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.”
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.
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.”
“I don’t suppose you have a permit to carry it.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Thwarted,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve gotten used to being frustrated and thwarted, and so it’s hard to get excited.”
“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 –”
“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.”
“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 –”
“I am so sorry, Mr. Walker. I shall sit sit here quietly and you won’t hear a peep.”
“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 backI 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.)