Let’s return to a certain hot and rainy night in 1957 and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel as he is being pulled toward the exit of Bob’s Bowery Bar by the drunken and amorous Emily…
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“It has become fashionable amongst the chattering littérateurs of today to refer to Arnold Schnabel as ‘the American Proust’ – but would it not be more à propos to deem Proust ‘the French Arnold Schnabel’ – ‘avant le lettre’, bien sûr?” – Harold Bloom, in the Cape May Star & Wave Literary Supplement.
In a matter of seconds we were at the door, and, keeping my right arm clamped tightly in her left, Emily pushed it open with her free hand.
Outside the downpour continued unabated, or, if it had abated, it had begun again.
“Oh, well,” I said, “looks like it’s still raining pretty hard,” as if Emily were blind, although even if she were blind she couldn’t have mistaken the multifarious crashings and clatterings of that downpour, like billions of ball-bearings being dumped from the skies by an angry or maybe just bored god.
After staring out at the tempest for half a minute she turned her head and looked up at me.
“Just think how romantic it will be to walk arm-in-arm in the rain.”
“But we could catch our death,” I said, not hesitating to dredge up any boring cliché at all which might have the slightest chance of helping me escape from her clutches.
“Yes,” she said, after a pause which might have been meant to be dramatic, but which might also have been just a plain ordinary drunken pause, and with a genuine glint in her eyes, no doubt from the light of the streetlamp, “but what a grand way to die! What a splendid way to die!”
She had suddenly lost her southern accent, and now she was speaking in that sort of English accent she sometimes used.
“I wouldn’t mind if I died,” I said, after a pause which I hoped might seem dramatic, but during which I was actually trying to think of a plausible lie, “but you, Emily, you are too young to die. You have all your, like, life ahead of you.”
Now it was her turn to pause again, and after a full minute, during which her eyes almost closed, but then popped suddenly open, she said, “Come on, cut the shit, Porter, you only live right round the corner.”
That was a fact I had forgotten. In fact my apartment was probably right above where we now stood.
“You sure you don’t want to wait until the rain stops?” I said, trying to hide my desperation.
“Fuck that shit,” she said. “We’ll dash around ever so quick and be there in a mo.”
“Well, it’ll take more than a mo,” I said.
“Don’t cavil with me, Porter,” she said. “If not a mo, then a trice – and, anyway, look at you, you’re already soaked. Now come on, I’m getting the distinct notion, dear boy, that you do not want to invite me up to your digs.”
And with that she gave my arm a good strong yank, trying to pull me through the open doorway, but I held my ground, if barely.
“Emily,” I said, “do you remember when I recited that jazz poem at the Kettle of Fish I think it was?”
“Yes, and I thought you were marvelous, darling, even if you did start to lose your audience just a teensy bit towards the end there.”
“Yeah, well, remember the part about how I come from a faraway land, called my mind?”
“Yes, lovely,” she said, but with no apparent enthusiasm.
“And I think I mentioned how the prince of darkness had transformed me into an absurd character in a stupid novel I was reading?”
“A charmingly fantastic conceit, maybe not your best work, no, not by a long shot, my dear, but not even Hart Crane hit a home run every time he stepped up to the plate.”
“But what if I told you that I actually do come from another world, a world I think of as, well, ‘reality’?”
“Ha ha, you slay me, Porter.”
“But, Emily,” I said, “what if I told you that all this –” I waved a hand with a halfhearted outward sweep, “all of this really is a fictional universe. What if none of it is really real.”
“Ho ho. You absolute card, Porter.”
“What if I were to tell you that I am in real life a railroad brakeman on a mental disability leave, named Arnold Schnabel, and I have been wandering around for what seems like years in this fictional universe in which it is my fate to inhabit the corporeal form of the ‘romantic bohemian poet’ Porter Walker.”
“And what if you were to tell me all that?” she said.
“Well, that is what I’m telling you,” I said. “My real name is in fact ‘Arnold Schnabel’, and all I really want to do is to return to my own world, which, at least to me, is the real world.”
“And so, in other words, you are saying you are suffering from rather a severe case of certifiable insanity?” she said.
“Well, I know it all sounds insane,” I said. “But it’s the truth.”
“And I believe, dear boy, that for you it is indeed the truth. You mad, dear, precious poet. Take me up to your pad now.”
“But, wait, in this other world, the ‘real world’ –”
“Your ‘real world’.”
“Okay, ‘my’ real world – anyway, in that world I have a girlfriend.”
“Oh, you do, do you? And what is her name?”
“Well, she’s called Elektra.”
“And what kind of a stupid name is that?”
“Okay, her real name is Betsy.”
“That’s more like it. Now, is there any other fantastic rubbish you want to tell me or can we cut the shit, run up to your place and get down to business?”
“Um, well,” I didn’t know what to say – nothing was working anyway; for some reason I tried, “the son of God is back there in the bar.”
“Yes, except I know him as Josh.”
“Charming. And tell me, old bean, what is it like to have such a creative mind?”
“But I’m not creative. It’s all true.”
She was facing me now, standing very close to me, her fingers stroking the damp and dirty material of my seersucker jacket.
“May I ask you a personal question, Porter?”
“Have you taken LSD today? And please be honest now.”
I looked away.
“You have,” she said. “Haven’t you?”
“Well, yes,” I said. “But really, that has no bearing on anything I have just told you.”
“Ha ha. How charmingly risible. But this is why I like you, Porter. You’re just not like all the other chaps, are you?”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” I said. “But, but –”
“But what, darling?”
“I haven’t told you even one one-thousandth, one one-millionth of what I have gone through, the different worlds I have visited, including, yes, the next world, and all the adventures I have had with both the living and the dead, or the fact that I have a friend named Ferdinand, who is a talking fly –”
To be honest I didn’t mind stopping. I had already begun to bore myself.
“Porter, I want you to feel something. Do you mind?”
“I’m not sure if I will mind or not,” I said. “But I expect that I will.”
“Go ahead and mind then. This is what I want you to feel.”
And with that she put her hand on my organ of supposed procreation, not that I had ever used it for procreative purposes. Or rather she put her hand on the crotch of my jeans within which was said organ.
“Oh,” I said.
“Does that feel fictional?” she said.
“No,” I said.
“I knew you were a wild rover, Porter. A bold bohemian boy, untrammeled by the mores of the American middle-class. You are a wild young stallion, not meant to be tamed. And yet still, nonetheless, and indeed perhaps because, I want you to take me up to your poet’s garret now and make savage love to me.”
She gave me, or that part of me, a squeeze, and despite myself it started to grow.
“Um,” I said.
“And, the great spirit of the earth-mother willing, you will, tonight, put me in the family way.”
“I hope you’ll make me pregnant tonight, old chap.”
“Hey, now, hold on, Emily.”
She took her hand away from my organ of despair at last, and now she began playing with the knot of my tie.
“What? Are you afraid?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Be afraid then,” she said. “I shall be courageous enough for the both of us!”
With that she put her arms around my neck, her heavy hard purse banging painfully on my spine as she did so, and she pulled my head down and kissed me.
While she was kissing me I decided to go to my last resource: I prayed.
“Josh,” I prayed, “I hope you’re still in this bar, and if you are, and if you can hear me, please, I really need your help. If you help me out now I promise never to ask you for anything ever again.”
“Arnold, is that you?” said Josh, in my head.
“Yes!” I shouted, silently, as Emily forced her tongue against mine.
“What’s up, buddy? Where are you?”
“I’m here, at the front door of the bar.”
“Of this bar? What’s it called?”
“Bob’s Bowery Bar.”
“Bob’s, yes, Bowery Bar, of course. So come on in, pal, we’re having a great time!”
“Well, that’s why I’m praying to you, actually, Josh.”
“Oh, this is a prayer?”
“Yes,” I said. “You see, I need your help.”
“Yes,” I said. “I mean if you don’t mind.”
“Okay,” he said, in my brain, “Arnold, may I be frank?”
“Of course,” I said, thought, prayed as Emily shoved me roughly back against the door jamb.
“The thing is, Arnold,” Josh went on, “that I, or we – my father, H.G., and I – you remember H.G. –”
“Sure,” I said.
“Better known as the holy ghost, or holy spirit as they’re calling him nowadays, but, you know, I always think of him as H.G. –”
“I forget what I was saying –”
“What was the last thing you said? Maybe that will, you know, help me get back onto my train of – whatever –”
“Thought,” I said.
“My train of thought. What were we talking about?”
“I was saying that I was praying to you for help.”
“Oh, right, well, here’s the thing you humans always get wrong, I mean if I may be perhaps brutally frank. May I?”
“Praying to us for something doesn’t mean shit.”
“You can pray all night and all day, but, sorry, don’t expect to get any help from us just through prayer.”
“Oh, okay,” I said.
“Not saying we won’t help you out if we feel like it. And I think I have helped you out here and there, Arnold, if I may say so.”
“I know you have, Josh. And I really, you know, appreciate it –”
“But the thing is, Arnold, you really can’t just expect me to help you out every single time you have a problem.”
“It just doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry.”
“Well, never mind then,” I said.
“Okay, then, and I hope there’s no hard feelings.”
“No, not at all, Josh,” I said. “I realize now how presumptuous I was being.”
“But just out of curiosity, what is your problem this time?”
“Oh, it’s nothing important,” I said.
“So, like, not as important as all the millions of babies being born into abject poverty all the time. Not as important as warfare, disease, earthquakes.”
“No, not as important as those things.”
“Erupting volcanoes. Tidal waves. Forest fires.”
“No,” I said. “It’s really of no importance at all.”
“But just, again, out of curiosity, you know, what is it?”
“You can’t see me?”
“The all-seeing eye thing?”
“No, Arnold, I’m really trying not to do that sort of thing. I told you, I’m attempting to be a regular human. Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t even be talking to you telepathically this way, but, you know, I consider you my friend, so I’m giving you a little leeway here. So, anyway, what’s the big problem? The big problem this time.”
“Okay,” I said. “Do you remember the girl who’s the heroine of the stupid novel whose universe I am stuck in –”
“Yes, Emily! Of course, what about her?”
“She’s kissing me right now, and also she’s caressing my, uh, you know –”
“Organ of procreation?”
“So it sounds to me like you don’t need any help at all, buddy.”
“No, you don’t understand, Josh, she wants me to take her up to my apartment –”
“And – I don’t want to take her up to my apartment.”
“She’s a very pretty girl, as I recall. Looks kind of like Natalie Wood, right?”
“Yes, I guess so, but –”
“So I don’t really see what the problem is.”
“Well, you see, she’s – she’s extremely drunk, and –”
“Yes, really drunk.”
“Like, what – hammered?”
“Oh. I get it.”
“Yes,” he said. “And, just – wow.”
“You really are a gentleman, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know about that, Josh, but I just don’t want to, you know –”
“Commit the act of darkness with her. In her present state.”
“Well, to be honest, I –”
“Arnold, I am so impressed with you right now.”
“I am. And I’m beginning to wonder if maybe – just maybe – you really are a living saint?”
“Look, Josh, I’m no saint. I just want to escape from this girl, and then, if possible, find a way to get back to my own world.”
“Wow. Again. Okay. You know what, Arnold?”
“Is she still kissing you?”
“Still caressing your, you know –”
“Okay, what I want you to do is put your arms around her.”
“Do I have to?”
“Please, Arnold, I’m trying to help you.”
I had been holding my arms stiffly down at my side, but now I put them around Emily’s waist.
“Do you have your arms around her?”
“Now hold her tight, really tight.”
“Okay,” I said, thought, communicated telepathically, and I squeezed her body close to mine, notably against my pulsing erection.
“Oh, Porter,” she said, finally drawing her mouth away from mine. “You make me swoon when you squeeze me like that!”
And then she did swoon, in my arms, her head drooping to the side to loll just above her shoulder, her arms limp, her legs giving way. Her purse, which had been hanging by its strap over one of her arms slipped down and landed with a thump on my foot. I could easily have just let Emily herself slip to the floor, but I suppose I was too much the gentleman to do that, so I held her up.
“Did it work?” said Josh.
“If you mean did she pass out, yes,” I said.
“Well, there, you see, I haven’t completely lost my touch, have I?”
“No,” I said. “Thanks. I really appreciate it, Josh.”
“My pleasure. Now get on over here.”
“Okay,” I said.
Now all I had to do was find a good place to put Emily’s unconscious body. I thought of asking Josh for help, but then I remembered that I had promised never to ask him for his help again, and I didn't want to press my luck.
(Continued here, and on into the new year, and, as new caches of Arnold’s neatly handwritten marble copybooks continue to be discovered, no one at this point can say how many more years beyond.)
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