Let’s rejoin our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel and his faithful companion Ferdinand the talkative fly, here at the bar in the San Remo Café, on a warm and fateful night in August of 1957, in Greenwich Village, in another world...
(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; if you’ve finally finished reading Proust in the original French then you are free to go here to return to the misty far-off beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 82-volume autobiography.)
“What joy to begin a new semester and to introduce a new classroom full of semi-literate louts and slatterns to the glories of Arnold Schnabel’s towering masterpiece.” — Harold Bloom, in The Journal of Modern Literature.
The bartender was a trained professional, and so, even though it had taken him at least a quarter of an hour to get to me in the first place, he brought my mug of beer over in less than a minute, and I was ready with a crumpled dollar bill I had extricated from my wallet.
“That’ll be a dime, sport.”
I handed him the dollar. At these prices, even though I had only seven dollars and change on me, I could at the very least get really drunk if I chose to. But this was the new me, or a version of the new me. I didn’t want to get drunk. I wanted to go home to my own world. Where, it was true, I might want to get drunk, if not right away then perhaps later in the day; but first I wanted to get back there, and then and only then I would decide whether to get drunk, and, if so, when.
– Hey, stop daydreaming and give me a little splash, Arnie, said Ferdinand telepathically. Just a couple of drops on the bar top there.
He was circling eagerly over the mug of beer.
I dipped a couple of fingertips into the foamy head, then tapped them on the bar top, leaving two wet spots of fresh beer.
– Come on, don’t be stingy, Arnie, said Ferdinand’s voice in my brain, so I dipped my fingers in the beer again and tapped a couple of more drops onto the bar.
– Now we’re talking, pal, he said silently. Bottoms up, pal!
He descended to the droplets of beer and without further ceremony, began to drink.
I lifted the mug and took a drink myself. It was Rheingold, or Schaefer, or Ballantine, it didn’t matter, it was beer, and it was cold, and it tasted good, or, if not good, then not bad, which is all I have ever really asked of beer.
I lowered the mug, taking care not to lower it on top of Ferdinand, who was still eagerly slurping.
The bartender came back with my change and laid it on the bar.
“Here,” I said.
I picked up a quarter and handed it to him.
“Gee, thanks, pal,” he said, and I don’t think he was being sarcastic.
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“Usually I’m lucky to get even a dime from a poet,” he said.
“I believe in taking care of the bartender,” I said.
“It ain’t easy tending bar in a joint like this,” he said. “Writers. Painters. Poets. They all think the world owes ‘em a living. But it don’t.”
“I agree,” I said, although actually I had no opinion at all on the subject, but it has always been my policy to agree with anything a bartender says.
“You’re all right, pal,” he said. “Maybe.”
At last he went away, to wait on or to bother someone else.
I took another, smaller drink of my beer. It hadn’t gotten any worse.
Ferdinand was still down there on the bar top slurping up his droplets of Schmidt’s or Ortlieb’s or whatever it was.
I put my finger in the beer again, and placed another little drop next to Ferdinand, it seemed the generous thing to do.
Then it occurred to me that there was something else I was supposed to be doing. What could it be?
– Your friend, thought Ferdinand, in between quaffs, and without looking up. You wanted to call your pal, the son of God.
“Oh, right,” I said, remembering to say it only within the confines of my cavernous and echoing brain. "Josh."
– Go ahead, thought Ferdinand. Call him. I'll watch your beer.
So I picked up my change and pocketed it, got off my stool and made my limping way (yes, my leg still hurt, in case you were wondering) through the crowd to the phone booth at the rear of the room.
The booth was unoccupied, I went in, closed the door, the little overhead light came on. I opened up the telephone directory on its little ledge, and I turned to the Vs and looked for Valhalla.
No Valhalla Bar.
No Valhalla Bar, nor Tavern, nor Café nor Club, nothing. So the place’s number was unlisted. If they even had a telephone.
I closed the phone book, and leaned back against the inner wall of the booth, looking out at the bar and all the drunken people.
Josh was going to be mad at me, or at least disappointed in me, his supposed friend. Me, the great Arnold Schnabel, who was too self-centeredly impatient to wait for the only son of God, even if he had left me sitting on that damp stoop for at least ten minutes after saying he was just going down to the bar to get me some aspirin.
And he was going to be even more disappointed if he found out that I had been talked into leaving by a fly.
I obviously didn’t deserve Josh’s help. But then on the other hand I was almost certain he had tarried to have another drink. Perhaps he had forgotten about me entirely, and was still down there, drinking fine private stock malt whisky, and enjoying the company of Carlotta, who was undoubtedly much more fun to be around than my own baleful self.
Well, regardless, even if Josh was being a little forgetful if not rude in leaving me out there sitting on those wet steps for so long, possibly as long as fifteen minutes now that I thought about it, that still didn’t give me the right to be willfully rude, especially to someone like him, who, after all, probably had a lot more on his mind than I could ever possibly have.
There was only one thing to do. I would have to go back to the Valhalla at once, and, if Josh indeed had not yet come out with aspirin for me, then I would be in the clear; if however he had come out and found me missing all I could do was to be a man about it and apologize. I was still at heart a Catholic after all, abject contrition was no problem for me.
I opened the phone booth’s accordion door and headed back to the bar to get Ferdinand. I figured as long as I was doing this I might as well quickly finish off my beer, which I could do in a matter of seconds. Surely there could be no harm in that.
I made it back to my seat without incident, and my beer was where I had left it. I sat down and picked it up, and, after sighing just once and quickly, I put the mug to my lips and quaffed.
“Hey! What the fuck!” screamed Ferdinand’s voice, but now to my horror I realized that the voice was coming from inside my mouth.
I swallowed, compulsively.
“Motherfucker!” cried Ferdinand’s voice and now to my further horror I realized that the voice was in my throat, and descending, rapidly. “You motherfucker!” cried Ferdinand inside me. “You fucking swallowed me! And I thought you were my pal!”
– Oh, God, I’m sorry, Ferdinand, I said, silently.
– You fucking swallowed me! I hate you, Arnie!
Quickly I put down my mug, got off the stool and ran back through the crowd towards the men’s room, well, maybe what with my sore knee I didn’t exactly “run”, but I hobbled quite quickly, as a man does who has been sitting drinking beer for a couple of hours and who suddenly realizes he needs urgently to micturate before he wets himself sitting right there at the bar on his stool.
All the way to the men’s room Ferdinand continued to curse me, and I really couldn’t blame him.
I pulled open the door to the john, went in, and immediately pushed open the door to the one toilet stall, which fortunately was unoccupied.
I knelt down in front of the stained and yellowed toilet bowl, sore knee or no sore knee, the seat was already up, the rim of the bowl was speckled with urine and tobacco ashes, and the water in the bowl was yellow with urine as well, with one lone cigarette butt floating in it – all the better to make myself sick I thought, and so without further ceremony I stuck three fingers into my throat, and within just a few seconds I successfully vomited that last gulp of beer, and some of the beer I had drunk earlier, and even bits of my long-ago breakfast of weisswurst and eggs, and, of course – and most importantly – Ferdinand, who rode this geyser out of me and into the toilet bowl, screaming and cursing bloody murder all the way, but now I didn’t mind his screams and his curses, because dead flies neither curse and nor do they scream, except perhaps in the afterworld.
(Continued here, damning the torpedoes and full steam ahead.)
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