Friday, February 28, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 386: advice

Let’s return to that famed Greenwich Village bohemian watering hole the Kettle of Fish, and rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel on this sultry rainy night in August of 1957…

(Kindly click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here if you must to return to the only dimly-remembered beginnings of this 69-volume Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece.)

“My head cold lingers on, but what do I care? I have my cozy easy chair by a roaring fire, a nice cup of ‘hot toddy’ to hand, and open on my lap a morocco-bound volume of Arnold Schnabel’s magisterial and magnificent
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in the Sports Illustrated Literary Supplement.

Finally I made it to where Ben and that Norman Mailer guy were at the bar. Norman was sitting sideways on a stool facing Ben who stood looming over him, and they were smoking and shouting, not angrily, but shouting because it was so noisy in here. They each held large reddish-colored drinks, which I had to admit looked refreshing.

I stood about a foot and a half away from them waiting for them to acknowledge my presence, but they didn’t notice me, they were so enthralled with their conversation, not to mention obviously drunk, but Ferdinand did notice me, and he flew out of Ben’s drink and over to in front of my face, where he hovered shakily.

“Arnie baby!” he said. “Where you been?”

“Well, it’s a long story, Ferdinand,” I said. “I got stuck talking with Robert Frost and some other poet named Eddie Guest, and it was pretty boring, but the good news is that I finally got a pen off this Eddie Guest guy –”


“And so I was headed out the door to try to find someplace quiet to write in my book so that I could write myself out of this world and back to my own, but it was raining really hard, and then I saw the lights on in this bookshop across the street, Mr. Philpot’s, the guy who sold me this book –” I held up the green-covered book full of blank pages, a book full of nothing, but perhaps a book of uncreated something, The Ace of Death by Horace P. Sternwall – ”and I thought if he was still there he might let me just sit there quietly, and, you know –”

“Write,” said Ferdinand, “write your way out of this world.”

“Right,” I said. “Write. But then I remembered you. And Ben. And I knew I couldn’t just leave without you guys. Or without at least saying something to you –”

“I am touched,” said Ferdinand. “Go on.”

“So I came back in, but then I got waylaid by this Bunny Wilson guy, and then after him I got trapped by some failed old poet named Scaramajevski – oh, I forgot, and I drank some bock laced with ambrosia –”

“What – like, the nectar of the gods?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. I didn’t mean to drink it, but this guy Bunny bought me a mug of bock, and I thought it was ordinary bock, so –”

“Okay, these things happen,” Ferdinand said, or rather he communicated telepathically, as I now realized we both were doing, which was nice, as I was tired of shouting to be heard, and tired of being shouted at. “So how do you feel?” he said, in my echoing brain.

“I feel strange,” I said, silently.

“Stranger than usual.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I hope you’re not gonna go crazy.”

“Me too,” I said. “But.”

“But what?”

“I seem incapable of telling lies now.”

“Well, after all, you have imbibed the sacred sweet syrup of the gods, my friend. Gods don’t lie. Gods don’t have to lie.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s right,” I said. “But it does feel a little –”


“Awkward,” I said.

“Arnie, you have lived a lifetime of telling lies. Of course it’s going to feel awkward now, telling the truth all the time. But don’t sweat it, it’ll probably wear off after a while and you can go back to your usual duplicitous ways.”


"That is the word I used.”

“Do you really think I’m duplicitous?”

“Do you really want me to answer that question?”

I thought about it for two seconds.

“Never mind,” I said. “Where was I?”

“Trying to return to the world you think of as your world.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“So you say you got a pen?”

“A what?”

“A pen. Remember? Scribble scribble?”

“Oh, right!”

Frantically I checked my shirt pocket, and yes, the pen was still there. I brought it out and showed it to Ferdinand.

“Great. I’m impressed,” he said. “You’ve really made some progress.”

“Yes,” I said, “slowly.”

“Does it ever happen any other way with you, Arnie?”

I thought about this for less than a second.

“No, slowly is the way everything seems to happen with me,” I said.

“Okay, so now what?”

He sounded a little bored and impatient, and who could blame him?

“I just need to find someplace where I can write, undisturbed,” I said, and I held up the ballpoint pen in my one hand and the green-covered blank book in my other hand, in a pathetic sort of way.

“With your pen and your book,” said Ferdinand.

I shrugged, or at least inclined my head a half-inch to one side, and then back again.

“It’s worth a try,” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “Possibly.”


“Yes. Possibly.”

“You mean – it might not work?”

“Well, yeah, it might not work.” He looked from right to left in a pensive sort of way, he was still hovering there in front of my face, and then he held still and looked into my eyes with every one of his thousand tiny eyes. “In fact it might go horribly wrong. How can you know until you try?”

I lowered the pen and the book.

“Now I’m afraid,” I said.

Ferdinand paused before speaking. I should mention, perhaps I should have mentioned it earlier, that Big Ben and Norman still hadn’t noticed me standing there not two feet way from them, both of them yelling happily away at each other, gesticulating with their drinks and cigarettes. Funny that they were getting along so well.

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand.


“Lookit, man. We’re all afraid.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you said you were afraid. Well, I’m saying everyone’s afraid.”

I thought about this for three seconds. Perhaps four.

“That doesn’t make it any easier,” I said.

“Nobody said it would,” he said.

Five seconds passed.

“Jesus Christ will you make up your mind,” said Ferdinand. “Because if not I’m going to go back to getting drunk if it’s all the same to you.”

“So you think I should try it?” I said. “The writing thing.”

“That is not for me to say, my friend.”

“But I’m asking your advice.”

“I am a fly, Arnie. A talking, sentient fly, that is true. But I am a fly nonetheless. And you are asking my advice.”

“You may only be a fly,” I said. “But you seem more intelligent than most people.”

“Thank you for the back-handed compliment,” he said. “But I still can’t make up your mind for you, pal.”

“So it’s up to me.”

“That’s what I’m saying, yes. You are very astute.”

“I just don’t know what else to try.”

“I’ll tell you what you could do.”


“If you want to hear it.”


“If you think you can deal with it.”

“Uh –”

“Or, I’ll just say nothing.”

“Well, no, okay,” I said. “Go ahead.”

“Here’s what you could do.”


“What you could do is you could fucking relax.”


“For once in your life. Relax.”


“-lax, yes. Just relax, just enjoy being ‘Porter Walker’. Handsome brooding bohemian poet. With the chicks crawling all over you. Get drunk. Get drunk and then maybe get laid. That’s what you could do, my friend. And maybe I could get a little action too. Maybe we both get some action. So that’s what you could do.”

“Is –” I took another one of my famous pauses – ”is that what you think I should do?”

“Arnie, what did I just tell you?”

“That I have to make up my own mind?”

“Precisely. Now, how about a drink? We’re having this specialty of Ben’s – a Planter’s Punch with a float of ‘151’ rum? You should try one, Norman will probably buy it for you.”

He zipped in a helix back and forth in the direction of the bar, then halted hovering in front of my nose.

“Come on,” he said, “what’s the hold-up?”

“I think I want to try this book-writing angle,” I said.

“You’re sure.”

“Pretty sure,” I said, thought, communicated wordlessly.

“Okay,” he said, buzzed in my skull. “Fine. So, what next? You wanta go across the street? To what, to Mr. Whatsisname’s shop?”

“Mr. Philpot,” I said. “Philpot’s Book Shop.”


“Right,” I said. “I mean, all I need is just someplace relatively quiet, I think –”

“– where I can sit and write –”


“He’s got a table, sort of desk there, and he might let me sit there for a while and –”

“Great,” said Ferdinand. “Fine. We should get Ben I suppose?”

“Yes,” I said. “If he wants to come along.”

“Like we’re a team.”

“Sort of,” I said.

“The three musketeers,” he said.

“Um,” I said.

Ferdinand turned around and faced Ben.

“Oh, Ben?” he called, rather loudly, albeit silently.

Ben, who had been in mid-sentence, flinched slightly and turned and looked at me and at Ferdinand.

“Relax, my friend,” Ferdinand telepathized if that’s the word and it’s probably not. “It is only I, Ferdinand, communicating telepathically. Finish your drink, because Arnie here wants to make like a breeze and blow.”

“Arnie!” said Ben. (Bellowed, yelled Ben. Now that I think about it he usually yelled and bellowed all the time, but he did it louder in here.) “Where the hell you been, man? Norman here and me’ve already had like four Planter’s Punches with ‘151’ floats already.”

“Yez, Borter,” said Norman. “We are now on our fiv Blannner’s Bunge wid a fload o’ one fivvy one. Gum join uz.”

He smiled in a sad way, raising his glass, and then turned toward the bar, crossed his forearms down on it, and laid his head face down on the rounded edge of the bar.

Ben put his cigarette in his mouth, reached over and took the lit cigarette from Norman’s fingers and stubbed it out in a tin ashtray that was there.  Then he lifted the glass out of Norman’s other hand and poured its contents into his own glass. He put the empty glass back down on the bar, then turned and looked at me.

“So what’s up? You want a drink, Arnie?”

“No,” I said.

“Let’s go, Ben,” said Ferdinand. “Toss that drink down. We’re leaving.”

“Where we going?”

“Arnie wants to go home.”

“Swell,” said Ben. 

He took the cigarette out of his mouth, raised his glass to his lips, and drank, finishing off the drink in four great gulps. Then he put the glass back down on the bar and looked from me to Ferdinand, who was hovering there between us, and then he looked at me again, staring out from under the brim of that beat-up old yachting cap of his. 
He wiped his lips with the back of his forearm, that forearm as thick as a leg of lamb, all sunburnt and tattooed and bristling with curly orange hairs that glinted like sweating gold wires.

“So what are we waiting for?” he said, and then he belched.

(Continued here, there’s no turning back now.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a reasonably-current listing of all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, this week’s episode brought to you once again by Fox’s U-bet© Chocolate Syrup: “Next time you make an egg cream with Fox’s U-bet©, try it with just a dash of dark rum!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author, poet, motivational speaker, and official spokesperson for Fox’s U-bet.)

Friday, February 21, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 385: dithyrambs

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in Greenwich Village’s bohemian hotspot the Kettle of Fish, on a very long rainy night in August of 1957…

(Please go here to read our preceding chapter; click here to return to the all-but-forgotten fog-shrouded beginnings of this 79-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“Yes, I have caught a late-winter head cold, but to me this is no more than a welcome excuse to stay home, stoke up on my wife’s delightful pot cookies, drink copious cups of strong Assam tea, and lose myself in the wondrous universe of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling and inexhaustibly rich
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in the AARP Literary Quarterly.

“Hold on, pal,” the little man said, and he pointed a finger up at me, with a hand that held a bottle of Rheingold beer. His other hand held a cigarette.

“Now what is it?” I said.

“Don’t be so impatient. How do you even know what I’m going to say.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “And I don’t want to know.”

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is –”

He made some sounds with his mouth and tongue and an exhalation of beery breath, but these aural phenomena passed through my brain without leaving the slightest impression on my consciousness.

“Oh,” I said, anyway. “Hi.”

I took a step to the left, preparatory to attempting to limp briskly past him, but he took a sideways step with me, blocking my way.

“You’ve heard of me, right?” he yelled, squeaked, through the continuing cacophony of the barroom.

“Oh, sure,” I said. “But look –”

“Just hold on, buddy.” His voice sounded like it was coming from a scratchy old record playing on an old Victrola. “What’s the big rush, anyway?”

“Trying to rejoin my friends?” I said. “Return to my own world?”

“All that shit can wait. Look, you’ve read my book, right?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said,

“And what did you think of it?”

“Great,” I said. “Really good. But look –”

“You’re not shitting me?”

“No, not at all.”

“You probably wonder though why I never published another book, all these thirty-two long years.”

“Well, yes, I had wondered about that,” I lied, through my teeth, but then I guess the bock really began to hit me, because I felt compelled to tell the truth. “Wait,” I said. “I was lying. I don’t know who you are, or what your name is, and I doubt very much if I’ve read your book.”

“I just told you my name.”

“It went in one ear and out the other,” I said.

“Pay attention,” he said. “My name is Martin de Porres Zaramajevski!”

“Martin?” I said.

“Martin de Porres,” he said. “Zaramajevski.”

“Martin de Porres,” I said.


“Zarasomething,” I said.


“Zara,” I said.

“Majevski,” he said.

“Zara-mm-hm?” I said.

“Martin de Porres Zaramajevski!” he said. “Surely you’ve heard of me.”

“No,” I said. “Sorry.”

“I wrote a book of poems titled Dithyrambs for the Damned.

“Sorry,” I said. “Never heard of it.”

“You never heard of it.”

“No,” I said, the single syllable echoing through the vast empty dark reaches of the universe.

“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of my fucking book.”

“I’m very ill-read,” I said.

“Ezra Pound gave the book a good review. So did Gertrude Stein.”

“I’m sure it’s good then,” I said.

“What. Just because Pound and Stein gave it good reviews?”

“Well, uh –”

“Well what?”

“Well, to be honest I don’t know who those people are.”

“You don’t know who Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein are?”

“No,” I said. “Not exactly?”

“What about inexactly.”

“Not inexactly either,” I said.

“Then why’d you say you’re sure my book is good?”

“I was trying to bring the conversation to a close, as painlessly as possible.”

“Okay,” he said. “I get it. You’re saying my book stinks.”

“Not at all,” I said. “I think that if you will mentally review everything I have said since you waylaid me, that I have said no such thing.”

“But you think my book stinks. You may not be saying it per se, but that’s what you’re thinking.”

“All I’m thinking is that I want to escape.”

“But if you were to think of my book then you would think that it stinks.”

“Not necessarily,” I hedged.

“I’m not talking about what’s necessary,” he said. “I’m talking about the truth.”

“Okay,” I said. “To be honest, and apparently I must be honest, I have no idea if your book is good or not. Nor, continuing with this odd streak of honesty, do I care. Now, may I pass, please, Mr. Scarasomething?”

“Zaramajevski,” he said.

“Zarawhatever,” I said. “May I pass?”

He paused, but he still stood in my way.

“You want to know what I think?” he hollered, as if he were down in some hidden valley and calling up to a friend way up on a mountainside. “Wanta know?”

“No,” I hollered back down to him.

“I heard your so-called poetry-reading here earlier tonight, and I think your poetry stinks.”

“Oh, okay,” I said.

“You use too many words too infelicitously to say Johnny-fuck-all.”

“Well, I can see how you might think that,” I said.

“I most certainly do think that. Your so-called poetry is so much pretentious self-indulgent shit.”

“Um,” I said.

“It stinks.”

“I agree with you.”


“I said I agree that my poetry stinks.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because it’s true?”

“But it’s your own poetry.”

“But still it stinks,” I said.

He looked at me, then took a good slug from his bottle of Rheingold. He belched and then took a good long drag on his cigarette. Then he spoke, shouted, bleated up at me.

“Someday I’ll write good poetry again!”

“Oh, I’m sure you will,” I said, with difficulty, squeezing out just one more lie.

“Do you really think so?”

“Well, no, not really,” I said. “Listen, I’d like to tell you something more encouraging, but I just drank a mug of bock laced with ambrosia, and I think it’s forcing me to tell the truth.”

“What?” he said. “They gave you the house bock?”

“Yes,” I said. “I didn’t want it, really, but I sort of got tricked into –”

“Why won’t they sell me the house bock?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

You know,” he said.

“Well, I have an idea,” I said.

“Why? Why won’t they sell it to me?”

“Well, if you must know,” I said, “it’s probably because you’re kind of obnoxious.”

“I thought that was why,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry. I don’t want your pity.”

“Maybe you could try to be less obnoxious.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

“Okay,” I said. “So, look, uh –”

“If I could write some good poems again they wouldn’t care if I was obnoxious.”

“Well, that’s possibly true,” I said. “But still, maybe if you could just try to be a little less unpleasant –”

“Well, maybe I could try,” he said.

“It wouldn’t hurt,” I said.

“It’s just ‘cause I’m so embittered. Because I’ve had writer’s block for thirty-two years. What’s your secret?”

“I don’t have one,” I said.

“I mean for writing. How do you write?”

“Oh, I just sit down and start writing,” I said. “Something always seems to come out.”

“It sounds like taking a shit,” he said.

“It’s a little like that,” I said. “A lot like it.”

“It’s what your stuff is, too,” he said. ”Shit.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“But at least you write it. At least you write something, even if it is shit. Now I’m really depressed. Do you know how depressing it is to be a sixty-three-year-old failure?”

“No,” I said, “but I’m sure someday I will, unless I die first.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. 

“It’s okay,” he said. “It would be worse if your poetry wasn’t shit.”

“Well, I’m glad it’s shit then,” I said.

“Would you like to buy me a drink?”

“No,” I said.

“Not even a Rheingold? They only cost a quarter, you cheap bastard.”

“It’s not the price of the beer I find daunting,” I said, “but, rather, the prospect of remaining in your company.”

“So you find my company that distasteful.”

“Yes,” I said. “How about if I just give you the money for a beer.”

“What do you take me for, a mooch?”

“Well – and, again, I only say this because apparently I am at present unable to tell a lie – I suspect that you are a mooch, as well as being an obnoxious bore. Also, if you don’t mind my saying so, your breath is bad.”

I couldn’t help it, it was the bock, forcing me to tell the truth.

The little man cursed me to hell, then turned away, towards the bar.

I continued on my limping hobbling way. 

What was it with me and obnoxious old men? Why were they drawn to me? Or, in some terrible way, was it I who was somehow drawn to them?

I filed these questions away for musing upon at some future date, preferably a date so far in the future that I would never reach it.

(Continued here, because the gods have so ordained.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find a quite often current listing of all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, sponsored in part by Uneeda© Biscuits: “When I was just starting out in the writing game there were plenty of days when Uneeda© Biscuits were the only thing keeping me alive until that next publisher’s check came in!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of A Gentleman Always Wears Spats and Other Stories.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 384: tripping

Let’s return to Greenwich Village’s lively Kettle of Fish tavern on this sultry night in August of 1957, and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, who has just unwittingly sampled a very rare species of “bock” beer, bought for him by that eminent littérateur, Edmund “Bunny’ Wilson…

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; go here, if you insist, to return to the very beginning of this 74-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“Yes, once again, just as I have welcomed every minute of the so-called crippling weather of this past winter, I welcomed this past week’s blizzard as a splendid excuse for spending the day by a roaring fire, with a succession of steamy mugs of hot cocoa made with
Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup, and a morocco-bound volume of Arnold Schnabel’s towering chef-d'œuvre upon my lap.” – Harold Bloom, in the Ladies’ Home Journal Literary Supplement.

As it happened I had just taken another good gulp of the bock, and so I had trouble speaking, more so even than usual, and I suppose I made some spluttering noises, as well as coughing and gagging ones. Anyway, all this was apparently enough to cause Bunny to break out in a big smile.

“Hey, man,” he said, “be cool. Just go with it. You try to fight it you’re just going to make it worse on yourself.” 
“What did you mean, I’ll be ‘tripping’?” I finally managed to say.

“You know,” he said. “Like high, like way high, like sailing, man.”

“And why am I going to be like way high?” 

That,” he said, pointing at my mug of ‘bock’, which was now almost half empty.

“This?” I said, looking at the remaining black liquid.

“That,” he said.

“You mean it’s not regular bock?”

“I never said it was ‘regular bock’, Porter. Don’t lay that guilt trip on me, man. I said it was the ‘house bock’, and there’s a big difference.”

“But – how is it different?”

“Oh, you’ll find out. Like I said, any second now. Do you feel any different?”

“I always feel different,” I said.

“I mean do you feel any different from the way you felt a minute ago.”

“I feel –” I tried to search for the correct word – “more annoyed?”

“That’ll pass,” he said. “Maybe. Maybe it will pass.”

“So you’re telling me this bock is drugged?” I said.

“Um, no,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t say it was ‘drugged’ exactly.” He took a sip of his martini.  “Hmmm, very good martini.”

“What’s in it then?” I said.

He put down his drink, then wiped his lips with the back of his hand.

“You mean, what’s in the house bock?”

“Yes,” I said.

“A fair question,” he said.

He picked up a gold-plated cigarette case from the bar. He clicked it open, offered it to me.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ve quit.”

“Your loss,” he said. 

He took one out for himself, closed the case, then tapped both ends of the cigarette six times each against the case. Finally he put the cigarette in his mouth, and then picked up a gold-plated (or imitation gold-plated, how the hell should I know) lighter from the bar, but before clicking it, he turned to me and spoke around the cigarette. 

“What was the question?” he said.

He had taken so long to reply, that even I had forgotten my original question. 

I took another drink of my alleged bock, and it wasn’t until the liquid was well down my gullet that I remembered.

“Oh, right,” I said. “What is it that’s so special about this bock?”

He had clicked his lighter into flame, and was just about to light his cigarette, but paused, and removed the cigarette from his mouth.

“Special?” he said. He stared at me with what looked like an indulgent smile, like the one an adult might give to a young child who has asked why God took his grandmother away. “Special? Oh, my, ho ho.”

I felt myself possessed of an urge to scream, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, so I resisted.

“Yes, Bunny,” I said. I held up the mug. “What’s so special, um, you know –”

“What makes the house bock so special?” he said.


I lowered the mug. My urge to scream had now been overcome by an urge to collapse into a fetal position on the barroom floor.

Bunny put the cigarette back into his lips, and lit it with the gold lighter. He then put the lighter down, and exhaled an enormous cloud of smoke; after half a minute or so, after this cloud had at least partially dissipated – but only partially, because this place was so thick with smoke that relatively new exhalations had nowhere to go – he spoke.

“You want to know what makes the house bock ‘special’ as you call it,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I think that’s the question I’ve just asked you about twenty times already.”

“Oh, I’ll answer your question all right, even though you haven’t asked me it anywhere near twenty times,” he said, but instead of just going ahead and finally answering my question he took another leisurely drag on his cigarette.

I took a deep breath.

“Bunny,” I said.

“Yes?” he said.

“What’s in this beer?”

“Bock,” he said. “It’s bock, not ‘beer’.”

“Beer, bock, whatever, tell me what’s in it.”

“You don’t have to be so – peremptory.”

“Just tell me.”

“See, you’re being peremptory.”

“Tell me, damn it,” I said, “or –”

“Or what?”

“Or I will grab you by your fat arms and shake you – like a, like a –”

“Like a what? Pick a good image now. You’re supposed to be a poet.”

“I will shake you like a recalcitrant soda machine.”

“Good, very good,” he said. “Not great, but okay.”

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

“Hey, man, look, I told you,” he said. “Just be cool.”

“How can I be cool when I’ve just –”

“Okay, slow down, Porter, and before I answer your question, let me ask you one. Have you ever smoked reefer?”

Yes,” I admitted.

“Okay, now imagine a good reefer high, only multiply it by about twenty times –”

“Oh,” I said. “You mean – like LSD?”

“Wait – you’ve tried acid?”

“Is acid LSD?”

“Yes,” he said. “Get hip, man.”

“Well, anyway, yes,” I said. “I’ve tried LSD.”

“Damn, I’m impressed,” he said. “Where did you get it? Up at Harvard?”

“No,” I said. 

“Your shrink give it to you?”


“CIA testing?”

“No,” I said. “It was some old guy on the Island of Lost Souls, in that foggy dark river between this world and the next. You see, I had traveled to the afterworld to try to bring him back, and –”

“Oh, man,” said Bunny, “you are already tripping!”

“But I don’t feel all that much different,” I said.

“You are hardcore, my man,” he said. “I tip my cap to you.”

He picked his baseball cap up from his head a couple of inches, and then brought the cap down again. The crown of his skull had been revealed to be almost completely bald, just a few wispy white hairs glistening with sweat, as was the pink cratered flesh of the skull itself.

“Okay, lookit,” he said. “So you’ve taken acid, LSD, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And you obviously survived the experience. So the house bock is just like an acid trip, but different, and, like, I don’t know, maybe five times more intense. Five or six times maybe. So why not just be cool, and dig it?”

“I’m doomed,” I said.

“Oh, now you’re being melodramatic. Look, do you want me to tell you what’s in the bock?”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“But you wanted to know. You have a right to know.”

“Okay, great,” I said.

“So you want me to tell you.”

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

“I haven’t told you yet.”

“I thank you in advance.”

“You’re quite welcome. So you do want to know what’s in it? In the bock?”

I sighed, and I do believe that this was possibly the largest sigh I had ever heaved in a lifetime of enormous sighs.

“So you want me to tell you,” he said.

“Yes, please,” God damn your soul to hell, I added, silently.

“Ambrosia,” he said.


“Yes,” he said. “It’s just ambrosia, dude. Food of the gods, but in liquefied form, added to some not-bad home-brewed bock beer. Of course you probably don’t even know what ambrosia –”

“Wait,” I said. “I actually know about ambrosia.”

“You do, do you? I didn’t think you young Turks were that all well educated in the classics.”

“Well, I’m not, actually,” I said. “But you see, it’s because of some ambrosia that I’m even here in this world.”

“Okay, now you’re losing me, Porter.”

“You see, back in my own world I knew this old man who had a cat, and the cat ate some ambrosia, and began to talk, and then he sort of ordered me to get him some fresh seafood, and –”

“You are so tripping,” said Bunny.

“Do you think so?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “But that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?”

I pondered this, and as I was still holding the beer mug, I raised it, and drank, finishing off its contents.

“Too much, man,” said Bunny, in a way that seemed congratulatory, but in a quiet, almost awed-sounding way.

“Oh,” I said. I looked at the empty mug. “I kind of wish I hadn’t drunk that.”

“Too late now,” he said.

“Do you think throwing up would help?” I said, not even half-heartedly.

“Well, you could try it,” he said. “But it seems a shame to waste that good house bock. Just be cool, man.”

“I’ll try to be,” I said. “Well, okay, look, Bunny, thanks for the drink, but I really need to get going.”

“Because of these alleged ‘friends’ of yours.”

“Well, yes,” I said, “but also I want to get back to my own world.”

“Your own world.”

“Yes,” I said. “My own, nonfictional universe.”

“Tripping,” he said. “So tripping.”

“Yeah, well, thanks again,” I said. I wanted to get away without shaking his hand, but he stuck his fat paw out, almost into the pit of my stomach.

I took this naked paw, which was moist, and slightly cool, like a dead bluefish that’s been lying in a creel on a rock by the surf for an hour or so on a grey September day. I gave it a squeeze and a quick shake, and then tried to let it go, but it somehow stuck to my hand.

“Now what are you going to be?” said Bunny.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Come on,” he said. “You know. What are you going to be?”

“Insane?” I said.

“No, not insane. You’re going to be cool, Porter.”

“Oh, right,” I said.



“As ice.”

“Sure,” I said.

I tried to shake his hand off, but it was as if it were stuck to mine with Krazy Glue.

“Hey, Bunny,” I said. “Can I have my hand back now?”

He looked at me. His eyes were blue, in case anyone cares. I sure didn’t, and don’t now. But I only mention it here because I was just now noticing that they were blue, even if I didn’t care.

Suddenly his hand floated away from mine, and my own hand felt empty, and moist.

“Expect a good review from me for your book,” he said. “I’ll try to get it in the Times.”

“Thanks,” I said. 

“I may even read a page or two of it.”

“No need,” I said.

He smiled, and nodded his head. He picked up his drink.

“Go on, get out of here. I know you probably want to get laid.”

“Goodbye,” I said.

Taking a drink from his glass, he waggled his other hand at me, and swiveled around on his stool.

I turned, and started again to limp the six feet or so to where Big Ben Blagwell and Norman Mailer (and, presumably, Ferdinand) were, but before I had gone two paces I was accosted again, this time by a very short thin man in his fifties or sixties, wearing a bedraggled blue suit that looked too big for him, an ascot with faded red and white polka dots, and a sweat-stained and threadbare black beret. 

He had a short beard which looked like the fur of the grey rats I used to see sometimes in the switching yards, and the visible skin of his small face was the color of the face of a department store mannequin.

He wore very thick wire-rimmed glasses and his eyes looked like two dollops of fresh dog dirt pressing against the lenses.

(Continued here, and for probably no more than twenty-five years more.)

(Please scroll down the right hand column of this page to find a vaguely up-to-date listing of all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s
Railroad Train to Heaven©, brought to you again this week by Fox’s U-bet© chocolate syrup; “Remember, during Passover we actually make Fox’s U-bet© chocolate syrup with real sugar instead of corn syrup, so if you’re smart you’ll stock up then!” – Horace P. Sternwall {author of Trim the Sails Boldly, Lads! a Novel of the High Seas} and official spokesman for Fox’s U-bet©.)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 383: a bock!

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel (currently in the corporeal form of "Porter Walker, rising young Bohemian poet") has finally acquired a much-needed writing implement (a blue-and-yellow Eversharp ballpoint), here in Greenwich Village’s Kettle of Fish tavern on this sultry wet night in August of 1957…

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; click here to return to the long-ago and faraway beginnings of this  43-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“Once again I am snowed-in and as well as iced-in, here in my comfortably ramshackle Victorian home, but while everyone else is bitching and moaning about the weather I am quite contentedly sitting in my old easy chair by a roaring fire, with a doobie, a cup of hot chocolate made with Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup, and a morocco-bound volume of Arnold Schnabel’s towering and magnificent
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in the High Times Literary Supplement.

I was heading back towards the entrance, when suddenly I stopped just before reaching the door, realizing the following:

I had a pen.

I had my blank book.

But what I didn’t have was a quiet private place in which to start writing my new book, a book in which I would finally, after what seemed like at least two years, return to what I still liked to think of as, if not the “real world”, then at least “my world”.

But then, standing there in my own private universe amidst the noise and the shouting and laughter and the music all around me, it also occurred to me that perhaps even this allegedly “fictional” world in which I now existed – this world so preposterous even by my own lax standards – was part and parcel  of “my” world, as indeed were the two fictional worlds I had ventured into by way of Thurgood’s book, as was perhaps the world of the dead I had forayed into not just once but twice, as were the times I had journeyed into the past, be it 19th century France, the Philippines of the 1930s, or the Cape May of 1910 – weren’t all these worlds legitimate components of what I called “my world”? Yes, I supposed and do now suppose they were and are, but, nonetheless, if I were to look at the multifarious realities of my universe as say various countries scattered around the world I knew as my world, then let us just say I was desirous of returning after a couple of years abroad to the good old U.S.A., and more particularly, to Cape May, New Jersey, the Cape May that is of August the whatever it was, 1963.

So, I had all that organized in my mind, but now – still the question: where to go to write my new book?  It occurred to me that, despite the pouring rain outside, I could perhaps make my way to an all-night diner, and there I could take a quiet stool by myself, as far away as I could manage from any other customers, order a cup of coffee, and then take out my new pen, open my blank book, and do what I had to do, i.e., write my way out of this particular universe. However, I wasn’t very familiar with the neighborhood, so probably the best thing to do would be just to go outside, stand in the entranceway, wait for a cab, and then if one did come by, to ask the driver to take me to the nearest all-night diner.

I opened the door, and looked out at the street.

The rain was crashing down onto the street and sidewalk and the parked cars, the rain falling not in sheets or torrents nor in a million billion shiny streaks or needles, but more like a continuous falling tidal wave from the sky, or as if MacDougal Street had been magically transported to the base of Niagara Falls.

I stood there holding the door open for perhaps a minute. Not a single cab or any other sort of motor vehicle came by, not a single pedestrian was to be seen.

It occurred to me that if I did see a cab I would never be able to stop him while I was standing here inside the doorway, so I stepped outside onto the pavement, letting the door close itself behind me. Fortunately there was about a foot and a half of overhang above the entranceway, and so I was able to keep out of the the worst of the waterfall, although the rain did splash from the sidewalk and soak my work shoes and the front of my jeans.

I waited.

I don’t know how long I waited. At least five minutes, maybe more. I didn’t know where all the cabs were. I still don’t know. And not only no cabs, but no other cars, no trucks, no pedestrians, only that crashing rain.

Across the street was that red Jaguar XK120 with the canvas top, formerly Thurgood’s, now Mr. Philpot’s, but it was no good to me, I didn’t have the keys.

Then I noticed that the lights were still on in Mr. Philpot’s shop across the street, above that Valhalla bar.

At first I thought, stupidly, “Oh, I can run across the street, ring his buzzer, and if Mr. Philpot is still there, I could ask him to drive me to a diner.”

But then I thought, “Wait, his place is quiet, perhaps he would let me, as a customer in good standing, sit at his desk and write my new novel.”

So that’s what I would do. He wouldn’t say no, would he? I had no idea, but I could at least ask him. I still had about seven dollars left, so if it came to that I could always try to bribe him.

So I was just about to make a mad dash across the street when suddenly I remembered: my friends, Big Ben and Ferdinand, were still at the bar. 

Would it be right for me just to leave them, without a word? 

No, it wouldn’t. 

And as much as I wanted to escape from this place, and as much as I knew that if I didn’t leave at once that something else would happen to postpone my escape, I knew I had to go back and get my companions. I didn’t have much of a code, and whatever code I did have could probably easily be hand-printed in crayon in large letters on one side of an index card, but I could not go against this code, at least not without the threat of extinction or immediate great pain.

So, I treated myself to a good long heavy sigh, took a deep breath of that wet humid air, turned around, opened the door, re-entered the bar, and started back through the noise and the music and smoke and the laughing and shouting people, back to towards where I had last seen Ben and Norman Mailer, and, although of course I couldn’t see him from here, back to where Ferdinand was doubtless lapping up alcoholic beverages to his heart’s content.

I forged my limping way through the mob (yes, I hate to be a complainer, but my legs still ached, especially the knees); somehow this place had gotten even more packed since I had gone outside, and I don’t know how as no one new had come in through the entrance, maybe they were coming up from the basement or the back room, maybe they had appeared out of thin air, or thick humid smoky air, I didn’t know.

Up ahead I could now see through the crowd the heads of Norman Mailer and Big Ben, Norman’s head bobbing at least a foot below Ben’s, and I was only six feet away from where they stood when someone grabbed my right arm.

“Hey, Porter!”

It was an old fat guy, sitting on a barstool, holding what looked like a martini in the hand that wasn’t holding onto my arm. 

“Yes?” I said. He seemed familiar, dressed like a stevedore in dungarees, a sweaty t-shirt and a faded Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap.

“It’s me – Bunny! Bunny Wilson!”

Now I remembered, that literary fellow who had butted in on me and Betsy ages ago, earlier that same evening.

“Oh, hi, Bunny,” I said.

“Fucking hell, where’ve you been all night?”

“Oh, here and there,” I said.

“Here and there? My dear boy, specificity is the key to any great prose or poetic style, everything else is cold stale porridge. Now where have you been?”

I sighed again, but quickly, and gave him what he claimed to want.

“I’ve been in a bar populated by dead authors and their creations. I have done battle with the prince of darkness. I have escaped from this fictional universe and returned – with my friend, a sentient and talkative fly – to my own, in which I am not the romantic bohemian poet Porter Walker but a railroad brakeman named Arnold Schnabel, recovering from a complete mental breakdown. In that world I accidentally fed a tin of the food of the gods to an old antiquarian’s cat named Shnooby, and the cat also became sentient and not only talkative but commanding, ordering me to go to the docks and get him some fresh seafood. I agreed to this mission, but then as I was on my way, or trying to get on my way, I met a character named Big Ben Blagwell, who escaped from the pages of a cheap paperback titled Havana Hellcats –”

“All right, all right, ha!” He finally took his hand off my arm and gave me a clap on the shoulder with the same hand. “You young dog, with your dry sense of humor!”

“I wasn’t joking,” I said. “In fact, it gets worse you see, because I’ve even been to the land beyond life, and –”

“All right, all right, all right already! I get it!” he yelled. (Again, we were both yelling, you had to yell in here if you wanted to be heard.) “It’s none of my business, right?”

“Well, look, Bunny,” I hollered, “it’s good to see you again, but I have to rejoin my friends.”

“What? You can’t stop and chat for a minute? Am I that boring?”

“Well, the thing is, they’ve been waiting for me. My friends.”

“What, like they’re going to get worried?”

“Well, no, but –”

“Stay just a minute. Humor an old man of letters.”


“Just a minute?”

“Sure,” I said, trying my best to stifle a sigh. “What did you want to talk about?”

“First let me get you a drink. Martini?”

“Nothing, thanks.”

“Don’t be rude. How about a shot?”

“No, definitely not,” I said.

“Drank too much already?”

“Not really, but –”

“You look like you’ve a drop too much taken. Your clothes are wet and filthy, and you are limping quite noticeably.”

“I had a couple of accidents tonight,” I said.

“I hope nothing serious.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Have a beer.”

“Okay, but just one,” I said.

“What kind?”

“I think I was drinking Falstaff earlier,” I said.

“Falstaff is shit.”

“I don’t care.”

“They got a good bock on draft here. Special house brew. You should have that.”

“Okay, fine,” I said.

He turned and yelled at the bartender.

“Hey, Vito! A house bock for my son here! And another bone-dry martini for me!”

“Right away, Mr. Wilson,” yelled Vito.

Bunny turned back to me, swiveling around on his stool.

“What?” he said.

“Oh, nothing,” I said.

“No, you have something on your mind, you can’t fool me, buddy boy.”

“The bartender,” I said.


“He was polite to you.”

“Yes, he was, wasn’t he? And you are perhaps wondering why, having seen his demeanor with other guests of this delightful caravanserai.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“The secret my dear Porter,” – he turned and picked up a one-dollar bill from a pile of money that was on the bar in front of him, and then he held the bill up – “is this.”

“Oh,” I said.

“It’s not complicated, not complicated at all. If you give Vito a dollar tip for every drink he brings you, he treats you with the utmost politeness.”

“A dollar for every drink?”

“One dollar, minimum.”

“Even for a beer?”

“Yes, even for the bock beer I ordered for you.”

“But a dollar is more than a beer would cost.”

“Do you want him to be polite to you?”

“I guess so.”

“Then you have to give him a dollar for each drink. For instance, the round that’s coming will include two drinks: one martini and one bock. I will tip him thus two dollars.”

“I see.”

“As I say it’s not complicated.”
He tossed the bill back onto his pile of money.

“But –” I said, and then hesitated.

“But what?” said Bunny.

“But isn’t that like buying someone’s friendship?”

“I am not buying Vito’s friendship. I have no desire for Vito’s friendship, I assure you, nor I'll warrant has he the slightest desire for mine – in fact I’m fairly sure he holds me in the deepest contempt. No, Porter, I am not buying friendship but politeness. And politeness is important. It’s the only thing separating us from the animals.”

“Here you are, Mr. Wilson,” said Vito, and he laid down what I assumed was a fresh martini, and a mug of something black with a white head on it. “A martini and a house bock.”

“Splendid,” said Bunny. He tossed down what was left of his present martini and put the glass down. “Take it out of my pile there and keep two bucks for yourself.”

“Thanks, Mr. Wilson.”

Vito took some bills from Bunny’s pile, picked up the empty glass, and went away.

“See?” said Bunny. “Now pick up your bock.”

I picked up the mug. Bunny picked up his new martini.

“Try it,” he said. “Try the house bock.”

I took a sip. It tasted sort of like coffee-flavored soda, except I could tell it had a bit of a kick to it.

“What do you think?” he said.

“Not bad,” I said.

He took a sip of his martini. He was smiling.

“Take another drink. You can’t really appreciate a good bock by sipping, you have to take a good gulp.”

I didn’t feel like arguing, and anyway, I figured the quicker I finished the bock the sooner I could get away from Bunny. So I took a good long gulp.

He looked at me with an even bigger grin on his fat round face.

“Good, huh?”

“Yeah, pretty good,” I said.

“Sort of coffee notes?”


“Toffee, too, and bitter chocolate?”

“A little,” I said. 

“Of toffee, or bitter chocolate?”

“A little of both,” I said.

“Raisins, a hint of plums?”

"Um –” 

“Old leather?”


“Notes of old leather.”

“Um. Yeah,” I said, now that he mentioned it, the bock did taste a little like old leather, even though I had never tasted old leather.

“Oh, man,” he said.

“What?” I said.

He was smiling more broadly than ever now, showing a vast array of nicotine-stained teeth, or, more likely, dentures.

“You are so going to be tripping in about one minute,” he said.

“Tripping?” I said.

“Tripping your fucking brains out,” he said.

(Continued here, implacably.)

(Kindly cast an eye down the right hand column of this page to find a perhaps-current listing of all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, sponsored again this week by Fox’s U-bet© chocolate syrup; “Try it and compare, and you’ll see why Fox’s U-Bet™ is the official chocolate syrup of the Arnold Schnabel Society©!”)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Three Crazy Gals"

"On that grey stormy day when the Apocalypse finally came, Maxine, Geraldine and Edith went out by the side of the highway to await the Second Coming."

Three Crazy Gals, by Horace P. Sternwall (Ace Books, 1955).