Saturday, April 25, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 437: help

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel on this hot wet night in old Greenwich Village, where he has at long last met up again with his deific friend “Josh”... 

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; if you’re totally at a loss as to how to fill up your precious time then go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 68-volume epic.)

“Among many other things, Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre is a story of the narrator’s many and varied friendships – such as: a lusty and adventurous seaman (“Big Ben Blagwell”), a prolific author of drugstore paperbacks (“Horace P. Sternwall”), a talking fly (“Ferdinand”), and, yes, even the savior of the human race (“Josh”).” – Harold Bloom, in the Vatican Monthly Literary Supplement.

“Oh, and hello, little guy!” said Josh, smiling, to Ferdinand, who was hovering to one side of my head.

“Hiya, Josh,” said Ferdinand. “Been havin’ a good time?”

“Yes, actually! Oh, and I don’t think we’ve met,” said Josh, to Horace, and I realized just then that Josh was slurring his words slightly.

“Horace P. Sternwall, sir,” said Horace. “And it is indeed my pleasure to meet you.”

He held out his hand in a hopeful way.

“Don’t shake his hand, sir,” said Mr. Philpot, to Josh. “He owes me money.

“He does?” said Josh.

“Yes,” said Mr. Philpot, “One hundred and fifty dollars!”

“Listen, sir –” said Horace, addressing Josh, “or should I call you, like, ‘dear lord’, or –”

“Just call me Josh!” said Josh, and, yes, he was drunk – or drunker I should say – than when I had last seen him. “I’m going by simply 'Josh' these days.”

“A fine name it is, too,” said Horace. “A strong, manly, dare I say heroic name –”

“Ass kisser,” said Mr. Philpot, who I now realized, was not just being belligerent, but belligerently drunk, or drunkenly belligerent, take your pick.

Just then my old friend Big Ben Blagwell appeared inside the doorway next to Josh, I suppose he had gotten bored sitting alone. He loomed above Josh just as Josh loomed over Mr. Philpot. He had a cigarette in the thick scarred fingers of one of those enormous hands of his, the only kind of hands he had of course, and a jelly-glass in the other one, half full of what must have been the rum we had been drinking earlier. Framed in the doorway like that the three of them looked like a cover of a cheap paperback novel of the sort that Horace wrote, and as soon as Ben saw me he bellowed, even louder than he normally bellowed, which was after all his normal way of speaking:

“Arnie baby! Where the fuck you been!”

So, yes, he was a lot drunker too, which didn’t surprise me at all. He also was dressed as he was when last I saw him: the sweat-stained yachting cap, the Hawaiian shirt, the dungarees.

“Well, Ben,” I said, “as I was just saying to Josh –”

“Long story,” said Ferdinand, making a little up-and-down circle in the air, “like it always is with Arnie.”

“And Ferdy!” roared Ben. “How’s it hangin’, little buddy?”

“Good, Ben,” said Ferdinand, “good. Wouldn’t mind some of that  
hundred-year-old cask-aged Royal Navy rum, though – provided there’s any left that is, ha ha.”

“Ah, same old Ferdy,” yelled Ben. “You’ll never change!”

“Not as long as I got a hole in my ass,” said Ferdinand.

“Hi,” said Ben, to Horace.

“Hello,” said Horace.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Ben, this is my, uh, friend Horace. Horace – my, uh, friend Ben.” (As soon as I said this I remembered that, as real as Ben seemed right then, more than real actually, nevertheless he was a character from at least one of Horace’s novels, and so I decided not to mention their full names, just because it seemed too weird to do so.)

Ben transferred his jelly glass from his right hand to his left, and shoved out his right one in Horace’s direction.

“Any pal of Arnie’s,” he said, bellowed of course, but I’m getting tired of writing that all the time.

“Don’t shake his hand!” yelled Mr. Philpot, and, putting his pipe between his teeth, or dentures I should say, he grabbed Ben’s great bare tattooed and sunbaked arm with both of his tiny little hands. 

Ben lifted up his arm and gave it a little shake, but Mr. Philpot held on, even though his feet now dangled several inches off the floor.

“What the fuck, Mr. Philpot,” said Ben.

“He owes me money!” yelped Mr. Philpot. “Do not shake his hand!”

“But he’s Arnie’s friend,” said Ben, raising his arm, and Mr. Philpot, higher.

“I don’t give a tinker’s dam!” yelled Mr. Philpot through his false teeth, his fat little legs kicking in the air like a baby’s. “He owes me one hundred and fifty dollars, U.S. currency!”

“Okay,” said Josh. “Ben, let Mr. Philpot down.”

“You sure, buddy?” said Ben. “He’s acting awful weird.”

“Let him down, please, Ben,” said Josh.

Ben lowered his arm, and once again Mr. Philpot’s feet met with the floor.

Mr. Philpot took his hands away from Ben’s arm, and taking his pipe from his mouth he addressed Josh.

“I am sorry, your excellency,” he said. “But surely you remember the what was it, the seventh commandment?”

“Is that the adultery one?” said Josh.

“No!” said Mr. Philpot. “’Thou shalt not steal’!”

“Oh,” said Josh. “That one.”

“Yes, that one!” yelled Mr. Philpot. “And this cheap scribbler stole from me!”

“I didn’t steal from you, Mr. Philpot,” said Horace, “strictly speaking.”

“You owe me money!” yelled Mr. Philpot. “And by my lights a man who owes me money and welches is a thief! No better than a common brigand or highwayman, or one of Monk Eastman’s hooligans!”

“Okay, you know what?” said Horace. “In perfectly good faith I offered you half of that hundred and fifty, but if you’re gonna be such an asshole about it, guess what, you can just sue me for the whole hundred and fifty!”

“I’ll sue you, hack!” said Mr. Philpot, “I’ll sue you with this!” And once again he started to slip his hand inside his suit coat for the pistol or knife or ice pick or whatever it was he had in there.

“Wait!” I said, and I reached out and grabbed his arm. It was like grabbing a child’s arm, fat, small, and weak, and the sensation was far from pleasant. “Josh,” I said. “I hate to ask you this, but can you lend me some money?”

“Sure, Arnie,” he said. He took out his wallet, it was a really nice-looking dark-leather one, but I guess that was to be expected. “What do you need?”

“It’s not for me, exactly,” I said, “but I’ll pay you back. Would you give Mr. Philpot a hundred and fifty, to cover Horace’s debt?”

“Oh, sure,” he said. “Why didn’t I think of that?” He took out two hundred-dollar bills and proffered them to Mr. Philpot. “Go ahead, take it, Mr. Philpot. They’re real.”

“Well, only if you insist, sir,” said Mr. Philpot.

“I do,” said Josh.

It seemed safe now, so I let go of Mr. Philpot’s little arm, and he took the bills.

“Let me give you the change, sir,” he said.

“Keep the change,” said Josh.

“But it’s fifty dollars,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Buy yourself something nice,” said Josh.

“You are very generous, your excellency,” said Mr. Philpot, and folding up the bills so that they were nearly as small as a postage stamp, he put them into his vest pocket.

“Well, now that we got that out of the way,” said Ben, “how about if we get back to drinking?”

“I could go for a drink,” said Horace.

“Me too,” said Ferdinand.

“And I believe there was talk of hundred-year-old Royal Navy rum?” said Horace, with a tentative smile.

Ben held up his jelly glass of murky liquid.

“That’s right,” he said. “Not bad, either!”

“What do you say, Mr. Philpot?” said Horace. “You going to invite us in, or you gonna leave us standing out here like some poor relations?”

“Well,” said Mr. Philpot, and he turned at me, “Mister – what name are you going by again?”

“Schnabel, I guess,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel.”

Mr. Philpot addressed Horace again:

“Mr. Schnaffler is welcome of course, as is our friend the fly, Theodore –”

“Ferdinand,” said Ferdinand.

They are welcome," went on Mr. Philpot,  "but as for you, Mister Sternwall –”

“Hey, Mr. Philpot,” said Ben, “look – I don’t know Horace here, and I don’t know or really care what kind of problem you had with him, but what I do know is that he seems to be pals with Arnie –”

“Indeed I am,” said Horace. “Very good pals, right Arnold?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

“There you fuckin’ go,” said Ben. “And any pal of Arnie’s is a pal of mine. So, dig, pops, I know it’s your rum and all, but still –”

“Well,” said Mr. Philpot, ”I suppose it’s all right for him to come in then, especially considering Mr. Schnitzler’s special friendship with our dear lord here –”

Josh,” said Josh. “And, look, Mr. Philpot, you know what?" He had put his wallet away, but now he took it out again, and, putting his cigarette in his mouth, he opened it up, and took out some bills. “Here, take this, just because, you know, we’ve been drinking your rum and all –”

Mr. Philpot didn’t hesitate to take the money and quickly count it. I think it was a thousand dollars, all in hundreds. I wondered if Josh had simply made them appear, miraculously,  like loaves and fishes. Did that make them counterfeit? Yes or no, Mr. Philpot folded them up into a tight little wad and stuck them in his vest pocket.

“Well, then,” he said, his ancient face suffused with the glow of satisfied greed, “shall we step inside, gentlemen?”

“Now you’re talking, pops!” said Ben. “Come on in, buddy,” he said to Horace, extending that great hand of his again. “What was your name again?”

“Horace,” said Horace, taking Ben’s hand. “Horace P. Sternwall.”

“Wow," said Ben, "not the Horace P. Sternwall? The writer fella? The guy who wrote Return to Rangoon? Cast Loose the Mainsail, Lads!? Female Slave Ship? Weekend in Shanghai?”

“That’s me, heh heh,” said Horace. You could tell that Ben was squeezing Horace’s writerly uncallused hand too hard by the tight-lipped grimace Horace made.

“I love your stuff, man!” said Ben, giving Horace’s hand another good shake. “You write like a motherfucker, and I don’t care what anybody says!”

“Well, thank you, sir,” said Horace, and finally Ben freed his hand.

“You know why I like your books, Horace?”

“Because of the way I plumb the depths of the human soul?” said Horace with a small smile, massaging his swollen right hand with his left.

“No, fuck that homo shit,” said Ben. “What I like about your books is they have a lot of action, y’know?”

“Oh, action is essential,” said Horace.

“Nobody likes a book where nothing happens and people just stand around talking about nothing,” said Ben, perhaps referring to the one the reader is now reading.

“All right, enough jabbering,” said Ferdinand. “Let’s hit that rum!”

“Okay, little buddy,” said Ben. “Keep your wings on.”

And suddenly, as one, Ben and Horace, Mr. Philpot and Ferdinand headed inside to that keg of rum, and I was starting to follow them when Josh touched my arm and leaned close to me.

“Arnie, a word.”

“Sure, Josh,” I said.

He turned and leaned into the room, putting his hand on the door knob.

“You fellows go ahead! I just want to have a brief chat with Arnold here!”

“Better hurry up, Josh,” yelled Ben, “before we finish the damn keg!”

This modest bon mot produced what seemed an immoderate ripple of laughter from within, in which even the ancient piping tittering of Mr. Philpot could be distinguished.

Smiling, Josh closed the door, and then turned to me, his smile gone. 

He took a drag on his cigarette before speaking.

“I need to talk to you, Arnold,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.

He was looking at me very intently, the way drunk people do.

“I need your help,” he said.

He needed my help.

And here I was hoping he might be able to help me after all. 

But what could I say?

“Sure, Josh,” I said, to the son of God himself. “What can I do for you?”

(Continued here, as we start a whole new volume of Arnold’s adventures!)

(Please scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a rigorously complete listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets are now available to the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual “May Procession Ball”, to be held at the Raymond T. Osmond VFW Post at Chew and Lawrence, in the scenic Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia, musical entertainment to be provided by Gabriel and his Swingin’ Seraphim, with special guest “Magda” on vocals and Hammond B-3 organ. Tickets $10, which price includes unlimited access to Wiener ‘n’ Kraut Smorgasbord and open bar; all proceeds in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Rehabilitation Project. ) 

Friday, April 17, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 436: savior

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companions here on this sultry wet night in Greenwich Village, just outside the Kettle of Fish bar on MacDougal Street...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; click here to return to the barely-remembered misty beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume autobiography.)

“There is the so-called ‘real world’, and then there is that other, that infinitely more rich world: Arnold Schnabel’s world.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Family Circle Literary Supplement.

Missy stared at me, holding the reefer smoke in her lungs, already she was becoming expert, and then, after half a minute or so, with a gentle sighing sound, she released the smoke, in my direction, and once again Ferdinand was hovering there in front of her to breathe in as much of it as he could.

Finally she spoke:

Your world,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

She held out what was left of the reefer to me. Already I forgot that I didn’t want to smoke anymore, and the fact that I had smoked just a minute before probably contributed to my forgetting, so I took it, and, again, “toked”.

“Do you mind if I ask you what that means?” she said. “I mean if I’m not prying.”

I held in the smoke before replying, trying to think of a suitable answer to her question, but before I could think of one Horace took the “roach” from my fingers, and quickly began toking from it himself.

At last I exhaled, and, sure enough there was Ferdinand, just four inches from my mouth, doing his best to make sure that as little as possible of the precious smoke went to waste.

Missy was still staring at me, as was Muriel, both of them smoking their Herbert Tareytons again; Horace still had his cigarette going, so all in all there was a lot of smoking going on.

“Take your time,” said Missy. 

She really was a very pretty girl, despite that one slight blemish on her cheek, the one that Horace hadn’t mentioned in Slaves of Sappho. Her prettiness was just one more impediment to my ability to speak sensibly.

“Oh,” I said, for starters. But then, suddenly I just didn’t feel like going into it all again. “Forget it,” I said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Weirdo,” said Muriel.

“I’ll say!” said Missy.

Now I felt bad. I hate to seem rude.

“It’s just hard to explain,” I said.

“Give it a shot,” said Muriel.

“Okay, it’s like this,” I said. “I come from the real world. This world, however –” I made a truncated waving gesture with my right hand, which felt oddly like someone else’s hand, “you see – it’s a fictional world.”

“Fictional world,” said Missy.

“Yes,” I said. “I know it seems and feels like reality, but it’s a world of – how can I put this – imagination?”

“Imagination,” said Missy.

“So – what,” said Muriel, “you’re saying all this –” and she made a little wave with the hand that held her cigarette –  
“is imaginary?”

I knew I shouldn’t even have started. It’s just not always a good idea to be truthful.

“Um,” I said.

“You’re saying we’re imaginary?”

Now I was in trouble. I glanced at Horace, as if he could help out – after all, these girls were his literary creations – but he was only smiling, tight-lipped, holding in his smoke.

Muriel was still staring at me, waiting for a reply, so was Missy. I could hear Ferdinand giggling.

“I could possibly be mistaken,” I said.

“Oh, brother,” said Muriel. “You are just so high, man!”

Horace laughed now, snorting marijuana smoke through his nostrils. Ferdinand laughed too, and also made tiny snorting and coughing sounds as he bounced around in the smoke.

It was true after all, I was, in beatnik argot, “high”. But as high as I was, I realized there was no point in continuing the present topic of conversation, and, so, smiling as little falsely as I was able, despite the fact that my face felt like a rubber mask, I said, “That’s true, ha ha.”

“In a nutshell,” said Horace, smiling, “Arnie thinks we’re all fictional characters – everybody except for him, that is!”

“Well, that’s just a teeny bit solipsistic,” said Muriel.

“We prefer to speak of Arnie as just being slightly self-absorbed,” said Ferdinand, and if a fly can smile, I think he was smiling. 
“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Sorry for being self-absorbed?” asked Ferdinand.

“Yes,” I said. “And sorry in general.”

“But, really, Arnie,” he went on, “what makes you think your world is any more real than any other world?”

“Well,” I said, and that’s all I said, because I was unable to answer his question.

“Okay, whatever,” said Horace. “Hey, nobody’s perfect. You girls want anymore of this?”  
He held out the half-inch nubbin of reefer that remained.

Missy looked like she was about to respond in the affirmative, raising her small and delicate right hand, but Muriel said, “No, we’re cool, man.”

“Save it for later then,” said Horace, and he put out the 
“roach” by tapping the cinder with his thumb and forefinger.

I confess I was a little annoyed at Horace for not backing me up. After all, if anyone knew that Muriel and Missy were fictional characters it was he. But, if he also was a fictional character, perhaps he just didn’t see anything remarkable in our present situation. He dropped the extinguished roach into his shirt pocket.

“Okay!” he said. “Let’s get some drinks.”

Here we go again, I thought, but I knew I had to be strong, or at least attempt not to be weak.

“Sorry, Horace,” I said. “but, as I said before, I really can’t go in the bar.”

He looked at me, with a sad expression on his face.

“So, like, you’re serious.” 

He really did look disappointed.

“Arnie don’t joke,” said Ferdinand, hovering lazily near my face. George Jessel he is not.”

“I mean, I told you I’m buying, Arnie,” said Horace. “I’ve got money.”

This was true, all that money he had bilked out of senile Mr. Peacock, it must have been burning a hole in his wallet.

“Look, you go, Horace,” I said. “It’s okay.”

“Well, gee, Arnie,” he said.

“Well, tell ya what, boys,” said Muriel. “Thanks for the reefer, but we’re going in.” She turned to Missy. “Ready, darlin’?” 

“Sure!” said Missy, and turning to Horace, she said, “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Steinmetz.” 

“Well, actually,” he said, “it’s –”

“And you, too, Mr. Schwabel,” she said, addressing me, and I didn’t bother even trying to correct her.

“Let’s go, doll,” said Muriel, and taking Missy by the arm, she led her away, over to the nearby entrance of the Kettle of Fish, with its big vertical neon sign in the window saying

in bright glowing yellow and red. Muriel opened the door, and  the laughter and shouting of drunken human beings escaped into the open air, the two girls went in, the door closed behind them, and with them went all but the faint babble of those drunken revelers inside.

Horace turned to me.

“Well, I hope you’re happy now, Arnold. We might have gotten somewhere with those girls.”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand.

“What do you mean, ha ha?” said Horace.

“I mean they’re a couple of lesbos, Horace,” said Ferdinand. “Get real.”

Horace sighed.

“Well, I suppose you have a point. But, still, you never know. I wrote this one book one time, well, it was one of my books published under a nom de plume, Hallie Peterson St. James I think, and anyway, in this book, Lesbian Dawn it’s called, these two girls meet a fellow in a dockside bar, and –”

“Horace,” said Ferdinand. 

“Yes?” said Horace. 

“Dream on.”

Horace shrugged.

“Still, it would have done no harm, just to have a drink or two –”

“Okay,” I said. “Look, I’m going across the street to Mr. Philpot’s shop. If you want to go in the bar, Horace, go ahead, no hard feelings. Same for you, Ferdinand.”

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes?” I said.

“Have I ever abandoned you yet?”

“No,” I said.

“Well, I’m not going to start now.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. I was saying I was sorry a lot. I was sorry a lot. “I appreciate that, Ferdinand.”

I looked at Horace.

“Well, I guess I’m in, too,” he said, but not with any apparent enthusiasm.

“Great,” I said. “Let’s go.”

We turned, finally, to cross MacDougal. A couple of cars came by, and when they had passed I made a little jump over the water in the gutter, and Horace did also. We crossed the street successfully, jumping the gutter water on the other side, and there we were, at the steps leading up to Mr. Philpot’s shop. Light came through the windows, so that was encouraging. We mounted the steps and came to the door. I pressed the button, and the chime sounded from inside.

We waited, Horace and I, and Ferdinand, who was buzzing in a lazy way around our heads.

“Press the button again, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, after a minute.

“No, I’d better not,” I said. “He got mad the last time when I rang more than once.”

“Fuck that old goat,” said Ferdinand. 
But right then the door opened, and there was little round Mr. Philpot, looking the same as the last time I had seen him: the sixty-or-seventy-year-old dark suit, the shirt with a wing collar, the stained old tie (I don’t know if I mentioned the tie before, a wide, scarf-like tie, with a color and design reminiscent of the bottom of a rusty old garbage pail that hasn’t been cleaned properly since the Civil War), the bald head and pince-nez wire-rimmed glasses with horribly magnified old-man’s eyes behind them, bloodshot, the irises the color of wet stale tobacco ash, the pupils dilated and as flat and black as drops of congealed tar. He had his pipe in his hand, the one with a gargoyle carved into the bowl.

“Fuck what old goat?” he said.

“Hello, Mr. Philpot,” I said. “It’s me.”

“You,” he said, and then, looking at Horace, “and you! I thought I had taken care of you, you cheapjack hack.”

“Same old pleasant Mr. Philpot,” said Horace.

“Hi, Mr. Philpot,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, hello,” he said. “Theodore, isn’t it?’

“Close,” said Ferdinand, “Ferdinand.”

“I beg your pardon,” he said.

“May we come in?” I said.

“I thought you went to micturate in the facilities in the rear of my shop,” he said.

“I did,” I said.

“Micturate or go to micturate?”

“Both,” I said.

“Then why are you suddenly appearing at the front door.”

“Um,” I said. “uh – hey, by the way, is my friend Josh still here?”

“Your lord and savior?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Of course he’s here. As is your other friend, the big chap.”

“Ben,” I said. “Big Ben Blagwell.”

“Mariner fellow.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Is that Arnie?” I heard Ben’s bellowing voice from inside, and I have to admit that for once I was glad to hear it.

“Yes!” said Mr. Philpot, over his shoulder. “The fly as well! And some other tramp.”

“Hey, now, wait a minute, Mr. Philpot –” said Horace.

Mr. Philpot pointed the end of his pipe at Horace. 

“You owe me money!” he said. “One hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Oh, I do, do I?” said Horace.

“Yes, you do!” said Mr. Philpot. “A hundred and fifty! Cash!”

“Okay,” said Horace. “Okay. Fine. You want some money? Here. Nobody call me a cheapjack hack.” He took his beat up old wallet out of the back pocket of his old work trousers. “Here. I’ll give you some money, jerk.” He opened the wallet and fingered through the bills in it without taking them out, all the money he had cheated Mr. Peacock out of in that other fictional universe, plus whatever he had already had on him. “Okay, here, I’ll give you seventy-five, that’s half –”

“You owe me a hundred and fifty,” said Mr. Philpot. “Not seventy-five!”

“Oh, come on, Mr. Philpot,” said Horace. “You know I’m good for it. Why do you always have to be such an asshole?”

“Call me an asshole,” said Mr. Philpot. “All right, sonny Jim, you asked for it –”

He started to reach inside his suit jacket, and I was thinking, “Oh, no, not another gun,” but thank God, which I suppose means thank himself, Josh appeared behind Mr. Philpot, towering over him. Josh was only about my height, six feet, but since Mr. Philpot only stood about five foot two, yes, Josh towered over him.

Arnold,” he said, smiling. He too looked as he had looked the last time I had seen him. The wrinkled and soiled blue suit, the loosened tie, the straw trilby hat, the blackened eye and bruised cheekbone, and as usual he had a lit cigarette in his hand. “Where the heck have you been? I thought you went to take a pee.”

I sighed.

“It’s a long story,” I said.

(Continued here, and onward; an army of Schnabelists would have it no other way.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand side of this page to find a listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Click here to follow Arnold’s adventures your Kindle™ at a laughably nominal fee and never miss a single exciting episode!)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 435: hero

Once again our hero Arnold Schnabel has triumphed over his old nemesis the prince of darkness, here on this hot wet night in old Greenwich Village... 

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; curious newcomers with lots of free time on their hands may go here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume masterpiece.)

“Arnold Schnabel has been called ‘the American Proust’, ‘the workingman’s James Joyce’, ‘the less-neurotic Kafka’, even ‘the kindler, gentler Samuel Beckett’, but I think it is enough to say that he was quite simply, quite complicatedly, and quite magnificently: Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Olney Community College Literary Quarterly.

“Wow,” said Ferdinand, the first one to speak. “That was intense.”

“I’ll say,” said Horace. 

“Have I really gone mad?” said Missy.

“Well, honey,” said Muriel, “if you’ve gone cuckoo then I have too.”

“But –” said Missy, “was that man who I think he was?”

“It was him,” said Muriel. “Old Jack Scratch himself.”

“Actually,” I said, unable as most men are to resist an opportunity to show off, “Jack Scratch is one of his sort of subordinate demons. But this was –” I waved a hand at the space that Nicky had occupied on the pavement – ”the prince of darkness himself.”

“An old friend of yours?” said Muriel.

“We’ve had quite a few encounters I’m afraid,” I said, not meaning to brag, but it was only the truth.

“Wow, Arnie,” said Horace, “I’m really impressed. This is a whole new side of you.”

“I've said it before, I'll say it again," said Ferdinand. "Arnie is in no way, shape, or form a ham-and-egger.”

“Obviously not,” said Horace.

“You’re smart, you know what you should do, Horace?” said Ferdinand

“Well, I’m not very smart, heh heh,” he said. “But what should I do, Ferdy?”

“You oughta make Arnie the hero of your next book.”

“Y’know, that’s not a bad idea,” said Horace, after just a very slight hesitation. He had thrown away his latest cigarette sometime in the past several minutes, and now he reached into his side jacket pocket and produced a fresh one. I’m not sure, but I think these were Herbert Tareytons that he had stolen from the cigarette box in the parlour of the Stop-Rite Inn, in that other fictional universe we had somehow escaped from, into this one. “Maybe not a bad idea at all,” he said, tapping the cigarette on the base of his thumb. “Maybe even make him the hero of a series, like you know, John Carter of Mars. Or Doc Savage.”

“Big money in those kinds of books,” said Ferdinand.

“I could even write you in there, Ferdinand,” said Horace, with a smile. He lit his cigarette with a paper match from a Lily’s Road House book of matches. “Arnold’s faithful wisecracking sidekick.”

“Just spell my name right,” said Ferdinand.

While the above nonsense was being spoken I had noticed something strange on the sidewalk near my feet, something narrow and black and tapered, and I realized it was Nicky’s cigarette holder, still with a burning butt of a cigarette in it. I didn’t know why, and I still don’t, but I bent over to pick it up. Performing this simple act felt like I was reaching down into another universe, yet another one, but at last my fingers reached the holder and picked it up, and my torso began its slow ascent into what felt like the stratosphere, or perhaps the ionosphere, not that I know what those words mean, but suffice it to say that the upper part of my body was rising way, way, up, even though my hips and legs and feet remained anchored to the sidewalk, and as I stared down at the miles of empty space expanding between my eyes and the concrete paving below I became overcome by vertigo, which caused me to stumble forward as if I had been given a good hard kick in the backside, but Horace grabbed me by the arm to keep me from falling.

“Easy there, champ,” he said.

“I think I need to sit down,” I said, the words seeming to float up into the humid lamplit air, drifting up into the dark sky above.

“Sure, pal,” said Horace. “We’ll just get you over to the Kettle, sit you right down, get a shot and a beer inside you, you’ll be fine.” 

He tugged on my arm, but I was busy staring at Nicky’s cigarette holder, holding it between my thumb and finger in front of my face. With my other hand I picked the lit butt out of it. It was a Pall Mall, my old brand. I flicked the butt into the gutter, it hissed and died in the rainwater and then floated away.

“You gonna keep that holder?” Arnie, said Horace. I was still staring at it. It was made out of some highly polished gleaming black substance. Ebony? What was ebony, anyway? “It is a nice piece,” said Horace. “If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.”

“You would put that thing in your mouth,” said Muriel, “after the devil himself been smoking it?”

“Well,” said Horace, “now that you put it that way –”

I noticed that Muriel and Missy were now also smoking fresh cigarettes. I envied them, just as I envied all the smokers in the world. Sure, cigarettes caused cancer and emphysema, but they also gave you something relaxing to do in awkward moments like this, after the living personification of all evil has been vanquished.

“So, uh, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around near my ear, “what do you say, pal? Kettle of Fish? Whiskey and beer?”

I was holding the holder closer to my eyes, trying to get it into the light from the nearest streetlamp. I know this is sounding weird but I was fascinated by its gleaming blackness, which seemed not to reflect the streetlight, but, rather, into which the light from the streetlamp fell, into yet another universe, a universe of darkness contained in this narrow shiny tapered black cylinder.

“Arnie,” said Horace, tugging on my arm again. “What do you say, pal?”

“He’s transfixed,” said Muriel.

“By the devil’s cigarette holder,” said Missy.

The Devil’s Cigarette Holder,” said Horace. “I like that. Do you mind if I steal it for a title for a story or novel?”

“I don’t mind,” said Missy.

“Hey, Horace," said Ferdinand, "maybe you can make that the title of the first novel of your Arnold saga, The Devil’s Cigarette Holder?”

“It’s got a ring to it, that’s for sure,” said Horace.

I was barely paying attention to any of this, and I’m surprised I even remember it, I was so busy being, as Missy had said, transfixed, by this cigarette holder, and the dark universe somehow contained in it, or visible through it, I couldn’t be quite sure which at this point.

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand, right in my ear. “Let’s go, buddy. You’re being weird.”

“But it’s a whole other universe,” I said. “You can see it in the cigarette holder.”

“Great, Arnie,” he said. “Another universe. Just what we need. Now throw that thing away.”

“No, really,” I said. “Look at it, Ferdinand. Just look at this holder and tell me if you don’t see another universe in it.”

“Okay, fine,” he said. “Hold it still.”

“Okay,” I said, and I did, holding it horizontally a few inches from my eyes.

Ferdinand flew over to the holder and landed on it.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m looking. All I see is the shiny black surface of a nice cigarette lighter, bakelite probably.”

“Not ebony?” I said.

He bent his little head down, and I think he actually licked the surface of the lighter.

“Bakelite,” he said. “Good quality, but still.”

“And you don’t see another universe?”

“Arnie,” he said.

“Yes?” I said.

“You have just consumed a fair amount of laudanum. Am I right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Laudanum mixed with Old Forester? Kentucky bourbon?”

“True,” I said.

“Plus you were already drinking a lot earlier tonight.”

“I guess so,” I said.

“A fair amount,” he said. “Not that I am throwing stones, God forbid, I like to drink myself, as you well know. But you have been drinking.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“A fair amount.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Oh, and also, not so long ago, if I recall correctly you drank down a mug of bock laced with ambrosia, the fabled nectar of the gods.”

“Right,” I said, “I almost forgot about that.”
“Oh, and plus, my friend, you have been smoking reefer quite recently.”

“That’s true, too,” I said, deciding not to mention the LSD I had unwittingly taken earlier that day.

“Wait,” said Muriel, “you fellas have some reefer?”

“Arnie,” said Horace, “you still have that joint from earlier?

“Joint?” I said.

“Yes, joint, reefer,” he said. “Check your pockets.”

Suddenly it all came back to me. I shifted the devil’s cigarette holder from my right hand to my left, and then thrust my fingers into my shirt pocket. Sure enough, I brought out a half-smoked reefer, the one Horace had stolen from the glove compartment of Big Lou’s pink Cadillac earlier this evening or a couple of months ago.

“Cool!” said Horace. “Hand it over, buddy!”

I handed him the reefer.

“Fire that baby up, big guy,” said Ferdinand, flying up off the cigarette holder and buzzing merrily around.

“What do you say, ladies?” said Horace.

“What the hell,” said Muriel.

“Gee,” said Missy, “right out here on the sidewalk?”

“Ain’t no one around, honey,” said Muriel. “Like the little guy says, Horace: fire it up.”

“You first, dear lady,” said Horace, and he gallantly handed the reefer to Muriel.

Meanwhile, back in my own little world, I was still fascinated by Nicky’s cigarette holder, even if it had seemed nothing unusual to Ferdinand. I had one of my little brainwaves, and decided to look into its mouthpiece, just to see what I might see inside it, or through it. 

And so I held the holder’s thinner end up near my eye, tilted up toward the streetlight, and I peered into that tiny flared opening.

I could see the earth in it, or through it, and this didn’t surprise me at all.

I closed my one eye and squinted the other one, concentrating, and I saw the earth growing larger and larger, as if I were looking out of the front window of a space capsule falling to the earth. I saw the Atlantic ocean and deliberately tried to veer to the left, and within a matter of a half a second I saw peeking through a mass of clouds the coast of New Jersey, and I angled south, diving below a thick blanket of grey clouds, and within another half-second I was over Cape May on a rainy day and then right above Jackson Street and slowing down and gliding through an open second-floor window, and there, lying in that disordered bed in that comfortably messy room, was Elektra, lying on her side under just a white sheet, her tanned smooth shoulder bare, her dark thick hair covering most of her face, but not her mouth, which was slightly open, or her eyes, which were closed. I stayed there like that for a moment, just looking at her. It was not dark out, so she must have been taking a nap after work on this hot rainy day. It had been so long, so long in my time if not hers, since I had been with her. I could smell the warmth of her body, it reminded me of the smell inside the saltwater taffy place on the boardwalk, and I could hear the sound of the rain outside and the swishing sound the tires of a passing car made in the street, and just barely I could hear Elektra’s breathing, or I imagined I could. I wished I could be in this room with her, in this bed, but unfortunately I was in another universe, as I was reminded of definitively by Ferdinand’s voice saying:

“Arnie, snap the fuck out of it.”

And I was back in the – I was almost about to say “real world” – well, it was real enough at the moment.

Horace was holding the lit reefer out to me, and Ferdinand was hovering above it, in its little wavy plume of smoke.

I lowered the holder and dropped it into the inside pocket of my seersucker jacket, I don’t know why I did this instead of just throwing it away, but that’s what I did.

“Come on, Arnie,” said Horace. “You’re letting good weed go up in smoke.”

“Sorry,” I said.

I took the reefer, put it to my lips, and (as my beatnik friends termed it) “took a toke”, or several tokes, and as I held in the smoke I realized this was probably if not the last thing I should be doing, then at least not something I should be doing, but it was too late, the smoke was already in my lungs.

“Shotgun me, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, and after taking a few seconds to remember what he meant by this, I gently exhaled the smoke into the tiny lungs of my friend the fly, who was hovering only inches from my mouth.

“Okay,” said Horace, and he picked the reefer, now considerably smaller, out of my hand. “One more round from this baby, and we’ll head into the Kettle.”

He took a  good long “toke”, then handed the “roach” to Muriel.

“Oh, listen –” I said.

“What?” said Horace, holding in the smoke. He still held the lit Herbert Tareyton in one hand. He certainly was out for the gusto.

“Listen,” I said, “I really can’t go into the – what’s it called?”

“Kettle of Fish,” said Ferdinand, hovering in front of Horace’s face, waiting for him to exhale.

“Kettle of Fish,” I said. “I can’t go in because I have to try to get back to my, uh, world.”

“Your ‘world’?” said Muriel, also holding in her breath, and passing the truncated reefer to Missy.

“Yes,” I said.

Finally Horace exhaled the smoke in his lungs, and Ferdinand danced happily around in it.

“What world are you from?” said Missy, toking on the reefer, as Muriel exhaled her lungful of smoke, with Ferdinand quickly diving over to catch as much of it as he could.

I considered Missy’s question before answering it. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, even if they were fictional characters.

“I just like to think if it as ‘my world’,” I said.

(Continued here, boldly going where no former railroad brakeman has dared go before.)

(Please scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, some of which are quite enjoyable on their own. Klick here to follow Arnold’s adventures as they unfold on your Kindle™ at a nominal fee; all proceeds in aid of The Arnold Schnabel Society’s Arnold Schnabel Appreciation Project!) 

Friday, April 3, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 434: dissolved

Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel here on a wet sultry night in Greenwich Village, where he has once again encountered an old nemesis… 

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you have finally given up hope of ever finding gainful employment for the rest of your life and are looking for ways to fill your time as a ward of the state, then click here to go back to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume autobiography.)

“Yes, it is Passover, and also Easter weekend, but for fools such as I who profess no formal religion there is always that God of Literature called Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Journal of the American Medical Association Literary Supplement.

For a few moments, and they seemed like very long moments, no one said anything.

Nicky looked at the gun in my hand, then he looked into my eyes. He looked very surprised.

Yes, never a dull moment in my world, or whatever other world I happened to be in.

The only notable sound to be heard was that muted babbling of  drunken human beings coming from behind the closed door of the Kettle of Fish. Even Ferdinand was quiet and not even buzzing.

The pistol felt cool and heavy in my hand. It had a smooth wooden grip. I had never in my life fired or even held a revolver, although I had spent one morning in the army practicing with a service .45 on the firing range, and barely ever hitting the target. But Nicky was only a few feet away from me; it would be almost impossible even for me to miss him if I pulled the trigger. Then I wondered if this was one of those pistols you had to cock before firing; I had no idea, and so with my left hand I pulled the hammer back and it stayed in that position. Nicky actually flinched as I did this, and finally he spoke.

What?” he said.

I didn’t know what to say. I had nothing to say, really. And so I said:


Because of the laudanum I had just swilled, that and all the booze I had been drinking for much of what seemed these fifty-one months since I had last slept, not to mention the LSD and the ambrosia-infused bock I had consumed and the marijuana I had smoked– and maybe also just because I was I – I felt oddly removed from the pistol in my hand, as if it were floating in the air and I was reaching out and holding onto it, keeping it from floating away.

“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?” said Nicky, after an unsmiling pause. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing pointing a gun at me?”

I didn’t know what I was doing, but I improvised.

“I’m going to shoot you,” I said, “unless you go away.”

Me,” he said. 

“Yes,” I said.

You’re going to shoot me.”

“Right,” I said. “Unless you go away. Like, right now.”

I sounded to myself as if someone else were speaking through my mouth, Dan Duryea maybe.

“I don’t believe this,” said Nicky, after another slight pause, and he smiled, but not very convincingly. “You, threatening me.”

“I probably should just go ahead and shoot you anyway,” I said. “Since you don’t seem to know how to keep away from me.”

“Oh, don’t flatter yourself, buddy-boy,” he said. “You’re not so special. Just because you think you’re such great friends with you know who –”

“I’ll count to three,” I said.

“Oh, please!” he said. “Start counting! By all means!”

And again he forced that false-looking smile. To be frank, I had no idea if shooting him would do any good, or even if I would have the courage, or be insane enough, to shoot him, but I had nothing to lose if I pulled the trigger, everything to lose if I did nothing, so I started counting.

“One,” I said.

“Hey, Arnold,” said Horace. “Listen, I know you’re a little upset, and I understand that, I’m a little bit upset too, I mean no writer likes to be told that his life’s work is ‘trash’, but, look, maybe you should put that thing away.”

“Shut up, Horace,” spoke up Ferdinand. “Stop being such a coward.”

“That’s right, Horace,” said Muriel. “This is Mr. Schnatzel’s play.”

“Schnabel,” I said.

“Whatever,” said Muriel.

“Oh, my God,” was all that Missy said, and I saw Nicky flinch as she said it, even more so than when I had cocked the pistol, but he seemed to recover quickly.

“Okay!” he said, speaking to me. “No need to count! Just pull the trigger, tough guy. Go ahead, shoot!”

“Do it, Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, jeeze,” said Horace.

“Oh, boy,” said Muriel. “You want my advice, Mr. what was it?”

“Schnabel?” I said.

“You want my advice? You’re gonna shoot him, do it right where you’re aimin’, right at his heart. My granddaddy always says, you’re gonna shoot a man, don’t go half-measures, do it right and aim for the heart.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I extended my arm, trying to remember what that sergeant had taught me about the correct way to aim and shoot a pistol, all those years ago, when all I wanted to do was get it over with and go back to my bunk and read a cheap novel about a man caught in a deadly whirlpool of evil in peace. Something about aligning the pistol barrel with my forearm, pointing the barrel just as I would a finger at the target, in this case the breast pocket of Nicky’s shimmering grey suit, out of which a blazingly white handkerchief peeked in a perfect puff-fold.

I started to squeeze the trigger. “Slow, hard and easy,” I remember the sergeant saying, “just like you was squeezin’ your own pecker.”

“Oh my God!” yelled Missy, almost in a shriek, and once again Nicky flinched, almost violently this time.

“Stop that!” said Nicky, addressing not me, who was just about to shoot him, but Missy.

“Stop what?” she said.

“Stop saying that!”

“Stop saying what, you weirdo?” she said.

“Stop saying ‘Oh my you-know-what’!”

“You mean ‘Oh my God’?" she said.

He flinched again, even more so this time.

“Yes!” he almost shrieked himself. “Stop saying that, you silly little bitch!”

“Oh – my – God!” she said. “How’s that, you creepy man! Oh my God! Oh my God!

Each time she said the phrase Nicky flinched again. He dropped his cigarette holder and raised up both his hands as if to ward off physical blows.

“Ha ha!” said Muriel. “Hey, buddy, how’s this? Oh! My! God!

The last three words seemed to hit Nicky like three quick right hooks to the ear from Joey Giardello, and now he staggered back a step.

“Ha ha!” said Ferdinand, and diving toward Nicky’s face he yelled, “Hey, asswipe – oh my God!

Nicky staggered backwards again, stepping off the curb and into the stream of rainwater flowing in the gutter, swiping his hands in the air as Ferdinand zoomed right at his face and then at the absolute last millisecond pulled up in another of his perfectly executed Immelman turns, then looped the loop once, twice and then once again, all the while cackling and yelling “Oh my God”, loudly, several more times.

Oh my God,” said Horace, I think not trying to discomfit Nicky but just as a genuine reaction to what was happening.

And then Nicky collapsed to his knees, in the running dark water in the gutter, holding his hands over his ears, his face whiter than the perfect white of his shirt and his pocket handkerchief, his gleaming black hair falling over his eyes, which were shut tight, with tears oozing from under their purple lids, and these tears were bright red, as red as blood if not blood. His lips were pressed tight together but he emitted a high keening sound, and his entire body trembled as if an electric current were passing through it.

“Finish him, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Put one right between his eyes.”

“I don’t think I’ll need to do that,” I said.

I lowered the gun, and with my left hand again I carefully lowered the hammer, then put the pistol back in the side pocket of my seersucker jacket.

I took a few steps closer to Nicky, to where he knelt in the gutter, his hands over his ears, trembling and keening.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, very plainly and clearly.

Nicky reacted as if I had just kicked him in the face, his head snapping back, and then he fell forward, but broke his fall with both hands in the gutter water, and he stopped like that, on all fours, gasping as if he were choking, and then vomiting blood, what must have been a quart of blood, which splashed steaming into the gutter water and then flowed away.

He raised his head, and looked at me with blood oozing from his mouth and nose, those tears of blood streaming from his eyes, and in the blackness of those eyes I saw what I knew to be hell.

Fuck you,” he said, in a rasping voice, almost a whisper. “And Him!”

“Jesus Christ,” I said again.

And Nicky fell over on his side in the streaming water.

“Asshole!” he managed to say, lifting his bloody mouth out of the dirty water.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, one more time, and then, for good measure, “also God the father and the holy ghost.”

And with that he dissolved, just like that, his entire self, shimmering grey suit and all, dissolving into the flowing gutter water in a cloud of steam which quickly faded away into the night, and the dirty water flowed on, looking for a sewer, taking with it the liquefied remains of the prince of darkness.

He was gone. 

At least for now he was gone.

Somehow I knew he would be back, he always did seem to come back, and maybe next time it wouldn’t be so easy to get rid of him. But I couldn’t worry about that now.

I had things to do, and I was still a long way from home.

(Continued here, because from the moment we started it was already too late to stop.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a reasonably-often-updated listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets still available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Walking Tour of Arnold Schnabel’s Old New York, featuring a “Kielbasa ‘n’ Kraut” Dinner at Bob’s Bowery Bar© at Bleecker and the Bowery. All Profits in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s “Arnold Schnabel Appreciation Project”.)