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 Sid,” said the Buddha. “Buddha is so formal.”
“Sid?” I said, letting the “Ernest” go, for now.
“Sidd,” he said. “Short for Siddhartha, just one of my many names. But you can call me Sid.”
Wiggly exhaled his own latest enormous cloud of smoke, and speaking through it, said:
“Yes,” said the Buddha. “Sid.”
“Like Symphony Sid,” said Wiggly. “Or Sid Caesar. Or –”
“Yeah, whatever,” said the Buddha.
“Okay, then, ‘Sid’,” 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, Sid,” 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, ‘Sid’, 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, 'Sid',” 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 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.
“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.
“Sid,” said the lighter. “Please, call me Sid.”
“Thanks, 'Sid',” 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, Sid, 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, Sid,” 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.”
“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.”
“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.)