Friday, August 30, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 361: Papa

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Ferdinand, the talking fly, who have just entered the San Remo Café, at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal, in Greenwich Village, on a warm and wet night in August of 1957…

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; those who dare may go here to return to the first hesitant beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume masterpiece of autobiography.)

“Yes, summer vacation approaches its end, and once again I have spent the great bulk of it sitting on the porch of our rental cottage in Cape May immersed in Arnold Schnabel’s massive
chef-d'œuvre.” — Harold Bloom, in The Sporting News.

As I got near the bar Ferdinand landed on the porch of my ear and whispered, “Hey, you know who that big guy is?”

“What?” I said. “What big guy?”

I didn’t know who he meant, but I didn’t like the sound of “big guy”, so I stopped in my tracks.

“Hey, first thing, stop talking out loud,” said Ferdinand. “These bartenders in here see you looking like you’re talking to yourself they’re gonna bounce your ass out of here so fast your head’ll spin off. Just think what you’re saying, pal, and try to to be cool for once in your life.”

– Okay, I thought. Who, may I ask, were you referring to?

“You mean the big guy?” said Ferdinand.

– Yes, I thought.

– I refer, he said, to that big heavyset gentleman at the bar right up ahead, wearing the black basque beret.

I realized that Ferdinand too was now communicating telepathically, which I also realized was a good thing, probably.

This big man in the black beret was standing next to the small open space at the bar that I had been heading for. He wore a short-sleeved white sport shirt, not tucked in, and white trousers and leather sandals. His face was mostly turned away, but I could see he had a thick white beard. He was fairly fat and he was smoking a big cigar.

– Okay, I see who you mean,
I thought. What about him.

– Christ, buddy, don’t you know who that is?

– Ferdinand, I thought, as calmly as I could, don’t you realize by now that I don’t know who anyone is?
– Guess, Arnie. Go ahead, just guess.

– I don’t know, I thought. Santa Claus?

– Very funny, wise guy. Take another guess.

I looked at the guy for a couple of seconds more before answering.

– Is it Monty Wooley?

– Monty Wooley? replied Ferdinand. Are you serious? No, it’s not Monty Wooley. Guess again.
– Okay, I thought. Oh, I know who it is. Burl Ives, right?

– Wrong. Completely wrong. Try again.

– Wait, I thought. How about Orson Welles?

– Nope, wrong again. Lookit, you want me just to tell you?

– Yes, I thought. That would be –

– It’s Hemingway, thought Ferdinand. Ernest fucking Hemingway.

– Oh, I thought.

– Oh?

– Yes, I said, in the vast echoing caverns of my brain. Oh.

– You don’t seem very impressed.

– Okay, I’m impressed.

– You don’t sound impressed.

– Ferdinand, I thought, I’ve just left the company of the son of God. Before that, apparently I met several of America’s greatest dead writers, as well as their fictional characters. I briefly met with the holy ghost in a bar filled with characters from old movies. Earlier today I traveled to the world beyond death and then back again. At this very moment I’m conversing telepathically with a fly. I’m finding it more and more difficult to be impressed lately.
– Well, excuse me! thought Ferdinand.

– So let’s get that beer, I thought.

– Hey, now you’re talking, pal, he thought right back at me.

– And, I added, with all the firmness I could muster without actually speaking aloud, while we’re drinking it we are going to talk about how we can get me home.

– Sure, pal, sure, thought Ferdinand, whatever you say, now lay on, MacDuff, and into the breech, my brother.
So I limped on ahead and squeezed into the space at the bar, to the right of the big man with the beret.

The big guy – whom Ferdinand claimed was Ernest Hemingway, but what did I know, he still looked kind of like Orson Welles to me – the big fellow was drinking out of one of those great big metal beer steins, the kind that have engravings all over and a lid with a hinge on it. I hesitated to judge anyone just on the vessel they were drinking beer out of, but nevertheless I felt my mind verging on a judgment anyway.

Just to be on the safe side, I stood sideways at the bar with my back to the man, and tried to face as far away from him as I could while I waited for the bartender to notice me. I have never been one to wave my hand like a drowning man at a bartender, let alone yell “Hey, chief,” and I wasn’t about to start now. It’s always been my theory that if you stand or sit there quietly and long enough the bartender will notice you finally and maybe even come over and ask you what it is you want, if anything, and then when he does, if he does, at least he won’t be annoyed and surreptitiously spit into your drink or slip a mickey into it just out of spite.

“’Scuse me, buddy,” said a very masculine and loud voice behind me, and I just knew it was the big man. “’Scuse me. No offence.”

I sighed, and turned, and looked at the big guy. Right away I knew he was drunk. I haven’t wasted fifty thousand hours of my life in bars for nothing, and I know a drunk man when I see one. He was looking at me very intently and yet vaguely at the same time, in that way that drunk people do.

“Yes?” I said.

“No offense. Hemingway’s the name.” He put down that big fancy beer stein and held out his hand, which was a big and hairy one, and I thought, oh, no, here we go again. Another guy who is going to try to crush my hand into a gelatinous powder. But by this time I suppose I had just had enough.

“I would shake your hand, Mr. Hemingway,” I said, “but I recently hurt it somehow, and it’s very sensitive, and my doctor told me to avoid any undue stress until it heals.”

“Gee, that’s a shame, pal. What happened? Did you get in a fight?”

“Um, yes,” I said.

“And yet, you’ll forgive me I hope for mentioning this, but I possess the trained novelist’s eye for detail, and I see that your knuckles are not bruised or swollen. Nor scraped in any way.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I said. I pretended to massage my right hand with my left. “You see, I was attempting to perform a karate chop –”

“Ah, you mean jiu-jitsu.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“Gotta know what you’re doing with a jiu-jitsu chop, my friend.”

“Yes, so I discovered,” I said.

“Hit a bone?”

“Well, uh, yeah, I hit a bone.”

“No good if you strike a bone.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“Go for the throat next time, or even better the back of the neck.”

“I’ll remember that,” I said.

“Or, you know, just punch the guy in the stomach or kick him in the balls.”

“Right,” I said.

“Those are your safest bets if you don’t want to hurt your hands.”

“Yes, I imagine they would be,” I said.

“Just tonight I had a little set-to with this chappie who was getting wise with me. Had to slap him around a little. Maybe I shouldn’t have, he was pretty tight. Claimed he was the son of God.”

“Oh, wow,” I said.

Suddenly I remembered Josh telling me about getting in a fight with Ernest Hemingway. I know, I was being pretty slow on the uptake, but all that seemed like almost three years ago.

“What?” said Hemingway.

“Nothing,” I said.

Ferdinand started making a hissing noise in my ear, his version of laughter.

“Nothing is nothing,” said Hemingway.

“What?” I said.

“Nothing is nothing,” he said. “In this whole God damned world, nothing is nothing, not even a man, one man alone in a world that is nothing, for he too is nothing, alone, until the end.”

“Pardon me?”

He took a drag on his big cigar before answering me, and slowly let the smoke rise out of his mouth which was somewhere there in his big beard.

“Nothing,” he said, staring at me.

“Okay,” I said.

“So you agree.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, and I wasn’t sure that he did either, and so, rather than lie, I played it safe.

“I don’t disagree,” I said.

Ferdinand laughed again in my ear.

“Ha ha ha,” said Ferdinand. “Oh, Jesus Christ.”

Hemingway stared at me. Even in this bar, which was filled with smoke and not very well lit, the whites of his eyes were blatantly pink in color.

“May I know your name,” he said at last. “If I’m not being too intrusive.”

“Arnold,” I said. “I mean Porter. Porter Walker.”

“Which is it, Arnold or Porter whatever.”

I sighed.

“In this universe my name is Porter Walker.”

“In this universe.”

“Yes,” I said.

“But in some other universe your name is Arnold?”

“So it seems,” I said.

“May I ask if you are insane.”

“You may,” I said.

“Are you insane.”


He took another drag of his cigar, looking at me all the while. You never know what will happen when you tell people the truth, rather than what you think they might want to hear. But he decided not to slap me around.

“I like you, Porter,” he said. “Shall I call you Porter?”

“Okay,” I said.

“And, please, call me Papa.”


“Yes, Papa.”

“Well, okay,” I said.

“Papa,” he said.

“Papa,” I said, wearily.

Ferdinand was laughing once more in my ear, making that hissing sound, as if he were laughing through his teeth, if he had teeth.

“Do you hear a weird noise?” said Hemingway.

“I hear a lot of weird noises,” I said.

“But a strange odd hissing noise, as if all the air were suddenly being sucked out of the universe?”

“No, I can’t say that I do,” I said, although of course I heard it quite plainly, as it originated in one of my ears, the right one to be exact.

“Oh, well, probably just one of my old head injuries acting up,” said Hemingway. “Say, you sure you don’t want to shake hands with me?”

“I really wish I could,’ I said. “But that karate chop, you know.”

“Jiu-jitsu chop you mean.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I could shake your left hand.”

“Well, you see,” I said, “you’re not going to believe this, but I hurt my left hand too.”

“What, another faulty jiu-jitsu chop?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. When I messed up the first one I tried it again with the left –”

“And you hit a bone again?”


“You should have kicked the guy in the balls.”

“Well, finally that’s what I did,” I said, hoping to bring this thread of the conversation to its end.

“So you won the fight.”

“I guess so,” I said.

“Good, Parker. Good. It is Parker, isn’t it?”

“Well, Porter, actually,” I said.

“Porter,” he said. “But listen. There is one fight that none of us win.”

I looked away for a moment, hoping I would see a bartender standing right there, waiting to take my order, but this was not the case.

– Oh, Christ, thought Ferdinand, in my ear. You really know how to pick ‘em, Arnie.

“Hey, Porter,” said Hemingway, talking louder now. 

“Yes?” I said, and I turned again to face him.

“Do you want to know what that fight is?” said Hemingway, “the fight that none of us win.”

– Oh, Jesus, thought Ferdinand.

“I will tell you what that fight is,” said Hemingway.

“Yes?” I said.

“It is the fight against old man death.”

“Ah,” I said.

“No beating old man death,” said Hemingway.

“No, I suppose not,” I said.

“But I’ve been talking your ear off,” he said. “You probably came in for a drink, right?”

“Well, uh –”

“Not to listen to an old man speak of death, and of battles we cannot win, but which we must fight anyway. Until we die.”

“I did have an idea of possibly getting a beer,” I said.

He lifted up that big engraved beer stein, and thumbed back the lever on the lid to open it.

“Cold, thirst slaking, throat soothing beer,” he said, “the bubbles singing of days of youth when we thought we would never die.”

– Oh, Christ almighty, said Ferdinand in my ear.

Hemingway lifted the stein to his lips, and drank, deeply, and I could see rivulets of beer seeping into the jungle of his whiskers as he did so.

Why did they always pick me?

(Continued here, it’s the sporting thing to do.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what quite frequently is an up-to-date listing of links to all other cybernetically-published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven™. Now appearing also in the
Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s modest but firm voice of culture and literacy.”)

Friday, August 23, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 360: San Remo

Our hero Arnold Schnabel has been rejoined by his old comrade-in-adventure Ferdinand, the talkative fly, on this wet hot night in August of 1957, here on MacDougal Street in that Mecca of Bohemia known as Greenwich Village…

(Please go here to read our immediately preceding episode; click here to return to the barely-remembered misty beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume autobiography.)

“So I’ve decided to cancel my fall seminar in Shakespeare’s tragedies and instead ‘do’ the first six volumes of Arnold Schnabel’s massive masterwork, and frankly I couldn’t care less what the department has to say about it.” — Harold Bloom, in
The Yale Daily News.

“Do you really think you can help me, Ferdinand?” I said.


“Ferdy,” I said.

“Can I help you?” he said.

He described a quick zipping circle, rising up about a foot, and then coming back to hover at exactly the same spot about six inches from my face.

“Yes,” I said. “Can you, you know –”

“Help you.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Can I help you,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Is what you’re asking me.”

I suppressed an urge to scream an imprecation. I took a breath.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, my answer to that question, my friend,” he said, “is how the hell do I know? What do any of us really know for sure? But I’ll tell ya one thing, pal, I’m gonna give it the old college try.”

“Gee. Thanks,” I said.

“I will do my best, and that’s all I can do.”

“Great,” I said.

“You are most entirely welcome.”

I shifted around on the step I was sitting on. The seat of my jeans was pretty damp by this point.

“Okay,” said my friend, the fly. “First things first. What say we drop into that pleasant caravanserai down there and wet our whistles while we talk over our options.”

“Wait, hold on, Ferdinand.”


“Ferdy,” I said. “Hold on.

“Okay, pal, I’m holding.”

He was still hovering there in front of my face, but sort of gently rising up and down.

“Listen,” I said. “You don’t know how hard it was for me to get out of that place.”

“Oh, I know how hard it can be to get out of a bar, pal. Believe me I know.”

“This was really hard,” I said. “And not for the usual reasons.”

“Lookit, Arnie,” he said, “I’m talking about one lousy beer. And I ain’t asking you to let me drink out of your glass, I know how you humans are about that kind of thing. As I have told you, I too was human once, and all is ask is that you splash a couple of droplets on the bar top for me to drink.”

“But can’t we wait till we get back to my world?”

“Well, we could,” he said. “Yes, of course we could do that. I mean, you know, if it’s too much trouble for you, after I came all of the way through your brain and into your fine mind and out again and into a whole new dimension just to see how you was doing. Sure. We could do that, I guess. Even though I was only talking about just a tiny drop of beer to quench my thirst. But, you know, hey, if it’s gonna put you out that much –”

“Look, I’ll be honest with you, Ferdinand.” For some reason I found it hard to call him Ferdy, but he let it go this time. “I’m afraid to go in there again,” I said.

“Afraid,” said Ferdinand. “Big tall strapping human guy like you. Afraid.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m just a fly and I’m not afraid to go in a goddamn bar.”

“It’s different for me,” I said. “Things happen to me.”

“Things happen to you.”

“Yes,” I said.


“Um,” I said.

“Let me ask you a question, Arnie. If I may.”

“Okay,” I said. I knew I had no choice.

“One question.”

“Okay, go ahead,” I said, and now, to tell the truth, I was starting to want a beer.

“Just one question.”

“Please, go ahead.”

“Tell me something, Arnold.”

“Okay,” I said.

“That is if I may be so bold as to ask you a personal question.”

“Uh,” I said.

“Tell me something, Arnie – have you yourself ever woke up one fine morning and found yourself transformed into a fucking fly?”

“Well, no, of course not,” I said.


“No,” I said. “I mean, not to my knowledge –”

“Then do me a favor, don’t talk to me about things happening to you.”

“Okay, sorry,” I said.

“Apology accepted,” he said. “No hard feelings, right, pal?”


A beer was sounding better by the second.

“But lookit,” he said, “you don’t want to go in that bar downstairs, fine, this town is crawling with gin joints. Let’s just go across the street to the Kettle, or down the corner to the San Remo, it don’t matter to me.”

“All right,” I said. “But can we please really just keep it to one beer, and then try to figure out a way to get me back to my world?”

“One beer,” said Ferdinand. “That’s all I said. One and done.”

“Great,” I said. 

I put my hand on the iron railing and hefted myself up, as carefully as I could. I put some weight on the right leg.

“How’s the bum wheel,” said Ferdy.

“It hurts,” I said, which it did, “but I should be able to make it across the street.”

“Kettle of Fish then?”

“Okay,” I said.

I picked at the damp seat of my jeans.
“Let’s go then, pal.”

“Okay,” I said. “Oh, wait.”

“Now what, Arnie?”

“They all know me there.”

“At the Kettle? They love you there, man.”

“I want to go where no one knows me.”

“Okay, fine,” said Ferdinand. “So we go down the San Remo. Six of one, half-dozen the other far as I’m concerned.”

“Okay,” I said. “We’ll go there. Oh, but hold on.”

“Now what?”

“Josh is still down in there, in the what do you call it.”

“The Valhalla I believe that establishment is called.”

“Right,” I said. “He’s supposed to be getting me some aspirin.”

“And how long’s he been in there now, a half hour?”

“No, I wouldn’t say a half hour,” I said. “Five minutes?”

“Five minutes?”

“Well, maybe going on ten minutes.”

“Ten, fifteen minutes he’s been in there, and you’re still gonna wait for him? You told me he was sozzled, right?”

“Yes, he has had quite a few I suppose.”

“Fuck him, he’s the son of God, he’ll be able to find us if he wants to.”

“You shouldn’t say that about him, Ferdinand.”


“The F-word. I mean, considering who he is.”

“Hey, you said he wants to be human, right?’

“Yes,” I said.

“Then he gets treated the same as any other human. Oh, what, you gonna pout now?”

“No,” I said. “I suppose you’re right.”

“I mean, we can stick our heads in real quick, tell him where we’re going if you want, I don’t mind.”

“No,” I said. “But still, I feel funny just leaving –”

“Oh, Christ almighty,” said Ferdinand. “Look, you got a dime?”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure I have a dime,” I said. “Why?”

“Here’s what we do. We get to the San Remo, you go to the phone booth, you look up the number of the Valhalla in the directory, you ring ‘em up and you ask for Josh.”

“Well, okay –” I said.

“You get ‘em on the horn and you tell him where we are. Or you give the message to the bartender or the maître d', whoever picks up the phone.” 

“Well, I guess we could do that.”

“He wants to join us, fine. He don’t, that’s fine too.”

“Well, okay,” I said.

“Let him bring that stuck-up bitch Carlotta and her friend too if he wants.”


“It don’t matter to me.”

“Well, all right then,” I said.

“Good, I’m glad we got that settled,” he said. “Now, let’s make like a cool breeze and blow. My throat is so dry I feel like I could drink a whole goddam ounce of beer, maybe two.”

“Okay,” I said.

I had been holding onto the railing through all this, and now I finally let go of it, and took a step. Ferdinand flew to one side so I wouldn’t bump into him with my face.

“How’s it feel?” he said. “The gam.”

“I think I can make it,” I said.

“I’d offer you my arm to lean on, but I don’t think that would be much help.”

“No,” I said.

I started limping down the sidewalk, Ferdinand merrily whizzing around my head.

I heard a woman’s shrieking voice behind me.

“Fuck you, Julian, how dare you run off and leave me!”

“Oh, shit,” I said, in a low voice.

“What is it?” said Ferdinand.

“It’s that girl, Emily,” I said, and I started walking faster.

“What, that crazy chick, the one you boned?”

“I didn’t bone her,” I said, through clenched teeth, and now I was practically running, bad knee or no bad knee. “Porter boned her.”

“But you’re Porter,” said Ferdinand. I was moving quickly now, but he kept up with me easily, not even breathing heavily.

“I know,” I said.

“Fuck you, Julian!” said Emily’s voice behind me. “You big jerk!”

“Now, Emily,” said my publisher Julian’s voice, “you know I have to go to work in the morning.”

“Since when did you ever show up at the office before eleven?”

“But, Emily –”

I didn’t wait to cross at the corner, but hurried across MacDougal at a diagonal.

Emily’s shrieking voice continued to yell, and Julian’s much deeper and quieter voice continued to try to mollify her, but I wasn’t listening.

We got to the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal, I turned it and pushed open the door of the San Remo Café, and Ferdinand flew in with me.

I was panting and sweating, my knee hurt like hell again, and now more than ever I really, really wanted a beer.

The place was crowded, packed with yelling and laughing people, and a jukebox played some jazz song.

I saw a small open space at the bar and headed for it.

Ferdinand of course was right with me, buzzing in a halo around my head.

(Continued here, and on and on, ceaselessly.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a possibly current listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold
Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven™. Now published also in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s last and final hope.”)

Friday, August 16, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 359: Ferdy’s here

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, sitting on a stoop on Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, on a hot wet night in August of 1957, where he has just been joined by an old friend – Ferdinand, the loquacious fly…

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; if you really have absolutely no other way to waste your precious time you may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 73-volume autobiography.)

“Is there any joy more profound than starting a never-before-read chapter of Arnold Schnabel’s massive and glorious
chef-d'œuvre? No, I think not.” — Harold Bloom, in The Journal of Geriatric Nursing.

“We was starting to get worried about you, pal,” he said.

“Really?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. He flew around in a lazy curlycue and then stopped and hovered again about six inches from my face. “What, you think your pals don’t worry about you?”

“Well, uh, no, gee, I –”

“You’re lying there on the floor, passed out cold. We halfway wondered if you had pitched a thrombo or something, but I buzzed around your face and I could see you was still breathing – so what the hell happened to you, anyway?”

“Oh, threw my back out, trying to open that window at Mr. Arbuthnot’s place.”

“I figured that was it,” said Ferdinand. “What, sacroiliac?”

“Maybe,” I said. “To tell the truth I’m not quite sure what a sacroiliac is.”

“Me neither, but it sounds impressive, don’t it? Gee, you should’ve heard old man Arbuthnot, ha ha. He was terrified he was gonna have another stiff on his hands.” 

“Another stiff?”

“Yeah, like Mr. Jones. That old dead guy you went into the afterlife after and brought back to the world of the living.”

“Oh, right, I forgot about him,” I said. “It seems so long ago.”

“It only happened a few minutes ago, pal.”

“Well, in one sense I suppose it did,” I said. “But, you see, apparently this universe we’re in now is in a different um, time-space, uh –”


“Right,” I said. “That’s the word.”

Time-space continuum, like in them science fiction stories.”

“Yes, exactly,” I said, as if I were some kind of expert on the subject, although, now that I think about it, I was perhaps on my way to becoming one.

“Okay, whatever,” said Ferdinand, “but, dig, meanwhile, back in your so-called world that stupid cop is downstairs at Arbuthnot’s front door, ringing the buzzer and yelling to beat the band. I think maybe he thinks there’s been a murder. Or maybe a beatnik sex orgy. Old Arbuthnot was shitting a brick, so I said be cool daddy-o, leave it to me. So I crawls in your ear to take a look around, and much to my lack of any great surprise at all when I crawls back out I find you here.”

“Well, thank you,” I said. “I appreciate the concern, I really do.”

“Anything for a pal, pal.”

Once again he flew about, making a couple of deft Immelman turns, zooming up into the streetlamp light and out past the sidewalk to MacDougal street and back again to hover rather close to my nose.

“I gotta say it’s great to be back in the Village though,” he said, not even slightly out if breath. “Back in New York. The smells of garbage and beer and tobacco and human sweat, I love it. I mean, Cape May is nice and all, for a visit, but I guess I’m just a city boy at heart. Hey, you still look a little green around the gills, pal. Back still paining you?”

“No, my back’s okay now,” I said. “But I fell and hurt my leg. Also, I was trying to jump over a bar top and I hit my head.”

“Arnie Arnie Arnie.”

“I know,” I said.

“Pally pally pal of mine. Say, I guess by no stretch of the imagination you would have a cigarette on ya, wouldja, just so’s I could have a tiny flake of tobacco to chew on?”

“No, sorry,” I said.

“Still trying to live forever, huh?”

“Well, it’s just I got tired of waking up every morning coughing up phlegm –”

“Awright, awright, you don’t gotta explain yourself to me, pal. Y’know,” he said, in what seemed like a pensive sort of way, if a fly can seem pensive at all, “maybe when ya think about it that’s one of the nice things about being a fly. Our life span is so damn short we got no time to worry about good health habits. We just do whatever the fuck we wanta do and try not to get swatted while we’re doing it.”

“Um,” I said, (as I’m afraid I so often do when I have nothing to say but the prospect of remaining silent seems even more socially awkward than making an inarticulate noise).

“So, you gonna stay here or what?” said Ferdinand.

“Well, I’m not sure,” I said. “It’s kind of a long story.”

“Ain’t it always a long story with you?”

“Well, uh –”

“So gimme the Reader’s Digest version.”


I shifted around a bit on the step I was sitting on. The seat of my jeans was sticky from sitting on the wet step, but I didn’t care too much, it felt so good to take the weight off my sore knee.

“Remember my friend Josh?” I said.

“Sure, the drunk guy, son of God supposedly.”

“Right,” I said. “Well, after I passed out from the pain in my back I decided to ask Josh to cure my back.”

“Taking advantage of your personal friendship.”

“Yes,” I said. “I guess you could say that.”

“Not that I cast no aspersions y’unnerstand,” said Ferdinand. “Who am I to toss the first brickbat inside a glass house? You were in pain. You had a personal friend – acquaintance anyway – who just happens to be the one and only son of the big guy upstairs himself. And I ask you, who else would be more qualified to help out a guy with a bad back? I’m in your shoes? I assure you I do the precise same thing myself, no question about it.”

“Right, well, uh –”

“No one should think the worse of you, pal.”

“Well, um –”

“Nobody. And if they do? Ya know what I say? Huh? Ya know what I say?”

“No,” I said.

“Fuck ‘em,” said the fly. “Let ‘em find their own son of God to be pals with.”

“Yeah, well,” I said.

“Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a cosmic joke and accept the basic unfairness of life.”


“In the ass,” said the fly. “You should pardon my French. But, please, do go on.”

“Okay,” I said. “So, anyway, next thing I knew I was back in this universe.”

“I see. Looking for this Josh guy.”

“Yes,” I said.

“So’s he could perform a miracle on your sacroiliac.”

“Well, it might just be a pulled muscle.”

“Whatever. Them things can be very painful.”


“So I take it you found him, because your back don’t hurt no more.”

“Well, here’s the thing,” I said. “As soon as I turned up in this universe my back didn’t hurt at all, I guess because I’m Porter Walker in this world.”

“I get it. Sure, that makes sense. But it didn’t take you long to fuck yourself up in some other ways, did it?”

“No,” I admitted.

I rubbed my knee again. The pain had lessened now that I had taken my weight off it for a while, and my head really didn’t hurt that badly.

“You look worried,” said Ferdinand.

“I am,” I admitted. “You see, after a whole lot of other stuff happened, I did find Josh eventually, and after we finally got a chance to talk he said he would help me, even though by that time I asked him not to.”

“You’re crazy.”

“I know,” I said. “Anyway, he insisted, so I didn’t press the matter.”

“Very sensible. If he really is the son of God then who are you to tell him how to do his job?”

“Well, I never really thought about it that way, Ferdinand, but –”

“Hey, call me Ferdy. We’re pals.”

“Okay. Ferdy,” I said. “But here’s the thing. I asked him to send me back to my world, and –”

“What? The mug wouldn’t do it?”

“No, it’s not that he wouldn’t do it. He tried. That is, I think he really tried, but he couldn’t do it.”

“The son of God couldn’t send you back to your own world.”

“No,” I said. “But it’s complicated. You see, here’s the thing: apparently he’s been drinking all day –”


“And on top of that he’s been saying he wants to become a regular human being –”


“You see, he says he’s in love with Carlotta – you remember her?”

“That stuck-up brunette in the red dress, yeah, I remember that lesbo.”

“She’s not a lesbo, Ferdy.”

“She’s a stuck-up bitch, though, you’ll grant me that.”

“Ferdy, you just don’t like her because she didn’t like you.”

“Whatever. It’s beneath me even to discuss a cock teaser like that.”

“Well, um –”

“So what’s up with this Josh guy? You telling me he ain’t the son of God no more?”

“Ferdy, I just don’t know. All I know is he tried to send me back to my world and I’m still here.”

“So where’s the mug now?”

“He went into the bar to get me some aspirin for the pain in my leg.”

“He’s sure taking his time, ain’t he?”

“Well, as I said,” I said, “he’s been drinking quite a bit. He probably got distracted.”

“Probably by that dame Carlotta.”

“Yes, possibly,” I said.

“He’s probably having another drink, too.”

“That’s possible, too,” I said.

“He really is becoming human it looks like.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“I mean, if he is the son of God, that means he can pretty much do whatever the fuck he wants to do, am I right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“So if he wants to become a human who’s gonna stop him?”

I thought of H.G., otherwise known as the holy ghost. Yes, even H.G. hadn’t stopped Josh from doing what he wanted to do. (Although, admittedly, I had had a hand in all that, too.)

“Arnie Arnie Arnie,” said the fly. “Or I guess I should say Porter Porter Porter.”

“Yeah,” I said. 

“Okay, well, whaddya say we get you back home then?”

“But how?” I said. “Josh tried and he couldn’t do it, and just now I really concentrated and tried to will myself back, and I couldn’t do it either. I don’t know what to do.”

“Ah, but you forget one thing, old pal.”

“What’s that, Ferdy?”

I’m here now.”

(Continued here, bashing on regardless.)

(Please go to the right-hand column of this page to find a reasonably-often updated listing of links to all other officially released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven™, available free, gratis and for nothing as a service to humanity. Now published also in the Collingswood Patch: “Proof that there are still some faint flickerings of intellectual activity in South Jersey, for the time being at least.”)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 358: old friend

We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel with his Godly companion “Josh” standing on the sidewalk on MacDougal Street, in Greenwich Village, outside an unusual basement bar called the Valhalla, on a warm damp night in August of 1957, in a world where the fictional is real…

(Please go here to read our preceding episode; hopeless victims of a literary obsessive compulsive disorder may click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 86-volume epic of confessional high literature.)

“Just when I think I should maybe take a break from the reading and re-reading of Arnold Schnabel’s massive
chef-d'œuvre, something always pulls me back in.” — Harold Bloom, in Field & Stream.

I didn’t say anything right away. I knew Josh was trying, had been trying, and would probably continue to try. What was there to say?

I had got my own self into this mess, and all because I couldn’t stand a little excruciating pain.

Josh noticed that his latest Pall Mall had burned down to a nubbin, just as he always let his cigarettes burn down to the last half-inch. He flicked it away, into MacDougal Street.

Another car drove by. This one was a Studebaker, I made it a 1952 model, I think it was a dark brown color. But it might have been a sort of beige and just looked darker because it was night time. Also, I might add, it doesn’t matter what color the car was, or what make or what year.

It must have rained again since I had gone into the Valhalla this most recent time, an hour or was it ten months ago. The street and the sidewalks looked freshly wet, and beads of rain water glistened on the metal and glass of the parked cars, one of which, a few doors away, was a red Jaguar XK120 with the canvas top up, and I figured that this was likely the car that Thurgood had traded to Mr. Philpot for an original novel to which Thurgood could claim authorship. It was hard to imagine Mr. Philpot driving the car, and I wondered if he would just sell it.

The voices and music continued to emerge from behind the closed door of the Valhalla, down there in that dim sunken areaway, lit only by the red neon Rheingold sign in the glass-brick window.

Across the street the laughing and shouting voices of Jack and Bill had faded away as they turned the corner of Bleecker and undoubtedly went into the San Remo to get even more drunk.

I wondered if Ernest Hemingway was still in the San Remo…

“I’m standing here trying to concentrate,” said Josh. “But it’s still not working, is it?”

“No,” I said.

“You’re still here.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Needless to say,” he said.

I said nothing.

“I wonder if it’s happened,” he said.

“What’s that?” I said, although I was pretty sure of what he was talking about. I suppose I said what I said just to say something. To fill up the void with a little bit of noise. As we humans are wont to do.

“I wonder if I really have become human,” said Josh.

“I guess it’s possible,” I said.

“What’s that saying you humans have, be careful what you wish for?”

“Yes, that’s a saying –” 

“But?” Josh said.

“But what?” I said.

“It seemed as if you were going to say ‘but’ something.”

“Well,” I said, “I’ve thought, why not also be careful about what you don’t wish for.”

“You have a point,” he said.

“Just be careful in general,” I said.

“And even if you’re careful in general there are no guarantees, are there?” he said.

“No,” I said, and I sighed.

“Okay, well, look,” he said. He began to pat the pockets of his suit jacket. “Tell me something. How exactly did you get here, anyway?”

“In this universe?”

“Yes. Precisely. Walk me through it step by step.”

“Okay,” I said. 

I made an effort to remember. So much had happened since then.

“Um,” I said.

Josh had found his pack of Pall Malls in his shirt pocket. He gave the pack a shake, two cigarettes popped up, one about a half-inch, one three-quarters of an inch, and he offered me the pack. I started to take one, then stopped.

“One won’t kill you, Arnold,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “But still.”

“Okay,” he said. “Maybe later.”

He popped one into his mouth, put away the pack, took out his lighter from a side jacket pocket and lit up. He really did smoke like a chimney, and it occurred to me that if he had indeed become human he might want to think about cutting down a little, or maybe at least switching to a filtered brand.

He exhaled smoke in that luxurious way of his, and he leaned back against the iron rail of the areaway, halfway sitting on it.

“You were going to walk me through it, step by step,” he said. “How you got here.”

“Right,” I said, and now it was all starting to come back to me. “Well, as I told you, I hurt my back trying to open this window in Mr. Arbuthnot’s apartment.”

“How is the old rascal, anyway?”

“Same as ever I suppose,” I said.

“What a character. Okay, go on. You hurt your back. Rather badly, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “It was really bad.”


“Yes,” I said.

“I know what you mean.”

“Yes,” I said. “I mean, I’m sure it was much worse getting nailed to the cross and all –”

“No need to dredge all that up now,” said Josh. “Your back hurt. Badly.”

“Yes. Pretty bad.”

“Okay, so you’re in excruciating pain, lower back pain. Lower back, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “It might have been my sacroiliac, something like that.”

“Anyway, it hurt,” he said. “Then what?”

“Well,” I said, “now I remember. I passed out, and for a while there I wasn’t aware of anything, everything was just blackness, no, not even blackness, just complete lack of consciousness –”

“Well, that must have been an improvement, anyway.”

“I suppose so,” I said. “But, being unconscious, I wasn’t really able to appreciate it.”

“Yes, of course, I hadn’t thought of that. So –”

“Anyway, after who knows how long I became aware of myself again, in the midst of all this darkness, and I couldn’t feel the pain anymore –”


“Yes, but there was also another me there.”

“Another you.”

“Yes, and we started to have this dialogue, a discussion, about what we or I should do.”

“A dialogue.”

“Right. One me was saying I should ask you for help. And the other me, or I, whoever, was saying that I shouldn’t ask you for help, because lots of people were in pain all over the world, so who did I think I was?”

“Right,” said Josh, in a noncommittal sort of way, simply acknowledging what I had said I suppose. “So –”

“Well, as I remember it, it went on like this back and forth for a while, I won’t bore you with it all –”

“Oh, please, I’m not bored,” he said, but if I am to be honest he did seem like he wouldn’t mind it if I got to the point sometime before morning, and so I attempted to do that.

“But then I became aware that physical consciousness was starting to return, and with it, the excruciating, you know –”

“Pain,” said Josh, nudging me along. “Agony.”

“Right,” I said, “and so suddenly the one of my selves who had been telling me I was wrong to ask for your help changed his mind and desperately started to tell the other me to go ahead and ask for your help, and quick, before the agony returned, and suddenly just like that I was in this world, and in this body again, right here.”

“You mean right where you’re standing now.”

“Pretty much,” I said.

“Incredible,” said Josh.

“Yes,” I know,” I said.

“So somehow you willed yourself into this world, because this was the last world you’d seen me in.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Really astounding,” said Josh. “I mean, really. Well done, Arnold.”

“Thank you,” I said, again I don’t know why, I suppose it’s just in my nature or training to say these kinds of things, idiotic as they may be.

“I don’t even know of any saints who could have pulled something like that off,” said Josh.

I really didn’t know what to say to that, and so, as even I sometimes do, I said nothing rather than something meaningless.

“But this is good news,” said Josh. “Because if you could will yourself into this world you should be able to will yourself back out of it.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“I’m sensing another ‘but’ somewhere over the horizon,” he said. “As in, ‘Maybe. But.’

“Okay,” I said. “Ow.”

“What is it?”

“Oh, it’s my leg again,” I said. “My knee.”

“It’s hurting again?”

“Yes,” I said. “A little.”

Which wasn’t true, it was hurting a lot again. I had still been making the mistake of standing in one place too long. My head still hurt, too, but not as bad, after all I wasn’t standing on my head.

“Maybe you should sit down,” said Josh.

“Yeah, that might not be a bad idea,” I said.

I hobbled the few paces over to the steps that led up to Mr. Philpot’s shop, and, holding onto the iron handrail, I carefully lowered myself down to the third step. This helped. Josh came over.

“Better now?”

“Yes, thanks,” I said. The step I was sitting on was damp, but that was the least of my worries.

“I’d offer to do my laying on of the hands thing, but somehow I’m afraid that wouldn’t work.”

“Really, Josh, I’ll be okay if I just rest it a minute.”

“Okay.” He put one foot on the second step and the heel of his hand on the rail. He took a drag on his cigarette, and then tapped the ash to the pavement. “Now,” he said, “what was this ‘but’ of yours all about.”

“Oh,” I said. I rubbed my knee, which action at least felt like it might be making me feel better, if I didn’t think too much about the fact that it didn’t really help too much at all. “I’m afraid that if I try to will myself back into my own world that I’ll make a mistake and wind up somewhere really bad.”


“Like what if I end up in some black void. For all eternity.”

“That’s not exactly positive thinking, Arnold.”

“I know,” I said. “But I’m a coward.”

“Now, Arnold, really –”

“And that’s why I’d really prefer it if you could do it,” I blurted, all shame gone.

“I see,” he said.

He paused, took a drag of his cigarette, then he turned around; he seemed just to be looking at the street, at the parked cars, at the buildings across MacDougal, and up at the sky, which looked like the concrete floor of an old automobile repair shop. I just sat there rubbing my sore knee.

After half a minute Josh turned around again.

“Damn,” he said. “You’re still here.”

“Yes,” I said.

“And I really tried that time.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Ow.”

“Knee still hurting?”

“I just got another twinge, that’s all,” I said. Although it had been more like a dentist’s drill boring into my kneecap.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” he said. “You want me to go in and get you a good stiff shot of that private stock malt whisky stuff?”

“No,” I said.

“A beer then. Nice cold Rheingold. Something.”

“No thanks,” I said. “Well, maybe an aspirin if they have one.”

“What about some narcotics then, an opiate of some sort. You never know in a place like this. Maybe some laudanum –”

“Just an aspirin thanks.”

“Only one?”

“Okay,” I said. “Make it two.”

“And some malt whisky.”

“No, just a couple of aspirins, thanks.”

“I’ll get you a beer, just to wash it down with.”

“Water’s okay,” I said.

“Aspirin and a beer. Don’t move.”

“I won’t,” I said.

“Be right back.”

And off he went down the steps of the areaway, and I could hear the thick wooden door of Valhalla opening with a rush of loud laughing and shouting voices and juke box music, and then the noise being sucked away again as the door closed.

I stopped rubbing my knee. It really didn’t seem to be helping, and for all I knew the rubbing was making it worse.

I wondered if Josh was going to get himself a shot of that private stock stuff, and I was pretty sure he was.

Then, on a moment’s impulse, I thought to hell with it. 

I closed my eyes, concentrated my mind, took a couple of deep breaths, then held my breath and tried to will myself back to my own world.

After a few seconds I let my breath out, and opened my eyes.

And I was still where I was, my knee hurting, and the seat of my pants damp.

I now wished I had a cigarette.

I wondered what I should do.

I wondered what would happen if I walked out to the middle of one of New York’s great bridges – I believed the Williamsburg Bridge was the closest – and jumped off? By thus removing Porter Walker’s life from this world, would my own life’s essence then return to my own world? Who knew? I had tried that sort of thing once before, with my friend Dick Ridpath, when we had traveled back in time to 19th century France, and it had worked then. But that previous leap had been almost a spontaneous decision. Would I have the courage to walk all the way to the bridge and half way across it and then throw myself down to the dark water below? Right at that moment I didn’t feel as if I had the courage, and, besides, my sore leg would prevent me from walking that far. I would have to take a cab at least as far as to the bridge…

Then I felt something odd in my ear, almost as if a tiny bug were crawling out of it. Then I heard a buzzing sound, and a fly flew in front of my face and hovered.

“Hiya, buddy,” the fly said. “Long time no see.”

“Oh,” I said, to the fly. “Hello.”

“Bet you didn’t expect to see me here,” said the fly.

“No,” I said, to my old companion, Ferdinand, the talking fly.

(Continued here, there are only 3,461 marble copybooks left to transcribe. Unless some more are discovered.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find what should be a reasonably up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven, soon to be a major motion picture from Republic Studios, starring Dane Clark as “Arnold Schnabel”, featuring Skip Homeier as “Josh” and the voice of Arnold Stang as “Ferdinand”. Railroad Train To Heaven© now appears also in the Collingswood Patch™: “Not only the shining beacon of light of South Jersey, but of the free world.”)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 357: my world

Let’s rejoin our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel and his deific friend Josh as they slowly walk down a dark subterranean hallway towards a dim pale smudge of light in the distance…

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; if you’re looking for some new way to pass your idle hours for the next several decades you may want to go here to return to the almost-forgotten beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 79-volume memoir.)

“Well, I’m all set for my yearly vacation in Cape May. I’ve got a suitcase all loaded up with about twenty fat volumes of
Railroad Train to Heaven, and what the hell else do I need?” — Harold Bloom, in Holiday.

“So,” said Josh, a floating voice in the darkness by my side, “here’s the plan. We go through that bar out there, and – I know, I know, this time we don’t stop for a drink – and then we head right upstairs to the other bar, what’s it called, the Parnassus –”

“I think it’s called the Valhalla, actually,” I said.

“Right, we head right up to the Valhalla, with no more nonsense this time, and –”

“Wait a minute. Josh?” I said.

I put my right hand out, felt what must have been Josh’s arm, and he stopped, and I stopped.

His face was just barely visible in the almost complete darkness, and I had the impression that this vague image was not the result of that tiny smudge of pale light down the hall, but of some sort of inner light coming from within Josh, and, after all, when you consider who and what he was, this wasn’t surprising. And as my vision adjusted I could definitely make out the blue of his eyes – only a slightly darker blue in here than the bright clear blue they normally were – looking into my eyes, or at least appearing to look into mine, as I have no idea if my eyes were visible to Josh, but then again, considering who he was, they probably were visible to him, even if mine didn’t have that glow from within.

“What’s up, buddy?” he said. I saw by the pulsing of a red spot of light that he was taking a drag of his cigarette, and once again the burning end of it cast a pale pinkness over his features as he inhaled.

“Maybe we should work out a different plan,” I said.

“Really? Why?”

“Because there are all those people out there,” I said. “That guy Huckleberry for instance. And that French guy, whatsisname.”

“The French guy –”

“You know the one, little French guy, thought we were doing something, uh, weird?”

“Oh, right,” said Josh. “C. Auguste Dupin.”

“Right,” I said. “He’s out there, too.”

“Yeah, so?”

“I’m afraid if we go out there again then one or both of them will accost us. Again.”

“Oh, I can handle those guys.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I’m also afraid that something else will happen.”

“Something like what?”

“Something like what’s been happening all night. Someone else will accost us. Some other fictional character. Like those guys in the bathroom.”

Billy and Ishmael.”

“Yes,” I said. “And the guy who preferred not to come out of the toilet stall.”

“Bart,” said Josh.

“Yes,” I said. “He might have preferred to come out by now. That whole crew might accost us.”

“Yes,” said Josh, “I wouldn’t put it past them.”

“Also, I don’t think I told you this, but there’s this other guy out there, a sort of friend of mine named Ben Blagwell, and he’s a good guy and all, but if he sees me I just know I’ll have a hard time getting away from him –”

“Ben Blagwell –”

“Yeah, another fictional character –”

“I see –”

“And, you know, who knows who else might accost us.”


“And here’s what I’ve learned, Josh,” I said, “back in my own world. Some people need very little excuse to accost another person.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” said Josh.

“But it’s worse now,” I said. “Because the word seems to have gotten out about who you are.”

“Yes,” said Josh. “My reputation does seem to have followed me.”

“I’m afraid if we go out there we’ll be mobbed. Ganged up on. Forced to have more drinks.”

“There are worse fates I should think.”

“But remember, you wanted to get back to Carlotta.”

“Oh. Right,” said Josh. “But what do you propose we do? Try to find another way out of here? I suppose that’s possible. There must be another exit somewhere along this hallway. One would think the fire code if nothing else would –”

“Well, we could try that,” I said. “But I was wondering, I mean, I hesitate to ask –”

“Oh, please, don’t be shy. We’re pals, Arnold. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask me anything.”

“But I know you wanted just to be like a normal man.”

“Yes indeed. So?”

“Well, I was wondering if maybe you wouldn’t mind using your powers to just sort of transport us out of here.”

“Oh, I see.”

“I mean, if you didn’t want to, I understand.”

Okay,” he said. “I get it. Just sort of make us automatically be upstairs in the Parnassus.”

“The Valhalla,” I said.

“Right, sorry, the Valhalla.”

“Yes,” I said. “But only if you didn’t mind.”

“Well,” he said. “That certainly would be a solution as to how to get upstairs without being as you say accosted –”

“Yes,” I said.

“ – by importunate fictional characters.”

“Right,” I said.

“Well, to answer your question, Arnie – why, yes, I suppose I could do that.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yes, of course. The only thing is, eventually I’ll have to stop doing this sort of thing.”

“I know,” I said.

“I mean if I’m to follow through on my intention to become human.”

“Yes,” I said.

“But, really,” he said, “couldn’t we just look for another exit?”

“Well, sure,” I said. “But –”


“What if the exit leads to yet another dimension, another universe, with other people who would, who would –”

“Accost us.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I see,” he said.

“I mean,” I said, “all I meant to do earlier was to go to the men’s room, and so far I’ve gotten in the middle of a fight amongst a bunch of boring authors, I’ve wandered into a bar filled with all these fictional characters, I’ve been in another bar that’s nothing but people from old movies –”

“Okay, I see your point,” he said. “We wander through another doorway and, who knows, all hell might break loose.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Possibly quite literally all hell might break loose.”


“Okay, you’ve talked me into it,” he said. “Are you ready?”

“Right now?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “No time like the present. I mean now that we’re actually in the present time again. Or shall we say a version of the present time.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’m ready.”

“All right then. Oh, but wait, I just thought of something.”

“What?” I said.

“Won’t it seem a little odd to everyone, our just suddenly appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the bar upstairs?”

“Oh,” I said, “right. I hadn’t thought of that.”

“I’d prefer not to, shall we say, draw attention to myself in quite such a dramatic fashion.”

“Yes, you’re right,” I said. “Well, how about this then. Why not just transport us to outside the entrance to the bar down here.”

“Outside the fictional-characters bar –”

“Right,” I said. “And then from there we can just go up the stairs. To the other bar.”

“The Valhalla.”

“Right,” I said.

This was boring, but I felt as if we were possibly making some headway.

“Okay,” he said. “That should work. I guess.”

“Right,” I said.

“And then we can say I just went down here looking for you.”

“Which you did,” I said.

“Because you had come down here to find another men’s room.”

“Yes, which is what I did, actually.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

“All right,” he said. “That sounds like a good plan of action to me.”

“Good,” I said.

“So – are you ready?”

“Yes,” I said. I had been ready.

“Okay, then,” he said. “Let’s do it.”

I saw the little red light rise up again and flare more brightly red as Josh took another drag.

I waited.

Nothing happened.

I waited some more.

Nothing happened.

“Hmm,” said Josh, if making that sound can be said to be saying something.

“Is there something wrong?” I said.

“Well, just give me another moment,” he said.

I gave him another moment. And then another.

Nothing happened.

“Josh,” I said, “may I make a suggestion?”

“I’m trying, Arnold,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “But I was going to suggest, maybe if you tried that closing your eyes thing.”

“Oh, right. You know, that may help. Okay.”

The red light of the cigarette rose up again in front of the paleness of his face, he took another drag, exhaled very slowly, the pale smoke disappeared into the darkness, and then the deep blue of his eyes disappeared as he closed them, and I waited.

I waited, and then I too closed my eyes, don’t ask me why, there was no reason for me to think that doing so would help, but I did, and then I felt odd, I felt a different sort of air touching my skin, not so much a fresher air, but an air of a different sort of lack-of-freshness.

I opened my eyes.

We were standing on the sidewalk outside the bar upstairs, the Valhalla. 

Josh opened his eyes also and looked around.

“I seem to have miscalculated,” he said.

“Not by too much,” I said.

A car drove by down MacDougal Street, a dark green Hudson, I think it was a 1950 model. But otherwise the street was quiet. It was pretty late at night. But we could hear noise coming from the Valhalla, juke box music, the faint sound of people’s voices laughing, shouting, the sound of drunken merry-making.

“Still,” said Josh. “One would think I could do better than this.”

“Well, remember, Josh,” I said. “You have had quite a lot to drink tonight.”

“Yes,” he said.

He took a drag on his cigarette.

“So,” he said, “shall we go in, then?”

“Well,” I said. I looked around. A couple of drunk guys came out of the Kettle of Fish bar across the street, and with them came a little roar of jazz music and of shouting and laughter, then the door closed behind the two men and the little roar receded as if being sucked back into the bar.

The two guys proceeded to stumble down the street in the direction of that other bar down on the corner of Bleecker, the San Remo. They were laughing and talking loudly, and they looked familiar, and then I realized it was those two guys Jack and Bill whom I had met in the San Remo a few lifetimes ago. I turned away so that they wouldn’t recognize me.

“Hey, let’s go, Arnold,” said Josh.

“Well, you know, Josh,” I said. “Here’s the thing. Maybe it’s time for me just to go back to my own world now.”

“Oh,” he said. “That’s right. You did want to go back, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, I can understand that.”

“I wonder, Josh,” I said, “if it’s not too much trouble, maybe you could just send me back to my own world.”

“Right now?”


“Well, sure,” he said. “But it seems like we’ve hardly even spent any time together, Arnie.”

“I know,” I said, although, actually, it felt to me as if we had spent a great deal of time together. Not that I minded spending time with Josh, but – I’ll admit it – I think I was feeling homesick. Homesick for my own world. It wasn’t a perfect world by any means, but it was my world.

“Well, okay,” said Josh. “I’ll miss you though, Arnold.”

Out here on the sidewalk, under the street lamp, Josh was now of course completely visible, and that glow emanating from within him which I had noticed in the dark hallway was much more pronounced.

“I’ll miss you too, Josh,” I said.

“But we’ll meet again,” he said. “You can be sure of that, old buddy. Oh. But there was something you wanted me to do for you, right, a back pain?”

“Yes,” I said. “But don’t worry about that now. It was presumptuous of me in the first place.”

“To ask me to take the pain away?”

“Yes,” I said. “After all, people all over the world are in pain. Why should I get any special treatment.”

“Well, you are my friend, Arnold. At least I like to think you are.”

“Yes,” I said. “But even so I shouldn’t be going around asking for special favors –”

“Arnold, people ask me for special favors every second of every day. That’s all they do is ask me for favors. It gets a little tedious to be quite honest. So please don’t feel bad just because this once you ask a favor.”

“If it’s all the same,” I said, “I’d just as soon go home and face the music.”

“You are an odd one.”

“I know,” I said.

“Well, tell you what, just because you’re asking me not to help you, I am going to help you.”

“Josh,” I said.

“Forget it,” he said. “It’s done. When you return that back of yours will be good as new. I mean, it’s not broken or anything, is it?”

“No,” I said. “Just threw it out opening a window.”

“Child’s play to fix that. We’re not talking about curing cancer here. Lower back?”

“Yes,” I said. “But really –”

“No, forget it,” he said. “Like I said, it’s already done. So, you want to go back right now?”

“Yes,” I said. “I mean if it’s not too much trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” he said. “I mean I’m sorry to see you go, but, well, anyway, I did want to get together with Carlotta as you know –”

“Yes,” I said.

“And I want you to know that I shall take under serious advisement what you said to me.”

“What I said to you?” I said. Remember, I was tired, and distracted, and somewhat drunk.

“Your advice about Carlotta,” he said.

“Oh, right,” I said. “Well, you know, what do I know?”

Josh paused for a moment. I waited, thinking he was going to say something in response to what I had just said, probably something about how I actually knew quite a bit, and possessed remarkable wisdom for a human being.

But he didn’t say anything.

I waited. I didn’t want to hurry him. After all he was doing me a big favor. Actually he was doing me a couple of big favors, not only sending me home, but sending me home with a cured lower back. I thought about what I would do when I got back. I supposed there was no way to get out of running that errand for Mr. Arbuthnot’s cat, Shnooby, but with any luck when I finished that I might be able to get together with Elektra that evening, maybe get a burger and a beer or something. I might need a nap first, though. It had been a really long day, perhaps the longest day of my life, or of any of my lives –

“Well, this is weird,” said Josh.

“What is?” I said.

“You’re still here.”

“Um,” I said.

“I’ve been standing here willing you to return to your world, but nothing’s happening.”

“Oh, no,” I said.

“This is really odd,” he said.

“Oh, no,” I said again.

“Now, don’t be alarmed,” he said.

“Um,” I said.

To make matters worse, my right knee started to pain me again, I guess from just standing without moving around for too long. Also my head hurt from where I had hit it trying to vault over that bar top like an idiot. But at least my back didn’t hurt. Not yet it didn’t.

“Maybe you should try again, Josh,” I said.

“Arnold,” said Josh, “I’ve never stopped trying. I’m trying now.”

“Oh,” I said. 

“I’ll try closing my eyes,” he said.

“Good idea,” I said.

Josh closed his eyes.

I waited.

Nothing happened.

I closed my own eyes, thinking that might help.

I waited.

I waited a little bit longer.

I opened my eyes.

I was still there, and so was Josh, standing there with his eyes closed, the both of us still there on that sidewalk outside the Valhalla.

Another car drove by. This one was a Hupmobile, dark grey, I wasn’t sure of the year.

I looked at Josh, and finally he opened his eyes, looked at me, looked around.

“Wow,” he said. “I’m really sorry about this, Arnold.”

(Continued here, unremittingly.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a quite often current listing of links to all other officially released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, a Roger Corman Production for American International Pictures. Now appearing concurrently in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s rebuttal to the world.”)