Thursday, January 31, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Forty-Six: a most disturbing wireless communication

We continue our Harold Robbins Award-winning serialization of the unexpurgated “director’s cut” of this classic novel by the man Harold Bloom called “not only a great film-maker and a great novelist, but a great guy”, a man I am honored to call my friend and mentor, and at whose Mission/Colonial house on North Ivar Avenue in Hollywood I have spent many happy hours: Larry Winchester.

Early September, 1969.

That land of enchantment, New Mexico.

A large Victorian house on a ranch just several miles outside of a town called Disdain...

(Go here to review our previous episode.)

Dick lay on the bed, his hands folded behind his head. Only the one night-table lamp was lit. Daphne was taking her turn in the bathroom, and he was still wearing only his old kimono. he could smell the beef roasting down in the ranch-yard, and he was hungry.

He had Big Jake’s son’s transistor radio sitting on his stomach. So far, nothing.

Then someone or something spoke in an electrical voice and he sat upright like a shot and the radio fell off his stomach and down between his legs. He stared at it, the voice continued but it was not coming from this radio. It wasn’t making any sense either. It was either speaking some foreign language he’d never heard or the transmission was screwed up in some way. But where was it coming from?

Over there. Near that chair. The chair he’d thrown his safari jacket on.

He got up, feeling as if he were in a dream but knowing he wasn’t that lucky, and he walked over to the chair.

He stared at the jacket. The voice was coming from that pocket, definitely.

He reached into the pocket and took out the shot-up transistor radio. The voice continued to crackle from it, pouring right out of the bullet hole in the front of it.

Daphne came in the door, draped in a Palm Grove Hotel bath towel.

Dick was sweating. He could barely talk.



“Can you hear this?”

“Yes. Of course I can hear it. What is it, Swahili?”

“Daphne, this radio is wrecked. It has a bullet hole though it.”

“Oh. How come it’s working then.”

“I -- Daph --this is the voice I told you about.”

“Oh. So you weren’t kidding.”

“No. Of course I wasn’t.”

“Well,” she said, “I thought maybe you were speaking -- you know -- metaphorically.”

“No,” said Dick.

“So, what’s it saying?”

“I don’t know.”

“But before you could understand it.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Well, turn it off if it’s not going to speak English.”

“I can’t turn it off,” said Dick, clicking the useless on-off switch. “It wasn’t on in the first place. It -- it --”

“Well it’s damned annoying,” said Daphne.

“I know.”

“Give me it.”


She came over and held her hand out.

“Because I’m getting rid of it.”

He handed the jabbering thing to her.

She shook it, then stared at it.

“Damned annoying,” she repeated.

She went over to the open window and tossed it out. It emitted a slow thin disappearing whine as it fell.

“Nasty thing,” she said. “Creepy. Now let’s get dressed for dinner. I’m famished.”


Agent Philips had been standing bemused watching the bare-chested sweating Chang turning the enormous side of beef on the spit and occasionally squirting it down with what looked like blood from a giant-sized syringe (which was otherwise used to inject cows with sperm) when the transistor radio landed in the dirt a few feet to his left.

He glanced up and then around, and then went over and picked it up.

It seemed to have just dropped from the sky.

It seemed to have a bullet-hole through it.

He looked up at the massive and looming house. The thing could have come from any number of windows, or even from the gabled and towered roof.

No one else seemed to have noticed it. He looked it over again and then put it in his windbreaker pocket.

(Click here for our next bewildering chapter. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain ™, as well as to appreciations of many of his classic films. Coming soon, from Ha! Karate MultiMedia: a special double-sided disc of two of Larry’s classic action epics with Dolph Lundgren: Blunt Force Trauma {1992} and Coup de Grace II: Galactic Hitman {also 1992}.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Fifty-One: Arnold Schnabel meets the chairman of the board

In the previous episode of our Walmart Award shortlisted serialization of the memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, we left our hero sitting on the porch of his aunts’ ramshackle Victorian guest-house in Cape May NJ.

Also on or in front of the porch are:

Steve Jones: Arnold’s friend; sometimes appears in the form of Jesus.

Charlotte Rathbone: Steve’s date for the big cook-out they’re all going to tonight; spinster art teacher; lives with her mother, smokes pink Vanity Fair cigarettes.

Gertrude Evans: attractive novelist; Ayn Rand and Rock Hudson aficionada; like Miss Rathbone a tenant of the guest-house.

Mr. and Mrs. DeVore: young annoying boring couple; also guests at the house.

And crossing the street on this warm August evening in 1963: Elektra, Arnold’s bohemian inamorata...

“Well, look at you!” called Steve. “Don’t you look gorgeous!”
Elektra raised her arms and did a twirl, her red and black dress flying around her and then settling on her figure as she strode toward us.
“Oh my goodness, Miss Elektra, I’ve never seen you quite this dolled up before!” yelled Steve. He had disengaged his arm from Miss Rathbone’s, and he clapped the fingertips of his hands together.
I noticed that Miss Rathbone rolled her eyes, while Miss Evans stared at Steve with her head slightly cocked.
Mr. And Mrs. DeVore stared quite blatantly from Steve to Elektra and back again.
I stood up.
“Excuse me, Miss Evans,” I said, and went over to the steps and started down them, Steve still yelling compliments to Elektra, but just then I heard my small cousin behind me, saying:
“Cousin Arnold!”
I turned on the second step.
“Yes, Kevin?” I said.
He was standing in the doorway, holding the screen door open. Behind him I could see my Aunt Greta and my mother leaning forward on the couch and staring out the door.
“I want to say hello to Electric!”
“Oh,” I said.
This kid was getting a little obsessed. Not that I could blame him.
I went down the steps, Elektra came through the wooden gate, we met on the stone path, and there, for the first time in my life in front of witnesses I was kissed on the cheek by a woman whom I was not related to.
The next few minutes were very confusing, complicated, and somewhat boring, involving Elektra and myself going back onto the porch and Elektra being introduced to everyone she hadn’t been introduced to, and re-introduced to everyone else, and Kevin babbling up at her as she leaned forward to listen to him, one hand holding back a mass of her shining black hair, and giving him a look at her breasts that will probably give the boy material for self-abuse for untold years ahead.
The one good thing about this scene was the fact that after a minute Elektra put one of her hands on my arm, and kept it there.
Steve was right, she did look swell. Now that she was close to me I saw that the red and the black print of her dress was made up of large red roses on a black background. She wore red lipstick, and had make-up on her eyes that made them seem even darker and larger than their normal dark largeness. Around her neck she wore a necklace of varicolored Cape May diamonds. Her dress was low-cut and molded around her breasts and I confess that, just as Kevin stared at her bosom shamelessly as she leaned over to chat with him, so also and maybe just sightly less shamelessly did I.
Finally Steve seemed to get bored with it all.
“Okay! Let’s go while the night is young! Gertrude, you are accompanying us, aren’t you?”
She also had come down to the foot of the steps.
“I feel like a fifth wheel,” she said.
“Every car needs a spare, honey. Come on! Frank Sinatra!”
So, soon enough we were all filing down the path to the sidewalk in awkward disorder.
Kevin suddenly ran down off the porch and grabbed Elektra’s arm.
“Electric! Take me with you!”
“Sorry, Kevin,” I said. “This is a grown-up party. Go back and watch TV.”
Reluctantly he let go of her, and Elektra and I followed the others out through the gate, and as I closed it I saw Mr. And Mrs. DeVore staring outcast at our little band, left with no one to bore but themselves and possibly Kevin; but no, not even him. He turned and quickly scrambled up the steps and back into the house, anxious no doubt not to miss any more of Route 66.
Steve led the way, with Miss Evans on his right arm and Miss Rathbone on his left.
I deliberately let some space open up between our two groups as we walked, and I stopped Elektra with my hand.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello, Arnold.”
I realized then that she was the nicest thing that had ever happened to me.
“You don’t really want to go to this, do you?” she asked.
“Not particularly,” I said.
“Let’s just go for a little while. I know it’s stupid, but I want to see what Frank Sinatra looks like. Then you and I can split.”
“Okay,” I said.
So our little band walked along, past Congress to Windsor.
The house was a great turreted three-story affair with the front entrance around the corner, with screened porches on both the first and second floors, gardens and lawns filling the space between the house and the sidewalk. Down past the sides of the house we could see lights and people in the back.
Steve led the way through the gate and up a flagstone walkway that went through the gardens and then around either side of the house. We went to the left, and then at last came to the back yard where the party was. Colored paper lanterns with electric lights in them were strung around the yard. Women wore dresses that looked like tissue paper, and the men mostly wore short-sleeved shirts and light-colored trousers. A couple of young maids in black uniforms walked around with a tray.
Dick Ridpath excused himself from a conversation with an older woman and came over and greeted us warmly. Steve introduced Miss Evans, and Dick not only was gracious to this uninvited guest but knew of her work and said he was looking forward to her next novel.
With Dick’s able help, soon we had drinks in our hands and were mingling with the pleasant men and women there.
I was mildly surprised that one by one Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis, Jr. — and, finally, even Frank Sinatra — came up and introduced themselves to me and Elektra.
And then, while Frank Sinatra was chatting with Elektra, asking about her jewelry store, it finally dawned on me: it was she who was attracting these stars of stage, screen, and television, and not the odd fellow she was with. I’ll say this for Frank Sinatra though, he was a gentleman; because after chatting with Elektra for about five minutes (during which time she kept her arm in mind, while I stared off into space and occasionally at Mr. Sinatra’s hairpiece) he said to me, “And what do you do — Arnold is it?”
“Yes,” I said. “Well, I write poems, Mr. Sinatra.”
“No kidding. Do they rhyme?”
“Oh, always,” I said.
“Did you ever think of writing song lyrics?”
“No,” I said.
“If you ever want to give it a try, I’m always looking for new material. I could give the lyrics to Jimmy Van Heusen, say, see if he could turn them into a good song for me.”
“Well, I doubt I could do that, Mr. Sinatra,” I said.
“Call me Frank. Why not, Arnold?”
“Well — Frank — it’s the things I write about.”
“Like what?”
“Like – I don’t know. Worms on the pavement on a rainy day. The scariness of an amusement arcade. Having a conversation with Jesus, or with an hallucination of Jesus. Fighting off demons while you’re trying to watch TV. That sort of thing.”

“You don’t think you could just write me a love song?”
“I’ve asked him to write me a poem,” said Elektra, “and he still hasn’t done it.”
“But I’m determined to do it,” I said.
“Don’t rush him, honey,” said Frank. “You got a real poet on your hands here. Most bums would jump at the chance to work for me. I’d like to read your poems, Arnold. You got any books out?”
“No,” I said. “Just a lot of clippings from the papers the poems have appeared in.”
“Yeah, how many?”
“Oh, a lot,” I said. Like thirteen hundred, but I didn’t want to boast.
Frank reached into his back pocket and took out a thick worn old wallet. He was not a big man at all. Like me he was dressed in Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt, except he wore white shoes with no socks, whereas I wore white Keds with white socks. For a second I thought he was going to give me some money. But instead he pulled out a visiting card with gold edging. He handed it to me. All it had on it was a phone number, embossed in gold and black.
“This is my number, kid. You ever think you’ve got some good material for me, give me a call. Collect.”
“Thanks, Mr. Sinatra.”
“Thanks, Frank.” I looked at the card, wondering if that was real gold on it. “I doubt I’ll come up with anything suitable though.”
“You let me be the judge of that,” he said. “Something about love is always good.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Or like loneliness. Loss. Late at night with the deep-blue blues. Maybe that’s more your style.”
“You’re probably right,” I said.
“Just nothing about worms,” he said. “Or Jesus. Or demons.”
Steve was working his way toward us, with Miss Rathbone and Miss Evans.
Frank pointed to the card that I was still holding up between thumb and forefinger, as if I were about to hand a movie ticket to an usher.
“Put the card in your wallet, Arnold. I don’t want you to lose it.”
I took out my wallet and did as he advised.
I didn’t think I’d ever call him, but I didn’t want to make the guy feel bad.

(Go here for our next action-packed chapter. And turn if you will to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, and to many of his fine poems. All rights reserved by the Arnold Schnabel Society. Imprimatur, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Forty-Five: Dick knows it's foolish even to try to lie to Daphne

Daphne MacNamara (later, Ridpath) at Frank’s Playland, Cape May NJ, 1963

Return with us now to the book Harold Bloom called “not just the great American novel, but one of the greatest of all novels, able to stand on equal footing with such masterpieces of world literature as Natascha: Lass of the Steppes, Dr. Xing’s Stepdaughter, and The Seven Lives of Señor Doyle” as Larry Winchester reveals yet another dimension of that glamorous and mysterious couple, Dick and Daphne Ridpath.

(Click here for our previous installment.)

We are of course in the month of September, 1969, on a ranch on the border of the vast and wasted New Mexico desert, just several miles outside of a town called Disdain...

They lay side by side on their backs across the bed, their legs dangling off the side. Daphne’s hand lay on Dick’s damp upper thigh. Dick lay with his hands folded on his stomach and he and Daphne both stared up at the grim old floral-papered ceiling.

A cooling dying-day breeze smelling of rock and salt blew in through open the window.

Daphne rolled over partway on Dick’s chest.

“I want to know who you were thinking about.”

“You, sweety.”


And she pulled at a clump of his chest hair.

“Well, who were you thinking about?” asked Dick.

“The Maharishi.”

His head jerked down to look into her eyes.

“No,” he said. “Don’t say that.”

“I wasn’t fantasizing about him. I was just remembering. You were the one fantasizing.”

It was never any use arguing with Daphne. She read him like an open comic book.

“It was that Hope girl,” said Daphne, with complete certainty. “Wasn’t it?”

“Of course not,” said Dick, although of course it had been, but the funny thing was that with him also it had been not so much like fantasizing but remembering. But how could he remember something that had never happened?

“You’re such fantastic liar,” she said, and squeezing him hard down below, she stuck out her tongue and licked his left nipple slowly like some beautiful sated leopardess.

Dick lay quiet, feeling Daphne’s sweaty breast on his sweaty chest, her warm breath in the hairs on his chest, her smell of sex and Chanel No.5, the smell of her hair, her hand on him.

He felt really odd, emptied of everything but a thin ghostly oddness.

Not that he’d felt much of anything else but odd for some years now. But there were degrees.

He tried to remember the details of what he had been fantasizing that he’d been remembering, but all he could recall now was that it was indeed this Hope girl, and that some people or some creatures had been watching them.

And now this woman here, Daphne, she and her warm woman’s body were the only thing keeping him here now, the only thing keeping him from just floating up off this bed and through that ugly floral paper on that ceiling and up and out of this house and just out there, out there.

Out where?

Get a grip on yourself, boy. Just get a grip here.

He put his lips to the top of her head and he kept them there, in her damp soft short hair, the smell of the Palm Grove hotel shampoo and of sweat, the damp cork smell of that pith helmet of hers, this strange head.

After a few moments she lifted her face up and looked into his eyes.

Then they joined into each other through their eyes, and for a moment they were beyond time and beyond flesh and words.

Their eyes closed together and they fell asleep.


(Click here for our next exciting chapter. Kindly take a look at the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s a Town Called Disdain ™, now in development by Ha! Karate Films as a major motion picture starring Billy Zane, Kari Wührer and Stephen Dorff, to be directed of course by Larry Winchester, provided the funding doesn’t fall through again.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Fifty: "Kings don't mean a thing on the street of dreams..."

Return with us again to that warm August night in 1963, to the seaside town of Cape May NJ, where Arnold Schnabel, author of these memoirs, sits on the porch of his aunts’ large Victorian guest-house...

(Go here to review our previous episode.)

Miss Evans came around to the front of the porch, put one foot on the first porch step, but hesitated.
“I wonder if I should just go to that movie?” she said in my direction.
“I love Rock Hudson,” said Mrs. DeVore.
I’d almost forgotten that Mr. and Mrs. DeVore were still sitting there. But they were still there all right, not missing a word anyone said.
“He’s divine,” said Miss Evans.
“So handsome,” said Mrs. DeVore. “And tall and dark and strong. Darling,” she said to her husband, who was under medium height, balding and blond-haired, and thin except for a pot belly, “should we go see the movie?”
“Is it a war picture?”
“Is it a war picture?” Mrs. DeVore asked Miss Evans.
“I don’t think so,” said Miss Evans. “But I believe Rock Hudson does play a bomber pilot.”
“I love men in a uniform,” said Mrs. DeVore. Should I describe her? What can I say, she was the sort of woman who produces no visual impression whatever. “Should we go, darling?” she said to her husband, in a voice which was like a million other voices.
“Okay,” said Mr. DeVore, sounding if not quite enthusiastic then reasonably open to adventure.
“The only thing is Arnold’s friend Steve said it wasn’t very good,” said Miss Evans.
“Oh,” said Mrs. DeVore. “Now I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, that’s just his opinion,” said Mr. DeVore.
“I know,” said Mrs. DeVore, “but —”
“Mr. ‘Frank Sinatra’ there.”
“Oh, my God, that’s right!” chirped Mrs. DeVore. “Arnold, is Frank Sinatra really going to be at that cook-out?”
The problem here was that listening to them all talking had driven me slightly insane again. I felt like they were all part of some boring movie that I had been transported into, except that I was still a real person and they were just projections on a screen. I suddenly realized that my cigarette had burnt down almost all the way to my fingers, and I dropped it into the ashtray and tapped it out with my fingertip.
“Arnold?” said Mrs. DeVore again.
“Argyle,” I said.
“What did he say?” asked Mr. DeVore.
She turned back to face him.
“Argyle,” she said, sounding a little frightened. “And aardvark.”
Miss Evans came up the porch steps and over to in front of where I sat.
“Are you okay, Arnold?” she said in a low voice.
I took a deep breath.
She put a hand on my shoulder, and this helped. Her eyes were kind. I came back. Or the world came back to me.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m okay.” I took another breath and, trying to sound normal, I turned to the DeVores and said, or croaked, “Yeah, Frank Sinatra’s supposed to be there.”
Mrs. DeVore smiled in a nervous-looking way at me, her teeth bared and clenched tight. Mr. DeVore beyond her leaned forward and also smiled, in the way one smiles at a possibly rabid dog.
Miss Evans continued to hold her hand on my shoulder.
“So, should I go to this cook-out, Arnold?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“I would like to meet Frank Sinatra,” she said. She ran her hand from my shoulder down to the upper part of my arm. “Wouldn’t you?”
I thought about this.
“I did meet him,” I said. “He asked me for directions.”
I glanced down at her hand touching my arm, and I saw that she saw me do so. She caressed my arm once more, then took her hand away.
“What was he like?” she said.
“Well, just like anybody else,” I said.
“You really talked to him?” said Mrs. DeVore. “Where is this cook-out? Is it around here?”
“It’s on the Street of Dreams,” I said.
“Love laughs at a king,” I said. “Kings don't mean a thing on the street of dreams. Dreams broken in two can be made like new. On the street of dreams.”   
Mrs. DeVore stared at me. Her husband leaned forward in his rocker and stared at me.
The husband tapped the wife on the shoulder, beckoned her to lean toward him as he leaned toward her. He whispered something in her ear, something no doubt to the effect of, “He’s crazy. Better leave him alone.”
They both settled back in their rockers and lifted up their magazines.
Miss Evans leaned down toward me.
“Wasn’t that a Frank Sinatra song?” she asked in a low voice.
I nodded. And I wondered, had I quoted those lines to Mr. And Mrs. DeVore because I was still at least somewhat in the grip of an attack of madness, or had I simply wanted to make them stop butting in?
But then Steve came around the side of the house, arm in arm with Miss Rathbone, who wore a long gauzy ivory-colored dress and carried a small pink purse with sparkles on it. She had made her hair into a sort of billow above her forehead, with silver or silver-colored barrettes above her ears guiding it in waves behind her bare shoulders. She carried what looked like a pink silk scarf draped over her forearms and behind her back.
“Arnold,” said Steve, “Gertrude! Look how marvelous my date looks!”
“Oh be quiet, Steve,” said Miss Rathbone, but she let him guide her around to the front of the porch, her arm in his.
“Hello, Miss Evans,” said Miss Rathbone.
“You look wonderful,” said Miss Evans.
“Thank you. You don’t look bad either.”
“Great,” said Steve, “everybody looks fabulous, now let’s get this show on the road!”
“But Arnold’s waiting for his lady friend,” said Miss Evans.
“Oh, I forgot. Well, we’ll see you there then, Arnold. Come on, darling,” he said to Miss Rathbone.
He tried to pull her arm, but she wouldn’t budge.
“I loved your poems, Arnold,” said Miss Rathbone. “I devoured them. I found them extraordinary.”
“Are they really?” said Miss Evans.
“Extraordinary,” said Miss Rathbone.
“Oh, God, Arnold, the women love you!” said Steve. “That’s it, I’m going to start writing poems tomorrow!”
“I’m afraid it’s not quite that easy,” said Miss Rathbone. “Arnold has honed his craft. And he has suffered.”
“I can hone!” said Steve. “And God knows I’ve suffered!” Mr. and Mrs. DeVore were paying attention again, indeed how could they not, and Steve said to them, “Really, I know about suffering!”
Once again they smiled uncertainly and picked up their magazines.
Thank God, or whomever, I saw Elektra coming along Perry Street.
Steve was speaking some nonsense, I don’t know what.
I watched Elektra crossing North Street.
In the light of the street lamp it was as if she was walking on to a stage. She wore a dress I hadn’t seen before, all splotched with silky red and black, and she carried a small shiny black purse on a long thin strap hanging from her bare shoulder.
Mid-street she stopped, and she looked at this group of people sitting on the porch and in front of it.
Then bravely she continued toward us.

(Click here for our next exciting chapter. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for up-to-date listings of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s K-Mart Award-winning Railroad Train to Heaven™, as well as to many of his easy-to-understand poems.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Forty-Four: Daphne seeks out spirtitual enlightenment

(Go here for our previous episode; click here to return to the first chapter.)

It’s September, 1969, and a young soldier named Harvey returns from ‘Nam to his wretched home town in the New Mexico wastelands.

His first day back he kills the bully Bull Thorndyke in self-defense. The big rancher Big Jake Johnstone immediately hires Harvey to act as guide to two guests of his, the beautiful and mysterious couple Dick and Daphne Ridpath (AKA “Smith”).

Later that same night Dick kills a member of the brutal motorcycle gang the Motorpsychos. Their leader, a former Oxford don called Moloch, vows revenge.

Two international assassins named Hans Grupler and Marlene are also stopping as guests at the ranch, along with two suspected government agents named Philips and Adams, and a dissipated English rock star named Derek Squitters.

Big Jake’s beautiful daughter Hope has an attack of hysterics on Dick and Daphne’s bed.

And this is only the beginning of this masterwork, which, says Harold Bloom in a recent issue of Boy's Life, “...contains all of life, and so much more."

When Dick got back from his shower he was sporting an erection, so Daphne stopped what she was doing (looking for those missing seashell-blue panties from Chez Ghislaine), pulled off his robe, he was sweating profusely poor thing, she pulled him over to the bed and naked as she already was she climbed into it and grabbed a couple of pillows and told him to go right ahead.

And oddly enough something about the animal-waste way the air smelled coming in through the window looking out on the brown land and the darkening mountains returned her mind to the little village at the foothills of the Himalayas where they had gone to study at the feet of the Maharishi.

Dick had expressed some dubiety but Daphne’s friend Mia had been absolutely rapturous about the Maharishi and she offered to pay their way so off they went.

Dick’s jazz boîte in Paris had been burnt in the student riots and he was in a glum mood. But wouldn’t you know it Dick Mr. Skeptical was soon this terrific convert just chanting the livelong day.

But not Daphne. Two or three minutes of chanting were plenty for her, thank you.

All these people would be sitting in this temple place just chanting like mad and Daphne would excuse herself saying she had to go to the ladies’ room, and she would go outside and light up a bidi, one of these cunning little native cigarettes, and then take a long stroll along the Ganges.

Little Indian boys and girls would trail along behind her. She supposed she cut an exotic figure for them. Nearly six feet tall, her hair in a pixie and dyed honey blonde. (Mia later copied the style and did quite well by it.)

The children were all barefoot, wearing shorts and no shirts.

She would sit by the river, looking at it and up at the enormous mountains.

The children squatting all about her looking at her quietly with their huge brown eyes.

Then strolling along a bit more, smelling the wood burning in the villagers’ stoves and the cooking smells of odd foods and spices, the smells of animals and growth and rot.

Goats and cows standing by the road, people coming out of their little houses to look at her.

The children followed her everywhere.

On the third day she discovered this tennis club and she went in, had a cocktail and became great friends with the people in the bar there.

The days went on and each day Daphne sat and chanted for a bit, each time trying to stick it out for at least five minutes.

But after two or three minutes she got up “to go to the ladies’ room”.

Her little Indian friends would be on the road outside, and she took to bringing them presents, little trinkets and whatnot that she would pick up in the temple when no one was looking.

One day she forgot to bring them anything so she gave them an English Vogue she had in her handbag, and they were quite ecstatic about that.

She pointed out the various models and named them for the kids.

“This is Jean Shrimpton. Say Jean Shrimpton.”

“Jean Sheenton,” they said.

“And this is Twiggy. Say Twiggy.”

“Teegy,” they said.

In their turn the children gave her little white rock candies.

And off she would stroll, sucking on the rock candy, and down to the club where she would play tennis and swim and have lunch and cocktails that she never had to pay for.

Several men made heavy plays for her, but as usual with men the more ardent they got the more boring they became.

And one day one of the Maharishi’s assistants told Daphne that the Maharishi would like to have a private talk with her.

Daphne met with him in this comfortable little room where he sat crosslegged on a low couch covered with gaily colored pillows.

He called her my child and beckoned her to sit on the rug by his side where some more gaily colored pillows were strewn.

Daphne curled up on the pillows, folding her legs under her. She was fresh from the tennis court where she had beaten this young English tea merchant in three straight sets; a couple of weeks’ daily practice on the excellent red clay court had sharpened her game marvelously, and she felt quite close to that merciless form she had shown in leading the Bryn Mawr women to the regional championship back in ‘64. She had showered and changed into a crisp white full-skirted dress that she thought made her look like an actress in one of those movies about people in exotic locations with handsome plantation owners and rugged great white hunters.

“Well, my child, you do not seem to have much patience for our chanting nor for my lectures neither.”

“Oh no,” she said, “your highness darling it’s just I have the most weakest possible bladder. You can’t imagine.”

“But then why do you not return after you have voided your bladder my child.”

“Oh,” she said. “Well you know I hate to disturb the others with all my silly comings and goings.”

“The others are in a state of advanced meditation which makes them quite oblivious to the comings and goings of one small tiny little girl in our physical universe my child.”

“Well your excellency I am hardly what you might call small and tiny or little.”

“In the great scheme of things you are but a tiny mote in the eye of a gnat who has flown into the farthest reach of outer space where his buzzing cannot be heard by even the ears of ten thousand gods.”

“Chilling thought. Do you mind if I smoke?”

“Your lungs are meant to breathe only the goodness of pure air my child.”

“No. Really.” She took her cigarettes and lighter out of her pocket book. “Then why are you people always lighting incense every other second?”

In fact there was a censer burning incense right there at the foot of the old boy’s couch.

She lit her cigarette and clicked her lighter shut.

“And another thing,” she said, blowing out a stream of smoke. “If you’re such an all knowing wise man how come you don’t know you have a teensy bit of rice stuck in your beard?”

“I do?” He looked down and began fingering his long brindled beard.

“I mean, really,” went on Daphne, “and who made you the King of Wisdom? If you ask me you’ve got some racket going on here with all your rock-and-roll stars and movie actresses. I mean not that I blame you, everyone has to earn a dollar some way I suppose, but just don’t get so high and mighty with me.”

He had found the grain of rice and put it in an engraved golden plate. He put the plate down on the floor next to Daphne, and she tapped her ash into it.

“You have humbled me, my child.”

“Well, no hard feelings,” she said.

“I am but a weak thing, a mere insect --”

“I know, floating around out by Neptune, so far out even Flash Gordon couldn’t find you.”

“I feel it is I who could learn much from you my child.”

“I don’t know what.”

“I feel you know many things.”

“I feel you are full of baloney,” she said.

“I think that you could teach me my child. You have very strong bagala energy.”

It sounded something like bagala but she wasn’t quite sure at all, and she didn’t feel like asking him to repeat it.

“I myself,” he went on, “I have always been a person with strong mamanana energy, which of course is the masculine counterpart to bagala energy.”

Or was he saying baccalà energy, like the fish?

“When you combine a strong pure bagala energy such as you have within you with a strong pure mamanana energy such as I have within me then when these two energies combine you have the even stronger energy the bagamamanana.”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about, your worship. I must have been in the ladies’ room when you were covering this material.”

“It’s all in the pamphlets you’ve been given.”

“I’ve been meaning to get to those.”

“I am talking about the essence of male and the essence of female.”

“Oh,” said Daphne.

He was sitting up straight now, looking or rather leering down at her.

“I am talking about the joining together of the two corporeal hosts for the purposes of spiritual advancement.”

He had entwined his hands together now and he was breathing a bit heavily.

“Uh-huh,” said Daphne, suspecting where this was leading.

And sure enough before she knew it he had slipped down from the couch and had his arm around her, his hand gripping her arm.

“You have such strong bagala,” he whispered, and his beard was suddenly all over her shoulder and she could feel his lips within it like some wet little animal crawling towards her neck.

So she gave him a hard elbow straight into his tubby little gut and he fell backwards gripping it.

“Oh,” he moaned. “My mamanana. It is surging within me.”

He started to sit back up again and she put her hand on his chest and shoved him back down.

“Well,” she said, “this bagala energy is surging right out of here, your holiness.”

She stood up and straightened out the skirt of her dress.

He raised a hand toward her.

“Please,” he implored.

“God,” said Daphne, taking a drag on her cigarette, and blowing it down at the old man. “You’re just another dirty filthy old man aren’t you. Is this real gold?”

She put her finger on a large ornately carved vase sitting on a table near the couch.

“Yes my child.”

“If you give it to me I won’t tell anyone about this disgraceful incident.”

“It is not mine to give. All here belongs to our community and all we have belongs to all the world.”

“Well that includes me then.”

She took the vase under her arm and walked out. They were able to sell it at Sotheby’s for five thousand pounds and this financed a quite pleasant vacation in Monaco.

Dick collapsed upon her and she let him stay there for a minute, their bagala and mamanana energies breathing into each other as one.


(Click here for our next enthralling episode. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to other episodes of Larry Winchester's A Town Called Disdain™. Check out our listings of "The Films of Larry Winchester" too, and remember to send in requests for these to Turner Classic Movies.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Forty-Nine: a gathering of eagles, Cape May, NJ, August 1963

In our last episode of these unexpurgated memoirs of the man Harold Bloom called “the John Coltrane of 20th Century American Literature” Arnold Schnabel managed once again to escape the embrace of the attractive novelist Gertrude Evans.

But the sultry evening is yet young...

I made my way out the side entrance in a successful maneuver to avoid my mother and aunts. Evening had fallen and the porch was empty except for a couple of guests, a young married couple named DeVore, sitting in rockers and reading magazines by the porch light.

I said hello and went up and over to the other side of the porch to my usual rocker. Miss Evans’s novel was still sitting on the little table, so I picked it up for something to read while waiting for Elektra.

Porter Walker takes Emily to a bar in Greenwich Village called the Kettle of Fish, and they drink beer and listen to a jazz trio.

“Can’t you hear what those cats are doing?” he asks Emily.

Emily listens for a minute and then says, yes, she can hear it.

Then the old rag-and-bones lady shows up again and comes over to the table where Porter the poet and Emily are sitting and drinking cheap beer.

“I told you you would find love,” the old lady says.

The rag-and-bones lady goes away, and then, after talking about the meaning of the universe and about himself, Porter finally asks Emily about her new job, and she wonders if she should tell him that she is reading his epic poem for her job, but she decides not to.

They hit a couple of more bars and eventually wind up at one called Bob’s Bowery Bar. It turns out Porter’s apartment is just around the corner from the bar, and Emily decides to take up Porter’s invitation to spend the night at his “pad”, but strictly on a platonic basis, supposedly.

They go up to his pad, it’s just the one room, with a narrow bed but no couch. Porter says he’ll sleep on the floor. Emily gives him a hard time about this. He says he’s used to sleeping on floors. It goes on like this, and then all of a sudden Emily kisses him. It started to get pretty hot and heavy here, and I felt embarrassed reading it on the porch.

“What are you reading?” called Mrs. DeVore.

“Um, it’s called Ye Cannot Quench,” I called back.

“Isn’t that the novel Miss Evans wrote?”

As I have said, everyone knows everyone’s business around here.

“Yes,” I said.

“You must lend it to me when you’re finished,” she said.

“Well, it’s not my book,” I said. “Miss Evans lent it to me.”

“Oh, she must like you. And what about your lady friend?”

See what I mean? How did they even know I had a lady friend?

“I hear your lady friend is a real hot ticket, Arnold,” said Mr. DeVore.

Already we were on a first-name basis, and I’d never done more than say hello to these people.

“Jewish girl, isn’t she, Arnold?” said Mrs. DeVore.

“She is a member of the Israelite tribe,” I said, and I have no idea why I said that, but it, or the way I said it, somehow seemed to take them aback and they smiled and went back to their magazines, she a Ladies’ Home Journal, he a Saturday Evening Post.

I went back to Miss Evans’s book and the steamy scene. They were now on Porter’s bed, and Emily’s bosom was heaving and she was running her hands over his slim lithe muscles and breathing in his “musk of the city and manhood”. And just when you think she’s about to — you know — she goes into a long remembrance of a date she had with a high school boy back in West Virginia, on a night “scented with honeysuckle and sweet warm sweat”. The boy, named Cletus, or “Clete”, takes her out to a remote mountain spot in his Model T —

But meanwhile I’m thinking, why is this Emily all of a sudden daydreaming about this old boyfriend of hers while she’s busy kissing and running her hands along the lithe muscles of this Porter guy?
But I kept reading anyway, thinking there was still a chance it might make some sense.

And then all of a sudden Steve was standing there, saying, “Aren’t you engrossed?”

At first I wasn’t sure if this was Steve himself, or an maybe an apparition of Steve as Jesus. He was carrying a bouquet of calla lilies, so that made me suspicious. I glanced over at the DeVores, and they were both looking at Steve, although seeming to be trying to pretend that they weren’t blatantly staring at him. So this made me think it was probably really Steve. If things have gotten to the point where other people are seeing Jesus too, well, then we’re all in big trouble.

“Hi, Steve,” I said.

“So you’re coming tonight, right?” he said.

“Where?” I asked.

“To the cook-out.”

Once again I’d forgotten all about it.

“You know, he said. "The one with Frank Sinatra. And the Rat Pack. Swimming pools. Movie stars?”

“They have a swimming pool there?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he said. “But you are coming, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m waiting for Elektra.”

“When is she supposed to be here?”

I checked my watch.

“About a half hour ago,” I said.

“Primping, I’m sure," he said. “I feel so much better now myself. Had a beauty nap. How do you think I look?”

He was wearing white loose trousers and a long-sleeved white dress shirt of some very light-looking material. He also wore white shoes I noticed.

“You don’t think the white bucks are a bit de trop?” he asked.

“No, not at all,” I said.

“And the calla lilies?” he asked.

They did seem odd to me, but I didn’t say so.

“She told me she likes calla lilies,” said Steve.

“Who?” I asked.

“Who? My date! Charlotte.”

It all came back to me now.

“What do you think of her?” he asked. “May I sit?”

“Sure,” I said.

And he sat down in the rocker next to my right. He leaned over toward me and spoke lowly, as if he didn’t want the DeVores to hear him, and in fact I could see them over his shoulder, pretending to read their magazines, but straining their ears to catch our every word.

“Tell me true, what do you think of her?”

“She seems nice,” I said.

“I think she’s divine,” said Steve. “Magnificent. She reminds me of Deborah Kerr. With just a bit of Katherine Hepburn. Or Bette Davis. Just — fabulous. And her mother — isn’t her mother a scream?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“So what do you think of her and me?”

“Miss Rathbone and you?”

“Yes. I certainly didn’t mean Mrs. Rathbone and me.”

He had gotten progressively louder, but now I spoke in a very low voice.

“Do you mean — for you to — go out with her?”

“Yes! What d’ya think?”

It was full dark now, the street lamps were on, and inside the house in my aunts’ living room Route 66 was playing on the TV. The DeVores were still trying to eavesdrop.

“Steve,” I said in my lowest voice, “I was under the impression that you — didn’t like girls.”

Steve whispered, “You mean I’m queer as a three dollar bill?”

“Well, yeah,” I whispered back.

“Well, what if I am?” he asked, in a normal voice, or normal for Steve. “Does that mean I can’t go out with a woman?”

“But — why would you want to?” I asked.

“Oh, so just because I’m not interested in — in ravishing her — does that mean I can’t go out with a woman?”

“I —”

“Arnold, can’t you get your mind out of the gutter for just one minute?”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“There are more things to life than sex you know.”

I really couldn’t think of anything to say to this.

Steve sat back and took out his cigarettes. I felt bad, so I gave him a light.

“Thank you, Arthur,” he said. So now I was back to being Arthur again, but I didn’t have the heart to correct him.

I lit up one of my own, and we sat in silence for half a minute.

Bugs were starting to come out for their evening’s adventures. Little gnats, and probably mosquitoes soon enough.

“I’d like to get married too,” said Steve, although no one had mentioned marriage. “I don’t see why I can’t have all that, like everybody else. A nice wife. Maybe even a brat or two.”

This was all too confusing to me, to be honest. I thought homosexuals were not supposed to like women. Why would a homosexual man want to be married to a woman then?

“You think I would be living a lie?” asked Steve.

He was speaking normally again, normally for him that is, in other words not quietly, and I could see that the DeVores were hanging on his every word. Steve saw me looking at them, and he turned his head around to look at them also.

“Would you like me to speak louder for your benefit?” he asked them.

They both immediately picked up their magazines and buried their faces in them.

Steve stared at them for a few more seconds, then turned back to me, and shrugged.

“Why can’t I have my cake and eat it too?” he asked me. “I think I would make a marvelous husband.
I wouldn’t be pestering her for you-know-what all the time. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, what if she wanted to be pestered?”

Actually I wasn’t thinking that. I didn’t know what I was thinking.

“Well,” he said, “I venture to say I could rise to the occasion. You know, close my eyes and think of England.”

“Why would you think of England?” I asked.

“It’s just a saying, Arthur,” he said. “Look, you’re my best friend. Give me your blessing.”

“Okay,” I said. After all, what did I know about any of this?

“Thanks, buddy. She likes you, you know.”

“Miss Rathbone?”

“Yes. Charlotte. She’s simply mad about you. Or mad about your poems, anyway. After you fell into your deep plummetless slumber she and I sat together for a full hour while her mother snoozed too, and most of that time Charlotte spent reading your poems. I dare say she’d prefer you to me. Well, I guess I should get back there; she’s waiting for me. You are coming tonight, aren’t you?”

“Um,” I said.

“I’m as excited as a schoolgirl on prom night. I just want my slice of the pie, Arthur. My piece of the American dream. I don’t want to grow old in some fussy old parlour with some other old queen. I’d like a proper wife to go home to. And I can always have my fun on the side, can’t I?”

“Well, that wouldn’t be right, Steve,” I said, in a low voice.

“Oh, Mr. Morality! Get with it, Arthur, don’t you know how many husbands fool around on their wives? And not only just with other women?”

“That still doesn’t make it right, Steve,” I said, in my quietest voice.

He paused here, looking at his white shoes.

“You’re right,” he said. “It’s not right. That’s why if I do marry Charlotte I’ll just have to — to change my ways. That’s what I’ll do.”

“Steve,” I said, “don’t you think maybe you’re jumping the gun a little here?”

He looked at me.

“Like maybe we should go out on a first date before we register at Lit Brothers?”
Just then Miss Evans came walking around the side of the house. She stopped at the side of the porch.

“Hello, Arnold,” she said.

She was still wearing the polka dot dress, except now she carried a white pocket book, and she had a white sweater over one arm.

“Arnold!” said Steve. “And here I was calling you Arthur again! Hello,” he said to Miss Evans.

“Hello,” she said.

“My name’s Steve. My friend Arnold has such barbaric manners.”

“My name’s Gertrude. Gertrude Evans. Are you the friend who’s read The Fountainhead?”

“Yes! By Ann what’s-her-name?”

“Ayn Rand.”

“I loved that book!”

“You have excellent taste. And I see you’re still reading my book, Arnold?”

I was still holding the book in my hand.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m —” I tried to think of a way not to lie outright. “I’m amazed,” I said. Amazed at how absurd the book was.

“Well, thank you very much, Arnold,” she said.

Steve had leaned over and looked at the cover of the book, touching it with two fingers.

“Oh my God,” he said. “You wrote this?” he asked Miss Evans.

“Yes,” she said.

“I’m so impressed. Arthur I mean Arnold you’ll have to let me read it when you’re finished. May I, Gertrude?”

“Of course,” she said.

“Where are you off to, may I ask?” he asked her.

“I’m going to the movies,” she said.

“Oh really? To that Rock Hudson show?”

A Gathering of Eagles, yes,” she said. “I’m sure it’s terrible, but I’m a sucker for Rock Hudson.”

“Honey, I hate to tell you, but it’s very boring. It’s just Rock flying B-52 bombers all around.”


“Really; now if it was Lover Come Back, or Pillow Talk, or even The Spiral Road it would be a different story. Why don’t you come to the cook-out with us?”

“What cook-out?”

“Some pals of ours are having a cook-out down the street. They told us to bring friends. Frank Sinatra’s going to be there.”

“Frank Sinatra?”

“Yes,” said Steve. He turned around to look at the DeVores again and said, loud and clear, “Frank Sinatra.”

They raised up their magazines again.

“I don’t know,” said Miss Evans.

“Wait here,” Steve said to her. He stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray and stood up. “I have to go back and get my date.”

Steve went down the steps with his calla lilies, around the porch and past Miss Evans, saying, “Go on up, darling! Wait on the porch with Arthur.”

Right then and there I finally decided that Steve was definitely not Jesus. Or at least most likely not.

(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And check out the right hand side of this page for links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven ™, all rights reserved by the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

Nancy and Lee and summer wine:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Forty-Three: Dick grapples with Marlene

When last we saw Dick Ridpath in Larry Winchester’s Genesee Cream Ale Award-winning epic, he was narrowly avoiding calamity in the boudoir of Hope, the beautiful daughter of the vile rancher Big Jake Johnstone. But he’s not safe home yet, not by a long shot, not while Marlene (the sultry partner of the international assassin Hans Grupler) is on the premises...

Outside Hope’s room Dick stood still for a moment, breathed deeply, and then glanced down. In the insane rioting of his soul he had not quite realized the embarrassing extent of his erection.

There was a sound, as of an approaching panther. He turned and saw Marlene in a short red terrycloth robe, carrying a hairbrush and a towel and apparently headed toward the bathroom.

He stood to one side to give her plenty of room to pass, but she stopped as she came abreast of him.

“I trust there is still some hot water. Mr. -- Schmidt?”

“I certainly hope so,” said Dick.

“You must have taken a very hot shower,” she said. “Still you are schwitzing.”

She put out a red-nailed finger, laid it on his chest and then showed him a bead of sweat quivering on her perfectly still fingertip. She smiled, put out her tongue and put the bead of sweat on it. Then she drew the tongue back in between her full red lips and swallowed.

Dick started to turn to go and she stepped closer to him, pressing her bosom against him.

“I can help you,” she said. “I can dispose of Grupler for you.”

Dick made to step away again and she pressed him against the wall. She let the towel over her left arm drop and she reached under his kimono and put her hand on him. The stiff sharp bristles of the brush in her right hand pressed through the silk of his robe against his chest.

“We could go together,” she said. “I caught your wibration at the table today.”

“You caught my wibration?”


Her left hand worked expertly down below while her strangely strong right hand and hard but soft torso kept him pinned against the wall.

Dick reached down, grabbed her left wrist and pulled it slowly but firmly out of the fold of his kimono.

“You are strong,” she whispered. “I like strong.”

She pressed herself harder against him.

“And you have a big one. Grupler has a tiny one and he does not satisfy me. You could maybe satisfy me.”

“That’s flattering, Marlene, but you forget I’m married.”

“Your wife could be eliminated too.”

Dick heard Hope’s door open. He looked over and there she was, looking at them.

He pushed Marlene away and her robe came open, revealing her quite remarkable breasts. She stood there looking coolly from Dick to Hope, making no effort to close her robe.

Dick made a sort of foolish shrug in Hope’s direction and then headed back down the corridor, following that part of himself that Marlene had so expertly aroused.

He felt slightly faint.


(Go here for our next amazing chapter. An up-to-date listing of links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain appears on the right hand side of this page.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 48: sempre libera

Maria Callas as Violetta, La Traviata
Arnold Schnabel: man or myth? 21st Century Schizoid Man? Poet, prophet, mystic, madman? Liberal fascist? Conservative bohemian? Tragic hero or bumbling clown? All of the above?

Return with us now to our Walmart Award-winning serialization of these complete and unexpurgated memoirs (of the man Harold Bloom called “...not only the finest poet of his generation, but -- with the possible exception of Larry Winchester -- its finest prose stylist”) as Arnold walks with his inamorata Elektra on a hot late afternoon in August of 1963 in the careworn but quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey...

(Our previous episode ended with Elektra informing Arnold that the attractive novelist Gertrude Evans had impure intentions toward him.)

I said nothing. What could I say? That just that afternoon I had drunk a large shot of Gordon’s gin with Miss Evans, and kissed her bare neck and shoulder? No, even I knew that wouldn’t do.

We walked up to Washington Street and turned. People were starting to come back from the beach, blistered-red, sweating and weary, looking as if they had been through a battle. Even the little children hobbled and staggered as though on a death march, or else were carried by their sandal-dragging parents or brave older siblings.

“If you want to go to bed with her, don’t let me stop you,” said Elektra.

“With Miss Evans?” I said.

“With Gertrude. Yes.”

“Oh. But I don’t I want to,” I said.

“Why not? She’s attractive.”

“Well —”

I didn’t say anything else though, because I wasn’t sure of the answer, or answers.
She put her hand on my arm, stopping me.

I looked into her eyes, they seemed so cool and welcoming in the midst of the tired hot world all around us.

“Why not?” she asked again.

“Because I’m trying not to go completely insane,” I said.

“Do you think she’s that nuts?”

“I guess I should know,” I said.

She looked at me but now it was her turn to say nothing.

{Once again Arnold Schnabel’s modesty appears to have gotten the best of him, because the next seventy-two lines of his copybook holograph are vigorously crossed out. — Editor}

...lay on my back, halfway on the bed and half off, panting and sweating. She lay on the rug near my feet, and for a full two minutes we both lay where we were, saying nothing. Anything we could possibly have said would have been inadequate.
Finally she got up, climbed over me and lay down on the bed.

We listened to each other’s quieting breathing, to the whirring of the electric table fan blowing warm air over us, to the sound of people’s voices from the street below, that other world.

After a while she said, “Ask me anything.”

I thought about it for a while and then I said, “What’s your last name?”

“Ross,” she said.

“Ross,” I said.


“And your real first name is Betsy?”


“So your parents named you Betsy Ross.”

“They wanted to give me an American name. But believe me, it gets to be a real drag telling people your name is Betsy Ross. So one night I was high on reefer with my friends and I changed it to Elektra. Now Elektra seems a little pretentious to me, but I’m kind of stuck with it.”

{Arnold’s modesty strikes yet again here. The next three lines are crossed out. — Editor}

“Arnold, listen.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Why don’t you stop swimming alone at night? I’m afraid you’re going to drown.”

“Okay,” I said.


“Sure,” I said. “But I can still swim on the quiet beach, can’t I?”

“Well, okay. But just be careful.”

“Okay,” I said.

And it was funny, a little more than a week ago I didn’t really care too much if I drowned or not. But now I did care.

“Let’s go swimming now then,” she said.

“Sure,” I said.

And so we went down to my beach together and took a swim in the soft late afternoon light. We swam out together, and after a bit Elektra said, “Okay, this is enough for me." The waves lifted her up and down, her dark hair was as sleek as oil. "I’m not in your condition, tough guy. I’m going in.”

“Do you want me to come in, too?” I said, not really wanting to come in yet.

“No, you go ahead, Arnold."

She tossed a wet thick rope of hair out of her face, turned and swam in.

I didn’t want to scare her, so I didn’t go out much farther. I simply swam up toward the Point, following the curve of the beach. When I reached the old shore-defense bunker I turned around and swam back and then in.

Elektra sat on her towel smoking a a cigarette and watching me.

She handed me my towel, I dried myself off, laid the towel down next to her, sat down and lighted up a cigarette.

“So,” she said, “have you seen Jesus lately?”

I had to think it over for a moment, but then:

“Not today,” I was able to say, truthfully enough. “But wait, I just remembered a funny thing. I spoke with Frank Sinatra today.”

“Arnold,” she said. “Please don’t joke. Or don’t joke if I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”

So I told her about the Sinatra incident.

“And you say you know these people who are having this cook-out?”

“Yeah. In fact they invited me to come, and to bring you, too.”


“Well, yeah.”

“And are you going to go?”

“I’ll go if you want to go,” I said.

“But you won’t go if I don’t want to go?”

“I can take it or leave it,” I said.

“Don’t you want to meet Sinatra?”

“I already did meet him, sort of,” I said.

“You don’t really care, do you?”

“About going to the cook-out?”

“About Frank Sinatra.”

Well, let’s face it, when you’ve got Jesus himself turning up on a fairly regular basis Frank Sinatra isn’t so special.

We walked back to her place, to her door in the back yard. Evening was coming on.

“So can we go to this cook-out?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“All right, let me take a shower and change. I’ll come over in about an hour.”

I sidled off, and home. I wanted to slip upstairs quietly, but my mother was sitting on the porch, saying a rosary. She asked me if I wanted some sauerbraten, but I told her I was going to a cook-out. She seemed amazed by this, understandably.

I went upstairs, resigned to running into Miss Evans again. I took a shower and went back to my little attic room. I took out my memoir copybook and wrote for a while. Before I knew it almost an hour had passed, so I went downstairs, wearing a clean pair of Bermudas and a fresh polo shirt.

I heard opera music coming from Miss Evans’s door again, but nevertheless I stepped as quietly as I could. But as I got abreast of her door I heard the sound of sobbing.

Now I felt bad.

I wanted just to go on downstairs, but somehow I couldn’t. I knocked on the door and called hello a couple of times.

The sobbing stopped, I heard the scritching sound of the phonograph needle being lifted, the music stopping in mid-note.

The door opened. Miss Evans was wiping her eyes with a handkerchief.

“Oh, Arnold, how nice.”

She was still wearing the polka dot sundress.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Am I okay? Of course I am. Why?”

“I heard you crying.”

“Oh. That was me listening to Callas. La Traviata. I always cry listening to opera.”

“Oh,” I said.

“But it was so thoughtful of you to check. Would you like to stop in?”

“No, I’d better not,” I said.

“You’re such a tease. I thought I wanted to come down here to Cape May to be alone, but right now I don’t want to be alone. But I suppose you’re going to meet your lady friend.”

“Well, she’s coming here,” I said.

“I still want to read your poems.”

“Miss Rathbone still has them,” I said.

“I must get them off her. Pry them from her hands.”

“Well, I’ll see you later,” I said.

“I’ll take a walk perhaps. By the ocean. Buy some cotton candy.”

“That sounds nice,” I said.

“Would you like to kiss my neck and shoulder again?”

She lowered one of the straps of her dress.

“I don’t think I’d better,” I said.

She put the strap back up.

“Oh well.”

A tear came to her eye. She dabbed it with the handkerchief, which I now noticed was sopping wet.

“Don’t mind me,” she said. “I shouldn’t listen to so much opera. There’s a Rock Hudson movie at the Beach Theatre. Perhaps I’ll go see that.”

“Well, okay then,” I said, trying to escape.

“Elektra is lucky,” she said.

“Listen, Miss Evans,” I said, “I’m a loony tune. I — I have visions of Jesus. I imagine myself to be floating in the air. I live with my mother. You’re not missing much.”

She looked at me for a moment, then said, “Well, have a good time, Arnold.”

And she closed the door.

For some reason I just stood there. I don’t know why. But then I heard the scritching noise again, this time of a phonograph needle being dropped onto a record. The opera music began again.

I went downstairs.

(Go here for our next exciting chapter. 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 Railroad Train to Heaven, soon to be a major motion picture directed by Larry Winchester, starring Ralph Fiennes as Arnold, Rachel Weisz as Elektra, Judi Dench as Mrs. Schnabel, Jack Black as Steve, Laura Linney as Charlotte Rathbone, and Cate Blanchett as Gertrude Evans.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 42: bad place

In our previous episode of Larry Winchester’s praised (“Quite simply, the greatest novel ever written” -- Harold Bloom) and reviled (“The Mein Kampf of Liberal Fascism -- Jonah Goldberg) sprawling masterwork, Dick Ridpath somehow found himself, clad only in his old kimono, in the boudoir of Hope, clad only in a diaphanous nightgown.

He finds himself quite overcome.

A hazy shade of September in 1969, some several miles outside of a town called Disdain in a land of enchantment...

That falling outward feeling. He’d felt it first when he was eight years old, walking down the aisle to Communion in St. Pat’s in Philadelphia, this feeling that he was leaving his body. He had grabbed onto the arm of the kid in front of him, and the kid turned and looked at him like he was crazy. Dick said something to the kid, something stupid, mundane, anything, something to pull himself back before he slipped away entirely and forever. And he felt himself coming back, and he sighed as if he had just crossed a tightrope over some yawning great bottomless gorge.

These attacks or whatever they were had recurred throughout Dick’s childhood, usually when he was lying in bed at night, and he had learned to fight them off by running into the bathroom and turning on the light and staring at his face and repeating Hail Mary Hail Mary full of grace Hail Mary Hail Mary full of grace until he felt himself coming back, settling back again into his body.

Once it happened when he was lying in his room listening to Fibber McGee on the radio. He felt himself slipping rapidly away, and he ran (with what seemed like a comet’s trail of his own self trailing behind and above him) into his father’s den where his father was reading a book, and he babbled something and his father said, “Are you all right?”

As Dick became more adept at pulling himself back he also learned to tell the warning signs and how to avoid the attacks.

And so he grew up and never quite went insane, and by his early twenties he felt he had himself under control. The trick was simply not to let his mind drift too far toward a certain place where it became all too aware of its utter aloneness. He was already quite aware that he was alone, but to be too aware was to open the doorway to, and step into, insanity.

When Admiral Quigley first asked him to experiment with LSD Dick went right ahead, and, very much to his surprise, he loved the experience. (Some of the other guys had a terrible time, and in fact a couple had been turned into gibbering wrecks and had spent months in the psych ward at Walter Reed as a result.) But even at the peak of a “trip” Dick kept away from, and was able to keep away from, that awful place of utter aloneness.

Some years and dozens of LSD and mescaline trips later, along came Daphne. That glorious beginning of their affair, and she read an article in Life about LSD and Ken Kesey and his mob. She wanted to try it. He happened to have some excellent government-issue stuff stowed away in his old seabag for a rainy day. They gave it a go, and as they were peaking they started making love. He was on top of her and she was staring deep into his eyes. As many times as he had taken hallucinogenic drugs he had never done so while having sex, let alone while having sex with Daphne, which was already an amazing experience in and of itself, and he began to have that feeling again, but instead of floating away he was falling down into those grey eyes and he was not afraid, and it was like all the universe was passing through him into her and up out of her eyes into his.

Then they lay there drenched in sweat, listening to the sounds of their own breathing, to the sounds of the city. Then it was up and out to the Automat, because Daphne wanted cherry pie and coffee.

And so they experimented, taking acid together, trying to break through into some permanently accessible exalted state.

They discovered that they could go even further than they had gone that first time. He would let himself go, falling away inside her, and these journeys into some disembodied almost but not quite egolessness became longer and deeper, swooping wild soaring flights, and Daphne was always there flying right along with him, in him, and he in her, until one time he went in so deep that suddenly she was not there. It had happened. He was alone, horribly alone and all in darkness, and there was no going back ever and not even the hope of extinction. And he howled and howled but the howling was silent, all was silent and black.

He gradually awoke and became aware of his body again to realize he was huddled in a fetal position in a dark closet. He got out of it and Daphne was over on her bed, sleeping. It had been the most horrifying experience of his life, and he had seen a good deal of horror in his life.

When he talked about it later with Daphne she listened quietly and then said, “You shouldn’t have been afraid. You should have gone on.”

“I couldn’t go on,” he said. “There was nowhere else to go.”

She pause for a few seconds and then she said, “There might have been.”

But that had been enough for him. He knew how far he could safely go now, and before he reached that point he always forced himself back. He would neither go there willingly nor let himself be pushed there. If he went to that black place again there was no guarantee he would come back, and that place was the one place he did not want to get stuck in. If there was something beyond that place -- and he was pretty sure the only thing beyond it was oblivion -- he would just have to reach it by going around the black place, and if that were not possible he would simply have to live and die the ignorant unachieved fool that he was.

But now for some reason, standing here caught in the scary but thrilling charm of this mad little witch Hope, he wanted to let himself go there, to that place. He was tired, tired of holding back.

But it didn’t seem the thing to do, really. Not here and now with this poor girl. He felt he’d better speak and break the spell before it was too late, or perhaps he would fall, willy nilly, fall away into those bottomless brown eyes.

Hope had asked what?

Why were he and Daphne here.

“I don’t really know,” he said.

His voice sounded stale and flat, the snapping of a dead twig on a dead branch of a dead tree, but he knew that by speaking he had pulled himself back, and he could already feel the sweat on his back cooling.

A sighing moment passed, and he was actually on the verge of taking a deep breath and going into the whole tedious transistor radio business for the second time that day, but then she simply took her hands away and said, “Are you going to the barbecue?”

“Um, yeah --”

“I’ll see you there,” she said.

He could feel where the energy from her hands had been cut off from his hand, and suddenly his hand felt cold, and separate.


(Click here to go to our next enthralling chapter. An up-to-date listing of links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain appears on the right hand side of this page.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Forty-Seven: Arnold Schnabel awakens into a dream

When last we met Arnold Schnabel, the author and star of this Schaefer Award-shortlisted memoir, he had just fallen asleep in the sackcloth hammock hanging in the backyard of his aunts’ shambling Victorian guest house in Cape May, New Jersey, on a hot August afternoon in that forgotten year of 1963...

I dreamt that I was walking along the roofs of an enormously long train, trying to reach the locomotive.

This is a recurrent dream, and indeed in the waking life of my brakeman career I have walked along the roofs of thousands of hurtling railroad cars. How odd that I got so used to it. To this day I am afraid of heights, but after a year or so as a brakeman I was striding back and forth along the tops of moving trains as nimbly and as naturally as a monkey.

With the new trains we don’t have to walk along the roofs any more except in certain rare circumstances. A brakeman’s job is so much easier and less dangerous nowadays.

But this dream.

The usual dream I have is that I’m trying to reach the locomotive but I’m never able to. More and more cars magically appear and prevent me from ever reaching the locomotive.

And then there’s the variant dream where I’m walking along the roof of a train and all of
a sudden a tunnel appears out of nowhere. I lay myself down on the roof of a car and the dark tunnel rushes over me, just inches above my head, and I lie there holding onto the bare metal, and the tunnel keeps rushing and swooshing darkly above me, and the tunnel keeps going on and on and on in darkness.

I’d have to say the tunnel variant is by far the more disturbing dream.

So anyway I was dreaming the first variant, marching smartly along above the train, but I couldn’t even see the locomotive it was so far away, and I kept walking along, leaping from one car to another, and then all of a sudden the second variant kicked in, and a tunnel in an enormous mountain came rushing toward me.

I decided that for once I wasn’t going to lie down and be stuck in this endless tunnel, and so I just leaped up, and the most wonderful thing happened, I kept flying up and up, up the side of this green and rocky mountain, and then I was at the top of the mountain, and I just touched down on a big rock at its peak and then pushed off and up again, flying down the other side of the mountain, and I saw the train snaking out of the tunnel on the other side, except the train was so long that I still couldn’t see its locomotive, even though I was about a mile above it, the train just went on and on over this green and rolling countryside and disappeared in the far-off hazy green hills.

I flew along, above the train. I didn't know where I was flying to. But I kept flying.

Then I woke up, and Elektra was standing there, her arm folded across her chest, smoking a cigarette.

“Hello,” she said.

For a moment I couldn’t speak, but I felt like I was still floating in the air. I flapped my arms, the hammock turned over and I fell out onto the grass.

I sat up.

She crouched down next to me.

“Dreaming?” she said, one hand steadying the swinging hammock.

“Yes,” I said.

She was wearing a flowered shirt tied at the waist, with a white bathing suit under it. She had a canvas bag slung on her shoulder with an orange towel bulging out of it, and I realized I’d never seen her in a bathing suit before.

“Do you mind me coming by?” she said.

“No, not at all.”

I looked over at the metal table. Steve and Miss Rathbone and Mrs. Rathbone were gone,

God knows where.

“Looking for someone?” she said.

“Oh. Steve was here,” I said.

“Him again? I think he’s in love with you.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said.

I stood up, went over to the table and got my cigarettes and lighter.

“I took off a little early,” she said. “I thought maybe you’d like to take a swim with me, Arnold.”

“Oh,” I said, lighting up my usual post-nap cancer stick. “But I usually go for my swim in the evening.”

“So can’t you adjust your little schedule? Or do you have writing you want to do?”

“Oh, no, I’ve already done my writing for the day.”

“Did you write me my poem?” 
“Uh, no. I’m afraid not. But I will.”

She came forward and stood close to me. I could feel the warmth of her.

“I wonder,” I said.

“Wonder what?”

She was so close to me I had to blow the smoke up over her head.

“I wonder if we can take a swim later,” I said.

“Do you want to go up to your room?”

“Oh, we couldn’t do that.”

“Oh, right. I guess your aunts and mother would never let you hear the end of it.”

“Maybe after a million years,” I said.

“All right, let’s go,” she said. “But get your bathing suit so we can take a swim afterwards.”

I said okay, and I walked her around front. Kevin was still on the porch. He was now reading some old Tom Swift book that he’d gotten from the library.

I left Elektra there and went upstairs, very quietly, and changed into my bathing trunks. I grabbed a towel and went down to the third floor, again stepping as quietly as humanly possible, but unfortunately I did have to go to the bathroom. I went in and peed as quietly as one is ever able to pee. And then I flushed, creating the usual racket of an entire cellblock of convicts attacking the bars of their cells with tin cups in protest. I brushed my teeth, then I drank some water from the tap, cupping it into my mouth with my hand as the metallic symphony slowly subsided. Then I went back out into the corridor, and, sure enough, Miss Evans popped out of her room.

“So, there you are,” she said. She wore a yellow-and-black polka dot sundress, and she seemed hot and sweaty. Well, it was a very hot afternoon.

“Hi,” I said.

“Going for a swim?”

“Uh, yeah."

She took a thick strand of her hair and wound it around her index finger.

“How was your sandwich?”

“My sandwich?”

“The sandwich Miss Rathbone made you.”

“Oh, it was her mother who made it, actually. But it was fine.”

She let go the coil of hair and it fell to her neck.

“And did Miss Rathbone like your poems?”

“I guess so,” I said, and started to walk by.

“What’s the hurry, Arnold? The ocean’s not going anywhere.”

“It’s just that my friend’s waiting,” I said.

“Oh, your lady friend?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“I want to meet this paragon. I’ll go down with you. I was just going down to read on the porch.”

And it’s true, she had a book in one hand.

I let her lead the way down the narrow stairs. “I want to read those poems when the Rathbone is finished,” she said over her shoulder.

“Sure,” I said.

“Have you read this?”

She stopped and I almost fell over her. She held up the book. The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand.

“No,” I said, “but I think this friend of mine was talking about that book.”


She even knew her name.

“No,” I said. “This guy Steve.”

“Steve,” she said.


“Hmmm. I’ve hardly ever met a man who likes Rand. I’d like to meet this Steve.”

Somehow it seemed inevitable that she would.

“Oh, but your friend is waiting,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

She turned and went down the stairs, and I followed her.

Normally guests will leave by one of the side entrances on the ground floor, but, since I knew that Elektra was waiting on the porch, I took Miss Evans through the front section of the house. We had to go through my aunts’ kitchen, and as bad luck would have it all three of them and my mother were in there performing various kitchen activities. I immediately knew I had made a mistake by taking Miss Evans this way.

I could never describe the complex of emotions, hidden but obvious, conversation, superficial but fraught with meaning, all of it somehow managing to be deeply boring but completely unmemorable, which ensued in the next three minutes of chatter among the old women and Miss Evans.

Miss Evans seemed to have completely forgotten that I was there, so I started to sidle out of the kitchen.

“Where are you going, Arnold?” she asked, as if I hadn’t told her just a few minutes

“Uh, swimming?” I said.

“Oh, right, your lady friend is waiting,” she said. “His lady friend is waiting outside,” she said to the ladies.

“Invite her in, Arnold,” said my mother.

“Is she coming to dinner again?” said Greta.

“We’ve got plenty of sauerbraten,” said Elizabetta.

“They’re getting serious,” said Edith.

Sometimes you just have to get tough if you don’t want a one-way ticket back to Byberry.

I held up a hand.

“Elektra won’t be coming for dinner,” I said. “In fact, don’t hold dinner for me. I’ll get something out. ‘Bye.”

I turned and headed for the front door.

Miss Evans followed on my heels.

“Wait for me, Arnold,” she said.

I crossed through the dining and living rooms and came out onto the porch. Elektra was there, leaning back against the rail, apparently chatting with Kevin.

“Well, there you are at last,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

I awkwardly held the screen door open for Miss Evans.

“So,” she said, “you must be Elektra.”

“Hello,” said Elektra.

“Elektra,” I said, “this is Miss Evans. She’s staying here.”

“Gertrude,” said Miss Evans, and she walked over and extended her hand. Elektra took it.

“You’re a very lucky girl,” said Miss Evans.

“Am I,” said Elektra.

“Such a talented handsome man. What was it first attracted you, his poetry or his physique?”

“Neither. But the physique didn’t hurt.”

“You have a lovely figure yourself.”

“I could lose some weight.”

“Not at all. Men like a girl with some meat on her bones. Well, don’t mind me, I’m just going to read my book.”

She sat down in the rocker next to Kevin, the one I usually sit in.

“And your name is Kenneth?” she said to him.

“Kevin,” he said. ”Kevin Armstrong.”

“And what are you reading?”

Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle.”

“Have a good — swim,” said Miss Evans to me.

“Okay,” I said.

“Nice meeting you, Elektra.”

“Nice meeting you, Gertrude,” said Elektra.

We went down the steps, down the bluestone path, through the gate and onto the sidewalk. We turned down North Street and crossed it at the corner.

As we reached the other side Elektra said, “Who is that madwoman? With her Ayn Rand?”

“She’s a novelist,” I said.

“Oh.” She put her arm in mine. “She wants to go to bed with you, Arnold.”

(Click here to go to our next chapter, one for all you Verdi buffs called "Sempre Libera". Kindly check the right hand column of this page for up-to-date listings of other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven as well as to many of his classic poems.)