Our resourceful hero Arnold Schnabel has somehow managed to invade the very brain of Lucky, the prince of darkness himself, here in a seedy dive called The Dead Man on the fog-enveloped island of lost souls…
(Go here to read our immediately preceding chapter; anyone looking for a new lifelong project may click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 63-volume memoir.)
“For some several years now it has been my custom to take to my bed following the new year’s festivities and spend a month or so doing nothing but reading and rereading Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in Boys’ Life.
But perhaps it was even more disconcerting for Lucky. I could hear his thoughts reverberating around my own consciousness as he -- and I, for I now shared all his senses -- stared into my own seemingly impassive eyes.
“What are you doing,” he said, aloud.
My own body’s voice replied:
“I’m just standing here,” I said (lying by omission, it’s true, but is it a sin to lie to the prince of darkness?) “Listening to you. Enjoying my drink.”
And I took a sip of my Manhattan.
“But I can feel you in there!” he yelled. “You’ve invaded my brain!”
I decided to hold my peace, at least in the physical realm, but silently, between his ears and behind his eyes, I said, as that tiny swallow of Manhattan coursed its merry way down my throat where it gently exploded beneath my lungs and sent waves of pleasure throughout every centimeter of my body, including my toenails and fingernails and the ends of the hairs on my head:
“Yes, I have invaded your brain. What are you going to do about it?”
For a few moments Lucky said nothing aloud, although I could feel him breathing heavily and I could hear the rioting of his thoughts. For just a moment I became distracted by the music; the band had never stopped playing after Gabriel had finished his solo and while he was lighting up and smoking his reefer and communicating telepathically with me -- but now the girl singer, who had disappeared from the stage for a while, had taken the microphone again. She was singing “Yesterdays”, and Gabriel was playing along with her, sparingly, accenting her words, expanding their meaning.
“Wow, that sounds really good,” I said, silently. “You know, I only recently started to appreciate jazz, but I have to say that I’m really starting to like it. Or ‘dig’ it as my bohemian friends say --”
“Shut up!” yelled Lucky, aloud. “I don’t give a fuck!”
My bar companions all stared at him, and I -- my corporeal host -- continued to look at him in an impassive manner.
“The funny thing,” I said, inside Lucky’s head, “is that it feels like I can smell the music. And taste it. And feel it.”
“Fuck you!” yelled Lucky aloud. “It’s only that stupid LSD you took, you moron!”
“Do you think so?” I said, my words producing a slight echo as they bounced off the inner walls of his consciousness. “But do you know what the music smells like? It smells like the feeling you might have walking down a city street at night, in the summer, when you’re thinking of all the things you’ve done and haven’t done, and you suddenly realize that someday you’re going to die, and that eventually everyone who ever knew you will die also, so that you yourself will no longer even be the memory of a memory…”
“Stop it!” Lucky yelled. “That doesn’t even make any sense!”
“And it tastes like what happens when you suddenly look out of the window of a train on a rainy day and you realize that on the other side of that cloudy pane of glass is an entire universe which is not you, even though you are part of that universe.”
“Shut the fuck up,” he said, and I could feel him sweating, I could feel the sweat streaming down his forehead from under his Panama hat.
“It feels like a dream that you’re having while you’re dreaming, where you’re dreaming you’re some other person, and then that other person wakes up and realizes that he has been dreaming that he was you, but he’s not you, he’s not even him. He’s someone else who still hasn’t woken up from his dream, which after all may be someone else’s dream entirely.”
“Out, damn you!” he yelled. “Out!”
“Anyway, that’s what this music smells and tastes and feels like to me, or at least it did a second ago, which already feels like an aeon ago, to tell the truth. Right this second it feels more like --”
“Fuck you!” yelled Lucky. “And get out of my fucking head!”
“This guy is crazy,” said Mr. Jones.
“Yeah, he’s good-looking, but I think he’s all hopped up,” said Molly.
“Oh,” said Finch. “You don’t happen to have any hop on you, do you, sir?”
“No!” said Lucky. “I don’t have any hop on me, you degenerate! This one,” and he pointed at me with his cigarette in its ebony holder, “has somehow entered my brain. I can hear him in there.”
“Really?” said Finch. “What is he saying?”
“He’s not saying anything right now, the bastard, but I feel him in there all right. Lurking. Smirking.”
“Don’t kid us, handsome,” said Molly. “You’re hopped to the gills. Drink your Manhattan, that’ll calm you down.”
“He’s probably on coke,” said Mr. Jones. “Or bennies, maybe.”
“Bennies!” said Finch. “I wonder, sir, if you might have some bennies to spare.”
“Fuck you!” said Lucky.
“Oh, but I didn’t mean to suggest that you should lay them on me for free, sir, gratis, or for nothing,” said Finch. “I would be perfectly willing to purchase from you a few tabs with hard currency, if the price were not too dear, that is, or perhaps I could give you a downpayment, and…”
“Say, bub, I could go for some coke if you’re holdin’,” said Molly. “How about hooking a lady up, dude? I’ll make it worth your while.”
“I don’t have any coke and I don’t have any bennies!” said Lucky.
“Pink footballs, maybe?” said Finch.
“Black beauties?” said Molly.
“We know you’re wailin’ on somethin’,” said Mr. Jones. “It ain’t magic mushrooms, is it?”
“Damn you all, I am not on hop, nor bennies, nor coke, nor any other drug!” cried Lucky. “Fuck you all!”
“Hey, buddy.” It was the bartender, I could see him through Lucky’s eyes, over my shoulder. “Settle the fuck down.”
“But he’s in my head!” yelled Lucky, pointing at me again.
“Lucky,” I spoke silently, inside his head. “You’re going to get thrown out if you’re not careful.”
Lucky dropped his cigarette holder and his drink simultaneously and put both his hands over his ears, muffling the sounds of the music and the laughing and shouting people all around us but not the sound of my voice within his head.
“Listen, Lucky,” I said. “All I want to do is go home. I really have no desire to drive you crazy.”
“Fuck you!” he yelled aloud.
“That’s no way to talk,” I said.
“Get out! Get out of my head!”
“I’ll get out of your head,” I said. “It isn’t that much fun being in here, believe me. But, before I do, you have to agree to leave this bar and go back to hell and leave me and Mr. Jones alone.”
“I can’t make an agreement like that! This is what I do, damn it!”
“Well, I’m sorry, then,” I said. “I guess we’re at an impasse.”
“Impasse. Where does someone like you pick up these fancy words?”
“I read a lot.”
“Ha! I know what you read! Lots of trashy paperbacks about men caught in violent whirlpools of passion and deceit!”
“Well, that’s true, but, let’s face it, those books use a fair amount of fancy words. I’ve sometimes wondered why. Is it the writers trying to show they know the words, or are they putting them in to flatter their readers, to assist them in a delusion that they’re not reading mere trash, or --”
“But it’s not fair!” He had been speaking aloud all along, but now he was almost yelling. “How did you get this power to invade my head?”
“Beats me,” I said, quite truthfully.
“I’ll bet it was that LSD wasn’t it?”
“Possibly, but anyway I’m staying here unless you agree to leave.”
“Oh yeah? What if I just went back to hell with you in my head, huh? how would you like that, smart guy?”
“Well, you’re threatening to drag me to hell regardless, so what do I care? And I’ll still be in your head when we get there.”
“Damn you!” he yelled.
“All right, you -- fancy Dan,” said the bartender. “I don’t care how much money you’re spending, you’re getting too weird. Take a hike.”
“Blow,” said the bartender. “Like now.”
“You heard me, buddy. Fuck off.”
The bartender put one hand under the bar, as if to grab hold of a baseball bat.
Lucky paused for a moment, and I heard the distant screaming of a billion damned souls somewhere down in the sub-basements of his brain. And then I heard his voice, his inner voice, speaking only to me.
“All right, Arnold. You win. I’ll go. Just please get out of my head.”
“You have to promise to leave entirely,” I said. “I don’t want to find you waiting for us outside.”
“Okay! I’ll go, I’ll go!”
“All right, then,” I said.
And just like that I was back inside my own head, looking out at Lucky, who was still holding both his hands over his ears, his face pale and sweating. He had knocked his Panama hat off.
I bent down and picked his hat up off the floor, and for a long moment after picking up his hat I remained bent over, studying the floor, which was covered with a mélange of sawdust, cigarette and cigar butts, spent matches and broken glass, all of it seeming somehow alive with sputum, vomit, urine and beer. I wondered if there were perhaps entire universes within the atoms of this vile landscape, filled with creatures absorbed in their own sub-atomic affairs and problems. I rose up, like some creature rising up out of the primordial slime, like a ghost rising up from a graveyard on All Hallows Eve, and I handed the Panama hat to Lucky.
“Your hat, sir,” I said.
“All right,” he said, putting the hat on his head, but crookedly, and without bothering to brush from its straw the grime it had picked up, and the universes pullulating within this grime. “All right. I’ll go. This time I’ll go. But it’s not over between you and me. Not by a long shot it isn’t. Maybe next time we meet you won’t be high on LSD. Then we’ll see what happens.”
And he turned and strode toward the door, reeling slightly as if he were dizzy or ill, or very drunk. He pulled the door open and went out, the door closed behind him.
“Oh, my,” said Finch, “he left all his money on the bar.”
I turned around, the lights of the bar swirling like a drunken galaxy doing a square dance, and I saw Finch laying his small pale paw upon the money that lay there in a casual pile on the bar, a couple of twenties, a few singles and some change.
“Hey, Finch,” said the Wallace Beery bartender, “you want that hand broke?”
“But I just thought I’d keep it safe for the young gentleman until I should see him again,” said Finch.
“You hold it right there, Finchie,” Molly said. “He left it there for all of us.”
“He did say ‘Keep ‘em coming’,” said Mr. Jones. “And after all, Jack -- I may call you Jack, may I not?”
“That’s my name,” said the bartender. “Don’t wear it the fuck out.”
“After all, Jack,” said Mr. Jones, “the young fellow did already tip you a twenty, everyone saw it.”
“Indeed we did,” said Finch.
“That’s right,” said Molly. “Don’t get greedy, Jack.”
“’Keep ‘em coming,’ said Finch. “Those were the young gentleman’s very words.”
“All right, I’ll compromise,” said Jack the bartender. “I’ll take another double sawbuck,” and saying thus he matched his words with deed, grabbing up a twenty and shoving it in the same trousers pocket in which he had stashed the first twenty, “and you four losers can drink up what’s left there.”
“A solution worthy of Solomon, sir,” said Mr. Jones. “I’m ready for another one.”
“And so also I,” said Finch.
“Me three,” said Molly.
“Wait a minute. Mr. Jones,” I said, putting my hand on the old gentleman’s arm, just as he was laying down the glass he had just emptied. “We really should go.”
“But, Arnie, look at all this green here. We can have two or three more rounds at least!”
“I know,” I said, “but I really want to get back.”
“You’re being a wet blanket, boy. Look, we got free drinks, music, a congenial atmosphere. What the hell more do you want?”
“I want to get back to the world before something else happens.”
“Something like what?”
I searched for a suitable word.
“Something untoward?” suggested Finch.
“Something horrible?” said Molly.
“Something untoward, anyway,” I said.
“Untoward,” said Mr. Jones. “Jeeze, Arnie, I didn’t realize what a lightweight you can be.”
“Look, Mr. Jones,” I said. “When we get back to our world I promise to buy you some drinks.”
“You do? How many?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Five?”
“Well, I don’t know about top shelf,” I said. “I’m not sure if I have that much on me.”
“Okay, five regular drinks then?”
“I think I can manage that,” I said. “And if not I’ll owe you the rest.”
“All right then,” he said. “Can we at least get some beer to go? Couple quarts? We can take it out of your friend’s pile there."
“He’s not my friend,” I said.
“A matter of complete indifference to me. Bartender!”
“Yeah,” said the bartender, who was still standing there.
“Do you have quart bottles of beer?”
“We got Rheingold, Schaefer, and Falstaff. Oh, and Tree Frog beer.”
“Four quarts of Rheingold to go, please.”
“Mr. Jones,” I said, “really --”
“All right, make it two quarts then,” said Mr. Jones. “Two separate bags. Take it out of there.” He waved his hand at Lucky’s money.
I turned and looked over toward the stage. Gabriel was playing a solo again. Our eyes met through the smoke. I heard his voice in the sound of his trumpet. “Play it light, man,” he said. “I’ll catch you on the rebound.”
“Thank you,” I telepathically replied.
“I didn’t do nothing, man,” said his voice in the music of the trumpet.
“Well, thank you for the encouragement, anyway,” I transmitted. “I think it helped.”
“Don’t mention it,” the music said.
“Oh, by the way, Gabriel, you haven’t seen Josh, lately, have you?”
“No, man,” he said. “You ever catch up with him last night?”
“Yes, I did,” I said. “The last I saw he was in this bar, the Valhalla, on MacDougal Street?”
“Nice stopping place,” said Gabriel. “I gig there sometimes with Bird and Bix, Jelly Roll.”
I was about to ask him who Bird and Bix and Jelly Roll were but someone nudged my arm. I turned and it was Mr. Jones.
“Grab a quart, Arnie, we’re homeward bound.”
He was already holding one quart in a brown paper bag. Another one was on the bar, and I picked it up, at the same time putting down the Manhattan I had been holding ever since I had first picked it up.
“Aren’t you going to finish your drink, Mr. Schulman,” said Finch.
“Oh,” I said. “No, I don’t really want it.”
“Well, waste not,” said Finch, and he picked up the nearly full Manhattan and drank it in a gulp.
“Unfucking believable,” said Molly.
Mr. Jones and I both said goodnight to Finch and Molly, they said goodnight to us in their turn and then quickly turned their backs to us, leaning closer together on their stools. It occurred to me that they were perhaps married.
Mr. Jones and I headed for the door. I turned to the bandstand one last time and waved to Gabriel. He lifted his right hand briefly from the keys of his instrument and gave me a wave.
I opened the door and let Mr. Jones pass through, then followed him out into the foggy damp night.
(Continued here, with no end in sight.)
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