Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “Haig & Haig”


Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the cozy apartment of the beautiful lady psychiatrist Dr. Blanche Weinberg... 



(Kindly click here to read last week’s thrilling chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 73-volume masterpiece; if you would like to start at the very beginning of Arnold’s saga then please go here to order
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available either as an affordable Kindle™ e-book or a deluxe “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“At long last Arnold Schnabel’s
massive chef-d'œuvre has begun to achieve the status it so richly deserves, and it is only a matter of time before it becomes a mainstay on the syllabi of any institution of higher learning worthy of the designation.” Harold Bloom, in the Olney Community College Literary Quarterly.





The drinks cabinet stood between two large windows, one of which had an air-conditioner humming in it, and among five or six other bottles of liquor was the Haig & Haig that Dr. Blanche had recommended. 



I didn’t really care what I drank, as long as it was some sort of whiskey, or gin, or vodka, or tequila, or brandy, domestic or imported, all the same to me, but I decided to do the agreeable thing and go for the Haig & Haig. 



There was an ice bucket with a lid on it, which I took off, revealing a couple of dozen large ice cubes. This struck me as odd, not that an ice bucket would have ice cubes in it, but that this particular one would have fresh ice cubes in it. When would Dr. Blanche have filled it if she had spent all evening listening to my hypnotized autobiography? It was just like in a movie, where rich people and nightclub singers always seemed to have freshly-filled ice buckets.



But then I remembered, again: this was not reality, but the world of a paperback novel, allegedly by Hannah Pierce Somebody {in Arnold Schnabel’s holograph copybook the name Sandler is written in the margin, with an arrow pointing to Somebody – Editor}, but undoubtedly really written by my friend Horace P. Sternwall, and I doubted that Horace would ever worry about questions like how did an ice bucket get filled, because who really cares anyway?



So I decided not to worry about it and just be glad there was ice at all, and – all that really mattered – liquor to be chilled by the ice, not that I wouldn’t have been almost perfectly happy to drink the booze at room temperature.



I chose a large highball glass, a Collins glass actually. There was a pair of tongs lying on a specially designed plate, but since no one was looking I just used my fingers to put some ice cubes into the glass, and then I filled it halfway up with the Haig & Haig. The cabinet held one of those big old-fashioned nickel-and-glass seltzer siphons (again just like in the movies), and so I filled the rest of the glass up with seltzer. An engraved metal cup held a dozen or so stainless steel swizzle sticks, and so I went whole hog and used one to stir the drink instead of resorting to my wonted method of just using my finger or not even bothering to stir the drink at all. I wasn’t sure what to do with the swizzle stick after stirring the drink, so I just shook off what moisture I could from it and put it back in the metal cup with its fellows.



I took a good drink and it was good.

Now that I think about it all first drinks (and this was, if far from the first of this endless day, more like the hundredth, then at least it felt like my first in about two months) are good, but some are better than others, and this was a better than average one.



I looked out of one of the windows, the one that didn’t have an air-conditioner in it. The curtains were drawn back and the blinds were up, and the rain streamed down the window-glass. Outside was a nighttime cityscape, not surprisingly a different view from the ones I had seen from the consulting room and the reception room, and after a few moments I recognized the profile of the Empire State Building, with its randomly-placed window-lights glowing through the rain. 



So, I was in New York City, or a version thereof. This was good, or at least better than being on that empty midwestern road in the back of a Ford Model AA with an enormous tornado approaching at high speed from the rear and about to sweep up me and my companions and send us whirling and cartwheeling howling to our doom.



Had it been cowardly of me to abandon my friends, those other five bums, not to mention that nameless good Samaritan of a farmer who had picked us up? Yes, it had been a cowardly move, but perhaps by saving myself I had saved them? Who was to say that they would not now be suspended indefinitely, like a page never turned, in that moment when I had escaped into my present fictional universe? And, anyway, what good would it have done them were I to have stoically (or gibberingly) sat there and awaited our common fate? And, if given the chance, would not my companions and the helpful farmer all have done the same as I had done? Even Ferdinand, even Ben? What about Josh, now that he had apparently lost his divine status? Would even he have become human enough to save himself if he could?

I decided not to kill myself worrying about it, what was done was done, and anyway hadn’t that all been in a fictional world, indeed a fictional world within a fictional world within yet another fictional world? Moreover, could people in novels ever really be said to die? All one had to do was skip backwards from the person’s death scene and he or she would be alive again, and so in a way all fictional characters are immortal as long as one copy of the book they live in exists, as long as one literate creature, human or otherwise, survives to read it.  


I took another good drink, staring out at that rainy nighttime city with its blurry vertical spatterings of electric light. I realized that this was my first moment alone with myself since entering Dr. Blanche’s world, and now my problem was my usual one, the one I had been grappling with all this endless-seeming evening during which I had wandered in and out of so many fictional worlds, this evening that felt like five years and three months at least: the problem of how to get back to my own world, to my own body, to Cape May, to my own version of reality, and, yes, to Elektra, the only girlfriend I had ever had and her warm smell of caramel and cotton candy.



Should I try once again to write myself home?



Yes, of course – what else could I do?


And so instead of passively standing here drinking my strong highball and staring out at the rain, what I should be doing was finding something to write on. Surely there was some blank paper somewhere in Dr. Blanche’s apartment – but once again I had to be careful, to be absolutely specific in what I wrote, or else God or Josh only knew what new world or hell I would wind up in.

I would just take one more gulp of scotch and soda and then look for some paper.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

It was Dr. Blanche’s voice. I turned around and she was standing right in front of me. For once she wasn’t smoking a cigarette, and she had removed her reading glasses and their little gold chain.

“I was thinking about how to get home,” I said.

“Yes,” she said. She raised both of those delicate hands of hers and adjusted the knot of my tie, something that I only realized now that my mother always did. “Home. Your so-called ‘real world’.”

“Yeah,” I said, and I breathed in a warm soft wafting of her scent of rain-wet gladioli.

“How’s your drink?”

“Good,” I said.

She ran her fingers down the wrinkled lapels of my seersucker jacket.

“Did you use the Haig & Haig?”

“Yes,” I said.

My jacket had been unbuttoned, and now she buttoned the middle button of its three.

“So you’re a scotch man?”

“I’m a drink anything that’s available man,” I said.

“Ha ha,” she said. She ran her fingers down the sides of my jacket, and gave its tails a little tug. “There, you look ever so much more presentable now. Not that a bohemian poet like yourself gives a hoot. Shall we get some food in you?”



She patted my belly.

“My, you have a flat hard abdomen. Do you do sit-ups?”

“Um, uh,” I said.
 

“Come, let’s fatten you up.”

“Okay,” I said. “I mean, no, wait, Dr. Weinberg –”

“’Blanche’.”



“Dr. Blanche, listen, I wonder if you could maybe get me something to write on.”

“You mean paper?”

“Yes,” I said. “Paper would be good.”

“What sort of paper?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Letter paper, or would a simple notepad do?”

“Sure, a notepad would be great.”

“Like one of the leather-bound ones I use in my work?”

“Sure, but it doesn’t have to be leather-bound.”

“Well, you see the actual notepads I use have only cardboard covers, but I fit them into the metal rings of the leather binder.”

“Okay, then just one of those pads.”

“I’ll get you a nice fresh one.”

“Great.”



“And what are going to write, if I may be so bold as to ask.”

“Dr. Wein-, I mean Dr. Blanche, you’ve just spent seven hours listening to me under hypnosis. I think you might be able to guess what I intend to do.”

“Intend to try to do.”

“Yes,” I said. “Intend to try to do.”

“Just wanted to hear you say it.”

“I understand,” I said, although I didn’t.



“Oh, but you did say you were hungry!”

“I am,” I said.

“Then let’s feed you! What would you like to eat?”

“I’d like the notepad first,” I said.

“Before you eat.”

“Yes,” I said.

“There’s an all night coffee shop downstairs. They make a lovely reuben. Or perhaps you’d prefer a corned beef special.”

“Either sounds good, but –”

“Hot pastrami on rye?”

“Yes, that sounds good, too,” I said, “but really I would like that notepad first. If it’s not too much trouble.”



“Oh, it’s no trouble at all. I just thought you might like to get some food in that manly hard washboard belly of yours first.”



“I’d really like the notepad first.”

“Yes, of course. In order to, to try to, to – how would you put it?”

“In order to try to write myself out of this universe. And back to my own universe.”

“Yes. Of course.” She looked past me, towards the window and the rain. I waited. Thirty seconds went by, and then she looked back at me. “I suppose there’s nothing for it then but to get you a notepad.”

“I would appreciate it.”

“But, please, Mr. Walker, if this – this writing on a notepad maneuver – if it should fail –”

“Then we can go to the coffee shop and I’ll get a corned beef special or a reuben,” I said.

“Or the hot pastrami.”

“Yes,” I said. “Or the hot pastrami.”

“But, Mr. Walker, if you should fail, well – I hope you won’t be too disappointed.”

“I’ll try not to be.”

“All of us sometimes would like to escape, to go to some imaginary other world.”



“I can’t speak for other people,” I said.

“You know, I think this might just actually be a very therapeutic exercise for you.”

“I hope so.”

“I must say though I am absolutely famished myself. I haven’t had my dinner yet either, and I only had a light lunch.”



“Oh. Well –”

“Just a bagel, actually.”

“Uh-huh.”

“With butter, but that was all.”

“Well, that’s uh –”

“But I can wait.”

“It shouldn’t take me long,” I said.

“How long do you think it will take, if I may ask?”

“To be honest,” I said, “I can’t really say.”

“I see.”

“I have no idea what the rules of this world are. If there are any rules.”

“Yes, of course, because you, uh, only shall we say entered this ‘world’ when you came to my office door, if I have it right.”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said.

“Like a newborn babe.”

“Yes.”

“A newborn babe in the form of a strapping handsome fellow in a wrinkled seersucker jacket and blue jeans.”

“I’m not responsible for my clothing.”



“And who is, pray tell?”



“The lady who wrote the novel that I’m a character in.”

“Yes, of course. What was her name?”

I had to think for a couple of moments, it had been so long since I had thought about the woman in whose fictional universe I had been trapped for so long.

Gertrude Evans,” I said.



“Yes, Gertrude Evans. I must say I do detect a woman’s touch in your habiliment. A woman novelist’s conception of the way a handsome and slightly raffish young poet would dress.”

I looked at my glass. Except for some melted ice cubes, it was empty. I could only assume I had drunk its contents.

“Would you like another Haig & Haig?” she said.

“Actually,” I said, “I would really like that notebook.”

“Yes, the notebook. Okay. Let me get one. I have loads of notebooks in my consulting room desk. Why don’t you sit down on the couch.”

“Okay.”

“Sure you don’t want another highball?”

“Well, maybe,” I said, don’t ask me why, maybe I had a drinking problem. Maybe I had sanity problem. Maybe I had a living problem.

“Won’t be a mo,” she said, and she turned, headed for the door that adjoined the consulting room.

I turned to the liquor cabinet again and went to work making another drink, but not so strong this time. I knew I had to keep my wits about me, whatever wits I still possessed.


(Continued here, and onward, relentlessly.)




4 comments:

Kathleen Maher said...

Maybe the hypnosis has emboldened Arnold/Porter. He may not get where or what he wants & Dr. Blanche is certainly formidable. But he's more forthright than he often is. Of course, not being in a crowded bar, wandering among "The Children of the Damned," contending with the devil, the Son of God, or his other strong-arm pals may affect his demeanor. As long as he's not "worrying himself to death.." But even then, for him, anything' possible! Such a plight!

Dan Leo said...

And Odysseus thought that he had a tough time getting home!

Kathleen Maher said...

Odyssesus refused to ask directions, whereas Arnold will ask God's own secretary!

Dan Leo said...

Ha ha – you have a good memory, Kathleen! Even I had almost forgotten about Arnold asking for bathroom directions in God's house...