We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel following his new acquaintance Wiggly Jones (“the little hippie boy”) up a fire escape in some dark, dank and reeking alleyway...
(Please click here to read last week’s thrilling episode; if you are the sort of person who is said by those perhaps more cruel than kind to have way too much time on your hands you might as well go here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 68-volume autobiography.)
“To enter into the world of Arnold Schnabel is to enter into many worlds, including even, I daresay, that one which we lesser mortals inhabit.” – Harold Bloom, in The AARP Literary Quarterly.
As I climbed the fire escape I took stock of my current corporeal host, and despite the uncertainty of my situation I was relieved to realize that except for an ache in the back of my head, and two others on my left forearm and hip – all no doubt accrued after my tumble from the lid of the trashcan – as well as another persistent pain in my right elbow from where I had been sapped by the Rat, and a stinging above my Adam’s apple from where the Toad had pricked me with his knife – aside from all these I was free of physical agony. Spiritual or moral agony of course were other matters.
And so I climbed, all the way up to the uppermost landing – which was at the fifth or sixth or maybe even the seventh floor, it wasn’t as if I had been keeping count – where Wiggly waited, smoking his reefer again, leaning casually back against the railing, apparently not suffering the least fear of heights.
“I see you’re hardly even winded,” he said, handing me the reefer. “Well done, old chap! Do you play tennis?”
“No,” I said. I obligingly, no, strike that, I thoughtlessly took a big drag off the reefer, and held the smoke in my lungs, I was learning how to be a dope fiend. After no longer than half a minute I exhaled, and out of politeness or to hear myself talk I expanded upon my simple negative, “I swim a lot, or at least I used to swim a lot.”
“Used to?” he said. “No longer?”
“I hope to get back into the habit,” I said, letting it go at that, and taking another drag of the reefer. With one hand on the fire escape rail, I looked down, towards the exit of the alleyway. I could see that it led out onto a city street. A car like a toy car rode past, followed by a toy bus, with little toy people in it.
Wiggly took the reefer from my fingers, and he took a drag from it.
I looked up over the roofs of the buildings across the street. I saw the lights of a bridge off to the right, with two streams of headlights crawling back and forth over it.
Wiggly blew a great rich cloud of reefer smoke into my face and then it drifted off disappearing into the nighttime sky. There were no stars out, no moon, the sky looked like a lake of tar. Standing here on the landing of this fire escape I felt as if I were floating in the warm and humid dark air.
“Exercise is cool,” said Wiggly. “Unless you don’t feel like exercising.”
“Uh, yeah,” I said.
“Cats don’t exercise,” he said. “Did you ever notice that?”
“Yes,” I said. “I mean, I guess I never thought about it, but I, uh –”
Wiggly passed the reefer back to me, and I duly put it to my lips and drew deeply on it.
“Unless they feel like it,” said Wiggly.
“Feel like it?” I said, after slowly exhaling, the question mark being there because I had lost the thread of the conversation, such as it was.
Wiggly took the reefer and dragged, held it in, exhaled.
“Unless they feel like it,” he said. “Cats. They don’t exercise unless they feel like it.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” I said, after thinking it over for a minute, a minute during which the reefer changed hands from Wiggly to me and back to Wiggly again.
“That’s what I do,” he said.
“I only exercise if I feel like it.”
“Ah,” I said.
“And if I don’t feel like it I don’t.”
“Uh,” I said.
“Uh-oh,” he said. He was looking back down into the alleyway. “It’s those dudes.”
“The three dudes you fired the gun at,” he said. “Look, they’re peeking around the corner of the alley. Probably looking for you. Hey, maybe they’ve got guns now, too!”
I looked down, and I saw them, the three of them bending forward to peer into the alleyway – the Toad, and leaning over him the Rat, and over the Rat the Bear
“Um, Wiggly,” I whispered, “I wonder if we could go inside?”
“Into my pad?”
“Yes,” I said.
“That might be a good idea. Come on.”
There was an open window with pulled-back paisley curtains right there off the fire escape, and Wiggly climbed through it as gracefully as a cat. When he was inside he beckoned to me.
“Come on in, Arnold, but watch your step. It’s a few feet down to the floor.”
I managed to climb through without falling down, and I was in a large room maybe forty feet square, dimly lit, with lots of pictures on the walls, lots of clutter everywhere, bookshelves, oriental-looking hangings on the walls, folding screens with paintings on them, couches, chairs, tables, cushions and ottomans on the floor, bongo drums and other musical instruments whose names I didn’t know, a hi-fi set, a big TV. Far away on the other side of the room were windows with multi-colored curtains .
There didn’t seem to be air-conditioning in here, but on the other hand there must have been a half-dozen or so electric fans on in various places and windows, some of them oscillating, and so it was not too unpleasantly hot.
“This is my pad,” said Wiggly, waving his hand that held the reefer. "You dig it?”
“Uh, yes,” I said.
“I of course am a bohemian, but then you’ve probably already gathered that by my beard, my longish hair, and not least by the reefer.”
“Yes, I had surmised that much, I think,” I said.
“Come sit over here on the divan,” said Wiggly. “I daresay you’ve had quite a shock.”
“Yes, I won’t deny it,” I said.
I followed his lead to what he called the divan, I would just call it a small couch, anyway, it was there, covered in some sort of big Chinese or Japanese sheet, with a cluttered carved wooden coffee table in front of it. I sat down.
“How about some refreshment?” said Wiggly. “Cognac? Schnapps? Beer? Wine? Old Fashioned or Manhattan?”
“Whatever you’re having,” I said.
“Righto,” he said.
He took another big drag on the reefer, what was left of it, then leaned forward, holding what was left of the reefer out to me. I took it, and he went off, leaving a trail of slowly exhaled reefer smoke behind him, crossing the room diagonally to the left and going through a bead curtain into what I would have presumed to be the kitchen if I had bothered to presume anything.
I took another big drag off the nubbin of reefer, then another. It was almost gone. There was a glass ashtray on the table, and it had what looked like a dozen other butts of reefers in it. I added one more, stubbing it out so as not to waste its precious weed.
The table was covered with books and magazines, papers, notebooks and other odds and ends.
I noticed one paperback book with an interesting cover painting.
The book’s title was The Day My Mind Exploded, and Other Poems. And below that it said by Wiggly Jones, ‘the little hippie boy’. The painting on the cover showed a man’s head bursting open, but instead of brains and blood flowers were flying out of it.
I picked up the book and opened it at random, came to a page that had a poem with the apparent title of “poop”. I read the following:
i don’t know why people speak ill of poop.That was it. That was the poem in its entirety.
poop is good. i mean, it feels good to poop!
me, i look forward to pooping each day,
and in fact I might go so far as to say
that pooping is the highlight of my day.
There was another poem on the facing page. That one was titled “piss” and it read:
gosh gee i like to take a pissThere was more to that poem, but I had seen enough. I closed the book and put it down.
and please don’t take it amiss
when I say I like to watch it hiss
so merrily into the toilet bowl…
Well, there was no point in pretending that I was any better. I picked up another paperback. This one was called Love Songs of a Lunatic. Also by Wiggly Jones, ‘the little hippie boy’. The cover painting showed a man behind a barred window, gripping the bars, and shouting, or singing, or at any rate with his mouth open. I didn’t bother opening that one up, and I put it back down.
Another paperback caught my eye, and I picked it up. The title of this one was The Jolly Six Bums, and I can’t say I was surprised to see that the author was Horace P. Sternwall. Well, if I was in a Horace P. Sternwall novel, why shouldn’t I find another one of his books in it? This cover showed what looked like five bums walking along a road. I wondered why there were only five bums when the title said six, but on closer inspection I saw a fly merrily buzzing along among the bums, and that of course would be the sixth one, the fly, and I wondered if his name was Ferdinand in the book. There also was Big Ben Blagwell walking along, with his beat-up yachting cap and his Hawaiian shirt, and Horace with his worn brown leather jacket and his fedora, and little old bald-headed Mr. Philpot in his ancient three-piece suit, dusty from the road, and Josh, in his blue suit, needing a cleaning and pressing, and there I suppose was me, bringing up the rear, in my wrinkled and dirty seersucker jacket, looking as lugubrious as ever.
Wiggly came back into the room, carrying a fancy silver or silver-looking tray with a bottles and glasses on it. I put the book down, face down, but that didn’t help much, because there was an author’s photograph of Horace on the back cover.
“I hope Tree Frog ale is okay,” said Wiggly.
“I’m not familiar with that brand,” I said, “but if it’s beer or ale it’s okay with me.”
“So you’re not particular,” he said.
“No,” I said, I had who had freely drunk thousands of bottles and mugs and glasses and schooners of Schmidt's and Ortlieb's in my time.
“Do me a favor," said Wiggly, "clear a space on that table, will you? For the tray.”
I did as he asked, moving some books and papers and magazines aside into piles, and Wiggly put the tray down in the space I had cleared.
There were two pint bottles on the tray, as well as a bigger bottle with something murky and yellow in it, also two rocks glasses, a little china bowl with wedges of limes, a salt shaker.
With his foot Wiggly pushed a flowered print hassock over to the opposite side of the coffee table from me and sat down.
“The stuff in the yellow bottle is mezcal,” he said. “It’s a booze the Mexicans make from some crazy plant. I hope you don’t mind.”
“As long as it’s booze,” I said, which has always been my philosophy, maybe my only philosophy.
He held the bottle up. It had no label, and there was something shriveled and grey at the bottom of it.
“That’s a worm down there. When you get to the bottom you’re supposed to swallow the worm.”
I decided right then that I would let Wiggly have the worm. He pulled a cork out of the bottle and then poured two good shots into the rocks glasses.
“So here’s how you do it,” he said. “You lick a little salt off the heel of your hand, then drink the shot, then you suck a lime wedge. Want to try it?”
“Okay,” I said.
Without thinking I picked up the glass closest to me and drank it down. It wasn’t bad. I could tell it had alcohol in it, and that was the main thing.
“You forgot the salt and the lemon,” said Wiggly.
“Oh,” I said. “Sorry.”
“I think I’ll try it your way,” he said.
He picked up the other glass, drank it down in one go.
“Not bad,” he said.
Then he lifted up one of the pint bottles, and drank, deeply.
I picked up the other pint bottle. Sure enough the label read:
Tree Frog Fine Ale
It’s good for what ales you!
There was a painting of a frog on a branch of a tree. I had seen enough. I raised the bottle to my lips, upended it, and drank deeply.
When I lowered the bottle I saw that Wiggly had opened an engraved metal box of some sort, and in it was a lot of green stuff which somehow I knew was reefer. He had a book of cigarette papers, and he began rolling one.
“So tell me about yourself, Arnold,” he said.
I suppose the mezcal and the Tree Frog ale and all the reefer I had smoked had relaxed my usual inhibitions, because without beating about the bush for once I got right to the point.
“I come from another dimension,” I said.
“Cool,” said Wiggly. “What’s this dimension called, man?”
“I call it reality,” I said.
(Continued here, and ever onward, ad astram if not ad infinitum.)
(Please look down the right hand column of this page to find a rigorously current listing of links to all other publicly released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Kindly click here to order the handsome paperback edition of our esteemed colleague rhoda penmarq’s poems for everyone by wiggly jones, “the little hippie boy” – on sale now for a risible $1.89 plus shipping!)