Saturday, December 19, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 468: big boy

Let’s return to a certain hot and rainy night in 1957 and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the crowded, smoky and bacchanalian confines of Bob’s Bowery Bar…

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; potential completists may click here to return to the very first chapter of this 57-volume Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece.)

“What other work of autobiographical literature features in its cast of characters not only the son of God, but also the prince of darkness, the holy ghost, and, yes, even a guardian angel by the name of ‘Bowery Bert’?” – Harold Bloom, in
The Arnold Schnabel Society’s Quarterly Review.

“Okay,” I said. “And what exactly is it you think I should do, Bert?”

“You really want me to tell you what you should do?” he said, with a slight smile that one of the authors of the cheap paperbacks I like to read might describe as “roguish”.

“Yes,” I said. “That I think pretty well sums up or rephrases if not exactly repeats what I have just said, yes.”

I don’t know why I was talking in this elaborate way all of a sudden. Could it be that I was at last surrendering to, or had been conquered by, this world of cheap fiction in which I had been trapped for so long?

“Okay, then,” he said, after taking a “meditative” series of puffs on his Parodi or Di Nobili. “I’ll tell you what you should do.”

I waited, but apparently he hadn’t quite yet milked the moment for all it was worth, to him anyway, oh no, not yet. I stood there sweating into my clothes amidst all these drunken staggering people shouting and laughing and thrashing around to the jukebox music, while Bert just leaned sort of raffishly on his umbrella, smoking his cigar. Every once in a while he nodded his head, as if agreeing with himself about something. He was mostly staring up at me in this very serious-looking way, with those grey eyes so monstrously magnified behind the thick lenses of his glasses, but sometimes he looked around, out at the crowd of drunks, even bending his head to the side to look past me, no doubt at the boogalooing Emily. One minute passed, and then another. I really wanted not to give him the satisfaction of hearing me ask him yet again to please say what was on his mind, but then it occurred to me that the concept of time probably meant nothing to him, being an angel and immortal, and possibly he would be quite willing to stand here all night waiting for me to egg him along some more, and so at last I broke down and spoke:

“Please,” I said, “Bert, just tell me what I should do.”

“You really want to know.”

“Yes,” I said, stifling a sigh with all my might. “I really want to know, now will you please just tell me.”

“Don’t get all hot under the collar.”

“In fact,” I said, “I am quite literally hot under the collar. I’m sweating like a pig, and I wish you would just tell me whatever it is you have to tell me.”


“Tell me, damn it.”

“Look, do I have to remind you about the language?”

“Apparently yes. Now tell me.”


“Bert, if you don’t stop torturing me I’m going to –”


Now it was me who paused.

“Nothing,” I said. “I have no other recourse.”

“Well, I’m glad you realize that.”

“Yes,” I said. “I fully realize that, and so now please tell me what it is you would have me do.”

If you’re man enough to do it.”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “And I realize that might be a big ‘if’. Now what is it?”

“You’re right it’s a big ‘if’. To tell the truth, and please don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not entirely sure you are man enough.”

I did an odd thing at this juncture, odd for me, anyway. I suppose I really was changing, if not into a more fictional sort of character, then at least less of a passive one. But what I did was I put one hand each on Bert’s upper arms and lifted him up, so that he was face to face with me, his feet dangling a foot above the floor. I held him there, at arm’s length. He must have weighed only ninety pounds, if that, and I was so filled with the strength of despair that I felt as if I could hold him up there easily for an hour. He had his cigar in his mouth, and his eyes seemed bigger than ever, like they were pushing his glasses away from his face.

“What the fuck?” he said.

“I swear, Bert,” I said, “if you don’t tell me what’s on your mind, I’m going to –”

He was making little treading movements with his legs.

“Lemme down, you scoundrel,” he said, talking around his cigar.

“Not until you tell me what you want me to do.”

“I’ll tell you if you let me down.”

I sighed. My moment of fury had passed, and I lowered him back down.

“Christ,” he said. He took a good puff on his cigar, then took it out of his mouth and tapped the ash with his finger, the ash tumbling down onto my work shoes, again.

He looked up at me.

“You calmed down now?”

“Yes,” I said, not entirely truthfully.

“Okay, then,” he said. “I’ll tell you what you should do. I mean if you really want to hear it.”

Quite involuntarily I raised my right hand and made a fist with it. Bert flinched, and then quickly continued.

“What I want you to do is to march right over to Edith over there –”

“Emily,” I said. “Her name is Emily.”

“Emily then. I’m sorry. Y’know, go ahead and sue me if you want to but after about a couple of dozen centuries or so in my job you start to get the names of human beings just a little mixed up now and then.”

“Fine,” I said. “So you’re saying I should march over to Emily?”

“Yeah, that’s right. March right up to her, say hello, and then what I want you to do is to apologize to her.”

“Apologize to her? For what?”

“You must have done something that got her upset.”

“I didn’t do anything to her.”

“You said you had sex with her, didn’t you?”

“Well, my character did.”

“In other words, you did.”

“So you want me to apologize for having sex with her?”

“No, that will make her even more mad. Just apologize.”

“Apologize for doing nothing?”

“You must have done something. Why else would she have knocked you out with her purse?”

“Because she’s insane?”

“That’s quite possible, and all the more reason why you should apologize, and as sincerely-seeming as you can pretend.”

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Well, no, it’s probably a really stupid idea, but since you’re in the world of a stupid novel, then you might as well do something stupid.”

“I think I’d rather do something smart.”

“Okay, look, your character in this fictional universe, the poet, what’s his name?”

“Porter Walker.”

“'Porter Walker', okay – now is this character smart or stupid?”


“Then you should do something stupid. Just as long as it’s dramatic and moves the plot along, the stupider the better. Go on, go apologize to the silly twit.”

“I just don’t see anything good coming out of doing that.”

“Arnold, look, do you think they teach us nothing in guardian angel school?”

“There’s a guardian angel school?”

“Of course there is. Not so much a school, but a sort of boot camp if you will. And graduating is not easy, believe you me. You got to pass every single course at least with a C and you got to keep taking the courses over and over again until you do pass them. Some angels it takes a hundred earth years. Some of them a thousand years, or more.”

“How many years did it take you?”

“What difference does it make how long it took me? All you got to know is that I did graduate, finally.”


“Yeah. I’m not gonna say I breezed through the school passing every single course the first time I took them, but, you know –”

“Yeah, but how long exactly did it take you?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“I’m just curious. I think you might appreciate that. I mean if it took you a thousand years I might have to bear that in mind before taking your advice.”

“It wasn’t a thousand years.”

“That’s not very reassuring.”

“If you must know it took me more than a hundred years to graduate but quite a bit less than a thousand.”

“More than a hundred years?” I said.

“Whatever,” he said. “Point is, I graduated, and I got the diploma to prove it. So quit your stalling, turn around, get the hell over to her to what’s her name – Edna –”


“'Emily' – say ‘excuse me’, and – oh, wait, first say excuse me to the big stud, James is it?”


“Him. Say ‘excuse me’ to him for butting in, because you want to be a gentleman, you want to take the high road. And then ask him if he would mind if you had just a quick word with Enid –”


“Emily, whatever, and what you do then is, you gently take her aside, and then without pussyfooting around, just flat out apologize to her.”

“And then what?”

“And then hope she doesn’t hit you with her purse again.”

“I don’t know, Bert,” I said.

“You don’t know what?”

“I don’t know if this is such a great idea.”

“Of course you don’t know. But that’s why you have me. Here –” He stuck his cigar in his mouth, reached into his suit coat and took out his flask again. Hooking his umbrella over his arm, he unscrewed the cap. “Take another shot of Windsor Canadian first,” he said. “A little Dutch courage never hurt anybody. Go on, take a good hit. There’s plenty left. You see, this flask is kind of like my cigar, which as you might have noticed has not burnt down even a fraction of an inch this whole time you have known me. Yes, this is a very special flask supplied only to guardian angels upon our graduation from guardian angel school – the so-called 'bottomless whiskey flask', which, believe you me, comes in handy when you’re dealing with human beings all day and night for a living. So, please, be my guest. My perquisite is your perquisite. So long as you do what I tell you and don’t fuck up.”

I started to take the flask, but then – and here I really was acting like a different character than the one I was used to playing – I lowered my hand.

“Hey, you know what, Bert,” I said. “I think I’m good actually.”

“Really?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Believe it or not.”

“Okay, then,” he said, and he took the flask. “You mind if I have one?”

“No, please,” I said. “Go right ahead.”

Without a second’s pause he lifted the flask to his lips and took a couple of good gulps. He sighed, nodded his head in an approving sort of way, screwed the cap back on, put the flask away.

“All right,” he said. “Go do it. Walk over and apologize to her, but make it quick. I mean, make it sound sincere, but then act like you don’t want to, you know, impinge on her precious time, then come back and get me and we’ll go meet Jesus.”


“Sorry – ‘Josh’.”

“Well, okay,” I said.


“All right.”

I took a deep breath, then turned around. Julian and Emily were dancing not three feet away from me. Both of them were obviously completely plastered now. I had no idea what time it was, but I doubted that either of them were going to make it to the office in the morning, and probably not in the afternoon, either.

They were dancing in a fashion that might be called “Negro”, or at least white people’s awkward simulation of Negro dancing. They were both pumping their arms in the air, undeterred by the fact that Julian held his briefcase in one hand, or it might have been Emily’s briefcase, while Emily swung her hard black purse around by its strap. I took two steps toward them, and said, croaked, yelled:

“Um, hello!”

They both stopped in mid-gyration, turned and stared at me.

“Porter!” said Julian, because that was my fictional character’s name.

“Porter!” said Emily.

“Julian,” I said, “I wonder if I might just speak to Emily for just a moment.”

“Sure, old buddy,” he said, his sweaty face was smiling broadly, and he clapped me on the shoulder. “Take as much time as you need. I’ll be at the bar.”

“Oh, but I’ll only need a second,” I said.

“Take two seconds,” he said, smiling even more broadly, and without another word he turned and strode off through the crowd in the direction of the bar.

“What is it, Porter?” said Emily. She was glistening with perspiration, and the carefully sprayed dark helmet that had once been her hairstyle now looked as if several buckets of water had been dumped over it. “You’re not mad at me for knocking you out with my purse, are ya?”

She had lapsed into some sort of southern accent, maybe it was in fact her native way of speaking.

“I’m not mad at you,” I said. “In fact, Emily, I want to apologize to you.”

“You do?”


“What for?”

“Oh, just – you know –”

“Yes, sweetheart, I do know.” She put her hand on my tie and gave it a tug. “How I know. But how manly of you to be a man about it and come right out and apologize. Like a real man. Not like that big old faggot Julian.”

“Well, uh, that’s all I wanted to say, Emily,” I said. “I’ll let you get back to your, uh, dancing now.”

She pulled on my tie, pulling me closer to her.

“Fuck my dancing.”


“You heard me, stud. Fuck my dancing.”

“Heh heh.”

She let go of my tie, but now she ran her fingers along the stubble on my chin.

“Take me up to your apartment,” she said.

“My, uh, apartment?”

“Yeah, take me up there. Right now.”

“But what about Julian?”

“To hell with Julian.”

“But –”

“No buts.”

“But you see I’m with a friend.”

“Where is she, I’ll scratch the bitch’s eyes out.”

“It’s not a she. It’s a man.”

“A man? What man?”

I turned and pointed at Bert, standing there just a few feet away, smiling and nodding his head. He raised his hand and gave a little wave.

“That little old fella is your friend?” said Emily.

“Sort of,” I said.

She stuck her arm in mine and pulled me over to where Bert was.

“Hey, granddad,” she said, “I’m just gonna borrow your young friend here for a spell. You mind?”

“Oh, well, uh, heh heh,” he said.

“Thanks, pops,” she said, and she dragged me past him, towards the door.

I twisted around and looked back at Bowery Bert.

He shrugged, with a grin a paperback novelist would almost certainly describe as “sheepish”.

Emily gave my arm a good yank. As I think I have mentioned, perhaps a thousand pages ago, she was a small woman, but nevertheless she seemed to have the strength of a vigorous young male practitioner of Charles Atlas’s dynamic tension program.

“Come on, big boy,” she said, and she continued to pull me along towards the front door.
So much for Bert’s guardian angel school.

(Continued here.)

(Illustration by Ernest "Darcy" Chiriaka. Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a quite frequently current listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. We still have a limited supply of Railroad Train to Heaven Action Figures™ available for the gift-giving season, so order now – kids just love ‘em!)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 467: sweat

Let us return to a certain hot and rainy night in old Manhattan and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his new guardian angel “Bowery Bert”,  just as they are about to enter that fabled watering-hole Bob’s Bowery Bar…

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; go here if for your own good reasons you wish to return to the very beginning of this 71-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“First came Marcel Proust, and then, hard on the glorious Parisian’s heels, that magisterial Dubliner James Joyce, but it wasn’t until some several decades later that the Divine Trinity of 20th century literature became complete, when a modest Philadelphian named Arnold Schnabel somewhat tentatively began to write his towering
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, from the Introduction to his Railroad Train to Heaven: an Abridged Version for Younger Readers (Olney Community College Press).

I stepped inside, and once again I was in that world I knew all too well, Bar World, and my new guardian angel was right there with me, in fact he had even hooked his arm into my left arm, whether out of camaraderie or merely to make sure I didn’t escape him, well, that’s not for me to say.

The wind slammed the door shut behind us, and despite the torrential rain outside, or who knows, maybe because of it, the bar was even more packed with shouting and laughing drunks than when I had just previously been in here – what, when was it, an hour ago, forty-five minutes? It felt like five months, but I knew that couldn’t be right.

The jukebox blared with saxophone music, and the sticky hot air churned with tobacco smoke and the odors of beer and whiskey and gin and of sweating unwashed bodies, with acrid swirling notes of colognes and perfumes which I could only assume were of the cheapest brands, not that I would know the difference if they weren’t – in other words everything was as before, but more so. I knew from bitter experience there was nothing to do but breathe deep, breathe it all in so that you got used to it, and I must admit that after more than twenty years of wasting my precious time in bars it never took me too long to get used to it.

And I was doing that, breathing in the hot thick humid stench of it all and preparing myself for my next move when Bert yanked on my arm, pulling my torso and the head on top of it closer to his eager face with those eyes so hideously magnified by his glasses.

“Where is he?” he yelled, over the saxophone music that was blaring from the jukebox and the shouting and laughing of all the drunkards in this place. “Where is Jesus?”

“Josh you mean,” I shouted back down to him. “Remember, he likes to be called Josh now.”

“Yes, quite – Josh,” said Bert. “Pardon me. I shall remember that.”

(Actually I didn’t care in the least what he called Josh, and I was pretty sure Josh wouldn’t care either; I think I was just having a little wicked fun with my new guardian angel, but that was his fault for being so annoying.)

“Anyway,” I said, yelled, “he was over there –” I jerked a thumb to the right, “in a booth.”

From where we were standing just inside the door I couldn’t actually see the booth in question – a couple of other booths came first, and there were people staggering and dancing all around us.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” said Bert. “Let’s go, sonny Jim!”

“Okay,” I said, and with Bert still hanging onto my arm I began to work my way through the alcoholics between where we had been standing and the booth in question. I had no plan beyond getting to the booth, and anyway, by this point I had become fully cognizant of the flimsiness of all human plans. I continued doing what I did because I didn’t know what else to do. And, anyway, sure enough, my plan was foiled almost immediately, as who should I see dancing furiously in that mob not six feet away but my old nemesis Emily. I then also saw that she was dancing with – or at least dancing in the near vicinity of – my publisher, or at least my alter ego’s publisher, Julian Smythe.

I stopped, and turned around, so that my back was towards Emily and Julian, and as Bert still had his arm in mind, I perforce turned him around also.

“Hey, what gives?” he said. He’d had his cigar in his mouth but now he took it out. “You trying to dance the black bottom with me? Well, I’ll tell you right now, buddy, Bowery Bert don’t roll that way!”

Without ceremony I pulled him further around so that he was facing me, or facing upward at me, what with him being almost a foot shorter than me. I freed the arm he had been holding onto and, bending forward, I cupped my hand to the side of my mouth.

“I’m not trying to dance with you,” I stage-whispered, into his tiny ear, which was shriveled and grey like a dead growth of fungus on an old tree. “I just saw someone I don’t want to see.”


“It’s this girl, her name’s Emily.”

“Ah ha! Cherchez la femme!” he yelled, pronouncing the word like “fem”. “You dog, you! Who is she, one of your doxies?”

“No,” I said. “She’s the heroine of a novel in the fictional world we’re in.”

“Okay,” he said. “I can, as you young people say, ‘dig’ that. So what?”

“Well, you see, in this novel, well, I guess I did have a sort of affair with her –”

“Ha! I knew it! How was she?”

“Look, Bert, I really don’t want to talk about any of that sort of thing –”


“I don’t even remember what she was like, anyway, because I got into the novel after all that happened.”

Bert took a puff on his cigar, and needless to say, blew the smoke up into my face.

“Y’know,” he said, “I’m not so sure I even want to try to understand what you’re talking about.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “To be honest I really don’t care if you understand it either.”

“Good, so neither of us cares.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Great. Fabulous.”

“Okay, don’t get upset.”

“I’m not upset.”

“You look upset.”

“Okay, I am upset. But it’s just because I don’t want to see this girl.”

“Is she that bad?”

“Yes,” I said. 

“Wow. Now I want to meet her.”

“Well, you can meet her if you want to,” I said. “But I intend to avoid her like the plague. So, you know –”

“Hey, you’re not getting rid of me that easy, pal. I’m your guardian angel and I’m sticking with you. Which one is she, anyway?”

“The really drunk-looking one –”

“They’re all drunk-looking.”

“I meant to say,” I said, “before you interrupted me, the drunk-looking one with the tousled dark hair in the wrinkled grey suit, dancing with the tall guy in the dark suit who looks kind of like Rock Hudson.”

“Okay,” said Bert, peeking around my waist to my right. “I see her, and him. She ain’t bad. A little thin for my taste, but I wouldn’t kick her out of the sack. Who’s the stud?”

“He’s my publisher, Julian Smythe.”

“You have a publisher?”

“I don’t, but the fictional character whose body I currently inhabit does.”

“And who, pray tell, is this 'fictional character', if I may be so bold as to ask?”

“His name is Porter Walker.”

“So you’re telling me that in this particular, uh, reality, you are this ‘Porter Walker’?”


”And so your character I take it is a writer of some sort – like what, oh – no – not a poet?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“Lyric poet?”


“Any good?”


“I didn’t think so,” he said. “I mean, no offense, but you just don’t strike me as the next Longfellow.”

“I don’t know what to do,” I said.

“You’re that afraid of some drunk girl?”

“The last time we met she knocked me out.”

“Is that how you got that shiner?”

“I guess so,” I said. I touched the area below my left eye. I had forgotten about the black eye, but obviously it had not miraculously healed.

Bert leaned to my left this time and took another peek behind me.

“She don’t look like she packs much of a punch.”

“She hit me with her purse,” I explained, “and she had a big jar of Pond’s cold cream in it.”

“Ha ha, beautiful! I like a woman with spirit!”

“Is she still there?”

“Oh, yeah, she’s there, all right, and it looks like she’s boogalooing closer, too.”

“Damn,” I said. “Damn. Damn it.”

“Hey, buddy, that kind of language doesn’t help.”


“You should say ‘Darn’ if you must say something. Or even better, ‘Gee’.

“So is this what you do as a guardian angel? Tell people to watch their language?”

“And is this what you do as a human being? Tell guardian angels how to do their fucking job?”

“Look,” I said, “there, you just cursed.”

“Fuck is not a curse. It’s a crude word but it’s not a curse word.”

“Well, how come you can say f–”

“Don’t say it.”

“Okay,” I said. “But how come you get to say the F-word and I can’t even say ‘damn’?”

“I told you not to say that word.”

“Fine,” I said. “Then how come you get to say the F-word and I can’t even say the D-word.”

“Because,” he said, “I am an angel. And you are only a human being. And before you start complaining let me say I don’t make the rules. Now come on, let’s shake a leg. I want to meet Jesus, or Josh, or whatever he’s calling himself these days.”

“But if I turn around she’ll see me.”

“This what, Edie is it?”


“You’re that afraid of her.”

“You’d be afraid too if she knocked you out with her purse.”

“Okay, Arnie, now bend down closer to me because I’m going to tell you something.”

“I can hear you okay from where I am,” I said.

“Good. Because I want you to listen to me and listen tight.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And stop darting your eyes around while I’m talking to you.”

“Look,” I said, “Bert – and it’s okay I call you Bert, right?”

“I thought we had already established that.”

“Okay, then,” I said. “Bert. Will you please just tell me what you have to say and be done with it.”

“Telling me my job again.”

“Okay,” I said. “Don’t tell me what you were going to say. I don’t care.”

“What I was going to say,” he said, “before you got so fucking weird – is that as your guardian angel I am advising you to stop being such a pussy, afraid of some little female, and turn around and lead us to your friend Josh. That is what I am advising you, in my capacity as your guardian angel. And, believe me, I have been doing this job a long time. Now let’s move.”

“If we wait she may go to the other side of the bar, where she might not see me.”

“You’re grasping at straws now.”

“But you don’t know her.”

“I think she sounds fascinating.”

“She’s not. She’s really boring.”

“Maybe you just need to get to know her better.”

“I don’t want to get to know her better. And anyway, she’s a character in a novel.”

“Well, so are you, that is if I’m following you correctly.”

“But this is not the real me. I’m only stuck in this body.”

“That’s what every human being ever since Adam and Eve has said.”

“Look, you’re supposed to be my guardian angel –”

“Not supposed to be. I am.”

“Then help me.”

“Oh, all right, don’t worry, I’ll help you.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.”

He seemed so smug, but I resisted the urge to pick him up and toss him into the middle of that mob of dancing people. I might mention here that for the hundredth time that day I was now streaming with sweat, and so now my clothes, which were already damp from the rain, were now becoming soaked from the inside as well. Bert on the other hand looked as cool and dry as a mummy in his grey suit and cloth cap, but then, as he had reminded me me more than once already, he was an angel, not a human being. Could it be that he actually might be able to help me? I decided to swallow my pride, at least for the time being.

“What should I do?” I said.

“Okay,” said Bert. “You’re a character in a novel, right?”

“No, more accurately put, I am trapped in the corporeal form of a character in a novel.”

“In other words, you’re a character in a novel.”

“Okay, fine, I’m a character in a novel.”

“Great. So act like a character in a novel.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean do something stupid,” he said. He took another puff on his cigar. A funny thing about that cigar, no matter how much he smoked it, it always stayed the same length.

“You’re telling me to do something stupid,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Somehow I don’t think that will be hard for you. Somehow I don’t think that will be hard for you at all.”

I had to admit that he was right.

(Continued here.)

(Please look to the right-hand column of this page to find an ostensibly current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. The holidays are almost upon us, so why not give your friends and family the most precious gift of all, a great book – and click here to order the new paperback edition of our friend Kathleen Maher’s magical novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Friday, December 4, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 466: a saint

Let us return to a certain rainy summer’s night in old New York City and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his new guardian angel “Bowery Bert”, here outside the entrance of that fabled caravanserai Bob’s Bowery Bar...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; click here to return to the very beginning of this 69-volume Gold View Award™-winning

“Yes – brrr – December has arrived, and what better way to pass a chilly and snowy evening than to sit in one’s favorite old rocker by a roaring fire, with a thick afghan over one’s legs, a cup of steaming hot cocoa prepared with Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup, and a volume of Arnold Schnabel’s magnificent chef-d'œuvre, now available for a laughably modest fee on your Kindle™.” – Harold Bloom, host of Fox’s U-bet Presents ‘The Arnold Schnabel Hour’, exclusively on the Dumont Radio Network, Sundays at 4 pm (EST).

“You have to understand that he has been through a lot,” said Bert.

“Sure,” I said.

He had been talking with his cigar in his teeth, but now he took it between his thumb and forefinger and tapped it with his middle finger, causing the ash to tumble down onto my shoes again, not that I cared, again.

“Poor fellow’s probably been through more than anyone,” he said, “anywhere, in any time.”

I glanced away, out at the rain and the street, looking away from those dark grey eyes of Bert’s, so hideously magnified by the thick lenses of his glasses.

“What?” he said.

I’ve never been good at hiding what I’m thinking, if anything. And there didn’t seem to be much that got by old Bert.

“Um,” I mumbled.

“You disagree then?” he said.

“Well, not exactly,” I said.

“Then inexactly. What.”

“Well, you’re forgetting his father,” I said. “And the holy ghost.”

“What about them?”

“Well, they must have been through a lot, too,” I said. “I mean, as much as Josh –”

“Jesus you mean.”

“Yes, sorry, I’m used to thinking of him as ‘Josh’.”

“Okay, ‘Josh’ then. But here’s the thing, Arnold, if you knew your catechism like the Roman Catholic you claim to be then you’d know that when I say ‘the son of God’ – or, ‘Josh’ as you call him –”

“He tells me to call him Josh.”

“Please don’t interrupt.”


“I hate that. You humans always think you have something to say. And you just can’t wait to say it. As if anyone cares.”


“Okay, then. Apology accepted. Now, where was I?”

“Something about Josh,” I said.

“Oh, right. When I say – okay, I guess I may as well say it if that’s what he wants to be called – when I say ‘Josh’ I also mean God the father and the holy ghost. Because they are three indivisible persons making up one God, the holy whatever –”

“Trinity,” I said.

“Yeah, exactly, the trinity. They’re all really just one God.”

“Right,” I said. “I forgot about that.” 

Not that I had ever thought too much about the concept of the trinity. It had only been just one of the millions of concepts I couldn’t understand and couldn’t be bothered to try to understand.

“However,” said Bert, “irregardless, you have to be impressed by Jesus – or 'Josh' if you will – going through that awful scourging and the crown of thorns and the crucifixion and all. That couldn’t have been any picnic. You didn’t see his father getting nailed to any cross in the hot sun, nor for that matter the holy ghost.”

I suppose my face gave me away again, another furtive glance out at the downpour that continued to drench the Bowery.

“Now what?” he said.

“It’s just that I met the holy ghost tonight,” I said.

“You what?”

“I met the holy ghost. Except he went by the name of ‘H.G.’”

“Please don’t fuck with me, Arnold. In case you didn’t know it, I am not a good guy to fuck with. I know I’m old, I know I’m small and frail-looking, but do not fuck with me.”

“But –”

“What I mean is, like, fuck with me at your peril.”

“But –”

“You’ve been warned.”

“But I really did meet him,” I said.

He took a drag on his Parodi or De Nobili, blew the smoke up into my face again.

“For real?” he said.

“Well, apparently,” I said, coughing only a little bit. “I mean, Josh said he was the holy ghost, so –”

“Wow,” said Bert. “And what was he like?”

“So you never met him either?” I said.

“No. If I had ever met him then I wouldn’t have to ask you what he was like, now would I?”

“Sorry,” I said.

“If you stopped saying asinine things you wouldn’t have to say you’re sorry all the time.”

“That’s a good point.”

“So what was he like?”

To keep my guardian angel happy, or at least possibly less unpleasant, I made an effort to remember. It had only been earlier that night, but it felt like two and a half years ago.

“Well,” I said. “He was a little guy of about fifty or so –”

“Little guy – like me, huh?”

“Maybe a couple of inches taller.”

“As befits one of his divine stature.”

“He wore a derby.”

“A derby! A gentleman of the old school!”

“He was nicely dressed,” I said. “A three-piece suit.”

“What color?”

“Sort of like yours,” I said.

“Like mine? Battleship grey?”

“A slightly darker shade of grey I think.”

“Well, of course it wouldn’t be of exactly the same shade.”

“He had a cane.”

“I hope he was not crippled in any way.”

“No,” I said. “I think it was just a, like –”

“A walking cane. As gentlemen once were wont to carry.”

“Yes,” I said.

“What else?”

“Oh, I remember, he had those old-fashioned glasses that fit over the nose, with a ribbon hanging down?”


“Yes, I think that’s what they’re called.”

“Yes, a true gentleman of the old school! How I should like one day to meet him myself. I’ll warrant he was a fine, imposing gentleman!”

Again I guess I just couldn’t disguise my thoughts and feelings.

“Now what?” he said. “You’re saying he was not a fine gentleman?”

“No, he was a very fine gentleman,” I said. “Imposing too.”

“I told you not to fuck with me.”

“Okay,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Stop saying you’re sorry and say what’s on your mind.”

“Well, he was just a little grumpy,” I said.



“You’re saying I’m grumpy.”

“No, I’m saying he was grumpy.”

“But you’re implying, by subtext, that I am grumpy too. That’s why you didn’t want to say it.”

“Okay,” I said. “Maybe you’re right. But, look, can we just go in the bar now?”

“Maybe I got a right to be grumpy.”

“Maybe,” I said, and I put my hand on the door handle, but very quickly he brought his umbrella up and whacked my hand with its ferrule, not really hard, but enough for me to take my hand away, and to commence rubbing it with my other one.

“Maybe you would be grumpy too,” said Bert, “if you had to be a guardian angel to the absolute dregs of humanity down here on the Bowery. You think my job is easy?”

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I said. “But I guess it can be, uh, hard –”

“Hard? Hard? How about next to impossible?”

“Okay,” I said. “I can see, that, but –”

“So just remember, maybe the holy ghost has his own very good reasons for being grumpy too.”

“I will,” I said.

I again made a move to open the door, but Bert raised his umbrella and I quickly drew my hand away.

He took a step closer to me, so that he had to tilt his head back a little to look up at me.

“Where did you meet him?” he said.

“The holy ghost?”

“Who else are we talking about?”

“I – I met him in a bar, actually,” I said.

“You met him in a bar.”


“Another bar,” he said. “You spend a lot of time in bars, don’t you.”

I knew there was no point in denying it.

“Yes,” I said. “So –”

“Wait a minute. Just what was the holy ghost doing in this bar? He just happened to stop in for a drink?”


“I didn’t think so. A person of his eminence doesn’t just happen into a bar by chance, now does he?”

“He wanted to get Josh.”

“What do you mean, ‘get Josh’?

“Bring him back to heaven. Get him to stop acting like a human being.”

“I take it he was not successful in this endeavor.”

“Not as far as I know. So –”

“So, what?”

“Can we go in the bar now?”

“In a minute. What about you know who?”


He glanced upward.

“The other one.”

“Other one,” I repeated, being a little slow on the uptake.

The big fellow.” He raised his umbrella again, and I flinched, but luckily for me all he did was point it upwards, with little pushing movements. “The guy upstairs,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “You mean God the father?”

“Yes.” He lowered the umbrella. “Unless you have some strange nickname for him as well.”

“No,” I said.

“Have you met him?”

“Him I haven’t met,” I said. “I was in his house, but –”

“Hold on. You were in the big house? The house on the hill?”


“I swear if you’re fucking with me –”

He paused, staring at me with those enormous eyes pressed against the lenses of his glasses like the mouths of two squids against the glass of an aquarium.

“Wow,” he said. “You’re not fucking with me. You really were in the big house? Got past St. Peter and everything. How did that happen? Because the word on the street is he is very tough, St. Peter is. Very tough. A stickler. But fair, mind you! Firm but fair. So how did you get past him?”

“Well, Josh got me in,” I said.

“No kidding? Josh himself took you in?”

“Yes,” I said. “Although at that time I still knew him as Jesus.”

“I see. Wow. So here I thought I was being assigned just another common ordinary Bowery stew bum. Tell me, Arnold, you are not by any chance a saint, are you?”

“Oh, no,” I said.

“You’re sure.”

“Fairly sure,” I said.

“But then you might be one and just don’t know it. Perhaps you are the patron saint of drug addicts and alcoholics.”

“I’d really like to go into the bar now,” I said.

“Let me just compose myself first,” he said. “Prepare myself. Just to think that now, at long last, after all these eons, I am about to bask in the divine presence. How do I look?”

What could I say? That he looked like a slightly shabby and not entirely hygienic little old man? No. Once again circumstances forced me to lie.

“You look fine,” I said.

“If I had only known I should have taken better care with my appearance. Perhaps have had my suit cleaned and pressed.”

“I don’t think, uh –”

“What am I saying?” he said. “Look at you, in those wet and dirty clothes, and with a black eye, and needing a shave, too, I might add.”

I was losing what little patience I still possessed.

“Right,” I said. “Look how messy I am, and Josh doesn’t seem to mind, so let’s go in.”

“But you’re his friend,” he said. “It’s different with friends. One is more shall we say indulgent with an old pal. But who am I? Just a modest guardian angel posted to one of the crummiest most disgusting slums in the world.”

“Okay,” I said, “look, Bert?”

“Yes, speak freely.”

“Josh doesn’t care how you look.”

“But how do you know that?”

“He’s my friend, remember? I know him.”

“I’m so envious. I know I shouldn’t be but I am.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s only human to be envious.”

“Ah, but there you see,” he said.

“What?” I said, resisting the urge to take him by the lapels and shake him as if he were a cocktail shaker full of Manhattans.

“I am not human,” he said. “A state for which I thank the good lord every day.”

“Well,” I said, “with any luck you’ll get the chance to thank him in person in a minute. Shall we go in now?”

“Yes,” he said. “Why don’t we?”

And without another word I turned and opened the door.

(Continued here, and onward, at our usual relentless pace.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a quite possibly-current listing of links to all other accessible chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Looking for the perfect holiday gift for that certain bookish someone on your holiday shopping list? If so, then click here to order a copy of the paperback edition of our colleague Kathleen Maher’s most excellent novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 465: help

Let’s return to this hot rainy night in old New York City and rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel, sitting here on the pavement in the entrance area of Bob’s Bowery Bar, and attended to by his new guardian angel, “Bowery Bert”...

(Kindly click here to read our immediately previous chapter; those wishing to return to the very beginning of this 58-volume Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece may go here.)

“Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre, comprising as it does already dozens of volumes – and, as caches of Schnabel’s neatly-handwritten copybooks continue to be discovered, no one knows how many more volumes are still to come – must still be considered ‘one’ work, just as the universe, with all its countless trillions of worlds, must still be considered ‘one universe’.” – Harold Bloom, in the Ladies’ Home Journal Literary Quarterly.

My guardian angel took his little cigar out of his mouth and exhaled De Nobili smoke into my face.

“So, you enjoying that Windsor Canadian?”

“Yes,” I said, after I had swallowed that second gulp down.

“Take another shot.”

I didn’t want to annoy him again, and so I raised the flask to my lips.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” he said, quietly.

I had no idea why he said those names. But considering that he was an angel it seemed appropriate that he would make reference to the Holy Family, even if for reasons unknown to me, a mere human after all.

So I took another swig, but not such a big one this time.

“Pretty good, huh?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, after exhaling a great warm breath the way one does after quickly downing three shots of whiskey.

“Don’t let me stop you if you’d like another one,” he said.

“Well, I’m probably good for now,” I said.

“You’re sure?”

“Pretty sure,” I said, and I started screwing the cap back onto the flask.

“What are you doing?” he said.

“Just putting the cap back on.”

“So I don’t get a swig?”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, “I didn’t, uh –”

“You didn’t think,” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Well, maybe you should start thinking.”

“I’ll try,” I said.

“Now give me that flask.”

I gave it to him, and, after giving the mouth of the flask a cursory wipe on his jacket sleeve, he took what looked like a healthy swig. He then lowered the flask, heaving another sigh, a long one, this one sounding like the sound a baseball card makes when a boy attaches it with a clothespin to the wheel-frame of his bicycle for the purpose of making a strange flapping noise on the spokes as he rides aimlessly about.

The ancient angel stared at me through those thick round glasses. He was still crouching by my side, with his umbrella hooked in the crook of his arm. Right outside the shelter of this entrance area the downpour continued unabated.

“I have a feeling,” he said, “that I got my job cut out with you, buddy.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“You probably want another shot,” he said. “Right?”

I hesitated. I didn’t really want one, but I also didn’t want to offend him.

“Um,” I said. “Maybe?”


“Well, uh –”

“Arnold,” he said, “may I talk frankly?”


“I think you need some help, my friend.”

“I think so, too,” I said.

“You do?” he said.

“Oh, definitely,” I said.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that, Arnold. And I’m sure you are aware that there are – places – where you can go, where you can get the, shall we say, the professional help you need. And, as your guardian angel, I shall try to help you as well. You see I have no little experience in these matters, working as I have for these many years on the Bowery. I have helped lots of guys who were even farther gone than yourself. So, lookit, why don’t we get you on your feet, and we’ll take you straight away over to Bellevue, get you admitted, get you dried out –”

“Hey, wait a minute,” I said.

“What? I hope you’re not going to fight me on this.”

“But when I said I needed help I didn’t mean that kind of help,” I said.

“You didn’t.”


“So – you’re saying – and, please, correct me if I’m wrong – you’re telling me that you don’t think you have a problem with drugs and alcohol?”

“No,” I said. “I  mean, not too much, or –”

“Not too much.”

“Well, uh –”

“You say this despite the fact that you were just on the very verge of taking your fourth shot of Windsor Canadian in the space of, what, a minute?”

“But that was only because I thought maybe you wanted me to have a, uh, fourth, um –”

“Gulp. Snort. Belt.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Can I ask you a personal question.”

“I guess so,” I said.

“How many drinks have you had today?”

“Uh –”

“And, please, be honest, Arnold. I can’t help you if you’re not honest with me.”

“How many ‘drinks’ have I had?”

“Just today, yes, how many.”

“Uh –”



“Yeah. Like round it out if it’ll make it easier. Ten? Twenty? Thirty?”

“Well, it’s been a very long day,” I said. “I mean, you don’t know –”

“How many drugs have you taken?”

“You mean today –”

“Yes, just today.”

“Not too many,” I said.

“Besides the hashish brownies,” he said.

“Um, just a little laudanum,” I said. “But that was for the pain.”

“The pain.”

“Like, in my knees?”

“In your knees.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay, just a little laudanum,” he said.


“For your knees.”


“And that’s all the drugs you took today?”

“Well –”

“Well what.”

“Well, almost.”


“Yes,” I said. “You see, way earlier today, I almost forgot, but someone gave me some LSD –”


“Yes, but –”


“Yeah, but, you see, like with the hashish brownies, I didn’t know it was LSD –”


“Honest. It was just, you know, I thought it was like an aspirin or something –”

“For this knee problem you have.”


“I wonder, Arnold, if it has occurred to you that you might not have sore knees if you did not consume so many drugs and alcoholic beverages –”

“Uh –”

“You fall over a lot, don’t you?”

“Well, I suppose I do, perhaps, more than the average person –”

He held out the flask to me. I don’t know why, but I took it.

“Go ahead,” he said. “What’s another slug or two of Windsor Canadian after all you’ve probably drunk today –”

“But –”

“Plus the hashish brownies. The Laudanum. The LSD. And God knows what else.”

I guess he noticed that I glanced guiltily away.

“What?” he said. “What else? Cocaine? Bennies? Ayahuasca?”

“No,” I said.

“Then what?”

“Bock beer infused with nectar of the gods.”

“You mean ambrosia?”

“Yes, I think that’s what it’s called.”

“Wow, you don’t fool around, do you?”

“Well, you see, sir –”

“'Bert.' The queen of England hasn’t knighted me yet, so, please, address me as ‘Bert’.”

“Okay, ‘Bert’,” I said. “But here’s the thing, I thought it was just an ordinary bock I was drinking. I didn’t know it had ambrosia in it.”

“People just keep fooling you, don’t they, Arnold?”

“Uh –”

“Taking advantage.”

“Um –”

“Are you going to take another swig of that Windsor Canadian or not?”

I looked at the flask.

“I think if it’s okay with you I’ll pass,” I said.

He paused, taking a few puffs on his Parodi or De Nobili, maybe eventually I would find out what kind of cigar it was, not that it mattered at all. As usual, and it was usual by now, he exhaled the smoke in my face.

“Give me the flask then,” he said, and I gave it to him. He took another swig, it looked like another pretty good one, too.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he said. “I am an angel. I can handle a little Windsor Canadian. Unlike some people I could mention.”

I held my tongue.

He screwed the cap back on, put the flask back inside his suit coat.

“So,” he said, “you gonna sit here all night?”

“No,” I said. I”m getting up.”

He had remained crouching beside me all this while, and now he rose to his full height of five-foot-two, if that, and with none of the creakiness and groaning one might expect from a little old man of eighty or more. But then after all, as he had just reminded me, he was not really a little old man, but an angel. He put his cigar back in his mouth, transferred his umbrella from the crook of his right arm to his left, then extended his small right hand to me. I took it, and with his help – and he had the strength of arm of, if not ten men, then at least that of one man who was not eighty years old and five-foot-two – I rose to my feet. I kept expecting pain to explode from my knees, but still there was only a pleasant numbness where previously had been two epicenters of pulsing agony. 

“So now what?” he said, as he disengaged his hand from mine, and then wiped the palm of it on the side of his trouser-leg.

“Well, I was hoping to go in here and find my friends.”

“Into Bob’s Bowery Bar.”


“To find your ‘friends’.”


“I thought you wanted to get back to this so-called ‘real world’ of yours.”

“I do,” I said. “But, you see, I guess you didn’t know, but I have some friends in there, at least I hope they’re still there –”


“Yes. And, the thing is, one of them is – well, I know this is going to be hard to believe –”

“I’m an angel. Try me.”

“One of them is the son of God.”

“The son of God?”


“Jesus Christ.”

“Yes. Except I know him as ‘Josh’.”


“That’s the name he’s going by. You see he’s sort of returned to human form. And that’s his human name now. Josh.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“They didn’t tell you, I guess.”

They. Here you go with that ‘they’ again.”

“Whoever gives you the assignments.”

“Uh-huh. Okay,” he said. “Hey, you know how I get my assignments as you call them?”

“Well, no, actually – I mean, does God just call you in and –”

“No one gets called in. Try again.”

“Um – do you get a letter? Or a phone call?”

“No, and no, and neither does a Western Union boy show up with a telegram.”

“Uh –”

“You want me to tell you how I get my assignments?”

I didn’t care, but I said yes.

“A little voice,” he said. “Here.” He tapped the side of his head, near his ear. “A little voice speaks to me. And this particular time this little voice said, ‘Go pick up this Arnold Schnabel character. He should be getting out of a cab at Bob’s Bowery Bar.’

“And that’s all they told you?”

’They’ again. Again with the ‘they’.”

“So there’s no they.”

“No they. Just a voice. A little voice. In my head. Here.”

He tapped his head again.

“So it’s God’s voice?”

“Maybe,” he said.


“Maybe. How do I know? No one tells me anything. I get an assignment, I do it. I do it till the little voice tells me I can stop doing it. Or –”


“Until my, uh, assignee passes into his next plane of existence.”

“I see.”

“Heaven, hell, purgatory, maybe someplace else. That’s not up to me. You understand that.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, I’m glad you understand. So, back to the matter at hand. You say the son of God is in there.”

“He was,” I said. “I hope he still is.”

“So do I,” he said. “What’s he like?”

“You’ve never met him?”

“No. I’ve never met him. But needless to say I am a great admirer.”


“So what’s he like? Good guy?”

“Yes,” I said.

I guess there was something about the way I said that.

“Yes, but what?” he said. “I sensed a ‘but’ there.”

“Now I must ask you if I may speak frankly,” I said.

“By all means.”

“He likes to drink,” I said.

“Jesus likes to drink.”

“I’m afraid so,” I said.

“Well, can you blame him?”

“No,” I said. “Not at all.”

(Continued here.)

(Please look to the right-hand column of this page to find what should be a rigorously updated listing of links to all other cybernetically-available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. We recommend that all of Arnold’s fans click here to order a copy of the paperback edition of our friend Kathleen Maher’s splendid novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 464: stumblebum

On this rainy hot night in old New York City our hero Arnold Schnabel has just passed out (from pain be it known, not from drunkenness!) in the entranceway to Bob’s Bowery Bar, but fortunately his new guardian angel is in attendance...

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; if you have arrived late to the party you may click here to start this 67-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir from the very beginning.)

“Oh, sure, Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre is inarguably ‘long’, and, as it is still in the process of being transcribed and published, indeed it gets longer all the time; but, however long Railroad Train to Heaven winds up being – who, I ask you, who among its millions of ardent fans would wish it to be even one sentence – nay, even one word – shorter?” – Harold Bloom, in his “Address” to the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Jamboree at Olney Community College.

Original art by rhoda penmarq.

For once I will spare the hypothetical reader a detailed recounting of the dreams I experienced during this latest bout of unconsciousness. Rest assured though that bottomless pitch-dark wells were fallen into, black tunnels were blindly and endlessly stumbled through, numerous public appearances (in church during a high mass, on a crowded beach, in a subway car, in a courtroom, on an army parade ground) were made in the nude, and brightly-lit but unfamiliar roads were tramped along in search of a home that was never found, but finally I was slapped awake.

I was sitting on something hard and damp with my legs stretched out in front of me, and a little old man with thick round wire-rimmed glasses and a grey cloth cap on his head was doing the slapping.

“Go away!” I said, the syllables emerging from my mouth like great gobs of cotton candy. “Who are you?”

“It’s me, Arnold – Bert! Bowery Bert!”

He slapped me again, and suddenly I remembered who he was, who I was, at least for the present, and where I was – sitting on the wet pavement with my back against the wall in the recessed entrance area of Bob’s Bowery Bar, while out there to my left the unceasing downpour continued to bombard the sidewalk and street.

And I also remembered why I had passed out: because of the pain that was still pulsing from both my knees and excluding every other topic from the sodden and hashish-ridden sponge that was my brain.

“Ah, ah, ah,” I said, although to tell the truth I was putting it on just a little bit, because the pain, albeit still intense, was much less so now that I was sitting and had taken the load off my ravaged knees.

“Here,” said Bert, “I got just the thing for you.” He was crouching beside me, with his umbrella still crooked on one forearm, and extended at an angle behind him, so that the bottom half of the umbrella was protruding out of the shelter of the entranceway and was being pelted by the rain – funny the inconsequential things like that which you notice and remember, funnier still that I would waste good Bic-pen ink writing them down.

What I did not notice was where the little tarnished-metal engraved pillbox came from that this “Bowery Bert” was now holding in front of my face. He clicked it open, and I saw numerous pills in it of all shapes, sizes, and colors, each pill apparently different from all the others. The pillbox was small, but somehow there seemed to be hundreds of pills in it.

The old fellow picked out one of the pills, a little red one.

“Open up,” he said. He had that little cigar in his mouth now, and as he spoke some ash fell off of it, and onto my lap, not that I cared. “Come on,” he said. “Open wide like a good boy.”

He held the pill between his thumb and forefinger. His fingernails didn’t look very clean, but germs were not what I was afraid of.

“What is it?” I said.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Now open up.”

“It’s not LSD, is it?”

“No, it’s not LSD. Why – would you like some LSD?”


“Then open up.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Look, you want the pain in your knees to go away, don’t you?”


“Then open up.”

“You mean the pill will make my pain go away?”

“Angels, my dear fellow, unlike your own benighted race, are not in the habit of dissimulation.”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said, after a few moments, speaking not quite truthfully, because in fact I had no idea what he meant at all.

“I mean,” he said, “yes, this pill will obviate your pain.”

“Does that mean it will make the pain stop?”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, yes! The pill will kill it!”

“It will? The pill?”

“It will.”



“The pain?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, will you just shut up and swallow the pill?”

“Shut up?”


I closed my lips tight, because I could tell he was getting angry.

“What are you doing?” he said, and now he was almost yelling.

I opened my lips to speak.

“You told me to shut up,” I pointed out, in my defense.

“And now I’m telling you to open your mouth and swallow this fucking pill!”

I opened up, and without further ado he popped the pill into my gaping mouth.

“Now swallow it.”

I swallowed it.

And then, where previously there had been throbbing pain in both my knees was now only a not unpleasant numbness.

“Wow,” I said.

He clicked the pillbox shut, and stuck it inside his old suit coat somewhere.

“Good, huh?”

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you! How long will it last?”

He took the Parodi out of his mouth and gave his head a weary-looking shake.

“Christ, Arnold, can’t you just accept the moment for what it is without going into the ‘what-will-be’s? I swear you fucking humans kill me sometimes. Pardon my French. But, Jesus –”

“Sorry,” I said. “But, really, how long will the pain go away for?”

“Who do I look like?” he said. “The Mayo Brothers? Albert Schweitzer? How the hell do I know how long the pain will go away for?”

“Well, I just thought because you’re an angel and all –”

“Yes, an angel. A guardian angel. And let me tell you from the jump I am not going to be doling out pills right and left to you, so get that simple fact through your thick skull.”

“No more pills?”

“Arnold, again – what is my job-title?”

“Guardian angel?”

“Right. Not ‘dope pusher’.”

“But – what if my knees start hurting again?”

“What about it?”

“Can I get another pill then?”

“Okay, Arnold, I can see we are going to have to set some rules here –”

“But it seemed like you had a fair number of pills in that pillbox,” I said. 

“Yes, I did, and do –”

“So maybe just one every now and then for when the pain gets too intense –”

“Okay, now this is how drug addiction starts. Right here, like this.”

“I promise not to get addicted.”

“Heard that one before.”

I looked out at the rain, still crashing down. It looked different from this angle, sitting on the pavement in this recessed entranceway. It looked nicer somehow. 

“Look at the rain,” I said.

He turned his head and gave it a look.

“Yeah, still coming down.”

“It looks strangely beautiful.”

“It’s the Bowery, Arnold. A rainy night in the Bowery. Now are you going to sit there all night? Just like some typical Bowery bum?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “It is a little wet and uncomfortable. And also, I’ll be in the way if anyone tries to get in and out of the bar, so –”

“Oh, I’m sure the habitués of Bob’s Bowery Bar are used to stepping over people on the pavement to get in and out of the joint.”

“You know,” I said. “You’re probably right. So maybe if I could just sit here for a while, watching the rain explode multifariously on the sidewalk and in the street, sparkling in the silvery light of the streetlamps and crashing, clattering  –”

“All right,” he said. “I really shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to give you another pill.”

He stuck the cigar in his mouth again, then reached into the inside of his suit coat and brought out that little engraved pillbox.

“Wow,” I said. Again. “Thanks!”

He clicked the little pillbox open, stirred its contents about for a bit with his finger, then picked out another pill, a bigger blue lozenge-shaped one that seemed to give off a slight bluish glow.

“This is a different kind of pill,” he said.

“Well, if it’s anything like that last one –”

“It’s not. That other one was one of the all-purpose painkiller pills that we guardian angels keep for emergencies only.”

“It worked really well, too,” I said.

“Of course it did. That’s why it’s called an ‘all-purpose painkiller pill’. This one’s different.”

I opened my mouth, wide.

“Don’t you even want to know what it is?”

I closed my mouth so that I could open it afresh and speak.

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t want to seem – uh – presumptuous?”

“It’s an anti-high pill.”

“A what?”

“An anti-high pill. For when someone’s consumed something – like say, half-a-dozen hashish brownies – and they’re just a little too goddam high. Swallow this and maybe you’ll stop being so annoying.”


“Because there is nothing more annoying than a ‘high’ human being.” 

“So I’ll be low?”

“You’ll be neither high nor low. You will be normal.”

I could barely remember what normal felt like, if I had ever felt it. But it seemed worth a try. So I opened my mouth wide again, and he flicked the blue pill into it.

The pill really was rather big, and I toyed with it with my tongue.

“I wish I had something to wash it down with,” I said, probably sounding more mush-mouthed than I had already been sounding, speaking as I was around this pill which sat on my tongue like a great stone.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Bert.

He reached into his suit coat again, and now he brought out a leather-encased flask. He unscrewed its cap on its hinge and held it out in front of my face.

“And before you ask, all this is is plain ordinary Windsor Canadian, so shut up and drink it and swallow that pill.”

“Shut up?” I said.

“You want me to leave you right here? Because goddammit I will. There’s plenty other stumblebums around here could use a guardian angel, pal. Plenty of them. So don’t push your luck.”

He sounded serious, so I took the flask, took a good swig into my mouth, and, yes, it tasted like Windsor Canadian all right, either that or some other cheap whiskey of the sort I usually drank, and I swallowed the gulp down with the pill.

And then, sure enough, the dank thick essence of hashish which had suffused my entire being seemed to waft out of all my pores at once and dissolve into the damp warm air.

“Wow,” I said.

“Feels good, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Sobriety is a much underrated state,” he said.

“You’re right,” I said.

Without thinking about it I took another, even bigger swig of the Windsor Canadian.

(Continued here; Arnold is only just getting warmed up.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what our editorial staff at least intend to be a listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Don’t forget to click here to order a copy of the new paperback edition of our good friend Kathleen Maher’s splendid novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 463: oh

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel on this rainy night in old New York City, as he stands outside the entrance to Bob’s Bowery Bar with his new guardian angel, “Bowery Bert”...

(Kindly click here to read our immediately previous chapter; if you are wondering what all the hullabaloo is about you may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 66-volume autobiography.)

“It is no exaggeration to say that the history of American literature passed through a sea-change with the discovery of that first cache of Arnold Schnabel’s neatly handwritten marble composition books: henceforth this history would be divided into ‘Pre-Arnold Schnabel’ and ‘Post-Arnold Schnabel’.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Family Circle Literary Supplement.

My new guardian angel heaved a sigh, which sounded like the rustling of dead leaves in a gutter. He raised his umbrella up so that its ferrule was parallel to his cap, and for a horrible moment I thought he was going to thrash me with it, but after giving it a couple of shakes he lowered it again.

“Well,” he said, “Arnold – by the way, may I call you Arnold?”

“Sure,” I said.

“You don’t prefer ‘Arnie’?”

“Not especially,” I said.

’Mister Schnabel’?”

“Oh, no,” I hastened to say, as much as I could hasten to say anything, as steeped as my consciousness was in the warm maple syrup of hashish-brownie intoxication.

“No preferred nickname of some sort?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a nickname,” I said, someone said, the words came out of my mouth in a comic-strip balloon that fairly soon dissolved like the smoke trailing up from the ancient angel’s little cigar.

“No ‘Big A’?” he said, with a hint of a smile. “No ‘the Schnab’?”

“If so then only behind my back,” I said.

“’Arnold’ it is then. And, please, do call me Bert.”

“Okay – Bert,” I said, the last syllable sounding to me like a belch. 

“So,” he continued, “Arnold –”

“Oh, wait,” I said, unable to control myself. “Before you go on, ‘Bert’, may I ask you something?”

“Oh, please do,” he said, again with a suggestion of a smile, but the suggestion did seem strained to me, not that this consideration muted my idiocy.

“Do you have a last name?” I said, don’t ask me why, because I doubt I really cared.

“A ‘last name’,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Like, a, uh –”

“A surname if you will.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I was just wondering –”



“I am as you know an angel.”

“Yes –”

He wasn’t smiling at all now.

“Angels, my dear fellow, do not have last names.”

“Oh, okay.”

“You did not know that?” he said.

“Well, I sort of knew it,” I said.

“'Sort of knew it.'”

“Yeah. But I was just, you know, wondering.”



“Okay,” he said. “Well, now you can stop wondering.”

“That’s right,” I said, attempting to force a note of enthusiasm into my voice.

“No harm done,” he said, but he didn’t sound so sure of it.

“I didn’t mean,” I said, “to be, uh –”

What? A moron?

“We angels can of course have nicknames,” he said; “epithets if you will; thus mine: ‘Bowery Bert’.”

“Okay,” I said. “I get it now. Bowery Bert!”

“But lookit,” he said, “just call me ‘Bert’. ‘Bowery Bert’ would be slightly cumbersome I think in conversation, don’t you agree?”

“Yeah, I guess it would,” I said. 

“All right then –”

“Can I ask you one more question.”

I just couldn’t help myself. 

He took a drag on his cigar and looked to his right and over his shoulder, out at the rain that had not ceased crashing down, then he turned back and looked up at me, with those enormously magnified grey eyes of his.

“Sure,” he said, finally. “Fire away.”

I could tell I was getting on his nerves, so I made it quick.

“Is ‘Bert’ short for something? Like, you know, Bertrand, or, or –”

“It’s short for Bertolt.”


“That’s what I said.”

“But you prefer to be called Bert.”

“I think I indicated that already.”

“Okay, sorry,” I said. “It’s just, the, uh, hashish brownies, they’re making me a little –”


“Crazier,” I said.

“Ha ha,” he said. But he wasn’t really laughing. “May I go on now?”


“I was about to respond to your statement that you think your main problem might be that you are a human being.”

“Oh!” I said, the exclamation being appropriate because I had already forgotten saying this; not that my forgetting having said it made it any less reasonable, to me, anyway.

“And my response, to you, Arnold,” he said, “is that this is one problem I can’t help you with.”


“You’re a human being. Get used to it.”


“Nobody ever said it was easy being a human being.”

“No,” I said.

“In many ways it is – what’s the term the young people use – ‘for the birds’?”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“'Strictly from hunger' is a phrase I’ve heard used in this context.”

“Right,” I said.

“In short it stinks to be a human.”

“Well, not always,” I said.

“You’re born, you suffer, you die.”

“Well, yeah, there is that aspect,” I said.

“Some suffer more than others.”

“True,” I said.

“And it all seems very random, I know.”

“I guess that’s true,” I said.

“Like, what was God thinking?”

“Well, ya know,” I said, “it’s not up to us, to, uh –”

“Comparatively, I know, we angels have it made.”

“You think so?”

“Oh, I know so.”

“Well, uh –”

“But, you see, Arnold, I didn’t ask to be born an angel.”

“I guess not,” I said.

“Just as you did not ask to be born a human being.”

“No, that’s true,” I said. “I mean, rather, yes, I didn’t, uh –”

“So, sorry, no, can’t help you on the being-a-human-being question.”

“Well, I didn’t really mean to suggest that, uh, you know –”

“Can we move on now?”

“Sure,” I said. “Um, what would you like to, uh –”

“Arnold,” he said.


“It’s not about what I would like.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Not about what I want.”


“Not remotely.”

“Um –”

“I’m the guardian angel here, Arnold. You’re the human being.”


“I’m beyond wanting anything, thank God.”

“It must be nice,” I said.

“It is,” he said.

He nodded, and took another drag of his little cigar, looked again to his right, out at the street and that unabated downpour. The smoke trailed out of his dry old mouth and disappeared into the universe. After a few moments during which I forced myself to hold my peace, despite the fact that my skull was teeming with stupid questions and observations, he turned his little head back to face me.

“You said you wanted to go home,” he said.

“Oh, right,” I said.

“Do I take it then that this is your primary wish? I mean, putting aside the desire not to be a human being, and all the heartache and tediousness that entails?”

“What was the question again?”

He sighed, again, understandably. He rapped his umbrella on the pavement a couple of times, as if to make sure that all the rainwater was off it, but I knew that wasn’t the reason. Then he suddenly spoke.

“You said,” he said, “that what you wanted was to go home.”

“Oh, right,” I said

“And is this still shall we say your primary desire?”

“Um, maybe?”

“Yes or no.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Fine,” he said. 

He tapped his De Nobili with the forefinger of the hand that held it, and once again the ash tumbled down onto my shoe, the right one. What did I care, my shoes were filthy already, and wet. 

“So, to brass tacks,” he said.

“Great,” I said.

“Where do you live?”

“Oh,” I said.

“’Oh’? ‘Oh’? I don’t know a place called ‘Oh’. Is that the young people’s new patois-word for ‘Ohio’?”

“No,” I said. “At least not as far as I know –”

“Then, please, if you, will, to elucidate.”

“What I meant was,” I said, straining every cell in my brain, “‘Oh’, as in ‘Oh, that’s where it gets difficult.’

He sighed again. He tapped the tip of his umbrella on the pavement again, once, twice, three times.

“Just tell me where you live, please, Arnold,” he said, when he had finished tapping. “An exact address would be appreciated.”

“I live in another dimension,” I said. 

“Another dimension.” 

“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Another dimension.

“Yes,” I said. “Sort of.”

“Great,” he said, after what at least seemed to me like a long pause. “And where exactly if I may ask is this other dimension?”

“It’s not so much where it is as what it is,” I said. I knew I was really getting on his nerves now, so I hurried it along. “You see, I am from this dimension known as ‘reality’, and the dimension I am in now is a fictional reality.”


“Yeah,” I said. “Like, it’s the world of this book this woman I know wrote. But I keep wandering into other fictional universes within this fictional universe. And the thing is these other fictional universes are even more fictional, because they’re the worlds of books that have never even been written, at least not in the real world.”

He took another long pause here, and who could blame him? He turned and looked out at the Bowery, at the rain, at I don’t know what. Finally he turned back to me.

“All right,” he said. “So now we’re getting somewhere.”

“We are?” I said.

“Possibly,” he said.

“Ow ow ow ow,” I said.

“Oh, Christ, now what is it?” he said.

“Oh, it’s my knee,” I said, which it was, the right one. “Ow. Ow. Ow.

I was standing on my left leg now, leaning against the brickwork of the entranceway with one hand, but then of course my left knee started to hurt.

"Yow," I said. "Yow."

“Jesus,” said Bert, “you’re fucked up in more ways than one, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. “Look,” I went on, through gritted teeth, “I’ve been standing here too long I’m afraid. I injured both my knees tonight, a night which seems as if it’s been going on for three years and eight months now, and I’m afraid if I don’t sit down soon I am going to collapse.”

“Well, we don’t want that to happen, do we?”


“Oh no indeed.”

“Can we just go in this bar?” I said, gasped, whined.

Again he paused, again he sighed.

“Why am I getting the feeling that that’s all you really wanted to do all along?” he said.

It was just at that moment that the pain in both my knees finally got the best of me, and I did begin to collapse, sideways, sliding down the wall to my left like some great slug, but the little fellow quickly stuck his cigar in his mouth and, hooking the handle of his umbrella on one of his forearms, he caught me in both his thin small arms, holding me up and preventing me from falling to the pavement with a strength that seemed at first surprising until I remembered that he was not a mere tiny old man but an angel, and thus possessed of superhuman strength.

Then, and not for the first time that night, I passed out.

(Continued here, and onward, at the same stately and measured pace.)

(Photograph by Arthur Leipzig. Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a purportedly up-to-date listing of links to all other cybernetically-available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. And click here to order a copy of the new paperback edition of our friend Kathleen Maher’s most excellent novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 462: Bowery Bert

On this rainy hot night in old New York City our hero Arnold Schnabel has finally escaped from an importunately poetic cab driver to find himself here on the sidewalk in front of Bob’s Bowery Bar...

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; if you are looking for the literary equivalent of
The Guiding Light or As The World Turns then by all means click here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 77-volume epic.)

“How curious that one of the greatest works of literature of the 20th century – a work worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with the
chefs-d'œuvre of Proust, Joyce, Mann, and Sternwall – should be produced by a humble former railroad brakeman named Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom; from the Introduction to his “It's Easy to Say Too Much”: The Wit and Wisdom of Arnold Schnabel, Vol. 1.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq.

Had that mad taxi driver deliberately dropped me off, at long last, at my desired destination? Or had we only accidentally wound up here just at the moment he decided to order me from his cab? Or what if he had merely been circling the block this entire time?

Well, no matter, I was getting drenched, and so I sent a curt message from the command center of my brain down through the complex system of pneumatic tubes that was my nervous system to my legs with an urgent request to carry this amorphous blob that was me across that rain-bombarded sidewalk to the entrance of the bar, and after only a minute or so my legs received the communiqué, and, after the appropriate processing, lifted their attached feet and sent them, one after the other, in the desired direction, and, sure enough, after a few seconds that seemed like five minutes I managed to make it to the entranceway without falling.

The door of the bar was open, as it had been earlier that evening, opening outward, and inside was that same mass of drunken humanity, or a similar one, the same or similar churning clouds of tobacco smoke, and, yes, also what I had learned to recognize as marijuana smoke, all mixed in with the smells of sweaty human beings, of perfume and whiskey and beer as well as the sickly sweet smell of something I could only describe as despair.

People laughed, yelled, shouted and cried, and a jukebox played something that I supposed was jazz. 

This area right in front of the doorway was sheltered under a few feet of overhang, and so at least I was out of the downpour here. But I was however in the full grip of those hashish brownies now, and even a normally routine and mundane action like walking into the bar seemed to call for careful planning – but after all, how hard could it be just to walk inside? It wasn’t as if I even had to do anything so complicated as opening the door. And I was just about to shoot another dispatch down to my legs to the effect of “Go inside, bear to the right, take me over to that booth where I last saw Josh, and Ferdinand, and Ben and Horace, and Mr. Philpot,” when a gust of wind blew the door against my left elbow.

“Excuse me,” I said, to the door, and I stepped aside.

Another gust promptly came along and blew the door completely shut, thus muffling the sounds of music and drunkenness within, and somehow increasing the volume of the crashing of the rain.

There was no getting around it now. I would have to open the door. Either that or wait for someone else to open it. But the latter course seemed silly; how difficult could it be to open a presumably unlocked door?

I certainly didn’t want to overthink the situation, but on the other hand I thought I should at the very least take stock of it before doing anything rash. The door was one of those doors with a curved tarnished brass handle and a lever for the thumb to depress: okay, it wasn’t as if I was trying to break into Fort Knox here. Just put my hand on the handle, press the lever thing down with my thumb, and then pull the door toward me. Try not to pull the door into my face and knock myself out. Pull the door open and then step inside. It really wasn’t all that difficult, hard, or complicated.

But which hand should I use? I was right-handed, I still am in fact, but if I used my right hand would that mean I would have to take some steps backward as I opened the door? What if I lost my balance and stumbled and fell? What if I hit my head on the pavement? I could kill myself, or become paralyzed, lying there on my back with the rain beating down on my face.

So maybe the left hand was better. Pull the door open, and then make a subtle sidling move around it as I did so. This maneuver would call for the utmost coöperation of my mental powers and the aforementioned pneumatic system of tubes that served as my nervous system, and of my entire body in fact, which unfortunately felt like it was made of Pillsbury dinner-roll dough.

I took a breath, and raised my left hand, preparing myself.

“Really pathetic,” said a voice from somewhere behind me and to my right, seemingly at about the height of my elbow.

I turned and saw a little old man. 

Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe, or maybe by this point it’s not hard to believe at all, but it was another one all right, another tiny dried up old man. 

This one was about five foot one, wearing a cloth cap and a baggy suit. Both the cap and the suit were the color of ashes in a tin ashtray that hasn’t been properly cleaned in years. He had an umbrella, which he was shaking the rain off of, opening and closing it partway, splashing rainwater on me, not that it mattered at all, I was already so soaked. The umbrella also had an ashy color, although it had probably been black forty years ago. The man was about eighty, at least he looked like he was eighty, and the flesh of his face was another, lighter shade of ash. He had a little cigar in it, it looked like one of those hard Italian-style cigars. He wore thick round wire-rimmed glasses that made his dark grey eyes seem as big as half-dollar coins.

He finished shaking out the umbrella and then furled it and buttoned it. His fingers were small and wizened but they seemed very deft. All I could think was, “I’ll bet he’ll have no problem opening the door.”

He took the cigar out of his mouth and blew some smoke up at me. Then he spoke.

“My name is Bert,” he said.

“Hi, Bert,” I said, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to do so, unless I had only imagined it. So I thought I’d add more, just to be polite. “My name is Arnold –”

“I know who you are,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “You do?”

“No, I’m lying.”

“Ah,” I said. “Ha ha. You’re lying?”

“No, you fool, I’m not lying. I was kidding. Jeeze.”

I tried to grasp some meaning from the words that had escaped his mouth, I tried and failed.

“You were – kidding,” I said, my own words echoing through the vast dark reaches of the universe, “ – when you said you knew my name was Arnold?” 

“No, I was kidding when I said I was lying when I said I knew who you were. And presumably still are. You see I’ve been sent here. I am your guardian angel.”

“Wow,” I said.

“That is your reaction? ‘Wow’?”

“Yes, well, I didn’t even know I had a guardian angel.”

“You didn’t have one, until now.”


“Think about it, Arnold: would it make sense for every human being to have their own guardian angel?”

“Well –” I paused, taking his advice and thinking it over. “I guess that would mean an awful lot of angels.”

“As many as there are human beings. Can you imagine all the angelpower that would require? Shuffling down a fresh guardian angel each time a new human is born?”

“Well,” I said, “on the other hand people are dying all the time too, right?”

“That’s very true, and guardian angels are indeed reassigned when their current human has passed on, be it to heaven, hell, purgatory or limbo, but even an angel needs some rest between cases – would you deny them that?”


“And, irregardless, there still aren’t enough angels to go around for every single human being on the planet, not nearly enough.”


“No way.”

“How many are there?” I asked.

“Guardian angels?”


“You’re not going to get all weird if I tell you, are you?”

“No,” I said. I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t get weird, but I wanted to move the conversation along.

“Six hundred and sixty-six,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “That’s not a lot.”

“No, it isn’t,” he said. “But don’t you get it? Six hundred and sixty-six. Six six six.”


“The number of the beast,” he said.

“Ah,” I said.

“From the Book of Revelation? In the Bible?”

“Oh, okay,” I said. “The number of the, uh –”

“Beast,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “I think I’ve heard of that, uh.”

“Not much of a Bible reader, are you?”

“I’m a Catholic,” I said.

“Well, that explains it,” he said. “Okay, moving on, we’ve got six hundred and sixty-six guardian angels, so, needless to say, not everybody gets one.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

“God doesn’t do bad things,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to point the finger,” I said.

“You shouldn’t question his infinite wisdom.”

“I try not to,” I said.

The little guy took a puff on his De Nobili or whatever it was, and blew the smoke up into my face again.

“I hope you realize how lucky you are.”

“Um, well, I hadn’t really thought about it –”

“Maybe you should think about it,” he said. “Millions of people on the planet – millions – and only six hundred and sixty-six guardian angels. And you get one of them.”

“Wow," I said. “I mean, rather, 'gee', I mean when you put it like that –”

“And I do.”

“Well, thanks,” I said.

“Don’t thank me. I go where he tells me to go,” he said, glancing upward.

“Well, uh, thank God, then,” I said.

“Don’t be a wiseass,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to be,” I said.

“Okay,” he said then. “To business. What’s the sit-rep here?”

“The what?”

“What’s going on? I assume there’s some sort of problem or I wouldn’t have been assigned to you.”

“They didn’t tell you?”

“Who is ‘they’?”

“The, uh, bosses of the guardian angels?”

He shook his head, in a resigned-looking sort of way, maybe a disgusted way.

“Look, Arnold, all I know is I’m supposed to be your guardian angel. But from what I can see you are at the present rather shall we say three sheets to the wind? Or is it four?”

“You mean I’m drunk?”

“That’s exactly what I mean. Either drunk or mentally retarded. So which is it.”

“Um,” I said, “– Bert?”

“Bert, yes, ‘Bowery Bert’ as I’m known in these parts.”

“Well, uh, pleased to, uh, meet you, uh, Bert.”

I extended a hand, my right one, but he ignored it, so I pretended I had a cramp in it and stretched out and retracted my fingers a few times.

“Bert,” I continued, after completing my little dumb-show with the hand, “I may be a little drunk, and it’s true I may even be somewhat mentally retarded, but I think that the reason I might appear to be completely drunk or retarded is that I ate some hashish brownies a little while ago, and –”

“Hashish brownies.”


“How many.”


“You ate five hash brownies.”


“I see. So may I assume then that you are a drug addict?”

“No,” I said, after a pause. “I honestly wouldn’t say that.”

“Arnold,” said my new guardian angel with a sigh, “you know what ‘denial’ is?”

“Um, uh –”

“I’ll tell you what denial is not.”

“Okay,” I said.

“It is not just a river in Egypt.”

“Uh-huh. Okay.”

“Accepting you have a problem is the first step in solving that problem. Now I want you to repeat after me: ‘My name is Arnold, and I am a drug addict.’”

“But, honest, I’m not a drug addict.”

“Really? Mr. Hashish Brownie?”

“But that was a mistake,” I said. 

“A mistake.”

“Yes,” I said. “You see, I thought they were regular brownies.”

“Uh-huh. Okay. You just happened to eat five hash brownies by mistake.”

“I know it sounds –”



“It does. It also leads me to suspect that possibly your real problem is that you are a moron. But let’s move on.”

“To where?”

“Where do you want to go?”

“Well – I’d like to go home,” I said.

“Wouldn’t we all. And if you want to go home why are you standing at the door of Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“That’s a very long story,” I said.

“Can you sum it up in twenty-five words or less?”

“Possibly,” I said. “But the problem with that is finding the right twenty-five words, and putting them in the most effective, uh –”


“Yeah,” I said, “sequence, and then sending them through this complex system of pneumatic tubes inside me down to my mouth and my tongue.”

“In other words the immediate problem is the hashish brownies.”

“I think so,” I said. “Yes.”

“Fine. This I can work with. ‘We’ can work with, because it’s got to be a team effort, Arnold. I’m just your guardian angel. You’ve got to do some of the heavy lifting yourself.”


“So.” He tapped his De Nobili or Parodi with his finger, and the ash tumbled down to land on the instep of my left work shoe. “We deal with the hashish brownie problem and then we deal with whatever the main problem is. Which is getting you home?”


“What. You sound doubtful.”

“It’s just that now that I think about it I don’t know if that’s my real main problem.”

He paused before speaking again, as if he were counting to ten. I think I may have been trying his patience.

“And what would that be,” he said. “Your so-called main problem.”

“Being a human being?” I said.

(Continued here, for the sake not only of the present generation, but of all the generations yet unborn.)

(Kindly cast an eye down the right-hand column of this page to find a perhaps reasonably accurate listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Click here to order a copy of our friend Kathleen Maher’s excellent début full-length novel Diary of a Heretic!)