We left our hero Arnold Schnabel in the noisy and crowded confines of Bob’s Bowery Bar, with his new acquaintance “Nadine”, on this rainy night in August of 1957...
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“In the world of Arnold Schnabel the reality of time is as expandable and as multifarious as the many worlds that make up his world.” – Harold Bloom, in the Redbook Literary Supplement.
I put the empty mug down.
I didn’t want to go with this woman. I didn’t want to read her poetry. I never wanted to read anyone’s poetry, including my own. And also I knew that she was probably insane. I know that the reader may well think, “Here’s a pot calling the kettle black,” but my own insanity is already more than I can handle, and if I learned anything at all in the loony bin it was that I have no desire whatever to associate with other lunatics.
Nevertheless I allowed her to take my arm in hers and to start dragging me across that crowded barroom in the direction of the entrance. She was saying something or other as she pulled me through that mob of dancing and flailing drunks, but I was paying no attention, thinking only of the pain pulsing from both my knees with each step, of my hunger, of the fact that I was letting myself be shanghaied by a madwoman and that I was doing nothing about it while realizing that I would continue to do nothing about it because (as the attentive reader will have already noticed) I find it very difficult ever to say no to a woman. No, I would let myself be dragged to “her place”, whatever that was, and I would find myself farther and farther away from my supposed goal of returning to my own world.
Nevertheless, as the madwoman pulled me through those thrashing and stumbling bodies, I still found myself casting a hopeful longing glance or two toward the booth where Josh and my other acquaintances sat, and then by chance my eyes met Horace P. Sternwall’s and at once he began waving his arm energetically.
“Arnie!” he yelled, loud enough to be heard over all the other yelling and laughing people and the blaring jukebox music, which I now recall was Rosemary Clooney singing “Mambo Italiano”. “Arnie baby!” he yelled again, still waving his hand, which had a cigar in it. “Over here!”
I stopped, which caused this madwoman Nadine to stop also. We were in the middle of the floor, with dancers dancing the mambo all around us.
“Now what?” she said.
“It’s my friend,” I yelled, because, again. unlike Nadine I needed to holler to be heard in this place. I pointed towards Horace. “He’s calling me.”
And sure enough Horace continued to call my name and wave beckoningly. Josh now was also turned around in the seat opposite Horace, and smiling broadly in my direction. Ben was peering over the back of the booth, wide-eyed. Mr. Philpot seemed impassive, and of course I couldn’t see Ferdinand from this distance, which was about four yards away.
“Arnie! C’mon over, man!” yelled Horace.
“He wants me to come over,” I dared to say to Nadine.
“I heard him. I’m not deaf,” she said.
“Is it okay if I go over?”
“It’s a free country,” she said. “But listen.” Still holding onto my arm with hers, she swung her body around so that she was facing me, in fact pressed up against me, and again I could feel her breasts against my ribs. Her breasts felt firm but oddly soft, except for a hardness at the center of each. I realized to my horror that she must not have been wearing a brassière, and then with further horror I realized that I was becoming possessed of the nascent stages of an erection. “Don’t think you’re getting out of coming to my place,” she said.
“I won’t,” I said.
“But just to read my poetry.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I shouldn’t want you to think I’m the sort of girl who picks up men in bars and takes them home just to have savage and passionate sex with them.”
“I won’t,” I said.
“Even if you are a rather handsome and enigmatic fellow who just happens to be the hot new poet around town.”
“Um,” I said.
“All right then,” she said. Her face was perfectly unsmiling, just as it had been ever since she had first made her presence known to me. “We shall go over and meet these so-called ‘friends’ of yours.”
Keeping my arm in hers, she turned and began to pull me towards the booth where my so-called friends were.
“Ow,” I said.
“Oh, Christ, now what is it,” she said.
“Just my knees,” I said. “I have to walk slowly, if at all.”
“You know,” she said, turning to face me again, her breasts pressed against me again, “if you simply would not insist on constantly getting into bar brawls all over town your knees wouldn’t be hurting you right now.”
“That’s true,” I said. I could feel my organ of procreation stiffening further.
“Don’t destroy yourself,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
She had let go of my arm, but now she was touching my face with her fingers. Her fingernails were long and painted bright red, and she ran the fingernails along my cheek.
“God will destroy you soon enough,” she said.
“That’s a good point,” I said.
I tried to think about death, hoping that this would make my penis deflate, but my penis had its own mind and grew even more engorged each millisecond. It was pressing quite blatantly against the madwoman’s belly, but, far from recoiling in disgust, she pressed her body even closer to mine.
“Promise me you’ll stop behaving like some spangled hussar with a death wish, Porter,” she said, still running her fingernails along my cheek. “Promise me!”
“I’ll try,” I said.
“No, don’t try," she said. "Promise.”
“Okay, I promise,” I said, just to get her off the subject.
“Hey, mac,” she suddenly said, not to me, but to a young marine who had been dancing the samba and who had bumped into her. “Watch yourself before you kill somebody.”
“Oh om zo zorry,” he said.
“What’s the problem?” said the old woman the marine had been dancing with.
“I bum inda vis lady ear,” said the marine, and I realized that he was very drunk, doing his utmost to squeeze the words from his mouth in a coherent fashion, and failing.
“You stay away from my marine, Miss Nadine!” yelled the other woman. She was very small, and old, maybe seventy or even older, and she wore what looked like a Revolutionary War hat, black in color. It looked like she was wearing a potato sack, except it had a faded floral pattern of the sort you don’t see on potato sacks. She assumed a boxer’s stance, balling up her tiny little fists. “I’ll kick your lily-white ass!”
“You insolent old bitch,” said Nadine. “Get away from me before I thrash you with my bag and then poke you in your decrepit face with my umbrella.”
“Ay nall, lays,” said the marine, who looked young and innocent, “wudja zay, lez be en! Lez be en!”
“What?” said Nadine. “What did you just say?”
“Lez be en!” he said again.
“How dare you!” she said. Freeing her arm from mine, she slapped the marine in the face, he staggered back, the little old woman grabbed his arm, but the drunken marine was a big young fellow and they both fell backward to the floor.
“’Lesbian’,” said Nadine. “The nerve.”
“I don’t think he was saying ‘lesbian’,” I said.
“I distinctly heard him.”
“He was trying to say, “Let’s be friends.”
“Oh, was he?”
“I think so,” I said.
“Well, that’s what he gets for speaking so indistinctly.”
The old woman and the young marine were sitting on the floor next to each other. The old woman, with her hat awry, had her thin old arms around the young fellow, and they were kissing, as other drunk people continued to dance the samba all around them.
“How vile,” said Nadine. “Hard to believe Marianne is a world-famous poetess. Let this be a lesson to you, Porter.”
And putting her arm in mine again she began again to pull me towards the booth. My erection had subsided during the preceding incident, so I had at least one small thing to be thankful for. One smaller thing.
At last we did reach the booth where Josh and the others sat with their whiskey and their beer and their burning tobacco, and I will be honest to my nonexistent reader at this juncture and state that I’ve thought about trying to describe what transpired over the next five or ten minutes (that is to say, I’ve thought about it for the space of five seconds), but it would be impossible for me to do so with any pretense of complete historical accuracy, because the fact is that, before I made it even halfway through making a half-hearted round of introductions, it seemed that everyone else present began talking more or less at once, and pretty soon as I so often do I mentally bowed out, thinking about my pains, about food, about wanting to find someplace to sleep or to pass out, maybe even to wake up and find out this had all been a dream, but more probably to wake up and find myself trapped in yet another dream.
“So okay, then, buddy!” said Josh at one point, and I realized he was talking to me, and either it was my imagination or his black eye and his other facial bruises had almost completely disappeared in the short time since I had last seen him.
“Um, are you sure?” I said, I have no idea why, just to say something I suppose.
“Sure I’m sure! Go!”, he said, smiling, and he clapped me on the arm. And he had seemed so eager to talk to me just a short time earlier. But then, as I kept reminding myself, he was still the son of God, and what was time to him? “Go on!” he said, and yes, another thing that had happened since last we had talked, he was definitely drunker. “Get out of here!”
Horace winked lasciviously at me; Ben nodded his head approvingly, and, I thought, maybe enviously; Mr. Philpot smirked hideously, Ferdinand said nothing, busy as he was lapping up what looked like whiskey in a shot glass; and then the madwoman was yanking on my arm again, and soon we were out the door and in the bar’s entranceway, looking out at the unabated downpour. She let go of my arm long enough to open her umbrella and then we were walking arm-in-arm under it through the rain, and after half a minute she stopped at a parked car, it was another Jaguar, a coupé, pink, an XK120 if I wasn’t mistaken. She asked me to hold her umbrella while she scrabbled in her bag for a minute, and finally she brought out a large ring of keys, opened the passenger door and told me to get in, which I did, and she slammed the door shut. The leather seats were bright red, the same color as the madwoman’s lipstick and fingernails. The doors and the flooring were a darker red. Then the driver’s door opened, the madwoman got in with a burst of rain, and she shut the door. She shoved the furled wet umbrella over to my side of the footspace, selected a key from the ring, put the key into the ignition, and started the motor.
She turned on the windshield wipers and the headlights, punched in the knob of the automatic lighter on the dashboard, and then she turned to me.
“Would you care to get high?”
“In what sense?” I said.
She reached into her bag, and after only a little more than a minute she came up with a hand-rolled cigarette.
“Muggles,” she said. “Tea. Weed. Would you like some.”
“No thanks,” I said.
“You said you were in pain. This will make you feel better.”
“Okay,” I said.
Right on cue the knob of the lighter popped out. She put the reefer between her lips, pulled the lighter out, lit the reefer. took four or five very long and deep drags, then passed it to me.
I took a drag, and held it in. What did I have to lose?
She put the lighter back into its socket, dropped her leather bag on my feet, put the car into gear, and only then exhaled, almost filling the interior of the car with smoke.
“We’ll be home in just a jiffy,” she said.
She pressed her foot on the gas pedal and pulled the car out into the rainy street.
I exhaled also, coughing, and it dawned on me that this woman was not only insane, but drunk, and now she was also under the influence of marijuana.
She shifted gear again and pressed the gas pedal all the way to the floor.
She came to a corner and turned a hard right, through a red light, the tires of the car shrieking like a bag of cats being thrown into a river.
I waited for the crash, but it didn’t come.
We sped on through the rain, I didn’t know to where.
“Porter,” she said.
“Yes?” I said.
My right arm was outstretched, the heel of my hand pressing against the highly polished wooden dashboard, as if this expedient would save me when we crashed.
“How about passing that reefer, man?”
The reefer was between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand, which was a frozen claw of fear. I held this claw out to her.
“Hold it between my lips, darling. I shan’t bite your hand.”
I did as she bade me, holding the reefer between her red lips as she drew deeply upon it, all the while steering the car through the crashing downpour at what a glance at the dashboard told me was sixty miles an hour. I didn’t mind holding the reefer to her lips for her. It was something to take my mind off my impending doom.
(Continued here, and possibly not even Josh’s father knows for how long.)
(Please look down the right-hand column of this page to find a possibly accurate listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets are now available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Walking Tour of “Arnold Schnabel’s Cape May”, culminating in a Crab ‘n’ Beer Blast at the VFW post on Congress Avenue, musical entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres & Ursula and their Swingin’ Sounds of Summer”, featuring “Magda” on the Hohner electric piano and vocals.)