Saturday, March 26, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 479: learning

We left our memoirist Arnold Schnabel standing in the entrance area of Bob’s Bowery Bar with his friend Josh (also known as the son of God), on this fateful rainy August night in a version of 1957…

(Kindly go here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you have stumbled by accident on this page and are wondering what can it all possibly mean then please click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 71-volume autobiography.)

“To delve deep into Arnold Schnabel’s massive and towering
chef-d'œuvre is to discover a whole new universe so much more shall we say magical than that humdrum one in which we mere mortals stumble our way to the grave.” – Harold Bloom, in The Racing Form Literary Quarterly.

He drew his hand in from the rain and turned to face me. He waved the hand in the air, sprinkling me with tiny droplets of water, and then, putting his cigarette in his lips he took his handkerchief from the outside breast pocket of his suit jacket and dabbed his wet hand with it.

When he had finished he deftly folded the handkerchief again, in a “pocket fold”, something I’ve never learned how to do, and he inserted it neatly back into his pocket so that two triangles of the white cloth emerged one above the other against the blue cloth of his suit. He patted the pocket, then took the cigarette out of his mouth and breathed out a cloud of smoke in my direction. It smelled good, unlike the second-hand smoke of the vast majority of people I had met in my lifetime.

“So this is it, old pal,” he said, smiling. “Mortal at last. Or, ‘again’, I suppose I should say. And let’s just hope this sojourn on earth doesn’t end as disastrously for me as that last one did.”

“Are you sure?” was all I could think of to say.

“Sure of what.”

“Sure – of the fact – that you’re – you know –”

“A human being now,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

He raised one eyebrow and paused a moment before speaking again.

“Well, there’s one way to find out I suppose,” he said, but instead of saying what this one way was he said nothing, raising his burnt palm to in front of his face and gently blowing on it.

I wasn’t sure if he really was human now, but he was definitely doing one of those annoying things human beings do, namely making you pull teeth to get an answer out of them.

“And what is that one way, Josh,” I said, conceding defeat.

“The 'way'?”


“The one way to prove if I am mortal man or still a god?”

“Yes,” I said. “How.”

“I’ll tell you how.”


“You know what I can do, don’t you? To find out?”

“No,” I said. “That’s why I’m asking you.”

“I’ll tell you what I could do.”


“I could do what I was talking about earlier.”

“Which was?”

He gestured with his thumb out at the street.

“I could throw myself in front of the next passing bus, that’s what I could do.”


“Throw myself under a bus. Then if I die, then, well, we can only presume I am mortal. Or was mortal.”

“Please don’t do that, Josh.”

“Jump under a bus. Or a truck.”

“Yes,” I said. “Please don’t do that.”

“For your sake I would never do that, Arnold. Or at least I hope not.”

“Thank you.”

He turned so that he was sideways to the street, looking out at it.

“But I wonder if you would do something for me,” he said.

“Um,” I said.

He turned his head to look at me.

“I want you to think something,” he said.

“Think something?”

“Yes, just think something. Anything at all. I want to see if I can hear your thoughts. If I can then I’ll know I’m really not mortal and this is just a false alarm.”

“What should I think about?”

“Anything at all.”

“Uh –”


“I think so.”

“Good,” he said. “Go. Think of something.”

He turned and gazed out at the street and the rain again, taking a drag on his cigarette.

I tried to think of something but I couldn’t think of anything except for the fact that I couldn’t think of anything to think about.

“Are you thinking about something?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Sort of.”

He turned away from the street to look at me.

“What do you mean, ‘sort of’?”

“Okay,” I said. “I was thinking something.”

“You’re sure.”

“I guess so. Yes. I was.”

“Good.” He continued to look at me. “Oh. Wait. You were thinking that you couldn’t think of anything to think about, weren’t you?”

“Wow,” I said. “Yes. Very good, Josh.”

“So I was right.”

“Yes –”

“But that one doesn’t count. You see, I know you, Arnold. I know how your brain works, so that might just have been a lucky guess. Think of something else now, but make it harder, something I wouldn’t be able to guess.”

He stood there staring at me, and I thought of how I didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to be back in my own world. More specifically, I wanted to be in Elektra’s bed, with her, both of us with no clothes on. I wanted it to still be the afternoon of that same rainy day when I had last been in my world, and I wanted to be lying there with Elektra as she dozed, after we had committed the act of sexual congress.

“Okay,” Josh said. “Stop.”

I tried to stop, but I was still thinking about lying in bed with Elektra, and the smell of her warm body, it smelled like pound cake warm from the oven, with fresh warm strawberry sauce spooned over it.

“You’re thinking about your girlfriend I’ll bet, right? Iolanthe is it?”

“Elektra actually,” I said.

“Elektra,” he said. “I could tell just by the way your eyes were practically glazing over with a film of concupiscence. That’s not the same as really hearing your thoughts, though.”

“Oh. Uh –”

“Try again. Think something else. Something harder this time. Something I could never guess. Something random. Like a piece of soft pretzel, lying in the sand, in the baking hot sun, with little insects flying around it.”


“Good. Go.”

He turned to face the street again.

All I could think of was that little bit of soft pretzel in the sand. It had toothmarks on it, and the little insects were landing on it, trying to derive some sustenance from it. I wondered if the salt on it was good for the little insects, which appeared to be gnats, a little cloud of buzzing hungry gnats. Would they be better off looking for some other food, some foodstuff not so liberally sprinkled with salt? A half-devoured lollipop perhaps... 

“Wait a minute,” said Josh. He turned partway so that he could see my face. “You’re not thinking about that piece of soft pretzel, are you?”

“Well, yes,” I admitted.

“That’s not fair, I only mentioned that bit of soft pretzel as an example of something random to think of. Think of something else, anything at all, just not a piece of soft pretzel in the sand.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Try. I know this sort of thing is hard for you to do, Arnold, but, for my sake, please, try.”

“I will.”

“Okay, you’re ready?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “When I say ‘go’. And – go.”

He turned to face the street once more, and I tried, I tried to think of something. But, strangely enough, or maybe not so strangely, as I forced myself not to think of the piece of soft pretzel in the sand, not entirely successfully either, I went a stage beyond not being able to think of anything, to wit I thought nothing, nothing itself was what I thought, if one can be said to think nothing. I say “strangely” because normally my brain is constantly churning with a million random thoughts, most of them brutally uninteresting. But now my brain was nothing but nothing, nothing at all but a vast empty universe, comprising absolutely nothing at all, except for just a very faint visual memory of that bit of soft pretzel in the sand in a world and time infinitely distant. I concentrated all my available willpower on forcing the pretzel bit to disappear and then it too was replaced by nothingness, as was I, and all was nothing but just a great blank unechoing void beyond time and space and life and death.

A second later or a millennium later I heard Josh’s voice, and saw his face, and behind it that crashing downpour.

“I’m getting nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all. See, that proves it, I’m human. Now you can tell me, what were you thinking about?”

“Do you promise not to get mad at me?”

“Why would I get mad at you? Go ahead, you can tell me. And if what you were thinking about was committing the act of congress with Ione, well,  that’s quite all right, you have nothing to feel guilty about.”


“So what were you thinking about.”


“Nothing,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Sorry.”

He looked at me, took another drag of his Pall Mall, waved his burnt hand in the air again.

“You’re a very strange man, Arnold.”

“I know,” I said.

“Okay, enough parlor games.” He took a drag on his cigarette. “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that I have achieved the state of mortality. Shall we?”

“Sure,” I said, still feeling somewhat embarrassed, and wanting to turn the spotlight away from myself.

“The question is,” said Josh, “what am I going to do now?”

He stared at me.

“Are you asking me that question?” I said, at last.

“Yes,” he said. “What do I do now?”

I took a moment, and then another. I took one more and then spoke:

“Josh, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do. How should I know what you should do?”

“Okay,” he said. “Fair enough. Can I ask you another question?”

It was dawning on me that if he was really a human being now then there was probably no way he could help me get back to my world. I know that this was a self-centered way to think, but I’m only reporting the truth here, or trying to.

“I’m going to take your silence as permission to fire when ready,” he said.

“Oh, sure, go ahead,” I said.

“What are you going to do about Carlotta?”

“Pardon me?”

“Carlotta. What are you going to do about her.”

“Uh, nothing –”

“Wow,” he said, after a pause. “That’s – how shall I put it – cold.”

“But why do I have to do anything?” I said.

“Because the poor girl is in love with you, man. Cried herself to sleep over you.”

“Well,” I said, “I’m sorry about that, Josh, but –”

“But what?”

“It’s just I don’t see how that – I mean, I don’t even recall any of what happened between us –”

“Like committing the act of sexual congress with her.”

“Yes,” I said. “That was all before I, you know, arrived on the scene –”

“It was still you,” he said.

“It was a fictional character, whose corporeal form I am now inhabiting, in a fictional world, and she’s fictional too. None of it was real.”

“It certainly seems to have been real as far as Carlotta is concerned.”

“But I can’t help that,” I said.

“Ah, there you go, Arnold, maybe you can’t help what’s already happened. But, what you can help, is what will happen. So what are you going to do.”

“But –”

“That poor girl.”

“She’ll get over it, Josh.”

“You think so?”

“Sure,” I said. “Maybe. Probably. Most likely. I mean, eventually.”


“Yeah,” I said. “Like, she’ll meet some new guy. Some nice guy. I hope a nice guy. And she’ll maybe fall in love with him.”

“And forget about you.”

“Sure,” I said.

“You think so?”


“And maybe you’re right,” he said, after a brief pause. He was gazing out at the rain again. “So, maybe, there’s still hope for me.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re a nice guy.”

“You think so?”


“I wonder if I should go over there now,” he said. He turned his back to me, and looked out at the street again, down to the right. “She’s just right around the corner. I could be there in a jiffy.”

“You said she was asleep,” I said.

“That’s true,” he said. “Sleeping soundly. Passed out you might say.”

He held his hand out to the rain again. 

“I don’t think I’m even going to get my umbrella. I’m just going to dash right over there before I lose my nerve.”

I went over beside him.



He brought his hand in from the rain. He didn’t bother to dry it.

“So you’re talking about just going over there again,” I said, “and ringing her buzzer, waking her up?”

He turned to look at me. He took a drag of his Pall Mall before answering my question.

“Why?” he said, “Is that not a good idea?”

“Josh,” I said, “can I tell you one thing I do know about human beings?”

“Please do.”

“They don’t like being woken up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night.”


“Normally, no,” I said.

“You don’t think it’s kind of romantic?”

“Can I be honest?”

“Arnold, look, how about if we just both assume from now on that it’s okay for us both to be honest all the time.”

“Okay,” I said, “good. I have to tell you that it’s probably not a good idea to wake up Carlotta right now.”

“But I want to tell her that I‘m there for her.”

“I don’t know, Josh,” I said.

“May I give my opinion,” said a familiar deep and gruff voice.

Josh and I, who had been standing side by side facing the street, both turned and saw Ben standing there in the open doorway of the bar, good old Big Ben Blagwell, with his usual cigarette, and a big schooner half full of what looked like some sort of dark beer in his hand.

“Do not go back over there,” he said. “Don’t ever wake up a dame when she’s asleep. Not unless you want your eyes scratched out.”

“Or unless you want to get swatted,” said Ferdinand, who was buzzing around in Ben’s cigarette smoke.

“Dames like their sleep,” said Ben.

“They sure do,” said Ferdinand. “Dames don’t get their sleep they get cranky. Sometimes they get mean. I know. Believe me I know.”

“Me too,” said Ben. “I ain’t no coward, but don’t ask me to wake up no sleeping dame. I ain’t that brave. No, sir.”

“So you guys don’t think I should wake her up,” said Josh.

“Not unless you want to get your eyes clawed out,” said Ben.

“Or, God forbid, swatted,” said Ferdinand.

“There’s so much I have to learn,” said Josh, after a moment’s pause.

(Continued here, and there’s plenty more where this came from.)

(Photograph by Nina Leen. Kindly scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a  presumably up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released episodes of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Coming later this year: Volume One of Arnold’s epic in e-book {and possibly even paper} form, at a price we hope you can afford!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 478: human

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his good friend “Josh” (better known as the son of God) here in the entrance area just outside of Bob’s Bowery Bar, on this rainy night in August of 1957…

(Please click here to read last week’s thrilling episode; go here to return to the almost-forgotten first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 66-volume autobiography.)

“The universe of Arnold Schnabel contains an infinite number of universes, each of which contains another infinite number of universes, all of these universes containing all the others.” – Harold Bloom, in
The Scientific Monthly Literary Supplement.

Now it was Josh’s turn to sigh, something I had never noticed him doing before.

He stared out at the rain.

I said nothing.

He took his cigarette case out of the side pocket of his suit jacket, but he didn’t open it, not yet.

From inside the open doorway of the bar the drunks continued to laugh and shout, and the band continued to play, the singer singing what sounded like a different song now:

Let’s dance the boogaloo, daddy,

and the black bottom too.

Let’s rock this crazy joint, daddy,
like we don’t know what to do...

Finally, after a very long minute Josh turned his head and looked at me.

“So this is what it’s like, being human.”

I couldn’t deny it.

“Disappointment,” he said.

He was looking at me as if he were waiting for some sort of verbal response, and so I said:

“Yes, but –” and then I stopped, as usual searching and failing to find the right words, or words less wrong.

“But what?” he said.

“Sometimes it’s not so bad.”


“Uh –”

“Okay, but what about the starving children in Africa?” he said. “For that matter what about those living in squalor and desolation right here on the Bowery?”

“Right,” I said. “I guess it’s, uh –”

“How can you be happy when others are in pain?”

Again he seemed to want some sort of answer, and so I considered the question for the customary allotment of three seconds.

“Most people don’t think about other people’s pain, Josh.”

He stared at me with those bottomless blue eyes of his for what must have been another three seconds before he spoke again.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” he said. “Too busy dealing with their own pain, or trying to avoid pain.”

He sighed again.

He clicked open that gold or probably at least gold-plated cigarette case, and looked into it, but he didn’t take one.

“What have I done,” he said.

“I beg your pardon,” was all I could think of to say.

“What have we done,” he said.

“We?” I said.

“Oh, I don’t mean you, Arnold. I mean us. Me, my father, the other chap.”

“The holy trinity,” I said, proving I was paying attention.

“Yes, what have we done.”

“In what sense?” I asked, cautiously.

“Creating humanity.”

“Ah,” I said.

“Why did we have to do that?”

“I, um,” I said.

“But why am I asking you?” he said.

“Because I’m here?”

“No, it’s not just that,” he said. “It’s because you’re my friend. But even so why am I asking you? You’re a human being, you can’t know the answer.”

“I don’t,” I said.

“Why did we create human beings just so they could suffer?”

“Well,” I said, “I think that, you know, theologians have, uh, you know, grappled with that question –”

“What the fuck do they know about it.”

I couldn’t remember ever hearing him say fuck before. I knew now he must be really upset.

“Don’t beat yourself up about it, Josh,” was all I could think of to say.

“You want to know the truth, Arnold?”

“I’m not so sure,” I said.

“We were bored.”

“You and –”

“My father, and the other fellow, you know –”

“The holy ghost –”

“H.G. Yes. We were bored, so we created the universe, and the earth, and, a few million years or so later, human beings.”

“Well, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing,” I said.

“We fucked up, Arnold.”

“Gee,” I said.

“We really fucked up. And now, I wanted to be human again, and not because of any of this redeeming mankind business, but just because I wanted to – to live, and, and –”

He trailed off.

He finally took a cigarette out of his case, clicked it shut. He tapped the cigarette on the lid of the case a few times, then dropped the case back into his jacket pocket.

He didn’t light the cigarette yet, though. He pointed its tip at me.

“And now I feel like shit,” he said. “To be quite honest.”

“That’s normal,” I said.

“To feel like shit?”

“For a human being it’s not unusual,” I said.

He put the cigarette in his mouth, but then he took it out again.

“It really hurts,” he said. “Knowing that Carlotta is in love with you and not me. And knowing that you had sex with her – wow, that really, really – really –”

“Josh –”

“That really hurts. Knowing that. That you had sex with her –”

“Again, Josh,” I said, “I don’t even have any memory of that, and, and –”

“And, again, I’m not accusing you, Arnold. I don’t hold you to blame. It’s just one of those things.”

“Sure,” I said. 

“And you don’t even care about her –”

“Wait, Josh, I don’t think that’s fair to say –”

“So you do care about her?”

“Well, sure, I mean, you know –”

“But you’re not in love with her.”

“Oh, no,” I said, and as soon as I said that it felt as if I had spoken perhaps a bit too emphatically, so I quickly added a “but –” and then couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“But what?” said Josh.

“Just that, you know, uh, she seems like a very, you know, nice person –”

“So she cried some more.”


“Carlotta. After she told me she was in love with you she cried some more. Then she fell asleep. She was pretty drunk I guess. So I just laid a sheet over her, and, you know, sort of crept out. And now, here we are. And I feel really depressed.”

“It’s just all part of life, Josh,” I said. “You’ll probably meet some other nice girl.”

“Not sure if I want to now.”

“You’ll get over it, in time.”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t,” I said. “I was only trying to make you feel better.”

“Wow,” he said. “I appreciate that, Arnold. I mean, the empathy.”

“It’s the least I can do.”

“Perhaps in time the pain will lessen.”

“I’m sure it will,” I said.

“There you go again.”

“I mean,” I said, “I’m not really sure, but, it’s possible that the pain might lessen, in time.”

“I certainly hope so. Because right now I sort of feel like running in front of the very next bus that comes by.”

“That would be a sin,” I said.

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

I knew I could not argue with him on that point.

“How do you deal with the pain?” he said.

“You just hope it will end eventually,” I said.

“And in the meantime you just suffer, is that it?”

“Yes,” I said.

“That stinks.”

Again, I was not about to argue.

He took out his lighter, that nice gold, or at least gold-plated I would presume, lighter. He put the cigarette he’d been holding in his lips, and he raised the lighter up to it, and thumbed its cap open, but then he lowered the lighter again.

He took the cigarette out of his mouth.

“I can’t stop thinking about you having sex with her,” he said. “With Carlotta. Was it just the one time?”

“As far as I know, yes,” I said. “Again, that all happened before I entered this universe –”

“I know,” he said. “I know, and, again, I’m not blaming you, Arnold. But I just keep getting this mental image of you, on top of her, naked, thrusting –”

“Josh,” I said.


“You have to try not to think about it.”

“But how? How can I not think about it? It was bad enough knowing she was in love with you, but now to realize that you, you performed the act of, of –”

“Josh,” I said, “please.”


“Maybe, and I would normally never say this to anyone, but maybe you’d be better off just having a few more drinks, you know? We could go inside, join the others, listen to the music –”

“Drink my troubles away then.”

“Yes,” I said.

“And what about when I sober up, then what do I do? Start drinking again?”

“No,” I said. “That’s never a good idea.”

“You’re really not being very helpful,” he said.

“Josh, may I be honest with you?”

“Of course.”

“There’s probably nothing I can really do to help, but at least I can try not to make things worse.”

“I don’t know how you could make things worse.”

“I could say that the pain will only grow worse and worse, and that there’s no hope.”

“That would be an extremely depressing prospect.”

“Yes,” I said. “But probably the pain will grow less and less, so there is some hope.”

“Until my heart gets broken again.”

“That might happen,” I said, “yes.”

“I suppose it’s inevitable,” he said. “Heartbreak. Sadness. The death of loved ones. One’s own death.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Why did I ever want to be human?”

“You can always go back, can’t you?”

“To being the son of God?”

“Yeah –”

“Yes,” he said. “I guess.”

“You guess?”

He didn’t say anything for a half a minute, and then he put the cigarette in his mouth again.

He clicked the lighter into flame, but then, instead of lighting his cigarette, he raised his free hand, his left hand, and brought it up very slowly so that its open palm was a few inches above the flame.

Then he lowered his palm down into the flame.

His shoulders flinched, he pulled his hand away and shook it in the air.

He clicked the lighter shut and with two fingers of the same hand he took the unlit cigarette from his mouth.

“Ow,” he said to me, “that really hurt.”

“Well, of course,” I said. “Josh –”

“No, you see,” he said. “It hurt.

He was still waving his left hand in the air.

“Shit,” he said.

“Hold it under the rain,” I suggested. “The burn. Stick your hand out and hold your palm up to the rain.”


“It’ll make it feel better,” I said. “At least temporarily.”

He turned to face the street, extended his arm out from under the ceiling of the entranceway, and held the palm of his hand up to that crashing rain.

I stood there watching him.

What else could I do?

“Wow,” he said, after a minute. “That really does make it feel better.”

He stood there like that. Holding his palm out to be splattered by that relentless rain.

One more time he put the cigarette in his mouth, he clicked the lighter open and gave himself a light. 
He snapped the lighter shut and dropped it back into his jacket pocket. 
With the same hand he took the cigarette from his mouth and then slowly exhaled a great cloud of Pall Mall smoke into the rain, which washed it away at once from the air.

“You know what this means,” he said, still holding his hand out in the rain, looking back at me over his shoulder, under that cocked straw trilby hat of his.

“What does what mean?” I said.

“The fact that I’m capable of feeling pain. Both moral and physical. You know what that means don’t you, Arnold?”

“Um,” I said.

“It means I’m a human being now,” he said.

(Continued here, and onward, boldly going where no man or beast has willingly gone before.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what one hopes to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-released episodes of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Coming sometime this year: Book One of Arnold’s saga in e-book form, and possibly even in the form of a book made out of paper!) 

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 –”


“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.”


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.


“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.”


“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.”


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

“Sure –”

“I stopped paying attention to everything ages ago.”


“It just got too much. You know?”

“Yeah, I can see how it would, uh –”

“Too tedious to be quite honest.”


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


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


“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.”


“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.”


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

“Wait a minute – Josh –”


“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 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.”


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


“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.”


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


“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.”


“I really have no idea.”

“She started crying.”


“Like a baby.”


“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.”


“And this my first time –”


“Making out with a girl and all.”


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


“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 –”


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


“So I asked her.”


“Do you want to know what she said?”

“Well, I don’t want to pry.”

“But I want to tell you.”


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


“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.”


“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 –”


“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.”


“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!)

Friday, March 4, 2016

“Mrs. Big”

                                                             “Mrs. Big”
                                                    by Horace P. Sternwall

Originally published in “Chilling Crime Tales”, December, 1950; republished for the first time in book form in “Mr. and Mrs. Big”: The “Gwendolyn and Auntie Margaret” Stories of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 8, the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Hardboiled Literature, Olney Community College.

Original illustrations by rhoda penmarq for penmarqonomiq™  productions, ltd.

(Click here to read the previous Gwendolyn story; go here to return to the very beginning of the saga.)

“Baccini speaking.”

“Would this be Mr. Bartolomeo ‘Big Bart’ Baccini speaking?”

“Yeah. Who wants to know?”

“You don’t know me, Mr. Baccini, but I have a proposition for you which may be to our mutual benefit.”

“Who the hell is this?”

“As I say, I am no one you know.”

“You got a name?”

“A name. I am afraid I would prefer not to give you my name, Mr. Baccini.”

“You got a proposition for me but you don’t want to give me your name.”

“That is correct, Mr. Baccini.”

“Then what I’m supposed to call you, sister?”

“Call me – Mrs. Big.”

“Mrs. Big.”

“You wanted a name, I gave you one.”

“All right, ‘Mrs. Big’, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t hang up on you right now, on account of I am a very busy man.”

“You should not hang up on me because it was my gang who rubbed out Jimmy Mazzaro and his four top boys.”

There was a silence on the other end of the line, and Gwendolyn used this pause to take a sip of her hot cocoa and gaze through the glass door of the phone booth out at the crowded vaulted expanse of Grand Central Station.

Then Baccini’s voice came through the line again.

“Nobody ‘rubbed out’ Jimmy and his boys. It was a gas explosion from a faulty stove.”

“So the official report said,” said Gwendolyn in her husky “grown-up” voice, modeled after that of her Auntie Margaret, and speaking through the lace handkerchief Auntie Margaret had got her just this past Christmas, with her initial “G” in red and gold embroidery. “I wonder how much it cost you, Mr. Baccini, to have Jimmy’s death and that of his four goons declared an ‘accident’?”

Another pause, and Gwendolyn took another sip of her hot cocoa from its paper cup. it was nice cocoa, but not as nice as Schrafft’s cocoa.

Then Baccini’s voice spoke again.

“Okay, sister, who you working for?”

“Who am I working for? What makes you think I am working for anyone?”

“Because you’re a dame, and you sound like a young dame. Come on, ‘Mrs. Big’, who is your Mr. Big?”

“Do you really think I’m going to tell you my real name? Or the name of my ‘Mr. Big’, even if there were a Mr. Big? After I just told you it was my gang that turned Jimmy Mazzaro and his boys into so many human Roman candles?” 

“Are you with Maxie Goldenberg’s crew?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“You’re with the West Side Boys then, right? Jackie O’Hara’s mob?”

“Do I sound Irish?”

“Wait – is this the Five Points Gang?”

“You can keep naming colorful gang names all night, and my answer will be the same, Mr. Baccini. As far as you’re concerned I am Mrs. Big.”

Again a pause.

Gwendolyn heard Baccini say something to someone on the other end. Was he arranging to have the call traced, through his contacts on the police force or at the telephone company? Go ahead, Mr. Baccini, because how many dozens of phone booths were being used this very moment in this enormous station, and who would ever suspect this innocent-looking twelve-year-old blonde girl, probably calling home to her mother saying she had just missed her train after her ballet class but would surely catch the next one?  
And then Baccini’s voice came through the receiver again.

“Was this because of that Tommy Sullivan business? Was it? Because I had nothing to do with that. I told Jimmy to lay off Tommy. In no uncertain terms I told him he was to lay off Tommy on account of we had had a long-standing arrangement with that Irish son of a bitch, you should pardon my French, but it’s the truth. So if that’s why you took Jimmy out, that was between him and you. Far as I am concerned the matter is settled with Jimmy’s, uh, accidental death.
“I am glad you feel that way, Mr. Baccini.”

“Good, so goodbye, Mrs. Big, and good luck in all your future endeavours.”

“But you haven’t heard my proposition,” said Gwendolyn.

“Your proposition,” said Baccini.

“Yes,” said Gwendolyn. “May I continue?”

There was another pause, and then Baccini spoke:

“Go ahead, Mrs. Big. I am listening.”


Gwendolyn came out of the phone booth. The gang were all there: Elizabeth and Ruth, Sluggo and the Monkey.

“Twig anything funny while I was on the phone?” Gwendolyn asked. “No suspicious characters? No cops?

“Nah, we kept a good eye out,” said the Monkey. “Nuttin’.”

“Good,” said Gwendolyn. “And now – how do milkshakes and cakes at Schrafft’s sound? On me.”

“Sounds great!” said Sluggo.

“But, Gwendolyn dear,” said Elizabeth. “You must tell us. How did it go with this Baccini fellow?”

“He turned out to be fairly reasonable, for an Italian,” said Gwendolyn. “The upshot is the ‘tea’ trade in the Village and the Bowery is ours. His crew will take over Jimmy Mazzaro’s territory in Little Italy and points south.”

“Do you trust him?” said Ruth.

Gwendolyn drank the last bit of her cocoa, crumpled up the cup, and tossed it into a waste basket.

“A better question, Ruth, might be: can Big Bart Baccini trust us?”

The gang laughed as one at Gwendolyn’s bon mot.

Then they headed off to Schrafft’s for delicious milkshakes and cakes.


(This is a slightly revised version of a story that originally appeared, with artwork by the world-renowned rhoda penmarq, in New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian. Click here to read the next Gwendolyn story!)

(Our editorial staff has taken another week off to work on the editing of the first volume of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, which we hope to bring out this year as an e-book and maybe even a book made out of paper. An all-new thrilling episode of Arnold’s epic will appear here next Saturday!)