Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his stout companion Big Ben Blagwell, here in the ladies’ room of a rather unusual subterranean Greenwich Village bar, on this hot moist August night in the year of our lord 1957…
(Please click here to read our previous exciting episode; go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 61-volume autobiography.)
“Here’s the thing, Charlie. Arnold Schnabel’s universe is not just ‘another’ universe. No. The point is it’s a so much more fun universe.” — Harold Bloom, on The Charlie Rose Show.
“Aw, Lady Brett,” said Ben, “I think if you gave me a chance I could slow it down to an easy loping gallop, if you know what I mean.”
“Ha ha,” said Brett.
“Oh, please,” said Becky.
“Men,” said Hester.
I didn’t say anything.
“So,” Ben said, and he reached under the tails of his Hawaiian shirt and hitched up his belt a little. “What say you ladies let me and Arnie, I mean, wait, not Arnie, what was it you wanted to be called, Arnie? Harper? Archer? Wagoner?”
“Porter,” I said. “Porter Walker.”
“Porter,” said Ben. “What say you ladies let me and my pal Porter here buy you gals a libation or two or three?”
The women all looked at each other before saying anything. Then they somehow seemed to come to a silent agreement that it was Becky who should answer for all of them.
“Look,” she said, “you’re not some kind of weirdo, are you?”
Ben smiled at this. He looked at me and shrugged, then took his pack of Sweet Caporals out of his shirt pocket. I neglected to mention it before, and this is why I would make a terrible novelist, but he had come out of the stall without the still-lit cigarette stub he’d gone in there with. I can only presume he had flushed it down the toilet. I do know that it doesn’t matter what he did with it, and so I will now resume my narrative with Ben taking his Musso and Frank’s matches out of the same shirt pocket and lighting a new Sweet Caporal, and, after exhaling a great cloud of smoke into the already smoky ladies’ room he coughed once or twice and then said:
“Let’s face it, Becky, if I was a weirdo, would I admit it?” He paused, looking each of the ladies in the face in turn. “In my vast experience of all kinds of humanity in all my many travels and adventures on land and sea and through peace and war, it’s been my experience that the one thing a real weirdo will never do is admit to being a weirdo. Until he has you chained up in his dungeon that is. Once he’s got you helpless in his dungeon, then he can and probably will brag about being a weirdo till he’s blue in the face — but not until then.”
“Okay,” said Hester. “So in other words you very well might be a weirdo.”
“There’s only one way to find out,” said Ben. “And that’s to have a cocktail with me and Arnie I mean Porter.”
“No,” said Hester. “There is another way.”
“And what would that be?” said Ben.
“We could read or at least take a skim through your book.”
“Or one of his books, if he is in fact a recurring character,” said Brett. “And something tells me he is.”
“What?” said Ben.
“You don’t even need to skim through it,” said Becky. “Just read the front and back cover copy, that’s all you need to do.”
“What the hell are you broads talking about?” said Ben. He was smiling, but in a tentative way, as if he wasn’t sure if the ladies were joking or not.
“Oh dear,” said Brett. “He doesn’t know.”
“Oh dear God,” said Becky. “He’s a newbie. A rookie.”
“Hey, I think you’ll find that Ben Blagwell is no rookie,” said Ben. “I been around the block a few times. Quite a few times. Why, I’ve had adventures that would make your hair stand on end, even you, Hester and Becky, with your long hair and all. Stand straight up it would.”
“Who’s going to tell him?” said Hester.
“Does his friend know? Young dark and broody over there?” said Becky.
“I think he knows,” said Brett. “Don’t you know, Mr. Porter?”
“Yes,” I said. “I think I know. I mean, I think I would be more sure if I were better read, but to be honest I mostly just read books about guys who are caught in a deadly whirlpool of deceit and flaming passions, that sort of a thing.”
“Not much of a classics man,” said Hester.
“No,” I said. “Not at all.”
“So do you even know who I am?”
“Arnie,” said Ben. He wasn’t smiling any more. “Will someone please tell me what the hell everybody is talking about?”
“Answer my question,” said Hester, ignoring Ben and addressing me. “Doesn’t this scarlet letter A on my dress signify anything to you?”
“Oh,” I said. “Now I remember. The Scarlet Letter. By, uh, Nathaniel — somebody —”
“Hawthorne,” said Hester. “So you have read the book.”
“Well, I read the Classics Illustrated comic,” I said. “You see it was on the troop ship in the army, and I ran out of books about guys caught in vortexes of deadly passion, and they had these comics, so —”
“Hey, Arnie, or Porter,” said Ben. “Excuse me, but you can tell your life story some other time. Now fill me in on the gen, buddy. ‘Cause I’m getting a little uneasy here. Reminds me of this time I got trapped in this castle of torture by these leather-clad Nazi SS harlots, and —”
“Ben,” I said. “The thing is, everybody in this place is a character from a book.”
I looked at the ladies.
“I mean,” I said, “I think that’s the case, right?”
“Of course,” said Hester.
“What did you think?” said Becky.
“Isn’t it an absolute yell of laughter?” said Brett.
“And,” I continued, speaking to Ben, “you and I are fictional characters also.”
“What?” said Ben. “Like in a book or one of them magazines?”
“Yes,” I said.
“This is where all the great characters go,” said Hester.
“Even the really villainous ones,” said Becky.
“They’re the best ones, anyway,” said Brett. “Give me a good nasty villain any old time.”
“I sort of agree,” said Becky. “Just no weirdos.”
“No,” said Brett. “No weirdos. They grow tiresome very quickly.”
“And we still don’t know that this fellow here isn’t a weirdo,” said Hester, gesturing toward Ben with her cigarette.
“He’s not,” I said. “He’s more the seafaring, hearty, brawling adventurous type.”
“And how do we know you’re not a weirdo,” said Hester. “And maybe you’re covering for your friend, who’s also a weirdo.”
“Well, I hate to admit it,” I said. “But I guess I might as well. In fact I feel duty-bound to do so —”
“Oh, get to the point,” said Becky. “We can’t stand in this ladies’ room all night. We’re wasting valuable drinking time.”
“I’ll say,” said Brett. “I’m absolutely dying of thirst.”
“I want to know what Porter here was going to admit,” said Hester. She reached over to the sink and tapped her cigarette ash into it. “What is it, Porter?”
“I’m a weirdo,” I said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Arnie,” said Ben. “I mean Porter. You are not a weirdo. A little strange, maybe, a little eccentric, yeah; a little odd, sure — but you’re not a fucking weirdo. Pardon my French, ladies.”
“What do you do?” Hester asked me.
“My character in the book I’m in?”
“I’m a poet,” I said. “It’s kind of embarrassing, but — a sort of darkly handsome, brooding young poet.”
“Oh, that’s not so bad,” said Hester.
“Sure, darkly handsome brooding poet is fine,” said Becky.
“The broodinger the better,” said Brett.
“As long as he’s not a boring brooding poet,” said Becky.
“Are you a boring brooding poet?” Hester asked me.
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” I said.
“Arnie,” said Ben, “Porter, whatever — you’re not boring. I mean, you may not be the liveliest guy at the party, but you are not a bore-ass.”
“Maybe I’m not,” I said, “but Porter’s kind of boring I think.”
“Okay, you two have lost me,” said Becky. “And why do you keep calling him Arnie if his name’s supposed to be Porter.”
“Well, ya see, Becky,” said Ben, “the thing of it is, in real life Porter’s actually this guy named Arnold Schnabel.”
“What?” said Hester.
“Huh?” said Becky.
“Arnold who?” said Brett.
“Schnabel,” said Ben. “Arnie Schnabel, nicest guy ya’d ever wanta meet, too. Sure, a little quiet maybe, a little bit of a loner like, but no weirdo, not really. And not too boring, either. Just a little like dry maybe.”
“All right, I’m confused,” said Brett.
“Me too,” said Becky. “Confused and, yes, getting bored. Let’s get those cocktails.”
“Yeah, might as well,” said Hester. “Come on,” she said, glancing from Ben to me. “We’ll let you boys buy us a round.”
“Now we’re talking,” said Ben. “Come on, Arnie, Porter, I mean.”
“Ben,” I said, “the thing is I should really be getting along.”
“But you just fuckin’ got here.” He quickly turned to the ladies. “Pardon my French, ladies. I spend a lot of time at sea, and in the kind of rough uncouth dives that seamen frequent, so you know how it is.” He turned back to me. “Arnie,” he said, in a low voice. “We got three good-lookin’ babes ready to have a drink with us. Don’t be a goddam stick in the ass.”
“But I’m supposed to be somewhere,” I said. “Back at Mr. Arbuthnot’s, because I said I would get his cat some —”
“Arnie,” said Ben. “Mr. Arbuthnot is in that other world, right? The one where you’re Arnold Schnabel.”
“Yes,” I said, “and in fact you’re there too, Ben, and that’s one thing I can’t figure out, which is are you the same Ben who’s waiting back at Mr. Arbuthnot’s, or —”
“Excuse us, gentlemen,” said Becky. “You two can stay here and hash out whatever little character conflicts you have going on there, but we’re hitting the bar.”
“No, wait, Becky,” said Ben. “Listen, Arnie, Porter,” he said. “Let me just ask you a question. What are the odds that your old world is working in the same, whaddyacallit, time thing, relative, you know, the time, fuckin’ —”
“Time continuum?” I said.
“Right, exactly,” said Ben. “Time continuum. You read them science fiction magazines, too.”
“Sometimes,” I said. “If there’s nothing else around.”
“How the hell you know your world is on the same time continuum?”
“You know,” I said, “in fact, now that I think about it, I don’t think it is. Because the first time I came here —”
“What, to this boozer?”
“Well, to this world —”
“Oh, I get it. So you’ve been in this, um, world before —”
“Only a couple times,” I said.
“Only a couple times he says,” said Ben. “You slay me, Arnie, Porter, whatever your name is.”
“Anyway, the first time I came here it happened when I was sleeping, and I had all these adventures —”
“Yes,” I said, “I had all these adventures that seemed to go on for a really long time, like enough to fill a good-sized novel, but when I finally woke up and came back to my own world it was only the next morning. In my world that is.”
“Okay, we’re going now,” said Becky.
“No, wait,” said Ben. “Look, Arnie, don’t you see? You can take your time here, have a ball, and then when you go back, if you can get back, maybe only like a milli-second will have passed.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” I said. “But still —”
“You want to get back.”
“Well, it is my world,” I said.
“Okay. I can understand that,” said Ben. “But I’m not talking about staying here and going off on some crazy exotic ‘adventure’ or nothing, God forbid. I’m just talking about having one lousy drink.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Well —” I said.
“One drink and then we’ll see how we feel.”
“Okay,” I said. “One drink.”
“Maybe two,” said Ben. “Nothing is written in stone.”
“Can we please go now?” said Becky.
“Yeah, we’ve missed almost an entire set, too,” said Hester.
“Rick Martin is the most,” said Brett. “That cat can blow a mean trumpet.”
“Right, let’s go then,” said Becky.
I remembered my manners at the last second and quickly limped over and opened the door for the ladies. It suddenly occurred to me that Josh and my other so-called friends were waiting for me in the bar upstairs, and might be wondering where I was. Or, come to think of it, maybe they weren’t thinking about me at all.
(Continued here, for the sake of all humanity.)
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