We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the “pad” of “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, with Wiggly and the Buddha (“Call me Sid”), 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. ‘Sid’. Please, call me Sid.”
“Okay, ‘Sid’ –”
“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–”
“Sid,” he said.
“It’s okay – Sid,” 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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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 –”
“I mean Sid,” 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.”
“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.)