Friday, April 26, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 344: Maxie


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?”

“Yes —”

“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.

“What?”

“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:

 
“Well, okay.”

“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.

Nothing happened.

He rapped again.

Still nothing.

“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.”

“Gabriel who?”

“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.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page for an up-to-the-minute listing of links to all other legally-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Nihil Obstat, Msgr. Frederick “Fred” Flynn, S.J. Now published also in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s lone  voice of high culture.”)

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 107


"somebody uptown"

by manfred skyline

illustrated by danny delacroix and rhoda penmarq

a rhoda penmarq studiosproduction

in association with the dan leo intergalactic media corporation









(click here to read the entire mysterious chapter.)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 343: Huck


We left our hero Arnold Schnabel and his deific friend Josh in a rather unusual and quite crowded sub-basement bar in that Mecca of bohemia called Greenwich Village, on a rainy night in August of 1957…

(Please go here to read our preceding episode; the morbidly curious may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume memoir.)

“The time has surely come when Arnold Schnabel must assume his place not merely among the giants of American literature — Melville, Henry James, James Branch Cabell, David Goodis, Horace P. Sternwall — but ahead of them, way ahead of them, a (shall we say) one-man army of literature at its most exalted.” — Harold Bloom, on
The Rachael Ray Show™.


He grabbed my arm and started pulling me through the crowd.

“Hey, wait a minute, Josh,” I said. “Where are we going?”

Again, and I know this is repetitious, but I shouted the above words, because of all the noise and the music. Everyone was shouting, if they were saying anything at all, although I suppose that, as in any crowded bar, there were those who were merely muttering into their drinks, not caring if they were heard or understood by anyone, not even by themselves.

“Just around the bend here,” Josh said, shouted, still pulling me along by the arm. 

I tried not to limp, although my leg really did hurt somewhat, although not as much as a short while ago; I didn’t want Josh to feel bad about not having completely healed it.

All of a sudden a young guy wearing denim bib overalls and a blue work shirt was standing in front of us.

“Josh, right?” he said. “And Porter Walker?”

“Yeah,” said Josh. “I’m sorry, do I —”

“It’s Huckleberry,” said the guy. “Huck Finn! You know me. Or at least you’ve heard of me, right?”

“Oh!” said Josh. “Huckle, uh, berry. How are you?”

He let go of my arm, and he and this Huckleberry kid shook hands.

“I’m great,” said Huckleberry. “Really great. I mean, you know, maybe not great, but, what the hell. I’m good! But it’s really great to meet you though. I’m actually kind of honored.”

“Oh, no, not at all,” said Josh. “I’m just a regular guy.”

“No you’re not!” said Huckleberry. “No you are not, sir!” He was still pumping Josh’s hand. I hate to admit this, but I found it comforting to know I wasn’t the only one beleaguered by these long-handshakers. “You’re our good lord’s only son!” Huckleberry shouted. And he kept shaking Josh’s hand, staring at Josh with a weird grin on his face.

“Well, you know, aren’t we all our good lord’s son in a sense,” said Josh.

“Not like you, sir,” said Huckleberry. “You’re the original you are!”

“Yeah, well,” said Josh, and he disengaged his hand, practically yanking it away, with a motion like someone pulling the ignition cord on a gasoline-powered lawnmower.

Huckleberry offered his now-unoccupied hand to me.

“Huckleberry,” he said. “Huck Finn. But just call me Huck. I’m pleased to meet you, too, sir.”

I saw no way around it, so I took his hand. It was a little rough, and sticky, but at least he didn’t give me one of those death-grip handshakes, as if he were attempting to crush every bone in my hand.

“Hello,” I said.

“You must know who I am, right?” he said. 


“Well, uh, sure,” I said.

I was on tricky ground here because although I did know who he was, having seen the movie adaptations of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and having read the Classics Illustrated versions when I was in the army, still I had never read more than a chapter of the actual books. I don’t mean to imply that I think these books do not deserve their place as classics, it’s just that I prefer novels about guys who are caught in a deadly whirlpool of violence and passion.

“Which is your favorite?” he said. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?”

“Oh, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, definitely,” I said, I’m not completely stupid.

“I knew it!” he said. And he was wearing that weird grin again, it was like the look little boys have when they’re pouring lighter fluid on an anthill. “That’s my favorite, too! What’s your favorite part?”

“Um, the part with, uh, Indian Joe?” I said.

“Injun Joe,” he said. “Injun Joe was in Tom Sawyer.”

He wasn’t grinning anymore, but he still held onto my hand, although he wasn’t shaking it, just holding it in his rough, sticky hand.

“He was?” I said. “Oh, I guess I have it mixed up —”

“Maybe you meant Nigger Jim.”

“That was the, uh, colored guy, right?”

“Nigger Jim. The raft,” he said. “The Mississippi?”

“Right,” I said. “That’s what I meant. The part with the raft, and the Mississippi, and, uh, Joe —”

“Jim,” said Huckleberry. “Nigger Jim.”

“Right,” I said. “Um, Negro Jim.”

“Nigger Jim,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

I pulled my hand away. It made a sort of popping, sucking noise as I pulled it away, you could hear it even through all the noise of the music and the shouting people all around us.



“Look,” he said, with a serious expression on his face now, looking from me to Josh, and then back to me again. “I heard about that trick Tom played on you, Porter. Sending you to the ladies’ room.”

“Oh,” I said. “I thought I just had not followed his directions properly —”

“Fuck that noise,” said Huckleberry.

“Well, look, Huckleberry —” said Josh.

“You know what Sawyer did, Josh?” said Huckleberry. “He sent your friend Porter to the ladies’ room instead of to the men’s room, when he knew Porter was dying to take a piss. This was after Tom stole the signs off both rest rooms.”

“Why did he do that?” said Josh.

“What, steal the signs or give Porter the wrong directions?”

“Both,” said Josh.

“Because he’s an asshole,” said Huckleberry. “Pardon my French, but he is. I mean, he’s my friend, I love him to death, but he can really be an immature little creep sometimes.”

“I’m, uh, sorry to hear that,” said Josh.

“You don’t really pick that up from the books,” said Huckleberry. “That asshole quality in Tom. But it’s true. He can be a real jerk sometimes.”

“Uh, well, okay —” said Josh.

“Come on, let me buy you guys a drink,” said Huckleberry. “You like moonshine? They have really good moonshine here.”

“Um, uh —” said Josh.

“What, you don’t like moonshine?” said Huckleberry. “It doesn’t have to be moonshine.”

“Okay, look, uh, Huckleberry,” said Josh, “and I think I speak for Arnold here —”

“Arnold?” said Huckleberry. “I thought his name was Porter. Porter Walker.”

“It is,” said Josh. “But — it’s hard to explain —”

“I have all night,” said Huckleberry. “We’ll get a jug of moonshine, you can tell me all about it.”

“Here’s the thing,” said Josh. “I think we’re going to have to take a raincheck —”

“Raincheck,” said Huckleberry. “Why?”

“Because Arnold and I — “

“Porter you mean.”

“Right,” said Josh. “Porter and I have to have a little chat. A private chat.”

“Oh, I get it,” said Huckleberry. He took a corncob pipe out of the pocket of his coveralls, put it into his mouth. He blew into the mouthpiece, then removed the pipe from his lips and looked into its bowl. “I can take a hint,” he said.

“We’ll do it some other time,” said Josh.

“Yeah, sure,” said Huckleberry.

“Okay,” said Josh, “well, we’ll catch you later then.”

“Like, later tonight?”

“No,” said Josh. “I’m afraid tonight’s no good —”

“Oh,” said Huckleberry.

“But, you know,” said Josh, “maybe some other —”

“How about tomorrow night?”

“Tomorrow,” said Josh. “Um —”

“I’ll be here all night,” said Huckleberry. “I’m here every night.”

“Well, uh, maybe I’ll stop in tomorrow night then,” said Josh.

“Just you?” said Huckleberry. “Not Porter?”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Josh. He looked at me, with an expression on his face which reminded me of depictions of him on the cross, on holy cards. “Are you busy tomorrow, Arnold, I mean Porter?”

“I think I’m busy,” I said.

“It’s okay if it’s just you, Josh,” said Huckleberry. “We can have a nice long talk, just us two. Drink some moonshine.”

“Well, I’ll see if I can make it,” said Josh.

“Great,” said Huckleberry. “I’ll be here.”

“Good,” said Josh, and he put his hand on my arm again. To tell the truth I was starting to get a sore arm from everyone grabbing onto it all the time.

“Wait,” said Huckleberry. “Where you two going exactly?”

“Just to have a little private chat,” said Josh. “Me and Arnold, I mean me and Porter. Just a little, you know —”

“Yeah, I get that,” said Huckleberry. “A ‘private chat’, just you two. But what I meant was, where in this physical universe are you two going, precisely?”

“Well,” said Josh, and I have to admit, he really seemed impatient, maybe even a little miffed, so even the son of God has his limits I guess, “My friend the trumpet player over there —”

“Gabriel,” said Huckleberry. “Gabe. Good people. Blows a mean trumpet, too.”

“Yeah,” said Josh. “Well, he told us there was this other room here that’s a bit quieter usually.”

“The Little Caesar Room?” said Huckleberry.

“Yes,” said Josh, “I think that’s what it’s called.”

“It’s just right around the other side of the bandstand,” said Huckleberry.

“I know,” said Josh. “Gabriel gave me directions.”

“I can take you guys there if you like,” said Huckleberry.

“That’s okay,” said Josh. “I think we can find it.”

“Just go through the door back there,” said Huckleberry.

“Right, I know,” said Josh.

“There’s no sign on it. There used to be, but you-know-who stole it.”

“Oh,” said Josh. he was squeezing my arm, my triceps, really hard now, I suppose in frustration, which I could understand, but understanding it didn’t make my arm feel any better. He had a very strong grip.

“Sawyer,” said Huckleberry. “Another asshole prank of his.”

“Okay then,” said Josh. “We’re gonna bolt now.”

“Just go through the door and straight ahead,” said Huckleberry. “Don’t go in any of the side doors.”

“We won’t,” said Josh.

“Sure you don’t want me to take you in there?” said Huckleberry.

“No, we’ll find it, I’m sure,” said Josh.

“It’s really no trouble —” Huckleberry said, but before he could say another word, Josh pulled on my arm and practically dragged me through the crowd and around the other side of the bandstand, and pretty soon we came to a door, to the left of a row of booths filled with drunken people. The door clearly had a rectangular paler space where a sign used to be. Josh finally took his hand off my throbbing arm, and put his hand on the doorknob, but before he opened the door he turned to me.

Jesus Christ, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” I said.

“Well, now I really could use that beer,” he said, and he opened the door.

To be honest, I felt like I could use a beer too. In many ways this had been a very stressful day, and somehow I knew it was far from over.


(Continued here, and until that last marble copybook filled with neat Palmer Method handwriting has been transcribed; and a whole new cardboard box (which once contained a Philco Model 4654 Predicta Television set) filled with these copybooks has just recently been discovered in the attic of Arnold Schnabel aunts’ house in Cape May, NJ.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a usually current listing of links to all other officially-published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Also available in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s last remaining stronghold of high culture.”)

Friday, April 19, 2013

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 106



"the last chance"
  by Horace P. Sternwall


edited by Dan Leo*

illustrations by roy dismas and konrad kraus

a rhoda penmarq productions™ production

*Associate Professor of Mid-Victorian English Literature, Assistant Shuffleboard Coach, Olney Community College; editor of Poems from the Poop Deck: 197 Previously Uncollected Ballads of the Sea by Horace P. Sternwall, with an Afterword by Lowell Thomas; Olney Community College Press.





“Well,” said Hyacinth Wilde, “it’s been so pleasant chatting with you, Miss Flanagan, we really must do it again sometime.”

“Call me Flossie,” said Flossie Flanagan.

“Flossie it is then! And thank you so much for picking up the tab at the Automat!”

“No problem, it’s on the Federal-Democrat — expense account.”

“Lovely. And now — yawn — I simply must retire.”

“It’s early still,” said Flossie. “How’s about a cocktail, Hyacinth, if I may call you Hyacinth.”

“Of course you may, Flossie, but, really, darling, I must have my beauty sleep.”





(go here to read the entire mysterious chapter.)

tales of the Hotel St Crispian: chapter 105


"i'll have to talk to my friend"

by horace p sternwall and manfred skyline
illustrated by 
danny delacroix and eddie el greco 

a rhoda penmarq studios production


jake's head hurt.  it had been a long night - and it was not over yet.

he had lost track of lullaby lewinsky's tale of meeting corporal gray in times square and his rambling account of his and gray's - or was it just gray's? - exciting adventures in war-torn europe - and was there any point to it all? at all?

finally, the venerable hotel st crispian loomed up ahead.

up on the sixth floor of the hotel, stan slade was standing to the side of the broken window in room 603 and looking down at the dimly lit street...


 

(go here to read the entire thrilling chapter.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 342: saints


Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend “Josh” (AKA the son of God) in this crowded sub-cellar bar in Greenwich Village, on a hot wet night in August of 1957…

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; the unhealthily obsessive may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume masterpiece.)

“With the first warm day of spring, what better way to celebrate than to say ‘Dash it all’, fire up the Kindle, and lie in the hammock on the back patio reading Arnold Schnabel for five or six hours?” — Harold Bloom, on
Live! with Kelly and Michael™.


“Well,” said Josh, “shall we belly up to the bar?”

“It’s awfully crowded,” I said, with my usual flair for stating the obvious.

“It is,” Josh said, or shouted in my ear, seeing as how we were right in front of the band, who were playing “A Night in Tunisia”, the piano player taking a solo. I noticed a slim Negro man standing next to the piano, holding a trumpet but not playing it at the moment. He was staring downward, nodding in a thoughtful-looking way. He wore a sharkskin suit and a porkpie hat, and suddenly it dawned on me who he was.

“Josh,” I said (shouted), pointing, “look, it’s your friend, Gabriel.”

“What?” said Josh. He turned and looked. “Oh. Man, that guy gets around, doesn’t he?”

“He does,” I said.

It had only been earlier that day (although in a sense it felt like fifteen months ago) that I had seen Gabriel playing in that bar called The Dead Man on the island of lost souls.

“Wait here,” Josh said. “I’ll just be a minute.”

And he plunged through that mob of yelling people in front of the bandstand.

I waited, or began to wait.

Moments like this made me miss cigarettes.

What is there to do when you’re waiting if you can’t smoke a cigarette? Stand there and pretend to be listening to the music? Start keening in despair? Go insane, or, rather, go more insane than one already was?

I became aware of that ache in my right knee, only partially healed by Josh’s miraculous touch, and I shifted my weight more to the left leg.



I looked toward the stage, and Gabriel the trumpet player was squatting down at the front of the stage, bent forward, talking to Josh.

I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned. It was that English lady Brett.

“I say, is your friend quite all right now.”

She had this way of stating questions as if they were statements.

“Yes,” I said, anyway.

“You left me there stranded between those two massively boring chaps.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“No, don’t be, darling. You were doing the right thing, taking care of your friend. I know that’s how you men are. Crawling through the mud of no-man’s land under absolutely withering Boche machine gun fire to drag your wounded comrade back to the comparative safety of the trenches.”


“Well, uh, he’d only had a bit too much to drink,” I said.



“Yes I know.” She looked over towards the stage, where Josh and Gabriel were apparently still conversing. “He does seem to be better now,” she said.

“He is, I think,” I said.

“And now I suppose you two will be going off together.”

“Well, he did want to have a brief word with me.”

“A brief word.”

“He said it would be brief,” I said.

She stepped closer to me, so that her breasts were touching the lower part of my chest. I would have taken a step backwards, but the crowd was thick behind me, and there was nowhere to step.

“Just tell me if you don’t find me attractive,” she said.

“But,” I said.

“Is not my skin as white and as smooth as a lily’s.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You seem uncertain.”

“No,” I said.

“Then what is it. You were thinking something, I could tell.”

“I was thinking, why don’t people ever say that a lily is as white and smooth as a woman’s skin?”

She stared at me.

She was smoking a cigarette out of the side of her shiny red lips in her shiny black holder. The music blared all around us. People were pumping their fists in the air and shouting things at the pianist like, “Go, daddy!” and “Too much!” They reminded me of newsreels I had seen of the Nuremberg rallies.

“All right,” said Brett. “I can see you’re in a hurry to go off with your friend.” 


“Well, uh,” I said.



“But what about a quick one first,” she said.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“Just a quickie. We can use the ladies’ if you don’t mind.”

“Um,” I said, breaking out in a tidal wave of cowardly sweat. “I really don’t think I should.”

“It won’t take a mo,” she said. “Don’t know about you, but I’m very quick. Never could see the point of sweaty endless hours of thrashing about. Get to it and get it done, then one may return to the serious business of life: drinking, smoking, talking rubbish.”

“But my friend said he would just be a minute.”

“He’s already been a minute.”

“I really can’t,” I said.

“Is it another woman.”

It occurred to me that, surprisingly, this actually was the case, or at least some part of the case.


“Yes,” I said.

“What. Another woman.”

“Yes.”

“I should have known, shouldn’t I have.”

“I — don’t know,” I said.

“Another woman. A woman. And of course you must be faithful to her. Where is she.”

“Right now?”

“No, tomorrow, last week, next year. Damn you.”

“She’s in Cape May,” I said. I didn’t mention that Elektra was in an entirely different universe or dimension, though. I had that much sense.

“Cape May,” said Brett, after taking a drag on her cigarette. “And where the bloody hell is Cape May.”

“It’s in New Jersey,” I said, “down at the southernmost tip of New Jersey?”

“It sounds dreadfully far away.”

“Yeah, it’s about a hundred and thirty miles,” I said, this being the sort of thing I knew from working on the railroad most of my adult life.

“That’s quite far,” she said.

“It is,” I said, and I was starting to wonder what was taking Josh so long.

“So I take it you won’t be seeing her tonight,” said Brett. “Unless perhaps you and your friend are going to hop in his roadster and drive all the way down there in the middle of the night.”

“I, um, well, I hadn’t, that is, um,” I said. My usual razor sharp wit and verbal ingenuity were failing me miserably.

“I see,” said Brett.

I didn’t know what she saw, or what she believed she saw, or what she was pretending that she saw, and after an awkward pause, in other words the only sort of pause I commonly experience, I said, if one can be said to say such an utterance:

“Um.”

“And so,” she said, “in actual fact there is nothing, absolutely nothing to keep us from having a quick one, is there. Unless that is you adhere to some absurdly Victorian mode of fidelity.”

By now she was blatantly rubbing up against me, moving her body side to side, holding her forearms up as if she were dancing a rhumba.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I can’t.”

She slowed the rhumba, but did not stop it entirely.

“So you do adhere to a Victorian mode of fidelity.”

“It’s just that when I see her again —”

“This woman.”

“Yes,” I said. “When I see her I’ll feel so guilty that she’ll be able to tell that I was unfaithful.”

“What poppycock.”

“But it’s true,” I said. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but I’m —” I didn’t want to say psychotic — I’m not sure why, shyness perhaps, or embarrassment — “I’m very neurotic,” I said.

“I have noticed something like that, yes,” she said. She continued to rub up against me. “On the other hand what I feel bulging from your groin does not feel neurotic at all.” She referred of course to the erection I was now beginning to suffer. “Come on, big boy, two minutes in the ladies’ room, and I have French letters in my purse if that’s what you’re worried about.”

I hadn’t been consciously aware of it, but she held her black leather purse in one hand, and she now rubbed the cool leather of the purse against the stubble on my jaw.

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” I said, although now that I think about it, I suppose I should have been.

She gave me a bat on the side of my face with the purse, but not a really hard one.


“Was it the war,” she said. “Was it that horrible war that made you this way, dear boy.”

“No,” I said. “God made me this way.”

“Damn him,” she said. “Damn him and all his saints and angels. Damn him, I say.”

“Damn who?” said Josh, who had finally come back.

“Damn God,” said Brett.

 
“Damn God?” said Josh. “That seems a little harsh.”

“Damn him and all he stands for,” said Brett. “Are you feeling better by the way? Last time I saw you you looked slightly oh how shall I put it, nĂ©buleux.

“I feel much better, thank you.”

“And may I know your name,” said Brett.

“Jesus,” said Josh.

“I beg your pardon,” she said.

“Josh, I mean,” said Josh. “My name is Josh.”

“You said Jesus,” said Brett.

“Yes, I meant, ‘Jesus, how rude of me not to have introduced myself.’”

“I’m called Brett. Or Lady Ashley if one must be so damnably formal.”

“I hate to be damnably anything,” said Josh.

“You’re quite witty, I see,” she said.

“I’m world-famous for my little sayings,” said Josh.

“And modest on top of it,” said Brett. “Mr. Porter here tells me that you two simply must have a chat, and it can’t wait.”

“Yes, we’re a little pressed for time,” said Josh. “You see there’s a young lady in the bar upstairs, and —”

“Young lady,” said Brett.

“Two young ladies, actually,” said Josh.

“Two young ladies,” said Brett. “Not to mention the one in Cape Cod.”

“Cape Cod?” said Josh.

“Cape May,” I said.

“Yes,” said Brett. “Mr. Porter’s other lady friend, in Cape May.”

“Oh, you mean Athena,” said Josh.

“Whatever her name is,” said Brett.

“Elektra,” I said.

“Oh, right,” said Josh. “Elektra.”

Brett looked from Josh to me.

“Athena,” she said. “And now Elektra. Plus two more upstairs. How many bloody women do you have, Mr. Porter.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say I ‘have’ any women —” I said.

“Liar,” she said.

“Arnold’s no liar,” said Josh. “I mean, he may not be the most, um, the most forthcoming fellow in the world —”

“Arnold,” said Brett. 

“I mean Porter,” said Josh. “I call him Arnold sometimes, heh heh.”

“Damn you,” said Brett. “Damn the both of you as dissembling cads and bounders.”

“Pardon?” said Josh.

She turned to me.

“Oh, Mr. Porter, or Arnold, or whatever your name really is,” she said. “We could have had a damned good time together.”

This seemed to me to be a supposition based on scanty evidence, but I said nothing, which was perhaps not the best thing for me to do, because she put her cigarette holder with its cigarette into her mouth, transferred her purse from her right hand to her left, and then raised her right hand high almost as if she were about to take an oath, but instead she swiped the arm down suddenly and hard and slapped me across the face, causing me to stumble backwards into the crowd of people thrashing about in front of the bandstand. Josh grabbed my arm and pulled me forward before I could fall.

My face stung.

Brett stared at me for a moment, and then at Josh. Then she turned and headed back towards the crowded bar.

“See, Arnold?” said Josh. “Women. I really don’t understand them. Come on, Gabriel told me about a quiet place where we can have our little chat, then we really should bolt upstairs before the girls get bored and leave.”


(Continued here, and on and on, not only for our own sakes, but as a service to generations yet unborn.)

(Illustration by Giulio Cesare Procaccini.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what is on a good day a current listing of links to all other cybernetically-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Published simultaneously in the
Collingswood Patch™: “Not just another small-town rag.”)