We left our hero Arnold Schnabel and his divine companion “Josh” in a Greenwich Village bar called The Little Caesar Room, where they have just made the acquaintance of two young ladies named Bubbles and Blondie, also known as B&B...
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“Yes, it’s true, starting next semester I shall be teaching a course titled ‘Roundtrip Ride on a Railroad Train to Heaven’. Would you like to sign up for it?” — Harold Bloom, on The Rachael Ray Show.
In a matter of seconds Blondie had seated herself on the stool to my right, and Bubbles had taken the seat to the left of Josh.
Did I mention Josh was sitting to my left? Probably not. Well, he was, not that it matters too much or at all. The salient point was that we sat next to each other, and now we each had one of these girls sitting in our adjacent formerly empty stools.
Josh, I thought, trying to communicate to him telepathically.
What? he thought back. He had been facing the one called Bubbles, but now he turned and looked at me. And, by the way, I thought we weren’t going to do this sort of thing anymore.
What sort of thing? I thought.
You said I shouldn’t be listening to your thoughts.
Yes, but this is sort of an emergency, I thought.
Okay, what is it? he thought.
I thought we were just going to have a beer and a short chat, I thought.
This is your emergency? he thought.
Okay, I thought, maybe not an emergency, but I couldn’t see myself saying anything in front of these girls.
No, that would be very rude.
So, what do you want to do? I thought.
Have a beer, get to know these ladies —
Josh, you’re letting yourself get distracted. I mean if you don’t mind my saying so.
I don’t mind your saying so, but I think you should relax, Arnold.
Yes. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my — my capacity as — how shall I put it –
The son of God? I thought.
Son of God, yes, he thought. One third of the Holy Trinity you’ll remember from your catechism.
Yes, I thought, not that I quite understand it.
What’s so hard to understand, one God, comprised of three equal parts, indivisible.
Well, okay, I thought, but still it all just always seemed somehow weird to me, somehow.
That’s because it is weird, Arnold.
Oh, I thought.
Life is weird.
Yes, I thought.
Existence is weird.
Nothing is not weird.
Okay, I get it, I thought.
I’m not sure of anything, I thought.
As well you shouldn’t be, he thought right back at me. But anyway if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my whole eternity of existence it’s that sometimes –
I missed the next part of what he was thinking, and the reason is that, while we had been conducting this silent dialogue, in one part of my cavernous and echoing brain I had been vaguely aware that the girls were talking to each other, that the bartender had been there and the girls had spoken to him, and he to them, that he had gone away and that the girls had continued to talk to each other, and now I was suddenly shoved into that particular section of my consciousness by Blondie’s elbow digging into my ribs.
“So, pals,” she said. “What shall we drink to?”
She held up a shot glass with something brown in it, or at least I assumed it was brown, because after all, we were in a black-and-white movie.
I saw an identical shot glass on the bar in front of me, and two more being held up by Josh and Bubbles.
“Come on, Mister Poet, raise your glass,” said Bubbles who had her free arm around Josh’s shoulders. “You’re too good looking to be a wet blanket.”
I picked up the shot glass.
“There ya go, pal,” said Blondie. “And I say we drink to good times.”
I noticed that the girls each also had a full highball glass in front of her, I supposed those were were the aforementioned B&B-and-seltzers. And I also noticed that Josh and I each had a fresh foamy second mug of beer, even though our first beers were still three-quarters full.
“To good times!” said Bubbles.
“Yes,” said Josh, raising high his shot glass, “to good times.”
Who am I to be a party-pooper, I lifted up my shot and drank it down with the others. It was sweet, but strong. I’m not used to drinking shots of spirits, I’m more of a slowly and depressingly sip his whiskey or occasional Manhattan kind of guy. (Why rush things is my motto. You’ll be drunk soon enough, and soon enough after that you’ll be horribly hungover, so keep your shirt on.) And so I gasped, and waved air into my mouth with my hand.
“What was that?” I asked, as the girls laughed merrily with a sound like a sack of bicycle bells being thrown down a hilly street at midnight.
“B&B,” said Blondie. “You like it?”
“Yes, very good,” I said, just to be polite.
“I like you, pal,” said Blondie, and she ran the backs of her fingers along the stubble on my chin. “What’s your moniker, anyway?”
“Well,” I said, “in my world it’s Arnold, Arnold Schnabel. But in this world my name is Porter Walker.”
“So what do you like to be called, honey?”
“I don’t care, really,” I said, and I took a good drink of beer, almost finishing off my first mug, just to cool my throat down a bit.
“Should I call you Arnie?”
“Sure, why not?” I said.
She took her hand away from my face, let it run down the front of my seersucker jacket and then rested it on my right thigh.
“Arnie,” she said. “So, tell me all about yourself. I gather you’re not from around here.”
“Yes,” I said. “I come from another dimension, universe, world. I’m not quite sure what the right term is really —”
“And what world is this world you’re from, sweety?”
“Well, I always thought of it as the real world,” I said.
“Everybody thinks their own world is the real world.”
I took another drink of beer, finishing the first mug. I was glad now that I had a full one already sitting there. Maybe I’m an alcoholic. Maybe that’s my problem. Or maybe that’s one of my problems.
She, Blondie, massaged my thigh.
“So tell me about your world,” she said, and she sipped her drink through a straw, I think it was a real glass straw, you don’t see those every day.
“Well, it’s pretty humdrum,” I said. “I was a brakeman for the railroad. A forty-two year old bachelor who lived with his mother and was an usher at the local Catholic church. But then I had a complete nervous breakdown, and then, after they let me out of the mental hospital –”
“Oh, were you in for a dreadfully long time?”
“Well, just a few months,” I said. “But it seemed longer.”
“You poor thing do go on.”
“Where was I?”
“You’d just gotten out of the nut house.”
“Oh, right,” I said. “So they let me out, but I still wasn’t quite well enough to go back to work on the railroad.”
“Nobody wants a train man who’s liable to go batty any minute,” she said.
“Exactly,” I said. “Even a brakeman has to be really, uh, mentally, you know –”
“Stable,” she said.
“Right,” I said.
“A brakeman’s gotta be on the ball,” she said.
“Otherwise you could screw up switching the tracks or something and next thing you know you got a tragic train collision with dozens killed, maybe hundreds.”
“Yes, that’s very possible,” I said.
“So they sent you packing.”
“Well, they put me on an indefinite leave-of-absence at half-pay,” I said.
“So you get paid for not doing your job.”
“In effect, yes,” I said.
“Sweet. But can you get by on half-pay?”
“Oh, sure,” I said. “I never spent much money anyway, and my mom owns our house. So, you know, um –”
“You sound like you were kind of a sad sack, buster.”
“Yes,” I said. “In retrospect I think I was. And the doctors in the hospital thought maybe –”
“So what happened next? Did you go crazy again?”
“Possibly,” I said. “You see, my mother took me to stay with her sisters at their boarding house in Cape May. She thought, you know, the seaside, the change of scenery, would be good for me.”
“And was it?”
“Yes,” I said. “I think it was. I began to feel better after a month or so. And I began to swim every day, swimming a little longer every day.”
“Exercise is ever such good therapy.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. “And then one day, after swimming, I met these young people on the beach, and one of them was this girl.”
“Uh-oh,” she said. “A dame. Cherchez la dame, I always say. And did you two fall in love?”
“Well, we, uh, we, um, uh –”
“You started playing hide the salami.”
“Oh, gee,” I said.
“And was she your first love?”
I thought about this a moment.
“Um,” I said.
“Wait a minute,” she said. “She wasn’t your first, like first, period, was she?”
“Well,” I said, “not exactly.”
There had been that one time with that prostitute in Germany after all, eighteen years before I met Elektra.
“Well, thank God for that,” she said. “So how’d you wind up here?”
“Well,” I said. “I woke up one day and found myself in the world of this novel I had been trying to read, this novel written by this lady who was also staying at my aunts’ place.”
“You just woke up in her novel.”
“Yes,” I said. “You see, the devil did it to me, because he knew I really didn’t like the novel.”
“The devil did it.”
“Yes,” I said. “You see, we had had several encounters recently, where he tried to take me to hell, and I managed to outsmart him somehow each time.”
“Look at you!” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “I was lucky.”
“Oh, don’t put yourself down, Arnie. So, you woke up in this fictional world.”
“Yes,” I said. “Where I was this poet named Porter Walker.”
“And a handsome poet you are, Arnie, or Porter.”
“Yeah, well,” I said. “It was a novel written by a woman, you know –”
“And dame writers like their handsome leading men.”
“Right,” I said. “So, anyway, I had all sorts of adventures, and then –”
“Wait, can you hold it right there a sec, Arnie?”
“Sure,” I said. I was boring myself anyway.
“Hey, Alan!” she called to the bartender. He was working a beer tap, but he looked over to her. “Another round here, Alan, when you get time, and don’t forget the shots.”
I realized that I had finished the second beer. I realized also that I had entered the first stage of drunkenness. And I also realized that another beer and another shot would put me firmly in the second stage of drunkenness. I should have spoken up and said just a beer would be fine for me.
I said nothing.
I didn’t want to be accused of being a party-pooper.
I also realized that Blondie had moved her hand from my thigh to my inguinal area, and that now, under her gentle caresses, I was once again suffering an erection.
(Continued here, under the watchful eyes of a team of specialists.)
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