We left our hero Arnold Schnabel leaning over a second-story windowsill, in pain, in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, on a sultry wet Sunday afternoon in August of 1963…
(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; if you have finally finished Tolstoy’s masterpiece War and Peace, you may then go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 54-volume memoir.)
“Just the other day I made the mistake of dipping at random into Railroad Train to Heaven on my Kindle as I rested on a park bench after my morning constitutional. Only when I noticed that the park lights had come on did I realize I had spent the entire day completely enthralled in the bizarre adventures of Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in Redbook.
The policeman had stopped the car about a foot from the curb just below Mr. Arbuthnot’s window, and so with his head stuck out the driver’s window he was staring almost straight up at me, looking directly into my eyes which now grew watery with tears of pain.
“Mr. Schnabel,” yelled the cop, “you okay up there!”
I was not okay. I was kneeling on the floor, with my head hanging over the sill, and it felt as if someone had driven a railroad spike into a place just to the right of the base of my spine.
“Answer me, goddammit,” he yelled. “I’ve had about enough of your bullshit today.”
“Ow,” I said. But because of the pain I had trouble enunciating and I think it might have come out like “meow”.
“What?” he yelled. “Don’t fuck with me! You fucking weirdo.”
I tried to say, “My back, I hurt my back,” and I did produce some sort of vocal noise, which could probably be phonetically rendered as, “Mubagga, muh, muh, ah, urt, urt, bag. Gag. Bah.”
“What?” said the cop. “You think you’re funny? If you think you’re funny you got another think coming, pal.”
He opened the door of the car, and put his foot out, but because he hadn’t stopped the car right next to the curb his foot splashed down into the flood water.
“Shit!” he yelled. “Fuck! God fuck! Damn!”
At this point I slid down and away from the window, because someone was pulling on the spike that was stuck in my lower back and the spike wouldn’t budge. The pain was unbearable, and I suppose my body or my brain or both in concert did me a favor by allowing my whole world to turn into ink-colored cotton candy, and my consciousness withdrew from my awareness and disappeared into the black cotton candy, and a half-second later my awareness disappeared as well.
After some passage of time, whether it was years or a few seconds I have no way of knowing, but my consciousness encountered my awareness somewhere in this thick world of darkness.
“If you wake up you will probably be in pain. It’s best to stay here,” said my consciousness.
“We’re only putting off the inevitable,” said my awareness.
“Who cares?” said my consciousness. “Future pain is always preferable to present pain.”
“You have a point,” I said. “I only wish there were some way to avoid the pain entirely.”
“Join the club,” I replied to me.
“Wait,” I said.
“What is it? I want to go back to sleep, so make it quick.”
“Why don’t we ask Josh for help?”
“Yes. He’s the son of God, after all.”
“You’ve really got a lot of nerve.”
“What do you mean?”
“All the starving babies in the world, in Africa and China. All the poor sick really wretched people suffering from horrible incurable diseases, and you expect Josh to do you a favor, just because you have a sore back?”
“But it’s really sore,” I said. “What if I slipped a disc or tore my sacroiliac?”
“It’s going to hurt you, too, you know.”
“I’m well aware of that, and that’s why I intend to pass out completely again, and stay that way for as long as possible.”
“Another thing,” I said. “Now we have to worry about that cop, Officer Woznicki or whatever his name is. He has it in for me.”
“He’s got it in for both of us.”
“That’s right,” I said, although I was getting confused.
“But he can’t do anything to us as long as we’re unconscious.”
“But I’m afraid.”
“Look, just be glad you’re not in Soviet Russia with the KGB after you, instead of some self-important small-town cop.”
“I am glad, I am, but -- but --”
“He’s got nothing on us.”
“I’m not so sure. I, I --”
“I, I, I -- It’s always all about you, isn’t it?”
“But -- but --”
“That’s how selfish you are.”
“But -- but --”
“All you care about is yourself and your own problems. Maybe you should start worrying about other people and their problems for a change. Did you ever think of that?”
“Well, I, uh, I used to donate money to the pagan babies --”
“Big deal. A sop to your conscience. Oh, wait --”
“What?” I said.
“I can sense the faint glimmerings of a returning of the world of existence, and pain, of selfhood, of humiliation. And pain. Shit.”
“Oh, great,” I said.
“Do something. I’m trying to pass out again but I see a soft glow working its way through this thick dark cloud we’re enveloped in.”
“Yes,” I said. “I can see it too. But to me it’s more like we’re in a world composed of black cotton candy, or wool maybe, like a giant black ball of wool --”
“I don’t give a shit what it seems like to you.”
“Do something. It’s getting lighter. I’m starting to feel the pain again. Do something. Do anything. For Christ’s sake!”
“You mean I should ask Josh for help?”
“Yes, damn it. Anything. Do it. Now. I can feel existence approaching. And the pain. Hurry!”
And then I was standing on a sidewalk in a rain-wet city street, at night. It wasn’t raining anymore now, but the air was very warm, and humid, smelling of car exhaust and old bricks and stone. Muffled music came from various directions and merged into a symphony that would never be heard again.
I realized after only a moment’s bewilderment that this was MacDougal Street, in Greenwich Village, in the past, but the recent past, sometime in the mid-fifties or so, in the fictional past of the world of Miss Evans’s novel, Ye Cannot Quench. I looked down at myself. I was no longer wearing my polo shirt, my Bermudas, my Keds with no socks. Instead I wore the bohemian attire of a young poet: faded blue jeans, unpolished work shoes, a rumpled seersucker jacket, a plaid shirt, a loosened dark-grey necktie.
Laughing and chattering people walked past me going both ways, paying no attention to me. This was Greenwich Village, where often poets and artists would stand quite still in the middle of the sidewalk, or perhaps not quite still but swaying ever so slightly, lost in reverie or inspiration, or perhaps just drunk or under the influence of drugs.
I was standing on this sidewalk and staring at the below-the-pavement entranceway of the bar called Valhalla, with its dim red neon Rheingold Beer sign in the glass-brick window.
This bar was the last place where I had seen Josh, the son of God.
And so my selfishness and my fear had got the best of me after all. I had somehow traveled back to this world -- this world which I had so recently been at such pains to escape -- in order to try to find surcease for my pains in my own world. I had run away from my problems, seeking help in a redeemer instead of facing them like a man.
Now that I was safely at a distance from the excruciating agony I had been in just a few seconds ago (if it was even that long ago) I was able to see the situation for what it was.
I had thought I was somebody special.
Well, I wasn’t that special.
I was just a coward.
The only honorable thing to do was to return, to return to my own world and face the music. Face the pain. The music of the pain. After all, it was probably just something like a pulled ligament that I had, not that I was sure what a ligament was, or of how serious a pulled one was or could be.
But then there was that Officer Woznicki. What if he found some excuse to arrest me? What if he somehow arranged for me to be sent back to Byberry? Well, I would just have to deal with Officer Woznicki also. I couldn’t be running to Josh every single time I got in a jam.
However, I was already here, the least I could do would be to go in and see if Josh was still there, just to say hello. I didn’t have to ask for his help. I could just go in and say hello. And then -- provided I were able -- I could return to my rightful universe and face the music. Face the pain. Face Officer Woznicki.
I reached into my side jacket pocket, which was the place I normally would keep my cigarettes if I was wearing a jacket. Then I remembered that I had quit smoking as of the previous morning, that yesterday morning which felt as if it were at least forty-five months ago. I really wanted a cigarette now. What difference did it make if I smoked in this fictional world? I determined to buy a pack of Pall Malls as soon as I got in the bar.
I went past the metal railing and down the steps into that dim concrete areaway, lit only by the Rheingold sign.
I put my hand on the door knob. I could hear the sounds and feel the vibrations of music and of the shouting and laughing of men and women.
I paused a moment.
Who was I kidding? I wasn’t going in here just to say hello to Josh. I was going in here to plead for his assistance. But it wasn’t too late to change my mind. Somehow I was sure that if I only concentrated and set my whole will to it, that I would be able to return to my world, perhaps instantaneously. Then I remembered the back pain, and Officer Woznicki. And then I remembered my leg pains: what about them? They were sure to return, perhaps in force. I was practically turning into a cripple back in my own world. What a fate, not just to be a cripple, but possibly to become a cripple locked up in a hospital for the incurably insane.
I pulled open the door, letting out the noise and the juke box music and the smell of tobacco smoke, the sight of drunken laughing and shouting people.
I went inside.
(Continued here, as we must.)
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