Saturday, April 28, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 299: one horse

August, 1957, a hot rainy night in Greenwich Village...and we find our hero Arnold Schnabel in Philpot’s Rare Books, with the proprietor of that very unusual shop and the author Theophilus P. Thurgood, who has enjoined Arnold to read aloud from his brand-new epic novel...

(Please click here to review our preceding chapter; eager neophytes may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 67-volume memoir.)

“Imagine my disappointment the other night when I dropped my Kindle into the tub in the middle of Arnold Schnabel’s most recent adventure.” -- Harold Bloom, in Golf Monthly.

I looked outside the window at the little town. It was dull-looking. The sky above was dull too, the color of worn grey flannel. The bus stopped outside a small diner.

”Walter’s Hole!” yelled the bus driver. “Hey, you, pal!” He was turned around in his seat, looking back at me. I guess I was about four seats back, on the right side of the bus.

“Who? Me?” I said.

“Yeah, you. Your ticket is for Walter’s Hole.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Unless you don’t want to get out here. But then you got to give me some more money.”

What a charmer.

“So you getting out here, or what? I got a schedule to keep.”

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

I got out of my seat, reached up to the overhead rack and brought down my cardboard suitcase. There were a few other passengers, but it didn’t seem like anyone was paying any attention. I was just another guy getting off a bus at some one horse town. I went to the front of the bus. The bus driver was writing something on a clipboard. The door was open.

“Thanks,” I said.

He looked up from his clipboard. He had a face like a face in a nightmare that you’re trying to forget.

“You’re actually getting off at Walter’s Hole.”

“Is there any law against it?” I said.

“No,” said the bus driver. “No, there ain’t no law against it. But maybe there ought to be.”

I didn’t say anything. I stepped down to the sidewalk.

Nobody else got off the bus, and nobody else was getting on.

I put my suitcase down and took out my cigarettes. The bus doors closed with a wheezing sound, the bus made a groaning noise and then it took off down the the street. I watched it go.

I was here, in this one horse town. It was cold, and all I had on was a tan summer suit. I sighed, and looked at the pack of cigarettes. Old Golds. They weren’t even my brand.

But then I heard voices.

“See?” said Thurgood. “This is the kind of novel I like, just puts you right in there in the middle of the action without a lot of introductory bullshit.”

“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Philpot. “Brilliant.”

“What do you call that, Mr. Philpot? When the book just thrusts you into the action like that.”

“I think the term is in medias res.”

“Right,” said Thurgood. “In medias res. Boom. Start with action, not a lot of boring words.”

“And what could be a more exciting bit of action than someone getting off a bus?”

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Thurgood.

“Um -- look, you guys,” I said, now back in the world of Mr. Philpot’s rare books shop. “Do you want me to stop reading?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, how terribly rude of us,” said Mr. Philpot. “Talking over your elegant dramatic reading.”

“Yeah, sorry,” said Thurgood. All at once he drank down the entirety of his jelly glass of Amontillado, and, sighing, put the glass down on the desk top. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “It sounded good, too.” He took a drag of his Pall Mall, and exhaled very slowly. He tapped the cigarette ash down to the floor, even though there was an ashtray on the desk right there in front of him. “I mean,” he said, “I might read it differently myself.”

“How so?” said Mr. Philpot.

“I might put a little more -- inflection into it,” said Thurgood.

Without waiting to be invited to help himself he picked up the bottle of Amontillado, uncorked it, and poured the last few drops that were left into his jelly glass.

“A little emotion,” he said. “Some drama. I mean, monotone is all well and good if it’s Dragnet or something like that. But something that’s a bit more -- grand?”

“Grand,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Something that’s a bit more grand, you got to give it a bit more, I don’t know --”

“Oomph,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yeah. Oomph,” said Thurgood. He tossed off the last of the Amontillado, sighed again, put the empty glass glass down. “Ba-boom,” he said, looking at me, and I have no idea what he meant by that last utterance, if anything.

“Well, look, maybe you should read it aloud,” I said, offering him the book.

“Oh, no,” said Thurgood, holding up his hands, palms outward. “I want to hear you read it. You were doing fine. Just, you know, this time, give it a little more --”

“Oomph,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yeah,” said Thurgood. “Hey, Mr. Philpot, you got any more Amontillado?”

“What, of this a-hundred-and-seventeen-year-old stuff? Yeah, I got one more bottle left, but I’ll tell you this, I’m not giving it away.”

“I thought we were friends.”

“We’re friendly,” said Mr. Philpot. “We’re not friends. And there is a vital distinction between the two states of being. So if you want some more of this Amontillado -- this selfsame Amontillado once cellared by the immortal Poe himself -- then you’re going to have to put some money on the wood and make the betting good.”

“You mean old bastard,” said Thurgood. “By the way, Mr. Walker,” he said to me, “please continue reading.”

“You’re sure,” I said.

“Quite sure,” said Thurgood.

“I myself was rather enjoying your recitation, Mr. Walker,” said Mr. Philpot.

“But first,” said Thurgood, turning to Mr. Philpot, “here.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pocket watch, the hunter-case kind, with a winding key attached to its toggle ring with a greasy-looking bit of string.

“Family heirloom. A Waltham Model 1857, same kind Abraham Lincoln carried. That’s a 24-karat gold casing you’re looking at there.”

He clicked up the lid of the watch and, leaning over the desk, he showed it to Mr. Philpot, who leaned forward to look at it, but then sat directly back in his chair.

“I’m not going to give you a bottle of my prize Amontillado for that piece of tin.”

“But it was my great-great grandfather’s --”

“I don’t give a shit if it was George Washington’s goddam pocket watch.”

“Damn you,” said Thurgood. “Damn you, Mr. Philpot, and all you stand for.”

“Hey, if you’re going to stand there and curse me then take your goddam book and your boy scout watch and hit the pike, pal.”

“Okay, how about just a glass then?”

“The watch for one glass of the Amontillado?”

“Yeah, I think that’s more than fair, Mr. Philpot. Look at the workmanship on this watch. Here, take a look, look at the engraving and shit.”

Mr. Philpot took the proffered watch and examined it, closing the cover and then clicking it open again.

“Keep good time?”

“To within a minute a day,” said Thurgood.

“It’d be worth more if it had a decent chain.”

“You can get a chain anywhere, Mr. Philpot. I’ll go out on the street and be back with a chain in two minutes if a chain is that important to you. A chain. Come on, Mr. Philpot, don’t be a dick.”

Mr. Philpot held the watch up to the light, holding it by its winding key and greasy string. Then he closed the cover again and put the watch down on the desk top.

“Okay, I’ll let you have one glass of Amontillado for it.”

“It’s a deal,” said Thurgood. “Now bring out the vino.” Then he turned to me. “Go ahead, read, Mr. Walker -- what are you waiting for?”

“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Philpot. He picked up the watch all over again and clicked it open once more. “Yes, don’t let our shenanigans deter you, Mr. Walker! Read on!”

“Should I just pick up where I left off?”

“Where else?”

Mr. Philpot closed up the watch one more time, then pulled out a desk drawer and was about to put the watch into it when Thurgood pointed a long bony index finger (the only kind he had) at him.

“Hey, where’s the Amontillado?”

“Hold your horses, Thurgood, it’s right in here.”

He took a bottle out of the drawer, it looked just like the other bottle he had opened, no label and capped with red wax.

“Now we’re talking,” said Thurgood. He turned to me. “Why aren’t you reading?”

“Are you two through talking?”

“Well, excuse us, John Barrymore.”

“Well, I’m not going to read if you’re going to talk.”

“We will be as church mice,” said Thurgood. “Right, Mr. Philpot?”

“Oh, silent as the tomb,” said Mr. Philpot. Having stowed the watch away in the drawer, Mr. Philpot had taken out his corkscrew/pocketknife with the tortoiseshell handle, and was cutting the wax away from the bottle top. “Please, continue, Mr. Walker.”

“I’ll read another paragraph or two, then I really should go,” I said.

“I don’t know what your big hurry is,” said Thurgood.

“Well, I have to --”
“To what? Meet some woman?”

“Quite the opposite,” said Mr. Philpot. He dropped the disk of decapitated red wax into the waste basket. “He’s trying to escape some over-amorous woman.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” said Thurgood, shiftily switching his eyes from Mr. Philpot’s activities with the bottle to me and back again. “I know all about that.”

“Oh, I’m sure you do,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Hey, I get my share,” said Thurgood.

“Oh, yes, of course, beating them away with your walking stick,” said Mr. Philpot.

He had folded the blade back into the knife-handle, and pulled the corkscrew out, and now he pushed its point into the cork.

Thurgood stared at him and licked his lips.

“Well, okay, here goes then,” I said.

At the bus station in L.A. I had told the cashier I wanted the next bus out of town. He asked me where I was going. I said it didn’t matter and I slid a ten-dollar bill into the little hole under the glass.

“I want the next bus out of town,” I said, “for as far as this ten bucks will take me.”

The guy looked at me for about one half-second, then he took my sawbuck, pressed some buttons, cranked a handle, ripped off a ticket and slid it through the opening in the glass.

“Have a nice time in 'Walter’s Hole',” he said.

Everybody’s a comedian.

I took the ticket, picked up my cardboard suitcase, went out and got on the bus. And now, fourteen hours later, here I was.

Walter’s Hole.

Besides the cardboard suitcase, the summer L.A. suit I was wearing (off the rack, Robert Hall’s men’s department), and a scuffed pair of brown brogans, a brown fedora, six dollars and change and my old Mickey Mouse wristwatch, the only other possession on me was the Luger stuck in my waistband. It had been very uncomfortable riding fourteen hours in a bus with that gun chafing against my hip bone, but it had made me feel safer. The Luger took an eight-round magazine, but there were only seven bullets in the gun now. The eighth bullet was the reason I had left Los Angeles in such a hurry.

“This Amontillado really is good,” said Thurgood. He gazed at the jelly glass, holding it up level to his eyes. “I think it’s even better than the other bottle. Are you sure they’re the same batch, Mr. Philpot?”

“Absolutely,” said Mr. Philpot. “But that’s what I like about this wine, it just gets better the more you drink it.”

“It really does,” said Thurgood. “I’m really trying not to just gulp it down all at once.”

“Oh, no, a wine like this must be savored,” said Mr. Philpot.

“I know,” said Thurgood. “I mean, intellectually I know that, but I still feel like just chugging it.”

“Try not to.”

“I’m trying, you’ll notice I’ve just been sipping, but, boy, it’s -- I don’t know --”

“I know,” said Philpot, “it’s hard.”

“It is,” said Thurgood. He took a sip. “See? I managed just to sip. And I’m picking up some entirely new notes. Sort of the flavor of sunlight, on a hot dry day, insects buzzing around --”

“So, Thurgood,” said Mr. Philpot, “What’re you up to the rest of the night?”

“Oh, I thought’d hit a couple of the bars, show off my book, get drunk, try to get laid, you know.”

“Bag that shit,” said Mr. Philpot. “What say we hop in my new Jag and take a run out to Atlantic City, maybe hit the late show at the 500 Club.”

“I can’t afford to go to A.C.”

“Ah, come on, I’ll spring for the drinks, but you gotta be my wheelman if I get too drunk.”

“You’ll spring for all the drinks?” said Thurgood.

“Uh, maybe I should stop reading,” I said.

“No, don’t stop,” said Thurgood.

“You’re not even listening,” I said.

“I’m listening,” he said. “The guy gets off a bus. Some little town. Wallace’s Hole.”

“Walter’s Hole,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Whatever,” said Thurgood.

“Look,” I said, “I’m afraid to read any more.”

“Why?” said Thurgood. “It’s not that bad, is it?”

“No,” I said. “But I feel as if I’m getting trapped in the world of the novel.”

“What the hell does that mean?” said Thurgood.

“It’s like I’ve become the main character, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to escape back to being myself.”

“I’ve never heard such nonsense in my life,” he said.

“I know it sounds strange,” I said.

“Why don’t you just come right out and say you don’t like my book.”

“I don’t dislike it,” I said.

“Give it a chance,” he said. “You’re still on the first page for Christ’s sake. You really know how to hurt a guy.”

“I’m sorry.”

I noticed that Mr. Philpot didn’t seem to be paying attention to any of this. He was refilling his pipe, and I think he had refilled his jelly glass with sherry.

“I wouldn’t give up on your epic poem after one page,” said Thurgood. “And I don’t even really like poetry.”

“All right,” I said. “I’ll read a couple of more paragraphs.”

“Make it a page. Because some paragraphs are really short.”

“All right,” I said. “One more page.”

I began to read again.

(To be continued, no one really knows why.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Soon to be a major mini-series event on the Dumont Network, starring Montgomery Clift as Arnold Schnabel; a Desilu/Danny Thomas/Dick Powell Co-Production, in association with David Susskind and Quinn Martin; adapted for television by Madalyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr; produced and directed by Larry Winchester.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"If T.S. Eliot were alive today..."

"T. S. Eliot on Facebook"

illustrated by rhoda penmarq

If T.S. Eliot were alive today,
the motherfucker would be on Facebook
just like the rest of us, checking
his notifications, and being
disappointed when people didn’t like
his Youtube clip of Lucille Bogan’s
“Tricks Ain’t Walkin’ No More”.
He would loosen his tie late at night,
unbutton his stiff celluloid

collar and wearily scroll through
the six or seven poetry groups he
belongs to, wondering why so few
people were commenting on his links
to his new work-in-progress,
which he is calling “The Waste Land”.
Perhaps the title is too off-putting?

“I shall try to squeeze out one more line
tonight.” And with great effort he does,
and, sighing, he returns to Facebook.

He still has half a joint, which he has
been saving for after the night’s
creative work is done. Smoking,
and drinking that last can of Pabst
he checks his notifications again.
No one has liked his latest link yet.

“Tom! Are you coming to bed?”

“In a while, sweetheart!”

Oh, wait there’s a new comment:

“I hate it when poets put all these
foreign words and phrases in their poems.
Okay, you have an ejumacation, we get it!
Write in English, douchebag!”

That was certainly rude.
He knows he should simply block the fellow.
But instead he prepares a reply...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 53

"play it light"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by rhoda penmarq , roy dismas and konrad kraus

*Associate Professor of Latin and Greek Literature, Assistant Golf Coach, Olney Community College; editor of Without Me I'm Nothing: The Memoirs of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol.V; Olney Community College Press, “The Sternwall Project”.

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, April 21, 2012

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 298: Colman

Let us rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, on a hot wet night in August of 1957, in the rare-books shop of Mr. Philpot, in that mecca of the arts known as Greenwich Village…

(Kindly click here to refresh your memory of our previous episode; newcomers to the fold may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award©-winning 53-volume memoir.)

“I used to dread going on vacation only because of the annoyance of having to pack up twenty or thirty volumes of Arnold Schnabel’s masterwork. Now, thanks to my Kindle, packing is a snap!” -- Harold Bloom, in the
AARP Magazine.

“It’s right there,” said Mr. Philpot, pointing to a very thick hardback book still in its dust jacket lying on the desk among all the other books and periodicals and bric-à-brac.

“Oh, my, that’s it?” said Thurgood.

Putting his cigarette between his thin lips, the only type of lips he had, he picked the book up, held it in both his hands, and moved them gently up and down, as if gauging the book’s weight. Then, removing the cigarette from his mouth, and holding the book horizontally with one hand, he glanced in an open-faced way at both Mr. Philpot and me.

“Got a nice heft to it,” he said.

“It’s a goodly-sized tome,” said Mr. Philpot, smiling. He opened a drawer in his desk and dropped the car keys into it. “If you ever need a good doorstop you’ll be in good shape.”

Thurgood stopped “weighing” the book, and now turned it upright and examined its cover.

“Very tasteful cover illustration,” he said. “I like the, what do you call it, the minimalist effect?”

Mr. Philpot, having closed the drawer, now sat back and puffed on his pipe, still smiling.

“What's your opinion, Mr. Walker?” said Thurgood, showing me the front cover.

The cover drawing showed a man standing on a street, holding a suitcase and smoking a cigarette. It was black-and-white, on a dark yellow background, with some hints of blue and streaks of pale red. Superimposed over the top of the drawing were the words, painted roughly with a brush in black, Two Weeks in a One Horse Town. Below the title, printed, was a novel by Theophilus P. Thurgood.

“It’s pretty classy,” I said. “Is your name really Theophilus?”

“It is,” said Thurgood. “And believe me, I’ve considered changing it. I considered publishing my stuff under the name T.P. Thurgood, but then someone reminded me that T.P. can mean toilet paper.”

“Maybe you could just go by your middle name,” I said.

“My middle name is Pierpont,” said Thurgood.

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I guess you might as well just stick with Theophilus then.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing,” he said. “I was so naive when I started out. I should have changed my name to Frank or Jack at the very beginning of my career.”

“Theophilus is a very distinguished name,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Thurgood, turning the book over. “Oh, this turned out well. Very nice. Very nice indeed.”

He showed me the back cover, which had a black-and-white photograph of the author. Thurgood sat there in three-quarter profile, smoking a cigarette, wearing what looked like a tweed jacket and a nice striped tie. He was clean-shaven except for a neatly-trimmed moustache, and his hair was shorter and nicely combed, with a bit of a wave on top. The background was dark grey, and the cigarette smoke was pale against it. In the photograph Thurgood looked very thoughtful, which he hadn’t appeared at all so far in real life, if you could call this real life.

“Pretty classy,” I said.

“That’s what you said about the front cover.”

“I have a limited vocabulary,” I said.

“When you’re a writer you’re supposed to say you’re using a ‘limited palette,” he said. “Like a painter, y’know? Who only has a few different tubes of paint.”

“Why not just say limited vocabulary?” I said.

“It’s classier to say limited palette.”

“Oh, okay,” I said.

“You’re still new to the game. You’ll learn.”

“Okay,” I said.

“You really like the picture? You don’t think I look too -- stuffy?”

“No, not at all,” which was true enough, because I didn’t really think anything about it.

“You don’t think I should’ve gone with one of these outdoorsy ones, with me on the deck of a fishing boat, or maybe playing with a dog on a beach?”

I didn’t care, but even I knew he didn’t want to hear that.

“This picture’s fine,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, looking at it again. “It does look pretty classy. I think I look a little like Ronald Colman here.” He held the back cover so that Mr. Philpot could see it. “What do you think, Mr. Philpot? Ronald Colman?”

“Oh, to a T,” said Mr. Philpot.

My right knee was really hurting me now, but for some reason I didn’t sit down.

“What do you think, Mr. Porter?” said Thurgood, now holding the book so that I could see the back cover again. “Ronald Colman?”

“That was the guy in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, right?”

“No, that was Robert Donat. Why? Do you think I look like Robert Donat?”

“Well, maybe a little,” I said.

“He’s pretty good-looking,” said Thurgood. “But you don’t think I look more like Ronald Colman here?”

“He was the Thin Man guy, right?”

“No, you’re thinking of William Powell. You think I look like William Powell?”

“Maybe it’s just the moustache,” I said.

“Ronald Colman,” he said.

“That was the guy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?”

“Not Spencer Tracy.”

“No, the other one, I saw it when I was a kid.”

“Fredric March.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right, Fredric March.”

“Ronald Colman,” he said, in an insistent way. “The Prisoner of Zenda. A Tale of Two Cities. ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done,’ et cetera. Ronald Colman.”

“Oh, him,” I said, ready to accede to anything at this point, just to move things along. “Yeah, you do look a little like him in this picture. Ronald Reagan.”

“Not Ronald Reagan. Ronald Colman.”

“That’s what I meant to say,” I said.

“But the younger Ronald Colman,” said Thurgood.

“Right,” I said. “When he was younger.”

“Ronald Colman, not Ronald Reagan. I don’t think I look anything like Ronald Reagan.”

“Right,” I said. “Ronald --”

I’d forgotten again already. I get like that when I’m bored.

“Colman,” said Thurgood.

“Exactly,” I said.

Now that this was settled, Thurgood opened the big book and began riffling through its pages.

“The scope,” he said. “The, the majestic sweep. Look, there’s -- what, nine hundred and ninety-nine pages here.” He looked at me again, smiling, showing many of his nearly full set of nicotine-stained teeth. “Almost a thousand pages,” he said. “Not bad, huh? How long’s your book?”

“This one?” I said, pointing to The Ace of Death, the book I had been railroaded into buying.

“No, not that one,” said Thurgood. “I can see that one’s only about three hundred pages long, big deal. I mean the book you wrote, your epic poem of the bohemian life, what’s it called, The Beckoning Graces?”

“I think it’s called The Brawny Embraces, actually,” I said.

“Whatever, how long is it?”

“Not as long as your book,” I said.

“I thought so,” he said. “Yeah, this book, you really get your money’s worth with this baby, yes sir. Did you ever read a book and it’s so good that you didn’t want it to end?”

“Um --”

To tell the truth I was usually more than ready for a book to end well before it did end.

“Well,” he went on, “with a book this long you’ve got that much more to enjoy. It’s a shame it has to end at all, really. I should do a sequel. Maybe a whole series of novels. What do you call that?”

“Pardon me?” I said. My knee was really, really hurting now. I shifted my weight to the other leg.

“What do you call it,” said Thurgood, “a whole series of related novels?”

“A ‘series’?”

“No, there’s a fancier word, a classier word --”

Roman fleuve,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Exactly,” said Thurgood. “Roman fleuve.”

There was an odd pause here as he continued to leaf through the book, silently, and as Mr. Philpot sat back in his chair smoking.

My left knee hurt, now that I had shifted my weight to that leg. I wanted to sit. But I felt awkward just sitting down while Thurgood was standing there. I thought I would say something to distract him while I sat down, and so, sitting and speaking simultaneously, I said, as if casually:

“So what’s the book about, anyway?”

He stopped riffling through the book and looked at me.

“You’re sitting down.”

“Yes,” I said. “My knee is, uh --”

“I hope I’m not boring you.”

“Oh, no,” I said, another lie.

“Because I can leave. My business here is through after all.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “I was just, uh --”

“It’s not every day an author gets to hold his new book in his hands for the first time. Surely you can appreciate that, being a literary man yourself.”

“Uh, sure,” I said.

“But if I’m being tedious, you know, I’ll take off.”

“Not at all,” I said. “I only sat down because --”

“Did you ask me that just to be nice?”

“Um, uh, what, um, uh --”

This was insane, but at least I was sitting down now.

“What you asked me,” he said. “Were you just feigning interest?”

“What did I ask you?”

I looked at the sherry bottle.

“You asked me what my book was about. You were just saying that to be nice.”

“Oh no,” I said, wishing I was drinking the sherry, even if it did taste like straw. “I was just, you know, uh --”

“He was curious,” said Mr. Philpot. “Don’t be so touchy, Thurgood.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Thurgood. “We authors can be very sensitive. I’m sure you feel that way about your own book, Mr. Walker.”

I hadn’t liked any of what I’d read of my own book, and didn’t feel sensitive about it at all, but I thought it best to play along. This is the trick of conversing with people, I have found. Just tell them what they seem to want to hear, and then everyone can go home if not happy then at least not in a state of high dudgeon.

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I get very sensitive about my book.”

“Don’t you just hate it when people tell you what’s wrong with your book?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m not fond of that.”

“Let them go and write their own damn books if they’re so smart, right?”

“I agree,” I said.

“Everyone’s a critic. Everyone has an opinion.”

“Um,” I said.

“I fucking hate critics. Couldn’t write a good novel themselves if their lives depended on it. I’ll lend you my book if you want,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

“What do you mean? 'Oh'”?

“Well, uh, I don’t know if I’d be able to get to it right away. But I’ll be sure to buy it.”

’Buy it,’” he said, as if he were saying something else, like, “It’s very warm in this place.”

There was another pause, an awkward one. Mr. Philpot picked up his glass of sherry and finished it off, then returned to smoking his pipe.

Thurgood went back to turning the pages of his book, occasionally taking a drag of his Pall Mall.

It was for moments like this that tobacco was invented. The wooden box full of Pall Malls was right there on the desk in front of me. I had already been invited to take one, and I should have taken one now. But, instead, in my stubbornness, in my insanity, and just to say something, I said again, “So, what is your book about?”


“I was just wondering what your book is about.”

“Oh,” he said.

“But, you know,” I said, “if it’s -- too hard to -- or --”

“I don’t know what it’s about,” he said. “But it looks good. Doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. “It does look good.”

“Read the inside front jacket copy,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Good idea,” said Thurgood. He turned to the inside of the front cover of the book, and read aloud:

“’Harry Baxter gets off the bus in the small town of Walter’s Hole, carrying only a cardboard suitcase, with six dollars and change in his pocket and half a pack of cigarettes. Walter’s Hole seems like a quiet town, a peaceful town. But Harry is soon to find out that Walter’s Hole is in reality a seething cauldron of passion and intrigue.’ That’s all it says.”

“Well, that sounds pretty good,” I said.

“I’s kind of sparse,” said Thurgood.

“You know what I hate though?” said Mr. Philpot. “I hate it when the jacket copy gives the whole damn plot away. Check the inside back cover.”

Thurgood turned to the back inside cover of the book, and read aloud again.

Theophilus P. Thurgood, author of the critically acclaimed My Sister, My Wife and Love Song of a Dead Man, lives in Greenwich Village with his cat, Squeeky, and his dog, Pepper.’ Well, that’s not true,” he said. “I don’t have a cat or a dog. Filthy creatures.”

“It’s public relations,” said Mr. Philpot. “It humanizes you. And this way both cat lovers and dog fanciers think you’re a nice guy.”

“Oh, well, that’s okay then,” said Thurgood. “Oh, this is good, a nice blurb.”

“Read it,” said Mr. Philpot.

’I have read Mr. Thurgood’s epic new novel Two Weeks in a One Horse Town and I am happy to report it is not only a ripping good read but a deeply and profoundly moving work, spiced with a jolly, wry wit.’ Horace P. Sternwall, author of The Ace of Death.

“An excellent blurb,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yeah,” said Thurgood. “I just wish it had been somebody like, I don’t know, Bennett Cerf.”

“A blurb from Cerf means next to nothing,” said Mr. Philpot. “That man loves everything.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” said Thurgood. “Oh, I almost forgot.” He closed the book and looked at Mr. Philpot. “You owe me a glass of Amontillado.”

“Help yourself,” said Mr. Philpot. “A deal’s a deal.”

“Oh, boy, I’m really going to enjoy this one,” said Thurgood. “Here,” he said to me, “want to look at my book?”

I didn’t, but as he was already holding the book out to me, I took it.

It certainly was a big book, and almost as heavy as a brick. I pretended to look through it while Thurgood uncorked the Amontillado and refilled to the brim the jelly glass that Mr. Philpot had given me to drink from so long ago. Thurgood stuck the cork back into the bottle, put the bottle back on the table, and lifted the glass.

“The first one was to quench my thirst really,” he said. “The second one was to soothe my existential despair. But this one, this one is to be savored, for pleasure.” He passed the jelly glass under his nose. “I get hints of wisteria, and just a breath of honeysuckle.” He glanced at me. “What do you think?”

“Honeysuckle?” I said.

“No, I mean what do you think of my book.”

“Looks pretty good,” I said.

“Go ahead, read some of it.”

“Right now?”

“I just want to hear how it sounds.”

“Where,” I said, “um, just, uh, read anywhere?”
“Anywhere,” he said. He turned around, went over and grabbed the other chair that was sitting against the wall, brought it to the desk. “I want to hear if it rolls trippingly off the tongue.”
 He sat down in the chair and stared at me, smoking his cigarette, waiting. 

“Just go to the first page, Mr. Walker,” said Mr. Philpot.
“Yeah,” said Thurgood. “First page, first chapter.”

“Well, okay,” I said. I found the first page. “’Chapter One,’ I said.”

“Skip that,” said Thurgood. “Just go right into the story.”

“Okay,” I said.

And I began to read aloud.

(Continued here, doggedly.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand side of this page to find a current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode brought to you in part by AARP™; now available in large-print format for the failing of sight.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Paul Bunyan Was a Personal Friend of Mine"

Paul Bunyan was a pal of mine,
and so was Babe the great blue ox.

I met them first in a logging camp
way out Minnesota way,
and when the cold winds came
and the heavy snows,
and logging season came to a close,

me and Paul and Babe
hopped on a sidewheeler riverboat
and steamed on down
the great Mississippi --
New Orleans bound.

And what times we had on that
riverboat, drinking wine
and playing faro and whist,
and other games of chance!
We had a whole season’s wages
to play with, the three of us,

and we didn’t care if we lost
or won. It was the game that
mattered. The thrill of the game.

But then one day Babe seemed
different. Kind of quiet
and distracted like.
Couldn’t concentrate on his
hand, which proved a real
annoyance when you had him as
partner in a game of bridge.

He started losing, not
just at bridge, but at whist
and poker and roulette
and even craps.
I guess it was catching, because
me and Paul started losing too.
And then we lost everything --
All three of us, busted out.

Paul and Babe and me went to the bar,
and Paul ordered three gallons
of steam beer, backed up with
three quarts of corn whiskey
and three pints of mulled cider,

and after we lighted up three
cigars the size of a baby’s arm
Paul said, “Babe, talk to me, man.
Talk to us. We’re your pals.
Something’s bothering you for sure.”

Babe ordered jeroboams three of the
finest fine champagne, and after
we had drunk them down, he said,
“Pals, I am smitten. Smitten in love
with one of them cows down in the hold,
one of them self-same cows bound to
wind up as steaks and roasts for some
New Orleans fancy eating place.
Her name is Daisy, and I’m in love,

and I don’t know what the fuck to do.
I was gonna buy her from the cattle
merchant, but now I’ve lost every red cent
I had.” “Me too,” said Paul.
“So also I,” said I. “Which brings us
to the question:
how we gonna pay for these drinks?”

“The hell with the drinks!” said Babe.
“What about my Daisy?”
“Don’t you worry none about Daisy,”
said Paul. “Yeah, but what about
the drinks?” said I.
“Don’t you worry about these drinks,
neither,” said Paul. “Just leave it to me.”
And he turns to the bartender.
“Hey, pal, put these on my tab, will ya?
I’ll take care of it later tonight.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Bunyan,” says the bartender,

and Paul turns back to me and Babe and says,
“Let’s go.” And he led us downstairs, down to
below the decks, and on the way we couldn’t help
but notice that he grabbed a fire ax from off
the wall. “Paul,” I said, “what are you gonna do?”

“Yeah,” said Babe, “you’re not gonna get us in trouble,
are you?”
“Relax,” said Paul, and finally we got to the part
of the hold where they kept all the cattle, behind
a sort of wooden fence down there.

“There she is,” said Babe. “There’s my Daisy.”
She was a pretty cow. Spotted black and white.
She said moo.

First thing Paul did was take that ax to the fence
and chop a big space through it.
“Come on out, Daisy,” he said to the cow.
“It’s okay.”
Daisy came out and she nuzzled snouts with Babe.
Then without saying a word Paul went over to
the bulkhead and started chopping.

Two or three mighty chops and the
mighty Mississippi came gushing
into that hold.

Paul, Babe and I were among the lucky ones.
We managed to swim to shore. Others
were not so lucky, including the
poor cow, Daisy.

Standing sopping wet on the shore,
looking at the still-smoking stacks
of the riverboat
poking up forlornly and crookedly
from the surface
of the littered water
in the moonlight,
I had to ask, “Paul, just what
were you thinking?”

“I only wanted to set Daisy free,”
he said. “And besides, we had no way
to pay our bar bill. I’m sorry, Babe.”

“I know you meant well, Paul,” said Babe.
“At least you tried.”

For another minute we stood there,
sopping wet,
looking out at
the dark mighty Mississippi,
with those slightly less-smoking stacks

sticking up crookedly out of the
sparkling surface of the water
not so littered now
with inanimate and formerly animate objects
all drifting downstream
in the moonlight --
New Orleans bound.

And then we walked off
down the moonlit road,
me and Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox,

in search of a warm and dry place
to rest for the night,
in search of new adventures.

illustrated by danny delacroix and eddie el greco

artistic supervisor: rhoda penmarq

"a rhoda penmarq production is a swell production!"

Monday, April 16, 2012

“Wordless Walter”

"Wordless Walter"

(dedicated to W. Somerset Maugham)

He was an obnoxious chap.
Never shut the bloody hell up.
Always going on, always about himself,
Or spouting his opinions when no one else
Gave a flying fuck.

One day in the library
Soames simply walked up to the chap
(By the fireplace he was, hogging the heat
Just as he hogged any conversation or
Indeed any room he was in),
Old Soames walks up to the chap
And hurls his sherry in the man’s face.

“Now will you please shut the
Bloody hell up,” said Soames.
“Or must I throw you by main force
Into that fire?”

“I beg your pardon!” said the chap.

But you know what, he did shut the
Bloody hell up,
For the rest of that night
And for the rest of his life.

Walter was his Christian name,
And he soon became known as
“Wordless Walter”. Wordless Walter,
Never heard another peep
Out of him.

And then one day,
Not right away, but four, maybe
Five years later
(It’s hard to say, because no one
Really noticed him anymore),
One day he didn’t come into the club.
And he never came in again.

And then, a few years later, someone said,
“Oh, by the way, remember Wordless Walter?
Kicked the bucket last week. Massive

No one said anything.
No one really cared.
Wordless Walter was gone.
And good riddance.

illustrated by roy dismas

artistic supervisor: rhoda penmarq
a rhoda penmarq studios production:

'marq' of excellence!"