We left our hero Arnold Schnabel and his godly friend “Josh” in the passageway leading from the men’s room to the bar room of this rather peculiar subterrestrial establishment in Greenwich Village, on a fateful night in August of 1957…
(Please go here to read our immediately preceding episode; the morbidly curious may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume memoir.)
“I anticipate my own life’s approaching final chapter with complete equanimity, knowing that I shall probably still have not come anywhere near to finishing Arnold Schnabel’s gloriously massive chef-d'œuvre.” — Harold Bloom, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
I know I sigh a lot, but I can’t help it.
“Josh,” I said. “If you want to talk about women, you’re talking to the wrong person.
“Ah, but now it’s you who are being too modest,” he said.
“No,” I said, “only honest.”
“But look at your girlfriend. What’s her name again? Athena?”
“Josh,” I said, “you honestly can’t remember her name?”
“Alabaster?” he said. “No, that can’t be it.”
He certainly was proving himself to be less than omniscient, but then I supposed it must be difficult to remember the name of every single human being alive, even for the son of God.
“Her name’s Elektra,” I said.
“Elektra!” he said. “I knew it was something like that. Anyway, she’s great, so don’t tell me you know nothing about women, Arnie boy.”
“Ow,” I said.
“Ow?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “Ow.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My leg just started hurting me again,” I said. “I mean it’s been hurting me all along but now suddenly it really hurts. Ow.”
“I thought it was your back that was sore.”
“Yes,” I said. “But that was in the, uh, other world.”
“The alleged real world,” said Josh.
“Yes,” I said. “In this world I have a sore leg, knee actually, because I fell over a pile of books in this weird bookshop, and later I hurt the knee again when I got in the middle of a fight in the men’s room upstairs a little while ago.”
“Never a dull moment with you no matter in what world you are.”
“Ow,” I said, again. It felt as if that railroad spike that had been stuck into my knee earlier, but which had then been removed, had been plunged since then in a bed of red-hot coals and had now suddenly been hammered back into my kneecap, harder and deeper. I felt a whole new flood of sweat escaping my body’s every inch of flesh all at once, and I lifted the bad right leg and put my left hand on Josh’s arm. “Ow, and damn,” I said. “I’m sorry to curse,” I added.
“No problem,” said Josh. “You’ll recall I am no stranger to extreme pain myself, and, believe me, I yelled out some things during my scourging and crucifixion which, let’s just say, fortunately never made it into the New Testament.”
“Ow,” I said. “Ow. Ow.”
“You must have put too much weight on it while we’ve been standing here,” said Josh.
“Yeah,” I said. “Whatever. Look, I really have to sit down, Josh, if only for a little while. Maybe the pain will go away if I just rest the leg for a bit.”
“But then it will only return when you get up again,” Josh said. “It might even get worse.”
“It’s my own stupid fault,” I said.
“Nonsense. Here. Put your hand on my shoulder.”
“Arnold, just do it, okay?”
I put my right hand on his shoulder. My left hand was still gripping his upper arm.
“You’re going to have to let go of my arm though, Arnold.”
I let go of his arm.
He flexed his knees, lowering himself into a crouching position facing me. Still standing on my one leg, I kept my hand on his shoulder, to keep from falling over. Josh put his right hand on my raised knee. At first it felt just as you would expect a man’s hand on your painfully throbbing knee to feel, that is, even more painful and creepy as well, but then I felt something like a low-level, warm electrical current coming from the palm of his hand and seeping into my knee, and the current seemed to be flushing away at least some of the pain.
“How’s that feel?” he said, looking up at me from under the brim of his straw Trilby hat.
“Okay, I guess,” I said. “A little ticklish.”
“Not too warm, is it?”
“No, it’s okay,” I said.
“Because I can modulate the energy if you like, turn it down a bit if it’s uncomfortable. The only thing is the healing will take a bit longer that way.”
“No, really, it’s okay,” I said. “But you shouldn’t —”
“Quiet,” he said.
“But you said you wanted to limit yourself to the powers that only a normal human being might have,” I said.
“Look, do you want your knee to stop hurting?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“All right then,” he said. He took his hand away. “Okay, lower your leg now, see how it feels.”
I lowered the leg, and tentatively put a little weight on it. It still hurt, to tell the truth, but not nearly so much as before.
“How is it?” said Josh.
“It’s a lot better,” I said. “I’m sure I can walk on it now, thanks.”
“A lot better?” he said. He was looking up at me, still crouching down there on his haunches, with his forearms crossing his thighs. “Just a lot better?”
“Well,” I said, “I mean, you know, significantly better.”
“It’s supposed to be completely better. I must be out of practice. But then it has been a couple of millennia. Okay, just one more minute should do the trick.”
He rubbed the palms of his hands together, then blew on them, then rubbed them together again. Then he put his right hand on my knee once more, and after a few seconds I began to feel that warm current. It felt good. I actually closed my eyes it felt so good, but then I opened them again almost at once, because a voice spoke:
“All right, you two, why don’t you take that into a men’s room stall the way you’re supposed to do.”
I opened my eyes. I was facing the wall of the passageway, but the voice had come from my right, from the direction of the barroom.
A little man in a very old-fashioned suit, with long hair and sideburns and a top hat was there. He also had a cane, and he pointed it in the direction of me and Josh.
“Not that I care personally,” he said. He had a French accent. “Lord knows I’ve seen more scandalous behavior in this place.”
“Hey, pal,” said Josh. “It’s not what you think.”
“Let me guess, then. You are holding your friend’s knee with your hand because he has injured it, and you are curing it with your supernatural powers.”
“Well,” said Josh, “in fact —”
“Oh, please,” said the man. “Do not embarrass yourself further, monsieur.”
“Josh,” I said, “I really think you can let go of my knee now.”
“You sure, Arnold?”
“Really,” I said. “I can tell. I think it’s all healed.”
“Ha,” said the little Frenchman. “You continue the farce, both of you.”
Josh took his hand away, and he finally stood up, wobbling just a little bit.
“How’s it feel, really?” he asked me.
To be honest, it did still hurt, but not too badly, probably not even enough to make me limp, or at least not too noticeably, but I said: “Great. Completely cured. Feels good as new.”
“See?” said Josh to the Frenchman. “Cured. Supernatural powers. So maybe you should get your mind out of the gutter, buddy.”
“I have heard of such powers, it is true,” said the Frenchman. “Have you by chance traveled in the Orient?”
“I’ve been all over,” said Josh.
“So — it seems then that my legendary powers of logical and analytical deduction have failed me,” said the Frenchman.
“Maybe that’s why they’re legendary,” said Josh.
“Oh, I get it,” said the Frenchman. “Ha ha. Here, I give you my card, monsieur.”
He reached into his coat and brought out a calling card, handed it to Josh.
“Perhaps you will call at my house and we can have a chat about your travels in the mysterious east. I receive visitors between the hours of three and five, and I serve both tea and apéritifs, with perhaps a cookie or two.”
“Okay,” said Josh. He glanced at the card, then dropped it into the side pocket of his jacket. “Maybe I’ll drop by someday.”
“I’m sure we can have many and fascinating conversations.”
“Well, we’ll see,” said Josh.
“May I know your name, monsieur.”
“Jesus,” said Josh.
“I beg your pardon.”
“I mean,” said Josh, suddenly remembering his current incarnation, “Jesus, sure you can. Josh is my name.”
“Very pleased to meet you, Josh,” said the little Frenchman, and he bowed his head very slightly and quickly. “Oh, and when you call, you may, if you wish, bring your so-far unnamed friend.
“Oh,” I said. “I’m Arnold. I mean Porter. Porter Walker.”
“You said Arnold at first.”
What could I say? He had caught me. Not that it mattered.
“I suspect you are lying,” he said. “And now, come to think of it, I think you, too, are lying, Monsieur Josh, or is it Jesus?”
“All right, said Josh. “I’m Jesus, the son of God, assuming human form for the first time in twenty centuries. Arnold here though is an actual human being, but from the world of reality.”
“I see,” said the Frenchman. “Implying that the world we are currently in is the world of unreality.”
“Not exactly,” said Josh. “It’s the world of fiction.”
“This would explain much,” said the little man. “I look forward to conversing further with you on this subject. And many others.” “Well, Arnold and I are going to go have a beer now,” said Josh.
“And I go, as you Americans say, to strangle the worm.”
“Okay,” said Josh. “Have a good one.”
“I am sure my pleasure will only be increased by the extra time that has elapsed in this most interesting colloquy.”
“I think I’ll feel the same way about that beer I intend to have,” said Josh.
“I shall then detain you no longer, Monsieur — shall we say — Josh.”
“See ya,” said Josh.
“Perhaps I might join you in a beer,” said the Frenchman. “After I have finished voiding the residue of my own most recent bock.”
Josh said nothing, but, taking my arm, he started us back into the barroom.
“What a bore,” he said in a low voice. He took the card the man had given him out of his pocket and looked at it. He held it up so that I could read it, too. It had fancy cursive lettering:
C. Auguste Dupin
137 Blvd St-Germain
Josh flicked the card away.
“Like I’m really going to go all the way to Paris just to have a chat with this guy,” he said.
“That does seem a little extreme,” I said, or rather shouted, because by now we were out in the bar again, plunging into that hot and sweaty crowd of shouting and laughing people between the bandstand and the end of the bar.
(Continued here, indefatigably.)
(Illustration by Honoré Daumier.)
(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a fanatically updated listing of links to all other publicly available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Published also in the Collingswood Patch™: “Who says South Jersey ain’t got no culture?”)