Friday, September 26, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 412: hunger

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?”

“Yes, Lou?”

“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.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find what one hopes to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, also available also for a mere pittance on your Kindle™; all proceeds to be disbursed by the administrator of this website in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Preservation Society™ of Philadelphia, PA.)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 411: heaven

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel sitting at a table on the rear terrace of Lily’s Road House, in the company of Lily herself, the boisterous and large Laughing Lou, the noted author Horace P. Sternwall, and Arnold’s faithful friend Ferdinand, the talking fly…

(Please click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here to return to the not quite lost in time beginning of this 72-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“To me there is really only one absolutely essential work in American literature, and that of course is Arnold Schnabel’s massive (but massively readable)
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in The Field & Stream Literary Supplement.

After topping off my glass Laughing Lou poured more champagne into Lily’s glass, then refilled Horace’s and his own. He was just about to put the magnum back into the ice bucket when Ferdinand flew out of his glass and hovered threateningly close to the fat man’s face, as if ready to attack him again.

“Hey, big guy,” he said. “What am I? The invisible fly?”

“Oh, ha ha,” said Laughing Lou, “I beg your pardon, Ferdinand!”

He hefted the bottle up again and leaned over the table.

“My, you’ve drunk a good inch of the stuff! Ha ha! Not bad for a little fellow!”

“I may be little,” said Ferdinand. “But I drink big. Now pour some more champagne in that glass and try not to spill any.”

“Ha ha! Yes, of course, my small but thirsty friend.”

He filled up Ferdinand’s glass under the watchful thousand tiny eyes of my friend the fly.

“That’s better,” said Ferdinand, and without further ado he dove down to the surface of the bubbly wine.

Laughing Lou now shoved the bottle back into the ice and sat his enormous bottom back into his chair. Fortunately for him these chairs had no arms, otherwise I doubt he would have fit into it.

He picked up that big cigar of his, took a puff on it, it was still lit, and then he put it back in his ashtray, with the fat folds of his face assembling themselves into what seemed a serious expression, or at least what he might have hoped to appear to be a serious expression.

Horace was already gulping from his glass. Lily had finally stubbed out her cigarette and now was fingering the stem of her glass with her right hand, staring again out at the dark woods and the night, or maybe at the nothingness she had said lay beyond those woods. Ferdinand for his part was steadily lapping away at his champagne as he floated on its surface. Me, I was just sitting there, and – despite the uncertain position in which I had found myself in this universe – thinking about food, and wondering how I could broach the subject of possibly getting fed sometime in the near future.

“And now,” said Lou, still with this serious expression on his face, “I would like to make my proposition.” He turned to Lily and inclined his head. “I mean if that’s okay with you, Lily.”

Lily looked at him. It was a look I can only describe as a look of not even thinly-veiled contempt. 

She lifted her glass and took a drink, but said nothing. 

“But, Lily,” said Laughing Lou. “It’s – it’s necessary.”

“Is it, Lou?” she said. “Is it really?”

“Yes,” he said. “I mean pardon me for saying so, but these three fellows have traveled quite a way, in a sense they have traveled as far as anyone can travel, into another universe –”

“Is that really as far as anyone can travel, Lou?" she said. "Really?”

“Well, gee,” he said, “I don’t know –”

“What about to hell,” she said. “Isn’t that pretty far? What about the flaming burning depths of hell? That’s pretty far too, isn’t it, Lou?”

“Well, yes, okay,” he said. “Good point, Lily. Very good point. Hell is perhaps farther away, you’re right, as is heaven, for that matter, but –”

“Arnie’s been to heaven,” said Ferdinand, pausing his drinking for a moment.

“What?” said Laughing Lou. “He has?” he looked at me with what seemed a newfound respect. “You have, Mr. Schnabel?”

“I’m sorry, what?” I said.

My stomach was actually grumbling at this point, and it was hard to think of anything else but food.

“I asked,” said Laughing Lou, “if it’s true what Ferdinand says, that you have indeed been to heaven?”

“Calling me a liar?” said Ferdinand from where he floated on the champagne in his glass.

“No, no, not at all,” said Laughing Lou. “It’s just that, you know, I’ve never heard of anyone actually –”

“You heard of it now,” said Ferdinand, and he put his head down and went back to drinking himself silly, producing barely audible lapping sounds.

Laughing Lou looked at me with a distressed expression buried somewhere in all that bloated flesh on his face.

“It’s true,” I said.

“You’ve actually been to heaven?” he said.

“He just said he’s been there,” said Lily. “You calling Mr. Schnabel a liar now too?”

“No, no, of course not,” said Lou. “But – gee – may I ask you a question, Mr. Schnabel?”

“Sure,” I said. I figured if I played along it would be easier to bring up the subject of food, and if anyone knew where to get something to eat, it would be this enormously fat man. “What’s your question?”

“What – what was it like?” he said.

“What was what like?” I said.

As I have said, it was hard for me to think of anything else but, say, hamburgers and French fries.

“What was heaven like,” he said.

“Hey, excuse me, Lou,” said Horace. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but, do you mind if I have another glass of champagne? It’s really quite refreshing –”

“Yeah, sure,” said Lou. “Help yourself, pal.”

Without hesitation, rising up from his seat Horace grabbed that big bottle in both hands and refilled his glass again.

“So, Arnold,” said Lou, “if I may call you Arnold –”

“I don't mind,” I said, "but –"

“And call me Lou,” he said.

“Not 'Laughing Lou'?” I said.

“No,” he said, “ha ha, you can just call me Lou.”

“Okay,” I said. “By the way, Lou, I was wondering –”

“Anybody else ready for a refill yet?” said Horace.

“No, I think we’re all good,” said Lou. “So, Arnold, you were going to tell us –”

“I’ll take some more in a minute, Horace,” said Ferdinand.

“Sure thing, Ferdinand,” said Horace. “Miss Lily, may I give your glass a touch-up?”

“Put the fucking bottle back in the bucket, Mr. Sternwall,” she said. “You can see I’ve barely touched my current glass and Arnold hasn’t even taken a sip of his. Don’t you like the champagne, Mr. Schnabel?”

“Oh, no, it’s great,” I said. “The only thing is I’m a little –”

“Oh, don’t look so hurt, Mr. Sternwall,” said Lily.

Horace had obediently put the magnum back in the bucket and sat back down, staring into his brimming glass. He did look a little chastened, but he immediately brightened up, or at least put on the appearance of brightening up.

“Oh, no!” he said. “It’s true, I was overdoing it. Nothing more boring than exaggerated politeness, it’s like when –”

“Tell us what it was like Arnold,” said Lou, interrupting Horace’s babbling.

Horace immediately picked up his glass and drank. He seemed happy to have been interrupted, as now he could get back to drinking the free champagne.

I wished I could get some food. Come to think of it, a nice big T-Bone steak wouldn’t be bad, cooked rare, and smothered with onions and mushrooms. With mashed potatoes, and gravy –

“Arnold?” said Lou.

“Yes?” I said.

“We were wondering if you could tell us what heaven is like.”

You were wondering,” said Lily, and she took another drink of her champagne.

“Okay, I was wondering,” said Lou.

He stared at me, his eyes looking out of all that fat like a scared animal looking out of a hole in the ground.

For a moment I forgot again what he was talking about, as I thought of roast chicken and dumplings, and hot buttered egg noodles, but then it came back to me.

“What was heaven like?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “If you don’t mind telling us.”

“Well, okay,” I said, “That’s a fair question. Well, the first time –”

“The first time!” he said. “You’ve been there more than once?”

“Well, yes, actually,” I said. “Just two times altogether, but –”

“Twice!” he said. “And you came back!”

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“Of course he came back,” said Lily. “He’s here, isn’t he?”

“That’s very true,” said Lou. “Very true.”

“Something’s either true or it’s not,” she said. “There’s nothing ‘very’ about it.”

“Yes, true again,” he said. “Very true. I mean – true! True!”

“So anyway,” I said, “I was wondering –”

“Been to heaven twice,“ said Lou. “I’m really impressed. But you still haven’t told us. What was it like?”

“Heaven?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s what I’m asking. What was heaven like. Ha ha.”

He said ha ha but he wasn’t even smiling.

“Well,” I said.

Where to begin. And why begin? I didn’t feel like telling the whole story over. I wanted some food. Maybe just a nice really big bowl of chili with a loaf of homemade bread to sop it all up.

“He doesn’t want to talk about it, Lou,” said Lily.

I suddenly realized that her hand had never left my thigh, that she was still caressing it, and had never stopped caressing it, that her fingers were kneading my thigh close to but not actually touching my inguinal area, and that, despite my intense hunger, I had become possessed of an erection.

“Look,” I said, “I really don’t mind talking about it, but, first, I was wondering if we could possibly –”

“Oh, of course,” said Lou. “Ha ha! First you want to hear our proposition!”

That wasn’t it. That wasn’t it at all. All I wanted was some food – maybe some buttermilk pancakes with scrapple and a big side plate of scrambled eggs – and, secondarily, I wanted Lily to stop caressing my thigh.

“Well,” I said, “actually –”

“Very well then!” said Lou. “Ha ha! Without further ado then, on to the proposition! Then afterwards we can chat about heaven. Ha ha!”

I sighed.

Lily continued to caress my thigh.

My erection continued to be erect.

My stomach continued to growl.

Laughing Lou took another good puff on his cigar, and assumed that serious-appearing expression amid the fatness of his face.

“Here is my proposition,” he said, but of course instead of getting right to it he paused, I suppose for dramatic effect, or maybe after all just out of some innate sadism.

Meanwhile what I wished that he was going to propose was maybe an enormous spaghetti dinner, with meatballs, and sausage, and loaves of garlic bread piping hot from the oven.
But I knew that was not going to be the case.

(Continued here, only five or six thousand pages left to go, unless some more of Arnold’s neatly handwritten marble copybooks turn up somewhere.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, now available also for a modest sum on your Kindle™, all proceeds in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Preservation Society of Philadelphia, PA.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 410: worried

Let’s rejoin our bold adventurer Arnold Schnabel here on the rear terrace of a certain roadhouse somewhere in the world of a supremely obscure “paperback original” novel titled called Rummies of the Open Road

(Kindly go here to read our preceding chapter; if you’ve finally gone quite hopelessly mad then you might as well click here to go back to the very beginning of this 59-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“Finally the first cool breath of fall in the air: a retrospective time, a time to spend one’s evenings revisiting favorite passages from Arnold Schnabel’s towering and massive
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in The People Magazine Literary Supplement.

“Nothing?” said Horace.

He sounded frightened, and who could blame him? 

“That’s right,” she said. “Nothing.”

I would have been frightened too, but a great weariness had come over me, a weariness even stronger than the fear of nothingness.

“Miss, uh, Lily,” said Horace, “if I might be so bold as to ask –”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Horace,” she said, “just say what you have to say.”

“Sorry,” he said.

“And don’t be sorry. Spit it out.”

“Very well, then!” he said. “No more hemming or hawing, or beating as it were about the bush, heh heh –”

She raised that black sparkly purse of hers, now made heavier by Laughing Lou’s revolver inside it, raised it up to shoulder level and the first stage of a good face-smacking.

Horace put up both his hands palms outward in a defensive gesture and then quickly blurted out:

“Please don’t hit me Miss Lily I just wanted to say – or ask – when you said ‘nothing’ –”

She drew the purse back farther over her shoulder and Horace even more quickly babbled:

“When you said ‘nothing’ – did you – did you speak in the sense of ‘nothing of interest’, as in, oh, I don’t know, more woods, or perhaps a dull town or suburb, or –”

“I spoke in the sense of nothing,” she said. “As in: nothing. You want me to spell it out for you, Horace?”

“Nothing?” said Horace, again.

“Hey, don’t make the lady repeat herself, Horace,” said Ferdinand, who had flown out of my ear and was now hovering in front of Lily’s bosom again. “It ain’t polite.”

“Yes, but –” Horace turned and looked out again across that empty graveled lot, at those dark woods, at the dark starry night above them. Then he turned back again, to Lily, who had finally lowered her purse – “you must admit that the concept of nothing at all out there – it’s rather – disconcerting?”

Lily took a drag on her cigarette, then looked at me.

“Handsome boy doesn’t look too disconcerted.”

What could I say? A short time before all I had wanted was to get out of this universe and to return to my own world. But now all I wanted was to lie down somewhere halfway comfortable and take a good long nap.

“Well?” said Lily.

I think I opened my mouth, as if preparatory to speaking, but I had nothing to say. I was too tired, too sleepy to speak. For two cents I would have gone over to that cushioned porch glider against the wall, laid myself down on it, turned my back away from that dark world out there, and passed out.

Then suddenly Laughing Lou was thumping through the open French windows and joining us. He had an ice bucket under one arm, it was chrome-plated, or at least made to look like it was chrome-plated, and there was a magnum of champagne with a white napkin wrapped around it shoved into the ice that almost filled the bucket. In his right hand he held four tulip glasses by their bases, and he still had that big cigar in his mouth.

“Ha ha!” he said. “Champagne! Ha ha!”

He was back in his jovial mood, or at least in his “jovial” mood.

He went right over to the patio table and laid the ice bucket down.

“Come on, everybody, grab a seat, ha ha!” he said, and he laid the glasses around the table.

Horace and Lily headed for the table, and after a moment I did too, walking as if I were moving through air composed of invisible maple syrup.

Laughing Lou pulled out a chair for Lily, the one closest to the roadhouse, and she sat down facing outward to the empty lot and the dark woods beyond. He patted her bare arm, and she slapped his hand.

“Stop petting me, and open the damn champagne,” she said.

She turned to me, then gestured to the chair to her left.

“Come, sit, Mr. Schnabel. You, Mr. Sternwall, sit across from me where I can keep my eye on you. Lou, sit down there.” She gave a contemptuous sort of flick with her cigarette at the chair to her right. “But keep your hamlike paws to yourself unless you want a cigarette stubbed out in them.”

We all obediently took our assigned seats.

“What about me, Miss Lily?” said Ferdinand.

“You can stick near me,” she said. “I like you, Ferdy. May I call you Ferdy?”

“You can call me anything you like, Miss Lily,” said Ferdinand. “Including 'lover boy'.”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! 'Lover boy!' Ha –”

Lily shot him a look and he shut up just as quickly as if he had been shot between the eyes.

Lily turned back to Ferdinand, who was hovering a foot or so away from her bosom.

“And you, Ferdy, you must call me Lily. No need for the ‘Miss’.”

“Lily it is then!” said Ferdinand.

“And I shall call you Ferdy,” she said.

Meanwhile Laughing Lou had reached over and picked up the champagne in its napkin – the champagne looked indeed to be the real French kind, although what did I know? I thought I saw some French writing on the part of the label not covered by the napkin. If this had been a James Bond novel maybe I could give you some details, but it wasn’t, I’m sorry. The reader, if there ever is a reader, will just have to use his or her imagination. Anyway, Laughing Lou set to work opening the big bottle, with his trusty big cigar in his mouth, tearing off foil and untwisting wire, but as he did this I felt something on my right thigh. I looked down, and it was Lily’s hand. This woke me right up. I raised my eyes, but she was just sitting there, smoking her cigarette, seemingly staring out at those dark woods and the stars and the deep dark starry night.

I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing.

Her hand caressed my thigh, kneading it gently.

I didn’t know why she had chosen me. I didn’t want to be chosen. All I wanted was to go home, to my own world, or, failing that, at least to a small room somewhere where I could sleep, but, as is so often the case in life, in whatever life we happen to be in, what we want is not what we get.

Horace was silent, watching Laughing Lou deal with the bottle. Horace may have been afraid, in fact I was sure he was afraid – after all, had he not already told me he was a coward? – but he was after all also an alcoholic, or at the very least a man who loved his drink, and he watched Laughing Lou and the bottle with eagerness all too apparent in his expression, even to the point of licking his lips.

As has been noted before, Ferdinand also had a love of distilled and fermented beverages, and a taste for the finer ones, and he – leaving the proximity of Lily’s bosom for the moment – buzzed in jittery figure-eights above the bottle of champagne.

Lily continued to stare out into the night, continuing to caress my thigh with her left hand while she smoked using her right hand, tapping her ash into one of the three ashtrays on the table, clear glass ashtrays, the heavy kind, with black printing on them. I could read the printing on the one she was using, and it read “LILY’S ROADHOUSE COCKTAILS MUSIC FOOD”. I stared at it for a moment and then suddenly, as if I were watching a brief flashback in a movie I remembered the neon sign out front, which had read L   S ROADHOUSE. So, mustering what few deductive abilities I was able to under the circumstances, I concluded that this place was not called the L   S Roadhouse, but that the neon sign was broken and it was in fact called Lily’s Roadhouse, which deduction led me to the further assumption that the Lily who sat to my right smoking a cigarette and fondling my thigh was not just the singer with the band but the owner of this place. Or maybe not, maybe Lou or someone else owned it, and it was merely her name on the ashtrays and on the sign. Or maybe it was some other Lily who owned the roadhouse. I didn’t know, and, to be honest, I didn’t care.

But still I wondered why she was caressing my thigh. I supposed I was good-looking. I had no idea what I looked like in this world, but I did know that the main characters in these cheap paperback novels did tend to be good-looking. Horace wasn’t very good-looking, so perforce that must mean that I was the main character, the protagonist. 

I also knew that in these sorts of books the protagonist invariably met up with attractive women who found him attractive, and so in a sense everything was going along according to plan, or at least according to a plan common to cheap novels of the sort one buys in train stations or drug stores.

I knew also that in this type of novel the woman who found the hero attractive was as often as not what my mother and aunts would call “a Jane”, or if they were muttering in their native language, “eine Schlampe”. 

In other words: trouble. 

The sort of trouble which sent the protagonist swirling helplessly downward in a deadly whirlpool of violence and despair.

A loud pop brought me out of my revery.

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou, holding up the magnum swathed in its napkin in both his big hands, white foam oozing from the bottle’s mouth, Horace holding up a glass and croaking hoarsely, “Don’t waste it!”

Soon enough four glasses were filled to the brim, one for each of us, not forgetting Ferdinand, whose glass was placed between mine and Lily’s.

“Now, ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “And now let’s forget the previous unpleasantness, and drink! Let’s drink to – what shall we drink to?”

“How about we just drink,” said Lily, “without making a goddam federal case out of it.”

“Ha ha?” said Laughing Lou.

And so we drank. 

It tasted good, like cold liquid laughter, and its crisp bubbly goodness seemed to flush away the last of my sleepiness, but as soon as the champagne entered my stomach I realized something else – a brand new problem: 

I was hungry.

I was extremely hungry, so hungry that for a moment I thought I was going to throw the champagne right back up.

I pressed my lips tight, made gulping movements in my throat, and managed to keep the wine down.

I was starving.

Well, okay, that’s an exaggeration, I wasn’t starving. I had seen starving Germans in the war, and this wasn’t that, but nonetheless I was very hungry. When had I last eaten? It seemed like years ago. In fact it had been at breakfast at my aunts’ house, which in one sense was probably today, but in another sense was months, years in the past.

People had been talking while I was undergoing this new sea change in my internal world, and now, as I tried to ignore this deep craving for food I heard words, Laughing Lou’s words.

“And now,” he said, “I think it’s time to make our little proposition to our new friends. Ha ha!”

He looked at Lily.

“I mean if it’s okay with you, Lily. I’m afraid I’ll have to do a little explaining first, and I know how you feel about explanations. However, my dear, if this proposition works out it could be to the benefit of all of us, not just to Horace and Arnold –”

“And me?” said Ferdinand, from the surface of the champagne in his glass.

“Yes, to you, too, Ferdinand, of course, ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “But also to us, Lily – to –”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Lily, “get on with it, Lou! Get on with your explanations, your propositions, your boring expository passages! But just tell me this, chubbikins, how many people are gonna die this time, huh, Lou? How many?”

Horace had been drinking of course, but now he put his glass down. It was empty anyway.

“Die?” he said.

Lily had never stopped caressing my thigh, but now suddenly she squeezed it, hard.

“Yes, Horace,” she said. “You heard me right. Die. As in dead. Stiff. Snuffed out. Croaked.”

“Now, Lily,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! You’re going to scare these fellows! Ha ha!”

“As well they should be scared,” she said. “Scared to death.”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “No need for anyone to be scared! No need for anyone to be scared at all! And certainly not for three stout fellows like our friends here!”

“Jeeze, I don’t know, Lou,” said Horace. He had put his cigar in an ashtray, and now he picked it up. It had gone out. “I just don’t know, you know, if I want to get involved in anything, you know –”

“Look, Horace,” said Laughing Lou. “You want to get back to your own world, right?”

“Well, yeah, sure, Lou, but –”

“He’s scared,” said Ferdinand, who was still floating on the surface of his champagne, lapping it up.

“Well, yeah,” said Horace, “I mean, after what Miss Lily said –”

“I ain’t scared,” said Ferdinand, in between lappings.

“You’re really not scared, are you, Ferdy?” said Lily.

“Nope,” said Ferdy. “Bring it on! Arnie’s not scared either, are you, Arnie?”

“Um,” I said.

“Nah, Arnie ain’t scared,” said Ferdinand.

“Here, let me freshen up everyone’s glass,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“Me and Arnie ain’t scared,” said Ferdinand. I could tell he was getting drunk again. “You ain’t worried, are you, Arnie?”

“Um,” was all I said, again, all I could manage to say.

“Arnie ain’t worried,” said Ferdinand.

The thing was, I knew I should have been worried, but my problem was I just couldn’t stop thinking about food.

Lily’s hand continued to caress my thigh, as if it had a mind of its own.

I wondered if it would be rude to ask if I could get something to eat.

Lou leaned his great body over the table with the magnum of champagne in his hands and he poured champagne into my glass.

In the background I could hear that Mantovani album from inside, or maybe it was a different one.

“Arnie ain’t fuckin’ worried,” said Ferdinand.

But, on second thought, yes, I was worried.

(Continued here, and onward, as a service to discerning littérateurs everywhere.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other officially published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, released through the kind indulgence of the Arnold Schnabel Society™ of Philadelphia PA. Tickets are now available for the annual Arnold Schnabel Oktoberfest Dinner Dance at the Schwarzwald Inn at Second and Olney, with our special guest speaker and M.C., Horace P. Sternwall, author of My Pal Arnie: An Uncensored Memoir.)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 409: nothing

We left our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel marooned in the world of a rather obscure “paperback original” novel (“never before published anywhere”) called
Rummies of the Open Road

(Please click here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you have finally resigned yourself to terminal unemployment with lots of free time on your hands, then you may go here to start at the beginning of this 69-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“September is upon us, and reluctantly I say farewell to those long summer days spent in my comfortable rocking chair on the porch of our summer residence in Cape May, lost in the seemingly endless adventures of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in
The Cape May Star & Wave Book Supplement.

“Y’know, lady,” said Ferdinand, and now he was hovering just in front of her, at the level of her breasts, “I like your style.”

“Thanks, pal.” She took a drag off her cigarette, slowly exhaled, and Ferdinand flew into the path of the smoke so that he could breathe it in. “You’re kind of cute yourself,” she said.

“You are too kind, m’lady,” said Ferdinand.

“Call me Lily, little fella,” she said.

“Only if you agree to call me Ferdinand,” said my friend the fly.

“Mutual admiration society,” said Laughing Lou.

“Don’t start something I might have to finish, Lou,” said Lily, turning to glare at him over her shoulder.

“Sorry, Lily,” said Laughing Lou. He had moved away from the door and he now stood next to her, shoving his tear-sodden handkerchief into his suit jacket pocket. “You know you mean the world to me,” he said.

She looked at him, then looked away.

“Yeah, the world,” she said. “Ain’t it grand?”

She looked at me, then maybe at Horace, and then maybe she just looked across the room and out the window, I couldn’t be sure.

She took another drag on her cigarette.

Laughing Lou put his enormous hand on her arm. I know, enormous was the only kind of hand he had. I’m sorry if I’m being repetitive.

She turned and looked at him again.

“Take your big fat mitt off my arm,” she said.

Quickly he obeyed.

“You know I don’t like to be pawed,” she said.

“Sorry, Lil,” said Laughing Lou. “But, lookit, why don’t we take Mr. Sternwall’s suggestion, all just have a drink – a friendly drink – and, if you’ll let me, I can explain everything.”

“I’m sick of explanations,” she said.

“But, but –” he said.

“But what?” she said.

“But somebody has to explain,” he said.

“’Somebody has to explain’,” she repeated. She sighed. “Somebody always has to explain. Well I’m sick of explanations! I’ve had it up to here with explanations! What is it with you jerks and your explanations!”

“Well, Lily,” said Laughing Lou, “ha ha, sometimes things must be explained, you must agree, and in fact before we had our little misunderstanding I was just about to, to explain, to Mr. Schnabel and Mr. Sternwall, all about, uh –”

“What about me, big guy?” said Ferdinand.

“Ha ha,” said Laughing Lou, “why, yes, and our friend Ferdinand here, too, I was just about to, to, explain, and to make these gentlemen a proposition –”

I’ll bet,” she said.

“Heh, heh,” he said, “yes, and so –”

“Is there any champagne left?” said Lily.

“What?” said Laughing Lou.

“You heard me. Is there any champagne left.”

“Why, yes, of course, Lily,” he said. “Ha ha! Would you like some?”

“No, I was just curious,” she said.

“Oh, well, in that case, we have bourbon, scotch, gin –”

“Yes, I want some champagne!” she said.

“Oh, sorry,” said Laughing Lou. “Sit right down at the table and I’ll get a bottle.”

“It reeks of whiskey in here,” she said. “Bring it out to the terrace.”

“The terrace, yes, of course,” said Laughing Lou. “It’s really quite pleasant outside –”

She ignored him and addressed Ferdinand.

“Come on, Ferdy,” she said. “I’ll show you the back forty.”

She strode toward the table and started to go past it. Then she stopped and looked at me and then at Horace.

“You boys coming?”

“Of course,” said Horace, “we should be delighted.”

She pointed the lit end of her cigarette at me.

“You’re not going to bust up my patio furniture, are you?”

“I’ll try not to,” I said.

She stared at me for a moment.

“I’ll bet you want an explanation, don’t you?”

“Well, as a matter of fact –” I said.

“Lou!” she called. “Bring glasses for these characters, too!”

“Of course,” said Laughing Lou, who was already behind the bar.

She turned to Horace.

“Champagne okay for you, Mr. Sternwall? It’s the real stuff, from France, not that domestic piss. Or would you rather drown yourself in some more bourbon?”

“Ha ha, why, yes, champagne sounds very nice,” said Horace. “My, I don’t remember the last time I’ve had a glass of real French champagne –”

“Like never?” she said.

“Ha ha, oh, Lily, you kill me,” said Ferdinand, who was buzzing around now quite close to her bosom, a fair amount of which was not covered by her black sparkly dress, another detail I probably should have mentioned earlier.

“Lou!” she called again. “And don’t forget a glass for Ferdinand!”

“I won’t, Lily,” he bellowed back. “Ha ha!

“I love you, Lily,” said Ferdinand. “I mean that sincerely.”

“I believe you,” she said. “Who knows, maybe I should give a nice fly a chance. God knows I haven’t had much luck with men.”

“Oh, but I’m a man all right, Lily,” said Ferdinand. “Believe you me.”

“I meant human men,” she said. “No offense meant."

“Of course not,” said Ferdinand.

“I am not a prejudiced woman,” she said. “Except when it comes to men. And to women. But so far I’ve never been screwed over by a fly.”

“And I hope you never will be,” said Ferdinand.

“We’ll see about that,” she said, and then she turned and headed across the room toward the French doors.

Ferdinand flew in my ear.

“Arnie,” he said. “I think she really likes me. What do you think? Think she likes me?”

“So it seems,” I said.

“Not so loud,” he whispered in my ear. “I don’t want her to know we’re talking about her.”

“Okay,” I said, under my breath.

“Come on,” he said, “let’s go.”

I walked around the table and followed Horace, who had put his hat back on and was already following Lily, all of us stepping around the broken whiskey glasses and the ashtrays and the unbroken but now empty bottle of Heaven Sent bourbon on the floor. She went past the big desk to the French windows, turned a latch, undid a security chain, slid back a barrel bolt, then she bent her legs, reached down, and pulled up another bolt that went down into the door sill.

She stood up turned around.

“You can’t be too careful,” she said. “We got an electric alarm system in these windows too. And that glass? Horace, come here.”

“Yes, Lily.”

Horace scurried forward.

“Rap that glass,” she said.

Horace rapped the glass with the knuckles of his right hand.

“I feels very sturdy,” he said.

“You bet it’s sturdy,” she said. “You could empty a Tommy gun at these French windows and you wouldn’t even see a crack.”

“Most impressive!” said Horace.
“God, he’s an ass-kisser,” said Ferdinand, who I now realized was still in my ear.

“You can’t take too many precautions,” said Lily. “Not in this business.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” said Horace. “After all, an ounce of prevention –”

“Save the clichés for your potboilers,” she said. She turned around, turned the handle on the door frame, and pulled the door open. She looked over her shoulder at me and Horace. "Follow me, party boys."

Obediently we followed her, out onto a dark broad stone-paved terrace, a few feet above ground level, looking out over what looked like a graveled lot, with dark woods about thirty yards beyond and the starry nighttime sky above them. There was a light breeze, smelling faintly of pine trees, and it smelled good after the smoky, sweaty barroom and the bourbon-reeking room we had just left. The air was cool but not cold. Lily flicked a wall switch to the right of the glass doors, and some lamps mounted along the wall came on. The terrace was roofed-over, supported by red-brick columns. There were some chairs along the wall on both sides of the French windows, with a porch glider to the left. To the right was a round patio table, it looked like it was made out of white-painted cast iron, with four white cast-iron chairs around it. We could still hear that Mantovani album from the Hi-Fi inside

“Beautiful view,” said Horace, although all we could see was this empty lot bordered by dark trees. “What’s beyond those woods, I wonder, Miss Lily?”

“What’s beyond them?” she said.

“Yes,” said Horace. “You know, like, beyond the woods?”

“Nothing,” said Lily.

“Nothing?” said Horace.

“Nothing is beyond those woods,” said Lily. “Nothing at all.” 

(Continued here, and onward, doggedly.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find a sometimes-current listing of links to all other legally-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. We should like to express our continuing gratitude to the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia™  for the use of its archives.)