Friday, February 14, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 384: tripping


Let’s return to Greenwich Village’s lively Kettle of Fish tavern on this sultry night in August of 1957, and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, who has just unwittingly sampled a very rare species of “bock” beer, bought for him by that eminent littérateur, Edmund “Bunny’ Wilson…

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; go here, if you insist, to return to the very beginning of this 74-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“Yes, once again, just as I have welcomed every minute of the so-called crippling weather of this past winter, I welcomed this past week’s blizzard as a splendid excuse for spending the day by a roaring fire, with a succession of steamy mugs of hot cocoa made with
Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup, and a morocco-bound volume of Arnold Schnabel’s towering chef-d'œuvre upon my lap.” – Harold Bloom, in the Ladies’ Home Journal Literary Supplement.


As it happened I had just taken another good gulp of the bock, and so I had trouble speaking, more so even than usual, and I suppose I made some spluttering noises, as well as coughing and gagging ones. Anyway, all this was apparently enough to cause Bunny to break out in a big smile.

“Hey, man,” he said, “be cool. Just go with it. You try to fight it you’re just going to make it worse on yourself.” 
“What did you mean, I’ll be ‘tripping’?” I finally managed to say.

“You know,” he said. “Like high, like way high, like sailing, man.”

“And why am I going to be like way high?” 

 
That,” he said, pointing at my mug of ‘bock’, which was now almost half empty.

“This?” I said, looking at the remaining black liquid.

“That,” he said.

“You mean it’s not regular bock?”

“I never said it was ‘regular bock’, Porter. Don’t lay that guilt trip on me, man. I said it was the ‘house bock’, and there’s a big difference.”

“But – how is it different?”

“Oh, you’ll find out. Like I said, any second now. Do you feel any different?”

“I always feel different,” I said.

“I mean do you feel any different from the way you felt a minute ago.”

“I feel –” I tried to search for the correct word – “more annoyed?”

“That’ll pass,” he said. “Maybe. Maybe it will pass.”

“So you’re telling me this bock is drugged?” I said.

“Um, no,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t say it was ‘drugged’ exactly.” He took a sip of his martini.  “Hmmm, very good martini.”

“What’s in it then?” I said.

He put down his drink, then wiped his lips with the back of his hand.

“You mean, what’s in the house bock?”

“Yes,” I said.

“A fair question,” he said.

He picked up a gold-plated cigarette case from the bar. He clicked it open, offered it to me.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ve quit.”

“Your loss,” he said. 

He took one out for himself, closed the case, then tapped both ends of the cigarette six times each against the case. Finally he put the cigarette in his mouth, and then picked up a gold-plated (or imitation gold-plated, how the hell should I know) lighter from the bar, but before clicking it, he turned to me and spoke around the cigarette. 

“What was the question?” he said.

He had taken so long to reply, that even I had forgotten my original question. 

I took another drink of my alleged bock, and it wasn’t until the liquid was well down my gullet that I remembered.

“Oh, right,” I said. “What is it that’s so special about this bock?”

He had clicked his lighter into flame, and was just about to light his cigarette, but paused, and removed the cigarette from his mouth.

“Special?” he said. He stared at me with what looked like an indulgent smile, like the one an adult might give to a young child who has asked why God took his grandmother away. “Special? Oh, my, ho ho.”



I felt myself possessed of an urge to scream, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, so I resisted.

“Yes, Bunny,” I said. I held up the mug. “What’s so special, um, you know –”


“What makes the house bock so special?” he said.

“Yes.”

I lowered the mug. My urge to scream had now been overcome by an urge to collapse into a fetal position on the barroom floor.

Bunny put the cigarette back into his lips, and lit it with the gold lighter. He then put the lighter down, and exhaled an enormous cloud of smoke; after half a minute or so, after this cloud had at least partially dissipated – but only partially, because this place was so thick with smoke that relatively new exhalations had nowhere to go – he spoke.

“You want to know what makes the house bock ‘special’ as you call it,” he said.



“Yes,” I said. “I think that’s the question I’ve just asked you about twenty times already.”

“Oh, I’ll answer your question all right, even though you haven’t asked me it anywhere near twenty times,” he said, but instead of just going ahead and finally answering my question he took another leisurely drag on his cigarette.

I took a deep breath.



“Bunny,” I said.

“Yes?” he said.



“What’s in this beer?”

“Bock,” he said. “It’s bock, not ‘beer’.”

“Beer, bock, whatever, tell me what’s in it.”

“You don’t have to be so – peremptory.”

“Just tell me.”

“See, you’re being peremptory.”



“Tell me, damn it,” I said, “or –”

“Or what?”

“Or I will grab you by your fat arms and shake you – like a, like a –”

“Like a what? Pick a good image now. You’re supposed to be a poet.”

“I will shake you like a recalcitrant soda machine.”



“Good, very good,” he said. “Not great, but okay.”

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

“Hey, man, look, I told you,” he said. “Just be cool.”


“How can I be cool when I’ve just –”



“Okay, slow down, Porter, and before I answer your question, let me ask you one. Have you ever smoked reefer?”

Yes,” I admitted.

“Okay, now imagine a good reefer high, only multiply it by about twenty times –”

“Oh,” I said. “You mean – like LSD?”

“Wait – you’ve tried acid?”

“Is acid LSD?”

“Yes,” he said. “Get hip, man.”

“Well, anyway, yes,” I said. “I’ve tried LSD.”

“Damn, I’m impressed,” he said. “Where did you get it? Up at Harvard?”

“No,” I said. 



“Your shrink give it to you?”



“No.”



“CIA testing?”

“No,” I said. “It was some old guy on the Island of Lost Souls, in that foggy dark river between this world and the next. You see, I had traveled to the afterworld to try to bring him back, and –”



“Oh, man,” said Bunny, “you are already tripping!”

“But I don’t feel all that much different,” I said.

“You are hardcore, my man,” he said. “I tip my cap to you.”

He picked his baseball cap up from his head a couple of inches, and then brought the cap down again. The crown of his skull had been revealed to be almost completely bald, just a few wispy white hairs glistening with sweat, as was the pink cratered flesh of the skull itself.

“Okay, lookit,” he said. “So you’ve taken acid, LSD, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And you obviously survived the experience. So the house bock is just like an acid trip, but different, and, like, I don’t know, maybe five times more intense. Five or six times maybe. So why not just be cool, and dig it?”

“I’m doomed,” I said.

“Oh, now you’re being melodramatic. Look, do you want me to tell you what’s in the bock?”


“I don’t care,” I said.

“But you wanted to know. You have a right to know.”

“Okay, great,” I said.

“So you want me to tell you.”


“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

“I haven’t told you yet.”

“I thank you in advance.”

“You’re quite welcome. So you do want to know what’s in it? In the bock?”

I sighed, and I do believe that this was possibly the largest sigh I had ever heaved in a lifetime of enormous sighs.



“So you want me to tell you,” he said.

“Yes, please,” God damn your soul to hell, I added, silently.



“Ambrosia,” he said.

“Ambrosia.”


“Yes,” he said. “It’s just ambrosia, dude. Food of the gods, but in liquefied form, added to some not-bad home-brewed bock beer. Of course you probably don’t even know what ambrosia –”


“Wait,” I said. “I actually know about ambrosia.”

“You do, do you? I didn’t think you young Turks were that all well educated in the classics.”

“Well, I’m not, actually,” I said. “But you see, it’s because of some ambrosia that I’m even here in this world.”

“Okay, now you’re losing me, Porter.”

“You see, back in my own world I knew this old man who had a cat, and the cat ate some ambrosia, and began to talk, and then he sort of ordered me to get him some fresh seafood, and –”



“You are so tripping,” said Bunny.

“Do you think so?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “But that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?”

I pondered this, and as I was still holding the beer mug, I raised it, and drank, finishing off its contents.

“Too much, man,” said Bunny, in a way that seemed congratulatory, but in a quiet, almost awed-sounding way.

“Oh,” I said. I looked at the empty mug. “I kind of wish I hadn’t drunk that.”



“Too late now,” he said.


“Do you think throwing up would help?” I said, not even half-heartedly.

“Well, you could try it,” he said. “But it seems a shame to waste that good house bock. Just be cool, man.”


“I’ll try to be,” I said. “Well, okay, look, Bunny, thanks for the drink, but I really need to get going.”

“Because of these alleged ‘friends’ of yours.”

“Well, yes,” I said, “but also I want to get back to my own world.”

“Your own world.”

“Yes,” I said. “My own, nonfictional universe.”

“Tripping,” he said. “So tripping.”

“Yeah, well, thanks again,” I said. I wanted to get away without shaking his hand, but he stuck his fat paw out, almost into the pit of my stomach.

I took this naked paw, which was moist, and slightly cool, like a dead bluefish that’s been lying in a creel on a rock by the surf for an hour or so on a grey September day. I gave it a squeeze and a quick shake, and then tried to let it go, but it somehow stuck to my hand.

“Now what are you going to be?” said Bunny.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Come on,” he said. “You know. What are you going to be?”

“Insane?” I said.

“No, not insane. You’re going to be cool, Porter.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“Cool.”

“Right.”

“As ice.”

“Sure,” I said.

I tried to shake his hand off, but it was as if it were stuck to mine with Krazy Glue.

“Hey, Bunny,” I said. “Can I have my hand back now?”

He looked at me. His eyes were blue, in case anyone cares. I sure didn’t, and don’t now. But I only mention it here because I was just now noticing that they were blue, even if I didn’t care.

Suddenly his hand floated away from mine, and my own hand felt empty, and moist.



“Expect a good review from me for your book,” he said. “I’ll try to get it in the Times.”



“Thanks,” I said. 



“I may even read a page or two of it.”

“No need,” I said.

He smiled, and nodded his head. He picked up his drink.

“Go on, get out of here. I know you probably want to get laid.”

“Goodbye,” I said.

Taking a drink from his glass, he waggled his other hand at me, and swiveled around on his stool.

I turned, and started again to limp the six feet or so to where Big Ben Blagwell and Norman Mailer (and, presumably, Ferdinand) were, but before I had gone two paces I was accosted again, this time by a very short thin man in his fifties or sixties, wearing a bedraggled blue suit that looked too big for him, an ascot with faded red and white polka dots, and a sweat-stained and threadbare black beret. 



He had a short beard which looked like the fur of the grey rats I used to see sometimes in the switching yards, and the visible skin of his small face was the color of the face of a department store mannequin.

He wore very thick wire-rimmed glasses and his eyes looked like two dollops of fresh dog dirt pressing against the lenses.




(Continued here, and for probably no more than twenty-five years more.)



(Please scroll down the right hand column of this page to find a vaguely up-to-date listing of all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s
Railroad Train to Heaven©, brought to you again this week by Fox’s U-bet© chocolate syrup; “Remember, during Passover we actually make Fox’s U-bet© chocolate syrup with real sugar instead of corn syrup, so if you’re smart you’ll stock up then!” – Horace P. Sternwall {author of Trim the Sails Boldly, Lads! a Novel of the High Seas} and official spokesman for Fox’s U-bet©.)




1 comment:

Kathleen Maher said...

Only Arnold/Porter would imbibe immortality (or at least cosmic perfection) by accident.