Let’s return to the merrily packed Bob’s Bowery Bar on this hot and rainy night in 1957 and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, at last reunited with his friend “Josh”, also known as the son of God…
(Kindly go here to read our immediately preceding thrilling episode; anyone looking for a new hobby is invited to click here to start at the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 67-volume memoir.)
“What the great Marcel Proust is to French literature, so also is Arnold Schnabel to the American literary canon, although it must be said that Railroad Train to Heaven is so universal in all its utter particularity that it seems somehow unjustly limiting to label it as merely ‘American’ – perhaps ‘human’ would be the more appropriate adjective?” – Harold Bloom, in The GQ Literary Supplement.
“So, great,” said Josh, “what we’ll do is we’ll both take a good pee, and then you and I are finally gonna have our little chinwag. I mean, if you don’t mind –”
He looked at me with those deep sparkling eyes, his head cocked slightly under his slightly cocked trilby.
“I mean,” he said, “if you do mind –”
“I don’t mind,” I said.
“Uh, yeah –”
“Arnold, I haven’t completely divested myself of all my divine powers. I distinctly sense an unsaid but heartfelt ‘but’. But what?”
Why fight it? Not for nothing was Josh still the son of God.
“But,” I said, “after we talk, and, again, I really don’t mind our having a talk, and if there’s any way I can help you, I’ll certainly be glad to try, but –”
“Yes, go on,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “afterwards, I’d like to see if we could possibly maybe find some way to get me back to my own world.”
“Your own world,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “You know, my, uh, nonfictional reality.”
“But who’s to say what’s nonfictional and what isn’t?”
Laughing and shouting dancing drunks continued to thrash up against us, the band continued to blare its music through the room, and their singer sang, a different song now:
Oh, roll me, daddy, like a driving wheel,Josh took a drag on his cigarette, which he had smoked down almost to the end. He smiled.
show me, sweet daddy, the way you really feel,
take me on a sweet ride to a place called ecstasy,
make me forget what it’s like to be me –
“What is 'reality' anyway? This feels pretty real, don’t you think?”
With a slight gesture of the divine hand that held his cigarette he indicated the packed and smoky and noisy and smelly barroom churning all around us.
He seemed to want an answer, and so I gave him one.
“Yes, it feels real,” I said. “But I still want to go back to my own world. By which I mean the world I think of as real.”
“I’m glad you said that last part.”
“I am trying to learn to speak truthfully.”
“And I’m glad you are,” he said. “Because it’s not easy for a human being, is it, not just not to speak complete and utter nonsense all the time, but – if I may be so bold as to say – I think it rather important for men, and women, at least to attempt to, to –”
“Josh,” I said, “please, I really can’t get involved in this sort of discussion right now, not standing here in the middle of all these drunken people and this noise and loud music while I really, really have to pee.”
“Okay, fair enough!” he said. “Tell you what, we’ll go pee, and then, after we have our little talk, you know what I’m going to do?”
“No,” I said, in all honesty.
“What I’m going to do,” he said, “is I am going to see just what I can do, if anything, anything at all really, about getting you back to what you call your world.”
“Thanks, Josh,” I said.
“I mean, I know I tried before, and I failed, but, here’s the thing, even if I can’t manage it, who knows, maybe – just maybe – and I admit it’s probably or possibly a long shot – but maybe I can get H.G. or, who knows, even my father to, you know, help you out, or, hey, you know what? Maybe we can get my mother to intercede –”
“You know, Mary –”
“Oh, right,” I said.
“But then you haven’t met her, have you?”
“Not that I know of,” I said.
“Well, we’ll just have to take care of that little lapse in your personal history! She’ll love you, too, I’m sure.”
“And I think you’ll really love her too, Arnold. And I’m not just saying that because she’s my mother.”
“Thing about my mother, she’s got a soft spot for – I don’t want to say ‘hopeless cases’ –”
“But for those who struggle, beneath burdens that would crush the average guy. Chaps who just keep going on. Following their destiny. No matter how shall we say quixotic –”
“The losers of the world who refuse to give up.”
“Knock ‘em down, they get right back up again –”
“If they’re able to get up.”
“But even if they can’t get up, then they crawl, ever onward, through the mud –”
“Trying to fulfill – for want of a better word – their destiny –”
“Josh, for Christ’s sake!”
“Well, I am the Christ, ha ha, but – yes?”
“I have to take a pee,” I said, doing my best not to scream the words. “Like, right now. I can’t hold it in anymore.”
“Oh! Sorry! Let’s go then. Do you know where the men’s room is?”
“Great, then –”
“Arnie!” yelled Big Ben Blagwell, looming up to the right of Josh.
“Hey, buddy!” yelled Ferdinand, the fly, buzzing above Ben’s enormous left shoulder.
“What are you guys up to?” said Ben, or “roared Ben” I suppose I should write.
“Yeah, what the fuck you up to,” said Ferdinand.
(Both Ben and Ferdinand sounded drunk, needless to say, or drunker I suppose I should say, since they were both already drunk when I had last seen them an hour or so ago, an hour that felt like seven months.)
“How’d it go with that broad, Arnie?” said Ben. He had a cigarette going, and he blew a great redolent cloud of Sweet Caporal smoke my way.
“Yeah, ‘dja get your end wet?” said Ferdinand.
“Ha ha,” said Ben, no, sorry, “guffawed Ben”.
“Oh, that’s right, I’m so self-centered,” said Josh, addressing me. “How did it go with Noreen?”
“Nadine,” I said.
“Nadine,” he said, “sorry. So – I know you said she fed you, but was there also some sort of, oh, how shall I put it?”
“Hanky panky,” bellowed Ben (okay, I can’t write “bellowed” for every time Ben said something, I’m sorry, so I ask the reader to mentally change the word “said” to “bellowed” whenever I’m referring to Ben while we were in this barroom).
“Hiding the salami,” said Ferdinand, yelled actually (but again, please assume that everyone is yelling or bellowing for the time being, except for Josh, who didn’t have to yell to be heard in here, he was still that much a divine being).
“Well, Arnold?” said Josh, with a smile that I guess writers like Horace P. Sternwell would call “amused and indulgent”. “You can tell us. Did you, as we used to say in biblical times, ‘lieth carnally’ with her?”
“Look,” I said, “I didn’t lieth carnally with her, okay?”
“Well, did you at least get a blowjob?” asked Ben, with a serious-seeming expression on his face.
“Yeah,” said Ferdinand, “tell us at least you got a handjob out of her?”
“Look,” I said, “there was no, uh, hanky panky,” which of course was not entirely true, but I just didn’t want to go into it, and anyway, I didn’t think it was any of their business, except for Josh, maybe.
“She sure looked like she was ready for hanky panky,” said Ben.
“Yeah,” said Ferdinand, “how’d you let that one get away?”
Josh finally dropped what little of what was left of the cigarette he’d been smoking to the floor and rubbed it out with his shoe, while simultaneously taking out his cigarette case and clicking it open.
“Cigarette, Arnold?” he said, offering me the case, which was exactly filled with cigarettes, Pall Malls, my brand.
I started to take one and then stopped myself.
“No, thank you, Josh,” I said. “I’ve quit smoking, and all I want to do is take a pee.”
“Cigarette, Ben?” said Josh, offering the case to him, but Ben showed him the cigarette he was already smoking.
“No, thanks, Josh,” said Ben, “I got one going.”
“One for later?”
“No, thanks, buddy, I prefer my own. Sweet Caporals. To me Pall Malls are –”
“Okay, guys,” I said. “I really hate to interrupt you but I really really have to go pee now.”
“Hey, that sounds like a great idea,” said Ben. “Let’s all go take a slash.”
“Oh, do you have to go too, Ben?” said Josh. He had taken a cigarette out and put the case away, and now he put the cigarette between his lips.
“Josh,” said Ben, and he politely held out his own cigarette so that Josh could take a light from it, “can I tell you something?”
Holding his own hand in a manly way over Ben’s, Josh got his cigarette lit from Ben’s and exhaled before replying. “Yes, by all means, Ben,” he said. “Please.”
“Here’s the thing,” Ben said. “The way I put away the booze, and the beer, even though I’m more of a rum drinker normally, but I like beer, too, y’know?”
“Sure,” Josh said. “I’m like that, except I prefer whiskey, but beer is great, too.”
“Like I say,” said Ben, “the way I drink, no matter what I’m drinking, I pretty much always got to take a pee. I mean, as soon as I walk out of the head I practically got to pee again. It’s like I spend my whole life just going to and coming from the head. Or else thinking about going to the head. Holding it in and wondering how long I can hold it in till I got to go again. Which is like I said, like always.”
“Jesus, Ben,” said Ferdinand, “all Josh asked was did you need to take a pee. He didn’t ask to hear your whole neurotic life story.”
“Fuck you,” said Ben. “You know, Ferdy, you’re not always like fucking Oscar Levant you’re such a brilliant raconteur.”
“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand, “I hurt the behemoth’s feelings.”
“Ah, shaddap before I swipe ya, shrimp,” said Ben.
“Okay, guys,” I said. “I’m going to the men’s room now, you can stay here if you like.”
Josh was standing to my left, between me and the men’s room, and Ben was directly in front of me. Without further ado I decided to go around to the right of Ben, even though that would take me a step or two farther away from the men’s room, but I intended to veer to the left again, as soon as I got past Ben, and forge on as best I could and as fast as I could through the crowd to the men’s room, or at least in the direction the men’s room had been the last time I had been in here.
And once again I was foiled, this time by Horace and Mr. Philpot, looming up out of the mob of drunks, Horace to the left, Mr. Philpot to the right.
“Oh, no,” I could not stop myself from saying, or moaning, whining even.
“What the hell’s going on here, a convention?” said Mr. Philpot, yelled Mr. Philpot. He had his corncob pipe in one hand.
“Arnie babe,” said Horace, who was now smoking a cigar, “how’d it go with Miss Nadine?”
He made a punching gesture with his fist.
“Nothing’s going on,” I said, “and I didn’t have sex with Nadine, and I really have to go to the men’s room, and so if you guys will excuse me –”
“I could use a pee,” said Horace, with a thoughtful expression.
“So also I,” said Mr. Philpot.
“We’re all going to the head,” said Ben, coming up beside me to my left and clapping my shoulder with that enormous hand and almost knocking me over. “Josh too, right, Josh?”
“Yes,” said Josh, coming up around my other side. “I’m quite looking forward to a good ‘slash’ as Ben calls it.”
“Enough talking about it,” said Ferdinand, buzzing happily amongst us. “Let’s ride, muchachos.”
“I just hope there’s not a line,” yelled Horace. “Because now that we’re talking about it I really gotta go!”
“Yeah, me, too,” said Ben. “I got first dibs on the urinal.”
“Age before beauty, young fellow,” said Mr. Philpot. “You can go after me, or else use the crapper.”
“There probably is a line,” said Ferdinand. “As crowded as this joint is right now?”
“If there’s a line, we wait then,” said Ben. “But I’m first in line.”
I couldn’t take it anymore, and, completely on impulse I turned and headed for the exit, shoving my way through dancing and stumbling drunks and being shoved in turn by those same drunks, but in less than a minute I made my way to the door, which was still open. My quickly formed plan, such as it was, was to run out, find the nearest alleyway, and relieve myself in the open air.
But I had forgotten about the rain. I stepped out into the sheltered entrance area and looked out at the downpour which had not lessened at all since I had gone into the bar. The rain crashed down, as if an ocean suspended in the nighttime sky had decided to burst down upon the earth and drown it.
I wanted to cry, but even more so, I wanted to pee, but on the other hand I didn’t want to get soaked again, and so I did something I have only done before in cases of extreme intoxication, in other words probably no more than few hundred times in my life, maybe a thousand – I stepped forward, and, standing just under the edge of the overhang, I unbuttoned my fly and proceeded to relieve myself, onto the pavement, my urine mixing with and being washed away by the rain.
After a couple of minutes I finished. I put it away and buttoned it up. I held my hands out palms upward to the downpour and let the rain wash them clean, or as clean as they were going to get without soap. I withdrew my hands, shook them a few times, then wiped them on my damp and dirty jeans.
I turned around.
Standing there in front of the open doorway from left to right, were Horace, Mr. Philpot, Josh, and Ben. Ferdinand hovered in the air between Josh and Ben.
“I’m sorry,” I said, to one and all. “I just couldn’t wait any longer."
“Looks like a good idea to me,” said Ben.
“Me, too,” said Horace.
“And to me as well,” said Mr. Philpot.
“Who am I to say no,” said Josh.
“Yeah, me too,” said Ferdinand.
I stepped aside to let them all pass, and soon their urine also joined with that crashing pouring rain to be washed away from the pavement to the gutter and down into the sewers of the Bowery.
(Continued here, and for no one knows how much longer, as yet another cache of Arnold’s marble copybooks filled with his neat Palmer Method handwriting has been discovered in an old orange crate in the basement of the Olney Branch Library in Arnold’s old Philadelphia neighborhood of Olney.)
(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what is at least supposed to be a listing of links to all other publicly-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. We urge all lovers of literature to order Arnold’s friend Kathleen Maher’s splendid novel Diary of a Heretic – now available in paperback!)