Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel in the cluttered rooms of Mr. Arbuthnot, above that old gentleman’s “Whatnot Shoppe” on Washington Street, in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, on a wet grey day in August of 1963…
(Please go here to read our immediately preceding episode; if the concept of time means as little to you as it does to Arnold, then you may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award©-winning 67-volume memoir.)
“The other night I made the mistake of starting the latest volume of Arnold Schnabel’s chef-d'œuvre just as I had retired to my bed for the evening. The next thing I was consciously aware of was my alarm clock ringing, for I had been absorbed in Arnold’s adventures the whole night through; I decided to take a ‘personal’ day off from work, and then spent the entire day abed, drinking tea and nibbling madeleines, and reading the rest of that thick volume through. And a better more fulfilling day I have never spent.” -- Harold Bloom, in Collier’s.
“Well, then,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “why don’t we retire to the kitchen then?” And then, in a lower voice, “So as not to disturb Shnooby.”
“Hell, we wouldn’t wanta do that,” said Mr. Jones.
“Lead on,” said Ben.
“You okay to walk, Arnie?” Ferdinand asked me, swooping over and hovering before my face.
“Yes, I think so,” I replied.
“Well, let’s go then and get our whistles wet.”
Mr. Arbuthnot led the way, followed by Mr. Jones, and then by me and Ben and the fly.
Mr. Arbuthnot and Mr. Jones both walked very slowly, and so Ben and I would take a step or two, and then wait a minute as the two old gents shuffled another foot or two across the dining room in the direction of the hallway to the kitchen. Neither of my legs were hurting very much, so I suppose the LSD I had taken on the island of lost souls was still working.
“So, Arnie,” said Ben, during one of our rest periods, “how was the next world? Lots of clouds and angels with harps and shit?”
“No,” I said, “nothing like that. It was -- sort of like this world in many ways.”
“Like what? Fucked up?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Ha ha,” said the fly.
Ben and I took a step and then stopped again.
A question occurred to me. “Ben,” I said, “how long was I unconscious?”
“Just a second,” he said. “You put your hand on the old guy’s head, then you sorta just fell back. And the old guy woke up, and then you woke up.”
“Maybe five seconds,” said Ferdinand. “Tops.”
“I see,” I said.
“What do you see?” said Ben.
“Yeah, whaddya see?” said Ferdinand.
“Apparently time exists in a different way in the next world.”
“Oh yeah?” said Ben. “How long did it feel like there?”
“A few hours, no, more than that, five, six hours, but it felt like more.”
“All time is relative,” said Ferdinand. “Like, ya know when somebody really boring is talking to ya, and ya feel like committing suicide? Or murder?”
“Tell me about it,” said Ben.
We took another couple of steps forward, which brought us almost abreast of Mr. Jones and Mr. Arbuthnot, and so we stopped and waited again.
Ben leaned close to me.
“So, Arnie, what exactly was this 'stuff' old Arbuthnot was talking about? Hop? Hash? Mescaline? Amazonian monkey juice?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “He said it was the, uh, food of the gods.”
“The food of the what?”
“The gods. Like, the ancient Greek gods.”
“I thought them gods were mythological.”
“So did I,” I said. “But what do I know?”
“What does any fucking body know?” said Ferdinand, buzzing in between me and Ben.
“Yeah,” said Ben. “You got a point there, fella.”
“We weren’t back there in them ancient Greek times,” said Ferdinand.
“That’s true,” said Ben.
“They had all kids of weird shit back then,” continued Ferdinand. “Gorgons, giants, titans, dogs that had a whole bunch of heads. Cyclops. Sirens.”
“We’ve got sirens,” said Ben.
“These were different kinds of sirens,” said Ferdinand. “They were beautiful broads that sang these songs that made mariners crash their boats on the rocks.”
“You didn’t want to fuck with them sirens,” said Ferdinand. “Anyway, I’m just sayin’, they had a lot of weird shit back in them Greek times. Like this food of the gods. Ambrosia they called it.”
“Ambrosia,” said Ben. “I knew a dame called Ambrosia once, down in Port-au-Prince --”
“Yeah, well, in them days ambrosia wasn’t some dame in a Haitian whorehoouse, it was the goddam food of the gods,” said Ferdinand. “You cracked a book now and then you would know this shit.”
“Hey, pal,” said Ben, “I read.”
“Trash you read. Men’s adventure magazines, right? Man’s Life? Man’s Action? Man’s Epic?”
“Nothin’ wrong with them magazines,” said Ben. “But I read books too. You ever read Diary of a Dead Man, by Horace P. Sternwall?”
“No, I think I missed that one,” said Ferdinand.
“It was an Ace Double. The other half of the book was G-Man Junkie, also by Horace P. Sternwall, that was pretty good, too.”
“I’m sure it was,” said Ferdinand.
“How about Backwoods Bacchanal, by Horace P. Sternwall?” asked Ben.
“I’m drawing a blank,” said Ferdinand.
“My Gun Does My Talking, there’s another good one,” said Ben.
“Who wrote that one?” said Ferdinand.
“Horace P. Sternwall.”
“You like his stuff, huh?”
“He’s my favorite author,” said Ben. “So that’s all I’m sayin’. I read. Sometimes. When I find the time.”
“I stand corrected,” said Ferdinand. “No offense, big guy.”
“Sure,” said Ben.
We took another couple of steps forward, then stopped again and waited for Mr. Jones and Mr. Arbuthnot to make some more progress. They were going slower all the time, almost as if they were slogging through a swamp, or a river of mud.
“So, Arnie,” said Ben, “this chow of the gods stuff --”
“Ambrosia,” said Ferdinand.
“Whatever,” said Ben.
“It’s called ambrosia,” said Ferdinand.
“Yeah, sure,” said Ben. We were standing near the dining room table, and Ben reached over and tapped his cigarette ash into a cut-glass ashtray on it. Then he looked at me. “You try any of that shit, Arnie?”
"The, uh, stuff?"
"Yeah. The stuff."
"The ambrosia," said Ferdinand.
"Yeah," said Ben. "You get a taste of it?"
"Arnie ain't scared of nothin'," said the fly.
"Then why didn't he try some?" said Ben. He looked at me. "You a prude or somethin'?"
“No,” I said, “I just never got a chance to try it. You see, I accidentally stepped on the cat and knocked into Mr. Arbuthnot, and he fell over and dropped the tin --”
“The snuff-tin this stuff was in.”
“Okay, go on.”
“He dropped it and it slid under that grandfather clock and I guess it came open, and Shnooby ate it all.”
“I get it. Something like that happened to me one time out in Borneo. I was running some guns for these rebels, see, and these girl pirates --”
Mr. Arbuthnot turned and put his finger to his lips.
“Not so loud, Mr. Bigwell!” he whispered.
“Blagwell,” said Ben.
“Not so loud, we don’t want to awaken Shnooby!”
“Oh, sorry,” said Ben.
In silence we made our way by stops and starts to the hallway to the kitchen. Fortunately it wasn’t very far, and it only took us a few more minutes. I amused myself by looking at all the strange objects in Mr. Arbuthnot’s dining room. Over there on the top shelf of the large bookcase was the Book of Time, through the powers of which the world had almost been brought to a violent end the previous evening, but then again, I pondered, it was through the powers in this book that the world had also been saved. Over there on its side table was the big old globe with its own magical powers.
As the old gentlemen proceeded in slow motion one after the other through the short passage to the kitchen Ben and I stopped again. Ben bent over towards me and whispered in my ear: “So I guess this grub of the gods stuff must be pretty valuable?”
“Hey, what do you think?” said Ferdinand, buzzing down close to our faces. “Arbuthnot was willing to trade his magic ring for it, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah,” said Ben. “Just what I was thinking. So it’s worth something to him anyways.”
“Yeah, he’s got a real bee in his bonnet about that shit all right,” said Ferdinand.
“Listen,” said Ben, and, leaning his face closer to mine, he gestured to the fly to come nearer.
“We should score some of this stuff,” he said. “This aphasia stuff.”
“Ambrosia,” said Ferdinand.
“Ambrosia,” said Ben. “We should score some, Arnie.”
“He means get some,” said Ferdinand.
“Oh,” I said, feeling a little wary I must admit. “Well, I was supposed to get some anyway, Ben. That was why Mr. Arbuthnot gave me the ring, to try to trade it, so he --”
“I mean get some for us,” said Ben.
“Oh,” I said.
“The whaddyacallit,” he said.
“The ambrosia,” said Ferdinand. “The stuff.”
“Right,” I said.
“It could probably give us all kinds of godlike powers and shit,” said Ben.
“Well, maybe,” I said.
“Maybe nothin’! Look what it did for that cat!”
“He’s got a point, Arnold,” said the fly. “Jeeze, maybe if I got some I could be a human being again. Like a millionaire playboy maybe. A millionaire playboy with super powers maybe.”
“Maybe,” said Ben. “Y’know what kind of power I would like?”
“What’s that, Ben?” said the fly.
“I’d like to be able to get babes in the sack without having to talk to ‘em first.”
“That would be nice,” said Ferdinand.
“I never know what to say to dames,” said Ben.
“Who does?” said Ferdinand. “Only other dames.”
“Yeah,” said Ben. “And the other thing I’d like would be able to drink all the rum I want to without getting a hangover.”
“Now you’re talking, pal,” said Ferdinand.
“So, Arnie,” said Ben, “whaddaya say?”
“Well, uh --” I said.
“Hey, you fellows!” hissed Mr. Arbuthnot, from in the kitchen. “Come along!”
“Right,” said Ben. “We’re coming!”
“And not so loud!”
Ben went down the passage and I followed, with Ferdinand circling above my head.
In the kitchen Mr. Jones was sitting at the old yellowed-white enamel table with its red trim, smoking his cigarette, and Mr. Arbuthnot was taking an ice tray from the Frigidaire.
Ben sat down in one of the chairs covered with cracked red plastic with yellowed white trim, and I went over to the right, to a window that looked out over Washington Street. The window sash was down, but through the wet and smudgy glass I could see that not only had the rain stopped, but the flood seemed to be abating, flowing back into the ocean. The street was still covered with water, but the sidewalks were clear already, and there were even a few people walking about. The sky however was still as grey as granite.
“How’s it looking out there, Arnie?” said Ben.
“Better,” I said.
“You can open that window if you like,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He was opening the ice tray over the kitchen sink, yanking at the metal lever. “It is a trifle warm and stuffy in here.”
In fact it was very warm and stuffy.
I reached down and pulled at the two curved brass lifts on the bottom rail of the sash. The window wouldn’t budge.
“It gets stuck in the damp,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Sometimes it’s hard to open.”
I pulled again. Nothing happened. I turned around.
“Keep trying,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He was dumping the ice cubes into a flowered glass pitcher on the counter next to the sink.
I tried again. Nothing. I turned around. On the counter in front of Mr. Arbuthnot there were two bottles of Canadian Club, one that looked full, one half-full, and a bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth. Mr. Arbuthnot poured a little of the vermouth into the pitcher and then a lot of Canadian Club.
Ben was sitting at the table facing me, smoking his cigarette. Mr. Jones sat across from him, also smoking. He turned in his seat and looked my way.
“I thought you were gonna open that window, Arnie,” he said. “It’s stuffy as hell in here.”
“Stuffy as the boiler room in a tramp steamer down in the Sulu Sea,” said Ben.
“Yeah, even I’m hot,” said Ferdinand, who was sitting on the bill of Ben’s rumpled old yachting cap. “Usually I don’t mind the heat.”
I turned, and I yanked again. To no avail. I had only been a little sweaty a minute ago, but now I was streaming with sweat, for the ninth or tenth time that day.
“Try pounding the stile with your hand,” said Ben.
“The what?” I said.
“The side of the window sash,” said Ferdinand, who had flown over near me, and was hovering, watching me.
“Oh,” I said. I pounded the old wood with the heel of my fist.
“Try it again now,” said Ferdinand.
I got my fingers under both of the curved lifts and yanked again. I thought I felt a very slight movement in the sash. And I yanked again, but nothing happened.
I turned around, I wanted to give up. I didn’t care about the window. Mr. Arbuthnot was stirring the contents of the pitcher with a long metal spoon he had pulled out of a drawer. I wanted a Manhattan.
“You just gonna give up?” said Ferdinand.
“Let Ben do it,” said Mr. Jones from the table. “Big strapping fella like him.”
“Ah, don’t make me get up,” said Ben. “I just sat down.”
“Come on, Arnie,” said the fly. “You can do it.
“Manhattans are made,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He poured the Manhattans into four cocktail glasses that he had taken from a cupboard, holding the ice cubes back with the spoon.
“Hey, don’t forget me, Mr. Arbuthnot,” said the fly. “You got like a little shot glass?”
“Yes, I believe I do.”
“Just a little shot-glassful for me.”
I turned back to the window, and then, as if trying to take it by surprise I suddenly gripped the lifts and pulled.
My fingers hurt.
I was breathing heavily from my exertions, sweating progressively more profusely.
“Don’t give yourself a coronary, Mr. Schnabel,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Let it go.”
“You want me to do it?” said Ben.
“Let Ben do it,” said Mr. Jones.
“Ben’ll get it,” said Ferdinand.
I turned back to the window, stretched and flexed my fingers like a pianist preparing to play a concerto.
I reached down and grasped the hard bronze lifts, which were wet with my perspiration.
“Just -- one -- more -- try,” I said.
I took a deep breath, and pulled again with all my might, and finally the window shot up, but as it did a bolt of pain attacked a point near the base of my spine and I let out a cry and fell forward, my collar bone striking the window sill. I knelt there with my head out the window, looking in agony down at the street below, where a police car had just stopped. The policeman at the wheel put his head out the window and looked up. It was that Officer Woznicki. Apparently his car was working now. I tried to pull my head back in but another bolt of pain stopped me and I yelped again. The cop continued to look at me.
(Continued here, because we can’t just leave Arnold in this predicament.)
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