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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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. 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.”
“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.”
“Wow, again, in your parlance.”
“Yeah, well –”
“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 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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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...)