Friday, May 29, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 441: redeemed

Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his deific friend Josh as they stand chatting in the entrance area of Bob’s Bowery Bar, on this rainy night in August of 1957...

(Kindly click here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you’re completely at a loss for something to read over the next few decades then go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume memoir.)

“My students invariably buttonhole me with some variation of the following: ‘Yes, all well and good, Dr. Bloom, we accept your assertion that
Railroad Train to Heaven is the greatest masterpiece ever of American literature, but, may we ask: is it really an “autobiography”, or is it rather the ravings of a madman?’ These students immediately lose a grade point.” – Harold Bloom, in the High Times Literary Supplement.

He continued to stare at me, with those blue eyes that now once again swarmed with universes uncountable, and I felt that if I continued to look into his eyes I would fall through into some other random world among all those millions of swirling universes, yet another one – and so I looked away, out at the Bowery, the crashing rain, Mr. Philpot’s red Jaguar Mark VII in the rain, the small river of dirty water coursing through the gutter and splashing around the car’s whitewall tires.

I grimaced, because a short but sharp jolt of pain shot up from my right knee to my brain, where it ricocheted around inside my skull and against the backs of my eyeballs.

“What?” said Josh.

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Just this pain in my knee.”

“Oh, that again,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll be okay once I sit down.”

I hoped of course that he would take the hint, but no such luck.

“Believe me, I know what pain feels like,” he said. “That scourging was no picnic. The crucifixion?”

Now I felt a little guilty. As bad as my various pains were, they were still a long way from being scourged and crucified.

Another bolt of pain shot up through me, this time from my left knee, and I marshaled all the willpower I possessed in an effort  not to grimace or groan, let alone let out a cry of agony.

“Well,” I said, through gritted teeth, “shall we go in then?”

“Of course that was all a long time ago,” he said, and he took another drag on his Pall Mall.

The drunken people inside the bar continued to shout and laugh, who knew about what? Did Josh know? Did he care? I smelled food, the smell of cooked hamburger, and my mouth watered as my stomach growled as if an angry ravenous cat were inside it.

“I hope the kitchen hasn’t closed yet,” I said.

“But you don’t forget an experience like that,” said Josh. “No, it’s not something you’re – apt to forget. The crown of thorns. Carrying that stupid cross through the streets. Thirsty as hell. And then getting nailed to the cross. And then when they hefted it up –”

He looked at me, with one eyebrow raised, from under the rim of that straw trilby of his.

“It must have been very painful,” I said. 

“That’s putting it mildly,” he said.

“Oh, well –” I said, “I mean I know it must have been really, really –”

“I think excruciating is literally the word,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “Excruciating. Y’know, I can appreciate that, because, boy, I’ve had some really painful accidents recently myself –”

“But you haven’t been crucified,” he said.

“That’s true,” I said. “Not yet, anyway.”

I shifted my weight from one leg to the other, trying to lessen the pain in one knee, but thereby increasing the pain in the other one. Something about this shifting about on my part made me realize again that before I could sit down and relieve the pains in my knees, and before I could order several hamburgers, with mountains of French fries, before any of this could happen I really needed to void my bladder. In fact I had suddenly reached a certain equilibrium, if that’s the word, a state in which it was hard to decide which was causing me the most discomfort – my hunger, the pains in my knees, or my need to urinate – 

“Only one thing made it bearable,” said Josh.

“What’s that?” I said, instead of saying what I wanted to say, which would have been, “Can you please tell me later? Because I have to pee, and then I need to sit down and order some food, vast quantities of food.”

“Guess,” he said.

“Guess what?” I said.

“Guess what made it bearable.”

“Being crucified?” I said.

“Yeah. You know what made it all bearable?”

“Gee, I don’t know, Josh,” I said. “But, look, why don’t we –”

He just looked at me. I should maybe mention here that the reddish-purplish bruise was still there on his left cheekbone, and he still had a black eye on the other side of his face, but they were both much less pronounced than they had seemed a short while ago when we had stood talking outside of Mr. Philpot’s. I wondered if I still had a black eye. I put my finger to a spot between my cheekbone and my right eye, and flinched in pain. Yes, apparently I still had a black eye – 

“Why don’t we what?” he said.

“Maybe we could go inside and talk.”

“What made it all bearable,” he said, steamrolling along, “was –”

But now he suddenly paused again, staring straight into my eyes, and I found this really disconcerting, as if with just the slightest lapse of vigilance on my part I would tumble headlong into another world, a world likely to be even more annoying than the one I was currently trapped in. And so again I looked away, out at the pouring crashing rain. 

But still Josh let the sentence dangle, and I remembered that time meant nothing to him.

Despite myself I turned to meet his eyes again. Trying desperately to move things forward, I said:

“Knowing you were the son of God?” 

“What?” he said.

“What made it all bearable –” I said.

“Yes?” he said.

“– was the fact that you knew you were, you know –”

“Go on,” he said.

“The son of God.”

“I’m not sure I’m following you,” he said, after just a slight pause this time.

“I mean,” I said, “you know, you knew you were the son of God, so you knew you weren’t really dying. You know, you were still going to be the son of God. For all eternity. Right?”

He took another drag on his cigarette. It was the kind that writers of the cheap novels I like to read call “a pensive drag”. He just as pensively exhaled before speaking. He lifted up his furled umbrella, looked at it, then lowered it again, tapping its ferrule on the pavement a couple of times.

Then he raised his eyes and met mine with them.

“You think that’s what made it bearable?” he said. “Me knowing I was the son of God.”

“I could be wrong,” I said.

“Well,” he said, and he cleared his throat slightly, but not in the way you clear your throat when it has to be cleared, but the way you do it when you want to say without words that your interlocutor is a moron, “what I was going to say was that what made it bearable was I was redeeming the human race though my sacrifice.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“That’s what I was going to say.”

“That makes sense.”

“It does?”

“Well, yeah, sure,” I said, trying not to scream.

“A lot of humans don’t get it,” he said.

“Well, it is a strange concept,” I said.

“In what way? It seemed to make sense to me,” he said. “At the time.”

“Oh, of course,” I said.

“But you just said it was a strange concept.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yes.”

“Strange in what way exactly?”

“Well,” I said, shifting painfully from one foot to the other, and now finally putting my hand in my pocket so that I could press my fingers firmly against my organ of micturition, “I think people just find the concept hard to understand.”

“You think so?”

“Yes,” I said, and I stretched my face tight, as if this might prevent me from screaming, if not from letting out a high-pitched keen of despair.

“Do you think you understand it?” he said.

“Me?” I said.

“No one else here,” he said.

“Well, um, uh, the concept of redeeming, uh, mankind? Well, uh –”

“You don’t understand it, do you?”

“Well, um,” I said, “I don’t know –”

“Wow,” he said. “You really don’t get it, do you?”

“Maybe a little bit?” I said.

“A little bit? Arnold, please. Don’t try to kid me. It’s not necessary.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Well,” he said, “don’t be sorry. It’s not your fault I guess.”


“But – just, I don’t know – wow.”

“People are stupid, Josh,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “I mean, I think that’s a rather harsh way of putting it myself, but, still – I don’t know –”


“Getting scourged, and crucified? The crown of thorns? Going through all that, and, well, people don’t even know why?”

“I’m sure they appreciate it, Josh.”

“You think so?”

“Oh, sure.”

“But they still don’t understand it.”

“No,” I said. “I guess not.”

“That’s what kills me, you know? I mean –”

“Look, Josh,” I baldly interrupted. “Can I be honest?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I can’t really talk about these matters right now –”

“Oh,” he said. “Okay. I mean if you feel that way about it, then –”

“No, wait, I mean I can’t talk about these matters now, because I have to pee really badly, and also my knees are still hurting, and I’m starving.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“I didn’t want to offend you.”

“I don’t get offended, Arnold. My father, yes, true, he gets offended. And H.G.

“H.G. Wells?” I said, I don’t know why.

“No, I meant H.G., the holy ghost. You met him.”

“Right,” I said. “H.G.”

“He gets offended pretty easily.”

“Right,” I said. “He did seem a little, uh –”


“Well, maybe just a little –”

“Oh, but you wanted to go inside,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“So what are we waiting for, buddy?”

At last.

He patted me on the arm, and I needed no more encouragement. I headed through the open doorway. The first thing I needed to do was find the men’s room. The place was a lot bigger than it looked from the outside, and it was crowded, a long bar straight ahead, tables, booths, lots of very drunk-looking people. I felt that usual awful confusion one feels upon entering a new, crowded bar. Fortunately a blonde-haired waitress was on the ball, and even though she carried a tray of drinks and beer pitchers on one hand at shoulder level, she stopped and, removing the cigarette from her red lips she said:

“Youse want a table?”

“Are you still serving food?” said Josh, with a smile. “You see, my friend here is absolutely famished.”

“Late night menu till 3AM,” she said,

Josh glanced at his Rolex, and then at me.

“Only five past midnight! You want a table, Arnie, or would you prefer the bar?”

“I don’t care,” I said, quickly, I still had my hand in my pocket, my fingers pressing against my penis, trying not to wet myself, “but, listen, miss,” I said, addressing the waitress, “can you please first direct me to the men’s room?”

“Sure, handsome. Back around the bar there –” she pointed with the thumb of her free hand to the right of the bar – “can’t miss it.”

“Great,” I said. “Thank you.” I turned to Josh. “Go ahead and sit down, Josh. I’ll be right back.”

“Table or bar?”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“Right, you said that. Shall I order you a beer?”

“Sure, great.”

“How about a whiskey, too?”

“Sure, whatever,” I said.

“You gonna take your book with you?”

Yes, I was barely aware of it, but I was still lugging around that book I had bought from Mr. Philpot, The Ace of Death, by Horace P. Sternwall.

“Give it here,” he said, holding out his hand. “I’ll keep it safe for you.”

I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea or not, but, as I keep saying, he was after all the son of God, so I gave him the book.

“Thanks,” I said, and, unable to wait any longer, son of God or no son of God, with my hand still in my pocket I hobbled off without further ado, praying that there wouldn’t be a wait for a urinal or a toilet bowl.

“I’ll make sure you won’t have to wait,” said Josh, in my brain.

So he still had that much divine power, the power to communicate telepathically that is.

It remained to be seen whether he had the power to ensure me an unoccupied urinal or toilet stall.

(Continued here; we have still barely begun the beginning.)

(Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a perhaps reasonably accurate listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Arnold’s adventures are now available for a risibly modest fee on your Kindle™!*)

*{All proceeds in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Appreciation Society, and to be administered by the editor of the webpage.}


Unknown said...

The whole idea of redemption is tricky unless some kind of prize is on display. Josh doesn't usually test Arnold and I don't remember his eyes gleaming with infinite universes before the last episode or two. Something must be up.

Dan Leo said...

Isn't it always in Arnold World?

Unknown said...

Yes, always.