Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel as he sits on a sofa with the lovely Nadine here in the stately old Belleforest residence in Greenwich Village, on this fateful stormy night in August of 1957…
(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding episode; potential obsessive-completists may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume memoir.)
“’Arnold Schnabel!’ How trippingly the name rolls off my tongue whenever anyone asks me to name the all-time preëminent American creator of Literature (with a capital L to be sure)!” – Harold Bloom, from the “Introduction” to his Arnold Schnabel: An Illustrated Biography for Younger Readers (the Olney Community College Press).
“Dinner is served!” called a man’s voice.
I turned and saw Terence entering the room, carrying a tray loaded with what looked like plates of food, at least I hoped it was food. Cathy came in with him, and she was carrying a six-pack of beer cans in each hand. Thanks to Nadine’s shenanigans I was once again suffering a partial erection, but fortunately I still had her big book of poetry in my hands, so I closed it and laid it over my lap to hide the offending bulge in my jeans.
“Oh,” she said. “About time. I’m sure Arnold is simply ravenous.”
“Say, what’s with all the ciggy butts and ashes on the Persian?” said Terence as he got closer to the sofa. He had a cigarette in his mouth, and he talked around it.
“Arnold had an accident,” said Nadine.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ll clean it up.”
“Nonsense,” said Cathy.
She came over and put the six-packs on the coffee table, then plumped herself onto the sofa to my right, drawing her legs up under her. She too had a cigarette in her lips, and she took it out, gently blowing smoke in my face.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it, old boy,” said Terence. “There’s liable to be a lot more on that rug before the night is over, heh heh.”
“But –” I said, not that I really wanted to clean up the mess, especially with my painful knees, but I felt at least a ‘but’ was warranted.
“But nothing,” said Terence. “Here’s what we made for you, Arnold.”
He laid the tray down on the coffee table in front of me, next to the tray with the now-empty highball glasses. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and pointed it at a sandwich cut diagonally in two.
“First we’ve got liverwurst and onion, with brown mustard, on Jewish rye. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Might want to think twice about it though if you’re planning to osculate with anyone tonight, ha ha.”
“Ha ha,” said Cathy. “’Osculate.’You kill me Terence. Open some beers.”
She reached down and picked up a church-key can opener from the tray and held it out to Terence.
“Again,” he said, “I have to do everything.”
“I hate opening beer cans,” said Cathy, and she waggled the church key until Terence made a clicking noise with his tongue and took it.
“It’s not like you need an engineering degree to open a damned can of beer,” he said.
“Oh, stop complaining and just crack open some beers,” said Nadine. “What else have you got there on the tray?”
“This one here is ham and cheddar,” said Terence, pointing with the cigarette again, “on plain ordinary white bread, but with Belgian endive and relish and mayo. We got just a leetle creative with that one I’m afraid.”
“Beer,” said Cathy, holding her hand out and making grasping movements with her fingers.
“God, give me a second!” said Terence.
He stuck the cigarette back in his mouth and pulled a can of beer, a Rheingold, out of one of the cardboard carriers.
“I hope you like Rheingold, Arnold,” he said. “It's 'the dry beer'.”
He expertly cracked two triangular openings in the can without spilling a drop and, ignoring Cathy’s outstretched hand he held the can out to me.
“Rheingold’s fine,” I said, taking the beer, but keeping the book on my lap, awkwardly trying to hide the erection which still persisted, probably because Cathy was playing with my ear and Nadine’s hand had returned to my thigh. “Thank you, Terence.”
“Me,” said Nadine, holding out her hand, the one that wasn’t caressing my thigh, and wiggling her fingers in the direction of the beer cans.
“Me too!” said Cathy, still holding out her hand, while she pulled on my earlobe with two fingers of her other hand.
“This,” said Terence, opening another can of beer, but nodding at the tray of food, “these are cheese and crackers. You’ve got your Gorgonzola there, and that smelly lump is Limburger – so, again, approach with caution dear boy just in case you and Nadine are planning to, you know –”
“To make the beast with two backs,” said Cathy.
“Oh, stop it you two,” said Nadine, and even though Terence was holding the opened can of beer toward Cathy, Nadine reached over and took it for herself. “We’re not planning to make any sort of beast, are we, Arnold? Two backs or otherwise.”
“Um,” I said, “uh, so, Terence, what’s that other cheese there?”
“The little cubes? They’re Swiss,” said Terence. “Can’t you tell with the holes?”
“Oh, right,” I said, because I preferred to seem unobservant or stupid rather than continue talking about beasts with two backs.
“The crackers are Uneeda Biscuits,” he said. “And just to make sure you get all your vitamins we’ve got fresh carrot slices and celery there, and some gherkins.”
He cracked open another can and handed it to Cathy.
“Thank you, Terence,” she said. “Tell him what that other delicious delicacy is.”
She pointed at a pyramid of brown rectangular-shaped things on a plate on the tray.
“Hash brownies,” said Terence, and he opened another can. “Baked them myself. Ever have one, Arnold?”
"Oh, sure,” I said, because all that I had registered was the word “brownies”.
“Arnold’s no ‘square’,” said Nadine.
“Never said he was, dear,” said Terence, and he sat himself down with his own can of beer at the other end of the sofa again, kicking his sandals off and drawing his legs up. “Eat, Arnold,” he said. “Drink.”
Terence and Cathy hadn't bothered to bring glasses for the beer, so I took a good long gulp of the beer right out of the can, and then I began to eat, using my left hand, as my right hand was still preoccupied with holding Nadine's book over my erection. Quickly and steadily I devoured first the liverwurst sandwich, and then the ham and cheese.
The three siblings talked among themselves while I ate, about what I have no idea, I wasn’t listening, I was much too intent on stuffing my face.
After finishing the sandwiches I took a brief break, but just to empty what was left in the can of beer in two long gulps.
“Boy, you are hungry, buddy!” said Terence.
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten, Arnold?” said Cathy.
How long had it been? It felt like four-and-a-half years, and in a sense it had been, but all I said was:
“Not since breakfast.”
“Oh you poor thing,” said Cathy. “Eat some more, darling.”
“And help yourself to some more beer, old chap,” said Terence.
Keeping that big book over my persistent erection I pulled a can out of the carrier and punched two holes in it with the church key. I gulped down half the can and then without further prompting went to work on the cheese and Uneeda Biscuits, then the gherkins and carrots and celery.
Again the two sisters and the brother chatted among themselves, and again they might just as well have been speaking Chinese as far as I was concerned. In short order I finished every last morsel of the cheese and crackers, the carrots and celery and pickles, then I gulped the rest of the can of beer down and belched, without shame.
“Have another beer, Arnold,” said Terence. “Don’t stand on ceremony.”
I didn’t. I opened another can, and after taking another good long gulp I went to work on the brownies.
I had just picked up my third brownie and was about to shove it in my mouth when Terence said:
“You might want to take it easy with the brownies, Arnold. They’re pretty potent.”
“Oh, Arnold can handle it,” said Nadine.
“I’ll bet he can,” said Cathy.
“Well, okay, then,” said Terence, “but just save us a brownie each, buddy.”
I want to admit here that I actually felt disappointed that he said that. I wanted all of those brownies.
As I ate that third brownie – making a half-hearted effort to slow down and savor it – Nadine, Cathy and Terence all reached over took one each for themselves. I swallowed the brownie and licked my lips, staring at the two brownies that remained on the plate.
“Arnold, you’re looking like you really want those last two,” said Terence.
“Go on and eat them, Arnold,” said Cathy.
“Oh, dear, do you think he should?” said Terence. “They truly are awfully strong.”
Strong? They hadn’t tasted strong to me. In fact I had thought them just right, if maybe just a little more chewy than the kind my mother made.
“Go ahead and eat them, darling,” said Nadine, caressing my thigh.
So I went ahead and ate them, and as I did Nadine and Cathy and Terence continued to talk among themselves, and again I paid no attention, concentrating as I was on those last two brownies. When I finished the last one I gulped down the last of my third can of beer and then sat back against the sofa, sighing perhaps the deepest sigh I had sighed that day, which was saying a lot.
“Well, that was really disgraceful,” said the colonel in the painting. “Jesus fucking Christ, man, have you no class at all?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was just very hungry.”
“What are you apologizing for?” said Nadine.
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“Now you’re sorry for being sorry?”
“Oh, stop harassing the poor fellow,” said Cathy, and she pulled on my earlobe again.
“I’m sorry, Arnold, darling,” said Nadine, caressing my thigh.
“Help yourself to a cigarette, Arnold,” said Terence, “oh but that’s right you don’t smoke.”
“I’ll tell you what he smokes,” said Nadine, and she reached into my work shirt pocket and brought out the partially-smoked reefer which I had put in there and forgotten about.
“Oh, good, light it up,” said Cathy.
“Good idea,” said Terence. “These brownies take too long.”
“What?” I said, my brain suddenly teetering on the edge of not being imbecilic.
“I said the brownies take too long,” he said.
“Too long?” I said, weakly.
“To get you high, old chap. They’re strong brownies but they take almost a half-hour to really kick in. Of course you had five, so maybe that will make ‘em kick in sooner.”
“One thing’s for sure,” said Cathy, “when they kick in you’ll know it.”
“Ha ha,” said Nadine. “I’m sure Arnold can handle it. He’s a poet after all!”
“Excuse me,” I said, to one and all. “But what’s so special about those brownies?”
“I told you,” said Terence. “They’re hash brownies.”
“Like – hash browns?” I said. They hadn’t tasted at all like hash browns.
“No, silly,” said Cathy. “Hashish!”
“Hashish,” I said. I recalled reading about that in some of the cheap novels I liked to read, the ones where guys got caught in a deadly web of hashish addiction.
Oh, well, short of trying to make myself throw up, and I couldn’t face doing that, I would just have to deal with it. Hadn’t I already taken LSD once that day? Hadn’t I already smoked reefer on more than one occasion? Hadn’t I drunk bock beer infused with the nectar of the gods? Hadn’t I sloshed down quantities of supposedly normal beer as well as various other fermented and distilled beverages? Hadn’t I swilled bourbon laced with laudanum? Yes, I had consumed all of the above, and now five hashish brownies were joining the party.
Nadine had lit the reefer with the rhinoceros-horn lighter, and now she put the reefer between my lips. I drew in the smoke, I don’t know why, and I drew deeply, filling my lungs.
This whole episode had been a real low point in my self control.
“Really incredible,” said the colonel. “Really fucking incredible.”
He didn’t know the half of it.
I exhaled the smoke, and passed the reefer to Cathy, who proceeded to draw on it with what looked like great vigor.
I have to say that deep drag of reefer helped to relax me. Of course the meal I had just wolfed down had helped in that regard as well, not to mention the three cans of Rheingold I had just drunk in quick succession.
I suddenly realized that my erection had gone away again for the time being, despite the fact that Nadine still had her hand on my thigh, despite the fact that Cathy was running her fingers up and down the back of my neck.
This would be a good time to escape. It would be rude to escape of course, but if I was still here when those hashish brownies kicked in I might not be physically and mentally able to leave tonight, if ever.
Sure, it was still raining hard outside, I could hear it and see it streaming down the windows across the room, but I couldn’t worry about that.
Without thinking about it anymore, I laid the book of poems on the coffee table and then pushed myself to my feet.
“I just remembered,” I said. “I have to go.”
“What are you talking about?” said Nadine, and she pulled on my arm.
“I, uh –”
I tried to think of some excuse. I drew a blank.
“Sit back down, you big silly,” said Cathy, and she pulled on my other arm.
“See?” said Terence. Cathy had passed him the reefer, and he exhaled a great cloud of smoke. “Poète maudit, all the way.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I know it’s impolite, but I have to go.”
“But why for heaven’s sake?” said Nadine.
“It has to do with me coming from this other state of reality,” I said, again resorting to one of my occasional forays into honesty. “If I stay here I’m afraid I’ll never escape this universe and make it back to my own.”
“Oh, I get it,” said Terence. “He really is crazy.”
“He’s not crazy,” said Cathy. “He’s just eccentric.”
“He’s crazy and eccentric,” said Nadine. “And I find him utterly fascinating.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I still have to go,” I said.
“Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, asshole,” said the colonel in the painting.
(Continued here, and onward, until that last neatly filled-out marble composition book has been transcribed, and there are hundreds more to go.)
(Please scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a soi-disant current listing of links to all other legally-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, every word of which has been vetted, proofread, and approved by the scholars of the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia.)