Saturday, June 30, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Five: is it a budding romance for Mr. Arnold Schnabel?

We resume Arnold Schnabel’s memoir right where the last installment ended. Or rather, almost. There is an entire half-page of his holograph here that has been completely cross-hatched out. Perhaps a trained cryptologist will someday discover what lies in that paragraph, but for the nonce we will continue with the following. It is still presumably late June or perhaps early July, 1963:

What have I done.
The day after my previously recounted escapade at the Pilot House was no worse than what might have been expected, viz., killing hangover, suicidal depression, pathetic and meaningless remorse and guilt, and unremitting boredom relieved only by an infinite self-loathing, in other words nothing to get excited about, just another day at Villa Schnabel. But the following afternoon, having vowed for the 13,769th time never to touch alcohol again I was sitting over coffee at a small formica table at the Cape Coffee Shoppe, enjoying the first day of the rest of my life and feeling quite pleased with myself for having written — and quite successfully I thought, at least by my standards — a sonnet on the subject of having neither talent nor inspiration {See Arnold’s poem “Inspiration”. – Editor}, when who should burst through the door but she.     
She being this woman from my disgraceful evening at the Pilot House, this “Rhonda” or whomever.     
“You!” she shrieked. “You!”     
At first I didn’t recognize her but then she shrieked again.     
You!” she shrieked.     
“Oh,” I said.     
“How are you?”     
“I’m, uh —” I stood, trembling I’m sure visibly, but if I was it fazed her not one bit.     
“What are you writing?” she shrieked, and to avoid repetition I’ll just stipulate here that she shrieked on the average every other phrase.     
“It’s uh —” I gestured dismissively at the damning dime-store notebook lying on the table, “it’s nothing.”    
“It can’t be nothing!” I should note that although she shrieked approximately half her phrases, she didn’t necessarily alternate shrieking with speaking in a normal voice, normal for her anyway, phrase for phrase. “I mean it’s gotta be something!” No, there was no pattern. “Is it your diary? What is it?”     
I learned a long time ago that it’s a mistake to talk to people about my bad poetry. But still I do it anyway, God knows why. But now, bored already to the point of screaming, all I wanted to do was to escape. I grabbed the notebook and shoved it into my Bermuda shorts pocket.     
“Well, it was nice seeing you,” I said, “but I’m afraid I have to —”     
“Oh! Don’t go! You know you don’t have to go! You’re just shy. I think that’s so endearing! And you’re such a gentleman! Won’t you ask a lady to have a cup of coffee with you?”     
Don’t ask me how or why — cowardice, weakness, perhaps-more-than-half insanity — but before I knew it I was sitting back down with a refilled coffee cup and she was sitting across from me with a cup of her own, not that she needed it.     
What happened next was like a Gestapo interrogation; without the extracted fingernails, it’s true, but after a few minutes I was ready to pull out my own fingernails. Oh, sure, she was asking me all about me, but I did not want to talk about me, I am sick of me, I am stuck with me every second of my life, and besides, it’s all so pathetic it’s embarrassing, unless I lie, and then if I lie it’s more embarrassing still.     
In the end she got it all out of me anyway, or at least a Reader’s Digest version: the lifelong celibacy (well, all right, lifelong except for one drunken and depressing episode in the army, which I changed for Rhonda’s benefit to a one-night affair with a German girl, leaving out the fact that she had been a prostitute), the living with one’s mother, the poem a week in the Olney Times. I even told her of my mental breakdown and hospitalization, of my returning to work after a few months and then being sent away from work indefinitely on half-pay — thinking maybe all this would scare her off. Ha.     
“Arnold,” she said, “I’m going to make you my project.”     
Oh no.     
“Well, I really must be going,” I said, and started to get up.     
She put her hand on mine.     
“Sit down,” she said. “I know you don’t really have to go. Let’s talk a while.”     
I sat down. And she talked. But now she went on to a subject even more boring than me: her.     
I won’t go into it all, and besides I wasn’t listening to half of it, and half of what I was listening to I’ve already forgotten and it was only yesterday, but just for the record, she’s from Upper Merion, she works as a dental hygienist, she was married but is no longer, she has a child, a girl of some age I forget, whose name I forget. The child was with the former husband while the mother our heroine was enjoying this, her first ever vacation all by herself. It was all too dull, too much, too real, too little.     
“Arnold,” she said, seeming to indicate a shift away from her autobiography. “Such a cute name. Say, you remember my name, don’t you?”     
“Of course I do,” I said.     
“Then what is it?”     
“It’s Rhonda,” I said.     
“My name’s not Rhonda.”     
“Oh,” I said. “I’m terribly sorry.”     
“You don’t remember my name?”     
“Um, Veronica?”     
“Um —”     
“I can’t believe you can’t remember my name.” I hadn't realized it but the shriek in her voice had gradually diminished in frequency and volume while she had been talking about herself, replaced by a non-hypnotic drone, but now the shrieking returned. "You jerk!" she shrieked.     
“Uh, I was drunk, I’m afraid.”     
“I was plastered, but I remembered your name.”     
“You really don’t remember my name.”     
Okay, this went on for way too long, but at long last she broke down and told me her correct name:     
“Mona. My name is Mona.”     
“Oh,” I said. Rhonda, Mona, they were pretty similar really.     
Rhonda,” she said. “I should never talk to you again.”     
“You’re right,” I thought. “You shouldn’t. Please don’t.”     
But she did. And now I must leave off. I must change for dinner. Because I am taking this Mona person to dinner at the Merion Inn.     
I am doomed.

(Quickly, click here to find out what happens next. Or check the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other episodes of Railway Train to Heaven, as well as to many of Arnold Schnabel's fine poems.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"The Panic in Needle Park"

Check out my review over here.

Arnold Schnabel replies to his public

Arnold Schnabel published this sonnet without fanfare in the July 6 1963 issue of the Olney Times, where it went completely unnoticed by the critical and academic establishment, only to rise up again in 1978 when Sid Vicious declared it his favorite poem. Frequently anthologized, Harold Bloom has called the poem a "companion piece to 'Abandoned'" and I would agree; but it works perhaps even more powerfully considered by itself, preferably at 4 AM, in that hour when consciousness teeters precariously on that rusty razor's edge between despair and madness. Republished thanks to the continuing generosity of the Arnold Schnabel Society.


People often ask me, “Where do you get
Your inspiration from, a brand new poem
Every week, fifty-two weeks a year yet?”
It’s really not so hard, or so I tell them,
Not so hard at all once the poet learns
That no one really cares how well he writes,
That it doesn’t matter if his spirit burns
Or hides like a dog through Byzantine nights;
This poet is incapable of writing well
Anyway, but even if he were, it still
Wouldn’t matter; very few of us can tell
The difference between ambrosia and swill.
And that’s okay; now he is ready to sing.
Nothing stands in his way; not a thing.

(For links to many other inspiring Arnold Schnabel poems, and to his previously unpublished memoirs Railroad Train to Heaven, please see the right hand column of this page.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Two: in which young Harvey meets Dick and Daphne

Previously in Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain: the recently discharged young soldier Harvey returns to his hometown of Disdain NM after a tour in Vietnam. He immediately goes from the bus to Burt’s Roadhouse, where he has a beer and re-unites with his mother Doris who waits on tables there. A neighborhood bully named Bull Thorndyke picks a fight with Harvey, who breaks a beer bottle in Bull’s face. Bull pulls a knife but Sheriff Dooley comes in, breaks up the confrontation with a pistol shot to the floor, and tells Bull to go to the doctor. Bull leaves but comes back a minute later with a shotgun to kill Harvey. The Sheriff stands in front of Harvey and for a moment there is a stand-off. Just then an attractive couple enter the bar-room, and while Bull is momentarily distracted Harvey unholsters the Sheriff’s revolver and kills Bull with a single shot to the heart.

“Oh, Lord,” said Doris.

“Sheeit,” said the Sheriff and he wiggled his forefinger in his ear.

Harvey stood there still holding the gun outstretched, as heavy as that fucking thing was he could barely feel it, in fact he could barely feel anything except his own heart pounding, and then he lowered the pistol, tried to twirl it, nearly dropped it, and handed it to the Sheriff butt-first.

“That was damn good shootin’, Harve, right through the ticker, and I ain’t sayin’ he didn’t have it comin’ but I got me a buzzin’ in this ear like a yellajacket stuck in a moonshine tequila jar.”

Harvey was just damn glad he hadn’t actually been aiming for Bull’s heart in which case it’d be him and the Sheriff both dead, but, well, that was karma for you.

The young woman in the doorway pinched out a bit of the fabric of her shirt, which was splattered with Bull’s blood.

“Fabulous,” she said.

The man, who was somewhat less liberally blood-splattered, took a silvery cigarette case out of his shorts pocket, clicked it open and offered it to the woman.

“Thank you, Dick.”

Harvey turned around. Standing in the doorway outside the men’s room was Mr. Big Jake Johnstone the rancher. He had a bottle of Pabst in one hand and his beautiful hand-engraved Colt New Service in the other. He’d been sitting on the toilet for the past half hour or so, having himself a good one and reading the paper when he heard the Sheriff’s first shot, and knowing the way things could go in Burt’s he had prudently taken his time finishing his business and then had gotten up without flushing the toilet. After washing his hands thoroughly and drying them, he cracked open the door and peeked out just in time to see Harvey shoot Bull. Only then had he drawn his gun and come out, trying to look like John Wayne in El Dorado. He never did flush the damn toilet, and now he slid his gun into the shoulder holster under his fancy western jacket and looked at the new couple.

“And y’all must be Daphne and Dick. We spoke on the telephone. I’m Jake Johnstone. Welcome to Disdain.”

The back lounge was just a small room with the same brown paneling as the big bar-room, but it had a few Tiffany-style lamps hanging from the ceiling, and the tables had red-and-white checked oilcloths. Burt had moved the dartboard back here for reasons of general safety, and the walls were decorated with a series of steel-framed and glass-covered black-and-white photographs of nuclear explosions.

“A V.O. Manhattan for the lady, Boodles Martini for the gentleman, and a Pabst and a Jack Daniel’s for Mr. Johnstone.”

“Thank you kindly, Doris,” said Mr. Johnstone.

“Oh my just look at your lovely blouse, honey.”

The young woman took off her sunglasses and looked. She was smoking a cigarette in a shiny black holder. She’d taken off her pith helmet and her damp dark hair was cut very short. Her skin was only very lightly tanned and it was perfectly smooth.

“I know, isn’t it terrible? I just bought this shirt too at this marvelous little tailor’s in Saigon. I knew I should’ve simply bought a dozen.”

Her eyes were grey and she was the most beautiful woman Doris had ever seen in person.

“Why don’t you let me wash it out for you sweetheart? I mean if you wanta use the ladies and change into somethin’ else I can just wash it out in the sink and hang it up out in the sun and in this heat it’ll be dry in just no time.”

“Oh don’t bother darling all my clothes get stained sooner or later it seems.”

“Oh but it’s such a nice soft cotton.”

“Doris,” said Mr. Johnstone, “tell young Harvey I’d like to see him in a little while if he’s got nothing better to do.”

“He’s only just back to playin’ that ol’ pinball machine. I’ll make sure he comes back to see ya, Mr. Johnstone.”

“Thanks, honey.”

Doris clutched her tray to her bosom and looked longingly at the newcomers.

“You folks married?”

The young woman said nothing but made a physically indescribable but subtle and amusing face, almost as if it had not quite occurred to her for some time that yes they were in fact married, now that you mention it.

“Yes, we are,” said the man. He’d taken off his sunglasses and his hat and he was as handsome as the woman was beautiful. He was about forty, with an athletic build, wavy dark hair flecked with grey, and clear blue eyes.

“Ahh, ain’t that nice. Y’all here on vacation?”

The man and the woman looked at each other.

“Uh, yeah,” said the man.


After waiting long enough just to show he would come in when he was damn good and ready and not a moment sooner Harvey finally sidled back into the lounge.

“Well, Harvey boy I see you finally have decided to deign to grace us with your presence. C’mere, boy.”

Harvey came over. Mr. Johnstone had removed his western jacket and his shoulder holster and gun and draped them over the back of his chair, but he still had his big old Stetson on.

“Siddown, son, siddown.”

Mr. Johnstone grabbed Harvey’s thin arm with his big paw and pulled him down into a chair. A bottle of Dom Perignon stood up out of a bucket of ice on the table.

“Ya want some champagne, son?”

“Got me a cold beer, Mr. Johnstone.”

“How about a shot?”

“I’m doin’ fine, Mr. Johnstone.”

“Lemme order ya another beer.”

“I got me a full beer, thanks anyway.”

“Harvey, like you to meet some friends of mine. They’re gonna be spendin’ a little time with me out on the ranch. Harve, this is -- Mrs. -- uh --”

Mr. Johnstone hesitated a moment, looking questioningly at the woman and then at the man.

“Smith,” said the woman and she put her cigarette holder with the foreign-looking cigarette in it from her right hand to her left hand and she extended her right hand palm-downward across the table to Harvey.

“Pleased to meet you, soldier.”

Harvey had never had a woman’s hand presented to him in this way. Her hand was long with long dark red nails that matched her lipstick and the splotches of Bull’s blood on her shirt. Harvey hesitated a moment and then he put his hand in hers so that his fingertips were touching her palm and his thumb was on the knuckle of her middle finger. Her hand felt moist and still and cool and just as he was about to take his hand away she squeezed it in hers with surprising strength and her nails dug into his fingers and he looked into her deep pale grey eyes and he got a tingle in his penis.

She let go of his hand and smiled, and Harvey drew back his hand and then the man extended his hand.

“Dick, uh -- Smith. Pleased to meet ya, fella.”

His hand was tanned and strong-looking but the handshake was gentle and friendly. Weird thing was though he had this ugly scar tissue all around his fingernails on that hand.

No one said anything for a long moment. Mrs. Smith took a drag of her cigarette and continued to gaze at Harvey. Mr. Smith poured some champagne into his glass and, smiling, raised the glass to Harvey and drank. Mr. Johnstone just sat with his hands on his gut and a cigar in his mouth, beaming at Harvey.

“Why you call me in here, Mr. Johnstone?”

“Well, Harve, I wanta offer you a job.”

“What kinda job.”

“Workin’, out on the ranch.”

“I’m afraid my shit-shovelin’ days are over, sir.”

Harvey had worked a few summers in Big Jake’s stables.

“Got plenty o’ shit-shovelers already, Harve. Ain’t askin’ ya to be a shit-shoveler.”

“Then what you askin’ me?”

Mr. Johnstone took a big drag of his big cigar and then let it out slow.

“I liked the way you handled yourself out there, Harve. You were cool. Very cool. I could use a cool man like you.”

Harvey shook out a Tareyton. Mr. Smith picked up a scuffed silver lighter and as he leaned forward to give Harvey a light his shirttail rose up and Harvey caught a glimpse of what looked like a pistol grip sticking out of his shorts pocket. Harvey thought that Mr. Smith saw that he saw but Mr. Smith’s face remained smoothly affable as he flicked the lighter on. Harvey accepted the light, drew the smoke in and then let it out slowly.

“I ain’t lookin’ to be no hired pistolero, Mr. Johnstone.”

“I’m not askin’ you to be a pistolero, Harve. I’m just askin’ ya to -- uh -- to --”

“To be there,” said Mrs. Smith.

“That’s right, to be there,” said Mr. Johnstone. “Ya see. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are here on uh --”

“Vacation,” said Mr. Smith.

“Vacation,” said Mr. Johnstone. “And I promised to provide them with a good reliable man who knows the area, to -- to --”

“Show us around,” said Mrs. Smith.

“Show them around,” said Mr. Johnstone.

Harvey took a drink of his beer.

“For how long,” said Harvey.

“Well --” said Mr. Johnstone and he looked at Mr. Smith.

“Well, we’re not quite sure how long we’re staying, Harve. I hope I mean I think it wouldn’t be for too long. A week. Or two. You see it’s really by way of being a working vacation for me, I’m doing some, uh, research in the area and so it’s really hard for me to say.”

Harvey looked at each of them in turn, picked up his bottle of Rheingold and stood up.

“Mr. Johnstone, I appreciate the offer, but to tell ya the truth I just ain’t in the market for a job right now.”

“But, Harvey, like Mr. Smith here just said, this’d just be for a week or two.”

Harvey looked at his beer bottle for a moment before replying.

“Sir, right now one or two weeks is one or two weeks I don’t believe I got to spare.”

“Well, hell, just what you got to do that’s so important, boy?”

“Mr. Johnstone, past two years I been U.S. government property. What I got to do that’s so important now is to be my own property. But thanks for the offer. I’ll be seein’ ya all.”

He turned, and Mr. Johnstone said, “Fifty bucks a day, Harve. Under the table, free and clear, seven days a week.”

Harvey stopped but did not turn around.

“Your own private bungalow out on the ranch. All meals provided for.”

Harvey turned his head but kept his back to the table.

“Use of a car and any ridin’ horse in the stable.”

Harvey stood still.

“A free pass at the Photographic Arts Studio, Harve, for the length of your employment. Any girl in the stable, any time, free, gratis, and for nothing.”

Harvey turned around and looked at his beer bottle again.

“I dunno, sir. I just don’t think so.”

“God damn it boy, I like you. Hell, make it seventy-five bucks a day and that’s my final offer. I don’t pay my foreman that much but it’s just because Mr. and Mrs. Smith are such special guests of mine.”

Harvey took a deep breath but said nothing.

“One hundred,” said Mrs. Smith.

“What?” said Mr. Johnstone.

“A hundred a day,” said Mrs. Smith.

Mr. Johnstone looked at her with his mouth agape and she smiled softly at him, with the cigarette holder between her teeth.

“Yeah,” said Mr. Johnstone, somewhat weakly, “A hunnerd.”

Harvey thought it over for a few seconds, then came back over to the table and sat back down.

“When you want me to start, Mr. Johnstone?”

“How about right now,” said Mrs. Smith.

She was smiling at Harvey, still gripping the stem of the holder between her white teeth.

“Mrs., I just finished twenty-four months in the army, eight days in the San Francisco jail and the better part of two days in a damn Greyhound bus. I ain’t doin’ nothin’ tonight except gettin’ hornswoggled tonguewaggin’ sloppyassed drunk.”

“I’ll drink to that,” said Mrs. Smith.


(Click here for Episode Three.)

Eric Burdon and the Animals: San Franciscan nights --

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Four: an evening at "The Pilot House", Cape May, NJ, June 1963

We pick up Arnold Schnabel’s memoir Railroad Train to Heaven precisely where our last installment left off. Arnold is still in Cape May with his mother, still enjoying his mandated leave of absence from the railroad, still on the seemingly endless road of recovery from his complete mental collapse the previous winter.

Carbon-testing analysis by a crack team of scientists from the Community College of Philadelphia indicates this passage to have been indited in June (or perhaps early July), 1963...

Two days of tedious sobriety following which I found myself in the Pilot House with a Manhattan before me. The call of the wild. Outside brilliant sunshine and shimmering heat, people in their bathing suits and sandals herding by to and from the beach. But inside the Pilot House all is cool and dim, the dulcet vocalizations of Pat Boone and Perry Como exuding from the jukebox. I prepare myself for oblivion. All is well. Home (my aunts’) is a mere few blocks' staggering distance.     
Or, who knows, perhaps I shall do the sensible thing, have one or two, okay three at most, four at the absolute outside and then go home.     
While pondering these alternatives and still on my first drink, wondering "Why?" for the thousandth time, and answering myself, “Why? Why anything?”, and reflecting what little good attending mass that morning had done me — mirabile dictu: a woman spoke to me. She was sitting one stool away at the bar. If she had been there when I came in I had failed to notice her.
“Pardon me,” she said, holding her cigarette in that up-tilted way that women do, “Do you have a light?”     
“Of course,“ I said.     
Like the perfect gentleman I always am unless I am in a state of insanity or extreme drunkenness, I quickly scrabbled up my Zippo from the bar, reached across and lighted her cigarette.     
She began to chat with me. She was not bad-looking I suppose, although who could be sure, what with the layers of multi-colored clown-makeup on her face. Mid-thirties, possibly early or late thirties, what did I know? With the hard forbidding blonde hair that is in style these days. She was not very interesting at all in conversation, downright boring in fact, but I listened with I hope an interested and affable expression on my face, or at least what could pass for one. After a while she suggested I sit on the stool next to her, and who was I to say no, so I did.     
In due course she revealed that she was single, divorced. When she asked me if I were married I told her the truth, that I wasn’t, nor had ever been.     
“You’re not one of those, are you?” she asked, pointing her cigarette towards a table of elegant men with extravagant voices, a group of fellows who reminded me disconcertingly of some of our priests and parish ushers in the latter stages of one of our Communion breakfasts at the Schwarzwald Inn after a few rounds of Old Fashioneds had been served.     
“No,” I said. “I suppose I’ve just never found the right girl.”     
As if it were up to me.     
She looked in my eyes, for once not saying anything. In a little while she went to the ladies’ room. I gestured to the bartender to fix us two more drinks. When he laid them down he said:     
“Looks like you made a conquest, buddy.”     
I smiled, or at least stretched the corners of my mouth outward a bit in an imitation of a smile.     
She came back. We each had several more drinks. She became very merry indeed, and after a while Freddy Ayres the singer and accordionist came on with his supposed wife Ursula the saxophonist, and they played their songs. The woman of whom I write, her name was Rhonda, insisted that I dance with her. I did, in my clumsy fashion. She smelled of perfume, she was warm and moist with sweat, her Aquanetted hair abraded my nose. Her breath smelled of whiskey and cigarettes, as no doubt did mine. On about the fourth dance she said into my ear:     
“Let’s get out of here.”     
Soon we were walking along Decatur Street, in the direction of the beach. Swirly whirling night had fallen.     
“Take me home,” she said.     
“Of course,” I said.     
We came to one of the rooming houses on Hughes Street.     
“Let’s go around the back way,” she said.     
“Okay,” I said.     
Once around the back, surrounded closely by ivy-covered house-wall and enormous fragrant azaleas and rhododendrons she put her arms around my waist.     
“Kiss me,” she said.     
“Oh, I don’t think we should do that,” I said.     
“Why not?” she said. “Don’t you like me?’     
“Of course, I do” I said, which was not quite true, but it was a white lie.     
“Then why don’t you want to kiss me?”     
“Well, it would be a near occasion of sin,” I said.     
“You’re joking, right?”     
“No,” I said, “I mean, if we kissed, which in itself may not be sinful, we could very well be making it more likely for us to go a bit further, which would be a sin.”     
I took out my cigarettes, offered her one, she shook her head no.     
“You’re not serious,” she said.     
“But I’m a good Catholic,” I said, lighting my Pall Mall.     
“But — how old are you?”     
I let out that first fine lungful of smoke, then told her my age, shaving off only a few years out of vanity.     
“And — you won’t let yourself kiss a woman?”     
“Well, I suppose if I were engaged to her — or of course if I were married —”     
“But, how are you gonna know you want to marry a woman if you won’t even let yourself kiss her?”    
“Well, I like to think Jesus would tell me.”     
“Yes. I like to think he would somehow let me know.”     
She paused a bit, then said goodnight and went into the back entrance of the house, the screen door flopping shut loudly behind her.     
I started to walk home, but when I was almost there I changed my mind. I turned and headed back to the Pilot House. There seemed little point in stopping now.     
And hey presto, I was there again, and ordering another Manhattan.     
“So, buddy,” the bartender said. “You sure work quick.”     
“Um,” I said. “Uh.”     
“Always leave ‘em wantin’ more. That way they come back.”     
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. I always agree with bartenders, no matter what.     
I took a sip of my drink, and I lit up another excellent Pall Mall. I turned on my stool and listened to Freddy Ayres sing. “Tiny bubbles,” he was singing, “in the wine, make me happy, make me feel fine. Tiny bubbles make me warm all over with a feeling that I’m gonna love you till the end of time. So here's to the golden moon, and here's to the silver sea, and mostly here's a toast to you and me..."     
I might commit the nasty but venial sin of inebriation tonight but at least I would not double the offense by committing the far more vile and mortal sin of fornication.     
I sipped again, took another drag of my cigarette, and let the music and the drunkenness suffuse my being. Life was, if not good, then at the very least not damnable. Or so I hoped.

(Stagger over to here for Part Five of Arnold's runaway Railroad Train to Heaven. Turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to other episodes as well as to many of his legendary poems. See below for the soundtrack to today's episode.)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Arnold Schnabel does not need you, Calliope!

Arnold Schnabel -- still staying (with his mother) at his aunts’ rooming house in Cape May, NJ, and temporarily bereft of ideas even in this exotic locale -- here somehow summons inspiration even from his very lack of inspiration. Note the complex, even tortuous, rhyme-scheme and the typically Schnabelian note of disquietude with which this stunning sonnet ends. First published in the Olney Times of June 29, 1963. Grateful thanks and all due homage to the Arnold Schnabel Society for permission to rebroadcast this poem.


I seem to have been abandoned by my muse,
But I’ve never let that stop me before;
There are so many topics from which to choose,
The poet need only turn the knob of a door
In his brain, walk through, and there, it’s his,
Real as that life to which he wakes with a scream is:
A new world, of which every little bit’s as
Real as a dream, and of course a dream is
Real when you are in it, and, often like the waking
World, a cause not for celebration but for quaking
In fear; but the poet now flies between
The waking and sleeping worlds, taking
What’s most real from both and making
Visible the unseen, and sacred the obscene.

(For links to many other vertiginous poems from Arnold Schnabel, and for a thrilling ride in his previously unpublished memoirs Railroad Train to Heaven, kindly check the right hand column of this page.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 7.1: the scarily talented Mr. Timothy Carey in “Goodbye, Mr. Wittmar”

If there was one episode that sealed the doom of Phil Leotardo’s classic but short-lived series Section 20, then it was “Goodbye, Mr. Wittmar”, written by Phil Leotardo and Tommy “Legs” Larkin, directed by Larry Winchester. First shown on Oct. 14, 1961 (and never aired again, ever) this show caused such a firestorm of indignation from schoolmarms and pious bawds throughout the land that the show’s primary sponsor, Tareyton Cigarettes, withdrew its association at once, and, after Leotardo failed to attract any sponsors at all besides the notoriously pennywise Pep Boys, the show was cancelled.

So what was all the hoopla about? I recently had the pleasure of seeing this episode for the first time in Larry Winchester’s screening room at his modest but tasteful Missionary/Georgian-style house on North Ivar Avenue in Hollywood. Phil Leotardo’s son Joe has preserved pristine 35mm prints of all the epsiodes of Section 20 in a refrigerated vault in the Leotardo home on Sunset Boulevard, and it was thanks to Joe that he, Larry, Legs Larkin, and I were able to watch the film.

The show begins with one of the most excruciating scenes of pedagogic abuse that I have ever seen since my own Catholic school days. After some minor offense (some snickering, and a muttered epithet that sounded very much like “gaybo”), math teacher Mr. Wittmar (Timothy Carey), hauls wise-ass punk Joey Baldinado (Michael Parks) to the front of the class. He then pulls two 20lb barbell plates out of the drawer of his desk and tells Joey that if he can hold them, one in each hand, arms outstretched, for five full minutes, then he will avoid further punishment. If he lets the weights down before the allotted time passes he will receive ten whacks with “the boot”. He pulls “the boot” from the drawer with a flourish. It is the rubber sole of some very large man’s boot.

Joey, instead of walking right out and getting himself transferred to public school, accepts the challenge. For almost the next five minutes the camera slowly wanders over the faces of the horrified watching students, the ungodly sadistic face of Mr. Wittmar, and the sweating contorted face of Joey Baldinado. At roughly the four-and-a-half minute mark, the boy's arms slowly come down, he drops the weights and almost collapses. The merciless Mr. Wittmar proceeds to force him to bend over a desk while he gives him ten whacks on the backside, as hard as he can. Joey tries to hold it in but finally is reduced to uncontrollable sobs. Close-up on the inscrutable face of Mr. Wittmar. Cut to a Tareyton commercial.

Oddly enough, this scene of disturbing brutality -- a scene the likes of which after all was played out daily in Catholic High Schools throughout the land -- did not cause all the uproar. No, that was caused by what followed.

To put it bluntly, Joey Baldinado, while pretending to be a completely reformed teacher’s pet, plans revenge. And, with the aid of his attractive older sister (Carolyn Jones), his classmates Argus the immigrant lad (Bo Hopkins), Big Mike the big dumb football player (Max Baer, Jr.), and Crazy Eddy the crazy kid (Russ Tamblyn), Joey indeed finally exacts his revenge one night in the woods behind the school, using not only cunning and guile but a screwdriver, a bucket of wet concrete, a can of motor oil, and an abandoned manhole.

What is more, Joey and his friends and sister get away with it, a fantasy come true for every kid who’s ever been abused by some asshole sadistic teacher. A truly satisfying ending (even if it did mean writing the talented Timothy Carey out of the show) but unfortunately the always powerful legions of self-righteous assholes in this country didn’t take so kindly to seeing one of their own dispatched in such a fitting and unpunished fashion.

Once again Phil Leotardo and his collaborators had proven themselves just too far ahead of their time. Or perhaps it would be better put to say they were behind their ideal time, as certainly the Bard of Avon’s audience would have had no problems with the gruesome climax of this episode, nor with the gradually fading screams of Mr. Wittmar as the closing credits rolled beneath the strains of Henry Mancini’s cheerful theme score.

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of other Great Lost TV Shows.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"A Town Called Disdain", Episode One: in which Harvey comes back home from the army

It is with great pleasure that I present to you the first installment of the uncut complete version of Larry Winchester’s classic novel A Town Called Disdain, written in 1988 while the legendary film maker was recovering from two broken legs following a skiing accident near the town of Schping-Päden in the Swiss Alps. Originally published as a paperback original in 1989 by the Trolley Barn Press (Milwaukee), the book received scathing reviews where it was reviewed at all, but it has since attained a fervent and cult-like army of devotés (Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace, David Byrne, David Lynch, David Bowie, Ray Davies, Larry David, David Lee Roth) who have compared it to classics such as The Sorrows of Young Werther, Moby-Dick, Slaughterhouse-Five, Blood Meridian, and (and perhaps most à propos) Harold Robbins's post-post modern classic, The Carpetbaggers. Mind-bogglingly, A Town Called Disdain has never been reprinted (although even slightly-foxed copies of that first-and-only run of 2,000 have sold on eBay for up to $150).

This 1989 edition of Larry’s mammoth epic was cut by about 75,000 words -- as Larry says of those cuts: “Okay, the book ran a little long, and I needed the dough -- I had had a bad run at the faro tables in Vegas, plus I had tax problems -- so I let the editor cut it by about half.”

Larry has very kindly given me permission to broadcast, in installments, his own “director’s cut” of A Town Called Disdain. Larry again: “This is the real version of A Town Called Disdain. This is the version that pulls no punches. You pays your money and you takes your ride. Don’t yell at me if you fall off the goddamn horse.”

Here is our first episode. (I hope to post up new installments once or twice a week or so as I struggle to decipher and transcribe Larry's much-scribbled-over original typescript.) Enjoy:

A Town Called Disdain

The driver pulled the lever and it was like he’d opened the door to a furnace, hot and bright as all hell, and the thin young soldier in the rumpled dress uniform hefted his duffel bag over his shoulder and stepped down into it. Harvey was back home now, and there was the Welcome to Disdain New Mexico sign lying on its back in the weeds.

The bus took off down the highway and Harvey stood there squinting in a cloud of exhaust and dust and took it all in for a minute, the town and the scraggly hills and the sun burning down on it all.

And a funny smell, he’d never noticed it before because he’d never been away before, a mixture of hot dirt and baking rubber, of gasoline and dried garbage, and a sharp high tingle in the back of his nose with something like squashed lightning bugs and old bones in it.

There was Burt’s Hideyway right in front of him, it hadn’t changed, no, it had, the local kids had discovered spray paint, and there was graffiti all over it, in English and Spanish. The usual collection of heaps was parked in front, along with one shiny new red ‘69 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible with a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview, and that was probably Big Jake’s.

To the right of Burt’s was the dirt lot with some gutted and wheelless cars and trucks in it, and on the other side of that was the hill of automobile tires, all heat hazy in the sunlight, and over there on the far side of Tuk’s Service was the little clapboard bungalow Harvey had grown up in. The first house you passed coming into town and the last one you passed leaving.

Nobody was out in the afternoon heat, not even a dog, and the only thing moving was a tumbleweed rolling in fits and starts down Main Street.

Well, fuck this shit, he was still wearing his dress uniform because all his civvies had got ripped off in San Francisco, and he was breaking out all over in sweat.

He headed on into Burt’s.

On the eve of his eighteenth birthday Harvey had shot his mother’s boyfriend in the thigh and also shot and killed the boyfriend’s dog. Old Judge Moseby had tried to be fair. On the one hand this was the fourth or fifth time the Harvey had been brought up before him, but on the other hand the boyfriend, Bennie Driscoll, had been known to beat Harvey’s mother and had in fact given her a black eye on the night in question. So the judge decided to give the boy a choice between military service or the Youth Detention Center until he reached the age of twenty-one. Harvey had “volunteered” to be drafted, and now he was back after a two-year hitch.

He’d gotten drunk for two weeks in Oakland and San Francisco while awaiting his discharge papers which had somehow gotten replaced, and he wound up breaking the jawbone of a marine lifer gunnery sergeant who’d called him a little army faggot. He sweated out eight days in the San Francisco jail, and then the charges were dropped on the provision that he immediately get on the bus and never set foot in San Francisco again.

Inside the door he stood with his bag still on his shoulder as his eyes adjusted to the dimness. He could barely see the people in the bar at first, but he could tell that everybody had turned and was staring at him. And then they all took shape, all the usual crowd who weren’t dead yet. Keely and Mo and Quint were over there at the bar in their usual seats, maybe a little more greenish than he remembered them being but still alive technically, and there was old Burt behind the bar.

An Ipana commercial was on the black-and-white TV and nobody was playing the jukebox.

And he got that smell thing again, this time it was the Burt’s smell of stale beer and stale cigarette and cigar smoke and stale piss and spat-out tobacco juice ground into old linoleum with cow-shitty bootsoles. But at least the joint was air-conditioned.

He headed on over to the bar, put his bag down and took out his Tareytons.

“Well, look who the cat drug in,” said Burt.

“Hey, Burt,” said Harvey. Burt pulled out his lighter and Harvey leaned forward and took the light.

“Fuckin’ Harvey,” said Keely.

“Fuckin’ A,” said Mo.

“Fuckin’ right,” said Quint.

You get the idea. This was not the fucking Algonquin Round Table.

“Lemme buy Harvey a fuckin’ beer.” said Mo.

“Fuck you, I’m buyin’, said Keely.

“Fuck ya both --” started Quint and then Burt said, “Fuck all y’all, I’m gettin’ this one. Whatcha drinkin’ Harve?”

Harvey asked for a Rheingold and Burt pulled one out. Harvey said thanks and took a good long pull. Everyone was still staring at him. Norman Mailer was on the TV now, talking to Mike Douglas about the existential meaning of the moon landing, as if anybody gave a shit.

“Hey, Harve, you kill anybody?” asked Keely.

“Fuck no,’ said Harvey. “I was too busy tryin’ to keep my own ass alive and shittin’.”

Well, this passed for a real howler in this joint, and Mo and Quint and Keely and a few other motherfuckers who didn’t have sense enough to fall over when they were dead all started pounding the bar and guffawing.

Harvey finished his beer in about two more gulps, and one of the Three Stooges bought him another one. He got some change off of Burt, stubbed out his smoke, and took his beer over to the pinball machine. It was new, The Flash. He pulled a chair over to near the machine and put his bottle down on it. He unbuttoned his dress tunic and laid it over the chair back. He got into position in front of the machine and tried to stick a nickel in, and then he realized the fucker had gone up to a dime.

“Well, what the fuck!” she yelled. “Why didn’t someone call me?”

This was Harvey’s mother, Doris, and all the losers started roaring and thumping again. Harvey didn’t turn around. He dropped a dime in, he pressed the button, the machine clunked, and a ball popped up. He pulled the handle back and knocked the ball up the chute, but he could hear her running up behind him, and he braced himself and then she was hugging him from the back and kissing his neck.

“Harvey, why didn’t you write?” Etc., etc., crying and sniffling. Harvey tried to keep his eye on the ball with her hanging all over him. He was still a little pissed off at her. Since he wouldn’t turn around, she slid over to his side so she could look at him. She was wearing that same old polyester cowgirl waitress uniform she had on the last time he saw her. Or else one a whole lot like it.

“You outa the army now?”


Trying to do that Steve McQueen thing, feeling more like Brandon de Wilde.

“You coulda wrote.”

In fact he had written a few letters, although it had been about six months since his last one, and in fact she’d only written about three or four of her own semi-literate missives, but Harvey let it pass.

“You gonna move back in with me, Harvey? Bennie’s gone now.”

Harvey loosened up a lot when he heard that. He just never could stand that motherfucker, and except for the fact that it had got him two years in the army he had never regretted shooting him. Or his dog.

“You threw him out?”

“Naw, he passed away, unfortunately. Got drunk and fell asleep on the side of the road and got runned over by Big Jake’s compost spreader.”


His ball went down the hole. He took out his pack of smokes and shook one out.

A tiny hand held up a lit Zippo.

It was Cleb, the Parsons boy. He must have been about fourteen, but he was a skinny little runt. His family’s place had been just a little too close and downwind to the bomb test sites, and they all had radiation sickness. At least a few of them, including his mother, had already died from it. His skin had that same slightly greenish quality to it as Mo and Quint and Keely’s.

Harvey drew in the smoke and let it out as Cleb and his mom looked at him.

“How old you now, Harvey?” asked Cleb.

“Old enough.” Whatever the fuck that meant.

His mother got closer and ran her orange-nailed fingers along his cheek, and Harvey could feel her breasts. She smelled like Jean Naté Cactus Flower and Juicy Froot and Aquanet. She was only thirty-five years old and she had some body. Harvey felt himself getting the stirrings of an erection, so he nudged her away with his elbow and got set to play the machine again.

“Harvey, I got to work tonight, but tomorrow I’ll get off and I’ll make you all your favorite food.”

Harvey popped another ball into play.

“Don’t put yourself out on my account.”

“You kill anybody, Harve?” said Cleb.

“It ain’t puttin’ out. You’re my son.”

“I’ll see. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.”

“I’ll make chicken pot pie with peas, and chocolate mash potatoes, and Jello cake too. I’ll make Kool-Aid.”

“Who you got livin’ with you now?”

She paused.

“Luke Asquith.”

The ball shot right down into that fucking hole.

“How many guys you kill, Harve?” Cleb tugged at Harvey’s sleeve.

“Luke Asquith?”

Harvey turned and looked at her.

“He’s a good man, Harvey.”

“He’s a fuckin’ spaz is what he is.”

“He’s got a nervous disorder ‘cause of the malaria he caught in World War II. He is not a spaz.”

Harvey reached down for his beer, tilted it up and took a long pull. One thing about his mother, she wasn’t ever going to change. Some women went for handsome men, some went for men with money, Doris went for damaged men.

“Say you’ll come to dinner, honey.”

“Hell, I’ll come. Just don’t ask me to look at old Luke while he’s eatin’.”

“You won’t have to eat with Luke, honey. He always likes to eat in front of the TV anyways, and besides all he eats is Spaghetti-O’s or Rice-a-Roni or hot dogs. And, honey?”


“I’m glad you come back.”

He set down his bottle and turned back to the machine.

“Well I’m glad somebody’s glad,” he said, and sent another ball out.

“I’m glad too, Harve,” said Cleb.

The door slammed open.

“Godamighty I’m thirsty! Doris you bring me three cold cans o’ Piels and three warm shots o’ Heaven Hill! I’ll be settin’ right chyere watchin’ Mike Douglas.”

“The word please wouldn’t kill you, Bull Thorndyke.”

“Why you makin’ time with that soldier boy well wait a minute. Do my eyes deceive me.”

“You just leave him alone. He just got back from the service.”

Harvey didn’t turn but he heard Bull Thorndyke’s heavy boots clodhopping toward him.

“Wayull skinny little Harvey -- so the judge let ya off easy, huh? Shot a man and his dog and all ya get is a hitch in the army probly doin’ nothin’ but cleanin’ out latrines for two years and me whut got five years in the joint just for accidentally killin’ a blind Injun. Hey, boy, turn around an’ let me look atcha.”

The ball dropped down toward the main flippers, he tried to time it, he pressed the right flipper button, he missed, the ball went down the hole.

“I said turn around ya little faggot. Lookin’ at your narra ass is gettin’ me all excited.”

Harvey turned around with the Tareyton hanging from the side of his mouth.

Bull was even uglier than before. He had thrown his filthy cowboy hat onto a table and he appeared to have been scalped since Harvey had gone away: there was a big jagged patch of roiled, red and moist scar tissue all over the top of his skull. Also it looked like his nose had been ripped or cut off, and he’d gained about twenty pounds of fat, too. Most of the set of false teeth he’d gotten up at the state pen seemed to be gone now and the ones that remained were as brown as the pug of pigtail tobacco they were chewing. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-eight or so but he looked about fifty-five.

“Hi, Bull.”

“Hi, soldier boy.”

He stood a few inches away from Harvey, his big old gut almost touching Harvey’s shirt and his shitty-smelling hot breath billowing down into Harvey’s face. “Hey, how you like that barracks life, Harvey? Men sleepin’ with men. No women. No smelly women with they stinkin’ diseased conts. How you like that, boy? That sweet sensation of some big ol’ nigger’s pecker rammin’ up yer narrow butt-hole like a Roto-Rooter? Good huh? Just like takin’ a good long beershit in reverse. I gotta say I developed me a little taste fer that brown eye when I was upstate, so what say you ‘n’ me just retire to the men’s room fer a quick one? I promise I’ll be gentle-like. Less’n of course you don’t like it gentle-like.”

Doris took a step toward Bull and he put his enormous left hand on her chest and pushed her back as if she wasn’t even there. Everybody in the bar was quiet and still and watching.

“Bull,” said Harvey, “there’s one thing I hate that’s to see a good cold beer get warm. ‘Scuse me just a second.”

Harvey took the cigarette out of his mouth, took up the Rheingold, tilted it up, drank deep, and emptied it. He looked at the bottle and then at Bull and then he belched.

“Damn that was good. Whoah, look who’s on Mike Douglas. Fuckin’ Charo.”

Bull turned to look at the TV and Harvey whipped the bottle hard across Bull’s open mouth, the bottle shattered and Bull staggered back then down to his knees and onto his side and a great strangled deep roar came out from between his hands over his mouth as tobacco-stained blood streamed through his fingers and over his shirt and onto the floor.

“Cool,” said Cleb.

“Hey Bull,” said Quint, I think you gonna need a brand new set o’ them fake choppers.”

“Gonna haveta go in the joint again he wants a new set,” said Keely.

“Just spit ‘em all out,” said Mo. “you don’t wanta be sawllowin’ them thangs.”

Bull got up on his hands and knees and spat out the blood-gobbety mess of what was left of his dentures and then he tried to say something.

“What he say,” said Keely.

“Speak up, Bull,” said Quint.

Bull shook his head, just like a bull, and blood-sputtered something else.

“What he say,” said Mo.

“Said he gonna kill Harvey,” said Keely.

Bull heaved himself up, weaving just a little, then pulled a switchblade out of his back pocket and clicked it open.

He said something again, more blood blurting out.

“Speak up, Bull,” said Harvey. “Can’t understand a jackshit word you say.”

Harvey was leaning back against the pinball machine, he held the broken neck of the beer bottle behind his back. He could smell Bull’s fresh pouring blood and he was ready as he was ever going to be; Bull came forward and then an incredibly loud shot rang out, Bull stopped, and there was a big skidded bullet hole in the grey linoleum a few inches from Bull’s left foot.

Sheriff Dooley stood in the doorway holding his long-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 629 at arm’s length and now that familiar cordite smell mixed in with all those other smells.

“One more step and that’s your kneecap blown out, Bull,” said the Sheriff.

Bull turned around and said something.

“Bull, I don’t know what the hell you’re sayin’ an’ I ain’t so all-fired sure I wanta hear it. Now drop that pig-sticker right now.”

Bull held still, a big blood bubble forming in his open mouth, and the Sheriff turned so his big gut was in profile against the doorway; he straightened out his gun arm, thumbed back the hammer on the pistol and looked down the sight.

Bull sucked in the blood bubble and dropped the knife.

Harvey discreetly laid the broken bottleneck on the pinball machine.

The Sheriff uncocked the hammer on his pistol.

“Burt, now who started this ruckus?”

“Well, Sheriff, I wasn’t really payin’ no nevermind. Y’see, they had that there Charo up on Mike Douglas there, an’ --”

“How about you boys holdin’ up the bar there.”

“We was watchin’ Charo too, Sheriff.”

“Pair o’ bazoomers on that gal.”

“She can use my face for a bar seat anytime.”

“Sheriff,” said Cleb. “Sheriff, Sheriff -- I seen it all --”

“You hush up now, sonny. Doris, what happened?”

“Bull started it, Sheriff. He -- he was raggin’ my boy.”

“That right?”

“That’s right, Sheriff,” said Cleb. “He was raggin’ on Harvey.”

Bull made a movement toward Cleb and the boy ducked behind Doris’s hips.

The Sheriff twirled that enormous fucking pistol and slipped it smoothly into his worn black holster.

“Harvey I’d a thought two years in the service woulda taught you not to get so damn excited what some two-bit redneck peckerwood said.”

“I wasn’t excited, Sheriff. I just didn’t wanna hear it.”

The Sheriff ran a finger across his nostrils to hide his grin.

“Well, Bull, I think you better get on over to Doc Goldwasser’s now.”

Bull said something; the blood trickled down his chin. He put his hand over his mouth. The whole front of his filthy old overalls was covered with blood.

“Bull, ain’t nobody can understand a damn fool word you’re sayin’ so get on outa here, and I see you two fellers tusslin’ again I’m throwin’ ya both in the hoosegow with nothin’ to eat but piss-on-a-biscuit for a month. Now git.”

Bull took his hand away from his face and more blood came out; he looked at Harvey, then turned and headed for the open door. He went out without closing the door, a trail of blood spots marked his path. His raggedy old hat still sat on the table right where he’d left it.

You could smell the air getting cleaner already.

“Burt,” said the Sheriff, “long as I’m here you’d better open me up a nice cold can o’ Schaefer’s for me.”

“Sure thang, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff rubbed his great belly with his great big sunblotched hand.

“And whatever Harvey here’s drinkin’.”

“You betcha.”

Harvey saw that little rat boy Cleb pick up Bull’s switchblade and stick it in his back pocket.

“Harvey Harvey Harvey,” said the Sheriff. He took a pouch of Bull Durham out of his shirt pocket and some papers and started fixing a smoke. “Same ol’ Harvey. How old you now, boy?”

“Old enough,” piped in little Cleb.

“I guess he is, Cleb. I reckon he is.”

The Sheriff put his tongue to the paper.

“You kill you any Commies, boy?”

“Ah’m go-na keel he-um.”

It was Bull again.

Looking over the Sheriff’s shoulder Harvey saw Bull in the doorway with a shotgun and it was aimed at the Sheriff’s back.

“Ah got me a 12-gauge Remington pump-action loaded up with double-ought buck aimed right atcha, Sheriff, so you best just turn around real slow.”

His voice still sounded awful mushy but you could hear what he was saying all right.

The Sheriff turned around real slow, all the while smoothing out his cigarette.

“Now you raise up yo’ hands now Sheriff and step out away from that deadmeat motherfucker.”

The Sheriff put the cigarette all the way into his mouth and gently licked it one more time.

“Now you know I cain’t do that, Bull. If I move you just liable to shoot young Harvey, and then where we gonna be?”

“If’n you don’t move I’m gonna keel you too.”

A tall young woman came into the doorway behind Bull. She carried a large canvas shoulder bag and wore a tan pith helmet, sunglasses, a white shirt and khaki shorts. She tapped Bull on the shoulder. She looked like a movie star.

“Excuse me,” said the woman. I’d like to come in?”

Bull turned his head and the Sheriff dropped his cigarette and his pistol was halfway out of the holster before the cigarette even hit the floor when Bull turned back again and said, “Don’t do it, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff let the pistol slip back into the holster.

“Excuse me?” said the woman.

“Raise yer hands, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff slowly raised his hands chest-high.

“Now step aside.”

“Excuse me,” said the woman. “What is going on?”

“What’s the hold-up, sweety?”

And in came a tall handsome man in sunglasses, an Australian bush hat, and a bright white shirt worn with the tails out over paisley bermuda shorts; Bull turned his head for just a fraction of a second, Harvey pulled the Sheriff’s pistol out of its holster, raised it with both hands over the Sheriff’s shoulder, aimed at Bull’s gut and squeezed the trigger just as Bull turned back to see him do it, the pistol bucked up and roared and Bull caught the slug square in the heart, he staggered back in between the man and the woman with blood pumping out of his chest and fell down backwards into the sunlight as his shotgun blasted a load straight up into the sky, and the last things he saw were the unlit neon sign saying BURT’S HIDEYWAY and the young woman looking out at him with cool beauty better than anything he had ever seen, and he regretted his life, his whole miserable life, he wanted to live, and as the buckshot rained back down on him like black hail out of that bright blue sky he died.

(Click here for Episode Two. Check out the right hand side of this page for listings of links to further episodes, as well as to appreciations of many of Larry's classic films, such as The Vacant City, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, and Calling All Call Girls.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Railroad Train to Heaven", Part Three: the astonishing tale of A. Schnabel, alias the Ant-Man

This section of Arnold Schnabel’s memoir Railroad Train To Heaven picks up precisely where our preceding episode left off, in fact, oddly, in the very same paragraph, continuing the comic book motif which was so brilliantly materialized in the poem “The Hawkman and I”. He is still enjoying the life of Reilly, on leave of absensce from the railroad, in Cape May with his mother. The year is 1963, the month is probably still June.

(Note: Pancho Herrera and Johnny Callison: players for the Philadelphia Phillies. Steve Allen, Victor Borge: witty and popular entertainers of the day.)

(This special broadcast courtesy of the Armed Forces Network in conjunction with the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

I did something I should not have done yesterday. Against not only several doctors’ orders but my own personal experience and supposed good sense, I had one too many last night, all right, perhaps two, what am I saying, three, all right, say four, four too many considering two is my limit and I had six, but no, wait, I think I had seven.     
It was at the Ugly Mug on Washington Street. Normally I prefer the slightly more refined Pilot House, but since I had been to the Pilot House two nights running and still felt like going out for a cocktail I chose “the Mug”.     
All went well, considering, until that sixth Manhattan. I had a sort of conversation with a couple of coast guardsmen, primarily on the efficacy of Pancho Herrera as opposed to Johnny Callison {Callison and Herrera were players on the 1963 Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. — Editor}, and I managed not to disgrace myself. Then a sort of chat with a charming middle-aged couple from Allentown. Well, boring middle-aged couple, but then I was no Steve Allen or Victor Borge in the sparkling repartée department either. Then a blank hour or so staring at the TV and a Yankees-Red Sox game. An hour I shall never retrieve. Then a jumbled sort of exchange of grunts and whinnyings with a couple of young college guys, about God knows what and who cares anyway. Then a period of void vague silent drunkenness, surrounding by chatter and madness, and then it happened.     
It happened again, this leaving of the body, this departure from within myself to without, myself cooly observing the wreckage of myself leaning upon the bar, surrounded by laughing yelling people shouting words that meant nothing even though the beings shouting them thought they meant something, but none of it meant anything, not their words, nor their thoughts, nor them, nor that drunken wreckage leaning upon the bar there, that thing called me.     
I considered leaving it all for good. Just floating away, and this time no punking out and coming back, in no matter how comatose or psychotic a state. Just leaving it all for good.     
Well, obviously I didn’t.     
Somehow I found myself reeling home through the cool salt ocean air. Arriving at my aunts’ house I heaved myself into my accustomed wicker rocker on the porch. By the dim porch-light I saw on the blue wooden floor a pile of my young cousin’s comics, all of which I had read and reread earlier that day. I shoved my hand down and scrabbled them all up, laid them in my lap.     
Which super-hero shall I be tonight? I thought, riffling through the comic books. What about Iron Man, after all I wear a layer of iron around me twenty-four hours a day. Or The Thing, because the way the Thing looks is exactly how I look inside, the Human Torch because I am aflame, Mr. Fantastic because I can stretch myself endlessly, the Invisible Girl because no-one, not even I, sees the real me. Or the Incredible Hulk, because I am scarcely credible and fully a hulk, or Spider-Man because a spider is my soul, but no, here we are: the Ant-Man. Yes, that’s it. I am the Ant-Man. Digging my little hole, crawling about looking for my grains of sugar, crawling back into my hole with my precious sweet cargo, I am Dr. Henry Pym, at your service, sir, yes: The Ant-Man.     
Perhaps I should write a poem based on the above tale.     
But then again, no.

(Scurry over to here for Part Four of Arnold's memoirs. Turn to the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other episodes of Railway Train to Heaven as well as to many of his excellent poems.)

“Shake a Hand” --

Friday, June 15, 2007

“In mask accipitrine...”

This sonnet struck the pages of the Olney Times like a bolt from the heavens on June 22, 1963. Arnold Schnabel was still staying at his aunts’ place in Cape May and apparently still deep in a course of intense close reading of his young cousin’s comic books. (Poem broadcast throughout the free world thanks to the continued generosity of the Arnold Schnabel Society.

“The Hawkman and I”

Or would perhaps I were the Hawkman, fitted out
With a special belt made of Nth metal
And a pair of wings allowing me to fly about
In mask accipitrine and an arsenal
Of ancient weapons and of course my wife
And partner the Hawkgirl, who shares my life
As Carter Hall, archaeologist and curator,
But secretly Katar Hol, a cop from Thanagar,
From which planet I brought the Absorbicon,
And with which I could instantly absorb
Every single thing known by every last human
Who ever lived on this spinning green orb,
All their fears and loves, all their final words;
I should also be able to converse with birds.

(For links to other weirdly weird Arnold Schnabel poems and to his previously unpublished memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, kindly peruse the right hand column of this page.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mrs. Malazewski, the sweet “Angel” of B Street

Mrs. Malazewski, tending her garden, June 1963

Everyone knew Mrs. Malazewski. A widow whose husband Stanley had worked as a tool grinder at the Heintz steel plant for many years, she lived alone in her small rowhome on B Street right across from the factory. (Right up the corner lived the famous poet-laureate of Olney, Arnold Schnabel, and his mother.) Her three children had grown and moved away, and she often greeted the men and boys coming to and from old Stan’s workplace. Often she would invite one or two of the lads to come in for a beer or two while she rolled pie dough with the enormous wooden roller her mother had brought over from Poland. (Mrs. Malazewski herself did not imbibe but she had always kept beer in the house for Stanley when he was alive and she continued to do so after he passed away at the age of forty-eight, the victim of a massive coronary perhaps hastened by his heavy diet of kielbasa and chops, Mrs. Malazewski’s homemade pies, and four quarts of Schmidt’s beer a day.) Soon it became a nightly event for quite a few of the guys to stop over at Mrs. Malazewski’s after work. Wanting only to cover expenses and to make a modest profit, Mrs. Malazewski regretfully had to begin to charge the boys for their beers and shots of Schenley’s whiskey, not to mention the hot brisket sandwiches and rhubarb pie with fresh whipped cream, but her prices still were half of what Pat asked over at his legal Tavern, not to mention the Green Parrot or the Huddle. (And her food was better than at any of those places!)

As business picked up, Mrs. Malazewski had her basement soundproofed, installed a jukebox and an ice machine down there, and even occasionally hosted informal jam sessions featuring off-duty musicians from the nearby Schwarzwald Inn. Evenings were quiet and mellow affairs at Mrs. Malazewski’s but things always picked up after two AM when the legitimate bars closed. Guys from the Heintz plant who had worked the 6PM-to 2AM shift knew they had a nice nearby stopping place where they could drink and talk, play the new pinball machine Mrs. M had brought in, have a quiet game of 8-Ball on the billiard table that now stood where the dining room table used to be, and then stagger happily home before first light.

Everything went fine until that night in November of 1962 when Hank Titana got out of hand.

Hank was an enormous and boisterous stoker at the plant, loud and obnoxious and opinionated, and no one really liked him, not even his own wife and children, in fact especially not his wife and children. (Hank spent almost every cent he earned on booze and gambling, and it was his wife who kept the household running, taking in sewing and making dresses out of her house on Wentz Street.) Only a year before Hank had finished a three-year jolt in Holmesburg for assault-and-battery, and that hadn’t been the first time his penchant for violence had landed him behind bars, either. Hank when he drank tended to act a lot worse than he did sober which was already bad, and unfortunately he drank every day, a lot. Mrs. Malazewski had never had any time for Hank Titana and had banned him from her house many years before when he broke all four legs of her kitchen table one night during an argument about baseball with her late husband Stanley.

However, one fateful cold November evening, after the inevitable had happened and Hank had finally been flagged from every last bar in Olney, he begged Mrs. Malazewski on bended knee and with cap in hand to allow him the honor of patronizing her establishment. He tearfully explained that it was either Mrs. Malazewski’s or sitting in the woods with a bottle for poor him, because his wife wouldn’t let him drink in the house. Mrs. Malazewski listened to his pleading for a while and finally relented, but only after assuring him that he was being allowed in on a trial basis only.

Something happened that night. There was talk of a big fight at Mrs. Malazewski’s, and indeed a few of the guys came in to the plant the next day with black eyes. But one fellow who didn’t come in to the plant was the fearsome Hank Titana.

Hank had disappeared and no one knew where. The word spread that Hank, who was on still on parole for his last conviction, had skipped town after beating a few guys up, fearing to be sent back to the slammer for good as a three-time loser. When his wife finally reported his disappearance a few days later Detective Morris “Big Mo” Berg stopped by and had a little talk with Mrs. Malazewski. Over good hot Maxwell House coffee and warm rhubarb pie she told Big Mo that, yes, there had been a little conniption that night when Hank and a few other boys were visiting, but that she had thrown Hank out on his ear and his filthy old cap after him and told him never to darken her doorway again. Big Mo took a look around the little house, even went out into the tiny yard where Mrs. Malazewski grew hardy rhododenrons able to survive even amidst the harsh fumes constantly wafting by from the factory, and then he thanked Mrs M and left.

After that one unpleasant night it was business as usual at Mrs. Malazewski’s. (Once a month until the last of her four kids turned eighteen Mrs. Titana found an unstamped envelope with a hundred dollars in it slipped through her mail slot late at night; whether this allowance came from some local benefactor or benefactors, or even from the awful Hank Titana himself, trying finally to do right by his family, no one ever knew.)

In 1979 Mrs. Malazewski finally passed away quietly at home. The Heintz plant had closed many years before, and Mrs. Malazewski had eventually retired her speakeasy, although she was always ready to offer a cup of tea or a glass of beer to a neighbor or a passing policeman.

A nice young Korean couple bought the little house from Mrs. Malazewski’s children. The wife, Mrs. Oh, set immediately to work on the backyard garden, which had been sadly neglected since Mrs. Malazewski’s death several months before. Imagine Mrs. Oh’s surprise when, upon digging up the earth in order to lay fresh soil she found the decomposed remains of a big-boned man, his skull crushed. Next to the skeleton lay a large and severely dented rolling pin. Scientific examination proved that the dead man was none other than the long-missing Hank Titana, and that death had been caused by a blow to the head with the rolling pin, which in fact was Mrs. Malazewski’s, brought over by her mother from Poland in 1904.

Big Mo Berg, himself about to retire after thirty-five years on the force, declared the case finally closed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 7: "Section 20"

The talented Mr. Dana Andrews

Section 20 (1961; B&W; comedy/drama; 60 min.;; music by Henry Mancini; a Selmur production, created by Phil Leotardo).

One of the most fondly remembered of Phil Leotardo’s often sadly-truncated TV series, Section 20 was another groundbreaker, paving the way for puzzlingly more-successful shows such as Room 222, Welcome Back, Kotter, and Saved by the Bell.

Phil Leotardo planned Section 20 as a four-year series that would follow the entire high school career, roughly in “real time”, of a group of students, most of them just not very bright, some of them bright but unsocialized, and quite a few both not bright and unsocialized if not downright psychopathic.

The students have all been assigned to the same homeroom in Section 20, the absolute lowest academic section in the enormous and labyrynthine Cardinal O’Moynihan High School (loosely inspired by Philadelphia’s Cardinal Dougherty High School, which did in fact employ the 20-section method). A cast of unknowns (perhaps unfortunately all of them at least 18 years old) played this hard-luck gaggle of misfit freshmen, such as: Waldo (George Chakiris), the dumb kid who wanted to be a poet, but who unfortunately could barely read or write; Argus (Bo Hopkins), the middle-European immigrant boy who was indeed brilliant but who spoke not a word of English; Terry and Jerry (Don and Phil Everly), the twins, each one dumber than the other, but who could sing a song as sweet as honey; Big Mike (Max Baer, Jr.), the big dumb football player; Joey Baldinado (Michael Parks), a smart kid actually, but too above it all to bother studying or doing homework, a real smartass who was riding for a big fall someday. Oh, and Kurt (Richard Beymer), who had previously been a smart kid but who had been hit in the head with a baseball while daydreaming in the outfield, and was now a dumb kid; and also Crazy Eddy (Russ Tamblyn), who was not really dumb, just crazy. And Albert and Tim and Sean and Bob, dumb kids.

The stolid and weary Dana Andrews played Mr. Murphy, the homeroom and history teacher who had seen it all and didn’t like what he had seen and didn’t like what he was seeing now either. He always keeps a pint or two of Early Times in his desk drawer, right next to his blackjack.

Scary Timothy Carey was the scary Mr. Wittmar, math teacher and sadist.

Henry Jones played the loveably gentle Father Fitzhugh, religion teacher.

Richard Jaeckel robustly filled the role of Father Brown, the brawny and handsome gym teacher and solicitous advisor to troubled youths.

Richard Chamberlain played young and idealistic Father Hannigan, English teacher.

Toss in Burl Ives as the Falstaffian principal Monsignor Meegan, Sheree North as Dana Andrews’s hot young wife who sings at the local nightclub “The Huddle”, and Marie Windsor as her wisecracking divorced older sister, and you had a cast to dream for. But yet again America proved itself not yet ready and perhaps not quite worthy of Phil Leotardo’s uncompromising vision of a post-war moral wasteland awash in greed, ignorance, and vapidity. The series was cancelled after only six episodes.

Section 20 has never been re-run, although a quite vigorous underground mob of loners buy and trade bootleg tapes and DVDs with all the zeal of Deadheads who must own soundboard tapes of every single concert (and indeed these "Section 20-Heads" quite often co-exist as Deadheads and Dungeons and Dragons Grand Masters.)

(Click here for more on Section 2o. Turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of other Great Lost TV Shows.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Don't mess with Mario

Read all about it over here.

Railroad Train to Heaven, Part Two: in which Arnold Schnabel meets Mr. Adam Strange

This installment of Arnold Schnabel’s memoir picks up exactly where the previous installment ended. Dateline: June 1963, Cape May, NJ.

Also staying here is my cousin Bert and his wife and three children, all of them squeezed into one small apartment of my aunts’ shambling big old house. How odd that they leave their nice three-bedroom semi-detached home in Lawncrest to cram into these two cramped and stuffy un-airconditioned rooms with a tiny kitchenette and call it their vacation. But I suppose my aunts give them a good deal on the rent, as they do for me and Mom. The one boy, Kevin, sits and reads comic books for much of the day. Nearly every morning he goes to Wally’s cigar store and pool room on Washington Street and trades in his already-used comics (the titles on the covers snipped off) for a fewer number of new used comics. There is some complicated financial formula involved, but the upshot is that for about a quarter a batch he seems always to have at least a half-dozen new used comics to read and obsessively re-read until he wearies of them and trades them in.
He’s an unprepossessing lad, pale, un-athletic, taciturn. I have attempted to engage him in conversation, just to be a good avuncular sort, and I have failed miserably. However, I have taken a liking if not to the boy then to his comic books, and now each day I sit with him on the porch and read them. I wait patiently till he finishes the first one — he won’t let me look at any until he’s “finished” with it. But when he does finish one he passes it magisterially over to me. After we have read all that day's comics we read them all again, but this time more slowly and luxuriously, savoring each word and image.
And so I have been introduced to this new heroic and fantastic world. {See Arnold’s poem, “The Hawkman and I” in the Appendix. — Editor.} I find this very soothing. My own world these past months has grown far too fantastic in itself. It’s a serene pleasure to read the adventures of this Dr. Strange, whose universe makes even mine look fairly mundane. Or another fellow named Strange, Adam Strange, who periodically gets transported by something called a Zeta-Beam to some entire other planet where he is a rather dashing gallant in a skintight suit with a jet pack on his back and a ray gun on his belt. And, of course, he has an attractive girlfriend.
I would like to be this Adam Strange fellow. If only I could find this Zeta-Beam to transport me to some other world. Oh, but that’s right, I have been transported to other worlds. The only thing is I didn’t like much what I found on those worlds, and I had neither jet pack nor ray gun, nor, needless to add, an attractive girlfriend awaiting me there.

(Beam up over to here for Part Three. Turn to the right hand side of this page for links to other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems. All material presented courtesy of the Arnold Schnabel Society. Nihil Obstat, Bishop J. Jonah Graham, SJ).