Saturday, July 28, 2007

"Zombie" update

Dear readers, I have added my "live-blogging" to the première episode of Phil Leotardo's new show Touched by a Zombie.

Just scroll down to the "comments" section, and please free to add your own observations. (But keep it clean!) Check it out over here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"A Town Called Disdain", Episode Seven: Dick, the Native American, and the Chinese whiskey...

Previously in Larry Winchester's great American novel A Town called Disdain (a Quinn/Martin Production): a young soldier named Harvey has just returned home to the depressed town of Disdain, NM. Going right from the bus to the local watering-hole (Burt’s Hideyway) Harvey is forced to shoot dead a local bully (Bull Thorndyke) in self-defense. But it’s okay, Sheriff Dooley saw the whole thing, and in fact Harvey used the sheriff’s pistol. The big rancher Big Jake Johnstone then hires Harvey to act as guide for the mysterious and glamorous couple Dick and Daphne.

Dick, who has been kicking Harvey’s ass at pinball, has gone to the bar for a couple more beers...

“What’ll it be, pardner.”

Dick was overjoyed that the barman had actually said that.

“Two -- two Rheingolds, please.”


Dick looked around. there was a large Indian to his right, maybe forty years old? Fifty? With a long braid yet. Wearing an old University of Hawaii t-shirt. He was staring into an empty shot glass and he had a can of Schaefer next to it and his little area of the Formica bar top was smeared with congealed whiskey and beer and tobacco juice. He smelled kind of like a heap of old sweaty rawhide that had been soaked in beer and whiskey and left out in the sun for a day.

The Indian turned and saw Dick looking at him just as the bartender laid down the two bottles of Rheingold. Dick already had one of the young soldier’s five-dollar bills in his hand.

“You buy me a drink,” said the Indian.

“Uh, sure,” said Dick. He realized he had been rude, albeit unintentionally, in staring that way. “What’re ya havin’, buddy?”

“Chinese whiskey.”

“Chinese -- whiskey?”

“Shen Lee.”

“Shen -- Lee?

Dick made an effort to keep a lid on his suddenly roiling brains.

“Yeah,” said the Indian. “Chinese whiskey, Burt, on the white man.”

Burt the barman looked at Dick.

“Uh, yeah,” said Dick. “One Chinese whiskey.”

His own voice sounded faraway saying this.

“Two,” said the Indian, his voice echoing down through the secret plumbing of Dick’s being. “You drink with me.”

“Well, all right,” said Dick. “Two Chinese whiskeys, Burt.”

Burt went away and the Indian stared at his shot glass. Then Burt came back with a bottle of Schenley’s whiskey and another shot glass. He poured two shots and took the five-dollar bill.

“Well, said Dick, “here’s mud in your eye,” and he raised his glass.

The Indian looked at him with eyes that were impenetrably dark brown with blurry pink whites and then he picked up his glass and drank the whiskey and put the glass down again and went back to staring at the empty shot glass.

Dick drank his whiskey down and Burt came back with three dollars change.

Dick felt better now, feeling the whiskey trickling down through the previously mentioned secret plumbing.

What a great place.

He realized that “Georgy Girl” was playing on the jukebox, and then he felt something warm and soft against his left side and he turned and there was the waitress, Doris.

“Hi there,” she said. She had her tray on the bar top and she was removing empty bottles and glasses from it and putting them on the far side of the bar top.

“Hi there,” said Dick.

She was standing quite close to him and she really had quite the body. She was very rounded, with full-sized breasts, curving full hips, a large but muscular-looking backside, a cute belly bulging under her apron. She was very seriously unloading her tray as he looked at her and when she had finished she looked up at him. She was wearing cowgirl boots with heels but Dick was still about eight inches taller than her and after several years with a lanky long thing like Daphne he rather got a kick out of the height advantage. He could see down the top of her cowgirl outfit into her cleavage with its black bra and moist flesh. She had a really strange perfume on. It smelled like cactus and mesquite, and what? Like raspberry Jell-O?

“Hope you’re enjoyin’ the free show,” she said, but she was smiling, and thank God she had good teeth.

“I’m sorry,” said Dick. “You’re quite beautiful.”

She actually blushed. She turned away and then back to him.

“You go on. A beautiful wife like you got.”

“Sure she’s beautiful. But so are you.”

“Oh go on.”

“I think you’re a corker.”

That thing was happening where he was talking but it was like someone else speaking. In some minor Hollywood movie from 1958. Gig Young, or John Agar.

She lowered her eyes and she was still blushing.

Dick continued to look at her, which he wouldn’t normally have done, but of course he was tripping his brains out, so there you were. She shimmered before him, all of ripe womanhood pulsed and vibrated within her in her polyester cowgirl outfit.

Oh, boy. The things you sacrificed for marriage.

“Well, back to work,” she chirped.

“Yeah,” said Dick, weakly. “See ya later.”

She turned and went back into the smoky throng with her tray.


This was Dick’s Indian friend.

“What?” said Dick. And this sounded to him like what what what what...

“She wants to have sex with you, man.”

“Oh,” said Dick. “Well --”

Dick showed the guy his wedding-ring finger.

“So what?” said the Indian. “You gonna deny the woman a little happiness? What’s wrong with you?”

Well, there wasn’t much you could say to that. Dick got his two bottles of beer and turned to head back to young Harvey and the pinball machine.

The song on the jukebox now was “I had Too Much to Dream Last Night”.

Across the room Daphne was chatting with the soldier, leaning in that way she had against the pinball machine.

Ah well. She had told him more than once that she would cut his balls off if he ever cheated on her.

And he wouldn’t put it past her.

(Illustrative painting by Greg Rook. Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And for links to previous episodes of A Town Called Disdain, check the right hand column. And remember, you will be tested on this material!)

And now a word from The Seekers:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

“Have you heard the news about the lost boy?”

For a few months now we have been presenting the poems of the "Rhyming Brakeman" Arnold Schnabel consecutively in the order in which they were first published in that estimable journal the Olney Times, but in view of our recent broadcast of the three-part series “The Testament of Joey Ryan” (also originally printed in the Olney Times), we are going to skip ahead a month or so and give you the following sonnet, which originally appeared August 24, 1963.

The reason we are temporarily breaking out of our chronological sequence is that the “lost boy” of this poem is none other than Joey Ryan himself, disappeared on that fateful Feast of the Assumption, August 15.

Obviously Arnold is still enjoying his mandated leave-of-absence (on half-pay) from the Reading Railroad, following his complete mental breakdown the previous winter.

At this point in his oeuvre, to say that a particular Arnold Schnabel poem is oddly disquieting would seem redundant, and so we simply give you, without further preamble (and with the continuing indulgence of the Arnold Schnabel Society):

The Lost Boy

Mounting the promenade this evening, by
Frank’s Playland to walk down to that strand
I think of as my own private beach, I
Saw a rabble by the hotdog stand
All staring at the sea and acting weird.
I asked a man what was up. He said,
“Some kid got drowned, he just plain disappeared.
That’s his mom, with the hat on her head,
And that’s his dad, down by the lifeguard stand.”
Mother and father gazed out to sea,
Attached each to the other by a hand.
A cop came up and said, “Nothing to see.”
I moved along, with my smokes and my towel,
And from the beach I heard a woman howl.

(For other Arnold Schnabel poems, and for selections from his memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, please see the right hand column of this page.)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

“The Testament of Joey Ryan”, Part Three

Herewith the concluding act of Joey Ryan’s long-lost masterpiece of confessional masochism.

Our previous episode left young Joey -- who has lost his bathing trunks in the ocean on the Feast of the Assumption in the fabulous summer of ’63 -- burrowed in the sand under that Cape May paragon of amusement arcades, Frank’s Playland.

I slept under Frank’s Playland for what I am told were five-and-a-half years.

I lived off of seaweed, clams, sand crabs, spider crabs, helmet crabs, jellyfish, sand sharks and other sea creatures which I would catch up in my bare hands and eat, as the Japanese do, raw. I also did not turn my nose up at people’s cast-off garbage, the remains of hotdogs and other tasty seaside fare which I would scrabble up out of the waste bins left outside of Frank’s overnight.

And of course I prayed and moaned for deliverance. Yes, I prayed. Funny how your religion returns when you are cold and hungry and otherwise barred from from life’s grand bacchanal.

In summer I would stand chest deep in the water and watch the other bathers, who thought, no doubt, that I was one of them, a human being -- albeit a scruffy example of the species -- bathing, enjoying his vacation.

Often of course I voluptuously entertained thoughts of the keenest impurity as I regarded the girls in their scanty bathing suits, so close, ha ha, so far. (I may have been condemned to an extreme state of asceticism, but sanctity lay still light years beyond my grasp, and indeed I should wager that were it, sanctity, right before my nose I would still not grasp it, unless ordered to do so by someone in authority.)

Unable unfortunately to confess to a priest I consoled myself nonetheless with the thought that perhaps my exile was in itself some small atonement for my lustful imaginings and clockwork self-abuse. For if the summers were merely lonely and hot and lust-ridden, the winters were long and cold and bitter.

These cold months I spent in near-hibernation, leaving my bed and blanket of sand only to forage for food and for scraps of newspaper or rags with which to insulate my body from the elements. Back in my burrow I would lie with my eyes barely above the sand and watch icebergs, whitely efflorescent against the grey sea and the grey sky, slowly drifting past the shore. Sometimes great battleships (heading, unbeknownst to me, for some new war in Southeast Asia) would majestically cross the horizon, occasionally for sport blasting some giant iceberg into smithereens which would descend like snow in slow motion sparkling from the sky into the dark water and disappear.

Once, during a tempest, a tidal wave threw an enormous blue whale up onto the beach near where I lay, and I listened to its thunderous cries, louder than the storm, for hours, till National Guardsmen came and put it out of its misery with a barrage of machine gun and small weapons fire.

Ah, yes, long months, months of near-despair, of delirium, of increasingly canine prayer, but also, after a while -- I think I first felt this around the middle of the second winter -- of ecstasy, of a sort, if I may dare to use such a term, brief scattered bouts of a tawdry ecstasy indeed but an ecstasy nonetheless, of solitude, of separation, from my kind, from history, from the world. Perhaps what I felt at these times was a sort of Reader’s Digest version of what famous spiritual wags like the Buddha or Jakob Boehme allegedly felt. “Psychologists, over to you.”

Often I would dream I was lying awake in my burrow, breathing in the cold sea air and musing, musing, and I would awaken and breathe the same cold air, and lie and muse, and fall asleep to dream again.

And I began to forget, almost, that other world, and the possibility of living in any other world than the one of sand and sea and sky and the damp brown timbers of the underbelly of Frank’s. This, I decided, or noticed, is life. I cursed my abysmal lack of imagination in supposing myself alone, as if I had not been alone before my exile, as if we were not all alone inextricably. I was no big deal. I was doing what everyone else does: scratching for food, eating, drinking, defecating, micturating, masturbating, sleeping, dreaming, howling, giggling, sobbing, et cetera. No big deal.

A sort of peace came over me, no, not peace, a resignation, to taking the pricks with the kicks; getting a modicum of food in one’s belly; and going to sleep. Space enough had I in such a prison.

After all I was not without my little amusements. The girls, in summer, I have already mentioned the girls, many of whose faces and figures I became familiar with, having attained the ability to distinguish one from another, and I would look forward to seeing this one or that, and I would even come to recognize the laughter of a given girl, and I’d try to imagine what it would be like to be, say, platonic friends with her, or even, in some fantastically improbable mental scenario, to commit the act of darkness with her, as my otiose seed mingled again with the ocean in which its ancestors had wriggled eons before. Sometimes these dryads or is it naiads would catch me gazing at them, and I would avert my eyes, turn, submerge myself, and glide away swiftly underwater, to crouch and brood hidden in some favored cool cranny in the rocks, not unlike Browning’s Caliban.

Summer nights I would lie in the darkness under Frank’s and listen to the rock ‘n’ roll music coming from Sid’s Tavern across the street, the drunken laughter and badinage of young people my own age having what I only could assume to be a good time. And, more than once, I listened, breathless, to the labored breathing, the profane ejaculations, of lovers, and not only young lovers, trysting in the sand scant feet from where I lay. These strange pantings and tender mutterings were a sweet music to my ears, a music of an intimate world I’d never known and most likely never shall know.

And then the hurricanes, the storms, the tornadoes, when all of nature in its mindless spite seemed hellbent on ripping me loose from the tenuous dreamy grasp I held on life! When I knew high adventure at its rawest; clutching desperately to the pilings as the ocean tried mightily, furiously, to suck me into its raging bosom! How I howled, and screamed, and laughed, how I cursed! Ha ha.

The days and nights passed. Perhaps after all I accepted my lot with no more whining than had been emitted by your average Joe in similar circumstances. I was not, generally speaking, happy. I gather that even fabulously rich Hollywood stars are not, generally speaking, happy.

Shuffling back over these notes to see if I have left out anything important I see of course that I have done so.

Briefly then: fleas. These fellow creatures were indeed a problem for some time, as they had made a home in my hair and beard, both of which had grown to Christlike proportions, although I certainly claim no other similarity, to Him that is, not the fleas. One dawn however I discovered a small pocketknife in the sand. I honed it on a metal bracket under Frank’s, and with the aid of sea water I shaved my face, armpits, and crotch. I now looked monkish indeed, I’m sure, but I had solved the problem of those pesky vermin. This knife also came in handy for the catching and dispatching of all forms of seafood, not to mention rats, who soon learned not to consider my sleeping head a convenient midnight snack.

My hunting and foraging, I have also neglected to mention, was done usually at first dawn, and usually among or alongside of the great rocks of the jetty or sea-break or whatever it’s called closest to Frank’s. If you were wondering how I would go undiscovered into the water on summer days when I stood gazing at the girls, the answer is that I would slip out into the water at dawn and stay in it till dark. At first, to avoid sunburn, I would spend most of the day in one of my crannies in the rocks, my head draped in a turban of cool seaweed, but eventually my skin toughened to the point where I could stand in the water under the blazing sun all day if I wished. And when night fell I would scurry back to my little home under Frank’s.

Oh yes, what did I drink. At night, when it rained, I would lie with my gaping mouth stationed under a drainpipe running from the roof of Frank’s, and so would slake my thirst. On summer days when it rained I would crouch in one of my rock crannies with my mouth turned upward open to the sky, and so receive its bounty. Late at night when my thirst became too great to bear I would risk a lightning commando raid to the water fountain on the promenade near Frank’s. Never once was I apprehended.

Every year I would know when the Feast of the Assumption had come because I would see my old mother hobbling into the surf with her beads, praying, perhaps for her lost son.


One night I was awakened by a flashlight burning in my eyes. I did not resist the policeman. At first they thought I was a lunatic. But I was hardly that; merely an -- adventurer. My mother came down on the bus and fetched me home. She is Irish, and Catholic, and strangeness is not, I think, especially strange for her.

These past days I have lived quietly here, reading Augustine, Hopkins, a book of humorous zen literature, the National Enquirer, Spillane; I’m becoming accustomed, addicted, once again to warmth and to plenitude of food, to the snug warm flannel of my pajamas, to breakfasts of sausages and eggs and buttery stacks of pancakes washed down with numerous cups of strong piping hot tea, and to the cold bracing feel of an Ortlieb’s beer bottle in my grasp.

I feel little different from the way I felt, or did not feel, before my capture, only warmer, and not hungry. The doctor has pronounced me in excellent physical, if not mental, shape. Perhaps there is something to be said for the outdoors life. Still, now that I have tried it, I have no desire to go back to it.

One quaint item: each night since my resurrection I have awakened from my loutish sleep, suddenly, in pitch darkness, and excruciatingly I burrow back deeper into the sand, snuggle my newspapers closer to my chest.

Then I awake for real, open my eyes and see the reassuring crucifix on the wall glowing in the dark.

A young German film-maker named Werner Herzog came by here, we chatted, and he expressed interest in filming my story. He offered me the hefty sum of five hundred dollars for the adaptation rights to this memoir, plus something called “points”; I sent him to my attorney.

My father has spoken to my old boss at the auto-parts warehouse, and my former position awaits me when I feel myself ready.

(Thus abruptly ends another entry in what we call the "Tales from the O-Zone". Check out the right hand column for links to more of these gems.)

Friday, July 20, 2007

“The Testament of Joey Ryan”, Part Two

Herewith the second episode of this sad but all-too-true tale from the “O-Zone”, as Olney’s younger residents are wont to refer to that humble district which has produced more eccentrics, madmen, scoundrels, idiots, and people who never move out of their parents’ homes than any other neighborhood in history.

In "Part One" Joey Ryan gave us the run-down on his markedly insignificant and vaguely miserable childhood and young manhood. Cashiered from St. Odo’s seminary for conduct unbefitting even a would-be priest, Joey has returned to his parents’ humble row home back in the old 'hood. His mother tells him it’s time for him to find a job.

And so I began to study the job ads each morning over my tea and toast. For six fairly pleasant months I searched languidly for a job and was refused by one and all, thanks to my previously referred-to disquieting, unprepossessing appearance, and to my lack of experience and general mumbling air of being a non-self-starter.

My parents suggested I go to college, but at the time it seemed simpler and more pleasant just to slip into some quiet mindless job and, I hoped, be left alone. I seeked the oblivion of some unassuming, 19th Century-style clerkship.

At last, by some quiet miracle, my father was able to secure me a post in an automobile-parts warehouse down in the Harrowgate district. It took me weeks and weeks to learn the routine, which was mostly paperwork of the sort that in a decade or so will be relegated to chimpanzees. I nearly suffered a nervous breakdown, but at last I was able to perform my menial tasks mechanically with only a mild degree of incompetence. Supposedly the job was a “trainee” position, but it soon became tacitly understood that I had found my niche, my level of incompetence according to what I believe is called the Peter Principle, and that there I would stay, until removed by old age, by insanity, by assassination.

Of course I continued to live at home. There I was safe, somewhat. With my new wealth I bought a Sears record player and lots of records, classical rock, pop, swing, mambo, samba, Nigerian drum music, Chinese jazz, Argentine protest songs. I bought albums I never played.

Then I discovered the solace of beer.

It all started when I joined my father once in sharing a quart of beer at the dinner table. I had always before drunk milk. Then, one night a few weeks later, I had the audacity to shuffle fearfully into a bar and order a quart of Ortlieb’s to go. This I quickly took home to my room and greedily drank. Before long it was beer by the case. I would come home, sit in the kitchen and drink a pint bottle of Ortlieb’s. Then I would drink two more bottle with dinner. Then I would take a walk. Then I would come home and drink beer in my room while listening to Xavier Cugat or reading Lautréamont or Mickey Spillane until I fell asleep or passed out.

Soon enough I dared to go into a Polish bar near my place of employment at lunchtime, and I developed the habit of drinking four or five mugs a day there while eating the daily lunch special, my favorite being Tuesday’s kielbasa-and-kraut.

This discovery of beer marked another turning point in my life. I can honestly say that it, beer, replaced masturbation as my raison d’être, just as masturbation had replaced religion.

I was content in a loutish way but this cheap contentment was not to last.


It was a burning bright day on the beach, aswarm with the near-naked, the ugly, the beautiful, the tanned, and the burning.

Huffing my stout mother screwed with difficulty our ancient wood umbrella pole into the sand as I made a few sympathetic sounds and gestures. She opened it up and I quickly ducked into its shade, fearful of the sun’s rays on my legs and arms although I wore an old CYO t-shirt and a straw sombrero to protect the most readily scorched areas of my flesh.

“Come on, Joey,” said my mother, extricating her worn wooden rosary beads from her reticule, “let’s get it over with.”

Obediently I arose from where I squatted, dapperly throwing my sombrero to the blanket but prudently retaining my t-shirt.

It was hot and bright, I repeat, and now, especially after the grueling ride to the shore in our Hudson, I longed for, whined inwardly for, a beer, to exult where my irreligious father stood even now at the bar at Sid’s across from the beach, slurping a cold draught Pabst from a chilled icy mug. Where forthwith I intended fully to go as soon as this ridiculous immersion in the Bishop-blessed waters on the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption was completed.

The water rushed cold over my hot toes. Screaming children splashed all about me. A few feet to my right my mother marched slowly into the waves, beads strung in her fingers at her plump bosom, her lips moving in prayer. A bit embarrassed, cowardly, I forged at an angle away from her. Waves surged up against my frail knees and thighs. An idling tanned bikinied girl captured my eye, and silently I worshipped her. Then she danced forward and knifed into a swell. I watched her coursing, sleeking swiftly through the water shimmering over her gleaming golden back and legs. And, much as it went against all my instincts, I became possessed of an urge to attempt myself a feeble parody of this healthful exercise. Hopping, I furiously surged seaward till I was nearly crotch deep in the waves, then hurled myself forward, arms stretched forth and fingers pointed out straight to the womb of the ocean. Underwater, eyes agape, all was murky, brown and silent, silent but for a soft, sea-like roaring in my ears. I stroked ahead submerged, observing the rippled unquiet sand beneath, pebbled softly, charmingly without the rusted bent hulks of beer cans and stalagmites of broken beer bottles one had expected. Stroking again, I wistfully grew almost lighthearted, and wished almost that I might forever swim thus soundlessly and mindlessly in submarine sublimity. Ha ha. At last I broke the surface, gasping. Righting myself I found my body now chest deep in water and felt myself almost bold. I felt, I had to admit, cool, refreshed, yes, “invigorated”. Perhaps even that beer at Sid’s would now taste better. Then I noticed an even more unwonted sensation, of freedom, of coolness, and I traced this feeling to my loins. Thinking perhaps to caress myself discreetly there whilst eyeing the various bikini-clad girls splashing all around me I put a hand to my so-called member of virility, and then my blood ran cold in horror.

I had lost my bathing trunks.

I was, thus, but for my CYO t-shirt, naked.

Desperately I cast my eyes about me for the white, red-trimmed trunks, but they were gone, gone.

I was trapped.

My mother I could see dimly, vaguely, through the heat haze and my welling tears, as in a dream, plodding back to our blanket and umbrella. To call to her for help would be useless. She was hard of hearing, as well as extremely shortsighted.

I was trapped. I trembled, a great teardrop blurted from my eye and fell to be absorbed in the green ocean lapping at my chilling chest; I regarded helplessly the many people before me frolicking and tossing their bodies about in the waves. I was not able to ask them for assistance.

I turned my eyes upward to the great immense bright blue ceiling of the sky. Gulls wheeled about a long banner pulled by a bi-plane undoubtedly rented by the good Reverend McIntyre, the banner advertising ALL IS VANITY: ECC. 1:2. Far above, wispy clouds hung motionless as if painted to the blue vault.

There was nothing to do.

But one thing.

Submerging myself to the nose I glided over to the rock jetty and there I hid myself in a cool mossy barnacled cranny.

Soon enough I saw them searching for me, and I crouched even lower, a mass of seaweed crowning my skull for further disguise and for protection from the sun. Already perhaps I had inklings that this adventure was to be in the nature of a spiritual trial, my forty days in the desert so to speak. Ha. Not that I had much spirit to be tried.

That night I crept and hid under Frank’s Playland, which is supported by pilings driven into the sand. I could hear the plunking and ringing of the pinball machines above me, the sound of happy voices. I burrowed into the sand, and covered myself up, except for my head.

If animals can survive naked, I thought, so too can I.

(To be continued.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"The Testament of Joey Ryan", Part One

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this special three-part presentation, “The Testament of Joey Ryan”, written of course by one Joey Ryan. Originally published in three successive issues of the Olney Times in 1969, we can thank our intrepid correspondent Pierce Inverarity for digging this one out of the basement files at the Oak Lane Library.


My exploit seems to have captured the interest of the nation. What interests the nation however is of little interest to me. What interests me is the money I am receiving for writing this article. Also, I must admit to a nagging, no doubt despicable compulsion to “tell my story”. But the money is reason enough to tell it.

You are doubtless acquainted with the bare bones. Five summers ago I went with my mother on Assumption Day to Cape May, New Jersey, to step into the blessed waters. My mother after her dip returned safely to our blanket, but turning, she saw me not. Searching, she did not find me. I was declared lost and presumed drowned. Five and a half years later, one night in the dead of winter, a Cape May policeman found me sleeping burrowed in the sand under Frank’s Playland, naked but for a crude wrapping of newspapers and a tattered CYO t-shirt. I was taken into custody. The next day my mother arrived, the Mayor ordered vagrancy and public indecency charges dropped, and my mother took me on the bus to our modest row home in the Olney section of Philadelphia.

I told the police only my name and address, and I refused to speak to the news media, even when such notables as John Facenda, “Wee Willie” Webber and Tom Snyder begged me for interviews.

It is not easy to speak the truth. And why, I thought, compound my lies, my half-truths, my mumbling, with reporters’ lies, their straying attention, their perhaps faulty hearing? But here perhaps I wax grandiloquent: I was, more likely, merely too embarrassed to speak.

Nevertheless, the people at the Olney Times are paying me, and paying me well ($225!) to tell my story, so here it is. How much of it is lies no one will ever know, not even, doubtless, myself.

(And, as, you have double-doubtless already gathered from all of the above, you are dealing here with a smacked-ass, a whack-off, Neither could this adventure have happened to anyone but a smacked-ass, a whack-off, nor could anyone but a smacked-ass and a whack-off have the gall to recount his absurd adventure for mere money and the previously alluded-to revolting desire to “tell all”, to lay bare his wretched heart.)


All my life I had no friends. Torturers and enemies, but no friends. I did have my mother, my religion, my books. Along about my freshman year of high school I began to lose my religion. Puberty like an enormous hot viscous flood flowed over me, my religion struggled for air, it thrashed about, it drowned. And, when puberty receded with its wreckage, the bloated pale corpse of my childhood religion bobbed away with it. As once I had spent hours straining to adore a a Christ Whose Presence in the gleaming gold starburst of the monstrance would not give me a single word or sign and thus grant me ecstasy, now I spent hours lusting after females I could only dream of touching, and who no doubt if given the opportunity and even great sums of money would not even dream of touching me.

I soon resigned myself to frequent self-abuse, to a constant state of mortal sin. I continued to go to Mass with my mother each Sunday, but Saturday afternoons when I left the house supposedly to go to Confession I would pass the church and walk about in Fisher Park, sit on a bench, look at the multitudes of decaying or utterly decayed fallen leaves lying still or scattered in mounds, listen to the wind rustling the leaves living and dead, listen to the chaos murmuring, roaring within my head and without.

Or sometimes I would just go to a matinée at the Fern Rock if they were showing something that looked good, like a good Roman movie like Return of the 300 Spartans or a western like Six Bullets For Curly Russell.

At Cardinal Dougherty High School, I was a mediocre, lazy student, and I made no close friends and participated in no extra-curricular activities except the CYO -- the Catholic Youth Organization -- and that was only at the behest of my mother.

I often felt nostalgic for the religious fanaticism of my youth -- at least then life had held hope. Now, with religion replaced by continual lust, I had little to hope for. I was absolutely incapable of even speaking to a female within three or four decades of my own age, with the exception of nuns of course. My body was flaccid, thin, wraithlike, almost ectoplasmic, my skin was pale, my hair weak and bland; I looked slightly dead; I possessed none of the social graces.

I might mention that my mother, an Irish immigrant of great piety, had always expected me to become a priest. Perhaps she saw my congenital strangeness as an indication that I was not intended for the secular life, as indeed I am doubtless not. As high school graduation approached I saw little reason for disappointing her so I allowed her to send away for the appropriate forms and to arrange interviews with priests; soon I found myself accepted at St. Odo’s Seminary, in Wyndmoor.

At the orientation for the seminary I found many different types, including a few who were seemingly strongly influenced by their mothers in entering “the Sem”, but none, apparently, like myself, who were doing this only because they had nothing else to do, believed in nothing, and were willing to be pushed in whatever direction they were pushed.

After the first couple of weeks it became obvious even to me that one of the two long seminarians’ tables in the refectory was occupied by “straight”, ostentatiously masculine would-be Pat O’Briens, while at the other sat homosexuals running the gamut from heartily discreet to flamingly handkerchief-waving. I realized this all at once somehow one lunch after I had been sitting at the “gay” table quite unwittingly since the beginning. I am not a worldly person, and things obvious to others are often the deepest mysteries to me. Anyway, I was deeply shocked, or rather as deeply shocked as I was capable of being shocked, which is to say not very deeply I suppose. I had familiarized myself in my vast readings with the horrors of history, I had even in high school written a trashy pustulent historical novel called The Warrior Pope. I quickly identified the situation as but a small seediness in the sprawling tapestry of Church history. That evening at supper I sat at the “straight” table.

After grace the young man next to me, a big nervous brute called Reilly, said, “What’s the matter, have a tiff with one of your boy friends?”

I said nothing, but picked up a bowl of steaming cabbage and emptied it onto his head.

I was saved from destruction by others at the table, but later that evening I was ordered to see Monsignor O’Mara, the head of the seminary, in his office.

“Why are you here, Joey?” His face was red, the pores gaping, doubtless to allow the easier evaporation of the fifth of Old Crow he was reputed to consume daily.

“I am here so as not to disappoint my mother. Among other reasons.”

“But do you not feel, yourself, that you have a vocation, a direct calling from God to be His priest?” He seemed very tired.

“No, monsignor, this I do not feel.”

“Well, then, Joey, perhaps you shouldn’t be here.”

“Perhaps, monsignor, I shouldn’t be anywhere.”

“Don’t be a wiseguy, Joey. Nobody likes a wiseguy.”

“I have never been liked. If I wish to be a wiseguy I see no reason why I should not indulge myself that pitiful pleasure.”

“Well, Joey, do as you like, but you’ll find that, in this life...”

And so he went on, perhaps wisely, that is to say with words of wisdom.

The next morning I left the seminary and returned to the familial row home in Olney. I took the train into Suburban Station, took the Broad Street Subway to Fern Rock Station, and the Y bus to home. It was a bright fall morning. The streets were almost empty. Students were at school, workers at work. I shared the bus mostly with old women with shopping bags. I got off at the corner of Fifth and Mascher and walked up to our house. The door was unlocked, and I let myself in. My mother was in the kitchen, drinking tea. I had phoned and “told her the score”. I sat down at the table and she poured me a cup.

“Well,” she said, “some are called and some are not. Some are meant for the life of the priest and some are meant for the life of the world.”

“Yes, but what am I meant for?” I have always been a self-pitying wretch.

“Now you must find a job, Joey.”

I had never worked a day in my life.

“Perhaps Dad could get me into his firm,” I said. This spoken weakly, a sound like a rain-soaked squirrel running over to a peanut shell he has no doubt is empty.

“Oh you’re not serious, Joey. You could never do figures.” My dad was an accountant.

“Perhaps I could sweep up, or attend the lavatory.”

“No, Joey, you must find your own way in the world.”

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Eight: just clouds

This begins the second notebook of the dozens that make up the previously unpublished memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, that poet laureate not only of Olney but of sensitive souls everywhere.

He is obviously still in the massive but decrepit Victorian boarding house of his three maiden aunts, along with his mother, his young cousin, and various unmentioned boarders and other family members who were coming and going constantly but seemingly making little impression on the poet.

This would be mid-July, 1963.

(Click here to see our previous chapter.)

Somehow I have let two weeks or so slip by since my last entry in these my memoirs, but I’ve not been completely idle.     
Just this morning I added the finishing touches to, and mailed off to the Olney Times, my weekly poem, on the subject of my new daily occupation of swimming. {See Arnold’s poem “Swimming”, in the listing of his poems on the right hand column of this site. — Editor.}     
Occasionally I do little odd-jobs about the house, but there  isn’t much for me to do, what with my three aunts and Mom all looking to keep busy. But they know I’m willing and able to leap up from my comic books or paperback thrillers at a moment’s notice should some task present itself that calls for a man’s strong back or long reach.     
But my aunts actually have a handyman who has worked for them for years, an ancient and somewhat incomprehensible Negro named Charlie Coleman, and I hate to take any of Charlie’s work away from him. So when this week a rain of shingles fell from the roof in a storm and my Aunt Elizabetta asked me if I would like to replace them, I declined and said it was probably a job more suited to Charlie’s talents. To be honest I think she was perhaps hoping I would do the job for free, but, too bad. Charlie needs to earn a living, and my aunts can well afford what little they pay him. They all worked the switchboards for Bell for forty or fifty years and they’ve got nice little pensions as well as what they make from their rents and various canny investments over the years.     
(Not to mention that they, like my mother, never spend money on anything but the bare necessities. To my knowledge none of these good women has ever had a meal in a restaurant, nor has any of them ever had a single drop of any alcoholic beverage, nor smoked a cigarette. I don’t think any of them has ever read a book, or even a magazine or newspaper, except to look for supermarket coupons or to read obituaries.)     
When Charlie and his son or grandson arrived to fix the roof I did bestir myself long enough to spot the ladder for them while they climbed up to the roof. Charlie spoke to me before I did this, but I couldn’t tell you what he said, beyond (I think) thanking me for the spot. His son or grandson said not a word.     
I returned to my place on the porch where I was sitting in “my” wicker rocker reading comic books alongside my young cousin, who had not remarked, nor even glanced up, at either my departure or my return.     
But the noise of Charlie and his offspring’s work distracted me, so I got up to take a walk...     
These are the days of our lives.
Oh, the swimming.     
I had gone swimming in the ocean now and then since coming down here, but I didn’t much enjoy it. Too many people, too much sun.     
Then one day, maybe it was the day after my so-called date with Rhonda or Mona or whatever her name was, it occurred to me to take an early-evening swim along that long curving cove that sweeps from the so-called fishing jetty way on down past the abandoned World War II bunker to Cape May Point, with its white lighthouse sticking up like an accusing finger into the sky. There was no one about at all. I guess you’re not even supposed to swim there. There are no lifeguards posted there even during the day, and the currents are alleged to be treacherous. I walked down almost half way to the Point, then took off my flip-flops and worked my way down the pebbly shingle into the water. I dove in, and swam out, and it’s true, the waves and currents did feel strong, but after I got out to a depth where I could no longer touch the slimy bottom with my feet the water was calmer, and I swam around for a bit until I got tired, then headed in, exhausted and heaving for breath.     
I lay on my back on the towel I’d brought with me, staring up at the greying sky. Then I had a cigarette from the pack I’d left on the towel. This was good.     
The next morning my muscles were so stiff I could barely get out of bed, but that evening I went down to “my” beach again, and swam for an even longer time, and went out farther.     
Now, after a couple of weeks of daily swimming, already I am so strong I can swim as far out as about a mile, and I like to stop after a while, and turn, keeping myself afloat with a steady movement of my arms and legs, looking back to the rocking shore.    
 That’s what I wrote the poem about.     
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes have a slight urge just to keep going, to swim out endlessly toward the horizon, but so far I’ve always come on back in. (Obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this.)     
Suicide is a mortal sin, after all.     
But I don’t think this urge is necessarily a wish for death, no, it’s just an urge to go, to go outward, away from the world I know, to escape that world and my absurd place in it.     
What’s the rush, after all, that day will come, who knows when, but it will, I’ll escape the world as we all do.     
I swim back, gloriously exhausted, and each day it’s later in the evening when I stagger back up the shingle to my towel and my cigarettes and lighter, my old wallet and my t-shirt. This evening I lay there on my back for some time, staring up at the sky which had turned deep blue during my hour-long swim, the stars twinkling by the thousands, I didn’t know their names, had no desire to know their names.     
I thought I saw Jesus in the stars, but now I’m pretty sure it was just some wispy clouds, that and wishful thinking. I lit up a smoke, and headed back in to town. I stopped at Sid’s Tavern for a beer.

(Click here to go to the next stage of Arnold's journey. For links to previous installments of Railroad Train to Heaven, and to many of his Oak Lane Library Award-winning poems, check out the right hand column of this page.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Olney’s own "Patrick, Keith & Eddy": from the Schwarzwald Inn to Einstein Hospital

Local boys Patrick “Mule” Mulholland (above, center), Keith Buhler (right) and Eduardo “Eddy” Cintanello (left) formed their popular singing ensemble soon after their graduation from Olney High in 1969. War was raging in Vietnam but back here in the good old “O-Zone” (as Olney’s young people even then referred to their native beloved “hood”) it was party-time all the time wherever these three young scamps lit up the scene. Soon they landed the regular Tuesday “Young Folks’ Night" gig at the Schwarzwald Inn, and delighted the “in crowd” with their scalding renditions of top hits like “Baby I’m-a Want You”, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, “Seven Rooms of Gloom” and “Judy in Disguise”.

When not wowing the young set at the Schwarzwald, Patrick, Keith & Eddy (or “PK&E” as their fans dubbed them) kept busy as bees playing weddings, bar mitzvahs, sweet sixteens and anniversaries. People were amazed at the orchestral sounds this awesome threesome (Patrick: baritone voice and electric bass; Keith: tenor voice, keyboards and drum machine; Eddy: incredibly deep bass voice and electric guitars) could fill even the largest VFW hall with.

All went well until the notorious “Greenberg Wedding Incident" of June, 1974. Apparently the lads’ tearjerking version of “We’ve Only Just Begun” as their final encore of the evening was so intense that the ladies just couldn’t take it any more. In the parking lot of the Lord Cheltenham Tavern later that night the boys entertained, in their ’67 Volkswagen “tour bus”, not only three of the bridesmaids but the bride herself. So far, so good, the sort of story the guys could have dined out on for life, except for the fact that the unlocked rear doors of the van were suddenly thrown open by the very drunk Charles “Chuck” Greenberg, the groom himself, with several of his Temple University wrestling team buddies.

Nobody ever said that Patrick, Keith & Eddy couldn’t sing and play. They could definitely sing and oh boy did they know how to play. But they sure as hell didn’t know how to fight. After an average of three months in the hospital for each of the boys, and several more months of gentle convalescence, it was almost a year before the lads felt able to start performing again.

In that year though a new craze had begun to sweep the nation: disco. The boys knew that in order to compete they would have to change their act. Adapting the look was a mere matter of a trip down to Krass Brothers for some new white polyester suits, and adapting their sound was no issue at all for these rapscallions who had previously gone from a Temptations cover to an Elvis tune to a Bobby Goldsboro ballad to "Stairway to Heaven" all in the same medley without batting an eyelash.

The problem was this damned new obsession with dance. Performers were now expected to execute the most fantastic choreography whilst singing and playing. What could Patrick, Keith & Eddy do, Patrick having had both kneecaps broken, Keith having lost his left leg above the knee, and Eddy now able to walk only with the aid of crutches?

Reluctantly, they changed their name to “The Gimps” and an exciting new era began for the band once known, and remembered fondly, as Patrick, Keith & Eddy.

(For more fabulous "Tales from the O-Zone" and further "Legends of the Schwarzwald" check out the right hand column.)

Here was a Patrick, Keith & Eddy audience fave back in the day:

"A Town Called Disdain", Episode Six: Dick and Daphne; the plot thickens but does not congeal

Previously in Larry Winchester's sprawling epic A Town Called Disdain (now presented uncut for the very first time): On a hellishly hot day in September 1969, young Harvey, recently discharged from the army, returns to his home town of Disdain, NM. A spot of bother in the local roadhouse (Burt's Hideyway) results in a local lout's being shot through the heart. The local bigshot Big Jake Johnstone hires Harvey on the spot as guide for a mysterious couple called "Dick and Daphne Smith" who will be staying at his ranch. Big Jake attempts to put the moves on Daphne in the back room as Dick and Harvey play pinball out in the main bar room.

Note the sudden change from third to first person, a choice which will not surprise those familiar with Larry's "keep-the-audience-on-their -toes" cinematic techniques.

(For quick links to previous and succeeding episodes, check the right-hand column of this page.)

Sheerly on mad impulse Dick had taken one of the Owsleys with his after-dinner coffee and now as he finally squeezed into a place at the bar after that fascinating and keenly perilous-seeming adventure of crossing the crowded noisy bar room he realized he was really beginning to feel it. Taking the acid had been against his better judgment but Dick believed that sometimes you just had to go against your better judgment or else you were only half a man, or less.

He had gently touched Daphne’s moist warm thigh and, looking down, she saw the two cubes in their blue paper wrappers in the palm of his hand, but she had merely smiled and shaken her head slightly. She was worn out and doubtless wanted a good long sleep that night.

Dick was tired too. He hadn’t had a really good sleep since before that ridiculous Singapore episode, and he’d had almost no sleep for the past several days, what with that uncomfortable trans-Pacific military flight, that marathon Labor day party at Rod McKuen’s and then a day-and-a-half of almost continuous driving cross-country. Of course Daphne had offered a couple of times in her languid way to take the wheel, but tired as Dick was he had thought it more prudent that he should drive, especially seeing as how she had started in on the Owsleys as soon as they set out from Frisco. The acid was stashed in a beautiful red-and-black ormolu-and-porcelain box and each multi-swirly-colored cube was wrapped in a square of delicate blue paper with red bordering and tied up in gold string in a thief’s knot. As soon as one cube started to wear off she would unwrap another one, put it on her tongue and slowly let it dissolve as she sipped tea from that cup she had “borrowed” from the Palm Grove in Singapore.

Well, her driving scared Dick at the best of times and besides, although he didn’t tell her, he suspected they were being followed, God only knew by whom. It sounded so cliché to say so and yet Dick firmly believed that he could sense such things. (For instance that time he was sitting in a café in Tangiers, on vacation mind you, quietly rocked out of his gourd on kif and drinking mint tea, suddenly he just knew and he took off his jacket and laid it on his lap, then he got out the little Smith & Wesson five-shot and held it under the jacket, this guy came in from the street drawing his gun, and that was that. Never did find out what the dead guy’s problem was or who he was working for. The jacket -- a white poplin number Dick had picked up in Macao and which he called his “Graham Greene jacket” -- was ruined and it cost Dick two thousand francs to cool the proprietor.)

And so he had taken an evasive route, deliberately making absurdly wrong turns whenever the mood struck him, popping a few of Daphne’s pink diet pills along the way and occasionally smoking a little Thai stick on the long desert stretches if there were no other cars in sight, keeping the Thunderbird at a steady ninety and feeling that four-twenty-eight monster of Detroit power humming through his bones. But he had refrained from the Owsleys. And except for a few little catnaps in the back seat Daphne had stayed awake with him the whole way, sharing with him the sweet milky Earl Grey tea from that big nickel-plated thermos she had made him buy at Abercrombie & Fitch before their ill-fated trip to Africa.


Daphne had never been out west before and she said she wanted to see the country but she soon got bored with the scenery and took out her knitting. She was trying to knit leggings for my sister Betty’s little girl. I’d point out something, the Petrified Forest or the Grand Canyon or some other stirring sight and she would look up, take it in at a glance, and then go back to her knitting.

My old friend Huey -- whose car this was -- had installed an 8-track player and so we played his movie soundtrack tapes -- Goldfinger, The Ipcress File, Darling, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly were our favorites -- as well as Mel Tormé’s A Day in the Life of Bonnie and Clyde album.

And as we came down through the mountains earlier that day she said, “Dick, I want to take a bath.”

“We’re almost there, sweety.”

“I want to take a bath now, darling. I can smell my bad thing.”


“Pull in over there,” she said.

And she pointed through the trees to the sparkling of a barely visible stream and sure enough we came onto a little side road and I pulled the car in and we came to this small stream running through thick spruce trees. We bathed with lavender hotel soap in the cold water and then she swam around for a bit as I sat drying on a stone near the bank, smoking a cigarette and watching her glide underwater for disquietingly long periods but with her long slender white body always visible through the clear dappled water. I noticed a sort of bed humped into the dead leaves and the spruce cones where some kids must have done some frolicking on a fairly regular basis judging by the used condoms scattered around it along with cigarette butts and empty beer cans. There was a clump of what looked like geraniums, white geraniums, on the other side of the stream, and in an open sunlit patch thousands of some other flowers with bright yellow petals and red centers or whatever you call that part of a flower that the petals grow out of. All very pretty, but I found myself wondering if scorpions got up this far, and about fleas and ticks. Every once in a great while I would hear the sound of a car or truck approaching on the highway; I would hold still and breathe very softly and listen as the sound got louder and louder and then as it reached its peak and began to recede I would draw a deep breath and let it out slowly and relax. Until the next one, anyway.

For what it was worth the little snubnose lay on the pile of clothes next to me. I wished it were my good old Browning but that was in a suitcase in the trunk. I felt exposed and vulnerable here and I rather wished Daphne would hurry the hell up.


(Float downstream to here for Episode Seven.)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The oddly foreboding lighthouse at Cape May Point

Another life-affirming sonnet from the tireless ball-point pen of Arnold Schnabel. First published in the Olney Times of July 20, 1963, and brought to you thanks to the wonderful people of the Arnold Schnabel Society.


Off to my right a girl’s dollhouse convent
And a little boy’s toy lighthouse model;
The yawning sun begins its grand descent
And the gulls and jackdaws cheer and yodel
As the bay catches fire one last time;
My arms and legs in animal motion,
My breath the meter, my muscles the rhyme,
I feel I could swim across this ocean;
I take one great lungful of breath and dive
Down deep to where all is green and quiet
Down through a world where the dead are alive,
And, strange to say, so also am I, yet
Up I burst to the light, and head towards
The shore, and home, to write these words.

(For links to many other stunning Arnold Schnabel poems and to his award-winning memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, please go to the sidebar.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

That patented gaze of Mr. Franco Nero

Ride a Dead Horse (1965; Technicolor; Techniscope; Franco Nero, Laurence Olivier, Sylva Koscina, Gina Lollabrigida; music by Ennio Morricone; theme song written by Larry Winchester; screenplay by Tommy “Legs” Larkin and Larry Winchester; directed by Larry Winchester).

Here’s Larry Winchester in his (sadly out-of-print) memoir I’ll Take the Low Road, talking about the making of this, his second European western:

I’ll be honest with you, thanks to Legs I developed quite a taste for LSD at this time. Legs and I were both pretty much tripping all through the shooting of Rave-Up at Roderick’s, and right on through post-production. (Besides being co-writer, Legs co-produced the show with me, as he had done so many times before and as he continued to do.) There is nothing quite so satisfying as waking up, having a nice strong cup of English breakfast tea, dropping acid and heading off to ten or eleven hours straight in the editing room. Our editor was kind of a square, so Legs and I wouldn’t let on that we were tripping our asses off all day. After work we’d go to the pub and come down on pints of Young’s Special London Ale. One night we met up two American friends of Legs’s, this beautiful couple named Dick and Daphne Ridpath. Well, we thought the acid we had was good, but this pair had some of the Owsley Special Primo. I’ll never forget, the next morning, we’re all standing on the middle of London Bridge and the dawn was just starting to lighten the sky, when I suddenly said:

“Ride a dead horse.”

The other three just sort of look at me, and then after what seemed like about five minutes, this Daphne (beautiful, tall girl, legs that wouldn’t say uncle in a brand new psychedelic Mary Quant minidress) says:


“Ride a dead horse,” I say.

“I thought that’s what you said. Are you trying to fucking freak us out, man?”

“No,” I said. “That’s going to be the title of my next movie. Ride a Dead Horse. Cool, huh? It's gonna be -- a western.”

“But what does ‘ride a dead horse’ mean, you nut?”

“I have no idea. I just like the sound of it.”

Walking the Ridpaths back to their hotel, I suddenly started singing; the melody and the rest of the words just came to me:

Ride a dead horse
Ride a dead horse
Settin’ your course
For that dead horse
Somewhere in the sky
Until you die

“Wow,” said Legs, “That’s heavy, man.”

So, after a nice long sleep I call up my old pal Dino di Laurentiis in Rome and tell him I've got this great idea for a new western, Ride a Dead Horse. Dino said, sure, whatever, he was looking for a new vehicle for Franco Nero anyway.

After we finished up post on Rave-Up, Legs and I went right down to the location in Almería, Spain, and while we were overseeing pre-production we knocked out a script, still tripping our gourds out every day. We tried and tried to get something about riding a dead horse in that script, but we just couldn’t do it. The best we could come up with, and we only thought of this the night before principal shooting started, was our hero, Franco, the returning Union soldier who’s come back to his hometown to find that it’s been taken over by an evil rancher (Laurence Olivier), as he’s riding into town he meets an old gypsy woman who tells him, “Ride a dead horse.” Franco just gives her his patented ice-blue gaze, flips her a silver dollar, and then rides on into town. When the movie ends, after he’s killed all the evil rancher’s men and the evil rancher too (because they massacred his family), he meets the old gypsy woman on the road again, and once more she says, “Ride a dead horse.” Franco gives her the gaze, flips her a silver dollar and rides off, with Frankie Laine singing the theme song.

People loved it. Nobody knew what “ride a dead horse” meant. Hell, I didn’t know what it meant. But it sounded cool. And when it comes right down to it, sometimes just sounding cool is good enough.

Ride a Dead Horse went on to become one of the most profitable European films of 1965. Unfortunately, it has never been shown in the United States and is only available on DVD from the Japanese company Ha! Karate, with German dialogue and Japanese subtitles. I recently saw a pristine 35mm print of the English-language version in the small screening room room of Larry’s house on North Ivar Avenue in Hollywood. I was blown away. Larry and his collaborators take a hackneyed plot and ride it the way a fine jazz band on a good night will ride a 12-bar blues: every moment clicks and then slides smoothly into the next, building solidly and inevitably to climax and dénouement.

And I just can’t get that theme song out of my head.

(For links to reviews of some other great Larry Winchester titles, check the sidebar of this page. Dig also our serialization of the complete and uncut version of Larry's legendary novel A Town Called Disdain, available exclusively on this site.)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Because we care about you, our dear readers

In order to make this site slightly less bewildering, especially to newcomers, our blog-designer Helen (above) has added a new feature to our sidebar, which we modestly call "Some Other Precious Nuggets From the Vault". Here you will find tables of contents of several of our popular ongoing series, with links to the various items therein, in reverse chronological order. Enjoy, and a special tip of the hat to the lovely and talented Helen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Seven: half a life

Arnold Schnabel closed out the first notebook of his memoir with this entry. He would still have been in Cape May at this time, with his mother, staying in the rickety Victorian boarding house of his three maiden aunts, the Misses Schneider. The year was 1963, the time of the year was summer.

(Click here to review our previous chapter.)

Since the previously-related incident I have had an interesting thought, i.e., what if I never go back to work? After all, I’ve been working full-time since I was fourteen, and except for my three years in the army I’ve been on the railroad since I was seventeen. What if I simply continue this indefinite leave-of-absence? I was a mere cog in the mighty machine that is the Reading Railroad, they won’t miss a pittance like the half-salary they’re giving me, and besides, I could take an early retirement anyway and get nearly as much for my pension. Is it wrong of me to think this way? Is it my duty as a Catholic to work, even if Mother and I can easily get by on my half-pay and my savings?     
Does writing this memoir count as work?     
To be honest the thought of working at any sort of job fills me with a sort of dread, whereas the thought of continuing my present idle existence fills me if not with joy then at least an almost complete absence of dread, if an absence of something can be said to be capable of filling something. And I think this can be said. I have filled most of my life with absences. The absence of friendship. The absence of romantic love. The absence of sex. The absence of marriage and children. The absence of meaning. I could go on all day adding to my litany of nothingnesses.     
But now I feel this something entering my life which before was not there. After the events of the past year I know well that this something could simply be another stage of insanity, perhaps one from which there is no return. But for some reason I am not afraid. Perhaps I am not afraid because I am already insane, or I should say insane again, although certainly nowhere nearly as far gone as when I had to be taken to Byberry.     
So, that’s settled, for now. Back to my memoir.     
I was born in a section of Philadelphia called Swampoodle, in the shade of Shibe Park. My parents were German immigrants, with little education. My earliest years were poor but bearable, but then came the Depression. My father lost his factory job. I had two brothers and a sister, all younger than me. For two years we were always hungry. Then at last my father got work at the Heintz metalworks in the Olney neighborhood. We moved into one of the plain new rowhomes right across the street from the factory. The area seemed positively bucolic after the grimy old streets of Swampoodle. This was a good move for my father because now he could simply walk across the street to work. My father was a stoker. All he did was shovel coal into an enormous hellish furnace, hour after hour, all day long. He was a bull, a beast of burden, and he knew it, and he accepted it. He found solace for this purgatory of a life in food, cigarettes, and beer, most importantly beer. He would inhale two quarts of Ortlieb’s beer on his lunch hour, and after work he would drink beer until he fell into his deep snoring sleep, only to wake up and do it all over again. One day in 1935 he didn’t wake up.     
I quit school and went to work. I helped the milkman deliver milk in the mornings in his horse-drawn wagon, then I sold newspapers on the street for the rest of the day. When I was seventeen my Uncle Hans got me onto the railroad, and there I stayed. In 1942 I volunteered for the army, even though my job on the railroad and my status as primary breadwinner for my siblings and mother exempted me from the draft. Because of my trade I was put into the engineers, and I never saw combat, although I served all through the long campaign from Normandy to Berlin. After the war I returned to my job as a brakeman for the Reading.     
My siblings got married and left home but I did not. I worked, I ushered at St. Helena’s church, I volunteered for parish and diocesan activities. I had taken up boxing in the army and for many years I coached a CYO boxing team.     
Oh, I forgot to mention the poems. In 1938, when I was eighteen or so I wrote a poem and sent it in to the Olney Times. It was a bad poem, but the Olney Times published it anyway, I suppose because it was very sentimental and simple, or maybe they just had space to fill. The next week I wrote another poem and sent it in, and they published it as well. And so on. I have published a poem a week in the Olney Times every week of my life since. That’s twenty-five years. That’s roughly 1,300 poems, nearly every one of them utter nonsense, but it’s a habit now, like my cigarettes and my Manhattans and beer, and I can’t quit.     
They call me the Rhyming Brakeman. There was an article about me a few years ago in the Philadelphia Bulletin. The article, like my poems, was nonsense, full of my dull platitudes, presenting myself as some sort of noble workingman artist, when the truth was that I was an odd fellow, living with his mother, fearful of life, living half a life or less while others all around him lived full lives.     
However, even into the dullest life a little luridness may fall, and so it has been with mine. I have had my shameful moments, just about all of them under the influence of alcohol, but I would be lying if I said these moments were solely due to the alcohol. Perhaps I will cover some of this swampy ground later. Perhaps not.     
Then I went insane, which was actually the most interesting thing I’ve ever done. Not that there was anything willful about it, so perhaps I should say it was the most interesting thing that ever “happened” to me. Leaving me having never done anything very interesting at all, unless you call the thirteen hundred poems interesting, and I suppose the fact that I wrote and published that many poems is slightly interesting even if the poems themselves were not, are not, will never be.     
So much for my memoir. I’ve now succeeded in boring even myself with my own story. But there must be something of interest I can relate from this lifetime of nothingness.     
There must be something.    
But nothing comes to mind right now.

(But you know Arnold will come up with something. Go to Part Eight to find out what. For links to the other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven, and to his many wonderful poems, go to the right hand column of this page.)

And now a brief word from the Rooftop Singers. Please be sure to appreciate their groovy outfits and hairstyles:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"A Town Called Disdain", Episode Five: Big Jake makes Daphne a gentlemanly proposition

Larry Winchester's unexpurgated great American novel (which critics have compared to the masterworks of Tolstoy, Flaubert, and Jackie Collins) continues apace.

As our returning soldier Harvey and the mysterious stranger Dick "Smith" play pinball in the main room of Burt's Hideyway, Dick's beautiful young wife Daphne sits in the back room with the rancher Big Jake Johnstone. It is September in that
annus mirabilis of 1969, in the town of Disdain, New Mexico, the land of enchantment.

(Go here for our previous thrilling episode.)

Big Jake lifted his big ass partway out of his chair and then he shuffled the chair right over next to Daphne and sat down in it again. Then he reached over and picked up his whiskey and his beer bottle and put them down in front of him. He took the cigar out of his mouth and put it in the ashtray she was using.

“You’re just about the prettiest damn woman I ever seen, Miz Daphne.”

“Why thank you.”

“I mean that.”


“I really mean it.”

“I’m really glad you really mean it.”

He drank off his whiskey and he wiped his lips with a trembling hand. He was breathing hard. He moved his chair even closer to hers so that his thigh rubbed against hers. His forehead was beaded with sweat and she watched as one big ooze ran down the side of his face and over the jowl beneath his chin and onto the collar of his embroidered cowboy shirt.

He raised his big left hand rather slowly as if he were about to say something and then he put the hand under the open part of her shirt and under her brassiere and around her damp warm right breast.

“Oh dear,” she said and she took the cigarette holder out of her mouth. Now his other arm had gone around her back and that hand was gripping her right shoulder.

“Your titty is so firm. So round. I bet I keep squeezin’ like this that nipple gonna get nice and hard.”

Big Jake’s breathing came more quickly, producing an aspirate purr from deep within his massive chest, as his stare glanced back and forth from her bosom to her eyes.

Daphne sighed, and Big Jake felt her breast rise up under his hand.

“Okay, Big Jake, I’m terribly flattered, but you must remove your hand. My husband could come back any moment.”

“Jes’ one kiss, Miz Daphne, jes’ one little kiss.” He moved his great head closer to hers, and Daphne held her breath at the stench of whiskey, Pabst Blue Ribbon and cigar on his hot breath and behind it the tang of his Hai Karate and the musk of his sweat.

As his wet cracked lips touched her neck she looked down at his big hairy wrist and then she put her cigarette out on it.

Big Jake yowled and leaped back, sending his chair clattering across the floor. He held his wrist and he looked at her with tears in his eyes and she could smell the burnt flesh and hair. She put down her cigarette holder and rearranged her left breast in her brassiere.

“I love ya, Miz Daphne. I love ya like a damn little schoolboy. An’ I gotta have ya.”

“Big Jake, this is absurd. My husband is right out in that other room somewhere.”

“All’s I want is one kiss. One kiss. And when you feel the fire in my tongue and the flame in my heart I know you’re gonna want what I want. Maybe not right now of course but later tonight back at the ranch while Dick’s sleepin’. I got some goofballs in my pocket and we can drop a couple in his drink, he’ll sleep like a baby till noon. An’ you can slip into my room. To conjoin your loins with mine. An’ we’ll know heaven on this earth.”

“Oh dream on!”

Big Jake touched his crotch, in which there was a slight bulge.

“I just want you to feel this bone I got in my pants.”

“Oh brother!”

Then Big Jake stretched out his arms like Frankenstein’s monster and started toward her.

She began to reach for his .45 in the holster draped over his chair but then he was on her bent over with his big arms around her, she tried to get up, the chair toppled over, they both fell down grunting and he was lying on top of her in a hot sweating heavy heap, then he felt something prick his neck, he looked down, she was holding a steak knife against his carotid artery, the skin had been pierced, a drop of blood trickled quickly down the knife blade.

Big Jake held his breath and he felt his erection going away. She held the knife steady, her grey eyes were calm.

“Now get off of me, Big Jake. You weigh a ton.”

She guided him with the knife and very slowly he hoisted himself off her and onto his side. He watched as she got up and brushed the dirt off the seat of her shorts.

“I’m sorry, Miz Daphne.”

She took a drink of champagne and then put on her pith helmet.

“Please don’t leave, Miz Daphne.”

She put her cigarette case and holder into her canvas bag and lifted the straps over her shoulder. She still held the steak knife.

“I love ya, Miz Daphne.”

He was propping himself off the floor with one hand.

Daphne looked at him, then raised the knife up high and threw it down at his hand. He moved it just in time and the knife stuck with a thwack in the linoleum.

He looked up at her with wild frightened eyes.

“I might have to discipline you, Big Jake. You’ve been a very naughty boy.”

She stepped over his legs and walked toward the beaded entrance to the bar and Big Jake watched her. Her ass was beautiful, too. It was nice sized and rounded and strong looking, something a man could grab onto.

Big Jake figured he was about as much in love as he was ever going to be.

(Mosey on over here for Episode Six. For a complete and up-to-date listing of other episodes of Larry Winchester's A Town Called Disdain please see the right hand column of this page.)

Monday, July 9, 2007

"A Town Called Disdain", Episode Four: darts, pinball, and the mystery of Dick's fingernails

Previously in Larry Winchester’s legendary epic A Town Called Disdain: The year is 1969: Woodstock, Charles Manson, the Moon landing, Vietnam.

A recently discharged young soldier named Harvey has just this day returned to his home town of Disdain, NM, and has gone directly to the local roadhouse, Burt’s Hideyway, where he meets up with some of the old gang, including an odd little boy named Cleb Parsons and Harvey's mother Doris, who waits on tables there. He also encounters the vastly unpleasant bully Bull Thorndyke, and winds up shooting him dead in self-defense with town Sheriff Dooley’s own pistol.

A mysterious couple named Dick and Daphne “ Smith” have also arrived at Burt’s, there to be greeted by the local rancher Big Jake Johnstone. Mr. Johnstone offers Harvey a job as local guide for Dick and Daphne, who will be staying at Johnstone’s ranch. Harvey accepts.

There has been a strange interlude concerning the local minor-league baseball team, the Browns, and their LSD-imbibing star pitcher, Lefty Schiessen, which seemingly has nothing at all to do with the plot, if there is a plot.

“Damn,” said Harvey softly as Dick landed yet another bullseye.

“Amazing,” said Dick. He went up to get the darts. Big Jake and Mrs. Smith still sat at the table. They had all had a great big steak dinner with plenty of champagne, and Big Jake was leaning way over the table toward Mrs. Smith and they appeared to be deep in conversation.

“Normally I’m absolutely terrible at this game,” said Dick.

“Well I find that hard to believe, sir,” said Harvey as he took out his old Cub Scout wallet again.

It was his last five. He took it out and handed it over.

“Thanks, Harve. Another game? Gotta give ya a chance to win some of this back, fella.”

“Naw, I don’t think so, sir. I think I’ll just go play me some pinball now.”

“Care to make it interesting?”

“Sir, that there was my last five-dollar bill.”

“Oh. Gee. I’d like to give you a chance to win some of it back. I really stink at pinball.”

“I don’t want no charity.”

“No, of course not.”

“I’ll play ya but not for money.”

“Sure. Okay.”

They headed through the bead curtain out into the barroom, which was all packed and hot and sweaty with locals and baseball players and guys from the air force base, everybody drunk and yelling, a ball game on the TV and the Sir Douglas Quintet on the juke, and the old wooden ceiling fans slowly churning up the smoke and mushing it back down again.

They got to the machine and nobody was on it. Dick insisted on using his dimes for the first two games, and he punched the ball out.

“Sir, can I ask you a personal question.”

Even though he stood right next to Dick he had to speak loudly to be heard.

“Fire away,” said Dick.

The ball bounced back and forth on the top of the board, back and forth, slower and slower. Dick’s hands barely touched the machine.

“Them scars on your fingers. How the fuck did you get them?”

“Oh, yeah. They are ugly, aren’t they?”

He looked at Harvey, then held out his hand and looked at the scars. The ball had paused at the edge of the slot at the top of the board.

“A little -- service wound.”

For some reason that ball was holding absolutely still. And it was like Harvey and Mr. Smith were in a little pocket of calm here in the midst of the chaos of the bar.

“Um, what branch of the service was you in, sir?”


Dick turned his gaze back to the board and the ball began to move now, dropping down the slot in a straight line toward the hole at the bottom but just as it was about to slip through he dropped his right hand, hit the flipper button with his middle finger and knocked the ball straight up into a bonus hole. 3,000 points.

“So, um, how’d you, uh --”

The ball popped out of the bonus hole and Dick gave a nudge of his hip and it fell into a double bonus hole right above it and the numbers started racking up.

“Shit,” said Harvey.

The ball leapt out of the double bonus hole, Dick gave the machine the slightest push and the ball dropped back into the other bonus hole and really started clanging out points.

Dick took his hands off the machine and took a box of Craven A’s out of his shirt pocket and offered them to Harvey.

Harvey took one.

Dick smiled and cocked an eyebrow as he lighted Harvey up with his battered old Ronson. He lighted himself up and turned back to the machine just as the ball was heading for the chute. He touched the button and caught the ball on the end of the flipper and it sailed back up into the big money region where it started maniacally bouncing from pillar to post and racking up points like a motherfucker.

“But like how exactly did you get them scars, sir?”

“Oh. Well, what does it look like?”

“Well, it looks like some motherfucker pulled out your fingernails with a pair of needlenose pliers.”

Dick smiled.

“That’s exactly what happened.”

The ball fallen into some new special hole and the machine was ringing and buzzing and vibrating. Harvey said something.

“I’m sorry, Harve --”

“I said were they tryin’ to make you talk?”

“Oh. Yeah. Sure.”

The ball popped out and proceeded to bounce furiously back and forth between two thousand-point bars. Dick seemed to be getting a little bored. He looked around the bar, smoking pensively.

“Did you talk, sir?”

“Well, to be honest I was quite willing to answer the questions they were asking me even before they started to pull my nails out. But they didn’t like my answers, so...”

Doris walked by with a trayful of empty beer bottles and she smiled and shrugged her shoulders at Dick and Dick waved his cigarette.

“They thought you was lyin’,” said Harvey.

Once again Dick turned back to the game just as the ball bounced free.

“Well, let’s say they were entertaining that possibility. Then they threatened to cut my balls off.”

He banged the right-hand button hard with the heel of his hand and the ball soared up once again into the big-money zone.

“Then I talked. Talked a goddamn blue streak and told them all sorts of shit. Saved my balls anyway. Nothing like the threat of castration to get the creative juices flowing.”

The ball was fibrillating wildly once again in a bonus hole. There were now fourteen extra games on the board.

Dick smiled and clapped Harvey on his narrow shoulder.

“Hey, take over, Harve, I’ll go get us a couple of cold ones.”

Harvey stepped into the breach.

“Who was they?”


“That tortured you. The Red Chinese?”

“No. I’m pretty sure they were Americans actually.”

He went off into the crowd and Harvey turned back to the machine. The ball popped out of its hole and shot against a wall and down a little alleyway and right down the middle and into the death-hole before he could even wag a flipper.

He still had the fourteen free games and he hoped Dick would take his time getting the beers.

Cleb sat on the floor with his back against the wall sipping a Dr. Pepper and looking up at Harvey.

(Go here for Episode Five.)

He’s a rebel: