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.
“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.
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.
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. “I’ll join you in a minute.”
“Aw, no, man, come on, let’s get wasted.”
“I’ll be right there. I just have to take a quick pee.”
“Oh, okay. Why didn’t you say so? When you gotta go you gotta like, you know –”
“Right,” I said. “So head on over and save me a space.”
“Yeah, sure, man,” he said. And he took another drag on the reefer. Thank God or the Buddha, it was a big fat long-lasting reefer. He held it in, and I waited, I knew I had to play this right and not make any premature moves. Finally after a minute he exhaled a cloud of reefer smoke in my face, and 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 two empty stools,” I said, performing the dumbshow of lifting my head and casting my eyes toward the bar.
“Yeah, just turn around and head right to the bar, you’ll see them. Better go grab one and save the other one for me, okay?”
“Great,” he said, and he turned as if to go, but then stopped. “Hey, Arnie.”
“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.
He took another drag, but made no move to leave.
“Hey, you better head over there,” I said. “Before somebody grabs those barstools.”
“Right,” he said. “And order two – what?”
“Boilermakers,” I said.
“Boilermakers. Like a draft 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.)
(Continued here, barring the apocalypse...)