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.
“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.
“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.”
“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?”
“And how would you expect a Buddha to sound?”
“I guess more – solemn?”
“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.”
“I understand perfectly.”
“Well, that’s why I feel bad. And I could tell that she, you know, liked me –”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 –”
“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?”
“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.”
“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 –”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.)