Our hero Arnold Schnabel’s deific friend Josh has very agreeably stopped time, in order that he and Arnold can at last have a quiet and uninterrupted chat, here at the bar of The Little Caesar Room, where everything is in black or white or one of the millions of shades of grey in between..
(Kindly click here to gain immediate access to our previous chapter; if you’ve finally lost your marbles completely then you might as well go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 79-volume memoir.)
“At long last it’s summer, and, my professorial duties finished and forgotten for the nonce, what better way to while away the day than lying in one’s hammock reading Arnold Schnabel’s magisterial and epic masterwork?” — Harold Bloom, in his “Bookish Chat” column in Vogue.
Josh got both mugs filled to foamy overflowing, and, pushing the Rheingold tap-handle back, he raised both mugs up in one hand, slightly above his eye-level, gazing at them and smiling.
“Even in black and white it looks good, doesn’t it, Arnold?”
“Yes, it does,” I said.
“I love how the electric lights glitter and flicker through the beveled glass and the beer, and the way the foam slides down the outside of the mugs, alive – alive with – what’s the word? You’re the poet, old man.”
“Pleasure?” I said.
“Alive with pleasure, yes,” he said. “Or alive with the promise of pleasure, a promise of a pleasure so propinquitous that one almost cherishes these last few precedent moments more than the prospective actuality of that first slurping gulp, if not the second or third.”
“Yes,” I said, “it’s nice.”
“How about a shot, too?” he said.
“Josh,” I said.
“It doesn’t have to be B&B if you don’t like it,” he said.
“Josh,” I said again.
“I wonder if they have any of that private stock fine malt whisky here? That Little Caesar guy seemed like the kind of guy who might have some of that.”
“No, Josh,” I said.
“You don’t think he has any?”
“No, I mean we shouldn’t do a shot. We already agreed on that.”
“You’re really adamant on this issue, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am,” I said. “Now why don’t you just bring the beers over here, sit down on your stool, and we’ll have our talk.”
“Boy, Arnold.” he said, he was striding back from the taps, still holding the two mugs in one hand and deftly stepping around the waxwork bartender, “You know something?”
“What,” I said.
“You have come a long way, my friend.” He put the two mugs down on the bar, one in front of me, and the other in front of where he had just been sitting, turning the handles around as he did so. “You’ve come a long way in a very short time.”
“It doesn’t feel like a short time,” I said. “It feels like I’ve lived at least five years since yesterday morning.”
“Yeah, I know that feeling,” he said and then once again he vaulted smoothly over the bar, and somewhat amazingly, came down in a sitting position on his barstool, landing as lightly as if he were made of cotton balls. His straw Trilby hat hadn’t even budged on his head.
He picked up his mug and smiled at me. I lifted mine, and we both drank.
“So,” he said. “Reason I wanted to talk to you.”
“You sound frightened.”
“I am,” I said.
“Please don’t be. It’s not that bad.”
I’ll be the judge of that, I thought.
“Ha ha, I heard that,” he said. “But, anyway. Here’s the deal.”
He took another drink of beer. I waited.
“It’s potentially a little embarrassing what I’m about to say,” he said. “But I want you to promise me you won’t be, uh, judgmental.”
“Okay,” I said.
He started to take another drink of beer.
“Josh,” I said. “You’d better take it easy on that mug of beer if you want to make it last.”
“Oh, okay, you’re right,” he said. He put the mug back down on the bar without drinking from it, and picked up his pack of Pall Malls which he had left there on the bar. “Want one?” he said, offering me the pack.
“No thanks,” I said. “I think I’m still trying to quit.”
“Okay,” he said.
He gave the pack a shake, and exactly one cigarette popped up an inch out of the pack. He put it between his lips, then patted his suit-jacket pockets and came out with his black enamel-and-gold Ronson. I waited while he lit his cigarette. What choice did I have? He drew in smoke and then exhaled very slowly. He laid the pack of cigarettes flat on the bar, and then he laid the lighter on top of the pack. Then he picked the lighter up again, stood the pack of cigarettes up on the bar top, and stood the lighter up flat against the cigarettes.
“Look,” he said. “It’s like a little apartment building, and the lighter is like the entrance hall, one of those old-fashioned apartment buildings, or hotels.”
“Yeah, great, Josh, but what did you want to talk about.”
“Okay,” he said. “Well, remember how I was telling you I think I’m in love with Carlotta?”
“Okay, now don’t go crazy, but I’m thinking of asking Carlotta to marry me.”
“Thinking of asking her to marry me. Do you think she’ll say yes?”
“But,” I said.
“Well, for one thing,” I said, “it’s like we were talking about earlier, she’s a girl, and you’re the, uh, you know –”
“Son of God.”
“Right,” I said. “Son of –”
“The big guy,” he said.
“Right,” I said.
“Okay, point taken,” he said. “But, let me ask you this, Arnie.”
He didn’t say anything. So I said: “Yes?”
“You were going to ask me something,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “Let me ask you this, Arnie.”
He paused, looked away, and took a drag from his cigarette. He exhaled. He tapped his ash into the ashtray. I waited. Then he turned to me again and suddenly spoke:
“Is it written somewhere that the son of God can’t get married?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said.
“Well, trust me, it’s not,” he said. “And even if it were I wouldn’t care. I would just, I don’t know, erase it. Or maybe destroy the stone tablet it was written on. Burn the papyrus. Whatever.” He looked at me. “So, what? You don’t think it’s a good idea?”
“To destroy the stone tablets?”
“No. I mean for me to get married to Carlotta.”
“I think I’m the wrong person to ask,” I said.
“Yes, but I’m asking you anyway.”
“Okay, I think it might be a little rash,” I said.
“Yes. I mean, how long have you known her?”
“An hour? Maybe a little more than that.” He glanced at his wristwatch. It was a nice-looking watch, on a gold band. A gold-colored band anyway, but knowing Josh as I did, it must have been at least gold-plated. “I can’t remember what time it was when I first met Carlotta tonight. Do you?”
“I have no idea,” I said.
“Well, let’s be generous and say it’s been about an hour-and-a-half,” he said. “Okay?”
“Fine,” I said. “But even an hour-and-a-half seems a somewhat, uh, brief span of time in which to, uh, come to such a, um, momentous decision.”
Josh stared at me for a moment. He had very piercing eyes, even if they were black-and-white instead of their usual blue. It almost seemed as if he were entering into my own eyes from his eyes, stepping into my brain and looking around.
Then he spoke again.
“You know how much time it took me to make up my mind in the Garden of Gethsemane?”
“Um, a few hours?”
“Two-and-a-half, maybe three hours, tops. Which admittedly is longer than an hour and a half, but at least this time we’re not talking about me getting scourged and crucified, and redeeming the whole human race and all in the bargain. I’m just talking about getting married. To a very nice girl I might add.”
“Well, if you think it’s the right thing to do,” I said, “okay. But let me just ask you this. That night in the Garden of Gethsemane, had you been drinking?”
“A little wine with the last supper. Two goblets maybe. All right, say three, but the wine in those days was very weak, so –”
“So you weren’t drunk,” I said.
“Hardly. I already told you I was a very moderate guy in those days.”
“But, Josh,” I said. “Tonight you have been drinking. A lot. Didn’t you already get in a fight tonight, even before I ran into you?”
“Yeah, but that was that Hemingway guy, he was very touchy, and if I may say so, I think he had his load on too, although he was trying to pretend he didn’t.”
“Okay,” I said. “But you’ll admit you were drunk already then. I mean I saw you get thrown out of that San Remo Café place.”
“Well, I still think that was a little unfair. I mean, the guy punches me, and I get thrown out? That’s not fair.”
“You were drunk, Josh.”
“Well, okay, a little maybe.”
“You were very drunk.”
“Um,” he said, I suppose he was picking up that idiotic nonverbal muttering from me. I went on.
“You were already drunk then, and you’ve been drinking ever since then,” I said.
“Well, there’s truth in what you say,” he said. “But –”
“And you just threw up from drinking not fifteen minutes ago.”
“Okay, I see where you’re going with this, Arnold.”
“Good,” I said. “The fact is, you’re drunk, Josh.”
“Yes, I suppose I am, somewhat –”
“And you shouldn’t make big decisions when you’re drunk.”
“You don’t think so?”
“No,” I said. “It’s hard enough making decisions when you’re sober.”
“Okay, you may be right,” he said.
“I know I’m right,” I said. “And anyway, besides –”
I suddenly halted my flow of depressing verbiage. My words were moving more quickly than my brain could keep up with.
“Besides what?” said Josh.
“Besides,” I said.
“Don’t stop now,” he said. “I can take it.”
Finally my brains caught up with my words.
“Besides,” I said. “As you yourself were saying earlier, Carlotta’s just a regular human girl, who will grow old and die, whereas you, you’re the, you know –”
“I know, I know,” he said. “The son of God. But, listen, Arnold, what if I really did become mortal. I mean, not like the messiah, but just a regular guy. Like, what if I totally just become a regular man, who will also grow old and die.”
“You can do that?”
“I can try.”
“So, you, like, wouldn’t be the, you know, the son of –”
“– anymore,” I said.
“Right,” he said. “I would resign completely as it were. Abdicate. Clean out my desk. Pack my bags and split. Vacate the throne.”
“You have a throne?”
“And you’re allowed to do this?”
“Arnie, strictly speaking, I’m allowed to do anything.”
“Oh,” I said.
“However,” he said. “There is one little problem.”
“Ha ha, yes. And that problem is, if I go whole hog and just become a regular mortal, then who is going to take my place?”
“As the son of –”
“The man upstairs,” he said.
“Um,” I said.
“I mean,” he said, “think about it: the concept of the Holy Trinity is at the basis of all existence, so what’s going to happen if one third of the Trinity just drops out?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Neither do I, really. However, I suspect that things might get really bad.”
“Yes. I mean the destruction of the entire universe bad.”
“Even this universe?”
“Yes, very possibly even this one. Everything could disappear, the whole shebang, including me and my father and the holy ghost, too.”
“Y’know, I wanted to ask you about the holy ghost,” I said.
“Later,” he said. “Because I have another question for you.”
“Um, okay –”
“That’s the other thing I wanted to ask you about.”
“Okay,” I said.
“How about you, Arnold?”
“How about me what.”
“How about you take over my job?”
“Yeah,” he said. “You could be the new son of God.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” I said.
“Sure you could.”
“It’s not so terrible,” he said.
“You get to be immortal.”
“I don’t care.”
“You can basically do anything you want to do.”
“Everybody will worship you. Well, maybe not everybody, but all the Christians will.”
“No,” I said.
“You’re telling me you’d really rather just be a mortal man.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Absolutely,” I said.
“There you go, see?” he said. “I feel exactly the same way.”
He lifted his mug and drank, and I lifted mine and drank.
Simultaneously we placed our mugs back down on the bar. Somehow they had become empty.
“One more for the road?” said Josh, and he smiled at me.
And then he laid his forearms down side by side on the bar, and put his face on his arms. His lit cigarette was still between two fingers of his left hand.
“Josh?” I said. I touched his shoulder. “Josh,” I said again.
He said nothing, because he was asleep. I took the cigarette from his fingers and I stubbed it out in the ashtray.
(Continued here, only a thousand or so more marble copy books left to transcribe, unless some more turn up.)
(Please turn to the right-hand column of this weblog to find what on a good day might be a current listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Published simultaneously in the Collingswood Patch™: “Not just a small-town newspaper, but the last voice of literacy in South Jersey.”)