Let’s catch up with our hero Arnold Schnabel and his divine friend “Josh”, here in this peculiar underground establishment in New York’s Greenwich Village, on a very long hot night in August of 1957…
(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; if you are an incurably lazy and idle loafer with absolutely nothing better to do with your time then you can go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 42-volume autobiography, every word of which is true.)
“I will not rest until the name of Arnold Schnabel is as familiar to all literate men and women as those of Shakespeare, of Homer, of Confucius, and of Horace P. Sternwall.” — Harold Bloom, on Last Call With Carson Daly.
Josh held the door for me, and I went through. It was another dimly-lighted, brick-walled hallway. He came in after me and closed the door.
“Okay,” he said. “This place is supposed to be just down this passageway.”
The closed door had muffled the noise of the music and of all those shouting drunken people, and so we were now able to converse without raising our voices.
“This hallway gives me the creeps,” I said.
“Why, Arnold? It’s just a dim old hallway.”
“Look,” I said, pointing in the direction away from the door. “It just curves away into darkness. It’s scary.”
“Gabriel wouldn’t steer us wrong,” said Josh. “I’ve known Gabe a very long time. More time than you can probably imagine.”
“I don’t even want to imagine it,” I said.
“Come on, buddy,” he said, giving me what I guessed he meant as a reassuring pat on the arm, “let’s hit this place, take a seat, have a beer, and a nice little chat.”
“But wait just a second, Josh,” I said. “And I don’t mean to talk out of turn.”
“Please, speak freely, Arnold. As I’ve said, I intend to live as a normal human being from now on, so, you know, speak to me just as plainly as you would to any other fellow.”
“Okay, here’s the thing, Josh,” I said. “You said you wanted to get back to the girls upstairs – Carlotta and Pat, right?”
“Well, primarily Carlotta, yes.”
“Okay. Well, I know very little about women,” I said, and that was about the truest thing I’ve ever said, “but I don’t think they like it when you take off and just disappear for long periods of time.”
“I haven’t been away all that long,” said Josh. “It’s only been — what? Fifteen minutes? Maybe a little more. Maybe twenty —”
“Maybe twenty minutes,” I said. “And now you want to have a drink, and a chat?”
“Which might mean another fifteen minutes, or a half hour even,” I said. “I don’t know, Josh —”
“Y’know what?” said Josh. “I think you have a good point.”
“Good,” I said, “let’s go back upstairs then.”
“No need,” he said.
“You see, Arnold, this place we’re going to, down the hall, the thing is, it’s in another dimension.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s like another time/space continuum, a completely different, like, mode of reality from the one we’re in now.”
“Okay, look –” I said.
“No, it’s totally cool,” he said. “We’ll go in, have a drink, a little chinwag, and then – and here’s the good part – because it’s another one of these separate states of reality, when we come out of it, boom, it’ll be the exact same second in time that we went in. That’s just the way these things work.”
“I don’t know, Josh,” I said. “I mean I’ve already been in about five or six different dimensions or universes already today. It’s getting tiring.”
“One more won’t kill you, Arnold. And I’ll be there to watch your back. Come on, pal, don’t let me down.”
I was definitely reluctant, but in the back of my mind in my cowardly way I was thinking that I could probably still get Josh to help me out with his divine powers, despite his stated desire to be an ordinary human being, and also I did want another beer, so I said:
“Great,” said Josh. “Come on, buddy, one and done.”
He gave me another pat on the arm, and we started down the passageway. There was only one light on in the hallway that I could see, a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling around thirty feet ahead of us. The walls were made of small, damp-looking bricks, dirty and old, the floor was greyish old linoleum in an ivy and floral pattern. We passed a few unmarked doors on either side of the hall. The passageway curved to the right about another thirty feet past that lone bare lightbulb. We made the turn, and we could see that the hallway continued on with no other illumination, and no visible end. We walked slowly in the increasing dimness. After a while we could just barely see a dead lightbulb hanging from a cord in the ceiling.
“Somebody needs to change that lightbulb,” said Josh.
“Yeah,” I said. “Do you want to go back?”
“No, relax, we must be almost there,” said Josh. “Here, let me take your arm.”
Once again he put his strong hand on my bruised triceps, and we slowly walked on in the darkness. My right knee still hurt of course, but I did my best not to limp, and not only to spare Josh the embarrassment of knowing that his touch had not completely cured my injury, but because I wanted to spare myself the embarrassment of Josh attempting the miracle all over again. The hallway got darker and darker, and, yes, of course I was scared, even if I did have the hand of the son of God on my arm. We could no longer hear the noise from the barroom we had just left, and the only sounds we heard now were our own footsteps, and our own breathing in the darkness.
I was on the verge of suggesting once again that maybe we should turn back when suddenly and simultaneously we both walked into what at first I thought was a wall, but our bumping gave off a hollow sound, and so I realized that this must be a door.
“Well, I guess this is it,” Josh said. He let go of my arm. “Is there a door knob on your side?”
I felt with my hand, and, yes, I found a knob, cool and round. I turned it and pulled, but it was locked.
“Locked,” I said. “Guess we’d better head back then.”
“No, wait,” said Josh, and he knocked on the door with his knuckles.
He rapped again.
“Okay,” I said. “Um –”
But Josh rapped one more time, and then something slid away on the other side of the door, and a rectangle of pale light appeared at eye level, and then a pair of eyes.
“Who are you mugs,” said a voice.
“My name’s Josh,” said Josh. “And this is my friend, Arnold. Gabriel sent us.”
“The trumpet player,” said Josh.
“Oh,” said the voice. “Step back, the door opens out.”
The sliding sound happened again in reverse as darkness replaced the pair of eyes. Josh and I stepped back, and then we heard the click of a lock, and the door opened toward us.
A big guy who looked just like Maxie Rosenbloom was there, pushing the door open. He was in black-and-white, not just the tuxedo he wore, but everything about him, and everything all around was in shades of black or white or grey. He had a big cigar in one hand, and the hand was big, the knuckles bunched and scarred.
“Welcome to the Little Caesar Room, gentlemen.”
He gave a little backward wave with the hand that held the cigar, indicating the room behind him, an old-fashioned looking tavern with tables, and booths, a bar, only moderately full of people. Everything was in black and white or grey. I glanced at Josh and I saw that all the color had been drained away from him and his clothes. I looked down at my hands: black, white, grey. So be it. There was a piano off to the right, with a large Negro man playing it, but the music was not loud, and the people at the tables and at the bar were all talking in normal tones if at all. Gabriel had told the truth, this was a quiet place to have a chat.
“Slow night, huh?” said Josh.
“The boss likes it slow,” said the Maxie Rosenbloom guy. “He don’t like big mobs of people. Annoys him he says. So that’s why I’m here, make sure not too many people don’t come in, and only the right kinds of people. Class people.”
“I feel honored that we passed muster,” said Josh.
“I can tell you are a gentleman, sir, even though your attire is a trifle messy. And your friend is somewhat underdressed but I am guessing he is an artist, or perhaps a creative writer of some sort.”
“He is,” said Josh. “He’s a poet, and, well, I suppose you would call him a memoirist, also.”
“I had him pegged, then,” said the big guy. “So. Brass tacks. Dinner or drinks or both?”
“Just a drink at the bar, please,” said Josh.
“Go right ahead, gentlemen. As you see, there is ample room.”
“Thanks,” said Josh. “Oh, by the way, you might want to tell somebody, the lightbulb’s out down the hall.”
“The boss knows the lightbulb’s out,” said the guy.
“Oh, he does?” said Josh.
“That bulb’s been out for years. The boss don’t want to change it. He don’t want to make it too easy for people to come here.”
“Oh,” said Josh.
“He figures it weeds out the crybabies,” said the guy.
“I see,” said Josh.
“The punks,” said the guy.
“Well, I suppose it would, uh –” said Josh.
“The chancers,” said the big guy. “The good time Charlies. The loudmouths and the glad-handers.”
“Um,” said Josh.
“The bums,” said the guy.
“Well,” said Josh, after a pause which was awkward for me if for no one else, “I guess we’ll go get a beer now.”
“Special on Rheingold drafts tonight,” said the big guy. “Nickel a mug.”
“Wow, a nickel a mug,” said Josh. “Come on, Arnie.”
“Nickel hot dogs, too,” said the guy. “With sauerkraut.”
“That sounds great,” said Josh. “Thank you.”
“You like pig’s feet?”
“Pardon me,” said Josh.
“Pickled pig’s feet. You like ‘em?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had one.”
“Maybe you keep kosher.”
“Well, once upon a time I did.”
“You don’t look Jewish.”
“Yes, I get that,” said Josh, “but in fact, in a manner of speaking I was brought up in the Jewish faith.”
“Then ask for the all-beef hot dog. Strictly kosher, and very good.”
“Thanks for the tip.”
“You’re welcome, sir.”
“And your name is?” said Josh.
“Maxie,” said the guy, so I had been right all along.
“Well, we’ll catch you on the way out then, Maxie.”
“Sure thing. Enjoy yourselves. By the way, you want I should send a couple of nice young ladies over?”
“Well, Arnold and I were really just going to have one drink and a little talk, actually.”
“Man to man talk,” said Maxie.
“Yes,” said Josh.
“Sometimes you don’t want no dames around.”
“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,” said Josh.
“You got no obligation to buy the girls a drink or nothing,” said Maxie. “We don’t run that kind of joint here.”
“No, of course not,” said Josh.
“The boss don’t want that kind of joint,” said Maxie. “The customer don’t want to buy a girl a drink, that’s his business.”
Josh seemed at a loss for words. I myself had been at a loss for words ever since we came in here. There was another awkward pause here, but I think it might only have been awkward for Josh and me. Maxie remained impassive, or at least he appeared so. He took a couple of puffs on his big cigar. At last he said:
“So go, have a drink, gentlemen. Enjoy your chat.”
“Right,” said Josh, and with another little pat, this time on my forearm, he turned and headed for the bar, and I went with him.
“Wait,” said Maxie Rosenbloom’s voice behind us.
We both stopped and turned.
“You like chopped liver?”
I think that Josh and I were both somewhat taken aback by this question, because neither of us said anything right away, although, for the record, I will say that I do like chopped liver, although now that I think about it, that isn’t saying much, since I like all food, no matter what it is or how it’s prepared.
Maxie didn’t wait for us to come out of our stupor, but continued with his line of thought.
“I recommend the chopped liver sandwich, on rye. I like it with some nice fresh watercress, but that’s just me.”
“Okay,” said Josh, “thanks for the tip.”
“My mother makes the chopped liver here, but that don’t mean I’m prejudiced. It really is good.”
“Okay,” said Josh. “Thanks again. We’re going to go get that beer now.”
“Drink hearty,” said Maxie.
Josh put his hand on my arm, and he pulled me along to the bar, where we found two empty stools near the middle.
“Okay,” said Josh, in a low voice, “don’t know about you, Arnold, but now I’m really, really ready for a beer.”
He wasn’t alone in that sentiment.
(Continued here despite all the dictates of common sense.)
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