Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in that fabled caravanserai Bob’s Bowery Bar, on one of the longest rainy August nights in the history of this or any other universe...
(Please go here to read our immediately preceding episode; those who are interested in beginning at the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 71-volume memoir are invited to click here to purchase Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, either as a Kindle™ e-book or a six-by-nine inch softcover tangible “book” printed on FSC certified, lead-free, acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.)
“An honesty surpassing even that of Pepys, a spirituality more than the equal of St. Augustine’s, a ready wit rivaling that of David Niven – Arnold Schnabel brings all of the above and more to the hearty table of the chroniclers of the self.” – Harold Bloom, in the Soap Opera Digest Literary Supplement.
“Arnold, my man,” said, shouted, a vaguely familiar voice, over and through the noise of the drunkards and the music of the jukebox, which was now playing, if memory serves, Anita O’Day singing “Kick It”.
Great, I thought, now what, and turning to my right I saw a slim Negro man, with a goatee and porkpie hat, wearing a sharkskin suit, and carrying a trumpet under his left arm.
“Gabriel,” I said.
“’Gabe’, daddy, don’t be so formal.”
“Gabe,” I said.
“Slide me some skin, man,” he said, and he held his hand up, palm forward.
I remembered seeing a gesture like this in Johnny Staccato or maybe Peter Gunn, and so I awkwardly raised my own right hand.
“No, daddy, on the down side.”
“Down side –”
“Hold your paw down, daddy, palm up.”
I did what he told me to, and he brought his own hand down gracefully to mine, palm to palm, and then slid his hand and fingers slowly off of mine, causing the skin of my palm and the insides of my fingers to tingle, but in a pleasant way.
“I saw you at the booth over there,” he said. “Sitting with Josh and your crew. How’d you like our set?”
“Our set, man. Our music. How’d you dig it?”
“Oh,” I said, the veil lifting, “that was you playing in the combo?”
“Sure was, man. How’d you dig it?”
“I, uh,” I said, hesitating, because even though I hadn’t disliked the music I hadn’t been paying much attention to it either, and I was hesitant to dissimulate to an angel, “I mean, yeah, it was really, um –”
“How’d you dig the canary?”
This term I had heard in the movies and read in the trashy novels I like to read about regular Joes trapped in a spiral of degradation and despair.
“The lady singer?” I ventured.
“Yeah, man, how’d you dig her?”
“She was really, uh, good,” I said.
“Just really ‘good’?”
“I mean, no, really great, fantastic,” I said, my scruples disappearing as they usually did when faced with the slightest resistance.
“That lady’s got more soul than a shoe store.”
“Heh heh,” I fake-chuckled, although I didn’t really actually understand his play on words at the time, in fact I’ve only just now figured it out.
“You want to smoke some muggles, man?”
“Muggles,” I said.
That had been what I suspected and feared he had meant.
“Oh, no,” I said.
“’Oh, no’? Come on, live a little, Arnie.”
“Here’s the thing, Gabriel –” I started to say.
“Here’s the thing, Gabe,” I said. “I just smoked some reefer. In fact I’ve been smoking a lot of reefers lately. Also drinking a lot. Also I had some laudanum. And I had this bock beer which was laced with the nectar of the gods. I even took some LSD earlier today.”
“All this in one day?”
“It’s been a very long day, Gabe. It’s lasted for what seems like, uh, six and a half years.”
“I’ve had days like that.”
I didn’t doubt that he had.
“So,” I said, “I think I’ll just pass on the, uh –”
“The muggles,” I said.
“Well, you won’t mind if I light up?” he said.
And just like that there was a big fat reefer in his hand, I didn’t even see him take it out of a pocket, and maybe he hadn’t. He was an angel after all, probably one of the top angels there were. He probably had lots of other tricks he could do, too. He put the reefer in his lips, and then there was a lighter in his hand, a gold lighter, what else, or at least the color of gold, and he lighted himself up.
The lighter disappeared somehow with a flick of his fingers, he took several deep “tokes” on the reefer, and then proffered it to me.
I don’t know why, but I took the reefer, and, worse still, took several deep “tokes” myself.
Gabriel nodded, smiling, and then he exhaled an enormous cloud of reefer smoke, a cloud which enveloped most of my current corporeal self. I in my turn released my own cloud of reefer smoke from my lungs, which merged with and expanded Gabriel’s cloud, so that we both stood there in our big bubble of gently roiling marijuana smoke. None of the drunken dancers seemed to notice our reefer-smoking, or to care if they did notice.
“So how’s it been goin’, daddy?” said Gabe, taking the reefer from my fingers.
“May I be frank, Gabriel?”
“’Gabe’, man, ‘Gabe’.”
“May I be frank, Gabe?”
“By all means, Arnie.” He began toking again, and speaking between tokes in a constricted toking voice, added, “By any – and all – means – my brother.”
“I don’t know if you’re aware of it,” I said, shouted, “but this world we’re in right now is a fictional world, the world of a not very good novel called Ye Cannot Quench, written by a madwoman I know named Gertrude Evans. This world also contains a myriad of other fictional worlds, and I keep wandering into and out of them, but all I really want to do is to get back to my own world.”
Gabe nodded, holding in the smoke, and handed the reefer back to me. Once again, and once again I don’t know why, but I drew heavily several times on the reefer, held it in for half-a-minute, and right after Gabriel exhaled his smoke I exhaled mine, and once again the two clouds merged and swirled together.
“’Your’ world,” said Gabe.
“You said you wanted to get back to your ‘own’ world.”
“Oh. Yes,” I said. “My world. Reality.”
“Okay,” I said, “I get it. What is reality. Who knows. Everything is reality. I know. Everything is not reality. Everything that is not reality is reality, too. But let’s just say I want to get back to what I think of as my reality.”
I took another toke.
“Okay,” said Gabe. “I dig, man. How you like that reefer?”
“’s good,” I slurred, toking again. “I think.”
“Very special and rare strain of weed, my brother. They call it Winged Stallion, on account of it’s like a winged stallion sailing through the canyons of your mind.”
“Wow,” I said. And I took another toke.
“I can’t smoke that cheap skunkweed, man. Call me a snob if you want to.”
“No, not at all,” I said, forcing down yet another toke.
“You better exhale, man, you hold it in too long you might pass out.”
I exhaled, another great cloud merging with the lingering wisps of the previous reefer cloud.
There was something I wanted to say to Gabe. What was it?
I suddenly remembered.
“I want to get back to my life in Cape May, Gabe.”
“Cape May, New Jersey?”
“Yes. Back to Cape May.”
“Well, excuse me for saying so, but, can’t you just like take a bus?”
He reached out to take the reefer from me, but too late, I was already taking a toke, and he waited until I finally took the reefer away from my lips before he grabbed it out of my fingers.
I exhaled again, and said the single word: “No.”
“No what, man,” said Gabe, toking away.
“No, you forget, Gabe, this is a fictional world I’m in, we’re in.” I gestured grandly to the drunks dancing away beyond our cloudy little two-person reefer world. “All these people. Fictional. This world. Fictional. And so you see the Cape May in this world would be a fictional Cape May.”
“If you say so, daddy,” said Gabe, after exhaling.
“Well, I do say so.”
“So how you gonna get back to this ‘real’ world?”
“I’m going to get a piece of paper or a cardboard coaster or something and write myself out of this world.”
“You think that’s crazy?”
“No, man. I mean, not necessarily.”
“You think it’s crazy.”
“Arnie,” he said, and he took another toke, and then another. He handed the reefer to me, and I took a toke, and another. Once again we both held in the smoke, and I sportingly held mine in until Josh exhaled his after a minute.
“Arnie,” he said again, taking the reefer from my fingers. “You want any more of this, by the way?”
“I think I’m good,” I said, the understatement of the century.
He nodded, and pinched the fire from the tip of the reefer with his fingertip and thumb.
“Here,” he said, “for later.”
And he held the extinguished reefer out to me. I suppose I was an addict by this point, because I took the reefer and put it into my shirt pocket.
“Arnie,” he said for the third time.
The single syllable felt as if it had floated up through my body from my toes to emerge of its own accord from my mouth.
“I am angel, man. Dig it. An angel. Very little seems crazy to me.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I –” as “stoned” as I was on the reefer I still hesitated to say the word.
“I mean you dig, right?”
“Okay,” I said, surrendering – I was a real beatnik now, like it or not, if only my fellow ushers at St. Helena’s church could see me now, “I dig.”
“Oh, like, wow,” said Gabe. “Look who the cat must have dragged in.”
He was looking past my left shoulder. I turned. Sure enough, it was my nemesis Nicky again. My first thought was that he sure hadn’t stayed away long this time, but then on second thought I realized it had probably been a good five minutes or more since I had last seen him, with me saying, lying, that I would join him shortly, so it was my own fault for standing here smoking reefer and getting “high” with Gabe.
Nicky had looked bad before, but now he looked much worse, almost as if he were about to have a stroke or a coronary. His nose was running freely and disgustingly with a thick greenish snot streaked with tiny rivers of scarlet blood. As hot as it was in here the skin of his face was perfectly dry, and the color of an ancient urine-stained urinal.
“Hey, Arnie, man,” he said, “what’s taking you so long? I drank your double boilermaker. Plus I drank the one I ordered for myself. So I ordered two more, and I drank them, and – oh. Hi, Gabriel.”
“Hiya, man,” said Gabe. “What name you going by these days?”
“Oh,” said Nicky. “My name. In this particular world. I’m going by – Nicky! Ha ha. Nicky. Ha ha. Y’know, Gabe, people look at you funny if you tell ’em your name is Lucifer.”
“I imagine they would, brother,” said Gabe.
(Continued here, if not in this world then in some other...)