Saturday, September 19, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 456: nowhere


Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, in yet another crowded smoky bar (“which would make it, oh, I don’t know, the one-hundred-and-fiftieth bar I had been in since waking up this day”) with his new acquaintance (who seems to bear a striking resemblance to the actor Dan Duryea), one Sylvester T. (“for Tyrone”) "Slick" McGillicuddy...  


(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you happen to be an obsessive completist you might want to click here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume memoir.)

“Some sanctimonious busybodies have complained that
Railroad Train to Heaven sets a bad example to today’s youth because of the amount of time depicted therein spent in bars, and in the drinking of various alcoholic beverages, and in the consumption of drugs, including, yes, even the fabled ‘food of the gods’. To this I can only reply that Schnabel’s towering chef-d'œuvre is hardly meant to be a primer for social behavior.” – Harold Bloom, in the Man’s Adventure Literary Supplement.






“Slick,” I said, trying to get right to the point for once, “may I ask you a question?”

“By all means, buddy,” he said, with a big smile. “I got nothing to hide. An open book am I.” 



But now his smile contracted suddenly.



“A book full of despair,” he said. “A book full of deception, and betrayal. A book describing in vivid detail one man’s descent into a harrowing nightmare of fear and shame. But go ahead, please. Ask me anything. What do ya want to know about me? Do you want to know if I have cheated, lied, betrayed those who in their poor judgment have loved me? Except no one ever really loved me. Hated me, yes, despised me, sure, took advantage of my once good nature, definitely – but loved? No. Sorry. I wish it weren’t true but it is. I mean I myself have loved, oh, yeah, boy have I loved, like a burning poker thrust in my heart and twisted around all like a corkscrew, yeah, that kind of love, sure. But what did I get in return?”

He stopped and stared at me, and I got the impression he wanted me to answer his question, so I said:

“Indifference?”

“Well,” he said, “yeah, I did get that, but I was thinking of something else. Guess again.”

“Revulsion?”

“Okay. Revulsion,” he said. “Wow. That hurts. But, y’know, Hughie {yes, I let it go}, again that was not quite what I had in mind. Try just once more.”



This time I thought about it for a minute, standing there dripping with rainwater and sweat, breathing in that somehow not unpleasant "bar air", thick with smoke and redolent of body odor warring with the fumes of perfume and whiskey and beer, amidst the shouting and laughing of drunk people and the crashing waves of chords and notes from the piano like pots and pans flung somehow musically against a steel wall, and I took another drink from the schooner of Rheingold before I finally replied:

“Betrayal?”



“Bingo!” he said, and he gave out with a big, and even sincere-looking, almost, smile. “The big B: betrayal. Every goddam time I fall in love. Every time. But, hey, whaddaya gonna do? I toldja I’m a loser. So what’d ya want to know about me?”

“Well –” I started.

“I know what you’re wondering. You’re wondering to yourself: what’s this guy’s like whole-back story? Ain’t you?”



“Um,” I said.


“You’re wondering, just how did a guy like me wind up shit-faced and alone in this bar on this hot rainy night, in this dirty white suit, needing a shave and a good hot bath?”



Suddenly his smile disappeared again.



“Like maybe,” he said, “just maybe, it has something to do with what I did in the war? The things I seen. The things I done. How them things are still eating me up inside. How I wake up screaming every single night in a cold clammy sweat. But, okay, maybe you don’t wanta hear about all that. And to be honest I don’t really like to talk about it. I don’t like stirring up them memories, the screams, the blood. The, like, remorse. Or did you wanta hear about it? ‘Cause if you really do I will. Tell you all about it that is. If you want me to.”

“Um,” I said.



He took a drag on his cigarette, and then pointed the lit end of the cigarette at me, making little poking movements with it.



“Lookit, I know what you’re wondering, pal,” he said.

“You do?”

“You’re wondering, am I perhaps a private dick that nobody will hire anymore on account of I’m such a hopeless lush? Or maybe, just maybe, I am an ace homicide detective who got canned from the force on accounta accidentally discharging my Chief’s Special into the head of a little slum kid when I was aiming at a mobster you might’ve heard of, Richie the Rat Ricciutto? Or – am I just possibly a once-successful Harvard lawyer who threw it all away at craps and poker? Oh, I know, maybe like I’m a newspaper columnist who got blackballed on accounta something I wrote about the private sex life of a certain powerful and eminently crooked politician?”

He smiled again, but it seemed as if in a somewhat tentative way.

“Go, on, Henry,” he said, and, yes, I let it go, “what do ya want to know about me?”

“Actually,” I said, “I wasn’t going to ask you about you.”



“What.”



His smile vanished, as if someone had switched off a light.

“I wanted to ask you about something else,” I said.

“Something else.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“So you’re saying you don’t really care about me.”

“No,” I said, “it’s not that at all, but it’s just the question I really wanted to ask you was –”

“I don’t matter.”

“What?” I said.

“You don’t give a flying fuck about me. I should throw a thrombo from too much booze and tobacco and fall down on this filthy floor right now and die, you couldn’t give a fuck.”

“You misunderstand me,” I said.

“Don’t tell me what I do or don’t misunderstand. ‘Cause I don’t misunderstand. I don’t misunderstand you all too well, Egbert, which is a pretty faggy sounding name if you ask me.”

“My name’s not Egbert actually.”

“It ain’t?”

“No. It’s Arnold.”

“’Arnold.’ Is that what you said your name was?”

“Yes,” I said.

 
“You sure?”

“Pretty sure,” I said.

“Well, anyway, ‘Arnold’, I may be a loser, but I still got some dignity left, so, like, if you will pardon the expression, fuck you. Fuck you, man. Just, you know, that’s all. Fuck you. You can slap me around now if that’ll make you feel any better.”

“No thanks,” I said. “And I really didn’t mean to offend you.”

“And after I bought you a shot and a beer, too, a large pint schooner of beer I might add.”

“Well, I thank you for that,” I said.

“You know what you can do with your thanks, right?”

“I think so.”

“Shove ‘em up your supercilious superior holier-than-thou sanctimonious ass.”

“Right,” I said. 


“That’s what you can do,” he said.

I sighed.

“And now you’re sighing. Like I’m annoying you.”

“Well, look, um –”

“'Slick,'” he said.

“'Slick,'” I said. “Thanks for the shot and beer, but I guess I’d better just move along if you don’t mind.”



“So I am annoying you.”

“No,” I lied, as baldfacedly as I had ever lied in all my lifetimes in all the dimensions and various modes of reality I had ever been in.

“You say no, but you don’t sound like you mean it,” he said.

“Okay,” I said, “you’re annoying me.”

“I knew it. I annoy you. Didn’t I call it?”

“Yes, you did, uh, ‘Slick’ –”

“You seem kind of anxious to go. Am I really all that annoying?”

“Well,” I said, “yes, but, it’s not just that you’re annoying, but –”

“But what?”

“Look, I don’t want to offend you.”



“You already have offended me.”

“I don’t want to offend you further.”

“Quit pussy-footing around and spit it out.”

“I’m really bored,” I said.


“What?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I find you boring.”

“Oh.”

“Sorry.”

“I bore you,” he said.

“Maybe it’s me,” I said.



“Maybe it’s you.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“It’s not like you’re Mister Excitement,” he said.

“I realize that,” I said. “But, anyway –”



“It ain’t like you’re bringing a whole lot to the party, pal.”

“I realize that.”

“You’re not exactly George Jessel over here, or even George Gobel. Not by a long shot, buddy.”

“Okay,” I said, “Well, I think I’ll go now. Thanks again for the drink.”

Drinks. Plural. A shot of Carstairs and a large pint schooner of Rheingold.”

“Thanks for the drinks,” I said. “Goodnight.”

“Wait,” he said. “Where you gonna go? It’s prolly still pouring and pissing rain out there. And you with no umbrella.”



“Maybe I’ll just go to the other end of the bar,” I said. “Until it stops raining, anyway.”

“That would be awkward.”

“I’m used to awkwardness,” I said.



“You standing down there. Me here. Both aware that the other guy is there.”

“I think it would be less awkward than if I stayed standing here,” I said. “So, anyway –”



“You didn’t finish your beer.”

This was true, I still had about a half-pint left.



“Well, I’ll just take it with me,” I said.

“That is so rude. A fella buys you a beer – and a shot – and you won’t even stand and finish the beer with him. That’s cold, mac. Cold and rude.”

“Okay, I’ll finish the beer first.”

“No one’s asking you to chug your beer, my friend. Beer, believe it or not, is meant to be savored, not tossed into your gaping maw just like some goddam peasant would do.”



I lifted the schooner, resigned to taking a drink, a good one, but nonetheless to desisting from draining it all in the way I wanted to, in a one big barbaric gulp, but “Slick” put his hand on my arm, preventing me from lifting the schooner to my lips.



“And no one is saying you got to move down to the other end of the bar, either,” he said.

“But I don’t mind,” I said.

“Maybe I mind,” he said. “You ever think about that? Maybe I mind.”



“So you’re saying you want me to keep standing here?”

“You don’t seem to care about other people’s feelings so much, do you, pal?”

I started to sigh, but I repressed it, pressing my lips tight together.

“You got gas?” he said. “I get gas too. Bad. Indigestion I got. But know what else I got?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Guess. Take a wild guess.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Dandruff?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes I got dandruff. But something else I got and you know what it is?”

“Well,” I said, “I’ve already said I don’t know –”


“Feelings I got,” he said.



“Oh.”

“Feelings. Which you don’t seem to mind blatantly trampling on.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but –”

“You know what you can do with your ‘sorry’, right?”

“Yes,” I said.



“Shove it up your ass.”

“Right,” I said.

“So ask me.”

“Pardon?”

“You said you had a question for me. So ask."

He took his hand away from my arm. Then he took a deep drag on his Old Gold and exhaled the smoke in my face. I don’t think he did this to be disrespectful to me. I think he just didn’t care if he exhaled smoke in someone’s face.



“Go on,” he said. He was smiling again, showing those stained teeth. “Ask away. Like I am the Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia. Like I am Beatrice Fairfax or Bishop Sheen. What is your question.”



By this time I had forgotten what my question was, but I concentrated for a half a minute and remembered:

“I just want to know where we are,” I said.

“Where we are.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re saying you don’t know where we are.”

“No,” I said. “I mean yes.”



His smile had been gradually fading, and now it disappeared entirely.



“You don’t know where we are.”


“No,” I said. “That’s why I’m asking. Where are we.”

“Bill’s Bar,” he said.

“Bill’s Bar,” I said. “Okay, but can you tell me what city we’re in?”

“You’re telling me you don’t know what city you’re in?”

“No,” I said. “I mean, yes, I don’t know what city I’m in.”



“Wow.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s strange, but it’s true.”

“You really don’t know what city you’re in.”

“No.”

“Ha ha. That is funny,” he said, although he wasn’t really laughing, or even smiling. “Ha ha,” he said. “Funny!”

“Yes,” I said. “I know it’s funny, but still it’s true. So I wonder if you wouldn’t mind answering my question.”



"The question of ‘where you are’.”

“Yes. That question,” I said.

“Man,” he said, “you are nowhere!”

“Right,” I said. “I know. I’m a nowhere kind of guy. But still I would appreciate it if you would just answer my question.”

“Nowhere!”

“Yes,” I said. “We’ve established that.”

“Nowhere!”

Now he was really starting to get on my nerves, even if he had bought me a shot and also a pint of beer, the latter of which I took another drink of before saying anything else, and I even counted to ten first.

“So where are we?” I said.



“I told you,” he said. “Nowhere.”

“You’re saying,” I said, the veil at last lifting, “like, literally nowhere?”



“Nowheresville, daddy-o.”


“Nowheresville?”

“Nowheresville.”

I sighed, I couldn’t help it.

He smiled.

“So welcome to Nowheresville, Artie.”



(Continued here, and onward, until Arnold Schnabel’s last marble copybook has been transcribed with all misspellings and typos intact.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find what one hopes to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; an Arnold Schnabel Society™/Horace P. Sternwall Enterprises™ co-production.)





3 comments:

Kathleen Maher said...

Dan Duryea or "Slick" is the kind of alcoholic I'm most familiar with.

Dan Leo said...

The kind who never shut up!

Kathleen Maher said...

First the rant then the fists.