Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “trucking”


Our hero Arnold Schnabel has been transported into the world of a cheap paperback novel –
The Jolly Six Bums, by Horace P. Sternwall – and specifically to a hot dusty road stretching through unpopulated farmland some eighty miles from St. Louis, MO. Once again Arnold is accompanied by his old crew: that nautical adventurer Big Ben Blagwell; Josh (aka the Son of God); the ancient Mr. Philpot; Horace P. Sternwall himself; and, of course, Ferdinand, the talking fly. A frightening storm approaches from the horizon, but a man in an old Ford Model AA truck has stopped and offered our friends a ride...



(Please go here to read last week’s episode. If you would like to begin at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume memoir you may click here to buy
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel.)

“Surely the greatest literary event of the 21st century is the publication of the greatest work of the 20th century, Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling but magnificent
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in the Cosmopolitan Literary Supplement.



“All of us?” said Horace.

“Yep, alla ya,” said the man. “And ya better be quick about it if’n we’re gonna outrun that there storm.”

He didn’t have to tell us twice, and as one we hustled to the back of the truck. 

Ben, the tallest and strongest of our little band, hauled his great body up over the rear gate first and pulled the rest of us up one by one, except for Ferdinand of course, who needed no help to fly up.

Ben had no sooner yanked up and set gently down the last of us – old Mr. Philpot, and as easily as a normally strong man would have lifted up a rag doll – when the truck lurched into gear and roared off, causing us all to stagger and fall back against the wooden rails on the sides of the truck and to slide or fall down to its flooring.

The jolting truck bed, composed of ribbed iron baked searing hot by the sun, banged like some exotic form of torture against my buttocks and the base of my spinal cord, but just as I was resigning myself to this new source of pain I observed that my human or humanoid companions had all wisely shifted their luggage under their backsides by way of seat-cushions, and so I pulled my duffel bag under my own rear end before even a partial paralysis could be incurred. No doubt I had much to learn about the ways of being a bum.

“You see,” said Josh, “not all farmers are bad.”

He sat to my left on his expensive-looking but dusty suitcase (which I noticed was monogrammed with the initials JC). Mr. Philpot sat to Josh’s left on the old Gladstone bag, Horace and Ben sat across from us on seabag and cardboard grip, and I could feel Ferdinand safely ensconced in the porch of my left ear.

“I want to thank you, Josh,” said Horace, blowing on the ash-end of his cigar to get the burn up again. “You came through like a true son of the big man upstairs, sir!”

“I really don’t think it was my doing,” said Josh, he was leaning over to relight Mr. Philpot’s pipe with his golden Ronson. “Or my father’s. I think that we have simply found a good man.”

“Not all men are scum,” said Ben. He must have tossed away the cigarette he had been smoking, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice when exactly, and now he took a crumpled pack of Sweet Caporals out of his shirt pocket. Come to think of it, the only kind of cigarette packet I had ever seen him pull out of a pocket was the crumpled and already opened kind; perhaps he bought them that way? He gave the pack his usual expert shake, so that exactly one cigarette poked up from its fellows, and he stuck it in his lips. “A lot of ‘em are scum, but not all of ‘em. I’m gonna say seven percent of men are not outright scum.”

Mr. Philpot drew on his pipe a few times and coughed before putting in his two cents.

“I think you’re being a mite generous there, sailor boy,” he said.

“Well, I think we can safely say we’ve found one man who’s not scum,” said Horace.

“Who?” said Ben. He had taken a book of matches out of his shirt pocket, and even from across the truck I could see that they were Musso and Frank’s matches.

“Why, the farmer who picked us up,” said Horace.

“Oh,” said Ben. “Him.” He lowered his face into his cupped hands the way he must have done a hundred thousand times on the decks of storm-tossed ships and lighted his cigarette. Raising his head he let out a great lungful of smoke that was sucked away into the yellow-grey cloud billowing in the wake of the truck, and he flicked the match after it. “He’s okay, I guess.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Mr. Philpot.

“What do you mean, Mr. Philpot?” said Josh.

“I mean we’ll see if this farmer is on the level or not,” said Mr. Philpot, puffing away on his corncob pipe.

“You fellows don’t seem very trusting,” said Josh. He too had apparently gotten rid of the cigarette he had been smoking, all sorts of things must have been happening that I hadn’t noticed, and now he was removing a cigarette from his usual engraved gold cigarette case, which as usual was exactly full of cigarettes.


“I beg your pardon, your highness –” said Mr. Philpot.

’Josh’,” said Josh. “Please, Mr. Philpot, just call me Josh. I am a man now, just like you good fellows. We’re all friends here, so, please. ‘Josh’.”

“Very well, ‘Josh’, said Mr. Philpot. “What was I saying?”

“You were begging my pardon,” said Josh.

“And what did you say before that?”

“I said –” Josh hesitated, rolling the tape back in his mind, “oh, now I remember, I said you chaps don’t seem very trusting.”

He lighted up his cigarette with his Ronson, but less dramatically than the way Ben had ignited his Sweet Caporal. Maybe his was a special deific lighter, resistant to high winds and the jolting of an old truck roaring along a dusty country road.

“You say that, friend Josh,” said Mr. Philpot, “but look what happened to you when you trusted that punk Judas.”

Josh exhaled his own lungful of smoke. He put the lighter back in his suit-coat pocket before speaking.

“Okay. Point taken,” he said.

“Hey, Arnold,” said Ferdinand, in my ear, speaking only loud enough for me to hear, “do you have the feeling something awful is going to happen?”

“Yes,” I said, “but then I usually do.”

“What’s that, Arnie?” yelled Ben.

“Oh, nothing,” I said.

“I said,” yelled Ferdinand, from inside my ear, loud enough for the others to hear over the roaring and rattling of the truck, “don’t you have the feeling something bad’s about to happen?”

“There, you see, Ferdinand,” said Horace, “you’re one of these glass half-full guys.”

“Maybe you would be too if you were a fly,” said Ferdinand.

“He’s got a point, Horace,” said, yelled Ben. Let’s just say everyone was yelling now, as long as we were in the truck anyway, “a fly’s life must not be an easy one.”

“That depends,” said Mr. Philpot.

“On what?” said Ben. “On how much shit they get to eat?”

“Precisely,” said Mr. Philpot. “You take a fly born and raised in a nice dung heap, one who lives his whole life in that dung heap. That fly, I should warrant, has lived a happy life. What say you, Mr. Ferdinand?”



“I have to say I agree with you, Mr. Philpot,” said Ferdinand. “Some flies are just born lucky. But, man, will you look at that storm.”

We all turned and looked back. That great churning dark grey tidal wave of a storm had crossed the road behind us, and it stretched as far as the eye could see on either side of the road as it now boiled and roiled and rolled in all its enormity at visible high speed right toward us and this open Model AA Ford truck we sat in.

“Holy shit,” said Ben. “I seen plenty of hurricanes and typhoons and nor’easters in my time, but I ain’t never seen nothing like that storm.”

“We’re doomed,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Maybe we’ll outrun it,” said Horace.

“It sure don’t look like we’re gonna outrun it,” said Ferdinand, “not at the rate this old heap is goin’.”

“Yeah, I gotta say he’s probably only doing about forty-five right now,” said Horace.

“Forty-five knots?” said Ben. “That don’t sound right.”



“No, Ben,” said Horace. “I meant miles per hour. If we had been in a boat I would perhaps have said knots. But we’re not, we’re in a truck in case you haven’t noticed.”

“Sure,” said Ben, “I knew that. But y’see, an old sea dog like me thinks in terms of knots. That’s just the way I am. I use nautical terms and slang all the time. Hey, love  me or leave me. I mean, I accept you the way you are. I wish you would just accept me for the way I am.”

“You sound like a faggot,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Hey,” said Ben, “just because I’m a big strong brawling seafaring man don’t mean I ain’t got feelings, Mr. Philpot.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Ferdinand. “I mean, Jesus Christ.”

“Yes?” said Josh.

“I mean,” said Ferdinand, “you know what I can’t believe?”

“What’s that, Ferdinand?” said Josh.

“Okay, you know what I believe but I find it hard to accept?”

“I admit I have no idea,” said Josh.

“What I just cannot accept but it looks like I’m gonna have to?”

“Okay, we’ll all bite, little guy,” said Horace. “What are you just going to have to accept.”

“Just spit it out, pal,” said Ben. “Like Josh says, we’re all friends here. Even Mr. Philpot.”

“Ha,” said Mr. Philpot.

“What I cannot accept,” said Ferdinand, “but it looks like I am going to have to accept is the fact that I am going to be listening to you knuckleheads talking complete and utter bullshit at the exact moment of my death. That is what I cannot accept. But I guess I’m going to have to accept it. So, please, do not let me stop you. Continue talking rank and utter bullshit. Right up to your dying breath. And to mine. Unfortunately.”

“Wow,” said Horace.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Like, wow.”

“Ha ha,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Gee,” said Josh.

I realize now that I have been remiss in that I have neglected to describe the back of the truck we rode in. For all the reader knows we sat on a bare ribbed iron flooring, but in fact there were all sorts of things in the truck bed: coils of rope, an unsecured truck tire that appeared to be empty of only the minimal amount of air, milk crates filled with metal objects and tools, cardboard and wooden boxes filled with more metal objects and wires and coils and chains and more ropes and other unknown and unseen things, and, to my right, a cardboard box filled with used-looking paperback books.

A silence had fallen among us. No, not a silence, because the truck still rattled and roared beneath us, and now there was a new ambient sound, behind us, the roaring of the approaching storm, as if all the universe were roaring with rage.

“Hey, wait a minute,” I said, the victim of one of my sudden brainwaves, “how long have we all been in this world?”

“What?” said Horace.

“Yeah, what the fuck?” said Ben

“Have you gone mad, sir?” said Mr. Philpot.

“What the fuck are you on about,” said Ferdinand.

“Are you okay, Arnold?” said Josh.

“But don’t you all remember when we were last together?” I said. “Less than an hour ago we were all sitting around a booth in Bob’s Bowery Bar. And Ben started to read aloud from this book. The Ace of Death it was called, written by Horace here, supposedly, although really it was, what, created by Mr. Philpot. Don’t you all remember?”

“Calm down, buddy,” said Ferdinand.

“He must have gone loco from the heat,” said Mr. Philpot.

“I seen it happen,” said Ben. “One time when my ship got torpedoed and me and my shipmates drifted in a lifeboat for weeks in the middle of the boiling hot South Pacific, I seen them guys go nuts one by one, and all we could do was bash ‘em on the head with an oar. Did ‘em a favor, really.”

“Take a few deep breaths, Arnie,” said Horace. “I’d offer you a drink of water if we had any water. Or whiskey if we had any whiskey.”

“Josh,” I said. “Don’t you remember? I was just sitting across from you at the bar –”

“Sure, Arnold,” he said. “I suppose in some universe, in some hypothetical time-space continuum, it could be said that we were just, as you say, sitting in a booth at this Bill’s Bowery Bar –”

“Bob’s Bowery Bar,” I said.

“Sure,” said Josh. “Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“You don’t remember,” I said. “You think I’m dreaming it.”

“But isn’t all life a dream?” he said.

I decided to say no more, at least for the present.

I looked back over the tailgate of the truck. The storm roared closer, as if all the chaos of the universe was about to swallow us whole.


(To be continued, barring a nuclear holocaust or similar unpleasantness.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “bums”



When we last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel he was just inside the entranceway of the apartment building of “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, with the three hoods “the Toad, the Rat, and the Bear” waiting just outside and prepared to do Arnold mortal harm. In desperation Arnold has opened a paperback novel that Wiggly has given him: The Jolly Six Bums, by Horace P. Sternwall... 



(Kindly go here to read the immediately preceding chapter of this
Gold View Award™-winning saga. If you would like to begin at the very beginning you may click here to purchase your very own copy of Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a deluxe large-format paperback and an affordable and convenient Kindle™ e-book.)

“Worlds within worlds, dimensions within dimensions, realities merging and separating, life blending into death and back again into life: such is the multifarious universe of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the AARP Literary Digest.





I quickly leafed past the front matter of the book (including a page of reviews: “Sternwall hits another one out of the park!” – John Crowe Ransom; “A rollicking picaresque!” – T.S. Eliot; “Lots of laughs, and, yes, a well-earned tear or two.” – Bishop Fulton J. Sheen; “Prose as limpid as mountain brook water.” – Edgar Guest; “A new Sternwall novel, or ‘joint’ as he likes to call them, is always welcome, and God bless him for turning them out at a rate that makes Balzac look like a lazy idle loafer!” – Anthony Powell) and went right to the first chapter, which started, if memory serves, with:

Me and the boys were walking down another hot dusty road just like a thousand other hot dusty roads, every one of them roads leading to this hot dusty road, which would lead to a thousand other hot dusty roads, or to roads that might not be hot and dusty but were cold, or rainy, or snowy, and maybe even a few, a very few, that were just plain old roads – not too hot, or too cold, or rainy or snowy or even dusty. Some of them were paved roads or highways, some were dirt roads, and some were only old paths or Indian tracks through woods or fields. But all of them roads and highways and pathways and tracks had one thing in common. All of them wound up nowhere you really wanted to be. And that’s why we kept on hitting the road, me and my five buddies – the jolly six bums we called ourselves... 

Sure enough I was now walking along the side of a hot dusty road, with shimmering yellow-green fields on either side. I recognized Ferdinand the fly buzzing merrily around my head. Big Ben Blagwell was walking to my left, toward the middle of the road, smoking a cigarette as usual. In front of us was Horace P. Sternwall, a trail of cigar smoke following behind him. Looking over my shoulder I saw Josh, smoking a cigarette and walking with Mr. Philpot, who was smoking a corncob pipe. If my math was correct that made six of us, apparently the titular jolly six bums.

Everyone was dressed in the clothes I had last seen them in, except for Ferdinand of course, who as usual was naked. Ben wore his wrinkled worn dungarees and Hawaiian shirt and his old off-white nautical cap. Horace was wearing the same beat-up leather jacket, dirty grey-green work trousers and battered brown fedora. Mr. Philpot wore his dark old-fashioned three-piece suit and matching derby, and he had his wire-rim pince-nez glasses on, its thick lenses glittering in the harsh sunlight. Josh wore his blue suit and straw trilby. I seemed to be wearing the same seersucker jacket and plaid shirt, a dark grey tie, blue jeans and work shoes. Everyone’s clothes were dusty.

I was carrying a bag over my shoulder, it seemed to be an old olive drab army duffel. Ben had a bag over his great shoulder too, a great big pale grey navy seabag with his last name stenciled on it in letters faded barely visible. Horace carried a beat-up brown suitcase, of material that at least had been made to look like leather. Another glance over my shoulder assured me that Mr. Philpot carried nothing but his furled black umbrella, which he was using as a walking cane, but I assumed that the large and very old-looking black Gladstone bag that Josh carried in his right hand was Mr. Philpot’s. In Josh’s other hand was a small but expensive-looking brown and black leather suitcase, and, unlike Horace’s, I had no doubt that its leather was real. Mr. Philpot held onto Josh’s coat-sleeve with his free hand, making walking that much more awkward for Josh. Ferdinand of course traveled the lightest of all, he carried nothing, being only a fly.

A great yellow sun that looked like an enormous helium-filled balloon floating a hundred feet directly over our heads poured heat down onto us and onto the road where it continuously bounced up and merged with the fresh heat pouring down.



Except for the shuffling sound of our feet and the groans and gasping of our labored breathing, all was still and quiet, apparently the only insect abroad being our friend Ferdinand.

Sweat streamed down my face as the sun baked my hatless head and the rest of me. My work shirt was drenched with what felt like warm gritty Vaseline, and my feet hurt, but, happily, I realized that none of my other various aches and pains had made the trip into this universe. So, it’s true, things can always be worse…

Suddenly Horace burst into song:

    Oh, the jolly six bums (he sang)
    the jolly six bums,
    the jolly six bums are we.
    We ramble round
    this dirty old town
    as happy as can be.
    The other day we met a guy
    we never met before
    he asked us if we wanted a job
    shoveling iron ore.
    We asked him what the wages was –
    a buck and a half a ton!
    We told him he could keep his job
    ‘cause we was on the bum.
    Oh, shootin’ stumps and stogies,
    hi-diddly-dum…”


“Excuse me, Ferdinand,” I said to my old friend the fly, as Horace continued to sing, “do you know where we’re going?”

“Headed to St. Louis,” said Ferdinand. He pronounced it St. Louie. “Weren’t you paying attention?”

“St. Louis?” I said, pronouncing it Louis.

“Good town, St. Louie,” said Ben.

Horace stopped singing and turned his head to say, “A great town. A guy can have a good time in St. Louie.”

“You know who was from St. Louie?” said Mr. Philpot. “T.S. Eliot, or ‘Tommy-boy’ as we used to call him when he was young and new in town. For all his English pretensions he was just another midwestern yokel, taking elocution lessons to lose his hayseed accent and eating his peas with a knife –”

“Ha ha,” said Josh. “By the way, how are you holding up, Mr. Philpot? Do you want to rest for a while?”

“I can out-walk all you young whippersnappers,” said Mr. Philpot. “Although I do appreciate the loan of your arm, sir, just in case this brutal sun should cause me to temporarily grow dizzy.”

“It is my pleasure, Mr. Philpot,” said Josh.

“Hey, Horace,” said Ben, “how far you think we got to go before we reach St. Louie?”

“I figure we should reach the outskirts by nightfall,” said Horace. “I figure it’s about high noon now, so – six, seven hours, maybe eight.”

“Eight hours?” said Ben.

“Eight hours if we keep moving at a steady pace,” said Horace. “Maybe nine.”

“Fuck this,” said Ben. “If I wanted to walk my legs to the bone I would’ve joined the army –”

“Maybe a farmer will come by and give us a lift,” said Josh.

“Maybe a farmer would give one of us a lift,” said Horace. “Five of us is stretching it.”

“Six of us,” said Ferdinand.

“Right, sorry, Ferdy,” said Horace. “Make that six. The thing about farmers is, they’re, how do I put this –”

“They’re cowards,” said Mr. Philpot. “They see six bums on the road, all they can think is we’re going to rob them, kill ‘em, take their truck, and ride off into the sunset.”

“Now, Mr. Philpot,” said Josh. “Not all farmers are like that. Why, I remember back in Galilee –”

“Hey,” said Horace, “look back there, fellas.”

We all turned and looked back. A truck was coming up the road, followed by a greyish-yellow cloud.

“Oh, dear God,” said Ben. “Please let him give us a ride.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” said Josh.

“Man, if you could,” said Ben. “Because I gotta tell you, I am not digging this walking through this fucking farmland in this heat, man, not even a tree in sight –”

“You think this is bad,” said Josh, “you should see Galilee –”

“Or Death Valley,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yeah, I know,” said Ben. “Or the fucking Sahara. I don’t give a shit.”

“All right, everybody,” said Horace, “try not to look like a band of cutthroats, and I’ll put the old thumb out.”

We all stood there by the side of the road in that dusty baking hot sunlight as Horace stepped a pace or two into the road and held out his right thumb as the truck approached.

It was an old Ford truck, I think it was a Model AA from around 1929, a dusty dark green, with unpainted wooden rails on the sides of the bed.

The truck got closer, followed by its roiling greyish-yellow cloud – we could see through the glaring greasy-looking windshield a man in the driver’s seat, he slowed the truck down and stopped just abreast of our little band. We all moved closer to the passenger side, the grey-yellow cloud descending all around us. The man in the truck leaned to his right and looked out through the window at us. He wore overalls and a straw hat and was smoking what looked like a hand-rolled cigarette. He looked to be somewhere between forty and seventy years of age, with a thin long face with skin like tight brown leather.

“Where you fellas headed?”

“St. Louis, sir,” said Horace, taking off his fedora. “But if you could take us any distance at all we would certainly appreciate it.”

“St. Louie you say?”

“Yes, sir,” said Horace. “Good old St. Louie, heh heh.”

“St. Louie is back that way,” said the man, and he jerked his thumb in the direction he had just come from.

“Oh, shit,” said Horace.

“I thought you said St. Louie was straight ahead,” said Ben, to Horace. “And that we would reach it by nightfall.”

“You ain’t gonna reach St. Louie by nightfall goin’ in that direction,” said the man.

“Shit,” said Horace.

“We’re doomed,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Excuse me,” said Josh, to the man in the truck. “How far back would you say St. Louis is?”

“St. Louie?”

“Yes,” said Josh. “St. Louie, that is.”

“Sevenny mile, I’d say,” said the man. “Give or take five mile or so. Say sevenny-five mile, just to be on the safe side.”

“Seventy-five miles?” said Ben.

“Seventy-five mile to the outskirts,” said the man. “Let’s say eighty mile to get downtown.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Ben.

“It’s the truth, young fella,” said the man.

“Well, eighty miles,” said Josh. “I guess we’d better turn around and start walking then.”

“Fuck this shit,” said Ben. “We’re gonna die out here, and it’s all your fault, Horace.”

“Hey, who died and made me Old Leatherstocking?” said Horace.

“You fellas ain’t gonna make St. Louie,” said the man in the truck.

“We ain’t?” said Horace. “I mean, we’re not?”

“Nope, you ain’t,” said the man. “See them storm clouds yonder?”

He pointed a finger to the world in back of us, and we turned as one.

The sky on lower half of that side of the world was not so much cloudy as a titanic living mass of churning dark sooty grey that looked like the radioactive cloud produced by a thousand H-bombs exploding at once.

“Storm comin’,” said the man. “Prolly a twister or three, too, judgin’ by the look of that sky.”

“A twister?” said Horace. 

“Mebbe four-five twisters,” said the man.


“You mean twisters like in the Wizard of Oz?”

“I don’t know about no wizard,” said the man, “but I knows what a twister is, and if you fellas get caught on the road in a good one, well, let me just say I hope you’ve made your peace with your maker, because you’re gonna meet him right quick.”

“Actually,” said Josh, “the protocol is that my friends would meet St. Peter before meeting their ‘maker’ –”

“Mebbe so, son,” said the man in the truck, “mebbe so. Can’t say myself, since I ain’t never been dead. Which is what you boys all gonna be if you be out here on this road when that twister hits.”

When it hits?” said Horace.

“Well, if it hits,” said the man. “But most likely, judging by that sky yonder I’m bound to say when that twister hits. Or twisters. Mebbe half-dozen of ‘em, each one sweepin’ up what the one before left behine it.”

“So, there you are,” said Mr. Philpot. “I told you all we were doomed.”

“Shit,” said Ben.

“Hey, guys,” said Ferdinand, “I hope you won’t take it personally if I hitch a ride with Farmer John here.”



“Who said that?” said the man in the truck.

My friends all turned to look at Ferdinand, who was still buzzing around my head.



“Oh, that was me,” I said.

“I didn’t see your lips move,” said the man.

“That’s Arnie for ya, heh heh,” said Horace. “You see, Arnie is a ventriloquist, a stage artiste temporarily unemployed, alas, as, come to think if it, are all of us, but, gee, mister, I wonder if we could ask you to give us a lift just to the next town, or –”

“Nearest town is St. Louie,” said the man. “Eighty mile away, mebbe eighty-five.”

“Fuck,” said Ben.

“We’re doomed,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Sir,” said Josh, “I know this is a horrible imposition, but would you possibly consider giving my friends and me a ride to, to anywhere where we could take some shelter –”



“Even just a barn,” said Horace, “a cow shed, even a pigsty –”

 
“Get in the back,” said the man.


(Continued here, and onward, until our dedicated staff has transcribed every last one of Arnold’s black-and-white marble composition books, with no editorial intrusion save the correcting of the most egregious misspellings.)


Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “ha ha”



We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the “pad” of “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, with Wiggly and the Buddha (“Call me Bud”), the latter in the earthly form of a cigarette lighter...



(Please click here to read our previous episode. If you would like to begin at the very beginning of Arnold’s saga you may click here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel.)

“It’s a complete mystery to me why
Railroad Train to Heaven is not at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. Has good taste completely disappeared from the Zeitgeist?” – Harold Bloom (interviewed by Charlie Rose).




“Ha ha,” said Wiggly.


“Ha ha indeed,” said the Buddha. “Well played, my friend, well played indeed.”

“Okay, well, look, guys –” I said, but the Buddha interrupted me.



“Listen, Ernest –” he said.

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly again. “Like, ha ha.”

“What?” said the Buddha to Wiggly. “Now what’s so funny?”

“Ha ha, nothing man,” said Wiggly.

“Well, then, I wish you would stop saying ha ha all the time.”

“Like sorry, man, sir, ha ha,” said Wiggly, “I mean, no, check that last ha ha –”

“Whatever,” said the Buddha, and turning to me, “so, anyway, Ernest –”

“Okay, if I can just interrupt you,” I said, Wiggly was holding his hand over his mouth, suppressing laughter, or pretending to do so, “look, Mr. Buddha –”

“Ernest, please,” he said. “What did I tell you. ‘Bud’. Please, call me Bud.”

“Okay, ‘Bud’ –”

“Only because ‘Buddha’ sounds so, what, formal on western lips.”

“Right,” I said.

“And I like to think that we’ve – you and I – have gone beyond the constraints of formality –”

“Sure,” I said.

“Okay, Ernest?” he said.

“All right, that’s the thing,” I said. “You keep calling me Ernest. And I know it’s not important, but –”

“Would you prefer Ernie?”

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly. “Like, oh Christ.”

“What?” said the Buddha, to Wiggly. “Maybe he would prefer to be addressed as Ernie. I fail to see what is so risible about my asking what I think is a considerate civil question.”

“Oh, like, sure, man,” said Wiggly. “Hey, like, Ernest,” he said, addressing me now, “should we like call you Ernie?”

I gave up. I just didn’t care.

“Sure,” I said. “Ernie. Ernie is good. Call me Ernie.”

“Oh, shit.” said Wiggly. “Like you are slaying me, man.”

“What?” said the Buddha. “What is your problem, Wiggly?”

“Like his name’s not Ernest or Ernie, man,” said Wiggly. “It’s Arnold.”

“Arnold?” said the Buddha.

“Arnold, man, sir, Bud,” said Wiggly.

The Buddha turned back to me again.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “Arnold? Arnold is your name?”

“Right, yeah,” I said, “but, look, it’s okay, uh, Mr. Buddh–”

“Bud,” he said.

“It’s okay – Bud,” I said.

“What’s in a name, anyway?” he said.

“I wouldn’t know,” I said.

“We are all one,” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “Okay, I’m going to go now.”

“We are all one as we are all many.”

“Uh-huh –”

“We are all everything,” he said.

“Really?” I said. “Interesting. Well –”

Wiggly had been busy lighting up the big reefer again, and the little Buddha had just kept talking even as Wiggly picked him up and flicked the clicker to light the reefer, and then put him back down on the coffee table. I started to take one sideways step, to get out from between the divan or the couch or whatever it was and the coffee table.

“And nothing,” said the Buddha.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“We are all everything and nothing.”

“Right,” I said. “Sure. Well, look, I really have to –”

“But I didn’t tell you what I wanted to tell you, Ernest.”

“Yes?” I said, letting the Ernest go once and for all.

Wiggly let out a great coughing and hacking cloud of reefer smoke.

The Buddha ignored him, and went on.

“I just wanted to say be careful out there,” he said

“Okay. I’ll try,” I said. 

“Because it’s terribly important that you exist in this mode of existence for a somewhat longer time.”

“It is?” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “humanity needs your wisdom, and your example.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “Who else is there?“

“Uh,” I said. “Well –”

“Don’t look at me,” he said. “I can’t do it anymore.”

“No?” I said.

“No,” he said. “I can’t. Look at me. I’m a cigarette lighter. This is what I’m reduced to. But you, you’ve got a body. Not that a physical body is all that important, the soul is what’s important, but still. Just be careful.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Please.”

“Right,” I said. “I’ll be careful. Bye.”


“Hey, Ernest,“ said Wiggly, he had taken another series of “tokes” on his reefer, and he spoke while still holding in the smoke, “come and visit me anytime, man.”

“Sure,” I said, and since “anytime” might include “no time”, perhaps I was not being completely duplicitous in saying so.

“Remember, Ernest,” said the Buddha, “or ‘Ernie’ if you prefer, whichever road you take will be the road you were meant to take.”

“Meant by who?” I said.

“Meant by ‘whom’,” he corrected me.

“By whom?” I said.

“By the universe,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

“Which is you,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

“See?” said the Buddha, turning to Wiggly. “Ernie knows.”

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly, in the midst of exhaling another great cloud of reefer smoke in my direction.

“Okay,” I said. “Which way is the door, Wiggly?”

“Through those bead curtains,” said Wiggly, pointing over his right shoulder with his thumb, “go right, you’ll see a door. It’s not locked.”

“Okay,” I said. “Goodbye.”

“Like goodbye, man,” said Wiggly.

“What am I, chopped liver?” said the Buddha.

“Goodbye, Mr. Buddha –”

“Hey!”

“I mean Bud,” I said.



“Farewell, my friend,” he said, “and remember, the quickest journey of all is the journey to where you are now.”



“Oh. Right,” I said. “That makes sense. Well –”



“And where you are now is everywhere –”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Which is nowhere.”

“Um –”

“Which is –”

“Okay,” I said, “thanks, I’m off then –”

I knew I had to take my leave right that second or I would be stuck here for one thousand eternities, so I shuffled to my left to get around the coffee table and reeled off in the direction Wiggly had indicated, limping from the pain in my hip, but not unbearably. I crashed unceremoniously through the bead curtain Wiggly had indicated, and to the right not too far away was a door. I made it to the door without falling down. I turned the knob, pulled, the door opened, I went out, into a corridor, and I closed the door. The hall was just a drab apartment-building hall, with yellow and brown nubbly paint, faded and stained, electric light fixtures in the ceiling. I saw a stairway about thirty feet to the right. There was no elevator station visible. I preferred stairs anyway. I didn’t think I could have entered an elevator car in my present state. I went to the stairs and started descending.

I’m not sure how many floors I went down, it seemed like a lot, but then my hip was giving me pain, and I was high on reefer and at least somewhat drunk, and so each floor I descended seem to take a half hour to do so, and yet, when I reached the ground floor, which in reality, or in this reality anyway, was probably only six or even five floors down, it seemed as if it had only taken me five seconds to come down from Wiggly’s floor. 



What looked like an entrance foyer was about six feet to the right from the foot of the stairs. There was a door with a pebbled glass window in it.

I went over and opened the door, and sure enough this was a foyer, an old fashioned one, stained tiled floor with a worn ribbed rubber runner, tiled walls, mailboxes with buzzer buttons, another one of those electric light fixtures in the ceiling, a pair of double doors facing me, with the same sort of pebbled glass windows as the inner door. 



So all I had to do was get out of here, and duck over to Bob’s Bowery Bar next door.

Would my friends be there? Maybe not. If they weren’t there I would go somewhere else. Or I would stay there and get drunk, or drunker, provided I had any money to get drunker with.

I was about to close the inner door behind me when I stopped, because I heard voices outside. I heard voices and I saw the shadows of human or at least humanoid creatures on the pebbled glass of the outside doors.


“He’s gotta be somewhere in this fucking building.”

“He better be in this fucking building,” said a second voice.

“If he ain’t in this fucking building then it’s us who’s fucked,” said a third voice.

It was the three hoods, the Toad, the Rat, and what was the other one, the Gorilla?

“Hey, Bear,” said one of the voices.

“What?” said the Bear, right, that was it, Bear not Gorilla, not that it mattered to me what he was called.

“Don’t kill him all at once,” said the first voice. “Not till I get to carve him up a little. Like a Thanksgiving turkey.”

“Sure, Toad,” said the Bear.

“Me too,” said the other voice, this would be the Rat if I was not mistaken. “I want to rearrange his face with my sap. Make him look a fucking Picasso.”

“You got it, Rat,” said the Bear. “Me, I just want to pummel him with my fists. Till his bones turn to the consistency of boiled kasha.”

“I wisht he’d come out already,” said the Toad. “This is fucking boring just standin’ out here.”

“He’ll come out,” said the Rat. “The only way out of this building is this front entrance or that alleyway. He can’t hide in there forever.”

“Maybe he’s got a friend lives in there,” said the Bear.

“Guys like him don’t got no friends,” said the Rat. “All they got is people they owe money to, the punk.”

“After we ice him, you wanta get somethin’ to eat?” said the Toad.

“Sure,” said the Rat. “Soon as we ice him we’ll go next door to Bob’s, phone in to Fat Flo, and then get some burgers and beers or something.”

“They got a good late-night menu there,” said the Bear. “Nightly specials and all.”

“I had a great grilled headcheese sammitch there couple weeks ago,” said the Toad.

I had heard enough. More than enough. I stepped back into the hall, and closed the inner door as quietly as I could behind me.

I stepped away from the door and stood with my back against the wall, facing the staircase to my right, and to the left a hallway, with apartment doors on either side of it.

The landing was well lit by a yellow light-fixture in the shape of a chrysanthemum, above the doorway.

I had the gun in my pocket, but I didn’t want to have to use it if I could help it. And what about the three goons? Did they have guns now? They might have had guns all along. Would I be able to outshoot three professional hoods? That was doubtful. 

I reached in my other jacket pocket and brought out that paperback book that Wiggly had given to me: The Jolly Six Bums, by Horace P. Sternwall.



I looked at the cover painting, the six bums on a country road, one of the bums being me.

Was there another world I could enter inside this book?

It was worth a try.

If it didn’t work there was still the pistol. But would I be able to kill? I didn’t know. On the other hand I was pretty sure the three hoods would be able to kill. And even if I was only a character in a trashy novel, still I wanted to live.



I opened the book.

(Painting by George Ziel.)

(Continued here, and onward, until each and every one of Arnold’s black-and-white marble composition books has been transcribed, with only the most blatant misspellings silently corrected.)





Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “Call me Bud”


Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel here in the “pad” of “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, where the Buddha, in the earthly form of a cigarette lighter, has informed Arnold that Arnold “knows”... 



(Kindly go here to read our immediately preceding episode. If you want to begin at the very beginning please click here to buy
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel.)

“When one broaches the subject of the great writers of the 20th century, surely one name must reign solitary at the top of the list – yes, even above Joyce, Proust, and Sternwall – and that name is Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the Entertainment Weekly Literary Supplement.




The Buddha continued to point his finger at me. I wanted to take another drink of the mezcal, but, almost incredibly, I realized that I was getting drunk – or I suppose I should say in all truthfulness, drunker – and, as drunk and “high” as I was, I was still able, even more almost incredibly, to realize that drunkenness might not be my best course of action at the moment, and so, not without a twinge of regret, I put the glass back down on the coffee table. I still held that fat reefer in one hand, and I realized also that smoking more of it was probably also not a wise course of action, and, realizing this, nonetheless I put the reefer to my lips and drew deeply again.

Finally the Buddha lowered his arm and with it the finger he had been pointing at me. He turned to Wiggly.

This guy,” said the Buddha, and he jerked his thumb up in my direction. “You think I know? He knows, man.”

“Yeah, but, like knows what, man?” said Wiggly, and not waiting for me, he reached across the coffee table and took the reefer from my fingers.

This guy,” said the Buddha, “he knows what it took me I don’t know how much self-abnegation, how much fasting, how many discussions with boring-ass wise men, how much weary wandering through hill and fucking dale, how many hours sitting under that goddam Bodhi Tree, just how much shit I went through to find out just the tiniest faintest glimmer of – this fucking guy knows.”

“Wow,” said Wiggly, and he took another great “toke” on the reefer. Holding in the smoke, he squeezed out the constricted words: “That’s deep.”

“You’re fucking right it’s deep,” said the Buddha.

I exhaled the smoke that was in my lungs, it exploded silently into the warm humid air in front of me, obscuring once again both the Buddha and Wiggly, and when the cloud dissolved the Buddha was still sitting there, crosslegged, staring at me again, but smiling now in a way that I think my paperback authors would describe as beatific, if not smug.

“Okay, then,” I said. “Hey, listen, Mr. Buddha –”

“Look, please, Ernest, call me Bud,” said the Buddha. “Buddha is so formal.”

“Bud?” I said, letting the “Ernest” go, for now. 


“Bud,” he said. “Short for Buddha, but pronounced like ‘bud’, like the bud of a flower.”

Wiggly exhaled his own latest enormous cloud of smoke, and speaking through it, said:

“Bud.”

“Yes,” said the Buddha. “Bud.”



“Like Bud Powell,” said Wiggly. “Or Bud Abbott. Or –”

“Yeah, whatever,” said the Buddha.

“Okay, then, ‘Bud’,” I said. “Listen, uh, here’s my problem. I need to get back to my own universe.”

“Right,” he said. “Your so-called ‘real world’.”

“So you were listening earlier,” I said.

“Of course I was. I listen to everything. Everything and nothing.”

“Great,” I said. “So, listen, I wonder if you could help me.”

“Me help you?” he said. “I am flattered.”

“You are?” I said.

“That a sage like you would think that a humble Buddha like me could help you. Seriously, I am not worthy.”

I didn’t like the sound of this.

“Sure you’re worthy,” I said.

“Yeah, man, Bud,” said Wiggly, “don’t sell yourself short, man. Hey, Herbert –” he saw the look on my face, but before I could scream he said, “just fucking with you, Arnold. Hey, Arnold, you want another hit?”

He held up that big fat reefer, we had only smoked half of it.

I started to reach across to take it, but I had a momentary attack of prudence, or sanity.

“Uh, no,” I said, “I think I’m good right now.”

“Cool,” he said, “we’ll save this fatty for later, like you know, three, four minutes from now,” and very gently he stubbed the reefer out in the ashtray.

“Okay,” I said, trying to regroup, trying not to pick up the glass that still held a shot of mezcal in it, “listen, ‘Bud’, I appreciate what you’re saying, but, still, you are the Buddha, right?”

“Yes, sir,” he said.

“People all over the world look up to you.”

He shrugged.

“Some do,” he said. “A lot don’t. But I can accept that.”



“But like millions do,” I said. “Right?”

“Sure,” he said. “Millions, sure. But what do numbers mean? Nothing really. I mean I’d rather have just one follower who really – what’s the word – who really appreciated what I’m all about, than millions of jackasses who don’t know shit.”

“Okay, sure,” I said, and even while I was saying it, I knew I was wasting my time, but then I was very ‘stoned’ on the reefer, as well as half-drunk, as well as being under a lot of stress, and tired, and, let’d face it, probably raving mad, “but still, I mean, you’ve got a whole religion named after you.”

“Yes,” he said. “And that and a nickel will get me a cup of green tea.”

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly.



I decided just for once to try to get right to the point.

“Please help me, 'Bud',” I said. “You’re the Buddha.”

“I’ll help you,” he said.

“Oh, great, thanks,” I said. “All I want is for you to, like transport me back to my own version of reality, to my own body, in Cape May, New Jersey, in 1963. August, August something –”

He held up his little bronze arm.

“Stop,” he said.

I stopped.

“I said I’ll help you,” he said. “I didn’t say I would transport you to another version of reality.”

“Oh, shit,” I said.

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly.

“No, but I’ll help you,” said the Buddha. 


“Really?” I said, not really believing him.

“Sure I will,” he said.

“How?” I said.

“I will help you by saying that only you have the power to help yourself.”

“Oh, Christ,” I said. I had been afraid it would be something like that.

“Ha ha ha,” said Wiggly.



“Okay,” I said. For no particular reason that I knew of, just to do something, I picked up that paperback novel off the coffee table, The Jolly Six Bums by Horace P. Sternwall. I looked at the cover, the six bums, one of them me. “Okay,” I said again, and I lightly rapped the book on the table top.

 
“Ha ha,” said Wiggly.

“Yeah,” I said. “Ha ha.”

“See?” said the Buddha, turning to Wiggly. “You see? He gets it.”

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly, again, not actually laughing, just saying ha ha.

The Buddha turned back to me again.

“You know.”

“Right,” I said. I looked at the book’s cover, flipped the pages with my thumb. I wondered if it was any more interesting than the book I was in.



“You wanta borrow that book, man?” said Wiggly. “It’s pretty good.”

“No thanks,” I said.

“Take it, man. Keep it. I don’t believe in owning books, man. Like read it and pass it on to somebody else, y’know?”

“I think that’s a great philosophy, Wiggly,” said the Buddha.

“Hey, man, you know,” said Wiggly. “Whatever.”

I put the book down on the table.

“Okay,” I said. “Uh.”

“Go ahead, ‘Arnold’,” said Wiggly, like that, in quotation marks, as if it really weren’t my name. “Take the book, man.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, if you insist, thanks.”

I picked up the book and put it in the left pocket of my seersucker sportjacket.

“I haven’t read a book in a couple of thousand years,” said the Buddha. “I prefer reality.”



“Really?” I said. “Okay. well, look, I’m going to go now.”

“Go where, man?” said Wiggly.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Somewhere.”

“Anywhere is somewhere,” said the Buddha. “And somewhere is everywhere. And it’s all within you. And without you. And it’s –”

“Okay,” I said. I heaved my body up to a standing position, clawing at the thick smoky air with my fingers. I weaved, and wobbled, I almost fell down. I saw that rocks-glass of mezcal way down there on the coffee table. I wanted it, but it was too far away. “So,” I said. Standing up now I became aware of my various aches and pains, in my elbow and throat, my forearm, the back of my head, my hip – annoying in sum, but not debilitating, not yet, anyway. “Thanks for everything, Wiggly.”

“You’re like welcome, man,” said Wiggly.

“And thanks for the advice, uh, Mr. Buddha,” I said to the cigarette lighter.

“Bud,” said the lighter. “Please, call me Bud.”

“Thanks, 'Bud',” I said.

“Thanks for nothing,” I thought, but didn’t say. I saw no good coming from offending the Buddha, even if he was only a cigarette lighter.

“Hey, but, like, Edgar,” said Wiggly.

“His name’s not Edgar,” said the Buddha, Bud, whatever his real name was.

“I know,” said Wiggly. “I was just fucking with him again.”

“Oh,” said the Buddha. “Yes, you Americans and your famous sense of humor.”

“So, Edgar,” said Wiggly, “just watch out for those three hoods out there, man.”

“Three hoods?” said the Buddha.

“Yeah, man, Bud,” said Wiggly. “He got braced by these three hoods in the alley downstairs. He scared them off with a pistol, but I brought him up here in case the hoods were like laying for him somewhere out there.”

“Oh, okay, three hoods,” said the Buddha. “Gee, why were they bracing you, Edgar?”

“Apparently I owe their boss ten thousand dollars,” I said. “Fat Flo I think her name is.”

“Gosh,” said the Buddha, “I hope they’re not still waiting down there.”

“Oh, Christ,” I said.

“Well, be careful, man,” said Wiggly.

“Do you still have your gun?” said the Buddha.

I reached into my jacket pocket, took out the pistol.

“Good,” said the Buddha. “Is it loaded?”

I raised the revolver to my eye level, pointed away from me, and managed to turn the cylinder. It had five chambers for bullets, all of them filled, but one would have been the shot I accidentally had fired earlier.

“It looks like I have four bullets left,” I said.

“Only four,” said the Buddha. “Against three hoods. So you’re going to have to make every shot count. Take my advice, don’t get fancy, aim for the middle of the chest, and don’t fire if they’re more than six feet away, closer preferably.”

“I’m not going to shoot anybody,” I said.

“You might have to, my friend,” said the Buddha. “And I say that as a lifelong pacifist.”

“Yeah, you might have to, man,” said Wiggly. “It’s like self defense, man. And I’m a pacifist, too. But still.”

I put the pistol back in my pocket.

“Wait,” I said. I felt one of my brainwaves coming on. “Wiggly.”

“Yeah, man.”

“Where are we exactly?”

“You mean like in what universe or state of reality, man?”

“No, I mean in what city.”

“New York, man. I thought you like knew that.”

“I don’t know why you would think that,” I said. “What’s that street out there?”

“You mean the Bowery?”

“If that’s what it is, yes.”

“It’s the Bowery,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. "And what is the nearest cross street.”

“To here?”

“Yes,” I said, “what is the nearest cross street to where we are now.”

“That would be like Bleecker street, man. It’s just like one door down to the right, like outside.”

“Bleecker Street,” I said. “Bleecker and the Bowery.”

“You got it, man. You know where you are now?”

“One last question,” I said.

“Fire away,” said Wiggly.

“Is there a bar called Bob’s Bowery Bar next door?”

“Sure, man, it’s right across the alley that you were just in, man.”

“Oh, thank God,” I said.

“Which God?” said the Buddha.

“Any God,” I said.


(Illustration by Rudolph Belarski. Continued here, and onward, until every one of Arnold’s black-and-white marble composition books has been transcribed, with no editing except for the silent correction of the most blatant misspellings.)






Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “Bodhi Tree”


We last saw our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel in the “pad” of his new friend “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, where both Arnold and Wiggly are deep in conversation with a Buddha-shaped cigarette lighter...



(Please click here to read our immediately preceding episode. If you want to know how it all began go here to buy Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel.)

“Arnold Schnabel’s massive chef-d'œuvre must surely be regarded as one of the greatest of literary endeavors ever since man first scribbled crude symbols on the dank walls of primeval caves.” – Harold Bloom, in The Playboy Literary Supplement.





I picked up the bottle of Tree Frog ale I had been drinking, but it was empty, so I put it back down.

“An hour,” said the Buddha. “One hour is all you could take sitting under the Bodhi Tree.”



“Ha ha,” said Wiggly. He picked up the bottle of Tree Frog ale that he had been drinking, which did have some ale left in it, and he drank. When he put it back down on the table it too was empty. “Like, ha ha,” he said, for good measure.

The Buddha had been staring at me, but now he turned his head to face Wiggly again.

“This is amusing to you?” he said.

“It like is, man,” said Wiggly. “I mean, even I could do more than an hour under the Bodhi Tree. Heck, I spend like multiple hours at a time just sitting here in this pad staring at the wall, you know, just listening to the same Charlie Parker side playing over and over, just groovin’ –”

“Stoned out of your mind, too, I’ll warrant,” said the Buddha.

“Well, yeah, man – sir, I mean,” said Wiggly. “Or, like, your honor or excellency or whatever –”

“Shut up, please,” said the Buddha.

“Sure, man,” said Wiggly.

“Don’t say ‘Sure, man’, don’t say anything,” said the Buddha. “You think you can handle that?”

“Sure, man,” said Wiggly.

I thought for sure the little Buddha was going to fly up and slap Wiggly, but he just made a sound like a sigh, maybe it was a sigh, I’d never encountered a talking cigarette lighter before, and he was facing away from me, so I couldn’t be sure, but it definitely sounded like a sigh.

The Buddha turned his face to me again, and he slowly shook his head.

“I don’t even know where to begin with either of you. Normally I’d slap you both silly, but I don’t know how much good even that would do.”

It occurred to me that even though both ale bottles were now empty, there was still plenty of that mezcal stuff in the bottle.

“I see what you’re looking at,” said the Buddha.

“What’s he looking at, like, your divinity, sir?” said Wiggly.

“He’s looking quite longingly at that bottle of Mexican rotgut there,” said the Buddha, and for the first time he moved one of his little bronze arms, and pointed at the mezcal bottle.

“You want another shot, Eric?” Wiggly said to me.

“Eric?” said the Buddha. “I thought his name was Arnold.”

“No, man, it’s Eric,” said Wiggly. “Right, Eric?”

Now it was my turn to sigh, again. This was actually my one-thousandth sigh of this very long day, but I doubted that it would be my last, no, I doubted that very much.

“I’m sure he said his name was Arnold,” said the Buddha.

“Wait,” said Wiggly. He picked up that still-enormous reefer again and then stared at me. “Walter. I’m sorry, man. Your name is Walter, am I right?”

“I think you’re wrong, Wiggly,” said the Buddha. “His name is – what are you doing?”

He said this because Wiggly had picked him up again.

“I just wanta re-light my reefer, man, sir, your honor,” said Wiggly.

“Oh, okay, go ahead,” said the Buddha, and Wiggly went ahead and re-lit his reefer, drawing deeply. Holding the smoke in, he replaced the Buddha on the table.

“So, Hubert,” said the Buddha, to me, “let’s get back to what we were talking about.”

“Look, Mr. Buddha,” I said, “I’d like to say that I’m only going to say this once more, but somehow I think that will not be the case, but – my name is not Eric, or Walter, or even Hubert. My name is Arnold. Okay? Arnold. I’m not even going to bother with my last name, because I don’t want to make things any more complicated than they’re probably going to be anyway, but my first name is Arnold.”

“That’s what I thought it was,” said the Buddha.

Wiggly exhaled another great cumulus cloud of smoke.

“You just called him Hubert,” he said.

“What?” said the Buddha.



“Like, man, you just called the man Hubert –”

“So what?” said the Buddha. 



“I’m just saying, man, sir. You called him Hubert.”

“And, again,” said the Buddha, “I say to you: so what?”

“Well,” said Wiggly, and he picked up the mezcal bottle, “I mean, you were just like all over my case just because I supposedly got his name wrong, and then you go and call him Herbert –”

“So, what is it,” said the Buddha, “are we having a ‘remember Ernest’s first name’ contest?”

“No, man,” said Wiggly, “but like you just did it again. You called Arnold – wait,” he looked at me, “it is Arnold right?”



“Yes,” I said, and I picked up my empty rocks glass and held it toward Wiggly.

“So, like, Mr. Buddha, sir, man, you called him Ernest just now,” said Wiggly.



“And again I ask you,” said the Buddha, “are we having a ‘remember Ernest or Arnold or whatever the fuck his name is’ contest?”

“No?” said Wiggly.

“That’s right,” said the Buddha. “We are not.”

“Wiggly,” I said, “can I have some more of that mezcal?”

“Oh, sure, man,” said Wiggly, and he uncorked the bottle and poured at least four ounces into my glass, and I didn’t stop him.

“Hey, man, like Buddha, sir,” said Wiggly, “would you like some mezcal, too?”

“I don’t drink that shit,” said the Buddha.

“It’s good,” said Wiggly.

“I’m sure it is, if you like to drink poison,” said the Buddha, “but, thank you, I will pass.”

“I could get you a little shot glass to drink out of.”

“No,” said the Buddha. “Thank you, but I never touch alcohol.”

“I do,” said Wiggly.

“Then go ahead,” said the Buddha.

“Thanks, I will,” said Wiggly, and he poured about four ounces into his own glass, then re-corked the bottle and set it back down on the tray.

Out of politeness I had waited until Wiggly poured himself his drink, but now I went ahead and took a good gulp of mine.

It burnt, and it didn’t really taste good, but then I have never been one to drink liquor for the taste of it.

Wiggly picked up his glass and took a good drink too.

The Buddha was staring at me, with blank bronze eyes.

“So do you or don’t you want to know about zen, Edward?”

Edward? I decided just to let it go, although I could see Wiggly suppressing laughter, either that or he was holding in a hiccup or a belch.

“Um,” I said.

Zen,” said the Buddha. “Buddhism. Enlightenment. Satori if you will.”

“Sir,” I said, to the Buddha, the mezcal had relaxed me somewhat, but it had also emboldened me, “earlier you indicated that I should be honest with you –”

“I did indeed,” said the Buddha.

“Okay, then,” I said. “I’ll be honest. I don’t really care what zen is. I don’t care about Buddhism, or enlightenment, or that other word you said –”



“Satori,” said the Buddha.

“Yeah, that. I don’t care about it. Whatever it is. I know I probably should care about such things, but I don’t, at least not at the present moment. And I don’t care that I don’t care. I don’t care,” I said.

“Wow,” said the Buddha.

“Wow,” said Wiggly. “Way to go, Arnold.”

So he did know my name. Or at least now he knew it.

I took another drink of my mezcal, but a smaller one this time.

The Buddha was still staring at me.

I said nothing.

Wiggly had put the reefer in the ashtray, but now he picked it up again. The tip still had a bit of fire in it, and he took a good drag, and held it in. He extended the reefer to me, I took it, and – please don’t ask why, I can’t answer – I took a big drag also, and held it in.

“You don’t care,” said the Buddha, still staring at me.

I didn’t want to let the smoke out prematurely, so I simply nodded my head, in assent.

“Well, there you go then,” said the Buddha. “Now you know.”



I didn’t know what he meant, but I was enjoying holding the thick warm smoke in my ravaged lungs, and so I said nothing, but instead made a sort of noncommittal slight shrug of my head and neck and one shoulder.

Wiggly exhaled yet another great cloud of warm fragrant smoke, and even though I still held in my own great lungful of smoke, I sucked into my nostrils what I could of Wiggly’s smoke, I was that greedy.

“What’s he know?” said Wiggly, in a slow thick voice.

“He knows,” said the Buddha.

“He knows?” said Wiggly.

I now slowly exhaled my own lungful, and, not really meaning to, I sent the cloud streaming right at the Buddha, so that for a moment he appeared as if he were sitting in a thick swirling cloud.

“Yes,” said the Buddha, the brazen contours of his little body and face taking shape and color again as the reefer smoke drifted away into the humid thick atmosphere of Wiggly’s apartment. “He knows.”

“Um,” I said. It was all I could manage right then.

“What’s he know, man?” said Wiggly.

“He fucking knows, man,” said the Buddha, slipping into Wiggly’s parlance, and still staring right at me.

He raised his little chubby arm again, his right arm, and he pointed his tiny finger at me.

“You, man,” he said.

“Yes?” I said. I didn’t really care what he meant, but I was trying at least to be somewhat polite.

“You know, man,” he said.



Why did everyone have to be so repetitive? It wasn’t bad enough that they said anything at all, but then they had to keep saying it over and over again.

“You fucking know,” he said, still pointing his finger at me.

I realized that I now held the burning fat reefer in one hand, and the rocks glass with at least one good shot of mezcal in it in my other hand. Reefer or mezcal, which one first? I supposed it didn’t matter much, if at all.

“Hey, man,” said Wiggly, “like, what’s he know, man?”
 
“You,” said the Buddha, still pointing that unmoving bronze finger right at me, “You know.”

I didn’t feel as if I knew, but I wasn’t about to argue with the Buddha himself about it.


(Continued here. Arnold is only just getting warmed up.)





Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: "Buddha"


After a lengthy break during which we published Railroad Train to Heaven, Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel™ (available here), let us now rejoin our hero here in the “pad” of his new friend “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, where Wiggly’s Buddha-shaped cigarette lighter has now begun to speak...



(Please click here to read our immediately preceding episode.)

“Surely the proposed publication of the entirety of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling
chef-d'œuvre must be considered the literary ‘event’ of the 21st century.” – Harold Bloom, in The Cape May Pennysaver Literary Supplement.





“Nothing,” repeated the Buddha. “What are you, trying to get all zen with me?”

 
That word, zen, again.

“Um,” I said.


“Um?” said the Buddha. “Do you mean ‘om’?”

“No,” I said. “Just ‘um’.”

“Heh heh,” said Wiggly.

’Um’,” said the Buddha.

“Hey, man, sir,” said Wiggly, and the Buddha turned to face him.



“Yes?”


“It’s like,” said Wiggly, “’um’ is just something we humans say like when we can’t think of something to say. Like.”

“’Um’,” said the Buddha.

“Yeah,” said Wiggly. “Um.”

“Um not om,” said the Buddha.

“Yeah,” said Wiggly. “Um.”

The Buddha turned back to me.

“I’ll repeat my question. Were you trying to be zen?”

“I doubt it,” I said. “I don’t even know what that is.”


“You don’t know what zen is?”


“No,” I said, “although I think Wiggly said something about it –”

“I did, man,” said Wiggly, “I think.”


The Buddha glanced briefly at Wiggly, and then turned to me again.

“And it didn’t occur to you to ask Wiggly what the word meant?”

“I don’t know what many words mean,” I said.

“Yes,” said the Buddha, “and your point is?”

“If I stopped the conversation every time someone brought up a word that was new to me, then the conversations would become even more convoluted than, than – um –”

“Heh heh,” said Wiggly, again.

The Buddha shot another glance at Wiggly, and Wiggly said, “Sorry, man, sir, heh heh.”

He put the enormous reefer into his mouth and sucked on it, but it had gone out.

The Buddha turned back to me.

“What’s your name again? Egbert?”

“Arnold,” I said.

“Arnold. So I gather, Arnold, that your conversations tend to be, shall we say, convoluted.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, like this conversation, I thought, but didn’t say.

“Would you like to know what zen means?” said the little Buddha.

“Well, I suppose I wouldn’t mind,” I said.

“You suppose,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Um –”

“You wouldn’t mind.

“Um,” I said, again, not meaning to, it just came out.

“I know what zen is!” said Wiggly, who was shuffling through the magazines and papers and books on the table top with one hand, while with the other he held that enormous reefer aloft.

“I’m not talking to you, hippie boy,” said the Buddha, and he turned to give Wiggly another look.

“Sorry, Bodhisattva,” said Wiggly. “I was just saying.”

“You know what zen masters do when young punks like you try to show off their knowledge?”

“Um, they slap them?”

“Yes,” said the Buddha. “So unless you want to get slapped then keep your mouth shut until you’re spoken to.”

“Sure, man, be cool,” said Wiggly.

“Don’t tell me to be cool. I invented being cool.”

“Right, cool, man,” said Wiggly. “I mean, yeah, I’ll shut up.”

“And what are you doing?” said the Buddha.

“I’m looking for some matches,” said Wiggly.

“What am I, chopped liver as you Americans say?”

“You mean you want me to use you to light my joint, sir?”

“I am a lighter, am I not?”

“That you are, sir.”

“Then stop fussing around with that rubbish and light up.”

“Okay, man,” said Wiggly, and he picked the Buddha up, clicked the little lever on the lighter mechanism on the Buddha’s lap, and lit his reefer.

“Now put me down,” said the Buddha.
 
“Yes, sir, man,” said Wiggly, holding in the marijuana smoke, and he laid the Buddha back down on the coffee table.

The Buddha turned back to me.

“So – Arnold was it?”

“Yes,” I said. At last someone who could remember my name, even if he was just a talking table lighter.

“I’m going to tell you what zen is.”

“Great,” I said. “Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, Arnold. This is what I do. I am the Buddha.”



“Right,” I said.



Retroactively I became aware that Wiggly had finally exhaled another great cloud of marijuana smoke, and that his arm now extended through this swirling thick cloud and the hand at the end of his arm held that big fat reefer just a few inches from my face. I took the reefer and I put the unlit end in my mouth and drew deeply upon it.

“Don’t let me stop you,” said the Buddha.

I didn’t, and I drew deeply on that enormous reefer and held the smoke in. I was becoming an adept.



“Good now?” said the Buddha.

I nodded.



“Splendid. Now, have you at least heard of me, the Buddha? Or of the eponymous religion known as Buddhism?”

Had I? I must have, or else how would I even know that he was the Buddha, and not just some little fat oriental fellow.

“You haven’t, have you?”



Buddha, Buddhism.

“Take your time,” he said. “I have all eternity.”

Eternity. The Buddha. Buddhism.

I became aware that I was still holding in the reefer smoke, and so I let it out, another great swirling roiling cloud, and in this cloud I saw the cool smoke-filled back room of my friends’ jewelry shop on a certain blazing hot afternoon just a week or two or nine or ten years ago.

“No, wait,” I said. “I have heard of you. And Buddhism.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” I said, “I do know a little about Buddhism. This guy I know named Gypsy Dave told me all about it –”



“Gypsy Dave.”

“Yeah. I don’t think that’s his real name, heh heh.”

“I should think not.”

I took another big drag of the reefer, but, again, don’t ask me why.

Wiggly held out his hand. Why was he holding out his hand to me. Did he want me to shake it? But why? I didn’t want to seem rude, and so, since I was holding the reefer in my right hand, I transferred it to my left, and took Wiggly’s hand in my right hand and gave it a modest shake.

“Hey, man,” said Wiggly, “I like appreciate the sentiment, but how about passing the doobie?”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, and I did as he asked.

“So,” said the Buddha, addressing me.

“Yes?”



“Pray tell, what did this Gypsy Dave tell you?”

“About you, and Buddhism?”


He paused before answering.

“Yes,” he said, and I could tell he was really getting annoyed with me, even if he was the Buddha, so I dove right in.

“Well,” I said, “let’s see – didn’t you sit under this tree, the like Buddha Tree –”

Bodhi Tree,” said the Buddha.

“Right, sorry, the Bodhi Tree, didn’t you sit under it for a long time, seeking enlightenment and whatnot?”

“And whatnot?”

“Okay,” I said. “Enlightenment, then.”

“To answer your question, yes, I did sit under the so-called ‘Bodhi tree’ for quite some time. Forty-nine days to be precise, give or take an hour. I wonder if you would be prepared to do the same.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“So you don’t care if you become enlightened or not.”

“May I be honest?”

“Let’s put it this way, my friend, if you’re not honest I’ll be able to tell, and I’ll fly up from this coffee table and slap you so hard your head will spin. So for your own sake I would say, yes, please be honest.”

“Okay,” I said, “well, to answer your question, yes, I would like to become enlightened, but probably not if I had to sit under a tree for a long time.”

“And what, may I ask, would you consider to be a long time?”

“Well,” I said, “that depends –”

“On what?”

“Could I have some books, or, you know, magazines to read?”

“Absolutely not. You’re supposed to be meditating, not reading some trashy novel or magazine.”



“Well,” I said, “in that case I think I would start to get really antsy after an hour or so.”

“An hour.”

“Maybe an hour-and-a-half,” I said.

By this time Wiggly had taken a few more ‘tokes’ of the big reefer, and he now handed it back to me. I ‘toked’ again. What did I have to lose? I was conversing with a table lighter. How could a little more reefer smoke make any difference at this point? Of course I realize now that a little more reefer smoke might very well have made quite a big difference, but I wasn’t thinking straight, to say the least, and I was thinking less straight with each deep drag I took off that huge reefer of Wiggly’s.

I exhaled another great cloud of smoke, and once more proffered the reefer to Wiggly, but he held up his hand, like an Indian saying “How”.

“I’m cool man,” he said.

I figured I also had had enough, for the time being, so I gently stubbed the reefer out in that ashtray almost filled with the stubs of previous reefers.

“An hour and a half,” said the Buddha.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“A hour and a half is all you could take of sitting meditating under the Bodhi Tree.”

I thought about it.

“Okay,” I said, “maybe two hours.”


The Buddha paused before speaking again. It was an awkward pause, but then aren’t they all?

“You remember what I said, Arnold,” he said, after what was probably only half a minute, but it felt longer. “I can tell if you’re lying.”

Maybe he could tell if I was lying, but I wasn’t so sure that I could. I decided to play it safe.

“Let’s make it an hour and a half,” I said.

“And hour and a half is all you could spare to meditate even if the result of this meditation was complete spiritual enlightenment."

“Yes,” I said. “Or –”

“Or what,” he said,

“Maybe just an hour,” I said, in all truthfulness, or as much truthfulness as I could muster at the moment.


(Illustration by Paul Rader.)


(Continued here, and onward,  until every last one of those dime store black-and-white marble copybooks filled with Arnold’s Palmer Method handwriting has been transcribed, with only the most egregious misspellings silently corrected.)



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Shirley from Sheboygan"





















Shirley came out onto Eighth Avenue, put her old Gladstone bag down on the pavement, and lit up a cigarette. It had been a short bus ride from Philadelphia, a town that hadn’t worked out well for her. Neither had Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, or especially her hometown of Sheboygan. But she was still young, still blond, and still beautiful, if perhaps not unspoiled.

“Hey, doll,” said a weedy looking man. He wore a shiny grey suit and a grey hat and he was somewhere in age between twenty-five and forty. His skin was grey and his eyes were blue. He had a toothpick in his mouth and he was either smiling or grimacing in pain. “You look like you could use a drink. How about you and I adjourn to a nearby watering hole and have a cocktail or three? I am buying.”

Shirley was a little low on cash and so she went across the street with the weedy guy into a bar that was just filling up with the after-work crowd. When the guy went off to the men’s room after his fourth glass of Rheingold she picked up her Gladstone, walked out, went up the street, took a right on 41st and went into another bar. She took a stool, ordered a ginger ale, opened up her purse on her lap, and took out the weedy guy’s wallet. Some useless cards, sixteen bucks, a French letter, and what looked like a marijuana cigarette. She took out a dollar bill to pay for her ginger ale and put the wallet back in her purse, along with her own lucky Girl Scout wallet, her lipstick and compact, her cigarettes and lighter, an opened roll of Wint-O-Green Life Savers, a handkerchief, and her Colt .32 automatic.


Shirley From Sheboygan, by Hannah Peterson Stone (Horace P. Sternwall), a Monarch paperback original; 1955. Cover painting by Robert Maguire. 


(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of many other strangely out-of-print classics from the battered Royal portable of Horace P. Sternwall. “To be quite honest these obscure noir novels of Sternwall’s make those of his contemporaries Jim Thompson and David Goodis look positively soft-boiled.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Cape May Herald.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"Molloy's Last Chance"



“This is your last warning, Molloy.”

“That’s what you said the last time, Captain.”

“Don’t crack wise with me, Molloy. I mean it this time.”

“Which is just what you said the last time, Captain. Right before I brought down the Kid Bosco mob.”

“Don’t try my patience, Molloy.”

“I seem to remember you also said that the last time --”

“Get out of my office. One more word out of you and you’re back pounding a beat on Skid Row.”

“One word?”

“One word.”

“So two words are okay then.”

The captain stood up. His face was the color of a freshly boiled hot dog.

“Well, I’ll see ya later, Captain,” said Molloy.

The Captain said nothing, but his face had changed color again, it was now the color of a hotdog slathered with yellow mustard.

Molloy turned and went to the door, opened it, and went out into the corridor. He left the door ajar. The Captain hated it when people didn’t close his office door behind them.

Molloy went down the stairs and through the hall and out through the big swinging doors. Night was falling on the city. He stopped and breathed in the dirty August air, then he took out his cigarettes and lit one up. He tossed the match down the steps to the filthy pavement. He had a case to crack. He had put up a tough front for Captain James, that arrogant fat know-it-all toad, but Molloy knew this was his last chance or he really would be pounding a beat down on the Row.

The Row.

Back where he had come from.

Back where he never wanted to go again.

Okay, so he had a case to crack, and probably a few heads to crack with it.

He went down the block to his car, got in it, started it up, and then headed down deeper into the Village, down to Madame Rue’s joint.


Molloy’s Last Chance, by Horace P. Sternwall, an Avon paperback original; 1952. Republished as An Ultimatum For Molloy, by “Hector Peter Stevenson”; a Faber & Faber Demotic Library paperback “original" (UK); 1954.


(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of many other lost classics from Horace P. Sternwall. "Proust. Joyce. Arnold Schnabel. Larry Winchester. Horace P. Sternwall. That pretty much wraps it up for 20th Century Classic Lit." – Harold Bloom, in Criterion.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

"They Call Him Cad"
























“So, Babs,” said Myrtle, after they had both taken their first appreciative sips of their bone-dry martinis, “how are things out on Sunnyville Manor Road?”

“Oh, fine,” said Babs, lighting up another cigarette. Fine, she thought. My husband is addicted to Dexedrine, my eight-year-old daughter insists on wearing a Davy Crockett costume everywhere, and my ten-year-old son wears a beret and affects an English accent. “Everything’s just dandy, Myrt.”

“Yeah, I’m sure, but don’t you ever just miss the old days, Babs, in the WAVES?”

“Well, sometimes, I suppose,” said Babs. Right, she thought, sleeping in a barracks with a pack of gossiping man-crazy girls, typing up orders and memoranda all day while the fellows got to sail the seven seas and fight the Japs and Germans, sure, what jolly fun.

“Tell me, what do you miss about those days the most, Babsy?”

Never a good sign when Myrtle started calling her Babsy, but Babs considered the question for a few seconds and could honestly think of only one thing:

“I miss the uniforms,” she said. “It was nice not having to choose a new outfit every day.”

“Oh, Babsy, you’re such an absolute scream, but listen, doll, don’t turn around and don’t you dare look but there’s a fat fellow in a grey suit at the far end of the bar over there and he looks oddly familiar to me and I can’t quite place him but he’s looking quite blatantly at you, my dear.”

“What?”

Babs turned around and looked.

“Babs!” said Myrtle, “I told you not to look!”

“Oh, do shut up, Myrt,” said Babs.

It took her a moment and then it all came back. He was older of course, and he had grown quite fat, and his hair had gone grey. But it could only be him. He raised his glass to her.

“Oh, dear,” said Babs.

“What?” whispered Myrtle. “What? Who is he?”

“Oh my,” said Babs.

He had gotten up off his barstool, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and now he was lumbering towards their table, smiling broadly.

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Myrtle, “that’s not --”

“Uh-huh.”

“Cad the Cad!” said Myrtle.

“Yeah, it’s Cad all right,” said Babs.

Tom “Cad” Cadwallader.

The man who had taken her virginity fourteen years ago one hot humid night at the Norfolk Naval Station.

Cad the Cad.

Her first love.

The bastard.

They Call Him Cad, by "Harriet P. Saint-Clair" (Horace P. Sternwall); a Popular Library paperback original, 1959.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"Female Residence"


“Ah, gee, Betsy,” said Thad. “I wish I could come up for a while. Just for a cup of coffee.”

“You know Mrs. Jamieson doesn’t permit us to bring gentleman visitors to our rooms.”

“Yeah, I know, Betsy, but gee.”

“Anyway I never drink coffee this late at night.”

“We wouldn’t have to drink coffee,” said Thad.

“What do you mean by that.”

“Well, we could drink soda pop.”

“Goodnight, Thad.”

“Goodnight, Betsy. What about tomorrow night? There’s that new Cocteau film at the Thalia. It’s supposed to be quite artistic. What do you think?”

“Pardon me?”

“Tomorrow night?”

“Yes?”

“Cocteau film? At the Thalia?”

“What about it?”

“I was just asking if you, uh --”

Betsy yawned, deeply.

“Oh, excuse me,” she said. “I’m just all in. Goodnight, Brad.”

“Thad.”

“Thad I mean. Goodnight.”

Thad swiftly got the door and opened it for her.

“Goodnight, Betsy!”

Yawning again, patting her mouth with her white-gloved hand, Betsy walked through the door and into the lobby.

“I’ll ring you tomorrow,” called Thad, hopefully, as the door closed.

Mrs. Slivotitz was behind the desk, and a slender girl in grey sat with her legs crossed on the most comfy armchair, smoking a cigarette and reading a movie magazine. As Betsy walked past her on the way to the elevator the girl spoke without looking up from her magazine.

“What a drip!”

“Pardon me?” said Betsy, stopping, trying to stifle another yawn.

“I said what a drip,” said the girl, looking up from her magazine.

“Who?”

“Your boyfriend out there.”

“Oh,” said Betsy, and she held in yet another yawn, blinking her thick dark eyelashes. “Brad.”


Female Residence, by “Horatia P. Stevenson” (Horace P. Sternwall); a Pyramid paperback original, 1952.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of some other fine but sadly out-of-print novels by Horace P. Sternwall.)