Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel, quietly suffering what Bertie Wooster referred to as “the pangs of h.”, here at a table on the rear terrace of Lily’s Road House…
(Kindly go here to read our preceding chapter; the more daring among you may click here to return to the very first chapter of this 49-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)
“Just when you think that you have some vague idea of where Arnold Schnabel’s massive chef-d'œuvre is about to lead you next, you find that once again you were wrong, so horribly wrong.” – Harold Bloom, in the Olney Community College Literary Quarterly.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Lou,” said Lily. “Just get to it, will you? To your God damned proposition. And if these characters are foolish enough to go along with it, then God help them.”
“Oh, it’s not that bad, Lily,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha?”
“Not that bad,” she said. “Not that bad.”
“Well, really,” he said, “ha ha –”
“’Not that bad’,” she said, again. “Tell that to the last chumps you made the proposition to, and the chumps before them, and the ones before them, and the poor saps before them. Tell it to all those deluded dead saps and chumps, Lou. Tell it to the United States Marines, for all I care. But just tell it, and quit horsing around, because I’m bored, do you hear, bored!”
She squeezed my thigh a little harder with that last phrase, and this act did not make my erection go away.
“Very well, then, Lily,” said Lou. “Ha ha!” He looked at me. “Arnold?”
“Yes,” I said. I was thinking about fried pork chops.
“I just wanted to say that it’s really not that bad,” he said.
“What isn’t?” I said.
“What I’m about to propose.”
“Oh,” I said. Pork chops and corn on the cob, with lots of butter, and with German potato salad –
“Horace?” said Lou.
Horace had just been taking a gulp of champagne.
“Huh? What?” he said.
“You heard what I just said to Arnold?”
“Um,” said Horace.
“I said it’s really not that bad, what I’m about to propose.”
“Oh,” said Horace. “Splendid!”
“What about me, Fatty Arbuckle?” said Ferdinand, from inside his champagne glass, where he cunningly floated on the bubbles, merrily drinking to his heart’s content.
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “You too, my friend! Despite what dear Miss Lily says I assure you my proposition will prove beneficial to –”
“Oh, Jesus fucking Christ, Lou!” said Lily. “Will you please just make your damned proposition before I take this gun out of my purse and put a bullet through your fat head!”
Saying the above she picked up her black sparkly purse and then banged it down on the table, with a muffled but still loud metallic clang.
“Yes, of course,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha. To the proposition then. Arnold?”
“What?” I said.
“Just wanted to make sure you’re paying attention. You seem a bit distracted.”
This was true. I had switched from pork chops to roast pork, stuffed with peach preserves.
“Um,” I said.
Fresh string beans would be good, too. Pan fried, crispy, with garlic.
“Okay, good,” said Laughing Lou. He looked at Horace, who was just putting his glass down again, empty again. “Horace?”
“You’re listening, right?”
“Of course, Lou. But I’ll tell you, I’ll listen better if I can refill my glass.”
“Help yourself,” said Laughing Lou.
“What about me?” said Ferdinand, from inside his champagne flute.
“Are you listening, Ferdy?” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha?”
“Intently,” said Ferdinand. “But you don’t mind if I continue lapping up this most excellent champagne while you hold forth?”
“Not at all, my friend,” said Laughing Lou. “Lap away, please. Ha ha!”
Lily had taken a gold-plated cigarette case out of her purse (I say gold-plated, although it may merely have been a cheap imitation of gold plate, what did I know?) and removed a cigarette and put it in her lips, which were painted a deep dark red, a descriptive detail I believe I have failed to mention until now, but better late than never. Without missing a beat Laughing Lou quick-drew a lighter from his suit jacket pocket (this lighter as well looked to be gold-plated, but, again, what did I know?) and gave her a light.
Lily didn’t say thanks, she just exhaled smoke into the cool nighttime air and looked bored, and then, finally, after watching Horace refill his glass once again, and waiting until he had put the magnum back into its ice bucket, Lou began to speak, in low and confidential-sounding tones, as if he didn’t want anyone to overhear us, even though no one else was around.
The night was quiet. Sometime previous to this moment the Mantovani album that had been playing in the other room had come to the end of its side. There was a very faint murmuring from the trees in the dark woods beyond the graveled lot, and just the faintest thrumming from the jukebox back there in the barroom, but except for the small wispy sounds that Ferdinand made as he lapped his champagne and the somewhat louder gulping and sighing noises that Horace emitted as he gulped his, the only sound to be heard was laughing Lou’s low and confidential-sounding, almost whispering voice.
But all I could think about was food. That’s not entirely true. I was also thinking about the fact that Lily was still caressing my thigh, and that I was still possessed of an erection, and I was wondering what if anything I could do about this. It occurred to me that if I just let myself go and completely devoted all my thoughts to the prospect of eating something in the very near future, that perhaps the erection would subside of its own accord.
And so I thought of some other favorite meals.
There was my mother’s meatloaf for instance, cooked with bacon and ketchup on top, and smothered with pan gravy made with Campbell’s mushroom soup, and preferably with mashed potatoes…
There was the common ordinary hotdog of the sort one could get at the lunch counter at Kresge’s, but so good with sauerkraut and mustard, and so filling if you had five or six of them if you were really hungry, washed down with lots of Hires root beer…
Or hot roast beef sandwiches of the kind they served at the VFW in Cape May, on kaiser rolls, with potato chips and pickles, with as many mugs of draft Schmidt’s beer as I could manage…
Or what about just some chop suey in one of those cheap joints near the Reading terminal in Philly’s Chinatown, preceded by a large bowl of wonton soup, and a half dozen egg rolls, and an order or two of barbecued spare ribs? And then, stomach full, it was only a short walk to one of those really cheap bars over on skid row, where I could quietly get half a load on and then hop the 47 trolley home?
There was so much good food in the world, and I was ready at this point even for mediocre food, as long as I got it soon, and plenty of it.
They had to have food in this place. It was a road house, wasn’t it? Road houses served food. Probably simple, hearty fare, but I had simple and hearty tastes. Maybe they had fried chicken? It might even be good fried chicken, you never knew in these out of the way places. A great big plate of fried chicken, maybe with waffles on the side, and creamed corn, maybe with some sausages too, and finally why not some pie? Some apple or cherry pie, with ice cream? Sometimes these country places even had home-made ice cream, it wasn’t entirely unheard of. And there had been animal heads on the walls in Laughing Lou’s private room back there, maybe this was one of those woodsy places where they served venison, or wild boar, or even bear, not that I had ever eaten any of that sort of thing, but I was so hungry now I would eat a bear, or at least a sizable part of one. Even better, maybe they had a smorgasbord, a lot of these places outside the cities had smorgasbords, that would be great, just get a tray and load it up – what sort of food did they have in smorgasbords, anyway? Some sort of Danish or Swedish food? Swedish meatballs sounded good…
“Well, Arnold?” said Laughing Lou. “You seem very thoughtful.”
“Um,” I said.
“So what do you think?” he said.
“What do I think?” I said.
“Yes, ha ha!” he said. “About my proposition!”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, uh –”
Of course I hadn’t heard a word of his proposition, so busy had I been thinking about food. Food. And I hadn’t even really explored the world of seafood at all, all the good stuff you could get fresh, or presumably fresh, from the docks in Cape May. Scallops, and bluefish, and crabs, and clams –
“By God, man!” yelled Laughing Lou, and I almost jumped from my seat. “I’m telling you, Arnold, this is your chance! Grab it!”
As he said this Lily squeezed my thigh, and I became aware, thankfully, that my erection had finally subsided. My food-reverie had done the trick in that regard after all.
“Well, uh, I’ll tell ya, Lou –” I said.
“And I’m telling you, Arnold!” he yelled. “It’s not only your best chance! It’s your only chance! Do you want to get back to your world or not?”
“Well,” I said, “sure –”
“Of course he wants to get back to his world,” said Lily. “Why would he want to stay here, in this dump?”
She said this, but she still kept caressing my thigh, and the thought occurred to me that maybe she wasn’t even aware of what her hand was doing.
I realized my glass, still nearly full of champagne, was still sitting there on the table in front of me. I picked it up and took a drink. This time the champagne stayed down, even as hungry as I was.
“Say yes, man!” said Lou. “I can tell you have balls!”
“Of course he’s got balls,” said Lily. “Unlike some people I could name.”
“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Balls of brass I’ll wager! So – yes it is then, Arnold?”
Of course any normal person would have admitted by now that he hadn’t been paying attention, and would have apologized and asked Lou to repeat his proposition. But as my purely hypothetical reader will have noticed by now, I am not normal. So:
“Well, uh, em,” I said.
“Damn it, man!” said Laughing Lou. “You are a cagey one! Horace!”
“What,” said Horace, and he lowered his glass from his lips, his once again empty glass.
“What about you, Horace,” said Laughing Lou. “Do you accept my proposition? Ha ha?”
“Your proposition?” said Horace. He pointed in the general direction of the champagne bottle. “May I?”
“Of course,” said Laughing Lou, and with just one of his enormous hands he lifted the big bottle out of the ice and refilled Horace’s glass, for what was it, the fourth time? “Now what do you say, yes or no?”
“Well, I’ll tell ya, Lou,” said Horace. “If Arnie’s in, I’m in. What the hell. Who gives a shit. My life is crap anyway.”
“Great,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha. So, you’re in if Arnie’s in. Ferdinand, little fella, you still with us in there?”
“I’m still here, big guy,” said Ferdinand, still floating in his little sea of champagne. I noticed that both he and Horace were noticeably slurring their words.
“In or out, little guy?” said Laughing Lou.
“I don’t give a flying fuck,” said Ferdinand.
“Okay, fine, ha ha,” said Laughing Lou. “Well, what about if your friend Arnold says yes?”
“Where Arnie goes, I go,” said Ferdinand. “Me and him, we’re buddies for life. And don’t you forget it. ‘Cause if you fuck with him you’re fuckin’ with me. And if you fuck with me you’re fuckin’ with fire.”
“Okay, ha ha, fine,” said Laughing Lou. He turned to me again. “It seems to be up to you, Arnold. Your friends are game if you are. Now what do you say?”
Lily’s hand squeezed my thigh again, but my erection remained quiescent, at least for the time being.
“I would like some food,” I said.
“What?” said Laughing Lou.
“I’m starving,” I said. “I don’t know about Horace and Ferdinand, but I need to eat.”
“You need to eat?” said Laughing Lou.
“You heard him,” said Lily. “He’s hungry. He wants to eat.”
“Okay!” said Laughing Lou. “We’ll get you some food! We’ll get everyone some food! And then – then will you give me your answer?”
“Yes,” I said.
To be honest I would have agreed to anything at that point, just to get some food in my belly.
“Fabulous,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! What would you like to eat?”
A better question would have been what wouldn’t I like to eat.
“What do you have?” I said.
(Continued here; the surface of the surface has only barely been scratched.)
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