Wednesday, August 31, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 26


by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

"she can't dance, she's going to have to learn to sing."

those were the first words shirley remembered hearing, in a dressing room in alberta or maybe it was a hotel room in manitoba. shirley's parents were vaudevillians of the old school and had performed the exact same song and dance act up to eight times a day for three hundred days a year for ten years by the time shirley was born and fourteen years after that before her father ran off with a "bad woman", strangled her, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in washington state. ..

for complete episode, click here

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Baltimore Catechism, Part Two

When Fr. Murray was talking about bad companions his eyes kept flickering over there to Gooney McFarland, sitting in the back row closest to the door...

(Please go here for the complete story.)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 265: third degree

Once again our hero Arnold Schnabel (with his comrades Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the fly) finds himself ascending the spiral staircase leading from Mr. Arbuthnot’s Whatnot Shoppe to that aged gentleman’s living quarters, here in the rain-drenched and flooding seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, on this fateful Sunday afternoon in August of 1963...

(Please click here to read our preceding episode; those who have successfully completed both War and Peace and Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu may go here to start at the beginning of this Gold View Award-winning 49-volume memoir.)

“Arnold Schnabel’s monumental masterwork is so much more than a book or even a series of books; nay, I rather look on it more as a way of life.” -- Harold Bloom in Women’s Wear Daily.

Fortunately, and obviously, or else I wouldn’t be writing this, Ben did not fall down on me and we all made it successfully up to Mr. Arbuthnot’s apartment, and none too soon in my case because as soon as I passed through the doorway from the stairwell my knee went out on me, I think it was the right one, not that it matters, but one of my knees collapsed under me and I pitched headlong onto a throw rug.

“Ow,” I said, because I was in pain. “Ow.”

I squirmed on the rug, gripping my knee, neither of which actions lessened the pain in the slightest.

“Oh, dear,” I heard Mr. Arbuthnot say.

“Jesus Christ, Arnie,” said the fly.

“Fuckin’ hell,” said Ben.

“Lift him up,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Sure.” said Ben, “Where you want me to put him, on that couch?”

“No!” I said, I imagine in a rather constricted voice. “Not the couch!”

Ben had already hauled me up to my feet with a hand under each of my armpits.

“Let me lay you on the couch, Arnie. You can stretch your leg out that way.”

“No!” I said, but, meaning the best I’m sure, Ben ignored my protestations, lifted me as easily as though I were one of the hollow shop mannequins downstairs, carried me around the coffee table and laid me down on that tiger-striped couch, into which of course I immediately sank almost to the level of the floor.

“Wow,” said Ben. “You need some new springs in that couch, Mr. Arbuthnot.”

“You think so?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Get me out of here,” I said, and even to myself my voice sounded muffled and distant, like a voice from far within a cave or a mine.

“You look ridiculous,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around above me.

“I feel ridiculous. Get me out.”

“You look like you’re lying in your coffin, Arnie,” said Ben’s voice.

I felt like I was lying in my own coffin, too. A fairly comfortably upholstered coffin, but still a coffin.

“That divan has never sunk down like that with me,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“That’s because you weigh about as much as I do,” said Ferdinand. “Lift him out, Ben.”

There was a bit more back-and-forth among us, I was in so much pain that I stopped paying attention, even to what I was saying, but the upshot of it was that Ben did lift me out with the intention of setting me into the easy chair to the left of the sofa, his left, but I suppose I was a bit ungainly to handle even for a fellow as strong as Ben, because he tripped over the coffee table, sending me flying diagonally into the chair, which toppled backward with me tumbling over it, and then I was unconscious.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that once again I entered a different realm of consciousness, and in this realm I was finally being buried, in an actual coffin, they had screwed the lid shut and they were lowering me down. At last I was as low as I was ever going to go, and in the darkness I felt and heard the ropes being pulled back up. Then I heard a handful of dirt falling on the outside of the coffin’s lid. After a half a minute another handful of dirt fell. Four or five more handfuls followed at similar intervals, and then that was it. Was this everyone who had bothered to show up at my burial? Six or seven people? Let’s see, there would be my mother of course and her three sisters Greta, Elizabetta and Edith. Probably Kevin would show up, he wouldn’t want to miss it, not out of any great affection for me perhaps, but only to see someone buried. Who else? Would Charlie Coleman have come? Oh, wait, surely Elektra would be there, wouldn’t she? And what about Steve, or Josh. For that matter what about Ben or Ferdinand. Of course Ferdinand could not be expected to throw in the traditional handful of dirt. But then it occurred to me: I was thinking, I was aware of myself, even though everything was black all around me, so how could I be dead? Had I merely been in a very deep coma? Had some horrible misdiagnosis been made? Or -- was this death? This lying here in darkness, forever. And if so, what would I do with myself for all eternity? It wouldn’t be so bad if only I had some light, and an endless supply of paperback novels. Maybe if I tried knocking against the lid of the coffin someone would hear me before the grave diggers started shoveling the dirt on top of me in earnest.

I struck out with my right fist.

“Ow!” said Ben.

My fist hurt. I tried to punch the lid again, but something held my arm down. I tried to punch the lid with my left fist but something heavy held my left arm down.

“Hey, calm down, champ, it’s only me,” said Ben.

He was leaning over me, holding down both my arms by the biceps. His breath smelled like rum and Sweet Caporal cigarettes, but it was not a bad smell. A drop of sweat fell from his face onto mine, and if felt like the water of life, his warm strong breath felt like the breath of life.

“I’m alive,” I said, although my voice sounded as if it were coming from downstairs.

“Sure, buddy, you just hit your noggin on the floor. If I let your arms go you promise not to punch me no more?”

“Yes,” I said, and now my voice sounded closer, from somewhere in this room.

He let go of my arms and sat back on his haunches. With one hand he rubbed his jaw, where I suppose I had punched him. He looked very huge squatting there next to me.

Two flies flew over my face and hovered.

“I think he’ll be okay,” Ferdinand said. “His pupils ain’t dilated. Arnie, how many of me do you see?”

“Two,” I said.

“Close your eyes a second, then open ‘em again.”

I closed my eyes. My head hurt. More specifically a place on the upper left quadrant of my forehead hurt. My right knee on the other hand didn’t hurt so much now.

“All right, open your eyes,” said Ferdinand.

I opened my eyes.

“How many of me do you see?” he asked.

“Just one this time,” I said. “Where did the other fly go?”

“He’s okay,” said Ferdinand. “Lift him up, Ben, and this time don’t drop him.”

“I didn’t drop him on purpose,” said Ben.

“Just be careful -- you dump him down like that again he might not wake up next time.”

“I’m comfortable here,” I said.

“Lift him up, Ben,” said Ferdinand.

It only now dawned on me that I was lying on my back on the floor, and so I didn’t struggle when I felt myself being lifted up again.

“Okay, lay him in the chair,” said Ferdinand, “and try not to knock it over this time.”

“I can walk,” I said.

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Ben, and it was true that I could feel my feet, but they seemed to be possibly at the ends of someone else’s legs.

Then I was sitting in the easy chair to the left of the sofa. Apparently someone had set the chair upright again.

“How is he?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

He was standing there with a glass in his hand.

“He’ll be fine,” said Ben. “Give him that whiskey.”

“There you are, Arnold,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

I took the glass he was offering me. I drank what was in it in a gulp. It was whiskey all right. The rich smells and the dim lights of a thousand bars rose up somewhere behind my eyes and snippets of a hundred thousand inane conversations played in the background on a thousand juke boxes.

“How do you feel now?” asked Ferdinand.

“Good,” I said. “Much better.”

Which was true. My head hurt and my leg hurt, but I wasn’t being buried alive, so I was better.

Mr. Arbuthnot took the empty glass from me. I noticed that Mr. Jones was sitting sleeping in the stuffed chair on the other side of the coffee table. He must have been there all along, but of course I hadn’t noticed him, having collapsed as soon as I got up here. His little straw fedora with the feather in it had slipped forward almost to his eyes.

“I didn’t know Mr. Jones was up here,” I said.

“Yes,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He took my empty glass. “I hadn’t mentioned that.”

“He’s sleeping pretty soundly, ain’t he?” said Ben.

“Yes,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

I saw Ferdinand fly over near to Mr. Jones’s head.

“This guy is out like a light,” said the fly.

“Yes,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “So, shall I make those Manhattans now?”

“Wait,” said Ferdinand. “This guy ain’t breathing.”

“Heh heh, I’ll make those cocktails now,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Hold on, pal,” said Ferdinand, and he buzzed away from Mr. Jones and didn’t stop till he was floating in front of Mr. Arbuthnot. “What’s up with the stiff, pops?”

“Well, let’s have a drink and we’ll talk it over.”

“Yeah, Ferdy,” said Ben, “let’s have a drink.”

“We’ll have a drink after we get some answers,” said Ferdinand. “Spill, pops.”

“Oh, all right,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “He’s dead. He’s a friend of mine named Jones. He came over, he had some hop with him.”

“Hop?” said Ferdinand. “Ya mean the big O?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Opium. Which he had lifted from one of my stashes last night, without my permission I might add. Anyway, I chose to forgive him, as he was rather intoxicated when he nicked the dope. So, in the spirit of good fellowship, I took out my pipe, we split a couple of bowls and then all of a sudden he gave out with a gasp, sat back, and he croaked, okay? Am I to be despised for sharing some hop with an old pal?”

“No,” said Ferdinand. “But am I right in assuming your dead old friend has something to do with this favor you want from us?”

“Well -- yes.”

“And this favor is?”

“I was wondering if you boys would get rid of him for me.”

“You got a lot of nerve, pal.”

“Look,” said Ben, “let’s not rush to judgement here. I say we have a drink or two and talk it over.”

“What is there to talk over?” said Ferdinand. “We already got a copper watching Arnie’s every move, just dying to put a pinch on him for the slightest reason, and this guy wants us to dump a stiff for him?”

“I would help you fellows,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“I’ll bet you would,” said Ferdinand. “Arnie, what do you think?”

“Well,” I said. My faculties had returned nearly to full strength, such as that was. The throbbing pain in my head dueled with the one in my right knee, but far from unbearably.

“Well what?” said Ferdinand.

“Mr. Arbuthnot,” I said, “why don’t you just call the police and tell them that Mr. Jones suddenly had a heart attack? You don’t have to say anything about the opium.”

“Well, here’s the thing, Arnold,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “-- by the way, may I call you Arnold?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Here’s the thing, Arnold. I’ve had a couple of shall we say run-ins with the local bulls.”

“Oh,” I said.

“And to be truthful, so has Jonesie over there.”


“Nothing too major for either of us. Drunk and disorderly. Public disturbance. Loitering with intent.”

“I see,” I said.

“And, uh, well, there were a couple of dope busts.”

“Oh,” I said.

“We were able to beat the dope raps with the help of my Philadelphia lawyer, heh heh, but here’s the thing: what if they perform an autopsy on Jonesie? God knows what they’ll find in that man’s system. What if the coppers decide to bring the heat down on me, what if they haul me in and start asking questions. I’m too old for the third degree.”

“Just say you don’t know anything.”

“Easy for you to say. You ever been worked on with a rubber hose?”

“No,” I said.

“You ever been slammed in the head with a telephone book?”

“No,” I said.

“I been given the third degree,” said Ben.

“And it’s no fun, is it?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“I been given the third degree by Nazi bitches and Commie slatterns and blood-crazed jungle babes and I’ll tell ya it wasn’t too much fun,” said Ben.

“See?” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “I’m not asking much. Just take him out and dump him somewhere. Old guys like him drop dead on the street every day.”

“In the middle of this fucking torrential downpour with the streets flooding you want us to go out and dump his body?” said Ferdinand.

“I was thinking maybe you could take him out the back way and just sort of toss him out in the street,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “It’s really perfect timing because no one will be out and the flood will wash him away.”

“That’s cold, old man,” said Ferdinand. “How would you like it if someone just dumped your corpse out into the flood.”

“I assure you I shouldn’t mind it in the least,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

I twisted the ring on my little finger. Josh had revived Mr. Jones the night before. But unfortunately Josh wasn’t here now. As far as I knew he was still in the world of Miss Evans’s novel, maybe still drinking in that Greenwich Village basement bar with those girls and those deceased famous writers.

“Mr. Arbuthnot,” I said, “How long has Mr. Jones been -- uh --”

“Dead?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Oh, not too terribly long,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Twenty minutes?”

I twisted the little gold ring again, and then I had another one of my brainwaves. I held up my fist, with only the little finger extended, the little finger with the ring on it.

“What about the ring?” I asked.

“Oh,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “The ring.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You said it had special powers.”

“Well, yes, I did say that,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“What’s up with the ring?” said Ben. “Is it like a magic ring?”

“Quiet, Ben,” said Ferdinand.

“Mr. Arbuthnot,” I said, “do you think I could use the ring to bring Mr. Jones back?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said.

“It’s a yes or no question Arnie asked,” said Ferdinand.

“What was the question again?”

“Stop stalling, Methuselah. Answer the man’s question. Can Arnie use the ring to bring this guy back to life?”

“Well, yes, possibly. Possibly I say. It all depends on the innate spiritual power of the wearer --”

“So, Arnie, give it a shot,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah,” said Ben, “this I gotta see. I remember one time I was down in the jungle up the Amazon and these headhunter Amazon women had this special potion --”

“Later for that, Ben,” said the fly. “Arnie, do your stuff before the old guy starts to putrefy.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Wait,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Think about this. The power of that ring is not limitless. Every time you use it you decrease some of its strength. Do you really want to use it up on reviving this old reprobate who probably hasn’t six months more to live anyway?”

“That is really cold,” said Ferdinand.

“Well, it’s only the truth,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“It’s up to you, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “It’s your ring.”

“But it’s not his ring!” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “It’s mine! I only gave it to him so that he could try to trade it to Wally for some more stuff!”

“Who the hell is Wally?” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah, who’s Wally?” said Ben. “And what ‘stuff’?”

“Help me up, Ben,” I said.

“Sure, pal. ‘Scuse me, gramps.”

Ben lifted Mr. Arbuthnot as if he were a little ceramic lawn troll, placed him a couple of feet away, and then came over and gave me a hand up, pulling me up by my forearm.

“You okay, pal?”

“Yes, I think so,” I said. “I think you can let go of my arm now.”

“Okay. Nice and easy now.”

Ben let go of me. I took a breath and then I limped the short distance over to the chair in which Mr. Jones sat.

“That’s it, buddy,” said Ben.

“It’s my ring you know,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Clam up, pops,” said Ferdinand. “You wanted us to do you a favor, take care of a problem for ya, so, okay, Arnie’s gonna try and take care of it. Ain’t you, Arnie?”

“I’ll try,” I said.

“It probably won’t work anyway,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “You’re going to drain the ring of its power and we’ll still have a goddam corpse on our hands.”

“Shut up and let him concentrate,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Tell ya what, if this don’t work we’ll dump the dead guy for ya.”

“But --”

“Relax, Max,” said Ben. “I wanta watch this.”

I tried to remember how Josh had revived Mr. Arbuthnot the night before. It all seemed so long ago. And, anyway, he was the son of God, whereas I was a mere human, even if I did have the ring.

I twisted the ring on my finger, then, not knowing what else to do, I laid my my hand, my left hand, the one with the ring on its little finger, onto the dimpled crown of Mr. Jones’s straw fedora.

Nothing happened.

“Take his hat off,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” said Ben.

“Oh, like you’re an expert?” said Ferdinand.

I removed Mr. Jones’s hat and placed it on his lap. Then I laid my left hand on his skull. It was as bald and smooth as an egg, and somehow it didn’t feel much more sturdy than an egg.

I waited.

“See? Nothing?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Try to concentrate,” said the fly.

“Maybe you need to say some magic words,” said Ben.

“Magic words -- bullshit,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “They never work.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Ben. “What about like in the Catholic mass when the priest changes the host into the body of Christ?”

“Oh, come on,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “What’re you, five years old?”

“Hey, Arnie,” said the fly, “try to like send your life force through the ring.”

“I still think you gotta say some words,” said Ben.

“Words, schmerds,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Look,” I said. “Could everyone please be quiet just for a minute?”

“Yeah, pipe down, you guys,” said Ferdinand. “He’s trying to concentrate.”

“Maybe we should make some drinks,” said Ben.

“Ben, please,” I said.

“Sorry, Arnie.”

Then suddenly all three of them stopped talking, and the only sound was that of the rain and the wind outside. It was just me, with my hand on the dead man’s head. It was a small head, not much bigger than a softball really. It felt slightly warm under my hand, but then the room was very warm and stuffy. I was sweating profusely. Come to think of it I suppose I had been sweating profusely pretty much continuously through the whole day.

I tried to concentrate, to will the life that had just left this ravaged and desiccated remnant of a human being back into its housing, even if it was only for six more drunken and drug-addled months, and who was I to be judgemental.

(Continued here, and onward, provided our funding doesn’t dry up.)

(Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page for a scrupulously up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Published by special permission of the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia™. Nihil Obstat: Bishop John J. “Big John” Graham.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 25


by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by konrad kraus and rhoda penmarq

*Ass’t Professor of Classics; Ass’t Remedial English Coordinator; Olney Community College; editor of Triumph of the Damned: Seven Previously Uncollected Novellas of Horace P. Sternwall (1937-1942); Olney Community College Press; “The Sternwall Project”.

for complete episode, click here

Sunday, August 21, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 24

"End of the Line"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by konrad kraus and rhoda penmarq

*Ass’t Professor of Classics, Ass’t Boxing Coach; Olney Community College; editor of Chide Not the Sparrow: Previously Uncollected Stories of Horace P. Sternwall (1936-1941); Olney Community College Press; The Neglected Modern Masters series.

(for complete episode, click here)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 264: a favor

Our hero Arnold Schnabel (with his companions Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the fly) finds himself once again in Mr. Arbuthnot’s Whatnot Shoppe, on this rainy Sunday afternoon in August of 1963, here in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey...

(Go here to read our previous chapter; the morbidly curious may click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award-winning 47-volume memoir.)

“The sheer wealth and richness of Arnold Schnabel’s world -- how one longs to return to it after even a brief absence.” -- Harold Bloom in GQ.

Once again I was sweating. There was a black table fan oscillating on the glass counter by the cash register, but now that the door was closed all the fan was doing was pushing around the hot air and the tobacco smoke.

“Well, we might as well go up to my flat,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “We’ll wait out the rain up there.”

“Yeah. The rain,” said Ben.
He was on the other side of the doorway from where I was. He stood there, holding his red Schwinn with one hand. He looked out the window, or maybe he was looking at all the junk in the display, perhaps he wasn't looking at anything. Then he pushed down his kickstand with the sole of his dirty white deck shoe and stood the bike up. He turned and took a drag of his cigarette.
“And the flood,” he said.
“Yes, and the flood,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“You think this front door is gonna hold?” asked Ben, eyeing the door with the look of a man who knew his doors.

“I hope so,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “That’s two-inch mahogany, inch-thick bulletproof glass, and the bottom rail fits exactly flush into the bronze weatherstripping in the threshold.”

Ben knocked the wood of the door with his knuckles, and then the glass pane.

“Seems pretty sturdy,” he said. “But will it stand up to a tidal wave?”

“I have no idea,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Perhaps a small tidal wave?”

“Maybe,” said Ben.

I moved my orange Schwinn closer to the window on this side of the doorway, and kicked down the kickstand, the doing of which caused a fresh bolt of pain to run up my leg, although, oddly enough this was not the same leg that had most recently immobilized me.

“Ow,” I said, but no one paid any attention to me.

Mr. Arbuthnot and Ferdinand were both looking at Ben, who was down on his haunches now, running his fingers along the lower edge of the door.

“Maybe,” he said. “Just maybe.” He stood up, wiped his fingers on his denims, took another drag of his cigarette. He looked through the thick glass of the door at the crashing watery greyness outside. The buildings across the street were only vaguely and waveringly visible. “It’s a chance,” he said. He turned and looked at me, at Ferdinand, at Mr. Arbuthnot. “But it’s a chance we’re gonna have to take.”

“I suppose so,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “I don’t really see any alternative.”

“Me neither,” said Ben. “We’re trapped. If this door busts open and the water rushes in we just gotta pray the flood don’t knock the whole house down.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“I’ve seen it happen. Houses bigger and stronger than this one broken apart like some little broad’s dollhouse.”

“Oh my,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Washed away -- like, like what?” said Ben.

“Like dollhouses,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Yeah,” said Ben, “but, I know, even better, you ever seen them little houses guys build out of matchsticks?”

“Why, yes, I have,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “You see, in my trade --”

“Imagine one of them little matchstick houses and I stamped on it. Hard. And then threw the pieces in the river where they get washed away. Along with everybody that was inside ‘em --”

“Little matchstick men,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Yeah, or like little army men maybe,” said Ben. “Or them little people in train sets. Dead. All of them, washed away --”

“Jesus Christ, Ben!” said the fly.

“What’s the problem, little buddy?”

“Can’t you be any more melodramatic?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Listen, you big ape, this is just a little flood in a South Jersey shore town! This ain’t like some fuckin’ massive flood in the Philippines or goddamn India or someplace like that! We don’t have floods like that in this country!”

Ben took a drag of his cigarette and let the smoke out slowly before he replied.

“You ever hear of a little town called Johnstown, my friend? A little flood called the Great Johnstown Flood?”

“I remember that one,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He was re-lighting his pipe with a wooden match, making tiny sucking sounds. “Eighteen hundred and eighty-eight?”

“Somewhere around there,” said Ben.

Mr. Arbuthnot waved the match out and flicked it at the vase near the doorway, the one he had said was a priceless Ming vase. The match bounced off the side of the vase and down to the wooden floor. There were a lot of other matches on the floor there too.

“Better’n twenty-two hundred people, drowned like rats,” said Ben. “Men, women, children. Pets and farm animals.”

“Oh, fucking hell,” said Ferdinand, “will you just cut it out with the gloom and doom?”

“As the flood tore down the valley it picked up debris, not only human beings and animals but bricks and shattered lumber and thousands of yards of barbed wire from a wire factory. Survivors said the debris-choked flood looked like some monstrous avalanche, a mountain rolling over and over on itself, crushing everything in its path. Gee, imagine them poor people trying to stay afloat but getting all tangled up in the barbed wire. What a horrible way to check out.”

“All right,” said the fly, “if you don’t shut the fuck up about the Johnstown flood right now, I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but you ain't gonna like it.”

“I’m only talking,” said Ben. “No need to get all upset.”

“Talk about something else,” said the fly. “Christ, I need a drink now.”

“Hey, I could go for a snort too,” said Ben. He turned to Mr. Arbuthnot. “Got anything for some thirsty sailors, grandpop?”

“Well, as it happens you’re in luck, young man, because during that all-too-brief interlude between torrential downpours this afternoon I ducked out to the Ugly Mug’s package shop and picked up a couple of bottles of Canadian Club and another of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth.”

“No rum, huh?”

“If I had only known that was your preference I assure you I would have purchased a fifth, perhaps even a half-gallon.”

“Heh heh, you’re all right, pops, I don’t care what anybody says about you. Hey, where do I dump my cigarette?”

“Just toss it in that priceless Ming vase by the door there.”

He indicated the cracked and stained old piece of pottery in which I had stood my umbrella earlier today. Ben flicked his cigarette butt into it.

“All right,” he said, “let’s go hoist a few.”

“Yes, let’s,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Nothing I like better than bending an elbow with the boys. But in return for my hospitality I wonder if you and Arnold, and, uh --”

“Ferdinand,” said Ferdinand.

“And Ferdinand,” continued Mr. Arbuthnot. He drew on his pipe, but it was out. He looked into the bowl, then turned it over and gave it a tap with his finger, letting the ashes fall to the floor. “I wonder if you fellows might do me a service.”

“Oh, Christ, here we go,” said the fly.

“Now, Ferdy,” said Ben. He was running his fingers along the derrière of a mannequin wearing a dress of the sort that was fashionable around the year 1910.

“Nothin’ for nothin’,” said Ferdinand.

“Just a small service,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He blew through his pipe and then stuck it into his jacket pocket.

“All I want is a drink of whiskey,” said Ferdinand. “And now in order to get it I gotta do this old geezer a service.”

“But I assure you --” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“What ever happened to the days when some pals drop by your trap you offer ‘em a goddam drink no strings attached?”

“Let’s hear what he’s got to say,” said Ben. He had been lifting up the mannequin’s skirt to look at its legs, but now he let the material drop, which it did sending off a flurry of dust.

“Fuck him,” said Ferdinand. “Let him keep his Canadian Club. I prefer a good bourbon my own self.”

“You misunderstand me, Mr. Ferdinand,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “I will gladly offer you gentlemen all the liquor I possess, free, gratis and for nothing; never let it be said that Arbuthnot was mean with his liquor or his drugs.”

“Wait, you got drugs?” said Ferdinand, and Ben perked up as well.

“I wish,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Me and Arnie smoked up the last of my stash earlier today.”

Both the fly and Ben turned and gave me a look, as if they were somewhat pleasantly surprised.

“Layers upon layers with you, Arnold,” said Ferdinand.

“I’ll say,” said Ben.

“But anyway,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “I was only speaking figuratively when I said that in return for my liquor I wondered if you would do me a service.”

“So what the hell did you mean?” said Ferdinand.

“I meant to say that I have a small favor to ask which if you gentleman would agree to carry it out would perhaps redound as happily to your own advantage as to mine.”

“A favor,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “A small favor.”

“Seems like we were already doin’ you a favor,” said Ferdinand. “With this seafood caper.”

“Yes, indeed you were, and believe me I sincerely appreciate it,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “But listen, isn’t anyone else tired of standing around down here? Why don’t we go up to my digs and we’ll talk this over with some very cold and very strong Manhattans?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Ferdinand. “At least the Manhattans part does.”

“Same here,” said Ben. “Arnie, you’ve been awful quiet.”

“Oh, well, uh, you know,” I said. Both my legs were aching and I was hot and sweaty, but I knew no one wanted to hear my problems.

“The strong quiet type,” said Ben.

“That’s our Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“Follow me, gentleman,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“So it’s okay we just leave the bikes out here?” said Ben.

“Unless you want to carry them upstairs,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“No thanks,” said Ben.

Mr. Arbuthnot turned and headed toward the stairway with his quick small steps.

I started to follow, but Ben came over and grabbed me by the arm. His hand went easily all around my biceps.

“Arnie,” he whispered. “This guy on the level? We ain’t gonna get dry-gulched up there are we?”

“Ah, Christ,” whispered Ferdinand, but a little louder, “will you cool it? I got news for you, real life ain’t an Alan Ladd movie.”

“Maybe your life ain’t,” said Ben.

“What’re you gentlemen whispering about back there?” called Mr. Arbuthnot, over by the entranceway to the staircase.

“I was just asking Arnie if he knew where the head was,” said Ben. “I gotta take a wicked one.”

“You can use the lavatory upstairs,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Provided you can wait that long.”

“Oh, I can hold it in, I guess,” said Ben. “I was just, you know, wondering if you had one down here, or --”

“I do,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “But as I said, if you’ll wait till we get upstairs --”

“Oh, sure.”

“Ben, just shut up,” whispered the fly.

“Are you coming then, gentlemen?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Sure, right away,” said Ben. He let go of my arm, and now my biceps ached a little where he had been grabbing it. “Let’s go, boys.”

He strode across the shop floor, and I hobbled along right behind. The fly was in my ear.

“Arnie,” whispered Ferdinand, “whaddaya think? We gonna have a problem with this old fart?”

“Um,” I said.

“Telepathically,” Ferdinand whispered.

“Oh, sorry,” I thought. “Well, to answer your question, I really don’t know. But every time I come here something weird seems to happen.”

“Weird I can handle,” whispered the fly. “Just so long as he don’t like poison us, or slip us a Mickey Finn.”

“Hey, I heard that,” thought Ben, glancing back at us. “Whaddaya think, Arnie?”

“I don’t think he’ll slip us a Mickey Finn,” I thought back. “Why would he do that?”

“How would I know?” thought Ben. “Maybe he’s a cannibal and likes to eat human flesh. Live human flesh.”

“Well, that leaves me in the clear,” said the fly, laughing silently.

Mr. Arbuthnot had switched on the entranceway light and gone up a few steps, but now he turned to look down at us from the spiral staircase.

“Follow me, lads,” he said. “Mr. Bogwell --”

“Blagwell,” said Ben. “But, please, call me Ben.”

“Very well, Ben it is then, watch your noggin going up these stairs. They were not built for giants like yourself.”

“Sure, chief, I’ll be careful.”

“You wouldn’t want to strike your head and fall and crush Mr. Schnabel.”

“Nah, wouldn’t want to do that.”

Like a small monkey in an old man’s suit Mr. Arbuthnot then scrabbled spryly up the stairs.

Ben looked at me, raised his eyebrows briefly, then started climbing the stairs. I let him go up four or five steps, and then followed. My legs still ached and I pulled myself along on the wooden handrail. Ferdinand sat in my ear.

“Anything happens up there, don’t worry,” said the fly. “I got you covered.”

Great, I thought, I have a fly looking out for me.

“Hey, I heard that,” whispered Ferdinand.

“Sorry,” I whispered back.

“But -- I know -- I’m just a fly.”

“I apologize.”

“Okay, but just remember, flies have feelings too.”

“I will.”

Up above us Ben was huffing and puffing at the effort of climbing the stairs.

“If that guy falls on you though you’re on your own,” whispered Ferdinand.

“I realize that,” I whispered, and a couple of drops of Ben’s sweat fell on my face.

“Yeah, if that guy takes a tumbler it’s every man for himself,” whispered Ferdinand.

“And every fly,” I whispered.

(Continued here; the adventure has only just begun.)

(Painting by Mort Kunstler. Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find an up-to-the-minute listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode made possible in part by a generous grant from John’s Bargain Stores™. “Where Arnold Schnabel’s mother shopped!”)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 263: gumption

The quaint New Jersey seaside town of Cape May is suffering a flood following a heavy rainstorm on this Sunday afternoon in August of 1963, but Arnold Schnabel and his companions Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the talking fly are not to be deterred from their quest...

(Please click here to read our previous episode; go here to start at the very first chapter of this Gold View Award-winning 71-volume autobiography.)

“While lying on the beach the other day I became so absorbed in my fifth or sixth re-reading of the fourth volume of Arnold Schnabel’s masterwork that when I finally got up I found that I had incurred a rather severe sunburn.” -- Harold Bloom in Holiday magazine.

As we drew opposite the shop I saw Mr. Arbuthnot standing in his open doorway, and there was no pretending this time; he said nothing, but he saw that I saw him.

“Ben,” I said, “could we stop here a minute?”

“What?” he said. “We just got started again.”

But, twisting his head around and seeing that I was stopping, he braked his bike too.

“What’s goin’ on?” he said.

“Yeah,” said the fly, who had left my ear and was flying in circles in front of me. “What the hell is it now?”

I said nothing, but pointed my face at Mr. Arbuthnot, standing there in his doorway in his little grey three-piece suit, puffing on his pipe.

“Who’s the old guy?” asked the fly telepathically.

“He’s Mr. Arbuthnot,” I replied in the same manner. “The old man I told you about, with the cat.”

“So that’s the old geezer,” said Ben silently.

“Yes,” I said, aloud.

“Mr. Schnabel,” called Mr. Arbuthnot, “am I to understand that you’re only now beginning your journey to the docks.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Arbuthnot,” I called back. “I ran into some unforeseen difficulties.”

“Come over here so we don’t have to shout at each other like a couple of street ruffians.”

Dismounting my bike, I walked it through the water to the entrance area of the Whatnot Shoppe, and Ben followed me.

The flood had risen to just below the level of the raised sill of Mr. Arbuthnot’s doorway. The shop was dim behind him, with only one or two electric lamps greyly illuminating the cluttered interior.

Mr. Arbuthnot took a few puffs from his little Meerschaum, and he slowly let out a little cloud of pearly smoke before speaking again.

“Tell me, Mr. Schnabel,” he said, “have you quite relapsed into insanity?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, after only a slight pause. “But then I might not be the best person to answer that question.”

“Ben Blagwell,” said Ben abruptly.

He had pulled his bike up beside mine, and now he put out his enormous right hand, well, an enormous right hand was the only sort of right hand he possessed, at any rate he offered this appendage to Mr. Arbuthnot, and the old man looked at it through those thick rimless glasses of his, in fact he looked at the hand for a good thirty seconds, and I wondered if perhaps the prescription for his glasses needed to be updated and he was trying to discern if this was indeed a hand Ben was proffering and not a ham or a puppy bulldog.

“Come on, old timer,” said Ben, “don’t leave me hanging, old buddy.”

Finally Mr. Arbuthnot transferred his pipe from his right to his left hand, and he put his right hand in Ben’s, which swallowed it up and then pumped up and down, causing Mr. Arbuthnot’s tiny old body to rock and shake like a marionette whose puppeteer has suffered a severe sneezing fit. His glasses came off his nose, he managed to grab them before they could fall, but then his dentures popped out of his mouth. Fortunately Ben was quick, he let go of Mr. Arbuthnot’s hand and caught the teeth in mid air.

“Gee, sorry, sir,” said Ben, and he held out the small yellow set of dentures on his palm to Mr. Arbuthnot, who was putting the rubber-tipped wire temples of the glasses back behind his miniature shell-like ears. The old fellow grabbed the dentures, turned his head aside, popped the teeth back into his mouth and turned to face me again.

“Mr. Schnabel,” he said, “where did you pick up this great oaf?”

“Hey, wait a minute, gramps,” said Ben. He was wiping his hand on the tail of his wrinkled Hawaiian shirt. “I said I was sorry.”

“Yeah, he can’t help it,” said the fly. “He’s big boned is all and don’t know his own strength.”

“Who said that?” said Arbuthnot. “Have you some infernal invisible spirit in your company?”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand. “You talk like a book, grandpop. A bad book.”

“How dare you, whosoever you are. My speech is known for its impeccability.”

“Maybe back when Anthony Trollope was considered hot stuff it was,” said the fly.

“Do not impugn the name of Trollope in my presence,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Who’s this trollop, anyway?” said Ben. “I like trollops, myself.”

“Mr. Arbuthnot,” I said. “I’m sorry if my friends, uh, alarmed you --”

“Not to mention nearly yanking my arm off,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Look,” said Ben, “How many times I gotta say I was sorry. You want me to punch myself in the face?”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Hey, lucky for you, Ben,” said Ferdinand. “Ya wouldn’t wanta knock your own goddam block off.”

“Who is that?” said Mr. Arbuthnot, addressing me.

“It’s the fly,” I said, pointing towards the fly who was buzzing merrily up and down in spirals in front of Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Ha ha ha,” laughed the fly. “Ferdinand’s the name, pal. Don’t wear it out.”

“Oh,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “So you weren’t kidding, Mr. Schnabel. You really do have a talking fly for a friend. Or should I say fiend?”

“Hey, I take umbrage at that remark,” said the fly. “What’re you, prejudiced?”

“Against flies?” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Yes, I am. Vile, hideous creatures.”

“Fuck you,” said the fly.

“All right, guys,” I said. “Let’s all take a breath here.”

“Fuck him,” said Ferdinand. “The withered up little troll. We’re doin’ him a favor and now he’s insulting us.”

“Look,” I said, holding up my finger, perhaps rudely I admit, at Mr. Arbuthnot, who I could see was about to respond combatively to Ferdinand, “let’s not play the blame game now.”

“Blame game,” said the fly, “Where’d you pick that phrase up, from one of your headshrinkers?”

“Well, it was a phrase we used in the group therapy sessions,” I said.

“Ha -- I knew it,” said the fly.

Ben meanwhile was lighting up another Sweet Caporal, bending his head, cupping the flame from the imaginary typhoon whipping all around us.

He tossed the match away and, exhaling a cloud of smoke that nearly filled the shop’s entrance area, he said, “Arnie’s right. Let’s take it from the top. Whaddaya say, grandpa?”

“You may call me Mr. Arbuthnot. And, yes, I agree to let bygones be bygones.”

“Swell,” said Ben. He looked at Ferdinand, or rather followed him with his eyes, as the fly was still zooming all around in front of Mr. Arbuthnot. “Come on, Ferdy, take the high road.”

Suddenly Ferdinand stopped, and hovered.

“Okay,” he said. “We take it from the top.”

“Great,” I said. “Well, anyway, Mr. Arbuthnot, I know I’m getting off to a late start, but in fact Ben and Ferdinand and I were on our way out to the docks just now.”

“You’re bicycling out to the docks in this flood?”

“Well, yes,” I said.

“Don’t you realize the flooding will be much worse down by the docks?”

“Oh,” I said. “I hadn’t thought about that.”

“Y’know, that makes sense,” said Ben.

“Well,” I said, “this policeman I was just talking to --”

“Wait,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “This the John Law that was shadowing you earlier?”

“Oh, the plot thickens,” said Ferdinand.

“I’ll say it does,” said Ben.

“So?” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Was it the same flatfoot?”

“Well, sort of,” I said.

“He either was or he wasn’t, Arnold.”

“It was him,” I said.

“This joker’s got it in for you, don’t he?”

“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “He’s just doing his job, I guess --”

“Bullshit,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“I’ll second that,” said Ben.

“Jumped-up little crossing guard,” said the fly. “Guys like that I shit in their food.”

“Ha ha,” said Ben.

“Hee hee,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “I can see it would behoove me to keep on your good side, Mr. Fly.”

“Ferdinand’s the name, Mr. Arbuthnot,” said the fly.

“Ferdinand it is then,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Anyway,” I said. “This cop said as long as it doesn’t rain again the flooding shouldn’t get much worse, and when the, uh, tide goes back out, then, uh --”

“If,” said Ben.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“He said if we don’t get hit by that front heading down from nor’east.”

“Oh, right, yes,” I said. “If. But if we don’t get, uh --”

“Hit,” said Ben.

“Yes,” I said. “If we don’t get hit by more, uh, rain, then, uh, you know --”

For some reason Mr. Arbuthnot was staring at me with his head slightly cocked and with a crooked grin on his face, and I didn’t know why. It was disconcerting, but I attempted to sum up my argument.

“Anyway, if it doesn’t rain again then the flood should subside,” I blurted.

Mr. Arbuthnot nodded his head, puffing on his pipe, still smiling crookedly.

Ben had started making that hissing laugh of his again, shooting out little jets of cigarette smoke with each hiss. I couldn’t see what was so funny all of a sudden.

“Arnie,” said the fly.

“Yes?” I said.

He said something but I couldn’t quite make out what it was.

“What?” I said.

He spoke again, and again I couldn’t hear him.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “what did you say, Ferdinand?”

“I said will you just shut the hell up and listen!” he shouted.

“Listen to what?” I said.

“Oh, boy,” said Ben. He had stopped hissing, and now he coughed a couple of times, and wiped a tear from his eye.

“What is it?” I said.

“Arnie,” said the fly, “will ya just shut your trap a goddamn second and listen?”

“Oh, okay.”

I shut my trap and listened.

I heard the sound of rain, loud rattling rain popping onto Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop awning and crashing into the flooded street in a continuous barrage of small explosions. The rain had been loud earlier today but now it was as if -- as if what? -- as if the great circus tent stretched across the sky had been slit by some mad god’s sword and now billions of pebbles were crashing down through it to the earth.

“Or you could just say it’s raining cats and dogs,” said Ferdinand.

I turned. The street was nearly invisible from the lashing rain.

I turned back again to face Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Oh, well,” I said.

“What?” the old man shouted.

“I said, ‘Oh well!’” I shouted back.

“Oh, well, indeed,” shouted Mr. Arbuthnot. “All right, come inside then, all of you. I want to close this door before the deluge rushes in.”

Mr. Arbuthnot stepped back into his shop. Ben waved me ahead, and I went in first with my orange bike. Then the fly flew in, and finally Ben came in with the red Schwinn, ducking his head under the top beam of the doorway. Mr. Arbuthnot closed the door behind us, and suddenly the noise from outside was muffled by more than half. I noticed now that this was a very heavy door, with a glass pane at least an inch thick. Mr. Arbuthnot turned a bolt lever to lock the door.

“Hey,” called a familiar voice, “he’s back finally.”

It was Shnooby, the black cat, standing at the entrance to the shadowy stairway at the rear of the store. Quickly he trotted across the shop floor and rubbed against both my legs once and then stood up on his hind legs with his front paws against my right knee.

“So,” he said, looking up at me, “did you get my seafood? Where is it? And who’s Paul Bunyan over there?”

“What,” said Ben, “a talking cat now?”

“You got a problem with that, big guy?” said the cat.

“No,” said Ben, and he looked away, taking a drag of his cigarette.

“Wow,” said the fly, flying around near my head, “you didn’t tell me the cat could talk.”

“I, uh,” I said.

“My name is Ferdinand,” said the fly. “What’s your name, pussy?”

“My name ain’t pussy,” said Shnooby. “It’s Shnooby, and I don’t want to hear no cracks about it, ‘specially from a fly named Ferdinand.”

“Lighten up, pussy,” said Ferdinand.

“Come down here and I’ll lighten you up,” said Shnooby. He was still standing on his hind legs, with his front paws against my knee. Looking at me again he said, “Where’s my seafood?”

“Well,” I said, “I was on my way to get it just now --”

Was on your way?”

“Well, I had been unavoidably delayed, but I was on my way to the docks with Ferdinand here, and Ben -- by the way, Ben, this is Shnooby.”

“Pleased to meet you, Shnooby,” said Ben.

“Likewise,” said Shnooby, without taking his eyes away from mine. “So where’s my fresh seafood?”

“Well, it started to rain again and the streets are flooded and so, um --”

“I invited them in,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Yeah?” said Shnooby. “What’re you, the Sisters of Mercy?”

“But they would never be able to get there by bicycle in this torrential downpour,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Later,” I said, to Shnooby. “I promise I’ll go later. If the rain stops. And if the streets aren’t too flooded.”

“If,” said Shnooby.

“Yes,” I said. “If.”

“You make me sick with your ifs,” the cat said.

Finally he jumped away from me, and darted back to the entrance to the stairway. Then he turned.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to go upstairs. I am going to go in the kitchen and eat some boring Nine Lives dried cat food, chicken and liver formula. Then I am going to take a nap. When I wake up I want to see some fresh seafood in this house. And I don’t want to hear any ifs.”

Then he turned and darted up the dark stairs.

“Wow,” said the fly. “Just, you know. Wow.”

“Don’t judge him harshly,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “He’s cross like that when he’s disappointed.”

“What an asshole,” said Ferdinand.

“He’s really not so bad if he gets what he wants,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“I like him,” said Ben. “He’s got gumption.”

“Yeah, he’s got gumption all right,” said Ferdinand. “And he’s still an asshole.”

(Continued here, come hell, high water, and everything in between.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a purportedly accurate listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by Krass Brothers Men Store: “Store of the Stars!”)

Friday, August 12, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 23

"the conspirators"

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

hyacinth was almost at the elevator when she heard voices behind her. the door to the suite across the hall had opened and she heard the squawking tones of miss charlton and her crony lord wolverington. well, there was nothing for it, she couldn't turn back. she pressed the button beside the elevator - it was the top floor, there was only a down button - and turned around.
the door to miss charlton's suite had closed. a young man hyacinth had seen once or twice before - probably a relative - he certainly didn't look like a salesman or a lawyer or a gigolo - had emerged and was approaching the elevator.

"good evening." hyacinth flashed him her best smile, but he only nodded, barely smiling, in return,
"good evening."
ordinarily hyacinth would have said something like "why so glum, chum?" but she was too nervous. she leaned against the wall and crossed her arms.

the young man looked back down the hall, completely indifferent to her. hyacinth had never seen him so close up before and had not realized how completely he had
m-o-n-e-y stamped all over him. his suit was so good she could hardly refrain from reaching out and feeling the texture. but it also looked like he had slept in it or at least didn't bother taking any great care of it. she had heard that miss charlton was connected to real money, but you heard that about two thirds of the people in new york.

for complete episode, click here

Monday, August 8, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 22


by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo *

illustrated by rhoda penmarq, konrad kraus and roy dismas

*Ass’t Professor of Classics and Erudition, Olney Community College; editor of Reveille at Midnight: Selected Poems and Stories of Horace P. Sternwall (1942-1945); Olney Community College Press.

Francis J. Nolan had spent thirty years in the New York City Police Department, and, having served the last twelve years of his service at the rank of Detective First-Grade, he retired gladly at the age of fifty-one.

He had been shot at on several occasions and wounded by gunfire twice, once in the left thigh and once above his right lung. He had also been clubbed, sapped, tackled and punched on dozens of occasions.

He had dealt with thousands of battered and bleeding people, and he had examined hundreds of dead men as well as women and children and infants; he had heard every type of scream and ungodly howl the human voice was capable of producing, and now upon his retirement he looked forward to a life of peace and tranquility...

(Click here to read the entire thrill-packed episode.)