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?”
“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.
“I beg your –”
“Tantric, dear miss, not frantic, although sometimes, yes, tantric sex can indeed get frantic.”
“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.”
“What about this hot smelly Bowery dive we’re in.”
“What about those cigarette and cigar butts all over the floor.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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...)