Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “boilermaker”


We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the crowded and smoky Bob’s Bowery Bar, on this long rainy summer’s night in a fictional world – or is it the so-called real world?



(Kindly click here to read last week’s thrilling chapter; if you  would like to begin at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir you may go here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a Kindle™ e-book or a six-by-nine inch softcover “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“What more delightful way to pass one’s summer holidays than reading (or, in my case re-re-reading) Arnold Schnabel’s massive, towering – and dare I say inspirational –
chef-d'œuvre?” – Harold Bloom, in the Racing Form Literary Supplement.




Now that Emily and Sid were gone I became aware again that I was in pain, physical pain that is, not the other sort of pain that being around Emily gave me, which had been enough to distract me from my physical ones, in both knees, on my face, in the back of my head, in my elbows and forearms and the heels of my hands, in fact it seemed easier to name the parts of my body that didn’t hurt rather than the other way round. No matter, they weren’t going to go away soon, not unless someone performed a miracle or gave me some drugs, so I would just have to soldier on.

I was really hungry, too, but I couldn’t let myself get distracted by the lust for food. The important thing was to get back to my own world, and if I was in pain and starving in that world I would deal with those problems there, or not deal with them, I hardly cared. I just wanted to get back.



At least the nascent erection that Emily’s propinquity had instigated had disappeared, that was a good thing, because it’s hard enough trying to shove your way through a mob of dancing drunks without having an erection to worry about. Perhaps I have said too much.

And anyway, why was I standing here? My friends were presumably still in that booth not far away, and all I had to do was shove my way through the mob of dancers (now jitterbugging, or attempting to, furiously, to another upbeat song, “Take the A Train” it was) to the booth, sit down, say my farewells to my companions, then grab something to write on, get my Eversharp ballpoint pen out and write myself out of this madness. 


“Arnie, Arnie, Arnie,” said an old familiar voice, shouted really, over the noise of the jukebox and the shouting and laughter of the drunken dancers.

And there he was again, suddenly emergent from the crowd, right in front of me – Nicky, Lucky, whatever name he was going by, my old enemy the prince of darkness himself.


He looked worse than I had ever seen him before. His iridescent grey suit was wrinkled, and looked as if it had been dipped in dirty motor oil. The knot of his tie was loosened and crooked, and the first few buttons of his shirt were undone. His face was the color of an old urine-stained sheet. His dark hair was mussed, and stray locks of it hung down over his forehead and down his cheekbones like streaks of black ink. His dark eyes were bloodshot. He gave off a distinct odor of feces, urine, and sulphur.

“Surprised to see me again?” he shouted, really loud. He was standing really close to me now and his breath was foul, as if he had been eating the raw intestines of a cancer-stricken pig. “Bet you’re surprised!”

“No, not really,” I said, trying to breathe through my mouth.

“What?” he said.

I shouted this time.

“No! I’m not surprised!”

“I have something in my eyes?”

I realized his ears must still be stopped up, with the boiled-down essence of a million bitter men’s souls, and now that I looked for it, I could see the yellow substance plugging up and oozing out of the porches of his ears.

“Forget it!” I yelled.

“Pathetic?” he yelled. “You’re the one who’s fucking pathetic, my man!”

“Fuck you,” I mumbled, and I do believe that this was the first time I had ever said this phrase, out loud, anyway.

“Thank me?” he said. “What are you thanking me for? I’m going to drag you down to hell now, at long last! As you see –” with the index finger of each hand he pointed to his ears, and I couldn’t help but notice that his fingernails were dirty, yellow and jagged – ”I still got my ears plugged up with the boiled down essence of a billion bitter men’s souls –”

“I thought it was only a million,” I said.

“You want to go to a cotillion? What, are you insane? Oh, wait, ha ha, what a question, of course you’re insane. Anyway, I still got my ears plugged up with the boiled down essence of a trillion bitter men’s souls, so don’t even try taking the you-know-who’s name in vain to get rid of me, pal, it ain’t gonna work!”

“Jesus Christ?” I said, thinking it couldn’t hurt to try. “The son of God?”

“Odd? I’m odd? You’re the one who’s odd, pal, like odd man out, down and out, all the way to hell, baby!”

“I guess it wouldn’t help if I mentioned God the father and the holy ghost?”

“What? You’re saying that you really dig me the most? Well, let me tell you, pal, flattery will get you nowhere, except down to the aforementioned eternal fires of hell! Oh, and guess what? Wait a minute –” He patted his jacket’s side pockets, the breast pocket, then he reached into his jacket and brought out that cigarette holder of his, except whereas before it had been shiny and black, now it was still black, but it looked slimy and filthy, as if it had been fished it out of a garbage pail. “See? I got my magic cigarette holder back, so you’re not going to get rid of me with this, either!”

“That’s great, Nicky, or Lucky, or whatever your name is.”

“You want me to go swallow some elephant jiz? That’s weird. How did you know I like to swallow elephant jiz? That’s really weird. Did you-know-who tell you that? You know, the son of the other you-know-who?”

I knew I should have been terrified, but I was tired, I was in pain, I was hot, and now I was very thirsty also – and hungry, too, despite all that was going on, my stomach was growling, and I was bored.

“Okay,” he said, “don’t tell me. I couldn’t care less.”

He put the cigarette holder back in his inside jacket pocket.

“It’s time now,” he said, shouted. “Time to die, and go to hell. Damn I’m going to enjoy this. I almost wish it wasn’t happening right now, just so I could enjoy the anticipation for a bit more –”

“Your nose is running,” I said, for no other reason than the fact that his nose had begun to run.

“What”?

“Your nose. It’s running.”

“My clothes? Are cunning? What are you, a queer?”

“Your nose!” I shouted, and I pointed at his nostrils and the greyish green snot oozing from them. “It’s running, and it’s disgusting!”

“What? You want to go busking?”

Just about then two big blogs of oleaginous devil’s mucus ran over his upper lip and into his gaping mouth.

“Ew,” he said.

He took out a dirty handkerchief from his trousers pocket and began blowing his nose.

What could I do? For once I couldn’t think of any tricks to foil him. I could try to beat him up, but, even as bad as he looked, to be honest with myself, I had to admit that I probably looked just as bad. And after all, I was still just a man, and he was the prince of darkness, a former angel. I didn’t even have Miss Lily’s pistol anymore, even though I probably wouldn’t have been able to shoot Nicky, even if he was the prince of darkness. No, there seemed to be nothing I could do, nothing –

But, wait a second.

Nothing? 



Nothing.

Wasn’t doing nothing the general method that Sid – the Buddha himself – advised? Maybe I had been doing things the wrong way all my life by trying to do things, or even trying not to do things, when the best course of action was no action, not even action in aid of inaction. The thing was to simply do nothing.

So that’s what I decided to do.

Nothing.

Nicky finally finished blowing his nose, and very revoltingly attempting to clean out his nostrils with that dirty slimy handkerchief, and he finally shoved it away, but instead of putting it back in his trousers pocket he shoved it any old way into the outside breast pocket of his jacket, a horrible parody of a display handkerchief.

“All right, let’s go,” he said. “I’m getting bored. Are you bored?”

I said nothing.

“It’s boring being the prince of darkness,” he said. He started patting his pockets again, and he brought out his silver cigarette case, clicked it open. I could see it was empty, but he thrust it closer to me anyway, and said, “Empty. Empty! This thing is never supposed to be empty! Fuck this shit! Hey, Arnie, I know this may sound presumptuous of me, but you wouldn’t have a smoke on you, would you? If you can give me a smoke I’ll delay dragging you down to the everlasting fires of hell for a minute or so.”

I was just about to tell him that I had given up smoking, not without mentioning that I was surprised he didn’t already know that, but then I remembered the partly-smoked reefer that Sid had given me. I didn’t bother saying anything, or trying to say anything, since Nicky couldn’t hear me anyway, but I just reached into my shirt pocket and brought out the reefer and proffered it to him.

“What’s this?” he said. “You rolling your own now, you cheap motherfucker?”

“It’s a reefer!” I shouted. “Marijuana!”

“You don’t wanta? You don’t wanta give me a lousy hand-rolled cigarette?”

This was too boring for me, so I just went ahead and stuck the unburnt end of the reefer in Nicky’s lips. He took it out and looked at it, then put it under his nose, which was dripping again.

“Smells funny,” he said. “You gotta stop buying this cheap tobacco, man. It’s not worth it. It’s probably got all kinds of cheap additives and fillers in it. But, what the hell, any port in a storm.”

He patted his pockets again, and finally came out with his fancy gold lighter, but even this looked bad now, as if he had dropped it into a big pile of fresh horse feces and then picked it out and stuck it back in his pocket without cleaning it off. Nicky didn’t seem to mind though, and he stuck the reefer back in his mouth and proceeded to click the lighter nine or ten or fifteen times until finally a flame was struck, and he lighted up the reefer and took a good long drag.

“Wow,” he said, after exhaling the rather foul smoke into my face, “this shit tastes weird.”

Nevertheless he took another big drag, and then slowly let the smoke out again.

“Kinda growing on me though,” he said this time. “Sort of relaxing. You must give me the name of your tobacconist.”

He took another drag, or, as my beatnik friends would say, a “toke”, and this time, I suppose involuntarily, he held the smoke in for at least a minute before exhaling.

“Wow,” he said, again. And then he took another drag, and this time he held the smoke in for about two minutes before letting it out.

Then he stared at me.

“What were we talking about?” he said.

“You said you were going to give up on this absurd vendetta you have against me,” I said.

“What? I can’t hear you. Oh.”

He had taken the reefer out of his mouth, but now he put it back in his lips, and with the index fingers of both hands he started digging the congealed boiled-down essence of bitter men’s souls out of his ear cavities, flicking the horrible substance down to the floor with all the other horrible substances down there.

“How’d all that crap get in my ears?” he said.

“Must be ear wax,” I said. “I get that sometimes.”

He took another drag of the reefer.

“Hey, you want to get a drink, man?” he said. “Suddenly I’m like dying of thirst. Let’s get a drink. I’m buying.”

“You go ahead,” I said. “Maybe I’ll join you later.”

“Yeah, sure, man,” he said. “I’ll be like, uh, over there –”

And he gestured vaguely in the direction of the bar.

“At the bar,” I said.

“Yeah, man, I’ll be like, over there, so like, uh –”

“You’ll be there,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “I’ll be, like, uh –”

“I think I can see an empty stool,” I said.

“Really?”

“Yeah, just turn around and head right to the bar, you’ll see it.”

“Great. You want me to order you something? How about a boilermaker? Shot and a beer.”

“Sure,” I said. “If I’m not there in a couple of minutes then you can drink my boilermaker.”

“Yeah, great,” he said. 

“You go ahead,” I said. 

“Okay.”

He took another drag, but made no move to leave.

“Hey, you better head over there,” I said. “Before somebody grabs that empty stool.”

“Right. And order two – what?”



“Boilermakers,” I said.



“Boilermakers. Like a beer and a shot of whiskey, right?”

“Yeah. Better make them double whiskeys,” I said.

“Right, doubles,” he said. “Wait. What kind of whiskey?”

“The cheap kind,” I said.

“Ha ha. Cheap kind. See ya, man. I’ll be at the, uh what do you call it –”

“Bar,” I said.

“Bar. And if I drink your beer and double whiskey I’ll buy you another one.”

“Thanks. You’d better hurry,” I said.

And with that he turned and headed off into the mob of dancers.

The zen method had worked after all.

(Illustration by Paul Stahr.)



(To be continued, barring the apocalypse...)





Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “mellow”


Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the crowded and lively Bob’s Bowery Bar on a rainy summer’s night long ago in a universe far, far away. Joining Arnold on this occasion are his new friend “Sid” (better known as Siddhārtha Gautama, aka the Buddha) and the heroine of the fictional universe Arnold is marooned in, Emily..



(Please go here to read last week’s enthralling episode; those who would like to begin at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume autobiography may click here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, either as a Kindle™ e-book or a deluxe large-format softcover actual “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“In the work of Arnold Schnabel we find (perhaps amazingly in such an enormous and such an honest
oeuvre) no hatred whatever on the part of the author: exasperation, frustration, annoyance, even occasionally a very brief appearance of a mild and transitory form of anger – but no hatred, not even for the Prince of Darkness himself; what we do find are many and deep explorations of the manifold varieties of love.” – Harold Bloom, in the Ladies’ Home Journal’s Summer Books Supplement.






Sid for once seemed slightly taken aback. He looked at his cigarette, which, once again, he had smoked down to a glowing red nubbin. He let it drop to the floor where it joined all the other cigarette and cigar butts that almost completely hid the floorboards.

“What kind of girl do I take you for?” he said, looking up in a worshipful-looking way at Emily. “Why, a very beautiful girl for one thing, and I speak not just of physical beauty, but of a very deep and profound spiritual beauty. I sense an inner mystical glow, emanating from each of your seven chakras in unison. I wonder if you perhaps have studied the ancient oriental dharma or in your lingo ‘religion’ of Buddhism?”

“Listen, shorty,” said Emily, after a brief pause in which her eyes closed and her head nodded as if she might have fallen asleep, from drunkenness or boredom, “you can try to impress me all you want with your mystical hoodoo, but I’m still not the kind of gal to go in for threeways at a moment’s notice, especially when one of the three is a little four-eyed half-pint Chinaman. Not that I’m prejudiced, but I do have some standards, see?”

I’ll say this for Sid, he was relentless, and apparently not easily offended.

“May I ask, Miss Emily, if you are familiar with the mysteries of tantric sex?”

“Tantric what?”

“Sex. Tantric sex. The ancient oriental art of conjoining one’s corporeal host with that of another.”

“The ancient oriental art of what?”

“To use the delightful English euphemism: ‘making love’. The ancient oriental art thereof.”

“Holy cow,” said Emily, and she turned to me. “Porter, maybe you better tell your pal he’s cruising for a bruising.”



“Um, uh, Sid,” I said, and I had to admit that I did not deny the thought that emerged ingloriously from the more selfish regions of my brain, the base thought that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for Emily to beat up Sid if it would distract her from me, and furthermore I added, “uh.”



“Yes, Ernest?” said Sid.

“I think Emily is offended by what you’re saying,” I said, with some reluctance.

“She is?” He turned to Emily. “You are?”

“Yes, Mr. Oriental Mystery,” she said. “How dare you talk to me about whatever kind of sex.”

“Tantric sex,” said Sid.



“Tantric schmantric.”

“I beg your –”



“Schamaramarantric.”



“Pardon?”


Frantic sex!”



“Tantric, dear miss, not frantic, although sometimes, yes, tantric sex can indeed get frantic.”

“Whatever.”

“Whatever?”

“Whatever the hell kinda sex it is.”

“It is the ancient mystic oriental art of making love not only in the deepest physical sense but in the spiritual as well.”

“Sounds like a load of baloney to me.”

“Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

“How dare you. I mean I don’t even know you.”

“But Ernest knows me, and I’m sure he’ll vouch for me.”

She turned to me.

“Do you vouch for this impudent imp, Ernest, I mean Porter?”

“Yes,” I said. “You see, Sid is a foreigner, and so he doesn’t understand our ways.”

“Yes,” said Sid. “I am a stranger to your land and to your ways. But I mean no harm. I wonder, Miss Emily, if by way of a gesture of rapprochement I might offer you what you Americans call ‘a reefer’?”

“A reefer? You mean marijuana?”

“Yes, or as we call it in my faraway land – loosely translated into your dialect: ‘the sacred weed’.”

“Damn, is everything sacred with you people?”

“Yes, all of life is sacred. And all that is not life. And all that is neither life nor not life.”

“So that covers pretty much everything.”

“Yes, pretty much. It’s all sacred.”

“Everything?”

“Everything.”

“What about this hot smelly Bowery dive we’re in.”

“Sacred.”

“What about those cigarette and cigar butts all over the floor.”

“Sacred.”

“What about doggy doodoo?”



“Is that what I think it is?”

“The brown stuff that comes out of a dog’s hind end.”

“Oh, yes, that. Sacred.”

“What about them gross little maggots that crawl out of the doggy doodoo.”

“Sacred.”

“I have never heard such hogwash in all my born days,” she said. I noticed that Emily was reverting back to what I assumed was her native West Virginian accent. “You really got some reefer?”

“Oh, yes, indeed, miss.”

Sid didn’t miss a beat, and in a flash he had taken out his Player’s Navy Cut Tin and clicked it open, revealing the dozen or so fat reefers in it.

“How do you like, as you Americans say, them apples, Miss Emily?”

“Wow,” she said. “Real reefers.”

“Have you ever tried one?”

“Hey, pal, I only got in from West Virginia a couple-three weeks ago. There’s still a few big city vices I haven’t tried yet.”

“Oh, you must try it.”

“Isn’t it addictive?”

“No, no at all. I mean, not physically addictive.”

“What’s it like?”

“That’s not easy to explain. I think the English word is ‘mellow’.” He turned to me. “Would you say mellow is the word, Ernest?”

“Sure,” I said, “among others.”

“So you’ve smoked reefer, Ernest?” said Emily, meaning me of course, how quickly she had forgotten my name in this world.

“Yes,” I admitted.

“But of course you have. You’re a bohemian romantic poet. And me just a small town girl from the hollers of West Virginia. How come you never told me you were a hop head?”

“Uh –”

“I wouldn’t mind getting mellow,” said Emily, and her accent was slipping so heavily now that she pronounced the word as ‘mella’. “Let’s go somewheres and fire up one of them bad boys.”



“Hey, listen,” I said, “why don’t you two go and fire up the reefer somewheres, like, outside the bar preferably, because I wanted to say hi to some friends of mine, and –”

“Oh, no you don’t, Ernie, or whatever your name is,” said Emily. “You’re not escaping me that easy.”

“But I’m just going to go over to this booth over there, and –”

“Uh-uh, Charlie. You and me have got a date. First we’ll fire up the reefer with the Yellow Peril here, then we’re heading up to your place.”

“Perhaps I could give you two nice young people some tips,” said Sid. He had taken out one of the reefers and put it in his mouth.

“What kind of tips?” said Emily.

Sid clicked the Players tin shut and slipped it back inside his inside breast pocket.

“On tantric sex,” he said. 



“What,” said Emily, “right there in the room with us?”

“I think that would be the most efficacious method, yes.”

He took the box of Tiger brand matches from his side jacket pocket, opened it and took out a match.



“Wow,” she said, “you gonna light that thing up right here in this bar amongst all these people?”

“But, Miss Emily,” he said, “look around you.”

Emily obeyed his suggestion, as did I. The barroom floor had filled up again with drunken dancers. A new song was on the jukebox, a slow number, and the dancers hung all over each other stumbling from one foot to the other. It seemed that every dancer had a cigarette or cigar dangling from their lips, and some of the men were even smoking pipes. The air such as it was was thicker than ever with tobacco smoke and its multifarious  odors, as well as those of human sweat, of the aforementioned no doubt budget-perfumes, of urine and beer, whiskey and gin. 



“Do you think,” said Sid, with a wave of his little hand, “that any of these good people will even notice what we’re about to as you say ‘fire up’?”

“Yeah, gee, but, I don’t know,” said Emily.



“Ah, but I do,” said Sid, and he struck his match and lighted the reefer. He drew in a good lungful and then proffered the reefer to Emily. She took it and stared at it.

“So, look,” I said, “I’m just going to go say hello to my friends over there, so why don’t you two just enjoy your reefer, and –”

Emily grabbed hold of my arm.

“Oh, no you don’t buster.” She took a good drag on the reefer and coughed. “Ooh,” she said. “It tastes weirdo.”

“You’ll get used to it,” said Sid, after exhaling his lungful of smoke up into her face. “Try again, slow and easy, just draw it very slowly and luxuriously into your mouth and down your windpipe into your lungs.”

“Okay,” she said, and she took a good slow drag, not forgetting to keep a strong hold on my arm.

“Now hold it in,” said Sid, “for as long as you can, and then let it out oh so very slowly.”

“I promise I’ll just be a minute,” I said, and I tugged on my arm, but Emily’s grip stayed firm.

She turned to me and slowly let the smoke out of her mouth, blowing it up into my face.

“Wow, that stuff’s not so bad,” she said.

“What did I tell you?” said Sid. “It is, in your beatnik argot, and you should pardon the expression, ‘good shit’, yes?”

“Yeah, not bad,” she said, and she took another big drag.

“Listen, Emily,” I said, “I have to tell you, I have a girlfriend back in the world I come from.”

Once again she exhaled the smoke into my face.

“Who cares,” she said.

“But I want to be faithful to her,” I said.

“Maybe you should have thought of that when you rogered me roundly last night.”

“I did?”

“Very funny,” she said.

“Well, if I did, that was the fictional character Porter Walker who did, not me, because I’m really Arnold Schnabel, a forty-two-year-old railroad brakeman recovering from a mental collapse.”

Emily simply ignored me and turned to Sid.

“What’s your name again, short stuff?”

“Call me Sid.”


“Sid, tell me more about this whatever kind of mystical oriental sex stuff.”

“Tantric sex.”

“Yeah.”

“Perhaps we should go someplace more private to discuss it.”

“Let’s head back to the bar.”

“I should be delighted,” said Sid.



“We’ll let my boss Julian buy us some boilermakers, and I’m sure he’d love to hear all about these exotic Asian sex mysteries too.”



“I could really go for a nice boilermaker,” said Sid.

“Come on, Ernie or Arnold or Porter,” said Emily, yanking on my arm, “you’re not getting out of this.”

“Maybe you should take another drag of the reefer first,” I said. “To make you more, uh, mellow.”

“Excellent idea,” said Sid.

“Okay,” said Emily, and she took another good drag, and then, may the universe forgive me, she let go of my arm.

“Wow,” she said, exhaling again, again in my face. “I feel really mellow.”

“Let’s head over to the bar,” I said.

“Yeah, okay,” she said. “Bar.”

“Sid,” I said, “take Emily over to the bar, okay? I’m just going to say a quick hello to my friends.”

“Oh, yes, including your good friend Jesus – you know, I really did want to meet him, but that was before you introduced me to the lovely Miss Emily.”

“Aw, Sidney,” said Emily, who had taken another good drag in the meanwhile, “you’re such a little flatterer, you cute little Chinaman.”

“Let me take your arm, milady,” said Sid, and he put his left arm in her right.

And just like that they went off into the crowd of dancers, Sid holding up his umbrella high like a sword, just in case he needed to use it to beat his way through.

Well, that was easier than I thought it was going to be. 



I knew something had to go wrong now.



And I was not mistaken.


(Continued here, of course...)






Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “misbegotten”



We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel here in Bob’s Bowery Bar with his new acquaintance “Sid”, otherwise known as Siddhārtha Gautama, or, perhaps more popularly, as the Buddha.. 



(Kindly click here to read last week’s thrilling episode; if you would like to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume memoir you may go here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a Kindle™ e-book or a deluxe large-format softcover actual “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“Looking for the perfect ‘beach read’ for your summer holidays? What better choice than Arnold Schnabel’s eminently readable and yet strangely profound
chef-d'œuvre?” – Harold Bloom, in the Seventeen Literary Supplement.






“The zen way,” said Sid. He really had to rub it in. “What did I tell you? Maybe you ought to try it sometime. I mean, sure, you’re an enlightened chap, very much so, but if you really want to become enlightened you’ve pretty much got to get ‘hip’ as you Americans say to the zen way.”

“Sid.”

“Yes?”

“What did I tell you about how you don’t have to keep saying ‘as you Americans say’.”

“You said I didn’t have to keep saying it.”

“Yes.”

“And is there some point which you are circling your way toward?”

“Yes, my point is you don’t have to keep saying ‘as you Americans say’.”



“But I already know that.”

“Then why do you keep saying it?”

“Because the words rise up from somewhere deep in my brain and fly out of my mouth. Like little birds longing for the freedom of the open sky.”

“Well, can’t you stop them from flying out?”

“I suppose I could. Or I could try. Why?”

“Because it’s annoying.”

“Oh. Why did you not say so?”

“I guess I hoped that you would figure that out yourself.”

“’Hope’. Now there’s another useless concept, right up there with ‘wishing’.”

“Okay, fine,” I said. “You know what, Sid? It’s okay, you can say ‘as you Americans say’.”


“Oh, I know I can.”



“Sid,” I said, after a sigh that was also part grimace, part gulp of despair, “can I ask you a personal question?”

“Of course you can, old boy.”

“Are you consciously trying to be annoying, or does it just come naturally to you?”

“Wow. As you Americans say.”

“Oh, God,” I said.

“Which God?”

“Never mind,” I said.

“In your native slang,” he said, “and I hope you noticed my variation of the formula there –”

“Yeah, thanks, Sid.”

“In your hepcat lingo, ‘Dig it, daddy-o.’ I’ll tell you what, Ernest, if you like I can give you zen instruction.”

“No, thanks.”



“No?”

“No. I’ll take a pass, I think.”

“Oh, but my dear chap, do you know how many millions of human beings would leap at the chance to be instructed by none other than the one and only Siddhārtha Gautama, perhaps more popularly known as the Buddha?”

“A lot I’m sure.”

“Millions.”

“Okay.”

“So let me take you on as a student. It’ll do you good.”

“Again, no, but thanks for the offer, Sid.”

“I’ll give you a very favorable rate.”

“So you’re saying I would have to pay for this, uh, instruction.”

“Well, I have to earn a living, you know. But I’ll give you a really good deal, and after five, ten years of my personal tutelage you just watch, you think you’re enlightened now? Maybe fifteen years it will take, but still.”

“I don’t think so, Sid.”

“Wow, you’re serious.”

“Yes, sorry.”

“Wow, again, in your parlance.”



“Yeah, well –”



“You’re sure?”

“As sure as I’m standing here, Sid, not that I’m all that sure I’m standing here, but if I was sure, that’s how sure I would be.”

“Maybe after you think it over.”

“I don’t have to think it over.”

“After you sleep on it.”

“I could sleep on it a thousand years and my answer would be the same.”

“No?”

“No.”

No, no wouldn’t be your answer, or no, no would be your answer.”

“No, my answer is no, and my answer would be no from here to eternity and back to the beginning of time. In any possible universe or state of reality my answer would still be no. Even if there was a universe in which the concept of no did not exist, my answer would still be no.”

“So no is your final answer.”

“Yes.”

“Wow. As you would say. Just – wow. But, oh, hey – I just like got it, man. This flash of insight. This very second. Whew.”

“Let’s find my friends, Sid.” Music had started up again, but my trained ear divined that it was the jukebox and not the living musicians. “Come on,” I said, “I’ll buy you a boilermaker.”

“I mean I just this very second got it.”

People were staggering out onto the dance floor again to dance and thrash and flop around to the music. The song was “Beat Me, Daddy, Eight To The Bar”.

“Just now,” said Sid. “It hit me.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Yes, my good chap. I like totally just got it.”

“Great.”

“Like that, all at once.”

I gave in.

“Okay, what did you just get, Sid?”

“You’ve surpassed me. Just, like, wow, is all I can say, I mean in your patois.”

“I’ve surpassed you.”

“Yes, daddy-o. I thought I was the really enlightened one, but, no, you are the really, really enlightened one. And once again, I just want to not only get on my knees before you but prostrate myself.”

“Don’t do that.”

“If you say so. But only if you say so. Because otherwise I’ll do it, and I don’t care how dirty and filthy this floor is. And me in my nice white suit, too. I’ll do it. Gladly.”

“Well, just don’t do it, okay?"



“In fact I wish this floor was even more filthy. More vomit, more human bodily fluids.”

“Okay, that’s enough, Sid.”

“Only if you say so.”

“Well, I’m saying so.”

“Hey, who’s the babe in your parlance?”



“What babe?”

“Coming up right behind you, my good bloke.”

I turned around.

It was Emily. Back for one more round, approaching with a wobbly but determined-looking stride. Almost directly behind her across the room at the bar I saw Julian, swiveled around on his stool and looking towards me, holding a cigarette and a glass in one hand, and with a big smile on his face. I saw that Emily wasn’t carrying that big heavy black purse of hers to clobber me with, so I had that much going for me.

“Who’s the looker?” said Sid.

“Her name is Emily,” I said. “She’s the heroine of the novel we’re in.”

“You must introduce me, old chap.”

“Sure, Sid,” I said, and I waited another second and then she was there.

“Hi, Porter,” she said. “Schmorter. Schlamozzel. Schlemiel.”

“Hi, Emily,” I said.

“Where have you been all night, lover?”

So she had forgotten about our last encounter, perhaps she had forgotten about our last several encounters. With any luck she would forget about this one by tomorrow.

“Oh, I’ve been making the rounds,” I said, the understatement of my lifetime.

“Who’s Mr. Moto here?”

“Oh, this is my friend, uh, Sid. Sid, I’d like you to meet Emily.”

“Very charmed, I’m sure,” said Sid. He bowed, and, picking up her right hand, which hung loose at her side, he kissed it. He let the hand drop, straightened up, smiled.

“Golly,” she said. “First time that’s ever happened to me. Kissed on the hand. And by a little Chinese fella.”

“In truth, Miss Emily,” said Sid. “I hail from the country known to men as Nepal, and more particularly from a lovely little valley called –”

“You,” said Emily, pointing her finger at me. “Avoiding me. What’s the matter, Porter? You mad ‘cause I’m out with Julian?”

“Excuse me,” said Sid, “but may I ask why you address Ernest as Porter? Is it one of your American nicknames, perhaps?”

“I call him Porter because that’s his name, Charlie Chan. Where’d you get this Ernest crap?”

Sid turned and looked up at me. I say looked up because he was very short, shorter even than Emily.

“I thought you said your name was Ernest,” he said.

“Actually I never said that, Sid. But you kept calling me Ernest and I got tired of correcting you.”

“So your name is Porter?”


“Well, in this world it is,” I said.

“What do you mean, in this world?” said Emily.

I saw no need or reason to dissemble with her any longer, and, after all, I suspected also that it didn’t matter a whole lot what I said to her, given her state of advanced drunkenness, or even otherwise.

“I come from another world,” I said. “A world called reality. I know you probably won’t believe this, but my real name is Arnold Schnabel, and I’m stuck in the universe of a novel called Ye Cannot Quench, written by a madwoman named Gertrude Evans. You, Emily, are the heroine of the novel. Porter Walker is one of the characters in this novel, and my consciousness has been transposed into his body.”

“Wow, you really are crazy, Porter.”

“That may well be, Emily.”

“But I love you anyway.”

Emily had removed the jacket of her grey summer suit, and her white blouse was limp with perspiration, her skin was glistening, her hair looked as if it had been rained on, and tendrils of it stuck to her cheeks and throat. I could see her brassiere clearly under the fabric of the blouse, and, perforce, what the brassiere just barely held in check. She exuded a not unpleasant odor of perfume, gin, and lust, and to my deep shame and disappointment with myself and the universe I felt a stirring down below. 

She was standing there staring at me. I was just standing there. I glanced down at Sid, and he was staring at Emily’s breasts.

“I wonder, Miss Emily,” he said, “if you would care to join us for a drink? Ernest and I were going to order boiler rooms.”

“What the hell is a boiler room, Fu Manchu?”

“He means boilermaker,” I said, before things could get out of hand.

Boilermaker,” said Sid. “It is a small glass of whiskey, accompanied by a glass of –”

“I know what a boilermaker is,” she said. “I didn’t just get off the Greyhound from West Virginia.”

“Ah, West Virginia,” said Sid. “Way down south in the land of sorghum? No, that can’t be right. Way down south in the land of – tobacco?”

“Cotton, Sid,” I said.

“Yes! Cotton! Way down south in the land of cotton, old folks there be misbegotten, look away, look –”

“Where’d you find this guy?” Emily said to me.

“Ah! Now that is an interesting story, milady,” said Sid. “Perhaps we could find a table, and –”

“Tell you what, Porter,” said Emily, “let me go shake off Julian and get my purse and jacket, and you and me’ll blow this joint and head up to your pad. To tell the truth I’d like to use your shower. And after that, well, you’re a poet, use your imagination.”



“I should love to see your pad, Ernest,” said Sid. “Do you have anything to drink there?”

“Hey, listen, Number One Son,” said Emily. “What kind of girl do you think I am?”

The barroom floor had filled up with dancers again. “Beat Me Daddy” had finished and now another uptempo number was playing, one I was not familiar with, but it sounded like “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box”.

(Continued here, and so on, and on...)






Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “the zen way”


Let’s return to a certain rainy summer night in New York City and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his new friend “Sid” (aka Siddhārtha Gautama, aka the Buddha), here in the entrance area of Bob’s Bowery Bar...



(Please go here to read last week’s chapter; those who would like to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 58-volume memoir may click here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, either as a Kindle™ e-book or as a deluxe large-format softcover “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)

“What consummate joy to sit on the beach of old Cape May, shielded from the sun’s potentially carcinogenic rays by the shade of an enormous umbrella, turning the pages (or scrolling their electronic equivalents) of Arnold Schnabel’s magnificent
chef-d'œuvre!” – Harold Bloom, in The Family Circle Literary Supplement.






It felt as if we had been standing out here in this entrance area for hours, it felt as if I had spent half my life engaged in frustrating conversations in this entrance area, but now at last we went through the open doorway into that packed, hot, cacophonous barroom.

The drunken, shouting and laughing people were still dancing, or, if not exactly dancing, then thrashing about to the music of the combo stationed off to the far right, I could just see the smoke-shrouded heads of the musicians above the crowd, including one who looked like my old acquaintance Gabriel – at least he had the same kind of porkpie hat that Gabriel wore – and a Negro lady singing into a microphone:


Give me your thunder stick, baby
‘cause I wants to feel that lightning bolt.
Shove it into my socket, daddy
and give me a great big jolt…
Sid and I were just inside the doorway, barely over the threshold, but already that churning thrashing hot mass of drunken humanity throbbed inches away from us, threatening to push us bodily back outside. Sid yanked on my arm and shouted up into my ear:



“Do you know what I could really go for?”

“No,” I said, or rather shouted, we both had to shout to be heard.

“I mean,” yelled Sid, “I really shouldn’t, but you know what I could really go for?”

“I have no idea.”

“I’ll tell you what.”

“Great,” I said.

“A boiler room.”

“A what?”

“Boiler room?”

“I don’t know what you’re saying, Sid.”

“Boiling pot?”

“What?”

“Perhaps I have the name wrong. It’s a small glass filled with whiskey of some sort, accompanied by a glass of beer, preferably draft beer.”

“You mean a boilermaker.”

“Oh. Boilermaker. Why is it called a boilermaker?”

“I have no idea. Come on, we’ll get you a boilermaker.”

“It’s terribly crowded here, isn’t it?’

“You noticed that.”

“How could I help but – oh, ha ha – I suspect that that barbed little riposte was an instance of the much-vaunted American sense of humor, was it not?”

“Yes, Sid.”

“Where are your friends?”

“They’re in a booth off to the right there.”

“I see no booth.”

“That’s because it’s so crowded, but, believe me, it’s there. Or at least it was there the last time I was here.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes,” I said. “In fact I can see it from here. I see my friend Ben’s head, or his boat captain’s cap, anyway.”

“You’re lucky you’re tall. It’s not easy being short.”

“Being short might actually be an advantage for you in here.”

“In what sense, may I ask?”

“If you get knocked over by one of these drunks you won’t have so far to fall.”

“Ha ha. That was another one of your little American jeux d’esprit, was it not.”

“A jeux de what?”



Jeu d’esprit. It’s French for like a clever verbal sally in the tradition of the Oscars Wilde or Levant or your own lasso-twirling sage of the sagebrush, Mr. William Rogers.”

“Okay,” I said, moving along, “here’s what we should do, Sid. Just let me go first, trying to shove and fight my way through this mob –”



“Did you say fight?”

“I did, but I only meant it in a broad sense.”

“I am afraid I cannot condone fighting in any sense.”

“Okay, let’s just say some pushing and shoving then.”



“'Pushing and shoving', oh dear.”

“It can’t be helped, Sid. To be honest I may have to use an elbow also.”

“An elbow? You mean actually striking someone with your elbow?”

“Only if I have to. I may just use it as a defensive measure, to prevent someone from thrashing against me.”

“Must we really resort to violence?”

“Do you know any other way to get through this mob?”

“In fact I do, my dear chap.”



He said nothing else, and I knew I had to do my part to get him to say whatever it was he had to say, as much as I hated to do it, as much as I didn’t really care what he had to say.

“What way, Sid.”

“You don’t know?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake –”

“Hey, be cool, in your patois, daddy-o! I’ll tell you.”

“Good. Shoot.”

“Does that mean you want me to go ahead and say it? Shoot?”

“Yes. Please say it, Sid.”


“The zen way,” he said.

“The zen way.”

“You heard me right.”

“And what is the zen way?”

“An enlightened chap like you. I think you know the answer to that.”

“If I had known the answer I wouldn’t be asking you, Sid.”

“Now that was spoken like a true guru!”

“Come on,” I said. “I’ll go first, and you just sort of stay in my wake. Maybe you should reach under the tail of my jacket and hang onto my belt. Just be careful, because if I get knocked backwards I might knock you over and you could get hurt, especially if I land on top of you.”



“Life is pain.”

“Yeah, Okay. But, look, Sid, keep your eyes open, I recommend continually glancing to the right and left, just in case there’s an attack from the side.”

“A flanking movement.”

“You might also get hit from the rear, so keep your shoulders slightly hunched, and your head down, like a boxer.”

“Like the great Marciano!”

“If you do get knocked down try to get up as best you can and as fast as you can. The last thing you want is people kicking you and trampling on you.”

“So you don’t recommend curling up in a protective fetal position?”

“No. If you do you might well never get up again.”

“What if I am not able to get up?”

“I’ll try to help you.”

“What if you are knocked down as well?”

“Then it’s every man for himself. Try to crawl toward the door and safety.”

“What if I cannot tell where the door is?”

“Just keep crawling then. Eventually you might reach safety. This is where your short stature might come in handy. You present a smaller target than a big man, and also you can try to crawl between people’s legs, like a cat or some other small animal.”

“Fair play to me, old bean. But what about you, if you are knocked down?”

“It won’t be so easy for me, because I’m bigger and there’s more of me to kick and trample, but I’ll just have to do the best I can and hope for the best.”

“I’m not afraid.”

“Swell.”

“You seem afraid.”

“I am afraid.”

“There is nothing to fear because all this is an illusion.”

“That’s good to know, Sid, but, look, let go of my arm.”

“Must I?”



“Yes, I’ll need both arms to shove people out of the way, maybe give them an elbow if I have to.”

“That is totally not a zen approach.”

“I don’t care, as long as it works. And listen, you have an umbrella, don’t be afraid to use it. Keep it held high and pointed up, so you can bring it down hard and quick if need be.”

“You mean strike someone with it?”



“I doesn’t have to be super hard. Just enough to try to get them to back off.”

“Might I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

“Can we at least try it the zen way?”



“The zen way.”

“The way of zen, yes.”

“Sure,” I said. “Give it a try. And when it doesn’t work we’ll just plunge into the mob and shove and push our way through.”

O, as you Americans say, kay.”

“What?”

“Okay.”

“Oh.”

“That is the term, is it not? Okay?”

“Yes, but, look, Sid, it’s okay if you just say okay. You don’t have to keep saying ‘as you Americans say’.”

“But it is as you Americans say.”

“Okay, never mind. Go ahead and do your zen thing.”

“My pleasure, old boy.”



He took his arm from mine, gazing into the mob, or seeming to. He looked as if he were taking the lay of the land. But instead of plunging into the mob right away, he hooked his umbrella over his left forearm, took out his cigarette case, put a cigarette in his mouth, put the case away, took out his Tiger brand matches, lighted up his cigarette. He waved the match out, tossed it to the floor, dropped the matchbox back into his pocket. He slowly exhaled smoke and then looked up at me.

“Are you ready, Ernest?”

“I’ve been ready, Sid.”

“That’s the spirit, old chap. Readiness. Readiness for anything the universe has to offer.”

He looked out into that throbbing crowd again.

I waited, but he just stood there, smoking his cigarette. I suppose I only waited half a minute, but it seemed longer.

“Sid,” I said, shouted, “what are we waiting for?”



“Nothing,” he said, shouted back.

“Well, why are we still standing here?”

“Because we’re utilizing, my dear chap, the zen approach.”

“This is the zen approach.”

“How quick you are.”

“The zen approach is that we’re just standing here.”



“Precisely.”

“But how is this getting us where we want to go?”

“How do you know this is not where you want to go?”


“I’m pretty sure where I want to go is not just standing here near the doorway of this bar.”

“Pretty sure.”

“Okay, absolutely sure.”

“Absolutely?”

“Yes, I’m absolutely sure I don’t want to just stand here all night.”

“No one said we’re going to stand here all night.”

“Well, how long are we going to stand here?”

“For as long as it takes.”

“That could be hours.”

“What is time?”

“I have no idea, but I don’t want to just stand here for hours.”

“Want. 'Want'. You know I had hoped that you were developed enough to get beyond the concept of want.”



“You were wrong, then, Sid.”



“My dear fellow, perhaps you should smoke some more reefer?”



“I don’t want to smoke some more reefer. I want to get through this crowd to my friends.”

“I had hoped that I was your friend.”

“Maybe you are, Sid. But I still want to see my other friends sometime tonight.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll see them some time tonight. The bar must close, eventually, must it not?”

“Yes, but that could be hours from now –”

“Again, ‘hours’. The web of time. You will never achieve even a modicum of peace until you free yourself from time’s web.”

“Thanks for the tip, Sid.”



“I give it to you freely.”



I stood there, feeling the noise and the heat, breathing in the smoke and the thick effluvia of liquor and beer, of sweat and cheap perfume, not that I would know cheap from expensive perfume, but I assumed it was the cheap kind, and once again I became aware of various injuries and pains on and in my current corporeal host, notably from my knees and head and face and elbows, but elsewhere also.

The drunken people thrashed and shouted and laughed and screamed, occasionally an arm or a leg would glance against me or even outright hit me, but what was one more blow, or a dozen blows, at this point?

Sid just stood there by my side, to my right, smoking his cigarette. He had moved the crook of his umbrella from his forearm to his left hand, and he leaned lightly on the umbrella, his face tilted slightly to one side under the rim of his straw boater, a little smile on his face.

“Okay, Sid,” I said, at last, “I can’t take this anymore. You can stand here if you want to, but I’m diving in.”

“As you wish, my friend, although I do wish that you would rise above the very concept of wishing.”

“But you just wished something yourself.”

“I never said I was perfect, old boy.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll see you later, maybe.”

“I would wish you luck, but you know how I feel about wishing.”

“Yes,” I said.

I took a deep breath of that foul air, preparatory to plunging into that mass of drunken humanity, when suddenly the music stopped.

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” said the Negro lady’s amplified voice. “We’re gonna take a brief break, but we’ll be back as soon as we have wet our collective whistles. So drink up, people, because the more you drink the better we sound!”

Just like that the crowd of people stopped dancing and thrashing. There was a smattering of applause and a few hoots, and the mob dissolved as the drunks made their way back to the bar and the tables, to the rest rooms, somewhere.

“Do you see, Ernest?” said Sid. “The zen method worked!”

I could not deny it.

(Continued here...)