Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel (now in the corporeal host of “Porter Walker, bohemian poet”) and his companion the novelist Theophilus P. Thurgood, in the Greenwich Village bar known as Valhalla…
(Please click here to read our previous episode; the morbidly curious may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume autobiography.)
“For me the most agonizing deprivation I suffered due to the recent storm and my subsequent loss of my electric for several days was when I ran out of flashlight batteries and could no longer read Arnold Schnabel in bed at night. And, oh, what long dark nights of the soul those were!” — Harold Bloom, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
At first I thought he was dancing all by himself, in his pale blue summer suit with his loosened blue tie and his straw trilby hat on the back of his head, but then through the churning and thrashing bodies packed into that tiny dance floor I became aware of the blonde hair and the face and the black dress of Pat, and the dark swirling hair and the face and the red dress of Carlotta, my fellow tenants in the Morgensterns’ apartment building on Bleecker Street, both girls dancing very close to Josh, Pat to one side and Carlotta to the other.
And then Josh saw me, perhaps only a second after I noticed him — after all he is at least supposed to be all-seeing — and he suddenly rushed and shoved through the throng over to me, and then, practically elbowing aside Mr. James, he took my right hand and pumped it, smiling broadly with his damp blond hair falling over his sweaty forehead, and clapping me on the shoulder with his other hand.
“Arnold, old buddy!” he yelled, through that crashing jukebox music. He had a big reddish-purple bruise on his left cheekbone, and full-fledged black eye on the other side of his face. “So glad to see you! Where have you been?”
“’Arnold’, did you say?” said Mr. James. “You must be mad, sir. This is Mr. Walker, Porter Walker, the important new young poet!”
“Oh, that’s right!” said Josh. “’Porter Walker’, eh, Arnold? I mean ‘Porter’, excuse me!”
“It’s okay, Mr., uh, James,” I said, or shouted, to the fat man. “We’re old friends. He just calls me Arnold.”
“Oh, I see, ha ha,” said Mr. James. “A boyhood nickname, perhaps.”
“Yes, kind of like that,” said Josh.
“Dating back to the halcyon days of boarding school one should imagine,” said Mr. James, “where often shall we say special friendships between boys are forged, friendships which sometimes last even unto —”
“I had a nickname when I was a kid,” said Thurgood, butting in with no apparent shame or hesitation. “I didn’t like it though. They called me Corpsey, supposedly because I had a deathly pale and moribund appearance, but —”
“I had a special friend when I was a lad,” said Mr. James, interrupting his interruptor, “but it was not with a boy my own age but rather with my tutor, one winter season when we were stopping at the villa of the Princess Cassablissima in the lovely old city of Bologna. Vito my young tutor’s name was, and —”
“Hey, listen,” said Josh to Mr. James, “your name is Henry, right?”
“My pain is plenary, you say?”
“No,” said Josh, a little louder, and slower. “I said, ‘Your name is Henry, right?’”
“Yes, my friends address me as Henry,” said Mr. James. “I prefer it to ‘Hank’. Somehow I’ve never quite felt like a ‘Hank’ —”
“Yeah, well, listen, Henry, Arnold and I —”
“You mean Porter,” said Mr. James.
“Yeah, whatever,” said Josh, “but Arnold and I are just going to step outside for a minute. Do me a favor and tell those two girls I’m with that I’ll be right back. The blonde in black and the brunette in red?”
“The what? Tell who?”
“The two girls!” yelled Josh, even louder than he’d already been yelling, and boy, he did have a powerful voice, not like godlike like the way they have God sound in movies, but you could definitely hear him pretty clearly. “The blonde in the black dress and the brunette in red! The ones I’m with! Tell them I’m stepping out with Arnold here for just a minute but I’ll be right back!”
“Very well,” said Mr. James, as if it was just one of the many dull things customers asked him to do every night.
“Thanks,” yelled Josh. “And, here, wait, look —”
Josh reached into his back pocket and took out a wallet. It looked like a really nice one. Not that I’m any expert on wallets, I’ve had the same one from Sears for the last eighteen years, and it cost me ninety-nine cents when I bought it, but Josh’s wallet really did look nice, real leather and all, and, after all, what else would you expect considering who he was. He opened it up, I could see it was packed with bills. He pulled one out, and it was a crisp new hundred-dollar bill. I’d only seen a couple of them in my life, crisp or otherwise, but it looked real.
Mr. James stared at the bill as if it were the most amazing thing he’d ever seen.
“Here,” said Josh, “take this and buy the house a round.”
“Oh, dear,” said the fat man. “The entire house?”
“Sure,” said Josh. “Make sure to get everybody in the back room, too. Is a hundred enough?”
“Well, I’m sure it is,” said the fat guy, and he glanced at Josh, but then immediately his eyes dropped to the hundred again. “Yes, I would say it is. Our prices are quite competitive, you know —”
“Here,” said Josh, and he dipped into his wallet again, and took out another hundred dollar bill. “Just to make sure.”
He took Mr. James’s free hand right hand, the one that wasn’t holding his drink and his cigar, and pressed the two bills into the man’s palm.
“Make sure to hook up the musicians too,” said Josh. Well, he yelled again, actually. All this was yelling, over that loud boogie-woogie music. He stuck his wallet back into his back pocket. “Get everybody what they’re drinking and get one for yourself, too, what are ya drinking there, scotch?”
“Yes,” said Mr. James, tucking the two bills somewhere inside his suit jacket, “In fact I’m enjoying a glass of fine malt whisky, my own private stock, which I acquired through the good graces of my friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle —”
“Great,” said Josh, “sounds really good, so buy yourself another shot —”
“Ha ha, in point of fact I was having a double, sir.”
“Good, get yourself another double, and keep the change.”
“Oh, but, sir, as manager here I do not accept tips!”
“Okay, then give the change to the bartenders and waitresses.”
“Well, I suppose I could do that,” said Mr. James.
“Good,” said Josh. “Make sure the waitresses and bartenders have a drink, too. I mean if that’s okay.”
“Yes, I suppose one drink would not adversely affect their abilities to perform their duties.”
“What about the kitchen help? Can they have a drink?”
“Well, it would be somewhat irregular, but —”
“Hook ‘em up, Henry. And don’t forget the dishwasher.”
“No — no, of course not.”
“Even the humblest of men,” said Josh.
“Yes, of course,” said the fat man. “The humble people. I’ve often found that the humble of the earth are —”
“Okay, great,” said Josh. “So just tell those two girls I’ll be right back. Arnold and I both will be right back.”
“Mr. Walker, you mean,” said Mr. James.
“Right. Mr. Walker,” said Josh, and he put his hand on my arm.
“Can I get a drink too?” said Thurgood.
“What?” said Josh.
“I’m a friend of Mr. Walker’s,” said Thurgood. “Can I have a drink too.”
“You’re a friend of Arnold’s?” said Josh.
“I know him as ‘Porter Walker, the rising young poet’,” said Thurgood.
“Right,” said Josh. “But, yeah, sure, you can have a drink, especially if you’re a friend of Mr. Walker’s!” Josh turned to Mr. James. “See, I got the name right that time.”
“My name is Thurgood,” said Thurgood, and he thrust his right hand at Josh, almost sticking his pointy fingertips into Josh’s stomach. “Theophilus P. Thurgood.”
Josh looked at that bony outstretched hand, and then gave it a quick shake and just as quickly pulled his own hand away.
“Pleased to meet you, Theophilus. Now if you’ll just excuse me and Arnold for a minute —”
“You can just call me Thurgood,” said Thurgood. “Everybody calls me Thurgood.”
“Okay, Thurgood,” said Josh, “Well —”
“I guess you’re Porter’s friend ‘Josh’, right?”
“Uh, yes —”
“I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m really looking forward to hanging out with you.”
“Yes, well, uh —”
“Look,” said Thurgood, and he held up his book for Josh to see. “Here’s my brand new book. I’m a novelist.”
“Well, that’s great, uh, Thurgood,” said Josh. “I’ll have to read it sometime —”
“Two Nights in a One Stoplight Town,” said Thurgood (yelled Thurgood, like everybody else).
“What?” said Josh.
“The title of my book. Two Nights in a One Stoplight Town.”
“It says Two Weeks in a One Horse Town,” said Josh. “On the cover, anyway.”
Thurgood turned the book over and looked at the front cover of the dust jacket.
“Oh,” he said. “You’re right. I forgot.”
“Well, no matter,” said Josh. He still had his hand on my arm, and he gave it a tug.
“I wonder, though,” said Thurgood. “When you say ‘a drink’, does that mean I can have a double whisky, like Mr. James?”
“Sure,” said Josh. “If that’s what you’re drinking.”
“I was wondering if I could have some of that fine malt whisky private stock,” said Thurgood.
“Sure, why not?” said Josh. “I mean if it’s okay with Henry here. Is that okay, Henry?”
“Well, it is very dear,” said the fat man. “Very hard to get.”
“Well, look, if it’s okay, let Theophilus —”
“Thurgood,” interjected Thurgood. “Just Thurgood.”
“Okay,” said Josh. “If it’s okay, let Thurgood have a fine malt too.”
“A double?” said Thurgood.
“A double,” said Josh.
“Oh, boy,” said Thurgood. “I’m really going to enjoy this!”
“Well, that’s just great, Thurgood,” said Josh, “and now —”
With that he pulled me over to the door, quickly opened it, shoved me through it, and followed me out.
“Jesus Christ!” he said, after the door had closed behind him, muffling the music, the shouting and laughter. “I know I shouldn’t say that, but, you know — Jesus Christ!”
He let out a sharp laugh, and then took a pack of Pall Malls out of his jacket. He gave the pack a shake, exactly two cigarettes popped up exactly one inch each, and he offered the pack to me.
“No thanks,” I said.
“Oh! That’s right, you’re still quitting! You don’t mind if I light up, do you?”
“No, not at all,” I said.
He put a cigarette in his mouth, put the pack away, patted his pockets, found his scuffed gold Ronson, in his side jacket pocket, lighted up, took a good drag, slowly exhaled, the smoke trailing up out of the shadowy areaway into the night.
“Wow,” he said, rather suddenly, looking at me, in the reddish glow from the neon Rheingold sign. “People, huh?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Sometimes I look at ‘people’ and I think, boy, what was my father thinking of when he created this crew, ya know?”
“Yes,” I said. “I think the same thing sometimes.”
“And, hey, Arnold, no offense, but — this guy Theophilus, or Thurgood — he really a friend of yours?”
“Well, not really,” I said. “He just sort of attached himself to me. You know how it is.”
“Oh, I know how it is, all right,” he said. “Talk about people attaching themselves to you, sometime I’m going to tell you some stories about the twelve so-called apostles.” He took another drag of his cigarette, gazing out toward MacDougal Street, then turned to look at me again. “But, look, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
He paused again here, looking at me.
“Okay,” I said. Just to say something.
“Hey, what’s that book you’ve got there?” he said, pointing with the lit end of his cigarette at the book I was still lugging around, even though to tell the truth I wouldn’t have minded getting rid of it, just to be on the safe side.
“Oh. This,” I said.
I held it up so Josh could get a look at the cover.
“The Ace of Death,” he said, reaching out and tilting it a bit toward the light from the Rheingold sign. “By Horace P. Sternwall. Any good?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “You see, this old man who has this book shop upstairs, Mr. Philpot, somehow he got me to buy it, and, uh —”
“Listen, Arnold,” said Josh. “I have to tell you something.”
“Okay,” I said.
“It’s going to sound a little odd maybe.”
“Okay,” I said, again, but I have to admit that by now I was thinking: oh, great, now what?
Josh hesitated again. I waited. I had nothing else to do, standing there in that dim sunken areaway, with the glow from the Rheingold sign giving Josh’s tanned and sweaty face a rosy sheen. He took another drag of his cigarette and let the smoke out very slowly this time. He looked down into the shadows for a moment, then raised his head and looked into my eyes.
“Listen, buddy, I never thought it could happen to me, but I’ve fallen in love.”
“What?” I said.
“I’m in love. Me, the son of the big guy. One third of the so-called Holy Trinity. Me. I’ve fallen in love.”
“With a girl?” I said.
“Yes, with a girl,” he said. “With the most wonderful girl in this or any other possible world.”
For an awful moment I wondered if he meant Emily, that crazy girl who was the heroine of the novel we were in, but no, that couldn’t be.
“Okay,” I said.
“I mean, great,” I said. “That’s swell. Uh, really swell.”
“I should think so!” he said.
I knew one thing, if it was Emily, I was definitely going to have to say something.
“Uh, who is this girl?” I asked, trying to sound as if I were simply curious, and not worried that the son of God had fallen in love with a psychopath.
“Who is she?” said Josh, smiling.
He had very white teeth, I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned that, they almost glowed in the dimness of that areaway.
“Yeah,” I said, “I mean if you don’t mind my asking —”
“Carlotta,” he said.
“Pardon me?” I said.
“Carlotta,” he said, still smiling, broadly. “You know, the brunette you introduced me to.”
Carlotta, the brunette who lived across the hall from me (or from Porter Walker, anyway) with her girl friend, Pat, the blonde.
“Carlotta?” I said.
“Yes! Carlotta! Isn’t she great?”
“Yeah,” I said.
Carlotta, the one with whom I had apparently had concupiscent relations, or, anyway, Porter had, who was sort of the same thing as me. For all I knew after all, he was me, and I, Arnold, was some fictional character.
“Isn’t she great?” said Josh.
“Yeah,” I said. “She’s great, Josh.”
(Continued here, with all due reverence.)
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