Yes, on this rainy night in August of 1957, the gang is all here and drinking a toast with 100-year-old Royal Navy rum in Philpot’s Rare Book Shop in Greenwich Village: Mr. Philpot himself, that roistering adventurer Big Ben Blagwell, Ferdinand the loquacious fly, “Josh” (aka the son of God), and of course our hero, Arnold Schnabel...
(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume masterpiece of confessional literature.)
“After what seemed like an endless winter, spring has finally arrived, and what better way to pass one’s time than sitting in the garden with a big fat spliff and a volume of Arnold Schnabel’s massive and, yes, massively rewarding chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in The High Times Literary Quarterly.
The rum tasted good, and involuntarily I closed my eyes, savoring the liquid burn in my throat and the thick smells of the sea and of equatorial jungle, of sun-baked sand – and of something else: an unmistakeable warm smell, but one with which after my long grey years of bachelorhood (forgetting that one drunken hour in a German whorehouse in my youthful army days) I had only recently become familiar: a scent of women, but not that musty aroma emanating from my mother and from my aunts, not the staid perfume of ladies in church, but the honeyed fragrance of young and nearly naked women.
I could feel the heat of that baking sun on my face, on my bare head, on my shoulders, and I felt sweat breaking out all over my body under my damp clothes.
All this happened in the space of less than a second as the rum coursed its merry way down my gullet, and I was afraid to open my eyes, afraid because somehow I knew that if I opened them I would be in yet another world, and yet another world removed from my own world, even if this new world did include young women under a tropical sun.
What had I done wrong?
Where had I gone wrong?
Why was I prevented from returning to my native world? A world which, it was true, I had many times in my life wished I could leave forever – but that had been the old me, the one who had taken forty-two long years to learn how to live…
“What did I do wrong?” I said.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Arnold,” said Josh.
I opened my eyes. I was still in Mr. Philpot’s shop, and Josh was standing smiling there, his strong hand on my shoulder. Ben and Mr. Philpot stood nearby also, staring at me.
Ferdinand was there too, of course, hovering in a concerned way a few inches from my face.
I realized I was sitting in the chair at Mr. Philpot’s desk, the same chair I had been in a few minutes before.
“I think he’s okay now,” said Ferdinand.
“He don’t look too okay,” said Ben.
“A trifle green around the gills,” said Mr. Philpot.
I closed my eyes again and now I saw the women, and they were beautiful.
Josh’s hand squeezed my shoulder.
“You okay, pal?”
My eyes opened.
“Where are the women?” I said, because part of me was still on that tropical island.
“Pardon me?” he said.
“The women,” I said. And part of me wanted all of me to be on that island.
“Arnold,” said Josh, and he squeezed my shoulder and gave it a shake. “There are no women here.”
“No,” I said. “They were here. They were – very beautiful.”
“Oh, boy,” said Ben.
“Hey, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Snap out of it, buddy.”
“But if I close my eyes I’ll be back on this tropical beach, and there are these women there – they smell nice –”
“He’s gone mad,” said Mr. Philpot.
“I’m sure it’s just temporary,” said Josh.
I realized that my hand was still holding the jelly glass, holding it upright on the desk top. I lifted it up and looked into it. It was empty.
“The beach is inside me now,” I said. “The tropical island. And the women. Could I have some more of that rum?”
“Yeah, give him some more rum,” said Ben. “That’ll straighten him out –”
“No!” said Josh.
“Jeeze,” said Ben. “It was only a suggestion.”
“The last thing he needs is more rum right now,” said Josh.
“I’d like more rum,” I said. “I want to be with these women. They smell like, like – homemade cranberry sauce – no, that’s not right, like strawberries –”
“Arnold,” said Josh. “Look at me.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I don’t want you to get angry at what I’m about to do.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Hoo boy,” said Ferdinand.
“Quite mad,” said Mr. Philpot.
“Well, is it okay if I have some more rum?” said Ben.
“More rum for everybody,” I said.
“Arnold,” said Josh, “close your eyes for just a second.”
“Okay,” I said. “If I close my eyes I’ll be back on this tropical island, on this beach, with the –”
“With the women,” said Ferdinand.
“How were these women dressed?” said Ben.
“Well, to be honest, they were hardly dressed at all,” I said.
“Okay, I’m going too,” said Ben.
“What the hell, I’m in,” said Ferdinand.
“I wonder if I might come,” said Mr. Philpot. “I don’t think I’ve seen a naked woman in fifty-odd years.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll close my eyes and we’ll all be there.”
“Arnold,” said Josh.
“Yes,” I said.
“I changed my mind,” he said. “Don’t close your eyes.”
“But, Josh,” I said. “You can come too. I’m sure there’s plenty of women for everyone.”
“Sorry about this, Arnold,” he said, and keeping his left hand on my shoulder, he raised his right hand.
“Really, Josh –” I said, but that was as far as I got as he swung his hand down and gave me a terrific slap across the face.
And I was back on that island, I was walking into a sort of open-air bar on the beach, with palm fronds for a roof, and sitting at the bar were all the women, beautiful women, wearing very few clothes, and the women were smiling at me, but then someone shook me hard by the shoulder and I came back and I was in the chair again, sitting at that cluttered desk in Mr. Philpot’s shop.
I touched my face where Josh had slapped me. It hurt.
“Ow,” I said.
“Sorry about that,” said Josh.
I paused. At first I wasn’t quite sure what I was.
“You’re what, Arnold?” said Josh.
It came to me. I came to it.
“I’m back now,” I said.
“Yes,” I said. I touched the side of my face again. “Ow.”
“Really sorry about that,” said Josh.
“Thank you, though,” I said.
“You’re welcome, buddy.”
He gave my shoulder a little pat, and then finally removed his hand.
“How did I get in this chair?” I said.
“You bolted down that rum like it was the last drink in the world and then you started to faint is what happened,” said Ferdinand.
“Oh,” I said.
“Fortunately Josh and Ben grabbed you and sat you down.”
“Thanks, guys,” I said.
“So you’re sure you’re okay?” said Josh.
“Yes,” I said. I touched my face again.
“Really sorry about the slap, Arnold,” he said. “But I was afraid we were losing you.”
I took a deep breath. I was still sweating profusely, and now I was terribly thirsty.
“Josh,” I said. “I really have to get out of here.”
“Okay, sure. Do you want to go down to the bar downstairs, or –”
“I mean I have to get out of this world,” I said. “And back to my own world.”
“Oh. I see,” he said.
“He’s got a bee in his bonnet about getting home,” said Ben.
“He’s obsessed,” said Ferdinand.
“What the psychologist boys call an idée fixe,” said Mr. Philpot.
“By the way, Mr. Philpot,” said Ben, “you think I could have another small glass of this rum?”
“Only if you fill my own cup up as well,” said Mr. Philpot.
“Don’t forget my thimble,” said Ferdinand. “Arnie spilled most if it when he took his fit.”
“Will do, little buddy,” said Ben. “Mr. Philpot, you mind if I use your cup for a ladle again?”
“By all means, my good chap,” said Mr. Philpot, and he handed his coffee cup to Ben, who had his empty jelly glass in his other hand.
Ben dipped the cup into the keg and emptied it into his jelly glass. He put the glass down on the table.
“Pass me Ferdy’s thimble, will you, Arnie?” said Ben.
The empty thimble was sitting near my left hand. I picked it up, bent forward and handed it over to Ben.
“Thanks, buddy,” he said.
He dipped the cup into the barrel again and poured some rum into the thimble.
“What about you, Josh,” he said. “Ready for a refill, pal? Or, like, your holiness?”
“Please, Ben, just call me Josh,” said Josh.
I don’t know why I’m recounting all this nonsense, but I might as well continue.
“Refill, 'Josh'?” said Ben.
“Well, I still have some in my glass there,” Josh said, pointing to his jelly glass, standing near the edge of the desk. It still had an inch or so of rum in it.
“I’ll top you off,” said Ben. He reached over, picked up Josh's glass. “How about you, Arnie?”
“No!” I said, perhaps a trifle rudely.
“Hey, don’t get excited,” said Ben. “Nobody’s gonna force you to drink if you don’t want to.”
“I’m awfully thirsty though,” I said, for once speaking the straight truth.
“So have another tot of rum,” said Ben.
“I mean I’m thirsty for water,” I said.
“Oh,” said Ben. “You got any water, Mr. Philpot?”
“There’s a faucet in the facilities in the back,” said Mr. Philpot.
“I’ll get you a glass of water, Arnold,” said Josh.
“No, it’s okay,” I said. “Besides, I think I might have to use the, uh, facilities, now that I think about it.”
“Use them for what?” said Josh.
I stood up, pushing the chair back. I didn’t fall down. I looked at Josh.
“I need to –” I really did have to go. I shouldn’t have had that last mug of bock, laced with ambrosia or not – ”you know –”
“Oh!” said Josh. “You need to urinate.”
“Yes,” I said.
“To put it bluntly,” said Ferdinand.
“Ain’t it weird,” said Ben – he was filling up Josh’s glass now – “I mean, ain’t it weird how you can be really thirsty and really have to take a piss at the same time?”
“Mr. Broadhammer,” said Mr. Philpot. “You should watch your mode of vocal discourse when in the presence of our divine friend.”
“The name is Blagwell,” said Ben, “and it ain’t nothing he ain’t heard before, am I right, Josh?”
He offered Josh’s glass back to him, filled almost to the brim.
“That’s true,” said Josh, taking the glass. “Believe me, I have heard it all before. Quite literally.”
“Mr. Philpot,” I said.
“Yes, Mr. Walker?” he said. Ben had filled the coffee cup with rum, and he handed it to Mr. Philpot. “Thank you, Mr. Bonghead.”
“Blagwell,” said Ben. “Ben Blagwell.”
“Blagwell,” said Mr. Philpot. “Curious name –”
“Mr. Philpot,” I said.
“Yes?” he said.
“Could you tell me where the bathroom is?”
“There’s no bath in it. Merely a commode and a sink.”
“Okay,” I said. “Could you tell me where this room with the commode and the sink is?”
“You might say please,” said Mr. Philpot.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where is the bathroom, please, Mr. Philpot?”
“That’s better,” said Mr. Philpot. “Go straight back, you’ll see the door to the storeroom, which I believe is open.”
“So I go in there?”
“No, go to the left of that, and before you reach the door which leads to the downstairs you’ll see another door. It’s clearly marked ‘W.C.’”
“Okay,” I said.
“W.C. for ‘water closet’.”
“Right,” I said.
“No, you go left.”
“Okay,” I said.
“You can’t miss it.”
I started to turn to go, but then stopped.
“Do I need a key or anything?” I said.
“If you did,” said Mr. Philpot, “I should have given you one.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
“Take your jelly glass,” said Mr. Philpot, “so you’ll have something to drink the water out of.”
“Right, good idea,” I said.
I picked up the glass.
“Look, Arnold, when you get back we have to talk,” said Josh.
“Really?” I said.
“Yes,” said Josh.
“Is it important?”
“Mr. Porter!” said Mr. Philpot. “One does not ask such an one as the son of, of –”
“The guy upstairs,” said Ferdinand, who was sitting on the edge of his thimble of rum.
“The big guy,” said Ben, and he took a drink from the jelly glass of rum he now had in his hand.
“Yes,” said Mr. Philpot. “One does not ask such an one as our divine friend Josh if what he wishes to speak to you about is important!”
“Sorry,” I said. And to Josh, “So it’s important?”
“I should say so,” he said.
“I’ll hurry back then.”
And I turned and headed down the nearest dark narrow canyon of books.
Who was I kidding?
(Continued here, and for no one knows how many more years, as yet another trove of Arnold Schnabel’s black-and-white marble copybooks has just recently been discovered in an army footlocker in a closet on the third floor of Arnold’s aunts’ house in Cape May, NJ.)
(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a quite-often current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; also published in the Collingswood Patch: “South Jersey’s bastion of culture and literacy.”)