Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “Navy Cut”


We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel in the entranceway of  Bob’s Bowery Bar, accompanied by his new acquaintance the Buddha, who has assumed the form of a “small Oriental-looking man” in a white suit and a straw boater hat... 



(Please go here to read last week’s exciting episode; if you would like to begin at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume epic you may click here to order
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a Kindle™ e-book or as palpable “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“Now that the first volume of Arnold Schnabel’s
chef-d'œuvre is at last available for purchase, is there really any question as to what book should be number one on any book lover's list of ‘summer beach reads’?” – Harold Bloom, in the Reader’s Digest ‘Summer Fun’ Supplement.






“Very well done, my friend – very well done indeed!”



The little man smiled broadly, revealing perfectly white and gleaming teeth, and he looked past me into the entrance of the bar. 



“My, this does look a jolly place! I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve been in a tavern or an alehouse – are we going in?”

“Well, I was intending to go in, yes,” I said.

“And get a little – as you Americans say – ‘load on’?”

“Well,” I said, “I’m afraid that’s what usually happens in these places, but actually I’m hoping to find some friends of mine.”

“You have friends?”

“Believe it or not, yes.”

“Ha ha, no offense, old bean.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “In fact, there was a time when I had no friends.”

“You do strike me as the loner type. The brooding poet in his garret, that sort of thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a brooding poet in a garret.”

Little did he know that I actually did sleep in a small attic room, which I think is the same thing as a garret.

He had hooked the bamboo crook of his umbrella over his left forearm, and now he reached into the right side pocket of his suit coat, brought out a golden jewel-encrusted cigarette case, held it out to me and clicked it open.

“Player’s Navy Cut?”

I raised my hand to take one, but stopped myself.

“Go on,” he said. “Take one, I’ve got plenty as you see.”

“Well, I know this will sound hard to believe,” I said, “but I’ve given up smoking.”



“You have?” he said. “My goodness, I hope you won’t take offense if I should humbly ask why, in the name of all the gods, if I may be so bold as to pretend to speak for them?”



“Why did I quit smoking?”



“In the proverbial nutshell, yes, why would you possibly want to quit so pleasurable an activity as smoking?”



“Well, okay, the immediate cause for my, uh, quitting was that yesterday morning – although it feels like nine years ago – I woke up coughing my lungs out, just as I usually did, which was the opposite of pleasurable, then or ever, and I was tired of it. The other reason was that I didn’t want to die of cancer. Or emphysema. Or both.”

“So you’re that invested in your corporeal existence?”

“Yes,” I said. “Also, I dislike pain.”

“Okay. I get that. Far be it from me to judge. But you don’t mind if I smoke?”

“Not at all,” I said.

“Or.” He cocked his head. “Or, we could fire up a marijuana cigarette. A ‘reefer’ in your parlance.”



“Um, uh –”



“Come, come, dear sir, I know you appreciate the sacred weed. You certainly held your own with Wiggly Jones, ‘the little hippie lad’, and that’s saying something!”

“Well, yeah, but –”



“The reefer-smoking equivalent of ‘going the distance’ with the great Jack Dempsey!”



“Heh heh –”

“Hold on.”

He snapped shut the cigarette case, dropped it back into the side pocket of his suit coat, then reached into its inside pocket and brought out a Player’s Navy Cut cigarette tin. 



“Call me pretentious, but I like to keep my Navy Cuts in my nice Cartier case, but I find that these Player’s tins are excellent for carrying tubes of the sacred herb.”



He clicked the tin open, and there must have been at least a dozen fat and obviously hand-rolled cigarettes in it. 



“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “why not just keep them in my Cartier with the regular cigarettes? And I’ll tell you why, because if I see a flatfoot or what looks like a plainclothes bull about to brace me and shake me down I can quick just toss the Player’s tin of sacred smokeables down the nearest sewer, which I would hate to do with my nice Cartier case, I don’t even want to tell you how much they would charge over the counter for it, not that I had to pay retail, but still.”

It occurred to me that he really didn’t need to smoke any reefer, but I said nothing.

“So what do you say we fire one of these little ecstasy-sticks up?” he said.

“Listen,” I said, “Mr. Buddha –”

“Hey. Ernest.”

“Arnold,” I said, I don’t know why I bothered.

“Arnold,” he said. “What did I tell you about this ‘Mr. Buddha’ business? Call me Sid. I mean if you prefer to be more formal you can call me Siddhārtha – Siddhārtha Gautama is my full name, not that I expect you to remember that – but, look, I like to think we can be friends, so, please, call me Sid.”

“Okay, Sid –”

“Yes, Ernest?”

“Uh –”

“Just jesting,” he said. “Arnold. I remember your last name, too. Arnold Sch-, Scha-, Schu–”

“Schnabel,” I said.



“Schnabel?” he said.



“Yes,” I said, probably in a way that my favorite authors would describe as “wearily”.

“’Arnold Schnabel.’ Good, I’ll remember it now.”

He took out one of the handrolled cigarettes and put it in his lips. He snapped the tin shut, slipped it back into his inside pocket, then reached into his side pocket again and brought out a box of Tiger brand matches. He slid it open, took out a match, struck it on the side of the box, and lighted himself up. He tossed the match out into the rain, it sizzled out and was dashed to the sidewalk to be washed away into the gutter and then into a sewer and finally out to the ocean where it would drift forlornly till the end of time. He dropped the matches back into his pocket and then, holding in the smoke, his eyes bulging behind his round glasses, the Buddha proffered the reefer to me.

“Listen, uh, Mister –” his thin eyebrows popped up, so I immediately corrected myself, “I mean, Sid, maybe it’s not such a great idea to smoke that in public –”

He exhaled marijuana smoke up into my face.



“Arnold,” he said, with a small smile, “just take a look around at where you are.”

“I don’t have to look around, I know where we are.”

“Do you see any policemen around here? Do you think they’re out walking their beat in this torrential downpour? And, yes, I know, maybe a patrol car might cruise by, but even if it did, what are they going to see? Just two chaps taking the fresh air outside of a taproom, sharing a convivial cigarette. And as for the good people inside the taproom – just cast an eye.”



Involuntarily I turned and looked through the doorway at that crowd of drunken, dancing, shouting people, with the music blaring over them through the thick swirling smoke, a lady’s voice singing,
Roll another muggles, daddy,
roll it up thick and tight.
Now fire that muggles up, big daddy,
‘cause we gonna get real high tonight…


“You see what I mean?” said the Buddha, or Sid, as I suppose I should get used to calling him, “You think anyone in there cares? Now come on, you’re wasting the precious weed.”

I suppose I’d like to be able to say I took the reefer just to shut him up, and this was true as far as it went, but I also took it because I wanted to, indeed I even felt I needed to. At any rate I took the reefer.

“Thanks,” I said.

“It’s me who should be thanking you,” said Sid.

“For what?”, I said, taking a series of quick inhalations like the expert I was apparently becoming.

“For what?” said Sid. “Why, for enabling me to assume the corporeal form of a human being again!”

“I did that?” I croaked, in a constricted voice, as I was still in the process of “toking”.

“You certainly did, old chap. I told you you were enlightened, did I not?”

“Yes,” I said, finally letting out a great cloud of smoke from my lungs. “But I didn’t know –”


“Yes?”

“Didn’t know I had these sorts of –”



“Powers?”

“Yeah.”



“Supernatural powers.”



“Right.”



I was staring at the reefer. It seemed unusually strong in its effect, and I was compos mentis enough to formulate the thought that I probably shouldn’t smoke any more of it.

“One powerfully enlightened being,” said Sid, “that’s what you are, my friend.”



“Uh.”

“What?”

“I don’t feel very enlightened,” I said, “I feel more like the opposite –” 



Sid took the reefer from my fingers.



“There you go,” he said. “Not only enlightened, but humble, too!”



“Well, if you were me you would be humble, too.”

“Spoken like a true guru of the old school!”



He drew on the reefer, he had his own method, a few very deep, very slow draws. He took his time, and then exhaled another cloud of smoke in the direction of my face.



“You know something, Arnold, If I didn’t want to get the knees of my trousers wet and soiled I would verily kneel before you in obeisance.”

“No need for that,” I said.

“So modest,” he said. “I wish all enlightened people were so humble and modest. But you know how it is. Chaps get a little enlightened, assume guru-hood, and then next thing you know they get a swollen head. Don’t let that happen to you, Arnold.”

He pointed the lit end of the reefer at me.

“I doubt it will,” I said.

“Unless,” he said, “– and I’m not saying this would happen, but still it’s something any guru needs to watch out for – unless you start becoming proud of your very modesty.”

“Oh. Uh –”



Or –” he took another smaller slow draw on the reefer, paused and then took another; at last he exhaled and resumed his sentence – “and I’ve seen this happen, more times than I would like to say – unless you start getting all full of yourself once you have all sorts of students and followers hanging on your every word of wisdom –”

“I don’t see that happening,” I said.

“Getting full of yourself?”

“Having students and followers,” I said. “And since I’ll never have students and followers I won’t be able to get full of myself about it.”

“Well, all I can say, Arnold, is, just, as you Americans say, like, wow.”

“Heh heh,” I said.

“You laugh.”

“Almost mirthlessly, though,” I said.

“But why are you laughing, albeit almost mirthlessly.”

“Never mind.”

“You think I’m joking.”

“Well, no –”

“Someday,” he said, “just you wait, there they’ll be, your students, disciples, sitting all around you, hanging on your every word, your every slight change of facial expression, or the tiniest gesture with a finger –”



He held up his left hand and made a microscopically small gesture with his little finger, which I noticed had a fancy gold ring on  it.

“See? Like that,” he said. “Just the tiniest wiggle.”



He tinily wiggled the finger again.

“Ha ha,” I said.

“Seriously. I’m not joking,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “and besides, I think that reefer is really strong.”

“Of course it is. Grown on the southern slopes of a certain verdant valley of my native Nepal. A little slice of heaven we like to call Shangri-La. Have some more.”



“No thanks,” I said. “I think I’d better not.”

“Save it for later.”

He pinched the light out of the end of the reefer with his finger and thumb.

“Here, stick it in your pocket.”

He held up the reefer. I took it and stuck it in my shirt pocket. I had sunk pretty low, I realize that. 



“Excellent,” said Sid, “now let’s get in there and get that aforementioned load on, shall we?”

“Wait, hold on, Sid,” I said. “I have to tell you something.”

“Great. Unmuzzle your wisdom, as your bawdy bard once wrote.”

“I’m not going in here just to get a load on.”

“No? Then whatever for?”

“I just want to say goodbye to my friends I told you about. And then I want to try to return to the real world.”

“All right,” he said, after just a moment’s pause.



He took his cigarette case out again, clicked it open, offered its contents to me. I shook my head, he shrugged, took out a cigarette and put it in his lips. 



“Sure,” he said. “Whatever.”

He clicked the case shut, dropped it back in his suit coat pocket, brought out the box of matches again.

“I’d like to meet these friends of yours,” he said. 



He took out a match, struck it, lighted up his cigarette, exhaled a great slow cloud of smoke up into my face. Again he flicked the match out into the downpour where it was extinguished and washed away to follow its fellow on an endless voyage into oblivion.



“I mean,” said Sid, he took the cigarette from his lips, holding it between his thumb and forefinger, looking at it, and then at me, “if you don’t mind introducing me –”

“Sure, I don’t mind,” I said.

“Do you think I’ll like them?”

“Uh, yeah – one old guy is kind of crusty –”



“I love crusty old men!”



“Well, I guess you’ll like him, then.”

“But will your friends like me?”



“I, uh –”

“What? You don’t think they will?”



“I don’t know –”

“You don’t know?”

“I mean I’m not sure.”

“Wow, that’s harsh.”

“I’m just trying to be honest, Sid.”

“As you should be. But wow. Am I that unlikable?”

“No, not really –”

“But I am a little.”

“Uh –”



“A little unlikable.”

“Not unlikable so much,” I said, “but –” and I would never have said this normally, but, again, that reefer had been very strong – “you come on a little strong, Sid.”

“Wow.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s true,” he said. “Can I tell you something?”

“Sure.”

“Do you know why I was just a cigarette lighter before you helped me assume a human corporeal host again?”

“Uh, no.”

“Because of my tendency to come on too strong. That’s why.”

He took a drag on the cigarette, looked out at the rain, and then back at me.

“I fucked myself. And one fine day I woke up and found that I was a cheap mass-produced table lighter. Well, not super cheap, I was produced at the Ronson factory in Newark, at least I wasn’t some Soviet-made knock-off, but, still. Anyway, I will do my best not to come on too strong with your buddies. And I mean that.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “They’re not perfect either. Except, well –”

“Except what?”

“Well, one of them might be perfect.”


“My goodness, a super guru. What’s his name?”

“Well, he’s Jesus Christ,” I said.

The Jesus Christ.”

“Yes.”

“I am a huge admirer,” he said.

(Continued next week, in this same time and space...)








Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “tantric”


Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel just outside the open doorway of his old haunt Bob’s Bowery Bar... 



(Kindly click here to read last week’s thrilling chapter; those who would like to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume epic may go here to order
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, either as a Kindle™ e-book or as an old-fashioned actual “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“Summer vacation at last – and what better ‘beach read’ than Arnold Schnabel’s towering and magnificent
chef-d'œuvre?” – Harold Bloom, in the Better Homes and Gardens Literary Supplement.






Inside the doorway I saw a scene much like the one I had seen when last I had entered the bar: a mob of drunks dancing and thrashing in the smoky sweaty dimness to loud music that sounded like it was being performed by musicians in person as opposed to that which comes from a juke box.

“Well done, sir! I have known thousands, nay, millions of human beings in the past twenty-five centuries or so, but very few who could pull off this kind of a miracle. Well done indeed, sir!”

I looked to the right and left, I turned around entirely, but I saw no one, only the rain pouring down out of the darkness onto the deserted street.

“May I ask who is speaking?” I said.

“Check your right pocket, my friend.”

I started to shove my hand into the right pocket of my jeans, but the voice spoke again.

“I’m sorry, I meant the right pocket of your sport jacket.”



I put my hand in the right pocket of my seersucker jacket, and at first I thought I felt the revolver that the Lily woman had given me so long ago, but, no, whatever it was, hard and metallic to be sure, it wasn’t a revolver. I brought it out, and it was the Buddha-shaped cigarette lighter that had been on Dr. Blanche’s coffee table, or the one I had encountered in Wiggly Jones’s apartment, or the one in Mrs. Biddle’s living room, or some other one.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello to you, sir,” said the Buddha.

“Well, thank you,” I said.

“For what?”

“I don’t know, for helping me decide what to do.”

“That was all you, my friend.”

“Yes, but you winked at me, and, well, something about your wink made me realize what I had to do.”

“Okay, I get that. And you know what? You are very welcome, good sir.”



I stood there, with the Buddha in my hand, and then I looked out at the street, at the Bowery. I was under the shelter of the entrance area, but just a couple feet away from me the rain crashed down with a sound like a billion billion pinballs dumped down from the sky.

“I sense something is troubling you, my friend,” said the Buddha.

“You do?”

“Yes. You know, not for nothing am I called the Buddha. I’m very good on picking up on this sort of thing. ‘Reading’ people. It’s all part and parcel of being enlightened. But, hey, you’re an enlightened fellow yourself – you know what I’m talking about.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so. So, please, tell me what’s troubling you. No good bottling it up. You bottle these problems up and it’s just like being constipated, only on the spiritual plane. You got to let that shit out.”


“Hey,” I said, “let me ask you something.”

“Fire away.”

“Are you really the Buddha?”

“Sure I am. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I guess it’s just that you sound kind of funny for a, you know –”

“For a Buddha?”

“Yes.”

“And how would you expect a Buddha to sound?”

“I guess more – solemn?”

“’Solemn’.”



“Formal?”



“’Formal’?”

“Yes.”

“Well, the hell with solemnity, my friend, and, pardon my French, but fuck formality too. Life is too short. Eternity is too short. So what’s bothering you? Talk to me.”

“Oh, it’s stupid, I guess.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. Come on, tell me. That’s what I’m here for.”

“Okay,” I said. “Well, the thing is, now I feel bad.”

“You do? What do you have to feel bad about?”

“I feel bad about leaving Dr. Blanche like that. Just disappearing all of a sudden. Without even saying goodbye.”

“Okay.”

“You understand?”

“I understand perfectly.”

“Well, that’s why I feel bad. And I could tell that she, you know, liked me –”

“Liked you?”

“Yeah, I mean, she was really nice to me –”

“She wanted to have tantric sex with you my friend.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“You mean you don’t know what tantric sex is?”

“Yes, I don’t know what that word you said before sex is.”

“Tantric.”

“Yeah, that word.”



“Okay. But you do know what regular sex is.”

“Yes. I mean I’m no expert, but I think I know the basics. I mean the basic basics.”

“All right. Tantric sex. Well – in a nutshell, what it is is it’s just really, really, really good sex. Like sex on a whole other level. Not just the physical, but the spiritual as well.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Tantric sex. Maybe you should learn about it.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” I said. “But, anyway, even if Dr. Blanche did only want to have sex with me –”

“Tantric sex.”

“Even if she did only want to have tantric sex with me –”

“Don’t underestimate tantric sex, my friend. Not until you’ve tried it.”

“Okay, well, all I mean is I feel bad, about leaving her there. Without even saying goodbye.”

“When she was really looking forward to having tantric sex with you.”

“Yes. I mean, I didn’t exactly think of it in those terms, but –”


“Hey, Ernest – that’s what you like to be called, right? Ernest?”



“Arnold, actually.”

“Arnold?”

“Yes.”

“So ‘Arnold’’s what you prefer to be addressed as.”

“Well, it’s my name.”

“What is it, Arnold Walker?”

“No,” I said. “Porter Walker is my name in this fictional universe, but my real name is Arnold Schnabel.”

“Oh. Okay. So it’s okay if I call you Arnold?”

“Sure,” I said. “Arnold’s good. I don’t really care at this point. You can call me Kilroy for all I care.”

“Ha ha. Arnold, then. Ha ha, funny by the way, I like your sense of humor. Fatalistic. Self-deprecating. That’s good. But, look, don’t worry about Dr. Blanche.”

“Why not? She has feelings too.”

“I’m not saying she doesn’t. But here’s the thing, in her world you’re still there.”

“I am?”

“Sure, you think this Herbert Walker guy is just going to disappear when he’s sitting next to her on her couch?”

“I thought that’s what I, uh –”

“You thought.”

“But that was me on her couch with her. And now I’m here.”

“And your point is?”

“How can I be here and also on Dr. Blanche’s couch.”



“Because Dr. Blanche is in another book. Another ‘fictional universe’ I think is the term you have used. And, trust me, if I know Dr. Blanche she has already begun to introduce you to the sweet mysteries of tantric sex – and modesty forbids me to say more!”



“Uh, okay –”

“And if you only knew what a time you’re about to have you might well wish you were back in Dr. Blanche’s world.”

“Yeah, maybe – but – how can I be in that fictional universe and this one at the same time?”

“Wow – I have to explain this?”

“Well, you don’t have to –”

“I know I don’t have to, but, look, try to follow me. Does Tarzan being in one novel preclude him from being in another Tarzan novel?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Mr. Moto? Sherlock Holmes? Inspector Maigret?”

“So you’re saying I’m a character simultaneously in a whole bunch of books.”

“Well, maybe not as many as Inspector Maigret –”

“But I’m in more than one book at the same time.”



“You need to get over this ‘I’ thing. The ego. You’re better than that, Ernest.”

“Arnold.”

“Sorry, ‘Arnold, you’re better than that.’”


“Well, I don’t know –”

“Listen. That’s you in Dr. Blanche’s little world. This is you in another world.”

“How many worlds can I be in at one time?”

“Look, I’m the Buddha. I am not the Encyclopedia Britannica. How many worlds would you like to be in?”

“I’d prefer just to be in one,” I said.

“Well, good luck with that. But look at it this way. Any world is better than no world. Right?”

“Okay,” I said.


“Why are you looking around, by the way?”



I hadn’t realized it, but I suppose I had been looking around, while I stood there holding the Buddha in my hand.

“Something’s bothering you again.”

“Something is always bothering me.”

“Tell me about it. Maya.”

“Pardon me?”

“Maya. The tawdriness of reality if you will. You keep looking around. What’s your problem this time?”

It finally hit me what was bothering me, and I decided to answer his question honestly.

“I’m afraid that someone will see me talking to a cigarette lighter.”

“Well, if that’s all it is, maybe I can help you out. Or, rather, maybe you can help yourself out, because, you know, helping people is not really what I do. I show the way. But it’s up to you to make it happen, my friend.”

“Okay, fine,” I said.


“You ready to give it a try?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Good. That’s very good. I told you were an enlightened guy. Now let’s try this. I’m going to ask you to close your eyes if you will.”

I had nothing to lose, so I closed my eyes.

“Now drop me,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.

“Wait, not yet. First I want you to imagine me as a mortal man, just like you.”

“Okay.”

“Good, now fix that thought in your mind. Are you doing it?”

Actually I really wasn’t, I was just wishing he would get to the point, but I said yes.



“Great,” he said. “Now keep that thought, that image in your mind, and now drop me.”

“Just drop you?”

“Yes, just drop me. Don’t worry, I won’t break.”

I was reluctant, I was afraid there would be some kind of catch, and, after all, what did I care if anyone saw me speaking to a cigarette lighter, but I opened my fingers and let the Buddha fall. 

I heard no sound of the lighter landing on the pavement. It was as if the lighter had flown away, or just disappeared into some other dimension.

“Okay, open your eyes now.”

I opened my eyes, and a small Oriental-looking man was standing right in front of me. He had a straw boater on his head, and a pair of round wire-rimmed glasses on his nose. He wore a neatly-pressed  white suit, and he carried a furled black umbrella.

“Is this better?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, although I wasn’t entirely sure of it.



(Continued here, and so on, every one of Arnold’s marble copybooks has been transcribed, with only the most appalling misspellings silently corrected.)






Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “Rummies on Parade”


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



(Please go here to read last week’s episode of this Gold View Award™-winning 67-volume memoir; those who would like to start at the very beginning of Arnold’s masterwork are invited to click here to order
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a Kindle™ e-book and a tangible book printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“The confessions of a saint or the ravings of a madman? Or both? Let each reader judge for himself.” – Harold Bloom, in his
Introduction to Arnold Schnabel: An Introduction.



I was standing there staring out at the rain and just taking my first drink of this second highball when I heard Dr. Blanche’s voice again.

“You didn’t sit down,” she said.

I turned. She was just closing the door to her office.

“I was just going to,” I said. And thank God or Josh or no one, she had a small notepad in her hand.

“Please,” she said. “Make yourself comfortable.”

“Okay.”

I went over to the couch and sat down, at the end closest to the windows.

Dr. Blanche came over and sat down right next to me, to my right.

“Your notepad,” she said, and she held out a thick pad with a plain blue cardboard cover, with three holes drilled into it near the spine so that it could be fitted into a binder.



“Thank you,” I said, and I took the pad. 



Could this be it, at long last? Would I finally be able to escape this universe of infinite fictional universes? 

I looked for somewhere on the cluttered coffee table to place my highball.

“What is it?” said Dr. Blanche. “I do hope you haven’t been stricken with writer’s block.”



“No, I’m just looking for somewhere to put my drink.”

“Oh, my goodness, how thoughtless of me!”

She pushed aside some of the clutter and came up with a coaster, square with rounded edges, made out of ceramic or something like ceramic and decorated with what looked like bacteria of various colors on a pale blue background. She cleared a small space on the table in front of me and put the coaster in it.

“There you are, Mr. Walker.”

“Thanks, doctor,” I said, and I put the Collins glass down on the coaster.

“Do you need a pen, or a pencil?”

“Actually,” I said, “believe it or not I think I might have a pen.”



I checked my shirt pocket, and it was still there, that yellow and green Eversharp ballpoint which I had gone to so many pains and so much pain to acquire, somehow it had survived all these journeys into and out of various worlds and near-death situations. I put the pad on my lap while I unscrewed the pen’s cap and stuck it onto the barrel.

“Do you mind if I smoke while you write?” said Dr. Blanche.

“No, not at all,” I said.

There was a wooden cigarette box on the coffee table, and she reached over and opened it, took out a cigarette, then looked at me.

“I know you said you’ve quit, but maybe a nice Philip Morris will help you relax.”

“It might,” I said, “but I don’t want to be distracted.”

“By a cigarette?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m afraid I would enjoy it so much that I would forget to write.”

“I could remind you.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but I think I’d better not.”



She closed the lid of the box. It was a different kind from the one she had in her office. This one was made out of some sort of dark wood, and to my embarrassment the lid was engraved with images of men and women copulating, similar to or exactly the same as the illustrations in the Kama Sutra book Dr. Blanche had given me to look at.



“Oh, yes, the engravings,” she said. “I saw it in a little shop in Paris and I simply knew I had to have it, which reminds me, what did you think of the Kama Sutra?”

“I only glanced at it,” I said. “And then I put it back.”

“The sex positions are only a small part of the book,” she said.

“Well, maybe not so small a part, but you see the book is actually a philosophical work, and not pornographic in its intent at all. A guide to living if you will. And is not sex a part of living?”

“Well, yes,” I said. “But isn’t everything?”

’Isn’t everything?’ How profound. Yes, I suppose everything is part of life, isn’t it?”

There was a cigarette lighter on the table, and I know this seems improbable, but it was in the shape of a fat little Buddha, similar to or maybe even exactly the same as the one that I had conversed with in the apartment of Wiggly Jones, “the little hippie boy” – which lighter in turn had been similar to or exactly the same as the one I had seen so long ago or was it only yesterday in the living room of Mrs. Biddle’s house back in Cape May in what I still persisted in thinking of as “my world”, although I was beginning to realize that I was thinking of that world less and less as “the real world”. This Buddha didn’t talk, at least not yet, anyway, and Dr. Blanche lighted her cigarette with it and then pulled a large red glass ashtray closer to her.

“So,” she said, “write away. Just pretend I’m not even here.”

This was not easy to do, as she was sitting so close to me that our hips touched, and I could smell that warm perfume of hers, gladioli after a summer rain, in the early evening, and under that scent I smelled something else, something warmer still, and alive.

I opened the pad to its first blank page, holding the book in my left hand.

“By the way,” she said, and then said nothing, apparently waiting for me to say something. I was tempted not to say anything and just to go ahead and start writing, but my good manners held sway once again.

“Yes?” I said.

“The gun.”

With a fingernail she tapped the cloth of the right pocket of  my seersucker jacket, producing a muffled metallic sound because of the pistol that was in there.

“Oh,” I said. “Yes. The gun.”

“Of course I felt it earlier when I was straightening your jacket, but I chose to say nothing. But now I feel I must.”

“Okay,” I said. “Well, I guess I’m going to give this writing thing a try now.”

“I think you said this Milly woman gave you the gun.”

“Her name was Lily, actually,” I said.

“Lily, yes. Another so-called fictional character.”

“Right,” I said.

“What was the book – Rummies on Parade?”

Rummies of the Open Road I think,” I said.

“Yes, of course, by Harold P. Sternhagen was it?”

“Horace P. Sternwall,” I said.

“Who is also a friend of yours.”

“Sort of a friend,” I said.

“Except that he is fictional as well.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”



“Anyway, back to the gun, the pistol.”

“Yes?”

“I don’t suppose you have a permit to carry it.”

“No.”

“No.”

“No,” I said. “I’m afraid not.”

“You could get into trouble carrying that, you know.”

“I could get into even more trouble if I didn’t carry it,” I said.

“As with those three hooligans who accosted you in that alleyway?”

“Yes, I guess I told you about them.”

“Such colorful names. The Ox, the Snake, the Pig?”

“Actually I think it was the Bear, the Rat, and the Toad.”

“So your pistol certainly came in handy.”

“It may have saved my life. Or at least saved me a severe beating.”

“I’d just hate to see you get arrested for carrying a firearm without a license.”

“So would I, but I think I’m going to hang onto it anyway.”

“Living dangerously.”

“I feel that I would be living more dangerously if I didn’t have the gun.”



“Mr. Walker, may I speak frankly?”

“Sure,” I said, holding the pen in one hand and the notepad in the other, but she still didn’t get the hint, or if she did she chose to ignore it.

“I would feel better if you gave the gun to me,” she said. “For safekeeping.”

I said nothing.

“I know,” she said, “you are reluctant, but remember, Mr. Walker, that besides being a psychoanalyst I am a physician. And I feel that I would be remiss in my duty as a physician if I were to, to –”

“To let a madman walk around with a loaded and unlicensed firearm?”

“Well, that’s putting it rather bluntly.”

“Okay,” I said, and to be quite honest I only said it in the hopes of shutting her up so that I could concentrate on my writing.

I took the revolver out of my pocket and laid it on a magazine on the table. The magazine was Dissent, one I had never heard of. Dr. Blanche pushed the pistol and the magazine farther away on the table and then piled a bunch of other magazines on top of it – Commentary, Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, Holiday, the American Journal of Psychiatry.



“There, don’t you feel better now?” said Dr. Blanche.

“Yes,” I lied.

“I feel so much better as well.”


“Okay, then,” I said, “well, here goes –”

“This is rather exciting, isn’t it?”

“Well, I’m not exactly excited.”

“You’re not? But if you’re successful then you’ll have accomplished what can only be called a miracle – something beyond the ken of science.”

“Well, that’s true, I suppose.”

“Oh, it is. I know I’m excited.”

“Okay, then –”

“But you, strangely, are not excited. Now why I wonder is that?”

“Because I’m used to being frustrated.”

“Frustrated.”

“Thwarted?”

“Thwarted,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve gotten used to being frustrated and thwarted, and so it’s hard to get excited.”

“How sad.”

“Yes, well, I’d like to try to write now.”

“I’ve never sat next to a writer, a poet, at the moment of creation.”

“Well, here goes,” I said.

“I wish you the best of luck.”

“Thanks,” I said.

I took a deep breath.

I stared at the blank page. It was a plain notepad page, with thin blue lines.

Now that Dr. Blanche had stopped talking, the room, the apartment, was silent, except for the sound of the rain rattling against the windows, the humming of the air conditioner.

A gentle warm cloud of cigarette smoke floated slowly between the page and my eyes.

I wondered if I should take up Dr. Blanche’s offer of a Philip Morris after all, but then after thinking it over for a half a minute I quickly dismissed the idea, not so much because I didn’t want a cigarette but because asking for one would only mean more of a delay.

I stared at the page.

Where to begin.

How to begin.

I remembered my Haig & Haig highball, which I had hardly touched. I put the pen in the crack between the the notebook’s inside cover and the first page, picked up the Collins glass and took a drink.

“Do you always drink when you write, Mr. Walker?”

“No,” I said. “Usually not.”

“That’s good to hear. So many poets have been ruined by alcoholism.”

I put the glass back down, took up the pen again.

“You know, Mr. Walker –” she started to say, but at last I couldn’t help myself and I interrupted her quite blatantly.

“Excuse me, Dr. Weinberg –”

“Blanche.”

“Dr. Blanche. I’m going to have to ask you please to be quiet for just a few moments. It’s hard enough for me to concentrate.”

“Oh, dear.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, and I know you’re trying to be helpful,” I was really being polite there, “but I just need to, to try to –”



“Concentrate.”



“Yes.”

“I am so sorry, Mr. Walker. I shall sit sit here quietly and you won’t hear a peep.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome.”

I took a deep breath and stared at the page, trying to think of what I needed to write, trying to ignore this attractive woman sitting right next to me, her soft hip and now her thigh touching my hip and thigh.

I was drawing a blank, but I put the pen to the paper anyway, and just started writing the first thing that came to my mind:
    Suddenly I was back
I was about to write the words “in my own world”, but something stopped me, and it was the thought of my friends: Ferdinand the faithful fly, and loyal Ben, and Josh, and even Horace, and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Philpot. If they were not on the back of that farmer’s truck about to be obliterated by an enormous tornado, where were they? Were they back in Bob’s Bowery Bar? I know this might sound stupid, but I was suddenly not comfortable with the thought of leaving them without at least saying goodbye, not after all we had been through together. Of course, who could say, maybe I would find Ferdinand and Ben and Josh waiting for me back in “my” world – but could I be sure of that? No, I couldn’t, I wasn’t sure of anything.

I sighed, and looked up from the page.

My glance fell upon the little Buddha.

Was he going to start talking, to give me advice?

But, no, he wasn’t the sort of God to give advice, or even to talk if he didn’t want to, and so what he did do was to wink at me with one eye.



And what did he mean by that wink, if anything?

Suddenly I now was sure of at least one thing, and that was that this was the Buddha’s way of saying, “You know what you have to do. And if you don’t know, well, I sure can’t help you.”

I looked back at the notebook.

I couldn’t help it. I had summarily abandoned my friends once and I just couldn’t do it again. And so I put pen to paper and completed the sentence I had started.

   
     Suddenly I was back at Bob’s Bowery bar.

And just like that I was back at Bob’s Bowery Bar, not inside it but just outside the open front door, in the entrance area, and the rain was still crashing down hard, as hard as ever.


(Continued here, and onward, provided the world we live in is still here.)