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.)