We left our hero Arnold Schnabel in a crowded roadhouse somewhere in the world of a “paperback original” novel titled Rummies of the Open Road…
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“What better way to spend a summer afternoon than to fire up a big fat spliff and lie in the backyard hammock in the shade of the old elm tree and lose oneself in the infinitely fascinating universe of Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom, in The High Times Literary Quarterly.
Finally we got to the bar.
“Jeeze, you guys,” said the blonde. “What were you doing out there? Ratifying a new inter-galactic constitution?”
“What?” said Horace.
“Or maybe you were planning a pirate raid on that new shipment of Centaurian Dragon Diamonds that the starfleet is rumored to be bringing in to the spaceport this week?”
“Okay,” said Horace. “Baby, may I say something?”
“Sing it,” said the blonde. “Sing it like one of the giant three-eyed mockingbirds of Mars."
“You know, Horace," she said, "the giant singing three-eyed mockingbirds of the Kornbluth Mountains of Mars.”
“All right,” said Horace, after a slight pause. “Listen, Trixie, this is not a science fiction novel we’re in. It’s not that kind of book at all.”
“Oh no?” she said. “So what is it? One of them tales of a man caught in a deadly whirlpool of passion and violence?”
“Well – not really,” said Horace. “Although perhaps that’s what friend Arnold here would prefer –”
She looked at me, with her head cocked to one side.
She took a sip of her drink through the straw, finishing it. Then she said:
“Is that the kind of book you would like to be in, Arnold?”
“No,” I said. “But I don’t think that’s up to me.”
“Funny guy,” she said, but she wasn’t smiling. “You know what kind of novel I see you in, Arnie?”
“A bad novel?” I asked.
“Funny guy,” she said. “And just what do you mean by a ‘bad’ novel?”
“Formulaic trash?” I said. “Written quickly to order by desperate men squandering what little talent they might possess?”
“Oh,” she said. “So I guess you like to read these high tone authors you got to have a Harvard degree to understand? Herman Wouk, Harold Robbins, Annie Rand?”
“Actually,” I said, “I prefer novels about guys who get caught in a deadly whirlpool of passion and violence.”
“And what about novels about girls who get caught up in a deadly whirlpool of passion and violence?”
“Those are okay, I guess,” I said.
“Reason I ask is,” she said, “and please don’t take this the wrong way, Arnie, but I don’t see you so much as the hero of a book. Uh-uh. What I see you as is one of these guys who meets up with the heroine of the book, in one of these books where a girl is the main character, and this girl, she thinks you’re kind of cute even though she knows you’re trouble with a capital T. And finally she has to dump you because she realizes she’s better off with a nice guy named Howard who has a good steady job, as a lawyer, or maybe he’s a young intern in a hospital. But this guy that you are, you don’t get the message, see? You start stalking her, and bothering her boyfriend, the nice guy, the doctor or young lawyer. Until one night you break into her house and try to force yourself on her. But she has a comb by her bed with a long pointed handle like an icepick. And she stabs you in the jugular. And right before you croak, lying there getting blood all over her bedroom rug, you say, ‘I love you, Trixie.’ Then you croak. End of story. That’s the kind of book I see you in, Arnie.”
I really had nothing to say to this, and for once I said nothing when I had nothing to say.
“Well –” said Horace.
“Maybe this is that kind of book,” said Trixie. “You never know until you’ve read a couple chapters.”
“No –” said Horace.
“No what?” said Trixie.
“Well, you see, my dear Trixie,” said Horace, “this is more of a picaresque adventure, about –”
“Picturesque?” she said.
“No, dear – picaresque, it means –”
“Hey, Horace,” said the blonde, “my drinkie’s empty.”
She showed him her cocktail glass, empty except for some mostly-melted ice cubes. She shook the glass and the ice.
“See?” she said. “Empty.”
“Yes,” said Horace, “so it is. Oh, well –”
He reached in his back pocket and brought out his cracked brown leather wallet, but before he opened it he glanced at the bar.
“Oh, by the way,” he said. “Did you order me and Arnie those two bottles of Tree Frog Ale and two shots of Heaven Sent bourbon?”
“Sure did, Horace baby,” said Trixie.
“Um, may I ask where they are?” said Horace.
“Their contents are in my tummy. The vessels they came in have been taken away by the bartender.”
“You drank our beer and whiskey?” said Horace.
“Hey,” said Trixie, “you were out there with your boyfriend at least a half hour. How did I know if you were coming back?”
“Oh, man, Arnie, I like this girl!” said Ferdinand, who had flown into my ear again.
“Am I supposed to sit here with nothing to drink?” said Trixie.
“Well, you could always have bought yourself another one with those two five-dollar bills I gave you,” said Horace.
“That first fiver was for me,” she said. She reached inside the bodice of her blouse and into her brassiere and brought out a folded-up five-dollar bill. She showed it to Horace. “For my hope chest. You don’t want me to have a hope chest?”
“Well, I, uh –” said Horace.
She stuck the bill back inside her brassiere.
“You don’t give a tinker’s dam about my hope chest. And you begrudge me a couple of Tree Frog Ales,” she said. “And a brace of shots of Heaven Sent bourbon.”
“I don’t begrudge you them,” said Horace.
“And you begrudge my hope chest.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that,” said Horace.
“You think I want to spend the rest of my life in this dive, cadging drinks and rolling drunks?”
“Why,” said Horace, “no, of course not. Did you say rolling drunks?”
“Y’know, Horace,” said Trixie, “I should’ve known better with you. Look at your clothes. Look at that unshaven mug. Look at your goddam fingernails.”
Horace did in fact raise his right hand to his face and look at his fingernails. It was true, they were dirty.
“And this guy,” she said, tossing a glance my way. “He don’t look a hell of a lot better. What’ve you been doing, Arnie, taking a swim in the sewer?”
“Arnie,” said Ferdinand, in my ear, “I really, really love this girl!"
“A couple of bums,” said Trixie. “Stealing chickens from the barnyard and pies off of kitchen windowsills. Tramps.”
“Okay, what you obviously fail to realize, Trixie,” said Horace, “is that Arnold and I both are free-spirited jolly bohemians, not bound by the superficial strictures of society.”
“In other words a couple of bums is what you mean,” said Trixie.
“You say the word ‘bums’ as though it were a pejorative term,” said Horace.
“Your big words don’t impress me,” said Trixie. “Now buy me another Pousse Café, hotshot.”
“Oh, very well,” said Horace. He opened his wallet and looked into it. He looked very sad, and I suspected he knew now that he might not be able to afford to get drunk tonight, and also that he probably would not after all be able to play what he called “hide the salami” with Trixie.
“Put your wallet away, pal,” said a big tall fat man who had suddenly appeared. He wore a three-piece navy blue suit, and a matching derby. “Ha ha!” he said.
Horace looked at the man. He had a big cigar in one hand, a much bigger cigar than the one Horace was still working on.
“But I still have some money,” Horace said. He showed the open wallet and the few bills in it to the big man. “See, I can pay.”
“Yes, I can see you have some money there,” said the big man. “Now put it away. Ha ha!”
“Why are we being thrown out?” said Horace, his voice breaking. “We’ve been well-behaved.”
“Bums,” said Trixie. “The both of them a couple of no-account vagabonds off the highway. A couple of two-bit drifters. And this one –” she pointed her finger at Horace – ”begrudging me a couple of Tree Frog Ales and a brace of Heaven Sent shots. Where was this guy when they were handing out the class? Sleeping late under a railroad bridge or in ditch at the side of the road?”
“Ha ha,” said the big man, “Trixie, you crack me up.”
“I mean seriously, Lou,” said Trixie. “Honestly. Ya know?”
“Ha ha,” said the big man, saying the “ha ha” more than laughing it, “I know, dear, I know, things are tough all over!”
“There ain’t no gentlemen left no more,” she said. “Except for you, Lou.”
“Ha ha,” said the big man. “Flattery will get you everywhere!”
He put his big fat fingers into his vest pocket and brought out a currency note folded up in quarters. He gave it a flick and the bill unfolded and became a one-hundred dollar bill. He raised it up in the air and Trixie’s eyes followed it. Then, using only the fingers of that one fat hand, he folded the bill up into quarters again and then reached over and slid it into the top of Trixie’s brassiere. “For your hope chest, Trixie,” he said.
“Aw, gee, Lou,” she said. “You’re a real gentleman you are. Class is what you got, in spades.”
“Ha ha! You are too kind, my dear,” said this fat man who was apparently named Lou. Then he looked past Trixie to the bar. “Hey, Émile!” he bellowed.
Somewhat surprisingly, there was now a bartender nearby on the other side of the bar.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Lou,” he said.
“A drink for the lady,” he said, in a voice that sounded like what writers probably mean when they say a voice sounds commanding. “On my tab. And for these two gentlemen, whatever they’re having.”
“Two Tree Frog Ales,” said Horace without a moment’s hesitation, “and two shots of Heaven Sent bourbon.”
“And a Pousse Café pour moi,” said Trixie.
“Make that a Pousse Café and three Tree Frog ales, Émile,” said the big man, “and three shots of Heaven Sent.” He turned to Horace. “I said put your wallet away, friend.”
“Oh, sure,” said Horace, and he quickly folded up the old wallet and stuck it back into his pocket.
“Lou’s my name,” said the man. “Lou Abernathy. But everybody calls me Laughing Lou. Ha ha! Because I like to laugh. Put ‘er there, sir.”
He held out his great fat hand and Horace took it in his own large but not so large hand.
“Sternwall’s my name,” said Horace. “Horace P. Sternwall. But please call me –”
“Wait,” said the big man. “Not the Horace P. Sternwall? The writer fellow?”
“Well,” said Horace, “unless there’s another Horace P. Sternwall who labors modestly with his pen –”
“The Burglar and the Babe?” said the big man. He had now put his cigar in his mouth so that he could wrap his other enormous hand around Horace’s, so that Horace’s hand was now completely encased in the great mass of flesh and bones that was this man’s two hands. “Female Residence?” said the fat man. “They Call Him Cad?”
“Yes, I must admit I wrote those epics, heh heh,” said Horace. His face was turning a little red, probably from the pain of the big man squeezing his hand.
“Ha ha!” said the big fat man. “You know what you write like?”
“No. What do I write like?” said Horace. Beads of sweat had popped up on his forehead.
“I’ll tell you what you write like,” said the big man. “You write like a goddam son-of-a-bitch! Ha ha!”
“Heh heh,” said Horace, and now his face had grown pale, and I wondered if he was going to pass out.
Suddenly the big guy let go of Horace’s hand and, taking that enormous cigar out of his mouth, he turned to Trixie.
“Pardon my French, Trixie,” he said. “But this gentleman here is one of my absolute favorite authors! Ha ha!”
Trixie had put a cigarette in her mouth and I suppose she was waiting for someone to light it.
“He still looks like a two-bit vagrant to me,” she said, talking around the unlit cigarette.
“That’s because he is an artist,” said the big man. “Artists, writers, creative people – they often look like vagrants, don’t they, Horace?”
“Well, in truth,” said Horace, who was rubbing his right hand with his left, trying to restore his circulation, “yes, I suppose –”
“Ha ha!” said the big fat man.
Suddenly he pulled a lighter out of his jacket pocket, flicked it, and held it to Trixie’s cigarette. It was an expensive-looking butane lighter, mother-of-pearl I think.
“Thanks, Lou,” she said.
“You’re welcome, Trixie,” said the big fat man.
He slipped the lighter back into his jacket and then suddenly turned to me.
“You must be an artist, too, then, sir. A painter? Or a poet perhaps? You have that certain sensitive look of the poet about you.”
“Well –” I felt very uncomfortable. I always feel uncomfortable telling people I write poetry.
“You are a poet!” said the fat man. “Ha ha! I knew it! Tell me, do you write narrative poems? Epic? Lyric perhaps.”
“Um,” I said.
The bartender was back now. He laid down a tray with three bottles of Tree Frog ale, three filled shot glasses, and one of those big multi-colored drinks that Trixie was drinking, and he began transferring the drinks from the tray to the bar top.
“Here’s your drinks, Mr. Lou,” yelled the bartender. In fact Lou had been yelling, too, all along, and I thought how unfair it was that the lady singer in the combo, who was still singing and playing, hadn’t scolded him for speaking loudly. But then I didn’t walk around handing out hundred-dollar bills, either.
“Thank you, Émile,” said the big guy, whom I was now thinking of as Lou. “Oh, and for your trouble.”
He stuck his big fingers into his vest pocket again, did something with his fingers to unfold it, revealing it to be a twenty-dollar bill, and then tossed it onto the tray.
The bartender quickly snatched up the twenty.
“Gee, thanks, Mr. Lou,” he said.
“Don’t mention it,” said Lou. Putting the big cigar in his mouth he picked up two of the shots of bourbon and handed one each to me and Horace. “I propose a toast,” he said. “Didn’t catch your name, though,” he said, looking at me.
“Oh, sorry,” I said. “I guess it’s Arnold.”
“Ha ha!” he said. “You guess it’s Arnold! Ha ha! Well, as I said, my name is Laughing Lou Abernathy, and I’m glad to know you.”
I made a point of keeping the shot glass in my right hand so that he wouldn’t try to shake it. The big guy picked up the third shot glass and then turned to me again.
“Raise your glass, Arnold,” he said.
Suddenly Ferdinand, who had been unusually reticent throughout all this, flew out of my ear and buzzed around my shot glass, landing on the rim.
“Wow – Arnold,” said Laughing Lou, “that is one bold fly right there.”
“Um,” I said.
Ferdinand was now actively drinking my bourbon.
“Jeeze, thirsty little fella, ain’t he?” said Lou.
“It’s okay,” I said. “He’s my friend.”
Trixie had already been drinking her Pousse Café, sipping it through its straw, but now she stopped.
“That fly is your friend?” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“That’s just disgusting,” she said.
Ferdinand stopped drinking, straightened up and looked right at her.
“Pretty strong words from a common roadhouse trollop,” he said.
“Why you filthy little insect,” she said.
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou, but he wasn’t really laughing.
(Continued here, and so on, thanks in part to the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™, at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Bob’s Bowery Bar™ has been my home away from home – and sometimes my home – for, lo, these many years now.” – Horace P. Sternwall, author and motivational speaker.)
(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for what quite often is to a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; also appearing with worse formatting in the Collingswood Patch™: “It’s South Jersey. What can we do?”)