Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Ferdinand the fly, here in the men’s room of Greenwich Village’s San Remo Café, on a hot wet night in August of 1957...
(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you’re suffering from chronic insomnia it might help if you go back and start at the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece.)
“It can honestly be said that Arnold Schnabel’s chef-d'œuvre is one of the very few 79-volume autobiographies that one only wishes were longer – much, much longer.” — Harold Bloom, in Collier’s Magazine.
“But you, my friend,” Ferdinand turned around on my palm and looked up at me, “you I got a bone to pick with, too.”
“Look, I’m really sorry, Ferdy,” I said. “I didn’t know you were in that beer.”
“My own pal, swallowing me down like I was an egg in his beer. Do I look like an egg to you?”
“No,” I said. “But, look, Ferdinand, you know I’m not in the habit of examining my beer for flies each time I take a drink.”
“Oh, so now it’s my fault.”
“Well, I’m not saying it’s your fault, exactly,” I said, “but if you had just waited until I returned I would have gladly put a couple of drops on the bar top for you to drink.”
“So, you are blaming me. I get swallowed, and then puked up into a toilet, the force of which knocks me the fuck out cold, coulda died, probably almost did croak, and now I get the blame.”
“I’m sorry, Ferdy,” I said, returning to the diminutive form of his name, probably in the base hope thereby of mollifying him, and despite my odd reluctance to use that form of his name, and also despite the fact that I didn’t feel that it was I who was to blame, and that if anyone was, it was Ferdinand himself and not me.
He was looking down now, and rubbed one of his legs a few times on the palm of my hand, it tickled slightly.
Finally he looked up at me again.
“You know I can read your thoughts, right?” he said.
“Oh,” I said. That was embarrassing. But how many times can you apologize? I decided one more time couldn’t hurt. “Well, look, I’m sorry, Ferdinand. I really am. But it was an accident. Can’t we just forget about who’s to blame and move on?”
“That depends,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. I hated this sort of thing, where someone forced you to ask the obvious question. However, I knew we would never move on until I asked it, preferably in a manner that indicated I actually cared what the answer was. So, “What does it depend on,” I said.
“It depends on if you buy us another beer.”
“Oh, Christ,” I said.
“Don’t drag your buddy Christ into this. One more beer, and also a shot of whiskey, your choice.”
“I don’t want any whiskey.”
“Okay, my choice then. Carstairs is good for me. Now clean yourself up and let’s get back out there.”
“Okay, listen, Ferdinand –” I said.
“I am listening,” he said. “With breath bated. Pray continue.”
“All right. Look, I haven’t had a chance to tell you yet, but I have to go back to that Valhalla place to see Josh. It turns out their number isn’t listed, so I couldn’t call him up.”
“Fine. Whatever,” he said. “But let’s have a shot and a beer first.”
“But what if Josh comes out and finds me missing?”
“So what? He kept you waiting, didn’t he? What are you supposed to do, sit out there all night cooling your heels? Uh-uh. I don’t think so.”
“But, still, it just seems rude to me, just to take off without a word –”
“Arnie, can we talk man to man?”
“Yes,” I said.
He flew up off my palm, the first time he had flown since I had almost killed him. He described a little spiral, and then came to a hovering rest in the air a few inches from my nose.
“Or man to fly,” he said.
“Sure,” I said.
“Your friend, this ‘Josh’ – what’s his job description again?”
“Well, as I said,” I said. “I know it sounds incredible, but he’s the son of God.”
“Okay. And you’re sure of this.”
“Pretty sure,” I said. “One time when I got hit by lightning and almost died he even took me into his father’s house.”
“He took you in himself.”
“Past St. Peter and everything.”
“Yes,” I said. “St. Peter was actually a little reluctant, but Josh got me in.”
“A word in his ear so to speak.”
“Yes,” I said. “He, um, you know –”
“And what was this ‘house’ like? I take it it’s not like some suburban ranch house.”
“No,” I said. “It’s a great big old fashioned house with spires and gables, up on top of a hill.”
“Nice. Nice furnishings and all I guess.”
“Well, I’m no expert on that sort of thing,” I said, “but everything did look kind of expensive.”
“Hey, it’s God’s house. He’s gonna live in some dump?”
“Okay, whatever, so your pal’s the son of God. Now correct me if my theology is faulty, but don’t that make him God also, according to the concept of the Trinity?”
“Yes,” I said. “I believe that’s correct. God the Father, God the son, and God the, uh, holy, you know, ghost.”
“Why did you look funny when you mentioned the holy ghost.”
“Well,” I said, “you’re not going to believe this, but I met him too tonight.”
“The holy ghost.”
“Yes,” I said. ”He goes by the name of H.G.”
“What’s he look like?”
“Little man, middle-aged. Dark old-fashioned three-piece suit. A derby and a cane.”
“Derby and a cane.”
“That’s right. He was in disguise as a human I guess.”
“Sure. And what about the big guy, the head man upstairs himself?”
“The father,” I said.
“You meet him?”
“No,” I said. “Not yet.”
“Not yet. Okay. Well, here’s what I’m thinking, Arnie.”
“Okay,” I said. “But, look, Ferdinand, can’t we talk on the way over to the Valhalla? It’ll only take a minute.”
“It’ll only take me a minute to say what I have to say, Arnie. So keep you shirt on. And may I just suggest, by way of preamble, why don’t you go back to the sink and rinse your mouth out with some nice fresh water.”
“Oh, my breath smells bad.”
“It is not your fault. You just threw up your guts, and me. This action perforce must affect the usual springtime fresh aroma of your breath. Not that it bothers me, a fly, but it would bother most humans I daresay.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll rinse my mouth.”
I turned back to the sink, turned the cold water tap on.
“May I suggest also, Arnold, that you grab some of them paper towels out of the dispenser, wet them, and just give your tie a quick little dab.”
I lifted my tie up. Sure enough, its matte grey was stained with vomit. A cursory glance though revealed only a handful of specks on the front of my seersucker jacket and my plaid work shirt. I reached over to the dispenser to one side of the sink, cranked out some paper, and ripped it off.
“May I speak, Arnold, whilst you are attending to your ablutions?”
“Sure, go ahead, Ferdinand.”
I set to work dampening the stiff brown paper with water from the tap.
“In regards to your divine friend, this ‘Josh’ as you call him.” He had flown to the top of the mirror above the sink, and he sat on its top edge while he continued to look down and talk to me, or at me. “He seems like a sterling fellow, don’t get me wrong, a very nice chap.”
“He should be,” I said. I turned off the tap, and then I began wiping my tie with the wet paper, as well as my jacket lapels and my shirt.
“Yes, he should be,” said Ferdinand, “him being the son of the big guy, him being, in a sense – and in a very real sense I daresay, depending of course on one’s religious beliefs – him being as I say in a manner of speaking the big guy himself, or at least a facet of the big guy himself – why, yes, you are right, my friend, your comrade Josh should be a very nice chap. But, may I remind you once again, he and he alone was the one who left you, his supposed friend – his pal, his buddy – sitting alone, forlorn and in agonizing pain on that wet stoop out there across the street. By the way, I’ll bet the seat of your pants is still wet, is it not?”
I reached back and down and picked at the cloth.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m afraid it’s still a little damp.”
“And your bum leg by the way, is it still bum?”
“My knee?” I said. I had forgotten about the pain momentarily, but now of course this pain leaped to the forefront of my consciousness. “Yes,” I said. “Ow, I have to remember not to stand on it too long.”
I shifted my weight to my left leg.
“So you are left sitting there, for at least a half hour, on your wet ass, with your leg in excruciating agony, waiting in vain for your bosom divine buddy ‘Josh’ to come back out with the aspirins he promised to get you, and now, now – you want to go back over there because you’re afraid of seeming rude to him. This I do not understand.”
“But, you know –” I said. I crumpled up the wet and now slightly vomity paper into a ball and tossed it into or rather toward the waste basket in the corner. The paper bounced off the rim of the basket and down to the floor. I made a move to go over and get it, but Ferdinand quickly dived down and hovered right in front of my face.
“What?” I said.
“Leave it,” said Ferdinand.
“I just want to pick up that wad of paper.”
“I said leave it. Are you the clean-up man around here?”
“No,” I said.
“Then leave it.”
“It seems rude,” I said.
“Rude to who? The clean-up guy? The other patrons?”
“Well, yes,” I said. “To the clean-up guy, and the patrons and also the staff –”
“Arnie, stop talking shit for a second and look at this floor. Go ahead, please. Just look at it.”
I looked at that stained tile floor. It was filthy and slimy, and littered with cigarette- and cigar-butts, with numerous scraps and wads of the brown towel-paper, with expectorated chewing gum, and with the tramped on and scattered typewritten sheets of what was probably someone’s only copy of a great first novel.
“Okay, I see what you mean,” I said.
“Great, now turn the cold water back on and rinse out your mouth and splash some cold water on your face. You look fucking pallid if you don’t mind my saying so.”
I proceeded to do as he suggested.
It had come to this.
I was taking orders from a fly.
“Anyway, whatever,” he said. He flew back to his perch at the top of the mirror. “So you see my point, Arnie.”
I spat out some of the water I had been running into my cupped hand and thence into my mouth.
“Your point?” I said.
“My point being why should you care any more about the goddam son of God than he cares about you?”
I splashed some water on my face. It did feel good to do this. I’m not going to say I felt like a million bucks, but I didn’t feel horribly wretched by any means, although my knee still hurt and the seat of my pants was still damp.
I turned off the tap, then reached over to the paper towel dispenser again, cranked out a sheet. I patted my face dry with it, and then looked into the mirror. I was still someone else, but that was better than being no one.
I crumpled the brown paper, tossed it over to the waste basket, attempting to bank it off the wall this time, and it landed in the basket but bounced out again to the floor.
I raised and tightened the knot of my tie somewhat, although I left the top button of my shirt unbuttoned. I was, after all, a bohemian poet, or at least in this world I was.
“So what do ya say, Arnie pal? We go back to the bar and have a nice cold beer, a shot of Carstairs? Maybe you prefer Schenley’s, it don’t matter to me.”
“Ferdinand,” I said, after one of my famous sighs, “I don’t want to go back to see Josh because he’s the son of God. I want to go back because he’s my friend, even if he himself has been perhaps slightly remiss as a friend. And I would do the same for you.”
“You’re saying,” said Ferdinand, “that you would treat me, a humble house fly, no different from how you would treat the son of God?”
“Well, uh –”
“You do not have to answer that.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Very well,” he said, after a short pause. “We will go back to the other dive. After all, it is just across the street and up the block a little. But – just promise me this, Arnie. The first thing we do when we get back there, you will order a beer and a shot.”
“Okay, I will,” I said. “I mean, I’ll probably first say hello to Josh if he’s still there, but –”
“You say hello,” said Ferdinand. “You can also politely say hello to them two broads if they’re still there. Polite, sure – how are you, good to see you again – but then you say excuse me and you order one mug of beer and one shot of Carstairs.”
“I will,“ I said.
The door had opened and two guys had come in, one right after the other. It was that dark-haired guy named Jack and that tall pale fair-haired fellow with the glasses, Bill – the guys I had met in this place a few years ago or maybe just earlier today, depending on how you looked at it.
“Talking to yourself, Porter?” said the Bill guy.
“Um,” I said.
“Il est fou,” said the Jack guy. “Complètement fou.”
Then he shoved past me and started vomiting in the sink.
(Continued here, it must be done.)
(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a fitfully-current listing of links to all other published episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven™. Now appearing also in the Collingswood Patch™: “That soft voice you hear late at night drifting over the highways and the shopping malls and through the trees of the Pine Barrens.”)