Thursday, November 29, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Thirty-Two: Daphne and the rattlesnake

Previously in this sprawling masterwork by the legendary (“makes Norman Mailer look like Truman Capote” -- John Updike) Larry Winchester, our heroes -- the recently de-mobilized soldier Harvey and the glamorous strangers Dick and Daphne Ridpath -- survived through Harvey’s pluck and quick thinking a rather unpleasant encounter in the New Mexico desert with the now-deceased Thorndyke family.

However, as they ride back to Big Jake Johnstone’s ranch on this strangely grey day in September of 1969...

Finally Daphne saw a clump of the same kind of cute white flowers she’d lost in that quicksand thing and she swung down holding onto the edge of the saddle because the horn had gotten shot off and she had just pulled the clump up when she saw the snake looking at her and then it started to rattle and she knew it was a rattlesnake.

Without ever taking her eyes off of the snake, which was only about eighteen inches from her unshod but pink-stockinged right foot, she very slowly raised herself back up into the saddle and then very gently she passed the flowers from her right hand to her left and then with her right hand she reached down and turned the clasp of the hard leather sandwich case hanging from her saddle and she lifted the flap and felt the butt of the little revolver wedged in between the Saran-wrapped sandwich and the inside of the case and very slowly and gently she drew the gun out.

She had certainly seen enough cowboy movies where this was done.

But what if she missed.

It could make for one angry rattlesnake.

Should she just nudge the horse on?

She glanced back to Dick and Harvey.

They were absolute miles away.

The snake rattled again and showed its ugly tongue and hissed.

She looked again toward Dick and Harvey. They had both halted and they sat on their horses perfectly still, looking toward her and at the snake.

The snake hissed again.

The hell with it.

She strethed out her arm, aimed the gun right between the snake’s eyes, and squeezed the trigger.

Dick and Harvey galloped over, and she was putting the gun back into the sandwich case.

Harvey swung down, went over and picked up the dead snake.

“Damn. Right between the eyes.”

Daphne brought her cigarettes out of her vest pocket.

“Cut his rattle off, soldier boy. I want a memento. My very first snake.”

Dick reached over and gave her a light with his Ronson.

“My first non-human snake, anyway,” said Daphne.


(Click here for our next enthralling chapter. You will find links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain on the right hand side of this page. Remember, finals are approaching!)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Thirty-Six: Arnold and Elektra in the throes of passion

It has been a rainy stormy day in Cape May, NJ, this August of 1963, and the hero of our memoir Arnold Schnabel and his new inamorata, the bohemian Elektra, have had dinner with Arnold’s mother, his three maiden aunts and his young cousin Kevin. This was Elektra’s formal introduction to Arnold’s family.

Considering Arnold’s tender mental state, the dinner went fairly well.

Which isn’t to say that Arnold wouldn’t have preferred to skip the whole thing...

It started to rain again as we walked up Perry Street. Elektra opened up her umbrella over both of us. I was having one "first" after another these days, and in my forty-two years this was the first time I had shared an umbrella with a woman who was not my mother. I took the umbrella, it seemed the gentlemanly thing to do, walking on the street side of the pavement, as I had somewhere heard the gentleman was supposed to.

I felt as if we were in our own private world under the umbrella, with her bare arm in mine, and I found this feeling strangely exciting, in nearly every way one can imagine being excited, including sexually.

For some reason we didn’t talk as we walked; I can’t account for Elektra but for me it felt redundant and meaningless to add anything to the sound of the rain drumming on the umbrella, the murmuring of the wind.

As we turned down the stone path to the side of her house I felt overcome by the wet beauty of the rose bushes, the ivy crawling up the side of the house, the glistening grass, the caramel smell and the touch of this woman who for some reason was choosing to share my baleful broken presence, and as we turned the corner to go into the rear entrance I couldn’t control myself, and with my one free arm I embraced her and kissed her.

A minute later she said, “Whoa, tiger.”

I had dropped the umbrella. It lay upside down on the ground, filling with rainwater. We were both streaming wet.

“I can’t help it,” I said.

“I don’t want you to help it,” she said.

“Should we go up now?”

“Yeah,” she said.

Fortunately none of her friends seemed to be home, and we went right into her room.
She told me to stand still, and then she

(The next page of Arnold’s copybook has unfortunately been torn out, probably by Arnold himself in one of his occasional retrospective acts of modesty or prudence. We continue mid-sentence with the next extant page. — Editor.)

breathing heavily and slowly, and, I confess, coughing a bit. She laid her dark head in my damp armpit, and sure enough, after a minute I heard the steady childlike breathing of her sleeping.

I looked at the illuminated dial of my watch: it was after ten, which meant that we had been doing what we had been doing for approximately two hours. She seemed so sound asleep I decided to get up and go. Once again I found my clothes and put them on. They were damp, but I didn’t care.

As I was pulling my Bermudas on she woke up and said, “You’re going?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. “Unless you want me to stay.”

“Your mother will worry, won’t she?”

“I doubt it. She’s probably in bed by now herself.”

“You can go, Arnold. I’m exhausted and I want to sleep.”


I felt it incumbent upon me to kiss her, so I leaned over and did so. She seemed to fall back to sleep even as I raised my face from hers.

I was lucky in leaving; her friends were still out.

I was also lucky in that the rain had stopped again, although it was still rather windy out.
I felt emptied of madness, I felt content, and wide awake. I had no idea why this woman was allowing me to make love to her. It didn’t seem to me that I was any bargain.

I walked along, breathing in the rich air smelling of water and life, feeling as if my feet were barely touching the pavement, but just as I put my hand on the front gate of my aunts’ house I thought of poor Steve at the VFW.

I hesitated.

He wasn’t my problem, just some random lonely drunken queer fellow, but, don’t ask me why, I felt sorry for him.

I thought I’d just walk down to the VFW anyway. If he was still there maybe I could get him to go back to the Chalfonte before he got in trouble. If he wasn’t there I’d have a quiet beer and then go home and try to read some more of The Waste Land till I got sleepy, which, if that poem continued as it had been, would be after three or four lines.

The VFW is off the beaten track, and generally speaking only locals go there. I’ve stopped in there off and on over the years, although I’ve never officially joined the post. It’s not really my cup of tea. I prefer the more touristy bars like the Ugly Mug, the Pilot House, Sid’s, even the Top of the Marq. I suppose I prefer those places because I feel more anonymous in them. If I go into the VFW it’s always the same locals I’ve seen there every other time I’ve been there on my yearly vacations, and unfortunately they know who I am, because my aunts are year-round residents and everyone in town knows them because everyone in Cape May knows everyone else.

Now why does this bother me, I wonder? Shouldn’t I like it that everyone knows me? But no, I don’t like it. If I must go into a bar, and apparently sometimes I must, I prefer to slip in quietly, the unknown quiet man quietly drinking his beer or Manhattan. The last thing I need is a bar full of hearty fellows clapping me on the back and asking me how it’s going.

It took me a long time but eventually I’ve come to realize that I am not a regular guy. I can imitate one passably sometimes if I’m with casual strangers, but the more people know of me the more they know how hopelessly irregular I am.

Oh, sure, back home in Olney I would sometimes go with the other ushers to the Fern Rock Diner on Fifth Street after noon mass on Sundays, but the only ones that ever made any attempt to advance our ecclesiastical friendship tended to be even more hopeless and boring than myself. So I would drink my coffee and eat my fried mush and eggs and scrapple and go home.

Same thing in the army. Same thing on the railroad.

Same thing with the Catholic Youth Organization and the Community Service Corps, even those hotbeds of chaste Catholic bachelors: the only guys who wanted to be friendly with me were just the ones whose conversation made me (no Steve Allen or Jack Paar myself) want to run out screaming in the streets from the excruciating tedium of it all.
I digress, but after all this is my memoir and no one will ever read it anyway, probably not even its author.

I walked down the windy dark empty street, turned right at Congress, made my way up the block and crossed at Park Boulevard and came up on the lit-up small parking lot of the VFW post. It’s just a plain one-story stuccoed building, dull and brown, it’s windows made out of filmy glass bricks like ice cubes. I opened the door and went in. The first thing I heard was Steve’s distinctive tenor, singing along to a song on the jukebox called “Be My Baby”. And there he was in the middle of the crowded bar, waving a beer mug in time to the music.

Amazingly, it didn’t look like anyone wanted to beat him up, at least not yet anyway.

I thought, Okay, now I want to go, but of course Steve saw me, stopped singing, and began waving energetically at me, calling out my name. Or rather calling out the name Arthur, which I suppose is close enough.

(Click here for our next brilliant chapter. Turn to the right hand column of this page to find links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Thirty-One: Colonel Masterson and Lieutenant Perkins

(Click here to see our previous episode; go here to return to the beginning of our epic.)

A young soldier named Harvey returns from Vietnam to his New Mexico hometown in the desert, to say goodbye to his mother and a friend or two, thence to go on to discover his own path through the cosmos.

Two days later, and five people have already died violent and meaningless deaths.

But on the other hand Harvey has been hired by the blowhard rancher Big Jake Johnstone to act as guide to the mysterious and beautiful Dick and Daphne Ridpath at the then-outrageous salary of $100 a day. So Harvey’s got that going for him, if he lives long enough to spend the money.

Meanwhile at the nearby air force base...

Lt. Perkins had reported as instructed directly to Col. Masterson in his office.

“It disappeared,” repeated Col. Masterson.

“Yes, sir. Or -- rather it -- it appeared to disappear.”

“It appeared to disappear.”

“Y-y-yes, sir.”

Perkins had the unfortunate habit of stuttering and stammering and repeating random words when speaking to authority figures. He was painfully aware of this habit, and well aware that it made him seem to be lying even on those occasions when he was not. But this awareness only made him stutter and stammer all the more.

“And you’re sure it was an army truck.”

“W-well, it -- it might’ve been, uh, air force or m-marines. Or national guard? Or --”


“Except it had this this this --”


“Weird camouflage pattern. Pattern. Pattern.”

“I heard you. Camouflage. Pattern.”

“Yeah. I mean yes. Sir. I -- I mean it l-l-looked to me like one of those, um, standard old, you know, um, S-studebaker, Studebaker, Studebaker army trucks. Sir.”

“So it might’ve been army surplus.”

“Th-that’s possible, sir. B-but there’s still a lot of those trucks being used, sir. W-we’ve got the same kind on this b-base. Base. Sir.”

The colonel was quiet for a few moments, tapping his right index finger on his desk blotter.

“All right. You haven’t told anybody else about this?”

“N-no, sir. According to your instructions, sir. Anything unusual, unusual --”

“Yeah, right. Well, keep buttoned up about this till I check it out. Good job.”

“Th-thank you, sir.”

“Dismissed, Lieutenant.”

“Th-thank you, sir. G-good day, sir.”

As soon as that geek Perkins was out the door Masterson picked up the phone, ready to call that bastard General Halliday. Goddam army bastards and their goddam secret truck missions, he’d give them a piece of his mind about secret activities in his sector.

Then he put the receiver down.


Why should he show his hand?

Did he really think Halliday would admit anything?

Not fucking likely.

No, better to sit tight.

There were ways to deal with these army bastards.

And besides, he’d better check first to see that none of his own little base’s trucks were missing.

Lt. Perkins walked across the shimmering asphalt toward the officers’ quarters, thinking about a shower and a cold beer.

This was a creepy place but it had to be a damn sight better than Vietnam, which country amazingly he had been able to avoid so far in his military career. He had volunteered for flight school, and completed it, in a state of lunacy having to do with proving himself a man and not a stuttering awkward geek, but he was long over that madness now and had no wish to be a hero. Two more years of this nonsense and with any luck still no Vietnam, and then he could get back to real life. Graduate school, get his MBA, start earning some bread. Just as long as he didn’t get sent to Nam, that was the main thing.

After a year in Korea he had been posted to this small unheard-of base a month ago. The duty was easy and the areas he patrolled were just beautiful, and it was true there wasn’t much to do around here except drive into Disdain and drink beer, but still, at least it wasn’t Vietnam. No one was trying to kill you here.


But, why was everyone so strange around here? So grim and so worried-looking. And why did guys who’d been here for a while apparently keep volunteering for Nam? Were they nuts or did they know something he didn’t know? And was there anything to this rumor he’d heard that this base had the highest accident rate of any base in the air force?

Fuck it.

Shower and a beer, that was the thing.

Oh. Yes. And that new issue of Playboy, still virginally unopened on his night table. That was something to look forward to. His quiet moments alone with a Playmate of the Month were really the best moments of his life. His relationship with Miss August (“flower child-woman debbie hooper”) had been serenely profound, and she had been gloriously enthusiastic in the threesomes they had enjoyed with Miss September, whatever her name was. But now the October issue had arrived, and a new lovely young woman awaited him within it. He would not stutter and stammer and be an awkward geek with her. Oh no. No fucking way.


(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for a listing of handy links to other episodes in our serialization of this unrated director’s cut of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Thirty-Five: Convocation on the porch

In our previous installment of these world-renowned memoirs (now rumored to be in development as a 14-part series from the BBC, starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz), our hero Arnold Schnabel’s new inamorata Elektra came to have dinner with Arnold and his mother and his three maiden aunts and Arnold’s young cousin Kevin.

Arnold and Elektra are enjoying post-prandial wine and cigarettes on the porch when who should come down the street but Steve, whom Arnold had previously taken for the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Cape May, NJ. August, 1963.

What can you do when someone just invites himself up? Say no?

We were trapped.

I started to say, “Sure, come on up,” but I hadn’t got past the “sh” sound in “sure” before Steve was already working on the gate latch, which after only about half a minute he managed to lift up.

Next thing I knew he was on the porch, bending over and giving Elektra a kiss on the cheek.

“Don’t tell me your name!” he said to her.

“Okay,” she said.

“Athena!” he cried.



“Nope,” she said.

“Okay, uh — Jocasta?”


“Am I warm?”

“A little.”

“Is it Medea?”


“Hmmm, let me think. Lysistrata?”

I couldn’t take it any more.

“It’s Elektra, Steve,” I said.

“Elektra! I knew it! Thank you, Arthur!”

“Arnold,” I said.

“Arnold! So what are you two up to?”

“Uh, well, uh,” I said.

“Is this where you live, Arnold?”

“Well, uh –”

My mother opened the screen door, holding a tray with cups of coffee, saucers and spoons, a little cream pitcher, a sugar bowl.

“Hello, madam,” said Steve.

“Hello,” said my mother.

“My name’s Steve. Here, let me take that tray.” He took the tray from her. “And who might you be?”

“I’m Arnold’s mother. Mrs. Schnabel.”

“Are you? Arnold’s only my best buddy, you know.”


She looked at me in puzzlement.

“What a fabulous house you have, Mrs. Schnabel,” said Steve.

“It’s my sisters’ house,” said my mother.

“Yes, but still,” said Steve.

“Can I have a cup of that coffee, Steve?” said Elektra.

“Of course, darling.”

He went over and bent down with the tray; she took a cup and saucer, and with a gentle wave of her hand indicated she didn’t want sugar or cream.

“Arnold?” said Steve.

I took a cup, black also.

“Would you like a cup, Steve?” asked my mother.

“No, thank you, I’ve just had a gallon of coffee.”

“Can I get you something else?”

“Oh, no thank you, very much, I’ve only popped up to say hi really. Don’t want to wear out my welcome.”

“You’re very welcome, Steve,” said my mother. “Any friend of Arnold’s is welcome here.”

“So kind of you to say that.”

He handed her back the tray.

Kevin came and opened the screen door.

“Hello, little man,” said Steve. “And who might you be?”

“Kevin Armstrong,” said Kevin.

“My name’s Steve.”


My Aunt Edith appeared behind Kevin. This was getting insane, and this time it wasn’t all me.

“Hello,” said Steve.

“Hello,” said Aunt Edith.

“My name’s Steve. Arnold’s friend.”

“I’m Edith. Arnold’s aunt.”

“Hello, Aunt Edith, and aren’t you just as cute as a button?”

At this Aunt Edith retreated back indoors but Kevin just stood there in the doorway.

“So!” said Steve. “I should be going. Arthur I mean Arnold, where is this VFW club I’ve heard so much about?”

“Just go right down the street here till you get to the next corner, Congress Street, then go right and it’s another block and a half or so on the right-hand side. You can’t miss it.”

“Care to come?” He looked hopefully at me, then at Elektra, then back to me again, with a sad half smile on one side of his face.

“Uh, no, Steve, thanks,” I said. “we, uh —”

“We just ate an enormous and delicious meal,” said Elektra. “I think we’re just going to sit here for a while, Steve.”

My mother still stood there, holding her tray, and Kevin remained in the doorway.

“I should probably eat something,” said Steve, wistfully. “Do they have good food at this VFW?”

“It’s okay,” I said. “Go for the meatball sandwich.”

“Steve, why don’t you let me fix you a plate?” said my mother.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t, Mrs. Schnabel.”

“You wait here, I’ll bring you out a tray. Would you like a glass of wine?”

“A glass of wine? Well, that would be nice.”

“Sit down and I’ll be right out.”

“I really shouldn’t.”

He looked at me for guidance. I surrendered.

“Go ahead, Steve,” I said. “Pull up a chair.”

“I’ll only stay for a quick glass of wine. No food.”

“No,” I said, possibly with a note of firmness. “Bring him some food, Mom.”

“I’ll heat a dinner up.”

“Oh, please don’t, Mrs. Schnabel,” said Steve. “Just something cold is fine.”

“Would you like some roast beef?”

“That would be lovely, thank you.”

She went in, shooing Kevin in front of her.

“May I pull that over?” Steve said, pointing to another rocker on the other side of the doorway.

For some reason I couldn’t even answer him. And it didn’t really matter anyway.
He went over, picked the chair up, brought it over and set it down across from us, but closer to my chair than Elektra’s. The porch is not all that deep, and so his knees were only about a foot from mine.

The light that just a few minutes before had brightly colored the street had now fallen away. A silence fell, or was allowed to resume, but it was still rather windy out, so this was the silence of wet leaves hissing in the trees, of fallen leaves scudding along the street like flotsam in a river, and, from seemingly far away but only a few blocks away, the ocean endlessly crashing at the edge of the continent.

Then Steve started prattling again.

Twenty minutes later he had devoured a roast beef sandwich and downed a jelly glass of wine, all the while talking, although I’ve already forgotten about what, even though I am writing this the next afternoon. Evening had fallen, the street lamps had come on. It was just me and Elektra and Steve on the porch now.

“Well, I really should be going,” Steve said, at last.

I just couldn’t bring myself to say what I know you’re supposed to say when someone says that, which is “No, stay”, and neither did Elektra.

“Are you sure you two wouldn’t like to have a drink with me at the VFW? I’m buying.”

“Steve,” said Elektra.

“Yes, darling.”

“Lean closer.”

She gave him a come-hither wiggle with her index finger.

Steve rose from his seat and leaned closer to Elektra, holding his cigarette up and away.

“Arnold and I want to go to bed,” she said, quietly but distinctly.

Steve’s mouth made an O, then his head snapped back and the O became a thin line.

He stood up.

“Can you ever forgive me?” he asked. At first he was facing Elektra but then he looked at me.

“Forgive me, Arnold.”

“I forgive you, Steve.”

“Okay, give me directions for that VFW place again.”

“Steve,” I said, “do you really want to get drunk all over again?”

He said nothing for a couple of moments, blinking in the twilight.

“But what else is there to do? This is my vacation.”

“You could — take a walk?”

“Oh please.”

“You could see a movie.”

“Arnold, this is my vacation. You understand, Elektra, don’t you?”


“You two are lucky. You have something to do besides drink. But who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky.”

“At the VFW?” I had to ask.

“Stranger things have happened, old boy.”

“Be careful there, Steve.”

“You mean don’t get beat up?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Arnold, for me getting beat up is an occupational hazard, so don’t you worry.”

He asked me again for the directions, I gave them again, and he went away, walking quickly.

“So that’s your Jesus,” said Elektra.

I hesitated, but now that she had brought the subject up I felt honor-bound to say something.

“I had a few more of those — hallucinations, today,” I said.

“You mean you saw Jesus again?”

“Or something like him.”

“Did he look like Steve?”

“A little,” I said.

She looked at me. She had been smoking a cigarette, and now she stubbed it out in the ashtray.

“How would you like to go to my place now?” she said.

“I would like that,” I said.

“I have to say good night and thank you to your family first,” she said. “You stay here.”

Steve had left his plate and wine glass on a tray on the table. Elektra filled the tray up with our cups and saucers and our empty wineglasses, and took them inside.

I sat and waited, smoking a cigarette. I could hear the theme music of I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster.

The street became darker, the street lamps came on.

I finished my cigarette, and after a couple of minutes I lit up another one.

I didn’t mind waiting. After forty-two years there was no hurry now.

Eventually Elektra came out. She got her purse off the table, took up her umbrella, put her arm in mine, and off we went.

We still had the whole evening ahead of us.

(Click here to see what happens next. Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his classic but accessible poems.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Thirty: two brief interludes in the desert

In our previous episode of this unexpurgated edition of Larry Winchester’s sprawling masterpiece, our heroic trio ( the young recently-discharged soldier Harvey and the mysterious and glamorous Dick and Daphne Ridpath) were beset upon by the debased Thorndyke family, who wound up buried in the quicksand of an atomic sinkhole.

It’s September, 1969, a few miles outside a town called Disdain, in New Mexico. The #1 song in the country is “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones...

And as our protagonists ride their tired horses back to Big Jake Johnstone’s dude ranch, little do they know they are being watched by the international assassins (and fellow guests at the ranch) Hans Grupler and the woman known only as “Marlene”:

Grupler and Marlene had watched the entire Thorndyke family episode through binoculars from a butte some two miles distant.

“Well,” said Hans, “things are clearing up. We know now they are renegade. That was a US Army truck, albeit somewhat oddly camouflaged. And those soldiers were trying to kill them. If they are worth killing there must be a good reason for it.”

He spoke in the almost-extinct Bavarian village dialect he had spoken as a child and which he had taught Marlene.

“Perhaps they intend to steal an H-bomb from the air force base,” said Marlene, just to add something to the conversation.

“Perhaps. And oh my dear girl what we could do with an H-bomb.”

“Yes. That would be nice,” she said.

Not that she really cared so much about the details. She let Hans deal with all the silly intrigue. Marlene was an old-fashioned girl. Just let her know where to point her gun and she was happy.

Daphne was way off in front. Every once in a while she would swing down partway off her saddle like an Indian and grab up some plant or desert flower and swing back up again. She would ride along looking at the plant and sometimes she would toss it away and sometimes she would stick it in her saddlebag, and sometimes she would just keep it in her hand for a while.

Dick suddenly noticed that there were two holes in the breast pocket of his jacket, where he had put his little Philco transistor radio.

He took the radio out and saw that a rifle bullet had gone clean through it, entering the front at an angle that would have led straight into his right ventricle, but somehow the bullet had taken a left turn through the body of the radio and gone out the thin part on the side, making the second hole in Dick’s pocket.

Dick clicked the little dial, but the radio was dead, killed, kaput. 
He put it back in his pocket.

(Click here for our next thrilling chapter, and kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain. )

(Special note: this novel, which had its origins in a screenplay Larry originally wrote in 1966, and was all set to direct in Almeyra, Spain, in September of that year  (starring Michael Parks as Harvey, Laurence Harvey as Dick, Julie Christie as Daphne, Slim Pickens as Big Jake, and Gert Frobe and Capucine as Hans Grupler and Marlene) -- a production which sadly was cancelled when Larry's main backer was murdered in a Mafia turf war --  has now reportedly been greenlighted as a major motion picture by a major independent Hollywood production company, and Larry hopes to begin filming this long-delayed labor of love sometime early next year, with exteriors filmed on location in Sonora, Mexico. Nothing is set in stone yet, but the names Pitt, Jolie and Gyllenhaal have been bandied about, and the noted thespian John Goodman was spotted having lunch with Larry recently at Larry's favorite stopping place Musso and Frank's on Hollywood Boulevard. Goodman was later quoted in the Hollywood Reporter as saying he would "kill" for the part of Big Jake. All Hollywood was abuzz the next morning when Cate Blanchett told the good ladies on The View that she would be willing to play the part of Marlene for scale. As of press time the part of Grupler seems to be still up for grabs.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Thirty-Four: Elektra holds her own among the ladies

Previously in this classic memoir (long available only in xeroxed samizdat form) of the man Harold Bloom has called “perhaps the only American poet worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with Shakespeare, with Dante, with Homer”, Arnold Schnabel retired to the living room to watch Popeye with his young cousin Kevin as his bohemian inamorata Elektra remained in the kitchen to help Arnold’s aunts and mother prepare duck’s blood soup.

A nor’easter spurts its last gasps against the shuttered front windows of this large Victorian boarding house in Cape May, New Jersey; August, 1963...

As soon as Popeye ended, with Popeye in the passionate embrace of Olive Oyl, it hit me for the first time in my life:

“Kevin,” I said, “Did it ever occur to you that Olive Oyl’s name is a play on words?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean her name is a joke.”

“What’s so funny about it?”

“Well, her name is the same as olive oil, the oil, like cooking oil. Except it’s spelled differently.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Olive oil. You know, oil made from olives.”

“What about it?”

“Well, there’s this oil made from olives, and it’s called olive oil. And Olive Oyl in the cartoon has the same name, except it’s spelled differently.”


“I had never realized that before now,” I said.


“Had you?” I asked.

“No. Because I had never heard of olive oil before. What do I know about olive oil?”

“Good question,” I said.

“If her name was Crisco Oyl maybe then it would mean something to me.”

“Right,” I said.

John Facenda {A popular Philadelphia TV news anchorman of the era. Known as “the voice of God”. — Editor.} came on with the news. We watched it for a bit. Some gang in England had robbed a train of 2.6 million pounds. {The “Great Train Robbery” of August 8, 1963. — Editor.}

“When I grow up I’m gonna be a train robber,” said Kevin. “No offense; I know you used to work on the railroad.”

“No offense,” I said. I had almost finished my topped-off jelly-glass of wine, and I felt much better than I had when the glass was full.

My mother came in and called us to dinner, so I got up and turned the TV off.
Normally we eat in the kitchen, but now because we were having company we were eating in the dining room, which is just a cramped uncomfortable room in between the living room and kitchen, with a table that’s actually no bigger than the kitchen table.
The ladies had brought out the good china, which I find annoying to eat off of. It’s got all this fancy imitation gilt along its scalloped edges which when you wield your knife and fork upon it makes for an awful scraping noise like desperate mice trapped behind a chalkboard.

Kevin and I sat down. For some reason he always sits immediately to my left when we eat. Or is it I who always sits to his right?

I noticed a black leather woman’s purse on the table, and I realized it was Elektra’s. I hadn’t even noticed before that she was carrying a purse.

That’s me for you in a nutshell, I amble through life noticing only things like the smell of steam coming up from a sidewalk grill, or the rainbow colors in a puddle of gasoline in a gutter, or worms in the grass on a rainy spring day, and yet I fail to notice that my inamorata is carrying a black leather purse.

There was a bit of fuss about Elektra wanting to help bring in the food, but the old women kept telling her to go on and sit down.

Finally she did sit down, to my right. And thank God she had brought the Chianti bottle in and put it well within my reach. The old ladies had opened all the windows now that the rain had lessened, and they had turned on two dueling oscillating black fans on tables on opposite sides of the room, but it was still hot in there from all the cooking in the kitchen next door.

Elektra put her hand on my leg. I was wearing Bermuda shorts. Her hand felt very warm. I glanced into her eyes, and she smiled. I could feel the warmth of her body, and she smelled like French toast with maple syrup. Embarrassingly, I started to get an erection.
Thank God again, my Aunt Greta brought out the big wooden salad bowl, and Elektra took her hand off my thigh before my erection could reach its full enormity.
The salad was dished out, or at least for me and Elektra and Kevin it was dished out. My aunts and my mother did their usual business of just sharing one plate, and either not sitting down at all or sitting down and then getting right up again.

My Aunt Elizabetta asked Elektra what she did for a living. Elektra told her about the jewelry shop, and Edith asked her if her family was in the jewelry business.

Oh, great, I thought, this is going to lead to her Jewishness. But fortunately Elektra’s father was in the scaffolding trade, so that held Edith off at the pass.

Under further questioning Elektra revealed that she had gone to NYU and majored in English, and then had gone on to complete her master’s degree in English Literature at Columbia. All four of the old women looked at her as if she were speaking Chinese.

“I’ll probably go back for my Ph.D, but I felt like taking a year or two off first,” she said.

This meant nothing to the old women. She might as well have been explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity, not that I myself would have understood the latter either.

Aunt Greta asked her where she was from. Elektra said she was born in Brooklyn, but moved to the Upper West Side of New York City with her family when she was eight. My aunts and mother had all lived in Brooklyn when they first came to America, so this precipitated a conversation about the old Brooklyn neighborhoods. My aunts and mother had lived in Bushwick, Elektra’s family had been from Williamsburg.

I’ll say one thing, at least I was finding out some things about Elektra that I hadn’t known before.

By this time we were on the duck’s blood soup with noodles, and I have to say it was delicious.

However, I guess the hammer had to come down eventually, and so it did.

“Your neighborhood was really very clean,” said my Aunt Edith.

“Oh,” said Elektra, “yes, I suppose so –”

“The Jewish people are clean,” said Aunt Edith.

“Um,” said Elektra.

“Not like the Irish,” said Edith.

“Uh,” said Elektra, and she put her hand on my thigh again.

“Or the Schwarzen,” said Edith.

Elektra squeezed my thigh.

“Bushwick was a very clean neighborhood,” said Elektra.

“Not any more,” said Aunt Edith. “Nothing but the Schwarzen there now.”

“Okay, Edith,” said Elizabetta, who has certain liberal tendencies, as well as sounder ideas, or ideas at all, about acceptable dinner conversation.

“What?” said Edith.

“Help me bring the roast beef in,” said Elizabetta.

“Okay,” said Edith.

I refilled my Flintstones glass.

“Don’t forget me,” whispered Elektra and I filled her up too.

“I want some grape juice,” said Kevin.

He tried to reach for the bottle but I moved it away.

He accepted the deprivation without comment, and took to quietly singing the theme song to 77 Sunset Strip.

My Aunt Elizabetta came in with the platter of roast beef, and my Aunt Edith followed with the gravy. My mother brought in the potatoes, Greta brought in the greens.
Elektra removed her hand from my thigh, which was good because I was starting to get another erection.

We made it through the meal. I felt sorry for Elektra, continuing to try to talk to my aunts and to my mother, something I never tried to do. Normally I just ate my food while they talked among themselves and I paid no attention, indeed I often brought a book to the table. It was a sore point with Kevin that he was not allowed to bring comic books to the dinner table, although this was permitted at lunch by some obscure loophole in familial law.

At the end of the meal there was a tedious discussion about letting Elektra help with the dishes, and while it was going on I went out to the porch with another topped-off jelly glass of wine and my cigarettes. It was almost twilight now, the rain had abated to a salty thin spray that seemed not to fall but to shimmer in the air. The air smelled of honeysuckle and gladioli, of wet dirt and the ocean. I sat down in my usual rocker, lit up a Pall Mall, and stared out at the street, covered like a forest floor with gleaming green leaves and fallen brown twigs.

Kevin was inside watching TV again. I could hear the theme song: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

After a few minutes Elektra came out. She had a glass of wine too, and her leather purse. She sat down in the rocker next to me, put her glass down on the little wicker table between us, and took out her cigarettes. I gave her a light.

“Well, that was interesting,” she said, quietly, blowing the smoke out the side of her mouth.

“I’m supposed to be the one with mental problems,” I said. “And yet you volunteered for that.”

“It wasn’t so bad. You don’t understand women. We’re always submitting ourselves to absurd situations. It’s our lot in life. Besides, your aunts and mother are nice.”

“They’re prejudiced,” I said.

“I know. But they don’t know any better.”

She smoked, staring out at the street. The rain had stopped. The sky and the air had been grey all day, but now, just as the day was ending, an illumination fell across the street through the moist air, as if floodlights mounted on the gables of our house had all at once been switched on. I stared at Elektra’s face and remembered I hadn’t written her a poem yet.

“Oh, no,” she said. “Will you look at who’s walking down the street?”

Sure enough, coming down Perry Street was who at first I thought was Jesus, but then I realized it was just that Steve guy, unless of course Steve really was Jesus, which was still a possibility I supposed. He wore a light green sport shirt this time, and matching shorts. He wasn’t carrying an umbrella.

He crossed the street and turned left on North, towards us. My aunts’ house is one house in from the corner.

He gave no sign of knowing we were there until he was right abreast of us, then he stopped and stared.

“Arthur!” he said. “And your lady friend! Quelle surprise! May I come up and say hello?”

(Click here for our next wacky chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, and to many of his fine and easy-to-read poems.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Twenty-Nine: Showdown with the Thorndyke Family

In our previous episode of auteur Larry Winchester’s sprawling (“great, American” -- Harold Bloom) epic, we finally met the notorious desert-trash Thorndyke mob: Old Man Thorndyke and his spawn Otis and Naomi, father, brother and sister to the late Bull Thorndyke, gunned down by our hero Harvey in a fair fight.

September, 1969, a few miles outside of a town called Disdain in the great state of new Mexico.

Harvey and his new friends Dick and Daphne Ridpath have ridden their horses to the edge of the top of a mesa, when who should they see driving up the far slope but...

“What is it,” asked Daphne.

“It’s the family of the guy I killed the other day.”


The truck stopped out there at the far end of the mesa.

Three people got out of the truck, and they each had a rifle.

“Ah, shit,” said Harvey, “come on quick and get over this slope.”

He grabbed the reins of his palomino and the first shot cracked out just half a second after it spurted up the dirt at his feet.

Daphne got her horse to the verge first and another bullet took off her saddle horn.

Three more shots struck the dirt and two bullets whizzed over their heads as they scrambled with their panicking animals down onto the slope.

The way down was rocky and steep, impossible on horseback. Just getting down on foot without tumbling down and breaking a neck would be hard enough.

The horses slid and scuffled and whinnied.

Dick held the reins of his Appaloosa tight in his left hand and in his right hand was the Browning.

“Damn,” said Harvey, “You’re always heeled, ain’t ya?”

“Yeah,” said Dick. “What do ya say? We can lie down here and try to pick them off when they get closer.”

“Sir, they only got to flank us along this slope with one of them rifles and we’re dead. We gotta run.”

“All right then. You’re the army man.”

“I got an idea, but first we better try and slow ‘em down a bit.”

Daphne crouched there like a runner holding onto her mare’s reins. She still had the flowers in one hand, and her horse was the only one that was holding steady.

Harvey drew his revolver and cocked the hammer.

“Listen, both of us just reach over and fire a few rounds, then we hightail it down this slope. You two folla me and just go where I go if ya don’t wanta get yourselves killed.”

“Right,” said Dick.


Dick jacked a round into the Browning’s chamber and cocked the hammer.


They could hear the truck moving again.

They both ducked up and fired three rounds and then ducked back sticking their guns away and all three of them started scrambling down the slope, pulling on and hanging onto their horses’ reins, Daphne following Harvey and Dick following her, the three of them and their horses slipping and sliding, dust flying up and rocks and pebbles tumbling down and disappearing into the sinkhole down below.

Harvey got down to the base of the slope first and he pulled his horse back away from the sink and then Daphne came stumbling down with her whinnying horse pulling her as she held onto the reins, still holding the flowers in her left hand, and Harvey helped her turn the mare around and the mare nudged her and Daphne stumbled back, her right leg sank into the sand to the knee, she dropped the flowers, they disappeared.

Harvey grabbed her arm and pulled her, Dick grabbed her other arm and they pulled together, and her leg came out with a pink sock on her foot but without her riding boot.

Harvey helped Dick pull Daphne to her feet and then he pulled his horse closer and swung up onto the saddle and jogged the horse to the right.

Daphne and Dick mounted and followed him, he led them along the foot of the slope, then after about thirty yards the sinkhole started to fall away, curving out in a semi-circle into the desert.

Harvey pulled to the left, staying a couple of yards outside the falling-away of the hole, and as he did he glanced up and back and saw and heard the truck at the top of the mesa.

He kicked his horse hard and took off, galloping at a curve along the edge of the sink, he could hear Dick and Daphne following him, a bullet whizzed by his nose, he fought the urge to keep riding straight out into the desert and kept bearing to the left following the curve of the hole.

He glanced back again and saw someone in the rear of the truck up there aiming a rifle at him over the roof of the cab, and he saw the muzzle flash against the grey sky and then the bullet snapped a cut like a whiplash across the back of his left hand as it whizzed by, and he kept on riding at a curve along the edge of the sinkhole.

When he got out in line to where the truck was sitting up there he reined his horse sharp right and took off his hat and smacked the horse’s flank with it, leaning right down onto the horse’s neck and kicking it with his heels straight on out into the desert.

He heard three more shots but he didn’t hear the whiz of the bullets or see where they landed.

Then he heard the tortured sound of the truck’s motor and its strangled gears, and he knew the Thorndykes were driving their truck down the slope.

He kept riding and then he realized that the sound of the truck had gone muffled, and he turned the horse to the right a bit and glanced back, and he saw the truck plunging straight down into the sinkhole.

He allowed the horse very gradually to slow down to a walk, patting its wet dirty neck and feeling its lungs filling and emptying under his legs, feeling his own lungs filling and emptying in the dry air. He turned in his saddle and looked back, the truck was quiet, stuck now about five or six yards from the base of the mesa, the rust-colored sand up above its wheels.

Harvey turned his horse back around. Dick and Daphne came up on their horses, pulled them up and around on either side of him, and they all looked back to the Thorndykes in their truck, about a quarter of a mile away.

They could hear the Thorndykes shouting. Someone started to squeeze out of the passenger window and Harvey saw it was fat Naomi Thorndyke, she was holding out her arm to scrawny Otis in the back, but Otis ignored her and just kept walking side to side at the back by the tailgate with his rifle at port arms.

Naomi tried to pull herself up onto the roof of the cab but she fell and landed in the sand and then she wasn’t there any more.

Now the fat old man was climbing out of the driver’s window, you could hear him yelling and cursing and calling for Otis to lend him a hand, but Otis just ignored him and then stopped pacing and climbed down off the back of the truck, and he sank in up to his thighs, but he got his balance, holding his rifle up over his head, and then in slow motion he started slogging towards the base of the mesa, slow and slower like a man in a dream.

Old Man Thorndyke wriggled and struggled his way out of the window just as the sand started to pour into it, and he clawed his way up onto the roof and then tumbled on back into the bed of the truck. He scrambled to the rear and seemed to hesitate a second as Otis kept slogging slowly closer to the border of the sink even though the sand was up to his waist now, and then the old man pulled out a handgun and yelled something at Otis but Otis just kept slogging.

The old man got quiet and then he climbed gingerly over the tailgate and stared down. Then he dived in feet first and the sand swallowed him to his waist as if he’d jumped into a burnt ochre lake.

You could hear him cursing and shouting again.

Otis kept slogging on in slow-motion, the sand up to his chest now, but he had made it to only about six feet from the edge of the hole.

His father started slogging too, but he was much heavier, and with each slow grunting lurch of his body he sank lower, and now the sand was pouring into the back of the truck, and then just the roof showed, and then nothing, the truck was gone and the sand where it had been was perfectly smooth and all you could see was the old man with the sand up to his neck holding his pistol up in the air.

Otis was in almost up to his neck now, but he had reached the sloping edge of the sink. He threw his rifle up and grabbed onto a dead yucca root and pulled himself, you could see his body slowly slowly rising up out of the sand.

Dick and Harvey and Daphne sat on their horses side by side not saying anything and watching as Otis finally pulled himself out and then just lay there, his bony body wheezing. He turned over on his back and you could see him looking at his old man with the sand up to his throat holding his arms up above his head and shouting at his son with the pistol still in one hand.

Otis just lay there propped up on his elbows with his little bloated belly going in and out like a bellows under his t-shirt, and even at this distance you could hear the old man telling Otis to pull him in with the rifle, come out into the sand a little ways and pull him in you fucking miserable fucking coward, but Otis just lay there looking at him. He didn’t want to step into that sink again.

Then the old man pointed his handgun at Otis and Otis reached over and grabbed his rifle but the old man’s gun flashed and Otis doubled over as the gun’s bark shot across the desert. The old man fired twice more and Otis’s body shuddered twice, his rifle fell down into the sink and then he crumpled up and slid down after it like a rag doll and disappeared.

All you could hear now was the old man shouting and roaring and cursing life and death and man and God.

Harvey saw the old man twisting his head and shoulder around and looking across the breadth of the sink and the desert at him and Dick and Daphne, and stretching out his right arm and aiming the pistol in their direction. It flashed and the bullet fell spent like a thrown pebble in the dust fifty feet in front of them and now they heard the shot and their horses didn’t even flinch.

The old man roared again and then put the gun to the side of his head, red stuff sprayed out the other side of it, the old man’s mouth opened wide in a soundless scream, then came the muffled pop of the shot with the old man’s eyes open wide and then his head went under and the last thing you saw was the gun pointing up still in his hand, it flashed one last time and barked at the dead sky, and then it slipped under along with the dead hand that held it.

Then it was like nothing had happened, and the sand over the sinkhole lay as smooth as a sheet of old gold.

Daphne lit up a cigarette, not bothering to use her holder. She blew out the smoke and dropped the lighter back into a pocket of her vest.

“Well,” she said, “that was charming.”

She reached down and pulled off the one boot she still had on and tossed it away. She still had pink socks on both feet, anyway.

They heard the sound of a jet engine. They looked up and saw an air force F-100 Super Sabre zoom a few hundred feet over the mesa and over their heads and away, spooking the horses.

They settled down the horses, and then Harvey asked Dick and Daphne where they wanted to go now.

Daphne had her right foot up on the saddle, massaging the sole with her fingers.

“I don’t know about you fellas,” she said, “but I for one have had quite enough of the beauties of nature for one day.”

(Click here for our next chapter. Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, possibly soon to be a major motion picture event based on the soon to be-released smashing new computer game from Ha! Karate, featuring the voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Lindsay Lohan, Pierce Brosnan, and featuring special guest star Rush Limbaugh as Old Man Thorndyke.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 33: Astroboy

In our previous episode of these chronicles of the man the late Norman Mailer called "The only 20th Century writer I’d be afraid to get in the ring with; well, him and Larry Winchester...” Arnold Schnabel met his new inamorata Elektra outside the sprawling Victorian boardinghouse of his three maiden aunts Greta, Elizabetta and Edith. Elektra is to have dinner with the family for the first time. Inside the house Arnold’s mother and aunts prepare the feast. Arnold’s young cousin Kevin watches Sally Starr’s Popeye Theatre.

It is a rainy, stormy day in Cape May, New Jersey; August, 1963.

So we went up the steps and onto the porch. Elektra partly closed and then snapped open her umbrella quickly a few times to flick the water on it over the rail.

It was odd, but just watching her do something so simple as shaking the water off of her umbrella made me want to go to bed with her.

She looked at me.

“What are you thinking about, Arnold?”

I glanced across the street, but Jesus had disappeared again. Should I tell Elektra that I had just seen him? No, even I could tell this was not a good time for that, if there ever was.

“I’m just thinking I’m happy to see you,” I said, which was not a lie.

I wanted to put my arms around her, but this wasn’t the time or place for that either, and anyway I was holding the wine in the paper bag, it would have been awkward.

“So shall we go in or just stand out here all night?” she said.

“I’d rather just go back to your place.”

“Come on, Arnold.”

She touched me on the face with her fingers, which made something inside me go hollow and then fill up again.

“Okay, let’s go,” I said.

We went over to the doorway, she put her umbrella in the wicker umbrella stand, the only kind of umbrella stand that’s there, I opened the screen door for her and we went inside. Kevin was still there, sitting on the floor, watching the TV.

“Hi, Electric,” he said.

“Hi, Kelvin,” said Elektra.

“My name’s Kevin.”

“My name’s Elektra.”

“Hi, Elektra,” he said, rolling his eyes.

“Whatcha watchin’, Kevin?” she asked.


“Astroboy. I don’t think I’ve seen that.”

“It’s good. You wanta watch it with me?”

“I think I should say hi to the ladies first,” she said.

“They’re in the kitchen,” said Kevin, turning back to the show. “Cousin Arnold’ll take you.”

“Okay. See ya.”

“See ya,” he said, but he was concentrating on Astroboy again.

I took her back to the kitchen. It was hot and moist and meat-smelling, and all the women stopped what they were doing and looked at Elektra.

For a strange moment there was silence. Elektra squeezed my arm, I snapped out of it, and introduced her to my aunts and re-introduced her to my mother.

Just then Charlie Coleman came in from the side-door hallway, wearing a wet rubber slicker and a rubber hat and rubber boots. He had an armful of lettuce and other greens, and a half-gallon mason jar of what I think was cream and a plastic container of butter. I hadn’t even heard his truck pull up.

He cheerily said something I couldn't decipher, and my Aunt Elizabetta took the stuff off him, put the lettuce and greens in the sink, the jar and the container on the counter. Then my Aunt Greta dug into her apron and gave Charlie a few crumpled bills and some coins.

He thanked her, then he said something to me — I couldn’t make it out, I thought he was saying something like, “Who got the gravy.”

“He wants to know who the lady is, Arnold,” said my Aunt Edith.

“Oh, this is Elektra, Charlie,” I said. “Elektra, this is Charlie. Charlie helps my aunts out around the house.”

“Hi, Charlie,” said Elektra.

“Charlie brought us the duck earlier, too, Arnold,” said my mother.

Charlie said something else, God knows what. He went on for quite a bit.

Elektra nodded several times back at him.

Then Charlie left and the older women went back to staring at Elektra.

“Elektra brought some wine,” I said, and I took the bottle out of the bag.

All four of the older women said variations of “You shouldn’t have,” Elektra said it was nothing, the old women said again she shouldn’t have, she said it was no big deal, then they all said the same things one more time, but before they could go through it again I asked where the corkscrew was.

My mother and aunts don’t really drink, but I was ready for one. My mother found me the corkscrew, and I opened the bottle. Elektra said she wouldn’t mind one, and I could see a glance going around the old ladies, but under the glance I heard them thinking,
“She’s Jewish, they probably drink wine all the time, like Italians.”

There were no wine glasses so we drank out of a couple of my aunts’ Flintstones jelly glasses.

The old women got back to work on the food. Elektra asked if she could help with anything, but they all said no. Elektra asked again, they said no again. Then one more time around, and Elektra went over to the stove and started to engage in conversation with my Aunt Elizabetta, something to do with a gravy she was making.

I stood there like a lump by the kitchen table, drinking my wine, sweating in the kitchen heat. Elektra was speaking with the old women, the old women were speaking to her and to each other, and all of them were doing things with food and pots and pans.

My jelly glass of wine became empty. I refilled it.

Elektra came back over to me and touched my back with her fingers.

“How are you doing, Arnold?” she said in a low voice.

“Fine,” I said. To tell the truth I was feeling just a little bit crazy, but I figured I’d probably be okay after I finished this glass of wine.

“What did that man Charlie say right before he left?” she asked.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“He said he brought over the best duck he had,” said my Aunt Edith. I hadn’t realized she was listening. She was holding a bowl of dark red blood. “And then he said he also raises chickens and pigs, and he has a cow, and if you ever want to buy any chickens or ducks or pigs or eggs or cream or fresh butter he would give you a good deal. Then he said you were really pretty and that it was about time Arnold married and settled down."

“Oh, okay,” said Elektra.

“Do you want to help me make the duck’s blood soup?” said Aunt Edith.

“Um, okay, sure,” said Elektra.

The old ladies had slit a living duck’s throat, but thank God I had not witnessed the execution. I had stood witness once as my aunts killed a duck and then held it upside down to let it exsanguinate into a bowl. It was not an experience I wanted ever to repeat.
Come to think of it, I didn’t particularly want to watch this next bit either, which involved some mysterious process of mixing the duck’s blood into the simmering and fragrant duck broth.

I don’t mind eating the duck’s blood soup, I just don’t want to watch any of these gruesome preliminaries.

Elektra was holding a wooden spoon and standing attentively next to my Aunt Edith who held the bowl of blood in her small but sturdy hands. Elektra only stands about five foot four or so but still she seemed to tower over tiny Aunt Edith.

I said I was going to go in to the living room and watch TV with Kevin until dinner was ready.

All of them, including Elektra, told me to go on in.

“Go on, Arnold,” she said, waving the spoon.

She didn’t have to tell me again. I topped off my glass, went on out through the dining room and into the living room and just caught the beginning of a Popeye cartoon, one of the good ones, with Bluto.

(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. Kindly go to the right hand column of this page to find links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, and to many of his brilliant poems.)

Go Astroboy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Twenty-Eight: presenting the Thorndyke family

Thorndyke family reunion; Disdain, NM (undated)

Previously in Larry Winchester’s critically-acclaimed (“Makes All The Pretty Horses look like Little Women.” -- Harold Bloom) masterpiece, our heroes Harvey, Dick and Daphne found themselves in a compromised position atop a mesa in the nuclear-blasted desert outside a town called Disdain.

September, 1969...

Sheriff Dooley waited until his hangover abated a bit on the afternoon of the day after Bull Thorndyke’s death before he drove out to the Thorndyke shack to give the family the news.

He would have preferred to telephone, but the phone company didn’t run lines out to Coyote Canyon where the Thorndykes lived, and the Thorndykes probably wouldn’t have got a phone in anyhow since they had no one to call and there was no one who would want to call them, either. And even if they had gotten a phone they wouldn’t have paid their bills and the service would have been shut off. That was just the type of people they were.

The sheriff told them plain and simple what had happened, and he also told them plain and simple that if any of them started anything with Harvey they’d have to deal with him.

Scrawny Otis the older brother and fat Naomi the young sister and bigger and fatter Old Man Thorndyke all swore up and down they understood and that that damn Bull always weren’t nothing but a no-account jackweed fuckwad no-how.

Then they offered the sheriff some of their moonshine tequila that looked like pig sperm and smelled like dead bugs and gasoline.

The sheriff declined, but after he left they sat around drinking and getting mean and talking about how they was gonna kill Harvey and get away with it too.

They didn’t really care about Bull, in fact they were glad he was dead. They didn’t give a fuck. They were just plain mean, that’s all, and now they had an excuse to be really mean. It felt good.

Later that day they drove into town in their ‘47 Hudson. They stopped at the Hideyway and had a few Falstaffs and blackberry brandies, and they told all and sundry that Bull had been looking to get his fool self killed ever since he was born, and they held no book against young Harvey, no sir.

They asked Mo and Keely and Quint how Harvey was making out, and Mo and Keely and Quint told them about Harvey’s new job on the Johnstone spread, and the Thorndykes all said they was glad to see a young returning soldier get a good job right away. (Not that any of them had ever worked an honest day in their lives.)

Then they left after shaking hands with everybody, and went out to get Bull’s army truck which was still sitting in Burt’s lot.

Otis wondered if they shouldn’t go claim Bull’s body and arrange for a burial or something.

Why, said Old Man Thorndyke.

Otis couldn’t think of a good reason, so they drove the truck and the Hudson back to their place and went in and ate some of Naomi’s critter stew and then drank their moonshine tequila and home-brewed pulque while they chewed jimson weed and cleaned and loaded their firearms.

The Thorndykes pretty much wrote the book on no-account lazy white desert trash, but they practically lived on that continuous stew into which Naomi would drop their dismembered poachings of quail and roadrunner and coyote and fox and bobcat and chuckwalla and kangaroo rat, and if there was one thing every one of them was good at it was shooting.


(Click here to see what these two-bit redneck peckerwoods get up to next. Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, soon to be a smashing new computer game from Ha! Karate (featuring the voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes, and Billy Bob Thornton.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Thirty-Two: preparing the betrothal feast, part two

In our previous episode of these memoirs of the poet whom Harold Bloom called “Olney’s less boring answer to Walt Whitman”, Arnold Schnabel’s new inamorata Elektra agreed to come to dinner with Arnold and his mother, his Aunts Greta, Edith and Elizabetta, and his young cousin Kevin.

August, 1963. Cape May, New Jersey.

A nor’easter rattles the windows and shakes the trees and sends the waves crashing up against the stout pilings of Frank’s Playland.

After my bath I went to bed, in my little attic room with the electric table fan blowing the warm humid air over my naked corporeal host. I switched on my table lamp in the dimness and duly read some more of The Waste Land, making scarce head or tail of it.

I did like this one part:
Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
It reminded me of dear old Olney, that bridge that goes over the Heintz factory, the burnt metal smell.

The whiskey reek when you walk by the taprooms, etc.

So I put down The Waste Land and picked up This Sweet Sickness again, and that I quite enjoyed. It's about a madly obsessive young man who seems to all intents and purposes normal but who is actually insane. A good rainy day book. After a while I laid it aside and pulled the little chain on the lamp. I turned on my side away from my little window and closed my eyes, listening to the rain crackling and popping on the roof right above me, the crashing of waves of rain against the front of the house.

I fell asleep.

After an unknown amount of time I woke up and I saw Jesus sitting at my table with the desk lamp on, smoking a cigarette and reading one of the scrapbooks in which I keep cuttings of my poems.

I tried to speak but I couldn’t get any words out.

He looked up and smiled. He was wearing that pink polo shirt again, and the Madras shorts, just like Steve’s shirt and shorts. He did look a little like Steve, but then I realized he looked like a lot of people, like Alan Ladd, and Jeffrey Hunter, and even Tab Hunter, and other people I couldn’t identify.

“I know,” he said. “Man of a thousand faces!”

I think I made some sort of sound, somewhere between a groan and a sigh and a yawn. I won’t try to write it out phonetically.

“Hey,” he said, “didn’t mean to upset you, just thought I’d stop by.” He closed the scrapbook and laid it on the table. He flicked off the lamp, just an old gooseneck desk lamp. “Go back to sleep!”

I still couldn’t say anything.

Even though the light was out he still seemed illuminated in the rainy day dimness, as if his skin and clothes and his hair were phosphorescent.

“Hey, I like your poems, by the way,” he said. “They really got better after your little breakdown, didn’t they?”

I tried to talk again, but I just couldn’t. I felt like my mouth was paralyzed with Novocain.

“So look,” he said, and he stubbed out his cigarette in the butt-filled tin ashtray on my table, “I’ll go, didn’t mean to disturb your nap.”

He stood, up, stooping a little because of course my room is right under the gabled roof.

“Have fun with Elektra tonight. And don’t forget to yodel!”

He chuckled and went to the door. There was a black umbrella leaning against it, he took it, opened the door and went out, closing the door quietly behind him.

I closed my eyes.

I slept.

I woke up with a rush again.

Had I really just seen Jesus? No, I was dreaming. It’s okay to have insane visions as long as you’re dreaming.

I fell back to sleep.
When I awoke again I felt much better, very rested. The rain was still coming down, but much more lightly now, and the wind had settled too. The green of the leaves on the oak tree outside my window sparkled dully, like seaweed in clear water.

I remembered my dream vividly, if it was a dream. For some reason it didn’t scare me. To tell the truth it was beginning to feel normal to be visited by the son of God.

I got dressed and went down to the bathroom, taking my book with me. I peed, and then I brushed my teeth. I went downstairs and into the kitchen where all three of my aunts and my mother were fussing with various foodstuffs. My mouth watered. Aunt Elizabetta was rolling and cutting noodle dough. I peeked in the oven, and there was a roast beef in it. A duck simmered in a pot on the range. I went over to where my mother was stirring chocolate batter in an enormous bowl. She told me to get away and not to spoil my appetite. I said okay and got a cup of coffee from the percolator.

I went out through the dining room and into the living room, Kevin was in there watching Clutch Cargo on the TV. He said not a word to me, nor I to him, I speak of Kevin of course, not Clutch Cargo, and I went out onto the porch and sat down in my usual rocker. The afternoon’s gale had lessened into a windy steady rainfall.

Jesus stood across the street, under his black umbrella. He waved with his free hand. A blue and white Tastykake truck hissed slowly by, and, when it passed, my alleged lord and savior had disappeared, into thin air, or rather into thick rainy air.

So, there you had it.

I was still insane. Or I was sane, and Jesus was my friend.

I continued to stare out at the street and then I saw another vision in the rain, off to the left, Elektra coming down Perry Street, holding up another black umbrella, wearing a pale blue dress, carrying a paper bag of something.

When she got near the front gate I stood up, and then, realizing she wouldn’t have a free hand for the gate I ran down to get it for her.

When I closed it behind her she turned and held the umbrella over both of us.

“Hi, lover.”


“Brought you wine.”

She handed me the bag. I peeked into it, and it indeed contained a large bottle wrapped in straw, and filled apparently with liquid.

I looked up into Elektra’s face, and it was beautiful in the wet grey light, with the rain rattling on her umbrella.

“What are we eating?” she said.

“Duck soup with noodles, and roast beef,” I said. “And chocolate cake.”

“Beef and duck and cake. Let’s go, big boy.”

Over her shoulder I could see Jesus again, standing across the street under his black umbrella, waving at me. Well, at least he didn’t seem to be inviting himself to dinner. So I had that to be thankful for.

(Click here to find out more about the duck soup. And kindly turn to the right side of this page for links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, and to many of his classic poems.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Applause, please

Two of our favorite bloggers, Kathleen Maher of Diary of a Heretic, and The Self-Styled Siren got close but no cigars in the 2007 Weblog Awards. Kathleen writes great serialized fiction and the Siren writes greatly about great old movies. So go to their respective sites and show some love. And don't forget to applaud.

Friday, November 9, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 27: on the mesa

This unrated director’s cut of Larry Winchester’s long-out-of-print classic novel continues. (Please click here to go to our previous chapter.)

The time is September, 1969. The place is the wasteland neighboring a small town called Disdain, in New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment”. Our recently discharged young soldier Harvey has been hired by the blowhard rancher Big Johnstone to act as guide for the mysterious and glamorous Dick and Daphne “Smith”...

The sky had hardened out into a great steel dome, and they sat on their horses on the eastern edge of a tall mesa, looking out at a tiny town like a toy-train village about five miles out there in the desert, clear and precise, a small square grouping of bone-colored split-level houses radiating from a grey empty square with a few larger buildings around it like building blocks. One of the buildings had a squat rectangular steeple with a tiny black cross on it.

“What’s that down there, Harve?” said Dick.

“That’s one of them atomic towns. Fake towns the government built to blow up in the A-bomb tests. Sometimes they got blown clean up and sometimes they was set far back enough so's they only got the glass blown out their windows. This was one of them kind of towns.”

“Let’s go have a look.”

Harvey paused a moment, looking at Dick. Daphne simply sat on her mare, one leg swung over the pommel, staring out at the desert.

“That’s all radioactive and shit down there,” said Harvey.

“How bad can it be?” asked Dick.

Harvey paused another moment.

“Mister, I grew up around here. And it can be pretty bad. See that little holler down below?”

The mesa sloped down fairly sharply a couple of hundred feet and at its base was a semi-elliptical depression about the size of a football field.


“Watch this.”

Harvey slid off his palomino, picked up an empty Falstaff beer can from the ground, reared back and tossed it down into the depression below.

The can disappeared into the rust-colored sand without raising any dust or leaving any trace.

“Atomic sinkhole,” said Harvey. “Got a bunch of ‘em round here. Most of the locals that got any sense know where they are, but we lose a few tourists in ‘em every year.”

“Harvey,” said Dick, “this is why we’re glad you’re our guide.”

“Ooh, look at those flowers,” said Daphne. “I’ll be right back, boys.”

She reined her horse around, kicked it, and galloped off toward the southern slope of the mesa. She brought the mare up short near the edge in a cloud of dust, dismounted, and bent over to look at a growth of some sort of white scrub blossoms.

“How about a cigarette break, Harve?” said Dick.

“Fine with me.”

Dick swung down from his Appaloosa, patted its neck and murmured something to it, then walked over to where Harvey now squatted, looking out into the desert. Dick sat down crosslegged, lit Harvey’s cigarette and then his own. He took off that stupid Australian hat and ran his fingers through his hair.

“I guess you’re wondering what this is all about, Harve.”

Harvey didn’t answer right away. But then --

“A hundred clear a day covers a lot of wonderin’, Mr. Smith.”

Dick put his hat back on.

“Harvey, I have to tell you. My name’s really not Smith.”

“Never thought it was.”

“It’s really Ridpath. Dick Ridpath.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir.”

For a moment or two they just sat and squatted there, smoking, staring out at the desert. From seemingly far away they could hear Daphne singing.

Crimson and clover,” she was singing, “over and over. Crimson and clover, over and over...

“Do you smoke pot, Harve?” asked Dick.

“Sure do.”


Dick had a few ready-rolled in the left breast pocket of his jacket, and he handed one to Harvey. Keeping his own cigarette lit, Harvey let Dick light up the joint with his Ronson.

Dick had trouble making friends with men. The sad fact was that men bored him. Even with some of the really brilliant men he had met -- Dr. Einstein, Jean-Paul Sartre, Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, Steve Allen, D.T. Suzuki, Hermann Hesse, that old brujo in Cuba -- he still got bored if he stuck around too long.

But oddly enough he felt un-bored around this laconic young fellow.

“I’m looking for something, Harve,” said Dick, toking. It was very strong Thai stick. Like Harvey he kept his tobacco cigarette lit in one hand while toking on the joint. “I just don’t know what it is.”

“Skip the cryptic talk, Mr. Ridpath, and give it to me straight.”

“Okay, sorry. Here, Harvey, see this thing?”

He took the transistor radio out of one of the many pockets of his jacket.

“I’ve been getting messages from this thing,” he said.

Harvey had the joint now, and he toked.

“Okay,” he said. “So you’re insane. Thanks for letting me know.”

“Harvey,” said Dick, “do I look like a nut?”

“No, but you talk like a nut.”

Dick looked at the transistor.

“I guess it does sound crazy.”

“Yep. Dat it do,” said Harvey, and he passed the joint back to Dick.

“Oh, well,” said Dick, and he put the transistor back into his pocket.

“Maybe I am crazy, but a voice did tell me to come down here, and it also told me to hire a good local guide with a military background. And there you were.”

“I thought Mr. Johnstone hired me.”

“Well, that’s true, but he hired you specifically for us.”

“Yeah. Why’d he do that, anyway, and for so much money?”

“He thinks we’re big-time drug dealers, so he’s sucking up to us.”

Harvey realized he had been toking on his cigarette, thinking it was the joint, which was now magically back in his other hand. He caught a taste of burnt filter and flicked the butt away over the slope.

“So you ain’t drug dealers?”

Dick stubbed out his own cigarette in the dirt, field-stripped it, and put the filter in his right side jacket pocket.

“No,” said Dick, “We’re not drug dealers, but I have a friend back in Frisco who is a big-time LSD manufacturer, and he does business with Big Jake, and Big Jake owes him a favor. My friend told him to give us whatever we needed.”

“Mr. Johnstone deals LSD?”

“Apparently, yeah. He’s a wholesaler for this whole section of the state.”

Harvey handed Dick the joint.

“So if you ain’t a drug dealer, what are you?”

“Well, I used to be career navy, but I had to retire a few years ago. I --” Dick toked, “fell afoul of --” and toked again, “certain powerful elements.”

“Got in trouble with the brass, huh?”

“Yeah,” said Dick, and he looked at his scarred fingers.

“Mr. Smith --” Harvey reached out for the joint and Dick gave it to him.

“Ridpath,” said Dick.

“Mr. Ridpath --”

“But call me Dick.”

“Dick -- you sure you ain’t just nuts?”

Harvey took a big long toke and held it in.

Dick fixed him with those beautiful blue eyes.

“No,” he said. “I’m not sure."

Suddenly, his lungs full of pot smoke, Harvey became possessed with hysterical laughter, and began spluttering and gasping, his face turning red.

Dick grabbed the joint out of Harvey’s convulsing hand.

“Easy there, boy.”

Daphne cip-clopped up to them on her mare, holding up a bouquet of white Spanish bayonet blossoms.

“Are you two talking about me? Look, Dick, look at the funny flowers I found. I’m going to put them in our room. Give me some of that joint.”

She floated down from the saddle like a fairy princess and she strode over to them like a warrior queen. Dick handed her up the joint and she toked.

As Harvey’s laughter subsided and drained away into the air the ground seemed to rumble under his feet, and the westerly wind smelling of creosote seemed to grumble.

Daphne had undone the top few buttons of her pink shirt, and Harvey stared at what he could see and what he couldn’t see of her breasts, which seemed to have grown larger as she filled her lungs.

He was very high.

Daphne exhaled the smoke.

“By the way, there’s some sort of very dodgy-looking truck riding up toward us.”

Harvey stopped laughing. And now he could hear a truck’s motor and he realized he had been hearing it for the past minute or so but had been too stoned to notice it.

“What kind of truck?” he said.

“I don’t know. It was like one of those sad trucks at that Hideyway place.”


“Yeah, kind of like an army truck. One that’s been through a few nuclear wars.”

“Ah, shit.”

“What’s the matter, Harve,” said Dick.

“Well, I think it might be --”

An old two-ton army truck nosed up over the west side of the mesa, lowing like some monstrous cow giving birth, and even at this distance of a quarter mile Harvey recognized that ugly cauterized paint job.

“Ah, shit,” he said again, and stood up, unclasping the flap on his pistol holster.

(Click here to go to our next thrilling episode. And do check out the right hand column of this page to find up-to-date listings of links to other chapters of A Town Called Disdain, as well as to appreciations of many of Larry Winchester’s classic films. And remember to check your local listings for the re-release of Larry’s restored 1962 cinematic Bildungsroman In the Graveyard of My Youth starring Dennis Hopper, Sandra Dee, Annette Funicello, and Paul Lynde.)