Friday, January 25, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 331: three gals

Our hero Arnold Schnabel as usual is on a quest, and as usual the quest has somehow become a quest within a quest within a quest, and so on, perhaps a bit further on than we dare to contemplate at the present moment. Let’s rejoin Arnold and his boon companion Big Ben Blagwell, somewhere in the below-decks regions of a curious Greenwich Village bar known as Valhalla, on this fateful hot and rainy August night in the year 1957…

(Kindly go here to read our previous thrilling episode; click here to return to the seemingly unprepossessing beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 39-volume masterpiece.)

“The other night I dreamt I died and had passed over not to extinction, nor to Heaven, nor Hell, nor yet even to Purgatory or Limbo, but into the universe of Arnold Schnabel.” — Harold Bloom, on
The Steve Harvey Show.


“Oh, God,” was all I said, and I suppose my despair was plain on my face. Because I knew that even if I turned and ran like a spastic ape in the opposite direction, to where supposedly the men’s room was, that something would prevent me from voiding my bladder, which was all I wanted to do, all I needed to do, more than I had ever needed or wanted anything in my life, in any of my lives, ever, or would ever want, in any possible or impossible life, ever, for all eternity, and if there is anything beyond eternity, then beyond that.

“Jeeze, buddy,” said this woman in black, and her hair was almost black, too, “is it really that bad?”

“He’s really gotta go, really bad,” said Ben.

“He looks absolutely ashen,” said the woman. “And not in an attractive way, either.”

“Oh, God,” I said, again, preparing myself to turn and run, yes, like a spastic ape, in the opposite direction, only to be thwarted, I knew, again.

“Wait,” said the woman.

I waited while she leaned forward and looked at her face in the mirror, pressing her lips together and then pouting them. Then she turned the bottom of her lipstick tube, retracting the lipstick.

“Look,” she said, as she picked up the lipstick cap from the back of the sink and replaced it on its matching golden tube, “if you’ve got to go that badly, just use one of these stalls.”

There were three of them, the stalls, waiting, right there before me.

“No, I couldn’t,” I said. “It’s okay, I’ll just —”

“If you don’t mind my saying so,” she said, as she opened a black purse and dropped the lipstick into it, “I’m not sure you’ll make it to the men’s room.” She clicked the purse shut. “Now don’t be a fool. Go use one of these toilets before you suffer an unseemly and malodorous accident.”

“Well, uh,” I said.

“Fine,” she said, and she took a drag of her cigarette, “it’s up to you. But that middle one is quite unoccupied. I know, because I just used it.”

“Go ahead, Arnie,” said Ben. “The lady said it’s okay.”

“This is a bohemian establishment,” said the woman. “We are not tied down by Puritan mores and customs here.”

“You heard the lady,” said Ben.

“Well,” I said.

“Go,” said the woman. “You look pathetic. I hate to see anyone looking that pathetic.”

“Go, Arnie,” said Ben.

Without another word I went ahead and lurched over to the middle stall, opened the door, closed it, latched it behind me, bent down and lifted the lid and the seat of the toilet, unzipped my jeans, and then did what I had to do, experiencing immediately what was perhaps the greatest relief, the greatest pleasure I had ever experienced in any of my lives, although I realize this might not be saying much. But as I reveled quietly in this state of ecstasy, trying my best not to groan or mutter thickly as I had heard plenty of other men do in hundreds of men’s rooms, even then I thought: Can this be? Can a simple biological function really be the greatest pleasure imaginable? My only honest answer was yes, yes, a thousand times yes, as what seemed like a good quart of warm liquid streamed out of me.

But could it be that this solitary pleasure was more intense, more profound, than that which I had achieved in congress with Elektra? She whom I had last been with only the previous evening (and, yes, with whom I had then performed the act of darkness, thus obviating any good my confession earlier that day had done), even though it felt like approximately forty-five months ago?

“Good lord, buddy, how much beer did you drink, anyway?”

It was a woman’s voice, shocking me out of my reverie, coming from the stall adjoining on my right.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but the lady outside said I could use this, uh, um —”

“I heard it all,” said the voice.

I could hear laughter outside the stall, emanating from Ben and the woman in black.

“Oh, leave the chap be,” said a woman’s voice from the stall on my left. “I like a man who can put away his beer.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, to everyone. “I should be finished soon.”

“Don’t hurry on our account,” said the voice to my right.

“Take your time, Invisible Man,” said the voice to my left, which had an English accent.

Then both voices broke into laughter, and the laughter of Ben and the lady in black, which had ceased a couple of moments before, resumed.

I tried to block it all out, and to concentrate instead on what I was doing, although, if I am to be honest, the brief dialogue I have just transcribed and its attendant laughter lessened almost entirely the psychological if not the physical pleasure of the function my body was performing.

At last it ended. I shook away the last few reluctant drops and put the damned thing away and zipped my jeans.

But I didn’t leave the stall right away. I felt the need of a private and solitary moment. I was drenched with sweat, which I could now feel cooling on my back, under my sodden shirt and my almost sodden seersucker jacket. The laughter had died away, but I could hear quiet voices outside the stall, Ben and the lady in black, conversing in almost whispering undertones.

My leg still hurt. Now that I thought about it, the locus of pain had been shifting all evening, from the front of my knee to the tendons behind it, to the upper front part of the calf to the lower rear of my thigh, almost as if the pain had a mind of its own. I didn’t care, though. After the agony of what I had just gone through trying to find a place to urinate, nothing else save some complex medieval torture could possibly compare.

I realized I was breathing deeply, nearly panting. The air was not fresh, but it was certainly fresher than in most men’s rooms I had ever been in. And there was perfume in this thick warm air, and not the sort of perfume in the air that writers talk about when they’re describing nice sunny days in the country, but actual perfume, the kind that women wear. 

The toilet to the right of me flushed, and then mere moments later the one to my left flushed also.

I heard the ladies getting up, the rustle of clothing, the opening of stall doors, and then there was more conversation outside, not the low murmuring I had heard just before from Ben and the lady in black, but loud and clear badinage; however, through a skill I have somehow developed over the years I was able without even thinking about it to transform the words and meaning of the conversation into an undifferentiated babble, like overheard conversation in a dream, or like what one hears from the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant when the waiter shoves the swinging door open carrying his tray with your steaming bowl of wonton soup.

But then there came a pounding on the stall door.

“Hey, Arnie!”

It was Ben’s voice.

“Yes?” I said.

“You okay, buddy?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Then what’s the hold-up?”

“Nothing.”

“Then flush the toilet and come out of there. Stop being a weirdo.”

I heard a high rippling of feminine laughter.

The toilet had one of those old-fashioned overhead tanks, with a wooden handle hanging from a chain. I pulled it, the water flushed. I put down the seat and the lid. I turned and unlatched the stall door and opened it.

They were all out there. Ben and the woman in black, and the two women who belonged to the disembodied voices I had heard from the adjoining stalls, at least I could only assume these were they. One was a young woman with long blond hair, in braids, wearing an old fashioned-looking print dress with puffed-out short sleeves. The other one had short dark hair combed back and parted on the side, and she wore a white jersey with a tight white skirt.

“Not bad,” said the woman with the short hair. She was smoking a cigarette in a holder. She was the one with the English accent.

“He’ll do in a pinch,” said the girl with the braids. She was smoking a cigarette too.

“You two are incorrigible,” said the the woman in black, who still held the same cigarette she had been smoking earlier, unless it was a new one.

“That’s my pal,” said Ben, who was still standing there near the stall, smoking the tail end of his cigarette. “Ladies, meet Arnie — or should I call you, what is it, Mortimer?”

“Porter, actually,” I said.

“Porter,” said Ben. “Porter it is then. Well, Porter, allow me to introduce you to these ladies, and a nicer and prettier three gals you’re never gonna meet.” He pointed to the woman in black. “This is Hester.”

“Hello,” I said. I noticed she had a red A embroidered on her dress, just above her heart, even though her name was Hester. Perhaps A was the first letter of her last name.

“Hester Prynne, right?” said Ben.

“Yes,” she said. (Well, there went my theory about her last name.) “Very pleased to be introduced formally to you at last and under less strained conditions, Porter.”

“And this is Becky, right?” said Ben, gesturing with his cigarette stub at the blond girl.

“Becky’s the name, don’t wear it out,” she said.

“Didn’t catch your last name, sweetheart,” said Ben.

“Because I didn’t say it,” she said. “But Thatcher’s my last name, and don’t wear that one out either, big boy. Hiya, Porter. Glad to see everything came out okay.”

“Heh heh,” said Ben. “I like a girl with spunk. And this tall drink of cool water is Lady Brett.”

“Lady Ashley, actually,” said the woman with short hair. “But, please, Mr. Porter, do call me Brett.”

All three of the women were standing close together by the room’s only sink.

“I’m very pleased to meet you all,” I said. “And I apologize for barging into the ladies’ room like this. And I thank you for letting me use the, uh, the, you know.”

“Toilet,” said Becky.

“Right,” I said.

“And now I’ll go,” I said.

“Aren’t you forgetting something,” said Hester.

Instinctively I patted my pockets. Yes, I still had my wallet.

“I mean I hope you’re going to wash your hands.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” I said. “It’s just that I didn’t want to, you know —”

“Ask us to move out of the way?”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s probably it, or at least mostly it.”

“What’s the rest of it?” she said.

“A host of psychological quirks and impairments far too numerous and tedious to go into right now,” I said.

A pause ensued which was awkward for me if for no one else. Then Hester spoke, after taking a drag on her cigarette.

“I like this guy,” she said.

“Me, too, sort of,” said Becky.

“I told you he was a clever guy, didn’t I?” said Ben.

“I very much like Mr. Porter,” said Brett.

“You like every man,” said Hester.

“Yes, I suppose I do, actually,” said Brett. “So many men. And so dashed little time.”

“Let’s move out of the poor man’s way and let him lave his hands,” said Hester.

And they did move out of the way.

I limped over to the sink.

“Hey, ladies,” said Ben, as I turned on the water, “not to impose too much on your hospitality, but since we’re already in here, ya think I could use the toilet too?”

“It’s not going to take you a full ten minutes like your friend here, is it?” said Hester.

“Nah, not me,” said Ben. “Me, I’m fast when I go to the head, no horsing around.”

“Go,” said Becky.

“What a charming great hearty man,” said Brett “But I do hope we’re talking about liquid evacuation and not the solid kind.”

“Just need to take a quick number one, Lady Brett,” said Ben. “I’ll just be a minute, tops.”

“Please hurry,” said Becky. “We will miss you ever so much.”

“Our collective breaths will be absolutely bated,” said Hester.

And off Ben lumbered into the stall I had just evacuated.

A silence returned to the ladies’ room, or, if not a silence, then at least the absence of human voices, which is the next best thing.

I felt the eyes of the three women on me. I was rinsing my hands rather thoroughly at this point, after having washed them using plenty of soap from the wall dispenser.

“Hey, Porter,” said Becky. “Your hands are clean already. You’re just wasting water.”

I turned off the tap, shook my hands into the sink. I looked into the mirror and saw someone else, a good-looking, but also sad-seeming young fellow who needed a shave. And then I remembered that I was someone else now, this preposterous fictional character, Porter Walker.

“To your right,” said Hester.

“Pardon me?” I said, looking at her in the mirror.

“The paper-towel thing. It’s to your right,” she said.

“Ah, thank you,” I said.

“Oh, yeah,” came the deep voice of Ben, reverberating from the middle stall, accompanied by the unmistakable wet sound of a man urinating heavily into a toilet. “Ahhh, Christ. Goddam. Ahhh.”

So, my friend Ben was a men’s room groaner.

I turned the crank on the paper-towel roller, tore off a sheet, and began to dry my hands.

“Ahhh, damn it,”
said Ben. “Ahhh, Christ.”

“Men,” said Becky.

“Why do we love them?” said Hester.

“What else can we do?” said Brett.

“Ahh, shit,” said Ben. “Ahhh. Jesus.”

I crumpled up the paper sheet and tossed it in the nearby trashcan.

“Ah,” said Ben’s voice. And the sound of urination finally began to lessen and cease, but in fits and starts. “Yeah,” he said. “Whooh!”

Finally the heavy tinkling ceased entirely.

“Oh yeah,” said Ben. “Yeah.”

There fell a brief silence, and then the toilet flushed.

Ben came out of the stall, just zipping up his dungarees.

“What’d I tell ya?” he said. “Quick, right?”

“I hope, dear boy,” said Brett, “that you don’t do everything so quickly.”

 
(Continued here, because we have now gone well past the point of no return.)

(Please turn to the right-hand side of this page to find a current listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Published also in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s finest and perhaps only source of literary culture.”)

3 comments:

Kathleen Maher said...

Worth the wait.

Dan Leo said...

Just as Odysseus eventually reached Ithaca, so does Arnold finally reach his water closet.

Kathleen Maher said...

Or someone's water closet--I'll bet his relief is brief.