Friday, March 11, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 477: understood


Let us return to this rainy night in August of 1957 and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his deific friend Josh, just outside the entrance to Bob’s Bowery Bar…

(Kindly go here to read our immediately preceding chapter; the curious may click here to return to the distant beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 53-volume memoir.)

“Are we to define Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre as a memoir, as a chronicle of madness, as a roman fleuve, or, rather, as a religious testament?” – Harold Bloom, in The Catholic Standard & Times Literary Supplement.





“So,” said Josh, “shall we go in, and, as Ben says, ‘grab some space at the bar’?”



“I guess so,” I said.



He smiled, cocking his head slightly to one side under that slightly cocked straw trilby hat of his.

“You only ‘guess so’?”

“Well,” I said, “it’s just that –”



“Yes?”



“Things keep happening to me when I go in bars.”



“Arnold,” said Josh, “things can happen to you anywhere.”

“I realize that,” I said. “But it just seems that things are more likely to happen to me in a bar than, than –”

“Than what?”

“Than when I’m not in a bar.”

“Ha ha,” he said. “I take your point. So shall we just have our conversation standing here then?”

He made a graceful waving gesture with his hand, the hand that held his Pall Mall, indicating the dank shadowed entrance area in which we stood, between on one side the open door of the bar with its noise of drunken laughter and shouting and music and the woman singing about banging like a drum and on the other side the sidewalk and the Bowery in that crashing and clattering downpour of rain.



“I can’t help but think,” I said, after thinking for a full three seconds or so, which is about as long as I was capable of thinking about anything, “that we might more successfully have our talk out here than in the bar.”

“Two guys,” he said, “having a heart to heart, standing outside a bar on a rainy night.”

“Yes.”

This,” he said, “this is the sort of thing I like about being human.”

I said nothing, but Josh apparently divined what I was thinking.

“I know,” he said, “I know. I’m not quite human. Not yet anyway.”

Again I said nothing, if one can be said to say nothing again, and again he read my mind.



“Right,” he said. “I know what you’re thinking. That being human is not all it’s cracked up to be. But what about being the son of God? Is that all it’s cracked up to be either?”

“Josh,” I said, “only you can answer that.”

“Ha ha, good point. So here’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Remember Carlotta?”

“Sure,” I said.

“And about me being in love with her?”

“Yes,” I said.

“That look,” he said, after a brief pause.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“That look you’re giving me. Or rather, that look you’re not giving me, as your eyes dart furtively away, out to the street.”



“Heh heh,” I said, mirthlessly.

“You really do think I’m being foolish, don’t you?”

“Josh, can I ask you a question before I answer that question?”

“By all means.”

“Can’t you just read my mind to get the answer to your questions?”



“Well, I suppose I could,” he said, “but, if were to, then I wouldn’t have any questions for you to answer, now would I?”

“No,” I said, at last, after another three-second pause.

“Would you prefer it if I just read your mind?”

I thought it over for another full three seconds, and then I said no again.

“Good,” he said. “Because I’ll never really become human until I can learn to stop exercising these shall we say divine powers. And, really, isn’t it more fun this way? Talking. As opposed to me just, you know, probing your mind. Don’t you agree?”

“Yes,” I said, although I wasn’t entirely sure.



I looked away, again, from those deep blue eyes of his, out at the rain and the street.

I sighed, but briefly, then turned back to him.

“Um,” I said.

“Anyway,” he said, “someday if all goes according to plan I won’t be able to read your thoughts at all even if I wanted to, maybe. I’ll be a human being just like you, with no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s head, let alone the heads of every human being alive, let alone being aware of every single thing that’s happening or that simply is and has been and will be in all of existence, and all the various dimensions and universes that comprise existence.”


“Gee,” I said.

“What?”



“Oh, nothing.”

“No, come on, Arnold, spit it out. Don’t make me probe your mind, buddy.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s just so hard for me to comprehend, that you can, you know, know everything –”

“It’s called omniscience.”


“Right.”

“I know it’s hard to comprehend, but that’s only because you’re a human being.”

“Uh –”

“With me it’s just part of the job description.”



“I see –”

“All knowing, all seeing, all powerful, all that.”

“Uh-huh.”

“But can I be honest with you, Arnold?”

“Sure –”

“I stopped paying attention to everything ages ago.”

“Ah.”

“It just got too much. You know?”

“Yeah, I can see how it would, uh –”

“Too tedious to be quite honest.”

“Right.”

“Just another reason why I want to be human.”

“Right.”

“Started to stop paying attention if I am to be brutally honest right after that whole crucifixion and resurrection business.”

“Really?”

“What was I thinking with that? What were we all thinking?”

“You mean –”

“Me, my father, the other fellow.”

“The holy ghost –”

H.G.,” he said. “Yes. You didn’t see H.G. volunteering to get scourged and crucified. To redeem mankind. And what does that even mean, to redeem mankind?”

“I never really, uh, I don’t, I mean, I’m not sure I –”

“And was mankind any better off after it was redeemed?”

“Uh –”

“I for one am not so sure,” he said. “Who’s to say mankind even needed to be redeemed in the first place, and redeemed from what?”

I looked away, out at the unceasing rain.

The conversation was getting too abstract for me, the mental equivalent of dancing the black bottom along the edge of a great black abyss. I hoped that Josh would not allow me to slip into stark raving insanity, but I couldn’t count on that hope.



I turned and looked back at him. He was blowing smoke rings, beautiful perfect smoke rings that drifted out into the rain, in which they were destroyed one by one.



“So,” I said.

“So?” he said.

“So what exactly did you want to talk about, uh, concerning Carlotta,” I said.

“Here’s the thing,” he said. He tapped his cigarette with the index finger of the hand that held it, and the ash tumbled down to the wet pavement. “And, believe me, I wouldn’t talk about this with anyone else. Certainly no other human being. But not even with my father, and certainly not with, you know, the other fellow –”

“The holy ghost,” I ventured, trying to keep up my end of the conversation.

“Yes, him. Good old H.G. Nice guy once you get to know him, but not the sort you discuss, you know, personal matters with.”

“He did seem a little gruff,” I said.


“He would only scoff at me. Tell me to grow up. Of course there’s my mother, but – not that she’s judgmental, but still, you know how mothers are.”

“I only know how my own mother is,” I said.

“And you wouldn’t talk about a girl with her, would you?”

“Not if I could help it,” I said. “But –”

“But what?”



“But for most of my life I didn’t have a girl to talk to her about.”

“Yes,” he said. “The celibate years.”

“To put it bluntly,” I said.



“I went home with Carlotta,” he said, rather abruptly getting to the point, or closer to it.

“Oh,” I said.

“To her apartment, anyway,” he said. “But you’ve been there.”

“Right,” I said.

“Right down the hall from your apartment.”

“Well,” I said, “Porter’s apartment.”

“But you’re Porter Walker,” he said.

“In this world I am.”

“Anyway, we went to her place. Pat wasn’t there. You know – Pat?”

“Right,” I said.

“Her flatmate.”

“Yes.”

“Nice girl. Not so much my type, but very attractive. Fun.”

“Yes,” I said.


“So it was just me and Carlotta. Alone in her apartment.”

“Right,” I said.

“It’s right around the corner from here you know.”

“Yes,” I said.



“We – well, I won’t go into all the details. But without too much in the way of preliminaries we began to, well, how shall I put this –”

“Josh, you don’t have to tell me this.”

“But I want to tell you.”

“Okay.”



“So, we’re sort of sitting on her bed, you know, and, I suppose you would call it ‘making out’ –”

“Wait a minute – Josh –”

“Yes?”

“On second thought maybe you shouldn’t tell me this.”

“But why?”

“It’s too –” I took a long pause, searching for the right word, and all I could come up with was, “weird.”

“Arnold, haven’t you learned by now that all of life is weird?”

“Sorry,” I said, “you’re right. Go on.”

“So we’re sitting there, ‘making out’, and I’m thinking, hey, great, I’m really doing something human now, and with any luck I’ll soon be doing one of the most human things anyone can do.”

“Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“I don’t know if I can take this, Josh.”

“I wish you would. For my sake.”

“All right, sorry, go on.”

“So we’re making out, and remember, this is the first time for me.”

“Oh.”

“I mean, even in my previous incarnation I never –”

“Okay.”

“Thirty-three years, and I died a virgin.”

“Wow,” was all I could say.

“A lot of people think that Mary Magdalene and I had something going on, but we didn’t, it was strictly platonic between us.”

“Okay.”

“She was like a sister to me, you know?”

“Sure.”

“And don’t believe those rumors about me and the Apostle John either.”

“I never even heard those rumors,” I said.

“Well, if you hear them, don’t believe them. We were friends, good friends, period.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Okay, so I’m sitting there with Carlotta, and I’m pretty excited, my first time making out with a human girl, and guess what?”

“I don’t know.”

“Guess.”

“I really have no idea.”

“She started crying.”

“Oh.”

“Like a baby.”

“Wow.”

“Very disconcerting.”

“I imagine it would be,” I said.

“Did that ever happen with you with a girl?”

“No,” I said. “But then, you know, I’ve only ever been with a girl a few times.”

“Oh, right.”

“So –”

“So it hasn’t happened to you.”

“No,” I said. 



“A girl breaking down in tears while you’re making out with her.”



“No,” I said. “Not yet, anyway.”

“Well, it happened to me tonight.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.



“Imagine my embarrassment.”

“Right,” I said.



“My discomfiture.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And this my first time –”

“Um.”

“Making out with a girl and all.”

“Yes.”

“But then I asked her what was the matter.”

“Sure.”

“Sure what?”

“Pardon me?” I said.

“Arnold, it’s me. I sensed a question there, in your brain.”

“Well, I was just wondering, if you really wanted to know why she was crying, I mean , I know you're trying not to do this sort of thing, but couldn’t you have just read her mind?”

“Well, I suppose I could have tried, maybe, but –”


“Yes?”

“It’s not so easy with women. Reading their minds. Even for me. I mean I’ve never found it easy.”

“Okay.”

“So I asked her.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Do you want to know what she said?”

“Well, I don’t want to pry.”

“But I want to tell you.”

“Okay.”

“She said she was in love with you, Arnold.”

“Oh.”

“Or, anyway, she said she was in love with ‘Porter’. Porter Walker. Which is you. In this universe it’s you.”

“I had nothing to do with that, Josh.”

“No one’s pointing the finger, Arnold.”

“Right.”

“I’m just stating the facts.”

“I see.”

“She’s in love with you.”

“I’m – sorry?” I said.

“Can I ask you a question.”

I sighed.

“May I take that sigh as a reluctant ‘yes’?”

Not meaning to, I sighed again.

“I’ll take it as a yes then.”


“Uh –”

“Did you have sex with Carlotta?”

“I, uh, um,” I said.

“So you did,” he said. “Wow.”

“Okay, listen, Josh –”

“Yes?”

“I have no memory of it. It happened before I – that is, I, Arnold Schnabel – before I entered this world.”

“I see.”

“Which, again, if I might remind you, is a fictional world.”

“Yes, so you keep saying.”

“Well, it is, isn’t it?”

“Oh, Arnold.”

“Yes?”

“I keep forgetting.”

“Forgetting what.”

“That you’re a human being. And there’s so much you don’t understand.”

“I understand.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“I mean I understand that there’s so much I don’t understand.”



“I understand,” he said, after a brief pause.



As usual he had smoked his cigarette down to a tiny stub, and now he flicked it out into the rain, which extinguished its glowing red tip well before the butt hit the quickly flowing dark water in the gutter and was washed away to the nearest sewer.

(Continued here, as we follow Arnold into a whole new volume of adventures.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find an ostensibly up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released episodes of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Coming later this year: Book One of Arnold’s saga in e-book {and possibly paper} form, with only Josh knows how many more to come!)




2 comments:

Kathleen Maher said...

Possibly, Josh would be more human, or more brutally mannish, if he retained some godlike traits. Occasionally men brag they love or have loved a great many women. Type has nothing to do with it. Doesn't Josh love all creation? One man, who'd been out late drinking, told me that given a specific ratio alcohol in his blood, he found a Volkswagen, the bug not the van, distinctly feminine. Almost enticing with that exhaust pipe open to anyone passing along the street. Maybe he was lying.

Dan Leo said...

Or maybe he was really, really, really drunk!