We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here at a roadhouse barroom in the world of an extremely rare and obscure “paperback original” novel titled Rummies of the Open Road…
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“When one enters the universe of Arnold Schnabel one enters not just one world, but a multitude of worlds, each containing multitudes of worlds within their respective worlds.” – Harold Bloom, in The Maxim Literary Supplement.
“So, I see you and young Trixie were getting along swimmingly,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”
“This guy and the dames,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around in a merry way, “the chicks love him!”
“Is that so?” said Horace.
“What, you kidding me?” said Ferdinand. “With a stick he beats them off. With a club! Right, Arnie?”
“So, Laughing Lou,” I said, blatantly changing the subject because I really just didn’t care anymore about being so boringly polite all the time, “you said you had a quiet place we could sit, and – uh –”
“And chat,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Follow me!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”
He stuck his enormous cigar in his mouth, and with the enormous open hand that wasn’t holding his bottle of Tree Frog ale he gave me a mighty blow on the shoulder, but I saw it coming and was able to roll with it as I had learned to do from boxing in the army, and so I only stumbled a few feet to the left against some people at the bar instead of falling down completely.
I apologized to these people, who seemed to take the accident in good grace when they saw I was in Laughing Lou’s company. He and Horace and Ferdinand had already headed off down the length of the bar, and I followed them.
The combo was still playing, and the woman in black at the piano was still singing, another sad song I had never heard before, and again she seemed to be gazing across that crowded smoky barroom at me as she sang:
There he goes, the lonely fella,And there she went again, singing about me, and in a sense I knew I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t; in fact I found it disconcerting. She sang another verse as I made my way down the bar.
But where he is going he knows not;
Why he goes, he couldn’t tell ya –
Out of the fire and into the pot…
There he goes, the pathetic jerkLaughing Lou made a left turn at the corner of the bar, Horace and Ferdinand followed him, and I followed them. After all, I had nowhere else to go.
His brain always churning and bubbling;
He’s just not cut out for any useful work
Chaps like him can be awfully troubling…
The lady in black continued to sing, behind my back, singing about me:
There he goes, that lonely sad guy,Following Laughing Lou’s lead we next turned right, went past a hallway that seemed to lead to a kitchen, and then we came to a door with a sign saying “PRIVATE”. Laughing Lou had taken that enormous cigar out of his mouth, but now he shoved it back in, put his hand into his jacket pocket, brought out a big steel ring of keys, and then turned to me.
On the road to a place called nowhere;
So say farewell to him, say goodbye,
He has no choice but to go there...
“Hold my bottle of ale for me, will you, Arnie?”
I did as he asked, and he selected a key from his chain and unlocked the door. He pushed it open, reached in and switched on a light, then stood to the side and waved us inside.
I followed Horace and Ferdinand into this next room, and Laughing Lou was right behind me, putting the keys back into his pocket and closing the door.
I turned, and I saw him slide a barrel-bolt shut on the door, and then turn the switch on a deadbolt. The door had a security chain also, and he ran its bolt into its slide. Then he turned around and took the cigar out of his mouth.
“Gotta keep the hoi polloi out,” he said. “I leave that door unlocked every drunk out there will be stumbling in here, trying to crash our little ‘boy’s party’ – ha ha!”
He held his hand out for his bottle of ale, I handed it to him, and he waved at the brightly-lighted room behind us with his cigar.
“My sanctum sanctorum,” he said. “Ha ha!”
He pointed his cigar at the left side of the room.
“You got your fully stocked wet bar over there, with a Frigidaire filled with fine beers and ales. French champagne, too, the good stuff, not that cheap domestic bilge water, ha ha!”
Then he pointed to the right.
“You got your regulation pool table over here, in case you want to run a rack or two. Ha ha! Hi-Fi set over there the other side of the table, with shelves and shelves of the finest music ever recorded.” He turned to me, looking as if he were genuinely curious. “What do you like, Arnold? You look like you have discerning taste. Charlie Parker? Pee Wee Russell? Lady Day?”
“I don’t care,” I said.
“Name somebody. If I have it we’ll play it.”
I drew a blank.
“Someone,” he said. “Anyone?”
“Do you have any Jackie Gleason albums?” I said.
“You like Gleason?”
(I neither liked nor disliked Jackie Gleason’s music, but my mother had several of his albums she had got with green stamps from the Acme, and Gleason’s name was the first thing I thought of.)
“Yes,” I said, because it was easier to say yes, and less boring, than to tell the truth.
“People tell me I remind them of Jackie Gleason,” he said. “On account of I’m a big man, I guess.”
“Um,” I said. What else could I say? That he wasn’t big and fat?
“There’s just one little problem,” he said.
I didn’t say anything. I figured there were probably many little problems, and many big ones, too.
“You want to know what that little problem is?” he said.
I knew, even I knew, that this was a rhetorical question, and one which, if I were to respond honestly to it, would only result in more and deeper tedium than if I lied, so I said, “Sure.”
“I don’t think I actually in point of fact have any of Gleason’s records,” he said. He paused, waiting I suppose for some sort of response from me. I don’t know why, but I kept him waiting. “I hope you’re not offended,” he said at last.
“No,” I said.
“Really?” he said.
“Really,” I said.
“I have nothing against Gleason’s music you understand,” he said, “nothing at all. And as for his ability as an artiste, both comic and dramatic, I think he is nonpareil. However, for that sort of music, you know, classical type music with violins and all, I gotta tell ya, I’m just more of a Mantovani man myself. Please don’t take this as a personal attack on your taste."
“I don’t,” I said. And then, throwing him a bone, and besides, I was bored with the subject: “Anyway, I have poor taste in music.”
“Ha ha!” he said. “A self-effacing poet! I love it! So how about if I put some Mantovani on the Hi-Fi?”
“Mantovani would be great,” I said, although this was only a name to me, and, anyway, it was true, I had poor taste in music, or maybe it would be truer to say I had no taste in music.
“Well, I’m glad we got that fucking settled,” said Ferdinand. “Now how about some whiskey?”
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “So Mantovani’s okay with you fellows too?”
“Oh, yes, Mantovani’s fine,” said Horace, with a somewhat serious-looking expression on his face, as if he were attempting to give the impression that he cared.
“Ferdinand?” said Laughing Lou. “Mantovani all right?”
“Sure, great Lou,” said Ferdinand, and I could tell he was getting annoyed. “Fine.”
“Then we’ll play some Mantovani!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!” He waved toward a round wooden table in the middle of the room, with four red-upholstered armchairs ranged around it. “Everybody, please, grab a chair.”
“Me too?” said Ferdinand.
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Just sit anywhere you like, my tiny friend, unless of course you prefer to buzz merrily around?”
“Oh no, I’ll sit,” said Ferdinand. “I’ll sit on the edge of a rocks glass filled with whiskey if you don’t mind.”
“Ha ha! But of course my small buddy!” said Laughing Lou. “Please, sit, fellas. Make yourselves at home.”
Horace looked at me, I looked at him, and we went over to the table and sat down with our bottles of Tree Frog ale. Horace grabbed the chair facing the door, I took the one across from him. There were four glass ashtrays on the table, and Horace reached over and moved one closer, tapped his cigar ash into it.
Ferdinand buzzed around in a circle over the table.
“Any kind of whiskey for me, Lou,” he said.
“How about some more Heaven Sent bourbon?” said Laughing Lou, who had gone over to the Hi-Fi and was looking through the shelves of record albums on the wall next to it.
“Heaven Sent bourbon would be wonderful,” said Ferdinand.
“Here’s a good one,” said Laughing Lou. He put down his bottle of ale and held up a record album in its sleeve. “Mantovani Plays Songs for Desperate Lovers.”
“That’s great, Lou,” said Ferdinand. “Now put it on and then about that whiskey.”
“Yes, of course,” said Laughing Lou. He took the album out of its sleeve and put it on the turntable. “Just a moment –”
Ferdinand flew onto the porch of my ear and whispered, but rather loudly:
“I’m gonna kill this guy he doesn’t quit horsing around and break out the whiskey.”
“What’s that?” said Laughing Lou.
“I said I sure could go for some good whiskey right around now,” said Ferdinand. “I mean, when you get a minute.”
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “You scamp!”
Horace had been gulping his ale out of the bottle and now he put down the empty bottle with a sigh.
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “I’ll bet Horace would like some more whiskey, too, wouldn’t you, old man?”
“Yes,” said Horace. “Some whiskey would be nice, thank you.”
“Jesus fucking Christ,” whispered Ferdinand in my ear. “The shit you have to go through to get a drink sometimes.”
“What’s that?” said Laughing Lou.
“Nothing,” said Ferdinand. “Please, put the record on.”
“Just a sec here,” said Laughing Lou. He flicked some switches and some music with a lot of violins came on. He picked up his bottle of ale again and turned to us. “You dig that sound?” he said. “Ha ha! Got this Hi-Fi at Sears. A Philco, top of the line –”
“Yeah, it’s great,” said Ferdinand, yelling over the music. “Now, about that bourbon?”
“Oh! Ha ha! Yes, of course!” said Laughing Lou, and he went lumbering across the room to the bar.
I suppose I should add some more description to this room we were in. The walls were of shiny pale wood paneling, and on the walls were a lot of animal heads mounted on plaques – bears, mountain lions, what I supposed were elk or deer or moose, what did I know? At the opposite side of the room from the doorway was a large broad desk, with some padded arm chairs in front of it, and one especially big chair behind it. In back of the desk were French windows with dark trees beyond, and a starry nighttime sky above the trees.
Ferdinand was still in my ear.
“Actually I hate Mantovani,” he said. “But I do like whiskey.”
“What did he say?” said Horace.
Ferdinand flew over to Horace’s ear, and I heard Ferdinand whispering something.
“Oh, you are naughty!” said Horace, in a low voice.
“What’s that?” called out Laughing Lou from the bar.
“He said where’s that whiskey!” said Ferdinand.
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Coming up! Anyone want some ice? Soda? Branch water”
“Just the bottle and some glasses, my friend,” said Ferdinand. “We are not picky, are we, boys?”
“Oh, no, indeed no,” said Horace. “Not picky at all! Just straight for me, thanks, Lou.”
“Arnold?” yelled Laughing Lou. “Ice? Soda? Water?”
“I’m good with my ale,” I said. “No whiskey for me, thank you.”
“Bring him a glass, Lou,” said Ferdinand. “I know this guy. He plays hard to get with the booze, but he can put it away with the best of them.”
“Ha ha!” yelled Laughing Lou. “A man after my own heart!”
I took a drink of my Tree Frog ale, out of the bottle. It tasted good, but then, like Horace, I wasn’t picky.
Laughing Lou finally came over to the table, carrying a chrome or chrome-like cocktail tray with a full bottle of Heaven Sent bourbon on it, four squat rectangular glasses, and his bottle of Tree Frog ale. He put the tray down on the table, opened the bottle, and filled each glass about a quarter of the way full, in other words about a quadruple shot in each. He recapped the bottle and then put one glass of bourbon each before me and Horace. He put a third glass at the empty place to my left.
“One for the little guy,” he said.
“Thanks,” said Ferdinand. “At long last. Thank you.”
And he flew down into the whiskey without another word.
Lou took the fourth glass and his bottle of ale and sat down at the empty chair to my right. He pulled an ashtray closer to his place and tapped his cigar ash into it.
“So, gentlemen,” he said. He turned his whiskey glass around on its base, turning it first one way and then the other. “Now that we’re alone, at last, and with libations to hand – shall we have a little chat? Ha ha!”
Horace had gulped down half his whiskey, and he put the glass down on the table looking much more relaxed than he had a moment ago.
“Sure, Lou,” he said. “What shall we chat about?”
Ferdinand didn’t say anything, he was busy lapping up whiskey.
I didn’t say anything either, but I did take another good gulp of my ale.
“Let’s talk about how we might be able to – help each other out,” said Laughing Lou.
I looked at Horace. Now he didn’t look so relaxed.
Ferdinand just kept lapping his whiskey, and I thought that, yes, I would probably soon have to take care of him again, something I was getting used to; but after all, he was my friend.
“You see I know what you fellows want,” said Laughing Lou, and now he wasn’t laughing.
“You mean whiskey and ale?” said Horace. “’Cause I could go for another one of these Tree Frogs if you got any back here, just to wash the whiskey burn away, ya understand.”
“I know what you want even more than whiskey and ale,” said Laughing Lou. “And, yes, ha ha, don’t say it, even more than some free or reasonably-priced tail, ha ha! No, I know what you want even more than that.”
“More than whiskey, ale, and tail?” said Horace. “You’re joking, right?”
“Oh no, I am not joking, sir, not joking at all.” Laughing Lou picked up his bottle of ale. It didn’t look as if he had drunk from it yet, but now he lifted it up and drank, gulping three or four times, and then finally laid the bottle down, empty. He sighed, and then he spoke. “Allow me if you will to ask you this.”
But then he didn’t say anything.
“What’s that, Lou?” said Horace, because obviously someone had to say something.
“Allow me to ask you this,” said Laughing Lou.
“Um, yes?” said Horace.
“My question is,” said Laughing Lou, “how would you three stout fellows like –”
Again he paused.
“Yes,” said Horace.
“How would you like,” said the annoying big fat man – and then, after another pause – “a way out?”
Another silence followed. It was obvious that Laughing Lou was in no hurry to get to his point if he had one.
“Well,” said Horace, I suppose because it was obvious that Laughing Lou had no intention of going on until he was prompted, “I guess that depends on what you mean by ‘a way out’.” He looked at me, as if I could be any help. “Right, Arnie?”
I didn’t say anything.
“Oh, I think Arnold knows what I mean when I say ‘a way out’,” said Laughing Lou. “Don’t you, Arnold? Ha ha!”
He took a drink of his whiskey. Yes, he was in no hurry, and there was nothing to do but wait, either that or get up and leave, but, as I have said, I had nowhere else to go.
He laid the glass down, and gave an exaggerated-seeming sigh.
“Yes, I am offering you three fellows a way out –” he said, and then paused again, and I admit I had sudden urge to scream, but I kept it in.
He was being so annoying that even Ferdinand took a break from slurping his whiskey and jumped up to the edge of his glass.
“Jesus Christ, man,” he said. “Will you just fucking say it! A way out of what?”
“Ha ha!” said Lou. “I am offering you three stout chaps a way out –”
Again, a pause.
I looked at Horace. He picked up his glass again and drank, then laid the glass, empty, down on the table.
Laughing Lou continued to stretch out his pause, and I had to pull my hand away from the table to keep it from grabbing the whiskey bottle and smashing the man over the head with it.
“What?” screamed Ferdinand.
Horace suddenly reached out and grabbed the bourbon bottle, unscrewed the cap, and poured himself another quadruple.
“Yes, help yourself, please,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”
Horace put down the bottle, tossed its cap on the table, picked up his glass, and drank. He laid the glass down, half its contents gone, and then said, “A way out of what, Lou?”
“A way out –” said Laughing Lou.
“Yes!” yelled Ferdinand, “a way out, a way out – a way out of fucking what?”
Laughing Lou smiled, and then just before all hell might have broken loose, he spoke.
“A way out of this world,” he said.
He didn’t laugh.
(Continued here, thanks in part to the generous sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Beat the heat with a cold mug of Bob’s famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock, then, what the heck, have another!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author, poet, and public speaker.)
(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find what may be a reasonably-current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; nihil obstat: Bishop John J. “Big Jack” Graham. D.D.)