produce his hiss-laughter again, which as usual turned into a coughing fit, albeit a mild one, which caused his cigarette to fly from his mouth to the gutter.

“How is your leg, anyway,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth to me, after what seemed like a disapproving look at Ben.

“My leg?”

“You were limping like a cripple not half an hour ago.”

Had it only been a half hour? Was it not another day entirely?

“He was limping?” said Daphne. “Why were you limping, Arnold? I didn’t notice.”

“He fell down drunk last night,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

Ben continued to hiss and cough, and to produce also a sound that was a combination of a hiss and a cough, a sort of harsh spluttering that reminded me of the sound an automobile tire makes when it incurs a puncture on the highway and you’re driving along in heavy traffic trying to pull over to the side of the road without causing a chain reaction of lethal smash-ups.

“Are you quite all right, Mr. Bagwell,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Oh, Christ, yeah,” he wheezed.

“You shouldn’t take the name of the Lord our God in vain you know.”

“Sorry,” he said. “Whew!”

He wiped his streaming forehead with the back of his hand and put his cap back on.

“Ow,” I said.

“What?” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

My one leg, I think it was my left one, had suddenly begun to hurt again, maybe because I had been sitting there for a minute or two straddling my bicycle, or come to think of it, maybe it had been hurting all along and I just had forgotten all about it until she had mentioned it, but, at any rate, I was in pain again.

“What is it, Arnold?” said Daphne.

“My leg,” I said. “Just a slight spasm.”

“Wiggle it.”

I stretched out the leg and wiggled it. This helped a bit, but now my other, my right leg began to hurt. I grimaced.

“You shouldn’t be out bicycling if your legs are sore,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“I’ll be okay,” I said, “as soon as I get moving again, I think.”

“Well, don’t let us keep you,” she said.

“Are you really going on errands?” said Daphne.

“Yes,” I said.

“Those drinks look really good,” said Ben. “They’re not Planter’s Punches with a float of 151, are they?”

“No, they’re a special iced tea that my grandmother’s friend Tommy makes,” said Daphne.

“They sure look good,” said Ben, licking his lips.

“Would you gentlemen like to come into the house and have some?” said Daphne. “Nothing quite like Tommy’s special iced tea.”

“Sure --” Ben started to say, but I cut him off with a “No thank you” that perhaps seemed rude, because everyone stared at me, even the fly, who was hovering a foot or so above Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“I mean,” I quickly added, “I really just want to get these errands out of the way, y’know?”

“You and your precious errands,” said Daphne.

“What are these errands, anyway?” said the sister.

“Um --”

I was distracted because I could tell that the fly was looking down the top of Sister Mary Elizabeth’s dress.

“He says he has to buy some seafood for some old man,” said Daphne.

“An old man?” said Ben. “What old man? I thought we were getting it for your aunts and your mother. For that little kid -- Kelvin?”

“Kevin,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “The pathetic little squirt.”

“Who’s this old man?” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “This is like some whole new character.”

“Um,” I said.

“Like I missed a part of the movie ‘cause I had to go to the head,” he said.

“Must you, Mr. Bragwell?” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Blagwell, actually,” said Ben.

“It’s some old man Arnold knows,” said Daphne. She took a sip of her drink through a her bendable straw. It had a sort to hinge on it. Maybe hinge is not the right word. It doesn’t matter.

“So who’s the old man?” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“His name’s Mr. Arbuthnot,” said Daphne. Still sipping her iced tea through her straw she reached out with the hand that held her cigarette and she touched the ring on my little finger. “He gave Arnold that gold ring.”

“Why, in heaven’s name?” asked Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Haven’t the faintest,” said Daphne.

She seemed to be getting bored, and who could blame her.

“So what’s up with this old man?” said the sister, addressing me.

“Mr. Arbuthnot?” I said.

“Yes. I mean is he crippled, or sick or something?”

“No,” I said, slowly.

“Then why can’t he just go to the shop and buy some seafood himself?”

“Good question,” said Ben.

The fly buzzed merrily above our heads, although he always slowed down when he came over Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Well, it has to be fresh from the docks,” I said. “And the docks are kind of far away from where he lives.”

“He’s awfully picky, isn’t he?”

I should have lied, made something up, but I found it hard to lie to a nun, even if she was an ex-nun.

“It’s not him who is picky,” I said.

“It’s not he you mean.”

“It’s not he who is picky,” I said, corrected.

“Then who is it?”

“It’s his cat.”
"His cat."
“Yes,” I said. “It’s his cat who is picky. He likes fresh seafood, right off the the boats.”

“I didn’t know cats could tell the difference.”

“This one probably can,” I said.

I didn’t think that what I had said was all that risible, but Ben suddenly began to make his hissing noise again, and then the coughing came, mixed in with the hissing, and then somehow a hiccuping became mixed up in it all. It sounded a little like the sounds a cat produces when it’s trying to cough up a hairball, but an enormous cat, maybe it was more like that of a lion on one of the veldts of Africa who has eaten a bad piece of carrion and is about to throw up. Not that I’ve ever been to Africa, or even seen a lion.

The fly seemed to be laughing too.

(Continued here, because we have a charge to keep.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find what purports to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other cybernetically-aaccessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, all of them available to the public free, gratis and for nothing, as a service to all humanity and for the sake of our children’s grandchildren, although donations will be accepted in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Pagan Baby Fund.)