Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his new friend “Sid” (aka Siddhārtha Gautama, aka the Buddha) on this rainy summer night, here in the entrance area of Bob’s Bowery Bar...
(Kindly click here to read last week’s thrilling adventure; if you would like to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume epic you may click here to order Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available either as a Kindle™ e-book or as an old-fashioned softcover “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)
“Ah, summer! And what better way to pass the day than sitting on the shady porch of our quaint Victorian ‘cottage’ in Cape May and reading a few hundred pages or so of Arnold Schnabel’s enormous (and enormously rewarding) chef-d'œuvre!” – Harold Bloom, in the Cape May Pennysaver Literary Supplement.
I didn’t know what to say to that remark, and so I said nothing, which of course is not always the case with me, to say nothing when I have nothing to say, in fact I would estimate that 99% of what I’ve said in my life has been said despite having nothing to say, and perhaps this very sentence is an example.
“A huge admirer,” repeated Sid.
“Uh,” said I, it was the best I could manage at the time.
“And I shall be ever so delighted to meet him. Do you think he’d like to meet me?”
“Oh, sure,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, sure, he’d like to meet you.”
“Yes, but the way you said it.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” I said, realizing that just because he realized he had a tendency to come on too strong didn’t of course mean he was likely to do anything about it.
“It sounded as if you were saying, ‘Oh, sure, he would like to meet you.’”
“That’s what I said.”
“Yes, but in a way that, oh, sure, he would like to meet anybody.”
“Well, I think he is that way,” I said. “Much more than me, that’s for sure.”
“Yes, but we’re not talking about you. We’re talking about Jesus Christ. The son of what I believe you Americans call ‘the chap upstairs’.”
“I realize that, uh, Sid,” I had almost addressed him as Mr. Buddha again, but caught myself in time.
“If you don’t think he would like to meet me I wish you would just say so.”
“Sid, I just told you I think he would like to meet you.”
“You really think so?”
“Yes, I really think so,” I said.
“Well, okay, then.”
“Let’s go in,” I said.
“Wait.” He put his hand on my arm. He had put his cigarette in his lips so that he could do this unencumbered, since he still had his umbrella hanging from his other arm. “Correct me if I’m wrong.”
“Okay,” I said.
“What you’re saying is he wouldn’t mind meeting me because he wouldn’t mind meeting anyone.”
“Yes,” I said.
“But not, you know, because.”
I knew he wanted me to say “Because of what?” but I just couldn’t bring myself to say that, my little revenge I suppose for his being so annoying.
“Because of the obvious,” he said.
Again I gave him no relief. I’m not proud of the way I was behaving, but I’m trying to be truthful in this chronicle.
“The obvious being,” he finally continued, realizing what a mean human being I was being, “because I am no other than Siddhārtha Gautama, perhaps better known as the Buddha.”
I sighed, this was I believe my ten thousandth sigh of this longest day in history, at least my own personal history.
“I don’t really understand what you’re getting at, Sid.”
“I mean,” he said, “one would think he would be delighted to meet me, he and I being in the same shall we say general line of work you see –”
“Oh, I get it now. Yeah, I’m sure he’ll be delighted to meet you, Sid.”
“You’re really sure?”
“’Pretty sure’. Okay. Wow.”
“I mean I can’t say for absolutely sure, Sid, but –"
“But you’re pretty sure.”
He still had his hand on my arm, gripping it uncomfortably tightly, and it was all I could do not to shake him off, or try to, try to shake him off and toss him out into the downpour and make my escape into the bar.
“I think I get it,” he said.
“Good,” I said.
“Oh, I get it.”
“You’re fairly sure –”
Oh Christ, I thought, very loudly, in my brain.
“Oh, Christ,” I said, aloud this time.
“Pretty sure,” he said, “provided that I don’t, in your parlance, ‘come on too strong’.”
“Yes,” I said, flatly, because, now that he mentioned it, that was probably what I had meant, more or less, although maybe not more, more likely less.
“Well, my dear sir, I have already assured you I will do my best not to, as you say, come on too – oh, dear. Oh my goodness. I just realized. I have been coming on too strong again, haven’t I?”
I didn’t say anything, again. I didn’t have to say anything.
“Okay. Look, Arnold – I can call you that, right?”
“Arnold, look, if I get out of hand again, I want you to slap me. Okay? And hard. I mean, really give me a strawmaker as you Yankees say?”
“I’m not going to slap you, Sid.”
“Okay, fine, but give me a nudge. Or, like, step on my foot, clear your throat – or, maybe you could fake a coughing fit?”
“Okay,” I said.
“I promise. Can we go in now.”
He took his hand off my arm, took the cigarette from his lips and tapped off the ash, which I noticed tumbled down to land on the scuffed uppers of both of my work shoes. I made a move to turn and head through the doorway into the bar, but he quickly stuck the cigarette back in his mouth and grabbed my arm again.
“But wait,” he said.
“Now what, Sid?”
“What’s he like?” he said, in almost a whisper, as if anyone was listening.
“You mean Jesus,” I said, loud and clear.
“Yes! Who else are we talking about?”
“He’s –” I paused, possessed by one of those occasional urges to tell the truth that sometimes descend upon me, “probably not quite what you would expect.”
“But he’s still perfect, right?”
“I can only assume so,” I said.
“Assume. You are so modest. Come, come, my good fellow – he’s the son of God! Of course he’s perfect. How could he not be perfect?”
“He likes to drink,” I said.
“Nothing wrong with a drink now and then.”
“He likes to drink a lot.”
“Oh. You mean he likes it a lot, or he drinks a lot.”
“Both,” I said. “To tell the truth he was pretty drunk when I last saw him.”
“Really. Well, maybe, just maybe when the son of God gets drunk it’s all part of his perfection. I mean, can we judge him the way we would judge an ordinary human, or one of the lesser gods?”
“Or any other gods.”
He stared up at me through the thick lenses of his glasses.
“Am I to believe you don’t know about the other gods?”
“As a Catholic I was brought up to believe there was only one God.”
“Oh, right. And yet your so-called ‘one God’ if I am not mistaken is really three gods, isn’t he?”
“Well, not exactly –”
He took his hand off my arm, made a fist, and then stick out his index finger.
“Father,” he said.
Then he stuck out his forefinger, which had a gold ring with a tiny little Buddha made out of jewels on it.
Next he popped out his ring finger, which had another gold ring on it, this one with a little crosslegged lady made out of jewels on it.
“Holy ghost,” he said.
He took his cigarette out of his mouth, and breathed smoke up into my face.
“Three gods,” he said. “Not one. Correct me if my maths is wrong.”
“Okay, Sid,” I said, I have no idea why, “but, you see, according to the doctrine of the Trinity, they’re really just, uh, you know –”
“What about the Sun God?”
“The Sun God. God of the Sun. The big yellow thing in the sky during the daytime? Sun God.”
“There’s a Sun God?”
“What about the God of Thunder?”
“Okay,” I said.
“God of the forest, or I should say gods of the forest –”
“All right –”
“Do I have to go on, enumerating hundreds more gods?”
“No,” I said.
“Bacchus, God of wine. Chandra, the reefer god.”
“Not to mention gods that even I don’t know about.”
“I forget that, enlightened as you are, you are still a human being, aren’t you?”
“Presumably,” I said.
“’Presumably.’ Ha ha. You kill me. ‘Presumably.’”
He took a drag of his cigarette, tapped the ash, which tumbled down to my shoes again.
“Unless,” he said. “Unless. Unless.”
“Okay, unless what,” I said, it was either that or scream.
“Unless you yourself are a god.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“You don’t think so, but maybe that’s just because you don’t know.”
“Hey, maybe we should go in now.”
I made a move to turn, but he quickly put his cigarette back in his mouth and grabbed hold of my arm again
“Y’know,” he said, “a lot of people think I’m a god.”
“Really? Y’know, we should go in, because come to think of it, I’m really hungry, I haven’t eaten since –"
“I once fasted for two weeks. Try to beat that.”
“I don’t think so, but, look, I am pretty hungry, and I’d like to order some food, and if we go in too late the kitchen might be closed.”
“Just because I started a religion with millions of followers, a lot of westerners think that makes me a god.”
“I think they have a late-night menu, but I’m not sure just how late they serve.”
“I’m the Buddha, but I’m not a god.”
“Okay, well –”
“Like Mohammed, same deal with him. Millions of adherents to the religion he started, but he’s not a god either. Allah is the God.”
“Okay, I wasn’t quite clear on that. So –”
“Your friend Jesus, though,” he said. “Wow, not only a God, but the son of God. That’s what you Americans call a double threat. Like Babe Ruth was not only a great batsman but an excellent bowler as well.”
“Can we go in now?”
“Sure,” he said. “I’m dying to go in.”
He took his hand off my arm, but just as quickly grabbed it again, and his grip was strong for such a little fellow, my forearm was actually getting sore from him gripping it so hard and for so long.
“Now what?” I said.
“How do I address him? Dear lord? Master? Divinity?”
“Just call him Josh.”
“Yes,” I said. “He likes to be called Josh now, because he wants to be a human being instead of God.”
“Really? But he’s still the son of God, right?”
“I don’t think he wants to be the son of God anymore either.”
“Oh, I get it. You’re – I think the term is – fucking with me.”
“An instance of the much-vaunted American sense of humor perchance?”
“You’re telling me he doesn’t want to be God or the son of God anymore. At all.”
“Right. He just wants to be a regular human being.”
“In your parlance again: wow.”
“I know. It’s kind of strange.”
“Strange is not the word. It’s – in your American argot – kind of fucked up.”
“Well, maybe so, but –”
“So I should address him as Joshua?”
“Okay. All right. And, look, when you introduce us, maybe you should just introduce me as ‘Sid’, okay?”
“Like, ‘Josh, I should like to introduce you to my friend Sid.’”
“I don’t want to come on too strong.”
“Good idea,” I said. “Could you let go of my arm now?”
“Oh, yes, of course,” he said, and he removed his vice-like grip from my forearm.
With my other hand I massaged the inflamed area of my arm.
“Okay, let’s go in,” I said.
“Certainly,” he said.
He took a drag from his cigarette, which was smoked down to its last half-inch. He blew the smoke up into my face. You didn’t really have to smoke your own cigarettes with him standing there. He flicked the butt out into the unabated downpour where its tiny fire was immediately extinguished and the less tiny tube of tobacco and paper was flushed away into the gutter, to the sewer, to the Atlantic Ocean.
“I must say I’m getting thirsty,” he said, with a smile, and slipping his arm in mine. “This dreadfully humid heat. Are you thirsty?”
“Yes,” I said, although I wasn’t thirsty for water.
(Continued next week, provided this world is still here...)