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.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, is this the same cigar store Indian from that Seinfeld episode where Jerry keeps trying and failing not to make racist remarks to the Native American girl?