Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel on a rainy hot night in August of 1957, here in that most exclusive Greenwich Village nightspot known as “Valhalla”...
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“A lot of mugs down at the pool hall say to me, ‘Railroad Train to Heaven, isn’t that kind of, well, long?’ ‘No’, I reply, every time, ‘in point of fact it’s not nearly long enough.’” — Harold Bloom, in the Prairie Schooner.
“Son of God, huh?” said Hemingway. “That’s impressive.”
“But aren’t we all sons of God?” said Jack.
“Or none of us,” said Bill.
“No, you guys don’t get it,” said Ferdinand, who was circling around my head in that way he sometimes did, like a halo. “He’s the one and only son of God. The real deal. J.C. himself.”
“You know, I thought he seemed a very cultivated fellow,” said Henry.
“He had very nice manners,” said the bartender, the one Henry had called Mr. London. “Quite a generous tipper, too.”
“And here I always thought there was no God,” said Hemingway. “Let alone a son of God.”
“I still say we’re all sons of God,” said Jack.
“At least those of us who aren’t sons of bitches,” said Bill.
“Anyway, sorry, old man,” said Henry, to me. “He left.”
“Not five minutes ago,” said the bartender.
“Yes,” said Henry. “You know, he had gone out earlier to bring you a small vial of laudanum which I was happy to give him, said you had hurt your knee.”
“Well, yes, I did,” I mumbled. “But I was waiting out there on the stoop for a while and he didn’t come out, so –”
“You should have waited. You see I had to go and get the laudanum from my flat all the way upstairs. And then bring it back down. Four flights. I’m not as quick on my feet as once I was.”
“Yes, I should have waited,” I said. “And I really appreciate your going to all that –”
“You young fellows,” he said, waving his cigar. “So terribly impatient. And how is your knee now?”
“It’s not so bad,” I said, although in fact now that he mentioned it, it did hurt quite a bit, and I shifted my weight to the other leg.
“Well, lookit, if I may butt in,” said Ferdinand, “what say we get a drink?”
“Ho ho! And what is your name, Mr. Fly?” said Henry. “If I may be so very bold as to ask?”
“Just call me Ferdinand,” said Ferdinand.
“And I suppose you are with Mr. Walker as well?”
“Oh yeah. Me and Arnie, I mean, me and Porter, we go way back,” said Ferdinand, and he landed in a familiar way on my shoulder. “Don’t we, Arnie I mean Porter?”
“Yes, he’s my friend,” I said.
“Well, if you’re with Mr. Walker, then of course you are welcome here,” said Henry.
“Thanks,” said Ferdinand. “Not that I couldn’t just sneak in if I wanted to.”
“Ha ha. Your point is well-taken, sir,” said Henry.
“Just like I did earlier tonight in fact,” said Ferdinand.
“What a little rogue you are, sir!” said Henry. “I tell you I feel privileged to have such an amazing creature in our humble establishment.”
“Easy, Henry,” said Ferdinand. “It ain’t that big a deal. And I like I said, I already been in this joint once tonight, so, you know, big whoop.”
“Ah, yes, my tiny but eloquent friend,” said Henry, “but however I was not aware of your presence here before, and isn’t awareness of a wonderful event necessary to the full appreciation of it?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever, Henry,” said Ferdinand.
“Well, anyway, is everything okay here, Mr. James?” said the bartender. “I got a full bar over there.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Henry. He gave me a hard look. “These gentlemen really are with you, Porter?”
“Yes,” I said, but without much enthusiasm. To tell the truth I wasn’t feeling very much enthusiasm for anything at that point.
“Very well, you may all come in,” said Henry, with a very small wave of his cigar, almost a twitch rather than a wave.
“Okay, I’m getting back to the bar then,” said the bartender, and he went away.
“Well, this is great,” said Hemingway. “Thanks so much, Henry.”
“You may call me Mr. James, sir,” said Henry.
“Mr. James, I mean,” said Hemingway. “But, look, call me Papa, okay?”
“I most certainly will not,” said Henry.
“Oh, well, you know,” said Hemingway. “So, what say we belly up to the bar, guys? I got the first round. By the way, Mr. James, do you make frozen daiquiris here?”
“Yes. Frozen daiquiris. They’re just like regular daiquiris except you make ‘em in an electric blender. I got a good recipe for them, too. First, you –”
“We don’t have an electric blender.”
“You gotta get some fresh limes –”
“We don’t have an electric blender.”
“Oh,” said Hemingway. “You don’t have an, uh –”
“A blender,” said Henry
“Oh, you don’t have a blender.”
“No,” said Henry. “No blender.”
“Oh, well, I guess we could just get regular daiquiris then –”
“Yes, I suppose you could.”
“Okay, well, then,” said Hemingway, and I think even he could tell that he was skating on thin ice and that he was on the verge of getting flagged from the place before he even had a chance to order a drink. “So. Hey. Come on, fellas, let’s get those drinks.”
“Yeah, let’s wade in,” said Bill.
“Into the hot churning mass of sacred souls, worshipping the god of the grape noble Bacchus and his boon buddy John Barleycorn,” said Jack.
And the three of them plunged off into that crowd of dancing people, heading toward the bar, and, by some sort of inexplicable instinct I was just about to join them when Henry put his hand on my arm, my left arm.
“Just a moment,” said Henry. “A word if I may.”
“Yes,” I said.
“I think I can tell that you have no overwhelming inclination to join those three,” he said.
“Well, uh,” I said.
“You may speak freely.”
“I have only one overwhelming inclination,” I said. “And that is to go home.”
“Then – and I hope you’ll pardon me for being too obvious – why do you not do so?”
“He ain’t able to,” said Ferdinand, who was still sitting on my shoulder.
“He ain’t – I mean he isn’t – able to?” said Henry, to Ferdinand. “And may I ask why?”
“It’s a long story,” said Ferdinand.
“I love long stories,” said Henry.
“So do I if they’re well told and inneresting,” said Ferdinand. “And especially if one has a libation or two to enjoy whiles said story is being told.”
“Oh. May I then offer you two gentlemen some of my private stock fine malt whisky?” said Henry.
“Now you’re talking,” said Ferdinand. “Providing of course it ain’t gonna cost Arnie I mean Porter an arm or a leg, ‘cause the last time I checked he didn’t have but six or seven bucks on him.”
“Oh, no, my dear fellow,” said Henry, “when I said ‘may I offer’ I assure you I meant on the house, with my compliments, free, gratis, and for nothing.”
“Sounds good to me then,” said Ferdinand.
“Splendid. We’ll go into my private office so that we won’t be disturbed.”
“Wow,” said Ferdinand. “Your private office. We’re getting the V.I.P. treatment here.”
“As well you both should be, my anthropomorphic friend. I assure you it is not every night that we are able to welcome not only a talking fly but a personal friend of the son of God himself.”
“Not that you know of,” said Ferdinand, “on both counts.”
“Yes, indeed, ha ha, not that we know of. Right then, pray wait here for a moment, fellows, I just want to tell Jack to keep an eye on the door for me.”
“Hurry back,” said Ferdinand.
“I shall be swift, verily, as unto the wind,” said Henry, and he turned and staggered off toward the bar.
“That guy’s a weirdo,” said Ferdinand. “But what the hell, he’s offering us free whisky.” He had been flying in circles again in an excited way, but now he stopped and hovered a few inches away from my face and looked into my eyes with every one of his tiny little eyes. “What? What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know what to do,” I said.
“We’re gonna have a drink or two of this bird’s fine malt whisky, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
“Yes, but I don’t know what to do about getting back to my world.”
“We’ll work something out. Where there’s a will there’s a way.”
“You think so?”
“Oh, come on, Arnie. How the hell do I know? If I was so smart would I be a fly?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Wrong answer. I wouldn’t be a fly if I was – oh, wait, who’s this?”
Suddenly out of the crowd that guy Thurgood emerged, all sweaty, tall and disheveled, and looking wide-eyed and drunk. It seemed like a year-and-half since I’d seen him but of course in his world such as it was it had probably only been an hour or so ago. He looked like he had been dipped from head to foot in a vat of dirty sweat, even the beret on his head looked soaked, his sparse beard glistened, and strands of his black hair lay stuck to his forehead like leeches, but his skin was not quite so pallid as before, less like the flesh of a clam, more like the belly flesh of a bluefish, maybe. He carried a book in his right hand and he had a glass with something brown in it in the other.
“Porter, old man! Where have you been?”
He put the book under his left arm and put his right hand on my left biceps and squeezed and tugged on it as if he were attempting to dislodge my arm from its socket.
“I, um,” I said.
“I never even saw you leave!”
“Yes, well, uh,” I said.
“Those chicks, man! Those chicks! Carlotta? And Pat? Hey, that Carlotta went off with your buddy Josh.”
“Yes, I know,” I said.
“Y’know what I said to him? Y’know what I said to him?”
“No,” I said.
“I said to him, I whispered in his ear when he was getting up to leave with her, you know, whispered, so Carlotta couldn’t hear, I whispered –”
“Oh, Christ, will you get to the point,” said Ferdinand, who was now hovering just a little above my head and to the left.
“Hey, how’d you do that?” said Thurgood to me. “I didn’t know you were a ventriloquist. That was good, damn good. Sounded just like that fly was talking.”
“Oh, brother,” said Ferdinand. “You know this nitwit, Arnie?”
“Damn, you did it again!” said Thurgood. “You are good, and, hey, if the writing thing doesn’t work out you should go on the stage, just get one of those dummies –”
“Like you maybe?” said Ferdinand.
“Ha ha, that’s good, Porter, very good, but, you wanta know what I said to him, your pal Josh, ya know what I said to him, whispered to him, when he was getting up to leave with that Carlotta chick?”
“Oh, Christ almighty,” said Ferdinand. “Will you please just fucking say it?”
“Ha ha,” said Thurgood. “Good! Very good! So what I says to him, I said, leaning in close to his ear so Carlotta couldn’t hear, I says to him, I say, ‘Hey, Josh, do me a favor: put it in once for me, pal.’ Heh heh.”
“Brilliant,” said Ferdinand.
“’Put it in once for me,’ I says,” said Thurgood.
“Yes, we heard you the first time,” said Ferdinand.
“We?” said Thurgood. “But it’s just you and me here, Porter.”
Henry had come back and he put his hand on my right arm.
“Okay, I’m covered,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“Where you going?” said Thurgood, who was still holding onto my left arm and showed no signs of letting go.
“Mr. Walker and I are going to have a private chat,” said Henry. “We and his friend Ferdinand.”
“Who’s Ferdinand?” said Thurgood.
“Me, moron,” said Ferdinand, and he dived at Thurgood’s face and hit him on his shiny grey nose and then bounced away and flew around in a circle above our heads.
“Gee,” said Thurgood. “A talking fly?”
“Deal with it,” said Ferdinand.
Then Carlotta’s friend Pat was there in her black dress and with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other one and her purse hanging from one arm. She came right up to me and put her arms around my neck. So, if you’re keeping track, I had Thurgood holding onto my left arm, Henry holding onto my right arm, and Pat with her arms around my neck. She felt very warm, and damp, and soft, and she whispered in my ear:
“Porter,” she said, “you gotta rescue me.”
(Continued here, we’ve only just begun to begin.)
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