Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel (trapped for the nonce in the physical form of “Porter Walker, romantic poet”) at the bar of Greenwich Village’s Kettle of Fish tavern, on a possibly endless hot rainy night in August of 1957…
(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you’ve finally given up all hope of an useful existence you may then but only then click here to return to the very beginning of this 53-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)
“Yes, I’m still snowed in, but I’m not unhappy and certainly not bored, as I spend the days smoking my meerschaum, drinking Fox’s U-bet™ hot cocoa, and reading Arnold Schnabel’s massive and, yes, massively enthralling chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in the Maxim Literary Supplement.
“Ho-kayyy,” said Eddie, dragging out the second syllable, and he gave me a nudge with his elbow. “Pick up your beer, son.”
I put my blank book down on the bar, picked up the mug closest to me, and Eddie picked up the other one.
“May I propose a toast, gentlemen?” he said. “Bobby?”
“Oh, sorry, man,” said Bobby, who had already drunk at least a third of his Brandy Alexander. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand and put his glass down. “Toast away. Just don’t drag it out all night, don’t want my cocktail to get warm.”
“Oh, but of course,” said Eddie. “Just a brief toast.”
“We’re waiting,” said Bobby.
“A brief toast in verse, if I may,” said Eddie.
“Oh, Christ,” said Bobby. “Here we fuckin’ go.”
“May I begin?” said Eddie.
“Oh, please, do,” said Bobby.
“A brief toast, extempore, in honor of our young friend Porter.”
“Fire when ready, Gridley,” said Bobby.
“Let us raise our merry glasses,” said Eddie, raising his mug, but then he paused. “I said,” he said, ‘Let us raise our merry glasses.’”
“Oh, Christ, man,” said Bobby, “just get on with it, will you?”
“Not until you raise your glasses,” said Eddie. “It doesn’t work unless you raise your glass.”
I was anxious to move things along, and so I obediently raised my mug so that its rim was more or less level with the top of my head.
Bobby was just sitting there glaring at Eddie, his hand on the stem of his cocktail glass, and the base of the glass solidly on the bar top.
“Bobby?” said Eddie. “Come on, man, I would do it for you.”
“I am not a simpleton like you,” said Bobby, and he took a drag on his cigarette.
“Come on, Bobby,” said Eddie. “You’re embarrassing me in front of Porter.”
Bobby finished exhaling his smoke before replying to Eddy’s remark. Then:
“And I should give a shit?” he said.
“Just lift your glass,” said Eddie. “If you lift it I’ll buy you another drink.”
“Another Brandy Alexander?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” said Eddie.
“Made with Courvoisier?”
“Sure, Courvoisier,” said Eddie, “although any trained bartender will tell you you’re wasting good cognac if you use it in an Alexander.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” said Bobby.
“Great,” said Eddie. “Now, will you please raise your glass, if not for my sake then for the sake of young Porter here?”
“Sure,” said Bobby, and after waiting for five very long seconds, and then tapping the ash off his cigarette (which ash fell to his left thigh and then down to the toe of my right shoe) he raised his cocktail glass approximately two inches off the bar. “How’s that?”
“Great,” said Eddie. “That’s just great, Bobby. Real classy.”
“Make your toast,” said Bobby. “I’m fucking dying of thirst over here.”
“Okay then,” said Eddie. “Here goes.”
He raised his own beer mug on high, so that its bottom was above the level of his head. Even though I had been holding my own mug up already for quite some time, he gave me a look, and I raised the mug higher, even higher than his mug, anything to speed things along.
Eddie cleared his throat, paused just briefly, then began:
“Let us raise our merry glasses
to our young friend, the poet Porter.
He is not one of these brazen asses
we would not even let speak to our daughter;
nay, he is a stout young laddy
with a gift for epic poèsy,
and even if he does seem sad, he
does not mope and cry, ‘O woe is me;’
he takes it like a man, and not
with a whine, nor a churlish mumble,
but stoic, not like some Hottentot,
straight out of the primeval jungle –”
“Jesus fucking Christ, man,” interrupted Bobby, “finish the fucking toast!”
“Oh, all right,” said Eddie. “You made me lose my train of thought anyway.” He looked at me. “Here’s to you, Porter. Welcome to the great poets’ club.”
He put his beer mug to his lips, and drank, polishing off about half of its contents.
I put my own mug to my lips and drank also, and when I reached the halfway point I took a deep breath and drank the rest of it. Then I put the mug back on the bar, sighed, and wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my seersucker jacket.
“Thanks,” I said. “Now, about that pen or pencil.”
“I love this fuckin’ guy,” said Bobby, with a choking sound that I suppose was meant to be a laugh, or his version of a laugh.
He had drunk most of his drink, and he put the glass down and took another drag on his cigarette.
“You really want a pen,” said Eddie, in a thoughtful-sounding way, but also with a slightly accusatory tone, as if I had confessed to preferring foreign movies. He took a drag on his own cigarette. It was unfiltered, and he’d smoked it down to its last inch. “Or a pencil.”
“Yes,” I said. “Either one. And I’m willing to pay.”
“I’ve got a pen on me.”
“Great,” I said. “I’ll buy it off you. I have seven dollars I think. And some change.”
He put his mug down and reached inside his suit jacket. He brought out a blue and yellow pen.
“Eversharp ballpoint,” he said. “This okay?”
“Sure, great,” I said.
“It’s a decent pen. Set me back a buck.”
“I’ll pay you full price,” I said.
He took one last drag on his cigarette and then stubbed it out in a dirty tin ashtray that was already filled with butts.
“That seems hardly fair,” he said.
“I’ll give you seven dollars for it,” I said. “Seven and some change. I might have a transit token also.”
“I meant that it’s hardly fair for me to charge you full price,” he said. “There might not even be that much ink in it.”
“I don’t care,” I said.
“What if it runs out on you in the middle of a line?”
“I’ll get another pen,” I said. “Or a pencil.”
“Love this kid,” said Bobby. He picked up his drink, drank the rest of it down, slammed the glass down. “Hey, Vito!” he yelled at the bartender who was more than halfway down the bar and obviously very busy. “Three more of the same over here, except make the Alexander with Courvoisier!”
“Wait your fucking turn, Bobby,” yelled back the bartender.
“Just don’t forget the Courvoisier, Vito, ‘cause my father here’s buying again!”
“Fuck you,” yelled Vito.
“Love that fucking guy,” said Bobby.
“Okay, look, Porter,” said Eddie. He took another good drink from his mug, put the mug down again. “I’ll let you have the pen for seventy-five cents.”
“Great,” I said.
I reached my fingers into my jeans and searched my pockets, including the little change pocket. I came up with thirty-two cents and a New York City Transit Authority token. I laid the change and the token on the bar.
“I don’t have seventy-five in change,” I said. “I’ll just give you a dollar.”
I started to reach into my back pocket for my wallet, but Eddie grabbed my arm.
“Cool it,” he said. “Leave us not sweat the small shit. I’ll take the thirty-two cents and the token.”
“Great,” I said. “Thanks.”
He let my arm go, and then with the back of his left hand he slid the change and the token over to his pile of bills. He held the pen out to me in his right hand. I went to grab it but he pulled it back out of my reach.
“Just one thing,” he said.
“Yes?” I said.
“Promise me this.”
“Sure,” I said.
I became aware of the fact that sweat was pouring out of every pore of my body, but in fact it may have been pouring out of me at this rate ever since the last time I had noticed it.
“Promise me,” said Eddie, with a serious-looking expression on his face, as if he were tendering his condolences at a wake, “promise me that you will write well.”
“I will,” I said.
“You will promise that you will write well, or you promise that you will write well.”
“I promise I will write well,” I said.
“No one can make that promise,” yelled Bobby. “Even me. And I’m America’s most beloved poet.”
“In your mind you are,” said Eddie. And then to me: “Promise me that you will at least try to write as well as you are able.”
“Sure,” I said.
“I’m not asking you to hit the ball out of the park necessarily. But I am asking you not to go down without at least taking a swing at the ball.“ He made a swinging gesture with the pen. “If you get a good pitch that is.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Sometimes the best you can do is lay down a sacrifice bunt.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Sometimes you don’t get a good pitch. So you take a walk.”
“Right,” I said.
“But if you do take a walk, or say you get a ground ball single, don’t just stand there on first – daydreaming, thinking about cold beer, hot dogs, and warm pussy.” He paused, picked up his beer mug again, took a drink, emptying it. He put the mug back down, and then looked at me. “Stay in the game,” he said. “Keep an eye on the pitcher. Keep an eye on the ball. Steal a base if you can.”
“Right,” I said.
“And if the guy behind you gets a hit I want you to run like the wind to second base, and take third if the coach waves you on.”
“You think you can do that?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Don’t be afraid to get your uniform dirty.”
“I won’t,” I said.
“If you got to slide into a base or home plate, slide in spikes high.”
“I will,” I said.
“He just said he would,” said Bobby. “Fucking hell, man.”
“I will,” I said, trying not to sound too insincere.
“You’re sure?” said Eddie.
“Pretty sure,” I said.
“Okay then. Here.”
He held out the pen.
“Thank you,” I said.
I took the pen.
I had it, at last.
Something to write with.
The bartender Vito was there again,
“Brandy Alexander,” he said, “made with Courvoisier, and two Falstaffs. Buck sevnty-five. Who’s buying.”
“I told you,” said Bobby. “My father there.”
“I got it, I got it,” said Eddie. He picked up two one-dollar bills from his pile and threw them down closer to the bartender. “Keep the change, Vito, my friend.”
Vito glared at Eddy for a moment, then took the two dollars and the empty beer mugs and the empty cocktail glass and went away.
“I think another toast is in order,” said Eddie.
“Oh, Christ,” said Bobby, “here we go again.”
“Perhaps Porter would like to make the toast this time,” said Eddie.
I put the ballpoint pen in my work-shirt pocket.
I lifted up the fresh beer mug.
“Here’s to old poets,” I said. “And young ones too. And now, gentlemen, I bid you adieu.”
I drank the beer down in about four gulps, put the empty mug down, picked up my blank book, turned, and limped away from the bar.
“Hey,” said Eddie. “Where ya going?”
“Yeah,” said Bobby. “Rude young punk.”
I said nothing, but kept going.
I had a pen, I had my blank book, and nothing was going to stop me now.
Or so I hoped.
(Continued here, and for only Josh knows how much longer, and quite possibly even he doesn’t know.)
(Please look to the right hand column of this page to find a strictly current listing of all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, brought to you this week by Fox’s U-bet© chocolate syrup; Arnold’s adventures may also be read in the Collingswood Patch™: “All the news that’s fit to print, and Arnold Schnabel too!”)