Friday, March 22, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 339: Bart

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his deific friend “Josh”, here in the men’s room of a mysterious subterranean bar in Greenwich Village, on this rainy night in August of 1957…

(Please click here to read our immediately preceding episode; if you’ve recently been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and are looking for a harmless outlet for your mania, you may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 64-volume memoir.)

“Reading Arnold Schnabel is the literary equivalent of taking a hit of vintage Owsley acid.” — Harold Bloom, interviewed in
High Times.

{This chapter is dedicated to Kathleen Maher.}

“Well, anyway,” I said, “do you feel better now, Josh?”

“Comparatively, yes,” he said, chewing vigorously. “The gum really does help immensely.”

“Indeed the Wrigley’s definitely does help, doesn’t it?” said Ishmael. “But y’know what’s the best thing for a chap in your present state?”

“Suicide?” said Josh, I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not.

“Oh, no, my dear man,” said Ishmael. “Let us not speak of self-slaughter. Because if there’s one thing I know, as all hearty seafaring fellows know, there’s never the most brutal and soul-destroying hangover but has an end to it.”

“Them’s true words,” said Billy, who was very ostentatiously smoking his cigarette, or maybe he just really enjoyed smoking. I didn’t know which, I didn’t care.

“No, as I say, the best thing for a chap in your present state,” said Ishmael, “— oh, but I have not introduced myself. Call me Ishmael.”

He extended his hand, and Josh, after only a second’s hesitation, took it in his.

“His real name be Bertrand,” said Billy.

“It’s true,” said Ishmael. “My baptismal Christian name, as Billy has pointed out, was indeed Bertrand, but, nevertheless, I ask you sir —”

“To call you Ishmael,” said Josh. “No problem, Ishmael.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Ishmael. He put his pipe between his teeth, and he added his newly free left hand to the shake that his right hand was already engaged in, pumping Josh’s hand up and down as if it were a recalcitrant bottle of Heinz ketchup. “And may I ask your name, sir?”

“Call me Josh,” said Josh.

“Josh, it is then,” said Ishmael. “And my friend with a penchant for exactitude over there is young Billy.”

“What’s up, Billy?” said Josh.

“Cheers, mate,” said Billy.

“So,” said Ishmael, “would you like to hear what’s best for a chap in your present state?”

“First I would like my hand back,” said Josh.

“Oh! I beg your pardon,” said Ishmael, and he released Josh’s hand at once. “I was overcome for a moment by an access of that feeling of brotherly love which is such a mainstay of the sailor’s life.”

“Okay,” said Josh.

He patted the side pockets of his pale blue suit.

“So, as I was saying,” said Ishmael, “the thing for a fellow in your current, oh, shall we say, condition —”

“Right,” said Josh, “go on.”

He brought a cigarette case out of his jacket side pocket; I didn’t remember seeing this one before. Of course it was a very nice one, it looked like platinum and black enamel.

“The thing to do,” said Ishmael —

“Oh. Shit,” said Josh.

“What?” said Ishmael. “Don’t you want to hear my recipe for relief? Because it really works, I assure you?”

“What?” said Josh.

“Well, I mean,” said Ishmael, “if you should rather not —”

“I don’t understand,” said Josh.

“If, after all, without even waiting to hear it, you are going to dismiss my remedy as mere — ordure —”

“Ordure?” said Josh.

“He means shit,” said Billy. “Like you just said.”

“Shit,” said Josh.

“Or shite as we calls it,” said Billy. “Which is what he’s usually talking.”

“But that wasn’t why I said shit,” said Josh.

“I don’t mind if you did,” said Ishmael. “It shouldn’t be the first time I have been accused of talking shit, I assure you.”

“Or shite,” said Billy.

“No,” said Ishmael. “Nor that neither. I’m used to it.”

“But I’m telling you that’s not why I said shit,” said Josh.

“You wouldn’t be far wrong if that were why you said it, I’ll warrant,” said Billy.

Ishmael looked at the floor, almost as if he had dropped a contact lens and was looking for it, but I suppose it was only a scrap of dignity he was looking for. And, fortunately for him, Josh granted him this.

“I was saying shit because I’m out of cigarettes,” said Josh, and he held out the open, empty cigarette case. “See? No cigarettes.”

“Oh,” said Ishmael.

Josh clicked the case shut, dropped it back into his pocket.

“That’s why I said shit,” he said.

“I see,” said Ishmael. “So, then, you wouldn’t mind hearing my antidote for the physical and perhaps even the spiritual malaise which I suspect you now suffer?”

“Will it take long?” asked Josh.

“Not at all,” said Ishmael.

“I only ask because I’d like to get some cigarettes,” said Josh.

“It won’t take long at all,” said Ishmael, “and I only wish I had a cigarette to offer you, but, as you can see, I am a pipe-smoker. Perhaps Billy would roll one for you?”

“Pretty free with other blokes’ tabaccy, ain’t ya, Bertrand?” said Billy.

“Well, I only thought —” said Ishmael.

“Look, it’s okay,” said Josh, he was still chewing the gum, but much more slowly now, “tell me what you were going to say, please.”

“I’ll gladly roll the bloke a cigarette,” said Billy. “I just don’t like other blokes offering blokes me tabaccy.” He brought the pouch of tobacco out of his pocket. “You like Players, mate?”

“Actually I prefer Pall Malls,” said Josh.

“See?” said Billy. “He prefers Pall Malls he does.”

“I believe they dispense Pall Malls in the machine out in the bar,” said Ishmael.

“Great,” said Josh. He put his thumb and finger to his mouth, and removed the Wrigley’s. He looked at the gum, it was like a dead and grey tiny moon. “I think I’ll go get a pack of Pall Malls now,” he said.

“But you haven’t heard my cure,” said Ishmael. “My secret for dispelling the dreadful humors resultant upon the excessive libation of alcoholic beverages —”

“Oh. Okay,” said Josh. He put the gum back in his mouth and resumed chewing, it had undoubtedly lost its flavor, but it was still better than nothing. “Please, continue,” he said.

“The best thing you can do,” said Ishmael, “I mean absolutely the best thing you can do — you really want to know?” 

“Yes,” said Josh. “I’m on tenterhooks.”

“Ha ha,” said Ishmael, “tenterhooks, yes, so — what you’ve got to do, what you really want to do —”

“Right,” said Josh. “What should I do.”

“What you really want to do,” said Ishmael, and you could tell he was trying to stretch out his moment in the sun, I suppose maybe he didn’t have much going for him in his life, “what you really want to do is just march right back out to the bar and ask the barman, in a firm, unwavering voice —”

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” said Billy, “will you get to the fucking point, man?”

“In your firmest voice,” continued Ishmael, I don’t think he even heard what Billy had just said, “ask the good fellow for a mug of the coldest lager he has — the coldest mind you — and one fresh raw egg —”

“Shite,” called a voice.

There were still a lot of guys going to and fro all around our little group through all this, some of them talking among themselves, none of them seeming to pay us the least bit of attention, and who could blame them, but this voice seemed to have come from the direction of the toilet stalls.

“Bullshite,” spoke the voice again.

“Pardon me,” said Ishmael.

“Absolute shite,” said the invisible voice, and now I could tell it was coming from the stall to the right of the one Josh had just left. “Or, if you prefer,” the voice went on, “shit.”

“What is shit?” said Ishmael.

“Your hangover cure,” said the voice. “It’s shite, and it don’t work.”

“Yes it does work,” said Ishmael. “You take the raw egg, and you break it into the cold lager. Then, what you do is, you drink it all down in one go —”

“Bullshite,” said the voice. “It don’t work. I tried it and I still felt like shit.”

“Did you make sure it was a fresh egg?” said Ishmael.

“How the hell do I know if it was fresh?” said the voice. “I asked the bartender for a raw egg and he gave me one.”

“It doesn’t work unless it’s an absolutely fresh egg,” said Ishmael.

“Shite,” said the voice.

“Well, look,” said Josh. He straightened the knot of his loosened necktie, but just a little. “Tell you what, Ishmael, I’ll give your cure a try.”

“It won’t work,” said the invisible voice.

“Oh, come out of there, anyway, Bart,” said Ishmael. “You’ve been in there twenty minutes already.”

“Aye. Shite or get off the pot, man,” said Billy.

“I don’t have to shite,” said the voice.

“Then what are you doing in there?” said Ishmael. “Come out.”

“Why,” said the voice.

“Why?” said Ishmael. He looked at me and Josh. “’Why’ he asks.” He addressed the closed door again. “I’ll tell you why,” he said. “Because it’s absurd to just sit there on the toilet all night, that’s why.”

“Any more absurd than standing in that barroom drinking and talking shite all night?”

“What if someone else wants to use that stall?” said Ishmael.

The voice said nothing.

“He don’t give a shite,” said Billy.

“But this behavior is weird,” said Ishmael. “I fear it is the symptom of a diseased soul.”

“Aye, it probably is,” said Billy.

“Fuck you both,” said the voice.

“I say!” called Ishmael, speaking almost in a shout. “I say, Bart! Stop this nonsense at once and come out of there, man.”

We all waited, but the invisible voice remained unheard.

“Bart!” called Ishmael. He went over to the door and rapped on it with his pipe. “I say, old man, come out, and have a merry drink with us.”

I heard a mumbling, but I couldn’t make out any words.

“What’s that, Bart?” said Ishmael. “Speak up, man, what did you say?”

“I said I would prefer not to,” said the voice.

“Oh, boy,” said Billy. “’Ere we go again.”

“I would prefer not to,” said the voice again, louder.

“Oh, no,” said Ishmael. “Hey, Bart, come on, don’t be like this.”

“I would prefer not to,” said Bart, I suppose that was his name.

“Bart,” said Ishmael, “can we at least talk about this?”

“I would prefer not to,” said Bart.

“Forget it,” said Billy. “You know how he is when he gets like this.”

“I just wish he’d be reasonable,” said Ishmael.

“I heard that,” said the voice.

“Well, I wish you would,” said Ishmael. “Be reasonable.”

“I would prefer not to,” said Bart.

“Okay,” said Josh, “well, I think I’ll go get that lager and raw egg now.”

“It don’t work,” called the voice.

“Don’t listen to him, Josh,” said Ishmael. “Just make sure the bartender gives you a fresh egg.”

“Bullshit,” said the voice.

“Okay,” said Josh. “Fresh egg.”

“I’m telling you it won’t work,” said the voice again.

Ishmael rapped on the door again with the bowl of his pipe.

“Come on, Bart, come out of there.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“I think I knows why we won’t come out,” said Billy. “He don’t want to come out because it’s his turn to stand a round. Mean bastard he is.”

“Don’t call me mean,” said the voice. “I buy my share of rounds.”

“Then come out of it and buy one,” said Billy.

“Come to think of it, he missed buying a round before the last one as well,” said Ishmael.

“Y’know, you’re right,” said Billy.

“I went to buy a bag of peanuts from the machine,” called the voice.

“And you timed it perfectly, didn’t ya,” said Billy.

“I offered you both some peanuts.”

“Fuck your peanuts,” said Billy.

A mumbling came from the stall.

“What’s that?” said Billy.

Ishmael, who was still standing in front of the stall door, said, “What was that, Bart?”

Bart turned his head so that his ear was close to the door.

The man inside the stall mumbled something again.

“What’d he say,” said Billy.

Ishmael turned and looked at us all.

“He said he would prefer not to.”

“Let’s go, Arnold,” said Josh.

“I thought his name was Porter,” said Ishmael.

“That’s what I meant to say,” said Josh.

He took me by the arm and pulled me to the door.

“We’ll be right out,” said Ishmael. “Soon as we get Bart to come out.”

“I would prefer not to,” called the invisible Bart, in a clear loud voice.

“Okay, good luck,” said Josh. “Nice meeting you both.” In a slightly louder voice: “You too, Bart.”

The voice said nothing.

Josh opened the door and waved me through, then followed on my heels.

Out in the hallway we wasted no time in getting away. He had let go of my arm when I went through the door, but now he slipped his into mine again.

“Friends of yours?” said Josh.

“Never met them before in my life,” I said. “In any of my lives.”

“Do you think that cold lager and raw egg trick works?”

“I very much doubt it,” I said.

“I didn’t think so,” said Josh.

(Continued here, doggedly.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other officially-released episodes of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Now also published in the Collingswood Patch™: “The kind of publication H.L. Mencken would write for were he not long deceased.”)


Unknown said...

"Ah Bartleby! A humanity!"

Poster child for all depressed scriveners.

Unknown said...

I know, I know! I think my own first words were, "I would prefer not to."