Let us return to this fateful August night in 1957 and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the Bacchanalian confines of Bob’s Bowery Bar…
(Kindly go here to read our immediately preceding thrilling episode; students of “outsider” literature may click here to start at the somewhat tentative first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 73-volume memoir.)
“And how did I fare during the recent blizzard? Quite well, thank you – having spent the entire day and evening sitting by a crackling fire, with my meerschaum to hand, as well as a constantly refilled steaming mug of cocoa prepared with Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup, and – snuggled in the thick Navajo blanket draped over my lap – a volume of Arnold Schnabel’s towering chef-d'œuvre!” – Harold Bloom, host of Fox’s U-bet Presents Harold Bloom’s “The Arnold Schnabel Television Theatre”, Tuesdays at 10pm (EST), exclusively on the Dumont Television Network.
“Wait a minute,” said Bert. “Before we make our move, let me just ask you, do you have to wear that purse over your shoulder? Because I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but you really do look like a faggot.”
“No ‘buts’. Just take the fucking thing off and drape it around the Jane’s neck, crosswise, so it don’t fall off.”
“Okay,” I said, humbly, and I did as I was told, an operation which took no more than a minute.
“All right,” said Bert. He still had Emily’s right arm draped over his narrow shoulders, gripping her wrist with his left hand, his umbrella in his right hand, and I had my right arm around her waist. “Now. Are we ready?”
“I’ve been ready, Bert.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“Don’t get smart with me, Arnold. I’m here to help you, remember?”
“Right, sorry,” I said, as usual just trying to move things along. “Let’s go.”
“Okay,” he said. “On the count of three, all right?”
“Can’t we just go now?”
“No, we can’t just go now. We’re gonna go on the count of three. I mean if that’s all right with you.”
“Sure,” I said. “Count of three.”
“Okay, then. Now, when I say three, we go. Not a little before, not a little bit after. But right on three. You got it?”
“I think so.”
“So what do we go on?”
“Don’t fuck with me, Arnold.”
“On three,” I said.
“That is correct.”
Emily remained unconscious through all this. She was lucky.
“All right,” said Bert. “Here goes.”
But instead of starting the count he turned and stared out into that mob of thrashing drunkards, I suppose just getting the lay of the land, but still I wanted to let out a great keening whine of despair, and, believe me, it took every ounce of my willpower not to.
He turned to face me again, that little cigar still in his teeth, or dentures.
“On three,” he said.
“Right,” I said, “three,” holding back everything I wanted to say and scream.
“One!” shouted Bert, at last. “Two! And – three!”
And, with his umbrella raised high and threateningly, off the little guardian angel plunged into that sweating churning reeking mob, plowing sideways, pulling Emily’s dead weight along with him, and me with her, and, as various drunks shoved and flailed against us my hand slipped upward until despite myself I was perforce holding Emily up with my hand directly under her right breast.
At first we made some slight progress, perhaps going as far even as three or four feet in only two minutes or less, but then we came to a standstill, or rather, we came to a halt but we were not standing still, buffeted front and back by this pungent hot mass of people behaving as if they were all in the throes of delirium tremens, and, now that I think about it, that might well have been the case.
I kept my arm firmly around Emily’s ribcage, and my hand was now tightly gripping her right breast, but, I hasten to emphasize, not in a lustful fashion but only because that was simply where my hand somehow wound up as I attempted to do my bit in preventing her from falling to the floor where she might well have been trampled if not to death, then quite possibly to the point of hospitalization. Faces loomed up against mine, male and female, leering, wide-eyed, shouting and laughing, and human bodies pressed and rubbed against mine, front and back and against my exposed left flank. My physical and moral discomfort was not decreased by the fact that my erection – aided and abetted by the body parts pressing and rubbing against it, and by the female breast I held in my hand – had by now regained its fullest tumescence.
The loud music continued, above and with the screaming and shouting and laughter all around, and now an amplified voice, a deep female voice – or maybe a high male voice – sang out:
Oh, shake me, daddy, shake me up right,“Hi, buddy!” said an enormous face directly in front of my face, and then I realized that it was really just a normal-sized man’s face, but it seemed enormous because it was so close to mine.
do me, papa, do me up tight,
roll me, Romeo, roll me all night,
till the break of dawn,
till my back ain’t got no bone,
whatever comes first,
‘cause I got the thirst,
the thirst for your love…
And then I realized it was the face of Nicky, Nicky Boskins, also known as Lucky, but better known as the prince of darkness, back again, as somehow I knew he would be, even after I had seen him with my own eyes dissolving into a stream of filthy gutter water.
“Oh, Christ,” I said.
“Ha ha, I know what you just said,” he said, baring those shiny white teeth. “And guess what, you can say it all you want, and all the other various names of each one of the trinity, or as I call them, the three divine assholes, ‘cause you know why? Because it won’t affect me in the least because I’ve plugged up my ears. Look –”
He turned his head to one side and pointed at his ear, and, sure enough, the ear was plugged up all right, with some yellowish substance.
“You know what that shit is?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It looks like a bad case of ear wax.”
“What’s that?” he said. “I’m reading your lips, and I’m pretty good at it, but if you don’t articulate it’s hard even for me.”
He was smoking a cigarette, and he was wearing the same exquisitely pressed iridescent grey suit he’d been wearing before, or one very like it. The skin of his paper-white face was as usual perfectly shaven, his dark hair shiny and gleaming, his eyes the same deep black so deep they were almost purple.
“I said it looks like a bad case of ear wax,” I said, speaking very slowly, and loudly, although I realized that it didn’t matter how loudly I spoke.
He stopped smiling.
“Did you just say, ‘I guess I’ll just ask Beatrice Fairfax’? Is that supposed to be, what, clever?”
“Oh, forget it, Lucky, or Nicky, or whatever your name is.”
“What? You’re saying I stuffed my ears with fried elephant jizz? I don’t even know how to begin to respond to that. But before you say anything else stupid, I’ll just tell you. I stuffed my ears with the boiled-down essence of bitter men’s souls. This is like the essence of one million bitter men’s souls in each ear.”
“I really don’t care,” I said, and I turned my head, because his breath smelled, like death.
“What’s that you said?” he said. “You ‘need some air’? Well, I’m sorry, my good friend, but where you’re going there isn’t any air. You think this place smells bad? Just wait till you get down in my neighborhood.”
So this was the way it was going to be. Him yammering, and me yammering back and him not understanding a word I said. But instead of feeling frustrated, I suddenly felt an enormous freedom to speak my mind honestly in a way I had so rarely ever done in my life. Despite his foul breath I turned to face him directly again.
“I have some very disconcerting news for you, Nicky, or Lucky, or dick face,” I said, and I assure the reader that this was the first time I had ever called anyone dick face, a phrase that really makes no sense when you think about it.
“What?” said Nicky. “You’d like to ride in a flying saucer into the depths of space? That’s just weird, man.”
“No,” I said, “My news for you is that you’re really very boring, and pathetic, even if you are the prince of darkness, and also your breath smells like pig shit, no, it smells worse than that, it smells like the week-dead corpse of a dead pig.”
Nicky’s smile flickered briefly into life and then disappeared.
“So, if I’m understanding you,” he said, “you’re saying that the galaxies and all their stars are roaring, as in the time of the Aztecs, and it’s all a big mess, and that’s about the size of it, but when you get to hell of course you’ll be Mr. Big? Okay, you know what, Arnold? I know you’ve had mental problems, so I am not even going to attempt to make sense out of any of that.”
“Fuck you,” I said, and I think this might have been another first for me, which doesn’t excuse me at all, but please consider the circumstances.
“Did you just say ‘thank you’ to me?” he said.
This was getting pretty dull, even if I was on the verge of being dragged screaming down into the eternal fires of hell.
“No,” I said.
“’Go’? Go? No, I’m not going to ‘go’,” he said. “What do you think I’m here for?”
“Well, to drag me, or try to drag me, I guess, to hell again.“
“To brag to you, and nag you, and peck my breast like a pelican? Okay, tell you what, Arnold, I’ve had just about enough of your little mind games, so this is it. Forget about trying any of your little tricks and ruses, because at long last I’m going to drag you down to hell now. Get ready for a world of pain, asswipe.”
And with that he just stared at me, with those jet black eyes of his. And in those eyes I saw hell. But I didn’t get drawn in all at once. No, it was very, very slow and gradual, but I could feel myself being drawn closer and closer into those dark eyes, darker than anything I had ever seen before, and I had seen some darkness in my time.
My boredom gave way to fear, but what could I do? The only good thing about my present situation was that my erection had subsided – Nicky’s reappearance had sufficed to make that happen.
And then suddenly I remembered that Josh was in here, probably still sitting in that booth no more than a few yards away.
“Josh,” I prayed, silently, “can you hear me?”
“Who’s that? Arnie?” said his voice in my head.
“Yes, it’s me, and I know I said I wouldn’t ask for your help anymore, but the prince of darkness is here, and I think he’s trying to take me away to hell.”
“That asshole! Tell him to fuck off.”
“I can’t tell him anything. He’s stopped up his ears with the essence of two million bitter souls.”
“What a jerk!”
“Josh, help me, because I can feel him drawing me in.”
“In to where?”
“Into his eyes. Down into hell.”
“Okay, no problem, I’ll make him disappear.”
“Thanks,” I said, in my brain.
I waited, but nothing happened, and I felt my essence drawing closer and closer to those jet-black eyes.
“How’s that?” said Josh, in my head. “Did he disappear?”
“No,” I said, silently.
“Shit,” he said. “That’s weird. Okay, look, hold on and I’ll be right there. Where are you exactly?”
“I’m stuck somewhere in the midst of all these dancing drunkards, and for God’s sake Josh hurry!”
“I am God, you know.”
“Sorry, yes, but please hurry!”
And I felt myself just about to fall into those eyes of Nicky’s.
Could this really be it, the end, or if not the end then the beginning of eternal damnation and agony in the fires of hell? But then I remembered what my new guardian angel Bowery Bert had reminded me of earlier, i.e., that this was a fictional universe. And in fictional universes anything could happen, and a situation in which in real life one would have no hope, in a story or a novel there was always some way out. But what could that way out be if Josh, who, to be honest, sounded pretty drunk, and perhaps also pretty ineffectual, failed to make his way through the crowd in time to rescue me?
Then I remembered Nicky’s cigarette holder, the one I had picked up off the pavement earlier. Where did I put it? In my inside breast pocket of my seersucker jacket.
My right arm was still holding Emily up, and so with my left hand I awkwardly reached into the jacket, and brought it out, that shiny dark black tube.
“Hey, that’s mine!” said Nicky.
He made to grab it out of my hand, but I jerked my hand free. Then, I don’t know why, some crazy instinct I suppose, but I held the narrow mouthpiece of the holder up to my eyes and looked into it, and down its length I saw Nicky’s face, but now it was the face of a terrified naked crying baby.
“Give me that thing!” he yelled again, and once more tried to grab it out of my hand, once more I pulled my hand away, and then, and again I don’t know why, but I put the mouthpiece in my lips and blew through it as hard as I could, and, as if he were being pulled by the scruff of the neck by some invisible giant, Nicky was drawn away, crying and screaming like a baby, into that mob of drunken dancing and thrashing people, and then he disappeared.
Someone bumped into me, and knocked the cigarette holder out of my mouth and my hand, it fell to the floor, and I thought of trying to bend down and pick it up, but of course I was still trying to hold Emily up, so that was impossible, and then Bert was yelling at me.
“Hey! Buddy boy! Wake up! I think I see an opening! You ready?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
And Bert, his umbrella raised high, holding Emily’s arm over his shoulder, plunged into the mob once more, dragging me along too, but then someone bumped into me again, hard, I stumbled, and I let go of Emily’s waist and breast so as not to bring her down. I staggered, from side to side, buffeted by drunks, but somehow not falling, the bodies somehow holding me up, I could no longer see Emily and Bert, they were somewhere in that mob, I would have to forge ahead and try to find them, but then some big truckdriver-type guy backed up into me and I began to fall backward, someone else elbowed me in the small of my back, and I spun around in pain and began to fall forward, but then someone caught me in his arms, and straightened me up.
It was Josh, with a cigarette in his mouth.
“Hey, pal,” he said. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” I said. “Now I am.”
(Continued here, and onward, at our usual relentless weekly schedule.)
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