Saturday, September 29, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Twenty-Two: walk right in, sit right down, daddy let your mind roll on

In our previous episode of these memoirs of that man Harold Bloom called “the only 20th Century American poet to give Walt Whitman a run for his money”, Arnold Schnabel came home from his evening swim to find his new inamorata, the bohemian Elektra, waiting for him on the porch of the boarding house of his three maiden aunts in Cape May, NJ. Soon Arnold’s young cousin Kevin comes out to join them, followed by Arnold’s mother, who sends Kevin back to bed. Then, as Mrs. Schnabel chats with Elektra, Arnold’s increasingly personal lord and savior appears, sitting on the porch rail and smoking a Pall Mall.

I was not about to sit there listening to his nonsense, so I stood up. 
“Well, Mom,” I said, “Elektra and I were going to go out for a beer.” 
“In your wet bathing suit?” she said. 
“I don’t mind.” 
“Oh, Arnold, go up and change.” 
I realized if I didn’t I’d hear about it for a week, so I assented. 
“I’ll be right down,” I said to Elektra. 
“Take your time, Arnold,” she said. 
“You should take a quick shower,” said my mother. “Get that salt off.” 
I went in past her, through the dark living room to the stairs. Kevin popped out of his little room at the far end of the hallway. 
“Cousin Arnold, Cousin Arnold,” he whispered. 
“Go to bed, Kevin,” I whispered back, and headed up the stairs. 
On the second landing I stopped, because the little rascal was following me. 
“What is it?” I was still whispering, because this floor, as does the third, holds tenants’ rooms. 
He bumped into my legs. 
“She’s pretty,” said Kevin. 
“Yeah, I know.” 
“My father said you didn’t like girls.” 
To tell the truth I don’t care what Kevin’s father thought. He’s an oaf. But I couldn’t tell Kevin this. He was stuck with the oaf for a father. I didn’t think it was my place to undermine the fool in front of his son, so I said: 
“I used to not like girls. Now I do.” 
“Oh,” said Kevin. 
“Now go to bed, you’ll wake the aunts up.” 
I continued on upstairs.  
I took my mother’s advice and showered, quickly, then just as quickly changed into fresh Bermudas and a polo shirt, and headed back downstairs. As I got down to the first floor I could see my mother, still in the doorway, but she let the screen door close and came into the living room as soon as I reached the bottom step. She has the preternatural hearing of a cat. 
She stopped me in the middle of the dark living room, her hands on my chest. 
“She’s very pretty, Arnold,” she said softly. 
“Yeah,” I said. “Kevin thinks so too.” 
“It’s time you met a nice girl.”  
“And got married and settled down. Then you wouldn’t have any more nervous breakdowns.” 
“I just met her, Mom.” 
“Don’t lose her. Nice girls don’t grow on trees.” 
“Mom, she’s a Jude.” I used the German word, as she tended to use German when referring to members of what are for her the more doubtful religions and races, but this brought her pause for only about one quarter of a second. 
“I was hoping she was Italienisch,” she said. 
“She’s Jewish,” I said, hoping this would get her off her prospective-mother-in-law hobbyhorse. 
“That’s okay,” she said, indomitably. “I know lots of nice Jewish people. As long as she agrees to bring the children up Catholic.” 
“Okay, Mom,” I said, “good night.” 
“Don’t drink too much,” she whispered.

Elektra and I walked over to the Mug. Jesus had disappeared while I was upstairs, thank God. Wait, that last phrase makes no sense. Because if who I saw was Jesus, then he was God. 
At any rate we made it to the Ugly Mug without further incident. We drank beer and Elektra told me about her life. It seems that everyone has one. A family, a past, a life. Then you meet someone and this other life becomes part of your own life.

I hadn’t fully noticed the last time how funny Elektra could be, but she was, and is, and, oddly, she laughed at many of the things I said.

My whole life it seemed that whenever I said something I thought was funny I would be met by bewildered stares. Conversely, the coarse humor of my comrades in the army and on the railroad had always left me cold, and thus I knew I had a reputation as (in the regrettable parlance of the American regular guy) a tight-assed son of a bitch.

“You’re the only person who’s ever laughed at my witticisms,” I said, on about the third mug of beer.

“People are stupid, Arnold,” she said. “Don’t you know that?” 
I don’t think I mentioned before that she’s from Brooklyn, and has a moderate Brooklyn accent. On the other hand she has a Master’s Degree in English literature from Columbia. 
“Listen,” I said. “I have to tell you something.” 
“I’m not fully recovered from that breakdown I told you about.” 
“I didn’t think you were entirely. Why, are you going to get psychotic all of a sudden?” 
“No. But, well, I’ll just come right out and say it, I have these — visions.”  
“No kidding? What kind of visions?” 
“Well — Jesus appears to me.” 
“Jesus Christ.” 
“Yeah,” I said. “Him.” 
She stared at me. Then she gestured to the bartender. She asked him for a couple of shots of whiskey. He asked what kind. She asked me. I said bourbon was fine, Early Times if they had it. He asked if Old Hickory was okay and I said it was. 
“So,” said Elektra. “Jesus.” 
“Yeah,” I said. That whiskey was seeming like a good idea now. 
“And do you think it’s really him?” 
“Well,” I said, “he seems very real.” 
“What’s he look like?” 
I paused while the bartender poured our shots and then took my money. Then: 
“He looks like what you’d expect,” I said. “Good lookin’ fella. Long hair, beard, robe.” 
“Right. And what’s he sound like?” 
“Well, it’s funny, he sounds — American.” 
“And —” 
“He smokes Pall Malls,” I said, pointing to my own pack lying on the bar there next to my lighter. 
She had just swallowed her shot, and she held her hand over her mouth to keep from spitting it back out again. I took a sip of my own shot. 
“Arnold,” she said, after clearing her throat. “You’re insane. You’re absolutely nuts.” 
“Well, I guess that’s what I’m telling you,” I said. “I’m not quite right in the head yet.” 
“Yeah, but you’re lovable. All right, I gotta go to the ladies’ room. Try not to have a beatific vision while I’m gone.” 
“I’ll try,” I said, and she went off. 
The place was crowded, even though it was a Tuesday night, around midnight. It was the height of the tourist season after all. Some sort of rock and roll song played on the jukebox, and it went like: 
Walk right in, sit right down
Daddy, let your mind roll on
Jesus sat himself down in Elektra’s seat. He had a mug of beer in his hand and his eternal Pall Mall. Except now his hair was shorter, he didn’t have a beard, and he was wearing a pale pink polo shirt and Madras Bermuda shorts instead of robes. 
“So how’s it going, buddy?” he asked. 
“You’re the son of God,” I said. “You tell me.” 
“Arnold,” he said, smiling. “You crack me up. You make me glad I have the job I have.”
Suddenly he started singing along with the jukebox tune: 
Walk right in, sit right down
Baby, let your hair hang down
Walk right in, sit right down
Baby, let your hair hang down
I sighed. Soon Elektra would be back, and he would have to get out of her seat. Jesus continued to sing along with the record: 
Everybody's talkin' 'bout a new way of walkin'
Do you want to lose your mind?
Walk right in, sit right down
Baby, let your hair hang down
A guitar solo came on, and he shut up, although he continued to nod his head enthusiastically to the music, and to slap one hand in time on the bar-top. 
“Listen,” I said, whispering, with my hand over my mouth, “if you really want to help me you’ll just disappear. For good.” 
“Arnold: two things,” he said. “First, stop whispering; it looks weird. I can hear what you’re thinking, buddy. Second, if it wasn’t for me showing up now and then and giving you a little honest advice and encouragement you’d be lying at home on your narrow little army cot right now with your dick in your hand instead of waiting for that cute little number to get back from the can.” 
“But you’re driving me insane,” I said, or, rather, thought.
Walk right in, sit right down
Daddy, let your mind roll on
He was singing along again, and he slapped my shoulder. 
Walk right in, sit right down
Daddy, let your mind roll on
Everybody's talkin' 'bout a new way of walkin'
Do you want to lose your mind?
I determined to turn and stare stolidly across the bar until Elektra came back, and that’s just what I did.

(Click here to find out what happens next. Turn to the right hand side of this page for quick links to the rest of Railroad Train to Heaven, and to many of Arnold Schnabel’s fine poems (“Not since Shakespeare has a poet taken the sonnet and made the form so uniquely his own.” -- W.H. Auden).

Friday, September 28, 2007

Arnold Schnabel’s persistent friend

This sonnet by Arnold Schnabel first appeared in the Olney Times of August 17, 1963. The Times’s venerable editor Silas Willingham III would appear to have resigned himself to Arnold’s new frankness; either that or he simply published the poem unread beforehand.

Biographical evidence tells us that Arnold was at this time reading T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land for the first time, but, as usual, he seems to be blithely resistant to literary influence.

(This poem published thanks to the good ladies and gentlemen of the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

“My Invisible Friend”

I know it’s not strange for a child to
Have an invisible friend, but what of
A man of forty-two? It seems wild to
Be seen talking not of love but of
Matters carnal, over a cigarette
And a beer, to a man no one can see,
Even if, as he won’t let you forget,
He is the son of the Divinity.
It’s true that he came to me when my night
Boded well never to end, and he led
Me back to a day that was filled with light,
But now it would be nice if he, instead
Of showing up quite in person, would just
Say hello in a mote of sundrenched dust.

(For links to many other classic poems of Arnold Schnabel, as well as to our serialization of his previously unpublished memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, please turn to the right hand column of this page.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Eighteen: Dick and Daphne awaken to a brand-new day

With this episode we finally enter day two of A Town Called Disdain, the sprawling masterwork of the legendary filmmaker, raconteur, bon vivant and sadly underrated novelist, Larry Winchester. Except it turns out that it’s really day three.

In this weird white room again, and having sex with this girl with all these people watching, this thin slight girl, not even his type really but he couldn’t help himself, and it was good, damn good, but so embarrassing with all these people watching, and then a pretty Mexican girl in a maid’s uniform was there with a tray and a slightly tarnished old coffee service.

Dick sat up. He had a hard-on, and he pulled his legs up under the covers to disguise it.

Daphne was still sound asleep, curled up on her side.

“Hello,” said Dick. “What time is it?”

“Eight o’clock, sir. Mr. Johnstone want to know if you want to have some coffee to wake up and then come down for breakfast.”

Dick paused a moment.

“Have we -- slept for a whole day and night?”

“One night, one day, and another night.”

“Wow.” Dick took the coffee pot and poured himself a cup while she held the tray. “Did -- anyone try to wake us up?”

“No. Mr. Johnstone stay in bed all day yesterday too. He
had --”

Holding the tray with the flat of her left hand she put her right hand to the side of her sleek lovely head and rocked it back and forth.

“Oh,” said Dick.

He sipped his black coffee, then turned and put his hand on Daphne’s bare shoulder.

“Daphne, wake up, sweety.”

She pushed his hand away.

Daphne refused to come down to breakfast at such an hour, and she wouldn’t believe Dick when he told her it was actually the morning after the morning after.

So the maid (whom Dick found out was named Esmeralda) brought them toast and homemade rutabaga preserves and more coffee (with some hot fresh milk for Daphne) and while Daphne went back to sleep Dick went down to the bathroom in his old kimono.

He had a very enjoyable and lengthy voiding of his bowels, and then an equally enjoyable and even longer bath, using the lavender Yardley soap they’d taken with them on their precipitous departure from the Palm Grove in Singapore, and smoking the last of his Craven A's, reaching over and tapping the ash into the toilet while he read a dozen or so pages of Slaughterhouse-Five.

Finally he got out, plugged in his Remington and had a nice shave, splashing on some Lentheric after-shave (gotten from the shop at the Palm Grove, and put on their never-paid bill), and then he brushed his teeth.

He looked at his handsome face in the mirror. Once again he had survived his own self-depredations and come out of it somehow fresh as a daisy.

As he walked back down the corridor he saw a door close, and he thought he caught a glimpse of a strange dark eye.

He managed to haul Daphne out of the bed, and she went to the bathroom in her turn, toting her own toiletries, including a bottle of Guerlain bath salts (more swag from the palm Grove).

After a half hour or so Dick put down his book and went down to the bathroom again to see if she hadn’t drowned. He woke her up and added some hot water. He lit her a cigarette in her holder, then he washed her with her big soft sponge, and he shampooed her hair.

By the time they got back to their room they were both longing for each other, and she pulled Dick down onto the big brass bed.

In a closet of an adjoining room Hope stood on a shoeshine box and peeked through a crack in the wood, holding her hand over her mouth.
Out in the corridor, having heard the old bedsprings singing and whining, Esmeralda stopped by the door and crouched down, peering through the keyhole.

Dick and Daphne dozed for a while, and then Daphne said, “I am absolutely famished.”

As luck would have it, it was now lunchtime at the Johnstone Ranch.

(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. Links to all other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, soon to be an exciting new computer game from Ha! Karate, may be found on the right hand side of this page.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Twenty-One: the porch and the garden

Several days at least seem to have elapsed since Arnold Schnabel, “The Rhyming Brakeman”, last took up his Bic pen to his immortal memoirs. (See here for our previous chapter.) We are now most likely somewhere in early August of 1963, and Arnold remains in the then-quaint town of Cape May, New Jersey -- staying, with his mother, at the massive ramshackle boarding-house of his three maiden aunts -- to which he has gone to recover from a mental illness that had become chronic the previous winter.

The great thing — or I should say one of the many great things — about being unemployed is that I am never bored. Before I stopped working I had never quite realized just how boring work is. Oh, sure, I know that I performed a useful service all those many years, doing my bit in facilitating the high speed hurtling of great steel cars groaning with cargo and people safely and efficiently hither and yon all over the eastern seaboard, but, save for my pitiful two weeks’ vacation each year — vacations that themselves were a form of work, as I tried to cram a year’s worth of recreation into fourteen days and invariably achieved only an excruciating state of anxiety that was mercifully quieted only by my return to the grind of work — I had never known real, open-ended freedom.

I wonder now if it was not work itself which caused me to go insane, and not (depending on which of my doctors was speaking, and his mood of the day) repressed sexuality (either of the hetero or homo kind), or excessive religiosity, or alcoholism, or genetic pre-disposition. Perhaps it was only that eternal five-day-a-week prison sentence of honest labor that had driven me around the bend.

The boringness, the sameness, the inescapability of it all.

But then if work was the cause of my insanity, one would think that the absence of work (and an absence at half-pay, thanks to the Reading) might lead to a return to sanity.

And it is true that I do feel saner.

Except for the Jesus thing.

Let’s face it, I know what my erstwhile doctors would think if I were to tell them that Jesus has appeared to me not less than three times recently, and smoking Pall Malls no less.

So either I am still slightly nuts, or Jesus smokes Pall Malls, there can be no other explanation.

Perhaps all those years of servitude formed a sort of pustule of aggregated tedium in my brain which one day simply burst.

The pus may have drained all away by now but the hole in my brain where the boil had been remains.

Or, Jesus has indeed been visiting me in person, and therefore I am not a madman but, ipso facto, a living saint.

But would a saint have extra-marital intercourse with a Jewish beatnik girl?

Speaking of Elektra, I decided to heed her advice, and to leave her alone for a day or two.

The next day I did my usual things. I went to Sunday mass, for whatever that was worth. I read comic books on the porch with Kevin. I ate. I napped. I read my cheap paperback thriller in the afternoon, took my long swim in the evening

I didn’t go to see Elektra that day, or the next day, nor the day after that.

I wrote one poem in this period but added nothing to these memoirs, as nothing seemed particularly demanding to be added.

On the evening of the third day I went for a particularly long swim. It was quite dark when I got back home. As I walked down the street I could see that the lights were out on the ground front floor, where my aunts and mother and Kevin all live. But as I got closer I saw that apparently one of the boarders was sitting on the dark porch, smoking a cigarette. The street lamp voluptuously bathed its light in the merry garden that lapped in the breeze up against the rails of the porch — dark but for that pulsing red pinpoint. I went through the wobbly old gate, determined to get by with only a polite “good evening” to whoever it was, as I had no desire to be drawn into idle chitchat. I had bought this poem The Waste Land and I was anxious to dive into its mysteries.

“Just ‘good evening’?” she said.

I stopped at the side of the porch. There, above an expansive rhododendron, was Elektra.

I came around the front, and up the steps. She was sitting in the rocker that I usually sit in. I sat down in the other rocker, the one Kevin treats as his own. She wore a loose silky dress, white with blue cornflowers, her shoulders and arms bare except for thin white straps, her thick hair pulled back. Her fingers were touching a small white plastic purse on the table next to her.

I lit a cigarette.

“I’ve missed you,” she said.

“Really?” I said.

“Why didn’t you come visit me?” she said.

“Well, I was thinking of stopping by tomorrow, actually.”

“Why wait so long?”

“I didn’t want to bore you,” I said.



“So, you did want to see me?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

Even in these shadows she was beautiful to look at in the glow of her cigarette and the pale gleam of the street lamp, bathed in the odor of gently stirring chrysanthemums and tiger lilies, of rhododendrons and forsythia.

“I’ve never met a man who chose to forgo my company out of fear of boring me.”

“Men are very selfish,” I said.

“As are women,” she said.

She put her cigarette out in the ashtray on the little wicker table.

“I think we should go to the Ugly Mug and have a beer,” she said. “Then we should go to bed together. What do you think?”

I was thinking that Jesus was going to show up at any second, cigarette in hand, but instead the screen door opened and Kevin came out onto the porch. He was wearing a t-shirt and his BVDs.

“Hi, Cousin Arnold. Hi, lady.”

“Hello, man,” said Elektra.

“I’m not a man,” said Kevin, staring at her. “I’m a boy.”

“Cool,” she said. “What’s your name?”

“Kevin Armstrong.”

“My name’s Elektra.”

He came closer to her, so that he was standing right in front of her, almost touching her bare knees.

“Are you Cousin Arnold’s girlfriend?”

“No. I’m his friend.”

“Oh. I saw you kiss him.”

“Friends can kiss.”


“Kevin,” I said. “Go to bed.”

“I don’t want to go to bed. I want to talk to her.”

“Why?” I said.

“Because she’s pretty.”

“Kevin?” This was my mother’s voice, from inside the house.

“Uh-oh,” said Kevin.

My mother opened the screen door. She was in her nightgown.

“Arnold?” she said.

“This is Arnold’s girlfriend,” said Kevin. “Her name’s Electric.”

“Kevin, get in here and go to bed, or you can’t buy comic books tomorrow,” said my mother.

You can believe Kevin went in through that door double-quick.

My mother stood there in the doorway, holding the door open.

“Mom,” I said. “This is my friend Elektra.”

“Hello,” she said. “I”m Mrs. Schnabel.”

“Hi, Mrs. Schnabel.”

Elektra waved her hand.

"Well, I'll leave you two," said my mother.

"I love your garden, Mrs. Schnabel," said Elektra.

"Oh, thank you. But it's mostly my sisters' accomplishment. I do like to work in it though."

“It's lovely," said Elektra. "I want to come by and look at it in the daytime."

"Come by any time, dear."

“See, Arnold,” said Jesus, who was sitting on the porch rail, a lit cigarette in his fingers, “they’re completely hitting it off. Your mother’s not even gonna care that Elektra’s a Jew.
Hey, and ya know what, if it does bother her, the hell with her.”

I glared at him. He really was determined to drive me back to Byberry permanently. Or so it would seem.

(Click here for Arnold's next adventure. You will find a complete index of links to the other existing episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven on the right-hand side of this page. Many of Arnold Schnabel’s immortal poems may also be accessed there, completely free of charge, although donations in the name of the Arnold Schnabel Society will be gratefully appreciated.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Seventeen: Daphne wakes up, goes to the bathroom, meets Hope, and then goes back to bed

In our previous episode of this unabridged version of Larry Winchester’s legendary novel, Dick woke up and went to the bathroom in the large Victorian pile of the slightly sinister rancher Big Jake Johnstone. Then he went back to bed.

Now it’s his lovely wife Daphne’s turn. Never a dull moment in or around a town called Disdain...

She woke up because she was dreaming she was at Miss Porter’s again, except she was grown up because she kept flunking and had never been allowed to graduate (which had almost been the case).

She was in French class and she really had to take a pee but Mademoiselle Louchette made you say everything in French or she would ignore you, and Daphne couldn’t remember how to say she had to go to the lavatory. She was thinking she had to use the subjunctive, which was simply impossible. And then she woke up.

It was night somewhere and she hadn’t the faintest idea where she was. She sat up.

There was Dick, thank God. He was on his back completely passed out. She tried lifting up one of his arms and it fell heavily back to the bed.

She was naked. She didn’t know where her clothes were, she didn’t know where the bathroom was, but she really had to go, and right now.

There was some starlight coming through a couple of windows with gauzy blowing curtains, and as she blinked and looked around she saw a door beneath a small glowing crucifix.

She got out of bed and went to the door. She staggered slightly, although she didn’t feel in the least bit drunk any more. It was just hard to walk for some reason.

She opened the door and saw this old-looking corridor. There was a lit wall lamp in some old yellow fixture. There must be a bathroom on this floor somewhere, and if it was it was probably down at one end or the other. At any rate she determined to find a bathroom, come hell or high water. The house was deathly quiet so she decided not to look for clothes but just go. And as she weaved down the corridor, very gradually finding her sea legs, she realized that this must be that Big Jake’s house. Okay then.

Sure enough the door down at the end on the left was a bathroom, and she sat down just in time, without bothering to close the door or put the light on, and she peed and peed. It was great, and it took so long she sort of wished she had a cigarette while she was doing it.

It took so long that she looked at her thighs in the starlight that came through a window and a skylight, and felt herself for fat, and also twisted her head so she could look down at the side of her bottom, and she felt that too. It was okay but not great. She had gotten that Miss Craig’s 21-Day Shape-Up Program for Men and Women even though Dick had scoffed, and she would have to crack it open soon. She felt her breasts to see if they were saggy at all, and she wondered if they had a tennis court here, or a swimming pool, but then she thought, oh, horses, of course, now there’s a good exercise, riding those big beasts.

Finally the peeing stopped, and she was just about to reach for the toilet paper when this odd light shone through the skylight.

Everything was very still.

She looked up and then suddenly there was this tremendous great flash of light that just made everything white, and she looked down and she could see through the skin of her body to the veins and muscles and bones like one of those pictures in an encyclopedia.

She closed her eyes and she could see through the eyelids, right through the little veins, and then everything disappeared except the whiteness, and she got a funny feeling down through her spine like when she was a little kid on a swing and she had swung up really high, and she was just about to swing down again, and then there came a sound like a heavy wind, and the light was gone, and she opened her eyes and it was just as if someone had popped a flashbulb in her face.

Now what was that all about, she thought, as her eyes adjusted to the bathroom’s returned starlit dimness. She was sure she hadn’t taken any LSD the night before. But perhaps she had overdone it a bit during that long car trip.

Finally she could see well enough to reach for the toilet paper again, and as she did a sort of ethereally beautiful girl of about seventeen or eighteen in a long sangria-colored nightgown appeared in the doorway of the bathroom.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the girl.

But she didn’t look away or leave. She just stood there.

“My fault,” said Daphne. “I should’ve closed the door.”

She wiped herself with the toilet paper, and the silly little bitch just stood there looking at her. She was quite small and pale with long black hair and sad dark eyes. Quite pretty really if you went for that look. Didn’t seem to have much breasts or hips to speak of. But she did have those eyes which seemed to grow larger by the second, and these quite sensuous full lips that Daphne immediately envied.

“I was scared,” said the girl.

Daphne got up, looked for the toilet handle, then saw it was one of those handle-and-chain affairs. She gave it a good yank and the toilet flushed with this absolutely unnerving racket.

“Didn’t you see it?” said the girl.

“See what?” said Daphne. She went to the sink. The tap handles squeaked when she turned them, and the water just sort of belched angrily out of the spigots.

“That -- that light,” said the girl.

Ivory soap. Daphne would have to bring her Neutragena in here. And of course take it out with her after each use.

“Didn’t you see that light?” said the girl.

“Oh. Yeah. Thought it was just me. You know, a little bit too much partaken last night.”

“No! I saw it too! It woke me up!”

“Well, don’t you worry, sweety, it was probably just a --” A what? “-- a comet or something.”

“It was not a comet.”

Daphne realized now that she was horribly thirsty, but she was dubious of the little Archie and Veronica glass in the metal holder above the sink. She cupped her hands under the cold water tap (not that the hot water tap produced water much different in temperature) and drank a bit. It tasted funny, like clams and damp cotton.

She could see the earnest almost opalescent face of the girl in the mirror.

The towel looked clean, and Daphne dried her hands and lips.

“Well, it was nice meeting you, but I am quite starkers at the moment and it is just a teeny bit chilly tonight.”

“You have a beautiful body.”

“Oh. Do you think so?”

Daphne was always ready to drop everything for a compliment. She looked down at herself. True, not bad, especially when compared to a waif-like creature like this kid.

“You have such beautiful breasts,” said the girl.

“Oh, thank you.”

Daphne touched their undersides with her fingers.

“My husband’s always saying, ‘Get pregnant!’ but I can just see these turning into great floppy water balloons.”

“I don’t think they will.”

The girl came softly forward, floating in that lacy shiny nightgown, and she put her hands on Daphne’s hands. She had an almost birdlike touch. But this was getting far too weird. Daphne slipped her own hands down to the girl’s wrists, her fingers easily went all the way around them, and she gently but firmly lowered the girl’s hands to her side.

“I’m sorry,” said the girl, and she looked up at Daphne with those great oval dark eyes. “You’re just so beautiful.”

“Thank you, darling, but now I must return to bed. I am ready to drop with sleepiness.”


She didn’t move, so Daphne stepped around her.

“My name is Hope,” said the girl.

Daphne turned.

“Hi, Hope. I’m Daphne.”

“Hi, Daphne.”

Daphne almost turned again but then she said, “By the way, Hope, um, do you -- live here?”


“Oh. And would you by any chance be some sort of relation to this Big Jake person?”

“He’s my father.”

“Okay. Well -- good night, Hope.”

“Good night, Daphne.”

Daphne turned and started padding off back up the corridor, but then the girl called out in a stage whisper:


Daphne turned again and saw the girl outside the bathroom doorway, lit up by the yellow wall lamp that made her look like a wax statue.

“I’m glad I met you, Daphne! I hope we can be friends!”

Daphne smiled uneasily and waved, then padded off again.

She made it back to the room and closed the door.

She found her shoulder bag on the floor, got out her cigarette case and lighter.

She sat crosslegged on the bed next to the oblivious Dick, and lit a cigarette. There was a small ashtray on the table, from The Sands in Las Vegas.

This big sort of empty sound, this sense of something really huge outside. The cigarette smoke swirled around in the air blowing in from the windows, the air smelling cool and fresh, but along with that absolutely heaven-sent aroma of burning tobacco there were odd little tints of things like cowshit and burnt dirt and squashed lightning bugs, but it was nice.

She saw the lights of a full squadron of airplanes pass by the window in the distance but she couldn’t hear them at all.

A coyote or what she assumed to be a coyote started to howl somewhere, just like in a movie. After a while it quieted down, and then everything was quiet and still except for that huge soft sound of the earth slowly turning through space.

All of a sudden she got really, really sleepy. She ground out the cigarette, got under the covers, pushed Dick’s arm away from the pillow and fell asleep at once.

(Click here for our next installment. Kindly check out the right hand page for links to all other extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain (“Makes Moby-Dick look like a minnow.” -- Dick Cavett) as well as to appreciations of many of Larry’s fine motion pictures.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Twenty: Elektra, Cousin Kevin and Father Reilly

Previously in these, his never-before-published memoirs (“A bizarre amalgam of Proust, St. Augustine, and Sad Sack” -- The Allentown Post-Herald), Arnold Schnabel (“The finest poet ever to come out of Olney” -- The Philadelphia Daily News) had a cup of joe with his new friend the bohemian girl Elektra, on a blazing hot high-summer day in Cape May.

The year is 1963, Vietnam is a rumor, JFK and Jackie rule the White House, and the country is still young.

I insisted on paying the tab, despite Elektra’s protestations.
We stepped out into that enormous heat. For some reason or for various reasons we stopped as soon as we got outside. She looked at me, silently. I have no idea what she was thinking about, and all I was thinking about was what she was thinking about. Was she in turn only wondering what I was thinking?
I thought of lighting a cigarette but it was too hot. Mary Star of the Sea church loomed right across the street, and I noticed one or two people going up the steps. It was Saturday, confession day.
“Okay, walk me to the shop,” she said.
So we walked back down Washington and then down Jackson. Outside the shop she said:
“You can stop by any time, Arnold.”
“Okay,” I said.
“But not too often, okay?”
“All right,” I said. “How about tonight?”
“No,” she said. “I’m afraid you’ll wear me out. Do you know what I mean?”
“I know all too well,” I said. “I wear myself out, every day.”
“Where do you live?” she said.
“At Perry and North. The big white house one down from the corner there.”
“With your mother.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And my three maiden aunts. And my young cousin. And a bunch of boarders who come and go.”
“It sounds bizarre,” she said.
“It is,” I said.
“Maybe I’ll come by and visit you.”
“I’m there quite often,” I said.
Then she put her hands on my shoulder and gave me a kiss, which surprised me with its degree of concupiscence. Well, everyone always said women were a mystery, why should Elektra be any different?
And kissing her in that bright sunlight, that intense heat, both of us already moist with sweat after being outside for only three minutes, it felt almost as if we were in the intimacy of her bed together again...
But as I came up for air I noticed my aforementioned relations marching across Jackson Street on Washington, a small stolid squad of four old women and one young boy, my Aunts Elizabetta and Greta in the front rank, my mother and Aunt Edith in the middle, and young Kevin picking up the rear. Kevin was flopping along in that way young kids do, like mentally retarded people, and turning his gaze at random he saw me, and stopped, cocked his head, but then continued on.
“Okay, see ya, man,” said Elektra, and she opened the door and went into the shop.
I was possessed of a slight erection, so I walked slowly back up to Washington. Even in this almost unbearable mid-day heat there were still lots of tourists wandering to and fro. They were insane. But who was I to talk?
I was about to turn left to go home when I remembered confession. I had never missed Saturday confession in my life, even when I was in the army overseas, nor even when I was in the nut house. I considered just going home, what the hell, everything had changed, at least in my little life everything had changed.
But somehow I could not break the habit just yet, so I turned right towards the Star of the Sea.
My mother and aunts walk so slowly, they and Kevin barely beat me into the church. I didn’t feel like dealing with them right away, so I lit a cigarette. Two or three other Catholics stood at the foot of the steps, smoking one last butt before going in to have their sins annulled.
I finished my own cigarette, tossed it into the street, and went up the steps.
The shadowed stained-glass dimness of the church was a blessing after the inferno outside. I dipped my fingertips in the cool holy water, made the sign of the cross, and then went through the foyer into the nave, its smell of wood and marble, the sparkling of gold and candles. I genuflected and went on up to Father Reilly’s confessional. I knew that my aunts and mother always went to Father Schwartz, farther down over on the other side, and I could see my mother and my Aunt Greta kneeling in a pew. No one else was in line for Father Reilly, but the red light was on, so I slipped into a pew myself and knelt down. Just then young Kevin popped out of Father Reilly’s confessional like a jack-in-the-box, saw me, and immediately squirreled his way onto the kneeler next to me.
“Was that lady your girlfriend, Cousin Arnold?”
He had his hands folded as if he were praying.
“No,” I said. “Now quit talking and say your penance.”
“Wow, you have a girlfriend. I saw you kissing her.”
“All right, excuse me,” I said, and got up. “I have to go to confession.”
“Are you gonna confess kissing her?”
“Say your penance,” I said, and pushed past him to get out of the pew.


I told Father Reilly about the incident with Elektra. His silhouette behind the screen perked up a bit. I’m sure he recognized my voice by now, and this was the first time I had confessed anything more grave than daily self-abuse.
Because he was a priest after all I ran the whole Jesus thing by him, about Jesus encouraging me. And then, I don’t know, maybe I was crazy from the heat, maybe it was the marijuana I had smoked (or of course, maybe I was just crazy), I started rambling on about whether fornication should or should not be a mortal sin. I think he lost patience with me after a while, because he rather abruptly absolved me and sent me packing with only three Hail Marys, which by the way is the exact same sentence he always gave me for my usual confession to seven or eight or more of the sins of Onan. {See Arnold’s poem “Dialogue in the Confessional”, in the Appendix. — Editor.}
I left the confessional, knelt down in a pew and said my penance. Then I looked up. Kevin, my aunts and mother had all left the church. A few other penitents knelt scattered along the aisle seats of the pews.
Well, at least I was free of sin now, according to the Catholic church.
For the time being.

(Click here to go to our next adventure. Go to the right hand side of this page to find links to other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven -- now in development for a major mini-series on Masterpiece Theatre -- and to many of Arnold Schnabel’s immortal poems, available free of charge to senior citizens, students, and serving and former members of the armed services.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Sixteen: Dick falls asleep, wakes up, and falls asleep again

Seemingly oblivious to such earthly concerns as advancing the plot, we continue our Schaefer Award Theatre serialization of Larry Winchester’s great American epic.

Dick (the mysterious stranger who has befriended the young soldier Harvey upon his return from Vietnam to his hometown of Disdain, New Mexico) now finds himself, with his lovely young wife Daphne, in the big Victorian house of the slightly suspect rancher Big Jake Johnstone. Two men have already died violently on this first day. How many more will follow them to Boot Hill?

Dick had trouble getting to sleep that night. Daphne was out cold, but he was still wide awake and very high so he got out that new Vonnegut book Slaughterhouse-Five and he read that for a while, and it was good but then he started to get that old feeling that his mind was slipping, just slipping off into that black void outside and never to return, and he looked up from the book, and the dark old floral wallpaper of the room seemed to teem with millions of blinking little eyes all looking at him, and it felt like this room and this house itself were floating somewhere out in that black void.

Then he remembered that big blue pill, the one the Dutch hippie guy at Rod’s party had called “the Doomsday Pill”, so Dick figured what the hell and he found it in his shaving kit, wrapped up in some Spearmint foil, and he unwrapped it and put it in his mouth and crushed it between his molars and swallowed the bitter chalky bits with his spittle and then he lay back and read some more with dark seas of madness crashing outside the windows, and the next thing he knew he was lying on something like an operating table in this very white room and all these lights were shining down on him and creatures were looking at him and talking about him but it was some language he couldn’t understand, and he was naked and cold, but cold on the inside while the outside of him was warm from the bright lights, and he had to pee but he couldn’t get up, he tried and tried but it was as if some great soft invisible hand was holding him down.

And then he thought, or forced himself to think, I’m dreaming I’m dreaming and he tried to wake up and it was not easy but he really did have to take a pee, and he really was cold on the inside, and then he opened his eye and it was daytime, and he was awake and there was a film of sweat all over his body and the sheet was damp under his back, and he was so groggy, so very groggy.

Daphne had pulled the covers off of him and he was naked. He tried to remember the dream and he couldn’t remember a thing. He lifted his arm up as if it were something attached to his arm, and he looked at his watch and tried to focus and saw that it had stopped, at 2:03 in the whatever. The reading lamp was still on. He reached his hand out and felt the little engraved ring on the end of the chain; he pulled it and the lamp switched off.

For a moment he stared at the little Philco transistor radio on the night table, but of course it was silent.

He felt very drugged. His mouth tasted like cardboard. He really had to take a wicked pee.

Daphne was turned away from him, tangled up in the covers, snoring slightly. Good. The dead don’t snore.

Getting out of bed was a major production. When he finally got to his feet he just stood there for a while, garnering his forces.

The room was old-looking, filled with a lot of odd crap he had been too high to notice the night before.

A stunted brown cactus in a cracked Victorian vase.

A plastic crucifix above the door with a seashell-pale Christ which undoubtedly glowed in the dark.

A standing wardrobe like a confessional in some shabby church.

A grim rotogravure of Pope Pius XII, looking like some long-discredited inquisitor.

A bookcase filled with Tom Swift and Hardy Boys books and 1920s National Geographics.

It all reminded him of Daphne’s grandmother’s place in Cape May.

He reached down into the open suitcase on the floor and pulled out his old kimono; he managed to get into it and tie it closed.

He passed a window and it was as though he were still in a dream -- through the tatty thin lace curtains he saw what looked like a western movie ranch, brightly sunlit corrals, cattle, horses and cowboys, and all around lots of cactus and scrubby bushes and odd-looking trees, with greenish hazy hills in the background under a bright blue backdrop sky, and then he thought, Well, of course, this is a ranch, and he moved thickly to the door.

Threadbare carpets, more dingy wallpaper, a slow walk down a grey hallway, light shining past him from a stained glass window at the end.

The smell of old wood and old wool carpeting.

He found a bathroom. An old claw foot tub with rust stains. A toilet with the tank on top and a chain hanging down with a wooden handle; the paint on the chain and handle jaundiced white and peeled and cracked.

He peed. A lot of pee. And a very strange azure color, he assumed from the Doomsday Pill.

He drank some tepid water from the tap, running it into his cupped hand and lapping it. It tasted soft and odd, reminding him of something he couldn’t remember.

He made his way back to their room.

There was Daphne, sprawled on her back now, mouth open a bit, one naked breast exposed.

The transistor radio, somehow looking as if it were about to say something, but saying nothing.

He let his kimono drop to the floor.

He got back in bed. He leaned over, took her breast in his hand and kissed the soft nipple and then licked it, tasting her salty warmth. She mumbled something and turned over on her side. He was just a little hard, and he pressed himself into the cleavage between her buttocks, and then he fell asleep again.

(Click here to see what happens next. Turn to the right hand side of this page for handy links to all other extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, and to appreciations of many of Larry’s classic motion pictures, some of which will soon be available in handsome and reasonably priced boxed sets from Ha! Karate Home Video, Yokohama, Japan.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Nineteen: Elektra and Arnold Schnabel -- a torrid love affair

In our previous episode of his sprawling memoirs, Arnold Schnabel, that rhyming brakeman, “The Wordsworth of Olney”, (and recovering mental case) has left his young cousin Kevin at a Cape May cigar shop with a dollar bribe to buy some comic books. He makes his way through the broiling heat of a seashore summer’s day to the jewelry shop of his four new beatnik friends.

The night before he has slept with Elektra, one of the two female beatniks. Judging only from the internal evidence of Schnabel’s memoir, it seems quite possible that this was Arnold’s first successfully-completed sexual encounter with a woman in eighteen years, since his deflowering by means of a prostitute in Frankfurt, Germany, in late May of 1945.

I opened the door of the shop, and Gypsy Dave was behind the counter, talking to a middle-aged couple in bright clothes. Jazz music was playing from a hi-fi behind the counter. The store was very nicely air-conditioned.

Gypsy Dave waved at me and I waved back. He was showing the couple some rings. 
“Very lovely,” said the lady. She had a flat sort of accent. Like mid-Pennsylvania, Stroudsberg or Intercourse. “And you make these all yourselves?” she asked. 
“Yes, ma’am,” said Gypsy Dave. 
“I think that’s just wonderful. Don’t you, Clyde?” 
“Yep,” said Clyde. “Real clever.” 
“Maybe we’ll stop in later and pick up something for our daughter.” 
“Great,” said Gypsy Dave. “But I’ll tell you what, you people are so nice, just go on and take that ring for your daughter. Our compliments.” 
“Oh no we couldn’t,” said the lady. 
“Go ahead,” said Gypsy Dave. He took her pudgy hand and pressed the ring into the folds of her palm, like a baker pressing a currant into a wad of pastry dough. 
“We just couldn’t,” said the lady. 
“I insist,” said Gypsy Dave. Even his accent had now become gallant, he sounded a little like Errol Flynn. 
“Are you serious?” said Clyde. 
“Absolutely. It’s not every day I meet such nice people in here.” 
“Well, okay, then,” said Clyde. 
“My pleasure,” said Gypsy Dave. “Tell your daughter to wear it in good health. ‘Bye now. Hi, Arnold!” he said to me. 
“Hi,” I said. 
“Come on over, buddy.” 
I walked over toward the counter. The middle-aged couple were still standing there. The lady was tugging on her husband’s orange short sleeve, and she whispered something in his ear. 
“So, how ya like our shop, Arnold?” said Gypsy Dave, smiling. 
“It’s very nice,” I said. I was having trouble addressing him as “Gypsy Dave”, so I just skipped an appellation entirely. 
The middle-aged man took out his wallet, took a ten dollar bill out of it. 
“Here, sir,” he said to Gypsy Dave. “I’d like you to take this.” 
“Oh, please, of course not,” said Gypsy Dave, “now you two people have a great day, and I hope your daughter likes the ring. Bye, now!” He turned again to me: “So, Arnold, I’m so glad you stopped by. Here, let me show you our stuff.” 
He proceeded to show me the wares in the display cases: rings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches. It was all very pretty. 
The couple had a whispered confabulation together while Gypsy Dave was showing me the stuff. Then they left the store, like a tiny herd of two, each of them throwing a little wave. Dave waved back and so, slightly, did I. 
He walked back down toward where they had been standing near the glass counter. He picked up a ten dollar bill and showed it to me. 
“And that, my friend,” he said, “is salesmanship.” 
He banged on the cash-register and deposited the ten. 
“Was that a good price for the ring, Dave?” 
Somehow I felt on safe ground just addressing him as “Dave”. 
“Oh, sure,” he said. “The stone was a Cape May Diamond we found on the beach along with about a thousand others. The metal was scrap metal. If the four of us work together we can turn out ten of those babies in an hour from scratch. Come on, I’ll show you the operation.” 
He lifted a wooden flap between two of the glass cases and I followed him through a door into a back room. It was a workroom, and Fairchild, Rocket Man and Elektra all sat at a big table, making jewelry. They had little saws and lathes, vises and soldering guns and various other tools, piles of metal and pebbles and seashells and what not.
Along with the smells of solder and cigarette smoke I could smell marijuana in the cool air. On the walls were paintings, drawings and posters, and through two big windows a world of light tumbled and sparkled in from the flowery back yard. 
Everyone said hello to me and I said hello back. 
“Well look who the cat dragged in,” said Elektra. 
She had a many-colored bandanna on her head, holding all that wild black hair away from her busy fingers. 
They invited me to sit and watch them work. We smoked cigarettes, and a reefer was passed around as well. I did not decline it when it came my turn. 
“Hey, shouldn’t someone be in the shop?” I said, always the good German boy. 
“Don’t sweat it,” Rocket Man said. “A bell goes off if someone comes in the front door.” 
So we sat and talked. Every so often the bell did sound and one or the other of them would go out into the shop. 
Once when Rocket Man was in the shop I asked Gypsy Dave about this one colorful pagan poster on the wall, and he told me all about the Buddha and the Bodhi tree. It was quite interesting. But I couldn’t quite help thinking that all these years of wandering, and of asking questions of wise men, and of sitting under the tree, that even all that was probably not enough, not nearly enough in fact. I thought of all these millions and millions of Buddhists over the centuries, wasting their precious time seeking enlightenment when they might have been spending their time more profitably learning a foreign language or how to play the flute or simply talking nonsense with their friends. {See Arnold’s poem “Escaping the Heat” in the list of his poems in the right hand column of this blog.— Editor.}  
I guess I’d been there an hour or more, and suddenly Elektra said to me, “Arnold, let’s step out and get a cup of coffee.” 
“It’s awfully hot out there,” I said. To tell the truth I was pretty engrossed despite my doubts in what Dave was telling me about Buddhism. 
“The coffee shop is air-conditioned," she said. "Come on, you can buy me a piece of pie.” 
“Well, okay,” I said, but reluctantly. 
She led the way out the back way. Out the same door I had crept from the night before. The back yard was filled with greenery, with brilliant zinnia and azaleas and sunflowers. 
“Wow, what a nice garden,” I said. 
She shook her bandanna off her head, her dark shining hair blossomed in the sun. She tied the bandanna around her neck. 
“Come on, big boy,” she said. 
We walked over toward the Cape Coffee Shoppe on Washington. She was even prettier in this harsh sunlight. Somewhat smaller than I remembered her, her skin gleaming like honey, wearing a sleeveless dress with yellow and blue designs like a kitchen table on it, and rope sandals. 
The coffee shop wasn’t far. It was busy, but we found adjacent stools at the counter. I could feel her moist warmth. The coarse sunburnt hairs of my arm brushed the silky golden down on hers, and an electric shock jolted between us. 
“Wow,” I said, “Did you feel that?” 
She just looked at me. 
We each ordered coffee, and she ordered the peach pie, which is pretty good there. Although not as good as my mom’s. 
She had a bite or two and then she said, “Look, Arnold, I like you, but I want you to know I don’t want to be your girlfriend.” 
“Oh, of course not,” I said. 
“Of course not?” 
“Well, why should you?” 
“Well, I don’t know. You seem like a nice guy. Why shouldn’t I?” 
“Well, I’m recovering from a breakdown, for starters,” I said. 
“That’s true,” she said. 
“And also, a pretty girl like you, you could do far better than me.” 
“Well, the thing is, Arnold, I don’t really want a man, anyway.” 
“Oh, I see,” I said. 
“You do?” 
“Well, why should you want a man?” I asked. 
“I don’t know. To have kids with?” 
“But, do you want to have kids?” I asked. 
“Not yet,” she said. 
“Well, there you go,” I said. 
“Yeah, I guess so,” she said. 
“It’s like that Buddha guy,” I said. 
“Like the Buddha?” 
“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, when he was wandering all over seeking enlightenment, and sitting under the Bodhi tree and all, he wasn’t worrying about getting a girlfriend, was he?” 
“No, I guess not,” she said. 
“Or having kids,” I said. 
“That’s true,” she said. 
She looked at me. She had such beautiful brown eyes. And such a nice body under that dress. I wondered if not being her boyfriend would preclude me from having sex with her again. After all, she was a beatnik. 
“I’ve said it before,” she said, eating her pie. “You are one strange man.” 
“I know,” I said. 
I considered telling her about my recent visits from Jesus. 
But I decided not to.

(Click here to go to our next installment. Please go to the right hand side of this page for links to other episodes in our ongoing serialization of Railroad Train to Heaven, and to many of the fine poems of Arnold Schnabel, now available in the CD box set "Moonlight Over Olney: The Schnabel Years" from the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Fifteen: Daphne remembers Automat days and 57th Street nights

Bit by bit, the grand mosaic that is Larry Winchester’s great American epic begins to assume some semblance of coherence. Here Larry, that literary chameleon, slips into the voice of the enigmatic and beautiful Daphne, arrived mysteriously in the town of Disdain, NM, with her equally handsome and mysterious husband Dick.

This strange man Dick Ridpath. I had so wanted to have this wild long bachelorettehood when I got that place in Minetta Street with Minerva but all the men were so tedious and I couldn’t seem to keep a job and I didn’t really want any of those jobs anyway.

I rather wished I could be some sort of writer or photographer but I didn’t really like to write except for letters and postcards and I kept losing cameras before I really learned how to use them.

I got a job as a hostess in this private homosexual night club called Cock Robin’s and there I met Andy Warhol who wanted me to star in one of his movies. The movie was called Oh Fuck You Too and it was just me on a couch smoking cigarettes totally ripped on amphetamines delivering an endless impromptu monologue to these two naked queer boys. As far as I know the film was only shown a couple of times, which was fine by me.

I quickly grew tired of the Warhol gang and declined his offers to “star” in any more films. It wasn’t as if he was paying anything. Some time after I did make a cameo appearance in his Chelsea Girls movie because Nico talked me into it, but my part got cut out because the sound man forgot to turn the microphone on.

I’ve just never really wanted to be part of a gang.

So I kept on at Cock Robin’s because I was too lazy to look for anything else. I made friends with some of the queer men. For some reason queer men love me. And no matter how much I abuse them they keep coming back for more. This was a good thing because I didn’t make a whole lot of money and the queer men were always glad to take me out to lunch or dinner. My mother sent me a hundred dollars now and then. She claimed to be nearly broke, and there was probably some truth in that. She’s like me, spends money as soon as she gets it.

One night this queer writer who liked to be seen with pretty women so that no one would know he was queer took me to a party at Norman Mailer’s apartment. All I knew about Norman Mailer was he was supposed to be a great writer, which meant nothing to me, I find great literature the absolute height of boredom every time. And whenever I’ve met one of these writer people I’ve found them to be a bit on the boring side too. Norman was just this stocky little fellow, not handling his drink very well and dominating every conversation he was in. He tried to pull that on me, and I said, “Mr. Mailer, don’t you ever get tired of hearing yourself talk?” And he said, “Y’know, if you were a man I’d probably take a poke at you for saying that.” And I said, “And that would prove that you’re just an insecure little boy.” He asked me for my phone number. I told him no, because I was dating Mr. X, the fellow who’d brought me there. Norman said, “Really? I thought he was queer.” “Oh, no, I said, far from it. In fact he’s quite the stallion.”

I wandered off into the party and then I found myself talking to this other man who kept telling me I looked just like Sophia Loren in some Italian movie. He talked all about this scene where she does this strip tease in black stockings and garters and I said well I’ll have to see that movie, and then he told me he would give me five hundred dollars right then and there if I would go in the bathroom with him and give him a handjob. And I said what sort of girl do you think I am. And he said I know I’m revolting I’m disgusting I need to be punished. Will you punish me. I’ll give you that five hundred dollars if you will punish me right now. So we went into the bathroom and he took off his belt and gave it to me and dropped his pants and drawers and leaned over the toilet and I hit him ten times with the belt on his hairy ass and he begged for more but I said no, we said ten and that’s all you’re getting. So he gave me five hundred dollars right there and then and now I had found a new source of income.

Every week or so this pervert man gave me a call and although he wouldn’t give me five hundred he did give me a hundred bucks for ten whacks and five extra for cab fare. He was quite important in the advertising field and married so usually I would just go to his office wearing the Sophia Loren underwear he had bought me and punish him right there with his secretary typing away in the next room. He gave me some phone numbers of some other men and soon enough I was whipping four or five clients a week and saving money.

Dick kept showing up in his charming way. He had left the navy and he was also at loose ends. He took me to galleries and foreign films and to all these funny hotel lounges where we would sit and make fun of the people. He got along fine with my queer friends and they of course were just mad for him.

He took me to the jazz clubs on 57th Street and down in the Village. He’d introduce me to the musicians and quite a few times Bud Powell or Thelonius Monk or someone would say, “This next composition goes out to the lovely Miss Daphne.”

Dick got a place in the Village too with one of his old Andover friends named Chaz Peters who was an artist now, but every once in a while Dick went away somewhere for a month or so to do some sort of “consulting” work, apparently some sort of work he had learned how to do in the navy. I thought it was electronics or engineering or something but I never actually asked him what this work was because I was afraid it would be boring. I was actually pretty sure it was engineering or something mechanical because when I asked him what had happened with the fingernails on his left hand he laughed and said he’d slammed them in a car door, but I figured he’d caught them in some sort of machinery.

I don’t know why, but we had still never had sex, never even made out. I had had a succession of tedious affairs and liaisons since coming to New York, and although Dick was discreet on the subject I knew he had his share as well. I was almost certain he had slept with Minerva, the conniving little bitch.

And then suddenly, it was such a nice depressing rainy November afternoon, Dick had taken me to lunch at the Automat and we were sitting in my place, he was on the rug with his back against the ratty old sofa reading one of Minerva’s Eastern Religion books (Minerva was upstate taking the cure for her diet pill addiction) and I was trying to knit some booties for Betty’s new baby and I kept having to throw Minerva’s horrible cat off the sofa and we were listening to Fats Waller and the radiator was hissing in the background and I thought, What the hell, I’m going to have sex with him, I’ll bet he’s really good, and if he is I’m going to marry him.

I was right about him being good in bed but wrong about the money but by the time I found that out I didn’t care because in my own mad way I had fallen in love with him.

(Click here for our next thrilling episode. Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find handy links to the other published portions of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain -- soon to be a major mini-series on the Spike channel, starring Kari Wuhrer, Ashton Kutcher, and Eric Roberts.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Eighteen: the return of Arnold's young cousin Kevin

Previously in these memoirs of “the Rhyming Brakeman” of Olney, our hero Arnold Schnabel ("People call me a poet; Arnold Schnabel was a poet." -- Bob Dylan), still recovering in Cape May from a bout of insanity the previous winter, has met four beatniks on the beach, and, amazingly, made love with one of their female number. Jesus appears to Arnold on his way home, and assures him that everything is okay, which visitation Arnold finds in and of itself not quite reassuring.

Schnabel's notebook holograph is, as usual, undated, but internal evidence and carbon-dating place this passage in late July or early August, 1963.

I awoke next morning feeling odd. Well, I should say, odder than usual. I lay there and realized that one odd thing I was feeling was not hungover. So that was one good thing about marijuana.

I got into my stale bathing trunks and t-shirt, and went down to the kitchen where breakfast was being laid as usual.

“Where did you go last night, Cousin Arnold,” asked my young cousin, Kevin.

Well, my mother and my three aunts all perked up at that.

“I went for a swim,” I said.

“Yeah, but you didn’t come home all night.”

Now I might mention here that my mother and aunts go to bed at around nine o'clock. They had already been up for several hours that morning, having gone to seven o'clock mass and already performed God knows how many chores. So normally they never had any idea when I went to bed.

“Obviously I came home,” I said, cutting my scrapple.

“Yeah, but you must’ve come home really late.”

“Your cousin Arnold is a grown man,” said my Aunt Elizabetta. “He can come home at whatever time he wants.”

"Yeah, but he must've come home really late."

"You shouldn't question your elders, Kevin," said Aunt Greta.

"It's very bad manners," said Aunt Edith.

My mother held her peace, but my cousin Kevin could no doubt see he that he was no match for a gang of tradition-bound old German women, so he cut out the third degree, at least for the time being.

After breakfast I went up and took a shower, shaved my face, and changed into a clean polo shirt and bermuda shorts.

I went out onto the porch with a fresh cup of coffee and my cigarettes and one of my notepads, and of course Kevin followed me. He had the stack of comic books which I had bought for him the previous day, all of which we had read and re-read yesterday.

It was horribly hot out already. I had a poem I needed to write by tomorrow, but with this heat somehow writing a poem seemed impossible. (My aunts’ house is not air-conditioned.)

I sat there smoking. I wondered if perhaps after all I could somehow wrangle a poem from the previous night’s activities. Not to be immodest, but I had no doubt that I could -- after all, there was no need for it to be a good poem -- but I wondered if such a poem would be deemed suitable by my venerable editor at the Olney Times, Mr. Willingham. Although often I had wondered, did he read the poems at all before publishing them?

People were slowly walking up the bright street, in their bathing suits, carrying their umbrellas and beach chairs and blankets and towels, in this already stifling and blazing heat. They were quite mad, to go to the beach on such a day. But then of course it was their vacation and they wanted to get their money's worth. But they were mad nonetheless. They would broil on that merciless beach like so many lobsters. Even I was not that insane.

“How come you’re not working on the railroad any more, Cousin Arnold?” said Kevin.

“I was sick,” I said. “I’m on a leave of absence until I recover fully.”

“You don’t look sick.”

“Well, believe me, I’m still a little sick.”

“I don’t get it.”

Christ, the inquisition again. This kid had all the makings of an excellent Gestapo interrogator.

“Hey, Kevin,” I said. “You want some more comics?”

“More comics?”

It was an alien and exciting concept for him to buy a new batch of comics when the old batch was only a day old. Normally he would buy a batch and read them over and over again for several days or even a week until he managed to scrounge up the money for a new shipment.

“Yeah, sure," I said. I stood up. “Grab those old ones and we’ll trade ‘em in.”

He quickly gathered all the comics off of the porch floor and bounced to his feet.

“This isn’t a trick, is it?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “no trick. Just stop asking me questions.”

“Sure, Cousin Arnold. I didn’t really care anyway.”

“As well you shouldn’t,” I said.

So we walked in that deadly heat over to Wally's cigar store and pool room. It’s near the corner of Washington and Jackson. I took a dollar out of my pocket and gave it to Kevin.

He looked from the bill to me, back to the bill, then to me again.

“You want change, right?”

“No, you can spend it all.”

“Oh wow, and no strings attached?”

“Just that you can’t ask me questions about myself. Especially at the breakfast table. It might upset the aunts and my mother.”

“Got it. No personal questions. But I can ask you other stuff, right?”

“Like what?”

“Like, how fast does a train go.”

“Okay, that kind of stuff’s okay. Just no personal questions.”

“Okay, but -- what if like I wanted to ask you if you ever saw a dead person.”

“All right,” I said, “it’s too hot for this. Go in and buy some comics.”

The cigar store Indian was standing there in that unforgivingly hot sunlight. He looked bored and sullen.

“You’re not coming in?” asked Kevin.

“No. I’m gonna take a little walk.”

“It’s too hot to walk.”

This was so true. My torso was already covered in sweat, my polo shirt was heavy and wet.

“I’m gonna visit some friends.”

“I didn’t know you had any friends.”

“Okay, go inside,” I said.

“Okay, see ya.”

And he went into the dark store, with its bald unpleasant proprietor sitting like a disgruntled toad behind his cigar counter.

The cigar store Indian had not changed his bored expression.

I thought I would just take a stroll up Jackson Street and visit my friends’ jewelry shop.

(Click here for the next thrilling installment. Go to the right hand side of this page to find links to other episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven and to many of Arnold Schnabel’s immortal poems, now downloadable as ringtones, performed by David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Dave Matthews.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Fourteen: interlude on the road, or, Big Jake’s a big coward

Previously in this serialization of that great American epic A Town Called Disdain, written by the legendary Larry Winchester (“Not only our most undervalued great film-maker, but perhaps our most profound living novelist.” -- George Will):

It’s still Harvey’s first day back home from Vietnam. Or rather the night of that first day, and Harvey and the mysterious Mrs. Daphne Smith have been waylaid by a vicious motorcycle gang called the Motorpsychos. Fortunately Daphne’s husband Dick pulls up in the rancher Big Jake Johnstone’s 1969 red Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible, and, while Big Jake pretends to be drunkenly passed out, Dick saves the day, in the process shooting one of the Motorpsychos dead.

Sheriff Dooley arrives on the scene like a bonus god from a machine and sends the Motorpsychos packing with their dead comrade.

With a hellish cacophony of mechanical vomitous noise that was only to be expected from their like, the Motorpsychos roared off toward the hills, and finally Big Jake heaved himself up from the floor space of the Cadillac. He made a great show of rubbing his eyes and shaking his head, and then he shoved his bulk out of the passenger side and walked around to where Dick and the sheriff stood with Harvey and Daphne as the dust and exhaust settled down all around them.

The sheriff had holstered his own gun and was now examining Dick’s small revolver. Dick, Daphne and Harvey were all smoking cigarettes.

“Whoo-ee!” cried Big Jake, “Was I passed out! What’d I miss?”

“Not bad for a small piece,” said the sheriff to Dick, ignoring Big Jake.

“Military & Police Airweight,” said Dick. “Only weighs like eleven-and-a-half ounces unloaded.”

The sheriff spun the cylinder of the little gun, then aimed the pistol out at the darkness, squinting.

“Shrouded hammer,” said the sheriff. “So it don’t catch up on your pocket.”

“That’s true,” said Dick.

If only things would stop vibrating. Ever since he shot that guy it was like a movie where somebody was rocking the projector back and forth. Never shoot a man on acid again, he thought. Never.

“Whoah! What happened here?” said Big Jake, stepping around the enormous pool of blood where Crackle’s body had lain.

“Mr. Smith here shot one of them Motorpsychos in the eyeball.”

“No kiddin’! Why’d ya shoot him, Dick?”

“He was annoying us,” said Daphne.

“Hah!” said Jake. “Annoyin’ ya!”

“Yes, while you were, what was it, sleeping?” she said.

“Passed out! Just passed plum out! Why, Dick, you shoulda woke me up! I coulda helped ya out with this here shootin’ iron!”

He pulled out his Colt six-shooter.

“Put that thing away, Jake,” said the sheriff.

“Sure thing, sheriff! Just sayin’,‘s’all.” He holstered the gun. “Coulda helped out.”

The sheriff handed the little revolver back to Dick.

“Well, sir, I think you’ve shown that even a little weapon like this can be efficacious in the right circumstances.”

“That’s correct, Sheriff,” said Dick, putting the gun back into his shorts pocket.

“Smith & Wesson man my own self,” said the sheriff.

“So I saw,” said Dick. He was so tripped out, it was an effort to pronounce each and every word, but somehow the words came out. “I’ll tell ya something, when I was in the service, try as they would to get me to carry the standard-issue .45 -- and I think that’s an excellent weapon -- my sidearm of choice was the Smith .44 Magnum, just like yourself.”

This was untrue. Through most of his years in the service he had carried the same trusty Browning Hi-Power, which he had won in a poker game with a British marine lieutenant back in Korea. However, he had learned a long time ago that no matter what country you were in it didn’t hurt to make friendly with the local law.

“Yep.” The sheriff patted his holster. “The old Model Six Two Nine does give one a certain feeling of -- how shall I put it -- serenity."

"Nice looking vehicle you've got there, too, Sheriff." Dick felt his mind lurching from side to side as he said this.

"Thank ya," said the sheriff. "Got what they call the Police Pursuit Package. 440 V-8 engine. Hurst Shifter. It takes me where I wanta go, but let me just ask ya, somethin’, Mr., uh, Smith --”

“Yes, sir,” said Dick.

“Next time you got some big fat old boy comin’ at ya with a sap -- and I ain’t sayin’ what you did was wrong or uncalled for -- but next time, why’nt you think of maybe some other way of stoppin’ him short of puttin’ a .38 slug in his eye.”

“I will, Sheriff.”

“I ‘spect you can handle yourself.”

“Well, I try, sir.”

“Just think about it’s all I’m sayin’. Less paperwork for me and all.”

“I understand.”

“Hell, Sheriff,” said Jake, “you gonna do paperwork on a dead one of them Motorpsycho scum?”

“Well, no, Jake,” said the sheriff, “in point of fact I don’t guess I will. But as you say, I’m just sayin’, s’all. How you doin’?”

“Doin’ fine, Sheriff, just fine.”

“After your little nap.”

“Heh heh, yep,” said Jake. “So! I guess we’d best be gettin’ on our way if that’s okay with you, Sheriff.”

“’S’okay with me,” said the Sheriff. “Y’all drive careful now.”

“That we will,” said Jake. “Come on, Dick, let’s go. I’m okay to drive now.”

And Big Jake turned and lumbered quickly back to the Cadillac.

The sheriff turned to Dick and said low but clear:

“Jake Johnstone always was a chicken shit. You be careful with him, mister.”

“I will, Sheriff.”

“You friends with him?”

“No, sir, we’re just here on vacation, staying at his ranch.”

“Stayin’ at his ranch.”

“Yes, sir.”

The sheriff looked from Dick to Daphne and Harvey, who were both leaning back against the Thunderbird, still smoking their cigarettes in that dry desert air that had dropped about forty degrees Fahrenheit since that afternoon.

“Did I say welcome back, Harvey?” said the sheriff.

“Don’t remember, Sheriff,” said Harvey.

“Well, welcome back, then, son.”

“Thanks, Sheriff.”

The sheriff tipped his hat to Daphne.


“Thanks ever so much, Sheriff,” said Daphne. “You’ve really been a tremendous darling.”

The sheriff paused, then turned and headed back toward his Plymouth Fury.


And then the ranch began to loom up toward them out of the desert under the stars, it looked like a movie with its stables and corrals and enormous barn, and plumb in the middle this great big wooden Victorian house with gables and dormers and towers.

And their room, the brass bed, that enormous cool crisp bed and above it the queer little painting of the World War I soldier returning to the little country cottage, and then sleep at last.


(Click here for the next exciting chapter. For quick links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain -- soon to be a major motion picture event, providing Larry’s Japanese investors really come through) -- and to pithy celebrations of many of Larry’s classic motion pictures, please go to the right hand column of this page.)