Saturday, December 29, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Forty-Three: another encounter with Miss Evans in the hallway

Return with us now to our complete and unexpurgated serialization of these memoirs (“Ribald and religious, ridiculous and ruminant, riveting, risqué, rascally and rude, rococo and rough, ripe, ready, and a romping rip-roaring rollicking read.” -- Harold Bloom) of Arnold Schnabel, “The Workingman’s Poet”.

In our previous chapter the lady artist Charlotte Rathbone asked Arnold to bring her some of his poems for her to read. Arnold duly goes back into the sprawling Victorian boarding-house of his three maiden aunts to fetch the poems.

Cape May, New Jersey; August, 1963.

I went back up to my attic room and got my latest scrapbook of poems. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before but I put cuttings of my poems from the Olney Times into these big scrapbooks that I buy at the 5&10. {In fact Arnold has mentioned this before, in Chapter 32. — Editor} I stood at my table and flipped through the book. It was true, my post-breakdown poems were perhaps less bad than the others, although one or two of the poems immediately preceding the complete loss of my marbles were not too bad either.
I headed downstairs and once again I ran into Gertrude Evans on the third floor. This time she was coming out of the bathroom. She was wet, and wearing a white fluffy bathrobe, carrying a white towel and some bottles and jars of toiletries, another white towel wrapped around her head. Fresh from the shower as she was her lips nonetheless were bright blood-red with lipstick.
“Oh. Arnold,” she said.
“Hello, Miss Evans,” I said.
“Call me Gertrude.”
“Okay,” I said.
“But please don’t call me Gertie.”
“Or Trudy.”
“All right.”
“What’s that, a photo album?”
“No,” I said. “It’s a scrapbook of my poems.”
“Oh, I want to read them.”
“Well —”
“What? Don’t you want me to?”
“It’s not that,” I said. “But Miss Rathbone just asked me if she could read them.”
“Oh. Miss Rathbone. The painter.”
“I wouldn’t have thought she was your type, Arnold. And does your girlfriend know about her?”
“No,” I said.
“You’re such a rogue, aren’t you? Let me see. Take these bottles and let me take a look at these poems of yours.”
Awkwardly we performed a hand-off, me taking her bottles and jars of creams and unguents, and also her towel, she taking the book. I stood there holding her stuff while she looked through the big stiff pages. I didn’t really mean to, but I could see into the opening of her robe, and one of her breasts was almost entirely visible. I looked away, but there wasn’t much to look at in that hallway. There was a faded color picture of Our Lady of Lourdes on the wall so I looked at that.
“Very interesting,” she said.
I looked back at her. She didn’t look up. She was reading one of my poems to herself, moving her lips. But what was disconcerting was that even more of her one breast was showing now, like the moon dipping out from behind a white cloud.
I don’t know how long I stood there. I kept turning to look at the Blessed Mother, but I also kept turning back to look at Miss Evans, or I should say at Miss Evans’s breast, faintly outlined by what looked like a light but not painful sunburn.
Finally at long last she closed the book and cocked her head and looked at me.
“I don’t know if you’re a genius or insane,” she said. “And what’s that?”
I hadn’t realized it, but I had suffered an erection, and it was this to which she referred.
“Oh, sorry,” I said.
“No need to apologize. I consider it a compliment. Come with me.”
She turned and walked to her door, still carrying my scrapbook. She opened the door and looked back at me.
“I’m not going to bite you,” she said, and then she went in.
She had my scrapbook, and I had her creams and unguents and her towel. What could I do? I followed her into her room.
Her apartment has a living room and separate bedroom, a small kitchenette. It’s usually taken by couples, hardly ever by a single person. There is a dining table there, and she laid the scrapbook on it.
“Close the door, Arnold.”
“I can’t stay,” I said.
With one movement of one hand she took the towel from her head and dropped it over the back of a chair. Her wet golden brown hair fell about her neck and shoulders.
“Close the door. And put those things down over here.”
I closed the door with my foot, then went over and put the towel and bottles and jars on the table.
“I really should go,” I said.
She took a step closer to me, and she pointed a finger at the bulge in my Bermudas.
“Don’t you find it difficult to walk with that?”
“It” had started to subside somewhat, but as she said this it revived.
“I’m supposed to bring Miss Rathbone my poems,” I said. “And her mother is making me a sandwich.”
She took another step closer. She put her hands on my arms.
“You’re very strong,” she said. “A workman. A workman poet. A mad workman poet. Do you like gin?”
“Yes,” I said. “But I really should go.”
“You can’t walk out with that thing showing.”
She had a point.
“Have one drink with me.”
“Just one,” I said.
Universes collapsed, stars exploded and disappeared, new galaxies burst into creation, gods and entire races lived and died as she went into her little kitchenette and took a bottle of Gordon’s gin and poured healthy drams into two of the Flintstones glasses that my aunts had supplied the apartment with. She came up to me and handed me one of the glasses.
“I don’t have any tonic. Oh, did you want ice?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said.
“My kind of man. Cheers.”
She drank hers down in a gulp. Her eyes expanded and then seemed to shrink and then resume their normal size, albeit slightly glazed. I drank half my drink. She put her empty glass on the table and dropped her arms to her sides. I tossed off the rest of my own drink.
And then I did a strange thing. I put my glass on the table and grabbed her by the waist and kissed her on the neck, my nose in her wet hair.
“Oh,” she said.
I pulled her robe down over one shoulder and kissed her shoulder.
“Ah, ah,” she said.
She put her hands on my chest and pushed.
“What about your sandwich? What about Miss Rathbone? What about your girlfriend?”
“Oh,” I said. “I forgot about all that.”
“You passionate man.”
She lowered her hands to my side.
“I should go,” I said.
“Miss Rathbone and Mrs. Rathbone are waiting for me.”
“With your sandwich.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I suppose you’d better go then.”
She withdrew her hands. I picked up my scrapbook.
“Oh, by the way, how do you like my novel so far?” she asked.
“Very much,” I lied, without a moment’s hesitation.
“Thank you.”
I turned and walked out, closing the door behind me. I walked gingerly over to the bathroom, went in, closed the door, unzipped my Bermudas, and splashed cold water from the tap onto the offending portion of myself.

(Click here for our next enthralling chapter. If you turn to the right hand side of this page you will find a listing of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Arnold Schnabel Christmas sonnet

Some of the boys from the Heintz plant, at the Green Parrot, Christmas Eve 1962

Not for us the liberal fascism of the war on Christmas. Hell no! And so to mark this hallowed season we interrupt our regular programming to present a long-lost classic poem by Arnold Schnabel, first published in the Christmas 1962 number of the Olney Times.

Do we see some indication here of the mental breakdown Arnold suffered not a month later? You be the judge.

“Christmas Eve in Olney

It’s Christmas Eve, the factories are closed,
The boys from Heintz and Budd and Tastykake*
Are free, the Proctor & Schwartz crew have hosed
Themselves down and gone home, each lad to take
Out his one good suit from off the Sears rack,
A crisp white shirt with tab collar from Krass
A thin dark tie, Thom McAn shoes of black;
Splash some Old Spice, then off to Midnight Mass;
But first a brief stop, but just for the one
At the Green Parrot, the Huddle, or Pat’s,
And perhaps also a shot, one and done,
Make it Four Roses, and backed with a Blatz;
Five to midnight, we have time for one more --
Who would dare bar us from Helena’s door?

*"Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake." -- Editor

Happy holidays, everyone! The editor of this site will be visiting family by the South Jersey shore all next week, in a land where computers and the internets are still but a rumor, but feel free to keep those comments and e-mails coming, and we should be back with brand-new programming by next Saturday.

Remember, that last shot of the night is
never a good idea!

(Check the right hand column of this page for listings of links to many other fine poems by Arnold Schnabel, as well as to our exclusive ongoing serialization of his
classic Schaefer Award-winning memoir Railroad Train to Heaven.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Forty-Two: Arnold encounters Miss Rathbone (and Mrs. Rathbone)

“Some days it would seem there is no need to go to the world, the world will come to you.”

So wrote our memoirist Arnold Schnabel a couple of episodes ago, and so his day continues, as he returns from a morning’s outing at Frank’s Playland (see our previous chapter) in the genteel seaside town of Cape May, NJ, during that sultry August of 1963...

It was now time for me to do my daily writing.
Ever since the weather started getting really hot I’ve taken to writing either on the porch or in the back yard, depending on who was around and likely most to disturb my lofty ruminations; Sometimes I go to the coffee shop or to the library.
I figured Kevin was probably still on the front porch re-reading his latest batch of comics for the twentieth time, so I took my notebook and my pen and went downstairs, out through the side door and to the back of the house, where the coast was fairly clear, only Miss Rathbone at her easel, painting the little cottage. That is she was painting a picture of the little cottage, not painting the cottage itself. She and her mother have taken the little red cottage in the back for the month. I said hello to her and ensconced myself at the grillwork iron table under the shade of the oak tree, the one the hammock’s hung on.
I still had to write this poem for Elektra.* But after staring at my poetry notebook for about five seconds I knew I wasn’t ready yet. This is the way it is for me with my poems. I can write one every week, but I have little control over what I’m going to write about. So instead I had the idea to write a poem about my recent conversations with Jesus.
And so I did.

“I’ve been watching you, Arnold.”
This was Miss Rathbone.
I’d just finished the poem, after my usual method of writing and furiously rewriting, tossing crumpled notebook pages aside so it looked like a summer snow had fallen all around me, and smoking most of a pack of Pall Malls in the hour-and-a-half I’d been working.
I turned and looked up at her, standing a few feet to my left.
“I’ve never seen anyone so concentrated on their work.”
“Yeah, well, someone’s gotta do it,” I said, closing my notebook. I have no idea why I said this, by the way.
“Were you writing one of your poems?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said.
“May I read it?”
“Okay,” I said.
I long ago gave up being shy about my bad poetry. People tend to be impressed or at least to act impressed by the mere fact that I write poems at all and publish them, even if it is only in the Olney Times. Miss Rathbone stood there and read the poem, and then she apparently read it again a few more times. In the meantime, because I don’t like to be a litterbug, I got up and picked up all my crumpled notebook pages from the grass, then I sat down again, smoothed the pages out, shoved them back into my notebook, and waited for this present social interaction to play itself out.
I have been a bad memoirist I notice. I haven’t described Miss Rathbone. The problem is, I already know what she looks like, and since no one will ever read this rubbish anyway, why do I have to describe her? But for what it’s worth, she’s very thin and distinguished looking, I guess she’s forty or so, maybe thirty-five, very well-spoken. She teaches art at a girl’s school called the Shipley School. She wore a sort of smock, pink, and all decorated with tiny paint splotches. Her legs were long and bare under it, and she was barefoot. She wore a very broad pink straw hat with a red ribbon around it. I shall now resume my narrative.
“This is really quite a beautiful poem,” she said, handing me back my notebook.
“Thanks, Miss Rathbone.” It occurred to me that I hadn’t stood up when she first came over to me. And usually I’m so polite that way. So now I half-stood and gestured to one of the other grillwork metal chairs. “Would you like to sit?”
“Well, just for a moment. I should get back to my painting before I lose the light.”
I thought, the sun is still blazing away up there, but what did I know?
She sat down across from me and removed her hat. She has long light brown hair, and at this moment it was tied up in a round bun at the top of her head. I offered her a cigarette, but she preferred her own, pastel pink Vogues. I gave her a light.
“I’m told you publish your poems in your neighborhood weekly.”
“Yes,” I said. “The Olney Times.”
“Have you ever tried to publish your poems anywhere besides the Olney Times, Arnold?”
“No,” I said.
Come to think of it her fingernails were pink, too.
“I think you should try to get your poems published in book form.”
“You’re kidding.”
“No, I’m absolutely serious.”
“But most of my poems are really bad,” I said. “Even I know that.”
“I can’t believe that. Not after the poem I’ve just read.”
“Well, that one might not be too bad,” I said, and I remembered what my friend Jesus had said. “I think maybe they’ve gotten a little better, uh, in recent, er –”
“Since you had your breakdown.”

“Yes,” I said.

Even though she and I had barely ever spoken to each other I was not surprised that she knew about my breakdown, and the reason for this is that my mother and my aunts, with particular emphasis on Aunt Greta, are incapable of meeting any other female and not telling them at once my entire life story.
“May I read some more of your poems?”
“I would like that very much.”
“You’ll get them to me today?”
“Sure,” I said. “Well, I guess I’ll be going now.”
“Where to?”
“I’m hungry.”
I stood up.
“I could make you something.”
“But don’t you have to paint?”
“Oh bother my painting.”
“But what about the light?”
“I could take five minutes to make you a sandwich. I should make Mother something anyway,” she said, gesturing with her head behind her. 

I hadn’t consciously noticed her before but old Mrs. Rathbone was now sitting across the yard reading at the umbrella-table in front of the cottage. The old lady must have very acute hearing, as it seems most of the women around here do, because she called across, “Nonsense, Charlotte, I’ll make Arnold a sandwich.”
All of a sudden she was up and limping with her cane across the yard toward us. Surprisingly quickly she was standing in front of me. Another little old woman, my life was filled with them.
“What would you like to eat, Arnold?” this one said.
“Um, liverwurst?”
“I don’t think we have liverwurst.”
“Uh, ham?”
“That’ll do,” I said.
“What will you drink?”
“Iced tea?”
“What about a nice Sawn Sair?”
“Well, I don’t know what that is, but sure.”
“Okay. Anything for you, Charlotte?”
“Just some Sawn Sair for me, Mother.”
“You never eat, girl.”
“And I’m not about to start now, Mother.”
“All right. One bacon, lettuce and tomato, and I’ll bring out the Sawn Sair.”
“You should eat something, Mother,” said Miss Rathbone.
“I’ll have half a rasher of bacon. Sit down, Arnold, I won’t be a jiffy.”
I started to sit, but Miss Rathbone said, “Wait, don’t sit, Arnold.”
I stood straight again.
“Let the poor man sit,” said Mrs. Rathbone.
“I want him to bring me his poems, Mother.”
“Oh, well, in that case,” she said. “I’ve heard you write poetry, Arnold.”
“Yes,” I said.
“And what’s this about you squiring about this attractive young Jewess?”
So they knew about Elektra, and had probably heard all about last night’s dinner.
“Um,” I said.
“Mother,” said Miss Rathbone.
“What?” said Mrs. Rathbone.
“Don’t grill Arnold about his private life.”
“I wasn’t grilling him.”
“Hobble along and make his sandwich, Mother.”
“Do you see, Arnold?” said Mrs. Rathbone.
“Uh, what?” I said.
“How she treats me?”
“Oh,” I said. “Uh –”
“Don’t forget the Sawn Sair, mother,” said Miss Rathbone.
“My daughter likes you, Arnold,” said the old lady. “That little Jewish wench of yours had better watch her step.”
I smiled, probably pathetically, and at last Mrs. Rathbone turned and started back to the cottage.
After her mother had gotten safely through the screen door Miss Rathbone said, “Sorry about that. She’s a little bit cuckoo you might have noticed.”
“Oh, she’s nice," I said.
“She is a great millstone round my neck and always has been, but somehow I’ve never quite been able to extricate myself from her. Not that I don't love her desperately, in my way. How do you do it, living with your mother?”
“It’s all I’ve ever done,” I said. “Except when I was in the army.”
She ground out her pink Vogue in the scuffed tin ashtray that was already overflowing with my Pall Mall butts.
“My time in the WACs during the war was the happiest time of my life,” she said. “Loved every minute of it. How did you like the army?”
“Not much,” I said. “I hated it, actually.”
“Best years of my life,” she said. “Well, why don’t you go get those poems?”
“Okay,” I said.
I took my notebook and pen and went back to the house.
It seems that every day I realize more and more clearly that I am absolutely not the only insane person around here.

*And, the following week, Arnold did at last write this poem. – Editor

(Click here for our next exciting chapter. And kindly look to the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 37: Omaha

In our previous episode of this serialization of the unexpurgated director’s cut of Larry Winchester’s sprawling and Schaefer Award-winning masterpiece, we met Doc Goldwasser, the resident general practitioner of the town of Disdain, NM, in that fateful September in the year 1969. With his characteristic casual virtuosity Larry here delves into the backstory of this drug-addicted physician:

Something hitting the back of his head and then he saw a bright light and fell forward into infinite freedom and happiness, he felt himself one with everything and then he rose up above his body which was washing ashore in its Mae West, he rose up above the beach and saw himself and all the hundreds of other GIs, dead or alive, floating or struggling ashore, and he rose up higher and he could see all the landing craft and amphibious tanks and trucks and beyond them all the hundreds and thousands of ships of the invasion armada and over on the bluffs he could see the Germans and their machine guns and cannons firing methodically away at the men and boats and vehicles in the water and on the beach.

And he felt he wasn’t alone up here, he couldn’t see them but he sensed there were others around him and above him, other dead guys he supposed but then what did he know, and he heard a song, what, some Frank Sinatra tune --

Then a wave broke over him and he coughed up salt water and he was gasping for breath on the wet sand, the surf washing over him.

If he stayed there he felt as if he’d slip out of his body again and not come back this time so he pushed himself up, barely feeling himself and not hearing anything except a rushing in his head like the surf, and he made it to a seawall across the beach where a lot of other guys crouched and sat, with the bullets flying over their heads.

He sat there staring out at the beach and all the hell breaking loose on it, he was in his body but not of his body, looking out through his eyes, and then smelling through his nose, cordite and smoke and burning gasoline, and then feeling with his wet skin.

This roaring in his head and far away the firing and explosions.

And then the pain set in like a hot steel poker stuck in the bone behind his ear.

He wanted to pass out, but he thought, If I pass out I’ll die.

He realized he still had a musette bag filled with morphine syrettes. Gritting his teeth, tears running down his face, he fumbled out a syrette, got the cap off, jammed the needle into the back of his neck and squeezed the morphine in.

And it worked, the pain just melting away down his spine, the roaring in his head dying away, the sounds of the guns growing louder, but he was deep down inside himself and there was no pain.

He dozed off for a minute or so, and when he woke up he shook some sulfa on his wound and got a bandage on it, and then he went to work on all the other wounded guys all around.

That afternoon when the pain behind his ear gradually returned he gave himself another shot of morphine.

That night the regimental surgeon cleaned up the Doc’s wound, but one shard of shrapnel was too deeply embedded in the bone, and he left it in, and there it stayed.

Over the years the Doc had kicked his addiction to narcotics more than a dozen times, but he always fell back. Something had gone out of him in the past several years though and now he never even tried to kick.

And at odd times, usually on waking, but sometimes while driving through the desert or treating someone or talking to someone at Enid’s, he would feel his consciousness slipping to one side inside himself, and he was separate from all the universe.

But he would deal with it, go through the motions until his mind slipped back in place of its own accord or until he took a dose of tincture of opium.

And sometimes he thought of that time when he had escaped his body, flying up there with the others, whoever they were.

Well, that had never happened again.

(Click here to go to our next thrilling chapter. Turn to the right hand column of this page for a listing of links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain ™, a Larry Winchester/Low Road Production, now in development as a possibly major five-part television event on the Sci Fi Channel.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

By popular demand: Skee-ball-ette!

In response to dozens of e-mails and especially to our friend Kathleen's puzzled comment , we present above a special pre-holiday bonus illustration for our preceding episode of the adventures of Arnold Schnabel, brakeman and poet. It should be noted that the "ski ball" apparatus Arnold and his friends played on at Frank's Playland in Cape May was much more massive and long and upward-sweeping and even more impressive and frightening than this handsome model.

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Forty-One: the brawny embraces and a return to Frank’s

Arnold Schnabel -- brakeman, poet, and memoirist -- continues his recuperation from a mental breakdown in the sprawling Victorian boarding house of his three maiden aunts in the town of Cape May, NJ, a town which could still be reasonably called quaint and even slightly shabby in this August of 1963.

A new boarder, an attractive novelist named Gertrude Evans, has given Arnold an inscribed copy of her novel Ye Cannot Quench, and when we last left Arnold he was reading it on the porch as his young cousin Kevin reads a Brain Boy comic. The novel’s young heroine, Emily, has just moved to New York City and taken a job at a publishing company and a room at a hotel catering to young working women.

(Go here to review our previous exciting episode, or go here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award-winnng masterwork.)

One night at her women’s residence hotel Emily gets called to the phone in the corridor. It’s Porter Walker, the poet. He asks her if she would like to go out and dig some jazz with him the next night. She says okay.
But the next day at work the young publisher Julian Smythe (the Rock Hudson guy) stops by her desk and asks her if she likes to read. She says yes, and that she was an English major back at the University of West Virginia, graduating summa cum laude, and in fact she’s had a short story published already in the West Virginia Quarterly. Good, he says, and he lays a massive typescript on her desk and asks her to read it for him and hand in a report.
The book she has to read is none other than the first volume of Porter Walker’s epic poem of New York, titled The Brawny Embraces.
I decided to take a break, and I checked the back cover of Miss Evans’s book and read the critics’ raves. “A stunning achievement.” “An important new voice.” “Not just a great new woman novelist, but a great novelist full-stop.” “A bemusing amalgam of Virginia Woolf, Dawn Powell, and Emily Brontë, with just a healthy soupçon of Edna Ferber.”
Oh well. I went back to where I had left off, and next up there was a long transcription of the opening of Porter’s poem:

    Off the docks I leapt, salty seabag in hand, and I breathed
    that sour thick greasy dirty and glorious smell
    of the City, the smell of sewage and sweat, of blood
    and despair, of longing and defeat, but also of joy
    and Seagram’s 7, of moldy paperbacks read by candlelight
    in cold water flats, and of drunken young girls
    with laughter the color of gasoline in a cobble-stoned
    gutter. Farewell to the sea! Farewell to my farting
    coarse shipmates, to your boring endless stories repeated
    endlessly and to your unfunny jokes! Hello, Metropolis!
    Accept your returning sailor to your redolent bosom
    and let him drink deep of your warm milk!

There was a page or two more of the poem, and I confess I skimmed it.
I have to confess also that if I’m honest with myself I know that most of my own poetry is just as absurd as Porter’s, except that my stuff always rhymes and my poems are always short. But what I didn’t know was whether Porter’s poem was supposed to be bad or not. Emily didn’t seem to mind it. But maybe Emily was supposed to be an idiot.
Dostoyevsky wrote a novel about an idiot {which I tried to read once but couldn’t finish — Marginal interpolation in Schnabel’s holograph. — Editor}, so this wouldn’t be the first time this sort of thing had been done.
Anyway, Porter comes and picks up Emily after she gets off work, and Emily feels an electricity from Porter’s intense eyes, and her palms inside her white gloves start to perspire, but right then who should come walking up North Street from the right but Dick and Daphne.
At first I felt shy about calling hello. I’m just not the calling hello type. But as it happened Dick saw me and waved.
“How’s it going, Arnold?”
“Okay,” I called back.
They weren’t dressed for the beach; so I noticed with my eagle eye. Nevertheless they both looked magnificent, wearing almost matching outfits of white shorts and polo shirts, a pink one on Daphne and pale blue on Dick.
“Who’s your young friend, Arnold?” asked Daphne.
“Kevin,” called Kevin.

He does seem to like the ladies. Oddly so for a ten year old, or however old he is.
“Are you Arnold’s son?” asked Daphne.
“No,” said Kevin. “He’s my cousin.”
“My name is Daphne. This big lunk is Dick.”
“Hello,” said Kevin.
“Hello, young fella,” called Dick. “Arnold, you are coming to the cook-out tonight, aren’t you?”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Oh, please come, Arnold,” said Daphne. “And bring Kevin.”
“I want to go to a cook-out,” said Kevin.
Sometimes it’s best just to abruptly change the subject, so I said, “Where are you two headed?”
“Dick’s taking me to Frank’s Playland.”
“I want to go!” said Kevin.
“Come with us,” said Daphne.
Kevin looked at me.
“Can I go, Cousin Arnold?”
What was I, his father? But then his parents had left him here, so I suppose I was in charge of him almost as much as my aunts or mother were. But then when I was his age I just would have gone off without asking permission of anyone. I suppose things are different now. (Or maybe he’s not quite ten years of age. Maybe he’s eight years old.)
“Sure, go,” I said.
Sotto voce he said, “I need some money.”
I reached into my pocket, dragged a dollar bill out of my wallet and put it in Kevin’s outstretched greedy little paw.
“Come with us, Arnold!” called Daphne.
“No, thanks,” I called back, feeling more awkward than usual to be having this shouting conversation back and forth from the sidewalk across the lawn and garden to the porch. I told them I still had to take a shower and shave, which was true enough, but not the real reason I didn’t want to go, which was that I had not the least desire to go to Frank’s Playland, and that if anything I had a desire not to go there. Kevin of course didn’t care less whether I came along or not, and after shoving my dollar bill into the pocket of his shorts he bolted down and joined Dick and Daphne. After a round of see-you-laters, the three of them walked away, Daphne holding Kevin’s hand.
I picked up Miss Evans’s book again, and Emily and Porter were walking down the city street, it was a warm summer evening, and her palms got even sweatier, so she takes off her gloves and puts them in her purse. She feels Porter’s male vibrations emanating from his lithe body. Then all at once I realized that I was letting my young charge go off with a couple of people I had only met the night before.
How tiresome this all was.
I could see Dick and Daphne and Kevin walking past the house down at the corner of North and Perry. I put my book down and went quickly off the porch and down to the sidewalk. I caught up with them right before the corner of Washington Street.
“Arnold,” said Dick, “I thought you were going to take a shower.”
“I changed my mind,” I said.
“He’s afraid we’ll lose young Kevin,” said Daphne.
She was was still holding his hand, or vice versa. The little lecher was in seventh heaven.
So we walked up to the boardwalk and Frank’s Playland. I hadn’t been in Frank’s in I don’t know how many years. After I had been on the railroad for a couple years and we had some money I would go with our little family to Cape May on the train for weekend getaways. As the only surviving man of the household I would take my brothers and sister to Frank’s. I remember enjoying it all: the skee-ball; the pinball machines; those glass boxes which took your money so that you could desperately try to grasp and extricate some cheap toy or doll with a horrible mechanical claw; the fortune-telling machines; the peep boxes. The counter in the back, overlooking the beach and the ocean, where you could buy cotton candy and Cokes and hot dogs.
Nothing much had changed, except there were a few newer pinball machines, and some electric rifle- and machine-gun-shooting machines I didn’t remember from the old days.
And presiding over it all was the all-powerful short and squat Frank himself, with his change dispenser and his roll of precious coupons and his wet cigar.
And here he was still, older but as formidable and as frightening as ever.
What little youth I had once had now seemed farther away than ever.
I used to find this place amusing, indeed I had looked forward to coming here.
Now I found it all rather frightening.
All these wild-eyed children yapping.
I felt like a ghost wandering through a carnival swarming with mad midgets.
I’ll say this, Daphne and Kevin seemed to be having a jolly good time. Dick on the other hand seemed to be just along for the ride, like me, although seemingly less painfully so.
Under duress, I joined in a game of skee-ball. But I felt like I was tossing handfuls of my soul away, down into that little black hole.
It all started to get to me after a while, the noise of the machines, the kids shrieking and babbling, the parents telling the kids to shut up and behave. The smells of suntan lotion and boiling grease.
At one point Frank stared straight at me. I realized that I was standing there alone, and that Dick, Daphne and Kevin were twenty or thirty feet away, gathered around a new jet fighter machine.
I decided to go outside for a smoke.
After the tempest of the previous day the sun was out in full force now, beating down on the boardwalk and the vacationers walking distractedly back and forth, blazing all over the beach and the hordes of half-naked broiling people swarming around on it. The ocean glistened and flashed, indifferent to all this madness.
I was standing there holding my unlit cigarette when all of a sudden Dick was beside me.
He gave me a light.
“You’re a good guy, Arnold.”
“Yeah. This is agonizing for you, but you’re putting up with it for Kevin’s sake.”
“It was only guilt that made me come, Dick.”
“You’re still a good guy.”

{The next five lines of Arnold’s holograph are rigorously crossed out. — Editor
Then we both ran out of things to say. We finished our cigarettes and stubbed them out into the cracks in the  boardwalk. I wondered if I should say something, but I drew a blank in that blazing sun and heat. Then it was over, Daphne and Kevin came out, they’d had their fill.
“Heading back to the house?” Dick asked me.
“Oh yes,” I said.
“We’re going back too. Big canasta game. Want to play?”
“No thanks,” I said.
We strolled back, Dick and I walking in front. Daphne and Kevin walked hand in hand behind us, chatting away about something or other. Dick and I were silent.
At our gate Dick took my hand.
“Hope to see you tonight, Arnold. Bring your girlfriend.”
“Okay, I said. “I’ll come.”
“I want to come,” said Kevin.
“No, Kevin,” I said, “I’m not going until late, after my swim.”
“You can come over some other time, Kevin,” said Daphne. “You and I can play.”
“Neat. Can we throw rocks?”
“Sure we can throw rocks.”
Sometimes I really don’t know if Kevin is abnormal or not. But who am I to judge?
Daphne kissed him on the forehead.
He made a little jump.
“Kiss me again!” he yelped.
She kissed him on the forehead again while Dick and I watched. This kid was making out like a bandit.
Dick and Daphne walked off down shady North Street, and Kevin and I went through the gate and up to the porch.
Kevin immediately sat in his usual rocker and began to read Brain Boy again.
I went upstairs at long last to take my shower and to shave.

(Click here to go to our next chapter. Or turn to the right hand side of this page for links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Schaefer Award-winning Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Thirty-Six: Doc Goldwasser, Enid, and a pack of Old Golds

Return with us now to Enid’s Café in the eponymous town of this epic tale from the battered old Underwood of Mr. Larry Winchester, on a September afternoon in the year 1969.

Ho Chi Minh has died a few days ago. The US Army has just brought up Lt. William Calley on charges of murdering civilians at My Lai in March of the previous year. Woodstock and the Moon landing and the Charles Manson murders all happened the previous summer. "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies has begun its relentless climb to the top of the charts.

Doc Goldwasser came into Enid’s, put his hat on the counter, and asked for a pack of Old Golds and a quick cup of coffee.
“What’re you doin’ awake this time o’ day, Doc,” asked Enid.
Enid knew the Doc generally took a nap around four o’clock every day after his afternoon dose of tincture of opium.

“Ah, hell, the Johnstone girl apparently took another one of her nervous fits and Jake wants me to come out.”

“I see you’re just rushing to get there.”

“She ain’t goin’ nowhere, and I gotta wake the fuck up.”

She could tell by his eyes he was loaded.

“Maybe you better have two cups, Doc.”

“I just swallowed a Dexedrine. I’ll be all right in a few minutes.”

He was fumbling with the cellophane on the cigarette package.

Enid took the pack out of his thin veiny hands and opened it up for him, pulling off the little scarlet ribbon with her teeth. She tapped a cigarette partway out, and the Doc leaned his head forward and took it in his lips like a bald bird pulling a worm from the ground.

She lit him up with her lighter, and he breathed it in and sighed.

“You’re a good woman, Enid.”

“Why thank you, Doc.”

The Doc had his hand on the little chipped cream pitcher, but he didn’t seem to have the strength to lift it.

Enid took the pitcher out of his hand and fixed his coffee for him, lots of cream and a full three seconds of pouring from the sugar dispenser. She stirred it up for him. Her muscular wrist was encircled with about a dozen bracelets of various sorts and they made a pleasant tinkling sound over the reassuring pick-pocking of the spoon stirring the turbid coffee in the thick ceramic cup.

“Now you’re gonna have to drink it your own self, Doc.”

“Thank you, Enid.”

Taking the cup in both hands, the cigarette sticking out between his fingers, the Doc lifted the cup up as he lowered his head and he drank.

He sighed again and then drank some more and then put the cup down.

Enid lit up a Kool and leaned her elbows on the counter and looked at the Doc looking at his coffee.

He looked up and she looked right in his eyes and then he lowered his gaze again to his coffee.

“You’re a hell of a woman, Enid.”

“Thank you, Doc. Why don’t we get together sometime?”

“Enid, the next time I get an erection I’ll give you a ring. But don’t hold your breath.”

“Young guy like you, Doc?”

The Doc was only about fifty or so but he looked and acted ten or fifteen years older. Still Enid thought there was something attractive about him. He must have been quite good-looking when he was young and not using junk.

The Doc didn’t trust himself to shave and so he had Bub the barber shave him every Saturday, and he couldn’t be bothered to comb his hair so Bub gave his remaining grey hairs a fresh buzz cut the first Saturday of every month. Today was a first Saturday and so he was freshly shaved and buzzed.

He was very slender and his eyes behind his steel-rimmed glasses were pale blue. The backs of his hands were tanned and spotted from driving through the hills and the desert and the plains to and from his farflung patients. The grey poplin suit he usually wore was old and faded and wrinkled, sprinkled with food and coffee stains and spotted with cigarette burns. His shirt was yellowed and the cuffs were frayed.

The Doc felt on the verge of thinking he should say something
but he couldn’t think of anything worth saying. He looked out of the corner of his eye at Enid’s breasts where they leaned over the counter. She was wearing a low cut white Mexican blouse with red and gold embroidery. A tendril of her curly sunstreaked hair had drifted down in between her fine tanned breasts.

Well, at least he still had enough of a sex drive to look, anyway.

“Tell ya what, Doc,” said Enid, “you get yourself cleaned up and we’ll see what we can do, you and me.”

“That’s damn nice of you to say that, Enid.”

He saw a piece of ash fall from his cigarette into his coffee. He saw that Enid saw too, but he picked up the cup anyway and finished it off. He put the cup back in its saucer, picked up his old ash-colored Homburg, put it on, and got up. He fished a couple of crumpled dollar bills out of his pocket and put them on the counter.

“Thanks, doll.”

He went out into the grey afternoon, flicked his cigarette into the gutter and then got into his army surplus Jeep with the winch in front that he’d bought when he first set up practice in Disdain back in early ‘46.

He turned the key and his right ear started to ring. He let the motor run and put his index and middle fingers on the lump behind his ear where a piece of shrapnel was imbedded in the bone. He kept up the pressure on this surgically inextricable shard of metal that had caused him constant pain for twenty-five years except for when he dulled it away with drugs, and when he lifted his fingers after a minute the ringing was gone, for the time being.


Click here to go to our next chapter. Turn to the right hand side of this page for links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain. And now a word from Mr. Lee Hazelwood and Miss Nancy Sinatra:

Friday, December 14, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Forty: young Emily arrives in New York City

Previously in this unexpurgated serialization of the memoir Harold Bloom called “not only a great autobiography but a great epic poem in prose” our hero Arnold Schnabel closed a long day with a chance meeting -- in the hallway of his aunts’ sprawling Victorian boarding house in Cape May -- with the attractive lady novelist Gertrude Evans, who gave Arnold a copy of her novel Ye Cannot Quench, personally inscribed with a quotation from Baudelaire (or perhaps of T.S. Eliot’s quoting of same).

August, 1963. The Beatles are but a rumor, JFK and Jackie reign in the White House, and Arnold greets a brand new day...

I awoke with a slight hangover. That second Manhattan. Someday I’ll learn.
I lay in bed for a while, thinking it all over. Fresh warm sunlight swam through the leaves of the oak tree outside and dappled through my little casement window, casting shadows like the reflections of the ocean over my bed.
What did it mean, all these new people in my life?
After a few minutes of pondering this I saw the basic fallacy of such a question. I remembered what Elektra had told me, that all the thousands of religions of mankind had only been invented so that people could try to make some sense out of the randomness of life. But who said anything had to mean anything more than just what it was? Well, of course lots of people said just that. But what did they know? They all had conflicting theories anyway, and since they couldn’t all be right, maybe they were all of them wrong.

But on an even deeper level, why was I asking myself of all people such a question, as if I could possibly know the answer. Who was I, Bishop Sheen? Dr. Albert Schweitzer?
And so thus concluding that there was no possible way I could make any sense out of this influx of new people into my life, and I wouldn’t trust myself for one second even if I did come up with some cockamamie theory, I relaxed back into my pillow, breathed in the morning air smelling of warm wet flowers, and then at last tossed aside my sheet and swung my legs out of bed.
But wait.
It did all mean something.
It meant that I now might actually have to deal with other people instead of just staying holed up as usual in my head and in my little protective family unit.
I confess I sat there in my boxer shorts and entertained some overwhelming thoughts. For instance I realized that I had managed to live forty-two years without making any close friends, and without even once reaching a first-name basis with a woman whom I was not related to by blood. When I looked at these bald facts clearly in this warm morning light I realized that I must always have been, if not completely insane, then definitely weird.
It’s not as if I had lived the life of a hermit. I had a job, I was active in parish activities. I coached the CYO boxing team. I stopped in various of the neighborhood taverns, admittedly rotating my visits so as not to be even a weekly communicant at any given one. And although it's true that Olney does seem to boast an enormous population of quiet bachelors such as myself who still live in their parents’ homes, I made no friends even with any of this celibate army. There had always been an invisible wall between me and all these other people I came up against every day. And the final proof of my weirdness was that I somehow never thought myself weird. Because in truth I never met any fellows that I really wanted to be friends with, while women seemed to me like creatures from another planet.
Perhaps my losing my mind last January was simply the ultimate efflorescence of this lifelong oddness. And could it be that my meeting Elektra and her friends, and Steve, and now Dick Ridpath and his friends, and even this Gertrude Evans – could it be that all these new people in my life were proof that I had left my old zombie life behind for something slightly more human?
If only I could stop having these visions of Jesus.
If only I would stop floating two feet off the ground at random moments.
Oh, well, you can’t have everything in this life, that much I knew.
I blinked myself out of this reverie, and the first thing I noticed was that book by Miss Evans, Ye Cannot Quench, sitting on my bedside table. I picked it up and flipped through it. I guiltily realized I hadn’t even read a line of it the night before.
I turned to the first page of the novel.
A young girl named Emily gets off a bus at the Port Authority Terminal in New York City. There is quite a bit of description of her walking out of the terminal and to Times Square. All the teeming crowds of people and the soaring tall buildings and the honking traffic. She goes into a coffee shop and orders a coffee. An old lady starts talking to her. The old lady’s name is Martha, and she’s a rag-and-bones merchant. She tells Emily that she, Emily, will find her fortune, and love, in New York City.
This last bit gave me pause. How could this old rag-and-bones woman be expected to know whether this random girl would find her fortune and love in New York or not? If she was that prescient, why was she selling rags and bones for a living? You’d think she’d at least get a job in a carnival or something.
But this silly girl Emily picks up her bags and walks back out onto the street actually wondering if it was true what the old woman said.
Oh well, maybe this was why I preferred mysteries. They were definitely less frustrating than these literary sorts of books.
I got dressed and went downstairs to get some breakfast, bringing Miss Evans’s book with me, and as usual my built-in clock was unerring; my mother was just laying out breakfast for me and Kevin.
I sat down to my pancakes.
My mother sat next to me and sipped some coffee.
My aunts were all elsewhere, doing their little duties.
Kevin was reading an old Brain Boy comic.
I opened up Ye Cannot Quench again. I had to be able to tell Miss Evans something about it when I saw her again.
“Elektra is very nice,” said my mother.
“She’s pretty,” said Kevin.
“Yeah,” I said, “she’s nice.”
My mother didn’t say anything more, although I’m sure she would have liked to. I went back to my pancakes and to Ye Cannot Quench.


Some days it would seem there is no need to go to the world, the world will come to you.
So it was this day.
After breakfast I sat out on the porch with my cup of coffee and book. Kevin of course came out as well, and we both sat and read, he his comic books, I Miss Evans’s novel.
In short order Emily finds a room in a small women's residency hotel and starts a job at a publishing company. The publisher’s son is named Julian Smythe and he seems a bit of a rake. His description made him sound to me like a dead ringer for Rock Hudson. One of the other girls in the office invites Emily to a bar after her first day of work, and they sit next to an intense looking young man writing intently in a notebook. Emily’s friend strikes up a conversation with him by asking him for a light. It turns out he’s a poet named Porter Walker. He works as a cab driver to support himself while he writes an epic poem about the city of New York. His description reminded me of the young Montgomery Clift.
I closed the book over my finger. So, who was it to be, Rock Hudson or Montgomery Clift in the end? It was hard to tell at this point.
Then Miss Gertrude Evans herself came walking around the side of the house. She carried a folded canvas beach chair, a big canvas carry-bag with towels in it and who knows what else.
She was wearing a black one-piece bathing suit, with a long sleeved white shirt like a man’s shirt over it, but the shirt wasn’t buttoned.
“Hello, Arnold,” she said, through the side railing.
Oh, she also had a big straw hat on and she wore sunglasses.
In the sunlight her hair was much lighter than it had been in the dim hallway the night before, and microscopic gold sparkles rippled through it as the warm breeze touched it.
She took off her sunglasses. Her eyes were bright green in the shade of her hat.
“Is that my book?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Do you hate it?”

Hate is a strong word, and so I didn’t precisely have to lie.
“No,” I said.
“Good. I’m going down to the beach.”
“Have fun,” I said.
“Hello, Kevin,” she said across me.

“Hello,” said Kevin.
Apparently they’d already been introduced.
“And what are you reading, young man?”
Brain Boy.
“Is it any good?”
“It’s okay.”
“Are you the Brain Boy?”
Now she did an odd thing, she reached through the side porch rails and touched my bare leg with her sunglasses. (As usual I was wearing Bermudas.)
“Don’t you go to the beach, Arnold?”
“I don’t like it during the day,” I said.
Her hand and the sunglasses retreated back across the porch floor and out of the railing.
“I hope to do some writing on the beach,” she said. “I have this strange ability to write among crowds. It’s as if I draw energy from all the humanity surrounding me.”
Here’s the awful thing. Even as she said this I felt a stirring down below. It was because she was wearing a bathing suit. I can barely hold a conversation with a fully-clothed woman. If she’s only wearing a low-cut bathing suit I can pretty much forget about sparkling repartee.
Fortunately I had her book still in my hand, so I held it open over my recalcitrant lap.
What would Porter Walker — the Montgomery Clift poet — say?
She stood there seeming to await some response.
“The energy of humanity feeds my own poems,” I said. “Just as the sun and the rain nourish my aunts’ garden here. My poems are like flowers. All I can do is to tend them, to try to let them grow in the most beautiful fashion possible.”
She stared at me, and then put her sunglasses on.
“I hope to see you later, Arnold,” she said.
She then went around the porch to the front, down the bluestone path to the gate, out through the gate and down toward Perry Street and the beach. She left the gate unlatched.
Kevin and I watched her walk away in the sunlight, carrying her chair and her big canvas bag.
When she was out of earshot Kevin said, “What was that crap about flowers all about?”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Don’t worry, she bought it. I’m only a kid and I could tell that. Ladies love you, Cousin Arnold.”
I ignored this last remark and went back to Miss Evans’s novel.
The Montgomery Clift poet guy asks Emily for her phone number, and she gives it to him.

(Click here to go to our next thrilling installment. Or kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Schaefer Award-winning Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Thirty-Five: Hope’s investigations, and an interruption

Larry Winchester, master film maker and equally masterful novelist, here blows our minds with yet another sudden change of scene and viewpoint, to that of Hope, the ethereally beautiful young daughter of the cowardly blowhard and undoubtedly venal rancher (and major Nixon campaign donor) Big Jake Johnstone.

The time: an afternoon in September, 1969.

The place: the sprawling Victorian Johnstone mansion, several miles outside of A Town Called Disdain, in that land of enchantment that men call New Mexico.

Hope looked up and down the corridor and then unlocked the door with the master key, went inside and locked the door behind her.

There lay all their things.

Suitcases and bags open, clothes strewn all over the floor and the bed.

Hope went over and knelt down by the big cerulean blue suitcase on the floor with women’s things gently exploded all around it, and her hands ran tumbling like small mischievous creatures through the treasure.

Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior, Cardin, Mary Quant.

Two books.

Miss Craig’s 21-Day Shape-up Program for Men and Women, which didn’t seem to have been opened.

Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine, with a receipt from Saks 5th Avenue stuck in as a marker between pages 74 and 75. On the half title page an inscription in purple ink:

“To the lovely Daphne -- I HATE you because you’re beautiful and I WANT your divine hubby -- Love, Jackie”

A pair of pale blue bikini panties edged in lace caught Hope’s eye. She picked them up and held them to her face.

Then, after checking the tiny label, she put the panties into the side pocket of her blue jeans.

She spent about twenty minutes going through all of Dick and Daphne’s stuff.

Daphne had excellent if occasionally bizarre taste in clothes.

Dick’s clothes were refreshingly free of Nehru jackets, white plastic belts, oriental pendants, and paisley ascots, but she noticed the reinforced and oddly-shaped leather-lined side pockets in several of Dick’s older jackets and coats. She found the boxes of bullets, .38 Special and 9mm, and correctly surmised the purpose for the holster-shaped pockets.

More books. Dick’s books. Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour. A Vietnamese-English dictionary. Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith. Three Novels by Samuel Beckett and The Way of Zen by D.T. Suzuki. An old New Cambridge Shakespeare, worn and foxed, the cloth gone from its spine. Boyish notes and drawings on the tissuey pages, more drawings, and notes and class times scrawled on the inside covers, along with a poem:

I hate this school
And its every damn fool
But I hate not least
Every pederast priest

Some magazines. A New Yorker, a Ramparts, a Evergreen, a Zap comic book.

She expertly rifled through Dick’s old seabag and found the velvet-lined boxes with the medals in them. Dicks’ passport with the pages all filled with the stamps of many countries. His honorable discharge from the US Navy. Another passport in his name, this one with a different picture, with moustache and blond hair. And another passport with yet another picture, blond hair but no moustache, and another name: Richard Cadwallader.

A paperback on the bed, Slaughterhouse-Five. She folded her legs beneath her on the bed and began to read.

Five or ten minutes later someone was fiddling with the door lock.

She sat there with the paperback open in her hands and the door came open.

It was that weird man Mr. Adams, that friend of that Mr. Philips who was also weird.

“Oh,” he said. “I -- uh -- must have the wrong room.”

He took some strange instrument out of the keyhole and put it into his pants pocket.


“I was changing the sheets,” said Hope.

She put down the book but remained sitting yogi-style on the bed.

“Yes,” said Mr. Adams. “Right, well, I’ll, uh, leave you to your work then.”

He left, and she sat there for a bit and then she drew the jumbled covers back and lay down stomach first on the bed, her face in the pillow, breathing in the redolent smells of Daphne and Dick.


(Click here to go to our next breathless chapter. And please feel free to check out the right hand side of this page where you will find an exhaustive list of links top other episodes of Larry Winchester’s a Town Called Disdain, soon to be adapted into a multi-volume trade-paperback “manga” from Ha! Karate Multimedia in conjunction with Larry Winchester Productions.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Thirty-Nine: encounter outside the bathroom

Return with us now to the memoirs of Arnold Schnabel and to that forgotten year of 1963, when neckties were still skinny and the skies were black-and-white and women’s hair was the texture of cotton candy, to the month of August in the town of Cape May, NJ, where our brakeman poet has gone with his mother, hoping to recover from his debilitating bout with insanity the previous winter.

(Go here to review Arnold's previous adventure...)

I went right up, tiptoeing so as not to arouse family or boarders.

I did stop in the bathroom on the third floor, to pee, and to brush my teeth.

When I came out though I saw a woman standing right outside the door. She wore a long pale gown, and in the 25-watt light of the wall sconce outside the bathroom her long hair gleamed like dark gold.

My immediate thought was, “Oh, great, now it’s the Blessed Mother, this is all I need.”

And I was ready to walk right past her or through her without a word, but she said, “Hello.”

“Hello,” I said.

“You’re Arnold, aren’t you.”

“Yes,” I said, trying not to sigh.

The whole Holy Family had it in for me, or so it seemed. And where was Joseph?

“I’m Gertrude.”

This took me aback.

And then it occurred to me that this was actually an ordinary mortal woman. (Although as it turned out I was wrong in this assessment.)

“Oh, hi,” I said.

“I just took the apartment down the hall today. It looks like we share this bathroom.”

“Uh, yes," I said, the soul of wit. “Um,” I added, for good measure.

“Your aunt told me you write poetry.”

“Yes,” I admitted.

“I’d like to read some of your poems.”

“You say that now,” I said.

“I’m a writer myself.”

“Oh really.”

“Gertrude Evans?”


I confess I felt awkward. I had never spoken to a woman wearing a nightgown in a dimly lit hallway before. Excepting my mother of course.

“I thought perhaps you might have heard of me. Gertrude Evans. I’ve published two novels.”

“Unless they’re mysteries I doubt I would have heard of them, I’m afraid,” I said.

“But you’re a poet. You must read poetry.”

“Well —” I said.

“Who’s your favorite poet?”

I said the name of the first one that came to my mind, even though I’d only read a couple of pages of his poem and hadn’t understood any of it:

“T. S. Eliot.”

“I love Eliot.”

Now that I thought about it, she really didn’t look anything at all like the Blessed Mother. Not that I knew what the Blessed Mother looked like.

“Well —” I said, but then I couldn’t think of anything else to say. To tell the truth I wanted just to go up to my little attic and go to bed, but she was standing in my way in the narrow hallway.

“I’ve come here to get away and try to finish up my latest book,” she said.

“Well, good luck,” I said.

“You’re shy, aren’t you?” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“You shouldn’t be. Your other aunt told me you had a nervous breakdown.”

“Uh, yeah, sort of,” I said.

“So how are you now?”

“Better, thanks.”

Especially now that I was pretty sure she wasn’t the Blessed Mother.

“I had to be hospitalized once myself. Well, not exactly hospitalized. I signed myself into a rest home for a month. It was my present to myself for finishing my second novel. I’m really hurt that you haven’t heard of me, Arnold.”

“Don’t feel bad,” I said. “I haven’t heard of practically anyone.”

“But still. And your other other aunt told me you have a lady friend?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Your mother told me she’s very pretty. Are you going to marry her?”

“I’ve only known her for about a week,” I said.

“I have to use the bathroom, but would you wait out here a minute?”

What an odd request, but I have never known how to say no to a woman, so I said okay.
She went in, and I walked the few steps down the hall to stand by the window. I lit a cigarette, exhaling the smoke through the screen out into the night air. I had no idea what this woman wanted. I suppose I should mention here that she was an attractive woman, in the physical sense.

Eventually I heard the toilet flush, with its usual cacophony of a truckload of kitchen appliances dumped down a deep dark pit, and in due course Gertrude Evans came out. She motioned to me, beckoning with her upturned index finger. I came forward.

“Wait here,” she said. “I want to give you something.”

She went down the hall to the door of the apartment on the right, opened it and went in, leaving the door open. A minute passed. My cigarette had burned down, and I went into the bathroom and dropped the butt into the toilet. I wanted to flush it, but I knew this toilet, it wouldn’t be flushable for at least another two minutes, so I left the butt there and went back out into the hallway and waited.

I did my best to stay sane as two more minutes passed, and then this Gertrude came out of her room. She had a book, a thick hardback. She handed it to me.

“Here,” she said. “This is my first novel. I inscribed it for you.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“You don’t have to read it right away. And you don’t have to say you like it if you don’t. But now you’ll have to show me your poems.”

“Right now?”


“Well, okay. But really they’re not very good. It’s just a hobby of mine.”

“But your mother told me you get your poems published.”

“Yes, but only in our neighborhood paper, the Olney Times.”

“You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“With your lady friend?”

“Well, not most recently,” I said.

“You’re a very mysterious man. I like you. Good night, Arnold.”

She put out her hand like a man. I took it and we shook hands like men. Except her hand didn’t feel like a man’s. It was small and soft and to my embarrassment I felt a tingle of concupiscence in my organ of at least prospective procreation.

I mumbled good night, turned and went back down the hall and up to my attic room.
I got undressed and I knelt down by my bed, something I hadn’t bothered doing in a week. And then after crossing myself I remembered why I hadn’t been saying my prayers. If there was a God I doubted he wanted to hear my supplications and prevarications, especially after having had sinful and perhaps perverted relations with a woman only a couple of hours before. So I crossed myself again, just to cover my bases, and got into bed. I had the bedside light still on. This Gertrude woman’s book was on the night table. I examined it for the first time. It was titled Ye Cannot Quench. By Gertrude Evans. The dust jacket drawing showed a young woman in a nightdress not unlike the one Miss Evans herself had just been wearing. She lay in a bed, with one leg up, the nightdress had slid down, exposing the leg. The girl in the drawing was smoking a cigarette and looking out the window at what looked much like the Heintz factory from my own window back in Olney.

I opened up the book, and on the first page she had written, “To Arnold, mon semblable, mon frère! Best wishes, Gertrude Evans".

I skipped to the inside back cover, where there was a black and white picture of Miss Evans. She seemed to be looking right at me.

I closed the book and pulled the chain on the light.

This had been a very long day, and all I really wanted to do now was sleep, but too many thoughts were milling about inside my head. I almost wished I had one of those awful deadening sleeping pills that the doctors used to give me. But then I remembered I had something better than a sleeping pill. I picked up The Waste Land, read a dozen or so very beautiful if incomprehensible lines, and sure enough I soon was fast asleep, lulled by the whishing sound of the leaves of that old oak tree outside my window and by the enormous and never-ending shushing of the ocean.

(Click here to go to our next thrilling chapter. Meanwhile, a quick glance to the right hand side of this page will discover 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 fine poems.*)

*"Easy to hold, fun to read." -- Harold Bloom.

Friday, December 7, 2007

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Thirty-Four: Moloch’s ruminations and revelations

(Click here for our previous episode. Go here to return to the first chapter of what Harold Bloom has called “quite simply, the great American novel we’ve all been waiting for”, Larry Winchester’s sprawling chef d’oeuvre of mystery, intrigue, and mind-expansion.)

Join us now as Larry's camera sweeps down over the New Mexico desert and into the wasted foothills just a few miles outside of a town called Disdain, in the early September of the year of the god of hellfire, 1969...

...and focuses in on the dread motorcycle bandit leader (and former Oxford don) Moloch, still stewing in his own vile juices of hatred following his recent humiliation (and incidentally the killing of one of his raffish band) at the hands of Dick Ridpath (Commander, USN, ret.):

They were in the big cave and the lads were gangbanging some teenagers they had just sold drugs to. They weren’t hurting them really, just having a bit of fun and besides with all the drugs and beer those kids had consumed they wouldn’t feel any pain anyway. At least not tonight they wouldn’t.

Moloch had contented himself with distractedly wanking off in the general direction of one the less depressing-looking girls or perhaps it was a boy while Testicle huffed and puffed his huge rhinocerine body upon her or him.

Then Moloch sat himself down by the fire with a warm sixpack of Falstaff and a bottle of Gordon’s gin. He had taken several Tuinals and just one Delaudid to smooth the meth down a bit, and the acid suffused him nicely now as he sipped the gin and beer and drew occasionally upon the hookah loaded with opiated hash.

There was something his mind was teetering on the edge of, some realization beyond its eternal nightmare of roaring on his powerful machine to the next scene of rapine and pillage all loaded with drugs until his skull felt like to burst as if he had shot up his brain not with raw psilocybin or STP but with a hundred CCs of nitroglycerine.

Something about that chap who’d killed Crackle.

Well, one thing Moloch did know, he would kill the blighter.

Yes he really simply must.

Truth be told, it was rather a sore point with Moloch that he had never actually killed anyone. Oh, certainly, he had spat upon all the values he had grown up on and once held sacred, he had raped people, of both sexes, he had lied and cheated and betrayed, he had stolen and destroyed and defiled, he had crippled, he had sneaked up on the Hell’s Angel who had taken his own eye and cut out both of that chap’s bloody eyes, he had beaten and stomped and cut more than a few people to within an inch of their lives, but, no, to the best of his knowledge he had never actually quite killed anyone.

He had had ample opportunity but something always held him back, even those times when he knew he could have gotten away with it. Even with the commandos back in Korea he had never got a confirmed kill, even then when he could have deprived some human of his pathetic breath of life and got a medal pinned on him for doing it, even then...

And then all at once he remembered and felt a tremendous relief:

Yes. That man. He knew him.

That mission near Songjin with that American UDT in charge of blowing up that railway tunnel.* That young American naval officer commanding their team -- it was the same bloody chap, this fucking “Dick” person.

Oh, and how impressed the young Moloch had been by that fellow.

So casual and good-humored, and got along so well with his men, whereas Moloch’s men despised him he knew for the callow insecure paradeground-mannered prick he decidedly was at that time.

And then, when the mission got so bollocksed up this fellow, Ridpath, yes, Dick Ridpath, he had been so, well, heroic, yes, that was the word, and efficient too.

And, yes, Ridpath had killed; not only setting off those explosions just as the train was passing through, blowing to bloody smithereens God only knew how many Chinks, but also, before, and somehow more notably, slitting the throat of that Chinese sentry, almost severing the poor blighter's head.

All the commandos had been trained to do that sort of thing of course, but -- to actually do it -- to creep up behind the bugger and yank his head back and -- good God. Moloch had had to fight back the urge to vomit whilst the Yank calmly wiped his knife off on the dead blighter’s sleeve and then trotted on as if he hadn’t a worry in the world.

Moloch heard later the man had got the American Navy Cross as well as the British DSC for that mission.**

Well well well and after all these years, bloody comrades in arms and all that.

Now here indeed was a worthy choice for Moloch’s first kill.

*UDT: Underwater Demolition team.

**DSC: Distinguished Service Cross.


(Click here for our next exciting chapter. Or feel free to go to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain -- {Larry Winchester Productions, Int’l}. Stay tuned for further information regarding the forthcoming major motion picture, directed by the master himself, and featuring Mr. Jeremy Irons in the part of Moloch.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Thirty-Eight: conversation in the King Edward Room

August, 1963.

In our previous episode of this classic memoir (now published in its entirety for the first time anywhere) our hero Arnold Schnabel and his new friend Dick managed, not without difficulty, to deposit the drunken Steve in his room in Cape May’s charming old Chalfonte Hotel.

Although Dick and Arnold had already had several drinks that night they now needed another one, and Dick suggested the Chalfonte’s own quaint King Edward Room...

This was a Cape May bar into which the gods of drunkenness had never guided me before, and it was nice, as bars go, small and dark and quiet. No jukebox, no television, just the sound of talking from a small groups of people drinking at the bar and at some dark wooden tables.

Dick and I took stools at the bar and Dick said, “Y’know, after that ordeal I think I could use a Manhattan.”

Ah, the sacred brotherhood of the Manhattan.

I knew I shouldn’t but I let Dick order one for me. He explained nicely to the bartender that he didn’t want a cherry but would the man please just cut a fresh bit of lemon peel, just the yellow part but not the white pith, and could he twist a bit of the lemon oil into the drink.

I told the bartender I’d try it that way too, even though I’d always had a cherry for a garnish the six thousand other times I had had a Manhattan.

As the bartender mixed our drinks we took out our respective coffin nails. Dick had his in an engraved metal case, of the kind that holds twenty cigarettes. He gave me a light with his lighter.

“So how long have you known old Steve?” he asked.

“Not long. I met him at the Ugly Mug a couple of nights ago," I said. "But it feels like a lot longer.”

“He seems very fond of you.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“You do know he’s shall we say homosexually inclined.”

“Yeah,” I said. “My lady friend told me.”

“You couldn’t tell?”

“I’m not very quick about these things,” I said. “Or about a lot of things.”

“Ah well,” said Dick.

The bartender brought us our drinks, all deep ruby, glistening and beaded. We clicked our glasses and drank our magic potion.

Dick was silent, and so I decided to try to be a good conversationalist.

“So what do you do in the navy?” I asked.

Dick sighed. He tapped his cigarette into the ashtray, and then said, without looking at me, “I work in matériel allocation. Very boring. Shuffling papers.”

“I understand,” I said.

He looked at me.


“Sure,” I said. “It’s boring. You’ll get a more interesting job someday.”

Or not. What the heck did I know?

He looked away again. I seemed to have touched a sore spot. Oh well. Most men liked to talk about their boring jobs, but maybe Dick was different.

 “If you don’t mind my asking, Arnold,” he asked, “what was your disability?”

“My disability?”

“You mentioned you were out on a disability. From your railroad job.”


Now he had touched a sore point.

I decided not to lie. After all, anyone with eyes could tell that except for my occasional slight smoker’s cough I was physically as healthy as an ox.

So I very briefly told him about going insane, the hospital, my failed attempt to go back to work, my mother bringing me down here.

“Well,” he said. “You seem fairly recovered now.”

A couple of women burst into shrieking peals of laughter down at the other end of the bar.

“I’m better,” I said. Just saying what little I had said had worn me out, so I skipped the part about my visions of Jesus, and my occasional flights of what my doctors gently call disassociation.

“I’m sure you’ll be able to get back to work soon,” he said.

He was trying to be nice, and I should have left it alone I suppose. There’s a reason people talk almost entirely in clichés. (In fact there’s probably a whole host of reasons.)

But instead I said, “Actually, I don’t want to go back to work.”

“No? Why not?”

“Well, one reason is: what if I lose my mind again on the job? God forbid I might cause a train accident.”

“Good point.”

“And I’m also afraid that just going back to work in itself might drive me permanently insane. For years I went to work every day and just accepted it as my fate. But now, the thought of it just — I don’t know — all those years on the trains, all those hours, all those days —”

“I understand,” said Dick.

“You do?”
“Sure. It sounds boring to me.”
“It is!” I said.
“I don’t know how people do it, work these absurd jobs all their lives. Not that being a brakeman is absurd,” he hurried to add.
“No,” I said. “A brakeman serves an important function,” I murmured, halfheartedly.
“But just doing the same thing every day,” he said. "Christ!"
“Yeah,” I said. “But didn’t you say your job was boring?”
“Oh, right, I did.”
“So how do you cope?” I asked. I really wanted to know.

 Dick finished his drink and motioned to the bartender for two more.
“Arnold, I can’t lie to you. Actually my job is pretty interesting. The only thing is, it’s classified. I just tell people I’m in matériel allocation.”
“Oh. Classified.”
“Yeah. I’m not supposed to talk about it. Strictly speaking I shouldn’t even talk about how I’m not supposed to talk about it.”
I finished my own drink.
So what is Dick’s job, I wonder. Swashbuckling on the high seas. Meeting double agents in back alleys in exotic ports. Fine if you liked that sort of thing.
“So what would you like to do if you don’t go back to work for the railroad?” he asked.
“You know, Dick, I’ve lain in bed at night trying to think of jobs which I wouldn’t consider boring, which wouldn't suck the soul right out of me, and for the life of me I haven’t thought of one yet. What I’m hoping is the Reading will forget all about me but keep sending me checks.”
“I see.”
“If not, I think I’ll take my pension.” This was the first time I’d talked to anyone about all this. “I have more than twenty years in, and my mother and I live very cheaply. We own our house back in Philly, and I even have savings invested in government bonds.”
“You're awfully young just to retire, though,” said Dick.
“But my days seem very full to me now,” I said.
“Really? And how do you fill them?”
“Well, I read, and take walks. And every night I take a long swim. Plus I still write a poem every week.”
“That’s good.”
“Not that they're good poems.”
“But still.”
“Also, it’s a little embarrassing to say, but I’m writing my memoirs.”
“Really? Life on the railroad?”
“No,” I said, "And I don’t know why, but so far I’ve written practically nothing about the railroad.”
“So what do you write about?”
“I write about the things I do every day. The things I think. The things that happen to me.”
Dick just looked at me. I think he was wondering just how crazy I still was, and now that I look over what I’ve just written, I can’t say I blame him.
The bartender laid down two fresh sparkling cold ruby-red Manhattans.
“Oh, no,” I said.
“Oh, yes,” said Dick. “Come on, buddy, one more and we’re gone.”
“Okay,” I said, “but I should go home after this.”
We clicked our glasses and drank again.
“So, Arnold, tell me about this lady friend of yours.”
Shamelessly I did so.
“She sounds great,” said Dick.
“Yeah, I suppose so,” I said.
“What’s the matter?” he said.
“I just remembered I keep forgetting to ask her last name.”
“Well, no matter.”
“I’ve never had a girlfriend before, Dick. Don’t you think that’s odd?”
He paused, drawing his lower lip inward, then he sighed again and said, “Well, yes, technically I suppose it’s odd. But I don’t think it’s anything to beat yourself up about.”
Suddenly I realized that this couple sitting one stool away from Dick had heard what I’d just said, and Dick’s response. I felt the fool, more so than usual that is.
I think Dick also realized that the couple had overheard us, and he read the abashment on my face.
He polished off his drink and said, “Hey, drink up and let’s breeze.”

As we were leaving the bar I realized that I had let Dick pay for all the drinks. But it was too late now. We went through the lobby, and out the doors, and then I felt myself floating down the porch steps instead of walking down them.
“Oh, Christ.”
“What is it, Arnold?”
Dick was floating there beside me.
“Dick,” I said.
Our feet were about two feet off the ground.
“Do you notice anything funny right now.”
“No. Do you?”
“Yes. Can’t you see? We’re floating in the air.”
“I don’t think so, Arnold.”
“No. You’ve just had a bit too much to drink.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Take a deep breath.”
I did.
“Now let it out, slowly.”
I did this, and as I exhaled I felt my feet returning to the earth, and Dick with me.
Dick’s hand was still on my shoulder.
“Are you okay now? Feet on the ground?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Do you want to sit for a bit?”
“No,” I said. “I think I should go home.”
“You felt you were floating. In the air.”
“I’ve had that feeling. Do you want a cigarette?”
He offered me one of his, a Chesterfield. I took it because it seemed like too much effort to extricate my own.
He lit us both up with his lighter.
“Although in my case,” he said, “the floating has occurred only when I’ve taken LSD.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s a drug. I first took it as part of some tests the, uh, government was conducting. I still like to take it sometimes.”
“Well, it opens up a whole other world. I see things. I see things I wouldn’t see normally, and I see them in a way I wouldn’t normally see.”
The street was quiet, except for the wind, the sound of the ocean, the hushing sound of the geraniums below the Chalfonte’s porch.
“I see Jesus,” I said. “Or rather I imagine I see him. I even thought Steve was Jesus.”
Dick looked me in the eye.
“But you’re okay now?”
The thing was I did feel okay, right then.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Come on, I’ll drive you home.”
We got in his Volkswagen and drove quietly back to my aunts’ house.
Before I got out Dick shook my hand and said, “Stop over at Daphne’s grandmother’s place tomorrow night. We’re having a cook-out if it doesn’t rain. Bring your lady friend.”
I almost wanted to say “Why?” As in why would he want me to come to their cook-out?
“It’s just a couple blocks down there on the corner of Windsor Avenue, big green house with a widow’s walk, and turrets and steeples. 200 Windsor.”
“I know the house,” I said. “But I usually go swimming in the evening.”
“Come after your swim. We’ll be at it all night. Do you play croquet? Mac sets up these lights and we play croquet on the back lawn.”
“Well —”
“Or badminton.”
Yep, that was two games I’d never played.
“Don’t be a stick in the mud, Arnold.”
I wanted to say I’d “try” to make it, but that seemed absurd. It wasn’t as if I had a demanding social schedule laid out for the next day without a minute’s free time.
“Tell ya what, Arnold,” he said, gently. “Stop by if you feel like it. I’d like to have you there. I so rarely meet someone I can talk to.”
I said okay and good night, got out, closed the car door, and Dick took off down the street.
And I thought I was strange.

(Click here to see if Arnold makes it upstairs okay. And check the right hand side of this page for links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems.)