Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend and divine co-pilot Josh – as well as their new acquaintances Bubbles and Blondie – here at the bar in The Little Caesar Room, where everything and everyone is in living black and white...
(Please go here to read our preceding installment; potential completists may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume autobiography.)
“Okay, if you back me up against a wall with a gun to my head then maybe – just maybe – I’ll admit that Railroad Train to Heaven is not the greatest masterpiece in all of world literature; but it damned well may be the longest.” — Harold Bloom, interviewed by John Cameron Swayze, on The Camel News Caravan.
Things were getting out of hand.
Not that I had had things well in hand before this.
And now I felt something in my ear, like a wet caterpillar or possibly an earwig, but, flinching and turning, I saw that it had only been Blondie’s tongue. She smiled.
“I think we’re gonna have a real good time together, Arnie.”
She was still caressing my supposed organ of procreation. As much as this was pleasurable to me nevertheless I knew – or believed, or hoped – that I must once again take an active part in my own destiny (again? had there been another time when I had done so? there must have been; anyway) and so I put my hand on her wrist, and pulled it away, her thin long fingers with their long black fingernails (perhaps they were red, but as the mythical reader will remember this world was a world drained of all colors except for white and its myriad declining shades into blackness) grasping in the air like the claws of a crab when you pick it up by its shell. I lifted her arm all the way up and laid it on the bar top. Her fingers made a few more grasping movements, opening and closing, before settling into a small fist.
She, Blondie, looked at me, no longer smiling, but there was a glint like a Christmas tree light in her eyes, two glints actually, one for each eye. I haven’t mentioned it before, but she wore a big soft-looking white beret, sloping down one side of her head like a blob of pancake batter. She cocked her head slightly and raised one eyebrow, a very thin eyebrow (as was her other one) staring at me from under the brim of the beret, a look which even I could tell meant something like, “Hey, what gives, Buster?”
“Listen,” I said, “Blondie?”
“That’s what they call me,” she said.
“I appreciate the, uh –”
“Yes, the attention,” I said. “But, you see, I do have a lady friend –”
“Yeah, so?” she said.
“A, um, young lady I am –”
“Making whoopee with,” she said.
“In a sense, yes,” I said.
“Only in a sense?”
“I’m not really much of whoopee maker,” I said.
“Gee, not only good-looking, but modest too.”
“Only justifiably modest,” I said.
“Aww,” she said, and her arm slipped down off the bar, almost as if it had a life of its own, and her hand descended once again towards my almost full blown erection, but before those grasping fingers could grab hold of it I caught her forearm again, brought it up to the bar top, and held it there.
“Ooh, you’re so forceful,” she said. “I like that in a fella. Anybody tell you you look kinda like Clark Gable, only with some Cary Grant in there, with just a touch of Warner Baxter around the eyes.”
“No,” I said. “But, like I said, I, uh, have a lady, um, friend?”
She slid her arm out from under my hand, but instead of trying to grope me again, she leaned her elbow on the bar, and rested her chin on her knuckles, gazing at me.
“That’s swell,” she said. “And I mean that, sincerely. Nice-looking bohemian poet fella like you, he should have a nice lady friend. Somebody to make sure he’s got a clean pair of boxer shorts and eats a softboiled egg now and then. Say, this lady friend of yours, she’s not here, is she?”
She took a quick look around the place.
“No, she’s not here,” I said. “But –”
“So what’s the problem?” she said. “Oh, wait – you got a date with her tonight?”
I saw my opening.
“Yes,” I said, trying not to sound as if I were lying, and, come to think of it, maybe I wasn’t lying. It had been so long since I had seen Elektra – maybe not long in earthly time, but so very long in my own version of time – I couldn’t remember if we had a date or not.
“You sound like you’re fibbing,” said Blondie, and she tapped me on the tip of my nose with her finger.
“No, it’s really true,” I said. “I have a, uh, date with her.”
“Now you really sound like you’re fibbing.”
She raised a shot glass, a newly-filled shot glass, because while we had been talking the bartender had brought the four of us four more shots, as well as a fresh mug of beer apiece for me and Josh and two more cocktails for Bubbles and Blondie.
I don’t know why I picked up that shot glass in front of me. I knew this shot would push me over the threshold into the second stage of drunkenness, and I even knew that once I passed into that stage I was approximately ten times more likely to slip into the third stage, by which point it was a near certainty that I would wake up the next morning hating myself and all of God’s creation, provided that is I did wake up, having not walked in front of a bus or otherwise accidentally killed myself on the way home.
But I did pick up the glass.
“What are we drinking to this time?” said Bubbles.
“Let’s drink to good times again,” said Josh.
“Good times again!” said Blondie. She gave me an elbow in the side. “Right, Arnie?”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” I said.
I tossed my shot down, we all tossed our shots down. I picked up my mug of beer immediately and took a gulp, to assuage the burning in my throat.
Blondie put her hand on my neck, which was better than where she had had it before, but then, pulling on my neck with surprising strength – all the women I was meeting had surprising strength, and I was getting very near the point of not being surprised any more, anyway – she pulled my neck and perforce my head toward her, and then her wet and slightly sticky lips were brushing against my ear.
“I know you don’t have a date, Arnie. Look, if it’s money you’re worried about, don’t. Normally we charge five bucks, but for you I’ll make it two-fifty. And ya know why? ‘Cause I think you’re cute.”
“Two – fifty?” I said.
“And also because you’re a first-time customer,” she said.
“That seems – awfully inexpensive,” I said.
“Hey, there’s a Depression going on, in case you haven’t heard. We’re not out to gouge the working man, even if he is a poet.”
”Well, that’s really nice of you,” I said, “but the thing is, okay, maybe I really don’t have a date with my, uh –”
“Lady friend,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “My, uh, whatever –” Suddenly I realized that I was sweating profusely, for the thirty-fourth time this day. I don’t think they had air-conditioning in this place, but of course that wasn’t the only reason I was sweating. “Um,” I said, in summation.
“So what’s the problem, big boy?”
Now she was massaging the back of my neck with her strong fingers.
It felt good.
“I have an errand I have to do,” I said.
“An errand,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
I hoped she wouldn’t ask me to elaborate.
“What sort of errand you got to run?” she said.
“Um,” I said, again.
“Unless you don’t wanta tell me,” she said.
“Oh, okay,” I said. “I want to get back to my own world, and to Cape May, New Jersey, where I have to ride out to the docks on a bicycle to buy some fresh fish for a talking cat, provided the floodwaters have subsided sufficiently.”
“Fish for a talking cat.”
“Yes,” I said. “I know it sounds odd.”
“That’s not so odd. Cats like seafood.”
“I meant the talking cat part,” I said.
“What’s odd about it? Felix the Cat talks, don’t he?”
“Yes, that’s a good point,” I said.
“And that Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland?”
“Yes, that’s another one,” I said. I had forgotten that I was in the world of movies. How foolish of me. I lifted my mug and took another drink of beer. I wondered though, if I took Blondie up on her offer, would that mean that we would go into a bedroom somewhere, and that the door would close behind us, and that what then transpired would be only in the viewer’s imagination? Perhaps, but still, I didn’t want to have to find out.
She still had her hand on my neck, and her fingers gently caressed it, as if I were a talking cat myself.
I glanced over at Josh, who was in conversation with Bubbles. She had her hand on Josh’s neck.
“Only five dollars?” Josh was saying. “My, that is a bargain!”
Josh, I attempted to communicate telepathically, can I interrupt for just a moment?
Yes? he communicated silently, without turning his head.
Do you think you could stop time for just a minute? I asked, in thought.
Now he glanced over his shoulder at me.
You mean like Mr. Arbuthnot did that time? he thought.
You know about that? I thought.
Arnie, I may not be completely omniscient, but the entire universe was almost destroyed by that caper, maybe even me with it, so, yes, I know about it.
Well, do you think you could stop time now, I thought, I mean if it’s not too much trouble.
Like this? he thought.
And just like that all was silent, and everyone in the place became as still as mannequins in a department store window display. Everyone except for me and Josh that is.
“So what’s up?” he said, aloud now, and it seemed as if his voice echoed around this frozen room.
“Things are getting out of hand, Josh,” I said.
He looked at me for a moment, and through his drunkenness I suppose some divine wisdom finally percolated.
“You know what, Arnold, for once I think you’re right.”
“For once even I think I’m right,” I said.
“What should we do?” he said.
“Well, you said you wanted to talk about something,” I said. “But we were interrupted.”
“Yes, we were, weren’t we? But these girls are so charming, aren’t they? And you know what? Bubbles here offered to give me a go for only five dollars. That’s a really reasonable price, isn’t it?”
“It is,” I said, not mentioning that Blondie had offered me what I presumed was a go for only two-fifty, I didn’t want to hurt his pride. “But, look, maybe we should just have our chat and then go.”
“What’s the big rush?”
“Josh, do you promise not to be offended by what I’m about to say?”
“I absolutely promise, and you know one thing about me, Arnie? I always tell the truth. It’s just in my nature, y’know?”
“Okay, then,” I said. “The thing is, Josh, you’ve already had way too much to drink tonight.”
“Really. You’re sure?”
“You just threw up not so long ago, Josh, remember?”
“That’s true,” he said. “That’s very true. But doesn’t that mean that, along with all that other liquid, I must perforce have thrown up a lot of alcohol along with it, thus making way for a whole new batch of alcoholic beverages?”
“It doesn’t work that way, Josh, trust me.”
“Yes,” I said. “I speak from experience. Personal experience.”
“Well, if you say so,” he said. “Y’know, believe it or not, I really didn’t drink too much in my previous incarnation. Just a little wine with meals, really, no more than a goblet or two. I was pretty moderate, actually.”
“Well,” I said, “you were the messiah –”
“That’s true,” he said. “And no one wants a drunken messiah. But this time around I just want to be a regular guy. So I can have a few drinks, right?”
“Within reason,” I said. “Sure. But if we keep going like this there’s no telling what might happen.”
He seemed to think about this for a few moments. He looked at his mug, which was already half-empty.
“How many have we had so far here?”
“Two shots of B&B and two mugs of Rheingold, apiece.”
“And these are our third mugs already?”
“That’s correct,” I said.
“Well then, how about if we finish these mugs and just have one more shot and a beer each, and then we’ll go.”
“One more beer maybe,” I said. To tell the truth, at this point I felt as if I wanted just one more beer, although I knew I didn’t need one. “But no more shots.”
“Okay,” he said. “Fair enough. And we’ll have our chat. Should I let time resume now?”
“If you don’t mind,” I said, “I think it’s maybe best if we have our chat first.”
“Because you’re afraid of what might happen.”
“I know what’s going to happen,” I said. “You’ll let time resume, and then we’ll get distracted by these girls, and we’ll probably get really drunk, and then something bad might happen.”
“Something good might happen, too, Arnold.”
“That’s possible,” I said. “But probably not probable.”
He had been holding his lit cigarette all through this exchange, and he suddenly seemed to notice that it was burned down almost to his fingers. He put it out in a glass ashtray that happened to be sitting there on the bar. The ashtray had the words The Little Caesar Room imprinted on it in what looked like gilt.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s finish these beers, we’ll get a couple more, and then we’re out of here.”
We both raised our mugs and gulped the beer down until the mugs were empty.
“Do you think they’ll mind if we help ourselves?” he said.
“Just leave a couple of extra dimes on the bar,” I said.
Josh disengaged Bubbles’s hand from his neck, her hand remained frozen in mid-air, and then with a gentle, almost floating movement he put his right hand on the bar and vaulted gracefully over it, his straw Trilby hat staying on his head the whole time, and he landed silently on his feet facing me.
“Same again?” he said.
“The same, thanks,” I said.
He took up our two empty mugs and strode down to the beer taps, stepping around the frozen bartender as he did so. He found the Rheingold tap and began to fill our mugs.
(Continued here, we’ve only barely begun to begin.)
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