We left our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Ferdinand the talkative fly here in the men’s room of the San Remo Café, where they have been joined by those soon-to-be literary giants Bill and Jack...
(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; those who are not faint of heart may go here to return to the misty distant beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning epic.)
“I have it on good authority that our author pronounced his name to rhyme with wobble.” — Harold Bloom, from his introduction to Arnold Schnabel: A Beginner’s Guide.
“Oh, wait,” said Bill, “let me just take a quick piss before we go.”
“Sure,” I said. What else was I going to say?
“Yeah, me too,” said Jack.
“Fine,” I said.
“Yeah, take your time, fellas,” said Ferdinand, with a hint of sarcasm in his voice as he merrily zoomed around my head, well, who am I to say he was zooming merrily, he was a fly after all, but it’s too late now, let the adverb stand, especially as no one will ever read this, least of all me. But suddenly he stopped and hovered in front of my face.
“What about you, Arnie?”
“What about me?” I said.
“You want to take a whiz before we split?”
“Well, I’m not sure if I have to go yet,” I said.
“Arnie, may I just remind you of what you went through the last time you tried to take a pee? The heartache, the tribulations?”
“Oh,” I said. He had a point. “Okay, I guess I could go.”
“Good, so go then, and get it over with. I’m dying of thirst over here.”
Bill and Jack were using the only two urinals, so I went into the stall, the same one I had just vomited in, and closed the door behind me, for a little privacy, not that closing the door would have stopped Ferdinand from joining me if he had a mind to.
I had left the lid up, and now, thank God, or Josh, or no one, the vomit had almost entirely disappeared down the pipes, and only a few stray bits and strands of organic matter floated in the bowl. I sighed, as I am wont to do, unzipped my fly and took out my purported organ of reproduction. As I waited for my bladder to cooperate I wondered how many hours of my life I had spent doing what I was now doing, or attempting to do. A thousand hours? Ten thousand? I was no good at math, but suffice it to say it had been a large chunk out of my life, perhaps a larger chunk than for most people when one considered all the beer I had drunk in my time.
Before long, and despite how voluminously I had thrown up not five minutes ago, liquid began to flow from me and into the bowl, and I was happy, and not just because of the physical sensation, but because for once no one was trying to talk to me or to bother me.
Or so I thought, because as I stared down into the bowl I saw a face within the disturbed liquid therein, a smiling, pale, dark-eyed and mustachioed face, and it was the face of Lucky, sometimes known as Nicky, and doubtless known by thousands of other names: my nemesis, the prince of darkness. Somehow his whole head had gotten into the toilet bowl, just under the surface of the water which I was now mixing with urine, and he was looking up at me and into my eyes.
“Hello, Arnold,” he said, in his familiar voice, which seemed to originate somewhere near the center of the innermost dark caverns of my brain. “Yes, it’s me. You really didn’t think you could keep me away with your little ploy, did you? By the way, go ahead, keep urinating. To me it’s like what a gentle summer rain would be to you, or the refreshing salty spray of an ocean wave crashing on the beach. You’ve been very busy since our last meeting, haven’t you, Arnold? Having fun? Triumphing over evil and the random absurdities of existence? But somehow after all stuck again in this tacky fictional universe? Well, don’t worry, buddy, soon you’ll be free of all this, yes, good god-mighty, free at last. Down with me and my kind. And your kind. Yes, I think you might even like it there, old buddy – hey, what are you doing?”
I had reached up and grabbed the toilet handle on its chain.
“I’m flushing the toilet,” I said.
“I’m not finished talking to you, buster.”
“I don’t care,” I said.
“Okay, fine, go ahead and flush it then, but that won’t mean a thing, I’ll be back, buddy-boy, oh yes – I’ll be back, and next time it –”
I pulled the chain, the noise of several tons of ball-bearings dropped from a dive bomber onto a shanty-village of tin-roofed huts commenced, and I turned, opened the door and walked out.
Bill and Jack were standing there waiting. Bill was still smoking the cigarette he’d lit earlier, or maybe a new one, who cares, and now Jack was smoking one too. Ferdinand was drifting above both of them, breathing in the cigarette smoke.
“Okay, I’m ready,” I said.
“Ain’t you forgetting something?” said Ferdinand.
“What?” I said.
“I didn’t realize you were an exhibitionist.”
Both Bill and Jack snickered.
“I said I didn’t realize you were an exhibitionist,” said Ferdinand again, over the continuing roar from the toilet, but at least I could no longer hear Lucky’s mocking and supercilious voice.
Bill and Jack snickered again, and then Bill pointed with his cigarette in the direction of my groin, and finally I got it.
Quickly I put the awful thing away, and zipped up.
“Sorry,” I said. “All right, let’s go.”
“Hold on, ain’t you forgetting something else?” said Ferdinand.
“What?” I said. “And please, just tell me this time.”
“What? You’re not in the mood for playful banter?”
“Just tell me, Ferdinand,” I said.
“What’s the magic word.”
“Please,” I said. “Just tell me whatever it is I’m forgetting this time. Please.”
“Don’t you wash your hands after peeing?”
“Oh, right, I’m sorry,” I said. I went over to the bowl, stepping around Bill and Jack, who were blocking the way.
I turned on the taps, pumped out some soap from the wall dispenser and began to wash my hands.
“By the way,” said Bill. “Who were you talking to in there, Porter?”
“No one,” I said.
“So he talks to himself,” said Ferdinand. “That don’t make him a bad person.”
“No of course not,” said Bill. “I was merely, uh, curious.”
“Come on, let’s split,” said Jack. “I really want to check out this Valhalla joint.”
I rinsed the soap from my hands, turned off the taps, tore off a length of paper towel from the towel-thing – and why in God’s name am I saying all this? I don’t know, I really don’t. Perhaps by this painful describing of every mundane moment of my life I am attempting to transform these moments into something infinite, thereby conquering time and death, or perhaps I am merely insane. But enough, let’s get us out of that men’s room, and so we did leave after I dried my hands and crumpled up the paper prior to tossing it at the wastebasket, and this time it landed inside it and stayed inside it. Jack went to the door, opened it and went out, Bill held the door for me and I went out, limped out, my knee still hurt, the seat of my pants was still wet, I was a mess, and Bill followed me.
We headed out into that crowded noisy barroom, and I heard Ferdinand’s voice in my ear.
“Hey, seriously, you okay, buddy?”
“I guess so,” I said, silently, although Ferdinand had been speaking aloud.
“Then who were you talking to in that toilet stall?”
“You won’t believe me,” I thought.
“Arnie, I am a sentient, talking, telepathic fly, sitting in your ear. Please do not presume to tell me of all people what I will or won’t believe.”
“It was the Devil,” I said, internally.
“Right, he was in the toilet.”
“In the toilet.”
“Yes, his head was in the toilet somehow.”
“Sticking out of it?”
“No, it was under the water, and the urine.”
“Wait. Stop a minute, Arnold. Hold on.”
I stopped. We were near the entrance of the bar now. Bill and Jack had already gone out into the street.
Ferdinand flew out of my ear and hovered in front of my face.
“So his head is in the toilet bowl, while you’re pissing in it.”
“Yes. But he didn’t seem to mind. He seemed to like it.”
“He would, that guy, he would. And he don’t even have the excuse of being a fly. But I thought you got rid of him by that clever ruse of yours, sent him back to Hell.”
“So did I,” I thought. “Anyway, I flushed it, the toilet, but before I did he said he would be back.”
“To get you.”
“Yes,” I said.
“To drag you down to Hell.”
“He’s really got a bee in his bonnet about you.”
“I know,” I said.
“What’s his problem?”
“I can’t answer that,” I said.
“Y’know what I think it is, Arnie?”
“No,” I said.
“He’s jealous,” he said.
“Jealous of you, and your pal. ‘Josh’.”
“Oh,” I said.
“That’s his fucking problem.”
“I see,” I said.
“You ask me,” said Ferdinand. “In a nutshell.”
“Well, maybe you’re right,” I said.
“I fucking know I’m right.”
Someone touched my arm.
I turned, and it was Hemingway. He had his lit cigar in one hand, but he didn’t have that big beer stein with him at the moment.
“Excuse me,” said Hemingway. “No disrespect.”
“Yes?” I said.
“I take it you’re conversing with your, uh, fly again.”
“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t realize I was speaking aloud.”
“You were,” said Ferdinand. But now he was communicating telepathically. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but you were, Arnie.”
“I only mention it,” said Hemingway (and I gathered he couldn’t hear what Ferdinand was communicating to me, I suppose that the fly and I were on some sort of private mental wavelength, I didn’t know how these things worked), “because the bartender over there, big Vinny? He saw you talking to yourself, or at least looking like you were talking to yourself. He asked me if I knew you and I said I did. And he told me to tell you that if you were going to stand here talking to yourself then you’d better leave before he throws you out. Whether you’re a friend of mine or not.”
“Well, thank you, Mr. Hemingway,” I said. “But we were just leaving anyway.”
“Call me Papa. I told you that. Papa.”
“Papa,” I said.
“Where you going?” he lowered his voice and glanced at Ferdinand, who was just hovering there, listening to our conversation. “You and the fly.”
“Just to another bar,” I said.
“Oh yeah? Which one? Kettle of Fish? Minetta Tavern? Village Vanguard?”
“It’s called the Valhalla,” I said.
“Not the Valhalla,” he said. “Basement joint? Just up the block?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Forget it. Nobody gets in the Valhalla. Trust me, I know. They won’t even let me in there. Me, a Nobel Prize winner.”
“They let Arnold in there,” said Ferdinand. “I mean Porter. Porter.”
“Really?” said Hemingway, looking at Ferdinand.
“Really,” said Ferdinand.
Hemingway now looked at me again.
“They really let you in there.”
“Yes,” I said. “But I don’t think it was on my own merit, really.”
“Yeah, but still,” said Hemingway. “Jeeze. I’m impressed.”
The door opened. It was Bill, and Jack was standing there right beside him.
“Hey, Porter,” said Bill. “What’s the hold-up, man?”
“Sorry,” I said. I turned back to Hemingway. “Well, good night, Mr. Hemingway.”
“Papa,” I said.
“Come on, Porter,” said Jack. “Let’s roll, man.”
I went through the door, and Bill closed it behind me. It had started to rain once more, but not too hard. Ferdinand flew into my ear again, he didn’t like the rain.
The four of us, Bill and Jack, and Ferdinand and I, walked over to the corner.
“Hanging out with Papa Hemingway himself I see,” said Bill.
“Well, I only just met him a short while ago,” I said.
“His day is done,” said Jack. “The time was when he wrote words that sang of the lonely courage of men and of women, of the tragedy of war and of love and of life itself, and death, black empty death which awaits us all, and also of the squirming sleek trout on the hook and the peaty taste of the Irish whisky in the cabin in the deep woods of the monosyllabic Midwest. But his time is gone.”
“That’s more or less my opinion,” said Ferdinand. “I might have phrased it differently, but let’s face it, the man is a sad old has-been.”
“Boy you guys are harsh,” said Bill.
By this time we had crossed the street, at an angle, blatantly jay-walking, in the gentle rain, and we were already almost up to the entrance to the Valhalla.
“Hey, wait up!” called a loud harsh voice behind us.
I turned, and it was Hemingway, lumbering I guess as quickly as he could across the street, in the rain.
(Continued here. We owe that much to Arnold.)
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