Our hero Arnold Schnabel (accompanied by his new friends Bill Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and “Papa” Hemingway, as well as his old friend Ferdinand the fly) – has just opened the door to that very exclusive basement saloon called “Valhalla”, here on Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, on this hot and rainy night in August of 1957...
(Kindly click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here if for some inexplicable reason you want to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)
“As the cold weather approaches what better way to spend an evening than sitting by the fire with a pipe, a bottle of Jamaica rum, and a volume of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling masterwork.” — Harold Bloom, in Today’s Golfer.
The place looked just as crowded and noisy as when I had last come in here, a year ago, or, no, earlier this same night, and, no again, what am I saying, it was even more crowded and much more noisy, and more hot, and more thick with smoke and smell, the smells of tobacco, and marijuana too, and sweat and perfume, and another smell, the smell of concupiscence.
A mob of people were all dancing to rock and roll on the jukebox, I think the song was “Mystery Train” by Elvis Presley, but I could well be wrong, as I am not au courant with that particular genre of music, unlike, say, the sort of repertoire one might hear on Lawrence Welk’s TV program, which I had spent so many hours watching with my mother, in another world.
Hemingway was right behind me, and now he grabbed my right arm and came up beside me.
“This isn’t quite what I expected,” he yelled in my ear.
“Yes, well, uh,” I said. What else could I say? How should I have known what he expected? As for myself, I had long given up on seriously entertaining any sort of expectations at all because what was the point when the unexpected so invariably happened so often?
“But I like it,” he yelled, again into my ear, because it was so loud in there. “I feel the hot pulse of humanity pounding in here, just as it does in my favorite rhumba joints down in Havana. I also smell reefer.”
Jack had come in behind us and he put both his hands on my waist and gave me a little shove.
“If they say anything just tell them I have a new novel coming out next month,” he yelled at me, his lips almost touching the back of my right ear.
Bill had come up on my left side, and he grabbed my arm.
“And I’m working on a really, really groundbreaking novel,” he yelled in his turn. “Tell them that. Even though I don’t have a publisher quite yet.”
“Listen, guys,” I said, or yelled, and I admit, I was getting a little annoyed at everyone handling me and yelling at me, but then I was in a cranky mood from almost being crushed in the wet street by Hemingway’s huge body, and I think I might have had a mild concussion. “Listen, just take it easy, okay?” I swiveled my head from right to left, to address both Bill and Hemingway, and I twisted around a bit so that Jack could see I was talking to him too. “No one here cares,” I said. “Can’t you see they’re all drunk?”
“We were only suggesting,” said Jack.
“Yeah, just thought it might help,” said Bill.
“I think Porter may be right, fellows,” said Hemingway. “And anyway, I think this may be one of those places where it’s who you know that’s what really matters, because I got to tell you they didn’t seem none too impressed with me when I tried to get in here before, and I won the goddamn Nobel Prize.”
“As you keep reminding everyone,” said Ferdinand, who was now buzzing around my head.
“Well, it’s true,” said Hemingway.
“Why don’t you just wear your goddamn Nobel Prize medal on a ribbon around your neck so everybody will know.”
“Well, maybe I would at that, but you’re talking about a 23 carat gold piece. What if some hooligans decided to knock me over the head and steal it?”
“Oh, Jesus,” said Ferdinand.
But then that fat bald guy Mr. James suddenly pushed through the mob of dancing people and stumbled up to me.
“Well, well, well, Mr. Walker, and where have you been?”
“Well, it’s a long story, Mr. James,” I said.
“What? What’s boring?”
“Boring?” I said.
“Yes, what’s so boring?”
“Nothing’s boring,” I shouted, although this was. “I said it’s a long story!”
“Long story?” said Mr. James.
“Yes!” I said (or shouted, or hollered – I guess I’ll just ask my nonexistent reader to assume that everyone is shouting for the time being, or at least until my narrative takes me out of this noisy barroom, if it ever does). “It’s a long story, Mr. James.”
“Call me Henry,” he said.
“Okay. Henry,” I said.
“And I, avec votre permission, shall call you Porter,” he said.
He had the stub of a cigar in his hand, and he put it in his mouth and then took my right hand in both of his soft pudgy hands, the only sort of hands he had, so that I now had a total of at least six male hands touching me, which is six more than I prefer at best.
By the way, I could see that Henry was extremely drunk now, although I could also see that he was one of those drunks who likes to try to disguise their drunkenness, but who fail. He had lost or taken off his stiff wing collar, and his bow tie was completely untied, although the diamond pin was still stuck in it.
“You’re all wet and disheveled, Porter,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s started to rain again, and I fell in the street, and, uh –”
He suddenly seemed to become aware all at once of the other three men who were with me, who were hanging onto me as if for dear life.
“Hey, are these fellows trying to get in with you?”
He let go of my hand and took the cigar out of his mouth. He looked from Hemingway to Bill. I couldn’t know for sure, but I got the impression that Jack was trying to hide behind me.
“Hey, you, behind Porter, what are you doing back there? Trying to sneak in?”
“Me?” said Jack’s voice.
“I see you back there.”
“I’m with Porter,” said Jack.
“Me too,” said Hemingway. “You must know who I am, I’m –”
“I said you must know who I am,” Hemingway yelled.
“Nice briefcase you’ve got there,” said Henry.
“Oh, this?” said Hemingway, holding up the briefcase in the hand he wasn’t hanging onto my arm with. “Yes, it was made for me by a little man back in Havana, a noble brown man who works silently and patiently with the fine soft leather, who –”
Henry pointed at Bill with his cigar.
“You. At least you’re dressed like a gentleman. What’s your name?”
“William S. Burroughs, sir,” Bill yelled, leaning forward, and putting one hand to the side of his mouth as a sort of partial megaphone.
“You’re not Edgar Rice Burroughs. I know Edgar Rice Burroughs. In fact he’s in here tonight. Don’t get wise with me, pal.”
“No, sir,” yelled Bill, leaning even closer to Mr. James. “I said William S. Burroughs! Of the St. Louis Burroughses?”
“St. Louis Burroughses?”
“Yes, sir,” said Bill.
“Adding machine people.”
“Yes, sir, my grandfather –”
“Okay,” said Henry, cutting him off. “What about you, the merry woodsman, trying to hide behind Porter there?”
“Jack Kerouac, sir,” yelled Jack, and he came around to my right, trying to shove in between me and Hemingway, but Hemingway wouldn’t take his hand off my arm, just as Bill still hung onto my other arm.
“You say you’re a lumberjack?”
“No, sir,” yelled Jack. “Kerouac is my name. Jack Kerouac!”
“And are you a lumberjack, sir, or perhaps a drover, or a telegraph lineman.”
“No, sir,” said Jack, “I’m a novelist.”
“No, sir, a novelist! I write novels! I’m a –”
“Ah,” said Henry. “A proletarian novelist I suppose, judging by your attire.”
“Well, actually I like to think of myself as more of a mystical, seeking, wandering-soul sort of novelist. You see, I have this new book coming out, and –”
“Porter,” said Mr. James, interrupting Jack and speaking directly to me, “are these fellows trying to take advantage of your good nature?”
“No!” said Hemingway. “He’s our friend. We’re his friends. Tell him Porter, tell him –”
“Listen, big man,” said Henry. “I am addressing Mr. Walker. And I believe he is more than capable of speaking for himself.”
“Sorry,” said Hemingway. “But I was just –”
Suddenly the bartender joined us. He had his right hand in his trousers pocket, and I wondered if he had a set of brass knuckles in it, or maybe a leather sap.
“Any trouble here, Mr. James?”
“That’s precisely what I am trying to ascertain, Mr. London.”
“No trouble here,” said Hemingway.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” said Henry.
“Porter,” said Hemingway, “tell him you’re with us. I mean that we’re with you.”
“Well, look, Mr. James –” I said.
“Henry,” he said. “Henry to you, Porter.”
“Okay,” I said. “Henry. Look, I really just wanted to stop in and see if my friend Josh is still here.”
“You were just joshing you say?”
“No,” I yelled, leaning closer to him, or as close as I could lean, with Hemingway and Bill still holding onto my arms. “Josh! I’m looking for my friend Josh! I just wanted to have a word with him!”
“Oh!” said Henry. “You’re looking for your nice friend Josh?”
“Yes!” I said.
“And so these fellows are not with you?”
“No!” I bellowed. “I mean, yes, I guess they are!”
“They’re with you?”
“Thank you, Porter,” said Hemingway.
“Yeah, thanks, man,” said Jack.
“Good looking out, buddy,” said Bill.
“I told you,” said Hemingway, to Henry.
“So Josh is still here, right?” I said, yelled, screamed.
“Josh isn’t queer,” said Henry. “At least not that I know of.”
“No,” I called down from the hills, “I’m asking, is Josh still here?”
“If he’s queer he’s got a funny way of showing it,” said Henry.
“He’s no queer,” said the bartender. “You see him with that girl, that dark-haired babe?”
“I saw him,” said Henry. “He didn’t seem queer to me.”
“Listen,” I bellowed, so loud that my voice broke, “I didn’t say he was queer. I asked if he is here.”
“Your friend Josh?” said Henry.
“Yes,” I croaked. “Josh. Is he here?”
“Is Josh still here?” he said.
“Yes,” I said, breathing deeply.
“Oh, no,” said Henry. “Josh left.”
“Josh left,” I said, or squeaked.
“Just a little while ago,” said Henry. “You just missed him.”
“Oh,” I said.
“But he left a message for you.”
“In case you came back.”
“Great,” I said.
“You want to hear it?”
“In front of these fellows?”
He meant of course Jack and Bill, and Hemingway.
“Sure,” I said. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It’s kind of personal.”
“Please tell me,” I said.
“He said to tell you he was going home with Carlotta. And he said to ask you not to be mad at him.”
“Wait, excuse me,” said Hemingway. “But who’s this Josh guy?”
“Yeah, I was wondering that too,” said Jack.
“Yeah, me too,” said Bill.
“Who is he?” said Hemingway.
“Son of God,” said Ferdinand, finally chiming in, flying lazily around above all our heads.
(Continued here, and until the last marble copybook filled with Arnold’s small but neat script has been faithfully transcribed.)
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